Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dr. Gotham Steps Out - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Sam Wong didn't know what to make of the story told in broken fashion by Erin Norris. It was too unusual to be taken seriously, yet too different to be dismissed entirely. Yet it was clear that she, at least, had been part of a burglary of a shop that had items of jewelry or other small valuables. He hadn't given more than a cursory look at them as the bag's weight attested to its contents: cheap pot metal jewels did not have the mass of gold, and for the weight of the bag it must have more than a few such items of gold in it. The few items he could identify placed them into the antique range, and that meant a bit more work than simple, modern works that could be turned over quickly as older items had a more select customer base.

He left the Diner by the back entrance, open to staff and those, like himself, that lived there. The alleyway was in no way clean, but for Gotham it was not the usual warren of crates, barrels, dumpsters and drunks. He glanced to his left past the intersecting alleyway and over to Zachary Court, which had no real traffic on it, being a dead end at Alton's Warehouse, a cut-rate clothing store featuring many items fresh off of the cargo tenders from ships at sea or smaller haulers from New York City. He headed that way rather than to the strangely named Yggdrasil Terrace, which intersected the other end of the alley and was yet another street that ended, this one at the back of an apartment building. After that a brick wall in the alley did not permit a line of sight to Back Ave. which was the counter-part to Front Street. Sam knew this would not allow anyone to corner him easily, and the quick jog over to 2nd Street, with its street lamps, meant that he only had cross it at mid-street to get to the short extension of Zachary Court that would end at the warehouse he used for his shipping.

Crossing the well lit street meant that his ability to see in the less well lit areas across the street were hampered, but very few vagrants or street toughs resided or huddled in this part of the district as there was too little to be garnered from the bulk merchandise trade. It didn't look good to be a street gang with no place to hide out or act tough that anyone cared about, and those with gray or black market merchandise made sure that they were sold at some distance to the actual warehouse district of the west docks. He didn't go in by the front entrance, but the one in the right side loading dock area as that is where his necessary tools to examine jewels were. The room above the diner for his temporary storage was also a place to examine bulky goods, like furs, instruments, electronics, and any other thing that was not finely crafted or just took up more than a small bag's worth of space. For real scrutiny he would need the various lights and magnifiers he had at the warehouse shop, plus the necessary chemicals to test out what was in jewels, and any necessary polishing and cleaning that would be required to get them into salable condition.

As he approached the door he heard voices inside and the movement of some crates.

"... this thing must weigh a ton!"

"Forklift can't get down the aisle...."

"Cut the chatter! Lift on one... two... three..."

Sam opened up the door to see four men working to shift a pallet of boxes that hadn't been set properly so that the forklift could get down the aisle. It was a a deceptively short stack for the pallet, but cosmetics in glass bottles weighed more than anyone would give them credit for. This pallet had an original destination of Thailand but was sold on auction somewhere in the Greek Islands and then diverted to Gotham as part of the work of a trading syndicate that also worked with criminal connections on an 'as-needed' basis.

Two of the four men were Caucasian and the larger of the two was on the far corner with a lashing strap over his left arm, the other three men each were using harnesses to lift the pallet with the straps, but the big man on the corner just took some coils around his forearm with the strap going over his shoulder to give him support. As the pallet lifted the right corner, held by Lei Sung, slipped just a fraction of an inch, but that was enough to get the entire stacked and wrapped together set of boxes moving. The result was that the shifted weight went more towards Lei Sung who was desperately trying to lift up.

"Drop it, everyone!" said the large man, and the pallet hit the floor with a crack of wood.

"Well that's busted it, Danny," said the other Caucasian man.

"No shit, Harry," said the man Danny, who was Dan Kwitowski the general manager of the warehouse. Dan looked up and saw Sam just inside the entry area of the warehouse floor.

"You're up early, boss man," Dan said and then looked around at the shifted boxes, busted pallet and the other men who were panting a bit.

"Yes, I am, Dan," he said eyeing the results of the attempted pallet shifting.

"Nothing for it but to break the pallet down, boys. And make sure this gets to the Maywell holding area, ok? Don't just stick things any old place where you can forget about them."

As he stepped past Lei Sung and slapped Harry on the back, Dan was smiling at Sam.

"So what's up, Sam? I'm here trying to catch up for the week I took off for my daughter's wedding. I leave for one week and no one, and I mean no one, can remember where to put pallets, even when there are signs hanging over the aisles and bays. Its a mess."

Sam nodded as he gestured to the back part of the warehouse where he kept an office on the raised catwalk and cross-beams. He was able to get a modicum of peace and quiet there for doing reviews of pieces before deciding on their value.

"I'm here to help a client out who had a job go bad. Two of them, actually, although the second has yielded some items of value, which would help to go towards paying off for the first job."

Dan nodded knowing, in a hazy way, that Sam Wong did quite a bit more than run an Import/Export house and traffic in some grey market goods. Truthfully he didn't want to know, so long as the paychecks kept coming and the union kept away, he may be making less per hour than at one of the bigger outfits, but his take-home pay was much, much higher due to the lack of overhead. That meant a lot of responsibility for him and he knew the potential disaster of taking a week off for anything, and now he was double-shifting over the weekend to make up for it. Triple shifting, even.

"Uh-huh, I hear you on that, Sam. I just wanted to make sure that there isn't any trouble going on, you know?"

As they got to the metal stairs that went up to the catwalk and upper office level, Sam stopped and turned to look at Danny.

