SPLIT DECISIONS

 

            Despite his disdain for pleading or whining, Bruce Wayne couldn’t help himself.  “It’s been three months.  And counting.”

            “I know,” Selina sighed into her cell phone as she looked out over the Dallas skyline.  “Believe me, I thought a return to Gotham every four to six weeks was quite doable when we made the arrangement.”  She stared at the pile of papers on her executive desk.  “Then I met this thing called reality.”

            “I guess it’s my fault.  I gave you the job.”

            She chuckled.  “I absolutely love being the head of your new security technology division.  It fits me even better than my old Catsuit.  But,” she added sadly, “it doesn’t allow much time for a personal life.  Between this and looking after Helena, my days are full.”

            “I know what you mean.  Good thing I have Lucius.”

            “I just keep reminding myself it’s better for us this way.  I don’t lay awake at night wondering which Arkham loony is going to come after me next.  And Helena’s adjusted so well.  She’s already made friends with a couple of girls in the preschool.”

            “When do you think you might be able to fly up?”

            She glanced at her day planner.  “I really don’t know.  The next couple of months are going to be just as busy.  I’m still on a learning curve, even though everyone else would probably tell you I really seem to know what I’m doing.”

            “So I’ve heard.”

            “Spying on the employees again, huh?”

            “It’s in my nature to want to know what’s going on.”

            “Do tell.  Listen, Bruce, I need to be going.  I have to pick up Helena, and I’ve got a dinner meeting with one of our Asian suppliers.”

            “Wouldn’t happen to be Yamazake, would it?”

            “How’d you guess?” she asked dryly.

            “I’ve come to believe his name must be Japanese for ‘pain in the butt.’  Give him an extra hard time just for me.”

            “Will do.  I know we need to talk more about us and where things are going.  I’ll call you soon.  Love you, darling.”

            “I love you too, Selina.  ’Bye.”

            As he hung up, Bruce sensed that ‘where things are going’ was in a direction very different than they expected.  Perhaps it was only a matter of time until their separation became a divorce.  Living more than a thousand miles apart was proving to be a much bigger problem than he’d convinced himself—and her—it would be.

Maybe they’d called it a separation to make it more palatable.  He wondered if the time had come to set aside a relationship that circumstances were forcing them to outgrow.

 

Officially, it was called “Game Night,” but everyone—including Bruce—knew it was really “Try-to-Cheer-Up-Bruce-Night.”  Barbara Gordon came up with the idea, and she got Dick Grayson to tag along.  The pain their stoic friend continued to go through showed no sign of abating.

Alfred brought a bowl of popcorn into the parlor as an intense game of Monopoly was underway.

            “Why didn’t anybody invite Zatanna?” Tim asked.

            “You do not want to play with her,” Bruce said sternly.  “Houses and hotels have a way of disappearing when she’s around.”

            Everyone laughed.

            Barbara smiled.  “There.  I just put a hotel on Boardwalk.  Get ready to pay up, boys.”

            The familiar glow of the Bat-signal flashed above them through the skylight, and a collective groan could be heard.

            Bruce handed all his properties to Tim.  “Feel free to stay and finish the game.  I can play Monopoly with real money anytime I want.”

            “Sure you don’t need help?” the boy asked as Bruce headed down to the Batcave.

            “If I do, you’ll be the first to know.”

 

            Batman materialized from behind the Bat-signal.  “Commissioner?”

            Gordon turned around.  “Evening, Batman.  Two-Face has escaped from Arkham.  While you were on the way, we got word of a security alarm going off at Gemini Finance.”

            “No coincidence.”

            “I have three units en route.  They should be there any second.”  Gordon shut off the beacon, then looked over his shoulder.  “I thought you’d want to know, since--”

            Batman was nowhere to be seen.

 

            Inside Gemini Finance, Two-Face and his pair of henchmen were cleaning out the vault and stuffing its contents into moneybags.

            “Hurry up,” he growled.  “I can hear the cops.”

            A thug named Ed tied the last bag.  “Got it, boss!”

            “Let’s move!” Two-Face yelled.

            As they tried to head out the delivery entrance, the whole area seemed to be bathed in flashing red lights.  “Two-Face,” a police officer called through his bullhorn, “we have the building surrounded.  Come out with your hands in the air, and you will not be hurt.”

