Flew the Coop
by Amy L. Hull
Notes: Written for anathomical in the Yuletide 2011 Challenge. Thanks to Merlin Missy for beta.
The dusty smell of damp asphalt and concrete took Barbara straight to the rooftops of Gotham. When the wind picked up, she turned her face into the exhaust fumes, closed her eyes, and imagined freefalling, jumpline in hand.
She opened her eyes. The stout man across the street looked carefully up and down the block, and she shifted several inches back into the entryway. Bits of gravel and grit popped from between her tires and the damp pavement. She cringed at the noise, but her subject only took a drag on his cigarette.
Chick was entirely lacking in subtlety like that. It was why Babs was going to catch him. Well, that and the fact that she was a genius a couple of times over and had been tracking and gathering evidence on him and his operations for nearly four months now.
Soon Chick's head was wreathed in a thick cloud that contrasted with the misty fog that hung low in the alleys of Blüdhaven. He gestured with his cigarette as he talked to the mountain of a man beside him. That would be Sonny.
Sonny was a stereotype on legs, wearing studded leather boots, tight jeans, a white t-shirt with a cigarette box rolled up in his sleeve like he was James Dean, and too dim to remember a code name.
Babs twisted the dial on her headset and the monocular distance lens focused in.
Bulge in the back under the t-shirt and at the right ankle in addition to the MAC-10 he cradled in front of him.
"Great," Barbara murmured to herself.
"Not now, Helena," Barbara hissed.
"This will only take a second."
"I'm on a stakeout since you are too busy to patrol."
"That's because I'm grading end-of-semester papers. Where's Dinah?"
"Offworld with the League dealing with Darkseid."
"She gets all the fun. Meanwhile, I'm stuck with these terrible papers. Babs, did you know that Shakespeare used 'a lot of imagery' and 'a lot of diction' and that his imagery is significant because 'it develops the plot of the whole play'?"
"That's nice, Helena. They're on the move. Gotta go."
She tucked the monocular under her stocking hat. The wheelchair meant there was no way to be inconspicuous, although cars looking three feet higher than her head nearly ran her over all too often. She hoped the anonymity of dingy clothes and lumpy hat was enough as she swung open the door of a coffee shop that had corner windows.
Chick was heading for the Zircon warehouse, she was sure of it. She ordered espresso and flipped open her miniaturized supercomputer, courtesy of the Wayne Industries. The surge in smartphone users had finally rendered hers functionally invisible to bystanders. The graph already loaded showed the path Chick took every ten days, always before a significant influx of Thrill in the Blüdhaven streets. She'd worked out the code, and they were on stop number three of five. She snapped photos and her app added the date and location to the graph.
The gangsters seemed to be ready to move on. Barbara tossed back her espresso. Setting the cup on the tray by the trash can, she waved to the barista.
"Here's another one."
"But did you know that after Macbeth murdered Duncan, Malcolm fled to New Zealand?"
Babs flipped the channel on her radio headset. Maybe the Blüdhaven police feed would be less distracting.
She wheeled toward the corner Chick and Sonny had just rounded. The skimming sound of water spraying from her tires reminded her of riding a bike after the rain. Her knuckles ached in the chilled, damp air.
She was getting old.
As she peered around the corner, a huge hand grabbed the back of her hoodie.
She was out of practice too. Before she even finished the thought, her escrima sticks were in her hands and Sonny was on the ground. He lay whimpering and tried to hold his neck and his knees simultaneously.
She looked up and found herself staring down the barrel of a revolver. Cold washed over her. Then her cheeks flushed hot.
This was why she didn't patrol.
"Drop those sticks, honey."
She gripped them more tightly, but they slipped. Her hands were sweating and numb simultaneously.
Chick pulled back the hammer.
She flinched. It sounded as loud as if he'd pulled the trigger.
"Drop them now."
Barbara took a deep breath. She forced herself to look up at Chick's face. His wrinkled brow was sweating. His hand was trembling.
Barbara lifted her chin. I was Batgirl. I'm Oracle.
She moved her arms to her sides, then lowered the sticks, dropping them the last foot to the sidewalk. They landed with a clatter. She didn't break eye contact with Chick.
