by Arlene Pon
Stories about The Batman were always hot news.
In the beginning, when they first heard about him, they thought some homeless people were drinking, boozing, using, whatever. Hallucinations, visions, dreams, nightmares. Being out there so long, they'd developed their own subculture. Who could believe them? Rational, sane normal people knew better. A guy dressed like a bat? Beating up the bad guys? Yeah, sure, uh huh, sorry, can't spare any change. Gotta go.
Then it escalated. Those people, the ones who had to live in places like Crime Alley, started to admit seeing him. A boogey man, come to help out the decent people in the area. It gave them a little hope. But of course, living in a dump like that, you'd need all the hope you could get. Urban legends, spooky stories to thrill the kids. Yep, chased those drug dealers right outta the 'hood. Broke up a turf war. You can't kill the Bat. Yessir, seen him myself. He jes' grabbed the gun an' snatched that boy away. Ain't never seen hide nor hair of the boy since. Boy deserved it though. Thas' right. Be good, chile, or he steal you away, too. You better behave yo'self.
Then, The Batman hit the mainstream. Caught genocidal whackos and sent them to Arkham. Solved high-profile murders, robberies, kidnappings, you name it. The police even have some sort of "Batsignal" on their rooftop to call him. Suddenly, those tales from the homeless didn't seem so far-fetched. Those "urban legends" were more than just campfire ghost stories. Now this, this was news. No, make that he was news. Newspapers, news shows, magazines were trying to discover the whos, whens, whys, hows and whats of The Batman. Never mind that he'd been spotted much, much earlier. What did those people know anyhow? Serious journalists, respected professionals in their fields, now those were the people to believe.
Homer Wiedelmeyer was such a person. Granted, working for The National Squealer wasn't as respectable as, say, The Gotham Gazette, but it still reported the news. Or something close to it. Homer would be the first to defend the tabloi--, ahem, newspaper he worked for. Even though it didn't contain the truth as most people knew it, it was somebody's truth. Seen Bigfoot? Well, sure, he could exist. There has never been any conclusive evidence that he didn't exist, now has there? Having Elvis' love child? Sure, the King had plenty of love to give, and even though he might be dead (and please note the might) his spirit can be felt everywhere. We're just exercising our Right of Free Speech, mister. You can always exercise your Right of Not Buying and ignore us. People rarely ignored them though. "The squeaky wheel, or rather Squealy wheel, gets the grease" was Homer's favorite line, clever man that he was.
Homer reveled in the feeling of writing a story and seeing it in print. Professional pride. It never occurred to him that the "truth" he was reporting was looked down upon by all except the extremely curious and the extremely gullible, and there were plenty of both. His heart swelled everytime he saw his byline while standing at the checkout counter. He had to control the urge to nudge the person standing next to him, point at the headline and say, "Hey, that's me! I wrote that!"
Although he was happy with his life thus far, he had always felt he was bound for something bigger and better. A Pulitzer. Or one of those other big, shiny, heavy-looking things they always gave to outstanding journalists at those dressy parties. Which is why The Batman was of such interest for him. The National Squealer had actually covered the first rumored sighting of the Big Bad Bat roughly fifteen years before. When he had discovered that article from so long ago, he believed that it was a sign. His time for greatness had come. Would come. Eventually.
Homer collected every little tidbit of information related to The Batman. News stories, gossip, rumors and speculation, all this was compiled, sorted and reviewed to answer the One Big Question: Who was The Batman? Although Homer was the first to admit he wasn't a brilliant man, he had patience and time and would use both to figure out the answer.
Things really started to connect when he reread the article of Robin's first appearance. Acrobatic ability? Wait, didn't Bruce Wayne take in a circus kid? He remembered it was big news way back then. Digging deeper, he discovered that Batman popped up at about the time a young Bruce Wayne returned from a years-long trip abroad. Who knows what he could've learned on his travels? His excitement building, Homer could hardly stop his hands from shaking. Wayne's a billionaire, he can afford all that stuff Batman's supposed to have. He then did research on Bruce Wayne.
Wait a minute. Bruce Wayne has a reputation as a playboy. He's got a new woman every week. Slept with more women than that basketball player--what's his name? Wilk Chamberlain? Whatever. So the man has an alibi for pretty much every night of the week. The Batman has been sighted nightly. Wait! I'll bet he's financing The Batman! And he loans out his kid? Whoa. That's just so ... perverted. A guy who's richer than God takes a kid in after his parents are killed and within the year, puts the kid to work. Rented him out? Double whoa. No wonder Wayne Tech's profits kept going up.
