“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”Douglas Adams • The Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy
The Garden Gnome
Johnny Gelio, commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department glanced at his watch after pulling up one of his dark socks.
He let out a soft sigh as he pulled his shirt over his unclothed torso. He was showered and shaved, but if they were going to keep seeing each other like this, then he would need to leave a toothbrush and a tin of mum in Lil’s bathroom.
Lucky for him, she was a heavy sleeper. He’d leave a note, of course, and, all things weighed together, Johnny would like to keep seeing her. He felt something with Lily, and she felt more socially appropriate than Kyle, who seemed wishy washy on the whole thing anyway. Lil and Johnny had history, and he was just happy that she still felt something for him.
Had to leave early for work, he scribbled onto a sheet of paper on the writing table by her bedroom window.
Don’t make plans for dinner to-nite.
Pick you up at 7.
Johnny fished into his pocket, finding the metal tube, and unscrewed the cap, tossing two pills – one violet, and one green – into his mouth and gulping them down.
By the time he was in his car, he could feel the benzedrine sulfate coursing through his blood stream. It made some of the twitching a little worse, but he was so much sharper than before that it almost seemed alright if one or two spasms got away from him. He would send somebody to the drugstore to get him another inhaler when they opened.
Ever since his visit to the doctor, Johnny felt like he had four more hours in each day. He could function at a higher level with less sleep, and he discovered more ways to optimize the tedium of his work so he could focus on the parts that he knew were important.
He walked briskly past McCrory at the front desk, nodding as the idiot saluted him.
The commissioner closed the door to his office, and started to take another pass through reports related to Fatal Friday, trying to see if they’d missed anything, when a curious bit of annotation caught his eye. An errant scrap of paper marked with a note in Johnny’s handwriting:
“Additional Details? (File # 340913-004).”
He sorted through the neatly piled stack on his desk, but he knew the interview in question wouldn’t be there, it was before he had joined the Gotham Police. Why did he leave this note to himself?
Moments later, he returned to his desk with the folder in hand. The reports crisscrossed the city, having to do primarily with the murder of the Overlea boy. Gordon’s file.
A piece of paper like a reporter might tear off of a notepad. It hadn’t been typed into the report, just a page that could have easily slipped out of the file, unbound, almost flippant in how little was done to secure it into the file folder.
“For additional details, speak to Lt. Gordon and Det. Kyle. In person.”
Neither would be here this early, but they would – if Johnny had to make a bet – arrive together, and before anyone else on their shift. Soon.
It wasn’t very long before the pair were walking down the hallway in front of the commissioner’s office. Johnny had planned to call out to them, but Gordon stopped in the doorway, and greeted the commissioner with a nod. He looked uncharacteristically well-rested.
“Gordon, could you and Detective Kyle come in here and have a seat, please?”
The lieutenant grabbed his partner by the forearm, stopping her in mid stride, and the two of them entered, closing the door behind them.
“This was,” Commissioner Gelio said, holding up the file folder, “before my time here. But I’ve been reviewing some files, and I left myself a reminder to ask you about this one, because the two of you ––“
“It was nothing, sir,” Kyle interjected, “It was a theory that Lieutenant Gordon and I entertained for a time, but that has since been dismissed. A bit silly, upon further reflection, sir.”
Gordon moved his mouth like he was chewing cud, and stroked his chin before adding a nod of confirmation.
“Fill me in anyway. It might be nice to start the day with a laugh.”
The detective looked at her partner with something like anxiety on her face, then looked back to Johnny, and began.
“Well we don’t believe this any longer, but in the heat of the moment,” she paused. “And for a period of about two weeks thereafter, it was something we’d entertained.”
“Go on,” Johnny prodded.
“Well, when we were interviewing the Pennyworth-Wayne family, I sketched something in the margin of my notes to indicate scale. I noticed that Bruce Wayne was taller than Lieutenant Gordon, and some of the questions the lieutenant were asking led me to believe that Mr. Wayne didn’t have much in the way of time commitments – no job, no children or spouse – all of his commitments seem social or political in nature, and, by definition, tend to occur in the evenings.”
Johnny tried to keep any apparent annoyance off of his face – but he prioritized controlling the spasms – something that proved more difficult since beginning the amphetamine regiment.
