Gotham. His return to the city was relatively quiet, but that wasn't necessarily good. Looking out over the city from the top floor of his dark, empty penthouse, it seemed altered. Darker. Perhaps it’s because I’m looking on it with new eyes, he thought, then heard a familiarly accented voice behind him.
"Yes, Alfred?" he inquired, not taking his eyes away from the skyline of the city. The sun just fell over the horizon, painting the sky with various warm colors, turning the city in front of it black.
"As happy as I am with your return, the city will need to recognize the return of Bruce Wayne, as well."
"What did you have in mind?" he asked, turning to face the older man with a small smirk.
"I believe the circus is in town, sir."
"The circus? Alfred, come on." He tilted his head to the side slightly and raised his eyebrows.
"Yes, sir. But this isn’t just an ordinary circus. It’s the most famous circus in North America: Haly’s Circus. In fact, I believe Vicki Vale will be covering it on site for Gotham City News. It would be a good way to reintroduce yourself to the public."
Bruce sighed and turned around to face the city once more. Alfred was right. In order to protect his identity, he’d have to keep up public appearances.
"Alright, Alfred." He could tell he was satisfied. Alfred had been pushing Bruce toward going out since Bruce’s return a few days ago. He knew Alfred thought he was crazy in the way he decided to go about cleaning up Gotham, but the law wasn’t getting it done. Blackmail, extortion, murder... It was running rampant in the police force alone. In the first six years of his absence, it only grew worse. He came back for a month before he left again, finally able to do something about it. But that didn’t work out as he hoped.
"I’ve laid out your finest suit, sir," Alfred informed, joy present in his voice. Bruce nodded silently and walked to his bedroom.
By the time he got to the circus, he realized how right Alfred was. It was full of celebrities from Gotham, swarmed by herds of paparazzi, and there were a dozen microphones shoved in his face the second he stepped out of his limousine. The press shouted their unintelligible questions in his direction, but he didn’t have to answer because a group of large men dressed in all black pushed everyone aside and urged him through the path they made toward the main tent of the circus. From there, an usher wearing a red vest and a pin that read ‘The Flying Graysons’ led him to his seat.
"Who are ‘The Flying Graysons’?" Bruce asked the man, getting a smile in return.
"Oh, Mr. Wayne. You’re in for a treat," he answered and turned back toward the entrance, Bruce watching him go. Among the sea of people the red vest blended into, one face stood out. Salvatore Maroni.
Bruce heard from Alfred that he was filling in as head of the Falcone crime family while Carmine Falcone was "incapacitated". But after his body was found two days ago in the Gotham River, Bruce knew Sal ordered the hit on Carmine. The police couldn’t identify the body, but Bruce wasn’t the police. Since he returned four days ago, Bruce left several tips to the District Attorney, Harvey Dent, but Sal had yet to be prosecuted.
Suddenly, the lights darkened and a spotlight blazed down on the center of the circus floor.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" a voice boomed, and its owner appeared in a cloud of smoke. "My name is Mr. Haly! You’re all in for a special performance, for tonight is the first appearance of The Flying Graysons in Gotham!" The crowd roared wildly. The act was clearly a big deal. After going on about the acts in store, the man vanished in a new puff of smoke and the spotlight flung upward to a family of three, all standing and preparing for the trapeze.
The youngest was the first to fly, and he was spectacular, flipping and connecting by himself, then grabbing onto his parents to continue the act. He couldn’t have been older than eleven. The crowd began to die down, awe taking over the excitement. Out of the corner of his eye, Bruce spotted Salvatore Maroni and his two bodyguards heading toward the owner’s booth. His eyes narrowed and he slipped away from his seat, hidden by the crowd as he followed the trio. Bruce leaned against the corner of the wall and clicked a button on the ‘cell phone’ in his pocket, recording them.
"Look, Mr. Maroni, I just don’t have enough money to be paying you for protection on the side. I’m sorry." Extortion. Sal Maroni was notorious for it, but there was never enough evidence to convict him. Just in case Maroni's money wasn't enough to buy the police force and he needed to pin something on someone else, he had wannabe gangsters do his dirty work.
