Looking up from the case, Lisa looked at Erin Norris and then turned and they hugged each other.
"I'm so glad to be back," Lisa said.
"I'm sorry, Lisa, I never thought anything like this..." Erin started and tears streamed down her face.
Selina shook her head and shifted the box with the feline sarcophagus up from the floor where she had set it down.
"Lisa, if you need a place to stay for awhile..." she said as Erin and Lisa let go of each other.
"I... Selina, I couldn't..."
"Miss Choi," Frank said, "to everyone outside of this room, you are still dead."
A sudden silence fell over everyone who looked at her.
"I might be able to..." Bruce started, looking at Lisa, "... find a way for you to start a new life. All that befell you did happen on my property, after all."
Loren sucked in her breath looking at Tom and then Bruce. "Mr. Wayne that's... it would take awhile, wouldn't it?"
"Yeah, it would," Frank said looking at Loren, then Vivian, Tom and finally on Lisa. "Still, it would be harder to explain actually being still alive and an empty grave."
"But..." Lisa started, her eyes wide, "...I... my apartment? Clothing?"
Erin shook her head slowly.
"Your family, back in California, they... didn't want it or any of Mark Re's belongings, either. They were..."
"Donated," Dr. Gotham said.
Lisa turned to look at him with an unreadable expression on her face.
"Luckily I was on hand to help out, along with Barbara and Erin. Sadly, many of your items and personal effects have been donated to charity to help the disabled and destitute. Those items which I judged of needing to be in the right place, those are with me."
Dr. Gotham smiled.
"They're... what?" Lisa asked, bewildered.
"In my shop. Indeed those items that you were not buried with, an assortment of rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and other such items that were of value are in my shop in a box as I had much to do with some urgency in the weeks following prior events that led to your placement in the cemetary."
Lisa started to smile as she looked at Dr. Gotham.
"They are yours, of course, and those you do not care for you can exchange for other items. But, beyond that, may I point out that being in a legal state of deceased is only a problem if you seek to pick up a life similar to the one you had. If you would prefer a new life, starting with the few friends you know here, then I can offer you good employment and a long-term place to stay. That is an easy enough thing to do when looking for a new shop, and I'm afraid that with Henry Swanson now retired and his son, Louis, of only moderate interest in my shop, that I will require someone to work those hours that I do not work so that the ebb and flow of pieces can continue. Your legal state of being is of no matter to me or my Shop. And I suspect that I would need to train you very little in the mundane parts of shopkeeping, and that you already have some experience with some of the more different aspects of items that are out of the ordinary. Which tends to be my stock and trade."
"Work for... you?"
"Well, for the Shop, yes. Truly, it is very rare that someone with exceptional background ever becomes available like this. That is all part of the way the Shop works, of course. Bringing the right people together with the right things. My offer will remain open, Miss Choi, as you are very much a unique person that does deserve a better situation in life."
Affinity had allowed it to weave events.
Affinity had bound places together which should never be bound together, that done by a nexus.
Power had driven it from where it had affinity across the nexus and into a different place, where, soon after, the nexus disappeared and all affinity was lost.
This place was in the outer realms of the cosmos it had entered, in a set of spaces and places that had a timeless time to them, and was a place only visited for those seeking the safety or terror of their dreams. Here it was unburdened by the binding to the jewel it had been in and had affinity with, and now that link to that piece had been severed most cleanly, by the nexus. It had not formed cults nor sought worship, and only a very few of those that had similar form to it knew that it actually existed at all. They would not have the power to find it, free it, and allow it to the more open other spaces in this cosmos of universes.
It sat behind a fold of red cloth looking out past white cloth and into a gray sky that held a hanging dust from a desert far below. The stand upon which the cloth was shrouded was of a cold substance that it had thought, at first, was wood or petrified wood. Only investigation showed that it was bone, rugged bone, darkened by some unknown power ages ago. It was not even complete limb bones but mere shards of bone fashioned by some unknown force into this stand for the cloak.
