Chapter 1: Strange Bedfellows
Arturo Bertinelli was a compact gentleman on the graying side of forty with a dark Italian complexion and a well-trimmed mustache, but this was hard to see through the dust on his face. He awoke in bleary confusion to something cool caked on his skin and his wife Marie yelling beside him. But the detail which held his attention was the sight of the beautiful stars overhead: part of his ceiling and roof were gone. And the hole was cut in the stylized shape of a bat.
Arturo sat up and coughed. Each movement caused a puff of dust to float off his hair or nightshirt. It took a panicked minute for him to find Marie and hug her and for the couple to convince each other they didn't know what was going on. He climbed out of bed and pulled the lamp cord.
There was a huge message on the wall.
WHERE ARE THEY, ARTY?
Arturo gasped and clutched his chest. His wife turned and screamed. The massive letters were written in black paint. Arturo paced across the room to catch his bearings as much as escape from the message. The powder on the bed and floor was clearly plaster from the hole in the ceiling. It wasn't clear what caused the plaster to fall, where the frame studs and shingles had gone, or how this had occurred right over his head without waking him.
He decided the first step to making sense of the situation was to wash out his eyes. He gestured for his wife to be calm and walked into the master bathroom. He turned on the lights and found the message on the mirror.
WHERE ARE THEY, ARTY?
Arturo flinched and turned away. No one called him that name. No one had called him that name in eleven years. Not since the Vendettas. Not since his brothers died. He focused on his breathing to quiet his racing heart, coughing on more dust for his efforts, and hastily washed his hands and face. The moist plaster did not come off cleanly but left behind sticky streaks of residue. He looked at the message again, superimposed on his reflection, and it took a force of will to not smash the mirror with his fists. He splashed the hot water and rubbed his face and hands harder and harder until the worst of the plaster flaked off. Marie joined him at the sink. She clutched the revolver from his sock drawer. Amidst his panic, he felt a glow of pride: his wife never scared like a dame.
They heard a shriek and ran into the hall to help. Paulie, their youngest, was standing in front of his room in shock. His sisters Anita and Lucia were trying to comfort him despite being obviously spooked themselves. The hall lights were on, and the children stared at a black message painted across the hallway.
WHERE ARE THEY, ARTY?
As Marie rushed to their young son, Arturo marched furiously though the house, turning on the lights as he went. The message desecrated every room.
WHERE ARE THEY, ARTY?
WHERE ARE THEY, ARTY?
WHERE ARE THEY, ARTY?
The offending question was even graffitied on the mantle above the dog's basket. Their spaniel Zito was awake now, panting earnestly at his master's confusion. Arturo kicked the basket in rebuke. Zito flinched and whined, and Arturo cursed at him. What good was a dog who slept when an intruder came?
Then he noticed something in the foyer. The wall with his family's photographs had been changed. He walked over slowly, doubting his eyes. All their nicely framed portraits were scattered on the floor, replaced with a messy collage of shipping manifests, prints of passport pages, immigration records, and receipts for steamship tickets pinned to the wall. Arturo knew the meaning in an instant. Until now he merely felt alarmed by the vandal, but now he knew doom.
Back in the hallway, little Anita was crying and Paulie had retreated to his room. Marie was at the telephone, fighting to keep her hand steady long enough to enter a number. He caught her arm with more force than he intended. "Smetti! Stop!"
She looked up, too surprised to be annoyed. "What?"
"What are you doing?"
"Calling your cousin." He can help. He'd want to know. The elaboration was unnecessary and unsaid.
Arturo grimaced. It was true. An attack on their home was a Family matter. He was obliged to let the Family know. The Bertinellis looked after their own, and they would level the city to do it. On any other night he would have already made the call.
He didn't let go of her arm. "No. Not now." He took the receiver from her and returned it to the cradle. "Not just yet."
"Dear, what are you doing?"
"Not yet, not yet." He kissed her neck. "Not yet."
She stole a worried glance at the children. "Why not?"
"You have to trust me, yes? You have to leave now."
She nodded distracted. "We'll stay at Frank's house. Or Aunt Clarisa. Or-"
"No!" He held her shoulders. "You can't. Not anyone. You remember that hotel? The hotel from our anniversary? Take the children and head straight there, no stopping. Book a room. Not under our name. Use a different name."
