“Mr. Bernard? Your five o’clock is here.”
“Thank you, Melody. Send her in.”
Vernon Bernard releases the button on his intercom, and checks the calendar displayed on his computer. He’s known all week that a Ms. Alice Smith has booked an appointment with him; the name is unfamiliar, but his assistant has only written “new client.”
He’d meant to insist on more details, but the days had gotten away from him, his attention mostly needed on the Sionis account following the crime lord’s sudden death. What an ordeal that had been...
Bernard sighs, hoping it’s not something too involved -- this is his last obligation of the day before he gets to meet an old friend for drinks, and he’s been looking forward to it.
A minute later, the heavy oak door to his office opens, and the banker glances up to see his assistant (“Go right ahead,” she’s smiling) holding the door for the mystery client. The woman enters the room, nodding her thanks.
As she strides toward his desk, footsteps quiet on the room’s lush carpeting, Bernard notes the well-cut black suit and black shirt, high heels -- no, actually, she’s in flats, and is just quite tall -- and dark sunglasses shielding her face. Can’t be older than late twenties, he guesses.
Something tickles his memory, but he can’t place it.
Odd...she doesn’t exactly fit the profile of those who usually seek out his services. He’s coming up on 35 years with Gotham National, and has long managed the bank’s most high-powered accounts. Accounts belonging to older, high-powered gentlemen, for the most part. What brings her in today? he wonders.
“Ms. Smith,” he says, rising to extend his hand to the brunette. “What can I help you with?”
She accepts the gesture, responding with a firm grip. “Thank you for seeing me,” she says as they sit, and despite her confident tone, Bernard suspects an underlying nervousness. “I have a...somewhat complicated, um, financial issue.”
The dying afternoon sun is casting shadows around his ornate office, reminding him of the late hour. Internally, Bernard grimaces. How complicated? “Well, this is Gotham National Bank,” he responds, giving her a small smile, “So you’ve come to the right place.”
The woman’s lips twist slightly as she reaches into her suit jacket, retrieving a folded piece of paper from a hidden pocket. She places the sheet on his desk between them, smoothing out the folds. He notices that her nails are nicely manicured, painted a dark purple hue, but her knuckles are faintly bruised. Interesting.
Intrigued, Bernard leans forward to inspect the sheet, and sees it bears a series of alphanumeric characters -- six lines spanning the top half of the page. Actually, they look like…
“Codes?” he asks, frowning.
That feeling of recognition in him swells, and it is not a pleasant one. Like everyone else in this city over a certain age, he remembers all too well the day he woke up to the headlines of the entire Bertinelli family being gunned down by a rival Mafia crew, so many years ago.
As financial advisor and friend to the the head of the family -- Franco, as well as his wife Maria, had been valued clients of Vernon’s -- he’d known them intimately, but had mourned their demise privately. There had not been a funeral. All of their underworld acquaintances either retreated into the shadows immediately after the massacre, or crossed over to Sionis’ side. (He’s always suspected it was Sionis who had ordered the hit, though he’s never verified the theory.)
The family’s deaths had dominated the headlines for weeks, as rumors of what would happen to their fortune swirled. It was no secret that the Bertinellis banked with Gotham National (most of the prominent Mafia families had for centuries) but it quickly became clear that it was there the money would stay until the next possible heir came forward. So far, it had been 15-odd years, and no one had.
But now, these codes...Bernard swallows, peering closely at the paper. Anyone could access newspaper archives and read about the massacre, he thinks.
However, most people didn't know that, long before their deaths, the Bertinellis had arranged for the codes to their bank accounts to be inscribed inside a rare diamond. Maria had been somewhat sentimental -- it was her idea to have the heirloom engraved, and while it seemed a bit dramatic at the time, it was nonetheless secure. Bernard supposes that it’s protected their assets thus far.
The diamond had been lost; wiped out along with the whole family. Or so he’d thought. Does this woman have the gem, too? She hasn’t placed anything on the surface, other than the piece of paper.
The woman in question sighs, startling him from his reverie.
“Yes,” she says, answering Bernard’s earlier question, “I’m sure this is sort of unorthodox, but they are access codes. To several accounts at this bank, though I don’t know those numbers.”
