Barbara Gordon had been to dinner at Wayne Manor a number of times in the past, and it was always a memorable experience. On this drizzly September evening, however, dinner at Wayne Manor was a first.
“Uncle Enzo’s Pizza? I didn’t think any of the delivery joints dared come out to these hallowed hills,” joked Barbara, lifting a gooey slice of mushroom and pepperoni pizza onto a paper plate. “And since when does millionaire Bruce Wayne use paper plates?”
“Since he decided that it was safer to make some concessions to convenience rather than find a replacement while Alfred is recovering from his, um, experiences this summer.” (*) The thin, pale blonde Silver St. Cloud lounged comfortably on a couch, a plate in one hand, a glass of chianti in the other. “As for the pizza, I think Jason is the one to blame for that.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Batman Family: A Terror Too Close, Book 2: Taken.]
“Yeah, Silver, because Bruce never ordered pizza when I was here,” added Dick Grayson. “Though Alfred makes a pretty mean pie, himself!”
“Don’t fault Master Bruce for that. I considered the idea of take away food an insult to my abilities as a cook, and he has always been mindful of my feelings.” Alfred Pennyworth sat at the table, cutting at a slice of pizza with knife and fork. “Though I suspect that such meals were not uncommon on those occasions when I was out of town or otherwise indisposed.”
“So, what you’re saying is, Bruce isn’t much of a cook?” asked Barbara.
Three voices echoed with one answer. “You got that right!” Dick, Alfred, and Silver St. Cloud all voiced their agreement in unison.
“I resemble that remark,” came a deep voice from the doorway. Everyone turned to see the master of the manor leaning against the door frame, a wry grin on his face. “I could always get Ollie Queen’s famous chili recipe.”
“Dear God in Heaven, anything but that!” Dick held up his hands as if to ward off an attack. “Roy brought some of that into Titans Tower once, and not only did we have to repaint the kitchen ceiling, but it took a week to get rid of the smell. You didn’t ever bring that stuff into the penthouse at the Foundation building, did you? I’ll have to get it fumigated.”
“Please tell me that Changeling wasn’t around that week,” added Jason.
“So, did you leave me any pizza?” asked Bruce Wayne, walking over to the table to slide a pair of slices onto a plate, then moving to take a seat next to Silver. “So, anybody have any ideas about this latest string of violence?”
Before anybody could answer, the telephone rang. Bruce glanced at the phone on the end table, and before picking up the handset, he motioned for the others to be quiet. “Line thirteen,” he said, then picked it up. “Hello?”
The others could hear the sound of someone speaking but couldn’t make out the words.
“Crane. What’s the matter, Professor?” Barbara shot Dick a meaningful glance.
Bruce’s eyebrows lifted as he encouraged the former criminal to continue his story. “Who was it, Professor?”
Moments later, Bruce hung up the phone. “Well, that answers the first question of the night. Jonathan Crane had a visit at the library this morning, a visitor who was researching city records for his current project.”
Five different voices started in at once, asking the identity of Crane’s visitor.
“We should have seen it before; lots of little things that all add up. The one we’re looking for is Harvey Dent — Two-Face.”
An hour later, most of those who had been gathered in Wayne Manor were in the great cavern under the estate. The single exception was Alfred, who had retired to his room. The others were gathered around a table piled high with computer printouts and file folders.
“How did we miss it? The tag-team wrestling twins, the dual methods used to induce madness in those men at the shelter?” Nightwing held up the list of suspected targets. “That, on top of the M.O. of striking in two different ways at each victim!”
“I think I found something else,” said Robin, turning from a computer terminal. “Both Darrin Stevens and Anthony Nelson were investigated for allegations of crime about eighteen years ago. Stevens’ neighbor filed charges that he was keeping strange creatures in the home, and Nelson was investigated for allegations of smuggling and customs violations. Both were found to be unfounded, though there were lots of unanswered questions in both cases. And get this: in both cases, the prosecuting attorney was Harvey Dent!”
