A voice called out.
The voice’s hands clung to a cashmere-made blanket, so afraid to untighten its grip. The hands, and the voice, belonged to a boy of eight. A boy who could’ve sworn he had just seen something move within the open doorway of his walk-in closet. He did not know what it was that he swore he’d seen. Upon remembering, years later, the figure would resemble that of a clown. Sometimes, the figure would be a suited man in a plain white mask - and other times it’d be …
Something much worse.
He called once more for the ageing butler. It must’ve been late June? Or, perhaps, this occurred within the earliest days of June. He did not remember that part. He just remembered how warm it was. The air was like a hot, sticky quagmire - you drowned in it. Under that blanket, in his dark blue pyjamas, he was sweating. Profusely. “Alf-”
His third cry was interrupted by the opening of his bedroom door. He froze, in that swelter, expecting the man behind the door to be the same one within the closet. It wouldn’t be Alfred, it wouldn’t be a police officer coming to arrest the fiend. No, it would be a monster man. A man dressed all in black, who had come to take him.
A man he feared.
And this part of the memory was always the same,
It was no man at all.
The door opened wide and a woman sauntered in. She had her hair in a braided updo and she wore a beautiful wine-coloured dress that was decorated with a thin black shawl she wore ‘round her shoulders. “M-Mom?” The boy in the bed said softly.
With utmost relief.
“Oh, my baby, what is wrong?” She asked as she approached, her short heels clicking against the wooden floorboards.
“I thought you were at the movies.”
The boy wondered.
“We were. Your father and I just got back there, and then we heard you calling out. Whatever is the matter?” When she got to the bed, she took a seat. She extended her hand and brushed the boy’s forehead, ridding it of sweat and of fright.
He lifted his own hand, pointing a finger at the walk-in closet.
He spoke, quietly, so the creature would not hear him. He looked at his mother with big brown eyes and hoped she’d do something to sate his uneasiness. She looked into his eyes with her own - they had the same colour eyes, that was something he would never forget - and then she smiled. He missed her smile more than anything.
She ran her hand through his hair and petted him with affection before she stood back up. She made her way over to the closet’s doorway, her hand exploring the darkness until it found a light switch. The closet lit up.
No more darkness.
No more monster.
His mother looked back at him and raised her hands in a shrugging motion.”All clear.” She said as she glanced around the closet’s interior, fixing some of the clothes on their hangars as she did. The boy watched her and smiled. A cool and collecting calm, against the room’s warmth, sunk in. She turned off the light and closed the closet door,
Before walking back over to the bed and to the boy.
She sat back down in that same spot she always sat and, once again, she reached out. She held the boy’s face in the cusp of her hand.
“I’m sorry. I thought I saw what I saw.” He said, leaning into her palm.
“There’s nothing to be sorry for, my baby.”
She shushed him.
And he closed his eyes.
“You know,” She spoke through her cooing, “It’s human nature to be afraid of the dark. Sometimes our eyes play tricks on us … and conjure up something scary in that dark. There’s never ever anything really there, Bruce.”
He listened to her, not saying a word.
“The only thing really there is your fears. Your fears, and the dark.”
He started, curious.
“How do I stop it?”
She looked at him endearingly,
The boy asked.
She was silent for a moment before she leaned in and kissed his forehead. She took off the black shawl she wore and gestured for him to sit up. He did as such, and she placed the shawl around his own shoulders. “I want you to keep this for me. Hold on to it. Whenever your father and I are out and about, and you feel … alone and afraid …”
The fabric was not too heavy, and its size almost covered his whole torso. “You can put this on and we’ll be there. We’ll be with you, no matter where we are. And we’ll give you all of the courage, all of the bravery … you need.”
He looked at her as she talked. The shawl’s removal had revealed her pearl necklace. The one she always wore when she left the manor.
“You’ll never fear the dark again, Bruce.”
“Promise.” She laughed a little.
She kissed his forehead again.
Before a bullet pummelled through her eye, splattering the boy in his own mother’s blood. Disgustingly red. Hot and sticky, just like his bedroom was in that night. The night with the monster in the darkness -
Not the one with his parents in the alley.
He woke up in a similar sweat, but not a similar room. He didn’t go into his childhood bedroom anymore. He visited it enough in his dreams, in his replays of that one tender memory. He blinked repeatedly, trying to rid his eyes of sleep. In his current position, all he could see was the white ceiling with its patterned stencilling and its golden chandelier. He turned his head to his left, focusing on the bedside table and the electronic alarm clock that sat upon it. The time showing itself in red. It was early. Good. There was a part of him that still wanted to lie here for another hour, maybe two. But that part of him did not get a say anymore. He had to get up and so he sat up. The greying light of the after dawn peered through his venetian blinds, though it did little to lighten up the room - which was, of course, covered almost all in darkness.
He swung his legs out from underneath the duvet and stood up, his feet tingling slightly at the cold touch of the floorboards. Quickly, he moved towards the en suite bathroom. His hand found the light switch and clicked it, illuminating the tiled room. The illumination meant he had to look at himself in the wall-length mirror, and so he did. Small circles hugged his eyes and a faint stubble covered his jaw.
“And I just shaved two days ago.” He spoke to himself, his voice croaky from the morning. He placed his right hand on several purple blotches that dressed his ribs. He pressed his hand in and winced. He wasn’t ever one to bruise easily.
“That son of a bitch.”
Inspecting the bruises in the mirror.
When he was finally sick of looking at them, he shook his head and then dropped his briefs - before he opened the shower door and turned the water on.
After fifteen minutes or so,
He got out and dried himself, before wrapping a plush white towel around his waist. Leaving the en suite, he headed towards a chest of ornate drawers that had today’s outfit neatly folded on top of them. As he dressed,
“Ugh, what time is it?”
He smirked slightly before answering, “Morning sleepyhead. It’s just after seven.” He looked back at her as he buttoned up his white shirt. The woman that he had shared his bed with last night (and various other nights) smiled at him. The morning light shone on her red hair. “I could really go for one of your butler’s world-famous cappuccinos right now.”
“Hah. He wishes they were world-famous. At least that’d get him out of here every once and a while.” Bruce said, still fixing his shirt. He started on his cuffs,
The red-headed woman yawned loudly,
“I did, yeah. A certain Bruce Wayne’s fidgeting woke me up at one point though.”
“Shit. I’m sorry, Julie.”
Julie Madison stretched before replying,
“Stop, Bruce. It’s fine, don’t worry. Bad dreams again?”
“It was a good dream, for a bit.” “Oh …”
When Bruce had almost finished fully dressing, he turned around to face her properly. “How do I look?” He asked her. Julie was a personal stylist to some of Gotham’s finest, so her opinion was always valued. She studied him and then smiled,
“Looking very, very snazzy.”
He chuckled at that. “Look at me go, impressing the fashionista.”
The two of them laughed together before silence took them both hold. Bruce turned back to the dresser and grabbed a pair of freshly cleaned socks. He walked over, barefoot still, to a rack of smart-looking dress shoes and chose the most accommodating set. They were a light leathered beige. He put them on, one at a time.
“Bruce, I had a really good night last night. I just … I just wanted to tell you that. I haven’t felt this- I haven’t had that much fun since before-”
She stopped and took a breath,
“Before everything with my dad.”
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, Jules.” Bruce said as he carefully laced up one of the shoes.
“I know, but … I am. It’s been a few months. My therapist says I need to get back to just … living.”
He listened to her.
That’s all he could do.
“I know you’re not looking for anything serious but I just-” “Jules.”
“Listen, I just-”
She stopped talking.
He glanced back at her.
She had a sad look in her eyes,
“I just had fun, that’s all.”
The silence between them returned for a few moments before Bruce finished putting on both shoes and thus decided to break it. “I gotta head out. Got some important meetings to take care of today before the gala later. I’ll have Alfred put some coffee on for you, for when you’re ready.”
He started towards the bedroom door.
“I’ll see you later then.”
He stopped and thought about how he’d respond before settling on what he settled on,
“If you were out of here in about an hour or so, that’d be great, Jules.”
Under Wayne Manor, his home, there were hundreds of cavernous tunnels that stretched for several miles. Some tunnels had been charted and put to use by previous members of his family, and most of the others remained untouched - absent of all human interference. Bruce chose a particularly large cavern, the one with the natural waterfall, as his base of operations for his … vigilantism. Alfred would oft jokingly call it his ‘bat-cave’. The cave, itself, was quite bare bar his equipment. The waterfall fell into a shallow pond that was painted with emerald green moss. Several gaps in the ceiling allowed some dim light in, lamping over an assortment of short stalagmites. He sat in a swivel chair - not a natural part of the cave, of course - and looked up at one of a number of monitors he had installed. It was a supercomputer, and it came in very handy for his line of work. Or well, his real line of work. Bruce’s eyes were fixated on a criminal record he was able to find of a one Sal Maroni.
“Still brushing up on our mafioso?”
A voice called out from the steps that led up to the elevator that allows easy passage back to the mansion.
Bruce’s gaze did not leave the screen,
“Has my guest left yet?”
Small, clicking footsteps echoed throughout the cave as Alfred approached him. The old butler placed a silver tray on the table next to the computer, the tray's contents clanking as he did. “Ms Madison has left, yes. She devoured two white coffees and then asked me to tell you that she might not make it tonight.”
“Ah.” Bruce sounded, eyes still glued to Maroni.
Bruce nodded politely and the old man began to pour. “You know you don’t have to push everyone away, Master Bruce.”
“Who said I’m pushing people away?”
“Well, no one’s said it because they’re all so far pushed, sir.”
Bruce let loose a small scoff,
“I appreciate it, Alfred, but I don’t need anyone else in my life right now.”
“And yet you continue to invite Ms Madison into your bed?”
“It’s a … casual thing. Nothing more.”