"Dan, its more than just a normal job as she is even somewhat of a friend to me and others in the community. I do not want her to have problems nor the community elders to take action. Fair value can only be given for items, as you know, but I do get to determine what is fair not only for local markets but more distant ones which can often help in determining the final amounts."

Dan wiped his sleeve of his left forearm against his forehead and nodded. For all his exertion, that was the only sign that he had done any physical labor, as the rest of his shirt, pants and boots were in almost the same condition as when he put them on earlier in the day.

"That's what friends are for, Sam," he said looking back out down the semi-aisle that should be nice, neat and square but was very much not even close to straight. "This will take me the rest of the weekend to get straightened up, and we still gots stuff coming in and out on the weekend, so I gotta get two steps ahead tonight."

Chuckling with his foot on the first stair, Sam Wong looked out at what would appear to be a warehouse in decent order, but only show up the lack of organization not just on the aisles but on the balance sheets. " I will leave it to you, Mr. Kwitowski, as you are the best we have ever hired in Gotham."

"Yeah, not saying much, but thanks, Sam. We can't keep the sound down, much, but it won't be continuous... we can't get a forklift down half these aisles and some of the pallets," he nodded his head from side to side, "just have to be manhandled out to where we can get the lift to do its job."

"Very good, Dan. Good night," Sam said climbing the stairs.

"Good morning, Mr. Wong," Dan said going back to help re-pack the cosmetics that he had left the others to start on.

To Sam Wong this was an unusual night that was changing into sleepless morning. He shrugged when he got to the catwalk outside his office and took his key out to open the door. He turned on lights in the office, put down the black sack of items on a table, then turned the bright lights on over the table and moved to adjust his vision loupes to be near the stool he kept under the table. Small picks, stainless steel bowls and small bottles of reagents soon were on the table, as well. Finally he went over to his reference books and took out some ones dealing with the 19th century and an overall design type manual that would tell what styles on what types of material were known and generally associated with which time period and manufacturer. As he spread out the likely jewels, rings, and other oddments, he picked up a bracelet and started to examine it.

He had never bothered with curtains for this room as bright light was always welcome and no one could ever, possibly, see in from the outside as the only facing was to the masonry of the warehouse next door. By not bothering to look he never saw the upside down head with pointed ears looking into the room as it reflected very little in the way of light to be noticed. He would only notice an absence of something by the window after turning away to check another reference work and then coming back to the table to sit on the stool.

There was something missing that was there just a few moments ago, but he couldn't place just what had been there or what had changed. But what was there and what was gone were mysteries to him.

Bats were like that.

* * *

Henry Swanson had long changed out of his pajamas, slippers and robe that had adorned him as he rushed to the shop with a feeling that something was wrong. It was strong enough to wake him from a sound sleep and urgent enough to make him move quickly down the street to almost run into one of the pair of robbers. She had avoided him as if she were being pursued by something horrible and the look of stark fear in her eyes told him of only of that fear which was all-consuming. As he moved towards the shop, which had its alarms going off, he noticed another figure in black moving quickly towards the shop as well. Henry had heard of the Batman, as he had been dubbed, but never saw him before and really didn't believe that such a figure had existed before June.

It is one thing to hear stories from thugs and criminals beaten up in the street.

It is quite another to see a limousine dangling 40' above a dock from a crane that was out of service and could in no way lift that vehicle up. The driver who had been literally glued to the steering wheel showed that whatever the mysteries of this person that he was a person, was real and really quite capable. He had only taken a quick glance at Erin Norris as she ran headlong in terror and made no move to stop her as she was far outpacing the suited figure jogging down the sidewalk. He had increased to a loping run, but even that would not allow him to catch Mrs. Norris.

Only startled momentarily, Henry ran across the street not able to pace the Batman, but making good enough time as his heart and health would allow to slowly catch up to him as he got to the shop entrance and stepped in. By the time Henry had gotten there he had barely reached the overhang from the floor above, and just as he was stepping up to the entrance proper the Batman was jumping backwards away from something. After that it was a bit of a jumble, as Henry hadn't been able to see into the store until the Batman had gotten up and back into the shop. He was making it hard to see into the rear of the shop, and only when he stooped to examine a flashlight on the floor for a moment did Henry see that it was also brightly lit with the security system he had installed for the shop. From there it was the shock at how much had been taken from the cases, the pure terror exhibited by Mr. Norris once the Batman had secured him, the description of the phantasm Mr. Norris swore he saw, and then that Batman leaving just before the police arrived.

Then it was the long and tedious waiting for the uniformed officers to take Mr. Norris away, giving a statement to Detective Iverson about the break-in and then having to go over the records of the major items the shop had, which included sets of duplicate photographs for the insurers. Another officer was called in, Lt. Valdis, who was there with a photographer to take pictures and collect evidence. A number were matched immediately when he went down to the station house with him, so as to put claim tickets in for the items in Ron Norris' bag. While there were some valuable items, most of them were more to walk-through trade than to antiquities. Erin Norris had gotten the much smaller items of the older variety and they each had folders that he had carried down to the station with him. They copied the documents and took duplicate photographs, and had to make sure that everything matched up.

By the time he got back to the shop at 9am he was surprised to see that the OPEN sign on the door, which he had moved to CLOSED when he had left to close up shop last night. But had been moved to OPEN. Lewis was scheduled to come in later in the day, after noon was usual for that, and Henry expected that the sign had gotten jostled around during all the commotion last night. The door was, however, unlocked and as he opened the door he heard a man's voice from the back of the shop.