"What? Arturo, that's nonsense."
"Don't you let anyone know where you are! I'll call you there soon."
"Arturo, that's hours away. Why not go to your-"
He glared and kissed her on the lips. "Go. I need to know you're safe. I'll take care of this."
She looked at him uncertainly. "I love you."
"I love you more. Don't take anything. Drive as fast as you can."
Marie left him to gather the kids. Arturo picked up the revolver she had left next to the phone and ran a finger across the beveled metal grooves of the cylinder. It had been awhile since he held one. He looked at the phone. The Family could never know. But he was gravely out of his depth tonight. He would need help.
He laid down the weapon and dialed a number. It rang ten times. A clipped voice picked up on the eleventh ring. Arturo spoke as calmly as he could manage. "This is Responder Shiloh Green. I need to speak with Admiral Cornwell."
Crime in Gotham City was a feudal system. Only desperate bottom-feeders and a few specialists were fully independent. Everyone else ran with a crew. Most large crews were willing to let smaller outfits work their territory in return for tribute or favors, and territory wasn't always as simple as a spot on a map. Some gangs claimed a line of business, like carjacking, or a relationship, like the tolerance of a ward captain responsible for claims of carjacking. Taken together, Gotham's gang hierarchies were complicated, vast, and secretive, but two simple facts were absolutely certain: everyone bowed to the kings at the top, and the kings of Gotham were the Four Families.
The Four Families - the Falcones, the Maronis, the Nobilios, and the Bertinellis - were a loose but stable alliance of the most powerful criminal syndicates of the Gotham underworld. They weren't just major contenders, they were a league apart. Most felons considered it the job of a lifetime to spend five minutes in a bank vault. The Four Families bought and sold banks. Many racketeers offered bribes to the police so they could partake in illicit behavior. The Four Families received bribes from the police so the police could partake in illicit behavior. The wealth, muscle, and connections their empires possessed were practically beyond measure, and it didn't seem likely to decline anytime soon. The alliance was almost a decade old, or half a century in mob years, and together the Families knew they were invincible.
Part of the Families' long success was knowing how to handle the authorities. This was easy with local and state officials whom they could muster a hundred forms of leverage against, but even they had little influence with the federal government. Accordingly, the Four Families went to great lengths to please and distract federal agencies. So when men from Navy Intelligence visited in the early spring with a proposition, they listened very carefully.
In short, the Navy wanted informers. Washington feared that the Axis powers were trying to sabotage the fledgling American war machine, and Gotham City was an industrial giant with the largest shipyards in the country. But countering espionage in Gotham was like hunting a single mosquito in a jungle. To even think about peeling back its layers required the help of an insider, and the Four Families had more roots in the city's dank crevices than anyone. They would know if someone was agitating the Italian-American longshoremen or the German-American steelworkers. They saw who was buying weapons or selling secrets. They could stop any union strike in an afternoon. They even had ears in the Bund and other pro-fascist clubs. They were perfect for the job.
The Four's patriarchs knew instantly they would accept. Any chance to make nice with federal men was a good move, and they had a bone to pick with Mussolini. But of course they asked what the Navy was offering in return. Not missing a beat, their visitors showed papers from the Justice Department concerning Tommy Maroni and Gus Falcone, two mob lieutenants who were sentenced to life in Alcatraz a decade ago. If the Families cooperated, the two would be moved to a low-security prison near Gotham with parole in five years. Then the Navy men produced a stack of court dockets for sixteen cases being investigated by the FBI and Treasury Department against businesses the Four had investments in, hinting that these could quietly disappear.
It took the dons nine seconds to reach an agreement.
The Navy's commander of the project – soon named Operation Underworld by someone with a flair for the dramatic – was Admiral Bernard Cornwell. He had to admit those dirty racketeers had been unfailingly helpful from day one. The number of solid leads they provided exceeded his staff's most optimistic projection by a mile. Nothing in the city got past the Families. And, much to his surprise, the crooks never asked for more rewards or compensation. If he didn't know better, he might think they were serving out of some grain of altruism. Maybe they were patriots.
