A Dance With the Devil

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
Bruce Wayne's been away for 9 years, and he's finally back to clean up Gotham. But when he's finally faced with his first big homicide case, can he earn the trust of the Police and Gotham itself?

Submitted: February 22, 2017

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Submitted: February 22, 2017

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Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?

 

 

 

Jim Gordon. Apartment 214, Glacier Apartment Complex, Bleak Island. Gotham City. 8:49 PM.

 

Jim sighed heavily. “Damn.”

Lieutenant James Gordon stood amongst the chaos that was his crime scene.

Bodies strung about on the floor. Cuts weren’t sloppy, they were… smart. Calculated. The dichotomy between destruction and precision was clear, however; though the killer was swift and careful in his slaughter, the rage with which he thrashed through the apartment, tearing down wallpaper, crushing chairs and tipping over filing cabinets, it was clear that these killings were… personal.

The apartment, of course, was nice--an open floor plan with minimal walls. In fact, you could call it a penthouse suite of sorts. A plush royal blue carpet covered the living room, and Jim hadn’t been in the bedrooms yet, but assumed it was the same. Silvery grey wallpaper with little penguins painted in a thin white motif.  was adorned with paintings of its former residents, silver encrusted jewels in glass display cases, a copper bust displaying Nigel Cobblepot’s less than attractive face: a big honking beak of a nose hiding a tufting, unkempt mustache. But alas, the royal blue carpet was not the color you’d choose to hide pools of staining blood.

Jim reached up and rubbed the bridge of his nose under his square glasses. Work has kept him up, day in and day out for the past few months. Gotham has exploded with publicity and crime lately, which seemed to go hand in hand in this town.

“Lieutenant!” the CSI--Jack Walker--called after Jim at his 6, “I’ve got… well. A whole lot of nothing.”

Gordon ran his hand over his Selleck stache and let out another deep sigh. “This had to be an inside job. Despite all the wreckage in this apartment, there are no signs of forced entry. These guys were killed at dinner, so clearly they were comfortable enough with their killer to enjoy some burgers.”

Jack paused. “Well, it could be an inside job, but…”

Jim turned, staring Walker down, despite being a few inches shorter. Gordon’s mere presence is imposing enough. “But what?”

“Uh… I mean… it could have been the vigilante--”

“Officially, there is no vigilante.”

“But… unofficially?”

“Unofficially… I don’t know. I just don’t.” Gordon turned back to the bodies before him, seemingly changing the subject. “Let’s just stay away from the crazies in this town and start with the real people. Do we have ID’s on the victims?”

Jack gestured to the decor. “You can’t tell?” A glare from Jim said all he needed to know. “I… suppose you mean their wallets.” Jack removed the ID’s from his evidence bags, opening them up. “They’re Cobblepots, Lieutenant. Nigel II and Chester Cobblepot, to be exact.”

Jim nodded. “A good place to start would be any known rivals, and it’s no secret who the Cobblepots’ rivals were. Problem is, the only living Wayne is Bruce. Now, he’s got some kind of ‘birthday ball’ tonight I was invited to for some reason. I wasn’t going to go, but… I think I’ve got some questions for the Prodigal Son of Gotham.”

 

* * * * *

 

Bruce Wayne. The Manor, outskirts of Founder’s Island. Gotham City. 9:16 PM.

 

Bruce Wayne stood in his mirror, staring back into cold blue eyes, contemplating whether or not to actually go down into the main hall. For the first time in the few months he’d been back, he felt… off. Hands clammy, brow budding with sweat. He swallowed heavily and adjusted his bow tie. Not nervous, just… anxious. Tonight was the first time Gotham would be introduced to Bruce Wayne, officially, personally--and it had to go off without a hitch.

“Master Bruce.” Alfred the Butler, Bruce’s loyal friend to the very end, even if he flat out didn’t agree with Bruce’s decisions or lifestyle. His bright, soldier-like English voice rang behind him, towel draped over his arm.

“Alfred?”

“You are going to attend your own birthday party, yes? Your father and the fathers before him were known for being timely. In fact--”

“My father is dead, Alfred.” Bruce interrupted. “And Bruce Wayne is just a punk kid with a trust fund.” Bruce adjusted his cuff links and turned his back to Alfred, facing the doors to the main hall. “I intend to keep it that way. And, as much as I hate this sort of thing… it’s important that Bruce Wayne makes an appearance tonight… for everyone.”

“Right you are, sir.” Alfred stepped over to the table near the fireplace, picking up the small tray of hors d'oeuvres, clearing his throat. “Oh, and Master Wayne, I ran the images you brought back the other night from your… ahem. Extracurricular activities.” Alfred changed the subject.

“And?”

