Part I. II – Alea iacta est
In retrospect she knew she should have left Gotham as soon as she saw Harvey Dent's face plastered on the TVs. That was what Jason had told her at her first time; once you cross the Rubicon, kiddo, there is no going back anymore. Decide wisely. Then he had looked at her, waiting for an answer, and wordlessly, she had decided. She had turned and walked to her first mark, and despite everything, despite how things had turned out for them she had never regretted that decision.
Most people would call it a mistake, she knew, but at least she had chosen her mistake herself, not followed the footsteps that had been set to her.
Two days after Dent's gig in the press conference she stayed still, sniffing the air, but the world didn't follow her example. Wayne and his arch-nemesis were going crazy, and they were taking all Gotham together with them. Then that fateful day came, the day she heard the news; the Joker was captured by no one other than the supposedly dead police commissioner himself. At first she felt relief, as if something, something she hadn't even known existing had lifted off her chest. Her first breath was a release, of stress, of frustration, of strain of knowing that she was stuck in a play that she even didn't know the rest of her gaming pals.
Since that time she hadn't really dwelled on the Joker much; she had never thought she needed to. She had other priorities. She had goals, had a clear objective which had also become unattainable. Six months of work, three of them wasted on in suits and impractical heels. Whenever she thought her fuck-up, the anger was returning, together with the urge of breaking something—anything, but each time she told herself, she screamed at herself, money couldn't buy everything. Like a life.
Still, it stung, so much that she could only stomach the days within the company of her old trusty friend; the bottle of scotch. She didn't show up in the work, but she figured out no one really bothered by it, Cameron Reese slipping away through the cracks of the world as silently as she had appeared, the world once again overshadowing her. Every creation had a part of its creator inside, she knew, and she guessed that was what Cameron had gotten from her; how much she tried, how hard she worked, that part of her, that part had used to break the lights when she passed because they weren't lighting on would always still with her, the world would always find a way to ignore her.
She told herself to suck it up and stop complaining, because everyone knew; life is a bitch. This time she got her ass kicked, so it was time to bail out and start anew. All she had to do was to retrieve her emergency kit and she would see what the next day would bring.
She packed her stuff; a few items that could fit into a small black backpack; the sanitary requirements, her wallet, her Glock 17, and a square metal box that she hadn't touched for years, but never had managed to throw it away, either. Putting it inside the backpack, she swore someday she was going to. Someday.
Then she went to the bed, prepared to move on at the new day.
The new day however didn't bring to her what she hoped for, instead brought only more trouble, if that was even possible.
This time she reached directly to the bottle, didn't even bother herself with glasses, she didn't see any reason for such civilities, not when she watched the news explaining how the fucking clown had escaped from the police custody, tagging Lau along, blowing a few places up to the skies in the meantime.
Bottling up the scotch, she kept watching the coverage, everyone talking. Through the haze of the liquor, she got the gist of it; the Joker had let them capture him, only to get Lau out of the cage he had gotten himself holed up, and in retaliation a junior district attorney had died while Dent had gotten the half of his face blown up.
She couldn't believe it. She just couldn't. When she had thought things were turning to normal once again they had taken a turn to worse. For a moment, for a crazy, silly moment she even thought of calling Wayne and asked him what the hell he was thinking to do about it. She didn't, of course, instead took another gulp from the scotch. The next she told herself it wasn't her problem, it wouldn't change any anything.
Truthfully it wasn't. The Joker wasn't her problem, neither Gotham for that matter. The only thing she needed to do was to take her backpack and leave, and never look back. Simple as that...
"We just need to give him what he wants!" a man's agitated voice boomed through her television, and she stopped, her eyes riveted on the screen. "Batman has to step out," the man continued with the same agitation that was fueled with fear and dismay, but the next his words turned to almost a desperate plea. "This has to stop!"
This has to stop, the words echoed in her booze-haze mind, as she stood still in her living room, sudden sly thoughts sneaking up in her consciousness, because he was right; this had to stop, and she could do it, she could stop it. She could save the day.
