Dr. Gotham had commandeered an entire table to himself by late afternoon, and he worked right through lunch time and as the lighting from the overhead dome shifted and reddened he continued to find sources to examine. Books were open to pages and large numbers of slips of paper were now in many books, on the table and some few were in a folder he had found discarded in the trash. The tape dispenser was from a librarian's desk, as well as pieces of ruled paper that she had given him. Anyone looking at his fluid handwriting would know that it was perfectly legible to him, but in a script known by no one who would just happen past.
Henry Swanson thought that Dr. Gotham would be hard to find, holed up in one of the small rooms used for private researchers, not out in the main reading area with such a mess of materials around him. There was even a cart that librarians used to take books back into the stacks next to the table and it was apparent that Dr. Gotham used that as a place to keep books, many books, that he needed to refer back to. With his overcoat draped over a chair, along with his hat and cane, Dr. Gotham looked like an older professor from another age, another time.
With a start Henry realized that was exactly what Dr. Gotham was. A man somehow captured in a pocket of no time and released by other things that he couldn't fathom but that Dr. Gotham had made decades ago. It was like seeing a man from a photograph of a time gone by, forgotten, who had stepped out in full color, living, breathing, and continued on his work just where he had left it off. The fact that this was reality didn't help Henry much as he tried to deal with the thoughts that had come to him since the return of Dr. Gotham.
He stepped up to the table and said, softly, "I'm here, Dr. Gotham. Lewis has gotten the materials you wanted and is now minding the shop. I'm finished with the insurance agents, as well, and came here as soon as I could."
Looking up and over his glasses Dr. Gotham smiled.
"It is good to have you here, Henry. There is so much material to go through from the decades that I have missed! So many researchers, discoveries and the lovely documents and images they have found is awe inspiring. Mankind has been busy trying to piece his past together," he said looking over the books, journals, reference works, and the amount of paper he had generated for his own uses, "not all of it pieced together well, mind you. But the works they have uncovered now tell me much more than their speculations ever could."
Henry smiled wanly as he looked at Dr. Gotham.
"A lot has happened, Dr. Gotham, but not to you. You said you were trapped by a.. power..."
Dr. Gotham nodded, "That of the talisman, yes, Henry."
"But what of those still there? Can't you go back..."
"In time?" Gotham asked softly.
"Yes. If you undo the power then..."
Dr. Gotham sighed, pressed his lips together in a flat line and looked steadily at Henry.
"Time is a sweet passage that cannot be denied, dear Henry. I can no more go back to when that event happened to undo it than I can take a bucket of water from a mouth of a river, march back to its source and dump it in and claim that I have remade that time from whence it first came from there. She gives us many gifts, does time, and we abide by her nature as we cannot change her nor the gift she gives us. We must accept what happens by our own decisions and by that of others and live with it for without time we would be out of it, and not be here to appreciate it. In a place of no time there are no thoughts, no happenings, no decisions, no events, no effects because they cannot be caused. Without time chaos is as static as order and no different from it. To halt time as was imposed upon me and those unfortunate others on that train, is a power that comes very close to when time started and gave us the first event, the first happening and allowed order and chaos to be known for what they are. There are no gods without time and there are no gods who are time for she is no god but a grace of happening, and she cannot be thwarted, she cannot be denied and those who seek to do so find themselves beguiled by her subtlety for they never get to where they want to be."
It was the longest exposition that Henry had ever heard from Dr. Gotham and one that felt as if a great Truth had been revealed to him. The hope had been faint, but the shift of perspective to the nature of time was something he hadn't been prepared for. He had thought of this 'power' as a form of magic, and yet Dr. Gotham didn't treat it as such but in a different fashion than he had expected. There was no attempt to pass off something with arcane words or references to strange knowledge bound up in ancient tomes that Henry could never find. Instead the plain, simple and matter of fact way that this power was treated was much the same as time: something to be dealt with on its own terms not on limited understanding.
Only when Henry looked down at some of the books on the table did he realize that they were not all just archeology, mythology, religion but a number of reference works on chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy and mathematics were opened as well. There had been a few of those in the books Dr. Gotham had left behind in the shop, reference works at most and only a few of them, but now they made up perhaps one-third of the mounting piles of opened books on the table. It was as if the 'power' that was talked about was, actually, real and could be understood. Dealt with.
"Can you do anything for them, at all?"
"Not a thing, Henry, that power is not within my grasp and even if I understood it and could wield it, I would have to deal with the one that is utilizing it through the talisman. That is definitely beyond me as things stand, and even if I was the owner of the talisman, I don't know if I could even keep the power in permanent check. That power is beginning to seep out and I need a better box for it, so I am glad that Lewis has brought me the goods to make such."
"How will you deal with people once they find out that you have... come back..."
Dr. Gotham smiled.
"Who would believe it? A man gone missing for nearly 50 years who leaves a small shop and reclusive trust to run it is not one that many will care about. Even if you or I told the authorities, they would dismiss it without a second thought as impossible. No, there will only be a few that will know, Henry. You, Lewis and Martha Culligan or her designated heir. With her she will have an impossibility show up to return something that is hers, and for an heir, I am but the man from a strange shop bringing back something that belonged to Martha and now belongs with whoever was the beneficiary of her estate."
