I live in one of the safest cities in America. I mean, I know it might not seem that way to someone who lives elsewhere. We get our fair share of big incidents, lots of stuff gets on the news, sure. But in a city of eight million people that’s to be expected. What I’m talking about is the day-to-day, on an individual scale. On that rating, it’s one of the safest. What I’m saying is, I can’t remember the last time someone got mugged. Or a convenience store got robbed. Or even a bank. I can’t remember the last time I heard about a rape, or a child molestation. Or a burglary. The kind of things that an ordinary man, with an ordinary family, working an ordinary job, has to worry about. So far as that man is concerned, crime might as well just not exist. I mean, granted, there’s still some danger. Acts of God and all that. And once or twice a month it can get a little hairy in the core. But for the most part, Gotham is a really safe place to live.
Which is why the argument I’m having with my wife is so infuriating. It’s the same argument we’ve been having on and off for a couple of months now, And yes, I’ve made just about all the points above to her on numerous occasions. But she’s not willing to listen. See, she was stuck in a mall for an entire afternoon with our daughter Jessica while police cordoned off a large area during a poisonous gas attack. She’s fine, our daughter’s fine, in fact everyone else in the mall was fine. But it got her scared, riled up, real hysterical, like you know women can get. And so for the past few months she’s been insisting we move to Keystone. Where her mother’s family lives, but, y’know, don’t try to bring that up.
Granted, I wouldn’t mind. I mean, yeah, it’s halfway across the country, and yeah I can’t stand her mother, and yeah it would cost a bundle and there’s no way in hell we could sell our crummy apartment in Robbinsville with the way the market is right now. But I wouldn’t mind. Keystone is nice. Pollution is down there, it’s sunny, it’s got a great road system, effective municipal government, good schools. But I’m an engineer. An aerospace engineer. That’s a lot of years of school, and a very competitive field. Especially in the private sector. You can put years of your life into a company, into a design, and then the company goes under and you can’t take any of the work elsewhere because you had a non-compete clause in the contract. You gotta start from scratch. When it’s good, it’s good, but it’s an up and down kind of thing and it’s been down more than up in the past few years. Until I got a contract position at Wayne Enterprises.
Now, a lot of people have heard of Bruce Wayne. Guy gets his picture on magazines all the time, dates all these pretty girls, in general he’s something of a rich schmuck. I’m pretty sure if I met him, I wouldn’t like him. But if you live in Gotham, working for Wayne Enterprises is hitting the employment jackpot. That company built half the city, it’s always on the cutting edge of technology and advancement, and it takes care of its employees. Benefit packages, full retirement plan, the works. It had taken me years to build up a résumé that was even worthy of submitting. And then, finally, it had happened. I was offered a post developing a low atmosphere supersonic jet for one man military reconnaissance and rescue missions. I was to lead a team of fifteen other top level engineers. I couldn’t believe it. There was no way in hell we could move.
“There’s no way in hell we are moving!” I thought my voice was strong, and firm, but the most accurate word was probably a bellow, and if I could have seen beyond my own tunnel vision I would’ve noticed the look in Jessica’s eyes, as she watched us fight from behind the couch. That look of unmitigated terror.
“Is this the kind of city you want your daughter to grow up in? This is how little she means to you? How little I mean to you?” Angela’s voice was hoarse from shouting, and her mascara was running from the tears, but I told myself it was an act. How could it be anything but by now, with all the repeat performances?
“And just how the hell am I supposed to take that? I’ve worked and sweated for fifteen years to get this far, to get us this far! And when we’ve finally made it, when I’ve finally got what I need to really provide for us, you want to cut and run? What kind of attitude is that? What kind of example is that? For Jessica?” I was almost convincing myself.
“Oh come off your high horse, Bill! All you really care about is yourself! Your career, your family, your home! Well, I’ve got my own career and my own family and we can have a new home in Keystone!”
My eyes rolled before I could stop them. “Of course, Angela, your great and involving career as a flower lady! How could I forget! I’m sure we can live off the proceeds from your street corner stand, because that’s where you’ll have to start over from if we move to Keystone!”
I had really done it now, and I knew that. I ducked to avoid the ceramic vase, which crashed into the wall behind me. I had never really cared for the vase, but I looked back to see if the wall had been damaged too badly. Jessica started screaming from the corner. Looking at her, I finally saw the fear in her eyes. She was afraid of me. It was Angela’s voice that snapped my head around back to her.
“GET OUT! Get out of here!! I don’t even want to look at you!” Her voice croaked and sobbed and all I could feel was disgust. Why couldn’t she understand? How stupid could she be? To want to start over in another city with an eight-year old girl? To be where we were ten years ago? Stupid, stupid bitch.
