The burly thugs standing on either side of the door sent periodic glares up and down the deserted street running along the front of the non-descript building in the outskirts of Moscow. It had been a factory years before, but had been long abandoned even before the fall of the Soviet Union. In between glares they'd chat in Russian about the women they wanted and those that they already had, laughing about shared conquests when they came across a name familiar to both of them. They failed to notice the grappling hook launched high above their heads to the roof of the building they were guarding. They also failed to notice the lithe frame silently repelling above them onto the roof.
Inside the building their boss grumbled some jokes in Russian that garnered some laughter from the six associates milling around him. Not finding his own comments as funny as his employees seemed to find them, the crime boss growled out a question in Russian to his number two man. "Sergei, where is this bitch?"
"Relax boss, the Cat said eleven, she's got a few more minutes before she's late." The second in charge replied in Russian.
"A few minutes then." The boss snarled back. "I don't wait for women unless they'll be sharing my bed later, and even then I don't wait too long."
"It's good I'm not late then, because I have no intention of sharing a bed with any of you." A feminine voice called out from the shadows above the seven men in thickly accented Russian. A moment later a woman gracefully dropped to the floor. She was dressed all in black, adorned with a black ski mask, a curled whip on one hip and a small sack on the other, the sack weighed down by whatever she was carrying inside of it. "Now gentlemen, I suggest we get down to business." This statement was in Mid-Western American-accented English.
"You could get yourself killed making an entrance in such a way, woman." The boss growled in thickly Russian accented English as he regained his composure.
"Perhaps, but not this time." The woman replied. "Do you have the money?"
"Da. Do you have the merchandise?" The second replied.
The woman pulled the sack off of her hip and walked over to a table beneath a hanging light in the center of the room. She poured the contents out onto the table, revealing enough high quality jewelry to nearly fill an entire case at Tiffany's. "I think you'll be pleased. A fair bit more here than I promised, and I'm not even going to raise the price on you too much."
"Raise the price?" The second growled. "We brought what you demanded, no more."
"Alright, then I guess I'll need to take back the surplus." The woman shrugged seductively, all her facial features hidden but her green eyes and a stray lock of black hair hanging through the opening of the mask.
"Nyet." The boss interjected. "I'm sure we can come to some sort of arrangement."
"Glad to hear that." The Cat replied. "Now, let's say we tack on an additional ten percent. The extra jewels warrant much more than that, but I'm feeling very generous, and you gents seem like good people."
"Da, we are very good people." The boss smiled.
"Great. Let's see the money. Seventy five grand US plus ten percent comes to eighty two-five." The woman tensed slightly as the leader of the group began leering at her, a grin spreading across his pudgy face.
"You're obviously a very good cat burglar, but you are not very intelligent." The leader commented as he and his comrades slowly surrounded the woman. "You are alone, and aside from the whip, appear without weapon."
The woman sighed and shook her head sadly. "I was really hoping you guys would play nice." The Cat took a defensive posture, clenched her fists lightly before flinging her fingers forward. Compartments mounted on her gloves, positioned on the back of the second bone of each finger, activated, causing small housings with curved blades to spring forward. The housings covered the woman's fingertips and the claws extending out another inch.
The men looked on with genuine interest for a moment before laughing at the small blades and pulling out side arms. "Da, not very intelligent."
"Me? You're the one who said the whip was my only weapon." The Cat playfully retorted. "Who's eating their words now."
"You'll be eating my bullets unless you take off those gloves...and the rest of the outfit while you are at it." The leader of the criminals laughed, followed by the laughter of his friends.
The Cat put her hands on her hips, doing an excellent job of channeling Mae West as she did so. "Well as much fun as what you guys have in mind would be, I'm afraid I'm going to have to take a pass. Oh, and I'd like to point out that you were wrong about another thing."
"Oh, what's that?" The second in command queried, practically drooling over the covered feminine form.
"I'm not alone." The statement forced the men to pause, at least the three who understood English. The other four paused as they saw their comrades scanning the shadows of the large warehouse. "I brought my pet bird."
"Pet bird?" The leader questioned. With that a lead pipe flew down from the shadows and slammed into the temple of the largest man. The other Russians turned to their collapsing friend as another form flew out of the shadows toward them. Like with the Cat, this individual was sleek, in a bodysuit and wearing a mask. Unlike the Cat, this one was a male, one built like an Olympic gymnast, carrying another lead pipe, and his bodysuit was blood red with a dark green ski mask. The man landed silently in the midst of the criminals, and with movements so fluid they seemed to defy physics, he converted the landing into a series of strikes that first disarmed, then incapacitated the Russians.
The woman took a step to join the fray, but paused as she saw the young man had matters well in hand, using Aikido to throw the six men into a state of complete disarray, cart wheeling to grab the pipe he had thrown at the unconscious seventh man, and then whirling through them with both pipes utilizing skills that would amaze the greatest of Escrima masters. In less than three minutes all of the criminals were on the ground with either broken bones, bleeding heads or both.
"Jesus kid, that was almost impressive." The woman looked over the unconscious thugs that moments ago were intent on violating her. "I'm used to you taking longer."
"Nothing like the combination of lead pipes and puberty to make the knockouts come quickly." The young man remarked as he pulled off his ski mask, his face that of a boy still clearly in his teens and bearing a broad smirk. "You should have seen how quickly I took out the guys outside."
"Don't get cocky, my little Robin." The woman commented as she scooped the jewels back into her sack. "Get the cash."
The boy was already trotting toward a briefcase, tried to open it, noted it was locked, and then pulled out some lock picks and had it open in seconds. "Seventy five. Sorry, no extra ten percent."
"It'll be more than enough to get us to the States in the manner we're accustomed to." The Cat replied as she headed toward the door, opened it and walked past the two unconscious thugs on the ground outside. "This guy was a little too well-connected for Moscow to be safe for us any longer. Plus his colleague will definitely have some feelers out for his mistress's stolen jewelry."
The young man trotted after her, carrying the briefcase. "America, huh. It'll be nice to catch up on my South Park."
"Well, at least now you're old enough to watch that show. Though I'm pretty sure John and Mary are still trying to send lightening bolts my way for this life I've got you leading." The Cat paused for a moment, pondering something before continuing down the dark street. "Look, I don't want you to get too excited about this, but another reason…well, the main reason really, that we're going home is that the other day I may have gotten a lead on him."
"Him who?" The sixteen-year-old boy replied as his eyes darted over the street and the buildings lining it.
The boy stopped abruptly in the street and stared mouth agape at the woman, who also pulled off her mask to reveal the beautiful face of a woman in her mid twenties and turned to look at him. "The Beast?"
"Just rumors kid." She shrugged, a sad look coming over her face. "But if there's any truth to them, we'll find the bastard."
A look of hatred came over the boy's face as he started walking again, this time with a vicious intensity. "Let's get going."
The dawn broke over Gotham City, enveloping the skyline with a soft warm yellow-orange glow, forcing the darkness to retreat to the alleys, where they would wait until dusk to reclaim what was rightfully theirs. But at that moment the day was taking hold and would stand firm for the next thirteen or so hours. Coleman Reese had been asked to come in early, and was forced to momentarily shield his eyes from the rising sun that was glaring through the window behind the desk of Wayne Enterprises owner, Bruce Wayne. Seated in his desk, looking more attentive than he had ever seen the man, was Mr. Wayne, and standing to his right was Lucius Fox. Reese seemed to shrink under the gaze of who he believed to be the Batman as he took a seat in one of the large and comfortable chairs positioned in front of the desk, and was grateful when Wayne shifted his attention to the double doors that his secretary was now drawing to a close. In that brief moment when their eyes weren't locked, Reese screwed his nerve and decided to take the offensive. "If you were thinking of making me disappear, you should think again. People know where I am, and while I haven't divulged to them the information in my possession, arrangements have been made that they receive this information should they not hear from me."
"Mr. Reese," gone was the intimidating stare, replaced by the more familiar playboy grin. "If I really wanted you dead, and was as competent as the man you think I am, well, you'd be dead and I'd still have my favorite Lambo."
"I don't know whether that's a threat or an attempt to draw gratitude, but whichever it is, it won't work." Reese replied his well-rehearsed response.
"Nor will your attempt at blackmail." Lucius Fox interjected as he dropped a file folder on the edge of the desk. Reese hesitantly lifted the folder and opened it, revealing schematics of some odd cannon-like device. "What you are looking at are blueprints for a prototype water vaporizer. The one that was used in last year's attempt to poison the city; the one that was stolen at roughly the same time that the Tumbler and various other pieces of W.E. property were stolen."
"Commissioner Gordon, and Loeb before him, has been aware that Batman's tank was our Tumbler for quite some time." Wayne smugly commented; the infuriating smirk etched playfully on his face.
"The way that Gordon figures it, an organization calling themselves The League of Shadows, the one that Jonathan Crane was working with, stole these items for their own use." Fox explained. "Apparently, the Batman informed Gordon that he had previous ties to this League, had a falling out, and as they set upon Gotham he opposed them. We're speculating that he laid claim to some of their equipment, including the Tumbler."
Reese shot a disbelieving smile from one man to the other. "Do you really expect me to believe this?"
"No Mr. Reese," Wayne chimed in, the same arrogant smile in place. "We expect you to maintain your belief that I'm Batman. That despite knowing that dozens of individuals with extremely high IQ's spent months of their lives designing, building and testing this vehicle, and that numerous members of the US military examined the blueprints and were in attendance for much of the testing; despite all this I checked out this vehicle out like I would any other company car, dressed like Dracula and used it to drag race all around the city without the expectation that anyone would recognize this thing."
"Trust me Mr. Reese, the men and women who poured their souls into this project would recognize that machine even under a couple coats of black paint." Fox added.
"Well, no offense intended to Mr. Wayne, but he's never been accused of being a stickler for the details." Reese replied to Fox's comment.
"Yes he has." Fox chimed in, drawing Reese's gaze. "By you, when you accused him of being Batman. The Batman can be called a great many things, Mr. Reese, but absentminded isn't one of things I've heard said about him."
"OK, I'll bite." Reese answered, still sounding resolute but with his resolve fading away slowly. "If in fact the Tumbler was stolen like you claim it was, why hasn't Wayne Enterprises made an attempt to recover their property?"
"We have." Wayne snapped.
This gave Reese pause, a pause Fox used to reach over, pick another file up from in front of Bruce Wayne, and plop it down on top of the previous file in front of Reese. The would-be blackmailer lifted the file and opened it. Inside he skimmed over a theft report regarding the Tumbler, and Reese couldn't help but notice that it was dated two days after the water-main incident, over a year ago. "Issuing this was one of my first acts as CEO. Of course, I requested that the GPD drop the report the next day."
Reese's gaze shot up. "Why would you do that?"
"Well, let's just say that we all agreed that Batman was putting the car to better use than we were." Wayne quipped.
Reese chuckled lightly. "You expect me to buy that?"
Fox cleared his throat, putting the chuckling to an end. "Before I give you the real reason, I wish to remind you of the confidentiality agreement that you signed."
"Not that it's carried much weight thus far." Wayne muttered, the comment getting him a stern glance from Fox.
Reese noted the almost scolding way Fox looked at Wayne, and the apologetic grin it elicited. A reaction he would not expect from Batman. Fox returned his gaze to Reese. "Mr. Reese, the water vaporizer fell into a legally gray area. I'm confident that our legal team would be able to prove no wrong doing on our part in any court of law, but it would still be a PR nightmare. And so would the questions regarding Wayne Enterprises ability to protect itself against industrial espionage. The misappropriation of the Tumbler would be an even greater thorn in our side as it was still unaccounted for at that time. I evaluated our options and decided to let sleeping dogs lie. That is why I rescinded the police report."
"Very good gentlemen." Reese replied, smiling. "I figured you guys would go with threats, you are a cop-killer according to the news reports after all. But I did take into account that you may try and convince me I was wrong. I've done my research though. I know that Mr. Wayne's parents were murdered before his very eyes, and that he was enrolled in various martial arts schools from then on until going away to Stanford."
"The death of my parents was very traumatic, I'm not going to lie. And I wanted revenge against the man who took them from me. But watching he himself get shot in front of me had a souring effect on my desire for revenge. Besides, horrific acts of violence affect a great many people. I know several other people who've watched loved ones get murdered, but as far as I know, there's only one Batman." Wayne somberly noted, but took a more light-hearted tone as he continued. "As for me taking martial arts, well, so did every other rich kid in the United States. It was either Karate or Polo, and I've always been leery of horses. I really hope you uncovered more than this."
