"We were supposed to bug out together." Jen's chin wobbled. They sat in the back of Bruce's Rolls while Bruce drove them to the airport. He kept his mouth shut no matter what was said. Good, because Selina wanted Jen safely away before she dealt with him.
Selina wrapped her arms around Jen and pulled her against her side. If this was their last time together, she wouldn't deny Jen physical comfort. But she wouldn't disguise the harsh truths. "They will use you against me. That's why you have to go." She pressed her cheek down on Jen's head.
"That's not a reason for you to stay." Jen wrapped both arms around Selina's ribs and squeezed as she burrowed against her.
"They will chase me down no matter where I go. I've got home field advantage in Gotham."
"Why Oswald? He always calls me Magpie."
Selina tucked Jen's frizzy blonde hair behind her ear. "His obsession does make Christmas shopping easier."
"Felonious Feline. The fact that he won't pimp you is more important to me than what he calls you."
"I can handle--"
Selina turned Jen and put both hands on her thin shoulders. "No more turning tricks ever. You deserve a life you can be proud of."
"Don't throw yours away on something stupid." Jen hugged her again and didn't let go until Bruce parked the car. Before either woman could stop him, he took Jen's bag and followed them silently into the airport.
The confirmation number got Jen's non-stop business class ticket to Munich, Germany. Her duffel bag was small enough for carry-on luggage, so they walked her straight to the security checkpoint. Selina had never felt her throat so tight, but she still had things to explain to Jen. "You can learn a lot of Oswald and not just about birds." Jen chuckled as she looked at the floor. "Just don't put up with any of his crew's shit and that includes Oswald."
"Or you'll pounce on them boots first." Jen wrapped her arms around Selina for one last squeeze which Selina returned. "I'll be fine; you worry about you and Bruce." She let go and jogged to get into the security line.
Selina didn't move until Jen finally passed security, turned, and waved. She nodded, and Jen disappeared around the corner to the gates.
"You can go with her," Bruce said.
His soft voice had steel underneath it. How had she not noticed it before? But it helped her find her own composure. "I'm a professional and I don't leave my half of a job undone. Let's go, we don't want Blake storming Wayne Enterprises without us."
He fell into step beside her but waited until they were alone in the parking garage before continuing the conversation. "It isn't your job to fight Bane."
"Agreed." She slid into the passenger's seat, no partition window to stop this discussion. "But how can I help you get your money back when I don't know why it was taken in the first place?"
"You want me to psychoanalyze a group of mercenaries?" He drove out of the parking garage.
"No, I want you to tell me what you did to piss them off. First, they take your money, and then force you out of your family's company, and now they are digging under your building!"
"Maybe I represent everything they hate about Western civilization." His unconcerned tone did not match the glare he gave the traffic. His cell phone beeped at them and he took advantage of a red light to glance at it. "None of the charities on your list are older than four years."
"So your decadent, hedonistic lifestyle that you haven't been living for years is the reason why they copied your charity trick for buying stocks?"
"I didn't take hostages at the Stock Exchange when I did it."
"Maybe Bane's tired of the police ignoring him." Did he think she was as stupid as the bimbos to completely miss all the clues? "That still doesn't change how personal he's making it with you."
His hands curled tighter around the steering wheel. "Fine, Bane's after me. Why didn't you leave with your sister?"
Good thing Jen was out of reach after letting that slip. "Because Bane won't go after her if he gets me." He glanced at her with open disbelief. "I'm rooting for us to win, but I can't take a chance with her life. Unlike her, who hasn't learned to keep her mouth shut yet."
"Jen didn't tell me. You don't bicker like roommates or lovers. That left family." This glance from him was more concerned mixed with confirmation.
"What is this, a play for total disclosure? I tell mine; you'll tell yours?" She kept her breathing even and focused on his reaction instead of the question that shoved to upmost in her mind. Did she trust this man with her deepest secret? Damn, she knew she could trust him.
"You don't have to tell me anything." Offered because he did not want to admit to anything.
But nobody told Selina Kyle what to do. "I want you to know. You figured out I was in deep with the wrong people after all. You should know why." She twisted under the seatbelt to watch his reaction to her first confession in eighteen years. "Our parents died when I was twelve and Magdalene was five. They were only middle-class working stiffs, didn't even take out life insurance, so after they lost control of the car, we ended up in Willowwood Home for Children."
