Thursday, March 23, 2006

244. Dick

Houston, TX

These last few days in Houston have been pretty much the first time I've ventured out of the path of Katrina and Rita in--can it be?!--six months. There are still signs of the hurricanes' devastation here (mostly in subtler forms than fallen trees or damaged property) if you look hard enough, but since we got here we've been more concerned with other matters. Other catastrophes, you might say.

Ollie and I have had a lot of long talks since we managed to escape with our lives a few days ago. Actually, it's more like one REALLY long talk punctuated now and then by breaks for food and the chance to just lie next to each other and stare into each other's eyes--or, on a more mundane front, to nurse our many wounds.

So very much has come out in the last few hours. Ollie wanted to know how I managed to untie myself, which after some hesitation led me to FINALLY tell him about my brief, undistinguished career as sidekick to the World's Greatest Detective. To my surprise, he hadn't heard of Batman, but then

a) he's really been on the road for the last ten years or so (most of that time in his own nocturnal guise), so he hasn't really kept up with current events, and

b) I guess the legend of the Batman may not have left Gotham City after all. In those heady days a year or two ago when our names were in the paper nearly every day it was tempting to think we were superstars, but maybe Batman is more of a local phenomenon in the long run. (He always said that anything resembling celebrity was more of a detriment than a reward. Even in Gotham, a sizable chunk of the population had probably never heard of us, and an even greater percentage assumed Batman was just an urban legend--which is just what Bruce wanted.)

Once we got done with the whole Robin discussion--and now that Green Arrow was starting to think of me as a potential colleague rather than an innocent bystander--I had a milion questions for him, starting with What the hell just happened?, moving on to Who the fuck were those assholes, and why did they want to kill us?, followed by How did you get involved in all of this in the first place?, and then meandering ever so gradually into the territory of What are we going to do next?

The answers to the first three were long and complicated and often confusing, but always fascinating. In a nutshell, while Oliver Queen has been spending his days lending a hand to the hurricane relief effort, the Green Arrow has been continuing his decade-long work pursuing society's underbelly by night. There's been no shortage of action on either front, but in the last four or five months he's noticed a distinct upturn in bias-related criminal activity--hate crimes. At first he thought it might be a localized phenomenon, an aftereffect of the shock and panic caused by the storms, but he gradually realized it was far more widespread, with ripples in nearly every community we visited, large or small. Statistical research (and don't ask me how he managed to find the time to conduct any, since we've been working our asses off and traveling all over the damn South virtually nonstop) revealed that there were indeed certain patterns emerging, and over time he started to suspect that there was a connecting thread in all of this. Someone or something, he believes, has been working overtime to unite the diverse threads of extremist crazies scattered across our fine land. The logo I noticed on our attackers' robes, for instance, has been popping up all over the place, sometimes in slightly different variations. The recurring theme in all of them is the letters "HM," and Ollie (er, Green Arrow) has been trying to figure out what they stand for. This has been an even more gruelling challenge given that he seems barely able to turn on a computer, let alone use it to Google anything. Besides, access to computers in some of the places we've been living lately has been nonexistent--there are still a few former towns with no electricity or running water, even after all these months.

Anyway, Ollie had been starting to investigate one of these micro-level extremist cells (not that those three asswipes deserve the designation of a "cell," mind you) when they caught wind of him and chased him back to the motel. That's where I came into the picture.

As for the question of where we go next, that one is still pretty much up in the air at this point. For right now, we're laying low, trying to recuperate, and even enjoying a tiny break. I've got a funny feeling that's going to last all of 48 hours, max.