Part V. II - "Trust"
In a pub across the bunker of the smuggler, Bruce was waiting. He was in the same fiber of clothing he had adopted when they had gone to Egypt, only his beard now was longer. The pub was deserted in the early noon; one man was seated across the bar, sipping his whiskey; head bowed, shoulders sagged. His own body had the same posture, too, only his drink hadn't been touched, but had been emptied carefully at the other side of the bar.
He hadn't wanted to stay away from the bunker in case that the talk wouldn't go...peacefully. From where he was, he would make it to the bunker in forty seconds. So he was sitting in the deserted pub, emptying drinks when no one noticed, listening to a conversation he had least expected. He hadn't expected her father would have said those words to her, either, nor he had expected Valerie keeping their connection still open.
They had stopped talking now, and silence in his ear was speculative, his reflective mind wandering. He considered what Jason had asked her. He could see how things looked like the older man from his point of view with the lies they had fed him, but there were still some truth in them. She had always resisted giving away things from her past, but at the end she had trusted him enough to lower her guards a bit down. She had lied to her father, he had understood as soon as Jason had mentioned the box and gifts. The trinkets he had discovered...the trinkets he couldn't understand...they had been from his father. She had told him she had thrown them away, but Bruce knew the truth for a fact.
She wasn't a bad girl, not really; the more he discovered about her, the more it looked like to him she was just a lost girl who was trying to find her way out. But it also made her unpredictable. One moment it looked like she really cared, the next moment he wasn't sure if she would even bat an eye even if the whole world caught fire. They were really in this mess just because she had been mad because of smiles. She was intuitive, almost visceral, and also unbalanced.
But love... He emptied another glass over the bar when the barmen went to tend the other guy, his brows furrowing. No. He knew how it felt being in love. There had been only one woman he had ever loved, the woman was still occupying his every dream; the woman he had loved and failed. He had a connection with Valerie, he must be mad to deny it, but whatever it was, it wasn't love. In any case, he had closed that book. Relationship didn't work for him, he had made his choices, and those choices brought only trouble to those who were close to him. He couldn't risk it with anyone else, even if he could have felt something for anyone else.
That possibility sounded pretty impossible. Since he had known himself he had never loved anyone but Rachel. She, her love, had always been his compass whenever he lost himself; one constant in his life that had never changed, even in death. They had never had sex, yes, but had shared something even deeper. They had known each other.
His first time had been nothing but a lie, a dangerous cruel liaison that only hurt Rachel at the end. There had been other times, too, a few other people when things had been so bleak that he had reached out for a little mercy wherever he could find, but that was long before he had accepted the ultimate truth; there was no normal life for him, his end wouldn't come as he peacefully lay in his bed. Perhaps once it would have, but that dream had died along with Rachel. He had never intended to do this forever, but now there was left one future for him; his fight was the only thing had remained to him.
Her voice in his ear broke the silence, scattering his thoughts. "We will only talk about Rory," she told her father, "You won't ask any further questions to Sean."
Bruce frowned. She was trying to keep the reason for what end they got involved into this, but he didn't know how long they would keep up that farce. Her father had proved himself a cunning man as Valerie had warned, so he knew sooner or later, sooner than later, the man was going to discover the truth. "Like your deal with him?" Jason asked back, laughing, proving his suspects true.
But Valerie was adamant. "Yes," the word hissed in his ear, "Like my deal with him."
A bell rung. Bruce understood they had made to the smuggler. His ears keen, his body stiff, ready to strike at first sight of trouble, Bruce waited.
"Hello, old friend," Sean greeted Jason with a full smile that had a whole different set of meanings behind, "It's been long."
He walked into, his eyes sweeping around the bunker, then fell on the host, "Not that long," he said, standing in the middle of the room.
Sean laughed back. "No, not that long," he agreed, "Sometimes feels like nothing changed."
Jason looked at him straight in the eyes, Valerie stayed silent, but watchful. She had been dreading of this moment, but she wouldn't deny that it was going to be...interesting. "A lot of things have changed," Jason returned the words, "The last time I saw you you've been throwing Molotovs at the police—" He smirked, "Now you work with them."
