Ch 42: Snakes In The Grass (Part One)
Snakes In The Grass ( Part One )
By Brian Mark
It is the morning after the William Norris Lecture. Bruce is reading about the sudden death of Phil Sapphire, in the morning newspapers:
- Good morning, Alfred.
- Good morning, Master Bruce, one trusts you slept well.
-.( Distracted ) Yes, …. Alfred. … Better than in a long time actually. … It's such a shame about Phil Sapphire, dying like that, .. and so suddenly. .. I was there, Alfred.
- Yes, Master Bruce.
- Such a nice guy. … And he wrote great music, too. … You know, Alfred, I've been doing some thinking about those young people killed last week. …. I checked a few things out on the' Q ', and found something very interesting indeed.
- Yes, Master Bruce ? One has also found something rather interesting.
- That apartment their killers were burgling. … It had been rented by one D.L. Rider. … An anagram for Riddler.
- Quite so, Sir, quite so.
- Well, now we know, that it must have been one of Dent's S.W.A.T. teams. ….. Dent must have known, that Nikma was fishing around, and either wanted to kill him, burgle his place, or both !
- A legitimate assumption, Sir.
- Then there's that boy, Richard Grayson. …. Some news reports ' Q ' found for me spoke of a sixth member of the Group, a new member of the Hero Team. .. My guess is that the boy was that sixth member.
- Quite uncanny, Master Bruce.
- Sorry, Alfred. … You said, that you had found something interesting.
- Yes, Master Bruce. It occurs to one that you might have been poisoned.
- Excuse me ?
- As is one's custom, your previous day's attire was duly gathered, to be cleaned. But, one's attention was attracted by an unusual odor, that reminded one of a rather poisonous plant one encountered in Central Africa. The trousers of your evening suit were the source. It would appear, that in the course of last evening, you sat on something coated in that poison.
Bruce is dumbfounded, not to say most alarmed.
- Do you have an antidote, Alfred.
- Unfortunately not, Master Bruce. One can only suggest that one proceeds to the Hospital post-haste, or the consequences might be unthinkable.
- Now you tell me !
Bruce dashes to the Library, descends to the Bat Cave, then down to the Bat Rocket. Dressed as Bruce Wayne he catapults himself at lightning speed to an exit point near to Gotham General. He makes his way to the Hospital, explains what has happened at the desk, and is admitted at once !
Later that day, after a series of tests, a Specialist reports back to him, concerning his condition:
Well, Mr. Wayne, obviously you are still with us, and are showing no signs of sickness whatsoever. Obviously a very good sign.
- All the tests w carried out would indicate the presence of a small trace of toxin, barely noticeable in fact.
- That's good, right ?
- Actually, no. …. You see, Mr. Wayne, the particular toxin belongs to a family of insidious poisons, where even the slightest dose is likely to prove fatal !
- You can't be serious.
- I'm afraid I can, Mr. Wayne. …. In greater quantities, the poison in question, and my guess is, that it is a hybrid, would destroy the lining of the heart almost immediately. … In your case, I reckon that you have no more than five or six months. …. It looks as if someone is trying to kill you, Mr. Wayne. … As you can appreciate, owing to the gravity of this situation, I took the liberty of informing the Police. They are on their way. …. But, first of all, do you have any idea, where you contracted the poison ?
- There really is only one place, …. The Millennium Plaza here in Gotham.
- Can you be more specific ?
- Yes, … ( Considering the matter very carefully.) the Lecture Theatre.
The Specialist looks to leave immediately:
- That's all we need, for now, Mr. Wayne. … I'm very sorry, … I really am.
After an interview with a detective from the Gotham P.D., Bruce turns on the news, to discover, that a city-wide alert has gone out to all those who attended the Lecture, the previous evening. Seemingly, there are fears, that he has not been the only one affected.
There is a knock on his door. It is Harvey Dent. Bruce does a very good job of disguising his true feelings about his father's best friend.
- Hello Bruce, how are you ?
- Fine at the moment, Uncle Harvey. ... So they reckon it was Dr. Norris, then.
- Yes. We've ordered an All Points Bulletin for his arrest. Unfortunately, the Health Alert, that was necessary, comes in timely fashion, and has only served to alert him. He's bound to go to ground, at least for the time being, but rest assured, Bruce. We'll find him, and bring him to justice. … In fact, that's why I have to leave so soon. … I'll have to catch up with you later, Bruce. … The Doc. has filled me in. … I'm really sorry.
- Bye, Uncle.
A little later, there is another knock on the door. This time it is Aunt Harriot, accompanied by his most trusted Butler !
- Oh, Bruce, is it serious ? What's the matter, dear ? Are you going to be alright ?
- I'm absolutely fine, Aunt Harriot. In fact, the Doctors have told me I'm free to leave, anytime. I can go home with you now, if you want.
- And there was I, bringing you some nice grapes, oh my !
- We can still eat the grapes, Aunt Harriot, can't we, Alfred ?
- Why, of course, Master Bruce !
- Oh, Aunt Harriot, I was wondering, if I could have a word with Alfred on our own. Would you mind waiting outside ? You can have the grapes.
- Well, if you're sure, Bruce. ( Opening the bag ) Oh, these are absolutely delightful grapes. ( She leaves.)
- It's really bad, Alfred. … If we can't come up with an anti-toxin soon, I might only have six months to live. Who would have thought William Norris capable of such a thing.
