Batgirl was much better prepared for the cold this time. She wore a specialized water-proof insulating layer of black fabric under her costume, and one over her head underneath the mask. It both kept her warm, and protected the part of her face that was normally exposed due to the costume’s design. Only her eyes could feel the chill in the air.
Rain was falling again, but it wasn’t freezing as it was the night before. It was still rather chilly – the cold snap affecting Gotham City showed no sign of letting up anytime soon. Completely water proof with her hair tucked inside her costume, she didn’t feel the cold or wet at all.
That gave her the advantage this time, as she was able to sit atop a two-floor apartment in a soaking rain without feeling a drop of it transmitted to her skin. She could sit atop that building all night if she had to, no matter the weather.
Two cops inside a police car below finally exited, batons drawn. They headed over to a large cardboard appliance box, turning it over suddenly. Inside was a man, huddled for warmth, looking up at the two officers as he suddenly found himself exposed to the elements.
Batgirl tensed as she watched the two cops lift the man by his arms, and pull him, stumbling, toward the car. But then she calmed herself when she realized that they were simply loading the homeless man into the back seat. It saddened her to see the poor man arrested for simply taking up space on the sidewalk…but politics wasn’t her business. And while the particulars of right and wrong were worked out, at least the man would be able to stay somewhere warm and dry for a night.
She sighed as the police car moved on. All of that anticipation and time spent stalking the officers, and they simply made a routine arrest and left. Now she would to go home after having spent nearly two hours doing nothing.
But just as she started to rise, she heard voices. Then suddenly the louder shattering of glass. She crouched even lower, trying not to be noticed as she spotted a small group walk toward the building she stood atop…and then across the street, to stand in the doorway of a shop.
There were four of them, and none spoke a single word. They used a series of hand signs and nods…which seemed very suspicious, almost ominous. Two of them were just lookouts, who seemed to be watching the police car which just left. The remaining two seemed to be lighting the top of a glass bottle with a cigarette lighter.
Alarm bells went off in Batgirl’s head. If they were standing in that doorway, they were either going to torch the shop behind them – which would be very dangerous to them – or more likely…
Another alarm went off in her mind when one of the two raised an arm and pointed up at a second floor window below her. Batgirl stood quickly, not caring if she were spotted by the group, and raced for the back of the building. She suddenly froze as she passed the door to the stairway below – it was emitting a telltale rotten-egg smell of gas!
She leapt across to the next building, still running as she realized…with the gas she smelled, it wouldn’t just be one building that blew. A full block’s worth could collapse if the buildings were old enough.
Batgirl removed a small radio device from her belt. She knew she promised never to use it while out on a separate mission from Batman…but she had no choice at this point. There was about to be an explosion, which meant she had to get away – big explosions attracted lots of cops, and the fire department. A stealthy retreat was no longer an option.
With a press of the button on the device, she whispered one word – “Batmobile.”
Batman turned suddenly and looked out through the fourth-floor window of an office building he was making his way through as he heard a familiar sound outside. His suspicions were confirmed when he saw the headlights of the Batmobile switch on and the car quickly slip out of the alley by itself. He narrowed his eyes as he realized…the only other person to be given a remote control for the car was Barbara. Since Robin would never steal from her, that meant Batgirl was in possession of the remote.
He wanted to reach for his own car remote and order the Batmobile to stop…but he had not yet secured the floor. He couldn’t risk speaking a word and attracting the attention of someone he had not yet located nearby. Batman had to hope, instead, that Batgirl had good reason for hijacking his transportation.
It didn’t take long for him to understand the reason. An explosion suddenly rattled the windows and shook the floor. He looked in the direction the explosion seemed to have originated – a large cloud of smoke was quickly rising from a faint orange glow.
He raised an eyebrow, pausing for a moment before quickly heading up to the roof. At least up that high, he would be able to get a better look.
