Nov. 27th, 2011 01:00 pm
gotham_knocking: (typewriter)
For most people, a phone ringing at 3 am is always going to be bad. Not for a reporter. Oh, it might be bad news for someone. But a reporter it might be a big story. A scoop. Maybe even someone calling from Oslo to tell you that you've won a Nobel Prize for Journalism. (Hey, he can dream.) So he really didn't think there was a reason to be worried. At first.

"Yeah, what's up?"


"Who's there?" The voice is familiar. But not an editor. Or a snitch.

"It's Aunt Arlene." And suddenly, Alex know what everyone else felt when the phone rings at 3 am.


His father had a heart attack. Not a major one, but not the first one either (someone his parents didn't bother telling him when they still lived in Gotham). Aunt Arlene was given the job of calling him and his brother and any other relatives who needed to know. And also the job of suggesting that Alex should come and visit his dad.

By 10 am, he'd made a stop at the newspaper's travel agent, booked two tickets, told his editor he'd be on a leave for a week or so, and rushed home to pack. The same procedures he and Rapunzel followed their last trip to Florida were in play. Haircut right before leaving, haircut right after landing, and lots of hats. She wasn't sure what she would do with herself, since she wasn't sure how much she needed to sit at the hospital. Alex assured her he needed her there, but both knew that her parents weren't his. And he was not ready to admit out loud he was working out things.

The flight took them to Fort Lauderdale and from there he drove the rental car straight to what his aunt insisted was the best hospital in the area. (He realized after that the directions the clerk gave were impossibly good, and wondered if someone was watching over him for once.) He had to admit that after years of seeing the decay of most Gotham hospitals, St. Bonaventura looked like a place he would want to be sick in. At the same time, he hated hospitals. Raps noticed, tried to calm him, but it was clear that one too many times seeing urban violence left him uneasy.

So did having to see his dad in this way. He was relieved to find Martin Knox only a bit paler than usual. And just as grumpy. "Well, well, look who decided to visit." Not a hint of a smile for Alex. Though a big one for Raps. (He had to hand it to Raps, that she actually made a good impression on Martin when they met. All her years of being a queen? Or just her smile?) Things hadn't changed. And when Alex asked about how things were going, the reply he got was, "how do you think they're going, you clod? I had a heart attack, They want me to stay here for a week. The food is lousy. They don't let me sleep. In short, it's all going so damned well."

When Alex found a doctor - a resident who looked too young to even play doctor - he learned that the concern was about future incidents. And that the hospital wanted more of Martin Knox's medical history. "You are asking the wrong man, Dr. Gelbart. I didn't know about his first heart attack till 3 am. I haven't heard anything about his health since they moved here. Ask my mother. Or maybe my brother." Neither of him he saw just yet.

His mother didn't arrive for another two hours. And seemed strangely detached. As if it were someone else's husband who was in that bed. At least Estelle was glad to see Alex and Rapunzel. But it was unsettling enough that Alex almost offered to stay in a hotel and "not be in the way."

Instead, they stayed in the guest room as they did before. But the vibe was wrong, and Alex talked at length with Raps about it. Or as much as he ever could about his own feelings. She knew that some men were lucky to even admit they had feelings in the first place. She didn't press, but she suspected that this was rougher than he could ever admit.

Two days later, Eliot arrived from Chicago. And Alex met his brother for the first time in eight years. Or was it nine? Eliot still took after Martin, taller and thinner and blonder and very little of Estelle's round Jewish face. But his hair was leaving fast, and Alex tried not to be smug about it. This reunion was even more uncomfortable than the one with Martin. They had so little in common, so little connection. They chatted about Eliot's wife and kids, about Rapunzel and their careers as eye doctor and reporter. They tried to smile, or to assure each other Dad would be find. But they had become strangers more than ever. Even the childhood nicknames of "Ellie and Allie," the names five year old Alex gave himself and his thirteen year brother, the names that stuck for a long time, were gone.

For the next few days, there were just awkward moments at the hospital as Dr. Gelbart, and the older and apparently capable cardiologist Dr. Plummer, came and went and told everyone that Martin needed to lose weight and eat better and that he could go home in a week. Martin seemed inclined to ignore the doctors in favor of a book of crossword puzzles and old movies. Estelle looked like she would do something to help, but never said what. And Alex and Raps would occasionally escape for a drive or a walk or dinner or a trip to anywhere but here.

Eliot left after four days, giving limp handshakes to his father and brother, a meek hug to Estelle. Martin finally got discharged, and came home to a health care aide that he was sure would bankrupt him or Medicare. Alex felt like it was time to go. But not before he talked to his mother.


Some conversations are shocks. Not because there is something you weren't expecting to hear. But because you never realized till you heard them that you already knew. The distance between Estelle and Martin since Alex arrived was something that had always been there. And Alex never noticed till now. And Estelle, trusting that a son old enough to be in love and in a stable relationship, a son pass 40 now, could handle the truth: the love was gone, and the marriage was just habit. Alex understood. And saw that he'd known this since he moved into his first crappy apartment after high school.

He could barely stand to look his mother in the eye. Not because he didn't understand. But because his parents lived a lie. Funny how all his years as a reporter changed how he saw the world. How he saw even the people who raises him. He could deal with failure, anger, regret, sadness. But they should have told him.

And he should have seen it sooner.

After two very long weeks, Alex and Raps were on the flight home, tanned and eager to get back to the Gotham winter. And as Raps sat back, hooked into the plane's sound system and reading a magazine, he realized that she - and the people he'd met at the Bar, even the ones he never saw anymore - were more of a family to him now. That stung, but it was oddly freeing to know it.

Knox Alone

Jan. 15th, 2011 08:05 pm
gotham_knocking: (Default)
It’s the same routine every day. Get up, eat breakfast, go to work. Put in a full day, writing the column and kibitzing with the staff and researching the next column. Get a drink with the gang at Murray’s. Go home. Watch the tube, see if there’s a good game on.

And then duck into the Bar for a few minutes.

He goes to their room, and to the bar. He looks all over. And he doesn’t see her.
And he goes back home. And tries not to miss her.

It’s only been two weeks. But Rapunzel is all Alex can think about. At least when he’s not working. Or getting drunk. He tries to act like it’s okay. Tells everyone who knows her in Gotham that “she’s in Europe, dealing with a family emergency.” And there’s no reason for anyone out there to doubt him.

But at night, when he’s alone, or at the Bar, it hits him. He might never see her again. She might never find her way back. Or decide that she has to stay in Fabletown. Or be held against her will. It could all go wrong. And he wishes that maybe he would have said something and stopped her from leaving.

But he didn’t. And he wouldn’t have done that anyway. She had to go home. He knows that. But still…

He doesn’t linger in the Bar. It hurts to be there, alone. Better to just go home and have one last beer and get to sleep.

As he goes to sleep, he stares at her photo. He doesn’t cry – he’s too old to cry, right? – but he does sigh. And he reaches under her pillow and takes out the lock of brilliant yellow hair she left the time he gave her a haircut. “I miss you, Raps. I hope you’re okay.”

He puts the lock back under the pillow, turns over and is asleep. He dreams of her. This too is the same everyday. And at least in his dreams, he still has the woman he loves.
gotham_knocking: (Default)
Alex and Rapunzel caught a 9:30 am flight from Goodwin Airport to Fort Lauderdale. She made sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat that hid her hair so that no one knew just how fast it was growing, and the first thing they did after claiming their luggage was find the scissors and trim the excess. Alex traveled light, with just one large suitcase. Rapunzel had three, and he wondered just what she had in them since everything she brought was summerweight (and in a few cases also rather skimpy). But he knew enough never to ask about such things.

On the flight, in the Avis lobby, and in the car ride up to Pompano Gardens, Alex reviewed everything about his parents one more time. Not that he needed to. Rapunzel was a good study, and remembered his dad's tendency to be a grump, his mother's love of cooking and of asking personal questions, Alex was nervous. He hadn't seen his parents in years. He hadn't brought a girl home to meet them since he was just out of high school and thought that things were getting serious with his prom date. And he just didn't trust his father not to say something stupid.

Leaving the airport, there were only a few signs of the recent hurricane. The bulk of the damage was from Miami south and east. Tomorrow, they would leave Pompano and look for that damage, and look for eyewitnesses to the incredible. Today, they were just visiting.

“Here is it.” Pompano Gardens was a private community of apartment buildings and “villas” in Pompano Beach, about two miles from the shore. It always seemed a little ramshackle to Alex, showing signs that upkeep was not that great in brown lawns and cracked pavements. It was, though, better than anything Martin and Estelle Knox ever lived in in Gotham. There were pools, tennis courts and a nine hole golf course, as well as a variety of activities, and even buses so that Martin rarely needed to drive. “Never could get used to anyone living inside walls.” So what if there was a security checkpoint that always made Knox think of JFK or Reagan in Berlin?

They drove up to a villa with the look of something that wanted to be Italian but fell short. Alex got out of the car and waited for Rapunzel. He looked as nervous as he ever has. “Ready?”
gotham_knocking: (Default)
August 1991…

It was no surprise that Vicki Vale found her way to Moscow before the failed coup collapsed. It was no surprise that her photos of Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank where on the front page of the Globe. Knox suspected that the next time there was a moon landing, Vicki would be there, too.

