Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dr. Gotham Steps Out - Aftermath


Commissioner Gordon ran his hands through is hair and looked at the calendar that was propped up on his desk. The date on the top sheet in the folder on the desk reflected that this was, indeed, Monday. The day after the night of the unexplained and, apparently, unexplainable.

He shook his head and looked up at Dr. Gotham.

"What do you mean you aren't going to be pressing charges?"

Dr. Gotham smiled at him sitting in the chair on the other side of Gordon's desk.

"Just that, Commissioner. My shop has no need to press charges against the Norris couple. They had been expecting a normal burglary and ran across something they hadn't expected. The harm caused to them was not lethal, for all its outward problems, and they cannot very well actually say what it was that happened to them at the shop. The few items of real value are now registered as stolen at major auction houses and that will be something that may hasten their return if they are meant to be found and returned. The shop has no real need for the mere monetary compensation for the items and the service provided for registry of the items as stolen ones satisfies me. Those funds are being returned, today, by Henry Swanson."

Gordon sat back in his chair and shook his head.

"It goes beyond what I can describe, too, Dr. Gotham. You were on that train we saw down there, weren't you? And you did escape from it as you told us about?"

"Yes, that is quite correct. I had at first surmised that sequestering the train was something done by Tiamat, acting through her embedded tooth. By the activities involved I now know this is not the case."

Leaning forward Gordon flipped through the sheets in the folder.

"Gotham did this? The city?" he said reading the page of notes that he had taken down last night, plus those of Deputy Commissioner Colton.

"Gotham is a place all its own, Commissioner Gordon. It does as it will and I am its servant. So are you by serving this city, and each and every person who lives here. I am not Gotham's defender, however, and it must look to its own devices for that. Of all the things that can threaten it, Tiamat is the worst and it cannot last against such a being of that sort of power. Thus, like you or I suddenly threatened by a roaming beast red of tooth and claw, we must thwart attempts on our lives so as to dissuade such beasts that we are not worth the effort to pursue. Their patience is limited and they can surely find easier prey to catch that is better than our mere scrap of flesh."

Gordon looked puzzled.

"Is Gotham alive, then?"

Dr. Gotham raised an eyebrow and smiled.

"As alive as you or I, and as dead as the chairs we sit upon. Chairs have many qualities, mine has legs and is hard to move standing up, while yours has a central pillar and wheels that allow it to roll. They do fine in this building which we may walk out of, but they are stuck here until they are moved by an outside force. You or I may flee a building tumbling down around us, but the chairs will have to take their chances. If they knew what was coming they, too, would wish to flee, but would find that they were unable to. Do you see how that works?"

Gordon shook his head.

"No. I don't," he inhaled deeply and sighed, "and getting a straight answer from you is an effort in frustration. Luckily I don't need to ask you any more of them."

Dr. Gotham nodded.

"Very well. I have things to do today, and must be about my business."

Dr. Gotham stood up and offered his hand to Gordon, who shook it.

"I'm still not going to be able to write the report about all of this..." he said softly.

Dr. Gotham was putting his gloves on, and then picked his hat up from the chair and put that on.

"I have told you what I am able to, Commissioner. I do not hold all the pieces to put this together, and so I am of limited assistance to you. That is the nature of life, and I am sure you can find someway to put into words what you have found out. Although, without bodies or parts of same to deal with and show as evidence, actually writing such a report will be extremely difficult. It always is in such cases and the help I can give is limited. Good day, Mr. Gordon."

James checked the clock.

"Good afternoon, Dr. Gotham."

As Dr. Gotham walked out of the office he touched the brim of his hat and said, "Good day" to the three people who were in the outer office area, Travis Colton, Maj. Rhodes and Barbara. His car was still not out of the shop and Barbara had retrieved hers after they had walked to it from City Hall. They were late for his wife's arrival, but the meal and story they went through kept them all up until the early hours of the morning. Of them all Gordon suspected that only Maj. Rhodes had gotten a decent night's sleep.

"Did he have anything to add over last night, Jim?"

Colton asked as they came into the office, the two men taking the chairs near his desk while his daughter sat on the small sofa. He moved around his desk and sat on the corner of it.

"He is serious about not pressing charges, but beyond that... no. No help."

