CATWOMAN RETURNS

 

Decay.  Violence.  Greed.  Corruption.  These viruses had slowly infected Gotham City, turning a lively metropolis once known as “Fun City” into a bleak, crime-ridden human zoo.  Only muggers, hookers, and foolhardy innocents dared to traverse its inner city streets at night.

            Looking out his office window, Police Commissioner James Gordon felt the weight of the shadow that had descended on Gotham.  Even his own department was tainted: a recent scandal revealed dozens of cops on the take.  Some of them were out for themselves, while others were on the payroll of mob bigwigs.  Rumors swirled that a few “stealth” officers even held allegiance to the Joker.  And his onetime chief ally in the fight against evil, District Attorney Harvey Dent, now menaced the city as the criminal Two-Face.  Life was hard for a man of the law.

            Gordon sighed, contemplating the magnitude of his job and its long hours.  Nine p.m. and counting.  So many criminals, so few good officers.  One man can only do so much.

 

            Perched atop a nondescript building in the warehouse district, Batman pondered similar thoughts while he surveyed the streets below.  A sliver of moonlight illuminated the otherwise dim scene.  Relatively speaking, things weren’t too bad for him these days.  The Joker was in hiding after his plot to destroy Gotham with poisoned counterfeit money failed.  Riddler hadn’t been heard from in some time, and the body of Penguin, thought to have drowned in the Gotham River six months ago, had yet to be found.

            Seeing a prostitute being followed, he was about to spring into action when he heard a sultry “Meow!” from behind.

            Startled, he turned around to see Catwoman above him, leaning on a ventilator.

            “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

            “Maybe I have, Selina.”  His surprise was nevertheless mixed with relief.  “I wondered if I would ever see you again, but part of me somehow knew I would.”

“It has been a long time, Batman,” she purred, leaping down in front of him.  “Or should I say, Bruce?”

            “Batman is fine.”

            “Did you miss me?” she asked with a sensual kiss.

The Caped Crusader remained silent.

            “You did miss me, darling.”  She detected a sense of uncertainty in him.  Another kiss.

            He stepped back.  “What are you up to, Selina?”

            She wagged her finger.  Tsk, tsk, tsk.  So suspicious are we.  I’ve only got one life left, remember?  I thought long and hard and decided I’d better use it right.  That’s what you wanted for me, isn’t it?”

            “I suppose.  It’s your life.”

            Mmmmm, darling.  It could be our life.  Why so cold?”

            “Let’s see.  You and Penguin tried to frame me.  You had a psychotic breakdown right before my eyes and killed Max Shreck after I pleaded for you not to.  Then you disappeared without another word to me.  I hoped and prayed for weeks that you’d come back.  I was heartbroken.  It wasn’t a merry Christmas.”

“I’m sorry.  I had to find who I was.  You understand, don’t you?  The duality thing.  Besides, that was then.  I’m better.  I got some help.”

“I’m happy for you.  But you can’t just show up a year and a half later, expecting to pick up where we left off.”

            “Okay, maybe I’m moving a little fast.  Can’t we at least be on the same side?”

“I work alone.”

            “Oh, me, too.  I definitely learned my lesson.  Getting mixed up with the Penguin was a huge mistake.  I am so sorry, Bruce.  And then Joker almost pulled me into his scheme….”

            “It’s telling when your partner tries to kill you.”

She sat down and looked away, recalling the pain.  “I have the worst luck with men.”

            “Maybe it’s the type of men you were hanging around--criminals.”

            “Ooh,” she hissed.  “I just wanted to let you know I’m back, that’s all.  I thought you would be interested.  But I guess you don’t trust me.”

            “I know who you are and what you did.  I haven’t told anyone.”

            “And I know who you are.  And I haven’t told anyone.  So maybe we do trust each other.  A little bit?”

            “Yeah.  A little bit.”

            “I have a new day job, too.  Secretary at David Stump’s Gotham Casino.”

            “Gainful employment is always good.”

            He wasn’t getting her message.  She rubbed the chest of his black Batsuit.  “I’m still free at night.”

            “I work nights.  Or haven’t you noticed?”

            Hshhh!  We had something, Bruce.  I hoped we might have it again.”

            “We wouldn’t have lost it if you hadn’t been hell-bent on revenge.”

            “Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it.”

            “I know.  I’ve worked hard to build back the reputation you and Penguin almost stole from me.”

            “I said I’m sorry.”

“It’s not that simple.  We’re different people now.”

            “You’re still Batman.  Maybe you just need a better PR person.  I can help.”  She licked his lips.

            “Maybe I need fewer criminals running around.  Which reminds me, I have to get back to work.  He looked down at the street again.

            Her frustration boiled over and she cracked her bullwhip.  “You’re all business in that suit!  I should have known.  Well,” she added as she walked away, “you’ll be seeing me around.  And I’ll take care of that mugger you were about to grab a few minutes ago.  I’ve been eyeing him for the last half hour.  Consider it a favor from an old friend.  Say hello to Alfred for me.  Meow, darling!”

            He looked around to speak, but she had vanished.  Just like a cat.  Flying to the street, he surprised a rapist and sent him scurrying in terror before he could carry out his attack.

            But how many other people could he have helped this night in Gotham?  One man can only do so much.

 

            Bruce Wayne got up early the next morning.  He was working at his bank of computers in the Batcave analyzing recent crime patterns when his faithful butler disturbed him.

            “Excuse me, sir.  Will you be eating breakfast in the dining room?”

            “No, Alfred.  I’ll be down here for a while.

            “Very good, sir.  I’ll bring your food.”

            “Thank you.”

            “How was your evening?”

            “Average.  Two muggers, a rapist, and a looter.  All stopped, but only one arrested.”

            “At least you did your part.”

            Bruce sighed.  “Did I, Alfred?  What is ‘my part?’  Sometimes I think whatever I accomplish is just a drop in the bucket.  With the way crime has increased, do I really make a difference, day in and day out?”

            “I believe you do, sir.  A wise man once said, ‘It’s better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.’”

            “A million candles couldn’t lift the darkness in this city.”

            “Perhaps.  But I have no doubt Gotham would be a much poorer place were it not for Batman.  I think those people you saved last night would agree.”

            “For every thug Commissioner Gordon locks up, it seems like ten take his         place.”

            “Still, it would be a mistake for you to, as you put it once, ‘throw in the cowl.’”

            Bruce smiled.

