Nightwing: Ghost Riders, Chapter 1: Flaming Wheels

by CSyphrett

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Continued from El Diablo: Vandy, Vandy

Dick Grayson, wearing his fighting gear in his guise as Nightwing, threw himself to one side. The bike rider swept past on flaming wheels and out through the smashed window he had used to gain entry to the jewelry store. The rider landed silently and skidded the back wheel to the right. He took off in that direction.

Nightwing scrambled after the cyclist, but by the time he had used a line to get to the rooftops, the rider and his strange conveyance were gone in the New York City night.

Returning to the scene of the crime, Nightwing surveyed the wreckage, looking for any clue that might help him. The only lead that looked promising was the charred wheel prints in the floor of the jewelry store.

The New Titans leader followed the print until they went into the nearest entrance of the city’s subway system. There the prints terminated in a star pattern burned into the concrete landing.

Nightwing shook his head. Time to look at the victims again.

***

The new El Diablo had just arrived in New York City after riding south out of Star City. He had made various stops along the way but hoped to continue out of state to Gotham City.

The sun had arisen out of the Atlantic, casting the city in a strange glow of red. His path had taken him through the island traffic, past the scene of the robbery the night before. He frowned behind his tinted visor when he saw the yellow tape and the burnt trail in the asphalt, and then he followed the trail to the subway.

Maybe he would pause in his road trip to look into this, Lazarus Tremaine thought as he looked for a place to stay while he was in the city.

***

Dick Grayson sat at a computer screen in Titans Tower. His love, Princess Koriand’r of Tamaran, stood behind him, her long, curly hair falling to her slender calves. Green, pupil-less eyes watched the screen as he worked.

A map of Manhattan filled the screen, street locations marked by large dots, which were scattered across the island. The only thing they had in common was a motorcyclist with a fiery bike that had robbed them within the last two weeks. Otherwise, they didn’t seem to have any connection, with varying degrees of similarity in what each of the places did for business. The only thing that remained the same was a destructive entry and exit by the perpetrator who had virtually destroyed the inside of the buildings.

Dick rubbed his eyes, tired from sifting through the evidence gathered at the scene. He had been lucky to interfere in the last robbery, but he had no clue where to look next.

“What are you working on, Dick?” asked Kory quietly.

“The NYPD asked me to help them with this series of robberies,” Dick said. “But the truth is, I’m not making a lot of progress on it.”

“So tell me about it,” said Kory, interested and curious.

Dick looked at her and nodded. “All right. So the perp hits these places at night. Uses what appears to be some kind of flame-generating ability, whether mechanical or natural, to cut his way in. Then he burns the places down before he leaves the scene.”

“X’hal!” Kory breathed. “Is there any connection between the properties or the owners?”

Dick smiled at her; she had indeed learned a few things from him over their years in the Titans, after all, including a few of the questions he might ask as a detective. “Not as far as I could tell at first glance,” he admitted. “But let me go through the files again. You might be on to something, there.”

“I’ll help you,” said Kory. “I don’t have to be at the shoot for a couple of hours, anyway.”

“Thanks, love,” said Dick. “I’d really appreciate that.” Turning back to the screen, he continued his investigation of this series of crimes by looking at all known facts.

***

Lazarus Tremaine found a cheap hotel, stowing his clothes after getting a room. He rode down to the library and parked at a garage off the street. Going inside, he went to the newspaper files.

In his previous life as a bandit in the Old West, he had been described by lawmen as crafty. The truth was that Tremaine should have lived a very different life back then. He’d had the education and had been given all the advantages available to someone with his background, but he had been lazy and couldn’t picture himself as a working man. Letting his restlessness and greed get the best of him, he made several bad choices and had discovered along the way that he was very good at planning robberies. After developing a reputation as a planner, he eventually formed a gang of his own and began robbing banks, stagecoaches, and trains all over the Southwest.

Thanks to a few major robberies, Lazarus Tremaine had become a wanted man. And then Jonah Hex stepped into the picture. Like most other criminals at the time, Tremaine had known of the bounty hunter’s reputation long before, and he had no desire to see if Hex was as good a shot as the tales would have it.

