“I paid Houdini three hundred dollars for that trick.“Batman • Gotham by gaslight
Gotham By Gaslight
A ruptured spleen, a torn trapezius and a hairline fracture on his clavicle. If the man in the coffin mask had been a better shot either time, Johnny Gelio, commissioner of the Gotham City Police would’ve died. Not that the internal hemorrhaging didn’t give everyone pause.
Lex Luthor thought that the crime in Gotham City stood a very real risk of migrating across the bridge. Especially with Superman’s recent fracture. He folded the newspaper, bristling that one of his editors prematurely reported Gelio dead. Mercy had seen to it that the man was fired, but it was an annoyance to know that there were gaps in some of his most powerful tools of influence.
Lex had confirmed his suspicions about Superman’s identity, but at the cost of revealing some fraction of his hidden-hand machinations in a war that could culminate in the enslavement (or worse, extinction!) of humankind. Superman’s mother was dead, and there was nothing for it. The alien god had one anchor left that Lex knew about. Maybe two or three if Lex calculated for something significantly less apocalyptic. But even the most cautious optimism wouldn’t promote the priority of survival.
Lex’s outlook was armageddon. His most hopeful alternative could be, at best, described as a choice of damnations.
Willie Calhoun was whatever the opposite of an anchor was. A third miscarriage of Willie paying for his crimes would be another straw on Superman’s colossally-burdened back. It was a factor Lex could control for, and so he did.
Within the hour, there were twelve envelopes, each with adorned with a three digit number and stuffed with three hundred dollars in cash and a simple typewritten note:
Find Calhoun Guilty
Lex owned the sequestration hotel – not information he should have known, but the channels of information in Metropolis hadn’t disappeared when Superman came, they’d just been made more secure. This was a fact which made it more convenient to communicate to Mercy the time and place to deliver the bribes.
Lex Luthor would be on the passenger manifesto of a train and a plane today; one heading to Houston, Texas, and the other bound for Rochester New York.
Red Howard, however would be headed to Amnesty Bay, Maine, where he would begin the final phase of his research.
Lieutenant James Gordon was the acting commissioner of Gotham City Police Department. He hadn’t moved offices, and hadn’t made a big fuss about the change, which he saw as temporary. Gelio had been within inches of death, but Jim knew he wasn’t safe in the hospital, and the man would want to be back behind a desk, or more likely, behind a podium.
Mayor Karlo had insisted the commissioner take as much time as he needed, and not come back for at least a week. Jim was, nonetheless, unsurprised when Flass held the door open to the lanky, hobbled form of Commissioner Gelio. Gelio’s left arm was strapped to his body with fabric bandages to limit the movement of the shoulder, and so the commissioner leaned to the right on a thin, but expensive-looking cane. His gait was much less locomotive than before; lacking his signature, unnerving steps that made his limbs seem to move in dimensions entirely their own.
“The three of us, in my office,” Gelio ordered, and Flass and Gordon flanked him, shooing well-wishers and being waved off when they tried to help the commissioner with his seat.
“First of all,” Gelio said. “I know we aren’t gonna be able to keep a lid on my being here today, but, officially, I was never here. I’m still on bedrest.”
Gordon nodded, and from the corner of his eye, he noticed Flass doing the same.
“It is my hope that any of the commotion created by the papers getting ahold of me being here today will be enough to keep them from looking into the reason why I called you into my office.
“Detective Flass has been running point on a very secret investigation, and, although you may not realize it, the investigation began with that theory that you and Kyle put forth, Jim.”
Gordon’s moustache twisted on his face. He had no idea what Gelio was talking about.
“I was ready to give up––“ Flass started, but the commissioner silenced the brute by waving his hand.
“We’re expecting a warrant tomorrow morning at the latest. A Friday evening arrest will ensure that Bruce Wayne stays in a holding cell for the weekend. We could move him to S.H.E.D., but I question the wisdom in trying to imprison a superman in a place that we don’t have the personnel to staff.”
“Excuse me, commissioner,” Jim cut in, clearing his throat, “did you say Wayne? Bruce Wayne? A superman?”
“That’s right lieutenant. But not the Superman. Our investigation suggests that Wayne is the Batman.”