            “Give it more time.  Things are moving in the right direction, even if slowly.  Why, just last week I heard a man at your dinner party say how his son sleeps better at night knowing Batman is out there watching over him.”

            “Well, we can’t shake the faith of Gotham’s children, can we?  They need all the help they can get if they want a brighter future.”

“They certainly do, and I’m happy you’re a part of that.”

“Oh, I ran into an old friend last night.  Selina Kyle said to tell you hello.”

            Alfred frowned.

            “You know, Catwoman.”

            “Yes.”  The butler crossed his arms.  “I would be very careful about getting involved with her again if I were you, sir.  Remember what--”

            “Don’t worry,” Bruce said with a laugh.  “That’s not likely to happen.  She’s too… unstable.”

            “Indeed.  I am certainly relieved to hear that.  I shall go fetch your breakfast.”

            “Thank you, Alfred.”

           

            Although it was the last thing he expected to happen, he found Selina seldom left his mind over the next couple of weeks.  The memories of the past reignited a host of old feelings.  He couldn’t help reminiscing about their strong attraction.  She stirred something in him no other woman ever had.  Even when he only knew her as Catwoman, he felt strangely drawn to her.  They were so much alike inside.

            Her need for revenge against the boss who tried to murder her created a gulf between them, yet even in the midst of her vendetta, he sensed her conflicting emotions.  She didn’t have a criminal mind, like the Joker or Penguin.  She did what she did, but for personal reasons.  Without the need for revenge, she would have pursued their relationship.  She’d even said as much.

            He knew she hadn’t been linked to other criminal acts in Gotham since then, and it appeared that the passage of time had persuaded her to follow the better angels of her nature.  She made contact with him again--a brave move, considering what had gone down.  Plus, she seemed interested in pursuing legitimate work.

All of which left him quite puzzled over her new job.  If she was trying to lead a straight life, why work at a casino, which so often attracts unsavory characters?  It didn’t make sense.  Perhaps the answer had more to do with her new employer.

            David Stump, a high profile billionaire like Bruce, owned high-dollar real estate holdings across Gotham.  He bought some buildings with the avowed intent of doing serious urban renewal, but so far only a little progress was visible.  His name appeared regularly in the media, and he occasionally had to bat down rumors of political aspirations.  Working for one of his companies was a definite bonus on a person’s resume.

            Despite their financial commonality, Wayne and Stump were far from close.  While not rivals in the classical sense, their relationship was nevertheless strained.  They held differing views on money, responsibility, and the direction Gotham City should take.  Bruce also felt the man displayed a certain lack of ethics at times, but he didn’t know him well enough to be positive about it.

            Stump’s latest endeavor was his casino, a gaudy, retro-meets-modern three story edifice on the city’s west side.  Designed to bring tourists and revitalization to one of the poorest areas of town, it received press coverage in everything from architectural journals to travel guides.  Once it opened, it was sure to become one of Gotham’s premier attractions.  A new hotel was under construction next door, and several boutique shops were planned nearby.

More out of curiosity for Selina than any real personal interest, Bruce decided to do some extra research on David’s businesses and background.  “Why there, of all his places?” he wondered out loud.  “What’s she thinking?”

            “Who, sir?”  Alfred stood nearby tidying up in the Batcave.

            “Selina.  She’s a secretary at Stump’s casino, which opens next month.”

            “Maybe she just needs an honest job.  After all, good ones are hard to come by these days.”

            He shook his head.  “Nah.  She’s got to be up to something.  I just don’t know what.”

            “Why are you so sure?”

            “I learned the hard way to be suspicious whenever people speak of reforming.  If they’re serious about it, they stay miles from anything with even a hint of impropriety.  I don’t think Selina belongs at a business which could draw interest from the criminal element.  At best, she’s using bad judgment.  At worst, she’s got a nefarious motive.”

            “Are you concerned about Mr. Stump?”

            “Other than his values, which I sometimes question, I’ve never had reason to doubt him.  Until now.  Look at this.  He’s a board member of the Phoenix Foundation.”

            “I’ve not heard of them.”

            “I was invited to join about a year ago but declined.  I did some digging, and what I learned left me uneasy.  I’ve been watching them off and on since then.  Publicly, they’re a philanthropic group whose mission is making targeted investments in the Gotham area to promote business growth and community redevelopment.  Privately, I suspect they’re making a land grab for political power--to own Gotham, or so much of it everyone else gets shut out.”

            “How could they do that?”

            “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Each member owns enough real estate to create a monopoly if they put it all together.”

“What do you think they would do?”

            “Jack up the rent.  Force residents and business tenants to leave.  Build only the kind of businesses they want, ones which will make them even more money.”

            “Like a casino?”

            “You’re catching on.  Now let’s suppose the mob got interested, which isn’t far-fetched.  Seeing who some of the Phoenix board members are, they probably wouldn’t care.  In fact, they might even welcome it.  It’d mean more money for them, instead of the ones who really need it, the citizens of Gotham.  And if they used all their monetary power to elect a mayor and council who would give them free rein, there’s no limit on what they might accomplish.  Left unchecked, it’s not out of the question for them to gradually turn this city into one large criminal enterprise someday.”

            The butler shuddered.  “A most distasteful thought, sir.  But we’re talking about David Stump.  So much of his continued success has to do with his name and reputation, both of which would be lost in such a deal.”

            “He might get in over his head and not realize until it’s too late.  Or perhaps his public persona isn’t the real man.  Wouldn’t be the first Gotham billionaire to go down that road.”  Bruce smiled wryly.  “But it’s only a theory, nothing more.”

            “A wild one, I might add, sir.”

            “Wild, maybe.  Possible, definitely.  I need to do additional research before I move beyond speculation.  But if something unsavory is going on, his casino may be the gateway to it.”

            “What about Miss Kyle?”

            “She’s the key to get me inside.”

 

            “Good morning, Gotham Casino.  Mr. Stump’s office.”

            “Hi, Selina.  It’s Bruce.”

            “Surprise, surprise.  It took you long enough.  I should hang up after the way you’ve been ignoring me.  But you know I can’t.”

            “I need your help.”

            “Well, isn’t that a switch?  I thought you worked alone.”

            “I do.  I still need a small favor from you.”

“I was hoping you might need my beautiful eyes or charming personality instead.  But I’ll take what I can get.  What do you want?”

“A copy of Stump’s guest list for the casino’s opening night.”

            “That’ll cost you.  What’s it worth?”

            “Lunch at the Green Room.  Noonish?”

            Mmm, this just gets better and better.”

