"You know, Lucius, I really should get around to firing you one of these days."
"I'm not worried, Mr. Wayne. I'm too important for you to fire."
"Only until I find someone more qualified."
"But they'd probably demand you come to all of WayneTech's social functions."
"Ah, true. True."
Sultry, lazy lounge music bounced off the walls in downtown Gotham. The setting was the local convention center, rented out and dressed up to pass for a ballroom to suit the gods themselves. Socialites crowded into the halls, hoping to shimmy up to someone important and have enough time to drop their name before security pushed them back into the throng. A buffet table wrapped around the center of the room three times, and at its full length it could cover a football field from one endzone to the other. Tucked in a corner, as far away from all the hubbub as possible, was one Bruce Wayne, tugging at a gray tie just a touch too tight around his neck for comfort. To his left was a man just a bit taller, but more than a few decades his senior, his dark skin roughened by age and experience. Lucius Fox, acting-CEO of WayneTech, head of public relations, personal supervisor of the R&D Wing, and advisor and assistant to Bruce Wayne in all matters concerning his "extreme sports" hobbies. One of the few men that Bruce recalled from his childhood, and as good a sport as he remembered. It was good to be back in the swing of things.
If only it didn't mean talking to so many unsavory sorts.
Bruce had been there for nearly two hours, and from the moment he'd set foot in the room all eyes were on him. A sixteen year old boy stepping into the corporate spotlight wasn't exactly common, and questions were raised on whether he had the knowhow to stand up to the big moguls. And Bruce shut them all up; he'd done his homework, he knew how these men ticked. Psychology was vital to both of his jobs. There was to be a press conference in another half hour or so. An award was to be handed off to Commissioner Gordon for his efforts in bringing down crime rates throughout the city, but that was just flash and glitz. Jim wasn't a fan of either of those things. What really mattered was who he and Bruce could hop in bed with, figuratively speaking. A trade partnership with another powerhouse company meant, to Bruce, new technology to fund his mission. And to Jim, it meant a whole new smorgasbord of equipment being donated to his department, and the side project he'd been working on for the last few weeks. Only an idea now, still in its infancy, but if it worked, it might just change the whole political landscape in Gotham.
And that was why Bruce had to suck it up and make nice with the kind of folk that made his stomach turn. He was looking at the worst of them all right now.
"You see that guy, Lucius? Chrome-dome at two o'clock."
"Yeah, I see him. What about him?"
"Tell me it's not who I think it is."
"It's not who you think it is."
"Don't lie to me either," Bruce retorted.
"Well, then I'm in a bind. Yeah, that'd be Mr. Luthor all right."
By the buffet table, Lex Luthor himself was chatting with a few members of the paparazzi, cameras flashing in his face and microphones intruding into his space (and quite obviously annoying him.)
CEO of LexCorp, and the subject of quite a bit of scrutiny lately. Bruce would've been a fool not to keep tabs on him. Suspected, but unapproachable, as the mastermind in the death of fellow corporate bigshot Robert Queen and his family. On top of that, allegations of providing weapons and technology to multiple paramilitary groups worldwide, including multiple terrorist organizations with anti-American agendas. It was not a good day to be Luthor, on paper.
Yet his stocks were up, and he seemed remarkably nonplussed about it all. Bruce wasn't overly-obsessed with tracking the man, but even he had heard the phrase "paragon of businessmen" thrown around a few times, and he could see why. Keeping a company afloat with all that weighing it down must take monumental force of personality. He sighed, and wished that the carbonated punch in his wine glass was actually alcoholic. He turned to Lucius and said, "I have to talk to him, don't I?"
"Think of it like a hostage negotiation, but instead of hostages we get trade deals," suggested Mr. Fox.
"Usually I just punch them and take the hostages."
"Punching probably won't work here. Put on your game face, here he comes."
He was right; Luthor had made eye contact with Bruce and broken away from the crowd, strolling right toward him. Bruce's doubts and annoyances were cast aside. It was just business, and he had disciplined himself for things such as this. With an approachable smile, he met Luthor as he approached and shook his hand.
"So glad you could make it, Mr. Luthor, it's a pleasure to have you here."
