Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx
Chapter 14: Floating in the Tiber
She dreamed that she was walking through a thin forest. The sun was setting, and the air was hot and arid, almost baking. She was surrounded by the fractal branches of ancient cypress trees and by crooked pines standing alone like old sentinels. Her bare calves pushed aside stiff juniper brush. Diana wore a light tunic cut at the knees. It was simple and blue and cinched high with a belt in the Amazonian style. Diana had never worn this tunic, but it felt familiar against her skin, like a composite of old outfits long lost. Likewise, she didn’t recognize these woods, but they resembled enough of home that she could mistake them for any forest of her adolescence.
As Diana walked, she realized she was carrying a fine bow in her left hand and wore a quiver across her back and a knife at her belt. This too seemed natural. The Amazons were hunters, and royalty opened each season. Diana had used this privilege shamelessly, reserving first attempts on prized and elusive game at every opportunity. To the quiet chagrin of other huntresses, a second attempt was rarely necessary.
With this thought, Diana realized that there were two other Amazons following behind her with bows of their own. She didn’t know their faces, but she knew with the certainty of dreams that these were loyal attendants. The Amazons didn’t favor hunting parties, but a princess rarely practiced solitary activities alone.
Night fell, and this night was impossibly quiet. No wind nor crickets disturbed the peace. Diana moved with a muted hunting stride, yet the woods were so silent that her footsteps were still the only noise around and seemed all the louder for it. Her pair of attendants could have been ghosts for all the sound they made.
Diana was entranced by the plodding echo of her own sandals until she heard an animal shriek. In a smooth reflex, she drew and nocked an arrow, taking a knee to scan the treeline. The invisible creature shrieked again. Diana held the bow and arrow together with one hand and used the other to climb onto the fat bough of a cypress which grew out from its trunk as flat as a table. There was another shriek, lower and closer, a noise that she felt in her joints and behind her eyes. Diana tensed towards the place where it sounded, bow ready to draw.
Then a giant bat hit her in the side. It had the wingspan of a condor and weight of a large dog, and Diana had just enough presence of mind to duck when she fell out of the tree. She landed in a tumble, dropping her bow and rolling to her knees. Then the bat was on her, nearly knocking her over again. Diana struggled to seize it, to force it away. She saw in the twilight that it was an ugly beast: black marbles for eyes, a pig's snout, fibrous papery wings, and folds of cartilage in its ladle-sized ears. It hissed, spraying drops of spittle. Its claws raked her hair and face. Then its weight shifted and it was at her neck.
Warm teeth tore at her throat. Diana yelled. She snatched the bat's thin ears and tore its mouth away. The bat shrieked and flapped, battering her arms with its enormous wings. When it was clear, Diana let go with one hand and punched the bat in the mouth. It shuddered. She yelled and punched again, harder. The bat's flapping grew feeble. She let go and it fell, stumbling on the dirt beside her. Diana was free, but she didn't stand. Remaining on her knees, she threw a fierce haymaker at the bat. Right. Left. Right. She socked the giant bat again and again where it lie. Diana paused and reached for her knife.
With a birdlike twitch, the bat leapt skyward, clawing at her again as it flapped by. She dodged the claw but failed to grab it. As it took flight through the trees, Diana snatched up her bow and gave chase. Her attendants followed at a distance, expressionless. Diana hardly noticed. Racing under sagging branches and vaulting roots, she managed to trail the beast, its shape clear in the watery starlight. The bat soon led her through a clearing. Diana adroitly drew another arrow as she ran. Sighting down its shaft, she led the bat's chest by a few degrees and loosed her arrow mid-flap. The arrow sang home. The bat shuddered and fell halfway to the dirt, but it caught itself and kept flying.
Diana had struggled to keep pace before, but now the beast was wounded. With the thrill of a predictor, Diana kicked into the earth and pumped her arms, closing the distance between them. The bat weaved and cut, slipping between tree limbs with inches to spare. It did no good. She waited until it flew through an open gap. In that slim moment, she drew and shot another arrow, piercing its leg.
Now the hunt entered its final act. The bat struggled to stay aloft, flapping ponderously as it bled. Diana shot twice more, hitting the shoulder and flank. The beast fell, landing beyond some bushes. Diana waved her attendants onward and waded in. The bushes grew thick and rank, obscuring the sky. She reached the spot where the bat should have landed. Instead she found a clear puddle on the sidewalk. Diana looked around her and realized that the trees had become lampposts and columns. The saplings were street signs, and the shrubs were mailboxes. Brick towers rose to infinity in every direction, and a gray haze hid the stars.
Diana crouched to inspect the puddle and saw that her reflection was dressed as a prisoner. Indeed, she now wore a loose outfit with fat black and white stripes. Diana also noticed thick metal cuffs on her wrists fastened to the ground with chains, preventing her from standing.
Diana began to panic. She twisted and sensed her two attendants behind her. Only they weren't her attendants. They were men in crisp uniforms, their faces grim and covered in shadow. One unholstered a handgun and placed it against her spine. The steel was cold.
Her lips parted, but she had no time to speak. There was an infinite noise.
She was in bed in her little motel room in Georgetown. The night was temperate, but she wiped a bead of sweat from her temple and struggled to catch her breath. It wouldn't be fair to call her panicked, but she eyed all the corners of the room more quickly than was regal. Without glancing down, she slipped her hand between the mattress and bed frame and pulled out a sharp letter opener.
