In the basement of Gotham City Police Headquarters, the temporary holding cells never saw the light of day. No clocks adorned the bare walls of the cells or their connecting aisles, no radio or television played to provide a clue as to the passing of time. Complaints from lawyers and advocates that the cells were a cruel and unusual form of punishment had been filed and dismissed. The types of criminals who often occupied these cells made unusual precautions necessary. On this night, however, the occupants of the holding cells were ordinary, if unusually brutal, young men.
“Jeez, how long have we been in here, guys?” whined the smallest of the three.
“Aw, knock it off, Sammie. It probably ain’t even daytime yet,” replied a dark-haired, muscular man reclining on one of the bunks.
“Yeah, A.C.’s right, we ain’t been in here all that long,” added the third, a slim, handsome blonde man who was pacing around the cell. His pacing came to an abrupt halt when he saw the figure standing outside the bars of the cell.
“No, not very long at all. But I’m sure we can arrange for a nice, looong stay,” whispered the figure in a tattered, multicolored hooded cloak.
“Christ! What the hell are you?” asked the blonde.
“I’m your worst nightmare, Zack,” replied the dark figure. “Yeah, I know your name. And I know where you live. And where your girlfriend lives. Ah, I see that got you, didn’t it?”
“What — what do you want?” asked Zack, looking around for help from his friends. It wasn’t forthcoming, however, as Sam had passed out on the floor, and A.C. was backing himself into a far corner of the cell.
“Information — that’s what I want. Someone said something about the Eels. Who are they, and where do I find them?”
“I don’t know any of them; I just heard about them. They’re supposed to hang around at the old Port Side Foundry.” He glanced behind him. “Ain’t that right, A.C.?”
“Yeah, down where they used to make them big anchors!”
“Good. I guess you boys get to sleep tonight, then.” The eerie figure turned away from the cell and strode toward the stairs leading out of the holding area. “Pleasant dreams, boys.”
Moments later, this same figure emerged in an alley two blocks from Police Headquarters. Batwoman was waiting for him.
“Got it. The old Port Side Foundry.”
“Let’s go.” Batwoman sent a line flying upward to wrap around a fire escape. “Did they give you any trouble?”
The Ragman smiled under his all-concealing mask. “Nah, no trouble at all.”
Together, they started off toward the waterfront.
The sun was just climbing over the horizon at 6:45 AM as Bruce Wayne rose from his bed. He pulled on a robe and slippers and went downstairs. What he found in the kitchen didn’t surprise him, though he did feel disappointed.
“Bruce, I swear to God I tried to get him to sit and let us get our own breakfast!” Dick Grayson looked up from a plate of scrambled eggs with a guilty look on his face. Beside him, Jason Todd’s face paled as he saw his adoptive father in the doorway. Beyond them, Alfred Pennyworth sat on a stool by the large gas stove.
“Sir, I cannot sit still. I feel all right, and I would rather be active than shunted aside like some invalid.”
Bruce shook his head, a smile creeping across his face. “I figured as much, Alfred. And while I can hope that these two,” he said, waving a hand at the table, “would give you a break, you never were one for putting yourself first.”
“That is correct, Master Bruce. I accepted the seat here at Master Dick’s insistence. Now, if you will sit down, I will get your orange juice and croissant.”
Bruce sat down, knowing better than to argue with the older man. “I heard from Batwoman before I went to bed. They got a lead on a location for the Eels. She and Ragman checked it and came up empty.”
“Did it look like they’d been there?” asked Jason between mouthfuls of food. “Look like someplace they’d be spending their nights?”
“You’re on the same track I am. Batwoman is going to recheck it throughout the day to see if they show up.” Bruce turned to Dick. “Did you find anything on the NarcOX?”
“The only shipments into Gotham in the last two months were to Wayne companies. None of them have shown anything missing. There’s just one that I haven’t been able to get an inventory on.” Dick looked up at Bruce. “A shipment to the Hidalgo Trading Company.”
“Curious. Records for shipments received by Hidalgo aren’t usually available, of course.” Bruce accepted a tall glass from Alfred, who returned to his place by the stove.
“What’s so special about this Hidalgo Company?” asked Jason. “I thought that was a made-up name in those old pulp stories that you gave me to read, Dick.”
“It was,” replied Bruce. “When I needed a dummy company to receive merchandise needed by the Batman, I took the name from the books. That shipment of NarcOX is the one I ordered to add to our utility belts.”
“Do you think someone targeted that one because of the Batman-Hidalgo connection?” asked Dick.
“Unlikely,” said Bruce. “The old foundry that Batwoman is watching is only a block away from the Hidalgo warehouse. They must have gotten word of the order and taken it because it was convenient.”
Alfred was just placing a plate of eggs and bacon before Bruce when the doorbell rang. Jason rushed off to answer it before the butler could make a move in that direction. Bruce got up to follow and found two familiar faces in the entry hall when he caught up with his adoptive son.