"Well, during the seven years you went missing, there were some reported sightings of you. Including one in Italy, with a circus. Given the reports, they had an aerialist that some claim was the best in the world, someone that the future Batman would want to train under." Reese was reaching. Yes, he had done as much research as possible regarding Wayne's missing years, and yes, there had been a report placing him at a traveling circus, or at least an Englishman, an easily faked accent, of his age with his general description and reportedly a great deal of disposable money. But by the time a reporter could catch up to the circus the Englishman was long gone, and the members of the circus refused comment. Hardly a smoking gun, but other than the Tumbler schematics, Reese had nothing linking Wayne to the Batman.
"Mr. Reese, I swear on the graves of my parents that I never received tutelage from an acrobat in Italy." Bruce Wayne peered into Reese's eyes with absolute earnestness. The room was frighteningly silent for over a minute as Reese's conviction waned, and doubt regarding Batman's true identity filled his mind. Wayne finally broke the silence. "I think we're done here. First off Mr. Reese, for intended breach of your confidentiality agreement and your attempt to blackmail me, I have no choice but to terminate your employment here at Wayne Enterprises. Secondly, despite your termination, you are still bound by your confidentiality agreement, so publicizing information regarding the Tumbler's specifications or any other piece of Wayne Enterprises' property will be met with severe legal recourse. Third, any claim that I am the Batman with also be met with sever legal recourse. Mr. Fox and I have answered all of your accusations, providing the necessary explanations to counter them, and I can provide you with witnesses that will confirm my whereabouts at times when the Batman has been reportedly seen. But despite being able to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that I am not the Batman, an accusation from a person of your intelligence and public standing will carry a great deal of weight. No doubt enough to convince criminals that it would be in their best interest to take me out. The police may take the evidence to the contrary into account, the criminal element likely won't, and for the rest of my life I'll have a target painted on me. So please realize that I will devote every resource at my disposal to making you pay should you decide to pursue these outlandish claims of yours." The silence returned, again lasting roughly a minute before Reese shifted his body and opened his mouth to say something. Wayne didn't give him the chance to say those words. "Go clean out your desk and get the hell out of my building."
A look of anger crossed Reese's face, but he stood up and headed for the door, slamming it shut as he departed. Bruce swiveled his chair around and peered over the Gotham skyline. "Do you think he bought it?" Lucius asked as he picked up the files that Reese had left.
"No. But I think we filled him with enough doubt so that he'll hold his tongue. At least until he finds more evidence anyway." Bruce replied.
"Yes. That bit about you training in Italy revealed just how desperate his case was." Lucius chuckled.
"Actually, he was right about me traveling with a circus through Italy." Bruce replied.
Lucius cocked an eyebrow as he lowered himself into the seat that Reese had left vacant. "Wow, I knew you could bullshit with the best, but that was a very, very convincing lie."
"It wasn't a lie." Bruce replied as he continued peering through the window, getting lost in his thoughts. "I was training with an escape artist. The acrobat had no interest in dealing with me initially. He was Roma, a Gypsy, kind of old-world about it with certain things, and liked to keep his contact with non-Roma to a minimum, well, with the exception of his wife. It took weeks just to get him to talk to me; weeks along with the promise of a small fortune. With the help of his kid I eventually did get him to agree to train me, but...it just wasn't meant to be." Wayne vanished into his thoughts.
A bearded man in his fifties watched as a twenty-one-year-old Bruce Wayne, who had a shorter beard, hung upside down from rope tied to the thick branch of a tall tree. Wayne's wrists were bound together over, or rather given his inverted position, under his head, a chain trailing from the shackled wrists and connected to a large rock, which dangled a couple of feet off the ground. The older man watched as the young Wayne tested the ties of both his wrists and ankles with mild struggling before taking a look of relaxed meditation. Wayne's stomach started gyrating, and soon the gyrations carried up to his throat before his mouth started working on something within. A moment later his tongue was slowly pushing a metal pick into place between his lips.
Turning his head to look down, he paused for several moments, taking time to get his aim and timing just right. The pick fell from his lips, dropped through the air, and was pinched between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. With the weight pulling his hands down, it was very difficult for him to maneuver his fingers into position to pick the lock on the shackles, but after several minutes of contorting and struggling, Wayne finally got the pick in the lock and after another thirty seconds one wrist was free. A few more seconds and the rock, chain and shackles slammed into the ground below. Wayne's clamp-like stomach muscles and flexible legs allowed him to bend up and easily maintain a comfortable position for him while he untied his ankles. Finishing off the knot with one hand, Wayne grasped the rope with the other and held his body aloft as his feet fell and swung beneath his torso.
He smiled at the older man as he released the rope and landed on the ground. "How was that?" Wayne asked with a perfect incorporation of Alfred's British accent as his fairly long hair fell over the top portion of his face.
The old man smiled and nodded. "This is where I keep how impressed I am to myself and tell you that you need a great deal more work. Somehow I doubt I'd be able to convincingly do this though."
"Yeah, not bad for a gadje." Both men turned and looked at a nine year old boy sitting on a branch of another tree that sat seven feet off the ground.
Bruce looked for lower branches that the boy must have used to get up there, but didn't see any. He ignored the question of how the kid got up there and replied. "You're an American?"
"Yup. Our contract with RBB and B ran out, so Dad brought us here. He really wants to take a shot at re-connecting with his roots. We head for Hungary next month, that's where he grew up." The kid replied. "So you're the guy whose paying Zatara here buku bucks to teach you to be an escape artist, huh? You should be giving some of that money to a barber."
Bruce chuckled, reached up and offered his hand. "Tom Alfreds."
The boy shook the hand firmly. "Dick Grayson. And Zatara teaches me his tricks for free." The child smiled and hoped off the branch. Wayne was surprised at how gracefully the boy descended to the ground. The dark haired boy sprinted through the trees, sprung at a boulder that was about shoulder height to him, planted his hands on the top of it and propelled himself into the air, doing a lightening fast pair of somersaults before landing on his feet and continuing his sprint toward the large tents being put up in the distance.
The two men watched, impressed at Dick's athleticism. "In five or six years, that boy will be the greatest acrobat I'll have ever seen." Zatara commented. "And I've seen them all."
"I take it his father is his teacher." Bruce asked, and though he wasn't looking at Zatara, he somehow knew the older man was nodding. "I wonder if the elder Mr. Grayson would be willing to take on another student."
"Maybe, but I doubt it." Zatara commented. "John's a friendly enough guy, but he's very protective of his family and friends, and isn't one to allow an outsider into his inner circle. It's a Gypsy thing."
"I'm not asking to be admitted into his inner circle, I just want him to teach me a series of techniques and skill sets." Wayne countered.
"I see." Zatara smiled. "The Flying Graysons don't see what they do as a series of techniques and skill sets. Flying is in their blood. It's their legacy. And they view it as something only they can do at their level. The Graysons have been the greatest aerialists you've never heard of for generations."
"I appreciate that, but I'll still get him to teach me." Bruce smiled. "All it takes is a little finesse, and six or seven figures."
"A productive morning Master Wayne?" Alfred asked as he held the rear passenger side door of the Rolls Royce open for his employer.
"Somewhat Alfred." Bruce replied as he slid into the car and the door shut behind him. A few moments later Alfred was sliding into the driver seat. "Productive on your end?"
"Why yes sir, I would say it was." Alfred smiled as he pulled the car out toward the Wayne Enterprises parking lot exit. "It seems you were not the only one to be holding a meeting today. The recording from the bug you planted in the Little Odessa restaurant is set up for your perusal in front of you, but the long and the short of it is that the remnants of the Russian mob are being consolidated under the leadership of some newcomer. An old KGB strongman, both figuratively and literally from what I understand."
Bruce raised the headphone connected to a small listening device to his ear. "How long ago was this recorded?"
"About three hours ago sir."
Bruce hit play on the device and listened to the recording. A moment later the gruff voice of a young man, one with a New Jersey accent could be heard.
"Alright, we're here. You've got five minutes."
The response was from a man with a thick Russian accent. "Do not act tough with me, Sascha, I gave you your start, don't make me give you your end."
"Fine, what is it that you want to talk about Uncle Nicolai?"
"The Chechen's demise has created a vacuum, and the man to fill that vacuum has finally arrived."
"No way. Falcone's gone, Maroni's gone, and the friggin' clown is bouncing around a padded room. I like this answering to no one. We've all carved out our pieces, we're all too small for the bat to give a shit about; I like things the way they are."
"Nyet. This will not last. The pieces always get gobbled by someone, I want for that someone to be one of us." The voice of the immigrant replied.
"So who are you suggesting, another comrade from Mother Russia? Let me guess, another one of your pre-Glasnost pals?"
"Sort of. His name is Anatoli Knyazev. He will crush our competition, he will crush the bat, and he will keep the police in line. And should the Joker ever get out of Arkham…" cruel laughter. "The Beast will dismember him with his own bare hands."
"The Beast?" The young man sounded surprised and suddenly awe-struck. "You're talking about the KGBeast?"
"Govno, I thought he was just a legend to impress the kids of the Polit Bureau."
"Nyet, he is real. Trained from birth to be Mother Russia's scalpel. But the capitalists gutted the Soviet Union just as his training was completed."
"Damn. Look, Nicolai, if it's really the Beast coming to run the show, then I'll fall into line. I'm not stupid enough to oppose him."
"Good. Spread the word, and compile a list of non-Russians that have proven useful. People we'd like to keep around afterward."
Bruce pulled the earpiece from his ear and leaned back in his seat, a frown spreading across his face. "A new player Master Wayne?" Alfred asked.
"There will always be new players Alfred." Bruce gave a thoughtful look at the man driving his car. "Though this may not be so much a new player as another crack at an old one."
Twenty-one-year-old Bruce Wayne jogged through the chaotic scene of circus tents and other structures being put up in a large field. He smiled as he caught sight of a lean, muscular man in an acrobat's leotards walking ahead toward the largest tent, which appeared to be fully constructed already. "John! John Grayson!"
The acrobat turned, displayed an exasperated smile and shook his head as he continued on his way toward the big top. "You're very persistent Mr. Alfreds." His English was excellent, though he had a slight Hungarian accent.
"Well sir, it's been known to pay off from time to time." Bruce smiled as he caught up to the man who was eleven years his senior.
"You're also obviously not used to hearing the word no either, are you?" The man continued to intently walk toward the tent.
"I hear it all the time." Bruce joked. "I just don't accept it as a final answer."
Grayson stopped and turned to face Bruce directly, peering at his face several seconds before talking. "My boy likes you. More importantly, he trusts you." John crossed his arms. "He may be a child, but Dick's a better judge of character than anyone I've ever known. His vouching for you speaks volumes."
"You've got a special boy, Mr. Grayson." Bruce replied. "He's a great kid, and I don't think I've ever seen anyone with the God-given gifts he has."
"John!" The men turned to see a beautiful dark haired woman a year or two younger than John approaching them, a cell phone held to her ear. "Have you seen Dick? His favorite cousin is on the phone."
"Don't you mean his only cousin?" John smiled. "Sorry, haven't seen him Mary."
Mary directed her attention back to the phone. "Sorry Selina, our little Robin has flown the coop. If I can catch him prior to the show I'll have him give you a call. Otherwise we'll see you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" John asked, startled.
"Yup, bye Cuz." The woman pushed a button on the phone to end the call before addressing her husband. "Yes, she's leaving Paris tonight and should be here tomorrow afternoon." Mary smiled.
"I can only imagine what the Louvre will find missing tomorrow morning." John grumbled. He then looked and smiled at Bruce. "Mary's cousin has developed a bit of a reputation for having sticky fingers."
"John!" Mary grumbled. "Keeping dirty laundry unaired isn't just a Gypsy thing you know."
"I thought you American women loved nothing more than to talk about your family problems." John flashed his wife a smile that instantly melted her anger. "Besides, with Mr. Alfreds here joining our training regimen, he's bound to hear much more than just the antics of your cousin."
Mary gave Bruce and then her husband a quizzical look. "Excuse me?"
"Mary, meet Thomas Alfreds. In the matter of two weeks Mr. Alfreds has picked Zatarra's bag of tricks clean while fattening the old man's wallet."
"And you're planning on having him empty our bag and fatten our wallet too?" Mary arched an eyebrow at her husband as she shook Bruce's hand.
John smiled at both her and the young man he was letting into his little circle. "I'll let him pick out just enough tricks to take care of Dick's college tuition."
Mary's face lit up. "You mean…"
"I've been thinking about it." John shrugged. "I may not see what the big deal college is, but even I can't deny that Dick is smart, and can offer the world much more than I ever could."
"He's well beyond smart." Bruce offered. "Whether you train me or not I would like to ensure that his post secondary education is covered."
