Chapter 3: Two Kinds
For all his mental grumbling, Dr. Leland Bartholomew enjoyed his work. The rest of society might look on Arkham as a place to shut away the problems it couldn’t deal with. For him, it was a chance to reach those the world had written off, to help those most in need. He became a doctor to be a healer, not a bureaucrat. Reports on patients were part of the job, he accepted that. Employee evaluations were another matter. Whichever ancient Arkham administrator decided that doctors should have a hand in evaluating the support staff must certainly have had counter-transference authority issues.
Bartholomew had put off the loathed task for as long as he could—a bit longer than he could, as it turned out. He’d been picking away at them all week, getting all the way from Abrami, Erica to Drognowski, Peter. That left 24 letters to go, but Bartholomew was confident he could finish up today. A Hugo Strange-Catman incident in the morning anger management session had eaten up most of his day, and he’d completed only four evaluations by five o’clock. It was strictly against policy to take the forms home with him, but Bartholomew couldn’t stomach the idea of working through the night in his office. The late hours were a necessary penance, he had succumbed to avoidance and procrastination, and now he must accept the consequences. He would work though the night to get the job done by the deadline, he would work through the night with no consolation but Chinese takeout. But he would do it at home, not at Arkham.
He’d long observed that Chinese restaurants fell into two categories: the good one and the one that delivers. Ming Chow, the place that delivered to Arkham, was only one sticky rice grain better than starving. The Hunan Wok, where he could stop on the way home for savory ginger and scallion shrimp, that was worth bending a few regulations.
With his last bite of shrimp, Bartholomew opened the evaluation for Tibideau, Rachel. He was happy to have reached the Ts, calculating that there were only 6 letters left in the alphabet and few surnames begin with U, X or Z. The end was in sight!
Unfortunately, he was at a loss to evaluate Rachel Tibideau, having only a vague recollection of who she was. He strained for some sort of comment, and failing to come up with anything he cracked open his fortune cookie.
One look is worth a thousand reports, it read.
Bartholomew chuckled, picked up his pen, and wrote hastily, “She works in admissions, she says good morning, and she didn’t quit when Croc broke her jaw. What is there to evaluate?”
He nodded, pleased with himself, and went on to the next form. Willory, Patrick. “After Joker escaped there was blood on the walls. After Willory’s shift next day, there wasn’t. What else is there to evaluate?”
Bartholomew nodded again, doubly pleased, and placed the dedicated Mr. Willory’s evaluation at the bottom of the stack as before, looking eagerly at the next form. Abrami, Erica.
Oh. It looked like he was done then. Well… Bartholomew skimmed his earlier comments on Erica Abrami’s performance. He clicked his pen a few times excitedly and added the notation, “Have you ever put Jonathan Crane in a straitjacket? She has! Give her a raise.”
Tim knocked nervously on the door to the rose bedroom.
Seconds passed, and he wondered if he hadn’t knocked a little too softly.
“Cass, are you awake?” he whispered.
More seconds passed before he realized the whisper was even softer than the knock. He glanced anxiously at Alfred’s door, wondering if he could risk a louder knock, when the door creaked open and Cassie stood there, blinking at him. Tim tried his best to remember how to talk.
“Thought you might, uh,” he managed. “Like I said before, we’ve all been through it, the Scarecrow gas. I figured sleeping in a strange bed in a big empty house isn’t the best medicine.”
“Not sleeping,” Cassie said frankly.
“This house can be a little creepy,” Tim pointed out.
“Room too pink,” Cassie agreed.
Tim laughed, and Cassie looked confused. It was unusual for anyone to laugh when she spoke. Then he stopped. It was very awkward. The hall was dark and quiet.
“Wanna go down for some ice cream?” Tim suggested finally.
Cassie smiled—and felt embarrassed by it, she had smiled too quickly and too brightly—but she followed Tim downstairs to the kitchen.
The “Monarch of Menace” had followed Oswald back to his office, and Harley ordered another Diet Sprite. She knew from experience that she had a long wait ahead. Ozzy would have to examine all the goods from the safe deposit heist, and then they’d start on the negotiations. That could take forever if you didn’t have Mistah J’s knack for hurrying a meeting along. So Harley looked around the bar for some way to pass the time, and lucky-lucky there was Red getting seated in her special booth.
Harley marched over happily while the vines and shrubbery were still arranging themselves to form that curtain around the booth. Red liked to keep a little border between her and the rest of the Iceberg, left open like a tent flap if she was feeling sociable and closed if she wanted to be left alone.
With an expert eye, Sly noted when Harley joined Poison Ivy, and he deftly slid her tab from the bar stack and set it next to the one for Ivy’s booth. It was a complex system only he understood, but it enabled him to map the ever-shifting movements and alliances in the Gotham underworld and to read them at a glance.
