Note: Okay, heads up here. This chapter contains a couple of deaths. No surprise, right? Deal with it or move along is all I'm sayin'.
The container was neater than the last one, the one in Bludhaven but, in it's own way, was worse.
Incongruously, the interior of the thing was decorated like a high end hotel suite, the kind that rent for a thousand dollars a night. The rug was silk, the drapes over the nonexistent windows were velvet, the walls paneled in what looked like mahogany and resembled nothing so much as a high end men's smoking club. The furniture was plush and comfortable, all of which made the pool of blood on the floor and smeared on the walls more obscene.
There was a note on the inlaid table, written on heavy stock, possibly hand made.
'I'm afraid that you've guessed wrong yet again and so have missed this particular boat which makes me two for two, if you catch my drift.
I'd enjoy extending the game but a promise is a promise and at least part of me is a man of his word; nine o'clock is nine o'clock.
Bruce went to the blood, blotted a small sample. "I think this is Dick's."
"Of course it's Dick's."
"I'm going to have it tested to make sure."
"I realize you're sleep walking here but it would be helpful if you gave yourself a kick in the ass and helped find your ward or son or whatever the fuck he is this week."
Bruce started, shook himself, "That's what I'm doing, If this isn't Dick's then I don't want to waste time..."
"Yuh, whatever; you keep in touch, okay?"
Under three hours to the deadline and all they knew was that it looked bad, they still didn't know where Dick was and wherever he was, he was probably in a bad way and Bruce chooses now to be a somnambulist.
Fine, so saving 'Wing would be done without the Bat.
"Screw this." Roy pulled out his communicator and punched in speed dial number three. "I need you, get your ass to this location yesterday."
Wally was there in less than a minute. "Wassup?" Roy filled him in with three well chosen sentences. "You're kidding; the Bat is nuts. Okay, let's get this done; I'll call Superman back in and we'll find Nightwing seriously fast."
Wally, being Wally, had Clark there inside of another minute.
"Why didn't you call me in yesterday? You know I'd have come—this is Dick, f'God'ssake and what's the problem with Bruce that he's not calling in everyone? 'Makes no sense."
"Bruce is Bruce, has to do everything himself and it's his way or the highway. Okay—we have less than two hours to find 'Wing. He's probably injured...:"
"He's fine. He's Dick. Clark; you check the containers here and in Gotham. Wally, you look anywhere else you can think of which might have a tie to Two-Face." Superman left too fast to be seen, the small sonic boom the last remnant of his appearance.
"Twin Cities, two-lane highways, double wide trailers, second floors..."
"I'm in New York, headed downtown, Bruce."
"Clark has checked every container on the East Coat, Dick's not in any of them and there's no indication he's been in any of them other than the ones we've already located. His super-vision somehow traced tire tracks to New York and I'm en route to the area now. Wally's also on it. Hone in on my GPS."
"I told you to meet me at the docks. That blood was Dick's, like we thought."
"Jesus, dude—focus, will you? Dick's not in a frigging container, he's hurt, maybe worse and we have two hours to find him so either help or fuck off."
Bruce cut the connection.
"Speedy, I'm in St Paul; no sign of Nightwing."
No shit, Sherlock. "I think he's on the East Coat, Wally."
"Me, too. I'll go back there." At least with Wally not much time was used on another wild goose chase.
"What about the rest of the JLA? We're running out of time here."
"Busy in the Pacific Rim with that Tsunami—turn on the news, CBS in New York. There's something just coming on."
Roy accessed channel 2, the New York affiliate, on his phone.
'Superman arrived here in New York about twenty minutes ago. Witnesses say that he seemed to be searching for something or someone, making a methodical sweep of Manhattan and the Boroughs seeming to be using his super-vision to scan each building in the area as well as each and every vehicle using the various roadways, bridges and tunnels.
It's unknown what or whom he's looking for and he's declined to answer questions at this time.
Commuters should expect rubber necking delays until further notice.
Please stay tuned to this channel for updates.'
"Has he reported in?"
"No, Roy—sorry, but he's zeroed in on New York so I'm heading there, too. Where's the Bat?"
"Don't even go there."
"But—what the hell's wrong with him? This is Batman and he's dicking around when Nightwing's life is on the line?"
"No time for this Wally, but there's a reason the JLA threw him out, okay?"
Superman and the rest rendezvoused at the Empire State Building at his request.
"You find him?" Roy was now in charge.
