Rebuilding Gotham City: Day 75
Bruce demonstrated the kick again. "Now you try."
Stephanie scrunched her face and copied the kick with a jerk. "I messed up."
"It takes practice, try again." She shifted her stance and brought her leg up higher. "Good, just like that. Keep practicing." He glanced at Blake.
The younger man sat cross-legged against the wall. He manipulated the lock pick with his mouth to open the handcuffs around his wrists. That was Selina's training method, so Bruce didn't interrupt him.
Alfred stopped in the gymnasium's door. "Master Wayne, phone call from the city planning committee."
"Practice tumbles, Stephanie, while I talk on the phone." The white gi clad girl rolled over the mat. Bruce took the cordless handset from Alfred. The phone call was short. "Can I came in this afternoon and sign the contract? Very well, see you at one o'clock." He ended the phone call and handed it back to Alfred. "Revitalize Gotham won the Gotham Stadium contract."
"We have to cut practice short. Stephanie, stop please."
She rolled to sitting on the mat. "Already?"
"I have to go sign paperwork and Uncle John can't spot you on the balance beam."
"We still have to get ready for Miss Tara's arrival tonight," Alfred said.
"Okay," she said with a sigh.
"We'll do more tomorrow," Bruce said. "Tara will probably like the balance beam too. Go change out of your gi."
"Yes, Daddy." She ran past Alfred and into the west wing hall.
"And Master Blake?" Alfred nodded at the younger man.
"Selina took the keys with her."
"I see. I'll check on him when you leave." Alfred fell into step behind Bruce, but close enough to be side-by-side. "Easter is at the end of the month. Have you given any thoughts about celebrating?"
"Better ask Selina if she and Jen have any traditions they want to introduce to Stephanie." Bruce opened the door to the Great Hall.
"And what about reviving the traditional Wayne Manor Easter Egg Hunt?"
Bruce froze before he entered the side staircase entrance. It had been a mainstay event in his childhood that he refused to host and participate in after his parents' murder. "You want to open the Manor grounds to strangers while the Riddler is still at large?"
"We could limit the caterers to outdoor facilities for the event. Missus Selina upgraded the Manor security on top of your own safeguards. And the risks should be negligible if we don't advertise the event."
"Since when have we ever been able to not advertise an event we host?" Bruce folded his arms.
"We can limit it to invitation only and you can hire the security force that you wanted to surround the Manor with. After all, we have eight years of social inactivity to rectify, and it seems a shame that Miss Stephanie will miss her first Easter."
Bringing up the security team that Selina had pointed out was unnecessary was unfair. "Other things are more important than the children of snobs learning how to kiss up while hunting colored eggs." Bruce strode up the stairs.
His mood hadn't improved as he drove into the city. The Riddler hadn't left a clue for two weeks since Selina's kidnapping. She returned to work at the Wayne Enterprises, but only left the building with him, Blake, or Alfred. That still hadn't brought the Riddler out of hiding. Jen's facial composite that Blake agreed was the Riddler didn't spark any recognition for him or Selina. Bruce was still thinking about that when he called Jerry Cruncher. "Jerry, sorry to interrupt your day, but we won the Gotham Stadium bid."
The voice that came out of the Aventador's speakers was amused. "With as hard as we worked on that bid, I expected you to sound a little happier about winning."
"Sorry, I am thrilled. It's just Alfred wants another function for Easter."
"And you wanted a quiet Sunday with the family?"
"With everything that's going on, I don't want to open up the Manor to the whole city." Bruce drove the car onto the recently repaired Queens Bridge.
Jerry moved his phone further away from the buzzing power tool. "So I guess now is not the time to remind you we need to recognize all the hard work everyone's been doing."
"It's not, but I know we need to do it. I'll figure something out."
"And I'll save some hammering for you to work out your frustrations on," Jerry promised. They finished the phone call by the time Bruce reached Uptown. He composed himself better by the time he entered Wayne Enterprises and stopped on the Foundation floor with a friendly smile for everyone.
Selina looked up from her paperwork. "I knew you couldn't stay at home for a whole day."
"I have to go to City Hall, but I need to have lunch with you. Are you free?"
"Do we need to eat here or go down to the cafeteria?" She logged out of the computer.
"The cafeteria is fine."
Bruce picked up their meals while Selina found a secluded table near the waterfall wall. The cafeteria was on the first floor of the five-story atrium in the center of the building, two floors above the lobby. Originally the building had been designed and built to rent out the lower floors to other businesses. They hadn't found many tenants for the empty spaces after Wayne Enterprises bought it and moved in. Right now he was glad that strangers he hadn't vetted weren't coming and going. The waterfall also had the added bonus of thwarting eavesdropping.
