THE BOOK OF WATER
“Training must go beyond the mat and become a way of life, Wayne-san. Every aspect of life becomes part of the training.”
“When you walk, sit, kneel, or lie down to sleep, you must feel your balance always. When you enter a room, you must feel its energy and you will know if it is empty or no. If you do this, if you open yourself up and extend Ki, even though the room is pitch black, even though those within may be silent as ninja, you will sense their presence. You understand?”
“We will see. Today we do Free Battles. The true battle is not with your opponent; it is between body, mind and spirit. You will have trouble with this. You are young. You are rich. You are American. For you, life is soft. Body will not like pain and mind will not like discipline. Tonight, after Free Battles, your body will ache and your mind will decide it has better things to think about than feeling your balance as you move. You will come to me and say you are leaving my dojo.”
“You contradict your teacher, Wayne-san?”
“Respectfully, Sensei. I know my heart. I will stay.”
“You are soft, Wayne-san. You will not maintain the discipline.”
“I will, Sensei.”
Bruce started, a violent spasm snapping his neck forward as his eyes shot open. He blinked, looking around… utterly confused for a moment…
…the air smelled dry and processed…
…He lay stretched out on a white leather sofa… across a carpeted aisle, a small burl wood table inlaid with the letters WE and two deep chairs that matched the sofa… Wayne One. He was on the airplane. He must have fallen asleep. Checking his watch, he calculated that he’d slept for at least an hour. They would be landing soon.
Bruce massaged his brow, then rose and walked to the kitchenette. He took a bottle of chilled spring water, wet a handkerchief and toweled off his face. He drank the water in a series of urgent gulps and dropped the empty bottle into the trashcan—then he looked down at it. A bottle of spring water. That really wasn’t the kind of impression he liked to leave the cleanup crew. So he retrieved the bottle from the trash, refilled it with water from the sink, and returned it to the mini-fridge. There he took out a bottle of champagne, opened it, and poured it down the sink. He dropped that bottle into the trashcan and returned to his seat with a satisfied grunt.
:: We’re beginning our descent into Fort Lauderdale, Mr. Wayne, :: Captain Leffinger announced over the intercom. :: You’ll want to buckle up. It’s a sunny 75-degrees, and the marina just radioed in to report knee-high surf with a moderate chop and sea surface temperature of 73-degrees. If I may say, Mr. Wayne, it looks like an ideal day to be buying a yacht, sir. ::
Bruce twitched his lip at the intercom. Maintaining the idle playboy image might be a tiresome chore at times, taking valuable hours away from Gotham and the Mission, but the glamour of these excursions did delight employees like Captain Leffinger.
Philipos, the yacht broker, had sent a helicopter to deliver Bruce from the airport to the marina, and Leffinger was chatting with the chopper pilot. Bruce gave them a few minutes to converse before setting out. While he waited, he presented them with his best daytime-Fop, bored with all the glamorous perks showered on him by a fawning merchant class. But behind the mask of a jaded playboy, the inner man wondered what he was doing here alone.
There was no reason to bring Selina along, certainly. The Playboy had always been a solo act. And since she wasn’t supporting the Fop Initiative, there was no point in including her on a trip like this which was really just to acquire props for a piece of theatre, after all.
What could she contribute if she was here? Other than a bit of company on the plane, that is. Why should she have any input on the yacht he purchased if she wasn’t going to come along on whatever excursions he took with it? Selina never understood the necessity of the Fop, that was the problem. She didn’t give him a hard time when he went into Idle Rich Boy-mode, not exactly, but the air of disapproval was enough. That damned connection of theirs, he knew well enough what she thought. To have brought her along on this trip to procure new “toys” for the Fop, the plane ride down might have been okay, but the trip back would be murder.
That was his thought as the chopper speeded him to the marina, as he shook hands mechanically with Philipos, and as he toured the Dahlia, a 240-foot luxury cruiser said to be the 21st century equivalent of William Randolph Hearst’s famous party boat The Oneida. Twelve feet longer than Donald Trump’s Princess, two more staterooms than the Ari Onassis Christina, the Dahlia was a floating mansion. It was a vulgar cliché. It was exactly the image of a billionaire’s mega-yacht he had led Philipos to believe he wanted.