Batgirl, a few blocks away, saw the Batmobile approach. She whispered one more command to her remote – ‘Open’ – and then dove from the top of a two-floor building just as the car was approaching. Her timing was almost perfect – she glided to a semi crash landing, bouncing off of the passenger seat and landing face-first into the driver’s seat.
Just as the sound of sirens began to approach, she sat up quickly and closed the canopy, taking control of the car to head back to Batman’s location. It was a rather long trip, considering that she had to go a roundabout way to avoid the approaching police cars and fire engines.
By the time she pulled into the alley next to the building she knew Batman was somewhere near. She felt slightly nervous – she had stolen one of Batman’s most valuable ‘toys’ – there was no way he would remain calm about that.
Batman appeared next to the passenger side of the car suddenly, opening the canopy without a word. Batgirl expected to have to slide over…but was surprised when Batman sat in the passenger seat instead and closed the canopy behind him. He only said two words. “Let’s go.”
Not a word was spoken even as Batgirl began driving away…and the car remained silent even after she arrived at the Bat Cave, and Batman climbed out to head to his dressing room to change.
She removed her mask, carefully stuffing it behind her belt, as she approached the computer terminal in the Bat Cave. Barbara was sitting there, doing some sort of research…and as she turned, she noticed the concerned look on Cassandra’s face.
“Don’t worry, he’s not upset with you,” Barbara whispered as she spun her wheelchair around to avoid having to twist her neck to look at Cassandra, “He just has a lot on his mind.”
Cassandra didn’t respond – she just slumped into the deep office chair next to Barbara and sighed. “I waited too long.”
“I’m not sure I understand.” Barbara shook her head.
“The explosion. I could have stopped it.”
“That’s my job,” Bruce’s voice suddenly interrupted. He pulled up a chair and sat down across from Cassandra, smiling for a moment at her confused gaze. “Look, Cassandra…there’s a reason my costume looks heavier and more expensive than yours. It’s not so I can show off…it’s designed to resist bullets, flames, and the like. Yours isn’t.”
He frowned when he heard a dismissive sigh from Cassandra. “What would you have done if those who caused the explosion would have decided to light you on fire instead?”
Cassandra didn’t respond. Instead, she looked at Barbara, her eyes giving away that she felt Bruce was underestimating her again.
“He’s right,” Barbara said, quickly diffusing the tension she could sense between Cassandra and Bruce. “If you light his costume on fire, he’ll walk right through it. You can’t do that.”
“I know.” Cassandra sighed. “But…I wouldn’t give them the chance.”
Bruce suddenly stood, frowning at Barbara again before silently leaving the room. As Cassandra watched him leave, she knew that she had a point…but that she also had exhausted Bruce’s attempts to make his own.
She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to clear her mind. Once again, she had managed to create more confusion by not communicating well. “Barbara,” she whispered as she stood behind Barbara’s wheelchair.
Barbara turned around to face her, waiting for her to continue.
“I understand,” Cassandra whispered. “I just…don’t like people talking like I’m a stupid kid.”
A big smile suddenly formed on Barbara’s face. She leaned forward and held both of Cassandra’s still-gloved hands. “I know how smart you are, Cassandra. You just need to learn how to talk to people while keeping them calm. It’s a valuable skill. More valuable than any device, or combat skill, or any acrobatics…”
Cassandra turned to leave, thinking the conversation was over…but Barbara still held on to her hands.
“…and I want to teach you,” Barbara continued, “Because I want you to be complete.”
A smile and a nod from Cassandra earned a quick hug from Barbara. Cassandra then headed toward the house, almost running into Alfred along the way. She remembered his promise to teach her more about the workings of everything around her in the Bat Cave.
Once she headed into her room and closed the door behind her, she glanced out the window for a moment into the darkness. There was still time to get plenty of sleep. She knew that between lessons from Barbara and Alfred…she would need it.
“What’s that?” Cassandra asked as she entered the kitchen late the next morning. Or what was left of morning – it was actually almost noon.
Sitting in the center of the large rectangular wooden table was an electronic device – a black box about the size of a VCR. The front panel was covered with lights…the rear, small twist-on connectors which looked like they went to television cables.
