On the midnight streets of Gotham City, at the corner of Badger Boulevard and Olsen Street, just outside of Gotham City Hall, were two men. One stood ramrod straight, glancing up and down the street as if he was looking for something. The other man, piled on the ground and bound at the wrists and ankles, was cackling, his too-wide mouth showing too many teeth.
“Oh!” the bound man laughed. “Oh, this is rich! Absolutely, utterly, filthy rich!” He kept cackling, slamming his head on the ground in his mirth. “So rich it makes Bruce Wayne look like a pauper! Batman, the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight of Gotham, can’t remember where he parked!”
Batman kicked the Joker in the ribs; it did nothing to silence the psychopath, but it felt good. “Very mature, Bats,” the Clown Prince of Crime grunted.
“Quiet,” Batman said. He cycled through the windows of the wrist computer on his gauntlet, but the Batmobile wasn’t showing up on GPS. Was the signal being blocked? Forcing back a growl, he quickly tied the Joker to a nearby lamppost. “Wait here.”
Before the Joker could make some witty response, Batman shot his grapple gun at the roof of city hall. It latched, and the powerful motors inside the gadget yanked him through the air like he had been shot from a cannon. With practiced ease, he vaulted to land on the corner of the roof. From so high up, he could see the glowing streets of Gotham, and the Joker trying to struggle out of his bonds. But most importantly, the maniacal clown wasn’t able to hear the Caped Crusader take a healthy bruise to his ego. He tapped his ear, activating the communicator hidden in his cowl. “Alfred,” he said.
“Yes, Master Bruce?” came his faithful butler’s smooth voice. “How is your night out on the town?”
“I caught the Joker trying to plant a bomb in City Hall. Probably meant for the Mayor’s speech tomorrow,” Batman answered. Down below, the madman cursed bitterly as the ropes only tightened from his struggling. “But there’s a problem.”
“Life would be so dreadfully boring without them, I should imagine,” Alfred responded, probably while sitting in front of the roaring fireplace at Wayne Manor with a warm cup of tea and a dry novel. “How may I be of assistance, Master Bruce?”
Batman took a very deep breath. This was going to sting. “I can’t find the Batmobile, Alfred,” Batman said.
Alfred, bless his soul, kept his tone even and controlled. If he was at all amused by his employer’s apparent loss of a multi-million dollar vehicle, it was drowned under an ocean of British sensibilities. “Have you tried using the Bat-Locator?”
“No luck. The transponder must be malfunctioning.”
“Well, where did you park it?”
“On Badger Boulevard, at the corner of Olsen Street. Right across from City Hall.”
“Ah. I think I might know what’s the matter.”
“What is it, Alfred?”
“It has been a few years, so I quite possibly could be mistaken, but I seem to recall a no-parking zone at Badger and Olsen. Something to do with sight lines of the oncoming cars, I believe.”
“That’s impossible,” Batman said, turning his sharp eyes to the street corner where the Batmobile should have been parked. “I never would have-”
He fell very, very quiet.
“Master Bruce?” Alfred asked.
“Alfred,” Batman said, glaring at the ‘no parking’ sign sitting right where he had parked the Batmobile, “I think my car got towed.”
“The Batmobile,” Commissioner Gordon repeated, “got towed.”
“I wasn’t aware that the corner of Badger and Olsen was a no parking zone,” the Caped Crusader said. They stood on the roof of Gotham Police Headquarters; for once, it had been Batman who summoned Gordon, rather than the other way around. Gordon personally preferred his method of summoning (the giant light in the sky) to Batman’s (dumping the Joker on the front step with a note requesting Gordon’s presence on the roof), but the Dark Knight moved in mysterious ways.
“Hasn’t it always been there?” Gordon asked.
“I wasn’t aware,” Batman snapped. “I need you to do what you can to get the Batmobile back.”
Gordon, as always, mentally tacked a ‘please’ to the end of Batman’s request. “I can’t,” he said. “It’s out of my jurisdiction.”
“You’re Gotham City’s police commissioner,” Batman said. “Everything is your jurisdiction.”
“Not this,” Gordon sighed. “You’ll have to tangle with the DMV.”
For a second, Gordon almost saw human emotion on Batman’s face: fear. It was gone in a heartbeat. “You can’t honestly expect me to go to the DMV,” the vigilante said.
“Do you want the Batmobile back?”
