“Nothing happened, and nothing kept happening.”Chuck Palahniuk • Haunted
“Commissioner, there have been eleven high-profile mob hits in the last three weeks. Three of these assassinations have happened since the reinstatement of the curfew, and the people of Gotham have heard nothing from the police – do you have anything to say?”
Johnny Gelio, commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department looked at the reporter, Vicki Vale, and did a poor job of disguising his scowl.
Where is the Gazette? Johnny wondered, but he moistened his lips with his tongue and gave her the soundbite she wanted:
“I have a lot to say, Miss Vale. But my department is understaffed to the tune of four hundred officers. Underfunding has left a brave but depleted workforce on the brink of not having enough police to fulfill the mission of public safety.
“Throughout my career as a sworn officer, I’ve learned that when the council is presented with proposals which could really be productive in stemming this criminal violence, if it counters their personal narrative, it dies. I know stopping organized crime is a priority for me and my department, and for the people of Gotham, and I intend to make an emergency funds request at the Board of Estimates meeting this afternoon. Thank you.”
“Curfew is at 7:00 p.m,” said Lucius Fox, addressing the factory floor from a catwalk. We had resolved to use pension funds to bridge the gap for second and third shift workers who would lose wages as a result of the renewed curfew. Fortunately, Mr. Wayne and Mr. Pennyworth have made it possible for our workers in Gotham City to avoid the curfew entirely without missing a paycheck.
“Until further notice, the workday will begin at eight in the morning, and we will adjourn daily at four in the evening. Second and third shift workers, other than security workers, may report between the hours of eight and four, but until the close of this latest curfew, workers of any shift will not be required to attend their shifts. We do ask that you let your team captains know, no later than the day before, and if you are a team captain, you should let your teammates know if you will be staying home, delegating captain duties temporarily to someone who plans to be here.”
“Thank you, Lucius,” said Alfred Pennyworth, patting the man on the shoulder with fraternal warmth. “As Mr. Fox has already said, we are going to be very er…liberal in our leave policy for the foreseeable future.”
Lucius chuckled, and the floor laughed politely at the inside joke.
“Mr. Wayne and I will be testifying in front of the City Council next Thursday, about the damage that these capricious decisions are doing to the workers of Gotham, and we are inviting all of you to attend. Through the course of this curfew, we encourage every worker, vested or otherwise, to use your workplace as a place to organize, and we will provide tools for you to contact Mayor Karlo, Commissioner Gelio, and your city council members to let them know how safe the curfew makes you feel. Wayne Enterprises and the workers who collectively own this organization have weathered worse, and I am confident that we will come out the other side of this stronger – or at least more well-rested than ever before. Thank you.”
Workers on the floor applauded, and team captains with clipboards immediately started filling sign-up sheets for people who were interested in attending the rally and hearing at City Hall.
“If you wrap the cable around your forearm, then grip it, it’s less likely to slip, like this,” Bruce demonstrated the grip, and he spun the grapnel easily, slinging it up to a girder in the hangar, and performing a parabolic swing over a number of older vehicles which had been arranged as obstacles for these training sessions.
Barbara Gordon understood that this allowed Alfred to maintain the gym space to continue to train the young people in self-defense, and the commissioner’s new curfew meant that fewer cars needed to be kept at the ready.
She carefully mimicked Bruce’s demonstration, twirling the cable to build momentum before launching it to the same place, and testing it before taking a step, but Bruce stopped her.
“Ah bup bup,” he cautioned, slacking the cord and bidding her to try again after reeling it in. “Feel the tension in your arm when the cord anchors. We might be able to prepare locations when we know that something is happening well enough in advance, but you won’t always have the luxury of testing your work.”
Barbara narrowed her eyes, and tried again, slightly leading the flying cord as it became more and more taut on it’s way to the girder, and she jumped just as she felt the grapnel’s anchor, feeling it pulling up as she swung faster than Bruce had just moments before. And then she felt the line go limp, and she was speeding toward a corrugated metal wall. Barbara extended her legs to manage the impact, and crouched into a ball the moment she felt the wall under her feet, caroming into a somersault on the hard floor of the hangar, abruptly stopping when she hit the steel bumper of a media red Pontiac Eight convertible.
Barbara stood, flexing her shoulders and rubbing her forearm. She imagined that the rope burn would’ve been fierce if it hadn’t been for her gloves and the tailored suit sleeve which fit her like a lightly-armored second skin, and she breathed a heavy sigh.
“So much for trusting my gut,” Barbara said.
“That’s why we train,” Bruce said. “Three weeks ago, would you have been able to land without injuring yourself? Two months ago, would you have even been able to get the rope to hit that beam?”
