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The bathroom door opens, but on the other side is a bar. This is impossible, of course, but there it is. Through that door step two people, a stunning blonde woman and a not-so-stunning man in his mid-30s. The door closes, and the couple find thmeselves in a large, recently painted, and empty room.

"Welcome to Bristol, my apartment, and the master bedroom." Alex beams.

Changes

Mar. 9th, 2007 09:24 am
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The call came Monday. From Lou Kagan, his lawyer. All the paperwork had gone through. The credit checks had come out OK. Any questions abut why he was paying in cash were resolved. The co-op was ready to close.

It was the start of a busy week, as Knox was also working on his next column. Fact was, the column was easy. He picked a topic he knew well. Batman. In this case, the public perception of Batman, in comparison to Commissioner Gordon and Mayor Borg. His chat with Steph Brown helped him bring things into focus, though everything she told him about her Batman was useless. Sometimes, it's not the words but the thoughts that help.

He couldn't help feel a bit distracted, though. At week's end, he'd be signing the papers. He'd be turning over the cash. He'd be fulfilling the American Dream, or at least the urban version. It was daunting. He would be a property owner.

And he'd be living in Bristol. In Suburbia. OK, it was just outside the city and didn't feel any more suburban than the few nice neighborhoods inside the city limits. But he was leaving a place he'd woken up to most mornings for 15 years. Of all the changes in his life, this was the one that got to him most. Magic bars? Princesses with beautiful hair sharing your bed? Friends with superpowers, and teenager warriors? Eh. That was just people and just a bar. This? This was Leaving Gotham City. This was, to be melodramatic, Starting Over.

He walked a lot the week before the closing. It was nice in the city (though the rains were moving in by Friday), and he decided that he might actually miss these grimy, crowded streets. Not that he wouldn't be in the city all the time. His friends were still here, as were the newspapers and the library. But he wouldn't come here. Not to the grocery store and the deli and the newsstands and even the really rotten alley he never, ever walked down but always peeked into. "Face it, Allie," he said to himself," you're getting nostalgic in your old age. Better cut it out."

Thursday, PM published the column. It was (by his standards) rather thoughtful. Supportive still of Borg, it tried to make sense of why Gordon's stock was rising, why Borg couldn't buy a break, and how the man in the bat costume seemed outside such things just by wearing a bat costume and never talking to the media. This column didn't raise much of a stir, though Vicki Vale loved it and told him that Bruce Wayne thought it was "smart". (Is Bruce calling something smart a compliment?) Knox bought a dozen copies, earmarked 10 for his friends at the Bar, and celebrated with drinks at Murray's.

He was too nervous to chance going to the Bar. He didn't want to be Bound with 12 hours to go to the closing. He missed the place (and Raps, and his friends), but he knew where he needed to be.

Friday afternoon, at 1 pm, Alexander Knox wrote the largest check of his life, as well as several smaller ones, and signed more sheets of paper than he thought any one man ever could. The lawyers for the co-op and his lawyer conferred, stamped and dated all the papers and the checks, and made it official. Knox now owned a two-bedroom apartment at the Burton Arms at 27 Brubaker Avenue in Bristol, Jersey, USA.

After it was over, he stood outside his lawyer's office and studied the keys. Tomorrow, he would go and take possession for real. For now, he just walked home, depsite a drizzle and a breeze, and let it sink in.

"I own an apartment...how about that?"
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With the arrival of May, Gotham City basked in sunlight. Or at least its sparse, poorly kept parkland did. The rest of the city merely accepted hints of sunshine between the buildings. But at least it was mild, and not rainy, and (barring another breakout by Lex Luthor) winter was behind Gotham.

Knox took the opportunity to get some fresh air. He was still not quite up to snuff, his cold lingering in his throat and sinuses, his shoulder still giving him some trouble. Rapunzel’s tender mercies helped a lot, at least psychologically. So did doing nothing for a few days, first in the Bar and then back at home. But he’s never been good at doing nothing for too long, and knew that Gotham wouldn’t be this nice for long, so he went walking.

Along the way, he bought the day’s papers. The recall election was a sure thing, with just a few legalities in the way, and Hamilton Hill was the front-runner. Things were so bad for Borg that no one was even talking about him anymore, always a bad sign. Knox took note of the differences between the outgoing mayor and his likely successor, and started making mental notes for a column he would love to write.

He stopped at the library. Here was a place that simply didn’t exist for him for most of his adult life. But without the resources of the Globe at his fingers, he needed a new research facility. Not surprisingly, the local branch of the GPL was rather poor. He was able to find microfilm of the local papers and phonebooks, and at least make a list of local homeless shelters that (in theory) help teenagers. When he was feeling better, he would possibly head downtown and at least see if they exist. For the moment, though, he didn’t stay in the library too long as the musty air was adding to his congestion.

His route took him through Kane Park, a bit of grass and tree and playground, and he sat for a while, reading his papers and catching his breathe. He wasn’t sure how much of the muscle aches he’d felt after the snowball fight were from the cold and now much were from the fight itself, but he was quite sure he needed to take better care of himself. Especially if he was going to try to keep up with his little pack of teenagers. Or Rapunzel, for that matter. Not that he’d exercised once in his life.

Kane Park was a good hour-long rest-stop, and Knox watched the kids and their mothers play, got a soda (but not a hot dog), and did two crossword puzzles. He was never good at crossword puzzles, but he missed the group effort in the newsroom to finish the complex Sunday puzzles that the Tribune was famed for.

As rush hour neared, Knox was back home, a fresh cup of tea at hand. The walk might have been therapeutic, but it wore him out. A couple more days of rest were probably still in order. Rest, and silence, as his voice was ever more froggy.

The day was not quite done with him, as the phone rang.

“Knox, is that you? You sound terrible.” It was Bert Teller, his possible future editor at PM..

“Gee, thanks, Bert. You should hear me sing.”

“I’ll pass. Gotta minute?”

“One minute. Nothing more.” No reason to be nice to Teller, Knox still thought.

“Good, since this is quick and I prefer to read you bums, not talk to you. We want to give you a longer tryout. Four more columns. In the next two months. No promises, no strings attached, same rate as before. Any topic, but we’d like one on the election. You heard the word?” Knox could guess

“They announced the recall?”

“Yup. June 12. And Villard already handed in his column. So you better get cracking.”

“You can’t rush art.”

“I can rush you.” Knox began to think that maybe Teller tried only the people he liked this way. Or was that just delirium from his cold? “One other thing. I don’t agree with this, but the big bosses lifted the ban on the Bat. So knock yourself out.” Knox went quiet for a moment, and started to grin. He really didn’t think he would get to do that again. He wasn’t sure he needed to, in fact. But he was still glad to hear this.

“That I can have for you fast.” He was sure that at the other end, the editor was sneering in silence.

“Just as long as we see something in a timely fashion. And remember, this is just a tryout. Nothing more.”

“Nothing more. Right.”

The call ended, Knox flopped onto the couch, and turned on the local news to hear about the recall. He still felt tired and achy and had no intention of getting to work on this day. But he spent the rest of the night in a big grin.
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Alex and Rapunzel left the Bar for Gotham on April 13, 1990. A Friday. For most of that Friday and good chunks of Saturday, they dove into the neglected mess that was Alex’ one-bedroom apartment in West Gotham Heights. To her credit, Rapunzel never once commented about the layers of debris, the empty pizza boxes and beer cans that have been a hallmark of bachelor living since time immemorial, or even the girlie magazines that would pop up every so often. To his credit, Alex helped as much as he could, let Rapunzel use her superior skills at organizing, and acted rather abashed at the state he let his place fall into. Though truth be told, he never minded it at all

When they weren’t cleaning, Alex would take Rapunzel for walks, showing her the working class neighborhood he called home. First stop was Barney’s, the men’s store of choice for men with money, where one finely tailored Armani suit was to be found. (They ran into a couple of Alex’s high school classmates, who couldn’t take their eyes off Rapunzel.) They stopped at a cheesy souvenir shop and got Makita a Gotham City Police t-shirt and Wayne Tower snowglobe. They got dinner from a Chinese takeout, lunch from McDonald’s – which she assured him was on her world as well – and videos from a local chain. (He offered to watch the Mets game with her Friday night but she politely and firmly passed on it.) And of course, they caught a moment or two of affection her and there.

Oh, and she also borrowed four Hawaiian shirts.

It had been years since anyone stayed in Knox’s cramped place. It was cozy and not unpleasant at all to have her around, but he looked forward to the move, and to having a place where there was room for guests. He promised himself he’d keep the new place clean, but knew deep down that unless Rapunzel made regular visits and insisted on him keeping it clean, he’d fall back on old habits.

Saturday arrived. Valentine’s Day at the Bar, just another windy April day in Gotham. But a day that would lead to the Top of the Nines, and to seeing just how old Gadfly would react to the Countess. As night fell, the cleaning ended, and Knox and Rapunzel showered and put on their best finery…

“How do I look?” he asks as he puts on his Armani suit jacket and then his gold watch.
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It began with two simple words: LUTHOR ESCAPES!  It was the headline on practically every newspaper in the US,  On the night of March 26, 1990, the master criminal once again left the custody of the penal system, this time by disguising himself as the man who delivers fresh lettuce to the prison.  No one could explain how he got out of his cell, or where he got the makeup.  And while the warden was called to the carpet, all of America wondered what Luthor would do next.  Including Knox.