Alfred placed a cup of tea down in front of him and then placed a spoon into the drink, but he did not stir it. That was Bruce’s job. Bruce took hold of the spoon’s handle and began stirring the tea. “You say it’s a casual thing,” Alfred grumbled,
“And then you go and spend half your time down here studying her father’s supposed killer.”
“Maroni’s dangerous. Norman Madison isn’t the only blood on his hands.”
Bruce lightly tapped the spoon against the porcelain and then put it down, raising the cup to his lips before taking a long sip. The scalding tea burned the back of his throat, but he welcomed it.
“How’re things on our end?”
Alfred slapped down a copy of the morning’s gazette,
“Take a look.”
Bruce looked down at it and read the paper’s two headlines. The bigger headline was, of course, news from Metropolis. The biggest news going. “Man of tomorrow, huh?”
“I guess you didn’t need to keep those tabs on him after all, Master Bruce. He’s gone completely public. Apparently, he’s some sort of alien …”
“That’s not surprising.”
“So the flying man from outer space isn’t surprising?” Alfred asked. Bruce looked down at the second top story. The one written by Vicki Vale. Accompanying her story was a black and white picture of … him. Snapped quickly while he was running from rooftop to rooftop in Downtown Gotham.
“As photogenic as ever, sir.”
“Any idea on who took the photo?” Bruce asked, “I doubt it was Vale herself.”
“It’s most likely she procured it from someone, for a price.”
“Not my best angle.”
Alfred put his hand on Bruce’s shoulder,
“How long, Master Bruce?”
“How long are you going to keep this insanity up? You’re spending more and more nights out there, dressed up in that god awful suit Lucius had made for you. I see you less and less. You’re-”
The butler stopped,
Taking his hand away from Bruce.
“You’re going to get yourself in trouble. Or worse.”
“Don’t ‘Alf’ me, Master Bruce.”
“Alfred,” He corrected. “I can handle myself.”
“Can you? You disappear for years and years, and leave me all tied up in this large and lonesome house. You never once called, you never once wrote - not until you decided it was time to come back to Gotham. And when you come back, you’re … you’re this.”
Bruce looked up at him.
Alfred was the one there for him the most in the aftermath of his parent’s murder. The old man was the one to embrace and cradle him in those nights - the ones where he’d awake and see their bloodied corpses in his bedroom.
“Whatever noble quest you think you’ve started on - stop. Burn that horrible cowl and cape. Ring up your uncle and take your proper place in Wayne Enterprises. Live a normal life, Master Bruce. The life that your mother and your father wanted so desperately for you. Don’t end up dead in some alley somewhere.”
Alfred’s speech led into the quiet.
The only sound was that of the waterfall and its boisterous splashes. Bruce wanted to put the old man at ease. To tell him that he’d cease all of this and that he’d be nothing but Bruce Wayne. But ...
“I can’t, Alf.”
“Why can’t you?”
Bruce bit his lip.
There was little to say.
Alfred let out a long sigh, “Your good friend, Ms Julie Madison, doesn’t need her father to be avenged, Bruce. She needs a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to intently listen.”
“It’s not about vengeance.”
“Then what is it about?”
Alfred rolled his eyes,
“Let Loeb dole out justice, Bruce. For god’s sake, let The Superman do it even. This is not your job, no matter how many late nights you stay back.”
Bruce took another sip of his tea,
Before setting his stare back onto the computer. Back onto Maroni’s record.
“You’ve got that meeting with Mrs Cobblepot in an hour, by the way,” Alfred said as the echoing of his steps returned, his voice getting further and further away. “And don’t you dare forget about the gala tonight. I don’t want you strutting in dressed as The Bat whilst your uncle and I try to entertain your guests.”
Alfred was in the elevator and gone before Bruce issued a hushed response,
“I won’t forget.”
He stood up from his swivel chair and found himself being drawn to the large glass case that held within it his suit. The Bat. He’d been dressing up in it for almost six months now, re-familiarising himself with Gotham City and everything in it. By his count, he had stopped over thirty muggings, twenty-or-so assaults and eleven attempted murders.
But there was so much more still yet to do.
He opened up the glass,
Reaching his hand in and delicately touching the black cape. Lucius had done a great job at designing the whole outfit, but the cape was especially special. Bruce slowly pulled it forward and caressed the thin patch that had been almost crudely sewn in.
His lip quivered slightly, “Promise.”
Their black limousine paraded through the streets of Gotham, in the early hours of the day. It was a show-off, of course. A sign of their wealth and of their power, both of which seemed waning in most recent years but still ...
“The show must go on and the curtain never set”, as their dear late father would say. So parade it was. Their chauffeur took the longest routes if necessary,
Just so the city’s citizens could bask and boil in the Cobblepot name and the extravagance attached to it.
The car’s interior was cream coloured leather. Tacky to some, but tackiness and expensiveness sometimes went hand-in-hand with one another. In one of the cream seats, sat a woman holding onto a morning mimosa as she read through the latest copy of everyone’s second favourite newspaper. She studied each page meticulously, reading every story presented to her. Whether it was sports drivel or tabloid gossip. This was her city. She needed to know even the littlest of going ons. Taking a sip of her drink, that of which was more champagne than orange juice, she turned to the next page only to be taken aback,
She called out to him.
He sat in front of her on an adjacent cream cushioned chair. He swiped through the contents on his phone, nodding his head to unhearable music excreted only by his wireless earphones. He didn’t hear her, of course. “Oswald.”
She repeated, now using his full name. A thing she’d do only when annoyed. Once again, he did not hear her. His lips mouthed lyrics to some song. So, she rolled her eyes and then reached across to him - hitting his bad knee with her hand.
That got his attention.
“What the fuck was that for?” Her sweet little brother asked, taking out one of the earphones. She stared him down, with that signature look of hers. The one that was like piercing ice. The one she’d give her employees if she was not satisfied with their work. “Have you seen the gazette?” She broke.
“Of course I haven’t, Anya. No one fuckin’ reads newspapers anymore.”
She threw the newspaper over at him, the thing closing as it hit his lap. “Page 6.” She added. Oswald muttered something under his breath and then put his phone down to replace it with the printed sheets of The Gotham Gazette. His eyes widened just a tiny bit when he got to the sixth page. Anya could see the lump forming in his throat,
“Care to explain?”
He looked up at her and feigned a shrug - as if he didn’t care.
She spoke fiercely.
“What?” He asked, “They came to the lounge. I greeted ‘em and maybe had a drink. I didn’t fucking know pristine customer service was a crime?”
“It’s not. But sharing a drink in the company of criminals might be.”
“Nah, that’s bullshit.”
“It’s that fuckin’ sensationalism again. This thing loves it.” He held up the paper and rattled it, “They see the youngest member of Gotham’s most elite family hosting some fuckin’ gangsters in his club-”
“- and all of a sudden it’s a damn fuckin’ cartel. Fucking collusion, whatever. Fuck that shit. I had one fuckin’ drink with Carmine Falcone. One. Fucking. Drink. In my own damn club.” “My club.”
Anya repeated, casually.
“Hey, who runs the damn joint?”
“Last I checked, Dinah does most of the work while you laze around in that manager’s office turned VIP area.”
Oswald could not respond to that, because it was the truth. The Iceberg Lounge was in Anya’s name but she didn’t have time for any triviality such as club/casino. She was too busy running the company. Their father’s and grandfather’s company.
Oswald was young and dumb and far too untempered. He couldn’t run a marathon, let alone a multi-million dollar corporation. He couldn’t run, full stop. Not since the accident that permanently damaged his left leg. Leaving nothing but the odd pain and a persistent limp.
Oz huffed and threw the newspaper onto an empty seat beside Anya’s before he looked out the tinted window.
Out at the streets.
“No.” He started. “It’s bullshit, Anya.”
“I know it is.”
“But still, you need to be cautious. You may think it sometimes, but the lounge is not your own little fantasy world. The people that come and enjoy their nights there, eventually go home. Whether they go back to the spouses they’re cheating on or to the mundane little desk jobs that help invite a bullet to the temple,”
She stared at him.
“They go back. And if one person spies you having a bit of fun with the leader of the most powerful crime organisation in our city, well, they may very well just snap a quick pic and spread the word around. And do you know why that is?”
Oswald didn’t answer her. He was in his feelings, she could tell. His gaze fixed out the window, still.
“Do you know why that is, Oz?”
He tutted, “Why?”
“Because people are bored. Bored of their miserable being. But gossip, well, gossip is exciting. Exhilarating. To know that you can be in on the know and that you can gloat about what you know to others. That’s the thrill. One small man with a penchant for spreading rumours can bring down an entire empire. Our empire.”
“I don’t care whether you had one drink with The Roman, or ten. All I care about is that you were reckless enough to get caught doing that. We have a sterling reputation here, Oz. We are one of Gotham’s founding families. The Kanes, The Elliots, Bruce Wayne - they may have great things but they have nothing on our greatness. People like them, if they saw this, they’d think less of us.”
Oswald sat forward,
“Who cares about any of ‘em? Who cares what they think?”
“Well, maybe you care too much.”
“Maybe you care too little, Oz.”
He sat back and folded his arms,
Anya Cobblepot picked up her glass and downed the rest of her mimosa before the limousine came to a halt on the corner of 41st. “Here’s your stop, ma’am.” Their chauffeur said through the muffled glass. Anya reached down and picked up her small clutch purse,
“Thank you, Cyrus.”
She opened the door and the bright light poured in, but before she exited the vehicle she turned back to her baby brother.
“You’ve to pick our niece up at two, remember that.” She stopped and thought for a moment, “And we have the party at Wayne Manor as well this evening. So, as hard as it may be, dress your best.”
“Here I thought you were gonna ground me or somethin’.”
Oswald clapped back.
“Just … don’t make any more fucking mistakes, Oswald. Make Falcone your new best friend and it’ll be on both our heads.”
He looked at her, slightly confused.
His mouth opened in an attempt to issue a response but Anya got out and closed the car door shut. She had had enough.