“No, but –“
“No. That’s all. Just ‘no.’ You’re developing new skills. We’re training ourselves to be ready for the worst so that we have a chance to survive it, and we’re doing it in a way that will make us look inhumanly capable in any other situation. And there are other, local considerations.”
“The cape provides additional drag, The full suit is bulkier than what you have on now. We’ll move to full costume trainings soon enough, but I want you to learn the fundamentals without it.”
“Again,” Bruce said.
Barbara reset herself, and in a heartbeat, she and the rope were in synchronous motion. This time, something in the pull of the grapnel made it evident that it had anchored, like the micro-vibrations of a fly trapped in a spider’s web, she could sense it in a way that wasn’t just trusting her gut, but that she truly felt in her muscles. She leapt, and instead of a straight line, terminating in the wall, she swooped around in a clockwise arc, loosening her grip and landing with grace less than a foot from where Bruce stood like a sentinel.
By the time they’d finished training, Barbara felt like she could’ve done the rope drills in complete darkness, and Bruce had graduated her to landing in defensive stances and offensive attacks.
At the dinner table, Barbara became predatory in her hunger, tearing into the grilled spareribs with her bare hands and teeth (which Alfred insisted was “as you are supposed to,”) flaying the tissue from the heavy bones. Pockets of fat burst and melted in her mouth and the sweetness of the caramelized marinade on the meat swirled together to create a perfect harmony of flavors with each new bite.
“It tastes better without a fork, doesn’t it?” Alfred smiled in Barbara’s direction, his apron looking like it belonged to a man who had personally wrestled the steer they were eating into submission.
Barbara nodded, returning the smile, and noticed with a private giggle that Alfred and Bruce were both – veryliterally – red-handed. She imagined that she looked the same, after a fashion, of course.
Barbara ended up staying over that night – in Dick’s room – something that was happening with more and more frequency as the training had begun in earnest. It allowed them to train longer and more rigorously during the curfew, and Bruce and Al had made the manor feel like home ages ago, going so far as to offer her the larger of the two pool houses. She declined, but partly from her desire to be closer to Dick. Fragments of his scent lingered in his bedroom (which was, she noted, itself larger than her apartment), and she was beginning to notice that Bruce’s unadorned, natural fragrance was very similar.
She’d always known (on some aesthetic level) that Bruce was handsome. Both as a contemporary man, and conventionally. He was well-built, masculine, smart, and strong in a way that didn’t require him to prove it. Aesthetically, he was what every woman wanted, but Barbara hadn’t allowed herself to acknowledge it until the Black and White Gala, where he wasn’t just the most attractive man in the room, he also made her feel more beautiful. Finding out that he was Batman – the Batman, and being invited to train with him, to help make Gotham City a better, safer place helped to cement Bruce as a regular feature in her fantasies – at least the ones which included men.
But, in hindsight, it felt to Barbara like she’d missed her opportunity. And the guilt that she felt in not ever telling Dick how she felt needled at the edge of her conscience. It wasn’t fair, because she was never sure those feelings were real until after Dick was gone.
And so she trained, and she trained more, pushing her feelings to the side to focus with blazing clarity on her goal: to be invited out for a real patrol.
Early in the morning – it must have been 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. – Barbara was falling from a rooftop, desperately trying to remember how to inflate the veins in her cape with carbon dioxide, jamming the button inside her glove to no avail as her cape whipped behind her like a comet’s tail. The pavement was getting closer and closer, and she remembered the high-tech antimonial lead grappling gun on her belt, firing it off with a thweeeep only a microsecond before she smashed into the…
Barbara Gordon sprang awake in alarmed relief. She was disoriented, but just for a moment, as the dimly moonlit surroundings of Dick’s suite came into desaturated focus. She stepped into his washroom, leaving the light off and twisting the handle of the sink and letting the water turn ice cold before splashing it onto her face. She wasn’t trying to wake herself up more, just trying to stop the sweat.
She scooped a handful of the ice cold water into her mouth, and gulped it down before turning off the faucet and stepping softly back toward the bed. Another room in the house creaked, and she looked over her shoulder at the bedroom door, some part of her silently begging for any excuse to investigate. She looked down at herself, wearing only a satiny nightgown and matching tap pants. A robe would allow her to deflect if she was found wandering by anyone other than Bruce, but it might also give her an excuse to second guess her half-awake resolve.
