Cat-Tales: Moving Violations, Part I - Ignition
By C. Mage
Not many thought much of the car that pulled into the parking lot of the Iceberg. True, it wasn't exactly a junker. The car was a 1967 black Corvette Stingray, with plenty of chrome on the sides and wheels. Most hangers-on and rich groupies who wanted to flirt with the "bad side" came in driving cars with more recent dates and Italian pedigrees.
This one…this one bore looking into not because of the car, but because of the Driver.
The driver's side door opened, and a man stepped out, closing the door and locking it behind him. The first thing noticeable about his was his size. Easily over six feet tall, with a strong frame and broad shoulders and chest. The second detail that stood out was his hair. Red, flaming red, but not neon red, cut short and slicked back in the manner of a person whose entire skill with styling hair was limited to terminal mousse abuse and combing in one direction: to the back and over the top. He wore aviator's glasses, showing clearly the brown eyes in the sea of tanned skin, the color of someone who worked outside and didn't really care one way or the other how his tan looked. He wore driving gloves, which he took off and folded once, putting them into his right jacket pocket as he walked towards the entrance.
His clothes became more distinct under the lights, black leather motorcycle jacket, black leather pants with a red lightning bolt pattern down the sides. Snakeskin cowboy boots with metal arrowhead tips on the toes. Clean-shaven face, but the shadow on his chin and cheeks couldn't be completely defeated even by the best blades on the market. He took off his glasses and put them away in his jacket as he put his hand on the door.
The man took a deep breath. "Showtime."
Sly was a man whose job had many facets. Oswald prided himself on hiring the best, and being the best wasn't just a matter of pouring drinks. Sly needed to be observant. His timing with serving just what the customers needed was pristine. Robin Williams himself wished he had that kind of timing. Sly also had a knack for reading people. Knowing what they needed, whether to notify the bouncers if someone was coming in too loud or drunk already, staying aware of possible changes in the wind when some of the regulars started to tense up…that kind of skill didn't come along every day.
So when the Driver came in, Sly gave the man in black his attention. Sly figured this was not a man who drank mixed drinks. In fact, the way he came in and the way he walked, Sly didn't consider him one of the wannabe henchmen who often came in looking for employment. He put away the SoCo bottle and smiled to the newcomer. "What'll it be, sir?"
Sly wasn't entirely surprised. This man didn't come in looking for a drink. "Straight?"
"Add some lime until it turns green."
"Coming right up, Mister…?"
The man smiled. "Call me Driver."
"You got it, Driver." Sly knew the voice patterns well enough. They said, "Not in a talking mood, so serve the drink and keep the conversation to a minimum, thanks." Not mean, just not talkative…not yet. He didn't come in to drown sorrows, but he came in alone and ordered something, so he came here for a reason. Best to get the drink, stay around for further requests and wait to see if what he has to say is going to cause trouble.
The stranger smiled as he took his drink. Before he'd taken his first sip, he'd already walked the room with his eyes. Booth to the left, shrouded with vines, and the vines were restless. Poison Ivy. Far end of the bar, lady wearing bomber jacket, tight pants and boots, nursing a bourbon on the rocks. Roxy Rocket. Small group at a table to the left and rear. Killer Croc, wearing pants, drinking beer like it was tap water. Gentleman wearing environmental suit, calling for vodka and adding his own ice cubes. Mr. Freeze. Man with large nose and even larger hat. The Mad Hatter. Finally, a man with a dapper suit of Lincoln Green and holding a cane with a question-mark head. The Riddler. Playing cards, draw poker. Looked like Croc was winning. And last, but certainly not least, a group of men at the bar, looking decidedly morose. A few girls at another table, debutantes on the wild side. One man at the end of the bar trying to drink himself into oblivion. Raven and Sparrow, all smiles, but he could tell they were bored out of their minds when not irritated by the presence of some of the visitors to the Iceberg Lounge. Slight difference of clothing indicated Raven was the hostess.
The Driver smiled. This was going to be easier than he thought.
Sly felt a little relieved when the Driver spoke up. Awkward silences bothered Sly. "Hey, bartend. I'm new in town, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little about this city." He wasn't shy about his request and he wasn't stingy, either; Ben Franklin soon found himself mingling with other Presidents.
"Of course. What would you like to know?"
"Well, what's the job situation around her for wheelmen, couriers, jobs of that nature?"
Sly considered. "There's a lot of call for jobs like that in a city like this. Problem is, people who take that kind of work usually end up as either disposable or useless." He leaned forward slightly. "You may have noticed that a lot of successful…entrepreneurs usually have a gimmick of some kind. Something that makes them memorable."
The newcomer nodded. "Fair enough. I offer transport of people or objects from point A to point B, by road. As for a gimmick, well, I offer something they can't."
