“Make sure nothing is wasted. Take notes. Remember it all, every insult, every tear. Tattoo it on the inside of your mind. In life, this knowledge is essential.
“I’ve told you, nobody becomes an artist unless they have to.”Ingrid Magnussen, White oleander
Selina Kyle had seen her fair share of dead bodies. She told herself that it didn’t bother her anymore, and she was probably right. Growing up as a ward of the state, between orphanages and the alleys of Gotham City’s less savory neighborhoods, she’d mostly stopped being traumatized by the idea of mortality quite some time ago.
So it wasn’t the kid’s body that bothered her. It wasn’t that he was a kid, or that he was a black kid, and it wasn’t that he was so goddamn young. It wasn’t the blood, or the smell of urine when they found him, and it wasn’t that his eyes were wide open and that she could tell they were bright in life, it wasn’t the grimace on the child’s face indicating that rigor mortis had set in.
It was the screaming.
Mr. Billy Overlea, the child’s father, was built like a statue. He looked like he could knock a man’s head off with a single, precise punch. And he wept into his hands, trying, in futility, to console his wife as he sobbed.
The child’s mother, Mrs. Etta Overlea was a small woman who wore a tattered robe that covered a soft, embroidered house dress.
Mrs. Overlea did not wish to be held. She needed her full range of motion to scream, and she screamed with a hoarseness that sounded like her voice would never heal.
Etta had been screaming since before Selina and Jim arrived on the scene; the lights on their squad car didn’t seem to slow her down a bit. She screamed while Selina and Jim interviewed the people who stood in the foggy Gotham morning, and those people who Selina spoke with indicated she’d been screaming for almost an hour.
An hour since the neighbors had found the body and put in the call to the police. An hour since that same neighbor went into his building and found Etta and Billy and delivered the devastating news. An hour of tearing her vocal chords ragged with screams of mourning and anger and desolation. It had taken an hour for the Gotham Police to arrive on the scene.
Selina spent her time on the scene interviewing everyone who she could get to talk to her, taking what she believed were meticulous notes; Jim Gordon was, ostensibly, doing the same, but she seemed to be having more luck than he did. Very few of the people there seemed to trust them, and it didn’t help that Gordon had found and spent too much time speaking with the only white people there who weren’t with the police.
Not that you could miss them. Bruce Wayne, (a very conventionally handsome man in Selina’s estimation, aside from the glasses he wore) cut an imposing figure wherever he went, and Dick Grayson (who wasn’t really speaking with Gordon so much as waving him off) was looking particularly sympathetic as he spoke to a boy of maybe eleven years old on the stoop of the apartment building.
It would’ve been the perfect publicity stunt for a political-boy-wonder running for mayor, but Selina noted with some surprise that there were no cameras to be found. She was doubly confused because, as she understood it, Wayne Enterprises ran most of the local newspapers and at least one of the radio stations.
When she was satisfied with her notes, she again prodded at the gathered people, offering the number to Gordon’s office, and scraping the barrel for any additional morsels of information. She certainly didn’t have what she needed, but she had places where she and Jim could start.
The boy’s name was Arnold.
He was ten years old.
His friends hadn’t seen him talking to anyone they didn’t recognize over the last few weeks.
He was a soloist in the youth choir.
His parents both worked for Wayne.
Selina learned all of this while Mrs. Overlea screamed for her baby. She also learned that Superman had come about fifteen minutes after the body was found. He spoke with Mr. Overlea for less than a minute, and flew off when Mrs. Overlea cursed him for not being there to save Arnold from this awful fate.
And as she directed the coroner to the body, Mrs. Overlea’s painful screams grew more hoarse, more desperate, more hopeless.
Selina was eventually able to wrangle the lieutenant, and as they got into their car, she couldn’t help but hear the continuing screams through the thick glass of the windows.
As Lieutenant Gordon and Detective Kyle drove away in silence – not out of any reverence or respect for the dead, but because there was nothing that needed to be said at the moment – the screaming stayed with Selina.
She thought over why the Mrs. Overlea’s cries had bothered her so much, but couldn’t bring herself to admit the real reason.