Henry nodded as it was hard for him to believe that this was Dr. Gotham, and yet his voice, his manner, his tone, even his dress all spoke to him being that very same man. He had taken in stride something that would have left any other person isolated, detached from those they loved and mourning at their loss. Dr. Gotham had always dealt with what is, not what could have been. It was as if the passage of decades meant nothing to him, yet it meant a lifetime to Henry.
"Yes, Dr. Gotham," he said barely loud enough to be heard, "it is just so strange... it seems that your coming back should be announced..."
Dr. Gotham started to close books and pick up his notes.
"To whom? The press would make a spectacle of it and divide opinion and it would only be opinion. The police or any other government officials would laugh or snigger at the idea of a man caught up in time," he said slowly taking up the closed books and periodicals and placing them neatly into the cart, "and as there is no way that it can be proven to a scientist, they would demonstrate their reliability for not being swayed by tall tales without backing. And I do have no real proof, Henry, beyond my living being and that would assuredly never be enough for those in such realms. I will adjust in some period, allow the deep and puissant powers I've used to assure the continuation of the shop to allow for my re-entry into time's swift stream. The powers of double-entry book keeping, blind trusts, hidden executors, courier deposits, distributed holdings, and the great power of compound interest will serve for normal affairs, they being arcane even to those who utilize them each and every day."
Henry could attest to that and to the inability of private detectives to track down exactly where the money for the shop came from, or how it was administered, or even who paid taxes on them. Accountants, bankers, lawyers... they had all met up with a system that was reliable and yet impenetrable. That alone told Henry of just how Dr. Gotham understood things and placed them.
"I see, Dr. Gotham, and you are right, of course."
Gotham looked at him and nodded.
"You have learned wisdom with age. Now I need to find out where Martha Culligan is or, if departed, who she left as her primary heir. If multiple then it will go to that person who got her jewelry. And if she left it to the State..." Dr. Gotham inhaled slowly, "... then that will bode ill for all. That is what I need from you tonight, Henry, a name. I have a safekeeping box to make and, while simple, it needs the proper wards to help keep in check what physical materials can check, backed by same."
"I will start with the social register, I think," Henry said.
As the last of the books were picked up and placed on the cart, Dr. Gotham nodded.
"She was of a social circle that would be noted by that. If she has moved out of the realm of Gotham, then that needs to be known as well. I will go to the far ends of the Earth to make sure this piece is with its proper owner and out of my hands."
"I will find her for you, Dr. Gotham. Or her heir, if there is one."
Dr. Gotham smiled and clapped Henry on the shoulder as he stepped around the table.
"I trust you will, Henry. Our lives depend on it."
* * *
Bruce Wayne was wearing formal evening attire in the way of a black suit, white shirt, black tie, and gold tie tack. He was not in his apartment, nor at a party, but walking down the main hall of the lowest archive area under Wayne Tower. Sparse overhead lights shone down and put shadows over his eyes and under his cheek bones, making him into a dark force that walked into the light. When he got past the alcoves for storing equipment, he then moved at a steady pace amongst the flat files then towards a main area of tables for review of files and equipment. From there one metal table had intense lighting on, and the figure of Lucius Fox was sitting on a stool next to the table.
"You should have left the file with Alfred and gone home, Lucius. Better to be with your family than here."
Lucius looked up from the table that had photographs and densely printed materials on it, as well as a number of hand written notes.
"Yes, I could have, but I will meet up with them for dinner in an hour in the Theater District at Randolph's. The kids will like that, and my wife approves, Bruce. So rather than drive back and forth, I decided to stay here and make sense of what has come in."
Bruce nodded and took a stool just at the corner of the table so he could look at Lucius directly.
"What do you have?"
"Where do you want to start?"
Nodding Bruce thought for a moment.
"The jewelry report. Do we have anything on that?"
Lucius nodded and slid over a couple of sheets of hand written notes, with copies of the original pictures taken from the previous night. There were small arrows with numbers next to them pointing at items in the pictures.
"The police sent officers to jewelry stores, pawn shops and other establishments that deal with jewelry, and left copies of written descriptions of the items taken. My evaluator was able to get copies of those for review and has tentatively identified some items that are similar in description to those taken in the robbery."
Bruce picked up the photos and flipped through the pages.
"One necklace, two bracelets, a wrist band and a ring," he said scanning over the details, "the ring is the best indicator, due to its size and description."
"I think that's a pretty positive 'make' on that, Bruce. Sam Wong had those items from the robbery last night."
Bruce put down the pages off to the side.
"And Sam Wong's business?"
This time a more orderly set of papers that indicated they were from police files as well as some newspaper clipping copies were slid over to Bruce.
"That is our social file on Sam Wong. He has had a couple of busts for trafficking in gray market goods that were imported without proper licensing. His IMEX house supplies a number of Asian stores and some restaurants with goods, mostly food stuffs, but also clothing and jewelry from the Far East. Its a niche import business that makes a good profit, per quarter, and Sam Wong is not behind on any debts, so far as our staff can find. He is a pretty capable jewler in his own right, and has the skills that any businessman in that line of work would have."
As he read the clippings he nodded.
"Associated with his half-brother Harrison, who runs Charlie's Diner," he said putting that copy of a newspaper clipping on the table, "and was at the opening of the Hunan House as well as Dara's Trade Store, that last on the North Island."
