Chapter 2: The Night in Question
When I was ten, my parents were shot to death in a small time mugging; it happened right in front of me.
For years after that night, that thought defined me. It dominated my thoughts, my hopes, my ambitions, it permeated everything I did. My entire world became about their deaths—and my grief. I traveled the world to escape the pain. I trained my body to channel the anger. I trained my mind to try to answer the questions that couldn’t be answered: How did this happen? Who was this man that took my parents from me? What drives a man to do something like that?
The thought of that night drove me to a great many things. It did not, however, “create” Batman. I’ve come to understand that Batman was borne of something much deeper, much more intrinsic—my inherent sense of Justice. What happened to me, what happened to them, should not have happened. I wanted to do as much as a man can do to prevent it ever happening again. Would I have still become Batman had my parents never been killed? Who can say? But their deaths weren’t the reason I became what I became. It was a catalyst that started me down the path.
Throughout all my years on this path, the one crime I’ve never been able to solve was the most personal for me: the death of my own parents. As good as I’ve become at what I do—as good as I could ever become—I’ve realized that I may never find the truth. It has nothing to do with a lack of ability. It is a simple function of time and place. Evidence collection in those days was nowhere near what it is today, and there’s a decided lack of usable material.
Notes of the crime scene: one .45 caliber semi-auto handgun; powder burns on the vics’ clothing indicate shot at close range; incomplete, broken string of pearls at scene indicate a handful of pearls were taken (see Witness Statement 7263876 written on behalf of juvenile witness—Wayne, Bruce by Officer M.Cure), other jewelry left on victims indicate haste of perpetrator’s retreat; wallet, stained with blood, emptied, found several blocks away.
A decided lack of usable material.
Several years ago, I thought I’d come close—a career criminal who used to “work” that part of the city, a man named Joe Chill. I spent months scouring the facts, hitting the streets tracking and re-tracking the clues to find out for sure. Unfortunately, Chill was killed before I ever got a positive answer. If he was the one that did it, he took it to his grave. For years, I’d accepted that he was the true culprit, but a part of me would never accept it completely, not without absolute, confirmable proof.
When I was ten, my parents were shot to death in a small time mugging; it happened right in front of me.
That thought drove me to become a detective.
And the Detective would never accept an absolute answer without absolute, irrefutable proof.
“Dear God…” Dick uttered softly, his eyes still glued to the screen. After a few seconds of brutal silence, he glanced over at Bruce. “Is it…? I mean, could it really be…? Is it him?”
Bruce muttered something unintelligible, his eyes staring down at the keyboard as if he was unable to look at the screen.
“Bruce? Is it him?”
“I don’t know,” Bruce clarified, his body rigidly still.
“Is it possible? Was there any indication if he was telling the truth?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did he have any details, anything at all that would point to—”
Bruce’s head suddenly jerked upward, his face twisted again with fury as he howled at Dick’s face. “I DON’T…” Just as suddenly, the rage melted, a blank almost expressionless stare settling in as he finished flatly, “…know.”
Dick studied that stare, a cold pit forming in his stomach. It was that empty, emotionless expression, a look he’d seen only once before. It wasn’t during a Hell Month or an interrogation when the clock was ticking on a time bomb and precious lives hung in the balance, it wasn’t confronting Joker, even after he’d killed Jason, it wasn’t even when the specter of the Wayne murders was raised once before with that lowlife Chill… It was an hour ago, when Batman calmly and quietly snapped Riddler’s femur.
Dick stepped toward him, placing a hand on his mentor’s shoulder. “Bruce?”
“We didn’t exactly get that far,” he replied in a cold, mechanical tone. Then he turned and stalked off toward the costume vault.
“You didn’t… Bruce? What do you mean ‘get that far?’” Dick called after him.
“In the conversation,” Bruce growled over his shoulder, a strange venom in his voice. “We never really got to the point of… details.”
Dick stared. They never got to the details? How was that possible? This was Batman they were talking about. Batman always got the details, especially when it came to murder. Batman would hold onto anything for as long as it took to unearth every last possible detail…
In his mind’s eye, he saw that face again, cold and emotionless, staring out from under Batman’s cowl. There was something more to this, something deeper. Dick started to follow to the vault, but a soft voice stopped him.