Thus armed, Diana brushed aside her sheets and crept to her window in her nightgown. Nothing outside but trees. She moved to her door and inched it open. The hallway was empty in both directions. She closed the door.
Diana exhaled through her nose. She sat on her bed, considering her dream. After a minute, Diana stood and placed the letter opener back on the small writing desk in the corner. She went to her closet and opened her luggage. At the bottom under some clothes was a small iron sword. It was a reproduction of what the shopkeeper had called a xiphos, a double-edged sword of Greek antiquity with a blade shorter than her arm formed of gently sloping symmetrical curves. It resembled a common Amazonian sword, and Diana had felt comfortable with it instantly.
Diana shut her luggage and returned to bed. Before she went to sleep, she wedged the little sword between her mattress and bed frame.
Bruce woke with a low, racking cough that shook his torso. He winced and sat up, coughing again, harder, spraying drops of blood across his sheets. Wounds always felt worse in the morning, and he had to fight through the spasms of pain until he found his breath.
Bruce looked down at the red flecks on his sheets and grimaced. His bedding used to be silk, then he developed a bad habit of bleeding in his sleep, so he downgraded to fine cotton, and then cheap cotton. Easy to bleach; easy to replace; no wasted time. He didn't mind the rough texture, and it wasn't like he shared the bed with anyone.
Bruce usually started his day with brisk exercise. He had lived with one injury or another for most of his life and knew how to structure his workouts to compensate. He could, for example, curl dumbbells on a twisted ankle or do crunches in an arm cast. But today he woke in a body so comprehensively damaged that any exercise beyond walking with a cane was out of the question.
No surprise there. He had essentially boxed three rounds with a bear. Of course he came out of it more bruise than skin. His mere survival was more a compliment to his armor than anything else: the metal and fiberglass had suffered blows that should have crushed his rib cage or put him in a permanent neck brace. Many strikes near the end would have killed him. But he had escaped under his own power and even summoned the endurance to work the next day. Bruce spent much of his life breaking things, but deep down he had the heart of a craftsmen, and putting together a set of armor that could go three rounds with a bear wasn't too shabby.
Granted, there had been fifty people involved in designing and testing the thing, but he had contributed.
Eventually, Bruce willed himself out of bed and saw a stack of newspapers on the dresser. It was a very large stack of newspapers. Wayne Manor subscribed to several dozen periodicals, but Alfred usually laid out the same four morning dailies in Bruce’s room and let him browse the rest downstairs by his own judgement. Alfred only brought a large stack when it seemed from the headlines alone that they all might be worthwhile.
Bruce picked up a few and thumbed through them. The headlines did not disappoint.
COPS & CROOKS GUN BATTLE LEAVES BODIES IN STREET
BERTINELLI LIEUTENANT ARRESTED. GAOL GREETS GOON.
SLAVE RING BUSTED, CITY PRAISES DETECTIVES
1 GCPD OFFICER DEAD, 2 IN HOSPITAL AFTER SHOOTOUT
ABDUCTEES FOUND! ITALIANS TO BLAME!
BREAKING NEWS: CANADA INTERESTING?
Bruce was an excellent speed-reader and drank the articles like a parched man in a stream, finishing several a minute. Point by point, exaggeration by omission, the story quickly cohered. As he read, his first reaction was sorrow and disgust at the casualties on 85th Street. Bertinelli’s hit squad was obviously guilty, but even a guilty corpse was a tragedy. His grief cast a haze on two facts that would otherwise be highlights of his year: the Ukrainian students were found alive, and Arturo Bertinelli was going to prison for a long time. Arturo was an unrepentant felon with a record of violence stretching decades, but more importantly, he was a caporegime
of the Four Families. Now a Family capo was facing changes even their money and reputation couldn’t wash away. Gotham City had been the Families’ indomitable citadel for years, but Batman had knocked the first stone out of their first loathsome tower. He had done it!
And eighteen kids – though they could hardly be kids after their ordeal – would get to enjoy life in the free world.
And at least two men had died.
And the military might be protecting criminals.
Bruce took a meditative breath and tried to marshal his thoughts. He could decide how to mourn or celebrate later. He understood the situation as well as he could. Now he had to organize his problems and make a plan. Bruce gave a slight, determined nod. This was enough to start another coughing fit. A few droplets of blood colored the pile of newspapers.
There was a knock at the door. “Are we dead yet, Master Bruce?”
Bruce wiped his mouth and coughed again. “Not for lack of trying.”
Alfred spoke through the door, “Do you want your breakfast here or do you wish to be helped down the stairs?”
“I’ll be down on my own. Just a minute, Alfred.”
There was a reluctant pause. “Very good, sir.”
Bruce struggled into some clothes, slipped in a dental bridge for the missing teeth, picked up his crutches from the floor, and went to eat.
The powerful August sun turned the windowpanes a glowing white. The morning was growing late. Injuries often forced Bruce to stay home from work, but this rarely caused problems. He was president and chairman of a great corporate empire, and most corporate titans lived at the office, but the stakeholders knew Wayne Enterprises had been quietly managed by a team of senior executives for at least twenty years. The late Thomas Wayne hadn’t even been president, choosing to be a doctor instead and chairing the board with the energy of an absentee landlord.
Granted, everyone could see that Bruce cared for the company in a way his father never had. Folks said that one day he might mature into a worthy successor to the Wayne name. But until then, those empowered executives were in no hurry to give up the reins old Thomas had surrendered. So if Bruce took a day off because his stomach hurt or he was traveling to meet a ‘business prospect’, they didn’t ask many questions.
