Chapter 5: A Kind of Merry War
It is tempting, after so long a day, to put aside the journal and either proceed directly to bed, or at the very least, to relax with a less taxing activity, such as watching one of those films Master Dick so kindly selected for my enjoyment. It is only those several days of neglecting these entries while the hunt for Miss Stephanie’s killer unfolded which spurs me on now to complete the task I set for myself and note down the events of this day.
I should say at the outset so the matter may be set aside: Miss Stephanie’s killer still lives. He suffered grievous injuries at the Joker’s hands, including, but not limited to, broken bones, multiple contusions about the head, and severe inhalation of the SmileX toxin that resulted in the shutdown of several organs. It was, as I stated previously, Master Robin himself who was instrumental in transporting him for medical attention. That medical aid was, we learned at six o’clock this morning, sufficient to spare his life.
I cannot help but wonder if another result would not have been better.
Now there will be a trial, possibly an appeal; who knows when and how it will all end. All that can be known for certain is that Master Tim will have these events hanging over him for a considerable time. It would have been so much easier for him, indeed for all of us, to gain closure and move on if the fiend had simply died from his injuries.
I put this forth to Master Bruce, but he is of another view. He believes this conclusion will be best for Master Tim in the long run. If the villain had died, Master Bruce is convinced that Master Robin would come to question and regret those minutes when he delayed Batman’s entry into the dwelling and allowed the Joker’s attack to proceed unopposed.
Master Bruce and I have naturally discussed philosophical questions of this kind before. I knew of, and indeed admire, his unwavering opposition to the taking of human life. We rather part company, however, when he extends that principle of not killing to actively protecting—indeed, risking his own life on occasion in order to protect—the likes of Joker, Riddler or Two-Face from potentially fatal dangers. Master Bruce is quite rigid on this question: Yes, he will allow that the world would be a better place without the Joker in it. Yet if someone were out to kill him and the Batman became aware, he would still do his utmost to prevent it. He evidently feels that the very idea of a crimefighter evaluating the moral worth of a potential victim opens a dangerous door. I cannot be so sure, but then I am not the one out there who must make such decisions, to act or not, in an instant. I had not considered it before in this light, but that factor may well explain Batman’s extreme and unyielding views on most issues of this kind.
You may wonder then, if I knew the master’s attitude so well, why I even bothered to postulate if Master Tim’s world, if not the world at large, would not be improved without this particular criminal in it.
I suppose I was curious. Master Bruce may be headstrong, but he is not blindly and recklessly stubborn. If he uncovers some piece of evidence, for example, which contradicts his first theory of a crime, he will give the new information all due consideration and revise his theory accordingly. On this occasion, it was Master Tim’s grief and guilt which hung in the balance much more than his own, and that may have altered matters. Master Bruce has also changed in numerous and surprising ways since the advent of Miss Selina in his life. Through her, he has certainly been exposed to a myriad of different perspectives on many aspects of his existence, crimefighting and otherwise. So one was curious, it is not so difficult to understand now that I think about it, one was simply curious if Master Bruce might have changed his mind.
It is frustrating and yet comforting to have learned that he has not altered his views regarding the fundamentals.
I have already mentioned the first journal I kept while studying drama as a young man in London. I began the second when I came to America. It was my father’s dying wish that I uphold the family tradition and pursue a career in domestic service. The name of Pennyworth afforded me quick admittance into London’s finest establishment for the training of gentlemen’s gentlemen. Properly trained British servants have always been in high demand throughout the world. There are many indeed who feel no country but England can produce manservants that truly warrant the title of butler. I was therefore, as you might expect, offered situations in many corners of the globe. I chose America—indeed, I chose Gotham City—because, outside of London, it is the greatest theatre city in the world.
I had not, you see, entirely abandoned my hopes of a career on the stage. I had promised my father that I would go into service, and I would keep my word to the best of my ability. I was nevertheless aware that one’s best and one’s promise are not magical formulae that guarantee success. And as one never knows where one’s lifepath may lead, I reasoned that if my career in service came to naught, I would rather be in Gotham City than anywhere else. Here I could best resume what I still, in that stubborn zeal of youth, thought of as my true calling.
