The Orphan Wayne
During the chaos of that night one might have forgiven the police for missing the murdered Waynes, and their child crouched against the building near them, hugging his knees and shivering. But someone did eventually notice them: a patrolman named Joseph Gordon and his partner.
There was smoke in the air from an array of smoldering fires. Even now in the morning you could still sometimes hear shouts and slogans, breaking glass, screams. Never had Joe Gordon seen it this bad. He wasn’t much for political or philosophical thinking, but for people to get this violent and passionate… well, it must mean that something was wrong and needed righting. What, or how? These were questions for better men than him. Hopefully they were already trying to come up with answers.
Gordon’s partner, Luke Niedemyer, pulled their cruiser to a stop on 54th St and Jackson, a posh window-shopping neighborhood with a central square which had served as one flashpoint last night. There was graffiti and broken glass everywhere.
“Look,” Niedemyer said, pointing, “there’s a little boy over there.”
Gordon saw him.
“Yep,” he said. “Looks like a couple of bodies too.”
“They even killed people. The fucking animals.”
“Why do you think they were all wearing clown masks?”
They approached the child, who didn’t appear to note their approach. Gordon thought there was something familiar about him, and he cocked his head and trained his eyes on the face as he came nearer.
“Oh my God,” Gordon said. “It’s the Waynes.”
The officers stood over Bruce’s parents. He looked up at Gordon and Niedemyer and a fresh batch of tears started rolling down his cheeks.
Gordon spoke into his radio: “This is unit 12. I need an ambulance at 54th and Jackson. Looks like we’ve got some bodies.”
“10-4 Unit 12. Dispatch on the way.”
“What kind of town do we live in?” Niedemyer breathed.
“I guess we’re finding out.”
Gordon looked at the boy, who was staring at his parents. Though he was shedding tears his face was expressionless. Gordon would guess he was between 10 and 12. He was pale, and shivering. It was cold. It was still the early morning.
Gordon went back to his car and took something out of the trunk. He brought back a thick woolen blanket, which he draped over Bruce’s (it was Bruce, wasn’t it?) shoulders. The boy didn’t seem to notice.
“Bruce? It’s Bruce isn’t it?” Gordon asked, but received no response.
“When did this happen?”
“Did you see the people that did this?”
Bruce finally looked at him. Gordon saw a piercing, confused flame in them.
“Well?” Gordon pressed. “Did you?”
Bruce nodded. “They were big. They were wearing masks.”
Niedemyer’s radio went off. He stepped away to take the call. Apparently there was a crowd only a few blocks away. They were looting a drugstore. He came back to his partner and what they’d found.
“Gordon. It’s not safe here. We have to get the boy to the station.”
“Okay. You hear him Bruce? We’re gonna take you out of here.”
“Did they know?” Bruce asked. “Did they?”
At first Gordon wasn’t sure he’d heard right.
“Did they know what, son?”
“Did they know who we were? I don’t know why they would do this to us.”
Gordon took a moment, then put a hand on Bruce’s shoulder.
“I’m very sorry for your loss.”
“The ambulance is almost here,” said Niedemyer. “God, what a clusterfuck.”
“Gotham really needs you, doesn’t it?” Bruce asked Gordon, looking at him with that inaccurate anger Gordon had already seen.
“Yes,” he said. “They do need us.”
“Maybe they need me too. I don’t think this should have happened to us.”
“I know your father was one of the better ones.”
“So was my mother. If they’d known maybe they wouldn’t have done it. Or maybe they were just jealous.”
“Everyone in Gotham is hurting in their own way. Especially after last night.”
Bruce seemed to think about this, but he gave no response. He pulled the blanket tighter around him. When the ambulance arrived he noticed and before letting them take his parents away he leaned forward and kissed his father on his forehead, then his mother on her cheek. Then, while the bodies were taken away, he broke down into a fit of deep, choking sobs. When they were gone he let Joe Gordon put him in the back of his cruiser and take him to the station. He kept the blanket. It was comfortable, even though it was police-issued. As he grew up he would take it out from time to time, just so he would always remember how he had come across it. He was nostalgic that way.
The police made over 3,000 arrests that night, stalking many a crowd down many a shattered street. They knew that the ACLU would be all over them the next day, but they had their orders, and there was real damage being done. Not by everyone, of course, but there had been deaths. It reminded some officers of the riots in L.A. earlier that year, the ones that had engulfed South-Central. But these were different. It wasn’t just police brutality, although it was that too. It wasn’t just black people, although it was that too. In fact it was a salt and pepper crowd. There were plenty of white people, Puerto-Ricans, Chinese. No, this seemed more focused, more organized, and just as angry. As if Gotham’s elite had suddenly found the curtain pulled back on a den of hate so tragically neglected that even they might think some concessions should be made, just in the interest of their own self-preservation. How it had started… with murder, with the Joker, who had famously had himself a night as well. And, of course, that was the point. Something needed to happen, and fast, so that another night like it would never happen again, and the city wouldn’t wake up the next day to learn that twelve people had died in the space of a few hours, including Mr. And Mrs. Wayne, a mostly well-liked and respected member of the gilded class. It’s safe to say a sense of surprise and self-disgust prevailed throughout the metropolis.