But the envelope he received from her by special courier three days after things were over was a surprise. Her note was simple: “Thought you would be interested in these. Have no idea who they are. Suggest you contact Herb Manners, King’s College.” The photos, in both black and white and color, showed a rather unusual fight. Involving a middle-aged man in good shape and a bad suit throwing a car at a flying man covered from head to toe in a suit of modern looking red and white armor. The meta-humans had come to Mother Russia.

Herb Manners was an expert on the Soviet Union, a professor these days but (according to a couple of foreign correspondents Knox was able to track down in San Francisco and Washington) formerly on the payroll of the State Department and probably also the CIA. And also, it seemed, a friend of Vale’s, since all Knox had to do was say “Vicki told me to call” and Manners quickly arranged to meet. Knox marveled at how easily Vicki managed to open doors.

Photos in hand, Knox drove into Metropolis, and met Manners at a diner near King’s College that looked like the one on that sitcom with Gary Steinfeld. Manners was about what Knox expected, balding, non-descript, thin, the sort of person who made a good spy. Over coffee, the professor studied the photos. He looked at the one close-up of the middle aged man several times, and seemed to have some idea about the flying man at one glance.

“Mister Knox, you should know that what I can tell you cannot be proved. There is no way you can publish anything about these men.”

“I’m okay with that. It’s just that I’m a superhero enthusiast. And if these men are superheroes, it bears watching in the long run.”

“Calling them superheroes is stretch. But yes, it does bear watching,” Manners said in the sort of tone Knox would expect from cops and soldiers. “The man in the suit first. Some of this is hearsay, but there were enough witnesses to his career that I’m sure at least some of the legend is true.

“His name is Stalnoivolk. Literally, ‘steel wolf,’ though it’s just as accurate to call him ‘Stalin’s Wolf’. He was active in the Red Army during World War II.”

“He looks maybe 50 at most.”

“Whatever they did to make him what he is must have slowed his ages.”

“And what did they make him?” Knox started to take notes.

“Some sort of super-soldier. Supposedly he was a symbol of Communist and Russian might, but he tended more to be a symbol of Stalin’s authority. The man was chosen to be made Stalnoivolk for his fanatical devotion to Joe. And as soon as the experiments were declared a success, Stalin had everyone else connected with the project killed so that there could never be anyone with that kind of power who would challenge him.


“Yes. Very typical of how Stalin thought.”

“And they used this guy and no one ever heard of him?”

“No one in the West, certainly. Which prevented him from being a symbol but not a legend. Thousands of troops saw him at some point, and come home with wild tales of a Hercules in a private’s uniform who withstood Nazi machine gun fire and bombs and who tossed tanks into the Volga. Given how exaggerated the stories became, most people dismissed him as a battlefield rumor, which was how the Red Army, and the KGB and Stalin, wanted it.

“After the war, he faded from public view entirely, and apparently became a personal black bag man for Stalin. He was probably responsible for over 300 deaths of ‘enemies of the state’ and also helped to bring Stalinist order to the Warsaw Pact nations.”

“And the US and Britain knew all this?”

“As far as I can tell, the CIA played along with keeping him a secret. There was some concern that acknowledging the Reds had made a breakthrough of that magnitude would make life very difficult for the West. They were also counting on Stalin’s lack of imagination to prevent Stalnoivolk from being used more effectively.”

“Which is what happened?”

“Yes. And when Stalin died, when Khrushchev started to undo the damage in bits and pieces, Stalnoivolk was cashiered to the backwoods. He was still devoted to his mentor, hated the new regime, and could have backed any hardliners. Which is apparently what he decided to do now. But back then, he was loyal enough to accept his fate quietly.” Manners took a sip of water and shifted his attention back to the photos, waiting for questions.

“And he really behaved himself for 40 years?”

“As far as we know. I never got so much as a whiff of any rumor that the KGB used him, or that he wanted back into things. At heart, he was a peasant and might have been happy with a lifetime on full pension in a dacha.

“Till now.”

“Till now. Maybe the hardliners reached out to him. It would fit with the rest of their half-baked plans. Or maybe he just showed up in hopes of ending Perestroika.”

“And the other man?” Knox was interested by this old relic of WWII, but there was some piece missing. It didn’t seem relevant. Not without more background. Even an interview was likely to be useless. The man probably didn’t even speak English.

“The other man…everything I can tell you is hearsay. It’s all rumor. Maybe you could tell the world about Stalnoivolk and not look silly. But this man…not a chance.

“There are two pieces to this. The first is the armor. It looks like some designs I happened to see once for a project to create a flying armored battalion as a response to both the Reagan administration and Superman. The Rocket Red Brigade.

“They perfected certain elements. The armor is resistant to heavy arms fire, radiation, toxins. It had a high offensive capability. If the other problems could have been overcome, we would have seen the Brigade in Afghanistan and maybe Poland during the labor movement.”

“But things went wrong?”

“The armor was too heavy. It needed a series of motors to allow anyone to move around in it. Which only added to the weight. And to the amount of power needed to operate it. Never mind that the amount of propellant to allow a man to fly even a few feet would have tripled the weight.”

“But this guy is flying. And seems to be firing some kind of heat ray.”

“There was no breakthrough, Mister Knox. The problems remain beyond the grasp of both current Soviet science and the Soviet economy. They made a few prototype suits, mothballed the project, and buried the files.”

”So what are we looking at?”

“The really crazy part. More than crazy.” He paused, and leaned in closer. “This man is the lone survivor of the engineering staff at the Chernobyl nuclear plant..”

Knox gasped despite himself. “Wait…there’s some kind of 1950s B-movie freak in there?”

“There’s a man in there. A poor wretch who should have died with his colleagues, but instead lived and gained powers he didn’t ask for.

“The story goes that the KGB took him from the lead lined room he was left in, and put him in the armor. It was radiation-hardened, so it could keep things in as well as out. He didn’t need the motors because he’d gained extraordinary strength. They created vents in the suit that allow him to release bursts of heat and energy and let him fly on his own power. And they kept him under wraps, training him to use his powers in the service of the state while learning not to contaminate anyone or anything else.”

“Yeah, you are right. This is crazy. You sure that this isn’t a man inside a breakthrough battle suit?”

“There’s a man in Central City that runs at mach speed, and a man in this city who’s from another planet. And Vale told me that you know about things like this better than anyone.” Knox should have guessed she talked to Manners, just to smooth the way.

“But…a nuclear man? I guess anything is possible…” He jotted some more notes down, but knew that Manners was right and that this was beyond the realm of the printable. “And he’s defending the new government?”

“No way to be sure, but if you were a nuclear engineer whose entire life was turned upside down by the failure of the old regime to build and maintain a nuclear plant, if you were then shoved inside that absurd suit and made to serve, wouldn’t you do everything you could to make sure that the old regime never came back?”

“Probably. And did this nuclear man have a codename like Stalni?”

“Pozhar. Meaning ‘destructive fire’. An ironic name if he was trying to stop the coup. Did Vicki give you any sense of who won the battle?” Manners stopped looking at the photos.

“No. It looks like it last only a little while, and I think it was a draw. I don’t know how Vale found out about what was going on, but she has a knack for it.”

“Yes. It used to give some of my old colleagues a bit of a headache. But she never runs a story without having evidence.” Knox caught the tone of warning in the former spy’s voice.

“Hey, like I said, this is more for my personal edification. But if this is true, if there is a radioactive man serving the government in Russia, if there is a relic from World War II trying to turn back the clock…well, all I have to say is that I wish I were a reporter in Moscow. Because things like this have a way of getting bigger. And getting exposed.”

“Things haven’t changed that much yet there. But…well, I can only say that we live in interesting times.”

On the way home, Knox pondered if there was any chance he could take this further. He wasn’t likely to fly to Moscow. He wasn’t and never would be a foreign correspondent. He figured that Vicki wasn’t going to pursue it, either. She never stayed in one place long since her breakup with Wayne. Maybe he could pass the photos and the stories to Lois Lane, and let her use her overseas connections.

Or maybe he could just put it aside, and wait. Someone like this Pozhar, with that kind of power, was not likely to remain off the map forever.
gotham_knocking: (Default)
It wasn't that Ivy Town, Connecticut didn't have its charms. In the April sunshine, the trees just starting to bud, the college town made a very nice change from the grime of the big city. If you liked antiquing or used bookstores, it was a great place to visit (and Knox and Rapunzel found a few things for his apartment and her rooms and for their bookshelves).

But it seemed like the last place that needed a super-hero. Which in itself was probably a clue as to who was under the tiny mask of the Atom. A student, or maybe a professor. If Knox really wanted to make a list of possible suspects, he could. Assuming that he could figure out how it was even possible for a man to be six inches tall. And assuming that this was the latest application of science got wild and that the Atom was a shrunken human and not an alien.