I began another journal for a brief period several years ago when Master Bruce was injured at the hands of the goliath called Bane. It was uncertain for a time if he would ever be able to resume his role as Batman. I had, of course, made my thoughts known over the years as to the prudence of the master’s vocation. The unqualified horror—indeed, the sheer personal hell—of seeing one’s worst fears played out in such a fashion… One could feel no relief at the thought of Master Bruce having to abandon his quest in that way. All one could feel was the anguish of seeing a dearly loved charge in torment. I recall many sleepless nights on that account; indeed, I began to fear that my readiness to serve might falter when Master Bruce had greatest need of it. Hence that third journal. There could be no better time, I reasoned, to take stock.
I had cause to recall that dark time earlier today. Indeed, the morning began with a most disquieting reminder:
Miss Selina did not return during the night as I had hoped. I ventured into the master’s room as silently as I was able, in order to ascertain whether the bed contained one person or two. I had, I believe, become adept at these silent entries in the earliest days of the master’s new relationship with Miss Selina, not from any inquisitive impulses, you understand, but merely so that I might prepare the breakfast tray appropriately. If either of them were ever aware of my presence, they hid the knowledge well.
In any case, this morning I resumed the old practice and quietly opened the bedroom door.
“No need for the catlike creeping, Alfred,” the master barked in the foulest voice imaginable, “I’m up.”
The bed was empty, and the foul voice with which Master Bruce announced his wakefulness came from the bathroom. That element alone distinguished the incident from the many previous ones following that wretched fight with Bane. In those days, Master Bruce seldom slept through the night, waking with the pain of his injuries and plagued, one doesn’t wonder, with regret of the past and misgiving for the future. He was nearly always awake when I entered his room in the morning, and his tones in communicating that fact reflected his anger and despair.
It may be that those past mornings, when he “greeted” me from the bed in tones of such hostile misery, coloured my reaction to this morning’s salutation. It may well be that it was merely “the Batman’s voice,” if I may so phrase it, and not some foreboding accent of loathing and desolation.
Whatever emotions it reflected were soon laid aside, for Master Bruce, ever observant, had clearly noted my reaction and hastened to apologize for being abrupt.
“It is a trying time for all of us, sir,” I demurred. “Think nothing of it.”
I saw that the alarmingly unnatural stiffness around his mouth, an aftereffect of the SmileX exposure, had lessened during the night. I therefore prepared a hot towel, that Master Bruce might shave (an expedient which allowed me to linger unobtrusively) and I was gratified when he gave voice to one of those guttural utterances, signaling his readiness for conversation.
“I gather Miss Selina has not yet returned, sir,” I began cautiously.
“No,” was the brief reply.
“Dare I speculate, sir, that her continued absence might result from that exchange several nights ago when she forwarded Mr. Nigma’s information about the Cluemaster and, by your own admission, sir, you ‘said something you shouldn’t have’ in reply.”
“That’s really none of your business, Alfred.”
“Of course, sir,” I noted quickly, for I was quite prepared for the rebuke. It was as deserved as it was accurate. I went on, “It is merely that, if that were the case, it would be most convenient with respect to Master Tim.”
“WHAT?!” Master Bruce blurted, nicking his chin in his surprise.
“Master Tim, sir. The situation with Miss Selina affords me a unique opportunity for an extended and private conversation with Master Tim in circumstances almost certain to secure the young gentleman’s candor.” I checked for the position of the razor, so as not to provoke another startled slip, before I continued, “If only, sir, you will permit me to convey your apologies to Miss Selina for your ill-chosen words in the cave the other night.”
“You want me to apologize? To Selina? Alfred, you don’t even know what was said and you want me to apologize so you can… talk to Tim?”
“Very good, sir. I shall abandon all thought of the scheme at once. I was under the impression that you regretted the outburst that drove the young woman from your side, and were, in fact, distressed by her absence. As you are not, my proposed course of action is certainly not viable. I shall therefore, as I say, abandon the scheme. Out of curiosity, sir, might one inquire what the precise words were for which you feel no remorse?”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, Alfred. If you must know, I made a comparison. I had said you don’t take what the enemy gives you. I meant that any information that comes from Nigma is suspect. It did make sense that he would strike at Cluemaster that way, but I couldn’t discount the possibility that the tip might not be what it seemed. That he might have another agenda entirely, it might be a trap of some kind. So I said ‘you never take what the enemy gives you,’ and she said ‘That’s Ra’s and not Eddie.’ She started it, Alfred. She made the comparison first, she opened the door.”
