Chapter 1: ain't that a kick in the head
Murky black pricked through with red morphed into bleeding blue-yellow shards, before finally shifting into florescent green with glistening grey edges. Ed blinked to clear his vision, and it seemed to be an uncharacteristically laborious task – reopening his eyes was rather like cranking open a medieval drawbridge while invading hordes galloped over it and whispered ‘shh, it’s fine, just go back to sleep’ in one’s ear.
At long last, a tall glass cabinet housing various bottled liquids and preserved bits of unfortunate people’s organs came into focus. It seemed to be floating sideways, but after another onerous blink, Ed came to the conclusion that the cabinet was acting correctly under gravity’s pull, and that it was him who was floating sideways in space. Or rather, he was lying down on a long, smooth, blessedly cool slab of metal perpendicular to the quite upright cabinet.
With an aha! moment so sharp it actually hurt his brain, Ed placed the mysterious cabinet as the one used to hold biological evidence in the GCPD Medical Examiner’s office.
Ed’s first thought upon this realization was: Look, they’re still using the bio-numeric matrix organization system I set up when I worked here. His second thought was: They also must have the same atrocious janitorial staff, that floor is positively rancid – no wonder I’m up here in one of the mortuary drawers. Ed’s third thought was, finally: wait a moment, why the hell am I waking up in a mortuary drawer at the GCPD?
Two fingers pressed to his carotid artery confirmed that he was, definitely, still alive, and consequently not a permanent resident of the drawer. A quick movement of his head to try and get a better look at his surroundings confirmed that he was also, definitely, suffering from the absolute worst hangover of his life. The room spun, his head pounded, his stomach turned, and he wished someone would just shove this drawer shut so he could live in beautiful darkness with the rest of the corpses.
Unfortunately, this did not happen, and the muddy green light struggling to filter through the window still stabbed rudely at his eyes, hidden behind squeezed-shut lids. After a few deep, slow breaths, Ed dared to try and look out at the room again, this time moving much more slowly.
Seeing the array of persons currently available in the room for him to query about his current situation wasn’t heartening.
First, he spotted Butch curled up in the fetal position at the foot of the cabinet, wearing his tie wrapped around his head like a bandana and a suit jacket that was definitely not his size. Tabitha was asleep on top of him, limbs curled away from the sticky floor (smart, Ed noted in some part of his mind), and strands of hair flying every which way.
Next, he saw Victor Zsasz snoring contentedly on the medical examiner’s table with his fellow assassins, Trixie and Dixie, the three a messy pile of limbs and black leather. Ed didn’t quite understand how all three of them were managing to fit on the table, but every atom of his being was aching, so he decided that that little mystery of physics wasn’t worth his energy.
Last and decidedly least in Ed’s opinion, he spotted Harvey Bullock, facedown under the ME’s table and snuffling against the dirty tile.
“Oh dear,” Ed breathed, voice scratching its way up his hideously dry throat.
In a moment of Herculean strength, Ed heaved himself up on one elbow so he could take better stock of the situation. From his slightly increased altitude, it didn’t look any better. Who should he try to wake first? None of the assembled were exactly friends of his, nor were any of them known for their amicable natures. A brutal hangover – which he suspected they all shared – was unlikely to improve on that.
Finally, he decided to go for the person whose body mass likely meant he’d been impacted the least with whatever satanic alcohol they’d apparently consumed the previous night.
“Butch,” Ed called, voice raspy. No response. “Butch,” he tried again, as loud as his slightly-ringing eardrums could bear. This earned him a snort and a snuffle on Butch’s part, but no more.
With a sigh, he dug his hand in his pocket hoping for– yes. He withdrew the quarter and took careful aim before chucking it hard at Butch. It pinged off his forehead with a dull clang and finally awoke the sleeping beast.
The sleeping beast in question made a noise like a clogged garbage disposal and rolled onto his face, dislodging Tabitha from her perch and dumping her on the ground. Her eyes flew open as she hit the tile and she struck on instinct and without mercy, fierce hands landing several blows on Butch, who just lay there and moaned piteously.
“What....” he whimpered, as Tabitha’s attack abated.
“That’s what I was going to ask you,” Ed sighed, watching blearily as Tabitha took in her surroundings and then climbed back on top of a lightly protesting Butch, eyeing the floor with distaste.
With a disgruntled shout of “get the lemur!” Harvey burst back into consciousness, jolting upwards and immediately banging his head on the underside of the ME’s table. The impact jostled Zsasz and the girls, so much that Dixie nearly got knocked off the edge, but Zsasz and Trixie clutched at her like spider monkeys and kept her from plummeting to her unhygienic doom.
“Lemur?” Zsasz mumbled sleepily, “where?”
Trixie and Dixie surveyed the room and reported back in sync, “not here.”
Zsasz heaved a disappointed sigh and seemed ready to go back to sleep.
“How good of you to join us, detective,” Ed said to Harvey, who was cradling his now-bruised cranium, “Perhaps you are of sound enough mind to inform us as to why you, me, and several of these less-than-upstanding citizens are waking up in the ME’s office in the middle of the GCPD, with the worst hangover in the history of distilled beverages?”
Harvey paused with his mouth hanging open for a solid ten seconds before mumbling, “Nope.”
“As I suspected,” Ed drawled, the feeling of death that clawed at his entire body not enough to stop him from wanting to snipe at his least favorite member of the GCPD whenever the opportunity arose.
“Um, ‘scuse me?” Butch slurred from underneath Tabitha, who was watching the rest of the room like a hawk waiting for an unsuspecting shrew to scamper out, “But...what the hell?”
“I just asked,” Ed replied, “But it appears that no one knows what the hell, why the hell, or how the hell this happened. Or, well, Zsasz might, but he’s fallen asleep again.”
Butch and Tabitha turned to look at Zsasz, but froze when they heard the click of the door handle turning.
Lee Thompkins didn’t glance up from her clipboard as she stepped inside, and so was a mere foot away from the examining table before she noticed that the usually lifeless room was filled with no less than seven alive and breathing individuals.
“Oh my god!” she yelped, stumbling backwards and dropping her clipboard with a clatter.
“’M awake!” Zsasz cried out, flying up into a sitting position, Dixie and Trixie clutching at him for dear life, “Who’s s’pposed to get it with the piano wire?”
“No one’s getting anything with the piano wire!” Harvey shouted from underneath the table, making Lee jump again, before bending over to get a better look at the even-more-disheveled-than-usual detective.
“Harvey?! What the hell.”
“Everyone’s askin’ me that,” Harvey lamented, “But I truly don’t know.”
“Hi,” Zsasz decided to greet Lee as he got his bearings, “You have nice hair. All whooshy.” Dixie and Trixie nodded their agreement.
Lee returned her attention to him and visibly paled as recognition set in. “You’re... you’re that assassin, Victor Zsasz–”
“No, I’m not!” Zsasz insisted, throwing his hands up and grinning innocently at Lee, “I know I look like that Zsasz guy but I’m not, I’m Bob.”
“Yeah, see?” Dixie lolled into Zsasz’s side, lifting a pen she’d found god knows where and drawing a black scribble above Zsasz’s upper lip. “This guy’s got a mustache. Zsasz hasn’t got a ‘stache.”
“What?” Lee blinked rapidly like her brain couldn’t quite comprehend the audacity – or insanity – of what was happening in front of her.
“Yep,” Dixie poked the ink-mustache triumphantly, “This here is Bob. Bobby Bob the not-assassin.”
“I...I just saw you draw that on his face,” Lee pointed out.
“Did you though?” Dixie asked sincerely, eyes wide as Trixie began to crack up on Zsasz’ other side.
“Uh, yes...?” Lee glanced around at the rest of the crowd in her examining room as if perhaps one of them would bring some element of sense to the situation. They did not.
Finally, she concluded out loud, “You all really were smashed out of your minds last night, weren’t you?”
“I beg your pardon?” Ed asked, rather prissily for a man who looked about as good as the average two-day-old corpse.
“Jim was texting me last night after he left with Harvey to check something out at the Sirens, and – wait, where is he?”
“Not here,” Harvey stated the obvious, “Maybe he managed to make it back to the locker room or something before he crashed.”
“Hmm. I hope so, because he was saying some pretty weird stuff last night,” Lee pulled her phone from her pocket, “It didn’t take a genius to realize that unwise quantities of alcohol were involved.”
“Yes,” Ed hissed, guts heaving as if demanding not to be forgotten in the face of his monumental headache, “I’d figured out that much for myself. Did dear old Jimbo tell you anything else about last night?”
Lee appraised him coldly before raising her phone and saying, “I’m going to tell you just because you look so pitiful it would be cruel not to.”
Ed wanted to shoot a witty quip back, but he was afraid if he opened his mouth again, the contents of his stomach might try to mount an escape.
“At first it was pretty coherent,” Lee began, moving with renewed calm around the table still occupied by a trio of assassins, “talking about babysitting a bachelor party for bad guys –”
Tabitha snorted a laugh at the same time that Ed gasped indignantly.
“And then it started to go downhill...” Lee scrolled through the messages, one eyebrow tilted elegantly upwards as she recited, “For example, ‘do you know.......tequila????? is??? good???,’ and then about half an hour later, ‘im gonna arrest tequila.’”
“Please stop saying tequila,” Butch whispered imploringly.
“And then he sent me a bunch of autocorrected nonsense, which included the phrase ‘kegger queen.’ Don’t know what that was about. And, oh, yeah, this was fun, a picture of our illustrious Mayor Cobblepot doing body shots off of...” Lee squinted down at the photo before concluding, “you,” and pointing a finger in Ed’s direction.
“This is slander,” was Ed’s dignified response, as he slid off the mortuary drawer and into a mostly-standing position with somewhat less dignity.
Lee held out the phone as proof and tapped her foot impatiently. Ed made his way over to her, moving very slowly and using the wall as an anchor. He took the phone and inspected the picture for himself. It definitely seemed to show his own bared chest, and a wild mop of familiar black hair leaning in to take a lime from between his teeth.
“I...rescind my accusation,” Ed murmured, closing his eyes and trying his damnedest to remember even a sliver of the night before. But it was just a blank – a wobbly, slippery, whiskey-tinged blank.
Lee returned to telling the tale of her texts from last night. “Ooh, yeah, this one was particularly comforting. Jim said: ‘this place is illegal the walls are illegal the chairs are illegal someone should call the cops’. I reminded him after that that he was a cop, and he just sent me back a bunch of surprised emojis. It’s been radio silence since then.”
“Qui–quick question doc,” Butch stuttered from where he was still sprawled on the ground, “In your professional medical opinion...can you die from a hangover?”
“One can only hope,” Lee fired back, crossing her arms.
“Fair,” he conceded.
“And until you die of your respective hangovers, I’d like you to get the hell out of here.” She moved forward to try and shoo Butch and Tabitha away from her evidence cabinet, but Tabitha gripped Butch’s shoulder more tightly with one hand and swung out with the other to claw at Lee.
“Back off, tightass,” she hissed.
“That’s Doctor Tightass to you,” Lee retorted, not deterred in her task of nudging Butch and Tabitha up and away.
“Lee,” Harvey said plaintively from where he was still crouched under the table, “I don’t think this was just a night on the town gone wrong.”
“You’re right,” Lee agreed, “this was a night on the town gone very, very wrong.”
“No, I’m serious,” Harvey insisted, “This isn’t a normal post-alcohol hangover. Trust me, I am a connoisseur of hangovers. And no innocent fermented grain led to this.”
“So, you’re saying we were drugged...” Ed pieced that deduction into his available facts, and things became a bit clearer. “That would explain why I, a man with an eidetic memory, can’t seem to recall a single moment of last night past the beginning of my bachelor party.”
“Oh, it was your party?” Lee turned around to put her hands on her hips and glare at him, “Does that make this your fault? Or maybe Penguin’s?”
“Certainly not,” Ed sniffed. “I have no doubt that it was your paramour who led us to these dire straits. In fact –” Ed froze mid-sentence as he finally processed who besides Jim Gordon was missing from this scene.
“Oswald!” he shrieked, making most of the occupants of the room cover their ears, “Where is he? What’s happened to him?”
“I don’t know!” Harvey thundered back, “Maybe he’s holed up wherever Jim is!”
That appeased Ed for a moment, but then a prickly thread of jealousy began to unravel in his mind and he rounded on Lee and Harvey, not sure who he should mount his accusations at.
“If your partner has tried to make a move on Oswald–in his drugged state!– I’ll–” Ed grew speechless with rage while Harvey stared at him, haggard and nonplussed, and Lee burst into laughter.
“Wait, wait– you think that Jim –” Lee almost choked on her giggles, “that Jim seduced your fiancé?”
Ed drew himself up with righteous fury, “As if it’s laughable that Jim would want to be closer to the most powerful man in Gotham?”
Butch’s response to all the relationship drama was to moan, “I want to go back to sleep.” Tabitha seconded the idea with a firm nod, and Harvey looked like he was in favor of it too.
“Hey, don’t worry, Eddie,” Zsasz cooed, sprawled comfortably on the examining table with Dixie and Trixie as if it were a chaise lounge, “Ozzie loves you more than anything. No way he cheats on you, even if he was stoned as all fuck.”
With Zsasz as a surprisingly calming influence, Ed took a breath and reconsidered the situation. “It is...unlikely, upon reflection, that either party would do anything untoward. Nonetheless, it’s still quite possible that finding Jim means finding Oswald, so...”
“So, let’s go find those idiots,” Harvey sighed, finally dragging himself out from under the table.
“Not so fast,” Lee took him by the shoulder, “If you really think you’ve been drugged then I should do some tests.”
“Ooh, ooh!” Zsasz leaped with liquid grace off the table, hangover symptoms apparently not as acute as those of his compatriots, “Do we get to pee in a jar?”
“Most people don’t say that with such excitement,” Lee noted hesitantly, “but...yeah.”
“Yay!” Zsasz clapped his hands together before reaching out with wiggling fingers for the plastic container Lee retrieved from a nearby drawer.
“Let’s go find you a bathroom, boss,” Trixie said kindly when Zsasz reached for his belt buckle right then and there, leading him away with Dixie trailing behind.
“It’s on the right, just down the hall and– and try not to get arrested!” Lee called after them. She heaved a deep sigh as the door swung shut after them, turning to Harvey and holding out another jar.
“You too, Harvey, and the rest of you – it’s possible you weren’t all affected by the same thing, or in the same way.” She began to hand out containers to the rest of the room’s occupants, to their mutual distaste.
“Yeah, sure,” Harvey took the proffered cup but set it aside as he began to pat down his jacket. “Hey, has anyone seen my phone?” he asked, turning out the pockets of his slacks.
“What do you think the answer to that question will be?” Ed snarled.
“Does anyone have a phone?” Harvey asked instead, ignoring Ed, since that was his standard policy.
Everyone simultaneously began to check their persons. Ed found only some unpleasant salt residue sticking his shirt to his chest, courtesy of last night’s body shots.
Butch grumbled, “The hell, this ain’t even my jacket...” he pulled a wad of receipts out of one pocket and a pack of gum out of the other, but found no phone.
Tabitha’s eyes narrowed as she declared, “Almost all my knives are gone. And my guns. And my whip. And my brass knuckles.” She flashed her gaze around the room as if someone would fess up to the theft of her bodily armory.
“Shit...” Harvey breathed, “my gun’s gone too. Seriously, no one has a phone?”
“Neither do you,” Ed growled back, patting himself down again with the distinct feeling that he was missing something important, more important than a replaceable brick of plastic and circuits.
“Even if I did, I wouldn’t give it to you,” Tabitha added, slumping more comfortably against Butch’s bulk, apparently content to return to her nap. Butch had already started to nod back off against the cabinet behind him.
“Use mine,” Lee offered as Zsasz returned, proudly bearing his now-filled jar. She tossed the phone to Harvey who only barely caught it before it hit the ground. He fumbled up the contact list and hit Jim’s number. He shook his head mournfully as it rang out and finally went to voicemail.
“No dice on Jim,” he sighed, “Anyone else we should try?”
“Give it to me,” Ed snapped, clicking his fingers impatiently. Harvey scowled but handed the phone over to Ed, who quickly punched in Oswald’s number. When it went to voicemail too, he grew even paler than he already was (which was to say, incredibly pale). “Oswald’s not answering either,” he reported, handing the phone back to Harvey. “I don’t...I don’t know what this means. Why would we all have lost our phones? What happened last night?”
“If none of us can remember anything, and Jim and Penguin are MIA...I’m not sure how we can find out.”
“Well...” Zsasz held up a hand like he was asking to speak in class, “You could ask the butler? Butlers usually know stuff. In my experience. Like, sometimes they know how to make crêpes. Or speak Bangladeshi.”
“What butler– wait, was Alfred there last night?” Harvey asked, incredulous.
“Well, yeah,” Zsasz laughed, “How many other butlers do you know? How many other butlers even exist anymore?”
“Never mind...” Harvey said under his breath, hurriedly calling “Pennyworth, Alfred,” in Lee’s contacts, only briefly bothering to wonder why she had his number in the first place, before deciding to just be grateful. “Dammit!” he shouted when that number rang out into voicemail as well.
“Hey, hey,” Lee said soothingly, carefully taking her phone back from Harvey before he could do something stupid like smash it against the wall in anger, “I’ve got an idea – maybe you all lost your cell phones, but Wayne Manor has a land line, right? I can go find that number, and maybe Alfred will pick up there.”
“That’s– yeah, that would be great, Lee. Thanks.” Harvey scrubbed his hands over his face as the doctor cast one more glance around the room before leaving to hunt down the mansion’s number.
She’d barely left before an ear-splitting shriek split the air, jolting Butch into awareness again with a start and causing Tabitha to brandish a scalpel she’d managed to pilfer from a nearby table.
“What the ever-loving Christ...?” Harvey moaned, hands covering his ears as he turned to the source of the wretched noise. He was met with the sight of Ed sinking slowly to the ground, a look of horror on his face as he stared at the back of his left hand.
“Jeepers, Nygma, I didn’t even know your voice could go that high,” Zsasz commented, unshaken, “Hey! You wanna be the tenor in our barbershop quartet?” he asked excitedly, gesturing to Dixie and Trixie who shook their heads and motioned that now was not the time for acapella.
“My engagement ring...” Ed whispered as the room seemed to spin in a dizzy sort of waltz around him, “it’s...gone.”
The three assassins hissed sympathetically, while Butch and Harvey blinked dully and Tabitha rolled her eyes.
“So?” she said, “It’s just a piece of jewelry. Penguin’s loaded, he’ll buy you another.”
“You don’t understand,” Ed growled, “This was a family heirloom. It was his father’s. He took it off his stepmother’s corpse. It has...” Ed choked up a little, “sentimental value.”
“Oh,” Tabitha nodded like she understood, “In that case, he might kill you.”
“Uh...actually, though, he might,” Butch added, a little more seriously.
“He won’t kill you,” Harvey assured Ed, not because he cared, but because the last thing this nightmare needed was a psychopath having an emotional breakdown in the middle of the GCPD.
“He might though!” Ed shot back, eyes glazing over as he began to imagine how it could play out, “He might think it means that I don’t care about him! That I don’t love him the same way! He might actually kill me or –!” He gasped and clutched at his chest, “Or worse – he might call off the wedding!”
Tabitha began idly, “Wait, but if you’re dead, isn’t the wedding automatically canc–”
“I’m sure everything will work out,” Butch cut off Tabitha’s unhelpful commentary, trying to communicate to her with a series of pointed glances that if Oswald decided to off his fiancé there would almost certainly be casualties, Butch himself possibly among them. “There, there, buddy...” he said awkwardly, holding a hand out in Ed’s direction and miming patting his shoulder.
“I think you need a group hug!” Zsasz declared, bounding off the table with his arms outstretched.
“If you touch me, I will puke on you!” Ed screeched. Zsasz paused, lips pursed like he was still thinking of doing it, but Trixie sensibly pulled him back.
“Here, honey,” Dixie said, reaching to dig around in Zsasz’s pockets until she unearthed his leather fingerless gloves, “wear these. Then no one can tell the ring’s missing, it’ll buy you a little time to try and find it.”
Ed looked ill-disposed to the idea, but ultimately accepted the gloves, pulling them on and inspecting how they looked.
Zsasz smiled proudly at the sight and said, “Wearing my gloves to save your almost-marriage...hey! Does that mean I can be your best man?”
