"So what's that?"
Inspector Gordon looked at the evidence bag being held up by the narcotics lieutenant.
"Cigarettes laced with heroin."
Gordon looked at the lieutenant, then back at the evidence bag, as the lieutenant continued.
"It's the latest rage on the recreational drug scene in Gotham City. Teenagers are using this stuff, have been for over a year now that we've noticed. Read the advertising on the back of the package. It tells people they don't have to shoot-up... no more of the stigma associated with needles. Now they can use heroin and be suave and debonair – it's just like smoking, the package says." The lieutenant studied Gordon. "This heroin is very pure. Even experienced junkies aren't ready for it. Deaths by overdose have risen considerably."
Gordon took the evidence bag and looked closely at it. It looked like an ordinary pack of cigarettes, except that there, on the package, it did indeed claim to have heroin inside it. And, it actually argued the "advantages" of smoking heroin instead of injecting it.
Gordon looked back at the narcotics lieutenant.
"What is this? Some kind of joke?"
Gently, the lieutenant took the evidence bag from Gordon's hand, turned it around, and gave it back to him so Gordon could see the other side of the package.
Gordon studied it for a moment, then looked again at the narcotics lieutenant.
"'Joker' brand?" Inspector Gordon asked incredulously.
The master was walking through the village. It was early evening, and, despite his many years of training, despite his years of experience, despite the years he had spent mentoring others – especially the time he had spent with his special student from Gotham City – the master felt on edge.
He smiled to himself. Others he could teach to have patience, to be tranquil, but himself? How ironic he thought.
Nearing the edge of the village, he thought about the fortune-teller's hut. He had been going there quite regularly lately, seeking updates on their friend in Gotham City. Ordinarily, he would not have needed to; he could, perhaps, have found what he needed to know by reading the news on-line, coupled with a few emails exchanged with friends around the world, capped off with his own modest ability to perceive...
But, he thought, it takes still water to mirror that which is around it, and his own mind was anything but still these days.
He knew Bruce Wayne was busy, to say the least.
Resigning himself to his own imperfections, he glanced in the direction of the fortune-teller's hut.
She was outside talking to someone.
Yes, it was!
The master hurried over toward the fortune-teller's to greet her... and to greet The Ancient!
The two men were in the main lobby. Around the large room were interactive displays showcasing the cutting edge of Wayne Enterprises' technology.
Here and there in the lobby people hurried to an elevator or to the revolving doors at the front of the building.
The receptionist watched the people walking by. Occasionally, the security officer at the front desk would look at someone with no ID badge, and send that person to the receptionist to sign in.
Both the receptionist and the security officer glanced at the men looking at the interactive displays.
Bruce Wayne, flanked by Lucius Fox and another man, came out of one of the elevators. A security officer quietly greeted him, and nodded toward the two men.
As they approached the two men, the men turned to face them, pulling out their identification.
"Mr. Wayne, Mr. Fox. I am Special Agent DiViglio of the Gotham Bureau of Investigation. This is my partner, Special Agent Kyle."
"How do you do?" Wayne smiled. "This is the head of my corporate legal department...."
Alfred gently pulled back a curtain and looked out the window at the unmarked police cruiser that was leaving Wayne Manor.
He recalled the time he had gone down in the Batcave – it had been over a year before, in the spring of the previous year.
He found Master Bruce deep in thought, studiously reviewing information about finances.
"I see you are burning the midnight oil again, sir."
"Just learning a little about money, Alfred."
"Not about yours, I presume."
"No, Alfred. About somebody else's."
The riddles that had been arriving spoke of money – money and a connection to the attack on the Gotham Trade Center.
Releasing the curtain, Alfred thought long and hard.
The author of those riddles – the Riddler, they had come to call him – made the connection to the money laundering that had happened under cover of the arson in the Gotham Trade Center. This had all long since been confirmed by Master Bruce's investigation.
But, there was something more.
Even early last year, the Riddler had to have known that Gotham City was rushing headlong into a financial meltdown – and now, here it was.
"Just learning a little about money, Alfred," he again recalled Master Bruce's answer.
It had been a very happy reunion, but, of course, The Ancient had had a reason to come to the village, and to talk with the fortune-teller who, like the master, was worried – though, unlike the master, was able to focus and perceive... her gift from the Emperor of Heaven, she would explain.
"But who are we, that the Emperor of Heaven should be mindful of us?" the master inquired of them both.
There was a knowing pause, then The Ancient responded.
"It is not because of who we are. The Emperor of Heaven is mindful of us because of Who He is."
"Well, that's very interesting, Agent DiViglio," Fox commented.
"Yes, indeed it is," Wayne agreed. "Wayne Enterprises holds the patents on all this equipment you see on display in our lobby, and on a great deal more that we don't display. If your investigation determines that this Batman, or anybody else, is using equipment similar to that produced by my company, I would be most appreciative if you would pass word of that to our corporate legal department," Wayne said, nodding in the direction of the man who accompanied him and Lucius Fox, "so we can file a lawsuit for patent infringement. Now, if you'll excuse us," Wayne continued, "we have an appointment for lunch."
"This is official business, Mr. Wayne. We are investigating this 'Batman'," DiViglio countered Wayne's attempt to dismiss him.
"I realize that, and I will be sure to bring your concerns up over lunch with my friend, Inspector Jim Gordon of the Gotham Police Department. If I understand correctly," Wayne smiled, "Inspector Gordon is in charge of the interagency task force investigating Batman." Wayne paused to let his words sink in. "Have a nice day, gentlemen, and thank you for stopping in," Wayne said, as he, Fox and their attorney turned and walked back toward the elevator.
"And how is our friend doing?" the fortune-teller asked.
Funny, thought the master – that was supposed to have been his question.
"He is doing well," The Ancient responded. "Though he does not know it, I visit him often." The Ancient smiled a gentle smile. "I visit him especially when he is in his secret place under his house, and when he is on the streets, performing his mission."
The master and the fortune-teller exchanged glances.
"The Emperor of Heaven is furious with the hypocrites who rape Gotham City, then blame their victims and seek to destroy them." The Ancient paused. "Our friend is but an instrument of that Heavenly fury."
Detective Sergeant O'Hara was driving away from Wayne Manor.
Vasilissa was staying there – safe, her location unknown – and she was a treasure house of information. Much of what she had said was now checking out from other sources.
She had identified two special agents of the GBI as being key players on Falcone's payroll – and the very next day, one of those agents walked in, and turned himself in to Inspector Gordon. Now, that agent was an informant.
Vasilissa had also identified a senior GPD officer as a key man in Falcone's organization, key because of recruiting others to work for Falcone. Inspector Gordon had arranged for that officer to be transferred to the interagency task force that Gordon was in charge of – the same task force O'Hara himself was on. "Let's keep him close, and keep an eye on him," Gordon had explained. "And, when the time comes, we can use him to feed false information to Falcone."
When the time came, they would have a case that would bring Falcone's empire crashing down.
The smile disappeared from O'Hara's face.
If the time came, he thought.
There needed to be the political willpower in Gotham City to prosecute the case, and that was not likely. Both the leading candidates had been compromised by Falcone, as had one of the candidates for vice mayor. The other candidate for vice mayor, a relatively unknown quantity in the citywide election, was a wild card, and may even be honest – but, the current mayor's people were already circling around her like a bunch of sharks. Assuming she was not corrupt, how long would she stay that way?
During the conversation, the master could not help but notice that the fortune-teller had a card in her hand, and seemed somewhat distracted considering it.
Finally, considering The Ancient's words, she placed the card down on the table, and the master caught a glimpse of it.
A court jester... the Fool.