Chapter 3: I Remember This
It’s been said that all trial lawyers are would-be actors. Harvey Dent was, in his day, one hell of a prosecutor. He played his voice like a musical instrument, played his looks as well, a hint of charm here, a note of indignation there—all for the noble purpose of convincing a jury but basking in their rapt attention all the same. As he stood in Bruce Wayne’s drawing room displaying his full, unscarred face again, it was clear he had lost none of his dramatic flair in his years as Two-Face.
“Hey Bruce,” he had smiled when Bruce entered. “I hear Selina’s out of town, so I told Jeeves I’d better see you instead. I really need a hand on this one. It’s a two-man job, if you know what I mean.”
As often happens when guarding a
secret identity, Batman’s mind instantly sliced the situation into
cross-sections to be viewed from different angles:
-Bruce Wayne, the civilian playboy fop and Harvey’s old friend, should be bewildered (no artifice needed there) but excited and pleased.
-The Bruce Wayne that was really Batman knew he’d been exposed to fear toxin the previous night, a chemical containing powerful hallucinogens. He had to consider the possibility that what he was seeing was not real. If it was some new aftereffect from the toxin, he would betray himself by speaking of it to Dent.
-If it was real, on the other hand, it would be preposterous to ignore it.
“You said you came to see Selina?” Bruce asked, stalling for time.
“Sure did,” Dent answered with a devilish smile, “Two reasons. Ha.”
Two reasons. Same old Two-Face, except it was Harvey Dent talking and he’d said it like a joke.
“One: I have a situation on my hands. Harley Quinn, ‘the tassel twit’ as you may or may not have heard some of us refer to her, has lost her last marble. She’s going to get herself a deathsmile or worse if somebody doesn’t talk her out of it. Unfortunately, ‘hem, my own efforts to talk to Harley solo have never ended well. You can’t reason with a woman like that, you know the type. And nothing good comes of trying. So I thought I’d bring in Selina. She’s such a sweetie, not at all homicidal. Only one of that lot I can really bring in on this that will stop short of flat out murder.”
Bruce noted the continued use of “I” and “me.” Each one made the hallucination theory less viable. Auditory hallucinations were common enough in the throes of a fear toxin episode, as common as visual ones, but aftereffects had always been confined to palpitations, night sweats, and similar symptoms. Hallucinations of any kind were not normal this long after exposure. It seemed increasingly more likely that this really was Harvey Dent’s true face, fully restored, that Bruce was looking at.
“What about two?” he asked.
“You said you came to see Selina for two reasons. What’s reason number two?”
“Why, showing off my new face, of course.”
Bruce broke into a belated foppish grin on having, at last, external confirmation on what his eyes were seeing. It might be a Two-Face trick, but at least he knew his eyes were meant to be seeing what they were.
“It is… quite a change,” Bruce said honestly.
“Isn’t it though,” Harvey agreed, turning his head from side to side to display his matching profiles. “I can’t wait to shave.”
“How did it happen?” Bruce kept his voice suitably bewildered, but there were a thousand bat-questions coiled behind this simple query waiting to follow up on the answer. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for Bruce’s foppish façade, Harvey was too occupied with other musings to answer the question.
“You know what else I’m looking forward to? The Oak Bar. Remember those days, Bruce: Some pretty blonde in one of those booths by the window. Send over a drink. ‘From the gentleman in the Harvard tie’ or maybe ‘in the Hugo Boss pinstripe.’ Not ‘from the two-faced freak that hopes maybe if you sit on his right side it won’t be too much of a strain to sit and talk to him for ten minutes.’”
Bruce said nothing as the bitterness spiked and then spent itself. If this was a Two-Face trick, he’d outdone himself. The performance was pure art.
“How did it happen, Harvey?” he repeated. Harvey looked again to Bruce as if using the question to pull himself back from painful recollections. “It’s impressive work, certainly,” Bruce prompted. “A local surgeon?”
“Local yes, surgeon no. It was that fellow that’s living in Selina’s old place. Says his name is Blood, Jason Blood. But I have my suspicions that’s an alias. He’s really…” Harvey lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper “…a chap by the name of MacDoogles. But keep that under your hat. It must be a kind of secret identity he goes by. And I think he’s been so helpful to me in order to keep it quiet.”
“I won’t tell a soul,” Bruce promised flatly.
