“Geez, I’m glad I’m not the one who has to clean up this floor.” Harvey Bullock walked around the perimeter of a large puddle of blood in the middle of a gymnasium at Gotham State University. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen this much blood from one body.”
“Blade totally eviscerated the lower abdomen. Probably drained eighty percent of the cardio system. Looks like the same prints as the Coltrane death.” Renee Montoya pointed out specific prints for the department photographer. “I’ve seen his picture in the paper lately. Something-or-other Branson, the football coach.”
“Drew Branson. Been here for eleven years, mostly winning seasons, split up with his wife about six months ago. Not sure which got him more headlines — the divorce or this year’s football season.” Bullock continued making notes, pacing off the dimensions of the spilled blood.
“Think he’s got a bitter ex-wife?”
“Could be. Wonder if she had any connection with Coltrane.”
Standing up, Renee made some notes of her own. “Hate to say it, but the second killing does let us look for connections.”
“Two murders, both done with a heavy sword or other blade, both with two persons present.” Dick Grayson sat at a plain wooden desk in the Batcave, wearing his Batman costume sans the cape and cowl. “Not sure if they are both killers or if one is directing the other.”
“I’ve got something on the tape from GSU.” At a separate station, Jason Todd sat with his golden cowl thrown back over his shoulders. “Just before the camera in the north hallway outside the gym went black, I’ve got someone.” Dick stood and came to look over Jason’s shoulder.
On the screen, an empty corridor could be seen in grainy black and white. In one corner of the screen, a time counter showed the time: 07:24:28 PM. Jason tapped the jog dial on the video deck, and the numbers advanced. 07:24:29 PM. 07:25:00 PM.
“Standard thirty-frame-per-second video. Watch as the frame reaches five.” Jason raised a finger to point at a doorway. “Look here. The door opens, and bingo.” Two shadowy figures appeared in the doorway. One was massively built, broad-shouldered with thick arms. The other was slender, with feminine curves and a black pony tail rising high behind her head before falling back and down toward her waist. Jason touched the jog dial again.
“See that? Blade in her left hand.” The screen flickered as Jason advanced the frame again. “Out of her hand, see? That shadow? That’s the blade.” One more flicker, and most of the screen was black. “Damn, it can’t be more than a foot away.”
“Pretty fast throw, especially for an underhand throw.” Jason backed up two frames. “Looks like fancy costumes. And look — the big guy has a sword in either hand. Looks like a long, flat, curved blade.”
“Katanas. Heavy enough to split a head, cut through a spine. If he’s as strong as he looks, he can go through just about anything with them. And since he’s confident enough to carry one in either hand, I’m guessing he’s strong enough.”
“Masks. Not much to identify them, other than that ponytail.” Jason waved a hand over a jumbled stack of videotapes. “I’ve been through all of them, and this is the only shot we have of them.”
“I’ve got a line on Branson’s ex-wife,” said a female voice. “Anna Kotterman, works at Wayne Technology, the Sullivan Lab.” Dick and Jason turned and watched Batwoman emerge from the elevator. “Same as Allan Coltrane.”
“Whoa, talk about connections in a case!” Jason started typing at the computer console next to the video station. “Check this out. Anna Kotterman studied fencing in college, was in contention for the Olympics, split from Branson six months ago. It got nasty when she tried to claim that bonuses from the three bowl games that he led the Gotham team to were community property. She got the house, both cars, camper, boat, and a collection of sports memorabilia reported to be worth over half a million.”
“Wow, what did she leave him with?” asked Dick.
“Royalty checks.” Jason pointed to the screen. “Branson was involved in the development of several athletic medications and treatments. See, along with coaching, he’s been heavily involved with the sports medicine program along with Allen Coltrane!”
Dick let out a long whistle. “Looks like we have our connection.”
“You figure Kotterman did it, then?” asked Batwoman, pulling off her cowl to reveal the pale, lightly freckled face of Barbara Gordon. “It’s just a theory, but if all of the people who share in the royalties area all dead, what do you want to bet they revert to her?“
“All right, Jason, you’re a whiz-kid with the computer. Find out who else was involved with the sports medicine program.”
Three blocks from Gotham City Police Headquarters sat a run-down diner. The dining car that had been the original diner still served as one of the dining rooms, one that was reserved for a special clientele. The dining car was decorated with photos and memorabilia of the clients, uniforms, caps, weapons, and other assorted items they had used in their chosen profession. In a place of honor by the door, a glass case held three badges. Those badges had belonged to police officers who gave their lives in the line of duty on the streets of Gotham.
Shortly before dawn, two plainclothes officers of the Gotham Police Department came out of the diner and walked toward an old battered coupe. The larger of the two walked to the driver’s side, pulled out his keys, and opened the door. As the dome light came on, he spied something. “Aw, jeez, would you look at this, Montoya?” Harvey Bullock reached into his car and pulled out a large envelope that was sitting on the dashboard. “Gordon told me once that the Batman used ta to do this — leave him information about cases in his car.” He opened the envelope and pulled out a sheaf of papers detailing the connection between Coltran, Branson, and Branson’s ex-wife, Anna Kotterman.
