Rebuilding Gotham City: Day 19
Selina looked at the four-story brick townhouse while Bruce rang the doorbell. It was the best-looking building on the block. The front courtyard beside the stoop was dusted with snow, but the plants in the large concrete planters were prepped for the cold.
The door eased open and a Hispanic man peered out. "You folks need help?"
"We're looking for Mr. Jerry Cruncher, who worked at Daggett Industries," Bruce said.
"That's me, but Daggett Industries is kaput."
"I know, I just bought it, Bruce Wayne." He held out his hand.
The door opened wider. "Bruce Wayne?" He glanced down the steps at Selina and Stephanie. "What do you want with me?"
"I'd like your help."
"Jerry, honey, who is it?" A female voice asked from inside the townhouse.
"It's Bruce Wayne," Cruncher said over his shoulder.
"What? Don't leave him outside; it's freezing!" The door jerked wider and a smaller Hispanic woman smiled through her shock. "Come in, please. I'm Anita Cruncher."
Bruce nodded with a smile as he moved to let Selina and Stephanie inside first. "This is my fiancée, Selina Kyle and Stephanie."
Anita led them through the vestibule and into the stairwell hallway where she hung their coats on the mirrored coat stand. The double doors into the living room were open and the fireplace held the crackling fire. The couch was set in front of the windows to look down the length of the townhouse into the dining room. Anita ushered them to sit there while she pulled a wheeled office chair from the computer desk on the other side of the room to the recliner Jerry Cruncher turned from the television set over the mantle. Stephanie shoved herself between Selina's thighs. They both smiled with their eyes caught by headlights. Selina continued to smile and blink, hoping it would clue in their eyelids.
Bruce started again. "I just bought Daggett Industries and I need help restarting the construction subsidiaries. Gotham has plenty to rebuild now."
Cruncher squirmed in the recliner. "You do know Daggett is... was responsible for a lot of that damage. He kept replacing men who been in the company for years with muscle-heads who barely knew how to drive the equipment. By the time we figured out it was his African mercenaries, there wasn't anybody to alert."
Anita squeezed her husband's arm as he looked at the floor. Bruce scooted forward. "I know what Daggett was complacent in. That's part of the reason I bought his company: his former equipment repairing the damage it inflicted. The other reason is most of my real estate needs the repairs."
Cruncher looked up. "Why come to me?"
"Because your record was exemplary, you know the people who actually do the work and deserve a better paycheck for it, and you want to make things right."
The man blinked at Bruce. "Are you sure you're a suit? Cause I never heard a suit promise to make things right by spending more money."
"Jerry!" his wife exclaimed.
Bruce chuckled. "I'm looking forward to not dealing with the suits myself since I'm not planning on rehiring anyone from the former management." He nudged Selina's arm. Selina dug into her black purse for the papers Bruce had asked her to carry. "This is the salary and benefits package I'm prepared to offer for the position. It's not an office job, but hopefully you'll have more than one crew to supervise, eventually."
Cruncher unfolded the sheets of paper and his brown eyes bulged. "Director of Operations for Revitalize Gotham Construction Company?" Anita leaned over his arm to see the page. "That's… that's triple my previous salary."
"An employee stock option plan and a 401(k)?" Anita asked.
"That's standard for S corporation ESOPs, which I'm restructuring the company into. That way no employee's retirement rests only on company stock," Bruce explained.
Selina tried when they both stared at them blankly. "All the employees will own Revitalize Gotham Construction Company along with Bruce. How many shares is based on time employed."
Cruncher pointed to the desk. "Get me a pen."
"You can take some time to think about it," Bruce said.
"Mr. Wayne, I've spent everyday since the Occupation ended worrying that no one would hire me after I worked for Daggett. This is a more generous opportunity than I ever dreamed of. I'll take it. When do you want me to start?" Anita found an ink pen in the computer desk and passed it to her husband.
"Please call me Bruce." He signed the contract too and passed it to Selina. "First, we need to track down all the equipment, access the jobs I have, and hire people to work them."
Anita shook herself. "Let me make some coffee."