"He's a pretty well respected businessman, Bruce, with just some hints of criminal activity."
"Its an insular community, Lucius. With skills to assess goods and being a jeweler, plus having a shipping business, he is in a prime location to sort out stolen goods and fence them elsewhere in the US or overseas."
Lucius looked at Bruce.
"Still, no active suspicions, just rumors."
Bruce put the sheets down on the table, and slid them back to Lucius.
Lucius raised his eyebrows.
"Married to Elizabeth Petrucci back in '77, before you started working on the Family. One son, Luigi, and one daughter, Lee Ann, ages 5 and 3 respectively. They live on the third floor over the Diner."
Bruce leaned back and stared at the ceiling.
"A cop friendly establishment. Not the sort of place I expect to see the middle daughter of the Petrucci Family at."
"Should I have someone pull the background on it tomorrow?"
Bruce exhaled and looked at Lucius.
"I will swing by there after the show, tonight. What else do you have?"
Lucius looked at a small pile of pictures and neatly filled out forms. Then reached next to that to pick up a file folder and handed that to Bruce.
"I will save you the detail of the stolen pieces from the Curiosity Shop, Bruce. We didn't have much on that establishment as it is in the Shambles. It was a pretty sparse file and Linda Jordan went to the Central Library to research it. Those are the copies of what she found."
The folder was more than a few pages thick and Bruce started to leaf through the pages. There were very few direct references in the newspapers or magazines of Gotham about the shop, itself. There were some photos taken of the old rail yards from nearby streets that had the shop in view, back before the Interconnector came in and the street level was raised. A current photo taken a few years ago in a popular local magazine showed the Interconnector and the shop. Bruce studied the two photos.
"The entire front of the building has been duplicated to match its old front."
"Keep on going, Bruce," Lucius said.
A copy of a clipping from 1942 showed troops mustering near the rail yards with Dr. Gotham's shop visible. Then came a clipping from 1935 about the disappearance of subway train 125. Bruce stopped to read that.
"A Ghost Train," he whispered.
"Dr. Gotham was on that. From what can be pieced together, and it isn't much, there is one reference to Dr. Gotham having no first name."
Bruce glanced over the top of the folder at Lucius.
"No first name? Just Doctor Gotham?"
"Yes, Bruce. Keep on going."
A picture of the 1896 Exposition and Fair taken from just off the waterfront showed a shop that had a familiar window, even if its lettering was blurred.
"That is the shop," Bruce whispered as he flipped to the next image which was a long exposure one taken in 1884 on the North Island, showing Marina under construction and the shops close to it. Bruce inhaled.
"That's not possible," he whispered.
"It gets better over the next few pieces, Bruce."
The next was a photocopy taken from a pictorial archive of Gotham During the Civil War. Along one street was a group of soldiers standing at attention by a group of tents, and across from them, in the old South Central business district, was a shop. The photo was entitled, 'Troops Mustering Near Dr. Gotham's Shop and Supply House'. What could barely be seen and Bruce shifted the image which was not all that clear, was a figure of a man who had stood outside of the shop just long enough to make a ghostly impression.
"Doctor Gotham," he said just barely able to make out the figure in suit with overcoat and boots, plus hat and cane.
"Linda was at the Library until an hour ago, doing research, Bruce. She said that after the Expo picture she just had to see if there was anything else.
Next was a page from a book describing 18th century Privateers that docked at Gotham City. A passage was highlighted and Bruce read it aloud.
" 'The merchantman Centinal had special Letters drafted for her to deny the King's Troops of goods by sea off the shores of the Long Island and Gotham City in the Sound. As with other ships, Captain Thurgood Marden sold his takings either at auction or through Doctor Gotham's Supply House, a much needed establishment for our troops in the Year of Our Lord 1778.' "
"Fascinating, isn't it?"
Bruce turned the second to last page and read that.
" 'Marcus Devonshire relates his story to all about the small port of Gotham and its singular inhabitants who live by the sea. Of particular note is a Doctor in medical goods and other necessities sold to woodsmen, farmers and trappers who happen by on their way to the interior. This Doctor styles himself by the name of the port and is one of the few places in that port where one cannot buy drink, save small beer or boiled leaf infusions native to that area. In all the small port is more welcome to the traveler than Kingsport or Innsmouth.' ", Bruce glanced at the note at the bottom which said 'The Trails of the Settlers, Accounts from 1650 to 1700', Gotham Publishing Company, 1852.
The final piece was a sketch drawing from a book on 'The First Immigrants of Gotham' where a ship on the horizon from Europe is in the background and the settlers are shaking hands with a man of moderately tall stature. The description under the line drawing read, 'Five years after the founding of Gotham in 1629, Settlers are met by a Medicine Man called Gothamaglnyth'.
"Is that a native word?" Bruce asked not even attempting to pronounce it.
Lucius shook his head.
"Not native, no. Linda had no idea what language it comes from, but it is not from any of the native tribes here."
Bruce Wayne closed the folder and set it aside.
"That is excellent research, Lucius. I don't see how it fits in, but its something I had never heard about."
"Nor me, Bruce. Or Linda. Or anyone from what she could find. There are no books written about a 'Doctor Gotham', or even a normal collection of references about him. Linda was intrigued that a shop named after Dr. Gotham could be found in the appendices of books about Gotham that she was only starting to look for that name in the history section. She has no idea if they are connected, Bruce, there aren't any indicators that they are."
