The Case of the Chemical Syndicate
May 3, 1940
The car pulling up the driveway had seen better days, as had its driver. Commissioner James Gordon parked and exited his vehicle. Ten years as commissioner and almost as long as police captain, and he had never gotten use to the sight before him. The house that he found himself in front of was old. The stately home of the Wayne family never failed to fill him with awe as he rang the doorbell.
The door opened seconds later as a tall, narrow-faced man in a black formal suit appeared in the doorway. "Good evening Commissioner. Mistress Elizabeth is waiting in the parlor. Shall I take your coat?"
"No thanks, just wanted to stop in. I won't be a minute." The butler nodded and carefully stepped aside as he entered. A brisk walk later found him inside a well furnished room. Sitting in an armchair, with a freshly lit cigarette sticking out of a holder at arm's length, was the reason for his visit.
In all the years Gordon knew Elizabeth Wayne, he was always amazed at how she rarely seemed to put any effort into anything. He had to admit they came from almost completely opposite ends of the class spectrum. He had been a native born son of what most Gotham City residents called 'The Narrows', a lower class area if there ever was one. Wayne, on the other hand, was the only child of the Wayne family, founders of the fair city and one of the wealthiest in the world.
Taking a seat opposite her and lighting up his pipe, Gordon found himself thinking back on the memories he had in that room. Elizabeth was so engrossed in a flimsy paperback she had barely looked in his direction. He wasn't surprised by this point. Their visits sometimes would go on like that for hours. Gordon kicked himself for his softness, but then he remembered how they first met.
It had been ten years ago. Elizabeth's parents had taken her to see a movie down near Park Row. Leaving the theater, her father had been stopped by a man. The man wanted his wife's necklace. Her father, Thomas, had been a proud man. Whereas most men would have simply handed the valuables over, Thomas chose to fight. It was the bravest thing he had ever done. It was also the last.
The robber fired blindly. Thomas had taken a slug to the chest, her mother, Martha, one to the abdomen. Elizabeth had been spared. Gordon never forgot the look on that girl's face…
"I said what do I owe the privilege?" Gordon blinked. He muttered an apology, but Elizabeth shushed him. "I was only kidding." Putting the book down, she picked up the holder and took a long drag. "Since you happen to be here, do you mind if I ask a question?"
Gordon smiled. "Feel free."
"What's this I hear about a masked madman? What are the papers calling it, a bat?"
Gordon's smile faded. "The Bat? Rubbish, absolute rubbish."
"But I hear more and more crooks are being fond tied up."
"Poppycock!" Gordon found himself getting angrier. True, criminals were speaking of a new mystery man about town, he the last thing he wanted to admit that a vigilante was active in his town. "That bum 'Slugsy' Kyle started all of this. He just fouled up a job and wanted to create something to take the heat off of him, I know it!"
"Oh, calm down Commissioner, I'm sorry I brought it up. I was only teasing you know." Gordon calmed down, but not by much.
"Sorry, but if there is one thing I can't stand it's someone taking the law into their hands." The door to the hall opened.
"Telephone for the commissioner. It sounds rather urgent."
Gordon jumped from his seat. Following the butler, he took the phone call in the study. "Gordon." The voice at the other end of the call spoke quickly. He noted the details and sighed before hanging up the phone.
"I'm sorry Elizabeth, but I'm afraid I'll have to cut my visit short."
"Oh dear." Elizabeth looked blasé about the interruption as she removed the cigarette and put it out. "Another case of cops and robbers?"
"No, murder." Seeing her flinch, Gordon mentally scolded himself. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound so blunt. Charles Lambert was found murdered in his home an hour ago."
"Lambert the Chemical King?" Elizabeth paled. "My uncle does business with his company. What happened?"
Gordon tried to calm her. "It looks pretty open and shut. The maid came in early and found Lambert's son holding a knife over him."
"Frederick? Impossible, I've known that man almost all my life. I have to see him!" Charging for the door, Gordon was not surprised to see the butler standing by the door with a coat and had at the ready.
"Elizabeth, this a crime scene, I can't bring you there!"
"Nonsense. I know Freddie Lambert, commissioner, and I know he's not the killer. I can prove it too."
Thus Gordon found himself driving to the crime scene with the society page's number one gal by his side. The drive was quick and a small group of black and whites were already parked in front of Lambert's house. "I'll let you see Lambert's son, but only after I've questioned him." Gordon was firm and he was glad Wayne didn't argue.