Bernard looks closely again at the woman, whose expression is unreadable beneath the dark glasses. With a slight shock, he recalls another detail about that horrible event.
There was one body that had never been found at the Bertinelli mansion. That, too, had not been printed in the papers, but he had his sources. Franco and Maria’s daughter, who couldn’t have been older than eight or nine at the time. It still makes Bernard uneasy to think of what might have happened to her.
What had the girl’s name been? Christ, he can’t remember. Anyway, she has to be long dead by now.
He figures it’s unlikely that anyone else knows the girl hadn’t been buried along with her family, may their souls rest in peace. Was this woman attempting to pose as a long lost cousin, perhaps, emerging from the woodwork to claim her extended family’s fortune?
“Where did you get these?” he asks instead.
When she hesitates, his suspicion grows. Clients of his often used fake names to maintain discretion when booking appointments, and at the moment, “Alice Smith” is sounding like the fakest name in the book.
More importantly, despite Gotham National’s top-of-the-line security, criminals occasionally manage entry to the bank, though it is rarer nowadays, especially with the recent increase in masked heroes on patrol. Still, one can never be too careful.
“I see...you’d rather not say,” he adds, trying to sound natural. “That’s alright, we’ll pull up the accounts another way. Do you have identification you can provide, Miss...Smith?”
Unease stirring in him, Bernard subtly moves his left hand toward the hidden button under his desk. He’s a good person, and would prefer not to die here and now, especially since there’s a well-deserved old fashioned waiting for him at the Polo Bar right after this.
But before he can press it, he jolts in his cushioned leather chair. Strong fingers have grasped his wrist, staying his efforts with surprising force. The woman, having moved silently and swiftly, is now leaning over his desk.
“Don’t!” she snaps.
He yelps at the contact -- Good lord, how did she see that? -- and she relaxes her vice-like grip.
“I’m sorry,” she adds, releasing him and taking her seat only when he indicates he won’t attempt it again, “I’m not a criminal, if that’s what you’re thinking. I just -- I just need you to listen.”
Bernard eyes her warily, rubbing his wrist a tad dramatically as he mentally locates the pistol in his bottom drawer. “I wouldn’t do that,” she mutters, apparently following his thought process.
What in the…?
“Will you tell me your name? Your real name?” he demands, still itching to take defensive action, though his curiosity is beginning to win over.
“That depends,” she replies, sounding slightly amused, “Are you going to shoot me?”
Maybe. He swallows. “No.”
The woman exhales for a few seconds, apparently thinking the question over.
“Helena Bertinelli,” she says finally.
“Helena...” Bernard echoes, at a loss for words as it clicks into place -- because that’s right, that had been the girl’s name -- he’s in disbelief, and yet not completely sure she is lying. But he has to be sure.
Her face twists into a scowl, and it’s hard not to feel a prickle of intimidation on the back of his neck once more.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” she says.
Bernard folds his hands on his desk. “Well, it’s just that, of course, the Bertinelli family’s demise was highly publicized,” he stammers, “And I’m sure that anyone would be -- would be capable of, ah, reading up on it.”
He doesn’t even really believe what he’s saying, but the alternative is impossible, isn’t it? Bernard glances towards the button again, wondering if it would be possible to distract the woman, who is looking downright murderous at this point, enough to be successful. Then again, if she's telling the truth, there's no way he'll turn her in...
He doesn’t get the chance, because her -- Helena Bertinelli’s? -- fist is slamming down on his desk, rattling his computer monitor, custom stationary and assorted writing implements.
“Listen, these are the codes from the fucking diamond, and you’re going to access the fucking accounts with them,” she hisses, “Or I will drive one of these expensive goddamn fountain pens through your stupid skull!”
The banker freezes at the display of rage, not to mention her use of obscenities and threats, then finds himself considering. Almost no one knows about the diamond. She could still be lying, but it’s becoming more unlikely by the second.
While he turns this over in his mind, the woman unclenches her fist, sighs loudly and shoves her sunglasses up her head, presumably so she can glare at him properly.
And Bernard gasps, because dammit if the ghost of Maria Bertinelli isn’t staring at him. No, not a ghost…
Her daughter, then. Impossible.
