A/N- Okay, sorry for the long wait for this. This fanfic is easily the one I put the most thought into out of all of my other stories here on the site; thus, it takes the longest for me to write and post. Thanks for all the reviews on that last chapter! Now, we're back in present day, once again. We've all got the pattern now, right? Enjoy!
Suspicion is the companion of mean souls and the bane of all good society.
Chapter Five- Suspicions
Harley arrived, shaking from head to toe as if she had been dowsed in ice water, back at the college a little while after her misadventure in the cemetery. She went directly to her office, unlocked the door, and hurled her briefcase inside. She stood in the doorway of the relatively small room—the college, being only a two-year, community institution, rarely had large rooms. She gazed at her desk and the things upon them, searching them. She did not know what it was that she searched for. Finally finding herself acting ridiculously, she made her way to the room her next class was scheduled for, grabbing the textbook she needed as she locked her office door back.
The classroom that was her destination, although not huge, was probably the biggest room that any of the buildings on campus had to offer. It had a small stage up at its front and stadium-style seating, which meant that the floor inclined slightly upwards, with the chairs—which were bolted to the floor—being the plastic kind with the attached desk. The podium Harley liked to teach from—when she did not have to use the VCR, DVD player, or the projection screen to show a movie—was on the floor in front of the stage. She sighed. Laying the textbook on the edge of the stage, she took a hold of the wooden podium and began to drag it to the stage's steps. It was much heavier than it looked. She was sweating slightly from the effort as she finally reached the steps.
"Dr. Wayne?" said a voice behind her, causing her to jump.
"Yes?" she said, a little too loudly, as she whirled.
One of her students, a Mr. Mitchell, was just setting his stuff down in the front row. He smiled sheepishly at her.
"Uh, I didn't mean to scare you," he said. "Can I help?"
Harley graced the blond young man with her half-smile. "Yes, if you could just put it where I usually have it, thank you."
He nodded. Moving much quicker than Harley had, Mitchell had it on the stage, in the center, in moments. He went back to his seat as Harley thanked him again. She climbed the steps, grabbing her textbook as she went, and positioned herself at the podium. It was twenty minutes until class was scheduled to start. At fifteen to the hour, most of the students had arrived and seated themselves. At five till, there were a few stragglers coming through the door. And at six past, after Harley had welcomed the students and begun to lecture, a couple more of her students dragged themselves through the door. She continued her lecture uninterrupted. However, she did briefly add for the newcomers that their tests would be handed back at the end of class.
The hour she had assigned for this class passed too quickly, and Harley—still too shaken to think clearly—announced that the rest of the material would be covered at the beginning of the next class. She took the graded exams, which were safely tucked inside her textbook, and passed them out by calling the student's name and having them come to the front to pick it up. Midway through calling the names, she added that they should take a few moments to look over their tests before leaving, to catch any mistakes she might have made. Along with this, she also mentally chastised herself for not announcing that little tidbit of information at the beginning of passing out the papers, as she usually did.
Get it together, Harl, she thought, shaking her head.
However, most of the students had done exactly what she had said, being familiar with the routine from classes past. Once all the papers were gone from her hands, shock emanating from her form that she had all her students there for once, she asked for any questions. A few of the students had the same question about the same number on the test, and Harley was happy to announce that it was a typo, thus became free points. Finally, after a minute or two, only one student had such a trouble with her test that Harley had called her up to the front. The rest of the class exited quickly. Harley climbed down from the stage.
"I'm so sorry to trouble you, Dr. Wayne," said the student, a Miss Johnson.
The young woman's auburn hair was pulled back into a high ponytail and hung down to sweep her black, bulging backpack. She held her test turned towards herself, and her skin had this pink undertone that Harley was sure was not a part of her natural color. She had to be one of those students that hated to have to talk one-on-one with the teacher. She graced the girl with the brightest half-smile she could and gestured that she follow her to her office.
"Not a problem, really. I'm the teacher, answering questions is what I'm here for. But, there's going to be another class in here soon. Let's answer your question in my office, hmm?"
The girl nodded, the pink tinge receding ever so slightly. Harley continued to smile, trying to get the poor girl to relax. She knew what it was like to be so nervous around people who considered themselves her superiors, both in her marriage to Bruce and back in her life of crime. Harley shivered involuntarily, remembering the incident in her car suddenly.
"Are you okay, Dr. Wayne?" Miss Johnson asked, her eyes wide as if Harley had just spontaneously combusted.
