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Chapter 5: Confirmation and Counterfeit

 

Harvey Dent knew what it was to learn your ladylove wants to kill you.  His pre-Two-Face engagement to Pamela Isley turned out to be just such a setup, and Harvey had refused to believe it just as vehemently as Oswald did.

His Two-Face persona also knew what it was to arrive at the Gotham General E.R. with life-threatening injuries inflicted by a woman he’d once called darling.  The only difference was that Two-Face didn’t have the luxury of denial.  Harvey got to assure Bruce Wayne that No, his beloved fiancée Pamela could not possibly have been the one that poisoned him.  And Oswald could eject Huntress from his office with cries of “Wallowing Wannabat” when she broke the news about Lark Starling.  But Two-Face had the evidence of his own eyes as to who stabbed him with pot fragments screaming “DIE PLANT-KILLER DIE!  REVENGE FOR IVAN! REVENGE FOR IVAN! EAT WEED-KILLER, YOU FESTERING MOUND OF SLIME!  CAN’T YOU WORK A SUNLAMP?  DIE PLANT-KILLER DIE!”

Unlike his lighter side, Two-Face wasn’t sentimental.  He didn’t see any need to involve himself in the possible impending murder of Oswald Cobblepot—not for its own sake.  That was the kind of thing Harvey got worked up over.  Harvey the Do-gooder, like it was any of their business what Ozzy got himself into.  If it were a matter of intervening just to save Oswald’s life, Two-Face would have insisted on a coin toss.

But there was a second consideration.  Two-Face was well aware that the demise of Oswald could mean the demise of the Iceberg, possibly in the very way Huntress had outlined.  That was not to be risked on a coin toss, nor on the vague hope that Huntress was wrong or that if she wasn’t, Oswald would realize in time and take steps.  

Hence why he hurried from the Iceberg:  He hoped he could catch up with Huntress before she disappeared to wherever it is vigilantes go when they’re not prancing around ruining perfectly good crime sprees.  He had little difficulty finding her.  She was still on foot; in fact, she was still doing that angry stomp she’d started at Oswald’s office door.

“Excuse us!” Harvey called down the street, breaking into a run. “Huntress!  Wait up!” 

She spun around instinctively, into a defensive judo stance, then relaxed slightly with a disgusted snort.

“What do you want, Maggot?”

“Aren’t you the feisty wench,” Two-Face leered, then he blinked into a direct, businesslike tone. “Two minutes of your time is what we want…” He blinked again and added  “…please.”  The last word dripped with condescending irony and Huntress felt an urge to put an arrow through his eye.  Harvey took her murderous glare for consent and continued.  “Back in the bar, we couldn’t help overhearing your conversation.  You think Oswald’s lady friend is out to kill him.  Why?”

“For his money,” she sneered, “why else would anyone have anything to do with him.”

Harvey winced, but Two-Face laughed.

“A cynical feisty wench, we’re starting to like you.  But you misunderstood:  We were not questioning her motive but yours.  What evidence do you have to back up these accusations?  How certain are you of the charges you bring?  And why…”  An arrow pressed against his nose and Harvey felt it was best to stop talking.

“I know because I know, Counselor.  I recognize her; she’s done it before.  She gets away with it, too.  Now if you’re finished with your cross-examination, I have to getuoomph—”

“You’ll have to excuse us,” Two-Face said, rubbing sore knuckles, “We would normally allow him to handle anything as mundane as browbeating a witness.  But we dislike having arrows shoved up our noseuuungh—”

“And you’ll have to excuse me, I don’t let scum-lapping maggots get the last word.”

“Fair enough,” Harvey said simply, massaging his jaw.  “Sorry about that.  Darth Duplicity.  He gets excited around women in boots.  Not to worry, he’s back in his kennel now.  So the things you told Oswald: You’re certain of them; that’s all I wanted to know.  Thank you, Huntress.  I appreciate your time.”

He offered his hand as if they’d just concluded a business meeting.  Huntress stared at it, then at him, then back at the hand.  The words ‘You’re a sick fuck, Dent’ hovered on her lips, but the sight of that extended hand had her mesmerized.  It was almost like respect.  Reluctantly, she shook it, then turned and began walking away.

“MumumumumMama,” Two-Face called audibly, “don’t know why they call you Bony Ass.”

 

Lawrence Muskelli lit the Bat-Signal and waited.  He knew from experience that Batman could take ten to forty minutes to respond, depending on his location.  While he waited, Muskelli thought about Renee. 

For all that Latin temper, she had a dignity about her.  It was the first thing he’d noticed.  After the Mad Hatter incident, there was an Internal Affairs probe, but unlike most cops she didn’t get belligerent with the IAD guys.  She went through the victims’ counseling too, because it was required.  No grousing.  No ‘don’t treat me different because I’m a woman’ song and dance.  She went through all of it because that’s what you do.  Mature.  Dignified.  True grace under pressure through the whole thing.  He was impressed.  He would have liked to get to know her better, but it wasn’t possible then:  a detective under investigation when he’d just taken over the department.  Scandal waiting to happen.  So he put it aside.

