Part II. I – The Call
The small bedroom was on the second floor of the pub looking out on the alley below, and Valerie had to sleep with the windows closed or else she would smell garbage the whole night. Like every day, she got dressed, pulled her hair up in ponytail and added a little make up, just enough to soften her sharp features. Climbing down from the staircase, she told herself that she had done harder things than tending a bar, and the pep talk wasn't the first time.
Johnny's was already crowded, and its crowd was already drunk. Admittedly, the usual crowd of the Irish pub had never needed an excuse to get blind drunk, but today they seemed to be more determined on that goal than ever. If there was one thing consistent about these people, Valerie had come to understand, it was that they liked their drink. The jukebox in the corner of the room was on, playing some country music but it was half broken so the vocals sounded gruff, out of tune with a static underline, but by the look of the people and the way they were swaying on their heels, no one really cared.
God, last night had been like hell, and tonight, she knew, was only going to be worse.
Mike, the young bouncer, greeted her with a cheerful 'hey'. She threw a smile at him and went behind the bar. She fixed a drink for a possible dealer then for a girl who was probably under eighteen. She didn't ask for identification, Johnny's wasn't one of those kinds of places, as it was also the main reason she was behind the bar. No one asked nosy questions around here.
She turned to her third customer. "What'll it be?"
"Hello," the young man answered, leaning forward.
"Hello yourself. What'll it be?"
"Can't we talk first?"
She sighed. It was really going to be one of those nights. "Of course," she said tersely. "You're not ordering, I'm not pouring, and you're not drinking. We are," she glared at him, "talking."
The young man didn't look like affected by her jab. Instead, he pulled a flower from behind him and placed it on the bar. "I brought you something."
Her eyebrow raised, her eyes falling over the flower. "Thank you," she said, a sneer creeping in her tone, "I'll put it aside," she slid it back to him with the back of her hand, "so when I ask 'what'll it be' again and you answer me, I can put it here." She looked back at him pointedly. "What'll it be?"
"Doesn't matter," he answered with a shrug. "Give me whatever you want."
She narrowed her eyes, assessing him carefully. Probably in his mid-twenties, even though he looked a lot older than his age with his two days stubble, saggy and old clothes, and hunched shoulders. She thought of the special brand old whiskey under the shelves then decided against it. She pushed a Corona toward him. Better to be cautious than sorry.
He took it, smiling and spoke conversationally, "I wanted to come back earlier but I had to be sure—"
Then she recognized him as the man who had come in a week ago, and the day before. She decided to escape from any further conversation. "Uh—sorry—I've got people waiting." She walked to the farthest corner from him.
She fixed another scotch to a fence and looked at his companion. "Hey sexy," he greeted her.
She threw at him a flirtatious smile, her lips pulling out on their own record, almost automatically. "Your usual?" she asked.
He nodded and turned to his friend. "I been hearing Big Boys in town." As soon as the words left his mouth, her hand froze above the glass, spilling the liquid onto the counter. Mentally cursing, she quickly grabbed a napkin and put it over the little pool, eyes down, ears keen to pick up the rest of the conversation. "Man—" The fence shook his head, "Knew it. Soon things'll get shitty."
Well, fuck it. Big Boys meant police and police meant trouble. She turned halfway to look in the mirror behind her. She had discarded her fake glasses and died her hair to a dark brown, closer to her natural color. She covered her light green eyes with dark contact lenses, too, and each day before she left her room, she rounded her sharp features with lighting tricks; her sickly pale face was an effect of cheap compact powder. Disguise wasn't anything good but even with her limited resources, she didn't look like anything close to the neat classy corporate lawyer Cameron Reese.
Five months hadn't been generous to her. She had always thought Metropolis as her quick getaway place if things had gone south in Gotham, so after she had escaped from the safe place, she headed to the big city. Only with the money she had pickpocketed from Officer Jones, and a few others on the road, Metropolis's outskirts were the farthest place she had managed to get, but deep down she was feeling it was time to move on again. Her face had gotten known around here.