Now filled with what he felt was a righteous anger, Homer continued to sift through the data collected from his research. Imagine that! He's screwing every woman that walks through his door while his kid goes out and risks getting killed every night along with a nutcase dressed like a bat. No wonder Richard Grayson left town.
Homer paused. Wayne's alibis were too perfect, actually. And if he really was sleeping around, what about paternity claims? Taking a look through old files, he couldn't find any, which was quite strange considering the guy was supposed to be such a stud. No one could be that lucky, unless he was shooting blanks. Of course, if that were the case, surely The Squealer would've picked up on the story. Did he pay the women to lie about his whereabouts? He thought a moment. "Yes, officer, he was in bed with me all night." That was it! He used high-class hookers! Pay them off and never see them again. Diabolical! Could Wayne actually be Batman? The World's Greatest Detective?
He considered Wayne's public reputation. Although it was never said directly to his face, word was he was an airhead. Although he was CEO for his company, he most likely had other people running things for him. He remembered hearing about Wayne trying to get federal aid for Gotham during No Man's Land. The people in Washington didn't take him seriously because they thought he was just a talking head, a mindless puppet. Then how ... ?
Commissioner Gordon! He had to be the brains behind this, the "detective" part of the team. He did some checking on Gordon. Reported to be a smart man, Gordon probably knew Wayne's secret and had helped set the whole thing up. After all, he helped Wayne get the boy in the first place, and he saw Batman and Robin often, almost every night. Homer thought of another point. Surely Grayson must've come away from his nightly outings with some interesting bruises. Gordon could easily cover up any school reports about suspected child abuse. Hey! He was involved in the murder investigation of Wayne's parents in Crime Alley. Just how far back did this whole Batman thing really start, anyway?
Homer could practically see the Pulitzer (or the big shiny thing) within his reach. Exposing a conspiracy involving one of the richest men in the world and a corrupt police commissioner. Maybe even a medal from President Luthor. Wow!
Okay, he had the background info and a really good theory, but what he needed now was good hard evidence. Usually he didn't bother with something like that for his articles, but this was special. He needed a confession. But how? And who would talk?
Richard Grayson would be the best candidate. A Mommy Dearest-type story right there. Think of all that resentment. But since he had left, Homer wasn't quite sure where he was. He'd heard that Grayson was somewhere in Bludhaven, but Homer wasn't going there, no way, no how. Anyway, Grayson wasn't even in the phonebook there.
No freakin' way on the Commissioner. Hard, tough, surrounded by people with guns, and the man had a gun. Real good with it, too. He could also have the power to "remove" Homer. Gulp.
So, it seemed that Wayne might be the one. A man that rich and powerful (and probably dumb as a post) couldn't possibly like being used like that night after night, being bossed around by someone old enough to be his father, but poor enough to be bought several times over. He'd be dying to tell his side of the story. At least Homer thought he would.
Perfect. He had the who, and now he had to work on the how.
Let's see. Bruce Wayne was always mentioned in the society pages. So what parties were going to be thrown and which would he attend? Getting a public confession would be the best way to go. If the Commissioner were there too, there would be too many witnesses for him to do anything to Homer. And Gordon wouldn't be able to feign ignorance if confronted by both him and Wayne. He flipped through the Gazette and spotted a charity ball for a new children's wing at Gotham General Hospital to be held at Wayne Tower, scheduled for tomorrow night. Bigwigs would attend that, what with the needs of the children and all.
Crashing the party would be easy. He would pretend to be one of the waitstaff. It worked all the time on television, and television was based (albeit loosely) on real life. All he needed to do was find a waiter-type looking outfit. He rummaged through his closet and found the suit he wore to his nephew's barmitzvah. Perfect, if a little tight now. He sucked in his gut and admired his image in the mirror. He struck a pose and brushed a few scattered strands of hair over his bald spot. He winked at his reflection and smiled.
The name's Wiedelmeyer. Homer Wiedelmeyer.
He fancied himself walking off with Wayne's woman-of-the-week. You handsome devil, you. Now where to hide the tape recorder? If he put it in a pocket, its outline would show. Maybe he could hide it under a towel, the kind waiters slung over their arm while serving? Not a bad idea. He carefully let go of the breath he'd been holding so as not the pop the buttons of his waistcoast, not to mention his pants. He undressed and hung up his suit to work the wrinkles out.