The office tower built in her family’s namesake stood tall amongst Gotham’s skyscrapers. This one was several decades old and yet, aesthetically, that did not show. On the outside, the building was modern enough and on the inside, regal enough. Auburn mahogany-panelled the walls of each of the property’s sixty-something floors. It even panelled the elevator she currently rode in. She was still, apart from the slight tapping of foot to the cheerful intercom music, until the doors opened on the 59th floor. She exited the elevator and entered the lobby of ‘operations’.
The whole building belonged to her family and their name, but this floor, in particular, was all hers. Her domain.
The slender blonde woman who sat at the floor’s reception desk stood up, almost frantically, as she noticed Anya’s appearance.
“Mrs Cobblepot, I-
“I need a no fat, double shot latté as fast as you can whip it up for me.” Anya began, taking off her long black coat and hanging it on a coat rack that was similar in colour to the wall panelling. She also put her purse on the reception desk,
As she usually did.
She trusted her assistants to take care of things. “I also need you to book in the meeting with the LexCorp executives on Wednesday. Very last minute, I know. Also, remind me to call Catherine later, will you Selina?”
“Mr Wayne is … in your office.”
Anya was taken aback for a moment,
“He is, is he?”
Selina bit her lip and nodded slowly, “I was trying to tell him that he could wait outside but-”
“But, he is Bruce Wayne.”
Anya cut her off.
She let out a small sigh and then put on her best smile, “Selina, can you change the latté to a bottle of scotch? And be quick, please.”
“Of course, Mrs Cobblepot.”
“Thank you, dear.”
Gotham’s golden child was sitting in the chair adjacent to hers, comfortable in its plush. As soon as she entered the room, he looked back and stood up with that classic Bruce Wayne smile of his, which he and the tabloids had perfected in the short time since his return. “Please don’t get up.” Anya waved her hand at him, in a swatting gesture.
“You’re too kind but I could use the added exercise.”
She laughed at that. She herself was not sure if the laugh was genuine or not. Anya would sometimes go on a ‘politeness’ auto-pilot when dealing with new faces. Only Wayne’s face was far from new. He’d been raised in this city and sometimes by this city. He had not even reached thirty years of age, and yet he carried an oldness about him.
Maybe it was the legacy, she wondered. He was the last of a dynasty and maybe that weight had wisened him up.
“Thank you for coming.”
“Of course, of course. It’s not every day a successful businesswoman asks to discuss whatever we’re about to discuss in her high rise.” Bruce remarked. Well,
Maybe it wasn’t wisdom that contributed to that old soul of his she’d picked up on.
“Successful, hm? Flattery will get you everywhere, Mr Wayne.”
Anya said, smirking, as she took her place in front of him. In that seat of hers. She pushed aside some documents that she had left on the desk over the weekend, documents that needn’t be of note to someone like Bruce Wayne.
“I hope you’re enjoying Gotham as much as we are enjoying having you back.”
“It’s definitely been something. It feels odd, in a way. Coming back after, god, eight years? So much is different and yet so much is the same. I see Cobblepot Industries continues to reign supreme.”
“Oh, Mr Wayne,”
Anya smiled a thin smile.
“You are too kind. Reigning isn’t exactly the phrase I would use. Maybe … desperately trying to keep a hold on things?”
“Is that so?”
“Perhaps. You and I know this city, Mr Wayne-”
“Please, call me Bruce.”
“Bruce. You and I know this city. We could spend a decade or two away from it and still know it. Gotham isn’t Metropolis. It isn’t Star, and it isn’t Coast City either. We’re a city of relatively good and brilliant people, perpetually being dragged down by those who relatively are not.”
“Crime is Gotham and Gotham is crime, isn’t that what they say?”
“It is, and yet we don’t have to be. With the right push in the right direction, we could be the greatest city on this planet. Hell, we could be the greatest city on any planet, if we take our Man Of Tomorrow’s recent press statement into account. The foundation is there, Bruce. The foundation both our families built and paved.”
“I’m so glad that you do.”
Anya’s assistant knocked on the open door before entering, an unopened bottle of scotch in one hand and two ice-filled whiskey glasses in the other. She approached the desk and put them down. “You’ve met my loveliest assistant, Selina Kyle?”
Bruce looked at her and smiled a warm smile,
“A drink, Mr Wayne?” Selina asked as she opened the bottle. The smell of alcohol invaded the office, its scent like liquid tobacco and briskly charred wood. Selina poured one glass, Anya’s, and then had the bottle half-hover over the second - waiting for the man’s response.
“It’s a little early for me, but … who am I to say no, Selina?”
Anya piped in,
The three of them shared a laugh. Anya watched as Selina poured scotch into the second glass, her stare trying to focus on the pouring whilst Bruce’s focused on her. “Anything else, Mrs Cobblepot?” The blonde asked as she finished, twisting the lid back onto the bottle.
“Not unless Mr Wayne is hungry?”
Raising her brow at the playboy.
“I am absolutely perfect, thank you.”
“Thank you, Selina. You’ve been a dear. That’ll be all for now.” Anya took the assistant’s wrist and squeezed it lightly, before letting go and watching her leave the room.
Anya took her glass in hand and stood up,
She turned her back to Bruce and faced the large office window that peered over the scenic city centre. She took another sip, mulling the scotch over in her mouth. It was bitter, but that was how she liked it.
“So what’s your proposal?” Bruce asked his own drink in hand. “I assume you didn’t ask me to come here so we could gloat over Wayne and Cobblepot engraved foundations. A woman like yourself wants her city to prosper, as does a man like me.”
“So how do we make the Gotham of tomorrow grander? Greater. Safer.”
Anya downed the entire glass and turned back around, placing it on her desk. She looked at Bruce and smirked,
“On the 18th of October, Gotham’s general mayoral election will be taking place.”
She could see it on Bruce’s face, as soon as she had said that, the reason for the meeting clicked. He took a sip of the expensive drink she’d provided him with and then nodded,
Anya cleared her throat,
“Hamilton Hill has been mayor of Gotham for as long as anyone cares to remember. He’s yesterday’s news, you and I both know that. Like how we know this city. Odds are he wins the coming election because … let’s face it, he’s got no real competition. He never has had competition. The only two people planning to run against him are nobodies. An old friend of your father’s, Aubrey James, and Jonathon Pesto. The latter of whom has almost as many ties to the mob as Hill does, the only difference is that Pesto doesn’t have the big boys on his payroll.”
Bruce took another sip,
“So who do we back?”
“Who do you think?”
The two of them stared at each other for several moments before Bruce settled on a charming smile. “No offense, of course, but … what would I get out of backing Anya Cobblepot as this town’s next mayor? What would Gotham get?”
“Everything. Safety and security. Stature and importance.” She started, “Think about it Bruce, these streets are filthy. So filthy, that we now have a damn rodent vigilante hopping from rooftop to rooftop every night - and people are praising him for it. Praising him for cleaning up said streets, even if he is violating the law himself.”
Anya sat back down in her chair before she continued,
“The world is changing, Bruce. We’ve just learned that aliens exist and they can, believe it or not, shoot lasers from their eyes. The future is here, and Gotham has to clean up its act before it can adapt to the tomorrow. Give me your backing. Give me your company’s backing. With our families standing together once again - we can make the most difference any mayor has ever made in the history of Gotham City.”
Bruce looked at her, seemingly deep in thought, he spoke,
“Sounds like an offer I can’t refuse.”
“An offer you don’t want to refuse, Bruce. We’re doomed if you do.”
He stood up and fixed his suit jacket,
“I’ll back you.”
Anya felt a smile spread onto her lips.
“Now, when it comes to Wayne Enterprises,” He continued. “I’ll have to talk to my uncle about that. He’s the one with the finger on the trigger.”
“Of course, of course.”
Anya extended her hand up and over the desk, letting it float in mid=air. Bruce took her hand in his and gently shook it. “I will announce my running tomorrow morning at nine,” She added. “As soon as you can make a formal statement of backing, I would appreciate it greatly.”
“I’ll be as quick as I can be.” “Good.”
They let go of each other’s hands.
Bruce put his hands in his pockets and grinned, “I hope you mean everything you’ve said, Mrs Cobblepot.”
“I do, Bruce. I really do. I’m going to save our home.”
“You’ll have my backing as you do. See you at the gala tonight?”
She smiled with her eyes,
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
“Wonderful. Thanks for the chat and, uh, thanks for the scotch.”
And just like that,
Bruce Wayne left her office - closing the door behind him like the gentleman he truly seemed to be. A playboy with as many manners as money, if you were to believe it. Anya put her hand into her trouser pocket and whipped out her mobile,
Dialing a number she rarely dialed.
She asked when the person on the other end picked up. They did not issue her even two words, nor one.
“He’ll be backing the campaign. Unsure about his uncle, though.” Anya spoke to silence. The only thing she could hear on the other line was soft breathing.
“About the induction however,
I don’t think he’s ready yet.”
A voice, the one breathing, finally beckoned,
“What makes you say that?”
Anya took a breath of her own before replying,
“I don’t know. Something seems off. I’d appreciate it if you could keep an eye on him. Or two.”
“Until, at least,”
Anya stood up and, once again, facing the window to Gotham.
“Until we know for sure that he’s truly one of us.”
‘It’s your funeral.’
A sharp pain shot through his stomach as he looked down to see…
‘Two nines and a six. That’s over. You’re done.’
Drury Walker let out a loud and frustrated exhale, callously tossing his cards downwards and back towards the messy sprawl on the table below. This was the fourteenth hand he’d busted in just the span of a single evening, and his poor fortune was starting to become a point of frustration.
‘Art’s got two eights and a five. Looks like he takes the pot.’
As two burley arms reached over the table to grab their prize - Drury’s eyes were assaulted by a flashing view of pearly white teeth. The sort of contemptible smugness that had become a trademark of Arthur Brown.
‘That’s bullshit, and you know it! Art’s gotta be counting cards or something!’ It appeared that Drury wasn’t the only one to be feeling the heat right now, though he was certainly the one who had sunk the most into that last pot.