“Officer Montoya, Commissioner Gordon. Good morning. Is it too much to hope that you’ve caught the kidnappers?”
“No, Bruce. Renee had a thought, one that I consider important. Knowing your famous stubborn streak, I thought it best that I come to back her up,” responded the Police Commissioner.
“I see. And that idea would be?”
“Mr. Wayne, I believe that the attackers were after you. When they discover they have several of your friends and acquaintances, I think they will try to contact you regarding a ransom. I what our people here when and if they do that.”
It was what Bruce had been expecting, so he was prepared for it. “Of course, Officer Montoya. We can set them up with a room or two here, if you like.”
“Yes, I’m sure you can spare it,” replied the young woman, a dark look in her eyes. “I have two men watching the front of the estate now, and we have ten others on the way here. I hope we won’t be much of an inconvenience.”
“Not at all. I hope my son and my house guest will be able to leave. They need to get to school and work this morning.”
“House guest, Mr. Wayne?” Officer Montoya was immediately suspicious.
“My former ward, Dick Grayson. Ah, Dick, please, meet Officer Rene Montoya. Officer, Dick Grayson.”
They shook hands, looking each other up and down. “Mr. Wayne tells me you will be leaving later?” Both Bruce and the Commissioner noted a change in Montoya’s voice as she asked about Dick.
“Yes, I need to go into the Wayne Foundation offices, and I’ll drop Jason at his school.
“Very well, just let the officers at the gate know.”
It was shortly before eight when a car roared out of the front gate of Wayne Manor. Over a dozen police officers were patrolling the grounds now, and Bruce Wayne was virtually a prisoner in his own home under the watchful eye of Renee Montoya.
“So he’s not going to join us?” asked Jason as he stripped the coat and sweater off in the passenger seat.
“Nope. Batwoman called him, let him know that a dozen or so guys showed up at the foundry. It’s gonna be you, me, Batwoman, Ragman, and Man-Bat.” Dick lifted a knee to hold the steering wheel straight as he pulled his coat and shirt up over his head and off while he drove. Both had their costumes on underneath. “We should be able to handle it.”
Elsewhere, someone watched a television screen showing the foundry. “The stage is set. Let the players begin. Little do they know, the ending is already carefully scripted.”
“We saw six going in. Don’t know if there were others in there before we arrived.”
On the flat, cluttered roof of a long-closed bar, Ragman never turned to see who it was that landed beside him. Nightwing almost chuckled at the site of a pair of high-tech binoculars sticking out of the inky blackness of the tattered hero’s cowl. Somehow, the ex-Boy Wonder thought to himself, I don’t think he would find the humor in it.
“Any idea how they’re armed?” asked Nightwing.
“Usual gang iron,” said Ragman. “Pipes, knives, a cheap pistol sticking out of one guy’s waistband. Probably a few more guns.”
“No telling what’s inside, though.”
“They take any food in with them?”
For the first time since Nightwing’s arrival, Ragman moved. He turned to face the Titan, head cocked to one side. “Food? What difference does that make?”
“We think they’ve got five hostages. Unless they’re unusually cruel, they’re going to feed them.” Nightwing let a slight grin cross his face. “And since I don’t think your average street gang has the brains or nerve to go after targets like these, there’s probably someone else calling the shots. Someone who will want to make sure his bargaining chips aren’t treated too badly.”
The strangely garbed figure nodded, then turned back to his surveillance of the building. “Makes sense. Learn something new everyday.”
“Got to, my friend.” Nightwing pulled a monocular from his belt. “Now, let’s see what we’ve got.”
Robin alighted on a burned out tenement house that sat diagonally from the Port Side Foundry. Soundlessly, he made his way through a hole in the roof, down a hallway, and to a room overlooking the street. There, silhouetted in the window, stood Batwoman.
“Um, hi,” said the young hero.
“Hiya, kid. Nice entrance. If I hadn’t known you were coming, I’d never have noticed.” Batwoman lowered her binoculars and turned toward him. “You guys have any luck on that knockout gas?”
“Yeah, we traced it to a company down on the next block. Nightwing and I are going there when we’re done here to check things out.”
“Sounds good. You up for knocking some heads?”
“You bet!” Robin smacked his right fist into his open left hand. “Umm, how many are there?”
“At least six. Maybe a hundred. Hard to say. We’ve got Nightwing and Ragman coming in from the other side.” Batwoman’s lips curved in a slightly vicious smile that sent a funny feeling through the Boy Wonder. “Think we can handle it?”
“Piece of soup!”
Batwoman reached up and pressed a spot on her cowl, near her ear. “Let’s do it, guys!”