"Why would you offer such a thing to a child you barely know?" A suspicious Mary queried.
"Because he may yet be what I could have been." Bruce replied introspectively. "He is gifted, and he is loved." The young American pretending to be English seemed to awake from his reverie and smiled at the parents. "I just want to ensure he has any tools he may need to become what he has a chance at becoming."
"Well, here he comes now." John looked through a small crowd and smiled at the boy making his way through it.
"And he's got a shiner." Bruce noted, slipping out of character for a moment.
"What?" John suddenly became enraged. "Dick, come here!"
The child trotted over, knowing full well that the three adults had noticed the bruise under his left eye. "Yes Dad?"
"What happened to your eye?" The father demanded.
The boy sheepishly looked around. "There was a man in Mr. Haley's trailer, I heard them yelling. I went to the door just as the other man came walking out, and he back-handed me out of the way."
"Son of a bitch!" John snarled. "Where is this man?"
"He's gone Dad." Dick replied. "I watched him walk to his car and drive away. I asked Mr. Haley about him, and Mr. Haley just said he was a walking pile of elephant excrement, not to worry about him, and then started fussing with my eye." Dick lifted an ice pack he had been holding at his side. "It's just a small bruise, it won't be noticeable for tomorrow's show."
"To hell with the show, nobody has a right to lay their filthy hands on you!" The still-furious father growled. "I will have a talk with Mr. Haley about this man." Judging from the increasing rage within John Grayson, Bruce was beginning to think that the stereotype regarding a Gypsy's temper was more than just a stereotype. "And I will find him and discuss his actions with him tomorrow."
"Dick, were you able to hear anything that was said inside the trailer?" Bruce calmly asked the boy.
"Most of it was muffled, I couldn't make much out. They spoke in English, but the man was Italian from his accent." The boy replied thoughtfully. "Something about the Beast's cut, that Mr. Haley should be careful, accidents happen all the time. As he left he said Mr. Haley would change his mind. He then drove off in an old eighties' style Mercedes."
"Were you able to get the plates?" Bruce asked.
"There weren't any." Dick answered.
Bruce directed his attention back to the enraged father. "John, listen, this man, whoever he is, is very likely connected to organized crime. You definitely should not go after him, at least not without some sort of plan. I'd even recommend that Haley put the show on hold, maybe even skip this city."
Grayson glared at Wayne. "I appreciate your concern, Tom, but butt out. The man struck my child, by day's end tomorrow his blood will be spilled."
"Look Jim, I get that they were dirty, but they were still cops!" The Mayor grumbled across his desk at the Commissioner of Police. "I was OK with Loeb putting this guy on the backburner before, but he's killed now. He's a damn cop killer now! You need to bust his ass, and do it soon!"
"Your honor, believe me, I understand, but catching him is much easier said that done. I need for him to make a mistake, and he's not prone to making those." Gordon replied.
"You know, I've got a friend who's a guard at Arkham." The large police Sergeant who accompanied Gordon to the Mayor's office commented. "He says that the Joker insists that Harvey Dent is the one who killed Ramirez, Wertz, Maroni and the other scumbags, not the Batman."
The mayor peered intently at Gordon, noting the discomfort visible in the Commissioner at the comment. The Mayor then leaned forward. "I've heard the same thing from a couple of the psychiatrists that have met with him. There were no witnesses to the murders, what's your take on this rumor Gordon?"
Gordon paused a moment, clearly torn on what to say, but finally and forcefully delivered an answer. "I will not let the ramblings of a madman tear down a fallen hero."
"Yeah, but Commish, given his behavior after waking up, what happened to him, and the fact that everyone who was killed was on his shit list; pardon my French." The Sergeant offered as he apologetically glanced at the Mayor.
"Drop it Bullock." Gordon snapped at him, before looking down, taking a deep breath and continuing. "Batman killed those people, alright."
Gordon's demeanor, and not his words were what swayed the Mayor and Bullock. Despite his half-hearted efforts to keep them from it, they now knew the truth. Batman was not a killer, Dent was.
"Jesus Jim, you let him take the blame for Dent's crimes?" Mayor Garcia was stunned.
Gordon peered down at the floor. "I tried to persuade him not to, but it was something he insisted on, and God help me, I went along with it." The Commissioner looked up and noticed the look of scorn on the Mayor's face. "The city is on the brink sir. The people need a hero. Someone beyond corruption in every way; someone like the way Harvey is being remembered."
"Well, we need to figure out the best way to do it, but one way or another, we need to come clean." Mayor Garcia insisted.
"Sir, believe me, perpetuating this lie has been eating at me since Batman concocted it, but…"
"Enough." The Mayor waved his hand across his desk to silence the Commissioner. "Look Jim, I appreciate what he was willing to do, and your desire to let people remember Dent as some sort of knight in shining armor, but the fact is that this city is better off with the Batman in it, and once the truth gets out about him being innocent of those killings, we can get back to sitting on our hands when it comes to catching him."
"With all due respect your honor, I don't think the city is better off with Batman. The police are more than capable…"
"Bullock, my respect for the GPD is growing with each passing day, but the good Batman does for Gotham goes well beyond fighting crime. He's been nothing short of a Godsend for tourism, and like it or not, until these killings that he was blamed for, the public felt more comfortable with him around. Hell, even with the killings most people still want him around." Mayor Garcia stood up and started walking around his desk toward the two men. "Unless you can show me millions in revenue brought in by tourists making pilgrimages to spots where Harvey Dent had confirmed sightings, I'm afraid we're going to have to put this lie to rest." He walked past the men and left his office.
"Yes sir." Gordon replied to the now departed mayor.
"Thank you all for coming." The well-dressed elderly man addressed the others around the table in Italian-accented English. "We all know why we're here, yes?" The other members acknowledged their understanding with grunts. "The other groups lament the interference of this Batman, or that the police are getting less and less compliant. We must not see these things as problems. We must rise above this and see this as the opportunity that it is. As troublesome as this Batman has become, he is just one man, or at the least, a small group of men. And once this Batman is eliminated, the police will fall back into line and the status quo will be restored. But during this turmoil is when we need to make our move and capitalize on things. We must regain control of our city, eliminate those that have been muscling in on our territory over the past couple of decades, and fortify our position so that it can never again be lost."
"My plan exactly." The men at the table froze, trying to determine where the thickly Russian-accented statement had come from. A moment later a huge black form burst through the ceiling tiles and landed on the elderly man that had called the meeting together. The darkly clad figure rose to his feet, feet that were planted securely on the crushed body of the old man. The man, who was several inches over six feet in height and immensely built, peered through the eye slits of a black mast at the other Italian Mafia captains. "I will utilize many of your soldiers, but I have no need for the upper ranks of your organization." With that the Russian raised his right hand, revealing a large automatic firearm.
The other Italians stood up from their seats and pulled out pistols. "Who'd a guessed that the Bat was a Ruskie?"
"Da, I thank you for reminding me." With his left hand, the Russian reached into a compartment on his belt, pulled out a bat-shaped throwing blade, and tossed it on the table. The moment it bounced on the polished tabletop he opened fire. The startled Italians returned fire, but with impossible ease the Russian hoisted the heavy wooden table up to offer protection and a distraction. Utilizing the fluidity that comes with years of the most intensive combat training, the masked Beast worked through the small room killing the other men with his firearm and a deadly blade he pulled from a sheath strapped to his back, the few bullets that connected with him were stopped by his body armor. Within moments the skirmish was over, but the moment it ended the door burst open and various bodyguards charged in. The Beast dove for them and proceeded to butcher them as he had their bosses. It was over in seconds. The blood covered warrior coldly walked down the stairs and out the front door of the building, casually disappearing into the night.
"You know, we could of left Russia awhile ago." The handsome teenager remarked to the beautiful woman sitting next to him on the landing plane. "We had plenty of money, even before our last score."
"We don't touch that money, you know that." The woman replied with a smile on her face. "Your folks would have a big problem with the way I've chosen to raise you, but they'd come back as zombies and drag me back to the grave with them if I dipped into that fund for any purpose other than your college. Which reminds me…" The dark haired woman reached into a bag on the floor between her legs and pulled out a thick SAT study guide and dropped it on the boy's lap. "I was going to wait until we were settled before dropping this on you, but since we're on the subject…."
The boy groaned. "Come on Selina, you're not really going to make me go to college, are you? You've taught me more than any school I could have attended; seriously, how many sixteen year olds speak six languages, have a firm grasp on calculus, and can dismantle and reassemble a car engine?"
"Yeah, you've got some serious skills Dick. Stuff comes easy to you, too easy for me to be your only teacher." Selina replied to the young man's protests. "Knowing how to bypass state of the art security systems is great and all, but you need some culture. You know, Shakespeare and shit."
"I've read Shakespeare's plays." Dick answered.
"When?" Selina asked skeptically.
Dick shrugged. "I had a lot of downtime while you were casing potential jobs, and there was usually a library not far from wherever we were staying. I did some independent learning in addition to the curriculum you laid out for me. Escapism really, not the picture-less porn you like to read to escape, but still escapism."
"It's not porn, and there's not much else at airport book stores." Selina defended.
"Apparently there is." Dick motioned to the SAT study guide.
"I bought that the last time we were stateside. Been holding on to it because you weren't really old enough to be bothered with it at the time. But who knows the next time we'll be in country, so might as well get your testing out of the way while we're here."
"I'll make you a deal Selina." Dick replied, a serious expression coming over his face. "I'll study and take the SAT, but not until we get the Beast, OK?"
Selina nodded as the plane taxied to the terminal. "Deal."
"Look Commissioner, I don't want to believe it either, but it looks like this was done by one man, the rare if not unique type of man capable of pulling this off alone, and we've got one of his toys right here." Bullock explained to Gordon as the older man walked into the battle-torn room that had held the interrupted Mafia meeting an hour before. "He may be innocent of the other murders, but I'm forced to think he did this."
"I didn't do this." Gordon, Bullock and two other cops taking pictures of the crime scene spun toward the open window and watched as Batman entered through it.
"I know." Gordon groaned as he pushed past Bullock and walked toward the dark vigilante. "Relax!" The Commissioner growled at the two uniformed officers as they started to intervene in some way. Once he reached Batman's side, Gordon continued in a whispered tone. "The Mayor is going to reveal that Harvey killed those you've taken credit for killing."
"No. Dent's legacy must…"
"It's out of my hands." Gordon interrupted. "And quite frankly, I'm relieved that this farce is coming to an end. You're no killer, and once this lie is ended these guys won't be so quick to shoot you." Batman looked past Gordon and noted the anger-filled glares of the two uniformed officers. He also noted the annoyed look of disdain from Bullock, though going by the conversation he walked in on, Bullock was aware of the truth as well. He then looked down at Gordon's hand as the Commissioner raised it to show something he was holding. A bat shaped blade, very similar to one he would use. "Someone's trying to set you up."
Batman looked over the crime scene, noting the dead and their likely causes of death. "I think I know who. Expect the Russian mobs to consolidate power and make a push." Batman's attention seemed to fixate on one particular victim.
Gordon, and the other three officers turned to look at what had caught the vigilante's attention. "Who do you think…" the Commissioner turned back to Batman and noted he was already gone. "God I hate that."
Batman scrambled up the fire escape to the roof and sprinted to the other side of the building. He halted, fired off a jump line, and swung into the night, landing on the roof of a building across the street. He made his way over several blocks in the same manner before kneeling on the ledge of a building over an alley. Pulling out special goggles, he peered in every direction before descending into the alley. Once on the ground he once again surveyed the area with the goggles before pulling out a hand-held electronic device and scanned the alley for any electronic signals. Detecting nothing unexpected, Batman put his equipment away and made his way to a small stairway that led to a door in the back of a dilapidated building. A keypad was next to the door, and after punching in a code the locks could be heard disengaging, and the Batman disappeared into the building.
A few minutes later a mustached man in a gaudy suit exited through that door. His complexion was a bit darker, but close scrutiny revealed the man to be a disguised Bruce Wayne. Wayne spoke into a cell phone as he made his way out of the alley. "Hey it's me. Yeah, I'm ninety percent sure it's him. There aren't too many people that could have done what was done, but it'd be easy for him if the legends are even remotely accurate." He trotted across the street and stopped at a mid-90's era blue Corvette. He got in and the car's engine thundered to life, pulling from the curb and making its way down the street. "No, I haven't dealt with him directly, like most bosses he likes to delegate, but from time to time, when a situation warrants or requires his personal involvement, he's all too happy to get his hands dirty. Massacring rivals is worthy of his attention, cutting some rope wasn't I guess."
