Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sudden Short Story 8

James sipped his coffee, then shook his head a bit as he put it down. He looked out the window, toward the Gotham skyline, and spoke: "I just don't know what to make of it, Charlie."
"Make of what? You still haven't told me what's bugging you."
James looked back at his friend, took out a cloth, wiped off his glasses, put them back on, and asked, "You went with the light blue and gold one? I don't think that it compliments your jacket that well."
"Quit criticizing my choice in ties and get on with it. You didn't call me out here just to not tell me anything."
"Well, it's just... I don't know what to make of it, Charlie."
"You said that already. Don't try to make anything of it - just tell me what's going on."
"Well, I was doing some research on the early origins of the Batmen, and, I noticed that the comic book fragments and other merchandising from the late twentieth century seemed to be out of proportion to the number of unique mostly-partial journalistic works on Batman from the same era...."
"Well, most of the records from back then were lost. We're lucky to have what we do."
"Yeah, well, to be comprehensive, I decided to look at the journalistic articles from the time, and ... it's weird. It seems that they all refer to some kind of merchandising opportunity - this comic or that film (would that we had them) - but never to the first Batman himself."
"Hmm... That does seem a bit strange. But, with the record so sparse, it could just be an unfortunate coincidence...."
"Well, I figured that I could even out my odds if I looked for information on Bruce Wayne. There'd have to be some kind of record of him, since rich people tend to leave large, if obtuse and ultimately fruitless, paper trails. Of course, he wouldn't appear in the same articles as Batman, since his identity wasn't revealed until two generations later, right?"
"Oh, is that where they got that tradition?"
James took another sip from his coffee, then grabbed a sugar cube and tossed it in.
"Did you find anything?"
"Yeah, and that's when it went from just satisfying my curiosity to.... I found a fragment of an article that mentioned Bruce Wayne. It's funny, y'know? It's one of those forest-for-the-trees things, or it's just so very obvious that nobody noticed it before now."
Charlie saw on James's face what he'd been saying the whole time: that he didn't know what to make of what he'd seen. "Hey, you said that it's just part of an article, right? Whatever you think that you've learned about Bruce Wayne, maybe you don't have the whole picture."
"I recognized the article, Charlie. It came up in my previous search. I must have overlooked it before.... It mentioned that Bruce Wayne was Batman, but the article itself was dated 1989."
"But how did he survive for as long as he did after that? The whole point of keeping his identity secret is so that he's not under attack twenty-four hours a day."
"Did I mention that that was the only mention of Bruce Wayne from that period? There's no death certificate, no bills or taxes or press releases or deeds or anything."
"Well, as you may have heard, there aren't a lot of records from back then."
"But nothing else? It doesn't feel right, Charlie. He should have left a pretty big paper trail, so there should have been something, don't you think?"
"So, what, someone knew that Bruce Wayne was Batman, published it, and then someone orchestrated a conspiracy to cover it up for, what... Wait, 1989? Was the first Batman even around back then? Maybe the record's bad."
"Yeah, that could be - poor transcription or something. Or maybe poor date translation... They used DOS-based computers back then, right?"
"I think so. Anyway, I can only assume that the original copy wasn't from 1989."
"Yeah, maybe you're right," said James, taking a swig of his coffee. He looked into the cup, and then put it back down. "I'd better quit now or I'll never get to sleep."
"The coffee or the digging until you hit the edge of our knowledge?" Charlie got up to leave. "You're not the only one who's got work in the morning." With that, he went out to his car, a sort of dark maroon color, started it up, and took off.
James payed his bill, threw down some coins for a tip, and left shortly thereafter.

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