“I believe in Gotham City.”
In the bright “sun room” on the east side of the manor, Selina looked up quizzically from her book.
Bruce held up his right index finger, while his left hand remained on his laptop keyboard, typing. The right hand joined it, and he typed a moment longer, then looked up.
“Did you say something?” he asked absently.
“You did. When I came in before and asked if my settling in here to read would bother you, you said you believe in Gotham City. And then, just now, you said it again.”
“I said it out loud?”
“Sorry, I’m working on the letter to the stockholders for the annual report.”
“Don’t apologize. It’s refreshingly upbeat for you.”
“That’s what stockholders like to hear. An affirmation. Looking towards the future with vision and hope.”
“So this is the Bruce Wayne version of ‘I believe for every drop of rain that falls?’”
“No,” he interrupted firmly. “Absolutely not. Because the end of that line involves a lot of flowers growing, and despite Poison Ivy’s release on Monday, it’s been a good week.”
Selina said no more, she just watched quietly while Bruce read over his letter and made a few changes. “The end of that line involves flowers growing…” It wasn’t exactly a joke, but there was a lightness to the remark that he wouldn’t have been capable of in the beginning. That little touch of humanity meant everything to Selina. It was the point where they first connected, the part of him that saw beyond those rigid roles of thief and crimefighter, even if, at first, it was only to take in a woman’s curves and then pretend he hadn’t.
“I believe in Bruce Wayne,” she whispered with a knowing smile.
“I believe we’ll be skipping lunch,” Dr. Yarling said sourly, setting down his newspaper and rising to leave.
His companions were startled. Yarling had asked them to lunch at the Harvard Club. They’d only just settled in and ordered drinks in the lounge, now he wanted to leave? It made no sense… until they saw the trim figure of Harvey Dent removing his overcoat in the foyer. No one could forget that Two-Face had taken Sarah Yarling hostage in a nightclub years before. Even though the doctor had since divorced his first wife, even though it was one of the most notoriously ugly divorces in Gotham history, and even though Kevin Yarling’s vindictive campaign to turn his children against his ex far outstripped Two-Face’s momentary appearance in her life for malice intended and misery caused, he still held a grudge.
Harvey was shown into the dining room, unaware that the foursome from Gotham General Hospital would now be having lunch at Balthazar because of him. Lee Ann, the hostess, had a message for him as he took his seat: Angela Vraag had called; she was running late.
Typical. All those society women kept you waiting, whether they were really running late or not. And they could never call your cell, either. They always had to leave a message at the restaurant. It was entirely possible that Angela had subjected poor Lee Ann to all the gory details: how she was having her brows shaped at Damone Roberts this morning, and Damone was terribly backed up. So they tried to foist some horrid girl on her instead, said she studied with Damone at the Beverly Hills salon, as if that was supposed to impress her. So it took ten minutes to get through to them that she was Angela Vraag and that Damone did her brows personally, and then she had to wait another forty-five minutes for Damone to fit her in. Since then, the whole day had been catch up, catch up, catch up…
Harvey ordered his preferred scotch to pass the time, a single malt, something he’d always enjoyed before the acid but which Two-Face had made him give up, of course. Now, the smoky malt brought him the added pleasure of thumbing his nose at all things two.
Thumbing his nose at all things two while he waited for Angela Vraag. He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about Angela, or Diana North before her, or Claudia Muffington before her. There was a sameness to them. All came out of those seven sisters schools and had married the men of their own world, men like Harvey himself had been once. All had divorced after ten or fifteen years and one or two children. All had been replaced by twenty-something trophy wives and settled into the same kind of fiercely fashionable apartment in the east sixties. All of their scrupulously tasteful living rooms were decorated by Cora Hathice with a plethora of cabbage rose chintz, and brightened by twice-weekly deliveries of flowers from Annabelle’s Florals on 62nd. And all had made the best of their second-class status on the social circuit—until they noticed Harvey Dent.
