By midmorning the shoveling was finished, Jason Todd was off at school, and Bruce Wayne was awake, fed, showered, shaved, dressed, and studying stock reports as he awaited his morning visitors.
The first in the door was a face long familiar in Wayne Manor. “Bruce! How’s the leg?”
Grasping a cane, Bruce rose to his feet. Evident under the tailored slacks was a bulge around his right knee. “It’s been better, Dick, but nothing I can’t live with. Dr. Dundee says to give it three days before I resume normal activities.” He walked over and grasped Dick’s hand in his own.
“Alfred said it wasn’t too serious.” Glancing back at the doorway, Dick Grayson lowered his voice. “What’s the official story?”
“Skiing trip in Aspen.”
“Got it. What’s the real deal?”
“I got careless, and Killer Croc got ahold of my leg.”
“Yow! That’s bastard’s got a grip like an industrial vise. All you got was a sprain?” Dick looked slightly incredulous.
“I wasn’t alone. Batwoman took him down while he still had a grip on me.” Bruce shook his head. “She’s been driving herself even harder lately, and it shows.”
Dick’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “Heh. And you used to worry that she couldn’t handle herself in a fight!”
“Don’t remind me! The big question is, though, can you handle yourself on a deal like this?”
Dick’s expression changed to one that was all business. “Yeah, I think so. I’ve been taking some night classes at NYU so I can finish up my MBA. I’m glad to discover that I haven’t forgotten everything from my days at Hudson, and it sounds like the Board of Directors is willing to take me on based on just my bachelors degree in business admin. But this will be the real test, won’t it?”
Seeing the tension in his former ward and partner, Bruce acted to dispel it. “You’ll do fine, Dick. After all, you’ve been running a business of your own for over three years now.” He returned to his overstuffed chair.
“At the Tower. It’s a nonprofit, but the running the Titans is still a hell of a business challenge, even if you can’t put it on your resume.”
Dick took a seat in the lavishly appointed sitting room and smiled. “You know, I never looked at it that way.” Hearing voices out in the foyer, he shifted the subject away from his activities as Nightwing. “I’ve been looking over the prospectus for the project. It looks like it’s pretty unique.”
“I must agree, Mr. Grayson. I’ve been contacting some former colleagues around the country, and they also agree. In fact, if this is successful, a couple of them predict that it will be copied all over the country.” The new speaker was a frail woman in her late sixties. She stood in the doorway with a balding, middle-aged, African-American man.
“Leslie! Please come in and sit down!” Bruce hopped to his feet, thumping over to the lady who was reaching for him with open arms. “Thank you for picking her up, Lucius.” Taking Leslie Thompkins’ arm with one hand, Bruce reached with the other to shake the hand of his longtime business manager.
“It was no problem at all, Bruce. No problem at all.”
“Bruce, whatever did you do to your leg?” asked Leslie as Bruce her escorted to a settee.
“Oh, I took a bit of a tumble last Sunday at Aspen. Some of my friends keep telling me I should give up skiing, while the others insist that I should finally learn how to do it.”
“Very funny, Bruce. I tell you, Leslie, this man is going to drive me to a heart attack with his unplanned jaunts around the world and his accidents and injuries.” Lucius Fox was speaking in earnest: he was the one who had to explain Bruce’s frequent absences from business meetings and appointments, but he had also become genuinely fond of the millionaire playboy for whom he worked.
“I suppose that’s the risk of working for a man who spends so much of his time running around the city, partaking of the wilder aspects of its nightlife,” said Leslie mildly.
“KAFF!” All heads turned toward Dick Grayson, whose face was quite red.
“Are you all right, Dick?” asked Lucius.
Bruce patted his former ward on the back a few times. “I’m sure he’ll be fine for the meeting, Lucius. Right, Dick?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”
The four chatted for a few minutes until they were joined by four somber-looking men, all in dark pinstripe suits. When they arrived, they all moved to the dining room. The long banquet-sized table had been cleared of its usual floral pieces, and at one end there was a podium, where a screen and projector were set up. It was Dick who took the podium to speak.
“Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you for agreeing to meet us here rather than at the Wayne Foundation building. I’m afraid Mr. Wayne’s injury has restricted his mobility a bit.” Seeing nods of agreement, Dick continued. “Now, we’re here to discuss the largest project yet undertaken by the Wayne Foundation: the redevelopment of Gotham City’s Park Row district.”
One of the men in the dark suits spoke up. “Mr. Grayson, excuse me, but did you say Park Row? I’ve not heard that name in years. Isn’t that one of the most crime-ridden, run-down portions of Gotham City?”
“That is correct, Mr. Trump. Forty years ago, Park Row was home to many of Gotham’s wealthiest families, a neighborhood of century-old townhouses and small mansions. After World War II, as the postwar generation moved to the suburbs, the neighborhood started to decline but was still quite respectable.”
“Until the murder.” The voice of Bruce Wayne was barely audible.
“The murder?” asked another of the dark-suited men.
“Two murders, actually. A husband and wife. Shot to death during an apparent robbery, though it was later discovered that it was a carefully planned hit.” Bruce rose unsteadily to his feet. “You see, gentlemen, I have a personal stake in this, in more ways than one. My parents were killed in Park Row. Since that night, the neighborhood has decayed into a crime-infested ghetto that the locals call Crime Alley. It’s been said that there is no hope in Crime Alley. I disagree, and I’m willing to put the weight of the Wayne Foundation and Wayne Industries on the line to prove it.”
