Chapter 5: Yesterdays
"Let's review what we know," Bruce said. They were all gathered around the console. He and Dick were seated. Tim stood at Dick's right, Roy and Dinah at Bruce's left. Barbara peered out from the upper right quadrant of the main monitor.
"It's Bane all over again," Tim said flatly. "Someone's trying to take you down, bit by bit and coming pretty damned close to succeeding."
Bruce nodded. "The computer, the cave, Alfred… my…" He forced himself to continue. "My mind."
Dick caught the fleeting look of embarrassment before Bruce suppressed it. "He hit hard and fast, and came at you from directions you weren't expecting."
Bruce's eyes narrowed. Dick's fingers hadn't stopped twisting since the young man had sat down. True, the young man usually did have a hard time staying still, but—he glanced down sharply; Dick was also tapping one foot absently on the cave floor. This level of fidgeting was atypical. Also troubling, Dick looked exhausted. He was usually far better at hiding his need for sleep. He'd had to be, Bruce reflected. Otherwise, Robin would rarely have patrolled after ten P.M.
"What's the matter with you?" The question came out more harshly than Bruce had intended.
Dick looked away. "Nothing."
But Bruce had seen the warning look that his first partner had shot Tim and Roy. "Nothing?" He repeated with a hard stare.
Few people alive could endure more than thirty seconds of that look. Dick's agitation didn't show a significant increase until nearly the one-minute mark. He sighed. "Fine. Tim asked me to come in when you stopped responding to your comm-link."
"That explains why you aren't in New York," Bruce snapped. "It doesn't explain why you're practically dancing in your chair. Or why you needed Tim's help to stand, earlier."
"It's not important," Dick mumbled. "I can deal with it."
Bruce's gaze didn't waver. "Tim. What's wrong with him?"
Tim felt a cold sweat break out. "Um… Well… It's like…"
The younger man gulped. "Ask Roy!"
Dick sighed. "They wanted to use me to get to you. So someone grabbed me in New York and threw me in Arkham… where they doped me up on anti-psychotics. But, Roy got me out, and now I'm just waiting for the stuff to wear off. So, I'm fine."
"Anti-psy—You let them get close enough to…"
"You know, Bruce, you really don't have a lot of room to talk on this one."
"Score one for the Wingster," Roy whispered.
Tim fought back a laugh. Dinah didn't.
Bruce sank back into his chair, still glowering. Dick continued.
"So, anyway, yeah. Looks like I was one of those directions you weren't planning on being attacked from."
"It fits the pattern," Bruce admitted grudgingly. His frown subsided. "They struck at my home, my family, my mind… Everything that makes me… me." His eyebrows drew together. "Which means that they had to already have a good idea of who I was before they began this campaign. They might have picked up some details as they went along, but they would have to have compiled most of their data beforehand."
"We know Hush is involved," Tim said. "So that's no surprise."
"Hush doesn't work alone."
That brought the younger man up short. "When we were in the cave," he said thinking back, "Black Glove was wearing your father's bat-costume. Did Elliot ever see that before?"
Bruce nodded. "Tommy was at the manor when Father walked into the playroom, wearing it. He was hoping to surprise us." He smiled at the memory. "In any event, yes, Tommy would have been there when my father referred to it as a 'bat-man costume'. I've no doubt he would have told this… Black Glove—"
"Sorry," Barbara interrupted. "Just got to correct you, here. I've been doing some digging. 'Black Glove' is the name of the organization. The guy leading it seems to be going by 'Doctor Hurt'."
Bruce started forward involuntarily. "Are you sure of that?"
She sighed. "It could be an alias, of course… although there was a Doctor Simon Hurt who disappeared over thirty years ago. Neurologist—" She broke off. She'd rarely seen Bruce that pale when he wasn't slipping into shock. "Why are you asking?"
