"I'm telling you Alfred, the cowl was with the rest of the costume when we left that alley." Bruce insisted as he and his butler walked away from the borrowed Lexus and up the front steps of the newly re-constructed Wayne Manor. Though his side hurt tremendously, there was no outward sign of the wound Bruce had sustained just under eighteen hours before.
"Well sir, I can assure you that it was not there as of five this morning." Alfred replied as he reached for the door and opened it for the younger man.
"I'm still not sure why you didn't wake me when you got back to the penthouse." Bruce grumbled as he walked into the tarp-covered foyer. "This deserved to be made a priority."
"As does your recovery." Alfred clipped back. "I'm still aghast that you're up out of bed so soon after being shot."
"It was barely a flesh wound." Bruce retorted.
"That's what you say about all of them." Alfred snapped back. "And now you've gone and gotten Leslie involved. However shall we get her to let this matter drop? One tends to insist on getting involved when they've taken a bullet out of their godchild."
"I'll figure out how to deal with Leslie once I've gotten to the bottom of my missing cowl." Bruce growled.
"You suspect the boy?"
"Right now he's the leading candidate." Bruce answered as he saw the foreman of the work crew walking down the hallway toward them. "Time to get into character."
"Of course sir." Alfred replied as he smiled at the approaching man in dirty overalls. "Charles. Good day to you sir."
"Hello Mr. Wayne. Mr. Pennyworth." Charles responded. "We weren't expecting you. The boys are packing it in for the night, but I can have them stick around if you want."
"That won't be necessary Chuck." Bruce smiled charmingly, his teeth grinding at the discomfort of the bullet hole in his side. "I just bought some sculptures at an auction and I figured I'd try and figure out the best place to put them."
"Well, that's a bit outside my area of expertise." The dust-covered man replied as they all shook hands.
"Mine too, but I get a kick out of making my guesses, and then hiring interior decorators and museum curators to come in and offer their suggestions." Bruce shrugged as his beaming smile shifted into a playful grin. "It's painful how divergent our opinions are. Needless to say, I tend to go with the experts."
"Well, in that vein, I know you've said you wanted us to keep out of the study, but I have some very interesting suggestions for that room." Charles commented.
Bruce pursed his lips and shook his head slowly. "Sorry Charlie, but that was Dad's favorite room. I had it rebuilt and redecorated just the way it was when he used to work in there, and I'd like to keep the changes to that room minimal."
"Of course Mr. Wayne, please forget I mentioned anything." Charles apologetically requested.
"No need to worry, Charles." Bruce scanned the hallway they were in and nodded, pretending to pretend like he was making an impossibly informed appraisal of their work. "Excellent job on the house by the way. I dare say even Alfred wouldn't be able to tell the difference once you're done with it."
"It would be a difficult task indeed." Alfred played along with humoring the dullard Bruce pretended to be.
"Glad you like it Mr. Wayne." Charles smiled. "Are you sure you don't need us to hang around? It'd be no trouble at all."
"No, no, you guys take off, have some fun." Bruce waved off the suggestion. "In fact, why don't you take the guys to Chez Petit, I'll have Alfred call ahead and have them put your meals and drinks on my tab. And if any of you guys have a bit too much to drink, the maitre d has the number to the Wayne Enterprises car service. Just let him know you'll need a ride, he'll take care of you, and the driver will leave you a number to call for a ride back to the restaurant in the morning to get your car."
"Wow Mr. Wayne thanks!" Charles enthusiastically answered.
"No problem Chuck. Just a way to let you guys know I appreciate your hard work in getting this place livable sooner than anyone guessed it'd be." Bruce replied. The man shook their hands again and hurried off to tell his crew. Bruce and Alfred headed down the hallway and made their way to the study, shutting the door to it behind them upon entering. "Now to check on the other work crew." Bruce muttered as he pulled out a medium sized box from a secret compartment behind one of the bookcases. He placed it on the desk and opened it to reveal make-up, wigs, facial hair, glasses clothes and various other implements that made up the disguise kit. He turned to Alfred and tossed him a pair of glasses and a thick mustache. "Here you are Herr Einwalter." Bruce smiled through the German accented words.
"Danke Dietre." Alfred replied as he answered in a similar German accent.
The eighteen Russian workers milled about the extremely well lit cave beneath Wayne Manor. It was barely recognizable, much of the ground was now level and tiled, a wedge-shaped apparatus hung from the ceiling near the mouth of the cave to extend down and forward to block the waterfall when activated. A bank of Cray supercomputers lined one wall, a medical bay was almost completed in the corner, a forensics lab was in the room next to it, and various other rooms had been built into the large cavern, as well as eighteen small temporary quarters for the men.
None of the workers understood the purpose of the wedge or many of the other devices and structures they had been working on, but the instructions had been clear and their payment had been well beyond substantial; more than enough to make being taken to an unknown location by an unknown man endurable. And if Gustav, their foreman, trusted Wolfgang Einwalter, then they knew that they could trust the tall German. They'd even come to like hanging out with Einwalter's assistant, Dietre Grumann, who spoke rudimentary Russian and seemed to grasp even the most intricate aspects of what they were doing down there. Though it was likely he was the go between man for Einwalter and whoever fabricated the blueprints and other design specifications that the Russian crew was adhering to now, so it would make sense that he would have some idea despite his apparently sub-average intellect.
"Greetings comrades!" The workers turned to see Dietre and Herr Einwalter descending from the stairway that they always entered and exited through. None of the workers knew what was beyond the thick metal door at the top, and given the exorbitant amount the Germans were paying them, they kept their curiosity in check. There had originally been nineteen workers, but curiosity got the better of one of them about a month ago, and he had decided to trek through the waterfall to see what was outside the cave. He had come back claiming there was nothing more than a forest and gravel road, he was unable to see what rested upon the cliff above them. Within minutes of his adventure, Einwalter and Grumann entered the cave, fully aware of the worker's transgression. He was escorted back to the cargo bay area in an adjoining cavern that they had tiles shortly after first arriving.
For several days they had feared the worst, but during their evening conversations with their families back home they learned that their former companion had returned safely, loaded into the same non-descript plane on a remote airfield in an equally non-descript area with blackened windows. The pro-rated portion of his payment was paid to him despite his breaking of the rules, but none of the bonuses that were offered upon completion were given to him. Given his breaking of the emphatically set rules, his treatment was considered most fair by the other workers. If anything, it made them work more diligently knowing that the bonuses offered for superior and expedited work would likely be honored. They would return home able to retire in luxury. Their children could go their lives without working, provided they didn't live too opulently.
"Greetings Dietre! Mr. Einwalter, it is a pleasure to see you again sir." Gustav Khrushchev welcomed the two Germans into what was quickly becoming a state of the art facility, while still leaving enough of the cavern exposed to retain a mysterious, even frightful setting. Gustav had been a high ranking official in the Soviet military prior to its dismantling in the early nineties, and had used the many contacts that he had acquired over the decades to help his endeavors in the private sector. He had become known as a man who could get interested parties in touch with the most skilled groups and individuals in virtually any field that Mother Russia had to offer. It was he that Einwalter and Grumann had contacted to put this project together, though this was the first time that Khrushchev had permitted himself to be left ignorant of so many factors involved in a job he got involved with. But the money being offered was too substantial not to accept. The Germans had paid in Euros, though Gustav was certain that they had flown for too long for them to be anywhere in Europe or Asia. Regardless, the pay was exceptional, the amenities were more than adequate, and the men were permitted daily contact with their loved ones via a videophone system here in the cave.
"Hello Gustav." A slouching and heavily disguised Bruce Wayne replied in a thick German accent. The Dietre Grumann character did not know Russian, and none of these Russians spoke German, so English was the chosen form of communication between Dietre and the Russians, with Dietre then translating everything into German for Einwalter, who apparently spoke no second language. Dietre's pockmarked and bearded face smiled at the foreman of the group. "May we have a word with you?"
"Of course." Gustav replied as he made his way toward them. "Oh, before I forget, we heard a truck entering the detached cargo bay about ten minutes ago."
"Ya, we were expecting a shipment today." Dietre replied as Gustav shook hands with both of them. "We would like to employ your services on another matter."
"What other matter?" Gustav questioned.
"Information. Sensitive Soviet era information." Bruce clarified.
"The level of sensitivity will set the price."
"We were hoping that one hundred seventy five thousand Euros would desensitize things." Bruce smiled.
"It must be very sensitive indeed for you to offer so much." Gustav cocked an eyebrow. "Ask. I doubt that there is any information I possess that this amount would not be sufficient for."
Bruce turned to the heavily disguised Alfred and nodded. Alfred peered intently at the Russian. "Tell Dietre what you know of the man called Beast."
The Russian's eyes widened a bit and turned to Dietre for clarification. "He has been referred to as KGBeast by certain British and American intelligence gathering agencies. Apparently he was some sort of Soviet superspy."
"Yes, I know of him." Gustav answered. "The child of a soldier and one of our Olympic swimmers. He was orphaned as an infant, a tragic car accident that took the lives of his parents when he was six months old. He was taken in by the state and thoroughly trained to be the greatest spy, assassin, and warrior the world had ever known. And he very well is all that and more, but he resorted to becoming a criminal."
"Tell us everything about the man." Bruce pressed. "His name, aspects of his training, what he's done, who he's killed, his activities post Cold War, his friends, his enemies. Everything."
"Anatoli Knyazev is his name. And I will tell you all I know, but I am curious. Why are you interested in the Beast?"
"We can divulge no details." Bruce shrugged. "Just that we may have overlapping interests in the future, and we wish to know what we might be up against."
Gustav nodded, and was about to reply when the Einwalter-disguised Alfred interrupted them. "Dietre, betrachten sie das fernsehen!"
Bruce turned to the second largest computer screen across the cave that had Russian television playing on it. Being shown was Mayor Garcia holding a press conference, the Russian translation scrolling underneath. "Good evening ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. I called you here today to make you all aware of some recent findings regarding the deaths of two Gotham police officers, several reputed gangsters and their associates that occurred almost two weeks ago. Until now the belief was that it was the Batman that was responsible for these killings, but further evaluation of the evidence now leads us to believe that he was not involved."
The press went crazy, and the mayor pointed to one reporter that he was apparently familiar with. "Your honor, are we to understand that it is now the position of the Gotham Police Department that the Batman is no longer public enemy number one?"
The mayor turned to his side to show Commissioner Gordon standing behind him. Jim walked forward, took the podium offered him by the Mayor, and answered the question. "Batman is still an outlaw vigilante, and as such wanted for crimes related to that. But with him no longer being a multiple murder suspect, including the murders of two police officers, well, he's off the front burner."
"Commissioner Gordon…" A female reporter shouted over the others. "Do you have a new suspect for these killings?"
Bruce bit his lip and shook his head slightly but emphatically as he watched Gordon exhale deeply on the television. "We have no other suspects at this time."
"Commissioner, are you looking at the late District Attorney Dent as a possible suspect?" Another reporter shouted out as the Russian translation scrolled across the bottom of the large screen. "All of the victims were individuals that he is speculated to have had reasons to be at odds with."
"No comment." Gordon waved the question away as he turned and walked away from the podium, the Mayor joining him in the withdrawal while the press shouted more questions at the two of them. The image in Gotham shrunk and repositioned itself in the upper right corner of the screen as the Russian reporters returned and explained the situation and possible ramifications of it. While on the international stage the status of a vigilante in an American city had little impact, the Batman had captivated the entire world, and the Russians, including these workers, were just as fascinated by the costumed crime fighter as anyone.
"I knew it." Gustav smiled as he turned to the two faux-Germans. "The Batman, he does not break the sixth commandment. It is a foolish policy, one that will lead to his death, but at least he will go straight to Heaven after his dead body hits the pavement." The comment elicited a chuckle from Dietre and a barely noticeable shudder from Herr Einwalter.
"I think you might be right, my friend." Dietre nodded. "But please, continue with Mr. Knyazev."
Lucius Fox maneuvered the oversized forklift alongside the flatbed he had driven into the previously completed and closed off section of the cave a couple of hours before. He struggled to get the placement of the forks just right so as not to damage the RAH 66 Comanche stealth attack helicopter that was resting on an enormous metal pallet on the bed of the truck. Getting it here and unloading it was proving to be a tremendous chore, but was nowhere near as difficult as acquiring it and eliminating its existence from all conceivable records. Lucius had made sure that there would be no way that this vehicle could be traced back to Wayne the way that the Tumbler had.