Oswald’s office door opened and his boss waddled out, followed by the new fellow, the Monarch of Menace. Sly watched as Oswald surveyed the room, said something to Monarch, and the pair of them disappeared again inside the office. With the response time that rivaled the OraCom Matrix, Sly turned the Monarch’s tab slightly at a 5-degree angle, the upper left corner pointing towards Oswald’s office, indicating a client currently in favor in the Iceberg’s underground operations.
He needed a henchwench. Edward Nigma reminded himself of the fact for the sixth time as the self-important little nitwit prattled on with her “ideas” (if that was really the word to use for this treacle).
With a wench at his side, Riddler could face Batman knowing that neither he nor the Dark Knight could allude to the secret under the mask. It was necessary to get a wench, and of the groupies available on a given night at the Iceberg, well… beggars can’t be choosers.
This girl calling herself Alaskandra didn’t seem to know who he actually was. She knew “Riddler” as the name of a top rogue, but she didn’t seem to grasp the first thing about who he was or what he did. Her ideas about him, and indeed all rogues, seemed like their Gotham Post histories but viewed through a funhouse mirror of faux-intellectual, faux-PC pretension, kind of like Oprah in a homemade question mark leotard. As she spoke, Nigma found himself wondering how anyone could function inside such a mind. She seemed to have no inkling that she was dumb as a rock. She seemed, on the contrary, to think she was downright bright!
“So y’see, a trap that’s sprung from a trap door has a built in pun, and I figured you could use that in your clue, like if it had, like, an electrified shield underneath, you could warn about a ‘shocking pun’ ahead, get it?”
“Yes, I follow,” Eddie said dully.
It didn’t take long for Nightwing to find a target for his frustrations. He began with a petty drug dealer supplying the raves, moved on to the Spiked Skull gang, and finally finished off the evening with the Chinatown triad selling the Skulls guns. The activity left him with an aching fist and the 29th Precinct with an overcrowded holding cell, but it did little to thin the cloud of anger, frustration, and failure that congealed around him since the call came in: Batgirl gassed. Robin wounded.
Bruce would be back tomorrow. He’d entrusted Nightwing with his team, and ‘Wing was returning only 2/3 of it in operational condition.
Cassie had been gassed. Tim had been stabbed.
He radioed in to Oracle. It was getting to be Last Call at the Iceberg. Without any operatives to go and observe in person, he told her to tap into the traffic cameras and see what she could make out. Any intel she could collect would be helpful: who was closing the place, who left with whom, which direction they went. Anything he could show Batman to show they’d carried on, they’d gotten the job done. Anything to lessen the…
Nightwing made a ferocious fist and punched a brick chimney. He winced at the new pain throbbing down his knuckles into the wrist, devouring the older, duller ache from the evening’s earlier pummeling.
Cassie went in alone against the Scarecrow; she was gassed and stabbed Tim when he tried to help her. Would it have played out any differently if he’d let Black Canary partner them?
It was Gotham. They were crimefighters. Stuff was going to happen, they all knew that. But another pair of eyes, another set of fists, there was no denying that…
No. No. No. Black Canary could not be trusted; it was that simple. There can’t be teamwork without trust; Dick had known that since he was four. You can’t climb a ladder twenty feet into the darkness above the center ring, reach out for that trapeze dangling only twelve feet from the top of the tent, swing from that 1-1/2 inch of steel bar and then leap out into NOTHING without knowing—knowing, as sure as up is up and down is down, that those arms will BE THERE to CATCH YOU.
Those you trust that way are family, blood ties or not; they are family in every way that matters. His father, his mother, and Bruce. There was really little difference. You could leap into nothing and know.
Barbara too, after a time. Jason wasn’t around long enough to form that bond, but Tim was. You could leap and know.
And Cassie, Cassie was getting there. Wally. Roy. Donna. Hell, all of the Titans. It was family. And even if he’d risk his own back with someone like Dinah, he’d be damned before he’d risk his family’s. Tim’s or Cassie’s leap entrusted to that woman who came among them like she was one of them, when all the while she would stand by and let Bruce fall to the dust…
Just like his father had fallen.
Damn that bitch.
It was getting too late to expect more action. If he were on his own time, he would have called it a night. But seeing as he was covering for Batman, he decided on one more pass through the patrol route. If, as he expected, there were no more criminal scum to pound out his frustrations, he might wrap up the evening with a half-hour of Zogger.
“Now it’s all over except the crying,” she smirked.
“U-oh,” Tim swallowed.