When first coming to this universe of universes, this cosmos that contained so many places, it knew that this was a place to avoid because of the free ranging powers here. Some were latent in the place itself, a dreaming foreverness of a mind dead, or maybe only dead yet dreaming. Great-great grandchildren of that power, mere shadows of vestiges of their parent, exercised their tiny bits of power as they would, and each of them was much greater than the power it had to use. It could weave of affinity, tug on the cords of it, and see if what it wove gave it what it wished to have. There were no cords of affinity here, at least not within the safety of the folds of cloth upon the stand that held it. The ancient, blasted bone belonged here. As did the cloth, although it did not start here it was now of here, and that meant it could be in no other place, and had been here for so long that it no longer had any Maker's affinity to it.
Scurrying to the top of the hood to peer out from under it, it attempted to look down past the Precipice, and could only see one thin amount that looked down from where it was, and rarely did it see anything but sand. What it did see where the dreams of those of Chaos who dreamt here and they were not ones that it wanted anything to do with.
It was not lost, it knew with an exacting awareness of where it actually was, and that there was no real way to escape here.
A flash of darkness against gray also told it that it was not alone.
It scurried back into the hood and out of sight as it felt a rush of air that wasn't air roll down from the sky as great wings flapped. Taloned claws gripped the rock and it caught only the flash of scales going by the hood for an instant. That which perched here wanted nothing to do with the cloak, and was satisfied to just sit and watch, seeking to espy those that needed ending. The keenest of eyes would see it if even a tiny part of one leg was out to where the creature that was the Guardian of the Precipice could see it. The cloak offered it haven, safety, and, ultimately, nothing else beyond that. It could not don the cloak, wear it or even deal with the fine cloth of it, as its cunning maker had endowed it with some thread that would entangle it if it even tried to undo it. There were weavers and Weavers, and the one who made this was of the latter sort, while it was merely of the former.
Only one errant bit of windswept sand made its way inside the hood of the cloak, and that it snagged.
It was something to do, after all, collecting of sand and dust.
And it had an eternity to do it in.
Collecting it grain by grain.
In the depths there are chambers formed by creatures great and small, often done by enticement of those of the deep to make them the places they wish so as to protect them from the ravages of the surface dwellers. In ancient times they had called one of the great burrowers through rock to make a system of tunnels and lairs beneath what would be their reef home, and it is there that those lived in the depths sought shelter when need be. Last to be Eaten was also there, his place in the far depths of the network of tunnels beyond which any surface dweller could find or navigate to. Glowing algae that lived in the water and in the humid air in the chamber gave it more than enough light for the People of the Deep to see by. They could breathe air, of course, but not well which meant that it was suitable as a form of enforced torture upon those who did supplicate themselves, both ruler and supplicant alike, so that expedience in decisions could be made. The leader of his People did not sit but paced slowly on the ground that had been roughened to give him better footing, and he had with him those who were leading members of various parts of their society. They squatted on the floor as befitted their position, and the supplicant was prostrate before all of them.
One of their kind came up from the watery slope of the chamber, adorned with necklaces, wrist and ankle bands, a belt which did not rot in the sea which held water secure pouches and tools. His skin was of a dark hue of green, hardened by the heat of forges both natural and those made by their kind. Not all forges used heat, of course, but other powers that only the very few and highly skilled could handle. This one genuflected as he arose from the water and the leader turned and nodded to him.
"I have come as desired, Last One."
"Yes, Maker, you are required for an opinion. This one, this priestlet, has failed in its mission but has brought back information on items and objects, which are protected by Wards of a surface Maker. This failure needs to describe them to you so that you can give your opinion on them."
"Of course, Last One," the Maker said looking at Shlasuar.
"You may begin, my failure spawn."
Shlasuar spoke softly as his battered body could not take much more than that.
"Yes, Last One... Maker there are two objects... seats of power... one a tooth of Tai-a-mate..."
The leader gestured to a guard who went to Shlasuar and used hardened lash against his back, which was now criss-crossed with lacerations.
"Do not bring disfavor to us, failure priestlet," the leader said.
"Forgiveness Last One.."
The leader made a motion with his head and the guard stepped back two paces.