“Facial recognition software… the computer could not identify the suspect within its own database.”

Bruce nodded. “Hmmmm… then this case is worse than I thought. Everyone slips eventually… But I suppose at this point this ‘Red Hood’ could be anyone.” He stepped back toward the center of the room, patting Alfred on the shoulder and pulled on his tux coat. “Try to enjoy yourself Alfred… wouldn’t want any more of your hair to fall out.” Alfred chuckled at the slight, shaking his head and following Bruce closely behind; Bruce then opened the double doors to the main hall, stepping out to meet an enthusiastic crowd of Gotham’s most interesting residents.

Bruce, of course, is met with an explosive welcoming and begins conversation with several other big-wigs, some clear from Central City and Starling. He had heard his old friend Oliver Queen was supposed to show, but he hadn’t called… He wasn’t worried. Oliver was a good friend in their youth.

“Well I’ll be damned… Bruce Wayne.” Bruce turned, but he recognized that warm, tantalizing voice. Lois Lane. Short, styled black hair that draped down to the base of her neck, fair skin and golden hazel eyes, all wrapped up in a strong, slim physique--one gained from frequent hours at the gym. She’s a reporter out in Metropolis now, as he understood, but they’d known each other since Sophomore year at Roosevelt High School on Bleak Island. Strong headed, sexy, smarter than you’d think--always driven to find the truth. “Aren’t you dead?”

“Well I sure hope not--that’d make this glass in my hand quite the waste of champagne.” He grinned and pecked her cheek like a posh billionaire should. “How are you?”

“Fine as always.” She flashed her perfect smile. “Damn, how long were you gone? 7 Years?”

“8.”

“Right, left when you were 16, turning 25 tonight. Happy birthday, by the way! Big day, Mr. Wayne.”

“Yeah… no kidding.”

“Man… don’t suppose you’re planning on giving me a statement for the Bugle? Anything you’d like to say about where you’ve been all this time?”

“I’ll… pass. Maybe I’ll come around when I’m not under the influence.” He raised his glass and swished the the champagne in it for comedic effect, and Lois giggled.

Ms. Lane turned, as she had seemingly forgotten about the friend she’d run into. “Bruce, I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. We go way back, helped me get out of a jam a few years ago with the Black Mask… Bruce, this is--”

“Jim Gordon.” Bruce interrupted, sticking his hand out as an offer for a firm shake, giving the detective a bright smile.

Gordon reached out reluctantly and shook it, pushing up his glasses to the bridge of his nose. “You remember me?”

Bruce chuckled. “Well, despite the technology of today, I still like to sit down and read the paper. The cop who cracked my parents’ case… how could I forget?” Lois seemed to have been pulled away by another guest. Maybe Bruce will see her later.

“Hmph. Right.” Gordon smiled fakely… He didn’t like Bruce’s shmoozing. The guy seemed like a real snotty, spoiled brat. But he grew up in this city, not to mention how he practically owns it. Surely he’d have an issue with the Cobblepot brothers poking at his side. “Anyway… I hate to do this. But Mr. Wayne, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you some questions.”

“Of course! I’ve got all the time in the world. What’s on your mind, Detective?”

Gordon pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose again and took a notepad and pencil out of the pocket in his trench coat. “Alright, I promise I’ll try to keep this short and sweet.”

Bruce nodded with a grin tugging at his cheeks, leaning back to open up his body language to help push along Gordon’s trust in him. “Shoot.”

“Where were you this morning, around 9:00?”

Bruce scoffed and took another sip of champagne. “I was at a meeting with some of my major shareholders. I actually run this company… you guys know that, right?”

“Anyone who can vouch for you?”

He nodded. “Anyone who was there, I guess.”

“...Right.” Gordon scribbled down Bruce’s response, and paused mid-word with a seemingly spontaneous thought, though Bruce had the feeling it was intentional. “You wanna know something funny I noticed?”

“Who doesn’t?”

“These killings start about a week after you return to Gotham.”

“And…?”

“Just… find that a little odd.”

“I see what you’re getting at. But… don’t you think it’s more likely that it’s this Vigilante? I mean reporters are saying that missing persons cases might be linked to this guy months ago. Could be the vigilante going too far.”

Gordon stepped forward, getting in Bruce’s face. “You listen here. You bet your ass that when he crosses the line, I’ll be taking him downtown myself.” Gordon looked down at the floor. “And I hate the idea of some masked punk doing my job. But I have to believe that this vigilante is above all that. Otherwise… why do it?”

Why do it indeed.

Bruce cleared his throat. “So you think he’s doing good for the city?”

