Title: How to Succeed in Gotham
Without Really Trying - posted August 29, 2005
Author: Lacey McBain
Rating: Gen. PG.
Summary: "My contract with the
First National Bank of Gotham had stipulated all employees would
receive an evaluation at that time, and this was mine."
Notes: Originally inspired by privatetentacle
and encouraged by quiet__tiger.
Disclaimer: Bruce Wayne clearly
belongs to someone else. All the rest, spawn of my evil brain.
How to Succeed in Gotham Without
“Come in, come in, Miss Taylor.”
I followed Mr. Bronson into his office and took the seat he gestured
to. It was a small plain wooden chair without arms and looked
tiny in comparison to Mr. Bronson’s expansive leather armchair. I
could smell the leather as I smoothed my navy skirt and settled on the
hard edge of the chair provided to me.
It didn’t escape my attention that Mr. Bronson’s desk was stationed
between us like a mahogany fortress, or that there appeared to be a
difference in elevation between his side of the room and mine.
His desk and chair were clearly inches above my own, and I had the
distinct and uncomfortable feeling I was a child looking up to a
giant. A rather unpleasant giant who held my future in his hands.
He smiled at me indulgently and steepled his hands in front of his
face, seeming to figure out the best possible approach to the problem
at hand. Namely me.
“Miss Taylor. Sarah.” His voice was firm, but warm.
It was the same one I’d heard from school principals and neighbourhood
policemen growing up. Authority. Sympathy.
Disappointment. “How long have you been with us now?”
“Three months, sir.”
“Yes, that’s right,” he agreed, although he certainly didn’t need my
confirmation. It was why I was here, after all. The three
month probation period as a loan officer. My contract with the
First National Bank of Gotham had stipulated all employees would
receive an evaluation at that time, and this was mine. I felt my
work had been good, exemplary even.
But I’d been wrong before.
He placed a large stack of case files on his desk, and a smaller stack
beside it. The first pile was easily two feet tall, file edges
dog-eared and marked with yellow sticky notes and other pieces of
paper. The second, slimmer pile was tidy. On the top manila
folder, I could read the residual lettering of the red stamp the bank
“Now, Sarah, at the First National Bank, the first rule is keeping our
clients happy. Part of being a strong member of the community is
letting the community know we’re here to help them.”
He sounded rather like the advertisement that ran on Channel 4 every
Friday night during the local news. The only thing he’d forgotten
to mention was the free pen and pencil set that came with opening a new
“I understand that, sir.”
I took my job seriously. No one wanted to approve loans more than
I did. I’d lived in Gotham all my life, and I knew exactly what
kind of things would and wouldn’t work in this city. My
city. It was part of why I’d beat out fifty other candidates for
the job. I had the hometown advantage, the inside track. I
knew I could do the job, and do it well.
Mr. Bronson nodded. He did that a lot, even when he wasn’t
agreeing with you at all. It was simply a nervous habit he
had. I’d noticed it right away. I’ve always noticed
things. Growing up in Gotham, you have to.
Mr. Bronson patted the large stack of folders with his pudgy left hand,
his ring finger swollen around the plain gold band. “In the last
three months, you’ve rejected numerous loan applications that on the
surface seem feasible, while you’ve approved others that the bank
considers a poor risk. I’d like to hear your reasoning, Miss
“There were very good reasons, Mr. Bronson,” I explained.
I swallowed. This was not going to be as easy as I’d thought.
“Why don’t we start with this one?” He took the top file off the
stack . “Gemini Jewellers. They had a sound business plan,
an interesting logo, and experience.”
They also had a name that was likely to cause trouble with a certain
two-faced criminal mastermind, but I wasn’t sure how to explain that to
Mr. Bronson. “I—I suggested a name change, sir.”
He frowned at the file, then at me. “Yes, I see that. You
then rejected their subsequent name changes as well: Bijoux,
Bijoux; Two Carat Jewellers, and Double Bauble. I really don’t
understand the problem.”
I leaned forward, sliding my glasses back up my nose from where they’d
slipped. I was perspiring in the small, close room, my
cream-coloured blouse clinging to me beneath the pressed navy suit I’d
chosen with such great care. I had a feeling even my lucky suit
wasn’t going to be able to save me now. I took a deep breath.