Slowly her lips turned up into a sleek smile as she looked at the TV. She could really save the day here. Her smile blossomed fully as her eyes closed, a rough laughter escaping from her throat. Under her closed eyelids, she could almost see the spotlights; the accounting clerk doing what no one would have thought, putting all this madness to a stop. That was her chance to shine; be her own character in her show, not just walk-on figure in someone else's; the world finally getting eclipsed by her shadow.
Money, fame, and everything else she had always wanted... they were just out there, and all she had to do was to reach out and take them.
So she did, like whenever she wanted something, she reached out and took it.
"GNN," the receptionist of the news channel answered automatically, "This is Melinda speaking. How may I direct your call?"
"I'd like to speak with Mr. Engels, please," she replied.
"Who is calling?"
"Someone in possession of information that will interest him," she answered without hesitation, her voice cool, but assured, time for lingering had passed.
"I am sorry," the woman intoned with a voice that not sounding sorry at all, "I can't direct anonymous calls to Mr. Engels."
She sniffed, "And someone would think of him as investigative reporter," and muttered, shaking her head then added before the receptionist could even reply, "I know who Batman is."
From the other side, Melinda though sighed heavily. "Do you know how many people have called us since this morning, all claiming they know who Batman is?"
She frowned. "Quite a lot, I presume."
Ah well, that would explain the lack of enthusiasm. Apparently, she wasn't the only one who wanted spotlights. Difference, however, was that she was most probably the only one who was saying the truth. And all she needed to do now was to convince Melinda of that fact.
"Look, Melinda," so she started, throwing herself on her armchair, and deciding to tell her the truth, as odd as it was sounding, the truth was the only thing she was offering today, "If you hang up on me, I'll call AP, if they do the same thing, then I'll call another agency until I find someone who will listen to me. Then, my dear, you will be known as the girl who lost the biggest break-through in our decade for the rest of your life," she concluded with a shrug, "It's your call."
The receptionist stayed silent for a while then said, "I'll check if Mr. Engels is available."
She nodded, smiling at the phone, "Smart girl."
After then it took just an hour to sit in front of Engels, freshen up, no trace of worries from the earlier night. The man was eyeing her, carefully, as if to come to a decision about her. "So," she decided to make his life easier, "When are we doing this?"
"I don't know," he answered, his words measured in slowness, as his hand caressed his chin, "Are you really up for this?" he asked her, his hand still over his chin, "Things would turn bad."
She shook her head. No, she couldn't wait; she just needed to get over it. "Well," she said in return with the same slowness, "I suppose we could, but I'm not sure if Gotham would."
"Ah, Gotham," the man repeated, leaning forward over his desk.
She nodded, "Yes," she shot back coldly, "We're doing this for her after all, aren't we?"
Engels gave her a tight lipped smile. "Of course," he cooed, "and that bonus you've just asked—"
"—is just a slight benefit," cutting off his words, she concluded for him, then paused for a second, her eyebrows pulling into a faint scowl, "speaking of which," she added, "I want it to be wired to a Swiss bank account I'll provide; half now, half after the show."
"My, you're cautious," the TV host murmured.
Cameron shrugged, "I'm a lawyer."
"So you'd understand if I ask you to sign a good faith claim," he retorted.
Her eyes sharpened as if she was insulted, but in reality she wasn't surprised, she might have if he hadn't asked something like that. "Mr. Engels," she protested lightly, "I assure you I'm only here in bona fide."
"I don't doubt that."
"So—what's the problem?"
He shrugged indifferently, "I don't trust people much."
She looked back at him straight in the eyes. "That's not my problem."
After her last retort, Engels started smiling again. "You aren't going to tell me who he's, are you?"
She shook her head. "You know I can't do that."
"And you know I can't pay you any money before your scoop is checked," he shot back. "Hell, I even shouldn't put you at the show before checking the info myself."
"And how'd I know that you'll honor your word?" she asked tersely, "would you sign a good faith claim yourself?"
