IF THE FOUNDATIONS BE DESTROYED, WHAT CAN THE RIGHTEOUS DO?
I don't own Batman. DC Comics does.
I've decided to post shorter chapters. It's just not fair to make you all wait for a month while I have half of a chapter completed, especially when that half-chapter is a piece that could stand on its own. Therefore, this will be about half as long as the last chapters of Foundations have been. But a reader with a long memory (or one who has recently read the first few chapters) will remember that the first chapters of this story were only about 3,000 words or less. Back then I was posting a chapter a day. If I do shorter chapters, I'm fairly certain I could post an average of one a week. So... we'll try this, and see how you all like it.
Chapter Thirty-Three: Arguments
Friday, 3:29 P.M. (Previously)
Anna Ramirez stood in the back of the room, eyes hooded, listening to the debate among Garcia's subordinates. The part of her that cared about such conversations—the part that used to make careful note of what was said, and by whom, so that it could repeat everything verbatim to the proper informants—was dulled, so that the actual words were mumbles. It was all mere background noise to her whirling thoughts. From time to time she glanced at the screen of the television in the corner, where she knew the Joker's face had appeared not more than a day ago.
He's out, she reflected numbly. He's really out.
Somehow she was not surprised. It was as if she had been waiting for this to happen. As if, from the very moment she had received the news that he had been caught, she knew this would be the result. The Joker could not stay locked up. It was like attempting to imprison a lightning storm or a hurricane. Impossible to do—impossible, even, to properly imagine.
"Mr. Mayor, you cannot give in to terrorists!" Marl Rena Jones was saying. "If you give in now, imagine what he'll ask for next! He wants you to apologize? For what? Living even though he targeted you? It's absurd, sir!"
"But Mr. Wayne is a valued member of society!" Alejandra Huerta hissed back, in what was probably her best 'courtroom voice,' since it carried quite well. "We can't allow that lunatic to butcher him, all for the sake of our pride!"
"Hartridge," demanded Garcia, massaging his temple, "what do you think?"
"I… well, I think… er, that elected officials always know best," the timid man ventured. From the moment the new police commissioner had walked into the Mayor's makeshift office, he had been trying to avoid attention, first by sitting in one of the chairs furthest from Garcia's desk, and then by standing near a bookshelf, as if hoping that the thin spines of the books would make his pinstripe suit blend in. He had a pinched, pointed face that, in Anna's mind, would have resembled the look of a sharp-witted fox, had he possessed any form of self-reliance or intelligence. Instead, with his short frame huddled over, he had more of the appearance of an abused animal, even though he likely had never suffered for anything in his life.
Anna just stopped short of rolling her eyes. At least Loeb, for all his faults, had gotten into his position by personally brown-nosing, instead of being the relative of someone else who had done so. If Hartridge had been police commissioner back when she was a mob informant, oh the things she could have done, right under his nose...
Her eyes squeezed together, then, trying to block out the pain—but the agony was in her heart, not her sight, and closing her eyes merely plunged the knife even deeper. Over the last few months Anna had tried not to think of her mother; to forget the image of the old woman dying in the hospital bed, all because she didn't have the money. Because the only cure—and a temporary one at that—cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. Money that she didn't have because the mob was in chaos after the Joker. Money that she could have had, if she'd only been more proactive, more able to gather information. Perhaps then she could have saved up for that moment, when her mother needed help the most. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...
Perhaps you could have betrayed more people like Rachel, the unbidden thought came to her, You remember Rachel, don't you? You used to buy coffee together, theorize who Batman was over salads. And you remember how she struggled when they pulled her from the car, and you realized that you didn't want her to be killed, not like that, and—
But it was useless to think about these things. Those days were gone and done and she was alone now, disgraced, forgotten by the mob, deemed suspicious by Gordon, stalked by Officer Stephens. Anna knew that if she turned to look, Gerard Stephens would be watching her, angry as always, scornful. She fantasized, every so often, about shooting him. Then she could escape. She could go who knows where—anywhere. It did not matter. Just Away.
Anna forced her focus outward, wiping at her eyes, resisting the urge to delve into her pockets for a tissue. She had been crying far too much recently. At the moment it would only draw attention, and she desperately needed less of that. Now that he was in charge, perhaps that idiot Hartridge would inadvertently separate her and Stephens, order each of them to different locations. Gordon wouldn't have spoken to anybody about the need to keep her under watch—Jim had learned his lesson with her, and now he did not trust anyone, even to watch a suspected informant. Stephens only trailed her unofficially because the man was a bloodhound, suspicion being part of his nature. He had no real proof that she had worked for the mob.