He’d taken her to the “movie room” behind the armory. The room with the giant plasma screen wasn’t used much since Dick had grown up, not officially. But he and Dick kept it equipped with the latest Xbox and PlayStation gear.
Tim figured Phoenix Ninja was the only chance he’d have to trounce Batgirl in a fair fight, and trounce her he did for the first 12 minutes of play. There was no body language to read in his avatar ShadowBird, none of the tells she reacted to with such deadly speed in a physical battle. Then she noticed how this wrist-twitch or that made his character move, and since then…
“All over,” she repeated as Tim’s ShadowBird lay inert on the digital rooftop while the spectacular backdrop of downtown Ginza reconfigured to proclaim SilentShogee the winner.
“’cept the crying,” she added, looking at him expectantly.
“Rassafrassin,” Tim muttered.
Cassie smiled. “Play again or movie?”
“Movie,” Tim declared, looking at the stack of DVDs.
“Coward,” Cassie teased.
“No,” he insisted, “We’ve got a lot to get through, that’s all. I can’t believe you haven’t seen Princess Bride or Blazing Saddles. These are the fundamentals that everyone must know by heart, Cassie.”
“You fear SilentShogee,” she said. “Beat ShadowBird again given half chance.”
Tim’s eyes locked onto hers.
“You think so,” he challenged with bat-like ferocity.
“Know so,” she nodded with certainty.
“Care to make it interesting?” he grinned.
She blinked quizzically. “Interesting?”
“A bet. If I win, you’ve got to… let’s see… You’ve got to bring me a slice from Gino’s every night during patrol for a week.”
Cassie’s head tilted slightly, confused.
“You not win. ShadowBird weak.”
“You so sure, put your money where your mouth is.”
Cassie’s stare pitchshifted suddenly, the endearing puzzlement blotted out by a ferocious bat-glare.
“I want Red Bird,” she announced.
“You want my car?” he gulped. “No way!”
“See, you know ShadowBird weak. Shadowbird lose. I get car.”
“If you win,” Tim said firmly, “IF, ‘cause you don’t have the sure thing you think you do, but if you win, I’ll bring you an ice cream sundae during your patrol each night for two weeks. See, you get two weeks if you win, and I only get one. I’m giving you odds, that’s how we know who’s really the favorite here.”
Cassie nodded her agreement, and Tim punched the reset, restarting the game.
“All over ‘cept the pain, Shadowbird” Cassie snickered.
“Not this time, SilentShogee,” Tim answered.
Nigma signaled furtively at the waitress. He really didn’t think he could get through another minute with this “Quizzix” woman without a stiff drink. She was “a go-getter,” the type you saw on those Apprentice shows, thought she could mastermind a Riddler crime better than Nigma himself: “As you can see by this graph I’ve made up plotting successful robberies against robberies stopped by Batman, you could raise your success ratio significantly, save time and fit in more robberies per month just by leaving out the clues.”
Nigma looked pleadingly at the waitress, pointing to his empty glass, while Quizzix went on to suggest, if he absolutely had to leave a clue, it should have nothing to do with his intended crime. Rather, he should send Batman uptown instead of down, to the east side instead of the west…
“Another Glenundrum,” Eddie told the waitress wretchedly.
“In fact, if you’re going to send clues, you could go all the way and send them pointing to other rogues crimes, like that Joker-guy.”
The waitress looked at Eddie pityingly.
“Just bring the bottle,” he suggested.
“You have a problem there,” Oswald advised the Monarch, nodding shrewdly towards Poison Ivy’s booth, where Harley sat chatting happily with her friend.
He ushered Monarch back into his office and closed the door. “Two problems, perhaps. Whether the Joker has any actual feelings for Ms. Quinn is, of course, a subject of some debate. I don’t really think a jealous outburst is likely on that score. But he will not like anyone else calling himself a ‘king’ among the rogues.”
“I’m not worried,” the Monarch announced calmly.
“Kwak,” Oswald answered, as if this unruffled confidence came as no surprise. “And Miss Isley,” he went on probingly, “She has been known to be jealous… possessive, territorial, and dangerously hostile to Bat and Rogue alike.” He paused and smiled fiendishly. “And yet you’re not worried there either,” he noted.
“No,” the Monarch answered.
“Might one ask why,” Oswald replied.
The Monarch smiled.
“I rather think you’ve guessed, Ozzy old boy.”
Oswald chewed his cigarette holder thoughtfully.
“Because SmileX and pheromones don’t have much effect when you’ve got no lungs or nostrils,” he said at last.
In response, the Monarch’s body swelled, drooped, and settled into Clayface’s unaltered form.
“You really will have a problem there,” Oswald noted gravely. “She hasn’t forgotten the potpourri incident.”
