The Bertinellis are one of the oldest families Gotham City, going back more than a century. Giuseppe Bertinelli at the age of 12 left his home town Cimina and like many others he went from Sicily to America in search of the promise of a better living. This better living eventually led to Giuseppe's initiation into the emerging mafia families, but it is his willingness to kill that earns him his place. It is not simply a matter of kill or be killed within mafia ranks as death is all too familiar to them.
Prohibition Era Gotham proved to be a gold mine for the Five Families, but Giuseppe was not content to be the first among equals. He made alliances with the Galantes and the Berettis. Shortly thereafter they were competing against the Cassamentos and the Inzerillos for control of alcohol smuggling. This rivalry sparked a war between the families. Giuseppe lost three sons in the fighting, but omerta as expected was exacted upon those responsible for the deaths of his sons.
The Inzerillos in fear of further retaliation turn against the Cassamentos and in effect end the war between the families for a time. Giuseppe turns into Don Bertinelli. Furthermore the Five Families bestow upon him the title Capo Di Tutti Capo or the Boss of Bosses.
The Cassamentos make it known there is no forgiveness for either the Inzerillos or the Bertinellis.
Giuseppe having become a self-made man knew well that he would not live forever and had already lost much to forge the foundations of his family's future. Old age soon claims the old man.
Alfredo, the only surviving son of Giuseppe Bertinelli, ascends from Under-boss to Boss and takes his father's place as Don Bertinelli. This bloodless transition marks the first time in nearly three decades that there is a relative peace for the Five Families. The peace held until the Panessas' arrival with Tomaso Panessa at the forefront demanding that the Panessas assume their place as the Sixth Family.
The feud between the Bertinellis and the Panessas continues for more than a decade. The tension simmers with the meeting of Franco Bertinelli and Maria Panessa. Tomaso presumptuously thought that his little sister marrying Franco would end the deadlock that kept the Panessas from becoming an equal among the Families. Like before nothing changes for the Panessas much to Tomaso's frustration undoubtedly.
Franco ascends to Boss of Bosses and Don with the passing of his father Alfredo.
Maria becomes pregnant and gives birth to a daughter.
A daughter who is baptized under the name Helena Rosa Bertinelli and she would come to grow up in what could be seen as a happy family life. Her parents seem very much in love and dote almost excessively on her. The only figures that loom large in her life besides Franco Bertinelli is Santo Cassamento who retains the Cassamento's grudge against the Bertinellis and the other is Franco's most trusted friend Steven Mandragora.
It would however be Mandragora who moves against her family as she remembers too well to ever forget in the years that follow the night her family died. As for whether the other Families had seen Mandragora's intentions that would remain speculation, but surely he had been acting on his own that night.
In the wake of the murders of Franco and Maria Bertinelli, the Galantes took over everything previously run by the Bertinellis while the Panessas assume the position previously held by the Galantes in their alliance with the Bertinellis. Tomaso Panessa finally had what he been trying to get out of her father since before she was born.
The Panessas took in Helena Rosa. As for why they would look after that is a question Helena thought she always known the answer for, but nobody in the Five Families made a move against Mandragora. Instead everything went on as usual, but nobody forgot what he had done, especially not her.
There were some things about that night and what led to that night that have never been spoken yet known to more than a few. Silence however is not without a price. The Panessas would always keep that in mind yet even silence cannot protect those who keep it from those who think by having the words, they hold the power to manipulate others.
It is this fear that hounds and shadows the Panessas more so than the other Families. Everyone has secrets and some are worth a lot more alive than dead.
Someone kicks the door inward. The man drops his cigar before he goes for his gun yet as he turns to aim it at the intruder something lodges itself in the gun barrel. The gun blows apart in his hand. He back pedals in pain while the intruder advances on him. He keeps swinging, never lands a blow, but absorbs more than his share as his blood splatters to the floorboards under his feet. In all the days, by all the ways, the man had been wondering whether his time would come or would he pass peacefully.
He whispers of God and salvation. The silence is its own answer. The answer is no.
He knows he is far from first and likewise far from last, but it appears his would be killer is not clocking him out immediately so it meant a shakedown. The method didn't fit anything he had ever seen before. It meant the intruder wants something from him before sending him to the death that's long hounded him throughout the years. The intruder however had little to say with words yet in return he said little as well. He bore the torture as if suspecting his suffering would not last indefinitely. For once in over forty years of life he found a glaring truism. Everyone has it coming, no matter what they call it.