"Years ago," Bruce said slowly, "I took part in an… experiment. Overseen by one Dr. Hurt—and yes, his first name was 'Simon'. He had in an isolation chamber for ten days. I would never have consented to such a thing had his credentials not checked out, but if you're saying that he had vanished almost a decade earlier…" He frowned. "It might be enlightening to determine whether the imposter tampered with the government databases I would have tapped into when I was vetting the man, or whether he's hacked my systems before."
"Probably the first," Roy commented. "You're not the only guy who'd have checked him out."
"Point." Bruce thought for a moment. "You told me that you and Tim encountered him in the cave. How old did he strike you as?"
Roy made a disgusted sound. "Hard to tell with that mask. But from what I could see, his hair was pretty brown. And the part of his face I did see didn't have any wrinkles on it."
"So he probably isn't the genuine article," Bruce concluded. His frown deepened. "If the trigger-phrase in the computer hadn't incapacitated me, seeing the man in that costume," he felt his face grow hot as his voice fell to a whisper, "might have taken me further off-guard."
"Why stick Dick in Arkham, though?" They'd almost forgotten that Dinah was in the room. She looked at Dick, now. "Sure, it would have kept you from getting to Bruce, but we know that they had access to drugs, which would have kept you out, regardless. Why drag you from New York to Gotham, when they could just as easily have held you there? They also stashed you some place relatively… neutral, when you think about it. I mean, Dr. Arkham isn't part of their gang. And once you started talking to the staff, someone was bound to realize that you didn't belong there."
Dick coughed. "Actually, one of the doctors there is in league with them. Unless scheduling a lobotomy within forty-eight hours of admission is standard procedure. And if it is, why haven't they done it on Joker, yet? Agh!" Dick looked down at his wrist, which suddenly felt like it was sporting a manacle several sizes too small. When he did, he realized that Bruce had his hand clamped around it tightly enough that Dick wondered whether the bone was about to snap.
Bruce followed his gaze. "Sorry." He released him. "You're alright?"
"Yeah, fine," he said, rubbing the area. "Considering. So, that's why they stuck me in Arkham." He frowned. "Although, come to think of it, there's probably another reason, too."
"Which is?" Barbara asked.
Dick looked at Bruce. "Because odds were that in the shape you were in, one way or another, you were going to end up there." He waited for that to sink in. There was no need to elaborate. When Jason Todd had died, Bruce had nearly gone mad with grief. Had someone truly wanted to see a Batman broken or insane, Dick had to admit that Bruce discovering him post-lobotomy would probably have accomplished it.
"Tim told me what happened in Metropolis," Dick said quietly. "When you thought Alexander Luthor had killed me. That right then and there, you nearly killed him. Sure, it was heat of the moment—but if something similar happened in Arkham… well, you would probably end up helping Black Glove weed out most of their competition. Or die trying." Now it was his turn to grip Bruce's arm. "Or both."
Bruce covered Dick's hand with his own. Then he took a deep breath. "Tommy knew me as a child. And he still knows how to press many of my buttons. But to accomplish something like this, he'd need to enlist the help of someone with greater expertise in general psychology, mind-altering drugs, memory suppression," Bruce frowned. "That narrows it down. Especially since I'm not sure that this expert would be able to achieve everything he did without being aware who I am. And, until now, Tommy hasn't seen fit to expose my secrets to those who don't already know them."
Dick and Tim exchanged dismayed looks. "You know," Tim said, "if we assume Elliot hasn't altered that MO, there's only one name I can think of that meets those criteria."
Bruce nodded as Dick supplied the two-word answer.
"Well," Barbara ventured a moment later, "his capabilities definitely fit. But Strange has been off the radar for a couple of years. Wonder where Hush found him."
Bruce grunted. "Can you access the cave security tapes? Jezebel was down there with me before the attack."
Barbara sighed. "Five days ago, you logged your usual report after you got back from patrol. Then, there's nothing until Tim implemented the Salem Protocol. It looks like the Black Glove wiped out anything that might tip their hand to us and then turned off the recording devices."
