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Chapter 4: Change of Plans

 

Barbara approached the bed as quietly as she could and nudged her sleeping husband apologetically.  

“Dick?  Dick, I’m sorry to wake you, hun.  You have to get up.”

He moaned and drove his head deeper into the pillow.

“Dick, I know it’s early but you’ve got to wake up,” Barbara tried again.

“Toorrly,” Dick murmured, pulling arm and blanket up over his ears. “Tell alfemem was uptll daw…patrllng…can’t goschooo t’day.”

“Dick,” Barbara said firmly, “I’m not Alfred and you don’t have to go to school.  You do have to wake up now.  Get the supertush in gear.”

Dick rolled onto his back and blinked up at her.  Then he sat up and stared.

“What time is it?” he moaned, “Feels like I just got to sleep.”

“It’s early,” Barbara apologized.  “It’s just after eight, but you’ve got to get up.  Alfred called.  Bruce changed his plans, he’s going to stay another day or two so—”

“Oh man,” Dick wailed, flopping back onto the bed. 

“So you’re going to have to go out to the manor and play ‘dad’ while Leslie checks out Tim and Cassie.  Go over their reports on what happened, and make the call.”

“M-kay,” Dick managed, puckering his mouth as if he really couldn’t concentrate on bat issues before brushing his teeth. 

“I’m also getting reports on the police band about a Riddler clue left at the Bat-Signal,” Barbara added.  “He usually lights the signal to announce one of those.  This time he didn’t, so they just found it.  You might want to stop by and see what’s up.”

“Great.  Daytime appearance at the GCPD, Bruce’ll love that,” Dick yawned.  “Okay, I’ll, ah, go out to the manor in civvies, get some breakfast there, I guess, change, and then stop at police HQ on the way back.  Put a call into Wally, tell him change of plan, if he can make a zip through Bludhaven again tonight and tomorrow, I’ll make it worth his while. And tell him he owes me $20.  Put Jean Paul and Helena on standby.  It might be just the three of us out there tonight.  Won’t know for sure ‘til I hear from Leslie and talk to Cass.  You said just after eight o’clock, right? We’ll know more by the time they’re up.”

“Roger, Boss,” Barbara answered automatically in her crisp OraCom voice.  Then she caught herself and looked up at her husband as he shuffled towards the bathroom while trying to slide his left foot into his right slipper. 

“The big chair suits you, Dickie,” she said warmly.

“Feels pretty good,” he answered, stretching his upper body and emitting his regular morning bearcry.  “I’ll still be happier when Bruce gets back.”

 

Lucius Fox sighed as he hung up the phone.  He couldn’t say he was surprised; Bruce was always changing plans.  It was part of being Lucius Fox, these early morning calls from Alfred Pennyworth saying Mr. Wayne was delayed in Metropolis, Tokyo, or Biarritz.  Lucius pulled up Wayne’s schedule for the day as well as his own, displaying the two windows side-by-side and glancing down the timeline on the left.

He buzzed Gail, his senior assistant, and told her to cancel his 11:30 with Finance, move the 12:15 with Simmons to the afternoon, and reschedule the 1:30 with the Hudson trustees for later in the week.  He would be taking Mr. Wayne’s place at this lunch meeting with Councilwoman Montoya.  It wouldn’t do to cancel out on the city council, after all.

Gail confirmed her instructions, and Lucius closed the intercom before she could hear him grumble.

 

“SOCCER WEEDS DR SEW!” Nigma announced, pounding frantically on Jervis Tetch’s door.  “SOCCER RED DEW SEWS, DR SEWS COERCES WED, SCREWED SO SCREWED, JERVIS, OPEN UP, IM SCREWED, SO VERY VERY SCREWED!!!”

Jervis Tetch opened the door to his lair only a fraction of an inch, and he peered out at his hysterical visitor with sleepy disdain.

“Galoo-GoAway, Edward.  I have company,” he hissed through the crack in the door.