He shook his head back at her, almost apologetically. "I guess we just have to trust each other," he said, his tone displeased, then recited almost he was on the stage, "Trust is a two-way street, Ms. Reese."
She looked at him, weighing the words. If it had been any other time, this would have been the moment she would raise the game to another level, starting to strike below the belt, but this wasn't her, it was Cameron, and Engels wasn't one of her marks. Still looking at the man, she nodded. "All right, Mr. Engels, let's do it in your way," she said, standing up, and offered her hand to him, "I believe we both are gonna be honorable." In a perfect world that would have been enough, but it wasn't a perfect world. And even though they had been, they still wouldn't be perfect people.
So she held his hand tight in her grasp, and smiled at the man. Cameron perhaps wouldn't go directly below the belt, but she could always play dirty. "But if you won't—" she paused for a fraction of second, her smile dropping, her eyes finding his, "Then I'll go to 'Times and tell them quite entertaining stories about you. And I guarantee you unlike this time they won't be all true." Her eyes fell down, toward their tangled hands and fixed on the gold band around his ring finger. "You're married, Mr. Engels, aren't you?"
And yes, he was married, married to one of his show's producers, she had searched. Because trust wasn't a two-way street, but was a dead-end that would end you up with a bullet in your back.
From the camera's small screen, she decided that she looked rather good under the spotlights. She had been frequenting the boldness she had created in Cameron's persona since her visit to Fox, and she realized that kind of daring suited Cameron as good as the pencil skirts and jackets she fitted herself in. All things considered, she was starting to like being Cameron.
The assistant started to count down from five. Lifting his head from his notes, Engels gave her again a measuring look with heavy eyes. Five, four... "Ok, prepare yourself," he warned, "I'll have callers." Three...
..Two... She gave him a smile. "I'm always prepared, Mr. Engels." One…On air..., the assistant voice echoed in the studio.
"All right—" Engels barked out simultaneously, possibly more to her than Gotham, "—Gotham, we're back. And, look, we already got a call."
A crispy voice heard into studio. "I wanna know how much they're gonna pay you to say who Batman really is."
Ah…first call bringing the love already… "That's not why I'm doing this," she answered directly to camera, shaking her head, "Batman did us good, and I'm sure we're all grateful for that, but since he's showed up, things have only gotten worse." She paused for a second, and intoned what the man in TV had said, "This has to stop."
Engels interrupted the call after then, and took a second. "Caller, you're on air."
"Harvey Dent didn't want us to give in to this maniac—you think you know better than him?"
She wanted to let out a sniff but held her posture placidly. Yeah, Dent hadn't wanted to give in and in return he got his face ruined and his lady love blown up to smithereens. But Engels also decided to play dirty. "You know, guy's got a point." She snapped her head at him, suppressing the urge to narrow her eyes. "Harvey Dent didn't want Batman to give in. Is this the right thing to do?"
She gave him a small tense smile and tried to look heavy-hearted, and rueful. "If we could talk to him now, he might feel differently—"
"And we wish him a speedy recovery. God knows we need him now more than ever," he interrupted her flatly as she momentarily entertained herself with very vivid, very colorful images what to do with him once this was over. "We have another call."
Even before his words finished, the greasy voice of an old woman filled the studio. "Miss Reese, what's more valuable: one life or a hundred?"
Taken aback, she straightened and looked at to the cameras, a slight frown deepening the crease between her eyebrows. "I guess…that depends…whose life are we talking about?"
"Let's assume it's yours. Is it worth more than the lives of several hundreds of others?"
Her gaze skipped toward Engels, "Is this a trick question?"
"No," the woman answered flatly. "Is it worth more?"
She shook her head in seriousness, "Of course not."
"I'm so glad you feel that way," the woman said, sighing loudly, "Because I've got a bomb in one of the city's hospitals. It's going off in sixty minutes unless someone kills you."
Her eyes narrowing, as her frown tightening further, she looked around. "Is this some sort of joke?"
A high pitched laugh burst into the studio. "Joke's on you."
"Who is this?" Engels asked finally, getting out of his stupor.