A week after she had arrived in Metropolis, she found Johnny's, ordered a drink and said she was Valerie. Valerie had grown up on her own; she was a tough girl, sexy and carefree. Later that night, she had gone with Johnny. His place was small, crowded and filthy but his hands were gentle, and his moves were experienced. In the morning, he had said she was amazing—really amazing —but he was hoping she hadn't read too much into it. She had shaken her head, smiled and said she hadn't. Before the end of the new day, his one-night-stand had become his new bartender.
Valerie. She threw a smile at her reflection in the mirror. Valerie had grown up on her own, she was a though girl, sexy and carefree, smiling as if she really meant it. This time there were no well-crafted personas, because she honestly wasn't sure if she could play any other character than her own self at the moment. Though there was one difference between her and Valerie; simple but crucial; she certainly wasn't carefree, not at the moment at least, and Valerie had simpler worries.
She took the fencer's —what was his name?—almost empty glass out of his clutch, and scoffed playfully. "With customers like you—" She tried to remember his name again but came up empty, "darling, it's obvious we're never gonna be rich." She poured another drink and put it in his hands. "And I thought I taught you better." She tilted her head to the side, eyes measuring him mockingly. "But at least you're still on your feet."
She turned toward the back door. "Mike," she called the bouncer and his head popped out. She showed him a Jack Daniel's bottle. "I'm getting dry here, dear. Fetch me a couple of these, will you?"
A handful of drinks later, the flower boy was calling her again. She turned and saw him still at the corner she left him, shaking his now empty bottle at her; smiling ear to ear. She walked to him. "It's all gone," he stated the obvious with glee, then put the flower in the bottle and stated again, "Look, there is a flower on the top of it."
"My flower for you, your juice for me," he said cheerfully.
She narrowed her eyes and examined him to see if it was some of kind cheesy innuendo. He looked sincere, almost innocent. Shaking her head despite herself, she laughed faintly. He became merrier. "I really wanted to come back earlier," he said again. "But I had to be sure."
She sighed, rolling her eyes, and admitted the defeat, "Sure of what?" she asked.
"Sure of what you said," he answered eagerly. "That's why I went home and thought about it, again, again and again…"
"Hmm…" she hummed in a mock of trepidation, "What I said?"
He shook his head. "Simple words. Not important. Not as much as what you meant—"
She gave him a pitying smile. "What I meant then?"
"You meant just what I needed to hear."
"Well," she sneered, "glad to be a help."
"Just six simple words." Then she had a niggling doubt she knew what he was talking about. "I'd wait to hear them for rest of my life, come back soon—"
"—I'll be waiting." She yelled after one of the leaving customers, mostly to spite him. He slumped on his stool; she smirked.
"Look—" she paused, looking at him questionably.
"Joshua," he offered.
She stayed silent for a second. "Look, Joshua, you're—um, cute—but I think there is a misunderstanding here—"
He cut her off. "You don't understand."
"—If you think I somehow meant what you needed to hear at the moment when I said those words, then I have one thing to say: I did not." She pulled a glass above her and poured a handsome amount of scotch. "Look, have a drink, that's on me." She offered him the glass, smiling. "Now you can stay as long as you want, but I have a work to attend to. And I don't have time for anything else." Joshua slumped further and, feeling satisfied with his disheartened figure, she left him there.
Around the two in the morning, Mike finally lit the lights above the bar, and under the eerie light of the pale fluorescent they started to close the pub. He walked the last drunks out while she tended to the bar. He then left, shoulders hunched, not as cheerful as earlier in the evening and closed the doors behind him. It had been a long night for everyone.
She stood in silence behind the bar and listened to the sounds of night. It was a cold Saturday night in the heart of winter. On the wind, she heard distant police sirens, coming from far away. Head bowed, she kept listening as something very akin to despair washed over her very being. The necessary symptoms were all there—that bitter ache deep inside, drilling itself through her, and that indescribable feeling of being lost, with no way out over the horizon—It reminded her of things she would rather not to, and ache—then she noticed her hands started trembling.