Bruce nodded standing up.
"That can wait, then. Anything more on the Bay Boys?"
Lucius was gathering materials from the table to put into a secure folder.
"Nothing new on the north side of the sound. A few more contacts on Long Island and NYPD may have a suspect on their supplier, but nothing firm, yet."
Bruce nodded, straightened his tie and checked his suit coat for any dust.
"Well, I'm off for a fashion show. WMM has some pieces in it for the season and a good executive needs to attend these. Our Phantom of the Opera costume will sell well, I think."
Lucius smirked as he put the last of the papers into the folder, sealed it with a tie, and put a security wrapper around it.
"Not going in costume, I hope?"
Bruce shook his head negatively.
"That's for later, after I get back. Have a good dinner with your family, and apologize to them that I needed you today."
Lucius stood up and nodded.
"Thanks, Bruce, that means a lot. You have a good time, too."
Bruce nodded and turned to walk out.
Lucius shook his head as he watched Bruce leave knowing he wouldn't be comfortable until he was alone in the night.
* * *
Erin Norris wasn't as worried about Ron since she had gotten a bit more word from the Wongs and Lisa Choi that the word on the street was that he was being transferred to Gotham General for psychiatric review. He wasn't dead and that was the important part to Erin and she was sure he could shake off whatever it was that happened to him back at the shop. At that thought she shivered again. It was downright creepy that stuff that moved silently and could grow eyes, tentacles, and other things less well defined. She had been stalking the back rooms and hallway of the Diner, making sure to stay out of the way of those coming through the double doors on either side of the back area so she couldn't be seen. She felt trapped and she felt like she was being hunted, and didn't like either feeling.
When she heard the voices of Sam Wong and Lisa Choi coming from the Diner area she held her feelings in check and waited back in the shadows beyond the doors and the dim overhead lights in the hall. Those coming for dinner had been trickling in for an hour and even on a Saturday she knew that would mean clogged surface streets with people going out for the night to local bars, restaurants, the theaters and other social hot spots and gathering places. As the doors opened she could see Sam, Lisa and Betsy coming in together.
"... agreed fully, Lisa," Betsy was saying in hushed tones.
"No strings attached?" Lisa asked.
Sam Wong was first through and gestured the others in as Erin stepped forward.
"Good news, I hope?"
"Master Sun has agreed to the terms as Betsy had discussed with you, Erin."
Betsy smiled, and nodded.
"I know you said that just one would be OK with you, but we free-formed it to get him to take both. Not that he liked it too much, but he will keep his word."
"And make out very well if you and Ron can get out of this without his help."
Lisa was smiling at that, "That's so good, isn't it Erin?"
Erin frowned and looked at them.
"I need to get out of here. I feel like I'm cornered here, and I don't want to be discovered here and put you all at risk. And I don't think I would be safe with the police, either."
Betsy looked at her and nodded.
"Still afraid? That I can understand, Erin, even if I don't think that you saw what you did, you obviously do. I tell you what, I could contact father and see if I can get you to a safe house outside of Gotham..."
"No... I... it is hard to believe, I know. Thank you, Betsy, but I don't want to be far from Ronnie."
Lisa looked confused.
"But where will you go, Erin?"
Erin smiled wanly at her.
"I don't know, somewhere on the North Island, I think..."
Sam Wong raised an eyebrow.
"Would the convention center be good enough? There is a show going on tonight and I will be delivering some supplies to it. One of my men knows the loading dock boss well and I might be able to arrange a place for you to stay, at least until Monday."
Erin's face brightened.
"That's only a few blocks from the Hospital!"
Betsy raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah, and if you can't get a place there, give me a ring and I'll let dad know a girlfriend of mine needs a place to stay along the waterfront. He's got a couple of low level places there that fly under the radar to the police and are small enough that the Bat probably hasn't heard of them, either."
Looking between the three of them Erin was astonished.
"You would do that for me?" she asked softly.
"Sure, hon," Betsy said, "Lisa likes you, Sam likes you and I like you. You're a good kid and it was a pleasure to see the look on Li Sun's face today. Hell, if you need to get out from the center I'll pick you up and leave Harrison with the kids so I can visit daddy and tell him about it. He would love that!"
"I can't thank you all enough," Erin said, overwhelmed by the unexpected help.
"It is a small favor for a good customer, and my cut of fencing the rest of the items will more than pay for the overhead of it, Erin. A ride uptown and getting a place for you to sleep for a couple of nights is no bother."
Lisa was smiling deeply.
"I told you so, Erin."
Erin's faced changed from one of bewilderment to that of a smile, and she chuckled.
"Never believed it, Lisa. You're right and thank you for being my friend."
* * *
It hadn't known that much fear in its existence, until today. Its kind had little to fear in the realm of predators, being as they were near the top of their realm, they only knew of those great powers that would shiver through it but rarely. Those Great Old Ones were known, were feared and when they needed a servant it was either serve or be served up. Many didn't come back from such service, of course, but that was the nature of things and its kind respected those with greater power than theirs. Those types of beings were known, and they had harbingers, foretellings and it was possible to be elsewhere when they came to summon or dine.