"Now," he began, sounding like he'd stepped out of a 1940s gangster movie where all the crooks are from the Bronx, "there was no call for you to go and hurt Sonny like that." He uncocked his gun and slowly holstered it. "No one here's gonna hurt you, missy."
She watched him.
"We just have some...business to do, see? So you need to turn around and go about minding your business, capish?"
Chick reached to help Sonny up.
Barbara kept her hands outspread as she rubbed her chin on her shoulder. She nudged the dial on her headset at the same time.
"Miss Lady, I already toldja to scram," Chick said. "Hey, Sonny, you okay?"
Barbara wheeled cautiously around the corner.
"I so can't wait to tell everyone how a little crippled girl beat up my best bodyguard," Chick cackled behind her.
She headed back half a block and tucked herself into an entryway. Her heart was pounding and she could hear and feel it in her ears and throat.
She took deep yoga breaths, concentrating on the balance of the inhale and exhale. She never wanted a gun pointed at her again.
She had to get to her car so as not to lose these guys. It was a good thing she'd planted the tracker on Sonny as she'd taken him down.
It only took minutes to get to her car. As she tossed her solid-frame chair into the seat next to her, she thought again how glad she was she'd gotten rid of the Hummer. It took too long to get into and was too conspicuous. Good if you needed a tank, sure, but how often was it that she was out and about anyway?
Babs turned off the car's lights as she approached the Zircon warehouse. The tracker said Sonny was in that building, and since he wasn't at a hospital, it was almost certain he was with Chick. This warehouse was where their deals had been going down, she was sure of it. The key was to be patient long enough to get the suppliers, the mobsters, and the thugs all in the building at the same time and bring the law down on them.
"So, where's Shortpants The Boy Wonder tonight?" Babs jumped at Helena's voice crackling in her ear.
She sighed. "He's wearing the mantle this week."
"Too bad. I thought maybe you were down in Blüdhaven for a nice..." Helena cleared her throat. "Anyway. I hate grading. Entertain me. Who are you staking out?"
"A druglord and mobster who calls himself Chick Filet."
Helena dissolved into giggles. When she caught her breath she demanded, "Seriously?"
Babs peered through her monocular, clicked it over to infrared. Chick and Sonny weren't alone anymore. "Yeah. His lieutenants are Sanders and the Churches twins. He thinks he's clever."
"My students think they're clever, too. Apparently they don't think I mean it when I say 'Don't use Wikipedia as a source' and they don't think I can tell if they did. Did you know that if I vandalize the Wiki entry on Othello, I can tell who's cheating?"
Barbara couldn't suppress a snort. She grabbed her extra escrima sticks, transferred to her chair, and headed for the building. "Gotta go. Bye, Helena. Work hard!"
"You're evil," Helena managed before Babs switched channels again. She approached the lit portion of the warehouse, tapping her headset on her shoulder to check each frequency. There were two container trucks backed up to docking bays. The shipment was bigger than Barbara had imagined.
A foghorn sounded
"Of course," she said to herself. "They're shipping Thrill along the river to their distributors." This ring wasn't just affecting Blüdhaven. It was wellspring for the influx of the drug to Gotham and probably the next dozen cities. She hurried toward the trucks so she could get a sample.
She pulled herself up into the nearer container truck, removed a testing kit from her satchel, and stabbed one of the packages with a pen. Flashlight in her mouth, she mixed the crystals into the tester, shook, and watched it turn bright purple. Definitely Thrill.
Farther back in the truck, there were packages that were bundled differently. Babs climbed over the first set of drug packages, stabbed the next set, and tested the powder that spilled out. Pink. Not Thrill. So they were diversifying. A test kit on a different package showed the bright Windex-blue of positive for opioids. The other truck might have the same cargo, or it might have additional substances. Either way, this quantity could result in dozens if not hundreds of deaths.
Babs climbed back over the bundles, lowered herself as far as she could, and dropped onto the grass. The smell of crushed, damp grass stayed with her as she transferred to her chair and brushed gravel and dirt from her cargo pants.
The radio that had lain silent stuttered to life. Finally, the gangsters were talking.
