Bruce Wayne finds himself in the unenviable position of having to go shopping for a toy on Christmas Eve, but he has no reason to suspect that he will be needed as Batman this day. So when a violent incident occurs during his trip to the mall, he must find a way to take action as Batman without his usual equipment!
“Now you’ve gone and done it, O Caped Crusader!”
Bruce Wayne chuckled as he held the phone in his study. “Now, Silver, I told you. Harry Martinez is holding it for me at Toy Palace. I’ll pick it up on my way out of town this afternoon.”
“Oh, I hope so. Remember, they close at two this afternoon. I told Sylvia we would pick up the Optimus Prime model for David, and she’s counting on it. After all, this is their first Christmas without his father.”
“I know, darling. I know. I just have to wrap up some paperwork this morning, then I’ll be on my way down. I should be there by four o’clock.”
“I still can’t believe you waited until Christmas Eve to pick it up. And now, Mr. Never-Needs-To-Shop-For-Himself, you’re going to have to go into a shopping mall on the worst day of the year.” The barely suppressed laughter in her voice belayed the accusatory words.
“I think I can handle myself, dear. After all, I’m pretty sure I’ve dealt with worse crowds in my time.”
“You think so? After spending an hour in that mall, I’ll bet you will look forward to the next break-out at Arkham.”
“Very funny. Planning to go to work with the Joker, are you?” Bruce glanced at the clock on his desk. “I need to head into town. I’ll see you this afternoon.”
“Drive carefully, darling. And try to stay out of trouble.”
It was a little after noon when Bruce Wayne entered Gotham City’s West End Mall. Silver was right, he thought. I don’t know my way around this mall, at least not from a shopper’s perspective. He sighed as he thought of Alfred in Paris with his daughter for the holidays, and Jason and Dick skiing in the Rocky Mountains. Spying a large map of the mall, he made his way over and studied it for a moment. Spotting the Toy Palace and noting the shortest route there, he started on his way through the crowd. As he came to the first intersection, he stopped to look into a wide, glass storefront. On the other side of the glass, a mannequin stood wearing a familiar outfit.
“Mom, look! It’s Batman!” Bruce glanced down to see a boy of six or seven pointing up at the mannequin. The costume was real; Bruce recalled donating it to the Gotham City Tourism Board a year earlier, along with a realistic-looking mockup of his utility belt and a locked display case with a few samples of the tools and weapons normally kept in the belt. The figure was posed on a cardboard rooftop, with other cardboard buildings positioned behind. A sign proclaiming Gotham as the home of the famous super-hero hung over the display. With mild amusement, Bruce watched other passersby stop and comment on the display before moving on.
A few minutes later, Bruce was approaching the center court of the mall when he realized the crowd was surging against him more than it had been. Curiosity changed to suspicion as he heard cries of pain and confusion over the general noise of the crowd. Then someone cried out with words that struck fear in everyone who heard them:
“He’s snapped, and he’s got a gun!”
Hearing that someone was loose in the shopping mall with a gun, Bruce Wayne swiftly worked his way to one side of the mall corridor. As the crowd surged past him, he slowly made his way toward the suspected gunman. As he turned a corner, he spotted two things.
The first was the entrance to Toy Palace, his original destination for his trip to the mall. One of the windows of the store facing onto the mall concourse was shattered, and the window’s display was strewn about in disarray.
The other thing he spotted, which seized his attention, was a man with a rifle. Mentally, he noted that it was an AR-15, with a large capacity magazine, a folding shoulder-stock, and a flash suppressor. The man carrying it was large, with the build of a one-time athlete or soldier who had spent too many years at a desk or on a couch. He was wearing faded wool pants, a green plaid flannel shirt, and a Gotham Giants baseball cap.
Bruce was sizing up his options for stopping the assailant, hampered by the fact that he was not wearing his uniform under his clothes for a change, when his arm was grabbed by one of the people surging past him. “He’s gone nuts. Come on, buddy — you don’t want to be around here if he starts shooting again!”
Bruce hesitated a split-second before responded. “Yes, of course. This isn’t a safe place to be.” He let the crowd carry him along, surreptitiously working his way toward one side of the corridor and making note of any details he could about the mall. He spied the Tourism Board’s storefront, and as the crowd swept past the display, he slipped out of the flow of people and through the door. Counting on the people outside to be absorbed in their flight from the gunman, he grabbed the mannequin, the utility belt, and the display case, and hurried to the back of the store.