As he descended the stairs, Bruce felt his knees and spine and ribs protest in misery, his thoughts returned to the Woman. She wasn’t invincible. By all impressions, her body had the typical organs. She needed to breathe and circulate blood. Her large bones and muscles were vastly tougher than a regular woman, even tougher than a regular tractor, but her more superficial features were only moderately unnatural – he could damage her small joints with his own muscles, and the nerves in her eyes, nose, and skin still caused her pain.
Oh yes, and she could still burn.
He would need to mix a lot more thermite. Perhaps he could launch it from a sling or a bow, get the compound to ignite by air resistance. That would be a challenge. Or he could set it off by remote control. That would be much easier. He could put a firebomb anywhere. Under a floor. Inside a doorframe. In a car. In a mattress.
These thoughts distracted him from his pain as he reached the breakfast table. His meal was nearly liquid: apple sauce and porridge and milk. He greeted Alfred and sat to eat. Alfred stared at him oddly.
After a moment, Bruce asked, “Something wrong, Alfred?”
“I wanted to ask a question as your medic.”
“Those marks on your neck are contusions from being manually strangled, except I see one that looks like it was from a blow. Did someone punch you in the throat last night?”
“It wasn't a punch; it was an open-handed chop.” Bruce cupped his hand to demonstrate.
“I see. Your lady assailant did that to you?”
“No, I did that to me.”
“You struck yourself in the throat with enough force to leave a mark?”
“Yes,” Bruce answered matter-of-factly.
“Forgive me, but why?”
“To stun my vocal cords. I’ve never tried it before, so I may have overcompensated. Just to be safe”
“And it worked.”
“But if I face her or a similar adversary again, they won’t give me a second chance. I need to find another way to manually prevent speech, ideally one that lasts a minute so I can apply it preemptively. It’s a difficult proposition. All the obvious solutions endanger breathing. My best so far is to induce anaphylactic shock.”
Alfred’s mustache turned down in dismay. “Indeed.”
“As I said, there are obvious drawbacks. I’ll think of something eventually.”
“Do you believe a repeat encounter is likely, Master Bruce?”
“Not if I can help it. But I can’t ignore anyone so powerful in league with a major criminal. That’s especially true if she’s with the military. Its only hearsay now, but the implications would make the city’s current troubles seem quaint.”
“In my humble experience, Bruce, governments are a tool that enables good men to perform evil tasks. I’ll travel down to that produce plant today and clean up after you, shall I?”
“Thank you, Alfred. Sorry to push my responsibilities onto you.”
“Neither the first time nor the last Master Bruce. Now, is this connection with that criminal brute the crux of your concern?”
“My greatest concern is that this super-soldier has obviously been kept secret, yet the military was willing to break that secrecy to protect Arturo, who is nothing but a local thug at the end of the day. How is he important to national security? Arturo claimed the Families are protecting Gotham from Axis spies. The military would need to see a tremendous threat to justify a radical measure like deputizing the Families, so why haven’t I noticed? How could I miss a major Axis espionage ring in Gotham?”
“It’s a big city. Have you been looking for spies?”
“No, not directly. I’ll need to start practicing.”
“Alongside your fifty other pursuits? I doubt Ted Williams practices that extensively.”
Bruce raised an eyebrow. “A baseball reference? Alfred, I’m impressed.”
“I would have named a cricketer but an American like you wouldn’t know one.”
“Alfred, I can list every oblast in the Soviet Union alphabetically and by population, I know half the chemical formulas in the Merck Pharmaceutical Catalogue, I can draw a road map of Gotham from memory-”
“And you’re right, even I don’t care about cricket.”
Alfred sniffed indignantly and removed Bruce’s dish which wasn’t quite empty yet. “You missed several phone calls while you were out yesterday.”
“Five social, nine business, two prank. None terribly urgent, but the governor’s niece would like to play tennis with you tomorrow.”
“Charlotte? Hm, that’s a shame, we’ll have to reschedule. Wait, am I dating anyone today?”
“Miss Van Houtte pushed you into that pond last week so I would venture not, Master Bruce.”
“Yes, she was angry because I forgot her name. I knew it started with an ‘N’. Nina? Nancy?”
“Gretchen, sir. Perhaps if she was an oblast in Russia you’d have an easier time.”
“Droll. You know, Sherlock Homes believed that our mind has a limited capacity and we must take care to decide which facts were worth remembering.”
Alfred scoffed as he stacked dishes to carry into the kitchen. “Sherlock Homes was an opium addict who fell down a waterfall. His cognitive theories leave much to be desired.” He added over his shoulder, “Much like your treatment of the fairer sex.”
Trent Hucklebone was the chief aide to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. His boss, the honorable senator from the state of Michigan, had other Michiganian duties that precluded him from spending all his time on relationships with foreigners (his distinguished colleague from the state of Gotham was rumored not to have this problem). Indeed, booking a meeting with the senator was a tough prospect even for major Washington players. To sate the demand, his trusted aide Trent often met visitors on his behalf, and it was understood around the Capitol that a promise from Trent Hucklebone was worth at least three-quarters of a promise from the senator himself, and that was priceless.
Trent was a very tall man, and he found Diana Price one of the few women with whom he had ever seen eye to eye. He understood little of what she said, and he agreed with even less, but he didn’t look down on her.
“So, Miss Prince, explain again what precisely you wish the senator to propose at the next Committee hearing?”
