15206/Another Dull Charity Gala

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Another Dull Charity Gala
Date of Scene: 12 June 2023
Location: Waldorf Astoria Gotham
Synopsis: At a charity gala event, Helena attempts to negotiate a real estate deal intended to thwart a pair of Costa Nostra families, but Bruce Wayne outbids her. Fortunately they come to terms.
Cast of Characters: Huntress, Batman

Huntress has posed:
Charity galas like the one being held tonight in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Gotham hotel are a dime a dozen. Expensive tickets aimed at Gotham's elite, tuxedos and fine dresses, champagne and a pleasant sounding band playing music-appropriate for an easy waltz is just par for the course. For most of the attendees here, it's some part showing off, and some part networking.

Helena Bertinelli is precisely the target of this sort of charity organization -- independently wealthy with no heirs or immediate relatives. She's received dozens of invitations just like this one since her return to Gotham, and none have been accepted... until now. She's certainly dressed for the occasion, the dark gold evening gown that clings to her curves and sweeps loosely to her calves, the matching heels, her dark hair pinned up, the amethyst-and-diamond necklace that sparkles at her throat and matches the bracelet she wears -- it all says old money glamor, and Helena is adept elegance.

Bruce Wayne, if he's keeping any kind of tabs on what Helena Bertinelli has been doing since coming back to Gotham abruptly after her three year sojourn, is well aware she's been making some interesting -- arguably very poor -- investments into real estate around Gotham of late. There's no obvious reasons for her choices, but he might get some insight if he recognizes the man she's talking with presently.

Branson Barnes is a well known real estate owner in Gotham -- his father having reputedly strongarmed struggling landowners into letting him buy them out in the early 2000's -- a tactic Branson also took up. He also has no qualms dealing with, or on behalf of the criminal elements of the city, which has afforded him a kind of immunity from harm and an ego that is undoubtedly undeserved given his paunch belly and overly loud way of speaking. Case in point: "Helena, my dear, are you making me an offer I can't refuse?"

The elegant brunette merely smiles at Branson, with effort. "Mr. Barnes, I'm simply making a /generous/ offer."

Branson smiles, greedily. "For a property the Cassementos and Galantes are both interested in...?"

Helena's eyes widen, as if surprised, though she's not so fantastic at acting that Branson, and anyone watching, couldn't determine it's a poor act. "Are they?" she asks, archly, tilting her champagne glass thoughtfully.
Batman has posed:
"Sorry-- I, ah, I thought it was the... restroom."

Bruce's warm, but slightly dumb and self-deprecating smile disarms the rather surprised attendant who greets the billionaire when Wayne exits the coat check. Of course, it's not just coats-- any number of personal effects and communication devices are secured by the posh hotel's staff under lock and key beyond.

It's a safe bet that -none- of these have, as yet, been compromised, tracked, infected, or otherwise looted for data. Not by someone as charmingly harmless as prominent playboy Bruce Wayne. Rather than chastise or challenge the elite among their clientele, it's likely to staff is just relieved to discover Bruce has not -actually- relieved himself in the aforementioned repository. Crime fighters aren't the only ones with a rough job.

Bruce adjusts the bow tie of indigo-and-silver accented tuxedo, brushes down his jacket, and shoots his cuffs gracefully as he moves to rejoing the party, milling from conversation to conversation with a glass of champagne in one hand. While this glass diminishes, and has even been replaced several times this eve, only the most observant-- perhaps superhumanly so-- might recognize the masterful sleight of hand responsible for this.

By all ~outward~ appearances Bruce is indeed using this gathering for its intended purpose. He schmoozes, he drops eaves, he makes overtures and arrangements associated with his own ample charity ventures throughout Gotham and beyond. All the while, keen blue eyes that mimic the subtly glaze of inebriation surprisingly well keep an acute scan of his surroundings, a quiet inventory of who is where and talking to whom. So it is that he wanders near a certain conversation at an entirely coincidental moment.

