Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby LadyTevar » 2016-09-25 08:49pm

And wow.. that was a hell of a fight!
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-26 05:50am

It is particularly bad news that Wonder Woman interpreted Batman's answer to her question as "he's a sorceror uniquely able to lie while trapped in the golden lasso" rather than "that's actually the truth."

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby madd0ct0r » 2016-09-26 01:55pm

Its the pickiest of nitpicks, but the rebar speardosent work as a baseball bat. Because of its density, swinging a 2m long length of bar, under its own weight, gives you about the same springiness and deflection as the same diameter bamboo.

If it is small diameter bar, say up to 3/4 inch, then it would probably get bent in a big smooth arc with the kind of hits we're talking about. And the springiness and energy being taken out by the permenant bending mean the impact of the strike is like a heavy push than a sharp blow. If we assume there's some big beams going in over lorry doors or lifting points, there might be bigger bars available. Im not sure how large deformed bar in 1940s america could be produced. But bigger bars need much longer lengths to transfer all their capacity into the anchoring concrete. You would be unlikely to find a 2m long straight section of 1 inch bar. You might find a 6m section, or a two m L type bar. Tge latter could work in this scenario for hooking feet and jabbing the other end like a spear. The tip of the L would also strike harder since there's leg of tje bar behind it, but the shaft would still flex. An even better choice might be a section of pressured water steel pipe- this started to be used as the classic scaffold pipe around 1940s so would be on sites, is much stifferr than the same weight solid bar so hits harder, and would be about the right length in straight sections.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Elheru Aran » 2016-09-26 02:16pm

Rebar is also usually mild steel rather than high carbon; again, a very picky nitpick, all the rest is excellent :)
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-26 03:02pm

It occurs to me that rebar is designed to reinforce concrete- specifically concrete.

Since concrete is hard but brittle and takes compressive loads very well, logically you would want rebar to be steel that handles tension well. This suggests relatively flexible metal. Does that make sense?

Also, it is strongly implied that Batman picked this construction site specifically, deliberately arranged for construction to be effectively halted, familiarized himself with the site's layout, and probably cached weapons and supplies at strategically placed locations throughout the building, precisely so he'd have a place to retreat to if attacked by overwhelming force.* If a ten foot piece of steel bar is a weapon Batman might want to have handy in a fight, then the building is likely to have ten foot pieces of steel bar lying around, even if they're not normal things to have on a construction site.
____________________________

*Though I doubt he was thinking in terms of being attacked by an übermädchen** with a mind-control lasso, skin like soft, supple cement and a right cross like getting hit by a car.

**Analogous to 'übermensch,' but feminine, translating as 'supergirl' rather than 'superman.' I picked 'mädchen' because it begins with an M like 'mensch.' It is the German word cognate with the English word 'maiden.'

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Elheru Aran » 2016-09-26 03:08pm

It's certainly not impossible to whistle up steel made to spec, especially if you have the money for it; I can see some applications where you might want high-carbon tempered rebar, for example (though I have no idea how that would work in reinforcing concrete since I imagine the concrete would fracture well before the limits of the rebar were particularly tested).

So it's certainly not impossible that Bruce might have arranged the whole situation there, especially if he happens to be a partner in a number of firms around Gotham...
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-26 03:30pm

Yeah.

Stewart wrote:The one trait [Batman] shared with the winged mammals was a fantastic ability to track prey in the dark by sound. Batman lived and breathed this skill. He was perhaps the best in the world, but unlike the bat his prowess was limited to the living, moving things. Inanimate objects didn't make enough noise. He had to move cautiously in the dark, lest he knock over a flower pot whenever he entered a window.

This was a burden on his methods, so he found exceptions. Batman learned early on how vital it was to establish safe hideaways. GothCorp had quietly paused construction here a year ago as part of an accounting scheme... its crews worked two days a month. Anything worth looting was long gone, so the company didn't bother with security. The area was too remote for squatters. It had a direct route to a sewer hub, and best of all, it was the sort of crowded, irregular environment where his tactics thrived. Familiarity was the exception. Batman could elude half a dozen pursuers for an hour in a place like this. Once he had committed the layout to memory - another mastered art - he could jog blind without breaking a cobweb.
While Batman may not have specifically been responsible for the layout of the construction site or the fact that construction has been paused, he may have been, and he's certainly taking advantage of the situation. Caching supplies here would be a logical move for him since this is a designated hideaway for him.

I'm surprised the power drill was still there, given the looting issue. Maybe they missed it.

I also just noticed that bit where Batman cuffed Wonder Woman's legs together. I'm guessing this iteration of Wonder Woman, despite making her debut at about the same time, doesn't quite share the original Marston version's extraordinary vulnerability to being tied up... But then, I'm guessing this author isn't quite as into that as Marston was. Not many are :D

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby madd0ct0r » 2016-09-27 04:00am

Elheru Aran wrote:It's certainly not impossible to whistle up steel made to spec, especially if you have the money for it; I can see some applications where you might want high-carbon tempered rebar, for example (though I have no idea how that would work in reinforcing concrete since I imagine the concrete would fracture well before the limits of the rebar were particularly tested).

So it's certainly not impossible that Bruce might have arranged the whole situation there, especially if he happens to be a partner in a number of firms around Gotham...



high carbon steel is like aircraft grade aluminium (also present in the text) - they're brainbug phrases for a material that has a specific, quite niche use, but due to associations of quality have entered the general language. You would never use high carbon rebar since high carbon steel is basically harder but more brittle - excellent for knifes, but terrible for reinforcing concrete since you are using the steel there in tension. A ductile steel allows local overstress to be redistributed, and failure of the entire beam is less dangerous - the beam slowly creaks and sags and crack open in ductile failure, giving time to evacuate. There must have been a few cases, probably around this time period, of brittle failure in over reinforced beams that influenced current design codes. http://expeditionworkshed.org/workshed/ ... te-beam-2/


For the sort of thing described, if we're allowing Batman to stash tools:
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Steel-Pry-Bar-5 ... SwPe1T3cX-

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/6-2KG-5-Foot- ... 1994383808

gets you the right length, shape, strength and high carbon tip.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-27 10:26pm

Simon_Jester wrote:Huh. I'm not sure that "not technically harmful" observation about the Meat Pool applies for people with open wounds and cuts and bloody bruises...


Sort of a lesser of two evils situation for him at the moment. And her immune system cheats.

To be fair, I suspect there really would be some danger by the gas concentration of putrescine or cadaverine or sulfur or something.

LadyTevar wrote:It is particularly bad news that Wonder Woman interpreted Batman's answer to her question as "he's a sorceror uniquely able to lie while trapped in the golden lasso" rather than "that's actually the truth."


It would detract from the story to explore Diana's psychology too much here, but the lasso is a fairly new tool for her, and I'd say it's forgivable for her to assume the worst about a guy who, in the past hour: (A) was suggested to be supernatural by a well-informed local, (B) was confirmed as evil by her closest friend, (C) beat up a middle-aged man, and (D) tried to gouge out her eyes.

LadyTevar wrote:And I learn something NEW! :)


And knowing is half the battle.

madd0ct0r wrote:It is particularly bad news that Wonder Woman interpreted Batman's answer to her question as "he's a sorceror uniquely able to lie while trapped in the golden lasso" rather than "that's actually the truth."


madd0ct0r wrote:Its the pickiest of nitpicks, but the rebar speardosent work as a baseball bat. Because of its density, swinging a 2m long length of bar, under its own weight, gives you about the same springiness and deflection as the same diameter bamboo.

If it is small diameter bar, say up to 3/4 inch, then it would probably get bent in a big smooth arc with the kind of hits we're talking about. And the springiness and energy being taken out by the permenant bending mean the impact of the strike is like a heavy push than a sharp blow. If we assume there's some big beams going in over lorry doors or lifting points, there might be bigger bars available. Im not sure how large deformed bar in 1940s america could be produced. But bigger bars need much longer lengths to transfer all their capacity into the anchoring concrete. You would be unlikely to find a 2m long straight section of 1 inch bar. You might find a 6m section, or a two m L type bar. Tge latter could work in this scenario for hooking feet and jabbing the other end like a spear. The tip of the L would also strike harder since there's leg of tje bar behind it, but the shaft would still flex. An even better choice might be a section of pressured water steel pipe- this started to be used as the classic scaffold pipe around 1940s so would be on sites, is much stifferr than the same weight solid bar so hits harder, and would be about the right length in straight sections.


I imagined it having some springiness, like a bamboo spear, with a fair part of the force coming from the short whipping motion. Though I'll defer to your expertise. Come to think of it, a leaded steel pipe may make more sense. If it's good enough for Clue...

Elheru Aran wrote:Rebar is also usually mild steel rather than high carbon; again, a very picky nitpick, all the rest is excellent :)


An excellent point, and one that I should have known better.

Simon_Jester wrote:It occurs to me that rebar is designed to reinforce concrete- specifically concrete.

Since concrete is hard but brittle and takes compressive loads very well, logically you would want rebar to be steel that handles tension well. This suggests relatively flexible metal. Does that make sense?

Also, it is strongly implied that Batman picked this construction site specifically, deliberately arranged for construction to be effectively halted, familiarized himself with the site's layout, and probably cached weapons and supplies at strategically placed locations throughout the building, precisely so he'd have a place to retreat to if attacked by overwhelming force.* If a ten foot piece of steel bar is a weapon Batman might want to have handy in a fight, then the building is likely to have ten foot pieces of steel bar lying around, even if they're not normal things to have on a construction site.
____________________________

*Though I doubt he was thinking in terms of being attacked by an übermädchen** with a mind-control lasso, skin like soft, supple cement and a right cross like getting hit by a car.

**Analogous to 'übermensch,' but feminine, translating as 'supergirl' rather than 'superman.' I picked 'mädchen' because it begins with an M like 'mensch.' It is the German word cognate with the English word 'maiden.'


I do think of rebar as mildly flexible. Hold it horizontally, it droops under its own weight.

No, he didn't deliberately arrange for the site's construction to be halted. For one thing, that would be a huge pain to all the innocents involved (future employees, investors, etc.). More importantly, that would be like preparing a candle in a volcano - Gotham City has no shortage of huge industrial buildings in states of incompleteness or decay. The city is the economic equivalent of Charlie Sheen: abundantly dysfunctional, full of rocketing highs and lows, yet paradoxically very productive. It is the world's finest example of creative destruction (a term coined in 1942).

Also, while he might cache supplies, all the items he uses here are found "naturally". Besides, a long steel bar would be low on his priority list to keep in store. It's not a weapon style he's expert in, it's the best option in only the rarest situations, and it's difficult to use to full effect without killing someone.

Incidentally, the notion that her flesh is like cement was a subtle reference to one of her origins. What's a key ingredient in cement? Clay.

übermädchen. Thoughtful.

Simon_Jester wrote:I'm surprised the power drill was still there, given the looting issue. Maybe they missed it.


Sure, let's go with that.

Simon_Jester wrote:I also just noticed that bit where Batman cuffed Wonder Woman's legs together. I'm guessing this iteration of Wonder Woman, despite making her debut at about the same time, doesn't quite share the original Marston version's extraordinary vulnerability to being tied up... But then, I'm guessing this author isn't quite as into that as Marston was. Not many are :D


The Marquis de Sade wasn't as into that as Marston was.

Image
Image
Image
Image

According to the man, Marston wanted to see Wonder Woman bound in every comic as a chance for her to emancipate herself. It was symbolic.

Okay.

madd0ct0r wrote:high carbon steel is like aircraft grade aluminium (also present in the text) - they're brainbug phrases for a material that has a specific, quite niche use


I was under the impression that aircraft grade aluminum, aka, aluminum alloy 6061 (developed in 1935) was a metal with many diverse uses, not niche. In this case, it's very light, non-corrosive, strong enough against compression and torsion to resist the relevant dangers, and easily worked by extrusion and forging into irregular shapes like those seen in armor.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6061_aluminium_alloy
Author: Batman 1939
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-27 10:32pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 6: And You Thought Your Commute Was Bad​


Captain Steve Trevor, United States Army Air Force, entered the Twelfth Street Arms with the cowboy swagger that came with defying gravity for a living and carrying a loaded weapon in public. He was trying to think of a decent line to brush off the receptionist when the kid called to him, "Hey, hey buddy! Are you a sailor?"

Steve stopped in spite of himself and turned to the kid. He realized his green uniform must be visible under his open coat. He considered for a moment how divorced from basic culture a person had to be to think that Navy sailors - who visited Gotham by the hundreds - wore green.