"I'll help," Selina offered. Stephanie let Selina stand but gripped Selina's shirt hem as they followed Anita through the doorway formed from two bookcases into the dining room. Anita moved around the island to the sink against the wall. "You have a lovely home, Mrs. Cruncher."
Anita tittered as she filled the coffee pot. "Call me Anita."
"Sure as long as you call me Selina."
"We've worked hard on the house, but I'm sure it doesn't compare to Bruce Wayne's home." She measured out the coffee grounds.
"Don't judge him by those pictures in Architectural Digest. He liked my walk-up."
Anita let the coffee pot percolate and pulled a stack of small plates from an upper cabinet. "Would you like some cake, Selina?"
"I want some," Stephanie said under Selina.
"Say please," Selina reminded her.
"Please I want some cake."
Anita chuckled as she uncovered the cake stand and cut the chocolate cake. "You can sit at the table and eat it, little niña, if you can let go of your mommy."
"Selina's not my mommy." Stephanie did let go of Selina's shirt and tugged on the closest chair.
"We've been taking care of her until we find her parents." Selina helped her into the chair. "We don't know if she'll stay with us permanently."
Anita nodded as she set the slice of cake in front of Stephanie. "You're mothering her very well."
"Selina's gonna be a mommy when she has the baby. Thank you, Mrs. Cruncher."
"Yes, I'm pregnant," Selina said with a sigh. The baby bump was growing more pronounced, even if she hadn't needed to find maternity clothes yet.
"Congratulations." Footsteps clattered down the stairs and a nine-year-old boy spun himself around the newel post before he ran down the hall and into the kitchen. "My baby, Young Jerry. This is Ms. Kyle."
"Sorry, Mom. Didn't know we had company. Oh cake." His toffee-brown eyes gleamed as he inched closer to the cake stand.
"Sit at the table and you can have one slice."
Young Jerry bolted to the table and Anita served him a slice. Then Selina carried the cake saucers into the living room while Anita brought the coffee. The men were talking about supplies and equipment and where they were stored. They left them to it and returned to the kitchen.
"Can Stephanie play upstairs?" Young Jerry asked.
"If she wants and it's all right with Ms. Kyle."
"It's okay with me," Selina said.
The children ran upstairs. Anita shook her head as she picked up the plates. "I'm not going to give you pregnancy advice. Everyone and their mother will do that as soon as it's obvious." She cut two more slices of cake and brought them to the table. "Just enjoy the baby time, even when he or she is trying to scream their head off at three a.m. Because once they start moving, you're racing to keep up and they don't stop."
Selina enjoyed talking with Anita and found herself promising to get together again soon when Bruce realized they had to go to another appointment. Maybe she had someone else to hormonal leak on beside Gordon. Someone would have to help her find a wedding dress. Her eyes drifted closed as the SUV drove wherever they had to go next. Bruce hadn't mentioned it. She really didn't care.
The car slowed and someone demanded to see Bruce's I.D. Nobody wanted hers so she left her eyes closed. Bruce chuckled as they drove again. "Don't sleep through your surprise."
She yawned and blinked. They were parking nears a small jet that was still rolling to a stop. "I thought we ruled out eloping."
"We're picking up not leaving." She climbed out of the passenger seat while Bruce freed Stephanie from her car seat. The door opened on the jet and a blonde in a dark sweater with large paisley flower designs knitted into it stepped out, a familiar blonde who waved like a tourist.
Selina's sleepiness jolted out of her as she blinked. She turned to Bruce who watched her with eyes worried that she wasn't happy. Hardly surprising that he was nervous with the way her eyes watered. "Bruce, you… you…." She gave up on words and dragged his head down to hers. He resisted to remain standing, and his mouth opened to hers. She released him and ran across the tarmac. "Jen!"
Jen met her halfway and flung her arms around her with a happy squeal. "Selina!" Jen squeezed. "You stopped exercising with living the high life? You're thicker." Jen pulled back and tilted her head at Selina's tears. "Pussycat, you don't…." Her jaw dropped. "Selina, are you preggers?" Selina nodded as the tears leaked down her cheeks. "Why didn't you tell me!" Jen squealed and hugged her again.