            “Thanks.  I’ll see you later.”

            “I’m looking forward to it, Bruce.”

 

            She arrived at the Green Room, one of Gotham’s most exclusive restaurants, at 12:15.  He was already at his reserved table, menu in hand.

            “Did you bring it?” he asked as she sat down.

            “‘Hi, Selina.  Glad you see you.  How was your morning, Selina?’  Somebody needs to remember his manners.”

            “Hi, Selina.  Glad you see you.  How was your morning?”

            “That’s better.  I don’t know why I let you treat me so cavalier.”

            He smiled.  “I think you do.”

            She gave him a pouty look.  “Guess I’m a sucker for a man in black.”  Pulling some papers from her purse, she said, “Here’s your silly list.  You’re on it, you know.”

            “Yes.”  He scanned over the names, then shook his head.  “Amazing.”

            “What?”

            “Every member of the Phoenix Foundation is on here.  So are several known organized crime figures: Blackjack Thornton, Gino Salvatore, Juan Carlos Cardoza, and Sammy Cortese.”  He folded the list and put it in his coat pocket.  “Do you have any idea what you’ve gotten yourself into?”

            “What?  Bruce, I’m not ‘into’ anything.  I needed a job, and Stump hired me.”

             “Selina, I think you’re mixed up in something very dangerous.  I can’t believe, as bright as you are, you don’t know that.  Unless you’re part of it.”

            “Part of what?”

            “I believe the casino may be a front for a large and very sinister plot to take control of Gotham City.”

            “Excuse me?”

            “Stump and his friends in the Phoenix Foundation are buying up real estate left and right.  I’m afraid they’re going to let the mob set up shop in those properties and then use the profits to put politicians in office who’ll allow them to get a stranglehold on the city.  They’ll use the organs of government as a criminal syndicate.  If they succeed, no one will be able to touch them.”

            “Bruce, have you lost your mind?  David Stump is one of the kindest, gentlest men in the city.  He gives away millions every month to schools, hospitals, and charities.”

            “It’s a front.  The Phoenix Foundation is behind most of it.”

            “What is the Phoenix Foundation?  You’ve mentioned them three times, and I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”

            “To the citizens, they’re just how you described Stump: generous and helpful.  Behind the scenes, they are, for lack of a better term, a power cult.  They have secret rituals.  Membership is one-way.  You join, and you never leave, except by death.  They want to pool their talent, money, and brains to take over.”

            “Bruce Wayne, you’re paranoid and jealous.  So what if Stump’s bank account is bigger than yours?  Don’t make up crazy stories just because you can’t stand him.”

            “You know I don’t make things up.  Trust me on this.”

            “So we’re back to trust again, huh?”  She sighed.  “Sometimes I don’t know where you end and the other part begins.”

“I could say the same thing.  Just be careful, Selina.  Even if you won’t believe me about Stump right now, will you please watch yourself?”

“Okay, though I still don’t know what you’re so worried over.”

“I’d hate to see you get mixed up with the wrong crowd, especially if you’re trying to go straight.”

“Me, too.  I swear, I’m not involved in any kind of plot.”

He sat back and stared at her beautiful face.  “You know, I think I actually believe you.”

“That’s progress, I suppose.”

“I want you to succeed if you really are making a fresh start.”

“Thanks.  You have good heart, Bruce.  I need to remember that.”

 

            He worked late after dark in the Batcave.  His research and results left him with a growing sense of dread.

            “Another long night ahead, sir?  You’ve already missed dinner.”

            “Yes, Alfred.  Just bring me a sandwich and some milk.”

            “As you wish.”

            “Alfred, take a look at this.”  Bruce showed him a map on one computer screen.  “The areas in red are the twelve sites the Phoenix Foundation has already purchased.  Not too impressive.  If you add in these green areas that are owned by the crime bosses on Stump’s invitation list, it’s still only about twenty percent.  Throw in the blue areas, representing all property owned by the members of Phoenix.  Here’s where it gets scary.  You now have one third of Gotham.  And the piece de resistance.”  He clicked the mouse.  “Every member of Phoenix is also a member of a shadow company called Gotham Development, Incorporated.  They have an offshore headquarters and basically exist on paper only.  The yellow areas are everything that GDI has bought or taken over in the last nine months.”

            “Oh, my.”

“The people on Stump’s list own half the city, with more coming all the time.  My hunch was right, and this thing is well on its way.  Selina also told me something very interesting.  The meeting room at the casino is booked for ten p.m. the night of the grand opening…with armed guards.”

            “That can’t be a coincidence.”

            “No.  I bet Phoenix and the mob bosses are going to conclude an alliance that night.  I have to derail them.  But first,” he said as he picked up the Batsuit, “I’ve got to warn Commissioner Gordon.”

 

            The sound of rushing wings made Gordon turn around as he left Gotham Police headquarters and walked to his car.  “Oh, it’s you, Batman.”

            “We need to talk.”

            Gordon stopped.  “When I call you, it’s bad.  When you call me…it must be worse.”

            “Commissioner, there’s something going on that will make the rest of your crime problems seem small.”

            “Oh, Lordy.”

            Batman showed him the map, the guest list, and several other printouts of information backing up his theories.

            Shaken, Gordon took a deep breath.  “It seems so improbable.  But I’ve never known you to be wrong.”

“I wouldn’t have come to you if I wasn’t positive.”

 “Not even the slightest doubt in your mind?”

“None.”

“If you’re wrong about Stump, we will have done irreparable harm to Gotham’s image and crippled any chance of credible law enforcement in the near future.  With the scandal, that’s something we just cannot afford.”

            “Ask yourself some questions.  Why would Stump, if he is an honest businessman, invite known mobsters to his casino opening?  Why would the philanthropic Phoenix Foundation create a dummy corporation with the same members to buy out other landowners?  And why would there be a meeting behind locked and guarded doors in the middle of Gotham’s biggest gala this year?”

            Gordon mulled over the points.

            “Commissioner, I believe they are going to seal a deal that will sell out the soul of Gotham and create a vast criminal organization.”

            “Your evidence is persuasive, but are you sure there isn’t some other explanation for all this?  I can’t believe David Stump would suddenly throw himself in with a gang of crime bosses.”

            “He didn’t.  The seeds of this plot were sown years ago.  The Phoenix Foundation grew out of an offshoot of the Young Gotham Businessmen two decades back.  The clock’s been ticking since then.  They’ve been quietly making their plans and waiting for the right time.  If you need more proof, take another look at the Phoenix board membership.  See anyone who’s not an entrepreneur?”

