The Momentum and the Moment
Dick leaned forward. "Are you sure?"
Barbara scanned the data on the screen before her. "Very low blood sugar level, abnormally high insulin level… and, here's the clincher: they found a syringe in his jacket pocket. The lab reports confirm it contained traces of insulin. What I can't figure out is, assuming Alfred wasn't diabetic… if you're going to kill somebody… why use insulin?
Dick considered that. "It works fast," he said thoughtfully. "If it was injected into a muscle, death occurs in about twenty to thirty minutes. IV would've been even faster. And the symptoms… Babs, hypothetically… you come onto the scene. You see someone who's broken out in a sweat. His face is flushed. He seems…" he paused, trying to remember the forensic texts Bruce had forced him to study, years ago, "disoriented, weak, sleepy… maybe he's already comatose. Babs, do you have any idea how many different drugs… or medical conditions for that matter, mimic those symptoms? Even if you suspect something's off with the blood sugar, what's the likelihood you'll realize you're looking at an insulin OD? Especially when you know the subject isn't diabetic, and had no reason to be taking the stuff."
Barbara nodded. "Makes sense. Also…insulin's legal. It's relatively easy to obtain. I mean, for all we know, one of Black Mask's enforcers might have a prescription for the stuff." Her eyes widened. "Dick? You do know what this means if the information's accurate, right?"
Dick nodded slowly. "It means that Alfred was already dying or dead when Bruce got there. It means he wasn't killed during the rescue attempt. It means Black Mask murdered him." He gripped the edge of the desk as he leaned over Barbara's shoulder to peer at the screen. She covered his hand with her own as she hit the page-down button. A little too quickly. Dick's eyes narrowed. "What didn't you want me to see?" He demanded.
"Babs, don't play games with me. There's something in that report you're keeping from me. Isn't there?" He slid his hand free of hers and slapped it down on the table. "What are you hiding?"
She didn't answer. She held herself ramrod straight, jaw locked, eyes fixed straight ahead. She seemed to be on the verge of tears.
Way to go, Grayson, He thought miserably, as his anger vanished. You spent a few months in a cesspool and it looks like you still haven't washed all the stink away. He shook his head. If nothing else, his time with the mob had proven to him that, although he had fallen from the ideals that Bruce had drummed into him from Day One, he still hadn't sunk as low as he had believed he had when Amy had kicked him out of holding. Even so, those days had left their mark on him. He was more volatile, now. More prone to anger. Get it under control, or save it for the suit, he ordered himself.
"Sorry, Babs," he said, immediately contrite. "That was…" he broke off. "…Sorry."
Tight-lipped, Barbara scrolled back to the previous screen. "We know," she said in a brittle voice, "how Black Mask gets his jollies, but-" She broke off at Dick's gasp.
"There is no way," Dick whispered, "that Alfred got those kinds of injuries from the explosion or from the fall. Based on this…"
"I know," Barbara forced out the words. "Black Mask tortured him, starved him, and shot him full of insulin. Even if Batman had gotten there a few minutes earlier, I don't think it would have made a difference. By the time he could have figured out what was wrong with Alfred…"
"It would have been too late," Dick finished grimly. His expression hardened. "Bruce has got to be tearing himself apart over this… going over every move… thinking if he'd jumped a second sooner… snagged a different anchor point with the decel grapple… found another exit… and Alfred was already gone!" He slammed his fist into the table, sending the computer mouse, pad and all, sliding into Barbara's lap. "I hope I don't find him, right now. I hope to G-d I don't find Sionis when I'm like this. Because if I do… I honestly don't know if I'll be able to hold back."
Barbara gripped his wrist fiercely. "You're going to have to," she replied. "Because I honestly don't know if I'm going to want to talk you down."
That checked him. He drew a deep breath. "Babs. I-I really am sorry I lost it, just now. There's absolutely no excuse…"
Barbara smiled shakily. "Look… you're stressed, you've been through a lot, lately…"
He shook his head. "It still doesn't justify…"
"No. It doesn't," Barbara admitted. "Pull something like this again and you can check into a hotel. But, for now… you'd better hustle. You're meeting with Lucius Fox in a little over a half-hour."
He nodded. That appointment had completely slipped his mind, when he'd gone to meet with Akins. Bruce's situation impacted more than the select group of people he thought of as family. Once the secret became public knowledge, Wayne Enterprises was likely to suffer from the fallout. So, rather than wait for the other shoe to drop, he was going to take steps, now, to contain the situation.
"We'll talk later, Babs," he said.
Lucius Fox paced back and forth before his office window. "What you're saying is-"
"Difficult to believe, I know, Mr. Fox," Dick said respectfully. "If you'd rather think that this is all some kind of a joke on my part, I understand. But, hypothetically speaking, if I'm telling you the truth… if Bruce Wayne really is Batman, and really is in police custody, right now… then once those facts come to light, how do we minimize the repercussions for WE?"
Lucius stopped pacing. He faced the window, gripping the sill tightly. "Well," he said slowly, "Bruce did give you power of attorney, so you are able to act on his behalf. That makes it easier. And harder."
"I don't under-"
"Alright," Lucius said, a hint of steel creeping into his voice. "Here it is, cards on the table. I can hold a press conference. Assure investors that Wayne Enterprises is solvent and won't be impacted in any way, shape, or form, by the… current difficulties… its CEO is facing."
"But," Lucius continued nervously, "that might not be enough. You might need to liquidate your own… and Bruce's holdings in the company. That would allow us to distance the corporation more fully from the…"
"Scandal," Dick finished. "Cards on the table. Like you said." He swallowed. He and Babs had discussed this, already. Together, they had set up dummy corporations that would "purchase" the holdings. In reality, nothing would be lost. But on paper, it would look…"
"This couldn't come at a worse time," Lucius intoned. "What with the hostile takeover of Korrd Technologies a few months ago… now this… we're going to take a hit, no matter what. But if you're willing to sell off the Wayne holdings…" he broke off. "I hate having to ask you to do this. The company is Bruce's legacy."
Dick sighed. "Mr. Fox," he asked, "tell me truthfully. Could Bruce's arrest lead to Wayne Enterprises going bankrupt?"
"It's possible, of course," Lucius admitted, "though one or more hostile takeovers would be more likely."
"That would still trigger layoffs, though."
"Hundreds, if not thousands," Lucius agreed.
"And given WE's place in the economic infrastructure, there'd be a ripple effect on our suppliers and distributors."