“I don’t know. For now? I guess. Somebody’s doing something, and I guess that’s progress. Our ‘esteemed legal system’ has let thousands of people down. My guys--and they are my guys--are as dirty as Starling City’s glades. Sometimes I feel like I’m fightin’ this war alone… I guess it’s just nice to feel like I’m not. For once.”

Bruce’s icy blue eyes darted around Gordon’s figure. The way he spoke about the force showed that he believes in what he does, but not who he does it with. And that’s good. It’s clear now that he’d be the only one on the force he can trust. Bruce cleared his voice again and offered a warm smile and another handshake. “Well, Jim--can I call you Jim?”

Gordon shook the scowl off his face. “Yes, please do.”

“Jim I’ve got to run. Conference call from Japan.”

“Isn’t it… your birthday?”

He nodded and smirked. “Duty calls, Lieutenant. Enjoy the food, paid top dollar for it. Tell Ms. Lane I said goodbye.” They shook hands and parted ways, Gordon somewhat taken aback by what he poured out to the kid. Hardly knew him…

Bruce made his way through the crowd, opened the double doors, closed them and locked them behind him. He was now in his element, in the place where he truly belonged.

Bruce Wayne was gone and now he was something… darker. Something… elemental. Ripping off his tie and coat, he pulled the lever inside the grandfather clock and stepped into the elevator to the Cave.

The elevator arrive with a mechanized clunk. Alfred was already at the computer, now intrigued by this mystery man. “Master Bruce,” he announced not turning from the screen, did you enjoy your evening?”

“It was quite brief, Alfred,” Bruce replied unbuttoning his shirt, “I found him.”

“Found whom, sir?”

“A man on the force that’s worth… investing in. It’s Gordon.” Bruce pulled on a black, form fitting, pro-sport compression shirt.

The Butler hummed in the most British of ways, preparing the case file for Bruce. “The Lieutenant?”

“Mm-hmm,” He responded, pulling on his Kevlar vest, zipping it up and flipping on his ball cap, wrapping the cloth around his face and WayneTech Night Vision goggles. Not only do these goggles help conceal his identity, but the goggles are compact, shaped more like a half domino mask--the eyes glowed white, giving him a more intimidating image to his opponents. “This killer. He’s a danger, Alfred… and I’m the only one who can take him down.”

 

* * * * *

 

The Vigilante. Apartment 214. Tuesday. 10:57 PM.

 

The vigilante slipped into the apartment through an unlocked window in the kitchen, and quietly dropped down onto the tile floor. Bruce reached up and tapped the earpiece on the right side, reinstating communication with the Cave. He whispered into the headset, “Alfred.”

The earpiece clicked and whirred as Alfred responded, “Sir?”

“I’m at the scene of the crime.”

“Apartment 214?”

“That’s the one.” The Vigilante entered the living room, activating his NVG to get a better view of the room.

“What do you see?”

Bruce examined the scene before him. He stepped closer to the table. He pulled out his phone, pulling up the pictures they hacked from the GCPD database. Since the bodies were moved, these pictures were going to have to do. Swiping through the pictures, his eidetic memory captured the images in his head, and soon he could imagine the bodies as if they were sitting right in front of him. The deductive wheels were now turning in his mind.

Nigel II and Chester were slaughtered like cattle in their chairs. Their heads were hanging back over their chairs with their throats slashed. Blunt force trauma to the head, suggesting the killer knocked them out, grabbed them by the hair and slit their throats for maximum blood spray. And the blood on the table confirms it; crimson spurts sloshed all over the oak dinner table, even covering their unfinished food, tainting their white wine with red. But, upon a closer look… there’s some notable smearing. Not on the table, of course, but just barely under the arms… barely noticeable. If you weren’t looking for it, you would have missed it.

He knelt down beside the body of Nigel II and gently ran his fingertips over the carpet. There was a noticeable line in the carpet that stopped about a foot away from Nigel’s body, behind the chair, then wrapped around the left side of it. Another line running parallel. A pair of lines run similarly to the chair housing Chester’s corpse. So the bodies were killed somewhere else in the apartment, then picked up and dragged to the chairs. The killer staged the bodies… the only question is why. Why go out of their way to stage the killing?

Bruce stood up, his eyes now scanning the room around him, practically for the first time. Why. Why stage the bodies?

Around the corner, down a short hall is a bathroom. He made his way through the room and into said bathroom, gently pushing in the door, taking in his surroundings. A hard sniff gave him the wisps of a scent--cologne. The type of cologne that one would wear casually, maybe to hide the scent of something else. Clearly wore a lot of it judging by its wafts still sitting in the stale air some 14 hours after the killing. No recent water stains on the counter, the dry ring around the sink drain says the sink hasn’t been used in at least a day. However, the garbage can in the cabinet below the sink… Bruce opened it up and took out, examining the trash. Sitting on top was a pair of latex gloves. Latex gloves? Presumably to ensure no fingerprints would be left at the scene. Unfortunately, white gloves don’t hide blood very well. Blood spray mostly around the thumb and index finger of the right hand glove, but the rest was on the tips of the left hand’s fingers. Thrown away… didn’t want the blood to get anywhere else… the next logical step would be to assume he left after that, but it felt… too easy. Felt like he was missing something.