He turned, and saw Selina coming from the shadows.
“Let me take this one,” she said quietly.
She’d stepped from the shadows, but also from the direction of Alfred’s elevator, making it unclear how long she’d been there and how much she might have heard.
“No. You don’t understand,” Dick started to object, but she shook her head and he found himself trailing off as his eyes followed the path to the costume vault where Bruce had disappeared. “You don’t understand,” he repeated in a whisper.
“I understand fine,” she said definitely. “A guy with a rap sheet the length of a phonebook has to see Bruce Wayne—not Batman but Bruce Wayne—on his deathbed—and Bruce comes back breathing hellfire. You telling me the possibility didn’t even occur to you?”
“No… Hell, I still can’t believe it,” he said dully. He was struggling with his own thoughts too much to really process what she’d said, and some inner core of his brain was answering mechanically, almost the way Bruce had done. “We had… There was a guy, years ago, a two-bit thug. His name was Chill. He claimed to know who Batman really was. Bragged to a bunch of his cronies that he’d ‘created’ Batman by killing someone close to him, and before he got any further, they thanked him with 9 slugs to the chest. I always thought that was it. Chill did it, Chill was dead; case closed.”
Selina said nothing. It just wasn’t important to her. What Dick knew, what he thought he knew, how that might have kept him from connecting the dots as she had, none of it really mattered. What mattered was that he was bungling it. Bruce was a raw nerve, and much as Dick wanted to help, he was slicing that exposed nerve with a razor then bashing it with his fist. So she said nothing. She didn’t want to make it worse by becoming confrontational—as long as he stayed out of her way. But she wasn’t about to let him start “managing” things—and especially her—however noble his motives, and it seemed like that’s exactly what he was determined to do.
“Selina, this is worse than anything I’ve ever seen,” he was saying. “Different than anything I’ve seen, even when Jason died. Now, I’ve made my way in, but anyone else tries to talk to him right now, I honestly think he may lose it—lose it to the point where we’ll never get him back.”
She shook her head.
“Richard, I’m very fond of you, I really am. I consider you and Tim, Barbara and Cassie to be family just as much as Bruce and Alfred. And I know you love him, and I know you’ve been through hell together, and I know you’ve known him longer than I have. But believe me when I tell you, he isn’t going to ‘lose it,’ and if you ‘honestly think’ he could, you are frankly not worthy to be standing in this cave tonight calling him by his name. Now please, Richard, let me take this one.”
“Selina, you have no idea what you’re dealing with. He broke Riddler’s legs.”
“I know. Barbara called, that’s how I knew you guys would be getting back about now.”
“Yeah, well, she didn’t see his face when—Wait, you know?! That doesn’t scare the—I mean, you’re not a little— This isn’t—”
“Yes I know and no it doesn’t, no I’m not and no it isn’t. Look, Dick, it’s not that I’m unfazed by this. It just doesn’t shake my faith in a few fundamental truths of the universe. Bruce is a good man. When something hits, he might go off in such a way that even Superman gets edgy, but that is a part of who he is and I accept it. He won’t go too far; that’s part of who he is too.”
“Selina! He broke the man’s legs.”
“There’s no need to keep repeating that, Dick, I am perfectly capable of retaining information for more than fifteen seconds. Do you know Eddie has never once forgotten my birthday in all the time we’ve known each other? If he’s in Arkham, if he’s in hiding, if I’m in Zurich, no matter what, I get a phone call or a card or a gift. So don’t think I’m not twice as upset about what happened tonight as you are. I am. Truth be told, two, maybe three percent of what happened out there might have been my fault.”
“Because you call him ‘Eddie?’” Dick remarked, as amused as he could be under the circumstances.
“No, not quite,” Selina said sadly. “Because you were wrong earlier. We don’t all run.”