"Maybe. There's an area that's lead shielded which never was before. I tried to get through but it's rimmed with Krytonite dust so..."
"So it's in our lap. Where?"
"Ground Zero." A stunned silence followed.
"Twin Towers." Batman arrived late but he knew. Even with no sleep, he knew and was kicking himself that the obvious hadn't occurred to him—not that the others would know from his demeanor.
They were there in minutes.
It was a construction site, still largely a hole in the ground and still something of a tourist destination with flowers and offerings along the fencing. And in the excavation was a workman's trailer 'Double-tyme' Construction' painted on the side.
"Superman, we can handle it from here."
Roy and the others nodded. Of course he would stay to see how Dick was. Wally did a quick recon around the trailer, unable to see through the shaded windows and detecting no sounds from inside before returning to the others. "But I think he's in there, I have a gut feeling."
"If he still had his uniform he'd be GPS'd..." Roy shook his head in frustration.
"I can hear breathing inside and three hearts beating." Clark was still doing what he could.
"C'mon, let's get him out." Roy notched an arrow and let fly. The instant it landed a couple of inches from the trailer it exploded, releasing thick grayish white smoke—tear gas. A few seconds after that the door opened and Harvey Dent calmly walked out, closing the door behind him.
"Welcome, gentlemen. I was just having some breakfast, might I offer you a double shot of latte? Perhaps a two-egg omelet, double side of bacon?" Harvey glanced at the rim above them "Perhaps we should invite the gentlemen and women of the fourth estate?"
Their presence hadn't gone unnoticed, reporters, cameramen, news vans surrounded them on all sides including helicopters with various news agencies logo's painted on the sides. They were a distance away, maybe fifty to a hundred yards depending on which side of the excavation hole they were positioned but dozens of cameras and microphones were trained on what was happening. The noise from overhead made talking difficult.
"You know, that tear gas really isn't good for your friend at this point. I'm afraid that he's not feeling well and this simply isn't helping."
"Let's bring him out so he can get some fresh air, then." Flash was trying for calm and reasonable.
"Oh, I don't think so." He checked his watch. "Eight-thirty, we have time."
"If it's all right, we'd like to make sure that he's all right."
"Your companion? Oh he's right inside but I'm afraid that he can't come out right now and, I assure you, he's not all right." Harvey laughed and rolled over to Two-Face, the quiet human laugh becoming a deformed smirk. "In fact, he's very much not all right. He's so much not all right, well—whatever, you want him? What the hell." He called into the closed trailer, "Bring him out." Then, an instant later. "On second thought; you want to double check on the idiot? One of you may go in to see." He paused a moment. "Speedy, I hear from my sources that you two are friends, you may have the pleasure." He called into the trailer again, "Someone's coming to look in the door, keep a gun on him and shoot if he tries to step foot inside."
Two-Face spoke confidently to the four heroes, "It's a double barreled shotgun, twenty-two caliber so do be careful."
Roy walked forward as the door cracked open.
A few more steps and he was able to gently push the door opened enough to see inside, coughing a little from the lingering tear gas. It was dark compared with the bright morning and difficult to see the dim interior but he could make out the underling holding the gun and a form on the floor, prone, unmoving.
"Nightwing, can you hear me?"
"Oh, I shouldn't think that he can at the moment, no."
"Is he dead?"
Superman shook his head. "No his heart is still beating, though weakly, he needs help immediately."
"I'm afraid that the Man of Steel here is right but unfortunately it seems that there isn't much you or your friends can do at the moment; you see, being me I made double sure that this little piece of entertainment would end the way I want and we all know that what I want probably isn't what you'd be happy with—a dichotomy as it were."
Roy glanced at Wally, willing him to simply use his super-speed to go in, grad Dick and get him to safety before Two-Face could do anything. Flash gave an almost imperceptible nod but "I wouldn't. Bad idea. You see I assumed that Flash would try that and, if you'll notice, my man inside the trailer has some backup." He looked up around the rim at the people staring at the scene being enacted below. There were at least three dozen armed men with guns trained on both the heroes and at groups of passerby's being held hostage. "Come gentlemen, you know I'd have two aces in the hole, as it were."
Harvey held out his arm and looked at his watch. "Eight-fifty-nine. We wait one minute."
"Harvey?" Batman's voice was quiet, calm Harvey Dent responded, Harvey could—sometimes—be reasoned with. "You've won. You have us stopped, our hands are tied. I admit it, you've beaten us. Superman can't do anything because of the kryptonite, Speedy has a gun on him, Flash and I won't endanger the innocent people. You've won. You can afford to be generous, compassionate."