"A guarantee that nothing will get in the way of successful and timely transport." The Driver took another sip. "Not traffic, not competition, not even police."
"What about the Batmobile?"
The Driver turned to the speaker. Of course, it was only proper that the one who would end up asking the Big Question would be the Riddler. "What about it?"
"Are you suggesting that you can outwit the Batman in his own car, in his own town?"
Now the Driver had everyone's attention, though not all showed it. He smiled. "No, I'm not suggesting it at all. I'm saying it flat out." He waited for the inevitable laughter, which came quicker and louder than he expected. He nodded, waiting for it to subside, then added, "I sense some skepticism in the room."
"And I sense that you are a fool," Mr. Freeze intoned. "Have you even seen the Batmobile in action?"
"I've seen some news footage." He neglected to mention that he'd seen a lot more than news footage.
"I have seen it in action. You will not escape it if Batman is driving it."
The Driver smiled broadly. "Care to make a little bet on that?"
"What sort of bet?" Now everyone was visibly interested. Even Poison Ivy was watching from behind the leafy curtain. Roxy was looking at him with a different kind of intensity as she picked up her drink.
As she walked over, the Driver said calmly, "I'll bet five grand right now that in a week's time, me and the Batman are going to have a little race, and I will get clean away."
Croc narrowed his eyes. "You got that kind of scratch on you?"
In answer, the Driver reached into his jacket, pulling out a stack of Benjamins and slapped it on the bartop, all without taking his eyes off Croc. "Bartender, can I trust you to hang onto the bets for me?"
"Yes, you can, wauk, wauk, wauk." Oswald stood by the end of the bar, making a dramatic entrance. "In fact, I'll take your little wager and match you, Driver."
The Riddler smiled. He was looking forward to telling both Selina and Bruce about this. It would give him the advantage, to say the least. Batman would already be prepared for this little race and it would swing the odds heavily in his favor. "Count me in."
As the bar began to buzz with other bets, the Driver suddenly found Roxy standing next to him. "You're crazy, do you know that? Why would you want to challenge the Batman in his hometown?"
"Because I know I'm going to win."
"I knew it. I knew there was something I liked about you. My name's Roxy. Roxy Rocket."
"I've heard of you."
"Haven't heard of you."
"Oh, I've been around…San Francisco, Las Vegas, Dallas, Chicago, Boston. I've been lots of places."
"Oh, I bet. See you later?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw nearly half the bar giving him a thumbs-up. He had a feeling that Roxy would've probably asked him up to her place right then and there, just from her body language alone, but he didn't go to the Iceberg to get a warm body for the night. This was business.
"Sure. On the eleven o'clock news." He put down a twenty, then finished his drink. "Keep the change."
Roxy watched him walk to the door. "You don't want another drink?"
He turned back and smiled. "I don't drink and Drive." And then he was gone. She followed him outside to see him drive off , laying rubber all over the street as he sped away.
Meanwhile, inside, Edward Nygma was making a phone call. "Selina, you are not going to believe this…"
Selina hung up the phone. She considered what she had just heard, then stifled a very catlike grin. She couldn't help it. On the one hand, if Batman went out and found this Driver and summarily defeated him on his first job, the Dark Knight would likely end up exuding levels of self-satisfaction only experienced by pampered felines. Bruce in the role of smug victor was a little on the annoying side.
But if this new guy actually won, it would knock Bruce off his pedestal a bit, make him more human, more (dare she think it?) fallible. Selina loved Bruce, loved him dearly. She also loved tweaking his Bat-ears, tweaking his Bat-ego, and generally keeping him on his toes. Otherwise he could become infuriating. He was right a lot more often than not, and he knew it. Hence the need for regular ego-tweaks.
For instance, the toys like the utility belt, the car, and the other gadgets he designed, created with his own two hands. He had them made with his own personal touch, so they were all a part of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Loving him, Selina could delight in the brilliant mind that thought up an arsenal so perfectly suited to his life's work, and the satisfaction he took in them. On the other hand, sometimes it all seemed like Eddie's riddles, a demonstration of how much smarter and cleverer he was than everyone else. There were times Selina felt if she heard about him knocking one more gun/knife/lootbag out of someone's hand with a batarang, she was going to have to start stealing again just to introduce the batarang-proof glove into circulation.
He needed a kick in the tail like that, from time to time. Otherwise he was apt to forget that he was Bruce Wayne under all that Battitude, that he was human. And remembering that he was human was the most important thing in the world to Selina. It was the human part of him that allowed them to finally get together.
It didn't hurt having all the betting going on. It was a stark difference from the usual drama in her life.She was going to put money on Bruce, of course. She wondered how far the Driver would get before Batman stopped him. Batman would stop him,that was his thing, his deal, his shtick, it was what made Bruce put the black suit on. The Driver, however, didn't seem like the typical criminal. Some people aspired to vengeance, or power, or money. Who in their right minds would aspire to being a professional wheelman? It was like hearing a politician state that he always wanted to be the Vice President, but not the President.