The front doors of Wayne Manor were constructed in 1866 out of the sturdiest Georgia pine. Returning Union soldiers needed jobs, and Bruce’s ancestor, the architect B. Andrew Wayne stepped up, creating a myriad of building projects including a massive renovation of the manor. As a gesture to the recovering Southern economy, he bought Southern materials whenever he could. Hence the front doors, doorframe, and most of the foyer arch were all built from the hardest, strongest and heaviest woods he had at his disposal. This was lucky. For the force with which his descendant pulled the door open on returning from Gotham Memorial Hospital was not sufficient to yank it off its hinges, nor did the slam that followed penetrate to the surrounding walls, shaking paintings on their hangers or sprinkling plaster dust from the moldings.
It did make one hell of a noise, which Selina heard in the morning room and went to investigate. She saw Bruce in the hall, storming towards the study (and, she guessed, to the grandfather clock and the cave).
“Stay away from me,” he snarled over his shoulder.
She recoiled, the ferocity in the voice freezing her legs mid-step and jolting her heartbeat into a thumping triple-time. The racing in her chest continued, but her movement resumed after only a second’s hesitation and she reached the study just as Bruce reached the clock.
“Of course,” he said under his breath, then turned fully, positioning his body as a barrier between her and the clock. “If I said ‘follow,’ would that get you to leave me alone?” he spat bitterly.
“Something has obviously happened,” she said gently, doing her best to ignore the fiery hatred raging in his eyes.
Nothing was said for a long moment. Then, eerily, that blazing hatred vanished, snuffed out in a fraction of a second like a candle’s flame pinched by wet fingers. The expression that replaced it was infinitely more unnerving… Void. Beyond coldness or control or detachment, there was only a lifeless, soulless void. What Shakespeare called dead coals.
“Yes, something obviously happened,” he said dully. “I’m going to be… occupied for a while.”
Then a totally unconvincing film of emotion appeared in his eyes, just covering the dead emptiness, and his voice took on an equally unconvincing veneer of tenderness as he added, “And you have to go.”
“We tried that once, it didn’t work,” Selina said gently.
Bruce shook his head. She was alluding ever so delicately to their second Hell Month together, when he’d sent her to Paris because he didn’t want Selina, the woman he loved, to see the part of him that emerged in those weeks leading up to the anniversary. This was something very different.
“There’s no need to go that far,” he murmured, thinking of Paris. “Just move into the penthouse for a while…”
This was very different indeed. Selina, the woman he loved, was also Catwoman, a thief and a criminal.
“It’s not safe for you to be around me right now,” he concluded grimly.
“Then you’ve seen it” Dick breathed. “That look, that ‘void.’ Selina, that’s what’s got me freaked, not the violence. I’ve seen Psychobat break a guy’s legs before… And ribs, lot of broken ribs… And a jaw. I’ve… God, I’ve broken a good few myself. But that, that coldness, that dead, empty coldness… You weren’t afraid at that point? Honestly, even a little?”
“No. I wasn’t and I’m not. Startled for a moment, but… not afraid. Never afraid. And that’s why I have to be the one to talk to him right now. Go upstairs, Dick, please. Have a drink. I imagine you need one. We’ll be up in ten, fifteen minutes.”
He sighed. A part of him wanted to argue, but something about her confidence held him back. The sheer tonnage of the night’s shocks was catching up with him. It had started while Selina was talking, brick by brick dropping onto his back… Alfred’s call. Riddler’s beating. That look on Batman’s face as he did it. The return to the cave. Batman’s rage. Bruce’s pain. Then the shock of that final revelation: Casefile 001… By the time Selina finished talking, Dick felt too weighed down to continue with her, let alone going another round with Bruce. Batman had taught him how to set aside personal frustrations, and that personal pain, for the sake of others—to put the safety of others above your own concerns, always. Dick had never been as successful as Bruce in that regard. Instead, he developed an instinct to funnel that energy into saving the ones in trouble. Now, Bruce was that person in trouble…
But Batman had also taught him to use the best tool, or more appropriately, the best person available for the task at hand. Maybe Selina really was the better choice to talk to Bruce right now—or maybe that was a convenient excuse his beleaguered psyche had come up with to get him out of the cave. He didn’t know. And he was so weary, he didn’t care. He nodded wearily and started for the stairs, muttering under his breath how he wasn’t allowed upstairs in costume… He trailed off, not bothering with the barb about getting grounded if Alfred caught him. The attempt at humor was as pointless as it was unfunny. Maybe Selina had a point about that drink.