"It was closed because of abuse, right? Shortly after I left Gotham. You lived there?"
So the billionaire orphan actually gave a damn about other orphans in the city. "For two years, I protected Maggie from the pedophiles on staff and the monsters they were creating out of the other children. I'm sorry to say it took that long for me to have my bright idea to give the evidence to someone who could do something about it. I broke into the director's office, stole the evidence she sat on, and left it on a crusader's desk at Children Services."
"Your first break-in?"
"My first taste of how I could make things right. Their power that let them do evil to other people meant nothing if I could sneak around it and steal it away."
His glance had a smidgen of respect in it. She hadn't expected that.
"Maggie was young enough to get adopted, so I..." she swallowed. "I left her behind while I lived for the thrill. Trained with the best I could fine, saved my money, and learned from my mistakes. It was fun, but I missed Maggie. I had to know she was fine with her real life, the one I would never have." Her fingernails dug into her palm, but her eyes never left his handsome, controlled face. "Seven years ago, I found her--in the sickest Internet porn you can imagine. She was fifteen doing stuff the pros wouldn't touch. She never got a real life either. The system threw her into foster care, one bad home abused her, and she fell in with a pedophile ring before she was ten."
His grimace of disgust matched the disgust in her soul that leaked out through her voice. "And she was popular no matter how old she got or how many drugs she took to block it all out. Still popular in the gutters of the Internet. Everything I saved went to shutting that ring down and getting their victims help. Maggie spent over a year in rehab and therapy. She changed her name to Jen Robinson to leave it all behind."
"And so no one would connect her to you."
"A side benefit, but she did it more for the fresh start. But it's never gone. You can't delete it all."
A stoplight let him turn to her in surprise. "You want the CleanSlate for Jen."
She smirked. "You thought I needed it? Please, I've only been arrested once, back when I was too young to know why it's better to work alone. Not a bad resume for when I switch gears to consulting about security instead of just breaking it."
"Congressman Gilly might have something to say about that."
"I'm sure I can sweet talk him into dropping the charges, and if not, I know someone scarier than his wife." He hadn't gotten all judgmental on her actions, which made the wound hurt less. "Your turn." She heard his teeth click together as he closed his mouth and tightened his jaw. As if that could deter her. "Shall I list how many times you've slipped up already?" She blinked innocently at him, but he didn't glance to see it.
"I haven't slipped up." He focused on turning the car onto another street.
"Who are you pretending to be? Bruce Wayne, eccentric billionaire. You aren't the entitled jackass from the tabloids, and you're more competent and intelligent than the business section reports. Plus you called all that a mask last night. Who are you really, Bruce?"
"Everyone in Gotham knows who I am."
"So you want me to claw off the mask for myself. I will."
"Curiosity and cats don't have a good track record."
"I prefer to concentrate on the satisfaction. And I'm a woman, which you well know."
They entered Wayne Enterprises' parking garage and parked before Bruce turned in his seat and looked at her. "The knowledge you're asking for has brought nothing but pain to everyone I have told." His hazel eyes darkened. "Don't ask me to endanger you on purpose."
She sighed. "I'll try not to scratch you when I rip off that mask. Blake's coming." She unlatched her seatbelt and climbed out of the Rolls.
"So you stayed," Blake said over the roof of the car. She rolled her eyes at him.
Bruce got out with his cell phone up to his ear. "Lucius, are you busy with Miranda? We need to have a meeting. I'm on my way up." He slipped the phone back into his jacket with a resigned expression. "This way."
He led them to a far corner of the garage and punched in a code to open the freight elevator. Blake frowned. "What's wrong with the front door?"
"I'd rather not have too many people know we're here." Bruce stared at the door rather than look at either of them. Blake glared at her.
"Do you think they have the building under surveillance?" she asked.
"Doubt it. Why bother coming in through the floor if you have an inside man? I just want to avoid the Board and reporters." The elevator stopped on one of the higher floors, and both Slake and Selina had to hurry after Bruce's long-legged pace. He led them through a couple of hallways until they ended up inside a conference room that looked over the city. Bruce strode through like he still owned the place and stopped in a connected office.