Since the benefit was scheduled for Saturday night, he had plenty of time to prepare. He typed up his article, being careful to include his sources in order to sound more credible. He also tried to predict what was going to happen.
First, he would search out Wayne and confront him. Naturally, Wayne would deny being Batman. Homer would lay out his theory to Wayne, and blinded by the pure brilliance of Homer's logic, Wayne would crack and spill it all. Homer would then get Wayne hopping mad at Gordon for using him as a pawn, and together, they'd confront the Commissioner. Gordon would also start by denying everything, then he would realize how trapped he was by the truth. He'd rant and rave and make threats, forgetting about all the witnesses. Maybe he'd even try to take a shot at Homer. Of course, Wayne would stop him from doing any harm, seeing as he was The Batman and all. Wayne would even be grateful since Homer helped him out from under Gordon's thumb. The media would get a hold of the incident, but Homer would be the only one who would know the whole story and have it taped. He could rush back to the office and get the story in on time for the morning edition. After that, it was all gravy: fame, awards, money, the works.
He saved everything on a disk so he could go straight from the party to his office and stuck it in a suit pocket. Luckily, it was thin enough so that its outline would hardly show.
Homer Wiedelmeyer went to bed a happy man.
The next day, Homer arrived at Wayne Tower a couple hours earlier than when the ball was scheduled to start. He spotted the caterers, and wearing his suit, he blended right in. He picked up a metal tray full of bread, hid his tape recorder among the loaves and made his way to the elevators.
"Hey! Hold it!" A security guard jogged after him.
Homer froze in his tracks. His mouth went dry, and he felt his heart beating a hundred times faster.
"Yes?" he squeaked. He didn't think it was possible to speak when all the spit was gone from his mouth.
"Do you have a badge?"
Shoot. He needed a badge? "N-no, sir. M-must've dropped it somewhere."
"Alright, come over to the desk." Homer had no choice but to follow.
Oh crap. "Th-the name's Wiedelmeyer. Homer Wiedelmeyer."
"Spell it, please."
He did. To his complete surprise, the guard made a new badge out for him and helped him pin it on his lapel, tugging at it lightly to make sure it was secure.
"There you go, sir. You should be wearing it at all times. Follow me."
They walked over to the elevator together. When the door opened, the guard let Homer step in and pushed the button for him since both hands were holding the bread tray. "Th-thanks a lot." He attempted a weak grin.
"No problem, sir. Have a good day." The guard waved as the doors slid shut.
Homer was so weak with relief that he sagged against the wall, almost losing his grip on the tray. In his mind, he was thanking God profusely for his luck. By the time he had reached the top floor of the building, he had straightened up and regained his composure. The doors slid open and he stepped out. Almost immediately, an alarm went off. He jumped back, only to bump in to the now-closed doors of the elevators. He looked around as yet another guard came up to met him. Oh, he had walked through a metal detector. The guard took the tray from him and moved it out of the detector's range.
"Hmph. Metal tray, huh? Sir, would you please step through again?" The man gingerly poked around in the bread tray. He missed the recorder.
Homer tried again and nothing sounded. If these little surprises didn't stop soon, he was sure he'd have a heart attack. Gratefully, he took back the tray and joined the rest of the caterers.
"You there. You may put the bread in the kitchen." An elderly English man pointed Homer to the right place. Although he looked frail, the old gentleman's tone of voice made Homer hurry along. In the kitchen, he found a little-used area in which to stash his tape recorder. He would retrieve it later. For the rest of the afternoon, he jumped to other people's commands and prepared for the evening's festivities. A part of him was thrilled to be doing real undercover work. Another part of him was a little disappointed he wouldn't be getting paid for this. He'd heard caterers made good money.
Evening fell. After several important people on stage droned on about the event and disinterested people applauded politely, the ball began.
Serving canapés, Homer was circulating among the expensively dressed guests just as he had planned, tape recorder hidden under a hand-held towel.
He spotted several celebrities, including famous journalists. There was Clark Kent and Lois Lane, Summer Gleason ... He nervously looked around for his target, and having never met the man before, he tried rehearsing his speech in his mind. Funny, everything seemed to come so easily while he was planning last night.
There! Bruce Wayne was wearing a tux that probably cost more than twice Homer's rent and a vapid smile. A glass of champagne in one hand and a bleached blond in another. Wayne's arm candy looked like she was about to burst out of her dress. Yep, a hooker. He carefully made his way over and passed by a distinguished looking black couple. He caught the tail end of their conversation.
" ... I hope Bruce doesn't overdo it tonight. Yesterday, he came in late with a hangover."