Before leaving Gotham, Knox called STAR Labs in Metropolis and got connected with first the Public Information Office and then a biologist named Janet Lang. Dr. Lang insisted that there was no way a human (or anything else) could be shrunk in the first place, and that such a miniature man would be very hard pressed to survive, let alone fight crime. She felt the stories had to be hoaxes, probably college pranks.

And yet - unlike the matter of the faceless man in Boston - there were a lot of witnesses. Three people in a gas station. Seven in a diner. Six in a bank. Each giving the same sort of account to the local weekly paper and the cops and the one lone camerawoman from Hartford who thought it was worth her time to visit. Knox stopped at each of these places, the gas station on his way into town, the diner for lunch, the bank at closing time. Raps watched as he asked his questions, and listened just in case there was any hint the Atom was a Liliputian in disguise.

The gas station was on the edge of town, right off the highway. The clerk was a native of Senegal who worked there while attending classes. He was genial, soft-spoken and seemed to appreciate that Knox didn't think he was crazy. "I get thieves once or twice a month. Usually it is the sort that grab as much food as they can, or accesories, and then run off to a waiting car. This man was different. He carried a gun. I do not think he intended to harm me, but he would certainly have taken all the money had the little man not appeared."

"Where did he come from?"

"I do not know. Perhaps he was following the man. Or he was just in the store. I would not have seen him."

"And he...

"He was on the counter, and told the thief to surrender. We both were rather startled. The thief tried to swat the man, but he leapt away. And then he leapt onto the thief's gun and the gun fell."

"It fell?"

"It seemed much heavier."

"The crook then ran?"

"Yes. He was quite startled. The police caught him the next day." Which Knox knew. The crook, a four-time loser named David Clinton, was caught on the gas station's camera and also was babbling when arrested.

"And did the Incredible Shrinking Man say anything else?"


The diner was close to the campus, a block from a large used book store and frequented by administrative staff and few students. Two regulars, a male pencil-pusher from the Bursar's Office and an female executive assistant to one of the myriad associate deans, had already told their tales to the camerawoman, and were happy to repeat themselves.

"Some guy tried to grab all the cash from the till," said the pencil-pusher. "No gun or anything. Just grabby hands and a vest with lots of pockets.

"Next thing we knew, he's on the floor," added the assistant. "And there's this tiny little man in a red and blue costume on his face."

"You saw the costume?"

"Well, I think I did. It was red and blue, I am sure." Knox had seen the same thing in the local paper, from other witnesses, but it still seemed unlikely anyone could see that. "And he then told everyone that it was okay, that the Atom had things under control."

"And how did he sound, for a guy with a miniature voice box?"

"He was using a sound system of some sort," Pencil-Pusher said. "Sounded a bit tinny."

"But not tiny."

"Nope." Knox tried to talk to the waitresses, but not a one was willing to stop working.

The bank was a branch of Third Hartford Savings, one of the rock-ribbed financial institutions of a state known for banks and insurance. And this time, the thieves were, according to the state troopers, making their sixth stop on a tour of the Nutmeg State's finer banks. The troopers even admitted that there was a pattern and that the gang was likely to visit Ivy Town soon. Knox was convinced that the Atom knew this too and might have been waiting.

"Yeah," said the chief teller, a transplanted middle-aged Metropolitan man with a pronounced urban accent, "he musta been there the whole time, because I didn't even push the alarm button before he showed."

"And what did he do?"

"That was the crazy part. He was jumping all over the place, from man to man, and every time he landed, it was like he punched them. Hard."

"So...it was like he weighed more than a few ounces?"

"It was like he weighed forty pounds.

"That's ridiculous."

"You need to see the tapes?" Knox said yes, naturally. And to his utter surprise, the bank had the tape. "Didn't the troopers want it?"

"Nope. They got their men. They got here quicklike, and the gang was still dazed. The Atom thanks the cops and vamoosed."

And here was proof. Of something, if not the Atom. The tape was grainy and black and white, but something was clearly hitting the crooks in the face. Jumping on their guns. Making them look like marionettes. "This," Knox said as much to himself as to Raps and the teller, "is no hoax." He was smiling a bit, but still not sure what to make of it.

Later, in their cozy hotel room across the street from the football stadium, Alex sorted through his notes and got his thoughts organized while Raps got ready for a shower.

"Any thoughts, dear," he asked.

"Only that I don't think he's a Fable. The Lillipitians weigh next to nothing. And the skilled fighters among them use swords."

"Times change. But I think you're right. He's one of the heroes. One of ours."

"Is he your story next week?"

"Maybe. I think that people will think we're nuts. That this whole town is nuts."

"You still can't get any cops to talk to you about it?"

"Not a one. Not sure I blame them when a six inch tall guy does your job for you."

"Well, you don't need them, anyway. We know what's real." Raps coiled her hair up and wrapped herself in a hotel bathrobe. "Join me?"

"Of course. Just let me get this put away." She smiled as she entered the bath. And Alex put the notes in his suitcase, and wondered if the world was really ready for a miniature vigilante.

And why the Atom was fighting crime in the boondocks.
gotham_knocking: (Default)
The drive to Boston to Gotham was a delight. It was true that Knox still drove the same rather abused car he did when he got rich, but it was the kind of car where the person in the front passenger seat could still sit close to her lover while he drove. (Seat belt laws are still a few years ahead of Knox's day.) Racing down the open highway (which wasn't that open in New England, but no matter) with Raps at his side was a dream come true.

Indeed, the time they spent in Boston almost made him forget he had a reason to be there. He wasn't a tourist. And the visits to the historical sites and the dinners in the seafood places and the room with a view of the city at night were just diversions. Very, very enjoyable and welcome diversions.

So it was with a bit of effort that Knox left Rapunzel to do some shopping on her own and made his way to the waterfront. And it took a bit more effort to find the pier he wanted. He knew that Boston was laid out in ways that boggle the mind, but to end up on Storrow Drive four times? And what was with that giant inflated milk bottle?

In time, though, he found the docks he wanted and parked (illegally) a block away. The sounds of ship traffic and the smell of fish and seawater and the infamous Boston harbor reached him a block before he got to the pier. It reminded him of Gotham.

Knox had left the black leather coat in the hotel, wearing a nondescript windbreaker and his fedora, hoping he wouldn't stick out. He crept by longshoremen and found the office he was looking for.

"You Jorgenson?" A stocky middle-aged man with sandy hair slowly turning gray looked up from his desk.

"Who's asking?" He had a faint Swedish accent.

"Alex Knox. I called earlier."

"The reporter from Gotham. You wanted to talk about the guy with no face."

"That's me." He moved into the dingy office. On sunny days, it wouldn't be so bad, but there was a fog rolling into the city. "So you saw him?"

"Yeah. Why do you care? It was just a guy in a fight."

"In a faceless mask."


"The world is changing, Mister Jorgenson. Men in masks are news."

"Men in silly costumes like that Bat-fellow in your town are news. This guy--"

"Let me be the judge, bud. Tell me about him?"

"OK." At this point Knox reached into his coat and pulled out a bottle of 15 year old whiskey. "You gotta know, we got drug traffic here. The cops and the DEA know and all, but it's not like anyone really can do much without being here all the time. We don't like it, but the Irish mob never makes things easy."

"Nope. But this mask...?"

"It was late at night. Or early morning, just before dawn. I was in early, covering for McNulty, and there's a commotion. I look out the window and see four or five toughs duking it out with him.

"You saw his face first?"

"Not really. I saw his coat first. A trenchcoat, a bit large, a strange shade of blue. Same for his hat. The toughs tried to shoot him, but the coat was...I dunno, like that batguy's cape. They kept missing, and he kept pressing the fight."

"And did he bring any of them down?"

"That was the funny thing. They were freaked by the mask - I finally saw it. No face at all, but a mask since his voice sounded a bit funny - but he wasn't really able to put any of them down. He fought like a guy with some training - I boxed in the service, so I know about that. But he didn't really have skill, like he learned the ideas and not the finer points."

"So not really much of a hero."

"Hell no. The thugs got away, the drugs were moved later, and he limped off. Though there was one funny thing."

"Just one? With a guy in a mask?"

"Anyone could wear a mask. Like I say, it's not interesting. But...well, there seemed to be a lot of fog around him. But it wasn't foggy. It was pretty clear in fact. I could see the Tobin Bridge. But he was fogged in."

"Like he had a fog machine or a smoke pellet?"

"Yeah. Didn't really think about it till later, though."

"And what about the calling card?"

Jorgenson looked puzzled. "Huh?"

"The cops found a card with a question mark on it."

"Well, then they found it. I didn't see it."

Knox finished jotting down the last of his notes. There wasn't much new here. The papers had the details right, though if Jorgenson was the only witness they spoke to, the details would have to be the same. He wondered if there were anything more to ask, but it didn't seem likely.

"OK, I think that's it. Thanks for your time."

"Thanks for the whiskey."

Knox looked around the docks for a bit. There was nothing that added to the story. He wondered if it would make any sense to do a stakeout of the docks till No-Face returned, but even if he were local, he cooldn't see it helping. He returned to his car.