He feels pain for the last time when another bolt plunges into his chest on its way to his heart. His breathing becomes erratic, his pulse weakens rapidly, and true to his prediction he is on death's door. The final sensation to hit him is the impact of being thrown into the water and the coldness in his limbs spreads just as his blood mixes with the river.
The difference between a corpse and a witness is the former can't lie while the latter can be made to lie unless something compels honesty over survival.
Somehow the floating dead man gets attention and the GCPD makes the scene yet the arrow bolt in his chest is a red herring to the officers at the scene. Renee Montoya had it up to here with being at the scene of high profile murders yet working in Gotham meant she'll meet for them for first time on their last day. Renee recognizes the DOA from the crime family photos, which means she'll have to drag the Commissioner into this one and likewise it means calling in Batman because of the arrow bolt. For Renee the bolt is too obvious a clue for a COD.
It just didn't fit with what she believes to be true about the individual she knows this bolt implicates as the murderer of a high ranking mafia personality.
"So who wants to tell me what we have got with this one?" asks Gordon grimly.
"This is Claudio Panessa. From the looks of it, he's only been dead a few hours," Allen flatly states.
It is difficult for Montoya to emotionally distance herself from her working relationships with various costumes so often she looks to Gordon for cues. At times she feels that maybe even Gordon feels as uncertain as she does when working with the costumes.
"Panessa is one of the Five Families, but this Panessa was a high echelon member of the Galante Family. To be exact he was a capo régime, a valued lieutenant to the family, but its still early days…"
Batman emerges from the shadows and kneels next to the deceased Claudio Panessa.
"So have you been shadowing us again or did you already know Batman?"
"This doesn't look like a family hit, but Panessa's death will start things moving."
All four glance at each knowingly as they regard the arrow bolt still in Panessa's chest.
The scent that precedes a rain storm gives way to raindrops. Gordon quickly motions for Panessa's body to be taken away. As for Batman, he had other places to go because the trail to the true face of this mystery starts with the individual that the arrow bolt implicates as Claudio Panessa's killer.
They believe they know me.
She stood almost motionless as the water cascades towards her face, dampening her hair, and streaming down her bare skin. It had been another long night, but those were increasingly frequent her daytime profession tunneling its way into her night life. It made for a share of hard decisions yet his support made it possible for her to believe she could give back despite everything that taken or nearly taken from her over the years.
They think they know my wants or needs.
She wishes he was in the stall with her. She misses him, but he had things to do tonight and it would have been all to distracting to get work done with him around. He has however always find his way in before and after she'd fallen asleep. He never saw her the way others did and that always made all the difference for her. She didn't know whether to think something akin to "reserving judgments as a matter of infinite hope" or "I have my faults, but changing my tune is not one of them."
Whatever ways he thinks of her and towards her matters more than her words could say to him. He from the look in his eyes understands this well. He found his way inside her mind that first night they were alone together in his old car. It took her by surprise, he kept surprising her, but each was different from the first. It would seem there is a truism to the first time for everything yet she fears a last of anything from him… with him… losing him is not something she could handle. She believes the same is true of him in regards to her given what happen last year when she was a test subject for Scarecrow's latest strain of fear gas.
The nightmare hadn't been a full revelation to her. It simply made her vividly familiar with how easily everything could fall apart when tragedy strikes fully.
Why I am what I am.
She steps out of the shower and quickly wraps a towel around her body before going to find her robe. Her out-of-costume wardrobe is paid for by her inheritance and her teaching salary. She pulls out undergarments from a dresser drawer. Next she sits down after letting the towel drop to the floor and then pulls up her dark purple underwear before sliding on her bra. It is a quick maneuver to fasten the bra hooks. The final piece is a plum sweater dress.
It had been a gift from him on her birthday no less. She didn't go into asking how he pays for things because her mother taught her when an inamorato gives you a gift you accept it. She also said you always wear when you think of him, wear it for special times, and so the wordless meaning is understood.
My past however never seems to leave me alone for long.
It had proven exceptionally difficult to overcome concerns and prejudices because of her family history. Being a Bertinelli is a matter of family for her yet because of how her family made their fortunes made many suspicious of her intentions. There is no hidden or ulterior purpose to her becoming a teacher yet in time she had proven herself to those who reluctantly let her teach at Gotham Heights High School.
Her male students were always so obedient yet her female students often felt some resentment for the boys paying more attention to her demands than theirs. They could settle their 'problems' with them in the after hours, but within certain walls she always held a captive audience. Her only release between teaching and Huntress is when she is with him yet she would have it no other way with him. Whenever she thought of him, it usually brings a smile to her face.
