Friday, October 26, 2007

Vasilissa the Beauty (Part 4 of 12)

"I know that he works out, almost every day. He usually works out in the early morning, though sometimes he works out in the late afternoon," Sasha began. "He seems to focus on speed and endurance, but he does not neglect strength training." Sasha paused and thought. "A typical day would be an early morning run of anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes, much of the time spent nearly sprinting. The shorter his run, the more intense he makes it, and the faster he goes. Then he does some stretching, and then he goes to the weight room and spends some time in there. He seems to spend a minimum of one hour working out, but sometimes he will be at it nearly two, or even more on days when he does a longer, slower run to start things off."

"And what do you do during this time?"

"Well, this is almost always at Wayne Manor, and when it is not, it is indoors at Wayne Enterprises. In both cases, there is a security system and there are other people around, groundskeepers and such at Wayne Manor, security people at Wayne Enterprises, and I've been told that I don't have to worry about any of them, although sometimes I still do -- not that there has ever been any reason to!" Sasha paused. "At Wayne Manor, I follow along on a bicycle and try to stay close while he is outside. Inside Wayne Enterprises, I merely stay in the indoor gymnasium with him. And so, outside at Wayne Manor, I get some exercise as well, riding the bicycle, although when he goes back inside or when we are here at Wayne Enterprises, I am able to get in a good workout, since then I don't feel I have to watch him very closely at all. My main duties as I understand are to be alert when we are in transit from Wayne Manor to Wayne Enterprises and back, and when Mr. Wayne goes out to dinner or something in the evening, basically those occasions when he is outside Wayne Manor and Wayne Enterprises."

Lucius Fox looked at Sasha Bordeaux and nodded. "You were studying. When do you get your studies done?"

"I study via distance learning, and there is plenty of time, both here and at Wayne Manor, for me to find a quiet place outside Mr. Wayne's office or in a corner in that big house of his and do my work. And then I go online and complete my assignments. It's actually quite advantageous," she smiled. "Back in my apartment, my roommate distracts me a lot, and my internet connection there is dial-up, so I find I'm progressing more on this assignment with Mr. Wayne." She paused, then added "I'm seldom in my apartment anymore." She paused again, then continued, "The one thing I do miss is having a workout partner for judo and kick-boxing. I used to go to a gymnasium not far from Wayne Enterprises maybe three times a week, but I haven't been able to get in there very often lately, maybe only once a week. That's the main drawback."

Fox nodded again.

"Speaking of which, when does Mr. Wayne usually practice his martial arts? He's actually quite good, but I've never seen him practice -- and I've been his bodyguard for several weeks now!"

"He has a special room downstairs at Wayne Manor where he practices. He also has a similar room in the basement here at Wayne Enterprises," Fox explained. "In fact, the room under Wayne Manor is more than a special room -- it is more like a facility. And, there are a few people, employees of Wayne Enterprises, who have access to it and who help maintain it. That includes some martial arts specialists who are assigned to Wayne Enterprises corporate security. They give classes to the security guards here at Wayne Enterprises, and after hours, they offer subsidized lessons in self defense to employees who are interested."

"I heard some of the security people talking about the martial arts classes for the security personnel, but I didn't know there were self defense classes for employees." Sasha looked interested.

"You mean you've never been to the classes?" Fox asked, surprised.

Sasha shook her head.

Fox looked displeased. "I'll have to look into that. You should have been invited to participate, and one of the reasons we hired you was your background in judo. As we do not have a judo specialist, we thought you would be a nice addition to the staff." Fox paused to write down a note. "Anyway, two of those instructors work out with Mr. Wayne -- Bruce -- in these special facilities. We try to keep Bruce's workout sessions a secret. The idea is that if anybody ever gets through to him to try to do him harm, we want the fact that he knows how to defend himself to be a surprise." Fox paused again, then looked at Sasha. "Would you be interested in being one of his trainers?"

"When does he train?"

"That depends on his schedule, but it is often early evening at Wayne Manor, or late afternoon here, two to four times a week, again, depending on his schedule," Fox explained. "He also likes to personally test out some of our new experimental equipment," Fox continued. "You know that Wayne Enterprises has a division that develops equipment for the military, for law enforcement, and for emergency and rescue services, right?"

Sasha nodded, wondering where all this was leading.

"We have a facility where that equipment is tested. It's a mock-up of an urban landscape. Sometimes Bruce goes there for his workout, to test some of the equipment." Fox paused, then looked at Sasha. "That same division also makes equipment for camping, rafting, mountain climbing -- you know, tents, survival gear, stuff like that. Bruce likes to test out some of that, as well. We have a facility in the mountains, and some of that equipment Bruce tests on his estate."

"That's interesting. There are times when Mr. Wayne disappears, and I have no idea where he is. Sometimes it's just for a couple of hours, and sometimes it's for an entire day or even more."

"I know, it's difficult, and he doesn't cooperate," Fox sighed. "He likes you, but he really doesn't think he needs a bodyguard. Anyway, for the most part, he has agreed with me and Alfred to take you with him when he goes out, but sometimes he forgets." Fox looked at Sasha, then continued. "Sometimes when you can't find him, he's just downstairs at Wayne Manor, but occasionally he will be at our facility here or even in the mountains. He's safe, but I wish he would take you with him when he's traveling to and from."

