A steady drizzle fell on downtown Gotham City as workers of various types started their journeys home for the evening. The sky that day had begun gloomy and never rose above a dull gray. It was starting to darken now as the autumn sun set beyond the heavy cloud cover.
In a particularly desolate part of the city, a lone figure strode purposefully along the rain-slicked streets. The rain rolled off his black overcoat as he cut through vacant lots and scrambled over piles of rubble left from the destruction of once-grand buildings, either during the past summer’s alien invasion, or from more conventional means over the years since Park Row had fallen from being one of Gotham’s most exclusive neighborhoods until it became the home to muggers, thieves, rapists, and worse. From three blocks away, he heard an ancient clock tower chime five o’clock as he approached his destination: the Colby Theater.
“Looks like some of the folks were able to get through in their cars, at least,” he said, observing the limousines and luxury cars parked in the street near the theater. He thought about the Mercedes he lad left six blocks away, mired in the rush hour traffic. He stepped into the lobby through the one door that had been unsealed.
“There you are! I was starting to worry.” Dick Grayson looked over near the old ticket booth to find his mentor, Bruce Wayne, standing with a wry smile on his face.
“I thought you were down in Washington. You weren’t due back until tomorrow.” Dick peeled off the soaked overcoat and handed it to a young man standing behind the old concession counter.
“Wrapped things up early,” said Bruce. “With the destruction of so many oil fields in the Middle East and the damage done to the North Sea drilling platforms, the administration agrees that the best solution is to open more of the north Alaska wilderness to oil drilling. The Secretaries of Energy and the Interior both agreed, and Senator Markholm assured us that the Senate committee overseeing energy policy is ready to give Wayne Industries, Shelvron, and Transportable Oil permission to start drilling.”
“That’s going to net you quite a bit of dinero, isn’t it, Bruce? Must be tough, providing the resources for the industrial world.” It was Dick’s turn to grin. “Still got the magic touch, eh?”
“Do you know, there are a couple of members of the JLA who think that Bruce Wayne’s business dealings are just a smoke screen? They don’t realize that I have to keep growing my fortune in order to finance my, ah, other activities.”
“Well, I hope a little of that magic rubs off on me. I’m going to need it to pull off this Park Row project.” Dick started for the door to the auditorium. “Coming?”
“Go ahead. It’s your show; I’ll just hang back. And, Dick?” Bruce waited for the younger man to turn back toward him. “You will pull it off.”
The rain was still falling on Gotham City as a van approached the delivery docks of the Nelson Convention Center. People were lined up at the doors, awaiting entry for the evening’s appearance by the American Federation of Wrestlers. Many of the fans were boys aged eight to twelve, accompanied by parents who had long ago grown weary of the debates over which wrestler was best or whether an Acapulco whip could overcome a well-executed Danish wrist lock. As the van slowed to back itself into the docking area, one of the boys shouted, “Hey, check it out! That van’s got a picture of the Grimlock Brothers on it! I wonder if they’re inside?”
At this, dozens of boys left their parents and ran down the sidewalk. The van backed in under the overhang designed to protect delivered goods from the elements. The apron tilted downward so that the deck of the van was level with the floor of the convention center when it was parked. As the boys rushed toward the vehicle in the hopes of catching sight of the twin tag-team wrestlers, none of them noticed that the windows were tinted dark enough to keep anybody from seeing into the van. As it ground to a halt, the engine was turned off. At the back of the van, one of the large roll-up doors into the convention center’s receiving area opened up, and a worker stepped up to the back door of the van. His eyes swept over the van, spotting the locking lever at the bottom of the door. He reached down, grabbed hold, and pulled sharply upward.
It was the last thing he ever did.
The explosion killed seven workers in the receiving dock and fifteen boys on the sidewalk. Dozens more, and over a hundred parents, were injured by flying debris. The side of the convention center was torn away, and huge piles of shattered concrete and twisted girders were left in its place.
“Christ, what sort of sicko sets up something like this?” Police Lieutenant Harvey Bullock straightened up and pulled the sheet back over the body of one of the dock workers.
“You think he knew the kids would be here?” asked Officer Renee Montoya, pausing as she photographed the area.
“Hell, Montoya, anybody what knows anything about wrestling knows the kids’ll flock to anything with the Grimlock Brothers on it. They’re the hottest tag-team in the game today.” Harvey pushed his battered hat back on his head. “Or, uh, that’s what I hear on the streets, anyway.”
“Sure, Harv,” replied the younger detective. “I hear they’re going to change the matches on the Superstation to Wednesday nights. Does that mean you won’t be able to make the poker games anymore?”
“Har-dee-har-har,” was his reply as they made their way outside. There, uniformed officers were gathering evidence as ambulance attendants and EMTs tended to the wounded, gathered the remains of those killed, and searched for others who might have been buried in the rubble.