‘Come on, Lenny, you ain’t gotta be such a sore loser. Don’t the Roman pay you enough to funnel a little cash into the pocket of a dear friend?’
‘He pays me fine, Art, and we’re not friends. You’re just one of the few sacks of shit with nothing to do on a Monday evening.’
A light chuckle emerged from around the table.
‘Ah, don’t be like that. You’re just peeved that I’m cleaning house right now.’
Lenny gave bitter scowl. ‘Fuck off!’
Being a fixer for Carmine Falcone, Lenny Fiasconi wasn’t known for his colourful sense of humour. The man was thin as a pencil, and looked as if he’d blow away in a strong breeze, though if you needed someone disappeared in Gotham City, there was no one better to turn to.
‘Boys! Boys! Boys! Let’s play nice now. I think Drury’s still holding out some cash that we haven’t managed to take from him yet.’
Garfield Lynns was an asshole. He worked in the movie business - in special effects - and he thought that made him a bit of a hotshot. Already Lynns’d put two false teeth on the table that he claimed to belong to Paul Sloane, and a bra he said he'd gotten from the trailer of Rita Farr. A massive creep, and even though they were friends, he still gave Drury a chilling vibe. The man didn’t blink enough for comfort.
‘Fuck off, Lynns! I’m flat broke after that last hand. Art’s bled me dry!’ Drury raised his hands in mock surrender, clearly conceding defeat.
‘You said the same thing last week, yet you crawled back in here today with a fat new wallet. What gives? You holding out on us?’
‘That’s a good point, Lynns.’ Lenny interrupted. ‘How are you back in here anyway, Drur? I thought Cobblepot kicked you to the curb after you couldn’t pay your tab.’
Drury gave a visible wince - taking a second to glance around at his surroundings. ‘Don’t be so loud, okay?’ He leaned in closer towards the table, lowering his tone. ‘I’m not even here tonight. Well, Drury Walker’s not here. I told you guys, it’s Cam: Cameron van Cleer. If anyone asks, that’s who you’re playing with.’
‘I’m not calling you Cameron fucking van Cleer.’ Arthur laughed loudly, ignoring all attempts that Drury made towards subtlety. ‘That’s fucking ridiculous!’ The death stare that Drury gave him did not seem enough to shut him up.
‘Don’t be an asshole Art. You know these weekly game nights are one of the few good things I got going right now. I don’t wanna get kicked out again.’
Art exhaled through his nose.
Unlike with Lenny and Lynns, Arthur Brown wasn’t really a friend, though Drury knew him in a professional context. He was a different class of criminal - the kind of professional bank robber that came down from Central City. Under the normal circumstances he wouldn’t be consorting with the dregs at the low-rollers table, but he needed new bodies for a heist, and that meant buttering some people up.
‘I won't tell Cobblepot you’re here, if that’s what you’re worried about, but he’ll find out soon enough. Doesn’t your girl Candy work as one of his dancers? I can’t imagine she’s comfortable keeping secrets from the boss-man?’
‘Ex-girl.’ Drury corrected. ‘And she doesn't work Mondays, so she doesn’t know that I’m here.’
Lynns raised an eyebrow. ‘Oh? Trouble in paradise?’
Drury coughed uncomfortably. ‘Well you know how I told you guys I met this girl Melissa, while I was in the joint? Broke it off just after I came out to get back with Candy?’
‘Well we might not have been as broken up as I claimed. Candy found out I’d been going for conjugal visits on the weekend, and kicked me to the curb.’
‘Shit luck man.’ Art gave a pat on the back that was more painful than it was reassuring. ‘But count yourself lucky. If my Crystal found out I had a piece on the side, she’d cut off my balls with a kitchen knife. You still have your balls don’t you, Drur?’
‘Yeah.’ A defeated sigh. ‘I still have my balls.’
‘So where you staying nowadays, anyway?’ Lenny butted in before the balls conversation could go any further. ‘You don’t have a job, so I assume you can’t afford your own place.’
‘Shit! You’re homeless, ain’t you Drury? That’s fucking hilarious!’
‘It’s not funny, Art, and I’m not fucking homeless.’ A vein was starting to pop on Drury’s forehead. ‘I have a home. Well…’ He paused. ‘It’s not my home, but it’s a home.’
‘Go on…’ The whole table was begging for elaboration.
‘Well… You know the Old Van Cleer place? Up by the Wayne Estate?’
‘Sure! Old Man van Cleer lives up there with his missus.’
‘Well Old Man van Cleer has been off doing business in Hong Kong for the last six months, took the wife with him. Idiots left their kitchen window open.’
‘Where are you going with this, Drur?’ Lenny tapped his foot impatiently.
‘You see, I climbed in the kitchen window. Took the spare key from Van Cleer’s office, and now I’ve got this whole mansion to myself. It’s good living - it’s got running water, electricity, cable. Much better than sharing that crummy apartment on Sixth with Candy and the kid.’
‘So that’s where you got the name from. And the money you’ve been playing with?’
‘Van Cleer had a lockbox in his study. I jimmeyed it open with a hairpin.’
‘That’s fucking crazy, Drur.’ Art clapped him on the back again. ‘You are homeless. You’re squatting.’
‘House sitting.’ Drury interjected, though Art didn’t seem to appreciate the attempted correction.
‘Is that what you’re gonna tell Old Man van Cleer when he comes back into town?’
‘I figure by then, I’ll have pawned off enough of his candlesticks to be able to afford my own place downtown.’
‘They nice candlesticks?’ The table turned to look at Lynns.
‘Yeah. They’re real nice. Why? You want some for a movie or something?’
‘Something like that.’ Lynns was doing that weird, unblinking stare thing again.
‘Moving on from Drury’s miserable little life.’ Once again, Lenny attempted to shift the subject.
‘It’s not miserable.’
‘Whatever. Moving on from Drury’s perfect, happy life. You guys heard about the Bat? It’s all anyone in the Roman Empire is talking about these days.’
‘A Bat? Like the winged rat?’ Drury asked incredulously. ‘What’s the Roman so worried about flying rodents for?’
‘Jesus, Drur! You been living under a rock? Not A Bat, The Bat. Like, the Batman? You read the Gazette right?’
‘I doubt that trash makes it as far as fancy-boy country where Drury’s been living.’ Once again, Art displayed his signature pearly whites. ‘Besides, it’s all slosh. I’ve been in this game for ten years. I ain’t gonna run scared because a guy in a gimp suit has started jumping off buildings.’
‘He’s the real deal, Art.’ Lenny corrected. ‘Trashed one of Falcone’s fronts downtown. The Roman had me working all weekend on the cover-up. I tell you - any man that can do that much damage isn’t worth messin with. People'll’re saying he’s a freelance cop. Gets his hands dirty when the GCPD can’t. A mercenary.’
‘I could do that.’
‘What the fuck, Drury? What’s that supposed to mean?’ Art didn’t sound amused.
‘The mercenary thing, I mean. Not for the cops mind you, but for Falcone as the like. I basically do it anyway, freelancing for the gangbangers. All I’d need is a Halloween costume.’
‘Yeah, no offence Drur, but that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.’ Even Lenny was laughing now.
‘Well first of all. This guy has like, fancy gadgets. Where are you gonna get gadgets from? Your old sawn-off isn’t gonna be enough.’
‘I could build ‘em?’
‘Build ‘em? Drur! You dropped out of high school. How the fuck are you gonna build ‘em?’
‘I don’t need a GED to be smart! I know things!’
‘Like how to build gadgets?’
Art burst out laughing, causing Drury’s face to go red.
‘Fine! Point taken. I wouldn’t build ‘em. I’d just lift ‘em! Wayne Enterprises keeps all of their stock in the city. I could raid one of their warehouses.’
The way Art smirked told Drury that he wasn’t going to live this down.
‘No offense, Drur…’ Arthur paused. ‘Actually, scratch that - full offense Drur, but I’m ten times the criminal that you are, and even I wouldn’t be caught dead stealing from Bruce Wayne. Wayne Tower is like Fort Knox, and the warehouses aren’t much better. You’d be shot in ten minutes.’
Before Drury had a chance to respond, Art stood up, glancing over towards the clock.
‘Look, as much as I’d love to sit here for a little longer, and listen to how Drury’s gonna be the next ‘Batman for criminals’ if we’re not gonna play any more cards. I’ve gotta head off.’
‘Alright, Art.’ Lenny shook his head. ‘See you next week?’
‘As long as Drury doesn’t get himself maimed jumping off a building.’
The table laughed again at Drury’s expense.
‘Send our best to Crystal.’
Art leaned in towards the table. ‘If it’s all the same to you, gentlemen. If Crystal asks, I wasn’t here. I was supposed to be watching the stupid kid tonight, but I dumped her in front of a Pony Maratheon, and slipped out the window. Dumb shit shouldn’t know I was gone, but I don’t need you lot blabbering.’
‘You’re an awful dad, Art.’ Lenny frowned.
‘Can’t be good at everything.’ With a wink, Arthur took off, leaving Lenny, Lynns and Drury alone at the table.
‘Well, there’s only three of us now. You boys wanna start another game?’
With Arthur’s body no longer blocking Drury’s view of the bar - he made unfortunate eye contact with one of the members of the serving staff - quickly averting his gaze.
‘Uh… I think I should follow Art out.’
‘You sure, Drur? The night’s still young?’
‘I’m pretty sure.... Night guys. See you next week!’
As Drury stood up to leave, he could see the server he had eyed earlier having a little aside with one of the bouncers, both of them now glancing over in his direction.
That appeared to be his cue to leave, and quite quickly he began to slink towards the door - managing to get within two meters of the exit before -
‘Drury? Drury Walker?’
Drury spun around on the spot to see a burly gentleman of twice his size, looming over him like a skyscraper.
He was made.
‘Matt? It’s been a while…’
‘By design, Drury. Didn’t Mr. Cobblepot kick your ass out after last week?’
