The curtains blew about in a sudden wind. The man in the easy chair turned to look at the window. It was open. It hadn't been a moment ago. "Forget your keys, Master Bruce?" he asked, as he turned to look for the man who'd just entered in rather unconventional style.
When his eyes fell on the man, his breath caught in his throat. When he could speak, he said, "Oh, my. You're not-"
"No. I'm not."
"Who... who are you?"
"Never heard of you."
"That's because I don't exist. Not in this reality, at any rate."
The man in the chair nodded. "I see." He glanced toward the end table next to his chair, and the phone sitting on it.
"Don't bother," said the Kidder. "The line's dead, Alfred. I wouldn't want anyone disturbing us."
"If it's money you want-"
The Kidder laughed. "No, I have no need of that. Your master obviously has far more of it than I, but I'm not exactly a pauper, myself."
"Then what is it?"
"I just want to talk. None of my friends back home will talk to me anymore. And what's more, I'm not sure I want them to. I have no idea what I want. I have no idea who I am. All I know is I dare not make any drastic moves in my home universe. Although I have this persistent desire to make... well, drastic moves. So, the only option available to me was to come to a random alternate unvierse to make those moves."
Alfred was becoming surer by the moment that the man was utterly barking. Still, he kept his calm, as ever and always. "And what, I ask again, might those 'drastic moves' be?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm going to kill your master." Alfred glanced again, quickly, at the phone. "I don't suppose he'll be home for awhile yet. Busy man, by nights. I understand. Until he gets home, I thought you might keep me company. Oh, and don't worry, I don't inted to kill you. You're just here, doing your job. But he... he has made a choice, made it long ago. A very dangerous choice. He knew what he was getting himself into. And I'm sure he'll be happy to see his parents again. Maybe that's what he wanted all along. Maybe he had no idea it'd take as long as it has."
"I have no idea to what you are referring, but-"
The Kidder's face grew very dark, very quickly, and that look alone was enough to make Alfred stop speaking. "I haven't been particularly stable, for many years. And currently, I'm about as unstable as I've ever been in my life. I've also known for quite awhile who the Batman truly was. I've just never wanted to let him know that I knew. I told him I did, but I didn't give him a name. I wanted to let him doubt me. I've been doubting myself, as of late. However, I've recently discovered that, while I've been wrong about some things, I've been right about others. I still don't want to act on my knowledge in my own reality. But other realities... I don't really care." He smiled. "Back home, folks believe I'm wrong about some things that I'm not. So I could go back there and tell them what I've done here, and they won't believe that, either. And even if they did, there'd be nothing they could bloody well do about it."
Alfred sighed. He felt certain that even if this man was mad, he knew what he knew. However he knew it... he knew. And there'd be no point in denying it. He'd just have to hope Master Bruce would prove more than the madman's match. Even if taken by surprise. Meanwhile, he'd do his best to try to think of a way to warn the master, when he returned. He had plenty of time to think about it. Meanwhile, he'd play the intruder's game. "I made a choice, too."
This took the Kidder somewhat by surprise. "You admit it, then?"
"No point denying it. Of course, I could simply be humoring a madman...."
"I suppose you could, at that. It's a good story, in any event. Well then, tell me about this choice."
"I served Master Bruce's parents, and when they were killed, I raised him, and continue to serve him. I am one of very few people who know his secret. I daresay I was the first to know it. And while I have at times, from the very beginning, had my share of trepidation concerning his choice, I nonetheless made my own, and continue to abide by it. I keep his secret. I help him in any way I can. I have always been perfectly free to simply leave, or even to reveal his secret to others. I choose not to."
"A loyal man and true! I repsect you, Mr. Pennyworth, that I do. And I've always respected your master, as well. However, there's a part of me that wants him dead. Not so much as some of my... as some of the people I know, back home, do. But still. That part of me is there, however deeply buried. And maybe I can tell myself that doing it here somehow doesn't mean as much, isn't as real as killing him at home would be. My Batman, after all, will still live. But... deep down I know it doesn't matter. Killing is killing. This world will be a poorer place for his absence, and the part of me that repsects him and all he represents... struggles with that. Nevertheless... I have made my own choice. And I intend to abide by it."
"No way I could dissuade you, then?"
"None that I can think of. Of course, you have until he returns to try."
Try he did. For hours. None of it seemed to move the Kidder, but when at dawn the Batman had not yet returned, the intruder stood. "Well, it seems he's not coming home, after all. And I'm quite tired. I think I shall return home. Or perhaps to a hotel. I'd rather like to put off returning to my own universe, for a little while at least." Alfred made to stand, but Kidder held up a hand and said, "No, please, don't get up." He drew a gun from his vest as if to say, "I insist." Not needing the words added, Alfred simply kept his eyes on the weapon, and sank back into his chair.
