Shortly after two o’clock AM, the phone rang at Wayne Manor. Bruce Wayne answered it in the hall as he watched the last of the caterers carrying out their equipment.
“Mr. Wayne? This is Officer Renee Montoya, Gotham P.D.”
“Officer, what can I do for you at this hour?”
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Mr. Wayne, but it appears that your butler has been attacked.”
“Great Scott! Is he all right? Where is he?” as he spoke, Bruce’s finger punched out sequences of numbers on the specially modified telephone’s keypad. Upstairs, lights came on and alarms sounded in two bedrooms.
“He was knocked out with a mild sleeping gas, Mr. Wayne. There doesn’t appear to be any physical injury, but he is in no condition to drive. We’re at the corner of Levitz and Schwartz near the Midtown Plaza.”
Where Lucius lives, thought Bruce. “I can be there in twenty minutes, Officer. Please, just make sure Alfred and the others are looked after.”
“The others, Mr. Wayne? I don’t understand, sir. Mr. Pennyworth was alone in the limousine. Was he driving somebody?” Officer Montoya sounded puzzled.
“Yes, he was driving five people home from my estate. I’ll call to see if any of them made it home before I come down there.” Bruce already knew what he would find.
“It would speed things up if you could give me a list, Mr. Wayne.” Officer Montoya’s voice made it clear that she expected an answer. The edge didn’t leave her voice even after Bruce rattled off the names and addresses of those who were in the car, along with an indication that he didn’t even know where Silver St. Cloud was staying. “I’m sure we can track her down if it comes to that. Fortunately, she did give you the phone number.”
They hung up, and Bruce rapidly dialed each of the five as Dick Grayson and Jason Todd came down the stairs. Getting no answer at any of the numbers, Bruce hung up the phone and faced the two young men. “Guys, we have a situation.”
Moments later, in the great cavern under Wayne Manor, Bruce directed Dick and Jason to change into their costumes.
“What about you?” asked Jason, reaching for the hooded cape that hung on the costume rack. He pulled it on over the red and green costume.
“The police need to speak with Bruce Wayne. So Batman can’t be on the scene, but that doesn’t mean that Nightwing and Robin can’t be.” Bruce started toward the garage bay, turning back to speak to Nightwing. “You want to take your cycle or ride in with us?”
“The clutch was feeling a little loose last night; I’d better ride with you,” said Nightwing as he hurried to catch up with them. He caught Robin’s arm as he started toward the newest Batmobile. “I don’t think he’s taking that one, Jay.”
“Huh? Why not?”
Seeing Bruce proceed toward the back corner of the bay, Nightwing smiled. “Bruce Wayne can’t drive up in a Batmobile, and they’ll expect him to drive Alfred home. So we’ll take the convertible.”
“Are you nuts? What’s a convertible got to do with it?”
“You’ll see. Bruce had this one built a couple years ago.”
A muted roar filled their ears, and a sleek sports car slid out of the shadows and pulled up in front of them. A gull-wing door lifted open, and Bruce looked out. “Hop in, Jason. You’re stuck with what passes for a back-seat in this thing.”
“How come you’ve got a Ferrari down here?” asked Robin as he climbed in.
“It’s not your standard Ferrari,” replied Bruce as Dick climbed in and they started down the tunnel leading from the Batcave. “Take a look out the rear window.”
Robin turned to look out, and he was startled to see a spoiler rising from the trunk. The side vanes were scalloped to look like bat wings. In the reflected light of the tunnel, he saw the color of the car shift, almost like something alive. “What’s with the paint job?” he asked.
“No paint. The surface is clear gloss-coat, over an electrically sensitive pigment. The onboard computer has two dozen preprogrammed color schemes. Right now, it’s dark blue and black, with the bat-logo on the hood and doors.”
“Cool, very cool.”
Nightwing turned back to smile at him. “You should see the ground effects. They retract for civilian-mode and drop down to within an inch of the ground to mute the road noise.”
The car plunged into darkness for the last straight run to the exit, then burst through the opening and out onto a seldom-used country highway. Blue lenses kept the headlights’ glow to a minimum as they cruised toward Gotham City.
Three blocks from the crime scene, Bruce let Nightwing and Robin out. They took to the rooftops as the alternate Batmobile underwent a change. By the time Bruce arrived at the intersection of Levitz and Schwartz, he was driving a bright red Ferrari whose high beams nearly blinded a couple of officers before they realized the car was supposed to be there. As Bruce got out of the car, another car pulled in behind him. The engine coughed to a stop as the door was flung open. The man who stepped out paused to look around as he closed the door. He nodded his approval of the way the scene was secured before trotting over to catch up with Bruce.
