It wasn’t completely unheard of for Bruce to appear in the manor in costume, but it was certainly unusual. Sufficiently unusual that Selina got up to investigate when she saw him pass the door of the morning room in costume except for the mask. It was the look she liked best—usually, but not wandering through the manor like the ghost of Hamlet’s father. It was nearly dawn when they got back to Gotham, too late for him to go into the city as Batman but too early to expect Alfred to be up. Bruce said he could at least slip down to the cave and look through the logs before Alfred was up to make breakfast. Selina went to the morning room to sift through the backlog of mail. She was just finishing when she looked up and saw the caped specter passing the door. She followed it into the dining room, where it turned, decanter in hand, to face her.
Selina looked him up and down, and then, unable to come up with a better opening, she meowed.
“I needed a drink,” Bruce announced, answering the obvious question. “It’s only grain alcohol down in the chem lab.”
“Logs must have been pretty bad,” Selina guessed.
“There are no logs. I had to call Barbara to find out what happened, and then it took ten minutes to talk her out from behind that hologram.”
“Uh oh,” was all Selina could think to say, which wasn’t helpful so she waited quietly while Bruce poured his drink, took a sip, added another inch of liquid to the glass, and then sat.
“Robin is in the hospital,” he began, “Courtesy of Batgirl. He’ll be fine, but there may be a lawsuit. St. Stephen’s was closer than Leslie’s clinic, and they apparently don’t have a pat admittance policy for ‘masks’ the way the larger downtown hospitals do. They weren’t going to unmask him or anything; they just didn’t have a procedure for no last name, no insurance card, etc. Batgirl took their questions the wrong way, got the idea they wanted to remove his mask, and she, uh…”
“Protected his identity?”
“Something like that. Fortunately, it was an emergency room, and there were plenty of bandages on hand.”
“Okay, backup, how did Robin wind up in the emergency room ‘courtesy of Batgirl’ in the first place?”
“She thought the fire extinguisher was a weapon.”
“Pour me one of those,” Selina ordered, pointing to the brandy.
“I’m telling you the way Barbara told me.”
“Don’t,” she hissed. “Tell me the chronological, anal retentive, cross indexed, footnoted Bat-way that makes sense.”
“That’s asking a lot,” Bruce noted dryly. “Okay. When we left, Tim was being punished for the fake ID. He did okay with the research paper that I assigned and Barbara graded. He wasn’t faring so well with Cassie rating his fighting performance. Rather than accept twenty-eight rounds of Zogger, he found an alternative. He started investigating a false identity ring that turned out to be operating out of—where else—the Iceberg.
“Cobblepot wouldn’t involve himself in anything that petty. It was just a side business one of his lieutenants was running, but in staking out the Iceberg, Robin discovered something much bigger—or so he thought. Cobblepot has been meeting with Dr. Bartholomew, that’s Arkham’s Dr. Bartholomew, twice a week. Robin even followed one of the Iceberg hostesses out to Bartholomew’s house a few times.”
“Robin made a perfectly reasonable inference given the facts on hand. He concluded that Cobblepot must be up to something, manipulating Arkham admissions and releases through Bartholomew. Assuming Bartholomew was being bribed, blackmailed, or mind controlled, he… acted appropriately given what he knew.”
“Still no sign of Batgirl or a fire extinguisher in this gripping tale, Stud.”
“You wanted it to make sense,” he reminded her.
“I also wanted a brandy,” she reminded him.
Bruce got up from his chair, took a second glass from the sideboard, poured an inch of brandy into it, and handed it over silently. Then he resumed.
“Tim reasoned that if Bartholomew was being bribed or blackmailed, physical intimidation—”
“Read: ‘roughing him up.’”
“—Physical intimidation was the quickest way to get some answers. And if he was being controlled, pain is often an effective means to break the hold. His method was sound; it was just his choice of location that was… ill-considered.”
“Hang on,” Selina downed her brandy in a gulp. “Okay, hit me.”
“He apparently confronted Bartholomew ‘in the act’ as he was coming out of Oswald’s office, as in only steps away from the Iceberg bar. King Snake was having a birthday party in the back, and there was a tray of something called Bourbon Street Blazes. Barbara looked it up and found it’s made from Sambucca, Jaeggermeister, and high-proof rum.”
“Yes it will. So will Robin’s cape if it’s spattered with the stuff.”
“Enter the fire extinguisher.”
“Which Batgirl thought was a weapon. Her assumption was reasonable too. She saw an old Two-Face henchman running at Robin with an object that looked threatening.”