‘Did he?’ Drury feigned forgetfulness. ‘I must have forgotten. I’m leaving now anyway.’
‘No so fast.’ In a single second, the bouncer managed to move between Drury and the door. ‘You know the deal.’
‘Come on, Matt. Not now…’ Drury glanced back over to his table to see Lenny and Lynns giving him the side eye. 'Not in front of my friends.’
‘I’m sorry, Drury. I really am. You know I like you.’ Drury felt a cold hand grab the scruff of his neck, lifting him up off of his feet as he was carried almost like a baby kitten out of the establishment. ‘ But I can’t make exceptions even for friends.’
The two of them were outside now - a back alley from the Iceberg Lounge which usually only housed smokers - though right now it was mercifully empty.
Drury felt himself dropped downwards onto the floor, sprawling out on the hard asphalt.
‘Look, I know you’re in a rough spot right now, Drury, and you ain’t got any cash, so I’m not gonna break your ribs. Just don’t come back, okay.’
Suddenly Drury felt a harsh pain as Matt’s boot made contact with his stomach - knocking all of the wind out of his lungs. The next kick made contact with his ribs, though true to his words, Matt stopped just short of breaking anything important.
‘I won't tell Candy you dropped by.’
After a few more kicks, Drury was completely bruised and battered, and Matt stepped a few paces away from him, taking a deep breath.
‘I hope I don’t see you again, Drury. I really do.’
With that, he stepped away, leaving Drury Walker laying alone and wounded on the street.
T h e - T r i d e n t Somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic
The sea breeze had again carried the spray against her face, filling the air with her giggling – every bit as eager and loud as before. Arthur again placed his palms together – and with another deft movement of his hands splashed the little girl with water as she screeched with excitement, before fleeing theatrically from the sudden and violent retribution.
They had been at it for hours.
Mera, who was to the side and out of the water, had long since laid down the law – and water was not to come near her as she gilded the teak decking on the stern of The Trident. He watched from the water as the redhead rose a brow threateningly in his and Andy’s direction, dissuading any conspiring they might have hatched, before laying back once more in the sunlight, her eyes still hidden behind her shades. Rising himself up on the edge, Arthur sat dripping off the swim platform, enjoying the mid-Atlantic heat on his back – watching as Andy clambered out of the water to settle next to him. Reaching to help her, she shouted at him that she ‘wanna do it meself’ and ‘no daddy, no’ – leaving him to pout – first jokingly, and then all too earnestly as he watched her manage on her own.
Once she was sat quietly, he ran his fingers through her red hair – so much like her mother’s, before pulling her against his side, putting a strong arm around her, ignoring her indignant squirming.
It was a beautiful day. The sun was white, and hot in the clear skies – and the ocean was blue, crystal, and calm by his own request. They had been adrift here for nearly a full day, Mera and Andy having come up to meet with him in the early afternoon – the three of them choosing to spend their time on the beach club near the back of the Trident. The guards had been instructed to keep their distance, leaving the small family to have their fun. Arthur had nearly forgotten himself when Mera had come out in perhaps the most stunning swimsuit he had ever seen on anyone - only saved from embarrassment when his daughter came rushing out after her mother, in a neon yellow full body diving suit that immediately had Mera squirming in disgust.
That had been hours ago.
He turned his head when he heard a camera shutter behind him, seeing Mera with a phone – taking a picture, suddenly looking angry that he had the gall to look at her doing something so mundane, quickly having him look out towards the horizon again, holding Andy even closer against his side.
He missed them – he missed them often. Every moment he was up here was a moment away from the treasures that lay beneath the waves. And – the greatest one of all, was the only treasure he could not bear watch grow larger by the day. He leaned down kissing her forehead, a smile spreading across his face as he felt her small, yellow clad arms around him.
“You going to come visit me in Gotham?” He mumbled the words, sighing as she already started shaking her head.
“No, daddy – it stinks. It is a bad place.” Another sigh, as heard Mera chuckle. Those were Mera words. If that was not the truth of it, though... He really was going to be spending even more time away from his home – and for what… a stinky city. A bad place. His eyes returned to the water, watching the clear, blue, inviting depths.
It would be so easy to just sink beneath, and never even think of returning up here. So very easy… and yet so very difficult.
He was shocked when Mera suddenly made her presence known next to them, sitting down on the edge of the platform, resting her legs in the water along with them. He must have been quite deep in thought to not sense her nearing. He watched as Andy pulled away from him automatically and clambered into her mother’s lap. Mera had a look on her face that might have been smug and apologetic at the same time. She was good at sympathetic glee. He never picked up on it himself. He was all jealous, all angry, all happy, all… lonely.
He turned his face away from the two of them, feeling Mera’s soft hand resting on his.
“Of course we are going to come visit daddy. How else is he going to give you your presents?” Mera’s voice was cool and carried that same authoritative tone she had when she was young. The content of the utterance was mixed with a soft squeeze of his wrist, and Arthur looked at her with barely retained awe, as Andy started to list off things she wanted.
A car? A nuclear missile!?
Mera must have seen something in his eyes as she reached up and smacked Arthur on the shoulder, the loud whack drawing the attention of his guards standing at the edges of the vessel – the action leaving a red handprint on his tanned skin.
“You are not getting her any of those, let alone half of them. You are already spoiling her rotten.” She lifted Andy up and threw her into the water with an elegant arch, the screams of terror mixed with joyous laughter, another splash sounding a moment after as Arthur jumped in after her. He lifted the girl out and onto his shoulders, the two of them moving and then floating in front of Mera. Andy stuck her tongue out, and Arthur tried not to wince as she pulled at his hair for stability.
“She is a princess… after all. Surely no one else is worthy being spoilt if not a princess.” He reached up and grabbed her arms, carefully untangling her hands from his hair, raising them above him – shouting loudly, Andy joining and cheering with her fists. “PRINCESS ANDY – THE GREATEST PRINCESS OF THE SEVEN SEAS!” Mera just frowned at the two of them, rolling her eyes.
“A princess that is going to inherit everything but sense from her father… but I guess you can’t inherit that which is not part of the will.” She flicked her hair to the side, and Arthur splashed her playfully – a sudden wave rising from her as she lightly kicked the water – sending both her ex-husband and her daughter an easy thirty feet backwards. Once the two of them had managed to swim back, she was dry again – glaring at them. “I said no water – I want an even tan.”
Arthur looked at her pale skin, eyes running along her legs, before shaking his head – wincing again as Andy grabbed at his hair so as to not fall off. His own skin had become much darker in the last few months – as he spent every moment not in a monkey suit, at some beach resort, some public pool, or in a jet pool on someone’s roof. Hers’ was only a few shades darker than before… and even then – she lost it as often as it came. “You know… you could…”
She raised a hand. “No, Arthur.” He read her mood. It was a pointless affair after all. Andy seemed to pick up on this age-old conflict, simmering only enough to scald feet foolish enough to still tread there. The princess leaned forward, bending over her father’s head, patting his cheeks – kissing his forehead.
“Don’t be sad. I will come visit.” Andy looked up at Mera in an accusatory manner, still patting her father’s cheeks lightly. “I can come when mommy’s dumb friends come visit.” Arthur looked up, thinking nothing of it until he saw Mera suddenly turn as pink as a starfish, sputtering and waving her hands so as to tell Andy to be quiet. The princess was about to say something more, but Arthur beat her to it.
“Oh, really? Mommy has dumb friends over? Tell daddy, all about it-“ Another wave suddenly threw the two in the water back thirty feet again, as Mera got up, grabbed a bag, and cleared her throat.
“We are leaving. Your meeting is here.” The tone suddenly shifted, and then his own senses picked up on it. She was always better than he at magic. And more attuned to these things. In a flash he was at the ship again, placing Andy on the side with her mother – smiling, and waving at her. The little girl seemed confused for a second, taking her mother’s hand.
“See you later princess. Daddy has a meeting quickly yeah?” Andy just nodded, patting into the yacht with her mother as Arthur slipped beneath the water, his uniform appearing on him, his trident – which had been floating in the water just beneath the surface, rushed to him – and then he was off – as fast as a torpedo, in the direction of the illegal exploratory mission submarine entering his waters.
Ψ ----- --- -
Arthur came back to himself, the memories from a few weeks ago fading – and instead of his swimming shorts he was in an overly lit and badly airconditioned meeting room. His eyes were burning from the artificial light, and had him rubbing at them again, sitting upright in the confiding fabric, breathing so heavily that he felt a button pop somewhere along his shirt. UNCITRAL had been on his ass on redefining coastal boarders – with many nations refusing to cede any on their waters, fearful as to ‘fishing rights’ - when he knew that half of them were just after the oil that they had not yet figured out how to extract. Most of these areas were uninhabited anyway – and he would not care to let them go as a sign of peacebuilding – but by letting them have these areas they would fuck up another coral reef, another habitat, another, another, another – and soon even their best efforts would be pointless when as above – so below – Atlantis will start to suffer under their greed. He had offered Hydroelectric alternatives – but even when assuring 80% upkeep year-round they were not budging.
He was getting a headache, and his lips were already drying. He licked them and took a sip of his water, the droning on and on of these performances of legalese which most of the players on this world stage did not even understand – yet parroted mindlessly once presented and prepared for them by their benefactors. He heard them pushing again – bringing up tectonic plates again to justify their claims on ocean floor - which was about as bullshit an argument as anything else he had heard that day. He raised a hand – the speaker stopping, a frown of indignation directed at Arthur as he awaited his call. Once allowed, the King stood – clearing his throat so that all present might hear him. “His Majesty, the King of Atlantis speaking.”
“I call for a short recess. While I appreciate the dry humour of the honoured assembly here – my skin does not. I will need a moment to tend to my personal needs as an Atlantean.”
The assembled members looked confused, and while it was against protocol – Arthur was a king, and he was also… not human?