“Fine! You want to be in charge of this home? You want to make the big decisions? Okay, Angela, I’m going! See how you do without me!” I grabbed my hat from the hook near the door and plucked my wrinkled coat from its resting place on the back of an easy chair and slammed the door behind.
* * * * *
It was, of course, raining outside. The city was a safe one, but it still had its own problems. A constant haze hung in the air, especially after nightfall, and the weather was erratic as hell. I’m talking total citywide snowfall in March kind of erratic. And whenever you’re in a bad mood, it seems to be raining.
I pulled my heap out of the building’s underground parking and headed east, figuring I’d find a quiet alley in Old Town to stop and wallow in my own misery. My lemon of an automobile made audible creaking noises as it bounced along the potholes and cracks of the back roads heading out to that blighted area. No chance of the City ever coming down to patch up to roads or clean up the streets. No one downtown cared. As I’ve been saying, it’s a safe city, but that’s not exactly due to great municipal government.
My wipers did their best to keep the rain at bay, but my headlights were out and the lamps along the streets were woefully underpowered. Had to keep peering out over my dash, trying to keep an eye out for drunken losers barrelling in and out of Old Town looking for kicks. Ten o’clock at night on a Thursday wasn’t exactly party night, but you never knew. Course, the irony was thick. Here I was trying to find a nice spot to kill myself and I was worried about getting into a car accident.
The fact of the matter was I felt awful about what I’d said to Angela. About how I felt. The thought of her made me boil with rage but I felt almost immediately guilty. My mind reeled from the emotions. She was a stupid bitch, but I was an arrogant jerk. I wanted to smack her into a wall, but she didn’t deserve that. I loved her. I hated her. Most of all I knew that I couldn’t let Jessica continue to go up in a world where mommy and daddy fought every night. I hated Angela, but I hated myself more. How could I say those things to her? How could I think those things about her? What kind of man was I? As my vision blurred, I remember thinking my windshield wipers had crapped out on me, until I realized I was crying.
Pulling up to an all night pawn-shop, I stopped the car and broke down over the steering wheel. Just what the hell was I supposed to do? I couldn’t remember my father having arguments like this. I remember when he had gotten a transfer to Gotham. He was a dockworker then. He had come home, told mom we were moving, and that was the end of it. All she had to do was pack. His job put food on the table, and his job was in Gotham. Simple. Now I was being voted out of my home, out of my career, by a woman who didn’t even have a stake in the equation. What the hell?
Of course I was angry. Of course I was being selfish. But God damn it, what was I supposed to do? Obviously she’d be happier with me out of the equation. Then there’d be no conflict. She could move to Keystone and be happy. And then I wouldn’t have to feel guilty. Guilty about yelling at her, about hating her, about thinking of hurting her. The woman I loved. I would find absolution. And she could go on her own way. Of course.
So there I was. Sitting in my rusty old piece of junk in front of this pawn shop. A used man in a used car, ready to change himself in. In my glove compartment I kept an old .38 revolver that had been my dad’s. I used to keep it in a box in the bedroom, but when I had told Angela about it she had freaked. She thought it wasn’t safe to keep a firearm in our apartment with our baby girl. Of course, that was before she felt the city wasn’t safe enough to live in. So, points for irony. Anyway, I hadn’t wanted to get rid of it. I had never felt I needed it, but it was an heirloom from another time and from my father. So there it sat in the glove compartment. I kept it loaded. Wouldn’t you?
It took me a few minutes. Wiping the tears from my face, I found my hands had difficulty getting at the key to the compartment. Jingling in my hands, the key ring seemed to shake uncontrollably and I couldn’t quite get the thing in the lock. I finally steadied myself with both hands and opened up the hatch. I slowly dragged the gun out, and it felt heavy in my hand, heavier than it ever had before.
I remember thinking that the rain was too loud. The constant banging on the roof of the car was going to give me a headache. I don’t know why I was worried about having a headache when I was moments away from blowing a hole in my skull. I just remember it seemed really loud. It wasn’t hail, just a hard rainfall, but the banging still seemed louder than it should have been. I took a deep breath, opened my mouth, and stuck the barrel inside. I was breathing heavy, trying to work up the nerve to pull that trigger.
And that’s when everything seemed to slow down.
A crash from behind me startled and I pulled the gun out of my mouth and turned around in time to see two black boots come flying towards me, connected to a body which came flying through my car, passed my face, and then smashed through my front windshield before, incredibly, landing perfectly on its feet in front my car. I whipped around to look behind me again, trying to find out where this figure had come from so suddenly and just what the hell was going on. In the instant I was looking back through the shattered window I thought I saw a hulking man in a tattered suit, with the palest skin I’d ever seen. He must’ve been at least seven and a half feet tall. Then I heard a metal click, like the sound of a gun being cocked and the adrenaline turned to hard fear as I turned around again to face the man who had come crashing through my vehicle. This all must’ve happened in less than ten seconds or so.