Alfred raised an eyebrow as she headed to one of the chairs and sat down, watching him adjust some small plastic screws on the back of the unit. “Up bright and early, aren’t we?”
Cassandra smiled. “I needed sleep.”
“This, Cassandra, is what allows all of those television screens downstairs to work.” Alfred paused, making one more adjustment before picking up the box off of the table. “You see, each screen has it’s own identifier, so the computer knows what to send to which screen.”
“I understand.” Cassandra nodded. “Did you build that?”
Alfred laughed. “Heavens no. I ordered it from a catalogue. It was rather expensive, too–”
He suddenly paused as the distant sound of the door bell rang through Wayne Manor. “Odd,” he said as he left the kitchen to head for the front door, “I wasn’t expecting company.”
Cassandra followed too, at a safe distance. If it was someone looking for her – like the police – she was better off not being noticed. She watched as Alfred opened the door…and smiled at whoever was outside. It was someone he knew. Just when she was ready to excuse herself and retreat back to her room, Alfred motioned to her to move closer.
As she approached, the three people who were outside of the door came into the entry hall. Alfred pointed them all to the study, and then gave Cassandra a sideways nod to encourage her to follow. She recognized two of them – a blonde in her twenties, and a slightly taller man with dark hair – but she couldn’t place their names right away, having only met them each briefly. The third, a shorter blonde teenager, was a mystery to Cassandra. And oddly enough, the blonde teen was the only one to notice he presence.
Her curiosity now solidly raised, Cassandra headed into the study. She entered slowly, walking around to a spot behind one of the couches. Once everyone else sat down, she picked a spot on the arm of one chair furthest from the others – she wanted to start as an observer rather than a participant.
“Cassandra, you remember Charlie Lewis and Linda Danvers, don’t you?” Alfred asked.
She nodded. Now that she heard the names, she did remember. The last time the two were in Gotham, they brought trouble with them, and lots of it. That was one of the few times Cassandra might have actually agreed with Batman’s endless hatred for meta-humans – he said that they always seemed to attract trouble.
“And this is Kara,” Alfred added, pointing to the blonde teen. Cassandra immediately felt sorry for her – she sat slumped in one of the large chairs, her eyes staring directly into the cold fireplace in the study. It seemed like she wanted to be anywhere but here. Something about Cassandra’s instincts told her that there was a reason for her presence…and when Batman heard about it, he’d be less than pleased.
“Make yourselves comfortable,” Alfred said as he stood and headed out of the study, “I will inform Master Bruce that you’ve arrived.”
With that, he suddenly left Cassandra alone with three virtual strangers. For a while, Charlie and Linda just stared at her uncomfortably…and Kara kept looking at the fireplace. That’s when Cassandra noticed that the logs in the fireplace were just beginning to burn. She didn’t remember Alfred lighting them.
She narrowed her eyes at Kara and stood up suddenly. “Who…are you?”
Linda seemed confused at first, looking at Cassandra, then at the fireplace, and then at Kara. Once she put it together, she sighed. “Nice going, Kara. Now I have to explain this twice.”
“Nah…don’t bother,” Kara said in a near whisper. “She already knows the answer to her own question.”
Cassandra frowned at that…but the strange teenager was absolutely right. Superman was the only one she knew could light up a fireplace with a stare. That made this teen…an alien. Or an approximation of one, anyway.
She started remembering back in recent history…a hint of a memory…to a newspaper article about an object that fell from the sky and crashed through a street in Metropolis. An object that was attended to by none other than Power Girl…a metahuman. Space junk didn’t require the attention of masked super types…it was something else that fell. “You were what fell to Earth in Metropolis–”
A glance at the look of horror on Linda’s and Charlie’s faces caused her to stop. The blonde teen, Kara, didn’t seem to react to Cassandra’s discovery at all. Without another word, Cassandra quickly retreated out into the hall.