            Gordon’s eyes grew wide.  “Jeffrey Allendore.  He’s the attorney who--he just announced he’s running for mayor!  God help us, but you’re right, Batman.”

            “We have to stop that meeting at the casino.”

            “Yes, but in the middle of the party?”

            “If you act quickly and exit out the back, there shouldn’t be any risk to the guests.  I’ll send you additional evidence to make sure the charges stick.  See Judge McMichael for the arrest warrants.  He’s not on the take.”

            “Oh.  Good to know that, I guess.”

            As he turned to leave, the Dark Knight said, “Make sure you have some reliable officers available for backup.”

            “Batman?”

            “Yes?”

            “Thank you.”

 

            A week later, mobster Juan Carlos Cardoza was reviewing the ledgers of his trucking business when his private office line buzzed.

            Cardoza.”

            “Hello, JC.  Long time no chat,” a soft, mysterious voice said.

            “Uh, yeah.”

            “I’m sorry, did I call at a bad time?”

            “No, not at all.”

            “Relax, JC.  Do you have something for me?”

            “Yes.  Phoenix is bringing me on board.  We’re signing the deal opening night.”

            “Wonderful.  Now that wasn’t so hard, was it, JC?”

            “No.”

            “Don’t worry.  You’ll be handsomely paid for your tips, as usual.  I’m so glad I didn’t kill you back then.  Otherwise, I would have missed hearing about this fantastic opportunity.  What time is the meeting?”

            “Ten.”

            “I’ll see you then, JC.”

           

Bruce ensconced himself in the Batcave the next day, mapping out strategies for dealing with Phoenix’s growing threat and assembling the equipment he would need that night.

            “Master Bruce?”

            “Yes, Alfred?”

            “Miss Kyle is here to see you, sir.”

            “Selina?  Bring her on down.”

            Alfred raised an eyebrow.  “Yes, sir.”

            When Selina entered, she gazed around in wonder.  “So this is where you work your crimefighting magic.  Impressive.”

            “Since you’re here, I have something I want you to read.”  He showed her duplicates of the information he gave Gordon.

            After twenty minutes, she handed them back, a distressed look on her face.  “He seems like such a nice guy, though.”

            “The public façade.  I didn’t do this to break your heart.  I needed to prove that something sinister really is going on behind the scenes at the casino.”

            “How do you know I won’t turn around and tell David?”

            “It’s that trust thing.  I believe your safety is worth the risk.”

            “Bruce Wayne, gambler.”

            “I don’t like my friends to get hurt.”

            “What are you doing about all this?”

            “Commissioner Gordon and I have a plan.”

            “I’m sure you do.  But you’re not going to tell me what it is.”

            “Not today.”  He smiled.  “Hey, you didn’t come here for me to be the bearer of bad news.”

            “No.  I came to talk.”

            “Let’s go upstairs.”  As he led her to the drawing room, he said, “Alfred, two glasses and a bottle of Chianti.”

            She smiled.  “Chianti?  Breaking out the good stuff, huh?”

            “What’s on your mind?”

            “Us.  I think we got off on the wrong foot that night at the warehouse, and our Green Room lunch wasn’t the cozy date I hoped it would be.  I wanted to chat under less awkward circumstances.”

            “I see.  You still think there’s an ‘us.’”

            A hurt look crossed her face.  “There isn’t?  Could you please come clean and tell me how you really feel about me?”

            He hesitated.

            “You can’t hurt me any more than you already are with this hot-and-cold routine you’re playing.  And I promise, I left my whip at home.”

            He chuckled and sat down on the couch as Alfred returned with the wine.

            “Just call me if you need me, sir.  Good evening, Miss Kyle.”

            Bruce opened the wine and poured it into the glasses.

            “A toast?” she asked.

            “We could.”

            “To us?”

            “To a better tomorrow,” he said after some thought.

            “Good enough.  Now, talk to me.”

            “I’m usually on the giving end, you might say, when it comes to this dual identity thing.  You’re the first person who’s put me on the receiving end.  Once I knew who you were, I found it very hard to tell how much of Selina is in Catwoman, and vice versa.  I was angry at you for how you joined Penguin in trying to destroy Batman’s good name.  But after you were gone, I just felt confused.  Was it only Catwoman who tried to ruin me, or was it Selina, too?  I didn’t know how your view of me changed when you found out I’m Batman, because you disappeared after your freak-out.  I liked the Selina I knew, or thought I knew.  When you showed up again, all those conflicting feelings came back.  That’s why I’ve been giving out mixed signals.”

            “I had a hard time with it, too, realizing I tried to eliminate the same man I was falling for.  If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t.  I mean, the let’s-destroy-Batman part.  I’ve made up my mind that I truly want back the relationship we had.  But I’m still not sure how to break through the wall between the two of you.  Bruce is wonderful.  He represents everything I desire in life.  Batman…I have to be honest, Batman represents rigid conformity to the rules, male domination, and heavy-handed authority.  I guess I still harbor some resentment, as well.”

            “Which side is stronger?”

            “Some days one, some days the other.  How about you?”

            “Like you said, it’s hard to separate the two halves.  I’ve been thinking about the good a lot more than the bad lately.  It’s just that women complicate my life.  Bruce Wayne, playboy billionaire, can have any girl he wants.  Batman has no room for such trifles.”

            “So where does that leave us?”

            “I’m not sure.  If we commit to each other, we have to remember it involves all of both of us.  We can’t just have Bruce and Selina.  Batman and Catwoman come along, too.  Perhaps the best thing we can do is just give it time.  We know where we both stand, and we must resolve our own feelings.  No pressure--whatever happens, happens.  Or doesn’t.  Is that fair?”

            It wasn’t what she wanted, but more than she expected.  “Yeah.  I can live with it.”

“As a first step, would you mind being my escort for the casino opening?”

            A big smile crossed her lips.  “Why, I thought you’d never ask.”

            “We’ll both be there.  Might as well go together.”

            “Sounds like the purrrfect evening.”

“What will you be wearing?”

            “Black, of course.”

 

            At a Salvation Army fundraising dinner a few days afterward, Bruce found himself seated next to David Stump.  Good chance to ask some leading questions, he thought.

            “Bruce, I hope you’re planning to attend the Gotham Casino gala.”

            “Wouldn’t miss it for the world, David.”

            “Everybody’s going to be there.  It’ll be a wonderful night for the city, just what Gotham needs.”