Two days later, a device with a recording from Lex arrived at the <i>Daily Planet</i>, addressed to Lois Lane.  He promised that he would "make a fool of Superman for April Fool's Day" and that he wanted to give Lois the scoop since she seemed to make a fool of herself for Supes.  Knox read about this and imagined the angry face Lois had made at this.  He also realized that Lex most likely had invented the MP3, over a decade ahead of schedule, and wondered just why some people couldn't just make their money through things besides taunting Superman.

April 1 dawned warm and sunny in Metropolis, and bleak but mild in Gotham.  All of Metropolis was wondering what Lex was going to do, with a bit of trepidation but also a sense that Superman would be up to the challenge.  Gotham, Knox noted while dealing with a host of other things on his mind (like paperwork for the mortgage and researching homeless shelters in the city), really didn't care about the strange rivalry between hero and villain.  Knox thought that alone was worthy of a column, even as he wished he were still in the newsroom to get immediate word of when Luthor had done his prank.

No one really noticed that the wind had shifted in both cities till around 2 pm.  The sun vanished behind thick clouds that seemed a little out of season.  Temperatures fell below freezing.  And snow began to fall by nightfall.  But only along the Goth-Met corridor.  It remained seasonable in Boston and Philly.  

By morning, the blizzard of '90 had dumped three feet of thick snow on both cities.  And word trickled in from Metropolis of an incredible battle on an offshore platform between Superman and a giant purple and green robot armed with a weather ray.  If it wasn't clear before, it would be after Jimmy Olsen's photo of Superman flying to City Hall with the robot over his head and with a rather embarrassed Lex Luthor under his left arm.  This was Lex's April Fool's Day gag.  And the super-genius had lost control of it.  The plan, it would emerge, was only to snow on a few spots in Metropolis and draw out Supes for a battle.  Knox, snowbound like everyone else in the two great cities, watched the news as Superman explained to the public that things would be okay after a few days, that he would personally see to it that food reached both cities.  When asked why it snowed in Gotham, Supes just shrugged.   Knox knew why, though.  Gotham ALWAYS gets it on the chin.

And so began the very harried week to forever be known as Gotham's Big Dig.  Thousands were without power, or water.  Roofs were close to collapse in many places.  Police and firefighters and sanitation men were pushed to the limit.  And Knox found himself hired on a freelance basis by <i>PM</i> to help with the coverage of the ordeal.  He followed the plowmen across the city, watched as the National Guard rolled in, and marveled as Superman flew overhead, carrying a tanker truck full of milk.  He interviewed a soft-spoken expert in cryonics named Victor Friese, a slight, balding man with huge glasses and an Austrian accent who admitted that he didn't think what Luthor did was possible.  He trudged about in his heavy leather coat and in old snowboots, raced to meet his deadlines, and watched as for the first time in ages, Gotham City pulled together.  The recall election, the scandals, the crime, were forgotten as the shovels and salt and strange level of good cheer emerged.

Oh, and he tracked the Bat.  The stories of daring rescues spread as it became clear that Batman was doing everything he could to save lives.  The fearsome avenger gave way in the public's mind for the first time and was replaced by a genuine hero.  The only people doing  more for the city were Superman and Bruce Wayne, who threw all of his resources behind the Big Dig.  Knox was even there for the impromptu press conference where the Man of Steel and Gotham's richest man shook hands and thanked each other.  And it was odd how Supes seemed to defer to Wayne.  Clearly, Bruce Wayne must be doing something right for Superman to give him his due.

By April 6, Gotham and Metropolis were back to their usual selves.  The latter was as good as ever, and waiting for Luthor to make a statement (where he apologized only for letting his sense of whimsy get out of hand, in exchange for a reduced sentence).  The former reverted to her usual state of gloom and decay, as the criticism of City Hall's handling of the blizzard snowballed in a matter of days.  All the while, Knox wrote one story after another, and had the time of his life.  Every so often, he wondered if there was time to find a door to  Milliways and get a beer, but for the moment, he felt his place was in his city.
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What's the worst thing someone could do? Murder? Mass murder? Corporate fraud? I guess it depends on the someone.
What's the worst thing someone could do to you? Ruin my good name. Or kill me.
What's the worst thing that could happen to you? Be left homeless and penniless and jobless.
What's the worst thing someone could say about a person? That he’s a liar.
What's the best thing someone could say about a person? That he or she is devoted truth and justice.

Are men and women basically different? Hell, yeah.
Which is better, to be a woman or to be a man? Well, I’ve always been a man, and I like it, so I’d say man.
What can men do that women can't do? Play football. Fight wars.
What can women do that men can't do? Have babies.
Is it possible to change genders? Ever hear of Renee Richards? Science is weird.

How old is old enough to have sex? That’s a tough one. I don’t think most teens are ready to deal with the results. I’d say at least 18.
Is it wrong to have sex if you're unmarried? Nope.
Is it wrong to have sex with someone other than your spouse if you're married? Yup.
Is it wrong to have sex with a person of the same gender? I don’t get that at all, but it’s not my business. So no.
Is it wrong to have sex with a person of a different race (or a different intelligent non-human species)? Race? Nope. Species? Ick.
Is it wrong to have more than one sexual partner at the same time? (Long pause here) I don’t think it’s wrong, if the people are open with each other that this isn’t an exclusive relationship. But…I sorta think that if you’re having any kind of relationship with someone, you have to be sure it’s worth taking the risk to be with someone new.
Is it wrong to have sex with someone you don't love? Nope. But you'd better like them.

What are the responsibilities of a mother toward a child? Raising them, loving them, making sure the world is kept at bay.
What are the responsibilities of a father toward a child? Same as a mother’s, only he has to watch out for the mother as well.
What are the responsibilities of a child toward a parent? Be there in the parent’s old age, and try not to disobey too often.
Which should be more important to you, your parent or your child? Child.
Which should be more important to you, your parent or your spouse? Spouse.
Which should be more important to you, your child or your spouse? Neither. Or both. Whatever.
Is it wrong to have a child if you're unmarried? It’s a bad idea, but I wouldn’t say it’s wrong.
Is abortion wrong? No
Is contraception wrong? No

Is there one true religion? No, though I gotta say I think there are a lot of false ones.
Does a deity or deities exist? It seems that way, but I don’t think we can ever really know for sure.
How important is it to believe in a deity or deities? Not sure.
How important is it to actively practice your religion? Not very, but I’m not sure I really have a religion.
Does magic exist? I’ve been to Milliways. Hell, yes. Though whether it exists in my world, I can’t say.
Is practicing magic wrong? No

Is killing always wrong? No – there’s the death penalty, self-defense, war.
Is war always wrong? No – World War II is proof of that.
How old is old enough to fight in a war? 18.
Is rape always wrong? YES
Is torture always wrong? No.
Is theft always wrong? Yes, though I can accept the idea of mitigating circumstances.
Is slavery wrong? Yes
Is lying wrong? Yes.
Is swearing wrong? No, but I kinda never got into that. Weird for a newsman, huh?
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Give me long, beautiful hair. Alex was on a sea of it. Blonde waves of hair. Caressing, surrounding, coiling, engulfing...

Alex came to from a quick and vivid dream with a start. There was hair in his mouth!! He carefully removed it and took a deep breath. He tried to see himself and Rapunzel in the dim light of an alarm clock glowing a time of 7:57 am. He couldn't make out much but he could tell that he was wearing a pair of boxers and coils of long, long blonde hair around his torso, left arm and left leg.

He tried to uncoil himself without waking his companion, friend and lover. And to think, just a few hours ago, he was quite happy to be caught in that hair.
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I

Last night, Lynn Vega took Knox out for a celebratory drink. He decided that it was a good time to tell hera bout his new (for lack of a better word) girlfriend. Lynn was quite amused at Knoxie's description - she sounded too good to be true, like something out of a story - but Knoxie did have a vivid imagination. And she was thrilled that he had finally found something (if a tad disappointed that he would probably turn down any suggestion of a little snuggling between old friends). Knox was, she told him, in the best mood he'd been in in ages. "Oh, that's for sure, Lynn." His smile was gleaming. "Life is good."

And of course he hid his worries. One column? That's nice? But what next? After he got home, Knox tossed for a while before sleeping.


II

The phone rang at 10:40 am, rousting Knox. He answered half-drowsy.

"Knox, it's Walt Villard."

The cobwebs fell away fast. "Hi, Walt. It's been how long?"

"Four years, I think." At a reporters conference. Or rather, in the bar at the hotel. Old Walt held court for three hours. "Did I get you a bad time?"

"Nope. What do I owe the call to?" As if he couldn't guess.

"That was some column. I don't agree than Borg has earned any more chances with this town, but you took a risk in even saying what you did. No one else wants to, it seems. And it was actually readable."

"Thanks." High praise indeed, coming from the old man of the op-ed in Gotham. "I'm gald you stopped to read it.

"Don't get so impressed, Knox. I read PM from cover to cover. Even the guest op-eds." Knox listened to hear if Walt sounded sick. But there wasn't any sign so far.

"Well, thanks for the mild praise anyway." Knox assumes that was all there was to it.

