“Oh, man, that was embarassing.” Dick Grayson ran a hand through his wavy black hair, his cowl hanging back over his shoulders as he paced back and forth in the Batcave under the Wayne Foundation building. “I can’t believe that he’s able to control the birds like that.”
“Hey, it isn’t like these guys don’t typically win the first round in a case, right? Remember all those stories you used to tell at Titans Headquarters? Almost every one of them had you and Batman getting caught off-guard the first time around when one of these costumed kooks had a new gimmick. Just like Ollie and I with clowns like Clock King.”
“OK, I’ll give you that one, Roy.” Dick stopped pacing. “Still, I shouldn’t have let him get the drop on us.”
“Hey, I’m the one who couldn’t take the pudge-pot seriously.” Arsenal paused in his work of wiping down his crossbow with an oiled cloth. “So where do we look for him? The Arctic exhibit at the zoo?”
“No he’s already used that.” Seeing Roy Harper’s surprised look, Dick added, “There are three zoos in Gotham City, he’s used the exhibits at each one of them at least once. He’s used Memorial Zoo three times.”
“I thought you said he was a genius. Sounds more like an imbecile.”
“Oswald Cobblepot is a mechanical genius. You and Ollie used to put all sorts of gimmicks into arrows, right? He does it with umbrellas. Guns, missile launchers, lock picks, flamethrowers, electronic jammers, jet engines, you name it, he’s put it in an umbrella shaft.” Dick sat down at a computer terminal. “However, when it comes to common sense, he’s a total washout. Now, just to be sure, let’s check on the zoos.”
On a large video screen, an image flashed to life. It showed a dimly lit cavern. “That’s his old lair at Memorial Zoo, still empty.” The image changed to a storeroom full of hay bales. “Greystoke Zoo converted his hideout to storage. No change there.” Again, the image changed. “Robinson Animal Park hasn’t reopened since they were damaged during the invasion this summer. Doesn’t look like the polar bear exhibit has been entered since then.”
Roy holstered the crossbow and pulled a pistol from a hidden holster in his dark red leather vest. He ejected an ammunition clip from the grip and started breaking the gun down.
“Roy! Is that a pistol you’re packing?”
“Relax, Dickie-boy. Something new I got from some old friends at the DEA. Check these out.” Roy popped one of the bullets from the clip and tossed it to Dick. “Foam bullets, encased in hard plastic for aerodynamics. Non-fatal unless fired at point-blank range.” He slipped the clip back into the gun and raised it to a firing position in an eyeblink, pointing the gun at Dick. “And the gun won’t let you fire at anything closer than eight feet.” He pulled the trigger, and an faint electronic beep sounded from the pistol. “Uses an infrared range-finder, like a camera.”
“OK, I get it. Now, back to the Penguin. If Robinson Animal Park was shut down because of the invasion, maybe there are some other candidates for him to use since the aliens chewed up the landscape. Let’s see what happens if I run a search on locations with Arctic and bird-themed names.” Dick typed at the keyboard, then watched as names scrolled on the screen.
Looking over his shoulder, Roy read them off. “Antarctic Treats. Arctic Freeze. Arctic Ice. Canadian Winterscapes. Dreamsicle Palace. Eternal Winter Indoor Skiing. Frost King Air Conditioning. General Air and Ventilation.” Roy shook his head. “These are just the ones affected by the invasion?”
“Yeah. Gotham business owners love to name the businesses after themes. Add to that the number of businesses related to ice and cold in a big city, and it’s a lot of targets.” Dick was still watching the screen. “Richard Byrd High School. I wonder.” He started typing again, and the screen stopped. A listing of information on Oswald Cobblepot came up on the screen. “That just might be it. Not only is it named for Admiral Byrd, it’s where the Penguin attended high school. They decided not to repair it, because there’s a newer school nearby and the population has been dropping. Most of the neighborhood was leveled, too, so he won’t be disturbed.”
“Looks like we’re going to school. Got another car?”
“Does Ollie have a spare quiver?“
The school stood by itself in the middle of three square blocks of brick-strewn foundations and empty lots. Chester Street ran in front of the school, except for the twenty-foot crater at the intersection with Green Street. A bent and twisted transmission tower had been stripped of the high voltage cables it once bore. In the middle of the night, the neighborhood was as dark as night in any unexplored wilderness.
Down Green Street came a low-slung black car styled after the latest European road-racing cars. The only sound it made was the low rumble of rubber on concrete. Just before reaching the crater, the car turned onto the school grounds, then came to a halt. Gull-wing doors opened silently on either side.
“No electronic devices on the outside,” said Batman. “There’s power inside, though. No lines coming in; he has his own power source.”
Arsenal pressed a button the side of his tinted glasses and looked up, scanning the sky. “Much as he loves birds, I’d think he’d have some up in the air.” He pulled the infrared-scanning glasses down on his nose and looked over them. “He’s in the basement, right? They’re always in the basement.”
“Wrong. I’m showing electrical activity on the third floor. I checked the plans back at the cave, and they had a gymnasium on the top floor. That gives him a place for all his birds with easy access to the outside.”
“Right. We’re not going up the stairs, are we?”
In response, Batman fitted a grappling hook to a launcher built into his right gauntlet, raised his right arm, and fired. The spring-loaded launcher was silent, and the hook went through a window frame on the third floor. Arsenal followed suit, fitting an oversized bolt with a wire attached to his crossbow. There was a quiet twang, followed by the sound of the bolt embedding itself in the brick wall. They ran toward the wall, their lines automatically retracting on powered spools in their costumes.
“I take it you modified the costume. I don’t remember Batman having launchers in the gloves.”
