Reading Rainbow

January 31, 2016:

David Ironheart and Holly Harlingen look at some books like a bunch of stupid nerds. WARNING: Bad language.

Gotham City Central Public Library

The name says it all, baby.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Joker, Firebug, Penguin, Mad Hatter, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy

Plot:

Mood Music: [* IT'S A LIBRARY, BE QUIET]


Fade In…

Libraries aren't just for nerds. They are also for serial killers facing existential crises involving plants. David Ironheart happens fall under the latter category. There's quite a lot of ground for him to cover, so he's built up two stacks of books on one of the tables with books on the ecosystem, plant taxonomy, and something by Ralph Waldo Emerson. He's skimming through them so he can figure out which might have relevant information and which are a waste of time. The stack that contains the waste of time is bigger.

Libraries aren't just for serial killers facing existential crises involving plants. They are also for women browsing the 'Local History' shelf, wherever that is on the Dewey Decimal System, to seek out books on Gotham's most notoriously haunted places. Usually these books are cheap, thin cash-grabs — 'Haunted Winnipeg' or whatever, 60 pages with illustrations.

Holly Harlingen is pleased to see that the books on Gotham's haunted locations are all thick-spined beasts. Gotham's either drunk on its own folklore or it's got a lot of poltergeists messing about — either one would be useful, really. Holly approaches David's table with her own considerable stack of books, grunting because she's not superhumanly strong and has no detectably swole biceps. "Okay if I sit here?" she asks, looking to David. What's strange isn't the Scottish accent, it's that she looks at David and doesn't immediately flinch at his scarred visage.

Everyone is noticed, but few are paid any heed by David. Initially Holly is not given any real attention, simply registering as "Not yet proved to be a threat." That changes when she talks to him, but it's not because he's being addressed by somebody. It's something on a deeper level, more instinctual. That something about the brunette set her apart.

Because of that sensation he actually bothers to meet her eyes. Things get a little weirder, even if nothing overt is happening. Not reacting to his scars is not uncommon, but the way she didn't react, for lack of a better phrasing, again pings as just a bit off to him.

"Yes." His voice is self controlled and flat, completely neutral on the matter. Though the fact he even answered her is a little odd.

Holly sits down somewhere between the 'Y' and the 'es.' She spends a moment flipping through her books, finding one to be immediately boring, and another too stupid to bother with. She discards them cavalierly, pushing them away from her like a child rejecting a meal.

In between, Holly keeps glancing over at David's books. She doesn't really bother hiding it at all. She's just flat-out nosy, apparently. "If I lived in this city, I'd be looking at those books, too," she muses aloud. "Probably the only way to see any greenery without venturing into some dodgy park full of cruisy dads or those charmingly named local attractions like 'Knife-Rape Pond.'"

His motions are never anything but deliberate, if one is paying close enough attention, even if he's not obsessively neat in his book stacking. David starts skimming through a book that explains the role of ground cover on both the ecosystem and the weather.

Why do people keep talking to him? He goes out of his way to avoid it. Still, this woman is a rather big blip on his radar; maybe conversation will help him understand what the deal is.

"I'm just learning." By which he means that he doesn't really care about scenery or looking at plants because he enjoys it. "Some of those places are safe enough during the daylight. Not many, but some." He doesn't even twitch at the hopefully made up pond name.

"Really?" Holly asks, at David's last observation. "Well, that's a let-down, then." She's totally deadpan. There might be… maybe a hint of some kind of wry humor in what she's saying. Maybe. But it's so subtle as to be thinner than rice paper.

Holly flips open one of her books to a random page. She starts skimming it boredly. She doesn't look over at David, but continues speaking. "You don't strike me as the typical Gotham uni student. You don't even have a Knights shirt on."

There are certain things about people that David is very good at noticing. Ultra-subtle humor and the nuances of the more friendly, social-type emotions do not fall under that category. Still, he is familiar with sarcasm and therefor realizes that she might not ACTUALLY be disapointed that not all of Gotham is dangerous. But maybe she is, which would explain why she had caught his attention.

"I'm not." Whether that means he's not a typical student or not a student at all isn't clear. "Sometimes it is useful to know things though."

His skimming slows as Holly occupies more and more of his attention with her repeated attempts at conversation. Don't people know libraries are for reading, not having conversations? "So what's your deal?" He pauses in his reading to look up at her a second time as he delivers a very blunt question.

"Handjobs fifty dollars, mouth a hundred fifty, anything more than that we're talking upwards of a thousand." Holly says this dead seriously. Then she looks up after a beat. "That was a joke, by the way."

"My deal…" Holly says, flipping through some pages as if looking for something stuck between them, "…is that I'm here, reading books, finding it useful to know stuff — like yourself." She smiles pleasantly. "It's just that I want to know about which places in Gotham are said to be haunted by the ghosts of schoolchildren gassed by the Joker, and you appear to want to know your pistils from your stamens." Her smile turns into a bright grin. "Isn't learning just fantastic?"

He had hoped she would elaborate on her particular flavor of insanity, but he knew it was more than something like an obsessive urge to collect one of every type of beanie baby ever made. If she thinks ghosts are cooler than all the other weirdness, that's fine, but the same thing that told him the woman wasn't normal is telling him she's more than some tourist looking to take pictures of an empty building and pretend to herself that it was scary.