Alfred on comms. “Sir… anything?”

“Well, for one thing, the bodies weren’t killed in the place they were found. Makes sense why the case report said they suffered blunt force trauma to the head before death.”

“Staging the bodies… a sign of remorse?”

“No, no… if it were remorse, their poses wouldn’t be so… dramatic. The surface-level evidence would suggest that they were killed by someone they knew personally, someone they had over for dinner. Food on the table for a 3rd person in between them… it’s all supposed to spell out a simple conclusion: that the killer was a personal friend of the Cobblepot brothers, that their deaths were planned and executed expertly.”

“Then… what are you saying, sir?”

“The killer left out one small detail.” He walked over to the large painting of the Cobblepot family that hung above the end table towards the front of the apartment, far away from any blood spatter. Looking along the frame of the painting, it was clear his hypothesis was correct. “He killed them wearing the latex gloves I found in the garbage, making sure no blood got anywhere in the room while he cleaned it up. He wants the police, the whole city to believe that these killings were cold, calculated, precise, nowhere near a crime of passion; but rarely is it ever that simple. He didn’t think about his wrist…” On the edge of the painting’s frame sat a small splotch of fresh blood, wide and flat like a person’s wrist. And a small scrape underneath the painting, into fresh paint, made it clear: “He stormed into the apartment, startling the brothers, something large and sturdy in his hand, most like a baseball bat judging by the impact marks on the victims’ skulls. The apartment wasn’t trashed because the killer was looking for something… it was trashed because he attacked them head on.”

“So there are signs of forced entry.”

“No. There isn’t.”

“There isn’t?”

“They opened the door so they must have known him, but he wasn’t close enough to be at dinner with them. So the killer is one of their… less than savory employees. The choice of a baseball bat is a personal one--means they must be doing some grunt work for the Penguins.”

“Hmm.”

“What?”

“It just… I’m looking through the case report, and… it has no mention of blunt force trauma. It simply states that Nigel II and Chester Cobblepot’s throats were slit, in a very calculated, precise way.”

“Interesting… when I looked at the case report about an hour ago, it definitely mentioned blunt force trauma.”

“So… why the change? So small, and… insignificant.”

“Someone has altered the case reports to cover up the messiness of the killings… Alfred, that’s a big clue. Keep that in mind.” Bruce stepped back by the front door, surveying the scene one more time. If he didn’t bring a knife, then he used one of theirs… smart. But not smart enough. Moving the bodies was a big mistake, but a deliberate decision. Why so obsessed with appearances? Why make this seem more elevated than it actually was? What was the point?

Too many questions and not enough evidence to answer them. And, as he would soon find out, not enough time in that apartment left.

Alfred. “Master Bruce, security cameras at the main lobby show armed men walking in. You’d better hurry, one of them could be the killer coming back to finish the job.”

“I’m not done, Alfred. I need more time.”

“Bruce, I’m sure it can wait, you must escape at once--” Bruce hung up. There’s still so much more he needs to find…

Door opened.


 

* * * * *

 

Jack Walker. GCPD Crime Lab, Police HQ. Bleak Island, Gotham City. Tuesday, 10:31 PM.

 

So tired of typing. Been typing all damn day… just want to get out of here and continue the real work.

Jack Walker was born in the Winter of 1986. His father was mostly absent until he really was, when Jack had finally turned 10; his gift was not a snowboard, or a clown nose--it was his running into his father just before he could leave in the middle of the night. Even to this day, Jack wishes he had never gotten up to get a glass of water so he didn’t have to feel the pain and confusion of his father’s exit stage right.

When the Walker boy turned 16 years old, his father was later arrested for murder. Well, more specifically, the murder of his mother. Guess daddy really had left something behind.

Because of this, Jack became obsessed with crime, the inner workings of crime--of murder. He then

Jack rubbed the sleep from his eyes and finished entering in the details of his tests results into the case report. The room was chill, most likely from Bleak Island’s constant state of rain. He opened the lab window and felt the heavy drops of water pound against the sill. A gust of wind swept blank papers out into the air… but instead of catching those papers, he stood, frozen, watching the papers wilt in the drenching weather. Drowning, melting like fresh butter, and sliding down the roof of the building and out into the street. Sometimes he felt like paper in the rain, wilting and losing control until he’s swept away by some current, never to be seen the same way again.