“Then you’ll have to. Pay whatever fine you owe them, fill out some paperwork, listen to soul-numbing jazz while you wait…”
“This is ridiculous.”
“I agree,” Gordon said. He took a swig from his mug of coffee to fight off the cold, an action that took his eyes off of Batman for half a second. “Did I ever tell you about the time I was working an undercover beat and-”
But there was only an empty rooftop to listen to his humorous anecdote.
Gordon sighed. “Every time. Never any small talk, never even says ‘have a nice night’ – rude bastard.”
The next day, Batman sat in the Gotham City Department of Motor Vehicles waiting room and scowled. He considered himself very good at scowling. It was all about the slight downward curve of the lips, the flaring of the nostrils, the jutting of the chin; ten seconds of this scowl could crack the will of any of Gotham’s common ne’er-do-wells. However, despite being glared at for ten minutes, the screen still hadn’t announced Batman’s number.
“A-23,” a tired voice droned over the intercom. “A-23.”
Batman looked at the little slip of paper in his fist. A-65. He growled.
He still couldn’t believe that he was actually here, in the DMV, in full regalia. Neither could any of the civilians around him; wisely, they chose not to sit anywhere near Batman, forming a bubble of solitude around him. They just stared and whispered. Some of them took pictures with their phones. Batman had foreseen this, and had set the Batcomputer to automatically delete any social media posts that contained pictures of him. Illegal, maybe, but then so was most of what Batman did.
After a few minutes, the next announcement was made. “A-24,” the speaker said.
Batman snapped his head up towards the man who moved towards the desk, a slip of paper held in his trembling hand. No more waiting. Batman acted.
In an instant, Batman was looming in front of the man with A-24. Nobody even saw him move. The poor man jolted back, staring up at the dark-caped figure. Batman was a connoisseur of fear, and he could see that this man was terrified. A heartbeat later, there wasn’t a single soul within a ten-foot radius around them.
Batman held up his slip, and didn’t say anything. The man with A-24 understood, and a second later became the man with A-65. The Dark Knight marched towards the front desk, performing mental gymnastics to justify his actions.
The doughy old woman sitting at the desk didn’t look up from her computer as Batman sat down. “Name,” she said.
Now she looked up, and regarded him with soulless eyes trapped behind horn-rimmed glasses. These were eyes that would make an inmate at Arkham Asylum shudder. “So you are,” she said as if she was commenting on the weather. “How can I help you, Mister Batman?”
“My car was towed last night,” Batman said. “I want it back.”
“Do you have a current vehicle registration certificate, insurance card for the vehicle, and a valid driver’s license?” the clerk asked, like she was reading off a script.
Something heavy and cold dropped into Batman’s stomach. His scowl deepened, but the clerk was unaffected. “I don’t,” he grumbled.
The clerk stared back at him. “Don’t have what?”
“Any of those,” the Caped Crusader said.
The clerk gave him a look over her horn-rimmed glasses. “You mean to say you’ve been driving an unlicensed, uninsured vehicle without a driver’s license, Mister Batman?”
“…Yes,” he said.
“Well then,” said the clerk, steepling her fingers as a look like a hungry snake crossed her eyes, “it looks like we’re going to have a problem.”
“Just a moment, sir,” said Alfred. “I believe I just heard a knock at the door.”
He covered the receiver with one hand, and laughed himself silly for half a minute. Then, like a switch had been flipped, he stopped, composed himself, and put the phone back to his ear. “Terribly sorry, I suppose I must have been hearing things,” he said.
“Right,” growled Master Bruce.
“So,” Alfred said, trying to stop himself from laughing again. “Let me make sure I heard you correctly. You were fined twelve hundred dollars for driving without a license, registration, or insurance, and now you have to apply for a – a driver’s license-” He took the receiver away just long enough to snort. “-or you will face criminal charges.”
“Right,” Master Bruce confirmed. “And until then, I can’t get the Batmobile back.”
“Dreadfully sorry to hear that. And when will you be able to take your driving test?”
“I won’t be.”
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
“Alfred, have you ever seen all the requirements of what is necessary to get a driver’s license in Gotham?”
“Having driven in Gotham, sir, I would suspect that it requires you to have a pulse and the ability to draw an ‘x’ on a line that is pointed out to you by a very patient bureaucrat. Peripheral vision and knowledge of turn signals is entirely optional, and ability at parallel parking is discouraged,” Alfred said with a voice as dry as the Gobi Desert.