A simple command, hard and brutal, stopped the trembling. She pulled the special brand out and fixed herself a hard drink. The bitter taste of scotch burned her throat, sliding to her stomach, and she gulped down a second one. She knew what she needed and she wasn't able to get it. Action and distance, those were what she needed, yet she couldn't afford them. She was short on the money to start anew, her nearest available emergency stash was still stationed in Gotham and she couldn't retreat back without putting herself in further jeopardy. And she couldn't turn to her old friends, not when there weren't any gambling chips in her hand, not when her only option was to beg. She had run herself into a corner in every sense of the word.
She turned to climb up back to her room to finish off the night, the bottle in her hand, but there he was, Joshua, below the staircase waiting for her, holding his flower in front of him, smiling hopefully. Not caring enough to argue anymore, she took the flower, but warned for the last time. "I'm not what you're looking for," she said, taking a sip from the bottle.
"Yes. Yes, you are," he objected with a defiant tone. "I found you at the exact moment I wasn't looking for anything. I wasn't searching, clawing, begging…I was just here for a drink." He came closer and put his fingertips on her cheek. She closed her eyes, putting the bottle on the counter. She then hooked her fingers through his belt and turned half aside toward to the restroom's direction…"Then I found you, Cecile. Fate, you might even call it."
As her hand dropped, her eyes fluttered open… and then she stared at him. "Danny… Little Danny?"
A sharp pain above her arm jolted up her body; she stumbled on her heels and pulled a little syringe out of the crook of her elbow. When the first shock wore off, survival instincts kicked back in. Not dawdling any longer, she threw a kick and ran toward the door. A tight grip caught her at her ponytail and her head collided with the metal door with a heavy thud. Blood started to drip downwards. Her hands held the door, trying to open it, but there were other hands pulling her back. She tried to fight back, tried to break herself free, but her limbs weren't listening to her will. They were heavy like stone and the world was of a mere blur.
The last thing she noticed before passing out was his voice. "Cecile…beautiful Cecile, how could you?"
She woke up in the front seat of a moving car, handcuffed with arms strained over her back and in a great deal of pain, while the rest of her body felt like mush. She forced her head to turn slowly to look outside. Scenes passed before her eyes like a lucid dream, and she closed her eyes and then forced them open again to focus on. With a sinking feeling, she saw that they were heading toward Gotham.
"Danny…" Her voice came out as a hoarse whisper, "If this is a revenge thing..." She turned to him. "Most of times I was an unwilling party in Jason's unwise schemes. I really didn't want to hurt you or your brother—"
"Where is your father?" he cut off her tersely.
"I don't know. I haven't seen him for a long time."
He gave her a hard look, and she swallowed. "I really don't know. We grew apart."
"What a pity. You were quite a family," he sneered, "How old were you when he sent you into my brother's arms? Sixteen?"
"Fifteen," she answered coldly. "And you don't know what you're talking about. Jason had never sent me to any man's arms." It was odd to find herself defending Jason, it was really, really odd, but despite everything had happened between them, she couldn't let those words utter in her presence. Firstly, she was right, Jason had never forced her; she had decided to walk to Daniel's brother. It was her own decision, and she was not going to let anyone take away that from her, being what she was in an only way it mattered to her.
But her answer angered him even further. "So you wanted it," he said in return, his voice tinting with malice. Okay, maybe, she should have done an exception for this situation.
She shook her head. "You don't understand," she said, "you don't remember…you were too young."
His fist collided with the wheel and he barked out, "I remember well enough. I remember how you looked at him, how you smiled at him. He loved you, Cecile, he trusted you." With a whisper, he added, "We all did." His eyes skipped to her. "Why didn't you say no to your father?"
"Daniel…I was young, and he was my father," she said, almost shocked to hear that she was telling the truth again. "What happened to him?"
With a cold, detached voice, Daniel answered, "He died in prison."