"Then…" he swallowed. His throat was suddenly dry. And the overpowering fragrance of cedar that permeated the vice president's office wasn't helping. "Then," Dick stated, "we'd better go ahead with it. If it's going to come down to a choice between holding on to a legacy or risking that many people losing their livelihoods, I know how Bruce would decide. Once Akins makes his announcement, get media relations to set up a press conference. This is probably going to be better coming from me."
"Ever given a press conference before?"
"Yes." As Robin. A long time ago.
Lucius considered. "Alright. We'll do it your way. Mind if I still want this to be a really bad practical joke?"
Dick sighed. "You and me, both, Mr. Fox."
"I hope you're alright," Barbara's 'Oracle voder' said over the intercom, "with setting this up in one of the satellite caves. With Dad staying under the same roof with me, I don't want the neighbors recognizing either of you, and wondering why you'd be coming to call."
The goateed young man lounging against the rough cement wall grinned impishly at her holographic image. "Fess up, Cyberbabe," he retorted, "you're just afraid of what might happen if you and me are sitting together in the same room."
"That must be it, Harper," she deadpanned. "If I were to break my escrima over your skull, I don't know how I'd ever be able to face Dinah again."
"Ahhhh… don't sweat it," the blonde woman seated on the leather hassock grinned. "It's not like you'd damage anything vital,"
"Hey!" Roy shouted, as Barbara responded-
"Weren't you just paying attention? I'd have wrecked the escrima!"
The two women giggled. Dick hadn't known the synthetic voice could giggle. It sounded mildly disturbing. The mirth broke off abruptly, and the simulacrum dropped away. Barbara's green eyes were deadly serious.
"I've just gotten confirmation, Dick," Barbara said. "In two hours time, Akins will be making the announcement."
At her words, all traces of levity vanished from the three faces in the room. "It's really happening." Roy stated. "It just feels like…"
"A bad dream?" Dick asked. "Trust me, nobody wants to wake up more than I do. Meanwhile, if Akins is speaking in two hours, I'll be giving a speech of my own about an hour or so after that. Before the markets open tomorrow morning, I want the public to know that WE isn't ripe for a corporate takeover bid. Plus, it may cut into Akins' spotlight if the press is rushing across town to hear my side of it."
"And that's where you two come in," Barbara stated.
"Much as I'd like to read off a prepared statement and walk away," Dick continued, "we all know the reporters are going to have questions. I don't want to get caught off guard."
Dinah nodded. "And you wanted us here because-"
"Because if you're looking for people to shoot off their mouths and ask totally inappropriate questions," Barbara began…
"On a top ten list of qualified individuals, Roy and I are probably at least three of them."
Roy grinned, and rubbed his fingers together, gleefully. "Alright, Robbie. Lets take it from: you've just read the best speech the WE spin doctors could put together on such short notice. The reporters have been listening, but waiting for you to finish what you have to say, so they can ask…"
"Were you the original Robin?" Dinah called out.
"Are you currently Nightwing?" Roy interrupted.
"Is Wayne really crazy?"
"Is it true that Akins has banned you from appearing in costume?"
"How competent do you consider the GCPD?"
"Then, why do you feel they need your help to get the job done?"
"Who's better in the sack, Batgirl or Starfire?"
"Roy!" Dick's squawk of protest was drowned out by Dinah's snort.
"Dick… he wasn't one of the options!"
Strange wheezing sounds were emanating from the monitor. The simulacrum was back up, and it sounded like it was hyperventilating.
"Oracle, you okay?" Dinah asked, sobering.
"Just peachy, thanks," came the synthetic response. "Keep going."
With an evil smirk, Roy shoved a crossbow quarrel into Dick's face as though it was a microphone. "How many of the Titans have you slept with?"
"Quit it," Dick snarled.
"Have you seen your father?" Dinah broke in, ignoring the angry look Roy shot at her.
"What was it like growing up at Wayne Manor?" Roy demanded.
Dinah sidled up until she stood a scant eight inches away. "Is it true that you were fired from the most corrupt police department on the Eastern Seaboard?"
"Well, technically, but…"
"Did Wayne have a lot of girlfriends over when you were a child?"
"What was your connection with the sultry, yet venomous Tarantula?"
Dick felt his face grow hot. "NO COMMENT!"
Roy continued as though the other two had not spoken. "…Or were the floozies just for show? What was your real relationship with Way—"
Before Roy could complete the question, a fist slammed into his jaw, propelling him several feet backward. Dick's second punch connected with his nose. Roy staggered, struggling to maintain his balance. He lost that battle, but managed to recover enough to fall properly to the ground, letting go of the quarrel as he did. His lip was bleeding, he realized, as he felt something trickle down toward his chin.
Dick advanced. "I. Said," he growled menacingly, "Quit it!"
Roy rose shakily to his feet, shrugging off Dinah's attempt to help him. "Look, Batboy," he snarled, "if you can't take hearing it from me, how're you gonna take it from the press?" He gripped both of Dick's shoulders. "Listen. When you go out there, they will ask you everything and anything they can. They will badger. They will hound. They will question you in ways that would impress any court lawyer. Except in court, you or your lawyer gets to call 'Objection,' if the questioning gets out of line. Some of those reporters are probably going to try to get a rise out of you because they hope you'll take a swing at them. But, Robbie, you do not let them provoke you. Whatever they say, no matter how stupid…"
"Dick," Barbara said quietly, "Roy has a point this time. I know you're angry, but you have got to keep it in check. For Bruce's sake, as much as for yours."
Dick nodded slowly. "I can't help him from a holding cell."
"Not just that," Dinah replied. "What happens if they try to say that you wouldn't have assaulted the reporter if Bruce hadn't taught you to use violence to solve your problems?"
"But he didn't!" Dick protested automatically. "It was the exact opposite. He always used to say…"
We're not brutalizers. We've got to think with our heads, not our fists.
"…Not our fists," Dick repeated. "Not our fists." He spun abruptly toward the far wall. "I… betrayed that before," he admitted softly. "I let something happen… something I shouldn't have… and I couldn't face telling Bruce."
Roy opened his mouth to say something. Dinah held her finger to her lips in a shushing motion.
"So, I ran away," Dick continued flatly. "I tried to do the right thing and turn myself in to police. My captain decided retroactively that I'd been undercover and working with BPD sanction. She turned me out and told me I'd do more good outside Lockhaven than inside it."
"Sentenced to community service," Roy drawled. "Just what normally happens to privileged rich celebs and their kids in a corrupt society."