Occasionally something interrupts her reverie from things she does with him, but that usually comes from memories of her parents' murder or the time he took bullets for her. He still bore scars from those wounds yet the intensity between them is not something brought out by violence. She would never believe that, but their lives are often plagued by violence of one kind or another. Sometimes she wishes he would leave the Justice League instead of continuing to risk himself on an international scale, but she also knows, he would never do that, he considers all things on all levels to tie together in the conspiracy.
Costumes are his family, but she is his inamorata.
My father Franco Bertinelli taught me many things as a little girl, but most important to him was always family. Family made him hide me in the closet and left me alone to witness his death along side my mother so I saw my loving parents die violently.
Familiarity between me and Batman ends at dead parents.
Batman has had many costume partners, but each found a way to fit into his way, not all were consistently happy with his way or with him. Happiness doesn't always factor into looking after Gotham. As Batman would often say all that matters is the mission. Traits that made him well him are both inspiring and frustrating, but that's the shadow of the bat.
She always knew that she was someone that would rarely be welcome, let alone accepted into his circle, but oft times that never mattered to her. Her concerns with her place in that world do not extend much further than the faceless hero who kept her from being a murderer in the past.
As she is in the midst of drying her hair, an all too recognizable noise can be heard from the sitting room. It means Batman or one of the others is in her apartment. Unless it is someone else who manage to get all the way up here without coming through the door with its multiple locks and a rather sturdy deadbolt.
She knows how to get in and how to break out. It takes two elements to execute either action.
One is the know-how.
She focuses on noise alone. The sheer lavender curtains hanging on the far window are flapping. It is the intruder's point of entry.
Two is tools of the trade.
She taps a hidden button in the frame of the mirror hanging over her ornate dresser. She retrieves her crossbow. It would be necessary to threaten the intruder because she knows letting anyone tread through your home without an invitation is a dangerous thing, but there are many kinds of dangers in this life.
The intruder is Batman so even with him there she does not lower her crossbow because she notices him holding an arrow bolt similar to the ones she uses for her crossbow. Something is up and it did not take long for Batman to explain his reason for dropping in unannounced tonight.
"What have I done to earn your interest again?"
"I am the one asking the questions."
"Usually that would be his specialty."
"We all have questions."
"Few ever ask, especially not you."
"What does that mean?"
"Can we stick to your questions instead?"
He looks to prefer to stay on track and as for her, the sooner he learns what he seeks… the sooner he is out of her hair at least for tonight if nothing else.
"Your whereabouts this evening?" resumes Batman flatly.
"This has something to do with that?" counters Helena sharply.
She gestures to the arrow bolt in his gloved fist.
"Claudio Panessa's body was found floating in the river earlier tonight…"
Batman holds up the arrow bolt as if encouraging her to inspect it and its clear he doubts the possibility that she is innocent, but then she recalls her father's lesson about the pursuit of justice.
You want justice served? You want vengeance taken? You want honor restored? Then do it yourself.
Batman and his allies tend to work closely with police which is an outfit that maintains law and order. The GCPD is Gotham's response to the persistent criminality.
"… with this in his heart."
It is an inescapable reality that no matter what she does as Huntress, she will always have the history and the name tied to her for as long as she lives.
Batman looks at her expecting some kind of response, but to her it almost seems like he made up his mind before coming here to confront her with this.
She is tired out from her day work hours as an aspiring teacher and lately her nights have been more about paperwork than rooftop escapades.
"You see that stack of paperwork? That's been my whole night for awhile now."
"You look like you have been soaking."
"So I shower after a long night of papers."
She starts twisting her damp hair around her free hand while keeping the other firmly gripping the crossbow in an unwavering aim at Batman.
"You think I did… that's why you are here."
"Family is family especially among Sicilians."
Although he is right about the family part, she did not care much for her extended family because they did nothing when Mandragora went on his rampage eliminating almost the entire Bertinelli family. However she maintains a friendly demeanor when anyone from the Five approaches her.
"He was a capo for the Galantes."
This is not news to her as she kept her own knowledge of the Five Families even after doing her best to distance herself from them over the years.
"He was tortured before he died."
"I didn't do it."
It is likely to her that the more she refutes his unspoken assertion, the more he assumes she is guilty, but what she wonders does he think she gains from dishonesty when it involves the Five Families.
"You don't seem surprised."
"Well, I am. I'm surprised it took this long for Cousin Claudio to get his ticket punched."
