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Mrs. Wayne by Chris Dee

Part 2: One-PP

 

The story as Jim Gordon understood it was that his Uncle Bernie neglected his teeth.  At the age of 49, he had to undergo a series of deep cleanings that left his gums so vulnerable that he had to see the dentist every two months for the rest of his life.  As far as Gordon was concerned, the moral was not one of oral hygiene.  He’d made a mistake.  His lapse of judgment wasn’t malicious and it wasn’t criminal, but he’d had his stubborn, short-sighted head up his ass and it cost him a job he loved more than he knew, a job that defined him and gave him purpose more than he ever understood until it was too late.  Now that he had it back, he would never neglect the politics again, and like Uncle Bernie, he accepted that simply brushing twice a day like he should have been doing all along wasn’t enough.  Extra effort was required, and would always be required of him now, because of that ancient mistake.

Politics mattered.  He was appointed by a mayor who was elected, served at the pleasure of a mayor who was elected, and that mayor would ultimately face the judgment of that electorate on the appointment and on his continued support.  As much as it might please Jim’s ego to imagine himself “above politics,” he wasn’t.  He was part of a system that answered to the people, and twice a month he faced a dental cleaning in the form of these breakfast meetings with the mayor.

All their previous meetings were held at City Hall, but today Gordon had been summoned to the residence on the upper east side.  No reason was given for the change.  His DCPI thought maybe it was a power play, but if so it was poorly conceived.  The mansion security was all GCPD.  Gordon had walked in behind a school tour, into a lobby of his own men who were called to attention—“Ten-hut!”—as he was recognized.  The children queued up to pass through security were young enough to be excited by the moment of drama and his curt salute of acknowledgement.  It wasn’t a bad beginning—for him.  It was a terrible start for the mayor if his aim was intimidation. 

That agenda seemed less likely, however, as an aide appeared to walk him upstairs.  She mentioned they were going to the famous dining room with the Zuber wallpaper where Mayor Capek had breakfast with former Mayor Hill in the iconic photograph—which she pointed to as they passed it. 

Entering that famous room with its celebrated wallpaper depicting a historic scene in a French garden, there was no assembly of staff like when Gordon was shown into the office at City Hall and no chorus of awkward “good mornings” from that staff masking the transition from talking about him behind his back to talking about him to his face.

Instead only one person stood over the mayor.  In place of “good morning” it was “Jim, you know Deputy Mayor Janson, don’t you?” and “Yeah, we worked together when Luthor visited the UN last time he was in Gotham.”

Gordon thought about that as he settled in.  If this was an intimidation game, Mayor Capek was subtler than Gordon gave him credit for.  Shortly before Gordon was forced to resign, then-President Luthor had produced a blistering indictment of crime in Gotham, laying the blame on Gordon by name.  If this was Capek’s way of introducing the events that led to his resignation…  But then Janson was dismissed, and the subject introduced as she left had nothing to do with that unpleasant history.  Quite the contrary:

“Was good seeing you at the Wayne wedding” Capek said with a campaign smile.  “I hadn’t exactly forgotten your ties to the family, but eh, I guess it wasn’t exactly at the forefront of my thinking.  Caught me off guard.  The last wedding they had out there was your daughter, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Gordon said, his usual gruff delivery masking his unease.  Where was this going?

“Your daughter, Wayne’s son.  That family dinner before I asked you back.  Mr. Wayne thinks very highly of you.”

“It’s mutual,” Gordon said evenly, when the conversation was interrupted by a waiter and decisions about eggs and toast.  Even in private, the mayor ate like a focus group was watching: one egg poached, with spinach, avocado and salmon. 

When they were alone again, the conversation followed more usual topics until the food arrived: the overdue increase in the GCPD pension, the Second Tour Fund for officers forced to retire after in-the-line injuries… Until the food was brought and the waiter left.  Then another abrupt change of subject nearly caused Gordon to choke on his toast:

“So how’s Batman doing?”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, Catwoman got married; he can’t be happy about it.  Headlines everywhere you look.  How’s he doing?”

“I, I really don’t—” Gordon sputtered.

“C’mon, Jim, you two are supposed to be friends.  I know you had the signal lit every night this week.  You’re an observant man.”

“Mr. Mayor, Batman is indeed my friend.  And if he confided in me or if I observed anything of a personal nature, my friend would certainly deserve better than to have me yapping about it as social currency.”

“Of course, of course, loyalty is a fine thing,” came the smooth, easy-going reply—followed by a long, sharp inhale that could be taken as a thoughtful regrouping, a regretful sigh, or really whatever the listener wanted it to be.

Eating with a politician is hell, Gordon thought, before reminding himself this was his remedial dental cleaning and he brought it on himself.  He took a sip of coffee while the mayor went on talking.

“I’ll just say that, the next time you talk to him, you keep in mind that it’s a tough fiscal year and those pension hikes have to be paid for.  Gotham City enjoys—and is frankly dependent on—over $30 billion in tourism revenue.  Batman is a big part of that, and so is the impression that the city is safe.”

“The city is safe,” Gordon answered like a reflex.

“The safest big city in America,” Capek announced with campaign zeal before the smile snapped off and he concluded dryly.  “From a tourism perspective, that’s the second-most important thing to it being perceived as such.”

It was Gordon’s turn to sigh, the non-politician variety that couldn’t be taken as anything but.  The conversation again turned to neutral topics, and try as he might, Gordon could come up with no explanation for the change of venue other than the appalling notion that his personal stock had gone up since the wedding.  Because he was Barbara’s father.  And because, through her, he had an in at Wayne Manor.  Capek’s next words confirmed it:

“About your son-in-law, that tech initiative he worked on…” 

Awe and revulsion fought behind Gordon’s eyes as he listened in fascinated horror as the mayor explained Deputy Janson had been poking around the 29th Precinct and Major Case getting feedback, not on the pilot program’s success, but how the men involved felt about Dick Grayson. 

“You know how many brought up the nepotism issue?   Nobody.  Not one.  And when we asked about the family connection in case somehow they didn’t know, nobody cared.  Kid would make a hell of a politician, because that’s a hard one to pull off.”

“He was on the force in Bludhaven,” Gordon said bluntly.  “The men respect that.”

“So do I.  I respect what he accomplished without ruffling feathers.  I’d like you to use him again, for something more high profile.  Something that will ruffle feathers, I imagine...” 

 

Back at One Police Plaza, the elevator door opened on the fourteenth floor to reveal Gordon’s aide Carol and his Deputy Commissioner of Public Information standing to face him like the ghostly twins in The Shining.

“Sir,” said Carol, her grim nod doing nothing to dispel the sense of horror film foreboding.

“Good morning,” he said pleasantly, and then with an even cheerier smile for DCPI Marks.  “Why are you lurking by the elevator?” 

“I’m not lurking, I am just standing—”

“You lurking always means bad news or a plea to keep my mouth shut,” Gordon insisted. 

“We should go into your office,” Marks said quietly.

“Then why meet me at the elevator in the first place?” Gordon grumbled as they walked.

“It’s not exactly ‘bad news;’ it’s something that you should be aware of.”

“So it has the potential to be bad news, but we’re not there yet,” Gordon said like one who’d had this conversation a thousand times.  “No public statement at this time, but you’ll be monitoring the situation.”

“Not… exactly.”  The hesitation was unusual.  After the initial warble, Marks went on in his rapid-fire press briefing rhythm: “I appreciate that many of the issues I bring you fall into certain categories, and this does have some familiar elements.  But there’s a twist, a semi-personal one.  So can we talk in your office?”