“I DON’T CARE,” Nigma screamed, pounding ferociously on the door.  “I’M IN TROUBLE, MAN!  THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT, YOU RASCALLY LITTLE TOADSTOOL!  IF YOU’D HELPED ME WITH MY BAT PROBLEMS, I WOULDN’T BE ‘DEC EVER RYE VOSS WRY’ SO VERY VERY SCREWED!”

Jervis hurriedly opened the door, hissing at Nigma to, for heaven’s sake, control himself.  His neighbors thought this was a respectable business, a showroom for novelty ball caps.  Eddie accepted the rebuke calmly since he was getting in the door—when the sight of Jervis’s “company” set him off again.

“Cluedith!” he gaped, recognizing the groupie from the Iceberg.  “You said you wouldn’t look at a man who didn’t have a riddling spirit.  You said a mind that doesn’t—”

“A-hem,” Jervis coughed mildly.  “If you recall, the Mad Hatter of Wonderland fame did pose a riddle to Alice, a famously unanswerable riddle if you wish to—”

“Not the raven and the writing desk!” Nigma exploded.

“—make comparisons,” Jervis concluded while Cluedith pronounced “The raven and the writing desk” with breathy adoration.

Eddie looked at Jervis in disgust.

“You hatted her, didn’t you?”

“I did not,” Jervis barked, insulted.

“He did not,” Cluedith spouted, outraged.

“NOBODY UN-HATTED SWOONS OVER THE RAVEN AND THE WRITING DESK, LADY!” Eddie cried hysterically.

“Edward, Edward, calm down.  Just sit yourself down there and let Cluedith and I say our goodbyes.  You stay right there, I’ll be with you presently.”

He ushered Cluedith to the door, then returned to Nigma with a worried grimace.

“Now then, Edward,” he began, but was immediately cut off by an angry rant.

“’I think you might do something better with the time than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers.’  That’s what Alice told that Hatter and that’s what I’m telling you, Jervis.  ‘Why is a raven like a writing desk,’ that’s not even a real riddle!”

“Now then.  Edward,” Jervis repeated firmly, brandishing a ballcap.  “Would you care to tell me voluntarily why you’re out-madding the maddest of hatters?  Or must I take matters into my own hatters.  Hands, that is.  Just look, you’ve got me doing it now.”

“I’m ruined, Jervis,” Eddie grumbled miserably.  “Ruined.  Ruined.  NUDER I.  Ruined.”

“Want to talk about it?” Jervis asked politely, “Or would you like a drink?”

Eddie raised his hand solemnly and declared, “Never shall a drop of alcohol touch my lips again.  I tried to drown my frustrations last night, and that’s what led to my present state of Ruined, Screwed, and Doomed.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Edward.  You couldn’t have gotten that drunk or you’d be hungover now.”

“I am hungover,” Eddie assured him. 

“You’ve been shouting and pounding on things since you arrived.  That’s a funny kind of hangover.”

“Jervis, my once-able cranium is like a giant exposed nerve throbbing inside a honeycomb of razorblades.  The only thing more excruciating than the glare of sunlight on the walk over here is the nails-on-a-chalkboard screech of your voice and mine.  I am in agony.  I simply don’t care anymore.  Because the hangover is nothing compared to the disaster I’m looking at if I can’t get that letter back.”

 

Dick went down to the Batcave while Leslie Thompkins completed her examination of Cassie.  Despite Barbara’s comments about “the big chair,” he bypassed Batman’s workstation and logged in at Workstation 2.  He pulled up the previous night’s logs and then paused, closed the window and stared at the screen.  The wallpaper had a purple leather texture.  Dick sat for a full minute chuckling at it and shaking his head in amused disbelief.

He returned to the logs and read Batgirl’s report on her encounter with the Scarecrow.  He remembered his own first exposure to fear toxin.  He was quite sure his account wasn’t nearly this detached or thorough.  To have made this entry a mere twelve hours after the toxin was a startling feat for one as young as Batgirl, the discipline and courage it must have taken to relive it all so soon… Dick noted that she did withhold the details of her hallucination, but he could understand that.  He had done the same his first time, although Bruce had guessed.