"Of course I could but the simple fact is that I don't want to."
"He can't do anything to you now."
"But he has done things to me and I have a double memory, you know." His personality flipped. "He's a bastard and I hate him—he screwed me over. Bastard. I want him dead."
Wally spoke softly. "Harvey, you know that you won't get away but if you give us Nightwing we'll ask the courts to show leniency. I promise that."
"Promise? No double-cross?"
"No double-cross. We'll all speak to the judge, testify at the trial. Right?" The others nodded.
"My employees go free?"
"Yes." God, the press was going to have a field day with this but it didn't matter. They could always catch Dent again, they couldn't let Dick die.
Harvey/Two-Face debated with himself and then, after more thought, nodded. "Oh it would too easy to take him out. Sure, we'll have twice as much fun next time, right?" He half turned to the trailer, the door still open, Roy still standing in the opening. "Let him go." Then he shouted to the men above them. "Stand down. Double-time away."
Wally moved before anyone had a chance to react, carrying Dick to Titan's Tower faster than human eyes could follow and far enough away from the kryptonite that Clark could get close, knowing that the others and the NYPD would round up the criminals and the hell with the promises.
Wrapped in a blanket, he gently lay an unresponsive Nightwing on a couch, feeling for a pulse, trying not to flinch when he moved the blanket aside .
Dick's right side seemed pretty much untouched; there were a few minor bruises but nothing Dick would even notice after one of his normal workouts. His left side looked like it had been flayed, burned, beaten, pulverized. Probing gently Flash could feel broken bones, saw that his friend's left eye was likely blind. He reached for the carotid artery, moving a fold of the blanket out of the way, hoping to find evidence that, horrible as the injuries were, Nightwing had beaten the odds again.
Distracted, upset by the condition of his friend, even he didn't have time to react to the explosion.
It was the blanket, wrapped around Nightwing and wired to plastic explosives hidden inside, set to go off instantaneously when the section covering part of his face was moved. Semtex, C-4, it didn't matter, not with the amount used combined with the fact that both men were within inches of the detonation.
Superman blamed himself for the loss of both Nightwing and Flash. He should have known, he should have checked, he should have taken a second and looked. He knew he should, he was simply so relieved that Dick was out of that trailer, that it looked like it was over and that, however badly he was hurt they'd bring in the best doctors and he'd be all right.
He was always all right.
It was just the way these things always ended when he was involved.
Roy blamed Batman.
Bruce was working exhausted and refused to acknowledge the fact, refused to accept that he was compromised. This was his fault, he was the one who delayed the offers, refused help.
Bruce might as well have taken a gun and shot Dick and Wally himself as far as Speedy was concerned.
The JLA refused Batman's readmission.
The press went wild. Between the arrest, or rather the rearrest of Harvey Dent, the public display by three members of the hero community and the story coming out of Nightwing's involvement (unwitting though it was)—all of it caught live from a hundred different angles; it was the story of the season.
The funerals were virtual State occasions, carried live and replayed endlessly on every channel. The expected ocean of flowers emptied florist shops up and down the entire East Coast The DVD sold in the millions as did the song specially written and performed by Springsteen with a ll profits going to charity.
Alfred, as always, did what he could to pick up the pieces.
"Master Bruce, I really must insist that you eat."
"No, thank you, Alfred. I have some work to finish and maybe when I'm done..."
"I must protest, sir. You did what you could. No one could have done more and you know as well as I that Master Dick (there was a glitch with saying the name, almost unnoticed) wouldn't place any blame on anyone, other perhaps than himself for being caught and, as out of place as that most certainly would be." He placed the loaded plate a fraction closer. "He, more than anyone, would insist that you carry on and leave self-incrimination with those who deserve it."
Bruce watched Alfred as he spoke, knowing intellectually that he was right. Resigned, he picked up his fork, registered Alfred's expression of satisfaction and slowly ate some of his meal.
Later, swerving from his planned patrol route he parked the Batmobile in a back alley and used jump-lines to his real destination.
The surprise wasn't that Batman was in Dent's cell, the surprise was that Two-Face was still alive afterward.
"Why didn't you kill him?" Commissioner Gordon didn't bother to turn around, sitting on his favorite chair in front of his fireplace, two inches of good scotch in hand.
"I will, but when the time's right."