Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

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Stewart M
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Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Stewart M » 2016-08-29 07:10pm

December, 1940. Bodies are disappearing from morgues. A couple lies murdered in the street. To solve the mystery, Batman must seek the help of the most frustrating thief he's ever crossed. But the conspiracy behind it may still be too powerful. Chased on the coldest night of the year, has the Dark Knight found a foe so above the law even he cannot deliver the offender to justice?


Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Chapter 1: Ships That Pass in a Corner Diner​

Cities had homeless communities. This was a universal fact, and its recognition was a fine sign of the century's progressive spirit. But what precious few cared to learn was that every homeless community was just that - a community. These weren't the warm and stable communities most citizens knew, but transients were still people; they had rules and rituals, bazaars and town halls, friends and loved ones. In the barest, skeletal sense they got by. On the thicket streets of Gotham City, the homeless were especially well-organized. Unfortunately, winter had arrived. Winter for the homeless was something between a bombing siren and a slow-motion riot. Every tiny choice might be life or death, and their meek community could fray very quickly. Compromise and civility were not common strengths in the cold and hungry.

If any pair among them was ready for the season, it was Wendell and Alice Dupree. Most people on the street were alone; couples were very rare indeed. And they were well-off by local standards. They both had their health and a pack of warm clothes. They had an understanding with the neighbors to respect each others' territory (strife over real estate was always the worst between those who didn't own real estate). And their territory was quite nice, a little nook in the rear wall of the 8th Street train station. It had an overhang to keep off rain, and they were too far from the road for beat cops to kick down their shanty. This is where they called home.

When the station clock chimed eleven they were already fast asleep. A car rolled to a stop nearby. It was far too clean for the neighborhood; in Gotham a car like that drew young hustlers like gnats to a lamp. But then three big men got out, harsh shapes in the dark, and any greedy eyes nearby slunk back into their shadows. The burly men wore gloves and low caps, the timeless uniform of professional muscle. They strode up quietly and spied the sleeping couple with a dying flashlight.

Unsmiling, two of the men bent down, each holding a thick cotton rag. Only heavy sleepers could live next to a train station, but at the last moment Alice's eyes fluttered open. Half-awake, she witnessed a large form nearing her face. She tried to scream. Through the cloth, it came out a weak gasp.

The third man stood and watched as the two finished. They left the bodies. He found a pay phone a few streets over.

"Ma'am, it's Lieutenant Wilson. We're done. No, no interruptions. You're welcome, ma'am."

---​

Three nights later.

Bruce Wayne stood beside the window in a dark sewing room. No one would bother him here. In fact, no one had been home in days; the owners were staying with relatives. He knew this and a hundred other details from a glace around the room.

Bruce was content to be alone. The task at hand was uncomfortable enough; he had no patience tonight for interruptions. There were two manila folders open on the table in front of him. In one folder was a thin pile of photographs and papers stamped with various city seals. The papers were bureaucracy, and the photos were of the dead.

The other folder was substantially thicker and older. It had no photos inside, but there were quite a few sketches. Some were pencil, some ink. All were clean, workmanlike efforts of a particular lady: young, medium height, slender build, dark hair styled to various lengths. A note on one picture claimed green eyes. The artist made no effort towards any sort of life or expression in the sketches, treating its subject as clinically as a zoology text, but the lady in the drawings still seemed to possess a certain energy. Each stance of hers was coiled enthusiasm.

Bruce didn't look at the folders. He knew them by heart. Instead he stared out the window, watching the building across the street below. It was a small corner diner, still open despite the hour. Through the bright window, he watched the lady from the folder sit down.

---​

The Hughes Diner and Café was one of the city's hidden gems, the kind only neighbors and high-brow food critics knew about. It took a simple service – hot coffee – and made it perfect through a loving attention that kept the regulars coming back year after year. Like most corner diners, the Hughes was unpretentious and cozy. New faces were greeted as "Buddy" or "Mack" or "Ma'am". The air smelled like bacon grease and lemon meringue. When a tired soul sat down at the Hughes Diner and Café the future just seemed a little brighter, and in Gotham that was saying something.

Tonight that soul was Selina Kyle, sitting alone on the middlemost stool. She wore a green sweater with a reindeer on it, and there was a bandage across her nose. Selina gazed wistfully at the bric-a-brac behind the counter and her own reflection in the shiny soda spigot. On the scratchy radio, a brassy blues trumpeter played "Dream a Little Dream of Me". The neon sign in the window behind her flickered. She sighed and laid her chin in her hand, absentmindedly stirring two creams into her cup of Joe.

"You're not your usual lively self this evening, 'Lina."

The proprietor, Mister John Quigley walked over while wiping a tall glass. He was a portly man with ruddy cheeks and big jowls. In his apron and white paper hat he looked quite dapper, like Santa Claus' younger brother. He leaned his elbow on the counter and offered a disarming grin. Selina shrugged and tasted some coffee off her spoon. "You know how it is: some days you're walking on clouds and other days you're just caught in the storm."

John whistled. "That's awfully poetic. Did you think of that?"

She grinned and pointed her spoon at him. "Now Johnny, are you saying all ladies are too empty-headed to be clever or just us pretty ones?"

He held up his hands in surrender. "Geez, Selina. You know I got the utmost respect for the mind of any classy dame like you."

"You mean a paying customer like me."

"Hey, my daughters are twice as smart as me and the oldest ain't yet fourteen. And my mother's always been smarter than me. And Lily ... well, she married me so the jury's out on that one."

"She's not a fool either Johnny. She just pitied you."

"Ha. Then what a lucky schlub I am. Still, I still hate to see you down in the dumps, so whats'a matter?"

"Just a boring evening, nothing worth writing home about."

"Yeah? Nobody looks as distracted and lonesome as you cause of a 'boring evening'. Nobody comes here after dark in winter cause of a 'boring evening'. Nobody with a big bandage on their face had a 'boring evening'. What's the story?"

She shrugged bashfully and scratched the bandage on her nose. "Maybe I just wanted some of your charming company."

"Sure, cause I'm Clark Gable."

"Better than Shirley Temple."

"Well as charming as I am, Green Eyes, you ain't off the hook with that fish tale."

Selina took a sip of her coffee and stared at the ceiling.

"Fair enough. This evening, I went to the Thames Street Hotel to visit a friend. When I got to her suite, a bellhop said she had gone to the opera."

"Shame."

"Tell me about it. She had borrowed a few possessions of mine last week and I came to pick them up. So, not wanting to waste the trip, I went in to have a look around. But while I'm busy inside, a repairman came in to fix a lamp. I politely tried to stay out of his way, but he sees me and gets angry. We start to have a ... misunderstanding."

"How could any dummy say a bad thing 'bout you, 'Lina?"

"Ha. Thanks, Johnny. I guess from his point of view, I looked like some kind of trespasser."

"Ooch. Sounds like rotten luck."

"So, thinking discretion is the better part of valor, I decided to just turn tail and leave." She sighed dramatically and took another sip of coffee.

"Then you came here?"

"Well ... not quite. This blockhead was all wet. He chased me into the lobby where the hotel was setting up some policeman's retirement ball. About twenty coppers saw us having a tussle. I almost managed to slip into a receptions office when-"

Before she could finish, the bell on the door interrupted her.

A large man in a hat and frayed trench coat entered the diner, his collar turned up and his shoulders hunched against the bitter December wind. The man shivered and took in his surroundings. He had pale skin and a hangdog look about him.

John turned to the newcomer and smiled. "Hi there! What can I get you?"

The man paused a moment before responding. His voice was soft and raspy despite his size.

"Coffee. Black."

John nodded jovially. "Sure thing, Mack. How's about I fix you with a bite to eat?"

The man paused again, staring at the ground.

"I have some jelly danishes here. Raspberry, a real treat."

"Fine. One."

John nodded and turned to prepare the order. The man ambled over to a stool and sat down. There was stillness in the diner save for the wistful jazz of the scratchy radio. It occasionally cut in with Edward R. Morrow at Trafalgar Square: broadcasts about Luftwaffe firebombs over London. The stranger sat three stools away from Selina. He didn't eye her up or address her or even turn her way, but something about him made her uneasy. She tried to look him in the eye but his hat was pulled down low. In fact, the bulky man was so bent and motionless he almost looked asleep. She frowned and sipped her coffee, stealing discreet glances when she could.

A moment passed. There was a smoky scent in air.

Selina perked up. "Something's burning."

John sniffed the air and his eyes bulged. "Yeah, it's from the backroom!"

He hustled through the door behind the counter. As soon as the daring owner had left the room, the large man swiftly stood up and threw a few coins on the counter. Selina watched him suspiciously as he strode to the entrance and opened the front door. The bell chimed. As he walked out, the man tossed a tiny ball the size of a marble over his shoulder. It arced across the room and landed in Selina's empty cup. She glanced down and by the time she looked back up the front door had slammed shut in the wind.

Something was up.

Selina jumped to her feet and barreled out into the winter night. She looked left and right, but the dim street was empty. The man had already disappeared. She exhaled in frustration. Seeing her own breath, Selina recognized she lacked a coat and decided to head back inside.

She wasn't sure what just happened, but her heart had jumped tempo in a way no coffee could match. Her fingers started tapping a rhythm against her side. Her skin was electric.

Gotham had a nightlife you couldn't find anywhere else. It was lurid and random and sometimes grotesque, but for the big shots that owned the night there was nothing quite like it. A girl could get addicted.

Now Selina's own nightlife had broken into her ... civilian life, for lack of a better term. That wasn't supposed to happen; it was time to find out why. She allowed herself a brief half-smile. This evening might be interesting after all.

Back inside, John was standing arms akimbo with a look of utter confusion. "I guess that guy left?"

Selina knew not mention the thing in the cup. Whatever it was, it was her business, and she didn't involve normal folk like Johnny in her business.

"Yeah. He just up and left. I tried to see where he was going but he disappeared."

John shrugged. "Gosh, some people, huh?"

"You said it. What was the smell in the back?"

"This." John reached into the pocket of his apron and pulled out a partially-melted candle. "Somebody lit this in the backroom. Didn't hurt anything either. It was just burning on the floor. Made a lot of smoke though; you wouldn't think so since it's so small."

Selina scrutinized the candle. Gears began to click in her mind. "Yeah, wouldn't think so."

"And it looks like our friend even paid 'fore he left. Didn't get his coffee or his danish. Wonder where he had to get to."

Selina stared into her cup. "Yeah, what a mystery. Say Johnny, I better get going myself." She covertly turned the cup so the small ball rolled into her purse. "Big day tomorrow, need some rest."

"So you drink coffee before bed? You didn't finish your story."

She put on her gloves and smiled an apology. "Next time, I promise."

"Aw, fine. Go get your beauty sleep. And come see me again sometime. Ain't nobody entertains like you do. You know how lonely it gets 'round here."

Selina Kyle retrieved her coat and cap and from the rack. "You're a good man, John Quigley, go home and kiss that beautiful wife of yours."

"Sure thing. Goodnight Selina."

"Night, Johnny."

With that, Selina walked out into the first flakes of snow.

---


Four blocks later, she finally found a lamp bright enough to inspect her new possession. Heedless of the wind that blew her hair into a loose halo below her knit cap, she held the tiny ball up to her eye.

With the acuity of a jeweler, Selina realized she was holding a sphere of tightly-wrapped paper. She carefully unfolded it into a delicate sheet the size of a chewing gum foil. It read:

Truce?