"No, Mr. Haly, I’m sorry. Because when something bad happens to you and your circus, you won’t have the protection you so desperately need." The thick Italian accent stirred anger and revulsion in him. The scourge of Gotham’s underworld extorting a circus.
"If you don’t need anything else, I’m going to have to ask you to leave." Big mistake. Maroni was known to act violently toward disrespect.
"Heh. Sure thing, Mr. H." Bruce clicked the button on the recording device in his pocket to turn it off, deciding it was time to take his leave, when a voice called out from behind him. "Mr. Wayne! Welcome back!" Bruce faced Maroni, expression stoic.
"Maroni," he said flatly in reply.
"You know, you and I should get together sometime. Maybe a round of golf or somethin’." He threw his arm around Bruce’s shoulder and smirked. "We can talk business."
"No offense, Mr. Maroni, but in lieu of your recent misunderstanding with the GCPD, I’m afraid I can’t be seen doing business with you. It would look bad for my company." He returned the smirk and continued on his way, feeling Maroni’s eyes as they practically burned a hole in his head.
Bruce exited the tent and was again met with a barrage of reporters, including Vicki Vale.
"Alright, alright!" he shouted and raised his hands up to get them to quiet down. "One at a time."
"Mr. Wayne," one man called out, "where were you?"
"I was on a skiing trip in the Alps."
"For six years?" the same man urged.
"Have you seen the women in Switzerland?" The crowd of reporters laughed, and a female voice picked up where the man left off, clearly not as amused.
"Why come back now? Does this have anything to do with the death of Joe Chill?"
"No," Bruce stated. Joe Chill. The killer. The man who changed the course of Bruce’s life forever when he killed his parents in cold blood right in front of him. He was found dead in his prison cell after he declared he would testify against the Falcone family and Maroni. What did anyone expect to happen?
Right on cue, Bruce’s limo pulled up and Alfred opened the door for him. As they drove away, Alfred glanced at him in the rearview mirror.
"I trust you enjoyed the show, sir?"
"I did. I found out Maroni is extorting the circus," Bruce explained.
"I need you to send this sound bite to the DA. It’ll help the prosecution." He set the gadget on the seat next to Alfred, then sat back and took a deep breath, looking out the window.
"Sir, don’t you think it’s a bit dangerous to attack the head of the mob?"
"Maroni has had this coming far too long. He has Commissioner Loeb in his back pocket. No cop would dare put charges that heavy on Maroni."
"I wouldn’t be too sure of that, sir," Alfred replied and dropped a copy of the previous day’s newspaper in his lap. The title read: Hero Cop Saves Family of Four.
"Lieutenant James Gordon? You think we can trust him?"
"That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself."
The next morning, Bruce sat in a soft armchair, drinking a glass of orange juice, watching the morning news. Vicki Vale was reporting.
"Tragedy struck Haly’s Circus as the family known to the world as ‘The Flying Graysons’ were found brutally murdered in their trailer. The only surviving member of the family, Richard Grayson, will continue to travel with the circus, despite his family’s plans to travel abroad. Let’s see what Mr. Haly had to say about the horrible events that occurred last night," she said, the screen switching to a frame of Haly, tears in his eyes and young Richard Grayson beneath his arm. He seemed so lost.
He can't be older than eleven.
"It’s a tragedy," Haly stated. "They were amazing people. They deserved so much better than this." He started to choke up and the screen flashed back to solemn Vicki Vale.
"From Amusement Mile, I’m Vicki Vale. Back to you."
Bruce shut off the television, disgusted. "Another child." His voice was shaking with anger. "Anonymously contact the DA. Tell him to get in touch with James Gordon." He stood from the chair and faced Alfred, who was standing behind him. "Also, Lucius Fox is head of the applied sciences division of Wayne Enterprises. I’d like to get in touch with him, as well." He paused. "I think it’s time we move back to the manor."
