Sunday, October 28, 2007

Vasilissa the Beauty (Part 7 of 12)

The figure sat silently in the Batcave, staring off into the depths of the darkness. His mind was thousands of miles and years away from where his body was.

He had been so happy for those few days in Moscow, but it had been temporary, fleeting. Both of them had lost their fathers to crime when they were young. His father had been murdered, gunned down in front of him; her father had lost his wife to crime, and decided to do something to battle crime, but in the process, had become a criminal himself. For both of them, the fathers that they loved were dead, their lives taken by the crime around them, the innocence they had known as children with their fathers living only in their memories. Those memories called to him from the grave, compelling him to live the life he now lived; but in her case, those memories lived with her, beckoning her every day into a world which was every bit as terrible as the world that had taken their fathers.

He and she both had been dragged off by crime and now were from different worlds, but for a few brief days, they were together in their own world, and they were both happy. They had listened to that song, and it had become their song. He never understood the words, but the melody he recognized.

And tonight, hearing the meaning of the words, it was as if that song had existed just for them.

He knew that something had been prodding him, nagging at him, slowly tearing him away from that temporary happiness, driving him back to Gotham City, to the mansion now empty of those who should be enjoying it; and the mansion, the whole city, was now full of that emptiness -- and that emptiness beckoned him, refusing to release him: that emptiness was his destiny.

The feelings he now had for Sasha only reminded him of the feelings he had had for her, in Moscow. Could he get close to Sasha, after what he had had with someone else before? And, if he could, would it only be temporary, like that had been? Would his heaven-on-earth come to a sudden end, like it had one summer night in Gotham City, shattered by gunshots and the realization that his parents were gone -- like it had one summer night along a river near Moscow, shattered by the realization that his destiny was not there in her arms.

He recalled the night of June 26th, what seemed like so many years ago. He was in heaven, on the bank of a river, in a foreign land, with a foreign girl, listening to a foreign song, and feeling like he was at home more so than he had ever been since his parents had died. He thought about the irony, as his parents had been killed on the night of June 26th so many years before, and how he had now found happiness, and felt that things had come full circle. Tearing his gaze away from her eyes, he looked at his watch: it was 10:47 PM, Moscow time, the same hour at which, on that night in Gotham City, his parents had been killed. Suddenly, he saw his parents death all over again, but instead of his parents falling in front him, it was the Gotham Towers, and thousands of people were dying.

He gasped as his happiness was taken from him, and he sensed the drive to return to Gotham City, even though he did not know why. She thought she had done something wrong, and she did not understand why he suddenly had to leave. He managed to convince her that it was nothing to do with her, although deep inside, he wondered if perhaps it was. She promised she would follow him to Gotham City....

He turned and looked at the photo of the Gotham Towers on the wall of the Batcave. For about ten weeks after he had returned to Gotham, he was lost and miserable; then, they fell, just as he had imagined that night on the outskirts of Moscow. Ever since then, there was only one thing that could fill the emptiness in his life, and that was his obsession -- until tonight, listening to Sasha, he wondered if his life might somehow become his own again....

Sasha was sobbing as Alfred held her. He had never had a daughter and, in fact, she was young enough to be his granddaughter. Somehow, though, he knew his role.

He remembered the night he was thrust into being a father for a lost little boy, pleasant, intelligent, friendly, innocent, and a little spoiled.

He thought, too, of the night years later, when that lost little boy called up from a foreign land and announced that he was coming home. Alfred told him that he would call Mr. Fox and have someone from the Wayne Enterprises' small corporate office in Moscow pick him up, and that he would have one of Wayne Enterprises' corporate jets fly to Russia and bring him back. But, he insisted, he would make his own way home; he had to say good-bye to someone.

In the end, Mr. Fox agreed to send Alfred on a corporate jet, and Alfred picked him up in Germany; it reminded Alfred of his days in service of Her Majesty, when Alfred himself had come in from the cold through Berlin, right before he left Her Majesty's service, and entered into the service of Dr. Thomas Wayne. It seemed like quite a change, and he had at first been very apprehensive about it, until he realized that Wayne Manor was where he belonged.

"Sasha," he said quietly, "come with me. It is time you saw that special place under Wayne Manor, about which Mr. Fox spoke to you."

Alfred led Sasha to the antique grandfather clock, and moved the hands to indicate the time of 10:47....

She had to hurry, now. She had a great deal to do.

First, she had to return to her father, and explain to him the situation. She wanted to try to convince him to go with her; but, if she couldn't do that, she was going anyway, alone.

There was one man in Gotham City that she knew would help her, even if her father wouldn't. Years ago, during that short time they had together in Moscow, she had looked into his heart, and knew he would help anyone. And, she thought -- she knew -- he still had feelings for her, just as she did for him. Perhaps....

