All his life, Klaus had believed that if you read enough books, you could solve any problem, but now he wasn’t so sure.

Lemony snicket • “The Bad Beginning”


A funeral certainly makes for a curious date, thought Jeremy Tetch, Lead Policy Advisor for the Project ALICE initiative. And while his suit was secondhand, it had been tailored and pressed, and soon enough he would be able to afford a new one.

His date was as disarming as ever. Even in the muted felt of her black cloche hat and simple dress, Jeremy found Harriet to have otherworldly appeal.

Of course, Jeremy knew that this wasn’t a proper date. Harriet’s professional entanglements with Project ALICE meant working in close proximity with Jeremy, and when he’d looked on in anxious silence when Ms. Rose conveyed the invitation, Harriet patted him on the shoulder and said they’d be arriving together.

“Truly sad,” Jeremy remarked following Mr. Wayne’s eulogy. It was brief and passionate, and between his remarks and Mr. Pennyworth’s there were no dry eyes in the garden. “I voted for him, you know.”

“I was on the fence myself,” Harriet commented in more discrete tones. “But I must say you convinced me that even posthumously, it might be worthwhile to vote for Dick.”

Jeremy gripped the brim of his overworked hat tightly, the sweat of his hands softening the carroting to a point of critical disrepair. Add it to the list of wardrobe upgrades, he noted.

As the service – which featured a maddening flock of humanity (increasingly more of whom seemed to know Jeremy through his work with Project ALICE) – began to wind down, Jeremy was pulled by Harriet toward the house, and the long, extravagantly-appointed tables which were enumerated by reception-worthy lite fare, and an array of dark wine bottles, many of which seemed to radiate in the cool chill of the November afternoon.

“The park,” Harriet asked, but without Jeremy fully understanding the question. “For a picnic?”

“I-I suspect that we’d be missed here,” the man was flummoxed, stumbling over his own tongue. “And I’m afraid that I hadn’t thought to prepare us a basket, Harriet.”

Harriet rolled her eyes, and twirled toward the table, waiting for the butler to tend to something elsewhere and smuggling a bottle into her overcoat.

“We’ll find something to chew on, I’m quite sure.”

Harriet’s hair flared with another carefree twirl, and Jeremy Tetch became far less confident in this being a strictly professional engagement. She took his hand and they headed out of the garden.


“Hey! Mister! Mr. Jeremy! Hey!” The deep (for a child) pitched voice of Natalie called out from the huddled regiment of the Newsboys Legion, the unhoused newsies-cum-gang who had become much more communal in the wake of the child-killer stalking the streets of Gotham. The cool, crisp air of late autumn carried the girl’s voice across the park to the path where Jeremy nervously strolled next to Harriet.

Natalie was second-in-command, as far as Jeremy could tell, and a boy named Joey who Pockets would sometimes follow around seemed to be the one in charge of everything, at least since the tragic departure of Extra. The girl, whose hair Jeremy was seeing for the first time out of her cap, was bounding towards the unlikely couple. Jeremy immediately regretted not having a stash of candies to hand off.

“No carts today?” Asked the girl, huffing clouds of breath into the air.

Jeremy shook his head, removing his hat with a slight bow, “I’m afraid not today, Ms. Natalie.”

The girl’s face fell. “Where are all the grown ups anyway? There’s nobody in the park today.”

“A funeral for the slain Mr. Dick Grayson. A very somber affair, indeed.”

“That why you two are so dressed up?”

Harriet smiled at the girl, unbuckling her handbag, and pulling a handful of differently-sized (and flavored) wrapped candies from a hidden cache.

“Take these to the other children,” instructed Harriet. “Share them amongst your cohort, and next time that Jeremy is working in this park, I’ll see to it that he has some extra favours for you all.”

The children were steadily-advancing on them, to the point of being within earshot, and Jeremy waved enthusiastically at those that he recognized, but resisted the temptation to shout out to Pockets or Joey directly.

Natalie took the sweets and ran back toward the Newsboys, happily distributing the candies to the others.

“Where’s the red one?” Joey asked, annoyed. “I saw her give you a red one.”

Natalie smiled, holding the saliva-slick globe between her teeth.

