That car can't be what it looks like. But it can't be what it obviously is.
Riding low on worn out suspension, covered with duct tape over busted fibreglass body panels, licence plate held on by rust and wire, cracked driver's side window. It looks like a piece of trash not worth breaking into.
But it's riding low on all four wheels, like it's heavy. The front and back windshields are tinted. And from the alley she can see that the busted panels are just that, busted panels over some sort of under panelling. Cops don't have bait cars like that.
Jaycee Todd takes her phone out and approaches the car slowly, working her away around it. If she's going to sell shit off this thing she needs video. You can't just tell people you stole the Batman's rims. They'll need proof.
Up close she can see that there's some sort of film over the side windows. The view into the car looks weird, flat almost. After a few seconds of turning her head side to side and holding her phone at weird angles she realizes that the film is actually some sort of picture. The side windows are probably tinted too. Peel off the film so you can see and then drive away. She decides to steal the window films too.
How the fuck is she going to get the rims off? All she has in her hoodie is a couple of multitools and a wrench. This close Jay can see that the rims look heavy, and they're bolted on tight. The rust is just some sort of spray-on shit.
First of all, check the street. This side of Uptown you'll be lucky if the worst that happens to you is Batman catching you trying to strip his car. But it's dead out here tonight. Nothing but old apartment buildings on either side of the street with all their windows closed and curtains pulled tight. Half the businesses at ground level are closed even in the day. Closer to the docks or Aparo Park she'd probably have more to worry about. That's getting into the heart of Red Hood turf.
No sign of the Batman either. The alley she came out of is empty, and there's no pointy-eared head peeking over the tops of the buildings. Jay starts peeling the film off the windows.
The first one comes away and she shoves it under her hoodie, tucking it in her pants to keep it in place. The rest of the fake window panels follow, and yeah all the windows underneath are actually tinted. The panels are just vinyl and Jay doubts she'll get much for them even if they are off Batman's car. She checks the area again to make sure she's clear and moves around to the back of the car. That licence plate will be worth something.
Jay kneels by the back of the car and is reaching for the plate when a hand clamps down on her wrist. She jerks but doesn't scream. It's a close call on the scream though.
"Touch that and you'll get a taser shock strong enough to make you piss yourself."
The hand is big. Even without the weird gauntlet with its sharp things sticking out the hand would be big enough to reach around her wrist. And the thing is Jay isn't short and she isn't scrawny.
The hand is big. Jay can't take her eyes off it. She doesn't speak until she's sure she can open her mouth without shrieking. "Okay."
The hand lets go. Her wrist doesn't hurt. It was a solid grip but not hard. Jay fights the urge to rub her wrist anyway. She looks up at the Batman.
Jesus. He's huge. Some of that has to be the outfit, but he's just fucking huge. Big and broad and solid like a truck. He touches something on the inside of his gauntlet's wrist, and when he speaks again his voice is almost normal. "What are you doing out this late in this area?"
"Makin' money." If she talks tough, maybe she'll be able to convince herself. Then maybe she'll be able to stand without her knees trembling. "You got a problem with that?"
"Yes. Go home before you get yourself killed." He pauses and looks around the area. "I'll drive you."
"I'll drive you. It's safer."
Fuck. Shit. Shit shit shit. "I'm good."
"All right." He reaches behind his back, under that crazy cape, and Jay tenses her legs. She can outrun a guy in a cape and boots, right? But all he brings out is a roll of cash. "Get something to eat."
Jaycee Todd isn't stupid. Desperate maybe. Never stupid. She doesn't reach for the cash. "You can hire girls online. For that much, you can hire a couple of girls."
"I'm not hiring you for anything. Get off your knees and take it before someone sees us."
"Fuck." Standing quickly she grabs the cash and stuffs it in her pocket. It's a big roll, and she likes the weight of it. "I'm staying at the Park Row kids shelter."
"Their doors locked three hours ago."
Okay, no obvious lies with this guy. "I got a place. Right between Park Row and Old Gotham."
"Off the Kane Expressway?"
"Close." It's a long way away, even by bus. And if she can save bus fare that's just as good as getting paid. "I could use a lift."
"I'll give you two options. It's up to you which one you take. I can drive you to wherever you're staying, or I can drive you to a new shelter. Not one of the mob-backed recruiting centres. A real shelter, run by the Wayne Foundation."
"I just want to go home." God yes please. Please just let her go home.
Let her go home. And let mom be okay, not dead with her vein blown out like she was the last time Jaycee went home.
"What's your name?"
"Jaycee Perez Todd," she fires back.
"It's not an interrogation." He sounds like he thinks that was funny. "I just wanted to know what to call you."
She's actually in the Batman's car. The seats are huge and she's lost in hers. He takes up all of the driver's seat and his shoulders seem to spill out into all the space around him. He's that big.
The Batman is either White or light-skinned Latino. Probably not Latino. Something about the shape of his lips, Jay thinks. But that's not much to go by.
"South of the expressway is okay, so the cops are a little more careful. That's mostly where I live. North of the expressway people get start to get brown and poor, the cops aren't as careful. Take the next left."
Batman drives at the same speed as everyone else on the road and merges into the turn lane carefully. There's nothing about his junk car to interest anyone. Unless you pay attention to the sound of the engine.
"What are you planning to do with those panels?"
"Sell them online."
"How do you sell things online when you're homeless?"
Jay shrugs. "I got a phone. It's not hard to set up online payments."
Under the harness she struggles with her hoodie. Finally she manages to pull the vinyl panels out without scratching herself much. Lifting her feet she puts the panels on the floor. She leaves the hoodie and her shirt pulled halfway up. "I guess I don't need those."
She's trying to think of something else to say when a light glows red on the control panel. Batman touches a button and the car fills with voices. Cops calling for back up and ambulances. Three people shot, shooter at large. Old Gotham area.
"That's Jokerz territory, but they've been having trouble with the old mob." Jay thinks over the past few days. "And I think I saw some guys in scarecrow colours a few days ago. You know, those ugly hoodies with the grass camo pattern."
Batman stops on the street, then reverses fast into a narrow alley. "Too soon to tell who."
Parked in an alley with the Batman. This sounds like the start of one of those porn ebooks her mom used to read, before she sold her phone for the cost of a few stamp bags of brown tar heroin. "Need me to get out so you can go to work?"
"I am working," he answers. "Two more blocks and I can drop you off where you want, but there's a shooter on the loose. Or I can drop you at the Wayne shelter."
"It's no big deal. Gang shooters usually run pretty fast." She looks over at him. Under all that armour it's hard to tell if he's even breathing. "If I go in and grab my stuff, will you still be there when I get back? And then you can take me to the shelter."
"Or I can get it for you. Probably safer for the man in kevlar."
"Okay. I promise not to steal your car."
The shelter is in southwest Uptown, one block away from the Trigate Bridge. The buildings around here are old but all the storefronts have shops and the streetlights work. One of the shelter's night staff stands in the door, waiting for Jay. Standing on the ramp to the shelter Jay looks back at Batman's car and waves.
"Fuck," she watches the car pull away. "He's hot."