"It is in amber formed into a necklace... none know who formed it or when."
The Maker nodded.
"Extremely powerful, then, and made when those first surface plants with that resin formed or thereafter. There is no doubt of it?"
Shlasuar coughed and dark fluid dripped from his mouth on to the floor that his face rested on.
"None," he said daring to glance at the Maker. "The other is a ring... it is called..." he halted and closed his eyes to think, "... by the surface dwellers... Dragon Mother Returns... made by a surface dweller Priest who was also a Maker... centuries ago."
The Maker nodded. "A trigger seat, bound up in that and then becomes its own thing. Yes, those are known but there are only very few of them as it takes the life of its Maker to do such, and still requires dedication to the craft in doing. They are protected by what?"
"A case made by a Maker... dense thorn tree wood and gold... gold in glass so that they can be seen..."
The Maker nodded, "Very wise and I assume well locked, yes?"
"Locked?" the leader burst out, "Not just that is it failure? Tell him of its Ward."
"Just one Ward?" the Maker asked.
"Two," Shlasuar said, "one to spread affinity around evenly..."
"Ah, yes, very clever, that is. No one gets to them that way."
"Inside that is a link to the Void for power use."
Looking at Shlasuar the Maker shivered, not from the temperature of the chamber or its dank air, but for the actual placement of such a link as it was dangerous in the extreme to even attempt that.
"The surface dweller Maker took a high risk. Worth it for such as those."
"Good, now you understand! I want those things before that which is the Creature of the Islands regains its strength. We must have those things!"
Shlasuar coughed and looked at his father, the Last to be Eaten.
"They are bound up... by She Who Is Source Of All... before her murder... she had done what must be done... her time is not come..."
"Yet. Not Yet come. Failure," Last One said.
Looking between Shlasuar and his father, the Maker gave a side-long glance at the High Priest, also known as First to be Eaten, who gave a minimal shake of his head. Now the Maker understood why he was called there and that the sacrifice of those on the mission would require one more sacrifice. It was a small price to save his People. Perhaps, just perhaps, Last One might realize that there are places and things not meant for their kind. And that a People unwilling to commit suicide for folly could find a new Last One. Sadly he knew his duty in such a case: one can die first or one can die last.
"This one came back without them," he said looking at Shlasuar and then at Last One.
"Yes!! We lost two of our Changelings on the quest for them. That cannot be tolerated. Failure cannot be tolerated."
The Maker turned to Last One.
"They succeeded. Take my life instead of his as I will not go after such things. Do it. If you dare."
He remembered Bastogne.
He hated the holidays.
He loved his family, now spread out from the Pitt to the West Coast, and had received invitations by letter and phone to see his grand-children. The rotation of children and holiday events he would pick up again, on the New Year, and perhaps Easter would see him in San Diego or Denver or the Pitt. Probably the Pitt as it was closest, but he made sure to spread his time as evenly as he could. A pre-holiday party a few days before with friends at the VFW was something he could and did do, along with one other gathering in New York City of the veterans of the war in the region. They were family, too, and tended to have a better schedule because of the other families they had, and gave an excuse to married veterans to be out of the way in the days leading up to the main holidays.
This year was a different one for Sgt. Frank Rock (r) as it had started with him living alone, though not lonely, in the old family summer home on Long Island, spending his time as he wanted which would usually include some drop-by visits of friends, books mailed in seeking autographs, or the news that it was time to unpack his dress blue uniform for a funeral. His social circle was relatively small and while he missed the people of the Pitt, he didn't miss the Pitt, itself. When his family was full of children and work at the Pitt continued, he could set aside his feelings for the actual holidays for them and only, late at night after everyone had gone to bed, have a glass of whiskey and raise it in quiet salute to those he had left behind on so many holidays in a war now long over. There was none of that in this year and for the first time in many a year the summer home actually had a small tree in it, trimmed with what little he had left in the attic after giving away all the major ornaments and lights to his children, plus a few store bought items to almost make it festive by the fireplace. On the mantel of the fireplace were pictures of his family in years gone by, and one of his late wife Sally who had made his memoirs into something you could read. For once, instead of gifts sent to distant homes where he was visiting, they were all sent here, on Long Island. He always did his best to get out presents to all of his family and for the first time in his memory, the war machine from a future never to be had helped him get something for each of them along with Vivian to make them age appropriate.