“But she also saw his cape was on fire, right?”
“How would I know, I was in Metropolis talking to a rolltop desk at the time. I’m telling you what Barbara told me.”
“Okay, okay. Continue.”
“Sambucca, Jaegermeister, high proof rum. It burns. Cobblepot, Sly, Raven, Bartholomew, a dozen Ghost Dragons, a pair of former Two-Face henchmen, Croc and Kiteman; all at St. Stephens with mild to moderate smoke inhalation, second and third degree burns, and assorted contusions. Fair to say we’ve hit a new milestone in Robin/Batgirl conflicts. I think Dick and Barbara’s worst fight started with him asking her to do his algebra homework and ended with her gluing him into his gauntlets after he put limburger cheese in her utility belt.”
“I don’t believe this is the crack team that kept me from the Katz collection,” Selina grumbled, rubbing her forehead. “Well, at least they didn’t burn down the Iceberg, right?” she sighed, making the best of it.
“Actually…” Bruce began.
“They burned down the Iceberg?!”
“Not to the ground, but as of the arson report Barbara was just downloading when I called, it’s a hollow cinder that won’t be doing business for quite some time.”
“My god, Oswald will go nuts!”
“Funny you should put it that way. He’s being transferred to Arkham as soon as St. Stephen’s is finished with him. Some kind of psychological ‘control issues’ that have been building since the Gotham Post party.”
“Wha-?” Selina asked blankly.
“Selina, we rounded up every first, second, third and fourth tier rogue in the city before that fundraiser. That put a serious dent in Cobblepot’s criminal operations, but a worse dent in the legitimate nightclub’s regular clientele. Ninety percent of his customers, and all of the customers he cares about, disappeared in a matter of weeks. That role as ‘Emperor Penguin,’ publicly lording it over his unique criminal empire, is a fundamental part of Oswald Cobblepot’s being. He needs it. And when he saw it swept out from under him, there was a… reaction.”
“So he’s been seeing this Bartholomew from Arkham twice a week?”
“That how it looks.”
Selina took a deep breath, taking it all in, then looked up at Bruce and started to chuckle.
“Glad to be home?”
“By first is a stuff of stars and winter hearths,” Eddie recited, although his swollen nose made the M sound like a B.
The other inmates in the Metropolis prison infirmary didn’t seem to mind. They were gathered around, hanging on the Riddler’s every word as he told the story of his capture (yet again). This was his seventh time telling the story, and there would likely be seven more before these Metropolis dolts sorted through the paperwork revoking his early release from Arkham and mandating his return to Gotham. Eddie didn’t mind, for these Metropolis criminals (dimwits though they were) made an appreciative audience.
“By second, a southern redneck or a tasty snack,” he continued, pausing to give the brighter ones a chance to put it together for themselves. “By whole— and then, by friends, I pulled a firecracker frob by sleeve and hurled it into Superban’s face. ‘By whole,’ I told hib, ‘is quite an effective diversion!’”
“You stopped Superman with an ordinary firecracker?” a Toyman henchman asked incredulously.
“It bite not be able to hurt hib, but it certainly is startling when you’re not expecting it,” Eddie explained.
There was a chorus of grunting agreement among his listeners.
“I still don’t understand how he got welded inside a giant robot,” a Prankster henchman confided.
“Shh, he’ll get to it,” his colleague whispered. “Now be quiet, I want to hear this part about the KINKY FRIEND SPOOF TUTOR. I think I almost got it figured out.”
The cluster of listeners around Tim’s sickbed wasn’t as harmonious as that around Riddler’s. Robin had been released from the hospital by mid-afternoon, but he couldn’t exactly go home. The Iceberg fire was big news. Robin’s involvement had also made the news, and there was no way Tim Drake could go back to the Brentwood dorms with the same kind of injuries Robin had suffered. It was agreed he would stay with Dick and Barbara for a few days. They just got him settled in when Cassie came over, still feeling bad she didn’t know the fire extinguisher wasn’t a weapon. It was unbearably awkward, and Tim tried to lighten the mood by resurrecting an old argument with Dick:
“See, Bro, if I didn’t have pants, those burns would’ve been third degree,” he noted proudly.
“Maybe, but my costume had sex appeal,” Dick said, looking at Barbara rather than Tim as he answered.
“So does your current costume,” Barbara answered.
“Uhm, ew? Minor present?” Tim called, hoping they wouldn’t be carrying on like this throughout his stay.
“Minor by which ID?” a wicked voice asked with a playful grin.
“Et tu, Cassie?”