"She wasn't down there," Tim spoke with quiet assurance. "The first thing I did was run an infra-red scan on the whole subterranean system to make sure that we hadn't missed anyone hiding in the tunnels. The second thing I did was instruct the computer to search and identify all organic material within range." He looked down. "Gordon said you didn't recognize him when GCPD had you in custody. I wanted to rule out the possibility that Black Glove had switched you for a double." He swallowed.
"Reasonable precaution," Bruce nodded, unfazed. "Continue."
"I found traces of blood, hair and skin, but nothing that suggested foul play. Most of it was where you'd expect: in the training area and the medical bay. Also at the computer center—that's where they had Alfred tied up. And I know you've sat there before, bleeding, while Alfie stitched you up, so I'm discounting it for now. It'll be another few hours minimum before the DNA analysis comes through so we stand a better chance at confirming whose it is. But no, there was no sign of Jezebel; until you mentioned her a little while ago, I didn't even know she'd been in the cave."
Bruce frowned. "I hope I'm wrong."
He went on as though he hadn't heard. "…But I don't think I am." He took a deep breath. "I've told you before: always follow the facts, even when they point you where you wish they wouldn't. Especially then. And as distressing as it is for me to think that the Black Glove may be holding her hostage," he closed his eyes, "it doesn't make sense for them to wipe away my memories of her if they meant for me to go searching. And if they meant to kill her," he opened his eyes and looked around bleakly, "there are ample places underground to hide the body. Why would they spirit her away?"
"Maybe they wanted the body found somewhere else," Roy pointed out. "It wouldn't be the first time someone's tried framing you for murder."
Dick leaned forward. "She could also have been their fallback plan in case things went haywire with my capture. One more person they could use to get to you."
"Suddenly, I'm feeling unloved," Tim said sardonically.
"You had your chance," Roy smirked. "The next time Pierrot-Lunatic goes chasing after you on a motorcycle, don't fight back so hard."
The younger crime-fighter blushed. He'd almost forgotten that chase. It felt like it had happened eons ago.
Bruce inhaled again. "They're both possibilities," he agreed, "but, much as it… pains me, I have to explore the probability that she may have left the cave with them, not as a hostage—but as an accomplice."
"That's it?" Roy sputtered as Bruce strode away without another word. The group watched as he disappeared around the corner, heading toward the gym area. "My girlfriend might be part of the group planning to take me out… I think I'll do some chin-ups?"
Dick shook his head. "I wish I didn't think he'd been half-expecting something like this," he said with a sigh. At Roy's incredulous stare, Dick continued. "He fell in love. She found out about his night job, and accepted it. He was happy. Usually, when things get to that point with a lady friend, she either dumps him, or she gets killed, or she turns out to be in league with the Dark Side of the Force. Once in awhile, there's a little variety, and she just goes insane or mentally regresses to childhood."
He shook his head. "He'll get through this. Then he'll try to convince himself he's better off alone and 'bat out' on us so we'll leave. Or he'll insist on patrolling without backup and end up giving Alfred a few more wrinkles and me another couple of gray hairs." Dick smiled wanly. "As you can tell, I've been through this before."
Roy blinked. "Man. How do you stand it?"
Dick sighed. "I keep trying to convince him that letting people in his life isn't signing their death warrants. Meanwhile, his life keeps tearing pages out of Joker's Big Book of Sadistic Humor. I'm just helping to make sure he doesn't let this drag him down too much… or for too long." He let out a long slow breath. "It's not going to be pretty after this latest case wraps up."
"You still don't know for sure she's working with them."
"No," Dick agreed. "We don't. But even if she isn't, did you happen to notice that none of the scenarios I gave you end off with them being together?" He closed his eyes. "You know, even if she turns out to be on the level, and lives through this, and still wants to be with Bruce… I think he'll still try to push her away." He sighed. "Or maybe not. I don't know. It's never happened before. Anyway, when he comes down from his adrenaline high, and it really sinks in… " Even to his own ears, his voice was weary. He opened his eyes. Roy was still staring. Dick ran a hand through his dark curls, pushing them back.
