In a busy Gotham City grocery store, a handsome man in a blue sports coat and slacks looked around with something of a woe-begotten expression on his face. His companion noticed it and smiled brightly. She was a pretty woman with platinum blonde hair and a stylish outfit of pale yellow. “Honestly, Bruce, one would think you had never been to a grocery store before today! It’s not some exotic realm like Atlantis!” she said.
He leaned closer to her and whispered, “Silver, when I was growing up, my Uncle Philip’s staff did the shopping and, of course, Alfred and even Aunt Harriet continued the routine. I suppose this may actually be close to my first time shopping for ordinary food items.” He chuckled, and she realized he may have been pulling her leg slightly about this being his first time. “Oh, and I have been to Atlantis more than once.”
Silver St. Cloud nodded. She knew Bruce Wayne was an amazing man in more ways than one. The well-known businessman and former playboy was secretly Gotham City’s multi-talented guardian, the Batman. He had also visited other worlds, and thus something as utterly mundane as a market was new to him.
He frowned as he saw a small girl glance left and right before rushing down an aisle. He moved with his normal grace and speed and cut off her departure. “Excuse me, Miss. Could you help me find the Fudgy bars?” he asked.
The child hesitated and then pointed directly to a spot to his left.
“Right. Thanks so much. If they had been living bears, they would have eaten me alive! Now, let me reward you with this. Use it to pay for the candy you slipped under your coat. If someone as unobservant as I am spotted you taking them, I’d wager the store security cameras might have as well.”
She smiled and said, “Thanks. Thanks a lot! I’ll pay for them now.”
As the child left, Silver sidled up to Bruce and said, “And they say crime doesn’t pay. That bill you gave her will buy more candy than Willie Wonka can make.”
Bruce whispered, “If it deterred her from taking up the habit of shoplifting, then it was money well spent. You wouldn’t want me to end up trading blows with her someday when her path has turned her into some kind of costumed crazy.”
Silver kissed him on the cheek and said, “No, I would not want that. By the time she comes of age, I want you to be comfortably settled down for a blissful old age.”
“I see you located the materials for the picnic,” said Bruce. “Alfred would be wounded to think you decided to rough it without one of his gourmet meals to go.”
“We’re going to keep things simple for this afternoon,” she replied. “That’s why I suggested we just grab some goodies and go.”
Bruce nodded and took her hand. They were a striking couple, and they attracted more than a few stares from curious shoppers. After Bruce paid for their groceries, they exited the store and headed toward Silver’s parked car. Bruce stopped suddenly and said, “Wait for me at the car. I won’t be long.”
Silver followed his gaze to where the parking lot ended and a small neighborhood playground rested between the grocery store and other stores. The small area consisted of three swings, a rusty slide, and a set of monkey bars. A few kids were playing on the equipment, but it was a decidedly adult figure that had attracted Bruce Wayne’s attention.
A gaunt man with pock-marked skin and wild curly hair was bending over a boy in tattered jeans. He had something concealed within his clenched fist.
Silver started to turn to Bruce when he realized he was gone. I’m starting to understand how James Gordon must feel, she thought as she looked around and then saw a dark clad figure swing down from behind the stores to drop with catlike grace in front of the startled man.
“The Batman! Oh, man!” he gasped as he dropped a bag of white powder.
“That’s right, Twitchy Echols. I’m here because you are. I know the kind of fun and games you indulge in, and I won’t allow it near helpless kids!” he said in a low but menacing tone.
Twitchy reached into his coat and yelped as a vise-like grip closed over his arm and drew him forward into the path of a precisely aimed blow that knocked him flat. During the fight, the other kids had scattered along with the boy to whom Echols had been trying to offer the powder. Many of them stood watching in awe a few feet away. None of them were close to the street. This was a blessing, since moments later an explosion shook the area, and Batman whirled to see a parked car erupt into flames.
Batman leaped across the ground and yelled, “You kids get back!” As he herded the children to safety, Batman turned to the shaken Echols. “Your ride was trying to leave without you. It looks like your pal’s trip will be one-way,” said Batman as he watched the car burn. There was no way he could have saved the driver. The car had been engulfed in flames before Batman could even cross the lot.
“Mikey thought we were being followed,” said Twitchy. “We figured it was the cops or a nark, but nothing like this!”
Batman led the drug dealer forward and said, “You knew you were playing a game of chance with your life when you first started using this stuff. When you turned to pushing it, then you moved even closer to death. Take what happened as a warning. Wise up, punk!”
Later, after the police arrived and took Twitchy Echols into custody, and arriving firemen had worked to smother the burning car, Batman turned to a petite-looking policewoman named Roxanne Richardson. “Officer Richardson, I want you to notice something. The remnants of the car reveal the cause of the explosion.”
“Batman, I’d assumed it was a car bomb,” she said. “Merely one drug gang’s method for getting rid of their rivals.”
Batman shook his head. “That’s a reasonable assumption, but it’s wrong. Although I had to stay back to keep the kids safely away from the blast, I thought I saw a figure racing across the rooftops. From his appearance, his M.O., and his angle, I’d say he ignited the gas tank with a direct hit from a wrist-mounted laser.”
Officer Richardson said, “You sound like you know him!”
“You are new to the force,” said Batman. “The Black Spider is the man I suspect caused this carnage. He hunts down dealers, but this time as before, he targeted one without regard for other victims who might have been caught in his web. I’ll see that he pays for that!”