"Maybe."

"Great, listen," The kid scrambled over the reception desk. "You need to come with me."

Steve was wary. "Says who?"

"Mr. Bertinelli said that if any sailors or anyone in uniform stops by, I'm suppos'ta to show them his room."

"You said Bertinelli? Shucks, kid, lead the way. That's who I'm here to see."

"Swell." The receptionist flipped a small sign on his desk that read "Smoke Break - Back in 10 Minutes" then led Steve up the stairs.

"He's in his room. I sent your partner up awhile ago."

Steve stopped on the second staircase. "Hold on. What partner?"

"You know, the lady. She said she was with the Army. Had this shiny get-up instead of a uniform, though."

"Was she tall?"

"Crazy tall."

"Dark hair?"

"Uh-huh."

"Sort of a metal swimsuit?"

"That's her."

Steve's expression turned strange. The receptionist scratched his neck uncomfortably. "So ... is she not in the Army?"

The crowd was gone when they reached the fourth floor. Arturo was sitting out in the hall, still wearing his bloodied pajamas, drinking wine from the bottle with one hand and resting the other under a bag of frozen broccoli. The receptionist awkwardly excused himself. Steve walked over. "Arturo Bertinelli?"

Arturo looked dog-tired. He turned and slurred, "Yeah. You the one with Super-thighs?"

"Suppose I am." He noticed Arturo's bruises and broken fingers. "What happened to you?"

Arturo frowned. "Batman happened to me. Came though the damned brick wall." He shivered. "Can you believe that? Straight outta'da bricks. Knocked me around, but dollface shows up, rips my steel door outta ta floor, right outta ta floor, and scares 'em out the window in the room over there." Arturo coughed and held his ribs. "Listen, I don't know her story, but she's got some pepper that don't come factory standard, know what I mean? Who knows what you khaki types been cookin' up? So even though she's a dame, I say, 'go give him a pounding, toots'. See, cause I didn't know when Batman was coming back. I was hurt. So the lady makes wise and jumps out the window after him."

"When?"

"I don't know, twenty minutes ago? Look, get me out before Batman gets back. Can't drive with my hand gimped."

"Alright, easy does it." Steve took the bottle away and pulled Arturo to his feet. "No one's getting a dirt nap on my watch. And due respect, buddy, but if my partner went after him, this bat character isn't spending the night anywhere but a hospital."

Arturo stretched his back and winced. "Pfff. A hospital. Where you from, kid? Cause I know it ain't Gotham Fricken' City."

Steve let Arturo sling an arm over his shoulders. "It's getting on my nerves how people keep asking me that."

"Well, suck it up, sunflower, and listen close. I dunno who your broad is, and I don't know what cuckoo muscle juice you put in her lemonade, but I know the Bat, and the Bat don't stop. So unless you brought ten buddies with gats, we need to be making some tracks veloce, capisci?"

"Tell it to Mussolini, friend. Here we speak American."

---​

Batman trained more as a sprinter than a marathoner, but on a good day he could easily cover five miles and call it a warmup.

When he crawled out of the basin of old rainwater and old blood below the Meat Pool, he managed to stumble four steps before collapsing.

Today was not a good day.

Time passed. Batman eventually came to his senses, laying on the cold floor in the middle of a long smear of blood. He often dreamed of finding himself like this, but in his dreams, the blood was always his. He managed to roll to his side. The chamber was almost completely dark. He found it difficult to piece together the specific events of the evening through his headache, and he felt terribly parched. Everything ached. There were two bumps in his mouth where teeth used to be. One hand was missing its skin, and he couldn't move his neck.

Batman found his belt with his relatively good hand. He pulled out his multi-tool and unfolded a knife. Reaching as gingerly as he could manage, Batman began to cut through the straps of his prototype armor. He slit the braces from his arms and the greeves from his legs. He chiseled the helmet fixture off his cowl. Batman left these cracked pieces of armor on the floor. He wanted to remove the heavy breastplate most of all, but that impossible woman had dented it inward. He doubted he could remove it without bolt cutters and a crowbar.

Batman cherished his tools like an artisan. It upset him to break parts of his armor and leave them here. A necessity, but a shame none the less. He had put so much time and care into each one. Two years ago, a supplier of police and fire equipment in Star City named Makepeace Provisions quietly came under new management. The firm staffed a new office to plan a line of protective gear and solicited design proposals for three projects: a suit to protect park rangers and zookeepers while handling large animals, a suit to protect cops during riots, and a suit to protect rescue workers who worked around collapsed mines, shipwrecks, earthquakes, landslides, and other unstable sites. Dozens of proposals poured in from companies and amateur inventors, and some were very clever indeed. Makepeace Provisions commissioned prototypes to test the more promising entries, and these results were scrupulously recorded. Five models went into production. Only two turned a profit, but that wasn't the point.

Two and a half years ago, an anonymous donor to the Smithsonian funded a special exhibit on the history of armor. Antique dealers and archaeologists crossed the world to commission master craftsman who made historic designs or, if the authentic style was lost, the best replicas. Simply finding these masters was an adventure, as a few lived in remote villages or belligerent nations. The Smithsonian even sought a few types that no one living even tried to reproduce. In those cases, the fund brought experts to collections across the Americas to study the originals and reinvent the craft as best they could. The advertised purpose of the whole endeavor was a nationwide tour, with over forty designs - Byzantine, Japanese, Celtic, Nubian, Moro, Spanish and many others utilizing every kind of fiber, hide, and metal - with enough duplicates to feature in nine museums at once. When the tour was over, one set of the exhibit was kept for permanent circulation, and all the spares were sold to Makepeace Provisions. Consultants were hired to test the duplicates: fencers, stuntmen, military historians, former palace guards, and a few questionable characters best described as 'professional adventurers'. Once the consultants put the armors through their paces, the pieces were scientifically deconstructed (i.e., destroyed with various weapons) to catalog the endless refinements that a hundred generations of craftsmen had devised. It was easily the most comprehensive study of its kind, and Makepeace Provisions combined it with the lessons of many older texts as well as their own experience building special safety suits to write the Protective Garment Manuel, a 400 page design guide for their next product line. The PGM was dripping with trade secrets, so only five copies were ordered. However, the publisher quietly made a sixth copy, and it was stolen that same night.

The PGM represented centuries of combined experience and thousands of man-hours of effort, but it still took Batman three months to tailor a design for his own purposes, a week to decide what parts he could fabricate and what had to be subcontracted, then another two weeks to actually build the thing. And now? Now it was cut to pieces and bent like a tuna can. Now it was covered in dead pig. Sure, making a new one would be simple enough, but that thought brought no comfort at the moment. He wished he could rub his eyes.

When Batman finally stood, it was a multi-stage affair. Every successive joint risked buckling like a newborn fawn. He finally made it to both feet and paused to breathe. Each breath threatened to break into a racking cough. He reached for the belt pouch where he usually kept gauze, but the pouch was empty. He remembered that tonight's tools had been entirely offensive. His maniacal focus before this mission made his usual preparation seem lackadaisical. And his chief priority tonight - his obsession - had been that he would not fail for lack of firepower. It made sense at the time.

Typically, if the Dark Knight found himself in the middle of a sewer with severe injuries and no medical supplies, he would regret whatever decision-making brought him there. But tonight's cruel irony was that he had played his cards perfectly; he had indeed needed all those weapons. He had done everything right and still looked like he stepped in front of a bus.

Of course, sprains and bruises would heal. Batman's real concern was his open wounds had been soaking in the least-sanitary goo on the planet. Batman knew his epidemiology, and it wasn't a topic he studied as a detective. Disease was rarely relevant to crime, but diseases were very relevant to young men who spend years traveling alone through the world's dirtiest cities and wildernesses. Batman wasn't sure what pathogens could be found in a thousand gallons of meat slurry that had been sitting outdoors for a month, but he bet the list wasn't pleasant.

---​

The Amazons lived on the island nation of Themyscira. Technically, the land itself was known as Paradise Island, but this geographic title was mostly saved for formal ceremonies. The Amazons were a proud, not terribly subtle people, but even they admitted that calling their land "Paradise" was a tad pretentious. The only group who called it that on a regular basis was Themyscira's farmers. They were also the only Amazons who ever mastered irony. Paradise Island was mostly lush forest and rocky hills, and both were extraordinarily difficult terrain to plow by hand. And plowing by hand was the only option for most. The Amazons raised horses and asses, but their land had so few wild meadows that most beasts of burden had to be fed from a farm's own harvest, nearly defeating the purpose. If the Amazon's weren't such adept fisherwomen, half the island would surely starve. They had intimate knowledge of these limitations, and their population had remained steady for centuries.

So when Princess Diana traveled to Man's World, her first great surprise was how many men there were. There was an abundance of stories about Man's World in Themyscira, but the stories never used demographic projections. Diana had been under the hazy impression that the largest kingdoms of the world held perhaps half a million subjects, and only a few cities in all civilization housed, say, ten thousand residents. When she arrived in America, her first sight of a simple apartment block stunned her. The notion that a hundred people could live in the same building was unacceptable. It seemed the masses must be penned slaves. But no, they weren't living in filth (thanks to indoor plumbing and soap), and, more incredibly, they had plenty to eat (thanks to tractors, refrigeration, canning, chemical fertilizer, and countless other tools).

Diana soon earned a library card, and her surprise became existential dread. There were two billion people in the world. Billion, a number she didn't know existed. The Amazons - though mistresses of charity and love - were undoubtedly the finest warriors alive, but if the Patriarch nations could muster even a thousandth of their brood and arm each with a mere stick, then her sisters wouldn't stand a chance.

In hindsight, she may have reacted poorly to this news.

Worse, Man's World had much more to offer than sticks. Even now, Diana still didn't understand all the systems that ran America (allegedly the foremost Patriarch nation). Coming from rocky Themyscira, perhaps the most marvelous mystery was its food supply. Diana had yet to visit a farm or ranch, and many steps between dirt and plate were unknown to her. For instance, she hadn't considered the consequences of mass-producing livestock.

In a mental fog, Wonder Woman climbed hand-over-hand up a chain to the top of the Meat Pool. Her vision had mostly returned, and her twisted ankle was now a dull tenderness. There was a still a terrible burn in her hip and across her throat. Most of all, she was exhausted. When Diana reached the top, she was dimly aware of four slaughterhouse workers gaping at her. She knew that she was an imposing woman; she didn't consider that she was slathered in gore. One approached and said something, perhaps an offer to help, but she couldn't hear words through her fog and walked past him. A short man grabbed her wrist. Wonder Woman casually pulled it away, tossing him to the floor. Another man ran up and tried to hold her arm. She stopped and delivered a quick headbutt. He struck the ground hard, clutching his nose. Wonder Woman readjusted her tiara and continued. No one else in the plant disturbed her. She reached the entrance and started walking down an unknown road.

In minutes, a police car pulled beside Wonder Woman and pulsed its siren. Two officers stepped out, both men. She had regained enough sense to glean a few of their words: 'trespass' ... 'disturbance' ... 'mental' ... 'family' ... 'cuts' ... 'homeless'. Wonder Woman waited as they talked; she had nowhere to go anyway. The officers' tone told her that they were growing impatient. Wonder Woman struggled to focus on their questions and tried to mumble a response, but her mind was elsewhere.

As the officers raised their voices, a teenage girl approached on the sidewalk behind them, almost a shadow in the moonlight. Wonder Woman idly watched the girl creep towards the police car. Wonder Woman didn't know much about cars, but she knew its engine was running. Wonder Woman was about to say something when one of the officers snapped his fingers in her face and ordered her to pay attention. The girl climbed in the car and slammed the door. By the time the officers reacted, she had the pedal to the floor. The tires squealed. Before they found traction, Wonder Woman stepped forward and lifted the front of the police car a few inches off the ground. The teenager saw her though the windshield and screamed, revving the engine again and again to no effect. Wonder Woman glared back and nodded away from the car.

Eventually, the girl opened the door, stumbled out, and sprinted away. When the tires spun to a stop, Wonder Woman lowered the car and wiped her forehead. She sat on the hood, leaving a bloody silhouette of her bottom, and realized the two police officers were yelling and pointing their weapons at her, and another pair was running up the street. Wonder Woman frowned.

---​

Batman spent many evenings below Gotham City, but he was sure that he hadn't seen a twentieth of the underground. Its endless paths were largely unmapped and frequently dangerous. An explorer could spend weeks seeking an entrance to the more obscure routes. Batman could at least say he was familiar with the underground's major thoroughfares, and among these the tunnels under the food-packing district were Gotham's subterranean Main Street.