"And a pleasure to be here, Mr. Wayne," replied the other man. Lex was shockingly tall and fit for a man of his profession, and was a full head over Bruce. He was disarmingly friendly for his size, though. "Really, you've put on quite the soiree for everyone. You must be quite the fan of Gotham's boys in blue."
"I owe them a lot, and so does this city," Bruce explained. "The least we can do is give them a night to be recognized as the heroes they are."
Partially the reason this place was so crowded: well over half the GCPD was in attendance, taking the time to enjoy a little appreciation for their hard work. Lex flashed a glance over the crowds, seemingly amused by it all.
"And indeed they are. But, if the rumors are true, the police aren't the only ones in patrol in Gotham." He wiped a bit of dust from his shoulder and asked, "You seem to have a bit of a bat infestation these days?"
"That's certainly one way to look at it." Bruce held up a finger, pausing Lex as he reached over and halted a hostess, taking three of the little sausages on toothpicks from her tray. He shooed her, and turned back to Lex, chomping down on a sausage. "I like to think of it as a public service by a volunteer group. And one that doesn't use taxpayer dollars, I might add."
"Not to mention," Bruce said with just the slightest teasing. "you seem to have your own curiosity flying around Metropolis. What was it they called him on the news? It's on the tip of my tongue…"
"Superman." The word fell flat out of Lex Luthor's tongue, like he'd just spit out a piece of rotten food. "Superman is the word you're looking for."
The Man of Steel. The Last Son of Krypton. The Flying Clownsuit.
Bruce hadn't even tried to research that one. The intel came to him without any effort on his part. It had been on the news worldwide, and even now was still making a few victory laps on the news circuits. From the depths of space, a thousand ships descended on Earth, bringing messages of a conqueror from beyond space. A conqueror with his sights on Earth. Wayne hadn't even had time to consider how he would fight such a menace. How could he, to start with?
But it was a question he never needed to ask. The flagship, over Metropolis, was crippled by one man in a red cape and blue tights. And then the rest of the fleet followed suit. In less than twenty minutes. No one knew for certain what transpired inside that flagship, but whatever the stranger did, it routed the conqueror and sent him limping back into the starry skies. Two things had been proven, indisputably that day:
One. We are not alone in the universe.
Two. There are things in the universe beyond our reckoning.
But not all of those things were malevolent. The strange man refused press conferences, and hid from sight. But he gave a single interview, to one young woman, who passed it on to a local newspaper. The story was sent out around the world. Superman, this alien from a dead world, was here to help. And the first thing on his agenda: root out the corruption that ran rampant in Metropolis. Starting with Lex Luthor.
All in all, Bruce believed, not a good few weeks for Luthor. Not a good few weeks at all. The big man seemed very distressed even talking about the alien, so Bruce opted to change the subject. "C'mon, Lex, you've gotta lighten up. We've got good food, good music, and good people. What more could a man want? Have yourself a little fun. And maybe tomorrow, we can have a talk about our mutual problems."
That got his attention. Lex raised a curious eyebrow at the bow, and the slightest hint of a smile arose. "That sounds… rather intriguing, Mr. Wayne. I'll have to consider it."
And with that, Lex turned and walked away, letting Bruce droop his shoulders and sight in relief. He went back to his corner, where Lucius congratulated him. "A little shaky, but you clinched it out."
"Was it worth it?" Bruce asked, feeling sick. "I can't stand talking to slime like him."
"Well, either get used to it or invest in sturdier digestive organs. You'll be wheeling and dealing with men that make him look like a saint sooner or later, if you intend to keep at this job."
"Don't tell me that…"
Bruce looked up, and to his surprise saw a familiar face in the crowd. It appeared that Gordon had finally arrived with his wife. Dusting himself off, Bruce prepared for another foray into the realm of social interaction. Bidding Lucius farewell, he began the slow walk towards the pair, gliding between partygoers, a shadow that no one even noticed, he moved so gracefully. But inside, he could not have been more bored.
I hope Dick and Barbara are having more fun on patrol than I am in this hellhole.
