Enter the Bookworm
by "The Enduring Man-Child"
All standard disclaimers apply.
Thanks to Saloma-Kiwi and Jen Rock for reviewing the last chapter, and, as always, to cpneb for the beta.
- - - - -
The Hotel Belvedere, like Bartleby himself, represented "old" money. That is to say, while it might have been glamorous in the 1930's, it was now a seedy hotel in what had long become a seedy part of town. "Quaint" was about the best thing that could be said about it. "Tragic" was perhaps the best word to describe its long fall from its once-high status.
Bartleby looked about at his suite. Well, that was what it was called, and that's what it was when the hotel had been built, but now it was hard to describe. The art nouveau style of the architecture clashed with the "Holiday Inn" furnishings—as if the old spirit of the place had died and been replaced by something that didn't belong there. Still, Bartleby was "old money," and "old money" had long since been bypassed by the "new money," which meant this is where he belonged. When he thought of the enormous suite his rival had used in the new luxury hotel downtown a wave of anger—not, not anger—hatred—passed through him, to be replaced with a sense of satisfaction. After all, this—Chad, was it?—was no longer a factor. But when he recalled that despite this he still didn't have what he had come after the hatred and resentment rose in him once more. It wasn't fair!
He was at a loss as to how to proceed. He knew that Gordon had been legally correct in pointing out that the precious book that had been snatched out from under him was now the property of his late "friend's" estate, and there it was going to stay unless he could think of something. But, with a mind full of the plots of all the great literature of the world, there was nothing quite like this; and for some reason, fate had decided to deny him the creativity it had bestowed on less deserving writers.
Suddenly, a breeze interrupted his reveries. A window curtain was blowing inward. Wait a minute—what was that window doing open? He was sure it had been closed before. Bartleby went to the window to close it. Something made him look about to see if there was anything amiss outside. He could find nothing. But still, something wasn't right. Suddenly he felt, rather than saw a shadow fall across him from behind, from within the room that had just now been empty save of him. He turned around...
What he saw terrified him. He had read, and even written, Gothic horrors before, but the figure that confronted him was like nothing from any story. It was three-dimensional, for one thing. It seemed humanoid but at the same time resembled a giant bat. The air from the still open window caused the wings in which it had wrapped itself to move eerily about. He swallowed.
"Bartleby Wigglesworth?" The voice was deep and gruff, barely human. Bartleby was so terrified that he couldn't answer.
"I said Bartleby Wigglesworth!" Now he was too terrified not to answer.
"Y—Y—Yes?" he managed at last. The dread figure approached him until they would have been nose to nose—had not it towered over him.
"Do you know who I am?" it asked.
Bartleby nodded. "Y—You're the Batman. I've heard of you. B—But I didn't believe you were real!"
"Oh, I'm real, all right," Batman responded. "Believe it!" He took a moment to silently circle his prey.
"Wh—What do you want with me?" Bartleby asked, though deep down he knew the reason.
"You killed a man last night," Batman answered in that same low growl. "I don't like murderers in my town."
"Mur—Murder? No! No! I didn't! I couldn't! You're wrong!"
"Oh?" Batman stared at him in silence for a while. "You attended the Wayne Foundation charity auction last night. You wanted to purchase a rare first edition of Anna Karenina. But somebody had more money than you and got it. And instead of simply accepting this disappointment, you killed him to get that book. And you pushed him in front of a train so that he'd die the same way as the heroine of that book, you sick little man!"
Bartleby stood gasping, almost hyperventilating. For what seemed forever, he was unable to get a sound out. Finally, he spoke.
"No...we were going to take the subway back to his hotel together when he fell...he fell! I was the only one there to see it. The body was horribly mangled. There were no witnesses. There is no evidence!" The frightened little man actually seemed to be working up some courage.
"How do you know I wasn't there?" he asked.
"You—you were there?" he asked. Then suddenly his face hardened. "No! You weren't there! You're trying to trick me! I didn't do it!"
"I say you did. Furthermore, you know you did it! You've committed murder in my town, Wigglesworth. You're not going to get away with it. I'm going to see to it that you're punished!"
"What are you going to do?" Bartleby asked.
"I'm going to see to it that you go to the police and confess!" the dark vigilante told him.
"I know something of the law!" Bartleby replied, trying to sound brave but still shaking like a leaf. "I've written a few crime novels in my time, and coerced confessions aren't admissible as evidence!"
"I could drop you out that window," Batman indicated. "I've dealt with 'innocent' people before. You'd be surprised how a threatened drop from a high elevation can loosen the tongue!"
"You wouldn't!" Bartleby said.
"Oh, I would," Batman assured him, "believe me. So why don't you just save the both of us the trouble and go down to the police station and tell them what you did? You know if you don't, it will torment you. Surely you have a conscience."
Of course Batman had no intention of actually harming the little man, whom he could snap like a twig if he wished. He was the "good guy," after all, whatever some people thought of him. But he knew that in this case the only way to put Wigglesworth away was to have him confess to the police, and in his experience threats, backed by his fearsome reputation, often worked to achieve this.
He was, actually, fighting against a rising temptation to feel sorry for this pathetic little man when said pathetic little man, suddenly and unaccountably, replaced his look of utter cowardice with a look of steel. In fact, despite the difference in size and Batman's well-honed tactics of intimidation this little fellow actually seemed to grow—angry?
"No! I won't do it!" he shouted. "You're trying to trick me! You weren't there, and I say it was an accident! And any confession you beat or terrify out of me is inadmissible! Furthermore..." And here the little man seemed to lose all his fear and became positively livid. "Furthermore I am thoroughly sick and tired of being bullied and pushed around by people three times my size with one tenth the brains! Your musculature indicates that you can't be very bright..." (here Batman found himself growing angry as well) "...and I have had to put up with persecution from the likes of you for my entire life! Well, no more, do you hear me? You may kill me, you may throw me out that window, you may beat me to a bloody pulp, but that's because you are a coward and a bully who derives a sick satisfaction from the pain and fear you cause those weaker than you! I am not going to confess, so either put an end to me or begone!"