The Dark Knight recognized long ago that he would often be stuck as he was now: tired, likely injured, on the run, outgunned, and separated from an easy means of escape. One of his solutions was to set up small camps across the city where he could hide and rest. Given the area's prime underground location, one of these camps was a quarter of a mile from the Meat Pool.

Occasionally, a streetlamp would filter in through a storm drain above, but most of the path didn't brush the surface so he walked in darkness. This was just as well: the bruises on his face were swelling one eye shut. He moved like an invalid, struggling to balance with petty half-steps. It was the slowest quarter mile he had ever traveled.

Batman's camp was in an unused side tunnel just wider than his shoulders. He knew he had arrived when he stepped on his cardboard bed.

He lit the lamp on the floor. When he called his camps small, he wasn't exaggerating. Two layers of cardboard formed a mattress. There was also a pillow, a blanket, the lamp, and a metal tackle box. He sat on the cardboard and opened the tackle box. One side had food and a jar of water. The other side was an impressive medical kit.

Spoiled meat held two varieties of disease: endogenous and exogenous. Those the animal caught while living were endogenous. This included nearly every veterinary bug from anthrax to tapeworms, but modern oversight ensured that bad endogenous cases rarely reached the slaughterhouse. Exogenous diseases infected the meat after it was meat. These were less varied and typically not as severe, but they were impossible for regulation to eliminate since many cases were caused by in the customer's own home. Meat did not stay fresh in the open, yet certain people have chosen to test this fact since the dawn of time. Exogenous threats were usually bacterial or fungal, which greatly simplified the issue.

Batman had twenty penicillin pills in his kit. He crushed seven in his hand and swallowed them with a swig of water. There were potential side effects, but it was virtually impossible to overdose on antibiotics. That just left fungal, and fungal was rare enough to ignore.

His teeth - or the lack thereof - were a mild concern. Growing up, his second home had been a boxing gym, and most of his primary teeth had fallen out on impact. So far, he had lost six of his adult teeth the same way (plus a seventh by rot, courtesy of a gulag's dental system). Two of these he recovered in time to reinstall. The other five were fake. Tonight's pair had both been fakes. As far as his open wounds were concerned, they weren't high priorities.

He cleaned and wrapped his wounds as best he could, drank a can of cold tomato soup, then went to sleep.

---​

Captain Steve Trevor, USAAF, drove carefully up Twelfth Street. Arturo Bertinelli, struggling caporegime of the Bertinelli crime family, rode shotgun.

Steve said, "I'm surprised they're running informants here in the States. What do they have you spying on?"

Arturo said nothing.

Steve chuckled. "I know how it is. Forget I asked. So where do I drop you off?"

To Steve's surprise, Arturo gave this question deep thought. "Are you on a deadline?"

"No. It'd be nice to get a few winks before sunrise, heh, but I guess I'm at your disposal, kemosabe."

"How far can we go?"

"About fifty miles on this tank. If you mean you want to leave town, I'd have to ask my superiors. And I'd need to check in with my partner."

Arturo thought silently again. "Do you know where Hoxton Station is?"

"Can't say that I do."

"I'll show you. Take a left here."

"Mm-kay."

"Woah, slow down, slow down."

"What?"

"Hold on a second ... ah geez."

"What?"

"The clock on that window. Is it really almost one-thirty?"

"Sounds about right."

"Hey, I bet you want to check in with that partner real soon, eh? Eh?" Arturo made a lewd grin and elbowed Steve's arm.

Steve smiled a little. "I guess so."

"I mean, yowzah! If I weren't a married man, right?"

"Whatever you say."

Arturo leaned in. "So how's about this? Forget the speed signs. You get us there fast, and we both get what we want."

"What's the rush?"

"Listen, there's a train that stops at Hoxton at two. We can make it there, but we really have to burn rubber."

"Just how fast do you mean?"

"Thirty-five. Forty."

"Forty! Traffic's going twenty-six! I don't know, buddy. It'd be my hide if I got pulled over while I'm on the job."

"Ah, the law ain't for squat here. The fuzz's too busy getting their take and munching doughnuts to play traffic cop. And not to brag, but I'm kind of a big shot in these parts." Arturo jabbed at his chest. "You won't have trouble with this mug beside you."

"No can do."

"Ain't you said you was a pilot?"

"I didn't tell you that."

"Well I can tell by that pins you got. What would the other pilots think if they heard you were a chicken?"

"Excuse me?"

"A yellow-bellied little chicken scared of a little horsepower."

"Are you trying to goad me by calling me names?"

"Come on, pal. We gotta make quick. I have news to share with our bosses in person, see? And that's a few states away."

"You could have mentioned that earlier."

"I didn't want to share. It's a secret, but it's real important. It's ... it's for America."

"Well, alright. Hold on."

---​

As Batman rested on the floor, a rat ran past his foot. He stirred but thought nothing of it. Several minutes later, three rats scampered over his legs, quickly disappearing down the path behind him. Batman grimaced against the inevitable headache, took a deep breath, and sat up. He could faintly hear an endless patter of tiny footsteps in the many pipes and sluices around. There was a constant rustling through the walls. He lit his lamp. A rat appeared through the dim and sat on his knee. It chittered at him, and he shook it away. The creature ran. Soon all the rustling stopped, and the air was silent. A long chuckle echoed through the forking tunnels ahead.

Batman rose to his feet, leaning against the wall to steady himself. All at once, he could hear - could practically feel -a wave of motion nearby. The weak light gave substance to a low black mass as far down the tunnel as he could see. It didn't rise above ankle-height, but it covered the floor from wall to wall like an ink spill, and it was moving towards him. He turned and saw there was an identical mass approaching from the other direction. Batman picked up a short lead pipe left from some old maintence job. Still using the wall for support, he held the pipe like a club.

At five yards, Batman could see that the moving mass was a mob of rats. There had to be hundreds. His boots and pants were sturdy enough against some rat bites, but his hands and part of his face were exposed. Rats could jump three feet in the air and were great climbers. If they just bounced off his legs, he would be fine. If more than a few hung on and climbed, he would be in trouble. What if he tried to rush past? He couldn't see the end of the pack, but he was sure the horde couldn't extend further than twenty or so feet. Only so many hundreds of rats could live in one place. That was simple ecology. On the other hand, he had thought their current behavior was impossible too, so perhaps he ought to toss the textbook entirely. Could he run through a swarm that thick? Or would the living tide of vermin trip him? His odds were bad enough standing, but he was clearly a goner if he fell.

He mentally recited his few remaining tools. None seemed appropriate. He glanced at the lead pipe. Fat lot of good a club would do.

Batman almost never used sarcasm or idiomatic phrases, even to himself, but he used to have a welding teacher who loved to say that things were "A fat lot of good", and once in a blue moon the phrase came to mind.

The rats grew silent and still. Batman saw a tiny glow in the distance. He thought to turn off his lamp but decided the illumination would give more than it took away. He wasn't going anywhere. The glow grew closer and became a figure who stopped just behind the first line of rats. The man was short, and every aspect of him seemed unhealthy. His skin was pale and splotchy, and his posture was terrible. The man wore a heavy coat and heavy boots. The glow came from a lantern he carried. His face was hidden behind a Great War-vintage baggy gas mask with round lenses, and he wore a construction helmet.

The stranger put the lantern on the floor, casting eerie shadows from below. He loosened the gas mask and let it hang around his neck. It was hard to guess the man's age, but he was squinty and scruffy, and his dirty hair was starting to thin.

The man spoke with a wheeze. "Well. Well. Well. How unexpected. I wondered what poor tramp made this bed, but you don't look like any bum I've seen. I-" He coughed. "What is that? "Oh! Oh, dear Lord. What is that smell? Uruggh! It's like my nose hairs are being scoured with dynamite! How- how is that possible? Uuggh. I live in a literal rat's nest, and you are by far the worst thing I've ever smelled, sir. You are abominable." He fit his gas mask back on his face, muffling his voice. "So who are you?"

"Just passing through."

"Well, Mr. 'Through', if you were a nobody, I might let you be, but clearly you are not. You are a somebody. Somebody weird, no doubt, and faintly familiar, but still a somebody. And I make it my business to deal with somebodies."

"How?"

"If they look ritzy, I let them pay a toll and show them to door. But if they look suspicious, well, I might just feed them to the kids."

Batman stared at him in amazement. "You have children?"

"The rats, dummy. Do you have any idea how fast rats reproduce?"

Batman actually did. "No."

"Most are kids. 'Specially considering how young they die. Now why don't you put down that pipe before you start to look suspicious."

Batman bent slightly and started to lower the pipe, but then he took a quick step forward. He was far too slow. Before he took a second step, the swarms of rats behind and before him hissed viciously.

The man shook his head. "I know it's redundant to ask this of a guy sleeping in a sewer, but you aren't very wise, are you?"

Batman reluctantly dropped the pipe, riding the wave of pain across his back and limbs from that one urgent step. The stranger took a knee and let an especially large rat climb onto his shoulder. He whispered to the rat, and it leapt back into the crowd. After a brief commotion, four rats ran forward and pushed the pipe away, nudging it urgently with their paws and snouts.

Batman normally stayed aloof, but he after seeing this he couldn't help but ask, "You trained these rodents to follow commands?"

"Trained is a strong word. They're smarter than people give them credit for, and they're always listening."

Batman thought about this. It wasn't the strangest thing he had witnessed that night. "You talk to rats."

"Well, I'm the Ratcatcher, can't you tell?" The Ratcatcher started cackling like a goblin. "Now, again, what should I call you? I insist."

"What?"

The Ratcatcher spoke up. "I said, 'what should I call you?'"

Batman leaned forward. "Pardon?"

The Ratcatcher stepped forward. "I said-"

Batman pounced and grabbed his ear.

"Ow! Hey, drop my ear, man! Give me my sound cone back!"

The rats hissed again but kept their distance. Ratcatcher panicked and lifted the hem of his ragged coat, exposing the grip of a revolver down the front of his pants. He struggled to pull it past his waistband. Before he could remove it, Batman seized his wrist. Ratcatcher fought for a moment then froze, as if suddenly realizing where his weapon was pointed. Batman looked at him flatly.

The Ratcatcher stuck out his chin. "It's intimidating there."

Batman took the revolver. "Listen closely. I spend as little time here as possible, but when I'm here, you won't bother me. And when I'm not, you're not going to touch my belongings. If you don't follow these simple rules, then I'll take your ear again, and next time I won't give it back."

Batman let go of Ratcatcher and lifted the revolver. The Ratcatcher flinched, but Batman merely unloaded each bullet, letting them bounce off the floor, then tossed the empty weapon far into the darkness.

Ratcatcher looked at him oddly. "Wait, you are familiar."

"I doubt that."

"I've heard the stories. There's only one guy in town who throws away a perfectly good heater when he's caught in a jam. You're Batman!"

Batman said nothing.

"Gosh, I'm a big fan. You helped put away some guys I owed money to."

"If you want to return the favor, I'm be grateful if you called off your rats."

"Sure." He whistled, and hundreds of rats disappeared into the darkness. "Gee, running into you. What are the odds?"

"Not low enough."

"I mean, wow, Batman in the flesh. I thought you wore gloves?"

---​

Wonder Woman landed behind a statue in the courtyard of her hotel. She had calmed down. Some brisk exercise had cleared her head. Whatever anguish had been clouding her was gone. The police sirens were fading in the distance. What an embarrassment. Wonder Woman considered serenity a cardinal virtue. There was no shame in being hot-blooded if circumstances demanded action; indeed, that was valorous, but to stay incensed after a battle was over? Besides being unworthy of a diplomat, such crudeness was simply unregal. There was no greater self-criticism in her vocabulary. She had much to meditate on, but many responsibilities to fulfill before that. Now was not the time.

Wonder Woman checked around for onlookers. The courtyard was deserted. She held her arms out to her sides, made a quarter-turn as if winding to throw a discus, then began to spin. She turned like a top, faster and faster. On her third turn, there was a flash of groovy technicolor light and in Wonder Woman's place stood Diana Prince. The flecks of animal remains still stuck to her prior form had disappeared. This was a relief; she wasn't certain it would work like that. Her sense of smell was too numb to judge if the odor was also gone. It was a risk she had to accept.

Diana entered the hotel lobby. She passed a few guests and received no strange reactions. That was one fewer concern. Margret, the front desk clerk, greeted her as she passed. "Long night, dear?"

Diana smiled. "Very long, thank you."

