Bane had a veritable suite set up in the sewers underneath Gotham City. He could reside anywhere, but he was most comfortable living underground. Max, not so much, but she was able to make the requisite adjustments so that their union would continue to be productive. Bane had a queen-sized bed reinforced to take his weight, a couple of tables with necessary equipment and supplies, a fire pit and a water pit. There was even a makeshift nightstand with a teapot, a cooler and a small lockbox. Plastic tarps that could be lowered surrounded the area, giving them a measure of privacy. Bane had the “room” located near a runoff and the constant sound of rushing water had a soothing effect. Max loved water noise, so she was amused to find out that between the sounds of running water and lying beside him, it was very easy for her to sleep in the sewers. Who knew?
Maintenance was a different thing entirely. Barsad, lovely loyal man that he was, gained access to a nearby residence—functional but strangely unoccupied—that Max could use. She never questioned how Bane or Barsad were able to procure the things she wanted, but that was the agreement she made with Bane when she left Macau with him. It was exhilarating, having complete privacy and the ability to indulge herself with long soaks in a garden tub, facials and other girly things she hadn’t been able to do regularly since they’d been on the move. Sometimes Bane crawled out of the sewer and enjoyed the privacy with her. They were in Gotham for the immediate future; as far as Max was concerned, their next stop was Rapid City, then Macau. Hers, anyway. She didn’t know if Bane was committed to remaining in Gotham until the end, but time would tell. She would have a way out.
The Red Scarf Mafia, Max’s name for Bane’s loyal soldiers, always cleared out at the same time every evening, taking the Testicles and the men contracted to work with them. Barsad and Nagoye made sure that the tunnels surrounding the immediate area of Bane’s “quarters” were devoid of visitors and noise. This was done without discussion, as it was a continuation of the way things always went no matter where they were. Max attended to Bane at night, every night. Even though he was perfectly capable of doing so, she maintained his mask herself. She adjusted his meds as his pain threshold varied. The breathing apparatus was a wonderful piece of work, but after years of wear and use, it was starting to lose its effectiveness. Bane never spoke of it, but he didn’t have to. She could tell.
Not too long after they returned from Uzbekistan with Dr. Pavel, she decided to do something about it. He was sitting at the table nearest the bed, hunched over the schematics. She sat cross-legged on the bed, back propped up against the wall, studying future stocks on her laptop.
“Scale of one to ten, ten being painful, how do you feel?”
“I fail to see how that is good.”
“It’s good because you actually said something. I knew that the mask wasn’t at optimal condition; it’s over seven years old. You’ve taken good care of it, but everything wears out eventually. Why didn’t you tell me when you first started feeling discomfort?”
“I’m functional. The injections I take help manage my pain.”
“I’m going home.”
That got his attention. He looked up from the schematics and stared at her. Max’s hair was cornrowed in four thick shoulder-length braids and she sat comfortably in pink: yoga pants, fuzzy socks, and a long-sleeved knit shirt. Even though she looked surreal and out of place in a sewer, there was something so alluring and pure in how she looked that he gazed for a moment longer than necessary. Her words surprised him. “Why?”
“You need a new apparatus, Bane.”
“This one is serviceable.”
“Not the point. I’m going home and I’m making you a new mask. I’m also going to upgrade your painkillers. It’s been what, eight years? You’re getting a new device and new drugs.”
“Max, this one can last until the project is complete.”
“Can you give me an ETA on that, baby?”
“Of course not. There are several variables I can’t account for.”
She nodded. “Exactly. I’m not waiting any longer. I won’t sit here and do nothing while you’re hurting. I’ll return to Macau, synthesize you a new apparatus and some new analgesics. It’s time for an upgrade.” She picked up her phone and sent a text.
“I want you with me, Max.” They’d been together for years and she was as much a part of him as his right arm. Bane didn’t know what he would have done without Max easing the way in certain situations. She had a way of dealing with people and she had a way of dealing with him…the woman could ask for the galaxy and he would get it for her.
“Then come with me, Bane. It won’t take any longer than ten days. I’ll make it worth your while.”