He grew up with one family in the Pitt when he was young. He became a man with another family, the US Army, during the war. He raised his own family, making sure that his first family was invited or that they went to them whenever possible, and that his second family also got close treatment, including one year visiting Thomas Wayne and his new wife, Martha. His third family was durable, while his second aged out and contacts grew fewer with his siblings. The Army was always there, but Thomas and Martha Wayne weren't and their young son grew up with whatever help he could offer through Alfred which was mostly moral and later good people to train with. Now his third family was dispersed as much as his first, and his comrades in arms were also leaving behind the soldier's wake of crosses one by one, instead of by the tens and hundreds. Through these three families he knew what fealty meant and it entailed duty and keeping active, fit and ready to help be it attending to an injured veteran, seeing off a coworker from the Pitt or visiting hither and yon to see grand-children. A man had to stay fit for these things as it was his duty, obligation and honor to do so.
In one year he now found a fourth family that he had stumbled into by such duty. For a time he had thought that it would be the end of him, the end of everyone and the advent of a new war far, far worse than the one he had survived. He had met soldiers from that war and understood their conflict, and now found that although there must be some mystery to them, that they had become part of his new family, as well. The war machine as soldier and the soldier as dutiful were things he understood, as was helping of Bruce Wayne to carry out an obligation to his father who had saved his life. What he hadn't expected were the men and women who began to coalesce around those events, Sarah Conner, Vivian Rose, the Carstairs brothers and their family, Lucius Fox and his family... he was glad that they had the idea to expand the summer home back when it was packed with his family and their friends, plus assorted others who came for a summer getaway. Most of the house sat vacant and unused most of the year, and it had taken a few weeks to get the place spruced up with so many people coming by to visit. Why they had chosen his home was something beyond him, and why he didn't put up much of a fight over it was somethiing that surprised him, as well. Frank Rock had, apparently, gotten yet another start in life, this time not as dutiful son, not as dutiful soldier, not as dutiful husband but as dutiful friend to those who shared a common bond with him of preparing to fight a war that it was possible all on Earth would lose.
There were events after that, of course, including the affair of Martha Wayne's found amulet and the enigmatic Dr. Gotham. He had heard bits and pieces, here and there after that pre-Halloween scare and didn't know what to make of it until the affair of Guthrie Lewis and others, involving the amulet, ring and Spider Necklace all of which had passed through the hands of Chester Rhinold. And cost him his sanity and possibly his life back 70 and more years ago. Thankfully that appeared to be it for the year, yet in that space of time stretching from late May to late November he had been out and more active than he had been in years, met more people than he cared to name and taken part in events that would have transformed all that he knew into ruin, twice over. In return he got the odd-ball family of people lost in time, a multi-millionaire playboy, many of his staff, a better contact with Fr. Jordan and a hopeful trip to LA in the near future as a side-trip to see family, maybe, to see Fr. Casull, all the way down to the cat burgler who was much more than that, Selina Kyle.
Of the house, it was full and then some, with the garage put into ersatz sleeping quarters for Tom, Kyle Reese, Sarah Connor and the family of Martin Carstairs, who said that a decent space heater was all it needed for his children. Frank had been shooed from the kitchen hours ago as Vivian, Tom and Alfred all worked away to keep an on-going supply of food out for what was not going to be an actual dinner as such, but a day-long buffet. Frank had gotten tired out from all the talking with everyone, and decided that he needed some time in his study that he had used to put his book together and deal with correspondence. It also had a fireplace, and while the furnace worked fine, he banked the vents into the room and let the logs he put on smoulder into coals as he watched them and remembered the windswept landscape and the threatening clank of tanks on the move to the east. With a glass of scotch in one hand he looked through it and into the fireplace where a flame would show first yellow and then red as it burnt down. It was far better than the little cookfires they kept going behind drifts of snow or in the remains of buildings, or even in holes created by the German artillery or prior Allied bombing raids.