“Commissioner, I know you weren’t here, but Wayne can’t be Batman. Wayne was present at the mayor’s dinner party with Falcone when they were attacked by the Bat. And if Wayne can be in two places at once, it doesn’t matter if we have all the evidence in the world, nobody’s gonna be able to convict beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Jimmy,” Flass started, “I was skeptical, too. But Bat sightings was way down for weeks. Then the thugs started talking again. How they didn’t have to worry about Batman because they had a superman of their own now. Only thing is – nobody can pinpoint who this skull mask man is. I have ears in the more…seedy parts a’ town, and still can’t get a bead on this guy until he’s long gone. Closest we got was when he tried to assassinate the commissioner. He has a talent for turning into a shadow. Way we see it, the Batman needed a new cover, and ditched his old one. And, coincidentally, the only times I’m getting a report of a skull mask from wunna my informants, is on nights when Wayne has left his estate.
“Well, with that one exception,” Flass finished after a beat.
“One exception is enough to prove it untrue!” Gordon protested. “If he has a reliable alibi even one time that the assassin was confirmed to be working the whole case falls apart! And Falcone’s dinner party for the mayor was a who’s who of Gotham elite! This dog don’t hunt! You really think Gotham City royalty is going to be put in a box for a whole weekend? Wayne has the best lawyers, and the city loves him. I can’t believe the mayor signed off on this.”
“Karlo was only informed as a courtesy. The city has bench warrants already issued for Batman, the skull mask fellow, and Superman if he ever shows his face around here again,” the commissioner added.
Jim’s head was spinning. This didn’t make any sense.
“It’ll work out well for John– Commissioner Gelio, too,” said Flass. “He needs a thorough security detail. With him and Wayne here, nobody will assume that the commissioner is being protected, because it’ll look like he’s just keeping an eye on Wayne. That little bit of theatrics was my idea.”
That’s why it sounds so goddamn stupid, Jim thought.
“I need a tight-lipped team on this, Gordon,” Gelio cut in. “No henchmen. Nobody talking to the Mayor. No Italians. Karlo’s gonna want to turn this into some public relations opportunity if he’s privy to what’s happening and when. We should come out of this looking real good, and the mayor will get his chance for the spotlight, but for the time being, the plan is to make my return the ‘worst kept secret’ in Gotham, to throw people off Wayne’s scent. Layers and layers of deception, gentlemen. We will reconvene here tomorrow at four with your people. I am recommending Kyle, Bullock, and Panagiotou, but I will leave the final decisions up to your discretion. ”
“Yes sir,” Gordon and Flass said in unison.
The dark silhouette of Rose Botanichemical’s newest outbuilding stood silent in the night. A smaller and somehow darker silhouette waited in the shadows of the pine barrens. The Batman possessed a blackness so complete that a witness’s vision might miss him entirely, refusing to process a creature which appeared – which didn’t appear so absolutely that it must be a trick of the mind. An illusion.
It was described in the documentation as an office and infirmary structure, and Batman was there to find anything showing that Tetch was set up to take a fall for the Peter Pan murders.
The lock would’ve been simple enough to pick, but the shadow-cloaked figure found an open window less than ten feet above his head. He shot the smallest of his grapnels in through the window where it caught with a soft clink, but instead of climbing conventionally, he scaled the distance by springing back and forth against the wall, using the pendulum momentum to assist his legs pushing off in ascent. Once through the window, he pulled the rope in behind him, and landed on the floor soundlessly. The Bat loaded another hook into his gun, clicking it to “safe,” before replacing it on his belt.
Surveying the “infirmary” the shadow found something that looked more like a barracks. Symmetrical military beds lined both walls, at least twelve to a side. Almost all of them were occupied. Women were living and working here.
Although he didn’t have a philosophical problem with this, Lily hadn’t mentioned that ALICE participants would be staying on-site. He mentally-catalogued the information and thought of better places where more private living arrangements could be made within the network. Each bed had, at its foot, a metal folio containing information about its occupant. When he moved closer, he could see that most of the women were covered in beads of sweat, many of them moving restlessly in their beds.
He put his rebreather into his mouth as a precautionary measure, and began reading, the sounds of a pencil scratching onto his notepad as he wrote Latin names of something.
Were they compounding pharmaceuticals on-site? The words suggested a direction, but not any useful questions without knowing what Astragalus agrestis was. Of note to Batman: each of the records had been signed by Dr. H. Isley – Tetch’s companion at Dick’s funeral.