"So are we going to write reports about creatures that have names you can't really pronounce?" Colton asked.

"You can just describe them as some sort of strange mollusc," Barbara said, "even though that won't help you with the convention center, all that much. It might do for riverside."

Bill Rhodes shook his head, "And then get every marine biologist coming here for months to try and find other specimens? Just what we need, intrepid biologists going out onto the freezing waters around Gotham City in the winter season."

"And the evidence for anything like that, even calling them shoggoths and such, means that we don't have much to back up what we put down. Not that I think anyone is going to care too much about the riverside case," Colton said, "the families involved will want something, at least for the kids that bought it. We can put in some strange mollusc or something, I guess, and then say it got processed through the sewer system. They use enough polyquot to deal with that sort of thing without noticing it. Still it would only be a 'probable' and one we aren't too certain about."

"This is a nightmare to figure out," James said, "and we really can't use a mollusc for the convention center. No one will believe that."

"Mass hysteria?" Barbara asked.

Travis looked at her and gave a lopsided smile and shake of his head.

"I suppose there might be some case of mass hysteria with a couple of people thrown around hard enough to kill them, a couple scared to death, and others just unconscious for no good reason."

"It is a cause, at least," Rhodes said, "and maybe not plausible it will go into the 'it is our best guess given the facts'."

"Better than nothing," Colton said, "which is what we have for what happened in the subway."

"Intrepid but foolish young women having an accident in the abandoned subway system?" James asked looking at Barbara.

Her face reddened as she smiled.

"I deserve that, I suppose," she said softly.

"From what your father and Travis have told me, and what you've told me, no you don't, Barbara," Maj. Rhodes said.

"But it is the way we will write it up," Colton said looking at her, "although given what you did and why... I'm not going to blame you, Barbara."

James remembered the conversation they had last night, and his wife sided with Barbara, saying she would have done the same thing in those circumstances. Personally, he didn't blame her, either as the events were out of anyone's control. That such things could suddenly arise in Gotham worried him more than Barbara's actions.

"If that's it, then it is time to get down to writing more than just the preliminary reports. I'll want those, at least, by 2PM for the mayor."

"Are you going to phone Sgt. Bardelli to release Erin?" Barbara asked.

He nodded.

"Just as soon as we're done."

"Could you ask him to slow that up while I get there? She will probably want to go to the hospital. So will I."

Travis raised an eyebrow and smiled.

"I'll do that, Barbara, and thanks," James said looking at his daughter, "I'm sorry there is nothing we can do for your friend, Lisa."

"I know, daddy. She was still in a coma when I phoned this morning."

"It doesn't look good, Barbara," Travis said.

"It is up to her, now," Rhodes said.

Barbara shook her head and stood up.

"I know. I wish there was something I could do to help her."

"Just being there helps. If not her, then you. I'll phone after you leave, Barbara."

She walked over to her father and hugged him.

"Thank you, dad."

"Thank you, Barbara," he said softly knowing just how fleeting life can be.

* * *

She was shocked to find herself let free, with no charges against her or against Ron. Sargent Bardelli had told her that Dr. Gotham had withdrawn all support from prosecution of them and that Commissioner Gordon had a brief talk with the DA who agreed to let the case drop. The walk back to the evidence and possessions processing room was one she didn't even remember.

The Officer at the window was handing her the bag of effects, marked off each item and removed its tags, and it was still as if a dream had been going on.

"The only things Gordon wants us to keep are those syringe packs," he said.

She smiled.

"I won't need them anymore," she softly said as she had signed for the effects.

She walked over to the Ladies Room to put on those clothes that she had exchanged for a smock when a doctor had come to look her over the night before. She didn't care about what she wore, then, and what should have been the harsh reality of being processed at the police station was lost in a quality that was most dream-like... if only it hadn't been a nightmare that she had. Only once she started to put on the rugged institutional clothing and other items she had did it really sink in and reality was beginning to seep in, once more. She checked her belongings and found she had no purse although she still had her wallet and house keys. Those she had kept near her at every turn, and quickly retrievable when she was in the convention center, in one of the lockers.

Before all hell erupted.