The Wayne Enterprises CEO failed to hear the sounds of the locks on the metal door on the far wall disengaging over the forklifts engine, but the solid metal door closing shut behind the two disguised men forced his head to turn toward them. Lucius smiled as he shut off the forklift's engine. "Why Dietre and Wolfgang, how good it is to see the two of you."
Bruce returned the smile through his make-up and fake facial hair. "I see you got me my Christmas present early, Lucius. Thank you."
"Yes, well, I'll leave the last bit of unwrapping to the two of you." The older man replied as he lowered himself from the large vehicle.
"Fair enough." Bruce responded. "Any word on the new wheels?"
"I believe Herr Einwalter here is handling the acquiring of your new Lamborghini." Lucius shot back as he shook hands with the disguised Alfred.
"Not the wheels I was referring to." Bruce grinned.
"I've delivered most of the components to your downtown subterranean facility. The rest will arrive within the next two weeks. The parts are as prefabricated as we could get without raising too much suspicion, but there will still be a great deal of assembly required." Fox explained.
"And you're sure it will work?" Bruce pressed.
Fox cocked his head. "Oh yeah. I've spent most of my free time becoming an expert on this subject matter since you told me what you wanted nearly a year ago. I know a great deal more about the requirements for this vehicle than those Swiss experts you introduced me several months ago. I've gone over the specs, and it'll work."
"Well then, I guess it's probably good that Rinspeed wouldn't entertain my offer to buy their car." Bruce joked.
"I suppose that's the silver lining for the financial end of this endeavor." Lucius replied dryly. "Well gentlemen, if you've no further need for me, I'd like to get home before my wife puts out a missing person report."
Bruce looked over the helicopter. "Just be thankful you don't have a butler, otherwise you'd have already been declared dead."
"This would be a good opportunity to remind the young master that, as he's fully grown, there is nothing to stop me from taking the tidy sum his father left to me and enjoy my golden years far away from ungrateful, overly dramatic crime fighters." Alfred quipped.
"Oh no you don't." Lucius grinned. "You're not leaving me alone with him. As much as I loved Thomas, I'm not adopting your load."
Bruce rolled his eyes as he hopped into the forklift. "Good night Lucius."
"Good night gentlemen."
"Damn, I thought you said they'd all left!" Selina, in her black mask and bodysuit, dove behind a tree as Lucius drove his Lexus that Alfred and Bruce had driven there for him down the long driveway away from the manor.
"There's always a straggler." Dick smirked from the branch above his cousin, in his red suit and black mask as well.
She was a little startled as he had been on the ground behind her a moment before. "I swear that you are a shaved chimp."
"I guess that makes you a monkey's aunt." Dick joked as Lucius drove out of view and he dropped to the ground.
"Second cousin junior. I'm still young enough to date some of your more mature friends." Selina retorted as she quickly made her way across the grounds to the enormous house.
"Great, so even if we don't get pinched for this I'll still have to send care packages to your prison cell once you get nailed on statutory." Dick snapped back as he crossed the gravel drive and pressed himself against the outer wall. "I still have a bad feeling about this."
"Don't worry kid, I'm almost certain that the only working security was around the perimeter. It should be a cakewalk going forward." Selina answered.
"I'm not worried about getting busted." Dick replied. "Robbing Wayne just isn't sitting well with me. Even if he's a trust fund prick, he's still not hurting anyone and his money is going into more charitable foundations than just about anyone else alive."
"A little late for second thoughts now." Selina countered as she took a gamble and opened the door. "You've got to be kidding me." She mumbled quietly.
"The seconds thoughts have been around since last night when you concocted this scheme." Dick replied as he followed his cousin into the mansion.
"Fine, we'll pay him back when we're done." Selina hissed quietly as she looked around the foyer. "Now shut up, that door being unlocked leads me to believe that there may be more stragglers."
Alfred walked out of the hall washroom, toweling off the soapy water still clinging to his face as he made his way back to the study where Bruce, who had taken off his disguise before him, was waiting. "Ah, it's great to be me again."
"Admit it, you love it." Bruce smirked.
"It does take me back to my theater days, but Wolfgang Einwalter is no Hamlet." Alfred answered with a smile. "I'd like to take one last walk through to see the progress if you don't mind."
"Go ahead, I'm fine here." Bruce replied as he sat down in a large chair. "I've got some thinking to do."
Alfred nodded and left the room, walking down the hallway toward the front of the house. He intended to go up the stairs to examine the various bedrooms, but stopped short as he came face to face with a pair of burglars. Over twenty-five feet separated Alfred from the masked intruders, but he knew by their lithe frames that they could cover that distance in moments. "Leave now and you may have a chance to evade the authorities. I'm sure the security system has already alerted Gotham's finest to you intrusion."
"The security system isn't operational yet." The female replied, her body tensed for action.
"Hell, the door wasn't even locked." The male, whose voice made him sound quite young, added.
"Regardless, if it is your intention to defile this house any more than you already have, you will have to dispense with me to do so." Alfred stood upright.
"Fine." Selina responded. "Robin, dispense with him while I get to the defiling. And keep your eyes peeled for anyone else." With that the black-clad woman sprinted to another part of the house, leaving Alfred and Dick alone in the hallway.
"Look Jeeves, I don't want to hurt you." The red and black-garbed young man approached Alfred. "Let me bind your hands and feet, and I swear I will not hurt or degrade you any more than that, and I will let you loose when we leave."
"How very courteous of you." Alfred announced as he took on a boxer's stance. "But I fear that I am unable to comply with your requests."
"Come on Old Timer, don't make me do this." Dick pleaded, as he got closer to the butler.
"I am not making you do anything young man." Alfred quickly shuffled forward and shot out a jab. Though he had been thoroughly trained in pugilism and moved with the speed of a man half his age, the masked man easily snapped his head out of the way.
"Not bad. I'm sure you'd be the reigning champ in the retirement home, but you're just a little outclassed here." Dick replied as he casually circled around the older man, giving off an impression that he was utterly without concern of being struck. Alfred shifted and threw a right cross, which Dick sidestepped and caught, twisting Alfred's arm behind his back. "Enough. I can do this without hurting you, but your dignity will take a beating if you keep fighting me."
"Well then, why don't you fight me?" Dick turned to see the master of the house coming toward him, fury in his very familiar eyes. The would-be burglar didn't have time to try and figure out why this man looked so familiar to him, as he barely had time to release the butler and get into a defensive position before the man was upon him. Dick shuffled back quickly, giving Bruce an opportunity to look over his friend, butler and adoptive father figure. "Are you alright Alfred?"
"Fine sir, I suggest you concern yourself with your own well being." Alfred replied.
Bruce was furious, but managed to control his rage and consider how this would best be dealt with. Bruce Wayne was athletic, and could very well have taken some martial arts courses as a kid, but he didn't want to display any more prowess than was necessary to take out this thug. The best course of action would be to simply let the burglars take what they wanted and go. The problem was that this thug was charging him now, and was a much better brawler than the average burglar. There was no way for Bruce not to fight now, and with each passing second Bruce was forced to reveal more and more of his skills to keep this man from gaining the offensive. He was fast, faster than Bruce, the billionaire was forced to concede, but the masked man was smaller, weaker, and though extremely proficient with unarmed combat, was nowhere near Bruce's level of expertise. But he seemed to be in optimum condition, whereas Bruce was still nursing a shallow bullet wound in his side.
Dick had been pushed back out of the hallway, through the foyer, and into one of the side rooms. He leapt upon one of the covered high back chairs, gripping the top with his hands and using it at a pommel horse to spin around and throw a double side-kick while in mid-air at Bruce. The billionaire managed to block the strikes, but was duly impressed with the maneuver as well as the dismount that gave the masked man the position and momentum to take the offensive momentarily, but only momentarily as Bruce once again used his superior size and martial skill to push the smaller man back again. The other man did a back flip and then cart wheeled over a couch to put some distance between them and buy him some time, but it was only a couple of moments before Wayne was upon him again.
The floor and all the furniture were almost completely covered in drop cloths, and footing was sometimes difficult to achieve for both men. Dick realized quickly that he was almost completely outclassed by this man, though this man he assumed to be Wayne seemed to be trying to offer extra protection to his right side without making it seem obvious. Likely an injury, but Dick just wasn't getting a chance to capitalize on it. Stepping back, the boy's foot planted on a piece of cloth that slid against the polished floor underneath, putting Dick off balance.
Bruce saw an opening to end the fight using fairly conventional and common fighting methods, and quickly tackled the smaller man and pinned him to the floor. "Enough! Stay down!" Bruce growled at the struggling thief.
The burglar pulled and twisted frantically beneath Bruce's pin, but each attempt to shift Wayne's weight, twist or slip out was countered the moment it was attempted. Dick glared up into his captor's eyes and a wave of recognition flowed over his own blue eyes. "Tom Alfreds?"
Bruce was stupefied. He immediately released the intruder's left wrist and tore the mask off, startled at the sight of the boy that had aided him the night before. He then scrutinized the boy's face and compared it against those that had known Thomas Alfreds. The answer came instantly. "Dick?"
The youth chopped his thumb knuckle hard into the side that this man had been protecting throughout the fight, causing Wayne to groan in agony and roll off to the side. Dick jumped up to his feet and sprinted into the foyer. "Cat! Time to go!" The boy wrenched the front door open and yelled as loudly as he could behind him into the house. "Catwoman, get your ass down here!"
Dick looked up the stairs and saw the butler slam against the wall and slide to the ground. A heartbeat later Selina came into view and looked down toward him, ready to ask what was going on. When she saw her partner without his mask her eyes grew wide with fear. "What the hell is going on?" She asked as she leapt down the stairs, landing on every fourth before hitting the ground running.
"Later!" Dick replied as Selina sprinted past him out the door. He turned to look at Bruce, Tom or whatever the hell his name was before he turned to run as well, and saw Bruce standing in the entranceway to the foyer merely staring at him. The two locked eyes.
"Now Robin!" Selina's voice broke the optic lock and Dick charged after her, slamming the door as he made his escape.
"I can't believe the cops aren't here yet." Selina muttered as she drove the car through the heavily forested roads leading from the Wayne estate toward Gotham. "It had to have taken us a good three minutes to get back to the wall, jump it, and then another three to get to our car. They've got to have black and whites trolling around these roads all the time anyway, how they haven't responded yet is beyond me." The woman shook her head. "I mean, it's Wayne friggin' Manor!"
"The cops aren't coming." Dick replied silently, lost in his own thoughts.
"What does that mean?" Selina snapped. "Seriously, what's going on? You'd better tell me what's going through that head of yours or I'll knock it off your shoulders!"
Dick thought about telling her, but upon finally putting all the pieces together realized he couldn't and shook his head. "You deserve an explanation, but I can't give you one. Just trust me on this, OK?"
Selina pressed her lips tightly together and glared at the boy, but soon softened. "You're the only one I do trust, so, as much as it pains me to do so, it's dropped." She then gave him a punch in the arm. "But you've got me really freaked out, you know?"
"A little freaked out on this end too." Dick muttered as he continued staring into his lap. He then looked over at her. "Did you manage to steal anything?"
"Not much." Selina shrugged as she reached down and pulled up a large, but almost empty sack. "A few trinkets that'll fetch us a few G's, but nothing like I was hoping to get."
"We're giving this back." Dick stated quietly but firmly.
"What? No way!" Selina shouted. "Are you out of your f…"
"We're giving this back!" Dick snarled. "I know you don't understand, but it's something we have to do."
Selina stared at the boy in disbelief before the responsibility of driving pulled her eyes forward again. "And how do you propose we return this stuff? Knock on the door and offer an apology?"
Dick nodded, still deep in thought. "Exactly." He then turned and met Selina's stunned glance. "Again, I realize you don't get what's going on, but you have to trust me. Please, just trust me. It's something I have to do."
"Alright Sweetie, I'll unpack, why don't you just hop into bed and get some rest?" The teenaged Selina Kyle ushered her young, recently orphaned cousin into the room that they had just rented under an assumed name in Hungary. Fortunately John had taught Dick enough of his native language so that they could find their way around without arousing too much suspicion.
"No Sel, I'll help. Mom and Dad always insisted I pull my weight." The clearly exhausted child protested.