Selina watched him go, then she turned and headed to the costume vault. She entered just as Bruce was sliding the cowl over the false head that held it in place.
“I told you to go,” he said without turning.
“And it’s so rare that I won’t do what I’m told,” she smiled. “Bruce, what happened at the hospital?”
“I told you to go,” he repeated. “Selina, please, I can’t… I… I can’t deal with this, with you right now. I said—”
“Yes, I know. You said it’s not safe to be around you. And when that didn’t work, Psychobat reiterated the point by breaking Eddie’s legs—And yes, before you say it, I know that was ninety-nine percent everything else that’s going on right now—but I also know that a tiny fraction of it, maybe just one tenth of a percent, was for me.”
“I didn’t target Nigma. He targeted the Midnight Special,” Bruce said savagely.
“I’m not disputing that,” she replied calmly. “I just think it would have been better for whoever Batman ran into tonight if they were someone who’d never sent me a birthday card… Bruce, what happened at the hospital?”
“This has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU, YOU IMPOSSIBLE—” he shouted, then dropped his head and spoke in a flat monotone. “Just go.”
“Bruce… anything that affects you like this does have quite a lot to do with me now. Please, don’t expect me to stand by and watch this like it’s nothing, because that’s not going to happen.”
He froze. The moment’s respite talking about Nigma had actually been a relief. Now it all descended again.
“I can’t… not now,” he repeated through clenched teeth.
“I’m not something you have to ‘deal with.’ I can help. Now you told Dick that you never got to details with Vaniel. Tell me why. Tell me what happened.”
Dick’s question “Why didn’t you get that far?” and now Selina’s “Tell me what happened?” Bruce closed his eyes against it, the scene replaying in his head…
The door closed behind David Vaniel as he walked out into the hallway. Bruce turned back to the bed where Vaniel Senior was still staring spitefully at the door.
“Your son is a fine man,” Bruce said cordially.
“My son… is a worthless piece of shit.” Edward coughed raggedly a few times, then rasped “just like his whore of a mother.”
Bruce raised an eyebrow but said nothing; Vaniel stared back, a light smirk crossing his face.
“I’m sorry, did I offend you or sumptin’? I ain’t never been one to sugar-coat shit, Wayne. His mother was a worthless bitch who din’t have better sense than ta get involved with a joe like me. She never did nothin’ with her life and she passed her stupid, doughy-headed ideas onto that feeble son of ours.”
“He put himself through law school.”
“Well whoopy-fuckin’-doo!” Vaniel spat. “All the sense I tried to beat into that boy… tried to teach him to be his own man, to be sumptin’ special… and he goes and becomes just another shyster in this gawd-awful city fulluv’em.”
“Better that he become just another criminal?” Bruce asked pointedly.
Vaniel tried angrily to pull himself up in the bed, saliva spraying from his mouth. “Fuck you! Fuck you, you rich, pretty-boy faggot!” Finally succumbing to his own weakness, he collapsed back onto the pillows and stared at Bruce with venomous eyes. “Don’t you dare fuckin’ judge me! I did the best I could to put food on the table, to provide for my family. We weren’t all born with silver spoons up our damn noses, you fuck. Some of us… *gasp* had to scrape by… *gasp* with what we could…” Vaniel scrambled around the bed for his breath mask, finally finding it and taking in a few lung-fulls of oxygen.
“I know a vast number of people in this world are in rough situations, Mister Vaniel. But not all of them turn to criminal enterprises in order to support their families. You need look no further than your own son for proof of that.”
Vaniel glared at him over the edge of the mask, then slowly shook his head. “This ain’t goin’ quite the way I hoped it would go…” he rasped under the mask.
“Perhaps it would go better if you came to the point,” Bruce said evenly.
“I’m getting there. I’m getting there,” Vaniel managed between labored, sucking exchanges with the oxygen mask. “Will get there a whole lot quicker without any more judge-fuckin-mental interruptions from a ball-less, ivory-tower sack of shit that never worked a day at a man’s job.”
