“I like Bruce,” Gilda says.
They’re in her studio, or the closet at the back of the house that she has decided is her studio. There’s barely enough room to turn around, but she says the light’s good, and there’s tile on the floor. She’s making a mock-up for a future piece. Her hands are clothed in slick grey clay.
Harvey, who is sitting in a folding chair and reading a case brief, looks up. “Bruce Wayne?”
“Do we know another Bruce?” Gilda bites her lip, peering at the blurred, half-finished face under her hands.
“I mean, I don’t. You might.” Harvey stretches his legs out in front of him. There’s a hole in the toe of his sock. He needs to fix that. “Bruce is decent.”
“Decent.” Gilda smirks. “I suppose so, if you like the brilliant, gorgeous, philanthropist type.”
Harvey grins back at her. “Should I be jealous?”
“Oh, absolutely. If he so much as blinked in my direction, I’d leave you in a second.” Gilda is smiling in earnest now too, only half-focused on the sculpture.
“You’re a bit ahead of yourself, aren’t you? What makes you think you’re the one he’d ask?”
Gilda puts the back of her hand to her forehead, leaving a gritty smear of clay behind. “I knew it. Bruce Wayne seduced my husband. I should sell my story to the Post. How could you?”
“Oh, you know how it is. He bats those pretty eyes, buys you dinner, gets you drunk on fancy wine. Before you know it, you’re breaking ground on a new hospital.”
“He does have very pretty eyes,” Gilda agrees equanimably.
“I know. It’s unfair.” Harvey scowls at the sock.
“Don’t sulk. Your eyes are fine too.”
“I like to think so. They’ve always served me well.”
They’re both quiet for a moment. Outside it’s starting to rain. Harvey can hear the quiet murmur of raindrops on the vinyl siding. He likes rain, always has. It makes the world seem softer. Between heartbeats, he has one of the moments that sometimes come upon him these days, where he is stunned and shaken by how lucky he is to be here in this good life. This little room, the smell of clay, Gilda, the rain outside. How could anyone want more? He never once imagined that it was possible to live like this.
It’s a good feeling, and a scary feeling. Beneath the sweet sharp joy, there is always that raspy little voice. The voice that says, this can’t last. You’ll ruin it. You always do.
“We should ask him over for dinner,” Gilda says.
“No point,” Harvey replies.
“Because he’s Bruce Wayne, and as proud as I am of our collective cooking skills, he can get anything we can make at ten times the quality whenever he wants. No point.”
“Maybe,” Gilda says steadily. “But we’re his friends, and it’s good to make food for your friends sometimes. Whether it’s good food or not.”
Harvey stirs. “Is it,” he says.
“Yeah.” Gilda flicks a bit of clay off of the newly emerging left eye of her bust. “It is.”
Gilda reminds him of a child sometimes. Her big warm brown eyes, the way that she believes things so firmly, as if they are objects you can touch. She believes in capital letters, both in the big stuff like Truth and Love and in the smaller stuff like How It’s Good To Have Friends For Dinner Sometimes.
Harvey finds this both charming and unsettling. His whole life has been determined by the pursuit of a few shining beliefs, but he’s still not sure if he believes anything as strongly as Gilda does.
“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, alright.”
The first time Harvey saw him, Bruce was a ghost in a hospital bed, bloodless face and blasted, bottomless, eyes. There had been blood on his shirt, and it had seemed like the most real thing about him. The rest of his body was faded, like a figure in an old photograph.
The Bruce that Harvey knows now is well over six feet tall, and his presence occupies whole rooms. He has a lot of different ways of smiling, but only one that he uses for people he actually likes, and it’s the one he uses when Harvey comes into the glass-walled office at the top of the Wayne Enterprises building. He is solid, substantial, and wearing a sleek black suit worth more money than Harvey’s house, which Harvey kind of hates a little bit.
“I’m not here for any important reason,” Harvey says. “so if you’re busy I’ll leave.”
“I can imagine nothing more important,” Bruce replies gravely, “than the pleasure of your company.”
Harvey snorts and drops into the chair in front of Bruce’s desk, which is pretty comfortable for something that looks like it’s made of icicles. “That sounds rehearsed.”
“It was, but I meant it anyway,” Bruce says.
