It was a regular ‘who’s who,’ of Gotham City, all within the brightly lit, cavernous walls of the ballroom in the east wing of Wayne Manor. The vast, marble floor was filled with huddles of the most elite of the metropolis’ population, all finely dressed in their absolute best. White tablecloths topped the long buffet tables of colorful orderves displayed on shining silver platters. Off in the corner beside the giant, ornate window, a tuxedoed man sat at a black polished grand piano, playing a gentle overtone of music, quiet enough not to disturb the socializing of the guests. Draped above the wide open mahogany double doors was a long white banner with bold red lettering.
WELCOME HOME BRUCE
The young bachelor’s homecoming was the first party in over seventeen years. It had been so long ago, yet Alfred Pennyworth remembered it vividly. It had been the Wayne’s’ biennial New Year’s Eve party, a rather ordinary, uneventful night yet it was the last that the Wayne Manor ball room had been lit with life that year, and every year since till this late April evening. Never once during the evening did Alfred leave eyesight of his master from his post as lead server. It seemed that both he and Bruce Wayne both wore masks that night. Standing in the midst of a group of huddled socialites, he kept a grin on his face as he regaled the gawking crowd. Alfred knew better, he knew Bruce loathed every minute of it. The wise butler hid his own grin with a professional sternness on his face, he was just glad to see his young master happily socializing, even if it was all a performance.
“And next thing I knew, I ended up on a beach in Japan,” Bruce said casually. “Excuse me, Taiwan,” he corrected himself. “Too much Sake,” he added with a grin. The group politely laughed. A man with silvering, gold hair swirled the glass of champagne in his hand.
“Sounds like you had quite the retreat,” William Earle smirked. Bruce grinned back with a bemused look in his eyes.
“It had its moments,” he said.
“I’m sure. But now that you’re back, Bruce,” he paused as he casually gazed about the party. “Any plans?”
“Yes I do,” Bruce replied. “I’d like to do my part and pick up where my father left off.” The man in a dark blue suit with silver streaks in his combed, dark hair frowned at the young host.
“At Gotham General?” he inquired. “I wasn’t aware you got your M.D.”
“No, Mr. Boyle, I didn’t. Ten years of school didn’t sit with me,” Bruce said. “No I mean with the Wayne Foundation and with Wayne Enterprise, get to see firsthand how my trust fund gets replenished.” Earle forced a smile.
“I’m more than happy to humor your curiosity,” he said. “I’m sure we can find a place fit for you, Bruce.” Bruce eyed the Wayne Enterprise CEO as he gave an accepting nod. He knew better than William Earle suspected.
“Seems I’ll have quite the competition with you two other there,” Ferris Boyle remarked cheekily. Earle smirked as he looked sideways over at Bruce.
“Ferris here has been quite smug lately, something about kicking up a brand new project at Gothcorp,” Earle explained. With each word spoken, Boyle’s smirk grew broader and smugger.
“Your investigators can pry all they want, Bill, but I’m afraid we’ve got you this time.”
“We’ll see about that,” Earle smirked back with a fake tone of friendly competition.
She was enjoying herself. It was obvious by the smile on her face. She loved it all, the crystal glass of champagne in her thin pale hand, the deep red evening gown that never seemed to surface from her closet, even the black suit that hung loosely on him. The two of them stood off to the side of the ballroom, opposite the exquisite buffet table. As her eyes darted about the room in awe, his hardly ever averted from the wide open door or his watch.
“Oh, Honey, look at this, isn’t this breathtaking?” she gasped. He tugged his sleeve up, checking his watch once again.
“Yeah, yeah, very nice,” he muttered absently. With a scowl, she looked back at her husband.
“Would you stop that?” His gaze lifted to his wife. Her arms were crossed with the champagne glass still pinched in her fingers.
“Stop what?” he shrugged.
“Acting like a jerk,” she stated tersely.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” he said consolingly. “But how much longer do you want to stay?” he inquired with almost a plea.
“Why are you so eager to leave?”
“Look at me,” he scoffed. “Do I look like I fit in with these people?” he mumbled with an uncomfortable glance about the cliques of A-listers huddled across the ballroom. Stepping back, she gave a mocking look up and down of her husband wearing a suit slightly too large for him. He certainly wasn’t as polished as those around them but he certainly had the potential, and she knew it deep down in her heart.
“Like it or not, yes you do,” she answered with a smirk. “Look, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, just enjoy it.”
“You and I both know that the only reason we were even invited to this thing is because my face has been in the news,” he stated stiffly with a lowered tone. “Do these pompous gas bags know why? Of course not, they’re a bunch of brainless socialites with their heads too far up each other’s rear ends to care.”
“Harvey!” she gasped with a scornful look, smacking his arm with her hand. From behind a broad man dressed in a fine black suit with slick dark hair stepped mere inches from the couple.