At the bottom of the Batcave, Barbara quietly set to work suiting up. It wasn't difficult, at least not compared to strapping on the old prototype suit. All she had to do was situate herself on the designated platform and spread her arms and legs. Behind where she stood, her suit was placed upon a stand, and once it recognized she was ready, it began to move. Each piece opened up and automatically attached itself to her body, connecting like pieces of a puzzle. It took a little over twenty seconds for the full suit to be assembled, and the cowl was lowered over her face.
She stepped off the platform, stretching her limbs to get a feel for the latest adjustments. Alfred had seemed impressed describing them to her earlier: tiny mechanical servos located at each of her joints, allowing for greater mobility, and a higher stress resistance. In theory, she would be taking—and giving—much bigger punches now. She fiddled with the armguard, and watched as it opened up, and a tiny crossbow assembled itself on top of her forearm.
Can't believe he jury-rigged this in a single afternoon.
This was to be her answer to opponents at a distance, and was fully loaded with over twenty miniature bolts of every function. Taser, inflammatory, piercing, restraining, tracking, and more. Several extra sets were located on her belt. She was certainly happy with it, and beamed as she stepped out to the main platform, where Alfred was waiting alongside the rookie.
Barbara gave him a once-over. This was the first time she'd seen his suit.
The suit seemed sleeker than hers, and a bit lighter. Built more to be fast than tough. His boots and leggings were black and armored, with two red sections on the sides of his hips. His chest was bright red, with three yellow straps across his chest, the bottom of his ribs, and his navel to fasten the armor in place. The red extended up to his collar and over his shoulders, all the way down to the back of his hand in a line. The rest of him was black. He didn't have a cowl like Barbara's. The only disguise for his head was a domino mask, and white contacts to shield him from scrutiny. His cape was shorter than Bruce's, and even Barbara's, only going down to his thighs. Black on the outside and yellow on the inside, with a hood attached that pulled over his head. At the moment, it was down, and she could see he'd used gel—a lot of gel—to slick his hair back. His belt was different from the Bat's, a series of unattached "disks" that made a circle around hip level, with a single square-shaped buckle with Batman's logo on it. But that wasn't his emblem. That was located on his left breast, where over a black circle rested a stylized green and yellow "R".
Barbara cocked an eyebrow and nodded approvingly. "So, this is Robin?"
"What do you think?" he asked hopefully.
"It's… red. Think that might stick out when you're trying to hide?"
Dick swiped his hand, and with a grin declared "Not a chance. I tested it with Alfred a few days ago, and it works just fine. And either way, I'm not taking advice on subtlety from Miss Yellow-Palms."
"The suit came like that!" Barbara sniped, defensively clutching her hands together. Alfred rolled his eyes.
"We're certainly off to a wonderful start this evening, my young crime fighters. If you'd be so kind as to get in the car, I can pilot it from here and get you to your destination."
"Great!" Robin exclaimed. "…Remind me where we're going?"
The old butler walked over to the computer, bringing up a few pictures. One was a streetside view of some old dive bar, and another was of a well-cut man in his early sixties.
"This, if you're unaware, is Carmine Falcone," Alfred explained. "He's head of one of the biggest crime families in Gotham—rivaled only by Roman Sionis—and personally controls the banks, the legislation, the executive branch, a full third of the corporate markets, and until recently the police of this city."
Dick whistled, the surprise plainly written on his face. "That's a lot of power."
"Precisely," replied the butler. "and that's why he's been Master Bruce's primary target for the last few months. He's had a stable power base for many years, and only once or twice has anyone ever shaken up that status quo. Batman has been chipping away, and trying to change that."
"Like with the police?" asked Barbara.
"Unintentionally, but yes. Bruce was more focused on incapacitating Firefly, but his actions indirectly led to putting your father in a position of power. That's upset the way things work in Gotham to a degree, but even if their boss isn't willing to negotiate, the officers on the ground floor are. It's been a minimal change, as police are still looking the other way for nine out of ten crimes that Falcone commits."
"So, who do we have to rough up to change that?" asked Dick, pounding his fists together in anticipation.