“Law-abiding and educated being antithetical to your idea of manhood,” Bruce observed dryly.
“Fuck you,” Vaniel wheezed, a casual aside as he considered the oxygen mask. He took a deep final inhale, coughed twice, then set it aside. “Real men gotta…” It didn’t work, and he cursed without sound as he reached for the mask again. “Real men gotta make tough choices,” he resumed. “Not Hahvard or Yale, while ya pass the fuckin’ pheasant. We don’t all get our lives laid out fer’us by some blueblood mommy and daddy.”
Bruce leaned forward and gripped the bar at the end of Edward’s hospital bed, staring at him. “Due respect, Mister Vaniel, but with all your talk about me not knowing anything about your family, you’ve forfeited your right to talk about mine,” he seethed.
“I know more about your family than you think,” Vaniel rasped.
The two men stared at each other for a tense moment. The bar at the end of the bed began to creak under Bruce’s grip.
“What are you talking about?”
A saddened grin washed over Vaniel’s gaunt features. “I’m talking about your parents, boy.”
The bar creaked louder for a moment until Bruce released his grip. He straightened himself up and adjusted his tie. “This conversation is over,” he announced and headed for the door. Edward watched Bruce walk away, knowing that his one chance was slipping away. He pulled the oxygen mask away from his face and rasped as loud as his crippled lungs would allow.
“I killed ‘em.”
Bruce froze. After a long moment, he slowly turned back to face the dying man.
“I did it,” Vaniel repeated. “I shot your parents.”
With startling speed, Bruce suddenly shot to the side of the bed, his large hand grabbing the front of Vaniel’s hospital gown and yanking the frail man up off of the bed. The monitor beside the bed started beeping in a faster, erratic rhythm. Their faces mere inches apart, Edward saw an all-too-familiar burning behind Bruce’s eyes.
“What did you say?” Bruce growled in purest hate.
“That night, in the alley. You and your… parents…” he started coughing raggedly, his whole body convulsing. Bruce held firm to the paper gown, holding him in place.
“Why…?” Bruce growled through gritted teeth.
Vaniel coughed a few more times, then finally managed to speak through strained breaths with as much defiance his broken body would allow. “You were all strolling through that alley like you owned the whole damn city. Dressed in your finest… *hrk*”
He was cut off as Bruce’s hand instantly shifted from the gown to his throat. “NO! Why did you tell me that!”
“I… I… just… thought… you had a… a right… to know…”
Bruce’s grip tightened. Edward struggled, gasping for breath, but the grip was like iron. A cough started low in his chest and tried to work its way up, but was caught at the hand on his throat. His whole body spasmed violently, his frail hands attempting to claw at Bruce’s arm but failing. The monitor beeped more rapidly, more erratically, and somewhere deep inside, Bruce knew there was only a few seconds before Edward’s heart rate reached the point where the monitor would alert the nursing staff. He tightened his grip even more for a few seconds, his face twisted with rage, then slammed the frail body down onto the mattress, finally releasing his grip. Edward’s body continued to spasm as he coughed violently, dark red blood spilling out of his mouth. Bruce just stared at the pathetic form flailing on the bed, his jaw clenched so tightly that his teeth were groaning in protest. Without a word, Bruce spun back toward the door and stormed out, nearly yanking the door off of its hinges as he flung it open.
As he heard the distant sound of his son calling after Bruce Wayne, Edward finally got his breathing back under control. He wiped the blood from his chin with the back of his hand and held the oxygen mask over his face. Under the mask, he muttered quietly.
“Maybe he’s got a pair after all…”
“Now do you understand?” Bruce murmured, an emotional wreck after the telling. “When I said ‘not safe’… when I…”
“Shh, it’s okay,” Selina said gingerly. “Bruce, look at me. You’re going to be okay. Take it slow.”
He didn’t turn to look. He didn’t speak again. He just stood facing the wall and the false head with the Batman cowl resting on it. Selina could feel the waves of dark intensity radiating from him, but she said nothing. Like she told Dick, he had his own way of coping. He went inward, sometimes with an intensity that could bend light. The trick was to not get freaked out by it. The trick was remembering that the super-dense intensity at the heart of that black hole was still Bruce.