"Well, you've best to bed then." Margret noticed something and gasped. "Heavens, what happened to your neck?"

Diana looked surprised and went to one of the ornate mirrors decorating the lobby. She thought the wound had faded, but she could still see a faint red burn. Diana frowned.

---​

"So you actually were a ratcatcher, Otis?"

Batman and the Ratcatcher sat against the moist wall. Batman would have preferred to leave, but he could still hear countless rodents chittering beyond the edge of the light. At the moment the safest move seemed to be polite, which in this case meant having a chat. He had to admit, on any other night, this conversation would be a fascinating opportunity.

"Not just a ratcatcher. The ratcatcher. I was the city's first man to call. And it's a really good racket in this town once you know the ropes. Never be short of work a day in your life in Gotham, even if you ain't the champ I was."

"What happened?"

"Got sick of killing rats. Never been much of a killer."

"I respect that."

"Plus I got sick literally. When they called me on the really bad cases, rabies scares and the like, my smooth tongue wasn't always good enough, so I had to use chemicals, strong ones. They're resilient little tykes."

"That's what damaged your voice."

"Yes, as a matter of fact. So what? And you sound like a horse dying, what's your excuse?"

"I was choked this evening."

"Oh. What happened?"

"Not much. The assailant crushing my trachea was very unprofessional."

"There's a choking profession?"

"For some reason they hesitated. It gave me time to stab them in the face with an incendiary tool."

Ratcatcher cringed. "Damn!" He threw up his arms. "Damn, boy, I heard you just jumped off of rafters and tackled people."

"Some nights."

"Damn. I don't even remember what we were talking about."

"You quit working for the city. What did you do then?"

"I fell apart, to be honest. Do a job long enough and it's all you know, you know? Eventually I realize maybe I can do something else with rats. At first I thought a stage show, but that didn't work. One day Patty, one of my first rats, she passed away recently, I sent Patty into a store to pick up a hat I left there. But rats make mistakes just like we do, and Patty comes back with some stranger's hat instead. Then it hit me."

Batman quietly sighed. "You could use your incredible gift to commit crimes."

"I could use my incredible gift to commit crimes! What a revelation. Bet no one's thought of that before. It took some trial and error: learning what the kids could carry, what items I could use or fence, how long they could remember instructions, what to do if they were caught, those kinds of problems. But I solved them. These days I make a decent living commanding an army of tiny pickpockets from the comfort of my living room. It's a sweet life if you don't mind rats."

"Have you considered using your rats for a higher purpose?"

"Well, I considered selling what I do as a weapon."

"You considered assaulting people for money."

"No! No, no. I'm no goon. Sure, I'll ask my rats to attack people personally, in self-defense. Sometimes even in self-offense-"

"That doesn't exist."

"-But I wouldn't make that into a service for just anyone, of course not. Please. I meant sending rats to infest a place. Insurance scams, real estate fraud, old-fashioned revenge. The opposite of a ratcatcher, come to think of it. I can shut down a restaurant in half an hour."

"But you didn't do it?"

"Didn't seem worth the risk, but you asked about a higher purpose, and I always felt it would be a more, uh, sophisticated use of my talents."

"By a higher purpose, I meant contributing to the social good. You have a unique ability. I'm sure it has many valuable applications."

"What's society ever done for me? Maybe when I've built up a nice nest egg to retire on. But now I'm strictly for-profit, bub. I will consider other business models if you have ideas, but I think I've tried most of them, everything from finding trinkets dropped down drains to eating garbage to running a messenger service."

"Messengers?"

"Sure. Rats are a great niche messenger service. Way more flexible than a carrier pigeon. The good ones will find any address in half a mile if your directions are good enough. Course you have to give the directions from their point of view, but tie a note to their back and Bob's your uncle. Then you just hope the receiver has the sense to take a note from a rat."

Batman thought for a minute. "I don't suppose you could give me a demonstration?"

"What do you have in mind?"

---​

Arturo Bertinelli settled into his train seat. Day trains in Gotham would not let someone in their dirty, ripped pajamas buy a ticket. Night trains could not be so picky. Arturo looked out the window and saw Steve Trevor on the platform. They made eye contact, and Arturo humored him with a sloppy salute. Steve chuckled and saluted back. The whistle sounded, and the train began to chug out of the station.

Steve sauntered to a pay phone and dialed the general.

"Sir, it's Captain Trevor. I'm calling to let you know-"

"Captain! Where are you? Have you found Arturo Bertinelli?"

"I found him, and-"

"Good. The mission has changed. Restrain Mr. Bertinelli immediately and call the police. He's to be taken into custody. If he resists, use all necessary force."

Steve looked at his feet and swallowed. "... About that."
Author: Batman 1939
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Feil
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Feil » 2016-09-27 10:46pm

Stewart M:

I miss Catwoman, but it's great to see this series continue!

I'll wait until I've read the whole thing to leave a proper review, but I have a suggestion for you. You seem to have a grammatical blind spot on the use of awhile; as such I suspect you've probably misused it several times that I've missed. I recommend that you run a selection search on your documents for the word, and in every case ask yourself, "Do I mean awhile as in for a while, or do I mean a while as in a moderate period of time?"

It could be worse. You could have my grammatical blind spot, and accidentally slip between past and present tense all the time. :P

Simon_Jester
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-28 06:07am

Yay!

Wonder Woman is lucky that her transformation (mostly) erases the consequences of the fight, or she'd be a first rate mess.

I hope Batman patches himself up okay...

Stewart M
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Posts: 110
Joined: 2016-08-22 06:09pm

Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-28 08:35pm

Feil wrote:Stewart M:

I miss Catwoman, but it's great to see this series continue!

I'll wait until I've read the whole thing to leave a proper review, but I have a suggestion for you. You seem to have a grammatical blind spot on the use of awhile; as such I suspect you've probably misused it several times that I've missed. I recommend that you run a selection search on your documents for the word, and in every case ask yourself, "Do I mean awhile as in for a while, or do I mean a while as in a moderate period of time?"

It could be worse. You could have my grammatical blind spot, and accidentally slip between past and present tense all the time. :P


I'm sure she misses you too.

If you're waiting for the very end, that might take awhile. You might consider sharing your thoughts at smaller intervals; I'll still read 'em.

Thank you for that correction. I'll bear it in mind.

Simon_Jester wrote:I hope Batman patches himself up okay...


Does that sound likely?
Author: Batman 1939
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Stewart M
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Posts: 110
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-28 08:52pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 7: Bigger Fish​


In the early 19th century, Gotham City built America's first passenger train. It was a timely invention: people previously traveled on horses, and the city's manure output was already fertilizing most of the state. However, passenger trains were only useful near people, and Gotham City was adding an extra city's worth of people every decade. Colonial beet farms became chic markets. Muddy land was dredged from the sea to build tenements. The railroad magnates struggled to keep pace, adding new lines almost yearly for decades. But as the shape of the city changed, some planners proposed that the most efficient way to improve traffic on the new lines was to close the old ones which were now on the city's periphery. This was a mistake. True, Old Gotham was not nearly as bustling as its heyday when the Whigs were in office, but a few crusty residents still used the original stops, and these residents could be awfully loud when their commute was threatened.

Influential voices who lived on streets older than the Constitution convinced city planners to instead detour many of the new rail lines through old stations. They argued that this would save money on construction. Stations were expensive, after all. This prevented those old stations from ever being decommissioned, but it also forced many trains through lengthy detours which could, in the worst cases, add half an hour to a five minute trip. The railroads responded by speeding up the trains and wasting less time on safety inspections, and for a while all the changes broke even.

But each fix merely delayed the inevitable. After several generations of rerouting and accelerating, Gotham's public transit was a maddening mess that was said to have inspired a visiting Franz Kafka. The trains routinely broke their own speed records. Several ancient stops served no local passengers at all. Fortunately, Gotham's tendency to approve foolish civil projects was matched only by its ingenuity at patching foolish civil projects. To shorten routes, local construction firms became world leaders in rail bridges, subways, and elevated trains. Special streetcars and funiculars connected lines where tracks couldn't fit. A child could travel at three elevations on a trip to school. When the roller coaster was invented, no city was less impressed.

By the 1920s, Gotham's train schedules finally approached sanity. The last sticky problem was the maps which were knottier than ever with the extra paths. Plans were drawn to streamline the mass transit system, but the Great Depression crippled them. Getting lost in a bad neighborhood became a tourist rite of passage, and robbing a tourist in a bad neighborhood became the most popular mugger hobby.

The night train Arturo Bertinelli rode out of Hoxton Station was on the Y1-N0 Line. That was its routing code for reasons that were too complicated to explain, but everyone called it the Wino Line for reasons that were self-explanatory. The Wino Line snaked through one of the ugliest corners of the transit system. It had only five more stops, but finding all five on short notice would be a challenge for any out-of-towner. So, when Arutro escaped the War Department's custody, the General swallowed his pride and called the GCPD to request they search each station for a short, dusty, injured man in ripped pajamas.

The police captain who received the call thought for a moment then asked which short, dusty, injured man in ripped pajamas they were looking for. The Wino line hauled semi-conscious bums and deadbeats to wherever bums and deadbeats migrated after last call. It was free after midnight, subsidized by businesses near the early stops to encourage its cargo to bother the late stops instead. If Arturo was the most beat-up, disheveled shmoe aboard, it wasn't by much. The cops would have recognized him at first glace if the General had simply shared the gangster's name, but the military was still clinging to the hope that they could keep the locals in the dark about Operation Underworld and shared as little as possible.

There was a police cordon outside the first station, but Arturo didn't even notice. A pair of cops entered the train at the second station. He saw them in the car ahead and quickly stole a hat and coat off a sleeping slob beside him. One of the cops eyed him for five long seconds when they passed through, but the cop kept walking. Arturo's heart didn't stop pounding until the train pulled away.

The Bertinellis didn't have the same productive relationship with Gotham's Finest as the other Families; theirs was more of a cold truce. Everyone had spilled blood back in the Vendettas, blue or otherwise, but the Bertinellis had practically bathed in it. And even by the standards of his own kin, Arturo hadn't been known as an altar boy (he had, in fact, been an altar boy).

Arturo had hoped at the beginning of the night that he could call on his friends in Washington to bail him out. This hope had started to flicker when Batman had mentioned - in typical villain monologue - that he was in a noose from both the Feds and the local courts. It begged the question of why the military would go so far to rescue and hide him if he was just going to be arrested. There had to be some frame going on, that was for sure. There were pieces in play he couldn't see. It didn't matter, Arturo Bertinelli was nobody's stooge. If he wasn't in on the take, he got out of the picture. That creed had served him well. So he played along, all smiles, then he jumped ship at the earliest opportunity. And not a moment too soon. Coppers wouldn't search a train at two in the morning for some drunks. He was a wanted man.

Arturo resolved to lay low in some flophouse until the heat died down. Just like the old days. Soon the conductor announced that next station, Lancaster Commons. When the brakes squealed, Arturo pulled his hat down and waited for a crowd to form at the doors. No one rose. A realization struck him like a slap: The Wino line crossed one of the old routes here. Lancaster Commons was a cracked lot full of trash and condemned storage sheds. Even the hobos didn't stop here.

Arturo peeked through the window and saw four police officers standing outside. An annoyed train attendant climbed out to talk to them. Arturo couldn't hear the conversation, but it involved a lot of urgent pointing at the passengers. How could I be caught like this? Geez, I'm the wino tonight! I can smell it on my breath. Arturo slapped his cheek. I have to get my act together.

In short order, the cops began to usher everyone out onto the rotted platform. None of the lights in the station worked. The building was a century old; he wasn't certain if it had ever had lights. What little illumination there was on the platform shone from the train's windows and the headlights of the parked police van which Arturo assumed had entered through the hole in the half-collapsed wall.

The officers ordered the thirty-some passengers to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a line outside the train. The average passenger's blood alcohol was somewhere north of flammable, so this was not a quick process. Several couldn't stand. Most wouldn't shut up.

Arturo kept his head down and quietly fell into line. It was all he could do, his knees were shaking so badly. He thought of his kids. Arturo had been arrested a few times, of course. He spent time in the big house. But any guy could sweat a nickel in the clink if he had something to come back to. What if the Bat hadn't been bluffing? Arturo's name would be mud. All his cousins and friends, all the old accomplices he kept in touch with and the neighbors on his Christmas list - if the bosses gave the word, not a single one would spit on him if he was dying of thirst. They wouldn't take the stand to keep him out of prison. If the fuzz cuffed him, that was it. Life behind bars. Kaput.

