Alfred Pennyworth entered the Batcave, immediately noticing the untouched filet mignon and salad laying next to Bruce Wayne.

"I firmly believe the villains of this city will never kill you," he said wearily, "because you'll die of hunger first."

"Yes, it's definitely going to rain tonight," Bruce replied, so intent on his work he hadn't heard a word Alfred said.

He gazed at the computer monitor, where several newspaper clippings were displayed side-by-side. He scrutinized the articles and the accompanying pictures, searching for an overlooked clue, a hidden meaning between the lines.

In the past week, three robberies had been committed.

The first store hit was Gin's Gentleman Outfitters. Despite the fact the store was filled with diamond cufflinks and rolex watches, only a thousand dollars in cash was taken. The three robbers wore masks and were gone before the police arrived. One of the robbers dropped a 6" tall Mary Poppins figure on the floor, the figure sporting a trademark umbrella.

The police immediately concluded it was the Penguin's work, especially since the Penguin had been out of prison for a month. But Batman was not so convinced. Something about the crime had been too blatant, too obvious.

Two days later, the Blazing Poker Casino on the outskirts of Gotham was robbed by four masked men, who shot two of the security guards before leaving with exactly one thousand dollars in cash. One of the robbers dropped a pack of playing cards on the floor as he left. The cards were all Jokers. Despite the fact policemen were on the scene in three minutes, the crooks could not be found.

Yesterday, Backgammon Jewelers was robbed by four masked men wielding freeze guns. They blasted the security guard and several customers, freezing them in a block of ice before grabbing a thousand dollars from the safe. They dropped a tiny water pistol on the floor to mark their passing and turned to leave.

That's when Batman swung in through the door, tumbling to the floor and hurling two batarangs at the men. One batarang was immediately shot and frozen, shattering into a dozen pieces. The other one hit paydirt, knocking the gun from one of the robber's hands.

Batman prepared to lunge at them when the four suddenly froze in place, like masked statues. After a couple seconds, they turned and started running for the back door.

Batman leaped onto one of the robbers, fully confident he could take the man down. He wrapped his arm tightly about the robber's neck, applying a powerful choke hold that would bring down any man.

In one fluid movement, the robber reached around, grabbed Batman's leg, and threw him nearly ten feet. Batman slammed into a nearby display case, glass and jewelry exploding in all directions.

Blood trickled from Batman's nose as a dozen police officers rushed in, pistols drawn. They looked about them in horror as one of the officers quickly walked over to Batman.

"A-are you alright," he stammered with a mixture of anxiety and concern.

Batman ignored the burning in his chest, and the grogginess caused by his head slamming into the glass. He stood and pulled a tracking device from his utility belt.

"You're wasting time," he spat out, "I planted a tracking device on one of the thieves. We can follow them back to their boss."

He activated the tracking device, but nothing appeared on it. He made several adjustments, thinking the device may have been damaged in his struggle with the crook, but it was working perfectly.

The robbers had seemingly disappeared into thin air.

Now, Bruce leaned back in his chair, still gazing at the computer monitor, and mulling over all the details.

"It would seem your rogues gallery has formed an alliance," Alfred said as he gazed over Bruce's shoulder, "The Penguin, the Joker and Mister Freeze."

"Yes," Bruce replied skeptically, "It does appear so, doesn't it?"

Alfred studied Bruce's expression with a wry smile. "I don't believe it either," he said matter-of-factly.

Bruce turned to face Alfred. "Well, all the signs point to it," he said, "And the police force is convinced it's those three. Even Jim Gordon believes it."

"If I may so, the Commissioner is a very emotional man," Alfred said, "A good quality at times, but not in this instance. He is thinking with his heart, his anger over these crimes. You, on the other hand, have your unwavering logic. Cooler heads will prevail in this case. Even those heads who stubbornly refuse to eat their supper."

Bruce glanced up at Alfred with a smile. He looked over at the filet mignon with distaste.

"I'm not really in the mood for anything fancy tonight," he said with a mischievous smile, "Why don't you just bring me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead. Make it two sandwiches, it's going to be a long night. And a tall glass of skim milk would be nice too."

Alfred stared at him with horror, as if Bruce had just uttered the most terrible words ever spoken.

"You prefer a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over filet mignon," he asked with disbelief, "A HUNDRED DOLLAR AN OUNCE FILET MIGNON?"

Bruce grabbed the plate and handed it to him. "Thanks, Alfred. I'm glad you understand."

Alfred shook his head disdainfully as he took the plate from Bruce. Bruce swivelled back around to face his monitor, chuckling softly.

"Sometimes I think you enjoy playing games with me," Alfred said as he walked away, "I suppose you prefer fish sticks over caviar? Candy bars over truffles?"

