Home   | Book 2  |   Chapter 1    2    3 

Part 2: But not for me

 

Raoul had manned the coffee cart at the corner of 59th and Madison since before his daughter was in diapers.  He’d seen his share of oddballs.  He didn’t judge.  He didn’t assume everybody who sat on a park bench and talked to themselves must be a homeless loon without $5 for a cup of coffee.

So he certainly wasn’t going to judge the well-dressed blonde man who’d sat on a bench near the cart for two hours.  The man didn’t appear to be talking to himself—not exactly—not out loud, anyway.  He did make some strange faces… This was not Raoul’s concern, of course, not really.  If someone wants to sit on a bench and make faces, that was no concern of his.  Except… Raoul stole a sideways glance at the face-making stranger… Except Melanie would be helping out again over the weekend. And Raoul wasn’t quite so open-minded about oddballs in the vicinity of his fifteen year old daughter.

A few feet away on that park bench, the argument raged on.

Azrael maintained that Jean Paul learned much from Green Arrow’s coaching.  He could now deal with many strong-willed and attractive women without standing mute or stammering like a fool.  That the Catwoman still had power over him was evidence of her witchcraft.  She had caused Jean Paul to imprint on her in some bizarre way at that first meeting and the mortal should purge his mind of her influence through meditation.  He recommended “the devotion to the most glorious St. Dumas by way of the sword.”

Jean Paul stood firm in his view:  the disastrous combination of The System and the Mantle, otherwise known as “AzBat,” went up against Catwoman and fell flat on its ass.  Unless they both faced up to that fact, they would never move passed it.

At no time, Mortal, did either of us ‘fall on our ass.’  On the contrary, we fought well, standing our ground against a skilled combatant and leaving the field of battle in a time and manner of our own choosing.

Only after you insulted her, sputtered like an imbecile, and opened us up to the ridicule of that nickname she will NEVER let go of.

I am gifted with the sum knowledge of the Order of St. Dumas. That wisdom, regrettably, did not include instruction on dealing with women who were not docile and subservient.  Dealing verbally with The Feline therefore fell to you.  And it was your mind, Mortal,  that contributed to ‘AzBat’ that notion that she came with the mantle:  the cowl, the car, the signal, the manor, and the affections of the cat.  You thought they were a package.

I… I never… NEVER!…  

And it was you who blew that insignificant encounter completely out of proportion by going on to DREAM about her.

I… NEVER!

Those dreams were not mine, Mortal.  An Azrael does not have such thoughts. 

This is a cheap attempt to get me to go home without talking to her.

And it succeeded.  She’s just left.  While you railed at me, that doorman called her a taxi.

We’ll wait.

 

RE:  Leslie’s return

It was a memo from Lucius Fox, reminding Bruce that Leslie Thompkins would be returning to Gotham City and discussing, in pedantic detail, the many possible consequences for the Thomas Wayne Memorial Clinic. 

Dr. Thompkins’s recent post on the AMA advisory council gives her considerably more clout … bluntly, having her name on the letterhead is worth more… and, of course, her history as a partner in the late Dr. Wayne’s medical practice…”

Bruce gave the daylight version of the Bat-scowl at seeing this detached formula of words used to describe his father.  

The irritation passed soon enough.  Lucius hadn’t done anything wrong.  The impersonal tone was appropriate to the topic at hand.  The poor man had no way of knowing how personal the subject of Leslie Thompkins was to Bruce.

She had, it was true, been his father’s partner.  As such, she was one of the first notified the night of the tragedy. Living in the city, she had reached Crime Alley before Alfred.  She got there shortly after the official personnel. She had hugged him and comforted him while his mother’s body was loaded onto a stretcher and disappeared into a van. For a long time, Bruce would despise her for that. 

He wasn’t aware that he associated her with the tragedy, not in the beginning. He wasn’t aware her very presence made him angry. He only knew he found her unpleasant. He took her kindness to be a cloying fussiness, as though she wanted to set herself up to replace his mother. 

Alfred spoke to him about his behavior. He said it was not enough for a young gentleman to address his elders with respect, he should also make visitors feel welcome. To become sullen whenever one particular person came to visit…

That approach worked until Bruce was sixteen, the age at which the urge to assert one’s independence provides an instinct for cruelty.

On her next visit, Bruce told Leslie about his Plan: to train himself, to travel the world seeking knowledge, to become an instrument of Justice…

She reacted as expected.  She criticized.  She nagged, in fact. His health. His safety.

“I already have a mother, Dr. Thompkins,” Bruce cut her off in what would one day become Batman’s voice, “in case you’ve forgotten.” 