The lady (his wife?) replied, "Lucius, stop worrying and enjoy yourself. You really ... " The rest was lost as Homer moved farther away. Bruce Wayne with a hangover? But he's The Batman, right? Doubts started to nag at him.
Just a few steps closer. Homer cleared his throat and just launched in to his speech. "Mr.Wayne? I'mHomerWiedelmeyerandIknowyou'reBatmanandIknowaboutyouandtheCommissioner."
Having spent time with the Flash, Bruce could understand perfectly. His brain immediately started working on the situation, and he stalled for time by acting confused. His date didn't need to act, however, as that was her perpetual state.
"Huh?" Bruce's face looked blank. "What'd you say?"
"Brucie, who's the funny little man?"
"Good question, Amber." She beamed. "Uh, could you say that again, Mr., uh, Weiner?" He took a sip of champagne.
Homer had to take a calming breath. "That's Wiedelmeyer. I said that you're Batman."
Bruce blinked. "Okay."
Homer hadn't expected this. "So you admit it? That you're Batman?"
"Well, if you say so." Bruce's face brightened. "Hey, Amber, wanna go to my Batplace and play with some Batrope? Maybe we can dig up some Batcuffs." He made sure to slightly slur his words.
Amber's pretty face brightened as well. "Okay, Brucie. Sounds fun." She giggled.
Just then, the old English man who had ordered Homer around earlier passed by balancing a tray of drinks. Bruce quickly his switched his empty glass for a filled one.
"Hey, Alfred! I'm Batman!" Bruce called merrily. Several people turned and cast amused glances his way.
Alfred's face remained neutral. "Indeed, sir," he replied blandly, and continued on his way.
By now, Homer was extremely confused. So maybe Wayne wasn't Batman? Was his first guess correct, that Wayne was only the money behind the whole thing?
Dick Grayson, also dressed in a tux, ambled up to the trio. "Hey, Bruce. What's up?"
Dick Grayson? Homer pointed. "Y-you're Robin!" Surprised, Dick looked around, apparently looking for "Robin." He came back to face Homer and pointed at himself. "Who me?"
Bruce raised his glass and announced, "And I'm Batman!" and promptly tossed back his drink, emptying yet another glass.
Dick removed the glass from Bruce's unsteady hand. "Ookay, Bruce." He smiled playfully at blond. "Can I be Superman instead? He's got cool powers."
Almost as if by magic, another drink appeared in Bruce's hand. This time, his voice had a definite slur in it. "You can't be Superman. That's Clark Kent." Halfway across the room, Clark choked on his drink and starting coughing. Alarmed, his wife thumped him on the back.
"Clark? What's wrong?" Lois asked.
"Nothing," he managed to gasp out, "wrong pipe." Privately, he vowed to get even with Bruce.
"Besides," Bruce continued blithely, "Superman sucks." By now, Homer was certain the man was drunk. The billionaire giggled and waved his hand. "Hey, Jim! Over here!" The Commissioner waved back and made his way over.
No, no! This was all wrong! This was not supposed to happen! Homer had had everything laid out perfectly. Everything fit! It had to! What was going on?
Dick reached out and shook Gordon's hand. "Good evening, sir."
"Dick! It's been a while! How're things going, son?"
"Great! Oops!" The younger man bumped into Homer and caught Bruce, who had stumbled while trying to closer to Gordon. Getting bored, Amber excused herself and went to powder her nose.
"I'm Batman!" declared Bruce cheerfully.
Gordon looked at him for a moment and chuckled. And then he stopped. "You're serious?" Bruce nodded solemnly. Gordon's chuckling erupted into full-blown laughter. Dick, still holding onto a slightly-wavering Bruce, looked embarrassed, a faint blush coloring his cheeks. "I'm supposed to be Robin," he mumbled. The laughing went on.
Bruce looked offended. "Hey, I can be Batman. I mean, he's got stuff. I can get stuff. And, he stays out late at night. I can do that. And, and he's, um, dark and kinda scary. I can do scary."
By now, Gordon was laughing so hard that he had to hold onto Homer, who stood there mortified. After a few more moments, Gordon finally managed to calm himself down. "Wow, thanks guys. I haven't laughed like that in, well, I don't know how long." He reached into his pocket, and Homer flinched, thinking he was reaching for his weapon. Instead, Gordon withdrew a handkerchief and wiped his eyes. "Ah, Bruce, you're fun when you're drunk. Thank God somebody else drives you home after these things." He reached over and popped one of Homer's canapés into his mouth. "Well, I've still got to make the rounds. Be seeing you, Bruce. Take it easy, Dick." He took his leave with a wave.