But then, she thought to herself as she headed down to the Batcave,the number of people I associate with that have all their marbles in their toy boxes is down to a scant few.
"Hey Handsome, fresh news, straight from the Iceberg grapevine," she announced as she walked down the stairs.
"You're in a good mood," Bruce said, a slightly suspicious tone in his voice.
"New player in town. Waltzed into the 'Berg and publicly challenged Batman, says he can outdrive the Batmobile."
"Did he." His lip twitched.
"You don't sound all that worried." Selina grinned.
"I'm not. I get challenges like that on a weekly basis."
"How many go into the Iceberg and make them up front?" She sauntered over and leaned over the back of his chair. "How many get the odds down to 3-to-2 on sheer bluster and cockiness?"
"They're betting on a race?" Bruce sat up and turned in his chair, now more than mildly interested. "Between this newcomer and the Batmobile?"
"Guy put down five grand on himself to win, others followed suit."
Bruce shrugged. "I've heard worse. Put me down for five. I'm good for it."
She walked over to the workout area. "If you want, I can do a little research on him. It'd be easy, I could say I was hedging my bets."
"How long before he says he's going to try and humiliate me?"
"Don't be snippy. He just said he's going to beat the Batmobile, not dump a skunk on the driver's seat and stick potatoes in your tailpipe. Besides, take that tone of voice, and someone might think you were worried."
"I don't get worried about wheelmen with customized hardware. I save my concern for mad men that might want to gas a shopping mall."He started up a file on the Bat-comp. "Does the mystery-man have a real name?"
"He calls himself 'the Driver'. I like it, simple, yet elegant, says what he is and doesn't at the same time. He's got a sense of style, at the very least. Not yours, he apparently likes a little color in his wardrobe. According to the people at the Iceberg, he favors cowboy boots, of all things. And no mask."
Bruce typed in the name. "Selina, not to sound condescending, but in the past few years, we've dealt with a lot. I think after all we've been through, a man behind the wheel of a car is not that big a deal." Bruce chuckled.
Selina knew that little chuckle well, that little I've-got-it-all-under-control laugh he does when he thinks he's got a sure thing, figured out all the angles. Maybe he's right, she thought. Maybe this guy's nothing more than another wannabe who decided to break open his piggy-bank and make an all-or-nothing play to get the attention of people who'd want to hire him. Maybe he'll get to the starting line and his car will stall on him. That'd be quick. Embarrassing, but quick.
But somehow, I don't see that happening.
The Driver put down the phone. It was on.
He called the Iceberg and smiled as Sly came on the phone. "Yes?"
"Warm up the big screens, Sly. Saturday night. Eight-thirty. Serve lots of beer and buffalo wings."
It was a bank. Seven-thirty-three pm.
Batman stopped outside the Gotham First National Bank. As he looked over at the front of the building, past the police cars circling the block, his first impression so far about his adversary was that the Driver was missing a few ball bearings. He tells Penguin about the job, where it's going to happen, practically advertises it in the Gotham Times. Batman frowned.
What is he after? Because from where I sit, he's just looking to get arrested. Informants for the police have been selling the news on this bank heist for the last four days. There are eight police cruisers and a SWAT van outside the bank, an hour before the heist is supposed to take place. And he must suspect I'm here, I'm the one he called out. The Driver must be a big fan of the Old West…
That's when he heard it.
Batman turned to the right to see a car coming. High-beams split the night, turning a corner and heading right for one of the cruisers. The police waved, then realized the car wasn't slowing down! They leaped clear just in time as the oncoming car RIPPED through the cruiser's midsection like a needle going through cloth, giving Batman a better look at the Driver's vehicle…which was no Corvette.
The vehicle was a wide-body speedster, built low-slung. It was as massive as the Batmobile, but wider and not as long. It was also painted cherry-hello-officer-red, with large gray fenders and black hubcaps, grill and rear. There was a spoiler on the rear, same color red, and the windows were tinted a reflective black. The headlights looked a little like monsters' eyes, the bright lights tinted crimson. The tires had bulky treads, made for street racing.
And seeing as how the car was driving up the steps and right through the revolving doors, it was a pretty safe bet the car had lots of torque. Batman started up the Batmobile, moving it slowly out of its hiding place.
Then the explosion ripped apart what little façade remained of the bank. A massive blast shattered windows on the building from the sixth floor on down, forcing the police to take cover inside their cars.
Batman threw the Batmobile into gear. This was getting too hairy, he thought, switching into Apprehend Mode. It's time to stop this right now.