(Tentative)

Meet Midnight, Site of 2nd Encounter


Puzzled, Selina flipped the paper over.

She almost dropped it.

In hindsight, Selina realized she shouldn't have been surprised. There were plenty of shady characters who might want to pass her a cryptic message, and maybe, maybe a handful could find her in her off-hours, but no one else could be so annoyingly subtle and yet so smugly theatrical in the process.

On the back of the paper was the simple outline of a bat.
Author: Batman 1939
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby LadyTevar » 2016-08-30 01:34am

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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Stewart M » 2016-08-30 09:06pm

Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Chapter 2: Cold Feet​


The King Leopold Academy of Arts was the city's smallest college. With just over three hundred undergraduates, King Leo's students found it funny that their beloved alma mater had more famous alumni than any three schools in the city combined. Sure, old Gotham University claimed plenty of fancy lawyers and scientists, but it couldn't offer the one group that King Leo churned out by the dozen: movie stars!

By some cosmic bolt of foresight, in 1905 the Academy's tiny School of Theater bought one of Edison's new motion picture cameras. Actors at the time thought films had the artistic merit of carnival sideshows, which is what they often were, but King Leopold's theater students were not the most ambitious thespians. Most were lucky if they found work on an out-of-town vaudeville stage. Since the students had little to look forward to, quite a few were happy to skip lessons to play with the the new camera device.

Meanwhile, crowds began to flood nickelodeons in every town, and the studios needed skilled directors to sell tickets. To their surprise, they found a pool of artists at King Leopold's third-rate acting school who not only knew how to use a camera and edit celluloid but were at the forefront of the medium's experimental techniques (or, as the students called it, goofing off with class equipment). The entire motion picture club was hired on the spot. Naturally, these budding cinematographers were happy to cast their friends from acting class in their films. It was for this reason above all that, by the late 1920s, Gotham City was the undisputed center of East Coast film-making.

This was all fine for King Leo's School of Theater, but the Academy's once-preeminent School of Painting wasn't happy about it. Prestige was important among the academic departments, and now the dumb actors had all the attention. The Dean of Painting was determined to rectify this indignity. In the summer of 1939, he bet his entire budget and whatever he could beg or borrow on a complete remodeling of his school, hoping to win painting some publicity with the gilded sons of the new idle rich who tended to be suckers for shiny things. For months, the Painting building was surrounded by workers and moving vans. There were crystal chandeliers hung and marble bathrooms installed. Gallons of the finest paints and inks lined the storage closets. But the grandest luxury of them all was the new Rotation of the Classics program: twice a month the school rented a different painting from an array of museums and private collections to hang in a classroom for study. The professors were trained curators and ensured that each masterpiece was protected from the environment.

However, the professors were not trained security and did not ensure that each masterpiece was protected from Catwoman. When she heard in late September that famous paintings were being shown at some school that didn't even have the typical museum safeguards, she knew it was her solemn duty to teach them a lesson in hubris.

Or maybe just a fun way to spend a Thursday. Catwoman wasn't the crusading type.

So she pulled on the chic violet bodysuit, black gloves, and black boots. After a yawn-inducingly easy surveillance and infiltration, she made it into the classroom where the treasure, one of the less popular Brugghens, was kept, stretched out some acid-free paper, and proceeded to work her magic. The art was off the wall and nearly packed when he showed up.

They had met once before, back in June that year. And what a rush it was! Tactically, that evening had been a draw, but Catwoman called it a win for the novelty alone. No one had heard of him then, this hulking figure of the dark with his frown and his cape. She was fascinated. And her interest only grew the more she heard. It took time for the babbled individual sightings to bake into a coherent myth. But by September he had earned quite a lurid reputation amongst night types like herself. Given their respective habits, she was sure they would see each other again sooner or later. She might even call their dynamic a game of cat-and-mouse except that she still had her dignity.

But their second confrontation in the painting classroom was a big disappointment: brief, nonviolent, and frankly kind of boring (by her fell-off-the-end-of-the-bell-curve standards). It was over before it began. She blamed the picture. Padding and covering that frame was a slow process; she refused to be one of those amateur hacks who just roll the canvas into a cardboard tube. Maybe she would have gotten away in time if she had cut a few corners.

Regardless, when she glanced up and saw that trademark silhouette on the wall, Catwoman knew an easy escape was out of the question. Even if she had the painting packed, the real challenge was carrying it. Going up a rope, through a window, and down an ivy trellis while carrying the art was challenging alone, but it was a fantasy when the Bat could ruin it just by standing in her way.

Her first instinct was to pick a fight, but the room was small and cluttered. Her biggest weapon on Batman was agility, and there was simply no space for a good brawl. Besides, if things got hot and heavy someone might step on the painting, and she refused to be the first klutz in three centuries to ruin the Brugghen. The only safe ending would be to knock Batman out with one hit. Kapow!

But you didn't just knock out the Batman.

She wasn't being modest. Some people wrote poetry, some people built birdhouses, and the Batman won fights. Period. He had been on the scene long enough that everybody knew this, and the ones that refused to get the message would learn it in person very soon. Maybe she'd get lucky, she certainly had moves of her own, but a lady didn't get far in the felony business by taking dumb risks.

So that was it. She cared too much about the art to escalate the confrontation. As for His Majesty, King Frownington, his view on art - like everything else about him - was a mystery. He did seem to care about fragile property and didn't interrupt as she hung the frame again. With a final adjustment, she let go of the painting and turned around. Deep down, she felt wary like an old gunslinger, but Catwoman was Catwoman. She put on a smile and broke the ice.

"To what do I owe the pleasure?"

He stared impassively at her for a long moment. His eyes were hidden like usual, but there was a very strange tilt to his face, an awkward tenseness about him. This was only their second meeting, but she suspected that hesitation wasn't normally an issue for him.

It certainly wasn't for her. She planted a jaunty hand on her hip and stepped forward. "Batman, right? I don't think we were properly introduced last time."

Silence. All six foot, two inches of granite willpower focused on her. More staring. His shoulder twitched. She took another step, arched an eyebrow, "Cat got your tongue?"

No smile. He gave her a final appraisal then, to her stunned bafflement, stepped aside.

"Don't come back."

Catwoman could only blink.

... What?

She knew the rumors - Batman wasn't in the habit of letting criminals walk, no more than water was in the habit of flowing uphill or pigs were in the habit of flying. And she was undoubtedly a criminal. So what did this mean? Was he only in it for the challenge? Was this a reward for cooperating? Was he hallucinating? Was she?

Half in shock, she quietly picked up her gear, strode past him, and left. She had no idea what her reprieve meant, and he never let her go so easily again (nor would she have taken it). For weeks afterward, Catwoman mulled over the memory. She decided a few things:

1. No paintings for awhile. Too awkward. Catwoman is the human embodiment of nimbleness, not a Laurel & Hardy skit.

2. Batman didn't swoop down on people to hurt them; he swooped down on people to make sure they followed the rules. His rules. Then he usually hurt them.

3. She wouldn't rest until she retraced every stinking step she made in the past month and figured out HOW THE HELL he tracked her there!

4. Batman was human. Almost no one else thought so yet, but she was certain. Betting odds, at least. He was just a loon in a mask, no matter what the rumors said. He put his Bat-pants on one leg at a time like anyone else (or for all she knew, he somehow judo-flipped into both simultaneously, but again, loon).

Fifteen months later, breaking into the Academy of Arts was still a piece of cake. Catwoman walked through the dark and quiet of the painting classroom, her calf-high boots the only muffled sound in the stillness. Shafts of weak moonlight painted stripes on the floor. Snowflakes gently collected along the bottoms of the windows.

The room hadn't changed much, except that there was no masterpiece on the wall this time. Her near-theft had gone undiscovered, but the program was shut down a few months later when some other punk nabbed a Copley.

That strange second meeting had been nearly a year ago. Throughout all her future encounters with the uncompromising Dark Knight, it had always stuck out, never making sense. She looked again at her tiny note.

Truce?

(Tentative)

Meet Midnight, Site of 2nd Encounter


Why ask her to come here? Admittedly, this was a pretty good place for a meeting. Batman obviously didn't want to reveal to much in case someone else saw the note; he was limited to obliquely referencing a rendezvous only they would recognize. Yet out of that short list, he choose the closest, warmest, and most likely to stay empty. It was savvy trade-craft and a nice gesture.

Or maybe he just picked a low number in case she hadn't kept count. Catwoman liked to think she had a gift for reading people, and usually that was true, but he was a tough nut to crack. What could he possibly want to talk about?

She sat on the professor's desk and idly swung her legs. The hour hand on the old wall clock made a heavy click. It was midnight. She had been waiting for nine minutes. This little college was relatively safe, sure, but the thief in her was getting itchy. The trick to trespassing was speed and stealth, not sitting on one's dainty hiney out in the open. That was trouble served up on a platter.

Yeah, and being caught in this room would be a lot of trouble.

...

Wait.

...

What if this was a trap?

She realized with growing unease that the room would be a good choice for that too. It was small; agility wouldn't help much. It was empty; there were no cavities to hide in and no platforms to climb. She didn't see anything that would make a good weapon. Collateral damage wouldn't be a concern, it was just some mediocre paintings from spoiled rich kids. And worst of all, the escape routes were uncomfortably limited: just a single door and some hard-to-reach windows. This was why she was trapped so easily the first time.

Of course! That night here had been his only real win against her. What if he was reusing an old success story from the Bat-playbook?

And why hadn't she realized that ten minutes ago?

That slimeball!

She inhaled and exhaled, trying to calm down. Only rookies let their nerves control them in the field. The nation's jails were filled with rookies. No, this was a time to think.

Would Batman set a trap?

Sure, Batman loved traps. At least he loved setting them. He set them all the time. But his traps were always temporary and straightforward: tying a cord between two lampposts so some fat bank robbers tripped. His traps were more like a game warden, less like a serial killer. He wouldn't lure someone to an ambush hours ahead of time. And she wasn't being a menace to society, she was having coffee! Would he set a trap like that with no provocation? And was he brazen enough to INVITE her to it?

That didn't sound like his style at all. If he wanted to arrest someone when their guard was down, he didn't deceive them with a disguise and a note, he dived through a skylight and kicked them in the face. And even if he wanted to trick her, why now? He had a year of opportunities. Catwoman couldn't remember doing anything particularly unwholesome recently. They hadn't even seen each other in weeks.

Still, there were certain rules of thumb you had to use with the Dark Knight. The Gotham underworld's favorite pastime was sharing their Bat-myths, and in those hundreds of stories there were two reoccurring lessons:

First, the Bat could hold a grudge like nobody's business.

Second, one way or another he always had a surprise.

Well, Catwoman was no illiterate leg-breaker. Batman didn't surprise her.

... At least, he didn't "always" surprise her.

Great.

She had the feeling in her gut that coming here might have been a bad idea. The other trick to trespassing was that you follow your gut. It had served her well. Catwoman pushed onto her feet and headed for the fractionally-open window where her rope hung.

Before she could cross the room, the door creaked open.
Author: Batman 1939
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Stewart M
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Posts: 113
Joined: 2016-08-22 06:09pm

Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Stewart M » 2016-08-31 07:42pm

Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Chapter 3: Détente​


Gotham City was a tough place to live. Walls were thin, rent was high, it smelled near the mills, and the weather gave Londoners depression. New buildings tended to cut corners after the Housing Commission went on strike - little details like fire escapes and termite nests. But the real millstone around the neck of the city was the people, that great rancid melting pot. A resident tended to grow edgy after the sixth or seventh mugging. Funnily enough, the brochures choose to advertise the city's diversity; they said a visitor could find just about any kind of person within twenty blocks if they looked hard enough. Unlike a lot of bombast farted out by the Board of Tourism, the locals agreed.

