80 Years of Batman (Part 3): Pearls (A Batman Short Story)
From the personal notes of Alfred Pennyworth, caretaker of the Wayne Estate: Gotham City had still been recovering from the Joker’s city-wide food poisoning hysteria in the week when Master Bruce began to investigate the following case. The Joker’s attacks, as they often do, did not discriminate in victims, and nearly had all of Gotham’s citizens grinning in their graves. Because of this, even the city’s criminal element was reeling from the aftermath, granting the Batman some days of lighter patrols and peaceful rest. Little did Master Wayne and I know that in just a few nights the Batman would suffer injuries that would make him bed-ridden for days to come. While I have never doubted Bruce’s resilience and ability to recover from injuries through meditation and other foreign techniques, the “Pearl Case”—as he has begun referring to it—had definitely taken its mental toll on my old friend, so much so that he seems to be recovering much more slowly than usual. Below are detailed notes on the past few days, and how Master Bruce came to be so affected by these events.
The Wayne Health Charity Ball at the Gotham Royal Hotel was mostly Alfred’s idea, but as usual, he likes to give me credit for these things, saying that Bruce Wayne needs some big ideas that make him seem a more prominent socialite. I was preparing myself for the ball when Alfred entered my room with some concerns that I had overlooked.
“Master Bruce, which of your spare suits should I pack for you in case things get messy at the event?”
“Same one as always, Alfred,” I said, not giving Alfred’s question much extra thought.
“The damage that the suit took from the Joker’s acid was more extensive than you had anticipated, sir. It won’t be suitable for tonight, as it will take a few more days to repair.”
“I’m not expecting much trouble tonight, Alfred. Just pack the 3.2 model, and I’ll make do.”
This seemingly insignificant exchange would be a crippling factor in my failures later that evening. Had I focused more of my time of rest after Joker’s attack on repairing the 4.0 model, I wouldn’t have had much trouble with my opponents.
When Alfred stopped at the porte-cochère of the Royal Hotel, he informed me of the nearby alley where he’d hide the Batsuit case, and he was off. While the entry to the hotel was flooded by a stream of philanthropists and other prominent political and social figures, I managed to find James Gordon among the crowd, and went to greet him. While he and Bruce Wayne aren’t as well acquainted as he is with Batman, he considers me to be a respectable man of Gotham’s elite. I have to admit, he does treat me less seriously as a billionaire playboy than as a vigilante dressed as a creature of the night, which is somewhat surprising. Over the years I’ve tried to maintain a more honorable reputation as Bruce Wayne, even if I do believe that it’s the less impactful half of my life. If for nothing else, I keep this reputation for my namesake, and for my parents.
“How’s Barbara doing, Jim?” I ask, bringing up more casual conversation when a moment of silence struck.
“From what I hear, she’s doing great. I try not to check up on her too often, but sometimes I can’t help myself. You know how it is.”
The conversation didn’t get much more complex than that. While I’ve learned over time that it’s important to maintain at least somewhat of a social appearance as Bruce Wayne, I much prefer the practical conversations that are rooted in solving problems and collaborating on investigations. Gordon’s got talent in the field, and I often need his help more than I realize.
Gordon and I separated once we reached the ballroom, and I made some rounds greeting others. Among them were the mayor, Gotham Gazette reporter Vicki Vale, some executives of Gotham’s most successful businesses, and I even ran into Dr. Leslie Thompkins, one of my oldest friends, though “friend” doesn’t do her justice. She’s been there for me almost as long as Alfred, and I’ve tried to repay her over the years by funding her free clinic in Park Row. I’ve grown so accustomed to others handling my business for me that I never actually know who sends the invitations for these events. Only a handful of close associates know how busy I actually get, and the kind of business I actually deal with. It wasn’t until about half an hour after my greeting speech that my other life began summoning me. It was then that my attention was diverted to a particularly strange woman.
She introduced herself as Anne Fletcher, and gave me some throwaway position in the D.A.’s office. I knew she was lying about both from the moment she said them. The woman bore an unnerving resemblance to my mother. The first similarity I noted was in how she wore her hair, and then I saw my mother’s eyes in her. It was an unnerving experience, and I felt that as she spoke to me, her eyes sent beams of chilling ice into my soul. Her face was full of differences from Mother’s, but the similarities were distracting, to say the least. There were enough of them to confirm my suspicions. This was definitely intentional. The detail that made it difficult to hold back my rage was the pearl necklace she wore, which was identical to my mother’s. She thanked me for my generosity to Gotham, and spoke about other trivial matters. I humored her by carrying out a conversation, but I was truly studying her body language and other clues to her true identity. I needed answers, and the whole Charity Ball had just become a distraction. There was one central question which I thought to myself: Who is this woman?