Anna was not considered a threat by most other cops, who only knew that Gordon had stopped trusting her without knowing why. The morning after the Joker had been caught and the Batman had gone on his murderous rampage, Anna had been found, unconscious, in an alley near the commissioner's home. Rumors said that the Batman was responsible, making her seem like the sole survivor of the dark knight's killing spree. This made her somewhat of a hero to those who had been Wuertz's buddies. Not that Stephens allowed her to enjoy her new status; Gordon, too, had tried to isolate her from the rest of the force...
Anna knew that Jim Gordon had to know about Dent. After all, it was Dent who had forced her to draw out the man's family. Surely there had been a confrontation of some sort, because Barbara and her children were still alive, and Dent—from what Anna had seen—had been the one on a murderous rampage. Maybe the Batman had faced him. Maybe the Batman had indeed killed him, as Gordon claimed. It would have been self-defense. That still made the Batman a killer, but when one considered who he had been facing off against—
"The Batman," Marl Rena Jones' low voice, which sounded like that of a mooing cow, interrupted Anna's thoughts. "We ought to try and make contact with him."
And just like that, the room was silent.
For a moment Anna forgot herself: she was back to being a mob sellout, information being her bread and butter, instinctively knowing that this was an important bit of news. Her eyes darted about, gauging the various reactions. Hartridge looked terrified, as if merely mentioning the Batman's name could summon him like a demon from Hell. Garcia was shocked, his mouth bobbing open and closed repeatedly, before settling for something vaguely in-between. And Huerta... Anna could have sworn that the DA's face had turned an ugly puce color, like Marl's words had literally poisoned the air. Then the little woman swelled, balloon-like, and popped.
"Contact? Contact? Contact?"
Marl did not miss a beat. "That was the word I used, yes."
"Contact!" Huerta's voice rose in a shriek. Marl showed no sign of noticing this, though Hartridge whimpered and made a show of rubbing his ears.
Anna's lip curled. A sneer or smirk, it didn't matter which.
"Under the circumstances, sir, that may be our only option." Marl turned to the Mayor, obviously realizing that Huerta would never be her ally and attempting to convince the one man who could wield true control over the matter. Huerta neglected to continue her rant, she was so busy sputtering over the fact that a mere policewoman had chosen to ignore her outburst.
"This city does not deal with vigilantes," said Garcia, who somehow—quite admirably in Anna's belief—was able to retain the same calm as Marl. "I myself pledged in my election campaign to not only rid this city of corruption, but also to put any lawbreakers away for the good of society. It would be hypocritical to—"
"Mr. Mayor," Marl interrupted, her low voice easily overpowering Garcia's. "It would be fair to say that the situation in Gotham has changed drastically since your election two years ago. Not only has the Joker appeared, with the disaster at Arkham he has now resurfaced. This city has already barely withstood his first onslaught—a second one might break the camel's back, if you will. Seeing as the Batman was the one who stopped the Joker the last time—"
A snort from Huerta cut through Marl's argument.
"Do you really believe that?" The District Attorney demanded. "I've read the SWAT reports. Batman interfered with their operations, attacked several officers, gave four of them concussions, as well as causing considerable damage to the Pruitt Building with some sort of timed explosive devices. How do we know that he was the one who apprehended the Joker?"
Again, Marl did not miss a beat. "Well, the Joker was found hanging upside down. Rather bat-like, actually."
Sometimes Anna wondered if, in a previous job, Marl had been a comedian. Personally, Anna doubted that she would have been able to say such things with a straight face.
But there was no stopping Huerta. She did not appear to interpret Marl's statement as sarcasm, and rolled her eyes at the Mayor as if to say, See how intelligent these police officers are? I am Harvard-educated! I shouldn't have to listen to this nonsense!
"As quaint as that explanation may be," Huerta huffed, talking slowly and somewhat babyishly, like she felt the need to dumb down her words for Marl's understanding, "Did you even consider the fact that nobody else witnessed their supposed altercation? The Batman didn't hang around to give details. For all we know, he and the Joker sat and had tea while the SWAT teams struggled to reach them—we have no idea whether they fought at all. Maybe they were working together!"
"Right," responded Marl. "Because it's rational to think that the Batman would befriend a man who tried to kill him."
"These people aren't like us! They're not rational—they're crazy! Dressing up like a winged mammal to fight crime is not evidence of a logical mind." These statements sounded rehearsed. Anna would not have been surprised to learn that Huerta had been practicing them, chanting them to herself in the bathroom mirror. The attorney's animosity toward the caped crusader was legendary among the newspapers—and Anna, listening to Huerta carry on, was beginning to believe that the papers had somewhat diminished the size and scope of Huerta's hostility.