“The door to what, sir?”
Master Bruce sighed as if the weight of the world had descended on his shoulders.
“I compared her to Talia,” he said, barely audible. “I didn’t mean it, it just slipped out somehow. Her bringing me news of some scheme from Eddie, something an enemy obviously wanted me to know and act on to suit his own ends. It was… It was like the kind of thing Talia would do, but at the same time, it’s not… I don’t know where it came from, Alfred.”
“I might hazard a guess, sir,” I told him quietly. “The issue with Ms. Al Ghul was always one of loyalty, was it not?”
“Of betrayal, you mean.”
“Yes, sir, precisely. And you experienced a betrayal of sorts earlier that day in Master Dick’s efforts to aid Master Tim, admitting himself and Mr. Conner to the Batcave when—”
“That’s a strong word in Dick’s case, Alfred. Dick wasn’t being treacherous, he just—”
“Not treacherous, sir, but there were elements of the underhanded, surely, in the actions of two young men whose loyalty you took to be beyond question. And the circumstances were such that you had no opportunity to address your feelings on the matter. You suppressed them, in fact, Master Bruce, as you are apt to do under circumstances far less trying than those of this past week. Not to be denied, those feelings found another outlet that was, perhaps, not entirely just.”
“You mean I took it out on Selina.”
He indulged in another of those guttural utterances, and resumed shaving at a much brisker tempo than before.
“And you think you can set it right?”
“No, sir, I make no guarantees with respect to Miss Selina.”
“Ah… I see. It’s just a ruse to talk to Tim?”
“I would not like to use the word ‘ruse,’” I told him honestly, “there is an implication of wile and deception, sir, that I hardly—”
“Yes, yes, alright Alfred,” he sighed, “do whatever you think is best.”
It is a drive of approximately two hours to Miss Selina’s Catitat. I invented a mild infirmity in my right ankle and imposed on Master Tim to drive me, lest the extended time at the wheel prove too much of a hardship for me.
The first half hour passed in polite but sporadic conversation. I had preempted the possibility of musical distraction by bringing a CD of my own (a pleasant but nondescript classical guitar recital) and of any roadside stops by bringing a picnic basket (minced chicken and bacon sandwiches, cheese straws, and ginger cake).
When I thought enough time had passed in erratic small talk and the Bach Suite No. 1 in G major, I cleared my throat and expressed satisfaction that Master Tim’s black eye was healing so rapidly. This injury, the reader may have guessed, was the result of the altercation with Batman.
“Yeah, well, I’m young. S’posed to heal fast. Right?”
He said nothing more for a minute, then he asked pointedly, “You heard all about it right? I wanted to let Joker do to him what he did to… pretty sick, huh, Alfred?”
“The desire for vengeance is certainly understandable,” I told him. “For most people touched by a tragedy of this kind, no direct revenge is possible. The thought of a creature like the Joker delivering the kind of violent retribution that only he can remains a… a fantasy of sorts, confined to dark corners of the imagination.”
“But Bat Family aren’t most people.”
We rode in silence for a moment when Master Tim asked abruptly, “Is Bruce incredibly pissed?”
I told him, truthfully, that Master Bruce had voiced no animosity regarding their altercation. I went so far as to tell him of a not dissimilar clash he had with Superman after Master Jason’s death. It was meant as a comfort, to show how Batman understood as few others could what Master Tim was going through. But I fear my mentioning that episode only made his situation worse: Master Jason’s murder was certainly parallel in terms of a loss to the “Bat-Family” and their desire for vengeance—but it was the Joker himself that had killed Master Jason, and it was the Joker who Master Tim, in his zeal to avenge Miss Stephanie, prevented Batman from pursuing.
“He must hate me,” Master Tim murmured. Then he said nothing more until we had reached the Catitat.