"So he'll let you save him from himself, promise to change, and once he calms down again, he'll start the cycle over?" Roy cleared his throat. "You know," he intoned, "if we were discussing—say—alcohol, instead of how he deals with his love life, in some of the circles I move in, we'd call what you're doing 'enabling behavior'."
"What's the alternative?" Dick snapped. "An intervention? I'm not going to give him an ultimatum I'm not willing to back up. And if he needs me, I'll be there." The cool air from the overhead vent felt good on Dick's exposed forehead. He sighed. "I know where you're coming from, Roy. Believe me, there are good reasons I live in a different city. Sometimes, I need to be a few steps away to keep myself from getting too sucked in. At the end of the day, though… I can't not be there for him. If he can't swim, I can't just watch him sink. End of story."
Roy's comment had struck a little too close to home, though. It was time to shift gears. "Well." He forced a smile. "Enough about me. Have you heard anything from Cheshire, lately?"
"Oracle, have you been able to restore the purged files?"
The others looked up as Bruce walked back into the main room. He'd evidently passed by the costume vault on his way, as he stood before them, now Batman from the neck down. He was trailing a cape and cowl behind him.
Barbara's incredulous face expanded to fill the entire monitor. "I'm just getting started. Check back with me in about six hours."
"I'd expected that your expertise in this area would enable you to push the timeframe forward somewhat."
Dick winced. Babs almost never used that tone—but when she did, watch out! In vain, he tried to signal Bruce to rethink his tactics.
Barbara continued at a rush. "Well, maybe next time you shouldn't run that subroutine that deletes certain key files if a hacker gets a little too close to breaking in! How do you expect me to get them back, now? Recite your oath?"
"Whoa." Dinah was sputtering. "You did that, too? Sheesh, forget Black Glove. You just might be your own worst enemy."
Bruce stayed focused on Barbara. "If you're not up to the task…"
"Bruce. Pay attention. I don't wear fishnets—no offense intended to you, Dinah," she added, sparing her former teammate a glance before glaring back at Bruce. "I don't wear coattails, and I don't talk backwards. So, frankly, I'm not sure why you've got me confused with Zatanna!" The Oracle mask replaced Barbara's face on the screen. "The estimated time for data recovery is between six and eight hours," the electronic voice said evenly. "Oracle out."
The screen went dark.
Dinah shook her head. "You know, getting her mad isn't exactly the smartest move," she said. "You sure you're back to normal?"
Bruce ignored her.
"Tim." Bruce beckoned with a wave of his hand. "Over here. Are you familiar with this program?"
Tim looked at display of facial features on the screen. There were rows of differently shaped heads, eyes, ears, noses, and mouths. Further down, he could see colored squares in various skin tones. There were eyebrows, hair styles, scar styles—it reminded him of a build-your-own-avatar application.
"I think I can figure it out. What am I doing?"
"You had a good look at Dr. Hurt, correct?"
"Try to find his features here." It was a simple set-up. Double-click on the image you wanted and it appeared in the workspace at the bottom of the screen. Double-click on another image from the same facial feature and the new selection replaced the old.
"You've already got the bat-man mask here, I see."
"I had that image scanned into the data banks. Since it's the only way you saw him, work with it. With any luck, we'll be able to extrapolate what he looks like without the mask."
An alarm klaxon startled them with its volume. "Someone's broken into the main cave!" Bruce said sharply.
"On it," Dick called. A moment later he frowned. "What are they doing there?" Bruce was behind his chair in seconds, watching as Talia and Damien made their way downstairs. Dick looked on in disbelief. "Why do I not think they're popping by because Alfred knows how to brew a good cup of gahwa saada?"
"We are inside, father," the exotic brunette announced. "The cave appears to be deserted."
There was a pause. Then an urbane voice, flavored with an accent which was not quite North African, not quite Middle Eastern, but seemed to carry hints of both and cadences of dialects long passed from the stage of civilization echoed through the underground lair.
"Are you quite sure, daughter? Our information would indicate otherwise."