Sean smiled back, "Different time, different people." He smiled further. "We all turned a new leaf."
Jason sat down on the couch, "Not all of you," and he stated.
Valerie sat beside him, instead of taking the single seat at the opposite side. If they were going to do this, it was time to pick the sides, and unfortunately now her side had to be next to Jason, not the opposite.
Sean sat on the armchair. "So Young Boyle," Jason started, "What's happening with him?" he asked directly.
Sean shook his head, shrugging. "If anyone knew it for sure, they would have already done something about it. They're—suspecting."
Jason frowned. "So you want to me leap into a situation you're just suspecting," he bit off. "Are you aware how this would back fire on all of us?"
Sean shrugged again. "I gave your kiddo a job," he replied, "never said it's gonna be easy. But if she wants to learn where—"
Valerie cut her off, "We'll do it," she said quickly, drowning the rest of his words.
Jason's eyes grew darker, narrowing as his attention skipped at her. She didn't speak further, as a sudden silence blossomed in the room, and stretched out, then was ripped off with a laugh. She jerked her head at the source, and glared at Sean.
"Oh," the smuggler laughed, his lips curled up with a smarmy smile, "He doesn't know why you are, does he?" he asked but went on without waiting an answer, "Doesn't know what you want."
Her hands clenched. "It's none of your business."
"I beg to differ," Sean shot back, "It is. If that old thing between you is gonna cause problems—"
This time it was Jason who cut him off, "It won't," he said placidly and stood up, "You'll get your answers, and your—money, old friend."
She followed his example; stood up and walked to the door, acutely aware of the hesitance in the words before he had uttered "money".
On their way back to the motel, they gathered Bruce from the pub across the street. Inside, she gazed at the drink in front of him with eager eyes, but the look he gave her was enough to kill the request even before she had made it. Immovable, and unbreakable, Bruce did not break his rules, she realized, whether for no-killing-policy or for no-drinking. With no killing rule she was fine, despite that he didn't let her carry a gun, which they would need to talk about soon, but with drinking there would be made some amendments. God, she really needed a drink.
Though, she told herself, it went well, all things considered. It would have been worse. Jason hadn't questioned her reasons, perhaps because he was trying to proving that they didn't matter, even though she barely could believe it. It wasn't Jason, he was a curious mind that hated leave unanswered questions behind; it wasn't his nature. Then there was that hesitancy, too.
Half an hour later, they were back to the motel, Jason accompanying them to their room too. As soon as they walked into the neglected room, Bruce asked him, not losing any time, "Rory—can you approach him directly?"
He shook his head. "No," he answered, "he would just get more suspicious. We need to learn what he's up to at first."
She stood up from her seat. "Let's get to the work, then."
There were ways to put someone on surveillance, depending on the degrees of how deeply you want to know about your target's life, and what kind of situation he was allegedly to be in. If Batman was in his own turf, just collecting information through his neat web of CIs, the job would be easier. Most of times, to catch a dealer or smuggler, just hacking into the cell phone and the bank accounts was enough to fry to the fish, but this time it was different.
Firstly, he wasn't in Gotham, where he had most of the city, still, despite everything, and second, Rory Boyle wasn't some common criminal. He wasn't exactly sure what he is, that was the thing they were trying to unbury, but if their suspicion were correct, their moves would cause much bigger problems that would complicate the situation even further.
However, the first step was one of the basics; hacking into the phone. Inside the car, Bruce pulled off his jacket's arm upward, and started wrapping his wrist with bandages up to his forearm. Rory worked in the Belfast Memorial Hospital as a janitor, six days in a week, shifts changing per week. This week his turn for the day shift, so they had calculated the least risky way to bump into him would be the noon time where E.R. would be swarming with people.
He shifted a look at Valerie as she busied with the computer over her knees, sitting next to him on the passenger seat but she pretended she hadn't noticed. With a contained sigh, he left the car. She wasn't happy, in fact she was far from happy, especially on the fact that she got sidelined with her father, but Bruce didn't want to take any chances. He supposed he could have sent her too, that would be even more logical given that her features were less famous than his, but Bruce really didn't want to take any chances. Given things how usually turned with her, he had a feeling that this thing would escalate fast. He could not sit on the bylines any more.