The last time Knox was in Boston, he was looking into the robberies at the Gardner Museum. And he ran into an old rival. He really didn't like turning to Vic Sage for info. Sage was an arrogant cuss. And a TV reporter (though rather hoemly for TV with a nose that had been broken on at least three occasions, the story went). And he never picked up the tab.

But Sage eventually gave Knox something every time they talked. And with that in mind, Knox met his rival at a small bar near Channel 8's studios.

"You know, I have a phone, Knox."

"I like to see where things happen."

"You like to see the docks? Knox, you need to get out more." The two shook hands and took two seats at the bar.

"I like to follow the costumes. It's the next big thing."

"Really now? I didn't know you swung that way?" It was the level of repartee Knox expected from Sage. But he didn't feel like returning the favor.

"I know about the waterfront fight. Got any other leads or rumors or anything?

"About the man without a face? He shows up here and there. Has been for a couple of months. Usually in dark alleys and the like. Stopping muggings. This was his first jump to something bigger."

"Any clue about who he is?"

"Any clue who Batman is?"

"Fair enough, Sage. But what about the calling card?"

"That was new, too."

"You don't sound like you're really following this."

"Knox, it's not a big deal. It's some guy in a good mask. No powers. No real gimmick. It's not worth anyone's time. I cannot for the life of me figure out why you think it is."

"Because this is the wave of the future. The heroes and the villains are spreading. Right now he seems like nothing, but for all you know, he's Boston's Batman." Knox didn't care for Sage's smirk at this.

"It's a fad, nothing more."

"What about the Flash, or the Atom?"

"Urban legends. Heck, I don't even really believe in your Bat." Now Knox was starting to feel unwelcome. Sage hadn't changed a bit.

"I've seen him. Half of Gotham has."

"I mean, he's all smoke and mirrors. A guy in a silly who hasn't done a thing for his city...for your city."

It would have been rude to punch Sage, so Knox just drank his beer faster. "Vic, you are useless, you know that?"

"I try." And with that, Sage left, his drink barely touched.

Driving back to the hotel, Knox had no idea what that was about. For a second, he suspected that Sage was hiding something. Did Sage have a scoop waiting? It was possible, but somehow that didn't seem likely.

It didn't matter. Knox didn't really have a lot more than he did at the start of the day. But he was satisfied that there was something afoot here. Another piece of a larger puzzle, no doubt. One he would asseuble later.

But not until after he caught up with Raps for lunch.
gotham_knocking: (Default)
April in Gotham didn’t mean spring. In fact, some years – even years that didn’t include Lex Luthor aiming a giant snowstorm gun at the East Coast – it was downright cold and miserable. Knox hoped that this would not be one of those years, given his aversion to winter since his brief and traumatic visit to Bahamut. But instead he and Gotham got sleet and ice and slush well into the “cruelest month.” In fact, Opening Day at Gotham Municipal Stadium was nearly called off, and the Mets were forced to play under gray skies and the threat of snow.

Still, winter was starting to leave. The sun, when it reported for work, was stronger. The air was going from the stench of snowplows to the stink of fertilizer on Gotham’s many tiny patches of grass. There was baseball (after a fashion, since the Mets did not have the look of a winner anymore). And the first flowers were trying to blossom along the streets of Bristol, which Knox had to admit was far more pleasant right now than Gotham.

Knox’ probationary period as columnist was over, and PM confirmed his work as a weekly feature for the next year. He was still asked to help out with Casey and Marty, but the two tyros had done very well, and he in turn liked being a mentor. Marty especially showed potential, being a much more natural pit bull than Casey (though Casey was a better writer). No one expected Knox to cover the crime beat anymore. For the first time in ages, he really could write what he wanted.

The only problem was that crime and crime-fighting were still what got Knox’ attention. Harvey Dent’s murder of Boss Maroni turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. Dent – wearing what looked like the halves of two mismatched suits sewn together – had robbed three banks. With a machine gun. And identical twin henchmen. And even a report that he was flipping a scarred two-headed coin to decide which teller to approach. When Knox first heard about this, he thought it was a prank, or a copycat. But with each new heist, it grew more clear that Dent was indeed robbing banks.

So Knox found himself writing about how Gotham – a relentless monster in the form of a city – had claimed one more victim, had even made one more slave of its worst impulses and drives. The idea that Dent could be so utterly broken was a bit scary, and Knox wondered how that could happen to anyone. Soon, he and other reporters began to get tips, however, that Dent was damaged before ever leaving Texas. But sad if garish tales of abuse by an uncaring father only served to remind Knox and his readers how thin the line between normality and insanity could be.

Knox, however, didn’t dwell on this. It was not his way to dwell. And when the reports kept coming in about the heroes, he shifted his attention. The six inch high crimestopper in Ivy Town was apparently named the Atom. The Flash reportedly squared off against an assassin with a freeze ray (no doubt using Luthor’s technology) who the papers in Central City called “Captain Cold.” And there was a story of a man in a blue business suit, trenchcoat and faceless mask (at least everyone assumed it was a mask) getting into a brawl at the waterfront in Boston. When it was over, the thugs were on their backs, and No-Face – the silly name the Globe was using – had limped off, leaving a business card with a question mark on it.

It was all a bit surreal. And hard to follow. And odds were that most cops didn’t like the competition any more than prosecutors liked people whose arrests were constitutionally improper. But Knox loved it. He began keeping a file for each hero. He planned trips to Boston and Ivy Town. He even called his old buddy Joe Kline in Central City for the first time in six years, and compared notes on costumed types. If pressed, Knox would say that he made his name chasing the Bat. And that he figured that he could do worse than to follow the rest of the new breed of hero. But he also just liked them. Liked the costumes and the derring-do and the nerve and the dedication. He didn’t want to be a hero. Not that kind, anyway. But he thought the world was a better place for having them. And that they needed someone on their side.

On April 11, 1991, Alex Knox submitted his first column about the Flash. There wasn’t much original reporting. There were merely the musings of a Gothamite about what happens when a man in a red bodysuit with yellow boots races through a city at 300 MPH. It wasn’t the best thing Knox ever wrote, but he was very happy with it.
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In Gotham, Christmas was two months gone. And winter had gotten stuck at slightly above the freezing point, producing storms not of snow but of sleet and rain and slush, leaving street corners slick and puddle, leaving traffic a mess. Mayor Borg’s corruption trial had also stalled, parades of witnesses from both sides offering little useful testimony. Knox guessed that the attack on Harvey Dent had some unexpected resonance in the federal courthouse, and neither side felt like giving it their all.

The reporters camping outside Dent’s hospital (where Maroni could also be found) began going home when it became clear that no one would talk about Dent’s injuries or recovery. Not that the story was over. It was exceedingly odd that Dent hadn’t been sent home yet. Speculation was rife as to whether reconstructive surgery had been performed, whether there were complications, and what Dent’s mental state was. Rumors about Dent having tantrums in the middle of the night persisted, but no one confirmed a thing. There was simply silence, from the DA’s office and from Dent’s wife, Gilda Grace Dent. So the vigil changed to a daily non-briefing with smaller numbers of reporters every day.

The one thing that kept anyone’s regular interest at the hospital was Boss Maroni’s recovery. Maroni was making remarkable progress for a man shot three times at point blank range. He was reportedly asserting his authority as boss from his hospital bed despite the round the clock police presence outside his room. A mistrial had been declared in his racketeering case, of course, and he was ready to plead guilty to assault, which would carry a fairly short sentence and only reinforce his position as the most powerful crime lord in Gotham. Any day now, Maroni would roll out of the hospital, go back to the courthouse for arraignment, and then home after making bail. It was going to be yet another circus.

And it made Knox’ blood almost boil. Dent is hurt badly, scarred, perhaps shattered, and all his efforts are undone by an act that should have ended Maroni’s life instead. It was unfair. Unjust. And unsurprising in Gotham.

Knox spend his anger on two columns, and then went off to the Bar for a much needed holiday with Rapunzel and Allie. He left all the frustration at home, and not once mentioned Dent or Maroni or Borg or Batman. He was grateful for the break. But he had to go back home, and had to start the waiting game again.

But there was still no word about Harvey Dent. He was able to confirm that a Doctor Paul Eckhart from Coast City had flown in to oversee the repair of Dent’s face and left hand. He was able to confirm that Mrs. Dent had been staying with her sister for two weeks and avoiding not only the press but anyone outside of family. And he was able to confirm that a protégé of Dent’s named Vernon Fields would be named the new DA by a very reluctant Mayor Hill. These were each important pieces of a puzzle, and he shared them with Marty Yan, who would in turn try to form news from them. But he was sure that they were all missing something.
gotham_knocking: (At work)
The trial was everything Knox expected. Every day over the last two weeks, Harvey Lee Dent took on Sal Maroni, and every day it seems like victory was a bit closer. True, Maroni’s lawyer was quite intelligent and able to raise a fair number of objections. But while such maneuvers might be good in an appeal built on technicalities, at the moment Maroni was in deep trouble. Dent’s witnesses, even the Mob turncoats, withstood cross-examination. The paper trail leading from the underlings to Maroni was extensive. And as far as Knox could tell, there wasn’t a single bit of evidence that was not obtained legally. Whatever role Batman played, it was inconsequential.