Harley blushed a little. It must have been a pretty big shiver to warrant such a look from the young woman. She shook her head dismissively as the two emerged from the classroom and exited the building. Johnson nodded, a little like she did not quite believe her dismissal, but said nothing, nonetheless. They crossed the small courtyard that lay between the building that had held their classroom to the Administration Building that held Harley's office.
Once inside, they took a small walk down the left-side corridor and quickly found themselves face to face with her office door. She withdrew her key and unlocked it, stepping inside.
"Come in, please, Miss Johnson. We'll get this straightened out right away," she said, gesturing the girl into a seat beside her desk.
"Okay," she said, sidling into the room and slipping her backpack off as she sat. "Oh! Is that from Mr. Wayne?"
Harley had not taken in any details of her usually familiar office until she had said that. Looking up, she saw, as plain as day, on her desk a small vase sporting only a single, budded red rose. Around the stem was a tag, the writing turned away from both Harley and the student. Instantly, she found herself ridged. Miss Johnson blinked at her professor, rising slightly from the seat she had just taken. She reached a slow hand out and lightly placed it on Harley's elbow, still crooked and holding the key inside its lock.
"Dr. Wayne? Are you really sure you're okay? I can come back…" the girl said, her free hand moving backwards, either to reach for her backpack and leave or to find the phone and call for some sort of help.
Harley blinked several times, staring at the young woman as if she had not noticed her move. In truth, she had not. Her eyes had been glued to the rose since she had mentioned it. Harley pursed her lips briefly and then half-smiled.
"Yes, yes…our anniversary, of course. I was just surprised," Harley lied. Bruce well knew, just as Harley did, that their anniversary was not for another three months. He never forgot.
And he also knew her…dislike of roses, due to obvious reasons from her past. Harley slid into her seat on the other side of her desk, careful to avoid the offending flower. The writing on the tag was still hidden from her sight as she finally tore her eyes away and focused them on Miss Johnson, who had tentatively retaken her seat.
"I'm sorry. I know I've seemed kind of spacey," Harley began, knowing she ought to at least put the poor girl's mind at ease…even if she could not do the same for herself. "I was nearly in a car wreck of sorts on my lunch break. No one was hurt, including the cars, but it shook me up a little, I guess."
Instantly, Miss Johnson relaxed. The girl nodded knowingly and shared a brief anecdote about a little fender-bender she had been in a few months back. She ended her story with reassuring words about safety and "accidents happen."
"Indeed they do," Harley agreed, determinedly not staring at the rose.
It sat, rather smugly for an inanimate object, right in Harley's eyeshot of her student, but Harley would not put her attention on it. Instead, she focused on Miss Johnson, who was now pointing out the troubles on her paper. It seemed that Harley had gotten a little red ink happy with the poor girl's paper. Harley nodded as Johnson stated her case and pulled out the answer key, agreeing that the test did indeed have more points taken off than what was warranted. Harley corrected both the paper and the grade in her grade book—sure to do so in front of Johnson, to reassure her once more.
"There you go," Harley announced as she finished up in the book. "That brings you from a B to an A. Well done."
"Thanks so much. Again, I'm sorry to have bothered you," she said, lifting her backpack and placing it on her shoulders.
"Oh, not a problem," Harley said, standing to see the young woman out. "Again, that's what I'm here for."
Johnson made her way to the door, stopping in the threshold to smile back at her teacher. She thanked her once again and paused, her eyes on the rose.
"Mr. Wayne must be so sweet. Happy Anniversary, Dr. Wayne," she said, leaving as Harley muttered her thanks and asked the girl to shut the door behind her.
As the click of the office door filled the room, Harley sank down into her office chair, now staring at the rose once more. She lifted a hand, slowly, and tentatively reached for the tag. Her fingertips stopped just at the pink cardstock tag, barely brushing it. A part of her deeply wished she was wrong about Bruce, that he had indeed sent her the flower, forgetting her deep hatred of the delicately folded, crimson blossom. She took a deep breath and lightly flicked the tag, flipping it over. Her eyes widened.
There was no writing upon it, instead only a picture, crudely drawn. It was of a heart, like one might see on a Valentine's Day card or some such, only on each of the two bulges at the top of the heart were marks…simple little drawings of the tiniest incisions that were all too familiar to Harley. Poised above one of the marks were the drawings of a crude chisel and a hammer above that, ready to strike. Harley's hand shook as she quietly gasped. She could feel a scream welling up inside of her so much so that her jaw quivered with it.
"Ah!" she cried out, trying to smother it as much as possible, as she swept her hand quickly across the air to fling the flower and vase into the nearest wall.