“Commissioner,” said the millionaire, “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Hell, Bruce, Alfred is a friend of mine, too, you know.” Commissioner James W. Gordon took the hand offered by his old friend. “I had to make sure he was being treated properly.”
“I trust your people, Jim,” replied Bruce as they walked over to where a knot of officers and paramedics stood around the open door of a police cruiser.
“I’m glad to hear that, Mr. Wayne. Still, one shouldn’t be surprised that the Commissioner gets personally involved when an associate of one of Gotham’s elite is attacked.” The speaker was a woman in the uniform of the Gotham City Police Department. She was young, probably just a few years out of the academy, thought Bruce — attractive, dark-skinned, raven-black hair, dark eyes. Bruce recognized the voice.
“Officer Montoya, I presume?” he asked, offering his hand.
“That’s correct, Mr. Wayne. Your man is in the car, there. A little groggy, but otherwise fine.”
“I’m glad to hear that. May I speak to–” Bruce was cut off by the arrival of two costumed figures. The taller one wore a dark blue body suit with a golden cowling that hung over his shoulders and covered the upper part of his chest. The black mask that covered half of his face was vaguely bat-shaped. The other smaller figure wore a red tunic over green tights, with a golden cape and hood that obscured most of his face. Under the hood, a dark wraparound mask concealed his features from closer inspection.
“Robin, Nightwing. I’m glad you came,” said the Commissioner. “We have a multiple kidnapping on our hands, it appears.”
“Yes, I tried contacting each of those whom Alfred was taking home. None of them made it,” said Bruce.
“I sent officers to check their residences as well,” added Montoya. “Mr. Wayne, perhaps you would like to check on your butler while I speak with our costumed friends here?”
“Of course, Officer.” As Bruce moved toward the cruiser, Gordon watched his officer engage the costumed crime-fighters in an animated description of what had apparently happened.
“Thank heavens you are here, sir! I was afraid they might have gone after you at the Manor after finding that you weren’t in the car!” Alfred Pennyworth tried to stand, but one of the paramedics held his arm and kept him in a seated position.
“No, there’s been no sign of anything like that, old friend. Now, tell me, what happened?”
“I was preparing to drop off Mr. Fox when I saw two people in the street. One was laying there, and the other, a young woman, was bending over him. I thought he had been hurt and stopped to offer assistance. As soon as I stopped the car and started to open the door, someone was right there, just behind the door. He had some sort of gas-gun, or bottle, or something. I heard a rather loud hissing sound, I smelled something odd, then the next thing I recall, this young woman in a police uniform was standing over me.”
Bruce bent over, as if whispering to the older man. He sniffed at his thinning hair and his wool overcoat. “I’ll need to run a lab analysis to be sure, but I think they used NarcOX on you. Some law enforcement agencies have been testing it for Bristol Labs, and there are only two or three sources for it in Gotham.” Straightening up, he said, “Just as soon as the police and the paramedics are satisfied, I’ll get you home, Alfred.”
“Let’s not forget the case, sir,” added Alfred.
“What case?” asked one of the paramedics.
“Something of a rich man’s folly,” replied Bruce. He turned and approached Officer Montoya. “I expect you will be holding the car for a while?”
“Yes, our evidence team will want to give it a thorough going-over in the morning. Don’t tell me you don’t have another vehicle,” said the young officer with a slight edge in her voice. She wasn’t looking at Bruce, but over at the Ferrari he had arrived in.
“No, that’s not a problem; take all the time with it you need. If possible, however, I would like to take one thing from the car. No doubt something else about the wealthy that you will find reason to dislike.”
One eyebrow arched slightly as Renee Montoya turned to face the millionaire. “And just what would that be, Mr. Wayne?”
“A briefcase, identical to ones I keep in all my vehicles. One never knows when opportunity will strike, and I like to be prepared, you see.” Bruce walked over to the limousine, and Montoya motioned to the officers that he was to be allowed access.
“Oh, and does this contain a change of clothes and a passport, in case you decide to take a little trip?“
“No, just cash.” Bruce reached in through the front passenger door and under the front seat. He pulled out a brushed aluminum briefcase. He twisted the latches counterclockwise and flipped the lid open. There, wrapped in paper bands, were stacks of hundred dollar bills. “About three-hundred-thousand, if you need to make note of that.”
Renee Montoya stammered, faced with more money than she had ever expected to see in her entire life. “Are — are you insane, carrying this kind of money around?”