Dick closed Batgirl’s log and opened Robin’s.  He had been the closest to Batgirl’s location, but by the time he arrived at the scene, Scarecrow had made his escape and Batgirl had been gassed.  In her hallucinatory state, she’d stabbed him with a batarang before he could administer an antidote.  Dick considered this.  Given Batgirl’s deadly fighting abilities, he would have opted for a tranquilizer dart rather than attempting the antidote first. 

He would have to point that out when he spoke to Tim.  It was easy to second guess, and Dick hated whenever Bruce had done it, but in this case, there was a faulty strategy involved and Robin got himself injured unnecessarily.  Dick would give him a chance to realize his mistake, but if Tim didn’t see the error on his own, then Dick would have to coach him. 

Behind him, Dick heard a respectful cough, and he noticed a mug of coffee and an English muffin had appeared on the desk beside him, just as a plate of cookies and a glass of milk often did when Dick was a boy, studying in his room.

Rather than ignore it or murmur “Thank you, Alfred” without turning his eyes from the computer screen, Dick turned to the butler and beamed with gratitude.  “Thanks, Alfred, you’re a lifesaver,” he enthused, picking up the muffin and taking a large, eager bite.  “I so needed this,” he added while he chewed.

Alfred ignored the breach of manners and looked past Dick to the logs displayed on the computer screen. 

“Dr. Thompkins has concluded her examination on Miss Cassandra and has proceeded to Master Tim,” he reported dryly.  “When she is finished, will you come upstairs and meet with her in the study, or would you prefer to receive her down here?”

“I’ll come up,” Dick said brightly, wiping butter from his chin. “I’ve done all I can down here.”

“Very good, sir,” Alfred nodded, producing an extra napkin.

 

“You need to get that letter back,” Jervis noted grimly.

“Ya think?!” Eddie wailed. 

“Yes, well,” Jervis fussed with imaginary lint on his cuffs,  “The fact is, unless you want an electronic hangover remedy, I don’t see what I can do for you.  Sneak-thieving isn’t in my line.  You know who you really want to get for something like that is Selina.”

Eddie glared hatefully.

“Selina isn’t really an option,” he growled. 

“I don’t see why not.  You and the Cheshire Cat are such friends, I’m sure she would help you out-oh, unless… I see, you don’t want a woman to know your dignity’s gone down the rabbit hole.  Hmm.”

“Selina really isn’t an option,” Eddie repeated. 

“You wouldn’t have to tell her the whole history,” Jervis insisted.  “You could just say there’s an envelope with a question mark that got away from you when you had a few too many at the Iceberg, and now you need it back!”

“Not… an option,” Eddie fumed impatiently.  ““How many ways can I say it Jervis: A PINTO NO TON, PAINT ON TOON, TINA PONTOON… NOT AN OPTION!”

“But why not?” Jervis cried happily. “I’m sure the Cheshire Cat would help you.”

“Her cell phone doesn’t answer,” Eddie grumbled.  “I think she’s out of town.”

“Oh,” Jervis deflated.  “But you haven’t made sure?  You should make sure.  Call the house, or even better, go out to see her in person.  That butler of Brucie’s is a perfect Walrus.  I said so the day we went out there to tell him the cat-rules, remember?  You, me and Harvey…”

Eddie propped his head on his elbow and sat in self-pitying silence while Jervis prattled on.

 

Cassie sat in the Wayne Manor study in a deep chair pulled from across the room to sit in front of Bruce’s desk.  Cassie had never applied for a loan or been called to the principal’s office, but she recognized instinctively the deferential placement.  Dick sat behind the desk and studied her critically.

“In your log, you don’t mention what you actually saw as a result of the fear toxin,” he noted.  “I gather you perceived Robin as a threat.  Maybe he was King Kong in a bright yellow cape or…” he left the sentence unfinished, hoping she would take the cue and offer some sort of detail.  She didn’t, she just looked down at the floor.

“Cassie?” Dick prompted.

“Very sorry hurt Tim,” she said.

Dick rose and came around to the front of the desk, leaning against it in a kindly, casual manner. 

“I didn’t tell anybody either,” he said sympathetically.  “The first time I breathed that stuff, I was back at the circus.  I knew there was something wrong with the trapeze, I knew someone had sabotaged the gear, but I couldn’t find my parents to warn them.  I kept trying, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t reach them… and then they fell. 