"You think I called just to stoke your ego? Give a listen, Knox. I think you have potential. You can write, you are a very good crime beat man, and Teller needs to be kicked in the butt every so often." How to respond to this? You don't. You let the man talk.

"I guess you heard I'm ill?"

"Yeah," Knox says softly.

"I'm quitting soon. Hopefully to get better. But my day is done. Might as well go out with the Cold War, eh?" He holds backa a laugh. "And I want you to take my slot."

How long can a silence last? Knox was quiet for maybe ten seconds. It felt like a week. Knox was totaly without a response for all ten seconds.

"C'mon, Walt. You have to be kidding."

"You think I'd be wasting my time calling a guy from the Globe if I were kidding? The paper needs new blood. Teller can't see it, but I can. And he thinks he can ignore me, but he won't."

"So I'm going to get the job?" He refuses to believe.

"Maybe. Maybe not. Bert's gonna find a way to make you swing some more." Everyone in the field, Knox thought, likes that metaphor. "He's probably offer you a couple more test pieces, and maybe ask you to do some beat work part time. And only after a couple of weeks of making you stew. So it can seem like his idea."

"I don't get it."

"What's to get, Knox? You do good stuff. And PM needs good stuff." Knox went silent again. This was too good to be true. OK, not all of it. But he didn't think he stood a chance. And now...

"No joke."

"No joke, Knox. Just don't count your chickens yet.

"No, of course not." He's smiling. Knox is smiling. This is real. This is possible. This can't be happeneing. This might be happening. "How are you feeling?"

"Took you long enough to ask."

"Wasn't sure I should." Wasn't sure he should be gracious till now, actually.

"Like I say, not well. Still hoping for a transplant. But I lived my life, and now I have face the results, and hope." What do you say to that? Again, Knox let the silence be his guide.

"I hope you get that liver."

"Gotta spare?"

"Wish I did."

"Ah, you're is probably as bad as mine." He could see Walt's crooked and cynical smile now. "Listen, after Teller calls you, come down to the paper when I'm there. I'll give you the lay of the land. You might like it where we are."

"I was there. It's too clean."

"Figures you'd say that. All your beat guys, you like the dirt. Anyway, I have to get back to my work. Deadlines."

"Hey, thanks for calling."

"Thanks for giving us something to talk about here."

After he hangs up, Knox sits down. He is stunned. Still in PJs, he goes to the kitchen, puts some water up, and lets it sink in. Walt Villard liked his op-ed. Walt Villard is going to bat for him. He might have a that column yet.

"Wow."
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I

He ran out at 7 am to get a copy of PM. He ignored the news for the moment and flipped ahead to the editorial pages, flipped past the other op-eds, and found his, on the third page, before the letters and after George Will. Ten paragraphs, taking up half a page in the tabloid format newspaper, making the points that Mayor Borg was being railroaded, that he deserved his day in court, and that the recall effort was unfair. The writing style was inelegant, but Knox liked it. He read the column three times. as well as the byline and the one line bio - "Alexander Knox worked as a beat reporter for the Gotham Globe."

He bought ten more copies. He would sent one to his parents, and take the rest to the Bar. (Vega and Vale would buy their own, and both called him that morning to congratulate him.) Step one was complete. Now he just had to hope that there was a step two soon. It was so weird being unemployed. Yes, he had money, but knowing that he didn't have a place to be, or a routine, that was strangely disturbing. He would have to invent one, wouldn't he? That was something he didn't account for.

He could only hope that somehow, with this one lone column under his belt, he would land a job soon. But today wasn't a day to worry. It was one to celebrate. Which would mean getting back to the Bar at some point. But not yet. He wanted to see if anyone reacted. Maybe he'd call Teller later in the day?


II

Bert Teller sat with a pile of While You Were Out notes. The kind that have carbons so that there is record of every call that he missed, or that his assistant took while he ignoring the phone. He had 84 of them. About ten times as many as he got on a given day from readers commenting on the op-ed pages. The last time he got this kind of response was when the editorial page endorsed Dukakis. And that was to be expected. But because an obscure beat reporter defended the mayor?

He sorted the notes by type and position, and then found Knox' number. "Hullo, Knox. Teller. Looks like your column is getting a little notice." He could tell that at the other end, Knox was paying close attention, despite a quick "really?"

"84 calls so far. That's a lot more that average."

"I see." Odds are that Knox was givng one of those goofy "who, me?" grins that artifically modest reporters use.

"Don't get so excited. It's 12 to 1 against. And they aren't being nice about it."

"I didn't think they would. This is Gotham."

"Let's see...'who does he think he is?'...'how can you print this crap?'...'Borg is clearly guilty and this guy is his shill'...'drek'...a few more coarse adjectives. You're really hit the big time on this. Everyone loves you."

"I didn't do this to be popular, Teller."

"Clearly. You do have a few fans, though. 'About time someone told off the Feds'...'Borg does deserve a chance'...'he might be wrong but he has guts'...I assume the caller means you. It's lively."

"And that's just the phones?"

"Well, we don't get the mail that fast."

"Two days?"

"Usually. And if the calls are any indicator, it will be five times more of the same."

"So people really read it."

"We don't print guest op-eds to hold space for ads, Knox." He knew what Knox meant. He knew that Knox was really not expecting this. But he wasn't going to encourage the man. "We expect readers to read."

"Yeah, of course." Maybe Knox was used to being ignored? Teller had ignored the Globe for years, after all.

"Come in a couple of days, and you can see the mail, and collect your check."

"Sure thing." Somewhere in Gotham, Teller knew, Knox was busy slapping himself on the back and planning to get drunk. Reporters.
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I

The coffee was garden-variety newsroom sludge. Knox sat at his desk, waiting for George Taylor to arrive. Taylor had been his editor since 1980, and as editors went, he was almost reasonable. Which didn't mean Knox was looking forward to this. As he waited, co-workers - very few of whom he would call friends at this point - said hi and kept moving. Apparently, he wasn't missed that much while on his leave of absence.

He skimmed the morning paper, and took particular note of Assemblyman Hill's decision to run for mayor if the recall took place. Hill's name in the potential race would only make a recall more likely. And since Hill was reportedly close to Bruce Wayne, he'd be a shoo-in, Knox assumed. Borg, he was sure, wasn't going to make it, editorial support or not.

Taylor arrived at 9:30, and Knox didn't even give the man a chance to hang up his coat before barging in. "Knox. Didn't anyone teach you to knock?"

"Nope. I gotta talk to you." He smiled affably but Taylor most likely could tell he was nervous.

"Obviously. On both counts. At least let me get some coffee?" The editor pointed at one of his chairs, got some coffee, and returned, looking grumpy. "So what is it that demanded you show your face again."

"I'm quitting." It took Taylor a few seconds to process that.

"You? Right. What's really on your mind?"

"Really. Remember I said I wanted to get a column? Well, you had your chance."

"And someone's giving you one?" Taylor could see the doubt on his reporter's face. And vice versa.

"Sort of. But immediately. I need to quit effective now."

"What's this about?" Knox considered not giving his boss the full story, but it wasn't smart to burn more bridge than needed.

"Another paper offerd me a tryout. This week. On the condition that I was a free agent first."

"Teller." Knox stared for a moment.

"How'd you know?"

"I know the bastard. He likes to mess with everyone else's reporters. Didn't you know that?...No, obviously not. Well, well, and here I thought you knew all the gossip." Taylor smirked and sipped his sludge. "He's been doing that for years. Thinks it gives him a edge. But I think you are the first sucker I've ever met who he really got to quit."

"So he's going to screw me?"

"No, whatever he sold you is true. He'll run your precious column, and then you'll never hear from him again. And you'll be out a of a job here. Because I won't hire you back if this backfires on you." One thing about Taylor, Knox knew, was that he was a straight shooter. He would miss that about the Globe.

"Didn't think you would. But I mean it. I'm ready to do something new."

"You think this'll get me to change my mind? Forget it, bub. You want to stay, that's fine. Your spot on the crime beat is still waiting. But we aren't making you a columnist." Why? Knox hadn't a clue. But he knew that arguing wouldn't work here.

"My mind is made up, George. I love this paper, but I'm ready for more--"

"Yes, you gave me the speech already. Save it, Allie." Taylor shook his head. "Look, I do get that you are bored with your job. Nothing wrong with that. And while I really don't want to lose a reliable reporter, things change, and we live with that.

"But if you're really doing this, don't say I didn't warn you when Teller never calls you again. He thinks that because his paper is so utterly staid and calm that he can plays his headgames and look like an angel. Don't trust him."

"I never trusted you, George," Knox says with a friendly smirk. "And look how well it worked."

"It did, sometimes. You brought us the Bat, and the Borg story, and you get in where others don't. I'll give you that. I just don't see that as being enough to make you Lois Lane or Jimmy Breslin."

"I just have to be Alex Knox."

"Alex? Not Alexander?"

"Could be either. Just getting used to some friends calling me Alex, that's all." His smiled turned inward, and Taylor was left to ponder the oddity of Knox being cryptic. "And that IS all, isn't it?"

"Guess so. You'll clean out your desk before you leave?"

"Yeah. But all I have there are a couple of mugs, some photos, and a bottle of bourbon. Never did make this place like home."

It was home, once. Despite what he didn't have there, the Globe was where Knox spend his life, more than any place till he found the Bar. But these people here, they were never that close to him. Drinking buddies? Yeah. Valued allies in the battle against the machine? Always. Friends? Not really. But it took a long time for Knox to see that.