“Danna felt she had already explained herself three times, but she knew that her entire mission in Man’s World and all her months of frustration was to reach this opportunity. So she forced herself to maintain her most dignified smile and tried to phrase the same message yet another way.
“I am an ambassador. I come to exchange diplomatic recognition with your Republic of America.”
Trent looked at her blankly and rubbed his temple. “Very well, Ambassador Prince, what nation do you represent?”
“The Sacred Queendom of Themyscira.”
“Uh-huh. And could you tell me where I could find the Sacred Queendom of Themyscira? Anyone?”
Trent looked back and forth between the other two figures in the room, Captain Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller. He had worked with Waller in the past and was here by her request. He didn’t know Trevor, but he knew the type and took him to be one of Waller’s grunts.
Diana kept her smile and eye contact with heroic steadiness as she struggled to answer. “Ah, eehh, I am afraid that is not information I can share, Aide Hucklebone.”
Trent wished she would stop calling him that. “So you can’t point on this globe,” he gestured to a large globe on his desk “where your Themyscirans call home.”
“My people are the Amazons.”
“Oh, like those Greek myths.”
“No, I have read your myths. Actually-”
Amanda coughed loudly and interrupted, “This is immaterial, don’t you think, Trent? What would it take to recognize her nation, at least on a trial basis? We just want to let her go home to her queen with a nice treaty recognizing mutual respect.”
Diana added, “And the mutual peacekeeping.”
Trent sat forward. “What!”
Amanda chuckled forcefully and patted Diana’s hand, “What the Ambassador here means to say is that at a point in the future, the Amazons might wish to enter a discussion on how they could help us in matters of defense … and how we might reciprocate.”
Diana nodded. “Or at a point in the present.”
Amanda winced but continued to smile. She hadn’t asked Diana much about her homeland or her goals. Diana would share the information in good time, and it wasn’t crucial at the moment. Amanda also suspected that Diana didn’t actually know where her home was. Unless the girl had a superpowered sense of navigation, it was unfathomable that she could return to her hidden island in the Mediterranean Sea or Black Sea or Red Sea or the Atlantic Ocean or wherever it was. Especially if she was indeed the first to leave in centuries. If anything, Steve Trevor might be the only person alive with a decent idea on how to find the place. The boy claimed his memory was patchy due to a crash landing, but Amanda suspected it could return under the right circumstances. For now, the Army merely guaranteed that he left Tunisia on a surveillance mission with enough fuel to reach anywhere from Brussels to Jerusalem and returned over a week later, his body and plane both obvious victims of a crash, its engine running on homebrew kerosene. Amanda had invited him to this meeting to offer Diana moral support; the two kids obviously shared a bond, and Amanda intended to encourage that. It was wise to keep one’s friends close. Having Steve along also provided Amanda with a chance to observe him. She intended to poach the Captain onto her team, and she liked to know who she was dealing with. Lastly, it ensured that neither of them would be around while her men broke into and searched their homes.
Bruce rarely suffered consequences from missing work, but he still tried to arrange alibis for his absences. The easiest form of alibi was to see and be seen by at least one guest. Alibi guests were picked for poor vision, poor memory, and ideally narcissism, but they had to move in respectable circles if they had to appear as credible witnesses. All these criteria tended to limit his alibis to the stuffiest elders of the country club set: old politicians, old judges, old pastors, old tycoons and bankers, and especially their old wives.
In fact, Bruce faced a minor scandal last year after word spread that he routinely spent hours alone with wives and widows old enough to be his mother. Society gossip suggested all sorts of Freudian ideas, not helped by the fact that Bruce didn’t have a mother. These ideas were untrue, although Bruce did discover that rich old ladies would chat with an attentive bachelor from a good family about nearly anything, so the visits became great sources of crime-fighting intelligence. The venerable matrons were rarely criminals themselves, but crime and power intersected in countless ways and aristocrats loved their secrets.
Unfortunately, Bruce was obliged to limit these encounters for the sake of propriety, and lately he invited couples. Today it was Elias and Hazel Wellington of Wellington grocers. Bruce met them for iced tea under a tree on Wayne Manor’s south lawn. With the tree and a wide-brimmed hat, Bruce’s features were kept in shadow, and if was much easier to disguise his health if he never rose from his chair. He intended for the Wellingtons to leave after forty-five minutes at the latest. If necessary, Alfred would fake a call from their banker suggesting a problem in their account. Bruce knew the Wellingtons would skip out on an audience with the Pope to investigate a bank error. As for intelligence, the pair offered little but made up for it in noise.
“Darling, I’ve done a lot of disgusting, regrettable things in my time, but you take the cake.”
“Aw, why don’t you do something charitable and fall down a manhole.”
“Charitable? Charitable? I bought you that coffee plantation near Havana last year, and do I even hear a thank you? Do I need to serve you drinks on bended knee?”
“A drink from you? Lemme guess: poison with spit on top.”
“You would know, you lush.”
Bruce did his best to ignore the Wellingtons. He sipped his tea, made neutral comments when one Wellington or the other sought his support, and focused on his real concern. There was something about the Woman protecting Arturo that seemed profound, but he couldn’t decide how. Bruce had inspected Arturo’s life with a fine-toothed comb for months to put a case together. Any project that interested the military surely required substantial time and effort. How could he have missed something so significant? Bruce was sure that Arturo spent his days attending to his few front businesses or organizing deals to rent out his Ukrainian laborers. He simply hadn’t done anything else worth noting. Informing for a counterespionage operation could be a passive-enough task to escape Bruce’s surveillance, but when did danger to one lowly informer justify sending a secret human weapon? Bruce decided he would need to find Admiral Corn-something.
