Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Tribble »

I will never look at doves the same way again :D
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by LadyTevar »

Ares always was an odd bird. Supposedly, he's been holding off WWIII because it would depopulate the Earth to the point the gods would die from lack of belief/concept. No conflict/war, no Ares.
Thus we get the Syrian conflict, the Somalian Conflict, ISIS, etc... small battles, small wars, but nothing that will touch off The Big One.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester »

“Pero cuidado! Ella esta de Idaho!” :D

Stewart, you may feel that the recent chapter had a similar flavor to The Dangers of Being Cold. However, the different characters, and particularly your Wonder Woman, make the similarities rather more subtle than you may have feared.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by FaxModem1 »

I don't think it's similar. Steve and Diana have a very different dynamic than Bruce and Selina. They're also doing more social infiltration than physical infiltration, which is vastly different storywise.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M »

LadyTevar wrote:Ares always was an odd bird. Supposedly, he's been holding off WWIII because it would depopulate the Earth to the point the gods would die from lack of belief/concept. No conflict/war, no Ares.
Thus we get the Syrian conflict, the Somalian Conflict, ISIS, etc... small battles, small wars, but nothing that will touch off The Big One.
Who supposes this?
Simon_Jester wrote:Stewart, you may feel that the recent chapter had a similar flavor to The Dangers of Being Cold. However, the different characters, and particularly your Wonder Woman, make the similarities rather more subtle than you may have feared.
FaxModem1 wrote:I don't think it's similar. Steve and Diana have a very different dynamic than Bruce and Selina. They're also doing more social infiltration than physical infiltration, which is vastly different storywise.
Fair enough, but I will suggest the following:

- Male straight man, female comic relief
- Male is experienced in the kind of mission at hand, female is a novice
- Male concerned for danger of pressing ahead, female forces him to go into danger out of impulsiveness
- Male concerned from start that female is unreliable
- Mooks are military
- Mission reveals a conspiracy deeper than originally anticipated (not rare across fiction, admittedly)
- Male eventually captured
- Male injures hand trying to rescue female
- Female escapes under fire with unconventional transportation, leaving male to a dire fate
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester »

Yeah, but by that standard Star Wars and The Matrix are the same story because they both have a lot of elements of the Campbellian monomyth.

If you strip out enough details from two works of art you will always, always be able to make them sound similar. That says more about the art of literary analysis than it does about the art of, well... art.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by FaxModem1 »

You'd also be surprised at how many noir stories, in general, have a male and female team working together on a mystery, with the woman being the comic relief in some capacity. It's pretty much a staple of the genre.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M »

Simon_Jester wrote:Yeah, but by that standard Star Wars and The Matrix are the same story because they both have a lot of elements of the Campbellian monomyth.

If you strip out enough details from two works of art you will always, always be able to make them sound similar. That says more about the art of literary analysis than it does about the art of, well... art.
I guess, though I still feel there are more than a few over-specific overlaps. I realized the other day that something like 5/6 of my cast has had hand injuries. I should call the series Batman: Digital Damage.
FaxModem1 wrote:You'd also be surprised at how many noir stories, in general, have a male and female team working together on a mystery, with the woman being the comic relief in some capacity. It's pretty much a staple of the genre.
Sure, the classic Nick and Nora template (though they were pretty equal in the comedy department in my opinion).

Call it artistic hubris, but I aim to use staples conservatively. ... Not that I succeed.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Tribble »

Stewart M wrote:I guess, though I still feel there are more than a few over-specific overlaps. I realized the other day that something like 5/6 of my cast has had hand injuries. I should call the series Batman: Digital Damage.
To be fair a lot of it involved hand-to-hand combat so it's kind of expected. :P
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester »

Hand injuries are actually a very useful artistic tool and it's not a problem to use them heavily, within reason. Because they immediately provide a reason why an otherwise formidable character can't fight, or can't fight effectively. They're generally a realistic consequence of running around punching things, too- boxers wear gloves to protect their own fists as much as to protect their opponent's bodies, after all.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M »

Hype time. If you want a story that's like this story but isn't this story, you can find it here: Victory Bonds. Read it. It's good.
Simon_Jester wrote:Hand injuries are actually a very useful artistic tool and it's not a problem to use them heavily, within reason. Because they immediately provide a reason why an otherwise formidable character can't fight, or can't fight effectively. They're generally a realistic consequence of running around punching things, too- boxers wear gloves to protect their own fists as much as to protect their opponent's bodies, after all.
Agreed. They strike a nice balance of a dramatic injury that would credibly damage a person from almost any kind danger without incapacitating them (which leads to plot issues).
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M »

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 18: Falling Action

Diana made it back to the sprawl of Buenos Aries with little difficulty, but the city caused mixed feelings. Unlike the wild lands, she found it impossible to stay invisible on its streets. Anyone could be a scout for the guards and their craven masters, and Diana traveled with the unnerving sense of eyes upon her back. However, each step forward also emboldened her with a feeling of progress. This city’s port represented her best odds at finding passage back to the States, and she was almost there.

Diana’s all-consuming goal was to find Steve, but pursuing him in this enormous country required a different sort of hunter. Her only hope was Amanda Waller. Diana was reluctant to make herself dependent any institution of Man. She was in this world to demonstrate that her people were capable, to offer aid, not receive it. Begging for help was anathema. Diana only considered the option because Amanda was a woman, and surely any nation with the wisdom to elevate a woman to high command wouldn’t take advantage of an ally in distress.

Also, Steve was Amanda’s subordinate. A commander deserved every chance to recover her forces. That was only proper.

It was nearly one in the afternoon when Diana ambled into a café in some dusty neighborhood near the waterfront. By now she had much practice with her amble. It was a stride unknown to the Amazons. Only the tense social jungle of Man’s World could justify such a defiantly casual style of walking. Diana moseyed over to the counter and pantomimed that she wanted a bottle of Coca-Cola. She paid with more proceeds from her stint of unsolicited construction work and found a seat in the corner. Diana popped the cap with her thumb and downed half the bottle in a gulp. After she finished the rest, she took off her headscarf and wiped the sweat from her brow. Diana had found a new traveling outfit many days ago. The boots, brown pants, and white shirt were castoffs she found in a charitable village church, likely from some old farmer, and after a little crude tailoring they almost fit. While it would strain credulity to ever describe Diana as forgettable, at least she no longer looked like the victim of a fancy hurricane or an all-female remake of Ben Hur,

She relaxed in the corner of the little café long after her drink was empty. If anyone was following her, they would have to enter the café to check on her. She might be meeting a partner or slipping out the backdoor, and most stalkers weren’t patient enough to take those risks. It was a nice trick, one of her few. Working at Steve’s side in Washington had taught Diana some rudimentary Man’s World spycraft, which she glumly acknowledged was the only spycraft. The Amazons had no spies; they had no one on which to spy. Until now, anyway. It wasn’t a role Diana was eager to assume, but she would do it and a great deal more if that’s what it took to destroy the Nazis.

But no one entered the café, stalker or otherwise, and eventually Diana ambled out into the afternoon sun. As she walked through a square with a fountain, she saw a man hammering a poster onto the wall of a restaurant. When he moved away, she glanced at it and saw a poor illustration of her face. The text under it read:

Fugitivo Peligroso!​

: Elizabeth Byrne

Nacionalidad: Los Estados Unidos (Concretamente de Idaho!!!)

Altura: Muy alto a absurdamente alto

Ojos: Azul

Cabello: Negro

Generosa recompensa por ayuda en arresto! Pregunte en la comisaría más cercana!
El fugitivo también podría tener un caballo. Recompensa adicional por el retorno del caballo.​

Diana didn’t panic. She walked up to the wall and leaned against it, concealing the poster. Whistling, she casually reached behind her back, tore the poster from the wall, balled it up, and stuffed it into her pants pocket. The poster quickly uncrumpled, causing her pocket to balloon. Diana, still whistling, sauntered away. She turned down the next street and found twelve identical posters.


Meanwhile, in Gotham City.

Officers Ned Smith and Renee Montoya were dressed in their Sunday best for a plainclothes surveillance operation in a very nice neighborhood. Doctors, senior accountants, and the better sort of salesmen walked their dogs here. Smith and Montoya wore the finest outfits affordable on a police officer’s salary and looked dressy enough to convince the locals that they were perhaps someone’s sad out-of-town cousins or the crummy sort of salesmen fallen on hard times. They sat on a bench on a small hill in a small park. Down the hill and across a road was a row of townhouses. Smith and Montoya each had a copy of the largest newspaper available open in front of them. Each paper was angled so the officers could peek over the top and spy on the townhouses below.

Officer Montoya groaned. They were only on their second hour, and she had pretended to read the same pages so many times that the words had lost all meaning. “So why’s Gordon think this guy’s dirty?”

Officer Smith, who was idly memorizing the week’s scores for sports leagues he didn’t follow, responded, “Gordon says a friend saw him having lunch with the Roman.”

“What! Falcone?”

Smith hushed her. “Yeah, quiet down. But yeah.”

Montoya whispered back. “Since when does Gordon got friends who go to that sort of joint?”

Smith shrugged. “Who knows? Since when does Gordon got friends?”


“Besides Bullock.”


They both went silent for a minute.

The surveillance had run fourteen hours a day for half a week now, and most of Gordon’s team had cycled through several times. Smith and Montoya had been busy with other crucial assignments, but Gordon finally tapped them yesterday to take a shift. Manpower was a luxury on the team, especially these days, and the team was growing skeptical at the value of the operation. No one had complained to Gordon yet, but that silence wouldn’t last long.

They trusted their brave leader’s instincts, but the target was just so incredibly boring.

Smith cleared this throat. “I went to see him the other day. Bullock, I mean. But he was asleep. They say he does a lot of that, but he’s, uh, he’s pulling through. That’s something.”


“We do have one other thing on this guy. Get this: he’s the Deputy Mayor’s brother-in-law.”

“No way.”

“Gordon found out yesterday.”

“But in this neighborhood? He should a palace somewhere.”

“I’m dead serious.”

“Well, are they close?”

“Hard to say. They haven’t visited each other while we’ve been watching.”

“Do they call?”

“That’s funny. You think Gordon would approve a wiretap on this op? With the Deputy Mayor on the other end? We’re off the reservation as is.”

Montoya shrugged defensively. “It was worth asking.”

“Besides, being related to someone ain’t a crime, and we don’t even got whispers of dirt on the Deputy Mayor anyway. Seems he’s the nice guy in the Mayor’s office.”

“So you mean the fall guy.”

“Sooner or later, I- Hey! Look fast!”

Over the tops of their newspapers, they saw a taxi pull up in front of a particular townhouse. The officers dropped their papers and rushed down the other side of the hill. They spilled into Montoya’s car in an alley near the park and sped around the block, weaving through the sedate, gentrified traffic in her conspicuously un-gentrified lemon.

They turned onto the same road of townhouses as a rear door of the taxi closed.

Smith slapped the dashboard. “Alright! Keep a few cars away.”

Montoya shot back, “You think this is the first time I’ve trailed a car?”

“Is it?”

“Technically, yes.”

“You’re doing fine, just stay calm!”

“You’re the one yelling!”

They followed the taxi for fifteen blocks, nearly losing it several times, and once nearly getting hit by a train. Montoya was exhausted by the time the taxi stopped in front of a parking garage. Smith told her to let him out and circle back in ten minutes. She wanted to say that she would park somewhere discreet so they could go in together, but it occurred to her that no one would have built a parking garage here if street parking was that easy.

Instead, her car slowed to a crawl, and Officer Smith stumbled out. He straightened his hat and watched Montoya drive off, her acceleration closing his door behind him. Smith crossed the street just as a figure from the taxi disappeared through the garage’s pedestrian entrance. Smith crept into the building. He could hear someone climbing the stairs, several flights above. The garage was nearly empty now, so Smith moved slowly to stay quiet. He peeked in every level. Finally, at the top level, he spied the figure shuffling towards a money green Cadillac. Smith crouched and moved inside. The figure walked under a light. It was Walter Brown.

Walter made it to the car as a well-dressed man stepped out of the passenger’s seat to greet him. Smith saw the man and cursed in awe.

Ten minutes later, Smith stood on the curb near the parking garage. Montoya rolled up and Smith jumped in.”

Montoya was all business. “Was it Brown?”

“Yeah, and you’ll never guess who he drove away with.”


“Vinnie Grapa.”


“Geez, you’re fresh. Vikentios ‘Vinnie’ Grapa: bagman for the Nobilos. Ring a bell?”

“I’ve heard of Milos Grapa. Thought he was a bodyguard for Falcone.”

“Different guy. But they’re cousins. No one knows the story there. Anyway, Vinnie Grapa is deep with the Nobilos. Worked his way up from running with the Greeks in the East End. Never a top guy, but he’s been in the game a long time.”

“Okay, if he’s not a top guy, how’d you recognize him?”

“I’d know that mug anywhere. Back in the day I collared him on a two-bit possession of stolen goods charge. The Nobilos hired a whole flock of lawyers to fight it. Probably cost them five times what they would have missed if he just pled down to a couple years in the clink.”

“Did he win the case?”

“Yep. I went in thinking the prosecution would tie it up in a week. It ended up lasting nine months and two appeals. The Nobilos are quiet, but they don’t mess around.”

“What do you think they want with Walter Brown?”

“Who knows? I’ll leave that line of speculation to Sarge. Let’s get something to eat.”

“I know this sandwich shop a few streets north of here.”

“That’s the spirit.”

Smith and Montoya didn’t notice that moments after she picked him up and drove away, one of the cars whose driver managed to find street parking pulled off the curb and made a tight U-turn to follow them. Unlike Montoya, this driver had trailed cars incognito many times. In the passenger seat was a tall blond man with binoculars who had watched the two officers since the start of their shift.


That evening, in Buenos Aries.

Amanda Waller’s advice had been well-informed. The city’s dockyards had many English speakers, as well as speakers of every other language. Diana found her ticket out of the country on her twelfth attempt. Late that evening, she met the tipsy first mate of a Panamanian tramp steamer. He was a dapper Singaporean who introduced himself as Zhang and informed Diana in passable English that they were setting out for Sao Luis, Brazil in the morning and could use an extra hand if she was willing to sleep under the bilge pump. Diana hadn’t understood most of his words, but she understood ‘Brazil’ and ‘morning’, and that was enough. He slipped her a napkin with a scribbled berthing address. She bid him goodnight and rushed to a nearby hotel. She couldn’t afford a room, of course, but she had seen an international phone in the lobby earlier. As before, it was difficult to explain where she wanted the call routed, and the transfers to Amanda Waller were as random as usual. The last operator said Waller had to be fetched from bed and kept Diana on the line for several minutes. Finally the line connected.

“Mm. Hello?”

“Miss Waller, this is Diana Prince.”

“… Wonderful.”

“Thank you, but I must speak fast. I have few pesos left.”

“You found a way out of the country?”

“Yes, I-“

“You’re in Buenos Aries?”

“Uh, yes, and-“

“Boat leaving early?”

“Yes? How did-“

“Cutting it close with that news, Diana. When exactly? First tide?”

“The officer said that, yes.”

“Describe the craft. What does it look like?”

“Err … Panamanian.”

“Length? Color?”

“… I have not seen it.”

The was an audible sigh over the line. “Who exactly did you speak with?”

“He said he was the first mate.”

“And what’s her name?”

“It was a man.”

“No, the ship. What’s the ship called?”

“The Azure.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes, he said it many times.”

“Registered in Panama?”


“And what are they carrying?”

“Soybeans, I believe.”



“What port?”

“Sao Luis.”

“Buenos Aries to Sao Luis at this time of year? Let’s see. Grain hauler. Small crew. Turnover’s a problem if they’ll pick up any odd drifter.”

“Pick up who?”

“I’d guess your ship’s a ninety-footer. Something old. Yes, that’s fine.”


“Well done, Diana. We’ll have a car waiting in Brazil. Now you watch yourself. Sailors are shifty. Don’t trust them.”

“I will watch myself. And I-”


The line went dead. Diana put down the receiver. This hotel was too close to the waterfront for the management to pretend to be refined, but even the scruffiest lobby clerk had standards. Giant dirty farm women could frighten the guests. Diana realized she was attracting stares and made a quick retreat.

It was a warm night outside. The moon was nearly to the top of the sky. Diana yawned. She had walked since daybreak and dearly wished to sleep, but if she curled up to rest in some alley, an informant might see her, or she might sleep late and miss her ship’s departure. These were vexing, but Diana judged herself a capable problem solver, the sort of woman who found straightforward solutions. Here, the straightforward solution was obvious.


Eleven hours later.

Diana’s dreams were interrupted by a sharp poke to her shoulder. Her dreams struggled to rally, but they were finally dissolved by another poke and a loud voice yelling “Oi!” in her ear. Diana rolled over and blinked. A man’s disembodied head was frowning at her, and his free-floating arm was poking her with a mop. This earned her attention. Diana sat up and found that he had a body, but it was mostly out of sight, holding onto a ladder against the roof of the Azure’s pilot house where she had slept. Diana looked around. There was nothing but steel blue ocean in every direction. The pilot house roof was the highest point on the ship save the radio mast so she had an excellent view. The Azure was just over a hundred feet from bow to stern. Her hull was a rusted green metal and her deck was warped wood. A pair of smokestacks belched ugly black smoke which faded into a hazy cone behind the ship. Diana was impressed that the din of old machines and the calls of sea birds hadn’t roused her awake earlier.

The man with the mop asked something in Spanish. Diana shrugged groggily. “No hablo español.” He cursed and poked her again. Diana had half a mind to snatch the mop out of his hands but she worried he might fall off his ladder. Instead, she stood and hopped away off the other side of the roof.

She brushed herself off and stretched her neck. A voice called from behind, “Most unexpected!”

Diana turned. First Mate Zhang was striding toward her followed by two sailors who carried heavy wrenches. Diana suddenly recalled that last night Zhang had been polite and professional but not a bit somber. She hoped that wasn’t going to be a problem.

She nodded. “Hello, sir. It’s Diana.” She gestured awkwardly to herself. “Again.”

Zhang clapped once. “Yes, my favorite kind of stowaway.” The two sailors leaned forward eagerly. “One I invited!”

Diana basked in relief. Zhang dismissed his escorts and led her into the pilot house. There was a hefty man inside reading a map. The stranger had black skin and wore an impressive blue coat. Zhang greeted the man, talking to him in Spanish and glancing meaningfully at Dana several times.

Diana offered a wave. “Hola?”

The man mumbled something and returned to his map. Zhang made a short bow and drew Diana away. He whispered as they left, “And that was our illustrious captain.”

“What is his name?”

“He will not tell us. But that is not important. He approves of you.”

“Oh, good.”

“Diana, can you lift bags of soybeans?”


“For six hours at a time?”


“In a small space with little air and no sun?”


“Splendid! I should have asked that last night, but no matter. There was a mistake at the docks, and the bags were loaded in the wrong crates. You will help us fix this.”


“I will show you your bilge pump, then lead you to the soybeans.”

“When is breakfast?”

“So sorry, you just missed it. Someone will call you for lunch.”


Falls Church, Virginia.

Admiral Bernard Cornwell’s home was a red brick colonial with a round white portico. The building was, in Amanda Waller’s opinion, a perfect fit for the owner: large, genteel, and more expensive than it was worth. Waller said a silent prayer for the taxpayer before she struck the brass knocker. The door quickly opened.


Waller briefly believed she was looking at a mirror. The woman in the doorway could have been her twin, though dressed as a maid instead of Waller’s office attire. Waller stared at her doppelganger for a moment then answered, “Amanda Waller, here to see the Admiral.”

The maid nodded, “As you say, ma’am. Jus’ a moment, then.” She retreated into the house and Amanda could hear her call, “Admiral, suh, a Miss Waller for you.” A man called back, “Very good. Show her in.”

The maid returned. “Ma’am, if’in you’d kindly follow me.”

Amanda entered the house and was led through a hallway stuffed with navel art and maritime souvenirs. At the end was a study where the Admiral worked at a long desk. He returned his pen to its stand rose from his chair. “Hello, Amanda.”

“Admiral Cornwell.”

He turned to the maid. “Yes, now Mary, do leave us please. I’ll call should I need your assistance.”

The maid, Mary, curtseyed and left the room. When she was gone, the Admiral’s expression fell to restrained annoyance. “Well?”

Waller folded her arms behind her back. “I owe you an explanation.”

“You’re right about that. You can start with why you’ve been dodging my calls for a week.”

“I only-“

“See, Amanda, you have a reputation for seeing things through discreetly.”


“So when I hand over high priority intelligence so you and your little club can run a simple reconnaissance, it’s a big surprise when I hear the subject’s been murdered.”

Waller waited several seconds after he stopped speaking before she answered. “Are you done?”

The Admiral narrowed his eyes but gestured for her to talk.

Waller nodded. “I stayed silent because it would have been fruitless to report back until I had something to report.”

“And do you have something to report?”

“Yes. In short, I sent the wrong team. They failed. That was my error. However, I’ve contained the problem, and my people are tying up loose ends as we speak. Plus, the episode has not proven entirely useless.”

“That’s hardly a report.”

“But I’d like your help moving forward. First, I need to borrow a ship. Then I need to interrogate Carmine Falcone.”

Admiral Cornwell held up his hands. “Hold on there. You better start at the beginning.”

Waller took a seat. “Like you said, this should have been a cakewalk. So I sent a rookie along with a seasoned agent to offer the former some experience.”


“I misjudged them both. First, the rookie was a zealot.”

“What do you mean?”

“This girl was a foreigner who I’ve been trying to corral as an asset. Naïve but great potential. I don’t know all the details, but her people have been hit by the Germans, so she’s been carrying a grudge. I thought that would be helpful.”

“Just what country is she from?”

