Time to gather the team.
“This is going to be a long night.”
“That’s what I was just thinking,” Vicki grinned to herself, strolling through the corridors of the partially destroyed prison. “Thought that was just me.”
He was quiet for a moment. “Loeb is dead.”
She hummed disinterestedly. She didn’t want to be callous, but it was one less person needlessly chasing Bruce around. “I know. News travels fast. I also know that you fought an alligator on top of the roof before jumping into a giant Skyhawk.”
“Uh… I don’t know how to respond to that. Did he bite you?”
She practically heard him smirk through the phone. “He tried. He’s a mutation. That’s all I know for now. I found a drone going through the prison, and I recovered the memory card. I’m taking it to the cave now.”
“Oh, so you’ve already left? Guess that explains the Skyhawk.”
“Didn’t have a choice. Gordon was on me. Completely ignored the mutant, and Black Mask had already gotten away. I need to find who sent the drone. By the time you get back to the cave, I’ll already be gone.”
“No doubt. I have to find the security room. I used the master keycard. Gordon and SWAT walked right by us.”
She heard a heavy sigh. “Of course they did.” He was quiet for a moment, no doubt thinking how he would repay them if he had the chance. She had the feeling that if Bruce was going to be out all night, Gordon was going to be busy as well, tracing his steps, not to mention rounding up the Blackgate escapees. “No worries, though. The Security room was probably smashed. I checked the cameras throughout the building, they’re not feeding to anything.”
She stopped walking, and groaned tiredly. “Good, because I’m lost.”
She heard his chuckle, and like that, she was talking to the calmer side of him. “I’ll send you the map. Before you go, check on Quinn. I’ll send you her safe spot. She’s supposed to go there when something like this happens. I hope she didn’t forget.”
“I’m sure she’s alright,” Vicki soothed her boyfriend, walking again at a quicker pace. “She can defend herself, that’s for sure. She doesn’t have the handicap of having a crew surrounding her; she doesn’t need to keep secrets. In her profession, it’s suggested that she has a fighting background; I had to be captured.” She sounded almost angry with herself.
“You seemed okay when I came in. Are you?”
“I’m fine, really. They were just mocking us, only interested in getting us out of the way. I’m lucky to live in a city where ruthless thugs who haven’t seen a woman in years are too stupid to take advantage of a situation.”
She heard him struggle not to laugh, and that was her intention, albeit how dark that joke was. “Don’t talk like that, Vicki. I don’t believe in jinxes, but… Quinn hasn’t contacted me yet.”
“She’s fine, Bruce. She can more than handle herself. If anything, she’ll be pissed at how they ruined her Christmas dinner, with how late she’ll be working tonight to help fix this mess.”
She walked in comfortable silence, before pulling out her PDA for the prison’s schematics Bruce sent. She quickly found her location arrow, and began walking toward her waypoint, Quinn’s office.
“We need to set it up,” the voice intoned lowly over her phone, and again, she found herself talking to the other persona – The Batman. “Tonight… I have a bad feeling about tonight.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in jinxes.”
“Tonight, I do.” His voice wavered. Before she could ask, he continued. “This is the catalyst we need. Tell your crew that they were captured so easily, that it was time they learn self-defense. Don’t tell them anything else. Next time you’re in trouble, be careful not to show them too much, but enough to know that the classes are paying off.”
“I’ll send the message out,” She agreed, familiar with the game plan. They had talked about what would happen once she was targeted, since she was a very public figure, and her journalism got more than a few vengeful people in trouble. Rather than quitting, which was what neither of the two suggested, since she enjoyed her job far too much, they started with the idea of a starting mold for her character of investigative journalist Vicki Vale. First step was her learning self-defense and other fighting styles, something she was already quite adept at.
The next step was Bruce’s idea, and she was certainly not fighting it. “I haven’t been in my apartment for months,” she smiled. “I guess I’ll have to go there to pack tomorrow.”
“Hold on,” he stopped her, and she frowned. “We still need an official forwarding address for you, and while I have a house in mind, we need an excuse for you to move.” He was quiet for a second. “A story. A big one. Groundbreaking.”
Vicki didn’t think. “The Black Mask’s identity.”
There was silence. “I can do that. I can also give you all the identities of the assassins.”
She stopped walking. “What?”
“Oh.” There was an uncomfortable silence.
She narrowed her eyes. “Talk.”
“The Crocodile told me that Black Mask hired assassins to kill me.”
“More than one.”
“Afraid so.” He was silent for a moment, and he heard a raspy voice in the background. “Eight. Croc was one of them.”
“And you tell me this now?”
“I’ll be fine,” he twisted her words back on her – she hated when he did that. There was a very prolonged pause, and she strained to hear the sounds playing from the ‘Batcomputer,’ as she’s accustomed to calling it. She heard a few gunshots, and she swore she heard a neck snap, but that was it. Then it was quiet. The video feed was probably over.
“Bruce, tell me everything. Now.”
“Black Mask apparently put up a Fifty million dollar bounty on my head, dead or alive – ”
“Stop!” She breathed deeply to herself. “Okay. Go on.”
“This is a one night only deal. Tonight. When you find Quinn, take her with you. The Batwing will pick you up after it drops me off at the Jezebel. Make sure no one’s around.”
“I’ll keep the video on the screen for you to watch. I…” he paused. She knew his inner turmoil. On the one hand, he didn’t want her out there. On the other, he’d be admitting that he didn’t know how he was going to handle this mess.
“Neither of us are staying in tonight, Bruce. I’ll bring in Quinn, because you need someone who can access the computer all night. It will be a godsend for her, she’d rather do that than paperwork.” She put her PDA in her overcoat pocket and put her hand on her hip. “I don’t need to tell you to be careful. Bruce, for the love of god, be careful.”