            Dent’s other man waited a few seconds, then answered with a blast of machine gun fire through the back windows.  The police ducked as bullets riddled their car.

            Two-Face’s gang retraced their steps and blasted their way out a side door under the cover of a smoke bomb.

            All officers converged on that entrance and tried to pin them down.  They shot Ed in the arm, and he fell to his knees, cursing the pain.  The other thug wisely dropped his weapon and surrendered.

            Two-Face made it over a retaining wall and slid into the dry spillway below, only to find himself in the spotlight of a Gotham PD helicopter as he zigzagged across the canal.  Diving behind an overturned trashcan, he readied his machine gun and blasted away.

            The hail of bullets shattered the chopper’s light, struck the pilot in the leg, and shorted out the flight controls.  “Mayday!  Mayday!  This is Air Three.  I’m hit and losing power.  Gonna try to set it down in the Riverside spillway.  Suspect is fleeing north.”

            Listening in on the police scanner, Batman grimaced.  “I’m on it.”

 

            Two-Face was leaving the downtown area as fast as he could.  It seemed every squad car in Gotham was converging on him.  Sirens sounded almost non-stop, and he searched frantically for a hiding place.

            A foot patrol unit spotted him darting into a condemned tenement building.  “All units, this is 852.  Suspect seen running into 215 Carlisle Street, at the corner of 30th.  Request backup.  Over.”

            Within minutes, three squad cars had pulled up to the location, and officers from a fourth were cordoning off the street.

            But the Batmobile had beaten them all.

 

            Batman came in through a broken second story window.  Bypassing the rotting staircase, he leapt from the landing and began searching for Two-Face.  Hearing shots, he raced to the front of the building.

            Dent was trading fire with the cops outside.  When he stepped back into the shadows to reload his pistol, he felt a hand on his shoulder.  Reflexively, he whirled around and struck Batman in the cheek with the 9mm’s barrel.

            The blow sent Batman crashing into a wooden column, which snapped like a twig.  He stumbled over broken pieces of sheetrock and fell on the moldy carpet.

            “I knew it was you,” Two-Face hissed before shooting out the lights of the closest police car.

 

            Commissioner Gordon got out of his car and ducked as bullets went flying again.  “Lieutenant, what’s the situation?”

            “We have him surrounded and pinned down in the foyer.”

            “Why haven’t you sent anybody inside?”

            “Well, sir, a couple of guys saw Batman come in the back way.”

            Gordon frowned.  “And you’re waiting to see what he does?”

            “No, sir.  We, uh, didn’t want to shoot him by mistake.”

            “Lieutenant, you get some guys in there now before Two-Face manages to slip away.  Batman knows how to handle himself.  As far as you’re concerned, he’s ten feet tall and bulletproof.”

            One of the officers’ shots ricocheted off the brick and pierced the gas meter at the corner of the building.

            The distinctly unpleasant odor of natural gas spread over the area.  Gordon coughed and covered his mouth with a handkerchief.  “Cease fire!  There’s a gas leak.”

“Sorry, sir,” the responsible corporal called.

“Lieutenant, call Gotham Gas right away.  They should’ve shut it off weeks ago when the property was condemned.”

 

Batman stood up as the gas stench hit his nostrils.  “Harvey, stop!” he called to Two-Face, who was still firing at the police cars.  “One spark and the whole place goes.”

Dent paused, giving Batman just enough time to tackle him and cover them both with his cape.

A hot shell casing ignited the gas vapor, and with a stunning boom, an incandescent fireball blasted through the windows.

The police dove for cover as the explosion showered them with bits of glass, wood, and masonry.

Inside, the center of the ground floor collapsed into the basement, taking Batman and Two-Face with it.  When the avalanche of debris stopped, they found themselves in a small, pitch black void.

Batman felt a searing pain in his right shoulder and knew immediately it was dislocated.  He fished a flashlight out of his utility belt and tried to sit up.

Dent’s scarred face looked even ghastlier in the small beam of light.  “Walls,” he muttered as he looked around.  “Shine the light over this way.  Damn!”

“What?” Batman asked.

“We’re in a storage room, and that,” he pointed to a mountain of bricks,” used to be the doorway.”