Somebody cared enough about that little boy to feel something when he was gone.
“Those people just don’t trust cops,” said Jim Gordon, who was pacing back and forth behind his desk chair.
“I took a lot of notes,” Selina Kyle sighed with frustration, “but I can’t really argue with you on that. Maybe one in two gave me anything, and a few of the ones who did were shuffled off by the ones who didn’t.” She was writing bullet points on a larger piece of paper, sitting in the chair in front of Gordon’s desk.
“Where do we go from here?”
“I suppose we pray, detective.” came the reply from the Lieutenant.
“Pray for answers, and pray that Grogan is out sick today and not just coming in late after ‘a meeting,’” Gordon tapped his chin, then gave the rookie an inquisitive look.
“I would hazard a guess that he’ll be out all day, but who knows?” She shrugged. “In any case, if we’re already praying, maybe we should head to the church where the kid was a singer.”
“Not a bad idea, did you get any other interesting information?”
“Superman showed up, but, y’know, not until after the kid was killed.”
“We don’t know that he was killed,” said Gordon, but he tapped at his chin with his index finger, mulling the information over in his head.
“We know he didn’t die where the body was found,” Kyle pointed out, adding “that’s a pretty big clue if I ever heard one.”
“I suppose it is,” Gordon smirked. “But, first day on the job, I don’t want you telling anyone you were better at pointing out what was and wasn’t a clue. Let’s head over to Gotham Baptist.”
Selina rose from her chair, leaving her scribblings at Jim’s desk and followed him out of his office. Jim muttered something to the reception desk as the pair hurried by.
“Hey,” Selina said, almost shouting. “How’d Bruce Wayne know about the kid?”
Gordon groaned, looking back at the new detective just to roll his eyes.
“Apparently,” he grumbled, “Bruce Wayne was the first call. Before anyone shouted for Superman, before anyone called us, Bruce Wayne got a call.”
“What’s that about?” Selina asked as they trotted down the steps toward the car. Jim walked at a brisk pace which suited her just fine.
Jim Gordon thought for a moment, stopping with his hand on the door handle.
“Beats the hell outta me, rookie, but everyone in that building works at Wayne.”
“Do we need to pay him a visit, too?”
“I really can’t see how we could avoid it.”
Gotham City Morgue was as grim as the purpose it served. Located in the basement of the Gotham District Courthouse, it was quite literally bone chilling; the entire basement was already cool, but a series of refrigerated cabinets lining the walls of the place made certain that the coroner, Dr. Victor Fries, had to pack a winter coat even in the sweltering weeks of a Gotham midsummer.
Lieutenant Jim Gordon scanned his rookie partner and knew that her overcoat wouldn’t do, handing Selina his heavy wool coat, and offhandedly remarking that she should bring her winter coat to work and leave it in the car.
The older man casually swabbed large gobs of petroleum jelly onto his finger on the landing of the stairs in the courthouse, and Selina could feel a swath of humidity emanating from the stairwell; she looked at Jim with skepticism about the enormous coat she was holding as he dragged a gob of the jelly onto Selina’s forefinger.
“Put it in your nostril,” Gordon demonstrated, immediately stuffying his voice. “Id’ll make id so ya need to breathe through your mouth, but otherwise the smell’ll kill ya dead.”
“One of the other guys mentioned the menthol jelly, for the smell, but he said to put it under your nose,” Selina commented.
“Bullock is an asshole. He was probably messig with ya,” Gordon said. “That shit just opens the sinuses, makes the smell worse.”
Selina pursed her lips and followed Jim’s lead, hating the feeling of the obstruction in her nostrils. She looked for a place to wipe the excess jelly, finding a handkerchief in her pocket, and donned the coat as they descended the stairs.
The coroner greeted the pair, inviting them into the “icebox” to view the body of Arnold Overlea, covered from the waist down in a white sheet, the boy’s dark skin struck a sharp contrast against the otherwise bright room.
“We’ve requested permission from the family to do a full autopsy,” Dr. Fries remarked. An unlit cigarette dangled from his lower lip. “But we’re still waiting to hear back from them,” Fries blinked twice, quickly in succession from behind his thick glasses.