Dick blinked. "I… didn't think of it that way," he replied. "I… don't think I was thinking at all. I hated myself. I hated what I'd done… what I'd become… that Amy wouldn't even let me do the 'right' thing." He considered. "Maybe I… does it make sense that I decided to do the 'wrongest' thing I could, instead?" Did it? He couldn't be sure. But it was as good a theory as any as to why he had sought out the 'Jersey mob.
With a quick glance at the monitor, Dinah walked up to Dick and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Helena mentioned you crashing her apartment, that time," she said. "She was worried about you."
"She was right to be," Dick admitted. "There were a couple of months when I kidded myself that things were looking up. I mean, if you ignore the fact that I was slowly gaining the acceptance of a low-level Mafia family, and putting my fighting talents to good use as a bodyguard."
"And?" Barbara asked hesitantly. Her voice was carefully neutral.
"And," Dick said quietly, "it wasn't me. If I was as… bad as I believed, I should've fit right in with the rest of the mob enforcers. But I didn't. I couldn't. I left them. Tried a worse lot to hook up with. I… made overtures to Slade. Convinced him I'd switched allegiances. Wasn't that hard." He laughed. "I'd managed to convince myself, after all. In some ways," he admitted, "I was so damn good at working for the other side, it was scary. But… it hit me suddenly… if I'd really fallen as fast and far as I believed, then why did I hate every minute of what I was doing?"
Roy laid his hand on Dick's other shoulder. "Because, Batboy," he said, "you were always too smart to get taken in by an idea that stupid. Hell, you fought off Brother Blood's programming. Is it that crazy that you'd resist the insanity you were trying to brainwash yourself into believing?"
Dick gaped at him.
"Dick, you screwed up. Fine."
"I let Blockbuster die!"
"Yeah? Well maybe your captain can give you a medal of honor when this whole thing blows over. As I was saying, you messed up. That doesn't mean that you are a mess-up." He squeezed briefly on Dick's shoulder. "You didn't give up on me when I was fighting not to go back on heroin. You didn't give up on Raven when Trigon was in her driver's seat. You are not giving up on yourself. End of discussion."
Dick nodded slightly as he processed Roy's words. "Thanks, Bowhead," he said. "Babs? You heard all that?"
"Months ago," Barbara's voice replied. "I started checking things out right about the time Desmond's pet spider tried to kill me."
"Not just you, Babs. Rollie was after everyone and anyone else I'd ever had any sort of contact with," Dick remembered. "He told me that for the rest of my life, I'd never even be able to shake hands with a person without targeting them."
"Ah," Barbara breathed. "That's about the one piece of the puzzle I didn't have."
Dick blinked. He turned around slowly to face her. "And… if you know," he said disbelievingly, "you still want… I mean…" He stretched his hand out toward the screen.
The simulacrum was down again. Barbara's hand reached back to him. "Remember what I said to you when you were going through the same sort of guilt trip after you choked Joker?"
Dick swallowed. "That the world would be a better place without Joker in it." He knew what she was getting at, but…
"Ditto for Blockbuster."
"Babs, we don't get to pick and choose who deserves to live or die!"
"No. We don't. That was one of the first things I learned from Bruce. Probably one of the first things you learned from him, too. But get this: I own a rifle. Never fired it outside a target range, but during No Man's Land, I came close. Black Mask's gang was storming the 'Tower. I didn't exactly want to broadcast the fact that I still had enough technology to hold them off. The gun was in my hands. I had one of them in my sights. And I was about a second away from pulling that trigger."
Dick gaped at her. "What stopped you?"
Barbara grimaced. "In the middle of the fight, Helena turned up in a Bat-suit. And Bruce didn't.
"Now," she continued, "I'm about to give you a hypothetical. I want you to tell me what you would do… as a police officer. Hostage situation. You know that the hostage-taker is threatening to execute a captive every hour. You know he's willing and able to carry out his threat. You also have the means of bringing him down and ending the danger… but it involves lethal force. Your choice. Take him down, or watch him take down all the innocents. What's your call?"
"That's different! I wasn't a cop at the time. And there's always another way!"
"What if there wasn't?"
"What if I'm one of the hostages? Because, Dick, if what you're telling me is the truth, then, for all intents and purposes, I was! What's your call? One or more deaths are about to occur due to your action or inaction. You get to pick the target. Is it the guy who's threatening the hostages? Or is it one hostage every hour?"
"You can't ask-"
"Yes, I can! Do you shoot, or do you watch?"
"Shoot. Or. WATCH?"
Time seemed to stand still. "…Shoot," Dick said finally. "Shoot. Or allow your partner to, if you can't. But shoot."
He sank to the ground, feeling drained, and yet, oddly calm. For a few moments, nobody said a word. Then Dinah sighed.
"I hate to get back to business," she said, "but I think we need to see if you can get through the questions, this time, without punching Roy, Dick."
Dick nodded and rose, shakily to his feet.
"If you're up to it, Former Boy Wonder."
Roy punched his biceps lightly. "Sure he is," he said glibly. "Right, Robbo?"
Dick forced a smile. But it was less forced than it might have been a few minutes ago. "Yeah," he responded. "What he said."
He hated this. He hated the sedatives the doctors had prescribed to keep the nightmares at bay. He hated that the dosage was high enough to impede his concentration, but low enough to keep him aware of his current predicament. At first, he hadn't cared. He had slept when he could and meditated when he couldn't. Unfortunately, after the first two days, his techniques were beginning to lose their effectiveness. And, after Gordon's visit, he had been unable to block the memories anymore. Alfred was dead. Dead, because he hadn't held on tightly enough. He should have been prepared for Jason…for anyone rushing him from behind. He could have sidestepped. He could have gotten a better grip on Alfred from the beginning.
Although, even now, he still felt some guilt for his parents' murders, on an intellectual level he realized that there was nothing he could have done to prevent their deaths. And, since there was nothing that he could do to allow himself to accept that fact, he had, at least, brought himself to accept that he could not banish his misplaced sense of guilt. But Alfred's death… that was different. That was his fault. He shouldn't have let go.
His hand reached for the bed control pad. Carefully he pressed the button to elevate the mattress so that he could sit up enough to eat. Two of the officers in the room spun about at the faint humming sound. Once they recognized its source, they turned back to their respective air vents. It was almost laughable. There were nine other people in the room with him, whose sole task was to prevent his escape. Even if he had managed to secrete a lock pick somewhere on his person-and he suspected that assessing his injuries had been only one of the reasons for the extensive series of x-rays the doctors had ordered-he wasn't about to go anywhere with a broken leg. At this stage, jarring the limb could shatter the bone. Even had he wanted to, flight was not an option for him. Not now. But still, there were nine officers in the room, dedicated to keeping him in custody. Nine officers on guard duty, that, by-and-large, ignored him.
