Alfred held the needle up to the light, squinting at the eye as he threaded it. His nostrils pinched at the chemical aroma coming from the treated thread.
It was times like this Alfred Pennyworth, a fourth generation butler, couldn’t believe his life had come to this. Admittedly he had left MI6 and returned to his former profession looking for a less ‘exciting’ life, but repairing another man’s underwear hadn’t been exactly what he’d had in mind. The fact that this underwear was worth five thousand dollars because it was specially treated to be radiation resistant was the reason for the repair rather than replacement, but that didn’t change the fact Alfred was repairing a pair of ‘drawers’
“Ahh the secrets I could tell.” Reporters had been clamouring for information about the mysterious vigilante ‘The Batman’ since the day the enigma had appeared three years earlier. “I wonder how much the obnoxious leaches would pay for a description of Batman’s underwear?” Alfred muttered.
Alfred wasn’t a fan of the media. While he accepted they had a role to play in society, he felt the press given to Batman was unduly negative. Batman was not a psycho dressed in a black suit who terrorized the night. He was a good man. The best Alfred had ever known.
Alfred’s reflections were interrupted when the radio newsreader mentioned Batman. “Police Commissioner Reiner has again declared the so-called ‘Batman’ does not exist, but rather is an urban legend the media is responsible for creating. Interestingly enough, this is not a view held by some of his police. More than one has referred to Batman and credit him with breaking up that smuggling ring last week and last month, closing down one of the largest drug labs the city has ever seen.”
“To other news, another of the district attorney’s prime witnesses in the case against Mob heavy weight Archie Plumber has been killed. Harold Noosa, a former driver for Plumber was apparently accidently electrocuted while in witness protection. That is the fifth witness in protection to suffer a fatal accident in eleven months. Police Commissioner Reiner was not available for comment but the police press officer said that Captain Gordon will be allocated to the case. Captain James Gordon is a highly respected officer who has an exemplary record and a reputation for taking on the Mob.”
Alfred smiled. He admitted to three vices - The Beatles, cricket and French Earl Grey tea. There were unsubstantiated rumours he enjoyed ‘Coronation Street’, a good malt whiskey and ‘The Shadow’ Comic books, but he would deny that until the day he died.
Apart from those half dozen things, he was a delightfully bland and boring man as long as you ignored the fact he was a former MI6 agent who had found employment as the butler to the youngest billionaire in the United States... a billionaire who had a rather big black bat of a secret.
Jim Gordon nodded curtly to Vicki Vale as she walked by. The police Captain had learned early in his career to speak to the media as little as possible. Anything one said to reporters inevitably ended up taken out of context and published on page one. Ms Vale was well known to police as one reporter to avoid at all costs.
Jim eyed the door to Bruce Wayne’s office which had opened briefly when Vale had exited. Now it stood closed. The policeman cursed softly. This was a long shot but he had to try... and he didn’t have time to wait for the likes of Bruce Wayne to preen himself. Jim marched forward, knocked and opened the door, ignoring the protests from Wayne’s secretary.
However, as he opened the door, he discovered Bruce Wayne on the other side in the process of opening it.
“Captain Gordon,” Bruce welcomed, with annoying enthusiasm.
Jim shook the man’s hand. Bruce Wayne was a typical playboy. He lived in a world separated from ‘real’ people. His days were spent playing golf, attending tennis parties for the rich, gracing charity functions with his presence, being flocked by women at gala balls and generally enjoying a life of privilege. For that reason, Jim was surprised to find the twenty-five-year-old here at Wayne Enterprises.
“Mr. Wayne, I’ll get straight to the point. I understand you have little to do with the running of your company so perhaps one of your directors or managers should join us?”
“My company vice-CEO on his way.” He turned back into his office, gesturing for Gordon to join him. Sitting behind the large desk, he indicated one of the guest chairs. "So, while we’re waiting, do you enjoy water-skiing?”