But not anymore. When his work is finished, he’ll finally be where he belongs… and those who trifled with him will be begging on their knees for mercy.

Mercy he, with pleasure, would withhold.

While the case report was uploading to the database, Jack pulled on his red hoodie and zipped it up, preparing for another proverbial night on the town.

Knock-knock-knock on the lab door. “Jack?”

It was Commissioner Loeb… the oaf. He never comes up here… why change that now? Great… Jack put on a fake smile, putting on the persona of ‘Jack Walker, Crime Scene investigator and polite little gentlemen’. He had to put it on for his landlady too… so sick of it. “Commissioner! What are you still doing here? I was about to head out and get some Chinese food. I’m starving.” Fake little chuckle to seal the deal.

Commissioner Loeb put on his GCPD raincoat and peered inside the room to see Jack standing by the coat rack. “Yeah… about that. I was going to close down and noticed the light up in the lab was still on. What are you still doing here, anyway?

“Me? Oh, I was just… playing Minesweeper. Lost track of time.” Box cutter on the counter.

Loeb glanced over at the computer screen. Definitely not minesweeper. “That looks more like a case report. That… that should have been wrapped up a couple hours ago.”

Jack’s eyes still flicking over to the box cutter… “Commissioner, you sound like you don’t trust me…”

 

* * * * *

 

The Vigilante. Apartment 214. Tuesday, 11:02 PM.

 

Thugs eyed him. “IT’S HIM! GET HIM!”

Big guy came in swinging his bat like he had a chance. The Vigilante ducked, thrashing big guy’s face with a right cross and stripping the bat out of his meaty hand. Knee shot up under his arm and into big guy’s jaw. Gripped big guy’s wrist and shoulder. Popped his arm out of his socket. He’s down.

Lanky fires a round from his handgun. Bullet whips past Bruce, grazes his arm, knocking him back to his knees. The pain burns, but it’s mind over body. Grits his teeth and focuses. Mind on the fight, not the pain.

Shorty with a knife lunges right with the blade. Block. Left lunge Block. Knee snaps into Shorty’s nose. Grabbed Shorty’s face and arm. Shoved him into Lanky’s arm, pinning them both to the wall and knocking Lanky’s firearm to the floor. Right cross to Shorty’s jaw. He’s down… one more.

Lanky starts to run, breaking into a full sprint down the hall. Screaming bloody murder.

Bruce removed a tool from his belt, a personal favorite that his hands found particularly familiar: a triangular shuriken, sharp enough to pierce the skin. And thrown in the right place, the pain can be… eye opening.

One to the light in the hall. Bulb shatters and Lanky is swallowed in darkness, falling down onto the floor and beginning to cry in fear.

Bruce tapped the button underneath the cloth around his neck. A voice modulator sitting comfortably on his Adam’s apple. Lowers his voice 3 semitones… made him far more intimidating. “Who did this?”

“Wh-what are you talking about, you psycho?” The squeaky pitch of Lanky’s voice told The Vigilante how… frightened he was. Good. Play that. Stretch it.

3 armed men show up at a crime scene. Coming back hoping to find someone, finish the job?”

“Isn’t that what you’re doing? You crazy bastard--”

The Vigilante grabbed Lanky’s wrist and index finger. Twisted them to wring out some answers. “I didn’t kill the Cobblepots.”

“Th-th-they say that y-you’re the devil. You’re a demon… swallowing people whole, taking them from the shadows and they’re never seen agai--OH MY GOD, AGHHHHHHH!!” Squeezed harder on his hand.

WHO.”

“Agh! Agh… okay… okay. Okay. All w-we know is… he’s wearing a red hood. I thought maybe it was you, the guys didn’t agree with me but… god dammit… th-that’s all I know, I swear to god--” twists and snaps Lanky’s wrist, kicking him in the nose. He’s out.

The Vigilante turned on his headset. “Alfred?”

“Sir! Oh thank god. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine… nothing I couldn’t handle. I’ve got something. I’m headed to the precinct… now that I’ve got a description of our killer, now it’s time to figure out who altered those case reports. Whoever it is, they’re involved.”

 

* * * * *

 

Lieutenant James Gordon. Police Headquarters, Bleak Island. Tuesday. 11:11 PM.

 

Gordon swallowed his large black coffee in 3 gulps and tossed the styrofoam cup in the trash by his desk. Of course he’s one of the last ones still at the precinct. Practically lives there… felt like he hadn’t seen his wife in weeks.

