In a penthouse apartment overlooking downtown Gotham City, a phone rang with a quiet melody. The tones matched the room, soothing and calm. Everything in the room appeared to have one purpose: to help anybody within relax. Soft pastel colors, overstuffed furniture, and plush carpeting that invited one to walk barefoot and luxuriate in comfort all combined to create an atmosphere of decadent luxury.
The hand that reached for the phone was slender, smooth-skinned, and impeccably manicured. The ear to which the handset was raised was delicate. The lips that spoke into the phone were full and painted a deep red that contrasted with the pale skin of the woman who spoke.
“Good evening,” she spoke in dulcet tones. “Oh, Rupert, how are you, darling?” The conversation carried on, an exercise in banality. It lasted for ten minutes, though the one bit salient information that was conveyed occupied less than thirty seconds of that time. When she hung up the phone, the woman immediately dialed another number. When the other party answered, her tone was that of a determined businesswoman.
“Is he available? Good, connect me to him,” she ordered. Seconds later, she was relaying the information she had received. “He just called. Poor dear, I do believe he is totally smitten with me.” She paused for a moment to listen. “Oh, perish the thought! But he does have his uses.” She listened again. “Yes, he is meeting with Mayor Skowcroft tomorrow.” There was a brief pause. “Oh, I think you and I both know how that’s going to turn out, but he wants to see for himself.” She listened for a moment. “The funds are in place, right? The bank is ready to sign on that deal the day after tomorrow, then we’ll be ready to start.” She paused. “No, it isn’t the sort of thing I was ever involved with before, but remember, I am a rehabilitated woman, now.” She smiled as she listened. “Of course, now I have to put my fortune to good use!” She paused again. “Yes, I’ll let you know if anything changes. Now, you get back to your lab and your schemes. Ta-ta!“
After hanging up the phone, Ruby Ryder stood and stretched. She took her cigarette holder and placed a fresh cigarette in it, lighting it with a ceramic table lighter. She then strode over to a window that looked out over the city.
“Oh, yes, pretty Gotham. Soon, now, very soon, we start prettying you up. And won’t poor Bruce Wayne be surprised when he discovers that all his plans for you don’t mean a thing.”
A short time later, two masked men sat on a quiet rooftop. Their privacy was ensured by Bruce Wayne’s ownership of the building, something both men were aware of for different reasons.
“Prototype, I get the impression that there is something about me that bothers you,” started Batman. “Your abilities have impressed me, and I’d like us to be able to work together, but if there’s some problem, then I’d like to know about it.”
At first, there was silence. Prototype turned away, and Batman saw his hands come up to push the cowl up over his head. As he had surmised, there was a full-head mask of dark ABS plastic underneath. He heard the click of two catches, and the mask split apart. As the other man turned back to face him, he lifted the mask to reveal a dark, handsome face with close-cropped black hair. Batman was surprised to find that he knew the face, though he could not place a name to it right away.
“I figure it’s best if I don’t have any secrets. After all, in all of Gotham, is there anybody that can be trusted more than you?” He held the mask in his left hand and extended his right in a timeless gesture of friendship. “My name’s Paul Fontana.”
The name triggered something in Batman’s memory. “Paul Fontana. You work for Wayne Technology — a writer, I believe.”
“A technical writer, yes. And that’s part of what bothers me.” Batman’s arched eyebrow was visible, even through the cowl, as he listened to the man. “What’s your connection to WayneTech and Wayne Industries?”
“My connection? I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“Bull. Look, I was working at Wayne Industries fifteen years ago as a Department of Defense inspector for Wayne’s military contracts. I had oversight on a couple of major defense and weapons contracts. All of a sudden, those contracts are canceled, and I get reassigned to Queen Industries up in Star City. Two months later, eyewitness reports start surfacing about a masked vigilante in Gotham, one who drives around in a beyond-cutting-edge car, who’s got equipment like something out of a science fiction movie. Curiosity got to me, and I started getting news clippings sent to me.