Homer still stood in his place, unsure of what to do next. "I-If you're not Batman, then who ...?"
"But Mr. Weenieman, I am Batman!" Bruce whined, apparently still a bit put out by Gordon's reaction.
Dick looked closely at Homer's name tag. "Um, Mr. Wiedelmeyer? I'm sorry about the scene. I think I'll take Bruce home and let him sleep it off. Nice to meet you. Come on, Bruce, let's go." As Dick took Bruce by the elbow and led him away, Homer could still hear Bruce go on. "But Amber and me were gonna go to the Batplace and ..."
As soon as the men were sure Homer couldn't spot them anymore, they ducked out of the room and quickly made their way to Bruce's office. From his computer, they contacted Oracle.
"See what you can find on Homer Wiedelmeyer." Bruce's voice was steady and he no longer needed Dick's assistance to stand. Barbara quickly retrieved the data and sent it over by fax.
"Superman sucks? You know he's gonna want payback, Bruce," Dick said casually. Personally, Dick couldn't wait to see what would happen. He took the disk he had lifted from Homer and flipped it over to Bruce. He turned on a monitor and kept an eye on the party, watching Homer carefully. The poor guy looked lost.
Bruce deftly caught it in midair and smiled grimly. "Bring it on. I'll be ready." He stuck the disk into his drive and quickly read over Homer's article. Actually, he was quite impressed. One passage had him concerned, however.
"Dick?" Bruce called out uncertainly. "Would you consider your childhood, um, abusive?"
"Sure," Dick answered absently, "you made me eat turnips. And liver, blech!" Something about Bruce's tone made Dick look closely at his face. He really looked worried. "Hey." He placed a reassuring hand on Bruce's shoulder. "I considered myself the luckiest kid in the world living with you. And I loved the nightlife. You know that."
"But didn't you ever wonder about having a normal--"
"No," Dick cut him off before he could finish. "I wouldn't trade what I had for, well, uh, a million bucks?" Dick smiled weakly.
Grateful for the boy, no, man standing next to him, Bruce allowed himself to smile fully. "Turnips are good for you, you know." He actually meant I love you.
"Yeah, yeah, but I'm still not gonna eat them." Ditto. The moment passed quickly, as it usually did. "So, about Homer?"
"Get Alfred to keep him here all night. Maybe make him part of the clean-up crew, too."
"Right." Dick lightly patted Bruce's shoulder and left.
The Batman sat back in the swivel chair and contemplated. How had Wiedelmeyer gotten past security? How much of a threat was he? Most important of all: What to do about him? He studied his prey on the monitor.
As Dick turned the corner, he almost bumped into a solid wall of black and white material. He backed up a step. "Hey, Clark."
"Hi, Dick. Tell him if he can get Alfred to teach Lois how to cook, I'll forget about it."
The younger man grinned. "If Alfred couldn't teach me and Bruce, what makes you think he can teach Lois?"
Clark shrugged. "It's worth a shot. It's a good thing toxins don't affect me, but still ..." He patted his stomach and grimaced. "I'd ask Ma, but there's not much time to shuttle back and forth."
"Sure, I'll ask, but I'm not making any promises." He spotted the Alfred in a corner of the room surveying the party, and the two departed with a handshake. Dick was slightly disappointed. He was hoping Clark would be more confrontational. It would've been fun to watch.
The ball was going swimmingly, as was par for anything Alfred personally oversaw. However, there was a fly in his ointment. Alfred glanced over at the portly balding waiter. His waistcoat looked as if it would give up the fight to reign in the man's girth and just pop. The man himself was aimlessly wandering with an empty try, looking a bit confused. This will not do, Alfred tsked to himself. When the evening ended, he would strongly suggest to the agency that the man be sacked. He saw his younger charge stride up to him, and he smiled his welcome.
"Master Dick. How goes your evening, sir?"
"Not bad," Dick replied. "Um, Alfred? You see that waiter over there? The, uh, large one?" He pointed at Homer. "He's a reporter with The National Squealer."
"Indeed, sir?" Alfred immediately lost his smile. Was that what Master Bruce's ridiculous act was all about?
"Yeah. Bruce thought you might need some extra help. You might want to include that guy in the clean-up crew."
"Indeed, sir." Ah. Keep him here so that the two young sirs could do some of their own cleaning. Very well. Mentally, Alfred began to list menial tasks for the insect, for that was how he now viewed the man. He smirked.