“Mr. Trump, we have asked you here as one of the top real estate developers in the country. That, of course, is at the heart of the Park Row redevelopment.” Dick opened one of several folders on the table in front of him. “However, cities all over the country have learned the hard way that providing better homes does not, by itself, make an area prosperous. If you want to help the people in the poor areas, you have to give them a way to succeed for themselves. That’s where the rest of you come in.”
“I have lived and worked in the Park Row area for forty years.” All eyes turned toward Leslie Thompkins. “Two years ago, I retired from the Gotham City Social Services Department, but I will never retire from trying to make lives better in this city. Areas like Park Row were built at a time when everyone walked to work, walked to the store, walked to church, and walked to visit their families. When businesses followed the middle class to the suburbs, they left no place for the people of Park Row to work. Those who live there now have no place to keep a car, limited public transportation, and no place to work. If we are going to change their situation, we have to bring the jobs to them.”
Lucius Fox took the floor. “Mr. Welch, your Amalgamated Electric has manufacturing facilities all over the country. It has come to our attention that you are rapidly outgrowing your Upstate New York facilities. Gotham City can provide you a ready workforce closer to major transportation. Mr. Lay, your energy distribution network in the southwest has absorbed all of the independent and local power companies, and you are now making a move to buy out energy companies in the Northeast. Gotham Gas and Electric is the largest in the tri-state area, and they have been weakened by bad investments. By establishing your East Coast headquarters in Gotham, you are poised to work with or overtake the utilities in Metropolis, New York, and Boston.”
“And what about me, Mr. Fox, Mr. Grayson? My company is small, based in California, and we really don’t have the extra capital for a relocation.”
“I know that, Mr. Jobs,” replied Dick. “but I see a special place for your company in Park Row. Silicon Valley in California is growing around two or three companies, including yours. If you come to Gotham, others will follow, and still more companies will be created here because of you. Wayne Industries is willing to finance the relocation of Mandarin Computers to become the centerpiece of the East Coast’s answer to Silicon Valley.”
Three hours later, Lucius Fox was leaving Wayne Manor with one signed contract and three promises to bring the matter of the Park Row redevelopment before boards of directors and executive committees. “Are you sure, Bruce? It’s really no trouble,” Lucius said.
“I insist. I have an appointment with my doctor this afternoon, and I have a few things to discuss with Leslie over lunch. We’ll drop her off.”
“All right, then. Dick, I’ll need to speak with you tomorrow to work out the details on the Amalgamated contract.” Lucius accepted his coat from Alfred and pulled it on. “Bruce, I had my doubts before, but I think this is going to fly.”
“Good. Keep that attitude for the meeting with the City Council next week,” said Bruce as he watched his business manager leave. Once Lucius was in his car and on his way, Bruce turned his attention back to his two remaining guests. Dick Grayson and Leslie Thompkins were sitting down to lunch. As Bruce joined them, Leslie favored him with one of her rare, pixie-like smiles.
“Bruce, Dick, I must apologize for that comment this morning. Though I have to say, it was very hard to resist.”
“You mean, you know?” sputtered Dick.
“Young man, I have spent more time watching the people of Gotham City than just about anyone. When the first rumors started of a man in a mask and cape chasing after criminals, I thought it was a drunkard’s fantasy. When the police commissioner confirmed it, I thought it would take a man of rare mettle to start such a mission. And when I heard that he had taken on a young helper, I became suspicious of a certain idle playboy whom I knew, who had lost a great deal of his life to violence, and who had just taken in a young boy who shared that sad distinction.”
“Then why didn’t you say something when we met in Park Row all those times?”
“Bruce, I may not be a part of the super-hero set, but I understand that a certain amount of anonymity is necessary in that craft. Why, I know you well enough to understand that you now feel an extra obligation to protect me because of the secret we share.”
Alfred Pennyworth entered the room to distribute plates and bowls of food, setting a place for himself opposite Leslie.
“Now, to change the subject. Bruce, all marketing hyperbole aside, whatever possessed you to undertake a project like this?”
Bruce’s eyes grew darker for a moment as he chose his words carefully, then he realized that the secrets he normally kept could be shared by all at the table. “You know, Leslie, if you didn’t know my secret, I couldn’t tell you this. It makes it much easier to explain. Last month, I had a very strange experience. I found myself in a sort of alternate version of our world, where things had taken a much darker turn. That Gotham City was a much darker place than the one we know, a place of utter hopelessness and chaos. Apparently, even the United States government gave up on it for a time. My counterpart tried to tell me that it was my future, that this dark vision was my destiny. (*) I refuse to believe that. But I did some soul-searching after I returned, and I realized that in the unlikely event that he was telling the truth, I would change that future. Gotham doesn’t have to be the den of vipers that I saw there.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Batman: Future Imperfect.]
“So that’s what it was. You know, Bruce, I thought there was something different about you the past few weeks.” Dick paused to take a forkful of salad. “A good something.”
Lunch continued in quiet, idle conversation for a while longer until it was interrupted by the doorbell.
Alfred rose from his seat. “I’ll get that, sir.”
From the hallway they heard the sound of the door being opened, then a mild, “Upon my word!” followed by a louder, “Master Dick! Would you please come here, sir?”
Dick Grayson got up and rushed toward the door, followed by a curious Leslie and Bruce. They got to the doorway just in time to see Dick Grayson swept up in an embrace by a matronly, middle-aged woman.
As her arms gripped him, the only thing he could say was, “Aunt Harriet!”