“Thank God poor people are stupid. If the poor were smart enough to realize just how poor they were, they'd kill us.”
“At least we agree on something, woman.”
Bruce wondered where the Woman was today. Despite his paranoia, he trusted now that she couldn’t track him through any paranormal means: his head was still attached to his shoulders. Where had she gone? He knew their conflict had at least a few witnesses when it entered the Meat Pool. Someone had to see her leave, and everyone in two blocks would have smelled her leave. It would get plenty of distance as gossip.
“You just want a wife who’s chained to the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.” Hazel Wellington threw her glass at her husband.
He ducked. “That’s a dirty lie. I said I’d buy you shoes.”
“You think just because a wife wants a little freedom to be herself and take some pottery classes and spend the winter in Pensacola, that it’s wrong! That it’s un-American.”
Bruce rubbed his chin. Was the Woman American? He had trusted that any agent of the military operating in America would be American, but did that assumption hold up to scrutiny? Her accent could be faked, he supposed, but Bruce was an expert on pain, and only an extraordinary actor would cry out in a fake language when their face was on fire. He wondered again what that language had been. The closest cousins he recognized were around the Balkans: Greek, Turkish, maybe Russian, though he wasn’t remotely an expert, and the region had plenty of diversity. He worried that even a linguist would have trouble confirming the language with only a few words to piece together.
But wherever she was from, how could she be in in the American military? And why dressed like that? And again, why Arturo? His most interesting project was kidnapping some Ukrainian-
“Isn’t that right, Bruce? Buncha harpies the lot of ‘em. Eh, did you hear me, Bruce?”
The most frustrating sort of theory for a detective was a theory that had more holes than a screen door but answered a question that no other theory could.
Immigration officials who met the Ukrainians said they had claimed to be students seeking refuge. This news was supplied by the only Ukrainian translator the port could find on short notice, and the translator even admitted she wasn’t very good. They had no other evidence of who they were or where specifically they came from.
Despite his best efforts, Bruce couldn’t say everything the Ukrainians had done in America, merely that they had been kept hidden and frequently moved. He found few witnesses and almost no paperwork, of course there were gaps in the record.
The Ukrainian language was similar to Russian. Many Ukrainians spoke both. The Soviets had impressive scientists, little contact with the West, few ethical scruples, and were fighting a war for their existence. They had a very good incentive to seek the favor of the US.
That was almost an optimistic scenario. What if it wasn’t the American military? Arturo Bertinelli was cunning, but he wasn’t worldly. Could foreign agents impersonate Army intelligence? Was Arturo their stodge? Their partner? She had used a golden cord to control his actions. Could Arturo be their puppet? What did they want?
Bruce knew he was on a dangerous train of thought. He was speculating based on almost nothing, yet he suddenly felt cold in the pit of his stomach.
Diana’s queen mother had granted her broad discretion as ambassador to Man’s World, but Diana was worried that the negotiation was approaching agreements that she wasn’t allowed to make.
Chief Aide Trent Hucklebone was making notes on a legal pad. “So if our diplomatic mission swears to secrecy, can they visit your island or not?”
Diana hadn’t lost her smile or eye contact for many minutes now. She was glad she had the fortitude, otherwise she might look strange. “That may be a challenge, Aide Hucklebone.”
“Well, would the visitors be women?”
“Yes, like myself.”
“Darling, I doubt there’s anyone in America like you.”
Amanda Waller looked dryly at him. “Trent.”
He shrugged. “Listen, there might be one or two women at the Foreign Service these days, but I think they’re busy overseas.”
Diana said, “They need not be high minsters. My people would welcome as sisters any women who speak for your leader.”
“Okay… Well, there’s bound to be a clever secretary somewhere in Washington we can scoop up. Or maybe a retired ambassador’s wife. I don’t know about women getting stamped for state secrets, but I guess that’s a question you’re familiar with, Amanda.”
Amanda nodded. “You guess correctly.”
The door behind them opened and a congressional staffer asked for Amanda’s attention outside the room. Amanda made a brief apology and told the others not to commit to anything before she returned. The staffer brought her to the busy Capitol rotunda. Under the Apotheosis of Washington, Amanda found Lieutenant King Faraday – the name a pun from a cruel father, allegedly. Like a remarkable number of Amanda’s operatives, Faraday wasn’t yet forty but sported a full head of white hair. Unlike most of her operatives, Faraday didn’t seem military. His haircut was too expensive, his stance too causal, and he wore his wrinkles handsomely like corporate lawyers and the French. When he had a trench coat and cigarette he looked like the perfect Hollywood spy. Somehow this didn’t prevent him from being a spy.
Faraday led her to the end of a quieter hallway. She looked around and said, “Is your team done?”
“Not a print.”
“Trevor’s clean, best as we can tell from his office and base housing. Your girl’s another story.”
“No kidding. Did you uncover any armor or a tiara?”
“Sorry, no chest plate, no blue swimsuit, no bracelets, no tiara, no shiny lariat. She must not keep it at home. You should ask Trevor.”
“I’m leaving that card in my deck for now.”
“Then what did you find?”
“Here.” Faraday pulled a brown envelope out of his jacket, lifted the flap, and shook out a stack of photographs into his hand. “Good thing she lives in a two-bit motel. Took all of ten minutes to turn the room over. Gave us time to develop these.”