It was on the fifteenth day of the trial that things changed. The defense was having its turn, and not doing very well. Everyone thought that Maroni’s lawyer would just jump to closing arguments, and hope that the stupidity and gullibility of Gotham’s jurors would save the day. Instead, to the shock of everyone, Sal Maroni took the stand. He tried to look calm and collected, the image of a powerful man much as Carl Grissom had once been, but he was nervous, sweaty, his expensive suit fitting poorly. All through what was rather pointless and blatantly false testimony, Maroni seemed pathetic, a beaten man desperate to recreate the lost image of an untouchable lord of the manor. And his unceasing complaints about his heartburn made him seem ridiculous.

Then it was Dent’s turn. He stood there before Maroni, savoring the mob boss’s foolishness, ready to pepper him with all the questions he thought he could never ask. His smile was, Knox thought, the happiest he had ever seen on an elected official. And then Maroni burped.

”Sorry, Harvey. It’s my heartburn.” Maroni smiled sheepishly, and reached into his jacket. Mylanta. He opened it and was about to drink when the smile changed. “Or maybe it’s yours--”

“GET DOWN, DENT!” From the back row, the bearded man in the knit cap and the pea coat yelled out. He had been in the courtroom every day of the trial, and Knox hadn’t spared him a thought (till now). Dent began to move, but it was too late. Maroni splashed the contents of the bottle at Dent, and Dent howled as something – some kind of acid? – hit his face.

Bedlam broke loose. Maroni’s lawyer was pale as a ghost, totally unaware (it seemed) of his client’s intent. Maroni tried to leap out from the witness box, perhaps to literally kick Dent when he was down. The bailiff, who had watched as Maroni opened the bottle, who froze in panic as he attacked Dent, at last opened fire. Police stormed the room and began evacuating. The man in the pea coat vanished. The strange thing, Knox would think later, was that Dent recognized the voice, and tried to get down. Who was that man? And Harvey still howled in pain.

Knox stumbled out of the courtroom, even as paramedics followed the cops in. There was an unearthly hush among the reporters as they made their way to the bank of payphones in the lobby. Marty Yan, a broken pen in her right hand, found Knox and their eyes locked. Neither could find a word, but he guided her to the phones. “Call it in, Marty,” he whispered. “We have a job.”
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Flashbulbs popped and the bright lights of 17 TV cameras reflected off the face of Harvey Lee Dent. The number of reporters gathered on the steps of City Hall in the chill of December was the largest Knox had seen in some tme. Larger than when the Joker was on the loose, larger than even when the Batsignal was first used and everyone wanted to know why. Dent had gotten everyone talking with his first round of indictments against Zucco family underlings, and kept them talking even when it was pretty clear he had nothing more he could do.

Only now, the tide had shifted again. Rumors about an impeding warrant for Tony Zucco’s arrest were everywhere, even before Dent called a 3 pm news conference. By the time the appointed hour had arrived, everyone knew that Dent had the upper hand. And Knox, despite not being a crime reporter any longer, had to be there. Officially, he was just there to help Marty Yan get it right. But she was ready to do this without him. And he wanted to see history in the making.

Zucco was untouchable. He had managed to survive years of mob infighting and endless investigations without a scratch. He even got out of the Joker’s killing spree with his hide and his organization intact. No one wanted to call him Gotham’s Godfather, or its last surviving ganglord, but he qualified as both. And Dent somehow made an indictment stick when no one else at the local or federal level ever had.

“My friends, you know me to be one to get to the crux of the matter. So here we go. As of 1:15 pm today, Anthony Zucco is a guest of the Gotham Correctional Facility. A warrant for his arrest was issued at 11 pm last night, and we took him and several associates into custody as what he thought was a safehouse early this morning. Thanks to the diligent efforts of the men and women of the DA’s office, the Gotham police, the US Attorney’s office, and the FBI and DEA, Boss Zucco has been served noticed!” It was very unprofessional of many in that crowd of reporters to applaud, but it was also hard not to. Knox didn’t

“The details of the warrant are long and dull, and you can read all about them in the press release than my office is distributing as I speak. But you know what we have him for. And you know that we are once again sending a message to the mob, and to the people, that Gotham is no longer a playground for crime!” Dent, Knox mused, played the crowd well. He would be a shoo-in for outright election. Assuming he could get the conviction.

“I also wish to announce that given the importance of the case, I will return to the courtroom and face Zucco and his cadre of shameless mob lawyers myself.” That silenced the reporters. DAs don’t try cases. A grandstand ploy? Well, yes, of course. Only Knox got the sense that Dent wasn’t leaving it to chance. That in Gotham, if you want it done right, you do it yourself.

Dent began taking questions, and then cut off the crowd after five. The show was over for Knox. There wasn’t anything here that needed a column just yet, but the story was far from over. Soon, Zucco would make bail. There would be the usual hearings and subpoenas and accusations from both Dent and Zucco’s lawyers. And there would be the trial. The biggest mob trial Gotham would see in decades.

It should have excited the veteran reporter. But he had a sense that Dent had gone too fast. There was a reason that Gordon and the Feds never brought in Zucco. Surely Dent understood that. Or did Dent have a secret weapon? Was Batman really getting the goods? Was that even usable in court? Only time would tell, but Knox couldn’t shake that bad feeling.

He left the press conference, passing a few reporters he knew, and noticed a familiar face. One that was out of place, at that. What was Matches Malone, the waterfront’s most notorious third-rate gangster, doing here? Did he want to be arrested to? Or was he just confirming that Zucco had indeed been arrested? Hell, given the longstanding bad blood between Malone and the Zucco family, was it possible that Dent had gotten Malone to testify? Knox thought to say hello just to see how Malone reacted, but Matches was gone. Odd.

Knox went for a cup of hot coffee, and then headed home, to see how it all played on the 6 o’clock news.
gotham_knocking: (At work)
Knox was rousted from a sound sleep at the (okay, not terribly early) hour of 8 am by an insistent phone. He checked to see that Rapunzel hadn't been disturbed - she wasn't - and took the call in the living room.


"Knox, it's Marty." Behind her was a whole lot of background noise.

"Any reason you had to wake me?"

"It's not that early, so I thought you'd be up."

"Life of a columnist, Marty. So, what's the story."

"I'm at police headquarters. Things are hopping here. Dent started a round-up overnight."

Marty couldn't see Knox' eyebrow jump up. "A mob round-up? Who's he going after? Batman or the Joker took care of everybody."

"No offense, Knox, but you know better than that. And he's chasing Maroni's men."

Knox whistled. "You're kidding. No one touches him. He's connected to the mobs in Philly and Metro. Even Chicago. And the guy's laid low."

"You're not keeping up, boss." Of late, Marty was sarcastically calling Knox "boss" but he didn't mind. "That big a power vaccum was too tempting. He's been consolidating things. I did a story on it last month, remember?"

"You did a story about police speculation. Which, you will recall, I had you shift the focus to the cops and Dent's office from the rumors."

"Well, the rumors were true. Must be thirty guys under arrest here. It's a mob lawyer convention right now."


"Nope. Nothing about him yet, but Harvey Lee is addressing the press in ninety. Thought you'd want to know."

"You thought I'd want to be there. And you're right." Even with his crime reporting days behind him, Knox was fascinated by the story. Harvey Lee Dent's rather brusque style was unusual for a DA, a drastic change from the level-headed Harvey D. Dent and from the well-groomed but plastic faces at the US Atorney's OFfice. "Any word of the Feds being in on this?"

"Not yet. I think Dent took the lead on it, and will tell us everything."

"Yup. I'll meet you there." Knox hung up the phone, and went to get dressed, and to let a groggy Raps know why he was rushing out.


"I think you all know why you're here. And I'm pretty busy today, so I'll get to the point: we have delcared war on the Mob in Gotham City once and for all. And this time we are making it absoutely clear than the Mob is done for and that we will not tolerate men like Sal Maroni in this city anymore!" Harvey Lee Dent stood at the microphone at the top of the stairs of Gotham's aging police headquarters. He could have run the news conference from the press room inside the building, but he preferred the more dramatic backdrop, though Knox would have added that the air conditioning inside was probably on the fritz. "As of now we have arrested 34 suspected lieutentants and soldiers of the Maroni crime family, and that's just the start. Soon we are confident that the evidence will be place to make sure that Maroni himself knows his place."

Flashbulbs popped and forty hands went up to ask questions, but for a minute Dent stood there and took it in. Knox didn't doubt that the man cared about his job and his adopted home, but was he too eager to impress, or too quck to revel in the attention?

"I'm sure you have a lot of questions, but I'll have to leave them to my press officers. However, I can anticipate a few. Yes, we are working with the Feds on this. Most of the arrests are RICO-related. But US Attorney Foley has agreed that the lead on this should come from the city. We know the cases. We know the turf. We know how Maroni avoided this for years.

"And I say this now. Sal Maroni's time as a free man is over!" A few reporters, caught up in the moment, applauded. Knox didn't and Marty scowled. The DA repeated a few ideas, and then left the rest of the press conference to his press officers.