“My– what?” Ed looked up, distracted. “I don’t...I don’t have a best man.”
“So, you’re saying the job’s open?” Zsasz wheedled, grinning.
“I suppose...” Ed’s eyebrows drew together and his expression turned calculating, “If you help me retrieve my ring without Oswald finding out that it was ever gone, then...yes. You’ll be my best man.”
“Yeah!” Zsasz fist-pumped the air.
“And the rest of you...” Ed turned to Butch, Tabitha, and Harvey, pointing a finger firmly at each of them in turn, “If any of you lets it slip that the ring’s gone, I will do things to you that would make Dr. Frankenstein quake in his boots.”
“No need to be so dramatic,” Tabitha sighed as Butch shrugged his acquiescence. Harvey grumbled, “Like I care about your messed up scumbag romance anyway.”
At that, Ed drew up crisply and chucked his (thankfully, empty) pee collection jar at Harvey. It clacked against his forehead and Harvey yelped. He dragged himself to his feet, fuming, but before a fight could break out, Lee returned brandishing her phone.
“Got it!” she announced, handing her cell to Harvey, “Let’s hope Alfred’s home.”
“He damn well better be,” Harvey grouched, hitting call and sending out a quick prayer for an answer to any deities that might be bored and looking for something to do.
Apparently, some all-powerful being had time on their hands, because after a long, stressful five rings, a high-pitched voice came through the phone’s tinny speaker saying: “Wayne Manor.”
To many people, the pitter patter of children’s feet is a joyful sound. To Oswald Cobblepot on a good day, it was a deeply irritating sound. To Oswald Cobblepot today, on this particular morning, it was a sound that he wanted to send directly to hell with a first class ticket.
The sight that greeted him when he managed to wrench open one beleaguered eyelid did nothing to improve his two-steps-beyond-homicidal mood. Namely, he saw an antique lamp atop an antique desk that was apparently acting as his makeshift-bed. He did not recognize the lamp, nor the desk.
Unfamiliar furniture, ergo, an unfamiliar place – and waking up in unfamiliar places rarely boded well for him.
The gentle thunder of footsteps sounded again, and he caught movement out of the corner of his one currently operational eye. He decided after careful deliberation that he wouldn’t be able to identify the blurry figure in the hazy entrance way without binocular vision, and so, with heroic effort, opened his other eye.
Bruce Wayne. Oswald blinked a few times to be sure, but yes, that was definitely the heir to the Wayne fortune peering curiously around the doorframe. A mop of curly hair appeared behind the boy, and he was yanked abruptly away.
With the one clue in his sightline so rudely removed, Oswald was forced to gather the strength to move his head – which seemed to have tripled in weight overnight – to look at his surroundings and hopefully figure out what the hell he was doing in what he was fairly sure was Wayne Manor.
He squinted at a vaguely person-shaped blob on the plush carpet in front of him. Then he squinted even harder, but his brain still provided him with the same identification. That was definitely none other than Jim Gordon, lying on his back with his limbs thrown out like a starfish underneath a glass coffee table, a dribble of drool sneaking down his chin as he slept.
In a way, it made sense – didn’t Jim Gordon always have a starring role in the times Oswald’s life took a turn towards the terrible or bizarre (in this case, both)?
A muted snuffle off to his left prompted him to swing his gaze over to an alcove he hadn’t yet noticed. There, he found Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox snuggling on a loveseat that was too small for one grown man to sleep on, much less two. They were, nonetheless, managing the feat, although Lucius seemed in mild danger of tumbling over the edge were Alfred to loosen his hold.
With that thought and a surge of vindictive pettiness born of a vise-like headache and general ill-feeling, Oswald made the decision of who he should try and wake first.
He sucked in a steadying breath, and then shouted at the top of his lungs, “Pennyworth!”
With a startled grunt that was somehow tinged with an English accent, Alfred was startled into consciousness, arms thrashing instinctively out and dropping the unfortunate Lucius squarely onto the ground.
Lucius fell with a squeak and landed with an “oomph,” curling into a ball as he began to moan softly.
“What in the great bloody blazes...” Alfred began, attempting to bolt upright but not quite making it, grabbing his head halfway up and then sinking slowly back down with a groan to match Lucius’.
“GCPD!” Jim shouted as he awoke violently, knocking immediately into the legs of the coffee table where he flailed uselessly for a minute until finally wiggling out to freedom. He was still for a moment, before calmly taking hold of a vase on top of the coffee table he’d just escaped from, and puking into the vessel.
“Charming,” Oswald sighed, wrinkling his nose.
The sound had Jim looking blearily over at him, more than a little green around the gills as he asked hoarsely, “Oswald? The hell are you doing here?”
“I’ve no idea,” Oswald grumbled, “But if you do find out, please tell me, forthwith.”
“Detective Gordon?” Lucius whispered from the ground, “I’d like to report a crime. I think I’ve been murdered.”
“Lucius, darling,” Alfred mumbled in the direction of the floor, “what are you doing down there?”
“Nothing much,” Lucius murmured, “being dead, I suspect.”
“I think you might be being just a touch dramatic...” Alfred trailed off as he focused on Jim across the room, still clutching the unfortunate receptacle of his regurgitated last meal to his chest. “What the... Jim Gordon were you just sick in that priceless antique vase?”
Jim winced and shrugged, “Uh...no?”
“That vase is worth more than I imagine your life is insured for,” Alfred said, outraged.
“Joke’s on you,” Jim smiled weakly, “I don't have any life insurance.”
“Really?” Lucius asked, honest concern overriding the queasiness on his face, though he still lay huddled on the ground, “That's quite unwise for a man of your age, and especially one in your profession.”
“We can berate Jim for his unsurprisingly awful life decisions later,” Oswald interrupted, his meager stores of patience already entirely depleted, “For now, can we focus on the more pressing issue, namely...” Oswald paused as he realized he couldn’t quite put a name to what the problem was.
“Yes,” Alfred agreed, sitting upright more slowly this time, and tugging on his lapels until his jacket was in a facsimile of order, “Let’s. And we can start with why you, Mr. Cobblepot, are collapsed with the rest of us in my charge’s ancestral home this fine morning.”
“I haven’t the foggiest,” Oswald sneered, “I’d hoped that you, the custodian of this lovely abode, or the good detective here, purveyor of law and order, might know.”
“I...do not. Know.” Jim replied, thinking for a minute before adding, “Anything. I don’t know...anything.”
“Situation normal, then,” Oswald sighed, glancing around vaguely before sitting up straight as something occurred to him. “Oh god, where– where is Ed?”
No one had an answer to that.
“He was...the last thing I remember...he was definitely with me. We were going out to...out to our bachelor party,” Oswald finished faintly, memory going dark not long after he recalled reaching their bar of choice, The Sirens. “My poor Ed, what’s happened to him?” Oswald began to search his surroundings frantically, peeking under the desk and investigating the curtains behind him.
“Who...Ed...I don’t...I’m not even sure who I am,” Jim whispered weakly, eyes wide as he began to rock back and forth with the vase.
“Oh, come off it, Gordon,” Alfred grumbled, reaching down to try and pull Lucius out of his tightly wound ball of limbs.
“Seriously,” Oswald snapped, giving up his search for Ed in favor of trying to locate his cell phone, “You’re Jim Gordon, occasionally a halfway decent detective and always a spectacular pain in my ass – that’s all you really need to know.”
“Oh,” Jim blinked, “Okay.”
“You’ve also got a very nice, very pretty girlfriend, and a very grumpy, very unkempt partner,” Lucius supplied as he began to reluctantly sit up with Alfred’s assistance.
Jim nodded vaguely, “Hey, I think I remember...Harvey!” Panic flashed across his face, “he was with me last night! Where’s he?”
“Maybe he’s wherever Ed is,” Oswald theorized, though he didn’t much like the idea.
“Maybe he’s with whoever gave you that shiner,” Alfred suggested, pointing to Jim’s swollen right eye, now made visible by the light that had begun to stream in through the window.
Jim stumbled over to the nearest mirror and groaned when he saw his reflection. “I don’t remember who punched me.”
“Well, most of the people in this city have wanted to sock you one at some time or another,” Oswald pointed out, “so you might have some trouble narrowing down your suspect list.”
The more Oswald spoke, the more his parched throat threatened to go on strike. However, it also helped him rouse his temper, which in turn had an overall strengthening effect, so he decided to lean into it.
“Though, before you go looking for revenge,” Oswald continued, “I would ask that you first investigate whatever the hell happened to your city’s mayor last night.” With a glance over at Lucius and Alfred, he added, “Also, there’s a fellow city employee and a silver fox butler who would probably like to know the answer to that question.”
“Yes, please,” Lucius agreed at the same time that Alfred sputtered, “Silver fox?”
Lucius tried to stand on shaky legs, and ended up tumbling back to the ground with Alfred muttering something that sounded like “lightweight,” although he didn’t look like he intended to try standing anytime soon either. Lucius dragged himself up onto his knees and pressed his hands together in front of him, beginning to murmur quietly.
Oswald rolled his eyes at the display. If there were any higher powers out there, they certainly weren’t concerned with the prayers of the deeply hungover – he’d determined that empirically, on more than one occasion.
“Alright, give it a rest, Brother Fox,” Alfred thwacked Lucius’ back while he continued to pray, “You haven’t been religious for ages.”
“I’m starting up again,” Lucius explained patiently without opening his eyes, “Because judging from the self-diagnosis I just performed, I can confirm that I am dying, ergo, only an all-powerful being can save me.”
“You’re remarkably lucid for a man on death’s door,” Alfred commented, slipping off the loveseat to sit next to Lucius with a pained sigh.
Lucius cracked one eye open. “That’s...a good point.”
“You’re not dying, Lucius,” Jim grumbled, “None of us are. This is just a hangover, we’ll be fine.” In contradiction to his words, his stomach grumbled with rather alarming volume, and Jim tightened his hold on the vase, which he seemed to have latched onto as a comfort object.
“I wouldn’t know,” Lucius replied mournfully, “I’ve never been hungover. I was always careful to monitor my alcohol intake and modulate it in accordance with my current BMI and food consumption levels.”
Alfred chuckled dryly. “Well bully for you, dearest, but I think that Last Night Lucius wasn’t so mathematically minded.”
“Apparently not. Which is quite odd.”
“‘Quite odd’ is such a massive understatement in this situation, it could possibly qualify for a world record,” Oswald hissed as his headache pulsed wretchedly.
“True that,” came a high, female voice from the entryway. The room’s occupants turned as one to see Selina leaning casually on the doorframe, looking mildly amused.
“Cat!” Oswald said, glaring at her accusingly.
“Hey!” she threw up her hands in a parody of surrender, “I’m just sayin’. Whatever the hell happened last night was way beyond odd.”
“You know what happened?” Jim asked eagerly.
“Not really,” Selina shrugged, to the room’s general disappointment. “But, I’ve got a phone, here,” she pulled a slim plastic rectangle from the pocket of her leather jacket, “that might have some answers.”
“Oi, give that here!” Alfred lurched upwards, miraculously managing to remain upright, while Lucius just held his hands out with a look of pleading that could’ve melted Ebenezer Scrooge’s heart.
Selina gave them an appraising glance before declaring, "Fifty bucks.”
“Are you trying to extort us? Now?” Alfred looked outraged, or possibly nauseous. Perhaps both.
“That is not a good idea,” Jim growled, swaying in her direction. Selina pinched her nose as Jim brought the toxic vase nearer, but she stood her ground.
Oswald rooted around in his jacket until he unearthed his wallet and pulled a wrinkled bill free. "Twenty dollars now, and exclusive rights to the pockets of the guests at the museum opening next week," he countered with a hard glare at Selina.
Selina thought about it for a moment before hopping over to Oswald and taking the proffered money, handing over the phone. "Deal."
Oswald shakily maneuvered himself to the front of the desk, where his legs decided that that had been quite enough movement, thank you very much, and gave out. He collapsed onto the carpet, propping his back up against the legs of the desk as the rest of the room crawled and stumbled in his direction like a crowd of bleary zombies.
Oswald had just flipped the phone open and was about to navigate to the “sent texts” section when he was startled by the insistent ring of an entirely different phone.
“Oh, bollocks,” Alfred swore, “That’s the mansion line.”
“I’ll get it!” Selina chirped with a playful light in her eyes.
“No, don’t you –” Alfred’s weak threat fell on empty air, as Selina had already dashed off. A few seconds later, they heard her voice echoing down the hall as she answered the phone, “Wayne Manor.” There was another beat of silence before she spoke again: “Looking for Alfred, huh? Gee, I dunno if I can help you...” Alfred looked as if he’d strangle her if his legs were capable of carrying him that far, but fortunately, the voice of a different child broke in saying, “Selina, please... Hello? Detective Bullock, how can I help you...”
“Harvey!” Jim grinned and flopped forward in the direction of the hallway where Bruce’s voice was coming from, nearly overturning his putrid vase. Valiantly, Alfred rescued the wretched thing and proceeded to do the whole room a favor by shuffling gingerly over to the window, cracking it open, and then chucking the befouled antique outside.
“Yes, Detective Gordon is here. Along with Alfred and Mr. Fox and, uh, Mayor Cobblepot, apparently,” Bruce counted them off as he stuck his head into the room, receiver pressed to his ear. “Yes, I’ll put him on...”
Bruce held the phone out to Jim, who had to make a couple grabs for it before he got a proper handle on it. In the interest of expedience, he let himself droop face-first to the ground where he could wedge the phone between his face and the carpet, and avoid his misbehaving sense of balance altogether.
“Harveyyy...” he said feebly, “Where are you? What...what’s goin’ on? My head is killing me, and...”
With a scoff of annoyance, Oswald pitched forward to join Jim on the carpet so he could reach the phone and hit the speaker button. The volume increased in time to catch the tail end of Harvey’s reply: “...a goddamn clue, other than a bunch of wasted crooks and a headache that I guarantee is worse than yours.”
“Not worse!” Jim insisted before Oswald wrested the phone from him altogether.
“Detective Bullock!” he said tightly, “I have just one question: is Ed with you?”
There was a moment of static silence before Bullock replied grudgingly, “Yeah, he’s here.”
Oswald sighed with relief and Jim took advantage of his distraction to grab the phone back. “Hey, Harv? So, since you don’t know what’s going on...and I don’t know what’s going on, and there are...a ton of criminals involved in this...whatever it is, we probably should avoid the GCPD until we’ve got a handle on the situation.”
“Ah, well, buddy, we’re actually, uh...inside. The, er, station.”
Jim pressed a hand to his eyes. “Alright, uh, ok. Then just....try and get out of there without being seen, I guess?”
“Roger. But...where should we go?”
“Come here, to the manor,” Jim said, causing Alfred’s eyebrows to ratchet up, “We can regroup on neutral territory.”
“Ten-four, Jim. We’ll be there as soon as I can wrestle all these guys into something with wheels.”
“Excuse me!” Alfred nearly shouted, “I’m not inviting a bunch of murderers and ne’er-do-wells over to the house for morning tea! The hell do you –”
“Good luck,” Jim said quickly before hanging up, doing his best to ignore the sound of Alfred taking emphatic issue with his decision.
“Well, that’s bloody brilliant, isn’t it,” Alfred fumed, “Exactly the sort of folks I want around Bruce, who, as you might recall, has a certain amount of trauma associated with the criminal element.”
“It’s fine, Alfred,” Bruce said quietly from the doorway where he’d been watching everything unfold, “After all, I imagine it will mostly be the same people who were here last night anyway.”
“They were...what?” Alfred asked weakly.
Lucius cut in, hands hovering near his ears, “Bruce, could you please answer him...quietly.”
“Um...sure,” Bruce whispered, stepping closer. “But, I think that phone you just purchased back from Selina would be more useful. Last night, after I surmised that you were all...not of your right minds, I did my best to steer clear. Selina and I retired, but you were filming something, Mr. Fox.”
“Filming something, eh?” Oswald muttered, feeling a spark of hope for the first time that dreadful morning as he returned his attention to the phone and began to look for the video in question.
“Wait a minute...” Alfred squinted up at Bruce, “Miss Kyle stayed the night?”
Bruce narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms. “She stayed in one of the guest rooms, obviously. And really, Alfred, you abandoned me to meet your boyfriend at a bar late at night –” Lucius flinched next to Alfred, shooting him a strained smile “– and returned to the mansion in the early hours of the morning, inebriated far past any responsible limit, and you’re chastising me?”
“He’s got a point,” Jim interjected, nodding.
Alfred turned a murderous glare on the detective, hissing, “Thank you for your input, now kindly butt out.”
“I think the more useful information gathered here,” Lucius began delicately, “Is that I apparently summoned Alfred to join me at the bar – which I recall going to with Jim and Harvey when they said they were planning on staking out some sort of celebratory gathering of criminals – which explains how he got involved.”
“Yes,” Alfred grumbled, “Thank you ever so much for that invitation.”
“I’m going to leave you gentlemen to your deductions,” Bruce announced before wisely fleeing the scene.
“We’re going to continue this conversation later!” Alfred shouted after Bruce, but Oswald flapped an irritated hand in his direction to shush him. “Quiet! I think I’ve found it...”
Lucius, Alfred, and Jim fell silent and crowded around Oswald, angling their heads to see the tiny, pixelated screen.
First to materialize in the dark video were a pair of wingtips stumbling unevenly across the mansion’s distinctive carpet. Then, there was a blur and Alfred came on screen, looking bubbly and amused, “Hey, that’s...that’s not yours, where did you get that?”
“Found it in the...” Lucius made a ‘vroom’ noise off camera, then finally finished his sentence: “the van!”
“And what’re you on about with it...”
“I’m recording!” Lucius announced happily, “If we’re gonna do this, I have to...have’ta keep it for future viewing.”
“I really hope I didn’t pay that child for your low-resolution sex tape,” Oswald sighed, as the Alfred and Lucius in the recording began to giggle.
“I hope not either,” Lucius agreed while Alfred blanched and Jim’s eyes went wide.
“Hey! You’re a camera man now!” A new voice entered the fray, and after some shaking, the camera came to rest on a bald man dressed in black, grinning wildly at the lens.
“Oh, I really hope this isn’t a sex tape,” Lucius breathed as Zsasz waved on screen.
“Isn’t that man an assassin?” Alfred demanded to know.
“Unfortunately,” Jim confirmed.
They all collectively sucked in a breath to prepare for what might come next, but to everyone’s relief, the camera just showed Alfred and Zsasz plunking down on the carpet next to two women Oswald recognized as Zsasz’s associates, and Jim.
On-camera-Jim laughed and asked, “What’re you filming this for?”
“It’s for...for science,” Lucius insisted.
“You say that about everything, darling,” the Alfred on the video pointed out.
“You do say that about everything,” the Alfred in real life agreed.
Real-life Lucius opened his mouth to argue, but the recorded Lucius replied for him: “Be-because I’m a scientist...so everything I do...is science!”
Lucius smiled, satisfied with his past-self’s answer.
On-screen-Lucius, clearly sloshed beyond belief, wrapped an arm around Alfred’s waist and purred, “And, and I never got to play this game...ninth grade...Ella Hickney’s birthday party...I had to go home early and...and I missed it.”
“Well, then,” Zsasz’ grinning face reentered the frame, “we’d better remedy that, pronto!”
With a flourish, the assassin produced a gleaming glass bottle, placing it on the ground and then gesturing grandly to Lucius. “First spin’s yours!”
“Oh my,” the present Lucius whispered, “This doesn’t seem like it will end well.”
In the recording, the game of spin the bottle began with Lucius drunkenly swatting at the bottle, finally getting it to take a lazy turn around the circle before landing on Alfred.
“Ah, wonderful!” the Alfred in the recording clapped his hands before pulling Lucius in close, “This game is already a rousing success."
The four men in real life averted their eyes from the low-angle filming of the two’s messy make out session, and breathed a sigh of relief in unison when the Oswald in the recording broke in, saying, “Hellooo! Other people here!”
That relief turned back into apprehension when on-screen Oswald whined, “It’s my turn now!”
The Oswald in the present tensed, almost dropping the phone, but he didn’t pause the video. Some part of him morbidly wanted to see what happened next, even though he couldn’t imagine it being anything less than humiliating.
On screen, Oswald’s energetic spin of the bottle finally came to rest pointing at one of the women, the one with the spiky blonde hair.
“Oh, just Dixie,” the current Oswald sighed, “That’s not so bad.”