“Mr. Bronson, I know Gotham City very well.”
“That’s one of the reasons you were hired, Miss Taylor. To bring
local insight to the branch. To help us make Gotham City more
“Yes, sir, and Gotham has … well, unique circumstances that must be
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“Before I began this position, I researched new business start-ups from
the last five years and identified the types of businesses most likely
to fail. In my loan assessments, I’ve tried to encourage clients
wanting to start those types of businesses to pursue different
options. Sometimes a name change was sufficient to prevent …
Mr. Bronson’s eyes were narrowing. “We don’t condemn a business
plan based on how other businesses have fared in the past. I’ve
read your Master’s thesis on “The Decline and Fall of Small Business in
Gotham,” but I must say, I have some reservations about your
findings. Many of those businesses failed because of criminal
activities, not through any fault of the business owners.”
Okay, maybe we were getting somewhere after all. Surely he’d be
able to see how the criminal activities affected the bank’s profit
margin. At least, I hoped he’d see. “I understand that,
sir. Really, I do, but here in Gotham, well, certain types of
businesses experience much more crime than others. I was trying
to save the bank money in the long run since those businesses are
likely to default on the terms of their loans.”
“Miss Taylor, just because a candy factory experienced a
hostage-taking, doesn’t mean it will happen in every candy factory
opened in the city. That’s preposterous. Where will people
go to buy candy?”
Metropolis, I thought, hopefully. I hesitated to point out that
the Double Bubble Candy factory in question had not only been the sight
of a hostage-taking by Two-Face, but had also been used as a base of
operations by The Joker before he’d been captured and sent back to
Arkham Asylum by Batman.
“I know it sounds crazy, sir, but really, I was just trying to—”
He grabbed the next folder off the stack and flipped it open.
“Let’s forget for the moment the idea that certain types of businesses
fail. Let me ask you this: do you have something against
fun, Miss Taylor?”
I knew my face was broadcasting confusion. “Fun?”
“Comedy clubs, joke shops, novelty stores. You’ve turned down
every single application for businesses of this kind. You even
turned down a proposal from one of the country’s most reputable clown
training schools.” He sounded completely mystified.
“There were very good reasons for that, sir,” I said, but I doubted he
would understand. Mr. Bronson seemed like the type who read the
financial pages and the golf stats, occasionally scanned the estate
sales for another antique desk to add to his lovely home with his
lovely wife and children. I doubted he read the local crime beat,
the small items the papers buried on page thirty between the obituaries
and the personal ads.
Not that I’d been checking the personal ads, of course.
I licked my lips nervously and reached for the files he handed
me. The Joke’s on You Comedy Club. The Be a Clown School of
Comedy Training. The Laughing Penguin Nightclub—God, that one was
guaranteed to be a disaster. I couldn’t bring myself to approve
the application knowing what would happen.
“I’m still waiting for an explanation, Miss Taylor.”
“You’re not going to like it.”
“The Joker, sir. You’ve heard of The Joker?”
“Is he on that late night television talk show? I really don’t
“No, Mr. Bronson. He’s a criminal. A psychopath,
really. He has a thing about clowns.” I shuddered.
I’d never liked clowns myself, but bringing a whole school of them into
town would’ve been too much temptation for the arch-villain to
resist. I was positive of it.
“Clowns are fun, Miss Taylor. Clowns make small children laugh
with delight. One man’s delusions about—”
“Sir, The Joker is a killer. A murderer. He sprays his
victims with a gas that permanently changes them into laughing
caricatures of themselves. He’s notorious for using joke shops
“That is the police’s
domain. Not ours. We’re only here to help legitimate
businesses get off the ground. We can’t be responsible for this
Joker person or what he does. It’s not enough of a reason to turn
down a loan.”
“But—” Mr. Bronson was looking at me like I was the crazy person
here. I wondered if he might be considering a call to the local
“And do you dislike children as well?” he asked, not even the hint of a
smile showing on his face anymore.
My face was hot with embarrassment. “Sir?”
“The Smiling Tots Playschool? The Happy Faces Daycare?
Double the Fun Babysitting Service for Twins and Triplets?”