Amanda took the photos and held them close to her eyes. “Is that a sword?”
“Yeah, she had a few of those, plus a spear and a shield. There was a receipt in her trash from some antiques joint in Gotham.”
Amanda muttered something and shuffled to the next photo. She shouldn’t have been surprised, but her heart still skipped a beat. “That’s-“
“Given the medieval theme she’s got; I’d guess some kind of throwing knife. It was too sharp to be a paperweight.”
“Faraday, that weapon is from the Batman.”
“The Batman? Wait, that loon who shot up Project Galen last year?”
“He didn’t use a gun.”
“So you’ve seen one of these?”
“Oh yes, with Slade Wilson’s blood of it.”
“He tagged Wilson? That’s rich. I like this guy already. Look, if you turn it a bit, it sort of looks like a bat.”
Amanda frowned “Yes, That’s his symbol.”
“Neat how it’s still aerodynamic though. Well, your girl had a few of these things at her place, some longer than others. But that’s not the fascinating part. Look at the next one.”
Amanda flipped to the next photo. “…Are those teeth?”
“Fakes. Real quality fakes.”
“Assuming your girl got her trophies at the same place, I’d say this Batman has a top dentist.”
“Faraday, could we trace these to the owner?”
“Doubt it. It’s not like there’s a national registry on dental plasters to match it to.”
“If the work was even American.”
“Sure. We could make a few guesses if we got a better look at it. Maybe stole it for a few hours and showed it to a dental supplier. The materials and craftsmanship might narrow it some. Plus now you know to look for the guy with these teeth missing.”
“And now I know I’m dealing with a lady who likes to carry teeth around. Beautiful.”
“Look at the next one.”
“Hm. I see a handgun grip with a tube-shaped rock on top. And it looks melted.”
“That doesn’t mean anything to you?”
“Shame, my team’s got no clue.”
“Uh-huh. And what’s this last one? A glove.”
“Yeah. A gauntlet, like knights had. This one’s scuffed and dented. Was he wearing that last time?”
“No, not like that.” Amanda felt a flush of excitement. “I imagine this would be difficult to make from scratch, wouldn’t you say?”
Faraday shrugged. “I guess. No clue, honestly.”
“I’d say so. Fake teeth might be untraceable, but how many smiths do you think make armored gloves these days? See if you can find the manufacturer for this.”
“It’d be tough with just a photograph. You want me to pick up the original?”
“Not yet. Call someone in Gotham and have them sweep all the buildings near Diana’s sightings. If he lost one glove, maybe he lost both.”
Café Ensoleillée was one of the most exclusive restaurants in the world, and the only one whose prices varied with the cost of helium. The Gotham skyline was famous for its airships, and none was more recognized or beloved than the Ensoleillée, though few residents knew that the airship and its on-board restaurant were owned by the Falcone crime family.
During Prohibition, law enforcement began to target restaurants in the neighborhoods of the major bootlegging gangs – mostly Italian at that point, with some Irish, Jewish, and German outfits also active. The restaurants were ubiquitous gang hangouts and often speakeasies. Gangsters were not a sentimental lot, but many were reluctant to leave their local restaurants, and so many went to jail. The Falcones were more ruthless and did not conduct any dirty business at an Italian restaurant until the 18th Amendment was repealed, as much as it pained them. In fact, they went a step further.
Unlike Italian restaurants, French restaurants suffered no stigma of crime. France had a reputation for civility and high culture. The Falcones realized this and purchased several. Since no other Italian gang would be caught dead owning a French restaurant, these were never once raided. The last and greatest was a speculative venture between Don Carmine Falcone and Mayor Hamilton Hill to send an establishment airborne. Less than two years later, Prohibition was repealed, but the Falcones had discovered that an airship made a fine criminal stronghold regardless of the liquor laws.;
The Ensoleillée only touched its boarding dock on the roof of the Kampff Building for five minutes every two hours. Otherwise, it was utterly out of reach, flying a slow lap around the bay. Its price and prestige meant all but the most distinguished customers had to reserve weeks in advance and could be booted from the list at any time, and this only added to its reputation. No one accused a French restaurant of being gracious. As for any criminal rivals, it was immune to bombs or drive-by shootings until their rivals acquired artillery or fighter planes, which even in Gotham was farfetched.
Incidentally, Carmine Falcone saw the value in staying friendly with the only people in the country who owned field artillery and fighter planes. Café Ensoleillée usually served a packed deck for the early dinner shift, but half the reservations had been canceled at the last minute so a temporary private room could be arranged for a group of VIPs.
First among those P’s was Admiral Bernard Cornwell, commander of Operation Underworld, the military's program to use organized crime for domestic counterintelligence.
Then there was Walter Brown, secret envoy of Gotham City's political elite.
And finally there was Harvey Dent, the youngest Assistant District Attorney in the state of Gotham and voted its most trusted civil servant two years running.
It had been a social feat of Herculean proportions to arrange a meeting between these men with just a morning's notice, and Carmine Falcone was one of the few figures in the country with the clout to pull it off. The Admiral had to be persuaded to fly up from Washington, and Harvey needed a court hearing canceled. Several of the men were strangers to each other, and full introductions were impossible given their respective needs for discretion.
The men had been kept discreetly separate, only seeing each other at the last moment as they were guided into a private dining room where Don Falcone stood the greet them. He was every inch the gracious host.