It was too easy. Batman simply drove the Batmobile up to the front of the bank and barricaded the front. The lobby of the bank wasn't made for building up speed, so the bulk of the Batmobile was more than sufficient to keep even a monster like the red car inside, turn the race into a waiting game. Batman gunned the engine as he rode the stairs right up to the entrance, knowing that the Batmobile's throaty whine would tell even the deaf that the Batmobile was there. He smiled.
The red car was trapped.
Croc grinned. "Hah! What'd I tell you? He got himself cornered!"
Riddler took another handful of pretzels. "Somehow, I think it would be foolish to count him out so quickly."
Oswald grumbled. He'd laid heavy money on the Driver. "Come on, you boastful buffoon! Get out of there!"
Selina sighed. "I had a feeling this was going to be quick."
And that's when the speakers blasted, a mighty Godzilla-roar filling the Iceberg, snapping everyone's eyes to the screens.
Batman saw the headlights of the car burn through the darkness of the lobby, then saw the car driving straight for the Batmobile. He saw the front to the car pop up and realized the car was being propelled forward by a pair of mounted jets on the sides of the car, just above and to the right of the rear fenders. Batman ducked involuntarily as the red car skidded OVER the Batmobile's right side, landing at the bottom of the stairs and skidding on the asphalt, then fishtailing as it headed off down Canal Street.
Batman reversed the Batmobile, pulling a bootlegger's reverse at the bottom of the stairs and taking off after the red car in hot pursuit.
The Driver smiled as he tore off down Canal St. "How's our route looking, partner?"
A female voice of liquid seduction came from his right. "Everything on schedule, stud. Three point nine miles and closing."
"Good. Time to give Die Fledermaus the slip." He downshifted, the speedometer jumping to fifty, then sixty, steadily climbing as he tore off down the street. The red car moved down the road, the Batmobile closing in on him fast. He checked his speed. "Let me know if I reach a plus-or-minus twelve second variation."
"Noted. He's coming up fast."
The Driver checked the speedometer. A hair below sixty-five. He smiled. "Think it's time I got out of third gear."
Batman drove past the parked cars on the side of the road. There were times when the Batmobile's size was a detriment, but it was a choice he'd made a long time ago. If anything, the other car was wider, making it easier to keep track of with lateral vision, but it had a lower center of gravity, which meant it could be more maneuverable.
Then Batman saw the car round the corner, making a wide U-turn, the rear tires fish-tailing wildly as he took the corner and headed back the way he'd come. Batman turned sharply and drove over the median, barely missing the car as it blew past him. Despite the lost chance to stop the car in his tracks, Batman smiled. The Driver must've realized too late that the streets beyond were little more than alleys, too thin to allow the red car to get through without getting jammed up.
And that meant he didn't know the streets as well as Batman did.
Batman gunned the engine and moved in right behind the red car. This race was already over. The Driver just didn't know it yet.
The Driver took the right turn at forty miles an hour, skidding only slightly as it headed north. A sign on the side of the road proclaimed the Gotham East Tunnel was a mile ahead. He grinned. "I think Bats needs an oil change. Drop on my mark."
"You got it, hon." A light came up on the dashboard. "Ready when you are."
The Driver drifted to the right, heading through the tunnel as it wound first to the right, then left, heading north again. The two cars entered the tunnel at just over seventy and still accelerating. He smiled. "Grease 'im."
The Driver's car suddenly spread two thin layers of substances over the road behind him. One was a common grade of motor oil. The second was a much more sophisticated compound, readily cooked with common chemicals, but which, when combined with 10w-30 oil, made the oil into a water-soluble, completely frictionless compound.
The Batmobile's tires made no sound whatsoever as it skidded to the left, only a whispering SSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH as it bounced off the wall, its momentum carrying it towards the opposite wall as the tunnel turned to the left. Batman knew the only way to keep from spinning out of control was to shift to all-wheel drive and spin the compound from the tires. He gritted his teeth as the Batmobile careened around the corner, scraping the right wall loudly as he tried to maintain speed.
The Driver shot out of the tunnel, heading due north. The Batmobile exited a few seconds later, the compound finally beading off the tires. Batman found the car gaining traction again and snarled as he wrest control of the Batmobile from the forces of inertia. When the Batmobile began to obey the steering wheel again, Batman realized he was three car-lengths behind, but still in the race.
It was time to pull the gloves off.
The action at the Iceberg was now heating up. The betting was moving fast and furious, so to speak, and the Iceberg was seeing its largest attendance in months. At first, Oswald thought he was going to have a small riot on his hands when the Batmobile blocked the bank, but as soon as the Driver blew past the Batmobile after the U-turn, the regulars and the new customers alike were screaming for more. With four TV helicopters on the scene and tags for the tunnel cameras piped through in advance, the Iceberg patrons were getting ringside seats.
"I put ten-to-one the Batmobile doesn't catch him!"
"I'll take that action!"
"I put twenty Gs on the Driver!"