She lets go of her damp hair and points her left index finger at him before continuing.
"The Panessas are the worst of the Five Families and you know it… my mother was the only good person to come out of that particular gene pool," Helena seethes visibly.
They stare at each other, but his glare does not bother her. He is still unconvinced of her innocence yet this is no surprise to her because when Batman makes his mind, only he can change it.
"Did you kill him?" repeats Batman.
"Go to hell," hisses Helena.
He turns to leave and with his back to her, he vows that if there is blood on her hands, he will take her down himself.
She felt singled out by all this because she is the only costume who operates with weapons in Gotham.
If a body bobbed to the surface with razor-sharp batarangs… he'd never doubt Nightwing's innocence. Never for an instant.
She slams the open window shut and checks the lock after locking it to ensure nobody else drops in on her from up here.
But a Mafioso gets whacked with a crossbow and I'm immediately the prime suspect. Because after all, the Huntress is crazy.
She plops her body down into her favorite armchair. On the end table next to it stands her favorite portrait of her and her mother. It was taken the same year her mother died. Memory and fact cancel each other out as her smile is neither a grin nor a frown.
I'm not crazy. This is about family.
Helena for a long time believed that the Panessas had protected her from those responsible for the deaths of her family yet now feels less certain of that now that somebody shot, tortured, and drowned Claudio Panessa.
Helena Rosa Bertinelli is due to pay her respects because she is still part Panessa.
She goes into her room sized closet to find something suitably black for what is sure to be a mourning gathering for Claudio. Her apartment is somewhat lavish for a teacher, but then its no manor house either.
After finishing with her black dress, she admires her figure for a moment in the full body mirror. She applies faint purple eyeliner to her eyelids and dark lipstick. She pulls up black sheer nylons and slides her nylon covered feet into black heels. Before heading out, she slides on the ring given to her by Vic after the Queens' wedding.
It is a rainy evening for a family mourning gathering. She recalls the rain from her parents' funeral. Then she remembers the first time she kissed Vic in the rain. They both paid no mind to being drenched to the bone. Helena uses a remote key-less remote to unlock her Lamborghini. Another not-teacher element in her life, but then she got it because of its Regalia paint job.
She would take the long way to the Panessa Estate over on Long Island. The route would pass her favored summer home when she was a little girl. Somewhere along the way she thought of Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in Sabrina. It was one of the films she watched with Vic during their first year together as a couple.
It would as usual be a patience trying experience to be with the Panessas since not many of them held much affection for her.
The feeling is mutual, but not exclusively. There were a few she would always be grateful to because of what they taught about herself.
The gated estate can finally be seen through the dashboard window. She rolls down the driver's side window as she nears the gate.
"No visitors tonight. Private family gathering."
"Tell Tomaso... his niece Helena Rosa is here."
The watchman is quick to dial the Don's private line. The gate unlocks before the receiver is even put back in the cradle.
"The Don's expecting you in the foyer."
She drives on through. It felt like an ominous homecoming because this is the estate where her mother lived after the Panessas made their fortune. It was the same estate where her mother married her father under the watchful eyes of her family.
Two more men meet her car near the steps to the mansion. It seems her uncle could still pick 'them' - meaning he had a unique talent for finding attractive yet loyal men to serve the family. One holds an umbrella by the driver's side after she parks her Lamborghini a few feet from the first step. The other opens the door and offers his hand to help her out.
"Such service. The Don's fortunate to have such men."
Both grin at her yet notice the ring on her left ring finger. Her promise ring from Vic - she knows they have seen it yet both maintain the custom smile.
The one that helped her from the car now drives it to the garage. The other leads her inside while keeping the umbrella over her.
As she nears her uncle, he nods to the man who helped her in and so he turns to leave as she embraces him. He kisses both her cheeks.
Helena looks over his shoulder to scan the parlor. It appears the gathering is not limited to the Panessas. She knows them all by reputation, but not as Helena. It is the Huntress that knows them.
The huntress and the hunted share at least one thing in common - family.
A/N 1: References are made to my story Tangents. There are also references to Huntress: Cry For Blood such as the encounter between Helena and Batman. The dialogue is a near lift from the actual collected paperback version of Cry For Blood. There is also the history given for the Five Families from the same paperback.
A/N 2: All the same, Question is still in the story - just not present in this chapter. There hasn't been a relationship between Huntress and Question in the comics yet they came extremely close to one in Cry For Blood. However in this story, its based on DCAU continuity & my story Tangents.