“Take it slow,” she repeated softly.
Hell, it was the most concentrated essence of what made Bruce the man that he was—which was the man that she loved—which might be the reason she would never react to that dark, hellish intensity like anyone else.
He made a noise. It wasn’t a grunt, a sob, or a sigh. It was a kind of raspy rumble as he inhaled, and she realized he’d been performing a breathing exercise since he finished the story.
Going inward. That was his way.
The trick was not to leave him in there. That’s what the rest of them did, and that’s why the Batcave had eaten two stars by the time she’d moved in.
The silent minute turned into two and then three. Then, without any transition and without turning from the Batman head, Bruce finally spoke.
“I just left,” he said intently, a sudden wave of frustration blotting out the greater pain for a moment. “Maybe the only chance I’d ever have t— and I, I just left. I had to… I had— Selina, I swear to God, I had to leave that room or I’d have killed him right there.”
“Bruce,” she said quietly, “the last sound I want to make tonight is ‘pfft,’ but you’ve got to work with me here. What you’re saying is… actually… quite absurd. You weren’t going to kill him… because you don’t kill.”
“Batman doesn’t kill,” he said slowly. “But Bruce Wayne might.”
She stared for a long moment. When she finally responded, her tone was solemn but the words were more light-hearted than either of them were expecting.
“You know, there are those out there who say that you’re just as crazy as the ones you send to Arkham. They’re fools who don’t know anything about you beyond ‘black cape’ and ‘big fist.’ I’ve certainly never held to that theory. But it’s comments like that that make some of the people who do know you wonder sometimes.”
Bruce spun and glared, a mixture of rage and confusion on his face.
“’Pfft’ doesn’t begin to cover it, Bruce! It really doesn’t. What you just said is absolute bullshit.” She stopped and sighed. “And you know it is. Of course ‘Bruce Wayne’ wouldn’t kill him, because it’s not about ‘Batman’ or ‘Bruce Wayne’—it’s all YOU. YOU don’t kill… and you never will, m’love.”
Bruce’s head dropped as he replied almost silently, “How can you be sure?”
“Well, Joker’s in Arkham and not a coffin, that’s the obvious one,” she answered instantly. “But more to the point… Bruce, you didn’t kill him, that’s how I know. You stormed out of the room, scared Alfred, scared Dick and broke Eddie’s legs. But you did leave that room.”
He flinched at an unspoken memory, but slowly looked back up. Selina took a tentative step towards him.
“When you decided staying would have meant wringing his neck, you left. Bruce, how clear do you want it?”
“I’d never felt that before. Even with Joker,” he said hoarsely. “I… I wanted to kill him. I honestly did.”
“You wanted to. But you didn’t need to. And that’s how I know.”
“Semantics,” he said gruffly.
“No,” Selina replied patiently. “Semantics is that bullshit from before, ‘Batman won’t kill but Bruce Wayne might.’ This isn’t semantics, this is ‘different words have different meanings and those differences matter.’ If you needed to, then I’d be worried. Wanting to means that you had a choice. And I know—Bruce, with every fiber of my being, I know—that when you have a choice, you come out on the right side. You’re so consistent, it’s frankly unattractive.”
Bruce considered the words.
“Downright infuriating,” she added, with a loving grin.
“Why did you send Dick to the showers?” he graveled, the abrupt change of subject and tone hinting, for the briefest moment, that whatever else was happening, Psychobat still wanted all questions answered, and all answers duly catalogued, annotated, and cross-referenced.
“Because Dick doesn’t consider your absolute, unqualified, relentless, inflexible, uncompromising, non-negotiable, pig-headed-stubborn commitment to doing the right thing to be infuriating and unattractive. And what you needed to hear had to come from someone who does.”
Feline logic, Bruce thought miserably. That’s what this evening needed.
“He’s upstairs now,” Selina said, reaching for his hand to lead him from the vault. “And he’ll want to talk, if you’re up to it.”