Looking out through the hole in my windshield I saw him pointing a gun right at me. I had been told he never used guns, but what do any of us really know? To a guy like me he’s like an urban legend, someone you’re never gonna run into. Oh, we all know he’s out there, even seen him on TV once or twice, but the fact is that you’ve got a better chance looking the mayor in the eyes than the Batman. He fired right at me, and I thought I was going to die. My eyes shut tight and I felt a tug at my shirt and then a strong wind and when I opened my eyes I was three feet in front of my car, standing right beside him.
Holycrapholycrapholycrap. He was taller than me, by at least a foot. He looked down at me and I swear there were no pupils in his eyes. Who is he? What is he? He pointed the gun up at the rooftops and fired, and then I knew it was a grapple of some kind, like the mountaineering equipment Wayne Sports sold but much, much better. I looked back at my car in time to see the raging pale monster come running straight at us. I was probably going to die and yet my only thought was not the car.
I looked back at the Batman and he handed me the gun. I grabbed onto it with both hands, without thinking to wonder what had happened to my own gun that I’d been holding moments ago. He looked down at me and said, “Hold on,” in a cold voice that commanded attention. I didn’t have time to respond or even hold a coherent thought before I was shooting up into the air, pulled solely by the force of the gun’s motor recalling the line, it’s immensely strong grapple hooked onto the roof far above. I had no idea what was happening at the time, but looking back I still can’t believe the power of that gun’s motor.
The wind whipped by my face and I had no clue what was happening and I thought for sure my heart was going to stop and I was going to die. I closed my eyes and waited for the end, but then there was a feeling of whiplash and then I hit something with my shoulder, hard, and my eyes snapped open with the pain and somehow, good God, somehow I had ended up landing on the roof of this building.
God damn it hurt. The gun must’ve gone flying out of my hands, I have no idea where it landed. And I was soaking wet from the rain. My heart was beating a hundred times a second and my whole body was shaking and then I remembered I was on the roof of a building at least fifteen stories high and I scrambled away from the edge as fast as I could as my fear of falling took over in rapid escalation. I sat there, near as I could make to the middle, and curled up, trying to pull my coat over me and block out the rain and the noise and whatever the hell else was out there.
I might’ve passed out. Who can say. But I remember the rain stopping. I remember opening my eyes. And I remember slowly crawling to the edge of the roof, my curiosity getting the best of me. And when I looked down, there was nothing. No Batman, no monster. Just the pitiful wreck of my car, a tangled mess of steel and glass that was completely and utterly unsalvageable. Well, shit. Then my heart jumped back up into my throat and I scurried away from the edge and right back into a dark brick wall.
Falling back on my ass, I found myself looking right up at him. The Batman. What the hell? Here was the guy who protected us, who kept us safe when no one else could, here was the reason I was able to stand up to Angela and defend this city, because as long as he was around we had nothing to fear. And yet now, looking right at him, I was terrified. The rain had stopped, so I had nothing to cover for me when I pissed myself.
He was so tall. And dark. Here, above the street lamps, it was hard to see anything in the night, and so he seemed to me a dark figure, enveloped by that black cloak, and yet those white slits, those pupil-less eyes seemed to glow out from the darkness somehow. Looming over me, he spoke.
“You were holding a gun.”
“This gun.” From within the cloak, he held out his hand, my revolver sitting in his palm in three pieces. He dropped it to the ground, the pieces landing at my feet.
Shaking, I stammered out, “Hey! That’s mine!” What an idiot, what an idiot. What was I thinking?
“I know. What were you planning on doing with it?”
I was looking at the gun, the steel contrasting with the black tarmac, and I just didn’t know what to say. Looking up at him, I suddenly thought that maybe he assumed I was some kind of criminal, some kind of back-up man for the hulking white monster man. I was in trouble, what do I say?
“Nothing, I just keep it in the car, I –"
“Nothing, I just keep it in the car, I –"
“You’re lying.” The growl was a solid statement. I couldn’t have been in deeper if I tried. There was only so long I could look at those white eyes, yet it was hard to look away. Prying away from his gaze, I looked down at the ground. At the gun. At my hands. Like an idiot.
After a while, I finally looked up and told the truth. “I came here to kill myself. I had nothing to do with that monster.”
“To… kill yourself?” I thought I heard bewilderment in the voice. “Why?”
“I… I… had to get away from my family. From my wife. We were fighting, I got angry and I wanted to hurt her. She’ll be better off without me. My daughter, Jessica, she’ll be better off without me for a father.”