Dixie hopped forward with a giggle to give Oswald a sweet peck on the lips and then bounced back to her seat and out of the frame, which showed Oswald breaking into giggles of his own.
They watched as Zsasz spun the bottle next, waiting with rising tension again until it landed on...Oswald.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, me again...” real-life Oswald muttered as the recorded Zsasz let out a whoop of success and dove forward to sweep Oswald up in a deep kiss. He pulled away with his usual manic grin, leaving Oswald looking slightly stunned as he asked, “Well, boss, did that earn me a raise?"
Onscreen-Oswald seemed to recover his wits as he shot back, "Only if you use it to buy a toothbrush."
In both real life and on the recording, Jim, Alfred, and Lucius oohed like spectators as onscreen-Zsasz gasped in mock outrage.
The camera twirled to put the bottle’s next victim in frame, revealing a very intoxicated Jim Gordon wavering back and forth, as if swayed by a gentle breeze. The woman in braids on his right elbowed him in the side to get him to spin the bottle, which he did, watching it with a rapt expression as it whirled and began to slow. The camera angle tilted, and the bottle fell out of view just as a gasp rose up from the recorded audience.
"You gotta do it, you gotta, it's the rules!" Zsasz shouted gleefully from out of the shot, which now featured a Jim Gordon who’d gone rather pale.
“Don't be a coward now, Jim," the recorded Oswald drawled as he crawled in from the left of the frame.
"'M not a coward!" Jim insisted, before grabbing Oswald by the shirtfront and kissing him soundly.
In the current world, everyone had gone very still, like witnesses to a horrible car crash who couldn’t look away from the carnage.
Wordlessly, Alfred reached over and tapped the power button on the phone, leaving them in a quiet reverberating with what they had all seen, and could never un-see.
Oswald finally shattered the brittle silence by saying in a tone of remarkable calm, "Ed must never see this." And with that, he snapped the phone shut and chucked it out the window the way of the vase.
A shocked, “Hey!” was Jim’s response.
"That was our only clue!" was Alfred’s slightly more coherent, and definitely angrier, reaction.
"We'll find another," Oswald replied testily, “Besides, do you really want your boyfriend’s amateur filmmaking to be the reason my husband-to-be hangs Detective Gordon by his toenails in a grungy shack in the woods while he slowly bleeds to death?"
"That's very specific..." Lucius noted with macabre curiosity.
“Okay,” Jim held out calming hands, “Everything’s fine. The phone wasn’t that important, so let’s just...forget everything we just saw. Except, you know, the useful things.”
“Like how you locked lips with the almost-married mayor slash king of the criminal underworld, is that what you mean?” Lucius offered candidly.
“No, Lucius,” Jim answered calmly, “That is not what I mean.”
“The only important thing we learned was that Zsasz and some of his crew were here at the mansion at some point, but no longer appear to be present.” Oswald paused to consider before adding, “And that Jim Gordon’s a lousy kisser.”
Jim gaped for a minute before leaping to his own defense, saying accusingly, “You said you didn’t remember anything from last night!”
“I don’t have to remember! Video doesn’t lie. You were sloppy.”
“I was drunk!”
“You know what? I’m gonna – ”
“Jim, my friend,” Alfred cut him off with a gentle hand on his arm, “I’m having this horrible premonition of you saying you’re going to ‘prove’ the mayor here wrong, and I promise that none of us want to be a witness to that.”
Jim froze, and then nodded meekly, sitting back. Oswald smiled, victorious.
“Now, perhaps we should all think about some breakfast...” Alfred began, trailing off when the room’s occupants made various noises of disgust at the idea.
“I thought you loved me,” Lucius moaned, hand to his stomach, “And then you go and remind me of the existence of food. And suggest imbibing it. And having to get up and move to do so.”
“I’m ever so sorry,” Alfred sighed, tugging Lucius into leaning against his side, “I haven’t the faintest idea why I’d even put sound to the notion.”
Any more discussion on the topic was cut short by the sound of the doorbell echoing through the hall.
“Finally!” Jim heaved himself to his feet and just managed to hang onto his balance long enough to grab the desk for support before he went careening back to the ground. Oswald wisely began his journey upwards by taking hold of the desk first, and using it to lever himself up.
Lucius, even more wisely, stayed put and said with a slight pout, “Make them come here.”
“Alright,” Alfred grumbled, pulling himself together with little success (his clothes were rumpled, his hair was a lost cause, and he was still rather pale) as he began to march with a grim expression to answer the door.
It took several minutes before he returned with Harvey, Ed, Butch, Tabitha, Zsasz, Dixie, and Trixie all in tow, and all moving slowly and looking fairly ill, with the exception of Zsasz, who seemed as chipper as usual.
“You look like hell, Jim!” Harvey called once he spotted his partner.
“I know you do, but what about me?” Jim shot back.
Harvey laughed and pulled Jim into a hug, thwacking his back amicably but wincing and apologizing when the jostling made Jim’s stomach gurgle and his face turn an unnatural shade of green.
“Edward,” Oswald sighed with relief, not realizing how much tension he’d been carrying until it fell away at the sight of his fiancé.
“Oswald,” Ed replied, smiling softly as he pulled him into a careful embrace, mindful of their similarly rough condition.
“My love, are you alright?” Oswald asked as he pulled back to inspect Ed, finding the same signs of substance-related overindulgence on his face as he did on his companions.
“I am...alive. And most likely on the path to recovery. Though I’ll admit I had my doubts on the ride over here...” he shuddered lightly, “we should definitely make filling in Gotham’s potholes a priority at the next budget meeting.”
Oswald laughed and nodded, hands reaching up to cup Ed’s face and then dragging down his arms, finally reaching his hands where he went to tangle their fingers together but found an unfamiliar leather barrier.
“What’re these?” Oswald asked, lifting Ed’s hands to point out the strange fingerless gloves he was now sporting.
“Ah, what? Oh, these, uh, these are – ” Ed panicked, but fortunately for him, Zsasz dove to the rescue.
“They’re mine! Yeah, I lent ‘em to old Eddie here.” Zsasz threw a companionable arm around Ed’s shoulders, making Oswald’s eyes narrow in instant jealousy. “Cold hands are, uh, a common side effect of hangovers. Yep. Just taking care of my pal!” Zsasz grinned, giving him a squeeze as he threw his other hand around Ed, patting his chest.
“Alright!” Oswald swiped at Zsasz, nearly shoving him off of Ed, “That’s enough. Your charity is noted and appreciated, but you can keep your hands to yourself.”
“Hey!” Zsasz shrugged, unworried, “It’s all good. It’s not like I kissed him or something, right?”
Oswald froze up at his words, mouth hanging open as his mind spun through panicked thoughts: did Zsasz remember last night? Did he tell Ed? No, no if he did, Ed would’ve probably already tried to stab someone...
“No, no you didn’t kiss him. There was no kissing! Anywhere, ever by anyone,” Oswald babbled when he finally regained his power of speech. Ed shot him a curious glance and he tried to cover his tracks by continuing, “Except, of course, there was between myself and Ed. Because we’re in love. And together. I put a ring on it and everything!” he laughed nervously, but Ed didn’t notice because now it was his turn to freeze up.
“You did indeed,” he replied finally, voice higher than usual, “You put a ring on...on me. You definitely, did...that. Yes.”
Before the two’s painfully stilted conversation could continue, Harvey broke in. “Hey, if we’re done with the whole tearful reunion thing, we do actually have some stuff to figure out.”
“So,” Harvey waited until everyone was listening to him, taking a moment to wonder how he had become the voice of reason, “first things first. Does anyone remember anything from last night?”
The group sounded off in a circle, starting with Ed.
“I recall going to the Sirens with Oswald for our bachelor party. We arrived there and...that’s all.”
“Ditto,” Oswald agreed.
“I remember convincing you to go to the club to keep an eye on them, Harvey,” Jim mused, eyes squeezed shut as he thought, “And picking up Lucius on the way, and then walking in, getting a drink and...yeah. That’s where I stop.”
“Same here,” Harvey agreed.
“Yes,” Lucius concurred, “And we learned, er...I remember calling Alfred, at some point. I guess I wanted his company.”
“And I think I’m starting to remember that phone call,” Alfred added, “and driving into town. Nothing after that, unfortunately.”
“I remember lots of things,” Zsasz stated proudly, “like how to make a papier-mâché chicken, and how many pints of blood are in the average human body, and going with the girls to the club when we heard Penguin was throwing a bash, but....not really anything else.”
“Same,” Trixie said, “minus the papier-mâché chicken part.” Dixie nodded her agreement.
The group turned expectantly to Tabitha and Butch, who had been glowering at the room and nodding off against a bookcase, respectively.
“Hey, all I remember was being at the club, like usual, and then waking up with you idiots,” Tabitha snarled.
Butch nodded and said, “I went with Penguin and Nygma as back up, then started hanging with Tabby, and it all gets fuzzy after that. Oh and...” Butch stretched his arms out and there was a slight tearing noise, “this ain’t my jacket. If that’s important.”
“Right,” Harvey sighed, “So we’ve got....nothing. No evidence except that Butch is, for some reason, wearing a tacky sports coat that isn’t his, and Lee got some real weird drunk texts from Jim last night.”
“Lee!” Jim straightened up, “Is she alright?”
“Oh, she’s fine,” Harvey assured him, “she wasn’t involved. Though, she kinda is now, since she’s running drug tests on all of us who woke up in her office.”
“Drug tests?” Ed asked at the same time that Jim spluttered, “Her office?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Harvey waved his hands at the noise, “Quick summary for those who weren’t there: we think we were drugged, not just drunk. And those of us at the GCPD woke up in the ME’s office, no clue why. I don’t suppose you guys know why you’re here, other than the fact that it’s where Alfred lives?”
“Nope,” Jim replied a little sadly. “But I wish I’d woken up in Lee’s office instead.”
“You don’t, pal,” Butch interjected, thinking of how disgusting the floor he’d made his bed was.
“Let’s...let’s try and think positively,” Lucius suggested, sounding slightly doubtful of his own words. “We’re all, uh...here. And not dead.”
“And not in the process of dying,” Harvey assured them, “According to Lee, at least.”
“And we didn’t kill anyone,” Jim added.
“That we know of,” Alfred amended darkly.
Jim frowned at that, hand going instinctively to his shoulder holster to inspect his weapon. With a touch of nerves, he removed the magazine and held it up to the light, checking the count. He went pale.
Harvey’s hopeful smile, inspired by the fact that at least one of them hadn’t lost his department-issue weapon last night, faded and he said slowly, “Uh, buddy...it kinda looks like you’re...missing a few bullets there....”
“And if I recall correctly,” Ed cut in, “which I do, it’s department protocol to never leave the station without a full clip. So, unless Jimbo here was bending the rules...”
“I wasn’t,” Jim confirmed mournfully.
“...then that means he fired off – ” Ed leaned in for a closer look “ – three shots last night.”
Tabitha broke the uncomfortable silence that followed with a bark of laughter. “So you're saying Gordon might've killed someone last night?” she asked, delighted, “Oh, this is great. If I wasn't so nauseous I'd want popcorn to go with this show.”
“I could go for some popcorn,” Victor mused, earning him a sharp elbow in the side from Trixie. "Focus," she whispered, "these folks always get their boxers in a bunch when it comes to murder.”
“Right, right....” Zsasz pulled on what he probably imagined was a serious expression.
“I think I need some air,” Lucius stated, a little faintly, before stumbling over to the half-open window and leaning his forehead against the cool glass.
“I’m sure Jim didn’t kill anybody,” Harvey held reassuring hands out to his partner, who was making a visible effort not to start hyperventilating, “There’s definitely a simple, non-murder-y explanation for the missing bullets.”
“I....think I might have found those bullets,” Lucius announced quietly, craning his neck as he peered over the window ledge.
“What...?” Jim asked, turning to face him. Lucius wordlessly pointed outside, and with trepidation, Jim and the assembled party stepped forward to look for themselves.
“Ooh! You sure did,” Zsasz confirmed cheerfully as they all took in the sight of what was unquestionably a very dead gentleman splayed out in the greenery outside, with several bloody red bullet holes decorating his chest.
“My rose bushes!” Alfred exclaimed indignantly at the sight of his crushed flowers.
“Seriously?” Harvey exclaimed, “You’re worried about your plants right now?”
Lucius shot Harvey a glare as he wrapped a comforting arm around Alfred’s shoulders and said, “They’re imported from France.”
“Well, that’s just plain rude of that guy then, to die on top of your fancy French roses,” Harvey retorted.
“Okay, Harvey,” Jim pushed him gently aside, looking strangely calm, “Let’s all just take a breath. I think we’re all a little tense, and we’re dealing with that in different ways.”
“Yeah,” Alfred noted sharply, “Like little Miss Blondie over there is dealing with it by trying to make off with some of the family silver.”
Everyone turned to see Dixie halfway through shoving a tarnished jewelry box down the front of her shirt. She paused and glanced at the crowd, non-plussed. “What?”
“You can’t just take things,” Trixie hissed, digging around a bit in Dixie’s cleavage to remove the pilfered box and put it back where it belonged.
“But aren’t we’re always stealing stuff we like?” Dixie asked with a naïve pinch to her brow.
“Yeah, from dead people’s houses,” Trixie explained kindly.
“Oh...” Dixie nodded sagely, “Gotta wait till they’re dead first.”
“Mmhmm,” Trixie confirmed with a gentle smile.
“Good lord,” Lucius muttered, “Are we quite sure that all this is real, not some mass hallucination?”
“I’m afraid so, darling,” Alfred responded, taking his turn to pull Lucius in for a comforting hug.
“And since it’s real, and I may be responsible for the homicidal part of it, we should probably go take a look at that corpse,” Jim concluded.
As one gigantic, awkward, hungover group, they all trooped outside to inspect the unfortunate soul currently tangled in Alfred’s precious rosebushes. The dead man’s curly blond hair was mussed and streaked with dirt and something that looked like it might be engine grease, his expression frozen in almost comical confusion.
“Does someone want to, uh, take a closer look?” Harvey asked once they were all standing in a semi-circle around the body.
Tabitha leaned forward. “He’s dead,” she pronounced, crossing her arms.
Harvey sighed. “Anybody want to look and say something useful?”
“He was shot three times,” Butch contributed, miming pulling a trigger and looking pointedly at Jim, who’d adopted a stiff, military posture and a poker face.
Lucius kneeled carefully down, squinting at the wounds. “If I had to take a guess, I’d say this was fired from a pistol...the ammo looks to be between six and eight millimeters...”
“So, could be police issue,” Jim said aloud what they were all thinking.
“Yes...” Lucius agreed, tilting even closer to the body as he spotted something. “There seems to be some sort of paper shoved down the front of his shirt...” He carefully pulled on the smudged corner of a piece of notepaper until it was free, then flipped it around to reveal the looping cursive writing on the other side.
“Ha ha, I move pretty fast for a dead guy...” he read, eyebrows flying upwards. He twirled the note towards the crowd behind him, “Anybody know what this means?”
“No...” Trixie drawled, “But I do recognize the boss’ handwriting.”
Everyone turned to look at Zsasz with a mixture of trepidation and relief. Jim never thought he’d be hoping Zsasz had killed someone, but here he was.
Zsasz snapped his fingers excitedly and punched the shoulder nearest to him, which turned out to be Oswald’s, and so earned him a sharp jab in the kidneys in return.
“I remember writing that!” he wheezed, clutching his side but not looking at all put-out. “I must have stuck it in his jacket when I dumped him here, because...” He burst into laughter and pointed at the body, “he was supposed to be somewhere else! But I moved him! ‘Move pretty fast for a dead guy’ ha! I crack myself up...”
Dixie began to giggle along with Zsasz but Jim, whose face was getting progressively redder at all the hilarity surrounding a freshly dead man, shouted, “There’s nothing funny about this!”
“It’s a little funny,” Trixie drawled, holding her thumb and forefinger about an inch apart.
Jim closed his eyes and thought peaceful thoughts. “Alright. So, you moved him. That means he wasn’t killed here, right?”
Lucius nodded in confirmation, peeking gingerly under the body’s shoulder.
“And Zsasz, if you moved him from somewhere else, then where was he supposed to be?”
“Oh, I have no idea,” Zsasz replied, sobering slightly, “Last night’s still got a lotta holes.” He bit his lip but couldn’t hold back a snort as he added, “almost as many holes as this guy!”
Harvey chuckled, and Jim rounded on him, betrayal in his eyes. “What?” Harvey shrugged defensively, “A man can appreciate some gallows humor.”
Lucius broke into the detectives’ bickering, asking Zsasz, “Does that mean...you killed our John Doe?” Alfred took a pointed step in front of Lucius at that, eyes locked on the still-unworried seeming assassin.
“Oh, naw,” Zsasz rolled his eyes, “Please, the grouping on this guy’s chest is sloppy as hell. No way I’d pull off a job that was so lacking in style.”
“Right, cause assassins are first and foremost known for their panache,” Alfred snapped.
“Exactly,” Zsasz agreed, as if that settled his innocence. “The person who did this was a newbie if they were even a professional at all.” He leaned in closer to the body, tilting his head this way and that as he mused, “In fact, with the way these shots are all over the place, I’d wager the guy who did it hadn’t ever fired at a real person before.”
“That’s actually a useful bit of analysis, Mr. Zsasz,” Lucius granted, moving around Alfred’s protective stance to take another look at the corpse. “And it also helps alleviate the possibility that a certain member of the police was the one who killed this man.”
“Though it doesn’t rule it out completely,” Jim said.
Harvey sighed. “Just take the win, Jim,”
“There is no win, Harvey,” Jim snapped, “not until we find out who killed this man, and if we were involved.”
“Excuse me, Detectives?” Bruce’s voice came from the open front door as he stepped out, brandishing the house phone, “Doctor Lee is on the line for you.”
“Great!” Harvey clapped his hands together, making everyone wince at the sharp noise prodding at their collective headaches. He retrieved the phone, bypassing pleasantries as he asked, “Whataya got, Doc?”
“Well, your hypothesis was correct, Harvey, aside from copious amounts of alcohol in your systems – and I would stress the word copious – there was also a strong presence of salvia divinorum for some of you, a potent psychoactive drug. It’s known to cause hallucinations, dissociation, and memory loss.”
Harvey pumped his fist, “Knew it. Hey, look,” he turned to Jim with a smile, “my knowledge of chemically induced blackouts has finally come in handy.”
“And I’m so proud of you,” Jim patted his shoulder and took the phone from Harvey. “Hey, Lee...yeah, I’m fine, or, well, you know, not permanently damaged....” his eyes flicked over to Oswald for a second and he added, “physically, at least. Anyway, does the drug give us any clues about who might have dosed us?”
“Maybe. It comes from a plant that has to be cultivated in pretty specific conditions, but it’s not illegal.”
“Weird plant, not illegal, gotcha. Anything else?”
“Yeah, actually...since only about half of you had the drug in your systems, it seems that some of you may have been unaffected. That might be good news, since the memory loss might then be less severe – though still likely, since all the samples I processed were, well, drunk off their metaphorical asses.”
“Yeah,” Jim pinched the bridge of his nose, “So, who probably didn’t get dosed?”
“The assassins three,” Lee sounded vaguely amused as she continued, “I suppose that’s a good thing. If there’s someone you don’t want wandering around hallucinating, it’s a bunch of trained killers, right?”
“Mmhmm,” Jim agreed, strained, trying not to look at the corpse at his feet, “Well, I’ve got to go – thank you so much for your help, I’ll, uh, I’ll call you if I get anything else bye!” He hung up in a rush, taking a deep breath.
“Ok,” he announced to the group at large, “Turns out, Zsasz and the, uh, ladies, I’m sorry, I never caught your names...”
“Dixie,” Dixie smiled and hopped up and down happily.
“Trixie,” Trixie said more sedately.
“Right...so, it turns out you three weren’t drugged. That’s good, it means your memories should be more intact, which explains why you remember a little bit of last night. Also, it’s a clue – it means that whenever the rest of us were drugged, you probably weren’t there, so...”
“So we just have to find out what happened before Zsasz and his partners arrived,” Oswald finished.
“For starters,” Ed said, chin propped up on his fist, “We were all at the Sirens. That’s the likeliest location of our drugging, since the liquor was flowing rather freely, and it’s when our respective memories begin to fail.”
“Then I guess this Scooby gang from hell is off to the club,” Harvey pronounced grimly, “Let’s pack it into the Mystery Machine and hit the road.”