Bruce Wayne was no bully. He had dedicated his life to protecting the weak and helpless from just the sort of behavior he was now being accused of, and he realized that most of the people he used his not-quite-legal intimidation tactics on were far larger and abler than the little man now quivering with rage before him. Furthermore, although all his instincts (which he had good reason to trust) were telling him that this pitiable figure before him was a murderer, the fact was that he had no way to prove his suspicions.
"Having been picked on by bullies is no excuse to take a human life," he growled at last to him. He noticed that Bartleby blanched at that comment.
The atmosphere remained tense for a while after this observation. Then, at last, Batman said, "Wigglesworth, I want you out of my town. Leave tomorrow at the latest and don't ever let me catch you in Gotham again."
"This is a free country!" Bartleby protested.
Suddenly he found himself nose to nose with the mysterious figure.
"You're a murderer," he said, "and a very dangerous one. You're smart enough to know exactly how to do the job with no loose ends to tie it back to you. You're overly intelligent in all the wrong ways and apparently a psychopath who doesn't know the most basic aspects of relating with other human beings. Even if you were innocent, which we both know you're not, you're dangerous. I meant what I said. I can't afford to let a danger like you roam free in my town. Now get out before I do what I probably should do and get rid of you myself!"
And suddenly he was gone. The wind blew the curtains through the open window.
- - - - -
Bartleby sat in the large overstuffed chair that had belonged to his father. He had been cheated out of his rightful property by a vulgar poseur with no breeding or brains and had been chased out of Gotham City by a muscle-bound vigilante who was no better than the criminals he fought against.
He had lost again, as he always seemed to do. He had disappointed his father, been a punching bag at school, and a failure at the one thing that should have come naturally to him—writing books...and, because his head was too full of knowledge gleaned from those same books, at that! And now his inherited money, never as large an amount as those of the undeserving nouveau riche, was diminishing rapidly.
He put his head in his hands. What did he have now? No family, no precious first edition of Anna Karenina, and nowhere near the money that was his right as a Wigglesworth. He looked up a moment at the books that covered every wall in the study. These were priceless. If he sold them he would very soon be as wealthy as anyone in the country. But he knew he couldn't. Without these books...what was he? They defined him.
A sudden anger flushed though him as he studied the volumes. In a childhood with no friends and even no relationship to his father to speak of these books had been his only companions. With human beings he was a failure. With books (other than writing them) he seemed to be a success. But how was living like this a success? He suddenly realized that while these books may have been his only true friends they had also played a role in making him the pathetic wretch he was now. They had isolated him from humanity, turned him into an eccentric, a weirdo, a—a bookworm. Yes, maybe without these books he would have had to relate with other people. Maybe he would have been...normal. But he wasn't. And here were all these books, the very things he had looked to for comfort and companionship, fairly mocking him for his social dystopia. They mocked him also because they knew--somehow they knew—that he could never bring himself to part with them. The very thought of someone else pawing through their pages sent a wave of murderous jealousy through him.
He thought, for a moment, he could here his father's mocking laughter. Looking up, he located the sound in a glass enclosed bookcase of the oldest and most valuable books in his possession. Particular favorites of his father's, they were ancient tomes bound in the finest leather, protected from decay by the finest attention and by being preserved in an air-tight environment. He realized suddenly that these, and not he, were the true children of his father. To him, Bartleby was only a disappointment.
"I'll show you! I'll show you!!!" he said at last, and in a passion seized an ancient fire poker and smashed the glass casing. He began tossing the heretofore beloved objects out onto the floor. Oh, if his father could only see him now! But even on the floor they seemed to taunt him. Still muttering "I'll show you!" he seized the books and tore off the beautiful, priceless leather covers. All the anger built up in him: towards his father, towards his classmates, towards the vulgar new rich, and towards mankind as a whole, was at last unleashed on the cause of all his alienation! And how good it felt!
How good it felt...for a moment. And then...then the guilt welled up in him. What had he done? What had he done??? He had essentially destroyed millions of dollars of beautiful old books, the priceless heritage of mankind, in a fit of displaced anger. Unable to attack his tormentors he had instead destroyed his friends—his only friends in the whole world!
Batman...Batman! This was all his fault! This time, Bartleby Wigglesworth was not going to take it. Those days were over! He was a genius; even his hated foe had admitted that. He had already gotten away scot-free with murder. He was certainly capable of doing many more things to punish society for its treatment of him, and he could certainly triumph over a muscle-bound thug with obviously very little intelligence! Yes...that's what he would do. He would return to Gotham. And he would deal with this Batman just as he had dealt with Chad Millpond (or whatever his name was). But first...
- - - - -
The small, lithe figure smiled at the image in the mirror. His new suit was made of the leather covers of his father's ancient beloved books. So was his hat, which also bore a reading lamp. And his glasses, large enough to contain a radio sending and receiving set...well, that's exactly what they contained. Waiting for him in the driveway was an old bookmobile which he had purchased and made ready for his adventures.
"Very well, World," he said at last. "You laughed at Bartleby Wigglesworth. You dismissed him as a person of no consequence, someone you could wrong and push around at will. Well, you have gotten your wish, World, though I don't doubt you will very soon wish you had him back, because that person no longer exists.
"Exit: Bartleby Wigglesworth
"Enter: THE BOOKWORM!!!"
(or The Beginning, depending on your point of view!)