Loading the items into the utility belt gave Batman a chance to inventory what he had at his disposal — four batarangs, two lengths of silken line, a half-dozen sleeping gas pellets, a flashlight, and a miniature camera. The gas pellets were older ones, so he couldn’t be sure of the efficacy of the gas. The camera was the first one he’d used that didn’t require film, using an experimental digital photography technology that Wayne Technology was developing in competition with Kodak. It had worked well enough, but the new cameras that he, Robin, and Nightwing were using now recorded twice as much detail. Not that the camera was likely to be of much help.
“No radio. Didn’t want to risk that being stolen and reverse engineered. That’s going to be a disadvantage.” Instinctively, his hand went to where he had clipped his JLA communicator to the belt on his dress slacks. “Worst case, I can relay communications with the police through the League’s satellite systems.”
Based on his observations, he surmised that there was a back door from the store, leading into a service corridor. The layout of the stores between this one and the center court suggested that this corridor led to an unmarked door he had spied between two stores at the center court. He sprinted down the hallway, skidding to a stop at the closed door. Beyond, he could hear the murmur of a crowd, as if from a distance. He eased the door open and found the courtyard area nearly empty, though he could hear people retreating down the three corridors whose intersection formed the center court. The gunman was now standing on the wall of a fountain.
“Where is she? Where’s my wife?” yelled the man, punctuating his remarks with several shots at the upper windows of the mall. Shattered plexiglass rained down around the perimeter of the courtyard. “I know she’s been coming down here to meet that sissy-pants mall manager every afternoon! Where the hell are they?”
“It’s just you and me in here now,” called Batman, stepping out from the doorway. “They aren’t here, everyone else has left. So put the gun down.”
“Oh, she’s here, somewhere. He’s working here, and she’s down here to see him. I come home from work, and she ain’t there, so she’s got to be down here with him.” The man brought the muzzle of the rifle down to bear on Batman. “So, you gonna tell me where they are?”
“I can’t tell you, because I don’t know.”
“You’re lying!” screamed the man as the rifle erupted in a half-dozen shots in three seconds. Batman was already on the move, springing to one side and diving for the ground, rolling and coming up in a crouch twenty feet away. Bullets spanged off of the steel doorframe, while others buried themselves in the wall of the hallway behind before the door closed itself.
He knows what he’s doing with the rifle, thought Batman. Must not be military grade, or else he’d be running on full automatic. Not trusting himself to aim, he’s firing multiple shots and moving across his target. He slipped a batarang from his belt and quickly knotted one end of a line around it. A flick of his wrist sent it whirling up into the superstructure above, wrapping around a girder near the ceiling. He gripped the end of the line in his left hand as he started to move closer to the shooter.
“What’s your name?” asked the Caped Crusader in a calm, steady voice.
“Wha–?” The shooter’s eyes opened wider. “No, you aren’t distracting me like that. You want me to stand down? Go find Patty and that stuffed shirt and bring them to me!” He fired another pair of shots at Batman, who leaped and swung on the line away from the gunman.
“Let me see what I can do,” replied Batman as he swung around a corner away from the shooter.
Dropping to the floor of the mall, Batman saw a group of police officers advancing down the corridor, including Commissioner James W. Gordon.
“Batman! What’s the situation?” asked the Commissioner. “We got a report on a gunman; no reports of any injuries or casualties.”
“Then we’re lucky, so far. Single shooter, semi-automatic rifle, light caliber. Thinks his wife is having an affair with one of the mall managers.”
“Just the wife; first name is Patty. He’s in the mall in front of Toy Palace. Have your men set up a perimeter just out of sight around the bends of the corridor, and send some through from the outside entrance of the toy store to keep him from retreating through there.”
Gordon raised a radio to his mouth and issued orders. When he was done, he looked at his old friend. “I thought you’d made some changes to your outfit. What happened?”
“Got caught off-guard. This is the costume I donated for the Tourism Board display.”
Gordon suppressed a laugh. “You? Off-guard?” He glanced down at the utility belt. “That wasn’t one of your regular ones, was it? You’re under-equipped.” It wasn’t a question. Batman merely nodded.
