The office was nothing extraordinary. Just a simple, twelve-by-twelve room tucked in among several dozen others of the same size, with the same gray metal desk and book case, the same black, high-backed chair, the same green-glowing computer terminal, and the same faintly flickering flourescent lights.
What set this office apart from all the others was the blood.
“I tell ya, Montoya, when I check out, this ain’t the way I want to go.” Harvey Bullock stood in the center of the room over the blood-drenched body of a middle-aged man.
“Name on the driver’s license matches the name on the door. Allen Coltrane, age fifty-three, height five-foot-ten, weight one-seventy-five, brown eyes, blonde hair.” Renee Montoya looked up from where she crouched next to the corpse, holding a thermometer. “Body temp indicates he was killed about forty-five minutes ago. You getting that, Harv?”
Bullock’s thick, stumpy fingers had been busy with a pencil in a small notebook. “Yeah, I got it. Now we got to figure out who would break into a Wayne Technologies research lab and hack one of their eggheads up like a slab of beef.”
“Whoever it was, they weren’t alone.” Montoya and Bullock turned to find a third person in the room — the Batman.
“Aw, geez, I suppose you’re gonna pull the answer to this outta your–”
“Sorry, Detective, but I’m as much in the dark as you are.” Batman came forward and knelt beside Montoya. “But, if you look, you’ll see that there are three distinctly different shoe prints in the blood on the floor. This one,” he said, pointing to an imprint of a flat- soled shoe with a clearly separated heel print, “is Dr. Coltrane’s. You will see that he is wearing rubber-soled shoes with no tread. That one near you, Lieutenant Montoya, is narrow and has an even narrower heel.”
“A woman’s shoe,” said the Hispanic detective.
“And the other is one of the newer athletic shoes with very raised treads and the heel blended with the rest of the shoe.”
“Yeah, I seen that,” said Bullock. “So, we’re dealing with a team of killers here.”
“Very good, Detective. I’ll need to see the autopsy results to determine if all the wounds were inflicted by one of those persons, or if they were both involved.”
“What about the weapon?” asked Montoya.
“Long slashing cuts with enough force to cut through smaller bones like the fore arm.” Batman pointed to where one of the victim’s hands laid away from the body. “I’d guess a machete or a heavy sword.”
“Great, just what we need,” sighed Bullock. “Another whack-job or two running around Gotham.
Ten hours later, Dick Grayson walked into his office at Wayne Enterprises, followed by Cynthia Morningstar.
“What’s at the top of the list today, Cindy?” Dick reached out for the sheaf of folders she carried.
“The Japanese Finance Minister is due here at ten regarding their investment in the Park Row project, and the architects want to meet with you this afternoon regarding the plans for the business incubator center. The usual paperwork on the project, and Lucius asked me to remind you that Bruce’s will is to be opened a week from tomorrow. Per his request, I have cleared your schedule for the day.”
Dick let the folders slide out of his hand onto the desk as he collapsed into the high-backed leather chair. “The will. I don’t know if I’m ready for that,” he said as he wiped his forehead.
“Sure you are, Richard,” said the attractive blonde as she moved behind his chair and started to rub his shoulders. “You’re just nervous, which is perfectly understandable.”
Dick shrugged off her efforts. “Cynthia, I’ve told you not to do that.” He turned his chair to face her. “I appreciate your concern, but I would prefer that you, um, keep your hands to yourself.”
Cynthia stepped back with a sigh as Dick’s phone rang. Without looking, he reached back and pressed a button that activated a speakerphone. “Grayson here,” he answered.
“Mr. Grayson, I have a couple of officers from the Gotham Police Department here. They say they need to speak with you immediately.” The female voice at the other end of the line was clearly shaken.
“All right, Paula, I expected they would be here. Please send them up to my office.” Dick hung up and turned back to his desk. “I don’t know if you are aware of it, Cynthia, but we had a murder in the research center last night. Please stop by at nine-forty-five for a briefing session before we meet with the Finance Minister.”
“Yes, sir,” answered the slender blonde as she walked from the office, passing a pair of uniformed officers as they entered.
“Mr. Grayson? I’m Craig King. This is my partner, Ron Trowbridge. I understand that you were already notified about the death of Allen Coltrane.” The officers took up positions on either side of the open door.
“Yes, Officer King. It is standing policy that all crimes committed at any Wayne company facility are brought to my attention.” Dick reached toward a vertical file organizer on his desk and plucked a file from the front of it. “Mr. Coltrane worked for Wayne Technology in the former Sullivan Sport Pharmaceuticals lab. Wayne Technology recently purchased it from Isaac Sullivan.”
“I’ve dealt with some of your company’s facilities before, Mr. Grayson, and it seems like the security at this particular one were, uhh, somewhat lacking.”