Before they left, Jim enlisted Alfred in locating a tarp to put over the corpse, so that any evidence possibly left from last night might be better preserved until such time as they could safely loop the rest of the GCPD in without being branded murder suspects. (It wasn’t clear if that time would ever arrive, given that the majority of their party consisted of known criminals, but that was a problem for another day).
Then, with a great deal of groaning, arguing, and threats of bodily harm, the nearly dozen people managed to make their way to the only form of transportation available. The vehicle in question was the one that the GCPD crew had taken to Wayne Manor, which turned out to be Zsasz’ large, black, windowless van. Or, as he affectionately called it, Scream Boy.
“Scream Boy?” Lucius started to ask as they approached the van, “Why is it called...?” Alfred shook his head and Lucius trailed off, realizing that he didn’t actually want to know, but Zsasz answered anyway as he threw open the back doors.
“I named it that since the girls kept calling it the ‘murder van,’ and that was just creepy.”
“Right,” Lucius nodded, eyes wide, “and ‘Scream Boy’ is much more reassuring.”
“Exactly,” Zsasz smiled, shoving a pile of shiny chains mixed with a pair of handcuffs or two under a seat. “Alright, everybody, all aboard! It’s going to be a bit squishy back there, so snuggle up.”
As it turned out, “a bit squishy,” was an understatement, and it became clear that there was a two-people-to-a-seat minimum.
This was fine for most of them: Oswald curled happily into Ed’s chest, Tabitha had been using Butch as a mobile couch for most of the morning anyway, and Lucius was all too happy to pull his limbs into Alfred's safe embrace and away from the sundry metal tools and leather straps that populated the van’s floor. This left Jim and Harvey with an uncomfortable moment of silence before Harvey sighed, sat down, and patted the tops of his thighs saying, "climb on, cowboy." This made Jim flinch and grumble "Ok, well, now I definitely can't do that."
"My lap’s still free!" Zsasz called hopefully from the slightly more spacious front passenger seat. Without another thought, Jim clambered onto Harvey, nearly elbowing him in the gut in his haste.
Zsasz sighed in disappointment as Dixie put the car into gear, and Trixie gave his knee a comforting pat from where she was squished between him and Dixie.
Unsurprisingly, they arrived at the Sirens club in ill spirits, pouring haphazardly out of the back of Zsasz’ van like it was a particularly disturbing clown car.
“The Bentley!” Alfred exclaimed, rushing towards a shining black car parked in front of the club and running a possessive hand along the hood. “It seems alright...” he muttered to himself, as Jim spotted Harvey’s car and went over to check it out.
“Well,” Jim patted Harvey’s Buick fondly, “At least the car’s in one piece.”
“Yes, wonderful,” Oswald snapped, “except where’s our car?”
They all looked around, but there was no sign of the eminently spottable mayoral limousine.
“I’m sure it’ll turn up,” Ed said soothingly, not because he believed it, but because Oswald was getting red in a way that meant an explosion was not far off, and his head hurt too much to bear that volume of yelling.
Oswald still looked testy, but he leaned into Ed’s side and let some of his anger drain away, until he could say calmly in Tabitha and Butch’s direction, “Alright. Let’s go and find your better half, Ms. Galavan, and see if she can shed some light on last night’s debacle.”
Barbara was sipping a cocktail at the bar when they marched in. She looked up, a sharp smile growing on her face as she drank in the scene.
“Wow....” she dragged the vowel out as she slid off her stool, posing elegantly against the bar with her glass, “just...wow.” She held her drink out to Jim, who was leading the crowd, smirking as she said, “You look like you need this more than me.”
He grimaced with nausea as he held up a hand to refuse it. “No, thank you. I don’t think I’ll be drinking anything for a while, or possibly ever again.”
Barbara laughed, high and tinkling as Tabitha detached from Butch’s side and swiped up the cocktail for herself, downing it in one go.
At Jim’s horrified look she rolled her eyes, explaining, “Hair of the dog, or whatever. I need to be pretty drunk to deal with a hangover like this.”
“That’s my girl!” Barbara cooed as Tabitha leaned an elbow on her shoulder. “Now...” she turned her gaze back to the rest of them, “What can I do for you? I assume that you came here because you want something other than my admittedly fabulous company.”
“We wanted to ask if you saw anything or anyone unusual last night,” Jim said, putting his hands on his hips as he shifted into detective-mode.
“Unusual?” Barbara laughed, “Do you think you could be just a touch more specific?” she booped Jim’s nose for emphasis.
“Unusual as in someone who didn’t belong, maybe someone who had access to the bar...?” Jim trailed off pointedly as Barbara made a show of thinking about it, tapping her chin with a perfectly manicured nail.
“Well...there was this one kinda strange woman hanging out by the bar for a while. She just ordered a club soda, and then took off not too long after you boys showed up,” Barbara wiggled her fingers at Jim and Harvey. “I wouldn’t have really noticed her, except that she looked a bit skittish. And she was a total knockout. I mean...” Babs whistled and gestured meaningfully to the neckline of her dress.
Jim pinched the bridge of his nose, “Alright, this shady woman – you got a useful description?”
“I do. She was tall, red-headed, with kind of a Sapphic hippie vibe.... A ‘save the trees’ kind of hippie, not a peace and love one. Pretty sure she could kill a man and not blink an eye...” Barbara’s eyes slid over to Tabitha as she finished in a purr, “You know how much I love qualities like that in a woman.”
“She could’ve been the one to spike our drinks,” Jim reasoned, turning to Harvey, who nodded.
“Ooh, you all got roofied?” Barbara clapped her hands together in delight, “How not at all fun for you!” She turned to Tabitha, pulling on a sympathetic pout, “Sorry, baby. I maybe should have figured that out when you decided to do that keg stand.”
“I – what?” Tabby spluttered.
“Mmm,” Barbara nodded, “It was glorious but...a bit out of character. You were all acting a little off, actually,” Barbara waved grandly at the group, “I just thought you were a bunch of lightweights. And you were so fun to watch, besides, so it’s not like I wanted to stop the entertainment.
“Like, you two,” she zeroed in on Ed and Oswald, “were definitely making the most of your bachelor party. Embarrassing dancing, PDA that verged on the illegal, and the body shots...” she whistled, “I wish I’d gotten pictures of that.”
Ed tensed and Oswald glanced up at him. “Tell you later,” Ed hissed at him, remembering the photos Lee had been texted.
“And then you climbed onto the stage,” Barbara pointed at Lucius, “and tried to take the microphone away from my lead singer, yelling something about how it was ‘your turn’ and you wanted to sing Love Shack.”
“That’s absurd,” Lucius said, crossing his arms defensively.
“Ah, but you do love your karaoke don’t you, darling?” Alfred pointed out, with a sympathetic wince. Lucius raised a finger as if to object, but then wilted, nodding. “I...do love karaoke.”
“This is not a karaoke bar,” Barbara said sweetly.
“Noted,” Lucius coughed.
“Anyway, that’s when I finally tossed all of you out. Well, not you, sweet pea,” Barbara patted Tabitha’s backside, “But you muttered something about putting all your money on black and then followed this band of idiot brothers to wherever they were going.”
“Money on black...” Jim repeated with trepidation, “Do you think we went gambling?”
“Woo-hoo, I hope not,” Harvey replied, “Because I’m already up to my beard in debt.”
“Hang on a minute...” Alfred turned to Lucius and slipped a hand inside the other man’s suit jacket, rooting around for a minute with a determined expression. “Aha!” he removed his hand, now holding something round and red, “here’s our evidence!”
“A poker chip,” Jim realized, moving closer to inspect the plastic circle, “How did you know Lucius would have it?”
“It’s a, uh, old habit of mine,” Alfred explained with a touch of embarrassment, “Have the prettiest doll in the house hold on to my first chip, for luck, you see.”
“Aww...” Lucius smiled, teasing as he leaned into Alfred, “Was I the prettiest doll in the house last night?”
“You’re the prettiest doll in any house, on any night, as you well know,” Alfred shot back affectionately.
Jim coughed pointedly, and the amorous pair straightened up and returned their attention to the matter of the newly discovered clue.
“Royal Flush Casino,” Jim read, squinting at the tiny black print in the chip’s center.
“I know that place,” Oswald realized out loud, “They give me a cut every– uh, that is, they’re a civic-minded business that supports the local government on a regular basis.”
“And I wanted to go there and see how long it took me to clean them out at the blackjack table,” Ed added, “Remember? We talked about it, but decided it would probably not be politically wise for the mayor to be spotted at an establishment of rather dubious legality.”
“I guess the combination of hard liquor and drugs shook us free of that inhibition,” Oswald said darkly, running a hand over his face.
“Then I guess we’re off to the Royal Flush Casino to see what the hell we got up to while we were smashed out of our minds,” Harvey concluded, “Let’s all send up a prayer that we didn’t gamble away our retirement funds last night.”
“Funny that you think I ever had a retirement fund to begin with,” Jim teased.
“I do hope you’re joking, Jim,” Ed broke in, “because to not have begun a financial plan for your advanced years by your time in life is deeply irresponsible.”
“He said earlier that he doesn’t have life insurance, either,” Lucius added, disapprovingly.
“Thanks a lot!” Jim grumbled at Lucius, before rounding on Ed, “And I do not need a lecture about financial irresponsibility from a felon, especially not when I’ve got a headache like this.”
“You all are my headache right now,” Tabitha snapped, shoving her way into the center of the group of men, “And until we figure out who the hell drugged us so I can put a bullet in their brain, I’m stuck with you. But the bickering like children must stop.” Ed raised a finger to protest but she glared him down, until they were all staring abashedly at their shoes.
“There,” she tugged sharply on her jacket, straightening it out, “that’s better. Now, let’s go to this casino place and shake it down.”
“Ha!” They all turned to Barbara, who pressed a hand to her mouth to cover her giggles as she read something on her phone. “Ozzie, dear?” she waved the phone merrily, “Thought you might like to know that the mayor’s limousine is being towed from an alley behind the GCPD.”
There was a moment of silence while everyone turned to Oswald, bracing themselves for the inevitable explosion, but it didn’t come. Oswald’s face did screw up in rage, cheeks going red and hands white-knuckled, but he didn’t shout. Finally, after a few calming breaths, he said, “Okay. That’s fine. It’s not like I’ll have to pay the fee.”
“Well, actually –” Jim began, before Ed cut him off sharply, “Of course not, darling, there will be no fee-paying. And! It’s actually another clue – we now know that some number of us, likely myself, Butch, and Tabitha, probably took the limo to the GCPD, while Zsasz and his companions took their van. It’s another piece of the puzzle,” Ed told Oswald, comfortingly.
“Yes, a clue, wonderful,” Oswald said, almost managing to sound like he wasn’t still ready to kill the next person within range of his knife.
“Well, now that that’s settled, off we go!” Zsasz announced cheerfully, “All aboard Scream Boy!”
“No,” several people declared at once, while the rest nodded their fervent agreement.
Zsasz deflated. “You don’t like the van?”
“Let me put it this way,” Oswald said delicately, stepping forward, “If the only passage out of hell itself was that van, I would turn around and buy a condo in the pits of eternal damnation.”
“You didn’t hate Scream Boy so much last night,” Zsasz pointed out morosely, “I was ferrying half of you around, and this is the thanks I get.”
“You were driving us?” Jim asked, throwing his hands in the air, “When, where?”
“Well...I remember coming to the club with the girls, then...there’s a blank, some flashing lights, a...dog? Maybe?” Zsasz closed one eye and tilted his head as he tried to recall the past night, “Then I definitely remember bringing Penguin, the Butler and his boo, and Detective Hot Stuff to the manor before going to the GCPD for our naptime.”
“Detective...what?” Jim spluttered at the moniker, then shook his head sharply, “Never mind. But, seriously, Zsasz, are you ever gonna sit down and think hard about what you remember from last night and then tell us about all of it, or you just planning to continue coming up with random nuggets of information as we stumble across new clues?”
Zsasz considered for a moment and then said, "Yeah, the second one, definitely."
"Okay," Jim agreed tiredly.
“Alright,” Harvey pressed on, “So the van of horrors is out – that leaves my car and Pennyworth’s money-mobile.”
“I ain’t gettin’ in no cop car,” Butch declared.
“I’d love to ride in a cop car,” Zsasz beamed.
“Well, obviously I’m riding in the Bentley,” Oswald sniffed.
“Obviously,” Lucius repeated, droll. “Since I believe we could easily spend the next hour fighting over who will ride in which vehicle, I propose we each take our own vehicles, plus the half of those left vehicle-less who would be best suited to them – so Mr. Zsasz and his companions can ride with the detectives in their car, and Alfred and I can take the rest in the spacious, non-police-issue, torture-implement-free Bentley.”
Alfred glared at Lucius. “For the record, you have betrayed me deeply by forcing me to allow these ruffians anywhere near that beautiful car. But, I’ll admit, that plan seems likely to get us all on the road quickly, and without bloodshed. So! Big man, scary ma’am, mister mayor and his beau – you’re with us.”
Alfred jerked a thumb over his shoulder and marched out the door, with the criminals he’d named following behind with a modicum of grumbling and complaint.
“Excellent-ay, it’s you and me, Jimmy,” Zsasz grinned, sidling up to the detective as their group made their way out of the club and over to Harvey’s car.
“Actually it’s you, me, your friends, and Harvey –”
“Details,” Victor waved a hand like he was swatting an irritating gnat, “It’ll still be nice ‘n intimate.” He raised his non-existent eyebrows suggestively.
Jim blinked. “Zsasz. I...can’t believe I have to say it, but this,” Jim gestured between them, “is never going to happen. Ever. Literally ever.”
Zsasz pouted. “Why not? I have been reliably told that I’m a catch.”
“It’s true!” Dixie piped up, “I said it.”
“You are not a catch, you’re a killer!” Jim shouted in frustration, getting the attention of the group trying to bustle into Alfred’s car, “You’ve tried to kill me!”
“Oh, come on, every couple tries to kill each other a few times! Ask anyone here.” Zsasz turned to the Bentley squad.
Tabitha, Butch, Ed, and Oswald all shrugged and nodded while Lucius looked on, aghast.
“No, Mr. Zsasz, that is not true,” he protested, grabbing his partner’s arm, “Alfred, have you ever tried to kill me?”
“No, darling,” Alfred assured him mildly, “Closest we came was that time you finished my favorite lemon preserves.”
“See!” Jim declared, triumphant, “Point proven.”
“Hold on! As a matter of fact...” Alfred winced, shooting a sideways glance at Lucius, “When we met for the very first time, I do believe I insinuated a threat of deadly violence against your lovely person...”
Lucius’ eyes widened. “Oh god, you’re right. That whole dreary story with the kippers...”
“That’s the one.”
“But that was only a threat,” Lucius hedged, “not an actual attempt, so –”
“So, my point stands!” Jim insisted, a little desperately.
“Statistically speaking,” Zsasz countered, “the point is actually to the occasional-murder-attempt-side, so by that logic, we’re basically already dating.”
“Alright!” Harvey shouted, reaching into the driver’s side of his car to let off a blare of the police klaxon, effectively shutting everyone up, “No one is dating anyone! Except, you know, anyone who’s already dating someone – you know what I mean! Everyone just get in the damn cars.”
For fear of another klaxon-blast, the still-hungover group did as Harvey said.
Chapter 2: all dogs go to heaven
They made it to the Royal Flush Casino with only a few obscenities thrown and no limbs lost (that was a close call considering that Ed, shoved in the backseat of the Bentley with his companions, accidentally elbowed Tabitha in the gut twice), Oswald directing Alfred on the route and Harvey’s car following the Bentley.
They all tumbled out of their respective vehicles and followed Oswald down a filthy alley and then down an even-filthier staircase, until they reached a shining stainless-steel door that was distinctly out of place.
Oswald knocked on it sharply four times and a small hatch slid open, revealing a pair of suspicious eyes.
“We’re closed,” the eyes said.
“Open up or I, with the mayoral power vested in me, are shutting you the fuck down,” Oswald replied crisply.
The eyes wisely decided to open the door. The entire gang filed in, with Alfred, Lucius, Jim, and Harvey staying to talk to the man guarding the entrance and the rest wandering further into the casino. Oswald headed confidently for a door marked “Office” near the back, Ed on his heels, while Butch and Tabitha started sniffing around the drop-cloth-covered blackjack tables. Zsasz, Dixie, and Trixie bypassed any such investigation and went immediately over to a huge roulette wheel, fussing with the controls and trying to get it to spin.
“Hey, hands off the equipment!” The eyes, attached now to a burly man wearing a white T-shirt with the number “10” emblazoned on it, called after the trio of assassins, who paid him no mind.
“Don’t worry, sir, we won’t let them damage anything,” Jim said grimly, raising his badge before going over to pry Zsasz and his crew off the roulette wheel.
“Cops?” The man growled, “Whatever you think you’re doing here, we’re all paid up for the month, so no funny business –”
“Don’t worry,” Harvey gave him a companionable pat on the shoulder, “We’re not here to cause trouble. Just need to talk to someone who was here last night.”
“Talk about what?”
“Us, actually,” Alfred replied brightly, “To sum up a long and rather colorful tale, we all got completely sloshed last night and don’t remember a thing, but we’ve managed to work out that we came to this fine establishment, and we’re hoping to maybe find a clue as to what may have transpired in our lost hours.”
“Wait....” the man squinted at them, “Are you...those guys?”
“What guys?” Jim asked apprehensively.
The man didn’t answer, instead putting a hand next to his mouth and yelling, “Hey, Jack!”
A skinny man with an ace of clubs tattooed on his cheekbone stuck his head out of a doorway further beyond the office Ed and Oswald had disappeared into. “What? I’m busy –” the man cut himself off when he caught sight of the various ne’er-do-wells meandering around the casino, his eyes going wide. “You!” he shouted at none of them in particular, disappearing back into the door he’d come from for a moment before returning, wielding a large metal baseball bat. “The fuckin’ balls on you guys, coming back here after all the shit you pulled!”
“Well, that’s not good,” Lucius noted calmly.
“Ya think?” Harvey replied, raising his fists boxer-style.
“Wait!” The call of an imperious voice stopped the enraged Jack in his tracks. A blonde woman who was made up of proportionally more leg than seemed possible stepped elegantly out of an office, Ed and Oswald following her. “It’s alright, Jack, there is no need for violence. These...people...” the word rolled reluctantly off her tongue as she took in the motley group, “are guests of the mayor, who has just explained the situation.”
“Alright, Queenie,” Jack lowered the bat reluctantly, “If you say so.”
“The manager, Ms. Queen, has agreed to show us security footage of last night,” Oswald announced, “as well as have her employee, here, fill in the relevant context of the events.”
“If you’ll follow me...” Queen beckoned with a sharp finger and went down the hall and through a door marked “Security.”
With a bit of shoving, most of the rest of the crowd managed to follow her into the unfortunately small security booth. Ed and Oswald were pressed up against the monitors while Jim and Harvey peered at the screens and Alfred and Lucius looked over their shoulders. Tabitha, unable to see anything past the ocean of men, huffed an irritated breath and then climbed up on Butch’s shoulders to get a better view. Zsasz, Dixie, and Trixie didn’t bother following their companions, instead choosing to redouble their efforts to make the roulette wheel spin.
Jack pushed his way to the front and took control of the video. “So, all you idiots came in around midnight,” he began brusquely, queueing up footage that showed their party entering and then dispersing around the casino, “Clearly out of your gourds, but you had the password and the entrance fee, so whatever. Though some of you,” here Jack glared pointedly at Jim, “put up a fuss about how a big fancy police detective like yourself didn’t need to follow the house rule of giving up your electronics and weapons. Held onto your sidearm like it was your goddamn teddy bear.”
There was a general chorus of realization in the room as they realized the fate of their various possessions, and a couple of snide looks shot at Jim who replied weakly, “I mean...a detective’s not supposed to just give up his weapon for anything...”
“Yes, Jim Gordon’s above the rules, we’re aware,” Ed sighed, “But as for the rest of us – now that we know where our belongings disappeared to, is there any chance we could get them back?”
Jack snorted. “Yeah, no. Consider them payment for damages rendered.”
“What about my guns,” Tabitha growled from her perch on Butch’s shoulders, “and my knives. And my brass knuckles. And the taser.”
“Damages. Rendered.” Jack shot back at her.