Batman moved on to the part of the building that was most likely to be an office space, and tried the door handle. Unlocked. He pushed it open, looking back once more to confirm that none of the sleeping residents had woken up, and then stepped into the dark hallway. The door swung quietly behind him, and he placed his rebreather back into his belt.
Twenty minutes of snooping had not netted much more information, excepting the presence of dozens and dozens of amber bottles labeled “Tincture of Mentha pulegium.” The Bat slipped one into an open pouch and restored the scene to a state strongly resembling when he’d first arrived. There was a more dauntingly-secured room, but Batman was not confident he could break in without being detected or alerting someone to his presence.
Bruce Wayne may have less trouble getting through that door than Batman, he mused.
The detective stood and turned, and remembered his rebreather, inserting another charge into the device before returning to the barracks filled with sleeping women. He pulled the door open, and standing there was a young woman wearing a lab coat.
The woman was holding a balloon-pump perfume bottle, and said nothing before squeezing out several sprays of mist into a cloud in Batman’s face. He ducked low, sweeping below the woman, and locking her arm in a half nelson, removing the bottle from her hands as she prepared to throw it against the floor. The woman bucked against Batman’s armored body, and he wrapped his cape around both of them, pulling her backward toward the main entrance and hoping to protect both of them from whatever was in this bottle, as well as hide some of the sounds of the fray.
He couldn’t risk the lives of the women in the barracks, and their possibly-compromised health took his smokescreen off the table as an option. His assailant was restrained, but she could have made a convincing case that she’d only acted in self-defense.
Batman was the burglar, here. This woman could be a physician or a nurse or just someone hired to check in on the residents of the barracks.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he whispered after pocketing his respirator; they were outside, and well clear of the doors of the outbuilding.
“You can’t hurt me,” said the woman, in an English accent.
Batman could now see in the faint light of the night sky was not Lilian Rose, even if she had uncannily similar eyes. She was shorter, and English, and blonde.
“What did you spray? Can it hurt your patients?”
“They’re already asleep,” came the accented voice again. “We are helping these women and you have potentially compromised their health!”
Anything he didn’t have written down or in his belt would be gone by this time tomorrow. And there would be at least one overnight security guard.
The shadow put the rebreather back in his mouth, and the cylinder hissed. He shrouded himself again in his cape, and pulled several of his fog capsules from his belt and crushed the glass in his gloved hands. releasing them immediately onto the too-soft ground. The woman took a step back and arched an eyebrow at the faint noises coming from the Bat’s direction.
When Batman opened his cape again, clouds of grey fog billowed forth, masking his escape into the pine barrens. Harriet covered her mouth and retreated first to secure the door to the barracks, and then to take shelter in Lily’s house.
When the chemical smoke cleared, Harriet was gone, and the Batman had become a part of the night again.
The warrant was approved (with no objections, save several anxious winces, from the District Attorney’s Office) at 4:00pm by Judge Harry Stone.
Mayor Karlo had given the whole thing the blessing of his certain disavowal if things went sideways.
The arresting team consisted of Lieutenant Jim Gordon (still the acting commissioner even though Commissioner Gelio was all but officially back), Detective Arnold Flass, Detective Harvey Bullock, and Officer Christos Panagiotou.
Bruce Wayne was handcuffed in the back of the paddy wagon at 7:03pm, making the long trek toward Central District Headquarters from Silverwood Barrens.
As Bruce Wayne was being booked at the Gotham City Police Department Central District, a hobbling commissioner stood out front, ready to field questions with vague answers about ongoing investigations, but germinating a narrative that would paint Wayne as a dangerous and clandestine criminal.
The sun had begin to set almost an hour ago, and the sky was glamoured with the light pollution of the city.
“We want to ensure that Mr. Wayne can receive a fair trial, but we can say that he was arrested without incident at approximately six forty-five this evening,” the commissioner said, his mouth curled in a thin smile.
Five reporters covering this story, and a handful of lookie-loos. All of them turned away from Johnny Gelio when they heard the sound of a waving flag, accompanied by an unnervingly clear voice like speaking gravel:
“You’ve arrested an innocent man, commissioner,” the noise came from an inviolable blackness that hovered with eerie stillness in the air above police headquarters. An urban legend made manifest for the whole city. A rumor finally becoming solid.
The police commissioner shifted his weight and fell backward, barely stopping himself by planting his cane.
Batman flew off into the Gotham night without another word.
A car was waiting for Bruce Wayne within twenty minutes of his arrival.