Harv doesn’t like Bruce. Doesn’t like being around him. He makes him squirmy and sour and mean. He doesn’t really like you, Harv hisses in the soft darkness at the back of Harvey’s skull. He’s arrogant. A liar. You should grab him by the hair and smash his mouth into his desk until he drowns on his own blood.
Harvey stops listening. He usually stops listening at around the same time Harv starts offering suggestions. Instead he looks at Bruce, who is no longer smiling, but is instead looking at him with perfect focus, the serious and entire weight of his attention. It is, somehow, a better feeling than the smile.
“I’m meeting with the biologist on Tuesday,” he says, for no real reason other than that the force of Bruce’s attention is incredibly intense.
“Horticulturalist,” Bruce says.
“Yeah. Isely.” Harvey sticks his legs out until they brush the glass leg of Bruce’s desk. “I can’t imagine what she wants, but maybe she’ll be interesting to talk to.”
“I expect so,” Bruce replies evenly. “She is, after all, one of the most highly acclaimed scientists of her generation.”
“Is she? See, I didn’t know that.” Harvey grins. “Have you been checking up on the people I have meetings with?”
“Only some of them,” Bruce says, serenely unselfconscious. “It’s good for someone to know what you’re getting into, and that person is clearly not going to be you.”
Bruce is, in his quiet and unobtrusive way, the most insanely paranoid person Harvey knows, and a part of Harvey loves him very deeply for it. Another part, of course, is still snarling burn out his eyes, cut him open, and clawing at Harvey’s ribs with fingers like black needles, the fingers of a charred corpse.
“The hospital build is going okay?” Harvey asks, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Spectacularly. We’re actually ahead of schedule, which never happens. I mean that literally; in my experience, it’s never happened. I visited last weekend. George says that the only real issue has been clearing the vegetation on the island.”
“The foreman. We’ve worked together before.”
“Mm.” Bruce likes to know the names of the people who work for him, which is an impressively unlikely task given the fact that he runs a vast and sprawling international business empire. “Well. We have God on our side, I guess.”
“God, money, and skilled professionals,” Bruce says.
His voice is very even, as usual. Harvey wonders abruptly if Bruce actually believes in God. It’s not a thought that has ever really occurred to him before. Bruce seems so solidly a part of the world, so utterly isolated from the distant hypothetical of divinity.
When she gets nervous, Gilda will sometimes murmur the shema to herself, almost unconsciously. Every yea, she lights a yahrzeit candle for the anniversary of her father’s death and lets it burn down to a grimy ring of wax on the counter. She makes bad latkes for Hannukah and good hamentaschen for Purim. When they were dating, he asked her why she did these things, if she believed in her mother’s God. I believe in something, she had said, and whatever it is, this is the best way I know how to honor it.
He remembers his own mother’s fingers, with their blistered knuckles and ragged nails, sliding over the lacquer beads of her rosary, glossy and black as beetles. He thinks that all the people he loves best have believed in something untouchable.
“You’re thinking about something,” Bruce says. His eyes are dark, reflective.
Harvey puts his hands behind his head. “Something stupid,” he says.
“Not usually,” Bruce replies, and Harvey grins, because for Bruce something like this is as close as you get to a declaration of eternal love.
“Gilda wants you to come over for dinner,” he says. “I told her I didn’t want you classing up the place, but she insisted, and I am of course weak before her. Don’t feel like you have to say yes.”
“I’m free Monday,” Bruce says, reaching for his planner.
“Or you could say that,” Harvey allows.
“Well, Gilda is the love of my life, and naturally I am always attempting to steal her away from you, so this is too good an opportunity to miss,” Bruce says without a trace of humor, flipping through the planner, which is, of course, glossy and black. “Will seven work?”
“Seven-thirty,” Harvey says, unhappily. He knows himself too well to plan for leaving work on time. The odds are good that he’ll be late, even as things stand now.
“Seven-thirty,” Bruce agrees. He makes a note in the planner and puts it down carefully next to his open briefcase. Bruce is neat to the point of dysfunction in his work affairs, although Harvey is completely certain that sometimes he forgets to brush his hair.
“Great.” Harvey pushes the chair back. “I hope you like soup, because soup is usually what ends up happening in the Dent house.”
“You say that like it’s an act of God or something.”
“Technically we could make something else, but she’s busy and I’m lazy. We’ll put parmesan cheese on it for you.”
“I’m glad I rate parmesan cheese. Are you going?”