Crossing the street for the entrance of E.R, he swept the area with quick eyes. Nothing seemed out of the place, the place had all the usual busyness of a public hospital in the day time, a tragedy always waiting to happen. An ambulance passed by him, as he walked to the automatic door, sirens shattering the air even with more confusion and pain as a couple of medic rushed out of the door to greet it, their face already set for a battle.
Waltzing around the ambulance, he walked in, his eyes catching his appearance on the glass-paneled doors. A man in the sports attire looked at him back. He had changed his clothes when they had arrived from the pub; now he was a mere city dweller that had hurt his wrist while he was training in the gym.
He walked through the corridors, no one casting him another glance, his eyes searching for the young redhead figure with janitor's scrubs. He spotted him at the end of the corridor, cleaning the floor with a concentrated expression, his eyes stiffly fixated on the ground.
He started walking to him. "Have you acquired the visual contact?" Valerie asked in his ear.
"Yes," he slowly murmured, a few meters away, "Approaching."
He took the bug out of his pocket as the other one picked up his phone to clone the younger man's phone into his. Bypassing him, he dropped the bug inside his coat's pocket, but when he tried to bluejack into the nearest phone to him, he couldn't find his. Frowning, he swiftly angled his neck an inch, and checked his phone. No, he could see a few others in his vicinity, but those weren't his. His eyebrows clenched, he continued walking.
"Did you hack into the phone?" Valerie asked, a frown in her voice too, he could hear it, "I can see his tracker moving now," she talked fast, "but can't see his phone."
"Because I didn't," Bruce answered, trying to spot the dressing rooms.
"What?" she asked, "What do you mean you didn't?"
"There wasn't a phone on him," he explained simply.
She paused for a second, "Perhaps he left it in the dressing room," she said the next.
His lips cracked up a little. "I'm already on my way," he informed her.
"Ah," she huffed, "Right." She paused again. "You need to place another tracker on his civilian clothes anyways. He can't go out with scrubs."
"Yes," he said, his tone slightly getting irritated, being told what to do. He was already going to do that. Without any further comment, he approached to the camera in front of the dressing room from behind, and took out the small EMP target out of his pocket. His hand beside his hip, he angled it upward, at the direct line of the camera, and sent a quick pulse that would put the camera off for a few seconds. When the camera's red light turned off, he quickly moved his way in, and looked at the more than two dozen metal cabinets that lined up against the wall.
He quickly started with the last one from the left, and it turned out it was his lucky day. At the fifth try, he found out Rory's cabinet. He quickly went over his stuff, first his wallet, only had a small of amount money and an old condom, looking like it had been there for a time, and a photo of a small child. He put it back, and went through the man's other stuff. Nothing seemed out of place, again. He dropped another tracker inside his jeans, but couldn't find any phone again.
Five minutes later, he was back in the car. As soon as he sat on the driver's seat, Valerie fumed, "He doesn't have a phone?" She raised her hands in the car, "Who doesn't have a phone in this age?"
A half-mouthed voice muttered from behind, "I don't," Jason said. They both craned their necks to look at the older man. He shrugged. "You'd never who else might listen to at the other end."
Rolling her eyes, shaking her head slightly turned back. "So what are we going to do?" she asked.
"The usual stuff," Bruce answered, "We're gonna track him around the clock."
Bruce and Jason went to Rory's house, leaving her behind in front of the hospital to watch the man if he left the work. She was getting a pretty bad feeling about all of this, just she had expected. Nothing, nothing involved her father ever went well.
And now, Bruce and him had become team mates. She shook her head, an urge to drop it on the wheel suddenly rising out of her. She was turning into dramatics. Great!
She touched her ear. "Hey," she called in, "How is it going?"
"Nothing yet," Bruce answered with simple but clean words, she had noticed that his words turning simple directives, or commands, or explanations whenever he got into the business, his other persona breaking in, "We're going through his computer now."
"So he has computer?" she asked, slightly laughing.
"Yeah," he answered, "No e-mails, though. I've uploaded his hard disk. I'll look into further into the motel."