“No idea. Some island. She has names for it, but they don’t exist on any map. She’s one of my special projects, see, so her homeland might be, well, I suppose ‘paranormal’ is my favorite term lately.”

The Admiral grunted sourly.

It was quietly understood at the highest levels of national defense that there were strange things in the universe which most people were better off ignoring. Most famously, Professor Einstein had proven that time and space were connected, and matter could be converted into energy. This was perverse and shattered every intuition, so it was fortunate that almost no one had the brains to comprehend him. Likewise, strange things were best left to trusted authorities with cooler heads, and Amanda Waller had claimed a near monopoly as that authority. She didn’t have much competition. Like atomic fission, a few military leaders were faintly aware that strange things could one day rock the world, but in the meantime, they were happy to let someone else worry about it.

When the Admiral heard that brought one of her ‘special projects’ into this mission, his anger turned to obvious discomfort. He repressed the urge to change the subject. “So the Germans have invaded a fictional nation? Like Oz?”

“Not fictional. Just beyond empirical geography.”

“Of course …”

“As to whether they’ve been invaded, I can’t say. But my rookie certainly thinks so. I had hoped that insult would motivate her to perform.”

“But you fouled up on that assessment.”

“She was a little too motivated. Based on what I gather from her and other sources, our girl shows up and finds Salazar. My pro, who’s supposed to be her chaperone, tells her to play it cool. But what does she do? Catches Salazar in some empty room and grills him. No coordination, no plan, nothing.”

“Your pro doesn’t slap some sense into her?”

Waller coughed on a laugh and suppressed a smile. “No, that wasn’t an option.”

“So your dame tries to beat some secrets out of Salazar then plugs him. But I heard Salazar was shot in public. Did he try to flee?”

“Not the way you’re imagining. It seems their chat was interrupted. Our pair escape, leaving Salazar behind. Somehow, they manage things so he never gets a look at them. Security can’t help him since he can’t tattle on his assailants, so he decides to leave.”

“But your crew got away scot free. Why shoot him?”

“Well, when our girl roughed up Salazar, she heard some choice news. Salazar claimed the Krauts had two spymasters in the Americas, Der Wehrwolf and him.”

Admiral Cornwell looked disappointed then intrigued. “So we had the wrong guy. Der Wehrwolf is still out there.”

“Oh, yes. One more reason why it’s high time we spoke with your man Falcone and discover why a criminal boss in Gotham thinks he knows about the foremost Nazi spy on the continent.”

The Admiral sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Finish your story, Amanda. Then we’ll talk about it.”

Waller nodded primly. “Fine. Mr. Salazar admits to a veritable laundry list of bad behavior. Every sort of sabotage and subversion a man in his position could pull. Our girl thinks about it and decides he’s too much of a threat. She loathes the Reich. Couldn’t let him walk away. Makes an executive decision to set his plans back permanently.”

“And puts a bullet in him.”

“No, actually. My pro pulls the trigger first.”

What? Why?”

“Pity. Chivalry. Love.” Waller shrugged like these possibilities like ice cream flavors. “I don’t know. Maybe all the above. I thought he could stay objective, but clearly I was wrong. He gets arrested. She escapes. Problem is, while their little interview with Salazar was her idea, he does the actual talking since his Spanish is better. Our girl only hears the dirty deeds second-hand. Doesn’t know a whit of the details. If we want real intel; Salazar’s last words, I have to recover my man. Might be the biggest break on their domestic rings we’ve ever found.”

“And I’m sure Jerry wants to hear why he shot their man out of the blue. Let’s pray the Argentines aren’t in on it.”

“Speaking of ‘in on it’, we need Falcone.”

The Admiral stared down and laced his fingers. “Listen, Amanda, I know how reckless this seems. I’m not stupid.”

“I never said you were.”

“Do you know what U-boat crews have called the last year? Rumor is they call it ‘Die Glückliche Zeit’. The Happy Time. There were weeks when we lost half the tonnage we sent to the Brits. That’s countless ships and merchant crews lost when it takes months to replace one. It’s been a nightmare.”

“I’m aware of the situation.”

“They shouldn’t have been able to find our convoys so consistently. There had to be spies in our shipping ports. Gotham, naturally, was the big gorilla in the room. There were even strange fires and missing parts in some of its shipyards. But the FBI said their counterespionage office in town wasn’t picking up anything. They said Gotham was just too big to cover, too unwelcoming. They didn’t have the budget, they said. What could we do?”

“What indeed?”

“We heard that if you wanted to know anything in Gotham, there was this pack of old bootleggers who knew everything there was to know in the city. We talked to them.”

“I’ve heard the story, Admiral.”

“These old boys were smart, Amanda. I hate to admit it but they held all the cards. Some of our eggheads were warning that if our merchant ships didn’t start making it through, the UK would fall in two months. We had to turn things around. And these gangsters could sense we were desperate.”

“Admirals don’t meet with little crooks every day.”

“Guess not. They said they’d heard rumors of foul play that might interest us. The Feds had nothing to arrest them on, so we thought they wanted something sweet. But besides giving a few friends parole, they were willing to share their rumors for free. Just to help against the fascists, they said.”

“But that wasn’t all.”

“They shared all sorts of rumors, sure, but they insisted on one condition: we couldn’t ask how or where they learned what they knew.”

Waller stared at him like he was stupid. “And you agreed to that.”

“Wartime emergency, woman. It was easy enough to verify their intel through our own channels. And no gangster in their right mind would collude with the Axis. Hitler and Mussolini hang their type. They wanted a signed promise from the Justice Department that no consequence from any espionage-related admission could be used against them in court. And they got it.”

“So you’re saying-“

“We can’t interrogate Falcone because that would mean arresting him on suspicions from an espionage-related tip. We can ask him nicely to talk to us, but I suspect he won’t be forthcoming.”

“So he could give you a tip that, say, leads to half the Office of Naval Intelligence being ambushed because he’s playing both sides, and he could walk away whistling Dixie?”

“Look, I still have no proof any of them are dirty. Almost all of these tips have led to arrests or safehouses. We’re talking apart their network across the Eastern Seaboard in a big way. And it can’t be a ruse: U-boat attacks in coastal waters are dropping every month. There are plenty of regular selfish reasons why a criminal would keep his secrets.”

“If you can’t arrest him then follow him. Learn where he gets his data covertly.”

To her surprise, Admiral Cornwell laughed. “Have you been to Gotham?”


“These puffed-up racketeers are sultans there. They have everything sewed-up the way they like it. You don’t just follow a guy like Falcone around. Any agent we put on the case would be made in a heartbeat, probably by the cops.”

Waller studied him for a long moment. “I could do it.”

“Could you now? I’ve heard good things about your men, Waller, but I don’t think you’ve reckoned with you’re up against.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t have they tracked. It’s too late for that.”


“We take him. Question him. He doesn’t even need to know who’s responsible.”

“I hope you’re kidding.”

“I admit my girl put us in a rough place, but if Salazar was credible, my team froze half the Nazi operations in the Americas in one blow. It seems the only source who could possibly point straight to a nerve center like that is the other half of Nazi operations in the Americas. Either Falcone has a mole at the very highest echelon of their spy rings or he’s being controlled by them.”

“That occurred to me, obviously.”

“And he might be special.”


“My kind of special. Paranormal. There’s a lot that’s gone well for him. He knows more than he should. Things he can’t know. And his little whisper somehow set in motion us murdering of a diplomat.”

“That’s weak logic. Sounds to me you’re biased. Or compensating.”

“There’s a lot that isn’t adding up. Call it a hunch.”

“But he’s an American citizen. Outwardly, he’s done no wrong. We can’t justify it.”

“Oh yes we can. Like you said: wartime emergency.”

The Admiral was a man of rules. He folded his arms and his features turned cold. Waller leaned forward and doubled-down. “Do you know the fundamental difference between you and me, Admiral?”

He idly scanned her features. “I suspect I do.”

“No, it’s got nothing to do with how we were born and everything to do with how we were trained.”


“You’re a military officer. And in every military, men are commodities.”

“Well, I shan’t describe-“

“Come now, if the President gave you a fleet and orders to attack a fortified harbor, and you knew this would expend a thousand shells and a hundred drums of fuel and a hundred sailors’ lives, what would you do?”

“I would take every precaution-“

“And then?”

“Fulfill my orders.”

“And I’m sure you would mourn the loss of those lives.”


“But it wouldn’t stop you. Given a clear mission, you would spend those human lives as quickly as you spend fuel. Maybe quicker if supply lines are desperate.”

“What’s your point, Waller?”

“Suppose one sailor doesn’t play along. How do you treat insubordination? Do you let him go home? Do you sit and chat over coffee, try to convince him through rhetoric?”

“I’m not going to dignify that with an answer.”

“No. You throw him in the brig. You flog him. You shoot him. If there’s a rotten grape in the bunch, you toss it. In fact, it’s even more important to get rid of a man – one bad grape won’t ruin the rest, but a man can spark a mutiny.”

“If you intend to lecture me, you’re gravely mistaken.”

“I came to offer an olive branch and a comparison.”

“What comparison?”

“You have intelligence responsibilities at your rank, Admiral, but you were trained as a combat officer. In combat, you can afford to spend people because they’re conditioned to obey but moreso because they have no place to negotiate. You have all the leverage. But I wasn’t trained as a combat officer. I trained in intelligence. And in intelligence, you don’t have all the leverage. The fate of nations may rest on a single turncoat. You can't trust a turncoat, he isn't inclined to take orders, and you can’t arrest him. The best you can hope is to use influence. If you want something from a spy - and by God, you do - then you must wheedle and flatter and frighten and lie like a rug. All to influence a greedy coward whose defining trait is a criminal lack of loyalty.”

“I am in intelligence, Waller.”

“Your desk is, but is your attitude?”

“Word games now?”

“Like it or not, we have been born into the generation when humanity meets its betters. If an extraordinary boy can run like a cheetah and lift a car, or if he casts illusions with his mind so vivid you’d never know the difference, do you think can you draft him into your wars like any other grunt? What if he says no?”

“… I’d need to influence him.”

“You’d need to wheedle and flatter and frighten and lie like a rug. You need to throw him in a dark room and make him think you’re the only one who can save him. And those aren’t skills you can learn overnight. You study them like you study for a degree. Study for years.”

“And you've studied that degree?”

“I’m the professor.”


Meanwhile, near a small prison deep in the mountains of Argentine Patagonia.

The United States had always leaned isolationist, which was a luxury for nations. However, as an isolationist - not to mention a wishy-washy democracy – America’s peacetime military was seen by peers as a joke, and its intelligence services were considered (when acknowledged at all) to be temporary gangs of amateurs, adventurers, and yahoos.

Still, every batter has his wheelhouse, and if Uncle Sam’s spies could claim to be the authority on one subject, it was mucking around in Latin America. The State Department had dossiers on dozens of officials they deemed ‘open to negotiation’, and if Washington had a question about something happening south of the border, it was a straightforward matter to knock on doors until someone had an answer. Then it was just an issue of price, and while the Americans might be amateurs, no one called them stingy.

As far as doing business went, Argentina’s relationship with the United States was tepid. Its government wanted to trade with both the Axis and the Allies, and its pro-fascist military was threatening to become its government. After the news was published (passing the censorship bureaus) that the killer of a Spanish diplomat was possibly American, Argentine-American relations took a further nosedive (reactions from Spain were also less than positive).

In that environment, it was challenging for Amanda Waller’s agents to find where John Gibbons, aka, Captain Steven Trevor was being held captive. And it proved an absolute non-starter when they tried to arrange his release. Instead she sent a team to take him out: literally if possible, figuratively if necessary. Trevor was a seasoned operative, but the conventional wisdom was simple: if your captors knew their business, breaking a man was just a matter of time.

Four members of the extraction team camped on a cliff overlooking the prison. They wore plain leather jackets. They had watched the site for two days, hoping to find when the prisoners were let out for exercise. Evidently, the prisoners weren’t. Now the team was resigned to ready Plan B: going inside. It would happen that night. Fast. Silent. No trace. If they made it to Trevor without raising alarms, they would spirit him to a waiting aircraft. If the mission went loud, they would neutralize Trevor and leave empty-handed.

Lieutenant William Vickers lay on the cliff edge with a pair of binoculars. He saw a civilian car trace the winding path up to the prison gate. The team had observed a few trucks come and go, but a car was new.

“Hey, Wilson, take a look at this. Got a car.”

Waller’s agents kept their previous rank, leading to situations that would be bizarre in the regular military, like staffing a tiny field outpost with multiple officers. But her team followed a simple rule: Lieutenant Slade Wilson told everyone what to do.

Wilson crawled over with his own binoculars. The camp’s two other occupants followed. Down below, the car was waved into a side lot. Three tall men with conservative suits and briefcases stepped out. All had pale skin and yellow hair.

Vickers asked, “Any idea who these boys are?”

Wilson answered. “Well, how many pasty blond guys over six feet have we seen around here?”

Another agent, Private Floyd Lawton, added, “Foreigners at a place like this? Must be up to no good.”

The three visitors passed through the gatehouse and entered the main detention building. Minutes passed. Then the noise of a long klaxon erupted from the prison. Even away on their cliff, Waller’s agents could hear it clearly, followed by the stinging cracks of gunfire. A side wall of the building crumbled, and the three men rushed through the dust. Two of them dragged a fourth man.

Vickers swore. “Look, that’s Trevor! They’re taking him!”

The fleeing men carried guns and dragged Trevor with surprising ease as they raced to the wall. Bullets from the guard tower spat around them, but it wasn’t clear whether any hit. One of the men leaped and caught the edge of the eighteen-foot wall. He grabbed a handful of barbed wire coils and tugged, ripping off several yards of it at once. His partners fired automatic weapons back toward the new hole in the detention building, pinning down the guards behind the rubble. The man on the wall dropped the yards of loose barbed wire. One of the pair below seized Trevor around the waist with one arm and hopped, catching the hanging wire with his other gloved hand. Incredibly, the man then climbed the wire with one hand and his feet. He passed Trevor like a baton to his partner already sitting atop the wall who leaped over the other side. The third man stopped his suppressing fire and followed. They disappeared.

Wilson quietly sighed.

Vickers whispered, “We sure these guys ain’t ours?”

Wilson answered, “Pretty sure.”

When the escaping men came back into view, they threw Trevor into their car and sped down the mountain road. Several trucks soon raced through the gate after them, but the car had an impressive head start.

Wilson nudged Lawton and pointed down to a bend in the road that passed near their camp.

“Can you stop that car without crashing it?”

Lawton considered for a moment. The road was a maze of tight turns, no shoulders, and steep ridges.


“Do it.”

Lawton crawled away from the cliff edge and returned with a scoped M1903 Springfield rifle. They waited as the car came into range.


As the car turned onto a short straightaway, Lawton fired. The car’s rear left tire popped. The car quickly skidded to the edge. Lawton ran the bolt and fired again. The car’s rear right tire popped. The car skidded the other way, back to the center. It gently fishtailed, slowing as its fender kicked up sparks. Lawton ran the bolt and fired once more. This shot missed. Lawton fired again and again. These rounds destroyed the two front tires, gently correcting the car’s course with each impact. Lawton ejected the stripper clip in his rifle and reloaded.

The car rolled to a stop. The three men hurried out, and one carried Trevor along. They didn’t seem panicked. After a brief discussion, they started running up a nearby rocky slope. A line of trucks soon arrived. A force of prison guards poured out. The agents on the cliff could see that many guards only carried revolvers, and even their few rifles would struggle to hit the targets on the slope. The trio would soon be out of sight.

Wilson ordered, “Trip ‘em.”

“I can pop Trevor.”

“No. Stop one of the runners. Leave Trevor and his carrier.”

Private Lawton dubiously steadied his rifle again and fired. The heavy round hit the last escapee in the calf. He stumbled and started to roll back down the steep slope. A cascade of stones and dust followed. The other two escapees paused and looked back. The wounded man struggled against his rapid slide, making an impressive show considering the hole in his leg. The two standing escapees turned back and kept running uphill. They were almost at the top.

Wilson ordered. “And the other.”

Lawton fired. Different leg, same tumble. The final man carrying Trevor didn’t bother stopping now. He reached the crest of the hill and disappeared behind a rock formation. The guards from the trucks were still bounding up the slope. If any noticed that two rifle shots had come from an adjacent cliff, none mentioned it. The first sliding man had stopped after he hit a flat ledge halfway down. He rose to his knees and pulled out a handgun on the guards. It was twelve against one. He went down shooting. The guards didn’t give the second sliding man a chance. He expired before he hit the bottom.

Wilson’s team had already crept away from the cliff. He addressed his men, “Break camp. Radio blue squad to swing around the south face and watch footpaths traveling east for a package on the move. Tell them Dad canceled Capture the Flag. We’re playing Tag.”


Meanwhile, in Gotham City.

Sergeant James Gordon was at his desk reviewing a stack of overtime slips when his door opened.

“Hello Jimmy.”

Gordon looked up and suppressed a flinch. “Flass.”

The tall, blond Detective Arnold Flass casually walked into Gordon’s office like he owned the joint, kicking the door shut behind him. He was the epitome of everything wrong with the GCPD, and he was all smiles. “Long time, ain’t it, Jimmy?”

“That’s Sergeant. What do you want?”

“Not much. Just to be here so I can see you squirm when you finally get what’s been coming to you.”

Gordon eyed Flass the way a jungle guide watches an anaconda. He put down his pen more firmly than usual. “And what do you think I have coming, Flass?”

Flass opened his long camel hair coat and plucked out an envelope. “Don’t worry, most of your crew saw me on the way in. They can’t all be as dumb as they look, so this won’t come as shock.” He tossed the envelope onto Gordon’s desk. “Recognize the stamp?”

Gordon inspected the envelope. “The Major’s office.” That was unsettling. Majors were only three ranks under the Commissioner. Gordon was management now, but he could count his meetings with his major on one hand.

Gordon slit the envelope and pulled out a letter. He read aloud, “Sergeant James Gordon, effective immediately, your Special Vigilante Task Force is-“

Flass interrupted, “’-Hereby disbanded due to attrition of manpower.’ I love that line. Great opener. See, Jimmy, it turns out there’s a little rule that says special units like yours must have a certain minimum number of active officers as a fraction of their original allotment. If you drop below the minimum – say, because some poor souls kicked the bucket or ended up in the hospital or quit - then clearly there’s not enough hands to do the job, and the unit is broken up. The officers return to normal assignments where they might finally do something productive. Make sense?”

Gordon kept his features from trembling. He read the letter slowly. “Are these our new assignments.”

“Yes, end of page three.”

“It says I’ll run Homicide for the river patrol.”

“Good post; you’ve earned it.”

“It would make my commute an hour and a half.”

“That’s rough.”

“It says Clarence will walk a beat in Upper Purdue. Ned will work an evidence warehouse near Downtown. Ernest will liaison with the Petty Crimes Division of the county police. These are all too far from where these officers live.”

“And career dead-ends too. Don’t forget that.”

“Right. And … Hold on … Officer Montoya was given the assignment ‘Eye Candy’, but someone drew a single line across that and scribbled ‘Filing and Reception’ beside it.”

Flass shrugged. “Must have been a typo.”

“And she’ll be with Third Division.”

Flass offered some mock surprise. “Hey, Third Division’s my neck of the woods.”

“I know.”

“Well, at least she’ll know one friendly face.”

“There’s that.”

“I’m impressed, Jimmy. You don’t look too broken up about all this. Awfully high-minded of you.”

“When was that minimum manpower rule established, Flass?”


“I see.” Gordon folded the letter and stood. “I’ll tell my team.” Gordon moved to pass him but stopped. “Oh, one other question, Flass.”

Flass looked down at him with an expression that was almost fond. “Shoot.”

“You dirtbags could’ve pulled a stunt like this since day one. Why now? I’m strong now. Never been stronger. You know you’re going to feel pain over this.”

“We both know the answer there.”

Gordon nodded thoughtfully. “Guess so.”

Flass held his arm out to the door. “You had a good run, Jimmy. Let’s bring this story home. Final scene. Your audience awaits.”

Sergeant Gordon set his jaw, straightened his tie, and opened his door. He called out, “Everyone, gather round. I have an announcement…”


A week later, 90 nautical miles off the coast of Brazil.

In some ways, Diana’s time aboard the Azure was her first normal week since arriving in Man’s World. There was no way to make the ship travel faster, and there was little she could do to prepare while aboard. She had a few simple tasks to complete each day, and the rest of her time was her own. Contrary to Amanda Waller’s warning, the sailors were excellent companions once she proved that she could pull her weight. Her Spanish improved by leaps and bounds, and she learned a great deal about card games and songs and jokes and judging the weather and mixing tattoo ink. The sailors also knew a daunting array of knots and rope tricks, but the Amazons played many binding games, and Diana was usually the teacher on that topic.

But in Diana’s new life, her normal time never lasted long. She was working in the hold one morning when the watch spotted a ship cruising toward them from the northeast. That alone wasn’t remarkable; this was a popular trade route, but the ship had no flags or insignia. First Mate Zhang was at the helm. He found binoculars and examined the mystery vessel for himself. It looked like a tiny warship, perhaps a corvette.

A hail was coming through on the bridge radio. He pressed the speaker. A dull voice said, “-craft identify yourself. Navío, cuál es su identidad? Vaisseau, quelle est votre identité?”

Zhang took the microphone. “This is independent freighter Azure bound for Sao Luis. With whom am I speaking?”

He received no answer. The line was dead. Zhang muttered, “What the devil?”

Then he noticed a white flash in the water off starboard.

The torpedo struck the Azure amidships, nearly tearing the stubby vessel in half. The Azure began to list and take on water. The second torpedo hit its bow, blasting much of that structure off.