“Yeah.” Harvey stands, brushing his hands on his trousers. “That’s what I came her to tell you, and as much as I’d like to stay, I have to go do the law thing.”
“Understood. Don’t work yourself to death.”
Harvey laughs. “You’re worse than Gilda. Tell you what; I won’t if you won’t.”
Bruce smiles, one of his quiet little smiles like a secret. “No promises.”
On the way back down in the elevator, Harvey touches his face and discovers that he is smiling. He decides to allow himself to keep smiling until the elevator doors open and someone is there to see him besides the insect eye of the security camera. He always feels a little better after seeing Bruce. It’s why he came over in person when he and Bruce both know it would have been easier to call. Bruce makes him feel awake but also quiet. A lot of the time he feels half-asleep, not entirely in his body, and when he does feel fully awake it’s because something loud and painful is happening in his head. Bruce’s quiet voice and unshakably solid presence makes him feel aware, but also calm. Still.
It’s the same way he feels around Gilda. It’s why he decided to spend the rest of his life with her. Maybe it’s just because Bruce has been around for so goddamn long and he knows everything, or almost everything, anyway. Maybe it’s because Bruce is his best friend. Is that true? He thinks it is. That’s a trip and a fucking half; his best friend, Bruce Wayne. If only the Alley kids could see him now.
You should wait until he’s in here, says Harv, and then cut the elevator cable.
“I’m not going to do that,” Harvey says out loud, as if saying it will make it more true.
The elevator doors open with a muted whisper of escaping air. Harvey realizes he’s not smiling anymore.
Gilda is sitting on the bed, staring at the wall. The window veils her face in haunted grey light. She does not move, does not speak. She has never been a large woman, but she looks too small, lost in her own body. Her face is wasted and waxy and blank.
Harvey stands in the door and watches her. These kinds of things happen enough that they no longer terrify him the way they used to. Sometimes he’ll come home from work and she’ll be sitting on the floor of her studio with her head in her hands or standing at the kitchen sink, staring out the window, water rippling over her wrinkled fingertips. She says it’s not a big deal, it’s something she’s always done, and he has elected to believe her. It’s not like he doesn’t know how it is to slip in and out of the world. He wants to press her sometimes, but he doesn’t, because to do so would be to open the possibility of a mutual questioning, and that is a situation he has carefully avoided for many years.
He loves Gilda. He loves her in a way that sometimes seems frightening and terrible; loves her so much that it hurts when he thinks about it. He wonders if there are words for the vast dark things that surface sometimes in the murk of her subconscious, like wrecked ships drifting back to the surface of the sea.
“Honey,” he tries. There is no response. He notices that Gilda is holding a newspaper very tightly in her hand. Her fingernails, painted a delicate green, have torn into the thin pages.
He puts his briefcase down and crosses the room. There’s just enough room to sit next to her on the bed. She blinks and starts suddenly, as if he has touched her, though he hasn’t. She turns her bright glassy eyes up to him and smiles a bright glassy smile.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” he replies. He wishes she would stop smiling like that. “You doing ok?”
“No,” she says, looking down at the newspaper. “Not really.”
For a long moment she gazes at the paper, saying nothing.
“Stacey Lynch killed herself,” she says finally.
A cold flower opens in Harvey’s stomach, steel petals like blades. “Fuck,” he says numbly. It strikes him that he might be about to throw up. He digs his fingernails into his palm until the feeling passes.
He remembers Stacey Lynch. A sweet kid, a paralegal. She had gone for a walk in Robinson Park on her way home from work one evening and ended the night by being assaulted by four men. Harvey had met with her in the hospital, two days later. Her lower lip was split almost in half and she could barely see—her glasses had broken and no one had yet thought to get her second pair from her apartment—but her eyes were hard and brilliant, and she had held her chin up like it was a sword.
They won’t do this to anyone else, she had said. I’m going to stop them.
She had give him names and descriptions and Harvey had started to get that quick hot feeling in the pit of his gut, the feeling he got when a case came together. He felt like a gun ready to fire. When he looked at Stacey Lynch, he saw that feeling reflected back at him.
The trial had been going on for a week when Stacey Lynch had walked into the courtroom and withdrawn all charges. She had been mistaken. Her descriptions had been wrong. In fact, maybe nothing had happened at all. Astute observers had noted that she was missing three fingers from the knuckle down on her left hand.