“Yeah, so how come he didn’t leave it with Gordon, then?” asked Renee Montoya, waiting on the other side of the car for her partner to unlock the door.
“I did.” They looked up and saw the dark-cloaked figure of the Batman crouching on a fire escape just above them. “But I wanted you to have a copy right away, too.”
“Huh? I don’t get it.”
“Believe it or not, Lieutenant, I can’t be everywhere at once. In there, you’ll find the names of the four other people who I think will be targeted by the persons who killed Coltrane and Branson. Gordon is going to try to get protection for each of them, but we’re dealing with killers who are smart, strong, and fast.”
As they spoke, the radio in Bullock’s car came to life. “All units, code 10 at 2043 Lopez Terrace. Officers on scene requesting back-up, suspects in vicinity. Unit I-7, respond to scene.”
“That’s us, Harv! Get this jalopy moving!” Renee yanked on the door handle, rocking the car.
“All right, all right, already.” Harvey lowered himself into the car, leaned over, and unlocked the door.
“I’ll meet you there. Paula Kahn is on the list — that’s her address.” Batman grabbed a line hanging in the shadows behind him and swung off as the officers sped away from the diner.
Back in the Batcave, Jason Todd sat at the computer console reading lines of text as they scrolled up the screen. Intent on the material before him, the footsteps coming up behind him went unnoticed — until the last moment.
“Hey!” Barbara Gordon stared down at the staff pressing against her breastbone. “Nice move, kiddo!”
“I really wish you wouldn’t sneak up on me like that, Babs. One of these days, I’m not going to pull it in time.” Jason pressed a stud on the the staff, and it shrunk down to twelve inches. “So what you brings out from the city?”
“Dick said there was another killing and asked me to come out and get the photos from the other killings. He’s going to meet us at the penthouse after he’s done at the scene.”
“I could have brought them in,” said Jason, glancing at the screen one last time before getting up. “Hey, got something new here. Looks like they had a death during the trials of Complex B7M. That’s the one that the FDA has been holding up for release. GSU student, name of Hank Kotlarz.”
“Hey, I remember him. Medical student. He finished his senior season and volunteered for the clinical trials. Left him paralyzed. Then I heard he died in a clinic somewhere a couple months later.” Barbara looked upward for a moment, obviously remembering something else. “I went to school with his older sister, Ashley.”
Jason walked over to a table covered with eight-by-ten-inch photographs. “Here’s the pictures you’re looking for. I’ll check into any other connections with Kotlarz and the victims.” As he started to gather the pictures, he paused. “Hey, Barbara, come take a look at this.”
She walked over and looked at the two pictures Jason held. Each of them depicted one of the murder victims photographed as they lay on the autopsy table. “Good Lord,” she whispered.
“It’s not just my imagination, then, is it?”
“Not if you see the letters K and O carved into their bodies.” Barbara traced the letters with a finger. “I bet we’ll find the letter T carved in the one Batman is checking on now.”
“No bet. The question is, what letter will be on the next one?”
“That. And why?“
Unlike most of the places he’d been to in the past two weeks, the coffee shop was clean, well-lit, and didn’t stink of stale beer and rancid food. The people at the tables wore the typical flannel and wool, but they seemed a breed apart from most of those he’d talked to lately. Based on what little he had found on his quest, he thought this crowd might just harbor those he was looking for.
Nobody gave him a second glance as he walked by, the hood of his parka pulled up and forward as much as possible. His face remained in shadow even under the bright lights, which was a good thing.
A sturdy-looking woman with steel-gray hair brought him a cup of coffee as soon as he sat at the counter. He kept his head down as he asked her, “You heard anyone in here the last couple months spouting off about the new pipeline?”
“You kidding, bub? Everyone in here has had an opinion on the pipeline. Hell, Bruce freaking Wayne came through here right before he died, got all kinds of folks riled up!”
“How riled up? You know the type I’m talking about — the environmentalist wacko types.” He chuckled at the idea of him calling anyone wacko.
“You looking to make trouble with someone here?” She looked at him suspiciously.
“No. I’m looking for some folks to help block a project out in, uh, Nova Scotia.” He looked around, checking to see if anybody was paying any special attention to the conversation.
Two men came over and sat on either side of him as the waitress stepped away. “What kind of project is it, chief?” asked one of them quietly.
“Oh, I hear they’re going to try whaling with fifty-caliber machine guns. Just rip them to bloody pieces for the fun of it.” His voice dropped in both volume and pitch. “I figure anyone who could take out Bruce Wayne’s private jet, that’s who I want.”
“Look, I ain’t sayin’ we did or didn’t have anything to do with Wayne’s accident, you know what I mean?” The newcomer nodded assent. “But I think we might be the type of guys you’re looking for.”
“Perfect, perfect. Boys, what say we go somewhere where we can talk privately.” The newcomer put out a hand, wrapped in a purple mitten. “Name’s Joe, boys.”
“Wait a minute, man. How ’bout you let us see your face?“
“Well, if you insist, but I don’t think the others here will be too happy to see me.” He reached up and pulled the hood of his parka back and up, revealing chalk-white skin, green hair, and ruby-red lips. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a glass globe and a couple of plastic masks. “Put these on, boys. Time to get rid of some witnesses.”