"Henry! It is good to have you back! There is work to do."

For the first time in decades he had heard a voice that he thought belonged to a man long missing, presumed dead.

"Doctor Gotham?" he whispered.

The figure that moved to the entrance of the back of the shop looked like he hadn't aged a day from when he left, back in 1935. His hat, cloak and cane were in the hat stand, his hair was combed back and his suit looked unchanged from what Henry remembered it to be down to the chain of the pocket watch on his vest.

"You look... the same... as when you left..."

Henry was stunned, and didn't know what to make of the old man who was now young seeming and himself who had been young now turned old.

Dr. Gotham nodded as he stepped towards Henry, a grim look on his face.

"I was side-tracked, Henry. I was out to deliver the necklace to its rightful owner and the power of it manifested and waylaid me. It has been present to work power while I have been in stasis due to it."

Henry shivered for a moment.

"I... power? But Train 125... it... disappeared... and you with it."

Gripping Henry's shoulders, Dr. Gotham nodded and looked into Henry's eyes.

"Yes, Henry, I did disappear and the subway train with me as that is the only way it could be assured of getting me. That is no small feat, that, and it bespeaks of the powers at play. Even when its talisman was with me it was still present in Gotham, still a conduit for it, even at the internal separation between space and time it was still here in a very real way, secluded with me in the pocket it had created."

"I thought.... you didn't leave any way to contact your family... the police... I didn't even have your real name... and the money just shows up in the account and the accounting firm that receives it just provides paperwork for the shop. I thought you were dead, Dr. Gotham. But your orders for the shop in case you disappeared... I.. they went on..."

Dr. Gotham nodded, his face softened, then he gave a firm grip to Henry's upper arms.

"I am not so easy to kill, Dear Henry. One must be rid of the city to be rid of me. There are always chances that something untoward would come my way, that is the nature of this shop, to attract those who either need something out of the ordinary or who have found same and need help with it. Even if my physical presence is put to an end, I am sure Gotham will provide something to replace me."

He stepped back from Henry and looked around at the shop, itself.

"You have been an excellent care-taker, Henry! I don't think that you expected this to become a life-long job and I didn't ever expect you to have it as such," walking around and perusing the looted cases and then looking at the shelves of books and other objects, Dr. Gotham nodded.

"The shop was robbed last night," Henry started, still trying to figure out just what all this meant.

"It is what saved me, Henry. My wards for the shop activated by those seeking to enter when it is not open or a proprietor is not present by free will. You moved the front door, entire, and you do not know how grateful I am to you for that," he said going behind the counter and standing next to the cash register, itself old when purchased now a pure and functioning antique.

Henry watched and Dr. Gotham standing next to the cash register finally broke through to him as he had remembered Dr. Gotham standing next to it so many times, day and night, with the bemused look of a shop owner on his face, which he now beheld once again.

Taking the briefcase he had with him, Henry walked to the counter and placed it on top of the glass and opened it.

"The robbery last night... this morning... by a couple of thieves, Ron and Erin Norris. I had to take the particulars of the important items to the station so the police would know if any of them show up in the hands of others. I will need to contact the insurance company..."

Henry was taking folders from the briefcase and Dr. Gotham nodded.

"Henry," he said softly, "that can wait. I have need of some things to properly encase the talisman, and while they are normal sorts of items much has changed in Gotham since I was last here. I would have no idea where to start to procure them."

The faint thread of normalcy that Henry Swanson had been grasping for seemed to be eluding him.

"Items?" he asked, looking at Dr. Gotham.

"Yes, Henry. I will need some Iron Wood, preferably in board width and some freshly quarried stone. Slate or fine grained limestone, will do. That and wrought iron hinges and lock. I have seen that all my old reagents are still available, though I expect most will no longer be of use, so there will need to be a restocking there, too."

The simple, matter-of-fact attitude by Dr. Gotham was the thread he needed.

"My son, Lewis, has been helping to run the shop. I can call him to get what you need, then contact the insurance company to get the claims filed."

Dr. Gotham smiled, deeply.

"Henry, I could not have picked anyone in Gotham or outside of it better than you to run the shop. Normally I move the shop every decade or so, to let it be in a different aspect of the city..."

He trailed off and Henry looked at him, as Dr. Gotham's brows came together in thought.

"What is it, Dr. Gotham? What's wrong?"

"That isn't..." Dr. Gotham was saying more to himself than to Henry.

"Isn't what, Dr. Gotham?"

Dr. Gotham shivered and looked at Henry.

"The shop hasn't moved, Henry."

"Yes, Dr. Gotham. So?"

"The city has moved around it to give it a fresh aspect on a frequent basis."

"What?" Henry asked in a low tone.

Inhaling, Dr. Gotham moved to the shelves behind the counter and took down an Atlas of Gotham City, that had been in its first and only printing in 1933. He opened it to the an old map of the North and South Islands.

"Back when the Europeans, proper, came these Islands defined the river and the sea by the shorelines. The river stays in place..."

He flipped forward to a map from just prior to the Civil War.

"You can see the end of the Central Hills, which we are near the south end on the South Island," he then took the pages and moved from the pre-colonial map to the Civil War era map, "what do you see?"

Blinking as Dr. Gotham shifted slowly between the maps, he concentrated on the spot near where the shop stood.

