Batman: 1941: Secrets, Chapter 1: Blackmail

by Dave Barnowski

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The chauffeured black Rolls Royce traveled out of Gotham City and toward the hills where the rich kept their mansions and manors. The owner sat in the back seat, reading his mail. He was a very busy man and spent almost all of his waking hours overseeing the various businesses owned by the Wayne family.

He was a handsome, tall man at an even six feet. His black hair was beginning to recede from his forehead, which made his widow’s peak even more pronounced. He was still physically fit at one hundred and eighty-three pounds, even though he was forty-seven and didn’t exercise regularly. He was smoking a cigarette, something he did almost continuously.

Looking up, he saw that they were nearing the manor that his brother had built and his nephew now resided in. He wasn’t looking forward to talking with Bruce. Hell, he thought, I never look forward to coming out to Tom’s manor. That was how he thought of Wayne Manor — as his late brother Thomas’ manor. Every time he came out here, he thought of his beloved brother and his lovely wife, both of whom were murdered seventeen years earlier. He still mourned them.

Their murder had orphaned their only son, Bruce. Philip had been away in Paris at the time. Although he had been tempted to sail back to Gotham City as soon as he had heard, he didn’t, because he was in delicate negotiations with the French government over some business contracts. Thus he wired Thomas’ butler Jarvis Beagle to bring the boy to France. Jarvis did so, after spending Christmas with his own family in England. (*) Philip Wayne always felt guilty about not going back home to Gotham City and seeing to Bruce’s needs.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Files: Batman: Times Past, 1924: Christmas Memories.]

The car entered the gates on the yard of the manor, and Philip lit another cigarette. He knew that he was a poor substitute for his brother, and it pained him to know how much his inability to emotionally and physically be there had hurt Bruce while he was growing up. Philip Wayne was unable to give his nephew what Philip thought he needed. He had often thought that Bruce turned out the way he did because of the way Philip raised him.

Bruce had been an extremely intelligent child and seemed determined all through school to excel to the point of being driven. His drive worried Philip until Bruce met Julie Madison, and they became engaged. Then Bruce seemed to soften a bit. But when he graduated, he alarmed Philip by taking up residence in the long-abandoned house his father had built for his mother. His nephew didn’t take up any profession, either; he just lived in the manor all alone and went to the parties put on by Gotham City’s rich and famous. Then, last year, he took on a young boy as a ward whose parents were murdered (just as Bruce’s parents had been).

Philip had worried about his nephew’s behavior until he discovered that Bruce’s behavior was a ruse for another identity he had taken up. Now he worried about his nephew for different reasons. Philip got out of the car as soon as it pulled up to the front door. He went up the steps to find that his nephew Bruce was opening the door for him. They shook hands and went into the manor together.

The two men entered the manor, and Bruce took his Uncle Philip’s hat and coat. It was a cold and blustery day for March 7th. Bruce told Philip to go to the parlor and that he would meet him there with some freshly made coffee. Philip went into the parlor; his breath was taken away when he saw a large portrait of his brother Thomas and his wife Martha dominating the wall as he entered the room. Philip went up to the portrait and stood there admiring the work, as it truly captured the late couple. It brought up happy memories and thoughts of the many good times he had here at the manor.

Bruce came in with a coffee service set on a cart and saw his Uncle Philip staring at the portrait. Bruce cleared his throat and said, “They had that commissioned back in 1923. It was up at the top of the stairs, but since I don’t really use that part of the house, I brought it down here.”

Philip turned and saw his nephew. He was a big, brawny, handsome man with black hair. Thomas and Martha would have proud to have seen their son. He did frown when he saw Bruce bringing the cart by himself, since he thought that Bruce should have at least one permanent servant here at the manor, and not merely the occasional day-laborer he preferred to hire in the summers to maintain the grounds. He and Bruce had discussed the matter before, and it had only turned into an argument. Philip didn’t say anything now, because he didn’t want another argument, even though he was of the opinion that young Richard’s presence at the manor with him made it even more important that Bruce have servants.

Philip had heard talk about his nephew among the social peers. And the rumors of impropriety that accompanied the talk disturbed him greatly. It didn’t seem to matter that Bruce was engaged to a Hollywood starlet, nor that he had become a social butterfly. Philip knew from experience that a good and loyal servant, preferably a butler, would do well to stop the innuendo. This would happen because servants talk to one another, and a loyal man who could steadfastly vouch for his employer would stem the talk, while the other servants would in turn vouch for him to their employers. Gossip worked both ways.

Bruce served his Uncle Philip his coffee black and offered him a cigarette. “You don’t come out here that often, and you have my power of attorney and my proxy for any business problems, so what brings you out here, Uncle?” the younger man inquired.

Philip took both the coffee and the cigarette, which he lit immediately, “I’m not here about business, Bruce. I’m here because someone has found out my secret, and they have photos to prove it,” replied the older man.

Bruce’s demeanor became completely serious as he frowned, and his eyes snapped to full attention on his uncle. “Why come to me? Why not go see Commissioner Gordon?”

Philip looked his nephew straight in the eyes and said, “Bruce, you know very well why I can’t go to the police. James Gordon is an honest cop. If he wasn’t, I’d never have backed the mayor when he named him commissioner. But if I went to him, I’d have to tell him what information the blackmailers were extorting me with. Once I did that, Gordon would have no choice but to put the vice squad on my tail. Homosexual activity is illegal in this state.”