The vase shattered into several chunks, water from within it wetting the carpet, and the rose and its horrible tag lay among the ruins. Harley shook her head, and, grabbing her briefcase and keys, hurled herself out of her office, slamming the door behind her.
Bruce Wayne leaned back in his large office chair and stared down the long conference table, filled with other members of the WayneTech Board, at the computer projection showing a simple line graph, its crimson line steadily rising skyward. A red dot appeared on the screen and a voice—Pamela Isley-Hagen's voice—began to describe the benefits that the red line represented. Bruce, along with his Board Members, nodded as she spoke.
Pamela had been at her presentation for fifteen minutes now, and had gotten so excited at some points that a few strands of her bright red hair were shaking loose from her low ponytail. She cleared her throat, straightened her black ladies' business suit, and put away her laser pointer.
"I'll be blunt, ladies and gentlemen of the Board," she said, coming to stand at the end of the conference table directly opposite Bruce's. "I propose marriage. A marriage between WayneTech and FloraGlobe on my latest project. I wish to combine nanotechnology with that of plant-splicing to produce…well, the opportunities are endless! We could do so much! Think of the medical advancements we could make alone, and that's just the beginning. Put your imaginations to work, Board Members."
At this, she slid into the empty chair just before her, resting clasped hands on the smooth table surface. This proposal of hers had set the Board Members chattering about "possibilities." Bruce and Pam alone were silent, looking on. Finally, one voice rose out from all the chatter, directed at both CEOs present.
"Think of the weapons applications!"
The voice was that of the youngest, and newest, man on the Board, a real up-and-comer, named Jordan Pryce. His sleek blonde hair and pointed features always set Bruce's mind on edge, but the man's abilities were not to be disputed. He was good at his job, no doubt, but a bit ambitious. The other Board Members fell silent. Jordon blinked in confusion, staring between Pam and Bruce.
"No weapons," the two CEOs said simultaneously.
"I will not create something that could possibly destroy our fragile plant ecosystems, not to mention human life," Pam explained further.
Bruce had to fight a smirk. Reformed or not, plants still rated first on Pam's "To Do" list. But at least she cared about human life as well now, even if it only came in second. Bruce cleared his throat to call Pryce's eyes towards him. He lowered his voice, not to his old Batman levels, but enough to be sufficiently menacing.
"WayneTech will never host a weapons project so long as I head this company, and, God willing, nor will it do so when one of my children takes over. I appreciate your enthusiasm, Mr. Pryce, but it would be best directed elsewhere. Weapons will always be a no," Bruce said, making sure that Jordan understood him fully.
Pryce's eyes shook in the way that they might if his whole body were shaking, but nothing else on him was moving. Bruce gave the tiniest of smirks. Pryce did, indeed, understand. Satisfied, Bruce gave a small nod and stood.
"We thank you for your interest in this…marriage, Dr. Isley. This Board will adjourn and reconvene at a later time with our minds made up. But, if I may speak for everyone, this prospect is very interesting, and I believe that we will end up partnering on it."
The other members of the Board nodded agreements as they stood and gathered the packet of documents each had been handed on the project. Pamela stood as well, a bright smile on her face. As the members of the Board filed out of the room, Bruce turned and put his attention upon the coffee maker set at the back of the room. He poured himself a still-hot cup of the dark liquid and turned back around, surprised to see that Pamela alone was left in the room with him. She approached him, and he offered her a cup of coffee, which she declined.
"Bruce, may I have a private word in your ear?" she asked, lowering her voice to just above a whisper.
Bruce blinked at her, but nodded, moving to close the conference room door. He set himself upon the table itself, in between two chairs, and eyed Pamela. Her whole demeanor was quite different than what it had been during the meeting. Where she had previously been excited and energetic, she now looked tired and perturbed, if not a bit angry.
"Is there something wrong, Pam? You look upset," he noted.
Pamela rubbed her forehead with a hand and sighed, letting it drop limply to her side. She took the seat that Bruce had previously occupied and leaned her head on one hand, propped up by her elbow.
"My computer specialists tell me that someone recently hacked into my computer systems," she said slowly.
Bruce's eyes widened. "Did whoever did this get anything?"
She shook her head. "No. Thankfully. My defense system online is quite relentless…my people say that they have no idea what that person was after, and that it looked like it was just someone hacking in because they could. But I used to be a criminal, Bruce, stealing from big companies things that I needed for my own research. I saw immediately what the person or persons had been after."
"And that was?"
"My gene-splicing technology."