Despite the forewarning that she wished no one with less than four feet to talk to her, Miss Selina received us cordially at her preserve. She brought us to the small rustic cabin I have mentioned. It is primitive, to be sure. A single room of respectable proportions with a kind of kitchenette in the corner—if a miniature refrigerator, stove and toaster can be called such—and necessary facilities in a kind of closet partitioned from the main room by an oilcloth curtain. Still, the inclusion of those facilities indoors as well as the tangible effect of central heating gave one the impression that, for all the rustic trappings, this was a perfectly comfortable dwelling.
The walls were paneled in dark wood and a single image was hung on them, a large and dramatic photograph of a tiger. The room contained a kind of daybed covered in pillows and a blanket-like throw, each with a different pattern of catlike markings: tiger stripes, leopard spots, and so on. Upon this daybed—and I confess I was taken aback when I realized what it was—two live wildcats were curled up together, evidently enjoying a nap.
I had not registered the presence of these creatures when I first scanned the room. There was no reason to notice a still mass of reddish brown amidst the throw pillows, and I was of course preoccupied greeting Miss Selina. She was most keen that Master Tim meet a particular resident of the preserve, an ocelot called Nirvana who seems to be a particular favorite among her pets. She stepped out for a moment to escort him to this creature’s pen, which is, I gather, a short hike from the cabin. Remembering the leg infirmity that was my excuse for enlisting Master Tim on this journey, I elected to stay behind at the cabin. Miss Selina assured me that she would return promptly and begged me to make myself at home.
I confess I have acquired a certain habit when visiting one of Master Bruce’s immediate circle: I am inclined to tidy. This I proceeded to do, although Miss Selina’s cabin offered little in the way of accumulations compared to Miss Cassie’s flat or Master Tim’s dorm room. There is, nevertheless, always some area that can be enhanced by the lessening of clutter. And recalling Master Dick’s bachelor residence in Bludhaven, I espied the throw pillows on the daybed.
Imagine my surprise when the largest of these “pillows” moved at my approach and raised its head to regard me with striking feline eyes, while the most extraordinarily shaped ears perked in my direction.
I may have uttered something to the effect of “My word” which caused the second creature to wake and point another set of those strange ears at my person. I thought it prudent to desist from further comment or movement, and after a minute, both creatures put their heads back down to resume their nap. A moment later, Miss Selina returned and, when I inquired, she introduced her companions as caracals, “Brii and Mick.” She then regarded me with inquisitive eyes quite as feline as those of the caracals, although decidedly more playful.
“You don’t approve of my furry roommates,” she declared.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, miss, although I certainly fear for the damage animals of such size might do to one’s belongings.”
She laughed, pointing out that many people keep dogs of that size, and that some others will store millions of dollars worth of electronics amidst hundreds of wild bats. Unable to disagree with the observation, I delivered my message.
“Miss Selina, you are of course aware that when Master Bruce is in ‘Batman mode,’ so to speak, he is inclined to speak his thoughts without fully considering the impact his words might have on the listener. Surely given the pressures of the past days—”
“Alfred,” she cut me off, “Don’t tell me he sent you up here to plead his case.”
I admitted that the apology was something of a subterfuge. Her reply rather astonished me.
“Well that’s good. I know he doesn’t apologize and that’s just the way it is. If he really had sent you up here, it’d mean he was really off the rails.”
“I am certain, Miss Selina, that, formal apology or no, Master Bruce does regret his words with respect to Ms. Al Ghul.”
“To tell you the truth, Alfred, I’m not that angry with him, I just needed some time to myself. First Eddie, telling me what Cluemaster was up to really put me between a rock and a hard place—which, okay, another kind of guy might appreciate and opt to be less of a jackass for once, but that’s not Bruce. It’s just… between the two of them, I needed to get away from people for a while.”
I apologized, this time on my own behalf, for interrupting her retreat with my fewer-than-four-footed company. She laughed with her old vitality and brought a hand to her cheek to cover a becoming blush.
“He didn’t tell you I said that. Oh Alfred, now I really am mad at him. Well, it doesn’t matter, you’re an honorary cat in my mind anyway.”