The dark-haired boy was suddenly at the woman's elbow. He'd donned a domino mask he'd evidently found somewhere in the cave. "Grandfather," he sniffed, "your information came from a sycophant looking to curry favor with you. Why would you trust him?"
"Visual on," the woman said abruptly. The newest face of Ra's al-Ghul filled the monitor on the main Bat-Cave's computer. "Damien has a point, father. This man is hell-bent on vengeance. Why should you think that he would balk at lying to you in order to achieve his ends?"
"His ends are my ends, Daughter. The man was left to rot, helpless—as I was. Alone. Forgotten. I might have helped him freely; even had he not brought me the means with which to do so." The face on the screen smiled. He made a beckoning motion, and a moment later, a blond man with a serious mien joined him on the display. "Have you an explanation," he nearly purred, "Special Agent Amherst?"
As he listened to the conversation, Bruce's eyes grew wide. "It couldn't be," he whispered.
Dick spun his chair around. "What is it?"
Bruce was already walking toward Tim's workstation. "How close are you?" He demanded.
Tim looked at the image in the foreground of his screen critically. "I think I got him. Keeping in mind that I had spots in front of my eyes from one of your flash-bangs for most of the fight…"
"Don't equivocate. Just report."
Tim frowned. "You okay?"
"Never mind that. Just tell me."
The younger man shot his mentor a look. Then he turned back to the console. "Okay. We have a match on eyes, nose, ears and possibly facial structure. Hair and skin tone are at variance but we know that hair can be dyed and skin can tan." Seeing Bruce's growing impatience, he continued. "Computer says it's eighty-five per cent likely that our Dr. Hurt is, in fact, one Dr. Todd Hunter. Psychiatrist. Specialist in false memory syndrome. Sounds like he's—"
"Hugo Strange," Bruce said flatly.
"What?" Tim gaped at him. "No. It doesn't look anything like Strange."
"Change the hair," Bruce said. There was a frantic note to his voice, unnerving his young partner. "Make it black with graying temples." He pushed Tim aside as his hand found the mouse and began working it frantically. "And with this hairstyle…"
"A similar image already exists on file," the computer announced. "Run data?"
"Confirmed," Bruce snapped. "Voice and visual."
"Acknowledged. Name: Dr. Todhunter. See also: Hugo Strange—known aliases. Age…"
Tim looked at Bruce. "Todhunter. Todd Hunter. How did you know?"
Bruce turned off the audio. "It fit the facts." He turned to go back to Dick's station, but found the other man already standing beside him. "Sit down, Dick."
"You might not be, after you hear this," Bruce snapped. "Sit down!"
Dick obeyed, taking the second chair at Tim's station.
Bruce opened his mouth to speak, then spun around. He turned back to try again. No sound emerged from his lips. Finally, he closed his eyes. "Ra's al-Ghul," he managed to say. "Amherst. Hugo Strange. Even Hush." He nodded slowly. "It fits."
"How?" Dick asked.
Bruce flinched. "Hush… I… blackmailed into admitting himself to Arkham for treatment. I subsequently… amended his file to ensure that his inpatient status would not be reviewed for at least six months. Strange, I slipped into Arkham and then created an admissions report for him to make it appear that he'd undergone an assessment and hearing." Seeing his companions' incredulous looks, he continued, "He was insane, but… I worried that as a psychiatrist, he'd know how to work the system and obtain early release. I did something similar in order to get Ra's admitted to Arkham, as you'll recall."
Dick had gone white. "And Amherst?"
"One of Luthor's direct reports during his stint in the White House. And instrumental in framing me for murder. I'd spirited him into Arkham for his own protection—Luthor would have doubtless had him permanently removed, once he realized that I'd gotten the man to confess."
"And you left him there," Tim concluded.
"I couldn't be sure whether I'd need him again," Bruce admitted. "And he had to be kept some place secure where his story would fall on deaf ears. It was either Arkham or the cave. I judged that it would be more dangerous were he to escape from the latter." He turned nervous eyes on his eldest son.
Dick let out a long breath. "Well," he said shakily, "that clears a few things up, doesn't it?"