Rebuilding Gotham City: Day 89
Babs frowned at the trigonometry textbook. The library work for her major resulted in free study time with how many people came up to this special collection on the top floor of the library building. She had no complaints about this station because trigonometry needed the extra concentration that she wouldn't have working the front desk. Easy math, that advisor's ass. She jotted down her answer to the problem, and then checked the solution in the back of the book. It was wrong.
The door between the collection room lobby and the elevator hall opened. She stopped scowling as she looked up to tell the visitor which floor the book they wanted was on. The pregnant woman almost took a step back before smiling. "Barbara Gordon?"
"Mrs. Wayne, what are you, I mean, how can I help you?"
"Call me Selina. So you've got work study here?"
"Something like that. Were you looking for me?" Babs pushed her notebook into the textbook and closed it.
"No, I just need to hide for a bit while Alfred shops and Jen's in class. And I remembered this place has the only Wayne family records since the Manor burned down."
Babs blinked as her photographic memory recalled the mission statement she had read when she was assigned this station at the beginning of this semester. "Alan Wayne donated the documents and personal items so that the struggle for freedom would never be forgotten and dedicated the collection to the memory of his uncle Joshua Thomas Wayne." She broke off the recall there and pointed to the family portrait hanging on the left wall. "That's Joshua there with his brother and sister."
Selina walked over and gazed up at the stiff Victorian members of the family she had married into. "Joshua Wayne." The younger man with short black hair and moustache stood on the left behind the seated man. "Judge Solomon Wayne." The oldest sibling sat in a chair at the center of the portrait. Dark brown hair receded from his high forehead and came down his heavy jowls in muttonchops. "And Helena Wayne." The black haired woman was younger than the two men and her visible hand curled into a fist against the skirt of her green dress. "She wore the necklace for this portrait." Selina smirked before turning to the portrait-sized list of names. "Everyone they conducted on the Underground Railroad?"
"Yes," Babs answered. "The Judge wrote a memoir about it. The collection has one of the few copies left."
Selina turned from the framed parchment and faced Babs again. "What is in this collection and who is allowed to access it?"
Babs held out the brochure explaining the collection. "The short list: all of Judge Wayne's records on the Underground Railroad, his diary, some personal family items especially stuff that belonged to Joshua, original plans for the Manor house, oh the original land grant from the state to Darius Wayne, and other odds and ends. Anyone can see anything as long as they follow the protocols to preserve the items."
"So has the public in the form of a Caucasian male in his forties with brown hair who likes to wear a lot of green accessed anything lately?"
"That is awfully specific." Babs' eyebrows knitted together.
Selina grinned as she leaned her arm on the top of the counter. "It is, isn't it? What do you think of that?"
Babs felt line the older woman had laid out a test. She always aced a test, no matter what kind. "Sounds like you've had some kind of trouble with that guy, but you don't know his identity because your question would be how to restrict access to the collection. I haven't seen your stalker, but the only time people come up here is when schools make them and the city missed Black History Month this year." Selina's grin shifted to an appraising smirk. "And this is when you turn me into Watson and tell me how wrong I am."
"All that you got wrong is he's my kidnapper, but I'm certain that casing a target for that is the same as stalking so terminology." Babs' jaw fell as Selina waved away the technicality. "I'm fine, but this asshole targeted Stephanie and threatened Bruce. Your father has gone to so much trouble to keep it out of the press, so don't you go blabbing."
Babs snapped her jaw shut before speaking. "I don't know any reporters."
"I'm sure they're lovely people individually, but as a profession, they give my husband fits." Selina held out her phone and it displayed a facial composite put together with the FACES program. Babs didn't recognize the sharply pointed features of the male face. "Haven't seen him?" Selina asked.
"He hasn't accidentally hit this floor when he wanted the one below," Babs said. "But we have to log in who has accessed the collection." She turned to the computer. "Yesterday, Dr. Fairbairn came in. She's working on a novel set during the Civil War. The librarian on staff told me."
Selina frowned. "I don't think he's the type to have a partner he'd trust with just research."
"Okay, the groups that show up during Black History Month stay in the lobby and look at the displays that are set up. The next visitor that came here alone is another woman back in 2008, Miranda Tate." Babs looked up at Selina's clenched face. "Wasn't she part of Bane's Army?"