By this time they had reached the office door, and Gordon looked to Carol who had veered off towards her desk. 

“The annual firearms discharge report is on your desk,” she told him.  “You’ve got a deep dive into it with the chiefs at 2:30.  If you want to review the material beforehand, it’s now or miss Compstat, and you cannot miss Compstat.”

Gordon’s shoulder’s slumped just enough to be noticed by his colleagues who were, after all, seasoned detectives.

“Because Harbor and Transit are in the hot seat today and I’ve missed the last four times Harbor was in the hot seat.  Can’t have them thinking they’re the unwanted step child,” he grumbled and turned to Marks. “You’ve got ten minutes, not eleven.”

Gordon hated Marks following him into his office this way.  He liked to have five minutes to settle in, review his schedule for the day, get a cup of coffee, and breathe before Hurricane Marks blew in with specifics on how people despised the police this time.  It wasn’t the news itself; it was the tone.  Aggrieved, as if it was some shortcoming in Gordon that made his DCPI’s job so difficult.  He once told him “You know, Ron, if there was a world so perfect that everybody liked us, they wouldn’t need police in the first place.”  Today, however, he just sank into his chair and said “Okay, hit me.”

“Major Case is taking over a possible homicide on platform 7 at Grand Central.”

“And why is Major Case involved if it’s only a possible?” Gordon interrupted.

“It’s down as a possible because of the camera angle.  Video only shows the guy falling onto the tracks and the hit.  You can’t see if he fell or jumped.”

“Or was pushed?” Gordon nodded, trying to move the story along.

“Exactly.  First assumption was accident or suicide, until they identified him.  Alan Seevers, no ICE on his person so they went into his apartment to track down a next of kin.  Apparently the guy is the center of an internet shitstorm.  One of those where he said something offensive and has been getting death threats for a couple of days.”

“I see.  And on Day Three or Four he takes a header onto the subway.”

“Yes, but that’s not why this got bumped to Major Case.  The stupid thing he said that set it off was about Femi Molokhya, the viola prodigy from the Wayne wedding.”

“The little girl?  She’s ten.”

“And female and a person of color and about forty percent of Twitter says she’s Muslim.”

“Monstrous.  They still don’t get to throw the guy in front of a train.”

“Obviously, but these comments did reference her getting the gig at the Wayne wedding and that her Stradivarius is on loan from the Wayne Foundation. That opens the possibility of interviews at the Foundation or Wayne Manor.  A light touch is required, and Detective Rowanski has a track record there.”

“I see.”

“Mrs. Wayne is still on her honeymoon, of course.  But the butler will be at the house.  Between him and the staff at the Foundation, I’m sure Rowanski can get what he needs to fill in the blanks without ruffling any feathers.”

“All right, I think I get the gist.  Keep me posted,” Gordon said and checked his watch.  “Two minutes to spare.  You’re improving, Marks.”

 

Gordon felt guilty.  There were only two items on his schedule after Compstat that could be cancelled: a photo op with the Mexican ambassador or a press conference on an officer’s body cam malfunctioning.  Sending a deputy or one of the chiefs to a photo op the ambassador herself requested would be a slight, and when he then appeared at a press conference an hour later, the slight could easily become an insult.  Sending Marks to take his place at a press conference, on the other hand, that was his job.  So there was no question which change to make, but Jim still couldn’t help but feel guilty it was the glam appearance he kept and the apt-to-turn-unpleasant press conference he was staffing out. 

This morning’s dental cleaning extended a few hours, he told himself as he smiled that photo-ready smile that felt so very guilty.

Particularly because the ambassador asked for the meeting “to thank him for the GCPD’s help in her country,” which, okay, technically they “helped.”  But it was Batman who noticed Ruiz’s accent was from the Oaxaca region and said he was probably sicario, a hitman for one of the drug cartels.  Gordon’s men had followed up, filled in a few blanks and made a phone call.  He couldn’t help but feel guilty grinning and shaking hands, acknowledging all of that gratitude for an accomplishment Batman handed him giftwrapped with a bow.  He told Dick as much when they sat down in the peaceful privacy of his office while DCPI Marks was down in the press room facing the hoard.   

After a few pleasantries, Gordon got down to business: The tech initiative Dick had driven was an unqualified success.  The “polling” was superb within the department, and that was noticed at City Hall.  The support was there to pursue something bigger. 

“You know there’s tension any time we work with federal agencies.  The FBI in particular can be… tactless for a supposed behavioral unit.  Not a lot of situational awareness that they’re coming into our city, the streets where we live, citizens we protect…”

“I’m familiar with the pattern,” Dick said.  “Though the local force’s reaction isn’t that different from the early attitude towards costumes.  When the feds come, they are here to help.  It’s not necessary to see it as a turf war.” 

“The cop on the job is never going to welcome an outsider whose very presence implies he needs help.”

“He does,” Dick said simply.  “The feds don’t come in for closed cases, Commissioner.” 

Gordon considered this.  Maybe it was impossible for a vigilante to see the situation entirely from the police point of view.  He wished he’d realized that before making the approach, but it was too late to find a better one now.

“My job is to stand behind my men,” he said firmly.  “Give them more of a home field advantage when these joint operations come up.  Right now, anything we do with the FBI is out of their Gotham Field Office in Federal Plaza.  Have you been there?  The lobby makes the Drake Building look like an Indian deli on 10th.  So we’re building a Joint Operations Center right here in One-PP.”

Dick let out a whistle.

“Sounds impressive,” he admitted.

“It’s meant to be.  FBI, DEA, Homeland, anyone coming to work with us, they’ll do it in our house.  Gotham will be one of only three cities to have a center like this.  Metropolis and Los Angeles are building theirs, but we can catch up and launch first—with your help.”

“Ah, ah I see,” Dick nodded.  “Commissioner, when you asked for that pilot program you talked about a perspective I have connected to that signal on the roof.  One thing I bring with that, particularly with regard to technology, are three letters: F. G. C.  Fast.  Good.  Cheap.  You can have any two.  Fast and cheap, it’s going to be buggy, low quality, not what you want in this line of work.  Cheap and good, it’s possible but it will take a long, long time.  Right now, you are talking about advanced tech to be used for critical law enforcement operations, meant to impress, and you want it fast.  That’s going to be very, very—”

“Expensive,” Gordon said with an evil cherub smile.  “More expensive than one normally associates with city operations, even in Gotham.  Richard, the mayor wants this, and as soon as I tell him you’ve said yes, he’s going to be on the phone with the governor who will also want it.  Their motives are different.  They’re thinking of Gotham’s prestige, and that’s fine, because it means the money is there.  Draw up the budget, whatever you need.  The money will be there.”

Dick laughed and shook his head unbelievingly.

“You know what you’re doing, right?  You’re getting into a… I don’t want to call it a tech war or a… measuring… contest, but, let’s say a spectacle of marshalled technical power and display.  A competitive spectacle with a man who does not lose contests of that kind.  And you’re pulling me into it as an accessory before the fact.”

Gordon laughed.  That aspect hadn’t occurred to him, and he found it very, very funny.

 

The routine on Bat-signal nights was that Gordon’s assistant Carol would stay until an hour after sunset.  At 6:30 she would place an order from Shanghai Luk.  She and Gordon would eat at their respective desks or together in his office, depending on how much he needed to prepare.  Tonight there were only a few files to load onto his tablet: the surveillance video from the subway and a preliminary crime scene report.  Neither was even relevant to those aspects of the case he was bringing to Batman’s attention, but Gordon told Carol it was a complicated situation and he wanted to review all the witness statements before briefing the Dark Knight.