“Water skiing. It is wonderful for upper body strength and gives a man a chance to spend time with very pretty girls in bikinis.” He laughed and began flicking through a water skiing magazine. “I think I might go this afternoon, as long as the weather holds. I burn easily.
There was a knock on the door and a tall man entered.
“Captain Gordon, may I introduce Steven Negus. He is the man responsible for overseeing all areas of operation at Wayne Enterprises.”
Jim shook the other man’s hand. Negus was in his early fifties, a man well-known in the business world. “Mr Negus. Your company owns a vehicle manufacturing factory on the East Bank.”
Negus pursed his lips thoughtfully. Bruce’s brow furrowed and his head bobbed once. “Probably. Please, gentlemen, take a seat.”
Jim grunted and took the offered chair.
Bruce sat back in his leather chair, and smiled, clearly enjoying himself. “Would you like a mineral water?”
Gordon shook his head politely and then directed his attention to the other ‘adult’ in the room.
“I need your permission to seize all records and property at that factory.”
“Why?” Negus asked taking the second guest chair.
Jim grimaced. He couldn’t say ‘because Batman suggested it’.
Batman - a costumed vigilante or that was how others saw him. Jim didn’t. Not anymore. Jim knew the man... well, met with him irregularly.
Communication between the two was always initiated by Batman. The police captain would receive what he had dubbed a ‘Batsignal’ on his cell phone. An image of the bat logo Batman wore on his chest would flash up on Gordon’s cell screen followed by a street name.
Despite there not being a specific place on the street indicated, Batman always found Gordon, swooping out of the shadows once he’d ensured Jim had come alone. Then the vigilante would quickly and efficiently provide the police captain with information. Sometimes Batman would seek information but usually the exchange lasted less than three minutes.
At first, Jim had done his best to uncover the man’s identity, but he now owed Batman too much for that. Gotham was in the grips of an economic crisis and as a result, crime was flourishing, gangs were growing in power and the Mob had set up shop.
Batman had proved incredibly effective where the police had failed. The vigilante was not bound by the same rules as Gotham’s law enforcement officers. The current crop of criminals didn’t fear the police. However, they were terrified of The Batman. Among the criminal underworld Batman’s name was uttered in hushed whispers, many believing he was some sort of supernatural being.
While Jim Gordon had never approved of vigilantes, Batman wasn’t a run of the mill village idiot. He was highly intelligent, well-trained, and while he sometimes ‘roughed up’ the odd thug - something Jim would love to do himself - Batman had never crossed the line and taken a life. Jim had warned him the moment he crossed that line, Gordon would personally ensure he went to the gas chamber. Batman’s response had been intriguing.
Jim trusted the man. To date, Batman had given him no reason not to. This tip concerning the trucks could well bust open the Mob.
“Mr. Negus, your factory is the only one in the city that manufactures mega trucks?”
“Yes, we have the only contract in the United States to build them.”
“That’s those really, really big trucks? The army use them to haul equipment,” Bruce stated matter-of-factly, once again flicking through the water skiing magazine.
Jim centred his attention on Negus.
“What I’m going to tell you cannot leave this room. I must have your word.”
Wayne didn’t seem to be listening so Jim continued. “We believe that two of these mega trucks are being utilized by the mob as illegal mobile gambling establishments.”
Negus shook his head. “That’s not possible. Our security would have picked up such a theft.”
“We believe your security personnel may be involved... please note, I’m not officially accusing anyone. However, if the Mob is involved, bypassing cameras and any type of security is what they specialize in.”
“How many trucks have you constructed this year?” Jim pressed.
“To be honest, I’d have to check,” Negus admitted.
“I’ll check for you,” Bruce stated with an element of excitement. He began typing on the computer on the edge of his desk.
Jim suppressed his disgust. Bruce Wayne found it ‘exciting’ to dip his toe in the real world and do something as simple but meaningful as checking something on a computer.