"The coastline has moved!"

Then Dr. Gotham went to another map of the 1896 Grand Exposition, which featured more roads than the Civil War era map and more than the single rail line coming into Gotham from the north over the Gotham River.

"Again, no?"

Blinking, Henry was beginning to see that the coastline had moved, some, and that the roads had shifted while the old rail line was still in place. The new rail lines went up to near the South Docks on both Islands.

Finally the 1933 map, which showed the rail lines, roads, subway stations, all the physical geography of Gotham City.

"Not much, but some. The shoreline has moved south," Henry said.

"Now if only I had a modern map...." Dr. Gotham said.

Henry glanced at him and hurried around the far end of the counter near the telephone stand and took out the telephone book. Going back to Dr. Gotham he opened it to the front page showing the layout of the city, its zip codes, streets, and rail lines.

Dr. Gotham inhaled sharply, looking at the lack of subway stations, the Interconnector and the slow march of the shoreline southwards.

"What have they done to the city?" he asked looking at the huge changes between the Expo Map the 1933 Map and the 1984 Map.

"The city council voted to re-do the road network back in 1951. That meant raising the roadway to make the hills easier to drive over. Here we lost the first story of the building to the Underworld, which now serves as an intermediate storm sewer system."

Dr. Gotham blinked his eyes closed and then raised his head and turned towards Henry, who could see a tear rolling from his right eye.

"The fools!" he whispered, "You can't bury the past of Gotham to deny it exists."

Henry slipped his arm around the old man's shoulders.

"It didn't harm anything, Dr. Gotham. It even improved the neighborhood..." then he thought for a moment, "... before they put the Interconnector in..."

Dr. Gotham nodded, and opened his eyes.

"Gotham moved. The shop stayed where it was. Because I was gone other powers have been at play to do with Gotham as they will. All because of one talisman."

"What is it?" Henry asked as his arm slipped from the old man's shoulders.

"I need to do some more research, Henry. But the items I need are vital in all forms and manner, the power can only be contained, not denied. You call your son for that. I will need to see... what else has been discovered on this subject in the intervening years. I passed by the Old Central Station and was aghast to see it made into a library, but at least it is easy to get to. After that the only other thing is to see if Martha Culligan is still alive or if she has left any heirs."

Dr. Gotham closed the Atlas of Gotham City and put it back on the shelf, as Henry took the phone book and placed it back on the stand.

"I will phone my son, and get him started on what you need, Dr. Gotham. Then I have to call the insurance company about the thefts. Do you want me to find out where Martha Culligan is?"

A slow smile graced Dr. Gotham's face.

"If you are up to it, Henry. You have had a long night, I am sure. My research will take most of today, and if you need time to rest, then you can join me at the Central Library to find out what happened to Martha Culligan. If you are too tired, I can stay into the night until the library closes."

"Dr. Gotham I should be able to join you. I do need some rest. Lewis can run the shop once he gets here, as he is used to odd hours."

Dr. Gotham chuckled when he heard that, as he was moving to the far end of the display case and then went up them until he was across from Henry.

"It is a requirement of the shop to get used to that. Thank you for moving my workshop upstairs, Henry, and the old one also serves as a good place to work in solitude, down in the darkness. Have your son deliver the items to that area, as I will need to do work uninterrupted down there with them. I will get my notes on the talisman, and what information I had on Miss Culligan. You do as you need to, Henry, I would not ask someone of your age to do more than he could stand."

"My age?" Henry Swanson smiled and nodded, "I feel both old and young now, Dr. Gotham, you being here is... shocking..."

Nodding, the old man looked at him, "Never let good spirits mask what really is, Henry."

"Yes, Dr. Gotham. It is good to have you back."

"It is good to be back, Henry. I am sorry you had to dedicate your life to this place. Gotham could not ask for a more steadfast servant to care for the shop, and I am in your debt for that."

"Ah... what about the people in the train...?"

Inhaling Dr. Gotham looked out the front window, gazing through it and beyond it.

"Snatched up within Gotham, unknowing, more real than other phantasms yet phantasms none the less. I do not have the power to release them, Henry. Time is stopped for them as it was for me, barely a flicker of a second passing between then and now. My shop is in need, Gotham is in need, and I am its servant. I do not control the power that holds them. Attempting to thwart it might risk much more than you, me or those unfortunate enough to have been in the subway on that train with me. I cannot risk Gotham to save a few of its citizens from that power."

"But what is it?" Henry asked.

"The rivers, the sea, the change. You have seen them, Henry. I had initial suspicions, only, now I must dig deeper, still."

* * *

Harrison had listened to the stories from Sam and Lisa about why Erin Norris was sleeping in the Diner's bed-down room, used mostly by staff but sometimes by customers needing to 'sleep it off'. He really couldn't make head or tails of the second-hand story that they gave him, and only put together that the Norris' had been on a failed B&E robbery at a curio store going after antique goods when things went wrong. He chalked that up to the alarm system of the shop and not to the supernatural phenomena that they told him about. After that Lisa wanted to sleep upstairs in the room that the staff kept for reserve clothing, to which he readily agreed. Sam would be going about his Saturday business, which would include a small overseas shipment coming in by tender and making sure that goods that had been ordered went out to customers sending trucks in for a pick up.