"Yes," Selina growled out. The hair on Babs' neck nearly stood at the word. "Who else?"
Babs clicked down the list. "2003, Ted Maurer looked at the Manor plans. How far do you want to go back?"
"That's probably far enough." Selina took a deep breath. "And I could have done without learning that damn bitch came here."
"Sorry," Babs said. Then a possible bright side occurred to her. "But really what useful information can this kidnapper find in stuff from the Civil War?"
Selina's visible anger simmered down to a level that didn't bother Babs. "I don't know. This was a vulnerable spot connected to Bruce. I'll need a printout of that list of visitors and I'll take my own look at the Manor's plans, whatever Miranda Tate looked at, and the Judge's diary."
"Nobody has looked at that in two decades."
Selina nodded. "Good, but that's for me. I'm curious about what he said about his sister."
Rebuilding Gotham City: Day 99
The Saturday before Easter Sunday dawned warm and sunny. Bruce stepped onto the east wing's outdoor staircase. The graveled area below where the stage had been set up for the Dent Day Celebration was now filled with plastic folding tables and chairs. Two of the catering staff covered the tables with pastel colored tablecloths and secured them against the wind. Two long tents were erected along the path past the fountain. Beyond the food tents, the path turned into a carnival with air-filed structures to jump in and slide on, a portable rock wall, a throwing game with basketball hoops, a pony carousel, and a petting zoo. The tennis courts at the end of the path were open, but he doubted the invited children would make use of them. Blake had suggested converting one of them into a basketball court, but there hadn't been time to implement that before the event.
Alfred's feet crunched on the gravel as he joined Bruce's inspection. "Everything is right on schedule, Master Wayne. Do try to enjoy yourself today."
"No one has tried to go where they are not supposed to be?"
"No one has. The interior of the Manor aside from the restrooms is locked and your missus and daughter are waiting on the front steps to greet your guests."
Bruce circled the Manor on the gravel path, leaving Alfred behind to supervise. Selina and Stephanie were not alone; Jen sat on the steps and Blake carried one of the metal patio chairs around the west wing.
Selina was already rubbing her lower back. He moved behind her and massaged the spot she couldn't reach. "Everything ready over there?" she asked after she sighed.
"Finishing touches. Please take it easy today."
"I will enjoy the table while you chase after Stephanie." She settled into the chair Blake set down.
Stephanie pressed up against Selina's legs. "I want to see the stuff over there."
"After the children from St. Swithin's get here," Bruce explained.
Blake pressed his fingers over the security ear piece in his ear. "Mr. Fox and his guests and the Crushers are on their way in and the gate detail sees the bus coming."
Their group fell silent as the first two cars were directed to their parking spots on the lawn. Fox held the hand of a little girl who squeezed the hand of her little brother. Their skin was darker than Lucius' and they stared up at the Manor and down at the grass in wide-eyed amazement. "Harper, Cullen, I'd like you to meet our hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Wayne and their daughter Stephanie. This is Harper Row and her brother Cullen."
Bruce crouched to be closer to them. "Pleased to meet you. How do you like your cubicle in R&D?"
Harper's lips parted in a smile. "I've got room for all my projects. And it has my name on it."
"And nobody breaks stuff there," Cullen added before dodging behind his older sister.
"That's true," Fox said. "If she makes all A's on her next report card, we're going to build a solar-powered model race car."
"I'm sure she'll do just fine," Selina said.
Stephanie strode forward. "Hi, why is your hair purple?"
Harper scowled. "They made Cullen get a haircut and he didn't want it."
"Stephanie, that wasn't nice," Bruce pulled his daughter to his side. "You shouldn't ask a personal question when you first meet someone."
"But I like purple."
"Then you say that."
Stephanie turned back to the girl with the purple, asymmetrical haircut. "I like your purple hair. Hi Jerry!"
Bruce stood as Stephanie darted to hug Young Jerry. "Glad you could make it."
The older Jerry Crusher shook his hand. "Wouldn't miss it, Bruce. Hello, Selina, Mr. Fox."
"Morning, Mr. Crusher, Mrs. Crusher."
"We didn't know you are a grandfather," Anita said.
Fox smiled. "I've been adopted. Harper, Cullen, this is Mr. and Mrs. Crusher and their son Jerry."