Indeed, a traveler with a keen eye for the streets could find all sorts of rare treasures of humanity. Outside Lowenbaum Department Store was a beggar who tried to convince passersby that he was an exiled Spanish prince. In the Narrows was a mother from Missouri who fed her ten kids by jumping in front of fancy cars to win negligence lawsuits. On 110st Street lived a respected dentist from Mumbai with constant bruises for having a funny accent and dark skin. In a Charlotte Grove high-rise lived a malpractice lawyer who got his kicks by hitting poor people with his car. And somewhere around Little Bucharest was an exiled Spanish prince.

So yes, you could find any kind of person in Gotham if you looked hard enough.

The unspoken corollary? They could also find you.

Of course, the deep end of this bell-curve, the concrete proof that you really could find anyone if you were dumb enough to try, was the Gotham celebrity criminal. Anyone could wear a silly hat and act out a shtick. Anyone could rob a bank. But very few could do both, and almost no one could do both repeatedly. That was the key. Outsiders assumed the sinister breed was famous for spectacle and panache, but what really set them apart was survival.

Of course, no regular Joe knew how the city's famed felons kept waking up on the friendly side of the dirt. Who could explain the astonishing longevity of a group whose insurance premiums rivaled the gross income of Denmark?

This ignorance didn't stop anyone from guessing, of course, though most of the theories would embarrass a tabloid editor. In truth, their trick was mundane (as opposed to their tricks, which were lurid and ridiculous). To start with, the costume set possessed an enormous lifetime supply of luck. They all had exceptional cunning. Keen street smarts were vital, but a robust immune system surely helped; you couldn't wait in the hospital all season for your bones to knit. They all had a natural intimidation factor, the gift to freeze a crowd with a sneer. Some said it was in the eyes, some in the way they walked. Finally, and perhaps the most vitally of all, each possessed phenomenal instincts.

It was because of those great instincts that Catwoman was leaping into a back-flip the moment the old door began to move. She landed in a crouch atop an ugly marble bust of Andrew Jackson, claws out and eyes trained on the entrance.

The door opened and Batman walked through. He stepped inside and looked up at her, not commenting on her obvious attack stance.

He waited.

She glared back, curiosity and confusion slowly eroding her pulsing battle-rage.

A gust of wind rattled the windows.

She remembered that a staring contest with Batman was like trying to out-wait a glacier. She would have to make the first move. Claws still out, Catwoman gently cleared her throat and spoke across the room. "Hi."

He nodded a micrometer. She wouldn't have noticed in the dark except that those ears made every head motion pretty obvious. "Catwoman."

Not the friendliest greeting, but his first words tended to be accusations, so she took it as an olive branch. She hopped off the bust and took a few steps forward. "You know, I've never seen you come through a front door." She stopped five paces away, retracted the claws, and crossed her arms. "So I guess this isn't a trap."

He frowned in what seemed like sincere confusion and swiftly looked around the room.

"You think I asked you here because of the close confines."

She nodded. "And the lack of nice handholds."

"The single entrance-"

"-and the raised windows." they both added simultaneously.

He paused and gave a grunt of agreement. "A misunderstanding."

"I'm disappointed." She tossed the crumpled note he gave her at the coffee shop. It bounced off his chest and he caught it. "If anyone's had practice explaining themselves in eight words, it's you."

Batman's eyes hardened at the implied jest, but he said nothing. Catwoman fiercely debated asking if there was any significance in bringing her to the one place he ever managed to corner her (as much as she hated to admit that out loud) and instead let her go, and also what the hell that meant, the cryptic jerk.

She took a subtle tack. "I don't suppose you picked this place for the fond memories."

He paused a moment. "The message had to be discreet. We both knew this site; it was least likely to be interrupted. That's all."

So he was just smart at picking meetings ... unless he was lying. She covered her scrutiny with a quip. "Or maybe you just picked a low number in case I lost count."

He looked at her impassively. "I have full confidence in your ability to count."

Catwoman rolled her eyes; it had sounded funnier in her head. Whatever, if this was still some absurdly-elaborate trap, she would deal with it. She turned and walked into the middle of the brightest beam of moonlight and gestured for him to follow, which Batman slowly did. They faced each other, now both easily visible.

"Let's try this again." She laid a hand over her mouth in fake astonishment. "My, if it isn't my favorite caped busybody. Did you ask me here to waltz a little? Maybe chat about the weather? How's your Christmas shopping?"

"I'm here to make a request."

"Seeing as how you've done nothing but try to make my life easier, why not?" She relished opening a few buckets of sarcasm. "What kind of favor are you looking for?"

"I came to negotiate the employment of your expertise for an illegal operation."

Catwoman cocked an eyebrow. "Do what?"

Batman frowned and repeated himself in a lower voice, "I requested your attention tonight because I wish to discuss the requisition of your particular ... skill set."

She grinned sardonically and tilted her head in mock confusion. "Pardon?"

Batman muttered again, so low that he was inaudible.

Catwoman leaned forward and cupped an ear, "Sorry, not used to hearing more than three syllables out of you."

Batman closed his eyes and breathed in a wintry dose of humility. He reluctantly enunciated, "Catwoman, there's a task I can't do alone. It's vital. I need your help."

Catwoman's mouth dropped in surprise, eyes expanding in luminous amusement. Then her gape lifted into a too-wide smile, a schoolgirl hearing the year's most scandalous gossip.

Batman forced his jaw shut so hard his teeth ground. Catwoman's satisfaction was annoying; he fiercely hated admitting weakness, especially to her ... insofar as she was a context of the criminal element, of course.

He held his tongue because the businessman in him recognized an opportunity. His biggest hurdle tonight would be crossing their gulf of mistrust, but she was smiling at him. In mockery, granted, but still a smile. If he didn't do anything stupid, he may have just found his bridge.

"So you need my help, huh? You must awfully desperate." Catwoman keep grinning but her tone was cautious, investigative.

His instinct said to get mean and righteous; that's how he usually motivated people. But the actor in him knew Catwoman had seen his Personification of Vengeance shtick (as she might call it) far to often. He had to go past his comfort zone. Of course, Batman's comfort zone rivaled the circumference of the Milky Way, so when the answer came, he found it both terrifying and terribly simple: it was time to be polite.

He stepped forward and looked deep into her eyes. "Catwoman, I do need your help ... please."

Inches away from each other, there was a moment of silence.

Then she whistled. "Wow."

He couldn't tell if it was awe or mockery.

Batman kept the apprehension out of his tone. "Well?"

"I'm flattered, Batman," She cupped his chin affectionately, "but you'll forgive a girl if past encounters make her a touch suspicious."

He stepped back and turned to the windows. "Than let me prove my sincerity. If the issue is money, you'll be handsomely paid."

"Well, you do know handsome, but I'm self-employed. Haven't taken a commission job in six months ..."

She walked a causal circle around him like she was judging a new car. When she reached his side, Catwoman leaned on his shoulder, plucked a gem out of her satchel, and held it up to the moonlight so they could both see.

"…and I doubt you can offer the kind of scratch I make anyway. Take this little prize. Do you have any idea how much a Suleiman emerald's worth?"

Batman resisted the urge to push her away or comment on the blatant larceny. "You're holding the Belgrade stone, smallest of the original Suleiman quartet but the only one that Napoleon the Third's niece didn't cut her initials into. It's about nine hundred dollars with your usual gem fence. Wait a month and you might ransom it back to the museum for a thousand and a quarter."

"Of course you do." Catwoman rolled her eyes and put away the gem. "Dare I ask how you keep learning about my fences?"

He ignored the question and faced her again. "Help me and I can offer one and a half thousand for one night's work: no caped busybodies in your way, payment in cash."

He couldn't tell whether it was the "caped busybodies" or "payment in cash", but as he spoke her features lit up with sudden interest.

"Well, well. Fifteen hundred, huh? Been pickin' pockets off all those gangsters you beat up?" She paced away and tapped her lips, a bargainer's glint in her eye. "Alright, let's assume you can get the money, what's the pitch? Saving kittens from trees?"

He gave a dry look. She guessed it was the closest he got to a smile and called it a win. "No. Do you actually think I do that?"

"When you're not chasing after me that is, but I suppose everybody needs a hobby."

"I don't have hobbies."

"That's sad. What's the gig?"

"It's well-suited to your habits, though the environment's very different from your usual targets."

"You didn't answer my question, Batman."

"Fine."

Batman held out a dim photograph of a heavy door handle. There was a combination padlock on the latch constraining the handle and a large deadbolt above it.

"Here's the crux of the job. Can you open this?"

Catwoman took the photo and pulled a very small flashlight from inside her sleeve. Batman started to describe the picture, but Catwoman held out a finger and shushed him. He frowned but stopped talking.

She squinted at it for a brief moment, then turned off her light and nodded. "Yes, I can open this."

"How quickly?"

"Am I standing or hanging inverted?"

"Standing."

"Is there a lot of noise near the door?"

"Typical for a wilderness area. Wind. Footsteps. Possibly engines running nearby."

"Hmm. The padlock's the real challenge. I might crack the combination in about thirty-five seconds. Fifty at most. Depends."

"And the deadbolt?"

"Pff, this deadbolt's easy: five-pin, basic catalog model. Under seven seconds, no problem. Under four if it's not rusted."

"Seven seconds? Implausible."

"Implausible is you never tripping over that cape. Keep in mind, I play with bank safes. I can handle little deadbolt locks in my sleep," she poked him in the chest, "Now, assuming that's fast enough for you, where's your fifteen hundred dollar door?"

"I'd like to explain the story first."

"Oh?"

"You deserve to understand the ... gravity of the situation." He noticed the puzzled look on her face. "Problem?"

"Well, that's surprisingly thoughtful for an employer in this line of work."

He gave a modest head-tilt. "Fair warning, it may be unsettling."

"I'm a big girl, Batman. What's the story?"

He coughed primly into his fist. Batman's dark baritone suddenly turned less harsh. She noted that he almost sounded like a person, richer and using more full sentences. Catwoman wondered if this was how he normally talked when he wasn't yelling at psychopaths or splendid cat burglars.

"Since early November, I've been aware of an extensive ring of corpse thieves working in Gotham. They've stayed mostly unnoticed by targeting the unidentified deceased. The city morgues process an average of three unclaimed bodies a day, and this rate triples in winter. Their victims, usually the homeless, die with no will or relatives. The thieves have been entering the morgues with fake identities and taking these unclaimed cadavers soon after they're found, usually within a day of their arrival and cursory autopsy."

Catwoman gave a look of concern and disgust. "Why didn't you shut this group down in November?"

He frowned. "I've been busy."

She looked at him incredulously. "Really? Too busy for corpse thieves?"

"Yes." he said stiffly.

"Corpse thieves!"

"There are other considerations for-"

"You've been running after pickpockets for a month when somebody's stealing bodies?"

He gave her a meaningful glare, "I respect the dead, but I protect the living. Bodies or not, the streets are desperate. Neighbors are mugging each other for food and propane! But I guess that variety of petty crime is beneath your interest."