"At the least we can all agree Ms. Bertinelli is a far more enticing business partner." Wayne observes with a deft lift of his glass, and a wry, conspiratorial smirk for Branson's benefit, more than Helena's. "With a long list of worthy causes." The endorsement may be worth more than its quiet implications; or the way Bruce manages to indict the more nefarious families without uttering a single quotable negative; or at least, one that doesn't sound flirtaciously frivolous. "Anything I can do to help?" Because men like Bruce Wayne do not always grasp what is, and is not, their 'business'.
Huntress has posed:
"I believe Mr. Galante's son is around tonight, Helena. It would be remiss of me not to invite him to join such negotiations -- to present a counter-offer, of course." Branson is positively loving this moment, and Helena's increasingly failing mask as her mouth thins. His deliberate address of the two is not at all coincidence.

The world, thankfully, will never know what she was about to say -- though the storm in her gaze suggests it would not be pleasant. The billionaire's interruption is far too timely to be coincidence. The look Helena Bertinelli gives one Bruce Wayne is positively searing. The Italian woman's never taken help well, whether wanted or not. In this case it's blindingly obvious it's the latter.

Branson Barnes, by contrast, looks positively delighted for the interruption. And why wouldn't he? Gotham's most wealthy, talking to /him/? "Hard to deny that, and yet -- Mr. Wayne, if /you/ were to make an offer, that is definitely a partnership I couldn't turn down." Emphasis on the /partnership/; Barnes' eyes practically radiate greed.

"I believe you've done quite enough, Mr. Wayne," Helena says, with a lift of her chin.

Branson though, smiles brighter. "Oh, giving up so easily, Helena?"

"Merely resigned to enjoying the company, Mr. Barnes." Helena is lying of course; she doesn't even try to hide it, nor her satisfaction at Branson's narrow eyed response. Apparently if the deal is going to be torpedoed, she's going to burn it with fire on the way down. Just kind of how she is. That hasn't changed in the time she's been gone.
Batman has posed:
Bruce meets Helena's fire with a deceptively soft, small smile. The job he does appearing utterly oblivious is positively masterful, particularly contrasted to the Huntress' own composure just now. The billionaire philanthropist's gaze tracks from Branson to Helena and back a couple times, his brow furrowing.

Rather than a mirror of the consternation each other party experiences, though, the squinting study bears all the hallmarks of Wayne just... trying to figure out what is even going on. "Come now, Branson..." The familiarity, the affability, it likely rings as acquiescence to the broker. Like Bruce is wandering right into his cunning trap.

"This is a party. No one wants to see a bitter bidding war take up our night." Except, perhaps, Branson himself-- but this implication just hangs in the air, a thing for other, smarter participants in the conversation to actually grasp. "But if -my- money is so much more appealing, what rate are we looking at to close this competition?" Does Bruce even know what he's considering buying? It's hard to say. Did Branson just hand Bruce all the leverage in the negotiations, on the dubious assumption of being able to exploit Wayne later? Smart odds seem to land on 'yes'.

Bruce lifts his glass in Helena's direction, and 'savors' another sip. "Never enough I'm afraid. Not so far." A ghost of sadness and empathy passes across Bruce's chiseled features; it helps to sell the idea that he's taken the Huntress' indictment as a compliment.
Huntress has posed:
It's true that Helena Bertinelli hasn't spent much time with Bruce Wayne -- the persona that he plays, at any rate. She's spent much more time with Batman, his lack of expression often much more welcome by the Huntress, even if it's to be disapproving of her persona's tendency to more extremes of violence.

Between Branson's pivot to gain Bruce as a buyer and Bruce's utterly masterful self composure, the fiery Italian woman is not having a good night.

Branson, meanwhile, is loving all this. Undoubtedly he's the sort of dull-witted shark that sees a bit of meat floating in the water and doesn't question where it came from -- he just knows he's king of the water and it should be his. Thus he buys fully into Bruce's lulling words, nodding along. "Yes, yes, true, my friend," because apparently they are /friends/ now: "Perhaps we can have a separate discussion outside of such a venue?" The man is practically seeing dollar signs, giving a friendly laugh and reaching to clap Bruce on the shoulder. "Wouldn't want to give away the negotiations to the competition eh?" with a look at Helena that is some mix of victorious and far too satisfied.