As he watched the police move down the line, he knew he wouldn't accept that.

The Bertinelli family tree had produced sixteen felons in the last three generations. Together they were guilty of virtually every crime on the books, yet not one member of the family had served a prison sentence longer than eight years. Each one condemned to more than a decade without parole had either escaped or died trying, and these were the ones that went to trial. No Bertinelli wanted for a capital crime had ever been taken alive.

A pudgy young officer ambled in front of him and held up a flashlight. "Look here, pal."

Arturo continued to face the ground and lifted his hand against the glare.

The officer whistled. "Whoh, what happened to them fingers? Got'em caught in a door?"

Arturo mumbled. "Nothin'."

"Sure pal. Let's see those eyes." Arturo tried to shy away further, but the officer caught his chin and pushed it up.

"Holy beans! You- Hey guys, it's Arturo Bertinelli!" The other three officers turned and the pudgy officer waved them over. "It's Arturo Bleedin' Bertinelli!"

One of the officers scoffed. "What'dya talking 'bout Harold? Ain't no Bertinelli rides a drunk train like 'dis. My cousin chauffeurs one of the old man's sons around. They could buy the damn train."

"Well look!" The officer pulled open the top of Arturo's coat. "He's all beat-up in his pajamas like they said-"

Arturo stepped around and reached into the officer's holster. He had never shot a gun with his left hand before. It felt heavy and awkward, but he wasn't concerned with his aim tonight. He fired two shots over his head.

The cops froze. Dozens of drunks screamed. Arturo ran. He could hoof it for a man his age. A bullet whistled past his leg. He spun and shot from the hip. It ricocheted off something metal. The cops chasing him dived to the floor. Arturo reached the hole in the wall. The weedy lot was covered with dozens of collapsing sheds and piles of debris as tall as a man. Empty bins and crates were scattered everywhere, and the only light was glow of the cloudy moon.

When the officers made it outside, Arturo had disappeared. The three with weapons fanned out at a steady creep. For all its abundant flaws, the GCPD produced stone-cold tactical professionals, and the three officers focused all their training into every step. They all knew Arturo's old reputation. He could be hiding anywhere here, he was armed, and that was more than he needed to put a man in the ground.

After several nervous minutes slipping around corners and kicking open sheds, the senior cop declared the lot empty and called his men back inside the station. Searching further would mean separating, and he wouldn't have that on his conscience. The dispatcher on the van radio said reinforcements were coming to serach the neighborhood. They were to stay put and interview the other passengers in case someone on the Wino Line had a clue what Bertinelli was doing. They soon discovered many of the passengers were asleep. One had wandered into a drainage ditch. Two didn't speak English.

It would be a long night.

---​

Arturo Bertinelli wheezed to catch his breath. The red and blue glare of a passing police cruiser slowly faded from the brick walls outside. That was the closest patrol yet. Arturo was laying prone across the front seats of the car he stole half an hour ago. This was the third time he had hurried into an alley to dodge the cops. Arturo wasn't sure when the stolen vehicle would be reported. Maybe not until sunrise, maybe in five minutes. When it was reported, the game was up. He resolved to ditch the car at the earliest convenience and find another one.

Arturo hadn't always been such a distinguished, sophisticated criminal. He had done plenty of odd jobs in his youth, including a stint stealing cars for a chop shop. To his pleasant surprise, he hadn't lost the knack. He put the old lemon in reverse and backed into the street. Normally, in this situation he would stay on foot as soon as he reached the first good crowd. Hiding in Gotham City wasn't difficult if you knew what you were doing.

But tonight was different. He was no ordinary fugitive. He forced to assume that the GCPD would keep pouring out patrols until there were two on every corner. They would find him eventually. He had to get out of their jurisdiction. He had to get to the Narrows.

Gotham City was divided into seven districts. Some were mostly nice, and some were less nice. But when people said that Gotham was a festering wound on the Earth, they were probably thinking of the Narrows, the one district in Gotham that was actually a festering wound on the Earth. It brought the average down.

Books could be written on why, exactly, the Narrows was so terrible. It seemed to house every urban vice and dysfunction that had ever befallen mankind. Even the problems that normally canceled each other out, like scarlet fever and overcrowding, or flooding and boredom, seemed to coexist in the Narrows. Rumor had it no census-taker had ever left alive, but the best guess on the city literature was that the Narrows housed a quarter million people, yet it was also a nugget of popular folklore that the GCPD kept only five precinct houses in the district,

Sane, well-adjusted people did not visit the Narrows if at all possible. This was easy. The Narrows was literally a pit, an artificial gorge dug out of Gotham Bay for extra living space. Gotham had been built on a swamp, so this sort of engineering wasn't unheard of, but it was still the most ambitious project of its kind outside of the Netherlands. The streets of the Narrows averaged fifty feet below sea level. This inferiority to sea level was frighteningly evident: the looming Gotham Dike holding back that sea could be seen from anywhere in the district. And when it was too dark to see, the Dike could still be heard, creaking softly with the weight of the ocean all through the night.

Officially, the Narrows was normal American territory filled with normal American citizens. Officially, the city didn't have plans to quarantine the district on a minute's notice if the social fabric finally self-destructed, something visitors uniformly believed had already happened. It was common knowledge that if a criminal absolutely had to dodge the law, the Narrows was the place to hide. Most Gothamites agreed that this was a decent alternative to prison. The only people who lived in the Narrows were people desperate enough to live in the Narrows. Sane, well-adjusted felons tended to avoid it.

This was especially true for the Families. When your name was Falcone, or Nobilio, or Maroni, or indeed, Bertinelli, you commanded instant respect from anyone in Gotham City. Your face was as good as body armor. No one would touch you. The single exception was the Narrows. Its tenements hid gangs of sadists who couldn't care less if they lived tomorrow, let alone who you were. No one had ever heard of a high-ranking Family member entering the district. It wasn't unthinkable, but it would be the last place the police would look for him. And when the police bothered to hunt any fugitive in the Narrows, it was always in convoys of twenty cops minimum. The President could call for his head on a pike, and he would still have a head-start while they spent half a day organizing.

The road signs into the Narrows didn't exactly say "Warning" or "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here", but their font and color said it for them. The rusting edges and bullet holes reinforced that point. Gotham was a vertical city, but the sheer cliff above the Narrows put the rest of its hills to shame. And the cliff edge was visible from disturbingly far away. Most real estate in the city tried to stuff three apartments and a grocer into the space of a hot dog stand, but there was more and more unused property near the Narrows. The last block was nearly barren – a no man's land.

Arturo took a deep breath and steered the stolen car onto the long set of single-lane switchbacks that led down into the pit. No building in the Narrows was tall enough to reach above its edge, leading to the strange sensation that he was slowly gliding over a city from out of the sky. A quarter million people lived here, but he only passed a few vehicles leaving, and he didn't see anyone else going in.

When Arturo reached the bottom, he stopped and surveyed the wasteland. He heard babies crying and windows breaking. Something down an ally was on fire. Dark figures shuffled at the edge of his vision. For the first time in years, he locked his car doors.

Arturo drove slowly. Cars weren't common, but potholes were everywhere, and most of the streetlights were broken. It was also difficult to tell which businesses were open. Most looked condemned, but he heard noises inside just as many. Occasionally, small groups of men would walk beside the car. If they got close to the door, Arturo rolled down the window and stuck the gun out. This scared them off. He wondered how long that trick would work.

Eventually, he found a sign on a building that advertised rooms to let for fifty cents. The building didn't seem like any conventional hotel. In fact, he couldn't guess its original use. It could have been a fire station or a grain silo for all he knew. He had no money, but he figured his new coat ought to be worth a few nights. It was easy to find the entrance; only one door wasn't chained shut. Arturo had visited plenty of establishments where the man or lady at the front desk was hiding a weapon. This was the first time he had seen a desk clerk openly carry a baseball bat.

His coat bought a room for two nights. Their conversation was short. It clearly wasn't the first time a guest had bartered dirty clothing for a place to sleep. At the top of the stairs was a baby in dippers smoking a cigarette. The baby ignored him. At the end of the hall, his door had a butcher's cleaver sunk into it. His room was about the scummiest corner of an attic he had ever seen, but it was quiet, and no one knew he was here, and he fell asleep in seconds.

---​

Arturo Bertinelli woke to a strong light in his face. He yawned and reached over to close the blinds. Instead, his hand bumped into a stranger's knee. Then he remembered that he was in an attic with no windows, and the Narrows was too far underground to catch the sunrise anyway. He scrambled to sit up and peer above the glare.

It was a flashlight. He could see the huge hand holding it, the fingers as thick as sausages and the knuckles like an ape. He could see the tailored black suit sleeve attached to that hand, and he could see the crisp white shirt under the suit with a red silk tie held by a silver tiepin. He couldn't see the face, but he could see the empty holster under the man's armpit.

The man saw he was awake and lowered the flashlight. The beam drifted down to his other hand which was holding a Hargrave .31.

The spit dried in Arturo's throat.

Since the end of the Bootlegger Vendettas and the Peace of Falcone, the made men of the city rarely had to flex their muscle. They were the establishment, after all. But when they resorted to force, the Gotham Families cleaned up after themselves. One way or another - cement mixers, lye barrels, furnaces, pig farms, international waters – they stayed discreet. There was one exception, and that was the Hargrave Arms .31 Caliber Automatic Pistol. Only Family soldiers could carry the pistol, and only with explicit orders from one of the dons. Even senior capos like Arturo had to obey a stranger holding one. It was owned mainly as a sort of sheriff's badge for the Gotham mobs' internal affairs.

Family enforcers employed the Hargrave .31 for its two distinguishing features. First, its rarity. The model's one limited production never made it to retail. Fewer than forty still existed. You can't sign a personal message if half the city owns the same letterhead. The police never investigated shootings if they found its trademark rounds at the scene. Second, the cartridge was a low-grain, brass-jacketed animal that made clean little holes in whatever you pointed it at. In other words, it killed slowly. Every regime had a secret police, every cult had an inquisition, and every criminal network had enforcers, and they all knew the value of making an example.

The ape said nothing, but his gestures said enough. He guided Arturo down the stairs. In the lobby were two more big men in tailored suits. They followed behind as his guide led him out. Two trucks idled on the street, each with a driver, also suited. Arturo was forced into the middle seat of the rear truck. The drivers shifted into high gear as soon as the doors shut.

They glided through the Narrows at five above the speed limit. This was extraordinary, given that the poor roads forced most traffic to putter along at ten or more below it. They didn't stop at intersections, instead sounding their horns and trusting that this passed along the message.

Arturo quickly grew numb to the reckless pace. He spent the dull minutes trying to recognize his escorts. He didn't know every face in the Bertinelli organization, but he knew all the big shots, and they wouldn't escort him with no-name schmoes. But try as he might, these gentlemen were unfamiliar. He wondered how they would have reacted if they had noticed the police pistol under his pillow.

To his surprise, he didn't feel apprehensive about this journey. In fact, he didn't feel anything, just a throbbing in his hand and a sharp headache. His eyes itched; the world was a gray haze. He knew their destination. He knew it ought to reduce him to tremoring clay, but nothing seemed to matter now. He couldn't even bring himself to beg. He slouched low in his seat. When did he kiss reality goodbye? How long ago had he been asleep in his warm bed with his beautiful wife in his comfortable home? Hours? Caro Dio. It felt like days. How much abuse could an old body take?

If time passed, Arturo didn't notice. At some point, he felt a rough nudge in his side and sat up. He couldn't hear the engine, so the truck was stopped. A smear of blood orange dawn, real this time, peaked through the windshield. He rubbed his eyes and saw they were parked in front of a three-story Queen Anne-style Victorian house on a tree-lined street. The house was a classic of its kind, with a generous porch, balconies, towers, steep gables, and chimmeys, all in conservative browns and indigos. Arturo looked around and saw the towers of the city only blocks away. This puzzled him. The only streets near downtown with homes like this were around Hudson University. Why had they bought him here? None of the Bertinellis lived in the area, and they wouldn't conduct this business around strangers.

Another nudge forced Arturo out of the truck. He landed roughly on his feet. His three silent escorts led him briskly to the porch as the trucks drove away. The front door opened as they reached it. Two of the escorts stayed outside. The main ape entered behind him. He was led to a bathroom near the front hall where the ape finally spoke, telling him to wash his face and get dressed fast. He entered the bathroom and found a shirt and trousers hanging from a rack. Arturo washed the grime and blood from his face and arms with a wet towel, then pulled a brush through his hair. He put on the simple outfit, leaving his pajamas on the floor. The clothes fit perfectly.