Inside the house Gordon pushed past officers and various hangers-on. Making his way to the scene of the crime, he cleaned his glasses before looking at the body. Charles Lambert had been an old man, old and rich. His family had helped to establish Gotham City along with the Waynes. He had been stabbed in the back with a letter opener several times, bleeding out on the formerly priceless rug under his feet. "What a waste."
Before the man was a small safe hidden in the wall near the floor. It was empty. "Any ideas on what was taken?" A younger patrolman shook his head.
"No idea sir. We got the kid in one of the gust rooms. Maid came in early and found the old man on the floor and sonny holding the pig-sticker over him."
"Let me see the kid." Gordon knew the reputation of the city's police was not exactly golden. He knew that the younger Lambert would be safe, as the department could not stand to be seen as thugs by the richer citizens. He grumbled as he moved to the back room.
Gordon found the younger Lambert slumped in a chair. His eyes were red and puffy. "Clear out." His voice was cool. The few detectives there silently left. One of the men passed and whispered.
"He's lawyered up chief."
Gordon nodded and turned his attention back to the young man. "You alright son?"
Lambert nodded. "I didn't kill my father. I came home and found him lying there. The window latch had been forced open from the outside." The young man looked like he was about to cry again. Gordon put a hand on his shoulder.
"Just tell me what happened."
"I tried to save him, but there was so much blood!" Lambert sniffled. "He kept saying 'contract' over and over."
"Contract? What kind of contract?"
"I don't know. Father never told me about the business, I swear."
Gordon paused. It could be possible that he was telling the truth. Of course, he could also be lying. "Mr. Lambert, I'm going to need you to stay in town." A commotion outside told him that the press had already gotten wind of the mess. He could have slapped the cuffs on the boy, but accusing a Lambert without a foolproof case would have him walking a beat again. Seeing himself out, he went out to greet the reporters. He noticed Wayne standing off to the side, well away from the flashbulbs of the cameras. "Good girl. Last thing her uncle would want is her getting involved in this mess."
Elizabeth Wayne studied the crime scene carefully. She wryly thought back on those years spent traveling, learning everything from everyone, from lock picking to martial arts under the best minds in their respective fields. It had taken years, but the true defining moment came, oddly enough, while she was sitting in her library. A bat of all things had flown in through an open window. It had taken her months of further training, but she was ready. Focusing on the room, she could tell the crime lab boys had done a thorough job. The killer had defiantly entered through the bay windows, but she couldn't think of a motive.
Entering the room while everyone was busy elsewhere, she carefully made her way to Lambert's desk. She knew the old man had kept everything tidy. Scribbled on yesterday's Gotham Gazette were three names. "Crane, Rogers, and Stryker?" She recalled that Lambert had started Apex Chemicals with three men with those names. "This might be a clue." Leaving the paper on the desk, she slipped through the crowd toward Commissioner Gordon.
"Is Freddie going to be alright?"
Gordon coughed into his fist. "Yes, I don't think he did it, but we'll have to do a complete investigation you understand."
"Of course. Do you mind if I take a taxi home? I fear all this excitement has made me quite fatigued." Putting her hand to her forehead for emphasis, she stole away from Gordon and made her way outside.
A red coupe was parked at the corner. Alfred opened the door for her before slipping behind the wheel. "Home, Mistress Elizabeth?"
"Not quite Alfred." As the car sped away, she reached under the backseat and pulled out a tightly wound bundle. "Make a stop at Steven Crane's house. I fear another man's life may be at stake."
Steven Crane was only five years Lambert's junior. You would never be able to tell from looking at him. A life of stress and excess had turned black hair white and taut muscles into jelly. None of these facts mattered at the moment, as Steven Crane was quite dead.
Crane was splayed out on the floor in his library, a smoking hole in the center of his forehead. The killer brazenly stood over the corpse as he knocked books away from the shelf. "Come on, where did the boss say it was hidden?"
Sending priceless first editions tumbling to the floor, the killer gave a low whistle when he found the safe. Effortlessly opening it, he withdrew a small folded piece of paper when a shadow passed by the window. Spinning around, he fired once, smashing a pane on the bay windows. "Must have been a bird."
"Not quite." A low voice whispered from the shadows. Before the killer could bring his gun around, he saw moonlight glint on something. The object whistled through the air and struck his wrist. His entire arm went numb. "Why did you kill Crane and Lambert?"