“I don’t see any damage,” Oswald pointed out before Tabitha could leap down and beat some real damage into Jack’s face.
“Just wait. You were loud but otherwise fine until something sent tall, dumb, and skinny here into a tizzy.”
Ed gasped in offense when he realized that the figure Jack was pointing to on the security feed was him. The Ed on the video was waving his arms and shouting at a man with a too-large blazer and a bad haircut. The Oswald on the video joined in a moment later, shaking one hand at the man while waving the other at Zsasz and the girls, trying to call them over. They didn’t notice, apparently as entranced with the roulette wheel last night as they were in the present, but Jim and Harvey did and began to make their way over, with Alfred and Lucius following them with cheerful, drunken curiosity.
“Do you know what they were so angry about?” Jim asked, tilting his head to try and get a better look at what was happening at the poker table on the feed.
Jack shrugged. “I dunno. The gal running the blackjack table next door, Ace, told me that Scrawny Guy –”
“Ed,” Oswald corrected him, glaring fiercely.
“Alright, Ed shouted something like ‘give it back!’ before everything went to hell. She figures you’d lost the hand, and he’d won something off you that you weren’t happy to lose.”
With a sick feeling in his gut, Ed’s right hand clutched at his left, nervously covering the empty space under his borrowed gloves where his engagement ring was supposed to be.
By now, the Oswald on the security video had gotten ahold of a dice stick from a nearby craps table and was brandishing it at bad-haircut-guy. But before he could get a good swing in, his quarry threw a drink at him; the projectile narrowly missed Oswald but hit Butch, who’d just clomped over to see what all the commotion was about. Butch peeled off his now-dripping jacket and tossed it aside with disgust, smacking a tall, tattooed man upside the head with a sopping sleeve. That man turned and, without hesitation, decked Butch. Tabitha, who’d been right behind him, flew to his defense, taking the man down with a jab to the solar plexus. Pretty soon an all-out drunken brawl had broken out in the casino, with most of the intoxicated bachelor party and associated hangers-on caught up in the frenzy.
A strangely familiar figure in the corner of the frame suddenly bolted, and Lucius gasped out loud as he, and many of the others, realized that they recognized that striking mop of blond hair.
“That’s the dead guy!” Butch pointed at the screen, then, when all eyes in the room snapped to him, covered weakly, “I, I mean, uh...dapper guy...” Tabitha patted the top of his head consolingly.
Bad-haircut was making a run for it too, weaving around startled customers and easily evading a stumbling, inebriated Ed and Oswald. In the video, Jim leaped wildly over a table and tackled the guy as he tried to get away, but the man wiggled out of his loose blazer to freedom, leaving Jim lying confused on the ground with a handful of plaid.
“And that’s this jacket!” Butch added, lifting his arm and pointing to the screen and what was indeed the same ugly fabric.
The now-jacketless man crashed into one of the bouncers, and in the grainy footage, they could just make out his hand swiping the gun from the hired muscle’s holster. He raised the weapon and fired it at the ceiling, freezing his pursuers in their tracks while he dashed off.
After a moment of caution, Ed and Oswald ran out of the frame after Bad Haircut, Jim and Tabitha hot on their heels, with Butch and Harvey following more slowly, clearly winded. Alfred and Lucius eventually made their way around the chaos and disappeared too, with Zsasz and the girls tagging along belatedly.
“Is there any footage of where we go next?” Jim asked.
“Nope,” Jack replied, “The lot of you chased the guy to the back door. He’d wedged it shut with something and you were all squashed up against it trying to get out– fish in a barrel. So, I was gonna kick all your asses but...then we heard gunshots outside.”
The group exchanged surprised looks.
Jim glared at Jack. “And you didn’t investigate?”
“Hey!” Jack held up his hands, “Like I said, the door was jammed. Y’all managed to break it down after a minute and I did take a look. There just wasn’t much to see...all you guys standing around some blond dude on the ground.”
“‘Some blond dude’ gets plugged ten feet outside your casino and you don’t do anything about it?” Jim turned his indignation on Queen.
Queen raised one thin eyebrow at him. “What was there to do? Two of the GCPD’s finest– though, admittedly, you were not at your finest – were already on the scene, so we decided to leave well enough alone. It’s not any of our business if our pesky little cheater problem decided to take care of itself.”
“Cheater problem?” Ed echoed.
“Someone’s been scamming casinos all over town, but nobody could figure out who, or how. We found traces of unfamiliar code in some of our computer systems – the ones that control the slot machines, deck shufflers, etcetera – and figured we were being hit. We also suspected that it was a two-man team, but we couldn’t find the culprits. We just know that for the last three nights, the house has been losing much more than its due.”
“Excuse me, would it be alright if I looked at this code for a moment?” Lucius asked.
Queen pulled a laptop out of a drawer and handed it to him wordlessly. Lucius cracked his knuckles and went to work.
“Cheating – that makes sense!” Ed realized with excitement. “That explains why I was so angry that I lost! You see, although poker is a game with a great many variations and it’s not impossible for me to have genuinely lost, it is unlikely, even in my, er, weakened condition. And I suspect I wouldn’t have bet my– uh, what I bet, if it hadn’t been a sure thing.”
“So the guy we chased, the guy whose jacket Butch is now wearing, he was the one scamming the casino,” Oswald surmised.
“And the blond guy, he was his partner, maybe the one doing the tech work...” Jim added thoughtfully.
“While his buddy was the front-man who played the tables,” Harvey concluded.
“Well!” Ed clapped his hands together, “This has been edifying. It seems clear our next step is to inspect the crime scene.”
Queen coughed delicately. “Ah, yes, you may do that, however, since you took the body with you last night, we assumed that we were allowed to clean up any...mess....that may have been at the site of the incident.”
“Right,” Jim sighed, “We’ll take a look around anyway.”
“Thank you for your assistance,” Oswald shook Queen’s hand as the group slowly trickled out of the office and down the back hall to the alleyway.
“Why did we remove the body from the scene?” Lucius mused to no one in particular, “It’s entirely against protocol.”
“Maybe we thought it would be contaminated if we left it where it was,” Jim offered helpfully.
“Maybe we were roofied up to high heaven and decided it would be fun to take a road trip with a cadaver,” Harvey offered, less helpfully.
They found the back door hastily repaired with a few sheets of plywood and went through it to where the shooting had occurred. As Queen had said, it had been cleaned up, with any useful evidence destroyed.
“This is your area, Lucius,” Harvey turned to the scientist, “Can you get anything from the, I don’t know, pattern of the gravel, or whatever?”
Lucius shot Harvey an unimpressed look. “No, I do not have the ability to divine forensic clues without any equipment whatsoever from the gravel. But, I did learn something from that computer – I recognized the code the criminals used from a Wayne Tech project I was loosely attached to before I left. Something about probability and randomizing, I think it was originally intended for use in security and password protection, but it was supposedly shut down after being deemed insufficiently profitable.”
“Looks like someone found a way to make it turn quite the pretty penny,” Alfred quipped.
“Indeed,” Lucius agreed. “It makes me wonder if my suspicions at the time were correct – that the project was merely relocated to a more classified division, to be used for more nefarious purposes. Such as it has been here – it’s been modified to sneak around these casino’s firewalls and install malware that would allow the user to predict or even control the actions of most of the games here. Anything that’s attached to a computer would be vulnerable.”
“Ok, so that means that this guy – or his partner? – used to work for Wayne Enterprises,” Jim deduced, “We wouldn’t have known that last night, right?”
“Unless...” Ed remembered something from earlier that day and his gaze slid over to Butch, who looked very uncomfortable with being the subject of Ed’s full attention.
That discomfort increased exponentially when Ed pounced on him without further warning.
“The hell are you doing, Nygma?” Butch sputtered as Ed jammed his hands in the pockets of his jacket – the jacket previously owned by the casino-scammer.
“Aha!” Ed unearthed a laminated plastic square from within a bundle of receipts and held it aloft. “Look! A Wayne Enterprises ID badge!”
The rest of the group gathered around, and Ed handed Lucius the badge to inspect. “It’s the victim,” Lucius declared, the curly blond hair in the ID picture unmistakable, “This says his name was Henry Larson, and he worked in IT for Wayne Enterprises. So, presumably, he stole the code from the company and then went on a spree through Gotham’s gambling underworld, with the help of a partner. Last night, our soon-to-be-corpse sees that partner getting in trouble when he cheats Mr. Nygma in poker, so he panics and makes a run for it. His partner bolts after him while in possession a stolen gun – and a minute later, Mr. Larson’s dead.”
“Seems pretty clear who our killer is,” Harvey said.
Jim shook his head slightly. “But why would the partner suddenly turn on the man who probably brought him in on the whole scheme in the first place?”
“Uh, maybe because he was calling the cops?”
Everyone spun around to see Trixie leaning against an overflowing dumpster, holding a flip phone. Zsasz was next to her, still picking through the dumpster’s refuse with interest while Dixie stood a safe distance away, her nose wrinkled in distaste.
“Hi,” Trixie waved, “Yeah, while you guys were talking, we thought we’d look over here where the clean-up crew probably dumped the junk from the murder scene, and I found the dead guy’s phone.”
“That was...a very smart move,” Lucius said, somewhat abashed, “May we see the phone?”
Trixie grinned and tossed it to him. Lucius fumbled the catch slightly, but eventually managed to open the phone. A selfie of the victim holding a grumpy-looking gray cat lit up the home screen, and Lucius murmured, “Confirms the identity of the owner...” before navigating to the call history. He nodded and announced, “She’s right – the last call he placed was to 911, right around the time he would have died, according to the timestamp on the security footage we just viewed.”
“So, blondie boy got rattled and tried to ring the fuzz; that explains why his partner popped him, right?” Alfred pieced the information together.
“That would make sense,” Jim rubbed his jaw thoughtfully, “But what I’m still trying to figure out is why the four of us all woke up at Wayne Manor instead of Wayne Enterprises – assuming our drunken selves were trying to work the case, why wouldn’t we have tried to follow up at the company?”
“Well, since we were hardly in a sober enough state of mind to acquire a warrant, and I’m no longer employed at Wayne Enterprises, it’s not as if we would’ve been welcome to comb through their records,” Lucius pointed out, “But some time back Bruce discovered his father’s, ah, personal collection of files on the company. Perhaps we went to investigate that resource.”
“But then we got a bit, uh...” Lucius’ expression turned sheepish, “Shall we say ‘side-tracked’?”
“Yes, let’s say that,” Jim agreed, almost blushing at the memory of what they’d gotten up to once they arrived at the manor.
“Hey, never mind that,” Harvey clapped Jim on the shoulder, “We still know a lot more about what happened last night than we did this morning. Most importantly, we know that none of us killed that guy!”
“Yeah,” Jim frowned, “but where’s the man who did kill him?”
“That’s what we have to find out,” Lucius said, giving Jim a bracing pat on his other shoulder.
Oswald’s imperious voice broke in, disagreeing. “No, not all of us.”
Jim, Harvey, Lucius, and Alfred turned to their criminal counterparts, who they’d momentarily forgotten about.
“Now that we know we’re not involved in some sort of murder plot with all of you people –” Oswald shook a hand at the assembled forces of law and order, “then I’m not sure we need continue on this journey with you.”
“Um! Actually...” Ed trailed off guiltily almost as soon as he spoke.
Oswald turned to look at him, surprised, and Ed rushed to explain, “It’s just that we still don’t know all of what happened last night, I mean, it’s still a complete blank for me – which, I might add, has never happened to me in my life – so, it seems prudent to continue on– ”
“Ed, darling,” Oswald cut him off gently, “It’s alright. I should have realized earlier – of course this would bother you, having that beautiful mind of yours tampered with like this. Of course you can’t rest easy until you’ve gotten to the bottom of it.”
Ed felt his heart constrict at the look of understanding and love in Oswald’s eyes, but he couldn’t stop thinking about his missing ring. He had to find it, and without Oswald knowing, and the only way he could do that is by tracking down the killer who’d stolen it in the first place. So, he pushed down a wave of nausea and smiled his agreement.
Oswald reached up to stroke Ed’s cheek once, sweetly, before turning back towards the others. “Alright, detectives, it appears we will be accompanying you on the next steps of this investigation.”
“Hurray,” Harvey deadpanned, “We’re thrilled. But I assume the rest of your cronies we can cut loose, at least?”
“Hey, first off, I ain’t no crony,” Butch said with a pointed wave of his prosthetic hand, “And second...this whole thing is kinda dumb, but I’m also invested.”
“Yeah, me too,” Tabitha agreed, “It’s like when you start reading a murder mystery, you can’t stop before the end.”
Oswald rolled his eyes at the pair of them. “Like you can read, Tabitha.”
Tabitha narrowed her eyes dangerously at Oswald but Jim threw himself between them before she could do anything else. “Okay, that’s enough! Especially from you, Oswald. If you want to come with us, you have to behave.”
“Oh, really?” Oswald sneered, “What’re you gonna do, Jim, arrest me?”
“No...” Jim leaned in so only Oswald could hear him, “but I can think of a certain video that you might not want anyone...” Jim looked significantly at Ed, who blinked back at him in confusion, “to ever hear about.”
Oswald took a slow, menacing step closer to Jim. “If I recall, you made an appearance on that video as well, and I’m sure the lovely doctor Lee would also be overjoyed to hear about your filmic debut.”
“Mutually assured destruction, then,” Jim said. “We work together, don’t purposefully antagonize our allies, and we both make it out of this in one piece.”
Oswald looked down his nose at Jim, but ultimately nodded his agreement before stepping back. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Zsasz still rooting around in the dumpster like an overcurious raccoon and sighed.
“Zsasz!” Oswald clapped his hands to get the assassin’s attention, “Stop looking for dentures in there, you won’t find any!”
“Pardon me, did you say dentures?” Alfred voiced aloud the question everyone else was thinking.
“Oh, he has this thing,” Oswald closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “He once found a pair of dentures in the garbage, and now he thinks they grow there or something– you know what, you don’t want to know. I wish that I didn’t know, I just had the misfortune of being stuck with him on a long car ride once and learning way too much about him.”
Zsasz gave up on the dentures-hunt, sidling up to the group with a proud smile, “I’ve got a whole collection of false teeth. You can come over and see it sometime if you want.”
He directed this last at Jim, who shuddered slightly.
“Are all the false teeth recovered from dumpsters?” Lucius asked with a sort of morbid curiosity.
Zsasz laughed, “Of course not, that would be silly! Most of them are from –”
“Completely legal sources, of course,” Oswald cut in pointedly.
“Well, yeah, it’s not like its stealing once they’re dead,” Dixie agreed. Trixie and Oswald turned to glare at her in sync. “What?” she protested, “That’s what you said back at the mansion – you can’t take things till the person’s dead!”
“The rest of the fake teeth are from dead people,” Zsasz finally finished saying in the ringing silence that followed.
“Okay,” Jim said very, very calmly. “Let’s all just...forget the last few minutes happened, and figure out what to do next about the case.”
“Very well. I suggest we turn to the man in plaid,” Oswald flicked a disdainful finger at Butch’s borrowed jacket, “Any other answers to our questions hiding in the pockets of that hideous thing?”
Butch unearthed the paper wad that had previously housed the Wayne Enterprises ID. “Let’s see, uh... receipt for dry-cleaning, receipt for Pepe’s Churros, coupon for Pepe’s Churros –” Zsasz swiped that out of Butch’s hands and it disappeared into one of his pockets, “–receipt for groceries, and that’s it. Oh, hold on,” Butch patted down the rest of the pockets and came up with one last piece of paper, “We’ve got a receipt for some place called Franklin Communications.”
“I vote we investigate the churros,” Harvey proposed, patting his stomach.
“Hmm...” Lucius tapped his chin, “Can I see the one about communications?”
Butch handed it to him. Lucius perused it for a moment, then waved it with sudden excitement, “Yes, I thought so! This is a tech store, and several of the things listed here he could have purchased to use in scamming these casinos.” He looked at Butch thoughtfully, and gestured to his eyesore of a jacket, “Perhaps this receipt was separated from the others because we knew it was important –perhaps we even went to this place last night!”
“Alright,” Jim began to march purposefully towards the mouth of the alley, “That sounds like a lead to me, let’s go.”
“I call shotgun!” Zsasz yelled, chasing after him.
“No,” Harvey jogged after them both, “It’s my car, and I hereby declare that you and your denture-fetish are forever barred from shotgun privileges! Not that you were ever going to get any, being a sadistic murderer and all.”
Zsasz slouched sadly, “You guys keep getting hung up on that.”
“Hey, don’t listen to him,” Tabitha said, coming up next to Zsasz, “I mean, you are a total psycho, but I kinda wanna see your fake teeth collection.”
Butch came up on Zsasz’ other side, nodding, “See how it compares with your glass eye collection, right, Tabby?”
“Glass eyes!” Zsasz repeated with excitement, thus jump starting a conversation about the collection, storage, and uses for various non-organic body-parts that Alfred and Lucius, trailing behind the group of criminals, were trying very hard not to hear.
“I’m going to have to sell the Bentley,” Alfred realized mournfully, “there’s no way I can ever wash the criminally-bonkers out of the patent leather.”
“I was actually going to suggest burning the whole thing when this was all over, just to be sure,” Lucius replied.
“Ah, yes, that ought to do the trick – when this hellish day is over, we’ll give the poor old Bent’ a Viking funeral.”
And with that plan in mind, Alfred drove his half of the assembled scoundrels over to Franklin Communications, following Harvey’s car to what turned out to be a dingy storefront with half-boarded up windows in a neglected strip mall.
Jim slammed the passenger door shut and then turned to the still-locked rear door to lecture Zsasz through the glass, “You stay in the car. All of you,” he added, pointing sternly at Dixie and Trixie. “There could be a potential witness in there, we don’t need a bunch of mercenaries spooking them.”
Zsasz mashed his face up against the window, pretending to sob. Jim rolled his eyes at the antics and stomped off, Harvey, Alfred, and Lucius following him. Butch and Tabitha got sidetracked, pausing to make fun of Zsasz on their way to the store’s door. Ed and Oswald trailed behind them all, Ed with a helping hand under Oswald’s elbow – even if he’d had his cane the night before, he didn’t have it now, and the strain in his ankle was starting to make itself known with a combination of shooting pain and tingling numbness.
As such, Jim was the first one in the store and so greeted its lone occupant with a mild, “Hello, sir.”
The man behind the counter raised a head of scruffy brown hair and his eyes went wide. “You!” he exclaimed, leaping to his feet, “You son of a bitch!”
“Oh, hell, here we go again...” Jim muttered under his breath.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming back here!” The man continued to shout, “After you shot Charlie!”
Jim’s heart sank, and for a moment, he regretted leaving the assassin with a crush on him in the car. He also regretted forgetting about those bullets missing from his gun, which, since they weren’t buried in the dead man still resting in Alfred’s rosebushes, must therefore be somewhere else.
“Hey, settle down,” Harvey barked at the irate man, pulling out his badge, “We’re cops.” Harvey wisely waved a hand behind him to warn the rest of the group not to follow him inside.
“I don’t care if you’re the freakin’ President of the United States, you shot my dog!” The man yelled, finger shaking with fury as it pointed to Jim.
“Wait,” Jim stepped forward, hands outstretched, “Did you say that I shot...your dog?”
“You’re damn right! Blam blam blam,” the man mimed firing a gun, “You blew ‘im away, like some kind of maniac.”
A burst of relieved laughter escaped Jim. “A dog! Thank Christ,” he sighed.
The man in front of Jim, not being privy to the whole story and Jim’s understandable relief that there was a non-homicidal reason for him to be missing three bullets from his gun, did not take kindly to laughter in the face of his dear pet’s loss, and so dove forward, fists swinging.
Jim just barely managed to duck out of the way, Harvey stumbling after him while the rest of their band watched the drama unfold through the open doorway with a combination of amusement and concern.
“I’m, sir, I’m sorry –” Jim tried to say as he dodged a wild right hook, “I’m very sorry for your loss!” He squeaked when the man’s knuckles grazed his chin. The fuming man paused in his assault, nostrils flaring as he grunted, “You’d better be sorry. And you’d better be ready to pay for the repairs.”
“Of course,” Jim assured him, “I can– wait, the repairs?”
“On my poor Charlie,” the man moaned, turning around and going behind the counter to pull out a large, taxidermied German Shepard with three blackened holes in its chest.
“What the– that’s not even a real dog!” Jim said, exasperated.