"That looks like all of it."
"It's been a thrill to work with you."
"To a highly profitable enterprise."
Clinking of glass.
They were toasting? Still toasting. She counted at least a dozen clinks. There were more of them than she'd realized, and they were nearly done negotiating. It was the time to call in Dick's partner Amy as well as the DEA.
She moved across the uneven pavement toward the end of the warehouse. The warehouse blueprints made it highly likely that the drug dealers were meeting in the large office room on the south face of the building, and Barbara might be able to get pictures.
She pushed against her rims, glad she'd thought to bring her gloves. It felt as though the damp had seeped into every joint she could feel.
The window was, as she expected, too high, but she had an extendable reacher that allowed her to snap images with the remote control she'd also recommended to Wayne Industries. She'd have to send a thank you note to the optics developers; the photos were especially clear and detailed. And there were eleven men inside.
Suddenly there was a loud cry from the direction of her car, and footsteps slapping against he ground. There were three men calling to each other, sprinting toward the building.
"Fan out. Make a net!"
"We can't let this one get away!"
"I think I hear something over there."
Spotlights flicked on and the entire area was turned to near broad-daylight levels.
By the time she opened her eyes, her escrima sticks were in her hands.
And three guns were trained on her.
"I heard what she done to Sonny with those."
"I ain't going near her."
"Drop the sticks, little girl. We won't hurt you."
Damn, she thought. That's two pair in one night. I am rusty. She'd have to train more with Bruce. And with Dick. The latter would be quite enjoyable.
She set the sticks on the ground, and the smallest of the men approached her. Her punch landed and he groaned, toppling backward.
The next man tried to tackle her, but her chair rolled with his momentum and she spun the wheels so he was tossed sideways.
The next one tried to grab her arm and got an elbow punch to the ear.
Then Babs heard a rattle and felt a jerk.
From the pavement, she saw one of her sticks jammed between her spokes. She reached for the stick only to have stick and chair whipped out of her reach.
She sat and grabbed for the knees of one of the men and rolled with him as he went down. Then he put his weight into the roll and there was a knee in her back and a meaty hand on the side of her head.
"Get off of me!" she shouted.
The man pinning her laughed and jerked her hat off. "Well, look what we've got here," he said, yanking the monocular off her head.
The shortest man took it and examined it.
"She's fierce," another man said, rubbing his jaw. "No wonder Sonny looked so worked over. Chick made it sound like she was a little thing and still got the best of Sonny, but I'm surprised he's not in the hospital!"
Barbara twisted and grabbed at her captor, but the short man handed the monocular to the other man, put a foot on her forearm, and looped nylon cord around her wrist. He repeated the action with the other arm, binding them fast behind her back. Her captor then stood, flung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, and she was treated to a close-up view of his derriere as she bounced with his steps. She couldn't feel him holding her and it seemed every moment that she would fall headfirst to the concrete or that the breath would be entirely jolted from her by his shoulder.
She didn't think it would jolt away the shame she felt over her failure. She tried to use the rhythm to adjust the frequency on her headset.
"Why're you carrying her, Nugget?"
"Didn't you see that contraption she came here in? It's got no handles. She doesn't weigh hardly anything. This is just easier."
"This monocular is high-tech," the other man said. "It's got about ten million settings."
"Play with it later. Get the door for me now," Nugget ordered.
Inside the warehouse, the head criminals gathered round and Barbara was unceremoniously dumped into an office chair. Nugget wrapped nylon cord around her upper torso and thighs and the chair, knotting it tightly.
"So, it's the little crippled girl," Chick said. He took a drag on his latest cigarette. "I thought you being right there right then was too much of a coincidence, but, hey, I can be magnominous as the next guy, so I let you go. But what do you do? You follow us. That's not so much the actions of a person appreciating our generosity."
"Chick," Barbara started.
"Oh, she knows my name." Chick nodded, frowning. "I'm impressed, redheaded lady. There aren't many know my name and even less that it belongs to me."
Barbara scanned the room. "Those the Churches? And Sanders over there?"
Chick whistled clapped. "Lady has done her homework! Got it in one."