Was that a racist thing to say? Or think? Would denying him be racist? He watched them all looking inwards, trying to figure out what would be best, when the leader of the meeting unilaterally decided to spare everyone their internal conflicts, and just nod.
“A recess is called. We reconvene tomorrow morning as scheduled. This meeting is called to a close. Thank all who came. We did good work here today.”
Arthur refrained from rolling his eyes. As he walked out onto the landing area in front of the building the clouds above opened, and rain started falling around him. Many people, who had expected a sunny day behind the closed blinds, quickly rushed inside as he clenched his fists a bit more, the rain coming harder, drenching him and his clothing. A moment later, an umbrella was opened over him, and he looked to the side, seeing his political consultant frown.
“Forgive me, your majesty, but perhaps we can at least pretend that this is a freak storm, and not a storm resulting from a freak.”
Arthur raised a brow. “Really?”
“Overheard the ambassador from Beijing.”
Arthur just smiled, shaking his head. “Is he wrong?”
The other man smiled as well. “It is easier for them to imagine you a freak… when the only other option in their minds is a god.” Arthur chuckled loudly, turning fully to the other.
“What do you think? Would I make a good Poseidon?” He made a pose, reminiscent of those along the old catacombs. The man standing next to him just continued his good, humored smile.
“Indubitably, your majesty.” Arthur just shook his head as the two of them started walking away from the building. A few moments later, he peered at the man.
“Anything interesting on the agenda?”
The other muttered ‘anyone’ and Arthur’s smile turned into a smirk. The man noted that he had been found out and looked down abashedly, clearing his throat. “We leave for Gotham in two days. Perhaps the Bat man might be open for tea? Shall I arrange it?” Arthur was already nodding as if it were remotely possible.
“Yes, yes! Andy wanted one of his bat boomerangs.” Another burst of laughter as they disappeared into a waiting car.
Bane ducked under a misguided punch and rammed his fist into his opponent’s gut, collapsing them on the bare arena floor with a crunch.
“Fuck him up!”
“Quickest one yet!”
As he stepped back, the excited shouts and cries of the Gotham underground enveloped him fully, a raucous fog of noise that covered every inch of this crooked place. The ones at the front banged and interlocked their fingers with the wireframe walls of the arena, shaking them so hard in their fervor Bane thought the whole thing would collapse.
Standing there with his tattoos and clenched fists, among the yells of men, the flickering of dirty fluro lights and the ever-permeating stench of sweat and blood, Bane could almost close his eyes and imagine he was back in Peña Duro, and not this silly excuse for a competition the Gothamites called ‘cagefighting’.
Rabid shouts interrupted his thoughts.
“He’s gettin’ up!”
“Fuckin’ finish him!”
Bane watched his unfortunate opponent squirm on the ground, steadying themselves by planting a fist on the arena floor. Cheers erupted among the spectators as the man shakily pushed himself to a kneeling position, eyes focused on Bane’s.
“Whaddya waiting for?” someone who sounded drunk yelled.
Bane didn’t respond, still locking eyes with the opponent who had not yet stood.
Don’t stand, Bane tried to say with his eyes. Don’t stand up and make me hurt you.
It took strength to recover from the blow Bane had dealt him. Bane respected that. But what he did not respect was the way the opponent looked back at Bane, the way they took in the light and the stares and the cheering before finally pushing themselves to their feet amongst an excited roar from the crowd. It looked like they’d be getting blood, after all.
Somewhere in the back, Bane noticed a new pair of eyes watching the match. Someone in a dark suit, standing out amongst the rest of the street rats here. They didn’t cheer, only watch.
The opponent stumbled forward and made a cheap shot for Bane’s mask. He sighed, catching the fist with his left hand and barreling his right towards their head.
Ritz’s office was hidden away in a back corner of the venue, the blinds drawn and bright light shining from between the gaps. Bane had to push past the crowd to get there, and after the bloody mess he’d left on the arena floor, more than a few were happy to get out of his way.
There was a man with a shotgun outside the door. He nodded to Bane and let him go on through. Bane could hear Ritz’s muffled voice from inside.
“…fuckin’ immigrant… god knows where… yeah. Yeah. Oh! Uh…”
As Bane opened the door, he saw Ritz quickly end his call and reach under the desk. He took out a wad of cash and tossed it to Bane.
“There’s something called knocking, you know. Or do you not have that wherever the fuck you come from?”
Bane sat in the chair opposite to Ritz’s desk and thumbed through the cash. It was all there, not a single note missing or counterfeit.
“Oh, for God’s sake, when have I ever scammed you? Do I look fuckin’ suicidal? Besides, you rake in triple what I pay you.”
He leaned to the side and cracked open a blind, looking at the crowds outside. Another fight had begun. The arena mat was still bloody.
“Seems like more people show up each time, too,” Ritz said. “Word gets around of the Masked Mexican, apparently.”
“I’m not Mexican,” Bane said. His voice was accented, and deep. The room seemed to fall silent for a moment.
“Okay, jeez. Doesn’t fuckin’ matter. It sells. Pays your bills.” Ritz nodded to the cash in Bane’s hands. “I pay your bills. Remember that.”
Bane didn’t mention his side-business of dealing venom, because there was no need. The strength-enhancing serum was far from perfect, and you never knew who was listening.
“Besides!” Ritz clapped his hands and waved his phone in the air. “Seems like you finally got the right pair of eyes watching you. Tony Shannon was there.”
Bane remembered the man in the dark suit. “Someone from the mob?”
“Not someone, dumbass. You really do live under a rock, huh? He’s a mob scout. Visits here whenever someone has potential, and he called with a humble request that you–” “No.”
“What?” he asked softly.
Bane stood. “Tell him no. I’m not breaking backs for the mob.”
Organized crime was nothing new to Bane. He knew that being involved would mean they’d know who he was. They’d look into him, where he’d been, where he lived. What he did for a bit of extra cash on the side. Bane couldn’t risk having anyone find out he was selling venom on their territory. Best remain a nobody.
Ritz started screaming at him, but Bane blocked it out, exiting the office with the cash in his hand.
As he walked down the rainy Seventh Street later that night on his way home, Bane thought of the conversation with Ritz. People here didn’t take him for a thinker, but when all you had for entertainment were your own thoughts, you learnt to put things together.
Ritz had been contacted by the mob, had expected Bane to recognize Tony Shannon’s name. It hadn’t been the first time people had mentioned names that meant nothing to Bane, as if everyone knew each other here, every low-level thug and two-bit boss.
It was like Peña Duro, only much, much larger. An intricate network of crime that traced from Gotham’s highest skyscrapers to its lowest slums, a web of names, contacts and deals that connected every goon and his shotgun to each other.
And Bane was outside it.
He knew no one in this city, no one but Ritz and Ritz didn’t give a shit about him until it was fight night. He was an outsider in a closed system. It had benefits – no one looked too far into what Bane did with his free time – but it also meant that when things went sour, he had no one to turn to. How far could Bane keep selling venom before the mob families began to notice? What would he do when their ‘humble request’ became a threat? The longer Bane spent in Gotham, the higher the risk was of appearing like a rogue element to the mob. An unknown, to either be assimilated or eliminated. He’d seen this happen whenever a new prisoner was brought to Peña Duro, but now he was on the other side of it.
Brains and brawn were virtues, and God knew Bane had been blessed with both. But while that made him superior to the usual addicts and gangbangers prowling the streets, it also made him a threat as well as a resource if anyone found out. And if he continued operating as he had for the past year, the mob would find out. No amount of strength would save him then.
Which meant, of course, that Bane had to change something. ‘Make some friends’, as those in Gotham often said. Soon.
His eyes trailed down the painted asphalt as he walked, and eventually found themselves fixed on a squarish building not too far from where he was. He needed to return home and fix up the latest venom batch… but maybe after he’d pay this building a visit.
‘Iceberg Lounge’, the glittery sign above it read.
"I'm a stickler for the classics. Afterall been a couple of days since we faced a dragon."
"I'm sure the dragon would feel very honored Henry."
"Oh shut up Tarly...."
Henry turned and walked down the corridor after dismounting from his horse. Indeed, he had to give Derek some credit. He had been through quite a few apocolyptic dreamscapes. Nothing quite like the fire coming from beneath rather than above.
Building up to a run, he muttered, "You take that left arm alright Tarly"
"Will do Henry. You've got ten minutes."
Soon, power flowed to his arms and legs as he gave a flurry of quick slashes, dismembering one of the dragon's arms.
"I think I can see our house from here Henry!"
He parried left and dove downward barely missing a sweep before dodging right.
"You know you could have chosen a better suit for this."
He ducked again. A couple more hits now.
"I think Gotham is positively aglow with excitement Henry."
He snickered. Ok that was bad, but it worked. And a signal that Tarly didn't think he was in mortal peril. Another arm gone, now the dragon was tilting forward and thrashing. He swept toward the neck, and could feel his energy dropping.
He sighed, a couple more hits now. He swung down on the neck again.
"Excuse me Henry...."
He went for the kill. The dragon's body dispersed into black mist.
He snorted, glancing up into the face of Mrs. Peterson as his eyes opened.
"Henry, what are you doing? You're supposed to be with Dereck! And I find you both fast asleep!"
He glanced down the a soft glimmer as a dog materialized behind her.
"Well, Mrs. Peterson I'll have you know that Dereck was just telling me about the double shift he was working....at the ummm the White Dragon restaurant? I believe, Blue Lotus district in Chinatown. Am I right Dereck?"
By this point, Dereck was groggily looking up.
"Uhh thats right..."
"Splendid! Well, you know how a good bit of rest does the body good..."
*Sigh alright Mr. Tetch but Tony is here to see you."
He scrambled up and straightened his tie.
"Errm yes. I'll be on my way, see Dereck out please and ummm 再联系."
Derek looked up wide eyed.
"再联系, Mr. Tetch"
As he gathered his brief case and walked towards the door he couldn't help but hear Mrs. Peterson mutter "i didn't know he knew Chinese..."