“Give it,” instructed Joey, holding out an open hand. Natalie sighed and spit the slimy hard candy into his palm, and Joey tossed it into his own mouth, wiping the red spit from his hand on his trousers. He handed two of the candies wrapped in white foil to Natalie. “Don’t act like I ain’t fair.”

The boy turned, smiling and waving at Jeremy and Harriet as though he hadn’t just committed a minor heist.

“Well that doesn’t seem fair, does it?” Jeremy asked, not looking directly at Harriet for an answer.

“Remember,” Joey’s voice carried as the Legion walked off. “I only ask for first dibs, but everyone gets their rightful share.”

“He’s their leader,” Harriet supplied after observing the way the children orbited Joey. “Pretty soon she’ll be bigger than the other boys, and then maybe she’ll be in charge. Things tend to work themselves out.”

The duo continued their purposeful but casual stroll, the late afternoon breeze flowing sharply against their procession. 

“Colder than I’d hoped,” Jeremy remarked, noticing Harriet’s shiver.

“Quite. And this shawl isn’t as warm as it looks. If only I had a proper coat.”

“This one does the trick and was very reasonably priced. Would you like to return home to get yours?”

Harriet stopped, cocking her head to the side and pursing her lips.

“Oh my, where are my wits?” Jeremy fumbled his way out of his wool suit jacket, clumsily draping it over Harriet’s shoulders.

“What a gentleman. Thank you, Jer– may I ask you a personal question?”

Jeremy blinked rapidly, and after saying nothing in the span of an awkward moment, he nodded, adding a mumbled “I suppose you may.”

“What happened that caused you to go by Jeremy instead of Jervis?”

Jeremy bounced his fingertips off of each other like a guilty child.

“If it’s too personal, Jeremy –“ Harriet began, “please I didn’t mean to bring up something painful.”

“No, it’s just, well, I suppose ‘embarrassing’ is the best word for it.”

Harriet and Jeremy walked in near silence down the footpath and then off to a sunny clearing to the west, where they sat down on the ground, using Harriet’s shawl as a makeshift blanket (though it was far too small, forcing Jeremy and Harriet to need to sit perilously close to one another). Jeremy removed his hat, and the autumn wind licked at the top of his head in a manner that would be unpleasant if it wasn’t so hot all of a sudden.

“Jeremy,” Harriet started, “it’s clear that this embarrassment is a private matter, and I didn’t mean to cause offence. I apologise for the discomfort. Let’s not toil over this any longer.”

“Ms. Harriet, I quite like working alongside you,” Jeremy was waiting to blurt the words out, but he dared not interrupt. “And I believe if we’re to be friends that I should tell you about this episode of my life, so that you have all of the information.”

He twisted his hat around in his hand, one rotation, then another, then another.

“You see, I find that I tend to get along better with young people…”


“I can’t believe that you’re still planning on being there,” Alfred’s voice was surprised but not worried. His pacing back and forth across the stone floor of the mine wasn’t distracting, and it was a habit that Bruce had mirrored when he needed to look at things from another angle. 

But Bruce had already committed to his decision. There wasn’t another angle he could see.

“Are you even slightly concerned that this will be a trap?”

“My only concern at the moment is that it will be a waste of time. I don’t even know if he solved the puzzle.”

“It’s curious that you’ve decided to trust this man when you are so disinclined to trust in general.”

“The city is under siege, Al,” Bruce looked down at his boots, then back up at his oldest friend. “Gelio and his cronies are making things worse. People are at the end of their ropes. Falcone’s underbosses are each trying to consolidate power, and Saturn might know who Dick really was – he might know who I am. I need…”

“An ally?”

“An accomplice. Someone who I can trust enough to second guess the commissioner. Maybe eventually I can count on him to see things our way. For now, I need someone with proximity to Karlo and Gelio. And if my intuition is right, Gordon would benefit from feeling like he has a friend.”

“So you’ll manipulate him? And then what? How does a sleeper agent keep the city from imploding under the weight of this power vacuum?”

“If the one cop – the guy that everyone trusts – publicly second guesses the commissioner, maybe the council will follow.”

“Or you split the jellyfish.”


“When the mayor was afraid of losing the election, he brought in Falcone to stuff ballots. Then he needed to worry about keeping Falcone in check, so he brings the commissioner to the table. Then the commissioner, in the course of getting Falcone under control, turns Carmine’s organization into five distinct organizations. Divide and conquer has two meanings, Mr. Bruce, and the less popular one means you’re getting flanked on all sides instead of just one.”