“Well it does pay to see things from their point of view at times, just as long as you resurface in the end.” Harvey’s eyes squeezed shut as his face turned scarlet, though no worse than his wife’s. Slowly he turned to face his eavesdropper. Harvey groaned, immediately recognizing their host. Bruce Wayne stood leisurely, with his hands in his pockets. His large frame was just taller than he was and piercing blue eyes seemed to glint jovially along with his fine white teeth bared in a smirk. “ADA Dent, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” Bruce said with an out stretched hand. Sheepishly, Harvey accepted it.
“Well the pleasure’s all mine,” he said with an uncharacteristically embarrassed smile. “Mr. Wayne, this is my wife, Gilda.”
“Please, Harvey, call me Bruce,” he said as he gently grasped Gilda’s hand in both of his. “Gilda,” he greeted warmly. “I am very glad you two came here tonight.”
“Oh?” Harvey inquired with a raised eyebrow.
“I’ve been interested with your work on the Sionis case,” Bruce said as he placed his hands back in his pockets. Harvey hid his utter surprise well, yet remained as skeptical as ever, it was simply his nature and what made him such a good lawyer.
“Really,” he remarked, refraining from crossing his arms defensively over his chest.
“Roman Sionis was a,” he paused to search for the best word. “A childhood acquaintance. His father and mine did some business together,” Bruce explained.
“You’re not going to try and tell me he’s innocent are you?” Harvey asked. Gilda fired another glare his way. Bruce shook his head and waved his hand with emphasis.
“Not at all. He was a crook even then.” Harvey felt his face relax as his eyebrow lowered back in place and a grin washed away his skepticism. “No, I think that you fighting to put Sionis behind bars is exactly what Gotham needs. The city has enough criminals, and we need more people like you.”
“Back in town for only a couple weeks and already you’ve a clear idea of what Gotham needs,” Harvey mused. “I had no idea you were so interested in city affairs. I mistook you for-.”
“Another ‘brainless socialite’?” Bruce chuckled with a teasing smirk. Again Harvey’s face dipped into scarlet. Gilda suppressed a chuckle behind her hand as Harvey laughed along.
“I apologize for that.”
“No need,” Bruce waved away the apology. “I am simply interested in the good of Gotham City,” he explained. “And I believe that someone like you in a position with more weight is just the thing.”
“Then I can count on your vote for DA next year?” Harvey mused. Bruce nodded as he dipped his hand into his suit jacket and retrieved a burgundy leather bound check book and golden pen.
“More than that,” he replied. Using a nearby table as a surface, he scrawled the pen in the checkbook then tore it free. Bruce handed the check to Harvey with a sincere look in his sharp blue eyes. With wide, dark brown eyes, Harvey read the amount.
“This is,” he stammered. “Bruce I can’t accept this.”
“Yes you can. Think of it as an investment in Gotham’s bright future,” Bruce said proudly with a cheesy grin. Everything he did was intentional, playing towards his motive. Harvey and Bruce shook hands again as Harvey carefully slipped the check into his own jacket.
“Bruce, I insist you have dinner in our home sometime,” Gilda beamed.
“I’d be happy to,” Bruce smiled. “Be sure to leave your contact information with Alfred, my butler.” Bruce indicated to the stiff, pristinely suited man posted not far from the buffet table yet within eyesight of his master. With a final goodbye, Bruce excused himself. It seemed finally that he could breathe freely again. Ten years of training his mind and body in the furthest reaches of the globe and none of it prepared him from the exhaustion of pretending to be a spoiled, bachelor socialite, ever in the spotlight, the kind of person everyone expected him to be. He had taken a risk with the Dents, allowing his truer self to show, only time would tell whether it was for the best. Bruce sighed in relief as he brushed his dark hair back.
“Partying, is such tiring business, eh Bruce?” a suave mocking voice said from his left. Bruce paused and turned to find a smug, grinning face. He recognized the face instantly but played the part he’d fabricated for himself.
“I’m sorry, you have me at a disadvantage,” he said with a frown.
“Arthur Reeves, I’m a counselor in the District Attorney’s office,” Reeves explained.
“Oh that’s right,” Bruce said with a snap of his fingers. “You’re running for DA next year.” The Councilor nodded as they briefly shook hands.
“I saw you talking with Dent over there,” he indicated with a shift of his gaze to where Gilda and Harvey now slowly danced in a tight circle to the music of the piano.
“Just making my rounds with my guests,” Bruce explained casually. Reeves hid his skepticism.
“Never took you for someone interested in politics.”
“Oh I’m not,” Bruce said. “I just like to keep up with the times.” Reeves chuckled as he took a step closer to Bruce and eyed him warningly with a shifty smirk.
“You haven’t been back in Gotham for long so I’ll offer some advice,” he said. Bruce instantly scowled but Reeves didn’t seem to notice. “If I were you, I wouldn’t put any of your money on guys like Harvey. In this town, they don’t go very far. Dent’s a dead end.” Bruce stepped past him with a stern glare.
“Things change, Arthur. Enjoy the party.” Reeves watched Bruce walkaway with a scowl of his own. He shook it away, straightening his light blue tie, he did after all have an image to keep intact.