Harvey did not remember a lot of what had happened that day. He had left the courtyard and Harv had almost immediately taken over. In some ways he was grateful for that.
Gilda had liked Stacey Lynch. They had met a few times. They had talked about books. Once Gilda had kissed her cheek.
“Can I touch you?” Harvey asks.
Gilda nods, and Harvey wraps his arms around her shoulders. Gilda buries her face in his chest. He feels the warm, uneven, rasp of her breath. Her hair smells like sweat and rain.
The paper, now lying on the bed, informs him that Stacey Lynch hung herself in her apartment with an extension cord. Her girlfriend found the body.
“I’m so angry,” Gilda whispers. “I’m so fucking angry.”
Harvey holds her tighter, and says “I know,” because he does. He feels the quick savage rhythm of her heart, like a whisper against his skin.
“I’m so angry,” Gilda says, and then, more softly, “Harvey, do you ever just want to—”
She falls silent. He stirs and looks down at her. Her face is tilted into his chest; he can’t see her expression, just the dark fan of her eyelashes. “What?” he asks.
She is silent for another long moment. He feels the presence of the unspoken answer inside her body, the terrible weight of it, like the weight of a corpse. Stacey Lynch’s corpse.
“Nothing,” she says finally. She presses her face against him, shuts her eyes.
Harvey feels suddenly, absurdly, tired; too tired to be awake, too tired to be alive. He knows he could press the issue, and there’s even a chance she might tell him, but to do so would be to violate that silent but terribly important trust, the glass wall between them that keeps them safe from each other. In his darker moments, Harvey sometimes that their marriage is built as much on the things they’ve left unspoken as on the things that they know and love about each other.
So he says nothing. He holds Gilda, because he loves her. For now, that’s enough.
As he expects, he’s late to dinner on Monday. He doesn’t even notice the clock until it’s seven-forty, and he drives home in a tearing hurry, blasting through more red lights than a DA really should. Someone sticks their middle finger out the window at him. He can’t remember the last time that happened.
When he gets home, the house smells like pepper and chicken stock and the TV is on. He can hear voices, Gilda’s and a lower one, quiet and rumbling, which he identifies as Bruce. He puts his briefcase down by the door and goes into the living room. Jeopardy is on. Bruce is sitting on the couch, watching intently, and Gilda is standing in the corner with an oven mitt on, alternately watching him and the screen with clear amusement. Pale blue light plays across both their faces from the screen, making them ghostly and strange.
“This is a traditional raspberry flavoring,” Alex Trebek says tonelessly.
“Beaver anuses,” Bruce says instantly, leaning forward.
Gilda lets out a sharp bark of a laugh. “What? That’s not real.”
“Yes, it is. Beaver anuses. Look it up.”
On the TV, a young man in a T-shirt doubtfully says “What is raspberries?”
“How do you even know that?” Harvey asks, coming into the room. “Hi. Sorry I’m late.”
“Actually, your brilliant wife anticipated that would be the case, so dinner is still in the making,” Bruce says, still staring raptly at the TV.
“He’s lying, we ate already. No dinner for you.” Gilda comes over and kisses him on the cheek. “Hey, honey.”
Harvey squeezes her arm. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Grate some parmesan,” Gilda says. “We’re going all-out.”
The soup is some sort of Italian thing with little meatballs in it. The table feels oddly but not unpleasantly crowded with Bruce sitting next to him. Harvey watches the parmesan melt into a little white island on the surface of the soup. The presence of Bruce and Gilda is like a pair of walls, not confining but sheltering. He wonders if it’s weird for him to think that.
“So I saw Batman today,” Gilda says.
Bruce raises his eyebrows mildly. “Really? Where?”
“I was outside the bank and he was punching someone on the roof. The Riddler, I think. I didn’t see him for very long but there was a crowd of people watching and cheering. Some of them were cheering the Riddler.”
“Assholes,” Harvey says cheerfully.
“I don’t know. It seems appropriate,” Bruce says.
Harvey groans. “Not this again.”
Gilda glances between them, her eyes bright. “Not what again?”
“Bruce and his weird Batman vendetta.”
“I don’t have a vendetta against him,” Bruce says evenly. “I just think it’s irresponsible for him to try to fix the city by personally punching people he disagrees with. We have a justice system for that reason.”