But as he toured the vessel, Bruce’s eye kept flickering to a smaller, sleeker craft he’d spotted when the chopper touched down. On a whim, he asked Philipos about it.
“A motor yacht? I thought you wanted… er, well, that is a very fine boat. A Pershing, 88-footer, four staterooms, galley, salon, all first class, Mr. Wayne. But… I thought you wanted something more—”
—Pointlessly vulgar, Bruce thought. That is what he’d steered Philipos into showing him. That is what he wanted, wasn’t it? A floating monstrosity with a crew of twenty that would broadcast his presence in all the jet set playgrounds. Announce it, but deny mere hotel guests so much as a glimpse of the notorious playboy. “Who is that?” they would murmur from their rented beach cabanas that seemed so prestigious minutes before and now seemed plebian hovels. “Bruce Wayne. American. Filthy rich and such a snob.”
The Pershing could never serve that purpose.
Philipos continued showing off the outrageous luxuries of the Dahlia’s master suite. “Large bedroom… a king-size bed covered in fine Venetian linens, as you see… custom made furniture, all from Milan… wall lights are Baccarat crystal, walk-in closets…”
The Pershing was a vessel for impromptu jaunts down the coast. A weekend getaway, just him and Selina, no need to pretend he didn’t know how to navigate. It was tempting.
“…off the bedroom, look at this, Mr. Wayne, nothing like this on ordinary yachts. A wood-paneled study with an onyx fireplace, leather furniture and handmade Austrian lamps… A writing desk, silver-embossed stationery…”
The Pershing wouldn’t need any crew at all. With just the two of them, there would be nothing to hide. He could install a few utilities, like an OraCom console. He wouldn’t be cut off from Gotham; they really could take a few days now and then when it was quiet…
“…and in the bathroom, double sinks and a bathtub with six-head shower, LeFroy Brooks fittings complement the Carrara marble finishes…”
“I want to see the Pershing,” Bruce said abruptly. Then, startled by the unfoppish directness of his tone, he quickly added “What’s she called?”
“Whatever you want,” Philipos answered with a shrug.
La Gatta Mobile. An in-joke, harkening back to that first date on the opera house roof. It had more style than naming the boat Selina or Cat-something.
Bruce looked out the window of Wayne One at the deep blue of the ocean below.
La Gatta Mobile, or maybe just Verdi. Either would make a good name. IF he got the smaller boat instead of the Dahlia.
In one respect, La Gatta was the smarter choice. Batman had the satellite cave in midtown Gotham, the Batmobile was essentially a rolling Batcave, but the BatBoat just got him from A to B. If Bruce Wayne were to buy himself a simple, completely private motor yacht that needed no crew… that would be loaded with all the technical luxuries anyway, state of the art media center with satellite and internet just like Wayne One had, he would be providing Batman with a sea-worthy, portable cave. And La Gatta would be just large enough that her “lifeboat” could actually convert into a BatBoat to get him back to Gotham in a hurry—or even convert to a mini ultralight BatWing!
Bribery now, Psychobat sneered in his head.
It’s come to this? Bruce
Wayne trying to bribe Batman?
But he wasn’t really. A little quid pro quo between Bruce and Batman was not unprecedented. When Bruce Wayne bought a new Porsche, the Batmobile would be due for a few upgrades in the next six months or so. And there were sure to be some new gadgets inspired by the tech features that came with either yacht.
Besides, all he was really doing was thinking through the options. There were valid points to be made in favor of La Gatta over the Dahlia. They weren’t any less valid because he happened to like the idea.
Ok, maybe he had gone down there for the Fop boat and changed the plan midstream. So what? It was his money, after all. Wasn’t it his choice to spend three million on the boat he wanted instead of thirty on the one he didn’t?
Not if the choice put other considerations above the Mission; that was not something he could ever allow to happen. “The Way of the Kitten” was not going to start overriding a sound strategy Batman arrived at after careful study—
This would mean real, non-imaginary getaways that Selina could come along on, getting them out of the current Plan A/B quandary Batman’s strategy had dropped them into… It would set them on a better course without his losing face…
Bruce helped himself to another bottle of spring water, but instead of returning to his seat, he paced up and down the aisle of the passenger cabin.