“Gentlemen, sit, sit, thank you for coming on such sudden notice. Your meal is, of course, complementary. If this is your first time dining here, I promise everything is excellent.” He made a small gesture – all his gestures were small – and a waiter standing just out of earshot raced forward.
The waiter bowed. “Orders, messieurs
Admiral Bernard Cornwall studied his menu. “Hmm! I’ll have the, uh, steak tartare, if you please.”
Walter Brown was a regular at the Café and knew his options. “Lobster Thermidor.”
Harvey Dent crossed his arms. “Glass of water. Now what is this about, Mr. Falcone? Your invitation arrived about five minutes after the judge rescheduled my hearing this afternoon.”
The waiter collected the menus, bowed again, and sped away. Carmine Falcone leaned forward and steepled his fingers. “I have a proposal, but I start with an apology. Business agreements are delicate, and when there are many parties, I prefer to meet them individually, so all problems are worked out in a comfortable way and in a discreet way. Such is best, I think.” He made an apologetic shrug. “But time forces my hand. I believe we can all leave this table better than we arrived, but my proposal is ambitious, and ambitious things can seem crass when witnessed suddenly in their fullness. I beg you merely keep an open mind, and consider the best interests of the offices you represent. Will you grant me this courtesy?”
The three guests agreed with varied enthusiasm. It surprised them all that Carmine, who grew up a poor hoodlum in an immigrant neighborhood, could have such an excellent grasp of English. Walter Brown was especially impressed, since he had heard Falcone speak on many occasions, and while the Don had always been articulate, he could swear Falcone’s English was even better than usual lately.
Falcone smiled and began, “Last night, Arturo Bertinelli entered police custody.” He glanced at Admiral Cornwall. “You see, Admiral, Mr. Bertinelli is a local man of business. He’s been accused of keeping a batch of migrants captive.”
The Admiral nodded gravely. “Yes, I, uh, read about him in the papers. Terrible business.”
“How true.” Falcone looked back to his other guests. “Now, Mr. Dent, I am a great follower of the District Attorney’s office.”
Harvey Dent responded with a cool stare. “Really.”
“Very much, and I’m sure you’ll soon be the prosecutor on Mr. Bertinelli’s case.”
This dented Dent’s composure. He stiffened and looked out the window. “I can’t comment on an in-vestigation.”
Falcone smiled like an uncle who knows a child’s Christmas gift. “You’re the most junior assistant dis-trict attorney, and this is a notorious case.
How could they pick you? Is that the sum of your mind right now?”
Dent didn’t answer.
Falcone pushed. “Suppose you get the job.”
Dent said nothing.
Falcone continued, “Arturo is a friend. It’d be a comfort if this case happened to go away.”
Dent was icy before, but this made him angry. He pounded the table. “If you’re trying to influence me to throw the case, then you better think again, Mr. Falcone. Midas himself couldn’t buy this one, the city will back the prosecution to the hilt.”
Walter Brown nodded regretfully.
Falcone didn’t react to this violence. “Nothing like that, Mr. Dent. No, Arturo should face trial and feel the full penalty of the law. When I say the case should go away, I only wish it were tried in a different, how do you say, jurisdiction.”
The fire in Dent cooled, but he remained suspicious. “What jurisdiction?”
“I see from the paper that this crime was made in many places. One of them is Canada.”
Dent was incredulous. “You want him to be tried in Canada?”
“Is this not possible? Would they not punish him fair?”
Dent stared at Falcone, thinking with clenched teeth. “It’s not impossible. But there’s no prerogative to try him in a foreign court when he’s in custody here, the worst changes were committed here, his case is already built here, and most of the witnesses are here.”
“But it’s not impossible.”
“Strictly speaking, no.”
“Are you worried they don’t have enough evidence to convict?”
“I can’t comment on that.”
“I imagine the Canadian court wants their shot at him.”
“I’m sure they’d love it. But we have no reason to extradite Arturo.”
Falcone smiled and again steepled his fingers. “Then perhaps I can provide one.”
Dent scrutinized him for several silent seconds. “If Bertinelli is in Canadian prison, it would be twice as hard to make him testify later against his American criminal associates later. We’d have no leverage.”
“I don’t know what associates you mean.”
“Forget it, Falcone, I’m not doing it.”
“Not freely, perhaps.”
“And what’s that mean?”
Falcone turned to Walter Brown. “The city could compel the District Attorney to make this move, I think.”
Dent glared at both of them. “No way.”
Walter hesitated. “Maybe. But we’d be losing a heck of a lot of good publicity, not to mention folk like the victims might make noise. This is a real honey of a story. I can’t imagine any reason we'd give that up.”
“Then let me imagine for you,” said Falcone. “I understand there is a construction contract for warships that our city is competing for.”
Admiral Cornwell, who was busy cutting a bite of of his just-arrived meal, perked up at this, but Walter answered. “The new destroyer program, yes. We’ve been in talks for years.”
Falcone nodded. “And competition is harsh?”
“There are six other cities bidding on it. Gotham isn’t doing well. We have the facilities and the skilled labor, but with the bump in our cost of living, we can’t compete on price.”
“I suppose if Gotham won this contract, that would be a great boon.”
Dent interjected, “Especially with a stake in the shipyards and steel mills.”
Falcone didn’t react to the barb. Walter answered Falcone’s question, “Winning would be wonderful. Millions in tax revenue. Hundreds employed.” He scratched his ear. “I suppose the mayor’s office might be able to convince the DA to boot a felon over the border if they saw the destroyer deal was in the bag.”