Dick did a double-take when he saw the expression on the older man's face. Oh oh. He started to pity the man. Never mess with Alfred. He corrected himself: Never mess with Alfred's parties.
Dick rejoined Bruce in the office and repeated his earlier question. "So, about Homer?"
"Harmless," came the reply. "He listed his sources. Some good connections he's got here, but nothing he can prove. He was looking for a confession tonight."
"Well, he got what he wanted," Dick chuckled.
"He can go ahead and run the story. Word will get out that a very drunk Bruce Wayne announced he's The Batman. Of course, no one believed it. I doubt if he'll even make the front page. Besides, we can always bring in some legal action for some of the claims he made. Jim will be livid about the accusations. With any luck, the editor will realize that and just squash the story."
Dick frowned. "I wish you wouldn't do that."
"Refer to yourself in the third person."
Bruce understood what Dick meant. "Oh." An uncomfortable silence filled the room. To break the tension, he cleared his throat. "I'll act hung over tomorrow morning. People will laugh behind my back for a while, I'll act embarrassed, and the whole thing will blow over. It'll be old news."
"So what's to stop some other shmoe with a whole bunch of newspapers from trying again?"
"Us," Bruce stated simply. He deleted the story and formatted the disk. "No need to make things easy for him. He can blame it on the metal detector." He handed the disk back to his accomplice. "Let him find it somewhere."
"And what about you?"
Bruce looked at him innocently. "Me? I'm at home, sleeping it off, remember?" He got up to open a concealed compartment in the wall, revealing a spare costume.
Dick was about to make his way back to the party, but stopped abruptly. "Oh yeah, Clark wants Alfred to teach Lois how to cook."
Bruce looked a little disappointed. Clark was no fun. "Fine. But clear it Alfred with first." He'd heard that Lois' cooking almost rivaled his own. Hm, maybe Clark should owe him instead?
Amidst the expensively clad partygoers stood a very confused Homer. He needed to get out of here. He needed to be alone and think things out. He needed to understand where it had all gone wrong. He needed--
"You need another tray of canapés," a crisp English accent informed him. He was so involved in his own little world that he didn't even see the man come up to him. Oh no. It was the bossy old guy. Alfred replaced Homer's empty tray with a fresh one. "We are not paying you to stand about and gawk. Now get moving."
"Yes, sir." The stern tone itself made Homer obey. He fought off the urge to click his heels and salute. He had the distinct feeling that if he didn't immediately do as told, something evil would befall him.
Homer resumed circulating among the crowd. For the remainder of the party, Alfred kept Homer on his toes by constantly ordering him about and watching him like a hawk. Whenever he got too close to an exit, he was shooed back to the middle of the room and given another tray.
Dick watched from afar as Alfred herded the poor man back into the foray yet another time. Careful to stay out of Homer's line of sight, he quickly crouched and slid the disk all the way to Homer's right shoe. Which promptly lowered itself upon the plastic square with a crunch. Dick winced. That's gotta hurt. He straightened himself and started to move off when Amber spotted him.
Bruce's beautifully buxom befuddled blue-eyed blond bounced up becomingly beside the former Boy Wonder, but before she could babble about her billionaire boyfriend, Dick belayed her by beginning before she could blink.
"Hi, Amber. Bruce needed to take care of some, uh, business thing. You know, the real important kind," he added gravely.
Her eyes widened, and she nodded her understanding. "Oh yeah, he told me something like that would happen. 'Sokay." She leaned in and whispered, "He's passed out drunk, isn't he?"
Dick was taken aback by her observation; he didn't think she'd noticed. "Um, yeah, but I can get you a ride home if you need one."
"Nah," she waved dismissively, "I can get my own. Say ..." She looked at him appraisingly. "You come here by yourself?" She started to lean in a little closer.
Dick felt like a deer caught in headlights. "Oh, ah, no, I'm with my ... girlfriend. Oops, I hear her calling. Coming, honey!" He ducked into the crowd, hoping she wouldn't give chase. Luckily, he was gone from her view before she could move. Darn. Another one got away. She went and tried her luck on the other side of the room near the bar.
As the evening progressed, Homer was starting to believe that the old Brit must've been a sheepdog in a former life. He'd just been caught attempting yet another escape when he heard a crunch as he took a step toward the rest of the party. Startled, he looked down. Under his shoe lay a shattered plastic square which looked somewhat familiar. He knew he should recognize it and as he stared, it hit him. His disk. His story.
