An Eternity of Pez
and other cautionary tales
of dialectical materialism
Part Two: The Secret of Primitive Accumulation
Hamilton, Ontario's Steeltown, is a dark, forbidding city, where the smoke hangs over the broken tenements lining the toxic waters; where shadows creep in the hooded alleys; where danger drips red from eyes glaring in the night, and the sound of black wings shudders across the demon gargoyles --
"Good God," said Bruce Wayne, "you don't actually believe that, do you?"
Sheila Copps laughed nervously. "Well, look out the window, Mr. Wayne! Don't you see it?"
To humour Hamilton's Member of Parliament, Bruce obeyed. "I see a great big fountain. And flowers."
"Well, here, yes, but --"
"Yes, but at night --"
"And there are no gargoyles!"
"No, no." Ms. Copps enjoyed being in the presence of handsome billionaires, but not ones who dared to call her bluff. "Well, I admit, the tourism council made the last part up. But not entirely," she added. "There are gargolyes at the university."
"The university," Bruce said. "Don't get me started about the university."
Ms. Copps laughed kindly and ignored him. "I suppose it was the wrong strategy to compare Hamilton to your Gotham, but --"
"`The Gotham of the North'?"
"-- the city's economy is in a slump, and we needed to draw in more tourist dollars and investment, so we launched a campaign that highlighted Hamilton's similarity to Gotham."
Bruce nearly showered Ms. Copps with a mouthful of coffee. He swallowed in time and erupted into booming laughter that shook cutlery across the tony little cafe. "Similarity to Gotham! Hooded alleys, shadows, glaring eyes, and black wings flapping in the night? You don't really think Gotham is like that, do you?"
Her cheeks turned red. "Well, I've never been there, but --"
"Sure, there's some travel writers who have a Gothic bent, and they like making the city sound like Transylvania. Like some postmodern nightmare. You wouldn't believe what they write about my house." He leaned over the table and lowered his voice. "The castle of Count Wayne! Dungeons and secret passages, no doubt."
"Yes, really." Bruce leaned back. A dreaminess settled over his face. He peered contentedly through his gauzy haze at the fountain outside. "Gotham's a nice place. Rather -- provincial. Suburban. Like Disneyland."
Sheila nodded slowly. "Disneyland."
Suddenly Bruce's spine shot back straight and his eyes sharpened into two hard, dark stones. His gaze swept across the cafe, searching.
"What is it?" Bruce's face made Sheila nervous.
"The waiter," he said. "Where is he?"
"Probably in the kitchen. Why?"
"Because," he said, his voice suddenly deep.
"Because?" Ms. Copps stopped breathing.
"Because I'm hungry," Bruce said, "and I've been ready to order for the past ten minutes."
"I can't believe, Master Dick, that a student as conscientious as you would be truant from your classes just to show me a -- what did you call it?"
"A variety store," Dick said. "Can you drive a little faster?"
Alfred pointedly chose not to wear his chauffeur's cap that afternoon, so Dick could see the pale skin wrinkle under Alfred's dusting of black hair. The butler sighed, his tolerance tugged but not stretched. The Rolls Royce slipped nimbly through East end Gotham traffic, maintaining its speed.
Dick forced himself to lean back in the squeaky black leather. He ran his fingers through his hair. "It's just exciting to think about, that's all," Dick said.
"I haven't seen you this excited since Master Bruce bought you that incendiary construction kit for Christmas when you were a boy."
"This is much, much, better."
"I can't imagine what would bring such joy to you," Alfred said blithely, "beyond explosives. A thermo-nuclear device, perhaps?"
"Just keep driving, Alfred."
"Quite." After a moment Alfred cleared his throat. "This is... an intriguing neighbourhood to do your shopping in, Master Dick."
Dick glanced out the window. Gang symbols he was all too familiar with blotted out the shredded remnants of ten-year-old billboards. If he stilled his breathing and closed his eyes, he could hear the crunch of broken beer bottles under the Rolls' tires, which were blessedly bullet-proof.
"It's convenient." Especially when he was on stakeouts of the neighbourhood's local gang.
"And I suppose," Alfred drawled, "quick service is the only service that matters. I shall have to remember that next time I do your laundry --"
"HEY! You're driving past it!"
The butler smoothly brought the car to a stop.
"You'll pardon me, sir, for not parking, but all the spots seem to be filled with garbage."
"Just shove it out of the way!"
The Rolls bounced as Alfred drove over two full garbage bags. "Adequate, sir?"
"Yup. Come on!"
In two leaps Dick arrived at the barred glass door of Artie's Mart and swung it open. He waited, his limbs tapping impatiently, for Alfred to walk casually through the door.