He'd staked out enough museum exhibits to know that, in general, security guards focused on possible entry and escape routes that a potential burglar might use to gain access to the artifact. They might, occasionally, glance back at the item on display, to ensure that it was still there, but their main focus was invariably the doors, windows, skylights, and air vents. They did not gawk at their charge. They did not draw any closer to it than they needed to, to verify its continued presence. For the most part, they left it alone.
…Like they were leaving him alone. And, he was coming to realize that being alone in a crowd was worse than being alone by himself. There were some times that he wanted to scream. But, that would only bring another round of sedatives, and more self-loathing.
Jim had said that he was going to try to visit again. Bruce hoped that Montoya would be coming today. It was easier for him to relax when she came, though he wasn't sure why. Maybe, it was because she didn't treat him as though he might turn berserk at any given moment. Maybe, it was because, when she spoke to him, although she never tried to force a response on his part, she would pause, now and again, just long enough to give him an opportunity to comment, if he wanted to. Bruce considered. Maybe today, he would. He had no romantic feelings for her, and he was well aware that she offered him nothing more than simple friendship. But she offered that as if unaware of the magnitude of such a gift.
He heard the door open, and light footfalls clicking on the linoleum floor. Not Montoya's, however. He turned his head toward the door. The woman entering was a few pounds heavier, and her stride was shorter. She looked familiar…oh, yes. She had tried to shoot him some months earlier. He had disarmed her and broken her nose in the process.
Unsurprisingly, she had chosen to hold a grudge over the incident.
Romy Chandler sat down at his bedside. "So." she said, "here you are."
Bruce wasn't going to dignify that. She shrugged, and then smiled thinly.
"What did you do it for? Kicks? Fast cars and extreme sports didn't do enough for you?"
Bruce blinked at her. Did she really believe that? Over a decade, he had spent honing body and mind to perfection… and she thought he had done so… on a whim? He glanced around the room. His guard detail was studiously ignoring them. Naturally. He didn't want to speak. Especially not to this hostile young woman… but the idea that she might truly believe his reasons for putting on the suit had been that… irresponsible… irked him. It shouldn't. But it did. And suddenly, he realized that he wanted to… if not justify… at least… explain. Or, maybe he was just tired of the 'silent treatment.' "My parents were killed by a mugger," he said finally. "I didn't want any other child to face that."
He saw Chandler absorb that information. He saw her file it away mentally. Her eyes, however, did not lose their resemblance to granite chips.
"I'm sorry," she said coldly. "My partner didn't have kids. I guess that's why you let him die and saved Angie Molina."
His mind reeled. Molina? The name was familiar. Of course it was familiar. She was a household name, a local newscaster… kidnapped by Joker, two Christmases ago… he fought the sedatives, trying to remember…
The timer on the bomb was at 48 seconds and falling when he arrived on the scene. The store had been evacuated. The only people remaining were one terrified media personality-cum-kidnap victim, and one determined cop. It took Batman three precious seconds to assess the situation. He could disarm an ordinary bomb in less than thirty…but this was one of Joker's. Who knew what measures he had taken to prevent deactivation?
Molina was talking to the officer. "Please," she was pleading, "don't let me die. I've got children."
The officer was examining the chain wrapped around the woman's body, that suspended her, headfirst from a ceiling rafter. The other end of the chain was secured to the bomb. "Easy, Lady," he was saying. "I'm doing the best I can."
Batman leaped down from the upper window, ignoring Molina's exclamation of terror mingled with hope. He moved immediately toward the bomb. 32 seconds. He looked at the cop. "Get out," he ordered.
The officer shook his head. "Can you disarm the bomb?"
"No time to try." From his utility belt, he extracted a small tool, similar in appearance to a wire cutter, but designed to tackle tougher jobs.
"I'll use that. You catch her," the cop ordered.
He was about to refuse, when he realized that the officer had noted something he, Batman, had missed. Molina had about thirty pounds of iron chain wrapped about her. With the extra weight, if the bomb couldn't be disarmed in time, Batman stood a far better chance of catching the woman, once the chain yielded. There wouldn't be enough time to free her before carrying her to safety, so whoever got her out of the blast radius would have to be strong enough to run with her, chain and all. And, physically, the officer wasn't up to it. Damn. With 22 seconds to go, he handed the cutter to the officer, and moved over to Molina.
At eleven seconds, the chain gave. "Get clear," he ordered the cop, as he hoisted Molina over one shoulder and ran.
And the bomb had gone off when the counter fell to nine seconds. Chalk another one up to Joker's unpredictable sick humour.
He'd been more than five feet away from the bomb when the cop cut the chain. He'd covered more than three times that ground in the remaining two seconds. The officer, however, had been standing less than two feet away from the bomb. And, when it exploded, he was still too close to the epicentre of the blast. The shockwave hurled him against the wall as though he were a rag doll. The wall collapsed. Timbers fell, and plaster and smoke filled the air.
No. Batman stood still, for one moment. Molina, still shaking in his arms, began to cry softly. He was about to put her down and go back to render emergency first aid when he heard a woman's voice. "Oh my G-d…Nate! Nate!"
Another voice, a man's, was calling for a medic.
The woman looked up, suddenly, and met Batman's eyes. He felt that he should say something. That 'Nate' had been offered the chance to leave and hadn't taken it… but that would have sounded like he was making excuses. That Nate had been a hero. But… that much was obvious. That he had tried to save him. What was the point? He hadn't succeeded, had he?
In the end, he had said nothing, just carried Molina outside to the waiting ambulance.
Now, that same woman was sitting by his bedside, accusing him. This time, he could at least try. Explanations were excuses, and excuses were insulting… but maybe, there was something he could say. He forced himself to meet her gaze, as she had met his that night. "I'm… sorry," he whispered. "It shouldn't…have happened."
Chandler leaned forward in angry disbelief. "You're sorry? You think that changes anything?"
He shook his head, miserably. "What…" he struggled to frame the words "would?"
It was on the tip of Romy's tongue to say 'nothing'. It was true. But, staring at him now, weakened, defeated, injured, she couldn't. The hatred that she had borne him since that day was still present… but it mingled with the realization that, had she been in Batman's boots that night, she would have made the same call he had: save the civilian and hope the officer makes it out. And in this case, Nate hadn't. Batman wasn't responsible for Nate Patton's death. She wanted him to be. G-d! How she wanted him to be. But he wasn't.