"Baby, you've done all that and more." Selina caressed the boy's hair and head. "I'm the reason we're on the run, not you. But we're almost safe. Just a few more jumps and they'll never be able to find us. Now go to bed, you need your rest."
Dick was wobbling between acquiescing and further protesting when something caught his eye. "What's that?"
Selina turned and looked at the manila envelope resting on the round table in front of the worn couch. She walked over and opened it up. Inside was banking information pertaining to a money market account in Richard John Grayson's name for one hundred thousand dollars. Along with the information was a hand written note.
I told John and Mary that I would like to take care of Dick's post secondary education. This fund is to be devoted to that. Should an emergency arise where you need to dip into it, then so be it, but barring such an emergency this is to be used only as intended.
Do not worry about the criminals that have been hunting you in retaliation for Zucco's death. They have been thrown off the trail, and as long as you lay low, stay out of Italy and away from Haley's Circus, you should have no problems from them.
If ever you need assistance beyond these funds, you can contact a man named Alfred Pennyworth. He is a relative of mine in the United States with access to vast resources. His contact information is on the card enclosed within the envelope. I urge you not to hesitate to contact this man should either you or Dick require assistance in any way.
As for Dick, I do not agree with the path you have chosen for the two of you, and should you ever decide that Dick would be better off being raised by someone else, Mr. Pennyworth will see to it that he be placed in an excellent home. He is an extraordinary child with vast potential. I realize you have your own dreams and aspirations, but as long as you choose to keep him, his well-being is to be your paramount concern.
The best of luck to the both of you, and Dick, always remember that no matter how a man chooses to lead his life, that life is still precious and beyond your right to take from him. Be safe.
The two of them shared a shocked look with each other.
"Master Bruce, if you are certain that the invasion of the Manor was not related to you being Batman, why did you not alert the police?" Alfred asked as the two of them took the elevator down to Batman's downtown headquarters.
"Alfred, I know you won't be able to accept this, but you're just going to have to trust me." Bruce replied as the doors opened and he walked quickly toward the large series of computers in the center of the vast, well-lit room.
Alfred followed Bruce to the terminals and proceeded to watch what he was doing over his shoulder. After several moments the billionaire seemed to find what he was looking for. Alfred peered at the screen with names of people recently entering through Customs at Gotham International Airport. The butler noted two names that his charge was entering into various search engines. "Sir, this Richard Grayson and Selina Kyle, are they the individuals that attacked us earlier?"
"Let this one drop, Alfred." Bruce muttered as he attempted to track the pair.
"As you wish sir. Though I would think that being physically assaulted would earn me some consideration."
"He saved my life Alfred. And you yourself admitted that the boy seemed to go out of his way not to hurt you. Plus, I'm pretty sure his presence in Gotham isn't coincidental and he'll probably be getting himself killed if I don't stop him." Bruce countered. "Now, if you really want to lament being beaten up by a girl…"
"That's quite enough young man." Alfred scolded as Bruce stood from his chair and made his way to his equipment storage unit. "Going out I see. Might I remind you that you were shot less than twenty-four hours ago?"
Bruce offered a shrug and a lop-sided grin. "Don't wait up."
He had insisted on going on another one of his walkabouts the moment they got back to the penthouse and changed out of his bodysuit. There was a lot going on in that kid's head, and he had asked her not to pry. And she wouldn't, at least not with annoying questions. But she was the closest thing that boy had to a mother, and she'd never seen him so thrown. More importantly, aside from crushes he had formed on local girls throughout the years he had never kept anything from her. Selina Kyle would eventually find out what had gone on at Wayne Manor, but for now she just wanted to be sure the kid would be all right.
For now he seemed to be OK. He was miles away from Little Odessa, sticking to the downtown Gotham strip. She had been watching him from the rooftops ever since he walked out of the hotel. Still in her work clothes, she would be all but invisible, and unless she did something stupid like fall, he would be oblivious to her invasion of his privacy. She smiled as some teenage girls walked by him, turned to watch him walking away, giggling with each other and trying to get one of them to gather the nerve to go talk to him. It was a common sight for Selina, the child was stunning, but so damned shy ever since the death of his parents. Some day she would find a way break him out of his shell.
It was then that she noticed a shadow drop from the top of one building onto the roof of a lower building across the street. She stared at the black form as it quickly and efficiently made its way from one end of the roof to the other, almost gliding as it went. Gliding? No, something was trailing behind the form. A cape. Batman!
Selina smiled slyly as she watched him sprint to the edge of the roof and leap across the alley like an Olympic long jumper to the roof on the other side. Not bad, she thought, especially given all the armor and weapons he was reported to have on him. She wondered who he was after, and suddenly realized that he may be after something. "Shit, the cowl." She grumbled quietly as she took off after him. Sure enough, when Dick slowed, the Batman slowed. When Dick stopped to look at something closely, the Batman took perch somewhere and watched him.
Selina smiled as she watched the vigilante launch a thin grappling cable to a tall building on her side of the street and seem to fly over the street. She took to the shadows and watched him land on the roof of the building ahead of her. She peered down at the street and saw that a pair of women in their thirties, who were apparently less timid than their teenaged predecessors, had stopped to talk to Dick. Damn cougars, Selina thought malevolently as she considered confronting these would-be child molesters, but knew that Dick was old enough to deal with them on his own. Despite the rampant hormones raging through his body, he had the self-respect to save the first time at least for someone special. Of course, this really wasn't an area that the two of them talked about much, and quite frankly, Selina wasn't sure whether the first time had come and gone or not. Perhaps he had gotten that out of the way and would decide to take them up on whatever they were about to offer him. Whatever the case, he'd be OK. She figured that he could beat the hell out of any jealous husbands that caught him, and as a sixteen year old boy he wasn't so emotionally fragile that she'd come back to find him taking an 'I'm so dirty' shower afterwards. She smiled upon realizing that she was projecting her morality onto the kid again. He'd never do anything with a married woman, and despite not knowing for sure, she was pretty confident that he was still a virgin.
The Batman was intently watching the inebriated women flirting with the boy, so Selina deployed her claws, gracefully made her way across the building, and slowly did a little gliding herself toward the back of the Batman. She didn't want to kill the psycho, but she would shred the hell out of him to teach him never to mess with her kid cousin. She was silent as she got to within ten yards of him.
"Any closer and I'll be forced to think that you're trying to sneak up on me." A gravelly voice cut through the growing darkness. "And I'd be forced to take precautions against someone trying to sneak up on me. You wouldn't like these precautions." The Batman stood and turned to face the black-clad woman.
The woman stopped, smiled and playfully placed a hand on the hip she was jutting out. "I must admit that you do cut an impressive figure." She looked past him toward the activity on the street below. "It's too bad that you seem more interested in that kid down there. Or is it one of the women he's with? Heck, you're a celebrity, you could probably have both."
"Don't play with me Catwoman." The large man spat.
"Catwoman? Do I look like I'm in a cat outfit to you?" Selina bantered, though she was a little nervous that the chosen term might be more than just a lucky guess at her professional name.
"Perhaps you prefer Ms. Kyle?" Batman replied. "Don't bother denying who you are, and don't worry about me informing Interpol of your current whereabouts, or the various European and Asian criminals that you've been stealing from for the past six years. I'm just here to make sure that Richard stays away from any Russian mobsters. I would hope that you would have the same goal."
"Who the hell are you? How do you know this?" Selina snarled as she took a few aggressive steps toward the Batman.
"Richard saved my life last night. I felt it prudent to look him up in case I had a chance to return the favor." Batman replied. "Which I have in part. I carry some influence with Commissioner Gordon, and he carries some influence with Bruce Wayne. Your bungled break in theft and assault never existed. But keep in mind; my debt is to that child, not to you. I will have no problem taking you down."
"Oh, I beg to differ." Selina lunged forward and slashed toward the Batman. "You'll have nothing but problems trying to take me down!"
The Batman jumped away, was off balance for a moment, which left him vulnerable to a snap-kick from the woman. He was far enough away to avoid most of her power, and after stumbling back a few more steps he regained his balance and composure. Selina came at him again with broad and flowing punches and kicks. Her strikes were easily evaded by the Batman, who landed a palm strike to her chest that sent her falling on her rear and leaving her seated on the gravel on the roof.
"Save the Tae-Kwon-Do for the dance studio." Batman growled, a hint of amusement in his voice.
"Kiss my ass!" An enraged Selina snarled as she quickly got back to her feet.
"A very tempting offer, Ms. Kyle, but I'm afraid I have to pass on it." Batman fought to suppress the smile along with the urge to stare at the body part offered for kissing as the woman twisted up onto a standing position.
"Don't gloat too much about knowing my name, big boy…" the woman seductively covered the distance between them and gently ran a claw from the vigilante's abdomen up over his chest, along his neck and under his chin. The Batman remained rigid; ready to pounce on her should anything about her indicate an attack, but until such an indication came to light he played along. "I don't think that hat of yours that I picked up early this morning is carried in too many haberdasheries." She stood on her tiptoes and brought her face to within an inch of his, her breath mingling with his. "I'm sure there are a few specialists out there that can take a gander at that hood and figure out where it came from. From there, where it went, and well, that's where you'll be."
Batman smiled. "I've gotten good at covering my tracks."
Catwoman smiled even more broadly. "So's the kid." She cast her gaze to the side of his shoulder toward the street below. Batman turned and saw that the Grayson boy was nowhere to be seen. "Toodles." He turned back to see the woman running and jumping off the other side of the roof. He shook his head. He could catch her, but it just wasn't worth it. Plus, while he was loath to admit it, he had been enjoying their sparring and bantering session a lot. A lot.
Coleman Reese rolled over in his bed on the verge of tears. It was seven in the morning and he had not managed to get a wink of sleep. Telling the world that he was aware of Batman's identity was the biggest mistake he had ever made. The majority of citizens held him accountable to some degree for the destruction of Gotham Central Hospital, the large number of Batman sympathizers, ranging from the mildly appreciative to the fanatical disciples, considered him either a baseless muckraker should he be full of shit or a traitor to justice should he truly know Batman's identity. And then there was the small but terrifyingly psychotic following of anarchist devoted to the Joker. This last group would not yank him off the street if they saw him, but videotape their torture and send it with a love note to Arkham hoping the Joker would appreciate their efforts and bestow some sort of crazy-world knighthood upon them.
Reese got out of bed and made his way into the living room, looking over the small, barely furnished apartment that he had been forced to live in and shook his head sadly. After the debacle of the Mike Engle show, he had been forced to hire a full time security force. To afford it he needed to sell his condo. The good news was that while the housing market sucked, a downtown Gotham condo was a hot commodity these days. Most people buy them hoping to catch a look at Batman. Of course, you could count on one hand the number of sightings made by credible individuals, and most of those were in the ghettos, but it had kept demand for Gotham condos high while nearly every other section of real estate crashed.
He pondered how he could go about rectifying his financial situation. He could always get another job; he was a damn fine banker after all. Of course, it wouldn't be nearly as good as the one he just left. Wayne Enterprises was the top tier of top tier employers, and any remotely comparable company he could get an interview with would certainly find out why he had been dismissed. Confidentiality breaches and attempted blackmail were deal breakers to say the least. The prospect of honest employment was looking less and less feasible the more he thought about it.
Perhaps he could parlay his knowledge…well, heavily supported suspicion of Batman's identity into a living. It was clear that Wayne wouldn't pay for his silence; perhaps the revelation would yield a fortune. Of course, this would be as good as a death sentence for Wayne. It seemed irresponsible to make such a revelation when he still had a few lingering doubts in his own mind. But what if voiced those doubts? Present what he found in book form, include the explanations given by Wayne and Fox, and let the reader make their own decision. That was it. There had been messages left on his voicemail by interested publishing companies before he had changed his number and done what he could to drop off the radar. That was it. He'd be fair with his presentation of the facts, label speculation as such, and maybe even allow Wayne to write a rebuttal chapter to be included in the book. Perhaps even cut him in on the profit; not that he needed it.
For the first time in days, a wave of relief washed over the former Wayne Enterprises employee. The relief was short lived as he heard loud voices followed by gunshots and scuffling outside his door. Reese lurched up to his feet just as he saw his door being kicked in by a large black boot. The monstrous KGBeast walked into the apartment, his right hand clutching the elongated and broken neck of one of his security guards, a metal box with a smoking gun barrel and bloody bayonet where his left hand should have been. "Oh my God!"