“Cassie, I’m not upset because you went in without waiting for backup.  I saw in the logs how it all happened.  You did the right thing.”

She looked up instantly.

“Then am clear?  Go out again tonight?  As Batgirl?”

Dick sighed.

“I don’t know.  It’s absolutely your right to keep it to yourself about what you saw.  If that’s what you want, it’s not my place to order you to share something that personal.  But I don’t know if I should let you back out there if you’re going through some kind of trauma by yourself.”

“Always work alone,” Cassie answered.  “Is better.”

“No,” Dick shook his head.  “It’s not.  I work alone in Bludhaven, and on a team with the Outsiders and here in Gotham.  It’s different, but neither way is better.  If you can trust the people on your team, they can help you through stuff like this.”

Cassie bit her lip nervously.  It was practically the only time Dick had seen her behave like a teenage girl.  It made him think he was handling this the right way—either that or he was screwing up a young girl’s life and Batman’s finely honed team in one stroke.

“Saw Stephanie,” Cassie said at last.  “Told Alfred.  Saw Stephanie.  In Robin cape.  Very mad.  Very dead.  Said my fault.  Not friend.  Friend wouldn’t let die.  Stephanie-Robin very mad.  Very violent,” then her whole manner changed and she looked up at Dick, speaking with much greater animation. “Was funny, too.  Fight better that way.  Ghost-Robin-Stephanie fight much better than real Stephanie.  Would not have died maybe if could fight like that.” 

She gasped suddenly, and blurted the rest though tears.

“Could have taught her fight like that.  Know how.  From four years old, father teach to fight.  Like that.  Very fierce.  Very fast and strong.  Could have taught her.  If taught her, Stephanie not be dead.”

Dick took a step back as Cassie went on, a flood of impassioned words forcing through a stream of bitter tears. 

Dick betrayed his own strategy and did exactly what Robin had done, raced forward to comfort this sad, frightened child without any thought to the deadly abilities she possessed or if she could control them in her present state.  Fortunately, with no batarang at hand, the violence of Cassie’s response was confined to a strong but tiny fist landing repeatedly on his shoulder while she sobbed.

When her tears were spent, Dick put a fatherly hand under her chin and tilted her head upward to look at him.

“Come down to the cave,” he said in a stern rooftop voice. 

A minute later, they were standing in front of the case displaying Jason Todd’s costume.

“I had all those same doubts after he died,” Dick said softly.  “So starting tonight you’ll be partnered with me.  Leslie says Tim is laid up for ten days.  So you and I, Nightwing and Batgirl, are partners for the next ten days.  After that, you can resume your regular solo patrols in Gotham, but Robin is going to introduce you to the Teen Titans.”

 

Jervis Tetch ran excitedly from the apartment building.  From his vantage point across the street, Eddie shook his head as Jervis remembered the hatted doorman, doubled back and knocked the rigged hat from his head, then resumed his hurried escape.  

“If that’s a master criminal, there’s hope for every ape in Africa,” he thought acidly.  

Jervis ran up to him, eagerly waving a green envelope sealed with a gold question mark.

“Kalloo-Kallay, success I say,” he announced happily, handing over the prize.

Eddie tore open the envelope and read feverishly.  “Mr. Kittlemeier, I know this is short notice, but I’m going to need another dozen exploding—What the fuck!  This isn’t what I wrote to Doris, this is… this is…”  He looked at Jervis in bewildered horror.

“I’m not breaking into Kittlemeier’s,” Jervis told him definitely.  “No way, no how.  We get caught, we’re banned for life.”

“My life’s become a Seinfeld episode,” Eddie grumbled.

 

Lucius Fox was surprised when he gave his name at the Shun Lee Palace and was told “the ladies” had already been seated.  As far as he knew, the lunch meeting was with Councilwoman Montoya alone.  He hid his grimace as the host led him to a table where Renee Montoya was seated with Gladys Ashton-Larraby.

“Ladies, I hope I haven’t kept you waiting too long,” he said politely, taking his seat.