Jason Blood. Jason Blood meant magic. Interspersed with the sick flush Bruce felt whenever that ugly subject was alluded to, he wondered if Blood might have possibly swapped the themes of particular rogues. “Harvey Fullface” might be sitting here next to him, but evidently Harvey thought he’d gotten to be that way by blackmailing Jason Blood about a non-existent secret identity. It was so nonsensical, Bruce couldn’t help wondering if Mad Hatter was running around with his face divided in two.
I remember this! The plane landed in San Diego an hour ago, but I was still flying. To be working again—what a high. Not some by the numbers entry into the Gotham Museum after hours just to keep my hand in, but a real honest to god paying job! I hadn’t felt like this since half-hour to show time that first night on Cat-Tales. Whewee! MEOW! in fact.
It was two weeks since I acquired my own personal Oracle: Jean Paul Valley, a remarkably decent hacker when he’s not busy being a remarkably annoying vigilante. I had contacted him from the Watchtower between return-transports from Atlantis and set him on finding me a cover. He’d found a perfect one in this conference for some kind of specialty software: Two days, not too large, not too small, and the hotel is fully equipped with laptop plugins and high-speed Internet in all the rooms.
By the time I’m checked in (Bridgett Morse from Pittsburgh, Sr. Programmer, Imaging Systems Ltd.) and get my laptop hooked up, he has a folder waiting for me with a city map, locations where certain shipments are stored, blueprints for one warehouse already. Either he’s actually better at this than Barbara, or he’s trying to impress me. There is also an e-mail with an address, a vintage clothing store, because -and I’m quoting- “geeks dress dowdy.”
I stare at these words. What the
hell does he take me for! I’ve been walking around in this body long
enough that I know how to attract attention when I want to and avoid it when
I don’t. Did he think I was going to go bouncing my lack of complexity
all around San Diego in eye-catching Gotham ultrachic?
Bruce’s stomach lurched as he entered the Batcave and saw the one horror of the previous night that had not been a toxin-induced hallucination. There was a hideous red grin painted on the Batmobile, a neon red Joker-grin on the hood of his car. A grin he would slap off the original’s face in payment when they next met. For now, he merely made a mental note to clean the horror off the hood at the first opportunity. In the meantime, he would use one of the backup cars. Today’s business was too important to be distracted by such petty vandalism.
Anxious as he was to talk to Jason and learn the truth about Harvey Dent’s miraculous “healing,” it had to be postponed. Whatever happened there—and Bruce couldn’t begin to guess what it might be—was unlikely to get Dent or anybody else killed by morning. Harley Quinn’s latest stunt, on the other hand, could prove fatal in too many ways to imagine if he couldn’t put a stop to it. Writing a book about the rogues? What could she be thinking? The only way such an act wouldn’t end in a permanent smile is if one of the others got to her first. It was, as Harvey noted, only a matter of time until someone else found out what she was up to.
She’d beaten the odds once already, Bruce surmised, in that Harvey was working to save her. Harvey had made no allusion to the coin-flip that must have occurred to reach that decision, but he admitted he’d come to Selina as the one rogue he was sure would 1) object to the book as much as anyone but 2) stop short of killing to keep it from being published.
Bruce could concede a certain logic to the thinking as far as it went. But it couldn’t be said to go very far. True, Selina wouldn’t like the book. True, Selina would probably do anything short of killing Quinn to put a stop to it. But what could she do? “Two heads are better than one” seemed to be the extent of Harvey’s actual strategy.
Still, Batman had to at least try to intercede. Harley Quinn was insane, but even the insane have a survival instinct. The rogues were killers, every one of them, Joker, Ivy, Scarecrow, Ventriloquist. The M.O.s varied, but none of them were above taking life. He had to make her see that. He had to find a way.
I changed into my Bridgett-Morse-from-Pittsburgh street clothes and set off on a walking tour of San Diego. Legwork isn’t glamorous, but it is an indispensable part of any assignment. Blueprints are fine when that is all you have, but there is no substitute for seeing it firsthand if only up to the doors and windows.
There were 4 locations I would have to
-the infant breathing tubes were at St. Clara’s, a busy downtown hospital.
-the pressurized incubators had been specially commissioned from a medical supply firm, they were sitting in their warehouse, waiting for the city to authorize delivery.
-a specialized genome analyzer had been built to work underwater to assist research of both the mutated water-breathers and their children, they were sitting in a distribution hub at the airport
-and finally, there was a FEMA station on the new docks set up for diving departures and the lowering of equipment and supplies down to Sub Diego.
To make this happen as seamlessly and invisibly as Aquaman wanted, I would have to penetrate all four in a single night. Pick-up, pick-up, pick-up and drop-off, gathering everything needed from each location and delivering it to Sub Diego before anyone could see it was gone.