“Anything we should know otherwise?” Selina asked, breaking an otherwise awkward silence.
“You mentioned some blood, but I wasn’t able to identify anything like a fresh wound, certainly nothing mortal, and there wasn’t sufficient blood in the nose or mouth to suggest that the blood left his body from there.”
Jim Gordon nodded along, then spoke: “It was more than some blood.”
“Hmm,” in unison from the three investigators.
“Please give my office a call when the family approves the autopsy. We’d like to have eyes on it as it happens.”
“Sure thing, Jim,” Fries shook hands with the Lieutenant, then his partner. “A pleasure, detective.”
“Likewise,” Selina replied.
In the car, the newly minted partners dug petroleum jelly residue out of their nostrils as Jim started the ignition.
“First case is always the weirdest,” said Gordon, shifting the car into drive. “What’s that make you think, that Fries couldn’t find a wound?”
“I,” Kyle began, then hesitated, “do we know it was the kid’s blood?”
“You’re asking the right questions, Kyle. Unfortunately, we don’t really know,” Jim paused. “Goddamn animals.”
“Where would someone get animal blood,” Selina asked in earnest.
Jim Gordon started to speak, wanting to clarify his metaphor, but then stopped.
“Didn’t mean it like that, but that’s a helluva question.”
The pair headed across town to the East End to talk to someone at Gotham Baptist Church, and were struck with its emptiness.
“There’s no office or rectory?” Jim asked.
“Maybe, but, I don’t know,” Selina paused. “I’m not much of a church person.”
“I was raised Catholic,” Jim huffed. “Our priests live in housing usually attached to the church. This won’t do at– hoo, what’s that?”
Jim walked up the stoop to read a notice in the window of the church.
MEMORIAL SERVICES TO-NITE AT 7
He read it aloud for Selina’s benefit, but she could make it out from her vantage point.
“That a funeral?” Selina asked.
“Beats me, but I guess it means we’re working late. There’s a deli in Little Italy with some great Italian sandwiches. Why don’t I buy you lunch and then we’ll head out to Silverwood Barrens?”
“Silverwood Barrens? Isn’t that out in the county?”
“Sure is,” Gordon affirmed. “And it’s where we need to go to visit Wayne Manor.”
Something annoyed Selina Kyle, Gotham City’s first woman detective, about not being invited inside of the sprawling estate that was Wayne Manor.
Instead, Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Alfred Pennyworth answered questions on the cobblestone walkway that led to their doorstep.
And Selina thought that Jim Gordon was playing softball with his line of questions.
She scribbled down notes, attributing answers to the men by initials, and using a scrawly, inscrutable shorthand to indicate the questions for her own reference.
“…purchased that housing cooperative eleven years ago, and it’s owned by the tenants, not by us,” Pennyworth was explaining the disposition of the apartment building where Arnold Overlea’s body was found. “I don’t think it warrants further explanation; if you ask twenty negro Gothamites where they work, seventeen of them will say Wayne Enterprises. It’s not a coincidence, it’s an enormous company which treats its workers as human beings.”
Pennyworth whispered something to Wayne, rolled his eyes and turned toward the house without another word to the detectives.
“I wasn’t finished asking you questions Mr. Pennyworth!” Jim called after him.
“I’m sorry detectives,” Pennyworth turned around, and took a deep breath. Selina thought he was doing a somewhat convincing job of hiding his annoyance. “You’ll have to find further answers with my sons. I’ll be leaving for Atlanta this evening after the memorial service and I’m afraid I need to finish preparing my staff. Good day.”
“You can’t leave the state!” Jim shouted, then turned red with agitation at Pennyworth’s flippancy.
Everyone looked at Gordon. Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Alfred Pennyworth all raised their right eyebrow and cocked their heads left in unison.
“Excuse me?” Wayne broke the silence. “Is my father a suspect in this case?”
Selina noted that Wayne, Grayson, and Pennyworth seemed to be playing up the father-and-sons relationship dynamic in a way that she didn’t think they usually did, but she didn’t know why.