There was a sound of a short, crisp exhale on the other end of the line. Coming from Master Bruce, it was the equivalent of belly laughter. “Besides that,” he said. “Getting a license would far more work than I am willing to go through.”
Says the man who spends his free time devising ways to destabilize countries, just in case, Alfred thought.
“So I-” Master Bruce sighed heavily. “I… made a deal with the DMV.”
“Oh good Lord,” Alfred gasped, covering his mouth. “Couldn’t you have made a deal with the Devil instead, sir? That would be far more palatable.”
“I wish I could have. They gave me a license, and the Batmobile, but the cost… Oh God, the cost.”
“Master Bruce, return to the manor immediately,” Alfred ordered. “I will have a soothing cup of tea at the ready for you.”
“…Thank you, Alfred.”
Batman stood on the corner of a building overlooking the streets of Gotham City. With his cape gathered around him, he seemed less like a human and more like a thing; that was what he wanted. Batman wasn’t supposed to be seen as a man in a very expensive costume. He was a representation, a symbol of fear for the criminal elements of the city. When Batman was on the prowl, they would jump at shadows, scared witless just by the thought of his presence. To listen to their stories, Batman was a supernatural being capable of things beyond human imagination. He liked it that way.
A sound reached Batman’s ears. A roaring rumble, coming closer. Batman could see the lights zooming down the street, and knowing the speed of the target, he estimated the precise moment to jump.
He hopped off the edge, snapping his cape out like wings. He flexed his fingers, and concealed electronics sent an electric current through the specially made cloth. It turned rigid, slowing his fall, and he plummeted towards the street, precisely on the mark to intercept the oncoming vehicle.
Batman slammed down onto the hood of the car, and came face to face with the young man in the driver’s seat. “Pull over,” Batman said in the voice he reserved for hardened criminals.
The driver screamed.
“Do you know why I’ve pulled you over,” Batman said, standing at the driver’s side window. When Batman says ‘pull over’, it is a good idea to pull over immediately.
“You’re Batman,” the youth pointed out in a small voice. He had to be eighteen, at least. Young enough to think he was immortal, speeding at highway speeds down the streets of Gotham, but old enough to have access to a car. Not a good combination.
“You were speeding,” Batman said. He groaned, hating himself for having to do this. “License and registration.”
“License and registration,” Batman repeated.
The youth laughed. “I’m sorry, is this a joke?” he asked. “Where’s the hidden camera? There’s no way that Batman would-”
The Dark Knight scowled at him.
“Here you go,” the driver squeaked, handing over his license.
In a padded cell in Arkham Asylum, the world’s most porous asylum for the criminally insane, the Joker was having some difficulty breathing. “Help,” he gasped out, tears running down his face, in those short moments when he could take in air. “Please, help.”
Finally, mercifully, a guard came in and hammered the Joker in the face with the butt of his stun baton. “Thank you,” the Joker gasped, the pain finally bringing him back to some sick parody of normalcy. “If you take this newspaper away from me, I promise not to kill you next time I break out.”
The guard, scowling (but nowhere near as well as Bats), snatched the newspaper from the Joker and stormed out of the cell. The Clown Prince of Crime relaxed, finally free of looking at the headline that had made him almost pass out from laughter. Clearly, Batman had finally embraced the madness that the Joker knew bubbled inside of him; it was the only sane explanation for… that.
The Joker, against his wishes, started giggling again. The headline was burned into his memory, and it wouldn’t go away. The giggles devolved into mad laughter, and after a while, the laughter began to hurt. The Joker’s ribs ached. He had never thought it was possible to laugh too much, but he was starting to rethink his position on that.
Outside of the cell, the guard sat at his security post, and unfolded the newly confiscated newspaper. Nobody knew how the Joker kept getting the damn things every morning, but the investigation was ongoing and halfhearted. Arkham’s security had long ago accepted that they were the equivalent of a short-term hotel stay for the most dangerous of Gotham’s insane elite.
The guard stared at the headline on the front page, and rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn’t seeing things. He wasn’t. The headline still read: ‘Speeding incidents down three hundred percent this month; Chief of Transportation credits Batman.’
The guard sighed, put the newspaper down, and went off in search of the head orderly in order to request his own padded cell.