"Damn you." She hissed. "Damn you to Hell, Batman." She left the room as briskly as she could without actually running.
Bruce watched her go. If there IS a Hell, he thought to himself, she's probably right.He shut his eyes wearily, and realized, to his consternation, that he was hoping that the nurse would be by soon with his sedative.
Romy stalked down the hospital corridors, paying no attention to her route. She might have done a full circuit of the floor a dozen times and been none the wiser. Finally, she calmed down enough to take in her surroundings. The metal plates affixed to the walls, next to the doorways bore room numbers prefaced by the letter "G". Wayne was in room C-812. How far away was that? This wing appeared to be mainly doctor's offices. Slowly, she advanced, keeping an eye out for signs to direct her back toward "C-wing."
As she turned a corner, she discovered a small solarium. It was empty, but the furnishings looked comfortable. She was about to pass by, when she noted a coffee machine tucked away in a small kitchenette off of the larger room. Maybe that would help, she thought, going in.
A few moments later, she was raising a steaming styrofoam cup to her lips. Her hands, she realized with annoyance, were shaking.
"Ma'am? I don't mean to intrude," said a warm baritone, "but are you alright?"
Romy looked up. The man, who stood in the doorway with a concerned expression on his face, appeared to be in his middle thirties, with carefully cropped reddish hair. The white coat, caduceus pin, and stethoscope marked him for a doctor. She opened her mouth to tell him that she was fine, she only wanted some privacy, then changed her mind.
"I will be," she said, gulping the coffee. She tried not to wince as the hot liquid scalded her tongue.
The man sat down across from her. "Elliot Hardy," he introduced himself.
"Well, Ms. Chandler," he began, "I suppose you already know that too much caffeine is only going to make you more keyed up."
Romy took another sip. "It's Detective Chandler, actually," she corrected without malice. "And right now, I need to be keyed up. I..." she hesitated. Why in the world was she spilling her life-story to a total stranger? But… wasn't that better? She'd probably never see him again. She didn't have to worry about what he would think of her. And she needed to vent.
She started telling him about what she had gone through when Nate had died. Ironic, really. She'd barely tolerated the man's attitude while he was alive. Dead, she'd created a saint of him. Romy had had nightmares about the explosion for months afterwards, nightmares that had intensified once Nate's parents took him off life-support. Less than a month later, the mob war had erupted. And, in the space of three days, scores of officers had been wounded-twenty-eight fatally. One of them had been her mentor at the academy. This time, her shift commander had insisted she get counselling. This time, she was taking sedatives to help her sleep. But, in order to function and remain alert during her shift, she was 'counter-medicating' with frequent coffee injections. She had become more impulsive, quicker to anger. It was starting to affect her job performance. She suspected that her new partner, Takahata, was covering for her… but she wondered for how long.
"A few nights ago," she continued, "we busted a major drug ring. And when we were itemizing the evidence, I… I was toying with the idea of holding on to a couple of the bottles. I mean… people who know me know that a year ago, I would never have contemplated something like that. But, it wasn't a fleeting thought. I was actually planning it. What happens if next time…"
Hardy nodded sympathetically. "Are you still seeing that counselor?"
"Yeah," Chandler sighed. "I have another three sessions covered under my health plan." She smiled ruefully. "Guess I should ask about tapering off the sedatives, or something, hunh?"
The handsome doctor (damn, if she weren't already seeing Marcus, what a catch this guy would make!) grinned back. "If you're taking meds to sleep well so you can perform, and the substance you're taking harms your performance, somebody needs to re-evaluate." His expression turned serious. "As far as… um… liberating evidence goes, ethics aside, if you don't know what you're doing, you really don't want to go that route. A lot of what's sold on the streets might be perfectly legal with a prescription, but if you don't know the dosage…" he thought for a moment. "Let me give you a hypothetical. A normal dose of… let's use Desoxyn as an example; a normal dose of Desoxyn would be about twenty…maybe twenty-five milligrams. It varies according to the usual factors: weight, age, sensitivities… but that's probably average. It's a stimulant, so a normal course of treatment could leave you right back at square one as far as the insomnia is concerned. However, if the dosage is too high, it can also cause paranoia, hallucinations, panic states, assaultiveness… it's not a good area for experimentation. That's not to say it can't help you, but it's really something you need to discuss with someone who has your medical history in front of them."
He smiled self-consciously at her glazed-eye stare. "I didn't mean to lecture you, Detective Chandler. Fact is, I happened to be a presenter recently at a symposium on the long-term effects of methamphetamines and dexmethylphenidates on… um… psychiatric outpatients, so you kind of hit my area of expertise." At her raised eyebrow, he hastily added: "not that I'm lumping you in that category, of course!"
Romy laughed. "Of course." She narrowed her eyes. "Dexametha-whats?"
A few minutes after Romy left his room, an orderly entered, carrying in his hands a number of wide leather straps. "Your lawyer's on her way in," he said, as he affixed the restraints to Bruce's chest and waist, pinning his arms beneath the heavy bands. The orderly fastened shorter straps about his wrists, securing them to the bed-rails.
"Are you… that afraid I'll run off?" Bruce asked without humor.
The orderly had the grace to look embarrassed as the guard detail filed out. "Orders, Sir," he remarked. "If you're alone in here, I have to get these on you. I'm sorry." Then he was gone.
Five minutes later, Rae Green came in. She took one look at Bruce and started to swear. "This is outrageous!" she snapped. "For pity's sake, you're in traction. What in the world are they thinking?"
Bruce tried to frame a response. "Don't… know."
She took a deep breath to calm down. "How are you doing?"
He tried to shrug, but the restraints made it difficult.
"Do you feel up to discussing your situation, today?"
Rae sighed. "They've scheduled a competency hearing for you in two days time," she said. "If you're going to be like this, I'm going to push for postponement." She waited for him to meet her eyes. "Mr. Wayne, I'm going to need you to pay attention. Are you listening?"
He blinked, slowly. "Yes."
"Alright. Getting a postponement is easy enough. I can request one on the grounds that there hasn't been enough time for an evaluation, that you've just suffered a major shock, and it would be unfair to assess you in your current condition, I can do that, and the judge will go along with it. The problem is, once you're able to be moved," she paused, making sure that he was still paying attention, "you'll be transferred to Arkham Asylum until the hearing reconvenes."
His expression didn't waver, but his fingers bent and flexed, giving voice to the apprehension he would not articulate.