“The Batmobile, as the papers dubbed it, bears a strange similarity to the discontinued Urban Assault Vehicle that was under development. The high-resistance black alloy of those batarangs never saw the light of day outside of a lab where it was being developed for use by Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, and other forces that had to travel light in the field. Reports of a winch that seemed to be concealed in a belt pack sounded suspiciously like the micromotors that were being developed to allow wounded soldiers to make their own way off the battlefield.”
For the first time, Paul Fontana looked the Dark Knight directly in the eye. “A lot of friends of mine had their lives thrown into turmoil when Wayne Industries canceled those projects. I have to know: did you convince Bruce Wayne or his people to cut those projects so you could get your hands on that equipment?”
In all his years of fighting crime, this was a question that had never come up. As Bruce Wayne, he had access to all sorts of research and development resources, and he had made use of it. Nobody had ever asked about it before.
“Paul, you are right about the source of my equipment. But I can tell you this: those projects were all killed by the Department of Defense. As an ex-military man, you know that not all information is given to everybody. As the Vietnam War was winding down, they canceled a lot of research projects, and I have not and will not do anything that puts people out of work or endangers their careers.” Bruce Wayne remembered the pain of ordering layoffs at facilities when the contracts were canceled, remembered the efforts he put into starting new, non-defense projects to employ those people again. “After those projects were killed, and the government determined that they had no reason to keep the work classified, Bruce Wayne contacted me through the Police Commissioner and offered me access to the work that his company had done.” It wasn’t quite the truth, but it was close enough for now.
“The optimist in me figured it was something like that, but, well…”
“You had to ask.”
Batman laid a hand on the other man’s shoulder, noting that there wasn’t much height difference between them. “And now you’re following in a similar path.”
“I guess so.” Prototype put the helmet back on, then raised his cowl back up into place. “I suppose you’re wanting to know why, right?”
“Some other time, perhaps. I have, umm, someone waiting for me.”
“So do I. Funny, though, I had you pegged as a loner.” Prototype snapped a rod loose from his thigh and pointed it at a building about two-hundred yards away.
Loosing a coil of silken line, Batman swung a grappling hook out to snag a flagpole on a neighboring building. “Until recently, you would have been right. I’ll see you soon.” He jumped and swung away, even as Prototype fired and swung off in the other direction.
As Batman swung over the city once more, he noted that most of the high-crime areas were quiet tonight. After the recent fires at the riverfront shopping district, the city had been quiet. Apparently, quite a few of the city’s criminal gangs had been working with the mysterious Pastor Payne. With him out of the picture, they were lying low, regrouping.
It had been almost a week, and Batman had yet to wrap up the one loose end from that case. Some of the criminals involved with Payne had mentioned a young woman known only to them as Sister Cyn. She wasn’t in the old former church used by Payne when he and Officer Carol Sorenson broke up the bogus minister’s operation, and when the mysterious, red-costumed blonde woman named Mary, alias Silverthorn, had saved his life and then disappeared. (*) Payne had steadfastly refused to acknowledge Sister Cyn’s existence, much less provide information on her whereabouts.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Batman and the Star Rovers: Silverthorn.]
As if to punctuate his thoughts about Payne and his attempt to take over Gotham’s criminal scene, a gunshot rang out below. Twisting his body, Batman altered his trajectory to take him in the direction from which the shot had come. In Lowenstein Park, he saw a cluster of teenagers near the pond. Reaching the end of his line, Batman let go and grabbed the ends of his cape. It billowed above him, keeping him aloft. He angled his descent and dropped to the ground less than ten feet from the group.
“Jeee-zus!” cried one of the youths, the one with a still-smoking pistol in his hand. He was dressed in dark brown pants with a black stripe down the side, and a khaki shirt that looked familiar to the masked hero.
“Drop the gun.” Batman’s voice was low, steady. One hand already held a batarang plucked from his belt as he dropped.
“Yeah, no problem.” The boy crouched down and placed the gun on the ground. When he stood up again, he kicked it toward the Caped Crusader.
“What happened?” asked Batman.