“Back before Boss Maroni scarred his face with acid.” Batman sat with his elbows on the table, one hand clenching the other before him. “Start scanning the records of our other suspected victims and see if Harvey had any dealings with them.”
“At least that takes Bruce Wayne off the list, though,” said Batwoman, reaching for a file.
“No, it doesn’t,” replied the Caped Crusader.
“What?” asked Silver, sitting next to him.
“Before I started my career as Batman, I spent much of the previous five years — aside from completing high school and attending Gotham University — traveling around the world, seeking out masters of various sciences, fighting techniques, and disciplines. This was long before Lucius came to work at Wayne Industries, and I took very little interest in running it myself. There were two men, Brock Peters and Lionel Ingram, who ran most of the business. They both left abruptly when I returned to Gotham. It didn’t take long for me to discover why.”
“What happened?” asked Robin.
“Walter Tinsdale, who took their place, discovered that they had been embezzling. They were diverting one-half of one percent of each transaction into their own accounts. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that Wayne Industries was doing over three-hundred-million dollars a year just in defense contracts, you can see that it adds up quickly.”
“Whoa,” breathed Robin. “Let me guess, the case went to Dent?”
“Yes. That’s how I got to know Harvey, actually. He quickly realized that I had no hand in running the company at that time, and he worked with the IRS and the FBI to track down Peters and Ingram. He’s also the one who recommended that I take a more active role in managing my legacy.” Batman smiled. “We became good friends after that. For a while.”
“Given his current state of madness, I don’t doubt he would blame you for those crimes now.” Batwoman looked around. “Given the high profile Bruce Wayne has in Gotham City, I expect that you’re going to be the final one that he goes after.”
On the campus of Gotham University, the stillness of the early morning hours was shattered by a massive explosion. Gouts of fire tore out the windows and doors of a brick, glass, and steel building on the outskirts of the campus, one of the newer buildings at the college. Emergency vehicles careened through the narrow streets and walkways of the academic center. A battered tan Chevy pulled up, discharging two plainclothes police officers.
“Jeez, will ya look at this!” exclaimed Harvey Bullock. “Check that list, Montoya. This place on it?”
Renee Montoya scanned through three pages of computer printout. “Yep, there it is. Odd, though. All the others on the list are places or events sponsored by some rich or famous person here in Gotham. But who the heck in Gotham endowed the Richards School of Journalism?”
“Well, look what we have here! Nixon’s resignation. Ford pardons Nixon. Reagan’s election, and his assassination attempt. Quite a collection of newspapers you got there, fat boy!” The crook known as Frankie looked over at the older, heavyset man seated in the corner with his arms and legs taped to the chair.
“Those aren’t newspapers, those are ashcans,” said the older man in a rough, menacing voice. “Proof copies used to verify the layout of those editions before they went to the presses. Do you have any idea what they’re worth?”
“Not really, but if I was sent to get them, then they must be worth beaucoup bucks. So tell me, Mr. Grant, where are the rest of them?”
“Don’t worry about it — I’m sure they’ll provide the daily paper for you in jail!” Frankie turned just in time to get a boot in the face. He staggered back, dropping the sheets of paper he had been holding under one arm, but keeping his grip on his pistol. He aimed at the thin figure clad in dark blue perched on a glass-topped display cabinet. Before he could fire, the figure raised an arm, and a quiet chuff was followed by a sharp impact on Frankie’s wrist. The piton shattered two bones and tore muscle and tendons.
“Aaiieeee!” screamed Frankie.
“I have another one for the other hand if you try to pick up that gun again,” said Nightwing as he scanned the room for an accomplice. “Where’s your buddy from the other night?”
“He ain’t with me. The boss sent me out alone tonight; said he had another job for Sammie.” Frankie gripped his right wrist in his left hand. “Jeez, can ya help me out, here?”