The man patted the preserved canine’s matted fur and cooed, “Don’t listen to the mean, shoot-y man.”
Jim tried his best to remain calm and in control of the situation. “Listen, sir,” he began politely.
“My name’s Greg,” the man declared, glaring over the ears of his not-so-recently-deceased pet.
“Alright, Greg,” Jim smiled tightly, “Can you please tell us what we were doing here last night, when the, uh, incident with the dog occurred?”
“Why the hell would I know that?” Greg paused. “Wait, why the hell wouldn’t you know that?”
“It’s a long and...classified story,” Jim bluffed, “Could you just tell us what you saw?”
“I didn’t see anything, I was at home. I just came back here this morning and found my window busted and my poor Charlie shot down.”
Jim’s eyes slid guiltily over to the boarded up window as Greg continued, “I looked at the security footage from the camera outside and saw you –” he stabbed a finger at Jim, who winced, “and a bunch of other clearly wasted idiots trying to break in. You seemed to have given up but then blamo! You lost your mind or something and shot through the window at an innocent dog.”
“I really am sorry about that. I guess I probably saw the dark shape out of the corner of my eye and thought I saw a gun, or....”
“You thought Charlie was carrying?” Greg asked, incredulous.
“Okay, clearly we got off on the wrong foot here,” Harvey stepped in, “How about you just answer one more simple question for us, huh?” He slid the Wayne Enterprises ID badge across the counter. “Have you ever seen this man?”
Greg squinted at the badge, then squinted over at Jim. “I dunno...my memory’s kinda fuzzy. Trauma will do that to you.”
“Excuse me,” Oswald cut in before Jim could respond, pushing past the detective, his politician-you-can-trust mask firmly in place, “If I may....I can see that you’re clearly deeply troubled by what this frankly irresponsible policeman has done to you and your beloved, uh, animal. I can’t fault you for wanting to throw a punch at his smug face – honestly, I’ve felt the same way. In the last ten minutes, even.”
Jim made a noise like a boiling tea kettle, but Oswald raised his voice and continued, “But this is larger than the small, sad, petty detective here. A man’s life has been cruelly ripped away from him, this man, here,” Oswald tapped the badge earnestly, putting on a very convincing show of compassion. “Now, if you’ve seen him before, and can tell us something useful about him – or a certain fashion-challenged friend of his – we would be deeply grateful.”
Greg softened at Oswald’s little speech, nodding. “Okay, yeah....I saw that blond guy once. The friend of his, though? With the really bad hair, like, he-should-sue-his-barber-for-damages bad? He came in here a lot more, though I haven’t seen him in a while.”
“You got a name for the friend?” Jim asked.
“Yeah, Chuck. Chuck Larson.”
Harvey and Jim exchanged looks.
“Larson?” Harvey repeated in an undertone, “Just like our vic – think they were brothers or somethin’?”
Jim hmmed thoughtfully, then turned back to the storeowner. “Do you remember any of what Chuck bought?”
Greg clammed up again and Jim realized aloud, “Stuff that’s not quite legal, maybe?”
“I....take the fifth,” Greg said hesitantly.
“Listen, buddy,” Harvey leaned against the counter, palms out and smile friendly, “We’re not here to bust you, but we really want to find this guy. So, if you can give us any information that’ll help us locate him, then we’ll be out of your hair, just like that,” he snapped his fingers.
Greg squinted at the two detectives, wheels almost visibly turning in his head, then said. “A hundred – no, two hundred bucks. For fixin’ up poor Charlie and the window, and my emotional distress.”
Before Jim could even finish getting riled up at the flagrant demand to be bribed, Oswald shoved him aside and slammed two crisp hundred dollar bills on the counter, his patience wearing thin. “There’s more where that came from if you make your next words quick and useful. What do you know?”
Greg took the money without hesitation. “Okay, so Chuck wanted some stuff that’s, you know, not entirely kosher in the eyes of the government. Whatever! I don’t judge. Anyway, I happened to notice that this particular dongle he wanted –”
“Excuse me?” Harvey interrupted, with a surprised snort of laughter, “The what he wanted?”
“The dongle,” Greg repeated blankly.
“It’s a device that enables the use of certain software programs,” Lucius explained with a pointed glare in Harvey’s direction, as he and Alfred shuffled into the store from where they’d been observing the action from a safe distance, “Although they’re sometimes just run-of-the-mill wireless adapters, certain types can also be used to circumvent various authorization procedures. I imagine this was of that shadier variety.”
“Yeah,” Greg agreed, “but this particular model had a weird manufacturer kink where it pinged off a GPS signal automatically whenever it was turned on. I was gonna warn the guy, but then he was kind of a dick so I decided, what the hell? It’s his problem. He might’ve realized it anyway and turned it off, but...”
“But if he didn’t, then we can trace the equipment – and maybe even him – to within fifty feet,” Lucius said, eyes unfocused as his mind raced. “Okay, if I can get access to a computer and a few other things...”
“Do you have what he needs to track the, uh, dongle, here?” Harvey asked Greg, who crossed his arms.
“Maybe. What’re you willing to –”
Oswald smacked another hundred dollars down in front of Greg, growling, “Give the man whatever he needs.”
Greg looked a little nervous, but nodded and gestured for Lucius to follow him into the back storage room. Alfred, Jim, and Harvey went with them, leaving Ed and Oswald alone in the front of the store.
“Oswald,” Ed leaned down to murmur in his fiancé’s ear, one hand slipping down his front and under his jacket while the other stroked down his arm, “You know how much I love it when you get all commanding like that...”
“I do indeed...” Oswald murmured back, trying to go up on his toes to steal a kiss, but grimacing in pain when his leg expressed its displeasure with that movement.
Seeing Oswald’s darkened expression, Ed began to lead him around the store’s counter to the only chair available, “Here, let’s sit down a moment...”
Oswald relaxed onto the surprisingly ergonomic office chair, sighing in relief as his irritated muscles and nerves began to calm down.
He chuckled a moment later and pointed out something orange in the cubby under the counter to Ed. “I can’t believe I just gave three hundred dollars to a man who likes circus peanuts.” Oswald picked up the cellophane bag with exaggerated distaste, “These things are an offense to nature, humanity, and God himself.”
Ed sniffed and stuck his chin in the air, “Well, I like them. I think they’re funny.”
“Really?” Oswald laughed, “How appalling. I’m not sure I can marry a man with such terrible taste in candy...”
“Oh....” Ed sat down hard on the nearest flat surface, which happened to be a cardboard box with a disassembled television inside that let out an unhappy metallic whine at the unexpected pressure.
“Ed, I’m joking,” Oswald rushed to explain when he saw how pale Ed had gone, “You can have all the circus peanuts you want!”
“I think...I’ve been rather turned off them now,” Ed admitted faintly, heart still racing from the irrational scare.
Before Oswald could ask why Ed had been so worried about something so silly (and before Ed was forced to find an answer that didn’t involve the issue of the missing engagement ring) Butch stuck his head in the door to ask a question.
“Hey, boss?” Butch jerked his thumb over his shoulder, “Do you think we should, like, crack a window for Zsasz and the girls? Cause I left a Pomeranian in a locked car like that once and...it wasn’t good.”
“They’re not dogs, Butch,” Oswald replied, churlish, “I think they’ll be alright.”
“Oh...well...” Butch chewed his lip, “Tabitha kind of already found a tire iron, and...”
The three of them turned to look out the window in time to see the back of the squad car fly open, with Zsasz, Dixie, and Trixie piling happily out of the backseat and onto the asphalt. Zsasz made a show of kissing the ground and then throwing his hands up towards the sky, Dixie spun around in a rather adorable little victory dance, and Trixie used her newfound freedom to light up a cigarette. Tabitha stood by and watched them all with disapproval, looking like she already regretted freeing the trio.
“Alright, just keep them out there,” Oswald ordered, pointing firmly at Butch with one hand while the other flicked the store’s dusty computer monitor on.
Butch nodded and went out to corral the loosed assassins while Oswald turned his attention to the humming desktop.
“Now, Ed, if I were to try and find that security footage that our friend Greg mentioned...”
“Ah, yes,” Ed leaned over Oswald’s shoulder to start typing commands, pausing only to kiss his partner’s cheek as he passed by.
“And...voila!” Ed smiled proudly as a folder of time-stamped video files came up. He clicked on the one corresponding to last night and started fast-forwarding until they spotted the familiar silhouette of Scream Boy pulling into the frame, followed by the mayoral limousine.
They proceeded to watch a very amusing sequence of events in which, upon finding the tech store was quite sensibly closed at 1:19 AM, several members of their party attempted to gain access to the building anyway, while the other half tried to stop them. Oswald laughed out loud at the sight of Butch throwing Tabitha like a human cannonball at Alfred and Lucius, but missing his target, resulting in Tabitha’s unfortunate relocation into a pile of curbside garbage bags. He giggled and leaned over to peck Ed on the lips when he saw that the two of them had opted to stay out of the mess, and instead make out on the hood of the limousine.
“Ooh, that looks promising,” Ed pointed to Zsasz and the girls who were attempting a sort of cheerleader-style pyramid to gain access to a half-open transom window above the door. Dixie almost managed to grab hold of it before Jim threw himself bodily at Zsasz, and the whole bunch went toppling down into a mess of flailing limbs.
“Ah, foiled by Jim Gordon,” Ed sighed.
“Story of all our lives,” Oswald added.
The Jim onscreen managed to extricate himself from the assassin-dogpile and returned to guarding the door, his gun now drawn and being waved emphatically above his head. So, emphatically, in fact, that he managed to smack himself soundly in the face with the butt of his own weapon.
“Oh my god...” Ed whispered, before he and Oswald burst into raucous laughter.
“Oh, this is rich,” Oswald gasped when he got his breath back, “he...he gave himself that black eye. This is just...this is...”
Whatever it was, Oswald didn’t say, since a second later the Jim on the video did a comical double take over his shoulder and spun around with his gun raised and his wounded eye squeezed shut. The screen lit up white with the muzzle flash of his gun, aimed wildly through the window of the store, glass spraying onto the street.
“Alas, poor Charlie,” Ed pressed a hand to his heart, “If only the GCPD’s premier detective was a bit less skittish.”
“That dog should get a medal of valor,” Oswald said, then perked up, “And I’m the mayor, so I could actually do that. I’m going to do that.”
Ed grinned his approval before turning, startled, at the sound of the store’s door being flung open.
“What did we miss?” Zsasz asked breathlessly, Dixie and Trixie bounding in behind him with a cascade of stamping feet, Butch following sheepishly in their wake.
“I gave you one single instruction,” Oswald said loudly to Butch over the ruckus of too many people stuffed in too small a space. Butch just shrugged helplessly.
“The hell’s going on out there?” Harvey called from the back office, shortly followed by him stomping out to see for himself, Jim on his heels.
“We’ve taken it upon ourselves to examine the security footage from last night,” Oswald declared regally, completely ignoring the fact that Dixie had discovered what appeared to be a small drone and was now carrying it over her head and running in circles while making airplane noises, Zsasz chasing after her calling “My turn! My turn!”
“Give me that,” Jim grumbled, trying to yank the drone from Dixie’s hands and landing himself in a vicious tug of war with the deceptively strong little blonde.
Harvey looked like he was considering helping his partner out, but then thought better of it and shook his head, walking over to join Ed and Oswald in front of the computer. “Anything interesting?”
“Lots of interesting, not a lot of informative, so far,” Ed updated him as they watched their group’s onscreen personas finally give up on the storefront and meander slowly back towards their vehicles.
“What’s happening back there?” Harvey gestured to where several of their past selves had gathered at the rear of the limo, all looking down at something in the trunk.
“I don’t know...” Oswald said slowly, “But I think...yes!” He tapped the screen, pointing to Ed’s blurry form, which was currently gesturing energetically, “That’s Ed’s Science Face,”
“My what?” Ed asked, eyebrows flying upwards.
“You know, it’s the way you look when you talk about like, algae growth or...hydrogen, or whatever...” Oswald waved his hands dismissively, “I don’t know science, but I do know that that’s your ‘I’m going to dissect something’ look.”
Realization dawned. “An autopsy,” Ed breathed, closing his eyes, “how stupid, I didn’t see it before.”
“Uh, dear?” Oswald said sweetly, “I still don’t see it.”
“The corpse!” Ed gestured emphatically towards the video, where a limp appendage had just flopped free of the trunk’s confines, presumably belonging to the blond shooting victim, “I must have wanted to autopsy it, check the body for clues! After all, it was one of the best pieces of evidence we had at the time. That explains why we removed it from the crime scene in the first place, and why I woke up in the ME’s office!”
“But it doesn’t explain how the corpse ended up decorating the Manor’s grounds, rather than going to its proper home at the GCPD,” Alfred pointed out.
“Perhaps not...” Ed said thoughtfully, “But remember, we found that bizarre note from Zsasz on the body this morning...maybe he can explain it. Not you,” Ed said to the Zsasz in real life, who’d perked up at the mention of his name, pointing instead to the Zsasz on screen, “him.”
Everyone in the room shuffled forward to try and get a better look at the video, where some new scuffle seemed to have broken out.
Oswald and Jim were shouting in each other’s faces and Alfred looked like he was trying to put Ed into some sort of headlock, with Lucius bouncing around all of them, apparently trying to act as peacemaker and having no effect whatsoever. Dixie and Trixie were sitting comfortably cross-legged on the sidewalk, playing what looked like pattycake. Zsasz was no longer in sight.
Harvey, who’d been absent from the unsuccessful breaking-and-entering kerfuffle, finally made a brief appearance when the back door of the limousine opened and he stuck his head out to see what all the noise was about, a bottle of scotch dangling from one hand.
Tabitha had finally extricated herself from the garbage she’d been accidentally chucked into by Butch, and was now chasing him in circles around the limo. Butch, seeing the door that Harvey had opened, seized the opportunity and dove inside, smashing into Harvey and sending them both tumbling into the limo’s darkened depths. One of Butch’s hands reappeared to pull the door shut just as Tabitha rounded the fender. She grabbed for the handle but Butch managed to lock the door, and she ended up throwing her weight fruitlessly against the window in frustration.
Ed finally freed himself from the scrum with Alfred and raced to the limo’s driver door, dragging it open and scrambling in before slamming it shut. Jim tried to go after Ed, but Oswald leaped onto his back and wrapped his arms around his neck, halting his forward motion so he instead stumbled drunkenly sideways, the pair engaged in what looked like an unusually violent piggyback ride.
“Look, there Zsasz goes,” Ed smiled, satisfied with his deduction as he jabbed a finger towards some dark, blurry motion near the rear of the limo, whose headlights had just flicked on.
The crowd of viewers watched as Zsasz pulled something bulky and definitely person-shaped from the limo’s trunk. He appeared to be giggling as he hefted the cargo over his shoulder and transported it swiftly to the back of Scream Boy. He tossed the object in and threw a tarp over it, then went to join Dixie and Trixie’s game of pattycake.
Jim reached over to pause the surveillance video before turning to the group and asking, “Did Zsasz just...?”
“Move the body from the trunk of the vehicle that, judging from its occupants and its ultimate location in the alley behind the station, we can assume ended up at the GCPD, to the one which apparently headed to Wayne Manor, where its grisly contents were discharged onto Mr. Pennyworth’s rose bushes?” Ed finished acerbically, “Yes, that is what appears to have transpired.”
“Why would he do that?” Harvey asked, before turning to Zsasz and repeating the question, “Why would you do that?”
“Why does the boss do anything?” Trixie shrugged, while Zsasz grinned.
“That’s a fair point,” Zsasz agreed, “But in this case, it’s obvious.” He glanced around, but only received blank, annoyed looks in response. “Because...it’s hilarious! The dead guy ran away, I mean hello! Classic!” Zsasz burst into laughter that echoed around the silent room.
“Okay,” Oswald closed his eyes and did one of the deep-breathing exercises Ed had insisted on teaching him after he nearly mauled a waiter for getting his drink order wrong. “Let’s just...ignore our friendly neighborhood assassin’s warped sense of humor for the moment, and see if anything else important happened.” He started the video again just as Alfred emerged from the back room.
“What are you all looking at?” he asked, trying to peer over their shoulders.
“Shh!” they shushed him in unison like persnickety movie-goers, as the action on screen moved forward.
The now corpse-free limo began to roll haltingly away from the curb, brake lights blinking on and off as the ponderous vehicle attempted to straighten out enough to head down the road.
In what may have been the most spectacular part of a pretty memorable bit of surveillance footage, Tabitha clambered on top of Scream Boy, ran across its length, and then launched herself towards the moving limousine, landing miraculously on its roof just before it rolled offscreen.
“Nice,” Dixie and Trixie said at the same time, turning to Tabitha with admiration.
The corner of Tabitha’s mouth turned up in a small grin and she shrugged, “Eh, that was nothing.”
On the video, those that remained looked a little lost. Lucius and Alfred puttered around aimlessly, and Oswald finally released his death grip on Jim, hopping down to stand on unsteady feet. Suddenly, Lucius began to wave his arms excitedly in the air, gesturing nonsensically and clearly talking a mile a minute.
“Ooh,” Alfred realized, “I think he’s just remembered those files at the manor...”
The Alfred in the video also apparently understood what Lucius was trying to communicate, and stuck his fingers in his mouth to let out what was an ear-splitting whistle, if the winces of his onscreen companions were anything to go by. After a minute more of struggling and argument, Zsasz and the girls hopped up into the front of the van while Jim, Alfred, and Lucius piled into the back, Oswald following sullenly after a beat.
“But the body is...” Jim trailed off, shifting his weight uneasily from foot to foot, “We didn’t...I mean, we would have noticed a corpse in the back of that van with us, right?”
“Quite frankly, a corpse isn’t the most frightening thing I imagine we could find in the back of that godforsaken van,” Alfred sighed.
“Aw shucks, Jeeves,” Zsasz smiled, “That’s sweet of you to say.”
“It...it’s not a compliment you nutter –”
“Wait a minute,” Ed interrupted Alfred, gesturing to Zsasz and his henchwomen, “How did all of you end up at the GCPD when it appears you left with those who were mansion-bound?”
Jim, Alfred, and Oswald exchanged mildly panicked looks as they all flashed back to their morning viewing of the spin-the-bottle incident.
“Right, ah, we forgot to mention,” Alfred tugged down the front of his vest in a nervous tic as he explained, “they stopped off with us at the mansion for a while before they apparently went to the GCPD to hit the hay with you lot...”
“Yes, I imagine that Mr. Zsasz and his companions found the mansion dull and uninteresting,” Oswald added, “and decided to rejoin the rest of you and see the fallout of his little...dead body joke.”
“Yes,” Jim agreed fervently, “that is exactly what happened. All that happened. Yes.”
This time, it was Ed and Harvey’s turn to exchange looks, these of the suspicious variety.
“Partner,” Harvey said gently to Jim, “you sure there’s nothing else that might have happened that you, uh, wanna share with the class?”
“No....” Jim said in a small voice.
Ed opened his mouth to level a similar question at Oswald, who was saved from having to answer by Dixie.
“Hey!” she dived forward to pause the security video and point at a white sedan that was rolling slowly through the very edge of the frame after the retreating van, “That’s the same car that’s been following us!”
“A car has been following us?” About half the group said in unison, while the other half just stared incredulously at her.
Dixie looked over at Trixie for advice. “Was I...not supposed to say that?”
“Actually, honey,” Trixie explained, “You were supposed to say that earlier. Like, as soon as you realized it.”
“Oh,” Dixie nodded. “Okay. So, yeah, that car’s been hanging around since the casino, at least.”
Jim rewound the footage while Harvey asked, “Can we get a license plate?”
“No,” Jim slapped the counter in irritation, “the camera angle’s all wrong.”
“Who’d be following us?” Ed mused, tapping his chin, “It doesn’t make sense for it to be the murderer, but who else would care–”
“We’ve got a location!” Lucius called, cutting off Ed’s train of thought as he burst into the room, holding a scrap of notebook paper aloft.
“Hey, does my man know tech, or does he know tech?” Alfred said proudly, wrapping an arm around Lucius’ waist.
“Yes, yes, do you think you could just tell us the location?” Oswald snapped.
“There’s no need to be snippy,” Lucius replied, dignified, before continuing, “Our mystery man – or at least his tech – is at the corner of Harlow and 28th.”
“That’s in the Narrows,” Ed realized out loud.
“Good place to hide out,” Butch contributed.