Dick couldn't keep the toothy grin from his face. "Come on!" he said, and steered the butler across the rows of magazines, groceries, and hunting supplies. "I was -- just strolling through here yesterday, and look what I found."
He turned the corner of the candy row and brandished his hand. "See?"
Alfred's eyebrows raised. "Ginger Spice lollipops. Indeed, that is a find, Master Dick."
"WHAT!?" Dick exclaimed. "This can't be!"
But it was.
Before Dick's eyes, his sacred plastic head had somehow transformed into the pouting strumpet face of Ginger Spice, wrapped around a cherry-flavoured lollipop. Spice Girls of various descriptions, short and tall, thin and scary, were filed like ranks of a pink army on the metal racks where, just yesterday, he had been sovereign.
"Something the matter, Master Dick?"
For the second time in three days, Dick Grayson screamed.
The sound brought Buzz running. "What? What?" he shrieked. "You injured? You don't blame me! I don't have no insurance against that!"
Dick wheeled around. His eyes glowed like seeds of lightning. "Where are they?" he growled, glaring at the tiny shopkeeper.
Alfred decided that Dick spent entirely too much time with his guardian. He was picking up Master Bruce's bad habits, including not making any bloody sense.
Artie, or Buzz, hummed nervously, a tuneless, buzzing sound that gave him his nickname. "Wh-what are you talking about?"
"You know," Dick intoned. "The Robin Pez dispensers. Where are they?"
Buzz's grey eyes darted in a circle from the rack, to Dick, to Alfred, to the ceiling, and back to his counter.
"Don't even think about pulling a gun," Dick said. "Now. Where?"
"They sold out," he squeaked.
Dick observed the darting eyes, the beads of sweat wiggling down his lined forehead, and the tight voice. "You're lying," he said. His hand shot out and gripped the shopkeeper's shoulder firmly.
Alfred cleared his throat. "I'm sure the store will be restocked soon enough of these... Pez dispensers, or whatever you called them, sir. Perhaps by next week."
Dick shook his head. "No, Alfred. There's something going on here." His eyes pierced into Buzz, who hummed louder. "And I know someone who can help me find out what."
"Pez dispensers? Did you say Pez dispensers? Well." James Gordon leaned back in his chair.
Robin stood in the shadows by the open window of Gordon's office. "Yes, Commissioner. Pez Dispensers. They may have been stolen. Or -- worse."
"Worse?" Gordon adjusted his glasses and squinted at Robin. "I've got to buy more lamps for this office. I can't tell whether you're joking or serious."
"I'm very serious." Robin didn't know why, but his voice was suddenly deeper, and his sentences were shorter.
"I'll admit, the store's in a pretty bad neighbourhood, but... do you really want to waste my time with this?"
"It's not a waste of time."
Gordon sighed. "I have no idea what bug's in your shorts. You're getting almost as bad as him."
Robin said nothing. Just what Bruce would have done. Damn.
"Fine. I'll play along. Which Pez dispenser? Porky Pig? That would be a real shame, if that one got stolen."
"No." He hesitated. "They're of me."
"You? Didn't know they made Robin Pez dispensers --"
Gordon pulled a cigarette from his front shirt pocket and lit it. "Oh, all right. I'll keep an eye out for them, son."
Robin flinched at the name, but nodded. "Thanks, Commissioner."
"And if you do find any Porky Pig ones, you'll get them to me? As evidence, I mean."
But Robin was gone.
"The kid's definitely spending too much time with him," Jim muttered.
"I hate hockey," Bruce Wayne announced.
The table grew suddenly quiet. All eyes shifted uneasily from Bruce to Mr. Gretzky, who nodded slowly, hands clasped before his nose.
"I see," he said. "I see." After all, the customer was always right. Even if it was a hockey-themed restaurant -- his hockey-themed restaurant.
Back in Toronto, Bruce had demanded that Conrad Black take him out for dinner, and the media mogul was eager to comply. Bruce reasoned it was the least Black could do, after the buffet table debacle at his party last night. They'd seated Bruce next to a short Canadian woman who had the most wonderfully deep brown eyes but hair that was the colour of rust and the consistency of floss. Her name was Betty. Betty the advertising director for some Canadian newspaper that Black was trying to convince him to invest in.
"Why, if you hate hockey, Mr. Wayne, did you choose this restaurant?" Betty the advertising director asked. It was the first time she'd spoken all night.
"The steak," Bruce answered frankly. "And the pizza."
"Which will you be ordering, Bruce?" Conrad Black, still trying to keep his smile, kept glancing back nervously at Mr. Gretzky, whose stare was fixed on his old Edmonton Oilers jersey displayed behind glass in the wall.
Bruce glowered at him. "I'm ordering both."