"So what's going on at City Hall?" Selina took her water from the tray.
"I have to get the contract for the Gotham Stadium." He set her plate down on the table before his. "And I don't look happier about that because Alfred wants to open the Manor for an Easter egg hunt."
"Something you had as a child?"
He nodded as he cut into his pork chop.
"Who would be on the guest list?"
"The same as our wedding reception only minus the people we'd actually want to see." She stabbed her salad with her fork and chewed while she looked at him. He sighed. "It's not safe to open the Manor and we should concentrate on an event to show Revitalize Gotham appreciation."
"Wayne Enterprises and the Foundation could use some appreciation too," she said. "Why can't we have it for their kids?"
"An Easter egg appreciation hunt?" Bruce's mouth tilted up wryly as he considered it. "I don't know if that would be enough children for the egg hunt. And the caterers are still a point of vulnerability."
"The caterers we can handle between you, me, and Blake." Selina waved that consideration aside. "Now what about inviting the St. Swithin's kids for it? I still feel bad that the only thing they got for Christmas was Catwoman telling them she saw Santa Claus."
He knew there was more to that story, but he didn't let wanting it distract him from the purpose of this conversation. "I need your help to put a stop to all this, not to enlarge the guest list."
"I thought the plan was to stick to normal routines to draw him out."
He grimaced. "This feels like I'm challenging him to hurt you or Stephanie."
"I see it as a way to finish social obligations through my last trimester and a couple of months so the baby isn't exposed to too many germy people. That should get us to the holiday season." She reached across the table for his hand. He stretched further so she didn't have to. She squeezed his fingers. "If the Riddler is stupid enough to invade the Manor, we'll let you punch him first."
Blake made sure Stephanie and Tara hadn't followed him and Selina into the study. "I need to talk to you about training."
She set her purse on the desk and turned to him with a smirk. "How long were you in the cuffs?"
"It took over an hour to pick with my mouth, fifteen minutes once I had a free hand."
"Have to keep practicing then."
"Not arguing with that. I see what you mean by how lock picking is based on touch, but it's dulled when I'm wearing the gloves. How much practice will it take before I can manipulate the tools in the gloves or should I yank them off first?"
Selina frowned thoughtfully. "Option B doesn't work at all and option A can last the rest of your life, so I'm tossing out option C. Bring me a spare glove and I'll see if it can be altered."
Blake blinked because that idea hadn't occurred to him.
She dug into her purse and waved at the secret door with her right hand. "Go get it before we forget or a kid shows up." He went down to the cave, found one, and returned to find her on her cell phone. "Hi Anita, this is Selina. I need some ideas for boys' Easter baskets."
He set the glove on the desk and wondered if Selina had immunity against the no-Bat-stuff-in-the-Manor rule he got from Bruce and Alfred. How did that work? Because Alfred's lecture was scary.
She slipped the glove onto her free hand and pursed her lips as she flexed it. "Oh, it's a charity thing for the kids at St. Swithin's. Between Stephanie and Jen, we got input for the girls, but I have no ideas for boys." She waved for Blake to leave the room. He shrugged and shut the study door behind him.
He headed down the hall with a vague idea of starting the afternoon sparring session early. Stephanie ran out of the television den and blocked his path. Her hands grabbed her hips. "Uncle John!"
"What did I do?"
"You have a fairy tale and you never told it to me!" She stomped her foot.
He looked into the den at Tara smirking as she leaned over the couch's arm. "You didn't tell her it isn't a good story?"
"You just need more practice," Tara said.
Stephanie grabbed his hand and dragged him into the den. "I want to hear it right now. Please," she tacked on as they reached the couch.
"It works better when you put the please in front of what you want." Blake sat on the middle of the couch. Tara moved next to Stephanie on the oversized cushioned ottoman in front of him. "Once upon a time, a kingdom was falling apart. An evil man, Duke Falcon, with lots of money, wanted to rule the kingdom, so he hired men to scare and to steal from the citizens of the kingdom. Everybody knew who caused the bad things, but they were too scared of being beat up or worse by Duke Falcon's men."
"The King is useless," Tara said to Stephanie. "What was the Princess doing?"
"Duke Falcon paid the King's knights to ignore what Falcon's men were doing, so the King couldn't fight back without his knights. The Princess left the castle every day to help the citizens who were hurt by Duke Falcon, but couldn't give them justice when no one would fight for her."
"What's her name?" Stephanie asked.
"Princess Rachel," Blake answered.
"Princess Rachel needs to learn how to fight," Stephanie said.
"She has magic," Tara added.
"That's later," Blake said. "So it looked like nobody in the kingdom could stop Duke Falcon's takeover. But one man decided he would. He put on black armor and a helmet that hid his face. He chose his battle carefully and attacked a group of Falcon's men. Falcon watched this new knight beat all the men he had. He ran, but the new knight caught him. And everyone in the city called the new knight the Dark Knight because they didn't know his name."