In the time it took for the cold duck appetizers to arrive, Lucius had acclimated to “the Ashton-Larraby experience” (as Bruce referred to it in his less charitable moments).  She was bitterly disappointed that Bruce himself wasn’t coming to the meeting—until she found out why, and then her ill-concealed pique transformed into ill-concealed joy.  He was out of town with that darling Selina.  Of course, the young lovebirds.  Of course they would want to prolong their getaway together, who could be so selfish as to deny them that, weren’t they the most splendid couple that ever was and when were they to finally announce the happy news and treat Gotham society to another splendid Wayne Manor wedding.

With the arrival of a sizzling rice cake soup, Lucius tried to transition from talk of Wayne’s absence to talk of the Wayne Foundation, which was of course the reason for the meeting.  He was thwarted by a figure not even present at the table, a person he didn’t know existed, a person called “Randy-quad.”  After enough repetitions of this name, Lucius gleaned what any member of Gotham high society evidently knew by instinct: Randy-quad was Gladys’s son, Randolph Larraby IV, and preparing to start Hudson U in the fall.  Since Mr. Fox was an officer of both Wayne Enterprises and the charitable foundation, he must surely have some valuable insights on the matter.  Randy-quad’s father (who insisted on numbering the poor boy like a movie sequel rather than letting him enjoy the distinction of the Ashton name), had wanted his son to attend Wharton, or perhaps the Harvard School of Business, but the Ashtons always went to Hudson U—why, the family was older than the college itself and, in fact, when Gotham was first settled, what’s now the Hudson U. campus had been Jeddah Ashton’s apple orchard.  Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, Randy-quad is starting Hudson U and wants to study business, but with a focus on not-for-profits like museums and theatres and charities—which doesn’t please his father either, I can tell you…

Lucius answered what questions he could, but he also noticed out of the corner of his eye that Renee Montoya wasn’t eating.  He could well guess the reason: though a charming and respectable woman, Renee Montoya had been a beat cop before her appointment to the City Council.  He doubted Harvard vs Wharton debates figured much into her life experience.  With the arrival of sea bass braised in hot bean sauce, he tried yet again to steer the conversation to its intended topic.  After the requisite “Councilwoman” “Call me Renee” exchanges, they at last got to the point of the meeting.

“So many of these neighborhood revitalization projects go nowhere,” Renee complained calmly, “because they just amount to erecting some ‘upscale’ condominium without any infrastructure to support an influx of upscale residents.  I’ve discussed this with several other councilmen and we are simply not prepared to approve any more of these initiatives without a full program in place to really make it work: low-interest business loans so all the new restaurants and drycleaners and nail salons can get started.”

“I’m not disagreeing with you,” Lucius said, for her point was valid.  “But the Foundation has its hands full underwriting all the new housing.  We’re certainly not prepared to put in more money and manpower into a, what shall we call it, a business incubator program.”

“That’s where Mrs. Ashton-Larraby comes in,” Renee said with a checkmate smile.  Lucius seemed to feel a bear trap snap shut around his ankle, but at least it answered the question of why someone like Renee Montoya would have invited someone like Gladys Ashton-Larraby to their meeting.

“Mr. Fox,” Gladys pronounced dramatically, “What are three tables, more or less, that the Ashtons have always purchased for the Wayne Gala?  This year, Randolph and I want to make a real difference.  Let us put together a separate fundraiser solely to provide additional funds for this business development initiative.”

Lucius stared, somewhat puzzled by the offer.

“I, it, um,” he struggled, trying to make sure it wasn’t all a horrible mistake, and that Glady Ashton-Larraby had actually proposed a semi-good idea.  “I would have to see some details, of course,” he said, stalling while he brain raced ahead.  “But, eh, I imagine…” he trailed off while Renee Montoya cracked open her fortune cookie.

Help, I’m being held prisoner in a Chinese bakery,” Renee read with a smile. 

She looked expectantly at Gladys Ashton-Larraby, while the waiter hovered over her with two remaining cookies remaining on the salver.  She studied them like jewels in a case, and selected one finally.  Lucius took the sole remaining one—and the check—off the waiter’s salver and wondered how it was that Bruce, who had barely a fraction of Lucius’s mental acumen, managed to always extract himself from these frightful social tangles. 