The masked behemoth glared at him. "You come with me."
Selina stretched out in the large bed, her limbs poking out from the tussle of blankets and sheets. She had slept well; her dreams had been more…interesting than they'd been in a long time. She smiled as she realized that the cause was her heated discussion with the masked do-gooder on the roof last night. While every rational thought in her head told her to pack and leave town, every other part of her being longed for more encounters with the Dark Knight. She looked over at the clock, and smiled at the soft green 2:34 glowing from the dark screen; still had to be morning somewhere in the world.
There was a soft knock at her door. "Come in, my little Gypsy."
Dick walked in, freshly showered and wearing a tight red T-shirt and black jeans. In his hand was an empty cardboard box. "Sorry to bother you, but I can't wait any longer. Where did you hide the stash from Wayne?"
Selina sat up, a look of confusion on her face. Despite not knowing why he was interested, she nodded to the bag on the floor in the corner. Dick walked over, scooped up the sack and placed it in the box. "What are you doing?" Selina asked.
"Giving it back." Dick replied as he scanned the room intently, moving again as he caught site of the Batman's missing cowl resting on one of the pillows near Selina's head. He didn't even want to ponder what it was doing there. "This too."
"What?" Selina jerked out of bed as Dick grabbed the cowl and dropped it into the box as well, the wrinkles on her white tank top and shorts straightening out as she moved. "No you aren't!"
"Yes I am!" Dick snapped back.
"What, you're going to drive your bike on up to Wayne Manor, knock on the door and hand them the trinkets?" Selina scoffed. "And how the hell do you plan on returning the mask to Batman?"
"I'll figure something out." Dick replied. "As for Wayne's stuff, yeah, only I'm going to the apartment building he's staying at now. But I'll just walk up to him and hand his stuff over."
"No way buddy." Selina blocked his path to the doorway.
"Selina, please." Dick's shoulders slumped. "He's not a crook, we can't steal from him. We have to give his stuff back. And yeah, I know you think he'll call the cops, but trust me, he won't."
Selina was startled for a moment, but looked down as she pondered something. "Yeah, I know he won't."
Now it was Dick's turn to be confused. "Oh, how's that?"
Selina shrugged. "Just a hunch, though it's still a bad idea."
"Yeah, probably, but I'm still doing it." Dick said as he squirmed around Selina, giving her a peck on the cheek as he got past her.
Selina turned as Dick left her room and called after her. "Hey, if you draw a blank with giving Batman's face back, let me know. I think I'd be able to get his attention."
"I'm sure you could." Dick replied as he left the suite.
Bruce stretched out in his large bed, his black silk sheets caressing his body as he forced himself to wake up. After his encounter with the woman, he had given up on finding Grayson and gone about on one of his regular patrols. Fortunately it was a fairly uneventful night, but still a long one. He heard Alfred enter the room.
Bruce lifted himself into a sitting position. "Yeah Alfred?"
"A situation has arisen that you need to be made aware of." Alfred answered as he walked in, gripped the television remote control on the table next to Bruce's bed and turned on TV.
He switched it to one of the local news stations where the pretty female reporter was standing in front of a middle of the road apartment complex with police tape over the front door and officers walking in and out. "The police are not saying whether or not they have any suspects at this time, but given the events of the last two weeks, the speculation as to who would want to abduct Mr. Reese is more than rampant."
"Coleman Reese?" Bruce bolted upright out of bed. "When was he taken?"
"According to the news, roughly seven and a half hours ago. The police successfully kept the media from learning of this until just a few minutes ago. Several of his hired guards were killed in the abduction." Alfred replied as he followed his employer out of the bedroom and toward the panic room that possessed the most complex computer system in the world, one that was linked into the GPD mainframe.
The wind battered Dick's black leather jacket as his motorcycle slowed and pulled into a street-side parking spot across the street from the apartment building Wayne owned and currently resided in, the box nestled in his lap. It had taken him a lot longer to get there than he had anticipated, no doubt a result of the baseball game that would be starting in a little over an hour just a couple of miles from there. The teenager leapt off his motorcycle and weaved his way through the cars until he was across the street and on the sidewalk in front of the building.
Dick ran up the steps to the large glass revolving doors and entered the building. He walked up to the security desk in front. "Can I help you?" The middle-aged guard asked from behind the desk.
"I'm here to deliver something to Mr. Wayne personally." Dick smiled at the man before shifting his gaze to take in the details of the ornately furnished lobby.
"Do you have an appointment?" The guard asked, knowing full well that the boy did not.
"No, but if you call up and tell him that Dick Grayson is here to see him, I'm sure he'll tell you to let me up." Dick answered the man.
"Look kid, Mr. Wayne's a busy man. Lot's of people come in here insisting that he'd want to see him." The guard replied dismissively.
Dick took his jacket off. "Look, if Wayne instructs you to tell me to bug off, you can keep my jacket. I'm that certain that he'll want to see me."
The guard rolled his eyes. "Well, my son does need a new jacket…"
"Remember, it's only his if Wayne tells me to piss off." Dick clarified, a grin etched on his face.
"Yeah, yeah…" The guard lifted the phone to his ear and dialed the penthouse extension. "Uh, hello Mr. Pennyworth…"
"Dick Grayson you say?" Alfred hid his surprise very well. "Let me inform Mr. Wayne. Definitely do not allow the boy to leave the lobby." Alfred carried the phone to the open wall panel that led to the penthouse panic room. "Master Bruce, it seems you have a visitor."
"Not now Alfred." Bruce muttered as he poured over the information regarding the Reese kidnapping.
"But sir, the visitor in question in young Richard Grayson." Alfred nodded gently as Bruce turned to face him with a look of disbelief. Upon realizing Alfred was completely serious, Bruce nodded. Alfred raised the phone to the side of his face. "Please send him up."
The elevator doors parted to reveal the tall, elegant and impeccably dressed butler standing at attention. Dick swallowed, and then exited the elevator with a sheepish grin. "Alfred Pennyworth I presume?"
"Yes sir." The Englishman stared down as the nervous youth shifted the box he was carrying under his right arm.
"So, you're the emergency contact." The teenager looked the man over.
"I beg your pardon?" Alfred asked, having no idea of what he was referring to.
"Uh, never mind. Anyway, I believe I owe you an apology." Dick muttered as he chanced a glance up at the eyes looking down on him.
"I should say that you do." Alfred replied.
"Well then, I'm sorry I broke into your home and assaulted you." Dick looked back down at the floor. "I wish that I had some sort of reason that would justify or even mitigate why I did what I did, but I don't. No reason, no excuse. I'm just sorry. It won't happen again."
Alfred was touched by the lad's sincerity. "Chin up Master Richard. Just see to it that the stolen property is returned and all will be forgiven."
Dick looked up and displayed a mischievous grin as he tapped the top of the box. "Way ahead of you. Where do you want this stuff?"
"Come with me." Alfred led the boy into the living room. "Please have a seat anywhere you would like, you may unburden your load on any table as well."
"Thanks Alfredo." Dick answered as he lowered the box to an elaborate oak coffee table.
"That's Alfred, young sir." Alfred corrected.
Dick looked up, the same grin on his face. "Sure thing Alfred. Sorry about that."
"I'll retrieve the Master." Alfred announced before turning and exiting the room.
Dick wandered across the room and peered out the floor to ceiling windows that gave him a view of downtown Gotham in the mid afternoon light. "You were front page news yesterday." Dick turned to see the man that he had previously known as Tom Alfreds walking toward him. "You got bumped to page three today." Bruce tossed Dick the two newspapers.
Dick managed to catch the two rolled up papers before they unraveled and fluttered everywhere. He lifted the previous day's Gotham Gazette and read the headline 'Anonymous Boy Wonder Aids Batman in Restaurant Shootout'. "Groovy." Dick replied with a lack of interest as he dropped the papers on the table near the box. "Little surprised you're admitting to that right off the bat." The boy shot a broad grin at the bad pun.
"Ugh, that was terrible." Bruce walked around the couch and stood before the boy, standing just a few inches taller. "I might as well admit it because you've already got me dead to rights. Besides, I know I can trust you with my secret."
"Oh really?" Dick cocked an eyebrow. "Why, because you set up a college fund for me? I think saving your life the other night might be worth at least that, especially given the fact that it's a fraction of a pittance to the likes of Bruce Wayne, ain't that right, Tommy?"
"I think you've earned the right to call me Bruce." The billionaire smiled as he sat down on the couch. "And my trust in you has nothing to do with any sense of obligation that you might have. You're not obliged to me in the least, but I'm still sure you won't divulge Batman's identity."
"Yeah, but you can't fault me for wanting to have a little fun with you." Dick smirked as he sat in another chair adjacent to the couch, propped his feet up on the coffee table and pushed the box toward Bruce with the tips of his shoes. "Anyway, there's you stuff."
Bruce leaned forward, opened the slats of the box top and started chuckling as he pulled out the missing cowl. "I've been wondering where I put this thing."
"Just be thankful Alfred showed up when he did, otherwise my…associate would have gotten all your duds." Dick joked.
"Mmm-hmmm. And just how much of this does Selina know?" Bruce asked.
"Know? Pretty much nothing." Dick answered. "Aside from seeing how freaked out I was leaving your house, and that going by you stashing your batsuit the good doctor knows the man beneath the mask but has no knowledge of the Batman. I haven't told her anything, but she is bright enough to know something's up, and might even put it together. Especially if I unload your stuff and the cowl in the same trip."
"I see. I had a run in with her last night, you know." Bruce offered.
"Yeah, saw you guys dancing on the roof across the street." Dick smiled. "You earn a point for coming clean. Not enough to even the score against you for shadowing me, but it helps."
"Lucky me." Bruce nodded and leaned back. "So, the KGBeast…" The billionaire let that hang out there as he watched the boy's eyes harden.
"I want more than just his hand." Dick hissed.
"So you want to kill him, do you?" Bruce baited, trying to gauge the boy's reaction. The teenager's steely glare let him know his intentions. "Do you resent me for my interference in the attempt to have you kill Zucco?"
Dick shook his head. "No, killing a man would have been too much for me to handle at nine years old."
"And now that you're sixteen, you can handle it?" Dick nodded as his eyes glazed over and his mind seemed to travel a million miles away. "You need to think this through, son. Once you kill you can't undo it."
"I'm not your son." Dick answered, still staring off into nothing specific out the window.
"Just a common term Dick. I didn't mean anything by it." Bruce replied almost defensively.
"OK, then it's a common term used to highlight a subject's youth and inexperience." Dick turned his head and focused on the older man. "Believe me, I'm not inexperienced."
"I know Dick." Bruce answered.
"Why do you care anyway?" Dick continued in an agitated manner. "The Beast is a piece of shit. Me taking him out is one less bad guy you have to deal with. I thought you'd want that."
"Dick, I care because…" Bruce shook his head and sat forward. "Well, let's just say that the parallels in our lives are nothing short of frightening. I've been where you've been. Endured so much of what you've endured. Our paths have been so similar that our being led to this point seems almost fated; of course, I don't really believe in fate. But the one main difference is that when I watched someone else kill my parents' murderer, I was old enough to accept that the negative feelings I had regarding his death were more than just youthful squeamishness." Bruce reached forward and placed his hand on the young man's shoulder. "You've borne more hardships than any ten people should ever bear; I couldn't handle it if you had to bear the weight of having taken a life."
Dick stood up, shaking Bruce's hand off in the process. "Like I said, I'm not your son. Sorry for taking your stuff, I'll keep your secret, so have a nice life. Oh, and you can expect to see a check for the current balance of that money market account in the coming days. Don't worry; it's all there. Sel insisted we not touch a dime of it."
Bruce stood up and took an apologetic stance. "Look Dick, I don't mean to lecture you. But this will be a huge mistake. And, as much as I hate saying this, I'll be forced to stop you. Or, if I can't, I'll be forced to bring you in."
A disbelieving look came over Dick's face. "Up yours Batman. Who gave you the right to dictate the rules of vigilantism in this town? And need I remind you that you're a wanted man too?"
Bruce smiled. "Quid pro quo Agent Starling?"
Dick glared at him. "Wrong bird Wayne."