Sly set up another tray of drinks, turning to Sparrow. "Ready for table three!" He noticed Sparrow was a little distracted by the sight of the red car eating up the road. "Sparrow! Table three's thirsty!"
"Oh, right!" She blushed and picked up the tray. As she left, Sly went to the intercom and tapped it. "Where are those hot wings?"
"Coming right up!"
"Better be. Croc looks hungrier than usual!"
Oswald walked over to Sly, more puffed out than usual. "We're raking them in, Sly! The after-party alone is going to make us more money tonight than we'd make in two weeks! I say, my boy, when the Driver comes back in, give him a tab and all the ginger ale he can drink! Kegs of it!" He laughed, wakking several times and rapping the heel of his cane on the floor. "You place a wager, dear boy?"
"Yeah, Mr. Cobblepot. Fifty on the favorite."
Oswald chuckled. "I think you may be overly optimistic, my boy, but I approve your choice. I seriously question the Driver's ability to escape, but what can I say? I love backing an underdog every so often."
"I don't think he's that much of an underdog." Sly said with a knowing grin. "I think he's got more under the hood than anyone thinks."
"Be that as it may, if you're right, it only means a greater reward if he does. If he does not…I will still come out ahead!" Oswald laughed. "How often can one find a sure thing nowadays?"
The Driver checked his instruments. So far, Batman was playing things by the numbers. They were at the six-point-three-mile marker and things were on schedule. All he needed to do now was shut his passengers up. "Hey man, the Batmobile's coming for us!" yelled the leader of the trio who'd robbed the bank.
"Really? Is that what that big car behind us is? I thought that was just a crazy limo driver."
"Get us outta here, man! We're gonna get caught!"
The Driver sighed. "Changing topic. You got enough money back there to cover the shipping fees?"
"Yeah, we got it, but we ain't never gonna spend it if we don't get away!"
The Driver cut off the feed to the passenger section. The front and rear seats were divided by a tinted window and soundproofing, so the passengers could rant and rave all they wanted without bothering him. "Natives are getting reckless, baby. Scan our tailgater, let me know if he decides to try using any tricks on us."
"Speaking of which, I am detecting activity on the Batmobile. Looks like he's going to start pulling out the artillery."
The Driver smiled. "Good. Right turn coming up, tell our clients to hold on to their privates. As soon as we turn, use the repellent on the chassis. Spray the tires, too." His smile widened. "I can't wait to see the look on his face."
Batman was becoming concerned. The Driver's vehicle was taking too many chances, his driving too wild. All the earmarks of a man with a carefully laid plan going awry. He'd seen it far too many times to count; watching thugs and crooks tell the world how they were going to "take out the Bat", or something equally bold. All of them ended up the same way: spending the next few years in a room without a view, wearing jumpsuits, most from the alma mater of Arkham Asylum. Catching this crook wasn't the question. It was now a matter of taking him down quickly, or his reckless driving was going to end up hurting someone or worse.
Fortunately, Batman wasn't driving a Honda.
He tapped a button and armed the APC, one of his more reliable tools. It was a simple device, mounted one on each side of the Batmobile with a one-eighty degree firing arc front to rear. When fired, a blob of greenish-gray gel made of a top-secret chemical compound flew towards the offender, coating it and hardening to a substance with the consistency of thin concrete. Just the thing for disabling vehicles by locking wheels, cementing cars to the asphalt, clogging radiators and blocking windshields. Coats, soothes…detains. Let's see how cocky he is when he's superglued to the road.
He saw the Driver take a hard right, heading north, towards Gotham Bridge. He checked the scheduling and frowned. There was a barge coming, and that meant the bridge on the southern section would be going up…which meant that if the Batmobiile could herd him towards the bridge, not only would the Driver be trapped, the area around it would be clear of vehicles, making the Driver's capture sure and safe.
Batman smiled as he gunned the engine. End of the road, Driver.
The Driver checked the map overlaid on the windshield. "Barge's early. The bridge is going to be up sooner, higher angle. Options?"
"We can try jumping, but there's a chance Batman will infer that the Mauler's capable of much more. There's a better than average chance that will make escape less likely."
"Nothing for it, gonna have to pour on the speed." He shifted as he pulled the right turn, driving on the sidewalk and shoving a parked compact car to the side, spinning it around as he tried to shave time off his schedule. "How's our guests?"
"Going a little crazy back there."
"Good. Was getting a little lonely being the only nutjob in the car."
Batman fired as soon as the Driver finished the turn, aiming for the rear tires and rear window. A rapid-fire burst of three shots plastered the rear of the Mauler, the gel beginning to harden. Batman smiled as he saw the gel change color from greenish-gray to gray as it hardened upon contact with the air.
Unfortunately, his smile didn't last.