Fuck it! She forced herself to cry and as expected in these kinds of situations began lying. "I'm so very sorry, Daniel. I'm sorry for what happened to him. I'm sorry for what I did to you." She looked at him through heavy lashes, eyes clouded with unshed tears. That was Danny, the little boy who was ready to jump up and down at her every word, the boy who would have done anything to please her; the little boy who had loved his brother's lover platonically. "I know you don't want to hurt me. It's still me, Cecile."
A heavy slap landed on her face, the ring on his finger caught on the corner of her mouth, and it started to bleed. "Don't you dare play that with me, woman."
Well, things change. That had been one of the first lessons she had learned too. She dropped the act and glared at him. "What are you going to do with me?"
"Before I came to Metropolis, do you know where I was?" Something cold and heavy dropped in her stomach. She knew, of course, what was coming next. "Gotham," he went on with a friendly voice, "Nice city. I was working for the Irish and then we had a sort of misunderstanding. Before the Joker business got out of the control, I had to leave the city. But I saw you on TV. You were looking different, but it was you, I was sure of it. Did you really think that no one would have recognized you? You have a very memorable face." His gaze skipped toward her for a second. "I guess that held no importance to you. You were going to be a hero, a very rich hero."
She sneered at him. She had thought of it before, of course, and had depended that her old friends wouldn't bore themselves with a city's problems so far away from them. She only hadn't thought some of those friends would have also been in America. So…so stupid. Daniel continued, "The mob in Gotham put a great deal of money on your head and the Irish would be willing to call off some debts, a clean state, you see, it's not just a revenge thing."
"I'm not going to tell you who he is," she bit off, "I won't."
He barked out a humorless laugh. "I don't want to know. Why would I? That knowledge only means trouble. Look at you," His gaze skipped again from the road momentarily to give her a look, "What you have become because of it. Police after you, the mob after you, and after Batman started going on the killing road, I'm sure he's after you too." She started to stir, testing the handcuffs. "No, I don't wanna know who he's," he repeated, shaking his head, "I'm just giving you to the Irish and then he will find ways to make you talk." He looked at her again, his attention distracted. "Seriously though, I don't understand why you're playing the 'I'm so loyal' bullshit—"
She didn't mull it over in her mind how exactly stupid a thing it was to do; she just threw herself at him. His hands flew off the wheel as her head fell onto his groin. His hand tried to steer the wheel as the other tried to pull her off him. She didn't give him the opportunity; she sank her teeth through his jeans. A howl ripped out of him and she kept biting. The car jerked violently, ran off the road, she lifted her eyes upward and saw that it headed toward the barrier. She tried to brace herself for the impact and sent a wordless prayer to whoever listening.
The car hit the guardrails with deafening sounds. They flipped once, and landed upright inside the riverbed at the roadside.
She didn't know how long she had stayed in that tin can but when she came to, she was soaked with chilling water and there was no movement under her. Daniel's face was dropped on the wheel over her body, bleeding. She tried to move her limbs and oh boy, it hurt. She could barely see through the hair and blood covering her face but they seemed to be off the road in one of Gotham River's frail arms and it was a sort of miracle that she wasn't in any immediate danger of drowning. She sent a silent thank you to global warming; Gotham had been having its driest winter in forty years, and she couldn't have been more grateful of that fact at the moment.
She was burning with pain yet it was painfully obvious that she needed to hurry. Her injures were still fresh and soon they would be only worse. Now she could take it, but later it might be impossible to move even a finger. With her hands tied behind her back there weren't many things to do. The windows were closed even before the crash, the only way out was the door.
She stirred her body, ignoring the pain, straightened her body. Praying the commands in the dashboards were still working, she twisted her body, and looked over her shoulder to find the button that would open the doors. Spotting it in the middle, she raised her arm at the elbow, and pushed on the button. Click! She let out a rough cry of relief, sliding backward on her bottom to open the door. Still, behind she found the door's handle and pulled it, then pushed the door with her weight. Losing her balance, she tumbled back into the river, a scream over her lips. Lying over the stony chilly riverbed, she trembled, the tears finally escaping of her eyes. Shaking her head, she bit her lips, drawing more pain and more blood, but it helped to get herself on feet. Standing up, she let out a deep breath, chills all over her skin, and walked to the Daniel's side.