"Okay," she said, then paused a little before she asked, "Anything else?"
He halted for a second, too, before he answered, but she knew he had understood what "else" she had referred to. "He behaves, Valerie," he suddenly said with a small voice, "Relax."
She scoffed in answer, closing the line. She would really like to relax, but she had no idea how.
Half an hour later, Rory appeared in front of the main entrance, his eyes giving side glances at each sides of the sidewalk. Her back straightened as he turned to left and started walking. She checked the clock at the dashboard. Four and forty. There were still twenty minutes before the shift ended. She quickly pulled the car out of the curb. "Bruce," she said, as she followed him, but his pace was so slow for her to maintain him in the rush of the day. "He left the work early," he said, as a few klaxon started howling behind her. Cursing, she hastened her pace, her eyes shifting to the computer at the passenger's seat to determine the route.
"Maintain your distance," the order came immediately, "Don't do anything. I want to see where he's going."
She nodded, and confirmed, "I'm on him with the tracker."
"Good," he said, "We're leaving. Send me your position."
She did. Fifteen minutes later, the red dot on the tablet stopped at a few blocks away from her. She quickly sent Bruce's the latest position, and drove to the place. When she arrived to the destination, she looked at the two stories old brick building, her eyebrow rising above her hairline. Then she started laughing. She pressed into her again, "Found our guy," she said, still laughing.
"In a pub," she shot back, as the man went inside after greeting the bodyguard in front of the door. She opened the door. "I'm getting in."
"No!" the answer came out in a rushed rasp, curt but definitely, "Stay put. Do not engage," he barked, "I repeat, do not engage."
"I'll just get a drink!" she protested, "I'm not going to engage into a fight or anything!"
"We don't know the situation," he still refused, "We don't know who are inside, either. Stay put."
"I said stay put," his voice grated in her ear.
She closed her eyes, gulping, feeling grateful at least Jason didn't listen to the both sides of the conversation. "Okay," she forced out, "Okay, I'm waiting," she went on, finding her voice again, "But we need to talk about this—ordering thing," she bit off, her voice now definitely arose, "I don't like getting orders."
In answer, there was silence in her ear. Typical.
Waiting for him, she took a few pictures of the place for further investigation and searched the name through internet to find whatever she could. Everything seemed normal, apart from a few accusations that the beers served inside was watered, a serious accusation for any self-respected establishment. She couldn't find out about the management and partnership with the limited sources; that was going to have to wait until they heeded back to the motel.
A few minutes later, Bruce and Jason returned. She opened the car, as soon as they parked, and stepped out. "Finally," she told Bruce, and took his hand, moving him toward the pub, "Let's get a look inside," she said, "I've been dying for a good drink anyways."
As soon as she took a step, Bruce pulled her back, holding her waist, pressing her back against his chest. Frowning, she looked at him over his shoulder. The gesture was unusual, closer for their play, and she saw no purpose. Then he whispered into her hair, "Look."
She skipped her eyes toward left, as Bruce moved them toward the car, his pace staggering like he was drunk. Ah. She looked at three men in front of the pub, their appearances same like in clan, down to their haircuts, and one of them was no one other than the young man they had been tailing the whole day. They were arguing with very shady looking people at the corner of the street. Suddenly, the drunken lovers act made sense. "They're fighting—" she said, watching them with corner of her eyes, as she realized Jason had cleared out of their sight. He had taken the cover.
"Dealers," Bruce rasped out, as a slight fight ensued suddenly between the young men, mostly consisting of shoving each other around like prestige fights in the prison. "Remember what Sean said?" Bruce asked, "'They mostly deal with pimps and dealers at the corners...'" he repeated the words then said as the trio shouted after the other group, "They're protecting their neighborhood."
Right. She sighed, turning in his arms, as her head dropped on his shoulder. She decided the moment would justify a bit of dramatics.
They spent the rest of the evening following him around, as he made his rounds, checking each pub on the block, before he finally made it to his house around the midnight.