Ghost Trains were not of that type of being nor class, and while the power of it was palpable and deep, it could not be touched by it as that would reduce it to nothing, instantly. Just how little things like the scurrying tiny ones that were caught up in its wake told it of that, and the tiny, wan twinkles of their being ceased at first touch of a Ghost Train. These were not of a class like the Great Old Ones, nor of a class nor type it had ever experienced. It was not dead, it was not living, it was not anything but power and hunger, raw and ready for whatever came in its path. While it was relatively young for its kind, being able to be summoned by a mere warding, it knew of the other planes, realms and their beings from others of its kind and this was outside of anything ever described to it.
Had its action of consuming a semi-motile being with power brought it?
Or was it chance?
Those beings could be sensed after the passage of the Ghost Train, they returned in its wake.
Then it realized that they preferred not to be in the path of the tracks and would take that as a last resort to escape threat. Just as it could devour them, so could the Ghost Train, as its hunger encompassed all.
Despite having no organs, or at least things other creatures would recognize as them, it could think and did so, carefully, trying to apply lessons to this situation which was unlike any other in a realm where power was scarce and now one strange predator existed that could not be reasoned with. If it wanted to stay here, and it did even with spare amounts of power there was plenty to eat, this would mean that it had to respect this other predator that would not respect it.
That meant that it could no longer take this direct route through the old subway, but must go to that layer between the surface and here that existed in some few places in a very strange arrangement. And above that but still below the surface, there were other passages it could use and while it could sense distance, openness and direction, the sheer number of passages, sub-passages and sub-sub passages made for a confusing maze beneath this city of food.
Where there threats like the Ghost Train amongst that assemblage of under-streets and pipes and sewer lines? Undoubtedly, yes. Still those were not Ghost Trains or its kind.
At least it hoped they weren't.
It would move slower now so as to better inspect its surroundings and think before going after any easy prey lest that be the dinner chime rung loud in a realm it didn't know about to summon something that was always hungry and never stopped.
Still it was getting closer to its quarry as she had not shifted much in space since it began seeking her. And when she was gone it would be free to figure out just how to survive in this lovely, confusing and deadly realm.
Perhaps even enough to summon one or two others of its kind to have some sport with it and warn them of the dangers of this eating place.
* * *
"Vivian, I don't need a driver tonight. It's been a long day for you and I can drive myself to the convention center. So you are going home to get some rest, ok?"
Bruce Wayne was trying to be nice with Vivian since she did have a long day starting with work on the Project and then checking out the boat, and now heading into the early evening she wanted to be his chauffer for the night.
"But I'm already dressed for it!" she said.
She was, indeed, in her black leather chauffeur’s outfit with gold thread stitching, mirror shades, black cap, gloves and boots, and her lithe if somewhat curvy figure was as sensual and provocative as it was intimidating. Only the movement of the lower jaw on chewing gum ruined that image, even if it did set up unpleasant thoughts about just how strong that jaw and tongue were... that was the point of it, after all, not to pop bubbles.
Bruce had no doubt that she had more than enough energy to go through with chauffeur duties tonight and then spend a few hours in a bar before it closed and then hit the streets for some joyriding before getting back to her mid-South apartment early in the morning. The few times he had seen her exhausted had dealt with the 24 Hours at Le Mans, a plane trip that had gone half-way around the world and back, and the time she had come in with Frank Rock earlier this year after she had pulled an all-night, all-day and part of another night drive trailing the Project.
"It's not just the show, Vivian, I need to talk with the head of WMM before it then go through all the pleasantries of the social, then the show, itself, and be on hand in case of any post-show details. Although I will probably leave for those as I trust my people at WMM to do a good and professional job for any inquiries. I am moral support more than anything."
Vivian was pouting. She was very good at it.
"Besides, I enjoy driving the Ferrari. Its a good city car."
She started to smile.
"Yeah, it is. Even that extendy version you got for extra junk, the upgraded engine tames that way easily," she took off the sunglasses as she smiled to let Bruce know that the pout was a facade, her green eyes twinkling.
"I know you love to drive, too, Bruce."
Bruce smiled in return.
"I do, Vivian. If you want to be useful, I know that Frank and the Project decided that today was a good day to strip down the twin Mustangs on Angler, so if you want to get greasy and grubby, I'm sure they could use some help."
"Ooooo! You tell me about THE sexiest things, Bruce! I'll go pay them a visit," she said standing on tip-toe to hug him and give him a kiss on the cheek, which smeared just a bit of her dark red lipstick there. He hugged her in return and then let her go.
"You find something else to do for tonight, Viv. Really, I don't need a chauffeur and I still have a good hour to set-up, the social and the show. I need to deal with the traffic over the central bridges, while you can jump north and speed through the winding roads of the Hills and get to the boat shack in nearly no time."
She was taking her cap off and unzipping her leather jacket to reveal the white silk shirt underneath.
"Gotchya, Bruce! See you later!"
She turned on her heel and went at a pace far faster than a walk but a bit less than a jog.
"Have fun, Vivian," he said.
He didn't do anything about the lipstick he knew would be on his face.
He had a reputation to uphold, as well.
Bruce Wayne walked to the Executive Elevator that would let him check to make sure his car was properly stocked, and then do a final check on the vehicle he used for other purposes to make sure it would be in place for his needs tonight.