“Harlow, that’s not a residential street...” Trixie snapped her fingers, “It’s the market! Great place, reasonable prices.” She punched Dixie lightly in the shoulder, “It’s where I got you that nice Beretta.”
“Ooh, the one with the pearl inlay?”
“Okay, so...an illegal black market, is what you’re saying,” Jim clarified.
“Well duh,” Trixie rolled her eyes, “that’s the best kind.”
“That’s not good news,” Lucius said, brow furrowed, “that means the murderer might be pawning off his equipment, trying to get rid of the evidence.”
“He might’ve already sold the lot and buggered off to Venezuela for all we know,” Alfred finished grimly.
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Ed declared, before vaulting clumsily over the counter, his focus shifting entirely to the safe retrieval of his engagement ring. Oswald blinked after him, confused by the sudden burst of determination.
“Uh, agreed,” Jim said, looking similarly bewildered as he followed Ed towards the door, “Let’s go!”
Chapter 3: ring down the curtain
For the first time in a long, tiring, and altogether baffling day, fate smiled on their haggard band. They’d hardly taken a step inside the shadowy warehouse that contained the black market when they spotted, like a hideous flare in a sea of stolen goods, their suspect’s terrible haircut peeking out above a pile of pirated Zumba fitness DVDs.
“Alright,” Jim began quietly, “Half of us go right and –”
Zsasz interrupted Jim with a whoop, pulling out the handguns he’d retrieved from Scream Boy a little while earlier and firing them into the air.
“Hey, Chuck!” he shouted, Dixie and Trixie flanking him and brandishing their own weapons. “We wanna have a word with you!”
Chuck turned, spotted the crazed-looking and heavily armed bald man and his compatriots, and went white as a sheet. Then, he took off as fast as his cheap loafers would carry him.
“Don’t worry, Jim,” Zsasz yelled over his shoulder as he began to run after his bolting target, “I’ll bring you back his head as a trophy!”
“Dammit, wait –!” Jim shouted uselessly at Zsasz’s back before giving chase, Harvey huffing and puffing after him.
Alfred and Lucius chose to head for the market’s back exits, so as to head off any escape attempts from that route and ultimately box their suspect in.
Butch and Tabitha saw that the situation was well in hand, and so let their attention be diverted by the market’s various goods, which ranged from the not-quite-above-board to the highly illegal. When Ed and Oswald passed them by, they were busy rummaging through a display of artificial limb attachments, holding up drills and saws and hooks to Butch’s wrist to see how they’d look.
Ed and Oswald, who strolled in last, were in no hurry to assist with the fleeing criminal’s apprehension. They were content to let those people more suited to such strenuous activity do the dirty work of crashing through the stalls, waving weapons and shouting and tripping over loose merchandise. However, Ed did keep his eyes fiercely trained on their prey’s back as the man dodged and weaved away from the posse of detectives and assassins chasing him. After spending the whole car ride over to the market plotting, Ed had devised a nearly-complete scheme to get Chuck on his own so he could shake him down for the ring he stole – the real trick of the matter would be to do so without Oswald catching wind of it.
After making a good show of evading his pursuers, Chuck finally bungled his escape when he tripped and fell hard into a table filled with drug paraphernalia, sending syringes and pipes flying.
“Aha!” Zsasz crowed, pouncing on his fallen prey and pressing the barrel of his gun right against the man’s forehead. “This is payback for...” Zsasz trailed off and looked up at his partners, “What did this guy do again?”
“He killed that blond guy,” Trixie reminded him in a stage whisper.
“Right!” Zsasz turned back to Chuck, “This is for killing that blond guy!” Zsasz paused again, looking back up at Trixie. “Why do we care about that?”
Trixie looked at Dixie who shook her head, then shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t remember. But hey, at least we get to kill him!”
“No, please!” Chuck started to sob, shaking hands held out in front of him, “I, I have money, I can make you rich!”
“Money is boring. But ooh, you’re a crier, that’s always fun,” Zsasz leered down at him, tracing the gun along Chuck’s cheekbone before stepping back. A lazy wave of his hand told Dixie and Trixie to drag Chuck up by the elbows, his feet scrabbling for purchase on the filthy concrete floor.
“Help!” Chuck wailed as Jim barreled into view.
“That’s enough!” Jim ordered, grabbing his badge and clearly intending to shout “GCPD!” He was cut off before he could get through the first letter by Zsasz, who clapped a hand over Jim’s mouth and held up a finger to silence him.
“Hey, pro tip,” Zsasz said conversationally, “don’t shoot off your mouth about being a cop when you’re surrounded by dozens of criminals, capisce?”
Jim grimaced, but nodded as he looked around at the market’s many disreputable patrons. They had so far ignored the bachelor-party -turned-mystery-solving-gang’s antics, but they might be more prone to action if they knew one of their own was about to be carted off in a paddy wagon.
“Good.” Zsasz let his hand slide slowly away from Jim’s mouth, detouring slightly to chuck his chin.
Jim scowled harder, rubbing his jaw and taking a healthy step back. “Harvey,” he jerked his head at his partner, who’d just jogged around the corner clutching a stitch in his side, “Cuff ‘im.”
“You cuff him, hot shot,” Harvey retorted, out of breath.
Jim sighed and reached for his handcuffs, motioning with two fingers for Dixie and Trixie to release their prisoner to him.
They did no such thing, so Jim turned towards Zsasz with his hands on his hips. “Hand the suspect over...please.”
“So polite,” Zsasz simpered, “But we did catch him, fair and square.”
“You don’t have a fair bone in your body.”
“Well, that’s true,” Zsasz said brightly, “But I’ve got plenty of sporting ones...so, here’s a proposition for you: I don’t slit our pal Chuckie’s throat, and to show your extreme gratitude, you kiss me passionately –”
“What?!” Jim yelped.
“– for ten minutes.”
“Five minutes,” Zsasz countered.
“One minute, with tongue.”
“I swear to god –”
“One minute, no tongue.”
“If you don’t –”
“One minute, no kissing, but we share a warm, sensual embrace.”
“Ah! He’s thinking about it!” Zsasz pointed excitedly at Jim.
“Oh, man...” Harvey shook his head sadly as Jim straightened his shoulders with determination.
“One minute, no funny business, and then you give up Chuck unharmed,” Jim said firmly. “And if you try to pull anything, I’m gonna arrest you.”
“Ooh, wanna cuff me already...”
Jim began to turn away, “Okay, I take it back –”
“No, no!” Zsasz hurried forward, “It’s a deal!”
“Alright. Time it, Harvey,” Jim said grimly before screwing his eyes shut, sticking his arms out in front of him, and bracing for impact.
“Whoopee!” Zsasz exclaimed, gleeful as he dove forward and bundled Jim up tightly in his arms, nuzzling into his neck.
“I know I’m still kinda hungover, but I could really use a drink right about now,” Harvey said as he shook back his sleeve and set the timer on his watch.
The seconds ticked slowly by as Zsasz swayed gently back and forth, eyes closed and a strangely soft smile on his face. As the thirty second mark came and went, Jim began to relax slightly into the hug. It was, to his surprise, not totally awful. Zsasz’s gun holster dug into his ribs a little, and he smelled the way a person smells when they haven’t showered and spent the night on a table meant for dissecting corpses, but other than that, it was a genuinely nice hug.
Jim had just started to wrap his head around how truly messed up he must be to derive comfort from a hug given to an assassin in exchange for a murder suspect, when the timer on Harvey’s watch buzzed and he jerked instinctively back.
“Aww...” Zsasz said mournfully, “A minute should have more seconds in it.”
Jim made an neutral “mmph” noise in response.
“But admit it, Jim, that was a pretty high-quality hug.”
“It wasn’t...completely terrible,” Jim conceded, trying not to let his smile show.
Harvey raised an eyebrow at the amicable exchange and stepped forward to give Jim’s back a friendly slap and tell him, “I mean this from the heart, buddy: you need some therapy. Stat.”
Jim winced, and looked over his shoulder at Harvey. “I do, don’t I.”
“We all do. Maybe we could get a group discount rate.”
“Ooh, I know a good therapist– no, wait,” Zsasz scratched his chin thoughtfully, “I shot him.”
Jim shuddered a little and resisted the urge to brush off any traces of Zsasz-ness that might be lingering on his person.
“And, that weird little moment of bonding between you two just combusted,” Harvey deduced, “Thank god. Now can we arrest our casino-scamming murderer?”
Zsasz heaved a theatrical sigh, but waved for Dixie and Trixie to release an equal-parts terrified and confused Chuck. “A deal’s a deal...he’s all yours.”
By the time Ed and Oswald stepped leisurely around the corner a minute later, Jim was snapping cuffs on Chuck and reading him his rights.
“Ah, wonderful,” Oswald said with only a modicum of sarcasm, “the murderer has been apprehended by the forces of law. All is right with the world.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Jim growled, “A man is still dead. A man you killed.” Jim directed this last at his prisoner, who was still keeping a nervous eye on Zsasz and his crew.
“Hey, listen, Henry was my cousin, he was family,” Chuck babbled when he caught sight of Jim’s glare, “Why would I pop ‘im?”
“You tell me,” Jim shot back. When Chuck didn’t respond, Jim took another approach.
“Of course, you could say nothing, in which case, I don’t see why I shouldn’t give you right back to him...” Jim pointed over at Zsasz, whose smile grew wide and sharp as Chuck started to shake with fear.
“No, no, no, c’mon, man, you can’t do that, those aren’t the rules –”
“Rules?” Jim laughed, “Hey, Harvey, you see any rules around here?”
“No, partner, ain’t no rules in this part of town.”
“Alright, alright!” Chuck screeched as Zsasz took a slow, measured step in his direction, “Listen, he came to me with the tech. Henry was just some nerd, he had a goldmine in his pocket and no clue what to do with it! He begged me to help him out and then what? Loses his nerve and wants to go crying to the cops? What was I supposed to do?”
Harvey snorted. “I’ll give you a hint: ‘shoot him’ is not the answer.”
“It was just– just instinct! I didn’t mean to kill him, I just panicked!”
“And there we go,” Oswald sneered, “the dunce has confessed.” He turned to Ed with a raised eyebrow, “Is that enough to satisfy your sense of curiosity or whatever it is that’s been motivating your desire to participate in this whole, absurd undertaking?”
“Almost, just.... one second more, I have to talk to Zsasz quickly...” Ed bent forward to give Oswald a quick kiss and then ducked over to where Zsasz was standing beside the on-going arrest.
Ed leaned into Zsasz’s personal space, speaking quickly under his breath, “Zsasz, I need your help – can you and your cohort distract the detectives and Oswald while I have a private word with the sniveling sack of garbage who stole my engagement ring?”
Zsasz perked up immediately. “And if I help you, it means I get to be your best man at the wedding?”
That particular promise had nearly slipped Ed’s mind. “Um, yes. Yes, of course.”
Zsasz’s gaze flicked over to the detectives and their prisoner. “And I can bring Jim as my plus one?”
Ed blinked. Then, rather than break the news that Jim Gordon would most likely rather poke out his eyes than attend Ed and Oswald’s wedding, much less on the arm of an assassin, he simply said, “You can bring whomever you like– if you hurry.”
“Hot damn!” Zsasz laced his fingers together and cracked his knuckles, “Don’t worry, I got you, Mr. N!”
He sent off a quick flurry of cryptic hand signals to Dixie and Trixie, who nodded their understanding and moved into position.
Zsasz stepped daintily forward and threw a hand to his forehead, “Oh, I think I feel faint!” he declared, before swooning into Jim’s arms, shoving Chuck to the ground as he did so.
“For the love of god, I thought I was through dealing with you,” Jim griped, struggling to hold the assassin’s weight. “Hey, Harvey, a little help?”
The older detective scratched his beard, then gave Zsasz a swift kick in the shins. “Rise ‘n shine, crazypants!”
“Okay, not helping!” Jim said, slightly choked as Zsasz apparently came to enough to throw his arms around Jim’s neck.
“My hero,” Zsasz cooed, while one of his boots shot out to knock Harvey’s legs out from under him.
While Harvey tumbled onto his rear, Ed grabbed Chuck by the back of his shirt and hauled him behind a stand full of AK-47s. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dixie and Trixie descend on Oswald, each grabbing one of his arms and spinning him away from the chaos while they spoke simultaneously with great animation and volume. Oswald was immediately flustered by the sudden attention and noise, and definitely too distracted to notice his fiancé’s disappearance.
Once Ed and his soon-to-be victim were out of sight, Ed slammed the man’s back to the ground, holding him there with a foot on his throat. In a flash of inspiration, he swiped up one of the syringes that had been scattered on the floor and jabbed it right in Chuck’s face, holding it barely an inch away from his right eye.
“I’m only going to ask you this once,” Ed stated clearly, “Where is my ring?”
“Ring, what ring?” Chuck panted, “I don’t – oh. Oh.” His mouth went slack with fear. “You’re the guy – the drunk guy at the casino? I thought you –” he choked on whatever he was about to say as Ed increased the pressure on his windpipe. “I sold it!” he coughed out, desperate, “I sold the ring! B-but it should still be here!”
“Where?” Ed hissed, lowering the syringe even further.
“On the other side of the market, next to the stand with all the knock-off Gucci bags ... The dude in the corner will take anything with precious metals in it!”
“Alright,” Ed released Chuck, stepping back and smoothing down his wrinkled tie, “Thank you.” Ed smiled, then grabbed one of the guns hanging next to him and clocked Chuck over the head with it, rendering him unconscious.
Ed peeked around the corner and saw that Zsasz and his accomplices were still doing an excellent job of distracting not only Oswald and the detectives, but now also Lucius and Alfred, who’d regrouped with their allies.
Taking a deep breath, he set off for the far side of the warehouse, eyes peeled for the fake brand name wares that Chuck had mentioned. After a few minutes of increasingly frustrated searching, Ed spotted an exquisitely ugly faux-tiger-fur purse and realized he’d found the right place.
In his hurry to dash up to the stall next door with a sign that read “Quick Cash: Sell Your Precious Metals Here!” Ed nearly ran smack into a man who was already standing in front of it, managing to skid to a halt just inches from a broad steel chest-plate.
“Oh, dear,” Ed breathed as the stall’s current customer turned towards him with frozen blue eyes.
“Mister...Fries, right?” Ed stuttered, teeth beginning to chatter just from standing near the wisps of icy air radiating out of the ice-man’s metal suit. “I, uh, I’ve heard about you.”
Victor Fries said nothing, just continued to pin Ed down with his arctic stare.
“Okay...” Ed shoved his glasses up the bridge of his nose, determined not to be rattled by Captain Chilly or whatever the hell name he was going by, post-Arkham, “I have to speak with this man,” Ed pointed at the short, stocky fellow manning the stall, who was looking at the two of them with mild interest, “about a ring that was recently sold to him.”
“What, this ring?” the buyer pinched a thin gold band out of a tin can and held it up.
“Yes!” Ed almost cried with relief at the sight of the distinctive pattern of swirls carved into the ring. He reached out, but the stall’s proprietor laughed and snatched it out of his grasp.
“I don’t think so, buddy, all sales are final. It’s mine now.”
“I– I’ll buy it back from you!” Ed reached for his wallet, but the man behind the counter scoffed.
“Weren’t you listening? I buy the junk, I don’t sell it. That’s how things work around here, no exceptions.”
Ed fumed. “But the man who sold that to you wasn’t its rightful owner! He stole it, stole my engagement ring, and then sold it for– for petty cash!”
“Such a sad story,” The buyer drawled, “I’m moved. But my answer is still no.”
“That ring...” Victor spoke abruptly, his voice dull but serious, “It’s yours? Given to you by the person you...love?”
“Yes,” Ed replied, trying to keep a tremor out of his voice as his mind went involuntarily back to the moment when Oswald had proposed to him, “The man I love more than anything in this world. And he loves me too. But if I don’t get that ring back...”
Victor nodded slowly, a deep sadness flickering in his eyes like the emotion was trapped under the surface of a frozen lake.
Then, he turned to face the vendor, raised his freeze gun, and sent a blast of ice right into the man’s face. With surprising grace considering his clunky suit, Fries reached out to pluck the ring from the man’s frozen fingers, then set it carefully in the palm of Ed’s hand.
“I...I don’t know what to say,” Ed murmured, inspecting the ring for damage and relieved to find none.
With a glimmer of amusement in the corner of his mouth, Fries replied, “Then don’t say anything.”
“But....why?” Even as Ed tore off the gloves he’d borrowed from Zsasz that morning and slid the ring into its rightful place on his finger, he couldn’t ignore his curiosity.
Victor shrugged, which couldn’t have been easy in that armor of his. “The fate of true love should not be decided by a tiny-minded, swindler of a man.”
Ed smiled. “Well put.” He thought about holding out a hand for Fries to shake, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk of frostbite. “Thank you for your help. I suppose I might...see you around...” He began to back away, slightly awkwardly.
Fries didn’t reply, except to continue staring coolly at Ed.
“On second thought...” Ed paused, giving Fries’ intimidating stature another look, “If you’re ever looking for employment, I’m sure the mayor and I could find a place for you.”
That cold, not-quite-a-smile reappeared on Fries’ face. “I’ll consider it.”
With one last nod of farewell, Ed took off for where he’d left Oswald and the others at the mercy of Zsasz and his minions.
He was able to return without his absence being noticed, Jim still struggling with an armful of Zsasz, and Harvey busy with keeping a half-conscious, blubbering Chuck contained. Lucius wavered between the detectives, looking like he wanted to help but doing no actual good, especially with Alfred hovering like an overzealous guard dog between him and the action. Dixie and Trixie had managed to get Oswald going on one of his pet topics, and were now listening very seriously as he gave them a lecture on the many benefits of cufflinks over the more pedestrian buttons, holding up his own onyx cufflinks as examples.
Ed walked over to where Zsasz was attempting to convince Jim that he was the Prince Charming to Zsasz’s Sleeping Beauty, to little success. Jim had apparently reached the end of his tether as he suddenly yelled, “You’re not a goddamn princess, and if I didn’t kiss you in exchange for Chuck or when I was drunk and drugged, I sure as hell am not gonna do it now!”
“What’s this about kissing Zsasz when you were drunk?” Ed asked mildly, startling the detective into dropping Zsasz entirely. He hit the floor with a dull clunk but didn’t seem discouraged, grinning up at Jim as he said, “Ooh, Ed’s onto you, Jimmy-boy!”
Jim’s embarrassed grimace told a very different story than his muttered, “Shut up,” and attempt to divert their attention by beckoning at Butch and Tabitha, who’d just strolled into view.
“Hey, what did we miss?” Butch asked.
“We got our man,” Jim replied, gesturing to Chuck.
“And I think Jim kissed someone he wasn’t supposed to last night!” Ed deduced in a sing-song voice.
“Dammit, Ed!” Jim growled as the group, including Dixie, Trixie, and Oswald, turned their attention to him.
“What would that lovely girlfriend of yours think, going around kissing other people?” Trixie said while Dixie tutted disapprovingly.
“And it wasn’t even me!” Zsasz lamented, throwing an arm over his face in mock distress.
“If I were a betting man,” Ed said, feeling confident enough with the return of his ring to enjoy that private little joke, “I’d put my money on Bullock.”
“Uh-uh,” Harvey shook his head, “I’ve told Jim before that he has to earn my smooches.”
“Then who?” Ed made show of waving to the rest of the group, “Alfred? Lucius?”
Alfred adopted a granite poker-face, while Lucius tried very hard to look anywhere but at Oswald.
The tension began to build as, one-by-one, the various members of the group who hadn’t been privy to the video of the spin-the-bottle fiasco began to put the pieces together. Except, uncharacteristically, Ed, who just seemed baffled by his companions’ tense silence.
"Alright!" Oswald shrieked abruptly, unable to take the pressure of lying to Ed anymore, even if only by omission. "It was me! I admit it! I kissed Jim! And Zsasz," he added as a nervous afterthought. "And Dixie."
Ed’s mouth formed a perfect little ‘o’ of shocked confusion.
Oswald tried to explain, “It was this stupid teenage game, spin the bottle, and technically he kissed me –” Jim let out a betrayed noise at that, which Oswald ignored, “And I don’t even remember any of it, we only know it happened at all because Lucius was recording it!”
“Oooh!” Zsasz turned to look at Lucius with delight, “Naughty, naughty Mr. Fox!”
