"It's the same pattern we saw before!"
The man was quite excited, and perhaps even a bit agitated; his companion, a woman about his age, was obviously quite captivated by the discovery, but managed to control her reaction a little better.
His back to them, their listener considered the meaning of the information he had been given, as he stared off into the distance at the Gotham Trade Center. Reconstruction there had made tremendous progress, and only the tallest building – the building which would replace the twin Gotham Towers – remained unfinished.
Turning around, he walked back over near his guests, and sat down in an armchair.
"Ed, I'm not sure I'm following what you're saying. Could you and Linda please go over your findings again?"
Smiling, Ed nodded, and took a breath in preparation to begin speaking. Linda, too, mustered a smile, though inwardly she was rolling her eyes: What a shallow playboy! she thought.
"In the wake of the attack on the Gotham Towers, it became apparent that there had been some short-term fortunes made. People who obviously knew exactly which stocks would climb and which would fall made some uncannily precise trades, and made millions – though that was small potatoes compared to what was at stake that day. Aware of this discovery made right after the attack, Linda and I looked into it working here at Wayne Enterprises. We started looking longer- and longer-term, and finally found something else that was even more uncanny: in the long term, people associated with Carmine Falcone benefited from the turbulence in Gotham City's stock market that was associated with the attack on the Gotham Towers and the mayor's declaration of a War on Crime. It was as if this whole thing – the arson in the Gotham Trade Center, and the War on Crime itself – were being steered to make money for Falcone's friends."
Bruce Wayne looked at Edward, who paused to catch his breath.
With a glance at Edward, Linda picked up where her colleague had left off, attracting Wayne's gaze.
"In this latest crisis, we are seeing this pattern again. Granted, it won't be fully apparent until months, perhaps years after the crisis ends," Linda admitted, "but it is nonetheless very apparent, even now." She glanced at Edward, then looked back at Wayne. "You just have to know where to look."
Edward nodded his agreement.
"The other parallel we are noticing is the conduct of Gotham City's official watchdogs."
Wayne directed his look at Edward Nygma again, as Linda Callahan pulled out another stack of papers and started quietly shuffling through them.
"Prior to the attack on the Gotham Trade Center, the arson that resulted in the collapse of the skyscrapers, Gotham's law enforcement had information that something was up. Though it may have lacked some important specifics, they knew skyscrapers were going to be targeted with arson, and they knew it would happen late that summer or early that fall. Yet, they issued no public warnings, did nothing to augment security in Gotham's skyscrapers, they did not put Gotham's firefighters or police on alert – they only issued a few quiet warnings to certain select VIPs, vague yet effective. Later on, we found out that official investigations into peripheral activities had been ordered closed by high-ranking people in City Hall."
"And what are we seeing this time?" Wayne asked.
Wayne recalled an occasion with the master. Talia had been in the village, and had accompanied them for a while, but was just leaving. It was as if her departure triggered a thought in the master's mind, a thought the master considered important to share.
"Generally, in battle, the best outcome is to capture your opponent's force intact and in good condition; destroying him is inferior to this."
As usual, Wayne contemplated the meaning of the master's words, but, more importantly, he considered what might have prompted the master to begin this lesson just as Talia was taking leave of them.
"To win a thousand victories in a thousand battles is not the acme of skill; for the skilled warrior overcomes his opponent without fighting him. Therefore, what is most important is to attack your opponent's strategy, and disrupt his plans. Following that, what is important is to disrupt his alliances. Of far less utility is fighting him directly, especially in a battle of attrition. Therefore, the skilled warrior overcomes his opponent without prolonged operations; having mastered the art of offensive strategy, he takes all his objectives intact."
"The regulatory commission's job is to identify the risky lending practices that ultimately sparked this crisis, and sanction them, distancing the institutions involved from Gotham's financial circles, so a collapse due to their bad lending would not cause wider damage in Gotham's finances. Yet," Edward continued, as Linda produced several short biographies of Gotham officials, "the regulatory commission failed to do that, though this had been building for years now."
Linda jumped into the explanation. "All five of the current members of the regulatory commission were appointed by the current mayor. The last one began work on the commission this year, but the other four were all in place two years ago, about the time the first rumblings of the current crisis could be identified in Gotham's financial institutions."
"What do you make of the mayor's initiatives to deal with the crisis?" Wayne asked, looking at Linda, then at Edward.
"Ingenuous, to say the least," Linda commented with an air of disdain. "His people temporarily banned certain speculative financial dealings, going so far as to publish a list of which institutions could not be targeted by such dealings. Of course, the very day after their temporary ban ended, the institutions on that list were heavily targeted by the very speculative deals which had been prohibited. By the second day after the ban, the stock of those institutions had fallen by tens of percentage points, almost fifty in some cases."
Leaning forward toward Wayne, Nygma added, "In the pool full of sharks that is Gotham's financial world, the mayor's team marked their victims with blood."
"Therefore," the master continued, "the skilled warrior is a skilled leader as well, and his victories can be predicted. Knowing when he is able to fight, and when unable, he will be victorious. Knowing how to use his forces, both large and small, both regular and irregular, he will be victorious. Uniting his ranks in purpose, he will be victorious. Being prudent, and awaiting the opportunity presented by an enemy who is not, he will be victorious. Having able generals, and not interfering with them, he will be victorious."
Looking at Wayne, he concluded.
"Knowing his enemy as he knows himself, though he may face a thousand battles, the skilled warrior needs never face danger. But the unskilled warrior, ignorant of his enemy and ignorant of himself, is in continuous danger." His gaze drifting away from Wayne, he added. "Such people are called 'mad bandits' – what can they expect, if not defeat?"
For once, the master's words made perfect sense.
But, had there been something about Talia that had prompted him to express his thoughts?
"Then, in response to the crisis, the mayor proposed a very expensive bailout plan, funded by Gotham City's taxpayers. The residents of Gotham howled, and the first time around the measure failed, but then the mayor modified it a little, twisted some arms, pushed it through the city council and signed it." Linda Callahan looked at Bruce Wayne; he seemed to understand the money aspects of this very well, she thought.
Edward Nygma picked up where Linda had left off. "Now, the mayor's administration, armed with taxpayer money provided by Gotham municipal debt, is 'infusing liquidity' into Gotham's financial institutions – but, the mayor's administration is completely at its own discretion as to which institutions to help, and which to abandon, and how much to help institutions that they try to bail out. Any institution can be overlooked, either because it is deemed too sick to cure, or not sick enough to worry about. It is completely subjective, with no oversight at all."
"And all on the taxpayer's dime," Linda nodded in agreement.
"Through this administration, Falcone is either taking over or destroying Gotham's financial institutions, just as he sees fit," Edward summarized.