With that squared away he worked with Randy Marcus and Vicky Chu to keep the influx of Saturday customers satisfied, which started around 7 AM for those who had regular weekend jobs on the docks and in some of the businesses in the area. A diner like this just 10 blocks east towards Mid-South would see very little custom until 9 AM or possibly later, meaning that it could only justify night hours to service those needing to sober up coming home from local bars. Here there were fewer bars, which also tended to serve some food though not an extensive range of it, and a good diner could get custom if it had the right location of being near a major intersection and close to the facilities that tended to require a night staff. If it was clean and well kept, it could also attract the commuters heading to the jobs just to the north at the Wayne facilities, and Harrison had gotten parking around the diner re-zoned to 2 hour parking from its previous half-hour before that.

With a block of street parking on 2nd Street and the two streets on either side also zoned for that parking, and being right at the last bus stop before leaving the South Island, Charlie's Diner had the location, the atmosphere and the cuisine to stay open around the clock. Harrison also expanded the cuisine for lunch and dinner to include some standard Asian fare, toned down for Gothamite palates, and did a good trade on those for not only those working at the two IMEX houses, but with the general customers, as well.

That trade also included donuts, coffee, danish, tea and, therefore, police officers.

GCPD South Side West Station, which was two blocks over and three blocks up, had slowly shifted their custom from Royal Donuts to Charlie's Diner as it was accessible to not only the beat cops, but to the mobile officers, and Harrison had set up a special counter and register just for that trade in the 'deli' area which always had black coffee available, and a slightly chilled section for those filled donuts that required a bit of storage. Betsy Wong had helped by learning that being a pastry chef suited her, beyond just helping with the business, and she was normally in the Diner with Harrison. The dough needed its tending to, so Harrison had to relate events to her third-hand as she was leaving the door open to let the slowly warming Gotham air pull the smell of freshly fried pastry out into the street.

Sargeant Bardelli walked in out of the slowly clearing fog and through the open door, a smile on his face. He walked directly over towards the counter that Betsy was working behind, and she looked up from the drain pans on roll-around carts and the fryer that had at least a dozen oblong pieces popping and bubbling along. She turned as he got to the counter and smiled.

"Why, Sgt. Bardelli! You're in early!" she said at the uniformed figure with a coat draped around his shoulders.

"Yes I am, Betsy! I thought I would pop in as the wife and kids are out at their grandmother's and I have a weekend shift going on. I need a decent breakfast, and knew that I could do a two-fer here."

Betsy nodded as she did a quick turn on the cakes that were in the fryer.

"We can do that, Sgt. Bardelli. I know you like the custard filled and we only have a couple of day-old left at this point and it will be a half-hour for these to cool enough so I can stuff them," she was dipping a few of the pieces down to ensure even coverage.

He set down a cooler, flipped the lid to the side and took out a thermos and put that on the counter.

"I tell you what, when you get them just box a half-dozen with a half of your glazed and fill up the thermos. Just add it to my breakfast tab. The station couldn't run without your donuts Betsy, let me tell you."

She nodded and moved around to get the filling syringe out and started to pack it with her home-made custard that had been chilling over night.

"Will do, Sgt. You have a good breakfast, I know that Harrison has got a special of cakes'n'eggs today."

His face lit up.

"Thanks for the tip! I wonder if any of the regulars are here yet..." he said turning to look out over the slowly filling up diner. The main counter was down to a couple of stools left, half the booths were already taken as well as three of the eight central tables. He stopped looking at a man who was flipping through the Gotham Enquirer at the farthest back booth.

"Not a regular, but still a friend" he said, looking back at Betsy, "I'll be in the rear booth, just close up the cooler and I'll get it on the way out."

She looked back and nodded. Her father's group had a few run-ins with him, but she had nothing against the man and only knew him from a few trial appearances testifying against a few of her father's men.

"No problem, Sgt. Have a good breakfast," she said smiling at him as he moved from the counter.

"I will, thanks Betsy," he said working his way past a couple of patrolmen who were lining up behind him. He nodded and exchanged brief hello's as he went and didn't see Betsy catch Harrison's attention to point to the back booth.

Harrison saw his wife's motion and he worked behind Randy, who was at the front griddle, and went out from behind the counter at the check-out position with its cash register. He had picked up another menu, and grabbed the an order receipt pack from the cash register as Vicky was busy tending to a family of four that had come in a minute or two previously. He got to the booth just after Sgt. Bardelli had started talking with the man who had taken the booth earlier, Martin Carstairs.

"... see you again, Martin! It's been, what? Eight months? Early spring?"

Martin had been on the GCPD for a few years after his two tours in 'Nam, and his clean shaven face, close-cropped haircut and physique pointed to one of the less glamorous positions in the USAF. Currently his light blue sweatshirt and sweatpants indicated that he was here after a morning workout.

"Just in April, when we started doing the tryouts of that Officer's Forensics Field Kit. I wanted your station to give it a try-out as I knew you were in the thick of it down here. If it worked for you, it would be good for a range of LE groups."

"Its a good design..." he started and then broke off as Harrison showed up with his menu.

"Harrison! Good to see you this morning. I have an order in with your wife, so you'll need to add that to my breakfast tab."

Harrison nodded, smiling in return.

"Thank you, Sgt. Bardelli! I know you are a regular for the donuts."

"Me and half the station, " Bardelli said.

"You gotta lose a few pounds, Dave," Martin said to him.

Dave Bardelli chuckled.