“She’s smart,” Cassandra heard Kara comment as she left the room.
Just when she thought she was going to make a permanent escape, Barbara seemed to come out of nowhere and block her way with that wheelchair of hers. There was no way around it without rudely climbing over Barbara’s head. “Thinking of abandoning our guests?”
Cassandra bowed her head and sighed. “I…sounded like an idiot.”
“I headed up here as soon as I heard what you said through the security camera.” Barbara smiled mischievously. “The alien kid’s right. You are smart. Took you all of five minutes to figure out.”
“It…it was obvious,” Cassandra started to whisper, keeping her voice low enough to prevent the ‘guests’ from hearing.
“To you, me, and Bruce, maybe.” Barbara urged Cassandra to move out of her way with a jerk of her head. “We notice everything that goes on around us. Most people just don’t pay attention.”
Silence passed between the two suddenly as Bruce walked by, headed for the study. He paused for a moment to look at them both, as if he knew they had stopped conversing for his benefit…but then he continued on.
“I’m going to talk to them,” Barbara said, “You can either come along, or return to your room and hide. I promise you one thing…if you choose the latter, you’re gonna miss a lot.”
With that, Barbara vanished into the study. Cassandra stood in the hall for what seemed like an eternity, her mind struggling with the two choices. She knew that if she re-entered the study, everyone’s eyes would be upon her, watching her…waiting for her to say something else – something profound, or stupid.
Ultimately, she decided that so early in the day, she wasn’t quite ready for so much excitement. She turned to head back to her room…hesitant, but feeling sound in her reasoning. That was until she heard a knock at the front door.
She glanced toward the study, and then toward the kitchen – Alfred was in neither place. He had most likely gone down to the Bat Cave to clean up after Bruce, since he was now upstairs. No one was available to answer the door…except her.
Cassandra took a deep breath and quickly opened the front door. She said nothing, and simply stared at a young blonde woman who stood on the stoop.
“Um…sorry to disturb you,” the woman said in a voice soft enough that it was almost as if she were afraid to speak at all, “Is Charlie here?”
A nod from Cassandra, but still no words.
“He…uh…asked me to meet him here. I hope I have the right place.” The woman leaned sideways a little, trying to peek into the main hall.
“He’s in the study,” Cassandra finally said. She stepped aside casually, letting the blonde enter the house, before she closed the door. Having watched Alfred ‘escort’ people to various rooms, it seemed like an easy enough task. All she had to do was head directly to the study, and hover in the doorway as the blonde met Charlie. Then, Cassandra figured, she could return to her room.
But that’s when something which never seemed to happen to Alfred occurred. The blonde stopped, and reached out and tapped Cassandra’s shoulder gently. Cassandra responded by turning quickly, a little surprised at the action. “I’m Lara”, the woman said, “You weren’t told I was coming, were you?”
Cassandra smiled at that. She couldn’t help it – she wasn’t expecting anyone to show up, let alone someone she had never met. Besides, there was something about the mannerisms of this woman which seemed a little familiar…and which began to draw Cassandra out of her shell. This ‘Lara’ appeared to be almost as shy and withdrawn as Cassandra was herself….almost, but not quite.
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” she said with a smile. “You must be Cassandra. Charlie told me you were kind of quiet.”
“What’s there to talk about?” Cassandra shrugged.
“You’re right. I much prefer listening,” Lara said, chuckling slightly. “I suppose you’re wondering who I am?”
Another shrug from Cassandra. She didn’t really care, but didn’t want to be rude by saying so. Then again, she felt grateful that this woman wasn’t putting nearly as much pressure on her as Linda, Charlie, or that alien teen.
“I’m a close friend of Charlie’s,” she said quickly. “He invited me to lunch here. I wasn’t sure if I’d show up…but something told me I should.”
All of a sudden, thoughts connected in Cassandra’s mind. She thought of a way to avoid hanging around in the study, looking lost…and Lara would be the key. “Want a snack?”