"Because I don't know anything about them." Evidentally this is something he only just realized, too.

"Thrillseekers don't look for child victims of a serial killer. You're also missing a proton pack." Yeah, he watched movies when he was younger.

"Be fair, I was just giving one example." Holly rolls her eyes like she's talking about her favorite pizza toppings or something. "Like here, this one, some amusement park that people say is haunted by the people who burned alive when Firebug lit up the tilt-a-whirl. Or the lake where they dredged up all the bodies of people who annoyed the Penguin for whatever reason. …I mean, really, it seems like every haunted spot in Gotham has to do with some criminal dressed in a cereal box from the last fifteen years. It's actually kind of tacky, when you think about it. Like the Vegas strip. Ugh, where's a good jilted-lover tale, or a starlet who found a grim fate trying to make it big in the big city? Instead it's all these silly twats straight from a fancy dress party. The Alice in Wonderland plagiarist, the crocodile-man or man-crocodile or whatEVER, the woman wearing a leaf pile for knickers…"

Thankfully for David's ego, he cares as little about her opinion of him or his qualities as a conversationalist as she does about his. Still seemingly impassive he listens to her rattle off various tragedies. Learning about innocent lives cruelly simply fueled the omnipresent rage that lived inside him as opposed to making him feel emotionally distressed from empathy. Still, there's something about what she's saying or perhaps how she's saying it that irritates him. And not in the manner that everybody who says irrelevant things to him irritates him either. There was a theme to the ghosts and the victims, a thread which eluded him. Violent death? No, that's not quite it.

"Gotham is a terrible place where terrible things happen all the time." Mild disapproval in his voice finally, like those tragedies were on par with somebody wearing a tacky tie. But what was the thread? The motivation?

"You writing a book?"

"I'm writing a book just like you're planting a garden," Holly says with a knowing little smile. She's one of those people who are just plain difficult to read. She has this incessant style of coy pleasantness that makes her seem like she should be the wise old sage in a movie, always saying things that the protagonist will understand later. Either that, or she's just speaking nonsense.

"But you're right. Terrible things happen all the time here." Holly closes her book, and runs her finger down the stack of the ones remaining. "Not everyone's equipped to handle that kind of vibe. Obviously, I can. And maybe you. You look… a little tough."

When it came to seeing through poker faces or penetrating subterfuge, David was not especially skilled. But often failure can tell him enough. If someone manages to tap him on the shoulder with him noticing their approach then they're skilled in stealth in some way. In Holly's case, the unusually small number of cues she gives tells him that she's either good at keeping secrets or highly skilled at controlling her emotional displays. Whatever she was concealing, she had experience in it. In of itself that tells him little, but it might add up with the other pieces into a clearer picture.

"Yes, you can," he agrees. He understands what she means by her remark about him as well - it wasn't a remark about physical durability, or at least not JUST that. The fact she's aware of it is yet another tiny piece. He tries to add them up. Someone who seeks out people who suffered violent deaths, who does so out of more than curiosity but practicality, who is hardened to tragedy, mentally disturbed, and keeps secrets about it.

"What do you really get out of this? You're not a simple ghoul." The mundane type, not the undead type.

Holly shrugs casually, still smiling. "Who knows if I'll get anything? Life is about the journey, my muscular friend. Experience is its own reward. Blah, blah, blah." Holly leans forward, resting her chin on her palms, like a kid in school.

"So, come out with it already. Which costumed nasty are you? Scar-Arms? Bicep-Fist? Bramble-Bush Bill?" Holly's smile once again spreads into a wide, gleeful smile. "If I'm no simple ghoul, lad, you're no simple gardener."

Yeah, this woman was sharp. He had revealed a bit too much about himself in his attempt to learn more about her. The urge to figure her out however was very strong; if she was just someone who got off on death she's unimportant. But there's a possibility that there is much more to it, and she could very well be causing some of those deaths she's so interested in. In fact…

"You don't know? I'm the Bicepted Botanist." David has quite the deadpan voice too when he tries, even if he sucks with names.

"So are you checking on the competition? Trying to figure out why you need to have a stage name and gimmick to become a famous killer?" Because with her disdainful remarks about vigilantes or supervillains, the pieces suddenly add up in a very bad way.

Holly laughs out loud at David's attempt to brand himself, before cutting her laugh short. She puts a finger over her lips, looking around in a pantomime as if to say 'oops, we're in the library!'

Holly eases back in her chair. "Should have picked a gimmick you know something about before you commit to it," gesturing to all the books on subjects David earlier professed to know nothing about. "No, no, no, lad. I'm no killer. I leave that to the people with nothing else to offer the world. I'm just the one who cleans up the mess they've made. Not literally, of course. You have to think in the long term."

Holly stands up, fixing her dress subtly. "I'll keep an eye out for the Bicepted Botanist in my Google Alerts," she grins.

Her response decreases the odds that she's a budding or already active serial killer - she could have completely concealed her reaction to somebody knowing her secret, but without any other evidence it becomes unlikely enough that David doesn't feel the need to follow and/or interrogate her.

Besides, her remark about cleaning up gives him a different line of thought to pursue. It wasn't his job to look after all the crazies - just the ones harming people. Further analysis can wait until he's picked out his books.

Which is why he doesn't bother to reply to her comments, but instead goes back to reading.

How rude.

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