He walked out, and his escort grunted in approval. As they passed through several rooms, Arturo found each had a man or two, reading the paper or chatting softly. After a final hallway, he entered the kitchen. A pair of old men sat eating oranges at a small table near the window. Arturo's nerves were too frayed for genuine fear, but he still felt vertigo seeing them together. This explained who those apes were and how they found him so quickly, and it strongly suggested why they brought him here.

His escort stepped politely back into the hall, closing the door behind him. The old men turned, eyeing Arturo inscrutably.

Arturo nodded at one. "Frankie, buongiorno, my respects, cousin," he faced the other, "And it's an honor to see you, Don Falcone."

The two crimelords glanced at each other.

Frank Bertinelli was clearly related to Arturo, though a little older and with a few extra pounds tucked above the belt line. He didn't have Arturo's neat mustache, and he wore thick glasses. Frank was usually more quick to smile than Arturo, but this morning his expression was annoyed.

Carmine Falcone was a long-limbed man with soft features and intelligent eyes. His combed black hair was receding and touched with white, and the first liver spots were showing on his thinning cheeks. He had the air of an aristocrat and seemed as mild as a professor or a bank director.

Relations between the Families were as cordial as such relations could be, but it was rare for the bosses to meet in person, and the meetings traditionally took place over dinner. For them to summon Arturo at breakfast meant this had been arranged on very short notice and couldn't be delayed. Falcone had the most extensive network of friends and informants in the city. If anyone could find a bum in the attic of a random hotel in the Narrows in less than a night, he was the man to do it. Falcone was also famous for his real estate empire, which was vast even by mob standards. It wasn't a surprise he owned a home here, and using it made sense. Bosses typically tried to meet in neutral territory, and none of the Families had claims in the area.

Don Falcone gestured for Arturo to take a seat, which he did.

Frank, his cousin and boss, frowned. Arturo hoped he focused more on the first relationship than the second. "Arturo, just what is going on with you? Marie n' your children are gone. All the cops are after your neck. You get into some brawl in your apartment, and now there's a hole in the wall there. And we find you in some flophouse in the Narrows!" He said the place like it was a profanity.

Falcone added, "The police don't appreciate being shot at. We depend on their cooperation."

Frank concluded, "And what happened to your hand?"

Arturo didn't speak for several seconds. When he did, his tone was matter-of-fact. "Batman's after me."

This raised their eyebrows. Falcone seemed curious. "Batman."

"He vandalized my house, scared my family," the dons glared at this offense, "I sent them out of the city to hide."

Frank looked hurt. "Arturo, come on, you get in trouble, why didn't you come to me? Why are the police after you?"

"Batman was trying to pin me to a slave ring."

"A slave ring? What?"

"He had forged papers, Frankie. Said the law was going to take me down, and that you wouldn't back me once you heard about his phony evidence. I panicked, Frankie."

Falcone looked shrewdly at him. "He attacks you at home, yes? How did you end up at your apartment?"

"Well, he wasn't actually at the house, see. He just left his mark behind, to scare me I think. I went to the apartment to hide, but he found me somehow. That's where we talked. He wanted me to squeal on the Family in federal court, said otherwise the cops would pin me as a slaver. I wouldn't do it, of course, and that made him angry." Arturo lifted his injured hand and gestured at it.

Falcone replied, "You fought him off?"

"No. I had called our Navy pals for help."

Frank slapped the table. "What? You don't come to me, but you call the Navy? What is this?"

Falcone held up a hand. "Forgive me. Batman threatens you with a case laid down by federal men, but you call the military to protect you? Why?"

"I didn't know it was a federal deal then. I had called them at home so-"

Falcone interrupted him. "My memory isn't what it used to be, Mr. Arturo. You meet Batman, and he blackmails you. You call our partners in the Navy when you see your house desecrated, but Batman didn't actually reveal his blackmail until he showed it at your apartment?"

Arturo nodded. "Yeah, that's-"

"Then, if you'll forgive my impertinence, Don Bertinelli," Frank gestured for him to continue, "Then what scared you from asking your cousin's help back at your house?"

Frank suddenly realized what Falcone was getting at. He sat up straighter with an owlish glare through his glasses.

Falcone continued. "You had a reason to avoid your cousin's attention? Why?"

The air around the table was silent and heavy.

Arturo stuttered. "I, I-"

Frank crushed the orange slice in his hand, and the juice dripped to the tabletop. "Yeah, Arturo, why?"

"I don't … I ..."

Falcone leaned forward. "Friends, we are men of business. Arturo if you made a mistake, we all play our cards wrong from time to time." He shrugged fondly, "You've been loyal to your cousin for many years, true?"

Arturo dumbly nodded. "Yeah, yes I-"

"I would imagine, Don Bertinelli, that you normally trust Arturo's good intentions, if perhaps not his wisdom?"

Frank scowled and said nothing.

Falcone continued. "But Arturo, that also means now is the time for the whole story."

Arturo pleaded, grateful for the lifeline. "Listen, business hasn't been great. I learned a few months ago that I was nearly out of cash, and nothing was turning a profit. Then I hear about this customs problem with some commie immigrants..."

As Arturo spoke to his cousin in the tone of a confession, Don Falcone opened the kitchen door and called in an assistant. If only took a few whispered words, then the assistant stepped back out. The young man went to a phone on the other side of the house. The Don had friends in high places whom he could call to ask what the authorities knew, and the Don had cabins deep in the woods that needed to be furnished to hide the fool, should circumstances dictate that the fool ought to be hidden. In any case, it was a place where they could pick his mind far more thoroughly.
Author: Batman 1939
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Stewart M
Youngling
Posts: 110
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-29 07:04pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 8: News Travels Fast In This Town​


Five hours earlier.

Steve Trevor lifted the cup of coffee dregs to his lips and tried to sip. The cup hadn't held liquid in ten minutes, but the act was ceremonial. Sipping bad coffee was what one did in the lobby of a crummy police station after midnight, like avoiding eye contact with the desk sergeant or trying not to think about the stains on the walls. The cop who brought him in for questioning was now taking a call in a nearby office. Steve wasn't sure who was on the other end of that call, but their conversation started an hour ago, and both parties occasionally yelled.

Whatever sanitized record of tonight eventually hit the books would say he was here to help the police investigate Arturo Bertinelli. That was true enough; Steve was the last man to speak with Arturo. But Steve had answered the cop's few questions when they first arrived, and the cop hardly seemed interested in him. Yet he was still here. Steve's best guess was that he was a hostage.

He still didn't fully understand the situation, but now he knew that Arturo Bertinelli was a gangster, the kind who shared tips with Atilla the Hun by the sound of it. Apparently, the military had people who paid attention to gangsters, and someone with a bushel of stars on their shoulder had arranged for Steve to protect Arturo for reasons unknown. Then someone with even more stars heard about it, blew a fuse, and promptly took that protection away. Arturo was going to be arrested soon. Somehow the FBI were involved. All Steve could say for sure was that a lot of important people were talking, and at the bottom of this information pecking order was the GCPD. The poor local cops were probably holding him so the War Department would keep them in the loop. Poor guys might know less than he did.

Steve sympathized, but that didn't make waiting any easier. He had left Diana a message when his interview ended. They needed to have a long conversation of their own. He crushed his paper cup and tossed it at the trash can. It bounced twice on the rim then fell to the floor. Steve sighed.

The nearby office door opened, and his cop walked out.

"Hey, Trevor."

Steve looked up. "Yeah?"

The cop gestured to the door. "Yer off the hook, bud."

"Bully." Steve stood and stretched his neck. The desk sergeant tossed him his pistol, and he slipped into its holster. Steve nodded. "Know a good taxi service? Assuming my car's still where I left it."

The cop snorted. "Nix the cab, I'll drop you off."

Steve followed him out the door to the station lot. "You don't have to."

"No problem. Figured you had some real lumps tonight, eh?"

"No kidding."

"Smoke?"

"Thanks."

The cop tapped two cigarettes from a pack and brought out a lighter inscribed with the police union crest. They stopped in the middle of the lot. The two sudden embers were the only dots of red around. Dark blue smoke lifted into the night, invisible in an instant.

Steve coughed and hacked. "...Not bad."

"Dirty liar."

"Heh. I never heard of this brand before."

"In most states they can only use its ingredients for grout cleaner."

"Hm."

They smoked a minute. Steve mused that any day you had to wear a tie for sixteen hours straight was a bad day. He was surprised the cop was so friendly.

"This is nice."

The cop nodded thoughtfully. "Ya know, my brother just enlisted."

"No kidding."

"Off to Paris Island."

"Marines. Jeesh."

"That tough?"

"Don't ask me. I just fly planes for a living."

"Well, he's a tough little squirt. We'll see."

They took another drag. Steve tried to think of something friendly.

"My cousin's a cop."

"'Zat so?"

Steve nodded. "Detroit."

"Oh, I hear it's nice out there."

"Best city on Earth."

"No argument here. Good for him."

"Thanks. And thanks for the smoke."

"No problem." The cop dropped his cigarette and crushed it with his heel. "Let's hit the road."

As they crossed the parking lot, a dented police cruiser sped through the entrance with its headlamps on. It squealed to a stop in front of them, still rocking on its suspension. They held their hands against the glare.

The lights went off, and the driver cut the ignition. Steve could hardly see the figure that struggled through the door, but the cruiser frame lifted as as he stepped out - his weight had made it sag. Steve's new cop friend quietly cursed.

The figure slouched up. "Hey, youse!" He was roughly as large and loud as a piano: tall, scruffy, big overcoat, big gut, dirty shirt. He spit on the pavement. "Yeah, I'm talkin' to youse!"

Steve's cop friend took a step forward. "What's this all about?"

The big man elbowed him out of the way, "Pipe down, clownfish. I ain't talkin' to you, I'm talkin' to this guy. You Steve Trevor?"

Steve crossed his arms. "Yeah. And who might you be?"

The man pulled out a folding badge. "Detective Harvey Bullock. Got some questions that need answers, so cupcake here is gonna lead us both to a nice, cozy interrogation room." The cop was about to say something, but Bullock shuffled past him and grabbed Steve by the arm. "And get me some coffee while you're at it."

Bullock was stronger than he looked, but Steve eventually tugged his arm away. "Hold on, I answered your questions."

"Nah, you answered his questions." Bullock jabbed a finger back at the cop. "Some uniforms can't find the petals on a daisy, and since I'm actually on the case you unwittingly fouled up tonight, and since I'm actually good at my job, we're going to have to do it all over again."

"Look, officer-"

"Detective."

"Detective, your case will have to wait. I have Air Force business to attend to."

"Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up. See, the folks I answer to think the folks you answer to might be on the wrong side of a big, ugly manure-based weather front. You can imagine why I want we should chit-chat first."

"How long is this going to take?"

Bullock stuck a toothpick in his mouth and chewed. "S'long as it has to, bud."

---​

Diana Prince rubbed her body with a coarse cloth until her skin shone red. She didn't know how long she had been soaking in the small hotel tub, but her fingers were pruned and the once-scalding water was almost cold (indoor plumbing was divine). She occasionally stopped to rest, fading away in the scent of porcelain and soap, but then she would feel it again: the muck of dead beasts flooding her eyes and nostrils. Diana would grit her teeth and scrub and scrub until she was clean.

There was a knock on the front door. Diana nearly jumped out of the water. She scrambled on the slick tile for the hotel's complementary bathrobe. Tying the knot, she rammed her way out of the bathroom, pushed the mane of wet hair out of her face, and paused a moment to prepare a less anxious voice.

When Diana finally spoke, she almost sounded calm. "Yes? Hello?" She leaned her ear against the door in anticipation.

But the voice she heard back wasn't his. "Room service, miss."

Puzzled, Diana opened the door and peeked out. In the hall was a young lady pushing a cart with a stack of linens on it. The lady handed her a folded paper. "Telegram for you."

"For me?"

"Your name's Prince?"

"Yes."

"We usually don't deliver after midnight, but it was marked urgent. Hope you don't mind."

"That's quite fine. Thank you." Diana opened the paper and skimmed it. She glanced at the time-stamp, then at her wall clock. "Excuse me, this was sent over an hour ago."

"Sorry, I knocked on your door earlier. You must not have heard me. Figured I'd try again on my next lap."

"Well, yes, I was … preoccupied."

"As you say, miss. Have a pleasant night."

"Thank you, you as well."

Diana shut the door and huffed. She balled the telegram up and threw it at her bed.