“But what’s that got to do with jellyfish?

When you cut a live jellyfish in half, it releases all of its sex cells.”


And they can reproduce asexually.”

“I see.”

“We were never much for the whole ‘one person can make a difference’ thing, what makes Gordon different?” 

“Saturn changes all of those calculations. And with the lieutenant as part of our conspiracy, we’ll–“ Bruce stopped, wanting to say four, but reorienting. – “we’ll have three.”

“I just think I need to raise the concern that this will cause more problems than it solves. Course correction in Gotham is going to require a herculean effort, and it will get more and more difficult the more time we allow to pass.” Alfred offered. “And this sounds like a lot to invest in something that might not work. 

Bruce tuned the earpiece in the costume’s ear, and pulled the mask into place over his head.

“We meet with Hercules in the morning. For now, the long term investment is the focus. We know a thing or two about investing in the future,” Bruce Wayne became the Batman, and his voice became a secret susurration.


Nothing on the scanner about the library or any of the surrounding locations.

Rows of watchful sentinel pines streaked by on either side of the speeding motorcycle, and the Batman’s cape slashed at the night with overbearing darkness. 

A generous donation from the Pennyworth Foundation meant some additional cover if he needed it – six half-scale sculptures of the Gotham’s Flying Sphinx now stood in the atrium, each outfitted with different diversionary devices that Batman could set off from with a hard enough kick, a smoke bomb, a batarang, or a grapnel.

By his estimate, he’d have forty minutes alone at the library – maybe more – to do final checks before Gordon arrived.


Lieutenant James Gordon was conflicted – he’d have to break into a public building – but resolute. The only person who knew about this cockamamie parley with the Batman was Barbara, maybe Selina if she knew anything about codes.

And Barbara was still shook up by the massacre. The service today was the first time she’d left her apartment since Election Day, and Jim drove his daughter home afterward.

Part of me hopes he really was Valley, and we can put all of this behind us as just a strange, unbelievably tragic year.

Jim shook his head and walked around to the rear of the imposing neoclassical Gotham Public Library, pulling a shim out of his overcoat as he approached. And then he put it back; the heavy door was wedged open, waiting for his arrival. The lieutenant snuffed a cigarette into the handrail, and with caution (and more than a little fear), he entered, pulling the door closed firmly behind him.

Even making an effort to tread lightly, his shoes clacked loudly against the marble floor, and by the third step away from the rear entrance, he stopped and wondered how he could be less conspicuous. This could be a trap, sure, but Jim didn’t know how to – or if he even should – let Batman know he’d arrived. 

He removed his shoes, setting them next to a lectern holding an atlas, open to a map of Gotham City proper, and continued forward toward the atrium.

Squinting at his wristwatch, and holding it too-close in the darkness, it read 10:55, and Jim muttered a private annoyance at Barbara’s insistence that he throw away his old Omega with the lume.

Early, Maybe you beat him here, Jim dismissed the notion, recalling the door, and noticed the overwhelming brightness of the space before him. 

The library’s atrium was flooded with moonlight, and in the contrast of the rest of the building’s darkness, was like a lighthouse in a storm. Six enormous statues of Gotham’s mascot, The Flying Sphinx from the city seal, drove the light outward into radiant spokes.

Those are new.

Or at least, he hadn’t seen them on his last visit, which was before the forum. A last minute sweep of the corridors to check for shadows or traps netted nothing, and another look to try to pick out suspicious reflections or undulating blackness was also fruitless.

Jim Gordon stepped forward, into the center of the atrium.

Do I clear my throat? Say ‘hello?’

“It’s Gordon,” he said with trepidation. “I’m alone.”


Jim turned back toward the way he came and nearly jumped out of his skin, but it was just the orange glow of the streetlamps cutting the door into an  intimidating silhouette.

“No shoes?” The source of the whispered inquiry was a shadow out of the corner of Jim’s eye.

“JESUS!” Gordon grabbed the half-smoked cigarette that fell from his lip. “I was trying to be discrete.”