"Yeah, she's spending the summer backpacking around Europe before going to UCLA." A young Dick smiled up at the man he knew as Tom Alfreds, the two of them in the entranceway of the large tent, their voices subdued so as not to disturb the throngs of people enjoying the show. "She got a full gymnastics scholarship. Even Dad says she's pretty good, and he never compliments anyone unless they're really, really good."
"And she's here now?" Bruce asked, returning the boy's smile. He liked the kid, he wished he could say that the boy reminded him of himself at that age, but Bruce had been possessive, insistent, arrogant; he had been a spoiled rich kid. Perhaps Dick was insistent in his own way, but it was a nice way, and his cockiness could definitely be construed as a form of arrogance, but again, it was nothing if not charming. He could not, however, be considered possessive, which was very good given that he and his family barely had a pot to piss in. But at least he would be able to have a top-notch education should he want it. Even with his nomadic lifestyle and the limited educational material at his disposal, his mind was such that with minimal effort he'd be able to get into any institution he wanted.
"Yup, she showed up just before the show started." Dick replied as he started stretching.
"How come you haven't seen her yet?"
"She doesn't want to distract us. I don't get it, I never get distracted, but Mom and Dad need to focus on their performance, so I'm outvoted." The kid chuckled lightly. "By the way, don't get any ideas."
Bruce cocked his head, slightly confused. "What do you mean?"
"She's hot." The nine year old replied as he continued stretching. "But she'll mess you up. Been in martial arts since she was born. Tae kwon do and Hap ki do, at least until her parents were killed. Her foster father was a pro boxer and wrestled in college, and taught her a whole bunch too. So yeah, she'll mess you up."
"Dick, come on!" Both Bruce and Dick looked up to see Mary waving her son over to her and calling out in a hushed tone. "It's almost time for us to go on!"
"Gotta go!" The kid sprung away. "See ya' later Tom."
"I look forward to it." Bruce turned and walked to the edge of the seats, leaning against a railing and watching the show. Off in the shadows he watched the family of three climbing up the thick pole toward the trapeze stand.
Several minutes later the ringmaster directed everyone's attention to the now spotlit family standing on a platform one hundred feet off the ground. His booming voice introduced the Flying Graysons in Italian, and the father, mother and child each took a bow. John gripped the bar of the trapeze and a moment later was flinging his body into the air. As he reached the end of his arch he released the bar, did a double somersault and caught another bar that was thrown to him by an assistant perched on the opposite pole that he had just jumped from. Bruce watched intently, evaluating the potential benefits of these abilities in his future war on crime, though still very uncertain as to what form that war would take.
Bruce's attention to the aerial show was diverted as a sliver of the late afternoon light cut into the tent. In a more upscale show there would be a tunnel to prevent departing patrons from letting in the distracting sunlight, but Haley's traveling circus was most definitely not upscale. Bruce peered at the offender and noticed it was a man, one who seemed to want to be noticed as he merely stood there holding the flaps open to allow the light in. The man was staring up at the Graysons, a malevolent grin on his face. Bruce seemed to relax as he noted a roustabout approaching the man, undoubtedly to ask him to close the flaps. The roustabout, who was a good four inches taller and a good deal more muscular than the man paused as the man leisurely opened his jacket to show him something. The large roustabout timidly backed away and quickly headed as far from the man as possible.
Bruce turned up to see Dick take the bar and launch himself out toward his father, who was hanging upside down from his own trapeze. The boy swung back and forth a few times, building up momentum, before releasing his grip, hurtling his small body into the air, and spinning a somersault four times before reaching out to catch his father's waiting wrists. The crowd went wild, and Bruce took the opportunity to head toward the man. Unfortunately, the man was on the other side of the tent, and it would take Bruce several minutes to reach him.
John Grayson swung backwards and all but placed his son on the platform behind him. Dick took a bow and smiled at the crowd. It was then that he noticed the man illuminated by the sunlight, and a look of terrified recognition came over the boy's face. Bruce saw the look and immediately understood its significance. It was the man who had threatened the circus, and he was still focused on the family of acrobats. "No." Bruce whispered as he looked up at Mary Grayson leaping into the air as her son did and swinging to build momentum toward her husband. Bruce analyzed the situation and determined the most likely ways a mobster seeking protection money would go about sabotaging an acrobatic show. The ropes. Bruce looked up, and though it was difficult to make anything out with the rapid movement of the ropes and the lack of lighting above the performers, he was able to see that one of the ropes holding up John was thin and growing thinner by the second. "Shit!" Bruce started running toward the pole, waving his hands in a futile attempt to get the attention of the Grayson couple. "Mary, no!" But the lingering cheers for Dick's performance drowned his cries of warning out.
But there were still the nets, Bruce realized, slowing his sprint to a trot. He was stopped by a roustabout, who recognized him as the adopted tagalong Brit paying good money to acquire skills from the performers, but he still kept him from getting anywhere near the performance area. Seeing that the net appeared in position, Bruce allowed himself to be stopped, but scanned the intertwined ropes beneath the performers intensely anyway. A ruined performance would only serve to enrage a circus owner, not scare him into paying. An injury or worse would be needed to do that. Bruce finally noticed the small black devices attached to the underside of each rope connecting the large net to the posts. "No. No!" He easily slipped past the roustabout and recommenced his sprint toward the pole just as Mary released her bar and spun three times toward her husband.
It was then that the gangster pushed a remote control detonator, causing each small device connected to the net supports to explode. The net shuddered just as Mary reached out for her husband's outstretched hands. The heavy net started to fall just as John grasped his wife's wrists. The couple began their swing back toward their son, who had turned toward them with extreme worry a few moments before, the prayers his mother had taught him going through his head at a lightning pace for their safe completion of the routine. The rope holding them up finally gave out as they reached the lowest point in their swing, and the two parents plummeted down toward the net that now was uselessly coming to a rest on the hard dirt almost a hundred feet below.
Dick started after them, but the strong arms of the man who had assisted the Graysons wrapped around him, keeping him safely on the platform "NO!" The boy screamed in anguish a split second before the crowd let out a collective gasp. Bruce continued running, but he was too far away to do anything, not that there was anything for him to do at that point. The couple hit the ground with a sickening thud, and their bodies haphazardly splayed out instantly took Bruce back to the murder of his own parents. He slowly raised his eyes skyward and met eyes with the newly orphaned boy. Their eyes locked, Dick's momentarily desperately hopeful. Bruce could only shake his head sadly. "NOOOooooo!" The boy screamed again.
"Don't be afraid." Bruce whispered, having no intention of his words reaching the boy over the distance and commotion. He suddenly remembered the gangster, now a murderer if he wasn't already one. "Bastard." Bruce turned, but the man was gone and hundreds of people blocked his path in the narrow tent. He would not be running the villain down.
"Move!" A young dark-haired woman pushed past him and threw herself at the dead couple, her long hair hiding her face from Bruce. "Mary, John, no!" She landed in a kneeling position and cradled Mary's head in her arms, bawling as she saw the clearly dead faces. "Nooooo."
Bruce looked back up at Dick, and was transfixed by the boy's face. Until that moment he had no way of knowing how he looked immediately following the deaths of his own parents, but at that moment he had no doubt that the face Dick was displaying now was the one he had all those years before.
"Lenny! How 'bout them Goliaths, pal?" Sascha Belanov cheerfully greeted the man approaching him. "I told you that you shouldn't bet against the home team. Tied the series at two."
"Yeah, up yours!" The man replied as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of money.
"I love it when they insult me." Sascha muttered to the three friends that were standing with him outside the run-down looking restaurant in the middle of Gotham's Little Odessa section. "It means they've got everything they owe me. They wouldn't dare insult me if they were short."
"If I throw in an extra fiver, do I get to tell you what I'd do to your sister?" The disgruntled gambler grumbled as he shoved the money roll into the gangster's waiting hand.
"Careful Lenny, there are limits." Sascha replied, the ice in his voice subtle but clearly present.
"Yeah, yeah, just kidding." Lenny replied in a much more respectful tone than he had been displaying previously. "You know that."
"Of course I do Leonard." Sascha smiled. "Say, you in the mood for some more action? Maybe a wager on who takes the series?"
"Not now. Lemme run my numbers to determine my picks." The degenerate gambler replied. "Going with my gut just doesn't pay out as well."
"Wiser words were never spoken." Sascha smiled as he counted out the money, and satisfied it was the correct amount, pocketed it. "You know where to find me after you run those numbers." A blue Corvette pulled to a stop on the curb in front of the men. Sascha bent down to look at the driver and smiled as he recognized the man. "Malone, you filthy Irish scumbag, where the hell have you been hiding?"
The disguised Bruce Wayne got out of the car, a well-chewed toothpick in his mouth. "At Lenny's mostly, his wife insists I visit every time he leaves that rats' nest he calls an apartment."
"Bite me Malone." Lenny hissed as he walked away.
Sascha chuckled. "I'm glad to see you and your ugly-ass suit. I was afraid you'd get lost in the shuffle if I didn't get a chance to tell you to lay low during the reorganization."
"Reorganization, huh?" Bruce replied. "Well, whoever's planning to head this reorganization must be really brave or suicidal, 'cause I'm hearing Batman's really gone off the deep end. According to a cop friend of mine, he just butchered the wop elite across town. I came here to let you know that you may want to start laying low too."
Sascha laughed. "It wasn't the Bat. Come on, walk with me." The two men started walking down the sidewalk. "How long have I known you Malone?"
"I dunno, eight, nine months or so. Why?"
"Yeah, not that long." Sascha replied. "But in that time you've proven to be my most valuable supplier of stuff that normally can't be gotten. You're ambitious, you're reliable, and you don't even gouge me too bad on price."
"Another satisfied customer." Bruce smiled. "You know, the best thanks a customer can give is a referral. I learned that in the half semester of community college I took…or was it a commercial?"
"Ah, it won't be too long before there'll be nobody else in Gotham to refer you to other than my immediate associates." Sascha explained.
"I see, the guineas were just a start, huh? Gonna frame Batman for everyone else too?"
"I don't know anything about what's going to happen, just that it's begun, it won't be long before it's over, and I'd like to recruit you and a select few others to the winning team."
Bruce smiled. "Hey, I'm all for being on the winning team. But the only players I know are you and a few other teammates of yours. And no offense, you guys can't fend off the Italian retribution, much less exterminate the other teams."
"A few days ago, you'd have been right." Sascha nodded. "But we've got a new coach. And this coach is the baddest son of a bitch on the planet. Soviet super soldier or something. Was trained to be the Russian James Bond meets the Terminator. That thing that happened to the Italians tonight, he did it all by himself. Outright refused my Uncle's help. Came back with only bumps and bruises. The guy scares the hell out of me; he'll scare the hell out of the Batman too right before he kills the freak. He'll be running Gotham in a matter of weeks."
"This superman have a name?" Bruce asked.
"Yeah, but everyone calls him the KGBeast." Noting Malone shake his head and quietly laugh, Sascha got a little defensive. "Yeah, yuck it up Malone. But you're either with us or with the others. And believe me, the others aren't long for this Earth."
Bruce stopped and shrugged. "So let me get this straight. You want me to cut off every customer I have, save you and your pals. Is that it? Go out of business or die, for no other reason than that a new tough guy has come to town and is promising to muscle out the competition? I gotta tell ya' Sash, that's an old story for any big city, for Gotham it's a daily occurrence. Yeah, the thing with the Italians is pretty impressive, so I'm not going to dismiss your request outright, but you have to understand that I'm gonna need more than you being impressed with your new boss."
"What do you need?" Sascha asked, almost indifferently.
"For one, I'd like to meet this new King of Gotham." Bruce insisted.
"Not going to happen. I've only just met the guy, and I'm way too small a fish to be setting meetings for the man."
"Look Sash, this is my livelihood!" Bruce grumbled. "I'd be better off moving back to Chicago than handing over ninety percent of my clientele to my competition. Now, if this guy is everything you say he is, then I might be willing to consider this, but otherwise I'm not blacklisting anybody, got that?"
"I'll see what I can do."
"I've got to hand it to you Cuz, you really know how to live it up." Dick commented as he carried their bags into the opulent penthouse suite in downtown Gotham. "Of course, this might be why our hauls never last as long as we'd like them to."
"Hey, you only live once kid." Selina replied as she entered the living room. "Which bedroom is bigger?"
"Looks like that one." The teenager replied, motioning to one room with his head.
"Then it's mine." The woman sauntered off into the room. "Get some rest Richard, for tomorrow we acquire another haul. We've got a lot of supplies to pick up if we're taking on the Beast, and each of those supplies will have a nice hefty price tag."