"I get that all the time. I have cut back! I just am a sucker for two of those filled donuts every day. The rest of them disappear like magic so when I want one after lunch...." he sighed looking at Harrison, "... I am denied the little pleasures of life."

"That is not denial, Sgt. Bardelli. You aren't buying enough donuts to start with!" Harrison said brightly.

Dave and Martin laughed, not noticing that Harrison was fidgeting some but doing his best to keep his reactions under control.

"Don't tempt me, Harrison! Besides, that's coffee fund money and I put in a double sawbuck every month and still catch hell from my wife."

"Do tell," Martin said, "I still get that for half the amount at work. And just where is the family this morning? This early should have them in tow for something like this, even on a weekend work day."

"I got a call from Upper South a couple of hours ago. They want more officers on the street looking for a fugitive from a robbery last night."

"A fugitive?" Harrison asked, "Anyone dangerous?"

Dave Bardelli nodded negatively.

"Naw, just some ex-hooker everyone thought had gone straight. She and her husband had gotten caught robbing a shop late last night and no one has seen hide nor hair of her since she ran out of the shop in terror. Her husband has been little help, between babbling about stuff he will remember to ask if she is ok, and no one can find her to reassure him. So I gotta reschedule from squad cars to rock'n'roll patrols."

Martin grunted.

"The force should never have gone to cars only. We lost track of our community policing in just three years when that happened."

Dave gave Martin a hard glance.

"Yeah. You quit over that, if I remember. Had a run-in with Diamond Jim Lorenzo, and it wasn't good."

Martin sat back, nodding.

"He went from a small time drifter to his own fence and diamond operation in six months and no one knew him as anything other than a jobber. Soon he had his own thugs and bodyguard. Got an unpleasant surprise at his apartment."

"You and, what was his name? McCleary?"

Martin nodded.

"Officer Stanton McCleary, good kid, trainable. Too quick on the draw and that got us into a close quarters shoot-out. I decided the second chest wound of my career pointed to that not being my line of business."

Harrison listened quietly to the two men as they talked. There were times when information had a value beyond any price.

Dave nodded.

"Yeah, that's the one. You're right he was good, and you were getting the rough edges off..."

"Never would have happened if we knew a small time jobber was making good, Dave. Being in a blue and white isn't the same as pounding the beat."

"You know, I know it, Martin. Budget says half the stations, double up in the cars and things will be all right. Can't trust it, not in Gotham. Got about half the guys on the rock'n'roll, one with feet on the rock and the other rolling the neighborhood. Gonna do that today and probably the rest of the week on this manhunt," he said leaning back and realizing that Harrison was still there and the menu unopened.

"Shit! Sorry Harrison, just shop talk. Didn't mean to take up your time!"

"That's ok, Sgt. Bardelli. If you would like I can come back in a few minutes or send Vicky over to take your order?"

"Naw, that's all right. Got a special of cakes and eggs and I'll take that maple and scrambled, side of bacon, coffee too."

Harrison jotted the order down and picked up the menu.

"I will get your order from my wife and add it on. Thank you, Sgt. Bardelli."

"No problem, Harrison," Dave said turning back to Martin.

"Now where were we? Oh, yeah, the kit! Station ordered 500 of them, but will use other consumables..."

As Harrison walked over to the counter he handed it over to Randy who saw the ASAP on it. He gave a thumbs-up to Harrison who was going to the end of the queue line where Vicky was putting in the order for the family.

"Vicky?" he said getting to her.

She smiled to look at him.

"Yes, Harrison?"

"I need to take a few minutes off for a break. It might be up to a half-hour. Can you get the Sargeant's order and add it to his tab, then take care of the diner while I'm out?"

She nodded, looking at the griddle area and Randy working on the order.

"Sure, Harrison. Is it anything bad?" she asked in lower tones.

He shook his head 'no'.

"Not bad. Just need to catch some people up on a few things. It shouldn't be more than a half-hour, at most."

"Ok, Harrison. I will cover for you, easily."

"Thank you, Vicky," he said smiling and then turned to walk across the diner to where his wife was filling an order for a patrolman. She looked up and he just gestured with his finger up and then thumb pointed to the back. She nodded, looked back to the order and got to work filling the travel cup with coffee for the officer.

Harrison walked down the end section of the 'deli' which was screened from the rest of the diner and then went into the back area. He needed to know just what Erin had gotten into as the police were now after her. This was turning out to be a busy morning.

* * *

Alfred had not been awakened by Bruce's return, which meant that there were no obvious wounds, lacerations or detoxification that needed to be done for him. What was left was a quick note that told him the overview of the night's activities. That seemed a pretty simple roster compared to some nights, with a simple pursuit of criminals engaged in drug smuggling leading to their attempted burglary. That had yielded Ron Norris up, who was in a very shaken condition, and the lack of capture of Erin Norris who was described as 'being scared out of her wits'. This had taken place at Dr. Gotham's Curiosity Shop, which was a small business in one of the worst parts of town. After that Bruce's only other night time activity was the observation of one fence who ran a small IMEX operation: Sam Wong.

That name was somewhat more familiar to Alfred due to Master Bruce's night time activities, and the circumstantial evidence pointed to Sam Wong having met up with Erin Norris due to the type and amount of goods that Mr. Wong had examined. A small film roll had been left for Alfred to send through the secure film processing facility in Wayne Corporation, and he had already left that with a ticket at the central mail room on the third floor, and those would be processed and be available at the lower level archive by the mid-afternoon.