He hated lying, but all he really wanted was to be alone.  He had to tell Batman that a case touched on Bruce Wayne’s life—a monumentally important event in Bruce Wayne’s life—and that required a mental pep talk you couldn’t do with someone in the room who didn’t know who he was behind the mask. 

The Bat’s arrival was prompt, as it had been every night since the wedding.  Gordon suspected that, being human, he was starting early so he would finish early and could go home to his wife.  They discussed the smuggling case: Cobblepot had cleaned out the warehouse where Batman fought the cassowaries and there was no hint where the stuff had gone.  A three-precinct task force was following leads in the Bronx, East Harlem and the East End, but without much hope of success. 

Then Gordon cleared his throat and explained about Alan Seevers.

“…so either Detective Rowanski went out to the manor today when he finished at the Foundation, or he will tomorrow.  I confess I haven’t seen the repor—”

“Today.  Alfred called us,” Batman said curtly. 

“Then you know more than I do,” Gordon said.  “I haven’t heard yet what he found but I know this: Edward Nigma went up to that girl after the ceremony, and unless I’m a very poor judge of body language, he complimented her performance and she greeted him like a familiar friend.  Any chance he was behind Selina giving her the Strad?” 

“Maybe,” Batman admitted.  Then after a pause he continued “But Nigma’s pathology hasn’t changed.  If his attachment to that family is such that he’d find it necessary to avenge an insult on Twitter—which I doubt—he would still have to announce it with a riddle.  And throwing the guy into a train isn’t his style.”

Gordon nodded.

“I’m glad to hear you say it.  That was my sense too, but I still wanted to ask… No.  No, we’re not going to start lying to each other now.  I knew coming up here that there was no way in hell the Riddler was behind this.  Like you said, he’d have to leave a riddle.  I guess I had to know if we could talk about it.  About her, now that she’s Mrs. Wayne.  Everything she’s tied to, Nigma and the rest of it, if it was off-limits.”

“It hasn’t been a problem so far, has it, Jim?”

“No, but… there was a wedding.  Dancing and a cake.  I wanted to make sure.” 

 

Chief of Department Kevin Jaffey had marched grimly past the bronze statue of “The Guardian” that was a gift from the City of Dublin honoring 140 years of Irish immigrants and descendants entering the GCPD.  He took a swift turn into DCPI Marks’s office and closed the door.  One and one-half minutes later, the door opened again and the two of them were on their way to see Gordon.

“One of our guys working the Seevers case got his nose broken interviewing a suspect,” Jaffey began. “You hit a cop, break his nose, that’s felony assault.  It’s a high bail.”

“Which the perp immediately began tweeting about,” Marks took over.  “The blogosphere is turning out think pieces at the rate of four per hour.”

“On the subject of?” Gordon asked.

“Attack on free speech, criminalization of speech, police state suppression of the people word salad kind of thing.  No sense to it beyond ‘Seevers insulted a Muslim girl; Seevers is bad.  It’s good that he’s dead so cops investigating his death are bad, so hitting them is good and going to jail for it is bad.

“Should I put out a statement, get out in front of it?” Marks asked.

“Give the DA first crack,” Gordon said.  “If he doesn’t bite, give it a day.  If it hasn’t died down, get back to me.”

“I hate to say it, boss, there is no chance it’s dying down.  Rowanski says every one of the death threats they tracked down, the ones that are local, not one of them expressed any kind of remorse, not one.  The guy they threatened is dead and they’re a suspect standing face to face with a homicide detective, all they can say is he had it coming.  Can you believe that?”

“I can,” Gordon pronounced grimly.  “Understanding consequences isn’t exactly a strength with these people, especially the consequences of words.  I do understand, and that’s why we’re not going to make some clever move that backfires.  They’re shocked there’s a high bail when they commit a felony?  Let the D.A. explain it to them; it’s his job.  We’re done talking.”

 

They were done talking, for three days.  The Citizens’ Defense League posted bail for the nose-breaking blogger, their president Alexis Darnley stood next to him in a video meant for the evening news but disseminated on social media when the local stations didn’t give them the coverage they wanted.  A day later the CDL invited Gordon to attend their annual awards dinner and he declined, escalating the tension with Marks.

“It’s a legitimate civil rights organization,” Marks insisted.

“For tax purposes,” Gordon shot back.  “Anyone capable of seeing past the self-serving spin of a press release knows they’re a radical, bottom-feeding fringe group that raises its money vilifying the cops.” 

“Jim, I know you don’t like these people and their politics—”

Liking has nothing to do with—”

“But you can’t make the politics go away just because you don’t like it—”

“This is politics too,” Gordon said soberly.  “35,000 officers in this department who are my constituents.  I can’t do my job without their support, I can’t do my job without their loyalty, and I can’t expect that if I put their interests in a drawer whenever it’s inconvenient.  That lunatic broke an officer’s nose in three places.  Paying his bail and standing beside him for a victory lap that’s then plastered all over the internet, that’s a calculated insult.  Final answer on the dinner: No.” 

That night, Gordon came down from the Bat-signal to find his assistant waiting.

“Punch me out, Carol.  You too,” he said, wondering at the hours the girl put in.  They were no longer than his, but at her age, she must have better options.

“DCPI Marks and Chief Jaffey asked me to keep you,” Carol announced.  Her tone was grim.  When he asked why, she said only that they were on their way up.

After the preliminaries, Jaffey spoke like the reluctant prophet in a Greek tragedy.

“About a half hour ago, Alexis Darnley, president of the Citizens’ Defense League, was shot coming out of a restaurant on the East End.  She was DOA at the scene.” 

 

One of the perks of being police commissioner was a security detail who were his subordinates and whom he could therefore order down the street to get a cup of coffee whenever he wanted to do something on his own.  He didn’t flex that muscle often, but he did this morning in the parking lot near a French kosher bakery on his old beat. 

Not much had changed: The place was all but empty at this time of day.  One customer was leaving as he came in.  An elderly black woman sat alone at a table facing the window, one of the neighborhood regulars who were a fixture in the place.  The man behind the counter, judging by the eyes and brow, was Daniela’s son, or possibly her grandson.  The only other patron was Detective Rowanski, sitting at the farthest table from the door with nothing but a cup of coffee despite the smell of baking pastry and a display case of temptation.  He wasn’t drinking the coffee, just sitting like he’d been summoned to the principal’s office—until he saw Gordon and then he half-stood in greeting before Jim could tell him to sit.

“I’m sorry for all the intrigue, Detective.  I didn’t want to call you up to my office; word gets around.  Worse if I came down to Major Case myself.  But I wanted to talk privately, off the record.”

“Of course, sir,” Rowanski said, the formality of the reply making him hard to read.

“I’m going to get us a couple rolls,” Gordon said, getting up to go to the counter.  Hopefully, having a minute to process he wasn’t in the principal’s office would get Rowanski to relax, and if it didn’t, at least there would be warm rolls.

“I was hoping you could fill me in on the Seevers-Darnley case before this latest development,” he said when they got down to business, and Rowanski nodded.