"Hold on, I didn't mean to-"

He raised his voice over her. "I've seen stickups over children's gifts! Vagrants are fighting to the death tonight over warm places to sleep. Half the cops won't leave their cars if it drops below twenty. The road crews are in the pocket-"

Catwoman held up her hands and yelled, "Stop! Alright! Fine, far be it from me to question your almighty priorities," she pointed a finger at him, "but unless you want me to walk away right now, don't you dare talk to me like I'm some heartless-" Batman almost added "thief" but kept his mouth shut. "-some heartless, privileged hedonist."

They eyed each other with bitter intensity. Under his cape, Batman thumbed the edge of a flash pellet. Catwoman discretely palmed the handle of her whip. It felt like old times.

But this time, neither moved. The wind rattled the windows.

Idiot, Bataman berated himself, provoked with one irrelevant criticism. This was why he didn't seek allies. Now the night was ruined. A shame, but he had other contingencies without her; they just happened to be a lot more dangerous. He would have called this a disappointment but frankly it lasted longer than he had expected. Regardless, it was time to disengage. Ready to counter her inevitable strike, he idly considered an escape route.

But seconds passed and the attack didn't come. This was so amazing that Batman stopped his tactical planning and actually looked at her. Catwoman was clearly upset, a mix of wounded pride and ... dejection? Whatever it was, it wasn't hostility. She hadn't issued a threat, just a demand for respect. He only heard a threat because he was so used to hearing them.

Batman muttered internally. So they were both acting out of habit. Were they just a pair of maladjusted pubescents?

Surely his city was doomed.

He let out a breath and stood down. Recalling every lesson he knew on acting contrite (there weren't many), Batman stared at the floor. "I don't think of you as privileged. Or a hedonist. And I wouldn't have come here if I thought you were heartless."

She stared at him, forceful but undecided, a loose stick-shift hovering between third and neutral. Finally, she nodded. "I guess I accept your apology. I was just a little surprised grave-robbing was a problem these days," she shrugged, "or this century."

Catwoman tried to play it cool, but Batman could see what had stayed her hand. There was interest in her face; she was eager to hear the rest of the story.

Catwoman leaned against an easel and moved an errant lock of hair from over her shoulder. "So you've been too busy to stop the body snatchers. What's changed?"

"They've escalated. Three nights ago, a homeless couple: Wendell and Alice Dupree, were smothered in their sleep behind the 8th Street Train Station at roughly eleven o'clock. According to the coroner's report, the bodies were discovered by an anonymous bystander within ten minutes of their death. They were processed at the morgue less than half an hour later and the bodies disappeared shortly after midnight." He paused and looked her in the eye. "The odds of a corpse being found so quickly after death are slim-"

"-But the reaction time of the city is unprecedented. The coroners were in on it. It was staged."

Batman nodded. "I already knew morgue technicians had to be passively complicit, but this suggests a larger conspiracy. The prior thefts occurred long after their respective cadavers were discovered, suggesting the thieves didn't know of the deaths until the morgue reported them. In other words, crimes of opportunity."

"Like vultures."

He nodded again. "But the thieves somehow knew just when the Duprees would arrive; the murders were either performed or paid for by the thieves themselves."

"Then go rough up some morgue technicians, find the thieves, dangle them over a building, and leave them for the cops."

"It's not that simple."

"Why?"

"I haven't been the only one aware of these thefts. Other morgue employees have tried to involve the authorities, but every investigation gets stonewalled. Several of the whistle-blowers have been fired. Someone exceptionally powerful is protecting these conspirators. If I harass the drones at the bottom, the leader will see me coming and hide or retaliate. I need to destroy the program from the top."

"Do you have any idea who that powerful someone is?"

"Perhaps. Once I heard about the murders, I found evidence that the thieves carried the two cadavers away in a refrigerated truck that left the city heading northwest."

"Then they could be anywhere."

"Fortunately, a Gotham Turnpike operator fifty-nine miles upstate remembered seeing an ice truck pass through early the following morning. He said the truck was memorable because the driver tried to avoid paying the toll, claiming 'military business' and showing War Department papers."

"The War Department? Why does the Army want fresh corpses so bad they're willing to kill Americans to get them?"

"I don't know." He paused and then spoke very carefully. "The possibilities are deeply troubling."

"Isn't this just another corruption case? You've taken on the government before."

"I've stopped bureaucrats and petty officials. Military law is different. There's no telling how far up the chain of command this murder was approved, let alone what officer runs the program. The Army's been mobilizing since July. Catwoman, Washington has granted certain projects ... remarkable autonomy." She spied in his stony visage about one-fifth of what most people called dismay. "I can't begin to speculate what these conspirators are capable of."

A mouse ran across the floor and disappeared into the wall. She gave him a strange, uncomfortable look. It almost seemed like sympathy. He frowned. Was she worried about him? No, he decided, Batman never evoked sympathy. He must have misread her expression. She was simply concerned for her own safety. Such a massive abuse of authority might hurt anyone.

Again, Catwoman couldn't hear his internal monologue and broke the silence. "I think I'm starting to see where I come into this. The only Army property in that direction is Fort Morrison."

"Yes."

"You plan on visiting?"

"I went last evening."

"And that's where the door is?"

Batman nodded gravely. "The base was exceptionally well guarded."

"It's a military garrison."

"Even by the standards of an active Army site. Trust me."

"Okay. What did you find?"

"Our truck from the morgue. It was parked at a long brick building. One story, no windows. Unfortunately, the building had very secure entrances. Guard checkpoints. ID passes. Floodlights."

"I get the idea. How'd you take a photo this close then?"

"The building had three doors: the main personnel door in the front, guarded and frequently used; a garage door on the side, rarely needed but also guarded; and a third door in the back," he pointed at the photo, "Locked but unmanned."

"No one posted nearby?"

"Out of all static lines of sight."

Catwoman nearly purred. "Very nice."

"Even then, picking the lock and cracking the combination would have taken me at least two minutes, long enough for the patrols to find me."

"Two minutes? That's pretty amateur."

"As you said, I usually don't use the door."

"Then you realized what you were up again against and left to find me?"

"No. Then I spent yesterday attempting to disguise myself as a corpse, but I realized acting dead convincingly during an autopsy would take weeks of preparation."

She laughed lightly.

"What's funny?"

"Your joke about the…oh. Really?"

He looked at her deadpan.

She waved away the comment. "Forget it. Go on."

"I realized my only sound options required a partner, a practiced infiltrator who can bypass the locks faster than I can. Someone who can take care of herself in dangerous situations. Someone with skills in-"

"If you don't quit now, I just might blush. I don't suppose you've considered writing a letter to General Marshall instead? Maybe send a telegram to Roosevelt? Who has the power to stop it?"

"Depends on who's behind it. The President, certainly. The congressional military committees. Certain flag officers. Possibly a federal judge. In any case, I'd need damning proof from deep inside that building: photographs of the bodies or copies of incriminating orders. That should compel a real investigation no matter who ordered it. If it's protected all the way to the top, then we take it to the people. I know newspaper editors that might risk printing it. But that's worst case scenario. I'd rather not involve any innocents. I won't let good people get hurt for this."

She took a defiant stance with her hands on her hips. "So instead you call me."

Batman mentally slapped himself. "Catwoman, I'm…I'm sorry. That was a poor choice of words."

"Oh, your words are just fine. First 'please', now 'sorry'. I guess your mother's proud she raised you right."

For half a blink, Batman grimaced and looked past her. This reaction was so minor and brief that Catwoman barely noticed it. She could have sworn that, for a moment, her favorite human Maoi statue had looked vulnerable. But how could that be?

That would mean ... had she hurt his feelings?

More importantly: he had feelings?

No. She must have imagined it. Batman was just staring away to find clues or something, probably going through calculus proofs until she calmed down.

Still, no point in being a jerk; that was his job.

Catwoman sighed and dropped the pose.

"I get it, we're not innocents when we put on the masks," she smiled, "me especially."

Batman was wise enough to keep quiet, even if he really, really agreed. He gave a non-committal head-tilt. She began to pace around him again.

"So, to reiterate: you want my help breaking into a very tightly-defended building in Fort Morrison, a superbly well-defended military instillation that Batman himself found too hot to handle? And if I'm caught, assuming I'm not shot to pieces in the process, I would be tried for high treason and thrown into the deepest, dirtiest hole they can find."

"Essentially."

"I guess it's my patriotic duty then. But I want double: three grand," she gave a grin and a wink, "and let's say twenty percent up front."

She was joking about the up-front payment, of course. Even if the Bat carried money around (and why would he?), there was no way he had that much on hand. Three thousand was nearly double what most locals made in a year.

He looked at her impassively. Right, no sense of humor. "I was just kidd-"

"Done."

Batman pulled out a roll of bills. To her utter astonishment, he began to count Benjamins into her hand.

"Meet sundown. Two days. Rodger's Repair Shop, it's a condemned building on the Turnpike just north of town."

Catwoman was busy starring at the crisp six hundred bucks in her hands. "Uh, yeah. Sure. Sundown. You do know I was joking about the twenty percent, right?"

"Be rested. Bring every tool you feel comfortable using. We can discuss a detailed plan then."

"Do you always carry this much green around?"

"Depends."

"On the sudden need to buy a house?"

Batman turned to leave. "Two days. Sundown."
Author: Batman 1939
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madd0ct0r
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby madd0ct0r » 2016-09-01 01:01am

This is batman. It just feels right in a way gothic cyberpunk dsent.
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-01 05:55am

It's really quite good. A few bits stood out of this last chapter:

One is Catwoman going "Wait, Batman has feelings?"

Another is Batman NOT being at least, shall we say, journeyman-grade at picking locks. I'd honestly expect him to be in the weighted average of most of his portrayals. He takes the law seriously, and picking a lock is a less vandalistic and destructive way to enter a building than smashing through a window, after all.

And then there's the reference to 'serial killer.' My first thought was "wait, nobody used that phrase until the 1970s." Then my second was "wait, of course there's a phrase for that concept in 1940-era Gotham."

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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2016-09-01 03:51pm

Simon_Jester wrote:It's really quite good. A few bits stood out of this last chapter:

One is Catwoman going "Wait, Batman has feelings?"


:lol:

Another is Batman NOT being at least, shall we say, journeyman-grade at picking locks. I'd honestly expect him to be in the weighted average of most of his portrayals. He takes the law seriously, and picking a lock is a less vandalistic and destructive way to enter a building than smashing through a window, after all.


Yeah, that seems a bit off. But remember, he didn't say that he couldn't do it, just that he couldn't do it fast enough to avoid the level of security on the base.

And I don't know, its kind of nice to have a Batman who isn't overpowered at everything.

And then there's the reference to 'serial killer.' My first thought was "wait, nobody used that phrase until the 1970s." Then my second was "wait, of course there's a phrase for that concept in 1940-era Gotham."


What did they call them before the '70s? I mean, the general public must have been aware of such people at least back to Jack the Ripper (I'm sure their are older cases, but that one got a lot of attention and was an early one in the age of newspapers).
"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy." - Lincoln.

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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-01 05:29pm

The Romulan Republic wrote:Yeah, that seems a bit off. But remember, he didn't say that he couldn't do it, just that he couldn't do it fast enough to avoid the level of security on the base.

And I don't know, its kind of nice to have a Batman who isn't overpowered at everything.
Also, doing a little research, it looks like this is a Batman who's relatively new to the role of the caped crusader. Maybe he'll get better with more practice. :D

And then there's the reference to 'serial killer.' My first thought was "wait, nobody used that phrase until the 1970s." Then my second was "wait, of course there's a phrase for that concept in 1940-era Gotham."
What did they call them before the '70s? I mean, the general public must have been aware of such people at least back to Jack the Ripper (I'm sure their are older cases, but that one got a lot of attention and was an early one in the age of newspapers).
Well, apparently Germans were using a term that translates literally as "serial murderer" in the '30s and later... but as far as I know, there was no generally accepted term for someone who repeatedly killed people due to deranged personal motives. Other words like "mass murderer" or "maniac" might well have been used.