Batman coughed from the dust in the air.  Seeing the broken concrete slab over their heads, he concluded, “We have enough air for about two hours, maybe three if we’re careful.”  He shifted his injured shoulder to try to force it back into its socket.

Dent saw a glint of silver.  Scrambling to it, he smiled and picked up his pistol.  He turned slowly and pointed it at Batman.  “That assumes we both remain alive.  I wouldn’t bet on those odds.”

The Caped Crusader remained still.

Taking a closer look at him, Two-Face grinned sinisterly.  “What have we here?  A Bat with one broken wing.  I never thought it would be this easy.”  He reached into his pocket and pulled out the coin.

“Wait,” Batman calmly urged.

“Why?  The longer it takes, the more of my air you breathe.”  He flipped the coin.

 

Outside the ruined building, a small army of police and firefighters had assembled, waiting for the signal to begin a rescue effort.

Gordon huddled over a blueprint of the building with Fire Chief Dellanova.  “Is there a way, Chief?”

“Yes.  But there’s a lot of ifs attached to that yes.  Most of the first floor has totally caved in.  The blast weakened the front façade to the extent that it may give way at any time.  The second floor seems to be holding for the moment, but that could change.  The load-bearing wood structures are rotting.  If Batman and Two-Face are alive, they’re probably now in the basement.  If my men go through the back, if the building doesn’t completely collapse, if they don’t run out of air, then yes, we can get to ‘em.  But it’s still gonna be a toss-up.”

 

At Wayne Manor, Alfred, Barbara, Tim, and Dick watched television in shock as the breaking news unfolded.

Tim instinctively headed toward the Batcave.  “I’ve got to do something.”

Gently grabbing his arm, Alfred said, “I’m afraid there isn’t much you can do.  The fire rescue personnel are quite experienced at these things.”

Tim was undeterred.  “Maybe I can reach him on the communicator.  I have to try.  Someone’s got to be there for him.”

Alfred relented without another word.

Dick nodded.  “We should all be out there.”

Barbara frowned.  “We’d just be in the way.”

“Not at the accident,” Dick said.  “Out patrolling the city.  What do you think the criminals are going to do once they hear that Batman’s trapped in a collapsed building?”

She frowned.  “Good point.  Let’s roll.”

Alfred gazed at the TV screen as the camera zoomed in for a close-up of the rubble.  “Hang on, sir.”

 

Robin parked his motorcycle next to the Batmobile and dismounted.  He carefully put his hand on the sleek black car for a moment before sprinting half a block to join Gordon at the makeshift command post across the street from the accident.

Gordon saw him out of the corner of his eye.  “That answers one question.  Some of the men wondered if you were inside the building with Batman.”

“Is there any news?”

“The first rescue squad has gone inside.  They’re starting from the back and working forward.  They put some microphones into the rubble and thought they heard something in the basement but couldn’t tell if it was a human voice or just the building creaking.”

“I’ve been trying to raise him on our comlink,” Robin said.

“Keep at it.  We need all the help we can get.  It’s only a matter of time until what’s left of that tenement collapses.”

 

Two-Face’s coin landed scarred side up.  “Hmm.  Looks like it’s time to say good night to the Dark Knight.”  He put the coin back in his pocket and aimed at the injured Batman.  “This is almost too easy.”

“Then I’ll make it harder.”  Batman lunged at him, ramming his good shoulder right into the pistol and knocking Dent into the wall of debris.

Dent dropped the pistol, and both men immediately grabbed for it.  As they struggled, the gun went off, but the bullet harmlessly embedded itself in the rubble.

 

The shot, however, was picked up by the Fire Department’s microphones, and they quickly triangulated its location.

Robin’s eyes brightened as Chief Dellanova relayed the startling development to Gordon.

“A gunshot?” the commissioner asked.

“That’s what they said,” Dellanova told him as he reached for the blueprints.  “They pinpointed it here, about halfway along the western wall.”  He thumbed over to the basement sheet.  “Looks like the old furnace room.  The walls are too thick to drill through.  We’ll have to go in from above.”

“Through the rubble?” Robin asked.

“If we want ‘em alive.”  Dellanova picked up his radio.  “Davis, get some guys to shore up that west wall as much as they can.  Have Teams B and C start clearing debris from the target site.  Front to back.  Recall Team A.”

