The Big Story

by Chicago

Chapter Eighteen

It was about two in the afternoon when I walked into the lobby of the Parkview Hotel. I went directly to the front desk and gave the clerk a smile. "Hi," I greeted. "I need to leave a message for Pennyworth. Suite 1502?"

The clerk gave me a look as if he were trying to place me. "I'm afraid I can't help you, sir. 1502's checked out."

"Really?" I shouldn't have been surprised, but then, Grayson had sounded ready to leave town when we parted company. "Huh. Well, give me a bit of paper anyway," I suggested. "I'll mail it."

"Of course, sir," the clerk agreed, supplying the requested stationery.

"Sir?" Gus's voice interrupted, and I turned. "Bert, this is John Jones." Gus threw a companionable arm around my shoulders, hooking it just around the back of my neck to gesture a hint of horseplay. "There's nothing to 'sir' here."

I shrugged out of Gus's hold, but I was smiling. "Hey, Gus. I was just coming to look for you," I told him, "after I get this message off."

Gus grinned. "Solve your case?"

"As solved as it's going to be," I said. "Just give me a minute."

"No sweat. I gotta go punch out anyway. See you back here in a bit."

Gus disappeared, and I took the hotel stationery to a writing desk in the lobby. I picked up a pen and began to write a string of numbers. Latitude and longitude, down to seconds. A second set of numbers keyed to the plat map of Metropolis. Then I drew an arrow pointing down and a stylized bat.

I contemplated the sheet of paper. Cryptic enough? Too cryptic? Given what I had learned of Dick Grayson, I suspected he would figure it out quickly enough. I put my pen to paper again, then changed my mind. I had promised Grayson I would tell him the why of Bruce Wayne's death, but some coded phrase would not satisfy his need to know. I wasn't even sure what I could write. He died for his duty? For justice? Because he cared too much? It all seemed trite, like empty phrases that anyone might utter, even if each were to some degree true.

I frowned and tapped the pen against my chin, then set the pen down. This note would bring Grayson back to Metropolis, and he would find me again. I knew it. It would be better to explain everything to his face - at least, as much as I could explain.

Dick Grayson was smart enough to figure out who Superman was if I gave him a hint, but Batman had not wanted the boy subject to the danger that knowledge could bring. I might owe Dick Grayson some explanations, but Bruce Wayne had been a friend to me. Some secrets should be kept.

I folded the letter and slipped it into a hotel envelope. I scratched a line through the printed return address and wrote "Jones" beside it. I was addressing the envelope when Gus found me.

"Wayne Manor," he read across the desk. "John, you sure that's such a good idea?"

I licked the flap of the envelope and sealed it. "It's all over, Gus," I told him, and as I said it, I knew it was true. The ghosts would stay with me, but I knew now they could give me strength.

"Do you mean that?" Gus asked, his voice low and his eyes studying my face with careful concern.

"Got a stamp?" I asked, and he reached for his wallet. He handed me the postage, and I affixed it to the envelope. I could imagine Hortense smiling and Bruce nodding his approval. Further back in memory, my wife held me and my daughter beamed, for once not in flames. I stood up purposefully. "I want to mail this," I said, "then Was Ed's?"

The Riordan grin reappeared. "You buying?"

I snorted as I led the way across the lobby. "I don't think so. I need to save up for office space."

Gus actually paused and had to take a couple of quick steps to catch up. "Really?" He sounded almost afraid to believe me.

I stepped out of the lobby and into the sun. I raised my face to the blue sky and felt myself smiling. I turned my head and started toward the mailbox. Gus kept pace. I glanced down the street. "Think there'd be space in the Liberty Tower?"

I opened the mailbox, but Gus put his hand on my arm as I reached the letter toward the slot. "John," he said seriously, "are you sure this is what you want?"

I might have wept for his honest concern. Twenty-four hours ago he had tried to coax me back among the living by forgiving my two year drunk and inviting me home. Now he worried at my sudden resolve, not because he didn't mean his offer, but because he remembered other friends suddenly "cured" only to be found dead by their own hand days later.

Gus Riordan did not want me to die. He was telling himself I was too stubborn to die.

"Are you trying to get out of buying lunch?" I challenged him.

He studied a minute more, then let me drop my letter into the mail. "The Liberty Tower is passe," he decided. "I'd find a place further south."

"Think Rosie'd be okay with that commute?"

Somehow, that reassured him more than my other talk, and his reason was loud in his thoughts. *John would never drag someone else down with him.* His words, however, were only, "We'll have to ask him sometime."

"Absolutely," I agreed. "In the meantime, I want lunch."

We walked together toward Adams Street, and the early summer sun felt good. Warm. Homey. I was John Jones, and I was reclaiming my life.

I could feel Gus smiling at my elbow. At the corner of Harding, he could no longer contain himself. He slapped my shoulder affectionately. "Damn, it's good to have you back, Jones."

I only smiled. It was good to be back.

The End