Special Agent Nicholas Kyle of the Gotham Bureau of Investigation poured himself another glass of Scotch, and walked back through the dark room to the bay window.
As long as he lived, he thought, he would never forget those eyes.
He sipped his Scotch and looked out the window. It had started to rain again, but ever so gently. Outside it was already wet, and, although summer had only just ended, this evening he felt the first touch of autumn in the air as the wind blew from the north: it was cool and damp, a taste of what would plentifully follow to Gotham City as October began.
Nick thought about how he and Selena used to enjoy going for walks in Gotham's parks during the fall. The warm sun that could often be felt in the daytime contrasted sharply with the cool air of the autumn days. When night fell, it seemed lonely, as the chilly breezes blew through Gotham City, rustling the dry leaves on the ground, and bringing more dry leaves cascading down from the trees above. The chill in the air was brought by a wind that seemed to blow from the ends of the earth, and it had always made Nick lonely to feel that chill as summer faded farther into the past and the season's first snow approached.
But, after he met Selena, that all changed. She warmed his heart, so much so that every day seemed like springtime, with the promise of the best days ahead. The thought of her made him impervious to the cold and to the darkness; he almost welcomed the chilly air, the autumn rains, the rustling leaves, because he knew that what he had meant so much more to him. He knew that they were meant to be together, that they were made for each other, that they were soulmates. He used to look into her eyes and drift off, lost to this world, lost in her love, and lost in his love for her.
Then it changed again. They started to drift apart, and his endless summer with her seemed to change to a chilly, rainy autumn.
Oh, she still loved him, and he still loved her, but since things had changed in his life, he had changed, and he had drifted away from her.
She was pursuing him, trying to bring him back, but he didn't want her to bring him back -- not like this.
He felt a tear well up in his eye as he thought of his wife, asleep upstairs.
He thought about how her cat would be peering out the bedroom window, as their dog slept on the floor at the foot of the bed, guarding their bedroom.
He should be up there with her, but more and more, he felt like he had changed, like he had become dirty -- and like he was contaminating her.
If ever there was something to live for, it was what he had with Selena, and that was drying up, like the leaves on the trees outside soon would be. Soon, his life with Selena would wither and blow away with the coming autumn winds, and, alone, he would be left to face the frosty snows of the first winter of his life.
He gazed out the window.
It was funny how the shadows moved with the north wind, and with the light reflecting off the wet surfaces outside.
The cold, rainy darkness made his yard seem so strange, so hostile. Even the bushes that he and Selena had planted together seemed alien. Especially that one in the center.
Studying the scene on the other side of the window, he smiled.
Not so long ago, he and Selena used to go out on nights like tonight. Nights like tonight just made their love seem that much warmer.
He sipped his Scotch, then looked at his glass. It was almost empty. Time for another, he thought.
Was he perhaps drinking too much?
He looked back outside.
The bushes needed trimming. The one in the center especially needed to be trimmed back. It seemed so dark and bulky. It almost seemed to be watching him, he chuckled to himself. Such was this kind of a night. Even the bushes could seem animate and menacing in the cold, windy rain late on a night like this.
He thought about the other night.
He had looked The Bat right in the eyes....
As long as he lived, he thought, never would he forget those eyes.
He shuddered uncontrollably.
He finished his Scotch.
Time for another, he thought; and that one bush definitely needed trimming.
He walked across the carpet in his sock feet, happy to be so warm and dry and comfortable inside, while it was so cold and wet and miserable outside.
Damn, he thought, as he looked down at the floor.
Had his dog done it again?
He just stepped in something with his socked foot -- something cold and wet. The dog probably hadn't wanted to go outside in the rain earlier when it was raining a little more heavily -- he never did want to go outside in the rain -- and so had just done his outside business inside.
Nick leaned on the bar as he reached down with one hand to pull his wet sock off his foot. Now he would be in a hurry to shower and get cleaned up.
Funny he hadn't noticed the wet spot on the floor before. Of course, as he often did, he came home late and came in the house without turning any lights on -- he didn't want to risk bothering Selena.
He finished his drink, then set it on the bar.
That was funny, he thought. He hadn't noticed that before, either. He had been to the bar twice now to serve himself his drinks, and only now, on the third trip to the bar, did he notice it, right there in the middle of the bar, next to his decanter of Scotch whiskey.
He picked it up with his left hand and looked at it. It probably came with one of his wife's new toys from her martial arts class, or from the gun and knife shop she occasionally went to.