A sinking ship was a wild creature, bucking faster than anything its size on land. Even collapsing towers don’t rock and spin and tip the way a ship sinks, and all too soon the Azure slipped beneath the waves.
Stewart M
Padawan Learner
Posts: 205
Joined: 2016-08-22 06:09pm

Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M »

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 19: More Vignettes Than Usual

The wilds of Argentine Patagonia, a week before the sinking of the Azure.

It was no easy thing to chase a man over a mountain. Lieutenant Slade Wilson and his team had hiked eight miles uphill since breaking camp. Fortunately, August was the end of winter in Argentina, and the hills were still white with the slush of half-melted snow, leaving a trail for his team to follow. The jail guards, their competition for the hunt, had neither the skills nor the gear to follow the trail and had fallen behind hours ago. However, the team was concerned that they had yet to catch up to their target. They were seasoned soldiers dressed to hike. He was a huge man in a business suit carrying another grown man like a ragdoll and still outpacing them. Worse, the sun was setting.

Lieutenant Wilson's team traversed a cliff over a lush valley painted pink and gold with the evening sun. They could see wild horses in the meadow far below. Sound carried far across a valley like this, so the team heard the big engines before they saw the trucks. Six long trucks raced into the valley. It was the Argentine Army. Their camouflage paint was a giveaway, though there weren't many groups in this part of Argentina who owned six trucks. Perhaps a few mining firms, but the dozens of men who exited the trucks were too well-armed to be miners. If they were here, they'd be sending forces to every other valley to lock the region down. Wilson ordered his men away from the cliff so the fading sun wouldn't illuminate their silhouettes.

Their path soon turned away from the valley and into a craggy decline. The rocks here had acted like curtains against the season's snows, and many patches were almost dry. In minutes, they ran out of footprints. Wilson judged that they had another hour of useful light. They could survive the night on these peaks if they set up camp, but that would leave them sitting ducks if the Army came their way. Otherwise, they could give up the hunt and climb down to warmer altitudes before dusk, then march through the night to escape.

Wilson held up a fist, and they all stopped. "We don't know how far we are from this guy and blue squad must have missed him at the crossing, but we're finally on a downhill, so we might see him at a distance. We split up here. Pick a direction. Head down as fast as you can. If you find him, take him out." His three men looked at each other uneasily. Their first rule when hunting unnatural targets was to work as a team. Wilson answered the unspoken complaint. "We've seen his type put down with small arms, and he didn't show any tricks with remote awareness, precognition, speed, or accuracy. You know the drill. Don't approach until he's four five past dead. If you find Trevor and he can walk, take the kid with you. If not, put him out of his misery. Either way, break off twenty minutes before nightfall. Make your way back to Point Bravo by midnight tomorrow. Move."

The four took different angles down the uneven slope and lost sight of each other. Lieutenant Wilson galloped down the mountain at a skidding lope, kicking lines of dust and pebbles with every step. He entered a copse of dead pines and nearly tripped over a sharp cliff hidden in the trees. Wilson stopped and looked for a way down. Suddenly, he saw an odd shape against the cliff face. It was in shadow, but he was sure it had moved. Wilson dropped prone and crawled to the edge. He watched through his binoculars. The shape moved again. It came out of the shadow thirty feet below, and he saw it was a man carrying what appeared to be a long bundle under one arm. The man hung to the cliff face with his feet and one hand for several seconds, then he released, dropped a forearm's length, and caught another handhold. This one-handed descent was plodding and awkward but still an incredible feat of athleticism.

Wilson unslung his weapon and loaded a magazine as quietly as possible. He had expected the violent part of this mission to happen indoors, so he had ordered his team that only their sharpshooter should bring a heavy rifle. The rest traveled light. This was the opposite of his usual habit, but he knew they might have to cross the wilderness to make their escape, a prediction that had proven almost correct, though he only wished he was making his escape. Instead of some proper artillery, he was carrying a prototype Winchester carbine. Thirty caliber, fifteen round magazine, just under six pounds loaded. It was an impressive piece of firepower for such a feather-light package, but it didn't have the punch he preferred against the supernatural.

He waited while the big man approached the ground. Wilson inched forward and pointed his carbine over the cliff edge, aiming nearly straight down. He would only have a moment before the target disappeared into the tree line below. The big man dropped the last few yards and landed on his feet. He stretched his limbs, adjusted his grip on the bundle, and set off.

Before his second step, Wilson fired. The round struck the big man high in the back. He stumbled and dropped his bundle. The big man started to turn, and Wilson fired again. Another hit, somewhere on the torso. The big man was holding a submachine gun on a sling, but he seemed unable to find where the shots were coming from. Wilson fired twice more. The big man buckled, losing his footing and landing on his side in a scramble. Wilson fired eleven more shots, pulling the trigger nearly once a second. He replaced the magazine with its spare in a practiced motion, aimed down the sights, and waited. He aimed motionless for ten seconds. It seemed like a year, but he had the discipline of an expert. He wouldn't rush.

The body didn't move. Wilson finally reslung his carbine and started to climb down the cliff. Hanging from the cliff face in the dim, he thought he heard the echoes of voices down the mountain. With the right conditions, the noise of one gunshot could travel miles. He had fired fifteen. He climbed faster.

When he arrived, the bundle was kneeling beside the big man's body. Wilson readied his carbine again and slowly approached.

The bundle spoke, "H-he's dead."

Wilson saw that the bundle was Captain Steve Trevor wrapped in an enormous suit coat. The coat had clearly belonged to the man in the dust, who was even bigger than he appeared from a distance, almost seven feet tall. And without a coat, his extreme physique couldn't be missed. He had limbs like a gorilla, his shoulders and biceps half again as large as any strongman. His broad chest tapered considerably to his waist, which was still too wide for a common belt. At least he made an easy target.

"Slade? That you?"

Wilson stopped inspecting the body and looked at Trevor. "Hey. Ready to move?"

Trevor gradually stood. Even in the fading light, he looked starved and pale. The big coat slid off one shoulder, and under it he only wore a thin gray prison outfit and soft-soled shoes. Wilson had assumed the coat was to keep Trevor from slipping out of the big man's grasp, but it must have doubled as a blanket. It had done a poor job.

"Not sure how f-far I can get tonight. Can we bivouac here?"

Wilson shook his head. "Can't do that."

"Then what's the plan?"

"I'm sorry, Steve. I wanted to get you home. I really tried."


"Figured I owed you from Jamara. We’d be square."

"You don't owe me anything."

Here." Wilson dug a small tin box out of a pocket and tossed it at Steve's feet.

Steve picked it up. "What's this?"

"The Argentines are coming up that hill. I don't know what you've spilled already, but my orders are to plug you before you spill anymore."

"Plug me? Hey, I -"

"It's cyanide, Steve. We can do this another way, but I thought you'd like the choice. They say it's quick."

"Well when you p-put it that way." Steve shrugged the huge coat off his other shoulder. Under the coat, he was holding a pistol pointed at Wilson's ribs.

Wilson's eyes went wide and he started to turn his carbine, but Steve already had him dead to rights. "Don't try it, buddy." Steve straightened his arm. "Don't even blink."

Wilson slowly slung his carbine and raised his hands. He nodded at the huge corpse. "Courtesy of our friend here?"


"What are you going to do, Steve? You can't make it out on foot. They're going to find you again. And if you shoot me, they're going to hear it and find you faster."

Steve exhaled and saw his own breath. He was very cold. "I know."

"Forget the danger to your country. If you go back with them, you're just going to die in some pit. Is that what you want?"

Steve shrugged. "I might die. But I'm not dead yet. And you know what?"


"I really like being alive. And I realize now that I've got a lot to live for."


"So thank you, Slade. I don't know what this bucko had planned for me, but I bet it wasn't fun."

"You don't-"

"There's one thing I need to mention. I heard the three of them when they threw me in their car. They tried to speak Spanish to each other, but they weren't any good. One kept slipping in "nein" and "ja" and other bits of German. Waller might like to know."

"Thanks." Wilson responded dryly.

"Don't mention it. Now drop your little rifle and go. I don't want you sniping me."

"I can't leave this behind. It's a prototype."

"Then take out the bolt."


Steve tilted his arm a few degrees and fired. Wilson covered his ears. There were yells from down the mountain. Steve gestured for him to hurry up. Wilson dutifully pocketed the round from the carbine's chamber, took out its bolt, and threw it into the trees. Steve fired again. Wilson turned and ran. Steve fired once more in Wilson's direction, then he shivered and wrapped himself in the big coat.

He was going to have a difficult time explaining this.
Gotham City. Four days before the sinking of the Azure.

Avery Cotter was a gaunt man in a ragged fleece coat and dirty boots. He still looked like a steelworker, but these days he was President of United Shipwrights, Coilers, and Undersea Welders League Lodge 77, more commonly known as Gotham City's Shipbuilders Union. Shipbuilding had been the city's most famous industry since rioters demolished the stock exchange in 1930, and it employed seventy thousand residents. Avery Cotter could stop that massive enterprise with a snap of his fingers. People treated him with respect.

And if Cotter's position didn't demand enough respect, folks were certain he was in with the Four Families. The connection was nearly axiomatic: gangsters cut deals with labor leaders, gangsters shipped contraband, so gangsters must know labor leaders involved in shipping. During Prohibition, the District Attorney put away five presidents of the Dockworkers Union in a row. But folks were wrong: Avery Cotter had never met anyone in organized crime. Shipping and shipbuilding were two different industries, and the Families had never dealt with the labor side of shipbuilding. Too big. Too conspicuous. That was back in the day, and now they were rich enough to side with management.

Still, Carmine Falcone could invite Avery Cotter to lunch with a twenty second phone call. The Chart House was a restaurant on the old boardwalk, a block from the Lodge 77 offices. Two of Falcone's senior men sat at the table, and bodyguards were obvious near the exits. Cotter had come alone. There was no sense of intimidation in the arrangement. Falcone wasn't some crook; meeting him was like meeting the President. The President wouldn't muscle a civilian in public. He wouldn't pull a gun on his guests. That was understood.

Both had found it occasionally useful to lie about their assumed friendship, but they made an odd pair. Falcone was impeccable in his pinstriped suit, a red rose in his lapel. Cotter walked in looked like he was starting a shift at the assembly line.. Like most gangsters, Falcone was the product of rough, blue-collar stock, and he wondered whether Cotter still dressed like a working man as a political prop or because he still saw himself as one. Falcone sat reading a newspaper opened to an article titled ‘TASK FORCE DROPS HERO COP – SCANDAL AFOOT?’ when he saw Cotter was finished his pat-down. Falcone stood and they shook hands.

Cotter asked, "What can I do for you, Mr. Falcone? Boss boys uptown constipated about something?"

Falcone smiled. He was a silent partner in several major shipyards, and their boards occasionally asked him to intervene in labor disputes. He always declined. The Shipbuilders would be a powerful enemy, and it would jeopardize his relationships with other unions. Of course, Falcone had still prepared for such a day.

"Mr. Cotter, I'm here on behalf of the Mayor's office. I'll like to talk about our civic duty."

"You're kidding."

"Rarely. And not today."

Cotter sipped his just-arrived beer. "You're here about that destroyer contract."

Falcone nodded. "Your people elected a shrewd man." His thumb twitched and he tapped his knuckles on the table.

Cotter eyed this twitch suspiciously. "Please don't flatter, Mr. Falcone. What's your angle here?"

"At the last round of negotiations, you demanded an extra twenty cents an hour for all skilled tradesmen."

"That's not all. We demanded new gloves and welding masks, plus an extra break every six-hour shift-"

"I'm sure. But the wage increase was the center of the dispute?"

"True. They wouldn't budge, so we walked away. You better bet we won't work any new navel yard contracts until we get some consideration."

"Mr. Cotter, twenty cents an hour sounds very ambitious." His hand twitched.

"Listen. We ain't stupid. We remember the last time Washington geared up for war. They signed the orders, so we opened our doors, trained up an army of shipwrights, put them to work. Saved the world. Then those gov'ment boys make peace, and what'a you know? No new contracts. Zilch business. We have no choice but to kick our new recruits out the door; couldn't even afford to throw them a party. Wars don't last, Mr. Falcone, but people get their lives set up in such a way, it hurts to knock 'em down again. I say that's not how we do it. So this time, if we're going to expand again for Uncle Sam, we have to save up for lean days, see? We look after our own."

Falcone glanced at one of his silent companions and folded his hands. The covered hand twitched again. "I respect your attitude, Mr. Cotter. I truly do."

"Yeah? Good."

"Though if war does come, and you continue to drive a hard bargain, the government may nationalize your shipyards. They would say you wage, and you would lose what bargaining position you enjoy. Wouldn't it be safer to compromise now and keep your place at the table?"

Cotter crossed his arms. "Let 'em try."

"I see." Falcone sounded mildly disappointed. He studied his menu.

Cotter scoffed. "Not hardly."

Falcone's men shifted, and their boss looked up in surprise. "Hmm?"

"Come on, Mr. Falcone, I know you have something more to say, and I hate dancing. What's your pitch?"

"Simple. The board offered you a three-cent raise. I happen to know they'll settle for seven. Some of your union friends already want the deal at three. Deliver them seven and you'll win the vote. Take the offer."

"Seven cents? Ain't happening. I got principles here."

Falcone gave a thin smile. "Yes? Is that what your wife thinks?"


"Or should I say, wives?"

Cotter had the sudden expression of a pole-vaulter whose pole had snapped. "I-"

Falcone's eye twitched. He seized his fork with more force than necessary. "A lesser man would deny it."


"You hate dancing, Mr. Cotter, so here we are. Many years ago, you visit Star City for a wedding. During the festivities, you meet a flower of a girl named Edna Hausp, daughter of a tailor. Drinks flow, the two of you are carried away by the moment, and you happen to meet a radical pastor at a party. You and Edna are wed in holy matrimony, and the only other witnesses to your vows are a barkeep and a taxi driver. The next morning, you sober up and run like a coward."

Cotter ran his tongue across his teeth: a nervous tic. "How do you know?"

"The barkeep who saw your ceremony worked for a friend of mine. It's a good story, and I have a reputation for rewarding anyone who can bring me good stories about important people. I heard yours the day you stepped in as your Lodge's junior treasurer. In fact, I've made some quiet efforts to smooth your rise to the high office you now occupy. Little things only. Consider it on the house."

"Suppose I do deny it."

Falcone held his arms up in languid disregard, still clutching the fork. "I could march out the pastor or the witnesses, but that's an ugly method. You ran just after the wedding, so there was never a license. Was little Ms. Hausp ever Mrs. Cotter? This is a question for lawyers. The real danger is to your reputation and the strength of your current marriage. As a bachelor, back in Gotham, you meet your dear Gretta and propose to her in the proper way. But you don't take chances. Before you have your next wedding, you start sending Edna a bit of each paycheck to buy her silence. Now her bank account offers a compelling testament. Whether your nuptials were complete in the eyes of God or the state, this payoff certainly makes it look like she was special to you."

"You dare blackmail me?"

"If I ..." Falcone paused. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he stabbed the fork into the table deep enough to stand on its own. Then he started rubbing his hands like he was washing them.

Avery Cotter stared in mute surprise. Falcone's two men rushed to their boss, shaking his shoulder and muttering. Then Falcone blinked and stood up, bumping the table. He rubbed his eyes.

Cotter pointed at him. "Hey! What just happened here? Buddy, you need a doctor or something?"

One of Faclone's men whispered in his boss's ear and tried to guide him away. Falcone stayed long enough to tell his guest, "Mr. Cotter, you have one day to choose. We won't meet again. Goodbye."

Falcone's entourage tried to make a dignified exit. Back in his limousine, he ordered a quick ride home. His senior men entered their own limousine behind Falcone's. They wouldn't talk about the meeting here. The driver had only worked for them six years, and loose lips were fatal. But when they were alone with other trusted men, the pair would have much to discuss.

This was the Don's second case of fits this week. Carmine Falcone gave an impression so strong and controlled, so permanent, that even his closest circle was unnerved to see him ill. Worse, he refused to talk about his tremors. In theory, if a boss lived long enough to grow senile, young upstarts would oust him. But Falcone wasn't feeble. In most ways, his mind was sharper than ever, and he had led his empire so well, there was no faction who wanted him gone. His authority was absolute. But the condition could start to impair his mind in other ways. Perhaps it already had. What could they do?

As they worried in the back of their limousine, they didn't notice the road sign funneling traffic into a tunnel. Sudden detours were common in Gotham, so the driver didn't bother announcing the fact. Traffic slowed to a crawl. Near the middle of the tunnel, a police officer standing on the sidewalk saw Falcone's convoy. The two limousines and a support car were easy to spot. He knocked on a maintenance door in the tunnel wall. It opened and six more police officers poured onto the sidewalk. The seven officers jogged through the stalled traffic and surrounded the convoy. They started blowing whistles and banging on the doors of the limousines.

The first limo driver rolled down his window enough to speak through and barked, "Hey, do you know who-" But he was interrupted when the officer drew his sidearm and stuck it through the gap. Similar threats were made across the convoy. Three large men tried to get out of the support car, but the officers quickly shoved them to the pavement at gunpoint.

Car horns started to blare at the frozen convoy, and a few intrepid drivers tried to navigate around. One officer was almost sideswiped. If the squad was impatient before, now they were furious. Finally, Carmine Falcone opened his door. But before he could speak or step out, two officers dragged Falcone onto the pavement, then together they picked Falcone up and set off at a near run. The rest of the officers followed in an arrow formation. They made it to the maintenance door and disappeared. The entire incident, from the first whistle blow to the shutting of the door took under a minute.

One hour later, in an undisclosed federal building.

Admiral Bernard Cornwell and Amanda Waller stood in front of the translucent side of a two-way mirror. Carmine Falcone sat at a table in the well-lit room beyond.

Cornwell appraised Falcone. "Well, that was easier than I expected."

Waller responded, "Basic fieldcraft Admiral. Though we did get lucky."


"His escort could've seen this as another Valentine's Day Massacre and fought back."

"That's an old gang, Amanda. Perhaps they've lost the touch."

"Must be. We're lucky the driver rolled down that window."

"You think they bulletproofed the cars?"

"Absolutely. We didn't have a plan if the real cops arrived."

"Say, where did your boys get those costumes so quickly anyhow?"

"Would you believe there are places in Gotham where they sell them on the street?"

Cornwell paused to consider this. "That's horrifying."

Waller nodded. "I'd be lying if I said I cared two bits about that city, but I am curious to see what houses of cards will collapse now that we snatched their king out of the deck."

"Do you try to talk poetic like that or does it come naturally?"

"I have my moments."

"And you're sure you want me to go through the deal we made after today?"

"Better he doesn't suspect you were involved in the abduction. As far I can tell, he has no motive besides the obvious in wanting Arturo Bertinelli out of the country. And if it's an excuse to set up the destroyer deal in his backyard, he's set to profit handsomely. Sometimes a gangster is just a gangster."

"We'll see."

In the bright room beyond, they watched the door open. A man in a suit almost as nice as Falcone's entered. Falcone looked at him idly. The man took a seat across the table.

"Carmine Falcone, you can call me Agent Faraday."

"An agent of which agency, sir?"

"Department of Justice."

"Am I under arrest, Agent Faraday? No one has spoken to me."

"You are in our custody."

"Ah. This is going to be that sort of conversation."

"Mr. Falcone, let's get down to brass tacks. We know you have an arrangement with parties in the military to inform on espionage activities by operatives of German intelligence. I need to know who has been supplying you with this information."

"If you know I have an arrangement with the military, Agent Faraday, you also know I have an agreement with them as well as your own Justice Department to not answer that question."

Faraday gestured amicably. "Yes, legally you are correct. I work for an office that disagrees with the limitations of these promises. Legally, our hands our tied. Legally, we can't follow our mandate to act in accordance with the best interests of national security. Legally, we have to announce all citizens taken into custody within a day, and you'd have a right to see an attorney."

Falcone make an expression of sudden understanding. "Just as you can't legally impersonate officers of the Gotham City Police Department."

Faraday snapped his fingers like an approving tutor. "Now you're getting the hang of it. We'll be happy to let you go if you answer my questions."

"And may I presume, Agent Faraday, that once released, if I bring a grievance for this custody to the Justice Department, they will have never heard of your office or you personally?"

"That's a good guess. Now, Carmine, you recently passed along information about a German spy codenamed Der Wehrwolf. You're not leaving this table until you tell me how you know about this spy and why you believed you knew their location."

"So until I answer, I'm not leaving this table?"



In a moment, Falcone's features twitched, his eyelids went slack, and he slipped to the floor. Agent Faraday sped around the table and stood over Falcone's limp body. He felt for a pulse and yelled, "I need a doctor in here!"

Across the two-way mirror, Admiral Cornwell and Amanda Waller watched with disappointment.
Meanwhile, in the home of Admiral Bernard Cornwell in Falls Church, Virginia.

Mary Franklin had been Admiral Cornwell’s housemaid and cook for several years. The Admiral believed that Mary was polite and deferential and performed her tasks in a minimally-satisfactory fashion, which he assumed was all she was capable of. He had never married, deciding long ago that the sea would be his wife, but he thought any bride should behave essentially the same way, freeing him from domestic cares so he could focus on the sea. Having Mary was like being married without the hassle, and he treated her with a sort of fond apathy. The Admiral never worried about leaving the home in her care.

Mary worked to earn that trust because she liked her job best when the Admiral wasn’t home. He was a tidy man, so she could usually complete a day’s chores in two or three hours, but to justify her paycheck, she had to make it look like six. That was made possible by the Admiral’s utter indifference, but it took some acting. When he was gone, she didn’t even need to act.

Mary was relaxing in the Admiral’s leather armchair, eating a bowl of his peanuts and reading the works of Plato from his library when she heard a knock at the front door. She rushed to hide the peanuts and brushed down the creases on her skirt. When she opened the door, she found a mustachioed white man in a suit who leaned on a cane he was too young to need. He opened his mouth to speak, but when he saw her, he froze.