The first children off the bus reached their group and their shocked awe at the size of the Manor was audible. Selina pushed out of the chair. "There's Alfred."
Bruce looked over his shoulder and saw the older man nod. He turned back to the crowd. "Hello, everyone. We're so glad you could join us today to celebrate Easter. The luncheon will start around eleven-thirty and the Easter Egg Hunt will begin around one, so you're free to play until then. If you need anything, you can ask me, my wife, Jen Kyle, John Blake, Alfred Pennyworth, or the adults you came with." A titter ran through the children. Bruce smiled, "Come around the house and let's have fun."
They led the way down the gravel path to the tables before the children surged past them to reach the games. The excited chatter crashed against them. Yolanda Ross stopped beside Selina as they reached the first table. "Hi, Selina. Bruce sent me the oddest email yesterday."
Selina rolled her eyes at him. "My husband, who I love and cherish, is convinced I will be kidnapped if I go pee. Did he ask you to never leave my side all day?"
Stephanie grabbed Bruce's hand and pulled.
"He phrased it less crudely." Yolanda laughed. "What is it with men and pregnancies? Tyler freaked out if I looked at fish." The women sat down at the table.
"Daddy!" Stephanie pulled harder. "Ponies!"
Bruce fell into step with her frantic tugging, but still heard Selina's smug voice. "Running after Stephanie all day is a far worse punishment than I could give him for it."
Sad as it is, Bruce thought as he adjusted his grip on Stephanie's hand, Selina's probably right. He wouldn't not watch after her, not after Jen told them how close the Riddler came to taking the little girl. They reached the pony ring before the last saddle was taken. He stood at the temporary metal fence and watched the children clutch the saddle horns as the ponies plodded around the carousel they were tied to.
"Mr. Wayne?" Father Reilly shook his hand. "Thank you for inviting us to this event. It's been so long since the children have had some normal fun."
"It was our pleasure, Father."
A basketball careened across the gravel path. Bruce caught it before it hit anyone. "Sorry!" the young teenage boy called from the basketball hoop booth.
"Be more careful, Mark," Father Reilly said.
"Yes, Father." Mark crossed the path for the ball. "Did you play when you were in school?"
"Never learned the game, but I still have good reflexes." He tossed the ball back to Mark.
Stephanie, Tara, and Young Jerry now had Harper and Cullen in tow." Let's climb the rock wall."
"Duty calls. Enjoy yourself, Father." Bruce followed after the children.
Timothy Drake found him when the girls were halfway to the top. "Hello, Mr. Wayne, thank you for the invitation."
"Glad you could make it, Tim. Where are your parents?"
"Mom had to go to Oversees and meet Dad." He sighed before pointing to the tables. "But my new nanny Tracy is talking to Mrs. Wayne."
One of the spotters held up an empty harness. "Who's next?" Tim scurried forward with an excited hoot. The spotter buckled the harness around him and gave him instructions.
At the top of the wall, Stephanie waved down before pushing off. Her spotter controlled her descent, but that didn't stop Bruce's heart from leaving his chest and throttling his windpipe on the way out. She giggled as she skipped to him. "Did you see me?"
"Yes, but you're supposed to climb down." His voice sounded normal and he was amazed at that.
"I'll do it this time." She skipped back to the wall. "Hi Timmy!"
The bouncy castle kept them contained until the luncheon when their associated adults joined him to get them fed. The children from St. Swithin's needed less encouragement to inhale their food and go back for more. But it was also time for him to get bombarded by employees from Revitalize Gotham, Wayne Enterprises, and the Foundation who hadn't spoken with him yet. He smiled, joked, shook hands, and after the last group left him, he found the six children that had filled their own lavender table were gone. Stephanie's blonde head didn't pop out of the crowd to his roving gaze. He turned to the Manor.
He recognized the maid stationed at the door to guide people to the restrooms, one of the crew Alfred had in regularly over the years. "Have you seen my daughter and her friends?"
"They didn't come inside, Mr. Wayne."
Bruce pressed his lips together and scanned the crowd again. He still didn't see Stephanie's group. Jen and Blake had left the table area, so he approached them. "Jen--"
"For God's sake, I promise if I see him, I will scream and tackle him like a linebacker!"
Blake raised his eyebrows. "And we all think Selina is the scary one."
"Selina is the scary one. I'm just good at making a scene."