Then when he asked for input on vigilantes, she gave it.  She took him at his word. She came to his office and told him what she thought.  No paranoid suspicion, like from some of them.  No assumptions that it was a trick question.  No telling him what she guessed he wanted to hear.  She was a straight shooter. 

Those qualities made her ideal to serve on the city council, but iffy for the political life that went with the job.  Like that story in the Post purporting to “out” her.  As with the IA investigations, Renee handled the smear campaign with dignity and class.  Publicly… 

“By next week, everyone will have forgotten it. I’m actually quite surprised that it made the front page… Next week we’ll read that Jade is Riddler and Poison Ivy’s lovechild or something, and this will all be forgotten.”

…But privately, Lawrence knew Renee was troubled.  He didn’t feel close enough to ask a confidence if she didn’t volunteer it, but he had his suspicions.  Her old colleagues on the force, there was speculation and probably wagers about her sexual orientation.  Maybe too, some questions from her family.  Not everyone understood the extent to which tabloids lie.  Some had a childlike faith in whatever they read in print, no matter how absurd—

“Yes, Commissioner?”

Muskelli started at the dark caped presence suddenly standing in front of him.  With a resigned grumble, he put thoughts of Renee aside and briefed Batman on the counterfeiting sting the Feds were warning “the locals” to steer clear of.

 

Harvey returned to the Iceberg, shuddered as he ordered a Derby Fizz from Sly, and took the bubbly concoction to Jervis Tetch’s table.  

Two hours later… Harvey sat in the Mad Hatter’s hideout sifting through the rubble of Double Dare’s attack.  He couldn’t understand why Jervis, who was such an incessant chatterbox about trivial nonsense, was such a tight-lipped nincompoop about this Double Dare.  When Riddler “made such an impression on Auntie Maud,” Harvey, like the rest of the Iceberg, had listened.  But now that there were matters of actual importance to be shared, Jervis sealed up like a ziplock!

Two hours later… Two-Face and Mad Hatter robbed Kingston Electronics.  The tech firm that supplied dozens of the dotcoms operating out of “Silicon Alley” was able to replace all the micro-electronics Double Dare destroyed in their attack on Jervis’s hideout.  After a successful heist together, Two-Face felt sure his companion would be more forthcoming.  “So tell us, Jervis,” he began, “about these, heh, Doublemint Twins…”  …Alas, even after Two-Face helped re-outfit his hideout, Jervis Tetch remained a monosyllabic nincompoop.

Two hours later… Harvey again waited in the hideout while Jervis worked.  He worked feverishly on a chic beret of green and yellow felt.  “Nice colors,” Two-Face remarked, “is that the same shade of yellow as the Double Dare costumes?”  Nothing.  The weaselly little hatter just hunched tighter over his workbench and tweaked the tiny microchip. 

Two hours later… a “hatted” Lark Starling was on her way to Wisconsin to make cheese.  A weary Two-Face turned to his equally exhausted partner and asked pointblank: “Is everything in the same proportion?”  Mad Hatter looked at him with disgust before answering…

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…”

“And did they at least gyre and gimble in unison?” Two-Face asked, trying to make the most of the only answer he was going to get.

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
  The frumious Bandersnatch…
Take the hint, Harvey.  The vicious vixens beat the crap out of me and I don’t want to talk about it.  This Oswald-Lark business isn’t over yet.  Go home and get some rest before we start Phase 2.”

 

The Batmobile made the final turn from the public road onto the Wayne property, but Batman’s mind was far from “homecoming mode”…

Things that went on in other cities did not happen in Gotham.  Feds did not come in and do as they pleased.  They did not get to hide behind ‘classified information’ and ‘need to know.’  They did not get to treat city cops like errand boys.  They did not get to warn ‘the locals’ off ‘their’ investigations.  Not in his city.

Muskelli didn’t know that.  He was still new.  He would learn. 

…The Batmobile crossed electric eye Omega, disabling the hologram ahead…

Commissioner Muskelli hated the Treasury Department warning off the GCPD, but he went along because that’s what goes on in other cities.  He’d passed their warnings on to Batman:  a sting operation was in place, Federal, stay out of it.  Gordon would have done the same, Batman knew, but Gordon would have known what would happen.

…The Batmobile glided into its place in the cave with the graceful ease of a thoroughbred that had run its race. But for some reason, Batman could not feel equally content in his triumph…

Oracle had an off night.  It took her six hours to confirm the counterfeiting investigation and pull all their “evidence” off the agency systems.  By that time, Batman had already located the superbill printing presses, apprehended the operators, and traced the magnetic ink to its source:  Embassy Row.  “Imagine my surprise,” he had whispered into the still night air. 

…Batman settled in at his workstation, typed up the log entry, and linked it to the related files in the database…

When Special Agents Flaherty and Rollins reached the scene, they’d found the men, the presses, the ink, the paper, and the evidence linking back to the Korean Consulate and the Chinese arms dealer where all those counterfeit hundreds were headed.  They also found their return plane tickets to Washington.  