Another image came up on the screen. A suave-looking man in a red suit. "This," Alfred explained. "Is Marv 'Matches' Malone. One of Falcone's lieutenants, and the man in charge of their negotiations with the police. He's personally spoken to every dirty cop in the GCPD, and bringing him in could give Commissioner Gordon just the proof he needs to perform a full purge of his ranks, and start bringing in officers committed to doing their job properly."
"Where do we find him?" asked Barbara.
Alfred smiled, as if he'd been waiting for that one. "He frequents bars, most Saturdays like this. You'll likely find him at the Magic Man, a little place on the far side of town. It's rather nice, actually. The bartender makes excellent Bloody Mary's. He does wonders with the fruity drinks as well…"
"Right. Apologies, Miss Gordon. I'll be able to guide the Batmobile there from here in the Cave. He won't be hard to miss, and if he's not there, a few of Falcone's thugs should be; they'll be able to tell you where he's gone."
Before Barbara could ask further questions, Dick had grabbed her by the arm and dragged her halfway to the car. "C'mon, let's get moving!"
"Jim, it's great to see you!"
It had certainly taken long enough, but Bruce had tracked down the Commissioner ducking the crowds. By the time he'd caught up, Jim's wife had excused herself to the restrooms, leaving the two alone to chat. Gordon gave a firm handshake to the young man, happy to see a friendly face. "I can't tell you how glad I am running into you, Bruce. I've been feeling sick to my stomach all night."
"Not one for the nightlife, Jim?"
"Lord in heaven, no. I feel like a lamb in a lion's den." Jim gestured at the idly chattering crowds, disgust written on his weathered face. "Can't you smell it, Bruce? The stench of decay. That putrid smell's soaked deep inside every man and woman in this place. These are the kind of people I'm supposed to be arresting. Instead I'm on my knees begging them for pocket change."
Bruce shrugged. "But it's for a good cause."
A deep breath from Gordon showed his exhaustion, but he smiled. "It's for a good cause. I mean, I'm not just crazy, right? You think this idea's a good one?"
"Well," Bruce started. "if I didn't think it was a good idea, I wouldn't have made a million dollar gala as an excuse for you to peddle it. But I'm a little surprised you're concerned with the opinion of someone less than half your age."
"Eh, you're a smart kid, Bruce. Anybody can see that. And like you said, I have you to thank for putting on this show. Without you, I don't think the SCU would be anything more than a pipe dream." The Commissioner took in a fresh breath, and looked around at the crowd with new vigor. "Now, where's the podium? I'm feeling the adrenaline pumping, and I'd like to get this damned speech done before it wears off."
Bruce flashed a smile and gestured through the throng, leading him through. "Right this way, chum."
The Magic Man isn't the kind of place you go looking for. It's more like it finds you. A quiet, unassuming and dark little building at the dead end of a street a man's got no reason to go down, with only a flickering neon sign telling the world it's still there. But if you come by at the right time, you might just hear a siren's call wafting out from that dank pile of brick and mortar. And if you manage to find your way in, you've got a reward waiting for you.
John wasn't certain what made him start waxing nostalgic about this old dump. Lounging in the back, he took a puff from his cigarette and let the smoke flow freely as a quiet little redhead strummed her guitar on the grimy stage. There weren't many customers tonight. There were a few drifters, some vagabonds that had scrounged up enough change for a night's drinking. There were a couple regulars at the bar chatting each other up. There was a maroon-suited fellow in a dark corner, flanked by a couple men that John didn't care to speak with. And, of course, there was John himself. He was dressed in a white shirt, blue tie, khakis and a trenchcoat. Legs propped up on the table, he was content to let the music play and think of times past. Many a yesteryear ago there was a man who ran this place. The namesake of it, in fact. Stage magician, he was, and a good one at that. Some might have ever called him a true-blue sorcerer. Whatever he was, he made good food and served good drink. That was enough for John. But that was decades past. Old Mr. Z had passed on before any other man in the room was a sparkle in his father's eye. Wasn't all bad though. His young daughter ran the place now, and she did mighty fine on her own. Still, nerves got the better of him. John liked to pop in now and again and check up on her. Tonight was one of those nights. Something didn't rest easy on his old bones, and he was expecting trouble. It just hadn't shown yet.