The killer paled. The shadows seemed to be moving, coming closer and closer. "Stay back!" He backed up against the bookcase. Throwing the paper at the shapeless horror, he dived headlong through the bay windows and staggered out onto the lawn.
Police sirens filled the air as the flashing lights briefly illuminated the room. Elizabeth Wayne had put her years of training to work. The bat had provided the final ingredient. Her costume was mostly gray and dark blue. Her face was covered in a heavy cowl that sported twin points over her forehead. A black bat etched on her chest would be the only clue that she would give her prey. Her study of the criminal mind showed that most people responded to fear.
Fear of the dark
Fear of the unknown
Garbing herself in those, she knew she could strike terror in the hearts of evil. Snatching the fallen paper, she slipped out the way she entered, totally unseen by the arriving police. Slipping back into the coupe, she silently read the contract as Commissioner Gordon arrived at the scene.
"What's he saying?"
"I'm not sure sir. He just keeps rambling about a giant bat." Gordon swore under his breath. What was going on in his city?
"What is going on?" William Rogers heard someone enter his bedroom. Quickly reaching for the lamp on the nightstand, he simultaneously removed a pistol from the drawer. A dark clad figure stood in the center of the room holding a piece of paper up. "Who are you?"
The Bat put the contract in his hand. "What does this mean?"
"This?" Rogers unfolded it with one hand. "Where did you get this?" The stranger's costume was odd, but Rogers grew more curious about the contract.
"From the dead body of Steven Crane. Lambert's copy has been stolen, and I think you're next on the list."
Rogers's jaw dropped. "What?"
The stranger moved closer. "Mr. Rogers, I need to know what this document means."
Rogers lowered the weapon. "You seem smart, so I'll skip to the basics. Lambert, Crane, Stryker, and I founded Apex. Lambert provided all the money, Crane and I handled the business, and Stryker made the chemicals."
Rogers got up from the bed and moved to the wardrobe in the corner. "If it wasn't for Stryker's discoveries we would have gone belly up ten years ago. When he tried to leave and start his own company, Lambert held him to his contract. He threatened to sue, but we compromised. If he could buy us out we would let him go."
"And this contract proves it." The stranger mused. The stranger's face was entirely covered, muffling the voice. "But if all three of you died, then he could rewrite it and take over the company."
Rogers paled. "I never thought of that. Good Heavens, Stryker murdered the other two?" The realization just hit him. He shakily sat back down on the bed.
"I need you to get up." The stranger stepped closer. Rogers had to focus not to stare at the twin peaks on the cowl that covered the stranger's head and face. He could see a strong jaw line, but all the other details were utterly obscured by the material. "Get dressed, you're going to Stryker's home tonight."
"Stryker doesn't know that I know. He'll be getting curious about his killer not arriving. Get there within thirty minutes and he won't suspect a thing."
Rogers reluctantly got up. "Wait, who are you?"
The stranger was already leaving via the window. Before disappearing into the night, Rogers heard a voice. "Call me…the Bat."
Later, after Rogers dressed and drove to Stryker's isolated home
Parking in front of the home, Rogers tried to rub his palms dry as he stepped out of the car. Seeing no lights and no trace of the mysterious stranger, Rogers checked his pockets. The contract was in one and his pistol in the other.
Walking around to the back door, Rogers rang the bell. A light appeared almost instantly. The heavy oak door slowly opened. "Yes?" The man was massive. His beady eyes peered at Rogers from under a sloped brow. His voice was slow and drawn out.
"Jennings, right? I need to speak with Mr. Stryker."
"Come this way sir." Jennings stood aside as Rogers entered the house. Rogers paused as he realized that he had never been inside Stryker's house before. The entire room was dark. The air was thick with a chemical smell. Off to the side by a railing was the unmistakable sound of something bubbling. No sooner had Jennings closed the door then Rogers felt the ham hock sized hands clamp down on his shoulder. "Mr. Stryker has instructed me to take care of you."
"I bet." Rogers muttered under his breath.
Jennings quickly shoved him to the floor. Rogers went for his gun, but Jennings drew a pistol from his waistcoat. "Just lay still sir."
Above their heads was a skylight. The moonlight reflected brightly off of Jennings' bald scalp. Rogers caught something moving. A shadow darted across the window before everything went mad.
