The Rot Runs Deep
Summary: A Gotham Times reporter becomes suspicious of Bruce Wayne's connection to Batman and vows to get to the bottom of it.
Notes: Not a reporter-finds-out-Bruce-is-Batman-and-becomes-his-bosom-buddy/love-interest. Far from it.
Gotham had always been corrupt from top to bottom, but even I had never assumed that the rot ran as deep as I now believed. I did not want to believe this way, but this whole Batman business was so full of holes and discrepancies that I couldn't let it lie.
With God as my witness, The Gotham Times would have the whole story first, and damn the consequences.
First of all, the claim that Batman killed five people is as mysterious as the man himself. None of the murders had witnesses, and the only people who can supply us with the truth, Commissioner Gordon, his family, and Detective Ramirez, who all survived murder attempts by the Batman, are strangely tight-lipped. Another fact often overlooked by the media at large is that several of the Joker's hostages reported being saved by the Batman, not SWAT operatives, at the exact time that the murders were being committed. Equally strange is that reports of his treachery have not slowed down contrary rumors about the Batman in the slightest. For every Gotham citizen crying "foe!" you're likely to find another who was recently "rescued" by Batman. That so many people were in on the Batman conspiracy did not concern the Commissioner as much as it did me, and I left his office horrified that he was either blind to the facts, or more horrifying still, a part of the conspiracy himself. I could rely only on myself.
I had seen Batman only once, and he had raised disturbing, perplexing questions in my head even at the time. I had been covering a half-political, half-lifestyle piece at the fundraiser that Bruce Wayne had thrown for Harvey Dent. Mr. Wayne had given a riveting speech about the White Knight of Gotham and then disappeared for the night, probably with one of his three dates. Then the Joker had attacked and the Batman had appeared in the full, bright room as if from thin air. He then promptly dove after the assistant defense attorney when she was tossed out the window, leaving the rest of the guests with the madman, who took out his frustration on my camera man and his camera, properly destroying possibly the only photo of Batman ever taken. But that one encounter had been enough to convince me that he was as much a madman as the Joker.
Why would he react so strongly to the Joker threatening Rachel Dawes? As far as I was aware, Miss Dawes was not an outrageously social person, preferring to keep her close circle of friends small. Counted among her dearest friends, those who counted her dear in return, were Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent, neither of whom could be the Batman.
Then there was this whole business with Coleman Reese, the near-Batman informant who was recently hired by Wayne Enterprises for a rumored triple his current salary.
"Who?" asked Bruce Wayne, staring at me through half-lidded eyes when I questioned him on the matter. The notorious late-night partier had nearly dozed off only three minutes into our interview.
"A lawyer we recently hired after he did an exceptional job finding irregularities in Mr. Lao's books even before the police suspected him in illicit dealings with the mob," supplied Wayne's CEO, Lucius Fox. "Coincidentally, he was also on the news lately, involved that whole ordeal with the Joker."
Wayne brightened slowly in recognition. "Yeah, yeah I remember that. I crashed my Lamborghini that day. A hospital got blown up, right?"
When questioning Reese, I was given the same answer that the Commissioner had released to the press – Reese was a backfired attempt to bring the Joker into the light. Of course, he did not really have any idea who the real Batman was. I noted the nervous tick in his eye.
In the face of all logic, I was becoming intrigued with Wayne Enterprises, and in particular Mr. Bruce Wayne, who certainly had the resources to finance a vigilante and the instability (the man burned down his own mansion during a birthday party) to slip into a criminal mindset. His butler and life-long friend, Alfred Pennyworth, flatly refused to talk to me, and in lieu of any other close friends (surprisingly, he has few), I turned to his companions.
"Bruce Wayne?" sniffed one girl who had recently been spotted with him at one of Gotham's upscale clubs. "He's a nice man, but he's not too serious. I feel bad saying this, but he's very shallow; never talked about anything more than what he's bought lately." I almost gave up hope, but a small part of me toyed with the idea that Bruce Wayne was actually Batman.
The real Batman must have scars; thus, I had to find someone who had seen Bruce Wayne without clothing. I never believed such a task would prove so difficult. Renowned for his arm candy, Mr. Wayne is never short two or six women when making a public appearance. All high profile, they are not hard to track down, but talking to them revealed next to nothing. One girl noted that, although he was more than willing to have a good time, he never took off even so much as his shirt. Almost every girl he's escorted to a social event has reported that he escaped when the night was still young, claiming plans with other women. I finally hit the jackpot with the Russian ballet that Mr. Wayne had taken on a private boating trip, and struck up a correspondence with the prima ballerina, a reported companion to Mr. Wayne during most of her stay in Gotham.