 

In the near-darkness, Batman ejected the clip from the pistol and threw it as far as he could.  Two-Face continued to wrestle with him on the floor.  Batman kicked him off with a boot to the crotch and decked him with a right cross, which, ironically, popped his shoulder back into place.

As Dent hit the ground, Batman let out a primal growl from the pain and steeled himself as the ache began to subside.

Dent picked up the pistol, pointed it at Batman’s eye, and pulled the trigger.

Click!

He saw the hole where the clip was supposed to be.  “Dammit!”  As he stumbled around looking for the clip, everything went completely black again.

Batman had turned off the small flashlight.

“Aarrruuugghhh!” Dent roared in frustration.

Sitting back down, Batman said, “Now that’s over with, I suggest we stop wasting air and wait for them to get us out of here.”

Unable to see anything, Two-Face glared in his direction and seethed.

 

Alfred was tidying up in the Batcave while he followed the news on one of the large computer monitors.  He worked purposefully, as though certain Batman would come back--or at least trying to convince himself it would happen.

When the reporter breathlessly announced that police had picked up the sound of gunshots in the rubble, the butler was likely the only sane person in Gotham who reacted with relief instead of horror.

One has to be alive, he reasoned, to be worth shooting at.

 

Two-Face wiped the sweat out of his eyes with a dusty coat sleeve.  “Gettin’ stuffy in here,” he said, taking a deep breath.

“CO2 buildup.  I suggest—”

“Yeah, yeah.  Quit moving around and using up oxygen.  I got it.”

They began to hear faint sounds of digging from above.  With a crack, the remains of the ground floor shifted, allowing another small load of debris to slide into the room.

Batman covered himself with his cape and tried not the breathe in the masonry dust.

Two-Face put his head down and coughed.  When the rubble stopped falling, he looked up and yelled, “Careful, you idiots!  Don’t bury us before you can get us out!”

“Harvey, be quiet.  They can’t hear.”

“Well, it makes me feel better.”  He smoothed back his hair.  “You know, there’s one thing that’s always bugged me about you, Batman.  You treat me differently than you do the others, like I used to be your friend or something.  Why?”

“Maybe you did.”

“Because I was once on the ‘right’ side of the law?”

“Not necessarily.”

“Oh, yeah.  I remember.  You felt sorry for me and wanted to help,” Two-Face said with a trace of bitterness.  “You thought everything would be okay if I was Harvey Dent again, the people’s champion, the great prosecutor of all the malefactors who plague Gotham.  Phhh!”

“Did it ever occur to you that we might actually have been friends?”

“I don’t care if we lived next door as kids or double dated in high school.  I don’t have any friends.  And I don’t need ‘friends’ like Gordon or that pompous Bruce Wayne, who thinks he can fix anything just by throwing money at it.”  He tapped on the coin.  “This is my only friend now, and it’s all I need.”

“Harvey, there are people in this city who would go above and beyond to help you if you would just let them.”

“Harvey Dent was weak.  Maybe he needed help, but I don’t.  Two-Face is strong.”

“Then I guess I’ll just have to keep being stronger,” Batman muttered.

“How long are you gonna keep this up?  Doesn’t it get old?”

“Why do you keep breaking out of Arkham and committing crimes?  Doesn’t it get old?”

Dent snickered.  “Which came first, the Batman or the rotten eggs?  I guess it’s just what I do.”

“And this is what I do,” Batman said sternly.  “I’ll do it as long as necessary.  Not one day more.”

“So…no retirement for the Bat, huh?  No beachfront condo in your future plans.  Not that I think you’ll live long enough to need one.”

“I plan on outliving every one of you bastards, to piss you off if nothing else.”

 

Although they continued to hear rescuers working, their situation remained unchanged in the next hour.  The air did grow more stale, making the room feel like a mausoleum.  They remained silent, except for an occasional cough when debris tumbled into the dark space.

 The claustrophobic surroundings finally got to Two-Face, especially after one particularly large shower of dusty rubble, and he became restless again.  “Turn that light back on, will you?  I feel like I’m in a damn grave!”

“Just for a couple of minutes,” Batman agreed.  “I need to conserve the batteries in case we’re forced to start digging ourselves out.”  He twisted the end of the flashlight.  “Doesn’t look much different.”