The moment was interrupted by the sound of the elevator ding. "Wait here." Bruce muttered as he started walking toward the elevator doors, Alfred already on his way there ahead of him. Dick watched them disappear into the hallway but shuddered as he heard an unknown group of men yelling and the sounds of scuffling.
He took a step in the direction of the elevators, but then froze and looked down at the cowl resting on the table. "Shit." The boy whispered before grabbing the mask and his jacket, which was too small to pass as Bruce's or Alfred's, and running quickly to the other end of the room and disappearing into the opposite hallway toward the master bedroom.
A moment later Bruce, Alfred and Coleman Reese were being led at gunpoint into the living room by six armed gangsters led by the KGBeast. "Please, take whatever you want, just don't hurt us." Bruce whined.
"Shut up, Batman!" Sascha growled as he pushed Wayne back toward the couch with the tip of his automatic rifle. Bruce considered disarming the man, but the other Russians would mow them down the moment he moved.
Dick silently peered around the corner and cursed silently to himself. He slunk back into Wayne's bedroom and looked around for anything to use as a weapon. He then noted the black silk sheets, and then looked down at the mask in one hand and the black leather jacket in the other. "This is so stupid." He then heard the order to check the rest of the penthouse for others barked out in Russian. The youth scrambled to put his make-shift Batman costume on, sliding the slightly oversized cowl over his head, throwing on and zipping up his jacket, and reaching for the top sheet, folding it over and tucking it into his back collar. Not very convincing, but as long as he kept hidden and/or moving rapidly, it might just work. But how was he going to take these armed men on?
Dick looked to the other side of the room, into the bathroom, and notice that the towel rods looked fairly solid. Longer than the pipes he was accustomed to, but they'd work. He hurried into the lavatory as he heard the approach of what sounded to be two of the intruders. Doing everything he could to muffle the noise, he managed to pry the brass rods off their mounts. He hid in the corner, bars at the ready when he noticed the secret panel in the wall still slightly ajar. One man entered the room, clearly not expecting to find anything. His eyes went straight for the bed. "What I wouldn't give to hear the tales this bed could tell."
The other man followed him in. "Any supermodels in here?" He turned to see 'Batman' in the corner, but only a fraction of a second before the brass bar came down on his head, rendering him unconscious. His comrade turned in time to see the second bar coming his way. Both men fell to the floor, and Dick quickly tossed the bars on Wayne's bed and cracked the wall panel open. Inside was a row of computers, at least one other Batsuit, and most importantly, a utility belt that appeared to be fully equipped. He also spied a pair of metal tonfas. Not quite the Escrima sticks he had become a master of, but they'd be more than a welcome addition to the small arsenal.
There was a great deal more there, but the call from the living room snapped Dick out of his rushed inventory assessment. "Nicky, Alex, what the hell's taking you?"
The teenager wrapped the unique tool-belt around his waist, slid the tonfas between his waist and belt; he didn't have time for anything more. He looked at the tonfas and smirked. "At least there's one weapon I know how to use here." As he made his way down the hall, he pulled out the grappling gun and winced at the barbed hook. "Ouch."
"Nicky, Alex?" Sascha yelled.
"Yeah, coming." Dick called back in a false voice.
"That didn't sound like Nicky or Alex." One of the men commented to Sascha.
"I'll try better next time." The Batman disguised Dick growled as he turned the corner, pointed the grappler at the shoulder of the closest man, and fired. The hook cut all the way through the shoulder, out the other end and landed on the floor. Dick then hit the retract button and the hook flew back into the air, prods extended and latching onto the back of the man's shoulder, and pulling the man rapidly through the air until he slammed into the corner that Dick was standing next to, rendering him unconscious and in need of some very serious medical attention.
"Batman?" The Beast yelled out confused. He then turned to Reese, who was standing next to the chair that Dick had been sitting in earlier, and aimed the weapon mounted on his left wrist. Bruce lunged from the couch and tackled Reese to the ground just as the Beast opened fire. The large Russian considered executing them both, but turned to deal with the Batman. "I kill you later."
The gangsters had taken cover behind the various furnishings throughout the room, but had no real defense for the smoke and gas pellets that 'Batman' was flinging haphazardly into the room. Unfortunately for 'Batman', he had no idea where on the belt his defense was for the gas was, so he was just as susceptible to the effects as everyone else, but that didn't stop him from charging into the smoke filled room with tonfas flailing.
"Oh my God, oh my God. You were telling the truth. I'm so sorry. I was wrong. I'm so sorry Mr. Wayne." Reese muttered in a panic as Bruce dragged him across the floor toward the elevator behind Alfred.
"Fine, just shut the hell up." Bruce snarled between his teeth as he shoved the crawling man forward through the smoke. They reached the stairway entrance next to the elevator and Alfred escorted Reese through the door. "Take him down a couple of floors and either hide or use the elevator to go the rest of the way. Uh…Amber's got to still be in the bedroom, I'm going back for her."
"Godspeed Master Wayne." Alfred offered before leading their betrayer down the stairs.
"You mean he's going back into that for a girl?" Wayne heard Reese question as he started back toward the fray.
"He's both more and less than you've estimated him to be, Mr. Reese. Now please make haste or I'll be happily forced to push you down the stairs." Bruce caught Alfred's reply just as the door shut, and he cut through the penthouse and quickly made his way to his panic room, hoping Dick could hold out for just a minute longer.
"I hear you cough, flying rodent!" The Beast roared out as he fired through the smoke toward Dick's coughing. The youth shut up and lunged away at hearing the Russian's words, thus evading the barrage, but he was in sad shape. His charge into the room had allowed him to take out one more thug, and the other two were balled up on the ground in coughing fits, but the Beast's mask must have filtered the air for him because he seemed to have little or no ill effects. Dick scrambled over the floor, noticing the table in front of him just in time to duck under it. Or rather try to duck under it, but the 'ears' of the cowl caught the table and forced him to fall backward onto his hindquarters.
The Beast heard the table shake and blasted dozens of rounds into it. "You will die, but take solace in knowing that even were I not to kill you now, you would be unable to stop me anyway. The world will watch live on their television sets as thousands of those you have sworn to protect die a painful and protracted death. You would be as helpless as you are now."
"Funny, I don't feel that helpless." The Beast whirled around to see that Batman, now wearing a small gasmask, had somehow managed to get behind him. A small object shot out from the Batman's belt and latched onto the weapon's box attached to the Beast's arm. A moment later a stream of electricity shot through the cord connecting the object to Batman's belt, and the Beast began convulsing as a voltage that would be lethal to a small woman or child surged through his body. Batman jerked forward and began to batter the Russian.
The Beast took several hits before fighting back. He put several steps between them and raised his weapons box toward the Batman and tried to fire. Batman crossed his arms, knowing full well that the device has been rendered non-functional by the electrical shock. "Nyet comrade, you're going to have to take me out some other way."
"Govno!" The Beast bellowed before charging toward the large window and jumping through. He had read reports that the Batman and a woman had survived a fall from this distance. The Beast skidded down the sloped roof, slowed himself, stopped at the edge and looked down. He then pried open a compartment of his box, pulled out some rope, pried a piece of metal from the edge and tied the rope to it before lowering himself over the side. He could survive such a fall, but why go through it unnecessarily?
Batman watched as the former Soviet spy and soldier made his escape before turning to deal with the other intruders. The broken window was causing the smoke to disperse, and the last two conscious thugs were starting to try and get to their feet. A few strikes to the back of their heads sent them back to the floor in unconscious piles. Batman walked over and looked down at the other Batman, still trying to control his coughing fits while balled up on the floor. "He's gone, and they're out."
At hearing that Dick gave into his coughing. After nearly thirty seconds of painful hacking, he finally started working his way to his feet. "Sss…sorry about this being so chaotic. Not familiar with your gear."
"You did just fine." Batman smiled. "You saved three lives and I'm pretty sure you got Reese off my ass for good."
Dick nodded and pulled off the cowl. He glared at the ears that had gotten snagged on the table just a few moments before and alerted the Beast to his general location. "These friggin' things nearly got me wasted!" He lifted the cowl up and brought it down hard, striking the 'ears' against the perforated table and tearing both of them from the cowl.
"Hey!" Batman growled at the destruction of his property.
Dick then tore the sheet off his back and thrust it at Batman. "Just tell me you haven't entertained in awhile. I'd rather not have to burn my clothes and sandpaper the back of my neck."
"Just sweat, and maybe some blood." Batman let the sheet drop.
"Still gross." Dick muttered as he looked over the ear-less cowl. "We need to figure out what the Beast meant by thousands dying a protracted death."
"The world watching on live television. Thousands. He means game five of the American League Division series. Goliaths are hosting the Red Sox at Hill Field. The game will be starting soon."
"OK, what, he's planted a bomb in the stands?" Dick questioned.
"No, a blast isn't very protracted." Batman pondered. "Knyazev spent several months during his teenage years training with a General Peter Burgasov, former Chief Sanitary Physician of the Soviet Army, and an expert on weaponized strains of small pox and other diseases."
"Shit, small pox?" Dick muttered. "But how would he go about infecting thousands? I mean, if he said thousands he's got to intend to focus on the fans and not the players, right? Unless he means the players spread it after they leave the ballpark."
"No, the world's not watching them live after they leave the park." Batman countered. "You were right the first time. He'll go after the fans. My guess is that it'll be through the fire sprinkler system."
Dick looked up. "Still think the bastard shouldn't be killed?" He let that sit for a moment, and finally continued as he realized Batman was still going to retain his no killing policy. "Well, let's stop him."
Batman stared quizzically at the boy. "I'll stop him, you've done more than enough already."
"Uh, do I need to remind you of the stakes here?" Dick snapped back. "This isn't a situation where you go refusing assistance."
"See me in five years, I'll probably have an opening for you then." Batman turned and began binding the wrists and ankles of the unconscious men in the room. He then scooped up the sheet, and then headed back toward his secret room. "For now, get out of town until this smallpox thing has been resolved. Come back after that and we'll discuss your future."
"Bite me." Dick grumbled and started to leave just as the phone started ringing. Batman paused and hit the speaker button. "Bruce Wayne."
"Hello Mr. Wayne. Is everything all right?" Lucius Fox's voice came through. "The front desk security guard failed to check in and his body was found in a broom closet. Several other guards are on the elevator up to you now."
"Well, we have seen quite a bit of activity here Lucius." Batman replied in Bruce Wayne's playful voice as he pulled off his cowl, pulled the phone off the cradle and hurried to his panic room to complete the clothing change. Dick took the hint and hurried to the stairwell.
"What's happened?" Lucius asked.
"Armed men broke in, held Alfred, Reese and myself at gunpoint, and who knows what they would have done had Batman not arrived. Alfred and Reese are taking the stairs down now." Bruce explained as he tugged off his armor and tossed it into the panic room.
"Batman arrived?" Lucius asked incredulously.
"Yes, amazing isn't it?" Bruce smirked as he tossed the last of his Batman paraphernalia into the secret room, tugged up the shorts he had been wearing, and snatched a special cell phone out of the panic room before sealing the entrance just as the elevator dinged to announce the arrival of the security guards. Bruce hustled through the penthouse and met the men in the living room, all of who were marveling at the unconscious and bound men on the floor. "Looks like Dick got Amber out too."
"Dick? Amber?" Fox questioned through the phone. "Who…"
"Dick's the son of an old friend who was in town and paid an impromptu visit. Amber was someone I…" Bruce noticed the interested stares from his security guards. "Well, we met at a club last night. I actually think she slept through it until Dick must have hustled her out and down the back stairwell when these goons burst in."
"How fortuitous for them." Lucius replied. "I'll see to it that Alfred, Reese, your friend's son and Amber are collected."
Bruce smiled and replied quietly. "I wouldn't worry about the latter two. Anyway, I'm handing you off to one of the guards. I need to get some air. Batman used some gas and between that and the excitement I'm feeling a little light headed."
Bruce handed the phone to on of the guards, who accepted it as he turned and looked over the goons. "Is this all of them?"
"No, I think their leader escaped." Bruce pointed to the broken window. "Look, I'm a little freaked out by all of this. I think I'm going to stay in the manor, maybe take a walk, something to help me sort through what just happened. Please see to this and keep your phone on in case I need you...Doug is it?"
"Yes, Doug Bradford, but won't the police want his statement?" The lead guard asked.
Bruce started toward the elevator as Lucius answered the man through the phone. "Mr. Wayne will answer any questions for the police when he's ready."