“Yeah, and God knows the justice system functions perfectly and has no flaws,” Harvey replies darkly.
“Of course it has flaws, but that just proves we need more people like you. Not people like him.”
“Without people like him, I would probably be dead,” Harvey says. “Do you have any idea how many times he’s saved my life?”
“Principally from threats that didn’t exist before he showed up,” Bruce points out coolly.
Helplessly, Harvey looks over at his wife. “Gilda. Help me out here.”
Gilda twirls her spoon between her fingers. “I don’t know,” she says idly. “Bruce may have a point.”
Bruce makes a satisfied noise. Harvey gasps, putting his hand to his heart. “Betrayal! My own wife, turning on me.”
“I’m not turning on you, I’m turning on Batman. And there is a reason that people don’t just, I don’t know, shoot people who commit crimes against them. We live in a civilized society. We have laws. Honestly, I think you of all people would understand that.”
Harvey looks at her sharply. She meets his gaze, unblinking. Bruce bends his head over his soup, studiously slurping up a meatball.
“I do what I do because I know the justice system is deeply corrupt and inefficient,” Harvey says, after a moment. His voice is level; he’s pleased about that. “Batman does what he does for the same reason. If we lived in a perfect world, he wouldn’t exist, but we don’t, and I think we need him.”
“It’s just the lack of self-control that offends me,” Gilda says. Her voice sounds oddly flat. Her soup bowl is almost empty, and the spoon scrapes against the porcelain. “God knows that sometimes it feels like the right thing to do is to go out and deal with all the fuckers yourself, but you can’t. You can’t. No matter how much you want to.”
“I don’t think that lack of self-control is the issue,” Harvey says. “That was not the impression that I got from him.”
Bruce’s head comes up. “You’ve met him?”
Harvey laughs dryly. “Yeah. A couple times. Just, y’know, in the course of business.”
“Really.” Bruce has the look on his face that he gets sometimes, like he’s not quite smiling but he’s thinking really hard about it. “What was he like?”
Harvey bites down his own grin at that. “Weird. Rigid. He does this stupid voice when he speaks. I had to keep fighting not to offer him a lozenge. And he’s not good at facial expressions. His mouth doesn’t move, like, at all.”
“The man dresses like a bat,” Gilda says. “I think a little weirdness is to be expected.”
“He sounds unsettling,” Bruce says.
Harvey shrugs. “Gordon trusts him, and I trust Gordon. It’s not that complicated.”
Bruce smiles a little. “Your taste in allies is questionable.”
The response to that is so obvious that Harvey almost feels bad about saying it, but he does anyway. “I’m friends with you, aren’t I?”
Bruce’s smile grows wider, warmer. Gilda throws back her head and groans. “I want a divorce.”
“No, you can’t divorce me, your soup is too good,” Harvey says.
“Yeah. I provide the soup, you provide the sitcom dialogue. And Bruce can answer all the Jeopardy questions. The perfect marriage.”
Harvey’s heart squeezes painfully behind his ribs. He laughs, and hopes it sounds natural.
“Id, ego, and superego,” Bruce says. He looks much younger when he smiles.
Harvey clears the table while Gilda washes and Bruce dries. It’s weird seeing Bruce Wayne standing in their little one-counter kitchen, taking up most of the room, washing plates with a stained dishrag and chatting happily with Gilda about the hospital build, about how when they were kids Harvey said hey there should be a better hospital for kids, this one is bullshit, and the wisdom of that statement apparently lingered in Bruce’s consciousness forevermore. Bruce has always been a part of Harvey’s life, but combining him with this domestic business, normal and unromantic as soap, makes the whole thing new somehow. Strange, but not in a bad way. Like flexing a limb that’s been asleep for a long time.
There are little white scars on Bruce’s knuckles, the kind you get from a lot of fighting over a fairly substantial period of time. They’ve been there for years, ever since Bruce left the city when they were both teenagers. He was gone for a long time, as Harvey trudged through college and law school, feeling more alone than he had ever been. Harvey doesn’t know what Bruce did during those long missing years. He hasn’t asked. He doesn’t know if Bruce would answer him if he did. He doesn’t know if Bruce would tell him the truth.
