Friday, November 14; 4:22 PM; Marketplace Drive

Marsha Kartakovsky adjusted her grip on her shopping bags where they were cutting into her hands. She was grateful that the weather had cooled off in the last few weeks. Summer had been unseasonably long this year, and it was only now, in mid-November, that the temperature was finally starting to drop. It wasn't as cold yet as it would be, but at least it was comfortable enough for her to do her shopping.

Marsha was an early shopper by nature. At sixty-seven years old, Marsha no longer had the stamina to challenge the Christmas crowds. She preferred to get her shopping done early, and she was always sure to be finished by early December. Her family was of a respectable size, so it was always a little bit of a challenge finding enough fashionable clothes for her nieces and popular video games or toys for her nephews. If she waited too long, she knew, everything would be picked over and she would never be happy with her purchases.

Still, the tradeoff was that she had to motivate herself to hit the stores early in the season. Some days that was harder than others, and today was one of those days. To be honest, she would rather be at home watching all the crazy people fight over each others' boyfriends on The Rachel Summers Show, but her sense of duty had prevailed. All the same, her patience was just about worn out for the day, and she had taken to wishing unfortunate mishaps on each of her relatives.

Why did I ever stay in contact with so many of them? Debbie never has to do all this shopping. She stopped talking to any of us years ago, so she can just stay home and watch TV during the holidays.

Absently, Marsha glanced at the group of children gathered across the street. School had been out for a few hours already, and she knew that all the shops on Marketplace attracted the kids with their flashy signs and fancy accessories. It looked like most of the kids across the street were girls, no doubt gathering around some store window to fawn over the latest Julio Ortega designer purses.

It's scandalous what these kids' parents buy them these days, she thought. Why, in my day, no parent would ever think to buy their daughters four-hundred dollar purses! And the way they dress! You'd think they'd be cold with so much skin exposed!

As she passed them, Marsha adjusted the jacket that covered her shoulders, thinking about how glad she was that she had had the foresight to bring it along. The weather had gotten a little crisp while she had been shopping.

Suddenly, from just behind her and across the street, she heard the squeal of tires and startled shouts. Turning, she saw that a red sports car had stopped in front of the group of girls she had noticed. A man had emerged from the passenger side onto the sidewalk, and she watched in stunned silence as he quickly wrestled one of the girls into the car. The girl struggled briefly, but he was so much bigger than she was that there seemed to be little that she could do.

Before Marsha had time to fully process what she was seeing, the man was back inside the car with the girl, slamming the door behind him. By now, the other girls on the sidewalk had scattered, and screams had begun to fill the air. As Marsha watched, a man who had been passing by the group of girls turned and tried to approach the car, but before his hand could reach the door handle the car's tires squealed again and it raced away.

In shock, Marsha dropped her shopping bags, and barely noticed as the assorted clothes and packages spilled onto the sidewalk at her feet. Struggling to find her voice, she began saying the only thing she could think of.

"Help," she mumbled, trying to push the word out. "Help!"

Across the street, more screaming had erupted. Young girls and various passersby looked around or called out, clearly feeling as much shock and panic as Marsha did. The man who had tried to reach the car stood poised as if to take action, but all he could do was stare helplessly down the road at the quickly receding sports car. The expression on his face bespoke frustration and impotence. Confusion reigned.

Marsha had no idea how long she stood there shouting for help before the police arrived.

GOTHAM KNIGHTS

"Nameless"

by

Thunderstrike78

Friday, November 14; 9:37 PM; 76th Street Police Precinct

The wind was cold and bracing on the roof of the station, and Police Captain Jim Gordon huddled further into his thick coat. Behind him, on the other side of the roof, the modified Klieg searchlight that was his own pet project hummed noisily in the night, projecting its blazing beam of light high into the sky.

Standing at the edge of the roof, Gordon cast his gaze skyward, reassuring himself that the stylized bat-emblem was still up there, created by the metal cowling that was mounted across the face of the light. It was fortunate that the night sky was overcast, as it made for better conditions for using the signal. On clear nights, it was necessary to cast the beam against one of numerous skyscrapers that jutted up from the city like gigantic fingers, but that always elicited complaints from the owners of the buildings about late-working tenants being blinded in the middle of the night by the intense light. It was much easier to cast the beam against the clouds in the sky, not only saving people's delicate corneas but also making the signal visible at a much higher altitude.

Still, it often frustrated Gordon that he had no way of knowing if the man he was trying to call had even seen the signal. His friend had a remarkably dependable track record when it came to responding to the signal, which was why Gordon continued to suffer the mockery of his peers every time he used it. There had been a few occasions, however, when Gordon had activated the signal but his friend had never shown up. On those nights, Gordon felt especially foolish standing on the roof for hours with no response. His friend had always shown up again within a day or two, whether the signal was still on or not, and always politely apologized for not responding, but had never offered any substantial explanation. For his part, Gordon had never actually asked for one. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what his friend did when he wasn't solving unsolvable cases or tracking untrackable criminals. Idly, he wondered if tonight would be one of those nights.

Gordon glanced at his watch again and tried not to pace. It hasn't been that long yet, he told himself. I usually don't call him this early. He might not even be looking for the signal yet. Tonight was different, though. A little girl's life hung in the balance, and he was stumped. It had only been a few hours since the kidnapping that had been reported on all the news stations, but he had enough experience on the police force to know when his detectives were coming up empty-handed. Damn it, don't you watch the news?

Suddenly, he heard the crunch of gravel behind him, and he spun to face the man he knew was there. Like a massive shadow against the darker night, his friend loomed up over him, at once frightening and comforting. Stop calling him that, he told himself, furiously. He's not your friend. You barely know him. You've never even seen his face. Call him by his name, like the thing that he really is!

"Hello, Batman," he managed after clearing his throat.

"Captain," the shadow answered with a voice like stone grating on stone.

"You know why I've called you?" Gordon asked, getting straight to the point.

"The kidnapping?"

"What else could it be? It's all over the news, and we've got no leads. None!"

Batman sounded puzzled. "No one saw anything?"

Gordon threw up his hands in frustration. "Oh, plenty of people saw what happened! I've got six detectives taking statements, and four sketch artists sitting with witnesses, but none of it is worth a damn! The license plate was taken off some poor slob's Chevy, and the descriptions could be anyone in a thirty-mile radius! We can't even ID the victim!"

Standing stock-still, betraying no emotion, Batman seemed to consider.

"None of her friends could give you a full name?"

Now Gordon did start to pace. "She wasn't even with the group standing on the sidewalk, as far as we can tell! We rounded up as many of them as we could, but they all scattered pretty quick, probably afraid that they'd be next. None of the girls we've questioned could tell us who the victim was. As far as we can tell, she must have just been passing by when she got snatched. All we have is a physical description."

"Has anyone reported a missing child?"

Gordon shook his head. "I've given orders to keep an eye out for any missing persons reports that might fit our victim, or either of our perps for that matter. So far, nothing."

"What do you have?"

Gordon sighed and stopped pacing, trying to calm himself. He jammed his hands in his pockets, as much for support as for protection against the cold.

"At about 4:30, a red sports car pulled up in front of The Diamond Suitcase on Marketplace. Between ten and twelve young girls, ranging between thirteen and fifteen years old, were standing in front of the shop, staring in at some damn thing or other than costs more than I make in a month. Before anyone realized what was happening, a young hispanic man jumped out of the car and grabbed one of the girls. We think he covered her mouth with one hand and wrapped his other arm around her waist. She struggled, but he got her back into the car and shut the door before anyone could do anything.

"One guy, a Thomas something-or-other, reacted faster than the others and managed to take a couple of steps toward the car, but it raced off before he could do anything. He got us a license plate number, but it was a dead end. When we ran the number, it turned out to belong to some schmuck's Chevy pickup down in Knowles. The truck is still parked in his driveway, and he says he didn't even realize the plate was missing. We're questioning him now, but we don't think he had anything to do with it, other than being another victim"

Gordon picked up a black folder from the top of the operating panel of the signal and handed it to the Batman, who accepted it without comment before opening it and scanning the contents.

"That's everything we have so far," Gordon said, indicating the folder. "Eyewitness accounts, physical descriptions of the victim and the perps, a description of the car, and contact information on the witnesses we've interviewed so far. The only thing that stands out is that the car was a red, convertible sports car with whitewall tires."

Batman grunted without looking up. "You don't see many of those."

"No, you don't," Gordon agreed. "I've got officers canvassing all the specialty automotive shops in the city, trying to run down a set of whitewall tires that were sold for a red convertible sports car, but so far we haven't found anything."

"Make and model of the car?"

"We think it was an old Ford Mustang, but none of the witnesses were car enthusiasts, so we can't be sure. That would jive with the whitewall tires, though."