“Officer, I don’t expect you to understand this, but when you deal in the stratosphere of finance, sometimes you need immediate access to large amounts of money. Think of it as a large wallet for milk and egg money.” Bruce closed the case and walked over to where Alfred was awaiting him. He turned back to where Monoya still stood by the open car door. “Will there be anything else tonight, Officer?”
“No, no, go ahead. I’ll be in touch with you in the morning.”
“Thank you, Officer Montoya.”
Once in the car, Alfred lifted the briefcase into his lap. Pressing in on the latches, then turning them clockwise, he opened the case. There, instead of the stacks of bills, was a folded mass of midnight-blue silk. Under this was a heavier parcel of dark gray cloth, and below that was a compartment holding gloves, boots, and a gleaming golden belt.
“I do hope Officer Montoya would not be disappointed to learn that there is only about sixty-thousand dollars in here, sir,” said Alfred as he prepared his master’s uniform. “Will you change in the car, or are you going to find a dark alley?”
“Neither, Alfred. I don’t want you driving back to the Manor, so I thought we would go over to the Foundation Building. The penthouse is empty but furnished, so you can rest there while I catch up with the others.”
“Very good, sir.” The red car streaked through the near-empty streets of Gotham, turning at last into Finger Alley. Bruce flipped up the center console of the car and pressed a button. A garage door on a dilapidated warehouse slid open silently, and the car moved inside. Behind them, the door closed once again.
Five minutes later, the warehouse door again opened and closed, discharging a very different-looking vehicle. Batman prowled the streets of his city again, zeroing in on a meeting point arranged by radio communication with his partners.
Atop the Gotham Cathedral, a meeting took place on a small balcony overlooking the city.
“Have we got anything?” asked Batman, looking around at the five other figures around him.
“You ID’d the NarcOX in the limo and on Alfred, right?” asked Nightwing. Seeing his old mentor nod, he explained for the others. “It’s an extremely fast-acting sleeping gas, developed for use by police and intelligence agencies. Spray a gram or so of it into a room, and everyone is out for five to fifteen minutes. No side-effects, no headaches, or nausea.”
“Sounds good. Where can we get some?” asked Robin.
“I ordered it a month ago, but supplies are still tight on it.” Batman held up a small device with a liquid crystal display screen on it. “I’m running it through the computer in the Batcave, trying to trace shipments into Gotham. There can’t be too many people who can get their hands on it.”
“I’ve been doing concentric sweeps, looking for vehicles large enough to carry five hostages. Lots of trucks, but they’re on delivery rounds. Easy to confirm.” Man-Bat perched on the railing, looking like one of the cathedral’s gargoyles.
“We busted up a weapons deal, two drug buys, and a heist at Lennon’s Jewelers, and didn’t hear anything about a kidnapping going down,” added Ragman. Batwoman kept a close eye on the Vietnam veteran, knowing that he had become attached to Leslie Thompkins over the past year. Thinking about the crimes she had stopped along with Ragman and Man-Bat, a thought occurred to her.
“Remember down at the waterfront?” said Batwoman. “One of the gang-bangers we took down on the heroin deal complained that the Eels were supposed to be providing back-up, and they never showed up.”
“That’s right,” said Man-Bat, his voice sounding strained in his inhuman form. “A bit of hired muscle for either a drug deal or a snatch. Worth looking into.”
Batman glanced over at the clock on the Gotham Savings building. “It’s late, and I know everyone here has had a long day. Take your pick, Batwoman, Ragman, Man-Bat: Either now or first thing in the morning, check out the waterfront gangs, see if any are missing in action.” He turned toward Nightwing and Robin and whispered, “If they’re looking for ransom, our friends should be relatively safe for now. I have to get back to the Manor; I have little doubt that officer Montoya will be showing up with a team to watch over me within the hour. I can check the NarcOX connection from there and coordinate things.”
The group split off, Man-Bat bearing Ragman down to the street. Before tossing her line to swing off, Batwoman pulled Batman aside.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“Five of Bruce Wayne’s closest friends are missing. How should I feel?” His eyes, usually unreadable under the cowl, gave off a mixed aura of sadness and anger. “It’s good to know I’ve got the best people in Gotham on the case.”
“Damn right, Batman. And we’ll get the bastard behind this.”
Elsewhere, a monitor screen showed a laboratory with five persons strapped to strange, unearthly devices.
“How utterly perfect. Just the right number for my planned advance team and all connected to him. How better to strike despair and hopelessness into the heart of the Caped Crusader than to make those closest to him the instruments of his destruction!“
A pale, gnarled hand reached out to switch off the screen as maniacal laughter filled the room.