He swore. Several people heard him and moved away, turning their noses up at him. Such language! No wonder why he was only a lowly waiter.
Without thinking, he reached down with his free hand, forgetting that it really wasn't free. The tape recorder slipped out of his loosened grip and clattered to the floor. Looking around guiltily, he was relieved to see no one had noticed. He bent down to snatch the recorder, but then the towel, which had been concealing it, slipped off his arm and covered it. He just managed to stop himself from cursing again. He definitely did not want to attract anyone else's attention.
Using one hand while still balancing his tray in the other, he tried to pick up the pieces of the disk first, since, unlike the recorder, it was still in plain view. He'd considered using both hands, but the thought of the old guy finding out that he'd put the tray on the floor ... He shuddered. The tray swayed, causing all its contents to slide over to one side. It was no surprise to anyone watching what would happen next. Unfortunately, Homer wasn't watching.
When the silver tray hit the floor with a clang, a circle of tuxedoes and ball gowns had formed around the embarrassed man. After a brief moment of silence, during which Homer believed he could hear his own heartbeat, the partygoers resumed their chattering, but this time, they had a new topic.
As he was scooping the mess back onto the tray with his towel, he tried to calm his nerves by taking a deep breath and letting it out. His suit, already taxed to the limit by his lowered position, finally gave up when he exhaled. He couldn't quite register what the tearing sound was until he felt his backside cooling down. Then he noticed that his pants didn't feel as tight as they had before. He quickly straightened up before any other part of his anatomy could be exposed. And came face to face with Alfred.
"Good God, man!" The old gentleman shoved a full-length apron at him. "You are a disgrace to your profession. Leave at once and never return!" Alfred sharply snapped his fingers twice, and three people armed with brooms and dustpans magically appeared, swept up the mess and left just as quickly as they had come. The floor was as sparkling as it had been before the incident. The disk and tape recorder had also been swept away. Alfred spun on his heel and stalked toward the kitchen, dismissing Homer.
When Alfred entered the kitchen, he checked his pager again to see if he had read correctly. "Lett him go. -B" Odd. Master Bruce never misspelled anything. He wondered if all was well.
When Dick returned to Bruce's office, he bypassed the security lock and crept in. Bruce was facing the monitor in the Suit, making strange noises and shaking. A seizure? Alarmed, Dick rushed to his side and abruptly stopped. The impossible was happening. The Bat was laughing. Dick cleared his throat and the laughing ceased. The Bat was in control once more.
"Don't you ever knock?" The gravelly voice sounded annoyed.
"Uh, were you just, uh ..." Dick was still slightly stunned. "He stepped on the disk and broke it. I guessed he squashed his own story."
"I know. Poetic."
"So, what now?" Dick glanced at the monitor and saw Homer scurry away with an apron wrapped around the seat of his pants. "Hey! He's lea--"
"I paged Alfred and told him to let him go. I sent Robin to Wiedelmeyer's place. Everything will be fine." Batman walked over to a concealed entrance that led to the roof. "Join us when you're ready." He disappeared into the wall.
Curious, Dick went to the monitor and rewound the tape to see what had made the Bat crack his serious mentality. He watched as the disaster unfolded and understood. Bruce was a sadist. Dick made a mental note to bring some Three Stooges tapes the next time he stopped by the Manor.
Homer now knew for sure that Hell existed. And that old British guy was the leader. The man was like a drill sergeant, only without the sense of humor.
On the drive home, he tried to review the night objectively to keep himself from crying.
Bruce Wayne truly had fluff for brains. Someone that suggestible (even if drunk) couldn't possibly be in control of his own money. The Wayne Foundation's Board of Trustees probably gave him an allowance and just let him show himself around town for publicity's sake.
Richard Grayson. Homer rethought his theory. IF Grayson had been Robin and IF he left Gotham because of how Wayne had treated him as a child, he certainly didn't act like it. And the way he was with his former guardian wasn't an act. He really cared. If he really had lived through such an abusive childhood, how could Grayson turn out so ... normal?
Commissioner James Gordon wasn't what he expected at all. From all his reading, he envisioned a cop with an attitude straight out of "NYPD Blue." Instead, he discovered that the man could laugh. And laugh hard. Even though Homer knew now that the man wouldn't really have drawn out his gun, the thought of Gordon reaching into his jacket still made his stomach twist with fear.