"Just a concerned citizen—" the feminine voice dropped into a very familiar pitch, "—and a regular guy," and she could recognize that voice from everywhere, much like everyone in Gotham in these days. She stared at the camera, quite not believing this was happening. It couldn't be him. "I had a dream, Miss Reese," the dramatic voice intoned, "Of a world without Batman. Mob ground out a little profit and the police tried to shut them down, one block a time—and it was so…" the words halted, as if he was trying to find a suitable word, "...boring."
Oh, fuck. She closed her eyes for a second. "I've had a change of heart," the Joker declared with all the dramatics of his character, pitched voice reaching to above the skies, "I don't want Miss Reese spoiling everything, but why should I have all fun? Let's give someone else a chance—"
God, she thought.
"If Cameron Reese isn't dead in sixty minutes, then I'll blow up a hospital," he paused just for a millisecond, "Of course, you could always kill yourself, but that'd be noble. And you're a lawyer."
She had never been much of a God person, among other things, Cathleen had it seen that too, but she still couldn't simply think past that word, her eyes riveted on the camera. She understood the live feed had been cut as soon as after the Joker had spoken last words as the red light over the tripods suddenly faded off. This must be a joke, a cruel, not funny joke, but a joke nevertheless. He couldn't ask people to kill her to save other, injured, people. Fuck, what was it? A social experiment to see how Gotham would react? For god sake, she was going to be the hero of the story, not the goddamn damsel in distress.
Not for the first time since she had come to Gotham, she asked herself how she had gotten into this mess. Unfortunately for that she had no one other than herself to blame. She had brought this on herself. She had fallen into the oldest trap in the book; she had let her pride and greed getting the best of her. She should have known better, she should have definitely known better; pride and greed were the things that she used the most against her own marks.
All right, what happened, happened; no point on stressing over it now, especially when she was more in a deep shit. Think! She ordered herself, think!
Run. Expectedly, it was her first reaction. But to where?
Analyze the situation, find some back up.
That was the problem. Who could help her now? Police…? It was better to close eyes and ask for a miracle; and probably more effective too. No, the police couldn't help her. The Joker was going to play with them like a cat with a mouse. And that was what she had reduced to in the game; a mouse…a pitiful mouse. She shook her head, letting out a bitter smile. No one was going to cross the Joker for her, no one. All in frankness, she could see only one person who would dare to help her against the Joker. The man she had blackmailed, the man she had just tried to expose to the public. For all she knew, Bruce Wayne might just send a fruit basket to the Joker when she was finished.
Her eyes started burning but she wasn't sure if it was because of anger or desperation. As soon as the thought entered into her mind, something in her snapped. Desperation! Hell no. She had gotten herself out of worse situations. She could do it again. At least she should stop sitting on her ass in self-pity. That would be quite a start. It was only then, pulling herself out of shock, worry, and momentary self-pity, she realized that everything around her was in chaos.
Once a small room with a handful number of crew now the studio was full of people, still pouring in from other studios in the building. She stood up and walked to Engels.
"You need to get the hell out of here!" the man told her, taking a hold of her elbow, and starting to drag her toward exit. She pulled her arm out of his grip.
His assistant came toward her, running. "Ms. Reese. It's for you. The commissioner..."
She took a deep breath and braced herself. "Ca-Cameron Reese." She had tried to sound even, but much to her chagrin, her voice faltered.
"This is Commissioner Gordon. Stay put and do not go anywhere. We'll come to get you."
The order was uttered in a precise way that soothed her frayed nerves. It was good to hear someone sounding in control, even though she knew he wasn't in the control of the situation. But, still, it helped. "No," she objected, her voice clearing, "There is a lot of people around here, and they keep coming," she talked fast, looking around, adrenaline starting rushing in her veins. Good. That was what she needed, action. "I'm getting out."
"No. Stay put. We've already sealed the doors."
"Is this your phone?"
"I'll call you later." With a flick of her wrist, she closed the phone.
Her face set, she started walking with a decisive pace. "Where are you going?" Engels called after her.