“Lieutenant,” said one of the officers, “we’ve just had a report of a robbery at the home of Anthony Nelson out in the Heights.”
“The ex-astronaut? Sheesh, how come these things don’t ever come one at a time?” Bullock took off his hat and wiped his brow with a tobacco-stained handkerchief. “Wait a second!”
“Isn’t he the one that–?” started Montoya.
“That footed the bill for the convention center in memory of his late wife! Yeah! Renee, I got a bad feeling about this.”
That night in Gotham Heights, a trio of masked figures stood on the roof of a modern-looking home.
“So, what did you find out?” asked the tallest.
“Thieves got away with a small fortune in Middle Eastern artifacts,” said the smallest one, “plus Nelson’s souvenirs from his moon trip. It’s not worth as much as stuff from the first landing, but as the commander of the second lunar mission, Nelson was able to keep a few of the geological samples. Worth nothing on the open market, but a couple hundred thousand to a black market collector.”
“What do we know about Nelson?”
The middle one answered. “Top of his class at the Air Force, was brought in late for the Apollo program, but managed to win command of the second landing mission. Married in 1968 to Jean Sultana, which caused a bit of a scandal when NASA tried to investigate her. She was Quraci, but with some Anglo blood in her. He stayed with NASA until 1972, then retired and moved north. Wife apparently had some family money and set them up in the importing business here in Gotham. They were in Qurac in 1978 when the revolutions broke out, and he came home alone. Supposedly, she was killed in a riot there, but there was never a body or other proof. He’s spent the past nine years as something of a recluse, though he built the convention center as a memorial to her.”
“That’s quite a bit of research in the last three hours,” commented Batman.
“It helps knowing the chief librarian,” replied Nightwing with a grin. “She’ll be along shortly, by the way.”
“How did they get in, Robin?”
“Chimney cleaning service,” said Robin. Seeing the puzzled looks on both of the others, the younger hero added, “Nelson apparently called for an appointment with Bert Petrie’s Chimney Service last week. Police found Bert and three of his workers tied up a half-mile down the road. The truck was found an hour ago, wiped clean, under the Goodwin Bridge.”
“You think it was coincidence?” asked Nightwing.
“There’s no such thing as coincidence. The Grimlock Brothers weren’t even scheduled to be in Gotham, and licensed images like the one on the truck are strictly controlled. Those panel graphics were stolen in Atlanta five days ago. Which is just enough time after the appointment was made with the chimney-cleaning service to plan the attack.”
“So we’re looking for people with a grudge against Nelson, I take it?” asked Robin. “Or someone with a Quraci connection?”
“The Joker’s a possibility,” said Nightwing. “He was in Qurac up until a few weeks ago.”
“We’ll run with all three until we know better.” Batman looked up at the starry sky. “I’m not sure if they’ll lead anywhere, but it’s what we have for now.”
Feeble rays of early Autumn sunlight filtered through the high windows of the Gotham Central Library, dimly illuminating the rows of books in the reference section. Seated at a table next to the door leading into the main gallery of the building was a tall, thin man. His brown hair stuck up at odd angles, despite his best efforts to force it down with the latest styling gel. His habit of running one hand through his hair as he read no doubt contributed to the tangle. His eyes ran over a yellowed page, searching for a specific bit of information. He glanced over at a notepad, where his hastily scribbled notes served as a touchstone for his memory.
“Land transfers, Loeb estate, 1810 to 1850,” he murmured to himself, repeating it like a mantra. His scanning eyes stopped, and he bent forward slightly to read a passage more thoroughly. “Fifteen acres, sold to Stephen Rogers, 1822, for the sum of seven hundred dollars.” He wrote on the notepad, recording all of the details of the sale and the name and location of the document where he found the information. When this was finished, he looked up. To his surprise, there was someone standing in front of the table.
“Miss Gordon!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t hear you come in!”
An attractive redhead in her early thirties stood there, dressed in a widely flared black skirt and a tight-fitting scarlet blouse. She smiled as her eyes skimmed over his notes. “I apologize, Jonathan. I didn’t mean to startle you. How are you coming with Ms. Ryder’s request?”
“So far, I’ve found four different transfers. According to what I’ve found so far, the Loeb estate was reduced from about three hundred acres to less than sixty by 1850. She was right about her family having owned most of the riverfront property at one time, but it was all legally sold off in the nineteenth century.” Jonathan Crane tipped his chair back, stretching his long legs.
“She won’t be too happy to hear that, I’m sure.” Barbara shook her head, thinking about the flamboyant Ruby Ryder, who had filed a lawsuit claiming ownership of riverfront property owned by several other local business people. “She’s been trying to buy up land all over the city lately, and this lawsuit of hers looks like an attempt to grab what she can’t buy.”
“I must confess, Miss Gordon, that such deals have never made any sense to me.” The lanky researcher gave a lopsided smile. “Transferring property via lawsuits? As if the lawyers aren’t getting enough out of us already. Why drag them into the property business?”