On the table a phone vibrated. A slothful hand groped at it and brought it to John's face. A text read:
Found her. Won't have the trail long. Come back to London, tonight if you can.
The contact named "Jason B." on his phone seemed adamant about that last part. Well, she was an elusive lady, so it made sense enough. Couldn't let her slip through another crack and wreck some other town. John glanced to the bar, at the raven-haired beauty polishing glasses, and frowned. He made a quiet apology for not being able to stick around for whatever was going down, and began to stand.
That was when the lights fizzled out.
Matches Malone was not a man to be toyed with. Grew up on the rough side of Gotham, a no-name with nothing but his fists to barter with. He could still remember the day he was adopted into the Falcone family. Beat him within an inch of his life, they did. But he took it all, and asked for more when they were done. He knew he was destined for something greater. And if all it took was a little pain, a couple months in traction here and there, he'd take it in stride. That was what success meant in Gotham. Not avoiding pain, but thriving in. And boy, had Matches thrived. Now he had the GCPD wrapped around his finger, and he had the freedom to lounge where he chose, hurt who he wanted to hurt, and take what he wanted to take. It was a good life, and one he'd earned.
And that was what made him so angry, when someone decided to interrupt his well-earned life of luxury. The lights in the Magic Man fizzled out, leaving him in darkness. The music stopped. He could hear the bartender yelling profanities and complaints about the old circuit breaker. But this was no power failure. Matches could feel it in his bones. This was something deliberate.
"Stay frosty," he whispered to his boys, two bruisers with more teeth than brain cells—barely—who stood up and started cracking their knuckles. A pointless gesture that nobody could see in the darkness. Again, not the brightest bulbs. Malone strained his ears, but heard nothing but panicked whispers. A bead of sweat on his forehead started trickling down. It fell from his brow, and he began to wonder as he reached beneath his suit, and fondled the grip of his pistol. Was this a hit, then? Some punk coming to take his life? Or maybe Sionis wanted in on his territory.
Or maybe it was something worse. The kind of stories you only heard in private gatherings. The monster that hunts other monsters.
He whispered to the darkness.
To his right he heard an impact. Someone—something—was laying into his boy. Three quick smacks accompanied by three pained squeals. A sound like snapping bone, and a body hitting the floor. That was all the warning he needed. Matches knew pain. He could take pain. But he wasn't stupid. He rose from his booth and tried to run for the door, only to bounce off the back of his other boy. Wilham was his name, and in a hefty voice warned the boss, "Stay behind me, I'll—"
What he was going to do, Matches didn't know. A noise like a dart flying hit his ears the moment something hit Wilham's neck. The big oaf dropped like a sack of potatoes, and flopped to the floor.
Two hands came from the darkness and grabbed Matches' suit. The man was shoved against the wall. An old photo above came loose and fell right on his head, bounding off and shattering by his feet. A light flickered on and off again. Matches wasn't sure what he saw, but it wasn't the Bat. A pale face framed in darkness, white eyes hidden in shadow beneath a dark hood. Red hands came too close the gangster's face for his comfort. The rest of the bar was silent, either too scared to move or else long gone.
"Ah, ah, ah. Language, mister." The voice was only a few inches from his face, high and gravelly. Matches didn't know such a simple scolding could be given with that level of menace. "I'm not a fan of pottymouths."
The shadow emphasized that last point by stamping on Malone's foot. He didn't flinch, and tried to keep a straight face glaring at his tormentor. He couldn't let it show how many bones were just broken. Matches knew pain. Pain wasn't weakness. But it was proof of it. When you inflict pain, you inflict fear. But if you show no pain, you appear as fearless. Being fearless might just save his life tonight.
"What the hell are you supposed to be?"
A hand went up and slammed Matches' mouth shut with extreme force. He bit off the tip of his own tongue, and water welled up in his eyes as the blood flowed.
"What did I just say?" asked the voice.
Matches swallowed the blood in his mouth, stinging his throat all the way down, and asked again "Who are you? What do you want?"
"I want names," replied the voice. "the names of every dirty cop in the GCPD."
"Heh, that's a no-can-do," said Matches. "Ratting fellas out tends to be bad for business."