Gilda finds Bruce attractive. He can tell. He knows how to read the tilt of her hips, the way she laughs. It doesn’t bother him as much as he expects it to, mostly because if she didn’t find him attractive he would doubt both her sanity and her eyesight. After all these years, Harvey is very used to the concept of people thinking that Bruce is attractive. It’s a conclusion that he himself came to a long time ago, at around the same time he became aware that Bruce could probably take him in a fight.
Halfway through cleaning the table, he goes to the bathroom. When he comes back, he pauses in the doorway for a moment, listening to the murmur of the water, the layered harmony of Bruce and Gilda’s voices, indistinct but audible. He can see them both from the back, silhouetted in warm golden light against the frozen night beyond the big window. They are leaning towards each other, slightly, Bruce’s big body and Gilda’s much smaller one. He notices how the inherent stiffness of Bruce’s frame, his unbreakable, cultivated, posture, has gentled, become soft. Awkward, almost. Bruce never allows himself to become awkward unless he feels safe. It takes a lot to make Bruce feel safe. It took Harvey years to find that same gentleness in him, that awkwardness.
Gilda has her face turned up to him, like a flower, smiling. She says something and Bruce laughs. Harvey can feel the laugh in his bones.
He thinks, this should bother me. This should upset me. I should feel jealous of someone in this situation.
Gilda hands Bruce a glass and he starts drying it with neat, careful, strokes of the rag. Gilda is still smiling, her face lit up like a whole sky of stars. Bruce’s smile is a different kind of glow, more distant, more delicate, like Christmas lights. Harvey looks at them and he feels the answer to their light somewhere in his chest, like a moth trapped inside him, trying desperately to fly to their brightness.
He looks away. There’s still some soup in his bowl. If he puts plastic wrap on it, he can eat it for lunch tomorrow.
Pamela Isely is younger than he expected, and almost shockingly beautiful, with her endless legs and bright flood of scarlet hair. She wears a green dress; Harvey meets her in the back of Chez Daniel, the table by the kitchen doors. He both likes and distrusts her instantly. Her perfume is sweet, with a bewitchingly putrid note at the bottom of it, like rotten cherry blossoms. There’s something in her perfect smile that reminds him of a wound, a broken bone.
“Dr. Isely,” he says, holding out his hand to her.
“Mr. Dent,” she replies, taking it in hers. Her skin is just a little bit too damp. “Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me.”
“Any excuse to eat the best steak in the city,” Harvey replies. He pulls out Isely’s chair for her and she acquiesces gracefully, pouring herself into it like some dark-eyed film noir villainess. Her perfume is, for a moment, so strong it’s almost nauseating.
She orders pasta with seafood, which comes as a bit of a surprise; for some reason he had expected her to be a vegetarian. The horticulturalist thing, maybe. He orders the steak, which really is the best in the city, bloody and smoky and rich. Isely gets a bottle of white to go with the fish, and Harvey accepts one glass with some hesitation and an internal commitment to stop at one. He doesn’t think he should be drunk for this conversation. Besides, it doesn’t really go with the meat. They talk about politics until the food comes and Isely apparently decides to change the subject.
“I’ve been following your career,” she says lightly, turning a pale wad of pasta around her fork.
“How about that,” Harvey replies. People are always saying this to him and he’s never quite sure how to respond. “I wish I could tell you the same, but unfortunately I don’t have much opportunity to keep abreast of scientific news. I did look you up this morning, though.”
“Did you?” That smile, again, sweet with a core of malformation, like her perfume. “You weren’t disappointed, I hope.”
“The opposite, actually. Your trajectory has been amazing. I only understand about half the headlines about you and your work, but what I did get was pretty incredible.”
The smile gentles, becomes less artificial. “You’re very kind. I would say I’ve been lucky, but the would be false modesty, and I get the feeling you’re not the kind of man who indulges such behavior.”
“Honesty is the best policy,” Harvey says, trying to decide if you’re not the kind of man who indulges such behavior is a really weird thing to say or not. It’s hard to determine. He’s not thinking clearly tonight.
“I’ve always thought so.” Isely puts her fork down on her plate and gazes at him evenly. “We have a number of things in common, I think.”
“Oh, yes. We’ve both had unprecedented success at a young age; we’re both intelligent, ambitious, and outspoken; we’ve both made enemies. Admittedly, my enemies may be less spectacular than yours.”
Harvey laughs, a little more stiffly than he intended to. “I don’t know,” he says. “I’ve heard that botany can be pretty brutal.”