The jails filled rapidly, as did central booking, but since most of those arrested would be without charges it was mostly a kind of temporary anti-septic. The real criminals and the real crimes committed, and there had been plenty, not just marching in a protest where windows were broken, would be found much more difficult to pursue. It would be impossible to arrest their way out of the problem, but getting as many of the troublemakers off the street as they could would have to be a start.
Officer Gordon established the boy on a couch near the homicide division of Precinct 37, out of the way of the monstrously busy night. He called Wayne Manor and spoke to the head butler, one Alfred Kingsworthy. He told him what had happened and that he had Bruce, could Alfred please come get him? Absolutely, Alfred replied, I’ll be right there. Don’t take Ocean Avenue or Broadway, Gordon advised. No problem, said Alfred, and he hung up. He started working on the paperwork concerning the Waynes. Wow, what a somber day it would be for everyone when they learned what had happened. Bruce’s confusion had been well-founded: his parents were almost universally well-regarded. If there was anyone who seemed both capable of and willing to apply himself to fixing the city’s intractable wounds, it would have been Thomas Wayne. Hopefully everyone, even, and especially, the Joker, might find themselves deeply disgusted by the news.
Gordon hung up the phone and then got out of his chair and went to Bruce’s couch. It was warm in the station, but he was still wearing the blanket.
Gordon crouched down in front of him: “Your head butler is coming to pick you up, Bruce.”
The boy nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Do you want, uh, a bag of chips or something? A soda? A candy bar? We have a couple vending machines down the hall.”
Bruce shrugged. He seemed uninterested.
“Well, if you’re wondering how you could ever repay my vast kindness don’t worry, cops like me have a hefty retirement plan waiting for us at the end of the tunnel.”
There was no sign the joke had gotten through.
Gordon patted the boy’s shoulder again, then stood up and walked away. There was nothing more he could do for him. He seemed like a smart, observant kid. But what might be the lasting impact of such trauma? Gordon could only imagine.
Alfred Kingsworthy arrived about an hour later. Bruce had curled up on his side on the couch but he hadn’t slept. He’d felt the need to stop looking at the faces that paraded past him in the hallway, be they cops or their arrested quarry. Some of them had been clowns. These stood out especially to Bruce, perhaps because the people who had killed his parents had dressed the same way. Each time he saw one his heart hammered a little harder in his chest. He would probably have to make peace with what he saw, or at least learn how to look at it, because he doubted the spirit behind the Joker’s manifestations had been purged by a few broken windows, a few scared rich people, a few arrests.
Oh my God, he thought, I’m never going to see my parents again.
He couldn’t look. He couldn’t, just couldn’t.
Soon he felt another hand gently touch his back.
It was Alfred.
Bruce looked up at him, into his eyes, and broke into yet further tears as he hugged Alfred as roughly as he could. His chest heaved with sobs, far worse than what Gordon had seen earlier.
“He’s been here a couple hours,” Gordon said.
Alfred, a tall, white-haired Englishman who carried himself with a kind of straight-backed dignity that appealed to Gordon, let Bruce hug him. He too found himself close to tears. How very frightened the boy must be. And he didn’t have any other family. Alfred, an employee, was the closest thing to it.
He sat down on the couch and let Bruce cry into his chest.
“I’m so terribly sorry, Master Bruce,” Alfred said, and kept rubbing his back.
It took a while for his sobs to subside. He finally pulled away from Alfred and rubbed his eyes with his sleeves.
“I’m tired,” he said.
“I don’t know what to do.”
“You don’t have to do anything.”
“But I do. I know I do. I know who pays the bills.”
Alfred smiled. He’d always thought the boy wise beyond his years.
“Are you ready to go?” he asked. Bruce nodded.
“Wait,” Officer Gordon said, taking something out of his pockets. They were business cards. He gave one to Bruce and one to Alfred.
“Please,” he said, “either of you call me if you need someone to talk to or have any questions about the investigations. Bruce, if you remember something, anything, please tell me, we might be able to make use of it.”
Bruce put the card in his pocket, and managed to look Gordon in his eyes and nod. ‘Message received,’ his expression said, though, obviously, he didn’t want to think of it.
“I think it’s time we left,” said Alfred. “Come on, Master Bruce.”
They got up from the couch and managed to leave Precinct 37. Alfred opened the car door for the boy, then got in on the driver’s side and pulled out into the empty street. Traffic, ubiquitous on a normal day, was far lighter than usual.
They arrived at Wayne Manor, which was located at Gotham’s southern outskirts, near the ocean, about two hours later. Alfred carried Bruce into the house, then up the main stairs to his room. He lay the boy in bed with a feeling like there was a new, heavy stone in his heart. How would Bruce handle this? What would happen to the house’s employees? What would happen to Wayne Enterprises? Who would pay the family’s taxes? So many questions with only a child to answer them.
Then, as he was leaving Bruce’s room he heard: “Alfred?”
“Yes, Master Bruce?”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I want you to know that I want to keep you here for as long as you want to stay.”
Alfred smiled, relieved to find himself impressed. “Thank young master. I would love to stay. You know that.”
“I do now. Thank you.”
Alfred shut the door. It was as if Bruce had read his mind.
Bruce, for his part, rolled onto his side and pulled the police blanket up to his chin. Soon, since now he wasn’t crying, he had fallen asleep.