Mary was still getting over the shock of a guest and didn’t think much of it. “Can I help you?”

The young man closed his mouth and seemed to ponder something. He had a roughneck's strong hands, but he was awfully pale unlike any white boy who worked with his hands in the Virginia sun. Finally, he doffed his hat and got to business.

"Afternoon, ma'am. M'name's Malone, and I’m an investigator with the United States Secret Service." He spoke quickly and paused only to hand her a folded paper. "This here's a warrant to search these premises. Is the owner home?"

Mary shook her head. "No, suh."

"Okay, then." Malone walked into the home uninvited. "I trust you are employed here?"

"Yes, I am. What is this all about, Mr. Malone?"

"'I've reason to suspect your employer of perpetratin' several crimes which I am not at liberty to disclose to anyone but himself. Now kindly follow me, ma'am." He limped ahead on his cane.

She followed behind him while reading the warrant. “Pardon me, but don’t law enforcers tend to deliver warrants in pairs?”

“They do tend that, ma’am. Regrettably, we are short-staffed at present, and my partner has been called away on other matters. Now, does this house have an office or study where the owner keeps his work?”

“Yes, indeed. It’s right down this corridor.”

Mary led the investigator to the Admiral’s study. “Here it is, Mr. Malone, though I daresay the Admiral does much of his work at the Navy station. You may want to try there instead.”

Malone “Oh, I know what he does there, ma’am. I’ll ask you to take your leave elsewhere in the home while I perform a search here. Once I’m done, I won’t bother you further.”

Mary curtseyed and closed the door behind her. She trusted this stranger about as far as she could throw him. Her first instinct was to call the police, but then she remembered that wasn’t necessary. The Admiral lived in a sheltered suburb on base, and it maintained a neighborhood watch that was nosier than a rhinoplasty convention. No doubt half the cul-de-sac was already making inquiries with the Admiral’s secretary as to why an unfamiliar vehicle was visiting while he was away. The last time, a pushy door-to-door salesman had tried something similar and was escorted to the state line.

Mary sat in the next room and listened to Mr. Malone shuffling folders and opening drawers. She knew the Admiral kept his most secretive papers in the floor safe, and even she didn’t know the combination, so at least the man couldn’t do much harm. A few minutes later, she heard another knock at the front door. There was no reaction from the study. Mary went to open the door. Outside were four masters-at-arms, sailors who acted as the Navy’s police. Their expression showed that they didn’t take kindly to intruders in the homes of admirals.

The senior sailor spoke, “Ms. Franklin, we heard tell a stranger entered the home?”

“Yes, Petty Officer Grove, do come in. He says he’s with the United States Secret Service, a tall man with a cane, here on account on a warrant to search Admiral Cornwell’s papers.”

The sailors frowned at each other. Petty Officer Grove spoke, “We’ll just see about that, ma’am.”

“He’s in the study if you gentlemen would like to discuss the matter.”

“That would be a kindness, ma’am.”

Mary led them to the door of the study. One of the sailors tried the knob, but it was locked. He hit the door with his fist, “Naval security, open up in there!” There was no response inside, nor any noise. They called out twice more, but no luck. Finally, they kicked open the door.

The study was empty. Mary entered and searched in disbelief. “He was right here, I swear.”

One of the sailors noticed something odd at the window and inspected it. The latch was undone. It swung freely when he pressed on a pane. “Seems awful limber for a guy with a cane.” They heard an engine start at the curb outside.

Ten minutes later, Bruce Wayne pulled off his fake mustache and brown wig. He was driving on a back road well outside the naval base. His legs ached terribly, and his spine burned. He was gratified to learn that he could still walk quickly and resolved to never do it again. Bruce felt his coat pocket. Inside was a slim, sophisticated camera. On its film were shots of documents describing several curious programs, among them an Operation Underworld.
Four days later in the South Atlantic, two minutes after the sinking of the Azure.

Diana woke in complete darkness with an odd tightness in his chest. Her skin felt moist and her head hurt. It took several moments to realize that she was underwater. It took another moment to realize that she wasn’t breathing, her mouth and throat were full of water. She panicked. She thrashed.

Then out of the darkness, a hazy dot of light swam into her peripheral vision. Diana turned to face it. It glowed like an indistinct star in the endless murk. She swam to it with hollow limbs. As she approached, another dot glowed beyond, growing from a pinprick to a bead to a bulb. Then a third dot appeared, further still. Diana’s vision faded, but when she pulled a final stroke toward this last dot, the world cracked over her head.

Air! She was still in the near-dark save for the faintest lights in the water below, but now her head and shoulders were heavy and her eyes stung and she could hear echoes of herself and she could breathe. Diana coughed and coughed, expelling a cup of seawater with a force that made her ribs hurt. She took deep, greedy breaths. As her wits began to return, Diana realized she had no idea where she was. She took another deep breath, sunk into the water, awkwardly spun, and with a flash of groovy subaquatic technicolor light, Wonder Woman kicked again to the surface. She took her golden cord and willed it to light. Holding a bend of the cord above her like a candle, Wonder Woman saw a riveted metal hull above her. She was still aboard the ship. But the hull was slanted at an impossible angle. Either gravity had changed, or the Azure was nearly vertical. Realizing that most of the ship was underneath her gave her a rush of vertigo. Looking around, Wonder Woman saw that even her weak light could reach the edge of this air pocket. It was four yards across at the widest. Except for a few bits of floating trash, she was alone.

Then she heard a grand and powerful voice, “Diana!”

Wonder Woman flinched, splashing. “Great Hera!”

“Yes! She is great indeed!” The marvelous voice echoed in her little pocket of air, seeming to sound from all directions at once.

Wonder Woman tried to look around. “Who speaks?”

“Hark! It is I, Poseidon: lord of the seas and all the living beasts therein. And also earthquakes. And horses.”

Wonder Woman smiled uncomfortably. Some Olympians were venerated as patrons of the Amazons. Others were feared as ancient threats. Others were just odd. Poseidon fell somewhere between the last two camps.

She finally said, "Hail, Lord Poseidon. By what honor dost thou come?"

“Hail, child! I bring ill tidings. Your craft has been sunk! As we speak, it lowers swiftly to the briny depths. You should leave!”

“But I don’t know where to go.”

“Fear not! For I have bid a disciple to aid you. He has caused a school of glowing fish to guide your path to safety, much as the first of their number led you to your current respite.”

“Glowing fish? A miracle?”

“Not so! They are natural creatures who live in the deepest seas. Now, it is unnatural for them to rise so far. Such strain will surely kill them, and soon!”

“Oh! Uh. Then I am humbled by the sacrifice of your subjects, Lord Poseidon.”

“Think nothing of it, child! Fish die all the time. Now horses! Those are sacred creatures. Do you like horses?”


“A triumph! And here comes your royal escort to the surface. Farewell, Diana of the Amazons.”

“Farewell, Lord Poseidon. You have my gratitude.”

Wonder Woman heard nothing more, but she saw a beautiful circle begin to glow beneath her treading feet. She took a tremendous breath and dived. Through the gray haze, she watched the circle transform into an arrow. She crawled down through the water to catch it, but it shimmied just out of reach, moving ahead. It tucked and bent, moving through what she faintly recognized as a staircase, then out a porthole. Then suddenly there was twilight – an awesome oppressive monochrome horizon stretching out to infinity – she was in the ocean, many hundreds of feet under the waves. Wonder Woman had another bout of vertigo, and now she began to feel burning in her lungs.

She felt motion on her back and glanced around. For just a moment, she watched a black metal hulk the size of a building slipping past her in silence. Her glowing arrow was now pointing upward, but she didn’t need the help. Wonder Woman set her muscles to the task and willed herself toward the light.

Minutes passed. Finally, she broke free into the waves and breeze of the Atlantic. This was less reviving her first new breath in the hold of the sinking ship, but it was a more diverse sensation, with the rich sounds and smells of the green ocean. Wonder Woman felt the sun on her face and realized she was chilly. The water was calm, and she could see that a collection of flotsam: crates and barrels and planks and tools and more miscellany. She swam to a large crate and climbed atop. It bobbed but held her weight.

Wonder Woman looked around. Her heart sank at the devastation. What had happened?

She heard a familiar voice call behind her. “Diana?”

Wonder Woman turned. Far away in the cluster of flotsam, she spied First Mate Zhang sitting on part of a radio mast. “Zhang!” she called back. Wonder Woman dived into the water and quickly swam over to him. She could see another two sailors sitting on the mast. One wasn’t moving. She climbed up next to them.

“Hello. Are you okay?”

Zhang smiled at her but his eyes were forlorn. “For the moment, yes, but I’m afraid this is it. I am sorry, Diana.”

“What do you mean?”

“I envy your innocence, girl. We are not so far to the trade lanes, but it is not likely we will see another ship in the few days before we expire of thirst or the sun.”

“Which way is the nearest land?”

The other moving sailor pointed. “Oeste. Casi ciento setenta kilometros.”

Zhang began to translate but Wonder Woman interrupted. “I understood. West. 170 kilometers. Let’s do it.”

Zhang looked confused. “Do what?”

“Here.” Wonder Woman unwrapped a length of her golden cord and handed it to Zhang. “Tie it to something sturdy and hold on.”

“Diana, have you been drinking sea water?”

“Yes, but we will need fresh water soon. I must be swift.” She tied the other end of the cord around her waist and dived into the ocean.

Zhang asked, “Where did you get this?”

Wonder Woman called over her shoulder. “A gift from my mother. Am I going the right way?”

Zhang realized that as she swam, their small platform was gradually moving. This lady had to be the strongest swimmer on the planet! He shouted back. “Yes, you are going west. But this is foolish. Come back and save your strength.”

She called back, “After we get to Brazil.”

Zhang had no response to this. Tragedy could drive people to madness. He hoped she would stop before she was too tired.”

After a minute, the other sailor asked, “Cuando recibiste un segundo, uh, outfit?”

Zhang agreed. “Yes, you’ve been wearing just the one for the entire voyage. And don’t you find it difficult to swim in a metal shirt?”

Wonder Woman called back, “It fits me well. I don’t find it difficult.”

She swam for another ten minutes. They saw no other survivors and left the flotsam behind. Now it was empty sea all around. Diana rolled over and started to backstroke. “What happened to the Azure? I was in the hold when it sank, and I don’t remember the moment.”

The other sailor answered, “Una gran explosion. Boom!”

Wonder Woman frowned. “Do ships often explode? I didn’t realize sea travel was so dangerous.”

Zhang shook his head, “It was no accident, Diana. We were torpedoed. I saw it from the bridge.”

“What’s a torpedo?”

“Well, it’s a bomb on a fast little boat.”

“We were bombed?”

“Yes. Twice.”

“By who.”

“I cannot say. The warship responsible, for a warship it must be, did not fly a flag. They are pirates and cowards.”

“But why? They had no chance to take our goods. Near all of it sank.”

“Again, I cannot say, Diana. I would guess the German fleets, but we are not at war. No country blockades us here. Who knows? Do you know anyone who commands warships?”

Wonder Woman seemed concerned by this rhetorical question. “I'm not sure."
Stewart M
Padawan Learner
Posts: 205
Joined: 2016-08-22 06:09pm

Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M »

Personal events have interrupted my writing schedule. As a consolation, here's a scene I wrote a long, long time ago before I even started The Dangers of Being Cold. The scene is part of a story idea that eventually provided raw material for Swimming in the Styx. You can probably guess where. Also note that the Dark Knight's behavior may seem unfamiliar here, but the aforementioned story idea provided reasons for that.

Again, this is not canon to Batman 1939. Enjoy.


The clocks struck midnight on 7th Street.

7th Street had respectability. It was an enclave of well-to-do Italians, the children of a wave of immigrants who had worked fourteen-hour days so their kids could go to school. It wasn't Millionaire's Row, but it also wasn't the slums, and when you grew up in the slums that meant everything. There were no bums around or sewage in the street. A few wise guys showed up from time to time, but they kept to themselves so long as the locals did the same.

Like most rented homes on the street, Brookstone Heights apartment 24B was small but clean and well-furnished. The front door opened and a pudgy man they called Frankie Valentine walked inside, his back slumped with fatigue. It had been a long night. Frankie put his coat and hat on a hook and entered the kitchen.

Frankie Valentine looked like a door-to-door salesman who caught a few lucky breaks. He wore fancy brands a size too small, his receding hair was lovingly combed, and used enough cologne to stun an ox. He was no Cary Grant (and he sure wasn't Charles Atlas), but by local standards Valentine was a classy guy - the sort of gentleman who would take his special lady to a lobster dinner and leave a nice tip.

Frankie pulled the cord on the hanging lamp above the small kitchen table. He draped his suit jacket over the back of a chair. The lamplight was dim and left the edges of the room in semidarkness. He plucked a beer from the Frigidaire and sat down, the very image of exhaustion.

As he lifted the bottle to his lips, a deep voice spoke from the shadows, "Fievel Volkov."

Startled, Frankie yelled and dropped the bottle. Amber beer spilled across the white linoleum. He rose and stumbled to the counter behind him. Frantically opening drawers, he pawed around for something.

Heedless, the deep voice spoke again, "That pistol is down a storm drain outside. You can find it when we're done."

Frankie stopped rummaging and grabbed a carving knife from the counter instead. He turned around and peered across the dim room. "Hey! Why'd you call me that? I'm Frankie Valentine, you schmuck!"

Frankie kept the knife pointed towards the furthest darkness of the voice and gingerly stepped sideways until his back was to the wall. As he struggled to slow his breathing, Frankie watched a tall figure appear from the deep shadows and stand at the edge of the lamplight. It moved in utter, implacable silence. Only a few yards away, the features of the massive being were still too hazy to discern, but its silhouette was frightening - more a beast or specter than a man.

"Fievel Tovich Volkov. Born in Milwaukee. Husband to Anya Volkov and father of three. Fabric salesman. Churchgoer. Member of the Lion's Club. Mr. Franklin Valentine is a mask you invented six years ago to hide your illicit habits from your family." The voice moved a step closer. "You started as a small-time messenger: graft for union reps and bribes for beat cops. You worked hard and moved up the food chain until you were the city's most respected illicit go-between, all the while keeping both lives ignorant of the other: two names, two schedules, two homes. Your wife thinks you're on a business trip to Philadelphia tonight." The cold voice took an unsettling edge of admiration. "I have to hand it to you, Volkov; six years is an accomplishment."

Frankie held the trembling knife forward like a saber. He was a consummate negotiator and tried to sound reasonable with a bravado he didn't feel. "Alright buddy, who sent you? Everybody knows I deal honest. I pay my dues. If somebody's angry, just say who so we can talk about it."

The figure stepped into the yellow light. Frankie's eyes budged in recognition.

It was Batman.

"I'm angry Volkov. Let's talk about it."

Batman's huge frame gradually blocked the lamp as he moved, darkening the room for Frankie with every step.

"You. You're the monster."

Batman nodded gravely. "We could do this calmly. I don't need to hurt you-" Frankie tried to stab out but was met with a brutal front kick that slammed him against the wall. "-though I prefer to."

The shock rattled cookware off the shelves. As Frankie slid down the wall, Batman lifted him by the collar and threw him across the room. Frankie did a half-flip, limbs wind-milling, and knocked over the table. He landed on his back like a sack of hams falling off a truck.

The Dark Knight moved to stand over the limp body.

"Carmine Falcone, his consigliore, and five of his lieutenants are dead. The survivors of Falcone's organization and the other families are six hours away from starting a civil war to fill his shoes. Innocents will die in the crossfire."

Frankie spat blood, his face bruised from hitting the table. He bellowed air and managed to retort, "Shc- Ss- Sss- sounds like your problem."

Batman's demeanor turned icy, but he restrained himself.

"I'm going to stop them, but I don't have time to hunt down the agitators individually. But you, Frankie Valentine, you’re Gotham's preeminent deal broker, the only neutral party with enough clout and owed favors to arrange a meeting with every faction on short notice. Get the leaders together in one place tonight and I can end the war before it starts."

Frankie frowned, "Even if I could, I don't play traitor."

"Honor among thieves?"

"They'd kill me."

"Probably," Batman stepped on Frankie's hand. There was a raw crunch of bones fracturing. Frankie grunted. "But if we leave now, I can neutralize them. Every last one. They'll be no one to remember your betrayal."

Frankie gritted his teeth and stayed defiant, "I didn't get this far by-"

Batman interrupted, gripping Frankie's crushed hand and pulling it into an armbar across his knee. The elbow strained for an instant until it broke backwards with a wet snap. Frankie howled in tremendous pain.

As he cried in agony, Batman went to the sink and filled a cup of water. He spoke calmly over Frankie's yelling, "You can have morphine when you cooperate."

There was a minute of brutal yelling and crying, during which Batman stood and watched. Gradually, after many labored breaths, Frankie sat up. His eyes were unfocused and his voice was pained.

"Sssss- These walls are paper thin, see. You best get out of here. My neighbors have called the cops by now."

"In this neighborhood?" Batman made a contemptuous noise. "Doubtful." He crouched, placed the water on the floor, and griped the injured arm.

Frankie begged, "No! No! No! No!" but Batman rolled the arm into a shoulder lock. This elicited more crying. Then with a simple tug, Batman dislocated the shoulder. Frankie screamed again.

Batman spoke unconcerned, "The neighbors know Frankie Valentine pals with gangsters. If they hear yelling, it's just some stubborn fool getting his arm twisted tonight. They won't intervene."

Batman continued to pull and rotate the broken arm, stressing all the injured joints simultaneously. Frankie continued to scream in limitless agony and finally shouted, "Stop! Stop!"

Batman stopped pulling but didn't release the arm. "We have an understanding?"

"Yes! Yes! Just stop the pain! Please!" There were tears down Frankie's cheeks. "Ple-ee-esse."

Batman let go and took a capsule from his belt. The top unscrewed to reveal a very short syringe. Roughly cupping Frankie's good arm, Batman administered the shot. He returned the syringe to his belt and swiftly lifted Frankie into a chair. Gripping the injured arm at the elbow and wrist, Batman bent it in a sudden and complicated motion. Several joints made a 'POP' as they slid back into place. Frankie screamed again and nearly fell off the chair.

As he screamed, Batman used the fallen knife to cut a length of fabric from the tablecloth and tied it into a sling. He helped Frankie to his feet and offered the water. Frankie weakly took the glass with his good hand and sipped, liquid dribbling down his chin.

Batman took the glass to the sink and retrieved a bag of frozen peas from the fridge. He had Frankie hold the bag to his bruised face with his good arm.

"Is there anything you need to arrange your meetings? An address book or a list of passwords?"

Frankie feebly stood, "No. S'all in my head. S'why they trust me."

Batman nodded. "We're leaving. Walk."

Frankie stumbled forward, making tortured noises with every step. As they rounded the corner into the front hall, Frankie started to lean on the wall for support. Batman pulled him upright by a suspender.

"The morphine shot contained a rapid painkiller called pethidine. It kicks in immediately, but you need to stay awake. Otherwise, I'll administer amphetamines."

Frankie looked at him incredulously. “What?”

"The combination might stop your heart."

Frankie whined, "I need to go to a hospital!"

Batman opened the door and pushed him through it. "Sounds like your problem."
Stewart M
Padawan Learner
Posts: 205
Joined: 2016-08-22 06:09pm

Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M »

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx
Tiresias and Other Implications​
Golden Harbor Yacht Club, Gotham City. Three days before the sinking of the Azure.

Folks who entered a life of crime tended to be selfish, paranoid, stubborn, impulsive bullies. As anyone who ever worked with one knew, selfish, paranoid, stubborn, impulsive bullies made terrible partners. Unsurprisingly, criminal gangs tended to self-destruct more often than, say, church choirs or dairy farms.

To succeed, organized crime needed to be tied together by forces stronger than its members’ anti-social proclivities. Cohesion usually developed out of a carrot and stick approach. Gangs often started from families or inseparable friends, and they indoctrinated recruits into their private culture as they grew – forming an artificial family. That was the carrot. Meanwhile, gangs enforced loyalty with threats of gruesome retribution. That was the stick.

Of course, gangs could only grow so large before they rubbed against other gangs, and cooperation between gangs had no carrot or stick. The only force keeping the peace was enlightened self-interest, and most gangsters shared little with the Enlightenment besides a love for liquor, opium, and duels. There were no family ties to establish trust and threats eventually led to war. Gangs which lasted five years were rare, but gang alliances lasting five years were extraordinary.

Carmine Falcone’s was pushing eleven.

For most of Prohibition, Gotham City was caught in an escalating crime wave called the Bootlegger Vendettas. The Gotham Bay was perfect for smugglers, and the urban maze hid endless distilleries and speakeasies. Liquor was a gold mine, and quite a few gangs made a mint. The money didn’t make them any less selfish, paranoid, stubborn, impulsive, or prone to risks, so what might have been a quiet beverage delivery industry became a jungle of raids, counter-raids, bombs, pirates, spies, assassins, and the occasional lawsuit. The noblest fought with undisguised contempt, and the cruelest were monsters. As its name implied, the Vendettas often turned personal.

Carmine Falcone ran a powerful gang, but he knew he would never conquer the city by force. None of them would. Instead, he studied every rival and dreamed a vision of the city shared between them, the slices cut to the perfect balance of each gang’s potential. Then he engineered a day when everyone who mattered would see his vision, see past their grudges and mistrust, and understand the value of teamwork. Once the crucial factions were aligned, everyone else could be cleanly removed. It was a moment equal to Bismarck or Richelieu yet praised in no history books. The number of men who recognized the true enormity of Falcone’s triumph could fit in a small dining room.