"What, bust up a drug deal, break into a gangster's safe, jump a bagman, or something fun?" Dick asked the woman who was shutting the door to her room.
"Well, we are in Gotham City, and Wayne Manor is just getting the finishing touches put on. Security probably isn't set up properly…"
"I'm out." Dick emphatically stated. "I limit my thievery to criminal holdings."
"There's no margin for error with criminals. You get caught, you die." Selina tried to convince the teenager. "Look, it's not like we're taking food out of Wayne's kids' mouths; does he even have kids?" Selina pondered a moment as a smile across her face. She then got more serious. "Look kid, I get you don't like to take clean money, but even Robin Hood didn't limit his actions to criminals. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Wayne's rich, we're poor." She smiled as she saw Dick motion to their extravagant setting with his eyes. "Well, we're poorer than him. And Robin Hood would definitely steal from him, right?"
"I'm not Robin Hood."
"Sure you are. You're even named for him, aren't you?" Selina joked.
"Mom gave me that nickname after the bird, not the fable." Dick turned. "And there are plenty of rich criminals in this city."
Selina took a serious look. "I know, but I'd rather not burn any bridges with the underworld yet. We may need to use a bad guy or two to get to the Beast. And chances are we'll need a lot of scratch to take him on, and the only single score that should cover whatever we'll need with an incomplete security system is Castle Wayne."
"But is there anything in there worth taking?" Dick queried. "I mean, they're still rebuilding it from scratch. I don't think he's had time to move the Crown Jewels back in."
"I read in a magazine back in Moscow that he hired specialists to refurnish the place a couple months ago, so I'm sure by now they've loaded it with tons of top shelf shit. I know for a fact that they've already lined the walls with priceless paintings." Selina smiled. "So while it's not like we can toss the furniture in our sacks, there'll still be plenty for us to make off with."
"OK, we'll probably make off with a fair amount." Dick replied. "But I'm still not doing it."
"You do realize that I worked alone for years before letting you tag along, don't you?" Selina smirked.
"Trust me, I can sabotage this for you in a way that won't bust or incriminate you." Dick replied stone-faced. "And I won't lose a wink of sleep over doing it."
"You wouldn't dare!" Selina gasped, but knew that he was serious. Of course, he would only be serious about doing such a thing as long as the sense of morality his parents ingrained into him convinced him it was wrong to break into Wayne Manor. "Look, I get where you're coming from. I really do. And were this, say, his parents, I wouldn't humor the thought for a moment. But Prince Bruce did nothing to earn that fortune, he's done nothing with it to improve the life of anyone else, all he does is burn mansions, crash hot cars and bang mindless bimbos. Maybe by losing some of it he might appreciate what he has to some extent?"
"Don't bother going there." Dick snapped. "He may be a douche, but I'm not going to steal from him."
Selina sighed. "OK, fine. We'll scrap that idea." She opened the door fully and sat down on the plush couch in the center of the room. "I'll start coming up with alternative scores. To get anywhere near what we'd need to get at the Beast we're looking at like half a dozen small heists. It'll take months." She paused and pondered something. "Hmmm, by that time he'll probably have cemented his position here. Will be a lot harder to get at."
Dick's stern eyes fell despondently to the ground. He shook his head before finally responding weakly. "Alright fine, Wayne it is. But even unfinished the manor's going to have state of the art security. We'll need to do our research."
"Oh, I think I have some idea of what they've lined the place up with." Selina grinned playfully as she leaned her head back and peered at her younger cousin.
"You've been planning this for awhile, haven't you?" Dick accused.
"Ever since I read about the rebuilding several months ago." Selina bared a toothy grin. "Way before hearing about the Beast coming to Gotham. I just figured I'd leave you alone for a week or so and have a little fun on my own."
"One of these day's I'm going to have to enroll you in rehab to help you buck your adrenaline addiction."
"Oh, like you're one to talk." Selina eyed the youth warily as she saw him glancing out the large window. "You're going walkabout, aren't you?"
"Yeah, not ready to sleep just yet." Dick shrugged. "Don't worry, I'll stay out of Little Odessa until we have some sort of plan. I've waited this long, what's a few more days?"
"No, bushier eyebrows." The traumatized boy peered at the large piece of paper that the clown was drawing on. "Yeah, that's him."
The moment the sentence was finished, a woman's hand reached out and tore the paper from the hard pad that it had been drawn on. "Watch him until I get back!" An eighteen-year-old Selina Kyle barked as she walked out of the trailer, studying the paper as she went.
"Selina, wait!" Dick jumped up from his parent's bed and ran out of the trailer after his cousin. "Wait up, I want to come too!"
"Sorry kid, this is a grown up game." Selina muttered as she continued walking, but stopping suddenly. "Shit, I need a car."
"Language Sel." The despondent child whispered. "How'd you get here without a car?"
"Took a cab from the train station." The woman answered absently as she scanned the area.
Dick looked off to the side and noted Tom Alfreds walking away, jotting something into his notepad as he made his way to his Land Rover. "Maybe we can borrow Tom's car?"
"Who's Tom?" Selina snapped.
"Him. He's Brit tagalong trying to learn circus stuff. Dad was going to train him." Dick pointed at the bearded man walking out of the big top.
"Your Dad didn't train anybody outside the family." Selina commented, but let it drop as she started running toward Bruce, who had just reached his car. "Hey, I need your ride."
"Yeah, so do I." Bruce replied absently as he got into his SUV, but paused as he saw Dick. "Dick, I'm so sorry about what happened. It may seem impossible, but I do know what you're going through."
"Great, then you'll lend me your car." Selina grabbed Bruce's shirt sleeve and tugged at him, more to inspire him to leave on his own than to actually drag him out, but the look on her face made it clear she would be more than willing to resort to that if needed.
Bruce jerked his arm free of the young woman's grasp and peered at her. "I take it you're cousin Selina."
"Good guess Tom-boy, now get out of the car!" Selina delivered a stern glare.
The two kept their eyes locked with intense animosity for several seconds before Bruce broke the standoff. "I have a feeling we've got the same goal in mind. This is something I've had a great deal of training in. You've got nothing but a great deal of rage. That won't get you anything but killed."
"I've got this, Sherlock." Selina held up the sketch of the killer's face.
"Good for you, but I don't need it. I've seen his face." Bruce replied as he shifted into the driver's seat.
"Fine, I'm going with you!" Selina growled as she ran around the front of the Rover and got into the front passenger seat.
Bruce started to protest, but the sound of the rear driver's side door opening and shutting shifted his attention to the boy now seated behind him. "Absolutely not, Dick!"
"Up yours!" The angry boy snarled.
"Get out Dick!" Selina ordered her younger cousin.
"Not going to happen Sel!" Dick crossed his arms. "They were my parents, I'm going! Anyone who tries to get me out will wind up in a wheelchair!"
Bruce turned fully around and silently peered into Dick's eyes. Several moments passed with the two staring at each other, but finally the older man nodded. "You're right. You're in, but you do as I tell you, do you understand?"
Dick stared heatedly at the man. "I don't want him arrested, Tom."
Bruce turned around and started the engine. "Given what I know of the local cops, getting him arrested isn't really an option. And I know exactly what you want, believe me. I'm not going to let that happen either, but I swear justice will be done one way or another."
"Wait, no way is he coming!" Selina protested at Bruce and then turned toward Dick, taking a more empathetic tone. "Look Dickie, I know you want to be a part of this. I know you deserve to be a part of this more than anyone. But you can't sweetheart. You're just too young for this."
"We're not doing what you're planning on doing." Bruce pulled the car forward.
"Excuse me?" Selina questioned. "This is a family matter Tom, just drive the car, keep your opinions to yourself, and you'll get a free dinner out of it."
"I'm not letting you kill him, Miss Kyle." Bruce calmly stated as he pulled onto the gravel road.
Selina turned and glared at Dick. "How much did you tell him about me?" The boy just continued staring ahead, so she turned back to the man knew new as Tom. "How exactly are you involved again?"
"I'm the guy who knows where to find Mr. Zucco." Bruce muttered. "I'm also the guy who's had some degree of training in this sort of thing. Therefore, I'm the one calling the shots."
"Zucco?" Dick asked.
"The man that hit you yesterday. The man that cut your trapeze rope with a six-inch serrated hunting knife. The man who used small, homemade explosive devices to detach your net from its mounting. Devices activated by a detonator that likely utilized a four to seven year old Wayne Tech XE portable radio transmitter. Nine of which were sold within a fifty-mile radius of here within the last two years. Six of those were sold to one Antonio Zucco, the name this man gave Mr. Haley when he tried to extort money from him."
Both Selina and Dick were quiet for a few seconds. "OK, not bad. So is this guy Cosa Nostra?" Selina questioned.
Bruce shook his head. "Used to be. According to a friend I made last year at Interpol, Antonio Zucco was predominantly a freelance assassin before he became a Mafia capo, but my informant believed he jumped ship and has recently been working for a fairly influential Russian mobster. Some shadowy former KGB operative who has steadily been gaining power and expanding out of Russia."
"Do you think Zucco was acting on behalf of this Russian?" Selina asked.
"I intend to find out, which is reason number one why we don't kill him."
"Where's the Beast?" The Batman growled as he slammed Nicolai Belanov into the wall of his study.
"What? I've got two dogs." The frightened but not terrified Russian answered. "I'll happily call them for you."
A punch to the stomach doubled the professional criminal over. "The dogs, like your men, are incapacitated. It's just you and me, and anymore smart-ass answers will only get you more of this! Now tell where I can find the Beast!"
Nicolai coughed as he straightened up and peered hatefully into the Batman's eyeholes. "You're a dead man! Until now you could have simply stopped this ridiculous charade, but now, now you will be executed, cut to pieces with your own damn throwing blades!"
"Then let me show you how to properly use them!" Batman snarled as he pulled out a winged throwing blade and lashed out with it, slicing through the left palm of the elder Belanov's outreaching hand.
"Ahhhh, you bastard!" The Russian screamed, but started chuckling a few seconds later. "Do you really think you can intimidate me? You don't kill! I know it wasn't you who killed Maroni! Even your torture only involves injuries that can be fully recovered from! You're a pathetic punk in a mask. Do you really think I'd betray the Beast to someone like you?"
"Excuse me sir?" Alfred's voice came through the com-link in Batman's cowl. "I've detected someone other than guards on the roof of the Heng Wing restaurant, the one you believe to be a front for the Triad."
Batman made no indication of the information he was receiving to the man he was interrogating, all the man noticed was Batman being silent for a moment and then putting his throwing bat away. "Alright Nicolai, I guess you won't be talking after all. I guess I'm going to have to cut you loose. Perhaps a late dinner will offer some consolation, perhaps Chinese." Batman smiled as he noticed Nicolai's eyes grow wide. "I believe Heng Wing is still open." With that Batman began hammering the older Russian, who was unconscious by the second punch but sustained four more before Batman turned to leave and allowed him to fall to the ground with a broken cheek, jaw and some cracked ribs.
Three large Chinese men tackled the equally large Beast out of a second story window, the roof of a car parked in front of the building crushed under the weight of the Beast and one of the bodyguards while one of the other guards rolled off the hood onto the street and the other rolled over the trunk. The Beast flung the man on him back into traffic and started to hoist his imposing frame off the top of the car. The other two Chinese guards gingerly got to their feet and turned to re-engage their Russian attacker. The Beast reached toward one, gripped his head, and with a savagely violent twist, broke the man's neck. He then turned and blocked a series of attacks from the other man, grabbed the top of his head, pulled it down, reached over to grab his waist, hoisted him into the air and slammed him with tremendous force onto the pavement. He followed this with three quick stomps to the head, crushing the man's skull beneath his boot. The Beast then pulled out an automatic weapon and shot the third guard who was limping his way out of the street that the Beast had thrown him into. The Russian then marched through the front door of the restaurant that made up the first floor of the building that they had fallen out of.
Patrons streamed out of the Chinese restaurant and ran in all directions through the street, many screaming in terror while others took cover behind cars and pulled out their cell phones. Dick, who was several blocks down the street, had heard the commotion and was immediately drawn to it. It wasn't any of his business, but people may need help. Something that always drove Selina crazy was his need to step in on behalf of anyone needing help. There was no profit margin in do-gooding she would always tell him. He would just smile, shrug, and then go off and do whatever needed to be done. Tonight however, Dick had no one to chastise his potential chivalry.