I bowed and expressed myself honoured by the designation which, coming from her, denoted the highest praise. I asked, as I began unpacking the picnic basket, how I came by such a distinction in her eyes. She cited a number of attributes it would be immodest of me to list, although I will point out that some, such as dignified reserve and a knack for quiet observation, I regard as professional skills rather than aspects of one’s personality.
In response, she took a piece of the ginger cake, which was of course set aside for the dessert and not meant to be picked at before the sandwiches and cheese straws were consumed. She held the morsel up between her thumb and forefinger and astonished me (a second time) by referencing a practice of which I did not know she was aware.
“And then there’s Nutmeg,” she said. “You sneak Nutmeg treats, Alfred. That’s pure feline guile, no way around it.” She popped the bite of cake into her mouth, chewed and swallowed before I could begin to fashion a reply.
My brief moment of inarticulate shock went unnoticed, and for this, I have “Mick” (the larger of the two caracals) to thank. The creature must have smelled the food I was unpacking and thought this adequate inducement to conclude his nap. He had risen from the daybed and approached us in the kitchenette, his nose flaring excitedly. His companion came immediately to join him, and my conversation with Miss Selina was briefly suspended while she evicted the two cats from the cabin. When this was accomplished, she resumed as if she had never been interrupted.
“You had Whiskers and Nutmeg settled into the manor and seeing it as home before I’d even unpacked.”
“Miss Selina, I merely did all I could to help your little ones adjust to their new surround—”
“—You did all you could,” she said over me, “to shut the door behind me and make it all but impossible for me to leave.” Then her aspect changed. The carefree playfulness was gone, but so was the feline sophistication. I had the impression of a much younger woman—a girl, in fact—ingenuous and certainly more vulnerable. For a moment, it looked like she meant to say “Thank you,” but instead, the coy playfulness returned in an instant and she said “Anybody else tried that, I’d scratch their eyes out.”
I replied, in that tartly ironic tenor so useful with Master Bruce, that I was quite sure she would. And she smiled in a most bewitching manner, as if she found some reassurance in the banter.
Master Tim returned from his visit with the ocelot Nirvana. Miss Selina unfolded a little wooden cart next to the daybed into a surprisingly sturdy table, and the three of us commenced to eat the picnic lunch I had prepared. Miss Selina questioned Master Tim with some vigor as to his impressions of the ocelot and her preserve. At first, I thought this a questionable tactic. Master Tim has been understandably withdrawn since the tragic event and all efforts to draw him out—including Miss Selina’s—have been met with hostility. But this one subject was so dear to her, her cats and her preserve are so fundamental to her being, that Master Tim was able to see her exuberance in a different light. It was, after all, a mark of the highest regard that she shared this part of her life with us, and her eager curiosity to know how it was received was quite touching.
Master Tim answered every query, and after a time, I began to perceive another aspect of Miss Selina’s questioning, an aspect which, I must say, persuades me to resume my efforts with her regarding the decorating at the first opportunity.
This ocelot, Nirvana, is evidently a creature of remarkably maternal disposition. She has a habit, so Miss Selina informed us, of mistaking the tight raised skin of human scars—such as the “bat-family” acquire in abundance on their arms and hands—for matted fur, and tries most diligently to remedy the situation with industrious grooming from her large rough tongue. Master Tim was wearing a long-sleeved shirt but had pushed the sleeves halfway up his forearms in the course of the drive, so that a quarter inch of one such scar was exposed. Miss Selina saw this and asked if Nirvana had noticed. When Master Tim reported that yes, she had, Miss Selina seemed to view the matter with great satisfaction.
It is my belief that Miss Selina has a stronger desire to nurture than she would like to admit. She is quite as exasperating as Master Bruce in that respect. The collective ability of that pair to deny the most natural and laudable instincts a being may possess, and insist instead that nocturnal marauding makes them immune from the yearnings of ordinary unmasked humanity—some days, one is truly moved to throttle them. But I digress. Miss Selina is, as I say, a warm and loving woman with a natural impulse to nurture and comfort. Either because she felt this indicative of some clichéd notion of “maternal instinct” that she finds incompatible with her feline independence, or more likely because her first overtures with Master Tim were less than successful, I believe she sent him to this conspicuously maternal ocelot as a kind of proxy, to give him the kind of attention she felt him in need of but thought herself unable to provide.