Many of those men presently sat in a small dining room. After Falcone had established a truce, he chaired meetings to establish a new code for cooperation – a sort of gangster’s constitutional convention. Part of that code concerned kidnappings. Yesterday, a squad of policemen had intercepted Falcone’s car and abducted him. He had not been heard from since. Back in the Vendettas, any gang would have been assumed that a rival was responsible (all the Families had hired cops to do their dirty work in the past, and stolen uniforms were a hot commodity). The Falcone Family still assumed treachery, but their code offered an alternative to bloodshed.

Instead of going to the mattresses, the other three Families had visited the Falcones within hours of the assault to plead their innocence. Within a day, each Family had selected three junior leaders to stay with the Falcones as guests and pledges of good faith until the matter was settled. In the strategic math of such things, three lieutenants weren’t worth a boss, but they would be a costly enough loss that the Families believed no one would endure deliberately. Conversely, if this was some trick by the Falcones to unbalance their peers, the loss of three lieutenants would be painful but not paralyzing.

In the drawing room of the yacht club, men argued over final details and said their goodbyes. Finally, the nine lieutenants were escorted out to the pier where they boarded five motorboats. The motorboats unmoored and cruised off towards Falcone safe houses across the state. No individual, not even the Family’s acting boss, Carmine’s son Mario knew where they were all headed. That information was distributed safely across the Family’s senior ranks.

For all their talk of family, gangsters were rarely sentimental, not since the Vendettas ended. As the wake of the departing craft still lapped against the pier, the crowd separated to return to business. Nine lucky soldiers would be given a field promotion today. Seven wives, four girlfriends, and sixteen children would be given disappointing news. And the Falcones would continue to shake heaven and earth to find their don.


Meanwhile, twenty blocks west.

Sergeant James Gordon was the new leader of the homicide squad for the GCPD’s River and Maritime Patrol. Essentially, if someone was found dead in any body of water deeper than six feet, and there was any hint of foul play, Gordon’s squad investigated.

This meant many things for Gordon. It meant he often needed to travel half a morning to reach a call, since a body might appear out in the Bay or in some marsh by the county line or in one of Gotham City’s subterranean canals. Then when he was finished, he would spend half the evening traveling home, the travel cutting out what little family time he once enjoyed.

The position also promised to stall Gordon’s career. Generally, there were two ways to advance in the police: play politics and close cases. Gordon was just getting his bearings at the more efficient method, politics, but he had always managed to hold his own by maintaining a sky-high conviction rate. Gordon was a mighty fine cop, but criminals crawled out of the woodwork at his old beats. He could make arrests all day and never run dry. But in the River Patrol, his team was lucky to see three genuine crime scenes a week. And salt water wasn’t kind to evidence. Or corpses. In fact, Gordon had yet to collar a single felon. He could feel his golden boy shine wearing off day by day. Soon he’d be just another agitator. The Department tended to serve them early retirement.

Worst of all, Gordon got sea sick easily. He had no idea how his rivals had learned that, but he refused to believe it was a coincidence. It was a nice touch.

On the other hand, his new role was technically a promotion. If he behaved, they would make him a lieutenant before the end of the month. At least his wife would like his new paycheck.

Gordon had endured a particularly useless wild goose chase today. He had been on a rowboat in a pond in Centennial Park dredging the muck with a rookie named Ritter. After two hours, they had pulled up a wristwatch that might have been evidence for a nearby murder. When Officer Ritter returned to shore, the young policeman was immediately ambushed by a wild goose who stole the wristwatch. Gordon chased the wild goose around half the park before tackling the bird. Soon afterward, his team learned that no murder had actually occurred; the original witness confessed to inventing the story out of boredom. His team then arrested the witness, but Gordon knew the case would plead down to a misdemeanor, so their felon record was still zilch. Officer Ritter was given four days leave while his wounds healed. That was a loss, as Ritter was not the least competent officer in Sergeant Gordon’s new command.

Gordon opened the door to his apartment around sunset. He legs were dead. His back hurt. His eyes hurt. He had goose feathers in his shirt. Gordan tried to shrug out of his coat. His daughter Barbara was doing her homework at the kitchen table, but she jumped up to help him out of him. Gordon hung the coat while she gave him a hug.

She looked up at him. Her head was almost to his shoulder now. “Hey, Daddy!”

Gordon smiled and took off his glasses. “Hey, Pumpkin.”

“How was work? Catch any bad guys?”

“Sorry, not today. Unless you count birds.”


“Nothing. Where’s your mother and brother?”

“She’s at her bridge game. He’s at the movies.”


“We left some pot roast on the table. I can warm it up on the stove for you. While you eat I can show you this speech I’m making for Civics class. Ms. Glenn wants us to pick a Founding Father and explore a dilemma they faced, but I think she might give me extra credit if I pick two Founding Fathers and show how they were a dilemma for each other, and I’m trying to turn it into a rhyme, but there aren’t many rhymes for ‘constitutional’ or ‘Jeffersonian’ or ‘legislate’. Well, there’s actually a whole bundle for ‘legislate’, but they’re hard to work in. Resuscitate. Magistrate. Conjugate. Regulate. Confiscate. Prostate. Prostrate. Phosphate. Amputate-”

“Uh-huh.” Gordon glanced at the wall clock. He winced and patted her shoulder. “Oh, jeez, Barbara, I’m sorry. Daddy needs to go, uh, take a smoke. It’s been a long day.”

Babara stopped. “Oh.” She tried to put on another smile and went to the stove. “Okay. We can talk about it later, Daddy. I’ll warm up the pot roast.”

Gordon rubbed his eyes. “That’s lovely, Barbara. I’ll be right back.” He trudged down their little hall to the window beside his apartment's fire escape. As he undid the latch, there was a loud knocking on his front door. Gordon spun, hand on his holster. Barbara went to the door and peered through the peephole.

“It’s the cops, Daddy.”

Gordon frowned and shooed Barbara away from the door. He looked through the peephole. Two cops in patrol blues. He didn’t recognize them. They didn’t look happy.

“Go to your room, Barbara.”


“Now.” Gordon’s voice was firm. Barbara disappeared. Gordon opened the door. “What can I-”

The cops each grabbed one of Gordon’s arms and pulled him out. They closed his door without a word and escorted him down the stairwell and out of his building. One of the cops pulled the sidearm from Gordon’s holster. Gordon’s mind swam through probabilities, trying to remember anything he might have done lately to earn a late night visit, and how bad it might get. He’d probably get out with a warning. If not, he could take a beating. He had faith they wouldn't try anything nastier. Even if the worst stories, he had never heard of a cop offing a cop in cold blood. Certainly not outside his own home.

But if they tried to take him somewhere else…

Gordon tensed. Fortunately, the two cops turned and escorted him into the alley behind his building. He saw the looming figure of Detective Arnold Flass smoking in the twilight next to a pile of trash. There was no false twinkle in Flass’ eyes tonight, no friendly veneer. Tonight he was all business. Flass nodded and the pair moved back to block the alley entrance.

Gordon folded his arms. “What’s this for, Flass?”

Detective Flass was in his regular camel hair coat. It made him look heavy, but he was a very fit man underneath, and many punks had learned to their dismay how quickly he could move those long arms when he had something to prove. Flass stepped forward. In a blink, he seized Gordon by the collar and tossed him against the brick wall. Gordon tasted blood. He raised an arm to defend himself, but Flass drove a fist into his stomach and shoved him to the ground. Gordon bounced off the wall and landed next to the trash pile.

Gordon’s vision spun. He could feel lunch in his throat. He eventually tried to stand, put Flass but a polished shoe on his chest.

Gordon dry heaved. “… Why?”

Flass brushed the creases from his sleeves. “You’re a pest, Jimmy. A real rock in my shoe.” He casually kicked Gordon in the ribs. “But I’ve mostly let you be, since I’m such a saint. I never guessed you were looking for someone to kill you. Now where’s Carmine Falcone?”

Gordon looked up, anger and incredulous. “What? Some penthouse uptown, I don’t know.”

Flass leaned down and slapped Gordon across the mouth. “Ah, I think you do know. You and your little friends all know. You’ll talk, or one of them will.”

“Gordon tried to blink his vision into focus. His cheek was numb. “Flass, I don’t know from nothing. You’re barking up the wrong tree.”

Flass slapped him again. It was a long slap, with shoulder rotation and a lot of muscle. “You’re lucky here, Jimmy. We officers of the law police our own. If the Falcones thought we weren't up to the task, why Jimmy, you’d really be in deep.” Flass slapped again, leading with the edge of the palm so it was almost a chop. “Instead you get my gentle persuasion.” Flass backhanded him. “Consider this encouragement.” Another slap. “That one was just for fun.”

Flass raised his hand for another big swing. Gordon covered his face with his arms. Flass tried to pull away Gordon’s wrists, crouching low to get more leverage. They wrestled, then Gordon snatched an open tin can from the trash pile. Flass saw this and tried to stand, but Gordon grabbed Flass’ coat and stabbed at him. The jagged edge cut an ugly arc across Flass’ cheek, just below his eye. Flass cursed and started pounding on Gordon with his fists like two hammers. Gordon took the punishment until he managed to kick Flass in the hip, forcing him away in a stagger.

Gordon pressed against the wall and managed to stand. “Listen, you can whip me bloody.” He held the tin can low like a knife, its edge smeared red. “But you’re going to have to earn it.”

Flass eyed Gordon with a bull’s rage. His two goons flanked him with their nightsticks ready. But like most successful bullies, Detective Arnold Flass was more cunning then he was vicious. He held his ground.

Gordon noticed the hesitation. He wiped away a long nosebleed and coughed. “Flass, you’re a half-blind shamus, a common thug, and a first-rate bum, but get this in your thick skull: I have no clue what you’re harping on about. Why are you asking about Carmine Falcone?”

Flass straightened the creases on his coat and eyed Gordon warily. “You really don’t know?”

“I know your cologne hits harder than you do.”

“Carmine Falcone’s car was stopped in a tunnel yesterday by some cops. They pulled the man out and disappeared with him.”


“There’s no warrant for him. Every precinct captain in the city swears they don’t know nothing about it. He’s not in any holding cell.”

“There’s six thousand sworn officers in the GCPD, and you come straight to me?”

“I did. You’re a problem, Jimmy. Seemed right up your alley.”

“I was out on a boat all day. Three of my boys from the River Patrol can corroborate that.”

“And we’re supposed to trust your own team?”

“I’ve hardly known ’em long enough to remember their names. They don’t owe me anything.”

“Maybe. And maybe you’re just the ringleader. I know you have a little band of friends. The ones who aren’t dead, anyway. Maybe you were out fishing and they pulled the job.”

“Want do you want here, Flass? I’ve got nothing to confess, and your little love taps ain’t changing that. Come back with some proof and you can put me away for life. Until then, you’re wasting time.”

Flass glared at Gordon, but eventually gestured at his two cops that they were leaving. One dropped Gordon's gun into a trashcan.

Gordon called behind them. “Hold on, how haven’t I heard about this?”

Flass turned back. “Falcone’s people paid off about fifty witnesses. We’ve kept it out of the papers by the skin of our teeth. Doubt that’ll last another day. It’s gonna be a fun time in the old town when that hits the stands. Keep your nose clean, Jimmy.” Flass chuckled.

Flass and his posse turned the corner. Gordon slumped against the bricks and dropped the tin can. He used his sleeve to dam his steady nosebleed.

Batman pushed aside some cans and stepped out of the trash. Gordon glanced at him. “Hey.”

“You okay?”

Gordon shrugged. “Eh.”

Batman scanned around. He saw the a silhouette of a face in a high window. “Let’s move.”

Gordon shuffled further into the alley after him.

“If they had tried to escalate, I-”

“No, no, I’m glad you didn’t. Thanks for staying out of it.”

“Of course.” They reached the corner where Batman produced some gauze and ointment. In little time, he had Gordon patched up in a temporary fashion.

“So what’s new?”

“Arturo Bertinelli told me that the military has employed the Families to perform counterespionage. I believe he’s telling the truth. I believe it was a military agent who helped Arturo escape arrest the night his warrant was signed.”

“Why does the Army need their help?”

“I’m investigating that.” Batman pulled out a slim file and handed it to Gordon. “They call it Operation Underworld. It’s led by an Admiral Bernard Cornwell. He’s visited Gotham several times on personal business in the last year, and I'm confident he's here now. Those are photographs of papers I found in his safe. Together they show the format and some details of the deal. ”

Gordon tucked the file under his arm. “If this is all true, what’s the military going to do once we start arresting the Families? If they want to interfere, Uncle Sam can swing a lot of weight.”

“We still have leverage against them if it comes that.”

“Not much. I’ll guess we’ll find out how they react at Arturo’s trial.”

“Mm.” Batman nodded with satisfaction.

“Hey, you didn’t take him did you? Falcone, I mean.”


“Any idea where he is?”

Batman paused. “No.”

“Think it’s related to your big conspiracy?”


“Right. Well, if there’s nothing else, I better get back.”

“I hear congratulations are in order.”


“Word is you’re going to make lieutenant. You might be a captain some day.”

“Ha. With the crummy detail they’ve stuffed me with, I’m about to toss the badge myself.”

Batman offered Gordon a level look. “Hang in there, Sergeant.”

Gordon snorted, firing a wad of gauze from his nose. “A pep talk from Batman. Now I’m seen everything.”

Batman retreated down the alley. “Enjoy your pot roast.” He entered the shadows. “Watch out for geese.”


Two days later. In the basement of an undisclosed federal building. Gotham City.

Four doctors had examined Carmine Falcone in the three days since his collapse. They agreed he was comatose: there was no sensory reaction and no sign of dreaming. But none of the doctors could agree on a cause, and they were split on the prognosis. Half them believed he would wake up within a week; the other half believed he wouldn’t.

Strangely, Falcone frightened his abductors more vegetative than animate. He had been arrested and held in a manner the War Department’s legal counsel once described as “flagrantly unconstitutional” the one time they bothered to ask, but that wasn’t the problem. The sort of citizens who ended up here usually had strong reasons to cooperate and could be sent home with a nice story, but a comatose prisoner couldn’t cooperate with anyone. A missing person was an emergency that grew more conspicuous with each day missed.

And Carmine Falcone was no mere person. The name carried clout. He routinely backed successful candidates in municipal elections. He owned clubs where senators paid dues. Rumor said he kept a dozen of the city’s top law firms on retainer, just so they couldn’t challenge him in court. And his abduction would kick over a hornet’s nest of friends who practiced their own flagrant disregard for laws.

Falcone’s abductors hadn’t intended to hold him for longer than an evening, but they still had plans to only handle him with personnel from their entourage instead of any locals. At the moment, that meant his room was guarded by Ensign Chuck Brogan. Brogan was raised in Texas before he joined the Navy. He had never visited Gotham before, and he had no idea who the old man sleeping in the room behind him was.

Inside the room, Carmine Falcone was awake. He didn’t understand how the witch was inside his mind, but he knew what she was capable of. She had been silent since she made him collapse. Falcone wondered what her plan was. He never thought he would be so happy to be arrested. He didn’t care what happened to him now, so long as she was delivered her just reward. Eventually, her attention would wander, and then he might steal an action of his own. Not today, though. She was alert, even nervous, and her control was absolute. But he could wait. He could do nothing else.

Outside the room, Falcone heard receding footsteps. Someone, presumably his guard was walking away. The guard had walked away about this time the last two days. It was a subtle pattern, but Falcone had little to do but wait and listen, so he noticed these things. If it held, the footsteps would return in about a minute.

Falcone felt a bead of sweat on his forehead. This was odd. The room was cool, and besides, he didn’t sweat unless the witch willed it. He felt another and another. For the first time in days, his eyelids opened, but his eyes rolled back in his head. He gasped, suddenly short on air. His fingers gripped his mattress with enough urgency enough to tear it. He shook like a man who was possessed.

Then he shook like a man who wasn’t.

A many-colored vapor fumed off his skin and clothes. It formed the figure of a person standing over him, a slight woman will pale, freckled features and short-cropped blond hair. She wore a thin outfit like a runner, loose and brown, and there were tattoos on her hands and neck.

Falcone gasped and realized he again ruled his body. He was about to call out when the woman smothered his nose and mouth with her hands.

She almost smiled, and she whispered, “Auf Wiedersehen, Carmine. It’s been a ride.” Her English was perfectly American.

Falcone tried to pull her wrists away. He had aged gracefully, but he had aged, and he was weak from days of immobility and starvation. She was young and strong and eager, and her thin arms could have been welded iron for all the good he did. Falcone was losing his breath. Soon his lungs were hot and empty. His hands slipped from her arms.

Then the door opened. “Ho, there!”

The woman spun. It was an American sailor. The sailor, Ensign Brogan, saw the woman and moved forward, not even reaching for his sidearm. She dived at him. The boy had had a good six inches on her and used to play wide receiver. He easily caught her leading arm and snagged her around the waist. “Now what in tarnation-”

But the woman’s free arm reached up and brushed his chin. She rapidly dissolved into a many-colored vapor. Brogan would have called this incredible, but his eyes had rolled back in his head just before he fell to his knees. The vapor melted against him, and his body was still. For a time, the only noise was Carmine Falcone’s semi-coherent gasping. Then Brogan stirred. He moved in a stupor, like every joint was a surprise and his hands and feet were three sizes too large. He struggled to prop himself against the wall, falling on his back twice in the process. Finally, he stood and tried to shuffle away. Before he could travel two steps, the outer door opened.

An stern, older officer leaned in. “Ensign, the nurses reported a noise.”

Brogan tried to stand up straight. “Was?”

The officer entered the room. “Why is the patient’s door open?”

Brogan squinted like he was in great thought. “Well, Kapitan. Um, Captain. I mean, Cap’t. Cap’t Hill, I-”

The Captain pushed him aside, and Brogan nearly fell over. The Captain didn’t notice; he rushed to Falcone. “The patient’s hurt!” He lifted his voice. “Nurse! Nurse! Injured man here!” He looked back for Brogan. “Who attacked you, Ensign?”

But when the Captain turned, he only saw a flash of English Brogan as the young man stumbled briskly away. Outside of the guard room was a sterile tiled hallway. Two nurses and a doctor were dashing toward him. Brogan used his bulk to plow through one nurse, bouncing her against a wall. His coordination was sloppy, but it was a move straight out of football camp. The doctor and the other nurse cried in panic. The Captain appeared in a rush and tried to get around them. “Stop that man!”

Ensign Brogan sped into an uneven trot, fumbling with the latch on his holster. He burst through the swinging doors at the end of the hallway and found a stairwell leading up several floors. Three sailors were hurrying down with their sidearms drawn. When they reached the floor, Brogan pointed his thumb over his shoulder, “Quick! Reckon the varmint's back yonder.” The three sailors hesitated. Then the Captain passed through the swinging doors at a run. The startled sailors trained their weapons on him. The Captain froze and lifted his hands, growling, “Stand down, nitwits!”

While the sailors lowered their aim, Ensign Brogan finally managed to unholster his own sidearm. He stepped behind the Captain and seized him by the collar, holding the pistol to his neck. The three sailors aimed at Brogan but didn’t fire. He sneered. “See here, y’all. You best let me mosey on.” Brogan led the Captain in a circle around the sailors, keeping the Captain between them like a shield. He paced slowly backward up the first flight of stairs. The sailors still kept their aim on him from the bottom but didn’t follow. When he reached the landing, Brogan shoved the Captain down the and hurried onward. Two of the sailors tried to catch the Captain, but the third eyed down his sights and fired.

Brogan didn’t feel the shot for a few few paces. He made it halfway up the next flight of stairs before he felt the wet pain low in his side. He heard footsteps climbing below him. Without looking or slowing, he pointed over the rail and squeezed off a wild shot. The footsteps stopped. Five rounds cracked past him in reply. He pressed ahead, not minding the dark stain pooling along his belt. He opened the first door he found. A pair of men in civilian suits – plainclothes police, perhaps – were running toward the stairwell with their own pistols held low. Brogan fired at one and shut the door. He heard screams beyond it and continued. He climbed higher and higher, occasionally firing over the rail, until he reached the last landing and found no more stairs. There was only a grimy utility door.

On the other side was a roof. It was early dusk in Gotham City, and the scenery was a prism of shadows from the looming towers. The roof was only three stories from the street - modest for the neighborhood. He was beginning to feel unsteady again. He staggered forward. Four steps from the edge, two of the sailors appeared behind him and fired. He felt a terrible ripping in his back. He stumbled a little further, fell to his knees, and rolled off the roof.

He fell, bounced off the hood of a bus, and hit the pavement of a busy avenue. He was still rolling when a sedan ran over his legs.

There was no one to see it amid the dusk and the sudden traffic jam, but a many-colored vapor left Ensign Brogan then. He expired soon afterward, but this was no concern to the slight blond woman who appeared on the street. As she got her bearings, a trolley nearly flattened her, and its horn shocked her to action. She jogged away from the government building, not knowing her direction. It would be eighty seconds before any men in uniform reached Ensign Brogan’s body, and that was more than enough for her to escape. In many ways, she would soon be gone.


Violence was never Carmine Falcone’s tool of choice, not in his organization, and certainly not personally. No one called him a fighter. That said, a certain ruggedness was expected of a crime lord; if he couldn’t recover from a little doll of a girl trying to smother him, he wouldn’t have survived long enough to reach that rung of his profession in the first place.

When Falcone had caught his breath, the military authorities wanted to question him immediately. The civilian medical staff insisted that he needed a checkup and a meal before the brutes knuckled into him. The military expressed reasonable concerns that if they waited, Falcone would fall into another coma, or telepathically drive someone to madness, or some other inconvenient thing. Eventually the two factions compromised: Falcone would be given a brief checkup under the scrutiny of several armed guards. He said little during his examination, and when they finished, he merely requested a cigarette.