Harvey was aware that the balance of power had shifted from his Dentmeister days. Then, the most beautiful women his age were prizes to be won. Now, he as a handsome, affluent, single, straight man was the rare commodity. But he had been Two-Face. If they could overlook his past as Darth Duality, he could certainly overlook a little Botox and stretch marks. Still, he knew these relationships were built on a foundation of compromise and desperation. Nobody was in love; it was just a mutually agreeable social arrangement. At this point in his life, what more did he expect? He had spent the best years of his life as a coin-flipping… homicidal…
The tricks the mind plays. A few seconds thinking about Two-Face and, for a moment, he actually thought he saw…
Nah. Heh, heh. Ridiculous.
Batman snarled at his own cowl as he entered the costume vault, the echo of Selina’s voice pounding in his brain worse than Mad Hatter’s when hatted or Ivy’s when greened.
“It’s getting late. You taking off soon?”
How the hell did that happen? Bruce Wayne did not lose track of the time. BATMAN did not lose track of the time. How did it happen? He’d finished his letter to the stockholders, she’d put aside her book, and they chatted about Lois’s thank you note after the Rome excursion. Lois had enclosed a clipping from the Daily Planet’s society column that referenced Selina Kyle’s position on the board of the Science and Industry Museum and, in virtually the same breath, took a few none-too-subtle jabs at the Gotham Post. Selina was sure it was Lois’s doing, the real “thank you” for the shoe shopping. Bruce knew that Lois was as professional as they came when it came to hard news, but he really wasn’t sure where society columns ranked as far as journalistic neutrality and personal favors. It might not violate her ethics to put a word in the ear of some society columnist, and Lois had come away from the trip with several thousand dollars worth of shoes and handbags. Bruce had joked that the next villain who grabbed Lois Lane and spirited her out of the country would have a hard act to follow, and Selina meowed.
That led to the kitchen, where another beneficiary of the Roman holiday had been experimenting with a pork recipe that Selina brought back. It was said to date back to ancient times, and indeed to have been a favorite of Julius Caesar’s. Alfred couldn’t resist playing with such an unusual recipe, and every few days he sought out either Bruce or Selina to sample some new variation. Since a new tasting was due, they rather playfully decided to visit him in the kitchen and see the culinary mad scientist in action.
While they watched Alfred cook, Bruce mentioned the new ultralight he was building, with a much sleeker design for improved lift without adding an ounce of additional weight. He also mentioned his annual jaunt to Tokyo to research the latest in electronics and micro-technology. Selina begged him to put it off for a few weeks. Oswald would be out of Arkham soon, and that meant the Iceberg would be reopening. She would be free of her Queen of the Underworld role and could come along. She liked gadgets too, after all. Bruce growled that he wasn’t about to change his plans, but only because he enjoyed the way she pressed when she really wanted something he didn’t want to give. After all the diamond necklaces he couldn’t let her leave with, it was nice to revisit the dynamic now that he could let himself be persuaded.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
“It’s getting late. You taking off soon?”
He’d lost track of the time. His jaw stiffened, his eyes darkened, and his muscles tensed imperceptibly. Somehow, in all the play and banter, he had lost track of the time! He should have been in costume already, customizing the night’s patrol route from the current At Large list, but he hadn’t because he didn’t realize how late it was.
Moments later, in the costume vault, he cursed as he strapped on the chest plate. He cursed again as he donned the cowl, and cursed a third time as he adjusted the cape. He could make up the time in one of two ways: put on the utility belt without checking the contents and testing the grapnel launcher (false economy, not remotely worth the risk), or allowing the Batcomputer to program the patrol route from its old subroutines. It wasn’t as efficient as doing it himself, but it was a minor loss of efficiency compared to starting patrol twenty minutes late. He stopped at Workstation 1 on his way to the Batmobile, initiated the program, and set it to relay the patrol route to the Batmobile as soon as it was ready. He cursed once more, and headed to the Batmobile…
Doubletalk. If there was one thing that drove Harvey Dent crazy, it was doubletalk. After the lunch with Angela, he decided to spend the afternoon at the Harvard Club. It had nothing to do with the figure he thought he’d glimpsed outside the window earlier. He just didn’t see the need to go home when it would be so much more convenient to stay in midtown to meet with the realtor. So he telephoned Sylvia and had her meet him there. She tried not to sound impressed, but you didn’t get to be a successful trial lawyer without being able to read people. The Harvard Club. She was impressed.