Alfred smiled. "I’ll have it done by lunch, sir."
Bruce nodded silently and started walking toward the garage.
"I’m going to talk to this boy."
His Lamborghini sped down the streets of Gotham, zipping past the slow-moving traffic. He knew he wouldn’t get pulled over. In this town, a traffic violation was as much an offense as putting a sock on inside-out. The thought made him shake his head and exhale. If you expect people to respect the big laws, you have to enforce the small ones.
He drove over the Gotham Pioneer Bridge at a great speed, making his way to Amusement Mile, car sticking out like a sore thumb in Old Gotham. He arrived minutes later, watching from his car as the circus packed up. Bruce slipped out of his car and looked across the empty lot, where he found the trailer closed off with crime scene tape. He walked across the lot to the trailer next to it and knocked on the door a few times. The same boy from the performance, Richard Grayson, answered. He looked miserable and exhausted, completely different from the confidence he exuded just last night. The boy’s eyes widened slightly.
"You’re Bruce Wayne!"
"You know who I am?"
"There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t know your name, Mr. Wayne." The boy paused. "You here to ask questions? I already answered enough." Bruce put his hands in his pocket and crouched down slightly. That was a feeling he could sympathize with.
"I came by to talk to you. I want you to know that I understand what you’re feeling. What you’re going through."
"Oh, yeah, rich boy?" he shot, raising a brow.
"My parents were killed, too. Right in front of me. I know what it’s like to be left alone." His facial expression was apology enough. "It’s okay. I wanted to tell you that if you ever need anything, Richard, go to Wayne Tower and ask for me." Bruce pointed toward the skyscraper marked with a large ‘W’. The boy nodded and Bruce turned to leave.
"Mr. Wayne?" he asked. Bruce turned to face him. "No one calls me Richard. It’s Dick." He smiled slightly, a gesture Bruce returned. The shared pain between them was palpable. He knew he would hear from the boy by the end of the week.
As soon as he was back in his car, Alfred called.
"I’ve done everything you asked, sir. And Mr. Fox expects you for a meeting at two o’clock."
"Roger." The line cut off after Bruce hit the ‘end’ button on the screen in the center console. He started the his car and sped through Park Row, back across the Pioneer Bridge, and to the Diamond District, the location of Wayne Tower. Bruce entered the ground floor after parking on the street right in front of the building. He made his way for the elevator, stopping to make an appearance with the secretaries on the way, then pressed the ‘up’ button and smiled briefly down at the girl next to him before watching what floor each elevator was on.
"Bruce?" a soft voice called out. No one called him by his first name anymore.
He turned around to locate the voice, but found it was the woman standing right next to him. He tried to recognize the face of the polished blonde woman, and when realization struck, his brows raised slightly in surprise. Aurora Rider. He knew her before he left. She was different than every single employee he had. She had dreams, aspirations, and plans for Gotham. And for more reasons than just those, she was contender for the position of CEO of Wayne Enterprises, somewhere she never would have been had Bruce not found out she was working there when he returned to Gotham briefly before leaving again.
"Aurora. How long has it been?" he asked with a smile.
"Six years, judging by the day the media told everyone you were gone. I can’t be sure, though. You never did say goodbye to me."
"It’s fine," she stated with a smile and that same soft voice. "I’ve heard how the women in Switzerland are." Her grin was small and it was clear she was toying with him. Keeping up appearances is going to kill me, he thought.
"You should let me explain that."
"You could explain it to me at dinner," she suggested, her small smile growing. "No disappearing."
"No promises," he replied, smiling back. "Seven o’clock sharp. The Blue Heron."
Her smile widened just a little more. "Mr. Fox is expecting you. You should head down to the bottom floor. In case you’ve forgotten, that’s where applied sciences is located."
Bruce faced forward again and made a face at the realization of the ‘up’ arrow being the only one pressed. She said nothing in reply as he turned back around and pressed the arrow pointing down. She just smiled like a little girl in a candy shop and stepped into the elevator, heading up.