Friday, July 02, 2004

7. Dick

Our first few minutes together were about as awkward as you'd expect, considering that one of us looked like he'd just walked out of the pages of a comic book and it wasn't Halloween. (Not that I'm complaining about his outfit, mind you.) Miss Manners doesn't seem to have addressed the etiquette of dating superheroes.

But was this a "date"? I couldn't tell. I was pretty damn sure from the minute he opened his mouth that he was the same guy from the bank, so at least I could move past my initial paranoia, but beyond that it was anybody's guess what was going on.

After an impossibly long silence, I offered him a beer. He told me he didn't drink on duty.

"Duty?" I said. "You mean this is your job? What kind of -- oh, wait, so the rumor is true! This is all to hype some new movie, right?" These days, every "caped crusader" worth his salt has a box office blockbuster behind him, and lots of people assumed that any day now we'd hear that Time/Warner or some other huge studio was coming out with a movie about a masked vigilante called "The Bat" or something like that.

"I wish that were the case, Mr. Grayson," he said gravely. (He continued to call me "Mr. Grayson" for a long time, even after I made a point of asking him to stop. I figured we were already past the point of formalities, given the way we'd first met. Evidently not.) "I have adopted this persona strictly for my own reasons."

"You mean you're ... serious about all of this?" I asked, recalling once I'd said it that what had happened at the bank was clearly no joke, as the trail of corpses and injuried innocents had firmly established.

"Dead serious," he replied. "And if your offer still stands, I'll take a glass of cold water instead, please."

There was something damn spooky about this guy. Not so spooky that I thought for a second about asking him to leave, mind you--far from it. I seem to have a long history of falling for deeply fucked up men. But this one was different--not just because of the costume, but in ways I couldn't quite put my finger on.

As I walked to the kitchen and reached for a glass, I was almost positive he was checking me out behind my back. Don't ask how I know, but it was the same feeling I'd had before I noticed him at the window, only this time I was sure it was my ass he was zooming in on.

He sat in the least comfortable chair I own; I took up a spot a foot away on the sofa. For the next half hour he grilled me about the crime scene. More specifically, he grilled me about me: how often I went to that particular branch of the bank, how much I knew about the Joker, seemingly random details from my personal history, etc. No small talk whatsoever. I told him how I'd moved to Gotham when my parents kicked me out of their house after I came out to them, how I hadn't had any previous contact with armed robbery, and so on.

"What's this all about?" I blurted out after I started getting nervous that maybe this was some kind of Homeland Security bullshit. "You make it sound like I'm a suspect or something."

"I apologize if I've put you on edge, Mr. Grayson," he said. It almost looked like he was trying to crack a smile, only the moment he realized what he was doing, he suppressed it. "Force of habit."

I tried a different tack. "Do you pay house calls to all your tricks?"

That little attempt at humor didn't go over too well. For starters, he didn't seem to understand the expression. Stony silence again. It occured to me that I'd completely misread the situation, that there was nothing to this visit beyond ... well, just the facts, ma'am. And then I remembered that lump in his crotch, and felt really, really confused.

I looked into his eyes one more time. Beautiful as ever, maybe more so now that we we'd spent some time together. But they also looked empty now. And I realized his expression was as blank as his mask--blank enough that I could project any conceivable emotion onto it. Turns out I'd projected the wrong one.

We were both so silent I could hear our breathing. At last he reached out his hand. Took mine in his gloved palm.

And shook it. Squeezed it with a more forceful grip than necessary, held onto it longer than casual friendship would suggest, released it after some hesitation.

"Thank you," he said.

And he was out the window once more.

A fucking handshake, and he was gone.