Chiroptera Culpa or “Bat blame” is such a common obsession among the Gotham City Rogues, it certainly warrants further study. As was discussed in Chapter 2, a Type-D rogue can observe any given word, action, expression or even inaction of the Batman and extrapolate scenarios as to its meaning which are outlandish even by the measures of delusional psychosis. When the delusions move, as they frequently do, beyond mere wish-dreams of undeveloped psyches into scenarios where Batman is perceived as the cause of all their failures…
Harley stopped typing momentarily to glare at a dark black spot high on the wall that was surely either the world’s tiniest bat or the world’s largest moth.
…which is really bitchy when Batman really IS the reason everything went wrong!
She typed fiercely. The creep. The big ol’ winged bat-creep. Why’d he have to get into the middle of it that way and wind up snorting all the fear gas himself, huh? Even if it was his car, that trap was sent for Puddin’! Now, after all the trouble she went through to get the stuff from Scarecrow, it was wasted. She was all the way up to Chapter 4 (Mad Hatter: Literary Fetishism as Sublimation of Sex Fear) on her book but had made no headway at all on driving Mistah J back to her. At this rate, she’d be off the bestseller list and in the discount bin before Mistah J even reached Phase 3, Begging!
And that bat-moth on the wall was really starting to piss her off. It was throwing a shadow now, which shouldn’t have been possible just sitting on the wall that way.
“Bozo envy?” a deep voice read over her shoulder, “Quinn, how do you think a homicidal psychotic is going to react when you tell the world ‘it’s about the big shoes?’”
“It’s not the shoes at all,” Harley said in an eerily professional tone, “It’s a pathology that your gags will never be as funny as the the other guy’s, your pratfalls are a pale imitation of Keaton’s, you once did a clever variation of ‘Who’s on First,’ but when was the last time you did something really original?”
“Oh sure, Joker Fish. But Joker Fish are no Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Ni!!”
“Harley, listen to me.”
“And did anyone ever ask you to sell their burgers?”
“QUINN!” Batman snapped, “He is going to kill you. Do you understand? Any one of them will kill you if you go on with this.”
“You just think that because they try to kill you, Batsy! I know better. I am a trained professional, don’t forget. Batsy? Bats? Where’d he go?”
You meddled, Keeper Mine,
In things that are not thine.
Each man alone must choose
If his soul he keep or lose…
Enough, Etrigan, Blood thought acidly. You’ve said your piece, about ninety times now. The rhymes are getting worse by the minute. I get it. You’re upset about Dent. You had your say; I didn’t listen.
Listen you did not,
So defiantly you sought
To magically erase
The most becoming features of his face.
His demon isn’t like you, Etrigan. It’s only a piece of his own tormented psyche. All that was necessary to make Two-Face disappear was to make Harvey Dent believe he was gone. Those scars were Two-Face to him. Ergo.
You meddled, Keeper Mine,
In things that are not thine.
Repeating yourself now, Etrigan.
Play what games you will with Jekyll
Free Will is, it shan’t be denied.
“Sir,” Alfred began calmly, “You know I defer to your expertise in all the many specialties related to your mission—”
“Except this one,” Bruce noted dryly. They went through this every time he disguised himself as Matches Malone. Alfred’s theatrical roots asserted themselves.
“The moustache, sir, I fear it shall not be as undetectable at close quarters as you would wish. If you would only permit the use of a moustache brush to straighten around the edge—”
“Malone is hired criminal muscle, Alfred, he’s not that well-groomed.”
“And the smell of the spirit gum, sir?”
“Got it covered,” he answered, reaching for an unlabeled bottle of pale green liquid. He opened it, moistened his fingertips, then dabbed it at the corner of his mouth. “A little eau de cigarette butts.” Then he took a clean glass and poured a richly gold liquid from a tall thin bottle with a slanted black label. He took a hearty swig, gargled and spat it into the sink. “Between the smell of cigarettes and scotch, nobody will be able to detect any trace of spirit gum, especially not at the Iceberg.”
“I see, sir,” Alfred murmured disapprovingly. “Might one inquire what is to be accomplished by this masquerade?”
“Harley Quinn,” Bruce hissed, “needs to understand the danger she is in. She needs to realize what those so-called friends of hers are capable of if they find out what she’s doing. She has to realize that without their finding out what she’s doing.”