“It’s her,” he breathes, finally accepting the truth. “I mean, you -- you’re her. My God, you’re alive. ”
Obvious relief floods the woman’s face for a moment, her earlier anger quickly disappearing -- but before he can blink, Helena ( ! ) is scowling again.
“Last I checked, yes,” she says sarcastically. “It’s a long story, I’ll tell you all about it sometime.”
Bernard has a thousand and one questions. How did she survive? Where was she hiding? Why return now? First Roman Sionis’ death less than two weeks ago, and now a Mafia princess, back from the dead...two such extraordinary events couldn’t be a coincidence.
He voices none of these concerns. There will be time for that later. All that matters is that Franco and Maria’s daughter is apparently alive and well...and currently looking at him like he’s an idiot the longer he stays speechless.
“Well?” she prompts, impatient now. “Can you do it?”
Bernard frowns. “It’s not that simple, you see. Even if these are the real codes...” She rolls her eyes, but he continues. “Then I’ll still need to prove you’re the rightful heir. I might believe you, but there are others who will need convincing. You’re sure you don’t have any ID? What about, er, a Social Security number?” Even as he says the words, he feels foolish, because they obviously wouldn't be here if she were in a position to go through the proper channels.
Helena grimaces, and again, he can’t get over the resemblance to Maria. He shakes his head. Unbelievable that I didn’t notice it before.
“I don’t have anything real,” she says, crossing her arms. “Again, long story. Can’t we hack in or something?” She looks pointedly at his computer, which is now asleep.
He chuckles. “Not exactly. But,” he’s just had an idea, “I think I know of something that’ll work.”
She watches expectantly as he retrieves a small silver key from a locked drawer in his desk. “I’ll be right back,” he promises.
“Okay,” she says, and he can tell she’s trying not to seem nervous as he leaves the room. Bernard, secretly grateful for the chance to collect himself, assures her that no one will enter while he’s gone.
A few minutes later, he returns with a document from Maria’s safe deposit box, untouched in years but gratefully still intact. She had trusted him with the key in case of emergency, though he’d never dreamed this would be the occasion upon which he would need it.
Helena is already twisted in her seat, trying to get a glimpse as he approaches the desk. “What is it?”
“Your birth certificate,” he says, unable to keep from sounding triumphant as her eyebrows shoot up. He places the thick, cream-colored paper on the desk next to the much flimsier sheet containing the codes.
She inspects the document, then gives him a questioning look. “It’s real,” he assures her.
“That’s not what I was going to...never mind. Where did this come from?” she asks, picking up the certificate with utmost care. As she stares at it with an expression he can’t quite read, he feels a twinge of sympathy. Wonder how much she remembers. No kid should have to go through that.
“You’ve had it all along, remember?” he winks, trying to sound cheerful as he moves his mouse to wake up the computer. “Should make things a bit easier from here on out.”
From the corner of his eye, he sees Helena’s posture relax for the first time since she’s entered his office. “Thank you,” she says quietly, continuing to peer intently at the document.
He pulls up the accounts on the screen, and begins the arduous process of entering the long strings of code.
“Did, uh, did you know them, then?” Helena asks while he works. “My parents?”
“Yes, very well, in fact,” he tells her, still typing. “They were...complicated, but at the end of the day, they were good people.”
She says nothing, waiting for him to continue.
“I know they didn’t always seem that way to the rest of Gotham, but it was an honor for me to know them. So I’ll do everything I can to help you.”
“I appreciate that. And I’d appreciate, um, if you wouldn’t tell anyone--”
“--Of course,” he says. “Your secret is safe with me.” This earns him a hint of a smile.
A few minutes later, Bernard is in.
“Ah, I can see there are six accounts,” he says, nodding. “One is actually already in your name -- that’s likely the trust your parents set aside when you were born -- so I’ll just need to put you on the others, though that shouldn’t take more than a day to process now that you have a legal claim.”
He swivels the monitor towards Helena, so she can read the information displayed there.
“And here’s the total amount in the accounts, though of course that doesn’t include stocks and property holdings…”
But his newest client isn’t listening, brown eyes growing comically large at the number.