Harvey explained how he liked the place he was now living—a house sitting job in an ordinary residential apartment building in a nice residential neighborhood. It was so much better than living in some adapted space like the old Flick Theatre. Sylvia agreed wholeheartedly, there was nothing like apartment life in Gotham. She reeled off several pre-war buildings where she had clients happily settled. She was sure she could find Harvey a marvelous place.
That’s when the doubletalk began, because she kept talking about the East Village, SoHo and Battery Park. As many times as Harvey reiterated that he liked the neighborhood he was in, she flitted off to some remote part of town. Finally, when he stated in his clearest “the man is guilty” summation tone that he only wanted to see apartments on the upper east side, Sylvia said she doubted any UES co-op board would approve him, “considering.”
Considering what? Considering Two-Face? Selina had lived in the same building for years… of course, her future neighbors had no idea she was Catwoman when she moved in. Still, it was just monstrous that he, Harvey Dent, who only became Two-Face in the course of his duties as a prosecutor to keep those people SAFE from a criminal element which actually included Selina Kyle, dear friend though she was, was now thought unfit to live in her building? The idea that he, Harvey Dent was being penalized for…
Good lord—outside the window—there he was again!
Selina’s firsthand knowledge of organized crime was confined to snooping around the grounds of Carmine Falcone’s Long Island compound when she attended a nearby boarding school as a girl. When a perfect storm of misunderstandings thrust her into the “Queen of the Underworld” role, she figured she should do a little research. She knew all the Gotham players, that wasn’t an issue, but she wanted a few models for her own performance as Gatta Corleone. Silly as it might sound, she watched The Sopranos.
“What is the finest department store in the city? Answer me that, ‘Lina. What is the finest department store in the city and what is the theme of their new window displays?”
Arbitrating a sit down, Gotham-style.
“Bergdorf Goodman and classic board games, that’s who. And who has the undisputed right to act on such a theme? Answer me that, just answer me that.”
It was hardly Uncle June demanding restitution because some upstart on Tony’s crew jacked a truck under his protection.
“Answer me this, answer me that. What a broken record. CLUE is a classic board game, Nigma, and the biggest window in the display! Catwoman, tell him. Yes or no. Isn’t Clue a classic board game?”
Some overpriced window designer thought it was artsy to set up window displays based on board games, and now Riddler was up in arms because Cluemaster left a pewter terrier, thimble, and racecar at the Bat-Signal.
“BEFORE HE EVEN PLANNED A CRIME! Claiming the target for himself before I could even get a riddle written, that’s what he was doing. That’s what you were doing, Brown. Ask him if he actually HAS a crime planned, ‘Lina. Just ask him. He doesn’t.”
“I do too.”
“He does not. He—”
“Enough! Brown, you’ll pay Eddie thirty percent of whatever you get out of Bergdorf’s, and something colorful for me. Carolina Herrera is on the fourth floor, Emilio Pucci is on three. Size eight. No ruffles.”
Arthur Brown started to object, but something about Nigma’s smirk coupled with Catwoman’s “talk to the claw” gesture combined halfway down his throat to produce a defeated grimace.
“Thirty percent,” he said, locking eyes with Nigma. “Size eight,” he confirmed without turning to Catwoman.
“Meow. I’ve got your tab tonight. Tell Sly on your way out.”
It was a dismissal, and Arthur Brown took it as such. Riddler remained at Catwoman’s table. As soon as they were alone, the mood shifted to informal Eddie-and-Selina camaraderie.
“You know we’ll never see a penny of that,” she stated frankly.
“Of course not. All he does is recycle other people’s shtick and hope we won’t notice.”
“Not to mention, half the crap he rips off wasn’t any good the first time,” she agreed.
“Nope. There’s not a thing that petty little brain could come up with that the Bat won’t see coming miles away.”
“And how. Not that he’d bother. Palm it off on a sidekick or let GCPD have a go.”
They both nodded, satisfied, and went on to happier topics.
“What did those Falcone boys want before? I saw them sitting at your table when I came in.”