Lara peered around the corner into the study. The people inside were having some sort of conversation about a man who was opening up sweat shops in Gotham City stocked with migrant workers. She wrinkled her nose, apparently not interested in the topic. “Sure, why not. Conversation’s a little dry in there.”
Cassandra was a little surprised that Lara had agreed to come along, and was following her still as she headed to the kitchen. In fact, she had to turn around a couple of times to make sure Lara was still there. Once she reached the refrigerator, she pulled out a large tray that she spotted earlier – it was covered by various cheese appetizers prepared earlier by Alfred. She noticed it shortly after she woke up, but didn’t try to reason why it was there.
“Don’t tell anyone,” Cassandra whispered as she placed the tray atop the kitchen table and sat down at one end.
Lara slid into one of the nearby chairs and took a cheese cube and a cracker. “I won’t if you won’t,” she whispered with a smile.
“…and the guy only left Metropolis after the Daily Planet exposed his sweat shops, forcing the cops to move in. But you don’t have anything like that here.”
Bruce sat leaned back in one large chair, staring over the large study coffee table at Linda Danvers, as she tried to quickly give him as much information as she knew. She seemed unsure of herself as she spoke…most likely knowing that Bruce already had most of the information she spoke of.
Once she finished speaking, several seconds of silence prevailed before Bruce finally spoke up. “I assume you know why I requested your presence here?”
Charlie and Linda looked at each other, before Charlie spoke first this time. “I guessed that you would like us to help. That this job is too big for just you…simply because of the number of migrant workers involved.”
Barbara looked at Bruce. He remained silent, though it was apparent to her that he was impressed. She’d known for a while now that Bruce would need outside help…but she dared not suggest it. Bruce was a loner at heart, he didn’t like the idea of having to share with others unless he had to.
And in this case, he had to.
Bruce had to keep a clear line between his daytime business dealings, and his evening investigations as Batman. In the case of the sweat shops, that put him at a disadvantage – because it was a situation best dealt with publicly, something he couldn’t safely do as Bruce Wayne.
So he brought in two private investigators he had spoken with before. Two people he knew he could trust – oddly enough, because one of them was a type he usually trusted least…a ‘metahuman’. When not playing private investigator, Linda was known to a trusted few as Supergirl.
Barbara found the whole situation rather strange, as she sat across from everyone where she could observe the entire conversation, and watch people’s reactions. It was her way of figuring out parts of the interaction which were non-verbal – such as each person’s temperament, or how cooperative they were going to be.
Even as Linda and Charlie had a nice conversation with Bruce – as if they were old friends – there was a slight tension in the air. Linda knew, somewhere deep behind those calm blue eyes, that Bruce resented her because of what she was – and during her investigation, any kind of ‘metahuman’ activity would quickly incur his wrath. Nobody liked to make Batman angry. Not even Superman.
“Actually, Linda would do most of the investigating at first,” Charlie said, in answer to a question from Bruce on which steps they planned to take first. “I promised to show a close friend around town first.”
A shock ran through Barbara’s mind as she suddenly remembered hearing the door bell ring a short time ago. She ignored it at the time, as usually in Wayne Manor, Alfred would automatically get the door. But this time, she noticed that the door bell seemed to coincide somehow with Cassandra neglecting to return to the study.
She quickly excused herself and rolled her chair quickly into the main hall, the wheels squeaking against the tile floor as she turned toward the kitchen. She could hear distant voices drifting from the doorway…and the last words she heard echoed in her mind again…’I promised to show a close friend around town first’.
“…so I followed her eyes to the fireplace, and…you know…it lit up.” Cassandra took another cracker and bit into it. She looked toward the doorway, thinking she heard someone approaching.
“And no one else noticed?” Lara chuckled. “That Kara has a strange sense of humor. She probably did it just for you to–”
“Shh!” Cassandra stood suddenly and paused, listening toward the doorway intently. She thought she heard something…the sound of rubber squeaking. Before having a chance to say a word of warning, she snatched the appetizer tray and quickly shoved it back into the refrigerator, leaving a confused Lara at the table. “Someone’s coming.”