Gordon remained flushed, and muttered to himself, then furrowed his brow, but eventually his face relaxed, though there was still a twitch of irritation in his upper lip.
“I may have more questions for you tonight, Mr. Pennyworth. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
“Not at all,” said Pennyworth, turning to take his leave.
The remainder of the conversation was tense. Wayne and Grayson were defensive, and Selina started sketching a couple figures on her notepad, trying to scale the men in front of her for later reference.
Eventually Wayne and Grayson agreed to avail themselves to the detectives following the memorial, but they made it quite clear that the mourners – especially the family – were their first priority.
As they began the long drive back to the Central District, Selina played with a couple moments from the conversation in her head.
“How tall are you, Lieutenant?” She asked.
“About five foot eleven,” Jim screwed up his face at her, then looked back at the road. “Why?”
“Just thought that those were some pretty large sons that Mr. Pennyworth had us interviewing,” Selina’s voice was lilting with mild amusement.
Gordon floored the pedal, seemingly unwilling to entertain Selina’s desire for banter.
The memorial service for Arnold Overlea was not a funeral, but a sermon.
Detective Kyle and Lieutenant Gordon stood quietly in the back of the church for more than ninety minutes while the sermon continued, volleying between stories about Arnold’s involvement in the church choir, and the need to reserve vengeance for The Lord. The pastor spoke about the disease of racial hatred, and how Gotham and moreover all American Negroes needed to dig in firm, and not lose faith, even in these dark circumstances.
“This is not a call for forgiveness. God tells us to love our enemies, but assures us that Justice will be done, even if not in this world!”
Shouts of approval and the unmistakable sobs of weeping parishioners mingled in the pauses of the pastor’s sermon.
Following the service, the pastor was mobbed by a throng of neighbors and family members of the Overleas, and as they were able to make their way to the pastor after some time, Selina noticed Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Alfred Pennyworth all speaking with and offering condolences to people from the community.
Selina and Jim spent a short time with the pastor, who scheduled time for the two of them the following day to answer more questions and provide a more comprehensive list of people that they may be interested in speaking with.
But the three men who lived in the vast mansion in Silverwood Barrens had already disappeared into the Gotham night.
“Out with it,” Gordon demanded.
“Okay, so stay with me here. Wayne is loaded. He doesn’t need to work. He’s a specimen of a man. Taller than you, built like a strongman…” Selina tried to stay measured and even, but she couldn’t help but be a little excited. “What does a wealthy playboy do with his free time?”
“Travel? I don’t know.”
“Well, yes – in a manner of speaking,” Selina continued. “Imagine you or me disappeared for twenty hours a day. Someone at work or at home would have something to say about it. But what if you were an orphan, being raised by your negro housekeeper?”
“That negro housekeeper is the third wealthiest man in the world.”
“Sure, but that’s not the point. Wayne’s parents were killed in a violent crime, right in front of him! If you had all those resources, and all that free time, and you watched your parents get murdered by a violent criminal, it might drive you to want to stop violent crime.”
“So why isn’t Wayne a copper?” Gordon asked sarcastically.
“Well, that’s the thing. What if he’s the ultimate copper?” Selina smiled and let the question hang in the air for a moment.
“What if he used all his time and wealth to make himself the perfect human specimen? And what if, somewhere along the way, at one of their hundreds of companies, he discovered something previously unknown to mankind?”
Gordon’s eyes narrowed, he was listening attentively, but not quite following.
“Picture Bruce Wayne’s face in your mind’s eye. Picture how he’s built. Now take off his glasses.”
Gordon lightly nodded to indicate that he was imagining along with Selina’s instructions.
“Put a dab of Brylcreem in his hair. Put him in a unitard–“
“–and a cape,” Jim added, cupping his hand over his gaping mouth.
The older man pulled the police car to the side of the road, slowing to a stop. He opened the door and got out, bracing his hands on his knees, which were clearly wobbling. Selina followed him out of the car, sidling up next to him, but not touching him.
Gordon looked up at the rookie, and put his hand on her shoulder. Jim Gordon looked like he had seen a ghost.