“My presence is needed here. The stock exchange job is in less than three weeks. I need your help.” It was her idea to put Bruce Wayne’s money on certain future stocks, which were guaranteed to bankrupt him.
“Then I guess I’d better leave first thing in the morning so I can be back in time. As far as planning, we talk every day. Why should that change? Besides, don’t you want a break?”
“No,” he said.
Max smiled at him. “I love it when you’re being sweet. But I’m stubborn, you know. You need a new mask. If you can’t break away from your responsibilities and join me, then you’re just going to have to do without me for a few days. I won’t be gone long.”
Arguing with her was pointless, especially when it was for his benefit. “Then what can you tell me before you leave me?”
Max looked at the return text. “Does Daggett know that hit on the exchange isn’t going to give him what he wants? Hell, we’re not even sure it’ll work. Gambling on futures is tricky. I chose the most unstable stocks, but it truly is a crapshoot. We might make him a trillionaire instead of bankrupting him.”
“It will work.”
“They’re going to cut off access to the network as soon as we get in there.”
“Perhaps. Nagoye says we need a maximum of fifteen minutes. It may take the police that long to figure out that the exchange is under siege.”
“Baby, won’t they shut down the exchange the moment they know it’s been taken by terrorists? Won’t it invalidate any trades that have gone through and cancel any current trading? I mean, it can’t be as easy as you make it sound…unless you’re fucking with Daggett and this is all a ruse.”
Bane cocked his head to one side and then rose to his feet. Max stared at him, the breath in her throat constricting. Warmth skated up her spine as he walked towards the bed. She put the laptop to one side. “Oh you sexy, sexy beast…oh I love it when you go all Machiavellian.”
He unbuckled his belt and she crawled over to help. “We do intend to steal the money, just not in the way Mr. Daggett thinks.”
She pushed up his shirt. “I’m tired of dealing with that sleazy prick. He makes me feel dirty, and you know how hard that is.” Whenever they spoke with the man, his eyes seemed to crawl all over Max and no amount of mean-mugging or sassy retorts could stop him. If he wasn’t bankrolling the operation…
Bane stared down at her, cupping his hand under her chin as she unzipped his fly. “I have noticed how his eyes always seem to locate your chest.”
Max smiled up at him, slipping a hand inside his shorts. “Only reason why I haven’t shanked him yet is because we still need him. Take off your shirt.”
He removed it and tossed it carelessly behind him. “Not for much longer.”
She was glad to hear it.
Max’s return to Gotham and the sewers coincided with an unexpected visit. When she walked in, Bane was sitting on the edge of the bed, talking to Barsad. Barsad acknowledged her. “Max.”
“Hi Barsad. Bane?”
Bane looked at her. The expression in his eyes softened just a bit and she wanted to kiss him, but there were far too many men in the vicinity. It had been a long ten days. Max held up a silver briefcase and smiled. She returned to Gotham with two more masks and multiple vials of a brand new analgesic compound. She also had some other supplies stashed in the house.
“How are you?”
“Well, let me see if I can do something about that. I want you to try something.” She opened the briefcase, prepared a syringe and handed it to him. Bane took it, got up and went over to the water pit. He examined the syringe. Max put the briefcase on the floor by the teapot and walked over to stand in front of him. He crouched and extended his left arm.
“What is this?”
She knelt beside him. “It’s a brand new painkiller, baby. I want to know how well it works. I hope you haven’t been in too much pain. Take your time injecting it.”
“I’m not pleased when you’re not with me,” he said, slipping the needle into his forearm. He was irascible during her absence. More than a few Testicles died because of it.
Max smiled at him. “I missed you too,” she said. “Later, I’ll show you how much.” Then she looked up and frowned. “What in the hell…?”
Bane injected the medication. “What is it?”
Max looked at him as she rose to her feet. “Here come some Testicles, dragging somebody.”
Two men entered the area, dragging a semi-conscious Commissioner Gordon. Max looked at Barsad, who returned the exact same look: What the hell…? Bane did not like strangers roaming the sewers; the men who were constantly working on drilling and laying explosives in and around the tunnels were well-compensated and thus, very loyal. And he certainly didn’t want them bringing friends, or worse, enemies, to his lair. Dumbasses.