I put my hands over my face. God, the children. I couldn’t
let those businesses open with those names. I couldn’t. I
tried to dissuade them, tried to help them pick more … appropriate
names, but they wouldn’t listen and finally I’d simply rejected the
loans outright. How could I do anything else? How could
A handkerchief was waved under my nose, and I realized there were tears
leaking from my eyes. I took the white cotton square and wiped at
the dampness. This was not going at all how I’d imagined. I
was protecting these people, protecting them from horrors they couldn’t
even begin to imagine, and yet … no one wanted my help. I guess I
understood a little more where Batman was coming from. After all
these years, maybe I finally got it.
“Miss Taylor, you rejected applications for some very enterprising
businesses. The Giggle Factory?”
The Riddler, I thought.
“Freeze’s Frozen Yogurt? Polar Bear Arctic Weather Gear?”
Mr. Freeze, my brain screamed. Why didn’t Mr. Bronson know?
Why couldn’t he see? He lived in Gotham, didn’t he?
“A butterfly garden, Miss Taylor? An umbrella shop? Really,
how could those businesses attract trouble?”
Killer Moth. The Penguin. I could feel a tightness in my
chest that wouldn’t go away. I was doing the right thing, trying
to protect people, and no one would listen. No one would
understand. I watched him open and close file after file, reading
off the names.
“The Nightshade Flower Shop? The Dancing Puppets Theatre Company?
Poison Ivy. And … the puppet one. I’d had nightmares for
weeks thinking of how badly that could go. The
Ventriloquist. Scarface. Ragdoll. The Joker.
The Riddler. The possibilities were almost endless. The
potential for horror, for massacre … I couldn’t bring myself to give
them a loan. They’d moved on to a different city.
Metropolis, I thought.
“I’m afraid we’ll never be able to get decent Greek food in this town
because of you, Miss Taylor. You denied applications to Mount
Olympus Restaurant, The Gods Must Be Hungry Delivery Service, and
Apollo’s Sunrise Caterers.”
“Mr. Bronson, my reasons were—”
Maxie Zeus. I stopped trying to explain. There was no way I
could make Mr. Bronson understand that what I’d done had been in the
interest of the public good. There was nothing left to do except
pack up my things and leave. I knew it, and he knew it. I
could see it in his uncomprehending face.
“Well-intentioned, I’m sure, but they were wrong. My dear, these
businesses would attract new interest in Gotham. Who wouldn’t
love to visit The Mad Hatter’s Millinery? Or See You Later,
Alligator—I think that’s a very witty name for a leather goods store.”
The Mad Hatter. Killer Croc.
“You’ve rejected more nightclub ideas than I would’ve thought
possible. The Top Hat Club? The Cat’s Meow, although
granted, we don’t necessarily want to encourage a rash of strip clubs
to open up—”
Penguin or Mad Hatter. Catwoman. My mind couldn’t seem to
stop cataloguing the reasons for rejecting these applications.
They were good reasons. Maybe the best reasons in the world.
“—but what about The Bat Cave or The Belfry? Those are quite
“I—I … that loan was approved. With a name change.”
“Ah, yes. Aptly named The Nightclub. It’s struggling to
meet its loan payments, I believe. I’m sure it would’ve done much
better with a name like The Belfry.”
“Maybe, sir, but it didn’t seem very … respectful.”
A raised eyebrow, and if there was anything I could’ve done to save
myself from being fired that would’ve been the time to shut my mouth
and make a promise to change my ways. I just couldn’t seem to do
it. In for a penny, in for a pound, my mother used to say.
“Respectful? To whom?”
“Batman,” I whispered.
“Batman.” Mr. Bronson’s voice was incredulous.
“Batman? He’s a myth. A legend. Something made up to
frighten children, Miss Taylor. Surely you don’t believe—”
“I’ve seen him. I—I met him once.”
He shook his head sadly. Poor delusional girl. It was
written all over his face, and with it my fate was sealed. He
rapped his knuckles on the pile of folders. The tall pile of my
“I could go on and on. Watch repair stores, Halloween supplies,
party supplies, and a rather alarming number of businesses related to
cats. All rejected outright with no real reason.”