Turning around, she opened the driver side, and knelt in the riverbed again. She needed to free her hands, and to do that she needed the goddamn keys. She turned back again, and looking over her shoulder, she tried to find her target, his right pocket. Daniel was right-handed, that meant he had possibly pocketed the keys in his right pocket, the pocket that was farthest to her. She wanted to scream again, at the top of her lungs, to herself, to Daniel, to fucking Bruce Wayne, to everyone, to everything... But what would that work for? She lay backward over his lap, trying to slide her fingers through his pocket. Thank god, slipping her fingers into the places they didn't have any right to be was the first trick she had learned, even before Jason, Cathleen's habitual punishments had made that certain if she hadn't wanted to go to bed with an empty stomach.
Her fingers found the pocket, and she slid her fingers in, and fished out the keys out of a few changes. Pulling back off of him, she cried out with the joy, though her cries were mostly pitiful trembling whimpers, but as she freed her hands, she didn't care. She then turned aside and leaned again over Danny. She put two fingers on his neck and felt a faint throb. Quickly he slipped him off of his leather jacket, and wore it over her cardigan. She then handcuffed him to the wheel and walked away.
It was really a cold winter night. She remembered the temperature being thirty degrees Fahrenheit from the broadcast, the wind speed, ten miles an hour. Not extraordinary in themselves for January, but combined together they created a wind chill cold enough to kill. Trembling constantly with powerful shivers, she followed the river for almost an hour and stayed out of the sight of the main road. Then toward the end of the hour global warming bit her at the ass. It started raining.
Lifting her head, she looked at the thunderous sky, feeling a scream boiling inside her. But she was so tired even to open her mouth. She clung on Danny's leather jacket, urging herself forward. She took a step but her feet stumbled upon some root and she collapsed face down on the muddy earth. She stayed there, motionless under the rain, not moving an inch. She couldn't have guessed walking might demand this much effort.
However, she could stay there, rest a little while. She was safe now. She was bleeding, might be suffering internal injuries, and could die of exhaustion at any minute but she was safe. And here was so much better. It wasn't even as cold as before, she could even say it was warmer. And she was really tired. Perhaps she closed her eyes for a minute and rest—just for a little while… She shook her head defiantly and cursed the symptoms of hypothermia. She needed to find a shelter, fast.
Gathering her strength, she pulled herself back to her feet.
She hadn't any idea where she was or how close she was to Gotham. Surely being close to Gotham wasn't a good idea but for now she couldn't even bring herself to care. 'One problem at a time' had been her life's motto as of late. Her first priority was to find a warm shelter, get rid of her soaked clothes, and try to patch herself back together. She could deal with rest later.
Driving an average speed, the distance between Gotham and Johnny's was a three hour trip. When they closed the pub, it had been around two in the morning, and if she wasn't horribly wrong there were still a couple of hours until the dawn. Then again, she'd lost consciousness not one but twice, so her calculations could have been all wrong. But judging by the look of her surroundings she calculated she was still on the outskirts of Gotham, possibly an hour away from the city. If she were correct, she should be coming up on a local industrial zone with a warehouse district.
She walked for a good half an hour more before she saw the distant, looming image of what she was seeking over the horizon.
Trying to wander undetected around a warehouse district wasn't as easy as it used to be. Most companies had come to follow modern ways, putting the security cameras outside and within, with night guards accompanied by big dogs patrolling the perimeters every hour. She tried to avoid the curious little big brothers as much as she could and didn't see any of the night guard at all, with or without dogs. As pleasant as it was, it was hardly a big surprise; it was a small district, almost deserted in favor of Gotham's bigger ones. Fifteen minutes later, she found what she was looking for; a prefabricated building, two stories, half of its windows broken, left to desolation.