"Arrogant cuss, isn't he?" Marty addressed Knox as they were walking back to the office, him with an iced coffee and her with a bottled water.

"By Gotham standards, he's not bad. I interviewed him when he first made it clear he wanted the job. I think he really does care about the city, and really is tired of one generation of mobsters after another showing up and making things difficult." In fact, he agreed with her, but wanted to see where she was headed.

"Making a proclamation like that, though...he'd just tempting Maroni to try something. DAs have been killed over less."

"You said it yourself. Maroni's laid low. I think that Dent's game is to flush him out into the open by saying stuff like that. Most mobsters can't leave well enough alone when DAs talk that way." Knox slupred the last of his iced coffee.

"I hope he doesn't regret it," Marty emphasized. "Still, it's a good story. Front page?"

"Should be. Dent's photogenic. And that drawl makes for good sound bites, so we have to keep up with the TV types. You ready for a front page byline?"

Marty smiled, perhaps pleased that he has paid attention to her development, or maybe just happy that they let her cover this story. "I had one in Chicago. I shared it, but my name was there. Mom ordered thirty copies of it."

"Fair enough, but this is Gotham. This is the big show."

"If you say so." Knox wondered how long it would be before Marty convinced her fiance to request a transfer out of the city. Some people just don't seem right for Gotham.

The office building that was home to PM loomed before them. "You better get to work. Evening edition's due soon."

"No need to remind me, boss. I know my job."

"Good. I'll catch you later. Ned to do some research." Marty entered the building, seemingly even forgetting she was talking to Knox. He didn't mind that. She was much closer to being ready to go it alone than Casey was. He'd tell her editor this soon.

He turned and caught a bus towards the main library. He had the idea for the next column: a reminder of the history of Gotham's mobs (whihc would require digging through old newspapers for a while). It was, he would admit, a step back to being a crime reporter, but he had the idea that if Dent was dead serious, people needed to know why.
gotham_knocking: (Default)
The new apartment awaits its guests. Brand new folding chairs line the walls of the dining room, and the living room is as clean as possible.

Almost everything is ready. Let the housewarming begin!
gotham_knocking: (Default)
Knox was getting to be a regular presence at PM. Twice a week, at least, he would come in to chat with Marty Yan and Casey Harnick. And to their credit, both paid attention to him.

Marty still wasn't thrilled that she was stuck with him. And Knox almost agreed. She had an instinct for crime reporting, one she had honed on the sensational Van Fleet murder in Chicago. Once you've dealt with a dead socialite, scheming ex-spouses, fumbling detectives, and the rest of the Chicago media, Gotham crime isn't that hard. But both knew that her knowledge of Gotham was very limited. So he'd tell her local history, anecdotes, all the things she'd need to understand the city. She took it in, but he was sure she was still hoping her fiance would quit and take a job in Central City. She really wasn't at home here.

Casey knew the city, but he needed an education in how to be a reporter. He wasn't aggressive enough. More over, he thought he could listen to the questions other people asked and draw his own conclusions without thinking he needed to speak up. Casey claimed he was getting the point, but his stories still showed a certain lack of insight. Teaming Harnick and Yan had worked a few times, but that wasn't the goal, and Knox suspected that Casey might not make it as a crime reporter.

Still, he was starting to like the job, and his charges. Marty didn't take any crap, Casey was a fellow Batman enthusiast, and both liked his stories of the 70s. Each had even tossed a few ideas for columns at him, and over lunch once or twice, they had dissected the pluses and minuses of the new DA, Harvey Lee Dent, and whether he would really bring down the city's newest Mob boss, Sal Maroni.


Knox arrived from the August swelter, basked in the air conditioner, and looked for his pupils.

"Hey, Knox." Casey came in from the file room, weighted down with at least eight overstuffed manila folders and envelopes. "Good column."

"Thanks, kid." Casey was "Kid" simply because someone had to be, and Marty would bristle. "What's with the folders?"

"Research on Maroni. He's been around. Did you know he tried to do a hit on Grissom three times?"

"Do you know who you're talking to? I covered two of those. You need to check my old paper for the real story. And to talk to people. Those folders are just facts, remember."

"Facts first. Then interviews." Casey said that often. Knox was sure it was a mantra from J-school, and therefore to be eradicated. "There's an envelope fro you on my desk, by the way. By messenger."

"For me? Couldn't they just mail me my check?" Knox didn't know who'd be sending him anything by messenger, but it could be a scoop, so he hurried to find it before Casey buried it.

"Huh. It's from the GPA. Am I behind on my dues?"

"GPA?" Casey dropped the files on his desk with a WHUMP.

"Gotham Press Association. The union's more professional face. They do luncheons and networking and awards." Awards...it was the right time of year, but they never, ever nominated him.

He tore open the envelope fast, and read the note inside. Three times.

"Oh, man, Ohhhhh, man!" Knox's eyes lit up. "I'm nominated!" He handed Casey the letter.

We are pleased to inform you that you have been nominated for a Gotham Press Association Award for Sustained Excellence in Beat Reporting

"Congrats, Knox!"

"Been waiting years for this, kid. Years. Guess the Bat put me over the top." The Bat, and the exclusive about Mayor's Borg's indictiment - which he regretted by now - and the stories about the blizzard, all adding up to one last burst of reporting acumen. "I wonder who else is nominated. Not that I care. This is big. Not Pulitzer big, but I'll take it.

"Where's Marty? I should buy you guys lunch."

"Downtown. She got an interview with the old Harvey Dent."

"Really? Good for her." There was a tiny hint in his voice that Casey should be next to get that sort of story. For the day, though, Knox wouldn't give anyone a hard time. He folded the note up, stuffed it back in the envelope, stuffed the envelope in his pocket, and smiled some more.

[ooc: Special thanks to [livejournal.com profile] a_is_for_amy for the germ of the idea.]

The Secret

Jun. 6th, 2007 09:23 am
gotham_knocking: (Default)
Alex sat in his living room with two photocopies. One was from a recent article about Superman, the other from a group photo taken of the staff of the Daily Planet. The quality of neither was that good, and the face he was looking for in the second photo was not that large. So at first, he couldn't entirely see the resemblance between Clark Kent and Superman.

But then he drew a pair of large glasses and additional hair on the picture of Superman. And there it was...Superman really did look like Clark Kent. And according to Allie, to a 10 year old psychic whose powers and whose discretion about those powers both needed fine tuning, there was a good reason for that.

Even though he had no intention of going public with such knowledge - first off, you don't do that to Superman, and secondly he had no real proof that would stand up to even the lowest journalistic standard - he had to look into the matter. His curiosity wouldn't let him stand still, would it? So he spend the day at the main branch of the library, looking at microfilm of the Daily Planet, looking at whatever reference sources he could find in that underfunded place.

The pieces did come together, if you knew where to look. Clark Kent's first byline ran just days after Superman's public debut. Kent seemed to have a few Superman stories that requires his presence on the scene (though not many). Kent and Supes were about the same height. And if you were going to hide your life as the world's greatest hero, where better than under facade of a bumbling and decidedly unheroic reporter?

Just the fact that Superman had another face was a big deal. Knox had assumed, pretty much like everyone else, that Superman arrived on Earth from his lost world shortly before he started his heroic career. And that he was always Superman, with no other identity or concerns (not that being Superman didn't come with the weight of the world attached). But if he was also Clark Kent, he was here a lot longer. It was a matter of public record - as indicated in Who's Who in American Journalism - that Clark was raised in Smallville, Kansas. In other words, he grew up on Earth (much as his counterpart from Chloe's world is). It meant that so much everyone thought they knew about Superman was wrong. (It also explained why Supes sounded like a Kansas farmboy sometimes.)

Was this a betrayal of the public trust? Surely Superman can't keep secrets, can he? Knox didn't think that was so. Everyone was entitled to not be in the public eye every second of every minute. Superman must have needed that refuge. And Superman has surely earned it, too.

More troubling was that Kent clearly had an advantage over other reporters. Which mght be why there weren't all that many Superman stories with his byline. In both his lives, the Man of Steel stood for integrity. There was no way he couldn't strive for it even when those lives met. But wasn't there something else Superman could do that wouldn't create that conflict of interest? The only conclusion Knox reached was that maybe Kent felt the same calling. That even Superman really wanted to report the truth as much as he wanted to represent it.

Lane...did Lane know? She's worked with Kent for years, and certainly knows Supes as well as anyone. Surely she could see the similarities in their faces. She was the best, after all. But if she knew...would that count as an unfair advantage? Would that merely be having the granddaddy of sources to protect, an insider to make Deep Throat seem insignificant? Or was their some kind of arrangement where she kept quiet and he didn't steal her stories? Knox wouldn't put it past Lane.

Or maybe, without a 10 year old psychic to tell the truth, even Lois Lane wouldn't see it. We don't want out heroes to be so limited, so meek and mild, even when we aren't looking. They have to be perfect. All the time.

It was a lot to absorb. Alex Knox knew the biggest secret of the 20th century now. He might be able to tell one or two trusted friends in the Bar. But that was it. You don't tug on Superman's cape.