When the event was over, I had already become Batman in the alley where Alfred left my case hidden in a false trash can. The fingerprint confirmation was a nice touch on Alfred’s part. I’m sure he’s been waiting to show this hiding place off for a few weeks now. I used my grappling gun to rise above a nearby building, my cape flowing quickly as I soared up five stories. I listened for the sonar tracking signal that I had planted in the purse which “Anne” hung over her left shoulder. When she entered a car which had stopped for her on the busy Gotham street, I began running and leaping from building to building, following the car with all speed. I felt faster in this older suit, but that speed sacrificed a thicker armor. My cape and cowl were a dark blue, and didn’t blend in well with Gotham’s black sky. I felt like an open target in the older suit, especially with the bright yellow oval over my chest. The latest model would’ve allowed me to blend in more with the dark night.
The woman’s car was moving fast, breaking speed limits whenever traffic was lighter, but was often struck in the nightlife Gotham traffic, allowing me to catch up from the rooftops above. If the traffic became too light, which it would be once the car crossed the Finger River, I would lose the signal. I pressed a few keys on the side of my utility belt, requesting air support. I wouldn’t allow that car to get away. By the time the woman’s car was only a few blocks away from the river, heading north, I heard a distant humming in the air, and attached a special magnetic hook to the end of my grappling gun. This would connect me to a vehicle in which I wouldn’t lose my target.
When seated in the Batwing, I rose to an altitude at which Gotham’s clouds concealed me and turned my jet into nothing but a shadow. I loosely followed my target as it headed into the New Trigate Bridge, which runs from Arkham Island to the mainland of the Greater Gotham area. I had no idea where the woman was going. Was she leaving Gotham after a simple prank on Bruce Wayne? No, that made no logical sense. Was she intended as some kind of trap for Wayne? Would following her so closely as Batman raise suspicions? I would have backed down from my pursuit, if she hadn’t been dropped off at the old Kane Chemical facility. The factory had been shut down decades ago, before my parents were even married. Although I didn’t know the specifics as to who exactly owned the property in the present, I would soon find out. I was compelled to follow this “Anne Fletcher.” She was making a point to look like my mother, and was going into my mother’s family business. I should’ve realized I was being led right where they wanted me to be and, even if I did know, I told myself I’d be careful.
After silently entering the Kane Chemical facility through an exhaust pipe that hadn’t been used for years, I glided onto a grid of elevated catwalks that looked over vats of chemicals which seemed to be full of gasoline and other flammable agents. The Batwing had dropped me just as Anne Fletcher was entering the plant. She was walking on the ground level of the plant as I watched her enter what seemed to be an old manager’s office. It was then that some kind of lever loudly snapped into place, and the entire factory was brightened with old, flickering lights. With my blue cape draping over my entire suit, I awkwardly stood out in the light as I noticed two figures revealed on a catwalk horizontal to the one I was on.
“What’d I tell you? I knew the rat would show up.” The man who said this was on a wheelchair, and I’d thought him dead for a few years now. His name was Lew Moxon, a criminal who was long past his prime, though I guess he still had enough money for a scheme like this. The man in the silver armor by his side was Firefly. He’s a deranged pyromaniac named Garfield Lynns, or at least that’s who he used to be. This man looked too small for the uniform, and the weight of the suit gave him a hunched posture. He was also missing Firefly’s trademark metal wings, though the rest of the costume was intact. He even had his trademark flamethrower, which he held like a professional marksman above his chest, instead of like a flame-obsessed lunatic. This Firefly was an entirely new enemy, but he wasn’t the star of the show. He seemed like he was just here to keep me in check.
Moxon had a complicated relationship with my family. I was childhood friends with his daughter, Mallory, but he and my father never liked each other much. When my father threatened to and eventually did expose Moxon’s criminal operations, that relationship became fueled in hatred. For a time I suspected Moxon was the mob boss who hired Joe Chill, the man who murdered my parents. Although Moxon had supposedly worked with Chill before, the lone gunman beat Moxon to his revenge.
“The woman you sent to Wayne’s event is a ghost. There’s no such person as Anne Fletcher in the D.A.’s office, though if you wanted my attention, there are easier ways to get it.”