“We have completed construction of eight trucks out of the ten we were contracted to build. The Defence Force won’t take delivery for another few months,” Bruce declared, with an element of triumph.
“So there should be eight complete trucks at the factory?” Jim clarified.
Bruce shrugged. “That would make sense.”
Jim redirected his attention to Negus. “I have it on good authority that while there are eight sitting there during the day, there are only six at night. I believe someone at your company is allowing those trucks to be ‘borrowed’. I understand the delicacy of defence projects and that the public face of a company is important but I want your permission to enter your factory at a moment’s notice. I’m not sure when that will be. We need to time this right so that when we do burst in, we capture not only those involved from the factory but hopefully some of the mob members higher up the chain.”
“Captain Gordon, surely you are able to get a warrant? Ohhh.” Realisation and a certain amount of relief claimed Negas’ face. “You don’t have enough proof for a warrant?”
Jim clenched his jaw. “That is correct.”
Steven Negus rose to his feet. “Then I’m afraid we must respectfully decline your request. As you have already acknowledged, we have an entire company reputation to protect. I will personally check the trucks to see if there is anything inside them. That should put your mind at rest. However, if we allow the police to be staging seizures at the drop of a hat...”
“Steven,” Bruce interrupted, raising his hand. “When I was young, I wanted to be a policeman,” he stated somewhat wistfully. “Captain Gordon, you wouldn’t have come to us unless you had some sort of evidence.”
Jim licked his lips. Wayne may be a brainless twit but he was still CEO of this company and likely had the casting vote. Perhaps convincing the young man was Gordon’s best chance. “Mr. Wayne. I have no proof and not a shred of evidence. Sometimes a policeman must work on gut instinct. To be honest, my superiors do not support this theory, but I have it on good authority that the information I’ve given you is correct.”
“Good authority?” Bruce asked leaning forward, clearly intrigued. “Perhaps if you could share the source of this information?”
Jim shook his head adamantly. “No. I can’t do that.” He would not name Batman. He would never betray the vigilante.
“Can’t or won’t?” Bruce pressed.
Jim and Bruce Wayne stared at each other, Jim seeing something in the other man’s eyes he hadn’t noticed before. “I won’t.”
“What if I were to agree on the condition you share your source. I think we have a right to know who is accusing our workers.”
Jim rose to his feet. “I’m sorry, Mr. Wayne. This isn’t a game or some cop show on television. If you are going to help, that’s good. If not, I understand.”
Bruce nodded, sat back and laced his fingers. “
Steven Negus cleared this throat. “Captain Gordon, we are sorry.”
Jim didn’t take his eyes off the young owner of the company.
“Mr Wayne, I believe my source. I believe these trucks are being used without your knowledge to help fund Mob activities. I believe if you open them you will find the casinos which are driven to a different spot in the city a couple of nights a week so it is impossible for the police to trace. I also believe that if you do open the trucks, I will lose an opportunity to take down the Mob so I ask you not to do that. Without your permission I cannot enter your factory. You are within your rights to refuse and I will understand if you choose to do so, but... I need your help.”
Bruce Wayne rose. “Captain Gordon, I appreciate your honesty with us. While I think helping the police is the responsibility of every Gothamite, this is a delicate situation and a multimillion dollar contract.”
Negus exhaled with relief.
Jim clamped his mouth shut. He’d known it was a long shot.
“Having said that, if some of our employees are assisting in criminal activities, the fact that we agree to assist the police could be looked upon favourably in the courts and media, should something come of this. Hmmm.”
Jim unconsciously held his breath.
Negus approached Wayne. “Sir. Please. I advise you to leave this to me.”
Bruce Wayne pursed his lips. Several tense moments passed. “We have nothing to hide, Steven.” He settled his gaze on Jim. “Alright, Captain Gordon. I’ll grant you permission to enter the factory and remove whatever you require. And no one will open those trucks until you are ready.”
