by Martin Maenza
Wildcat’s thoughts of the past were broken when he was addressed once more.
“A tradition, eh?” Batman repeated. He looked the young man up and down once more. “Yes, I guess I can see that. I think the original Wildcat would approve, assuming you’re on the up and up.”
“I am!” Wildcat exclaimed. “I am.”
Batman nodded. “We’ll just see about that. So, why are you here in Gotham City, anyway?”
“Some unfinished business.”
Batman let out an inquisitive “Hmmm,” but continued to stare at the young hero.
Wildcat felt a bit uneasy. “That is, I’ve got a lead on someone who committed a murder a long time ago. He’s escaped justice, but I’m meanin’ to rectify that.”
Batman nodded again. “Perhaps I can help you out.”
“No!” said Wildcat quickly, then he relaxed his stance. “No, sir, I want to go it alone.” He turned away. “It’s somethin’ I have to do.”
Batman could read people very well. Something about this young man, about the determination in his voice, told the Caped Crusader that he was sincere. He understood completely about the need for a man to face his destiny alone. Something told Batman that this Wildcat needed to atone for a past situation. “Fair enough,” he finally said. “Go to it.”
Wildcat took off. Batman waited a moment and then took after him, just in case.
A few hours later, Wildcat’s trail led him to a warehouse down on the waterfront. From a shadowy rooftop across the street, he watched as a man entered the building. Not sure who that guy is, he thought to himself, but I’m pretty sure he’s meeting Joey Catigliano here. Wildcat scurried down the ladder along the side of the building, then jumped down to the street. He landed in a crouch. They’re about to get some unexpected company. He made his way toward the doorway.
As Wildcat quietly slipped inside the warehouse, he overheard two voices. One he knew from his past; Joey’s voice was forever etched in his mind. The other was totally unfamiliar. He slipped behind some crates to listen to the conversation and assess the situation.
“Well,” the second man said as he removed his hat. Underneath was an orange cowl with slight ears up top. From his open trenchcoat, an orange cape and yellow costume could be made out. “I met you here as you asked, though I personally don’t find the waterfront all that comforting. What’s this about?”
“I ‘ppreciate that, Cat-Man,” Joey said to the man. “I just got out of prison recently for some armed robbery and figured I’d look you up.”
“Why?” Cat-Man asked impatiently.
“Why?” Joey repeated the question. “You were the first boss I worked with big-time. Don’t you remember?”
Cat-Man looked at him oddly, staring at the facial features of the tall man.
Wildcat had heard enough. He was ready to take down Joey and Cat-Man, too, if he had to. As he started to move, he felt a hand firmly on his shoulder. The hero whirled around to see Batman standing next to him in the shadows with one finger raised to his lips.
Joey continued to talk to Cat-Man. “C’mon, boss,” he pleaded. “Don’t you remember me? Joey Catigliano. I worked in one of your gangs about eight years ago.”
Cat-Man paused and thought again. “Hmm, Catigliano.” He emphasized the first syllable of the name. “Yes, I think I might.”
“But,” Cat-Man said, “you presumed quite a bit when you contacted me.” He flexed his right gloved hand and brought forth the razor-sharp claws it concealed. “Truth is, I’ve found of late it’s better to work solo. Easier to move about in the night and less risk of any slip of the tongue.” He advanced forward slowly. “Cats have a thing about tongues. Know what I mean, Joey?”
Before Joey could react, there was a sound from above.
The skylight to the warehouse shattered, raining down glass and snow from the roof above. Then a shadowy figure dropped through the hole, his cape billowing out wide as he fell.
“Batman!” cursed Cat-Man.
Joey took the opportunity to run. He bolted for the doorway on the far side as the Caped Crusader descended upon the costumed villain. This was all a mistake, Joey thought to himself. First Cat-Man turns on me, and then the Batman shows up. He ran out into the alleyway. The last thing I need is to mess wit’ him.
When he reached the street, his path was stopped by a figure in blue. “Who the hell are you?” Joey asked as he reached into his jacket pocket for his gun.
Wildcat lunged forward quickly and punched him in the jaw. “Your past!” the hero said. “Finally catchin’ up with you!” He hit him in the gut with a left, followed by another blow to the head with the right. “You killed a man years ago, and now you’ll finally pay for it!” The next punch put Joey to the ground, but Wildcat continued to hit him again and again and again.
“Wildcat!” a voice called to the hero. It was Batman. “That’s enough.”
Wildcat paused, breathing heavy. His anger had gotten the better of him; Joey was beaten and bruised on the ground before him. He looked up at Batman. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just…”
Batman nodded. “I know. Just remember to keep a cool head, OK? If you do that, you’ll do just fine.”
Wildcat smiled. “Say, where’s Cat-Man?”
“He managed to give me the slip,” Batman said. “That happens sometimes, even to the best of us. Remember that.”
Wildcat smiled again. “I will.”
In a small church in Gotham City early the next morning, one lone man sat in the pew near the front. The candles in the vestibule made it a calm, serene place.
The priest of the church, dressed in black with the white in his collar, approached the man slowly. The young priest in his late twenties knew the dark-haired man very well. He slid into the pew next to the other young man and said softly, “Are you all right?”
Leo Barone nodded. “It’s over,” the dark-haired young man said. “I accomplished what I vowed to do. I brought Mr. Staworski’s killer to justice.”
The priest nodded. “Is it over?” he asked. He placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “We’ve known each other a long time, Leo. I don’t think it’s over. I think it’s just beginning for you.”
“How so?” Leo asked.
“The Lord moves in mysterious ways,” the priest said. “We’re all called to serve Him in some capacity. Perhaps you’ve found yours, as unorthodox as it may seem.”
Leo paused for a moment and looked up at the cross that hung behind the altar. He turned back to the priest. “Maybe you’re right, Francis,” he said. “Maybe this is my calling.”
Father Francis Barone nodded. “Aunt Sarah would have been proud of you tonight, God rest her soul.” He rose from the pew and offered his hand. “Come. I think I still have some warm coffee back in the rectory.”
And the two cousins walked off.