“Don’t act clueless, Batman. We both know the reason you’re really here.” Moxon hinted at what I had been suspecting from the start. “You’ve made it rather obvious who you really are since the beginning, or at least for a guy with my connections. Going after Joe Chill so early in your career as a vigilante was a rookie mistake, and since Chill and I were associates at one point, this confirms the itch in my brain that I first had a few years back, after I was paralyzed by that gun for hire. I summoned you here with the “mommy hook” cause I knew you’d bite. I knew, if it really was Bruce Wayne under the mask, that even if you tried to resist, on some level you’d force yourself to follow this lead.”
“You’re wasting my time. What am I really here for, Moxon? Who’s the woman in the office?” I couldn’t let him have the satisfaction of me confirming my identity, whether he’s sure of it or not.
“She’s completely clueless, actually, just a failed actress desperately searching for a living. We don’t even know her real name. We picked her up off of the Old Gotham slums, and payed her more than she deserves to pull this off for us. How she made it into your little party is besides the point, but let’s just say I still have my arms in places where most can’t reach. The point is that she’s oblivious as to what’s happening here. She’s innocent, and you’re going to have to save her, or die trying. She’s got orders to wait for me in that office. Firefly’s gonna burn this place to the ground, and you’re gonna die trying to rescue the girl. You’ve been a thorn on my side for a long time, Wayne. You and your parents both. You drove my daughter away from this city, and you ruined what little life I had in Gotham without her.”
“If I die, so will you,” I yelled as I fired my magnetic grappling gun at Moxon’s wheelchair. I had made a quick adjustment to my grappling hook while my cape hid my arms, and during Moxon’s monologue, I had managed to make the gun shoot magnets on both ends of the rope. Now Moxon was tied up by my improvised trap, as he was stuck in his wheelchair, which was magnetically attached to the catwalk the two were standing on.
As I glided down to the platform where the manager’s office was, I heard Moxon commanding Firefly not to begin his destruction until he was out of my trap. I was sure that would buy me at least a few moments. I was wrong.
I burst into the manager’s office, warning the woman that she’d been set up, and that if she didn’t leave immediately she’d be killed. When I went back out, Firefly and Moxon were screaming at each other. Looks like this new Firefly had more of a mind of his own than Moxon was anticipating.
“The first half you payed me was good enough to get around. Plus, I don’t need loose ends like you keeping me paranoid once I disappear. Besides, you’re the only man in Gotham who’s got dirt on me, Mr. Moxon.” Firefly’s weapon turned to face the trapped gangster, and Lew Moxon closed his eyes as a flicker of flame sparked at the edge of the rifle. Moxon reopened his eyes when a sharp projectile stabbed Firefly’s hip, triggering a flaming explosion from striking an incendiary grenade on the villain’s belt. The batarang attack had set flame to the catwalk, but Moxon was still alive and screaming. I threw a spare grappling hook, connecting it to a railing of the catwalk.
“Hold on,” I calmly said as I grabbed Ms. Fletcher, and activated the hook to pull us up to the catwalk where Moxon was still trapped. I began cutting the grappling rope with another batarang as Firefly began recovering from the blast that knocked him and his section of the catwalk to the ground.
“With all I know… you’re still getting me out of here?” Moxon was surprised by my act of mercy, though it was more guilt than anything else that compelled me to save him from the trap I had put him in. One of the chemical vats had caught some of the explosion, and was beginning to start its own flames.
“No one needs to die tonight, Moxon. That’s all I’ve ever believed in. That’s what my father believed in.” I turned my attention to the woman, who was still clueless as to everything that was going on. “Follow me, and we’ll all get out of here alive. Firefly has started a chain reaction. The whole place is going to be destroyed.” As I threw Moxon over my shoulder, Firefly began aiming his weapon back up at our position, with his large, bead-eyed helmet staring expressionlessly at us.
“You’re all gonna burn now!” Firefly blasted his flames at the catwalk as vats of chemicals also began combusting. I led Fletcher to a window, where a placement of a plastique charge opened up an exit. The roof the window led to was already occupied by the Batwing, which would provide a quick escape. Fletcher left first, and I followed, seating the paralyzed Moxon in the passenger seat of the Batwing. Moxon may have had something to say, but I cut him off, sealing the cockpit of the Batwing with the two inside of it. Their vision was obscured by a setting that made the glass one-sided, not allowing them to see where they were heading via the jet’s remote control. I jumped back into the window, going after Firefly.