“Well, sir, up until a few months ago Alan Seevers wasn’t remarkable.  Caucasian, heavyset, with the hypertension and heart condition that go with it, salesman for a brick-and-mortar chain that was fighting a lost battle against online competition.  Before two years ago, his social media was full of his favorite pizza place, his mother, and some light sci-fi: Star Trek and Star Wars, not what you’d call a hardcore geek.  Then about two years ago he started getting into these quarrels online.  Started out semi-reasonable, rage quit a few times when it got ugly, deleted the account and went back after a day.  The tone changed when he lost his job.  The company went under, since then he picks up this and that.  Personal opinion: the guy’s struggling, he saw a kid with a brilliant future getting all the breaks, a glamorous write-up in the paper playing a society wedding, he snapped and said something dumb.  Thought the better of it, deleted the tweets, but somebody’d already taken a screenshot.  The thing went viral and he’s been getting all the hate.  I hadn’t ruled out suicide before Darnley was shot last night.”

Gordon took it in.  “That part of the investigation was underway before you were brought in, correct?”

“That’s right.  Detectives Dobbs and Mattigan, Midtown North.  They got the story off his computer: private messages from his inbox, then a deep dive into the threats and insults that were delivered publicly.  Cyber identified the ones who are local; they finished the interviews yesterday.”   

“And you were brought in for the Wayne angle.  How did that go?” Gordon asked.

“Just basic information, sir.  Getting a complete picture.  Never expected to turn up anything, but you know how it is.  If the press got wind of it, Dobbs and Mattigan don’t need the nightmare.  Wayne is one of the mayor’s biggest supporters.”

Gordon nodded.  “Following dead ends just to prove they’re dead ends is a big part of the job, but you’ll never get the press to accept that as long as the Wayne name sells papers.  Still, it has to be done.”

“So according to the woman at the Foundation, Selina Wayne drove the whole thing.  Foundation booked a performance room on the Upper West Side and sent the invitation to this Femi Molokhya on their letterhead, but it was all at Mrs. Wayne’s direction.  She ran the girl’s interview, had two Foundation people with her, Erica and Lewis something…” he retrieved his phone and read from his notes, “from the Cultural Arts division, worked with her on the Man’s Reach commissions, that Kyray guy.  Sounds like she ran that too, by the way.  She’s no fish out of water with those people. 

“Anyway, they confirmed Femi was the only artist considered for the Strad.  The late Mr. Seevers wasn’t exactly wrong about that, but it’s not like there was a competition where other candidates thought they were in the running when the fix was in.”

“That was the kind of thing Seevers charged?”

“Not really, when he touched on Mrs. Wayne it was more about her motivation: ‘fashionable box-checking,’ ‘virtue signaling,’ you know the kind of thing.”  He shook his head.  “Then I went out to the manor, checked with the butler just to confirm Seevers hadn’t shown up when the girl performed at the wedding or anything like that.  He hadn’t.  The butler—”

“Mr. Pennyworth,” Gordon mentioned softly.

“Eh, yes, Mr. Pennyworth said Femi’s father drove her to the rehearsal dinner, and the Foundation people said he also brought her to the audition.  He’s a cabbie, was taking a fare out to JFK when Seevers went in front of the train.  Little bit of attitude giving his alibi, but it’s understandable.  Egyptian, second-generation, had to have taken his share of crap under stop-and-frisk.”

Gordon cleared his throat.

“Did Pennyworth mention how Selina came to know about Molokhya.  The audition, interview, whatever you call it was obviously a formality.”

“Well, I did ask,” Rowanski said bashfully.  “Have you ever questioned an English butler, Commissioner?”

Gordon failed to hide his smile.  He could imagine Alfred shutting down any line of inquiry that trod on Bruce and Selina’s privacy. 

“Feels like you’ve gone a few rounds with Joe Louis, doesn’t it?” Gordon said.

“If he was channeling Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth and Gandalf,” Rowanski laughed. 

Gordon handed over a card with his private line and told Rowanski to keep in touch. 

 

Gordon and Rowanski met at the bake shop once a week as the killings continued…  Alexis Darnley, aka Victim 2 and president of the Citizens’ Defense League was followed by Jill Donaldson, a pharmaceuticals executive and Clay Singer, a freelance photographer. 

“Shot on the corner of West End Avenue, buying a pretzel.  Single shot to the head, guy in a hoodie,” Rowanski said, speeding through the details Gordon would have gleaned from the written report.  “Ballistics confirm it’s the same .22 that killed Darnley and Donaldson.  And once again, camera’s got nothing: back of his head, hood up.  He’s tall.  Digital perspective analysis puts him at 6’3, 6’4.  That’s all we’ve got.”

“You’ve got more than that.  He’s studied the placement of the surveillance cameras to avoid detection, what does that tell you?”

“That he’s intelligent, pre-surveils,” Rowanski nodded.  “And he’s bold.  Crowded street corner at midday, a subway platform, sidewalk outside a trendy restaurant, he’s not shy about striking right in front of people.  Knows just how to play it.  A .22 isn’t that loud, not on a busy corner with all that traffic or on a subway platform over the trains; I doubt anybody hears the shot.  It’s over in a flash; his stride is calm and confident, walking away.  He’s gone before anyone knows what’s happened.”

“What about your vic 4?” Gordon asked.

“He was a tabloid photographer; up until recently sold mostly to the Post and the Ledger.  He crossed the wrong celeb, something about a picture in a nightclub.  Glass of champagne, powder on the table, caption says she’s three months pregnant.  Turns out it was an old picture.  The guy who wrote the caption was settling a score, inter-company politics.  I guess his rival does a lot of stories on this chick.  So now that guy’s on his way out, and since Singer is tied to him, he won’t be seeing many more paydays from the Post.  He takes to Twitter and starts badmouthing the pregnant actress.  You can guess how that went.”

“Another vic who was feeding divisions on the internet,” Gordon noted.

“I think there’s something else tying these crimes together,” Rowanski said, paging through his folder.  “I haven’t brought this to my C.O. yet, Commissioner, but I’m working on a theory I really hate.”  He and extracted a printed crime scene photo…

 

…and handed it to Batman, who turned to view it in the brighter light of the Bat-signal.  KAZAR was stamped onto the side of the pretzel cart where Clay Singer was shot.  The next showed AKAZARI chalked onto a stop sign where Jill Donaldson was gunned down.  EBRAH was scrawled on a pack of matches dropped outside the restaurant where Alexis Darnley was killed. And finally CHARAH was graffiti’d onto the platform where Alan Seevers was thrown in front of the subway. 

“Graffiti is easy to overlook,” Gordon reported dryly.  “Rowanski was trying to figure out why the first victim wasn’t shot.  If the perp was experimenting, finding his way with his first kill, or if it was a spur of the moment decision when he heard the train coming.  And if it was a spur of the moment change, how a perp could be so unbelievably lucky to act on an impulse that way and remain completely off camera.

“So Rowanski went down there himself to stand right where the killer stood and see how visible the camera was, and that’s when he noticed it.  There isn’t a lot of graffiti, but what’s there is all under some amount of dirt, salt stains, water stains, gum… All except that word.  ‘Charah…’”

Batman looked at the photo intently. 

The only thing on top of it is Seevers’ blood,” he graveled.

“All the shootings occurred after Rowanski was on the case, so he’d photo-mapped those crime scenes—with Dick’s process, as a matter of fact—and now that he knew what he was looking for, he went over them with a fine-toothed come, found the rest.  He tells me the words are Hebrew.”

Ebrah is used when a river overflows its banks,” Batman said darkly.  “A force of considerable destructive power that can no longer be contained.  Akazari from the root kazar, in this context, is cruelty.  Charon from the root charah… is wrath, the raging wrath-fire of God.” 

“Hardcore crazy,” Jim summarized.  “Not exactly a revelation when it comes to serial killers, but it doesn’t hurt to have specifics.”

“When does the FBI get involved?”