He took a deep breath, and his voice trembled with the gravity of the revelation:
“Bruce Wayne is,“ Jim Gordon breathed deeply, and his partner nodded in tense affirmation, lifting him to his feet.
Entering the Gotham City District Courthouse, and subsequently, the morgue, wasn’t difficult for a shadow, though the Batman didn’t expect the coroner to be working this late.
It was more than fifteen minutes of waiting in a door well, the staticky noise of the police scanner playing in his ear.
“WE HAVE A CHHHHH AT LAKESIDE AND CHHHHH. CAR 24, PLEASE RESPOND.”
“10-4 HEADED THERE NOW.”
It was unclear what had happened in Lakeside, but the Batman noted he would need to reinforce the ear containing the radio antenna with metal to better receive the signal.
He thought he would slip out and head to investigate – Arnold’s body wasn’t going anywhere – but as he moved to make his exit, Dr. Victor Fries loudly closed the folio on his desk, cutting the lights in his office and leaving for the night.
He’d allowed himself a lot of time for this, knowing that the discomfort of examining a child’s corpse, and darkness might make his amateur autopsy difficult.
He held a small penlight in his mouth as he searched Fries’ desk for the appropriate file. The room smelled of stale cigarette smoke, and the Batman thought he could detect bourbon as well.
He located and began reading the Overlea report, but the only thing that stood out to him was one vague line:
Of note, vibrant orange coloration on lips and fading orange coloration on tongue.
The Batman quickly memorized the corresponding cabinet number and folded up one of the many copies of the preliminary report to take with him, otherwise restoring the office to its previous state, and slinking into the refrigeration room.
A cursory investigation of the body failed to provide any information beyond what was listed in the report; the orange coloring on Arnold’s lips was very faint at this point, and his tongue was the pallid, patchy pink one would expect of a dead human child.
He leaned in to smell the child’s lips, first noticing that he’d been trying to hold his breath, the smell of decay was not well-prevented by even this level of refrigeration, but the Batman did detect a faint smell of both orange and cherry flavoring.
The Batman made a mental note, and put the boy’s body back in it’s cabinet, and ascended the steps to the courthouse, and further to the roof.
The sudden, de-staticked clarity of the police radio was almost jarring, he could see the Lakeside neighborhood from this vantage point, and there were three police cars’ lights polluting the relative darkness, reflecting their red, rotating lights off of Lake Henson.
“–SPATCH 10-52 FOR LAKESIDE AND BUSH. SUBJECT IS A WHITE, MALE CHILD, TEN YEARS OLD.”
A 10-52 was a request for an ambulance.
“COME IN UNIT 11.”
“UNIT 11 HERE.”
“CORRECTION. THAT 10-52 IS A 10-55.”
A 10-55 was a request for the coroner.
Selina Kyle was inside of an opulent, Elizabethan-style mansion, but she only barely remembered breaking in.
She found and emptied a jewelry box filled with pearls, heirloom gemstones, and even the supposedly cursed Eye of Rhodesia, a giant, sixty-four carat emerald pendant bezeled with dozens of carats in immaculate white diamonds of exceptional clarity.
Her connections to the more bold men in Gotham’s organized crime operations wouldn’t make it safe to unload something this well-known. With a statement piece of this magnitude you needed to sit on it, often for decades, before you could really think about fencing it.
No matter, she had enough mundane gold and valuables in her bag that she could afford to be patient for what would surely be a retirement-level payday.
She sneaked through the empty house, slipping through the open door of the study through which she came.
Just as she was pushing open the window to make her quiet escape, the owner of the sprawling manse stopped her.
“Detective Kyle, did you think I wouldn’t recognize you?”
She turned around, and as her accuser stepped out of the shadows, she froze, momentarily paralyzed, then screamed in horror.
Selina Kyle woke up, sweating in her small, third floor apartment in the Gotham Women’s Union tenement.
She wasn’t sure if her mortal fright woke her from the nightmare, or if she had actually screamed. In either case, she remembered the screams of Mrs. Overlea, and didn’t quite find her way back to sleep, even if she was relieved.
Wayne Manor was off limits. No amount of thrill or payoff was worth trying to rob Superman.