He stopped by the desks of a few of those allies and drinking buddies and just told them he was not sure when his leave would end. The whole thing was painfully awkward, and a couple sensed that he wasn't coming back. Not that anyone was heartbroken by the idea. And as he stepped out of the old building, he wasn't either. If anyone had told him a year ago he would quit his job at the Globe, and that he would leave just like that, he wouldn't have believed it. At all.

Things change.


II

The meeting with Teller was quick. "I quit my job. Now you do you part of the bargain."

"Bargain? I never agreed to a bargain. I'm just running a column by a former reporter from a competitor. Nothing more."

"You're a real jackass, you know that?"

"A jackass who is doing you a favor you don't deserve."

"Yup. Good thing for you that I'm a jackass too." In a way, he was glad that Teller would probably never be his boss. But at the same time, butting heads with a boss like that could be entertaining. If futile. "When you running it?"

"Two days. I held a slot."

"What?"

"There was no way you weren't quitting. I saw the look in your eyes. You want this so badly, don't you? Badly enough that maybe you have a hope of being good. And badly enough that I think you will stand behind every word here."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm doing this for us, not you. I want the controversy. It sells papers. But you'd better be ready to defend what you write. Because I won't." Teller's face remained blank.

"You're going to leave me to twist in the wind?"

"All good columnists do. Think of it as part of the tryout."

"You, Teller, are a jackass."

"You said that already."

"Just making sure you know."

He handed in the final version of his column, filled out the proper paperwork, and went out to meet with his lawyer. He didn't want to think about what he'd just done and was happy to talk co-ops instead of op-eds.


III

It was cold outside on this March night. So naturally, Knox's tiny apartment was stifling from the steam heat. He had all the windows open, and the creaky ceiling fan in his bedroom was spinning as fast as it could. But even if it hadn't been so warm, he wasn't sleeping just yet. He was just staring at that fan.

He did the math, and realized it was close to a year of days since he found the Bar. Only six months in Gotham time, but given how much Jack had grown, it had to be a year.

Everything was new now. He had money. He had something of a family, in Shufti and Jack and in Rachel. He had a love life, at long last. He was not entirely happy, but he wasn't standing still anymore. That was the big thing that the Bar had changed. For years, he did his job and lived his life and drank his beer and thought he was growing. Or more likely, never gave it thought. He was never one for thought. Not till recently. But when you hang out with Rachel, you have to think. You have to see things in a new way. (Oh, the fortune she could make if worked as a therapist full time!)

All the things he had now, all the things he valued - with the exceptions of his friendships with Vale and Vega - came from that impossible bar. Someone out there must like me, he thought. Why else did he get to go there at all? Then again, why not? He wasn't going to question it. He would revel in it!

Things were good. They were in flux, and who knew when he'd have a job again? But they were good. Any time he wanted, that door would open, and Rapunzel would welcome him with a wink and a kiss and a kind word and a night of delight (or movies). And Jack would welcome him with a gurgle and a smile and a hug. And Rachel would just tilt her head at him and smile that odd, knowing ancient grin. And where was always more, always something weird and wacky and amazing to see, someone new to meet. He could never report on it, as he once dreamed he might, but he could study it and let it study him, this place with the Jedi and the werewolves and the vampire slayers and the gods. And when he was ready, when he was recharged, he could come back here and make his city a better place.

And as he thought all this, he slowly drifted off. Soon there would be dreams of dinner and dancing with Rapunzel, of finally interviewing Batman and learning that the man under the mask was inexplicably Quinn Abercrombie, of a poker game with old friends from the FBI and also Bob Woodward. And as he slept, he would smile.
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PM, as Knox and most others in the game knew, had a short but complex history. Back in the 40's, the original newspaper of that name (short for Picture Magazine) prided itself on never, ever taking ads. This, the editors assured the public, allowed them to maintain a totally independent (which is to say, liberal) editorial stance. The paper supported FDR's Lend-Lease arrangement with the British from the start, and foresaw America's entry into WWII (though not Pearl Harbor). Its staff included a young Dr. Seuss during his brief but celebrated career as a poltical cartoonist. During the war, it managed to stay afloat, but as times changed, it struggled into the early 50s.

At the same moment, two other Gotham papers, the Press and the Mail were also near collapse. Each of these papers was more conventional (that is, moderate), and for a while the Press-Mail held it own. But when PM's own end was near, the board of the new paper saw a chance to beef up its standing. An unwieldly beast was born, combining most of the pressmen and drivers and other skilled labor of the Press-Mail with the best writers of all three papers and the editors of PM. The paper took PM as its name, though officially this was a combination of all three predecessor paper's names. It also drifted slightly to the left. And it even began an evening extra when needed at a time when the evening paper was fading.

To most in Gotham, the survival of PM was a marvel. It was neither the highbrow Required Reading that the Tribune was, nor the feisty muckrakers that the Globe, the Herald-Sun or the Gazette were. It was a suburban paper in the city, a tabloid with genteel manners, known for its columns rather than for its scoops. Knox knew its beat reporters, men and women who got the facts right but who got them a bit late. He could never be a beat reporter there. But to join the columninsts, to see his name with those Walt Villard and Andy Harcourt and Helen Gretham...that would be to his liking.

First, though, came Bert Teller. Teller had been a court reporter when Knox entered the field, and fought his way into Editorial. After stops as City Editor and Op-Ed Editor, he made it to Managing Editor, two steps from the top. Teller's reputation was that of a quiet man who expresses his anger simply by not talking much. He was probably the most respected editor outside of the gray heads of the Trib, and had been a runner-up for several perstigious awards more than once. Knox had met him several times, but they weren't friends. All the better, he supposed. Makes things more professional.

At 3:30 pm, Knox arrived for his interview. He was wearing his best suit, his best tie, and his best serious grin. Teller's assistant (they didn't have secretaries at PM) brought him in, and Teller, balding and small and a bit hangdog, was seated.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Knox. So, what's this about wanting to be a columinst?" Yup, that was Teller. To the point, and likely in a rush to get this done.

"Well, Mr. Teller, you know I'm been at the Globe my whole career, and it's a great paper and all. But I'm looking to move to new things. To a place where I can stop simply reporting and start making a difference."

"No offense, Allie, but I never saw you as the columnist type. I've read your crime stuff for years, and it's what it is. Good, sometimes great, but raw and fast and not a column." Allie...his old nickname in the newsroom. Odd how he'd stopped using it.

"And don't most reporters start that way? I think Andy Harcourt was a court reporter with you, right?"

"Yes, and just because you know our history is not a reason to think you're ready for this." That was harsh, if not unfair.

"But you still let me in.

"But I still let you in. Only because I know your work and because Superman's Girlfriend asked me a favor." Oh man, if Lois heard him call her that, she'd hit the roof. If that's how he shows respect... "You brought a sample?"

"Of course." Knox opened his well-worn (if rarely used) briefcase and handed Teller a folder. Teller started reading.

"You believe this?" he asked, startled.

"Would I say it if I didn't?"

"You know that the editorial page here has never supported Borg."

"I know that it's also known for being fair. And that your columnists are unconventional."

"So the whole thing is just a bit of political revenge and opportunism? That sounds far-fetched."

"And how long have you lived in Gotham, Bert?" Bert Teller smiled briefly and kept reading.

"It's better than I would have expected. I guess Taylor really does hold his guys to a standard after all. I don't fully agree with the premise, but you do make a case that Borg isn't getting a fair shake. Walt almost made a similar case, in fact, but her really thinks that we need a new mayor."

"So I gathered." Walt Villard was Knox' favorite, a former Washington correspondent who came home in the 70s and wrote a sharp retort to Ford's refusal to bail out Gotham. To be on the same page with him at all was a compliment. "He's been interesting to read these days. Even if he's ignored the Bat."

"Ah, the Bat. Your claim to fame. You know that as a matter of policy, we don't cover his actions unless there are reliable witnesses."

"So I couldn't write about him?"

"I never said that. We would just expect measured tones. We agree that he's real, and making an impact. But men who avoid the press deserve to be avoided sometimes." Knox din't really agree with that, but he sensed that Teller would allow Knox the same space as the other writers.

"I can do measured. You see that."

"Yes. That's clear." Teller pauses and read through the beginning of the column again. "Knox, I am going to be straight with you. Officially, PM is not in the market for a new columnist. In fact, we're probably making some cuts to the staff in the next four months. A Bat-free paper has almost as much trouble competing as an ad-free paper." Teller almost smiled at his remark. "But off the record..." He stopped and seemed to gather his thoughts.

"Walt is dying." That froze Knox in his tracks. He was silent for thirty seconds, and tried to imagine big old Walt, the hardest drinking, toughest talking man in the Gotham Press Club, dying.

"I didn't know."

"You still don't. Walt wants it kept quiet. Doesn't want any sympathy, and is still holding out hope of a liver transplant."

"Cancer?" Which, all things considered, would at least sound better to a reporter than liver damage from alcohol.

"Cancer. He was diagnosed three months ago. He'll probably live to see the spring, but not much more. If he stays the way he has, he's going to quit in two months."

"So I'm here too early." Knox looked and felt rotten. He didn't want to get the job this way.

