Friday, August 3, 2007

Mirror, Mirror (Part 6 of 8)

Dr. Villanova sipped her wine again as she studied Bruce Wayne.

This was a side of Bruce Wayne she had never seen before. Here was depth, wisdom, feeling, passion -- this was not the shallow playboy she thought he was.

She wondered what more suprises he might have in store for her.

She noticed him looking over at a television, deep in thought. She glanced up in the direction of the TV: it was the late night news starting, and the top story was about Aladdin, the organized crime mastermind who was terrorizing Gotham City. She looked back at Bruce Wayne: the image of Aladdin seemed to have him captivated.

She looked down into her wine glass, now nearly empty, and thought about a previous occasion when Gotham City was battling organized crime. Things hadn't changed a bit!


Dr. Villanova looked up at Bruce Wayne.

"What did you say?" Wayne prompted her again.

"Nothing," she smiled.

"You said things hadn't changed a bit." He poured her more wine.

"Did I? I was just thinking."

"About what?" Wayne seemed interested, but perhaps he was only making conversation.

"About Gotham's last 'War on Crime'." She paused, thinking. "They didn't call it that, of course, but it was the same thing." She took another sip of her wine, looked thoughtfully out the window, and began speaking. "They were having problems in the southern part of the Gotham Metropolitan Area. So, a combined task force involving the Gotham Police Department, the Gotham Bureau of Investigation, and other agencies began an operation to help the neighboring law enforcement agencies to the south. Since the drug lords in outlying areas were supplying drugs to the streets of Gotham City, Gotham City helped fund the battle against street crime, which was intimately connected with the drug problem. They beefed up the police departments, established neighborhood patrols... within a year, things were much better."

Wayne listened, deep in thought.

"But, then, suddenly, things started to go badly again, and the operation dragged on for several years." She leaned forward a little, lowering her voice some, and looking at Wayne. "Official vehicles were going daily back and forth between the southern communities and the heart of Gotham City, and from here to other communities on the northern, eastern and western periphery of Gotham. Somebody saw this as an opportunity to smuggle drugs -- after all, who would suspect an official police vehicle? They were making good money trafficking narcotics, and the drug shipments were safe from interdiction efforts, since nobody was checking the vehicles of those who were supposed to be stopping the drug trafficking."

Wayne was listening intently now.

"But, then, some idiot actually started having success in the operation to battle street crime. Since the job was finished, the law enforcement agencies and the city governments that were involved were getting ready to declare victory and end the operation, just in time for their success story to influence upcoming elections. Realizing that their profitable side-business was dependent upon an ongoing operation to assist neighboring police departments, and realizing that the need for such assistance was dependent upon the crime rate, this same crime ring of dirty cops began smuggling weapons down into these communities, delivering them to the people they were getting the drugs from. After all, these were official vehicles, and nobody suspected anything...."

Dr. Villanova took another sip of her wine, then continued.

"With an infusion of new weapons into the streets, crime flared up again. With a new flare-up in the crime rate, the political leadership, instead of ending the program, decided to extend the operation indefinitely, and even expand it. Meanwhile, certain businesses that provided equipment, supplies and services to law enforcement agencies were winning lucrative contracts, contracts from government agencies -- customers that were not going to default on their bills -- while a few unscrupulous businesses were also selling to the criminals. Business was good all around. The average street thug, like the average police officer on the beat trying to arrest him, were both being swept along by powerful currents of Gotham's underworld, currents that they couldn't even sense, much less control. Weapons and equipment were going south to all sides in the fray, and drugs were coming north -- in official vehicles, mind you -- and money was flowing all around." She paused. "Nothing was ever proven, of course, and even the accusations were generally kept quiet, but talk to people in the right circles, and everybody knows the story."

Dr. Villanova paused, smiled, then picked up her menu and started studying it. "This wine... I haven't eaten, Bruce."

"What would you like, Sandra? I'm a little hungry myself."

Truth was, Wayne actually was developing a little bit of an appetite; more importantly, though, he was developing an appetite for conversation with Dr. Villanova.

It was afternoon already. Bruce Wayne's business was complete, and that was good, since it was hot, and he was tired, dirty and a little thirsty.

Some short stretches of the road were paved, usually between two of the more important villages, where the road he was on was part of a more important road arriving at one village, skirting the forested hill to another village, then leading off somewhere else. Most of the road was unpaved, however, and it was dusty.

Wayne looked toward the sun; it was high in the sky. Wayne had anticipated getting back to the village where he was staying about this time, but shopping in the market places took longer than he had anticipated.

Rounding a bend in the road, Wayne looked up ahead. A truck was in the middle of the road, stopped. Its load had fallen off, and the road was completely blocked. Judging by the dispersed dust cloud that hung in the air, this must have happened only moments ago. Oddly, the dust cloud looked very blackish.