Helena has never been great at holding her temper. Correction: she is the worst at it. As Huntress she's wholly unbound by convention, but as Helena? There are societal norms to adhere to, her secret identity to consider. But oh, it's brewing in her in a way that even Branson can tell.

So the bait that comes from the brunette is wholly obvious, Helena's fingers tight around her wineglass as she regards Bruce with a narrow-eyed gaze. "Tell me, Mr. Wayne, what have you achieved in the years I've been absent the city? Crime seems to be at an all time high, poverty prevalent. Charities like these are merely stemming the tide, not addressing the problem. Prisons are overflowing and criminals just being released to do the same thing they do every night." It's a low blow; an old argument that lies at the core of why Batman and the Huntress are never truly aligned, for the latter advocates more permanent solutions to the problem.
Batman has posed:
"I thought there was nothing to negotiate; that my offer was by default impossible to turn down?" That -is- what Branson said, right? Bruce's ears still work. "If Ms. Bertinelli has already beaten your initial offers, it seems like we've a clear point to work from already." Frivolous? Flighty? Sheltered and sometimes simple? All these things are included in Bruce Wayne's reputation-- but so is a remarkable competence in philanthropy and business, somehow.

It might be the expertise with which he delegates to the trustworthy and the capable. He might be some kind of silver spoon fed idiot savant. Part of the entire persona is that, as ever, it's a little hard to make a definitive call.

Helena's more direct indictment draws Bruce's attention rather fully, however-- and soberly. "Does a levy cease to be important when there is a flood?" Wayne inquires simply, at first. He doesn't miss a beat.

"Regrettably..." Depending on who one asks, at least, "... some of the systems that feed cycles of violence and poverty are rather outside of my control." Despite being at the extreme upper end of the privileged establishment, it's not in any way a lie; except for some of the activities of Batman, at least. That Other Guy isn't a topic on the table just now, though. "Even our prisons are rarely designed to rehabilitate the unfortunate, or even to properly restrain the worst among us. They make money." Bruce doesn't have tea to sip. So he pretends to sip his fine bubbly.

"If you've insight into helping more people, more effectively, Ms. Bertinelli-- now //that// is a conversation I'd love to continue in another venue. Perhaps related to the direction of the Thomas and Martha Wayne Foundations?" Which is a tremendous array of non-profit efforts. An ever-expanding conglomerate of carefully choreographed causes... at least once the slush fund that once fueled that expansion was wrestled back from the Mob.

"At the end of the day, better is all we can do-- and while it's easy to view one's own trials as the darkest time, Gotham's history doesn't support such a nihilistic view."
Huntress has posed:
Branson seems momentarily taken aback; like maybe he didn't expect that sharp savvy from the seemingly frivolous billionaire. He's too good a businessman to be startled for long, though: he chuckles, instead. "And so I did," the man concedes, glancing towards Helena -- some kind of mute warning couched in the sharp look he gives the Italian woman -- before he answers Bruce: "Let's call it an even two point five million, and the property is yours, Mr. Wayne."

Helena actually snorts. Snorts! So much for that warning look. She doesn't take to those any better than she does being outbid, it seems. She lifts a brow, turning it towards Bruce as if to see whether he'll simply accept the deal or not. Sure, she wants the property. She'd /like/ to control it. But it being in Bruce's hands puts it very pointedly out of the Cosa Nostra's hands, so she's willing to let it slide. Mostly.

At least until Bruce gives his answer.

It's strange, the way the Mafia Princess responds to Bruce's mention of the charitable foundation named after his parents. Or not so strange, when you consider they both lost their families when they were young -- an interesting parallel that pushed both of them to vigilantism as a solution, with only their diverging moral compasses and lines in the sand to mark out differences.

"You are well practiced at the answer, Mr. Wayne. I expect you've answered such a dozen times to the press. Have you considered running for office?" In anyone else's mouth, it might be a compliment. /You sound like you know what you're doing. You should lead us./ In Helena's though, too much of her lingering anger is present still for it to be read as anything but an veiled insult.

"Now, now. We're all friends here," Branson intervenes, reaching out to clasp Helena's arm. He seems oblivious -- or more likely, uncaring -- of the warning look Helena gives him for the impertinence.
Batman has posed:
Bruce chuckles softly, and briefly, "Sounds as though you just went ahead and upped that established point anyway." Shocking. Unheard of. "And I thought you wanted to be friends." Color Mr. Wayne //hurt//. "Sold."