The phone rang but she didn't answer. Coming out in a large corridor, she blended in the crowd that was rushing out of the building, walking along the wall as fast as the pencil skirt and high heels let her, her head bowed. She wondered how many of these people had friends, family, or acquaintances that were in hospitals, and thought how much they would be panicked now, enough to give a try to the Joker's proposal.
She needed to get out of here. She was too vulnerable inside, sitting ducks. If only she knew the back exits. Fire emergency action plans! The thought flashed in her mind, her brain running wild. The fire deposits must be storing the emergency exits for the evacuations. Lifting her head, she looked for a fire box and saw the red metal casket at the end of the hall. Quickly, she ran to it and opened the box. There it was, under the hosepipe and axe. She took the poster, and turned back to the corridor to spot toilets to look at the plans.
The phone rang again. This time she opened, "Yes."
"Where are you?" the commissioner asked.
"Second floor, the left corridor," she answered tersely, "Where are you?"
"Stay put. We're coming for you."
She saw the WC sign and threw herself into the restroom on her left. She locked the door behind her, tugging the phone between her ear and shoulder. "I entered the restroom," she informed him, opening the folded poster over the washstand, "The hall's too crowded. Can't you run them off?"
"Don't—have time," the commissioner's voice came out haltingly and she could hear voices in the background.
"Second floor, left corridor, women's restroom," she repeated, her eyes already studying the exit plan.
The closest back exit was the service entrance at the left wing of the building, four corridors away from her position. She quickly calculated the route, memorizing the halls in the vicinity for any surprises. GNN's Tower was one of those skyscrapers that had been built in the last decade, so it had all the necessary bits of the new age; service landings, staircases, and a lift, together with fire exits. She saw there was an old open cage lift outside the building at the East front, to clean the floor length windows. If the back exits became out of question, she would take a hike down to the ground in open air, too. Nodding at herself, she memorized the location of the open platform lift, her action plan forming in her mind. First, wait for the police, try to get out of here under their protection, the commissioner should be around here in any moment, but if things got more—heated, she would take the matters in her hands.
As if the commissioner heard her thoughts, she noticed voices outside of the toilet, and few seconds later, the door broke, revealing the man she had only seen a few glimpses on her TV screen in front of his task force, fully geared.
"There you are—" he walked to her hurriedly, "We—" his words suddenly stopped as his eyes fell over the fire escape plans. "What's this?" he asked, his eyes narrowing.
She looked at him funnily. "Fire escape plans," she answered, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I was spotting the back exits," she explained, then asked before he could even reply, "Do you a plan to get me out of here?" she questioned.
"We sealed the doors and my people evacuating the building," he answered her inquiry, his eyes narrowing further, "We're taking you out of this service entrance." His finger pointed the entrance that was closest to them.
Inwardly, she smiled. Of course. Great minds think alike, after all. Outwardly, she only nodded, throwing her shoes off. Running barefoot in Gotham streets wasn't fun, but it was better than trying to run in five inches stilettoes. Gordon looked at her again in that funny way, she shrugged. "I can't run on these," she said, bending to gather her shoes, because she was not going to leave a Louboutin Pigalle behind, no matter what.
The shoes dangling at the end of her fingers, she looked at the man again, waiting for his command. The Commissioner turned aside and barked out a quick order to check the hall, then a few seconds later, they moved out.
For a moment, walking fast along their hastened pace, she thought of tearing the pencil skirts as well at sides, the tight hem wasn't leaving her enough space to quicken her pace, but after a brief consideration, she forsook the idea.
Walking in the midst of the wall that they had built around her with their bodies, she realized she didn't seem enough out-of-mind as the situation might demand for someone in her place. She could hardly blame them for the suspicion, though, because back there even she herself had forgotten that a corporate lawyer was dealing with the situation.