And yet...suppose it wouldn't be a poke at Superman to do this. Suppose it wouldn't end Clark Kent's career, or expose him to further revenge at the hands of enemies like Luthor who might come after him while he slept (he does sleep, doesn't he?). Could he ever go public with this?

He remembered The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, that late Western with the Duke and Jimmy Stewart. He never cared for it much, since Stewart was too old for the part, and since the Duke was verging on self-parody, but mainly because of how it ended. Of how a reporter, after hearing the truth about the protagonist's life, said "when the legend becomes fact, print the legend." In Knox's estimation, the legend was never the fact. A reporter told the truth, always. But now he understood. The fact that that Superman was also Clark Kent. The fact was that the Man of Steel was a clumsy reporter with a high voice and ridiculous glasses. The legend was that Superman was the person everyone wanted to be. The legend was the fact, wasn't it?

Alex Knox filed away the photocopies and his notes in a drawer in his bedroom. Maybe someday they might be of some use. Today, they were merely facts.
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It took Knox over an hour by commuter rail and foot to reach PM from Bristol. After years of a half hour commute, this would take some getting used to. Maybe, if he was lucky, the ads promising "Gotham in 45 minutes!" would be accurate once in a while. He stopped along the way from Gotham Central Station for a large iced coffee, and hoped that the heat would break soon.

At least PM (unlike the Globe) had central air conditioning. The paper's owners actually spent money once in a while. He made his way up to the newsroom for the first time. All those times he visited Teller, he went to the floor with the printing operation, where Teller felt an editorial page editor could be free of undue influence. (And where, Knox could add, where everyone else could be free of Teller's winning personality.) The newsroom was far cheerier than Teller's private cave. And much nicer than what Knox used to see every day at his old job.

He weaved past banks of desks, each sporting some form of word processor or PC. Gone was the click-click-clack-ding the typerwriters, replaced by the louder, faster clack-clack-whirr of daisy wheel printers. Even the older staff had moved into the electronic age, though he still saw a few Selectrics in use, and one or two old manual typewriters (for show, probably). It would be another two years, he thought, till the Globe would catch up to this. He missed that newsroom.

Knox found City Editor Danny Nance's office along the far wall, and entered. "Nance?" The red-haired man, beard closely trimmed and looking in relatively good shape for a desk jockey, looked up from the morning paper. "Knox! Welcome aboard." Nance rose and extended a hand. "Last time we met was...the Griswold murders?"

Knox thought for a second. "Yeah. You got kicked in here right after that, right?"

"My reward. It's a living." Knox was quite survey Nance had no regrets, but was willing to let Nance pretend otherwise. "The hours are better, and my shoes last longer."

"And you can afford shoes. So, I hear it was you who suggested I play nursemaid?" No reason that he should also play games, was there?

"It was just my idea to have you meet Casey and Marty. Teller ran with it."


"You know him. He can never do a favor for you without getting two in return." That was true, but at this point, it didn't matter who came up with it. Knox agreed, and that was that. "We'll try to make this easy for you. Painless."

"Painless would be they learn the way I did and I write my column." Nance sat back down, gestured for Knox to do likewise, and just shrugged. "Tell me about these kids. They here today?"

"Casey's at the courthouse. A few new Mob indictments, nothing big. Marty is in Little Rome. Something about a hit, but that's unconfirmed. But they'll be back this afternoon."

"I can wait a couple of days. I'd rather read some more of their stuff first, and hear what you got on them. Your hires?"

"Yes and no. I had the final say about whether they do the City Desk, but they came from a larger pool of tykes. They're not the absolute best, but Marshall needed a new face in Washington, and pulled rank." That gets Knox to laugh. Marshall was known for that from his days in Features at the Globe.

"Casey Harnick first."

"Raised in Haven County, BA from St. Crispin's, college paper and some freelance work for a free weekly in Tricorner. Master's from King's, as I'm sure Bert told you. And before you say anything, Knox, yes, I'm not a big fan of the J-school crew either, but this is how we hire them sometimes."

"Any work in Metropolis?"

"Not much. School wanted him to keep busy but also get an internship, but they shoved him towards magazines. Which he says he hated."

"And why come back here? Metro's got a lot going on."

"And fewer papers. And everyone wants to be there and bask in the big red S overhead. Gotham? Not much competition for this kind of job."

"Why crime?"

"It was my choice to grab him, so that's not a good question. But he's pretty quick on the draw, and even growing up in the 'burbs, you have a sense of this town's bad side."

"Yeah, his work's not bad. A go-getter?"

"He's good at listening to other reporters' questions at press conferences and finding the real answers, but he's afraid to speak up. If you teach him anything, you better him teach him that."

"You want me to get him to be pushy. I can try." Can you teach pushy? Knox wasn't sure. "Anything else?"

"He's good with deadlines, and with research - he might have learned that in J-school. And he shares your enthusiasm over the Bat. I think he would have quit if we didn't relent about Batman."

"I wouldn't have blamed him. Crime reporting IS reporting on the Bat. And you guys - no offfense - were dumb in banning him."

"That came from on high. No proof he was real, and so on. And then came the blizzard and enough eyewitnesses to lift our doubts. Though between us, sales were down. Your Bat-stories were doing a lot for the Globe's bottom line."

"Then why didn't they pay me more?" OK, they did give him that huge Christmas bonus, but he wasnt' going to say that here. "He's a good story. Should be for years."

"Casey wants to get that first interview, you know. I bet it never happens."

"He can dream, right?" Knox shared that dream, after all. "And Yan?"

"Martina Yan...everyone calls her Marty. Grew up in Central City, did her undergrad at Midwestern before Medill. Skipped the college paper, since she paid her way through. Was part-time with the Picture News for three years, mainly doing gopher stuff, with a few uncredited pieces here and there. I think she was one of Joe Kline's researchers before he moved to TV."

"Yeah, another sell out. Haven't thought about him in ages. Remember him and us in Metro during the Son of Stan murders? But he never suffered fools, so that's a vote in her favor."

"He suffered you, but yes, that's a good thing. She then went to J-school and interned with the Standard. Remember the Von Fleet murder?"

"They let an intern in on that?"

"It was a huge story in Chicago. Everyone wanted to know know who killed Sandy Von Fleet, and every paper benefitted. She knew the right questions, and they got some big scoops, all of which were never attributed publicly to her. She's a bit prickly about bylines because of that."

"You checked on that?"

"You're still a cynic, Knox. I called her editor, and he admitted it. Even joked about it. He's not fond of women, or minorities. Lord knows how he doesn't get fired in this day and age."


"Like I said, cynic. Marty is a natural for the crime desk, but because she's like 5 foot 1, and a woman, she has trouble being seen. So it's been a bit of an adjustment for her here." Which is to say, Gotham's cadre of sexist reporters and sexist cops and politicians were making it hard. "She's not afraid to make herself heard, though. Wish she'd rub off on Casey."

"And how's she handling this town?"

"She hates it. Her fiancee got a great job with Wayne, so she had to follow, but she'd rather be in the Midwest. She insists Central City is perfect."

"She know about the biker gangs there?"

"She would rather deal with them than our array of mobsters and thugs. She might be right."

"And how are they reacting to having an old hand guiding them?"

"With sighs and shrugs. She'll give you a hard time. He'll pretend it's okay but I bet he isn't going to listen much, either. Which, I would guess, is how you would have reacted at that age."

"At that age I'd been in the game for years."

"And they feel the same way. No point in telling them otherwise."

"Nope. Goes with being young. Anything else I need?"

"Not yet. I'm still trying to decide how hands on you should be. We have a month till you have to start, so I can think about it and talk it over with you. But no one - well, maybe Teller - wants you to do their work for them. We just want to polish them for six months, and let you do that column."

"Glad to know that."
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The last mover left Knox's old apartment at 11:38 am on July 1, 1990. They told him they would meet him in Bristol in about an hour (which was, given Gotham traffic, optimistic but not impossible). That left him a couple of minutes to look at the old place one last time.

It wasn't empty. Some furniture - including the old couch that he wanted to save but that Rapunzel declared beyond help and his rickety kitchenette table - took up space. But the one-bedroom was devoid of almost everything that defined it as Alexander Knox's home. The old posters of Tom Seaver and Joe Namath...the bookshelves filled with true crime and reference books...the mismatched sets of dishes he assembled over the years...record albums from the 70s, when he was heavily into rock for a while...even the suits he wore to weddings and funerals and boring award dinners. All gone.

And as he looked around, he realized that the place didn't hold many memories. Oh, there were the recent nights with Raps, and before that with Lynne Vega and Georgia Maxwell (lord, that was in 1978. What ever happened to Gorgeous Georgia, anyway?). And a few get-togethers with friends for poker and beer and sports. But the big moments were elsewhere. Holidays tended to be at Lynne's place, even now. He watched the Super Bowl and the World Series at friends, or at Murray's or the Deadline. He never wrote anything here till the past few months. There were even days he showered in the locker room in the sub-basement of the Globe.

He lived here. He had some good times. But it was never his place. It was just a rental. For fifteen years. Heck, he felt more attachment to his rooms at the Bar.