* * *
It had made good time after its fright, but had lost time in indecision there. Even with manifesting organs to hear, look, smell, taste and feel, it was only slowed by the maze-like system that was very orderly in some directions and very indirect in others. From storm sewers to Underworld to street drainage sewers back to Underworld then to intersecting sub-drain lines, it zigged and zagged through the space under Gotham's South Island. It would have made far better time in the subway tunnels, but this sort of route now seemed much safer to it than the fast route did.
The affinity with the person let it home in on it, and finally get a direct sub-street sewer line that ran right next to the building. It proceeded to investigate on the best way into the building when the person with the affinity moved out of it, and further to the west.
It found a cross-line and slid through that, then followed the affinity under a set of main drains that went to the north, then found a drain that went west. Here it was running into a problem in that those drains that went into the Gotham River South Branch didn't meet up with the drains that went to the Sound. The last place the Underworld went was some two blocks away and the sewers that drained it met up with those of the sub-street level. It could feel the affinity so close to it, and the only route was over the surface level. Due to the vehicles that went over this sewer line there was a very good chance it would gain attention. Normally that would not be a major problem, but when it was about to find an affinity that was fully motile and sentient, it was best not to gain attention that would spook it.
As it tried to figure out how to get past this minor physical barrier it could sense that the one with the affinity was moving again. It felt that the motion was going to be just in front of it, so it slid down the sewer from the manhole cover just in front of Charlie's Diner heading north towards the intersection with Front Street. That one with the affinity was in a vehicle, it could tell that by the feel of metal between her and it. That and the motive rumbling that came from the vehicle were all tell-tale of a main mode of travel in this part of this realm. It got to the intersection just as the signal changed and the supply van drove right over the manhole cover that it was trying to get through.
It could not gain even a tendril on that moving piece of rubber nor on the metal vehicle that contained her that had affinity. That vehicle moved faster on the streets than it could under them or even over them. It sat for a moment, a large lump of translucent green mass and then felt that there was another mode of travel that, while if not as fast as the vehicle, it was faster for it than the road or sub-surface routes.
The sense of the sea had been obvious to it, of course, but the feeling of the running water of a river had slowly worked its way into the sensory realm. A river would allow it to glide under the water, so long as it was not whitewater it would go much faster than surface motility. And if this was, truly, an Island, then there would be very few ways off of it. And water was far safer for it than the Underworld of the city was.
It slid down the grade of the sewer and dropped as a gliding mass of green that was unseen under the Lower South Bridge to the mainland. Soon it was slipping amongst the swift layers of water and propelling itself easily forward. When she stopped it would find her and be ready to end the affinity.
And get a snack as a bonus.
* * *
Lewis Swanson was a nice young man, just like his father, Dr. Gotham thought to himself as he looked over the pieces he had spread out in what had been his old workshop. It was a strange feeling to see the relatively empty room compared to his workshop upstairs that Henry had made for his materials. It was almost exactly the same layout in size and all of his tables, desk, cabinets, shelves and other items had been meticulously kept up so that visitors could see what it was like for Dr. Gotham when he had been there in the 1930's. The feeling that it was more a historical stage than a real workshop had started to seep into it, and that meant something to Dr. Gotham. Some items, like his hand tools, needed to be pressed back into service, and they migrated to what was the start of his new workshop where the old one had been.
He needed a real, modern workshop if he was to understand these times, and as much as he enjoyed the power tools of his era, that of one of the first power drills, a power hand saw, and a bench grinder to keep his tools sharp. Just a glance at some stores from the previous night had shown him that while the forms of those tools had remained, they had been improved greatly from his day, and part of the shopping trip by Lewis was to get new versions of his old equipment. He felt that any delay in getting the necessary work done for a new box for the talisman would be deadly, and he didn't want to spend time fixing up old equipment that had sat unused for decades, so new must be pressed into service.
Almost all of the hand tools had survived well, and they remained as sound today as they had when he had last touched them nearly 50 years ago. He now found himself amidst more modern, but still old, desks, tables, chairs, and other items that Henry had picked up or packed down in the old main level for storage. Like anyone who runs this shop, when an item that is of future necessity or in need of transfer to someone more in need comes through, it is purchased. Henry may have wondered why he picked up such furniture when it came his way and no one could have predicted the return of Dr. Gotham or his need for a new workshop.
Now he was at a metal bench with rolla-round stool, modern lighting shone coolly down on the dull metal surface of the table and he spread out the slate tiles and Hemlock wood planks that Lewis had picked up. There was already a jar of shellac in the making that Dr. Gotham had mixed fresh and it would be ready for application by the time he had finished with the rest of the box. He started with the slate tile pieces, already in boxes but the materials had been cut fresh just two days ago, which was close enough to being from the living Earth as he could ever hope for. He had Lewis fetch some dirt to be spread in a pan so that Dr. Gotham could lay the tiles on it from the boxes, and there was a box each from the largest size of six inch square tiles all the way down to ornamental facing tiles of a half inch by an inch. He needed more of the smaller than larger sizes, but was dearly glad for the ornamental pieces as any box would need to have non-square sides for a tight fit. A bit of sand mixed with the soil, some tap water to dampen it in the tray and then putting the slate pieces into that to let them know that their maker was of Gotham and they were now part of something from there.
