“Actually, if you don’t mind, I think I’m going to keep these.” Batman ran his hand over the modified gauntlets of his costume. “They’re a little heavier, but not enough to hamper movement. And the grapple launcher has much better range than a hand-thrown batarang with a line attached.”
“Each spool has five hundred yards of promethium line, which can bear up to four hundred and eighty pounds.” Dick Grayson pointed out the controls for the launcher and the line brakes. “The brakes can only hold about four hundred, so if you’re carrying someone, you might not be able to make a full stop, but they’ll slow you down enough to reach the ground without splattering.”
“Jason said something about a lift motor that he was working on.” Batman walked over to a work bench in the Batcave and picked up an uncompleted assembly. “It will clamp on to the line and can carry a person upward at about a hundred feet per minute.”
From the other side of the cavern, an alarm sounded. “Looks like it’s time to go to work!” said Dick, grinning as he pulled on the top of his Nightwing costume. “Nervous?”
“Only a little,” confessed Batman as he slid behind the wheel of a sleek black car. “Want a ride?”
“Got my own. Find out what’s happening and fill me in along the way!” Nightwing leaped onto a low-slung motorcycle, slipping a helmet on his head as he started the engine. He accelerated out ahead of the Batmobile down the tunnel leading to the cave’s exit.
Inside the Batmobile, gloved hands moved deftly over controls. As the car started to move forward, the radio came to life. “Batman here. What have we got?”
“Undercover operation gone bad. One officer in a bar with a dealer, at least two enforcers with the dealer. We had a wire on him, then it went dead.” Batman listened as Commissioner James W. Gordon gave him the address of the bar. “We have two patrols near the scene; they’re going in on foot so they don’t alert the dealers. It might just be an equipment malfunction, but the last thing we heard was a disagreement over the money he was paying with.”
In his head, Batman reviewed approaches to the location. “Nightwing and I will be there in about seven minutes. I’ll put out the call for anyone else that’s patrolling.”
As requested, Batman relayed the location and pertinent information to Nightwing, whose helmet included a radio on their private frequency. Batman then thumbed a switch to change frequencies. “Batman here. Anybody out on patrol?”
“I was just starting to wonder if you were coming out tonight,” came the voice of Batwoman. “I heard the police radio call for assistance on Doyle Street; was just heading over.”
“I thought Robin was out, too.”
“I just wrapped up on a B and E in Devin Heights.” Robin’s voice over the radio was young and eager. “I’ll be back to the cycle in about a minute, but it’s going to take me a good fifteen minutes to get there.”
“Gordon should be at the scene by then. Meet up with him before you go in.” Batman applied the brakes as he rounded a turn and accelerated toward a bridge. “Batwoman, you’re closest. Get the lay of the land and fill us in.”
“You want me to hold off on going in?”
“Your call. Initial reports say there’s at least two enforcers and a dealer who may or may not be a direct threat. There’s an officer inside — he may be dead, wounded, or he may be able to assist. He may still be undercover; if so, don’t blow his cover.”
“Got it. I’ll radio back once I’m there.” Batman heard the click of her radio switching off. He dialed back to Nightwing’s direct frequency.
“You didn’t tell her not to go in.”
“That’s right. As I said, it’s her call.”
Detective Josh Lucas lay on the floor of the Grin and Beer It bar on Doyle Avenue. His chest ached from the shot that had destroyed the radio transmitter he wore, but the bulletproof vest had kept the bullet from doing any serious damage. And there was no reason to let “Sticks” Shanahan know that.
“What kind of stupid ass d’you think I am, Eddie?” asked Sticks, using Josh’s cover name. “Trying to pay for merchandise with counterfeit bills is one thing, but using the bills I put on the street myself? Damn, boy, that’s just stupid!” He raised his pistol and blew the lingering smoke away from the barrel.
Bull Longley and Mitch Porter both laughed, as much for Sticks’ benefit as from any amusement at his comments. Sticks waved his free hand at the two battered briefcases on the table near Eddie, and Mitch grabbed the handles of both of them in his right hand. His left hand continued holding a pistol, covering Eddie’s unmoving body on the floor.
Behind them, the three gunmen heard a thumping sound from the ladies’ room. Sticks tilted his head in that direction. “Bull. Check it.”
Bull walked over to the door, standing next to it as he reached with one hand to push it open from the side. The door was wrenched open from the other side.
“Jeez, Mark, you know I can’t drink tequila!” yelled a female voice. “Makes me sick as a — hell! Where’d Mark go?”
As the door opened, a tall woman with damp red hair hanging in strands down her face slumped against the doorway. She was dressed in a black bodysuit with a dark blue wraparound skirt and a loose-fitting, multi-colored top with a wide collar opening that was hanging down off of one shoulder. Bull figured she might look halfway decent without the heavy makeup that was running down her face. He figured she’d either been crying a lot or had dunked her head in the sink. Then he got a good whiff of her and realized she’d dunked her head somewhere else in the ladies’ room. He brought his gun hand down to his side so it was out of her sight, but still covering her. He saw Mitch and Sticks do the same.