He heard a soft knock on the door and he set his glass down and let his hand slip beside the arm of his chair to rest on Old Reliable's case.
"Come in, its unlocked. Nobody here but me and my ghosts."
The door opened a crack and he saw a tall, shadowy figure in the doorway that then slipped past the door and into the room.
"Sorry to disturb you, Frank," the man who entered said to him.
"Nah, no problem. Plenty of time to remember the sub-zero or just walk out into something a bit warmer if I need it."
The other man sat down and looked at Frank for a moment and then set his mug of coffee down on the table between the chairs.
"Thanks. Its a bit much down there..." he said gesturing to the door and beyond, "... why did you invite everyone, Frank?"
"Vivian. She's the culprit, Bruce. Once she got the Cartstairs boys committed, along with Sarah and Kyle... everyone else just seemed to join in. Rotten scoundrel, wanted to have a good time at my place away from the City and yet close to it. I suggested a nice hotel in Vermont.... she just laughed and said it would be here..."
Bruce smiled as he looked into the fire.
"She does that. A lot. Best pilot I've ever run across outside the Air Force and even better than many in it. A good relief driver, too."
"Uh-huh. Relieves me of my car when she's here. I prefer to drive but she always seems to end up with the keys no matter what I want to do."
"She is floored at the matching pistols, Frank. Factory presentation box and everything. I think she's afraid to actually take them out and use them."
Frank snorted as he sipped from his glass of scotch and held it in both hands while looking at the fire.
"Meant to be used. The Oberst that the set had been captured from certainly put it to use on himself... one of them, at least, his wife used the other. They sat with the widow of the Lieutenant who had gotten to the place first since the war, and she was wondering what to do with it since she didn't want it in the house any more. All the details in the capture papers cover the capture pretty well."
Bruce chuckled and looked at Frank.
"She let some of the potatoes burn while reading it. She will use them, don't worry. Hard to get a factory set of HSc's like that."
"The Oberst was old line Prussian and had ties to the factory, or his family did. Probably didn't want to own up to his camp position during the last months of the war or tell about the General Staff's complicity. Helluva a last ditch set of pistols, if you ask me, but that's Prussia for you."
"Did you know Lieutenant Grankowski?"
Frank shook his head.
"Never met him. He was on special detail from Allied HQ. I was getting shot at in Bavaria at the time, south and east of the place where the Oberst decided to exit with his wife."
"The grapevine, then?"
"You're fishing, Bruce, and you're not very good at it. All you had to do was ask. Selina got them. I wanted to get Vivian a present and couldn't think of what to get her. She's a hard woman to shop for."
"I see," Bruce said.
From downstairs the doorbell rang and they heard Martin Carstairs saying that he had it. A moment later there was a stir and someone saying 'Dinner is here!' Frank raised an eyebrow.
"I didn't order out. Can't on Christmas unless you want Chinese."
"Chef Girard. I gave him the list of people who were going to be here and told him I needed a special meal set up. In an hour what's left of lunch will be gone and he will have dinner ready to go."
"Thank you, Bruce. Its not that I don't like what everyone has brought, its just not what I would call suitable for everyone who is here. Everyone I talked to said it would be all right. Should have known something was up since it is hard to get cooperation like that on Christmas."
"Someone had to handle it, and Girard told me he does an early meal with his family, so he would be available for here. A white lie from him, but I didn't want to tell him that I would arrange for something else once he said that. The man loves his job."
Rock grunted and took a sip from his glass.
"Bruce, I should have known better than to volunteer," he said softly, "I was perfectly happy to grow old here, see the grandkids and tidy the place up enough during the summer for a visit or two. They were surprised that I had Tom here and I had to let my kids know, at least, what was up. They won't blab about it, and seeing the red glow from behind Tom's healing eye was enough to let them know that he was for real. That and ruining the bathroom scale, that was a real tip-off, that was."
Bruce grimaced a moment and shook his head.
"That's OK, Frank. We all know that there are limits to secrets like that, and by now we are all prepared in case someone does go public."