            “The rumor mill says some interesting names are on your invitation list.”

            “Really?  Like who?”

            “Thornton and Salvatore, to name two.”

            Stump put down his fork.  “Bruce, you really should ignore those scurrilous reports in the papers.  They’re yellow journalism of the first order.  Thornton was acquitted, and his indictment was one hundred percent politically motivated.  Salvatore is a fine, legitimate businessman who has never had a legal charge brought against him.  Again, it’s all politics and the press trying to sell papers by creating controversy where there isn’t any.”

            “Does Salvatore really attend meetings in his bathrobe?”

            Stump laughed.  “Absolutely not.  I don’t know who started that one, but every meeting I’ve been at, he’s been in as fine a suit as you’re wearing.”

            “This is actually one of my cheaper ones.”

            “You know as well as I do that you can’t be successful without making enemies.  When the Phoenix Foundation made its first targeted investment, we were accused of everything from opportunism to racism.  But as we have seen, that section of the East End has become a shining example of how Gotham can be renewed.”

            “It is much cleaner,” Bruce admitted.

            “And take the casino.  Jobs for almost two hundred people in a neighborhood where unemployment was over fifty percent.  Spillover economic benefits for the shop owners who have the courage to build in our shadow.  I would never risk all we’ve accomplished by associating myself with men who were out to poison Gotham.  Take it from me, Bruce.  There will be no hoodlums in my casino.”

            “That’s very reassuring, coming from you.”  He tried to sound convincing.

            “You know, you still have an open invitation to join Phoenix.”

            “I’m already so involved with the charity work of the Wayne Foundation, I don’t have time for anything more.”

            “We could really use you.  Maybe when you’ve seen more of our success, you’ll change your mind.”

            “Don’t count on it, but you’re gracious to extend the invitation.”

            “I’ll still look forward to seeing you at the opening.  It will be a night Gotham never forgets.”

            “Yes,” Bruce replied uneasily.  “I’m sure it will.”

 

            “Good afternoon, Gotham Casino.  Mr. Stump’s office.”

            “May I speak to Selina Kyle?”

            “This is Selina.”

            “Hello...Catwoman.”

            “Who is this?”

            “You know who.  You got my letter?”

            A wave of anxiety gripped her.  “Yes.”

            “You haven’t replied yet.  Do I have to show you I’m serious?”

            “No, no, you don’t.  I believe you.”

            “Will you do it for me?”

            “Please leave me alone.  This--this isn’t fair.”

            “What good is information if you don’t use it?  Right, Miss Kitty?”

            “Please, stop it.”

“It’s going to be fine.  Nobody will get hurt, and no one will know you helped.”

She vacillated, weighing the risk of being exposed and going to jail against the terrible feeling of doing something she knew was wrong.  “Okay, I’ll get it for you.  I think it’s in his assistant’s office.”

            “My man will be at your desk in one hour.”

            “Now will you please just leave me alone?”

            “Maybe.  Until the next time I need something.”  The stranger hung up.

            She stared at the phone and began to cry, wishing she had the courage to tell Bruce.

 

            All Gotham eagerly anticipated the casino’s debut evening.  The media were on hand, turning the event into a spectacle only a little smaller than the Academy Awards.  The building itself, an unusual mixture of Art Deco style with chrome and glass, sparkled in the klieg lights around it.

            Arriving shortly after eight, Bruce’s limousine pulled to a stop just outside the crowded, red carpeted entrance.  As he emerged, he told Alfred, “Stay in the vicinity.  I may need you on short notice.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            Selina looked resplendent in her form-fitting black velvet dress and diamond icicle earrings.  He took her hand and they approached the arched entrance, where Stump in a gleaming white tux greeted them.

            “Hello, Bruce, Selina.  I didn’t know you two were acquainted.”

            “We’ve known each other for a couple of years,” Bruce replied.

            “Small world.  Enjoy yourselves.”

            Just inside the door stood Commissioner Gordon.  “Evening, Mr. Wayne.”

            “Good evening, Commissioner.  Not expecting any trouble tonight, I hope.”

            “No, no.  Just here to have a good time.”

            “Likewise.”

            “The seafood buffet is splendid.  Be sure to try the garlic shrimp.”

            “I shall.”

            Stump had given each guest a thousand dollars in spending money, so the casino buzzed with the sounds of slot machines and roulette wheels.  People roamed everywhere, marveling at the décor and furnishings.

            As they milled around and took everything in, Bruce pointed out to Selina the other members of the Phoenix Foundation and the crime bosses in attendance.

            “I’ve never seen any of those men before.”

            “I’m not surprised.  He keeps a respectable distance in public.  Wouldn’t surprise me if he’s got a secret entrance somewhere.”

            “The door marked ‘Utility’ in the underground parking garage.”

            He looked at her quizzically.  “How much do you know about this place?”

            She batted her eyes.  “Probably more than I should.”

 

            At nine o’clock, Stump came up to the small stage at the east end of the lounge.  “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?”

            The crowd noise subsided quickly.

            “I want to thank each and every one of you for coming out tonight.  It means a lot to me, and not just because I’ll be making a lot of money from it.”

            Everyone laughed politely.

            “It means a lot because it allows me to give back to the great city that’s given me so much.  But it’s just the first step in the long process of taking Gotham back from the muggers, winos, and burglars who used to prey on our citizenry.  Your support for this casino is a signal that Gotham is putting the past aside and looking toward a new and brighter day ahead.  Please eat your fill of the buffet, and thank you all again.  Have a great time.”

            The crowd applauded, and Bruce whispered to Selina, “What a windbag.”

            She scowled.  “Be nice.”

            “That was nice, compared to what I didn’t say.”

           

            As ten p.m. got closer, he grew increasingly nervous.  So much of what needed to happen was out of his hands.

She could not help noticing.  “Bruce, will you relax?”

            “I can’t.”

            “I thought you had a plan.”

            “I do.  But it relies on Commissioner Gordon’s men.”

            “I don’t see any police.”

            “Neither do I, and that’s what worries me.”

            She had her own fears about the rest of the evening, but battled them alone inside.  Another glass of champagne helped dull the anxiety.

           

            Gordon checked his watch.  Exactly 9:55.  Excusing himself to the men’s room, he wandered away from the throng of people and quietly switched on his police radio.  “Unit 23, this is Unit 1.  Over.”

            No response.

            “Unit 23, this is Unit 1.  Over.”

            Still no answer.

            “Unit 23, come in.  This is Unit 1.”