She shivered and slung the rucksack over her right shoulder. She would have to walk to the apartment to get money and then their car which was kept parked in a garage with decent security to it. Looking into the mirror she saw a woman who's hair was unkempt but not matted down, eyes that were blue and clear, and a face that was calm. Her easy smile of just a few days before wasn't there, her attempts to look attractive were not in her stance, which was firm and on the floor with boots on. Her hips no longer pushed forward nor did her chest, and the clothes, though utilitarian showed her to be mature and self-assured. That woman in the mirror was a complete stranger to her and she didn't know what to make of her. For perhaps the first time in her life her thoughts were calm, considered and she planned out what she had to do next and was prepared to change plans and accept that life did not always go her way.

In many ways this woman in the mirror frightened her as she was a complete stranger to her. And yet it was who she was now, because she was a woman who had been terrified for her life, horrified by what had come to her and finally found that she must stand for herself in life. Now her husband, she had been told, was deranged perhaps permanently, and that a friend she never suspected she had was fading from life in a deep coma. She could not regret taking time to learn how to stand for herself, and the question of 'what if...?' she had to press from bouncing around lest it consume her as that creature... creatures... had wanted to.

Nodding once she inhaled, turned and opened the door and turned right to walk down the hallway past the Property Room. As she stepped out into the holding room she saw another young woman there who was standing up from one of the wooden benches. She was smiling as she looked at Erin.

"I thought you might like a ride to Gotham General. I want to see how Lisa is doing and I thought you might want to see how your husband is, too."

Erin Norris stopped and looked at Barbara Gordon.

Erin trembled and sternly thought to herself that she was not going to cry.

And then learned that friends are there to lend a shoulder to cry on and that doing so went with this new Erin Norris who had hell handed to her and survived.

* * *

In the rare books room of the Gotham Central Library sat a man, rather young and wearing what appeared to be a blue shirt with the Wayne Corporation logo over the left pocket, although the stains on the shirt made that a bit difficult to discern. His brown pants were stained and spattered, though not badly, and while his black shoes seemed to be in good shape, they had lost their shine some time in the past. The modest jacket on the back of his chair bespoke of a young man of modest means and simple tastes. No one could remember exactly when he came in, although it would have to be after the rare books room was opened at 9AM, and by mid-afternoon he had a pile of books opened on the table where he sat alone. In front of him was an old book and to his right a composition notebook, and he used a mechanical pencil to write down notes and sketch out drawings, and it was obvious that no matter what his regular job, he had an interest in history and all that went with it.

On his left sat a small box, made of ironwood that had been well sanded, fitted with small wrought iron hinges and hasp, and finished with something that led the eye to wander amongst unseen paths that almost were visible but never completely so. The table, too, had some of this, although its luster had faded badly, now, and only its sturdiness told of the fine crafting that had gone into making it nearly a century ago.

An older gentleman with a decently made suit, although not one of the highest order, arrived at the doors and walked into the room. The younger man at the table looked up and nodded as the older man pulled out a chair to sit across from him.

"Have you found what you are searching for?" the older man asked in a quiet tone.

The younger man nodded and turned the book in front of him around and pushed it across the table to the older man, who smiled and read the passage.

With eyes darting over the text the older man nodded and looked up at the younger man.

"There are answers there, if you have the right question to ask," the older man said.

"I think... I do. But who do I trust from that past?"

Nodding the older man moved the book around and pushed it back across the table.

"Yes, that is always the problem with these affairs, isn't it?" the older man softly said in respect of the living memory within the room.

"If I knew why..."

"But you do not. Nor is the reason why things have moved in this direction given by the men who did such actions. You cannot know it. No one can. The fruitless search for the why of things is ever the ephemeral mirage that fades as you near it, only to reappear elsewhere with such promise and such despair."

The younger man looked down at the book and shook his head, closing it.

"What would mother have done?" the young man whispered to himself.

The older man softly smiled.

"She cannot answer you. If you think there is one right answer to what is next, then you may find that there is a hard, hard road for you in life. No right answer can be wholly right, nor a wrong one beyond all doubt wrong. What is right in your heart may be wrong, and have untoward consequences, just as doing the wrong thing can also have that. There can be an answer that is right for you, that you can live with and then you have changed the course of history to do it. You will get that even by doing nothing."

Closing his eyes the younger man nodded.

"There is one thing that I can see," he finally said.

"And that is?"