"Yes, and no. We haven't decided what to do yet. There are people here who will want the post, and who would treat you like dirt if you got it instead. And the owners are thinking about just using a syndicated columnist.

"But I don't like to play it safe. And the idea of stealing a reporter from any competitor appeals to me. So I have an offer. One time, and with a big string attached."

"I'm all ears."

"We run this as a guest op-ed, with all the others. Next week. See how people react. Consider it a try-out."

It took only a second for Knox to get the twist. "I'd have to leave the Globe first."

"Yes." Teller was a bastard in suggesting this. It was a no-lose scenario for him. At worst, Knox would be out of his thinning hair, or the column would run but an outsider would take the blame for supporting that crook Borg. In a way, Knox had to admire this gambit.

"And how long would I have to decide?"

"Oh, I'd give you the weekend. We're nothing if not fair."

"No, of course not."

"Mister Knox, keep in mind that if we do this, it's not a guarantee of anything. It's one guest column, and it flops, you are done here and there both."

"Gee, I never realized that. Thanks, Bert." He smiles coldly.

"So you're saying 'no thanks' already."

"Oh, not at all. I came here to find a new job. I'm ready to leave the Globe. But I am not leaping in. You'll get an answer, but after the weekend. But you do promise that if I take the offer, this piece will run? No one's going to override your authority?"

"No. They let me pick and choose more often than you'd think." Teller returned a sharp, even colder smirk. "And I am running this as is. Lord knows why, but it reads as well as it could. I want to judge you on your merits, not mine."

Knox sat for a few seconds. "That I guess I should go?"

"Probably. But one more thing...not a word about Walt. If I ever hear that anyone outside his family and doctors and this office knows before he says it out loud himself, I will blame you. Understand?"

"Completely. I like him. And would never do anything to hurt him."

"Everyone likes him. Which might be why I could be willing to hire an outsider. If someone if going to fail to fill his shoes, better you than someone he groomed."

"You, Bert, are a very blunt man." Which Knox had heard for years.

"I can't afford not to be. It's a blunt world. Subtlety is for subtle people, and places. Not for Gotham."

"Subtlety? What's that?"

Twenty minutes later, Knox was in his apartment, sipping on a beer and filling out some paperwork for the co-op he was buying. He needed to think, but needed to let his mind go blank for a bit first. Paperwork could be a pain, but it was good for going blank. Because in three days, he would have to make the biggest decision of his career.

He would go to the Bar later, but first, he would make a few calls.

"Hello, Vicki, it's Knox. Have a few?"...
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He hung up the phone. And sat at the typewriter, staring.

An hour ago, Knox called Metropolis. Called Lois Lane, and called in a few favors. Oh, and picked her brain. She was surprised to hear that he wanted to be a columnist. "It's not a fun gig, Knox. No second best work, ever. Angry letters all the time. And you think they edit your work now? Just wait!" But she was impressed that he wanted to take the jump, much as she had after winning her Pulitzer. She even suggested that he think about moving to Metropolis. "They pay better here. And the scandals are more fun." He said he couldn't see leaving Gotham, but Lois had a point. When Superman gets involved, very publicly, the scandals must be more exciting. (Shocking to think, of course, that a man who can outrace ICBMs and repair faultlines would ever go after corruption, but that's what makes him Superman.)

He gave Lois thirty minutes, and began writing his sample column. He didn't want to use the computer - he had no printer (or skill with the damned thing) yet. And while the pen that Rapunzel gave him would have been fun and comfortable to use, he needed this effort to be typed. He hoped that he could find a way to hand in the occasional column in ink. Assuming anyone could read his handwriting.

Six papargraphs later, he made the next call. To Bert Teller at PM. Teller sounded rather perplexed that Knox was calling, and even more perplexed that Lois Lane called on his behalf. But whether it was his name or hers that did the trick, Knox got what he wanted. In two days, he would be having a job interview. His first in 18 years.

He stared at the typewriter, and finally got back to work. This had to be perfect. The best thing he ever wrote...
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Knox remembered the first time he looked for an apartment. It took three days, and it required a lot of walking, and a deposit, and a very quick reference check. That was in 1976. And Knox hasn't moved from his studio in all the years since.

It's not that simple this time. He takes the Gotham Express to Bristol, and then finds himself jumping through hoops just to see the co-ops. Appointments with busy realtors, peeks inside other people's home, and endless chitchat. The process will soon require credit checks, board approval, references that are more authoritative than his friends and his parents. He'll need a lawyer.

Owning property. The American Dream in action. He wants to make fun of it, or himself. Declare this a thing for someone else, anyone else. But this isn't something like buying a trendy wine or hopping on the bandwagon for a winning team. This is something that his mother's side of the family could only imagine. Even now, his parents still rent. Having something you own? That's why you come to America.

But maybe life would have been easier if Rachel just gave him the keys to a masnion instead of money. Still, hard work never killed anyone. (This is of course untrue, especially in a business where heart attacks are almost as common as lung cancer.)

Walking from Appointment #5 to Appointment #6, he looks at Bristol along the way. Yeah, it's a suburb. But here, at the edge of the city, it's mainly co-ops and condos and rental apartments. The houses and the mansions of old money Bristol are miles to the north. Here it's more like what Gotham could have been, if anyone ever bothered to zone and plan Gotham.

He hated the idea of leaving the city, even if he were minutes from the border, and just a commuter rail trip to his office. Hated the thought of being in the suburbs. It was so...1950s? Baby boomer? Yuppie? No. It was worse. It was something you did in 1975, when the city went broke and never came back, and when the only hope of making it was to leave. He truly felt like he was abandoning his city. Was that part of why he felt the need to get that column? To prove he wasn't leaving? Or, if he was the Seeker of Truth, was this an accpetance of the truth about Gotham. The truth being that it really was that bad.

He started hoping that if he got a column, he would be able to start after the end of Mayor Borg's run. Because maybe Mayor Borg, honest and framed though he may be, was the reason Gotham wasn't getting any better.

Appointment #6 came as the sun set and revealed actual streetlights that lit. This shouldn't have impressed him, Knox thought. And yet...

He entered the Burton Arms, the newest of the buildings he'd seen, and toured one last 2-bedroom. This time, the guide was from the building itself, and the apartment was completely empty. "Where's the furniture," he asked the middle-aged tour guide.

"This apartment just went co-op six months ago. The tenants are no longer here."

"So how do I find out what it looks like with furniture?" A reasonable question, but also a little rude.

"Use your imagination." Fact was, all the furniture he owned would fill the master bedroom. He needed to stretch his imagination for this.

He also noticed that the place had been painted, and there was new carpeting. That was a bonus. The last time a paintbrush had visited the inside of his studio was during the '78 newspaper strike, when he and Pete Hobson did a half-ass job when not on picket duty. And he's never had a real carpet in his life. By the time he left the apartment, he was half-convinced.

The tour guide locked up and then rushed back downstairs to take care of something before closing time. And Knox was left to leave on his own. No big deal. Unless the nine year old barreling down the hall didn't stop!

"Whoa, kiddo, what's the rush?" Knox stepped aside, but the kid stopped in time to avoid hitting the elevator door.

"Sorry, mister." The boy, dark-haired and a little lanky, looked just a little embarrassed.

"Tim, didn't we tell you no playing in the halls?" A man around Knox's age, clearly Tim's father came out of an apartment at the other end of the floor, wearing a fine suit.

"Sorry, dad." Tim dashed back. Knox smiled, a little amused by the exuberance of youth. Was that what Jack Manackle would be like in ten years?

"Sorry about Tim. He thinks he's Batman. Or a Flying Grayson. Depends on what day is it."

"Hey, it's okay. Some days I think I'm Batman." Knox gets into the elevator, and heads down into the night.

Was he ready for Bristol? Probably not. But then, was it ready for Alexander Knox?
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It was a chance conversation, strange and a bit unnerving but not unpleasant. Knox had met dead people before, but not ones who'd killed themselves. Or were HIV positive. But he could deal with that, if he tried. What was done was done, and he knew that AIDS was here to stay. And April was quite nice. She seemed to be dealing with the hand life - and afterlife - had dealt her.

But it was that one question she asked that really got him thinking. What do YOU want to be? And so he told her. A columnist. Funny how no one ever stopped to ask him that before. And how he never was ready to say it out loud. But he had.

The answer echoed through his mind the rest of the day, and once he left his holiday shopping in his room, he decided that maybe he needed to be home. To be in Gotham. True, the Bar had begun to feel like home. Heck, his current suite was bigger than his studio apartment. But if you are going to be a columnist in Gotham City, maybe you need to be in Gotham City.

Today he was walking through the cluttered, filthy Cathedral District, a miserable slum where the brief increase in tourists following Batman's battle with the Joker ended with the start of the new year. It wasn't very cold today, not for late February. It hadn't been cold for some time, he recalled. Strange how maybe four months had passed for him since the new year began - keeping time was not so easy with a timeless refuge in your life. But in the two months in Gotham, there was no snow, just the usual Gotham winds. Not bad weather for walking.