“Commissioner!” Gordon called out. He wanted to go home. His wife, Sharon, was probably waiting for him, knowing her. She should be sleeping, but he knows she isn’t. He’s got to get home. “Commissioner Loeb!” Gordon rubbed the back of his neck, stepping up to the Loeb’s office door--the lights were on but the blinds were shut. “Sir? Listen, I’m usually not one to ask to go home, but my wife is probably waitin’ for me, and I’ve stayed a lot later than I had to…” He pressed the door open… his chair was empty. The room was empty… but the lights were on?

Lights out. Door shuts.

Detective.” A deep, growling voice spoke from the pure shadow.

“Gah! What… what the hell’s going on?” Drew his weapon, but he couldn’t see shit.

You know who I am.”

Gordon scowled in the dark, his voice grumbling low. “Yeah, I know who you are… ‘The Vigilante’... making this department and all its officers look like chumps. You fight the law while fighting for it.”

And you have a problem with that.”

“Of course I do! We worked to get here, to fight for the people of this city. You get to don a mask and run around beating up criminals… I’ve heard you’re killing them, too.”

What do you think?”

“I think you’re trying to help… I don’t think you’re a killer. But you’re stirring things up, and I’m not sure it’s in a good way. At least for now… but it won’t last forever.” Gordon responded in candor, but he did not waver. His hand was steady, gripping the cold steel handle of his revolver. “But why the hell are you here? What do you want? Give me one good reason I shouldn’t arrest you right now…”

Someone altered the case files from the Cobblepots’ murders. I need to know who. The last Cobblepot brother… Oswald… he’s in danger.”

Gordon could only see a silhouette in the darkness… it really was him. He called out, trying to get him to play ball. “Oh yeah? And how do I know you didn’t do it?”

You know better. If I did it, why poke around in my own mess?”

Gordon let out a heavy sigh… he was right. He can’t take him in on murder charges… but obstruction of Justice is a great start. “Regardless, I’m taking you in.”

Lieutenant, you need to listen to me. I’m the only man you can trust, and you know it.”

“I don’t place my trust in crooks like you.”

I’m not a ‘crook’. I’m just a man who’s trying to help.”

Okay… if this guy is telling the truth… so what? “What… what do you want from me?”

I need you to access the case files. See who last changed them. Whoever it is will lead me to the killer.”

“No, no, the only person who has access high enough to alter case files is--” KAFF! KAFF! 2 gunshots upstairs, most likely the lab. “Oh god…”

Gordon turns right and clicks on the light. No windows in the room, but The Vigilante was gone…

Jim rips open the door behind him and charges up the steps to the 2nd floor, gripping his firearm in both of his hands and thrashing the lab door open and stomping inside. Commissioner Loeb lay on the floor, sprawled out on his back, blood pooling beneath him, soaking into the carpet. Gordon ran to him, but… it was too late. No pulse. Jim pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and surveyed the scene in panic. Shot groupings were impossibly close… calculated… the Red Hood killer struck again.

He’s dead.”

Gordon looked up. There he was, out of thin air, standing by the computer. “Yeah… no shit.”

Jack Walker… Crime Scene Investigator, lead Forensic Scientist here at the Police Headquarters. Judging by his finance information, he’s gotta be under the Penguin’s payroll. Probably got tired of being ignored at both jobs, and decided to do something about it. Shouldn’t have trained someone to be an effective killer and underpaid him.” Scrolled through the case file. “I’ve got to act fast if I’m going to save Oswald’s life.”

“Hey… with your throwing… things… kinda shaped like bats. You know what they’re calling, you, don’t you?”

A look up and he was gone.

Gordon sighed. “Don’t tell me I’m gonna have to get used to that.”

 

The Vigilante. The rooftop.

 

Bruce fired his grapnel and zipped up to the roof next door, flipping forward and onto the gravel with flawless execution. He called Alfred on the comms. “A.”

“Sir?”

“I know who the killer is but I need to know Oswald Cobblepot’s location. Can’t stand the man, but I can’t let him die… If I don’t stop Walker now, he’ll have the entirety of the Penguins’ criminal organization sitting in his back pocket. Jack wants the game, the chase… but I’m done playing.”

“Oswald Cobblepot is a crime lord?”

“A strong one.”

“Perhaps at his Iceberg Lounge?”

Time was ticking. “No! No that’s too… noisey. Give me a location he owns that would be quiet and empty, but big enough to have room to cook up the product.”

“The Cobblepots recently came into ownership of an Ace Chemicals building that--”

“That’s it. It’s just a few blocks away. Gotta go.” He dove into the street, into his city, into the grit. Fired his grapnel and swung into the night sky, making his way to save the life of the remaining member of his family’s oldest rival.


 

* * * * *

 

Jack Walker. Ace Chemicals. Bleak Island, Gotham City. Wednesday, 12:36 AM.