The young man opened his eyes to look at the older man.

"There is a process to get to this time, and I trust that to have happened at least close to what is described."

"Close enough, yes."

"Then, for right or wrong, I will fulfill that. What is meant for Gotham cannot be hidden and must become a part of Gotham, even if relatively small it cannot remain in the dark. I will do that."

The older man stood up, pushing his chair back.

"Very well. I will do my part to ensure those things that were together come back together."

The younger man looked up at him.

"But why?"

The older man pursed his lips together and then smiled.

"The seeds of darkness do not grow well in sunlight. If you need me at some future time and are meant to find me, you shall. I will soon be elsewhere, but these few things I can do, yet. Good day."

"Good-bye," the younger man said softly as the older walked out and turned to the right.

The young man closed up the materials and put the library volumes back on the shelf that was set aside for re-shelving items. His few items he gathered up as he put on his jacket and went outside to catch a bus heading north.

* * *

In his bed he could not flee. He saw the creature walk in, red and liquid, moving as no person should ever move. This was a nightmare and yet the light of day came in the window, making the antiseptic institutional white a very stark contrast to the thing that came in with the doctor. He was pushing back into the pillows staring at the grotesque horror that had sought him out.

"What are you doing?" he screamed, grasping the bed railings and straining against the restraints.

"Doing, Mr. Norris?" the doctor with the tag of DR. TANNER said while standing next to Ron Norris' bed. "I'm bringing your wife in for a visit."

Ron looked at the shifting, glistening scales of the red creature that had come into the room.

"That isn't my wife!!" he screamed, "It is evil!!"

The creature shifted at the door, not even attempting to stay in human form as a black eye looked at him from the side of its head mass.

"Of course it is, Mr. Norris," the doctor said looking back to the door, "please, Erin, come closer so that your husband can see you."

As the creature shifted forward Ron Norris screamed.

"IT IS GOING TO KILL ME!!" he screamed and thrashed at his restraints. His bed shook and shifted with his efforts.

The doctor hit the intercom.

"Orderlies to room 12, STAT," he said into it as Ron Norris flung himself from side to side, staring wide eyed at the monster that was in the room.

"Get me away from it!!" he screamed. His thrashing pulled the IV out and the heart monitor cables came loose so that he fast pulsations turned into a flat whine from the machine.

Within moments three men in hospital garb arrived, along with a nurse who had a tray of syringes and medical vials, plus swabs, gauze and tape. The doctor reached for a vial and syringe, measuring a dose into the syringe as he pulled the plunger back.

"Hold him down," he said as two of the orderlies pressed Ron Norris to the bed and the third held his arm so it couldn't move.

"No, please," Ron Norris said, "it will take me if I sleep...."

"This is for your own good, Mr. Norris," Doctor Tanner said as the nurse set down the tray and swabbed his upper arm. The syringe found its place and soon the white room faded to gray and then black.

"We were hoping your presence would calm him," the doctor said after the syringe had been emptied and Ron collapsed on the bed, "he had started raving last night... I had hoped a familiar face would snap him out of it."

He looked at the blonde haired woman, wearing clothing more appropriate to a hiking trip than a walk around town. A woman who would be pretty if she hadn't looked so grim.

"It's all right, Dr. Tanner. These things can't be understood," she said in a calm, quiet voice, "he can only see the nightmare, now. Maybe, some day, he will wake up from it."

* * *

Father Jordan entered the small chapel by the funeral parlor and walked over to the casket where the young woman was laid to rest in the casket. There wasn't a mark on her body, no trauma, no disease and not even a failing of heart or mind to have killed her. He didn't know if he could believe the story he was told, although after the meeting with Bruce Wayne the day after the Convention Center, he could no longer discount it. He had not even heard of Lisa Choi until he had walked into his study at night and felt the chill air coming through the window and the dark presence in the room. That he remembered most vividly.

"Who are you?" he had asked the figure, not turning on the light and only seeing the outline of the caped figure with peaked ears standing near it.

"I am here to deliver a package with a message, nothing more," he said in a deep and raspy voice.

Father Jordan nodded as he stepped into the room and turned on the light to see that man who was a figure of the night. On the top of the desk was a brown paper bag, simply folded over with an opened newspaper under it.