Most of the trucks he had seen were pickup trucks, often times small ones, but they typically were overloaded, carrying a load that would have required a much larger truck back in Gotham. In Gotham, loads would be enclosed in the back of a delivery truck; here, it was not uncommon to see a pickup truck carrying two head of cattle in the back, or cages full of chickens stacked up eight feet above the bed of the pickup. Going to and from the markets especially, he was used to seeing pickup trucks loaded with sacks of produce stacked ten or even twelve feet above the truck bed. And then, this dirt road they had to drive down was so uneven, you would expect the top-heavy trucks to just tip over, but somehow they seldom had a problem. When they did have a problem, however, the only road between two villages could be blocked for hours.

Arriving at the truck, Wayne saw that the driver was alone, and was not having an easy time reloading the truck. He was carrying big bags of charcoal, hence the black dust in the air, and they were heavy. Approaching, Wayne took off his hat and bowed to the man. Wayne set his hat and his coat, which he had been carrying most of the day, down in the tall grass on the side of the road, and, much to the driver's delight, began to help the driver recover his bags of charcoal and load them back up on the truck.

Neither spoke the other's language, but it didn't take long for them to develop a system. The driver went up on the back of the truck, and stood on the load; Wayne lifted the bags of charcoal up and passed them to the driver, who accomodated them on top. The work was hard, the bags were heavy, and the sun was hot, but the work went fast. Soon the pile of bags of charcoal was up so high that Wayne had to toss the heavy bags up to the top of the pile. As they were finishing the work, Wayne was having to toss the heavy bags up several feet. Oh well, he thought, he had wanted a good workout.

As they finished tying the load down, Wayne was thinking about how hot, tired and thirsty he was, and he was thinking about all the time he had lost, and how he had been running a little late already. The driver was going in the other direction, too, and was likely quite late now himself, as well.

The driver came down from the top of the load and opened the door to the truck. He took out two plastic containers of water, handed one to Wayne, and began to drink the other. Wayne wondered about the purity of the water, but at this point was beyond caring, and drank it down quickly.

Handing the container back to the driver, Wayne caught a glimpse of himself in the big mirror on the vehicle's door: of course, Wayne thought, the bags were full of charcoal and there was a great deal of dust in the air. Wayne was coated with charcoal dust; his head, face, hands and arms were all blackish, as was his formerly brown shirt. The driver had been up above most of the charcoal dust, so he didn't look anywhere near as bad, though he was dirty, too.

Picking up his hat and putting it on, he began to take his leave of the driver. The driver motioned for Wayne to ride with, but Wayne indicated he was going in the other direction, so they parted, and Wayne began walking down the road again as the truck pulled away. Wayne looked at the sun: it was mid-afternoon now.

Wayne began to approach the area where that network of overgrown trails cut through the forest. That could save him quite a bit of time, he thought, and trails through the forest would get him out of the sun.

Having taken their order, the waiter was walking back toward the kitchen.

"So how does all that tie in to today?" Wayne prompted his companion to get her speaking again.

"How does all what tie in?"

"The corruption, the drug trafficking, the profiteering during the law enforcement operations."

"Oh, really, Bruce. After that marvelous speech about not wanting to kill people, and you can't see the parallels?" She smiled, trying to soften her demeanor some -- the wine was having an effect on her empty stomach. "How this 'War on Crime' will last a long time.... How at first, everyone was after Aladdin, but he eluded them, and now, suddenly, catching him is not so critical.... The objectives keep changing, the mission keeps changing, the only thing that remains the same is the business they are involved in."

She paused, looking at the TV, then looking back at Wayne. "Everyone knows where Aladdin is. Oh, not his exact location, but everyone knows what neighborhoods he hangs out in, and those are not the neighborhoods that the police are focusing their efforts in. They are off battling his foot soldiers, the ordinary thugs on the streets. It's the flow of drugs, weapons, and logistics they need to be after. It's the mastermind, his key people, and especially his money that they need to get. But, there just isn't the political willpower to go into those places and do that job. And no wonder! Ever since the 'War on Crime' started, business has been good. It's better than good; it's grrrreat!" Dr. Villanova got just a little loud, imitating a cartoon figure that advertised on Saturday morning television. Immediately, she blushed, then smiled at Wayne again.

Just then, the waiter arrived and served them some appetizers. As he left, she continued.

"You know, the people who were running the show back then are all retired or dead now. But, the junior people in the organizations -- whether in the criminal gangs or in the police forces -- are now older, more experienced, and more senior. They're running this 'War on Crime', on both sides. The same is true in the business world; lower-level operators and mid-level managers then are executives and senior-level managers now. And," she added with a whisper, "some of the key leaders in the municipal governments in and around Gotham today were junior staff members back then!"

She began to speak in a normal voice again, as she continued. "Look around you, Bruce. They're not winning this 'War on Crime', and they're not going to win it! The mayor and vice mayor have both said so, their senior staff tell us this every day -- it won't end anytime soon. And no wonder! While they are racking up arrest records bringing in common street thugs, no one is going after the real brains, the real decisionmakers, the real masterminds of the Mujahideen -- no one is going after Aladdin! Key players in the arena, key politicians and key businessmen, don't want the 'War on Crime' to be won, they just want it to be fought. It's a vote-getter and a money-maker."

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