The older African-American man behind the desk rose to his feet. His brown eyes grew troubled as Selina shut the glass doors to the conference room. "I didn't realize 'we' included more than two."
"Selina Kyle, Detective John Blake, Lucius Fox. Daggett was murdered yesterday."
Fox nearly staggered and Selina glared at Bruce. There was no need to give the older man a heart attack. "Murdered? Who would want--?"
"His friends behind the Stock Exchange attack. And we found evidence that they're tunneling under this building."
Fox's back stiffened as he matched Bruce's glare. "No alarms have gone off."
Bruce's smile didn't reach his eyes. "Still need to check the basement."
"All of you?"
The half-smile vanished from Bruce's face. "Yes, all of us."
Blake's gaze shifted from Bruce to glare at Selina again. If he didn't stop, she'd do something to really earn that glare. She composed her poker face, no annoyance at Blake, no anticipation for what Fox and Bruce had.
Fox hit a switch under the ledge of his desk. The wall of bookshelves on the left pulled to one side and revealed an elevator door. It went down faster than the freight elevator had and below the parking garage if Selina's spatial sense hadn't deserted her. The elevator opened up and they stepped onto a warehouse floor. Equipment and storage boxes were scattered around the elevator shaft in an organized fashion.
A shape covered by a tarp caught Selina's eyes and she stepped away from the group for a closer look. It was slung like a Lamborghini but bulked like a tank, and everyone in Gotham City knew that vehicle even if this one was painted in Army-approved camo. Her core pulsed like it had when his flying machine swooped them between the buildings. Powerful friend, my ass.
She remembered what he said last night. Finding a way to help that no one would suspect. She glanced over her shoulder at him, deep in conversation with Fox. That you did, Bruce, that you certainly did.
Wayne and Fox talked in low tones about how Bane had found out about Applied Science, which Blake figured meant this stuff, the equipment Batman used. He looked over the room and saw Selina Kyle walking toward one of the tarp-covered Batmobiles. Her walk zigzagged instead of heading straight and she looked at the floor and tapped her heels against the concrete before changing direction. He didn't know what she was up to, but she was up to something. He strode after her.
She glanced up at his approach before hitting the floor with her high heel again. Now he saw her frown before she stepped to the right and did it again. "What are you doing?"
She stepped twice to the right. "Earning my paycheck." She repeated the tapping and then stepped forward. "The better question is what such a straight arrow cop is doing here?"
"Keeping an eye on you." That earned him another eye roll. The tapping caused her to veer from the camo-painted Batmobile. "You really expect me to believe someone with your record isn't out to steal him blind?"
"I'd put my twenty-five percent finder's fee in that category too, but he agreed to it." Her deep red lips smirked. "It's killing you that you can't take me in."
He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I can afford to wait, with your record--"
"A girl's gotta eat."
"And you have quite the appetite."
She spun on her heel and seized his tie before he could pull his hands out of his pockets. Her fingers ran over the St. Swithin medal tie pin. "You're a St. Swithin's boy, one of the lucky ones. That explains the black and white view of the world."
"What's that supposed to mean?" He pulled his tie from her hand.
"It's a grey world out there, Boy Wonder, and you need to learn the difference between bad and evil." She turned back to her tapping the floor.
Blake scowled. "Is that a line you gave him to trust you?" He jerked his head back at Wayne.
She glared at him. "I haven't given him or you any lines. I have rules and I follow them. So don't confuse me with whatever smash 'n grab crews you've dealt with before. I'm on a whole 'nother level." She turned from him, tapped her foot on the floor, knelt, and dropped her purse next to her knee.
He grimaced at himself. Wayne trusted her or had bought her loyalty, and Bane was the worse threat. She'd be more likely to slip up and admit to a charge if he wasn't hostile. He swallowed and dropped his cynicism for curiosity. "You really pay taxes?"
"The system is held together with duct tape, but it's all we've got and I believe in doing my part." She pulled a device out of her purse and attached what looked like a Bluetooth ear piece to her ear. A cord connected it to the electronic box she set on the floor. "Walk around a little." He took a few steps, but she frowned at his shoes. "Rubber soles? Never mind, go get a crowbar."