"A muscle car enthusiast?"

"It looks that way. But why in the world would anyone drive such a noticeable car for a kidnapping job? Especially if it's something they put a lot of work into?"

Batman said nothing. He spent another moment scanning the documents in the folder, then closed it and tucked it away somewhere under the cloak that hung from his shoulders.

"Why call me?" he asked the captain, pointedly.

"We've got nothing, Batman. Right now, we're looking for a red, convertible Ford Mustang, probably from the sixties. It's not much to go on in the middle of the night, and I'm not optimistic that we'll get anything usable anytime soon."

"You're ready to give up already?" Batman asked, skeptically.

"No," Gordon said, turning away again. From the edge of the rooftop, he stared down at the passing traffic on the street below. "But the first twenty-four hours are the most important in a kidnapping. If you can find her before I can, then to Hell with my pride."

Batman was quiet for a moment, and Gordon thought he could sense him smiling.

"You did the right thing. I'll be in touch."

Gordon turned to answer, a scathing response on his lips, but found that the man in the bat suit (his friend?) was already gone. It annoyed him, but he wasn't really surprised.

"I hate it when he does that," he muttered, reaching to shut down the signal.

From the darkness, that stony voice spoke again. "Leave it. I want them to know I'm coming."

Gordon hesitated for a moment, then lowered his hand before heading inside to thaw out.

Like a great eye, the signal shone in the sky, watching.

Friday, November 14; 10:01 PM; Marketplace Drive

The journey from Gordon's precinct to the crime scene was a short one, especially by rooftop. Batman made excellent time, leaping from roof to roof, using swing- and zip-lines wherever necessary. As he traveled, Batman kept his senses attuned to the sights and sounds of the city at night, his city.

Batman had spent months familiarizing himself with the environment that he had chosen to work in. He liked to think of it as an urban wilderness, full of predators and prey, nightly noises, and life-or-death struggles. Like any large habitat, his wilderness was broken up into smaller areas, here a residential zone, there a shopping district, over there an industrial section, and each area was punctuated by its own sounds and smells, its own culture and customs. In some places, the night watchmen could be depended on to make their rounds at the same time each night, like clockwork. In other places, business owners were lucky if they had a night watchman that wasn't on the payroll of some gang or mob, nevermind whether they were vigilant about their duties.

On Marketplace, Batman knew, there were rarely night watchmen or security guards. It was too dangerous. By day, this district was home to the more upscale shopping centers and department stores in the city, with a wealthy clientele to match. After dark, though, this area became a hunting ground for muggers, thieves, and worse.

Across every window there were sets of elaborately woven metal bars and security screens, installed by wary proprietors who were afraid their establishments might be broken into during the night. Batman knew they had little to worry about. The gangs in this area were smarter than that. Several of the city's more notorious criminal organizations used this area as a shopping district of their own after dark. Everywhere on the streets drug dealers, pimps, and prostitutes of all kinds rubbed elbows, each of them marketing their wares. Police cruisers trolled up and down the streets, as the officers within silently watched the illegal transactions and counted their payoffs. Rather than stopping the illegal activity, they knew that their job was to ensure that everything went off without a hitch. Batman knew this area bothered Gordon, existing as it did right under his proverbial nose. He wanted to help his beleaguered friend, but for now he was glad that they hadn't gotten around to cleaning the place up yet. It gave him something to work with.

Batman knew that the various crime bosses made sure that nothing major happened in this district. Break-ins were strictly forbidden because shop-owners who had been robbed always demanded police protection. Generous bribes ensured that the officers who patrolled these streets turned a blind eye to the illegal business taking place on the sidewalks, but if shops were broken into it would undoubtedly attract unwanted attention. Likewise, while it was impossible to completely eliminate muggings and attacks on pedestrians, the crime bosses strongly discouraged such behavior for the same reason.

All of this made it even more curious that the day's abduction had taken place where it did. Not even a small-time criminal would have risked the wrath of the mob bosses if they could avoid it. Why here?

It took only a moment for the Batman to locate the patch of sidewalk where the kidnapping had taken place that day. Although there were some passersby obstructing his view, he could clearly see that there was nothing overtly unusual about it. He had no doubt that the Gotham City Police Department's day shift had gone over it already and found anything of interest. The folder tucked into a pocket on the inside of his cape probably contained several details that he would find useful, and he could see the torn strips of caution tape on the ground where the police had sealed off the crime scene earlier in the day. He wouldn't find any clues to the crime there, but perhaps he could learn something elsewhere.

Friday, November 14; 10:37 PM; The Domino Bar, 1576 O'Niell Boulevard

Lenny Domino wiped down the last freshly washed glass and put it neatly in its place on the shelf behind the bar.

"Hey, Lenny!" shouted a customer from down the bar. "How about another round?"

"Sure, Mitch," answered Lenny. "Just let me duck into the back to get another bottle."

Mitch Collins was one of Lenny's best, most regular customers. His drink of choice was the Jager-Bomb, which Lenny appreciated because he could charge for both the beer and the shot of Jagermeister. Mitch had just drank the last of the Jagermeister he kept up front, and Lenny needed to get a new one.

Signaling to his brother to take over the bar, Lenny ducked through the curtained doorframe that led into the storeroom and headed for the rear shelf where he kept the Jager. He liked to keep the storeroom dim—it lent more of a sense of privacy whenever he convinced a young waitress to spend some time with him back there—and he had long since gotten so used to it that the shadows didn't bother him anymore.

So it was with considerable shock that he noticed one of the shadows moving.

"Hello, Lenny," said a low, gravelly voice.

Lenny let out a yelp and nearly jumped out of his skin. Scrambling backward to get away from the massive shadow that seemed to detach itself from the wall, he stumbled over a half-empty box and landed painfully on his ass. Helpless, he watched as the shadow loomed over him, taking the form of a large, vaguely visible man with long, pointed ears on the top of his head and a long, flowing cloak.

The Bat!

"Careful, Lenny," Batman cautioned him. "You wouldn't want anyone to hear you and find us back here together. Some of your customers might not be very happy about that."

"W-what do you want?" Lenny stammered.

"Information," Batman said, simply. "I want to know who took that girl off Marketplace today."

"How the hell should I know?" Lenny demanded. "I've got better things to do than snatch whiney brats off the street!"

Batman stepped closer, ominously. "Don't lie to me, snitch. I know you keep up on everything that goes on in Gotham: every illicit deal, every protection racket, every hit. I know you even make deals to store merchandise to avoid having to pay for protection yourself."

Batman's arm seemed to twitch, and Lenny glimpsed a dark shape as it raced from Batman's hand into a dark corner of the storeroom. He heard a box crumple, and its contents spill onto the floor. He didn't have anything in the storeroom more incriminating than marijuana at the moment, but he had a lot of it, and he shuddered to think that Batman might know of some of the more . . . exotic products that he sometimes held for customers.

All of the crime bosses and big-time dealers already knew, of course. They all had an informal agreement to consider Domino's neutral territory: no hits, no fights, and certainly no raids. Everyone recognized the value of having a single spot in the city that was out-of-bounds for their usual activities, and that each of them could use as free storage. The cops stayed away, too, no doubt as a result of bribes and veiled threats. Batman didn't seem the type to care about any of that, though.

"I'm no snitch," Lenny insisted in a strangled-sounding voice.

"Yes you are," said Batman, quietly. "If you want to stay in business, you're my snitch."

Suddenly, Lenny felt himself being lifted off the ground, like a child in a parent's grip. He tried to struggle, but he found himself slammed mercilessly into the shelves behind him.

"You have no idea of the kind of damage I can do to you, snitch. I can bring heat from the police, the DA's office, the FBI, even the crime families. I can convince all your patrons to start frequenting some other bar. I can put an end to all the protection you enjoy. I can bring this entire building down around your ears. I can destroy you, all in a single night. You're nothing to me. You're barely worth my time. Your only value to me is that you might know things that could be useful to me. So you can either play ball and keep all this going, or I can shut you down right now. Tonight. Your choice."

Lenny could feel the blood pounding in his ears, the desperation mounting. Lenny knew he had taken advantage of his protected status, and used it to traffic in a few minor trades of his own. If any of the families ever found out, it could end very badly for him. He wasn't afraid of the police—the odds were pretty low that he would ever make it into police custody. The crime families tended to take care of their own problems.

Batman's hot breath was on his face, stinking of garlic and rancid meat and other smells too awful to consider. Lenny looked into his eyes, full of rage and intensity, and realized that even the crime families might be the least of his concerns. At that moment, all he wanted was to make it out of the room alive.