He stepped out to find Tony Barret waiting outside.
"Henry! Sleeping on the job again I hear. Not very popular with the staff to have those naps with the students."
"We all need rest in this day and age."
"Ah enough with the wisdom. Your methods work and you know it. Anyway. Lets walk a bit. I haven't been down to this part of town in what....five years?"
Definitely longer than that....
"Ah well, lets walk and you can tell about your latest project."
"Well as you can see, I decided to spend the year in the worst performing school in the 22nd district. So here I am. Not much more to say."
"Ahh yes, you didn't hear it from me but I hear the triads run this school. Why did you pick this one anyway? Everyone knows that you helped out that Sinoloa boy a few years back. They love you in little Puerto Rico."
"I know, its why I had to leave."
"Bah, and get yourself shot? The triads don't like the Sinoloa Henry. You can't keep doing these mercy missions forever."
"And I'll tell you again Tony that needs must. I go where I'm needed."
"And I can't deny that. The feds are already calling me the most successful administrator in the country in terms of school improvement rates. This is 20 schools you've helped now?"
"You know the answer...."
"Ha, of course I know the answer. I always make it my business to know what the most decorated teacher in my precinct is up to. Tens of thousands of students. there are engineers and doctors because of you Henry."
"You can save the speech for the union meeting."
"Well, can't say I didn't try. Come on Henry, I know we've been over this but you have to hear me out. I have 10 private schools and dozens of families who will donate heavily to the district if you'll play ball. One visit a week. Just do your mind voodoo on whatever rich kid needs to have the brainpower to get into harvard and cash that check Henry. We both win here."
"And what, not help these kids? I'm not going over this again Tony. No. I don't care how much they pay."
"Henry, you've got to see reason. The senator is promising to rebuild 10 schools if you'll just go to Gotham Academy."
"And what? Talk about how hard it is picking between the mercedes and the lambourghini? That's not my calling. I'm doing something different here."
"Yes, yes Henry we've all heard you give the speech. Each life saved and so on."
"It's not just a speech Tony, Derek for example is working double shifts to put his Mom through therapy. For schizophrenia."
And running drugs for the triads, but still
"I know Henry, sigh I just have a lot of pressure on me to force you but you know I won't do that to you. I won't kill the golden goose. You still managed to triple my inner city budget. I even got a great watch from the governor for the whole deal."
And a new double bedroom apartment. It was a shame, the son of the maid cleaning it just happened by a few months ago...
"Anyway listen, because of your popularity with the public, I'm obliged to offer..."
"No, I've got reports to grade. Sorry Tony."
"Ah maybe next time, well. I'll be there to put in a good word in for you and tell them that yet again something came up."
"I'm sure they miss me dearly, now I've got an appointment in half an hour Tony."
"Alright, alright. You stay on it you hear Henry?"
He passed by students who waved at him, a few more than a month ago when he started thankfully. He always preferred this time, before it got busy. By the time his time neared the end normally, he always had trouble with groups of students coming up to him, which annoyed him to no end. Worse that they desired attention all at once. Not that he didn't care for each of them, but crowds were something different.
He carefully sidestepped as Ms. Morina tried to ask him about his lesson plans and pretended not to hear her again and remain lost in thought. Nope and nope.
"Tarly make a note to remind me of my 4 o clock. I'm also thinking chou mein tonight."
His dog nodded as he passed through the crowds in a mist. By now everyone had accepted the odd tarly moments. No one had ever figured out who this tarly was but it was helpful to appear crazy when the moment called for it.
He trudged to his 1993 toyota corolla. At almost thirty years old, and two hundred thousands miles he was surprised it was still kicking.
He started pulling out of the parking lot as his phone rang. He answered to hear his brother on the other end.
"I'm grading papers right now Jervis"
"Come now, you have time for ole brother, or should I say younger brother, don't you? Besides, I know you're not doing anything like that."
"Oh yeah? What gave it away?"
"The voice Henry! Can't lie with a voice like that. Besides I've known you for years and your schedule is always the same, you hate staying at school after hours."
"I suppose so. Anyway the point stands,..."
"Now hold just a moment brother. I can't just sit here and let you pass by yet another amazing opportunity for enjoyment brother! Now I know you can't have missed the exciting news regarding this recent gala. My employer has been extremely pleased with my research as of late and has gifted me with two passes to this gala! Now you know me brother I'm never one to turn down a good party, especially one with copious amounts of fine food, vittles, and tea. But, my work beckons! I'm on the verge of a breakthrough Henry! I know it!"
"I'm truly glad Jervis. But I heard about it from Tony and I already told him I can't go. I have papers to grade."
"Yes as you mentioned before. Nonetheless, I have it on good authority that the party will be extremely enjoyable. Lots of fun to be had. Not to mention...."
"Freudian slip brother. Besides, not interested. I've got work don't you have better things to do than heckle me?"
"Heckle? Perish the thought. As I've said, I'm on the verge of breakthrough. I will unlock the chemical substructures of the brain!"
"So you've said. You know, I'm not sure this is a good idea Jervis. I know we've had this debate many times but I can't be a biological essentialist. You can't whittle down all brain functions to biochemistry. The psyche is the foundation of all action and you know it. I know this is a lot to ask....and I know that you're dead set on this but please....whatever it is your doing to prove your thesis you must clear it with someone first. I know you mean the best and this research is helpful but you have to be careful. Messing with the brain is complex and takes time. If this takes you fifty years to prove you must be patient. If what you've proposed is true it must be used by society for good in a safe way."
"No, don't brother me Henry. You've said your piece let me say mine. I don't come down to your dillapidated apartment and tell you how to run your life now do I?
"And! I know you disagree with my methods but you don't have to stoop so low to accuse me of corruption Henry! Who do you think I am? I'm passionate about this because of its benefits. You can keep your supposed moral high ground all you like Henry but the rest of us have moved on from Socrates and Jung. The entire field will be upended by this AND I will prove it!"
"Jervis,.....jervis you know I love you. I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it. Please. I'm just concerned alright? You're all I've got you know. I'm just worried for your safety. Listen, if this changes everything I'll be happy to be proved wrong. Lord knows the kids could use every bit of help they can get. I know you'll do fine Jervis. You've had so much success and I'm proud of you for that alright?"
"Yes. Well, I didn't mean it either brother. Stress and all. You know how it goes. The research is nearing completion and I intend to be here for it. Not much sleep going on recently I'll admit. I of course am in desperate need of a break. But you'll take care of yourself right? If you need any finances, I'm offering."
"No need Jervis though thanks for the offer. They pay me more than enough as it is."
"Not nearly enough I'd say. You're a saint, you know. I couldn't well put up with hundreds of children. Anyway, off to work. Take care of yourself Henry? Wouldn't want to find you dead of exhaustion. Terribly inconvenient to have to invent reanimation on top of it all just to have father berate you for missing Christmas again."
"Ah yes... well.....you know I'll be more umm in town this year for the holidays. I know work caught up to me last year but we'll make a real fun day of it."
"As always, Henry. Nonetheless, Duty Beckons. And Alice has just arrived to deliver an amazing calamari. Wish you the best Henry."
too.....Love you, Jervis."
As he finally got home and set down his briefcase, before resting on his desk he rubbed his eyes tiredly and waited for his 4 o clock.
He took another bite of noodles before turning to Tarly.
"So, normal schedule. Should be done in an hour and working till 10 and then grading papers till twelve."
"All good Henry, but..."
He sighed and leaned back. Honestly, his brother took a lot out of him to deal with.
"You know Tarly, sometimes I don't know if I did a good enough job with him you know? I really tried to reach out. But...recently it seems like, I don't know......we just can't seem to have the same joy about psychology we used to have together."
"I'm sure some of that has to do with your penchant of saving the world..."
"I know, I know but.....
"Ah Emily! I'll be right with you just take a seat on the sofa. Tarly! You can get started!"
"You got it."
He ate the last of his meal before grabbing his coat and heading into the living room seeing a very much drowsy Emily. A flow of power and the next minute the world spun.
He looked up to see colorful fields guarded by horseman in the shadow of a dark mountain with dark clouds hovering over the top.
"TIme to begin."
Chinese Translation -let's catch up later/let's stay in touch
It was showtime. The big debut. No one was going to miss this, least of all her. The last thing you could afford to do was to be late. For once in your life, you wanted, you needed to do something right. It was a matter of balances. For all the screwups, for all the mistakes, the bad calls, embarrassments, sins, all the way down the line… just this once, you could put some happiness into the world. A smile on her face. It was all you had ever worked for. You hadn’t seen it yet, but you would see it tonight. You could feel it in the air, too. The people were ready for something new. Something bold. Something good, rising above the cynicism and muck that defined everyone’s lives these days. You could only smile at what you would be offering them tonight.
Even checking in at the theatre, going through your routines, you only felt more and more righteous about tonight’s big performance. Heading into the back, you saw Thunderbolt. More than ever before, he looked larger than life; even with that, you loomed over him, a rising figure of confidence and hope for the future.
“Tonight’s the night.” Hearing it from your lips, you certainly believe it. How could you not?
Thunderbolt echoed the sentiment. His goofy, misshapen grin struggled to match your own. “Tonight’s the night! This is all you, CLAYFACE. Knock ‘em dead!”
You shake your head. That… that wasn’t your name. “Uhh, come again?”
He slaps your back one more time, for good measure. “Knock ‘em dead!”
Nodding along, you head into your room to get changed. It’s a quick process. You know exactly how you want to present yourself. In a way, you had been planning out tonight ever since you had chosen to pursue the limelight. The perfect tux. A stunning bowtie. Your hair, exactly as it had been, oily slick. Everything was the way that it was supposed to be. It was only you, and CLAYFACE.
There it was again. The butterflies. You force them down with some scotch, and do a quick once-over. You were perfect. The people were waiting for you. She was waiting for you. With nothing holding you back, you swung open the door to your room. Even back here, all eyes were on you. It was time! Your name was called! You stride out onto the stage to greet everyone.
