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 Really Trying

“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 used:  “Approved.”

“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 account.

“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 Taylor.”

“There were very good reasons, Mr. Bronson,” I explained.

“Enlighten me.”

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 successful.”

“Yes, sir, and Gotham has … well, unique circumstances that must be considered.”

“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 … trouble.”

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.”

“Try me.”

“The Joker, sir.  You’ve heard of The Joker?”

“Is he on that late night television talk show?  I really don’t watch much—”

“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 and clown—”

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 psychiatric hospital.

“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 anyone?

“Miss Taylor?”

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 clever.”

“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 rejected applications.

“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 to do?

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 that.”

“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 much company.”

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 entire suit.

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 anymore.

“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 character judgments.”

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 alone again.

“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 unexpected compliment.

“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.

“And Batman?”

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 about that.

“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.

“My treat.”

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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