Fuck it! She needed to get herself away of these people; this really had become her best fuck-up. She needed to leave Gotham. She needed to retrieve her stash and bailed out, this had completely gone south. The problem was that she wasn't exactly sure how. Four years ago, she had come to America for a change of scenery and her reasons for wanting a change hadn't changed a lot since then. Dammit, this could have been her end-game. Perhaps she could have even built herself a life here in Gotham, she had even started to get a liking to Cameron; the woman was a tad boring at first, but she had grown more.
Well, no more of that. Once again she was where she usually found herself; hanging up out, cold and dry. They dragged her out of the building through the service entrance as her thoughts turned even more pessimists at the first glance to the outside.
The crowd, yelling, screaming, trying to get to her; it seemed they weren't the only ones that were quick on their feet. She looked at them almost stupefied, like it was a scene from a second-rate zombie movie rather than a scene from a city at the top of the civilization. There was something primal amongst them, the fear of death and doom, savored in every cry for her head, treading over a razor shape edge, but not crossing the line.
Then someone in the crowd did. A round of rifle fired. She turned toward the sound on reflex, and saw a man, a man that in other times she could have thought nice, was shooting at her. A police officer jumped on him before he could get off the second round. Gordon pulled her tighter to his side as he opened the back door of the van that was waiting outside. He shoved her inside.
"He tried to shoot me," she muttered, even though she knew how it was going to be when she was out. She knew they would take the Joker's words serious, the maniac would be many things, but a lair he wasn't.
"Well, maybe Batman can save you," the Commissioner sneered back, and irony wasn't lost on her.
Once she was in the van, she had thought it had finished, she was in safety, but looking at the police officer, whose hands were shaking terribly, she realized she had been wrong. It had just begun.
Her eyes skipped toward the commissioner, as the man read the second message he had just received. She pulled the shoes over her lap closer. Even without reading the message, she knew it was bad news. "Son," Gordon started, as she grabbed the sharp heel of her shoe, "I'm going to have to ask for your weapon—" Gordon made a move to reach for the gun but the younger man pointed it at her face. She tightened her fingers around the heel, quickly calculating a way to disarm him as harmless as possible in such close proximity while he had a rifle, praying Gordon would talk some sense into him in the meanwhile.
She was short on luck today though. "Why," he asked, his voice sounding at the border of breakdown, his grip on metal shaking, "because I've got a wife in the hospital?"
All right! That was it. She straightened her back, readying her body to leap upon the man, but Gordon beat her to it, finally making his move, but he was too late. The young man had already pulled the trigger as the same time Gordon grabbed the rifle. He raised the barrel up as she ducked, throwing herself to right side. She shook her head, her mind suddenly drawing a blank, as pain erupted around in her left shoulder. She lifted her head and saw that the bullet scratched her upper arm then from the window that was leveled just above her eyes she saw a car, a massive SUV approaching them at top speed, as Gordon and the young patrol man fought in the car for dominance.
Then at that moment she got it. She was not going to make out of this. Not this time.
Admitting the defeat, she closed her eyes, and waited the end come—
—Crash! The impact threw her to the ground.
A few seconds later, pinned under the commissioner, she realized the man was asking her something. "Are you all right?" she registered it the second time.
She stared at him blankly but he seemed to take her lack of response affirmative because he opened the door and pulled himself and the young officer out with him. Alone, she poked out her head from the corner of the door and started to get things into the perspective. In a millisecond another car had dived between them, preventing the van being pancaked by the SUV.
Clutching her arm, she got out, too, and looked at the other car; a silver Lamborghini totaled with the impact of the crash. Daunted and confused, she turned to left, her limps moving lingeringly as if world was in slow mo, and crouching beside the car, barely a few feet away from her, she saw Him.
Leaned back at his ruined door, he looked uncharacteristically bedraggled, clothes disheveled, hair unkempt, though his face was undeniably the same; the dazzled expression as he stared at the world at such a loss with a boyish charm. Then he lifted his head, and he saw her, too.
Something shifted in his expression and what she saw wasn't the same man anymore. All sounds around her went silent as he looked at her, world skidding to a halt, time taking a pause. Stuck for an unnamable time, unable to turn her eyes away, unable to move an inch, she did the same.
She looked back.