"You were upset about not getting back to Gotham," Selina said as they pulled back again. "I didn't want to add to that."
Jen tucked one arm around Selina's waist as they walked back to the SUV. "You thought you could get away with it but your belly's poking out." She jabbed at it through Selina's coat.
"You didn't tell me you were coming home."
"Bruce's idea." Jen laughed as Bruce looked chagrinned. She let go of Selina and wrapped her arms around his neck. "When I told you to take care of her, I didn't mean knock her up."
Bruce stiffened before wrapping his arms around Jen. "It was a surprise to me too."
"Mr. Wayne?" One of the airplane crew pulled a crate to the SUV. "Where do you want your cargo?"
Bruce untangled himself and opened the rear hatch. Stephanie darted to Selina's leg. Jen crouched to her level. "Hi there, are you Stephanie?"
Stephanie nodded as she clutched Selina's leg.
"Bruce asked me to get this for you." She pulled her messenger bag in front of her and pulled out a yellow cereal box.
Stephanie frowned at it. "That's the chocolate milk bunny."
"Yeah, he covers Cocoa Puffs in Germany. I made sure before I bought them."
"It's really Cocoa Puffs?" Stephanie hugged the box. "Thank you!"
The rear hatch shut with the crate inside and Bruce returned to their group. "Ready to go home, ladies?"
Jen sat in the back seat next to Stephanie's car seat, and Selina twisted in the front passenger's seat to continue talking. "I see Oswald finally got you to wear something besides blue jeans."
"It was a deal to make him stop calling me Magpie." She brushed off the black leggings. "It didn't work and I think he had the housekeeper burn my old clothes. Oh, he wrote you a letter." She dug into her messenger bag and pulled out a parchment-colored envelope.
Selina smirked at the ornate C embossed in gold foil on the flap. She tugged the matching sheet of paper out and saw the ornate C repeated as the letterhead.
Dear Felonious Feline,"Aw," Selina said. "That's practically sweet coming from Oswald." She put the letter back in the envelope.
I trust that your sister's treatment in my employ meets with your approval. Magpie has a natural knack for numbers. If you are both insistent on this reformation course of action, you would do well to steer her to the field of accounting.
Speaking of reformation, I understand the impulse. The opportunity to end your career with the utter defeat of a petty warlord who had the United States' government by the throat as it were is a singular occasion and the successful unearthing of the CleanSlate program; Catwoman is a legend for everyone. Alas, why are you wasting your engineered reputation by dragging that wastrel Wayne along with you? A woman of your stature and abilities does not deserve the treatment he has regularly cultivated as his courtship behavior. It is deplorable how the tabloid mongers are linking your image with his. All they lack is a name.
However, if you are not indulging in some hormonal whim with him, I would recommend a vicious pre-nuptial agreement to protect your interest and to wreak vengeance on the inevitable dalliance that shall doom the marriage Magpie is convinced is pending. Always remember, should you need funds, I shall always have a pretty to be purloined.
"Sweet? Oswald?" Jen reached for the envelope.
Selina put it in her purse. "He offered me free legal advice." Jen laughed as she flopped back. "He thinks I should get a prenup."
"Has he been talking to Lorry?" Bruce asked.
"Your lawyer wants me to sign a prenup?"
"Of course he does. Do you want one?" He glanced at her while the stopped from the National Guard traffic.
"Updating your will is a better idea. You won't end up like Gilly if you cheat on me."
"You don't have to worry about that."
"Wait a minute," Jen leaned forward again. "He really asked you to marry him?" Selina nodded. Jen grabbed Selina's left hand and raised it. "That didn't happen until there's a ring on it."
"I have a ring." Selina wiggled her fingers.
"That's not even a promise ring."
"Alfred fusses about a ring too," Stephanie said.
"The jewelry stores were looted. Someone even made off with Aunt Helena's emeralds."
Selina took back her hand. "Oh Bruce, the bank didn't secure the necklace?"
"Not as well as the safe deposit boxes. The rest of the collection is fine."