“That doesn’t matter. Stopping him before he hurts anybody is what matters.” Batman started to turn away.
“Here.” Gordon held out a small radio. “My back-up. I’m guessing you don’t even have a radio in that belt.”
Batman took the radio and tucked it into his belt. “Thank you. I’ll be in touch.” He still held the rope he’d used to swing away from the shooter, and he used it to scale the corridor wall and reach the ceiling struts forty feet above. From there, he worked his way around the corner where he could see the gunman. He had moved to a corner of the open corridor where he could see the police approaching from either direction. He had the rifle crooked in his right arm, right finger on the trigger.
Any movement, and he’ll be firing, thought Batman. He was looking for another location to which he could move, when he felt the radio vibrate. He held it up to his ear and keyed the microphone. “Batman here,” he said in a low voice.
“We’ve got a mall manager down here, Ted Murphy, who recognizes the shooter. He confirms that he had a wife named Patty, but says she died three years ago,” said Commissioner Gordon. “Says his name is Len Dixon. I’ve got people tracking down information on him now.”
“Doesn’t matter. He thinks she’s still alive. That makes him a mental case, not a criminal. Tell your men not to shoot, unless he’s going to get out of this area.”
Once again regretting the lack of reliable sleeping gas in his utility belt, Batman considered his options. Dixon was watching the police, moving the rifle from side to side, alternately pointing at one group of officers or another. He glanced upward occasionally, apparently expecting a possible attack from above. Not seeing any other option short of a prolonged standoff, Batman slipped the three remaining batarangs from his belt, holding them between the fingers of his right hand, drew the hand back, and launched all three with a single backhanded toss. Trusting his aim, he launched himself downward immediately after them.
Len Dixon was watching the police lined up in the mall, waiting for any of them to show a sign of attacking. They remained still. Good, he thought, since he didn’t want to hurt anyone; he just wanted to find Patty and take her home. He heard a high-pitched whirring sound, then felt himself hit in the head, back, and leg. He tried to raise his rifle as he stumbled forward, even as a blur of gray and blue descended on him from above.
Three punches landed on Dixon’s head, and he dropped to the ground, unconscious.
Police came running from both directions in the mall corridor, and more officers streamed out of the toy store. Gordon came running up to Batman as he disentangled himself from the fallen shooter. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. I wasn’t crazy about jumping him in the open like that, but he was focused on your men.” Batman looked around as people were starting to re-enter the mall. “I’ve got other business to take care of. You can handle everything from here?”
“Of course, old friend.”
Ten minutes later, Bruce Wayne walked into the Toy Palace, amidst a milling crowd of confused shoppers. It took him a few minutes to locate Harry Martinez, the store manager he knew from his days at Gotham University.
“Bruce, I’m sorry. The item I was holding for you, it was at the front customer service desk. That is where that madman’s first shots were fired, and…”
“And he hit the toy.” Bruce’s shoulders slumped. “Any ideas for an alternate gift?”
Harry shrugged. “All of the hot toys, they’ve been sold out for a week or two. What we have now are the cheap knockoffs, and the old toys that people don’t look for so much any more, like the stuffed animals, the trains, the–”
“Trains!” Bruce smiled. “Harry, you’ve given me an idea. Thank you!” called Bruce as he rushed for the door. He walked quickly through the mall and out into the parking lot, then drove quickly back to Wayne Manor. He rushed up to the top floor, to a dusty room he rarely entered. Stacked neatly on a shelf, he spotted the boxes he was looking for.
Several hours later, after a sumptuous holiday meal, Silver St. Cloud and her sister-in-law stood in a door way, watching a grown man and a seven-year-old boy, both laying on the floor, first assembling and then playing with a set of thirty-year-old model trains.
“He’s had them in the house all these years?”
“Yes. Kind of sad, really. He was playing with them just before he left the house with his parents the night they died,” replied Silver. “I asked Alfred about them, and he told me that they hadn’t been touched since that night.”
“He looks like a kid there with David. I can’t believe a multi-millionaire industrialist like him is down there on the floor, playing with toy trains.”
Silver smiled, thinking about the secret she shared with her husband-to-be. “Trust me, you wouldn’t believe some of the things he does.”