“Three hours ago.  I’ve been having unofficial ‘conversations’ with the field office since Singer.  Four bodies, it was only a matter of time.  I had to make it my decision before it became theirs.  Special Agent Gwynn is running point, for now.  But if we don’t crack this before there’s a fifth vic, she’ll call in the BAU from Washington and we’ll be looking at a full FBI-GCPD taskforce.” And all that goes with it, his tone added. 

He didn’t want to say what came next. ‘I know you’ve got your hands full—’

—with Cobblepot, and the growing tension between the Latin Kings and the Ghost Dragons
—Tetch and Friez both at large
—Crane and Lynns about to be released
—Joker’s whereabouts unknown for over a month

—Joker’s whereabouts unknown

—Joker’s whereabouts unknown

—Joker’s whereabouts unknown

He couldn’t do it.  With all Batman had on his plate, Gordon simply could not bring himself to ask.

I’ll look over the case file,” came the reassuring gravel.

Relief and shame collided behind Gordon’s eyes, and he turned away hoping the World’s Greatest Detective hadn’t seen.

“I would appreciate that.”

 

“All right, Captain, let’s talk about the surge in push-in robberies.  Your precinct was at a historic year-to-year high the last time we talked, now your numbers are down considerably. How did you nail down that spike?”

Gordon tuned it out.  The Compstat hot seat or ‘firing squad,’ was a process best left to the chiefs.  When he asked questions himself, the dynamic changed, and for weeks after C.O.s would be grilled on the topics he introduced rather than where the Chiefs’ natural reading of the numbers led. There were two masters in Tactical Police Strategies in the room and a Ph.D. in Restorative Justice in Urban Policing.  Best to let them follow their own minds on the statistics while he studied everything besides what was being said.  If a C.O. was relaxed, defensive, or smug discussing his performance, it told Gordon more than the numbers themselves.

Today he was less interested in Captain Hudson, a cop’s cop as justly confident in his record as anyone of his rank—

“I employed a two-tier strategy.  My anti-crime units gave it special attention, and I started a robbery task force.  Picked out my youngest, sharpest officers.  Seems to be working…”

—as he was in the men questioning him.  The chiefs were not comfortable in this room.  Since Commissioner Muskelli’s day, the semi-weekly Compstat meetings had been held in a special room made for the purpose: the C.O. being grilled stood behind a podium, a large screen behind him displaying the computer-generated pin map of his precinct illustrating where and when crimes occured and other relevant statistics.  The chiefs sat at the half of a long table facing him, giving rise to the firing squad moniker.  Behind the chiefs, three cubicles with multi-screen workstations could be manned by any of their aides, studying the compiled data of crimes, victims, times of day, and other details that pointed to emerging trends.  These aides might pop up at any time, bringing their boss a slip of paper with a relevant statistic which would manifest in a new line of questioning as dramatic as a surprise witness in a courtroom drama.

It was intimidating as hell for the C.O., particularly when Gordon came into the room.  With no place for him at the table, he would stand with any other observers in the back, backlit by an emergency light and “ominous as Death” according to second-hand descriptions. 

But drama aside, the single screen was inefficient, and the cubicles and assistants pointless now that the data was on the GCPD website and any citizen, including the chief’s aides or the chiefs themselves, could compare May and June burglaries in the 28th Precinct at any time just by pulling a drop-down menu. 

So Gordon had declared the Compstat Room “a goddamned uni-tasker” and re-allocated the space for the Joint Operations Center.  He moved Compstat meetings to the Command Center where there were more screens: eight of them surrounding the table on three sides, and therefore more data—right down to a live feed from a traffic camera in Hudson’s precinct.  There was also space for Gordon himself.  Whether he was there or not, none of the chiefs would occupy his place at the head of the table.  The C.O. on the hot seat stood at the far end opposite him, undercutting the firing squad atmosphere as the chiefs had to turn to face him.  The C.O.s liked it better, but the chiefs were still adjusting.

The ordeal ended, for Captain Hudson.  Gordon checked his phone while Lieutenant Rodriguez was ushered in to defend her clearance rate.  A text had come in and his brow knit as he saw it was from Rowanski. 

The time for clandestine briefings in bake shops had passed, and Gordon called down to Major Case to have Detective Rowanski meet him in the nascent Joint Operations Center.  Dick was there virtually around the clock these days, overseeing final installs and stress tests, and generally just being the supervisory presence needed to get a complex project finished in an impossibly short time.  Gordon invited him to stay, though the techs were dismissed, and while they waited, Dick lamented the Center having to become operational before its official launch.

“I know,” Gordon grimaced, looking around with regret that should have been pride.  “Will make a fine story for the dedication,” he said bitterly, imagining the mayor’s and governor’s smiles.  “The politicians will be over the moon: official opening with a successful joint operation already under its belt… I’m sick about the reason though.”

Gordon repeated what he told Batman about the inevitable circus if there was a fifth victim, and Rowanski entered as if on cue.  He had a number of thick paper files, but Dick asked for his tablet and manually hooked it up to the unfinished docking bay. 

“Now what’s this?  Glass murder board?” Rowanski asked, going up to a long, horizontal pane suspended between metal stands like a transparent whiteboard. 

“Something like that.  You can still tape up mug shots or other evidence like you’d tack them on a murder board.  Write with this,” Dick said, handing the detective a grease pen.  “So it does everything you’re used to, but it can also do this.”  Dick double tapped the glass lightly and a computer window appeared around the spot, a small square of icons indicating surveillance videos. 

“That’s my folder,” Rowanski said, pointing to the tablet.

“You’re here about the subway killer, right?” Dick said, choosing a particular icon and double tapping.  The video of Alan Seevers flying off the platform into the path of the train played within the small square and froze on the first frame of the hit.  Dick adjusted the size of the window as Rowanski told Gordon those were the start and endpoints he’d marked earlier.  Dick took out his own packet of grease pens and wrote “VICTIM 1” over the video window in large red letters, and underlined it.  Below, in black he wrote Seevers name, age and personal details.  Beside that, particulars of Grand Central and Platform 7 and a few still frames from other videos.  He allowed some space and drew a long horizontal, beginning the timeline.  From Seevers details, he drew an arrow and taped up a picture from Rowanski’s folder.  “OF INTEREST” he wrote above the photo and underlined it, and then tapped as the activist’s social feed appeared next to his photo…

“You know your way around a murder board,” Rowanski said admiringly. 

“I, eh, was studying to take the detectives’ exam when I left Bludhaven,” Dick lied.

“Yeah?” Rowanski said.  “The speed you were going, I got the feeling you’d done it a few hundred times.”

Gordon cleared his throat and asked Rowanski to show them what he’d found.  Rowanski selected a new patch of board and double tapped as he’d seen Dick do, bringing up a new window.  He quickly navigated to a new set of crime scene photos: a balding middle-aged man in his underwear was tied to the bedpost in what looked like an ordinary hotel room, the pillow under his head soaked with blood. 

Rowanski said he was Jay Sofok, general counsel for Keystone Records; the room was a corporate suite; anyone from the executive offices could get a key. 

“One GSW side of the head, close range, slug from a .38 Smith and Wesson,” Rowanski concluded.

“Not a .22,” Gordon said.  “Don’t tell me this is the Darnley-Donaldson shooter and he’s changed weapons again.”

