BATMAN: Price You Pay
Written by Steve Shives
She picked out a slice of four cheese and a slice of chicken and pineapple. She tossed her backpack into a booth in the back corner and took a seat. She took a bite of the cheese slice and pulled out her notebook. She chewed the eraser of her pencil and contemplated a blank page. Alicia slid in beside her. Darla closed the notebook and put down the pencil.
“Tony wants to know if you’re coming over tomorrow night.”
“I can’t. I’m sitting for the Umbani’s.”
“He’s having a party is the thing.”
Darla raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, so I heard.”
“Not a party. Not really. Just a few people from school. Some booze. You should come.”
Darla laughed. “I told you I can’t. I have to work.”
“Can’t you just, like, call in sick? It’s not even a real job.”
“It’s close enough. It’s real money.”
“Hmmph. Well. Whatever.” Alicia slid out of the booth. “Catch you tomorrow.”
Darla opened her notebook and picked up her pencil. She took a sip of her soda. She scribbled down a first line. She frowned down at it and rubbed it out with her eraser. She touched the tip of the pencil back to the paper and leaned her chin against her hand. Tony sat down across from her. She put down her pencil and reached out for her soda. “Hey.”
He put his hand over hers and gently pushed it away from the cup. He pulled the lid off and poured into the cup something from a small flat bottle he produced from his jacket pocket. He gave the soda a stir with the straw and pushed it toward her. “Give that a shot once.”
She took a sip. “Mmm.” She nodded her head. “That’s good, actually.”
She took another sip. “That’s good. I thought I didn’t like schnapps.”
“That was peach schnapps.” He passed her the bottle. “Here, take a sip.”
Darla took a tiny nip from the bottle and handed it back to Tony. “It’s like drinking a peppermint patty.”
“A peppermint patty that fucks you up, yeah.” He slipped the bottle back into his jacket pocket. “So Alicia says you don’t want to come over tomorrow night.”
“It’s not that. I have to work.”
“Till the dad gets off work. Like eleven or something.”
“So come over then.”
“I’ll be so tired . . .”
“Then come over tonight for a few hours. We can hang out. Just for a few hours.”
“I’m working tonight, too.”
“What are you doing tonight?”
“Sitting for the Lenscher’s.”
“Where’s that at?”
“Man, Darla, that’s such a bad part of town. Why don’t you sit for some rich people or something? Hang out in a nice part of the city, maybe some fancy townhouse, someplace with a liquor cabinet.”
“Rich people hire nannies.”
“Just come over for a few hours tonight.”
“Can’t do it, man.”
“When do you have to be over there tonight?”
“Like, as soon as I’m done eating. Like twenty minutes.”
“Well, let me come over there with you. Put the kids to bed early or something.”
“It’s not really that simple. And besides, when the kids do go to bed, I have to work on this stupid essay for admission for Hudson U.” She thumped her blank notebook.
Tony sighed. “All right, whatever.” He slid out of the booth. “I’m not trying to get you to sleep with me, you know. I just wanted to hang with you.”
Darla looked up at him and smiled. “It wouldn’t have made a difference.”
She ate her pizza, drank her soda and packed away her notebook. She took the subway to Evers Street and pushed the buzzer at the Lenscher’s building. Mr. Lenscher came over the intercom and buzzed her up. He was pulling on his coat as she entered the apartment.
“He’s just eaten, so he’ll probably be ready to drop off in an hour or so. I don’t think he’ll need a bath, he doesn’t seem too bad.”
“Okay. Have a good night at work, Mr. Lenscher.”
“Thank you, Darla. Have a good evening, and say hello to Mrs. Lenscher for me when she gets in.”
He stopped with one foot out the door and turned around. “Oh, Darla, I happened to notice last week that you ordered a pizza while you were here. You know that while you’re watching Ian you’re always welcome to whatever we have here to eat.”
“Oh, yes, I know that, Mr. Lenscher. I just felt like pizza that night, I guess.”
He nodded. “Well, all right then. I just wanted to make sure that was clear. Have a good evening.” He left. Darla locked the door after him.
Ian fell asleep on the couch watching television. Darla lifted him and carried him to bed. She turned the television off and sat on the couch with her notebook. After a few minutes an idea finally came to her and she began to write. She finished a page front and back in a short time. She read over it and thought it sounded good for coming off the top of her head. Darla closed the notebook and sat in silence on the couch. A smile crossed her face. It was early April. She could hardly wait for the fall to come, and for college.
He swung over skyscrapers on a cord no thicker than a piece of yarn. He let go and dropped to the rooftop below. His cape settled around his shoulders. He walked to the roof’s edge.
Van parked across the street in fire lane. He gripped the ends of his cape and stepped off into the air. He landed a moment later, stood upright and crossed the street. Back doors unlocked. Front and rear of van empty.