Leafing through the folder as he walked from the barely populated mail room down the deserted hallway. Alfred had originally set his destination to the office of Lucius Fox, who would normally take Saturday off, but there was always the off-chance that he would come in to do some work either of an executive nature or of an 'archive' nature. In many ways he spent as much time at his various self-assigned duties as Alfred or Bruce did. As he walked to the bank of elevators, Alfred realized that the destination he would want was at Wayne Defense, as the Project would be coming in for some work by those in the know. He put the secure wrapper on the folder and tucked it into his suit coat while waiting for the elevator. Of those in the know on the Project, Lucius Fox came in only behind Bruce, and for most work Lucius had taken on the leading role. For something so complex that needed the coordination of so many within Wayne Corporation, Lucius Fox was the one that Bruce Wayne would trust for that as he had a breadth and depth of knowledge of the organization that was rivaled by no one else.

Taking the elevator down to the sub-basement so that he could cross between the two facilities, Alfred thought about what the presence of the Project had come to mean to all of those involved. It would be a life-long effort and then even go beyond that, as this was something that required more than safeguarding in a normal way. It had come from a time that didn't exist, and couldn't exist, sent by a machine that did not understand the powers it was utilizing. A man had been sent to thwart the Project and he was now employed as part of Wayne Corporation, and he was as key to the operation as the Project itself was. Together the man, Kyle Reese had come to operate well within Wayne Defense on this most special of Projects.

Alfred stepped from the elevator at the level most referred to as The Vault, and he utilized his ID to pass through the security checkpoint and then to the stairs, which he descended to get to the cross-over. It was quiet in this area, as was the case for most of Wayne Corporation, and that meant that Loren Seifert was probably already at Wayne Defense with Lucius, Kyle and any other members who were working on the Project that were needed. Alfred walked briskly, and while one of the oldest members of the organization, he was in fine shape, physically, and could wind many people 20 years his junior. Soon he was at the checkpoint for Wayne Defense, and he showed his ID to the security guard who waved him through. He took a right at the first intersection and then went to the freight elevator which would be able to deliver him to the lowest sub-basement in the old Wayne Industries building. This required a key held only by Project staff, and he used that to call the elevator which arrived quickly.

The short trip to the testing level was the first one to yield more than the quietness of Wayne Corporation empty offices with only weekend staff on duty. From a bay down the concrete and cinderblock lined corridor, painted in a flat grey with flourescent lights overhead, he heard the sounds of someone he had gotten to know quite well.

"Look, if you want a real doctor, call one.." came the feminine voice from the bay ahead.

"Now, Vivian..." which Alfred tentatively identified as Lucius Fox.

"... and if you want a real welder, not a car mechanic one, then call one..." she continued.

"Vivian, you know we don't...." which Alfred identified as Mr. Reese's voice.

"... and I'm no surgeon, either, so you can always find a real one..."

"Look, you're doing a great job by me..." that was definitely the low, somewhat growling voice of Sergeant Frank Rock.

"... because I'm sure you can get a team like that together to figure this stuff out...."

"Whew! She is on a tear..." as Alfred rounded into the bay he could see Loren Seifert as the one who was saying that.

"... since this thing doesn't have a real operator's manual I can look at. Got it?"

Laying on his front was the Project with his back opened and new pieces of metal on a cart with other materials stored in ice buckets and a drip feed of some solution going into the left buttock of it.

"Miss Rose," said the Project in a flat, masculine tone, "your repair work is acceptable. There are no standard replacements available. You are not responsible for the metal shards that have damaged the replacement bladder. Once the shards are removed the bladder can be stitched up and put into place again. Then further repairs can continue."

Vivian Rose, wearing a surgical gown and mask, wearing magnifying lenses and having an odd array of surgical and metal working tools, including a miniature arc welder and small grinder, looked down at the Project.

"And that is the spookiest part of it! Even after doing this sort of thing a few times, I just can't get over it, you know?"

Alfred cleared his throat.

"We do know, Miss Rose, this is the fifteenth time you have told us this since repairs started" he said.

She looked up at him, and everyone else turned to look at him, except for the Project.

"It is the seventeenth time, Mr. Pennyworth," said the Project, "and she has shortened it since the first three times, which is a savings of three minutes."

Looking at Alfred, the Project and then at the others who were either lifting materials out of boxes or cleaning materials off or packaging pieces coming from the project for study, and only Kyle Reese stood next to her with immediate help.

"I take it you still haven't found someone capable of doing this, have you?" she said coming back to stare at Lucius Fox.

Lucius shook his head after setting down a curved piece of what looked to be stainless steel on a piece of gauze, which was in a tray on a rolling cart.

"No, Vivian, we haven't. We don't want to expand the team much beyond the few we had to bring in once the Project arrived, and while Martin Carstairs is a choice for back-up, he does have a family and not much weekend time. Finding someone with just enough medical experience to not be afraid to slice open something, then with the skill to know how to work metal and any electronics involved is a difficult set of things to find. You have them all with your work in aviation, automotive work and race driving, where your medics rating was important then and is important now."

As Alfred walked into the bay he saw Sarah Connor coming down the aisle, pushing a small cart of materials and tool cases. He held up for a moment until Sarah arrived at the tail end of Lucius explaining to Vivian, yet again, why she was the only one who could do this.