"Have either of you seen Stephanie?" Bruce asked with all the patience he could muster.
Jen pointed at the front of the Manor. "The whole gang of them headed that way. I think Stephanie was showing them where the playground is going. Come on, John, we have to round up the Easter egg hiders."
Bruce headed around the house and across the upper lawn to the concrete steps. The future playground was roped off on the west end of the walled formal gardens where they could see the swings and slides from the west wing patio. The children were not climbing over the equipment stage there to build the playground, good. He heard their voices now, good.
"The paper clip isn't working," Cullen said.
"Mommy had a screwdriver too," Stephanie said.
"My desk in the city has a screwdriver, but that doesn't help us here," Harper said.
"Where do you keep the tools?" Young Jerry asked. "In the garage?"
"I don't know," Stephanie answered.
Bruce reached the open gate into the formal gardens. Through the trimmed hedges and raised flowerbeds, he saw the children clustered around the door of the greenhouse at the east end of the garden.
Tara tapped a pane of glass beside the door frame. "We can break this."
"How will the plants stay alive?" Tim asked. "What about a Popsicle stick? Instead of a screwdriver."
"Let me have it." Tim passed Stephanie the dessert-free Popsicle stick and she jammed it into the padlock's key slot. "Not skinny enough," she said.
Bruce stopped behind them. "What are you doing?"
He was rewarded with wide-eyed, guilty stares from everyone who wasn't his daughter. Stephanie continued poking the straightened paperclip into the padlock. "We're getting flowers for our mommies. The only flowers are in here. Why is it locked?"
"Because we wanted to keep people out of here."
"We aren't people, we're family." Stephanie turned from the lock. "Can we have some flowers, please?"
"Please, Mr. Wayne?" Tara added and the other children echoed it.
Bruce stepped forward, pulled the paperclip wire from the padlock, and unlocked it. "Just a few, okay? We don't want the gardeners mad at us."
"Okay!" They surged into the hot, fragrant room. Bruce closed the door and took the snips off the tool table.
"How come you don't want anybody in here?" Harper looked up from a pot of day lilies. "Are these flowers expensive?"
"No, the gardeners want them blooming before they put them in the flower beds." Bruce cut the yellow hyacinth Young Jerry picked. "We keep it locked because of the old well over there." He pointed to the thigh-high circle of bricks capped with a metal lid. It was locked, but he didn't need to draw their attention to that.
"Stay away from it, Timmy. We don't want you to fall down it," Young Jerry said.
Timothy frowned as he looked up from the white crocus. "I'm not over there. Why'd you say that?"
"It's something my dad says when he hears a dog barking: Timmy fell down the well again."
"I never did!"
"It's from an old television show," Bruce cut some of the crocus for Timothy. "The boy was named Timmy and he'd get into trouble and his dog would go bark at people to get help on the show."
"Lassie," Tara added. "Me and Daddy used to watch it before Bane." Stephanie darted from the table of irises and hugged Tara.
"What's a well?" Cullen ignored the flowers Harper held out to stare at the well.
"It's a hole dug to get fresh water," Bruce explained as he clipped Tara's daffodils. "Now we put electric pumps on pipes so no one will fall in, but when that one was dug, people had to pull water up with a bucket."
"Did anyone fall into that one?" Cullen asked.
"I did when I was about Young Jerry's age and sprained my arm. That's why the greenhouse is locked." Bruce left out the bats, and the children promised to leave the well alone without that added fright. He snipped the flowers they chose until everyone had a small bouquet except Harper. "You can have some flowers too."
She shifted on her feet. "It's okay. I helped Cullen pick."
He let it go. Children had their own logic about things and what did he know about siblings? He relocked the greenhouse and ushered the group back to the tables.
They crossed paths with Blake and Jen lecturing a group of young teenagers holding baskets of colored eggs. "Mr. Wayne's parents are buried there, so show some respect. The cemetery is off limits."
Jen whirled on Bruce. "They're not supposed to be here. You're going to give them an unfair advantage."
"I'm not trying to," Bruce said.
She shooed them and followed. "Don't start hiding until I give an all-clear." The teenagers snickered as they swung the baskets.
The children broke into a run when they rounded the corner of the Manor. "Mommy!" Stephanie's clear voice cut through the rest of the noise. She skidded to a stop next to Selina's chair and thrust the purple irises at her. "Happy Easter!"