Frank smirked as he put his glass down and shifted in his chair, letting his fingertips brush the top of the case sitting next to it.
"It won't, Bruce. Some things are just too fantastic to believe. That future or one like it won't catch us by surprise, so it will have to be some other damned thing. You can win a damned war, but you can't win the damned peace."
The black Jag idled by the side of the road as darkness fell. It had crept up in front of the house close to the driveway to it as the snow continued to fall. A light wind blew the large flakes to and fro as she watched from the driver's side seat. Even with the heater on she shivered and reached for her thermos bottle to open it and pour out some hot tea into the cup.
"God what am I doing here?" she asked into the air as she sipped her tea. "I don't really belong here..."
She looked at the card on the passenger's side seat that Frank had sent her, inviting her over for Christmas.
She heard a noise in the distance behind her, a rumbling coming her way.
Her eyes widened and she slugged the tepid tea down and put the cap back on the thermos bottle and then slid the Jag into gear. The wheels started to turn... and turn... and turn. Instead of going forward the car started to slide sideways.
"Shit!" she said trying to put the car into reverse to back the tires to a fresh spot where she might get some traction. That was an automatic reaction, a part of winter driving skills, and if the car hadn't been close to the edge of the road, it would have been the right thing to do.
The rumbling increased as the car slid further sideways and began to tilt as the rear tires went onto the slope of the ditch and one tire started to lose contact with the ground.
She pulled on the parking brake after taking the car out of gear and heard the rumbling get louder and louder. Balling her gloved hands she pounded on the steering wheel. Movement to the front of her car caught her eye and she stopped and looked out over the hood as a large figure appeared and stepped around the car. In a moment a red road flare burst into life and the bulky man with chiseled looks appeared, stepping closer to the side of the car. He looked at her and she brought the window down.
"Put the flashers on," he said, "I will wave the plow by."
Selina nodded, raised the window, and put on the emergency flashers for her car and watched as Tom walked down the road behind the vehicle and waved the flare slowly. As the lights of the plow became visible they flashed and the vehicle slowed. She could see Tom place the flare in the snow by the road and then step up to the large truck's passenger side window and talk to the driver. Time seemed to drag on for an eternity and then she saw the plow shift to the other side of the street as it moved forward with Tom holding on to the outside of the cab. When he came abreast of her he dropped off the plow's step and walked to her car.
She lowered the window as he came to her.
"He has chains. We will have you out of here in a few minutes."
She looked up at him and nodded.
"Thank you, Tom," she said trying to put on a winning smile.
"You're welcome," he said and walked back to the plough which had stopped so that Tom and the driver could get chains off the side and attached to the plough. Tom took the chain and its hook to her car and dropped out of sight for a moment and then came back up after there was a clanking sound from beneath her car. He walked around the front of the car to her and looked into the car.
"Turn your lights on. I will get the flare to make sure that your car doesn't slide sideways. When he takes up the slack, let the brake off and flash your lights once."
She nodded and raised the window, putting her hand on the brake and then seeing the red flare lift up out of the snow and be waved slowly back and forth. The truck inched forward and the chain started to be picked up off the ground. As it tugged on her car she took the brake off and then flashed her lights once. The plow truck inched slowly forward and she felt the car go forward but also sideways. The flare dropped out of sight and she felt the right rear end of her car slide up as the plow truck continued to go forward. In a moment she was on the road and the flare was being waved again and the truck stopped. Tom put the flare down and went around the passenger side of her car and to the front of it, then dropped from sight long enough to detach the hook from the now slack chain. She watched in silence and put the car's headlights on to help the two men see what they were doing. She waved once to the plow's driver and watched as Tom waved to him as the truck left.
Tom walked slowly back to her window and she lowered it again. As she did the plow went on its way, clearing the road and dropping salt behind it.
"There is room at the end of the driveway for you to pull in," he said.
She looked down and shook her head trying to make sense of her life, herself and the situation she was in.
"But... I don't belong here..."
Tom continued to look at her and then nodded, once.
"Miss Kyle, you are always welcome here."