Bruce glanced absently down at her hand but strode past her and out into the cave proper. “I’m not. But I will,” he replied blankly. A few steps into the cave, he paused, looking towards the trophy room and the safe beyond hidden behind a hologram wall. “Go up and send him down here. There’s a lot of work to be done, and no time to waste.”
“Do you want me to help?” Selina asked quietly, following his eyes and guessing the investigation to come.
The only answer was another rasping rumble as Bruce exhaled and a cold emptiness in his eyes that Shakespeare called dead coals.
Written on behalf of juvenille witness—Wayne, Bruce by Officer M. Cure
On return from the Park Row Theatre at approx 22.00 hrs on Friday Jan 21st in company of parents Thomas and Martha Wayne. Wayne, Bruce witnessed the shooting of parents. Attack took place in back alley of Park Row N leading to main boulevard. Victims were held at gunpoint by unidentified man who demanded money and jewelry. Money was handed over but assailant panicked and shot and killed witness’s father, witness’s mother Martha Wayne screamed. Assailant then shot and killed her too and pulled pearl necklace from around her neck. Man then ran from scene towards the main boulevard. Witness was left unharmed.
“I don’t need to read it,” Bruce said flatly, sliding the photocopy of a photocopy into a folder and placing it precisely on the computer console between Dick and Selina. It was just after midnight. Bruce and Dick were still in costume, apart from masks and gloves. Workstation One, the ledge beside it and the inviolate space where Alfred would set the dinner tray were all strewn with crinkled police reports, sealed evidence bags with yellowing type-written tags, an old-fashioned cassette player and a stack of government wiretaps, and two items completely out of place among this produce of criminal investigation: a Cat-Tales mug and a Catitat mug, each placed a careful distance from the paperwork but conspicuously handy to Bruce and Dick’s respective workspace.
Neither man had wanted the cocoa and Selina didn’t especially want to make it, but it had become obvious that Bruce wanted to get something from the safe. He kept glancing towards the trophy room, and then, without actually looking at her, his jaw set in that old rooftop grimace, the one when he was really upset with her. She figured Dick’s presence wasn’t a problem, since Dick didn’t know the safe existed. Bruce getting up from the console and walking west would mean nothing to him. Bruce could be going to the med lab, the costume vault, the filing cabinets, even the gymnasium. He could just be stretching his legs; Dick wouldn’t even notice. Nor would he notice (or care) if Bruce brought back another file from wherever he’d gone. It was only Selina who could attach any importance to the phenomenon, because only Selina knew he had a very secret safe with his most personal belongings…
So she went up to the kitchen and made cocoa. It was a silly excuse and she felt like an idiot doing it. It was such a stupid, girly thing to do, making cocoa. Catwoman: the Feline Fatale, Catwoman: the untamable, Catwoman: claws, whip, and attitude, was going up to the kitchen to make cocoa, for Bast’s sake! But then, for just a split second when she set Bruce’s mug down, she caught a flash of something other than void in his eyes. It wasn’t gratitude or even acknowledgement. She didn’t really know what it was, but it was alive.
Dick had picked up the folder the moment Bruce set it down. He removed the witness statement with reverent care and started to read while Selina walked the long way around the back of the workstation until she came face-to-face with Bruce.
“I don’t need to read it,” he repeated in the hurried whisper one uses in a library or a church. “Every word and detail is burned into my memory. Strange details. The word juvenile is misspelled. The curious repetition of my mother’s name. ‘Witness’s mother Martha Wayne screamed.’ I remember wondering about that when I was eleven. If there was some technical reason for it, for legal purposes. But then it should say ‘shot and killed witness’s father Thomas Wayne,’ so that couldn’t be it…”
He stopped and flushed.
“When you’re eleven, you think there must be a reason,” he concluded.