"All right!" he stammered. "All right! I heard a couple of guys what work for the Mancusos talking, all right? They said she had an unlucky family! That's all I know, okay? I don't ask questions!"

"Who were they?" demanded Batman, his eyes narrowing.

"One of 'em's Billy Kincaid, okay? He's muscle for the Mancusos! I think the other guy's named Caesar, but I never seen him before!"

Batman's grip on Lenny loosened, and he landed unceremoniously on his ass again.

"That's a good snitch. I'll pay Billy a visit." Batman turned and started walking toward the back of the room. "Oh, and Lenny?" he threw over his shoulder, "if you know what's good for you, you'll start asking questions. Lots of questions. You never know when you might see me again."

Lenny opened his mouth to respond, to beg Batman to leave him alone, but he was interrupted by a shout from the front room.

"Hey Lenny, you okay in there?" It was his idiot brother, never knowing when to mind his own damn business.

"I'm fine, Sean!" yelled Lenny, turning toward the door. "Just give me a minute!"

When Lenny turned back, Batman was gone. All that was left was a shiny black object in the shape of a bat, embedded in a box of weed that had spilled onto the floor.

It was a warning, Lenny knew. He belonged to the Bat.

Friday, November 14; 11:25 PM; Gotham Racing Car Dealership, 12454 Gotham Drive

Billy Kincaid was having a slow night. Then again, most of his nights were slow and uneventful. That was the way he liked them.

Billy's job was simple. He worked for the Mancuso family as muscle. In the plainest terms, his job was usually to stand around and look like he would kick someone's ass if they came too close. Occasionally, the family would request his presence for a special event—which usually meant that someone owed them money and needed a kneecap broken to remind them of that fact. Most nights, though, Billy's job was to stand watch outside the service shop at the Gotham Racing Car Dealership.

This was one of Joey Mancuso's special projects. The owner of the place was a heavy gambler, and Billy's understanding was that the guy owed Joey a lot of money—more money than he could actually pay. So instead, Joey commandeered the place at night to use as a chop-shop for special cars.

Joey had a weak spot for sports cars and muscle cars of all kinds. Every night, his boys would bring in a handful of cars to be stripped down, and Joey would arrange to have the parts sold to various mechanics and dealers for a nice profit.

At the moment, Billy was standing outside the main entrance smoking a cigarette. He could hear the guys at work inside, quickly disassembling some guy's dream corvette. In less than an hour, he knew, it would all be boxed up nice and neat, ready to be shipped out to parts unknown. He almost felt bad for the guy; almost. In Gotham, feeling bad for someone could get you killed.

Billy took a last drag off his ciggy before tossing it into the shadows. Looking up, he could see the weird bat-signal the cops had started shining against the cloud cover. Something about it unnerved him. Lately, all of the big police raids had taken place on nights when they had shined that signal into the sky. Whether it was drug labs, gambling dens, or skin-joints, they all seemed to get busted beneath that creepy signal. If Billy were superstitious, he might consider it a bad sign. Despite himself, he glanced nervously at the chop shop behind him, thinking about what might happen if the cops raided this place tonight.

Suddenly, from out of the shadows, Billy's ciggy came sailing back at him. It struck him in the chest, and although it didn't hurt, it startled him violently.

"What the hell?" he muttered, reaching for the handgun tucked into the back of his waistband. He was pretty sure cigarettes weren't supposed to do that.

"Uh-uh, Billy. I wouldn't do that," whispered a voice from the grave, just behind his right ear. Before Billy could get a hand on his gun, his arm was in an iron grip, twisted painfully behind his back. A strong arm snaked around his neck, pulling him backward, off balance, helpless.

"You could call for help, but it would just end badly for you, Billy," said the voice again. Billy made a strangled noise, but didn't cry out. He could tell that struggling would be useless. His arm felt like it was about to snap at the elbow. Billy was a strong guy, but this guy made him feel like a baby.

"What do you want?" he choked out.

"The girl that was kidnapped today on Marketplace. The one that's all over the news. I hear you know something. I want her, Billy."

Billy's arm was twisted back even further, and the pain intensified. He couldn't believe that it hadn't broken yet, and he dearly wanted the pain to stop.

"I heard it was Joey Mancuso!" Billy whimpered. "That red mustang looks like one of his! Tires and everything!"

"Why would Mancuso kidnap someone on Marketplace in broad daylight? The family wouldn't like that. If you're lying to me, Billy . . ."

Billy shook his head. "It's the truth! I swear! I don't know why he'd do it! I just heard the guys talking!"

The voice was silent for a moment, but the grip on Billy's arm and neck remained. He could almost sense the guy considering what he'd said. Finally, the voice spoke again.

"That's a nice chop-shop you've got there, Billy. I think I'll pay your buddies a visit. If I were you, I wouldn't be around when the cops show up."

Billy felt himself shoved violently forward as he was released. He stumbled and fell on his face, scraping it badly on the rough pavement. Painfully, he rolled onto his back and looked up in time to see a large, shadowy figure rising into the night, its wings spread to form a vague, frightening shape. The shape of a bat.

He watched in awe as the shape rose toward the top of the building that housed the chop-shop and alighted on the roof. Inside, he could hear the work continuing as the workers inside went about their business, unaware of the dark figure that would soon be in their midst.

For a moment, Billy considered warning them, but he had already experienced the pain the Bat could inflict, and his gut told him it was only the tip of the iceberg. The thought of the police didn't deter him, but he had no desire for another run-in with the Bat.

Without another thought, Billy scrambled to his feet and ran.

Saturday, November 15; 12:01 AM; Gotham Racing Car Dealership, 12454 Gotham Drive

This place is a zoo, thought Harvey Bullock as the unmarked police sedan pulled up to the dealership. Beside him, in the driver's seat, Detective Renee Montoya let out a sigh.

"Oh, look," she muttered. "It's mister wonderful."

Bullock saw him, too. Detective Arnold Flass, from the Organized Crime Unit. The man was built like Arnold Schwarzeneggar, and swaggered like him, too. Bullock had only met him a handful of times, but the man's arrogance had rubbed him the wrong way every time.

Bullock was a nineteen-year veteran of the police force, a sergeant, and was considered one of the most senior and experienced detectives in Gotham's Major Crimes Unit. At 42 years old, he liked the challenge of solving mysteries, and had the stomach to work the most grisly and difficult cases. He liked to think of himself as an old-school cop, more interested in solving the crimes than impressing the powers-that-be, and he styled himself a modern-day Columbo, generally tending toward trench coats and fedora hats.

Montoya, on the other hand, was a relative rookie. She had earned her stripes walking a beat in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Gotham, and had been promoted to detective in only 2 years. Rumor had it that she had been hand-picked by Captain Gordon for the Major Crimes Unit specifically because of her short career, on the assumption that she hadn't had enough time to be corrupted yet. Bullock liked her because she had spunk and street-smarts, and wasn't afraid to speak her mind. Under other circumstances, he might have resented having to nursemaid a rookie detective, but he had found Montoya to be a breath of fresh air.

Montoya brought the car to a stop amidst the squad cars with their flashing lights and the rush of uniformed officers. Flass moved to intercept them as they got out of the car, a smarmy smile plastered across his face.

"Hey, gorgeous!" he said to Montoya. The disgusted look on her face apparently didn't register. "Come to pay me a visit?"

"What have we got, Detective?" asked Bullock, loudly.

Flass put on his best no big deal face. "Just a gang raid from the looks of it. A chop-shop got raided by a rival gang. The workers all got the hell beaten out of them."

Montoya didn't try to hide her skepticism. "Uh huh," she said, walking right past Flass toward the crime scene. Bullock followed her as an annoyed-looking Flass trailed after them. "That's not what I heard. I heard we got a bat sighting."

Flass tried to look disbelieving, but failed. "A bat sighting? Your boss has been watching too many horror flicks, Montoya. That's the problem with you Major Crimes guys—you're always chasing ghosts."

"Yeah, well, think whatever you want, Flass," replied Bullock, who had had enough of this blowhard. "As of right now, Major Crimes is taking over."

Now Flass looked angry. "Hey! You can't just walk in here and take over! We've been watching this chop-shop for months! This is under Organized Crime's jurisdiction!"

Bullock stopped to face Flass, while Montoya continued on into the building. "Hey! You got a problem, Flass? You take it up with Captain Gordon! Until then, get outta my face!"

The heavily-built detective looked like he wanted to argue, but Bullock left him standing alone at the entrance to the building.

"Thanks, Harvey," said Montoya after he caught up with her. "I can't stand that asshole."

"Don't mention it."

All around them, they could see evidence of a battle. Broken glass was everywhere, along with overturned toolboxes, discarded power tools, and bullet-holes in the walls. Uniformed officers had taken most of the suspects they had found on the scene into custody, but a few scummy-looking grease monkeys were still being put into handcuffs and having their rights read to them. Montoya found the sergeant in charge, a nondescript-looking man in his thirties, and approached him.