Dent pointed a finger at Walter. “I don’t know who you are, but don’t you dare collaborate with this-.”
Falcone held out a hand. “Gentlemen, please-”
Admiral Cornwell spoke up, “Just what makes you think you can win the contract, Mr. Falcone?”
Falcone answered, “I enjoy two advantages. One, I have some influence with our shipwright’s union. If I call in a favor, the union renegotiates their wages, and Gotham’s bid drops to a more competitive rate.”
Walter looked concerned. “Forgive me, Mr. Falcone, I’m no accountant, but that’s just, I mean, the union has been bargaining hard on this for a long time. I don’t see what you could possibly offer to make it worth their while.”
Falcone stared at him with the lightest touch of rebuke. “Respectfully, Mr. Brown, that’s my problem.”
Walter blanched. “Sure, sure, but even if our bid matches to the rest of the pack, that just gives Gotham the same shot as the other ports, it doesn’t mean we’ll win the contract. The rest is politics.”
Falcone smiled. “And here lies my second advantage. Admiral, I’m told you hold sway with the procurement board. If you said a few words into the right ears, could you decide this contract?”
Admiral Cornwell didn’t equivocate. “Yes.”
Falcone looking him calmly in the eye. “Can I convince you to deicide it in our favor?”
The Admiral studied him back. “I don’t know. Can you?”
Dent scoffed to the air. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this.”
Carmine Falcone paused in thought, then he rose, adjusted the rose in his lapel, straightened a suit sleeve, and strode around the table to stand beside Admiral Cornwell. The Admiral looked up, putting down his knife and fork and crossing his arms. Falcone leaned down and whispered in his ear, “I know where to find der Wehrwolf
The Admiral stared ahead, impassive until his mouth slowly fell open. He swallowed and croaked, “Sold.”
There was silence from the rest of the table. Finally, Harvey Dent asked in exasperation, “Why am I even here?”
Falcone looked at him. “In case you felt like protesting our arrangement. Better you get it out of your system early. There are other ADAs, but having your name on the papers will add that extra cherry of credibility.”
“And what are you going to do to make me play along?”
“I’m not going to do anything. But your boss will.”
Dent threw his hands up. “That’s it. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.” He stood, slapping his napkin to the floor. “And I’m leaving.” He marched six steps toward the door then stopped. He turned back. “When does this balloon land?”
Falcone answered, “An hour and a half.”
Dent frowned. “I see.”
Walter Brown talked with his mouth full, “Try the lobster.”
Two hours later.
Amanda Waller dialed the phone at her desk. She clutched a telegram that had TOP SECRET stamped in red across it.
“Admiral, it’s Amanda. … Of course I read it; do you think I make social calls? … No, you were right to come to me. Thank you. … Yes, I’ll remember. What’s our source? … Again? … Really? … No, they’re not bad, but do think it’s credible? … Do all the legwork you want; I’m not holding my breath. … And aren’t they supposed to pass this information up as part of your little deal anyway? … Yes, but how would he know it’s a different priority? … Because you could count the number of people cleared on two hands, and none of them are Gotham gangsters. … Then look into it, Admiral. … Yes, we abso-lutely look gift horses in the mouth. … Then do it quietly. … Yes. … Yes. … I understand the urgency. …… A pair? ………… Now that you mention it, I might have just the team.”
That evening, Carmine Falcone stood in the spacious master bathroom of his beach home. He turned the brass faucet on his porcelain sink and splashed cool water on his face. His red dinner jacket was unbuttoned and his tie was loose. He faced his reflections in the tri-fold mirror, slapping more water against his cheeks. There was a glass of neat vermouth near the sink, an appetizing amber liquor Carmine favored on evenings when he was in a certain mood. He forced himself not to look at the vermouth. He refused. He was strong. Instead, he splashed more water on his face, looked up at the ceiling, looked forward again. He wouldn’t look at it. He squeezed his eyes tight.
Then in a rush, he snatched the glass, smashed it against the edge of the porcelain, and stabbed the bro-ken base at his throat.
He looked down. His arm had frozen like a seizure, holding the jagged edge of glass a hairsbreadth from his left jugular vein. The shattering had cut open a gash in his hand, and small lines of blood began to drip onto his collar. He felt pain but didn’t twitch. His body was completely still.
There was a slow clap behind him, then he heard an amused voice over his shoulder, “Not bad. I almost didn’t catch you there. Maybe next time, I think.”
Carmine continued to glare at his reflection. He responded in Italian, in a slow and malicious tone that no one had heard him use in years. “One day you’ll make a mistake. Pray you’ll choose to kill me then, or I will bring you such agony that death will be a mercy, and when you beg for it, I’ll feed you your tongue. Then I’ll get creative.”
The voice behind him sounded unconcerned. “Ja.
That will be a fun day. But not today, mein freund
.” Carmine found himself lowering the broken glass to the counter and washing his hands. “Not today.”
The bathroom door swung opened. It was one of his Carmine’s bodyguards. The big man noticed his boss alone at the sink and the vermouth splashed on the floor. “Forgive me, Don, I heard a noise.”
Carmine Falcone grinned sheepishly, “Guess these old hands aren’t so steady anymore, eh?”
“Right. Well, if everything’s good, I’ll go find a broom.”
Under the water, Carmine ran a thumb across his fresh cut, causing jolts of fresh pain.
“Yes, everything’s good.”