"These are great seats Dad!" Young Jim Gordon Junior squealed as he took his seat for the series finale.
"One of the perks of saving the mayor's life." Barbara Gordon said to her son as she sat down on the aisle seat next to her daughter. The two kids were sandwiched between their parents, with Jim Senior easing into his seat next to their son. "Now you kids mind your manners. Now that Daddy's the commissioner of police…"
"Everybody's going to be watching us." The children replied in unified annoyance.
"Well they are." Barbara gave them a mock glare that immediately melted into a smile. The smile disappeared as she heard the ring tone to her husband's cell phone go off. "Oh Jim, I thought you were going to turn that off."
"You know I can't do that, especially now with the new job." Jim replied as he stood up and pulled the thin phone out of his jeans pocket. "Everyone at the station knows I'm at the game, so they wouldn't call unless it was an emergency." He peered at the outer screen to see who came up on the caller ID, and chuckled a little.
"Who is it?" Mrs. Gordon asked.
"You." Jim flashed his wife a grin. "You must have sat on your phone and set off the speed dial."
"Uh, no I didn't." Barbara insisted. "I made sure to turn mine off when we got out of the car."
A look of confusion came over the Commissioner as he flipped his phone open and raised it to the side of his face. "Who is this?"
"Commissioner, where are you?" Batman's gravelly voice responded through the speaker.
"I'm at the Goliath's game with my family. What's wrong?" Jim asked, standing straighter.
"Get your family out of Hill Field now. It may be the target for a terrorist attack." Batman replied as Bruce Wayne weaved his Tesla Roadster through traffic out of the city, speeding back to the nearly completed manor. "Hold on a second." Bruce pressed the mouth of the black cell phone he was using against his shoulder and dialed a number into a special system built into the car's dashboard.
A moment later Lucius's voice came through. "Yes."
"Are you in position?" Bruce asked urgently.
"Just sliding into the computer terminal now." Lucius replied. "This better be important, the cops are calling me repeatedly about the break-in."
"It's urgent. I'm going to patch you into a conversation I'm having with Gordon." Bruce fired off before adjusting a series of dials to synch up the cell phone signal with the communications device linked to Fox. Bruce then raised the cell phone back to his ear. "I'm back Commissioner."
Gordon was already leading his confused and agitated family out of their seats and up the stone stairs leading to the nearest tunnel. "Not the type of message to drop and then disappear. Now can you be more specific? This is probably the sort of thing that the GDP, and probably a whole slue of other organizations should be made aware of after all!"
"Sorry. Here's the situation as it stands now." Bruce continued in his gravelly Batman voice. "A former KGB agent turned gangster named Anatoli Knyazev has threatened to kill thousands of Gothamites in a protracted manner while the world watched live."
"OK, you're probably right that this is the target." Jim answered. "How's he planning on doing it?"
"A protracted death would seem to rule out the use of a large explosive. This man was trained in his late teens by a Soviet biological weapons expert." Bruce explained as he veered off the main road and sped through the forest on a gravel road that ran into his property. A flick of a switch opened a gate that ran around his property line, and he proceeded past it without slowing down at all. "My guess is that he's going with a strain of small pox that they concocted on Vozrozhdeniya Island back in the seventies. Probably to be administered through the fire sprinkler system. Are you still in the stands?"
"Yeah." Gordon replied into the phone as his family got to the tunnel. He directed his attention to his wife. "Get them out of here and drive to your sister's house. I want you all out of Gotham, now."
"Jim, what's going on?" A panicked Barbara asked her husband.
"Just go, I'll explain everything later." Jim then looked down at his terrified children. "I promise you guys I'll make it up to you, but for now you have to go."
Little Jim looked up excitedly into his father's eyes. "It's him, isn't it?"
Jim nodded to his boy and then indicated for them to get going. Barbara turned and started leading them down the tunnel. "OK, what do you want me to do?"
"Take a good look at the sprinklers above you. Hold on a second." Batman replied as Bruce sped toward the waterfall that fell from the cliff the manor had been built on. He brought the phone around to his front and punched in a code. A moment later the metal wedge that had been built into the interior of the cave sprung to life, thrusting forward to split an opening through the tons of falling water while the metal floor extended forward until it reached the opposite side of the breach. The Roadster sped onto the extended floor through the break in the waterfall and into the cave, startling over a dozen Russian workers. Bruce weaved around them and their work areas as he punched another code into what was clearly much more than a mere cell phone. The locks to the storage area housing the stealth helicopter disengaged and the large metal door began sliding open.
Bruce slowed as he drove past the workers and pressed the mouth of the phone back into his shoulder so that he could speak to Lucius without Gordon hearing. "Mr. Reynard, please instruct Mr. Einwalter that he needs to apologize to the help for his drunken son driving through their work area. I'm sure the disturbance should be quelled with a few dollars."
"Most usually are." Fox replied chuckling.
Bruce drove past the still opening door to the storage area and skidded to a stop. He raised the phone back to his ear as he got out of his car and ran to the opening to have the door stop opening and begin shutting. Once the door's progress was reversed, Bruce ran to a tall metal case and opened it to reveal one of his uniforms with spare weapons lining the inner doors. "Alright Commissioner, please describe the sprinklers as you see them."
"OK." Jim Gordon craned his neck as he looked up at the sprinklers high above the seats. "This is not my area of expertise, but it looks like every third one has a gray box-like thing strapped to it."
Fox's voice came through, though only Wayne could hear him. "That sounds like one of the more commonly anticipated dispersal methods."
"How much of the park's seating do these boxed-sprinklers encompass?" Batman asked as he slipped into his armor.
"As far as I can tell, the entire lower section and what I can see of the upper decks. It looks like every fan will get a dose if those sprinklers go on." Gordon replied. "I'll have the Water Department cut off water to the park."
"No good." Batman replied as he slid the mask over his head. "Hill Field was built with its own back up reservoir for the sprinkler system. We'll have to keep the system from being activated from inside the park."
"I'm here, ready to do whatever needs to be done. But I left my sidearm at home." Gordon answered.
"I'm leaving now, I should be there in a matter of minutes." Batman replied as he finished getting suited up and arming himself.
"I hope you're close, because traffic is a bear for miles around the stadium." Gordon warned.
"I've got a shortcut." Batman replied as he got into the helicopter.
Wearing the ear-less cowl instead of his helmet, Dick weaved through traffic, driving on the sidewalks when necessary, on his way to the baseball field. With one hand he fumbled with his cell phone, happy he put the Bluetooth in his ear, and hit the speed dial for Selina's phone. Three rings passed before she finally picked up. "Well Dudley Doright, need to be bailed out?"
"Selina, listen, I need for you to get out of town. I can't explain now, I just need you to do as I say, OK?" Dick instructed as he whizzed between a truck and a cab, weaved over to a gap in parked cars due to a driveway and sped the remainder of the block on the sidewalk.
"Jeez, I though you said he wouldn't try to bust you!" Selina growled as she started tearing through the penthouse packing up their belongings. "Do you have a spot in mind for a safe place to hook up?"
"No, Wayne didn't call the cops. In the process of trying to track down the Batman I caught wind of the Beast's plan to pump small pox into the stands at the baseball stadium." Dick ran a red light and almost got smacked by a semi truck. "Whoah, nearly bought it there."
"Never mind. Just get out of town, I'll call you when this is resolved." Dick answered.
"Resolved?" Selina's voice was raised. "You better not be playing hero again!"
"Sorry Sel, it's what Dad would want me to do."
"This isn't helping an old lady across the street Dick, this is a disease that's wiped out civilizations! John definitely wouldn't want you to be doing this!" Selina was nearly yelling.
"Sorry, mind's made up Cuz. Wish me luck." Dick smiled as he ended the phone call with a push of his thumb. He had finally arrived in the vicinity of the park and pulled his bike into an alley to park it behind a dumpster. It would probably get messed with, stolen or towed, but right now that didn't matter. He unzipped his jacket but left it on and hanging loosely over his red shirt, and removed his cowl, carrying it under his arm as he walked out of the alley and toward the front of the stadium. "No ticket; they'd never let me through security with this stuff even if I had one." Dick muttered as he rolled the cowl and gave the utility belt hanging loosely around his waist a shake. "How to get in?"
It was then that he noticed the sounds of a distant copter becoming far less distant. He stepped away from the building he was standing next to and looked up into the sky to see a black helicopter, one clearly made for the military, swoop out of the sky and slowly come to a landing on the roof of a building across the street from the stadium. "Get the hell out." Dick muttered as a smile came over his face.
He watched Batman leap out of the copter, aim his grappling gun at the stadium, fire a hook and the next moment he was flying over the heads of the hundreds of people watching him from the street. "OK, gotta admit that was the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life." Dick muttered.
He then flipped open his jacket to get a better look at his belt. Seeing his another grappling gun of his own, he slid the cowl back over his head, pulled the gun, aimed it up near where the Batman had shot his, and fired a hook into the third floor rafters of Hill Field. The teenager gulped as people turned to see where this new hook had come from and looked at him. He smiled at them and winked at one very attractive woman. "Beats what the scalpers are charging." With that he hit the retract button and flew into the sky. A second and a half later he found himself careening toward the concrete he was hooked into. Not sure how to operate the device correctly, he let go and did a flip through the air, over the fence and landing gracefully on the cement floor inside the ramp leading to the upper levels, to the amazement of over a hundred onlookers who were still in shock at seeing Batman land in front of them just a few moments before. Dick looked up and grinned at the stunned onlookers.
"What are you doing here?" Batman, who had sprinted up the ramp to the next level but stopped at noticing the arrival of Dick, snarled at the youth.
"Helping people!" Dick snapped back as he ran to where Batman was standing.
Batman turned away from the boy and raised a communicator to his mouth. "Section F-14."
"Freeze!" A pair of police officers pointed their side arms at Batman, but one quickly shifted his aim to cover Dick.
"Put those weapons down!" Jim Gordon pushed through the crowd. The two cops saw him and immediately complied. The Commissioner walked toward Batman, but locked his eyes on the smaller masked man. "Who's this?"
"Just another dead man!" They all turned to see the mask less KGBeast walking toward them through the crowd, an automatic weapon in his right hand and the blade extended out of the box on his left wrist.
"Anatoli Knyazev?" Gordon asked.
"Yes." Batman confirmed and then turned to the two police officers. "Evacuate these people!"
"Do it!" Gordon reiterated the order before they could even look to him for confirmation. "Wait, you…" The Commissioner pointed at one of the officers. "Give me your gun." Gordon took the weapon and then turned to Batman. "I've already called it in. Homeland Security will likely be taking the reins soon."
"It will be too late!" The Beast shoved through several people and took aim at Batman with his firearm. A bat-shaped throwing blade wedged itself into the barrel opening the moment the weapon was level.
The eyes of Gordon, Batman and the Beast all turned to the smaller masked man who had thrown it. Dick turned to Batman and shrugged. "Boris."
"Of course." Batman muttered as he remembered the knife thrower from the circus.
"So I take it this guy really is with you?" Gordon asked.
"Long story." Batman replied as he started squaring off against the approaching Beast, but he momentarily diverted his attention from the Russian to reach into his belt, pull out a small earpiece and an accompanying mouthpiece, and tossed them to Dick. "Plug these in and stay in contact…Robin." Batman barked out to the boy. "I need you to get to the utility room in the bowls of the stadium and make sure the water isn't turned on!"
"No, I've got the KGBitch, you go keep the water off!" Robin snarled.
"Do I need to remind you of the stakes here?" Batman growled. "Do as I say or leave!"
"Pathetic Americans, whatever you do, thousands of your countrymen die!" The Beast started laughing as he tossed the firearm away and slipped on his reinforced mask. "The rain falls in eight minutes." He then pulled out a cell phone and waved it. "Unless I demand it sooner, and even if I choose not to, only a tiny fraction of spectators will be evacuated in that time."
A grappling hook shot out from inside Batman's cape, speared the phone and drove it into the cement wall behind the Beast, causing the phone to shatter to pieces. Batman then turned to Robin. "Seven minutes! Move!"
"Actually, he said ei…"
"Uh, not sure where…" Robin started to mention.
"Earpiece!" Batman roared as he and the Beast charged each other, the Beast swinging savagely with his blade and the Batman blocking with his armored gauntlets. "Jim, go with him!" Batman grunted between strikes.