“Right. But I’ve gotten used to the wrist-launchers in my Nightwing costume.” When they reached the wall, they each grabbed their respective line and started up the side of the building. Together, they reached the third floor and slipped into one of the deserted classrooms.
“Gymnasium in the center, right?” asked Arsenal as they eased open a door into the hallway.
“That’s right. Door is right there,” Batman pointed at a wooden double-door next to a bank of lockers, barely visible by the light shining under the door. “Give me three minutes to get into position on the other side.”
Arsenal lifted his hand and looked at the faintly luminescent dial of his watch. His other hand fingered the collection of throwing knives on his belt. It ran over the collection of foam bullet cartridges in his vest pocket. He pressed the button activating the various vision modes of his goggles, flipping through infrared, ultraviolet, low-light and regular vision. He reached into a pocket and activated his Titans comm-link, listening in on a conversation between Cyborg and Changeling. The watch showed that two minutes and ten seconds had passed when impatience got the best of him. He pulled his crossbow pistol and dashed over to the door. Pulling open the door, he found a battle in progress. Batman crouched in the middle of the room, one man at his feet and two more circling him warily.
“I thought you said three minutes!” he shouted as he fired a fast shot at the squawking, waddling figure who was frantically shouting orders.
“You’re late! I expected you to come charging in here after about a minute and a half,” replied Batman as he hurled a pair of batarangs at a cluster of birds diving toward him. “You never were very patient.”
Arsenal knelt on one knee and took careful aim. “So you lied to me?” His second shot struck the Penguin in his hip. “And you’re supposed to be so upright and honest.” He stood and delivered a roundhouse kick to the stomach of a dark-skinned man charging at him.
“You have the nerve to shoot me? Feel the wrath of my robotic flock, Arsenal!” cried Penguin as he tried to limp away.
Arsenal paused, a smile growing on his face. “Robotic? Batman, did he just say robotic?“
Batman kicked a heavyset thug in the head, whipping his arm back to catch a second with an elbow to the solar plexus as he looked over at his partner for the evening and saw Arsenal’s eyes lighting up with delight. “What I think he meant to say is that it’s time for target practice.”
“Oh, yeah, baby!” cried the young red-headed hero. Holstering the crossbow pistol, Arsenal reached back and pulled a folded short-bow from his quiver. The bowstring hummed as dozens of arrows took flight in the span of ten seconds.
As small explosions rocked the room, Batman used the time and distraction to bound up the battered bleachers on one side of the gymnasium. Running across the top plank, he launched himself into the air and landed between the Penguin and the door that was his goal. “Leaving so soon, Cobblepot?” A right cross left the Penguin sprawled on the floor. “You about done there?” he called.
“Just three more. Two. One. OK, I guess that’s it.” Arsenal looked around at the smoking remains of several dozen robotic birds. “You get all the henchmen?” Five men lay unconscious around the room, as well as their leader. “Oh, right. Like I need to ask.”
“About time you got back here!” Batman and Aresenal blinked as the patio lights of Dick Grayson’s penthouse came on. Standing in the open doorway, Barbara Gordon looked at the two heroes. “Have a good evening?”
“Yeah, I guess you could say we did,” replied Arsenal, walking past her and flopping down on a leather sofa. “I got to mix it up with one of your charming city’s criminal goofballs.”
“Let me guess: the Penguin.” As Batman pulled his mask up and off, she smiled at him. “Dad told me earlier that he’d slipped out of Arkham last week.”
“Last week? And they waited until today to tell him?” Dick Grayson walked over to a small bar in the corner and pulled a bottle of ginger ale from the refrigerator, tossed it to Roy Harper, then pulled a quart bottle of milk out for himself.
“Cobblepot has been in an isolation cell for a month, because he was getting into fights in the dining room.” Barbara walked over to an end table and picked up a folder. “It looks like he may have been out for most of that month. They checked the video records and discovered that a loop was being fed to the camera in his cell. One of the cleaning staff was discovered to be the brother of ‘Wings’ Wilson, a frequent henchman of the Penguin.”
“So why wasn’t I told?” asked Dick as he took a drink.
“Umm, that was my fault. I asked Dad to forward any information on escaped felons to me, so you wouldn’t feel compelled to go out unless you were really comfortable with the idea.” Barbara looked sheepish. “Don’t be mad at me. If it was something urgent, I would have let you know. I passed the information along to Man-Bat, Ragman, and Prototype.”
“You know, Babs, I think it’s real sweet that you wanted to, I don’t know, protect Dick from the worries. But you know what? I think Dick’s been ready for this for years, and tonight proved it.” Seeing both Dick and Barbara staring at him, he went on. “Hear me out! Dick, I know the idea of wearing the costume is intimidating. Hell, I know Ollie wants me to take over as Green Arrow, and that scares the hell out of me. I mean, I know I can shoot well enough, and I’ve even got some of the detective skills that Ollie tries to hide. But I can’t match his attitude on the street, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to die my hair blonde, grow a beard, and run around dressed like Robin Hood.” Roy paused and took a drink from his soda bottle. “Now, we both know Wally’s done a great job filling in for Barry, right? And Nubia took some time to settle into the Wonder Woman role, but she’s doing fine now. But they had to get started, right? And so did you, Dick.”
“That’s why you came here tonight, isn’t it, Roy?” Dick glanced at Barbara and bobbed his head slightly toward the door. Taking his hint, she left the room. “You figured I needed to be prodded into hitting the streets as Batman, didn’t you?”
“Well, I wasn’t–“
“You were right. I’ve been putting it off all week, and, yeah, Babs didn’t want to push.” Dick sat down next to his old friend. “Now I know I can do this. Thanks, Roy.”
“Hey, anything for a friend, you know?”
“Good. Now, you think you can convince me that I can handle the board room?“