This was going to be funny.
The men dropped the commissioner on the ground and waited expectantly. Bane was still in front of the water pit, completing the injection. Max snorted. “What the fuck did you bring him down here for? What do you want, a cookie?”
The one in the red hat said, “Shut the fu—”
“Why are you here?”
The one in the jacket kicked the commissioner. “Answer him.”
“I was asking you.”
“It’s the police commissioner.”
“And you brought him down here?”
“We didn’t know what to do.”
Bane walked over to them. “You panicked. And your weakness has cost the lives of three others.”
Jacket Guy said, “No, he’s alone—”
Bane grabbed Jacket Guy by the throat and crushed his windpipe without looking at him. Then he carelessly dropped him and his body hit the ground with a dull thump! Max looked at the body and shook her head slowly, making tsk-ing sounds. Then Bane addressed the other man, Red Hat.
“Search him. Then I will kill you.”
Max bit her lip, holding in her chuckles. Sometimes it was funny watching Bane interact with men who were simply…lesser…than him. She and Barsad would have a nice laugh about it later. She watched as Red Hat handed Bane a folded piece of paper and a gun. The commissioner’s eyelids fluttered and as soon as Red Hat turned his back, he rolled into the runoff. Immediately, mercs from everywhere opened fire into the runoff. Max covered her ears.
After a few moments of gunfire, Red Hat turned to Bane. “He’s dead.”
Bane turned to look. “So show me his body.”
“The water runs to any one of the outflows. We’d never find him.”
Max shook her head. This group of Testicles was a group of complete idiots. Another lesson was due. Barsad rolled his eyes and pulled a tracking device out of his vest. He handed it to Bane. Bane walked over to Red Hat with the tracker and the gun.
Bane shot him and the man fell into the runoff. Max covered her mouth; she couldn’t help it. Her shoulders shook with laughter. Bane looked at Barsad as he walked away from the runoff, and then he looked at Max. She wiped tears from her eyes.
“Those guys are fucking retards,” she said once she stopped laughing. “Where’d they come from again?”
“It doesn’t matter. Read this.” He handed her the letter. Max read it quickly, her eyebrows rising as she turned the pages.
“Well well,” she said. “Now this is very interesting.”
“Let’s talk about it later. How do you feel? How’s that new analgesic?”
“Very effective.” There was no pain. No pain at all; not even a twinge. She was a shaman.
Max nodded, handing the letter back. She looked at Barsad. “Barsad, if you would, please?”
Barsad nodded. He put two fingers in his mouth and whistled twice. Soon, machines were turned off and workers left their tasks for the evening. The men dispersed quickly to various parts of the sewer, leaving Max alone with Bane for the night. He pulled down the tarps.
She removed her jacket. “Take off the mask.”
He sat on the edge of the bed and she stood in front of him, watching as he removed the apparatus.
“What was in the injection?”
“You’ve got a subtle mix of hydromorphone and oxymorphone with a hint of fentanyl. I have the vials numbered because I want to wean you off the fentanyl. You’re okay and you’ll be okay, but you’ll be a whole lot better without it. You are going to feel invincible with these new meds; you’ll probably want to go around punching brick walls and shit. Don’t do that,” she cautioned. She took the mask from him.
“What are you going to do with it?”
“Keep it. It’s still functional, but it could do with an adjustment. Lucky for you I made you a brand new apparatus. We’ll put it on in the morning.” She put the mask on the table and took a moment to gaze at the schematics.
“You’re a fucking prodigy,” she said. “I have to admit, you figured this out real quick. I mean, it’s obvious when you put two and two together. Can’t believe no one else knows Bruce Wayne is Batman.”
“I find it preposterous that no one else has figured it out. One merely need connect the dots.” He waited for her to massage his face.
“Most people are content with knowing just enough, Bane. The alternate identity of Bruce Wayne is beyond their usage, so it’s not necessary. I mean, I don’t give a damn who he is. I can’t use the knowledge to my benefit. But you can.”
She went back to the bed and put her hands on his face. He closed his eyes, sighing. “Did you miss me?” she asked.