Without realizing how it had happened, she pulled the bedroom door behind her and stepped out into the hallway. The wood floors were ice cold on her feet and let Barbara be certain that this was not a dream. The hall seemed to go on forever, and the house ached and creaked at odd intervals such that she couldn’t directly attribute the sounds to her steps. In the passing of moments which felt like blurry eternities, Barbara was standing at Bruce’s bedroom door. She flexed her hand, the muscles in her fingers were still tight, and her knuckles were still bruised and swollen, and she smirked at the folly of it: why would she knock?
Barbara’s head was a storm of swirling thoughts and questions, each tempting her to beat a quiet path back to her room. What if he rejects me? Will he be alright if I decide I just want to lay with him? Am I just using him as a stand-in for Dick? Don’t think “Dick” right now. Does he have a girlfriend? Does he like girls? Is he too old for me? Is this what I really want? Is a man what I really want? Will this make things too weird? Will he talk about me with Al? Why are you doing this at the most awkward possible time? What if there’s someone in there with him right now?
“Stop,” Barbara whispered to herself, trying to quiet the doubts. She’d made it this far, and it had been something she’d been thinking for ages, and she was lucid, and there would never be another time that she could just tell him “I must’ve been sleepwalking!” instead of immediately dying from embarrassment. She turned the doorknob, opening the door to Bruce Wayne’s bedroom. It was dark except for the moon and starlight diffused through the clouds and the pine forest that lined the property’s edge. Bruce’s bed was perfectly-made.
And it was empty.
She was all alone in Bruce’s room, and she felt her cheeks flush red.
Of course he’s not here. He’s out on patrol.
Barbara Gordon turned and left the room, pulling the door closed with an audible click, and went back to bed.
Batman fired the grapnel, and dove from the fire escape, swinging in a down-and-forward curve, and released the spent spool in the chamber. He landed in the alley below, crouched, and spun around into a standing guard. He was impressed with the new power and distance of the redesigned gadget, and planned to find a way for the “reel” apparatus to retract in real time, which would allow him to cover more ground.
He reloaded the spool cartridge and fired, setting the hook and engaging the reel apparatus, which assisted as he scaled the old cinderblock wall of the building to the roof. In the distance, the vigilante spied the flash of three gunshots in quick succession, and fractional moments later, he heard their sound.
The Bat fired his grapnel again, still impressed by the distance gained through the addition of Clark’s alien crystal. The hook flared, setting itself in the adjacent building, and Batman inhaled, and leapt.
“These guys are big time, aren’t they?” Kyle asked. “I’ve seen them…around.”
Lieutenant Jim Gordon looked sidelong at his partner, cocking an inquisitive eyebrow, but didn’t vocalize the questions he had in mind, instead leaning in to inspect the larger of the two bodies with his flashlight.
“This is Joey Toscano,” Jim said, clicking off his torch. “He’s a capo in Gambino’s crew. Made guy. You can’t just kill a made guy. The logistics alone, Jesus.”
“And the other one?” Kyle pointed toward the smaller body. ”Dyou know him?”
“Yeah. So do you. Noonan, that creep I decked when we were hunting bats on the westside.” Jim flattened his mustache with his index finger and thumb. “Strange, didn’t take him for an Italian.”
“They have goons, too, don’t they?”
“They didn’t used to. Mandatum never really worked with non-Italians, but maybe his ma is from the old country. Might be of some importance. We’ll ask around. Go to the car and tell dispatch we need Fries’ people down here, I’m gonna poke around some more.”
Jim lit a cigarette, and coughed as he took the first drag. He scanned the shadows for something he’d missed. One of the shadows was, somehow, out of place.
“Curfew’s not working so well,” whispered the darkness.
“You been laying low?” Jim didn’t break stride, and he leaned down to examine an unremarkable stone. He hoped the pantomime would be enough to dispel any suspicion from Kyle. “I’m a little surprised you beat us here. Haven’t seen you around too much.”
“That’s why I work at night,” said Batman. “You’ve got people in the department working for Mandatum. Guys you trust.”
“Same bandits, different train,” Jim said. “And I don’t trust more than three of ‘em. What do you know?”
“New guy, Black Mask, brought back Mandatum. He’s trying to consolidate power.”
“Heard of him, but we can’t do anything without a name and whereabouts. Probably need a crime, as well,” Jim exhaled a fountain of smoke.
“He’s a Falcone, maybe Silvio. He’s been at the Falcone estate, and at Cobblepot’s luxury apartment building – the Emperor. In the Penthouse. As far as crimes, I’m told he has a hostage. An orphan. That should be enough to bring him in, at least.”
Jim swiveled his head at the sound of footsteps behind him.
“Anything noteworthy?” Selina asked.
He turned back to the emptiness where Batman had been moments ago, but every shadow was back in its proper place.