“Mr. Wayne, I strongly advise against this,” Negus urged in horror.
Jim smiled, ignoring Negus. He shook Bruce Wayne’s hand warmly. “Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Wayne. Would you mind signing a statutory declaration giving me permission to do what we’ve agreed?”
“Of course,” Bruce stated, accepting the document and sitting down again. “Thank you, Steven. I appreciated your opinion but I can take it from here.”
“Yes, Sir,” Negus murmured.
“I do remind you that what we’ve discussed cannot leave this room,” Gordon reminded the other man.
Negus shot Gordon a hostile look and departed.
Once the door closed behind him, Jim returned his attention to Bruce Wayne.
“I just need a moment to read the fine print to make sure this is in order before I sign.”
“Of course.” Jim was surprised and it must have shown in his voice.
“Contrary to popular belief, Captain Gordon, I actually have a brain.”
“So I see.”
“How is your niece settling in?” Bruce asked.
Bruce signed the document and looked up.
Jim nodded. “She is doing better. Thank you.” Four months earlier, Jim’s brother and sister-in-law had been killed in a car accident in Ohio, leaving their thirteen year old daughter an orphan. Jim and his wife had immediately taken Barbara in and applied for adoption. The adoption had been approved on the Monday passed.
“I’m pleased. She is very lucky to have you.” Bruce handed Jim the signed document.
“Thank you, Mr. Wayne. Thank you very much.”
“Let me know if I can be of further assistance and I’ll do what I can... as long as it doesn’t interfere with my social calendar,” he added flicking a minute speak of lint off his suit shoulder.
Jim’s eyes narrowed.
“Oh, and I’ll keep your secret, if you keep mine.”
Jim smirked. A playboy he may be, but Bruce Wayne was far from a brainless twit. “Agreed.”
Alfred entered the family room carrying a tray with two cups of tea on it. Bruce was seated where he often was at this time of the day - waiting for the sun to go down so he could go hunting.
“Your tea, Master Bruce.” Bruce continued to stare at the wall, deep in thought. That was far from unusual.
Alfred placed his employer’s fine porcelain cup on the small table beside him and then sat in one of the other chairs.
The butler studied the silent young man across from him. Of late, Alfred had become increasingly concerned about his employer.
Bruce played three distinct roles in his life – the public Bruce Wayne, the private Bruce Wayne and the avenger.
In public, Bruce was the quintessential playboy. Cheerful, glamorous and somewhat shallow. It was an act he had perfected over the years, the keyword being ‘act.’ This was not who Bruce was but it was an essential deception to protect his secret.
In private, the tragic figure who was Bruce Wayne was revealed, but revealed only to Alfred.
Bruce was an incredibly quiet and sad young man who never smiled. A man who was deeply scarred by the murder of his parents. There was a hole inside Bruce Wayne - a baron pit where happiness and innocence had once resided. His soul was surrounded by darkness and his heart locked behind an impenetrable wall thanks to the events that had taken place in a dark alley so many years before. Alfred knew Bruce needed help to heal and he’d encouraged the boy to seek professional assistance, but without success.
Alfred sipped his tea. He had been prepared to wait and give Bruce time to come to terms with the idea of help, but of late, Alfred had become aware that Bruce was disappearing, swallowed by the persona of Batman. There had been a time when Alfred could talk to the boy about things like fly fishing, good literature and even politics. Bruce was a likeable person but Alfred had not seen that person for almost a year.
Now, all conversation they had, every thought that crossed Bruce’s mind, was related to his role of Batman. He had become obsessed with cleansing the city. In the early days, he’d entered the night as an avenging angel with no thought in mind apart from protecting the innocent. He had quickly realized the only way to do that was to tackle the source of the problem. Rather than waiting for the criminals to strike, he was now striking them.