It read:

HOPE YOU AT HOTEL AND COMFORTABLE. STAY.

IMPERATIVE WE TALK FIRST OPPORTUNITY. STAY. ORDERS HAVE CHANGED. STAY. THINGS COMPLICATED. PLEASE STAY. DON'T LEAVE HOTEL.

PROBLEM WITH LAW. COPS TAKEN ME TO WEST 43 ST. STATION. LONG STORY. ALMOST DONE. SHOULD BE BACK FORTY MINUTES AT MOST.

MISS YOU, ANGEL.

Diana paced across the room, absentmindedly smoothing the fabric on her bathrobe. She enjoyed the little comfort after all she had seen that evening. A bathrobe was about the nearest garment America had to the tunics she grew up in - no buttons or clasps or zippers, no starched seams or fitted waists. Her only concern was that the robe was cut for the average American woman whom she towered over by a foot and a half.

Diana walked past the standing mirror. She wasn't bothered by the robe's immodesty, but seeing herself brought out a chuckle and a flush of embarrassment. There was a fad among certain Amazons to wear as little as possible. They argued that the body was the most fundamental gift of the goddesses, and hiding gifts was a sin. Diana, like the majority of Amazons, found the fad silly. Themescaya was covered in brambles and bushes, and seeing a body-sized rash or sunburn wasn't a gift to anyone. Besides, royalty would never engage in it. She wondered what her queen mother would say now. Diana's expression fell. She had asked herself that question nonstop when she first arrived. Everyone was a stranger, and every barbaric custom reminded her of just how far she had traveled. Diana had her mission, but at times it had been so lonely it made her sick. Was she doing the right thing? Would her mother approve?

As weeks passed, she asked that question less often, only every day, then every other day, until she rarely wished for her mother's guidance at all. She began to enjoy her radical independence. But now Diana could only think about the poor man with the broken hand, about the pool of dead beasts and the fell monster who dwelled there. The Amazons had always known Man's World was a nest of predators. How shameful that she was the first in millennia to forget that. She was here to protect her people. She was to act as their champion

And she had to protect herself too, no forgetting that. She studied her figure in the mirror: the fading burn on her cheek, the bite along her throat, the thin white lines on her limbs where deeper scrapes healed.

There was only one decent man she could trust, and he had left her. He promised to return, but he still wasn't here.

Diana forcibly stopped that train of thought. A rational part of her pointed out that he probably hadn't returned because this wretched city had trapped him, not through any decision of his own. Of course. He was too dutiful for any other explanation; she always respected that. Well, no mere civil guards restrained her allies. The Princess of the Amazons would never be a passive bystander. As heir to a rightful throne, Diana was raised to hold the utmost respect for a nation's laws and authorities, but no more. Tonight, her patience had suffered its last.

---​

Diana Prince unfolded herself from the backseat of a yellow taxi. For a city with such titanic structures, everything meant to fit a person seemed paradoxically small. Diana was wearing the same blouse and pencil skirt from what seemed like weeks ago but was only that evening. The hotel concierge had given her the address for the 43rd street police station and drawn her a map. It was almost a surprise that strangers could still be kind and helpful in this fallen place.

The street was empty, but it was a clean neighborhood, the sort where empty meant 'peaceful' instead of 'abandoned'. The lights were brass antiques, bright and steady, and the sidewalk was lined with benches and mailboxes. None of the windows were broken. Diana soon found herself at the bottom of the short stairs leading to the frosted-glass door of the station house. Diana's eyes narrowed. She balled her hands into fists and took the first two steps.

"I don't suggest you do that, dear, though I wouldn't blame you."

It was a lady's voice, warm yet rough. Diana spun and found a short woman sitting on a nearby bench. Somehow, Diana had passed her unwittingly.

The woman glanced over. "Sorry if I startled you, I understand you've had an awful long night."

Diana stepped back onto the sidewalk and peered at her. "How do you know how long my night had been?"

The stranger sat just outside the ring of lamplight, but Diana could soon see she was a stocky woman in her middle years with dark brown skin (skin color was extraordinarily important in Man's World, though Diana had yet to hear a convincing reason why). The woman said nothing.

Diana pressed again, "Have we met, miss?"

The woman smiled. "Heh, miss. Not in the conventional sense, no, but you'll find we run in the same circles."

"You must be mistaken, I don't run in circles."

The woman paused a moment and looked askance at her. "That was a figure of speech, dear. Let's just say I'm a friend of a friend of a friend. Call me Amanda Waller." She stuck out a hand.

Diana crossed her arms. "Sorry, I have no time for talk." She started to climb the steps again.

Amanda spoke behind her. "Three minutes, it's all I ask. Then I promise you'll get everything you want in there."

Diana hesitated and looked back curiously. "You said you wouldn't blame me for what I wish to do. Why do you believe you know what that is?"

"Long story, honey."

Diana kept her arms crossed and stared patiently. Amanda shrugged, then lit a cigar and took a contemplative puff. "I work for the government. My colleagues and I pay attention to anything, how shall I say ... out of the ordinary."

"That sounds like a vast jurisdiction."

"You have no idea, dearie. Regardless, I heard through the grapevine about several counter-espionage raids around Washington this year that fell out of the ordinary. Spies and malcontents were being subdued by a tall woman in what all the witnesses described as either a flag-patterned swimsuit or an extras costume out of Julius Caesar." Amanda paused, choosing her next words carefully. "Very little happens in Washington that I can't find out about when I start shaking trees, yet no one had a clue about this curious lady, or at least no one was willing to talk. But I'm stubborn about these things. I explored the mystery and discovered that each of the operations had one detail in common: the involvement of Captain Steven Archibald Trevor."

Diana's eyebrows lifted. "His name is Archibald?"

"So you've met."

"I mean-"

Amanda waved away the reaction. "I made a casual effort to learn more about the good Captain Trevor and uncovered two interesting facts. One, not long ago, he went missing on what the records call a reconnaissance mission. He was declared lost at sea but returned no worse for wear eight days later. And two, soon afterward he was seen in the frequent company of an assistant by the name of Diana Prince. Furthermore, this assistant has been trying diligently to meet with senior diplomats and lawmakers in her off-hours." She looked Diana in the eye. "I've heard rumors on what was discussed in those meetings. To be candid, I think we could have a mutually-fruitful discussion tonight."

Diana said nothing for several long moments. Amanda seemed content to wait and enjoy her cigar.

"Elaborate."

"For my own reasons, which I'd prefer to keep under my hat for now, I've been very interested in you. Now, I'm certainly not involved in whatever the military's been up to here in Gotham tonight, but I make it a point to keep my ears open. And when I heard a few hours ago that a colleague of mine in the Army was assigning a task to Captain Trevor, well." She let the idea finish itself, but added. "Gotham has a certain reputation."

Diana frowned and lifted her chin. "I trust you mean a certain infamy."

Amanda gestured indifferently. "I figured there was an above-average chance something interesting would happen, so I hopped on a plane and stopped by. Lo and behold, when my flight touches down, rumors are already bubbling up that some shiny lady in her underclothes scared off the Batman! My, my, that piqued my interest something fierce. Felt like Christmas come early."

"You know of this bat man?"

"He and I have crossed paths."

"You have shared the same paths?"

"Under equally antagonistic circumstances, I assure you."

"Engaged in combat?"

Amanda shrugged noncommittally. "I'd love to swap stories sometime, but what I find more pressing are the rumors of what came next. Police chatter says you assaulted some workers at a meat-packing plant, lifted a cop car, tossed two cops into a dumpster, then outran two others on foot."

"I was-"

"While they were driving."

"You must see-"

Amanda held up a hand. "I trust you had your reasons. Batman is nothing if not a pain in the rump, and if you don't mind me saying, it sounded like you were in a bit of a temper. So I made a few calls and discovered that your man was tied up at this little police station, and I figured you might be tempted to do something about it." She paused. "I hope you're no longer in a temper."

Diana spoke coldly, "My aim is justified."

"May I ask why you're dressed for your day job? That other outfit was quite something, if witnesses can be believed."

"My battle dress is ... it represents righteous public deeds. It is for my mission. Here, my goal is..."

"Is what?"

"Personal."

Amanda nodded to herself. "I see." She smoked her cigar. "Speaking of your mission. I assume a smart gal like you has realized by now that our system, by which I mean the control of our federal government, is designed to ignore the agendas of strangers. And you have a real whopper by the sound of it."

"It's-"

"I mean, really dear. We barely listen to the voters. Now, you could keep trotin' obediently from meeting to meeting while powerful geezers close doors in your face, or …"

Diana couldn't help but lean in. "Or what?"

"Or you could get so riled up at the injustice of it all that you knock down a police station, which would feel awfully vindicating, I'm sure. But becoming an enemy of the state might put a stopper in whatever goals you've been working towards." Amanda shrugged. "Or …"

"What?"

"Or you go home, get some rest, and give me a call after breakfast." She slipped a business card into Diana's coat pocket and patted it. "I'll introduce you to the real movers and shakers in this country. Then I'll show you how to make 'em move and shake."

Diana glared at her suspiciously. "Why do you offer help to me?"

Amanda chuckled. "A shrewd one. Listen, I assume that your current deal with the Army is hidden so well because it's a causal, under-the-table arrangement. Or maybe you don't have an arrangement. Maybe you're just helpin' out your man without either of you telling anybody. That would explain why I haven't heard of you, plus why you stepped in on the Captain's sudden errand tonight when I know there weren't instructions for you." Diana said nothing. Amanda looked at her candidly. "Why do I offer my help? I want to see you do what you've already been doin', fighting the good fight against spies. I only want to provide you with official sanction and support. You'll get twice as much done with half the effort. Then I get to rest a little easier knowing the country I love is under the protection of a guardian with unimpeachable character and, let's be honest, enough muscle to scare off the Batman."

The edge of Diana's lip turned up in a hint of a grin. She forced it back into a serious line. "I will call. I promise nothing, but we may speak further."

"That's all I ask." Amanda made a wide wave with her arm, as if stretching a cramp. "As promised, you'll get what you want in nine."

Diana looked puzzled. "Nine what?"

Amanda continued. "Eight, seven, six."

"Oh, you're counting."

"Five, four, three, two, one."

Both women looked at the station doors.

They remained shut.

Diana frowned. "What was supposed to happen?"

Amanda grumbled something and tapped the embers off the end of her cigar.

"What did you say?"

"Hold on."

Seconds passed.

"I don't think your-"

The doors opened. Steve Trevor stumbled out, tired as a dog.

Amanda rolled her eyes. "Finally."

Diana ran up the steps and embraced him. Stunned, he held her at arms length.

"Diana ... you're here."

She smiled brightly. "I am."

Steve looked at her closely under the light. He saw the mark on her neck. "Diana?"

"Yes?"

"Why do you have a hickey?"

---​

One minute ago.

The Boys Anti-Tank Rifle was the one of the largest firearms in the free world. It was British, but the Americans owned a few for special outfits like their Army Rangers and Marine Raiders. At the moment, there were only seven in the state of Gotham, and all were aimed at Diana Prince's back from a pair of high windows a block behind her.

As their name implied, anti-tank rifles normally hunted bigger prey, but an expert marksman was perfectly capable of hitting a woman-sized target at that distance, and Lieutenant Slade Wilson and his team of expert marksman had plenty of practice with the weapon. None of them were eager to pull the trigger, but only because the recoil of firing the huge cartridge caused bruising and neck pain. If the target tried to enter the station, they wouldn't hesitate. Wilson and five of his teammates could comfortably hit the center of mass, but their designated sharpshooter, Private Floyd Lawton, was in a world of his own. He liked to say he could neuter a fly at hundred yards. There was no doubt he could place a shot though the lady's eye or heart or throat from here, as surely as other men flipped a light-switch.

The team had been warned that their target was unnaturally durable. They weren't especially concerned. They crossed paths with unnatural beings almost monthly now. Experience had shown that of all the strange and wonderful mysteries in the world, very few of those mysteries could live with an anti-tank round in the throat.

They sat in tense silence, steadying their sights whenever their target neared the door, but she always turned away.

Finally, the boss gave the wave. The team ducked back from the window. They silently packed their weapons and disappeared.
Author: Batman 1939
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Elheru Aran
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Elheru Aran » 2016-09-29 07:16pm

Ahhh, Deadshot... who else do you have hidden in the shadows, Mister Stewart? I assume you have some version of The Agency going on here?

I'm somewhat curious now about what's going on in the rest of the world and what your intentions are for DC-1939 America...