Affinity is a very simple property, and while it cannot be hurried it can be encouraged, and living rock with living soil, put together by a living hand all granted encouragement to the tiles that this was their new affinity. Dr. Gotham mused as he took the hand saw from its box, that with so much done by machine that rock with living Earth affinity might have that last much, much longer than it had in the past. Machines had affinity, yes, but they could only encourage it with human operation and oversight. As Lewis had related, after the initial sawing from the mother rock, there were almost no humans involved save in transport of the raw rock and then in stacking boxes to be shipped. It was strange to think that such could be had from many points on the globe today, and that meant much to him in the way of craftwork.
The saw was simple and lightweight, compared to its forerunner and was easy to operate with many features for safety unknown in his time. Still a steady hand meant a steady cut and in no time he had squares and oblongs for a new box cut. Without a written design, it was all in his head and on a few pencil marks on the wood as well, and the telltale of a craftsman was sawdust hanging in the air. His old-new shop was becoming a place to work now. With a small manual saw he began to cut into the wood so that they would slide together with a tight fit. That old saw he had from the 1930's and his skills could work just as well as that craft had not changed. He supposed there were powered tools to do this, but he didn't have time to learn those, and his hands were able and the wood nicely resistant.
Hemlock was known as Iron Wood for a reason, and of all the living woods it was one he utilized only for those pieces that needed that stoutness of character. Rosewood from the tropics also did that well, and served him many times in the past and he knew would again in the future. Iron Wood was closer to the Gotham region, and that affinity would help in the overall design as the forests of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine all had a living connection with Gotham City: their kin had first come through the hills of Gotham as the great ice melted and while they had many infusions from outside lineage, all had some trace of Gotham in them.
With initial cuts done he worked to cut the insets for the stone out, and the neat, precise lines of machine cut stone aided that no end as it was uniform. He took a dry piece and started the test fittings and put together a quick mock-up of the interior with them to make sure the fit was good. Then it all came apart so that everything could be sanded. By hand.
Creating affinity is not only an owning but can also be done by an act, and for that no machine could replace the human hand as intermediary. To get a maker's affinity a box had to be made by its maker, which included the sanding of it. First small hand planes allowed for smooth edges and removed any surface uneveness, then came the sanding not only in parts but each fit with its neighbors so their ends could be sanded flat, as well. It was time consuming and tedious work which was only matched by the sanding and polishing of the slate. As the wood rested the slate pieces were laid out, wooden edging pressed them together along with those fresh from the box, so a tight square could be formed with clamps to hold it together. Uniform machine cutting was a boon of unexpected proportions for Dr. Gotham and in short order he moved from grade to grade of sandpaper with just a bit of Gotham water to wet the tiles down, to felt and black polishing stone. With mere hours of work the stone was starting to gleam with a luster that only comes from meticulous hand work.
Then came the final fitting with just a touch of modern glue to represent the era of the box and to fill any spaces that were not a hard, tight fit. He slid top on bottom and let the glue set while he prepared the shellac by straining it, then examining it for impurities. His old stock had sat in glass jars for decades and as it couldn't go bad it created fresh shellac just as it had done for him decades back. He opened the box so he could work on top and bottom separately, set up a small wire drain over paper and got to work.
With a small brush, a small container for the shellac to be used and some alcohol, he went to work putting a first coat on the exterior of the box and cutting that heavily with alcohol so it dried almost instantly. A piece of sandpaper no larger than his fingertip was pressed gently around to remove an unevenness and to start the polishing process. This was repeated for a second coat, a third, a fourth, a fifth, each less cut with alcohol than the last. Because each layer was so thin and had run into the sanding of the previous layer, he could begin to see a depth to the wood grain that only such work could give it. Then it was only to put on the wrought-iron hinges, bought from a local craftsman on the North Island, and take out the tiny jeweler’s drill to start the holes necessary for the hand turned screws. With small screwdriver he attached the hinges and made sure they worked, then put on the wrought iron hasp to ensure secure closure.
Now the moment he dreaded as he put the old box next to the new one.
Living wood was not enough to thwart the power of the talisman. Rosewood, so dense and sturdy, was beginning to show some deterioration, some dullness to the shellac was appearing. In some way it had lived through that period of No Time in contact with time and it showed. The new box was opened and he carefully opened the old one. The red velvet pillow and pillow top were as he had put them in, apparently approved of by the talisman. The top pillow he fit into the new box and slowly, carefully he took the talisman's pillow out with its chain wrapped around it, and put that into the new box. He closed the lid, and secured it.
Now it was behind the living Earth and living wood, kept in place by hand wrought iron. His own words were written not by chiseling it in to stone or wood, but in the strokes of sanding on both, how he applied the shellac and polish. Layer upon layer upon layer of wards were ground into the stone and wood and then into the finish as well. All in all ten layers of wards were in place under the final coats.
Yet he had to give the talisman seconds of time in the world unprotected.
Who knew what chaos that portended?
* * *
Erin Norris had stepped out of the cab of the truck and headed to the side of it and up the loading dock stairs to the unloading level. The truck from Sam Wong's warehouse was not the only one there, at least five others from different companies and groups, including a catering agency, were all there offloading equipment, boxes, and wheel around carts meant to allow the quick set-up of events. While all of the staff were professionals, there was still the yelling, gesticulating and the smell of sweat that was wafting through the air from the men doing the unloading.