It was then that matters took a very curious turn. Master Tim asked, without any sort of precursor, if Miss Selina had ever hit Batman with a brick. She said she had not. He said that she distracted Batman many times in order to escape. She said “Yes and no,” because she had some objection to the word “escape,” but she allowed that she had certainly performed a variety of misdirectional and diversionary maneuvers over the years and that these had been, on the whole, successful.
“But you never hit him hard in the head with a brick?” Master Tim repeated.
“No,” Miss Selina confirmed.
“Stephie hit me with a brick,” Master Tim said softly. “You know that story I told at the service, how I chased her down that first time and pulled off her mask, and I was so startled that she was, well, a girl, that she got away? Well, that’s how she got away. While I was being all stunned that she was beautiful, she clocked me with a brick.”
Miss Selina smiled at that and said she was sure he had asked for it.
I am unable to reproduce the rest of their conversation in detail, as it referenced aspects of the rooftop life of which I am, of course, unfamiliar. I have naturally heard of such scenarios from Master Bruce, but the terms in which Miss Selina and Master Tim now spoke were rather different. The discussion concluded when Miss Selina pronounced him “quite the junior jackass,” and Master Tim thanked her, kissed her cheek, and then threw the last bite of ginger cake into her hair.
She exclaimed “HEY” and hissed; he, that it was “softer than a brick” and stuck out his tongue—and I, at this point, felt it necessary to take charge of the situation before my fellow guest and our hostess sunk to further indignities. I collected our plates, flatware, and cups into the picnic basket, and Miss Selina surprised us by announcing her intention to return with us to town.
She drove back in her Jaguar, which, of course, she had used to reach the preserve initially. But even though she was not physically with us in the car, her implied presence altered the mood of the drive back. Master Tim was more communicative about his relationship with Miss Stephanie, which had deteriorated sadly in the last days of her life.
Master Bruce knew of this, and I now saw this was the true source of the tension between them. It was not that physical confrontation between Batman and Robin that weighed on Master Tim, but two earlier conversations in the Batcave.
The first of these occurred the very night Master Tim and Miss Stephanie ended their relationship. Master Tim encountered Master Bruce in the cave and related his thoughts on the matter. He had lost all faith in his connection with Miss Stephanie. He was not naïve, he did not expect a relationship to be perfect, he knew there would always be difficulties. But the rapport between himself and the young woman was simply insufficient, he judged, to overcome those obstacles. He told her so, and they parted.
Whatever Master Bruce might have thought of this development, he said nothing at the time, no doubt feeling it was none of his business.
The matter was not spoken of again until Master Bruce declared that the break-up spurred Miss Stephanie to the actions that led to her death. After he ordered Master Dick and Mr. Conner from the cave, he spoke frankly to Master Tim, pulling up Robin’s own log entry from that night, citing a mugger captured, a mugger with a knife, suspected of being something more. “This was the night of the break-up,” Master Bruce said, “Tell me you and Spoiler didn’t have words about this?” Then he produced a police report detailing the suspect’s release, a sentence highlighted stating the reason; the crucial evidence was missing.
To one of Master Bruce’s understanding, the cause and effect would be as clear as it was undeniable: A girl, thoughtless and immature, lashing out in the rejection of a break-up, desperate to prove herself right and worthy and doing exactly the wrong thing, latching on to a recent point of contention, taking the evidence, getting the man released, losing control of the circumstances she set in motion, and ultimately paying with her life.
We rode in silence for a time after Master Tim unburdened himself of this terrible truth. Miss Selina’s Jaguar raced on ahead of us, the distance between the two cars increasing by the minute, as if Master Tim’s sorrow compelled him to slow the progress of the car.
“Master Tim,” I said finally, “I don’t believe I am betraying a confidence by telling you this. From the beginning, Master Bruce’s greatest concern has been the easing of your guilt. I thought he meant only in the sense of revenging yourself on Miss Stephanie’s killer. I see now there were other grounds for his concern.”
“You can’t tell me it’s not my fault, Alfred.”
“I shan’t, Master Tim. I am all too aware how hollow words can seem at such times as these, particularly when they are half-truths at best.”