"What have we got here, Sergeant?" she asked.

"Detectives!" he said, clearly recognizing them. Word got around in the department fast, especially when it came to Gordon's unit. Most of the specialized units were heavily corrupt, but the traffic and street cops were still relatively clean, except in areas like Marketplace. The mob didn't see much worth in paying off cops with typical street beats, and most of them had aspirations of joining Gordon's up-and-coming unit with the reputation for cleaning up the department. "Are you taking over this investigation?"

Bullock nodded. "We heard we got a bat sighting, so we told Detective Flass to take a hike."

The Sergeant smiled, clearly pleased with the news. Bullock glanced at his name-tag and noted that his name was O'Hara. "You got that right, Detective. Someone broke in here and beat the holy hell out of these guys. No one was killed, which is amazing enough in itself, but also looks like we got us a lead on that kidnapped girl."

Montoya's eyebrows approached her hairline as O'Hara handed her a note with a handwritten message scrawled across it.

Chop-shop run by Joey Mancuso.

Red Mustang came through here.

Check logs of stolen vehicles.

Mancuso likes to keep his favorites.

-A Friend

Bullock and Montoya traded a look.

"Do you want to call the captain, or should I?" asked Montoya.

Saturday, November 15; 12:49 AM; The Home of Joseph Mancuso, Gotham Heights

Joey Mancuso was a light sleeper. He had been in the business since he was sixteen years old, and he had seen how heavy sleepers had a tendency to wake up dead.

Tonight, in particular, he had reason to sleep lightly. He knew the police were looking for that little girl. His sources in the police department told him that they had no leads, and certainly nothing to link him to her disappearance, but he also knew the police had turned on the signal tonight. He had closed the drapes so he didn't have to look at it, but he knew it was up there.

He felt more than saw the presence that was in the room with him. He was not a skittish or nervous man by nature. He had fought his share of fights and killed his share of men. The dark held little fear for him. But tonight, the dark seemed to shelter more than shadows.

"Mancuso."

He jumped at his own name, coming from the darkness in his bedroom as it shouldn't. Instinctively, he reached under his pillow and produced the .357 Magnum that he slept with when he had reason to be cautious.

He pointed it in the direction he thought the voice had come from, but just as he did he heard a sound like metal on metal and felt the gun snatched from his hand. Now unarmed and feeling vulnerable in the dark, Mancuso looked around, frantically trying to locate the stranger in his room.

"Now, now, Mancuso. Is that any way to treat an old friend?"

Mancuso swallowed, knowing what waited in the dark. Some people regarded the Bat as an urban myth, but Mancuso knew differently. This wasn't the first time he'd received a late-night visit.

"What do you want?" he asked after swallowing hard.

"The girl, Mancuso. I want the girl."

"I don't have her," Mancuso replied more confidently. He had been afraid this would happen, but he had also anticipated it. He had already rehearsed what he would say. "I'm not going to stick my neck out for my idiot nephew. He did it!"

"Too easy, Mancuso. Why are you giving him up? You know I don't like being lied to."

"It's the truth!" Mancuso insisted. He could feel a pit beginning to form in his stomach. What if Batman didn't believe him? What if he insisted Mancuso himself was responsible? He had to make him believe. "I wouldn't be that stupid. Why would I want a kid off the street?"

"Word on the street is that your organization is dipping into child porn. If I find out that's true, Mancuso, I'll hold you personally responsible. I don't like it when kids get hurt."

Mancuso felt the blood drain from his face. "Oh, dear God, Batman. I swear I didn't know. I had no idea what that little shithead was up to!"

There was movement just in front of him, and Mancuso felt himself lifted out of bed by his pajama shirt. "You want me to believe you had nothing to do with it?" Batman demanded, loudly. "Tell me who did it. And tell me where I can find him. NOW!"

"Take it easy, Batman!" Mancuso cried. Although he'd been questioned by the Bat before, this was the first time he'd ever actually laid hands on him. "His name's Toni Angelini! He's my idiot sister's idiot son!"

"Where?"

"I don't know! I kicked him out earlier! Told him not to come back!"

Batman dropped Mancuso back onto the bed.

"You're not giving me much to work with, Mancuso."

Mancuso sat up and collected himself for a moment. "He likes to throw my name around, pretend like he's my son or something. His mother asked me to throw him a little action, so I let him work the chop-shop angle. I only have them around because I collect old cars, anyway. Then the moron uses one of my cars to kidnap some brat in broad daylight, and he wouldn't even tell me why." He looked up at Batman, feeling exasperated and defeated.

"Don't worry," Batman said, "I took care of the chop-shop for you. You should be hearing from the GCPD soon."

Mancuso looked up, sharply. "What? What happened?"

Batman ignored the question, and stepped back into the shadows of the bedroom. "I'll be on the lookout for your nephew."

Mancuso waited a moment, listening to the silence. Nothing moved. Finally, he scrambled out of bed and slapped at the light switch.

He was alone.

From downstairs, he heard banging on the front door. "Police! Open up!"

Mancuso sighed. It was going to be a long night.

Saturday, November 15; 1:02 AM; Wayne Manor

Alfred Pennyworth looked up from his dusting at the sound of the alert signal. The intercom system throughout the manor was programmed to issue a specific alert whenever the master called on their secure line, and to route the signal to whichever intercom terminal picked up. Alfred was in the trophy room, busily dusting the suits of armor, rifles, swords, and moose-heads that populated the walls and display cases. Dutifully, he stepped to the intercom and activated it.

"Yes, sir?" he asked.

"Alfred, I need you to run a search for me. All databases. I need everything you can find on a Toni Angelini, and I need it as fast as you can."

Alfred nodded, smartly, although he knew the master couldn't see him. "Is there anywhere in particular you would like me to start, Master Bruce?" he asked.

"He's Joey Mancuso's nephew, so he probably has organized crime ties. The main thing I need right now is his last known residence. I think he may have kidnapped that girl today."

Alfred's eyes widened slightly as he realized the urgency of his master's request. "I'll see to it immediately, sir, and I'll route all the results to your mobile computer."

"Thanks, Alfred."

Quickly disengaging the intercom, Alfred hurried downstairs to the library. Inside, set against the west wall between bookshelves, was a grandfather clock that dated back to the American Civil War. It was a little known fact that Wayne Manor had been a major stop on the Underground Railroad, serving as a staging area for the Gotham region before sending escaping slaves on to more distant locations.

The Manor had been perfect for that function because of the extensive series of caverns that lay beneath the mansion's foundation. Back then, Julius and Emma Wayne had needed a fast and convenient way to move back and forth between the mansion and the caverns, and constructed a stairwell just off the library for that purpose. The grandfather clock had been cleverly mounted on a swinging panel on the wall, effectively concealing the entrance to the stairwell from all but the most determined searches.

Now, as Alfred triggered the hidden latch and swung the clock away from the wall, he grimly reflected that Julius and Emma would probably be pleased at the new use that Master Bruce had found for those caves.

As he descended the newly reinforced staircase, Alfred experienced a chill. The cave, of course, was noticeably cooler than the mansion, but it wasn't the temperature that caused the chill. As always, he felt that he was descending into a place where men were not meant to dwell, where inhuman things made their home. During the first few months after Master Bruce had converted the cave for his purposes, the flocks of bats that lived there had tended to scatter anytime one of the humans entered. Master Bruce never seemed to mind, but the clouds of swarming rodents had unnerved Alfred considerably. He had sought to avoid entering the cave whenever possible, but Master Bruce had naturally insisted that Alfred familiarize himself with all the equipment in the cave.

This time, there were no swarms of bats in the air as he moved about, no unnerving screeches from panicked creatures who were, no doubt, more frightened of him than he was of them. Instead, the few bats that remained in the cave at this hour (the majority of them being out hunting) barely took notice of him. They had become accustomed to the presence of humans in their lair and rarely reacted to goings-on down below unless startled by some particularly loud noise. Master Bruce had even named a few of them, regarding them almost as pets. Alfred shuddered at the thought.

As he drew near, the massive banks of computers that dominated a section of the cave flickered to life, having been activated by motion-detectors that sensed his presence. While Alfred considered himself the consummate English butler, he had precious little experience with computers and even less inclination to gain more. Master Bruce had initially hoped to train Alfred in various and obscure computer skills so that he could assist from the cave while the master braved the criminal element each night. Eventually, after much frustration, the master had been forced to conclude that Alfred had no aptitude for computers and set up a simple voice interface for the butler to use in his absence. It was sufficient for Alfred to run simple searches in criminal databases and search engines, but little else. The master often joked that he would have to keep an eye out for a younger partner who had more computer smarts. Alfred usually frowned and brought his master's dinner cold that night.