She blanched.  Her face went straight past white into a bluish green.  She stammered something that was as close to an apology as a shrew like that was capable of.  And she left.

Alfred was furious.  Instead of backing down or arguing, Bruce told Alfred that he was grateful.  He said he would always appreciate the way Alfred raised him without pretending to be his father. And he would further appreciate it, Bruce said, “if everybody stopped trying to foist a surrogate mother on me as well.”  

Alfred didn’t back down from that the way Leslie had, not at first. Not until Bruce implied Alfred’s real motive was a romantic attachment. That’s what they were up to—Alfred, his stand-in for a father, Leslie, his surrogate mother, and they were in love! How sweet!  How delightful that the murder of his parents before his eyes could fuel such tender passions…  He got no further before throwing up. 

And there it remained for three weeks. At the end of that time, Bruce was making arrangements for his year of travel.  

“Got a passport, Alfred?” he asked casually.   

“Indeed, sir,” the butler answered with the cold formality that had become a norm in the house.

“Good.  Do you think you’d like to come to Japan and Thailand?  Or would you prefer to stay in England? I’m going there first, although I haven’t decided on Oxford or Cambridge. But I could drop you off and then pick you up again on the way back if you like.”

Alfred gave the boy an appraising look—this boy who he loved, who had such promise, who had disappointed him so dearly. The question was clearly an invitation to forgive and forget. Alfred had hoped for more, of course, he had hoped for an apology. Yet…

Once the initial anger passed, Alfred realized it might be wrong, dangerous even, to press the boy before he was ready. Whatever it was Bruce was feeling—and he doubted Bruce himself could say what that was—but whatever the feeling, it was so intense, so extreme, that Bruce had used his parents’ memory as an emotional club.   Indeed, the whole idea of this “mission” was an even greater sign of how strongly the boy felt.  The very idea of devoting his entire life to avenging their deaths—clearly he still had much to work through before he could see Leslie’s friendship for what it was.

“May I inquire, Master Bruce,” Alfred replied in warmer tones than had been heard in the manor for weeks, “about your quandary regarding the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.”

“Well, Cambridge has an actual chair in criminology,” Bruce enthused, “while Oxford has only a small research institute, but balancing that…”

 

Hugo Strange, Victor Frieze, and Tom Blake looked up expectantly when Mad Hatter returned to the dining room..  He’d been sent into the bar as a scout to learn why the Iceberg Lounge, notorious den of the Gotham underworld, had been turned into a country music jamboree.

“Nigma” was the one-word explanation.

“NIGMA?” Blake bellowed, “We’ve been subjected to four hours of losers with guitars wailing about their mama, papa, or baby sisters ahurtin’, acryin’, acheatin’, alyin’, agamblin’, adrinkin’, ashootin’, and adyin’ because of EDWARD I’m-so-clever NIGMA!””

“It’s payback for 76 Trombones, isn’t it?” Hugo asked Jervis.

“No, it’s not that,” Jervis assured him. “It seems the fair Doris did not feel that crossword puzzles were much of a foundation for a lasting relationship.”

“And this Doris is the old lady from the party?” Victor asked.

Tom Blake, aka Catman, growled like his namesake. He had been excluded from the Crane Halloween party—as he was from all Rogue social functions since that unholy she-cat had him blackballed.

“Why the fuck is he mooning after some grandma?” he hissed.

“You’re so bitter, Blake,” Hugo observed, “Doris is not really an old woman. It was a costume affair, she was dressed as—what was it?  Old lady from the books that solves crimes… Miss Marple.”

“Indeed,” Jervis put in, “‘We only go around in circles in Wonderland, but we always end up where we started.’   Eddie thought he was getting somewhere, getting her into a costume—any costume.”  He grinned. “But no.”

“It is a cold thing to have loved and lost,” Victor recited like a philosopher, “I know what it is to have your heart’s desire ripped from your grasp by the cold, cruel world.” Mr. Freeze’s moment of empathy was interrupted by a loud click from the jukebox followed by a louder highnote from Roy Orbison. It threatened to shatter the icicle chandelier over their heads. Victor’s voice hardened into pure ice as he went on to say, “And yet, I took out my pain on the guilty parties. I turned my rage on society.  I might make the city INTO an iceberg, but I never subjected The Iceberg to THIS.”

Oswald Cobblepot, The Penguin, proprietor of the Iceberg, nursing a broken heart of his own, overheard this and waddled over.

“You’re all being snobs, wack-kwak, about the music.”

