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Chapter 7: Variations on a Theme


“BRO!” Tim jumped up and hugged him.  “You’re back!  I forgot you were home today.  But what’re you doing here? Shouldn’t you be jet lagged or something?”

“Probably,” Dick answered, “With the hours we keep, what’s the difference.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Tim laughed.  “So, you’re back.”  

Dick smiled but didn’t say anything.  Tim pressed on.

“Was there… Selina said at the wedding your old college buds were planning something.  So, was there a prank?”  

Dick laughed.  “God, I forgot what the rumor mill was like in this town.  YES.  Stevo found out we spent the wedding night at the bridal suite in the Carlyle…”

“And?” Tim prompted.

“Sleigh bells in the box spring.”

Tim cackled. 

“Yes, HA HA HA like laughing boy says.  Now that you’ve got a scoop before all the other old hens, you gotta give back.  What have I missed?”

“Nothing that entertaining.  There’s Bruce & Selina’s latest spat:  seems she referred to the shrimp arrabbiata at D’Annunzio’s as ‘better than sex’ and he decided to take it personally.”

“He tends to take metaphors literally.”

“Dick, c’mon, you tell me.  You were there when they used to be, well y’know, like they used to be.  Batman and Catwoman.  Surely worse things were said than that.”

“No comment.”

“Oh, C’MON!”

“Tim, I can’t.  I’m sworn to secrecy.”

“BRO, you can’t hold out here, Robin to Robin, what went down?”

“Bruce said sooner or later you would ask about this, and if I said anything but ‘no comment,’ there would be retribution.”

“He’s bluffing.”

“We were in the trophy room when he said it.  He was holding Selina’s first cat-o-nine tails and my old Robin shorts. I’m not taking the chance.”

“If you don’t tell me, I won’t give you the 411 on what happened with Poison Ivy and Two-Face.”

“Flytrap e morte.  Already heard.”


“I am married to Oracle, buddy.”


“Dinah emailed her.”

Tim looked thoughtful.  “Yeah… What you said before about the rumor mill, can I bounce something off you?  I don’t know if I’m imagining things, and I don’t want to take it to Bruce if it’s something dumb.”

Dick nodded, becoming serious, and Tim continued.

“Well, a bunch of us from Brentwood are starting internships, and the guys from my study group decided to get together like it was any other school project, compare notes ’n stuff.”

Dick chuckled, and Tim became defensive.

“Okay, mostly we just eat pizza and shoot the breeze, but we do talk about the work a little, and I just… I started to notice… and I don’t even know what I’m talking about, but it seems like… patterns.  Information is circulating somehow, little items showing up in weird places, echoes and variations on things that shouldn’t be where they are… it seem wrong somehow.  Does that make sense?”

“I’m not sure.  I never did the big business thing.”

“Don’t think business, think real work, instinct.  Like before you enter a crook’s hideout, if it feels wrong, you want to work out why before you step through the door and trip something.”

“Can you give me an example?” Dick asked.

“You know we had a Scarecrow episode a couple weeks back, right?  Three CEOs were struck with fear toxin.  They cancelled their appointments for a day or two and then, having paid off Crane for an antidote, they all went back to business as usual.  As far as the Scarecrow end of it goes, it looked like straight extortion: hit the rich man and make him pay up to get his life back.  But totally independent of the Scarecrow angle, when these guys went missing, their businesses each took a hit in the market:  Chief Executive disappeared, nobody knew what was up, investors don’t like uncertainty, they sold off stock, prices dropped.  That wasn’t something the Scarecrow did, it was a natural domino effect.  When the CEOs showed up for work next day, their stock came back to where it was before.  With me so far?”

Dick nodded. 

“Ok,” Tim went on “Now here’s the thing: some of the guys my friends have been working for, they made money on those stock drops. They ‘sold short,’ that’s when you basically borrow shares you don’t own and sell them at today’s prices.  You have to buy tomorrow to repay whoever you borrowed from.  If the price goes up between today and tomorrow, you lose out.  You might have to buy at $27 an item you sold for $22.  But if the price goes down, you make out.”