“I’m allergic,” I mumbled lamely as my mind screamed at me. Clock
King. Scarecrow. The Joker. Catwoman.
He didn’t appreciate the attempt at humour. “I’m very sorry, Miss
Taylor. You came so highly recommended. Full scholarship to
Gotham University. Degrees in Commerce and Mathematics.
Exceptional marks. Perhaps you’d be better in a more theoretical
job rather than dealing with the general public like this. I’ll
be happy to provide you a reference, but I’m afraid your employment
with us is terminated, effective immediately.”
White-faced, I shook his hand, returned my keys, and left. It
shouldn’t have been a surprise, I suppose, but it was. I’d felt I
was really doing some good here, protecting people in some small
way. It was the least I could do to give back something to the
city. To him.
I packed my few personal items neatly in a small box and carried them
out. There were pitying glances in my direction, a few
snickers. I’d always been the odd one out here. The one who
saw things no one else did. But I knew these things happened in
Gotham. I’d grown up here. On the wrong side of town.
You couldn’t help but notice.
And Batman wasn’t a myth.
I stepped out into the sunlight and turned down Jessup Avenue.
Clutching my box to my chest, I finally let myself realize I’d been
fired from my first real job. Everything I’d worked so hard for,
everything I’d trained for had been for nothing. I could feel
tears trickling down my face, and the busy sidewalk blurred into a
series of colours and moving shapes around me. What was I going
I must’ve gotten distracted because the next thing I knew I’d crashed
into a seemingly immoveable object and was tumbling to the sidewalk, my
box skittering out of my arms, spilling my possessions onto the
sidewalk. The tears came faster. My favourite suit was
scuffed and dirty, my nylons sporting a run right up the front of my
left shin. I stared at it until I realized there was a hand
waving in front of my face. I glanced up only to see a shadow
blotting out the sun, someone looking down at me from quite far away.
“I’m really sorry,” the man said, helping me up. He brushed my
shoulders politely, as if he wasn’t used to knocking down young women,
and immediately began to gather up my belongings. He paused to
glance at the picture of my mother. I snatched it from his hand
and put it back in the box, sliding the lid into place.
“Um, thanks. I’m sorry,” I said, picking up the box and starting
off again. He caught up to me and put a hand on my shoulder.
“Wait. You seem upset. Could I buy you a coffee or
something? It’s the least I could do for knocking into you like
“No, thanks. It’s fine.” I shook my head and stepped around
him. He turned and kept walking beside me, clearly not about to
be dismissed. I looked up into clear blue eyes, and
stopped. “I said, I’m fine.”
He smiled, and it was a disarming smile. It made me want to smile
back. He lifted the box out of my arms, and tilted his head
towards the café across the street.
“I say that a lot too. I’m usually lying,” he pointed out.
He had my box of stuff, and I had no choice but to follow him. He
chose a table in the corner where he sat with his back to the brick
building, the blue patio umbrella casting him into afternoon shadow.
He ordered a coffee for himself, black with no cream or sugar, and
looked at me expectantly when the waiter glanced down. I ordered
tea. Green. He nodded, but I didn’t know why.
“Look, Mr. …”
“Mr. Bruce, you really don’t—”
“No, my name is Bruce.”
I stopped. “Oh, okay. I’m Sarah.” I’d lost my train
of thought entirely. He didn’t seem like he minded. “I
appreciate the drink, but I’ve had a really rotten day, so I won’t be
I wanted to make it clear that I really wasn’t interested in someone
old enough to be my father, no matter how good-looking he might
be. And he was very good-looking in a very uptown kind of
way. His suit seemed made for him, the fabric draping softly in
all the right places. His white shirt looked crisp, despite the
afternoon heat, and I would’ve bet that his silk tie cost as much as my
He noticed me looking at him like that, and I flushed and looked
away. When I glanced back he gave me that smile again. “You
work at the bank. You’re a Loans Officer.”
My eyes widened in surprise. How did he--? I followed his
gaze to the shiny silver nametag the bank provided to all
employees. With a frustrated sigh, I unclipped it from my lapel
and threw it in my purse. I wasn’t going to be needing that
“I used to work there. I—I got fired.”