The real kicker was their reactions. It was a universal rule: When a Great Big Secret is revealed, you're supposed to deny it. Wayne responded like it had never occurred to him to be Batman. In fact, he wanted to be Batman. Grayson didn't even flinch when Homer accused him of being Robin; he'd rather be Superman. (Well, who wouldn't?) And Gordon just laughed like the whole thing was a joke. No one responded with the typical kneejerk response. They didn't say, "No, I'm not," or "You must be mistaken." Guilty people weren't supposed to be like this.
With these thoughts whirling around in his head, he unlocked the door to his studio apartment and squished his way in. Squished? A foul smell hit his nose and when he turned on the lights, he nearly lost what little composure he had left. Gray muck was splattered everywhere and water was still shooting out of the kitchenette sink. Oh no, he groaned, not tonight, not now. The sewer had backed up again and the drainage had vomited all over his apartment. This time, the stuff had actually crossed the small room and hit the windows on the opposite side.
He took a few steps to his work area and just stared. All his notes, all his research, everything he had so painstakingly worked on was soggy and covered with sludge. And his computer! His poor baby! He wiped the screen off with his sleeve and flicked the switch on his hard drive. Nothing happened. Frantically, he tried several more times until he finally accepted the fact that it wouldn't work. That was it, he couldn't take anymore. He dropped into his chair with a squish and burst into tears, not caring as the dampness seeped into his clothes. He couldn't even wipe his nose because the tissue box had practically melted from being soaked.
On a rooftop facing Homer's apartment, a small shadowy figure snickered. Who knew being so evil could be so much fun? He had heard about tossing cherry bombs down toilets, but this had been so ... explosive! A snort escaped before he could clamp a hand over his mouth. Still giggling, the figure shot off a jumpline and got ready to report to his boss.
A shrill ringing broke through Homer's consciousness. Everything that had happened the previous evening rushed back to him, and he jerked up in his chair to look at his watch. No! He was late for work. As he reached to pick up the phone, the answering machine clicked on. His boss informed him that he was late, which he already knew, and that he needed to talk to Homer right away. Homer snatched up the phone before his boss could hang up.
"Um, hi. I'm sorry, sir, but my sink backed up again and probably shorted out my clock. I'll be in as soon as I clean up." He didn't dare try to explain the stunt he pulled last night. Holding his phone to his ear, he moved to his closet and stopped short. Apparently, he had forgotten to close the door when he had left for the ball. His meager wardrobe was ruined. "Uh, can you give me a couple hours? Great. Thanks. Bye."
When Homer got to work, he felt a little better. He had gotten a chance to take a hot shower, and an understanding neighbor had let him use her washer and dryer.
He knocked timidly before entering his boss's office. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Sit down, Homer." When Homer had made himself comfortable, he continued. "We're sorry to lose such a valuable employee such as yourself, but I understand that you need to move on and try your hand at something else. Still, I hate to see you leave. You're really a good writer."
Homer blanched. Fired? "But-but what so you mean? Why am I being fired?" What had he done to deserve all this?
The man sitting opposite him widened his eyes. "Fired? You're not being fired. You're being offered another job." He handed a letter over to Homer.
As Homer read it, he sagged in relief. It was from The Gotham Publishing Company, Inc. (a subsidiary of Wayne Tech). He had applied for this position a year ago and had given up on any kind of response from them. They wanted him!
Homer's former boss went on. "Anyway, you've been here so long, you're like a fixture here. We'll all miss you, Homer." He held his hand out. Homer shook it automatically, still surprised by his good luck.
"Thanks, boss. I'm sorry this came at such short notice. I mean, I really didn't expect this to happen."
The other man clapped him on the back good-naturedly. "You've earned it, Homer. Now call'em back before they change their mind. Good luck."
Everyone knew to stay out of Bruce's way after a big party night and not to disturb him. People spoke in hushed tones around him while he was trying to recover from one of his famous hangovers. The ringer on his desk phone was muted. Lucius even allowed him to take catnaps on the sofa. Anything to get him presentable for a meeting.
In his office overlooking Gotham City, a bleary-eyed Bruce hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair satisfied. He enjoyed days when he didn't have to pretend to be cheerful. He tossed a Batman action figure wearing a miniature tux into the trash. It had been on his desk before he came in that morning. Clark's doing, no doubt.
So, Homer had accepted the offer. He really did have a gift for writing. Now that he would work indirectly for Bruce, he would be steered towards subjects more suited for his talents, like science fiction and horror novels.
One corner of Bruce's mouth quirked up. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
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This piece is © 2001 by Arlene Pon.
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