“What?” I heard shock in his voice. I looked up and the white eyes were wide. “A child… better off without a father?”
“She wants to move to Keystone. Thinks Gotham isn’t safe enough. But I finally got my dream job at Wayne Enterprises. I can’t get out of it so easily. Well, without me around she can do as she pleases. I can’t argue with her anymore. My little girl, she’s afraid of me. A little girl shouldn’t be afraid of her father, like he was some monster. That’s not what a father should be to his family.”
“No. It’s not.” There was something in his voice. Empathy, caring. It sounded so strange. He bent down on one knee, coming eye to eye with me, and as he did the light changed. Looking at him on my level, I could see the cape and cowl were blue, not black. The tall ears, so ominous and intimidating, only came a little bit over his head. His mouth was a human mouth, and it was human eyes looking at me from under the mask. As he knelt, his cape folded back behind him and I could see his grey costume, and the Bat-logo within a yellow circle that reminded me of the Signal that flew over the night sky and always made me feel safe to walk the streets. He seemed human. He seemed like a friend.
“A father should represent hope to his family. That’s what you need to be. You’re who that girl looks up to for guidance, you’re who your wife looks to for love and support. You are the rock that anchors their lives. Hope and strength. That’s what being a father is. You must do what’s right for them. A father must place his family first, top priority, they must be what he loves above all else. Because they love you above all else.”
He put his hand on my shoulder, and I felt… I felt ashamed. I had been so foolish. I had let my feelings get control of me, I had lost my rationality, and giving in to the black pit of negative emotions, emotions without thought, I had become motivated by fear and hate and nearly destroyed myself. I looked at the Batman, who I had thought was fear and hate personified and instead I saw… rationality, hope, and strength. I felt better.
“Thank you,” I stammered out.
“What is your name?”
“Go to your family, Bill Watson. Let them know that you’re there for them, as they are for you. Let your daughter know she has a father who loves and cares for her. Nothing is more important to a child than a parent’s love.”
He stood up and stepped away, and once more he looked a black, dread, creature of the night. He aimed that amazing grapple gun high above his head, and before he fired off into the night he looked me dead on.
“And get rid of the gun.”
Who was I to argue? I left the disassembled pieces there and never looked back. I had to walk home. The train line had stopped running. It was much earlier in the morning than I thought it was. The girls had gone to sleep. I collapsed on the couch in my soaking wet clothes and passed out until morning.
* * * * *
The next morning I called in sick for work and instead had a long talk with Angela. I apologized. I admitted I had been wrong. And I let her know that from then on, we were equal partners in our marriage. She didn’t forgive me all at once. She was still angry. A rift had been opened and it wouldn’t close easily. But she appreciated the gesture, the sentiment. I told her that she was right. Gotham was dangerous. And if she wanted to move to Keystone, I was right with her, even if it meant starting over. I was her husband and the father of her child, and I would never abandon her.
She left to work her afternoon at the flower shop. I drank a lot of coffee and started looking up job opportunities in Keystone, started looking at real estate numbers, looking for a new car. This wasn’t going to be easy, but that wasn’t the point. I had to be strong, I had to do what was necessary to keep my family safe and happy.
That evening she made dinner for all of us, just like she used to. I was scarfing down the meatloaf when the phone rang. She got up and answered, while I continued to eat. Jessica was telling me about a spelling test at school that she’d aced, and I smiled and let her know I was proud. I wanted to hug her, to reach out and love her, but I wasn’t sure if she was still afraid of me in some way.
“Oh my God!” came Angela’s voice.
“What is it, honey?”
"Bill, you better get over here and take this! It’s someone at Wayne!” She shouted. I rushed to the phone, afraid of what was on the other end. What had happened?
This woman was on the other line, saying that the jet project had been transferred to the Keystone division, something about the propulsion scientists there having more research experience with supersonic speeds. Offered to retain me as project manager if I was willing to transfer to Keystone as well. All expenses paid. They would find us a home, a house, a bungalow in the suburbs, and a car as well. Pay the moving fees, pay for the new state licences.
“What sort of licences?” I asked.
“What sort of licences?” I asked.
“Appropriate transfer of everything you currently have on record, Mr. Watson. Except any firearm licences. Company policy. We don’t pay for anything firearm related in any case.”
“Of course. It’s not a problem.”
A while later, after the phone had been hung up, after I had told Angela, after we had smiled and cheered and celebrated, after the lights were out and I lay in bed thinking of my new life, my better life, the life that had been a gift, I thought to myself,
Had the Batman strongarmed someone at Wayne, somehow?As much as I had always felt safe in Gotham, I suddenly felt I would be much safer in Keystone City.