Dick slid the earpiece under his cowl and rested it into his ear. He then clipped the mouthpiece on the cowl near his mouth. "Uh, hello?"
"There are service stairs fifteen meters to your left." Fox's voice came through the earpiece. Robin started sprinting to them, with Gordon trying to keep up with him. "Fourth compartment to the right of your buckle houses an electronic skeleton key, swipe that through the lock." Dick did as instructed and the door clicked unlocked. The boy pulled the door open and raced through, throwing it wide open for Gordon, who got there just as it was about to close. "Descend the stairwell all four floors to the bottom."
Dick leapt over the rails, covering all eight sets of stairs of the four floors in a matter of seconds. Jim peered over the handrail at the newcomer and marveled at his speed and agility. He also scoffed at the idea that he was supposed to keep up. "Jim, go with him?" Gordon imitated Batman's gravelly voice. "I think I'd rather fight the Cossack." But despite his grumbling, Gordon ran down the steps as quickly as he could.
Robin used the key to open the door at the bottom, and started to run but paused. He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out his motorcycle keys, and wedged them into the space above the middle door hinge to keep it open for Gordon. "I'm gonna want these back, Commish!" Dick yelled back up the stairs. The only response he could hear as he sprinted down the hall was the older man's heavy breathing.
The voice over the loud speaker directed the throngs of people to make their ways up the stairs and toward the nearest exits in an orderly fashion, and with few exceptions, the spectators were doing just that. But it would be well past the Beast's eight-minute mark before a meaningful portion of the baseball fans would be safely away. One section suddenly got a lot less orderly as the KGBeast, having a firm hold on Batman with one hand and his eighteen-inch blade clasped between Batman's upper arm and side, barreled through dozens of people and out of a tunnel into the stands. He hurled Batman into the seats, the Dark Knight bouncing and rolling over the tops of several rows before falling to the ground between two rows.
The Beast bounded onto the seats, landing and balancing himself on a pair of chair-backs. He scrambled to where the Batman had fallen, but as he drew near Batman suddenly emerged from the ground, grabbed the Beast and hurled him over his head toward the seats below him. The Beast landed heavily, and Batman was on him in the blink of an eye. The two grappled, causing most of the people to panic and flee more hastily, while many others stopped to watch the fight, unaware of the impending danger.
Gravity-aided momentum carried the brawl down over and through the stands toward the field. "Time is ticking, Capitalist. Are you really willing to die in a clearly failed effort?"
Batman dodged a swipe with the blade and replied with a straight right that sent the Russian stumbling back. "I'm always willing to die in an effort to save others. Are you really willing to die for no discernible gain other than causing death and pain to others?"
The Beast, who appeared to be tiring, leapt over the side and onto the field. "General Burgasov provided me with the immunization to this strain. All that will happen to me is that I will become wet."
"And your men?" Batman followed after him onto the field.
"A placebo." The Beast replied as the two men began trading blows once again. "They will do my bidding thinking they are protected. They will be easily replaced."
"OK, out of darts. What else do I have?" Gordon heard Robin say to apparently no one up ahead in the distance. "No, used all the gas earlier. I overheard Benson talking to you, he can tell you all about it later." Gordon, who was carrying a set of keys and a leather jacket, which had been left to keep doors ajar for him, finally reached the masked boy, breathing extremely heavily, and dumped the boy's possessions on the floor next to him. He had crossed the paths of several dead maintenance worker and security guards, as well as nine unconscious men that he figured to be thugs taken out by this Robin. The would-be hero turned and smiled at him as the lawman leaned against the wall next to him. "Hey Commish, 'bout time." Robin then turned his head to chance another look around the corner down a hall to the utility room. He jerked his head back as a couple of shots ricocheted against the concrete walls. "Got three of them defending the utility room."
"How…how much time do we have?" Gordon forced out between gasps.
"Ninety seconds more or less, and I'm out of stuff to throw at them." Robin replied. He cocked his head, as he seemed to be listening to something. "Naw, that's gone too." Robin then looked down at the sidearm in Gordon's hand. "Can you get low and give them something to focus on? Keep their eyes from shifting upward?"
Both Robin and Gordon looked up to see the pipes running just below the ceiling, along the halls and toward the utility room. "You've got to be kidding."
"Come out now or we're turning the sprinklers on!" One of the three gangsters yelled out.
Robin took the belt off and slid it around the corner. "Alright, here are my weapons." He then whispered to Gordon. "Catch them and keep them off guard." He then cocked his head again and smiled before yelling back to the criminals. "Wait, let me get my belt back. You're not going to turn on that water. The Beast inoculated you guys with nothing but sugar-water. You set off the sprinklers and you're just as doomed as everyone else." Dick nodded to Gordon. "Boost?"
Gordon shook his head but complied, quietly placing his gun on the floor, lacing his fingers together, letting the boy put his dark gym shoes in his hands and hoisting him up to reach the pipes above. The child effortlessly swung himself around to the top of the pipes and silently shimmied over them and down the contested hallway. Gordon then grabbed his gun and called out. "This is Police Commissioner James Gordon. Slide your weapons forward and come out with your hands up!"
"Whatever Batfag!" Was the reply that Gordon both expected and got. Jim crouched low, twisted around the corner and fired off three rounds in the general direction of the thugs. "Jeez, he's using a gun." The startled voice yelped. A moment later the gangsters were firing back. Jim leaned back away from the corner, waiting for a chance to fire back around again. "Shit, watch ou…!"
Gordon heard a thud, the ceasing of gunfire, and then the sounds of scuffling. The Commissioner turned the corner, gun pointed straight ahead and finger ready to squeeze, but paused as all four men were virtually on top of one another. A moment later the boy's skill with hand-to-hand combat became apparent as one thug dropped to the ground clutching his throat and another had his right knee buckle from a thrust kick and the body it was supporting collapse to the ground. The third gangster turned and started back toward the device presumably designed to set off the sprinklers, but Robin grabbed his back collar and yanked him back hard enough to bring him to a horizontal position over the concrete floor. The man fell straight down, the back of his head slamming hard enough to concuss the man and nearly leave him unconscious. "Freeze!" Gordon yelled, covering the three downed criminals.
Robin jumped into the utility room and went straight for the one piece of equipment that didn't look like decades-old plumbing. The bright white device had a digital read-out that was counting down from seventeen. "Seventeen seconds and I don't see any red wire to cut so I'm yankin' the sucker!"
"Or you can simply close the main water valve…" Fox suggested.
"Oh…yeah, I guess I could do that too." Dick muttered as he stepped away from the device. "Of course, you know how bad the restrooms of a major league park smell when the water's running, imagine how funky it'll be without flushing."
"Large circular valve on the big pipe against the wall to your left." Fox instructed, ignoring the child's attempt to lighten the situation. "Counter-clockwise until you can't twist any further."
Dick quickly complied. "OK, sealed. But I still have time to yank the detonator or whatever you call it before the clock runs out. You see any problem with me indulging in a James Bond moment?"
"Knock yourself out kid." Lucius responded with a chuckle. "But make it quick. Police are already surrounding the stadium and Batman's a little too busy to recover his transport."
"Ahh, so you need me to get to the choppah?" Dick replied, the last four words done with an Austrian accent before grabbing the conduit pipes connecting the device to the electrical fire controls, planting a foot, and yanking the device out as the counter clicked to four. Dick dropped the device to the floor, turned to Gordon, who was punching in a speed dial code with one hand and keeping his gun leveled on the downed thugs with the other, and gave the man a mock salute. "Pleasure workin' with ya' Commish, but I've still got work to do."
"Wait." Gordon said as the masked young man trotted past him. "How old are you anyway?"
"Apparently old enough to fly a helicopter." Dick smiled before turning and sprinting away.
Gordon watched him leave, shaking his head, but snapping out of his thoughts as whomever he was calling answered. "Yeah, Bullock, I'm down by the water utility room. I've got three goons covered and the hallway leading here is littered with nine others who might be waking up soon."
Both men battered away at each other around the pitchers mound as police and government agents swarmed into the stands. "I hate to tell you this Anatoli, but we've rolled past minute ten and still not a cloud in the sky." Batman taunted the large man.
The Russian snarled as he charged the Batman, fully intent on impaling him on his blade. Batman evaded the strike, but was fully cognizant of the large number of law enforcement personnel approaching his position. His opponent was gassed, but the chances of his escape were dwindling.
The three police officers cautiously walked out onto the roof of the apartment building and trained their guns on the attack helicopter. "This is Chomicz, it looks like a black Comanche, an empty one. We're approa…" His statement was cut short as a gun-like object lowered from underneath the copter and positioned itself so that it was aiming toward the stadium, where Batman had originally shot his grappling hook. The three police officers immediately scurried back into the stairwell for cover. A moment later a hook was launched, leaving a line connecting the copter to the stadium.
Robin emerged from the stairwell he had originally gone through to get downstairs; his belt and jacket already back on him. He was pulling a device out of one of the rear compartments on the belt. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure this is it." Dick hoisted himself over the railing and landed on the ramp where he had originally landed in the park, running up to the cord embedded into the concrete wall that was across from the opening that led to the helicopter on the building across the street.
"Freeze!" Dozens of police in either direction yelled out at Robin as they stormed toward him.
Robin snapped the device over the cord. "OK, I just press the red button and hold tight, right?" The response came through, a clearly urgent one. "OK, OK, I'm going!" The teenager pressed the button and the device carried him quickly out of the stadium, over the bustling street, and toward the roof. Unfortunately the underside of the Comanche wasn't high enough for him to clear the roof, so he was forced to swing his body sideways and hoist himself over the edge, rolling across the gravel on the roof.
He finally came to a stop as the three police slowly emerged from the stairwell again. "Freeze!" But Robin was already up and running for the copter's cockpit, the line that had been shot cut from the grapple launcher and the launcher retracting back into the body of the copter.
The boy jumped inside and took the stick. "OK, in need of a flight lesson here!"
The blade whizzed right by the side of his head, and Batman immediately put his counter into effect by palming the flat side of the blade at its base with his left hand, raising his arm, forcing the Beast's arm up in doing so, and then driving his right palm into the larger and more fatigued man's straightened elbow, breaking the arm. Batman then swept the Russian's legs, and the moment the crime lord hit the ground the dark vigilante drove his heel into the man's nose, breaking that as well. The fight was all but won, but he looked around to see that the cost was his freedom. The dozens of cops surrounded him, all with weapons drawn.
Now that they saw the Batman devoting more attention to them, the police approached more cautiously. "Alright Batman, there's no escape. None of us want to harm you, but we are going to be taking you in."
The sounds of helicopters had been in the air for quite some time, with both news and police helicopters circling the stadium, but now the thumping blades were getting incredibly loud, and everyone on the field looked up and saw why. The black stealth helicopter lowered, and Batman immediately drew his grappling gun, lowered the compressed air level to minimal, and fired up into the underside of the vehicle. The retractor of the gun pulled him up and he braced himself against the landing pads, expecting the helicopter to speed away. But instead it flew backward and hovered.
Batman then heard whir of the chain gun positioning itself and targeting something. Batman immediately knew what it was being aimed at. "Patch me through to Robin, now!" Fox immediately complied, and Batman spoke into his communicator. "Look Robin, I know what you want to do, but you can't do this. You've evolved past this. You're not a killer."
"Don't worry Batman, I'll turn myself in, and I'll keep your secret." Robin replied. "This is just something I need to do."
"No, it's not!" Batman yelled over the sounds of the blades. "There are few things I'm more thankful for than the opportunity to kill my parents' murderer being taken away from me. I didn't know it at the time, as the gun slid into my waiting and trembling hand, but not being able to kill that monster kept me on the right path. It made me into a better person. It kept me from becoming someone my parents would be ashamed of."
Robin sat in the cockpit, his finger trembling over the trigger that would grind the KGBeast into chunks of bloody meat. "Is this what they would have wanted for you? Can you see them looking down on you now? You've just saved the lives of tens of thousands of people. Your father is bragging to God himself about what a great kid he has, your mother is shedding tears of pride. But if you do this…what do you think their reaction will be then?"
Tears rolled down the cheeks of the masked pilot as images of his parents looking down on him filled his head. "Robin…please, you can't do this!"
"Batman…" Robin's shaky voice came through Batman's earpiece as the helicopter rose to the sky and turned out over the city. "Shut up already."