Rather than heading back to the window through which he'd entered last night, the Kidder casually strolled to the front door, swung it open-
And reeled back as a a large, black-gloved fist hit him hard in the face.
Alfred leapt up at once and shouted, "Master Bruce!"
He ran toward the Batman, but stopped short, looking him up and down. "Well, if you don't look like something a certain cat dragged in. What on Earth has happened to you this evening?"
"Trap after trap after trap, Alfred. And I think the gentleman on the floor would be the one to blame for it all. I tried to call, once or twice, but..."
Alfred nodded and said, "The line's been cut." He put his arm around his master, and helped him to the very chair he'd just vacated, kicking the Kidder's fallen gun to the far side of the room, along the way. When Bruce was sitting as comfortably as possible, Alfred took a moment to retrieve it, placed it on the table beside his master, and glanced at the madman lying on the floor, scooting into a corner. "He said he was going to kill you when you returned."
"A lie, no doubt. I'm sure he never intended to dirty his hands. He came pretty close a few times though, even without being there."
"Scared, were you?" Alfred said to Kidder with an unmistakable air of condescention in his voice. "Knew you had no chance of beating him in a fair fight?"
"In a fair fight? No. Of course I couldn't. Over the years I've thought up countless ways to kill him. Mine, I mean. Sometimes I entertained myself by getting set up to do so, and then just let him go, because I wanted him to live. What fun would knowing I could kill him be, if he were already dead? Besides, as I said before... I respect him. But in a fair fight, you're right, I'd never stand a chance. That's why I had to weaken him, first."
Alfred turned again to look at his master. "Sir... are you sure you're quite alright? I mean, is he perhaps a threat, even now?"
"I don't think so, Alfred." The Batman turned to his butler and said, "Alfred... when I first came in, did you call me...?"
Alfred nodded. "I'm sorry, sir, but he already knew. And even if he was only guessing, He never would have been convinced he was wrong. He kept going on about being from an alternate universe. Mad as a hatter! ...Sorry, poor choice of words. In any event, I thought it best to go along with him."
Batman sighed. "Probably a good choice, old friend. Now... see about restraining him, then get a medkit, and some fresh clothes. I'll need to get changed, then you can call the police to collect him."
"Very good, sir." He picked up the gun again, walked to the wall and knocked on a hidden panel, revealing a cabinet with various contents. He withdrew a pair of handcuffs, and walked toward the Kidder, gun trained on him. "No sudden moves, now. I'm a crack shot, you know."
"I know," replied the Kidder, with a grin.
"Alfred, wait a minute," said Batman, who stood up, sensing something was wrong with this situation. He never said another word, however. The chair exploded.
"Master Bruce!" Alfred shouted, turning and rushing to his master's side. Or what was left of it.
The Kidder got to his feet. "I said I'd kill him when he returned. I also said I needed to weaken him first. No doubt were he in top form, he'd have avoided that bomb with the greatest of ease."
Realizing his master was dead, Alfred turned to the intruder, tears streaming down a face which nevertheless seemed to display greater rage than grief. But also a touch of confusion. "But... I sat..."
"All night. Didn't get up even once. I set the bomb while you were out, earlier. Set it to explode the second time someone stood up from the chair. That's why I wanted to make sure you only got out of it once, before he sat there. The traps I'd set earlier also served a secondary purpose. Weakening him for the kill was important, but I also needed him to be so weak as to need to sit in the nearest chair once he got back."
"I see," he said, nodding. He raised the gun and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
"I also said I knew you were a good shot, Mr. Pennyworth. I'd never have let a loaded gun find its way into your hands." Alfred looked at the open cabinet in the wall, which Kidder was now standing beside. He reached in, withdrew a revolver, and swung the door shut. "This, on the other hand, is quite fully loaded and ready. I know, I checked it earlier. Sorry to threaten you with your own weapon; but then, you were obviously prepared to kill me with mine."
"You... you said you weren't going to kill me."
"And I won't. Not unless you force me to." He began to walk toward Alfred. "Give me the cuffs." He had no energy left to resist, his will was gone. He could barely stand. He dropped the gun, and just stood, trying not to look at his master's remains. Kidder came up to him, took the cuffs, and cuffed him to another chair.
Having some sense of mercy, he covered Batman's remains with an afghan from a nearby sofa, to spare Alfred the sight. "I'll call someone. Jim Gordon, I suppose. Maybe he..." but he didn't finish the thought. He didn't have much strength left, himself, after what he'd done. "I'll call Jim."
He left the mansion, made a call, and then went to another universe, though not his own. He wasn't ready for that, just yet....
Conversations part 3