Bruce suddenly perked up at Alfred's words, struck by a sudden realization.

"Computer, magnify Sections A-35, B-27 and C-58."

The newspaper photographs rippled on the monitor, tiny sections of each photo being blown up in more detail. After a moment, the magnified sections slowly resolved into detail.

Bruce studied the images, his face suddenly lighting up as he slammed his fist on the console.

"Of course," he proclaimed, "I should have seen it ages ago. That's who's behind all this."

He swung around as Alfred neared the exit.

"Alfred, forget the sandwiches, I need you to help me build something."

"I can barely contain my excitement, sir," Alfred said in response, rolling his eyes with a bemused smile.

**************



Four hours later, Commissioner James Gordon poured his hundredth cup of coffee as news reports flashed on the TV in his office.

The coffee was little comfort, and it was times like this, late at night, alone in his office, that he felt besieged. It seemed like he was one man trying to stop a flood, that no matter how hard he worked, crime was still on the rise, and maniacs still lurked the streets.

He sat at his desk with a sigh, marveling at the crime reports and bureau forms piled on his desk So much work to do before morning.

Laying nearby was a copy of "The Complete Sherlock Holmes", a book his daughter Barbara had given him for his birthday. She knew how much he cherished the Holmes stories, and she told him the fondest memories of her childhood were sitting on her father's lap beside the fireplace on a cold winter's night, as her father read the stories to her.

He smiled at that, and it warmed him much more deeply than a bitter cup of coffee. He was glad she had chosen not to get into the law enforcement field. Right now, she was probably laying in bed with a hot cup of cocoa, lost in a good book and safe from the dangers of the night.

"I see you're a Sherlock Holmes admirer as well, Jim," a voice suddenly spoke from the corner of the office, "I particularly enjoyed 'The Adventure of the Speckled Band'."

Gordon nearly knocked his coffee cup over, startled by the voice.

"One thing I always liked about Holmes," he said irritably, "was that he never snuck into a person's office and scared them lifeless."

Batman walked out of the shadows, his cape ruffling as the dim lights of the office made him seem twice his normal size.

"The crime wave is going to end tonight, Jim," he spoke somberly, "I know the man behind these attacks, and I'm on my way to take him down."

"Him," Gordon said, "So you believe only one person is behind all this?"

"Definitely," Batman replied, "The evidence was there all along, we just weren't analyzing it correctly. Suffice it to say he's extremely dangerous."

"I'm coming with you then," Gordon said, his blood pumping with excitement as he opened his desk drawer and pulled out a revolver, "It'll be my pleasure to help take this scumbag down. I might even bring along a few of my best men, just in case."

He quickly shoved bullets into the revolver and tucked the gun in his holster.

"So where are we headed," he asked expectantly, looking up.

Batman was gone, the windows to Gordon's office wide open.

"Damn," Gordon muttered as a chill breeze blew into the room. He sighed and walked over to the windows. On the window sill was a small gift-wrapped package, with a note attached to it. The note read: "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JIM. FROM ONE WARRIOR OF THE NIGHT TO ANOTHER."

Gordon leaned against the window sill, studying the package and chuckling softly.

"You always have to get the last word in, don't you, my friend," he spoke as he turned and clasped the windows shut.

*********



Batman landed on the roof of a building in the heart of the city, and pulled out a pair of infra-red binoculars.

He studied the warehouse across the street, looking for any sign of cameras or defense mechanisms. A light rain started to fall, and he shuddered slightly in the crisp cold air. After 15 minutes, he saw nothing on the warehouse's exterior.

"No defenses," he spoke with a wry smile, "Very sloppy. And very stupid."

He swung down to the street and maneuvered to one of the warehouse's many windows. He studied it for a moment, noticing it was heavy-duty, probably built 30 or 40 years ago, with reinforced glass and a thick metal bolt for a lock. It was one of the most difficult types of windows to break into, challenging even the most brilliant thieves and lockpicks.

Ten seconds later, Batman opened the window and entered the warehouse.

He flicked on a flashlight and walked slowly through the warehouse. As he moved, he once again mulled over all the facts of the case.

Three robberies, at three totally unrelated places. And a thousand dollars was stolen from each. The thousand dollar amounts seemed to signify something. But it didn't. It was a red herring, intended to throw the police off the track. The robbers themselves weren't human, but sophisticated robots, receiving orders through a transceiver. Once the robbery had been completed, they were instantly disintegrated, so it would appear they escaped the police.

The beam from his flashlight danced across the walls of the pitch black room, particles of dust glistening in the pale light.

It was the name's of the places robbed that had meaning. Gin's Gentleman Outfitters. The Blazing Poker Casino. Backgammon Jewelers. All names of games.

