Paper Hearts, part 10

By Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Alfred set a new plate of Chocos close to J'onn's elbow. He glanced up at the computer screen stretched in front of the Martian, noting that J'onn had opened a tracking map of the Gotham-Bludhaven corridor. "More trouble?"

J'onn nodded, his face creased into a frown. "Torque. As if the night wern't bad enough."

Alfred laid a comforting hand on the broad, green shoulder. He could sense J'onn's desire to be out with the rest of the team.

J'onn sighed. "I know," he answered Alfred's unspoken thought. "Batman is worried enough about all this. And facing the Scarecrow with too many worries..." He trailed off.

"Batman is ... uniquely able to close off his emotions," Alfred reassured.

J'onn glanced back at him with a hint of a smirk. "That was... diplomatic," he replied.

"A necessary skill in this household," Alfred returned with a hint of irony, relieved at the mild humor. He hoped the night would continue to allow them to joke.

J'onn leaned forward as a small window began to scroll new text. "Oracle has dispatched Black Canary," he noted with approval. "I don't think Batman will wait for her arrival, but that's better than no back up."

"He won't wait?" More had developed in Alfred's brief absence than he realized.

J'onn shook his head. "Hostages. And there's too much up in the air. That mess at Arkham -" he waved toward the Asylum blueprints in the upper right hand corner of the screen. "It could all be coincidence, but circumventing Oracle's monitoring? Going after Bruce Wayne? Using the Monarch as a hide out? And now Torque explicitly asking for Nightwing-"

"He asked for him?"

"He is killing hostages and refuses to negotiate with anyone other than Nightwing," J'onn explained.

"That is rather alarming," Alfred acknowledged, staring up at the tracking dots showing how very far apart his charges were from one another. It could be coincidence, but it looked unsettlingly like a case of divide and conquer. "I-"

A doorbell ring interrupted his thought, and he met J'onn's eyes. "I suppose you didn't order pizza."

J'onn shook his head, and the bell rang again. There shouldn't be anyone there. The elevator was secured - would not even travel to this floor without a security override.

Alfred frowned and left J'onn's side, exiting the bedroom suite and carefully closing and locking the doors as he moved through the penthouse. Another doorbell ring, followed this time by muffled shouts. The door was soundproof enough to render the words unintelligible, but a glance at the elevator security feed showed two members of the GCPD, weapons drawn and at ready.

Alfred depressed the answer button. "Is there a problem, officers?"

On the monitor, the officers seemed to relax slightly, although the remained at ready. "We just were radioed a distress call," a female voice reported.

A distress call? "We made no such call," Alfred protested.

"We still gotta check it out. Let us in."

"Very well," Alfred agreed, unlocking the elevator doors. The two officers almost lunged into the room, scanning the visible areas of the penthouse sharply.

"Where's Wayne?" the woman demanded.

"I'm afraid Mr. Wayne is sleeping after the traumas of the day," Alfred pointed out. "He has asked not to be disturbed."

The officers exchanged a look. "We're going to have to disturb him," the woman stated, at least having the decency to sound apologetic. "The call came from Wayne himself."

"That is quite impossible," Alfred said firmly. "I can personally attest -"

The male officer, quiet until now, gave Alfred a suspicious look. "Oh, yeah? Convenient for you."

"Crawford," the woman reprimanded. "I'm afraid we really have to insist-"

"Alfred?" a sleepy voice broke in, drawing all eyes to the bedroom door. Alfred gave a mental thanks as "Bruce Wayne" emerged, wrapped in a bathrobe and sporting an impressive case of bedhead. "What's -"

Whatever J'onn might have said was cut off by the sudden ringing of gunshots and the crack of splintering wood. Alfred ducked instinctively, noting J'onn also dove for the floor as the woman officer screamed, "CRAWFORD! WHAT THE HELL-?"

There was a thump of a gun dropping onto thick carpet, then the heavy sound of knees hitting the ground. "Oh my god," Crawford was gasping. "My god. I didn't mean - I wasn't - Wayne -"

Alfred straightened, noting with relief that "Bruce Wayne" was also regaining his feet. To his left, the female officer stood with her gun trained on her partner. The smell of cordite was heavy in the air. "Dispatch, we've got another attempt on Wayne," she was reporting into her radio. "Situation under control, but I need back up. And send psych." She glanced toward "Bruce" as her radio came alive with orders. "You okay?" she asked.

Alfred hurried to J'onn's side as J'onn answered, "I've had better nights. What's the idea?" His face was stormy - an impressive imitation of shock fading to outrage. J'onn was even shaking a little.

"Master Bruce," Alfred said gently. "Are you sure you are unhurt? Perhaps you should sit down-"

"I don't want to sit down. I want an explanation. Why are the police shooting at me?"

Tears were actually flowing down Crawford's cheeks. "It was like I didn't have control. I swear. I'm a good cop." He looked desperately toward his partner. "Tell him, Bit. I'm a good cop. I'm a family man. I don't even like to carry..."

The elevator pinged, and Alfred looked anxiously at the door as an angry looking Rene Montoya burst in, followed by her more cautious partner and another pair of officers. "What the hell is going on here?" she demanded. "Lawrence, Crawford, report!"

"We were answering a distress call - must've been false. But then Crawford opened fire-"

"I didn't - I wasn't trying -" Crawford blubbered.

Rene shot a disgusted look at the officer. "Cris, help Lawrence get him downstairs and book him. Renoit, Darcy - you know your job." She moved toward "Bruce." "You okay, Mr. Wayne?"

Alfred led J'onn to a wingback chair, urging him to sit. The hint of shaking J'onn had shown earlier had become a genuine trembling as J'onn put his hands to his face. "I don't get it," he complained. "First, poor Alana, and now..." He swallowed hard, and Alfred left his side for a moment to pour a him a glass of brandy at the wet bar. The flash of camera bulbs flickered in the room as Renoit and Darcy began photographing the scene.

I closed up the computer, J'onn projected into Alfred's mind, allaying the butler's sudden stab of worry.

When he returned to press the drink into J'onn's hand, Montoya was promising, "We'll get to the bottom of this, Mr. Wayne. We need to get you to tell us what happened, and talk to your butler, and - where's your bodyguard?"

"Mr. Wayne asked Miss Bordeaux to go to Miss Jones one he saw how well the GCPD had secured the building," Alfred explained, letting a hint of irony into his tone. "She left about an hour ago via the fire escape to avoid the press."

Montoya nodded, although suspicion remained in her eyes. "Fine. So we will get your account of what happened, and then we'll post a unit here with you. A carefully screened unit," she stressed.

J'onn nodded and took a swallow of the brandy, grimacing as the liquid burned his throat. He was doing an admirable job of playing the part, Alfred noted. "Officer, I think if we can deal with this quickly, I think it would be best if Mr. Wayne be allowed to lie down and recover from this latest assault."

"We'll be as quick as we can, but we don't want to miss anything."

"Captain," one of the other officers interrupted, holding up evidence bags in which he had secreted the slugs he had removed from the bedroom door. "Three shots. You're lucky, Mr. Wayne. You must have reflexes of a cat."

J'onn looked up with a weak grin. "I'm feeling like I've got nine lives tonight," he replied shakily. "Alfred, can you bring me a heavier robe? I'm feeling chilled."

"Right away, sir," Alfred answered, stepping by the police officers and making his way into the bedroom. He glanced at the bullet holes in the door as he passed and shuddered. Crawford hadn't missed "Bruce Wayne," but no one needed to know that that was because Martians were hard to hit.



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