“Just as soon as we cut Mr. Grant loose.” Frankie looked over to see a new figure coming in through the door, a woman clad in black with a dark blue cape and cowl. She moved over to where the older man was still struggling against the tape that held him to the chair. Producing a blade from her utility belt, Batwoman cut him loose.
“So, where is this other job?” asked Nightwing.
“I don’t know. The boss, he don’t tell anybody anything they don’t need to know!”
Batwoman came over and took Frankie’s arm in her hands. “Bet you need to know where he’s hiding out, though, don’t you?” She gave his wrist a twist, eliciting a scream as the crook dropped to his knees. “So, where do we find Two-Face?”
One hour later, four caped figures converged on the Keswick Theater in south Gotham. “I don’t get it,” said Robin. “Where’s the two in this hideout? Is Dent breaking from his usual M.O.?”
“Odd as it seems, it does fit in. You just have to know the history of the Keswick.” Batman let go of his silken cord and dropped to the roof, followed by his young protege. “For two decades, the Keswick was known for their double features. The only theater in Gotham to always show two newly released films every night.”
“Infrared shows three warm bodies inside,” reported Nightwing. “Either he’s picked up a couple of new flunkies, or he’s got a couple of hostages.”
“Lots of hiding places inside,” said Batman. “They converted back to a theater for live productions a couple of years ago. Major excavation underneath the original floor to add dressing rooms, prop and equipment rooms, staging areas, and such. Not as bad as one of the old theaters with its original layout, but Two-Face will have lots of holes to bolt into one he realizes we’re here.
“Robin, you and Nightwing take the stage doors. Batwoman and I will go in the front. Ninety seconds.” At the word from the Dark Knight, the team split and moved to opposite ends of the rooftop. Each dropped to the ground, slowing their descents with lines or acrobatics according to their own preference. At the end of the prescribed time, two doors at the front and back of the building opened quietly. As they slipped inside, the four costumed crime-fighters heard voices from the stage.
“No, Gilda, this is the end. You may say you still love me, but I know that sooner or later my hideous visage will drive you away!”
“Don’t be a fool, Harvey! Your accident changes nothing about how I feel for you!”
“What the–?” mouthed Robin, looking at Nightwing.
“I’ve got a lousy feeling about this,” the older man said.
At the front of the theater, Batman and Batwoman came through a door from the lobby and stopped in their tracks. Down on the stage, a man and woman faced each other. A second man sat in the front row, watching and giving instructions. As the pair on the stage stopped and stared at the costumed duo, he turned. “What are you doing here? We’re trying to rehearse.”
“At one in the morning?” asked Batman, coming down the aisle at a trot.
“Hey, I’ve been trying to find a sponsor for my play for three years. Mr. Twain offered the use of the theater after regular performances. Who was I to refuse?” The second man stood and met the Caped Crusader at the end of the aisle. “Jackson Thewes.”
“I’ve heard of your work. You produce art-house-style plays based on real-life events.” A glance at the pair on the stage told Batman what was happening. “You’ve written a play based on Harvey Dent, haven’t you?”
“A Life Split Asunder, yes. I found the story of how a tragic criminal act destroyed the psyche of Gotham’s brightest legal star irresistable.”
“Apparently your subject agrees with you.” Batman turned to his companions, who had by now joined him. “Looks like Two-Face found a convenient way to provide a double for himself.”
“Umm, am I in trouble or anything?” asked Thewes.
“No, you made a legitimate deal. I have little doubt that your Mr. Twain was either Two-Face or one of his accomplices, but I think that a play detailing his descent into madness might help others understand how these criminal minds work.”
Moments later, back on the roof of the Keswick Theater, the crime-fighting foursome gathered again. “Looks like Two-Face’s trail has gone cold for now. We’ll research what we can tomorrow and pick it up again after the Wayne Foundation benefit tomorrow night.”