This was his city. Till Milliways invited him in, he lived every day of his life in its boundaries, knew its dark corners and its rare glimpse of light. He knew that the Archdioscece of Gotham City would never reopen the old cathedral, knew that the people who oversaw churches in the US didn't trust anyone in Gotham, and even knew that the handful of valuable objects once housed in the cathedral were long ago moved to Metropolis for safekeeping. He could tell you the names of the last archbishop, the six women murdered within screaming distance of the ruins in 1984, and the cop who arrested the serial killer. And if given the chance, he could string it all together into 1,000 words and make sure everyone else knew as well.

But that hadn't happened. Instead, Knox grew lazy. Yes, he still pounded the pavement in search of the stories. Still got the exclusives. But that wasn't his dream. He wanted to be Woodward or Bernstein? Woodward was an editor, and a writer of books that shook Washington (even if that book about Iran-Contra was unfair in pointing the finger at a dead man). Bernstein was in Hollywood, a novelist. And Knox was still where he was in 1979.

He wasn't unhappy. But was he happy? If he were, would he spend all his time in the Bar? He loved it there. It was a good place to be. He could spend his money to his heart's content. Yet, he knew from the second he got that note that he wouldn't quit his job. Or rather, quit being a reporter. And yet...

He passed the row of rundown stores where he and Amanda bought the piece of authentic Batplane wreckage. He thought that he would ride the Bat to the top. Only, the Bat refused to be in the public eye. He was changing things in Gotham, that was for sure, but he wasn't news anymore. He was rumor and shadow and gossip. An honest reporter couldn't use him anymore. But a columnist? A columnist could talk about the Bat, about the effect he was having on the city, about anything he liked.

Rachel had declared him a Seeker of Truth. That was wonderful. But it wasn't enough. He needed to be a speaker of truth as well. But how? Could he convince his editor to make him a columnist? Should he write a book? He didn't know. But he was sure that he'd have to get his life here organized. Buy that house. Get that car. And assert himself.

He wasn't going to turn his back on the Bar, or the friends he'd made there. That was certain. But in the Bar, he was never going to be what he wanted. Seeking and speaking the truth there? Not very useful. Or even possible. In a place like that, the turth was always hidden behind the power of the Bar. That was fine. And he had to admit, playing Alex Knox, Millionaire wasn't entirely true either.

So he kept walking, kept thinking. As the day waned, he slowly made his way to the Financial District, a better place to be after dark (though not by much). The workday was ending, and the brokers and lawyers and secretaries and editors and day workers filled the streets. He smiled, revelling in the energy of the city. Revelling the crowds. He missed the crowds when he was in the Bar. He wasn't sure how you could really miss a crowd, but maybe that was what it meant to be from the big city. To be from Gotham.

There were stories to be told in that crowd. Stories that he wanted to tell. It was only a matter of how and where.

Knox made his way to Murray's. It had been a while, and maybe some of his friends from the paper could give him some advice.

Back Home

Aug. 30th, 2006 09:30 am
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Back home in Gotham, the winter winds bite that much more. He wouldn’t want to live in Florida. Too hot in summer, and never mind the hurricanes and alligators and survivors of the Bay of Pigs and Don Shula. But it was nice to be in the warm for a few days.

Today, though, Knox is ignoring that cold. He’s standing at the corner of Varick and Moore, studying a closed firehouse. As best as he can tell, no ghostbusters are setting up operations there (yet). In fact, the place looks like it’s been empty since Gotham went broke. But it is a firehouse. He really didn’t expect that.

Stantz wasn’t really a friend...isn’t really a friend. But he seemed to know things more than most he met at the Bar. So that there is a firehouse here seems...right? Valid? Or just lucky? Knox isn’t sure.

He hasn’t tried to find the Bar yet today. Too much to do. Getting home, unpacking, dropping a week of laundry at Fong’s Hand Cleaning, checking to see where his story ran (page 17, beneath the fold, three paragraphs). But he’s going to try eventually. And he’s not sure what to expect.

Maybe it will be gone. Or it won’t let him in. How would that feel? It wasn’t like he needed the place, was it? He wasn’t really even sure it was there, that it wasn’t the remnants of Smilex gas leaving a hole in his brain.

He’d miss it, though. He’d miss Bird and her mysterious ways. And Wells, a good man deal a bad hand and still fighting anyway. Shufti and Jack, of course. (He assumed that there really were some kind of trouble, Amanda would see to it that Shufti got out.) And Buffy. How could any man not miss Buffy?

But right now he wasn’t ready to try to find a door. Not in the gloom of the East End. He was just oddly content to see that there were pieces of Gotham in whatever worlds had a New York. Gotham shouldn’t be just a one world city, after all. It was too big for that.

He roamed back home, the wind biting again and again. He saw Gotham before him, alive in its usual way, on life support but still breathing. He’d missed it.

And he knew that if he’d lost the Bar, as strange as that might be, he still had the one thing he needed most. Gotham was still his.

That night, for the first time in weeks, Alexander Knox would see what was going on down at Murray’s.
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Three days. Three days of watching the DonCesar, from inside its lobby, from its beach, from its parking lot. He saw families, couples on romantic getaways, errant teens who couldn’t possibly afford this place, senior citizens, migrant workers, and dogs. vHe hadn’t seen any mobsters.

OK, in theory a smart gangster would not dress like a gangster. But Knox hadn’t seen any faces he knew. That could mean a number of things: 1) there was no meeting at all; 2) the meet was elsewhere and he was in the wrong place; 3) the Mob sent lesser lights to meet; or 4) this was a test by the Mob to see who would show up, to see where there were leaks. Knox didn’t like any of these.

So he gave himself one last afternoon. Which is to say, his boss gave him the afternoon, after which the trip would have to end. Knox crouched behind a palm tree, getting almost no shade, turning redder by the day, and watched the parking lot.

“Excuse me, sir.” Behind him there was a voice,. He turned around to see a pair of large men in gray suits. Bulges under the jackets. “Can we see some ID?” One of them, in his mid-40s, crewcut, gray hair, displayed a badge. Eff Bee Eye. Which given the alternative was a relief to Knox. If a problem still.

“Hey. I was just checking out the sights.” Knox, perhaps unwisely, showed the man his press card. “I hear this place is popular with visitors from up north.” But Knox knew that you don’t play games with Feds.

“Mister…Knox, if you’re here for the reason that we are, you are not helping us.” The crewcut did all the talking. His partner, a younger man with something of a mop of hair and a tan, smiled a bit, enjoying the show. “We need to keep a very low profile, and having snooping reporters around won’t help.”

“Snooping? I never snoop. I’m just watching things. I’m not in the way, at all.”

“Then you won’t mind if we ask you to watch things from elsewhere.” Knox expected this. The gig was just about. No proof, no room to work, no more vacation.

Until he saw someone. “Good lord. I know that face. But I thought he was dead.” The Feds gazed as did Knox across the parking lot. The man in question wore large mirrored sunglasses, a loud jacket that had gone out of style in 1977, and a haircut to match. And in his mouth, instead of a cigarette or a toothpick was a match, chewed at the uncoated end. “Matches Malone.”

The younger Fed stared for a moment. “Yeah. It’s him alright.” His partner in turned stared at him. “I used to work Metropolis, Glade. Malone was in Jersey, on the docks. Ran the waterfront mobs for years. And had connections to both Metro and Gotham. But I heard the same thing as Knox. Six, seven months back, he got into a firefight. All sorts of rumors.” Knox knew the rumors, including one that the Bat himself was after Malone. “You got the memo, didn’t you?” Glade thought for a moment, and acted as if he had. Knox suspected that this Glade was more government muscle than brainpower and this his partner was in charge despite the age.

“Well, maybe you know your stuff, Knox, but you still can’t stay here. Go home. Or go surfing. Just be elsewhere.” Glade then began to walk away. It was clear that the discussion and the stakeout were over. The other Fed stayed behind for a second, though.

“Good catch, Knox. Not that we wouldn’t have spotted him. But it’s good that you did. Thanks.” The other Fed – whose name Knox didn’t know, followed Glade. “Vega was right about you.” But before Knox could reply, the Fed was gone.

No matter. The story was accurate. There was a meeting of the Mob. And soon the hotel would probably be crawling with mobsters. And undercover cops and Feds. Knox wasn’t sure what else he could do now. He’s be sure to be spotted inside. Or outside. Or anywhere.

But he knew where he needed to be. The hotel awaited. The story awaited.

But boy, it was really sloppy of Malone, being spotted so easily. It was as if he was taunting the Feds. Maybe he was. The man had a reputation for being reckless. A reputation Knox was thankful for today.
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Knox hadn’t been to Florida in some years, and never to the Gulf Coast. So it took a little time for him to get his bearings. And also to get used to the much stronger sun. Not that he minded the getaway from Gotham winter. And yes, he’d been outside at the Bar many times, but it wasn’t the same. Florida clearly trumped even magic bars.

He followed the instructions he got from the girl at the rental car office and drove from Tampa International across the bay and through St. Petersburg to a resort town called St. Pete Beach. It reminded him of Atlantic City, before the casinos and before the decay that led to the rise of the casinos. The waters of the Gulf of Mexico were gleaming blue and very inviting, and maybe if he had a few spare moments, he could go to the beach. After all, even his cheap motel was on the waterfront.

He took a few minutes to check in, settle in, unpack his one suitcase, and make sure that his room had HBO. If he was going to be in a motel, he’d better have at least HBO. Not that he was paying. It was all on the Globe’s bill. Sometimes, he mused, it was nice to have an expense account.