Lara turned around just in time to see Barbara roll into the kitchen in her wheelchair. “Um…hi. I’m Lara.” She offered a hand to Barbara.
“Oh…pleased to meet you.” Barbara shook Lara’s hand, briefly giving Cassandra a mock frown, to note that she didn’t approve of whatever Cassandra was doing before she arrived. “What brings you here?”
“She’s Charlie’s girlfriend.” Cassandra joked. She smiled as Lara’s gasped in false shock.
“I didn’t say that!” Lara laughed and pretended to throw a napkin at Cassandra, before placing it back on the table. “I’m a close friend of his, yes.”
“Yes. His girlfriend.” Cassandra joked again, laughing this time. Lara covered her face with her hands and started laughing too.
“All right, you two,” Barbara said, as she turned and headed back toward the study, “We’re almost ready for lunch. Bring out what you’ve left of the appetizers.”
As she rolled toward the ‘small’ dining room, Alfred met her in the doorway. “It appears Cassandra has found an unlikely friend.”
“That figures.” Barbara smiled. “We try for months to break through her shell, and some stranger walks in and does it for us.”
Alfred raised an eyebrow. “I watched the entire conversation, Barbara. This Lara made no effort at all.”
“Really?” Barbara lowered her voice slowly, intent on making sure neither the party in the study nor the one in the kitchen heard her. “How did she do it, then?”
“It was quite amazing, really.” Alfred began spreading out a stack of plates onto the table slowly as he spoke. “She simply sat there, having a snack, and staring at Cassandra. Eventually, Cassandra just…felt obligated to say something. It was a sort of duel of listeners.”
Barbara smiled and laughed suddenly. “Oh, why didn’t I think of this before? You put two listeners in the same room, and eventually one’s gotta speak.”
“Yes.” Alfred nodded slowly, pausing his work to look at Barbara. “And since you, Tim, and Bruce are all rather extroverted…tending to speak to think…it’s no wonder Cassandra’s remained silent. She simply lets you do all of the talking.”
“Yeah,” Barbara sighed, suddenly depressed by the thought that soon enough Cassandra would return to silence again. “Too bad we can’t keep this Lara around so Cassandra has someone to talk to.”
“It is a shame.” Alfred chuckled and went back to work as Barbara headed to the study to tell the others that lunch was almost ready.
Barbara watched everyone enter the dining room and pick their seats at random. She, on the other hand, had to plan carefully. If she raced to a spot at the table, she would end up with everyone falling over her – the wheelchair would no doubt block the way as she set it aside to sit in one of the dining room chairs. It was usually best to wait until everyone else was seated, so she could make sure she had a clear route.
But, she found, she could forget about that habit this time. Cassandra silently stood and strategically blocked access to the last chair at the end of one side of the table…next to the seat she had selected for herself. Once their eyes met over the table, Barbara realized what Cassandra was trying to do – and she rolled straight over there.
Cassandra did nothing as she watched Barbara lift herself out of the wheelchair and into the wooden dining room chair. She simply waited until Barbara was settled in, and then moved the wheelchair aside. It might seem rude to an outsider…but she knew very well how much pride Barbara took in being able to maneuver by herself.
“Thank you,” Barbara whispered, as she unfolded the napkin placed in front of her. Cassandra didn’t respond with more than a look and a slight smile – Barbara knew that was her way.
By the time she sat and looked up, Cassandra realized that Lara was directly across the table, with Charlie next to her. She smiled briefly, and received one in return. Next to Charlie sat Kara, and then Linda. Since there were a total of four places set at either side of the table, Cassandra assumed that Alfred and Bruce would sit at the opposite end on her side.
But just as Cassandra became comfortable with the idea of being at the far end of the table, well away from the middle of the conversation, she found herself cast into the center of it. Bruce managed to pick up the last chair and move to the head of the table, between Cassandra and Lara.