"Ah, yes, he has scars," wrote Natascha Patrenko. "But they do not make him unhandsome. Bruce is fond of many extreme sports." Indeed, the billionaire has been spotted base-jumping, spelunking, and scaling cliffs in his free time, which is plentiful. When prodded about his strange social life, she answered coldly, "Bruce is also fond of his privacy." I gave up my theory as silly, but I still had my eye on the mysterious Bruce Wayne.
Interviews with Bruce Wayne that centered on anything but business were almost impossible to come by, but I managed to corner him at the funeral of the late Rachel Dawes, an old friend who was a casualty of the Joker's rampage on Gotham.
"Excuse me?" he snapped when I approached. I almost shied away; the look of pain, guilt, and anger on his face was both heartbreaking and terrifying, but if my suspicions were true, this had to be done. But I was speechless. "You people never give up, do you? This is a funeral." His face was stony, but his voice cracked. I spotted his butler making a beeline for me, and I quickly re-found my voice.
"Mr. Wayne, reportedly the Batman rescued Harvey Dent while leaving Miss Dawes to certain death. Do you have any feelings on the matter?"
I was taken aback by the murderous glare he leveled at me, but I wasn't able to push him to reveal any more than this because the butler intercepted Wayne and led him away. It was worth the warning I got from my editor, because I was surer than ever that Bruce Wayne was an angry, unstable individual, more than capable of being in league with the Batman.
I was so close I could almost taste it, and so far that I felt like I was pushing forward through molasses. But I wasn't about to let Bruce Wayne's mysterious, "above the press" attitude keep me from saving Gotham from a criminal more vicious and bloodthirsty than the Joker. As recent leads toward the Batman petered off into more rabbit trails and more questions, I turned my attention toward Batman's beginnings. When had he appeared?
"Well, he really came into the public eye with the fear toxin incident," an ex-cop who I cornered at a bar told me. Flass, who was out of jail on parole, was among the first to have contact with the Batman. "But he was working before that too. He attacked during a drug deal that I, uh – you're not recording this, are you? – ignored at the time. Then he almost killed me, dropping me from a building, to get me to tell him confidential police information. The guy's insane."
Some digging in the newspaper archives revealed even more intriguing information. The appearance of Batman nearly coincided with Bruce Wayne's miraculous return from the dead. It couldn't be a coincidence, and it was all the proof I needed.
Bruce Wayne was financing the Batman.
The offices of The Gotham Times bustled with activity – another Arkham breakout – but I was confident that my story would blow them all out of the water. I presented the manila envelope with all of my findings to my editor, beaming with pride. He scanned the notes, reached the bottom, and blanched.
"Bruce Wayne? Are you serious?" he asked, chuckling. "Have you seen the guy?"
My eyes bulged as I tried to display my fervor for this topic. "It's all here, though. I have proof!"
"No, you have a bunch of odd coincidences, and it's gonna take a lot more than that to convince me that that idiot is funneling money to the guy killing people dressed as a bat." He handed the file back with a short sigh. "Why can't you direct all of that passion to real stories, like the madman that just escaped from Arkham?"
I laughed it off and promised to focus on my assignments in the future. Then I went to a bar at lunch and drowned my sorrows as I poured over my notes one last time. It was all there; I knew it had to be true.
The rot runs deep in Gotham and news travels fast. So I probably should have expected to get mugged in some way, shape, or form on the way home. It only seemed logical that I felt hot breath against my ear and a knife on the small of my back while I stood in the crammed metro.
"I hear you have proof on who the Batman gets his gadgets from," whispered a high voice in my ear. I recognized it instantly from all the hostage videos that had been released a month back.
"Y-Y-Yes. You c-can take it, all of it; please just don't kill me."
"Take it? And spoil the suspense? Knowing the financer is a hop, a skip, and a jump away from knowing the, uh, the… the financee. No, no, no, certainly not. In fact, I don't want you ruining the fun for anyone. You go ahead and hold on to it." The knife dug deeper into my back, twisting playfully, and I sucked in my breath.
"It's all in your little head, isn't it? Who else has read it?"
"M-my editor! He didn't b-believe it though."
"He didn't? Why ever not?"
"He thought it was t-too ridiculous that B—"
The knife stabbed into my back so hard I felt my skin break. "DO NOT SAY IT!" he roared into my ear, finally drawing attention from the other passengers. Almost immediately, the train started drawing to a quick halt, as only city transportation can do, and I stumbled away from him on uneasy legs.
"Well, this is my stop," he drawled, stepping backwards off the train. People moved to exit after him until he froze just past the doors and whipped off the flamboyant purple hat that had been previously hiding his features. Foot traffic stopped instantly as he stretched his Chelsea grin. "I'll give your best wishes to your boss."
How ironic that I'd make the headlines even without publishing my story.
Our car went up in flames.