So it was with mixed surprise that Admiral Cornwell received a call from one of the crooks shortly before midnight. His maid woke him and brought him the phone. It was his secretary at the office claiming he had one of the Gotham special informers on an emergency line.
The call to his home in Falls Church, Virginia through the Navy Department's switchboard in Washington from a phone in Gotham City sounded perfectly clear. Any misunderstanding was the fault of its participants.
"This is Admiral Cornwell, may I ask who's-"
"It's Arturo. We need to talk quick, see?"
"Arturo? Arturo, Arturo."
"Bertinelli. We met."
"Hm. Oh yes, Mr. Bertinelli." Arturo was one of the least productive sources in the program, and the Admiral couldn't remember ever speaking with him. "How can I help you, sir?"
"Listen. I need backup, and I need it fast."
The Admiral sat up straighter with a sudden serious expression. "What's the danger?"
"No time to squawk, I'm dyin' over here. Just pick me up lickty-split. I'll be at my safe house. Got that?"
"If you want our protection, I need to know the nature of the threat."
"Fine, it's … well ..."
"It's Batman. Batman's after me."
" … "
"Hey! You still there?"
Cornwell hadn't attended the infamous Project Galen deposition last year, but everyone knew the rumors. Two anarchists in gaudy outfits broke into an Army research base, stole sensitive items, lit half the camp on fire, and somehow escaped, never to be seen again. To top it all off, the whole fiasco happened under the nose of the mighty Amanda Waller, the only woman with the President's number and the only person to ever intimidate J. Edgar Hoover, or so the scuttlebutt said. This pair had hoodwinked her, leaving only a single clue about their identities: one anarchist called himself Batman.
In those weird backrooms of power where spooks swapped stories, the name had become something between a punchline and the Bogeyman. He was the Headless Horseman. He put Pancho Villa to shame. The Admiral was sure he didn't exist. Not like that anyway.
"Yes, yes I'm still here, Mr. Bertinelli. Who is Batman?"
"Who? You ask who? Is that a joke? You think I got time to jaw around some funnies now, buddy?"
"Well, I'll confess I'm not familiar with many of the notables of your city, and I thought perhaps you've heard-"
"Ughh! Come ha fatto un grasso, pigro sempliciotto-"
"Now hold on, sir. This is not how one addresses an … I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"Look pal, it doesn't matter whose boots you gotta kiss, get me the Marines. Or get me the Mounties, I don't care. If you want me to still have all my limbs by sunrise, have someone with a lotta' firepower pick me up at my safehouse, capisci?"
"Alright, alright, Mr. Bertinelli, I'll make sure that-"
The line went dead.
"Well that was quite rude."
With a few phone calls, Admiral Cornwell had a young officer rousing three of his colleagues to discuss ideas on who might help Arturo Bertinelli on short notice. His team for Operation Underworld had men stationed in the city, but at the moment they were all administrative staff, not bodyguards. They dared not call the police; Underworld was too important, and the GCPD would be furious about it. The FBI had several offices in Gotham, but the story would send them boiling over worse than the cops (who might at least have a working relationship with the mob). The last thing Cornwell wanted was one of his informants in FBI custody. The agents would ask questions with answers they weren't cleared to know.
One of the Admiral's colleagues, an expert in organized crime, had been silent for most of the meeting. Now he interrupted to point out that Arturo's request made no sense. Whatever the threat, the Italian gangs never sought outside help. Never. Not for a private matter. It was unthinkable. They handled their own affairs with a tight-lipped discipline most spy rings could only dream of. And the Bertinellis were big shots. A senior member like Arturo could have rallied five family soldiers and a dozen loyal street toughs to his defense in the time it took to call the Admiral. They all lived near each other for a reason.
Cornwall had no answer for that puzzle, but the fact remained that Mr. Bertinelli, an established asset of his operation, was in imminent danger. Whatever the reason, it could be dealt with once he was safe. Another colleague from the Army recalled that his own branch's intelligence might have a man passing through Gotham City at the moment: a real cowboy, in fact, no stranger to dust-ups, and he could keep his mouth shut. He was a captain named Steven Trevor.