 

Rain pounded on Jack’s windshield so hard that the wipers couldn’t keep up. Latex gloved hands ran over the hatched handle of Loeb’s 9mm. He shouldered his door open and shut it, pulling the red hood over his head and walking in the front door.

Taking out the Commissioner… so stupid! NOw that idiot Gordon is likely to take his place, and he’s as clean as a car wash. Acquiring Cobblepot’s power won’t solve that problem… He’ll have to take care of Gordon afterward…

The plan. It’s unraveling… like paper in the rain. Jack had to get this under control before he wilts. The Commissioner’s death complicates things… no. No. No. Focus. Opens the door. The Vigilante is hot on his trail… good. He’s right where he wants him. Plays his cards right, he can kill him tonight too. Thunder and lightning crack against the midnight sky. Jack’s soul burned hot, like a freshly lit fuse.

Entered the main lobby. 2 thugs guarding the elevator.

“Jack? What are you--” KAFF! Shot between the eyes.

“Holy shit… you’re the Red Hood? How the fuck--” KAFF KAFF KAFF! Few rounds in the guy’s chest and he was down.

Jack stepped over the bodies, entering the elevator and pressing the button for the 3rd floor, the door closing in front of him.

Jazzy elevator music played through the cheap speakers. Jack began the chuckle to himself, rubbing his forehead nervously. Never thought the act of murder might be underscored by campy jazz.

Door dinged, opening before him. He stepped out, walking into the hall. “Oswald… fucking… Cobblepot.” Stepped in the doorway, grin stretched across his face. Oswald in all his fat, short glory spun in his chair faster than he must have moved in his entire life.

“Jack… Jack Walker?” Oswald’s thick cockney accent chomped the cold air of the unheated building. “So you’re the bloke that’s been tearin’ up my organization… killed my brothers?!”

“I’d do it a thousand times over again.”

“I thought we had an agreement… and this is how you repay me? Cuttin’ up my brothers to bits…”

“An agreement.” Jack chuckled. Raised his weapon. “Your idea of an agreement--little pay, all the dirty work--I’d say our ideas of an agreement are a little different.”

“So you’re tryna take over. You sick, twisted little punk!”

“‘Little’... kinda ironic coming from you, right?”

“You fucking… do you KNOW who you’re TALKING TO?”

The grin on Jack’s face stretched ear to ear. “Yeah… a dead man.”

 

The Vigilante. Ace Chemicals. Wednesday. Just in time.

 

TSHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Window shatters and Jack falls to the floor. Vigilante shoulder rolls on the floor, grabbing his shuriken from the shattered glass scattered against the carpet. Jack hopped to his feet and ran out of the room, firing a few rounds. Bullet in Bruce’s left shoulder--”Agh!”--he grunts in pain and drops to his knee.

Oswald is falls out of his chair and crawls across the floor, shouting in fear. “You’re… you’re the… The Bat… the Batm--”

Cross to his jaw. KO. “Shut up.”

The hot pain in his shoulder began to simmer, and he ran after his mark, his target. Sprints out the door. Hangs a left.

“Sir!” Alfred called after Bruce in the comm. “Sir, you are entering the, shall we say… Experimental division of the plant. There’s no telling what will happen if you come in contact with the various chemicals left over from those experiments; you could--” Hung up.

WALKER!”

“Stay away from me!” Blind shot in the dark. Power was out from the storm.

Your spree is over, Jack.”

“I said stay back!” He cried. Click click of an empty cartridge. Jack runs out onto the catwalk above the large, open silos of chemical runoff. The only light was coming from the skylight above… the dim moon’s gleam wasn’t enough to protect him from retribution.

Stand down, Jack. You’re sick.” Bruce reached out a gloved hand. The only way out of this was to reason with him… reason with a deranged man on the brink of something truly evil. “Now… give me the gun. Please… I can help you.”

“I…” Jack slowly reached his firearm over to The Vigilante.

That’s it… easy… easy.”

“Okay…”

Krak! Pistol whip against The Vigilante’s temple. Dazed… Bruce got a hold of his vision and smacked the handgun out of Jack’s hand--into the vat below it goes.

Jack grabs The Vigilante. Pins him against the railing. His hands wrapped tight around his throat… He’s… smiling. Bruce… can’t hear a thing… rushing chemicals beneath Gotham’s only chance and the only thing ringing in his ears. No… not here. Not going to die… by his hand…

Bruce shot his knee up into the Red Hood’s groin. Railing’s screws are giving out… left cross to Jack’s jaw. Too late. They fall. Tumble. Railing drops them into the hands of death.

Bruce’s left hand tightly gripped the catwalk. Right hand wrapped around Jack’s wrist. Slipping...  slipping.

