Occupation of Gotham City: Day 37
Jen caught her bottom lip between her teeth as the cell phone's robotic voice answered, "This phone number's inbox is full. Good-bye."
"Goddamn-it," she muttered and hung up her cell phone. She had filled Selina's voice mail the week after Bane crashed the first game of the football season and took over Gotham City. Selina had never returned any of the messages. She had reached a couple of people she trusted in Old Town, but no one had seen Selina. She had even used Cobblepott's resources and got Bruce Wayne's unlisted home number, but no one answered it either.
She didn't let that stop her from dialing it again and listening to it ring, ring, and ring. She hung up after ring number twenty. It was a humongous house, after all, and she would give them plenty of time to reach the phone.
GCN played silently on the built-in television on the dark wall of the home theater in this villa in Bogenhausen-Herzogpark. Jen shivered despite the central heating that worked so much better than the radiators in their walk-up back in Gotham. You didn't know it was winter outside until you looked out a window at the snow. She un-muted the flat screen. Summer Gleeson's make-up didn't hide her puffy and reddened eyes.
"We reported that the people sentenced to death by the tribunals are shot into mass graves in West Chelsea Park. At the time, no one knew what was happening to the prisoners who chose exile other than they were not crossing the barricades erected on Gotham Bridge. Our reporter Mike Engle discovered the answer. Welcome, Mike."
The blond man who Jen vaguely remembered from reruns of Gotham Tonight nodded as the camera pulled back to show him sitting next to Summer. "Hello Summer. I wish it was better news. You know every winter, for as long as I can remember, officials have warned the citizens to stay off the iced rivers."
"Yes, and we have repeated that warning once the freezing started this year. The ice never thickens enough to support a person's weight the further one gets from shore."
"Right, so when we heard of groups of people trying to cross the East River under the Cavalry Bridge, we went out to find the story. Roll the footage."
Jen set the remote control down on the side table and moved to the end of the couch. She clasped her fingers together and planted her chin on them. Her skin goose pimpled under her wool-blend pants and silk blouse as the footage started moving down the slope of the frozen river's bank.
The bald man with a thin moustache raised his rifled as he intercepted the news crew. "You can't interfere. They picked exile."
"So they're free to leave Gotham?" Engle's voice asked beside the camera.
The man with the rifle shrugged. "Their stuff belongs to the people now. If they reach Bludhaven, they get their lives."
The camera focused on the men in business suits tiptoeing onto the ice. The white field stretched to the buildings on the other bank. The brick towers that supported the broken bridge caught snow piles against their feet. The dark suits of the shivering men didn't let them hide against all that white. None of the men were young enough to be Bruce Wayne; Jen exhaled the breath she had held.
The crack was so loud Jen thought one of the armed men had fired their gun. But the man at the left end of the line moving across the ice threw up his arms before he dropped straight down. She gasped and her fingers tangled over her mouth. A few of the men crossing ran, slipped, and the ice jumped up around them.
The door to the home theater room opened behind her. "There you are, Magpie."
Jen skipped the opportunity to protest that nickname. "Bane is making people walk across the ice!" She waved at the television as she turned to Oswald Cobblepott the Third.
The rotund man waddled closer with a frown. Jen turned back and watched the last man sink out of sight. "Good lord, has he ran out of space for the grave pits?"
The screen returned to the studio. Engle's shoulders drooped. "No one has made it to Bludhaven, and unless we have an Ice Age sudden freeze, no one will."
"Do you think Bane's Army would attack if the government met the exiles halfway across the river?" Summer's green eyes didn't meet the camera's stare despite her of-course-the-government-will-help tone.
"Judging by the men I met, I'd say yes, they would stop any attempt to help them."
The television clicked off. Oswald set the remote back on the side table. "I know your business hours are completed for the day."
She took a shaky breath as she searched her memory for what she worked on today. "The audit on Falcon's operation will take three days."
"No, no, I have an appointment with an associate at the symphony tonight, but I cannot attend a soiree alone. And Selina did not send you here for you to fret over the fate of Gotham City."
"I haven't heard from her at all! And Bane threatened to kill her." She looked down at the carpet under her feet.
He patted her shoulder. "If there is anyone more likely to survive this than your sister, I have not met them yet."
"I'd feel better if she'd call me."
"Of course." He cleared his throat after the maudlin display. "Come on, a night out will restore your confidence, Magpie." He ushered her to the door. "And you should wear black."
Lucius Fox looked out the window of the Gotham First National Bank building. One of the black cab and trailer trucks rolled down the street running toward the building, escorted by two Hummers. Where are they getting the gasoline to run three sets of these vehicles? And would it do any good to sabotage that?
His shoulders slumped. No one had seen or heard from Bruce in the month since this insurrection began. The city leaders were dead, imprisoned, or hiding. The federal government's hands were tied by the reactor bomb. Who could sabotage anything?
He turned from the window and looked at the desk he had covered with reams of note-filled papers. Taking over these offices on the top two floors meant no shortage of paper and ink. Whether there was a future for his mind exercises or not remained to be seen. But he couldn't find calming solace in theoretical tools if the man meant to use them was dead. Thinking that made his joints ache, so Fox left the office.
Jessica met him in the hallway that balconied over the lower floor. "Something's gone wrong with the boiler and Cheung had a break-down when Mr. Fredericks asked him to look at it, sir."
The young African-American woman nodded. "Kept shouting how he built software not hardware and started crying. We fed him a Benadryl and found him a quiet corner to lie down in. Alicia from Human Resources is with him."
"But the boiler is still broken," Fox said.
"Yes, sir," she passed him a heavy flashlight.
Fixing the boiler with Jessica's assistance was a useful distraction. It ran off steam, which distribution of hadn't been disrupted as badly as the electrical and subway system. The electricity flickered off as they climbed back up the stairwell. "We're in for another dark night," Fox said as he turned the flashlight back on.
Jessica sighed. "I know I should be grateful we've got heat and Bane's Army doesn't know where we are, but how much longer can this last?"
One hundred thirteen days, he thought but didn't dare say aloud. He opened the door for the second to the top floor for her. "Get some rest. You've done a lot today."
"Hold the door!" Miranda's voice yelled up the stairwell. Multiple feet pounded up the concrete steps. A pair of interns rounded the landing carrying paper bags filled with MREs. They smiled sheepishly as they carried the bags inside.
Jessica shook her head at Fox's expression and followed the young men to the break room kitchen. Fox turned to the tired woman climbing up the last flight of stairs. "Ms. Tate." He took her bag.
"Mr. Fox," she said as they left the stairwell. "I don't know how they managed to run like that."
Fox lowered his voice. "We talked about this."
"And I considered your opinion when I went out disguised." She pulled the woolen knit cap off her head and shook her brown wavy hair. She tugged on the scarf around her neck. "I kept this wrapped around my mouth and nose."
"It's still too risky."
"We must have food."
Fox stopped and pulled Miranda into a branching hallway. "It shouldn't be you. Bane let us go, but we have no guarantee he'd do it again."
"Life has no guarantee, Lucius. The children can get food, but they wouldn't ask for news beyond what is shown on the television. The military is asking for resistance volunteers. Don't worry, I didn't volunteer." She smiled impishly.
Fox shook his head. "Miranda, it's not safe. For anyone."
"I know, but it reminds me of what I was a child and my family had nothing. My leap of faith freed my family then." She took back the bag of MREs. "Family always comes first. Don't worry."
He watched her stride down the balcony hallways still wrapped in her navy pea coat. Could he watch another young life sacrifice itself for Gotham?