A/N This story is a sequel to my short fic The Nestling, however, it can be read on its own. (I would suggest reading the other story – it's only six chapters.) After a bit of internal debate, I decided that I had better stick this in the Batman Begins section rather than the straight Batman. (Although I personally don't see the need for a separate category.)
And the reason I chose to start this story on August 1 is…
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!
(And a slightly late Happy Birthday to Gewher!)
Rated for moderate violence, intensity, and drug abuse.
Disclaimer Aside from the obvious, I thought it would be fun to use this space each chapter to give credit to an author or work (other than Batman/DC Comics) that has influenced the chapter.
So, no, I do not own Batman, nor do I own the novel Crossfire, by Jeanette Windle, which was guilty of undue influence on this section.
O for a
Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention...
Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment.
Henry V, Prologue
The door to the nursery opened. "Señorita Cecilia," the black gowned maid called. "Señor Gutierrez asks that you come to his office."
"Gracias, Rosita. I will be down in a moment. Samara has one page more to read."
"I will tell him."
Rosita shut the door behind her and Cecilia returned her attention to the small girl. "Bueno, Samara, we must hurry. Your father wishes to see me."
"Si, Señorita," the girl sighed and looked down at the page. "Left foot…Ri…rih…"
"Right," Cecilia interposed.
"Right foot. F…ee…t…feetfeet. Oh how many f…eet you m…ee…t." Samara closed the book triumphantly, then demanded in rapid Spanish, "Señorita Cecilia, why must I learn to read in English?"
"Ah, so that you may grow up to be a rich and famous woman of business."
"But what if I do not wish to be a woman of business?" the girl demanded, throwing her hands in the air.
"It is what your father wishes."
"But it is not what I wish."
"Ah, no, I know what you wish. You wish to eat chocolates all day and never brush your hair," Cecilia teased. "But you cannot receive a salary for that."
Samara stamped her foot. "I do not. I will be a singer, like Shakira. Then all of the gentlemen will adore me and buy me chocolates. That is what they do for Rosita, and she does not even sing."
"Bah, Rosita is silly to encourage them. One day she will get into trouble. And with you, it is always the chocolates." Cecilia shook her finger at her small charge.
"Do not scold me, Señorita Cecilia. You eat the chocolates too, for I saw you in the kitchen with a whole box of bonbons."
Cecilia laughed. "Yes, but do not tell your mamá. She thinks I am too fat. But enough silliness, I must go to your papá."
Cecilia left the room, and paused before the mirror in the hall. A plump brown face above a demure black dress peered back at her. "Bah," she murmured impatiently as she smoothed wayward strands of dark hair behind her ears and pushed the heavy black frames of her glasses up her nose. Thus prepared, she hurried down the polished mahogany staircase and knocked discreetly on the door at the bottom.
She entered and shut the door. The first thing that struck her was the heat. The entire house was equipped with central air, but the office felt as if it were situated in the middle of the rainforest rather than an exclusive suburb in Bogotá.
Enrique Gutierrez, her employer, sat behind the desk, beads of sweat trickling down his handsome face. His father-in-law, Don Carlos Morales, stood before the fireplace, poking idly at the flaming logs with a poker. Although Cecilia had lived with the Gutierrez family for nearly a year, this was the first time she had seen any fireplace serve more than a decorative function. The third man was unknown to her. He stood against the wall near the door, dressed in a black t-shirt and black slacks, staring blankly at the opposite wall.
But if anything was unusual in this, Cecilia's face did not express it. Walking to stand before the desk, she inclined her head respectfully. "You sent for me, Señor?"
It was not Gutierrez, but Don Carlos who answered. "Yes, Señorita Perez, we sent for you. Won't you sit down?"
"Gracias, Señor Morales." Cecilia perched on the edge of the deep leather chair, her face reflecting perplexity.
Don Carlos stared reflectively into the fire as he spoke, in English this time. "I have a problem, Señorita, and I wondered if you might help me with it."
"Of course, Señor, if I can." Cecilia responded in the same language, her accent slightly more pronounced than that of Don Carlos.
"I very much hope that you can. You see, it seems that we have a spy in this house. This…criminal…broke into this office last night and made copies of some information that was on the computer."
Cecilia's eyes widened in shock. "Señor, that is terrible! That someone in this house should do such a thing!"
He smiled. "I see that we think alike. You will help me to recover what was stolen, will you not?"
She answered hesitantly, "Yes, Señor, but…I do not see what I can do."
"You can tell me what you did with the information."
Honest confusion covered the woman's face. "Tell you…but you think that I am this spy?"
"I do not think, I am convinced."