“You buy back at $22 an item you sold for $27,” Dick said, showing he understood.

“Right.  And in this case, it’s almost like they knew in advance these guys would go missing and their stock would fall.”

“That’s insider trading, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, to say the least.  It’s insider trading if you use publicly traded stock to profit from private information not available to the full market.  But Dick, we’re not talking about the settlement of some lawsuit or somebody getting a government contract as the private information.  We’re talking about advance knowledge of Scarecrow targets. And the really creepy thing is that these guys went short when the target was Harold Morton of the Morton Trust and when it was Charles Fitzwallace at Fitzwallace Tech, but NOT when it was Bruce Wayne and Wayne Enterprises.”

Dick shook his head, not quite following.  “Look Tim, I’m a cop and I’m not quite keeping up with the high finance end of this, but it sounds like you’re saying somebody got wind of what the Scarecrow was up to and SOLD information that these first two CEOs would be temporarily incapacitated, and that somehow that person also knew in advance that the Scarecrow would fail against Bruce?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying, Bro.”

“Bats mustn’t get the girl.” Joker told the hyenas.  

The hyenas drooled.

“Nonono,” Joker went on, “We’ll have to fix this somehow.  Get Selina to go back to Brucie.  What are friends for if not to smooth over these little squabbles such as sometimes occur between—HAR-LEY!  These mongrel mutts are getting hyena spit on my desk!  I can’t THINK this way.  HAR-LEEY!—Oh damn, left her at Arkham.  Bother.”

Joker kicked the nearest hyena and tried to regain his train of thought.  It was so DIFFICULT to try and plan without the dumb blonde interrupting all the time, asking stupid questions.  

“Where was I?  Right.  Get Catty to think Bruce Wayne is Batman.  Heh, what an idea. Now what are Batman’s distinguishing characteristics?  Dour, sour, party poop.  That isn’t something that can be taught, though.  What else?  No fashion sense!  Get word to Brucie to dress like an undertaker?  No.  HAR-LEEEY!  What is Batman’s single most distinctive characteristic?  What’s his big claim to fame?”

Joker smacked his forehead and did a doubletake at the hyena. 

“Why of course, it’s me!  Batman is MY arch-enemy!  Perfecto HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAaaaaaaa—But how to use that to show Catty he’s Bruce Wayne?”

He looked at the hyena he hadn’t kicked, who continued to drool.

“What’re you looking at?” he asked the animal.  “Never seen a genius clown with bleached skin and green hair befor-HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

Yes, of course!  It was Batman that was responsible for his falling into that vat of chemicals that transformed him into the Joker, soooooooOOOO if he were to blame Brucie for turning his hair green and his pallor white, then Bingo! Bruce Wayne is Batman!  All he had to do was lure Bruce Wayne into a deathtrap at the Ace chemical plant where it all started. 

HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAaaaaaaa—wait.  No.  Again No.  If he dropped Brucie into a deathtrap, then Brucie would be DEAD and that would hardly improve his chances of getting Catty back.

“HAR-LEY!!!!   HARLEY!”  Damnit, he just couldn’t think with all this peace and quiet and no dumb airhead interruptions.  He had to get her back.

Three hours later, Joker and Harley Quinn were at a McDonalds by the Hacienda North, cuffs stained with blood and special sauce.

“You see, Harl,” Joker explained, putting his feet up on the twitching body of the night clerk, “it’s not like the dear boy really is Batman, so if we don’t want him to wind up dead, we’ll have to stage some sort of rescue.”

Harley held a Chicken McNugget up to her eye like a monocle, but made no contribution to the conversation.

“A last minute rescue from some unlikely source,” Joker continued.  “I know! What about the Hairdo?  What does he call himself, Head Deejay, Rabid Ghoul?”

“Ra’s al Ghul,” Harley said, dipping her McNugget in Diet Pepsi.