“Did you deserve to be?” His voice was cool and calm. There
was absolutely no judgment in it.
I wanted to say “no,” but I wasn’t sure anymore. I
shrugged. The waiter set my tea and Bruce’s coffee on the plastic
patio table. His large hands dwarfed the cup. I tried to
imagine what he’d look like drinking espresso. The tiny cup would
have disappeared within his grasp.
“I thought I was doing something good for people, but it wasn’t really
part of the job.”
It was the closest I could come to an explanation, although I wasn’t
sure why I felt the need to provide one to someone I’d just met.
His silence made me want to fill in the spaces with words.
“Were you robbing from the rich to give to the poor?” He was
trying to make me smile, but it wasn’t working, and we both knew it.
“No. I was just trying to do the right thing.”
“Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t the easy thing.”
“Yeah, I know. But now I don’t have a job, and the bank manager
thinks I’m nuts.” I stopped. I had to remember not to tell
strangers things like that. No wonder I couldn’t seem to catch
the interest of anyone in Gotham. Anyone except men I ploughed
into in the street, anyway.
“Mr. Bronson? He hardly strikes me as the type to make snap
I blinked at him. “You know him?”
“I run a business. I’ve had some dealings with him.” He
sipped his coffee and watched me. I felt like he was learning
everything about me, and although it should’ve bothered me, it really
didn’t. I drank my tea and tried to relax. “Why don’t you
tell me what happened?”
And for some reason, I can’t explain, that’s exactly what I did.
I told him—this man I’d known less than fifteen minutes and who looked
at me with dark blues eyes that held no judgment. I told him
everything. From the loan applications I’d rejected to the
reasons for refusing them money. The crazy reasons that no one
would understand and which had now, finally, gotten me fired. All
the time I talked, he sipped his coffee and held me with those
unwavering blue eyes.
When I was finished, I let out a breath, and sipped my tea. I
waited for him to leave or say something. He did neither.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.
“You think I’m nuts too, don’t you?” I asked.
He set his cup on the table and looked at me with an intensity I wasn’t
used to. “It really doesn’t matter what I think. You
believe you were doing the right thing?”
“And you believe in this Batman?”
“It’s not a matter of believing,” I corrected quickly. “I met
him. When I was a kid.”
That got his interest. I could see it in his eyes. The
waiter came by to refill his coffee cup, and Bruce waited until we were
“What happened?” he asked.
I remembered it as if it had just happened. They say everyone has
a defining moment in their lives, and that was mine. Seventeen
and screwing up, hanging out at the local bars where my mother was
working as a dancer. That was the polite term for what she
did. She stripped, and although she never admitted to taking
money for sex, I knew there were months when the dance tips couldn’t
have been that good. But we were stuck. Both of us.
“Where was your father?”
Father. Interesting concept, but not one I was overly familiar
with. He’d been gone since before I was born, and my mother
didn’t figure we needed any man telling us what to do anyhow. The
two of us managed. It was hard, but we managed. Most of the
time. She danced and I …
I paused and took a sip of my tea. He waited. I had the
feeling he’d wait forever if I needed him to. He was interested
in a way most people weren’t. Not polite interest, but a really
down-deep need to know. I could see it in his face. Those
blue, blue eyes.
“What did you do?”
“I hustled people for money.”
Truthfully, I was a card shark. I’d always been great at math,
probabilities and chance, practically a photographic memory. My
luck didn’t run towards anything except cards, though, so I stuck to
poker. Guys liked the concept of beating a seventeen year old
girl at cards, so it was never that hard to get myself invited into a
game, especially when I gave them these big sad eyes and the sob story
of my mother, the stripper. That and the colour of my money got
me into any game. They would’ve never let me play if I hadn’t had
a stake to lose. I made sure I lost a few hands just so they’d
know it was on the up and up, but I could’ve won every round. The
cards loved me, and I loved the cards.
“You don’t look like a card shark.” He was smiling, but it wasn’t
patronizing or any of the things I usually got from men his age.
“Looks can be deceiving,” I answered, and his smile got larger.
He was a puzzle, and I was curious to know more.
“Go on,” he instructed. “How did you meet the Batman?”