Cecilia sprang to her feet in alarm. Behind her large glasses, her eyes were filled with fear. "Señor, you are mistaken!"
Don Carlos at last drew the poker from the fire. Its red hot tip flared as he turned. "No, Señorita. I don't think so."
The fortune teller sat in the middle of her small tent, the dank smells of incense and rain hovering around her. It had been an unprofitable night – the small town was nearly played out, and what few customers had trickled in left before the show was even over, discouraged by the rain and the leaky big top.
She lifted an arm so that dozens of brassy bangles clashed, and pulled the spangled scarf from her head. A frayed bun of graying hair appeared, and the mysterious Madame Moliana Mercianne diminished into middle-aged Molly Mercer. She absently pulled the inch-long false lashes from her left eye, listening resignedly to the rain on the roof. Tearing everything down in this mud was going to be…
"Hey!" The startled shout from outside interrupted her gloomy thoughts. It was Zeke, her guard dog/ticket boy, and he sounded frightened. "You…you can't go in there."
There came the sound of a brief scuffle, and then the tent flap was thrust back. Molly caught the briefest glimpse of a looming silhouette, massive and horned, before the flap dropped with a gust of wind that extinguished all but one of her candles.
Heart in her throat, she still managed to snap, "If you want your fortune told you should have come earlier. We're closed."
The shadow seemed to grow until it filled the small space. The slight light did nothing to penetrate its darkness as it growled, "My future is my own business. The information I want concerns the past."
Molly sniffed. "If you intend to impress by theatrics you should've tried somewhere besides the circus. Now go away and practice jumping out of closets or something." She deliberately turned her back on the thing and began to pack her crystal ball in its Styrofoam wrappings.
"Who was Robyn Grayson?"
Molly froze, the delicate ball nearly tumbling from her fingers.
"She had a husband named Charles," the rasping voice persisted, "and a son called…"
"Richard, yes, I know," Molly interrupted, resuming her task. "And I'll tell you what I told the others. I don't know anything, and if I did I certainly wouldn't tell you."
The was a hiss of rapidly drawn breath. "What others?"
"The other nosy people who come around, asking questions about these Grayson folks. But at least they had the decency to come when they're allowed, and pay the proper ticket price."
"How long…" His question was cut short by shouts.
"Hurry! He's in there!" came Zeke's high pitched cry.
"It's been a pleasure, Madam Mercianne. The people I meet in my line of work aren't usually so…charming."
Molly spun, but too late. All that remained of her intruder was a swaying tent flap and a piece of paper floating to the ground. She picked it up and looked appreciatively at the picture of Benjamin Franklin.
Zeke, followed by two burly roustabouts, burst into the tent. "Where did he go?"
Molly shrugged. "Who cares?" She showed Zeke the hundred dollar bill. "He was a real gentleman." She tucked the money carefully away and added, "All the same, the sooner we clear out of this town, the happier I'll be. I'm not too fond of the weather. Or the wildlife."
He sat alone in the soft light of the lamps, his face pale against the black leather of his luxurious chair. Long, sensitive fingers steepled against his chin, he stared thoughtfully at the pastel swirls of color hung on the opposite wall – a Monet, officially thought to have been destroyed during the Second World War.
But here it hangs. He smiled with the pleasure of his secret water lilies and allowed his eyes to travel across the soft blue and ivory of the fringed Persian rug, to touch on dark and polished wood, caress the shine of dustless crystal. It was, by any standard, a beautiful room – extravagant, elegant, soothing – safe haven.
His thumb fiddled with the corner of a letter on his desk, a message that was a paper earthquake shaking the foundations of even this inner sanctuary. Only the foolish grasp more than they can hold. A wise man will be heedful of the time…a time to plant, a time to uproot…Yes, my time has come.
Before him lay a game of Solitaire, the white cards brilliant against the ebony of the desk. The delicate fingers transferred the seven of clubs to the eight of hearts. I see my hand, and I know those of my opponents. Except…
He flipped over the next to last unknown. The king of spades stared up, unmoving and unmovable from his place atop the final card. And so, my friend, you appear at the last and set my strategies tumbling uselessly about my ears.
Swiftly, he gathered the lost game into a neat stack, set it precisely beside the pen holder. He picked up the card that had been set aside, the one that was not played within the rules. He held it for a moment, angling the glossy surface to catch the light. A card up the sleeve is an old but worthy trick. I wonder whether you could be persuaded to play with the others?
He set the joker carefully on the stack and turned out the light.
To be continued…
A/N A special thank you to those readers who reviewed the last chapter of The Nestling! And an advance special thank you to those of you who will review the first chapter of this one! (Does this qualify as counting my chickens before they hatch?)