Mouse in trap will gnaw off its own leg, his cookie read, but second mouse gets the cheese.

 

Jonathan Crane struck a menacing pose and regarded his reflection.  Then he took several steps back and rushed at the mirror, waving his arms.  He froze in position and tried to envision what it would look like to a fear-crazed victim.  Then he turned and regarded his reflection’s profile.  Without any thought at all to the imagined fear-crazed victim, he puffed out his chest and sucked in his stomach.  Then he turned to the other side and did the same.

“Most satisfactory,” he pronounced—although Kittlemeier had stepped out and there was no one in the little fitting room to hear.

Isten-ban mennyország,” Kittlemeier exclaimed, “Vat eez dis?  Vat is Mister Nigma sending meez?”

Scarecrow peeked out of the fitting room.  “I haven’t gone overtime, have I?” he asked, hearing the commotion.  Kittlemeier’s rules about appointments were notorious, and even the Joker kept them. 

“Nos, nos.  Yous fine,” Kittlemeier waved him back.  “Next appointment not for hours yet.  But whats is dis package from Mister Nigma.  Why he sends me robot dog with little hat?” 

Beneath his Scarecrow mask, Crane raised an eyebrow.  Kittlemeier always gave the impression that you had to keep to your allotted fifteen minutes because the next appointment was due within minutes of your walking out the door.  Now it turned out the next appointment wasn’t for hours—or at least not for one hour, Kittlemeier having a tendency to pluralize words when he got excited.

Crane leaned forward and examined the box covered with question marks.

“A robot dog,” he agreed, peering in at its contents.  “In a hat.”

Kittlemeier reached in and took out the little mechanized creature, holding it up and turning it this way and that.  “Sony Aibo?” he read off the bottom.

Suddenly, the door burst open like an old-fashioned speakeasy raid, and Riddler ran in screaming “I CAN EXPLAIN!”

He froze when he saw Kittlemeier holding the Aibo and Scarecrow in full costume looking on.

“Hey, Jonathan,” Riddler panted.

“Hello, Edward,” Scarecrow answered.

“Horizontal straw,” Nigma noted.  “Very sharp.”

Mad Hatter came running in, finally, far more winded than Nigma, and looked at the other three in horror.

“I tried to stop him,” he squeaked when he saw Kittlemeier’s angry glare.

“Mistake,” Nigma blurted, still trying to catch his breath.  “Mr. Kittlemeier, I am terribly sorry to have burst in without an appointment.  Jonathan,” he added formally, “I am most awfully sorry to have interrupted your fitting.  Nice straw, really suits you.  Now then, since I’m here,” he paused, gripping his stomach as his exertions caught up with him, “I sent you a letter by mistake.  I need it back, I need…”  He trailed off as his eyes zeroed in on the mechanical dog. 

“No,” he breathed.  “No,” he repeated in sick shock.  “That’s not a letter.  That’s the… Oh no.  Oh no.  Oh no.”

His eyes darted wildly, and then rolled back into his head.  Jervis jumped excitedly out of the way rather than trying to catch Nigma as he fainted.

 

“My Delectable Puzzlemuffin,” Nightwing read in bewildered disgust. 

Commissioner Muskelli made no comment; he merely waited grimly while the vigilante examined the envelope.

“Puzzlemuffin,” Nightwing repeated thoughtfully, considering the term for the kind of wordplay Riddler favored.  “’Fizzle’ is in there, and ah… so is ‘pun,’ there could be a pun involved.  We’ll have to analyze this phrase for all possible anagrams that might shed light on the clue inside.”

Muskelli nodded.

“My men didn’t break the seal,” he mentioned. “Standard operating procedure with these Riddler clues.  Batman always prefers to run his own preliminary checks for trace explosive or other contaminants.”

Nightwing nodded and slid the envelope into a glassine bag. 

“As do I,” he grimaced, heading for the window.  “I’ll open this under controlled conditions and let you know what I discover.  Thank you, Commissioner.”

To be continued...

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