He walked around one last time, making sure he didn't miss anything. He even peeked in the fridge, and saw that even his last beer was gone as well. All the dirty clothes, all the dirty magazines, all the dirt on a city renowned for it, all packed up.

He left, locking the four locks one last time, and leaving the keys in the inbox of the superintendent's part-time assistant. He went to the filthy alley behind the building and got in his old car, glad that it had survived one final night in the car theft capital of America. (He wondered if anyone had tried to swipe the Batmobile yet.) He wasn't through with this city, of course. His new job would bring him to this area often, no doubt. But as the apartment building vanished in his rearview mirrors, he never looked back.

Instead, he drove towards Bristol.
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I have cancer. Those were the first words in Walt Villard's column on June 23. The venerable old reporter went on to talk a little about being sick, and a lot about how he would be retiring from the column he had been writing for twenty years and from the business he'd been in since 1949. And Alex Knox read it and felt just a little guilty. For he really wished there was another way to get a column than taking Walt's place.

But Walt was the one who was making it happen. Alex knew that. And it was a huge honor to be pegged by Gotham's grand old curmudgeon as his heir. Still, he hoped that Walt would stage a miraculous recovery and take back the job.

The job, however was his. A fact he finally learned on the morning of the 24th.

"It's yours, Knox. With some caveats." The voice was that of Bert Teller, the balding, gruff and humorless editorial page editor of PM. Alex's new boss.

"That means strings."

"You start in six weeks. Two days after Walt leaves. One column a week for the next six months, and then we'll see about making it two. Full salary and benefits." He names a figure that is more than Knox was getting (not that Teller knows Knox has money to burn).

"And the string?"

"Tom Hemming just quit. He's off to Detroit."

"I'm not a crime beat guy anymore, remember?"

"We're short-handed. And paying you full-time money for one day a week. You want that money, you have to help.

"I'm not going on the beat again. If I wanted that, I would have stayed at the Globe." Knox could feel Teller pushing his buttons. A test of what Teller could get away with?

"We need you to lend a hand, not much more. No all-night visits to Crime Alley and Police HQ. But you'll work the phones a bit, use your connections for quotes, gather facts, like you would for your column. And you'll help the new kids."

"Ah-ha! You want me to do the legwork while your break in some punk out of J-school!" He knew this was fishy.

"We want you to teach a couple of young reporters how things work in Gotham. They'll do all the work, like you did when you were a punk kid."

"Are they J-school kids?"

There was a pause, and then a snarl. "Yeah. One's from King's and the other from Medill." At least Knox was sure that Teller didn't like journalism school grads that much either.

"Metropolis and Chicago...what on Earth are they doing here?"

"One's born and raised here, did college at St. Crispin's. The other...her fiancee got a job at Wayne."

"I'm not a babysitter. Or a mentor. And this town will eat them alive."

"And you can help them shamble along, Knox. Didn't anyone help you?"

"Yeah, but he wasn't a columnist."

"It's for six months. After that, we cut them loose from you. Or can them. On your say-so, by the way."

Knox went quiet and thought about this. He didn't like this arrangement. He worked well with others, but wasn't being a columnist about working on your own? He didn't love the notion of playing coach to anyone, especially overeducated out-of-towners. "And if I say no?"

"One column every two weeks, at a freelance rate, no benefits."

"Can't you find someone else to do this?"

"We're short-staffed, remember? And the city editor thinks we'd be wasting your skills."

City editor...Danny Nance...used to work the crime beat, and wasn't bad. "That's behind me."

"Take it or leave it." Knox could leave it. He doesn't need the money. Or the agita. But he would have to explain why he could walk away from the salary and the benefits. One way or another, he'd have to explain why he's doing to his friends and colleagues, and it would be easier to explain how he got shanghaied into babysitting duties.

"Take it. But I'm not starting classes till I start full-time, got it?"

"Didn't think you would. But you can start boning up. One of your charges is Casey Hornick, the King's boy. The other is Martina Yan. You can follow their bylines till then."


He hung up the phone and went looking for today's paper. No time like the present, he thought, to start getting caught up, and caught in his new job's rather odd net.
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His first thought as he woke up on a humid June morning was that the bed seemed large. Which was funny, since it was the same old bed he'd slept in for eight years. It wasn't the big new bed in his new apartment, or in his suite at the Bar. This could only mean that maybe it was a nice thing to have someone else in the bed in the morning. That made him smile as he rolled out of bed and got his day going.

He looked out the window into the alley, seeing the haze. The heat of summer was still further south, but Gotham had managed to grab its share of humidity, and Alex made a mental note to get an AC in to his new place fast. The air conditioner in his old place was just good enough for normal hot weather, and hummed something awful. It would be left behind with most of his furniture, a gift to the next tenant.

As he shaved and showered, he was thinking of Rapunzel. And her tale. If nothing else, he realized that there was a lot he didn't know about her. And probably a lot she didn't know about him. But he looked forward to correcting that further. And he was sure that even if he hadn't know all about her, he knew what she was about. The compassion, the spirit, the shine in her eye...he knew where they all came from now.

There was still a lot to absorb, though. He would never fully appreciate what she had been through. To lose what she had, to survive...that was her story and her burden. He could share in the burden by being her friend and lover, and by retelling the story (with her input, once he began writing it). But he could never take it away. He knew, though, that she would never ask him to do that. Raps was...well, he was beginning to think she was amazing. An amazing woman who could face the worst the world had to offer and still manage to find a way to laugh.

"Alex," he said to the mirror as he combed his hair and applied fresh clumps of tissue paper to his daily shaving cuts, "you are one lucky man."

A lucky man who had a lot to do. Moving day was fast approaching. So was Shufti's wedding. And soon, he hoped, that job offer would come from Bert Teller. There would be time for deep thoughts later. Now, it was time for breakfast, and getting his tux to the cleaners.

The Debate

Apr. 6th, 2007 01:01 pm
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The mayoral debate was about what Knox expected. The front-runners - a former councilman named Hamilton Hill, who had the endorsement of Bruce Wayne, and a career machine politician named Armond Krol – spend the night ignoring the other three candidates present and taking turns bashing Mayor Borg. Knox wanted to like Hill, but for all his purported honesty, Hill offered little substance.

It was halfway through the debate when Caroline Curtis finally got to talk for more than ten seconds. She was a former community activist who was Housing Commissioner for five long, unsuccessful years under Borg. And she could speak. Instead of platitudes, there was ideas about reviving a broken economy. And there was passion. She fought her way up from the slums, Knox recalled, and cared about low income housing when no one but Borg and a handful of councilmen could even be bothered.

For the rest of the event, Knox listened to her as he tuned out Hill and Krol. Her words had substance. She didn’t once attack Borg, though she let Krol have it a few times. She had ideas for how to fix Gotham, and was even more ready to accept the Bat than Hill, who was a rather tepid supporter of Gordon’s policy. Sadly, it seemed than no one in the auditorium was listening to her except him and Andy Rodriguez, another community activist running for mayor. Knox wondered if seeing how the city treated Curtis would discourage Rodriguez. He hoped not, but would bet otherwise.

Her closing statement was eloquent and calm and full of hope for a city that had precious little. Knox took down every word. He wondered why she wasn’t the front runner. What is because she was a woman? Maybe? Or because she was African-American? No, Gotham had elected Harvey L. Dent. Maybe black AND a woman was too much. Or maybe she was just too much of an outsider. Hill, despite being a reformer, was as much part of the machine as Krol. She had rejected the machine when she left office.

Knox hurried back home to compose his column.

“There is a candidate for mayor of this hard-bitten city I think you should consider voting for. A veteran politician. A reformer. A woman. Named Caroline Curtis. I doubt you’ve paid attention to her. She can’t afford commercials. She doesn’t have a machine behind her to get out the vote. I would guess some of you don’t know her name at all. Or think that at best, you know her but feel a vote for her is one that Hamilton Hill won’t have.

“ I think you need to know more about Caroline Curtis. And about what she stands for.”

Racing deadline – something that Knox loved with a passion – he submitted the column with ten minutes to spare. A weary Bert Teller vetted it, made some tiny changes, and sent it to composition (but not before suggesting Knox get a home computer, as soon they would be able to handle stories on floppy discs, and faster). Teller’s silence about the topic was nearly a word of approval.

The next morning, Knox read the column four times. It was the best thing he ever wrote. He was sure of it. Just as he was sure that come Election Night, Hamilton Hill would still win, and that Caroline Curtis would still finish out of the running.

Someplace across town, in a small but orderly office, Caroline Curtis read the column, and had her first smile in days. She sent a note to Knox care of the paper, just to say thanks.

And in a grotto under a certain mansion, a tired Bruce Wayne, freshly out of his night clothes and nursing a cup of tea, took note of Knox’s words and promised himself he would make a suggestion to Hill about a possible deputy mayor.
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No one told Knox was the date on the calendar is. Yes, he really should be paying attention - June 1 at home equals April 1 here. But with eleven days to the election, his mind isn't on the day.

More fool he as her arrives at his room.
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