A shape broke through the skylight. The Bat dropped through, spreading her cape open, as she seemed to glide onto the larger man's back. Rogers rolled out of the way to escape the glass. The Bat wrapped her arms around the servant's neck. Within seconds Jennings was unconscious. Rogers was amazed. "What did you do?"
"A modified wrestling hold."
"Quite ingenious my dear." Stryker himself appeared out of the shadows. He had a shotgun trained on both of them. The portly man gestured towards a circle on the floor. "Rogers old boy, I can't tell you how glad I am to see you. When my errand boy failed to return, I was most put out."
"Can it Stryker. The police are on their way." The Bat glowered. Stryker was taken aback but shrugged.
"I think you're bluffing. Not that that would matter as you'll both be dead within seconds." He stepped on an unseen button hidden in the floor. A large glass dome fell over the Bat and Rogers, trapping them both. Stryker lowered his weapon and made his way over to a control box. "I realize you can't hear me, but it so rare that I get to explain my plans to anyone." He pointed to the top of the dome. "What you can't smell is a potent nerve gas I've developing. It kills within seconds. Right now I'm filling the chamber with the first half of the compound. When I turn the second lever here, you will quite dead."
Seeing movement in the dome, Stryker's hand stopped. "Eh, what are you doing?" The strangely glad woman had reached down to her belt and removed what appeared to be a small handful of putty. She packed it tightly into a ball and pressed it against the wall. "What silliness is this?" Stryker moved closer, his scientific curiosity overriding his common sense. Seeing Roger take cover behind the woman as she kneeled, pulling her cape over her head, the realization of the mysterious material's purpose was revealed. "No!"
The world was suddenly condensed into two sensations: blinding light and searing pain. The putty was an explosive. The detonation shattered the side of the dome and sent thousands of glass shards into everything before it, including Stryker. "I can't see!" He stumbled, groping madly for his shotgun.
"Wait you fool!" Rogers shouted as he peered out from behind the Bat's cape. "You're too close to the edge!"
Stryker stumbled blindly against the railing, but his momentum and bulk overcame the simple metal bars. He lost his footing and tumbled over the side. A loud splash was head a second later, followed by Stryker's agonizing scream. The scream dragged out for what seemed ages before finally stopping all at once.
"The poor man." Rogers carefully approached the edge. "Acid. Gads, what a horrible way to go!"
The Bat was indifferent. "It was a fitting end to his kind. Don't forget, he did murder two other men tonight."
"That's a bit cold, don't you think?" Rogers turned around, but found himself alone save for the still slumbering Jennings. "How did she do that?"
The next day
Gordon saw himself to the back patio. Alfred was quietly on hand with a tray filled with bacon, eggs, and coffee. "Mistress Wayne shall be down shortly sir. Shall there be anything else?" He sat the tray down before him.
"No, thank you." Gordon picked at the breakfast. Alfred's cooking alone would justify the visit, but he felt almost embarrassed for his being there.
"Oh, there you are!" Elizabeth strolled into the daylight. "How is the breakfast?"
"Wonderful, as always, but did you really have to go to such lengths?"
"Well, I did want to apologize for my behavior last night. Besides, don't you deserve something for solving that case?"
Gordon almost gagged on the coffee. He maintained his composure, but only barely. "Well, it wasn't though I did the work myself." The rest of the conversation drifted into more general topics, but at length Gordon finished the meal and went back to his office.
"Elizabeth is a swell gal, but I've never seen someone have so much yet do so little with it." Driving into the city proper, he briefly thought back to the young Wayne's laughter when he told her she really needed a hobby. "What did she mean by that?" He filed that away for a latter date. "The Bat though, that lunatic has to be stopped, and by George, I intend to do just that!" He couldn't help but think of Wayne's odd smile as he left. The thought was pushed back as he went about his day and other matters. The image of what the criminals described refused to leave him. "The Bat's days are numbered in this town."
The following story was based on "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate", which was first published in Detective Comics#27 (May 1939). Credits to Bill Finger (script) and possibly Bob Kane (pencils and inks-maybe). All characters and copyrights are owned by DC and Time-Warner. All rights reserved.
A huge thanks to PFP and that cool comic cat that helped inspire this whole crazy mess.
Next time, be here as the Bat tangles with a cunning cat burglar!
And be sure to keep your peepers peeled for these and other titles, available at your nearest monitor-
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