He went back to his very plain Chevy, and began driving up and down the main drag, getting a sense of the town, of the resorts and both foot and car traffic. And soon he found the place. Found the Don Cesar Hotel, a massive pink structure with both a name and a look that seems to fit the men rumored to be gathering here. He was a bit surprised to find that the meeting would be taking place in so public a hotel. He figured they would meet somewhere off the beaten path. But then, Gotham’s mobsters were always a bit bold. And it wasn’t like anyone would arrest them. These men were almost untouchable, the ones that Gordon and the cops and the FBI and even Batman couldn’t just bring in for questioning.

He parked his car in the hotel’s secondary lot and looked around for a good place to watch the front door. He found a couple but he suspected he might have to try and find an inconspicuous spot in the lobby for a while. He wasn’t good at surveillance, but in a pinch he might be able to get away with it for a while.

That would be tomorrow, however. That was when the meeting was supposed to start, and there was no reason to stay here longer than he needed to. So back in the car, and back on the road. He drove around a bit, returned to his room, and turned on the TV. HBO was showing When Harry Met Sally.

[The DonCesar Hotel is real, as it St. Pete Beach, but the events and uses of real places are purely fictional. Any errors in georgraphy are those of the author and probably on purpose.]
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Knox suspected that this was where someone lived. He was in a room at the rear of stately Wayne Manor, small and a bit musty but not at all stuffy like the vast halls he’d seen on his earlier visits. There were a small couch, two armchairs, and an old coffee table. His best guess was that it was servant’s quarters once, and used still by the only servant, a man named Pennyworth. Pennyworth had escorted Knox in from his car, and then gone about his own business. The butler gave an air of a man who secretly knew himself to be superior to everyone but his master, but who never tell. It was a bit strange.

“Mister Knox?” After several minutes, Bruce Wayne arrived. He always had that same expression, one of mild confusion and mild bemusement. He was wearing a gray turtleneck and black slacks, looking like he was on his way to a ski resort.

“Hey, Mister Wayne. Thanks for seeing me.” Knox rose and offered his hand. And was quite surprised at the strength of Wayne’s grip.

“Vicki was rather insistent. She said you really wanted to interview me about the whole mess with the Mayor.”

“Yup. Everyone wants to know what his richest remaining backer has to say.”

“He doesn’t have anything to say, Mister Knox…Alex. You don’t mind if I call you Alex, do you?”

“Only if I can call you Bruce.” Bruce nodded, though Knox was not sure if anyone outside of Vicki ever called him that. He had an air of forced formality, of distance.

“I know you want an interview. Everyone does. And I think you’re doing a great job on the story. You and everyone at the Globe. But this isn’t an interview. It’s just a chat. So if you don’t mind not using your recorder...” Knox had reached for it. He could have still used it, made Wayne angry. But that wouldn’t help, was it?

“So why talk to me?”

“Like I said, Vicki can be insistent. But I told her what I’m telling you. I don’t give interviews. Not right now. My life is a bit…complex. And an interview would only make things that much more complex.”

“But don’t you feel you owe something to Borg?”

“Should I? He’s got his legal team, he’s got his supporters, he’s got things that I can’t give him. I’m just a guy with a lot of money who thinks he’s a good mayor. I go public with any kind of statement, in favor or against, and it just adds fuel to the fire.

“And a ‘no comment’ doesn’t?”

“You really plan to say I said ‘no comment’?” Wayne grinned wryly. He was more shrewd than Knox expected.

“I might. But it’s not much of a story, it is?”

“The story here is that I want to help Gotham City. Same as you, same as Borg and both Harvey Dents and even Max Schreck and his partners. Getting tied up in a political dogfight won’t let me help Gotham. When the smoke clears, then I’ll work with whoever is mayor and whoever is DA, and keep doing what I’ve started doing. Putting my money to work for the people.”

“I could tell that to the public.” Indeed, Knox was tempted to do so anyway, recalling the secret dictum of newsmen and PR men since the printing press was invented: There is no such thing as “off the record”. But odds are it would get him fired if it ran, and odds are Taylor would never let it run.

Wayne shook his head. “It wouldn’t really help anything. I could have my public relations people issue a statement if you like.”

”You are kidding, right?” Knox smiled at Wayne, knowing that Wayne really understood the game after all.

“Alex, I do sympathize. You have a job to do. We all do. But you’ll just have to do it without me.”

“Hey, at least you talked to me. That’s almost a scoop. You know how many people would kill to have even that.”

“I believe that Master Bruce’s offices receive an average of sixteen requests a day.” Pennyworth returned with a silver pot and two fine china cups. Tea was being served. How fancy after all.

“Maybe you want to be interviewed, Jeeves?” Knox wasn’t serious, but he wanted to see if he could make the butler blink.

“Alex, Alfred here is harder to get to than me. All requests have to go through me.” Alfred poured the tea, barely taking note of the conversation, or being called “Jeeves”. “I think he would just tell you that he doesn’t have any opinion on the matter, and that he really doesn’t pay attention to local politics.

“Not,” Alfred added as he left, “unless the locality is London. Good afternoon, Mister Knox.” Knox sipped his tea. Which was very good if you liked tea over coffee.

“Nice guy. Vicki told me he’s been here for ages.”

“Did she tell you anything else?” Wayne took his cup and actually extended his pinky!

“Only that she was planning on stealing the silver and hocking it to pay for her Kodak film habit.” Knox gave Wayne a smirk, trying to show that he really could handle Vicki and Bruce being together. “Oh, and she mentioned a trip to Florida.”

“Yeah, we both need a getaway. She needs something nicer than inns in Bucharest, and I need a few days without Gotham winter.”

“Why Florida?”

“Good swimming,” It was, Knox reflected, a strange question to ask. He knew that Bruce Wayne was not going down south to dine with the Mob. But he just needed to ask. Someday, he knew, that could get him fired.

“Sounds like fun. Bring me back a few oranges?” He was finishing his cup of tea, getting the sense that this royal audience was nearing an end. Wayne wasn’t tense so much as antsy. Still, it was time to go.

“Bruce, I think I need to be back in the city. But thanks for letting me in.”

“You’re welcome.” Wayne extended his hand, and Knox braced for a strong grip, but this time it was a bit less intense.

Alfred – he really seemed more of an Alfred than a Pennyworth - showed Knox back out. Leaving, Knox wondered what was really going on inside Bruce Wayne’s head. He was paying complete attention to Knox, and still seemed like his mind was somewhere else.

Oh, to be psychic, he thought, before deciding that psychic reporters are still going to need proof before running stories.
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January was fast receding into February, and the big story was fast becoming yesterday's news. Yes, Mayor Borg still faced a corruption trial. Yes, his administration was in tatters, with the Town Council getting its knives out (an irony not lost on those who noted how Council president Rupert Thorne's own manipulations corruption). But Knox wasn't a political reporter, so his skills left him on the outside more and more.

Oh, that interview with Harvey Lee Dent was well received. And his sources at the various branches of government could be pumped for new factoids about the process. But these days, all this got Knox was a secondary byline on stories written by Nick Roy. As for his sense that Borg was been railroaded, he had nothing to back it up. Sources he had relied on for crime stories didn't do him any good.

So as the next cold snap hit Gotham, Knox drifted back to his usual beat. There were rumors of a meeting of the Mafia minds at a resort in St. Pete, a string of break-ins in Gotham Heights, and the usual Bat-sightings. He wondered which of these would grab the Bat's attention, and decided that Bats would stay local. Knox made plans to head to the Heights for the night when there was a small commotion in the elevator lobby.

Vale. Vicki Vale, surrounded by half the staff, in a very understated (faux) fur coat, and an ensemble to match (complete with short skirt, of course), has returned. She looks away from the well-wishers and saw Knox. "Allie!" Oh, that smile. That smile which was meant entirely to be friendly, and which still devastated him. She left the crowd and made her was to Knox.

"Hey, Vale. Welcome home." He tried to sound nonchalant.

"Thanks. I see you got a another huge scoop. Congratulations." She gave him a small kiss, porbably unaware what that did to poor Knox. "They're going to have to give you a Pulitzer this time."

"You're getting there first. Your photos from Europe have been amazing."

"Just at the right place at the right time. I saw better shots from kids using their dads' old Leicas." She returned with Knox to his desk.

"So, back for a while?"

"A few weeks. Bruce and I need a bit of downtime." Yup, still with him. Which didn't surprise Knox at all.

"You're not sticking around here, are you?"

"Winter in Gotham isn't as bad as winter in Leningrad, Allie. But no, we're heading south. Florida."

"Florida? You going to the big Mafia meeting?" He of course doesn't mean it, and yet there is something really strange about her smile. Is she covering it?

"Bruce prefers to keep his contacts with the Mafia to a minimum. And I wouldn't have a thing to wear."

"How's he doing, really?" Jealousy aside, Knox was starting to like Wayne a bit.

"Overworked. Really. I know he has this image of being hands-off and all, but he puts in a lot of time at the office." Knox doubted this, but he had to admit, Wayne's name was showing up more in the business pages.

"Well, he's got to earn that...inhertitance?" Knox tried not to make this sound snarky.

"Inheritances only get you so far, Allie." She didn't appreciate such comments, but also seemed ready to excuse Knox.