“ARE YOU INSANE,” Tom Blake turned on the birdman with a roar, “Country’s melody line is monodic, NEVER polyphonic, and is matched with the ‘gospel harmony’ of stacked thirds!”

Oswald, Jervis, Hugo and Victor stared. 

“The instrumental accompaniment is crude!” Blake shouted at them.

They continued to stare.

“Ernest Tubb and his Texas Troubadours played in the same key of C for 45 years!” he concluded.

When this crushing argument was met with even more blank stares, Tom Blake excused himself.

“That would be why Catman isn’t invited to the parties,” Oswald observed dryly.   Then he sighed as Roy Orbison concluded and the inevitable opening notes TEARDROPS segued to George Ducas, “The Most Miserable Man in Country Music.” 

Jervis and Hugo looked at each other and shrugged as Oswald waddled back to the bar. 

“What’s eating him?” Hugo asked, “He could put his foot down; stop the hoedown.”

Jervis Tetch, aka The Mad Hatter, aka The Gossip Monger, shook his head and again supplied a one-word explanation:  “Roxy.”

 

Poison Ivy liked to think of herself as a humanoid plant. 

People were nothing but an animal infestation screwing up the wondrous green balance of the planet. 

Under the general heading of “People,” men were the worst. Women were at least in tune with the whole Earth Mother rhythm of Nature’s inscrutable plan.  Men strutted around with penises, trying to knock things over.  

And of the animal infestation “People,” subheading “Men,” the most objectionable specimen was certainly one Harvey Two-Face Dent.

This was Pamela Isley’s thought, curled in her new lair in a moss-hidden glade in Riverside Park… hatefully eying a woodpecker pounding its beak into that poor, defenseless oak.  She spied a climbing vine and caused it to coil itself around the woodpecker… vicious thing, ruthlessly driving itself into that sweet, vulnerable tree. It was not to be endured.  She had the vine smash the bird’s head into the tree trunk, then drop the feathered carcass onto the dirt.  Good.  That’ll fix him. Let him fertilize plant life for a change instead of drilling holes into it.

Harvey Dent.  What did she care if he took up with Roxy Rocket.  They were through.  They’d been through for a long time.  They’d been beyond through since he viciously murdered Ivan, the best goddamn mutant flytrap anybody ever bred.  So he had a new girl.  It was nothing to her. It’s not like she ever loved him or anything. It amused her that he was so smitten. She didn’t have to use her pheromones to get him to do what she wanted. And the sex was good.  He wasn’t squeamish about a little roughhousing. In fact, he gave as good as he got. But love? No.  She had no feelings for him or for any man or for any of the human pestilence infesting this otherwise perfectly green realm of vegetation.

“Hiya, Red, are ya home?” a familiar voice chirped. 

Ivy gave an imperial nod, and the hanging moss at the entranceway parted for Harley Quinn. 

 

Selina had no reason to believe she was being followed, but she had the taxi drop her two blocks shy of the Flick Theatre, otherwise known as Two-Face’s hideout.  He never tired of pointing out the great concrete Comedy-Tragedy masks that decorated the façade like gargoyles, nor of showing visitors inside to see the same image—two faces, one laughing, one weeping—in an elaborate mosaic beneath the grand staircase.

Selina was therefore surprised when Harvey met her at the door and steered her back outside. He had invited her out to lunch, he said. 

She had assumed that was a figure of speech. Harvey did not “eat out,” he ordered in. Yet here he was, ushering her in broad daylight to a quaint Vietnamese restaurant in the same block.  A matronly Asian woman greeted him at the door as “Mr. TwoDents.” She called to a boy of about sixteen that looked to be her son, who smiled at Harvey, picked up two menus and showed them to…

“Your regular booth, Mr. Harvey,” the boy said, laying out the menus.

“Thank you, Tuan,” he answered.  The exchange was unremarkable, but the surprising thing to Selina was that the words were spoken in Two-Face’s gravelly baritone, while Harvey’s side of the face smiled.  It was almost like both of them liked coming here.

Selina tried to hide her surprise by scanning the menu, but Harvey knew her too well to let her get away with it. He snatched the menu from her hand and ordered appetizers of tom hap nuoc dua. “Steamed shrimp in coconut milk,” he explained, “to die for.”  Then bao tu jambon  “A beef dish, Jintara’s specialty.  And a banh bo cake for dessert,” he added. “We’re celebrating.”

Tuan nodded, took the menus, and left. Harvey looked to Selina for a reaction.

“What,” he joked, “Can’t decide whether to ask? Want to borrow the coin?”

