Bruce Wayne stopped by the door to the dining room, touching the handle, breathing deeply.
The movement of her pantsuit rustling brought his head up. Sasha reached out to him, grasping his shoulder.
Bruce tried to smile back, to return the connection, feeling incredibly stupid doing so. He must have done something right when he saw the confidence ... confidence in him, despite what he did before.
The action he was going to state to the people in the other room. No self-recrimination, no stated or implied pleas for compassion, understanding or even help ... even though he would need it in the near future. The facts would be laid out, and let them make their own judgements.
Without preamble, he took the doorknob, twisting it sharply, entering the room. Jump in and start kicking, like his father always said.
The murmur of conversation stopped, leaving only his Italian made shoes to fill the sudden dead silence. He took his usual seat at the end of the table without preamble, glancing at the room's occupants as he pulled up his chair. Sasha stood on his left, her professional mask firmly secured.
Tim was there. Barbara. Dick. With little surprise, he noticed Clark leaning against the wall. Not to mention -
- a balding man with a thin mustache in an old fashioned suit, near the entrance.
Why now Alfred? Why return now?
Bruce dispelled the sudden fluttering in the pit of his stomach and faced off the expectant faces. His expression was very much the Bat.
"You all know what happened. That's why you're here. I'm going to tell you what I saw, and what I did. If ... when you have something to ask, you will wait until I'm finished."
This was a statement of fact, not a request, and his stone-like gaze challenged anyone to take offence.
When none came, Bruce inhaled, closed his eyes for a split second, then began.
"It was a standard patrol. Search, troll the trouble spots. The event that made last evening different from the usual was a radio report indicating a domestic disturbance in an apartment building in the Bristol area."
"Computer records showed a repeated pattern of similar incidents, and I was nearby. I decided to look at the situation."
"I parked the car, ascended the building. Several of the adjacent apartments were occupied, and the inhabitants more than awake due to the argument ... I could hear it even when I was outside and several stories above ground."
"I scanned the adjoining apartments for an entry point. Most of them were occupied. One of them, however, had an entirely different sound."
"A child whimpering, with an adult voice ordering the child to shut up."
A light flickered in his eyes. Bruce thought about fixing the problem, but decided to continue anyway; better get this over with.
Before he lost his nerve.
"I opened the window, then entered. It didn't take long to find out what was happening."
"One Sydney Orman, clerical supervisor for LexCorp, was responsible for eight childrens' rape, disfigurement and sometimes murder in the last five years in Chicago. This night he'd targeted seven-year old Katrina Haber; his first Gotham target."
"He'd tied her up, and was leaving the apartment just as I entered. Since there was a possibility of his having other victims - Gotham has no end of runaways in all age brackets - I decided to follow him."
"He'd set up camp in a high-rise hotel basement five minutes drive away. Normally, I would have secured him myself, but I didn't want to take any chances with the child. I made my usual anonymous phone call to the GCPD, and while the police distracted him, get Katrina out. Unfortunately, Orman was spooked by the sirens and went up to the roof ... with Katrina as a hostage."
"By then I'd gotten a profile of who he was and what he could do. He had to be neutralised at the first available opportunity."
Bruce glanced at the source of the flickering light, trying very hard to ignore it.
"He'd taken the elevator up to the rooftop. There was a party going on in the penthouse suite ... formal, vapid chatter, you know the type. Orman ran to the edge ... "
Bruce stopped, then continued, a harder edge to his voice than before. "He threatened to throw the girl over the edge if he didn't get passage out of the country."
"Orman positioned himself just right so that a shot would throw him and the girl over the edge. I would have to risk snatching her in front of the four celebrity reporters, one with a camera."
"Unfortunately he'd positioned himself a bit too far over the edge."
"A good crosswind picked up, and he started to fall. You could hear his screaming from the other side of the city."
"I moved before I knew what I was doing. Training does that. I secured my rope on the roof I'd been positioned before, and jumped towards Kristina. I managed to grab her with one hand with my other arm securing our weight."
"There were police and Gotham's elite swarming around the edge to see me dangling from the edge, with Orman two feet below me, clinging to a decorative ledge."
His hand flexed as he spoke.
"I had used my remaining rope to catch the girl. My grapnel was empty, couldn't be reloaded."
"Also, I had seen what this man and others like him had done. What he had inflicted on the small, the innocent. He didn't even give them the dignity of killing them afterwards, simply discarded them in the same way we would throw away ... a used tissue, a wrapping paper. They would live the rest of their lives with the knowledge, the experiences he'd subjected them to."
"He had just threatened to throw a seven year old girl off a building so he could run."
"I remembered what I'd promised my parents."
"I knew that everybody had seen me go after him, trying to save his life despite what he'd done. It ... the act itself wouldn't even require effort, or pretence on my part. Simply let my fingers fall short an inch, or secure the child first."
"What he did ... we first learn to fear death, it's buried deep in our souls. But you soon learn that death isn't the worst. In fact, death was the only mercy this creature gave."
"And those who lived ... what was done to them, it will haunt them ... them and their families for..."
"And I promised my parents I would never kill."
Bruce looked down at the table's surface for a moment, then looked up again. His face was now slightly calmer, more confident of his decision made on that night.
"In the end, there was no other option to take."
"I took off my cowl and cape, pushing out the lenses, and using the eyeholes as anchor points for my fingers, lowered my cape to his hands."
The flickering became a full-fledged strobing as the cameras took endless photographs. Bruce controlled his urge to scowl and continued his version of events.
"I pulled him up, hauling him and Katrina over to the edge of the building. And I believe you all know the rest."
Bruce didn't have much experience with the press. After a few shouted questions, he'd clammed up, promising an exclusive with Clark Kent.
Vesper Fairchild was there as well, her face not revealing the betrayal she must have felt.
Bruce hoped that he'd have a chance to talk to her later.
During the final moments of the conference, Bruce had glanced at the Englishman at the end of the room.
Alfred gave him a brief smile, then doffed his hat, leaving, unseen by all but one.
Sasha escorted Bruce to a balcony near the back of the mansion. He looked more preoccupied than usual.
"You okay boss?"
"Yes ... yes, I'm fine."
"You want anything?"
"I think ... I think I'll spend some time in the sun for a while..."
As Sasha closed the door behind them, Bruce considered the current situation.
A child rapist alive. The Myth of the Bat shattered. Decades of work undone.
A life saved.
Bruce felt something ... different.
Parts of him ... shoulders, abdomen, neck ... felt lighter, looser.
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This piece is © 2002 by Adrian Tullberg.
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