He poured himself another Scotch, then took his drink and the card over toward the window to look outside some more.
He held the card up in the light reflecting in from outside.
The wind outside was blowing a little harder now, and branches from the bushes and trees outside were moving unpredictably, casting shadows unpredictably; it was hard to keep the card in the light reflected from outside.
It was definitely one dark symbol -- black? -- on a white business card. Probably the trademark of something for Selena's martial arts class. The symbol was oval in overall shape, but it was as if parts of that oval had been cut out to reveal another shape.
He looked outside. The rain was picking up now, as was the wind. The bushes were moving around more than before, shaken by the wind.
That was funny, he thought. The bush in the middle didn't seem so bulky now. More light was shining through it.
Nick sipped his Scotch and looked again at the card he had just discovered on his bar. The shape looked familiar.
He studied it carefully.
Slowly, Nick set his Scotch down on the table next to the window, as he glanced back at the bushes outside.
Except for the ovalish shape of the outside of the symbol on the card in his hand....
He glanced around the yard outside, then directed his gaze inside, around the room. His breathing stopped as his right hand moved imperceptibly for the 9mm pistol in its holster under his left shoulder.
His head still, his hand on his pistol, his eyes slowly surveyed the area around the bar.
Except for the ovalish shape of the outside, he thought, the figure on the business card distinctly resembled a bat!
Voice mail again!
Frustrated, Dr. Sandra Villanova hung up her cell phone, set it down, and looked out her window into the rain.
It was cold and wet, with a chilly wind blowing from the north. The summer had just officially ended, September was coming to an end, too, but with this weather, Gotham City was getting its first taste of autumn.
It was after midnight -- it was October.
Where could Bruce Wayne be this late on a night like tonight that he wasn't answering his cell phone?
Alfred looked at the cell phone.
It was after midnight, and Dr. Villanova had called again. She had started calling about 10:30, and had called every half hour or so since then. There must be a problem.
Alfred walked down the hallway, went down the stairs, and started across the hallway by the main entrance to Wayne Manor, then stopped.
By the window, he noticed a feminine figure staring out into the rain; she didn't seem to notice him.
"Is anything wrong, my dear?" Alfred said, approaching the figure.
Sasha turned around.
"Where is he? I know he's nowhere in Wayne Manor," she answered. Alfred had grown fond of her accent.
"It is his way, Sasha," Alfred reassured her. "He is well. Try not to worry."
"You and Mr. Fox assigned me to be his body guard, but I can't protect him if I don't know where he is."
"I understand, Sasha. And so does Mr. Fox."
"Don't you worry about him?"
"Every single day," Alfred smiled.
"How do you know he is okay?"
"I just do."
Alfred smiled again, a reassuring, fatherly smile that touched Sasha and made her feel better, as Alfred turned and proceeded on his way to that secret place far beneath Wayne Manor.
"Alfred," Sasha called after him.
Pausing, Alfred turned. "Yes, my dear?"
"There's something else I would like to tell you."
Still no answer.
Looking out into the rain, Sandra thought about how this was why she and Bruce Wayne were friends, and nothing more. So often, late at night, she had no idea where he was, and he would not even answer his cell phone. With his reputation as a shallow playboy, it took little to imagine what he might be up to.
Sandra would have been angry, and perhaps even jealous, but not tonight.
This night was too creepy.
It wasn't just the weather, which, with its chilly wind, cold rain, and dark, moving shadows, anticipated Halloween by a month.
It was what she had found at her door earlier this evening.
Someone had left her a pink envelope.
When she first picked it up, she had smiled, thinking it might have been from Bruce.
Then she opened it.
The card inside had a picture of a cat which was attentively, even menacingly, staring at a hole in a wall, presumably the home of a mouse.
The smile had disappeared from her face as she began to realize this was not some kind of note from Bruce Wayne, but was instead something far more sinister.
She picked up the card again and reread the verse:
Blue is the water by which comes the green.
Tall is the lady; she's Gotham's queen.
Under her eyes, the Roman commands,
Fueling the vices of his empire's lands.
For wont of their vices they give freedom away;
High is the price for their habits they pay.
See the green lady, she is a slave,
See her blue knights, they are but knaves.
Powerful is the Roman, this land he does rule;
King takes queen on a knight for a fool.
Suddenly, Sandra felt very much like a mouse.
It was almost one in morning as Dr. Sandra Villanova reached again for her cell phone.