Bruce set his coffee cup down, letting the ceramic mug—homemade by a joint effort of Tom and Lil' Pam that read "Number One Dad"—make the tiniest little clink against the table. Bruce slid off and moved into a chair closer to Pam, who looked more agitated than worried about the attempted theft. He knew better than to ask if she was sure about the intents of the hacker. She was right about having the knowledge of big company thefts. After all, how many times had Batman put her away, finding her through such a trail?
"What do you intend to do about it?" Bruce asked after a long moment.
At this, Pam sighed and leaned back a little in her chair. "Actually, that's where you come in."
She drummed her fingers on the table, her nails clicking rhythmically. She seemed to be wording a very difficult question. Finally, she leaned towards him, a bit conspiratorially, and said, in a low voice, "I've heard no specifics, but…Harley mentioned, way back when in an off-handed way, that you had…ways of getting information. Ways that no one else had. Now, I was wondering, if I gave your…connection the same things my computer people saw, could you track who it was that hacked me?"
At this, Bruce's eyes darkened and narrowed. He leaned away from Pam a little bit, eyeing her. After a few moments, all the while Pam looking at him with questioning eyes, he crossed his arms.
"What would you do with the information, assuming I could get it for you?" he asked.
At this, Pam leaned back and laughed. She shook her head.
"Are you worried that I'll hunt them down? Like Ivy used to? No, Bruce. In fact, I would be a most gracious bonus if your connection could dig up something that would stand up in court."
Bruce continued his thoughtful scan of Pam, trying to read if she was telling the truth. Finally, he sighed, standing. Pam stood as well.
"Get me your information, and I'll do whatever I can to help."
With a big smile, Pam reached inside her blazer and withdrew a CD, handing it to him. His brow arched.
"How did you know I was going to say yes?" he asked, slipping the disc into his own jacket's pocket.
Pam smiled and tweaked his cheek. "Because you seem like the type who can't say no to a friend. And besides, I was going to use the fact that I'm godmother to one of your children if you said no. See you later?"
She moved to the conference room's door while Bruce shook his head.
"Yeah. I'm sure Harley will want you over for dinner again soon. You really are quite conniving, you know," he said, a small grin on his face.
Pam blew him a kiss, opened the door, and left. Bruce groaned a little as the door shut behind her. He took his seat on top of the table again, leaning over to reach the phone in the center. First, he hit the intercom, letting his secretary know that he would be out of his office for a little while longer, taking a private telephone call, and he was not to be disturbed. Once the woman acknowledged his words, he turned off the intercom and dialed a number he knew by heart.
By all rights, it was one he should have forgotten by now…one that Harley had assumed he probably had. However, it was one he still found himself using quite often. He turned down the volume on the speakerphone and listened as it rang on the other end. Four times, then the click of connection.
"Oracle. May I assume this is who I think it is?" came Barbara Gordon's voice.
Bruce grinned mischievously. "Depends. Who do you think it is?"
"Ha ha, Bruce. It's not like many people have this number. It's unlisted. What's up? Call the wrong house number by mistake?"
"Not quite. I was just asked a favor by Pam and I knew you were the one to help me do it."
"Your daughter or your wife's best friend?"
"Doctor Pamela Isley, Oracle. I doubt I would need Oracle's help for anything my Lil' Pam would ask me for."
"What about that time you guys couldn't find her stuffed rabbit?"
There was laughter in Oracle's voice, Bruce growled softly.
"We're getting off point. Doctor Isley recently asked for my help in identifying a hacker. Someone was trying to steal her gene-splicing research."
Now Bruce could hear the click-clacking of a keyboard on the other end of the receiver. He gave a small smile. Barbara Gordon, or her alternate persona Oracle, could never resist a challenge.
"Do you think it was an individual effort or a rival company?" she asked, all seriousness now.
"I'm not sure. Let's keep that option open until we have more information. Now, as I'm sure you're finding out at this moment, Pam's computer systems are well guarded. She gave me a disc of what she found after they had been hacked. I'll come over tomorrow and bring it to you," Bruce said, sliding off the table to stand.
"I could just hack in myself," Barbara said innocently.
"Let's not get Pam all riled up over an unnecessary two hackers."
Oracle laughed, and Bruce could almost hear her shaking her head. "Old habits die hard, huh?"
Bruce averted his eyes, as if she could see him through the phone. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Does Harley know that every time something even remotely odd and possibly crime related happens in this town that you call me to check into it? This, the blackout, and you've done it in times before. Ever since you've stopped being him. But you've never really stopped have you?" Oracle said, her voice teasing.