“He just wants to be closer to the pretty girls,” Barbara joked with a whisper in Cassandra’s ear. Cassandra nearly laughed.
“Hey, Bruce,” Charlie suddenly piped up as Alfred began bringing in various light foods, “You’re doing this to deduct the time as a business lunch, aren’t you?”
Bruce chuckled slightly. “I don’t make money being stupid, Charlie. Kidding aside…do you and Linda think you can help?”
“If there’s money in it, yeah,” Linda interrupted. “We’re not exactly loaded with cases lately.”
“I don’t think I have to stress that I’m hiring you in an investigative capacity only.” Bruce took a sip of the soup place before him, looking at Linda as he did. He waited for some kind of angry response from her…but he saw none. She simply nodded slowly, knowing exactly what he meant – no appearances by Supergirl in Gotham City.
“Bruce, there’s no need to speak in metaphors.” Charlie glanced at Lara for a moment. “Lara knows everything we do.”
Cassandra cringed for a moment. Even though Bruce was not looking directly at her, she could feel his soul hollowing for a moment, as if the spirit of death itself had taken possession of his body. At the thought of someone else learning his identity through a third party, he became angry. And when Bruce becomes angry he becomes, at least at heart, Batman.
“Everything, you say?” Bruce said in a low, almost threatening tone.
“I figured out the Batman part myself,” Lara said with a slight laugh. Her smile suddenly disappeared when Bruce turned his icy gaze upon her. “I…read about your parents’ murder by this Napier guy…and you seem to have this grudge against him–”
“And neither of you tried to deny it?” Bruce looked at Linda and Charlie, neither of whom responded.
By that point, Cassandra was getting tired of Bruce’s accusatory tone. She finally spoke up. “It is kind of obvious. The grudge, I mean.”
He then turned his attention on Cassandra – but his cold look was lost on her. She simply returned one of her own…and it was obvious that she could stare silently as long as he could. He finally gave up after a few seconds and returned to calm conversation.
“What do you do for a living?” he asked Lara.
“I’m an actress.” Lara smiled. “Well…not in the classic sense. I get paid to make appearances and such.”
“So you live in Los Angeles?”
Lara nodded. “Part of the time.”
Bruce leaned back and smiled. It was obvious by now that he was springing some sort of trap. “You must have a lot of frequent flyer miles.”
Without looking away from Bruce’s gaze, giving any sort of telltale pause, or even a disarming laugh or smile, Lara simply ended the line of questions with, “You could say that.”
Cassandra held back a smile. She remembered what Lara confessed about herself in the kitchen a short time ago…but Cassandra decided to keep it a secret. Bruce didn’t have to know everything, after all…and it was kind of nice knowing something he didn’t. Rather than do something to give away the fact that she knew, she just quietly returned to eating.
“What steps do you have planned in your investigation?” Bruce asked, abruptly turning his attention back to Charlie and Linda.
“First, we will attempt to get someone inside,” Charlie said. As he spoke, he glanced across the table, directly at Cassandra. “Or possibly two people. I’d like to learn how they do business.”
“And how would you earn their trust?”
“That’s where I would need your help.” Charlie leaned back in his chair. “I need to create an identity, one which has a reputation as someone who would be very important to the sweat shop’s business. Perhaps someone from whom they would fear blackmail.”
“We’re halfway there.” Bruce smiled. “I managed to collect some of their files. Very interesting reading.”
“Excellent.” Charlie smiled too. “All I need to do is convince them that I have information, and arrange a meeting–”
“And then they try to kill you,” Linda added. She turned to face Charlie, even as he looked annoyed at the interruption. “If you send me to meet them instead, they can at least try and fail.”
“That’s not the best idea,” Bruce responded, his tone lowered as if he meant to be both polite and threatening, “If they learn there is a metahuman in town, they’ll become more cautious. They’ll send the people and files we need elsewhere.”
“Yeah, but…by then, it’ll be too late for them,” Linda suggested.