"If I don't ask for postponement, and the hearing goes through as scheduled, you could be remanded there indefinitely." She waited. "Mr. Wayne? Do you understand the choice and the consequences?"
He nodded slowly.
"How do you want to play this?"
He wanted to go home and lick his wounds while Alfred tried to convince him to eat a full meal and get some bed rest. But, by now, investigative teams were probably combing the manor for anything that would link him further with Batman. And Alfred… he closed his eyes. Alfred would never try to convince him of anything again.
His left hand formed a fist, and punched the mattress ineffectively.
"Do… what you think… is… best, Rae," he said finally. "I don't care."
The prepared statement was supposed be the easy part. He had scant emotional investment in the company, and it wasn't as if he or Bruce were truly going to lose their holdings in WE…or as if Bruce's purse would feel the pinch, even if they did. So Dick kept telling himself, repeatedly. But, standing in the foyer of Wayne Enterprises, paper in hand, and five minutes to show-time, his heart was thudding in his chest, and his palms were sweating.
Lucius was at the security desk phone, responding to a page.
Dick glanced briefly out the window. About twenty men and women, armed with microphones, cameras, and camcorders were clustered at the base of the stairs. Further off, he could see a straggler or two walking up hurriedly. He looked behind him, at the elevator on the far left-the one Lucius had set on service mode. It would remain on the ground floor until he, or Lucius, swiped their electronic key-cards against the scanner. When the conference was over, Dick would not have to wade through the crowd to exit the conference. He would go up to the executive floor, wait a half-hour or so, and leave through a side door. Barbara would drive by to pick him up, as Dick didn't want to take a chance that a reporter might have come ahead of time, to catch him pulling up to the building, and to accost him on his way out.
Lucius put down the telephone. "It's just been confirmed. The local stations are going to be showing this live." Seeing Dick's eyes widen, he continued. "I can still do this, if you've changed your mind."
Dick shook his head. "They're expecting me."
"A few years back," Lucius recalled, "I went to Brazil to visit one of our subsidiaries. I took a boat trip down the Amazon. The captain informed me that the river was home to schools of piranha. To demonstrate, one of the sailors dumped a pail of table scraps over the side."
Dick let out a low whistle. "That would have set off a…"
"Feeding frenzy," Lucius nodded sagely. "Like you're about to. Are you sure you're up to this?"
"Even if I'm not, Lucius," Dick replied, "'capes' like me are supposed to jump overboard and fight the piranhas so the rest of the passengers and crew can get to safety."
Lucius looked skeptical.
"Really." Dick deadpanned. "It's in the official JLA handbook… somewhere." He blinked. Somewhere in the middle of that conversation, his pulse had steadied. A strange calm settled on him. No… it wasn't strange… it was the same feeling he'd had as a child, right before the trapeze act started. It was a shifting of focus, from fear to excitement. From the dread of falling to the anticipation of flight. And, suddenly, Dick knew. He knew that he could do this.
Lucius nodded to the security guard at the door. He said, "let them in, Nacio," but Dick heard, "Laydeeeees ahhnnnd gent-telMEN! If I may direct your attention to the center ring…" Dick drew a deep breath, and advanced to the near-center of the foyer, the tips of his shoes just brushing the top of the black W-E inset in the green marble floor. He exhaled, drew another breath, and began to speak.
The questions, when he finished the prepared statement, came thick and fast. Most, Roy and Dinah had anticipated. Yes, he did think that the GCPD employed some of the finest men and women in the country.
"Then, why are costumed vigilantes necessary?"
"You know, right up to the point when the Titanic struck the iceberg, every lifeboat on board the vessel was a useless waste of space. After it hit, suddenly there weren't enough of them. In a lot of cases, the GCPD can, and does, manage just fine without us. But, in case of iceberg… they have a few extra boats at the ready."
The questions shifted, as anticipated, to the 'Robin' years.
"Mr. Grayson! Wayne stuck you in a costume at the age of eight and expected you to leap rooftops, dodge bullets, and face extreme danger. Wouldn't you consider that to be abusive?"
Dick affected a shrug. "I was a circus performer from the time I was five. Facing danger in a costume wasn't something Bruce introduced me to. He just gave me a better reason."
"But the stunts you performed as Robin could have gotten you killed."
"Same thing would've happened if I'd missed the trapeze bar, or overbalanced on the tightrope. Danger is danger, and I'd been facing danger for nearly half my life before Robin ever put in an appearance. What Bruce gave me was purpose. As a circus performer, I pulled off a lot of dangerous stunts primarily to wow the crowds. As Robin, and later, as Nightwing, I used, and continue to use those same stunts to save lives. I'd consider that an improvement."
"There's been a lot of speculation about a billionaire like Wayne taking in a young boy, practically off the streets. There've been rumors of improper conduct. Care to comment?"
"Apart from categorically denying any and all such insinuations? And going on record as stating that nothing 'illicit' or 'improper' ever occurred between us? No." A twinge of anger that Dick was unable to suppress crept into his voice, but thanks to Roy's drilling, he was able to maintain his composure.
They asked him about his disappearance from the Gotham social scene, his life with the Titans, whether he was seeing anybody…
Dick laughed at that one. "No comment."
"Mr. Grayson, with Bruce Wayne currently in police custody, your own life has been pretty much torn apart. This press conference only came about as a result of Wayne's arrest. Given the changes that are sure to take place for you, going forward, do you plan to come out with a show of support for your former legal guardian?"
WGKN newscaster Deirdre Campbell suddenly found herself looking into a pair of intense blue eyes. "Actually, he's legally my father, now. Has been for a couple of years."
"Mr. Grayson, do you intend to come out with a show of support for your father?"
Dick decided, right then and there, that he had had enough questions for one day. He frowned. "I think I just answered that question Ms. Campbell. Along with all the others I'm prepared to respond to today." He raised his voice. "I appreciate your willingness to come out here today and, via this conference, to allow Wayne Enterprises to reassure its customers, in the most public way possible, of its continuing presence in Gotham and around the world. Thank you all for your time, and good day."
He walked over to the elevator. Behind him, he could hear the reporters clamoring for one last question, one more comment… but less strenuously than they might have done.
Lucius followed. As the doors closed behind them, Lucius extended his hand. Uncertainly, Dick took it.
"That went better than I'd hoped for," the older man breathed. "Well done."
He registered the door to his room opening. One of the officers turned to look at the nurse standing at the entrance.
"Turn on the TV. His kid's on the news."
