MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. BATMAN

 

            “ ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the city…a blanket of snow fell—it looked really pretty.”

            Batman scowled and pressed his comlink button.  “Oracle, don’t you have gifts to wrap, or something?”

            “Pardon me, Scrooge McGrinch, for trying to inject a little holiday cheer into this Christmas Eve.”

            “Crime doesn’t take a holiday,” he reminded her solemnly.

            “Apparently, neither do you.”

“The people of Gotham sleep peacefully tonight because I stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

“Good thing you don’t write greeting cards for a living.”   She heard a beep, then looked at one of her monitors.  “Hmm.  That’s interesting.  Does the name George O’Malley ring a bell?”

            “You mean the unofficial town drunk?  He’s had more public intoxication arrests than Veronica Vreeland’s had boyfriends.”

            “Well, the cops picked him up again.  In a Santa hat.  About a block from St. Mary’s Boys and Girls Home.”

            Frowning, Batman asked, “What would he be doing there?”

            “According to his record, he’s usually sentenced to community service, and he works it off by playing Santa at St. Mary’s.”

            “What an irresponsible lush.  Those kids will be so disappointed when he doesn’t show up.”

            “Yeah…if he doesn’t show,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

            “If?  Where would they find another Santa on such short notice?”

            She chuckled.  “I know this guy…over six feet tall…calls himself Batman….”

            “You can’t be serious,” he objected.

            “Why not?  The kids need a Santa.  You need something better to do than brooding on snowy rooftops all night.  Look, nothing’s going to happen.  It’s Christmas.”  She was about to say more, but the red light on her police scanner interrupted.  “Whoa—hold on!”

            “What’s happening?”

            She gave a sigh.  “So much for my ‘silent night’ theory.  Intruder alarm going off at Tivoli’s Jewelry.”

            “Sounds like somebody wants a head start on the after-Christmas sale.  I’ll handle it.  Batman out.”

            Oracle sat back but couldn’t stop thinking about the kids at St. Mary’s.  “They’ll have a blue Christmas without you,” she sang quietly.

 

            At Tivoli’s, purveyors of the finest in fine jewelry, Batman found the night watchman tied up and gagged behind the counter.  He switched off the alarm and freed him.

            The guard, Miller, spit out his gag.  “Two guys jumped me from behind before I could do anything.”

            “Are they still here?”

            “I dunno.  They headed straight for the back, like they knew exactly what they were after.”

            Batman helped him stand up.  “Police will here in a few minutes.”

            Miller nodded.  “Thank you, Batman.  Merry Christmas!”

            The Caped Crusader spoke not a word but went straight to his work.  This was no ordinary burglary.  The thugs had bypassed a fortune in jewelry for something greater, and he easily guessed their target: the sapphire-encrusted Holiday Dove, carved in the shape of the bird of peace from a single grapefruit-sized diamond and valued at over five million dollars.  Tivoli’s planned to raffle it off on New Year’s Day and donate the proceeds to Wayne Foundation charities.

            He also knew who would be most interested in such a rare piece & audacious enough to steal it late on Christmas Eve.  Dashing through the store, he sprinted out the service entrance and into the alleyway behind.  Half a block to his right he saw a black limousine parked with the engine running.

            He marched up to it and pulled the front door open.  Yanking the driver out, he punched him in the stomach before hurling him into a half-empty dumpster.  Then he calmly opened the back door and looked inside.

            “Hello, Penguin.  Let’s take a little sleigh ride.”

            The startled man’s jaw dropped as Batman dragged him away, cuffed him, and forced him into an adjacent alley.  “This is police brutality!”

            “Shut up!”  Batman fired a grappling hook to the roof of the closest building and hoisted the pudgy rogue up with him.

            Penguin landed with a plop on a pile of snow.  Batman removed one side of the cuffs and clamped it around a tall steam vent.

            “Don’t you ever take a night off?  It’s Christmas.  You know…peace on earth, goodwill to men, all that stuff.”

            Batman scowled at him.  “Doing some last-minute shoplifting?”

            “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

            “Really?  Why were you parked near the most expensive jewelry store in town, after hours?”

            Oracle buzzed in on the comlink.  “Batman?”

            “Go ahead.”

            “Are you at Tivoli’s yet?  The PD just picked up two guys inside trying to swipe the Holiday Dove.”

            “Yeah.  I’ve got their boss…Penguin.”

            “Might’ve known,” she commented.  “Well, since you have that problem solved, how about the one at St. Mary’s?  It’s getting late, and you’re really the only man who can help.”