"Ahem," Alfred announced, uncomfortably. "Computer, I would like to run a search."

"Please specify parameters," replied the computer in a pleasant, female voice.

"Toni Angelini. Search all possible spellings. Search all criminal databases. Priority search: last known residence. Execute." Alfred often felt foolish speaking aloud to the computer, but his duty to his master must always come first.

"Working," replied the computer. "Please stand by."

As he waited, Alfred realized that he still had the duster in his hand and quickly went to work dusting the computer terminal, thankful that dust was the worst thing he typically had to clean in the cave. Alfred had steadfastly refused to clean the guano that Master Bruce's "pets" so often left as gifts, and the master had finally agreed to install cowlings or coverings of one sort or another over all of the equipment to prevent any serious messes.

"Results on screen four," said the computer.

As Alfred watched, several files appeared in a list on one of the smaller screens. He allowed his eyes to glance down the list until he reached a file marked as being from the FBI database. Curious, he tapped his finger on the file to open it and began reading.

"Oh, dear," he muttered, his expression growing more grim as he read. Without looking away, he reached with his other hand to the intercom panel at the side of the computer terminal and opened a line to the master's vehicle.

"Master Bruce?" he said into the open line. "There's something you should be aware of."

Saturday, November 15; 2:34 AM; The Home of Norman Ellison, Midtown

"I'm coming! I'm coming!"

Knock knock knock.

Clumsily, FBI Special Agent Norman Ellison tied his robe around his waist and stumbled out of the bedroom in his small, two bedroom apartment. Running his hand along the wall as he went, he switched on several lights as he made his way to the living room.

Knock knock knock. "Police! Open up!"

What the hell? Still bleary-eyed, Ellison looked through the peep-hole to see who could be banging on his door at this ungodly hour. Sure enough, he saw two men standing in the hall, and behind them he saw another pair of uniformed officers keeping a careful watch on both ends of the hallway.

One of the men in the front was holding up a badge to the peep-hole, no doubt so that Ellison could see it. He had the look of a cop, too. There was a grim intensity in his eyes, apparent even through his thick glasses. He wore a slightly rumpled trenchcoat over an even more rumpled shirt-and-tie, slacks, and brown loafers. The slightly unkempt condition of his clothes, along with his tousled brown hair and bushy moustache bespoke a man who had more important things to do than spend a lot of time maintaining his appearance.

The other man was dressed more smartly in a dark blue double-breasted suit, polished black shoes, and a dark red tie over a white dress shirt. He seemed relaxed, even amused, and had both hands in his pants' pockets. He also seemed vaguely familiar, and it took a moment for Ellison to realize where he'd seen him before.

What the hell is the District Attorney doing at my front door? he wondered.

Grudgingly, he unlocked the door and opened it.

"Gotham City Police," said the cop, getting right to the point. "We need to speak with you."

"At two-thirty in the damn morning?" Ellison asked in disbelief. "I've got office hours, you know."

"We have a situation that can't wait 'til morning, Agent Ellison. I'm afraid I'll have to insist."

Ellison hesitated for a moment, then stood aside and grandiosely extended one hand to indicate they should enter. Both men entered, and the cop directed the two uniformed officers to wait outside. Once they were inside, Ellison shut the door and puttered into the small kitchenette. For himself, he poured a small glass of orange juice and took a sip.

"I'd offer you gentlemen coffee, but I trust you won't be staying long," he said.

The cop ignored the verbal jab and stepped forward. "I'm Jim Gordon, and this is Harvey Dent, our district attorney. We need to talk to you about Toni Angelini."

Ellison stiffened, and placed the glass of juice on the kitchen counter. What the hell is going on?

Adopting a more formal tone, he gave the two men his stock answer. "I don't know who that is."

Dent offered him an amused look, but Gordon just frowned and pressed on.

"Yes you do," insisted Gordon. "We know you're investigating him. We know you suspect him of trafficking in child pornography, and we know you've been looking at him for the better part of a year. We need information."

"I don't suspect him of anything, personally," he replied, stalling for time. He needed to figure out how these two knew about Angelini. "My boss, the United States government, does all my suspecting for me."

Gordon was clearly becoming frustrated. "Don't play games with me, dammit! A little girl's life is in danger! We have reason to believe that he's holding a young girl hostage, and every minute we delay is another minute he has to abuse her!"

Ellison hadn't suspected that. Regardless of what some of his coworkers suspected, he wasn't a heartless bastard. He didn't want anyone to suffer at the hands of that dirtbag, but the rules of his agency's investigations were very clear, and he had to think about all the future victims he could save by building a solid case against him now.

"I'm sorry guys," he said, moving back toward the door. "I really can't help you. Now, if that's all, I'd really like to get back to sleep."

Suddenly, as Ellison turned to the door and began to open it, a massive, black-gauntleted hand slammed into the door, jamming it shut again. Ellison jumped and spun around to find himself face to face with a massive man dressed like a giant bat.

Despite being a seasoned law-enforcement veteran, despite being involved in countless raids and arrests over the course of his career, and despite his belief that nothing could surprise him anymore, Ellison was suddenly at a loss for words. An old, familiar feeling crawled up his spine, the likes of which he hadn't felt in many, many years. It was fear, simple and primal.

Uncontrollably, he began blubbering. He could barely think, could barely keep from crying out. Seizing on his fear, the monster before him leaned closer, and Ellison could smell rancid meat on his (its?) breath.

"My friend asked you nicely once," hissed Batman. "Now I'm going to ask you again, but I'm not as nice as he is."

Farther into the room, Dent and Gordon glanced at each other. Dent shrugged.

"I told you we were going to need him."

Saturday, November 15; 3:15 AM; 7630 Kalmia Way

The sedan's tires screeched as Montoya brought the vehicle to a stop in front of the small house. The street was quiet and peaceful as she and Bullock jumped out and drew their service weapons. Behind them, three squad cars pulled to a stop on the street and several uniformed officers emerged. Each of them drew their weapons, and followed Bullock and Montoya up the driveway to the front door.

"How do you want to play this?" Montoya asked her partner as she double-checked her weapon.

"Loud," Bullock said, simply. Without another word, he walked up to the front door and, with one foot, gave it a powerful kick.

The door swung open in a shower of splinters and Montoya, accustomed to Bullock's behavior, followed it in, weapon held high.

"Police!" she shouted as Bullock and the uniformed officers poured into the house behind her. "We have a warrant!"

The uniforms moved into the side room and down the short hall that presumably led to the bedroom, while Bullock and Montoya moved toward the kitchen. What they saw there brought them up short.

Suspended from the ceiling by a rope tied around her neck hung a young woman. The rope seemed to be suspended from a sturdy-looking light fixture in the ceiling, and a chair lay on its side beneath her feet. Small pools of blood had formed on the floor, and as Montoya looked closely at the body, she saw that the woman had several open wounds running down the length of her forearms and over her wrists. She had seen enough suicides to know they were probably self-inflicted.

The detectives lowered their weapons, and Montoya cursed loudly and lewdly. Bullock reached into his coat and produced his cell phone.

"Yeah, Captain. It's Bullock," he said into the phone. "We're on location. It looks likes the girlfriend hung herself in the kitchen. We're still checking, but I don't think anyone else is here. We got bupkiss."

"Sergeant Bullock!" One of the uniforms was calling to them from down the hall. "Detective Montoya! I think you should come see this."

Bullock and Montoya shared a look. "Can I get back to you in a minute, Cap'n?" Bullock asked into the phone. "We're gonna look around."

He hung up the phone and put it back into his coat pocket. Then he and Montoya moved out of the kitchen and toward the bedroom hall, holstering their sidearms as they went.

At the end of the hall, as they had expected, stood the master bedroom. Through the door, they could see that it was tastefully, if sparsely decorated. On one wall, however, between the living room and the master bedroom, were two doors. Once led into a bathroom, and the other led into another bedroom.

The smaller bedroom was decorated in pinks and whites. A twin bed stood along one wall, while a dresser and a small desk stood along another. Posters of teen rock stars and cartoon bunnies covered the walls.

Montoya looked at Bullock.

"I think we just figured out who the victim is," she told him.

Saturday, November 15; 3:19 AM; 76th Street Police Precinct, Office of Captain James Gordon

Gordon slammed the phone down on his desk, frustration flowing through him like a living thing.

"The girlfriend is dead," he told his guest. "But it looks like the victim was probably her daughter. Bullock and Montoya are trying to find a name and a picture to go with it."