“Detective Kyle floated the theory,” Gordon took over, “and I saw a lot of merit in it, mind you; Bruce Wayne had the resources, the time, the access to cutting edge technology, and the general build and look to, well, be Superman.”
At that, Johnny did smile.
“I see some flaws, so maybe you can walk me through them,” Johnny said. “First of all, Superman operates out of Metropolis.”
Selina sighed, and Johnny wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t paid so much attention to people’s tendency to telegraph everything.
“He could operate out of Antarctica for all we know,” she explained. “Metropolis isn’t far enough away for the distance to be a factor. Maybe he chose Metropolis because of how conspicuous he would be in Gotham?”
The commissioner nodded in subtle approval.
“Alright. Superman claims to be an alien. Why would he need a…” Johnny looked for the right words. “…a ‘hidden identity?’ Wouldn’t this kind of do-goodery be something you’d want to be recognized for? When has Wayne ever shied away from a spotlight?”
“Well, maybe he wanted to protect his family. He doesn’t have a wife or kids, but, until recently, he had Grayson, and Pennyworth is still there, and he’s some kind of veteran – maybe he taught young Mister Bruce to fight? Or maybe it’d be bad for their shareholders. You weren’t here when the Hatter killings started, but maybe it was to protect kids in one of their orphanages from becoming high profile targets. Wayne’s an orphan, too, after all.”
“And you think that watching his parents get gunned down in front of his very eyes as a boy made him – what – swear an oath of vengeance against Death itself?”
Kyle’s eyes narrowed, like she was considering the motive. It was true that Wayne had the means, but Johnny could tell they’d got themselves hung up on the opportunity, completely ignoring motive.
“Look, chief,” said Gordon. “With all due respect, there was a dearth of supporting evidence, so we put the kibosh on it. We just thought it might be valuable to consider the ‘what if’ of a spaceman disguising himself as a human, living and working among us.”
“Well, I’ll admit that it’s novel, and given what we think we know about Superman, it was good thinking on your parts not to write those notes down. Please let me know if you have any additional details, or if either of you remember anything else, regardless of how relevant it might be. Dismissed.”
The partners exited Johnny’s office, exchanging looks of caution, and Johnny pressed the intercom on his desk, saying “Send Flass in here.”
The hulking detective entered the commissioner’s office, scratching his belly like a bear that’d just finished a feast of salmon.
“Have a seat, Flass, tell me what you’re working on right now,” Johnny ordered.
The detective’s burly hand was pawing in the pocket of his overcoat for something, and he produced a perfectly polished red apple. Flass took a bite and began explaining his assignment at the Iceberg Lounge. Flecks of the crunching mass flew from Flass’s maw, and he (inconceivably, and against any semblance of decorum or hierarchy) caught the morsels in his other hand, shoving them back into his mouth like one of those tin kid’s banks.
“Where were you when Lattanzi was killed?” Johnny cut in at the first pause, lowering his gaze to more fully-meet the slouched Flass’s.
“Wunna the first on the scene but I got there after they closed their tables down. Nobody there wanted to say what happened, except one loopy guy who got grazed who said it was Death in blackface who’d done it. After he sobered up, we talked to him at the hospital, but he recanted his statement saying he heard a loud noise and Lattanzi was down next to him.”
Johnny thought about it. A couple of Gordon’s snitches had mentioned a guy in a black mask or a “Grim Reaper in a tux,” and he was torn between the clarity of purpose he’d had while hunting the Bat, and the anxiety of another costumed freak, especially one who was so flagrantly adjacent to organized crime.
Then there was the fact that Flass was almost certainly taking money from the crime families – it was something that Johnny looked the other way on (the two men grew up together, and Arnold had been influential in gettin Johnny the commissioner position) – but Johnny didn’t really like it, and he tried to assign Flass to cases that kept him off a given beat, but the Iceberg Lounge needed coverage, and Flass was tough and predictable.
And they’d been hemorrhaging men since the crime families had gotten noisy again.
Johnny sucked his teeth, making two quick clicking noises in succession, then said “I need you on a special assignment. You’re covering Bruce Wayne. I want to know where he is, where he goes, when he eats, where he’s drinking, and who he’s fucking.”
“Boss, there’s a gate around Wayne Manor. You sure you want me just parked way out in the barrens all day?”
“Stake him out. Try it for a week, Arn. I’ll send someone to relieve you by 1930 every night, unless – would you rather start at 1500 and get relieved at 0700? It’s up to you.”