White, bloody latex gloves.

Slipped.

Stretched.

Take Jack’s place in Bruce’s hand…

Jack’s face is one that Bruce will never forget, in all his days to come. The Red Hood tumbles through the air, spiraling out of control.

NO!” Bruce cried, but it was too late. Jack is engulfed in chemical sludge, the last sound he will ever make is the splash.

Pulling himself to the catwalk, he grimaces in pain and sorrow. He won the battle, but unfortunately, he has lost the war. A man died needing help, help he couldn’t bring to him… and now he never will.

He failed.

“Freeze, Batman.”

Bruce looked up to the figure standing at the end of the catwalk, trench coat blowing in the light breeze throughout the room. Jim Gordon.

Detective… it’s Jack. I couldn’t… he’s…”

“I saw it. Don’t you move a muscle while I call this in.” Jim’s eyes flicked to the left. “And don’t even think about escaping through that window.” He leaned into his walkie and called in to his men standing by. “I have apprehended the Batman, and the Red Hood is down. I repeat…” He looked back, and The Vigilante was gone.

He couldn’t help but smirk.

 

* * * * *

 

Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth. Batcave, half a mile below Wayne Manor. Outskirts of Founder’s Island, Gotham City. Wednesday. 5:46 AM.

 

The Cave. Cold, dark, and damp--just the way he liked it. Industrial lights hung from the cave ceiling kept the place lit, but not warm; a constant raging waterfall on the other side of the cave covering a big opening was not only a nice white noise to help him focus, but it kept the cave’s location hidden.

On the medical platform, Bruce Wayne sat on the operating table as Alfred pulled the bullet out of his shoulder, plopping it down into a bedpan. Alfred finished wrapping Bruce’s wounds as they watched the news broadcast about Gotham’s very own “Dark Knight of Justice… the Bat of Gotham strikes fear into the hearts of the fearless.” Bruce rolled his eyes. “Batman”... such a silly name. Gotham and its obsession with Bats… but it did seem the get the job done.

“So.” Alfred said very judgingly.

“So what?”

The Batman? Such a funny name.”

“I agree. But…”

“But what?”

“It works. If that’s how far I have to go to strike fear into the hearts of criminals… I’ll do it. Besides… I was called the Bat at one time.”

“Ah yes. On your ‘Odyssey’ you barely speak of?”

“Trust me, Alfred… the less you know, the better.” He hopped off the table, walking over to his shirt and throwing it on, making his way down the staircase and to the workshop.

“What now, sir?”

“Back to the drawing board. I need a new suit. Something a bit more… effective. Besides… I’ve got a new namesake to uphold.”


 

* * * * *

 

Lieutenant Commissioner Jim Gordon. Rooftop of the Gotham Police HQ Building. Bleak Island. Wednesday of the next week, 9:34 PM.

 

Commissioner Gordon stood atop the roof of the building, a small pitter-patter of rain tapping on his shoulders. Looking out at his city… he’s lived here for over a decade, and has taken a liking to calling it his home. Though now, with a masked vigilante and hooded murderers romping through the streets, it felt that his city was changing… and he wasn’t sure if this Batman’s presence was going to make it any better.

He turned back to head inside and suddenly, out of the foggy night, stood a silhouetted figure; The Batman. “Jesus… it’s you.”

Commissioner.” He stood still, frozen, like a gargoyle. “Taken a liking to the new title?”

“Eh… still doesn’t feel right. You?”

I’m coming around.”

“So… is this what this--” he pointed back and forth between them, “--is going to be from now on? Are things only going to escalate from here?”

I don’t know… I suppose the only way to go now is forward.” He finally moved, stepping a bit closer to Jim, but still staying in the shadows enough to stay hidden. “Walker’s body… was it ever found?”

“No… it wasn’t.” Jim turned back toward the street. “But we recovered some DNA from the chemical runoff. Small traces but… I don’t think there is a body to be found.”

I see.” Batman turned to the edge of the rooftop, pressing his heel down onto the concrete, preparing to leap off. Jim’s voice stops him.

“Wait--what… what now?”

The Red Hood may no longer be a problem for us anymore. But my work here is just beginning.” He turned to Jim. “It’s a long road ahead, Gordon. Gotham needs you.”

The Batman leapt into the air, swan diving down into the night. Jim heard the firing of a gun as he swung through the air, disappearing into Gotham.

Gordon took one last look at the city before walking back to the door, opening it and stepping inside. All that’s happened, the people who have died, can’t be forgotten. And though the future is unclear, one thing is for certain…

Gotham is going to be a much more complicated place from now on.

 


© Copyright 2017 Brandon Michael Thomas. All rights reserved.

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