The guards brought him to the same interrogation room as before. Agent Faraday entered several minutes later carrying a box of cheap Chesterfields. He slid the box and a Zippo lighter to Falcone. Falcone caught the Chesterfields and tamped the box against the table, grinning. Faraday realized the old man probably hadn’t touched such low-brow tobacco in forty years. It was like feeding Spam to J.P. Morgan. Nonetheless, Falcone gamely fished out a cigarette and lit up. As Falcone smoked, Agent Faraday did his best to read him. Falcone’s reputation said he was as unflappable as they came. This seemed true. Despite his ordeal, he didn’t look traumatized, not even on edge. The worst one might say was that when the grin was gone, Falcone looked absolutely serious, and this was a man who relaxed through his own kidnapping.

His posture was different as well. A little less refined than before. Less stiff. More of a slouch. Perhaps the change was due to his medical scare, but in Faraday’s long experience as a spy, certain details of how a man carried himself were as inherent as a fingerprint, and this Falcone seemed different from the man he saw across the table days ago.

Falcone put out his first cigarette in an ash tray, and Faraday began the interview.

“Mr. Falcone, how do you feel?”

Falcone offered a nod that might have been a smile in a less serious mood. “Good enough.” His voice had lost its polish. There was intelligence but nothing crisp. He sounded as he should have: a thoughtful man from a crude world, with all the verbal rough edges intact.

“You fell unconscious several days ago. We were worried about you.”

Falcone said nothing and tapped another cigarette out of the box.

Faraday pressed on. “One of our men found you in distress-”

Falcone interrupted. “A military man, I saw. It seems the Justice Department hires the military for sentries now.”

“Uh-” Faraday hadn’t expected that level of observation from a man exiting a coma. “We’re sharing this site with the military. It was a matter of protocol.”

“I’m sure.”

“You were seen choking, and the man guarding you had opened your door, but he wasn’t helping you. He was in the room outside, acting erratically. Soon afterward he, well, seemed to have a mental breakdown. He assaulted some personnel, then committed suicide jumping off the roof.”

Falcone lit the cigarette “What’s your question, Agent Faraday?”

“Did our guard attack you? You wouldn’t tell the doctors.”

Falcone didn't’ answer immediately. He smoked for a moment. “You want to know what wild thing happened down there, Agent Faraday? I suppose the facts you see makes no sense. Makes no story, huh?”

Faraday glanced at the mirror on the wall. He crossed his arms. “Yes, Mr. Falcone. Tell me what happened down there.”

Falcone smoked. He didn’t break eye contact, but he rubbed his palm along his unshaven cheek. Faraday wondered if that was a show of insecurity. After another drag, Falcone stubbed out his second cigarette. “Do you believe in miracles, Agent?”

“You mean acts of God? Yes. Yes, I do.”

“Not God, no. Not from your homilies, but can you figure a person doing things a person can’t do, here and today?”

Faraday glanced at the mirror again. “Spiritual things?”

Falcone shrugged and tapped another cigarette out of the box. “If a man claims he sees a miracle, do you call him mad?”

“I’d ask what evidence he has.”

“Of course you do.” Falcone didn’t light his third cigarette. He looked at it then dropped it on the table. “Your boy saved my life.”


“There was a bearcat trying to snuff my candle.”


“This yellow-haired, hotsy-totsy lil’ tomato.”

“There was a woman in your room?”

“That’s right.”

“And she was the one who attacked you?”

“She did.”

“Where did she come from? How did she get in?”

Falcone slowly lifted his hand, extended an index finger, and firmly tapped his forehead. “It’s a miracle.”

“Mr. Falcone, just what do you mean?”

“Have you ever seen a mesmerist?” Falcone didn’t wait for an answer. “When I was a boy, I saw one at the circus. He made a man act like zoo animals and another eat his bow tie. He had a lady put her hand in a bowl of water, then convinced her it was boiling. Then he made an entire row of the audience fall asleep.”

Agent Faraday crossed his arms. “Let’s stop these digressions. You suggested that a witch, an actual woman, was hiding in your skull. But she was attacking you when our man came to your rescue, so she must have left your skull. She was visible. So first she had to exit your head somehow, right? Maybe out your ear? Was she very small?”

Falcone offered no sign of annoyance. He calmly picked up his dropped cigarette. “I don’t pretend my story makes sense, Agent Faraday.” He lit the cigarette, studying the ember. “I can’t tell you exactly what happened. I wasn’t healthy. And my eyesight is poor. Couldn’t get a good look.” He took a long smoke and tapped some ash on the floor.

“Mr. Falcone, let’s say I’m convinced something strange happened to you. You’ve still got to give me a leg to stand on here. How does your story explain the sudden mental breakdown of your guard? How does it have anything to do with German spy rings operating in the United States? I’ve having trouble believing anything you’re saying.”

“I wouldn’t believe me either.”

“Is that it? Is that all your testimony?”

Falcone shrugged. “I don’t know you, but you know me, and your boss knows me. No matter what line of nonsense I sing, you’re going to write it down. You’ll commit every last word to record. Because you’re a Fed. That’s what you do. You don’t snatch a man then ignore him. Ridiculous. No, because I’m me, there’s going to be a long train of lawmen who are going to read what you report.”


“I don’t believe in coincidence, Agent Faraday, and I don’t believe our lives are unique. I didn’t know my perdition was possible. But it is possible, so I can’t imagine I’m the first. Someone in the past has suffered as I have suffered, from this witch or another. And this power must have been abused. Someone used it to act against the public. I’m sure of it. And the Law saw them, and the Law remembers. It may not understand, but it remembers.” Falcone folded his leg over his knee and leaned back. “You’ll go and tell your station what I said. Somewhere in your ranks, they’ll hear my story, and it will sound familiar. And that old cop will want to talk to me. Then we’ll get to business.” He took another drag on his cigarette and breathed it at the ceiling. “I’ll wait.”

“That’s an awfully convoluted chain of logic, Mr. Falcone.”

“Yes. And what logic do you offer for how I spontaneously fell into my sleep when your questions turned difficult? Is that a trick you’ve seen before?”


“And what logic explains how your loyal guard suddenly went mad and killed himself?”

Agent Faraday stiffened. “I’m not sure.”

“Listen. I don’t understand the witch, but I have an idea what she’s capable of. She can enter and exit a body like a ghost, so it seems. Who knows how she got me? Maybe crept into my room like a thief. Or maybe she handed me a flower on the street. I can’t remember. But I know she uses a body like you use a puppet. She feels none of my limits. No pain. She could send me to walk on flint until my feet bled or swallow a coal out of a fire. She could decide when I blinked. And she could make me limp, suppressing even a twitch.”

“Are you saying?”

“For days, Agent Faraday. For days.”

“But people have habits. If this so-called witch exists, and she did capture our officer, she made him act conspicuously different. We noticed a problem immediately. How would she control you? How would she know to talk like you or walk the way you walk?”

“She reads minds. Memories, anyhow. Drinks them up. A few days and she was close enough to fool my dearest family. She made excuses when they caught any difference.”

Faraday suddenly glanced around and frowned. “So where is she now? Did she die when our man died?”

Falcone took another long drag. “Good question.”

“If she was in your head, could you read her mind as well?”

“No. But she could talk to me.”

“About what?”

“Gloating, mostly. She had no reason to ask questions; she could learn about all she wanted on her own with a little time.”

“I guess you couldn’t talk back.”

“If I was alone, sometimes she’d let me talk. Vanity, I would say. And it took effort to control me, I could feel that strain. Often she would let me nearly off my leash, let me act almost freely, just watching the edges in case I pushed.”

“Did she talk about her goals or intentions?”

“No, but I was there to see everything she did. Who she met with. What she said. How she lied. I have ideas.”


Falcone stared keenly across the table, doing nothing for a time. Then he rubbed out his cigarette in the ash tray and folded his hands. “I’ll tell you, and I need your trust.”


“You won’t trust my words at first. That would be foolish. But him in there?” Falcone gestured at the mirror. “I want him to call out every man in your office. Get them working tonight. Tonight! No going home to the wife. Confirm my story as quickly as you can. Do your job. The sooner you verify me, the sooner you trust me. And you need to trust me, because I’m going to hand you the prize of the century. It might win you the war.”

Faraday raised an eyebrow. “That’s a tall claim, Mr. Falcone.”

“As I said, you know me. I’ve never welshed on a deal in my life. And I’ve had much higher stakes than a little kidnapping. Why would I start today?”

“And why do you care so much that we act on your tip? Because your release is conditional on good behavior?”

“Peh.” Falcone pointed a finger at Faraday. “I’ve never been spiteful. Understand? If ambition is a sin, get me a priest confessor, but I’ve never been spiteful. I never felt the draw of it like hot-blooded men do. Not until now. See, now I understand spite. That witch paid me a grave injury, and I’ll see it returned with interest. Nothing matters more in the world. I’m going to slay her, Agent Faraday, and I want you to be my club.”


The South Atlantic. Eleven hours after the sinking of the Azure.

Wonder Woman could feel the sun dawning on her back. That was a welcome sign: it meant she was still swimming west. The passengers on her crude raft hadn’t spoken since last evening. She had noticed around midnight that the motionless one had disappeared. She had almost stopped to search for him but decided that would be futile. He had surely slipped beneath the waves in seconds. The other two were still sleeping. Wonder Woman supposed a sailor could sleep through just about anything.

She was starting to feel tired herself. Not physically fatigued, not yet, but sleepy. She knew fatigue was soon to follow, but it didn’t matter. She pressed on. The water stopped feeling cold long ago, yet it was still briny on her skin, and it still smelled. She wondered again how close she was to Brazil, and what she might do when she arrived. Most of all, she wondered how Steve was, and she prayed he was well.

Then, amid the empty vastness, Wonder Woman heard a horn. She stopped, her muscles cramping from their first rest in hours. She fought through the pain to turn around. First Mate Zhang and the other sailor roused themselves from sleep. There on the horizon was a ship!

After half a day of steady swimming, the minutes of waiting that followed seemed to take months. It was soon clear that the ship was headed in their direction. Wonder Woman dipped under the waves and changed into Diana Price in her weathered farmer’s clothes, a change her companions didn’t bother commenting on. It was well into the morning when the vessel, a freighter flying Dutch colors, threw them a line and helped them aboard.

First Mate Zhang did all the talking. Diana quietly wondered whether he was still a First Mate, whether that title outlived the ship he was mating on. She understood enough to hear him explain to their rescuers that they were serving on the Azure when it was attacked by an unknown warship. The tide had pulled them far from the other debris. Such strange things were known to happen at sea. Their new captain promised that he would radio a warning to the authorities and circle the area to search for other survivors.

After a time, they were finally left alone. Zhang stood beside Diana at the rail.

Diana stretched her weary neck. “Zhang, I need to share a truth. I am wanted by the guards of Argentina. I confess that is why I joined your crew. Do you think that is why we were sent torpedoes?”

Zhang made a small shake of his head. "You and half the world's merchant fleet, I wager. I do not know your crimes, but even if the most despised rebel would not bring such wrath on a neutral ship."

Diana hung her head in relief. "Thank you. That brings me great peace."

“You are a rare specimen, Diana. I don’t imagine you would like to share your secrets?”

Diana smiled ruefully. "No. I fear you would not be safe if I did. Some day, I hope."

Zhang looked out to sea with a philosophical gaze. “I await that day with keen anticipation. What are your plans in Brazil?”

Diana folded her arms on the rail and considered this. “Perhaps we were not attacked for my actions in Argentina, but I suspect our attack was meant for me. Though I did expect it before, and I do not know why.”

“I am not surprised. Remarkable people attract remarkable events.”

“If I’m correct, I’m sorry I brought you and your crew into it.”

Zhang shook his head. “If you did not know, then you cannot hold yourself accountable for the brutality of others. Do you plan to hide?”

“No. At least not for long. Though it wouldn’t be wise to show my face immediately.”

“At least not to anyone who possesses warships, I suspect.”

Diana chuckled. “Yes. I can’t go to any warship-owners for help.”

“So you’ll seek help?”

“I think I will. If I can’t go to any warship-owners, there’s one other man I’ve been told I can trust.”

“Where is this man?”

“America. In Gotham City.”
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by SCRawl »

Seven wives, four girlfriends, and sixteen children would be given disappointing news.
Nice touch.
73% of all statistics are made up, including this one.

I'm waiting as fast as I can.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester »

Amusingly, there's a real set of upscale seafood restaurants on the Eastern SE named the Chart House (part of the Landry's empire). Budget occasionally permitting, I've taken my wife to the one in the nearest port town a few times, and I immediately imagined the meeting bretween Falcone and Cotter taking place there.
Liquor was a gold mine, and quite a few gangs made a mint. The money didn’t make them any less selfish, paranoid, stubborn, impulsive, or prone to risks, so what might have been a quiet beverage delivery industry became a jungle of raids, counter-raids, bombs, pirates, spies, assassins, and the occasional lawsuit.
...Okay, that last word just made me laugh my ass off. :D
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M »

SCRawl wrote:
Seven wives, four girlfriends, and sixteen children would be given disappointing news.
Nice touch.
Thank you.
Simon_Jester wrote:Amusingly, there's a real set of upscale seafood restaurants on the Eastern SE named the Chart House (part of the Landry's empire). Budget occasionally permitting, I've taken my wife to the one in the nearest port town a few times, and I immediately imagined the meeting bretween Falcone and Cotter taking place there.
I got the idea when I saw the Chart House in Annapolis, MD. I didn't know it was a franchise.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester »

It is.

Also, an astounding coincidence, we're both talking about the same restaurant.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M »

Simon_Jester wrote:It is.

Also, an astounding coincidence, we're both talking about the same restaurant.
Small world. I hope my budget permits me to try it some day.

Funny story, I was visiting Annapolis and asked an acquaintance what it was like to live in the area. "Oh, sort of boring" he says, "The only people who live here are Navy cadets and old rich guys." Later, I'm driving out, and at the very first traffic stop, a flock of Navy cadets jog across the road. While they cross I look past them and see a Mercedes-Benz dealership.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester »

Yeah, that's Annapolis for you. It's a harbor, but it's too shallow to accommodate modern ships and has been since like the late 1800s, plus it's close to Baltimore which CAN accommodate fair-sized ships. So the entire domestic economy basically shriveled up and died, except for one, the naval academy, two, the state capital, and three, the sailing boat marinas- Annapolis is one of THE biggest towns for sailboats.

The first bring in swarms of cadets; the latter two bring in a bunch of old rich guys.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M »

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 21: Acceleration​

The Customs Inspection Office, Sao Luis, Brazil

The port of Sao Luis didn’t receive many victims of shipwrecks, so its bureaucrats had little practice handling them. There were regulations of course, but these were in a dusty book on of the bottom shelf in the back of the old file room, and no one had touched it since Felipe used the book to kill a mosquito last summer. And these weren't the sort of regulations one could guess. Shipwreck survivors were neither immigrants nor tourists. They weren’t refugees in the common legal sense. They had no papers, so it was anyone’s guess what diplomatic protocols Brazil shared with their home country. So, until these questions were answered, survivors who reached Sao Luis were escorted to the same building where the government fined expired bananas.

Diana slept for most of her brief voyage aboard her rescue ship. When it made landfall, she awoke with a marvelous energy and renewed purpose (a stop at the on-board shower also helped). Diana had come to Man’s World to study their ways and make common cause with their champions. That was her life’s mission, and Steve was the key to her life - her true ally. Her best hope to find him was in America. With her new energy, she was tempted to step off the boat, turn north, and walk.

Diana had long recognized a difference between the Amazons and most of Mankind: the Amazons organized their lives into simple goals with clear solutions. Need to turn soil? Build a plow. Hurt a friend with angry words? Apologize. Want to reach a place? Go to that place. Diana was a quintessential Amazon. She was tired of doubt and complication. The whims of Man’s mechanical transports had brought her little but grief, and for once she had no enthusiasm to negotiate her way through yet another strange land.

But time was of the essence, so walking wasn’t an option. Boats had also proven slow. She knew enough to doubt whether cars or trains even traveled where she sought to go. Diana needed an airplane. But airplanes were valuable treasures. They could only be commanded by special mystics who knew their rituals. Steve was one such mystic, a chief of his kind, but he wasn’t here. Diana had to find an airplane and convince it to carry her to America.

Diana had grown savvy enough to realize that finding an airplane would be difficult if she solved every obsticle with violence, so she let the guards at the dock take her to this long warehouse that smelled like bananas. Diana and the other two survivors of the Azure were left in a banana storeroom to wait for their interviews. They guards took their lowly sailor friend first, leaving Diana and First Mate Zhang behind.

Diana paced with her hands on her hips.

Zhang sat on the floor and rested his head on a pile of bananas. “Do not worry, Diana. They will get bored of us soon. This is a formality.”

“I need a plan.”

“Stick with me. There’s always work for sailors.” Zhang smugly thumbed his chest. “With my reputation, I can find us another ship in four days.”

Diana ran her hand through her hair and shook her head. “That’s not swift enough. And I don’t want to talk with these guards of the Brazilers.”


“Nor them either! They may recognize me and tell Argentina. I can’t stay in this banana place.”

“You think you are such an important fugitive that these Argentines would chase you into Brazil? Ha! Are your crimes so great?”

“I acted in justice, but they will think so. Even if these magistrates do not seek my past, they may let word of my survival slip to yet other enemies unknown. I must be covert and subtle.”

“Diana, suppose you leave. How will you survive in this city? You will make a great show of yourself rushing here and there in confusion, I suspect.”

Diana folded her arms. “I shall get by. My Spanish sounds better, no?”

“It does, but Brazilians don’t speak Spanish. They speak Portuguese.”


“Yes, Portuguese is similar to Spanish, but just different enough to make your Spanish close to useless.”

“Do you know Portuguese?”

“Um pouco.”


“That means ‘a little’ in Portuguese.”

“Fine. Tell me this: how do the Portuguesers say ‘airport’?”


“And ‘America’?”

“America. Or Estados Unidos.”

“Fine. That will be enough.”

“This little city may not even have an an airport.”

“Then I’ll walk to a city which does.”

“We are on an island.”

“Then I’ll swim.”

“You are brave, my extraordinary friend. And perhaps foolish.”

“Goodbye, Zhang.”

“Good luck, Diana.”

Their moment didn’t linger. Diana climbed a tall pile of overripe bananas up to the crude wooden ceiling. It had many smaller holes already, but she ripped a plank out and climbed onto the roof.

Diana jogged for half a mile across the city, running until the port was well behind her. She rested near a fountain and munched on a banana. Sao Luis was indeed a modest city, with low buildings and few cars. It was an overgrown town next to bustling Buenos Aries and an utter hamlet next to Gotham City. It reminded her of Washington, though Sao Luis was warmer and the paths were not so straight and neat. Like Washington, many buildings in the center were richly decorated in what Man considered an antique style: Sao Luis had tiles where Washington favored marble.

And Sao Luis was poor. Major boulevards showed desperation she had only glimpsed in Washington in those shantytowns along the Potomac. The Amazons were living proof that a dense community could live in comfort without indoor plumbing or refrigerators, but Man’s World must have forgotten how. Perhaps they had never learned. There was some connection here between relative poverty and misery, though the equation was a puzzle to Diana. Man’s World seemed organized terribly, leaving many without satisfying work or even food, though it appeared there was plenty of both to share. Not for the first time, Diana concluded that these nations needed a good queen.

But Diana would not be distracted for long. In market squares where the people seemed friendly, Diana approached strangers and asked, “Aeroporto?” Occasionally, she would add some Spanish, deciding it couldn’t hurt: “Donde esta aeroporto?” She received many shrugs, others retreated, but a few strangers tried to speak to her, and a few of these also pointed. They tended to point in opposite directions, but Diana averaged the responses together and headed where the consensus directed her. Then, when she reached another busy park or courtyard, she tried her survey again.

Diana was cheered that the locals seemed to believe an airport existed here, but it concerned her that she hadn’t seen any aircraft. Aircraft might have been the most incredible feature of Man’s world. When Diana had arrived in America, the sight of them had been spellbinding. Even months later, nothing compared to watching a big plane climb the horizon from a distant field. If any planes had taken off around Sao Luis, Diana would have noticed.

After several hours of wandering in what Diana hoped was roughly a single direction, she found a towering industrial complex on one of the city’s tiny hills – Diana guessed it was a metal refinery, though the site was rusting and empty. It had several smokestacks which formed some of the tallest points in Sao Luis. Diana entered and found ladders fixed to the smokestacks. She choose one that would best conceal her ascent, then climbed.

Evening was coming, but there was enough light for Diana to study the landscape. She laid on the rim of a smokestack and looked around. In minutes, she found a square of familiar grassy strips flanked by long buildings at the edge of her vision, well beyond the outskirts of the city. Diana hurried down the ladder, dropping the last thirty feet. She raced down the road, her gazelle-like pace pulling at the seams of her decrepit boots. When the urban bustle began to thin, Diana moved off the road. There was no empty land here. Beyond the edge of any developed lot was an endless forest of low raffia palms. The plants were so dense and rank, Diana had the notion that if Sao Luis was abandoned, the city would be swallowed by forest within in a week.

When Diana arrived at her pre-observed site, she stayed in the treeline. Diana realized that it was airfield. Two things were clear: it was very small and very American. This second fact was not a total surprise; Steve had once mentioned that the United States kept military bases in other countries. Fortunately, it meant any flights were very likely headed in that direction, but Diana realized that she would have to leave discreetly (she later recognized that she wouldn’t have been able to buy a ticket anyhow, so discretion was inevitable).

There were no aircraft on the field. She watched as the sun set, seeing little activity of any kind. Diana slept in the forest, and was woken by the noise of prop engines landing. The bird nosing down the little runway was painted an old mottled green with a white star stenciled on its side. It was a Douglas DC-3, a sleek transport which Diana recognized because the only thing Captain Steve Trevor loved more than studying the world’s aircraft was sharing his knowledge of aircraft with her at every opportunity. Diana rarely understood what he was saying, but she recalled some examples through sheer repetition, and the DC-3 was mighty popular. The aircraft taxied to a stop in a simple, open-faced hanger, then men in uniform unloaded crates from its belly and carted them away. Other men inspected panels and attached a fuel line. When these tasks were done, the original men returned with more crates which they piled nearby.