When you’re eleven, you think there must be a reason. I looked at the back of the paper in Dick’s hand, sucked into a vortex of memories… the day that envelope arrived. Alfred didn’t want me to see it, so I snuck into his pantry when he was on the phone. I’d recognized the return address: Melquoire, Brandt, and Huffman, the family lawyer. A cover letter from Phillip Melquoire forwarding another letter from the District Attorney and several sheets of police paperwork. It had been over a year (actually it was 14 months and 11 days ) and the case had been reclassified. It was still open, everyone stressed that. There was no statute of limitations on murder, everyone stressed that. But no polite formula of words could blunt the hard reality: the murder of my parents had been placed into a category where nobody expected it would ever be solved.
‘Witness’s mother Martha Wayne screamed.’ I wondered why they wrote it that way. When you’re eleven, you think there must be a reason. When you’re eleven, you don’t realize that Officer M. Cure (whose first name was Marshall and who retired to Sarasota, Florida eight years ago) was halfway through the graveyard shift, typing on an antiquated Underwood at one o’clock in the morning in front of a malfunctioning radiator, trying to get through it so the butler that just showed up—and who has butlers in this day and age—could take the kid home where they could at least get them out of that shirt with the blood spatters on the sleeve that he keeps staring at…
The officers of the 38th Precinct did what they could that night, but from a detective’s point of view, they didn’t leave us much. Dick was trying and he meant well, but this wasn’t going to be nearly as easy as he was expecting. He was letting emotion color what he knew as a crimefighter. What little evidence existed from Crime Alley, I had exhausted years ago. We had to focus on the new lead, on Edward Vaniel, and that was difficult for him to accept. For him, this was solving the murder of my parents. Returning the favor, because I had done it for him.
What it was for Selina, I still don’t quite understand. All I know is I could not make her leave the costume vault. I couldn’t get Dick out of the cave before that, but she did, for a few minutes anyway. It didn’t give me much time alone, just a minute or two. A part of me might’ve been grateful if she hadn’t come in herself as soon as she got rid of Dick.
I wanted them both gone. I wanted to conduct my investigation alone and without the incessant distraction and interference. I wanted to regain control of my mind, my body, my cave, my mission, and most of all, over the most important case Batman would ever have.
Dick was fairly easy; I knew what he wanted. He wanted to help me find my parents’ killer the way I had done for him. I told him—truthfully—that the only way to learn the truth about what happened in that alley was to forget it, to put the police records aside and focus on the new variable. We would hit the streets, hunting down any of Edward Vaniel’s associates from the old days, cutting a swath through the Gotham underworld. I’d take the West Side down to SoHo, the Village, and Tribeca. Nightwing would take the East Side, NoLiTa, Chinatown and the docks. The chance was slim, but he might come up with something. At the very least, it would get rid of him for a few hours and let me work in peace.
Selina was more difficult, as always. I told her Dick would partner me on this, that he’d earned the right. I’d helped him track down his parents’ killers, after all, and then kept him from taking it too far when we found them. At about that same time, I reminded her, she was helping herself to John Klondeff’s jade collection, so…
It was a harsh way to put it, but it wasn’t needlessly harsh. I did it for a reason. Selina doesn’t apologize for her criminal past and she doesn’t back away from it. At the same time, she wouldn’t want to argue for being a thief, not then, not in relation to that case, so she did the only thing she could.
She said it lightly, as if neither the refusal nor the reasoning behind it held any importance for her… Of course it did, and of course there would be a price. I had no idea how high, or how soon it would have to be paid. All I knew was I had achieved my solitude at last, at least until I had to meet Nightwing on the Moxton Building to hear what he had found.
“Not much,” Nightwing announced, disgusted.
“This surprises you?” Batman asked stoically.
“I guess not. Well yeah, it did, but I guess it shouldn’t have. One of the pitfalls of that life, short life spans.”
“Though strangely,” Nightwing continued, “the ones who are still around that did know Vaniel were more… cooperative than I expected.”
“I don’t imagine he had too many friends, even in the criminal community,” Batman stated flatly.
“That bad, huh?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Nightwing saw Batman bristle slightly, then the flat tone returned. “But despite what little you found…?”
“One name kept popping up,” Nightwing confirmed. “From those ’reputed mob ties,’ like it said on the quick sheet.”
“I found the same,” Batman graveled.
“One name, over and over,” Nightwing nodded.
“Carmine Falcone,” they said together.
To be continued...