"And that is why I'm here, Vivian. I want to learn what I can from this," she said smiling as she pushed the cart into the bay. Frank Rock got up from his chair where he had an open box with insulation and materials in bottles and bags that he was working to pack to help Sarah move the cart around to the table the Project was on.

"Same with me, Viv. You are just venting as you can't get any flight time in until tomorrow."

Rolling her eyes to the ceiling, Vivian chuckled.

"Frank..." she whispered and the veteran nodded to Alfred with a half-smirk and then said to Sarah.

"Come on, we have to get that bladder fixed and then re-fill it. It's still a mess in there with those small skeletal shards not showing up well but being razor sharp. This should be the last of the clean-up sessions for the rib cage."

"Which means, Vivian, they will fly solo doing the abdominal and hip work," Loren said stepping up with sterilized instruments that she handed over to Kyle.

"It's always 'they'll be ready next time'...." Vivian was muttering under her breath as she looked at Kyle then Loren, then Sarah who was trying to hold back a smile.

"That will be the case, Miss Rose," Alfred said, "and before this session gets started I need to hand some work over to Mr. Fox, as he decided to come in this weekend there are some minor matters that require his attention."

Lucius raised an eyebrow then nodded, taking off the gloves he had on and stepping away from the secured cart that held the pieces that would be used in this session.

"I'm basically done for this part of it, anyway," Lucius said, "I'm sure the rest of the team can get along without me for the rest of today. I just had to get the secure material out, and since Ken Chapman is out this weekend on vacation and Mr. Wayne already had his weekend planned, I came in to get them out. All of you know how to secure the results and stow them, so you can get along without me."

"Thank you, Mr. Fox," the Project said.

As Lucius stepped by he stopped and squatted next to the face of the figure on the table.

"You let me or one of the design team know what comes after this. It won't repair you, but will get you more function back."

"Yes, Mr. Fox. The last of the shards in the rib cage area are the pieces left that could impede my power supply. After that is further expedient repair of my abdominal area and doing a full sweep for shards that are causing internal leaking of some bladders. Replacement of the temporary hip-bridge will also alleviate structural problems across my frame."

Lucius touched the eyepatch and looked in its remaining eye.

"We will be able to get a cadaver source for additional repairs. I'm just not used to thinking that... parts like that can be swapped into you."

"Yes, Mr. Fox. The protein reduction system of my package will identify foreign DNA and remove it while retaining original structure and chemisty. Over time those will be incorporated fully into the exterior package. That will not be as fast as the strip skin grafts from original package material, but will happen over a series of weeks."

"Amazing," Lucius whispered as he stood up.

He looked at the rest of the team.

"Remember, we only have one shot at this."

"Yes, Lucius," said Vivian, "that's my problem, you know? One screw-up and I can't undo it."

"I know, Vivian," Lucius said quietly, "yet I wouldn't want anyone else doing what you've done so far. We started with the trickiest parts first as they were the worst. Its getting better from here on out, and Frank, Sarah, Kyle and even Martin could be pressed into help for the remaining parts."

"And we will, Vivian," Kyle said, "I've seen more of these broken up than repaired, and I don't know if I could have done what you did so far. It's easier to destroy them than repair them, and I've learned a lot from you, Vivian. We all have."

"So I will leave all of you to it," Lucius said with a nod as he turned to Alfred, who waved to the team that watched them for a moment, with nods and waves from a few of the members who weren't getting back to the immediate job at hand.

"A fate worse than death, Alfred, thanks for the save," Lucius said.

"My pleasure, Mr. Fox. I have the contents of last night's report for you," he said handing the sealed folder over to Lucius, "which deals with a robbery by a married couple of a curiousity shop, something that caused great fear in the participants. It was enough to leave the husband of the team shaken and the wife running for her life, with nothing pursuing her."

Lucius grunted.

"What? A ghost?"

Alfred looked at Lucius and shook his head.

"The direct description is of a faintly glowing gelatinous mass taking up between ten to twenty cubic feet of space, moving near silently and growing eyes and appendages at will. It is strong enough to lift up a man, that would be the husband of the team, and blunt marks by the door frame of the shop indicate that something large with mass impacted the wood and metal leaving a very shallow indentation over an area of three to five square inches."

"That is the strangest description I have heard for anything, Alfred. Yet you say it is a direct account?"

"One by the husband and the other by the first person description," Alfred said as they walked out of the secure building and into the underground cross-over.

"A bio-weapon, do you think?"

"Truthfully, the report does not go into speculation, Lucius. The rest of the report details the search for Erin Norris and the oversight of jewelry by a fence working in the western warehouse dock area, by the name of Sam Wong. The items have been photographed and will be available for direct review later today, but if they are from the burglary then that will narrow down where Erin Norris is."

They walked past the security checkpoint with waves to the guard, and proceeded to the hallway that took them to the executive elevator. Lucius signaled for it and they waited for it.

"I'll see if I can get someone on it, Alfred. Who that will be, I don't know. I'll check out the bio-weapons angle and maybe get someone to do a more general search on what is described. I can get a jeweler to look over the photos and give his opinion of the materials, so that will be easy enough. After that... I don't think we have much pull in the Asian community, Alfred."

The elevator arrived, the two men stepped into it, each hitting buttons for different floors.

"No we don't, Lucius. But they can be made, high or low, if we know that something is going on."

Lucius exhaled and nodded.

"We don't get the easy ones, do we?"

"Nor does he, Lucius. Nor does he."

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