            Batman looked at the fuming Penguin, trying futilely to shake loose from the handcuffs.  “Oracle, you’re absolutely right.  I’ll be in touch.  Out.”

            “Rrrgh!” Penguin growled.  “Just because you don’t want to have a Merry Christmas doesn’t mean you get to spoil it for the rest of us.”

            “It does if your idea of ‘Merry Christmas’ involves stealing a five million-dollar diamond bird.”

            Penguin’s expression went blank.

            “The cops arrested your two goons inside Tivoli’s.”

“I’m not saying a word.”

Batman knelt in front of him.  “At the very least, they can charge you with conspiracy to commit grand larceny.  At most…let me put it this way.  How attached are you to the Iceberg Lounge and your image as a so-called ‘legitimate businessman,’ Oswald?”

“Very.”

“Then start talking!”

“Are you threatening me?”

“I call it an enticement to cooperate,” Batman said.

“Those two guys you mentioned, they aren’t mine.  They’re freelancers.   Word got around that they were planning to steal the pricey bird but didn’t have a way to unload it.  I offered my services as a go-between.”

“So you were going to fence it for them.”

Penguin gave him a distressed look.  “You make that sound…bad.  I wouldn’t have kept it, though it is quite a pretty bauble.”

“It was about to be sold for the benefit of several charities!”

“Yeah, well poor people aren’t the only ones in need of some extra cash.  My business has been off a bit lately, bill are a little high.  You understand.  Wait a minute, who am I talking to?  You never understand.”

“What I understand is that you’re in big trouble.  It’s a good bet those thugs will finger you in exchange for lighter sentences.”

“They wouldn’t!”

Batman ignored the attempt at humor.  “In the spirit of the evening, I’ll give you a choice.  I can take you to the cops right now, and you’ll spend Christmas in jail.  Or…,” he dangled the handcuff key in front of Penguin’s long nose, “you can help me make Christmas happen for some orphans, and you’ll spend the holiday at home with your lady friends.”

“Then what?”

“It’s in the hands of the justice system.  You’ll have to take your chances on the thieves turning state’s evidence.  So what’ll it be?  Jail now, or jail later?”

Penguin snatched away the key and undid the cuffs.  “Later.  Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.”

 

The Batmobile pulled up beside St. Mary’s just after nine.  Inside, the nun in charge heard the sound and rushed out to see.  “Batman!  Is everything all right?”

“Yes and no, Sister Barbara.  I’m afraid your regular Santa won’t be coming.”

She put her face in her hand.  “Mr. O’Malley’s drunk again, isn’t he?”

“He’s spending the night with the Gotham Police.”

“I was afraid something like that had happened.  He was supposed to be here an hour ago.  The children are getting worried, and it’s almost their bedtime.  Are you going to be our Santa this year?”

“No, but I brought someone who is.”

Penguin stepped forward and clasped Sister Barbara’s hand.  “At the urging of Batman, I decided to volunteer and help out.  I hope your suit will fit me.”

She frowned.  “You look familiar, Mister, uh,…”

He smiled.  “Oswald.  Call me Oswald.”

The nun gave Batman a skeptical look.

He nodded.  “It’s okay.”

She opened the door.  “Well, Mr. Oswald, come in, come in.  It’s quite chilly out there.”

Penguin winked at Batman, who glared back.  “You’re on a very short leash.  Just remember why we’re here.”

 

The old Santa suit fit Penguin rather well.  He had to fold up the pants legs because of his height, but they were hidden by the black costume boots.  His beard, however, felt extremely itchy.  “How long do I have to wear this?”

“Probably no more than half an hour,” Sister Barbara answered.

“It’s for the kids,” Batman reminded him.

Penguin decided a cold jail cell would be more uncomfortable as he checked himself in the mirror.  “Not a bad resemblance to the Jolly Old Elf, huh?”

Sister Barbara brought in a large sack filled with wrapped presents.  “They’ve already got the tags on, so you just need to call out a name, and they’ll come get it from you.  Ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Penguin said.

“Don’t forget to ‘Ho, ho, ho!’ and smile,” Batman told him as they walked down the hall toward the living room where all the children were watching A Christmas Carol.

 

            Sister Barbara entered gracefully and turned off the television.  “Boys and girls, thank you for waiting so patiently this evening.”

            “Santa’s not coming, is he?” a boy named Joey asked in disappointment.

            “As a matter of fact, he is coming.  He’s here right now.  He just…needed a little help from Batman to get here safely.”

            The Dark Knight stepped into the room briefly and waved at the children, who responded with wide-eyed stares and applause.

            Penguin then strode in like a commanding general.  “Ho! Ho! Ho!  Merry Christmas, everyone!”