“I think your friend took off on you,” said Sticks, trying to gauge what she might have seen or heard.
“Aw, hell, and he’s got my stash!” She looked around. “You guys got any blow? I really need a buzz right now.”
“You wanna play, you gotta pay, chicka. Why don’t you go on, get outta here.”
“Look, I ain’t got any cash,” said the redhead, moving closer to Sticks. “But, you know, I can pay,” she said, lowering her voice as her left hand reached out to slide up his left arm.
Mitch cocked an eyebrow upward. “Hey, how about it, boss? Bull and I could go for a little fun, you know?”
Sticks hesitated for a second. “Yeah, we might work out a dea — urk!” The redhead had reached around behind his back and grabbed his right hand, which still held the pistol with which he’d shot Josh Lucas. She yanked that arm behind his back as she drove her left knee into his groin, then she turned so that he was between her and Mitch. His pistol clattered to the floor. “Damn! What kind of crazy $#it are you pulling?”
A side door of the bar room opened up, and three men stepped through from a store room, each of them holding a pistol. “You need help, boss?” asked one of them.
“What do you think?” screamed Sticks. “Kill her!”
Up on the roof, one dark-clad figure turned to another. “That’s our cue.” Together, they brought their feet down on a weathered skylight.
In the main bar room of the Grin and Beer It, chaos erupted as the occupants were showered with broken glass and shards of half-rotted wood. The redhead, now amazingly sober and alert, reached down the back of her collar and pulled a black cowl up and over her head, tore the loose-fitting top away, revealing a golden, bat-shaped emblem on her chest, and unwrapped the skirt she wore, fitting it to her shoulders.
“Batwoman? Aw, hell!” cried Sticks as he tried to bring his arm around to fire, only to realize she’d pulled it hard enough to strain the muscles.
“She’s not alone,” came a voice from above. Sticks looked up in time to catch a black boot square in the face. Bull barely saw the whirling batarang that struck the side of his head, but he did see the escrima stick that drove into his solar plexus before he fell to the floor.
One of the newcomers from the side room brought his gun up to fire at Batwoman, only to have it knocked out of his hand by a spinning kick from the Batman. He stepped back, reaching for a second pistol tucked in his waistband, but found himself lifted off the floor. “Not a good idea,” growled Batman before tossing the thug across the room into one of his fellow criminals.
Batwoman jumped onto one of the tables, driving her foot into the back of the third newcomer’s head. His face smashed into the bar, and he fell senseless to the floor.
Nightwing bent down over Josh Lucas and lifted him over his shoulder. “Time to clear out some of the trash,” he said loudly. Then, much more quietly, he said to the undercover officer, “Let’s get you out of here. How badly are you shot?”
“Impact only — the vest took the shot.” As Nightwing turned, Lucas flung out a leg to strike Mitch in the side of the head. The shot Mitch had been aiming at Batman went wide, striking the ceiling.
On the floor, Sticks was moving slowly toward the door. He saw Bull climb to his feet and take a swing at Batman, only to receive a booted foot to the stomach and crash to the floor again. As Nightwing carried Eddie to the front door, Sticks reached the back door and pushed it open. In the alley behind the bar, he got to his feet and turned to make his way through the shadows.
“Leaving the party so soon?” asked a young-sounding voice. “But you haven’t sampled the punch.” A green-gloved fist smashed into Sticks’ face, breaking his nose and knocking him to the ground. “Oh, guess that punch was a bit too strong for you, eh?”
“Nice timing.” Robin looked up to see Batman in the doorway. “I didn’t think you’d get here so fast.”
“Found a shortcut,” said Robin with a grin, jerking a thumb up at the elevated train running near the bar. “Got onto the track just ahead of the J-train — makes a nice express route across the city.”
Moments later, Batwoman stopped by an ambulance in front of the bar to check on Josh Lucas’ condition. “That was a heck of a risk you took, going in like that,” Nightwing said to her, waiting on word on Lucas’ condition as well.
“A calculated risk,” replied the dark-clad redhead, her eyes flashing with annoyance. “You have a problem with that?”
“Not at all,” replied Nightwing, a smile forming on his lips. “Obviously, neither Batman or I could ever pull that one off.”
The back door of the ambulance opened up, and one of the attendants stepped out. “Clear for him to come out?”
“Yeah, there’s nobody left out here that could blow his cover,” replied Batwoman. The attendant opened the door further, revealing Josh Lucas lying on a stretcher with a smile on his face.
“Thanks, folks,” said Lucas. “I spent the last six weeks setting this up, and now it won’t be wasted.”