Before Bruce even completed his frown, or came up with another excuse to keep Linda out of the investigation, Cassandra suddenly stood and leaned over the table. “I’ll do it.”
Once again, all eyes were upon her. But this time, it wasn’t because she said something bordering on nonsense – in fact, she made perfect sense. Bruce’s eyes told her that she was better off keeping quiet…but she ignored that.
“You won’t,” Bruce said. “I can’t afford to have you–”
“As a courier,” Cassandra said, “People give papers to couriers. Even important papers. I can bring them to Charlie.”
Barbara smiled as Charlie and Bruce looked at each other. “I told you she was smart.”
“Yes. Yes, this can work.” Charlie leaned back again. “I can call the office, and tell them I’m sending someone to pick up paperwork. Since you trained Cassandra, Bruce, I doubt anyone can follow her back to me.”
Bruce shook his head again. “Absolutely not. It’s too risky.”
“Why don’t you let me decide?” Cassandra suddenly growled, as she leapt to her feet and leaned close to Bruce. She didn’t see Barbara’s reaction first-hand, but she could sense the look of shock on her face. Charlie and Linda stared in awe, and Kara…her attention seemed to be elsewhere. But Lara, on the other hand…she seemed perfectly calm, as she split a piece of bread in half, and began chewing on a piece.
With an exasperated sigh, Cassandra shoved her chair aside and quickly left the room. For the second time, she had to bail out on a conversation with these ‘guests’ because she knew she was in way over her head.
“I like Cassandra’s idea,” Lara said, quietly, her voice trailing off when she realized she was treading on dangerous ground. She pushed her chair back and stood slowly. “Excuse me. I’d like to talk to her,” she said, before following Cassandra into the hallway.
“Unusual woman, isn’t she?” Charlie asked, as Bruce watched Lara walk through the doorway.
Bruce gave Charlie a questioning look, but said nothing.
“That’s why I love her.” Charlie smiled.
Cassandra heard someone approach her as she sat in the small garden just outside the kitchen at Wayne Manor. Unlike usual, she had to turn around to see who it was – she heard footsteps, but they were lighter than Bruce’s, and the stride was smaller than Tim’s. It was someone who was female, and not very tall.
“I have a pretty nice garden at my place,” Lara whispered, as she sat cross-legged in the middle of the path, next to Cassandra. “Don’t worry, I won’t talk much. I know you come here for quiet.”
The first thought Cassandra had was that Lara had been sent out by Bruce, or maybe Charlie, to try and coax her back into the dining room. But after several minutes of perfect silence, it was apparent that her first assessment was wrong.
In fact, Lara seemed to become completely absorbed by the garden’s environment. She sat very still, leaning her chin on one arm, watching a colorful bird fly overhead with her eyes.
“Do you think I’m wrong?” Cassandra suddenly asked. It was a question that had been on her mind since she left the dining room.
Lara leaned back, placing her palms on the stone path for balance. “Well…you were a little rude. But you were also right.”
Normally, Cassandra would have felt insulted. But the smooth, calm way which Lara’s words just flowed out without pause had to make her smile instead. “Very honest. That will hurt you one day.”
“It hasn’t yet.” Lara shrugged.
“What should I do?” Cassandra asked, looking down as if she felt ashamed to ask such a question.
“You know Bruce better than I do,” Lara chuckled, “But…it seems that it’s pointless to argue with him. I think…you should just work around him. Help Charlie if that’s what you want.”
Cassandra considered the possibility that Lara was simply agreeing with her to get her to go back inside and re-join the pointless discussion. But another look at Lara made it easy to tell that she wasn’t in such a hurry to go back in, either. “You think I should?”
Lara turned her head slowly, giving Cassandra a sly smile. “It’s what a true hero would do.”
That moment, as Cassandra stood and straightened herself, was when she realized that this woman, who was a stranger to her only hours earlier, was proving to be an intriguing mystery. But first, she had another mystery to solve…one that could lead to her helping to save people’s lives. Whether Bruce agreed to it or not.