The teenager sprinted toward the building, which appeared to house a restaurant on the lower level and a series of either apartments or offices above, pausing only a moment as he heard the sound of automatic gunfire coming from within. The site of a woman quickly escorting a preteen daughter out and half dragging half carrying a boy of about seven who was bleeding out of his mid-torso got him moving full speed again. Dick halted and dropped to his knees next to where the mother was laying the child down. She looked pleadingly into the young man's eyes and rambled off something in Cantonese, a language for which Dick knew only a few phrases.
Dick noted a hole in the child's shirt, the apparent epicenter of the bleeding, and reached his fingers into the hole and tore the shirt open. Sure enough, it was a gunshot wound. But after a quick examination Dick determined that the bullet had missed the vital spots. "Here…" Dick pulled his button up shirt off, leaving him in a sleeveless undershirt, and wadded his shirt up and placed it against the wound. "Keep the pressure up."
The woman seemed to get even more frantic, and gestured back into the restaurant. "My other brother is still in there." The daughter, who appeared to be eleven or twelve, explained to the older boy.
Dick turned to her wide-eyed. "Where did you last see him?" But before the girl could answer him a huge crash was heard behind the girl. There, having landed upon the same parked car that had cushioned the Beast's fall was a figure clad in black with small, pointy horns. The Batman rose to his feet and jumped off of the car. "Jeez, he's real?" Dick muttered as the Dark Knight rushed toward them.
"How is he?" The large vigilante almost growled as he quickly examined the corpses of the three guards on the sidewalk.
"Gun shot. Nothing vital hit, just need to control the bleeding until paramedics arrive." Dick fired back.
"Good, keep it up." Batman replied before charging into the restaurant.
"Wait, there's a kid in there!" But the Batman was already through the door. Dick turned to the girl. "Where is your brother?"
"He got scared. He ran back to our table and crawled under it." The girl answered. "Near the back, to the left. A few tables from the kitchen."
"What's his name?" Dick asked as he grabbed the mother's hands and positioned them over the blood soaked shirt he had placed on the child.
"Liu." The girl muttered as Dick leapt to his feet and charged into the building.
Batman was already in the thick of it when Dick charged in, diving behind some upturned tables as the sounds of gunshots echoed through the chaos. Dick peered around his cover to see the vigilante grab the gun-wielding arm of one of the Chinese and break it at the elbow before head butting him and tossing him to the floor. The Batman dove for cover as two more gangsters opened fire in his direction. Two drug-tipped darts embedded into their necks, quickly ending their barrage.
Batman rose from his position and heard the muffled whimpering from across the room. He quickly made his way to a table, pulled away the tablecloth, bent over and saw the four-year-old child hugging his knees and quietly crying underneath. "Come on." The Batman commanded.
The child screamed and pulled away from the outstretched gloved hand connected to the large, demonic creature. "Move!" Dick appeared out of nowhere, the Batman taken aback for a moment by the absolutely silent approach of the boy. "You're scaring him." Dick muttered to him. Batman stared at the teenager's face for a moment, a face that seemed vaguely familiar to the vigilante. Dick knelt under the table and addressed the terrified child in a soothing tone. "Hey Liu, it's OK. Your mom sent me, she asked me to take you to her. She, your sister and your brother are waiting for you outside. Come on, I won't let anything happen to you, I promise." Dick looked up noticed the Dark Knight staring at him. "How about some space?"
Batman straightened and started heading toward the rear of the restaurant. The fighting had begun in the upper levels, carried down to the restaurant, and was now being fought in the kitchen. But before the Dark Knight could reach the kitchen doors three Chinese gangsters charged out, fear and desperation in their eyes. Three quick strikes from the Batman had all of them floored and incapacitated. A moment later the huge KGBeast emerged from the kitchen, an Uzi in one hand and a bloody butcher knife in the other.
Dick scooped the child into his arms and turned toward the door, glancing back to see the two large masked men in black combat armor squaring off against one another. He was almost at the door when he heard the unknown man speak. "I was hoping I would not have to search too hard to find you."
Dick froze. He knew that voice, that deep Russian voice. He turned and stared at the larger of the two costumed men in shock for a moment. The killer raised the Uzi toward the Batman, but with lightening quick reflexes the vigilante sidestepped the criminal and utilized a double hand strike to the larger man's hand and wrist, knocking the automatic weapon to the floor. "Get him out of here!" The Batman suddenly turned and roared at the teenager. The vigilante's distraction providing an opportunity that the Beast readily took advantage of by charging and backhanding the Batman across the face.
The caped crime fighter flew back and tumbled over a table. Dick shook his head and carried the child outside to his frantic family. "Here, gotta go." Dick ran back inside, as sirens grew louder. The fight that was going on before him was very impressive. The Batman had recovered and the two men were hammering away at one another, the Beast appearing to utilize primarily Sambo with some Muay Thai thrown in, while the Batman seemed to be adhering to the Keyse Fighting Method with Jiu Jitsu mingled with it. Though Batman had knocked the firearm out of the Beast's hand, the butcher knife was still in the other, and that was the deciding factor that was keeping Batman on the defensive. A swipe clipped off the tip of one of the pointed ears on Batman's cowl.
Dick was a highly trained fighter, but even he was stunned by the skill and destructive capability these men were demonstrating. But his admiration at their skill quickly took a back seat to his hatred for the larger of the two. Just as the teenager motioned to enter the fray, he noted one of the men that Batman had hammered as he fled the kitchen getting up. He saw the fight as well and pulled out a handgun. Dick charged him, but was too far to keep the man from firing several rounds at the brawlers. The body armor of the two men held against all bullets save one, which penetrated a weak point in Batman's armor and cut shallowly into his side. "Argh!" The Batman fell, as Dick was mid-way across the room making his way toward them. The Beast instinctively hurled the butcher knife at the Asian criminal, embedding the blade in his skull. Dick reached the man just as his corpse hit the ground.
The teenager then turned toward the Beast, who was ignoring him and retrieving his fallen Uzi. Gripping it in his left hand, the Russian turned back toward the Batman, who was struggling to get back to his feet. The hulking crime lord aimed the weapon at the Batman's head. "Dos Vidanya, Batman."
But a moment before he could pull the trigger the blade of butcher knife he had been wielding moments before cut through his wrist and severed his hand. "Arrrgggghhhhh!" The massive criminal whirled and noted the sixteen-year-old standing to his side with a bloody blade in his hand and a look of rage and hatred on his face. Before the Beast could react the child delivered a snap kick to his abdomen, but the combination of armor and layers of muscle rendered the strike all but useless. The Beast lashed out and backhanded the youth sending him to the ground. The Russian took a step toward the child, but heard the screech of tires and wail of sirens as police cars arrived in front of the building. "Govno!" He glared at Dick one last time. "You will die!" With that the criminal sprinted toward the kitchen and out the rear exit.
"Ughn." Batman finally got to his feet, but started to crumple back over. He plastered his hand on the back of a booth to keep himself upright, but it was clear he would not be making one of his trademark disappearing acts in his current condition.
"Come on!" Dick got up and ran to him, slipping an arm over his shoulder and heading out in the same direction that the Beast had gone. The made it into the kitchen just as the police barged through the front doors. As they emerged from the back door into an alley the sounds of officers running toward them in a latent attempt to surround the building could be heard. Batman had already gotten out a grappling gun and aimed it up at the roof of the next building. The gun fired, startling Dick, who had been watching the entrance to the alleyway and not what Batman was doing. "What the hell?"
The hook embedded itself into the masonry of the building and Batman removed his arm from the boy's shoulder. "Thanks. Tell the cops I ran out on my own and you were following me to make sure I didn't die." With that the Batman careened into the sky and reached the roof with a thud. He tried to pull his body over the edge and onto the roof, but his injury was severe enough to make the effort agonizingly difficult, and his grunts echoed through the alley.
"Jackass." Dick grumbled, and then leapt up at the second floor fire escape, barely catching the lowest rung of the ladder. Instead of using the ladder, Dick scrambled up the metal structure of the fire escape like a chimpanzee, all the way to the top and then leapt up and easily hoisted his body over the side. A moment later he was reaching down, gripping the Batman and lifting him onto the roof as the police swarmed into the alley. "Come on tough guy, we all need help sometime."
"Yeah, that's him." The frightened and enraged nine year old answered his cousin as they and the bearded man they knew as Tom Alfreds stood across the street from a small restaurant. There in the window, enjoying a late supper with several men who were clearly his sycophants was the man who had murdered John and Mary Grayson, Antonio Zucco.
Zucco stood up and started leaving, walking through the restaurant, out the door and stepping into a car parked out front. The car headed down the street, and Selina and Dick suddenly realized he was getting away from them. They then realized that Tom was gone as well. "That son of a bitch!" Selina growled as she sprinted back to where the Land Rover had been parked. Bruce was just starting the engine as Selina reached him and stepped in front of the vehicle. "No way you Limey bastard!" Bruce grumbled something under his breath as he heard someone trying to open the locked rear passenger side door. He twisted and saw Dick's young face glaring at him through the window. "Unlock the doors and let the kid in." Selina ordered. "Only then will I trust you enough to move." A few tense moments passed before the woman forced a grin. "Come on tough guy, we all need help sometime."
Realizing that Zucco was putting distance between them, Bruce complied. Dick sprang in and two seconds later Selina was inside as well. The Rover pulled ahead and within a minute they saw the taillights of Zucco's decade and a half year old Mercedes. "You two are out of your element here." Bruce tried to convince them through his British accent.
"You have no idea of what my element is." Selina bit back. "While you were learning how to properly eat caviar, I was fending off scumbag foster fathers and their scumbag friends."
"What? Selina, Mom didn't tell…"
"Mary didn't know." Selina defensively interrupted the kid.
"But I thought Ted…"
"Ted was great. He never touched me except when training me to take care of myself." Selina defended her adoptive father. "But I passed through a few homes before reaching his." She looked back and gave the boy a reassuring look. "It wasn't fun, but they didn't do anything I didn't heal from. Bumps and bruises Dick, that's all sweetie."
Tears started to reform in the child's already swollen eyes. "You should have told us. You always said you were fine. Mom and Dad wanted to take you in. Why didn't you tell us?"
A sad smile crossed the woman's face. "I know that Dickie, but I liked life on the streets, not on the road. I'd have gone crazy in the circus."
"But…" The boy gave up and let it drop.
"I owe you an apology." Bruce commented quietly as he watched the taillights in the distance turning into the front of a driveway, stopping at a gate, waiting as the gate opened and continuing down the long driveway leading to a large house. "It seems we both are guilty of making incorrect assumptions regarding each others pasts. And perhaps your experiences are such that you can handle what's in store for us, but I think it's safe to say that Richard can not."
Selina turned her head and looked toward the man driving the car. He had kept the headlights off, and therefore the slight illumination that would typically be offered within a car driving at night was not there. She could barely make out his features in the pale moonlight and smiled. They had been at odds all evening, but he cared about justice and he cared about Dick. She started to realize that he might be a good guy after all. "Don't apologize. This is a unique situation, something that none of us could be prepared for."
She noticed that Tom appeared to shudder at her words. "It's not unique. I've been training to try and make it unique, but I…I failed. I'm so sorry." The words were barely audible, and Selina could have sworn that the low whisper lacked Tom's British accent.
"What do you mean?" Selina pressed gently.
Bruce ignored her question as he performed a u-turn and slowly pulled off into a grove of trees about a half-mile from the estate. "We're on foot from here on in." Bruce turned and peered intently at the boy in the back seat. "Dick, you stay in here. I will not listen to any arguments, otherwise I will drive us all back to the circus. As badly as we all thirst for justice, I will not endanger a child. Do you understand?"
"You want me to just sit here?" Dick angrily asked.
"Yes. If all goes well Selina and I will be returning with Zucco. You will have an opportunity to confront him if you wish. But I will not allow you to walk in there with armed guards just itching to kill somebody." Bruce replied.
"You'll bring him back here?" Dick questioned, hope and skepticism both flashing through his eyes.
"We'll try." Bruce replied.
Dick's gaze lowered to his lap. "OK, just be careful."
Bruce nodded and both he and Selina darted out of the car. Bruce headed toward the rear of the vehicle, opened the back and pulled out a burlap sack. Inside were a rope and hook, a small mirror mounted on a telescoping rod, and a Maglight. Bruce inspected the contents, flung the sack over his shoulder and the two jogged quietly toward the estate. There was a wall that surrounded the property, but the two would-be intruders would have no difficulty making their way over it without the rope. Before getting over it, Bruce and Selina studied the guards for nearly twenty minutes to get an idea of their routine.
They finally cleared the fence and sprinted across the lawn, flattening against the outside of the house upon reaching it. "We probably should have sorted this out before, but while we're in there call me…Falcone. What should I call you?" Bruce whispered, slightly amused he had to come up with a fake name to protect a fake name.