Batman moved to the side of the building. He looked through the window into the first floor. Hallway empty. Four doors, all closed. He climbed the outside of the fire escape. Second floor clear. Third floor window open. Far left door slightly ajar. Apartment 2-C. He climbed through the window.
Movement behind the door. No voices. One intruder most likely.
The intruder stuffed a set of speakers into a gym bag on the other side of the living room. A moment after Batman entered the apartment the shuriken he threw sliced into the flesh of the intruder’s forearm. He dropped the speakers and grabbed his forearm with the other hand. “Fuck!” He reached the other hand behind his back. Batman flung another shuriken into his wrist. Batman crossed the living room and knocked him unconscious with a punch to the side of the head. He grabbed the intruder by the collar and dragged him to the wall.
Motion by the door. The second man. From one of the other apartments? Ripping off two places at the same time. Stupidity mixed with the worst kind of guts.
The second intruder fired a moment before Batman flung a shuriken and knocked the gun to the carpet. Batman grabbed the second intruder’s wounded arm, snapped it behind his back and broke it. Batman pulled a length of cord from his belt, tied the second intruder’s hands behind his back, shoved him to the floor and tied his feet. He walked back to the first intruder and tied his hands.
Screams behind the wall. The apartment next door. A child. He looked up and saw the tiny hole torn through the wall by the second intruder’s bullet. He went into the hallway and found the door to apartment 4-C locked. He kicked it open.
Male, 4-5 years old, emotionally distressed but uninjured. Female, 18 years old, bullet wound to the chest, unconscious, pulse very weak, profuse bleeding but hopefully missed the heart. Batman took two pillows from the couch. He placed one on the floor under the girl’s head and the other under her back, against the exit wound. He looked at the little boy. “Go to the kitchen and get me a dish towel.” The boy stood there crying. Batman put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “What is your name?”
“Ian, calm down. I need you to help me or she is going to die. Do you understand?”
“Go to the kitchen and get me a dish towel. Go.” Ian ran to the kitchen. Batman snapped his radio off his belt. “Gotham Central, have paramedics and police respond immediately to 19567 Evers Street, third floor, apartment 4-C. Eighteen year-old female gunshot victim in need of immediate transport. Shooter and accomplice immobilized in adjacent apartment.” Ian handed him the towel. Batman doused the towel with a vial of coagulant from his belt and pressed it into the entry wound on the girl’s chest. He looked at Ian. “What is her name?”
“Darla, can you hear me?”
She let out a faint groan.
“Darla, it’s very important that you keep breathing. Hold on for just a bit longer and you’ll be fine. Do you hear me?”
“Ian, come here. I want you to hold her hand just like this. Give her something to hang onto.”
Ian took Darla’s hand. He looked at Batman. “What’s your name?”
Batman folded the bloody towel in half and pushed it back into Darla’s wound. “My name is a secret.”
“Can’t you tell me?”
“Why don’t you try and guess?”
“Give me a hint.”
“What kind of a hint should I give you?”
“Tell me what it starts with.”
“It starts with B as in Boy.”
“Those are the only B names I know.”
“If I give you any more hints it will be too easy.”
“Did Mr. Wheeler shoot at Darla through the wall?”
“No. It was a man who broke into Mr. Wheeler’s apartment.”
“Why did he shoot at Darla?”
“He was shooting at me.” Sirens. Red lights outside. “Ian, I have to go now. Here, take your other hand and push down on this towel as hard as you can. When the paramedics get here in a few seconds, stay calm and do whatever they tell you. All right?”
Ian nodded. “All right.”
“Whatever happens to Darla now isn’t your fault. You did everything you could. Do you understand?”
Ian nodded. “Yes.”
Footsteps coming up the stairs. Batman opened the window and slipped away into the shadows. He watched from the rooftop across the street as they carried Darla out on a stretcher and loaded her into the ambulance. He jumped down to the cul de sac between the buildings and walked to the far end. He popped his car’s roof hatch, climbed inside and drove out onto the street. He waited on an overpass overlooking St. Luke’s Hospital for the ambulance to arrive.
The ambulance pulled up to the emergency entrance. The driver stepped out and opened the back doors. He and his partner unloaded Darla. A doctor emerged from the hospital and examined Darla, checked her pulse and respiration. The doctor said something to the driver of the ambulance, glanced at her watch and gave a nod. The driver took the sheet covering Darla’s body and pulled it over her head. The doctor walked back inside. The paramedics pushed the gurney in behind her. They returned a minute later, one of them pulling an empty gurney. They loaded it into the ambulance and drove away.
Batman returned to his cave. He climbed out of the car. He pulled off his cowl and cape and dropped them at his feet. He pulled off his gloves, took off his tunic and his belt. He slipped out of his boots and took off his tights. Bruce climbed the stone steps and walked through the passage into his stately old house. He left the costume in a heap on the cave floor. Nights like this he questioned why he ever put it on.