I suspect that people may not have been as aware that serial killers were a category, because psychology and criminology were still in a very early state of development at this time.

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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-01 10:07pm

madd0ct0r wrote:This is batman. It just feels right in a way gothic cyberpunk dsent.


Thanks. Not much room for cyberpunk when the modern transistor hasn’t been invented yet. The setting has a lot of advantages I could list.


Simon_Jester wrote:It's really quite good. A few bits stood out of this last chapter:

One is Catwoman going "Wait, Batman has feelings?"

Another is Batman NOT being at least, shall we say, journeyman-grade at picking locks. I'd honestly expect him to be in the weighted average of most of his portrayals. He takes the law seriously, and picking a lock is a less vandalistic and destructive way to enter a building than smashing through a window, after all.

And then there's the reference to 'serial killer.' My first thought was "wait, nobody used that phrase until the 1970s." Then my second was "wait, of course there's a phrase for that concept in 1940-era Gotham."


I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

Regarding lockpicking, your reaction makes sense given the chapter, though there's a little more to it. First, Catwoman was teasing him; nearly everyone is an amateur to her. Also, a reason he struggles to lockpick in a hurry is that the task requires deftness and tactile sensitivity, and he wears thick gloves which he is reluctant to remove.

When Batman admitted to working slowly, he mainly meant because of the combination lock. This is a rare obstacle for him, mostly found on safes, lockers, and sheds, so he doesn’t devote much practice to it. If he must crack a combination lock, his stealth usually gives him the luxury of time.

He’s much better with regular key locks and the various clasps you find on windows, though his chops here are still barely journeyman-grade. Incidentally, he almost never breaks a window unless he wants to make a loud entrance or he’s already been spotted. His savvy with more common locks is enough to handle 80% of infiltration and exfiltration jobs that involve a lock (and many don’t). The one branch of lock-picking he’s mastered is escape-artistry. Those locks he can do lickety-split, but they tend to be simple.

I’m making an effort to keep Batman’s capabilities borderline sensible for an obsessed polymath.

Thank you for pointing out that ‘serial killer’ is an anachronistic term. I'll have to see if its possible to edit in this forum. I try to keep the language consistent with the period.
Author: Batman 1939
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-01 10:22pm

Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Chapter 4: Small Talk


Bruce Wayne hated sleep. Sleep was when the demons came. For eighteen years it was the same montage: the metal click of the hammer; the bulb-flash of the muzzle turning off the night; two CRACKs of thunder; the airy musk of burnt saltpeter; a pause; then her string of weightless pearls in free fall; a strong grip fading off his shoulder; his own shaking hands, too pitiful to intervene; and finally, inevitably, his reflection in the wet cement.

And the pain didn't dull with repetition. His unconscious was Hell's own jazz band - it had a knack for inventing fresh twists on the classics. Maybe one night the assailant turned the gun on him too. Maybe the moon fell out of the sky and crushed the city. Maybe tiny worms crawled out of everyone's skin. His mind brewed misery with a variety that had not run stale in eighteen years. He passed his waking hours knowing torture hid behind his eyelids.

But even that wasn't always so simple. A few visions were far stranger than mere nightmare: abstract pastiches and alien notions, rhymes, tessellations, sense memories warped to the fringe of the inscrutable, sound and fury signifying nothing. It was the boiling opiate intersection of Picasso and Bosch. He was a man having a stroke in a carnival, a drowning kaleidoscope. These rare dreams were cold and meaningless. Though painless they unsettled him, made him question reality when he awoke. Bruce wasn't sure what brought on these psychedelic visions. It wasn't toxin exposure or heat stroke; he knew both. Bruce resented having some loose part of his psyche mocking his quest for self-knowledge.

In either case, whether violently coherent or unnervingly surreal, Bruce tried to avoid his dreams. This he mostly did by staying awake as long as possible, a harsh limit discovered through a lifetime of trial and error. Bruce occasionally wondered what this lean cycle would do to his longevity. He doubted he would reach an age to find out.

Still, all men must sleep. When forced to rest, Bruce had other ways to keep the ghosts at bay. The most common was exercise. As a child, he discovered by happy accident that if he wore himself out swimming or playing in the schoolyard, he would sometimes fail to dream. Once he recognized this, it became his drug. And like all drugs, he had to push his limits as his tolerance grew. Bruce wasn't born an athlete; he was compelled to it.

With his superlative fitness, this trick hadn't been reliable for years. He could earn a peaceful night's rest by running a mile when he was twelve, but today he could run a marathon and his odds of peace wouldn't break fifty-fifty. So, he pursued other methods. In his traveling days, Bruce sought out the distant masters of the contemplative arts. In studying meditation, he steadily cracked the common limits of the mind. Most revolutionary of all these techniques was the art of clearing the subconscious before slumber. Yet even this was a salve, not a cure. To meditate, Bruce needed to empty his thoughts, a task which demanded patience and calm. By the time he got home he was often too tired to bother.

However burdensome meditation was, at least it was safe. The real dilemma was medicine. Sleep research was an infant field, but there were plenty of drugs that shut off dreams entirely, if only for a night. For obvious reasons, these were among the first he studied. He knew the recipes by heart. And in the bad days, the days when waking and sleeping competed in the hurt they could bring, it was a seductive option indeed. There had been evenings as a young man when he sat on the cold tile of his bathroom floor with a tiny cup of pharmaceuticals in hand. He would sit and ponder, watching the swirls of the liquid inside. But in the end he always poured it down the drain. Bruce knew far too many addicts to solve his problems with a chemical. It didn't matter how often his own screaming woke him up.

Finally, and on very seldom occasions, Bruce slept without dreaming for no reason at all. Such was the case last night: he simply fell into bed at four in the morning, brain boiling with plans and worries, then nothing. Now it was half past ten. He didn't feel anxious or bleak, just rested.

Pleasantly half-awake, he enjoyed the serenity of the moment, the texture of fine cotton sheets and the scent of the mint plant on the windowsill. In some tiny back office of his perception, Bruce heard the wall clock's minute hand click smoothly over the six.

A moment later, heavy curtains were pulled back and a regiment of sunlight pillaged every nerve endings on Bruce's face.

He blinked and saw a thin figure silhouetted in the light. The towering figure leaned over him and spoke.

"Rise and shine, Master Bruce."

Bruce Wayne was not a child. He didn't try petty tricks, pleading or turning over. They wouldn't have worked. Instead, he frowned and sat up.

"Good morning, Alfred."

"Good morning, sir. You didn't ring the trauma bell when you got in. No injuries I presume?"

"No."

"Good. Legal status?"

"Unaltered."

"Suit damage?"

"None."

"A refreshing change. And I must say you seem in high spirits this morning."

"I slept well."

Bruce wasn't smiling but did seem uncharacteristically relaxed, a nuance which spoke volumes for a practiced eye like Pennyworth's. The younger man pushed stiffly out of bed and accepted the offered glass of water. He took a sip and said no more, but Alfred wasn't fooled, having been awakened by the boy's screaming more often than the boy woke himself. But a gentleman was tactful. He let the miracle slide.

"Very good, sir. Your four newspapers are on the dresser. Breakfast is cooling downstairs." Alfred headed for the door. "Do hurry, I expect full details of last night's events when you're finished."

Bruce fought an old instinct to roll his eyes. Alfred Pennyworth had very few priorities in life that outranked knowledge of Batman's operations. Ensuring that Bruce Wayne got enough to eat was one of them.

---

Cities the size and age of Gotham had an almost recursive depth. Outsiders may stereotype, but Gothamites knew that each of the seven districts had its own story, and every community in those districts carried a certain attitude found nowhere else. Sometimes a single block could be its own little country.

A classic example was the Newmar-Harlow Building.

The East End was the second or third ugliest district in the city (depending on who you asked and whether it had rained that day). The general standard of living rivaled Dickensian Manchester, except the East End dealt with industrial chemicals that the Victorians hadn't invented yet. An East Ender possessed a vocabulary half the breadth of the average American but knew fourfold the obscenities. It was the only place in North America where the muskrat was both a staple food and a leading cause of death.

Yet East Enders weren't all the same. The old jokes claimed they were all Scots-Irish bachelors, but a solid third of the district was taken by the Tricolour: a residential community of poor Greeks and very poor Hungarians, all married with children. One of the worst-kept secrets of Gotham politics was that, due to a quirk in the migraine-inducing shapes of city voting precincts, the Alderman's Seat always went to whichever candidate could win both sides of the Tricolour. Thus, a savvy Alderman aimed to unite the Greeks and Hungarians long enough to get elected and then sow discord between them to ruin future contenders. That second step was the easy one; Gotham's Greeks and Hungarians hated each other with a barely-contained passion no one else understood.

But even this wasn't the whole story. In the very center of the Tricolour was the Red Hill neighborhood, a ribbon of townhouses that ran between the Greek and Hungarian halves. Red Hill was almost exclusively a Negro area - families with deep roots and a few new faces up from Charleston. Relations with the bordering whites were cordial, but neither side passed though if they could help it, so Tricolour's two big rivals were effectively quarantined. All parties tacitly agreed this was probably for the best. City leaders prayed nightly that it stayed that way. Besides its strange role as a demographic no-man's land, Red Hill was also famous for its sandstone brick facades and Prohibition jazz clubs.

On the east side of Red Hill was Kitt Street, named for its founding resident, Benedict Kitt: 19th century German-Jamaican textile magnate, abolitionist, and attempted revolutionary. In 1863, Kitt witnessed the Draft Riots when over a hundred minority locals were killed out of racial spite. It was a solitary tragedy, but Kitt mistook it as the first tremors of a national pogrom.

Surveying Gotham, he purchased all the colored slums within three blocks of his home and bought the rights to rename the land after himself (his altruism never tempered his ego). Kitt then spent his fortune building a nation-in-miniature: a hotel, a civic center, a school, a post office, a stable, a newspaper, a public green, and even a hospital. Finally in 1865, on New Year's Day, he lit several hundred fireworks and declared independence from the Union, confidently ignoring the well-known anti-independence-from-the-Union policy the Union held at the time. Kitt's dream was that his neighbors would realize the inevitable race war and move to his glorious new country.

Kitt and six friends were arrested in minutes. It took an hour for the authorities to realize that the idiot setting off illegal fireworks was committing treason.

This weird episode would have concluded with Red Hill getting a fine set of new public buildings, but unfortunately a stray firework landed in a pile of trash, eventually burning down all of Kitt's empire save for the hotel and hospital. The charred land eventually filled back in as before, leaving the cutting-edge medical center and the four-story luxury palace out of place among the shanties and flophouses. The plumbing alone would have been a zoning nightmare had Gotham possessed a functional zoning board.

The hotel passed through many hands as such white elephants are wont to until it became a set of apartments catering to the doctors who worked in the hospital next door. The hospital, eventually called East End General, soon became famous for its local pro bono work. It was out of respect for these doctors alone that the apartments hadn't been vandalized to destruction decades ago.

Under the most recent management since 1929, Kitt's dream hotel was now called the Newmar-Harlow Building.