The alleys in that part of town were always dark. Day or night,
there wasn’t much difference, and respectable people always found
somewhere else to be in the daytime. It was about two in the
morning, and I was waiting for my mom to get through her show so we
could go home. It was June, and I had a math final the next
day. I’d brought my books with me to study. Not that I
really needed to, but it made mom happy to see me doing school
work. She was sure it was my ticket out of Gotham.
“Funny, I’m still here,” I said, not really talking to him, but knowing
he was listening anyway.
“It’s not an easy city to leave.”
Some cities give you happy memories that nestle in your heart.
Gotham crawls under your fingernails and stays there like dirt that
won’t wash off. That June had been the hottest in a long
time. Heat wave, they’d said. Heat makes people
different. Crazy. I’d been snitching ice from the bar all
evening, running it over my bare arms and legs, trying to cool
down. My jean shorts were just short enough to be in style, and
not too short to attract the wrong kind of attention. I kept to
the shadows. All the regulars knew who I was, and they knew
better than to bother me. But that night, people had come inside
to get out of the heat. Everyone was pressed close
together. The air stank with too many bodies, too much
heat. The whole city seemed to be holding its breath, waiting for
something to happen. Something bad. The air in the alley
was so thick and heavy I could feel it pressing down on my chest like a
weight. It was like drowning. Slowly.
“I remember,” Bruce said, and his eyes were as far away as mine had
been a moment ago. I nodded and kept talking.
I waited for my mother in the alley behind the building. A
handful of guys were hanging around, drinking and smoking grass.
When she came out, they wouldn’t let her pass. I didn’t think
anything of it at first. They were drunk and stupid, and she was
pretty. Long dark hair and a good figure. The costumes they
made her wear didn’t leave a lot to the imagination.
“You look a lot like her.”
I wondered how he could possibly know, but then I remembered he’d seen
the picture when my box had spilled open. I shook my head at the
“No, she was beautiful.”
He didn’t leap to tell me otherwise, to correct me. Just let me
have that without protest. I somehow knew he would. It made
the difference between finishing the story, and telling him the truth.
The guys started to get rough. I charged out of the alley,
thinking maybe they’d run off when they saw me. There were two of
us, after all. My seventeen year old brain didn’t realize we
weren’t much of a threat to half a dozen men, pissed out of their
minds, high on grass, and crazy with the heat. They tore her
dress and pushed her back against the bricks. One of the guys
held me until my screaming and kicking got to be too much. Then
he just hit me till I stopped. Knocked me to the ground and held
me there, listening to my mother scream. I knew it could’ve been
a hundred times worse.
All the television shows have the hero show up in time to save the
girl, beat up the bad guys. He wasn’t quite in time. Oh, he
knocked the guys around pretty good—the ones that didn’t run—but it was
too late. The damage had been done.
“Your mother?” Bruce was frowning, and I knew he was right there
in that alley with me behind that dirty club. Down on his knees
in the filth and the stagnant rain water, tasting the blood I’d
swallowed when the guy punched me in the mouth to get me to shut
up. I knew he heard the same screams I did.
“She was never the same. Nervous, afraid all the time. She
quit the club, started drinking. Then after a couple of months,
she quit everything.”
I found her dead on the sagging yellow couch back home. Pills and
booze. Wearing her best dress and clutching my picture. I
know she thought it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I just
couldn’t see how it made my life better not to have her in it.
“What happened with Batman?”
Right, I’d skipped that part. Funny. It’s the part I
remembered most clearly, and yet it was also the thing I didn’t tell
people, and it had nothing to do with not wanting to look crazy.
It’s more like I wanted to keep it for myself. Something good in
the middle of a nightmare. If a guy appearing out of the dark in
a bat suit could be considered good. Testament to my screwed-up
life, I supposed.
After he tied up the bastards who raped my mother, he carried her into
the light. I was still lying in the street, hurting like hell,
and I couldn’t move. I wanted to run and throw myself into her
arms, but she was crying like I’d never, ever heard her cry before and
at that moment, she didn’t seem like my mother at all. He pressed
a button on his belt and his car appeared out of nowhere. It was
dark and smooth and he laid her on the front seat like she was a
porcelain doll. I thought he was going to drive off with her, but
he saw me watching him and he came over to me.