As he spoke, he took a brownish-black cube and scraped its chalky surface against his hands until the fingertips and nails took on a dirty, unkempt appearance. Then he took a fine make-up brush, moistened the tip in a clear liquid, and applied a long, thin line up the back of his hand, and an oval glob on the side of his thumb. Within seconds, the liquid congealed into a kind of body putty, creating the illusion of a scar and callous.
“Very good, sir. And how precisely is dressing up as some mawkish legbreaker meant to accomplish this?”
In the mirror before him, the corner of Matches Malone’s moustache doused with cigarette-scent made an abrupt twitch-like movement.
“By getting her into trouble for something she isn’t doing.”
I am so spoiled. A city without Batman is, well, let’s just say the medical supplier’s warehouse was not a challenge. I knew I couldn’t use gas or drugged claws to neutralize the guard because there was to be no trace of any type of break in or robbery—other than that the special pressurized incubators ordered for Sub Diego would suddenly be there. These things are large and clunky. It wouldn’t be like slipping a ruby necklace into my pouch. I was going to need time and a handcart. So I came equipped for the hokey-but-effective knockout drops in the coffee. Imagine my surprise to find no coffee brewing in the break room because there is no guard. None. At all. They close the place up at five and that’s it. Can you believe that? I can’t. All they have is this antiquated alarm tape and a couple video cameras—not good ones either, the kind they sell at Radio Shack. I didn’t even have to bother setting up a tape loop to cover what I was doing. I could just avoid them.
It bugged me at first, you know.
If they were making it this easy, it must be a trap. I was extra
careful looking for some kind of additional surveillance or maybe a guard
with super stealth capabilities that didn’t drink coffee… nothing. It
was all exactly as it appeared. I guess they just didn’t think they
had that much to protect.
I loaded the incubators into one of their vans. Didn’t have to hotwire it, keys were tacked on a pegboard in the empty unlocked break room where no coffee was brewing.
I remember this being more fun.
Batman, like most actors, knew how to immerse himself in the mindset of his character. Matches Malone, like most scum that skirted the edges of the underworld, wasn’t as bright as he thought he was.
Matches had rules, like anybody that survived in that shadow world. Couple Loretti soldiers getting into it in the alley with some loser from the triads. Matches did what any cockroach would do, he kept his eyes in front and walked inside without noticing. His rules prohibited getting drunk amidst the dangerous factions that gathered in places like the Iceberg. The rule was smart; Matches wasn’t. Night like he was having, a man had to have a few. He wouldn’t get drunk or anything like it. Just a couple belts to take the edge off. He stood at the bar, looked Sly up and down like he figured the bartender was queer, and ordered a Tesco and Coke. Sly took it in stride, poured the cheap bourbon into a rocks glass and then filled it with Oswald’s cheaper no-name cola.
“Run a tab,” Matches barked, reaching for the drink.
Sly shook his head in that firm, sad way he always answered that request and moved the drink out of the customer’s reach.
“No can do, sir, not without Mr. Cobblepot’s approval.”
“Screw Cobblepot, I need a drink. New goddamn caped do-good-freaks popping up every time you turn around in this stinking shithole uva city—gotta put up with a freakin GIRL ROBIN now, be a hot little piece too if she wasn’t another goddamn cop in a cape—and you’re telling me I can’t have a drink lessen Mr. Too-good-fur-the-rest-of-youse Cobblepot says so.”
Sly let it wash right over him up until the final words, then he merely answered the question with detached politeness.
“Not at all, sir. You can have any drink you like, you just have to pay for it up front or get Mr. Cobblepot to sign off on a tab.”
Matches cursed under his breath, but reached for his wallet all the same. He had slid it from his back pocket when he felt a large presence standing beside him.
“It’s okay, Sly,” said a voice, “Put it on my tab!”
“Heh. Thanks fur nuthin,” Matches said, turning to regard the speaker and lifting his glass in a grateful toast. He saw not one, but three men standing there, dressed in the colors of King Snake’s Ghost Dragons.
“Mr. Dorrance would like a word,” the one said simply, pointing into the dining room.
Matches shrugged like a tough guy that figured he could take these three if he wanted, but was willing to go meet their boss anyway. That was how you got work if you were generic un-connected muscle for Gotham crime gangs. You went to listen to whatever “boss” might want a word. So Matches took his drink and walked coolly from the bar into the dining room and to a large corner table in the rear. He looked at an empty chair and then at King Snake, sitting in state across the table, his back to the wall.
“You wanted to see me?” Matches stated.
“Indeed. Sit,” King Snake ordered, gesturing to the chair. “Did I hear correctly just now? You tangled with a new Robin this evening?”