Selina Kyle lived on the third floor of the Newmar-Harlow Building. Its apartments were far nicer than the price implied, a real four-star treatment at a two-star cost. After all, the market for upscale housing tended to be weak on streets where the garbage cans smelled like muskrat. This lean price tag suited Selina just fine. Her personal assets were decidedly not liquid at the moment: you couldn't pay rent with a Nubian relic.

Furthermore, the East End in general and Red Hill in particular were very unfriendly to cops (to put it lightly). On the very slim chance the fuzz managed to catch a whiff of her less licit activities and came knocking, her neighbors would sooner lick a dumpster than snitch on a friendly local. A lady in her line of work found this trait useful.

It had been a strange night for Selina. She finally fell asleep by two-twenty and was up by six, much earlier than Bruce Wayne on both counts. Whereas his sleep was remarkably peaceful, her mind was churning the whole time; she told herself it was just the coffee. And while Bruce was met upon waking by an old friend, Selina was alone. She had to call one.

Pfeiffer's Wharf was a mere twelve blocks from the Newmar-Harlow Building. Unlike most of Gotham's beaches, it was pleasantly devoid of broken bottles or dead fish. Gulls squawked lazily overhead. A line of massive cargo ships puttered along the horizon. Here, Selina Kyle and Maven Lewis jogged along the cold sand in jackets and winter trousers, their scarves trailing behind them. The two were friends and occasional business partners. Selina ran fresh as a daisy with long, even strides. Maven didn't.

"Huuu, huuu, huu. Ste- Stop! Stop. Need to catch my bre-huuu-breath."

Maven hunched over and panted her lungs out. Selina, a few yards ahead of her, begrudgingly stopped and jogged in place.

"Come on Maven, if you fall over, you'll get sand in your glasses. We've gone two measly miles."

Maven lacked the strength to lift her head but raised a finger in objection, "Huuuu, huuu, huuu - Two miles - huuu, huuu - over sand dunes - huuuu huuu - in December - huuuu, huuu, huuuu - you lunatic."

"I wouldn't call these little bumps 'sand dunes'. Let's make it to the dock and then we can get breakfast. You know I can't think straight before my run."

"Do you think straight, phuuuuu, ever?" Maven brushed her sweat-frazzled ponytail off her shoulder and achingly stood up. "Fine, but your news had better be dynamite."

"Like you wouldn't believe, Mave."

"And you're paying."

---

Beside the pool in the Manor's sun parlor was a small exercise corner. It was mostly for show - Bruce hadn't used dumbbells that small since he started shaving - but he did take advantage of the corner for short warmups; it was a lot closer to the rest of the home than his main gym. The gear was of the finest brands, of course, York Barbell and Z. Ogger Athletics, but today he only needed his cheap jump-rope: four minutes, five hundred turns. Then a shower. Then breakfast.

Most mornings, Bruce Wayne ate at a small table adjacent to the kitchen in the back of the East Wing. It used to be where the Manor's retinue of servants ate, in the days when that number was much larger than one. Bruce knew from old family stories that certain ancestors of his might take offense at their scion eating in a dim corner like a scullery maid, but if the house had any indignant ghosts around, he didn't care. He refused to let Alfred go through the burden of setting up the great dining hall every day for only one diner. And eating alone in that massive room was terribly depressing. Those priggish Waynes were never the heroes in his family stories anyhow.

"Your breakfast, sir." Alfred carried over a pewter tray with a two cranberry muffins, diced pears, seven poached eggs, and hot tea, all on fine china. Bruce nodded and began to consume with the indifferent efficiency he gave most domestic tasks.

Alfred virtually never ate with Bruce despite a lifetime of offers; the manservant had an ironclad sense of propriety about that sort of thing. Instead, he stood nearby and started the Morning Report.

The Report evolved out his breakfast reminders when Bruce was a teenager, mentioning the day's appointments and other news. When Bruce returned to the Manor as a young man, he requested that Alfred restart the tradition with a bit of an expanded scope. After all, Mr. Bruce Anthony Wayne wore many hats: business executive, philanthropist, host, travel enthusiast, real estate tycoon, serial romantic, and member of seven civic groups and three social clubs. Bruce found that keeping track of even three or four of these roles fiercely taxed his attention. Having a comprehensive four minute life summary to start the day was invaluable.

"-And at five past three, I'll supervise the weekly dusting of the fourth floor. The chaps from Wriggly Janitorial have proven through and discreet; if they do well this time, I'll offer them the full winter contract. The usual rates. Oh, and Mr. Fox called earlier this morning. He requested you in the office by ten. If you're willing to run the abbreviated variation of you mid-day exercise, we can easily get into the city by a quarter to one."

Bruce never stopped eating to nod or respond, but Alfred knew he was listening. Their bond was deep and needed few pleasantries. With familiar synchronicity, Bruce finished his last bite seconds after Alfred's talk concluded. Bruce dabbed his mouth with a napkin. "No need to delay, Alfred. I'm skipping exercise today."

Alfred Pennyworth nearly coughed in surprise. Unless he was in traction, Bruce loathed missing a training session. "Is that so, sir?"

"Yes, if we head to the office early then we can return early. I have a few loose ends to wrap up tonight, the sooner the better. I'll also be cutting patrol much shorter. I intend to be in by eleven."

"Careful, Master Bruce, that timetable almost sounds civilized."

Bruce gave him a look. "Risible. I'm trying to save my energy."

Alfred put the dirty plates back on the tray. "I don't suppose this rest is merely a well-deserved gift to yourself."

"My birthday was last week."

"A delayed gift, then. I seem to recall you celebrated your birthday by attending your own party for a single hour-"

"And a half."

"-before slinking off to watch fungus samples under a microscope until morning."

"That fungus proved to be the lynchpin of a vital investigation."

"Indeed."

"Besides, I knew the guests had your charm and wit to entertain them, Alfred."

"Save the flattery, Master Wayne, I already made you breakfast."

"Regardless, it was a worthwhile endeavor"

Alfred gave the young man a calculating look. "And was last evening a worthwhile endeavor?"

Bruce sighed. "I suppose now I tell you how my night went?"

"Yes, Master Bruce, I suppose you do."

---

Selina and Maven conspired over pancakes in a corner booth at Granny Pickens, the only breakfast diner in the East End with a live fireplace during winter. They both loved pancakes, and Selina found it convenient that Granny Pickens was both religiously opposed to gossip and nearly deaf.

"-and he says that's where the truck ended up. So evidently they've transported these bodies to an Army base upstate. He needs me to crack some locks so he can get proof that Uncle Sam is in cahoots with the thieves and blow the gig wide open."

"Can you tell it again? Slowly?"

"Maven, that's the third time. It's not that difficult."

"No, not all this cloak-and-dagger hooey. I mean," she looked around to ensure they were still alone and whispered, "you actually talked to The Batman!"

Selina couldn't help but chuckle. Maven was usually the level-headed one. Plus, if she played it cool, it was easier to pretend that a tiny, irritating corner of her mind hadn't been playing the exact same tune since she woke up.

"Yes Mave, I talked to The Batman."

"The Real McCoy?"

"His invitation."

"And? And?"

"And naturally, he was a pompous killjoy, but less so than usual. It was a nice chat," Selina gave a cavalier shrug, as if such things were weekly parlor games.

Maven whistled. "Alright, paint the scene for me. What was he like?"

"Don't you want to talk about the job I accepted? The one where I commit espionage on the federal government? Or about the cabal of Army-sponsored body snatchers roaming the streets? Or how I'm set to jump two tax brackets if this goes through?"

"Ha. As if you reported all your income."

"Hey, you know I'm careful. That's how they got Capone."

"I was kidding, honey. I used to file your taxes. And no, I don't want to talk about any of that. Or, more accurately, I know better."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"How long have we known each other, Selina?"

"Are we counting Monaco?"

"Naturally."

"Baltimore?"

"Yes."

"Ottawa?"

Maven hissed, "Ottawa never happened."

"Geesh, you'll never let that go, will you? The boxcar wasn't even that bad."

"Ottawa ... Never ... Happened."

"Fine. Ignoring Ottawa, we've known each other about six years."

"And in those six years, how many times have you done something reckless?"

Selina pursed her lips like a scholar struggling for an obscure bit of trivia. "Several ... dozen?"

"Several dozen a year, at least. If I got worked up every time you were in way over your head, I'd have a conniption. However you do it, by now I'm sure you know what you're doing," Maven nodded emphatically, "And I'm double sure I couldn't change your mind anyway."

Selina let out a dramatic sigh. "Fine. What do you want to know about Batman?"

"Is he really seven feet tall?"

"Off by about a foot."

Maven gasped. "He's eight feet tall?"

"Guess again."

"Did he appear in a gust of wind?"

"Uh, no."

Maven readjusted her glasses and leaned forward. "Were there little bats following him around in the rafters?"

"No."

"Did you smell brimstone? Did his shadow move on its own accord?"

"No and no."

"Did his eyes look into your soul?'

"You actually can't see his eyes, there's some sort of frosted glass in the way."

"Did he fly in?"

"He walked in."

"Does he grow bigger when he gets angry?"

"No.

"He's an experiment gone horribly wrong!"

"Excuse me?

"Maybe he seems immortal because he's a clone. He dies and they send another."

"Well, I can't disprove that, but he sounded like the same guy. Moved like him too."

"A commie agent!"

"That's-"

"No, better, a team of disgruntled cops that take matters into their own hands."

"I've already said it's one guy."

"Maybe there is a group of Bat-men but you happen to meet the same one each time."

"Maven."

"Oh! Maybe it's always the same one because he's assigned to you!"

"By whom?"

"Moscow!"

"Honestly, Maven. Where do you hear these things?"

Maven shrugged sheepishly. "Here and there. Don't pretend this isn't fascinating! He's a living legend! I mean, golly, you practically just had tea with Santa Claus. Or Dracula."

"You and everybody else in the city, huh? I've told you a thousand times; he's not a demon or a ghost or whatever else you think he is. And I admit he may be fascinating-"

"Ah-ha!"

"-but so is a car wreck. That genius who went over Niagara in a barrel was fascinating. I wouldn't exactly invite him to lunch."

Maven knew Selina better than that. "Are you sure you're not downplaying this just a tiny bit?"

"Cross my heart. He's a big lug with a balled up code of morality and a poor sense of self-preservation, nothing more."

"Said the pot to the kettle."

"Hey!" Selina gave an offended pout and crossed her arms. Her companion took the opportunity to steal half her pancake.

Maven had the patience and goodwill found in the best diplomats and kindergarten teachers, so she never bothered to match Selina quip for quip. It was easy to forget she had a wit of her own, making her rare bon mots all the sharper.

Maven talked as she chewed. "Look - Mmm - I'm tired of living vicariously through you." She stifled a burp, "I'm coming to see him."

"Maven dear, trust my voice of experience. Things around Batman tend to be very ... active."

"So?"

"You couldn't run three miles."

"I could if I had a good reason. Just bring me along and see what he says."

"Look, I'm sure Batman, well, actually I'm not sure how he'd react." Selina pondered at the ceiling. "That's an interesting question. He'd probably grunt and ignore you. Then he'd yell at me for bringing a guest."

"Shoot." Maven slumped onto the table.

Selina shrugged apologetically and took a gulp of orange juice. "Any other questions?"

"Fine. If you thought he was so unexceptional, how would you describe him?"

Selina tried to speak but paused. Her habit would naturally be to fire off a nice zinger at Sir Frowny-face's expense. It was fun and easy. But some answers weren't supposed to be fun and easy. Batman was a lot of things, but she suddenly wasn't in the mood to make him a punchline.