"Can I ask you something...any chance you can get him to talk to me about Borg?" Vicki tried to not to look surprised. "I know, I know, you would rather not bring my work home to his place, but he was one of Borg's biggest funders last time around. And he's been as mum as everyone else. People are gonna ask him questions. People probably already are asking questions. Might do him good to clear the air and move on." Vicki thinks about this for a few moments, even as the clatter of the newsroom moves around them.

"Allie, I don't think he wants to talk about it. He's said almost nothing to me. It's...uncomfortable. You are right in that Bruce believed in Borg. I think they were nearly friends. But Bruce...he doesn't like corruption. He's had to work to make sure that people think of his company as honest. Being associated with this city is hard enough. Any link with Borg...he wouldn't want to say anything." Knox had the sense that yet again, there was more going on here. Vale knew something. Something Knox couldn't get at.

"Fair enough. But can you ask? As a favor to your favorite reporter?" He smiled hard at her, not really thinking this could work.

"I'll consider it, Allie." She smiled back, and devastated him again. "Listen - I have to go talk with George. But I'm taking him to lunch. You want to join us?" Not quite his ideal lunch, sharing a woman he can't have with his editor. But a free meal is a free meal. And he was old enough to be friends with her, right? He wasn't 15, right?

"You're on!"

Thus he waited for lunch. And all the while, as he tried to not to have any more of a crush on Vale, he wondered what was really up with Wayne. Something seemed odd...
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Ten days later, and the Borg story still had legs. Yes, there were things going on elsewhere in the world, and in Gotham - two Bat-sightings in Tricorner, another unconfirmed report of a feral vagrant rising from the sewers and squawking, a meeting of WayneCorp that Bruce Wayne actually attended! - but from the POV of just about everyone at Gotham's five dailies and six TV stations, Borg was all that matters.

Which meant that Knox had two choices: find another story or fight with ten times as many competitors for scoops and interviews. He couldn't get in to see Borg. Or Dent. Or Gordon. But no one else could. Wayne...at least Wayne sent him a note commending his work. But didn't agree to be interviewed, either (and Vale was in Romania, so she couldn't help). The US Attorney was old news, the grand jury findings remained under proper lock and key, and none of the people who allegedly testifed to the grand jury were talking.

So Knox went of his beaten path. To the high-tone law firm of Collander, Zane, Bennett, Dent and Hingman. Normally, Knox refused to acknowledge such peolpe existed. These were the men - the firm had all of three women and four non-whites - whose life was all about getting the rich out of jail free. Granted, if Knox were arrested and had money, he'd hire them. But he could care less otherwise.

Except...except that the Dent in the firm was Harvey Lee Dent. Known in some circles as simply "the other Harvey Dent" and in other less sensitive circles as "the white Dent" or "the Southern Dent" or "the Texan Dent," he had been making noises for some time about leaving the criminal defense for a run at the DA. At Harvey D. Dent. And naturally, he had been making pithy comments to passing courthouse reporters about the need to clean house. So, with no other stories leaping out, Knox made the call. And to his surprise, got the interview.

He sat for five minutes in a small but well-appointed office. A few degrees and honorary degrees hung behind a pricey oak desk. There were photos of Harvey Lee with the governor, with his namesake, with Burce Wayne, with some senator from Tennessee who Knox recalled ran for president but whose name escaped him. There was little, Knox noted, that made this office unique, though. Then Harvey Lee entered.

He wasn't a particularly handsome man. But he had an intelligent face, with expressive eyes and a hint of smile at the ready. He was large without being heavy, the built of a former football player who didn't stop exercising, and his tailored suit helped give him presence. This, Knox thought, was a man who knew what he wanted. Must make getting dates a lot easier.

"Mister Knox...Harvey Lee Dent." He extended his hand, and Knox was glad to get his own hand back. "I was a bit surprised that you wanted to interview me. I thought you usually chase crimes from the other side.

"Yeah, usually. But the Borg case is not the usual, is it? And since you seem to be saying things about it..."

Dent grinned. "Your colleagues at the courthouse don't know how to be quiet, do they? On the record, none of those comments were on the record. Till now."

"So you're ready to make a statement?"

"Why shouldn't I be? If I am going to be an elected official, I need to be ready to tell people what I'm thinking."

Knox got his tape recorder ready as Dent sat in his leather chair. "You mind?"

"Of course not. I keep a dictaphone with me day in and day out." The recorder was clicked on.

"Mister Dent, is it true that you're going to run for District Attorney?"

"At this point, I'm simply considering it. My friend and colleague and namesake Harvey D. Dent has long distinguished himself as a capable prosecutor in a city renowned for not having such men. He is as honest and dedicated a public servant as Gotham has. But I have my doubts as to whether he's the best man for the job."

"And why is that?"

Dent smiled a bit more slyly. "His association with the Borg Administration is a detriment to his career. Even if you are willing to give Borg the benefit of the doubt, he's proven more than once that his judgment is suspect. Dent is commendaable for his loyalty to the man who guided him into office, but that loyalty will not keep Gotham's criminal elements at bay.

"Beyond which, Harvey D. Dent has been part of the system his whole life. It's a wonder that it hasn't corrupted him, but he's too close to it to make the kinds of changes the city needs. The prosecutors under him are a very mixed bag, and I can say as a man who's faced them in the courthouse that some of them are beneath contempt."

"And why you? You're still new to the city, and a defense attorney. What makes you the most qualified."

Harvey Lee's body language stiffened a tiny bit. "And here we go with the usual questions. Mister Knox, I was hoping you'd be smarter than everyone else. Or at least have done your homework. Because I know what you must be thinking. I'm an outsider. No, not just an outsider, but a Texan. A Southerner.

"So I think you assume I'm a good old boy, dressed fancy but with not understanding of the North, or of big cities. I bet you even expect that under it all, I'm a bigot." Knox said nothing, though this was almost what he was thinking. "I was hoping you would have found out that I grew up in Fort Worth, that I lived in Boston for years, that I have my degrees from Harvard. And I was even naively hoping that you would remember than a Texan named Lyndon Baines Johnson was responsible for making civil rights a reality in this nation. A lot of us have nothing in common with the image you have. Nothing.

"Mister Knox, it's true that Grant Zane made a great offer to me to get me to leave Boston. But I could have gotten the same offer from a number of firms in a number of cities. Do you think I chose Gotham because I could get rich here? I came here because I saw a city that is in need. That needs honest lawyers on both sides of every case. The bulk of the firms here are connected. You know that. I came here hoping that I could make a difference. And if you had bothered to learn about the pro bono cases I handle, you'd see that I am trying to do that.

"So maybe it's clear that your question should have been asked a bit differently."

Knox showed no sign that Dent was getting to him. Lawyer's bluster, while not the same as cop's bluster, didn't bother Knox. "You still have to answer why you think you're the most qualified. There are prosecutors who aren't linked to Borg and who have good records."

"And as far as I know, none are interested in the job. They weren't before Harvey D. Dent. They aren't now. That's part of the problem. If people want to save this city, they need to get involved. They won't. I will." The lawyer presented a determined, almost deadpan, face.

"And what about Borg?

"Took you a while to get to him. William...I consider William Borg a friend. Worked for Attorneys for Borg in the last election. I think he really does care about this city. But like his district attorney, he's too close to it. Both men can't see the forest through the trees. Yes, they felled some trees than needed felling. But both delude themselves into thinking they have beaten the darkness. And to resort to a vigilante to do your dirty work..."

"What about the indictments?"

"I don't think they matter. Yes, they matter to William. They will ruin his career no matter what. But they are just a symptom of his failures. He admitted himself that he was in the bed with the wrong supporters. You can't do that and expect to just say 'goodbye, hope you liked that one night stand, seeya'. He made his choices, and the sad part is that all of Gotham has to suffer."

"Are you saying he should resign?" Dent paused in (seeming) thought.

"I'm saying that at some point, if not now then certainly in the next election, Gotham needs to start over."

"Do you think he's guilty?"

"I can't tell you that. Not should I try to guess. A lawyer has to respect the legal process." A canned answer? Maybe, but a believable one.

"And what about the Bat? You don't seem to like using him."

"Is there a place in a system of laws for a self-appointed crusader? I don't think there is. If we could work with him, though, turn him into a part of that system, then I would be quite glad to have him on my side."

"Is that a policy statement?"

Dent laughed. "Mister Knox, I'm not running yet. Once I'm in office, perhaps then I'll say something more." Which was Dent's way of trying to tell Knox not to run that last bit. Not that Knox had ever let anyone tell him that.

Knox thought if there was anything else to ask. But decided for now that a short interview was for the best. "I think that's it."

"That's all? You are clearly not used to interviewing lawyers. We can go on for hours.

"Not the ones I know. 'No comment' takes five seconds."

Knox got up, taking in the office one more time. "Good to meet you, Mister Dent."

"And you too. I expect I'm stuck with you now. If I run, that is." The lawyer smiled, but in that smile was an implication that Dent would play very rough with any reporter who crossed him. The Harvey Dent Knox already knew never did that.

"If you run." Knox headed out of the office, retrieving his coat and hat from the spacious reception area, and went back to wrote the story. As he headed back, one thing struck him - Harvey Lee was from Boston. So was US Attorney Foley. Coincidence? Or something more?

In the office, Knox made a few notes to look into links between the two men from Boston, and then got to the story.
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