“I will be. I promise.” She heard the sincerity in his voice, as it was every time he said those words to her. “Did you find her?”
“I’m almost at her office.”
“I’ll stay on the line.” Pause. “Any plans for New Year’s Eve?”
“What?” That came out of nowhere. “No. Might attend the annual GCPD Party at ‘My Alibi’. But I could ditch it. Not like they’re going to love the fact that I’m there, listening in on their latest exploits. Just felt like voicing my opinion on the fact that the poster promotes ‘Gotham’s hottest babes.’”
“Disappointed you didn’t get an invitation?”
She smirked as she stopped outside of the Doctor’s office. “Only you can make that sound sweet, Bruce.”
“Why don’t we go somewhere a bit classier?”
“Like a strip club?” She murmured with distaste.
Bruce laughed, and she smiled. She loved how she could make Bruce smile. It was a challenge most days, but she always felt accomplished when she did. “No. The New Year’s Eve gala event was what I had in mind.”
She smiled. “Our first date…”
“Lot of firsts that night, if I remember…”
She laughed. Her mother, rest her soul, would have killed her if she found out she lost her virginity the same night she had her first kiss. “Best night of my life. To be a teenager again…”
“No thanks. Meek and shy Vicki dancing with clumsy, shyer Bruce?”
“You weren’t clumsy and shy when it counted, dear,” she whispered through the phone. When he cleared his throat, she chuckled. “And I was the meek one.”
“Fair enough.” He cleared his throat again. “What do you say? Want to dress up and talk for hours with people who you’ve never met before in uncomfortable high heels and a half-asleep playboy on your arm?”
“You sure know how to woo a girl.” She knocked on the door. “It’s a date. I’m glad I get to be your date this time. Did Carie or Mina cancel?”
“No, I didn’t ask them.” To keep up his playboy persona, Bruce brought fashion models and actresses to his public events. Vicky was never really into the events, and their relationship wasn’t public, and it would be suspicious for him not to have at least one girl on his arm. Together, they had shared a few of her female classmates back in high school, and if she were honest with herself, she was turned on at the thought of Bruce with other women. She was sure he was thinking it, but she had brought it up – Bruce would have to sleep with at least a few of them, in order to keep rumors from spreading. Some of them he had connected with at some level enough to bring home, and even invited back a few times, but most of them were lucky enough to get a good night kiss.
“We’ve been doing this for two years, Vicki. I think it’s time Bruce Wayne gets himself a girlfriend.”
She gasped. “It must really be Christmas!”
He chuckled. “Not for a few hours, dear.”
“When you come back, we’ll… celebrate,” she whispered salaciously.
Bruce hummed to himself. “Looking forward to it.” She heard a little bit of rumbling over the phone. “Seems to be a bit of turbulence. Hold on a second.” She listened to the familiar tones of the buttons in his batwing. “The control towers are jamming my system. I have to get close to one to see the problem. It might disconnect.”
“That’s okay. Call me when you leave.” She winced at the static from the interception, and ended the call. “Harleen,” she muttered to herself, and knocked on the door harder. She twisted the knob, and to her surprise, it opened.
Her hand slowly went to the switch, looking for movement. When the light buzzed on, she blinked. The room was pristine, in normal condition. “Harle-?” She started again, and stopped. She heard something. Moaning? No. Humming.
She stepped closer to the door that connected the two room-office, and tentatively knocked.
“Coming!” said a very familiar sing-songy voice, and Vicki groaned. “You’re lucky, the song just ended – ” She opened the door. “Vicki? Ah! I mean – ” She ripped the earbuds out of her head and hid the blue cord behind her back. “Hi, Vicki! Merry Christmas!”
“It’s not Christmas yet, Quinn,” She drawled. She could hear the next song begin to play. “But I see you got my present for you.”
“Oh… you hear that?” She grinned embarrassingly. “It’s a nice gift. Thank you.”
She shook her head and reached out to hug the blonde. “It’s okay, honey. At least you’re safe.”
“Safe? In a prison? Not any safer than usual.” She joked, letting the buds fall from her hands to wrap around the slightly older blonde. “Thanks for the concern, though.”
“What?” She pulled away from the girl. “What are you talking about?” She sniffed the air. “What were you doing in here?”
The older blonde stood back and crossed her arms. The doctor relented.
“Okay, so I didn’t just open your gift early. Ooh, let me show you!” She grabbed her hand and pulled her along, her earbuds happily skipping on the floor behind her. Vicki let out a sigh as she caught the buds mid-skip – this was why she couldn’t keep nice things. “I bought you a Walkman with no speakers, Quinn. You need these.”
“Sorry!” she squeaked, grabbing the buds and putting them in her pocket with the rest of her pre-Christmas present. She stopped at the corner of the room. “Bruce bought me a little oven! Not an Easy Bake Oven either, a really good, miniature one.”
“A toaster oven?” She cocked her head to the side, looking at the machine.
“Nope, bigger! A regular toaster oven would be lucky to fit two full bagels in it. This one fits nine!” She gave a cute little smirk. “I tested it.” She looked towards the oven again and gave a huge whiff of the air. “So I wanted to thank him by baking a fruitcake. What d’ya think?”
Vicki was silent as she stared at the undersized oven / over-sized toaster oven, and looked back at Harley. “You have no idea what happened out there?”
“Um… no. Was there a breakout?”
At that moment, Vicki’s cell phone rang, and she quickly pulled it out and answered.
“Bruce… I don’t think you’re going to believe this…”
Harleen Quinzel frowned. “Did I miss something?”