"Really?" Fr. Jordan asked as he walked to the desk watching the man, "And what is it about."

"You will know what to do."

Father Jordan snorted and looked down at the paper bag and opened it, to see that it was filled with ten, twenty and fifty dollar bills somewhat loosely packed, not bundled in neat bank wrappers.

"What is this for?" he asked looking up and found that he was alone in the room, the figure gone silently.

His brow belied his puzzlement and then he moved the bag to see that it was over an article about a young woman who had an accident in the old subway tunnels. These things were not unusual, all told, although even the most avid of spelunkers and intrepid explorers had decided that there were better places to explore than the old subway tunnels. The young woman, one of three that had been down there, had suffered something and was at Gotham General in a coma.

Remembering that he looked at the now calm face of that young woman in repose. He remembered seeing her and the two women that had been with her. Unfortunately their meeting was in the morgue as Lisa had expired and the women were there to go through the necessary paperwork. She was so young to be taken by causes unknown and, from what the women told him, unknowable to man. With that he understood the trust that had been placed in him to comfort the grieving and help to honor the dead.

That took nearly two weeks, to get the arrangements set, as what had come before had riled up the sedate process of burial of the dead in Gotham. Still, for what was in the bag, only a simple burial was possible and that at the graveyard beyond the ridge line near the airport. That is how a funeral for a young woman came to be held on All Hallow's Eve Day. He stood by the door as the attendees filtered in and signed the guest register, and greeted each.

He knew Erin Norris and Barbara Gordon, and was surprised to see that her father was with her, along with her mother and younger brother. He didn't know Harrison Wong, but his wife, Betsy, he knew because of her growing up not two blocks from his mission and the family's attendance there. He did not know who Sam Wong was, nor Irwin Brooks and his wife Mallory. He did know of Cathy Li, but this was his first time he had seen her outside of one or two photos in the paper. Having helped further on the western part of the South Island with Father Parker's chapel, he knew Danny Kwitowski and his wife Doris, and their four children, all on their best behavior to pay respects for the dead. As people filtered in he was surprised to see such a diversity amongst them as it was more than just her friends that came, but those who knew her from her workplace, which meant that there were police in and out of uniform there including Sgt. Bardelli and his family, along with others from that South Central Station. He was bemused to see the dark haired woman in black Minerva Beaumont, of whom he had heard much about her establishment in the confessional, and he doubted she had ever been inside one in her life. The last to enter was a man in somewhat older business suit, with a walking stick and carrying his hat, and he simply signed as Dr. Gotham.

At 3:30PM he closed the doors and began a final service paid for by the dark protector of Gotham City.

Of him he would make no mention, save to say that an anonymous donor had funded the proceedings. And after seeing how many people came to mourn for this young woman, he knew that for such a dark man, there was, indeed, an understanding of what it was that made Gotham the place it was.

* * *

She could have been mistaken for a ballet dancer, if it wasn't for her height and somewhat wide hips which would never do for ballet. Or she could have been a gymnast as a girl and continued on professionally with that, today, if the muscles that were hidden by her long tan and black dress did not hide their strength and bulk. Underdeveloped she was not, but she was not, exactly a figure that would be expected to show off clothes or show off without them for that matter, as she had a dignity and easy air of aloofness that made such a concept impossible to reconcile. In high heels, as she was, she strutted, but not the strut of pheromones but that of lithe purpose in action which allowed her long legs to turn her dress into a flowing piece of prowling night. Her pale complexion was one that eschewed beach and tans, apparently, and her large sunglasses meant that it was hard to discern much about her face beyond her somewhat petite nose and lips.

She was walking through the rotunda of the Gotham Historical Museum located on the south side of the south hills of South Gotham Island near the old Exposition Site which was also run by the Museum. While not as large or grand as the Gotham Central Library rotunda, this building purposefully constructed for the Expo was given proportions to make it seem like it stretched up far higher, while simple construction visual cues deceived the eye to impart lofty heights that were not there. She walked across the rotunda to the main desk and signage post that pointed to the various parts of the museum available on its three levels and two annex buildings. She had on a black fur coat over her tan and black dress with the undulating stripes, and opened the buttons of the coat as she looked at the sign. Fluidly she then turned to her left to walk to the Gotham Expo Hall that housed all the late 19th century displays that didn't need one of the larger annex buildings, like the steam driven pump that had been one of the first deployed for Gotham's Water Works.