How would she describe him?

Big. Intense. Powerful. Sure.

Clever. Stupid. Both true.

Deceptively quiet. Yeah.

Focused. Cold. Fair enough.

But those missed the heart of it. Of him. There was something about talking to the Dark Knight when they weren't trying to eviscerate each other. Some nuance rose to the surface, underpinning all he said and did. She realized that now. But what was it exactly?

Hmm ...

"Hello! Earth to Selina?"

"Hmm?"

"It's your turn. How would you describe Batman?"

Selina looked down and fidgeted with her glass. Finally, the nuance coalesced.

"Unhappy."

Maven waved dismissively. "Everybody knows he's angry. That's his-"

Selina looked up. "No. Not angry, unhappy."

"Not angry?"

"You've just heard the stories. Batman gets in fights, so of course they say he's vicious and crazy."

"And?"

"It's a biased survey. They didn't stop and listen to him. I did."

"So, he's not angry."

"Well, no. Listen. I've seen him get vicious, sure, but only when he has to be violent. Or when his, I don't know, values are insulted."

She got a dry look in response.

Selina's pitch turned adamant. "I get this is hard to believe, but the rest of the time he's-"

"He's what, Selina? Pleasant?"

"Calm."

"He's calm?"

"Very calm. Even civil. But he's not happy. He's ... miserable."

"Did he mention this?"

"No."

"How could he be miserable? No one's forcing him to do this. He must get a kick out of it."

"Hey, I can tell. I've watched him and I could tell."

"Alright, then why is he miserable?"

"I ... I don't know," It hurt to admit a plain truth, "I have no idea. Who knows why the Hell he does anything? But he's not a raving psychopath."

The two ladies sat in melancholy silence. Selina regretted sucking the fun out of the room.

Fortunately, Maven was never one to brood for long. "Well, at least we learned one interesting thing from last night."

"What's that?"

Maven pointed with her fork and winked. "Psycho or not, when Batman really needed help, you were the first on his list."

---

"Master Bruce, pray tell again why you choose the candidate who was ninth on your list."

Bruce Wayne stood tall in front of his wardrobe mirror, applying a dab of cosmetic concealer to a small bruise on his neck. Alfred attended nearby, a selection of bold neckties draped over his arm. Alfred was giving Bruce a keenly skeptical look, his way of muttering '... you raving psychopath.'

It was a show of sublime respect that Bruce chose to ignore it.

"We discussed this. The first eight choices had insurmountable personal or operational shortcomings. She was the best, or if you prefer," Bruce rubbed the dab invisible, "the most tolerable."

Bruce put on a crisp white shirt and began to button. Alfred wasn't so easily assured.

"Forgive me for acting the broken record, but are you quite sure? Perhaps one more review of your options wouldn't be remiss."

After breakfast, Bruce began last night's tale: breaking up a fight in the Min Lee Marketplace, aiding an elderly couple whose car collided with a lamppost, saving the USS Gotham Bay, and so on. Bruce saved the meeting the elusive Catwoman for last. He stubbornly pretended all Bat-missions were equally worthwhile lest he cast doubt on his scrupulous prioritizing. Alfred tolerated the charade with typical patience.

When it was finally time to tell the story of the classroom encounter, Bruce kept the description brief. Just the facts. He downplayed her ... less professional remarks.

He also omitted their strange meta-conversation of body language entirely. To be fair, he was still trying to translate it.

Bruce finished the last button and straightened his cuffs. "I'm not pleased with this either, but as I said last night, at least she's not actively hostile-"

"My missing yards of suture thread say differently."

"-and she's proven amiable to reason, two very rare traits in my circle of contacts."

"If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas, Master Bruce. One can only presume cats - as the less trustworthy of the two beasts - promise even nastier consequences."

Bruce studied the part of his hairline and adjusted a follicle. "Poetic."

"Every time you've mentioned this Miss Kyle in the past, you harp on her as capricious, flippant, and mercenary."

"And I'm confident that third trait will keep the first two in line."

Alfred chuckled darkly. "Oh-ho. I have a few words for your brazen show of money later, but for now I'm merely baffled and concerned that your opinion of her has improved so drastically. I fear this situation is impairing your judgment."

"Isn't it possible I've thought too little of her in the past?"

"Is it?"

"Perhaps."

"Would 'perhaps' be an acceptable standard if you hadn't imminent desire of her services?"

"No. But that doesn't make the situation any less dire. She gives this mission marginally better odds than if I acted alone. I can't say that for the rest of the list."

Seeing an impasse, the two men retreated into a heavy silence.

Alfred had his own history of military intrigue (a gripping tale for another day), and had involved himself in this operation at every step. Their "list" was a rough sketch of possible accomplices hashed out after Bruce returned from Fort Morrison a failure. The list's only criterion was that the accomplice be an expert lockbreaker. The rest was up for debate.

So they debated.

The first on the list was Hugh Gilbert: a police technician Batman once aided who was also a trusted friend of Detective Gordon, meaning he was both competent and honest. Bruce eventually nixed the idea. Hugh was indeed a master locksmith, but even if he was willing to help (a big if), they admitted he had no practice in infiltration. Plus, jeopardizing an honest cop in Gotham was like using a unicorn to check for landmines.

The second choice was Morton Brackenburger, the city's least scrupulous private investigator. He was the sort of PI with a revoked license in five states and seventeen restraining orders. Brackenburger was one the few men on the planet who trespassed on more properties in a week than the Caped Crusader. He had a reputation for taking on any target for any customer. Unfortunately, Brackenburger was booked solid for a month and he never dropped a client.

So they continued, proposing shadier and shadier characters in growing desperation until Bruce suggested the intractable Catwoman. Alfred thought it was a joke. Bruce, sour to the notion as soon as he brought it up, skipped to the next idea. But hours passed and the prospects grew thin. Bruce, in a moment of frustrated indifference, once again nominated Catwoman and, to their astonishment, neither man was able to find anything disqualifying. The decision was made: Bruce, a resigned yes; Alfred, a begrudging no contest.

Though he still couldn't conceive of anyone better, Alfred was now having second thoughts. As Bruce turned and examined the ties, they entered a tepid stalemate. Bruce usually had an enormous tolerance for uncomfortable silences, but the tactician in him realized he needed Alfred's input now more than ever. This was no time for a grudge. He tried to recall all his recently-proven apology skills.

Bruce cleared his throat awkwardly, "You know, I succeeded last night thanks to you."

"May I suggest the gold and blue Brooks Brothers? And how so?"

Bruce selected the offered tie. "The encounter had ... emergent rhetorical challenges. I would have failed without your tactical analysis."

"Tactical analysis? I don't recall-"

"Your negotiation techniques."

"Oh." Alfred nearly rolled his eyes, "I wouldn't call my advice last night 'negotiation techniques', Master Bruce. I believe a more suitable phrase would be 'simple courtesies' or 'basic etiquette'."

Frankly, Bruce didn't care what they were called. Alfred's ideas were superb.

It was Alfred who suggested psychological judo kata like "please" and "thank you", two pleasantries Batman suppressed out of habit.

It was Alfred who implored that he hold his temper and find emotional commonalities.

And it was Alfred who insisted he invite Catwoman to neutral territory instead of his usual opening move: breaking into her home.

Batman was skeptical at first, but he trusted Alfred so he tried the ideas. He couldn't argue with success.

For his part, Alfred was perennially bothered by how easily Bruce could view social customs as weapons, but he knew to pick his battles and let it slide.

"Well, forgetting my own qualms about the young lady, you are very welcome. And I am proud at what you managed to accomplish. With all my help it sounds like you managed to gravely insult her twice."

Bruce frowned. "In other words, better than expected?"

Alfred allowed himself a fatherly grin, "You know me too well."

Bruce slid into a pinstriped charcoal suit. A side compartment in his mind began to warm up procedures for Wayne the Company Man, Standard Edition.

"I admit her reactions were at times less than optimal-"

"What delicate, sensitive phrasing."

"But the bottom line is I've secured her assistance. We can proceed tomorrow evening."

---

"So you're just going to go through with this tomorrow evening?"

Selina rolled her eyes. "Whatever happened to being sure you couldn't change my mind?"

The two friends were strolling down Merriweather Street, famous for its line of stunted cherry trees along the median. They enjoyed the sharp December air.

"Maybe I'm more worried than usual. Sue me."

"Ha. Like I'll ever see a courtroom."

"Pride cometh before a fall."

"Alright, Sister Maven."

"Maybe you're heading into this a little rashly cause you want to beat that rough streak you're on."

"Excuse me? What rough streak?"

"You know exactly what I mean. Four of your last five jobs have gone sideways. I think you're looking for a novel challenge to break out of this rut."

"Rut? You're way off-base, Maven."

"And golly, lo and behold, a challenge just falls into your lap! You've told me a thousand times, 'never let the size of the score make you dumb'."

"Shut it Maven."

Maven threw up her hands in surrender. "Fine, I kept my mouth shut this long, I can keep it shut a little longer. But we're talking about it sooner or later"

"Good," Selina sighed, "Thank you."

"But you have to admit, most days you'd be tearing up the walls worried about some sort of double-cross. Forget the Army, Batman's been chasing you for a year! Suddenly he has a change of heart? I think he's neat, but he's so sneaky! How is this not bothering you?"

Selina had obviously debated that very concern since she woke up, but she had too much chutzpah to admit it now.

"Batman never sneaks up on people verbally, Maven. Breaking promises has never been his trick. He said we were in a truce. He seemed sincere. If he turns on me, I'll deal with it."

Selina neglected to mention the strange meta-conversation of body language they had last night. To be fair, she was still trying to translate it.

Maven huffed. "Money or not, I know how you think. You have this wacky over-the-moon gut feeling that a reckless stunt will get you back in gear. And if it means riding around with old Dracula-Claus, all the better! You're that sour at being off your game."

"You think I'm off my game? Watch this."

Selina nodded down the sidewalk. Ambling towards them was a ruddy-faced policeman with the bleary eyes of an all-night shift behind him. As they crossed paths at the corner, Selina 'stumbled' into the man, giggling mindlessly.

"Oh, I'm, *HIC*, sorry occifer, och, ox, op, um, officer."

The bemused policeman helped her stand with some stern words about temperance.

Maven gripped Selina by the shoulders and helped march her off, apologizing to the cop over her shoulder. He nodded and continued on his way. Selina dropped the act and looked back at him.

Maven glared with her hands on her hips, "And what was that supposed to prove?"

Selina held up a wallet and a class ring. Maven rolled her eyes, "Big deal. He was practically asleep."

"Wait for it."

"What?"

"Wait for it ..."

Selina gestured for them to hide behind a cherry tree. They watched the retreating officer in observant silence. "Wait for it ..."

Near the end of the block, the man stopped and shifted strangely. A moment later, his trousers fell.

Maven gaped at her friend, "How did you-"

Selina grinned cat-like and held up a belt.

---​

It was a known fact among Gotham's tiny circle of auto enthusiast socialites that Bruce Wayne preferred his burgundy 1938 Cadillac for the daily commute. Most of the models inside the famous Wayne garage bore paint jobs in more stunning blacks, blues, and silvers, but they said Bruce tried for that extra touch of modesty around the office. Naturally, the contradiction of a modest Cadillac was lost on that crowd.

"Do kindly recall again what happened next, sir?"

Bruce quietly sighed from the backseat. He looked out the window at the skyscrapers passing by.