Half hidden in the shadows of the dimly-lit office, Batman watched wordlessly. There was nothing to be said, of course, and Gordon knew he wasn't one to make idle conversation.

Gordon didn't have Batman's patience, so he went ahead and said what they were both thinking.

"But that doesn't bring us any closer to finding Angelini."

"Maybe we're going about this the wrong way," said Batman. "We know Angelini has been distributing child porn. Maybe we need to trace the chain from the bottom up, from his customers to him."

Gordon nodded thoughtfully, intrigued by the notion. "Ellison said he sells it over the internet. He's got a secure website they haven't been able to crack yet." Suddenly excited, he turned back to his desk and reached for the phone. "I'll get Tech to work on tracing back the IP address. Maybe we'll have better luck than the Feds did."

With sudden intuition, Gordon glanced over his shoulder and realized he was alone. The window was open, and Batman was gone. He was talking to himself.

Gordon shook his head and finished dialing the number to the Tech Division. Maybe Batman had a better idea.

Saturday, November 15, 3:21 AM; 76th Street

The car was parked only a few blocks away, and Batman wasted no time getting there. He regretted his habit of ducking out on Gordon in mid-conversation, but he knew the mysterious act helped to keep the police captain off guard. Besides, time was short. The girl had already been missing for nearly twelve hours, and Batman was keenly aware of every second that passed.

They still didn't hadn't identified the victim, but that didn't matter to him. All life was precious to Batman, especially the lives of the young, the innocent, and the helpless. He believed that no greater scum existed in the world than those who preyed on helpless children.

Within moments, Batman arrived in the alley where he had parked the car. It wasn't actually a car, of course—it had actually been designed by Wayne Industries as a light tank for the Department of Defense, but for various reasons had never been put into production. Upon discovering its existence, Batman had customized it for his unique needs and removed all documentation of its existence from both the Wayne Industries computer system as well as the DoD's.

Quickly, Batman disengaged the car's lockdown mode, which employed a variety of anti-theft devices so that he didn't have to worry about it being stolen or towed away, and climbed in. Seconds later, he was roaring down Gotham's streets, headed for the outskirts of the city and, beyond, his mainframe computer system in the caves under the mansion. Onboard satellite tracking systems routed him away from police units patrolling the streets, and the computer's tie-in to the Gotham City Traffic Bureau ensured that he had a green light at every intersection.

He considered calling ahead to Alfred, but decided against it. The search he needed to run was, regretfully, beyond Alfred's meager computer skills.

Batman's own computer skills were considerable. He had made a point to include them in his decade-long education in every imaginable detective skill. He was certain he could locate Angelini through his IP address despite the FBI's inability to do so. In fact, he was fairly certain that some of the FBI's own computer analysts could do so as well, if only they were not bound by privacy and anti-hacking laws. He, of course, was bound by no such laws. Being a vigilante had its advantages.

Once again, he reflected on his need for a partner with computer skills similar to his own. It simply wasn't possible to install an interface in the car that would provide him with the same capabilities he had on the mainframe in the cave, and he couldn't be in two places at once. The value of having someone back in the cave who could do the computer work he sometimes needed while he was in the field would be incalculable, but he couldn't exactly hold interviews for the position.

Still, there was no point in frustrating himself with problems that had no solution. Alfred did the best he could, but the simple fact was that there were some tasks that required Batman's personal touch. He only hoped that he could get back to the cave and run the search in time to prevent the missing girl from enduring anything truly horrific.

The thought made Batman grimace. Pushing his foot harder on the accelerator, he drove faster.

Saturday, November 15; 3:41 AM; 7630 Kalmia Way

Montoya sat on the girl's bed, staring at the room around her. It was all she could do to fight off the waves of anger and frustration that threatened to overwhelm her.

The girl who lived in this room loved princesses and movie stars, ponies and unicorns. Montoya had found a report card in one of the desk drawers, attesting to the girl's respectable if unremarkable grades. She didn't deserve what Angelini would do to her.

The girl's name, it turned out, was Heather Jenkins. Her mother had been Janice. Bullock had run their names through the department's computer system and found that Janice had a history of getting involved with the wrong sort of men. She had been brought in for questioning a number of times, and had been charged with being an accessory to a number of minor crimes. She had never done any prison time, probably because the judges involved had been reluctant to disrupt Heather's life by incarcerating her mother.

Janice was on her way to the morgue now, and Montoya was sure it was because she hadn't been able to handle the depth of her failure to protect her daughter. Janice had rolled the dice one too many times, and it was Heather who now paid the price.

Although the house was full of cops, when a presence appeared in the doorway to the girls' bedroom, she knew exactly who it was.

"Montoya?"

"Go away, Harvey," she said to her partner.

"Renee," he tried again, softly. "Don't do this to yourself. You're not doing yourself or her any good."

Montoya glared at him. "Mind your own business, Harvey. All I want to hear from you is how you're working on finding this girl." Angrily, she jumped up and pushed past Bullock, headed for the door.

Bullock's cell phone rang. Montoya stopped and turned back to her partner, and the two of them shared a look before he answered it.

"Bullock here." He was silent for a moment as he listened, and then he began fumbling in his coat pockets. From experience, Montoya knew what he was looking for, and she quickly produced a pen and a notepad from her own jacket and handed them over to him. Bullock asked for a location and scribbled it down before he hung up.

"They ran a check of the cars in the Parking Authority right now and turned up a Geo Metro registered to the mother," he told her. "It was towed last week for expired registration. No one's picked it up yet. Dispatch sent a unit to the address where it was towed, and they found a red Ford Mustang with whitewall tires parked in an alley behind an abandoned warehouse. The officers think there's someone inside, but they're waiting for backup before they go in."

Montoya felt the adrenaline as it began flowing through her system. Finally, they had a lead.

She snatched the notepad from Bullock's hand and raced toward the door. Behind her, Bullock shouted to the uniformed officers to follow them and headed after her. He knew better than to ask if he could drive. Montoya had that look in her eye, and he pitied Angelini if she got her hands on him first.

Saturday, November 15; 4:12 AM; 7630 Kalmia Way

Toni Angelini leaned forward over the mirror and took another hit of cocaine, relishing the burn as he snorted it. That done, he sat back on the couch and pushed the mirror away, awaiting the flush of energy he knew was about to wash over him. It had been a long day, and he still had work to do. Nearby, Tommy Bates pulled the mirror toward himself and snorted the other line that remained.

Tommy was Angelini's director. He knew exactly how to film the scenes that Toni needed to sell subscriptions. He knew how to set it up, how to position the kids, and how to keep them calm. No one gave a shit how the kids actually felt, of course, but Tommy knew how to keep them calm enough to get the filming done. That's why Tommy filmed all of Angelini's movies. Tommy was worth his weight in gold.

Gradually, Toni started to feel energized. He always felt that way—that's why he loved cocaine. Good shit—it kept him going.

Toni jumped up and stalked toward the railing that looked over the main floor of the warehouse. The couch and table they were using, along with a refrigerator and a few shelves, were on the second floor of the abandoned warehouse they used as a studio. The main floor was set up with several small sets: a small area that looked like a kid's bedroom, a little area set up like a classroom, another that looked like a dressing room. He knew the subscribers ate that shit up.

"You got that stuff set up yet?" he shouted.

Below, several men set up the lighting, the cameras, and the microphones for the next scene. They were lighting the classroom set. One of the guys (Toni didn't know their names and didn't care) made a final adjustment to the lights before giving him the thumbs-up.

Toni turned back to Tommy, who was still sitting on the couch. "Let's go, Tommy," he said. "We gotta get this done tonight so I can get the brat outta here. The whole damn city's lookin' for her."

Tommy was obviously starting to feel the energy from the cocaine, too, because he jumped up and marched toward the stairs. "Just two more scenes to go," he assured Toni. "After that, I could give a shit less what you do with her."

Toni grinned, excitedly. This was his favorite part: watching Tommy in action. He felt like he was in Hollywood watching Spielberg set up a shot. It was pure magic. He turned to the back corner of the warehouse, where they kept the cages.

"All right, Bruno!" he shouted. "Bring her back out!"

Bruno was Italian, but more important, he was huge. Toni had never seen a man so big. Even his neck rippled with muscles and veins, and his arms were easily as big around as Toni's head. Bruno was Toni's bodyguard and right-hand man. When they were filming, it was his job to keep an eye on the "star".

All at once, Toni caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. It was up in the rafters, near the third-level windows where the lights didn't reach. There was no third level, of course, but the ceiling reached that high so that, back when the warehouse was used to store goods, the workers could stack crates that high to conserve space.

Toni spent a moment peering into the darkness of the rafters before he finally decided that it was his imagination. The movement must have been outside the window, a bird or a bat, maybe. Either way, who gave a shit?