“I missed you too,” she said, rubbing his cheeks with her thumbs. “But this was necessary. I gotta take care of you because you for damn sure aren’t going to do it. You don’t have to be in pain, baby. Not as long as I’m around. Which reminds me. Don’t trust that Kyle bitch. She’s shady as hell.”
“She’s a thief.”
“She’s a sorry thief. What kind of master cat burglar keeps getting caught? How she’s managed not to get got is fascinating. Regardless, Daggett has her in his pocket—therefore ours—because she thinks he can give her the CleanSlate program. When she realizes that he doesn’t have it, she’s going to be real salty.”
“Does the program actually exist?”
Her fingers moved over the planes of his face as if she were reading Braille. Bane sighed. “Rykin Data took it to prototype stage, but guess what? Wayne Enterprises bought the prototype shortly thereafter. Our man Bruce—or someone acting on his behalf; probably the aptly named Lucius Fox—made Shardele Rykin a sweet offer. Then she pulled a fast one and sold the idea of her having CleanSlate to Daggett. Talk about double dipping? I wish I could see the look on Daggett’s face when he learns that Rykin fleeced him. Last I heard, Shardele retired to fuckin’ Fiji. That’s how it’s done. I need to toast her the next time I get a glass of wine.”
“It won’t matter. He has no use for the program. He just wants to own the world.”
“And you want to see it burn.” Max ran her thumb over his nose. “I wish you could take pleasure out of the things I do. John Daggett is a pussy. He’s so half-assed. He doesn’t want to get his hands dirty, but he ain’t willing to pay full price to keep them clean. Any moron with an internet connection could trace the trail we’ve left at his door. That is, if we were trying to hide it.”
Bane didn’t speak. Max licked the tip of her fingers and smoothed his brows. “Has it kicked in?”
“Then you’d better lay down. This is what you must take at night, right before you remove the mask. We’ll get you through the numbered vials and off the fentanyl in a week. You won’t feel a thing.”
“I hope you are referring only to the pain,” he said. He wanted her.
“I certainly wouldn’t mess with anything else.” She massaged his shoulders.
“Did you add a sedative?”
“Now why would I do that? You don’t have trouble sleeping.”
“It has a very pleasant effect.”
“Good. Lie down. I’ll put out the lights.” She walked over to where a small generator sat under one of the tables. Max turned it off and the lights went out. All that was left was the warm glow from the fire pit. She took off her boots and jeans and quickly hopped into bed. She removed her bra through her shirt and tossed it on the ground. When she was under cover, she removed her leggings but kept on her socks. Bane removed his boots and trousers and lay beside her. He was never cold and she snuggled next to him. He turned to look at her. It was nice lying next to her. She was soft and warm. He pulled her leg across his hips.
She touched his lips. “That letter is as good a weapon as the nuke. I mean, wow. Old Gordy perpetuated a sham.”
“An unexpected benefit of a young man’s ignorance.”
“I’ll say. If you strike at the right time, you’ve got a ready-made army of 1000 hardened criminals ready to do your bidding. You’ll need them. You’re running out of Testicles.”
“I’m not surprised at the extent of the corruption in Gotham, but I do find its ramifications interesting. To think they made a murderer a martyr and locked up everyday citizens in his name.”
“Those ‘everyday citizens’ aren’t necessarily innocent of wrongdoing, Bane.”
“Regardless, their incarceration is based on a lie and they should be free.”
“I imagine when shit gets real, they’ll come in handy. Hopefully, they’re not as stupid as this current group of Testicles. It’s like they want you to pat them on the head and say ‘Good job.’ I mean, really? When did you start recruiting such thirsty dudes?”
“Have you slept?” he asked.
“I don’t sleep well by myself,” Max said, running the back of her fingers over his cheek. “I don’t know when that changed. Guess I been with you too long.” She kissed Bane slowly, savoring his mouth. “Don’t worry, I’ll sleep tonight. I’m exhausted.”
“Not just yet,” he said, pulling her atop him. “We hit the exchange in three days.”
Max put her forehead against his. “Is everything in place?”
“Okay then,” she said, kissing his lips again. Then she sat up and removed her top and he put his hands on her waist. “Let’s get it in.”
Next: The Gotham Stock Exchange