“Please, I’ve told you before, call me Barbara or Babs. As for the lawsuits, I hate them myself. But I also hate poring through those old property rolls! I’m so glad we have you here for this type of research now! Oh, and speaking of which, I was asked to pass along a patron’s special appreciation for that research on the Nelsons last night.”
“Would that be a winged patron?” Seeing the startled look on her face, he smiled. “It only makes sense. The Nelson Convention Center was attacked, and the Nelson estate was burglarized. While I have little doubt that he has tremendous resources of his own, I fully expect Gotham’s favorite vigilante would also avail himself of the city’s library system. Particularly when the head librarian is the daughter of the police commissioner,” he finished with a grin.
Barbara flushed slightly and looked downward. “Um, yes, well, you do understand that it’s best if word of this arrangement doesn’t get around.”
“Of course,” replied Jonathan with an admiring look. “Whatever you wish, Barbara.” Jonathan watched as she strode from the room, then turned back to his work.
“Hmmm, pretty nice view, eh Jonny boy?” came a voice from shadowed back of the room. “Shoulda known you’d go for the librarian type.”
“What the–?” Jonathan turned quickly, searching in both directions. “You!? What are you doing out of Arkham?”
“Unlike you, I had to make my own way out. Not difficult; I always have a couple of exits planned.”
“What do you want with me? I’m finished with that life, damn you.”
“Oh, relax, Johnny. I’m just as surprised to find you here as you are me. I just slipped in to find a bit of information about a project I’m working on. Seeing you working on your second chance is just an added bonus.”
Jonathan was taken aback. “You mean you’re not going to try to force me to help you? You’re really going to leave me alone?”
“I already decided that before I spoke up. Oh, I expect you’ll be calling the police or tattling to the librarian as soon as I leave, but it really doesn’t matter. Even the Batman would have a hard time finding my new base of operations, at least in the amount of time it will take me to finish my plans.” The shadowed figure raised a hand in a mock salute. “Best of luck to you, Professor Crane.”
For several minutes, there was no noise in the room. Still, Jonathan knew the other man had left. From the moment he had become aware of his presence, he had felt an almost- tangible element of menace in the room. Now it was gone. He pulled out his wallet and extracted a black card with a phone number printed in yellow.
In the wee hours of the morning, a pair of caped figures flew over the city of Gotham on the end of fine, silken lines. Together, they landed atop a church steeple, pausing to rest in their rounds of the city.
“How’re you hanging in there, partner?” asked the Batman, reeling in the line for his next toss.
“Great, boss-man. I’ve missed the nightly patrols since school started.”
“Well, the way you took out those smugglers down at the riverfront, it looks like you’ve been itching for some act–” Batman paused as the radio earpiece in his cowl came to life. “You hear that?”
“Silent alarm? Break-in at the Stevens home, in Moorehead Commons?” Batman was already launching a batarang toward the flagpole on a building across the avenue. “I’ll head for the shelter!”
Robin tossed his own batarang in the opposite direction. They each jumped into the air, splitting up to go in opposite directions.
Less than a minute later, the Caped Crusader came to earth alongside a sleek, black automobile in a quiet alley. The gull-wing door was already rising as his line retracted into the motorized spool on his belt. He leaped into the seat, and the engine roared to life. The car sped off down to the end of the alley into a tight turn into the road. Three seconds after hitting the street, the speedometer was passing sixty, weaving through the sparse, early morning traffic. On the outskirts of the city, a controlled skid put the nose of the car into a narrow side street leading into an exclusive suburban enclave. Cutting the speed back, Batman cruised through the winding roads to a destination he had memorized days earlier. As he drove, he was speaking with Batwoman over the car’s two-way radio.
“Looks like Nightwing’s idea was right. Just as the alarms started sounding from Darrin Steven’s home, reports started coming in about a disturbance at the Endora Mysteria Homeless Shelter.” The voice that came through the car’s loudspeaker was calm and focused. Batman briefly recalled a time, not long ago, when her voice would have been cracking with emotion at the idea of an attack on the homeless shelter. Now, she was cool and in control. He wondered, sometimes, if that was really an improvement.
“It gives us something to work with, at least. Wealthy people who have, in one way or another, sponsored buildings or charities. There are quite a few of those to watch out for, though. I’m here.” He applied the brakes, coming to a halt a block away from his destination. The door opened, and he sprang from the car. Powerful legs carried him through yards as he readied a line. In a small cluster of trees, he stopped and quickly surveyed the home he sought. Sharp eyes spotted movement in a third-floor window. He noted a turret above that and swung the line around his head. When he released it, it snaked up and wrapped around a rocky outcropping. The castle-like home afforded many such advantages for one coming up the outside walls, and the Batman made good use of them. He perched outside the window, surveying the scene inside.