“Commissioner, this case is three weeks old,” Rowanski said.  “The guys from the 21st were looking at a corporate angle.  Keystone was one of the record companies being investigated last year, usual sex and drugs allegations, but the CEO got her nose bloodied testifying before Congress thanks to some well-timed leaks.  The late Mr. Sofok was told to find out who was behind it.  He hired a security firm that went all out: tapping employee phones, putting spyware on their computers, the whole thing.  Even following them after hours.  It was a big scandal for about ten minutes about the time the papers were full of that Wayne bachelor party.  ACLU and some privacy groups are still involved, bringing law suits and stuff, but it wasn’t in the news enough to become a thing when Sofok here got whacked.”

“And why are you looking at it for the Darnley-Donaldson killer?” Gordon asked.

He fiddled with the tablet for a few swipes until a different part of the room was visible.  The deceased’s trousers were thrown over a chair under a mirror.  Rowanski enlarged the mirror and reflected on the opposite wall, the reverse of the word “Charon” was clearly visible.

“Same as your subway graffiti,” Gordon said, remembering his conversation with Batman. “Charon from the root charah.  It means the raging wrath-fire of God.  The 21st didn’t chase this?”

“Commissioner, they’ve got a high class hooker they like for the shooter; they’re not looking at scribbles on the wall.  They checked if it was a name, if there was a Charon anywhere in the company.  When it came up empty, they forgot about it.  They’re thinking bring in the hooker, get her to roll on whoever put her up to it.  That’s not here or there. 

“The thing is, I saw this by chance.  The hooker used to be a dancer in Rio so some whackjob from the internet starts making noise. ‘Pity the poor sex worker, she’s an immigrant.’  The DA asked Major Case to take a look, asked my captain, unofficially, as a favor, to look over the file just in case one of those brush fires spring up.  The file was lying open on his desk while we were talking, these pictures were just sitting there and I saw it.  Charon.

“It was dumb luck, Commissioner.   And I realized we have four bodies in three precincts because we happened to see a connection, but if this guy is moving all over town, who knows how many might be out there because the cops working individual cases can’t see the pattern?”

His tone had built to a crusading fervor, and he stopped himself and swallowed.  The transition signaling bad news ahead was unmistakable:

“I pulled homicides from all over the five boroughs, sir, going back a month.  I was up all night looking at crime scene photos.”

“How many?” Gordon rasped.

“Seven, sir.  Eight counting Mr. Sofok.”

 

“EXECUTION STYLE” the Post headline screamed over a frame of the surveillance camera that captured the Murray Hill shooting.  “FEAR COLLAPSES ON THE CITY” the secondary headline read below the image of the hooded figure, his arm extended positioning the gun inches from Jill Donaldson’s head.

Barbara picked up the newspaper in disgust, rolled it into a tube and threw it at her husband like a javelin. 

“Make that disappear,” she ordered.  “My dad’s coming tonight.  These dinners are to get his mind off the nightmare.  We don’t need that laying out reminding him.  You want a conversation starter on the table, make it something… oh I don’t know.”  She looked around the room searching for inspiration.  “Where’s that drone you got, shaped like the Enterprise?”

“The one you told me to get out of this room after I broke the wine glass?” Dick grinned, crossing to give his wife a kiss on the cheek before he dropped the Post into the trash can.  “Babs, I know you want these dinners to be an escape for your dad, but I don’t think it’s realistic.  He needs to decompress, not retreat into a safe space where the Charah Killer won’t be mentioned.”

She pursed her lips.

“Not while we’re eating.  It’s gotten so… ugly out there since the news broke.  I don’t mean just the police scanner; I mean at the library, the line at the ATM, the pizza counter at Whole Foods.  Everywhere you go, people are on edge.”  She took a deep breath.  “I can’t even imagine what it’s like for you guys at night.  I hear it in Bruce’s voice on the comm, but—”

“But he’s not exactly forthcoming with details,” Dick said, completing the thought.  “It’s bad, Babs; what else is there to say?  You want details?  I heard one of the captains tell the feds that requests for gun permits were up two-hundred percent in his precinct.  Two-hundred percent.  In one precinct.  And that’s law abiding citizens who apply for a permit.  The ones who are in a hurry go to their neighborhood guy-who-knows-a-guy, and how do you think Armory Al and Carlos the Glock react when they’re suddenly getting four, five, six, seven new faces a day coming around looking to buy?  The whole city’s about to go off, Babs.  Bruce knows it.  Your father knows it.”

She made an exasperated noise that wasn’t quite a word, wasn’t quite a yell.   The next words came in an angry torrent:

“What do you want from me, Dick?  I’m not trying to save the city, I just want to give my father a few hours away from the powder keg.  He’s got ulcers!”  She stopped, took a breath, and continued in a soft, regretful tone.  “He’s got high blood pressure.”  Then after a pause.  “I’m sorry.”  Another pause and then...  “I pushed him back into that job.” 

“No,” Dick said, hugging her.  “You recognized that retirement made him miserable, and you pointed to a door he was dying to walk through.”

“Is he any less miserable now?” Barbara asked guiltily. 

“Probably not, not today,” Dick said frankly.  “Not tonight or tomorrow.  But he was before the press got hold of this and he will be again once we get this guy.  And I know for a fact he’d be just as miserable retired, with all this happening around him after he took himself out of the fight.”

“I guess.  Do you really think it’s going to get better when we catch this guy?”

“Definitely better for me,” Dick nodded.  “You ordered fried catfish from Buttermilk’s again, didn’t you?”

“That’s my dad’s comfort food,” Barbara declared.

“It’s all so fried,” Dick complained playfully.  “The chicken, the fish, even the steak is battered and fried.  Why do that?”

“We’ll eat light for a month when it’s over, I promise,” Barbara said with a brave smile that faded into a sad one.  “Dick, why did you buy that newspaper?”

“Because gun permits are up two-hundred percent in a single precinct.  The gangs are jumpy, the triads, rogue henchmen.  I need to see what they’re seeing.  Much as it disgusts me, people read the Post and are simple enough to accept its version of things as the truth…” he sighed.  “Right now, I feel like I want to know what that version is, because the dumb people who believe it are armed and scared.”

The buzzer buzzed, and his wife pointed to the door. 

“That’s Dad or dinner.  You buzz them up.  I’ll open the wine, because that was just nine layers of depressing.”

 

Gordon studied his daughter while he ate his pie, and he knew they’d both noticed.  So when Dick said it was his turn to clear the table, Gordon told him to “take your time about it,” while Barbara jerked her head towards the back room where her Oracle setup was located.

“Awfully nice of you two to listen to an old man grumble,” he began, looking over her workstation as he might the cockpit of a 747.  “All through dinner.  Again.”    

“It’s no imposition, Dad.  With all that’s going on right now, it’s what families suit up for.  You taught me that.”

His eyes were riveted on a miniature screen in a gelatin-like frame clipped to the side of her main monitor.  “What is that?” he asked curiously.

She twisted it to different angles as if it was on an articulated arm, then squished it into a ball.  “Souvenir from something I did for the Justice League,” she said casually.  “It’s supposed to be Lantern-enhanced techno-fiber, but it’s always been more like rubber than any kind of cloth.  And as time goes on, it’s getting more like cookie dough.”

Gordon cleared his throat.

“If you’re been wondering, the reason that I’ve gone to Dick twice on tech matters and not you has nothing to do with your being a woman—”

“Never crossed my mind,” Barbara said instantly.

“—And nothing to do with your being my daughter.”

“Th-that I’m not quite so sure about.  You taught me to drive, Dad.  You taught me not to eat crayons.  That has to affect your thinking on something like this.”