The new Firefly was already relishing in his delusions of invincibility. He was fireproof thanks to the armor he wore, but I had found ways to outsmart the original Garfield Lynns Firefly in the past. From my perspective, it seemed that this man was incredibly talented, but the suit hindered his abilities more than it augmented them. You don’t hire a stealth-experienced marksman to use the destructive capability of a tank. This made him clumsy, so I took advantage of that weakness.
Putting on a protective breathing mask over my mouth before re-entering the dangerous fire, I struck from the shadows, overtaking him after dropping onto him from the catwalk above. I was able to separate him from his rifle, and began to systematically use handheld batarangs to puncture each of his limbs, dodging his slow and careless strikes that could’ve been a problem if he weren’t hindered by the armor’s weight. Weakened, he took extreme measures to avoid defeat, activating an incendiary grenade and using all force to shove it into my chest. The impact flung me back into a wall, causing a nearby catwalk to collapse over me. The extra armor padding over my yellow symbol on my chest saved my life, but I blacked out from being blasted into rubble.
The next three or four days or so were hazy, and Alfred had done his best to fill me in on the details of my survival and return to Wayne Manor. A combination of my fire-suppressing cape, the rubble that had surrounded me acting as a sort of shield, and my breathing mask all managed to keep me alive until Alfred could react to the emergency signal he automatically receives when my vitals reach a level of fatal danger. My loyal friend rushed to the scene, and although he saw no sign of Firefly, he was able to find me. With the help of a few visits by Leslie Thompkins, Alfred was able to give me some of the medical help that I desperately needed.
The one thing that bothered me most during my recovery was the fact that Lew Moxon, the man I chose to save, had uncovered the secret that had the potential to bring the order in my life crashing down. I thought I had assured the end of my time as Batman by letting him live, but I knew that that was the sacrifice I had to make. Choosing who lives and who dies in my line of work means I become as demented as those criminals whom I intend to bring to justice. My hand has to be unbiased when trying to save lives, because violent and unnecessary deaths are what the Batman was born to prevent. I feared in my days of recovery that my code had finally brought about my end, as Moxon’s newly acquired knowledge would lead to my death and the deaths of those I cared for, and in my condition, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop him.
Luckily for me, death didn’t come to my doorstep. I knew that my emotional investment in a case that reminded me of my parents had made me reckless, but I was shocked when there weren’t consequences besides the obvious physical torment I went through during my recovery. It was after I finally started walking again—even if it was in bandages, a robe, and with the help of a cane—that I was able to beat Alfred to my front door when someone finally did knock.
“Mr. Wayne?” It was Anne Fletcher, or whoever she really was. Thankfully I could attend to this matter personally while Alfred was busy elsewhere in the Manor. She was carrying a small gift-wrapped box in her hand.
“Yes?” If she didn’t realize I was Batman in the Kane Chemical facility, she had surely figured out the truth now. “Ms. Fletcher, right?”
“Well, not exactly, Mr. Wayne…” The truth was finally revealing itself. “My real name is Jenny Watkins, and I’m an employee of Lew Moxon. I’m here because Mr. Moxon wanted you to have this.” She handed over the small box she was holding, and I opened it on the spot. If it was another trap, I was too careless or too anxious to open the gift, so I didn’t really give that option much thought. Something in my gut felt like it burst when I saw my mother’s pearls, accompanied by a note. It said “Consider this gift a sign of my retirement and as a personal apology, Mr. Wayne. You saved my life when it would’ve been easier to let me die, so it’s only fair that I let you keep living yours. -Lew Moxon”
I didn’t say anything to Ms. Watkins once I had received the gift. I assume she knew what it meant to me, because she also left without saying a word, as if she was allowing me to reflect on the message alone. It turned out that those pearls weren’t just a copy of my mother’s, but were somehow stolen from the Manor without tripping any of my advanced security systems. The suspect that made the most sense was clearly the new Firefly. I uneasily accepted Moxon’s peace offering, but a wildcard as mysterious and skilled as this new assassin couldn’t be left ignored. As I walked down to the Batcave later that night, I informed Alfred about what had happened.
“Though Moxon is out of the picture for now, the “Pearl Case” is still an ongoing investigation. Prepare the Batmobile for ignition, Alfred.”
“Very well, sir. Might I inquire what you have in mind?”
I activated a handprint confirmation, opening a glass case to my fully repaired Batsuit 4.0. “We need any leads we can get on this new Firefly. First on tonight’s schedule I’m going to pay a visit to Garfield Lynns in Arkham Asylum.”