“I hate it when he does that,” he muttered, then tossed his cigarette butt with a flick of his finger. “I have a hunch or two, but we’ll need to start talking to these gangsters before they turn into corpses.”
It was Bill Cranston’s first night out on patrol, but he wasn’t nervous. The curfew meant that the streets were mostly empty, except for the occasional loner heading home from work, but even that was rare; rumor had it that Wayne had put everyone on paid leave for the duration of the curfew, which seemed like a big waste of money.
Commies, Bill thought, and he had no trouble trying to understand why these police jobs were so hard to fill: when the biggest company in town tells people they can get paid to stay home, it was no wonder that people just didn’t want to work anymore. But Bill was different. He knew he was destined for something great. He’d been fast-tracked through the academy (it was typically six months, but Bill had finished in just under two). And that time in the academy meant that he was getting room and board in addition to being paid, earning pension, and being able to save up a down payment for a house or a nice apartment. There were other benefits, too, including a signing bonus, a piece, and more.
The fact was that if you were willing to break a sweat and earn an honest living, you could do a lot worse than the Gotham Police Department. Bill had heard the scuttlebutt that a lotta Gotham P.D. was on the take, but he hadn’t seen it firsthand, and, in any case, Bill Cranston was a guy who did things the right way. With a gig like this, he could finally show Gertie that he was ready for the long-term. She’d say “yes” for sure this time, Bill just knew it.
He thought about how he’d ask her this time. Maybe at a fancy restaurant. Commissioner Gelio had taken a shine to Bill, and he was a well-connected man; perhaps he’d be able to get Bill and Gertie a table at one of those places where they make you wear a dinner jacket. A high class joint, where one of those colored fellas sings with the band.
A shadow moved across Bill’s field of vision and, in an instant, he was reminded of another rumor about Gotham. It wasn’t even just a rumor – the papers had talked about the bat, and there were multiple eye-witnesses at some hoity-toity fundraiser a coupla weeks back. Imagine, arresting Batman, first night on the job. He’d get the key to the city. He’d get a promotion. Hell, he could probably run for mayor in a couple years. Destined for something great.
Bill unholstered his gun, and held it in the ready position, using the barrel like a dowsing rod to sweep across the quiet lane.
“Gotham Police!” He shouted into the darkness. “You’re in violation of curfew!”
He took a few more steps forward, clearing the alleys as he passed them. And then he heard the heavy breathing. At first, he thought it was his own, but Bill Cranston wasn’t nervous. Alert, sure, but he was so very not-nervous that he was holding his breath, listening with heightened awareness for Batman to give himself away.
“Come out with your hands up!”
A rat the size of a kitten bolted out of the alley and under a car. A tabby cat pounced from nowhere, bounding behind it, and following it into the sewer. Bill sighed, and relaxed. Maybe he was a little nervous. That was okay. It wouldn’t be tonight, but he’d have his chance. He began holstering his gun when, before he could think about it, he’d fired off three shots directly into the shadow with its hands up that had appeared in front of him. Bill could taste metal, and he could hear his heart thumping overtime. He approached the body that was laying in front of him, a pool of black oil slowly increasing in size around it.
Bill Cranston recoiled at the blood, but knew he had to do this the right way and rushed to try and help. A kid. Couldn’t be older than thirteen. Big for his age, but definitely a child.
“Holy hell, kid! What’re you doin’ out past curfew?”
The boy coughed, flinging blood and spittle into Bill’s face.
“Where are your parents? We’re gonna get you to a hospital. It’ll be alright, kid.”
“Shelter,” another sputtering cough. “But I couldn’t afford it this week.”
“Wait here,” Bill got up, knowing that he needed to get to his car to radio this in, but hesitating. “What’s your name, son?”
Bill ran to his car, jamming the button on the radio. Then remembering he needed to turn on the car first.
A staticky voice said something that Bill couldn’t make out, but he shouted back at the receiver anyway: “I got a kid laying here dying. Send a paramedic! I’m at Pelling Way and Green Street, just before the entrance to the park.”
Bill bolted back toward the kid, but he was barely breathing now. He tried to recall the first aid training when someone was dying, but he couldn’t exactly remember the stupid rhyme. He started performing chest compressions without wasting any additional time, but the kid grunted and spasmed and cried out in pain. Bill knew that this was likely to break some ribs – that much he remembered. Better to live with broken ribs than be dead, or something like that. He completed a second series of compressions and more blood spilled out of the boy’s neck. There were tears in the boy’s eyes, and streaming down his face.
“Paramedic’s on the way, just hang in there Ralph.”
But Ralph’s breathing was even more labored than before, and by the time the ambulance arrived, he wasn’t breathing at all.