"And keeping your trap shut is bad for you."
Matches didn't get a chance to ask what that meant. A hand reached around and grabbed the back of his head, yanking him away from the wall and toward the bar. He met the countertop face first and went dragging along a good few feet of its length before getting pulled back up.
"Who are they?!" the voice demanded. "Give me the names, now!"
"Go to h—AAAAAAAAH!"
He heard the crackling of electricity only a second before some sort of taser was shoved into his side. His body seized up, convulsing in agony for a brief moment, before he was released. He swore he could smell smoke. Matches knew pain. But this was torture. A hand pulled him by the collar to look his tormentor in the eye.
"Here's the sitch, Matches. Every name you give me is a bone I don't break!"
Dragged away from the bar, he went moving to a pool table. He was shoved into the corner, and felt it dig into his side. That pain went right to the kidneys. On normal night he'd think this guy really knew how to hurt a man. But tonight, he was just praying for the pain to stop. A swift kick to his legs knocked him down to his knees, leaving him quivering on the floor. The man stood over him, arms crossed and tutting.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Matches, we've barely begun! You know, it's really not much of an interrogation if you've reduced yourself to jelly before I get any info out of you. C'mon, get up and let's take it from the top."
That was the breaking point. Matches lurched up, his arm holding the pistol he'd just taken from his pocket, already starting to squeeze the trigger. The only thing this psycho was getting from him was a bullet to the brain.
So he was very confused when an arm grabbed his wrist and twisted, so hard that his palm was facing the wrong way.
He looked back, and a swift punch knocked him to the floor.
John stood back up, cracking his back after knocking this "Matches" out cold. He glared at the man—no, the boy in the hood and shook his head. "Rank amateur. Do you think you're playing a game or something?"
"I had him under control," retorted the hood. "Who are you supposed to be?"
"Apparently I'm doing your job for you." He pointed at the other shadow lurking in the back, the one with the hood. "And you little miss, you will throw the lights back on and stop wrecking my favorite pub!"
She hesitated. Apparently she believed nobody had seen her. But the lights quietly came back on, revealing an emptied establishment. The only inhabitants were the three unconscious crooks in various states of disrepair; the bartender, quietly peering from her corner, shotgun in hand; and of course, John and these two punks dressed up in what he swore were Halloween costumes. The hood was dressed in red and black, trying his best to look menacing while still being significantly shorter than him. But the other he recognized. Sort of. The emblem was what he knew. That local vigilante type, Batman, was it? She had the same logo on her chest. So they were imposters, or fanboys. Either way, he'd gotten sick of watching them botch such a simple job. He pointed at them, and then toward the back room.
"Both of you follow me. And bring the doof in the suit. I'm showing you a real interrogation."
When Matches next woke, it was by a bucket of water to his face. He awoke, sputtering in a bathroom. A dirty, smelly bathroom that was entirely too crowded. He was tied down to a smudged porcelain throne, and in front of him stood three freaks of nature. A grown man, and two youngsters. One of them was dressed like the Bat. Matches grinned, showing off the teeth he'd lost tonight.
"So, what, I didn't know the Batman had lackeys?"
"Shut up," went the oldest of the three. John leaned down and grabbed Matches by the hand. Then he took a pinkie, and calmly pulled back until it snapped.
"See?" he asked the other two, as the crook tried to hold back a scream. "You don't go for the head. It makes 'em all fuzzy. And then you lose any info you might have gotten. And start small. You can't go crazy with the pain right from the get go. Start with something expendable, and work your way up. Now, you," he said, turning his attention back to Malone. "what was it they wanted? Dirty cops? Give 'em every name on the list, or we're gonna start raising the stakes."
"Screw you," Matches told him. John shrugged.
"If you insist." John grabbed the remaining pinkie finger and broke it, then took a ring finger for good measure, snapping it at both joints. He then reached up and pulled at Malone's shirt, ripping it open and exposing his chest. That was when Matches noticed the lit cigarette hanging loosely from his lips. John took it and held it in his hands.
"Gonna give me the names yet?"
"W-what are you gonna do with that?"
"That sounded like a 'no'."
