A silent figure stared intently at the computer, yet his eyes seemed to see something far beyond its screen. So intent was his stare, and so distant his gaze, that, for a moment, it almost seemed that he was unaware of someone approaching.
“What’s on your mind, Alfred?”
“I might ask you the same thing, sir. You’ve hardly touched your dinner.”
“I’m not hungry right now.”
“You’ve been down here for quite some time. Is something troubling you?”
The figure frowned, then looked up. “What do you know about nuclear weapons, Alfred?”
“I know enough to be deathly afraid of them, Master Bruce,” he replied. “What could possibly prompt such a question?”
The long silence was deafening. It could in no way conceal the answer from someone who had years ago learned to hear the meaning of unspoken words; years ago, when the one not speaking those words was just a child.
“You think this new crime syndicate, the Mujahideen, have nuclear weapons, don't you, sir?” It wasn't a question. “You think they have them here in Gotham.”
“Yes,” the figure admitted, resigning himself to the fact that he couldn’t possibly keep such a big secret from someone who knew him so well. He paused, then, looking back beyond the computer, added, “There’s something else.”
There was another long, deafening silence.
“‘To whom’, sir.” Like before, it wasn’t a question, and, hearing it, the figure half scowled. The figure’s friend was correcting the grammar of the figure’s unspoken question. “When the citizens of Gotham need help, they turn to The Batman. But when The Batman needs help, to whom does he turn?”
Looking up again at someone who had always been far more than an employee, far more than a friend, the figure prompted him. “And the answer is....?”
“Quid pro quo, sir. What else is troubling you about the nuclear weapons?”
“I can’t quite put my finger on it,” he began, looking back beyond the computer. “The elected officials in Gotham City know what’s going on, but they don’t seem to be dealing with it. They haven’t told the public. That’s understandable, maybe they don’t want to cause panic....” His voice trailed off to that place where he was looking, far beyond the computer. “But there are things they could be doing, and they’re not doing them.” He paused, as if studying something in the distance, something only he could see.
“Why do you suppose that is?”
“That’s the problem,” he thought aloud. “There are business links between Gotham’s officials and friends of Gotham’s new crime syndicate, but I stop short of suggesting corruption.” He paused again. “Gotham’s leaders are very concerned about what the syndicate might do, but I stop short of suggesting intimidation.” He struggled for a moment, searching for the right way to phrase his concern. “It’s as if this new ‘War on Crime’ that the mayor has declared is being kept within certain boundaries by an unspoken, unwritten agreement.”
“Would that not be a good thing, Master Bruce?”
“It would, except that I don’t think the syndicate is sincere about playing by these rules. I think they’re just buying time. Gotham’s leadership doesn’t want to provoke the syndicate into using these weapons, and the syndicate, in turn, is using Gotham’s hesitation to finalize preparations for their use.”
“That is a troubling thought indeed, sir.”
“Indeed, my friend,” and for the first time, a faint smile appeared on the figure’s face as he continued, “and it brings me back to my question.” With great satisfaction, knowing his grammar would now be correct, he looked up. “Quid pro quo, Alfred. To whom does The Batman turn for help?”
“That one is easy, sir,” came the knowing reply. “He turns to his God, of course.”