"I don't owe you any explanations." She twisted her head back to the elevator shaft. "Wayne! I need a crowbar!"
Wayne jerked out of his conversation with Fox and nodded. Fox pointed to a workbench and tool chest close to them. He dug into the tool chest, pulled out a pry bar, and started walking towards them. When he passed the elevator shaft, Selina held up her hand. "Hit the floor there."
He shrugged but complied. Selina frowned as she listened to her ear piece. "Okay, come forward three feet and hit it again."
Again Wayne complied while Fox followed him. Her frown deepened as she directed them closer with a straighter version of the walk she had taken. "Gentlemen, your floor has been compromised."
Fox gasped but Wayne looked back over the floor they had traversed. "It starts at the elevator shaft."
"All the way to here. I think the crack turns and we need to see what we're dealing with."
Blake glared at the polished floor. "How can you tell there's a crack?"
"Hollow concrete sounds different from solid. There is a line of holes that aren't supposed to be there."
"They certainly are not," Fox said.
"We need to see if anything's been added to those holes. Do you have a hammer drill with a three-eighth inch tungsten carbide masonry drill bit?"
"I have something along those lines." Fox trotted back to his tool chest. He returned with a cordless drill and a drill bit as long as his hand.
Bruce reached for it. "Maybe I should--"
"Give that here. You with power tools disturbs me." Selina snatched the drill out of Fox's hand.
He grinned at Wayne's consternation and handed her a pair of clear safety glasses. "I like your girlfriend, Mr. Wayne."
She set the drill bit against the floor. "He should be so lucky." Then she pulled the drill's trigger. She ran it slowly as she leaned her body weight to drive it into the concrete.
Blake frowned. She knew how to work the drill, but her file hadn't said anything about her blowing safes. She pressed her hand over the ear piece and slowed the drill more. Then she stopped and pulled the bit out of the floor. Bruce knelt next to her as she held the end of the bit between their faces. A grey putty filled the groves of the bit. He pulled some of it off and rolled it between his fingers. "C4."
"In my professional opinion, Bane's going to a lot of trouble for the five-finger discount." She looked more serious than her flippant tone would make you think she was.
Blake remembered his map with so many locations he had circled in red. "What the hell is he doing at the other Daggett construction sites?"
Wayne stood and offered Selina a hand. Her lips quirked as she grasped it. Once she was on her feet, he pulled out his cell phone and walked away from their group. Fox took a deep breath as he took the drill from Selina. "Who is this Bane?"
"A mercenary with an army who has moved to Gotham."
He stared at Selina. "Why?"
She pulled off the safety glasses and glared at Bruce. "That's what we'd all love to know." Bruce ignored them and spoke into the cell phone like he was in an un-dubbed kung fu movie.
Fox looked over the equipment with pinched eyes. "And I thought this would all be safe under my roof."
Wayne finished his foreign language call and began another one. "Ben Dawes, this is Bruce Wayne. I need a favor in the shape of three C-cans and trucks to haul them. Mr. Fox wants me to clear out some toys I was storing at Wayne Enterprises. Yes, Fox will be there supervising the packing. I'll text you where to deliver them to. Well, thank you, I appreciate the vote of confidence."
Fox shook his head. "There's no way we can empty this without Ms. Tate finding out."
Wayne slipped the phone back into his pocket. "I'll distract Miranda." He turned to Selina. "Help Lucius load all this on the trucks I have coming."
She looked around the warehouse-like room. "Good thing I wore pants today."
Blake shook his head when Wayne looked at him. "I have to check the other work sites Daggett Industries has all over the city."
"Okay, someone has to." He steered Blake to the elevator. Fox set the drill down and joined them. Selina packed her listening device back into her purse, but Wayne still dropped his voice. "When you're done, find Selina a place to stay in town. The Manor's not safe."
Fox keyed in the code that slid the elevator door open. "Of course."
The door slid shut before Blake voiced his objection. "Are you sure it's safe for Fox to be alone with her?"
"She doesn't kill, Blake. She could have saved her skin with Batman's and didn't. She's on our side." Wayne took out his phone and began typing.