Although King Snake was known to be blind, Matches still paused and gave an elaborate performance of a tough guy beaten by a girl and loathe to admit it.
“She tangled with me,” he answered finally.
“I see. Describe this creature.”
“Like any of ‘em, cape, mask, full of ‘emselves.”
“Yes of course, I mean physically.”
“Blonde. Lumpy in front. Good ass.”
King Snake seemed to think. Matches drank his drink. Finally, one of the other Ghost Dragons spoke.
“There’s that picture of a girl Robin in that gallery window. Couldn’ta been her, could it?”
“I dunno nuthin about that,” Matches answered.
“Thank you,” King Snake said dismissively. “You’ve been most helpful.”
Matches took the hint and stood to go, then turned back with an afterthought…
“You guys hiring?”
The Ghost Dragons looked to each other and chuckled. King Snake simply shook his head.
I knew St. Clara’s, the hospital, would be the biggest challenge. They didn’t close up their doors at five o’clock, for one thing. It was crawling with people, 24/7. While they didn’t have a lot of “security” in the sense of alarms, safes and electric eyes, they had surveillance cameras everywhere. And the theft had to be invisible. Tape loops only work with empty rooms. You run the same 30-seconds of the bare hallway or the closed safe door, it’s undetectable. But if Bad Hairpiece walks from the nurses’ station to the candy machine sixteen times, that’s going to be noticed. It’s not one of Bruce’s catvids, but it’s still a conspicuous trail. There’s only one way to pull off a truly invisible theft if you have to leave a video record behind, and that’s to make the removal look totally routine and legitimate. Then it’s just another few minutes’ unremarkable footage that looks exactly like the 8 hours preceding it and the 4 hours that follow.
That’s why I took the van from the warehouse. Bax-Trav didn’t just make medical supplies, they offered “one-stop shopping” to hospitals: everything from suture and clamps for the E.R. to paper towels and cleaning products for the supply closet. Result: Someone wearing a Bax-Trav jumpsuit carrying a few boxes and a clipboard can walk through a hospital without anyone batting an eye. The only part that was even slightly tricky was picking the lock on the storage room quickly enough that it would look like standard key-access on the video. I’m fast with a lock pick, but not that fast… Still, it was doable. Just juggled the boxes a little bit. Woman carrying three stacked boxes can’t slide a key in quite as cleanly.
Unlike the incubators from the BaxTrav
warehouse, the breathing tubes were light and compact.
In addition to the breathing tubes, I took two other items from St. Clara’s: an access badge and a sticker. The badge hung around my neck; the sticker went on a large Styrofoam cooler. With only a day of research, I had only devised three ways into the airport distribution hub where they had the genome analyzer. The quickest was waltzing in with what looked like somebody’s kidney headed for Brussels. Even with tightened security in airport cargo areas, nobody wants to mess with the Styrofoam cooler covered in hospital and FedEx stickers. That covered getting in and getting out. In between, I had to dodge a few patrols—2 airport security, 1 national guard, 1 non-descript that I’d guess was FEMA. I guess it’s a good thing; they’re trying to keep an eye on things. But all I had to do was stop and hide a few times. Put off my schedule, but they didn’t make the hub any more secure. Not from me, anyway. I don’t know what the norm is for bad guys out here. Probably like those small-timers I shut down at Cartier’s… Whatever. Why should I care. I’m good at my job. This one was a job worth doing…
Still. I missed Batman. Without any chance of… Well, any job has its ups and downs and any job is what you make of it, right? This one might have been a bit of a chore, but Aquaman was paying me well. And there were possibilities with that kind of money: improvements to the Catitat, a shopping spree on my own nickel (“Thanks anyway, Bruce, got this one covered”), just let the rest sit in the portfolio for a while. You never know when it’ll come in handy. I mean, a girl has to keep her independence, and Bruce is so bloody rich.
So I decided right there, waiting for patrol #4 to go on his merry way, that this job would finance the Selina Kyle Independence Fund, made possible by a generous grant from The Not-the-Wayne-Foundation and earmarked for whatever & whenever he gets out of line.
So much has changed between us since the last time I did a job like this.
There were things back then that we
both knew were impossible. Now they’re so commonplace I don’t even
think about them: I wake up next to him every morning with no mask
on—he sits across from me at the breakfast table—he calls me Kitten.
The impossible, the absolute impossible, is part of our daily lives now.
Can’t help but wonder what other “impossibilities” might one day…
Well. Anyway. Got a job to finish.
To be continued...