Flass just stared at the commissioner, mouth open.
“Let me know what you see. Take good notes. I’m paying you time-and-a-half, and you can expense whatever you want, but clear it through me first if it’s more than five bucks a day.”
“One week?” Flass asked, finally.
“A week,” Johnny said. “And Flass, you talk to nobody about this. Don’t share notes with anyone unless I give you the go ahead. I don’t care if the mayor himself comes sniffing, it’s me and you on this, that’s it.”
A short time after Flass left his office, the phone on Johnny’s desk rang.
“Hi Johnny,” the lilting sound of Lilian’s words were unperturbed by the phone. “Sorry about calling you at work, I know you don’t love that, but I needed to tell you that I already have plans with one of the girls from work.”
“It’s no problem Lil’,” Johnny said, though his face fell into a muted frown.
“Raincheck? Later this week?” Lilian sounded equal parts hopeful and sincere.
“Sure thing, Lil’.”
“Mister Bruce,” Alfred Pennyworth folded his newspaper and set it on the tray next to him, “I assume you’ve noticed the car.”
“I have,” answered Bruce, smiling. “It’s the Gotham police officer who was running security during Karlo’s dinner party at Falcone’s place. Flass.”
“He’s been there every morning for the past three days,” Al noted, then he pulled on a tiny cord in the library. In the hallway, a little iron bell rang, and Annette entered quietly.
“Ms. Annette,” Alfred looked up at the woman and smiled. “Could you please send a cup of coffee and some breakfast out to the man in the black Ford that is parked outside the gate?”
“Ask him if we can bring him lunch, too,” Bruce added. “And that Alfred and I want to make sure that Gotham’s Finest is as comfortable as possible.”
“Should I just invite him in?”
“No, thank you,” Alfred thought his response was too curt, but it was, in reality, just as warm as almost everything he said. “Actually, send Henry in when you leave, please.”
“Right away, Mr. Pennyworth.”
The two men were back to drinking their coffee, discussing the news of the day in somber tones. The biggest story being about the kidnapping of the Governor of Delaware’s son and daughter.
“Ms. Annette said you wanted to see me?” said Henry, one of the groundskeepers.
“Mr. Henry, yes,” Alfred said. “After Ms. Annette takes the policeman breakfast, wait five minutes, and deliver this message, from me,” Alfred handed the groundskeeper a folded note.
Arnold Flass’s face was still screwed up as he gulped down the coffee, confused by the obviously expensive silver tray which sat on his passenger seat. He lifted the lid, finding an egg sandwich on toast, two pieces of bacon, and a piece of cherry pie. He put the bacon onto the sandwich, and jammed the thick sandwich into his cavernous mouth, biting off just a bit more than he could chew comfortably.
“What’d you forget the ice cream?” Flass mumbled to himself as he saw a man in a brown newsboy hat and overalls approaching. He laughed a bit too heartily at his own joke, momentarily choking on his mouthful of sandwich before dislodging the overlarge bite with a hard punch to his own sternum. He rolled down his window to receive the groundskeeper.
“Ya forget the ice cream?” Flass roared, and he once again laughed. The groundskeeper clearly didn’t get the joke, and shrugged and handed him a folded note, then turned back toward the manor.
Flass unfolded the note, reading it through ever-more-tightly-clenched teeth. A vein in his neck pulsed and bulged, and he felt his face getting warmer and redder with anger. He pushed the door open, chasing down the man in the newsboy hat.
“Hey pal, you got somethin’ ta say?” Flass waved the note threateningly in his fist.
“I – scuse me sir?”
“Your boss put you up to this? Or did you write it?”
“Can’t really write. Mr Wayne and Mr Pennyworth just said ‘a lady shouldn’t be tasked with delivering such a message,’” said the groundskeeper.
“Well tell your boss that,” Flass was all of a sudden at a loss for words. He balled up the note and threw it at the groundskeeper, who simply shrugged as it ricocheted off of his chest and headed back toward the house.
The detective walked over to the crumpled card and picked it up.
Please feel free to urinate in the cup instead of on the plants. I’m sure Commissioner Gelio wouldn’t want a bill for the gardenias. – A.P.
Flass got back into his car, and folded the note into a toothpick, clearing stray bacon sinew from his molar, then he pocketed it, and ate the piece of cherry pie in two gigantic bites.