Bruce had spent years travelling the world gathering knowledge and training from various martial arts masters in preparation. He was a skilled detective, well-versed in forensics, psychology, body language and the law. Alfred had shared some of the knowledge he’d gleaned from twenty years as an MI6 agent and found Bruce to be a willing student who had quickly surpassed his teacher.
At first Alfred hadn’t believed one man could make a difference but he’d been well and truly proved incorrect. Batman was having a huge impact, but at what cost to Bruce? Alfred feared that if he didn’t so something soon, ‘Bruce’ would be totally subsumed by the stronger, more dominate Batman personality.
Bruce’s chest heaved, interrupting Alfred’s thoughts.
Alfred celebrated privately. This was the first non-Batman related conversation they’d had in weeks. “The young lady who believes you to be gay.”
“She wanted to know why I’m not seen at night.”
“Oh.” This was Batman related. “And...?”
“I convinced her I suffer from panic attacks brought on by darkness. She accepted that. As a matter of fact, it is a story I may be able to cultivate to cover my Batman activities. Vicki Vale is an intelligent woman. If I can convince her I can probably convince anyone.”
“Yes,” Alfred agreed. “And you may be able to turn having the ear of a reporter to your advantage.”
Bruce’s expression became hard. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Knowing what the media knows and believes about Batman could prove useful. I may be able to use her as a source of information. I’m having lunch with her tomorrow.”
“You may be tempting fate.”
“Perhaps,” Bruce murmured. He reached for his tea and sipped it. “Jim Gordon visited me today.”
“As you planned.”
“Yes. He handled it well. I was impressed. It gave me a chance to check how much I can trust him.”
“And I take it your faith in him was proved.”
Bruce nodded. “I’ve planted the GPS transmitters on the two trucks that have the casinos set up in them. When they next hit the streets I should be able to track them. I know which security guards at the factory are on the Mob’s payroll. Once I know exactly which members of the mob hierarchy I can connect to the trucks, I’ll let Jim know and he can conduct the raid... no search warrant needed.”
Alfred consciously directed the conversation away from Batman. “Miss Antoinette appears quite taken with you.”
Bruce eyed Alfred like he was from another planet. “Pardon?”
“Miss Antoinette. The young lady you have been seeing.”
“You are fond of her.”
“I suppose I am.”
“You should spend a weekend away with her.”
Bruce frowned. “I can’t leave Gotham.”
“Why?” Alfred demanded.
“Alfred,” Bruce muttered.
Alfred shook his head in frustration. “Sir, it may not be my place, but I honestly believe you are spending too much time devoted to assisting the police. You are a young man with a life to live. You deserve that. Besides, Gordon has an entire police force to help him. You are only one man.”
“One man could have saved my parents, Alfred. That’s all it would have taken. One man to have leaped out of the shadows when we needed him. I will be that man. No other child will suffer what I did, not while I have breath in my body.”
Alfred sighed. “Master Bruce, I do not profess to understand how you feel and what you are saying is very noble. However, it isn’t healthy. I made some enquiries on your behalf. There is a very good therapist on High Street who...”
Bruce rose to his feet. “We’ve had this conversation. I can’t afford to speak to someone like that in case I let something slip. I’ve worked hard to protect Batman’s work. I’m not going to jeopardize that for anything.”
“But Sir...” Alfred stopped. He could tell the shutters had slammed down and Bruce was no longer listening. Alfred understood this fight was very personal for Bruce. It was his way of not feeling like a victim. “Sir, you have remembered you are going to the circus tonight?”
Bruce’s eyebrows drew down. “Why am I going to the circus?”
Alfred sighed. “I’ll add social calendar director to my resume. Miss Antoinette said she hasn’t been since she was a child and wanted to go, and you agreed to take her. Tonight is opening night for the circus’ annual eight week season in Gotham. I believe the show starts at 6:30 and will finish by 8:30. You should be able to done your night clothes by 9:30.”
Bruce grimaced. “I hate the circus.”
“No, sir. You hate clowns.”