She looked back up and looked into his face and realized that he was standing out in the freezing cold with a plaid shirt, jeans and mechanic's boots on and thinking nothing of it. Caked snow was slowly melting off of his right arm where he had to lay while he was under her car.
"I'm just not...used to this."
"Neither am I."
"You? But you saved my life... and Frank... and I'm not..."
"Frank would like you to be here."
Selina shook her head. She had worked hard to get to the top of her profession, faced hard and deep challenges and always fought to be her own woman at every turn. Having Maurice and Amy knowing her... that was work. Having Frank, Tom and... she inhaled sharply and looked at Tom.
"Would you like me to be here?"
Tom blinked, allowing sub-routines and systems that had been adapting to his new setting come into play.
"Yes," he said, "you are welcome with me, too."
She gave a wan smile and sighed.
"That I can't turn down. Just up ahead there, where the snow pile is?"
Tom looked out in front of the car.
"Just beyond it. You will be able to pull in as I have cleared it out past what the plow left earlier tonight. We will dig you out when you want to leave tomorrow."
"Right," she said to herself, putting the car into gear and slowly pulling out and then turning into the driveway, and getting the Jag just behind one of the catering vans that Chef Girard had brought with him. With Conrad and Chelsea at the Pet Motel, they would be pampered. Selina realized that she was nearly frantic, but gathered her wits about her, raised the window and put the parking brake on before she shut the car down for the night.
Tonight the Jaguar would have to sleep out in the snow.
"What am I doing here?" Lisa asked as she used a caulk gun to put a bead of caulk in along the window frame.
Dr. Gotham was removing the plastic adhering to the glass and checking to make sure that the window was secure in the frame and that the rubber seal was good enough to hold it in place while Lisa put on the caulking. He looked over to her as she stood near the top of a ladder next to the laminated glass of the front of the new store.
"Miss Choi, I do appreciate your willingness to be here and if you ever wish to attempt to resume your prior life and the complications of it, you are always free to do so."
She squinted at the mid-day light coming through the window and finished the long bead of caulk along the top portion of the window glass. After putting a cap on the tube she stepped slowly down the rungs and on to the shop floor, itself. Most of the display cabinets still had white cloth sheeting on them as well as some plastic bubble wrap around the sides and over the top. She felt lucky that Dr. Gotham had decided to go with movers instead of trying to do it himself, which would have probably delayed everything for weeks. He was relatively fit for his age...
Lisa quenched that thought as Dr. Gotham was older than Gotham City. He had said he could have done this relatively quickly, but at a relatively steep price, and that it was better to use a local firm this time around, so that there were no 'complications'.
"I don't think I want to do that," she whispered. She had talked to Erin and Barbara about what happened when she was thought to be dead, and that there was a nice turn-out at her funeral. The thought of trying to contact those people was unnerving to her and did not feel right at all. As it was she had to get used to the idea that she would be leading a life that had its own forms of advantages and disadvantages. She would never have a driver's license or other identification which meant that she would have to deal with transportation and identification in different ways. On the plus side, she never had to pay personal taxes ever again, just those for transactions. And she had been told that she could just take what she needed to cover expenses from the cash register, and she had no clue about how a shop could run like that but had been assured that if she had been a normal person employed, like Henry Swanson, formal pay with its overhead would be the norm.
"But getting used to being here," she said looking into the shop to be, "that will take some doing. You don't really run it like a shop, you do know that, right?"
A slow tug on the plastic backing the glass of the shop window ended with a snap of the plastic as it came free to reveal the new shop window which looked almost exactly like the old one. The awning outside still had to be installed, which would put a near permanent shade over the interior. Newer fittings for electrical overhead lights glowed in a bright white that would be familiar in any corner store or boutique shop, and which Dr. Gotham shrugged at and indicated that they would be used only sparingly once things were in full operation so that shop lamps on tables or in display cases would take up the burden of allowing customers to see things as they were meant to be seen.
Dr. Gotham slowly folded the blue plastic sheeting and looked at her and into the larger shop space.