She headed towards the stairs following the signs for NOTABLE FIGURES, and she smiled slyly as she did have a figure of note and knew it. During these daylight hours there were not many here, as Fridays had few school excursions and the rare tour groups tended to come in the morning. The tapping of her shoes on the marble stairs echoed around the rotunda in a very precise *tap,tap,tap* as she went smoothly up the stairs. At the top of the stairs she turned to the left and went to the EXPLORERS ROOM where there were arrangements of items and trophies sent from the far corners of the Earth to Gotham City. Here there were stuffed Bison and Rhino, along with serpents and fish of various sorts mounted and under glass. The books, spectacles, and various personal effects of explorers coming from Gotham City each had their own case to display their items and history. She walked amongst these heading to the latest piece that had been put in just a few days previously, one dedicated to a man she didn't know of much care about who had traveled to Western China and Central Asia.

The case that held items from him seemed to be not one of the usual display cases but something more from that era. Looking into the case the woman confirmed that it had modern security glass and modern alarms to go with the modern lighting inside of it. As she ran her fingers over the wood she felt that it was warm and looking at it she saw some sort of eye catching wavering in the finish of it. Arching an eyebrow she lifted her dark sunglasses to peer into the case at the newest items, one of which had been supplied by the Thomas and Martha Wayne Foundation, which was described as a tooth embedded in amber from the Central Asia region. A reproduction of two pages from Chester Rhinold's diaries talked a bit about the item, in a somewhat disjointed fashion. Pursing her lips together her eyes danced to the other item, a gold ring of a primitive style also mentioned in the diary. While the first item was in a box made of local fir, the second was on a simple velvet post that tilted the ring slightly to show some of the inscription on the inner surface.

She became aware of the presence of someone standing next to her and said, "Maurice?" in a soft voice as she straightened up.

The man next to her tipped his hat with his right hand, as he had a moderate sized box under his left arm.

"Good day, Miss," the man said.

She sized up the man, who was old but not elderly, wearing a relatively nondescript suit that was definitely not tailor made, but still of decent fabric. With his walking stick now transferred back to his right hand, she looked at the man who was looking at her.

"Are you the man who contacted me?"

He nodded.

"Yes. I needed someone of some skills and who is willing to take on an unusual job. It was fortuitous that I met a nice man who could provide me with a contact who could then contact someone who could contact you."

She slid her sunglasses back down over her eyes.

"And who the hell are you, anyways?"

He smiled and nodded to the case which had a card under the glass that read 'Donated by Dr. Gotham's Curiosity Shop'.

"I am Dr. Gotham."

She snorted.

"No names in this business," she whispered, "so what is it you need me to get?"

Dr. Gotham raised his eyebrows and looked at the display and then back to the woman.

"There is an item of the Rhinold Estate that should be there but was stolen. I believe that the one who received it, or otherwise came into possession of it, is the now missing proprietor of a club. There is affinity between that and the need to get the item back to be put with the other artifacts."

The woman pressed her lips together and gave a curt nod.

"What is it?" she asked very softly.

"A Faberge necklace, spider motif."

She straightened up and shook her head.

"I don't do spiders," she said.

"Ah, yes. I thought the place where it is housed might interest you."

"The club?"

He nodded.

"It is the Golden Tiger Club."

Her lips twitched in a smile.

"I see..." she said nodding.

"I want only the one item."

She smirked.

"That will cost you, big time."

"I am, of course, prepared to pay. Cash, gold, silver, platinum, jewels..."

Her smile widened.

"...or an artifact that has been in my shop for some time, brought in by an Egyptologist and explorer," he said patting the box he held.

Her head shifted to look at the ordinary cardboard box.

"Really?" she said in a softly dismissive manner.

He nodded.

"Yes," he put the box on the display cabinet, "you see the item is rare and I think might be of interest to you."

"What is it?" she asked, "A scepter, maybe?"

He chuckled.

"Nothing of the sort," he said lifting the tape up and opening the box. She stepped forward and looked down into it.

"Oh, my...."

"Yes, very few of these sarcophagi were made like this. And while there are thousands of mummies of this sort, very few of those are treated like this."