Batwoman looked around at the others. “You realize, of course, that the benefit could be a perfect place for Two-Face to strike at Bruce Wayne.”
“Well, duh!” replied Robin.
“Still, at least two of us have to be there out of costume, so we’d better bring in all the help we can get.” Nightwing looked up at his former mentor. “I can bring in a couple of the Titans if you want.”
“No, I think we’ve got enough folks in town to cover it. There’s a couple of them you haven’t worked with yet. Langstrom said he’d be available, and I think we can count on Prototype.” Batman looked Batwoman. “Think we can count on Fear Factor?”
Under the deep blue mask, Barbara Gordon’s eyebrows arched. “You want him in on this?”
“Unless you can think of a reason otherwise, yes. Robin, I want you to get in touch with Ragman tomorrow. Go by his shop after school and let him know that his help is needed.” The Boy Wonder nodded in agreement. “All right, then, let’s head for home.”
“And so, in conjunction with the Park Row redevelopment project, the Wayne Foundation is planning a massive re-training and employment program for downtown Gotham City. In the wake of recent events, opportunities abound for men and women who are willing to work, and the Wayne Foundation is here to provide the tools they need to succeed.” Bruce Wayne inwardly winced at the rhyme as he stood at the podium before the packed ballroom. Glancing up, he could see the great column of greenery that surrounded the central elevator shaft of the Wayne Foundation building. The ballroom, occupying half of the second floor of the building, had a glass ceiling that afforded a view of the building’s unique core. It was also, he reflected, extremely vulnerable to attack. A more perfect choice for the evening’s events could not have been made if he tried.
“Bruce, what about the rumors of another re-development project in Gotham?” asked an elderly gentleman sitting in the front row. “Can Gotham stand two projects like this at once?”
“Gotham can stand any amount of development, Andrew. However, given that most of the waterfront area where this other project is purported to take place was already rebuilt two years ago, I’m not sure I see the need for that project. I will be meeting with Ruby Ryder during the next few weeks to discuss how we might coordinate our projects for the betterment of all of Gotham.”
“In other words, you’re going to try to make me come around to your way of thinking, right, Brucie?” Several hundred heads turned toward the main entrance of the ballroom, where a tall woman clad in scarlet stood. “After all, who would dare to contradict the great and powerful Bruce Wayne?”
“Miss Ryder, welcome to the festivities! Please do come in and join us before the auction begins.” Bruce waved her toward an empty seat in one of the front rows.
“Oh, yes, nothing like watching the sheep of Gotham at play.” She looked around the room and at the great model of the new Park Row district that was on display. “And look at this — small factories, boutiques, condominiums, and low-cost housing. How conservative.” She looked up at Bruce, studying him over the cigarette holder she held between two scarlet-tipped fingers. “How so like you.”
“I suppose you have something better in mind, Ms. Ryder?” asked Police Commissioner James W. Gordon, standing near the back of the room.
“But of course, darling! Imagine, if you will, Gotham’s waterfront bristling with hotels, theaters, and casinos. A veritable playground for the wealthy, eager to spend their money and forget their cares for a while.”
“And staffed, no doubt, by a bunch of minimum-wage slaves from the inner city,” added Dick Grayson sardonically.
“Well, after all, what else are they good for?” Walking down the center aisle, Ruby looked around. “But naturally, Bruce tells you to help those cattle, and here you are, checkbooks in hand, ready to flush more money down that particular toilet.” With a flourish, she took a seat.
“Well, now that we have all, emm, experienced Ms. Ryder’s unique viewpoint, what say we start the auction?” Bruce ceded the podium to the auctioneer, who started introducing the first item. Just as he was stepping down from the stage, one of the glass ceiling panels exploded in a shower of crystalline shards.
“Sorry, folks, but this party has been called off,” cried a hard voice. Looking up, the people saw a strangely dressed figure outlined in the broken ceiling panel. Half-dressed in a formal black tuxedo, and half-dressed in bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, stood Two-Face.