“I was showing it to my friends. See, I just started work today as a security guard at Gotham National Bank, and they didn’t believe they gave me a pistol.”
“It was my fault, Mr. Batman, uh, sir.” A young lady with straight black hair stepped forward. I asked Tim if I could see it, and, well, I dropped it. When I reached to pick it up, I must have squeezed the trigger thingy.” She pointed to a spot where smoke curled from the damp grass. “I, uh, shot the ground.”
“I see.” Batman bent to pick up the pistol. He examined it briefly, switching the safety lever on before holding it out to Tim. “I presume you have a permit to carry this.”
“Yes, sir! I had to get it before I could apply for the job.” Tim took the pistol and returned it to the holster.
“Might I recommend a gun safety course, then? I happen to know that the National Rifle Institute offers a class every third Saturday at the Robinson Community Center.”
“Sure! And, hey, no harm done, right?”
Just then, a cry rang out through the park. “Mitzi! Come back here!” Near the edge of the park, a small boy came running through the trees. Seeing the group with Batman at their front, he stopped. “Can you help me? My cat was sleeping on the windowsill, and then someone shot a gun. She jumped out and ran into the park.”
Batman turned to Tim. “No harm?” Seeing the young man’s sheepish look, he let the matter drop. “Tell your friends to spread out and start looking.” Turning to the boy, he asked, “What does Mitzi look like?”
“She’s tan and really skinny. About this long.” He held his hands out in front of him about fifteen inches apart.
“OK, you stay with me. The rest of you, split up in pairs and work your way through the park. Meet up at the fountain near the Gardner Street gate.” Nobody dared question Batman’s orders, and off they went. “What’s your name, son?”
“Kevin Greene. Wow — wait until I tell Mom and Dad that Batman helped me find Mitzi!”
“Where are your parents?”
“They’re at home. When Mitzi took off, I didn’t have time to wake them up.” Kevin stopped in his tracks. “They’re going to be mad that I ran off without them, aren’t they?”
“They might be. Can you tell me your telephone number? I can call them now and let them know you’re safe.” Batman reached into his utility belt for a miniature radiotelephone. When Kevin gave him the number, he dialed and waited for an answer. “Hello, Mrs. Greene? I know this may sound strange, but this is Batman.” He paused. “Yes, the Batman. I just want you to know that Kevin is with me; he’s working on a case.” There was another pause. “No, he’s all right. We’re in Lowenstein Park. If you like, we can meet you at the fountain, or I can bring him back home when we’re done here. It was something of an emergency.” Again he paused. “Yes, that would be best. I’ll explain it all when we get there.”
“She was pretty mad, huh?”
“No, more like scared. It’s pretty late for a boy your age to be out and about.”
“Good thing I met up with you, then, huh?”
This brought a smile to Batman’s face. Such faith and trust in the world. “I guess so. And if those shouts I hear are right, I think we have some good news.” They broke into a trot, then a run, with Batman adjusting his speed to keep pace with the smaller boy.
They found Tim and his girlfriend under a tree. Looking up, Batman saw a trim, tan form on a branch about ten feet above.
“Mitzi! What are you doing up there?” Kevin scolded. “You know you can never get down from trees!” He turned to Batman. “Can you get her down?”
Batman looked up and scratched his head through his cowl. “I don’t know — that’s kind of high. I don’t think I can reach her.” Kevin started to look disappointed, but his expression changed quickly when Batman lifted him and held him high above his head. “But I think you might be able to reach her.”
“Cool!” Kevin said, stretching out his arms to grab the feline from the branch where she clung. “I’ve got her!”
Twenty minutes later, Batman walked out of an apartment house alongside Lowenstein Park. Kevin’s parents had been upset but grateful that Kevin’s adventure had not turned into a tragedy. He decided to walk the two blocks to the building where he had left the Batmobile. He glanced at a chronometer built into his left glove. Twelve-forty. Twenty minutes was enough time to get home and shed the costume. He smiled. It felt oddly right, somehow, having a reason to return home. He liked the feeling.