“Oh, surely, Bruce, she had to have found out!” Leslie Thompkins’ amusement was evident in her voice.
“Well, she was with us for over a year, and during that time she did stumble onto the Batcave once, but Dick and I managed to convince her that we were merely friends of Gotham’s caped crusaders.” (*) Bruce Wayne framed the last two words with quotation marks formed by his fingers held in the air. “Harriet Cooper, God bless her, would give her right arm to help a person, but she’s not the brightest woman I’ve ever known.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Cluemaster’s Topsy-Turvy Crimes,” Detective Comics #351 (May, 1966).]
Seated in the back of a late-model Rolls Royce, Leslie and Bruce were reviewing the events that surrounded their luncheon. The unexpected arrival of Dick Grayson’s spinster aunt had been handled adroitly by Alfred Pennyworth, who swept back through the dining room as Bruce and Dick were making introductions. By the time they returned to the dining room, Alfred’s meal had been replaced by a fresh meal for the new arrival, and Alfred had maintained his post by the door in case anything else was needed.
“I’m not sure what Dick and I would have done without her during Alfred’s disappearance,” commented Bruce, referring to a period some years earlier when his friend and butler was presumed dead. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Gotham Gang Line-Up,” Detective Comics #328 (June, 1963).]
“I gather she didn’t stay around long after Alfred returned. (*) What has she been doing since then?”
[(*) Editor’s note: “Inside Story of the Outsider,” Detective Comics #356 (October, 1966).]
“I recognized that she had a great capacity for organization and for, shall I say, domestic matters. She wanted to see exotic locales, so I offered her a position as a resort consultant in Wayne Industries. She has gone from one resort to another, reviewing their housekeeping staffs and procedures, and thoroughly enjoying herself.” Bruce settled back in the seat. “She came up with some great ideas along the way. One of the smartest moves I ever made for the hotel chain.”
The car pulled up in front of a weathered brownstone. “I guess this is my stop. Thank you for lunch, Bruce.”
“No, thank you, Leslie, for your support on this project. I think this neighborhood is going to see some very positive changes, very soon.”
“I hope so, Bruce, I truly do.”
As Leslie got out of the car, the front window slid down, and Alfred called to her. “Miss Thompkins, I trust we shall see you on Friday evening?” he asked.
“Of course, Alfred. Does Bruce know?”
“He isn’t supposed to, but you can imagine that keeping a secret from him is no simple task.”
Leslie laughed as she bid farewell to Alfred Pennyworth and walked up the steps to her home.
“I tell you, Bruce, if I were a sane man, I’d admit you to Gotham General and place an armed guard over you.” Dr. Douglas Dundee slowly unwrapped the bandages on Bruce’s leg. Underneath the gauze, the stitches were already starting to disintegrate on their own. “Looks pretty good, all things considered. Normally something like this would take twice as long to heal.”
“I know, I know, Doug. Putting me in that full-leg brace seems to have sped things up.”
“I thought that it might. Removing any stress from the affected muscles lets them mend more quickly. I should write this up for the New England Journal of Medicine, but then they would want details on my test patients.” The bearded doctor shook his head. “They tend to go through a doctor’s records pretty thoroughly for something like that.”
“Gee, I’m sorry. I didn’t know I was keeping you out of the journals.” Bruce was half-joking, half-serious in his comment. The doctor responded by slapping Bruce lightly on the back.
“Don’t think a thing of it, Bruce. Just imagine, though, the memoir I can publish someday! I can picture it now,” he said, holding his hands up to frame a picture only he could see. As he continued, he lowered his voice an octave. “I Was Batman’s Doctor. The gripping autobiography of the man entrusted with the medical care of Gotham’s greatest guardian.”
Bruce Wayne and his physician both erupted in gales of laughter at the send-up of old radio shows.
“Now, I would prefer that you take it easy for a few days yet. Some of that tissue isn’t ready to take the brunt of a full impact. Work out in the gym — short runs, that sort of thing.”
“I hope you won’t be too shocked, Doug, but I intend to do just that.” Bruce leaned back against the examining table. “I’m finally coming to terms with the idea that I can’t do everything in Gotham. Fortunately, I have a few friends who are helping to convince me of that.”
“That’s right. Jason mentioned something about a Secret Squadron, or something like that, when he came in with that sprained finger last week.”
“Secret Six. Though I wouldn’t get too fixated on the number.”
“Thinking of retiring, Bruce?” asked Dr. Dundee. A strong current of doubt came through in his voice.
“No, but it’s good to know I have back-up these days.” Bruce pulled his street clothes back on as the doctor gathered up the remains of bandages and bracing materials.
“So, I’ll see you on Friday, right, Bruce?”
“Friday? Whatever for, Doug?” asked Bruce innocently.
On Friday night, the ground floor of Wayne Manor was lit up like a Hollywood premiere. It was small as parties at the ancestral home went. The close-knit crowd, however, was as festive as any that had gathered there.
