The three shots of Jim Beam I’d had to calm my nerves hadn’t helped in the slightest – if anything they’d just made me more paranoid and tense. What happened over the next few moments would make my fortune – or ruin me.
I’d sensed he was there and turned around just to catch him awkwardly outstretching a hand to tap me on the shoulder. He stopped in his tracks and his arms returned to his side. For a few moments his hand twitched, as though he were contemplating whether to extend them for a handshake, but his nerves got the better of him and they relaxed.
“I’m - I’m not in the habit of meeting strange men in bars, Mr. Denny”, he began, “But I’ll admit your phone call intrigued me.”
He wasn’t as I’d expected. From his brave and confident writing that I’d admired for quite a while, I’d mistakenly expected this to be reflected in the man that stood before me. How did this cumbersome clumsy looking bespectacled man ever earn a Pulitzer price?
He looked me up down whilst adjusting his glasses and gestured towards an empty booth.
“Maybe we should go somewhere a little more private before you tell me why you’ve bought me here, Mr. Denny.”
I grabbed the remainder of my drink and sat down opposite him in the booth. The jukebox was right behind us and blaring out some old Laurie Anderson track. My first thought was that we’d struggle to hear each other, but perhaps based on the information I had, the less eavesdroppers that heard, all the better. And to the credit of the journalist, he heard every word I said.
“I think you should start making space on your shelf for a second Pulitzer prize”, I opened, “Provided you’re willing to reward me handsomely for this information. I have conclusive proof that billionaire Bruce Wayne is none other than The Batman”.
There followed a moment of awkward silence. I couldn’t read his expression – either he was completely blown away by the revelation or, more than likely, thought me an idiot.
“That’s quite an allegation, Mister Denny”, he replied once he’d regained his composure, “Of course you have proof?”
“You honestly think I’d take on of the most powerful men in the world without concrete evidence?”, I snapped, “A man, at that, who dresses like a flying rodent and acts above the law, dispatching vigilante justice against those who he sees fit? I’ll admit I’m almost scared to share this information with you, so I’ll have to insist before this conversation goes any further that I’ll be assured full anonymity.”
Another awkward silence. I reached for my glass and took a small sip of Bourbon whilst I waited for the journalist to take the next move.
He looked intrigued but suspicious – and who could blame him? There’s not a week that the National Enquirer isn’t filled with nonsensical unfounded superhero related tales and as far as he was concerned mine was just another one of them. In a rare moment of unfortunate synchronicity, a television on mute in the corner was showing an episode of Maury with the tagline “Martian Manhunter fathered my children!” proudly blazing from the bottom of the screen. The DNA test would prove to be false, as it was with every superhero paternity test of the week. The child would be that of some dumb toothless hick, completely devoid of any martian DNA.
He looked hurt, as though I'd insulted him. "Mister Denny", he said, raising his voice, "I’m a journalist of some reputation, and I pride myself on my sources always remaining a secret. But I’d of course insist that you give me something concrete, because I don’t like being made to look a fool.”
I reached inside my coat pocket, removed a small manila envelope and slid it across the table. My heart raced as he carefully picked it up with his huge clumsy fingers and removed the photograph from within.
He stared at it, and then to me, and then back at the photograph again.
“Is – is this genuine?”, he gasped, and placed the photograph down on the table.
A black and white photograph printed on photo paper – a slightly blurred shot of the Batman lying on his back, eyes closed, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth and the jet black cowl pulled up to his forehead revealing the distinctive features of Bruce Wayne.
“Indeed it is”, I said, smug in the knowledge that the journalist, from his tone, was completely and utterly astounded, “A case of being in Gotham at exactly the right place at exactly the right time, just after Batman there had been knocked off a roof by Killer Croc and was unconscious for less than a minute. Alone in an alleyway, or so he thought. And I had my phone. And just enough time.”
“But photographs can be faked, Mr. Denny. Or his lawyers’ll say it was fancy dress. And I’ll need more than just an out of focus picture to-“
“That’s the worst photograph of the bunch, to be fair. That one photograph, four years ago on a business trip to Gotham, woke up something in me. I began a crusade.”
I picked up my glass and finished the remainder. I allowed the bitter taste to swill around my mouth before swallowing and continuing.
Returning the photograph to its envelope, I gestured to the barman for another drink. The man sitting opposite me was visibly shaken. I’d shared the truth with somebody for the first time in nearly half a decade, and he believed me. It felt good to be vindicated.
Armed with a fresh glass of Jim Beam, I leant back in my chair.
“So, what matters is – do we have a deal?”
“You can take me to this dossier?”
“Absolutely not. Where it is has to remain a secret for my own safety. If you’re interested I could retrieve it and we could go over the contents and take it from there. If you’re not, I’ll find somebody else who is and we’ll never meet again.”
“I’m definitely interested, Mr. Denny. And we’re certainly sure of resources to ensure that you’re.. compensated for your efforts. And for something this big, I can wait around until you return.”
We shook hands and I left the bar as the journalist settled back into his chair. As I walked past the bar I placed the photograph back into my pocket and looked back in to see him on his phone, presumably sorting out how I’d be paid for this huge scoop.
I hadn’t kept the evidence at my flat – if Batman even suspected I knew of his secret (although I was quite convinced he didn’t) a man of his resources could find where I was staying in no time whatsoever, even though I’d done my best to keep my location a secret. Paying for things with cash and not on cards, and the like – the evidence that I'd even left Gotham to come here was small at best. I headed to the subway where I’d had it all kept in a storage locker. Fumbling around in my back pocket I retrieved the tiny metal key as I walked towards the –
A red blur…
-and I suddenly found myself on my back as though I’d been knocked off my feet. In a moment of panic I opened the palm of my hand but to my relief the key was still there. Unsteadily getting back up I approached the locker and turned the key to open it.
And the locker was empty.
And upon returning to the bar, the journalist was gone. Only my drink remained as evidence we'd ever met.
Of course with no evidence I was little more than a crackpot with a theory that I couldn’t prove. And the journalist, despite my insistence, would no longer return my calls. I’d wait outside the newspaper offices to try and catch his attention, to demand to know why I was being ignored, but after months of trying I gave up. I’d see him walking out of the building with a crowd of his colleagues and would push my way towards him but he’d be gone. Vanished into thin air. Every single time.
Damn you, Clark Kent.
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