“No,” Gordon said, appalled.  “Never—at least it hadn’t until you brought it up.  Now I can’t think of anything else.”  He looked at her workstation as if to reassure himself the idea he was chasing really was a good one, despite the memory of a grinning four year old with blue Crayola teeth.   “The primary reason is what I told Dick,” he insisted.  “He was on the force in Bludhaven.  There’s a perspective only that experience gives you, and it’s important dealing with other cops…” He took a deep breath. 

“But there is another reason.  I was holding you in reserve.  You’re my nuke, Barbara, my weapon of last resort.”

“I see,” she said seriously.  “And that’s where we are now?  Last resort?”

“There are men on the force who remember the Son of Sam,” Jim said gravely.  “Last week my Chief of Department interviewed them, every one, and pulled precinct reports from that summer.  It’s unreal, the way the fear comes through.  And the Son of Sam had a specific type: couples, women with long dark hair...  This Charah Killer,” he shook his head.  “There’s nothing like that, no pattern.  The victims, neighborhoods, times of day, weapons used.  The closer they get to a true random, the closer it is to impossible to stop.  The public doesn’t realize, and that’s the only reason panic hasn’t exploded—yet. 

“And that was 1977.  The press was more responsible than they are today, and the closest thing to social media was letters to the editor…”  He stopped, his eyes narrowed, and again he looked at her workstation.

“Dad, what is it?” Barbara asked, but Gordon shook his head.

“Never mind, that’s not an angle I want you to worry about.  Your time is too valuable.  I assume you can hack into the Surveillance Command Center on that thing.”

“Where the GCPD runs all sixty-eight hundred surveillance cameras in the city, excluding the ones in the housing projects, off a WayneTech OS, dual quad core 6 gigahertz processor with a GeFORCE 8800 Ultra Extreme Vid Card behind a Wayne ASA 6400 Firewall?  Yes, I believe I have a nodding familiarity with the system.”

“All right,” Gordon nodded in the patronizing way he used when she was a teenager showing off.  “There’s been an FBI expert in there with them since the day they arrived.  Her laptop hooked up to that system, also within your reach?”

“And through that laptop, the FBI’s uplink and internal files on the case, yep.  If I want to go the slow route.  What do you need, Dad?”

“The feds have been very snotty with my people,” Gordon said, pulling up a chair to sit behind her facing the monitors.  “Acting like we wasted our time studying the footage of the murders themselves.  They took all the surveillance after the bodies were found.  Theory is a sicko like this wants to watch the chaos he’s created, see the police picking over his crime scenes.  They were going to run their oh-so-much-better facial recognition on the crowds that gathered once the police tape was up, cops and coroner dealing with the killer’s handiwork.  So if the same face pops up at multiple crime scenes—”

“Yep, here it is,” Barbara said, her fingers moving in a blur over the keyboard until a particular line in a usage log was highlighted.  “That’s the FBI downloading your video, right there.”

“And we never heard about it again.  I’m guessing their facial rec didn’t find anything more than ours.”

“Looks like you would be right,” Barbara said slowly, scanning their results. “Looks like they’ve analyzed a lot of footage, too.  Not just when the bodies were found but days after.  It’ll take me a little while to get through this,” she said, looking up.  “And anything else they’ve got.  I’ll let you know what I find.  You going back to the office tonight or should I wait and call you in the morning?”

The question was a formality.  He was going back to One-PP every night when he left the Grayson home: lighting the Bat-signal and updating Batman.  Barbara knew it as his daughter and Oracle knew it as Batman’s info desk.  He told Barbara she could call as late as she wanted. 

 

“It hit me when I was talking to Barbara earlier,” Gordon told Batman.  “David Berkowitz, the .44 Caliber Killer.”

“The Son of Sam,” Batman graveled. 

“That’s what he called himself,” Gordon said.  “How he signed the letters he wrote to the police and the press…

“Describing himself as a monster hunting the city,” Batman completed the thought. 

“Right.  He wrote to the press.  He reveled in the panic he created, fed on it.  But this guy.  He’s done nothing to seek media attention.  We’ve got these words left at the crime scenes: Charah, Kazar and so on.  The profilers say he’s ‘trying to open a line of communication,’ but what kind of communication is that?  Where’s the rambling manifesto?  The Death tarot card dropped on the body.  Going all the way back to Jack the Ripper, when these guys reach out, it escalates the longer their crimes go on.  The more panic they create, the more power they feel and the more they want to… exercise that power.  Especially over the public they’ve terrified and especially over the police that can’t catch them.

“Up until a few years ago, they had to get a newspaper to accommodate them.  If they wanted it to go beyond the cops at least.  But now with social media, there’s nobody in the way.  If you want to feed the panic—”

“But he hasn’t,” Batman said thoughtfully.  “Why?” 

“Why?” Gordon echoed.  “He hasn’t taunted us that we’ve got nothing, lorded it over the city that the police are powerless to protect them...”

He got no farther when his phone buzzed. 

“It’s Barbara,” Gordon said and Batman touched his earpiece in case Oracle wanted to include him on the call.  Instead he watched in isolation as Gordon reacted to the half of the conversation he couldn’t hear.  “Mhm… Yes… I see… I see…” and finally a long pause and a slow, satisfied smile.  “I’m proud of you, sweetie” in lieu of good-bye, and then he looked sideways at Batman.

“You might want to go home to your wife,” he said with a smug casualness, as if enjoying the joke.  “Get a few hours sleep.  I know it’s not your usual thing, but you might want to be here in the morning, sit in when we tell the feds.  Play your part in what happens next.” 

 

Dick Grayson, who now bore the official title Special Consultant to the Commissioner, made his way through One-PP security feeling he was pushing the envelope for a masked man’s double life.  He was running on two hours sleep, Nightwing having been occupied with gang members out of Bludhaven using the Charah Killer hysteria to mess with their counterparts in Gotham’s Chinatown and Clinton.  Rather than restore his faculties with some much needed shut eye, he was up at dawn and headed to a meeting where his (masked) mentor would be in attendance, in the Joint Operations Center he built for his (unmasked) father-in-law using much of his (masked and unmasked) father’s tech, and at that meeting, the breakthrough being presented was the work of his unmasked self’s wife in her masked-by-hologram identity.  On two hours sleep.  It was probably asking more of Starbucks venti double shot than it could be expected to deliver, even with three sugars and a slice of pound cake, but what choice did he have?

The ‘Good mornings’ were tense.   Batman’s typical in-public in-daylight grunt; the FBI looking at him like the clockwork of their profiling methods had jammed, gears grinding and springs unspooling while the Dark Knight turned his back to study the murder board; and the Bureau Chiefs appeared torn between surface disapproval of the Dark Knight on principle and tacit delight in his affect on the feds.

Dick approached Batman, since none of the others were going to until Gordon arrived.  To them, it looked like Batman was considering a particular panel of the murder board: the map of the city with the ability to zoom into neighborhoods around each body drop and highlighting the killer’s movements.  Dick knew better, and he did his best impression of a relative stranger who viewed Batman as Gotham’s protector as he asked if anyone had offered him coffee or a bottle of water.

“You designed this system?” Batman responded, swiping left-to-right below the map, which cycled through its preset zooms of the murder scenes in Murray Hill, the East End, Hell’s Kitchen, Chinatown…

Dick glanced at the door where Jim Gordon wasn’t. 

“N-not exactly,” were the words coming out of his mouth while his brain said ‘Yeah, Bruce, I took your overbuilt Batcave-G design, streamlined it, went back to the touch screen and made it five panel like it should've been in the first place.’  “…chose the equipment and software, researched what the market had to offer, how it could be applied for this type of operation.  S-supervised the installation and, eh, made a few, eh, tweaks, customizing, you know, for the GCP… D.”