What? Dick… on television? How? Why? Bruce groaned inwardly. They must have arrested him, too. Of course, once word of Batman's arrest got out, Dick would come back to Gotham. Come back to try to help him, Bruce realized with a pang. He didn't want to watch… this, he realized as one of the officers picked up the remote from his night table and aimed it at the set.
"…Facing danger in a costume wasn't something Bruce introduced me to. He just gave me a better reason." Dick's voice came through loud and clear, as the picture came into focus.
Bruce leaned forward, incredulous. The young man on the screen wasn't the angry, confused individual who had run out of the Bat-cave, days after the mob war had ended. He wasn't even the wisecracking youth that Bruce had last seen months earlier, when Red Hood had returned to Gotham… a youth trying too hard to conceal his doubts beneath a cloak of quips and banter. The cover had been good… extremely good… but every now and then, he'd dropped shields just long enough for Batman to register the self-doubt lurking below the surface.
Staring out at him from the screen was a Dick Grayson who looked like he had… gone through hell and swiped Satan's pitchfork as a souvenir. Whatever had been missing in him before… confidence, a sense of mission, or some other indescribable… something… it was back, and back in spades.
"…What Bruce gave me was purpose." Dick was saying. "As a circus performer, I pulled off a lot of dangerous stunts…"
Bruce listened to the rest of the press conference in amazed disbelief. And as he did, he felt something within him that had almost died spark to life.
As the door of Barbara's van slid shut behind him, the other passengers began clapping and cheering.
"I knew you could do it!" Dinah squealed, wrapping an arm around his shoulder.
"Never doubted it for a second, Robbie," Roy echoed. "You had 'em eating out of your hand!"
"Yeah, thanks to you two," Dick replied.
"Yeah, I wondered if maybe we were a little tough on you… but then I remembered about the time you shoved a gun in my face to force me to get past that night I got shot."
"Oh, you mean you bought that explanation?" Dick asked innocently, earning himself a cuff on the head from Roy.
"Good one, Bro," Tim said quietly.
Barbara took her eyes off the road for one instant to smile back at him. "We'll celebrate later, Hunk-wonder. Just the two of us. For now…"
"For now, Cass is back in the 'Haven. Tim, Roy… you know what you're doing tonight."
Both nodded. "Prove the multiple Batman theory and keep you safe from the evil sheriff of Gotham-town a little longer, Robbie-Hood."
"Cute, Roy. Just don't do anything fancy, and don't get yourself shot."
Barbara spoke up. "Dinah's going to head down to the morgue. I think someone should speak to the ME… make sure he didn't mess up somehow."
"Who ordered the autopsy, anyway?" Tim asked suddenly.
Barbara thought for a moment. "Stearns," she remembered. "It was a 'T. Stearns." She frowned. "That's weird. I don't think I've heard of him before… but it seems like there's… something I should recognize about that name.
"Roy, Tim, can you make it the rest of the way to the 'cave from here?"
Both young men nodded. "Good. The van's a little conspicuous." She pulled over to let them out.
"Thanks, Babs. Catch you later."
"Not if Akins catches you first, Tim. Be careful."
The teen nodded, and slid the door shut.
Dinah faked a yawn. "Hooboy," she said loudly. "It's been a long day. Hate to leave you two all by yourselves, but would you mind dropping me at home?"
Barbara smiled gratefully. "Sure thing."
Tim and Roy made their way on foot toward the maintenance hole that masked the entrance to the cave. All at once Roy caught the younger man's arm and steered him toward a small restaurant.
"Relax, kid. We're hooking up with a few more people tonight. I just wanted to introduce you."
Dick entered Bruce's room with some trepidation. He knew how his mentor felt about anyone seeing him in a weakened state. The guards at the door moved aside to let him pass. Bruce was sitting up. He turned at the sound of Dick's footsteps.
"You came," Bruce said.
"Sorry it took so long," Dick said as he sat down, "I had to convince Akins I wasn't going to bake you a cake with a file in it."
Bruce didn't doubt it. "I… saw you today. On TV."
Dick suddenly looked apprehensive. "Oh?"
"It was…" he hesitated, trying to find the words to convey what he wanted to without sounding… feeble. Or at least more feeble than he actually felt. "It was… good to hear what you said."
Dick grinned. "Oh. Well, good then. They're treating you alright?"
Bruce shrugged. His expression turned serious. "Thanks," he said. "For coming back."
He reached out and squeezed Bruce's shoulder. "You know I'm here when you need me, Big Guy," he said quietly.
Whether he deserved it or not. "You know… about…" His breath caught in his throat. "…Alfred."
"That's why I came back," Dick said gently, easily.
Bruce seized hold of Dick's wrist, gripping it with both hands. "I dropped him, Dick," he said fiercely. "I had him… in my hands… and I dropped him. Not far, but he was… you know he was… no longer… young. Any fall wasn't good for him. And… his last moments… it could have been the fright that killed him…"
Dick shook his head. "No, Bruce. It wasn't."
"It could well have been!"
Dick placed his free hand on Bruce's other shoulder. "No, Bruce. It wasn't. If he wasn't already dead, he was in the final stages of an insulin-induced coma."
Bruce gaped at him.
Dick continued inexorably. "I read the autopsy report. I saw the file. Somebody put 100 units of insulin into his left biceps about a half hour before the building went up." Dick nodded as he saw Bruce's expression harden. "I'm still trying to get my head around the fact that he's gone," Dick said, feeling hot tears well in his eyes, "but Bruce, you did not do anything to cause his death. Not a thing. I'm not making this up to make you feel better. It's the truth. Believe it. You didn't kill him."
It took a moment for the words to sink in. Then Bruce released Dick's wrist. He placed both hands on Dick's shoulders. "Find Black Mask," he whispered, as a nurse came in with two paper cups. One for pills and one for water.
"Visiting hours are over, now," the nurse said cheerily. "Mr. Wayne, we'll be turning down the lights for you in just a moment."
Bruce tightened his hold. "Find him!" He said with a dreadful intensity.
Dick glanced about. Suddenly, the police officers seemed a lot more attentive. "It's okay," he said. "Just give me another minute." He placed both his own hands on Bruce's shoulders. "I will," he said grimly to Bruce. "Bet on it."
Tricorner, 10:01 P.M.
The shadowy figure cupped a hand over the beam of his flashlight, trying to conceal its beam from any passers-by. His partner continued to examine the wiring of the burglar alarm. "C'mon, c'mon!" the former urged.