“Lucius, I’m sorry your wife couldn’t make it. I was hoping to hear her singing tonight,” said Dick Grayson as he sipped ginger ale.
“She’s off to Miami with her sister, Dick. Versace is showing a new line, and they managed to finagle passes to the after-show party.” Lucius Fox shook his head. “More power to them, I never could stand that crowd myself.”
“A couple of friends of mine are down there for that as well,” replied Dick, thinking of his teammates the princess Koriand’r and Donna Troy-Long, better known as Starfire and Artemis of the New Titans.
Elsewhere in the room, Dick’s aunt was acquainting herself with Dr. Dundee.
“You know, you could easily set up practice at any of the resort or spas that Bruce owns. I mean, if you’re going to make a career looking after playboys who lead the cushy life like Bruce, why not do it in a more exotic locale than Gotham City?”
“Ah, Mrs. Cooper, I’ve lived in Gotham for over half a century. I could no more leave this city behind than, oh, the Batman!” Dundee smiled at his private joke, not knowing how many of the people in the room shared Bruce’s secret. “Someday I may retire, but until then I’ll stay here.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Doctor, I didn’t mean to disparage Gotham or your work here,” gushed the matronly Harriet Cooper.
“No offense taken, madam,” replied Dundee, offering his arm to escort her into the dining room as Alfred announced dinner.
At the door, Jason Todd paused and caught Dick’s arm.
“What’s the matter, Jay?” asked Dick.
“Take a look.” Jason gestured toward the terrace. In the distance, the glow of a searchlight could be seen on the clouds over Gotham. Centered in the beam was the shadow of a bat.
“Oh, that. Don’t worry; everything’s covered. Now, come on and enjoy the party.”
Several miles away, another turned to see the signal in the sky. One arm raised up to toss a line around a projecting gargoyle as the other hand reached for a compact radio transceiver. “Batwoman here. Something’s going down. I’ll check in at Police Headquarters, then fill you in.”
Back at Wayne Manor, as the group moved from the dining room back to the living room for drinks and desert, the doorbell rang. As he moved to answer it, Alfred wondered aloud who it might be. “The Commissioner sent his regrets, and while I did send an invitation to the last address Miss Kyle left, I do believe she has left Gotham. Julia is in France, so it wouldn’t be her, either.”
Upon opening the door, Alfred stopped dead in his tracks. The person framed in the light spilling from the entry hall was not on his list for his employer’s birthday party, and indeed, was someone he never expected to see again.
“I hope I’m not intruding. Is Bruce here?” the newcomer asked, unnecessarily.
“Of course, please, forgive my manners. Come in, and I’ll let him know that you’re here.” Gesturing for the newcomer to enter, Alfred closed the door and moved quickly to the living room door. “Master Bruce, if you would, please?”
Bruce Wayne, a broad smile on his face, stepped into the foyer and spied the latest guest. His eyes went wide as she removed the hat and scarf, and a long waterfall of platinum blonde hair cascaded down over her shoulders. Her icy blue eyes met his, and her small mouth turned up in a smile that accentuated her finely sculpted cheekbones.
Standing in the doorway, Jason Todd nudged Dick Grayson. “Who’s the babe?” he whispered, unable to take his eyes off the attractive woman in Bruce Wayne’s arms.
“Silver St. Cloud.” Dick crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe. “Man, I didn’t expect to see her again!” Catching himself, he leaned down to fill in Bruce’s adopted son. “Silver blew into Gotham a few years back, and she and Bruce met up at a couple of social functions. (*) They immediately hit it off and found themselves in a whirlwind romance. One thing led to another, and soon they were pretty hot and heavy. Maybe too much so.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Master Plan of Dr. Phosphorus,” Detective Comics #470 (June, 1977).]
“How come?” asked Jason.
“She ran trade shows and conventions, things like that. A creep named Deadshot broke in on one of her shows, and Batman shows up to stop him. She catches a good look at Batman in that skintight uniform, and bam! She recognizes him.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Deadshot Ricochet,” Detective Comics #474 (December, 1977).]
“Whoa! Pretty sharp lady, huh?”
“Damn straight. I guess she couldn’t handle the idea of being in love with Batman, though, cause she left town shortly after.” (*) Dick shook his head, remembering the weeks that followed. “Poor Bruce. I think that hit him harder than any other woman he ever dated.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Sign of the Joker,” Detective Comics #476 (March-April, 1978).]
“Wonder what she wants now, then?”
“I don’t know, Jase, but I figure we’ll find out soon enough.”
The party at Wayne Manor continued until after midnight, but the guest of honor was absent from it for a couple of hours. He spent the time in his study, getting reacquainted with a certain lady.
“I really didn’t think I would ever see you again, Silver. Not that I didn’t understand your reasons for leaving.” Bruce stood and walked to the French doors leading to the terrace. As he stood there, the searchlight appeared once again over Gotham. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet. “Actually, it might well have been the smartest thing you could do. Anybody around me seems to end up a target, sooner or later.”