Batman regarded him with coldly judgmental eyes as the tip of his glove touched the Chinatown map lightly and a detailed satellite image was superimposed over the zoomed-in map of the neighborhood.  “Impressive interface” was all he said. 

“Well it is Gotham,” Dick said glibly.  “Wayne Tech sets the bar, and it’s pretty high.”

“Excuse me, coming through, I just need to make a note here,” Detective Rowanski said, pushing his way between the men and standing as if he was shielding Dick as he scribbled a few numbers with a grease pen beside the map, then pulled up a window and scrolled.  “Oh well, I’ll find it later,” he said, grabbing Dick’s sleeve and pulling him away subtly as he said “Good to see you, Batman.  Sorry for the interruption.”

“What are you doing?” Dick whispered when they were out of earshot.

Rescuing you,” Rowanski hissed.  “Your father just married Catwoman.  Maybe it’s not the best time to be rubbing his nose in the shiny Wayne name and his wonderful tech.”

Yeah.  This meeting was definitely asking more of a Starbucks venti than it could possibly deliver. 

Rowanski returned to the murder board and started chatting with Batman as a law-enforcement colleague, either because he was genuinely interested in the crimefighter’s take or because he wanted to keep Dick out of trouble by directing Batman’s attention elsewhere.  Either way, Dick was grateful.  The “rescue” might not be what Rowanski thought, but he would take it. 

He turned with a sigh… There was a bank of a four monitors in the north wall where the Feds were now clustered, and Dick approached them in the spirit of a polite host.  He fielded a few questions about the J-Op Center, but either because the behavioral experts realized he was exhausted or because they were sick of the GCPD’s attitude, they quickly veered away from anything tangentially related to crime.  They questioned him as out-of-towners here for an extended stay on business, and came away with recs for the most authentic Mexican in the city (“Order the spicy burrito, eat it there while watching cartoons with the owner’s kids, then head across the street to the bakery for bomboloni—donuts, basically—or their amazing rhubarb canotto.”), a Thai noodle place (“the kee mao are just—you’ll eat there every night unless you make an effort not to.”) and the best sandwiches in town (“especially the egg based tortas.”) all within a block of their hotel. 

Cheered by their gratitude and the universal regret that they hadn’t met him on Day One, Dick was thinking through ways to make the Joint Op center more welcoming to the guest agencies when the door swung open and Commissioner Gordon entered and called the room to order.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you’re aware that here in Gotham, the hacking entity known Oracle is sometimes made available to us…”  His tone and slight nod towards Batman implied that it was through him that the GCPD had access to the “hacker” that most law enforcement believed wasn’t a hacker at all but an artificial intelligence belonging to the Justice League.  “Some of you won’t like what you’re about to hear.  Maybe I should let her deliver the bad news...”

The lights dimmed slightly, and a backdoor Dick didn’t know existed in the murder board opened a large window in the central pane, revealing an impassive Oracle-head. 

..::Thank you, Commissioner.  The GCPD and FBI had both run facial recognition on the crowds at the crime scenes and had no luck.  Extending the search five days after each killing, there were no individuals showing up at multiple crime scenes.  A few partial hits appeared at the same location repeatedly, but they seem to be commuters, passing through at the same time of day and taking no interest beyond boarding their train.::..

“So this thing replicated our work and came up with the same result, big deal,” one of the feds grumbled. 

..:: Not quite,::.. Oracle said, and Dick heard that sly note of amusement that you were choosing this moment to test her patience when you were so very, very wrong.  He wondered how anyone hearing that voice could go on thinking she was an AI.  ..:: You went for the surveillance camera with the widest angle at each location.  Not a flawed approach, but it is the obvious one.  I checked the secondary cameras at each crime scene just to get a different angle on the crowd and see if there was anything missed.  That’s how I found the breach.

..:: On all the cameras the FBI accessed, there was this weird double blip in the data logs when you downloaded the video to your own system, like an echo or a finger slipped typing a closed parentheses.  One open, two closed on every camera accessed.  I figured it was an anomaly from your proprietary software—which needs updating, by the way.  The Datong Road hackers have been getting around that LEXcryption gate since January.  Anyway, on the secondary cameras, same blip.  But without your downloads to mask it, it looks like what it is: an unauthorized access. ::.. 

A new window opened in the lower corner of the Oracle image reading: GCPD MEDIA DATABASE – 1460-70 | EXTERNAL CONFIGURATION

UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS DETECTED
SOURCE: Unknown
STREAMING DOWNLOAD RATE: 180 bps
STREAMING UPLOAD RATE: 0 bps

TRACKING UNAUTHORIZED USAGE PARAMETERS
Surveillance files 0001-4468
Compare with unknown downlink I.D.

..:: The alert that should have been generated looks like this.  Now that I knew what to look for, I checked the log for the entire database, all the footage on all six-thousand plus traffic cameras throughout the city.  What I found is not good.::..

A new window appeared over the first:

CONNECTION DISCOVERED
TOTAL INTRUSIONS: Twenty (20)

Compromised files: 206, 1701, 2159, 2680, 3254, 4745
Compromised data packets: FOURTEEN (14)
201, 204, 209, 1703, 1708, 2153, 2154, 2156, 2313, 2314, 2681, 3254, 4545, 4745

Oracle, maybe you could interpret for the less tech-savvy among us,” Batman prompted.

..:: You didn’t see the killer in the crowd because he never went back to the crime scene in person.  He watched the action here, through the same camera feeds you were monitoring.::..

“It would appear we under-ranked the unsub’s level of sophistication,” one of the feds remarked dryly.

“We all did,” Rowanski said kindly.  Dick met his eyes, and in response to the unspoken question Rowanski specified “We decided the perp was smart enough to hold down a job, based on the pre-surveillance.  Thinking to find out where the cameras were.”

“Ah,” Dick said.  Then he locked eyes with Batman, the telepathy of long-time partners clearly stating ‘Yeah, you might have lowballed that one.’

..:: He is sophisticated, but not sophisticated enough,::.. Oracle announced smugly.  ..:: These hacks came over secure connections from proxy servers in offshore countries.  This one for example, is coming through Belarus, a charming server that appears to be used mostly by pedophiles.  Disgusting as that is, it’s not the dead end our killer thought.  There are particular types of websites and chatrooms that pedophiles frequent, and your colleagues in the Crimes Against Children Unit have an exhaustive database.  Filtering all those out of this proxy’s traffic, I’m left with less than 1% of its activity on the day of the hack.  This is our guy.  So I can see everywhere he went before and after hacking the GCPD, including a site run by a web company in Keystone where he paid for something—don’t ask me what—with a credit card.  The number is stolen; he bought it six weeks ago on the dark web, but he used that same card to pay for a storage unit.  Gotham Keepers on 39th Street, by the Lincoln Tunnel.::..

There was silence as the impact of the words was absorbed.  Broken at first only by the soft clicking of Oracle’s keyboard.

..:: Fifth Floor.  Oracle out.::..

“So we’ve got him,” one of the feds murmured.

“We’ve got him,” Rowanski echoed quietly.

“We’ve got him,” Chief Jaffey said, like the final line of a prayer.

“Gentlemen, the GCPD would like to invite you to assist on the operation executing our warrant to search this storage unit,” Gordon said with a patronizing note that wasn’t that different from Oracle’s.  “And establishing a presence to apprehend its owner.  We’ll adjourn for ten minutes, after which C.O.D. Jaffey will brief you on our TAC plan.  Don’t go far.”

To be continued...

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