"I will admit it seems a bit eccentric," Marl hedged, "but you can't deny that it did produce results. Violent crime went down almost thirty percent when the Batman first appeared—you should know that, Mr. Mayor. When Gordon was in the MCU he delivered the statistics to you personally."
"Batman's activities lowered the crime rate?" Huerta snapped. "Batman's activities are part of the crime rate! In case you haven't noticed, vigilantism is illegal. And the Batman did go on a murderous rampage right after his supposed 'confrontation' with the Joker. According to most sources, he hadn't killed—that we know of—before that point. Who knows what he and the Joker said to one another? Maybe they made an alliance! Maybe the Batman is the one who set up the explosion at Arkham—we still don't know the cause! Maybe the Batman is behind all of this!"
"Maybe," Marl responded, with the patience of a Saint and the delivery of Abbot and Costello, "You are making up wild accusations instead of waiting for proper evidence, because you have some sort of vendetta."
Anna winced. She had a mind to cover her ears—Hartridge already had—because she knew that Huerta was too riled up to respond any other way than what could properly be called an adult temper tantrum. The district attorney did not disappoint.
"My vendetta is justice and law! The Batman is a confirmed murderer! He killed my predecessor, left the Gotham legal system in utter chaos... Why, he shot that cop, what's-his-name—Wuertz! He killed an innocent member of your own profession! Not to mention terrorizing the wife and children of police commissioner Jim Gordon—"
Something inside Anna snapped. All she could see was the glint of revolver in the streetlight, listening to Barb on the other end of the line, so confused and worried. She was trying not to stare at the mangled flesh on the man's face—
"He did not!"
The words were out before she could realize what she was saying. In the old days, when she was an informant, she would not have been so careless; but months of inactive communication skills had dulled her wits. Anna was struck by blind panic. Those three words were like an open admission of guilt—they demanded an explanation, one that she could not give. Who would believe her if she tried to tell anyone about Dent? He was a hero, a martyr, the White Knight, and she was a police officer who had once been up on the roof while the so-called "batsignal" was lit. The last thing Anna needed was to bring the wrath of the district attorney's office down on her own head. It wouldn't be hard to expose her work as a mob informant, link her to the Batman, and scapegoat her into a supporter of the Joker. With the way Huerta was carrying on, the Attorney was certainly willing to tar and feather any of the Bat Man's defenders...
But it was Huerta's ranting that was Anna's saving grace. The small woman was shouting too loudly and too furiously for Anna's own outburst to be properly overheard, as it most certainly otherwise would have. Instead, those three words were swallowed up in what was quickly becoming a tirade, one that only the likes of a lawyer could unleash.
Face coloring, Anna quickly glanced about the room again. Hartridge was oblivious, hands in his ears. Garcia was trying to calm his infuriated subordinate. Stephens glared at her, suspiciously, when she turned her eyes on him—but this was a normal reaction, so she had no idea what he had or hadn't heard.
Anna shuddered. Marl was staring right at her, and making no pretence of doing anything but.
Unable to stand such scrutiny, Anna looked away. She focused on the empty television screen. Right there. The Joker's face had been right there. How many times had Dent's face been on there, too? Anna suppressed another shudder. Too many. She couldn't bear to watch the news any more, since the stations had a habit of plastering the former DA's picture up whenever they talked about the Batman. The Dark Knight was all they talked about anymore—him and his latest murders.
Killers, all of them, Anna thought. Good. Maybe they'll kill each other.
000 . Author's Note . 000
This chapter will appear to have many things in common with another oneshot of mine, Wrong. That is because the concept of Wrong was originally part of the concepts of Foundations, but was branched off because of the way events turned out (specifically, Commissioner Gordon getting shot in Chapter 13). But I do want to let you all know that, if I were to ever continue Wrong at some later date, the events of Foundations would not be any clue as to how the characters would react in Wrong. For example, if in Foundations Anna Ramirez turns out to be a bad gal (if she does indeed end up being one in Foundations—she could turn good), that doesn't mean she'd be bad in the follow-ups to Wrong. Just FYI.
Another big round of applause for my wonderful reviewers: Endgame65, Alice Rose Winter, guess, Nadezda-hope, chase A dream, midnight glade, Saturn-Jupiter, Agatha, Thoughts Of A Shadow, and All Nightmare Long. Your feedback really brightened my day, thank you for spending the time to give me a note on what you thought of the last chapter! Hugs to you all!