“That’s it. He thinks he’s Batsy’s greatest foe, after all (the nerve). Now, if he were to ever seriously threaten Batman, I would have to step in, killing Batman clearly being my prerogative as Batman’s Big Baddy, right?  So if the presumptuous hairdo wants to think he’s the big bad in Batdom, then he would have to come through and make this rescue of poor Brucie.”

“I’m confused,” Harley wailed.  But Joker ignored her.

“Daddy has a plan,” he announced, “deathtrap for Brucie at the Ace Chemical Plant and have Rabid Ra’s set up to rescue him.”

“But Puddin, how will this convince Catty that Bruce Wayne is Batman?”

“WERE YOU NOT LISTENING?!” Joker roared, smashing a plastic tray over her head.  “BATMAN is to blame for my distinctive pallor.  My avenging myself by offing Brucie at the Ace Plant in the very vat where Bats made me go kerplop-gurgle-gurgle means Brucie is Batman!”

If her head wasn’t throbbing from being walloped with a plastic tray, Harley would have known better than to point out that she wasn’t listening because she wasn’t there when he explained it the first time.  As it was, the throbbing in her head was soon forgotten due to a harder tray-thwap on her bottom.  

If Ra’s al Ghul had a sense of humor, he would have laughed.

If he had an iota of empathy for his fellow beings, he might have felt pity.

As it was, as there was no advantage in either laughing at the Joker or pitying him, the Demon’s Head was merely surprised.  Surprise was still quite an achievement; you had to give the insane clown credit for that much.  After a few centuries, Ra’s thought himself jaded.  He believed he’d seen it all.  That this 21st Century psychotic could come up with something so insanely twisted as to cause surprise was an achievement.  

He wanted … this pitiful non-entity of a chemically-mutated psychopath wanted the great Ra’s al Ghul to dispatch a rescue party to Gotham City to save the Detective—no to save Bruce Wayne—from a death trap in order to convince a woman that Wayne was Batman?  It was monstrous.  That this demented individual was allowed to live was a sad testament to the failings of Western government, of the Detective’s methods, and of the need for global order that DEMON rule would bring.

The Joker was a sad, sad case indeed.

But the information he so artlessly dropped in the Demon’s lap might prove useful.  Information was the currency of power.  Money was inconsequential, Americans never understood that.  These tiny men, these so-called leaders of the corporate world, did not begin to understand:  It was all about power, not money; it was not necessary to own if one controlled those who did.

With his new network brokering information in Gotham City, Ra’s was securing control over anyone and anything with power.  Those he tipped on the stock fluctuations of Morton Trust and Fitzwallace Tech paid well for the information, and they assumed that was his motive in selling it.  Money.  The fools. What need had Ra’s al Ghul of their meaningless totems of wealth?  The buyers of his information were now indebted to him.  They had engaged in insider trading.  He knew.  They were now in his power.  Their corporations and all they owned were his to control if and how he wished.  It was a start.

He had been concentrating on corporations thus far, as the paltry information they considered valuable was so easy to obtain.  He had not thought to traffic in information of a criminal nature, apart from that one Scarecrow episode, and that was only because the targets were CEOs.  But this information falling into his lap, without his lifting a finger…  He would be foolish indeed if he did not ponder the possibilities…

If the potential buyer were anyone other than the Detective, he would proceed without question:  Look at this valuable stream of information I can open up for you if only you serve me.

That approach would not, obviously, work with the Detective, not put in those terms.  But what if… what if the information came anonymously, from “a friend.”  Perhaps another type of Oracle emerging, no hint of reciprocal favors owed, not at this time… Ra’s al Ghul’s skin warmed and his breathing quickened as he thought through the next logical step in the sequence:   If the “friend” later got into trouble, the heroes he helped would rally to defend him.  It could be managed.  The Detective’s own circle could be controlled this way.  He would finally be able to call the Detective into his service whenever he wished!  

“NalFoy!” Ra’s called to his new lieutenant, “open a channel to Gotham City.  Tell Ulstarn to establish the new man, Nethal, in separate quarters at once.  He must not be seen to have any connection to the Chinatown operations.  He will take orders from me and no other.  He will receive these orders directly from my lips.” 

To be continued...

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