Batman watched as the gel began to flake and slide off the car's chassis, the gel covering the rear right tire shedding and cracking like the shell coming off a hard-boiled egg. The Driver's car didn't even lose speed.
That was impossible. The compound had been tested on every known metal and plastic substance, including all paint and finish composites known. The gel was flawless in every respect.
Batman's eyes narrowed. The Driver knew about the gel, he'd done his homework. And if he knew enough to find a counter-agent for the gel, that meant he wasn't some punk or a glorified speeder.
The Driver was prepared.
Batman downshifted. It was time to change tactics.
"Looks like Batman's going to try to cut us off."
The Driver nodded. "He figured out what was going on sooner than I thought. That's going to make things complicated. Baby, figure out the probability of capture if we move on with current speed and pre-arranged route."
"You got it." A few seconds passed. "Looks like the Batman nails us with a thirty-seven percent higher probability. Not a hundred percent, still betting odds."
"Maybe, if this was a real race. We're going to have to," he said, taking a deep breath, "change the plan."
Stunned silence from next to him.
"Babe, I got a bridge coming up, wanna focus?"
"Right, right, less than a mile…you really shouldn't surprise me like that, Stud."
"Going to have to punch it. Give me updates on the Metropolis 549 as we change speeds."
"One more thing…arm the Bollix."
"That's not exactly a precision weapon, you know."
"Desperate times." He urged the car faster, the speedometer crossing the threshold between double-digit and triple-digit speeds. "Fire as soon as he crosses the bridge." He stomped the accelerator and the Mauler surged forward as it hit the edge of the incline, still gaining speed as it roared up the ramp.
Batman knew fear when he saw it.
He'd seen and experienced more than his share, more than a hundred's share. Over the years, he'd seen and experienced enough fear to recognize and exploit it in others, no matter what kind it was. The kind of fear that made sane men gibber, the fear of imminent danger, destruction, ruin…and the small kinds of fears, the ones people experience daily.
This kind wasn't desperation, not quite, but Batman knew that something was different. The car's sudden acceleration and swerve as he went up the bridge revealed that Batman had somehow provoked an effect in the Driver, something unexpected. Unexpected meant the Driver was caught off guard by something, and Batman was not about to let that kind of opportunity slip away. He accelerated as well, only three car-lengths behind the Driver, and the gap between them began to narrow…
The Driver's face lit up, suddenly inspired. "Baby, hold off on the Bollix. Arm it, but don't fire it yet!"
The Mauler soared over the bridge, clearing the gap with room to spare. The Driver kept the hammer down as the car landed, the chassis skipping like a stone and bouncing three times before all four tires could grip the road again. He didn't need to look behind him or ask his partner where the Batmobile was.
The Batmobile was on his tail. He could sense it as acutely as he could feel the wheel under his hands.
"What's on your mind, Driver?" She called him by his code name. She only did that when she wasn't sure what was going on, a rare condition with this team.
"I want to see how badly he wants me. Bring up the map and the route." One of the screens rotated fifteen degrees, the display of the car's systems changing to a map and their route in red. He looked it over for a second, then tapped it three times, altering the route. "There."
"Hot Stuff, have you gone even further out of your mind than usual?" his partner asked him in mixed awe and disbelief.
Roxy was GLUED to the screen.
She'd pulled her chair over to the main screen, sitting front and center, her drink getting warmer and her nachos getting colder. She watched with rapt attention at the chase, the police cars falling behind at the bridge, the police helicopters still in pursuit. The customers' yells were getting louder, but she didn't hear anything.
All there was in the world was Roxy, the TV and the Mauler battling it out with the Batmobile.
The rest of the Iceberg was starting to resemble the Superbowl crowd. Croc found himself having to yell over and over to get the people to quiet down. The volumes on the sound system rigs were already up to airline-engine levels and the people in the Iceberg were still making it hard to hear at times.
Oswald looked out over the crowd with a mix of pride and a little fear. The Iceberg Lounge was making money like crazy, but the crowd was starting to get heated. It would be a fine mess, he mused with a sense of irony, if I had to call the local constabulary for assistance. I wonder what they'll say, if they even decide to show up. "Oh yes, we'll be over as soon as we can…"
He sat back in his chair and smiled. Of course, I could always have Croc keep the peace. Nothing says "keep it down" like the threat of having one's arms pulled off.
Down in the Lounge, the bets were getting higher. One particularly loud and obnoxious patron was trying to get the bets over fifty grand, but Sly wouldn't accept wagers without cash on hand. Oswald watched as the belligerent drunk was suddenly jerked off his feet and pulled towards Ivy's booth, then lifted to hang upside down by her vines. Oswald couldn't tell what she said to the man, but from the way the inebriant's face turned white despite the blood rushing to his head, Oswald figured that Pamela had dealt with the man with her usual grace and tact.
It was nice to see everyone in the Iceberg getting along so well.