"Falcone?" Selina raised and eyebrow but went along. "Call me Cat." Bruce nodded and reached into the sack to retrieve the rope and hook. "Don't bother." Selina put a hand over his to keep him from pulling anything out. She then ran along the side of the house until she found the security box mounted on the wall. "Piece of cake. This thing's nearly as old as I am." She opened the box and nimbly worked away at the wires. "All clear." She smiled at the British-acting American.
Bruce decided to trust her and tested a window. Between Zucco's faith in his guards, automated security system and well-earned reputation for brutality, the gangster felt no need to lock his house up. The window creaked open without sounding off any alarm, and in a matter of seconds the two were in the house.
The pair quietly made their way around the main level, determining that he wasn't there before heading up the stairs. As they neared the top of the stairs they heard a voice, one speaking English with a thick Italian accent. "I know what time it is, he told me to call when it was done. It is done, so get him." Bruce and Selina crept down the dark hallway, the only illumination coming from the crack in the door they were approaching. Crouching outside the door, Bruce peered inside and determined that it was Zucco's study.
"Da, what do you want?" A thick voice with a Russian accent came on.
"The stars of the show met with an accident in the afternoon performance." Zucco smiled as he leaned back in his chair. "The owner Haley called me a little while ago and wished to have a meeting tomorrow. He sounded most conciliatory."
It was then that Bruce noticed what was beyond Zucco. In the open window behind the desk was Dick crouching on the sill, listening silently to the phone call, the torrent of emotions within him under control for the moment as he took in every sound. Zucco was oblivious to the child, who Bruce assumed had followed them to the house and simply climbed up the lattice to the window of the study. Bruce gestured to Selina to look at the window, and she gasped as she caught sight of her nine-year-old cousin. "Damn him." She whispered almost inaudibly.
"Good. Your former Mafia colleagues should realize I mean business." The deep Russian voice commented. "It should give them enough pause to at least look into who they will be dealing with, and that should provide them with enough information to keep them out of our way. At least those that value their lives."
Zucco shrugged, grinned and started to reply but was interrupted as one of his perimeter guards started yelling outside his window. "They saw him." Bruce muttered as he charged into the room, hurtled the desk, swatting the startled Zucco as he did so, grabbed Dick and pulled him into the room just in case one of the guards decided to chance a shot. Sure enough, a bullet tore through the air where Dick had been a moment before.
"Madre!" Zucco cried out as he hit the floor.
"Guess again asshole!" Selina snarled as she sent a kick across the man's cheek.
"I knew it was going too well." Bruce muttered as he quickly examined Dick to make sure the boy was unharmed, and then ran to the door to barricade themselves in the room. Once the door was closed and locked, Bruce used a level of strength that surprised Selina, and pulled a completely filled oak bookcase down over the door. "That'll buy us a couple of minutes at most."
"Bastard!" Dick screamed before lunging at Zucco and battering away with his tiny fists. Despite being only a child, Dick quickly had Zucco's nose broken and bottom lip bleeding. The gangster pushed Dick back and to the ground, only to have Selina begin pounding on him.
"Enough!" Bruce yelled as he pulled the woman off Zucco. "We may need him recognizable to serve as a hostage." Selina fought him, but Bruce quickly had her arms pinned to her sides. "Priority one is to find a safe way out for the boy!" Selina instantly stopped struggling, took a few breaths, and nodded. "Good. Now, do you have any ideas?"
"Nothing comes to mind." She growled as she glared at the murderer cowering on the floor.
Bruce let her go and cautiously made his way to the window, chancing a look outside. "One guard remaining there. I assume the rest are…" The banging at the door confirmed Bruce's guess. "Well then."
Selina glanced at Dick. "How was it getting up here?"
Dick peeled his eyes off of Zucco and met Selina's gaze. "Cake."
Selina nodded, looked down at the desk, grabbed a letter opener, and then reached down and grabbed Zucco by the back of his collar, hoisting him back to his feet. She then dragged him in front of Dick and forced him to his knees. "You know this kid?"
"Si. He'll be joining his parents very soon." Zucco sneered arrogantly. His comment was rewarded with a backhand from the woman standing above him.
Selina then offered Dick the letter opener. He took it a little hesitantly. "You're too young, but it is your right, and I doubt this opportunity will wait around for you to grow up."
"No!" Bruce demanded as he braced the door that was now being pounded against from the hallway with his shoulder. "Dick, we will make this man see justice, but murdering him is not the way to do that!"
"Let me guess, this is where you say that if he does this he's as bad as Zucco, right?" Selina snarled as she shot him an angry glance.
"Of course not!" Bruce grunted as the half dozen guards were starting to get the door slightly open with each shove. "Killing a murderer is nowhere near as bad as killing innocents, but we still do not have the right to do that!"
"Well at least you aren't some new age hippy pacifist, but you're still wrong." Selina snapped. "This is Dick's right."
"Dick, don't do it! It won't be what your parents would want you to do!" Bruce got out as he struggled at the door.
"Piss off!" Selina screamed. "John Grayson would have gutted this pig! If you knew him you would know that!"
"But would John want this for Dick?" Bruce replied as he slowly lost ground at the doorway. "Would Mary want Dick to have blood on his hands? Nine year old hands at that!"
Selina didn't bother to answer him and turned back to her young second cousin. "It's your right, Dick. It's up to you, but if you're going to do it, you need to do it now."
The child hesitated, the letter opener trembling in his hand, his eyes glazed over with fear and hate. "I…" He was on the verge of tears. "I…I can't." He looked up at Selina. "I'm sorry."
Selina looked lovingly into the child's eyes. "You have nothing to be sorry for, my sweet little robin." She gingerly took the letter opener out of his hand and offered him a wan smile. "Nothing at all." She then tightened her grip on Zucco's collar and pulled him to the open window, keeping him in front of her to act as a shield. "Tell your stooge to throw his weapon no less than twenty feet away! Now!"
"Pathetic woman, soon you will watch the precious child die, and then serve as a plaything to my guards before they kill you too." Zucco growled. "Of course, I plan to have my fun with you before tossing them your scraps." His growl was soon followed by a gasp as Selina plunged the letter opener into his side. "Ahhhh…"
"Tell him or my next stab will ensure you never have any fun again!" She growled as she pulled the blade out of him. "The gun at least twenty feet away! No, wait. Tell him to toss it against the wall and back up twenty feet. Do it!" Zucco finally complied, calling out to instruct the man in Italian between pained gasps. The guard hesitantly did as he was told, throwing the automatic weapon against the wall and backing up. The moment Selina deemed the guard far enough away she pulled Zucco back, forcibly bent him down a little and flung him forward until he was hurtling out the second floor window.
"No!" Both Bruce and Dick cried out in unison, and then watched in horror as Selina drew the letter opener back into a throwing position and flung it down at the guard. Her throw didn't connect with its intended target, but the guard did hesitate a couple of seconds before running toward his boss and his gun. By then Selina had already dived out the window and was running her hand along the lattice below, slowing her descent. She hit the ground forcibly, but on her feet and she had the gun in her hands before the guard was even half way to her.
Dick ran to the window and watched as Selina pumped three rounds into the guard, and then as she walked over to Zucco, who was laid out on the lawn, lined the weapon up with his head, and looked up to lock eyes with her cousin. "Selina, don't. Please." Dick pleaded.
"It needs to be done Dick. You'll understand when you're older." Selina tried to explain, then looked back down and pumped a round into the back of Zucco's head. She then looked back up and called out. "Come on!" She aimed the weapon at the first level doorway and downed two guards the moment they left the house.
"Go!" Bruce yelled out at Dick as hands started reaching around the door he and the bookcase had been holding shut until now. He watched the boy snap out of the shock of watching his parents' murdered be murdered in turn and start to climb out the window.
"Young acrobat." The Russian voice called out from the speakerphone. "Know that if you survive this, I will have you killed just as I had your parents killed. There will be nowhere safe for you."
"Go!" Bruce yelled. Dick glanced from the phone on the desk to the man he knew as Tom Alfreds, and then slipped out the window. Bruce waited a few more seconds and then grabbed one of the hands reaching around the door, twisting it and breaking the forearm. He then pulled the door open suddenly, sliding the downed bookcase across the floor and causing all six guards, who had been pressing against the door, to tumble into the room. The one with the broken arm remained on the ground while the others tried to recover. Bruce threw himself into them, disarming and disabling them as best he could.
A broken jaw took one man out. Stomping down on the knee, forcing it to bend sixty degrees in the wrong direction took the fight out of another. An elbow breaking the nose took out a third. Broken ribs from a snap kick forced the fourth to quit, and a good old-fashioned knock out caused by having his face slammed against the wall stopped the last. Bruce hesitantly made his way out of the house, and returned to find the Land Rover gone.
Dick jogged across the street to the hospital, pausing momentarily as he read the name stenciled across the automatic glass door in front of him. 'Thomas Wayne Memorial Hospital'. One of the greatest philanthropists in history, and he and Selina would be robbing his son in the next twenty-four hours. Oh well, Dick could take solace in knowing that Bruce Wayne wasn't fit to carry his father's jock, at least if half of the gossip rag headlines were true. He trotted inside, and fortunately the emergency room did not appear that busy. Dick spotted a woman in a white lab coat looking over a chart. She was in her late fifties, and looked like she was a doctor. "Excuse me, Doctor?" Dick stretched out the last word, hoping she would confirm that she was in fact a doctor.
"Doctor Thompkins. How can I help you son?" The woman asked seriously.
"Uh, there's a guy in the alley, he's got a gunshot wound in the side. I think he just needs you to stop the bleeding and stabilize him until his…backup or whatever comes to get him." Dick replied, realizing she would likely not help him.
A look of shock came over the doctor's eyes. "Gurney!" She called out to orderlies that were not in the vicinity.
"No." Dick held up his hands. "Look, we can't make a production of this. If you could just go out there and check him out…"
"Are you out of your mind?" The doctor glared at the teenager. "Gunshot wounds need to be reported to the police, it's a legal obligation. And I'm certainly not walking into an alley in the dead of night alone with a stranger!"
Dick gritted his teeth. "Damn." He pulled out an odd looking black cell phone and pressed a button. "They're not going for it. Gunshots need to be reported, she doesn't want to walk into an alley, you know, common sense stuff." Dick listened intently for a moment. "Yeah, I know that. Yeah, I know. Look, I'm not the one bleeding to death here." The boy was getting more and more exasperated as he listened to the person on the other end. "Well, you need help pal, and it's the type of help that's a bit beyond my abilities." The doctor noted the boy quirk his head as he obviously heard something that surprised him. The child peered at her. "Hold on." He told the person on the phone before addressing the doctor. "Your first name isn't Leslie, is it?"
The woman was shocked, but nodded slowly. "Whom are you talking to?"
"Yeah, I think she's the doc that I'm talking to now." Dick replied into the phone. "You sure? Yeah, but are you sure? OK." He offered the doctor the phone-like device.
She hesitantly accepted it and raised it to her ear. "Hello?"
Dick backed away to offer her a little space and turned to look at the wall of the waiting room. A portrait of the man the hospital was named after hung in the most prominent space on the wall. The youth then looked at some of the other pictures, including Thomas Wayne with other doctors. Dick wandered closer to the wall and studied one in particular. It showed Wayne with his arm around the shoulders of a pretty blond woman, presumably his wife, and a hand on the shoulder of a dark haired boy, presumably a young Prince Bruce. Standing with them was a woman in her mid thirties, her hand on the boy's other shoulder. Dick peered closely at the woman, and it suddenly dawned on him that it was Dr. Thompkins. "Holey friends in high places, Doc."
"Come on kid, show me where your patient is." Dr. Thompkins' voice startled the teenager. Dick nodded and led her out the door, across the street and got to the mouth of the alley.
"Send the kid away." The gravelly voice weakly but loudly called out.
Dick looked startled and hurt, and then threw up his hands in exasperation. "Fine, to hell with this." He turned to walk away but yelled out one last time into the alley. "You're welcome!"
Dr. Thompkins watched the boy leave but then hurried into the alleyway. "Bruce?"
"Over here." Wayne called out. "I'm in my underwear."
"That raises some questions, but at least you shouldn't be embarrassed by me seeing you undressed." Leslie answered him as she made her way to him with her bag of medical tools. "I've seen you naked plenty of times."
"Yeah, twenty-five years ago." Bruce muttered before coughing and the doctor knelt down beside him and examined the bullet hole in his side.