Harry, from the warehouse, gently put his hands on her shoulders.
"Excuse me, Ma'am, I need to get by you here," he said as Erin moved out of his way and towards the wall at the side of the loading dock.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said looking at the men who had come from the warehouse who met up with another Asian man dressed in business attire who talked with them as Harry opened up the back of the truck. She saw the welcome figure of Danny Kwitowski jump up to the dock level on the far side of the truck and he talked for a moment with the man and the guys from the warehouse. After that he smiled at Erin and walked over.
"I'll have to see if I can find Mike Drury back in this mess," Danny said gesturing with a sweep of his arm across the loading dock area, "he owes me a couple and I know he has a back room or two for people needing to... ahhh... sleep it off. Mostly its for any of his own men that show up drunk."
Erin smiled and nodded.
"OK, Danny, and thanks!"
Danny shook his head.
"My pleasure, Mrs. Norris. Sam told me you were in a bit of trouble and needed to be out of sight for a few days. Everyone knows Mikey has got a rough and gruff exterior, but has a marshmallow inside of him. You can tell by the way it overflows his belt," Danny smiled at Erin and she smiled back.
"So don't wander off. He could be anywhere and the dock office is usually the last place he will be, so I'll start there," he said gesturing to the other side of the loading dock.
"I won't, Danny, don't worry."
"Great! It shouldn't take more than a few minutes," he said walking off and weaving his way amongst the people, carts, upright closets, crates, steam tables, and dining carts that were being hurried into the convention center.
The loading dock continued to be an area of activity, and even more of it as another truck pulled into the far end of the dock area. It had the distinctive logo of the top hat and cane that anyone with fashion sense identified as belonging to Cobblepot Designs. She smiled at the relatively skinny men from his warehouse jump to work as the short, squat and well appointed Oswald Cobblepot waddled up the stairs. Of all the figures in Gotham City he was, perhaps, the best known after Bruce Wayne. Cobblepot Designs had been a leading men's clothier for nearly 20 years, and all of that under the watchful eye of the short, rotund, and well appointed man who was in his black wingtips, spats, pinstripe suit, cummerbund, white dress shirt, black tie, gold and onyx cufflinks, ruby tie tack, monocle and distinctive white gloves and black umbrella.
"You boys be careful with! Get it to Gertrude so our cattle can have their cattle call! Wah-hah-hah!" he said in a voice that carried across the dock.
The men from his warehouse laughed and a number of others smiled as they hurried back and forth across the dock.
"Ah, Tammy! I was wondering where you go to," said a woman walking towards Erin.
Erin looked startled and looked around.
The older woman in a business dress with outer coat was easily taller than Erin without her high heels on. The black pinstripe skirt and coat went with those black high heels and white blouse. The woman's dark hair was done up with pins that tried to keep the naturally curly locks from flying free.
"Tammy Landon! From the modeling agency, right? We were so worried that we didn't have a replacement for Kay when she came down sick this morning and we were phoning all over town for a model with some...ahhh... curves."
"But I'm not," Erin began as the woman came beside her.
"I know, hon, but everyone can't pick and choose which show they will make their professional debut at," the woman said gently holding Erin by her upper arm and starting to lead her away from the loading dock wall, "you have done full modeling, right? Shown off clothes and not just rings and necklaces, right? I mean you do have the skin and figure for those, too..."
Erin was trying to respond.
"I... I have, yes," she thought of the times for role-playing that she had done at Minerva's, which had entailed a number of sets of clothing though not ones that were meant to stay on the body for long. "But I haven't... I'm not..."
Erin found herself naturally stepping along with the woman, a gentle hand helping to guide her through the back halls of the convention center.
"The amateur circuit is nothing like the pros, Tammy," the woman said, "no worries about doing your own make-up and we have a couple of seamstresses and a tailor with us for emergencies. Just let the make-up people do their work and the clothing people do theirs and then a quick stroll down the catwalk for a change and another round after that and you're done for the evening."
Erin was blinking hard trying to take in what this fast talking, assertive woman was saying.
"There you are Scilla!" said a voice from a woman at a room just up ahead.
"Yes, Penny, I found her at the loading dock! She was confused and lost, but just look at that figure and you know its perfect for the evening!"
The shorter and somewhat older woman named Penny was in a regular business pantsuit, with a flexible measuring tape around her shoulders and a clipboard. The gray suit and low black pumps, along with red blouse and reading glasses all spoke, to Erin, of a woman in charge of what she was doing. She was eying Erin over the top of the half-glasses and smiling.
"Yes she is! I was so worried that we would need falsies for Dee-Dee, and those always look... well not right when wearing that first outfit. Now all we have to worry about is we don't need a metal smith to let it out a few rings..." she said looking at Erin.
"She will be just fine, won't you Tammy?"
Erin was confused, befuddled and still felt as if she was being trapped.
"I... I'm not... who..." she faltered as the two women gazed at her.
"You are just who we need, Tammy," Penny said taking her hand while the older woman released her upper arm, "you'll be fine, tonight, don't worry. Come with me."
"But..." Erin said softly as she was swept up into the movement and machine of the heartless garment industry.
So pretty on the outside.
So ruthless on the inside.