The Driver's plan was risky from the start. He knew it from the moment he came up with the plan five months ago.
He'd learned a long time ago during vehicular training that any car chase with the police would only be successful if the pursued lost their pursuers soon after the chase began. The longer the chase, the more likely the event of capture, and the Driver had planned both his route and the chase to last long enough to make his point. He needed to get the attention of everyone in Gotham. "How many choppers are in the air, and how many of them are news?"
"Six helicopters, two police, four television. According to the newsnets, you just earned yourself a few news briefs during prime time." A worried tone crept into his partner's voice. "Hon…"
"It's almost over." He downshifted, the speedometer now well over a hundred. "We've got two possible barriers…and a passenger train."
"You make that sound like it can only be a good thing. Listen, it's getting too risky. With the route you've selected, our chances of making it through the final checkpoint drops to less than forty percent."
"We have to do this. I am not going to get caught by the Keystone Kops and spend time in a cell until I get 'suicided' two hours later. And there will be a night when Batman and I meet face-to-face, but it's not going to be tonight."
"He's coming up on the left, thirty-eight feet and closing. At this speed, left turn in twenty-eight seconds."
He nodded. "Should I warn the passengers?" he asked with a grin that suggested he already knew the answer.
Batman was starting to get frustrated.
The Batmobile was one of the most advanced vehicles ever built, but even technological superiority eventually had to give way to physics. The armor of the Batmobile was made to shrug off everything from small arms fire to light anti-tank weapons, but it was heavy material. Add in the forward thrust created by the turbine engine, and the Batmobile was a missile with wheels. Problem was, the suspension of the vehicle could only do so much at certain speeds, and he was forced to resort to using the side-mounted cables to assist his turns. Even then, at just under a hundred and ten, the next left turn was nearly disastrous as the grapple that fired from the left side of the chassis and latched onto the lightpost nearly bent the post double.
The Driver's car did slow down to a mere seventy-six to make the turn, but its acceleration popped it up to one-twenty almost as soon as the turn was made. The wide body and low center of gravity kept it from flipping over, and the tires gripped the asphalt as it turned. The Driver barely cleared a block before making another right turn, heading north once again, accelerating past one-thirty and rising.
Batman snarled as the G-forces of the right turn pushed him nearly out of his seat, but held on and pulled into the turn, completing the turn before the line from the right side of the Batmobile could snap. The Driver was now pulling ahead, passing one-forty and still accelerating.
Anyone who wanted to shut off the TVs in the Iceberg Lounge risked certain death from the viewers. The betting was all but done as the patrons were mesmerized by the way the race was developing. Roxy was hypnotized, jaw slack as she saw the Driver give Batman the driving lesson of his life.
Nobody was ordering drinks or food now. Every person in the Iceberg was watching the show, listening to the reports from the news crews and the police scanners. The cars were pulling away now, moving faster than the helicopters in the sky, the spotlights barely able to keep up. "This is incredible!" said Summer Gleeson as she read from the papers in front of her in the newsroom, "The two vehicles are now accelerating in excess of one hundred and sixty miles per hour…and…wait a minute….this just in! The Metropolis Express on track eighty-two is scheduled to cross their path, and the track is only six miles ahead of them!"
"Driver…the train's early," his partner said worriedly. "We have to abort!"
"Calculate minimum speed necessary to clear tracks before the train passes," he replied, gunning the engine and surging forward. The speedometer crept past one hundred and seventy-five, and the Driver downshifted further.
"Too many unknown factors," she said back as they swerved, blowing past three startled motorists as if they were in reverse.
"Then I guess we're just going to have to just improvise!" He saw the train coming, the engine screaming too loud to hear the horns of the train that he knew were blowing as they saw him coming.
"Stud, every time you say that, it starts getting expensive!" she said angrily.
Batman saw the train coming. He watched at the Driver just kept right on going, speeding past other cars, the turbulence in his wake stirring up trash and papers from the gutters. He realized that if the Driver miscalculated and didn't make it past the train, the resulting collision stood a better-than-average chance of damaging the engine at best, knocking the engine off the tracks at worst. He armed the grapplegun mounted on the front of the Batmobile, knowing full well that at these speeds, using the gun to stop the Driver would likely cause them both to crash, maybe even come apart at these speeds.
But it was better than risking the lives of those passengers on the train.
He aimed the grapplegun, waiting for the right moment, hoping he wasn't too late…
"Driver, he's aiming a grapple device at us!" the female voice warned.
The Driver checked the road ahead. Apart from the tracks ahead, the road was clear. "Smoke 'em if you got 'em," he said with a smile.