She felt spent, the day finally catching up with her, even though they actually didn't manage to find out anything useful; something that would put an end to this madness. It had been a while since the last time she had done this, her last months had been mostly spent on being the prey, not the hunter. Though, she saw little difference, looking backward. The game had become just more demanded, more complicated, but she was still the prey.
Her face soured, as she climbed the staircase. God, as of the moment, she wished nothing than lay on the back, sleep and forget the day ever happened. Her eyes skipped to Bruce, his face guarded like before. He surely felt what she felt, too, but she knew how it was going to be the next morning; they would wake up, a whole fifteen inch between them untouched, everything safe and sound.
And there was also her father. Her eyes turned to him, too. Unlike him, though, he looked...jaunty, almost bristling with energy. It pissed her a great deal. He should be miserable, he shouldn't feel good. It wasn't right for him to look like that when she felt spent.
Then he gave her a smile. "Well," he said, his tone light, careless, "Didn't it feel like the old days?" he asked, giving out a slight laugh, "Me and you...on the prowl again." He paused. "I've missed it."
She stopped dead in her tracks, something snapping inside. Because you're missing it. She felt the blood drained off her veins. "Missed stabbing me at my back?" she hissed through clenched teeth before she spun around and walked to the room fast.
Bruce followed her a second later. She directly walked to the mini bar as Bruce closed the door behind him. "Valerie—" he started, but she cut him off.
"I don't wanna hear it," she said, taking out a small bottle of whiskey, "I need a drink."
"I wasn't going to say anything about drinks."
She let out a sneer-laugh. "I definitely don't wanna hear about the other thing, either."
He walked to her. "Look, believe it or not, I know how you feel, but you have to let it go," he said, "You can't...hate him forever."
She let out another laugh. "Oh, I can."
He stopped inches away from her, and looked at her in the eyes. "Valerie, you lied to him," he stated, challenging her, looking directly at her in the eyes. She fumed out of her nose, closing her eyes momentarily, not quite believing he had gals to say that to her openly, "You didn't throw away his gifts."
Her eyes snapped open, flashing with anger. "The first thing I do when I turn back to the manor will be burrying those fucking things six feet under in the ground," she hissed, "one by one. Every of them, down to every little thing."
He looked at her then shook his head. He took out something of his pocket. "He gave it to me today when we went to Rory's house," Bruce said, revealing the bracelet he had tried to give her in the morning, "He thought you would accept it from me." He paused for a second. "Valerie, he cares about you."
She looked at the bracelet, tears suddenly welling up in her eyes. "You don't understand," she said, shaking her head, her voice broken, her eyes fixated on the bracelet; it was too much, just too much, "It's not enough, it's never enough with him."
"I know," he accepted, nodding, "I know you can't trust him—and you have your reasons, too," he halted for a second before he continued, "but...perhaps, you can. If you don't let him—" He took her hand and dropped the bracelet inside her palm, "you will never know it."
Then without another word, he walked to the bathroom, leaving her alone.
Her legs giving away, she dropped on the bed, looking at the trinket in her hand.
He had such big eyes for a man. Big, bright, light dancing eyes. He was her father. Cathleen told her this morning. "Sarah, come here—" she had yelled, "Your father is coming today," and had added giving her dirty clothes a look, "and you need to get clean. Wouldn't want to see you father like this, would you?"
She had nodded. And here, she was sitting on the swing in the garden in her white clean clothes, and a man sitting beside her, a man she had never seen before. She gave him a suspicious look. He didn't look big enough to be a father. She had seen fathers before, wrinkled faces and white hair. There were no wrinkles in his face, no white in his hair. "How old are you?" she whispered to him, suspicion lowering her voice.
He laughed. She liked the sound. "I'm old enough." She looked at him again, still feeling unrest. His legs were sweeping the ground rhythmically as he swayed back and forth slowly, looking at her with a smile. She had never seen an adult before swinging in the way he did.
"You're my father?" she asked with doubt. He wasn't really old enough.
He nodded. "Are you going to take me with you?" she asked then, because it seemed it was what she should ask. Two weeks ago Leo's father and mother had come and took him away. They were going someplace called America and Leo told her that it was really far away.