“No, but it seems less like a tomb when I can see what’s around me.”  Dent’s eyes were drawn to a rectangular piece of metal on the floor about six feet to his right.  He recognized it as the ammo clip from his pistol.  Must’ve dropped from the debris when things shifted, he thought as he fixed the location in his mind.

Batman turned off the light again.

“Hey!”

“Relax, Harvey.  You’re not going to die down here.”

But maybe you will, he said to himself while quietly inching his way toward the clip.

 

Gordon finished a cup of coffee and walked back to Dellanova.  “How’s it coming, Chief?”

“You might say the cavalry just arrived.”  He pointed to a heavy rolling crane which had positioned itself at the front of the building.  “Once that thing is anchored, we should be able to remove the broken floor slab over them pretty quick.”

“What about the risk of cave-in?”

“Commissioner, that could happen at any moment no matter what we do.  But I guarantee you one thing—if that slab is part of a cave-in, their survival chances are zero.”

 

Two-Face used the overhead noise to mask his movement.  The diesel engine on the crane and the rescuers’ jackhammers were so loud, he didn’t even hear himself grab the clip and lock it into the pistol.  Although he knew how clever Batman could be, he was certain his adversary couldn’t hear anything but the cacophony, either.

He moved back to the exact spot where he had been sitting just as the volume subsided.

“Sounds like they’re getting close,” Batman said.

“Not close enough for you.”  Aiming in the direction of Batman’s voice, Dent emptied the last six rounds from the clip.

When the echo of the last shot faded, he sat motionless and listened.  Absolute silence greeted his ears.  No sound of movement or breathing.  Was the Bat dead?

He stood up and walked backward.  Something touched his neck, and with a jolt he whirled around to pistol-whip it.

A piece of rotting timber clunked to the ground.

He was growing more and more unnerved by the minute.  The Bat has to be dead.  He can’t possibly be dead.  He’s still here.  He’s right beside you.  No, he’s over there.  Against that wall.  “Yaaaaahh!”

Dropping to his knees, he bellowed, “Where are you, Batman?  Where the hell are you?  Tell me!”

No response.

“Are you alive?  Are you hurt?  Tell me, dammit!  Tell me!”

“Say please.”  Batman kicked him under the chin, sending him sprawling.  Before Two-Face could react, he pulled him up by the coat and knocked him into the wall with a fast left hook.  A right uppercut, and Dent dropped limply to the dusty floor.

He opened his eyes to see Batman’s dark form silhouetted against the debris pile by the glow of the utility flashlight.  Sitting up, he massaged his aching jaw.  “Doesn’t look like I even nicked you.  How the hell did I miss?”

“I was in the corner to your right?”

“But your voice came…aww, crap!  You threw your voice like a ventriloquist, didn’t you?  Damn!”

“You’re still a smart man, Harvey.  You just make some really stupid decisions.”

They heard a cracking rumble and noticed the glare of halogen lights pushing its way into their brick cell.  At the same time, more debris started raining down from the edges of the hole.

A paramedic stuck his head in and shouted, “Anybody here?”

“We’re both alive,” Batman called back, moving into view.

“Are you injured?”

Batman looked down at Two-Face.  “Nothing serious.”

The paramedic threw a sturdy line down.  “Tie this around your waist, and we’ll winch you up.”

Batman forced Two-Face, who was still in a daze, to his feet and secured the rope around him.  Giving the line a tug, he said, “Up you go, Harvey.”

Dent was not quite halfway there when the remainder of the ground floor gave way and dropped into the basement like a sinkhole.

The rescue workers scurried away for their safety as the line snapped, sending him plunging back into the rapidly filling hole.

“Help!  No!” Dent screamed as he hit the brick rubble.

Batman took his grappling gun and fired a hook across the top of the crane.  It caught on the jib and held.  Grabbing Two-Face under the arms, he hoisted them up and out seconds before the basement completely disappeared.  It felt good to see the sky again, he thought.

Paramedics moved forward to take the bleeding, battered criminal from him, and Gordon and Robin followed.

The commissioner looked at the dusty, somewhat tattered Dark Knight.  “Thank God you’re alive, Batman!”

“It wasn’t the best way to spend two hours,” he said without emotion.  “And the company left a lot to be desired.”

An ambulance pulled up and loaded the stretcher holding Two-Face.  Hoarsely, he called out, “Bats!”