"Secret name," Stephanie said.
"Right. The King locked Duke Falcon in a dungeon, but Falcon still had people working for him. They sent word to a powerful sorcerer that Falcon needed his help. The sorcerer wanted to destroy the kingdom, so he pretended that he would help Falcon become king."
"Liar," Stephanie said.
"And Duke Falcon was stupid," Tara said.
"The sorcerer used Falcon's men to scatter parts of his magic spell all over the kingdom. They worked out of a tower in the most dangerous neighborhood of the kingdom. They didn't think anyone knew what they were up to, but the Dark Knight was watching them. He didn't know what the sorcerer had planned, but he did know Falcon's men were up to something bad. So he watched the tower to see what it was and that's when Robin found him."
"Robin?" Stephanie asked.
"Silly name for a boy," Tara said.
"Robin was a little boy who lived with his cousin and his cousin's wife because his parents were dead. They fought all the time and Robin stayed outside as much as possible to avoid the yelling. One rainy night, he went outside and found the Dark Knight watching Falcon's men."
Stephanie hugged her knees to her chest.
"The yelling must have been bad to go out in the rain," Tara said.
"It was," Blake said. "The Dark Knight gave Robin his fancy spyglass before battling Falcon's men. The sorcerer came to the kingdom soon after that fight and started casting his spell in Robin's neighborhood. A mist exploded out of the ground and everyone who breathed it saw monsters everywhere. But really the monsters were other people."
"The ones the magic didn't work on saw people." Tara bounced on the cushion.
"Who?" Stephanie asked.
"The Dark Knight, the Princess, and I forgot."
"One of the King's knights who was the Dark Knight's friend. Can I finish this?" The little girls pressed their lips together. Blake took a deep breath. "Princess Rachel came to the bad neighborhood because the sorcerer opened the dungeon there and let all the prisoners out, including Duke Falcon. She found Robin wandering the streets right before the mist exploded all over them. She used a magic spell to chase away a scarecrow monster on a fire-breathing horse."
"Horses don't breathe fire," Stephanie protested.
"That's what Robin saw when he got hit with the magic mist. But Princess Rachel didn't have any more spells so they had to run away from the other people-monsters. Robin kept telling her that the Dark Knight would save them."
"He's a hero," Tara said. "Of course, he's gonna save them."
"The Princess took the wrong alley shortcut and the people monsters surrounded her and Robin. The Dark Knight dropped down from the roof, grabbed them both, and pulled them up to the roof using a rope. He made sure they were safe and then ran after the sorcerer. The sorcerer climbed onto his dragon so he could cast his spell all over the kingdom. The Dark Knight caught the flying dragon with his rope, climbed up, and fought the sorcerer on its back high above the kingdom. While he kept the sorcerer distracted, the King' knight not affected by the magic mist shot an arrow at the dragon."
"Must have been a big arrow," Tara said.
"Huge. The dragon fell out of the sky. The Dark Knight jumped clear, but the sorcerer and the dragon blew up when they hit the ground. And that's how the kingdom was saved from Duke Falcon, the end." Blake stood.
"They didn't live happily ever after?" Stephanie's head tilted to the side.
"Not in this story." Blake moved around them to the shelves of movies. "What do you two want to watch?" He put their movie of choice on and escaped while it diverted their attention.
Bruce leaned against the wall beside the door. "And how did the Dark Knight jump clear of an exploding dragon?" He slipped his hands into his pants pockets with practiced nonchalance.
Blake's ears burned. "I'm really glad that haven't asked that because I don't want to explain the Dark Knight's magic flying cloak."
"It doesn't add much to the narrative." Bruce pushed off the wall and Blake fell into step as they went down the hall. "That story at least explains how you recognized me when my mask slipped."
"I told you the truth about that." The older man raised an eloquent eyebrow. Blake sighed. "Okay, so I left out how you also repeated something I heard Batman say on that roof: 'it's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.' Steve became a firefighter following your advice. I wanted you to leave the Manor not burying you further in it." He knew he'd pay for saying that during sparring.
It was a few long seconds before Bruce spoke in a soft but serious tone. "I feel that I owe you an apology, John. Rachel was the one who instigated CPS into looking in your home life after the Narrows Riot. I was too busy with criminals. After she died, it never occurred to me to check into your situation."
"It's alright." They turned the corner and crossed the Great Hall to the west wing. "I don't know why the system left me with my cousin in the first place. And I don't regret my time at St. Swithin's."
Bruce nodded. "What happened to the telescoping binoculars?"
"Pawned for beer money."