“Mob is on a rampage,” Batman got right into it. “Protection rackets are back and worse, because each underboss has men across all the districts. Bleeding people dry, forcing them out of their businesses. And if they close up shop, the mob goes after them in their homes.”

“Yeah? You wanna see us reinstate the curfew? Nobody would go for that. They barely trust us as it is.”

“You have a lot of men out here making it worse. Contract guys in the department are extorting too. Gelio’s looking the other way.”

“You got any proof?”

“Have a few names.”

Batman’s living silhouette was broken by an arm, presenting a typewritten page.

Jim mumbled the names aloud as he read them. “…McKinney, Noonan, Rodello, Brocato, Weich, Flass, Bullock…some of these guys aren’t contract.”

“Money got a lot shorter when Grogan got canned. Does Flass seem like he’s pinching pennies?”


“–The guys who lined their pockets before are gonna fall into their old habits. And whoever ends up on top of this turf war –“

“–Maroni.” Jim answered.

“Probably. But whoever it is will be the Falcone of ten years ago. Before he went ‘legit.’

“Look, uh, Batman. There’s still a killer on the loose. And the mob is opening up shop in every neighborhood.”

“You’ve got a killer in charge of the department. How many people did Gelio kill during curfew?”

“You know it takes some kinda nerve to,” Gordon trailed off as the Bat stiffened abruptly. “What?”

“The Narrows. How fast can you get there?”

“Might take five, six minutes after I get to the car, why?”

“522 Kilmer Avenue. Report of a kid’s body. Buy us some time.” 

“How the hell do you…never mind. Do you need a ride?”

No answer. No Batman.

Jim bolted for the door, and a pure black blur blazed down the street in front of him like a bat out of hell. The door closed behind him before he remembered his shoes by the atlas.

“Dammit,” he grunted, and took off toward his car.

The radio squealed to life, and Jim picked up the handset as the call for on-duty officers in the Narrows repeated in the tinny voice of dispatch.

“Lieutenant Gordon, en route.”

“10-4 Lieutenant.”

A bullet-sized drop of rain crashed into his windshield. Then another. 



Batman hoped that Gordon would be the first (and only) responder at the scene, but he remained swathed in darkness on a fire escape observing from a safe distance. The first police cruiser pulled up, and it was Gordon, and he was alone.

“No one else is coming,” Jim said to the night sky, as he circled the body. He pulled the last drag of his cigarette and flicked it into the gutter. “You can come out now.”

 Batman swept over the railing of the second story escape, releasing his grip on the rope at the peak of the swing, landing on his feet with little more than a quiet flap and a dull thud that could’ve easily been the sounds of rain.

“You forgot these,” he said, offering the wet-socked lieutenant a pair of well-worn oxfords.

Batman leaned in close to the body, and took a deep breath, then pulled the child’s tongue. 

“Red,” he said, looking up at Gordon.


The boy was soaked through, and the Bat silently cursed that the blood usually found at the scene would be washed away. 

“Give me a hand?”

Gordon squatted down and pulled the body toward himself, while Batman retrieved a microscope slide from his belt. Lifting the boy’s head revealed that his hair was matted down with something sticky and glistening, and he scraped some of it onto the slide and held it up in the light of the streetlamp.

“What is that?” Batman whispered.

“Orange blood?” Gordon puzzled.

Batman sniffed the slide before covering it and putting it into his belt.

“More like blood orange.”

“I was thinking on the drive over here – we need a better way to get in touch.”

A siren blared in the distance. 

“I thought you said no one else was coming?”

“Sounds like you have about five minutes until no one gets here.”

“You’re right.”

“I was thinking, Central District has an old fog lamp on the roof. Doesn’t really get used anymore, but maybe if I need to talk to you, I could–“

“Shine a spotlight into the sky and let the commissioner know we’re meeting?”

“People don’t really look up.”

Batman heaved a deep sigh, and turned back.

“Check under your driver-side fender. If we need to talk, leave a note.”

“What if I need to talk to you?”

“Call in a code eleven-eleven on your police radio, followed by the location. If I can make it, I’ll be there.”

Gordon removed his glasses to wipe them clear of rain.

“Alright,” Jim replied. “And hey. No more codes.”

Batman pulled at the cord hanging from the fire escape, and disappeared into the dark alley.

Moments later, his cape was whipping in the rain as he sped away.

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