While on the run, Tremaine and the gang of desperate men took over a hacienda in New Mexico, which ended up being the greatest mistake of his life thus far. That was where they encountered the fearsome El Diablo, and where Tremaine lost his soul, and where he died. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See El Diablo: Dueling Devils.]

Nearly a century passed while Tremaine was in the ground, until he was dug up by a group of grave-robbers seeking treasure. But when Tremaine’s coffin was opened, those thieves quickly found that some unholy power within Tremaine’s rotting corpse had given him the power to restore life to himself by devouring the life-forces of living men.

Tremaine existed as the foulest of ghouls, forcing men to work for him to find others to consume. If it had not been for the intervention of a stranger, the undead man would have come to a sorry end, his soul trapped in the bowels of Hell forever. Instead, however, Lazarus Tremaine had been given a second lease on life when he was freed from the control of a masked demon who had been using him as his pawn on Earth. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See The Phantom Stranger: A Helping Hand.]

Taking on the role of the new El Diablo after Lazarus Lane finally passed away, Tremaine began trying to make amends one step at a time. El Diablo still had a lot to make up for; it might even take another century before his work was done. But he would do what he could to fight evil in every way he could.

Shaking himself from his reverie, he focused on the files before his eyes. The papers were full of the strange robberies. Calling upon his nineteenth-century education and natural intelligence, he took notes on every detail. He knew that not every detail would be provided, but enough was there to give him a set of locations and patterns. He quietly wondered what had set off the rampage. He knew from experience that something like this didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Tremaine stopped to buy a map on his way back to the hotel. That would help to decide on his course of action when he had all the addresses marked out. Perhaps a pattern would emerge, but he doubted it if the police had not seen one with their years of experience dealing with super-villains in the city. Still, even professionals made mistakes and sometimes didn’t see the forest for the trees.

It was Friday, so Tremaine took a moment to make his weekly call to Sheriff Cinnamon Savage back in New Mexico before going about his business. Having known how easily he had slipped into the criminal life in the first place, he was aware more than most that he needed to hold himself accountable to others if he was going to make this new life of a hero work. Despite the fact that she didn’t like him very much, old Sheriff Savage had nevertheless filled the role of parole officer that he had needed. He knew that if he ever failed to call her every Friday, she alone had the power to take him to task for failing her trust in his reform.

It didn’t take long before nightfall arrived.

***

Dick Grayson and Koriand’r had gone over the volumes of data again and again, spending hours before they finally found a tenuous connection. Two of the victims had belonged to the same fraternity. Going back through the files, they soon found that all of the owners of the robbed businesses had belonged to the same college fraternity. That was the connection.

The years were different, and the colleges were different, but they all had joined Beta Alpha Lambda fraternity wherever they had gone to college. They had all started their own businesses after graduation and become moderately wealthy men in their chosen endeavors.

Dick quickly did a search of other Beta Alpha Lambda brothers in the city, knowing they would be the flaming motorcyclist’s next targets.

***

Lazarus Tremaine went over his map as he roamed the streets of Manhattan. He knew that most of the places had been robbed randomly, since they varied by business and owner, with no means of connection.

He also knew that something tugged on him as he rode by on his own motorcycle. Visible burn marks in the streets ended in star-burst patterns. The way the tracks ended next to the sewers and subways suggested his quarry was underground somewhere.

The city of New York stood on miles and miles of tunnels of every shape and size. The homeless used the warrens as refuge from the surface.

Tremaine looked at his map again and marked in the ends of the trail. He turned and headed north, thinking he had a clue to follow up on. Maybe he’d even stop the robber in its tracks.

***

Nightwing waited on the roof of the business he had selected. It was a the office of a personal finance advisor who had become wealthy from advising people on how to eliminate debt. The Titan didn’t know if his quarry would strike tonight, but knew it was soon. The only other target was an insurance office. It was one or the other. These were the last two places that the last two fraternity brothers in the city were involved in. The rider had struck at businesses owned by every other fraternity brother here. These two couldn’t be far behind.

A motorcyclist pulled up across the street, making Nightwing tense up in anticipation. Can this be the guy?

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