Batman heard the grapplegun's targeting computer gave him a flat tone showing a target lock, pulling the trigger just as his view went completely white. SMOKESCREEN! His mind screamed at him and he stomped on the brakes with both feet, the computer reading the pressure on the brakes and the current speed, activating the Emergency Braking System. Panels on the sides, top and front of the Batmobile flared up, the tires stopping and a trio of parachutes deploying out the back of the vehicle. He felt the straps of his seat tighten, pressing hard into his shoulders and chest as inertia took its toll on him. The Batmobile screeched to a stop, the onboard computer guiding the wheels to keep the vehicle from turning and flipping over twenty-nine times.
He was past the smoke, giving him a wonderful view of the Driver and the train heading for the same point in space.
Nobody in the Iceberg spoke. Group catatonic shock. They watched in uncomprehending disbelief as the Driver's car reached two hundred miles per hour and kept right on going. They all watched as the Batmobile came to a stop. Their eyes were wide as they saw the Driver's car blast through the gates blocking the train tracks. Roxy stared in awe as the Driver crossed the tracks, the front plate of the train scraping the rear bumper, causing sparks to fly…
And then he was gone as the helicopters lost sight of him.
The roar inside the Iceberg could be heard from the street level as the slow-motion replay confirmed that the Driver had actually made it past the train without being smashed, but nothing more could be determined. It was gone. The sound dropped, but not by much as the bets were confirmed and Oswald personally ordered a round of drinks for all, on the house. Once that was done, he sat down heavily and tugged at his collar to loosen it.
Sly walked over to Oswald. "Are you all right?"
Oswald smiled. "Whew…and I thought dealing with the Bat was nerve-wracking."
Batman slammed the side of the Batmobile as he finished searching the road on the other side of the tracks. After the train had passed, he had crossed over to find a set of skidmarks on the other side, showing that the Driver had slowed to a more normal speed, then…nothing. Not a trace. No tracks showing where it had gone, no imprints, nothing.
It was as if the car had simply ceased to be.
After spending nearly an hour checking the street for the next mile and finding nothing, he was forced to admit that the Driver had outmaneuvered him. He didn't know what he was looking forward to least: having to admit to himself that he'd underestimated the Driver…or dealing with Selina's I-told-you-so cat-grins.
One thing was certain. He was not going to underestimate the Driver again. With that in mind, he got back inside the Batmobile and drove away, back to the Batcave to examine the footage of the race.
For ten minutes, the area was calm. The police choppers moved away to search for the car along their route, other police cruisers investigating the streets to the north. The news choppers headed home to report the story of the year.
No one was around when a shimmering object moved from a nearby parking lot. It was nearly invisible as it moved to the street, then the shimmering field changed to something visible, a bright yellow Hummer that drove south, heading back the way the Driver had come. After taking a few turns, the Hummer stopped at a building in the downtown district…less than five blocks away from the bank.
Four men got out, carrying black duffel bags in each hand, then the door slammed. They waved to the Hummer and went inside, leaving the SUV outside to idle.
Inside, the Driver was counting the extra money for cleaning the seats. "Not a bad haul. Maybe I should reconsider my policy on tipping."
"I don't know about you, Stud, but I could use a little downtime. Can we go home now?"
The Driver finished counting. "Sure thing."
"That was a hell of a risk you took back at the train tracks…"
The Driver shrugged. "Wait until you see my next trick."
"Well, Hot Stuff, you did it. You beat the Batmobile and you made it look easy. People are going to be calling your number night and day."
"Problem is, it only looked easy." The Driver sighed. "I had the element of surprise, the route and methods planned out to the smallest detail, and Batman's own ego working for me. Even so, he figured out I wasn't some two-bit wheeljockey looking for a fun time way too quickly. I could tell by the way his driving changed. I caught him flat-footed this time, but he's not going to underestimate me the next time." He sighed. "The honeymoon's over, babe. But now we've got some money, which means we can upgrade our digs. More money to pick up at the Iceberg Lounge, which means a few creature comforts, some replacement parts and fluids, medicine..."
"Sounds like we just went up in the world. Almost makes up for you putting every dime we had on that bet you made in the Iceberg." Her voice was half-amused, half-scolding.
"Nag, nag, nag. We got it back in spades, and then some, and we picked up some money from a paying job." He grinned. "All we have to do is get it laundered and we'll be in business." The Hummer drove away into the night, the Driver tapping a button on the console, opening up a cellular phone channel. "Hello, Sly? It's the Driver. I'll be in to pick up my winnings in two days." He hung up and grinned. "Start spreading the news…" he began to sing, "…I'm leaving today…I want to be a part of it…Go-tham, Go-tham…!"
At an office in Washington D.C., a tall, somewhat lanky man in an Army uniform sat at his desk, looking out at the night sky through his office window. The phone on his desk rang and he picked it up on the second ring. "Hello?" he asked.
"We've found him," came the voice over the line. "Gotham City."
The man nodded, light reflecting off the stars on his shoulders. "Get it done," he ordered in a smooth and even voice.
End Chapter One