"Well you see, my associate Brown had an unfortunate accident and was killed a while back." Chick crossed himself. "Still, the rest of us soldier on in our great work."
Babs rolled her eyes. "That guy there." She gestured with her head. "That your supplier?"
"And the little lady nearly gets a home run!" This time it was Nugget applauding.
Babs smirked. "Is he named Popeye?"
Chick stopped cold and grimaced. "No. That would be stupid."
After a moment, Chick waved dismissively in her direction and returned to planning the distribution of the night's acquisition.
The headset crackled again. "Okay...the ones who did the Wiki-plagiarizing seem downright smart now. Listen to this: 'Drugs are bad. Drugs are always bad. There is nothing good about drugs except doctors sometimes prescribe them to relieve pain in a difficult but otherwise routine medical procedure such as decapitation.' Difficult but routine medical procedure, Barbara. Decapitation. De. Cap. It. Tation!. What do they do? Pick out the stupid ones and put them all in my class?"
"Helena, I'm kind of tied up at the moment," Babs said . No one in the room seemed to notice, and she whispered more details.
It was less than five minutes later when Babs heard sirens approaching from every direction.
Chick ordered her stashed in a broom closet, and, once out of sight, she shrugged her way out from under the top cord. She had the bindings on her wrists half-sawed through on a sharp edge of the chair when the door opened.
Barbara looked up, tensing to fight.
A crooked, bemused grin was fixed across the face of the woman in a police uniform.
"Do you always get in as much trouble as Grayson?" Amy demanded with a laugh, bending to cut the rest of Barbara's bonds.
"Officer Rohrbach, I've got to say, it's good to see you."
"Thank me for that," Helena chimed in. "I called and let them know what room those goons tossed you in."
"Thank you, Helena," Barbara said, enunciating carefully.
Amy laughed again. "We've rounded up about a dozen men, and we've set up a perimeter to try and catch any who slipped through our initial net. Oh, and I've got one of the other officers bringing the wheelchair we saw."
"Thank you," Babs said. "Huh. I think I've said that more tonight than I have in the past...year."
"It's good for the soul," Helena said.
Babs turned over copies of her photos after uploading them remotely to the Clocktower. She gave her statement, explaining that she had been doing an archiving task when she got photos of the men involved in what looked like shady activities.
Amy raised her eyebrows at that, but Babs only shrugged and grinned back.
By the time she headed back to her car, the rush of exhilaration had flooded through her and even the sound of the night insects from near the river made her want to spin with joy.
Good Lord, how she missed this sometimes. She still had it, too. She did spin around at that thought.
As she crossed the property, she scooped up her escrima sticks and tucked them next to her. Once at the car, she swung in and drove back the way she had come only to find her way blocked by the police perimeter. She sighed.
This was the kind of time a tank...or a Hummer...would have come in handy.
A grin spread across her face, and she floored it and crashed through one of the blue sawhorse police line barricades. She'd decide tomorrow whether to have it repaired or go car shopping. Maybe, when Dinah got back from kicking Darkseid to the far reaches of the galaxy, they could go car shopping together. Then she'd probably end up with-
"Babs? DID YOU KNOW that John F. Kennedy signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964? What was he? A zombie? Did he dip an ink pen through the gaping hole in his skull and use his own blood and brain matter as ink?"
Barbara almost choked.
Helena just kept talking. "Babs, have you been hearing this? They've learned absolutely nothing."
Babs pulled over and slammed the car into park as the laughter bubbled over and she leaned against the steering wheel, unable to stop once the giggles had seized her.
"I don't see what's so funny. I want to force all the morons to sit through a six-hour lecture on moon imagery in Midsummer's. If grades weren't due for the end of the semester, I'd drop everything and patrol. Out on patrol, everything is clear. See bad guy, take out bad guy. None of this nurturing-young-minds stuff, just the kick in the pants that's needed."
After a couple of minutes of Helena's despair, Babs caught her breath, wiped her eyes, and put her car back in gear. "You're almost done, right?"
"Not even close. I've got at least eighty more papers."
"Well, get at it so you can be back out here. You're on my roster for Thursday night. You've got two days, Helena. And in two days, the bad guys won't know what hit them."