"Happy Easter, thank you." She took the bouquet and glanced around the table at the other bouquets Anita and Yolanda were accepting. "Sweetie, you didn't get these from the house vases, did you?"
"No, that would make Alfred mad. Daddy opened the greenhouse for us."
"Let's go see the animals," Tara said.
Bruce took a deep breath and moved to follow the children.
"Do we need to have a talk with Tim?" Jen held up the crocus and Grecian Windflower bouquet. Lucius saluted her with the tulips from Cullen.
The petting zoo kept them contained until the Easter egg hunt began. The five-year-olds and younger hunted in the front flower beds and the lawn inside the circle drive while the older children had the rest of the lawn. Bruce watched on the sidelines with the other parents since he had clear sight lines and didn't need to be right next to Stephanie. But he only shifted his gaze once when Selina joined his side. She squeezed his arm. "Having fun?"
"I'm glad it's been quiet, criminally speaking," he added as children squealed.
"Everyone has been impressed with your devoted fatherhood."
He didn't know what to say to that, but supposed he couldn't blame anyone for being glad his immature, inconsiderate ass persona hadn't procreated or for fearing how his children could turn out. "Everyone has had a good time?"
"Everyone I've seen. I'm afraid we're gaining the reputation as good party givers."
He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. "We're done with parties until the baby gets here."
She leaned into him. "I know, you know, and more importantly, Alfred knows."
Selina watched Stephanie while he turned to the teenagers who approached them. He recognized the boy with the stray basketball from this morning. "Mark, isn't it? How can I help you?"
"Yes, sir. We were wondering; why do you have a cemetery? We didn't put any eggs in there."
"The Wayne family has owned and lived on this land since the Revolutionary War. Back then, it was too far to take a body to Gotham for burial, so they set aside a cemetery. The Waynes have been buried here ever since."
The boys murmured, appreciating knowing where the rest of the family was, before moving away. Selina tucked her arm around his back. Stephanie shrieked as she pulled a purple egg from a shrub.
Selina took charge of the gift basket receiving line after the Easter egg hunt was finished. She partially squatted closer to Stephanie. "Remember these baskets are for our guests. You'll get yours tomorrow morning."
"Yes, Mommy, I know." She jerked a basket from the table of them and thrust it into the arms of a dark-skinned boy her age. "Happy Easter!"
He blinked and looked through the cellophane at the action figures posed among the candy. "Catwoman!" His thick lips broke apart as he grinned. "She let us out of the city on the Bat-bike. Looks just like her. Mark, look!"
"What Aaron?" Bruce handed the older boy a basket. "Holy Toys 'R Us, we get the whole set?"
"The whole set," Bruce answered with a smile.
"There's Nightwing too," another boy noticed.
"Tara, here's yours." Stephanie gave her a pink basket that had the same toys and candy. Selina had been insistent that they all get the same no matter what gender.
"Thank you! My favorite candy too."
"Don't eat it all at once," Selina cautioned. "You'll make yourself sick."
"Here you go, Harper and Cullen." Bruce passed a pair of baskets to them.
Cullen's eyes widened. "Batman!"
Harper looked up at Lucius. "Can I keep mine at my desk? Mr. Turner has Star Wars toys on his."
"Of course, anything we let in the building, you can have on your desk."
She turned to Cullen. "We'll keep mine there in case yours get broke where I can't fix them."
"Good idea," Cullen agreed.
Bruce saw the angry spark in Fox's eyes before the older man wiped it away. "We'll put them on your desk before I take you home," Fox said.
"But the building is locked today?"
"I have a key." He shook Bruce's hand. "Thank you, Bruce, I feel appreciated."
"Drive safely, Lucius, and thanks for coming."
Father Reilly approached them when the last of the St. Swithin's children were in line for their baskets. "Mr. Wayne, this is too much."
"It's not enough, Father. We orphans of Gotham have to stick together."
"And you have to keep them all from eating all the candy at once," Selina added.
The priest squeezed Bruce's hand as tears sprang to his eyes. "God bless you, Mr. Wayne, and your family. God bless you."
Bruce glanced at Selina and Stephanie handing out the baskets to other guests. Selina smirked when she saw his gaze. This is as blessed as I could ever get.