❯ Living in Gotham – Encounter 4 ( Chapter 5 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Once Killer Croc offered me safety advice.
In Gotham, when it rains, it pours. You should see what floats to the surface when the streets are flooded.
The thick and heavy clouds seem to strangle the light before it can reach the city. Everything is muted and gray. On days like this, neither good nor evil prevail as it becomes very hard for the two to distinguish each other.
One gray rainy day, I had a particularly important lunch to go to. The specifics of the meeting are now inconsequential. In general it had to do with me gaining access to Arkham Asylum. For months I had fanatically worked to get clearance. This lunch was the last step in the long and arduous process, a chance for me to really impress the Board.
Now, I don’t mean to set back my sex fifty years by this confession, but the outfit for this event was critical. It had to be perfect and had been under construction for weeks. About five days before said lunch I had a minor meltdown and scrapped all possibilities, calling my mother in complete and utter frustration. She answered my need by sending the most perfect white dress lined with chantilly lace from Paris, need I say more!
So on this very rainy afternoon, I dressed and peeked out the parlor windows. It was a downpour. I leaned on the chaise, contemplating how I should get my person to this very important meeting. On one hand, it was rather gray and it would be safer, not to mention drier to call a cab. On the other, the rain was just so darn romantic that I could hardly keep myself indoors. I was compelled to walk in it. A normal person would have called a taxi; I however, decided that it would be an absolute shame to waste a new umbrella and adorable trench coat. And since the restaurant was on my side of the river and only about seven blocks away, it would be wise to observe my carbon footpint.
I threw on my knee length trench coat and bent down to grab my umbrella. As I looked towards the floor I noticed that while my coat covered most of my dress, about two inches at the hem were left unprotected. I paused in disappointment. I really didn’t want get the dress dirty, but I could hear the pitter-patter of the rain hitting the sidewalk and I was missing the best part of the storm.
Screw it. Take care not to get it muddy…
So I left my house. My steps were quick and purposeful. My mind was spinning with anticipation, rehearsing answers to questions designed to reveal flaws. My eyes were focused ahead of me, watching with great excitement as I got closer and closer to my destination.
About four blocks away from the restaurant I had to wait for the crosswalk to turn green. I tilted my face up to the sky and let the little raindrops fall on my skin. As each one touched my cheek, I meditated on its temperature and weight. My reverie was not long lived. Without warning, I was body slammed by what felt like a freight train. Locomotive it was not. What passed by in my peripheral vision was a huge man nearly seven foot tall, broad, and dressed in a tattered, hooded full-length coat.
While I was trying to recover from the impact, I felt a tug at the hem of my dress. I snapped head down and saw that unbeknownst to the tall man, my precious chantilly lace from Paris was caught in a pocket zipper of the tattered coat. The light turned green and he took of in a hasty step taking my dress with him.
I wasn’t against the lace getting slightly damp, but I would be dammed if it got ripped. Instantaneously I decided to walk along with the stranger until the situation could be remedied. The only problem was that his legs were so long that for every one step he took I had to take three. Had I been a bystander I certainly would have laughed at my predicament. There I was delicately trotting on my tiptoes, trying to keep up the tall man, while simultaneously trying not to slip on the wet cement.
“Excuse me.” I said a sweetly as I could muster, “Excuse me sir… Please sir… Sir please, excuse me.” But the more I called after him the faster he seemed to walk. For a full block I hurried behind him while calling after him. I could see the muscles under the coat become rigid and tense as if he was deciding to run off. I was horrified at the idea of the lace ripping so in slight panic I sped up enough to get right behind his arm grabbed on to it and said, “Please stop.”
The tall man stopped. Relief rushed over me and I reached down to the hem of my dress.
“Oh thank you so much. I’m afraid my dress is stuck in your pocket zipper.” I stated while I tried to undo the tangle. From the angle I was working, I was unable to remove my hem from the zipper. I looked around in frustration. Not far off there was a bench. Without hesitation I grabbed the strangers arm again led him over to the bench.
“If you would please sit down.” He slowly responded to my request. After he was settled, I sat down right besides him, gathering the tattered coat and the hem of my dress into my lap. The villainous zipper lay in plain sight, “See.” I affirmed as I contemplated the best way to extricate the lace.
Before I could execute any action, a pair of claws slid out from the sleeves of the tattered coat. My heart stopped. In place of smooth skin, were gnarled greenish gray armored scales. The fingers were twisted in predatory curves. And where nails should have been, there were long sharp talons.
The claws reached out to the tangle and frantically worked to get the fabric free. The nails were too long and the fingers too twisted to make any impact. It was such a pathetic sight, like a fish trying to get a hook out of it mouth. As the seconds passed the more frenzied the claws moved, and I felt sorry for him. I reached out and gently placed my hands over them. The moment my skin touched the scales the claws stopped their frenzied efforts and started to tremble.
A memory flashed to the surface of my mind. It was of my father and I on a hike as when I was a child. I had stumbled upon a rattlesnake and was frozen with fear. My father walked over to my side and explained that the snake was frightened of me too. As I looked at the claws shaking under my hands, I wondered if this man was like the rattlesnake and just as frightened of me as I was of him.