Turning, Batman peered inside the vehicle.

“Why… did you save me?”

“I told you earlier, we want to help you, Harvey.  It’s hard to help a dead man.”

Dent gave a puzzled look, but said nothing.  An attendant closed the ambulance doors, and the unit sped off for Gotham General Hospital.

After Robin notified Alfred and Batgirl via the comlink that all was well, he shook hands with his mentor.  “I’m really, really glad to see you.”

Batman winced.  “Careful with the arm.  I dislocated my shoulder.”

“Can you drive?”

Batman nodded and began walking in the direction of the Batmobile.

“How was it down there?  We heard there were shots.”

Stopping abruptly, Batman turned around and looked at the collapse site.  Workers were using the crane to knock down more of the building and reduce the safety hazard to the surrounding area.

“Two-Face remains a violent and troubled man, Robin.  I think he can be helped, but first he has to let someone get close enough to try.”

 

After a shower and nine hours of sleep, Bruce went downstairs to the kitchen and saw Alfred had prepared a hearty breakfast for him.

“A good Saturday morning, sir.  You seem none the worse for wear.”

“All things considered, Alfred, I’m probably not.”

“Here’s your paper,” the butler said.

Bruce downed the orange juice in one gulp.  “Any big news?”

“Besides the dramatic rescue of Batman and Two-Face?  There is the earth-shattering report from Hollywood that Tad Green and Angela Baker are divorcing after ten months of marriage.”

Bruce chuckled.  “And they said it wouldn’t last.”

“Those infamous ‘irreconcilable differences’ again.”

“Well, it’s so much nicer than saying she’s an egomaniac, and he sleeps with all his co-stars.”

“Indeed, sir.”

Bruce put his fork down and sat back.  “I’m afraid it’ll be me they’re writing about before too long.”

“Oh, dear.”

“I want you to be completely honest with me, Alfred.  Have Selina and I been deluding ourselves about our ‘separation?’”

“‘Deluded’ is a strong word, Master Bruce.  ‘Unrealistic’ might be a better choice.”

He nodded.  “I’m finding that out the hard way.  She loves her job, which is great.  But there’s no time for her and Helena to visit.  I really did underestimate a lot of things.”

“On the positive side, she’s safe and happy,” Alfred reminded him.  “She has the life she always wanted.  She’s successful and respected, all of which is due to your influence in her life.”

“She’s well aware of that and grateful for it, but… I think we’re back to that whole duality thing again.  It brought us together, and now it’s dividing us.”  Bruce got up and walked into the study.

“How so?” Alfred asked, following him.

“When we fell in love, there was balance.  Or so it seemed.  Batman loved Catwoman, and I loved Selina.  But now that she’s given up her mask, I see the balance was a mirage.  Because of our strong attraction, I let myself lose sight of one basic fact—Batman is the reality and Bruce Wayne the mask.”

Alfred noticed a tear in his eye.

“See, I used to think our masks fell in love, and our real selves fell in love.  But that wasn’t true.  My mask fell in love with the real Selina.”  He sat on the sofa, putting his head in his hands.  “She’s been married to someone who doesn’t exist.”

“Oh, sir, I wouldn’t go that far.”

“It’s true, Alfred.  Please don’t try to convince me Bruce Wayne, billionaire industrialist, is also real.  That would make me a dual personality, just like Two-Face.  I know I’m messed up, but not….”  He sighed.  “The only way to keep our marriage alive is for me to move to Dallas with her.  Which means, in effect, I’d be living a mask 24/7 for the rest of my life.  As much as I love Selina, that is something I cannot do.  Our relationship was on borrowed time from day one.  And time’s up.”

Alfred knew nothing he could say would comfort or persuade Bruce, so he quietly slipped out of the room and closed the door.  How ironic, he thought, that the mask offers freedom, while the reality is an invisible prison.

 

Bruce went down to the Batcave and activated the secure link to Selina’s private phone.

“This is Selina.”

“It’s me.”

“Bruce, I was just thinking about you.”

“Got a question.  Remember that very helpful formula you told me your therapist gave you so many years ago?”

“Sure.  Time plus distance equals clarity.  I could never forget it.  Why?”

He took a deep breath.  “There’s something I need to tell you….”