Jen looked at Bruce through the rearview mirror. "You don't have a ring in there?"
"None I want to wear," Selina answered when Bruce's jaw clenched. "Let it go, Jen. We're having enough issues with the event itself."
"Wedding makes Bruce mad," Stephanie said to Jen but loud enough they all heard her. "But not punch the wall mad."
Bruce sighed out his tension. "The wedding isn't making me mad, Stephanie. I just think other things are more important than planning a big party right now."
"You didn't want a birthday party either," Stephanie added.
"I don't like being the center of attention."
Stephanie's eyebrows knitted together. "What does that mean?"
"Sweetie, have you ever been to a party?" Selina asked.
"No, but Mickey's birthday party was fun on TV."
"I have no idea where to go from that," Bruce admitted.
"A wedding isn't done like a birthday party," Selina said. "And if we chose the wrong flowers, wrong colors, wrong music, people will talk bad about Bruce."
He grunted as they crossed over the steel segment patching the Adams Bridge. "You know it is you who will get the brunt of all the criticisms."
"And there's no way for me to pick their pockets in a wedding dress, you'll be a grumpy mess, so maybe we should put a warning in the invitations that we will punch pretentious buttholes."
"Alfred will never go for that."
"Use the whip," Stephanie said. "Selina has a whip," she told Jen.
"Yeah, Auntie Jen did not need to know that. Let 'em keep it in their bedroom."
Bruce opened his mouth, glanced at Selina, snapped his mouth closed, and tightened his grip on the steering wheel. Selina felt her cheeks heat. Leave it to Jen to plant an image neither of them could act on for another week. Not that she wanted to hurt Bruce, but if he wore the armor.... Great, now the rest of her heated. She unfastened her coat.
Jen chatted with Stephanie about cartoons the little girl liked until they entered the penthouse. "Holy view over the city!" Jen said as the elevator doors opened. "Good thing none of us are afraid of heights."
Alfred stepped up to their group and hid his curiosity by taking Jen's suitcase from Bruce. "Jen, this is Alfred Pennyworth," Bruce said. "He takes care of everything in the house. Alfred, this is Selina's sister, Jen. Will you start using Kyle as a last name?"
Jen blinked. "That's an option now?"
"We need to talk about it," Selina said.
"Life update too sensitive for the phone, okay. Hi, Mr. Pennyworth."
"Alfred is fine, Miss Jen. How long will you be staying with us?"
Jen's blue eyes widened. "Hey, if it's inconvenient, I can go back to the walk-up."
"No," Bruce and Selina said in unison. Selina let Bruce have the declaration. "Jen is family and she's always welcome here."
Selina took Jen's suitcase from Alfred. "Let's find you a bedroom and catch up on girl talk." She steered Jen toward the staircase and Stephanie followed them.
"There's a whole 'nother floor to this place?"
"Yep." Selina opened the door at the top of the stairs. "We've only got seven bedrooms to choose from."
Jen skipped in front of her and turned with an impish grin. "And you didn't want to keep him." She seized the first doorknob on the left and opened it.
"This bedroom's taken." Blake leaned against the doorjamb.
"That's Uncle John's room," Stephanie said.
Jen's grin went sheepish. "Oops. Hey, I remember you, the cop who put Selina in a tizzy."
"John Blake," Selina said. "He's head of security at Wayne Enterprises now and a bodyguard if we need one in a pinch. My sister, Jen."
Jen shook his hand. "But you were a cop?"
"I resigned after the War on Gotham. Is Bruce downstairs?"
Selina nodded. Stephanie decided to move ahead of the grown-ups and opened the next door on the left. "This bedroom's empty. Alfred sleeps there." She pointed across the hall. "My room's down there in front of Bruce and Selina's huge room." She turned and pointed down the hall.
Jen joined the little girl at the door. "This is nice; I'll take it."
"Can I go play now?" Stephanie looked up at Selina.
"Sure." She pushed her way into the room, dropped the suitcase next to the dresser, and flopped down on the beige-covered bed.