Really, it's probably worth the amplified asking just to disregard any implication that such a relationship is involved... or that any sort of favor is owed. Branson's greedy enough to cash that in immediately, and Bruce either cunning or natural enough at this sort of dealing to notice... and point it out without derailing that affable cool.

"Just because it's a criticism I've heard before doesn't make it less important to consider." Wayne then offers towards Helena. "But I prefer to leave the politics to... more interested people." A bit of diplomacy, however? Indispensible in these circles; or indeed, many other circles.

The amicable charm of a not-quite-buffoon makes the moments of come-uppance perhaps less satisfying... but also harder to object to, or even fully comprehend. Case in point: The situation Mr. Barnes now finds himself in...

"... As I said, Ms. Bertinelli-- put your money where your sharp tongue is. Let's do better, together." The offer of his hand is also an escape from Branson that doesn't involve breaking any of the man's fingers. It's very merciful of Bruce. "I'd love to hear your ideas for our philanthropy, and what you intended for this property." If this were a different sort of medium, it's a moment that almost deserves a hearty, stylized POW!, ZOK!, or CRUNCH! Or your alternative metaphor: Game, set, match.
Huntress has posed:
"A friendship should always start off on the best foot," Branson counters, with the confident air of someone well used to using friends shamelessly when it comes to getting ahead in business. He doesn't even need to think about the implications, because it's precisely this sort of top-of-the-food-chain thinking that's allowed him to thrive for years. The man's had too long in the business not to be able to hide his greed at Bruce's acceptance, but he does look pleased at the billionaire's acceptance. "Excellent, Mr. Wayne. You won't be disappointed. I'll have the papers drawn up and delivered to Wayne Tower first thing tomorrow."

Bruce's begging off of politics is, at least, accepted by Helena with surprising graciousness. Either she's unwilling to push him in such a public forum after that needle, or she has more pressing attentions. Maybe both. The way Helena Bertinelli is looking at Branson suggests she's considering just how many bones to break. Fortunately Bruce spots it, even if Branson doesn't. Helena looks at Bruce, eyes narrowing a beat, before she smoothly accepts the offer of a hand. She knows a viable escape when she sees one.

Helena is, at least, effortless in her grace, gliding alongside the billionaire like she belongs. High society is effortless for her at least, even if she loathes playing the game. Precisely fifteen paces away from Branson, she leans towards Bruce to murmur: "//I// was offering him one point five. I'll donate it to your charity foundation, so long as you keep the property in your hands, Mr. Wayne."

Helena straightens, tilts her head as she regards Bruce for a beat. "And I'll forgive the intrusion... this time." Is that a sketch of a smile? No, surely not! Just a curve of manicured brow, before she slips her hand free of his and disappears off into the crowd.
Batman has posed:
Branson's answer gets only the vaguest nods as Helena rises. "Perfect."

It is, naturally, a situation that is in no way perfect. Bruce hardly seems particularly bothered by the reality, nonetheless... this might have something to do with securing one agenda, cutting another off, and dropping enough money on a questionable actor that tracking those funds is bound to yield some intriguing results. Or maybe Wayne's just referring to the apparent mollification of the elegant Italian lady.

The offered hand becomes an offered arm with practiced grace, and Bruce leans a bit closer to catch the conspiratorial murmur. "About what I would have guessed." He admits, just a touch of the creeping disdain allowed into his tone, now. Enough for Helena to catch, even as the answer comes in similarly hushed tones. "And that sounds like a deal -I- can't refuse." As the Huntress disentangles and drifts back towards the crowd, Bruce offers simply, "I was serious about the rest of that offer. Stay in touch."

From his alter-ego, it would be a mandate. If she didn't, he would just track her activities. Hell-- that layer is still there, even entirely masked. It is, however, masked well in tones of respectful anticipation, Wayne watching her retreat a moment with a ghost of a smirk. It's difficult to say exactly -how- the man in between feels about the entire thing.

Ask Grayson how he feels about //that//.