"That would help me do my job!" Sasha agreed.

"I'll have a word with him, but I don't know how much good it will do. Anyway, if you wish to become one of his trainers, and work out with him like you did today, that will help you keep an eye on him more, and maybe he'll even learn to cooperate with his bodyguard."

"Well, I need someone to work out with. Let's give it a try."

Looking at Edward Nygma, Linda Callahan took a deep breath, then turned to Bruce Wayne and began.

"I hope we don't lose our jobs for this, but it was important."

Wayne looked at her, a faint smile on his face. Rare was the occasion since he started receiving riddles dealing with the attack on the Gotham Towers that he felt like he was ahead of the power curve, but he savored this moment. He had assigned Edward Nygma and Linda Callahan to work together at a boring job in the basement near the room where those disk drives were stored exactly in the hope that they would break new ground in the investigation.

"The files are pretty broken up, and the information is sketchy. There is no 'smoking gun' that we can find yet...." Edward paused.

"But...." Wayne prompted.

"There is no discernable pattern in short-term financial gains due to trading during the attack, other than the fact that an incredible number of trades were made, and so was a great deal of money. It looks like the main thing that stands out was the sheer volume of trades, followed by the fact that a lot of money was made, but the profits that were earned were not earned by any one person or entity in particular." Edward sounded like he was trying to say something, but didn't know how to phrase it.

"I should point out that this is based on what data we could access, which is very fragmentary," Callahan added as Nygma nodded in agreement.

"However...." Wayne prompted again.

"There is a correlation between the people who ordered the trades and a certain businessman." Nygma paused for a breath.

"On a hunch, we looked at the longer-term performance of Gotham's stock market, with an eye toward connections to this certain businessman, and we found a much stronger correlation between companies associated with this man and superior performance despite the market downturn due to the attack on the Gotham Trade Center," Callahan explained, then looked at Nygma.

"Oh, please, don't let that businessman be me," smiled Wayne.

"It's not you, Mr. Wayne," chuckled Nygma. The humor lightened the atmosphere considerably.

"The more longer-term you look, the stronger the correlation. One man had the midas touch. He didn't actually make a great deal of money himself, but rather, people who knew him did," Callahan explained.

"Is he a stockbroker? Who is it?"

"No, not a stockbroker," answered Nygma.

"I then correlated the information we came up with to my investigation of Belladonna," Linda Callahan began again.

"Who's Belladonna?" interrupted Wayne.

"Not 'Who', 'What'," answered Callahan. "It was a secret GBI wiretapping operation, aimed at organized crime in Gotham City. But the operation was alleged by GBI agents familiar with it to be corrupt, spying on Gotham's politicians and using the information to blackmail them."

"It appears the information was also used for industrial espionage," Nygma added. "It seems there is again a strong correlation between one's association with this businessman and Belladonna. This guy's friends have generally done quite well during the time frame we looked at. Those involved in legal businesses have made good business decisions, good investments; those involved in criminal activities have not been busted."

"We then expanded our investigation to look at political connections, people who were the alleged secret target of Belladonna," Linda continued. "Politicians associated with this businessman have done a little better at fund-raising, while their opponents have had a disproportionate number of scandals in the news about them." Linda looked at Edward. "Information turned up by the Belladonna wire-tapping operation got put to use, consistently to benefit the associates, whether business or political, whether criminal or not, of one man."

"So who is this one man?" Wayne asked.

She was on the train riding through the Russian countryside. The train was slow, and Russia was big. The day had already been long, and it would still be another hour or so before she arrived at the town where she was going.

Once there, she had a name and an address, but the address was old, and she didn't speak Russian very well. The woman she was looking for may have long ago left not only that address, but the town itself. Even if she was still there, people might be suspicious of someone they did not know, so they might not help her, and without help, she might not be able to find this woman.

One thing she had going in her favor was that she was a woman. People might help a woman more quickly than a man.

She thought about her half-sister. She knew her half-sister was no longer in Russia, but she did not know where she was. She hoped to find some lead, some clue, that might help her locate her. Then, she thought, she would need something to convince her of who she was, and that she meant no harm. To get that, she would have to convince this woman of all of this. To do that, she would have to find this woman. To do that, she has to get there, she thought; first things first.

She tried to calm herself down by looking at the countryside. It was autumn already, and there was a chill to the wind. Russia could be a dangerous place for a woman alone, too. Fortunately, she was no ordinary woman; she was Talia al Ghul, and was very much the daughter of her father, Ra's al Ghul. She smiled at the thought that she felt ready to face whatever might be awaiting her, whether a cold Russian wind, or petty Russian criminals. She also smiled remembering her previous trip to Russia. The people she had met then were all wonderful, and she had stayed in touch with some of them. Perhaps, if she needed help, one of them might be able to help out. Her smile warmed even more at the thought of the special someone she had shared several days with in Moscow.

Smiling, she looked inside the train. A little girl was sitting with her mother, gazing at her. The little girl smiled, so Talia smiled even more warmly, and waved at her. The little girl waved back, then looked back down at a book she was holding.

Talia looked at the book. It was a child's fairy tale, a story about a beautiful young girl named Vasilissa.

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