He shifted the plastic bag over the box within a box to show the gems, gold and other items that adorned the sarcophagus. Her nostrils flared as the smell of the ancient wood wafted up to her.

"Its... beautiful..." she said very softly.

He nodded and slowly pulled the plastic back down over the item.

"I heard that you had an interest in cats..."

* * *

Erin Norris was in a daze coming home from Lisa's funeral and that surreal feeling had lifted only slightly when she was at the Diner which had been the destination point of so many who were at her graveside. She remembered looking down at the coffin after it had been lowered into the grave and thinking 'That should be me'.

The problems of daily life were still with her and she went to her cashier's job at Klein's Department Store and knew that the amount of money left in the joint account would not cover rent at the Chancery Apartments past December. Still a job was a job and she went to it, but felt no incursion of the change of seasons in November, the last month the rent was paid up for. She and Ronny didn't have much and it required two jobs and a bit more on the side to make a go of life. Already she had to plead poverty to Gotham General and Ronny was a ward of the State and being transferred upstate where the State could more easily afford his care.

Coming home Thursday from Klein's had her picking up the mail at the front set of boxes inset into the entry hall, and then sorting through them as she was in the elevator alone, going to the 12th floor. The old Rialta Hotel had been re-purposed in the era of Urban Renewal into apartments, as the old First Floor had become a sunken basement, and the first of the larger hotels had started to open on 23rd. Here, at 15th and Dale Court the once somewhat upscale hotel had become somewhat upscale apartments. With the Interconnector the Chancery had moved downwards slightly in appearance and residents, finally slipping below some nebulous line from upper middle class through middle class to upper lower class. New management had shifted a set of apartments off to be for transients going to college or researchers who could not afford monthly rates at the more tony downtown establishments, and for tourists who planned to stay a week or more for a vacation or convention. The upper floors were still for the longer-term renters like herself and Ronny.

Getting through the mail, with its bills and ads, she found one large yellow envelope addressed to her with the return address being to the Office of Regional Vice President WMM. After she got into her apartment she sat down at the kitchen table and opened it. Inside was a small, framed picture of her in the Valkyrie costume right next to one of her in the Edwina costume, along with subtitles of Best of Show under the first and Fifth Place for Women's Casuals. Along with that was the blue ribbon that she would have gotten had she actually made the awards ceremony, which never happened due to the events there. Inside the large envelope was also two smaller ones, both with her name on them, and the top one from WMM VP's Office.

She opened that and there was a folded piece of paper around two checks, one of the checks was payment for her time and the other was the award check from the Northeast Fashions Association, which ran the show. While the latter had been made out to WMM it had been endorsed on the back over to her. The amount of the checks would be enough to cover her rent and living expenses for nearly two months and she trembled as she read the letter.

Dear Erin,

Please find enclosed our payment for your modeling services at the Halloween Show and the Best of Show award. We normally give the show awards to our models in appreciation for their services.

From all in our Division we want to thank you for your performance and encourage you to contact us if you wish to change careers. We have openings for Model-Designers to help work with other Divisions in the Corporation and I'm sure we can find something that would suit you well.

We offer our sympathy to you as well as our thanks, and do not hesitate to contact us if you need anything at some future time.


Priscilla Anderson

Attached to that note was Priscilla's business card that also had her phone number.

Sucking her lips in Erin opened the plastic bag with the ribbon and unfurled it to see the gold BEST OF SHOW in gold letters and her hands trembled as she held it. Carefully she folded it back up and put it into the bag again and shook her head.

"I had forgotten..." she whispered to herself.

She moved the checks off to her right and the pictures, letter and ribbon to her left. There was only one plain envelope in the larger one and she saw her name neatly typed on it. In it was a simple business card that had 'My Deepest Condolences' handwritten on the back. The front had in simple lettering,'Bruce Wayne, President of the Thomas and Martha Wayne Foundation'.

Not from President and CEO of Wayne Corporation.

He had been much younger than she was when tragedy struck his parents.

That determined woman who had survived so much set the card down and walked over to the phone and dialed a number.

"Hello? Is this Priscilla Anderson's office... is she in?..... I... I'm Erin Norris and would like to see her about a position she mentioned..."

If Bruce Wayne could make it, so could she.

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