Roaring applause. Modesty aside, you knew that people were going to receive you like this. It was only right. It made sense. You had come this far. You had put in the work. You were here, at the heart of it all. Looking out, you spot her immediately, sitting in the front row. Her hands are riding her knees, bouncing as her legs kick with the excitement that only a child could have. More importantly was that look in her eyes. It was how you had looked when you saw your first performance here. Only now, you were looking at your daughter.
“Thank you, thank you! Thank you, everyone for coming! I promise you, all of you are in for the night of your lives! This is going to be a one-man act, for the whole night! All you need is yours truly… … …”
Your hope died in your throat. As you kept looking at your sweet Katherine, someone else, something else, came into view right beside her. Its face was impossible. With your mouth agape, you point at the thing, dumbfounded. How could no one else see it? It was in the front row, next to your girl! This shouldn’t be happening! That face was dead! Dead! You did it yourself! You made sure of it!
This thing, with that face, smiled. Nothing like that should smile. Not like this, not here. You couldn’t believe what was happening. It started walking towards you. The movements were sluggish, and not at all human. Still, no one paid any attention to it at all, but their reactions still changed. They waited on your breath, confused as to what could be happening that had taken you so. That thing, it was right there, coming at you, and not even your Katherine seemed to care. All they could see was the terror in your eyes.
You backed away, retreating into the stage. There was nowhere to go. This thing, with that dead, impossible face, started to climb up onto the stage. It was only growing larger, and less human. Its facial features bloated, as did the rest of its body, bursting at the seams with whatever foul horror was hosting it from within. Again, the people, Katherine most of all, stared. They stared right through you. There was nothing there after all. Nothing in you, nothing in your hard work. Nothing, nothing, nothing… you could feel yourself beginning to shake. You wanted so desperately to turn and run, but something rooted you to the ground. Looking down, you saw that your legs had melted into the stage. You screamed, but your breath suffocated. The only thing you could cling to right now was that thing, continuing to come at you. It was no longer wearing a smile. It had become a gaping void, its entire body coming undone as it was swallowed up by the thing inside. That thing that was inside you. That nothing. There was nothing but
You wake up.
It was the dream. The same dream, for the past year. It haunted every moment, sleeping or waking. There was no escaping it when you weren’t wearing someone else. You had come to accept it as the way of things. A punishment, perhaps, making up for lost time. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. You needed to work.
You drag yourself out of bed. Your slovenly form adheres to everything that it touches, dragging along the sheets for a while before leaving them on the floor, ruined with another layer of muck. You had given up on maintaining your decor a long time ago. You often considered just getting rid of everything that would get in the way like that, but each time, you decided against it. That would just be throwing away one of the few things you had left that reminded you of the life before. You knew it was foolish, hurtful, even, to hold onto the past like that, but you didn’t care. You could use every reprieve that you could get.
You think back to the matter at hand. The work. The escape from your existence. It was not much better than pretending under the sheets and upholstery, but it was something. You make your way across the room to the sink and mirror. Too many times you stared into that reflection, never too sure what you would see on the other side. It was usually better to tune out your senses and focus only on the “after”, not “before”.
It doesn’t take long. The hideous contortions and moans emanating from your body are a far cry from what you were experiencing in your sleep. Your malleable form takes proper shape, hulking blob to cutthroat posture. Skin forms over, culminating in a cold indifference upon the face. The clothes come next, a layer of smug couture over the body from the neck down, befitting the establishment the work was for. It demanded luxury, and luxury could be accounted for. The last piece was not a part of you, but it is available to you all the same. You reach for the pack of cigarettes on the sink, and strike a flame for the most signature of vices.
He smiled. It was time for Matches Malone to reacquaint himself with the Iceberg Lounge.
Matches knew the place well enough. He wouldn’t be much of a mafioso if he didn’t. It was rather infamous, though at times it tried to pretend that it wasn’t. It made no difference to him. The business at the Lounge was good, and it was where you went whenever you were wading back into the Great Barrier Reef of Crime known as Gotham City. To pay respects, to wet your whistle after a dry spell, the works. Matches had been out of town for quite a while now, but he was ready to get back to the grind. Things were getting pretty interesting lately, and if his hunch was right, it was only going to heat up from here.
That very hunch proved itself as he noticed a stranger who seemed to have the same thing in mind. It had been so long, everyone in Gotham was a stranger to Matches again, but something about the man humored his instinct. He was the kind of man you knew to watch. Even so, Matches threw that caution to the wind and approached him, cigarette in hand. He blew a smoke ring the other direction before bringing himself within breathing room of him. Now that he was closer, Matches could tell that whoever he was, the man could fight. Did fight. Hell, if Matches wasn’t careful, he could bend him like a twig.
“Ya ever been to tha Lounge before? They don’t let just anyone in, y’know.”
Matches spoke with an outdated accent, though that had always been part of his charm. A man born in the wrong century, yet striving no less for it. His square chin and broad build was intimidating enough, but his sheer confidence in approaching dangerous situations and underhanded cunning was what had left a mark on the Gotham underworld. It wasn’t that Matches expected this man to recognize him, but it was important to keep stock of your identity at a time like this.
Bane stood in the frigid air, watching the Iceberg Lounge from the corner of Seventh Street. He leaned on the brick wall of an old masonry building that must have dated back to Gotham’s medieval age. Or perhaps it had been built only a few years ago. Things decayed fast in this city.
Muffled clubbing music boomed from within the Lounge, and Bane thought he could feel the bass in his boots from here, rippling through the concrete and across the street. It taken a while to adjust to the idea of ‘clubs’, where men drank and listened to music and played cards. Bane had had all of that — barring the music — in Pena Duro, but it had never been packaged as something classy. It was a good reminder — no matter how familiar Bane was beginning to get with these streets, he was a long way from truly knowing his new environment. If not his body, Pena Duro still held his mind.
He heard the man approach before he saw him. Bane tilted his head, catching the gangster in his periphery. He crossed his arms, remained silent as the man addressed him, cigarette in hand. Bane never understood why men poisoned themselves with those things, dulled their minds as well as their bodies. He chalked it up to animal instincts.
He took in the words quietly, then turned to the gangster. They were built much like the masonry wall Bane leaned on: strong, bold, and yet reminiscent of an earlier age. Bane rolled the archaic accent around in his head, though he could hardly comment. He probably had one just as strong.
“I haven’t,” responded Bane, fixing his eyes on the building. If the gangster was right, he’d get rejected at the door, again because of his lack of connections. The exact thing he’d come to fix.
“You seem to have experience with it,” he said simply to the gangster, tossed the ball in his court. Bixir
"My fellow Americans."
Martin Suarez stood at his presidential podium, in front of hundreds of Coast City citizens. He spoke sternly and with conviction, but he acted with kindness. He earned the nickname America's dad for a reason. The mustache didn't hurt either.
"The human race stands at a turning point: the revelation that superhumans exist. Men and women only thought to exist in Saturday Morning cartoons and radio dramas are fighting for the well-being of the Earth. I personally agree with what some of these guys are doing. This tour will serve as a platform for these brave citizens to come forward and talk to us, down to earth."
A sharp sound cut through the murmurs of the crowd.
"Touching, Mr. President. I can respect a man who cares for his people." Bito Wladon stood above the crowd, suspended by ultrasonic sound. He dressed well for the occasion, wearing neo-traditional Modoran garb, complete with a regal red cape. "Though these 'heroes' seem to ignore the pleas of Modora!"
"You rule Modora, pal." The President shot back quickly in their little war of words. "Maybe you should start listening to your people's pleas."
"But Mr. Suarez! That is my intent. My country wishes to become more well-known." The Modoran monarch readied his sonigun. It began to vibrate. "Soon, it will be world-famous."
"I'm not sure if embarrassing yourself is the best way to go about it, Sonar."
A hand of hard green light slapped the sonic man onto the stage.
"And I'm not sure if your countrymen want to be on the world stage as bad as you do."
"Green Lantern! Of course you'd be here." Sonar, separated from his gun, attempted to grab it. His assassination attempt, however, didn't go over so well with well-trained men in nice suits.
Several agents of the Secret Service blocked his path to his creation. A couple more thought it best to beat up and detain him.
After a brief moment of awkward silence as, President Saurez spoke up.
"Ladies and gentleman, Coast City's own Green Lantern!"
The crowd erupted into applause, newscasters rushing to the hero. Questions were, naturally, asked.
"What made you decide to put on tights and start punching criminals?"
"The lonely people of Coast City want to know: Are you single?"
"Is the prevention of today's attack a tacit endorsement of President Suarez's policies?"
"Sorry, folks! I was only here to save the president." The lantern shrugged. "There's always next time, eh?"
Hal Jordan, in this instance, was wearing a suit. Not a pilot suit, or space spandex, or even what he wore whenever he visited the 58th century. No, just a normal-ass rental tux.
He kept his eyes on the city from the vantage point of the ritzy host's fancy home that overlooked Gotham. The city, in the cultural zeitgeist, was usually a punchline about crime rates, failed infrastructure, and changing the names of their sports teams too many times. It was like Newark's bigger, uglier cousin. How's a guy in a bat costume keep this place clean?
"Hal, are you alright? You're missing the whole party." Mechanic and all around nice fellow Tom Kalmaku approached Hal. He looked like he was ready for prom. "I just talked to Scooter from The Banshees! He's still the swingingest!"
"They weren't the same since Ginger left for that failed worldbeat solo career." The pilot turned around to face his pal. "Besides, I didn't make the best first impression here last time."
"Oh right...You kneed that Ryder guy in the groin."
"That's an exaggeration! I kneed him in the stomach." Jordan turned his eyes back to the upper-crusters that he'd been avoiding. It wouldn't have been a big deal if they kneed Jack Ryder in the stomach. They had the money for a good lawyer.
They sure weren't spending it on making it a better city to live in.