I took a deep breath in, and for the first time looked into the face of the owner of the tattered coat. Through the shadow of the coat’s hood, yellow eyes peered back at me. I fought back tears. Not out of fear, but out of sadness for unfair card he had been dealt. I knew the consequences it held for him.
Not particularly known for his impulse control, I was shocked that I had lived passed grabbing his arm the first time. He looked as though he was confused by his circumstances, wanting nothing more than to escape and return underground.
“Here, let me try.” I spoke softly. I picked up my hands and he pulled his claws back into his sleeves. I continued as I began working, “I’m sorry to have to stop you, but I couldn’t bare to have the lace rip. It’s from Paris.”
“Lace?” a gruff voice questioned.
“Yeah, it’s chantilly lace. You don’t find it just anywhere.” I explained, “It’s special.”
“Yeah, valuable. Like treasure.”
“It doesn’t look like treasure. Its got holes in it.” The gruff voice retorted.
“There aren’t holes in it. It’s supposes to look like that.” I said in defense of the lace.
Finally I freed the dress from the zipper. I examined the hem and was satisfied when I could not find a tear. I expected that he would leave the bench the moment that he was free but he continued to sit there. We both sat silent for a moment. I was just about to open my mouth to say thank you and goodbye when I heard the gruff voice say, “You shouldn’t talk to strangers.”
I looked up in bewilderment; was Killer Croc actually giving me safety advice? It was so strange that I need clarification.
“Excuse me?” I questioned.
He faced me and said roughly, “You shouldn’t grab onto strangers and start talking to them. Someone is going to hurt you.”
I pondered this statement. `Someone’ didn’t necessarily mean him or at this time. Additionally, not particularly known for his oratorical skills, I was impressed that he would offer me any of his thoughts, and as ridiculous as it sounds, my heart was moved to reciprocate.
“Tell me about it. The first week I moved to Gotham, I had a friend who wanted to show me around town. So we get to around 54th and Main. You know the area?”
“Well around there my friend, who by the way has lived here all her life, gets lost. So she spots this dude and asks for directions. He pulls a gun on us and robs us. He didn’t hurt me, but hit my friend with the butt of the gun. Broke her jaw… ” I paused, replaying the terrifying event in my mind. “She had her jaw wired shut for a long time… My dad was so mad when I told him about it. He wanted me to come home right away.”
The rain continued to fall all around us. After few moments of silence I was about to once again attempt to say thank you and goodbye when the gruff voice asked, “Why didn’t you go home?”
I was totally thrown. It was unfathomable that Croc was actually expressing interest in my life. But since he seemed to be reaching out, I resolved to reach back.
“I didn’t want to be beaten. I’ll leave Gotham when I want to, not when some thug scares me away.”
“You’re are scared though.”
“Yeah a little… the police never caught the guy. They know who he is, but they just can’t find him. When he hit my friend the gun left an imprint of an unique symbol and they traced it back to a guy named Ral. Mark Ral. Guess he’s a slippery repeat offender.”
“Hum.” He uttered as though he was lost in thought.
“I would feel better if I knew that the police had at least found him. I don’t care if he makes it to jail or has a trial or is punished. I just don’t like the idea that bad men can just disappear.”
“Bad men huu…”
“You know what I mean.”
“I do?” he asked like he really wasn’t sure if he understood.
“I think you do.”
“Are you saying I’m a bad man?”
“Do you think you’re a bad man?” There are some days I really wonder if I have a death wish.
He looked at me for a long while. I looked back. And then finally he said, “You should go home. You don’t belong here.”
I sighed and smiled, “Can’t.” I replied, “Got school, work, a house. I have a life here… I like it here… Maybe I’m good for Gotham because I don’t belong here.”
“You should go home.” He quietly repeated.
“Well, that will have to wait for another day. I’ve got to get to an important meeting.” I chirped cheerfully, “How do I look?” I questioned as I stood for inspection.
I shook out my wet hair and smoothed out my trench coat, and waited for an answer. Croc looked out at me under his hood. His yellow eyes looked more perplexed and distressed than they had previously, like this was the first time someone had ever asked that type of question and he did not know how to answer.
“Fine.” He whispered.
“Good. Thanks for stopping and helping with the dress. See you later.” I said as I waved and went on my way. As I walked, the rain softened and light broke through the dense clouds. I turned back to see if Croc was still sitting on the bench, but the clear and bright beams had skittered him away.
Two blocks later I reached the restaurant safely and a little moist.
About three days later after my encounter with Croc, I opened the morning paper. On the fourth page I spotted an article that made me drop my coffee cup. It read,
Notorious Mugger in Custody: Police Baffled at Arrest
On Saturday 14th police took into custody Mark Ral, a notorious repeat offender who has eligibly committed over thirty-five armed robberies and fifteen assaults with a deadly weapon. The police found Ral unconscious at the door of the station early Saturday morning. He was rushed to the emergency room where a medical examination revealed six broken ribs, lacerations to the torso and extremities, and a concussion. Physicians are perplexed as to who or what caused these injuries. “These injuries seem to be an amalgam of the type of injuries we would see inflicted by a large predatory animal and typical fight.” Says Doctor Grant, who was the physician for Ral. While Ral’s injuries create questions, many people are wondering how Ral ended up at the station. “Ral’s early morning appearance is currently under investigation.” Says Commissioner Gordon. No further comment was made.