Lucius sputtered and Alfred rumbled, offended, “It wasn’t like that, you bloody pervert!”
Oswald, meanwhile, only had eyes for Ed, whose expression was still curiously blank. “Ed?” he asked tentatively, “Are you...angry?” When Ed didn’t respond right away, Oswald continued, “I mean, you have every right to be, but...I swear it was all meaningless –”
“Oh, Oswald,” Ed reached out with both hands to take Oswald’s shoulders, looking him straight in the eye. “I can’t be angry with you. Especially not since I....I, uh....well.....”
Oswald’s eyes went wide. “You kissed someone too?”
Before Ed could process the misunderstanding well enough to correct it, Oswald had already whirled around to glare at the possible kiss-stealing suspects.
"Who was it?” Oswald said, half to himself, “Not Tabitha, she'd have killed you before you got close...” Tabitha nodded her agreement.
“And you despise Harvey, there aren't enough drugs in the world...”
Harvey muttered, “I have never been so grateful to be hated.”
“Zsasz and the girls were with us most of the night...” Oswald’s wild stare landed on the last possible candidate and he screeched, “Butch?!"
Butch raised the shiny new serrated knife attachment he’d gotten for his prosthetic hand in self-defense, but Ed grabbed hold of Oswald and spun him back around to face him.
“No, Oswald, I didn’t kiss anyone, it was...it was worse than that.” Ed sucked in a breath and admitted in a small voice, “I bet the ring.”
“You–... what?” Oswald shook his head like he hadn’t heard him correctly.
“My engagement ring,” Ed held up his left hand, the metal glinting in the weak sunlight filtering through the warehouse’s damaged roof, “At the casino last night, when we were playing poker against Chuck, I bet my ring, and lost it.”
“...and?” Oswald’s brows were still knitted in confusion.
“And...I must have thought I’d win the hand for sure! I never would have bet the ring otherwise, but I didn’t know that my opponent was cheating. I didn’t know....but that’s no excuse.”
Ed hung his head. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to hurt you, and I did everything I could to get it back as quickly as I could, but... I understand if this means that you don’t want to go through with the wedding.”
Oswald sputtered and reached out to fist his hands in the lapels of Ed’s jacket, “No! I mean, yes, I mean– Ed, of course I still want to marry you! Why would a silly little circle of metal change that?”
“But...but it’s a symbol! Of our love! And I just...” Ed still couldn’t look up, at a loss for words.
“You were drunk and drugged and convinced you wouldn’t lose,” Oswald said, tone understanding, even fond, “I don’t blame you for any of that. Look at me,” Oswald tipped Ed’s chin up so he could meet his eyes. “Ring or no ring, I love you. And the fact that you went through all this today, just to try and get it back without upsetting me – that only makes me love you more.”
Ed blinked, ignoring the tears that threatened to fall. “Really?”
Oswald smiled, and gave Ed a soft kiss in lieu of a verbal answer.
When they broke apart, Oswald asked with just a hint of nerves, “And... you’re really not angry about the whole, uh, kissing business?”
“No,” Ed chuckled lightly, “It’s like you said – we were drunk and drugged. And besides, the rules of spin the bottle are sacred, or so I’m told. I never got to play it, unfortunately.”
“See!” Lucius burst out, vindicated, “It’s a rite of passage, and it’s normal to want to remedy missing out on it.”
“Steady on, there,” Alfred sighed, pulling his boyfriend in closer.
“I agree with Foxy,” Ed said, “Though, just to be clear, if any of you go near my fiancé again I’ll kill you without a second thought.”
“No problem,” Jim grumbled.
“No promises,” Zsasz smirked. “I think that my best man privileges might allow me a stolen kiss or two.”
At Oswald’s incredulous stare, Ed rubbed the back of his neck and explained, “I, uh, I promised Zsasz he could be my best man if he helped me retrieve the ring.”
“I see.” Oswald looked amused now.
“And he’s going to try and bring Jim as his date...” Jim made a choked noise, and Zsasz sent finger guns in his direction.
“Also,” Ed added, “you should be aware that if that ice guy from Indian Hill shows up at City Hall, it’s because I offered him a job.”
“Ice guy?” Zsasz repeated with interest. “Isn’t he the one who’s also named Victor?”
“Yes, I believe so.”
“Well, I gotta meet him. I’ve always wanted to bang someone who has the same name as me. Or battle them to the death... I guess we’ll see how the night goes.” Zsasz wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
“Oi, weren’t you just chasing after Jim?” Alfred pointed out, “Bit of a fickle fiend you are...”
“Don’t remind him!” Jim hissed, smacking Alfred’s shoulder.
Zsasz laughed and threw his arms out wide, grinning, “Hey, I can multitask!” With one last wink at Jim and a farewell salute, he left to hunt down the other Victor.
“And with that, I have officially had as much as I can take,” Harvey announced.
“Same,” Tabitha grunted.
“Yeah, I honestly don’t even remember why we stuck around this long,” Butch admitted.
There was a chorus of agreement from around the motley gathering. And so, with some awkward goodbye waves and a polite “We should do this again sometime” said out of habit by Lucius, they all began to go their separate ways.
Dixie and Trixie blew kisses over their shoulders and struck out on their own, arm in arm.
Jim and Harvey left with Chuck in custody, Jim staring up at the ceiling to avoid spotting crime he’d feel compelled to interfere with – he was distressed to find that there was some sort of shady balloon business being conducted in the rafters, which Harvey had to talk him out of busting up.
Butch and Tabitha continued shopping as if this were an ordinary outing, Tabitha saying something vague about Barbara’s birthday coming up and heading towards a display of antique weapons.
Ed and Oswald headed out of the warehouse and down the cracked sidewalk to find a more reputable road on which they might hail a cab.
Oswald tangled their fingers together, letting their arms swing merrily in the air between them, finding himself feeling oddly at peace. He looked over at Ed, who had a similarly content look on his face.
Oswald broke the comfortable silence, saying “Well, today was...”
“Bizarre?” Ed suggested, “Aggravating? Frankly implausible, as a whole?”
“I was going to say ‘kinda fucked up,’ but that works too.”
Ed laughed, letting his head fall back. Oswald admired the sight: the elegant line of Ed’s neck, the crinkles at the sides of his eyes, the way the sun glinted in his hair and off his glasses... At times like this, Oswald thought Ed might be almost too beautiful to bear, but he never looked away. He never planned on looking away, ever again.
“You know...” Ed glanced down at Oswald with a playful twinkle in his eye, “I still can’t really believe you kissed Jim.”
“Ugh,” Oswald shuddered, “Don’t remind me.”
“That bad, huh?” Ed giggled, “You should make a date with Barbara, compare notes...”
“Stop,” Oswald whined, giving Ed a shove.
Ed just giggled harder and added, “Seriously, it’s something you could bond over – rating Jim Gordon’s skill and technique, on a ten-point scale.”
“You’re hilarious,” Oswald drawled.
“I am,” Ed agreed, leaning down to nuzzle Oswald’s cheek until he smiled.
That smile faded and Oswald sighed before admitting, “Actually, I’m still a little surprised that you’re not, well... jealous. And maybe I’m a little upset that you’re not? If that makes any sense...”
“It does make sense,” Ed assured him, “And don’t think for a moment that you’re not worth getting murderously jealous over.” Oswald preened at that. “No, it’s just...” Ed thought for a moment before changing tack and asking, “Do you like Jim?”
“No,” Oswald answered immediately, “There is no level upon which I have any genuine affection left for that man; I haven’t for a long while.”
“So, there!” Ed swung an arm around Oswald’s shoulders, pulling him warmly into his side, “I have no reason to be jealous. I trust you. I don’t trust Jim, but he’s got his head way too far up his ass to have a clue what he’s missing out on by not loving you.” Oswald snorted inelegantly, and Ed couldn’t resist the impulse to kiss his crinkled nose. “I love you. And I will forever.”
Oswald smiled softly up at him, his eyes twinkling. “I love you too. And after all this, I need very much to get you somewhere private and horizontal so I can show you exactly how much."
Ed blinked, then threw an arm in the air and whistled as loudly as he could, “Taxi!”
Ed and Oswald poured themselves out of a yellow cab half an hour later, stumbling and giggling up to the mansion doors, unwilling to put an end to the embrace that had begun in the back of the car.
If they hadn't been so wrapped up in each other, they might've noticed the hood of a white sedan not belonging to anyone in their employ peeking around the hedge.
The made their way inside and down the hall, pausing frequently to kiss one another up against conveniently-placed walls and doors.
“My, my,” a smooth, unconcerned, and alarmingly familiar female voice interrupted them, “If this is how you spend your days, it’s a wonder anything gets done in this city at all.”
With twin gasps, Ed and Oswald turned to see none other than Fish Mooney lounging in one of their sitting room armchairs, looking as striking as ever with her hair done up high and streaked with blue to match her odd eye. Olga was seated in the chair beside her, expression cool and unfathomable, as if the presence of undead ex-crime-bosses at her workplace was a common occurrence. Two huge men, both at least seven feet tall, stood silently behind Fish, automatic weapons hooked over their shoulders. And perhaps most inexplicably, to Fish’s left there was a slender redheaded woman that neither Ed nor Oswald recognized, twirling a strand of her hair and looking bored.
“Hello, Mr. Penguin and Mr. Penguin’s almost husband,” Olga greeted them, “I am glad to see you come back in one piece.”
“What is –” Oswald pointed a slightly-shaking finger at Fish, “she doing here? What is the meaning of this?”
“She is here to talk,” Olga explained, then patted a revolver she had sitting on her lap, "Do not worry, if she try to pull any funny business, I am prepared."
Fish laughed and brushed one long nail down the length of Olga’s forearm. “Oh, I like you very much.”
“I like you too. We get along like flaming house,” Olga declared.
“I believe the phrase is ‘like a house on fire,’ dear,” Fish corrected her gently.
“Eh,” Olga shrugged, “I like my way better.”
“Anyway!” Ed said loudly as he saw Oswald’s right eyelid begin to twitch with rage, “Perhaps now would be a good time to explain what exactly your purpose is here, Miss Mooney.”
“Polite and to the point,” Fish nodded, “I think I like you too.” She crooked a finger at the redhead, who stepped forward with a furtive, guilty look at her feet.
“This is Ivy,” Fish introduced her companion, “She was the one who drugged you and your companions last night.”
Oswald just made a sound of incoherent fury, but Ed snapped his fingers with excitement. “Of course! Barbara said she saw a woman with red hair lingering at the bar...we’ve been so caught up in all this murder investigation nonsense, we forgot about what started this whole mess in the first place! Which was you...” Ed tilted his head at Ivy,” ...but why?”
“Well, it wasn’t on purpose,” Ivy said, petulant, “I mean, yeah, getting the two of you was, but not the rest. I just...” she bit her lip, “I didn’t really know whose drinks were whose, and I went a little overboard with the salvia divinorum and bam! Suddenly, all of your buddies are acting like idiots, and there’s no way I can get you on your own to ask you the questions I was supposed to.”
“What questions?” Oswald snapped, gaze flicking back to Fish, “Did she do this on your orders? What is it you want?”
“Nothing so horrible as you might be thinking,” Fish replied calmly. “The reason I sent Ivy was to see how she handled herself in the field. As you can see...” she raised an eyebrow at Ivy, who stuck her bottom lip out in a childish kind of pout, “that didn’t go very well. But she’s young, and her botanical knowledge is still impressive, just...in need of some healthy guidance. And it really isn’t her fault that she couldn’t predict how her drug would react to such copious amounts of tequila.
“In any case, she was just supposed to loosen your lips with her concoction, and get you to say where you’d stashed the equipment my sources tell me you purloined from Indian Hill after our mutual acquaintance Hugo Strange was...removed.”
“Equipment? That’s what all this was about, you –” Oswald closed his eyes, “Right, you wanted him to...fix you, or whatever.”
“Yes, save my life, whatever,” Fish drawled, “And he’s done a fairly good job of that, but in order to keep on doing it, he requires certain items which, fortunately for me, are in your possession.”
Oswald exhaled sharply through his nose, something like hurt flashing across his expression. “Why didn’t you just ask me for whatever you need?”
Fish almost looked surprised. “Well...considering how I only narrowly avoided getting shot by you the last time we met, I couldn’t be sure you’d be amicable to such a discussion.”
“I would have been more amicable than I am now.”
“Point taken. Anyway,” Fish stood elegantly up from her chair, hands held demurely in front of her, “I felt terribly bad for what befell you and your friends, so I sent one of my boys to follow you and make sure you didn’t get into too much trouble...”
“The car that Dixie saw following us,” Ed said, satisfied with that last, niggling piece of the day’s puzzle being put into place.
“Yes. But what’s important now is....where do we stand?” Fish looked Oswald calmly in the eye, waiting for his response.
He began in a tone still harsh with anger, “What you did was wrong, and I do not appreciate being played like a puppet.”
“But...” Oswald glanced over at Ed, who was whole and hearty and still in love with him even after that fiasco of a bachelor party, and said honestly, “Perhaps in this case, all’s well that ends well. And in the end, I’d prefer us to be friends, rather than enemies.”
“Wonderful,” Fish twirled her long fingers in a celebratory gesture. “Then, as friends, I hope you’ll formally introduce me to your handsome fiancé.” At Oswald’s expression of surprise, she tutted and said, “Of course I’ve been keeping an eye on you, Oswald, did you think I wouldn’t know?”
She turned to address Ed with a stern expression, “Honestly, Mr. Nygma, I’m a little insulted that you didn’t come and ask me to give you Oswald’s hand in marriage.”
Ed shot a panicked glance at Oswald, words coming out choppy in his confusion, “I– I didn’t realize I was supposed –”
“It’s fine, Ed,” Oswald assured him, laying a comforting hand on his arm before turning to Fish, “My dear old mentor is just having a laugh. My hand,” he scoffed, “is hardly hers to give away.”
“Oh, Oswald,” Fish delicately pressed long-nailed fingers over her heart, “I’m hurt. Does this mean that my invitation to the wedding didn’t get lost in the mail?”
“It would have helped if you had a mailing address,” Oswald snarked back, “Or if you, I don’t know, didn’t flee Gotham with hardly a word and then never resurfaced.”
“You did tell me to leave Gotham and not come back.”
“You weren’t supposed to actually listen to that!”
Fish smiled, pleased. Ed glanced between her and Oswald, unable to get a handle on their complicated dynamic, shifting and layered with caution and affection in equal measure.
“Now that I’m here, however?”
Oswald couldn’t help but smile back as he said, “I’m afraid the wedding party is full up, but I’m sure we could squeeze you into one of the back rows at the venue.”
“I look forward to seeing the happy occasion from the front row,” Fish replied smoothly.
“Isn’t that usually reserved for the parents of those getting married?” Ed asked before he could fully process how his words might affect Oswald.
But Oswald didn’t seem upset at the implicit reminder of his orphaned state; he just sized Fish up and said, “Seeing as Ed and I couldn’t come up with even one living or decent parent between us, I suppose the position is open. Interested?”
Genuine fondness spread across Fish’s features as she replied, “Why Oswald, I’d be honored.” She tilted her head, giving him an appraising look as she continued, “I must admit, I truly didn’t expect such a warm welcome upon my return to your territory.”
Edward took note of her deferential tone and emphasis on ‘your.’ The way Oswald straightened his shoulders with pride indicated that he had too.
“What can I say,” Oswald said magnanimously, wrapping an arm around Ed’s waist, “Love has opened my heart. But not dulled my mind, or my defenses,” he added pointedly.
“A healthy sense of paranoia is required for any great leader,” Fish agreed, “I hope that’s something I taught you.”
“Yes, somewhere around the time you ordered Detective Gordon to put a bullet in my head.”
“Ah, yes,” Fish smiled, teasing, “I should tell that story at the reception, maybe throw in a few of the other times we tried to kill each other.”
“Considering what kind of people we invited to the wedding, those stories would probably be well received.”
“Then I’m definitely looking forward to it. We should discuss the details over dinner,” Fish declared as she turned to Olga, “Perhaps you could put us together a little something, my dear?”
“I already start dinner before you and goons show up,” Olga announced, standing heavily and straightening the hem of her dress. She looked shrewdly up at Fish’s towering, silent lieutenants and snapped her fingers, “Come, tall boys, you set table.”
“Excuse me, Fish,” Oswald interrupted with a sigh, as Olga and the two men bundled off towards the kitchen, “But did you just invite yourself to dinner? This is my house.” He caught Ed’s eye and amended, “Our house.”
“Apologies, I don’t know where my manners went,” Fish replied pleasantly, showing no real signs of repentance.
Oswald looked up to the heavens for patience, and apparently found some, since his tone was downright civil as he replied, “You are, of course, welcome to stay for dinner. If you’ll just excuse me and my fiancé for a moment....”
“Take your time,” Fish said with a knowing wink, then turned to leave Ed and Oswald alone in the sitting room.
“Well, that really seals it,” Ed decided out loud. Oswald turned to him with an inquisitive raised brow. Ed swayed in closer so he could smooth down the arms of Oswald’s suit before elaborating, “This really has been the best bachelor party ever.”
“Perhaps a different descriptor is required,” Oswald suggested, “like most...memorable?”
“Oh,” Ed laughed, “I think we could have done better on that count.”
“By that, do you mean more homicides committed, or more solved?”
Ed hmmed contemplatively. “It could go either way, actually. You know, aside from that whammy of a drug-induced hangover, and being stuck traipsing around with a load of buffoons...I have to admit that today was a little bit fun. I liked getting to solve those kinds of puzzles again.”
Oswald echoed the sartorial attentions Ed had just given him, reaching out to straighten Ed’s collar as he said thoughtfully, “If you want, we could set up some sort of monthly private detective session – I could put you on the scent of some criminal who we find distasteful, who isn’t integral to any of our operations...”
“I’ll consider that,” Ed replied earnestly, “Though, really, there are still plenty of mysteries left on the wrong side of the law for me to sink my teeth into.”
“Yes, such as why I just invited Fish Mooney, a woman who was once my most formidable enemy, to stay for dinner and act as a surrogate mother-figure at our wedding,” Oswald said, with a humorous quirk of his mouth.
“Didn’t you just answer your own question?” Ed suggested gently, taking both of Oswald’s hands from where they were anxiously straightening Ed’s lapels over and over, “She means something to you. Something like family. You’ve been through a great deal together, and to have come through all that and still care for each other – that’s not something you want to throw away.”
Oswald’s hands stilled, then curled around Ed’s, bringing them up to his mouth so he could press a kiss to each set of knuckles. “You’re right, as usual, my love.”
“Thank you, I– oh my,” Ed blinked as he realized something. “If she’s akin to being your mother...does that make her my mother-in-law?”
Oswald burst into laughter.
“I just hope she doesn’t try and give me the shovel talk,” Ed continued seriously, “Any threats she might make against my life would be all too real.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Oswald assured him, still chuckling, “I would never let anything happen to you.”
“I appreciate the sentiment, but given today’s events, I must point out that the actions of others are unfortunately not in your control,” Ed said wryly.
“No, I’m being quite serious.” Oswald reached up to cup Ed’s face in one hand, eyes fierce, “Nothing’s going to stop me from marrying you and spending the rest of my life with you – not fate, not meddling assassins, not the entire company of the GCPD or Fish Mooney herself. Nothing.”
Ed couldn’t stand to merely look at that gorgeous expression of passion, and so leaned in to pull Oswald into a hot, biting kiss, feeling the fire that had been interrupted earlier by their unexpected guest stir again in his belly.
“I don’t suppose we could elope?” he murmured against Oswald’s lips when they broke apart reluctantly for air.
“If that’s really what you wanted...”
“No, it’s not,” Ed smiled into another kiss. “I want to marry you in front of all our minions and allies and friends and...” Ed glanced towards the entry to the dining room, “...family?”
Oswald followed his gaze and nodded slowly. “Family.”
“I haven’t really had one of those before, not a proper one,” Ed admitted, “I’m not sure what they’re supposed to be like.”
“I don’t know if family is ‘supposed’ to be like anything. They just...are the way they are.” Oswald grabbed Ed’s hand decisively, “Let’s go and find out what this one’s like.”
Ed gave in to the urge to press one last kiss to Oswald’s lips. “Lead the way."
Whew! Finally, a happy end to that wild ride of a bachelor party (and to this fic, which I've been working on since...*checks doc creation date*... JULY!? jeepers...)
As always, I’d love to know what you thought! Let me know in a comment <3