“I could no more convince you of your blamelessness than I could Master Bruce or Commissioner Gordon, when you, most certainly, have as much of the young woman’s blood on your hands as they do.”
“Alfred, I don’t believe this! You think Bruce and Jim Gordon—what—how—no.”
“As Master Bruce said himself, sir, he should have seen she was not up to the task. The young lady simply did not have the maturity and disposition to be a crimefighter, and one of Master Bruce’s discernment should have noted it at once and taken steps to remove her.”
“That is so totally unfair, Alfred. Steph was no screw-up; she made a mistake, that’s all. People make mistakes. It doesn’t mean she wasn’t up to the job. How was Bruce supposed to know she’d screw up in just this way in response to this one thing, huh?!? She shouldn’t be dead, Alfred, she SHOULDN’T be, and it’s natural to want to blame somebody, but this isn’t Bruce’s fault! It’s not. It’s just not. You should tell him that, not sit there repeating all his—sure he blames himself—that’s what he does. But you can’t… just… ” He was quiet for a moment and looked at the road. “Playing me, right?”
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
“You’re playing me. You said all that about Bruce to get me to come around and defend him and blurt out some big truth that makes it all better.”
“Hardly that, sir.”
I said nothing, we drove in silence again until Miss Selina’s Jaguar came back into view on the road ahead of us. Then Master Tim asked,
“What was Gordon’s story?”
“You were going to lay into Jim Gordon if blaming Bruce didn’t work?”
“The former commissioner did express concern, sir, that in accepting Batman as he did, he opened the door for sidekicks, and in so doing, bears a responsibility for their fates.”
“It is not an argument that compels unanimous agreement, sir.”
“Yeah. Dumb. What’d you say to something like that?”
“I drew his attention to certain observations from Shakespeare, which I believe gave him some small consolation.”
“Yes, sir. Henry V. A fitting passage to the effect that: Each man’s duty is to the king, but each man’s soul is his own.”
“Whoa, good stuff.”
“I believe it has given uniform satisfaction, sir.”
“You got any of that on deck for Bruce?”
“For Bruce, like this thing with Selina, whatever he’s stepped in now. Any snappy snippets from ol’ Shakespeare to fling his way?”
“I have often thought that Master Bruce would benefit from a better acquaintance with ‘the joyful comedies.’ With respect to Miss Selina, surely the subplot of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing might offer a much-needed perspective.”
“They’re the ones that bicker all the time, right?”
“’A kind of merry war’ is how it is described in the text, and surely the couple derive some delight in their playful battles of wit and words. But I was thinking of the conclusion to the tale, more than the story itself. Signor Benedick knows, in the end, when to give up the fight and simply kiss the lady. Whereas—”
“Y’mean like that?”
Master Tim had slowed the car nearly to a stop. At the side of the road, there sat Miss Selina’s Jaguar, alongside Master Bruce’s Porsche. Between the two cars, the two of them stood together, locked in a fervent embrace.
I cleared my throat and, had I been at the wheel, we would, of course, have proceeded onward without deigning to notice this spectacle. Master Tim was not so discreet. He honked the horn, then pulled over beside them, got out of the car, and grinned.
Master Bruce’s explanation was endearingly preposterous. He claimed an old tracking device, placed on Miss Selina’s vehicle many years ago, had inexplicably reactivated when the car reentered the Gotham city limits. He claimed too that he had stopped at a roadside stand to purchase the two-dozen roses Miss Selina now held.
We left them there; Master Tim’s mood was much improved. Nothing will heal his wound except time, but one hopes he is over the worst of these first days and nights.
Although they never passed us on the drive home, Master Bruce and Miss Selina somehow beat us back to the manor, for the Jaguar and Porsche sat side by side in their respective stalls when we reached the garage. I have seen neither of them since, but one suspects a race or challenge of some kind was declared and is perhaps still in progress—considering the absence of another automobile from the cave’s garage. I did observe a very curious and cryptic note left in the costume vault, tacked onto the wall by means of a cat-claw and positioned just above the hook, where someone hanging up the cape could not help but notice it. Rather than hang the kimono on that hook, I therefore elected to fold it and lay it off to the side.
The “merry war,” one must conclude, continues.