“You have no idea,” Isely says. “Tell me, Mr. Dent, are you at all familiar with the name Rosaceae vularis?”
“Should I be?” Harvey asks. He spears another bit of steak on his fork but doesn’t eat it. His stomach is shifting within him, liquid and sour. He shouldn’t have had that wine. The meat is too rich. Her perfume is too strong.
“Yes,” Isely says. “You should. It’s a very interesting organism, sometimes also called the wild thorny rose. It stands about six inches tall, with bright red flowers. The flowers can be used to sterilize wounds and drive away insects. Their scent is astringent, but not unpleasant. I myself find it quite enjoyable. And, of course, the species is highly endangered. It’s always been rare, but these days, due to pesticides and deforestation, it only survives in about six locations worldwide. Two in the Ukraine, on the banks of a river. One in a partially submerged forest in Korea. One in Peru; one in Oregon. And one here in Gotham, of all places.”
“Is that so,” Harvey says distantly. He’s starting to sweat. He can feel it gathering under his arms, on the back of his neck, damp and foul. The light bouncing off Isely’s glass seems sticky, too bright. He wonders if he’s allowed to excuse himself to the restroom. He wonders what exactly is happening right now.
“Oh, yes. On the southern tip of Stonegate Island. There’s a complex watershed effect there, ensuring that the polluted water hasn’t quite managed to do away with them yet. And, of course, the island has been uninhabited for many years; no people to destroy the flowers. Isn’t that amazing, Mr. Dent? Our own home-grown Gotham miracle.”
I’m dissociating, Harvey thinks. That has to be what’s happening. That’s why it feels like I can’t move my body. That’s why it sounds like her voice is many voices all speaking at once.
“There are no endangered plants on the island,” he says. He hears a slur in his voice, a drone that seems to pull all the way from the back of his skull. “We had the whole area zoned. I went over the report myself. Nothing there but sawgrass and brown moths.”
“Yes,” Isely says calmly. “And that might even seem convincing if I hadn’t seen the report myself, in its original form, where the presence of Rosaceae vularis on the island was thoroughly documented. And if I hadn’t also seen the version that Wayne Industries chose to make available to the public, complete except for one section, which had clearly been deliberately omitted.”
In the back of his head, Harvey’s heartbeat begins to roar and thrash like some vast monster beneath the earth. “There was only one report,” he manages. “The one that came to my office was the one we published.”
A toxic spasm of nausea hits him with such desperate intensity that he loses all ability to speak.
“You see, that’s another way we’re similar, Mr. Dent,” Isely says. She leans forward over the table. “We’re both liars.”
A small, shrill, part of Harvey’s brain is shrieking not lying, that’s what happened, that’s the truth. The majority of him is occupied with the utter chaos taking control of his body. A mouth of wet, hot, pain opens up in his stomach, tearing through his intestines. He feels his mouth fall open.
“There’s another thing you should probably know about this plant,” Isely says. Her eyes are changing colour, like light on an oil slick, but that’s impossible, isn’t it? It’s impossible. “It can produce a very powerful and fast-acting poison, which targets the kidneys, and you’ve been drinking it in your wine for the past half hour. It’s clearly taking effect now. In just a little bit, I’ll get to start screaming for help, for someone to call an ambulance. That’s always my favorite part. It’s so entertaining.”
“What,” Harvey whispers. He wants to scream, to tear at her face with his fingernails, but his throat is sealing up, filling with fluid. “Why—”
Isely sighs, almost theatrically. This is, at least partially, a performance to her, Harvey realizes dimly. A ritual enactment. “You know, I actually had some hopes for you,” she says. “I thought you might be able to make some change in this shit town. It’s a shame you’re just like the rest of the rich bastards, really.”
The world fades at the edges, like an overexposed photograph. You crazy bitch, he tries to say, but nothing comes out. And maybe it’s not him saying it, anyway. It’s hard to tell. Things are blurry here. Blurring in. Bluring out. Moving like the dreamlike sway of seaweed in the bay.
His head collapses inward, a black hole turning his brain inside out. Someone is screaming. It’s a woman. She’s saying Harvey you have to get out. You have to hide. You have to get out now. She’s saying I love you. She’s saying help please someone call an ambulance I think he’s having some sort of fit I think he’s dying