Nothing.

“Unit 1 to all units.  Somebody answer me!”

            Only silence.

            He frantically examined the radio.  Cursing, he threw it on the floor.  The wire to the antenna had been deliberately cut.  No backup was coming.

Somebody knew.  Someone inside the police department sabotaged his plan to arrest Stump and the others.

            Glancing out a window, he noticed a line of strange cars approaching the casino.  They weren’t limousines, and they certainly weren’t police cars.  “Oh, Lordy.  We’re trapped.  I sure hope Batman is on his way.”

 

Precisely at 10 o’clock, Stump entered the posh upstairs meeting room.  The two heavily armed guards on either side of the doors stepped back to let him in.

Already seated around the oval oak table were the other nine members of the Phoenix Foundation, plus Charles “Blackjack” Thornton, Juan Carlos Cardoza, Gino Salvatore, and Sammy Cortese.

“Gentlemen,” Stump began, “this should not take long.  You have been briefed on the contents of the documents in front of you.  When you sign the first one, Messers. Thornton, Cardoza, Salvatore, and Cortese become members of Phoenix.  When you sign the second one, all your investment properties will be transferred to the Foundation.  And once you do that, the fourteen of us will own nearly sixty percent of Gotham, with more than enough money at our disposal to buy the rest of the city.  Now, your signatures, please.”

Everyone hurriedly signed the papers, which Stump then collected.

“Excellent.  Gentlemen, the day we have long dreamed of is upon us.  We now control Gotham.  And in January, when Mr. Allendore becomes mayor, we will control the government as well.  Thanks to each of you for your part in bringing this about.  I--”

He was cut off by the sound of muffled gunfire from the casino floor.

 

Scores of masked, heavily armed men burst through the front door of the casino and took up positions inside the building.  A few of Stump’s guards traded shots with them, but they were no match for the invaders.

As people began running chaotically, Bruce grabbed Selina’s hand and scampered toward the nearest exit.  In the ensuing mob, they became separated.

“Selina!  Selina!”  In desperation he looked around for her.  The flow of the crowd carried him farther and farther from the spot where she last stood.

The armed men moved quickly to block all exits.  The guests were now hostages.

Wayne spun around, doubled back, and ducked into the kitchen.  He then bolted out the unlocked delivery entrance, just barely missing two of the intruders.  Seeing a ring of dark vehicles all around the casino, he sprinted in a zigzag to the next street over.

“Alfred,” he called into a microphone hidden in his tuxedo, “big trouble.  Meet me in the alley one block north, where I left the car.”

 

The powerful men in the meeting room were left speechless by the realization that a small war was going on outside.  Several shots sounded uncomfortably close.

All lights went out as the power was cut.  Immediately, the emergency lights clicked on, casting an eerie glow throughout the building.

The door opened, revealing all four of Stump’s guards lying dead.

A shadowy figure walked slowly into the room.  Gasps of recognition turned into stark terror on the faces of the Phoenix Foundation.

“Good evening, all you finely dressed gentlemen.  Your business is not quite done yet.  I have one more contract for you all to sign.”  A sinister grin crossed the man’s face.

Stump reached around and smoothly pulled a small pistol from behind his back.  Before he could fire, a sharp crack cut the air.  Dropping the gun, he sank to his knees and moaned, clutching his bloodied hand.

Recoiling her whip, Catwoman emerged from the dark.

The stranger bowed in her direction.  “Bravo, Miss Kitty.”

“What do you want, Joker?” Stump yelled through clenched teeth.

“I want to thank you, Mr. Stump.”  He picked up the man’s stack of signed papers.   “And you, Mr. Cardoza.  Your wonderful tip about this meeting brought great joy to me.  You two have made my life so much easier.  Hmm, I see the Phoenix Foundation now owns fifty-eight percent of Gotham.  Well, that’s about to change.  I want each of you to sign the paper my assistant Harry is circulating.”

“What does it do?” Salvatore asked.

“It make me sole owner of the Phoenix Foundation, that’s all.”

“What if we refuse?”

“I guess my men will just have to kill you.”

“Don’t do it,” Stump shouted.  “He’ll kill you anyway.”

Joker laughed.  “You’ve been reading ahead, Mr. Stump.  I assure you, your life is in no danger if you sign.”

Two more of the masked thugs entered the room and pointed their weapons menacingly.

“Looks like we don’t have a choice,” Thornton said.  “I’ll sign.”

Like dominoes, the other twelve signed away the fortune they had possessed for only five minutes.

“Mr. Stump, your turn.”

Thinking he might buy time and find some way out of his predicament, the casino owner bowed his head and picked up the pen.

“A very wise choice, Mr. Stump.”  As soon as he had the signed document safely tucked inside his coat, Joker turned to his guards.  “Now that I’m the owner of this place, I don’t need these former employees anymore.  Kill them!”

“You said we’d live!”

“Oh, you will, Mr. Stump.  You’re my ticket out of here.  But the rest of this garbage can be taken out.  Wax em , Harry!”

Alarmed, Catwoman grabbed his arm.  “Joker, no!  You promised me no killing.”

“I was joking!”  Laughing hysterically, he shoved her out of the room.

Realizing she’d been duped, she gave an angry, feral hiss.

Harry rolled a grenade into the room, then closed and bolted the door.

 

Screams erupted in the casino as a thundering ball of flame blasted from the second floor.

The mayor turned to Commissioner Gordon.  “How did these terrorists manage to slip through your guard?”

“They aren’t terrorists, sir, and they didn’t slip through.  Only one man could pull a stunt like this.”

As if on cue, Joker emerged from the elevator, accompanied by an uncomfortable-looking Catwoman and a terrified David Stump.  “Ladies and gentlemen of Gotham, I have a major announcement.”

Gordon clicked on a pen in his coat pocket and prayed it, too, had not been sabotaged.

 

A block away, Batman heard a beep in his left ear.  Listening intently, he climbed into the Batmobile and started its turbine engine.

 

“Big news, my rich and important fellow citizens.  I, Joker, for all intents and purposes, now own Gotham City, lock, stock, and sludge barrel.  Mr. Stump is my witness.  He and his kind and good friends in the Phoenix Foundation, along with a few men of more dubious reputation, decided to sell all of their holdings in Gotham to me.  I, in turn, decided to dissolve the Foundation and liquidate its board of directors.  That was the big boom you heard a few moments ago.”