His flashlight suddenly stopped on several model planes laying in the corner. They looked relatively new, and very out of place in this dusty warehouse.

The items that were left at the scene were also major clues. A Mary Poppins Figure. A pack of playing cards. A water pistol. I studied them separately, testing for fingerprints, DNA traces, any type of residue. I began to realize they weren't unrelated. They were all things you could play with. But it was the writing on them that sealed it. All three had been unique creations, crafted in a place called Monsey's Plastics.

Monsey's was located in Metropolis. Home of Winslow Schott.

The Toyman.

"I know you're here Toyman," Batman declared loudly, "Show yourself."

A horrifying scream suddenly filled the room as lights flared on.

"You're not going to stop me," the voice boomed from every wall of the chamber, "I'll kill you first."

Batman blinked for a moment, his eyes adjusting to the light, and was nearly decapitated as several of the model planes shot at him, their propellers razor sharp blades.

The planes were amazingly fast. Batman tumbled towards several nearby crates, leaping behind them. In mid-leap two of the planes whizzed by, their blades slicing his shoulder. He grunted in pain and gritted his teeth as he flung several batarangs at the planes, hitting the targets and causing them to explode in small bursts of fire.

For a moment, all was eerily quiet. Batman studied every detail of the room, taking advantage of the cover provided by the crates.

"I know you're in there, and I'll get you," Toyman chided in a delighted, high-pitched squeak of a voice, as if he were a child tormenting a small animal.

Suddenly, the wall behind Batman began to rumble, as if shaken by an earthquake. The wall also felt incredibly cold.

With realization, Batman leaped forward, just as the wall exploded, sending fragments of the crates flying in every direction. Several of Toyman's masked robots rushed in, sporting freeze rifles. The rifles pulsated with crimson energy.

They fired as one, barely missing Batman as he ducked under the beams. He tumbled backward, grabbing a large piece of one of the destroyed crates, and whirled about, using the piece as a shield. The robots fired.

Their beams struck his makeshift shield, freezing it instantly as Batman reached into his utility belt.

His shield shattered into pieces on the floor, and Batman was totally unprotected as the robots fired again.

*********



Winslow Schott, AKA Toyman, sat in a massive chamber at the top of the warehouse, watching a dozen monitor screens, each one providing a different view of Batman's battle.

He clapped his hands with joy as Batman's wooden shield froze and shattered to the floor in pieces.

"KILL HIM," he yelled into the microphone, "MAKE HIM PAY!"

As the robots fired, smoke suddenly surrounded Batman and the robots. Toyman madly tapped the camera controls, trying to see what was going on in the room, but the smoke seemed to get thicker and thicker, until all the camera lenses turned totally milky white.

"You said that he wouldn't discover us, Schott," a voice said from the shadows, "Now he is at our doorstep. You have brought disaster upon us."

"My bots took care of him, I'm sure of it," Toyman said as he quickly ran diagnostics on his robot's systems.

"Are you willing to bet your life on it," the voice spoke darkly, "For that's what it has come to."

Toyman mopped the sweat from his brow and flabby jowls, his fingers moving in a blur across the console. One minute later, the results of his diagnostics flashed on the monitor.

"Oh no," he squeaked, turning pale as he studied the readings.

"What is it, little man," the voice said calmly.

"There's been a... slight malfunction with the robots."

"Then you will die. The organization does not suffer fools, especially those that have failed us so abysmally."

Suddenly, dropped into the room from above, his massive cape spread to its full span, making him appear like a gigantic bird of vengeance as he touched down on the floor.

He held the head of one of the robots in one arm, a freeze rifle in the other.

"H-how did you," Toyman stammered, gazing in horror at Batman.

"A couple well aimed smoke bombs gave me cover, and allowed me to use a jamming device I built before coming here," Batman said as he walked threateningly towards Toyman, "I wasn't sure if the device would work. Fortunately it did, totally disabling your robots. I removed the head from one of them. You continued sending transmissions to the robots, and I followed the signals right to you."

He tossed the head to Toyman, who clumsily juggled it in his hands before dropping it to the floor.

"Why did you do it, Schott," Batman growled as he trained the freeze rifle on Toyman, "Why this whole elaborate scheme, trying to lead the police on a wild goose chase?"

"I-I'm not saying anything," Toyman said, his eyes frantically searching the room, desperate for an escape route.

"I think you were trying to keep the police distracted," Batman said, "Get them running after Joker and the others, spreading them thin, leaving the city vulnerable while you set your own plans into motion."

"You'll get nothing out of me!"

"Fine, the police will get the truth from you."

