Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Detective (Touch the Sun) Part 1 of 12

[If you haven't already done so, you may wish to read The Detective: Prelude.]

Alfred nodded. "I understand."

There was a short pause, then he quietly added, "When I was serving Her Majesty in Africa, I had a couple of occasions like that myself."

The figure pulled his gloves off, and began to disconnect his cowl.

Alfred sat down next to him.

"One time," Alfred began, "I remember we were sent in on a mission, and the mission started to go very badly."

It was silent for a moment.

"What happened?" the figure asked as he pulled his cowl off; underneath he was quite wet from perspiration.

"We were on the outskirts of some village somewhere, and it was dark. Suddenly the night erupted in small arms fire." Alfred looked at the figure. "Automatic rifle fire was ripping up the ground around me, it was ripping up the bushes and trees, rocket-propelled grenades were exploding...."

"What did you do?"

"I dove into a shallow hole that was nearby, got as far down into it as I could, and wished for my Mum to take me away!"

The figure smiled, wiping his face. "How did you get out?"

"Well, I foolishly looked up, and saw enemy gunfire walking right up to my position. Bullets were kicking up the dirt, coming in a line straight for me. It seemed to take forever, but I knew I was about to die!"

Momentarily transported through time to a dark corner of Africa by the words of his friend, the figure watched Alfred, forgetting about his own ordeal.

"I don't recall exactly what happened, but the sergeant major later told me that I saved everyone's life, and accomplished our mission all at once. His words never registered with me, because all I can remember is sheer terror!"

Captivated, the figure listened attentively, a smile broadening across his face.

"At the time, none of us had any idea that things turned out so well. We were whisked back to our base in England, and from there the commanding officer, the sergeant major and I were rushed straight to the Prime Minister's office. I was wondering what kind of trouble we were all in...." Alfred smiled.

"Well, I was in the PM's office, listening to an account of the action. When the account was over, the PM stepped over to me and said, 'I just want to shake your hand!'"

The figure wiped his head with his towel.

"Just then, there was a call for the PM, and the PM picked up the phone to answer it. After a brief conversation, the PM told me, 'You just stand right there. You're going to enjoy this!'" Alfred paused, thoughtfully. "It seems the ambassador from that hell-hole where we had just been was in the PM's office to complain about the incident, but the PM wouldn't budge a bit!" Alfred chuckled, "Oh, that woman had balls!" he added.

The figure was chuckling now, too.

"She stepped right up to the ambassador and growled at him -- I can still hear her words, she said it so distinctly as she slowly spat every syllable at him! She said, 'Mr. Ambassador, we didn't do it, but we'll do it again!'"

They both burst out laughing.

Wiping his own face now, too, Alfred added, "The ambassador looked like a little puppy dog as he beat a hasty retreat from the PM's office, and then, smiling, the PM led me directly to Buckingham Palace, where Her Majesty knighted me!"

His mouth dropping open, the figure looked at Alfred. "I never knew you had been knighted, Alfred!"

"Oh, yes, Master Bruce. There are many things about me you do not know," Alfred replied, than added: "And that is Sir Alfred!"

They both laughed again, then they paused as the figure thought.

"Why did you leave all that behind?" he asked, then hastily added, "Sir Alfred."

"Because I belong here, Master Bruce," came the answer. Then Alfred leaned over, and added firmly, "And so do you!"

It was two AM, and the Shooter didn't understand it at all.

He was sitting in a club that belonged to the Boss, having drinks on the house.

Plenty of people worked for the Boss. There was a lawyer, an accountant... there were drivers and messengers, bartenders and waitresses. The Shooter was an assassin -- a hit man.

But these other people didn't like him; they were afraid of him, and he couldn't understand why.

The Boss had one guy counting his money, another guy getting his people out of jail and keeping his operations out of trouble... the Boss had guys driving cars, fixing his dinner... and the Boss had a guy, the Shooter, who killed people.

What was the difference?

At the end of the day, just like the lawyer and the accountant, just like the drivers and the chef, the Shooter enjoyed sitting down, relaxing, talking to some ladies, having a few drinks... on the weekend, he liked to catch a game or two on TV, and, whether baseball, football or basketball, the Shooter was always loyal to Gotham's teams.

Why was the Shooter different? Why were people afraid of him?

The Shooter sipped his drink as he thought about it.

What really freaked him out was what had happened less than an hour ago.

The two GBI agents that worked for the boss came in, and they were in bad shape. Physically, they were okay, sort of -- they stunk of tear gas, and the older one had a nasty burn on his arm -- but mentally, emotionally, they were shaken.

The older one and Johnny went into the back room to talk to the Boss. Something important must have happened.

But the other guy, the other GBI agent, Nick, came over to him, looked him in the eye, and said, slowly and quietly, "You know what? I used to be afraid of you." Nick sat down on the barstool next to the Shooter. "When I thought of fear, I thought of you."

Nick smiled, then directed his smile at the bartender, who gave him his usual.

"But not any more," Nick said, then looked down, very thoughtfully. He stared at the floor for a long while, like he was having trouble saying something.

Finally, he began slowly. "Tonight, I looked Fear in the eyes," he explained, drinking about half his Scotch. "Fear dresses in black," he said, "and it has a bloody face." Nick took a long pull of his Scotch, finishing it.

A little surprised, the bartender hurried over and served Nick another Scotch.

"You pull out your pistol and aim at Fear, and you dump an entire clip into it a point-blank range," he began again, taking a pull from his new glass of Scotch, "and when you're done, you reload to do it again. But Fear..." he said, studying his drink, "Fear just looks you in the eye and smiles at you, then says 'See ya around.'" He drank some more of his Scotch, paused, then finished it off and set the glass down on the bar.

By this time, the bartender was listening, fixated not on the glass, but on the words that were mingling with the cigarette smoke and drifting through the lounge.

Nick looked up, and looked right at the Shooter.

"Fear has a name," he added slowly, almost whispering now, quietly enunciating every word, "and its name... is 'Batman'."

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