 

“Alfred, the Joker is holding everyone hostage in the casino.  Call Captain Martin.  He’s the only police officer I know we can trust.  Have him get some men out here fast.  I’m going in.”

 

“Unfortunately, the political climate in this town does not favor me at the moment.  The police keep trying to put me in Arkham Asylum where I just can’t reach my full potential.  Until I fix that problem, I’m going to have to be an absentee owner.  I’ve never owned a city before, so this will be a new experience for all of us.”  Joker, holding a gun to Stump’s head, moved toward the front door.  “It’s been a lovely evening, but I have to go now.  Ta ta!”

 

The sleek, low frame of the Batmobile sped down the deserted street and took aim at the casino entrance.  With its winged tail fins, it almost appeared to fly.

 

“Harry,” Joker said, “signal the car.”

A moment later, gunfire erupted again as the thugs outside fired furiously at the armored car.

“What is going on?”

The Batmobile answered Joker’s question by smashing into the casino’s foyer, sending shards of brick, chrome, and glass flying.

The hostages dropped to the floor when Joker’s men sprayed the car with bullets, all to no effect.

Joker immediately headed upstairs, pushing Stump ahead and dragging Catwoman behind him.  When he reached the second floor, he knocked Stump down and grabbed Catwoman by the wrists.  “You told me Batman wouldn’t be here!”

She shrugged.  “It wasn’t, like, a guarantee.”

“That winged clown has crimped my style for the last time!”  Joker rolled two grenades down the stairs.

As Batman emerged from the Batmobile, the grenades detonated, shredding the suspended staircase, which crashed onto the blackjack tables below.

Six of Joker’s men tried to take on the Dark Knight.  He knocked the first two out with a furious battery of punches.  He kicked the third hard in the chest, sending him headlong into a pillar.  Number four went down with a strong throat chop.  He grabbed number five and slammed him into a slot machine.  The last one went sailing over the Batmobile and came down in a pile of debris.

Another thug emerged from behind the buffet table.  Raising his machine gun, he peppered Batman with a full clip of ammunition.

The Caped Crusader stumbled back and fell, causing alarmed cries in the crowd.  Just as quickly, he stood up, grabbed a taser from his utility belt, and neutralized the gunman with a severe electrical jolt.

Commissioner Gordon rushed up to help.  “Are you all right, Batman?”

“I’m fine.  Get these people out of here now.  Captain Martin is coming with reinforcements.”

“The Joker’s on the second floor.  He’s holding David Stump hostage, and he’s got Catwoman with him.”

Startled, Batman paused a moment.  “I’ll handle them.”

“We need Stump alive.”

Batman dashed over to the ruined stairway.  Pulling out his grappling gun, he shot a spike into the casino’s high ceiling and winched himself up to the second floor.

 

Meanwhile, Joker and his entourage made their way back through the offices and up to the third floor.

“Let me go!” Catwoman shouted, fighting against Joker’s firm grip.  “You lied to me!”

With a mocking laugh, he asked, “Who’d you think you were dealing with, Mother Teresa?”

“Joker, make me your partner,” Stump said.  “My influence can do a lot.”

“I own most of Gotham.  What the hell would I need from you?  Be quiet and keep moving.”

They headed out the emergency exit to the roof.

“Harry, stay down there and take care of the bothersome bat for me.”

“With pleasure, boss.”

 

Outside, Captain Martin’s squad car was the first to arrive.  “What’s the situation, Commissioner?”

“Joker’s heading for the roof.  Surround the building and cordon off the streets.  He’s probably got a getaway car not far from here.  Find it and stop it.”

 

Batman came upon Joker’s goon just outside the third floor exit.  “I locked you up twice, didn’t I, Harry?”

“Can’t keep a bad man down, Batboy!”  Brandishing a machete, Harry lunged at him.

Batman deflected the blow with his left fist and punched him hard in the face with his right.  Using a karate chop to the arm, he forced him to drop the knife.  Picking him up, he hurled him into Stump’s office window, which shattered on impact.

Harry landed unceremoniously on Stump’s desk and rolled to the floor.

 

On the roof, Joker surveyed the situation, and it was not good.  He could see the flashing lights of police cars wherever he looked.  The only way out appeared to be the fire escape ladder at the rear.

“Joker, we have you surrounded,” Gordon shouted through his bullhorn.  “Surrender peacefully.”

Joker shoved his hostage to the ledge and cocked the hammer on his pistol.  “I’ve still got Stump!  If you come up here, he’ll go bump!”  He laughed maniacally.

Batman appeared on the roof.  “You know what your problem is, Joker?  Your material isn’t funny anymore.  It’s old and tired, like you.”

Joker fired, but his nemesis remained standing.

Batman marched up to him.  “Try a new punch line.”  He landed a strong blow to the stomach, and a left cross to the chin.

Joker fell down, but got up and lunged at Batman.  They traded blows and countermoves as Stump and Catwoman looked on.

A swift kick knocked the Joker’s gun away.  Enraged, he grabbed the Caped Crusader and slammed him headlong into the large air conditioning unit.

Dazed from the impact, Batman staggered and fell on his back.

Wiping blood from his mouth, Joker picked up his pistol and took point blank aim at the Dark Knight’s face.  “Goodbye, Batman.  He who laughs last, laughs best.”

Crack!  Catwoman’s whip sent the gun flying from Joker’s hand.

“Are you insane?  What do you think you’re doing?”  Enraged, he pushed her to the ledge and attempted to throw her off.

“Meow!”  She kicked him in the groin with her boot heels.

Yowling in pain, he punched her hard and made a run for the fire escape ladder.  If he could climb down one level, he might be able to jump to the nearly completed hotel next door and get away.

A look of fury in her eyes, Catwoman picked up her whip and flung it.  When the tip wrapped around Joker’s right leg, she jerked hard.

Aiieeh!”  He lost his balance and dropped face first onto the concrete.  The blow knocked him unconscious.

 

When he came to a few minutes later, he found himself handcuffed to a grating.  Batman stood triumphantly in front of him.

“Time to cash in your chips, Joker, and return to Arkham.”

The madman just smiled and couldn’t stop laughing.

“What could possibly be so funny?”

“I still win.  I own nearly sixty percent of Gotham!  Hee hee hee hee hee!”

Catwoman touched Batman’s shoulder.  “The contract.  It’s in his pocket.”

Batman bent down, reached inside Joker’s coat, and extracted the notorious document.

“No, no, please!  You can’t!  Nooo!”

“I’m declaring this contract null and void.”  He ripped the paper into small fragments and flung them away.