"I -- see." Conrad could see the potential investor flitting away from him, the more times he opened his mouth.
"Why do you hate hockey?" Betty pressed.
"Too violent," Bruce said.
"But compared to your Batman, the worst of hockey players should seem like Mahatma Gandhi," Conrad said, and gave a ragged laugh, to show he was kidding.
"Batman isn't violent," Bruce said.
"Not violent?" Wayne Gretzky sputtered. "Not violent? You're kidding me."
"Can I have some water, please?" Bruce said to a passing waiter.
"Well, it's hard to be violent when you don't exist," Betty laughed. "Eh?"
Bruce just stared at her. Canadians, he decided, were quite thick.
"Can you imagine, Alfred? Can you imagine where 168 Robin Pez Dispensers would disappear to? Are they in a shoe box playing Mahjongg? Are they sailing paperclips on the Gotham River?"
"Good God, I hope not, Master Dick. They'd lose all their paperclips."
Dick, newly returned from his nightly patrol, was tracking a smudge of mud over and over into the stone floor of the Batcave. Dervishes of dust swirled up every time he stomped a foot. Apparently, Alfred noted, Master Dick hadn't wiped his feet properly when he'd stormed in.
Dick continued his frenzied pacing and ripped his mask off. "Something funny is going on. Artie was hiding something. But what? I've searched all day for clues, and came up with nothing."
Alfred delayed fetching the portable Hoover for a moment longer. "And did you forgo all your classes earlier today to ponder this -- er, case, sir?"
The storm clouds in Dick's head suddently parted a trifle; Alfred's question seeped through. His step paused for a moment. Then he waved his hand and resumed his trek over the mudpatch that would soon be permanently ground into the Batcave floor. "I didn't go to bio chem," he admitted.
"But I did go to political philosophy."
"Indeed, sir." Master Bruce would not be pleased to hear that, Alfred was certain.
Dick plowed on. "Someone walks into Artie's Mart and steals 168 Robin Pez dispensers. No sign of forced entry, no alarm sounded, even though Artie has a pretty high-tech alarm system. But no surveillance cameras." His foot paused in mid-stomp. "Very odd." He continued pacing. "A regular shoplifter?"
"And how would even the nimblest-fingered of thieves fit so many Pez dispensers into his jacket pockets, I wonder?"
"He couldn't. She. Maybe Catwoman." A wicked grin insinuated itself across his face. "It would explain the clean entry and exit. And loot this precious would be right up her alley." He rubbed his palms together. "And with Bruce out of town... This could be fun."
"I hate to dampen your enthusiasm, Master Dick, but I always had the feeling Ms. Kyle fancied jewels over novelty confectionary."
Dick's lips curled into a grimace. "They are rare gems," he mumbled. "But it still doesn't explain why Artie -- Buzz -- didn't report it. He was scared, Alfred. Too scared to snitch. Who could generate that much fear in him?"
"Besides yourself, sir?"
Dick suddenly halted. "Of course!"
In three bounds he was at the bank of computers. He began to type furiously. As his fingers rattled the keyboard he talked of his epiphany, Alfred presumed for his own enlightenment.
"About seven months back, I remember. We were staking out that area, watching the local ganglord -- that's how I found out about Artie's Mart. Anyway, this guy is your classic thug: big-time heister, smuggler, gun-runner, but he's too stupid to pull most things off on his own, so we figured he must work for someone else. We brought him in -- There!"
"Oh, my. That man eats far too many Passion Flakies, I dare say."
"Sharky ‘Shark' Jones. And --" tap, tap, bang -- "whaddaya know, he's been let out early. Hmm." Dick rubbed his chin. "Stupid as stone, but he was king in that neighbourhood, Alfred. Everyone was paying him off for something. I wonder -- I wonder if HE stole the Pez Dispensers!"
"And why, Master Dick, would a hardened criminal want 200 Robin Pez Dispensers?"
Dick scrunched his nose up at this ridiculous question. "168 Pez Dispensers. Robin Pez Dispensers. If you'd seen them, Alfred, you'd know. They're glorious. He probably figures he can sell them for an inflated price on the black market. Are you kidding? With such a small supply and that high of a demand, he'd make a fortune!"
"Yes, but -- 168, sir? That's an odd number to order."
"There were 200 originally."
"I see, sir," Alfred said slowly, his brilliant ochre eyes never leaving Dick's face. He chose not to ask how Dick knew the exact order tally. "I suppose the dispensers were so popular, 32 eager customers snapped them up in one morning."
"Er -- yeah, Alfred. That's gotta be it," Dick said, making a note to himself to move 32 Robin Pez Dispensers from under his bed before Alfred cleaned his room the next morning.
To be continued...