When the hanger and field were empty again, Diana dashed in. There was no fence here and few sentries. The men had retreated to far buildings to escape the late morning heat. Diana crossed several hundred feet of empty grass to reach the hanger, but no one interrupted her.

Diana examined the new crates. They were stamped with numbers and acronyms she didn’t recognize. There was a clipboard left on one. It held a cargo itinerary. The crates would be leaving at fourteen hundred hours with refueling stops at Georgetown, then San Juan, before their final destination in Jacksonville. Of those place, Diana only recognized Georgetown, a neighborhood in Washington, but that was fine. Convenient even. She knew the area.

Later, at fourteen hundred hours, the DC-3, aka, Navy Flight Gator 7 taxied around the grassy runway of United States Provisional Airstrip – Sao Luis. Gator 7 made its final ground adjustments as Gator 7 readied for takeoff. The airliner began to creep down the runway, gently picking up speed. There were brief seconds between its crawling start and reaching highway speeds when Gator 7 was moving as fast as a man could jog. During this crucial spot, Wonder Woman appeared from behind a water tower and sprinted toward the plane. Pumping her arms faster than the eye could track, she pulled alongside the accelerating aircraft, edging near the tires. For an instant, they matched pace, then the accelerating plane started to pull away. Wonder Woman dived, catching a strut of the landing gear. The plane dragged her for a dozen yards, then she bucked upward and wrapped her legs around the strut as well, inches above the tires.

Soon Gator 7 tilted back and was airborne. Wonder Wonder clung like a tick as the winds pulled at her and vertigo distorted her senses. Then the strut began to move, compressing upward into a small compartment that did not fit her. Wonder Woman scrambled down until she was only hanging from the axle of the tire, which stopped stop half-way inside the fuselage. Wonder Woman swayed back and forth, her cheeks and ears turning red from the flaying wind. She left out a deep breath, then let go with her right hand and pulled up her golden lasso. In a minute’s bitter struggle, she wrapped the invincible cord tightly around the strut, then tied the other end around her waist.

Once secured, Wonder Woman took a deep breath. Next stop: Georgetown.

Miles away, in the little command office of United States Provisional Airstrip – Sao Luis, the flight controller and his assistant debated how they would report what they just saw. They agreed it was a local daredevil, some young buck, no doubt. Probably did it on a dare; the locals were always curious about the airstrip. The poor idiot was certainly dead. There were twenty different ways he was dead. No question about it. Brave kid. They radioed the pilot, but the pilot told them they were delusional; he hadn’t felt anything. Eventually, the flight controller decided that he would leave the incident out of his report. Otherwise command might make them find the body, and that might have landed anywhere.


Many hours later.

Wonder Woman – exhausted, frozen, starving, and drenched with salt water in every windswept pore – dragged herself out of the surf and onto the Florida beach. She pulled a jellyfish from her hair and dropped it on the sand.

She was wiser now. She knew now that Georgetown wasn’t just a neighborhood in Washington. It was also a city in Guyana. Guyana was a country near Brazil and not near the United States of America and certainly not near Gotham City. When Wonder Woman’s aircraft began to descend, she saw its landing strip and assumed she was back in America. To avoid detection, she let go of the plane when it was still a mile from landing. Wonder Woman plummeted onto the roof of a building, causing her immense pain and the thrill of success. When she could walk again, she kept the pain but lost the thrill of success because she soon learned that she was on the wrong continent.

It took some effort, but she made it to the nearby Georgetown airport where her flight had landed without her. When it took off again, she was clinging to it once more. This time, her plane crossed many miles of ocean, and she dropped as soon as she saw the coastline. This was smart. Dropping into water was much less painful, but this time she had no idea where her plane landed. When she reached shore, she learned that she was in Puerto Rico, which turned out to be America, sort of, but was still an island, and English was still rare. She also learned that she was on Puerto Rico’s south coast, and her plane’s destination, San Juan, was on the island’s north coast.

Eventually, and through extraordinary effort, Wonder Woman reached San Juan. She found the military base where her flight had landed. Of course, that plane had long since taken off. However, nothing could shake her Amazonian determination, and Woman Woman soon caught another flight to the mainland.

She promptly released said airplane as soon as she spied land. By now Wonder Woman was an old pro at letting go of aircraft, and she hit the water with excellent form. This last swim was short, but she was weary from a day and night of rigorous work and brutal exposure to the elements. When she made it to shore, her stomach was tied in knots of hunger. She had forgotten any other way stomachs could feel. She took her first steps and the first thing she saw was a hot dog stand flying the Stars and Stripes.

Wonder Woman stumbled to it and seized the owner by his collar. “Is this America? Esta this-a America?”

The owner flinched. “Sure.”

“Land America, not Sea America?”


She shook him. “Can I go to every place without a plane?”

“Yeah, yeah. You could drive to Alaska if you wanted.”

She yelled in his face. “Can I have a hot dog?”

“Lady, if you let go of me, I’ll give ya two hot dogs.”

Wonder Woman stared at the hot dog man then pulled him in for a tight hug. “Gods bless America.”


Many hours later. Georgetown, Washington D.C.

Diana Prince walked out of her apartment carrying two large canvas bags and a short spear. She realized that the perpetrator of her ship attack likely thought she was dead, and visiting her apartment would suggest to them otherwise if they bothered to visit. That was a risk she would take. She needed money and spare clothes and her tools of war. Now she felt prepared.

Diana walked to the main road. She shuffled both bags and her spear under one arm and stuck her thumb out in Man’s standard hitchhiking gesture. Eventually, an old bus pulled up. There were ten nuns inside. The eldest nun was at the steering wheel. She faced Diana and smiled blissfully. “Where do you wish to go, sweet child?”

Diana pointed. “North.”

“Then you are welcome to join us. We’re journeying to Philadelphia.”

“Oh, thank you very much.” Diana quickly climbed aboard. There was a single seat left, though it was a tight fit. The bus puttered down the road. The nun next to Diana looked oddly at her spear. Diana tried to put on a casual voice and remarked, “This is … for a play.”

Other nuns turned and inspected it. One large nun asked, “You’re an actress, child?”

Diana looked at the spear. “Um. Yes. I had to pick up a prop for rehearsal. We’re performing, uh, Shakespeare.”

The large nun clapped. “Oh, very good. I teach theater at a local college. Which Shakespeare play are you performing?”

Diana squinted. “Um ... Shakespeare?”

“You’re performing … Shakespeare … by Shakespeare?”

“It’s one of his less famous works.”


The next night. Gotham City.

Dr. Lyle Pemberly reclined on his ottoman in his red smoking jacket. He had a lit cigar in one hand, a glass of port in the other, and Delta blues on the Victrola. All was right in the world.

His world, anyway. Hitler’s goons were scattering the Red Army from the Baltics to the Black Sea. Argentina was threatening to expel the American embassy over the murder of a Spanish diplomat by an alleged tourist, and Carmine Falcone was still missing after having been kidnapped in broad daylight (the reward for his recovery headlined every paper in town for a week).

But Dr. Pemberly was retired from all that. They were interesting, in an academic way, but little else. That was the beauty of being an academic. He could watch interesting things from a distance, comment on them, and move on. It left him free to pursue life’s more tangible pleasures. And no one interrupted his private time.

There was a knock at his front door.

Puzzled, Dr. Pemberly stood and laid down his cigar and glass. He lifted the needle from the record, and the slow horns went silent. Tightening the belt on his jacket, Dr. Pemberly shuffled to his foyer. He opened the door a crack. “Hello?”

On his porch stood Diana Prince in a yellow dress. Her glasses were missing. Her hair was still in a bun, but it was messy now, with long black locks loose down her shoulders. That incredible poise he remembered was, while not quite gone, loosened perhaps. Unwound. She looked like she hadn’t been sleeping well. She looked very focused.

She smiled. “Hello, Doctor. May I speak with you?”

“Diana? W-what on Earth are you doing here?”

She pushed the door further and walked inside. “Forgive me, but I must ask a few minutes of your time.” Diana closed the door and loomed over him.

Dr. Pemberly stepped back and led her to his couch. “This is most irregular. Where is Captain Trevor?”

Diana sat beside Dr. Pemberly and faced him, saying nothing.

He frowned. “Is he in trouble?”

Diana folded her hands. “Doctor, Steve, uh, Captain Trevor brought me to you before because he judged that you could keep a secret. He said you no longer swore duty to any master in your advanced age.”

“My what?”

“He said you were independent. A venerable statesmen. Is this true? Can you keep a secret for me? Even from authorities?”

“Authorities? Ms. Prince, you’re not involved in anything criminal are you?” He had a sudden thought and his face froze. “Oh dear, tell me this is not about the-” he leaned in and whispered, “-the Batman.” He stopped whispering. “I warned you not to get involved in that.”

Diana shook her head. “No, no. I drove the Batman away. That has nothing to do with this.”

Dr. Pemberly gasped. If he had a monocle and a glass of champagne, the first would have fallen into the second. “Great Scott! You met the Batman?”

“Please, Doctor, I must speak of something important. Can you keep my words secret?”

Dr. Pemberly studied the wall, his face bunched in conflict. “Against my better judgment, I will hear you out.” He turned to her. “If I feel your words don’t threaten a great harm, I won’t voluntarily share them with anyone. However, if the ‘authorities’ discover that we talked and force me to testify, I will.”

“Oh, thank you, Doctor. Thank you so much.”

“Thank my raw curiosity. Now, what’s the problem?”

“You are an expert on the world’s nations, yes? Steve said no one knew more about the laws and ways of different lands.”

Dr. Pemberly shrugged. “At the risk of immodesty, yes. International relations are my life’s work.”

Diana took a deep steadying breath. “Captain Trevor has been arrested, Doctor.”


“In Argentina.”

“Ah. I’m sorry to hear that. Well, if you’ve come for advice, you needn’t have played all the cloak and dagger, you know. He’s a military man. I’m sure those chaps are doing everything they can to liberate him. He seemed a stand-up sort; it can’t be all that bad. If he needs private counsel, I know a law firm who keeps clients all over Latin America. I believe they do criminal cases. I’ll put you in touch.”

Diana stood and gave a harsh gesture for him to stop. “No! He was there to spy, Doctor! I do not think lawyers can help him now.”

“I shouldn’t be told this. How do you know?”

“I was there to spy as well.”

“I really shouldn’t be told this.”

“But I fled. Perhaps the military of America will try to free him, but perhaps they will not, or perhaps they will fail. I can’t rest on that chance.”

“What do you asking?”

“You know the ways of the world.” She pointed at him like this was an accusation. “I will rescue him myself. But I must find him. Where do the lords of Argentina keep their most hated captives?”

“You want to know where Buenos Aires imprisons foreigners guilty of espionage?”

“Not just the city. This happened in their farmlands.”

“My mistake.”

“And also killing.”


“Spying and killing. Both justified. He only hurt the worst cruel man.”

“Assassination? In a neutral country? What madman authorized a mission like that?”

“When you say ‘mission’, it wasn’t quite the-”

“Wait, is this the business with the diplomat? Oh, no. I’m sorry.”

“How can I find him?”

“My dear, I doubt there’s one chance in ten Captain Trevor is still alive. I’m sorry. And if he is, he’ll be kept in a terrible prison, indeed. And you’re right, I can’t imagine the government will help you now.”

“I have faith he’s alive. And I don’t fear any prison. I can get him. I just need to find him.”

“If he is alive, I imagine the only people who know his whereabouts are high-ranking Argentinian security officers. Plus the jailers themselves.”

“Can you list for me these security officer’s names and where they can be found?”

“Off the top of my head, no.”


“I’ve been out of the business for years, Diana, and my specialty is law, not spying. I don’t know every secret policeman in every foreign service. Perhaps with a little time, I might be able to rattle a few old sources and get you some names.”

Diana huffed. “Very well. I’ll start with them.”

“Hold your horses. I didn’t say I’d do it.”

“Why not?”

“Why not? Because I might be abetting any number of felonies. That’s why not.”

“This is for justice. It is the virtuous choice.”

“It’s not just myself I’m worried about. You call it the virtuous choice, do you? You’re a spy, you must know how unbalanced the situation is in Argentina. Forget jail, if you caused a diplomatic flare-up, it might threaten peace in a whole corner of the globe. There aren’t many peaceful corners left!”

“Then I will be careful.”

Dr. Pemberly stood. “I’ll think about it, Diana, and I’ll keep mum about your request, but I doubt I’ll change my mind. That’s my best offer tonight.”

Diana briefly glared at him, then closed her eyes and restrained herself. “Fine. Thank you for keeping my secret. I suppose I’ll have to find someone who’s willing to help me.” Diana turned and headed for the door.

Dr. Pemberly paced after her. “Wait, you don’t mean find someone here in Gotham City, do you?”

Diana let go of the knob and looked back suspiciously. “No. Maybe. Why?”

“How long have you been in the city?”

“Part of a day.”

“Oh.” Dr. Perberly glanced around at his windows and seemed to shrink against the wall.


“You won’t want to spend much longer here, my dear. This may sound unkind, but perhaps you were fortunate to be sent to Argentina.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Batman, Diana. You said you faced the Batman.”

“Yes. He tried to hurt me, but I scared him off.”

“I don’t know your business with him, and I don’t think I want to know, but if he doesn’t like you, then he’ll track you, my dear. Yes he will. You need to leave. Take the first train out of town. Out of state, even.”

“How could he find me in this enormous place? Besides, I was the one who found him.”

Dr. Pemberly looked at her gravely. “Listen, do you know what people here call him?”

“Don’t they call him ‘The Batman’?”

“Yes, but he has a nickname. Several, actually, but one is more illustrative than the rest. They call him ‘The World’s Greatest Detective’.”

“Was there a competition?”

“I don’t know who gave him the title, but it’s appropriate.”

“Because he determines guilty criminals?”

“Because he finds guilty criminals. He determines who they are, but that’s the first step to finding them. Which is a task he excels at notoriously. And mind you, it’s just speculation that he only goes after criminals. He might assault anyone. We don’t know what’s passing in his mind.”

Diana blinked in revelation. “I might.”

“Listen, please, you may be a great spy, but you’re clearly on his bad side. You don’t want to be on his bad side. He knows this city. It doesn’t matter if you’re just passing through. He can find anyone.”


“Anyone. Men have tried every sort of disguise or bluff, found every hiding spot you can imagine. He finds them quick! It doesn’t matter who’s protecting them.”

“Just this city?”


“You said that he knows Gotham City. Does he find people who leave this city?”

“Good, now you’re asking sensible questions. Unfortunately, I’m not sure. I can’t recall any anecdotes of him in other cities. Perhaps you’d be safe in, say, California. Maybe. But you must leave now.”

“Does he work with the authorities?”

“Absolutely not. They can’t protect you.”

“Do the stories say where he lives?”

“No one knows. That’s why you need to get going. He may be anywhere. All I know is that he hunts at night!”

With that, Dr. Pemberly opened his front door and ushered Diana through.

Diana left the porch and headed for the bus stop. She walked deep in thought. Amazons organized their lives into simple goals with clear solutions. To her private disbelief, Diana realized that she possessed both.


Two hours later.

When Diana found a fresh wardrobe at her apartment, she had almost discarded the threadbare farmer’s outfit she had worn since Argentina. It was in miserable shape, hardly fit for rags, but Amazons were practical women and reluctant to discard anything, especially clothing, and old habits died hard. She offered a prayer of thanks to her Amazonian sisters for teaching her this wisdom. Along with those valuable rags and boots, Diana wore a surgical mask and had two cotton balls in her nose. Her lower face was further covered in a thick scarf, her hair was pulled under a baseball cap, and she wore long workman’s gloves. There was a flashlight in her pocket. In her hand was her short spear. The weapon gave her an old confidence, though it was useless against her first foe.

Diana stood over the edge of the Meat Pool. The unholy stench was clear even where she stood. Another advantage of carrying a sword: no one in the meatpacking plant had tried to stop her. Still, she imagined that someone would soon. It was time to act. Diana nearly gagged remembering how the contents smelled up close. She took as deep a breath as she could and dropped, sliding down a rope and landing on her feet. The air in the pit stung Diana’s eyes, but she persevered. It wasn’t quite so bad the second time. She regretted that she could confirm that.

Diana had spent the trip here trying to recall every movement of that first night. She knew where she had entered, and she knew how he faced her, but her memories after her first dunking were nearly blank. Somewhere in this waist-high muck, the World’s Greatest Detective had disappeared. Keeping that first deep breath, she waded forward and began poking through the mud-thick gore with her spear. Perhaps he had vanished by a supernatural gift, but if so, why hadn’t he used that skill to escape her earlier? And if there was something supernatural about the pit itself, Diana was sure she could find and master it just as he had. Unless he had been toying with her.

Her spear hit something metal. Diana poked at it several times. There was a metal surface on the floor with holes in it like a sieve. Diana was on her second breath by now, and the effort to hold each was becoming painful. Still, she took a quick third breath, fought down the swell of nausea, and reached under the surface. Her glove and sleeve immediately soaked through up to the shoulder. She felt near the edge of the metal and slipped two fingers into the holes. The metal was fastened in place, but it shook slightly, suggesting it was meant to be moved in some way.

Diana stood and yanked one end of the metal up with her. It was a sort of grate, and there was a dark hole underneath about three yards across. Her action displaced gallons of ancient meat slush which began to slip into the hole like a horrible, sloppy whirlpool. Diana steeled her nerves then jumped in, dropping the grate into its old position above her.

She landed in water, or at least liquid. With the grate closed above her, it was pitch dark. Diana waded forward until she found a low wall and climbed out onto solid metal. The tremendous stench was less oppressive here, gentle enough for her to breath somewhat normally, though still horrendous. She placed her spear down and tried her flashlight, but it wouldn’t work.

Diana thought a moment. She took a deep breath and pulled off her scarf and mask. Then she held her arms out to her sides, turned, and with a flash of groovy technicolor light, there stood Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman picked up the scarf and mask and fit them back over her face. She was dry now, and her dirty shirt and pants and glove were gone, so she felt less nauseated already. She took out her golden lasso and willed it to light. With this gentle illumination, Wonder Woman found her way through a long tunnel. She didn’t bother trying to guess the purpose of the architecture. She was happy to assume such a place existed only to be unpleasant. In the old legends of Man’s World, that was reason enough.

She explored a long time, following endless pipes and corridors. She had to duck her head just to fit in many of them. Occasionally, a little light appeared from above, but most paths were cut off from the surface completely. There was no sign of Batman, though Wonder Woman still kept her spear at the ready. As she walked, a rat crossed her path. She ignored it. Soon another rat brushed her heel. This almost made her jump, but the creature was gone before she could look.

Soon she turned a corner and saw a phalanx of rats, fat foot-long creatures with sharp teeth. At least a hundred stood perfectly still on their hind legs. The swarm continued beyond the glow of her lasso, Hera knew how far. Wonder Woman wasn’t concerned, but she was very confused. She watched the rats. They watched her. Eventually, she took a step back and turned around. Ten paces later, she almost stepped on another swarm of rats. They had crept up behind her, and like the first, they packed the tunnel from wall to wall, the crowd extending into the darkness. She had been flanked!

And that was fascinating.

Man’s World was full of mysteries, but she had never heard of this kind of rodent behavior. There had to be some significance. As Wonder Woman studied the rats, she heard the echo of footsteps down the tunnel. A shining dot appeared. It grew into the figure of a man holding out a lantern. From the bright lantern, she could see rats parting under him as he walked. The man stopped a few steps away, not quite at the front of the rats’ formation. At first, Wonder Woman thought he was deformed, but she realized he was only wearing an ugly mask.

It muffled his voice, but she understood him well enough. The man whistled. “Wow! They said it was a woman, but I didn’t believe them. Never seen a woman down here. You could knock me over with a feather.”

Wonder Woman nodded. “I could. Who are you?”

“I’m sorry. Allow me to introduce myself.” The man placed his lantern on the floor, casting light up that made his features stark and gruesome. He pulled at some straps on his mask and lifted it off - his face wasn’t much more pleasant. He bowed. “M’lady, I’m Gotham City’s one and only Ratc-” The man sniffed and gagged. “Oh, man!” He pinched his nose and struggled to fit his mask back on. “Augh.” The rats squeaked nervously as he bent over. “That is terrible!”

Wonder Woman stared at him through this ordeal.

Finally, in fits of distress, the man pulled his mask tight and breathed again. “Boy, you smell something fierce lady!” He picked up his lantern and held it near her. “What is wrong with you?”

Wonder Woman looked sheepish. “It was a necessary-”

“Wait. I know that smell. I wish I didn’t, but I do! You smell like Batman!”

Woman Woman gasped and set her spear forward. “You know Batman?”

The man retreated several steps, a wall of rats taking his space and hissing. He pulled a gun from his pants and pointed it at her. “Whoa, hey now, spear-lady. Let’s not get crazy. What’s your name?”

Wonder Woman kept her spear in place. “You say you’ve smelled Batman?”

“Believe me, I couldn’t not smell Batman. Makes you wonder how he ever sneaks up on people. He smells like you, only worse.”

“Are you his ally?”

“Uh, sure. Yep, we’re good friends. Go way back like peas and carrots.”

“Batman is not a vegetable.”

“He is with me, sister.”

“Where is he?”

“What do you want with the guy?”

“That’s my business.”

“If you say so, but you’ve been wandering down here for at least half an hour. Seems you ain’t having much luck.”

“… I have heard Batman is the World’s Greatest Detective.”

“That’s the rumor.”

“I need a great detective.”

“Last I heard, he ain’t for hire. Though you both use the same perfume; that might win you some consideration.”