“I know. Why do you think I came back in disguise? I know I’m still blacklisted, but damnit, Oswald, I don’t care anymore. I’m sick of Star City and Keystone and Metropolis. I wanted to come home, and so I did. It’s not like she can do anything to me. Short of firing me into pottery, it’s not like any of you can do anything to me.”
“True enough,” Oswald conceded. “But then, why the Monarch?”
“It matches Harley,” Clayface explained. “King and court jester. Be a crime to change that look of hers, don’t you think?”
“Quite,” Oswald quacked.
“I like her, Ozzy,” he said simply. “I don’t have many pleasures left, since this.” He gestured, his hands and fingers becoming more solid and defined, then melting back into a viscous goo. “I’ve no blood pumping, no nerve endings. Touch, taste, and smell are all a memory. All I have left is looking. She’s pretty. God, the pleasure I can still get from looking at a pretty woman.”
Oswald continued to chew thoughtfully on his cigarette holder.
“You should still settle matters with Miss Isley before Joker finds out about the ‘Monarch.’ They may not be able to harm you, but they can still do plenty of damage to my bar, especially if they’re both of the same mind to do you grievous bodily harm at the same time, if you see my point. You will, of course, be charged for any breakages at the usual rate.”
Clayface laughed heartily.
“It is good to be back in Gotham,” he declared, reshaping himself into the Monarch’s imposing form. “Good indeed, to be back in the realm of Gotham.”
Nigma returned to his hideout alone. On the cocktail napkin in his pocket, he had the phone numbers of three groupies, written in silly neon green ink and positioned with girlish whimsy around the Iceberg Lounge logo. He set it on the desk, neatly pressing out all the wrinkles. He found a glass and filled it to the brim with the remaining scotch. He raised it high, toasting Alaskandra, Quizzix, and Cluedith in all their dimwitted glory. He took out a book of matches, also bearing the Iceberg logo, and with the grim severity of a high priest enacting a holy rite, he methodically struck a match against the side of the box, touched the flame to the napkin and watched the names burn.
Then he drank the scotch in a series of urgent gulps.
Bruce had Selina. You could say what you wanted about Batman, but he wasn’t a stupid man. He was the only mind in Gotham on par with Riddler’s own. And he’d found himself a smart woman, a woman who could challenge him, a woman who could keep up, a woman who…
How he missed Doris.
Dr. Bartholomew looked at his final notation on Johnson, Marion and wondered if perhaps he was taking the benevolent flippancy a little far. While it was certainly true that no one could do a better impersonation of Hugo Strange eating spaghetti, it wasn’t really the sort of thing Arkham should be encouraging in its staff.
The Chinese food was fine, Bartholomew reflected as he searched for the whiteout, but the gin was probably a mistake.
Azrael perched on top of the train station while rain began pelting the net of unconscious thugs he’d left suspended from a fire escape. The rain began as a mere trickle, but his ears did detect a rumble of distant thunder. If the police did not arrive soon to collect this criminal refuse, he would have to cut them down. The fire escape was metal. If the storm worsened, it would not do to leave living men, even criminals, tied to a lightning rod.
While he waited, Azrael eased open the door to his mortal psyche. Within that door, Jean Paul Valley glared at him with a murderous fury never before directed at an angel by a human spirit.
Boundries, Az, that’s all I’m saying,
was his sole remark.
Azrael said nothing.
After several minutes of strained silence, the police van arrived and Azrael resumed his patrol.
You said Azraels do not participate in the human experience. Back when my father died and you emerged from my psyche, you said an Azrael is an angel, a creature of spirit, and takes no part in the host’s mortal life. You said—
You said an Azrael is a creature of spirit. You said in the old days before the Order of St. Dumas could cook up the next generation in a test tube, you said the host fathered a child in the usual way and the Azrael persona just shut off and let him go to it in private.
I merely peeked.
YOU DON’T GET TO PEEK WHEN I’M HAVING SEX, AZ! You’re supposed to go take a nap or recite swordfighting stats or something, I DON’T CARE as long as you’re NOT IN MY HEAD!
It was that ‘Sex and the City’ program, my curiosity was very keen.
Ms. Bertinelli seemed very energetic.
I hate you, Azrael. I hate you and I will find a way to hurt you.
There is no need to be vindictive, Mortal. My indiscretion
did no harm.
YOU KINDA WRECKED THE MOOD, AZ.
I did not hear the lady complain.
I’m going to find a way to hurt you, Az. I’m not taking this lying down.
Have you noticed, Mortal, that Ms. Bertinelli bears a certain
resemblance to Charlotte the Virtuous?
I hate you.
To be continued...