            The boys and girls cheered wildly.  “Yay, Santa!”

            He sat down in a large chair next to the brightly lit Christmas tree and opened his sack.  “Have you kids been good this year?”

            “Yes!” they shouted in unison.

            “Great, because these presents are only for good boys and girls.”  Reading the names one by one, he proceeded to give away all twenty-three boxes in the sack.  Seeing their faces light up as they opened items specially picked out for them made an impression on the inveterate opportunist.  There was joy in giving, as well as in getting—or stealing.

            Even Batman felt touched by the scene.  Did he really have Christmas taken from him all those years ago, or had he simply given it up for fear of the pain?

            When the last box had been opened, the children called out, “Santa, read us the story!”

            Penguin looked at them blankly.  “What story?” he mumbled quietly to Sister Barbara.

            She handed him a large picture Bible.  “The Christmas story.  I read the part about Baby Jesus before you got here.  Santa usually reads about the shepherds.”

            He hesitated.  “I don’t think….”

            Batman gently put a gloved hand on his shoulder.

            Forcing a smile, Penguin said, “Sure, why not?”

            Sister Barbara pointed to the correct passage.

            Clearing his throat, he began reading.  “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And behold, an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were sore afraid.  Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’

            “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ ”

            When he finished, Sister Barbara said, “We would love for Santa to stay longer, but he has lots of other boys and girls to visit tonight.  Plus, it’s past your bedtimes.”

            “She’s right,” Penguin said as he stood up and grabbed his now-empty sack.  “Plenty of other kids waiting on me.  It’s been really great to see you.  Have a Merry Christmas!”

            “Merry Christmas, Santa!” the children called.

            Sister Barbara made a sweeping motion.  “Off to bed now.  I’ll be up in a few minutes to check on you.”

            As Penguin headed to the back room to change, Joey walked up and gently tugged on Batman’s cape.

            Though annoyed, Batman turned around and tried to smile.

            Joey said,  “Merry Christmas, Mr. Batman.  Thanks for helping Santa.”

            “Merry Christmas to you.”

           

            A few minutes later, Batman and Penguin prepared to leave.  Sister Barbara walked them to the side door.  “Thank you both so much.  You truly saved the evening.”  Tears welled up in her eyes.  “For some of these children…the hope of Christmas is all they have.  God bless you for keeping it alive.”

            Moved, Penguin said, “You’re welcome.”

            “Want to do it again next year?” Batman prodded.

            “I don’t know about that.”  He gestured at Batman.  “I might not be…available.”

            “Oh, please do consider it,” she urged.  “The children really took to you, Mr. Oswald.”

            Penguin looked at her compassionate eyes.  “If I’m free, I’d be delighted.”

            “Wonderful!” she said.

            “That’s entirely up to you,” Batman told him.

Penguin dug deep into his trouser pocket and pulled out a gold coin.  “In case I’m not….”  He placed the coin in her hand and said, “Merry Christmas.  Keep the change.”

Batman looked down at him.  “There’s hope for you yet.”

“Oh, there’s always hope, Batman,” she quickly replied.  “Always.”

For the first time in a long time, Penguin felt…appreciated.

 

Batman drove him back to the west side of town.

“You’ll forgive me if I don’t tell you exactly where I’m living at the moment,” he said as he got out of the Batmobile.

“You don’t have to,” Batman told him.  “Rosemont Towers, Suite 800.  You’re registered as Chester Oswald, and your rent is—”

“Awright, awright!  I forget, nothing is secret from you.”  He donned his top hat for the walk home.  “It’s not in my nature, but I guess I should say thanks for giving me a break tonight.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“I won’t,” Penguin said.  “Can you imagine what would happen if word got out that I was palling around with you on Christmas Eve?”

“It might ruin your bad reputation.  Enjoy the holiday, Penguin.  Until we meet again,” Batman said as he drove out of sight.

 

“So you just let him go,” Oracle said, somewhat baffled.

Batman, who had returned to his rooftop perch near downtown, calmly told her, “He kept his part of the agreement.”

“That in itself could be considered a small Christmas miracle.  Please accept my sincere thanks for helping the kids at St. Mary’s.  I knew there had to be a little holiday spirit locked up inside you.”

“Don’t jump to any conclusions,” he said.

“I’m going to call it a night.  All is calm, and at least at St. Mary’s, all is bright.  ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Batman!’  That’s precious.”

“Merry Christmas, Oracle.”

“Keep practicing.  By next year, you might sound like you actually mean it.”  Smiling, she looked out the Clock Tower window at the mantle of white on the city.  “Merry Christmas, Gotham, and to all, a good night.”