She considered going inside through the broken windows but decided against it. The windows appeared to be smashed by local gangs and the residue of the glass could be very fatal in her poor condition. Instead, she tested the main entrance, guarded merely by an old style metal door, blocking its way from strangers with the help of a rusty padlock. She checked her hair and found the clip she had fastened the left side of her bangs still there. She sent another silent 'thank you' to no one in particular and started to work on the lock.
Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't have taken more than a few seconds, but with her trembling fingers it took ages, pins turning around and around until she heard that familiar 'tick'. She pushed the door with all her weight and slipped inside, and, closing it as silently as she could, she rested her back against the cold metal. Finally.
Rows and rows of shelves lined the walls, mostly empty, rusting. She noticed a couple of boxes left behind, and went to investigate. A large box labeled for a company she didn't recognize was the first she ripped open. Toilet paper. Laughing faintly, she took another and tore it open too. With a handful of paper, she started to pat herself dry. One of the smallest boxes turned out to be full of blue working coats of the said company, left behind with other boxes. She picked out three of them with a happy sigh and started to peel off her soaked clothes, including her wet socks, panties, and shoes. The clothes came off painfully, stuck with blood, sweat, water and mud. The parts of her body that were visible were covered with angry slashes and very worrisome bruises, but she didn't dwell on them. If she could survive the night, they would eventually heal. The thing that perturbed her though was the swell she had seen just over her last rib; it looked like something close to a crack. She put on two coats and started to wander again. The coats left most of her legs bare and the chill was still biting, but it was much better than outside, and the funny, smelly coats surely were better than soaked jeans and sweatshirt, too. She saw a door at the farthest corner, and it opened to a room without windows. She searched the walls in the pitch black; her fingers found the switch, and there was the light.
It took some time for her eyes to become accustomed to the bright light again. When they did, she saw one small office station with a dusty desk and broken chair. She tore through the desk's drawers, and her eyes lit up when she saw an unopened package of cookies. She tore it open agitatedly, stuffed the food into her mouth, and checked the telephone on the desk to discover that the line was still working. The old and battered couch across from the desk was the most comfortable piece of furniture she had ever seen, but her real findings were the red first aid kit and the water heater hidden at the corner beside of the little kitchenette. Under the kitchenette, there wasn't kettle or coffee maker left behind, but she found a small dirty bowl of sugar. She took three cubes out, and threw them in her mouth. Sucking the sugar, she reasoned that, if there was water heater, there might be a shower too, and her most precious finding was there squeezed in the corner farthest from the desk; merely a small bathtub, the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
She turned on the water and was relieved when murky, heated liquid spilled from the showerhead. She pulled off the coats in a second and hopped into it. Her body and wounds protested the sudden change of temperature, but she didn't care. She stood motionless and watched the blood, mud, and dirt wash off her body. She didn't let herself think of anything other than the twirling dirty water below her feet. She didn't want to think now; truthfully, she didn't want to think at all. Almost thirty years, and all she had learned from life was that the only thing you could do was go on.
Her miracle came to an abrupt end with the water getting cold. With a deep sigh that would sum up her life of late, she turned off the tap. She patted herself dry quickly with paper towels, and put on the dry coats. She couldn't do anything for her hair but try to dry it with paper and as desperate as she was, she wasn't willing to experiment it. She opened the first aid, and swallowed three painkillers dry. She started to wash her cuts with antiseptic but it was mostly gone, so instead she began to dress them using the tattered bandages.
When she had done all things that could be done with the limited resources the warehouse had gently provided, she walked toward the sofa barefoot and lay on it. She used the other coats to cover her legs and feet, turned to her unwounded side, and then reflected on the situation.
One word summed it up very nicely; fucked. She thought from all the angles she could come up with, and every time she came to the same conclusion. You have no other option.
The dawn had just broken when she made the call. The phone rang, rang, and rang…then a voice with a graceful British accent answered, "Hello?"
"Mr. Pennyworth," she said, voice trembling slightly. She chose to blame the chill for that. "I need to talk with Mr. Wayne."
The other side of the line was quiet for a while. Then he spoke, "Who is calling?"