Batman fired the freeze gun at Toyman's legs. Toyman squealed as the beams struck his legs, encasing them in a thick block of ice.

He began shivering and tugging on his chair, desperately trying to stand.

"You're not moving out of that chair until the ice thaws," Batman said with a wry smile, "Which should be in about 4 or 5 hours. Just be glad the Joker didn't find you first. If he had found out you were trying to frame him, he would have chopped you into pieces."

Images of the Joker cackling, standing over him with a jagged knife, caused Toyman to shudder far more than the ice pressed against his legs.

Batman studied him for a moment longer, then turned to a dark corner of the room, raising the rifle once again.

"You can come out of the corner, now," he said, "I know you're there."

There was a moment of silence as Batman gazed intently at the shadows.

"Very perceptive," the voice spoke, walking out of the shadows, "You have the senses of a tiger."

It was a man, dressed in the traditional black outfit of a ninja. His eyes were dark, and seemed to burn with a barely controlled inner fire.

"And who might you be," Batman asked sternly.

The ninja began to circle Batman, gracefully moving one foot over the other. He moved like a cat studying, taunting its prey.

"Who I am is not important," the ninja replied, "What I have to say is. I am going to leave now, and you will forget having ever seen me. If you choose to fight me, you put yourself in more peril than you could ever imagine."

"You forget one detail. I have this freeze gun."

The ninja lashed out with a lightning fast kick, knocking the gun from Batman's hands before he could react. The rifle slammed into the opposite wall and shattered.

The ninja whirled about, following with a roundhouse kick to Batman's head. Batman blocked the kick with his right arm and grabbed the ninja's leg. The ninja pulled his leg free and flipped backward, nailing Batman in the jaw with a front kick.

Batman shook off the blow and exploded with a rapid series of punches. His arms and the ninja's moved in a rapid blur of punches and blocks.

The ninja grabbed Batman's arm, throwing him to the floor. Batman grabbed the ninja's arm in turn, throwing him over his head. The ninja tumbled through the air, landing on his feet, and Batman was there with a sweep kick to the ninja's legs.

The kick was intended to take him down, but the ninja leaped over it, flipping backwards.

Batman tumbled toward him, pressing the attack.

He feinted a kick to the ninja's midsection, then followed with a punch that struck the ninja in the jaw. The ninja fell back, rolling with the blow, and was unfazed by it. In return, he slammed Batman with a kick to the midsection, knocking him against the opposite wall.

Suddenly, the wail of a dozen police sirens could be heard, converging on the warehouse.

The ninja studied Batman for a moment. Batman leaned against the wall, gasping slightly, the breath knocked out of him.

Despite the burning in his chest, he rushed forward, intent on unleashing another combination of blows on the ninja.

The ninja reached into his uniform and threw a pellet to the ground. It exploded in a blinding flash of light, causing both Toyman and Batman to cover their eyes.

When Batman's eyes had cleared, the ninja was gone.

The door to the room suddenly exploded inward, and dozens of armored police officers surged into the room, machine guns in hand. With them was Commissioner Gordon.

The officers circled Toyman, training their guns on him as he held his hands up, pale with fear.

"He won't give you any problems," Batman said slowly, still trying to get his breath, "Just make sure you guard him well. His life may be in danger. He's made a lot of enemies."

Commissioner Gordon walked up to Batman, studying with him with a hint of astonishment.

"You look like you've been through the wringer," he said, "What happened in here?"

"Did you see a man running along the rooftops, or on the street outside," Batman quickly asked, "Wearing a ninja outfit?"

Gordon chuckled at that. "No, I would have noticed that pretty quickly, I think. I saw no one."

Batman rubbed his chin at that. "No, I'm sure you didn't," he said with grim surrender.

The police officers carried Toyman away as Gordon studied Batman.

"If you smoked I'd offer you a cigarette," he smiled, "You did good work tonight, as always. Get some sleep."

He left with the rest of the officers, leaving Batman alone in the massive room.

Batman gazed up at the night sky and clenched a fist in frustration. For all the answers he had found tonight, he was left with a dozen more questions.

Who was the mysterious ninja? Why was he working with Toyman? Was he part of a bigger organization?

He looked down at his torn costume, and noticed a long black strand of material caught on the end of his cape. He gently pulled the strand loose, holding it up to the light, studying it.

It definitely came from the ninja's outfit, probably torn loose during their struggle.

He dropped the fiber into a compartment of his utility belt and shot his batline to the sky, swinging away from the warehouse and into the night.

He felt renewed, thrilled at the prospect of facing this new puzzle, discovering the identity of the mysterious ninja and taking him down. And it would all begin with one thin black fiber.

As Sherlock Holmes would say, a most important clue.