She looked down at the edge of European Russia, just as she had that day several years back, when they left Moscow, each going a separate way. Then, too, the plane had been gaining altitude, turning for Western Siberia, then Asia beyond. Then, too, she had planned to go to Gotham City, only that time she hadn't made it. This time she would make it to Gotham City; this time, their paths would bring them together.

Ironically, her main concern was what might happen if her father did decide to go to Gotham City....

Talia al Ghul looked down at the Russian countryside, and wondered how her father, Ra's al Ghul, might get along with him if they met.

The figure -- Bruce Wayne -- turned and looked; Alfred and Sasha were entering the Batcave.

"I need your help," he said to Sasha, his voice a low, raspy whisper. "Read this, please, and tell me what you think."

Only for a moment was she caught off-guard by the request; then, Sasha studied the riddle for a moment, and read it aloud:

"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."

She looked around.

"Falcone," she said simply. "Carmine Falcone -- he's The Roman."

Alfred looked at Bruce Wayne, and Wayne looked at Sasha.

"How do you know?" the figure asked.

"In the right circles, everybody knows. The Roman -- that's Falcone's nickname."

"And why is that?" Alfred interjected his question.

"Because Gotham City is his empire. He runs it the way the emperors used to run Rome. He decides who the kings are -- the mayor, the city council members, the judges -- and he makes sure they get the resources they need to get elected."

"So all these people work for him?" asked Wayne.

"Oh no, not at all. Some of these people are trying to put Falcone in jail. The point is that Falcone manipulates them in many ways, often in ways they don't even know. He also has key people on their staffs and elsewhere in the system who work for him, so their efforts come to nothing if Falcone disapproves of what they are trying to do. They do his bidding at the instigation of advice from their staffmembers, so they pass laws and regulations that benefit Falcone, and think they are hurting him, or think it has nothing to do with him -- but of course it has everything to do with him, Falcone is The Roman, and Gotham City is his empire."

"But Falcone is just a businessman," began Wayne.

"A competitor?" interrupted Alfred.

"No, not exactly. He has some business interests that compete with some divisions of Wayne Enterprises, but Falcone's businesses are more often suppliers or customers of ours," Wayne answered.

"But you're exactly right that he's just a businessman," began Sasha. "You are concerned about right and wrong, but Falcone isn't interested in that, he's just interested in business. I mean, he does have a code of ethics, sort of, but it is not the same code of ethics that we live by."

Bruce Wayne and Alfred looked at each other.

"Falcone operates on both sides of the law," began Sasha, a little frustrated at their lack of comprehension. "If dealing in cars makes him money, he deals in cars. If dealing in drugs makes him money, he deals in drugs. Falcone is into drugs, gambling, racketeering, prostitution -- he controls the heroin trade, and trafficks women in from around the world to work... his people force them into prostitution in brothels throughout Gotham City."

Wayne thought back to his conversation the other night with Dr. Villanova about the prostitution ring that had been broken by Gotham police, and about persistent reports that Aladdin was involved in the heroin trade.

"But I thought Aladdin ran the heroin in Gotham," Wayne looked back at Sasha.

"Aladdin runs the heroin to Gotham. He is one of the suppliers. Within Gotham, Falcone controls distribution."

"If prostitution is Falcone's business, and if Falcone has so much control over Gotham, how is it that there was that big bust a couple of weeks back? The one where that prostitution ring was broken?" Wayne continued with his questions.

Sasha smiled at Wayne. "Are you so naive? First of all, there are always competitors, and racketeering runs both ways."

Wayne glanced at Alfred again. "What do you mean?" Wayne asked.

"If you want to run a legitimate business in Gotham, you need to pay Falcone to keep the criminals away. If you want to run an underworld business in Gotham, you need to pay Falcone to keep the cops away. Falcone controls men on both sides of the law," Sasha explained. "Gotham City is his empire, and Falcone is The Roman." Sasha paused to let that sink in. "When people think of racketeering, they think of paying the bad guys to stay away, but you also have to pay corrupt law enforcement to stay away from illegal businesses -- bribery. Falcone is on both sides of it."

Alfred looked at Wayne this time.

"Every once in a while," Sasha continued, "someone in Gotham City government needs a big bust to show that Gotham is serious about crime. Falcone gives them a competitor, or sometimes he gives them a business of his that isn't performing up to par, as punishment and as an example." She paused again, thinking of how to explain it. "If your prostitutes aren't bringing in enough money, Falcone sends you to jail. Learn your lesson, Falcone springs you and takes you back. Falcone doesn't hold a grudge for things like that, to him it's just business. But," she paused again, looking around, "and here's where his code of ethics comes in, if you betray him, you will be out of business for good."

"I say, how do you know so much about this, young lady?" Alfred asked, unable to contain his curiosity.

"Vasilissa," Sasha replied simply.

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