Turning back to the warehouse floor, he saw that Bruno had removed the girl, Heather, from her cage. She was already dressed in her schoolgirl skirt, but she looked scared. Her makeup was smudged where she had been crying, and her eyes were sunken and bloodshot. Toni grinned at the sight, feeling considerably cheered up. His subscribers loved that look.

Suddenly, a loud crash sounded throughout the warehouse. All of the men on the warehouse floor turned toward the entrance. Toni couldn't see it from where he was because it was beneath the second-level floor on which he stood. An instant later, he heard all that he needed to hear.

"Police! Freeze!"

Already keyed up from the cocaine, Toni felt his body begin to tremble from adrenaline. Time seemed to slow down as he watched at least a half-dozen uniformed police officers swarm into the warehouse beneath his feet, weapons drawn and leveled at everyone around them. Toni didn't waste an instant. He hadn't stayed out of jail this long without being able to make snap decisions.

Without hesitation, Toni turned away from the railing and raced back toward the far wall. There was an emergency exit back there, he remembered, and a fire escape. If he could move fast enough, he could get away while the police arrested Tommy and the others.

It was too bad about Tommy, but Toni wasn't willing to go to jail for anyone.

* * *

Montoya and Bullock rushed into the warehouse behind eight uniformed officers. They had exchanged their coats for flak jackets with "GCPD" emblazoned on the back, and they both had their service weapons drawn.

Ahead of them, they saw a few of the men in the warehouse scatter into the far corners. A few of them immediately dropped to their knees with their hands up, but some of them seemed intent on escape. To their right, they saw a mountain of a man holding a little girl by the arm. She looked to be about twelve years old.

Heather.

Bullock took the lead and charged toward the huge man, weapon at the ready, Montoya and two other officers close behind.

"Freeze!" he shouted again, echoing the first officer that had charged into the building. "Put your hands on your head!"

Faster than she would have given him credit for, the monstrous man hauled Heather in front of him, clearly intending to use her as a human shield against the officers' weapons. Heather shrieked in terror before being cut off by the man's meaty hand on her throat. Horrified, Montoya watched as he pulled her close, his hand cutting off her windpipe. Heather's eyes widened as her terror intensified.

Behind her, Montoya heard the sound of a door slamming shut on the second level. One of the officers climbing the staircase shouted a warning.

"He's on the fire escape! Someone cut him off!"

Bullock and Montoya glanced at each other. Neither of them had seen Angelini among the men on the floor. Bullock clearly wasn't going to catch anyone in an extended chase, and Montoya was the more fit of the two, but she didn't want to leave Heather in this position.

Behind the huge man, a large, black shape dropped to the floor and landed silently. Montoya thought she caught a glimpse of wings. Bat wings.

Bullock saw it.

"Go!" he barked at her.

Montoya made a split-second decision. She lowered her weapon and sprinted back to the door. She would have to trust that Batman could handle the monster holding Heather.

* * *

Batman knew he had only once chance. If he got it wrong, Bruno could snap the girl's neck in an instant. He wasn't about to let that happen.

His primary advantages, as always, were stealth and speed. Bruno didn't yet know he was there.

Moving swiftly, Batman reached up to Bruno's shoulder and, with ruthless force, drove two fingers on his left hand into a pressure point on Bruno's right shoulder. The big man immediately sagged away from Batman's strike, instinctively trying to move away from the painful pressure. At the same time, however, Batman reached around with his right hand and grasped Bruno's right forearm, the same arm whose hand was currently crushing Heather's larynx. His fingers again found a critical pressure point and dug in mercilessly. Bruno was big and strong, but there wasn't enough strength in the world to resist Batman's cunning attack. Bruno's hand couldn't help but release Heather's throat, and she was suddenly able to breathe again.

That was all the opening Batman needed. With his left hand still on Bruno's shoulder, and his right hand still gripping Bruno's forearm, Batman savagely pulled back. He heard a loud crack as Bruno's right arm hyper-extended and popped out of its socket, shattering some of the bone as it went. Bruno screamed in pain, and his left hand released Heather's arm where he had been holding her steady.

Heather half-leaped and half-fell forward, desperately trying to get out of Bruno's grip. Bullock pointed his weapon at the ceiling and grabbed Heather by the arm, pulling her away from the fight. She didn't resist.

Bruno dropped to his knees, his face flushed bright read and his breathing ragged. Batman let him go. Strictly speaking, he probably should have stepped back, out of Bruno's reach, and let the police take him into custody, but he was hoping Bruno would take a swing at him. Anyone who tortured young children like that deserved a good beating.

Bruno didn't disappoint. His anger apparently overwhelming his pain, he reared back with his left arm and clumsily took at swing in Batman's direction. Batman stepped back, handily dodging it, and came back with a powerful roundhouse kick to the face. He could hear the crunch as Bruno's nose broke with the impact, and he was satisfied to see a gush of blood and several teeth spill onto the floor from Bruno's mouth.

That seemed to be all the fight the big man had in him. He collapsed to the floor and lay there, silently. The officers that had accompanied Bullock kept their weapons trained on him, but he didn't move.

On the other side of the warehouse, several other officers were taking the rest of the group into custody. No one else seemed to have put up much of a fight.

Bullock turned to Batman.

"I don't see Angelini in here anywhere. Montoya went after someone outside."

Batman nodded. "I'll take care of it," he replied, simply.

Within the folds of his cape, Batman removed the grapple-gun from his belt and pointed it at the ceiling. The night vision lenses in his cowl allowed him to see the rafters as if it were broad daylight, and he aimed the gun at the sturdiest-looking beam before activating it. The gun shot out a grapple attached to a long cable, which solidly embedded itself in the beam. Batman squeezed another trigger, and the gun began winding the cable back in, and quickly pulling him toward the ceiling in the process.

Below, he could see Bullock watching as he ascended. Next to him, Heather watched as well, her face a mixture of fear and relief.

* * *

Renee Montoya was grateful that she had kept in shape. She had been on the track team in high school, and she still ran five miles every morning.

Even so, it was all she could do to keep up with Angelini. Clearly high on something, he ran like a madman. Already, the uniformed officer who had pursued him down the fire escape had fallen far behind. He wasn't going to be much help to Montoya unless she could corner the bastard somewhere and wait for him to catch up.

Ahead, Angelini turned a corner and raced down a side alley. Montoya had no idea where they were. She rarely came into this part of town, and when she did it was with Harvey, who knew the lay of the land far better than she did.

She raced around the corner after him, only then realizing that she was entering a loading dock of some sort. Several men, workers from the look of it, looked around in confusion as Angelini pushed past them, knocking several of them over in the process. He spotted the open loading bay doors and leaped onto the loading platform before racing into the building that abutted the loading dock. He was clearly panicking, and hoped to get away any way he could.

Montoya slowed only briefly, her weapon held upward, and shouted to the workers to clear the area. She was glad that her flak jacket was emblazoned with "GCPD" on the back. She didn't have time to explain to them that she was a cop.

Barely missing a beat, Montoya leapt onto the loading dock in pursuit. As soon as she entered the building she realized where she was.

It was a warehouse, with a lot of wide, open space unobstructed by walls or barriers. Within that large, open area were rows and rows of towering machinery, all whirring and spinning busily. Near the door, stacked high and secured into bundles, were hundreds of newspapers, all ready to be shipped out to subscribers and retailers. With a start, she realized she was in the printing house of the Gotham Gazette. They were right in the middle of their production run.

Frantically, she used one hand to point at the nearest worker.

"You! Police!" she shouted, careful to keep her weapon pointed away from him. "Seal off this building!"

"What?" he asked in obvious confusion.

Montoya advanced on him, out of time and out of patience.

"Tell your boss to seal off the damn building!" she shouted again. "I have a suspect in here and if he gets away because of you I'm going to have your ass!"

The worker looked more convinced this time, and rushed off to comply. Montoya advanced further into the warehouse, looking around warily. All around her, workers rushed past, headed back toward the loading dock, trying to get out of the line of fire. A few of them even directed her further into the building, helpfully telling her that "he went that way." Montoya eyed them each in turn, making sure Angelini didn't double-back. She only hoped that there wasn't another exit on the other side of the building where he could escape without her knowing.

As the number of workers rushing past trickled to zero, Montoya heard the loading dock doors behind her activate, lowering to the floor and sealing her in with her suspect. Assuming he was still in there, the fun was about to begin.

Slowly, cautiously, she moved farther in and began a methodical sweep of the warehouse. She would have had more confidence in finding him if she had even one more cop with her, and she certainly would have preferred it if the exiting workers had bothered to shut off the noisy equipment all around her, but she didn't know what else to do. At the very least, she had to keep Angelini occupied until backup arrived.