From her seat on a couch, Silver protested. “I wasn’t afraid for myself, Bruce. I was afraid for you. Afraid that I would somehow betray your secret. I didn’t know how those around you could do it. Carry that trust, that secret with them.”
“It isn’t easy on anyone who knows, I’m sure of that. Out in that living room, there are five people who know — my circle of trust, if you will. Two of them have costumed identities of their own, and Alfred has been a part of my life, my lives, since shortly after I started my career as Batman. One has helped patch me together after battles that should have killed me, and the other is an inspiration, a reminder of why I do it.” Bruce turned back to face the woman he had loved once. “When I realized that you knew, part of me was scared, but a part of me was relieved. It was nice to know that I didn’t have to keep up pretenses with you.”
Silver stood and walked over to the window. She stared out over the city, watching the Bat-signal sweep across the sky. “I can be a greedy and selfish woman, Bruce. Most women, the worst they can expect is to have to share their man with an unknown woman. I thought I would have to share you with an entire city.” She turned toward him. “A friend of mine helped me realize that it is less a matter of sharing you, and more a matter of becoming a part of you, of your total life. Both as Batman, and especially as Bruce.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Blue Velvet: Dark Clouds, Silver Linings.]
“Sounds like you have a wise friend.”
“I hope she finds that same wisdom works for her,” replied Silver, looking down. She then shook her head and straightened up. “Look, Bruce, I don’t expect to come sashaying in here and just pick up where we left off. But I’d like to try again, maybe start over from scratch.”
Bruce took her hands in his, clasping them together and raising them to his lips. “Not from scratch, Silver. We can’t erase what we know about each other or the experiences we shared. But yes, I think I’d like to try again. Would you perhaps be free next Thursday evening? I am attending the premiere of a new musical version of, of all things, The Phantom of the Opera. I understand it’s supposed to be quite good.”
“Oh, Bruce, I’d be delighted!” exclaimed Silver, her face breaking into a brilliant smile.
At that moment, they were interrupted by a knock on the door. It opened, revealing Alfred, with young Jason Todd right behind him. “Begging your pardon, sir, but Master Jason is getting most anxious. He’s afraid you won’t be out to cut the cake before his bedtime.”
Bruce laughed. “I take it you didn’t tell him that bedtime is suspended on my birthday?” He glanced over at Silver and saw that she was smiling also. “We’re just coming out now.”
“I have to say, I didn’t expect you to have a boy around the house when I came back.”
“Well, most orphans don’t have an uncle who feels obligated, with a kindly housekeeper, to raise them. First Dick, now Jason. It feels good having a youngster around here; it keeps me from taking myself too seriously.”
The implication struck her. “Of course, I should have realized.” As they came out, Silver made a point of approaching Jason and introducing herself. He was cautious but welcoming.
A few hours later, shortly after midnight, Alfred approached the master of Wayne Manor. “Sir, I understand several of your guests arrived by taxi. Instead of summoning a fleet out here, I thought that I would drive them all back into the city.”
“Are you sure, Alfred?”
“Oh, quite sure, sir. It will be no trouble, as I neglected to stop at Julia’s apartment to water her plants for her today. This will give me the opportunity.”
“Who will you be taking?”
“Miss St. Cloud, Miss Thompkins, Miss Cooper, Mr. Fox, and Dr. Dundee, sir.”
Bruce chuckled. “Quite the cozy group. I’ll see to it that the caterers get things cleaned up here.”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary, sir.”
“Nonsense. It’s not like I’m not used to being up late, old friend. This will be nothing compared to my usual one AM routine.”
Several miles away, five men stood hunched over a palette of boxes. As one of them wrenched open a box, an irregularly shaped shadow fell over them.
“Jeez! It’s the Batman!” cried one.
“The hell it is! When did Batman get wings?” said another as a figure swooped down and snatched him up into the air. Another was struck by a strangely dressed figure who leaped from the shadows, somersaulting through the night air before he struck with both feet in the center of a burly man’s back.
“Yiii! What the hell are you supposed to be?” cried a third man as he pulled a pistol from his belt. His companion struck the ground behind him, dropped from twenty feet up. He tried to focus on the ragged man before him, who seemed to meld into and shift with the shadows of the night.
“Who, me? I’m the stuff of nightmares, the bogeyman that your mother told you about when you were a baby.” He brought his cape up with one hand, wrapping it over the front of his body. This hid the movement of his body behind it until one leg whipped out from behind to catch the thug in the side of the head. “Call me the Ragman.”
“We’ll be wiping you up with a rag if you stand around posing like that!” came a feminine voice from above. There was a rustle of silk, then a blur of black, blue, and gold as Batwoman swung down and kicked a gun out of another thug’s hands. Letting go of the line, she tucked her head down and hit the ground in a roll. As she came up again, she kicked a wall before her and threw herself backward. A series of flips brought her down upon the fifth member of the criminal group. She stood and looked around, assuring herself that the only ones left standing were the good guys. “I gotta admit, though. That was a slick move.”