Later, back in the Batcave, Batman sat before Silver St. Cloud and shook his head. “I’m sorry I ruined our plans, but when I spotted Echols near those kids, I knew something criminal was up. He has a rap sheet as loaded as a junkie’s veins. Silver, the Black Spider is too dangerous to ignore. I can’t let him roam free. He may hunt drug pushers and dealers, but he is reckless and cold enough to ignore the innocents who might come between him and his prey.”
Silver rubbed his tense shoulders and said, “The Black Spider is a chilling name. Tell me more about him. I’m a big girl. He won’t give me nightmares.”
“His life has been a nightmare,” explained Batman. “Eric Needham was a small-time punk with a big-time addiction. His need for drugs led him to robbery, and one robbery that went wrong cost him dearly. In his haste, he accidentally killed his own father. That death drove him over the edge. He cleaned up his act but devoted his life to killing drug lords and their pawns. ”
“It almost sounds like he’s some dark mirror image of you,” noted Silver. “He lacks your compassion but shares some of your own drive.”
“The loss of my parents made me what I am,” said Batman. “I seek to safeguard other families so no one else suffers the kind of loss I did. Needham only wants to slay as many drug dealers as he can. He has proven in the past that he cares nothing about harming innocent people if doing so also enables him to achieve his goals.”
“What are you doing?” she asked as she watched him work.
“I’m checking data via the bat-computer,” said Batman. “I wanted to confirm what I suspected all along. Echols and his dead partner were doing business with a supplier named Morgan, who served time but was released weeks ago. If he is free, then he also provided the pushers with the dope. He had a fondness for Echols. I can imagine them reuniting. I’m going to try to save him from the Black Spider.”
Silver drew him closer and kissed him before he caressed her cheek and raced off into the night. She sighed and sat back down. “Oh, well, I’ll just wait on him here until he finishes his mission. That’s me — the typical hero’s girlfriend, sitting around the cave all night.”
Batman frowned as he swung across the rooftops and closed in on a luxurious penthouse. He bounded off of a flagpole and arched his body until he cleared a railing above. He entered a plush, decorated penthouse and then hurled himself flat.
Glass shattered as bullets riddled the room, and he managed to pull a sheet off of a chair and hurl it across the opening before diving behind cover.
The Black Spider didn’t know where Morgan was hiding, so as I’d hoped, he decided to use me as a sort of stalking horse. He hoped I’d lead him to his target. However, I was able to lure him here to my own now-empty Wayne Foundation penthouse. Since the Outsiders moved away, the place has been empty. But it still makes a perfect spot for a trap. I spotted Spider when he first started trailing me a few miles back. There’s no one else here to get hurt.
Batman waited and then pounced as the agile Black Spider climbed into the room. “You set me up!” said the Black Spider as he rolled away from Batman’s hurled batarang. “I don’t like that one bit! We could have been on the same side! I always said you were the one dude I never expected to object to my crusade!”
The Black Spider wore an orange mask that covered his face and a solid purple one-piece jumpsuit with orange boots. Various web patterns decorated parts of his boots and gloves, and a spider marked his face mask.
“Don’t dignify what you do by calling it a crusade,” said Batman. “You are nothing more than a killer who tries to envision himself as a pure hero who preys on criminals.”
“And you?” said the Black Spider. “All you do is the same thing but with less-effective results. Your foes come back and kill again and again. How many people has the Joker killed? How much blood could have been saved if you had only finished him off like I kill the super-flies?”
Batman dodged another barrage of bullets and then dropped a pellet that filled the room with smoke. He leaped forward and tackled the Black Spider, only to receive a blow to the ribs as the agile killer brought both knees up to lessen the impact.
They struggled for a moment, and then inevitably Batman gained the upper hand. He punched the Spider flat and then moved to close in on him. “It’s over!” he said.
“Not yet! Not until the Spider says so!” replied the killer as he hit a dial on his belt. An explosion shook the building as Batman realized what had happened.
“You madman! You set TNT up to bring down the whole building!”
The Black Spider shook his head as smoke filled the room. “I didn’t have time to do that. I did set a charge up to ignite the place next door, though!”
Batman kicked him in the face and then hurled himself out of the penthouse. The next building is occupied. I have to make sure no one is trapped inside. Due to the size of the charge and the effectiveness of the modern sprinkler system, not to mention the construction itself, the property damage is likely to be minimal, but I can’t chance the fact that someone could be hurt by the fire or smoke!
Pulling the fire alarm, Batman swung by each floor in a desperate effort to make sure no one was inside. He knew the sirens below signaled the arrival of rescue crews, but he also ventured in and out of the fiery building to carry people to safety outside.
When all was calm thanks to the work of a fire crew and the speedy evacuation of the place by Batman, the Caped Crusader vowed took stock of his situation. The Spider escaped while I cared for the victims. He is more ruthless than ever before. No one died, but I’ve never known Needham to be so needlessly destructive and cruel. I have to hope that the tracking device I placed on him during our struggle will lead me to him before he kills again.
Swinging off, Batman used a small device taken from his utility belt to home in on a precise signal. Got him! He’s headed for the docks.
Batman reached the source of the telltale signal and frowned as he bent over to find the still-active but abandoned tracer. “He found it. I’ve lost him for now.”