Monday, June 27, 2005

172. The omniscient narrator

Three and a half years had passed since that brief encounter, but Bruce had often revisited the memory--and the business card he'd been handed.

Master of Men
Explorer of the Unknown
Safe * Sane * Consensual
All encounters discreet.

These words were followed by a phone number. He'd initially surmised, once he finally read the text, that this man must be a prostitute of some sort, even if nothing about Gustavus's behavior in person had suggested as much. Early on, he'd briefly toyed with the idea of investigating the case as Batman, but something held him back--most likely an unstated fear of his true motivation. Still, he had begun a file on Gustavus, carefully filling in whatever details he was able to glean over the next several years. Working on the file had intrigued him in a way most of his cases did not. He had never been able to identify what was so different about this one, but that was changing fast.

Everything was changing, it seemed, in this new phase of his life. Freed of the burden of being Batman, Bruce was beginning to see things in a different light. Two truths began to assert themselves as undeniable: that he had strong feelings, sexual feelings, for other men, and that what he wanted from these men was something dark. Something unmentionable. Something unimaginable.

Or perhaps he had imagined it--had experienced it, even, at the hands of Dr. Strange. He remembered the cage, the collar, the unending torment. And--to his great embarassment--he found himself growing erect every time he'd attempted to reconstruct what had happened during those awful weeks of confinement.

In his mind, the face and voice of Carl Gustavus took the place of those of Hugo Strange. Perhaps this man held some sort of key to the transformations Bruce had undergone. There was no logical connection between the two--one was a demented psychiatrist, the other a brief encounter at a party years before--but there was something about that encounter that convinced Bruce to follow his instincts.

There had been times during his crimefighting career that Batman had conducted missions as Bruce Wayne: the guise came in handy when investigating certain situations and individuals. But this was different. "Batman" was gone now, perhaps for good. All he had left was the shell of an identity. He could no longer pretend to himself that his actions had anything to do with fighting crime. He was pursuing demons, all right, but he was beginning to realize that they were demons of his own design.

He found himself punching at the keys on his phone, dialing a number he had learned by heart although he'd never used it. He heard a dial tone, and then a man's voice saying, "Hello."

"Gustavus? Bruce Wayne here."

"About fucking TIME, boy."