The sound of the running printers and sorters filled the large room, completely eliminating her ability to hear. Every so often, she thought she saw a flicker of movement in one direction or another, but as soon as she turned to look she realized it was only the printing presses, busily moving papers down the production line.

Suddenly, an explosion of pain blossomed on the back of her right knee, and her leg collapsed beneath her. She crumpled to the floor and her service weapon flew from her hand, sliding several feet in front of her before it came to rest against one of the many rows of machines.

Somehow, Angelini had managed to get behind her. She glanced back and, sure enough, there he was with a large metal pipe in his hands. He must have struck her on the back of the leg with it. He had probably at least fractured her leg, but the pain had receded for the moment and all she could feel was the heightened awareness produced by her fight-or-flight reaction.

Angelini eyed her weapon where it had come to rest. His eyes were wild, and he was clearly in the throws of some drug-induced high. Without hesitation, he stepped over her and moved toward it. Montoya knew that if he got his hands on her gun, she was as good as dead.

Desperately, she grabbed his leg and jerked it out from under him. Angelini joined her in a heap on the warehouse floor, the pipe clattering onto the ground next to him. He looked back at her, reared back his other foot, and savagely brought it down against her face. She tried to block it with her arms and partially succeeded, but the force of his kick was still jarring.

She tried to stand, but her leg immediately collapsed beneath her weight and she had to stifle a scream. He had definitely broken her leg. She wasn't going anywhere under her own power.

Angelini took advantage of her momentary distraction and scrambled toward her weapon. In an instant, he was out of her reach and in another he had the gun in his hand. He turned back, pointing it at her.

Montoya stared down the muzzle of her own gun. She had been stupid, she realized. She should have waited for the other officer. She should have called for more backup before she entered the warehouse. She should have enlisted the aid of one or more of the workers. She shouldn't have tried to go it alone, and now she would pay the price.

She closed her eyes and waited for the shot.

A sound filled the air, but it wasn't what she was expecting. It wasn't the sound of a gunshot. It was the sound of something flying through the air, something small and fast, like a dart.

Something shattered, like glass. Angelini screamed, and she heard the gun clatter to the ground.

Montoya opened her eyes and looked up, trying to figure out what was going on. The overhead lights in her area had gone out, and while the rows of lights in other parts of the warehouse cast some illumination over her, everything was reduced to shadows and half-lights. She could make out Angelini, gripping his now-empty hand. She squinted, and she could see something protruding from the back of his gun hand.

Then something dropped from the ceiling in front of her, cutting off her view of Angelini. She saw black boots and swirling material, and she thought she heard the rustle of wings.

Batman.

As she watched, he delivered several blows to Angelini, who was no longer so determined to put up a fight. Coming face to face with the Bat had taken all the fight out of him. Within seconds, his hands and legs had been secured and he lay on the floor, although she couldn't tell what Batman had used to secure him.

Then Batman came to check on her. He knelt over her. Now that he was closer, she could tell that his wings were actually a cape scalloped to look like bat wings. It moved with an odd weight, as if it were made of heavy materials weighted down at the bottom.

"Are you all right?" he rasped.

Montoya nodded, numbly.

Batman moved his hands roughly over her body, inspecting her. When he got to her right leg, she had to bite down to keep from yelping.

"Your leg is broken. I can't tell how bad. I'll tell Bullock to get a bus over here."

She nodded again, unable to form words. A detached part of her mind told her that she was going into shock.

She glanced at Angelini, still secured on the ground a few feet away. Batman saw her look.

"He's not going anywhere," he told her. "The restraints will hold until they can get him into custody."

She didn't reply. There didn't seem to be anything else to say.

Wordlessly, Batman stood up and began to move away.

"Batman," she said through gritted teeth.

He hesitated and looked back at her. Their eyes met.

"Thank you," she said.

Batman nodded, then turned away again. In an instant, he was gone, as if he had never been there.

Montoya looked again at Angelini. No, she realized, he had definitely been there.

Saturday, November 15; 7:37 PM; 76th Street Police Precinct, Office of Captain James Gordon

"According to her friends, Janice and Toni had been dating for about a year. They had a big fight a couple of weeks ago, and she called a couple of friends, crying. Said she was afraid for Heather, but she wouldn't leave him. The friends all said they thought he probably threatened her, but no one dared report it. They all knew he ran with the Mancuso family. Apparently, Janice became depressed and withdrawn after that."

District Attorney Harvey Dent took notes as Gordon briefed him on the final status of the case. Now that they had a suspect in custody and had recovered the victim, it was time to formally bring in the district attorney's office.

Dent didn't normally do this part himself. In fact, neither did Gordon. But they had both agreed that, whenever a case involved their mutual friend, it would be best to handle it personally. Many of the lower ranking officers and assistant district attorneys simply wouldn't understand.

In the shadows, Batman stood and listened. He would have preferred to spend his time on the streets running a patrol or investigating a case, but he knew this process was necessary. Pursuing and capturing criminals was only the first step in the process. The next step was making sure the prosecutors had everything they needed to put those criminals away for a long, long time. If that didn't happen, the first part didn't do much good.

Gordon took his time and outlined the status of the case, detailing the investigation step by step. Dent already knew much of it. He had been there when Batman had "questioned" Special Agent Ellison, and he had personally handled the search warrant for Janice Jenkins' home. So far, they hadn't heard from Agent Ellison. He didn't think they would, at least not officially. Ellison certainly had grounds for filing a complaint over his treatment at the hands of the GCPD, but then again, he hadn't really received any treatment from the GCPD itself. Not many law enforcement officers would be willing to admit to being thrashed by a giant bat.

"The crime scene team went over Janice's house inch by inch," Gordon continued. "Most of their attention was focused on the kitchen, obviously. As far as they can tell, Janice's death was just what it looked like: suicide. But they did find something interesting in the back yard."

Dent looked up from his notes, his interest piqued. He had gone home and slept after Angelini had been caught, so he didn't know what the investigation had turned up during the day.

"There was a dead body buried in the back yard," said Gordon. "Poor slob took a bullet to the back of the head. The medical examiner places time of death at about two weeks ago, which tracks with Toni and Janice's big fight."

Batman spoke up for the first time. "He used her back yard to hide a body. Probably somebody Mancuso would be angry to find out he had killed. She took issue with that because of her daughter."

Dent had to suppress a chill. Although he and Gordon both worked with Batman, he didn't have as much direct contact with him as the police captain did. That rasping voice still gave him chills.

Gordon just nodded in agreement with Batman. "That's what Bullock and Montoya thought, too. He threatened her, she couldn't live with it—she either had some morals after all or she was afraid of getting caught with that evidence literally buried in her back yard. She threatened to go to the police, so he snatched Heather to use against her mother. Only he didn't count on Janice committing suicide, so suddenly he had a kidnapped girl that he had no use for."

Dent's face wrinkled in disgust. "So he decided to use her the way he normally used kids—he put her in a movie."

Gordon nodded again. "We've got all the video they shot before we got there. No one's been able to bring themselves to watch all of it. I'm told it's pretty bad."

Dent averted his gaze, unable to look Gordon in the eye. "I'll be glad for the evidence," he said, "but I wouldn't have minded if we had to do without it." There were days he hated being a lawyer.

Gordon grunted in agreement.

"You know," Dent continued, "he wants to turn state's evidence against Mancuso. Says he can give us the keys to the Mancuso crime network."

"I wouldn't believe him," said Batman from the back of the room. "As far as Mancuso is concerned, Angelini is just a two-bit hood that's unfortunately related to him. He's greedy, stupid, and mean. I doubt he knows anything that's worth your time."

"I tend to agree," said Gordon. "His name has never come up in any of our investigations of the Mancuso family."

Truthfully, Dent hadn't made a decision yet. He nodded, taking his associates' opinions into account, and then changed the subject.

"Have you ID'ed the body in the back yard?" he asked.

Gordon nodded, reaching for another file on his desk. "His name is Ray Merchell. We weren't sure what his connection to Angelini was until we pulled the paperwork on that warehouse they were using as a movie studio. Turns out the lease was in Merchell's name, starting about six months ago. He probably got nervous about what they were doing in there and either tried to pull out or threatened to tip us off. Either way, Angelini decided he needed to get rid of him, and then he tried to use his girlfriend's backyard as a cemetery."

Dent shut his notebook and stood up. "Sounds like an open and shut case, Captain. I'll need to talk to the individual detectives involved, but I don't think we'll have any problems."

On his way out of the room, Dent turned to Batman and gave a polite nod.

There was no one there.

"Does he do that to you, too?" he demanded of Gordon.

Gordon suppressed a chuckle as he lit his pipe. "All the time, counselor," he answered. "All the time."

End