“Unfortunately, that is correct. Again, standard procedure — the Sullivan lab was due to have a new alarm system, video surveillance, and controlled entrance system installed during the next month. According to the report I received this morning, an unknown person or persons entered at approximately nine o’clock last night.” Dick looked up from the folder. “I understand that the officers believe Coltrane — who often worked late — interrupted a robbery, and that’s when he was killed.”
“Your report is pretty complete, sir. We have been interviewing his wife and co-workers. Co-workers haven’t found anything missing so far.”
“They wouldn’t,” said Dick, simply.
Ron Trowbridge looked up from his notebook. “Pardon me?”
“Nothing will be missing. The killing happened in Coltrane’s office. The killers went directly to him.” Dick closed the folder and laid it down. “This was a deliberate murder.”
“How about another round, Tommy?”
The man known only as Thomas grabbed up the three mugs in front of him and started filling them from the tap. “Anything else for you, Mr. Speech?”
“I think Lori, there, could use another coffee,” replied the thin, brown-haired man who ran most of the affairs in Isolation. “You make sure she’s taken care of, all right?”
“Certainly, sir.” Thomas filled a mug from a battered coffee urn and carried it to a table in the corner of the quonset hut that served as Isolation’s main social gathering spot. “More coffee, Lori?”
An olive-skinned, dark-haired woman looked up, a smile crossing her round face. “Thank you, Thomas.” She looked over to where Vincent huddled in quiet conversation with two other men. “I see they’re still plotting their overthrow of the civilized world.”
“Something like that.” Thomas smiled and pulled up a seat. “Let me guess — plenty of plots, but they’ve never actually tried implementing any of them?”
“Very astute, Thomas. Let’s face it, there’s not a lot to do around here, so making plans is one of the easiest ways they can entertain themselves. I think you know most of the people here weren’t exactly your average, law-abiding citizens down in the forty-eight.”
“Yeah, I’d kind of gathered that,” replied Thomas, remembering the story Mick told him a week earlier.
“Preston, there — the thin one — was even a costumed villain. Went up against the Batman a few times before coming up here.” At the mention of Batman’s name, Thomas felt a deep chill. He had felt it before when Mick spoke of the Flash and the Justice League, but this was even more intense.
“He’s an odd one. Never stays in the dining hall for long. Went over to his shack to drop off some books he wanted to borrow from Mick, and the place is cold as a tomb.” Bruce looked back to see if Vince, Preston or the other man needed anything. Seeing that they were situated for a while, he tried changing the conversation. “So, how come you’re here?”
“Every newcomer asks me that sooner or later.” Lori took a long drink from her mug. “See, I was the other woman. I know the rumor floats around that Vince killed his wife. The rumor’s true. I’m the reason he killed her.” Deep inside, Thomas had the unmistakable feeling that he was hearing the truth, and it made his skin crawl. “I met him about a year after he got back to Seattle from working the pipeline. He had a wife who’d been fooling around on him while he was gone, and she wasn’t about to give up a couple of her boyfriends. He started talking about this place, and I suggested we just come up here. He said he couldn’t leave her behind. Then came the night he came home in the middle of one of her parties.”
“Yeah, she had three or four guys at the house. Guess she did this quite a bit while he was gone, and kept doing it a few times after he got back. He’s never told me just what happened that night; all I know is he showed up at my place just after sunrise and told me to pack.” She took another drink. “We’ve never been back.”
“You believe he killed her.” Not a question, though she took it as one.
“Her and probably one or more of her boyfriends. I don’t try to justify it, but I live with it.”
“And what if he thinks you have something going on with one of the other men around here? He’ll do the same to you, you know.”
“Maybe. But I think he’s changed a bit. He even indulges me, letting me try to help out in the orphanage.”
“What orphanage?” asked Thomas.
“About two miles east of here. A couple of sisters set it up about thirty years ago, because one of the local Inuit tribes had a flu outbreak that killed seventy percent of the adults. He lets me take food over there, and Mick provides heat for them. There are about sixty children, the two sisters, and about a dozen adults living there now. Clans from all over the region send their children. They refurbished an old wooden storage barn from the early days of the explorations up here.”
“Looks like this guy is bothering you, Lori?” Lori glanced up, and Thomas turned to find a pair of newcomers standing behind him. “Shouldn’t be telling your story to strangers, Lori. They could get hurt.”
Instinct made Thomas bring an arm up just as the man on the right swung at him with an empty bottle. The back of Thomas’ balled fist struck the nerve running up the inside of the man’s forearm, and his hand opened, releasing the bottle.
“Frank! What the hell are you doing?” cried Lori.
“Vince don’t much like the way this guy seems to be nosing around, so he asked Tony and I to have a little talk with him.”
Tom stood up and turned to face Frank and Tony. “Lori, maybe you’d best get out of here. Vince has left, and I think we have matters to discuss.”