She laughed.  Here sat the only man on earth, Bruce included, who could actually get away with daring Selina without bringing on the wrath of the cat.

“Okay, what is this?” she asked, as if humoring an Arkham inmate.

“It’s a nice family-owned Vietnamese restaurant,” Harvey answered with a double deadpan, “why else would we have told them to bring us steamed shrimp and bao tu jambon.”

“I mean,” Selina giggled, answering an elder brother’s teasing, “why is it that none of them…” she trailed off, at a loss for how to phrase it.  “Okay, they obviously all know you.”

“Yes, we eat here often,” Harvey smirked, enjoying the situation immensely. He resolved to do nothing to satisfy her confusion, or make it easier to ask the point-blank question.

Selina found a formula of words.

“And they don’t mind serving an obvious member of the Gotham underworld?”

Harvey paused, admiring Selina’s strategy. Then he thought of a response.

“They may not realize we are a criminal.”

There, the conversation paused as a young girl came up to the table. Harvey explained this was Tuan-le, Tuan’s older sister. Tuan was not old enough to serve alcohol. Harvey ordered “the usual;” Selina, a glass of the house white. 

Tuan-le left, and Harvey at last offered an explanation::
“In the village where this family came from, hideous facial scarring isn’t that uncommon.. Landmines, you see.””

 

“Of course, Dr. Thompkins’s greatest contribution to the clinic will continue to be administrative,” Lucius’s memo droned on, “as her staunchest supporters admit the lady, while a skilled physician, has the bedside manner of a drill sergeant.”

Bruce’s lip twitched.

It was almost a year into Batman’s mission that Bruce reevaluated his treatment of Leslie Thompkins.  It was nearing the anniversary of his parents’ deaths, and he’d called Alice Ishler, Lucius’s predecessor, into his office.  He said as of this morning, there was no budget on the Thomas Wayne Memorial Clinic.  Whatever it took to get the doors open by January 21st, that’s what he would pay.

Money, Alice told him, would solve everything except the staff shortage. 

“The sad fact is, Mr. Wayne, Park Row is not a nice neighborhood anymore. Physicians aren’t exactly lining up to work down the street from a place openly referred to as ‘Crime Alley.’”

“Double the salary,” Bruce ordered, “Triple it, if necessary.”

Alice bit her lip trying to decide if this job was worth keeping:

“I’m not at all sure we’d want the applicants we got that way. Mr. Wayne, the best prospect so far you vetoed. Leslie Thompkins-”

“Has the bedside manner of an auto mechanic,” Bruce interrupted.  “Forgive me if I think an outreach clinic serving the disadvantaged should be manned by a compassionate healer, like my father was, and not an embittered harpy with a toxic personality.”

Bruce winced at the memory of his words. Alice Ishler was the first Wayne employee to quit during Hell-Month. She would not be the last.

 

Harley Quinn, the Joker’s quirky, kooky lunatic girlfriend, entered the Iceberg Lounge looking less quirky and kooky than anyone had ever seen her.  She strode to the bar like a gunfighter in an old movie. She eyed the jukebox playing I FALL TO PIECES with a look of pure menace, pulled a gun from her belt, took aim, and squeezed the trigger. A PWATOIIINNGG sounded as the pistol shot a small suction cup onto the jukebox.  Attached by a thin spring was a rubber ball painted with a Joker smile. Harley smiled back at it for a split second, then pressed a red button on the gun barrel.  The ball exploded, blowing a spectacular hole in the jukebox.

“HEY!” Edward Nigma screamed before the smoke had even cleared. 

Harley turned to him with a slow burn of psychotic menace. Never had she seemed so much like a woman the Joker would have for a girlfriend.  Eddie gulped. “Nice shot,” he offered, and then returned his attention to his napkin of anagrams.

Hugo Strange and Jervis Tetch joined Harley at the bar. 

“Calloo Callay,” Jervis began, “My dear, on behalf of the dining room, I thank you.”  He bowed formally. 

Hugo was less dramatic, but more practical in his expression of gratitude:  “Sly, whatever the lady wishes, is on me.”

“Straight scotch,” Harley croaked with none of her usual whimsy. When she’d downed the shot and ordered another, she turned to Hugo. “Dr. Strange, if you observed a patient killing woodpeckers for ‘brutally ramming its vicious beak into the sweet, vulnerable trees,’ what would be your diagnosis?”

Hugo blinked.  Then he answered carefully, “Without knowing any of the particulars…”

“Oh for chrissake, Hugo, you know the particulars: ‘The sweet vulnerable trees!’ Get off it.”