Jen shut the door. "What's the deal, 'Lina? 'Cause if you're sticking it out to give the kids a stable home life, we can do that just fine alone."
Selina shook her head. "It's not like that. Bruce surprised Alfred too, bringing you here. Alfred will apologize later."
"So he's not first in line with the you're-not-good-enough-for-Bruce-Wayne?"
"Nope, he's in the get-it-done-before-the-baby's-illegitimate and my-boy-has-found-his-match-let's-celebrate camps."
"Yeah, I see where he's coming from, hell; I may be on that fence. You in a wedding dress; who would've thunk? So what's the hold up?"
"We were married when he gave me this ring. The damn ceremony is full of fancy land mines."
The younger woman sat next to Selina. "So Bruce doesn't want to be the center of attention and you don't want people calling you a gold-digging slut. How many upper crust people are left to impress?"
"Hell if I know. Don't ask Bruce that; he's touchy about the Occupation deaths."
Jen nodded. "Okay, so if we set aside the judgmental asshole worries, what kind of wedding do you want?"
Selina chuckled. "The heart of the problem, neither of us expected to get married, so we don't know what we want other than we both hate Alfred's ideas of a big society do at Wayne Manor."
"A party might do that place some good."
Selina groaned as she fell back on the mattress. "Bruce's parents had everything at the Manor and it was like Will and Kate's wedding for the eastern seaboard. Bruce doesn't want a copy of that."
"How many wedding planners have run screaming from you guys?"
"I'd let Alfred have the reception and he could invite all of Gotham if that makes him happy. He raised Bruce; he deserves a chance to show off." She stared up at the plaster ceiling.
Jen smoothed back Selina's hair. "But you don't want all of Gotham at the ceremony."
A rapid knock hit the door and Bruce stepped inside after Jen called out permission. "John and I are taking the supplies to the offices," he said.
"Don't let him keep you out too late." Selina smirked at him as he looked at her. "And no roughhousing."
"I'll be back for supper." He bent over and kissed her. "Excuse us, Jen."
"Don't mind me; I think you two are cute." Jen giggled and evaded Selina's swat. Bruce shook his head as he closed the door. "So how did you get the CleanSlate? Daggett told you it wasn't real."
Selina was ready with this story and nothing gave away Bruce's secret. "Turns out, Batman got the program before Daggett bought Rykin Data. He found us in Bruce's bunker and offered it to me if I helped with Bane."
Blake opened up the relevant computer files on the bunker's computer while Bruce looked over his shoulder. He was getting better with the system, but the alerts still gave him issues. And Gotham wasn't running normally yet. "The Red Cross running Downtown Hospital didn't know they were dealing with drug-induced paranoia; just thought it was an Occupation result. By the time the numbers hit my radar, the Scarecrow had moved."
"It was almost a year after the Narrows Riot before I caught up with him again. But after so many years in Blackgate Prison, he'll slip up sooner rather than later. I'll make sure the access to all the hospitals admittance records is better." Bruce pointed to the security footage at the docks near Carter Bridge. "What's going on there?"
"Dealers associated with the Evermonds are interested in the ship docking there tonight. I was planning on following the cargo straight to them."
"And ask them what the hell they were doing with Stephanie." Bruce straightened. "Call the vault as soon as you know."
"You won't be able to call the lawyers at two a.m."
"I don't want to lose my temper in front of the lawyers either. Call the vault."
"Listen in on my interrogation. Mr. Fox wants me to check the improvements he made to the comm units." Blake spun his chair to face Bruce who nodded. "So how much is Jen allowed to know?"
"Selina and I haven't discussed it, but Batman is dead and plausible deniability is best for you." Bruce pushed away from the desk. "I need to get back."
"You need to get a ring on Selina's finger. Don't glare at me. I'm looking out for you."
Bruce crossed his arms. "Explain."
"You never had to deal with the system. The system loves normal families. Especially for a little girl who has been abused. Don't give the system any reason to doubt that you and Selina are normal."
He nodded and headed to the lift. "Call the vault tonight."
"I will." Blake waited until the lift was up before blowing out his lungs. Bruce took that better than expected.