“Oh that,” Selina rolled her eyes. “They took over some motel by the expressway. You know what those guys are like: some poor ass with a gambling habit eventually gets in too deep, and the mom and pop restaurant, cab company, or travel agency they own becomes a mob restaurant, cab company, or travel agency. Usually they run it themselves, but for some reason, the Roman decided it would be more lucrative to sell off their interest in this one.”
“And they came to you? Why? Is it the Cat Scratch Motel or something?”
“Nope. The Lazy Sue, and don’t even bother trying to find any meaning in that. It’s a test: they want to see if I’m acquisitive, like another mob boss would be, or theme-minded like Oswald was.”
Eddie considered this, scrunching his lips to the side as his eyes rolled up to regard the top right corner of the ceiling while his brain raced through the possibilities, indexed, and cross-referenced them. Finally, deciding there was nothing in it for him, either as a Bat-scheme opportunity or as riddle fodder, he sipped his drink and turned back to Selina.
“Okay, a STOLEN FACET. But why test you now? Oswald will be sprung soon enough and the Iceberg will be back in business.”
“They probably don’t realize that. That sort tends to underestimate us, haven’ t you noticed? And besi—What the hell is going on down there?”
There had been a growing rumble of voices, which periodically crescendoed into a not quite discernable cheer or toast. Selina and Eddie left their booth along the back wall of the VIP room and leaned over the rail to peer down into the main room. There was a cluster of men around the bar, at least half with their glasses raised.
“Tuesday the 22nd,” Eddie remarked. “They’re remembering Harvey.”
“Hard not to. Tuesday the 22nd, ‘Lina. How can you not think of him? Sip some wine, raise a toast. Nobody could hogtie a sidekick like old Harv. Or pistol-whip a security guard. Or—”
“Eddie, he’s not dead.”
“Good old Harvey.”
As if in response, the grumbling mass below raised their glasses again and solemnly murmured their remembrance.
“And nobody could... k-hem... ‘handle’ Pammy quite like Harv did either,” Eddie added.
Again, the mob around the bar seemed to murmur their agreement as if they’d actually heard the conversation.
At first, Selina chuckled. Then, as the grim tribute continued below, she began to realize that she seldom saw Harvey since his healing. She really should do something about that. It wasn’t right to lose touch with a friend just because he was…
“He will be missed,” Eddie said solemnly.
“Edward, shut up.”
“Look at that, even the Falcones are joining in. Well, it figures. Nobody could shoot up a Maroni safehouse like old Harv, either.”
Despite the late start, patrol was proceeding satisfactorily. The sweep of Robinson Park, while primarily due to Poison Ivy’s release from Arkham, had turned up a drug dealer and a potential mugger. The sweep of Riverside Park uncovered a burglar casing the townhouses on Riverside Drive. A lucky coincidence checking on a possible Scarecrow hideout put him in the right place at the right time to head off a gang dispute over a prime corner. Interrogating that scum produced a lead which, forwarded to the GCPD, was even now resulting in the raid of a downtown meth lab. So far, so good.
Except for this turn onto Bleeker and 82nd… the Second National Bank.
Batman permitted himself a chuckle. Tuesday the 22nd, the old subroutine still tagged a number of dates and day-date combinations to anticipate criminals obsessed with the calendar: Julian Day, Madame Zodiac, Two-Face…
He would have to modify the programs to eliminate the Two-Face dates.
And he should call Harvey. It had been a while since they’d been in touch.
Contrary to the wisdom of Three Dog Night, Harvey Dent always felt that TWO was the loneliest number. After the acid, when he was alone, he was two, and there was no worse isolation. Being alone with Two-Face meant being a lone voice of decency surrounded by all that was corrupt and vindictive and hateful.
Being all alone by yourself was one thing. Being all alone in a crowd was infinitely worse. But being all alone with only one other when that other was the opposite of all you were and all you believed in, there could be no worse isolation than that.
Now, his face healed, Harvey liked solitude. He liked being ONE. He liked being alone in his head, even if it was only sipping a scotch for a few minutes while Angela Vraag kept him waiting.
At least… he always had enjoyed It, before today. His thoughts had drifted to the past before; everyone’s did. But his memories had never conjured an actual ghost before.
Unless he really had seen it. What if he hadn’t imagined it? What if it wasn’t a figment of boredom, memory, and repressed rage? What if he really was back?
To be continued...