The Pershing-88, the Gatta, was not the biggest or most luxurious vessel ever built, but it was the fastest boat on the market to still be considered a yacht. The Ashton-Larrabys of the world all knew that Selina had given Bruce Wayne a taste for danger and excitement. The Gatta could work, in that respect, without damaging the Fop persona: He was trying to impress Selina. What better way than to join speed, thrills, and wealth in an ultra-sporty motoryacht?
It was rather sporty… All those sweeping curves and rigid angles, it looked a little too “Batty” for Psychobat’s liking. It looked like a BatBoat—at least, in Batman’s eyes, it was starting to look too much like a BatBoat.
The front wall of the Wayne One passenger cabin contained a grid of four video screens that could display any combination of movies and satellite programming, high-speed internet, video conferencing, the feed from a miniature camera embedded in the nose of the plane, or could blow up any one of those options over all four screens.
Bruce had elected this last option for an emergency conference with Lucius. An environmental impact report was released on the Foundation’s new housing project, and Mayor Hill had called with a list of concerns. While Lucius read back the bullet points they’d hammered out in response to each issue, Bruce distanced his mind from the conversation and seemed to see the scene from outside his body, as an objective third-party observer:
A busy, able executive and philanthropist—who happened to be dressed casually in polo shirt and khakis because he was traveling on personal business—conducting a meeting where and when it was necessary.
Hardly a Fop playing with overpriced tech toys he didn’t understand.
He’d done it before. Bruce Wayne had tempered the playboy act before, when he took over management of Wayne Enterprises. The secret was important, but not more important than the tens of thousands of jobs tied to WE. Not more important than rent and food on the table for tens of thousands of families. Not more important than millions of dollars helping to drive Gotham’s economy, and the research and products meant to enrich people’s lives.
To be CEO of a billion-dollar, multi-national corporation, there was a limit to how stupid he could allow himself to be.
He had learned to walk a careful line: The Fop would appear at a nightclub opening with an especially photogenic
bimbo, usually a model. It would make the papers, and the next morning he would
indulge in a some brainless banter with a new secretary. He would greet a new client with a glib remark that, after all, might have
been a joke, you could never tell with a guy like Wayne. Such minor performances went a long way. Then
he was free to get the job done.
Like water, he had adapted himself to the shape of his surroundings
business leaders could know they were dealing with a strong and stable company,
one with vision and leadership. Yes,
one heard stories about Bruce Wayne and no doubt most of them were true. But
based on what they saw with their own eyes, individual executives knew they
could close a deal with Wayne Enterprises without fear the place would collapse
into a heap of incompetence before the week’s end.
He had done it before.
If feckless stupidity was negotiable for the sake of Wayne Enterprises, why not a sporty motor yacht for the sake of…
…there’s the rub. For the sake of what exactly? For the sake of making it a little easier with Selina? She was the reason he had to do this in the first place. She was the reason the playboy act had foundered.
He had wanted more Selina in his life.
There was no way to reconcile that with any aspect of the Mission. He simply wanted it for himself. He liked being with her. She made him happy. It had nothing to do with the Mission, and he wanted it anyway. He went after it, he got it, and now… somehow… that want was breeding new desires that had absolutely nothing to do with Batman.
It was infecting other parts of his life, parts that—like the Fop’s yacht—were tied intrinsically to the Mission. Batman’s camouflage. He was letting thoughts of Selina cloud his judgment about Batman’s camouflage.
It had gone too far.
He had gone too far.
There was no way he could just cut Selina out of his life like some malignant cancer but… what choice did he have? What choice did he really have? If he couldn’t get himself under control, get himself refocused on the Mission in spite of her—
:: Well, Bruce, when you lay it out that way, the decision makes itself. ::
He blinked up at the video screens. Lucius was shuffling his papers with a satisfied grin.
:: I’m sure the Mayor will be very relieved by this. Gotham’s welfare first, and all that. ::
“Yes, of course, Lucius,” Bruce answered in a daze, “Gotham has to come first.”
To be continued…