Batman smiled as he hung on tight. "You got it pal." The vigilante then looked out over where they were. "Alright Reynard, instruct Robin to hover over the roof of Lantern Electronics on McCallen Road. Once I'm through the manhole there I can vanish into the sewers. Then have the kid run aerial route two, that should be adequate to shake any pursuit, especially in this thing."
"Aerial route four might be better for shaking the police and press copters." Fox suggested.
"Don't you think route four is a little aggressive for a first time flier?" Batman questioned.
"Naw, kid's proven to be a pretty fast learner." Fox replied.
"OK, clear these people out of here!" Jim Gordon and his officers pushed their way through the crowd of press and baseball fans toward the heavily secured ambulance. Behind them was the captured and unmasked Anatoli Knyazev, his broken arm braced, but still bound to his side. His other hand was strapped to a harness around his waist as well, and his shackled ankles were shuffling him behind the Commissioner and other police. "Move it!" Gordon called out as he was forced to push through a pair of network cameramen himself.
Gordon was relieved of the shoving as several officers formed a wedge in front of him and cleared the path entirely. The Commissioner turned and glared at the man would came so close to killing thousands of his charges just an hour before. The Beast returned his glare, even displaying a malevolent and dismissive grin just as an arrow cut through the air and drove into the Russian gangster's neck.
The thousands of people gathered in the streets outside Hill Field turned toward a rooftop across the street and gazed at a woman in a black cat outfit holding a long bow. Selina smiled down at the dying Beast, sure that her choice of outfit would let him know exactly who it was that had killed him. She saluted Knyazev as blood bubbled out of his mouth, dropped the bow, turned and ran across the rooftop, jumped to the next, then to another and with no one in a position to watch her, disappeared into the building.
Dick walked through the park, the sunlight warming his face as he looked at the pond. Kids and older couples all enjoyed feeding the ducks, geese and swans, while he would occasionally pass a happy couple walking hand in hand. Despite the beautiful day, he felt a little uncomfortable in his suit, even with the jacket off and resting over his arm. Then he saw her, sitting in the grass and tossing crumbs at the ducks. It had been nearly a week since he had last seen her in the penthouse, though shots of her in that ridiculous cat costume had been playing almost non-stop on the news. "Hello Catwoman." The boy smirked as he sat down next to his cousin.
"Hello Boy Wonder." Selina playfully snapped back. "Where did you learn to fly a helicopter?"
"Aw, it's not so hard." Dick nudged her with his shoulder. "Grab the stick, hit the gas, no big deal."
Selina wrapped her arm around his shoulders and pulled him tight, kissing him on the top of his head. "God I'm proud of you. What I heard you did, and I'm pretty sure the best parts were omitted. I…" She pulled away and he saw tears in her eyes. "I'm just so thankful you turned out to be the amazing man your parents were raising, despite my best efforts to screw it all up."
"Come on Sel…" Dick started to say.
"No, wait." Selina interrupted. "And I also need to tell you that you were right. Both times, you were right." She peered intently into his eyes. "We don't have the right to kill in cold blood. I killed Zucco and Knyazev, and have been haunted by both. I'm so proud of you that you didn't give in to your hatred."
"I came close this time." Dick whispered. "So close. If I didn't have Batman talking about how Mom and Dad would feel about it, well, you wouldn't be the most wanted woman in New Jersey right now."
"The most wanted woman in Jersey." Selina chuckled. "Having a lakeside discussion with Batman's new partner."
"You're safe from him. And we're not partners." Dick grumbled. "I think I can talk him into making me some sort of an apprentice who might get to see action in seven or eight years. A possible replacement when he decides to hang up his wings."
"Yeah, like you have the patience for that bullshit." Selina laughed. "Well if the Batman isn't hunting me, and the cops have no idea of who the Catwoman is, then I see no problem hanging here for a few weeks while you pick up a few new moves and a line on where to get some of Batman's gear. We'll take off when our welcome starts wearing out."
"Uh, Selina?" Dick's eyes were darting back and forth as he contemplated how to drop a bit of bad news. "I kind of have an opportunity that I'm thinking I want to take. Kind of a long-term thing, if things pan out I'll be sprouting roots in Gotham."
Selina gave her cousin a look of disbelief. "What?"
Dick exhaled heavily. "Look Sel, why don't we stay? I'm sure you can carve out a nice little slice of…whatever here in Gotham too."
Selina's stare and look of doubt remained fixed as her head started shaking. "No. What, take some office job? Be a secretary for some fat prick who'll expect me to perform some of his wife's duties in addition to dictation? No Dick, we can stick around for you to milk this Batman gig for a while, but we will be hitting the road at some point. Hell, this should be easier for you than me. You're a circus Gypsy for Christ sake, roots aren't in your vocabulary!"
Dick swallowed and looked down. He knew that the news would not be met with cheer, but he had hoped that Selina would be able to accept it. Unfortunately that was turning out not to be the case. "Look Selina, Batman's hooked me up with some corporate guardianship program being introduced by Wayne Enterprises. They're taking twelve orphans who have performed well academically. He doctored some transcripts for me and I blew the entrance exam away, so I'm in if I accept…and I've accepted."
Selina continued shaking her head. "No. No! Absolutely not!" She grabbed his shoulders and gave him a light shake. "Look, I understand. This is all new, and the Batman seems cool, and the first male authority figure you've had since your father died. And I'm sure he's told you about all sorts of great opportunities, but it'll lose its luster. None of that matters, the life we've carved out is what matters!"
Dick stood up and stepped back away from her. "What, stealing from scumbags? Talk you out of stealing from decent people?" He peered down at her, a bit of anger creeping into him. "You've done more for me than anyone else in the world Selina, and given up everything for me. I'll never forget that, and I'll always love you. But stealing isn't my calling. Helping people is, both as Robin and as Dick Grayson. And the way to do that his here." He winced at the hurt in her eyes. "I'm sorry if you can't accept that, but it's the way it needs to be."
"No…" Selina whispered.
Dick started baking away. "I'm keeping my cell number. Call me if you want to talk or meet." He then turned and headed back to his motorcycle in the parking lot.
The stunned Selina remained seated for a couple of minutes staring at the water before finally getting up and heading back to the parking lot as well. She had taken about fifteen steps in her trek when an old man who was sitting on a bench and feeding the ducks called out to her. "I imagine it's always tough when little robins grow up and leave the nest."
Selina turned and peered intently at the old man. "What?" A snarl came over her face as she walked over and sat on the bench next to him, glaring at the man. "I wonder what he'd think about you following him here."
"It wasn't him that led me here." The old man replied.
Selina pursed her lips. "How dare you steal him from me?"
The bearded and bespectacled old man turned his head slightly and glanced at the woman through one eye. "It is the best thing for him."
"Bullshit! I look at what that young man has become, and it'd be difficult to imagine him turning out any better. I'm far from perfect, but however I was doing it, I was doing a damn good job raising that boy. And you took him away."
"What do you think he is?" The disguised Batman snarled. "Some sort of puppy whose sole purpose is to accompany you on your adventures?"
"And what purpose do you have for him?" Selina snapped back heatedly. "To offer the gun-toting thugs you hunt a new target while you sneak up on them?"
"I have no intention of putting him in harms way until he's more than ready to deal with it. And I'd never endanger him for my sake!" Batman snarled. "And for someone who forced him to a life of running from organized criminals and made him an accomplice for her thievery has a lot of gall throwing stones!"
"All that's changed, we can do whatever we want now." The woman growled.
"Yes, the murder of Knyazev, it wasn't motivated by hatred or revenge, was it?" The Batman questioned.
"Oh, hatred and revenge were most definitely present, but yes, the main reason I had to kill him was so that he would never get a chance to kill Dick!" She glared at the old man. "Even if he never connected Robin to Dick, he still has a hit out on the circus boy son of John and Mary Grayson. With him dead, the hit is void."
"Yes, which is the only reason you're not in custody right now." Batman replied. "For the kid's sake I'm letting you start with a clean slate. By all means continuing being a part of his life, but you will honor his right and desire to live his own life and follow his own path."
The woman stood up, fuming. "You took what I valued most away from me. Trust me when I tell you that I will be getting even." The woman stormed off, leaving the old man alone with his ducks and an engagement he was at risk of being late for.
Lucius Fox peered over the crowd gathered in the Wayne Enterprises lobby, a crowd made up primarily of press, city and civic leaders and various WE employees. Behind Lucius were eleven teenagers that had been selected as the inaugural batch for the WE Corporate Guardianship Program, an idea that was more than two decades old but that had been shelved until a few days ago. Fox gave a scolding look and tapped his watch as the twelfth candidate, Dick Grayson, trotted into the lobby and took his place behind the CEO. Lucius smiled. At least Dick wasn't as tardy as their boss. Oh well, he'd have to start without Bruce. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to thank you for coming. I'm pleased to announce the creation of the Wayne Enterprises Corporate Guardianship Program, a program whose purpose it is to guide motivated teenage orphans and provide them with an environment and opportunities that they would not otherwise have access to."
Bruce walked into the lobby behind the throng of onlookers listening to Fox lay out the details of the program and introduce and describe each of the corporation's new wards. One of the reporters raised his hand. "Mr. Fox, with Wayne Enterprises basically…adopting these kids, where do you plan on housing them? And who will be their actual parental figure?"
"Mr. Wayne has graciously offered to dedicate the Gotham Century Towers apartment complex as the dorm of the Corporation's charges." Fox directed the onlookers to Bruce Wayne standing behind them, who all applauded his donation of the building he had been living in for over a year. They then turned back to allow Mr. Fox to answer the rest of the question. "Mr. Wayne still plans on retaining the penthouse for himself, but the remainder of the building will be for the children and their caretakers, foremost of which will be Harriet Cooper, formerly the head of our Corporate Daycare Program, now Director of this Guardianship Program." A woman in her fifties stepped forward and smiled at the gathering before stepping back to where she was. "Each of the young men and women will also be assigned rotating mentors made up of W.E.'s corporate officers to offer them further guidance. Now, are there any other questions?"
Lucius had handled the questions with practiced ease and the conference had seamlessly shifted into a pleasant banquet. Dick smiled at Alfred as the Englishman approached and handed him a list. "What's this?"
"A list of your meal preferences." Alfred smiled, the smile broadening as the young man read over the list with obvious disapproval.
"Cream of wheat…plain? Egg white omelet with spinach?" Dick looked through the pages made up by his healthy meal options before glancing up and shaking his head. "You've got to be kidding."
Alfred smirked. "Enjoy."
Bruce then approached the boy. "Alright, we'll start your training tomorrow. I'm going to let you know right now that it's going to be more intense than you can imagine. The silver lining is that you're free to be as rigorous as you want while helping me hone my acrobatics and gymnastics."
Dick smiled and nodded, but the smile faded as he looked past Bruce. Bruce noted the shift in attention and turned to see what Dick was looking at. Leslie Thompkins was there, sending them both a glare as she approached them. She finally reached them and immediately started into Bruce. "I can't believe what a fool I've been."
"Leslie, what are you…" Bruce tried to calm the woman down.
"Stop it Bruce." Leslie held up her hand. "I remember what an intense and focused child you were, both before and after your parents' death. Do you really think I can reconcile that with the carefree playboy you've supposedly become? Especially since seeing all the scarring on your body?" She then looked at the teenager. "Do you really want him to be as riddled with wounds as you've become?"
"Look, Leslie, you really have me at a loss." Bruce raised his hands defensively.
"Stop it!" Leslie growled. "I've half a mind to have you locked up right now!" She looked down and shook her head. "But damn it, I guess you can't argue with results." The older woman visibly relaxed and looked at the floor. "The day after the small pox scare I ran the numbers. Had the two of you not stopped those men…" Leslie looked up into Bruce's eyes. "Well, the body count would have been mind boggling."
Bruce knew better than to try to deny it further. "So where do we stand?"
Leslie looked at the two crime fighters. "I'll have to think about that. But whatever the case, if either of you sustains anything more than a sprained ankle, you're to give me a call. Got that?"
Bruce smiled. "Not a fan of my stitch work?" The question only got a grumble as the doctor turned and walked away. Bruce looked away to the window to see his red Roadster idling on the street with Catwoman sitting behind the wheel glaring at him. The two locked eyes for several moments before she sped off.
He turned to see that Dick had witnessed it as well. The kid shrugged. "I didn't tell her."