"And then she asked for a fraction of the pay in advance. She was joking, but I recognized it as another opportunity to seal our agreement. Negligible respect for property rights aside, Catwoman does seem to take formal contracts seriously. A useful quirk in this context."

"A trustworthy thief. Superb."

Alfred Pennyworth drove the Cadillac. One of Alfred's few demands when Bruce started his secret crusade was that they would be full partners. He could tolerate the boy he raised living an unhappy sham of a life and throwing himself into danger night after night - no matter how many white hairs it earned him - but he bloody well refused to be kept in the dark about it.

Bruce, in a rare show of trust, had agreed. It was a wise move. You couldn't replace fifty-seven years of savvy. Suffice it to say, the man wasn't born a butler. He knew what kings and ministers said behind closed doors. He could spot cheats, cowards, and liars from a mile away. He knew how men thought, even better than Bruce. And he knew how women thought, much better than Bruce.

"Bravo, sir. But as I mentioned before we left, I'm concerned about the bribery involved."

"Payment, Alfred."

"Call it what you will, it's the magnitude that worries me. Who carries around a billfold one could purchase a house with?"

---

"I'll say this Maven, there was one strange thing about the whole ordeal."

"Oh? Just one strange thing?" her friend opined sarcastically.

Selina wasn't amused, "Well, the whole situation was sort of, uh ..."

"Batty?"

Selina stopped. "We're no longer friends."

"That one's free. You should use it on him. Maybe he'd smile."

Selina resumed walking and casually flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Please. If he doesn't smile at me already-"

"Feeling pretty today?"

"-he'd jump into a volcano before he'd smile at that."

"Okay, what was the one strange thing? Let me guess, he wasn't gentlemanly enough to ask about that big bandage on your nose?"

"He didn't ask, but no, that's not it."

"How'd you get that, anyway?"

"Flying hotel cart."

"Another job gone south?"

"No! The strange thing last night was all the money he had. I ask for three grand and he doesn't bat an eye."

"Bat an eye?"

Selina turned and swung a haymaker at her friend's chin. Maven laughed and ducked. Selina took the opportunity to shove Maven into traffic. Maven tumbled over and landed on her rear, fortunately cushioned by thick winter pants and two inches of snow.

Feeling they were even, Selina helped her up and continued. "Three grand! What do you think of that?"

Maven swiped packed snow off her clothes. "I think it backs up my theory."

"Which theory? You had a dozen theories."

"If he's got money then he's got backers. An organization. Maybe the Feds. Maybe he's a new kind of G-man, keeping the streets safe."

"Batman doesn't strike me as a team-player."

"He teamed up with you."

"Grudgingly, trust me. Watching him ask for help was like watching a man pull out his own teeth."

"But he did it."

"Okay, let's say he works for the Feds. Then why deal with me? I'm not exactly the most law-abiding citizen. And more importantly, why would he sneak into a military base?"

"He would if his agency thinks the Army has gone rogue. He needs outside help because he can't trust anyone in the establishment. It's a secret assignment after all. Maybe from the President!"

"No offense Maven, but I'll shelve that 'part of a group' one for now. Any other ideas?"

"Maybe he likes brunettes."

Selina laughed. "I mean any other ideas on how he's rich."

"You were probably right the first time. If he isn't some kind of ghost - which I doubt - he's a bitter recluse with a few screws loose who steals from gangsters."

"And then just lets the money pile up?"

"You said he didn't have any hobbies," Maven paused to step gingerly over a wino sleeping on a pile of doormats, "I bet he sits alone all day in a crummy basement. If he steals from wise guys and never buys anything, I'm sure he has a little left over to bribe some help from you."

"Pay for help."

"Bribe."

"Pay! And look, I'm not saying he isn't dysfunctional, but I doubt he's some bum living in a cave."

"Right."

"He's not just anger and muscles. He's smart. He's ... educated."

"Smart enough to find you," Maven took a prim sip of juice from her bottle, "again."

"Hey! That's doesn't make him smart; that makes him an overgrown bloodhound. A very lucky, overgrown bloodhound."

"This is Gotham. If he were so smart, he'd buy a gun."

"Maven."

"Hey, smart people can rob wise guys ... although I guess wise people wouldn't."

"I'm serious. I really believe he doesn't steal."

"Even from crooks? Do you know how silly that sounds?"

"Can you think of a single story when Batman actually took anything?"

"Oh ... I'm sure there's one ..." Maven scratched her forehead and tried to mumble an example.

"See? I've heard them all, Mave. Nada. None. Doesn't that seem strange? People out there think he can walk through walls and shoot fire out his ears, but not one anecdote mentions him taking anything from a crime scene. And he's always moralizing: 'Robbery is wrong', 'Put down the emeralds', 'No, I don't want to split it with you'. At first I though he was full of hot air like everyone else who comes out at night. But the more I see him, the more I'm convinced he's sincere. I wouldn't claim that lightly."

"How else would he get that much green, Selina? You think he's secretly a millionaire?"

---

"So you're worried she thinks I'm a millionaire?"

"I'm just saying your cavalier show of large-denomination bills might beg questions about your financial resources."

"Are you speculating that she might try to rob me, Alfred?"

"I'm speculating she might conclude that a man with a great deal of wealth might be wealthy. Hardly a leap of logic."

"It was a calculated risk to earn her cooperation. And I'm confident she could only conclude the opposite."

"How so?"

"You know I'm not prideful Alfred-"

Decades of practice in fine decorum enabled Alfred Pennyworth to stifle a snort.

"-but I'm a Wayne, and that name carries certain assumptions."

"Does it now?"

"I paid in cash. No one on the social register carries money like that. We make purchases by check or through our assistants." It occurred to Bruce that Alfred was keenly aware of this, but he was in a foul mood and didn't care, "Some of the guys at Princeton - guys whose dads could buy Greek islands - never held thirty dollars in paper currency. Only the crudest parvenu carries rolls of hundreds on their person: nightclub owners, loan sharks, and the like. I made an excellent disguise."

Alfred chuckled. "Oh, I'm well aware how little foresight you and your gilded ilk give to personal funds. And I know how the petit bourgeoisie love to christen their wallets. The question is: does Miss Kyle? Imagine if, despite your deceptions, she was unfamiliar with the nuances of class and defaulted to the commoner's assumption that the very rich carry grand sacks of money."

Bruce rubbed his eyes. "She seems ... adequately sophisticated."

"Or Heavens, even worse: what if she is stricken with the fancy that a man dressed as a bat may have habits that don't match his social circle?"

Bruce opened his mouth but then frowned. He had no response to that. He silently damned this case for forcing him to act rashly. Then he damned himself for making excuses.

"What's done is done Alfred."

"A rare attitude for you, sir. May I proffer a suggestion?"

"Always."

When you pick the lady up, don't take the Bentley."

---

"Well, maybe he is a millionaire. Or friends with one. He had to get the money somehow."

"Wouldn't that be swell. He could bribe you to go home every time you meet. Save you both a scrap."

"Maven!"

Maven snickered as she waited for a fat muskrat and her line of babies to pass into an alley.

"I know rich people have some funny habits, but let's face it: any silk-pantsed old fart with enough cheddar to bankroll the Red Sox isn't spending his nights lassoing pickpockets. I'm telling you Selina, he got that cash by pillaging punks. Why do you think the cops hate him? They aren't used to a penniless crime scene. He's competition."

Selina sighed and watched her breath in the frigid air. "Maybe."

Neither spoke for a minute.

"Selina, I can't talk you out of anything, but be careful. I shouldn't have to tell you he's dangerous."

"Of course."

"And if he didn't set this up to catch you ... maybe that's even worse."

Selina lifted an inquisitive eyebrow. "How so?"

Maven looked away meekly, having used up her bravado for the day. "I mean, it's Batman."

"And?"

"If Batman, The Batman, needs help with something ... well ..."

Maven finished the sentence with a meaningful look. Selina knew that look. It was full of trepidation and wonder, the look Gothamites used when they wanted to imply something about the Bat, as if mentioning him too loudly might make him appear.

Selina laughed until she half-swallowed a loose scarf thread. Spitting out a thread, she rolled her eyes.

"I'm not worried, Maven. I've handled worse blindfolded. Heck, it might even be fun."

---

Much later that evening.

Detective James Gordon grimaced and checked his watch. His mood was the polar opposite of fun.

He lounged on the twelfth floor fire escape outside his family's chilly apartment, idly smoking his second cigarette.

He came here most evenings to clear his head. He liked to tell himself it was the stress of the damn job, but frankly he just had to get away from the old ball and chain every so often (more often every week, it seemed). Admitting this made Gordon feel like dirt. He had so little time at home and little Barbara was growing up so fast. But no, he was spending it up here, alone, hiding from the woman he married just to duck an argument. Hiding like a punk.

He glanced at the moon, or rather, at glow in the dense foundry smoke where the moon ought to be. Gordon added a wisp of his own with a cheap Chesterfield.

To be fair, coming up here also enabled covert meetings with a certain-

"Detective Gordon."

-unapproved partner.

He put out the cigarette in a blue ceramic pot and turned. Batman perched soundlessly and with perfect balance on the handrail. With no lit windows nearby he was nearly invisible: a shadow's shadow. No one would see them tonight.

"Batman. Care for a smoke?"

"I'll pass."

Detective Gordon shrugged, then he coughed roughly and thumped his chest. He hated living downwind of that foundry. Batman watched impassively. After a moment, he found his breath and shivered.

"Right. Any luck?"

It was Gordon who alerted Batman to the corpse thieves a month ago. Gordon revealed how other cops sticking their noses in the mystery soon had those noses cut off. Gordon was responsible for alerting Batman about the recent double murder. And it was through his sources in the Turnpike Commission that Batman found where the thieves' truck had been headed.

For a litany of reasons, Batman hadn't mentioned any of this to Catwoman last night.

"We were right about the truck. It was the Fort."

Detective Gordon was suddenly all business. "And?"

Batman leaned a hairsbreadth lower, which Gordon knew by now meant frustration in Bat-gesture.

"Security was tight. I left empty-handed."

Gordon took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He wasn't disappointed per se. Batman wouldn't retreat from anything unless retreat was overwhelmingly necessary, but that still left them at square one.

Like any cop in Gotham, Gordon had a keen sense of when to call quits on a case. He glumly put his glasses back and tapped another cigarette from its pack. "Alright. I guess we're going to the press empty-handed. I'll take the fall for it, if it comes to that."

Batman nodded in respect. "I know, but not yet."

"Then what? Morrison was our last gambit."

"I'm making one more attempt on the base. With help this time."

Gordon coughed and nearly dropped his cigarette. He lifted a skeptical eyebrow. "Help? You?"

"This time."

"Care to share his name?"

"It's better you don't know."

Jim gave a harsh chuckle. "Of course, since I'm always on the straight and narrow towards unofficial consultation."

"Give me seventy-two hours. If I'm not back, go public."

There was nothing left to say. Gordon looked up at the clouds.

Batman was already gone.
Author: Batman 1939
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Simon_Jester
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-01 10:56pm

"Plus, jeopardizing an honest cop in Gotham was like using a unicorn to check for landmines."

Yet another good one. :D

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The Romulan Republic
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2016-09-01 11:57pm

That was a good one, yes.

And Yay! Alfred! Good old snarky Alfred. :D

And Gordon. Excellent. I was wondering if some more of the Bat cast would appear.

A nice subtle reference too, Spoiler
naming various locations after different actresses who played Catwoman.
:D
"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy." - Lincoln.