No hesitation. John placed the cigarette against Matches' nipple and ground it in, snuffing the embers on the tender flesh. Too much was too much, and the big gangster started bawling. "Christ, stop! Stop!"
"I'm not stopping until you give me what I want," John told him. He crouched down and met him eye-level. John reached into his trenchcoat and came up with a full pack of Silk Cut cigarettes. In a calm, level voice, John spoke to the man.
"Now look, I've still got a full pack of these, and we won't be done here until I'm out. Let's make it clear: first one of these is going on your other tit. Once that's done, I'm taking two more to your balls. When we run out of those or, more likely, we find out you don't have any to start with, I'm shoving 'em up your nose. The next two are going in your ears. The two after that? Well, I'll be truthful and tell you: your eyes. They are going in your eyes. And once that's done… well, I imagine I'll be pretty bored with you by then, so I'll just light your whole goddamn head on fire, see where that takes us. Are we crystal clear on that, Matches?"
The gangster was speechless. His heart was running on overdrive, so fast it felt like it'd burst straight from his ribcage. He barely got enough composure to say "There's no way in hell you'd—"
John did not break eye contact as he reached to his side and pulled up a red container of gasoline. This time Malone's heart stopped.
"Where did you get that?"
"Doesn't matter. So… about those names?" To really drive the point home, John took out a cigarette and lit it up, taking a puff as he waited for the reply.
Three pairs of eyes watched as Matches shook in his skin, sweat pouring down his throat.
"Told you I'd get him talking."
John emerged from the bathroom with Robin and Batgirl in tow, leaving the traumatized gangster alone to stew with his fears. Dick and Barbara were quiet, trying not to let their own shock show. John went towards the back of the hall, where he retrieved of all things a piece of chalk, and started scribbling on the wall. Barbara tried not to judge.
Who the hell is this psycho?
"Uh… thanks for the help," said Robin.
"Don't mention it." That was all the other man said. The three stood in silence, the awkward tension mounting as the trenchcoat continued to draw.
"So, uh… what's your name?" asked Barbara.
The man stowed his chalk and placed a hand up to what he'd drawn. A strange, circular sigil with a space at the center for his hand. It began to glow.
A flash of light flooded the hall. Robin and Batgirl averted their eyes until it died down. When they were able to see once more, the man was gone. They exchanged a glance.
"Do we… do we tell Bruce?" asked Robin.
Worse than the parting itself was the walk out. They could hear sirens closing in from the distance as they stepped out into the main room of the Magic Man. The two thugs were where they'd left them, tied up and stuffed into a back booth. The young woman at the bar watched them leave, never taking her eyes off the pair as she gripped her weapon tightly.
Outside, in an alley about a block down, their ride was waiting. The Batmobile opened up and allowed the pair to hop inside. They were greeted by Alfred as soon as the car began to pull away.
"I assume everything went well?"
"Well enough," Barbara told him, fingers flexing above a keyboard that had extended before her. She opted not to include the part about the... stranger. "I've got a full list of names that I'm sending your way now. You can send it to Commissioner Gordon from the Cave…"
She trailed off after finishing her sentence, puzzled by the bizarre feeling she'd just had. Had she just called her father "Commissioner Gordon"? The feeling was too strange, but exhilarating. In this suit, she wasn't Barbara. She was Batgirl. It just needed time to sink in, she thought.
"I've got the list," Alfred confirmed, though he seemed surprised from his reaction. "My word, this has to be almost half the officers in Gotham…"
"It's crazy," said Robin. "How hasn't this city burned to the ground yet?"
The car slipped through the quieter streets, avoiding larger roads where unwanted eyes might spot them. As they passed beneath a bridge over one of the tributaries that ran through Gotham, a white van passed over them, neither party the wiser of their crossing. The Batmobile was heading home, but the van was making a beeline for somewhere else. The crusty old bucket of bolts pulled to a halt in front of a ritzy skyscraper in downtown Gotham. The logo on the front read "WayneTech."
The King of Diamonds stepped out from his van, whispering an old nursery rhyme.
"Speak not a whispered word of them,
Or they'll send the Talon for your head.
Knock knock, Wayne. You've got a Court summons."