- It would certainly appear, that he has devised rather novel methods to address the problems he outlines in his lectures, Master Bruce.
- Gosh, Alfred, this could be the end of Batman.
- No, Master Bruce. It could be the end of you !
- What do I do, Alfred ? Do I stop everything, and hope we can come up with a cure ? … You know, Harvey Dent was in here, just before you. As bold as brass, he played the dedicated Police official. As bold as brass, he played my loving uncle !
- One is of the opinion, that you have just answered your own question, Master Bruce.
- You're right, Alfred. … ( With increasing realization ) You are right.
Later that evening, back at Wayne Manor, or, rather, under it, Bruce talks with Alfred again, in the Bat Cave:
- Okay, Alfred. Let's think of the worst case scenario, and my condition makes it's presence felt real soon. …. I've been thinking about the boy, Dick Grayson. …. I think I could train him. … The Minister at the funeral said that those young people had been inspired by Batman. My guess is that the boy would be exactly the same. … He could take my place.
Would you be willing to accept a new Batman, Alfred ?
- ( Disguising his emotions. Without question, Master Bruce. …. But, if Sir might forgive one for having done so, one has been doing one's own research, and it is only very late on in the process, that the person poisoned begins to show any sign of illness at all.
- That's very comforting, Alfred, but, regardless of timescale, we have to face facts. …. I will make contact with the boy as Batman, and train him, as my partner, another member of the team. … It will meet a serious need, that he has in his life right now.
- Very well, Master Bruce, very well.
- But we have serious business to attend to. ..How to take on Harvey Dent. … And how to deal with our friend, William Norris.
- Sometimes serious business can be most therapeutic, Master Bruce.
- ( Typing something into 'Q' ) Why , Alfred, I feel better already ! ….. Okay, according to Q, William Norris was brought up in the Larkville Quarter of Detroit. An overcrowded district, by all accounts. Mmm, yes, he made reference to that in his lecture. … Something for us to bear in mind. ….. It is a constant theme of his, that the World is overcrowded by one third. …. Q has been busy sifting through Harvey Dent's Case Files, …. Revealing … now, let me see, …. ah yes, every third seat in the Theatre last night had been coated with the agent he used.
-( A penny or two beginning to drop ) One in three, Master Bruce, one third. …..
- Yes, Alfred, what is it ?
- Why, so many accounts of the disasters occurring in the Pacific in recent years, have recorded death-rates of approximately one third, 33%, Sir.
- But, how do you manipulate the forces of nature in that way, all those disasters were considered natural.
- ( Typing in something of his own. ) Interestingly enough, there is one report here, in one of the papers, quoting a young research scientist's theory, that one of the disasters might have been caused by some sort of secret underground test. His theory was well and truly dismissed at the time. ….. Now, with a little bit of cross-referencing. … Ah ha.
- What have you found, Alfred ?
- Around the time the Cold War was being negotiated towards its end, a significant number of nuclear suitcase bombs went missing.
- How, on earth do you know that, Butler, old chum ? ( Putting on a mock English accent ! )
- That is neither here nor there, Master Bruce. One knows, and that is that. ….. Anyway, it would seem, that all the underground bidding for the weapons ceased some years ago, as if there were no longer any available for purchase.
- So you think, that Norris acquired them, ….aAnd has been using them to trigger natural disasters around the World.
- It might explain a great deal.
- Here, let me try again. ( Typing something in. ) …. Interesting, … very interesting. … Norris had an uncle, who was an expert in the Earth's Tectonics. …. And, Norris has recently been investing in spray equipment, and research into the most effective distribution of pesticides.
- Except, it is not insects, that the man is looking to control. … Sir, please allow your Butler one further moment at the Computer. .. ( Bruce acquiesces.) …. Mmm. … The Angel of Death in ancient and medieval folklore was also known as the Grim Reaper.
- Yes. We've all heard of the Grim Reaper, Alfred.
- But some of the illustrations of the Reaper could be construed now, in our modern age, as representing someone, or perhaps more than one individual wielding a spraying device, not a sickle. .. Some of these illustrations correspond to periods when the Plague ravaged the whole of Europe. Some people thought the Reaper was spreading the disease.
- My God, Alfred. That's it ! …. Norris was named after his Grandfather, a hero before and after Word War Two. … The Germans called him, The Grim Reaper !
- Dr. Norris sees himself as one following in the tradition of those who, he believes, have gone before him, wielding death itself, as a means of controlling the Earth's population. ….
- Yes, Alfred. Nothing solved the problems, caused by overcrowding in the cities of medieval Europe, better than the Plague.
- Regrettably, that was very much the case, Sir.
- But he doesn't only operate on a global scale ,or even on a smaller, multiple scale, such as what happened to me. He operates on a one-to-one basis as well. Remember the statistics about stress-related conditions reported by doctors in America, one in three !
- That could be his handiwork as well, Master Bruce.
- Phil Sapphire, of course ! Norris killed him. His was no natural death. … But how can he afford nuclear weapons, and where did he get them ?
- Perhaps the answer lies with what Hans Anders told us, during our sojourn in Alaska. ….The mysterious K.P. .. It has long been suspected by some. that the Government is in the grips of a super rich shadow figure, who leaves no footprints, no trail, no evidence of any kind. Only a few know his name, but none dare speak it. But there is only so much, that you are able to do in one day, Master Bruce. One might be inclined to say, that the plot thickens, Sir.
- Okay, so that's our way into that case, my dear Watson ! …. Now, what about the other ?