He didn’t touch me, didn’t do anything at first. Just looked at
me with these deep blue eyes that were full of sadness. He picked
up my math textbook from where it had fallen. I don’t know why,
but that stupid math book seemed really important right then. To
both of us. He asked me questions about school, and I told
him. As if my mother wasn’t sitting in the Batmobile ten feet
away, battered and weeping.
I didn’t hear the sirens until they were right there, and then the
alley was full of lights and people and noise. Batman disappeared
into the darkness. I don’t remember much after that, except those
few minutes when we talked about math. Numbers and logic and how
I wanted to be an accountant. Those were the only normal moments
I had that night, or for a long time after.
“And then?” Bruce was a good listener. Knew exactly when to
give a nudge to keep me going, but didn’t overwhelm me with
questions. Let the story take its course. I hadn’t told it
in a long, long time. Not all of it, anyway.
Foster care had me for about six months until I turned eighteen, and
then I went to college.
“Full scholarship. Everything paid for. Tuition, books,
room and board.”
“Sounds like a good deal.”
“It saved my life,” I said. “And the stupid thing is, I can’t
help but think he had something to do with it.”
“Batman. I used to wake up at night sometimes and find
corrections to my math homework penciled in the margins. I
thought it was my foster parents, but the first time I asked, they
started locking me in at night. Thought I was sleepwalking.
Or just going crazy.”
“You really think Batman had time to correct your homework?”
Bruce tried to make a joke out of it, but he sounded guilty. Like
he didn’t really mean it. He was good at distraction, I’d
noticed. Deflecting conversation away from himself, and he was
damn good at getting me to talk. I’d given him my life story for
the price of a cup of green tea. Somehow I couldn’t feel bad
“I think Batman cares about people. More than people think.
I think he felt guilty he wasn’t in time to save my mother. I
think he lost somebody too.” I’d never said that part aloud
before, but as I did, I knew it was true. Batman understood what
I was going through. I’d lost my mother in that alley, long
before I lost her permanently. I had a feeling he understood what
that was like.
“And that’s why you tried to help. At the bank.” Bruce set
his empty coffee cup on its saucer without a sound.
We’d come full circle in the conversation. The afternoon sun was
making the shadows stretch like reaching hands, and I knew it was
almost time to leave.
“Yes,” I said. “I think sometimes he could use a little
help. Maybe it’s not much, but maybe it’s enough.”
Bruce nodded, thoughtful, and placed some money on the table. I
reached for my wallet, but he waved me away.
I didn’t even argue. Just said “thank-you” as sincerely as I
could. My mother would’ve been proud. Even with my torn
nylons and my scuffed pride, I knew how to be grateful for a stranger’s
kindness. I never got to thank Batman that night. I’d
always felt bad about that.
We both got up from the table.
“You know,” Bruce said, “I might be able to use an accountant with a
conscience and an eye for detail. Come by the office. I’ll
put in a good word for you.”
He smiled, and offered me a card. As he walked away, he glanced
back over his shoulder once, maybe to make sure I wasn’t going to toss
the card in the trash. His blue eyes were clear and kind.
They told me I could trust him.
Maybe it was the late afternoon sun or the way his silk tie made his
eyes seem more blue. Maybe it was just the blurring of memory and
experience, but he reminded me so much of that night in the
alley. Batman listening to me talk about math until the police
arrived. The blue eyes trying to reassure me that life could go
on. Not an ounce of pity in them. Just understanding and a
kind of sadness.
I turned the card over. “Bruce Wayne,” I read, and my heart
snapped to attention. Bruce Wayne. Oh, God. I’d spent
an hour detailing my sordid past to Gotham’s richest bachelor, and he’d
turned around and offered me a job.
I thought I’d already used up my share of rescues and miracles with
Batman. I glanced at Bruce’s broad-shoulders just disappearing
around the corner. Thought about those blue eyes that seemed so
sad and held so many secrets. That offered hope. For the
second time in my life, I felt like I’d been rescued.
“Thank you,” I said to the empty air, hoping he would hear it.
That somehow they both would. It was important. I clutched my box
of possessions to my chest, and turned towards home.
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