"Well, for someone who's been shot, I guess you can count yourself lucky." Leslie muttered as she used a penlight to get a good look at her patient's wound. "Shallow flesh wound, the bullet appears to have passed through without hitting anything important. And that kid even did a very good job keeping the blood loss under control. At this point all we really need to do is to sterilize the wound and maintain pressure." She then turned the light up to his face and peered into his eyes. "What the hell were you doing tonight? And what happened to your clothes?"
Bruce weakly raised his hand to block the light from his eyes. "Probably not the answer you want to hear, but I really don't remember."
"Really." Bruce countered. "I went out clubbing, tried what I thought was ecstasy, met some girls, and I kind of remember going to a house party with them. From there it kind of blacks out until that kid found me in the street." Bruce winced a little at the pain in his side. "I should buy him a car or something."
Leslie was still very skeptical, and casually started scanning the rest of his body for further injuries. "Oh my God, Bruce, what have you done to yourself?" She almost shouted in shock.
"I told you, I don't know." Bruce replied in a hushed tone, hoping she'd follow his example and quiet down.
"No, I mean all the scarring covering your body!" She snapped. "These didn't happen tonight!"
"Oh, uh, well let's just say I've led a very interesting life." Bruce smirked and tried to joke it off. "More than one shrink has referred to me as self destructive."
Leslie took in the vast evidence of prior injuries and was almost reduced to tears. "Oh my sweet child, what have you been doing to yourself?"
"It's OK Leslie, just the results of a wild youth."
"Jesus, is this another bullet wound? It barely looks a week old!" Leslie stared at where Harvey Dent's shot had cut into his chest. Fortunately Batman's armor had slowed it down enough so that it barely broke the skin.
"Oh, that? That's nothing." Bruce muttered as he started getting light headed. "Hunting accident with Cheney." His laugh quickly devolved into a fit of coughing. Suddenly an ambulance screeched to a halt at the mouth of the alley. "There's my ride."
Alfred jumped out of the driver's seat and trotted into the alley. "Sir?"
"Alfred?" Leslie half asked, half accused, as she stood upright and faced the butler.
"Dr. Thompkins?" Alfred froze as he saw Leslie, but tried his best to recover. "Well, it's such a pleasure to see you again. I had hoped that Bruce would have invited you over to the penthouse at least a few times, but young men can be so thoughtless at times."
"Cut the crap Alfred." Leslie demanded. "What's going on here?"
Alfred looked down at Bruce and noted his state of undress. More importantly, he noted that the Batsuit and equipment were nowhere in sight. "Master Wayne called me to pick him up. I wish I could assure you that these wild nights of debauchery were unusual, but this isn't the first time I've picked the young master up naked in an alley."
"He's been shot." Leslie growled. "And tonight isn't the first time!"
"Then you should realize that Alfred has a fair bit of experience patching me back together." Bruce stated as he struggled to his feet. Alfred ran to his side and slid his arm under Bruce's shoulder to help carry him.
"You know I have to report this, don't you?" Leslie commented.
"No you don't." Bruce muttered. "I'm in good hands, I'm alive, and there's no way the police would be able to figure out who did this to me. Besides, I never took a step into the hospital, so outside the three of us, and that kid, nobody knows what's going on."
"Kid?" A surprised Alfred asked.
"A good Samaritan that Bruce refused to give his name to, and apparently didn't bother to get a name from. And I'm sorry Bruce, it doesn't work that way." She stated as they all walked to the back of the ambulance that Alfred had arrived in. Alfred reached out with his free hand and opened the rear doors. "I've got to alert the authorities to this. Sorry kid."
Alfred sat Bruce down on the floor of the ambulance and turned to speak to Leslie. "Dr. Thompkins, it would behoove us all if you were to pretend that these events did not transpire."
"I can't simply ignore a gunshot wound, Alfred!" She all but growled. "Not for Bruce, and not for you."
"What about for Thomas?" Alfred played his trump card. "Thomas's legacy has already been tarnished far too much in the press as it is. This bit would damage the Wayne name, perhaps irreparably. I know this young man. You know this young man. Despite having veered from the path, he is still his father's son. He still has the potential for greatness; he just needs to find his way. Bringing the authorities into this would only add another obstacle to that."
"Or maybe shock him into getting his act together." Leslie stated. She paused as she considered her options, and then turned to Bruce. "This sort of behavior would kill your parents were they not already dead. I'll turn a blind eye this time, but straighten up, or so help me God I'll call Jim Gordon himself about your shenanigans! Do you understand me young man?"
Bruce nodded. "Thanks Leslie."
"Get him home." She said to Alfred before turning back to Bruce. "Nothing but bed rest for you until I give you the OK, got that?"
"Yes Doctor." Bruce smiled as his head bobbled around woozily.
"Up you go Master Bruce." Alfred instructed as he got into the back of the ambulance and hoisted Bruce up onto a gurney. "I've got a nice blood transfusion waiting for you."
"You meet a girl or something?" Selina asked as she heard Dick open the door and walk into the suite. She had set up her computer and was checking the status of a special bank account that someone had set up for them six and a half years before. She cut her Internet connection and closed the notebook computer before turning at Dick's voice.
"Actually, yeah. She was like twelve and caught up in a firefight with her mom and two brothers." Dick flashed a grin.
"What?" Selina jumped up and ran to him, suddenly noticing the missing shirt he had when he left, the bruise on his cheek and blood soaked undershirt he was wearing. "Dick, are you alright?" Panic was in her voice.
"I'm fine, which is more than I can say for the other guys." Dick grinned, though he was clearly exhausted.
"Stumbled upon a gunfight in a restaurant. Big guy killing Chinese gangsters, with lots of civilians caught up in it. Batman showed up, started brawling with the big guy, got shot in the side by a Chinese gangster, was about to get shot by the big guy, but a devastatingly handsome and heroic young man jumped in with a butcher knife and cleaved the big son of a bitch's grubby fist off." Dick related in dramatic fashion.
"Shut up!" Selina stared wide-eyed at him.
"Oh, you haven't heard the best part. I also helped Batman get away. Dragged his heavy ass over rooftops and through alleys for several blocks to Wayne Memorial Hospital, got a doctor to go out and check him out, some chick named Leslie Thompkins who apparently knows him, and the ungrateful prick told me to take a hike as I led her to him." Dick continued his tale.
"You saved Batman's life?" Selina asked disbelief in her voice though she knew the boy would never lie to her.
"Yeah, but you still haven't heard the best part." Dick grinned.
"There's more?" Selina cocked an eyebrow. Dick nodded, his grin widening. "Bullshit."
"No, there is one other gem in this little Iliad of mine." Dick raised his eyebrows and nodded slowly with his lips pursed. "That now one-handed big guy; it's the Beast."
"Bullshit!" This time Selina truly could not allow herself to buy the story, even though she knew to her very core that this was one subject that Dick would never lie about.
"Trust me, it was him. The voice was unmistakable." Dick assured her as he started toward his bedroom. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm bushed."
"Please, you must remain still." The doctor pleaded with his agitated patient. The Beast slightly relaxed and rested his arm back onto the table so that the doctor could minister to his handless wrist. The doctor, who looked the part of a man dragged out of his bed in the middle of night, scrutinized the wound. "I suppose that what you're asking for is possible, though such a device would be expensive and take time for you to learn how to control."
"I am fast learner." The large Russian replied, his mask off to reveal his hardened face and blond hair. He then turned to his associates, all of who were dragged out of bed as well. "I am beginning to think that Gotham may not be worth the trouble. I think an example will need to be made."
"Wait, you're not talking about that sour grapes of wrath contingency plan of yours, are you?" Sascha asked. "Cause I've gotta tell ya', that'll bring all sorts of attention we don't need."
"Da, this is what I talk of. The authorities you fear will not connect this to us, and the Bat will be dead." The Beast replied.
"Trust me, we'll be run outta town if we pull this." Sascha continued trying to change his boss's mind.
"If we must leave, then we will leave." The Beast answered, his patience wearing thin. "America is a large nation, there are many other cities for us to settle. Now stop concerning yourself with my retaliation against Gotham and start helping me find a way to retaliate against the Bat and that boy who took my hand."
Sascha shrugged. "As of now, the boy doesn't exist. The news would love to interview him, he apparently saved a couple of kids, so hopefully he'll come forward and identify himself. As for the Batman, well, I've got one possible lead. About a week and a half ago there was this Reese guy who claimed to know who Batman was. He went into hiding, but I'm sure we could root around for him and dig him up."
"Da, dig!" The Beast exclaimed as the doctor walked across the room and rolled back a tray with various pieces of weaponry on it.
Selina slowed the motorcycle to a stop along the street in front of the downtown hospital. She marched forward toward the emergency room, intent on speaking with Dr. Thompkins. Despite what television would have you believe, doctors willing to administer to outlaws were next to impossible to find. So at hearing about an ER physician willing to aid a vigilante in an alley without calling it in, well, Selina was intent on getting on her list of patients. She and Dick had been very fortunate so far, but it was only a matter of time before one or both of them would sustain injuries that ice packs, bandages, water, alcohol or needles and thread wouldn't be able to fix. "Excuse me…" Selina called out to a passing nurse. "Could you tell me where I can find Dr. Leslie Thompkins?"
The nurse stopped and smiled at Selina. "I'm sorry, Dr. Thompkins' shift ended about half an hour ago. Is there something someone else can help you with?"
Selina returned the smile and shook her head. "No thank you, I'll just have to catch her another time." The nurse nodded and continued on her way, and Selina slowly walked out the front over the ambulance turnaround, and on to the sidewalk. It was only then that she seriously pondered how she would present her case to Leslie. It's not like she had anything more than the word of some unknown orphan kid to hold against her. How did the Batman recruit her? Did he pay her? Probably, he's got to have access to tons of cash to have all the gadgets he has, and those vehicles he has…or had anyway.
Or maybe he threatened her. The Batman was reportedly a bruiser; recent word was that he was a killer as well. But those that he'd beaten up or reportedly killed looked like they got what they deserved. Him threatening a doctor with force seemed unlikely. Maybe he had some information he was blackmailing her with. Possible. There had to be something that would compel her to breach the law and her ethics and treat a wanted vigilante in an alley.
Selina looked up across the street and noticed an alley, likely the one where Dick had left the Batman to be worked on by the good doctor. A smile spread over Selina's face. Perhaps she left behind some evidence of her unreported medical treatment? The woman sprinted across the street and ducked into the alley as the sun was just starting to make its appearance. Pulling out her penlight, she scanned the dark area. Garbage, old puddles of rainwater, not much. Not until she noted the blood toward the back of the alley. She scanned furiously, but aside from the blood there seemed to be no evidence of what had happened earlier that night. About to give up, she waved her light over the area one last time and noticed a small trickle of blood had ran from underneath a dumpster toward the lowered center of the alley. Something bloody was under that dumpster, and Selina was praying it wasn't a dead animal that she getting on her knees to look at.
The woman shined the penlight underneath the large refuse receptacle, and pondered what she was looking at for a moment. She tentatively reached forward and gripped a large hard, plastic-feeling object. Finding a piece of the object jutting out that was small enough for her to grab, she got a grip and pulled it out. She was stunned as she found herself looking into the empty eyeholes of Batman's cowl. She dropped back down and looked back beneath the dumpster, and sure enough, the rest of his armor, cape and weaponry was under there. But why? He'd certainly have needed to expose the wound to the doctor, but his entire uniform looked to be under there. And why wouldn't they have collected it afterward? Then it dawned on her. Dr. Thompkins didn't know the Batman, she knew the man under the mask. A broad grin once again adorned her face, but it disappeared as a dark van came to a quick halt at the mouth of the alley.
Selina leapt into the shadows and noticed the fire escape ladder that Dick had likely used to bring Batman down from the rooftops. With the helmet-like cowl under her arm, she scrambled up the ladder and continued hiding as a tall, older man with a beard entered the alley. He wore a trench coat and fedora, and pulled a flashlight out of his coat's pocket. He wove the light over the pavement before him until he reached the dumpster. Groaning and muttering something inaudible, he lowered to one knee and peered underneath, pulling out the costume piece by piece. Several seconds later he seemed to be taking inventory and immediately noticed the missing cowl. He scoured the alley, but found nothing. After several minutes of fruitless searching he finally gave up. "Oh dear." Was all Selina heard the apparently English man say.
Dawn was breaking over the city as the black van pulled in front of Hill Field, Gotham's major league baseball stadium. Sascha and several other members of the Beast's gang jumped out and walked to a side gate, where they were let in by a sniveling looking man who they had bought off. Four of the gangsters carried two large crates out of the back of the van and hauled them through the open gate. Once they were inside, Sascha returned to the van, got back in, and the van sped away.