"I haven't touched that costume since Lil' Pam was born," he all but whispered.
Oracle laughed again. "You've never needed the costume to be him, as much as I've never needed a costume to be Oracle."
There was silence that followed. Oracle was right, and Bruce knew it. He could not help but investigate the crimes in Gotham, no matter how insignificant they mostly were these days. Finally, Oracle sighed.
"I'll look into it and see what I can find. Just bring the disc over Saturday. See you, Bruce," she said, followed by a click.
Bruce stared at the phone for a long moment. If Harley ever found out…but Oracle would never tell her. He did what he did to keep the city safe…to keep his family safe. But Harley would never see it that way. So, he kept it secret.
He reached over and turned off the phone. Shaking his head, he turned and left the conference room, lost in thought about broken promises.
Commissioner Renee Montoya sat behind her office's desk, the telephone receiver pressed to her ear. She tapped her finger lightly on the papers before her. They were spread nearly across her desk, save for a small spot for her coffee mug. Pictures of the burnt out power box from downtown were scattered among written reports taken from various people during the black out and from the power company themselves, reporting on the cause of the massive power outage that had occurred. A squirrel caught in the power box…but that explanation did not sit well with Montoya…nor did it sit well with the person on the other end of the phone receiver.
"Yes, Mayor Gordon, I agree whole-heartedly. I have the file on the black out right here before me. I do believe that there is more to it than that it appears," she said, idly picking up a picture before laying it back down.
"A squirrel can't get into those power boxes, Renee. They're padlocked," he said, and Renee could almost see her old commissioner rubbing the bridge of his nose tiredly.
Renee blinked. She knew that he was right; any random citizen of Gotham knew that if they simply paid attention. She shook her head.
"There was no report of a broken padlock or a padlock at all, Mayor. Do you think someone put the squirrel's carcass in the box and someone else is covering it up?"
"I don't know, but things aren't adding up with this business. As far as the city is concerned, all is said and done about this. I'd like to keep it that way…I don't want to unnecessarily cause a panic. But keep this one open. Two and two isn't five, so we need to find that missing one. I'll leave you to it. Good day," Gordon said.
"Good day, Mayor," she said, hanging up the receiver.
Renee leaned forward, propping her head in her hands. Who would willingly put a squirrel into a power box just to cause a black out? Back in the day, that answer would be simple, but that was an impossibility now. That particular criminal was permanently, finally, behind bars, in no condition to do anything of this sort. Renee leaned back in her chair. Why a squirrel? If you go to all the trouble to break the padlock, why not just cut the lines? The commissioner's thoughts were interrupted by her telephone's loud ring. She snatched up the receiver.
"Montoya," she said.
"Commissioner, we have a bit of a situation here in downtown," came one of her patrolman's voices.
"What is it?"
The patrolman stumbled a little over his words for a moment, before finally sighing.
"There are cows running amok here in downtown Gotham. It seems they got loose from some cattle auction that's being held outside of town and made their way into downtown."
Renee arched a brow. "I believe that would be Animal Control's jurisdiction, Officer."
"With permission, Commissioner, Animal Control is here, but there are too many of them for them to control. They are requesting police assistance."
Renee knew she was going to dread the answer to her next question.
"How many of them are there?"
"Several, ma'am. I don't have an exact number, but enough to be scary. They're rampaging and causing all kinds of damage. We had to rescue one woman from her car."
Commissioner Montoya stood. "I'll send out several squads to assist, and I'll be with them. Hang tight."
She slammed the receiver down, pausing for just a moment afterwards. Cows? In Gotham? James Gordon was right. Things were not adding up. Shaking her head, she grabbed her trench coat and ran out of her office, shouting orders.
End Notes: Sometimes, reality is just stranger than fiction. We actually had cows running loose in the downtown sector of the city I live in. In fact, they were mostly gathered around the college's campus. I was in a different town at the time, so I heard about it after it happened, and there was nowhere near as many as I put down here…but there were still, like, five or something running around. Crazy. Anyhow, I hope everyone enjoyed this chapter. The flashback chapters are a little bit easier for me to write, so maybe the wait won't be as long for the next chapter. However, I am working towards finishing up some of the stories I have up on this site that are fully outlined, so it will be a little bit of a wait. Anyway, please review!
Note: If some of the things used in this story seem as if they come from the Batman Beyond universe, that's because they do. I'm disregarding most of that, but I'm still going to pluck things from it here and there. And, as usual, I don't own Batman Beyond or anything related to it.