But the man—her father—shook his head. She frowned. She thought the parents were supposed to take their children away. That's always how it happens. They come and take you away. "I can't take you with me," he said, "I can't be a good daddy."
"Were you always my daddy?" she asked this time, confused. Most of times the parents were the new ones but sometimes Cathleen told them they were the old ones. The real ones.
He nodded again. He was the real one. She felt angry. "Why didn't you come before?"
"I didn't know your mother was pregnant," he hesitated. "We-um-I didn't realize. I just learned." Her mother had died when she born. Cathleen, when she was angry with her, said it had been because of her. 'What a girl…' she said, 'No wonder your mother died of your stubbornness.'
"I live a difficult life," he tried to explain. She wondered why. Adults never bother. "It's not a proper place for a little girl like you."
She didn't respond, just nodded. Cathleen was right. Cathleen was always right. No one wanted her.
Angry, she bit, "I hate it." She hated being Sarah. It was such a stupid name and no one wanted Sarah. "I hate that name."
Her father smiled, "Then what do you wish it to be?"
She pondered on it. She would like it to be…Amy. Her new father and mother had taken her away two months ago but once she had come back to see them with her fluffy dress and told her that now she lived in a very big house, with a room for herself and a TV! "Amy," she declared, her eyes widening, her eyes glinting, "I want to be Amy. She has a TV!"
Her father laughed, took something out of his pocket and left it on her lap. "I bet Amy doesn't have this, though," he said. She looked down. A bracelet! She looked at the shiny thing, with all the sparkling stones and gold. Taking it in her hand, she smiled. "It comes from a place once called Caria," he said, "There was a beautiful queen who ruled the city. She used to wear a bracelet like this."
A bracelet of queens! Something only she had, not Amy. Smiling, she hugged her father, happiness fluttering in her stomach.
Two months later her father came again, but there were no flutters in her stomach now. She wasn't happy anymore. Her father looked at her wrist, where he had tied the bracelet of queens before he had left her. She had taken it off the last week.
He softly frowned. "Where is your bracelet, kiddo?" he asked.
She shrugged, running her eyes away. "I dropped it," she murmured.
Her father looked at her. "Do you?"
No. She hadn't. Amy had come to see them the last week and she had showed her bracelet, told her that a queen was wearing it before her. Amy had wrinkled her nose, said no, because queens didn't wear fake gold bracelets. Then she had showed her own bracelet; something only real queens would wear. Because it was real gold, not fake, not like hers.
She had shoved Amy into ground, sat on her chest. She punched her on the chin. It had been Cathleen who had separated them and she was punished first then sent to detention for a week; with only bread and water and no TV, and her bottom was still hurting. She hated punishments, she hated detention, she hated Cathleen, but more than anything she hated… "I hate Amy," she hissed and retold the story, and added, her eyes narrowed, her tongue was a hiss, accusing, "I threw it away. You brought me a fake bracelet."
She half expected her father to get angry, adult usually do, but he only caught her and settled her on his knees. "I brought you a bracelet that a queen used to wear," he said, "But I didn't tell you the whole story. Amy doesn't know that story—" He looked at her. "It's a secret."
Her eyebrows knitted, "A secret?"
He nodded. "Yes, I can tell you," he said seriously, "But you have to promise that you won't tell anyone else."
Eagerly, she nodded, "I won't!"
"So quick to make promises," he mumbled, but she didn't understand the words. She opened her mouth but he started talking again, "Years, years ago, there was a queen in the old kingdom..."
He told her about the queen that saved her kingdom by wearing her fake gold bracelet. She listened to his father's story with widened eyes. It was so different from the ones Cathleen told them before the sleep; hers always were about the lost girls that were saved by princes, but this queen wasn't saved by any prince. She saved herself, wearing her fake bracelet. She liked it.
Then she remembered what she had done. Her eyes watered, and she started crying, "But—but I threw it!" she cried out, in pain and shame, her tears a flood over her cheeks, "I threw the queen's bracelet!"
Her father pulled her closer, and his fingers wiped away her tears. "Don't worry, kiddo," he said, smiling, "I'll bring you another one the next time I come."
The next time he came... Tears stopping, she hugged her father, happiness fluttering in her stomach again.