Oracle had made up for her initial stumble with a bit of bravado.  She saw in Flaherty’s personnel record that he had an anniversary coming up, and since he’d now be getting home in time to celebrate with his wife, she noted this when she changed their flights and bumped him up to First Class. 

It was, by anybody’s yardstick, a total triumph:  for law-enforcement, for Gotham, and for Batman. 

And he was rightly proud of it.

A win was a win.  It wasn’t any less satisfying from a crimefighting standpoint, for Justice was served.  That is what mattered. 

…Entering the costume vault, Batman removed his costume and changed into a kimono, black and slate gray silk woven in a tight herringbone pattern with black piping, Selina’s gift.  It was so silly, she said, going to all the trouble changing into Bruce Wayne’s shirt and trousers after patrol just to walk from the costume vault to the bedroom…  It unnerved him.  It was a gift for Batman and that was strange enough.  But it was a gift that showed an intimate understanding of Batman’s life, of this most private corner of Batman’s life, and yet had no practical value in relation to the Mission.  The very concept of Batman and not Bruce Wayne having a life unrelated to the Mission, it seemed like an absolute contradiction—(Feline Logic!)—and yet he was wearing the proof of it…

The counterfeiting case was a win.  It was an absolute win, and it wasn’t any less satisfying from a crimefighting standpoint, for Justice was served and that is what mattered.

But perhaps it was not a betrayal of the Mission to admit there was another satisfaction, a different kind, in coming home at the end of the night and… 

Barbara’s contribution wasn’t any less valuable because Dick was there to share in the victory.  He’d heard them, a murmur and a giggle in that second before the OraCom muted.  The job was done, and now they each had someone who understood to pat them on the back, relax with, and bask in the satisfaction of a job well done…

He liked coming home to her. 

He liked telling her about his day.

He did not like having a stolen cat in his bedroom.

He liked having someone in his life that understood the life.

He did not like having a stolen cat in his bedroom.

 

A butler’s first responsibility, Alfred reminded himself, was to give good service.  That was his primary concern.  He saw that nutritious meals were prepared and served in an orderly and elegant fashion.  If Master Bruce and Miss Selina chose to eat those meals—or not eat them, as the case may be—in tense and glaring silence, that was their business.  If they chose to create an atmosphere of high pressure storm systems brewing behind the salad, making their way to the green beans, and threatening to erupt into a deluge over the Leg of Lamb a la Pennyworth, that was not his concern…  not in his capacity as butler, and in the dining room, his role as butler must be paramount.

It was one thing to give a gentle nudge when the Batman-Catwoman situation seemed, at last, to be developing into something more.  Particularly when that nudge required only a phonecall to Master Dick on so innocuous a subject as his Father’s Day gift… It was all entirely within the realm of Alfred’s traditional role in the family. 

But to meddle in personal matters between the lady and gentlemen of the house, that was clearly out of bounds.  He wouldn’t do it.  He would not even consider it.

Certainly not yet. 

If the situation persisted…

A knock at the door spared him having to work out just exactly how long the situation might persist before he reconsidered this wise policy.  He opened the door.  Seeing who the visitors were, Alfred hid his surprise behind the cold reserve of a professional servant.

 

Selina stood alone in the little garden outside the study, looking across the river at the Gotham City skyline.  This view is why the house was built where it was.  This was the view from the main dining room, the south drawing room and the library: neat symmetrical lines of arched six foot windows looking out on the river and the gleaming city beyond.  His city. 

Selina preferred the view from the garden.  It was the same view, but without the borders of drapery and window frames.  The borders created by the windows:  framing it like a painting, made it seem like a part of the house.  It was not a part of the house.  The city was its own.  It was not Wayne property.

Property.  The sacred word.  Stealing, taking other people’s property. 

His city. 

Like he could just claim it. 

It was a free thing.  You don’t get to take a free thing and say it belongs to you, now it is yours, and any deviation from what you want it to be is… theft… criminal… wrong.

Behind her, she felt a silent presence arrive.

“Begging your pardon, Miss Selina.  A Mr. Dent to see you.  I’ve shown him into the library.”

 

In the cave, Bruce began testing the flexible polymer that would eventually become the ultimate camouflage suit.  In Tokyo, he had seen how running electrical current through the thin film of poly(p-phenylene vinylene) caused it to give off a faint glow, and how tweaking the plastic’s chemical composition could vary the color.  By embedding tiny “pixels” of red, green and blue light-emitting plastic close together on a sheet of fabric, he would have the raw material for a wearable video screen.  If the screen was then fed computer coordinated images from microcameras positioned around the wearer’s body, the result would be near-perfect camouflage.

A soft, respectful cough from above reminded him that the most-perfect camouflage needed no such high-tech enhancements.

“Yes Alfred?” he said without looking up from the worktable.

“A visitor has called for you, sir.  A Mr. Jervis Tetch.  I’ve shown him into the south drawing room.”

To be continued...

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