“You can’t do this!  I own Gotham!  I am the owner of Gotham City!!”

“Catwoman, I--  Batman looked in her direction, but she was gone.  Running to the north ledge, he saw her slim black figure somersault from the lower roof to the second story of the neighboring hotel.

Just then, Gordon stepped through the emergency exit door.  “What’s the situation, Batman?”

“Joker is packed up and ready to go.”

“And Stump?”

Batman simply pointed to a cowering, crying figure in white huddled by the air conditioner.

Gordon turned to one of his men.  “Cuff him, and get ‘em both out of here.”

“I’m going after Catwoman,” Batman announced as he leaped off the building.

 

He caught up to her in a dead-end alley about two blocks away.

Exhausted from running, she turned to face him.  Joker’s punch had given her a serious black eye.

“So much for trust, Selina.”

“Bruce, it’s not the way it looks.”

He held up his hand.  “Batman.  Don’t ‘Bruce’ me!”

“Please, let me explain.”

“Explain what?  All the lies you told me?  I can’t believe you’d be stupid enough to team up with Joker after all you’ve been through.  More than that, I can’t believe I let you sucker me in.  You haven’t learned your lesson.  You’ll never change.”

“You don’t understand.  I had no choice.  He was blackmailing me.”

“What?”

“Joker was blackmailing me.  He sent me a letter two weeks ago asking for my help and saying if I didn’t, he would tell the cops who I am and where to find me.  He’s still upset I didn’t join his fake money plot, so he wanted to make sure I cooperated this time.  He’s got men everywhere, even in the police.  I couldn’t risk it.”

“What did he want from you?”

“Just a copy of the casino floorplan.  He said he was going to rob it on opening night and no one would get hurt.”

“And you believed him?” he asked, incredulous.

“Well, sort of, but like I said, I had no choice.”

“Did you tell him about the Phoenix Foundation meeting?”

“No.  I swear, I never mentioned it.  I don’t know how he found out.”

“One of his informants in the police probably short-circuited Gordon’s plan to arrest everyone so he could make his move.”

“He told me to slip out of the crowd when his men came in and meet him upstairs as Catwoman.  Please trust me, Bruce.  I didn’t want to do it.  I didn’t want to hurt David, or anybody.  He forced me to go along.”

“You’ll forgive me if I have a hard time believing you.”

“It’s the truth.  I’m not lying to you.  I wouldn’t.  I can’t.”

“Here we go with the dual identity thing again.  Who’s really talking, Selina or Catwoman?  Bruce wants to believe Selina, but Batman doesn’t trust Catwoman.  It’s all so crazy.”

“For what it’s worth, I saved your life back there.  Joker was about to put a bullet right between your eyes, and I whipped the gun out of his hand.”  She looked away for a moment.  “No thanks necessary.”

“Did you do it because of me, or because you wanted to stop him?”

“Both, I guess.  I mean, I captured him, didn’t I?  You were in la-la land, and he would’ve gotten away.”

“Thank you.”  He sighed deeply.  “One thing I don’t understand.  Why didn’t you tell me about his threats?  I could’ve done something.”

“I wanted to, honest.  I just felt so scared.  I was confused....”  She began crying.

“If you had come to me, we could’ve been prepared for Joker, and several people might still be alive.”

“I know,” she sobbed.  “Oh, God, I’m so sorry!”

He held her and made an effort to calm her, despite his awkward feelings.  He mulled it over, trying to imagine himself in her situation.  Knowing she was still psychologically fragile and susceptible, he nevertheless believed in her heart she was trying to do the right things.

She dried her eyes and sniffed, “So what happens now?”

“By all rights, you should go to prison for helping Joker.  But since you did so under duress and you turned against him at the first opportunity, you might get only a year.”

“A year?  No!”

“Your past association with Penguin works against you.”

“Bruce, I don’t belong there!”

“As I was saying, I should send you to jail.  Batman is a defender of the law and upholder of justice.   However, Bruce can’t quite bring himself to do that to you.  He believes in mercy when the situation warrants.”

“Like now?” she asked hopefully.

“Like now.  It probably would be best if you laid low for a while.  Maybe just…disappear--again.”

“What about us?”

“We both still have a lot to sort out, about ourselves and each other.  Especially where it comes to trust.  If you keep out of trouble, we can revisit things in time.”

“I’m really sorry, Bruce.  I’ve let us both down and messed everything up.”  She started crying again.

He noticed her black eye was not part of the makeup.  “Joker gave you a nice shiner.”

She managed a smile.  “The price for helping you.  Love hurts.”

 

Seeing Batman approaching the wrecked casino, Gordon immediately asked, “Where’s Catwoman?”

“She slipped away.  However, my investigation gives me reason to believe she was an unwilling accomplice.”

“Really?  That’s surprising.”

“Joker was blackmailing her.”

“About what?”

“Some irrelevant personal issue.  What matters is that she had no desire to cooperate with him and in fact assisted me in his capture.”

“Hmm.  Has she reformed, then?”

“She’s a work in progress, Commissioner.  Just like the rest of us.”

 

Several days later, Alfred walked into the study with Bruce’s daily paper.  “It made the morning news, sir.  David Stump has been indicted on charges of racketeering, money laundering, and extortion.  Amazing.”

“Good triumphs in the end, Alfred.”

“But what’s Gotham going to do now?”

“Rebound nicely, I imagine.  All the property owned by the Phoenix Foundation can be seized for unpaid taxes and sold to legitimate businessmen who care about Gotham and want to make it a better place for everyone, not just the wealthy.”

“That is a relief.”

“I’m even thinking about buying the casino land and building a water park for the kids.”

“That would be wonderful.  I imagine it’s not good for much else, with the way you and the Joker trashed it.”

            “For certain, it’s a big mess.”

“I gather the police also have a real blot on their reputation.”

“Yes and no.  On the positive side, Commissioner Gordon will find it pretty easy to ferret out the men who were on Joker’s payroll.  He just needs to finish the housecleaning that he started earlier in the year.”

            “I hope he succeeds.”

            “He will.  I’ve never seen him more determined to bring law and order back to Gotham.”

            “Forgive me if I’m intruding, sir, but what’s become of Miss Kyle?”

            “She’s out there somewhere, Alfred.  One day, she’ll be back.  I have no doubt.”

 

The next evening, the Batsignal shone bright in the cloudy Gotham sky.  Another night on the job for Batman.  One man can only do so much.  Sometimes that’s enough.