"I'm hurrying as fast as I can… you think I want to set this thing off?"
"Better not do that," intoned a voice from the shadows. "Some people might be trying to sleep."
Both men spun about. A chop to the throat left the first gasping for air, as a kick to the solar plexus did the same for the second. Before either knew what was happening, their hands were bound by plastic cuffs to the barred grating that they had been attempting to unlock. The cowled figure surveyed his handiwork, then thoughtfully pinned a note to the second would-be burglar's jacket. Then he was gone. The first man read aloud: "To Akins from 'B'? Ya know, Edge, I always figured Batman was taller…"
Diamond District, 10:01 P.M.
At the Gotham Diamond Exchange, Rothstein was working late. By the time the buyer was ready to leave his office, the street was all but deserted. It's only a half-block to the parking lot, he thought to himself, as he tightened his grip on the attaché case. Of course, that was plenty of time for a mugging to take place. A quarter-block later, he heard feet running behind him. Probably has nothing to do with you, he reassured himself, just as somebody shoved him hard from behind, sending him sprawling forward. Rothstein kept his grip on the case, until his assailant stomped on his hand. Rothstein cried out in pain… and so did the thug… as a cowled figure in black seized hold of the aggressor and slammed him into a brick wall.
"Not in this city, punk!" Batman snarled, as he delivered a punch. After subduing his quarry, the vigilante looked back at Rothstein, who was finding his feet.
"Next time you're working late, try to get a lift home. Or take a cab."
Then he fired off a grapnel and swung off.
A moment later a squad car appeared. One of the officers went to examine the captive. The other turned to Rothstein. "What happened?"
Rothstein swallowed. "That guy tried to run off with my briefcase. Batman stopped him. I… funny, but he seemed a little… younger than I would have pictured…"
City Hall District, 10:01 p.m.
Edward Nigma chortled as he removed an opal choker from a department store window. "My first is in open but never in shut, my second in purebred but never in mutt. My third is in safeguard but never in keep, my last is in…"
"Who gives a flying bleep?" A female voice shouted as Batman leaped onto the scene and delivered a roundhouse punch to Nigma's jaw. It took a moment… and a good look at the costume… for the Riddler to realize that the voice had come from the bat-suit.
"B-Batwoman?" Nigma stuttered, as he spat out a tooth. She certainly had the muscles for it. And the height.
"Shut the bleep up, skel!" The masked figure replied, delivering a jab to his liver, followed by a hook to the side of his head.
Riddler sank, groaning to his knees. Batman was about to leave the scene when a second voice called "Hey! You can't just leave him like that!"
Huntress dropped down lightly. She extended a length of nylon cord to the cowled fighter. "They're letting anyone in the Bat-Family these days, Grace?"
Grace Choi accepted the offering with a broad smile. "Arsenal asked me. Said it was a favor for Nightwing." She tied Nigma's wrists expertly behind his back. "How'd I do?" She asked.
Helena Bertinelli shrugged. "I've seen worse. How are the rest of the Outsiders holding up?"
"Meet me for a brew in an hour. We can catch up then."
Old Gotham, 10:27 p.m.
"No! Keep away! I-I've got pepper spray!"
One of the four gang-members surrounding the young woman sneered. He reached out and snatched her purse away in a single motion. "Not anymore you don't, Mama," he said quietly.
Celia Rogel was never sure what happened next. One moment she thought that she was a dead woman…or worse… The next, her would-be assailants lay bound and bleeding around her. A whisper of a cape, the bottom of a boot, as its wearer swung to a nearby rooftop, and she was the only mobile person in the alley. She took a moment to realize the close call that she'd just had, leaped up, and ran back out to the street, where lights, cars, and people were in evidence.
Fashion District, 10:45 p.m.
Romy Chandler's night was going from bad to worse. She listened as her partner, Takahata, interviewed one of three eyewitnesses claiming to have seen Batman earlier that night.
"And he just came down from the sky like some sorta big… bird!"
"Or… no… no, ya know, it was more like a bat!"
"Hence the name 'Batman'."
Chandler sighed. "Anything else?" She would have loved to know how the video feeds had picked up everything in their range except the Batman. Anyone examining the footage would have sworn that the two thugs currently sitting, handcuffed, in the squad car had been taken down by the Invisible Man.
The youth, who couldn't be more than sixteen, frowned, then brightened. "Yeah! The brutha throws punches like nobody's business!"
Takahata paused. "Brother? As in…" He and Romy exchanged a stunned look.
Moll Flanders Irish Restaurant and Pub, 11:50 p.m.
Roy Harper surveyed the people around the table. They had all changed back to street clothes, by now. Tim Drake sat flanked by Connor Hawke and Grace Choi. Roy was between Grace and Helena, with Michael Holt, aka Mr. Terrific, seated between Helena and Connor.
A slow smile spread across Roy's face. "Great work, people. Now let's all get the hell out of Gotham until Wingster appreciates it."
"Roy did what?" Dick shouted in angry disbelief. "And you went along with it?"
Tim faced him nervously, although more confidently than he would have a year ago.
"I couldn't exactly stop him," he replied. "Look, bro'. It's not even like it's a bad idea. Akins wanted Batman running around while you were visiting Bruce. That's what he got. It was even your idea to have two Batmen out there."
"Two, Tim. Not five! Don't you get it? Somebody could have gotten killed out there tonight!"
"Par for the course," Tim shot back. He paused. "Look. If Roy had asked me, I would've said no. But he didn't. And we did good. Grace and Huntress even nailed Riddler."
"Nice to know some of us accomplished something tonight," Dinah said. "The ME said he'd never heard of Stearns until his name turned up on the autopsy order. I checked the hospital directory and there's no Stearns on the staff."
"No listing in the phone directory either," Barbara chimed in. "But there's something so familiar about that moniker. Dinah, go back tomorrow morning? Maybe someone on the day shift would recognize the name."
Dinah shrugged. "Okay, if you say so, Babs. But I think it'll be a total waste of—"
Tim gasped. "Oh. Migod."
"What?" Dinah asked.
"You know," Tim said tightly, "Brentwood had an enriched curriculum in a lot of subjects. Including English Literature."
The other three looked at each other, then back at Tim. "Go on," Dick urged.
"My last term there, we were covering 'The Wasteland'." His face had grown pale. "The poet who composed that work was Thomas Stearns Eliot."
Three pairs of eyes widened. Three jaws dropped. Thomas Stearns Eliot. Thomas Elliot. Doctor Thomas Elliot. Hush.
"This," Dick stated, "is not good."