A note of frustration entered Wonder Woman’s voice. “Can you find him for me?”

“Maybe.” The man gestured with the gun. “What’s he worth to you?”


“Greenbacks, jewels, food stamps, ammunition, stock certificates. What’cha got?”

“I have nothing to trade.”

“What about that shiny rope?”

Her tone turned to ice. “No.”

“Your loss.”

“I can return with twenty or thirty dollars.”

The man blew a raspberry. “Twenty smackers? For the World’s Greatest Detective?”

She took a step forward, lifting the tip of the spear toward his chin. “It’s all I have.”

The man shuffled another step back. “Listen, I’ll make you a deal. You want to meet Batman. Well, I could use a pleasant conversation. Especially since I haven’t spoken to a girl in-” The man paused and began counting on his fingers. “- a long time.”

Wonder Woman eyed him warily. “You just want to talk?”

“Just a little while. Or you could stand there and be smelly in silence.”

She lowered her spear. “How will you speak with him?”

“I’ll send one of the rats.”

“You can command rats?”

“It’s more like a suggestion.” He slipped his gun into his pants. The swam of rats dispersed into the dark. “Might take him a day to respond.”

“What is your name?”

“Who, me? I’m the one and only Ratcatcher,” the Ratcatcher said with pride.

“The one and only rat-catcher?”

“Darn tootin’.”

“Merciful Minerva! A settlement this vast needs more than one rat-catcher. No wonder Gotham is distressed.”

“No, it’s just-” He sighed. “Never mind. Jeez, how come Batman gets all the cool names? Does he even think of them himself?”

“Ratcatcher is not your name?”

“My real name’s Otis.” Ratcatcher folded his arms and grumbled, “But it’s boring.”

Wonder Woman patted him on the shoulder. “I don’t think it’s boring.”


“Not at all. It sounds exotic to me. Oo-tees.”

“Gosh, when you put it like that, it does sound exotic. What’s your name, by the way?”

“My name is Diana.”

“Diana. That’s swell.”

“Ratcatcher, you make suggestions to rats. Do you suppose Batman makes suggestions to bats?”

“No idea.” Ratcatcher pondered this and shivered. “Jeez, I hope not.”

“Oh!” Wonder Woman giggled. “I just thought of something we have in common.”

“What’s that, Diana?”

“You had not talked to a woman in a long time.”


“I didn’t talk to a man for decades.”


The next morning. In stately Wayne Manor.

Bruce Wayne sat at a desk in his study. Several large ledger books were open on the desk, but Bruce wasn’t looking at them. He was rubbing a cream onto the waxy patches of burned skin on his hand. He still wore a finger splint, though the crushed joint was mending nicely. The inflammation had almost disappeared. He expected the hand to reach almost pre-injury fitness by the end of next month. Almost, because no bad injury ever fully healed. Even with the best treatment his hand would be a little slower, a little less flexible forever. That was the stark reality.

He would compensate. The body was weak and ever diminishing, but the mind was strong and could always grow stronger. He would support his weakness with better tools, better plans, and greater devotion to the cause.

“-And that’s why amortizing company-wide toilet supplies across next fiscal year is the only decision with true regulatory approval.”

Bruce looked down at his phone’s speaker. Senior staff from Wayne Enterprises’ Accounting Department were having an important meeting. Accounting was crucial to running a business. Bruce mentally repeated that mantra whenever he studied the topic or sat through a meeting of it. Certain types of accounting were also crucial to crime-fighting, and Bruce found those quite engaging, but even the most malicious corporation processed endless books of non-criminal accounting. As usual, he endured.

“If we examine the next page, we can see a four thousand dollar variance in variance printing budget. I believe we can make it smaller by making it smaller.”

The Manor’s doorbell rang. Bruce stood and spoke into the phone. “I have to step away, gentlemen. Continue without me.” Bruce tore off his neck brace and pulled on his white gloves. He walked out of the study. Alfred was downstairs, but Bruce welcomed the excuse to move. He entered the front hall and opened the door.

Outside stood Nancy Kingsolver. Bruce recognized her. Business outfit. Auburn hair. Round face. Ozark accent. Unnecessarily cheerful. She worked at the company - junior secretary, promotion review in seven months. He noticed she was carrying an envelope and recalled that Nancy was the last courier in his blind notes system. But he hadn’t sent a blind note. That made no sense.

In the time it took Bruce to consider this and a few hypotheses, Nancy’s eyes went as wide as saucers.

“Oh, bless my stars! Hello there, Mr. Wayne.” Nancy curtseyed. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here, and, well, listen to me ramble on. Gosh.”

Bruce smiled faintly. “You seem familiar.”

“Nancy, sir. I’m one of your secretaries.”

“Ah. That is familiar. Nancy Kingsolver, right?”

Nancy gasped. “Oh my, yes. Oh, yes. Nancy Kingsolver. Very pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Wayne.”

Bruce chuckled. “Call me Bruce. How can I help you?”

“Well, see, I have this here letter that I check for every morning – mind you, that’s every morning, rain or shine - and this morning there was a letter that the letter, I mean, the mailbox with the-”

“Nancy, Nancy. Why don’t you come in. We can’t have you getting that pretty skin sunburned, now can we?”

Nancy blushed. “Well, I’d be delighted, Mr. Wayne. Thank you kindly. I mean Bruce. Thank you Bruce kindly. I-”

Bruce welcomed her in. “You know, I hear you do great work for us, Nancy.” He had no idea whether she did great work. “I’m very impressed.”


“Sure am. Now what’s this about a letter?”

“Here!” Nancy practically shoved the envelope into his hand. It was stamped with the Falco Deliveries emblem. Bruce casually tossed it in a decorative bowl on a stand.

“Thank you, Nancy. Really appreciate the help.” He offered her a wide grin.

To Bruce’s minor surprise, Nancy didn’t leave. She was still looking at him, turning back and forth and biting her lip.

He raised an eyebrow. “Did you have something else?”

“You know, I delivered a few other letters here before. That sweet old man, Mr. Pennyworth took them.”

“I believe he mentioned that, yes. Nicely done. Stand-up job.” Bruce offered another wide grin.

Nancy still didn’t leave, and now she was batting her eyes at him. “Did you know, Bruce, we usually have a little bite to eat when I come over. Mr. Pennyworth calls it ‘having tea’, but it’s not just tea. He says it’s on account of my traveling so far to get here I miss breakfast. I always tell him that’s not true, but it’s sometimes true, and, well, since you’re here, I don’t suppose you’d ...”

Bruce gestured grandly. “Of course. Say no more, just say no more.” He graciously led her to a pair of chairs near a window. “I’ll only a minute.” Bruce was a practical cook. Mostly, that meant rice. He could also prepare tea. While waiting for the kettle, he dumped a tin of cookies onto a plate. When he returned, Nancy clapped. “What a gentleman. Thank you, Bruce.” He poured the tea and sat. “My pleasure.”

“So, Mr. Bruce Wayne, if it’s not too forward of me to ask, what are you doing in this big house today?”

“Oh, puttering around. I brought some papers home from the office. Need to take a crack at those."

“That’s sounds nice.”

“It might sound nice, but when your home becomes your office, then you can’t really go home, if you know what I mean.”

“Not really.”


They sipped their tea.

Nancy picked up a cookie and tried to casually ask, “Any plans this evening?”

Bruce shrugged. “Nothing yet. Most nights I’m working or traveling to meetings. Guess I’m lucky tonight.”

“I heard you like to attend a party or two.” She winked conspiratorially. “No parties?”

He wagged a finger. “Don’t believe everything you hear. And no, no parties tonight.”

“When you go to parties these days, are you going with anyone, uh, special?” She quickly ate a cookie as if to conceal the question.

Bruce rubbed his neck. “Heh. Why, no. Can’t say that I am.”

Nancy nodded and looked away, but glanced aside at him. “Do you want to?”

Bruce sighed and stared at the floor. His smile shrank. Then he stood, towering above her.

“Nancy, I think you’re a lovely girl, a real doll. I really want to be nice to you. So for your sake, I’ll lay my cards on the table.” He stared down and gently squeezed her shoulders, his powerful hands inches from her neck. “That said, if you share what I’m about to tell you to anyone, you’ll break me. Do you understand, Nancy? You’ll crack me to my soul, and I’ll never forgive you.” Nancy flinched but nodded. Bruce moved his hands gently to her arms, but his eyes didn’t waver from hers. “Nancy, I have a congenital heart defect. One day my aorta will rip, and there’s nothing to be done about it. Odds are I won’t live to see thirty-five.” She gasped and covered her mouth. He continued like it was nothing. “When people wonder why I break appointments or miss meetings, why I rush out of parties and the like, it’s the chest pain. Some petty little thing bothers me, doesn’t matter what, and I feel it in my ticker.” He tapped his chest. “And I go take a lie down until the feeling stops.”

Nancy had turned pale. “You poor thing! What must your friends say?”

Bruce chuckled without mirth. “I make my excuses, but I doubt it fools anyone. I imagine people think I’m up to some exciting scandal. God!” he grimaced and looked away, “How I wish that was true!” Nancy’s eyes were turning wet. Bruce gave a sad smile and wiped away her first tear. “My dad was a doctor, you see. He discovered the defect when I was a kid, but he told me to keep it a secret. He always said pity would make me weak. I guess he wanted me to grow up normal.”

Nancy’s voice trembled. “How … How do you live with it?”

“Who says I live?”

“Oh, Bruce.”

“Listen, do you know why I’m not married, Nancy? I’ve known plenty of fine ladies. It’s because married couples start families. It’s because this defect, well, there’s a chance I could pass it along if I had a son, and I can’t risk that. Do you understand, Nancy? I won't do it. The curse ends here. And I’m not going to let a woman fall in love with me then tell her she can’t be a mother.”

Nancy was crying openly now. Bruce looked bashful and found her some tissues. “I’m terribly sorry, Nancy. I hate to upset you. I shouldn’t have opened my big mouth.” Nancy buried her face in her hands. Bruce itched his chin. “Let me call you a cab. And if you ever need a favor at the office, I owe you one.”

Once he made the call, he patted Nancy's hand and tried to console her with gentle words. When the cab arrived, he helped her to the door. Alfred Pennyworth walked into the hall as Nancy was saying her goodbyes. She saw Alfred and gave him a little wave from the doorway. Alfred spotted her dried tears, but Bruce shut the door.

Alfred was aghast. "My Lord, Master Bruce. What happened?"

Bruce answered, neither happy nor ashamed, “I told a terrible lie to an innocent person, Alfred. It was a good one, too. Tight. Credible. Played on powerful sympathies. Decent odds she'll spread it around, which would be useful." Bruce made a head-shrug. "I should have thought of it years ago."

He retrieved the envelope from the decorative bowl and opened it. It read:
Dear Falco Deliveries customer,

You or someone with your code has tried to order a package which has already been delivered. Each code matches a single package, so a code can never be used twice. If you believe you reused a code by accident, feel free to try another code at your nearest Falco Deliveries office. Thank you!
Bruce rubbed his eyes. “Rats.”


That evening.

Batman waited in his small camp in the tunnels under Gotham City’s food packing district. He hadn’t entered through the Meat Pool; there were scores of other routes here. It didn’t take long for a rat to appear, and Ratcatcher showed up soon afterward, leading only a small pack of thirty-some rats this time.

Ratcatcher waved. “Fancy seeing you around.”

Batman was in much better shape than last time they met, and he nearly pounced on Ratcatcher, grasping him by the shirt before his rats could twitch a whisker.

“How did you send a note? You never saw the original. Do your rats read?”

“A little, yeah. They told me that gibberish on it and an address for each. Just some post office boxes, so I picked one.”

“What do you want?”

“I met this lady last night. She wants to meet you.”

“A woman came here to look for me?”

“Not this exact tunnel, but this area, sure. Smelled just like you.”

Batman’s grip tightened. “Tall? Chest armor? Arm braces? Golden cord?”

“Bingo. Would’ya let a buddy go?”

“Is she here?”

“No, she’s long gone. Left before dawn and hasn't come back. The rats would know.”

“What did she want with me?”

“She said she was looking for a detective. Between you and me, I didn’t expect I could get in touch with you, but I told her I’d arrange a little meeting.”

Batman stared at Ratcatcher then dropped him. “Do it.”
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by FaxModem1 »

Not going to give Diana the ability to talk to fauna, like she does in a few versions of the comics? I imagine that would make Rat-Catcher rather redundant though.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M »

FaxModem1 wrote: 2017-07-21 02:37pm Not going to give Diana the ability to talk to fauna, like she does in a few versions of the comics? I imagine that would make Rat-Catcher rather redundant though.
Interesting, but no.

I don't know how DIana's skill is portrayed in the comics (though I had heard of it), but as for Ratcatcher, he has the added gift of convincing rats to do his bidding. That would still be handy.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M »

Dear Readers,

Until the day Warner Bros. wants to pay me for this, Swimming in the Styx will likely be the last Batman 1939 story I write. This decision is not for lack of ideas or interest, but I've decided my next writing project should be at least potentially more lucrative. In the years since I started Batman 1939, I've written many scene bits and back-story. Now that I know it won't fit into a proper story, I wanted to share one with you now.

After finishing The Dangers of Being Cold, my original idea for a new story was Alfred's origin*. I eventually went a different direction, but I fleshed out how that would go in detail. It would be a frame story, with the "present" taking place during a short episode of Bruce's adolescence in the late 1920s/early 30s, then cutting to scenes of the past to show Alfred's life pre-butler. Unfortunately, I don't actually have my original time-line draft handy, it's on another computer, so won't bother trying to guess. Suffice it to say, each of the following events takes place in a particular time - sometimes a year, sometimes as specific as a week- and the times and ages all fit very nicely.

An inspirations for the story was the idea that Alfred has been shown with many prior professions, and I thought it would be fun to stitch together a life that actually used all of them (soldier, spy, doctor, theater actor, to name a few).

Alfred is born in the late 1800s to Jarvis Pennyworth, a high-ranking servant to Queen Victoria. A young Alfred is apprenticed into the profession as an errand boy in Buckingham Palace. He resents his job and his father (young Alfred's a free spirit). Nonetheless, this is the height of the British Empire, so his role gives him the premier education on both proper etiquette and court politics whether he likes it or not. In 1897, the Empire celebrates Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, the party of the century. Alfred is nearing adolescence then and meets a teenage Thomas Wayne while helping with the festivities.

Like many turn-of-the-century American blue-bloods, the Waynes have ties with the highest circles of British power, and Thomas is invited to several royal events. Alfred isn't supposed to talk to guests, but he's entering a rebellious phase and starts up a friendship with the gregarious "Tom" Wayne (think Jay Gatsby or James Potter - smart, fit, rich, chummy, super popular, kind of insufferable). Soon, the parties are over, but Tom offers to keep in touch as penpals (teenage Thomas Wayne is very patriotic and has lots of ideas about what that means; in part, he sees making friends with a servant kid as the American thing to do). The two don't see each other again for many years, but their correspondence continues almost without fail from then on.

Alfred grows, showing increasing disdain for his job. He wants to be an actor. His father Jarvis thinks this is stupid. Jarvis says that if Alfred wants to leave the servant life, that's fine, but he has to do something dignified. Alfred's penpal Tom is already working toward medical school and and thinks it's splendid. This helps convince Alfred to be a doctor. Jarvis says that's fine and gets him enrolled at Cambridge. Of course, servants in Victorian England are not the usual class that sends their sons to Cambridge, but senior servants to the Queen are the All Stars of sevant-hood, and Javis has some clout. Alfred goes to Cambridge to study medicine. Alfred is a below-average student. He finds classrooms boring and doesn't make many friends with all the snobs. Plus, he's always sneaking out to acting clubs or to see visiting theater troupes or on dates. After only a year he decides to quit school. He bums around with his now-considerable circle of actor acquaintances until he finds work.

This is the golden period of Alfred's life. He never becomes a star, but he strives at his craft and eventually becomes a successful working thespian. He travels all over England and even tours Europe. He's pretty good.

Then WW1 breaks out. Alfred is too old to worry about the draft. He's bohemian by nature and not very political, and he sees no glory in war. Still, he eventually decides to enlist. Let's just say there's a lady involved. He doesn't want to be handle a rifle, so he lies about the extent of his medical training in hopes of a post as some sort of lowly hospital staff. Perhaps his acting is a little too good. The Army is in dire need of medics, and instead he's made a surgeon's assistant. This leads to tragedy. Alfred's inexperience causes him to botch many procedures. The actual doctors on staff realize his problem and hate him, and he's more than happy to leave, but the whims of military bureaucracy and the already high chance of death for so many patients means Alfred isn't punished. His coworkers do the next best thing and train him on the job. Slowly, lesson by bloody lesson, Alfred becomes a competent military surgeon. In fact, through sheer practice he becomes quite skilled at it. Meanwhile, witnessing suffering and death every day wears on his soul. He will never be the happy-go-lucky artsy lad again.

He starts his service in major hospitals in the rear, but as the war progresses, he's moved closer and closer to the front, until he's operating in grubby medical tents in the trenches. Medics aren't armed, but the exigencies of war mean his comrades show him how to use a rifle, and he's even posted on the odd picket duty. During the Battle of the Somme, his trench is surrounded and he is captured. His captors learn about his medical training, and instead of a regular POW camp, they send him far away to one of their bases to treat their injured (captured medics frequently provided care to the enemy). With his medical duties, Alfred has considerably more freedom than most prisoners. In his rounds, he finds a room with an unsupervised radio. A captured British officer at the German base tells him to try a certain frequency to make contact with British forces.

Alfred does so. The British Army intelligence want to know all his observations about the German base. Alfred doesn't have much of use to share, but he dutifully plays spy during his medical rounds. Then one day he overhears some German officers talking about a major group of deserters, companies strong, heading for neutral Switzerland. Evidently, the deserters include British, French, and German troops who have joined forces to push for the mountains. There are no significant units who can intercept them in time, only some lightly-armed German fighter squadrons. The officers speculate that if the defectors make it to Switzerland, news of their defection will spread across the Western Front, causing waves of further defections.

Alfred reports this to British intelligence.

Soon, word spreads across the German base of British bombing runs deep in German-held territory. Somehow, the screen of German fighter planes failed to prevent the bombers from utterly disrupting unprotected infantry columns moving through the area. Alfred's mind breaks.

Eventually, there is a prisoner exchange. As soon as he is remanded into British custody, some high-ranking types in British intelligence isolate him for debriefing. Though they technically admit nothing, they say enough for Alfred to read between the lines and piece together the truth. The Germans knew Alfred was a spy. They kept him around to feed the British whatever they wanted. The British quickly figured this out. They kept Alfred spying so they could know what the Germans thought they wanted them to hear. The Germans quickly figured this out, and kept the game going to see how the British would react.

After the mass desertion, the Germans realized that the only force that might stop the deserters was a nearby British air base. Both sides understood the other's intentions. They both were terrified of the deserters succeeding, even more than they hated their enemy. Without the Germans needing to speak it, the British knew by Alfred's report that the Germans would not use their fighter screen to attack British bombers. The bombers scattered the deserters and their few supplies, dooming the survivors to the harsh elements. The two armies had colluded to kill their own men, and Alfred had been their messenger.

Naturally, this information was too sensitive to ever see the light of day, so they sent Alfred to a remote military prison to plug the source.

Fortunately for Alfred, Thomas Wayne was suspicious after his friend had failed to respond to many months of mail for the first time ever. Thomas was now a doctor, but also the owner of one of the greatest industrial concerns in America, a company that produced a significant fraction of the Allied war machine. When he complained, people listened. Eventually, he learned that his friend was a POW. Then he learned there had been a prisoner exchange, but his friend was missing. Thomas knocked on many doors and pounded many desks. Eventually, an understanding was reaching. Thomas would never say what specifically was threatened or promised, but Alfred was released on the condition that he swear to keep his secrets and, just to be safe, never return to British soil.

Now Alfred was free but had nowhere to go. Thomas offered to sponsor his work visa to America. Through Thomas' help, Alfred could surely have picked the job he wanted, but he didn't know what he wanted. He had no stomach to finish his study of proper medicine. He considered acting again, but something had changed in him. He didn't have the heart for it. He didn't really know any other trade, at least that's how he thought. He fluttered from job to job, often visiting Thomas and his wife Martha and their young child. Thomas, in his brash way, loved to discuss surgical techniques with Alfred, believing that Alfred's considerable practical experience might even teach a university doctor a thing or two. He grew very close to the family.

Around this time, Jarvis Pennyworth died (the man already a widower from several years earlier). Jarvis and Alfred were estranged by the start of the war, and Alfred had not spoken to his father virtually since Cambridge. The elder Pennyworth had retired after the death of Queen Vicky, and spent his last years alone. Alfred, forbidden from his homeland, couldn't even attend his father's funeral. This news created quite a strange feeling in Alfred. Regret. Bitterness. But most of all nostalgia. And, as a shock to the lifelong bachelor, a desire for family.

Alfred started to recall his long-repressed childhood, and in the cool light of age, it didn't seem so bad. And he was good at it. Certainly better than any blundering Yanks. So, thinking of no better household, he offered his services to the Waynes. Thomas had grown up with servants, but had gradually sent them away when he took over the house (it didn't seem democratic). Alfred eventually convinced him that, for the British, or at least for him, serving wasn't degrading. It could be an honorable profession. What eventually tipped the scales? Mrs. Wayne pointed out that their son was growing fast, both parents had countless obligations, and someone needed to watch the kid.

*Incidentally, no, a proper sequel with Catwoman was never in the cards. Sure, I could have written one, but I wanted to pick my next project to be challenging. Catwoman is an awesome character ... who I figured out how to write after 100,000 words. Not much of a challenge. Plus, I sort of like the notion that the two lovebirds stew in their mutual awkwardness for a year before they see each other again.
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