“Very well,” Hugo conceded this hypothetical patient could be no one other than Poison Ivy, “I would say there is a markedly Freudian subtext to her actions.”

“I concur,” Dr. Quinn said, motioning to Sly to refill her glass, “but would you say it to her face?”

“Er, no, I fear that, coming from me, that would only provoke an even more, er, Freudian response.”

“Well put,” Harley said, downing another shot.

Edward Nigma chuckled as he eavesdropped on the conversation.  Finally, he crumpled the napkin and turned to Harley with a grin.

“Riddle me this, Harlequin.  What would the Green Queen do to her best friend if you told her she carried a torch for her ex?”

Harley mumbled something unintelligible. 

“What was that?” Eddie pressed.

“Shoot me. Stuff me. Mount me,” Harley shot back.

“Come on, Harley,” Hugo prodded, “You did not go home and keep this to yourself. You came here, you made a scene, you told this much. Clearly, you want the story to be known.  So finish it.”

“Yes, yes.  Tell, tell,” Jervis chanted, “For the tale is in the telling and the tattling is the tale, so to tell the tale completely, you must tettle-tattle- ”

“OH, FOR PITY SAKE,” Harley exploded, “She set the poison oak after me, okay? I’ve got poison oak under my tassels!”

 

With the arrival of the banh bo cake, Harvey Dent was ready to reveal the cause for celebration.

“We’ve got the monkey off our back,” he grinned in a curious mix of Harvey’s voice and Two-Face’s..  “Or to be more accurate, we’ve got the FLYTRAP off our back.. Night of the Halloween party.. Remember when we decided to stay.””

“Because Roxy just arrived,” Selina prompted with feline amusement.

“Because Roxy had just arrived,” Harvey didn’t deny it. “Well, one thing led to another. She’s a fun girl.   Remember fun?  We had damn near forgot.  A fun girl—not at all adverse to ‘thrills’ as she calls it, heh, heh, feisty little minx, but without all the hostility.  Oh Selina, it’s great.  It’s like a weight has been lifted from our shoulders.  No more of the angry, angsty, love/hate, are-we-or-aren’t-we, want-ache, slap-spank, kiss-cuff, lust-smack, who needs that shit.”

A cold slap of grapey wetness hit his face before he could say more.

“CRAZED BITCH!” Two-Face bellowed, while Harvey tasted the moist film on his lips and said “Jadot Chardonnay, ‘93.”

Then he produced the apologetic grin that always won over the women jurors.

“That came out wrong,” he admitted.

“Make it come out right,” she warned.

“We’re happy,” Harvey said simply.  “With Pam, it was so damn confused.  Don’t tell us you don’t know what we’re saying. Don’t tell us you didn’t feel exactly the same way when you traded in ‘Mean and Moody’ for playboy Bruce.”

 

The Thomas Wayne Memorial Clinic had opened on January 21st as planned.  It opened to the extent that Bruce cut the ribbon.  It had only a skeleton staff, on loan from Gotham General in exchange for four new operating rooms, a burn unit, and a heliport “made possible with a generous grant from the Wayne Foundation.”

Bruce walked from the ribbon cutting to the alley… and there she was, Leslie Thompkins.  Bruce felt a surge of anger at the intrusion.  Did she mean to insert herself into his private moments of remembrance?

Almost immediately he realized his monstrous arrogance.  She wasn’t here for him. He didn’t even plan to come until tonight, after dark, in costume. He’d decided that was best.  Bruce would visit the gravesite; the alley was Batman’s domain. He’d only come now, like this, because he was nearby for the ribbon cutting.  Leslie was there for herself. She was there because—God, what a fool he had been—she was there because she’d loved them too. At least, one of them.

Bruce left her alone with her thoughts, but that night, he gave Alfred the belated apology. 

“What I said, all those years ago, about you and Leslie. Alfred, I’m sorry, it was inexcusable. And unforgivable.”

“I accept your apology, Master Bruce,” Alfred said formally. “You can make amends, sir, by extending your expression of regret to Dr. Thompkins as well.”

“I will, Alfred, I’ve already made an appointment for her to come see me tomorrow, at the clinic; I’m going to ask her to run it. I understand now that… I mean…  Alfred, why didn’t you tell me? About how she felt?”

“I did not think it seemly, sir.  Dr. Thompkins and I were nothing more than friends, it is true, but it did not seem quite chivalrous to say so.”

“I see.”  

To be continued...

 Home   | Book 2  |  Chapter 1    2    3 

Share |