"It is not truly a shop, Miss Choi, but a place for the proper items to find their proper place. We do accept cash, of course, but trade is preferred. We are not a pawn broker nor small lender of funds, nor do we traffic in everyday goods or mere 'collectibles', nor is fine art at home here save when it is part of a trade and then it is properly displayed as such but with respect to the function of the shop in mind. There are rare books and everyday sorts here, so we are not an antiquarian book dealer. There are old clothes and new to be found, but we are not a consignment store nor run for the benefit of the poor, although they do often grace our doors and their exchanges and trades can often be far more valuable than any funds a rich person might offer for another item. Old investments in many places keep the physical environs of the shop running, and we are in no desperate need for cash. This shop is made in service to Gotham which was, which is and which is to be and while we will get regular customers who wish to peruse items they will find that while we have an eclectic selection that little of it is to their taste. This is always a quiet shop opened in an unassuming way, leading an obscure existence and having an odd trade based on trade for fair value. Thus it is a shop with low overhead, minimal maintenance and serving a desperate need by those in search of just that one item that will transform their lives."
She had heard that, in bits and pieces, before, but only now did she actually come to understand what it meant. Her life had been snatched from her and only with difficulty and help had she come back to the land of the living. She had not died but had been thought dead by all, and that life she had was at an abrupt end. With graciousness Dr. Gotham had invited her to what remained of her old goods, and gave her an offer that she thought was just insane. Those who knew of her still being alive would be few, but close. She would not have to explain her absence from the grave nor what had gone on as it was beyond all forms of belief that she knew of. For all those lost and in search of the right item, the right place, the right time, there was Dr. Gotham's Curiousity Shop. He had recognized that she belonged here but not as some item or trinket to pick up but as the right person to be at the right place at the right time.
Lisa Choi had never been any of those things to anyone, ever.
"I belong here," she whispered.
Taking the folded plastic sheeting over to a large box, Dr. Gotham placed it into the box and turned to look at her.
"Only if you wish, Miss Choi. The shop takes nothing and gives much. One must be willing to receive what it gives to complete their life. I have found it a rich and satisfying way to live. You may, as well, or perhaps just find it as that way-station in life until that perfect place to be comes along for you. That is what this shop does, after all."
Given her recent experiences, Lisa had to think about that as the idea that one's life could be shaped by something like the shop or outside forces was no longer something she could dismiss as she was alive because of it. Or because of a series of random events that just happened to work out as they did. Of the two she couldn't think of which was more unsettling.
Guthrie drove down the road from the Cave of the Winds and tried to remember which State he was in as there were so many such places of the Wind or Air or some other form of phrase that he had lost count some time ago. People who named such things thought it was just a nice name to, perhaps, stir up some tourism and didn't realize that such a dedication was to an actual set of forces that did exist. He slid in a cassette of some choicer selections of Brahm's quartets by a relatively well known group in Germany and he smiled as he drove. Snow did blow across the road from the cave, which was shut down for the season of tourism, but not for the season of the Winds as they were of all seasons and places.
He had thought, for a while, that Dr. Gotham had handed him a death sentence as the Winds were not often happy with failure and that brush back in the Late Bronze Age with death when his warnings had come true was a reminder to both parties that having power was not the same as having wisdom, nor that the reverse was ever true as well. This time he made the case for the wisdom of consultation and thought, along with some investigation since to act rashly against the plans of She Who Breathed Winds would not be pleasant for anyone. Plus there was the added attraction of not getting sucked into the Void, which even the Winds feared as they knew they, too, could be snuffed from existing in an instant and never be remembered or even much missed. Guthrie personally had no wish for that, as well, and made the added case for Prudence, that fine lady that very few courted much to the misery of everyone. Put together and there was much in the way of arguing which he, thankfully, could leave behind as it was not his place to decide such things and he would much prefer to go back to being an engineering consultant for some time and not have to deal with the Winds any time soon.
The Bora took the gusts of the wind, the snow drifts and just merrily went through them all, uncaring of Winds, Guthrie or much of anything else. There was a time to live and a time to drive and now it was the latter, and in a direction that would not see Gotham City again any time soon, if ever again.