Bruce was silent. He had known his uncle’s secret ever since he came home early from college one day and had caught his uncle with another middle-aged man. Neither of them had ever discussed the matter, though. “I still don’t know why you need my help,” Bruce said finally.

“I need the Batman’s help.”

“Yes, I can see that, but why come to me?”

Philip shook his head and said, “Because I know that you’re the Batman, Bruce.”

“The Batman?!” cried an astonished Bruce Wayne. “I’m not the Batman, Uncle Philip.”

“Ah, but you are, Bruce. I’ve known it since I saw you shoot down that giant on the Empire State building in New York last year. I was in New York and saw you flying that autogyro of yours.”

Bruce’s ears perked up when his uncle mentioned that case. He remembered the poor, misshapen giant that had been a result of Professor Hugo Strange’s experiments. (*) Outwardly, however, his face betrayed no emotion. “How does that make me the Batman, Uncle?” he asked with a shrug.

[(*) Editor’s note: See 3rd story, Batman #1 (Spring, 1940).]

Philip exhaled audibly. He had not expected his nephew to deny the truth of his other life. “Two things, Bruce. First, the Batman circled the Empire State Building using the Double L loop, and second, I recognized the design of the autogyro from our Robinson Aviation subsidiary.”

“Neither one of those things prove that I’m the Batman.”

“I taught you how to fly, Bruce, when you were twelve years old, and I taught you the Double L maneuver. The military doesn’t teach it anymore, because it’s considered antiquated, and the Batman is too young to have fought in the Great War.”

“There are still logical explanations, Uncle…”

“Yes, I know,” said Philip, cutting off his nephew. “That’s why I looked into your financial record for the past three years when I recognized the autogyro’s design. I found out how you paid for the autogyro, as well as souped-up cars and other equipment. It also explains your odd behavior since you graduated college. Not to mention that Batman gained a sidekick soon after you took on young Richard as your ward.”

A defeated Bruce looked at his uncle. “I didn’t think anyone could trace those financial records.”

“Only someone with your power of attorney could, Bruce.”

The two men stood there in silence for a moment, and then Philip asked, “Are you going to help me, Bruce?”

“Depends what you’re asking me to do, Uncle Philip. I don’t kill anymore.”

Philip smiled a sad smile at his nephew. “I’m not asking you to. I only want the photos and the negatives. The reputation as a hard-nosed businessman with an eye for ladies that I’ve cultivated all these years will protect me as long as there’s no evidence.”

“Sorry, Uncle Philip, but I had to tell you that right up front. Now tell me as much information as you can about these blackmailers.”

Philip was glad that his nephew had finally started listening to his problem. “I received a letter in the mail yesterday with several compromising photographs, along with a demand for twenty-thousand dollars. The letter also said that they would call me tonight at six PM with directions on how they wanted the money delivered.”

Several questions emerged in Bruce’s mind as he heard his uncle speak. The first one he asked was, “Are you certain the letter said ‘they’?”

Philip nodded in the affirmative.

“That means there are two or more of these blackmailers. Where and when were these pictures taken, and how? I mean, you’re so…” Bruce searched for the right word. “…discreet,” Bruce finally said.

Philip nodded and smiled a sad smile. “They were taken in Paris last year during the Battle of Dunkirk. I’ve gone to Paris at least once every year since I was a fighter pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille during the Great War. It’s a very libertine city, and I can cut loose there unlike anywhere else, at least until the Boche came.” Philip put out his cigarette and continued, “You know, Bruce, that homosexual acts are a crime here in America and in England. Hell, they were in France, but the Boche have made it illegal to even be a non-practicing homosexual.”

“What do you mean, Uncle Philip?”

Philip inhaled deeply and took out another cigarette. He spoke as he lit it up, “You’ve heard what the Nazis are doing to the Jews and the Gypsies?” When Bruce shook his head yes, Philip continued talking. “Well, they’re doing the same thing to homosexual men — sending them to concentration camps — and once they go in, they never come out again. Not alive, anyway.”

“I hadn’t heard that,” said Bruce.

“I didn’t think so. Nobody is going to care if a bunch of queers are sent to concentration camps and slowly starved and tortured,” Philip said angrily. He paused and said, “I’m sorry about my tone, Bruce. I didn’t mean to take it out on you. I know these things are true because I have friends in Germany, but not as many as I used to.

“Anyway, the Battle of France was lost, and the Boche were coming. I’m a man of wealth and influence, and I used both to try to get as many men as I could out of France before the Germans came. I wasn’t discreet, as you called it, because there wasn’t time.”

Bruce looked at his uncle with a newfound admiration. “How many did you get out?”

“I don’t know, couple of hundred or so — not enough,” Philip said dejectedly.

“Do you have the photos and the envelope that they came in?”

“No. I burned them. I know that it was a mistake, but that was my first reaction.”

Taking a different tack, Bruce changed the subject. “What about the other man in the photographs? Could he be behind this?”

“No. He refused to leave his beloved Paris and died shortly after the damned Nazis put him a concentration camp.” Philip’s hand went up to his eyes, and he wiped away a tear.

Bruce put his hands on the older man’s shoulders in sympathy and said, “You said they’re going to call you tonight.”

“That’s right.”

“Well, the Batman will be there tonight as well.”

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