Thirteen young men stood, sat, or lay around a room in the former Port Side Foundry. At one time the room had served as an office, and the old desks and tables were still scattered around. Along one wall were windows that looked down on the foundry’s main floor, where huge crucibles of steel would be heated to the melting point, then poured into molds. Except for the sand pits where temporary castings could be carved out, the equipment was long gone. Now, the window looked out into inky darkness.
“Hey, guys! There’s something out there!” said one of the Eels.
“Yeah, right. You can’t see squat out there, Manny!” said another. Several others joined in, shouting down the sharp-eyed member of their gang. After a minute or so, the shouts died out, leaving the quiet of bored youth.
That quiet was shattered as four figures came through the glass at once. A pair of batarangs tossed from either end of the attacking line shattered most of the lights in the room, leaving a single bulb burning in a corner.
Three Eels fell as a weighted cape wrapped around them and slammed them into a wall. Flipping his arm, Ragman felt the cape settle back around his shoulders even as he leaped up to avoid a fourth gang member trying to tackle him. He came down and found himself facing that young man with a knife held in each hand.
Robin extended his bo staff as he leaped into the room. Bracing one end along his forearm, he swept it around from front to back, smacking one gang member across the back of the head. He continued the sweep as he brought up his left leg and kicked forward, smashing his booted foot into the unprotected stomach of another Eel.
Batwoman landed in a low crouch and immediately swept one foot out and around to trip the two gang members nearest to her. Staying low, she rolled to one side, catching another young man between her feet. He twisted around and took aim at her head with a pistol. Arching her back, Batwoman sprung to her feet. This forced her attacker down onto his back. She let herself fall forward, her knees driving into his chest. As the air rushed from his body, his arms sprung out to either side. The gun dropped from his hand and went skidding across the floor.
Nightwing came through the window, hit the floor, and leaped up into the air again. He came down with both hands on the head of one gunman, and his legs spread out to either side to kick two more. “That’s the problem with these small rooms, boy, there’s just no elbow room. No knee room, no heel rooms, no, well, you get the point.” Grinning, Nightwing flipped himself into a handstand on top of the hapless Eel’s head, rolled forward without releasing his grip, then landed on his feet as his momentum brought the surprised gang member up over his head and crashing down on to one of the old desks.
Ragman squared off with his attacker. “Come on, punk. Think you can take me down? Sure you can. I’m just a skinny little guy in a Halloween costume, right?” He brought his hands up into a fighting stance, crooking his finger at the young man. “You got your knifes, I just have my hands. What do you say, hot-shot? Can you take me?”
With a scream, the Eel lunged, jabbing with the knife in his right hand. He was stopped short by a short jab to the face, followed by two more. He fell back to avoid the punches.
“Awww, I’m sorry,” taunted the Ragman. “That didn’t work out the way you planned, did it? Here, why don’t you try again?”
“Gonna cut you, freak! Gonna cut you good!” Swinging wildly with his left hand while trying to protect his face with the right, the Eel attacked again. Ragman’s right forearm came up, sweeping the knife-hand away. His left hand arched up from below, punching the young man in the stomach. As his hand came away from his face to clutch his now-aching abdomen, Ragman delivered a right uppercut that took the gang member off his feet and through a door. He did not try to get up again.
“Remind me not to get you mad!” remarked Nightwing as he watched the melee. He saw one last Eel trying to get to the door. Instead of attacking him, Nightwing instead dived back through the window. Spying him, Batwoman silently signaled to the others to let the gang member go as they started tying up the others.
Lenny Kaplan slipped down the stairs as quietly as he could. Down on the old foundry’s main floor, it was dark. He knew where the door was and could find it in the dark. However, as he started toward it, he ran into a wall.
“What the–? I know it was this way.” Putting his hands out before him, he felt the rough plaster surface of the wall. “Musta got turned around. Let’s see now…” he said quietly to himself.
Turning to his right, he again found himself facing a wall. “Musta got turned down a hallway.” He turned back the way he came and hit another obstacle. “Man, I really got twisted around.”
One last time he turned and found the way clear. He walked forward, hands out in front of himself until he found another wall. By touch, he found that he could turn left again. He went that way until he came to another bend. This time, it led to the right. “Man, I hope this gets me to the do — waaauuugghh!”
Lenny found himself falling about eight feet. When he landed, it wasn’t on a solid floor. He could feel it shifting under him. He felt grit working its way into the legs and waistband of his pants, his collar, and the cuffs of his shirt.
Suddenly, a light flared to life. There, above him, stood Nightwing with a flare in his hand. “Ain’t life the pits, sometimes? You know, the sand they used in these places was pretty fine; it will shift all over you if you struggle trying to get out. It’s almost like quicksand.”
“Aw, come on, man, you gotta get me out of here!”
“Oh, I might be able to do that — in exchange for a little information.”
“Whatever you wanna know, man, I’ll tell you! Just get me out of here!”
Nightwing smiled as he reached for a rope on his belt. Gotcha, he thought to himself.