Superb writing so far. Carry on, please!
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-29 07:36pm

The Agency?
Author: Batman 1939
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby LadyTevar » 2016-09-30 02:55pm

So very much like Waller: If she doesn't stand down, shoot her.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-30 09:08pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 9: Unorthodox Problem Solving​


Falco Deliveries was the city's premier courier service for moving small items on short notice. Watching its young couriers race by on their bicycles, casually crossing private property and breaking traffic laws, was something of a local tradition. But Falco Deliveries also provided another service which wasn't known to the public: the firm kept items anonymously for future delivery-on-demand.

The service worked like this: a customer could go to his local FD office and drop off an package. The desk clerk (let's call him Adam) would slip the package into a standard box and take it to the back room where the shipping manager (let's call her Betty) would label it with a code and copy the code onto a note in a sealed envelope. Betty would give the envelope to Adam to pass to the customer. Adam would never know the code, and Betty would never see the customer or the contents of the package. It was called a double-blind system. These packages would then be randomly shipped to one of several warehouses for long-term storage. The customer would pay Falco Deliveries a hefty fee to hold the package for a given number of weeks. If at any point someone contacted an FD office with the right code - whether in person, over the phone, or by any other means - then the package was delivered, no questions asked.

Naturally, the service catered to people with something to hide. It certainly ferried every sort of contraband. Jewelers and other luxury retailers occasionally shipped their goods this way and sent their regular trucks as a decoy. Investigative reporters, gang snitches, and others who wished to pass along evidence in the event of their untimely demise signed up for a special plan that delivered their package if the code wasn't received in time. Falco Deliveries would have been crushed under warrants and subpoenas ages ago except that many cogs in the legal system used them as well.

As one might expect given the nature of the service, FD offices saw customers try all sorts of disguises. Still, no employee had ever received a delivery code by rat.

Clancy, as the rat was named, waited patiently behind a telephone pole outside their 9th Street office for two hours until the first employee arrived just before dawn. Clancy held back as the big human unlocked the front door and walked through it, then he slipped inside just before the door closed. There were many curious smells in the little room, but none were food or danger, so Clancy ignored them. It was Clancy's mission to be found and, as much as it went against his instincts, that meant waiting in plain sight. Humans were practically senseless, but their eyes weren't too bad, at least if there was plenty of light and you walked right in front of them.

After a few false starts, Clancy climbed onto the main counter. He stood on his hind legs, pawing the air and wiggling his whiskers. Predictably, the human took a long time to notice him. Predictably, when the human did notice him, it yelled and stumbled backward into the wall. This was the scary part. Humans were ogres; they could react rashly to the most civilized greeting. It was all a rat could do to stand still and act unthreatening. Fortunately, this human didn't reach for anything heavy. It peered at him and muttered some sounds in Human. Clancy returned to all four feet and turned so the human would see his flank. It worked! The human saw the bit of paper tied around his abdomen with a bit of string. Clancy shook his rump to get the point across. Finally, gingerly, the human untied the string and took the paper. Relief! The string had chaffed something fierce, and Clancy was pleased to have it off. He squeaked his appreciation and hopped off the counter. The human didn't need to open the door. He could find his own way out.

---​

Marta Cruz, shift manager of the Falco Deliveries on 9th Street, had lived in Gotham too long to doubt her eyes, but it was still hard to process that she was holding a note delivered by a rat. The note was short, just four typical storage codes, each followed by a delivery address - some post office boxes downtown. Marta phoned the different warehouse foremen until she found the four packages with her codes. They would be sent out on the first run of the day.

---​

Nancy Kingsolver worked at Wayne Enterprises and was pleased as a peach about it. Just saying so sounded awfully impressive to her kin back in Arkansas. She could even claim to report to Mr. Bruce Wayne, which was even more impressive, and Nancy was sure it made Ellie-Jean and all the other girls from town as jealous as old hens. Mostly, what she told folks back home was true. Nancy neglected to mention that she was technically the assistant to Mr. Wayne's assistant's assistant's assistant, and while her orders did come from Mr. Wayne, they traveled through a dozen intermediaries before they arrived at her desk in the executive secretarial pool. Half the company could say they reported to Mr. Wayne by that logic.

Mr. Wayne did nod at her once, so that was nice. At least she thought it was at her. And Nancy was responsible for a few tasks that she was assured Mr. Wayne used directly, though these were rare. For example, every morning she stopped by the post office on Wayne Avenue and checked fourteen PO boxes for mail. Bruce Wayne was an important man, she was told, and many people wanted his attention. He couldn't attend to everyone equally, so he gave different addresses to different groups to filter them based on a special system of priorities. Nancy had no idea what these priorities were, as the boxes were usually all empty. But on occasion she found one or more envelopes , whereupon she was to write down the box number, hail a cab, then take the letter directly to Mr. Wayne's home in the hills around the Bay.

The first occasion this happened, Nancy was only too excited. What would she say to Mr. Wayne? She knew he normally came to work late, so he must still be at home. Nancy was a little disappointed to be greeted at the door by an older British gentleman, but her feelings were eased when he graciously invited her in for tea and fruit, then paid her cab fare along with a healthy tip for her troubles.

This repeated every few months. She never saw Mr. Wayne, but at least she had breakfast with his butler to look forward to.

This morning was not much different. Nancy visited the post office and found four envelopes in her PO boxes. Traffic was better than usual, and it hardly took an hour to reach to the gates of stately Wayne Manor. The one difference she noticed was that kindly Mr. Pennyworth seemed troubled. Nancy had visited often enough to know the man's Victorian sense of propriety. His demeanor was so polished and reserved that it was practically its own British embassy. Seeing just a crease of his brow suggested more private distress than the sight of most men crying.

But Nancy didn't dare pry. She enjoyed her tea and ginger snaps then said her goodbyes. Mr. Pennyworth fidgeted as she ate, offering bland small talk without his usual charm and not touching a bite himself, and later she swore he seemed eager to usher her out the door. It was strange but no real concern to her, and as the cab pulled away, the thought quickly left her mind.

---​

Nancy's intuition had been correct. Alfred was nervous. Bruce hadn't returned last night. This alone wasn't uncommon enough to ruffle Alfred's feathers, but Bruce also hadn't called. No matter how busy the mission, if Bruce was going to be out after dawn, he made an effort to phone. The rational part of Alfred knew the silence wasn't necessarily proof of tragedy. There were plenty of sensible reasons for Bruce to not call. Alfred was pleased to find one of these sensible reasons was indeed reality, but it was the last reason he would have guessed: blind notes.

Bruce had explained the idea once, but Alfred had forgotten most of the details. Bruce wanted a special way to contact him in the field while protecting their identities, lest some observer make a connection between Batman and the Wayne household. Bruce planned to do this with 'blind notes', messages passed through as many hands as possible to foil tracking or interception.

Alfred understood that part of the blind note system was Bruce writing out all conceivable messages he might want to share then storing them indefinitely with a neutral party. Alfred thought this was absurd for several reasons, but he knew it was folly to question at the depths of Master Bruce's caution, and he figured the boy might as well get some use out of all those cryptography books he purchased for him over the years.

Once Miss Kingsolver was safely away, Alfred descended into the Cave and opened her four envelopes. Each contained a printed card with a random string of letters and numbers.

4ki2

Fvj9e

gswBei

77dke12



"How articulate."

Alfred reached the Cave's Records, a natural alcove holding twenty filing cabinets in the driest corner of their little camp. He searched the index for the blind note key and found it in a less-used cabinet near the back. Alfred recalled the young lady saying the envelopes arrived in the second, fourth, ninth, and twelfth PO boxes. This was a critical fact; Bruce had written the code to mean something different depending on which PO box it arrived in. With fourteen boxes, he only had to store a few dozen notes to hold the hundreds of messages he might want to communicate. How Master Bruce was able to recall these hundreds of messages and their respective codes was beyond Alfred's comprehension.

The instructions were simple-enough. Alfred brought the binder with the key to a nearby desk, lit the lamp, and slipped on his spectacles. With a scrap paper and a pen, he deciphered them in a minute. The deciphered notes read:

Livingstone

Exodus Psi

Sorcerer

Charon Protocol



Alfred recognized the first two terms.

"Livingstone" meant Bruce was relatively well, but he would be out of contact for at least another day. It wasn't good news, per se, but it was better than many alternatives.

"Exodus Psi" made Alfred's heart skip a beat. Exodus was their emergency plan to scuttle their entire hidden life, erase evidence of Batman, and escape to some far corner of the Earth. It happened in successive stages. Exodus Omega was the final instruction to actually pull the plug and leave. Exodus Psi was the penultimate instruction to prepare for Omega and wait (Bruce naturally used the end of the Greek alphabet instead of the more familiar early letters, a choice even a Cambridge man like Alfred found a touch affected).

Half of Exodus Psi was buying plane tickets to several destinations and packing. The other half was carrying a bag of blasting caps up a ladder and attaching them to a small bomb permanently affixed to the Cave wall. Bruce, with his endless resourcefulness, had decided that the easiest way to destroy all culpable evidence of Batman was to redirect a nearby underground stream to bury all their hard work in a pool of water and silt. To this end, Bruce discovered that a certain part of the cavern wall was separated from this stream by only four feet of rock. Bruce had permanently anchored a box of dynamite against that part of the wall so either of them could blast the rock with a few minutes of work. Bruce claimed the flood would take days to fill the chamber, but the water and rubble would be deep enough to deter most investigators within a few hours.

Although Exodus Psi implied a degree of urgency, Alfred decided he would check the other two messages first.

"Sorcerer" was as plain as it was haunting. Found in tiny script at the back of the one of the least-used booklets, its entry simply stated:

I have encountered unnatural phenomena. Disregard existing reality framework. Expect every danger.



Alfred stared at the sentence for a long while. He wasn't sure how to react to it, but it made him shiver in his waistcoat. He couldn't fault Master Bruce for using a blind note if wizards might be spying on them. Alfred decided it was impossible to anticipate something as vague as 'literally anything', so he choose to ignore that message for the moment.

The entry for "Charon Protocol" was much longer, running several pages of instructions. Alfred read it though several times to ensure he understood the premise. It he was correct, it might have the most drastic consequences of the four.

Alfred returned the papers he didn't need to the Records and burned the notes in the furnace. He found some blasting caps in the Cave's explosives shed and carried them up to the bomb. Alfred was no expert on bombs, but Bruce had designed this model to be as simple as possible and had left a diagram for blasting cap installation which a child could follow. When he was finished, Alfred could flood the whole cavern with a two-switch detonator at the top of the staircase.

As he reached he base of the stairs, Alfred stopped with a sudden change of heart. He detoured to the disguise closet and picked up a concealed back holster. Then he entered the Cave's extensive workshop. In one corner of the workshop was a gunsmithing bench where Batman tested weapons or inspected them for evidence. Alfred opened a drawer and removed a 9 mm Browning Hi Power, a blocky, dull black pistol with a wood-finished grip. He loaded in a magazine, racked the slide, and fit the pistol into the back holster which he belted under his coattails. Expect every danger, indeed.

Returning to the manor, Alfred retired to his room and sat in front of the phone. He read the Charon Protocol again, trying to mold the details into a script. He hadn't played the part of Master Bruce in quite some time, but the role came easily enough. After he found his composure, Alred picked up the receiver and dialed.

A friendly man's voice answered. "Yello? Lucius Fox speaking."

Alfred lit up with a glib smile and fell into a tony American accent. "Lucius, it's Bruce."

"Oh, good morning, Mr. Wayne, what-"

"Lucius, Lucius, listen. I have to speak quickly. I'm going to give you some instructions, okay? They might surprise you, but I can't explain the reasons now."

There was a brief pause. "Alright, Mr. Wayne."

"Here's what I need. Schedule a meeting with the Director of Research, the Comptroller, and a recruiter who knows the academic scene. Do this quietly."

"Done."

"I want a report on every research proposal we have that might conceivably be weaponized.”

“Uh, weaponized?”

“Whatever we have on file. Demolition equipment, industrial solvents, rockets, coilguns, high-voltage capacitors. Really loud saxaphones. Use your imagination. If it breaks things, I want to know about it."

Another pause. "I can do that, Mr. Wayne, though I believe most of those papers are in, uh, locked storage."

Lucius was tactfully referring to Bruce's first act upon taking control of Wayne Enterprises several years ago. Two hours into his first day on the job, Bruce shut down the company's Armaments Division. All Wayne merchandise that launched a bomb or bullet was immediately discontinued. Dozens of patents were tucked away. Two factories closed and a hundred employees were moved or pensioned. Bruce didn't even allow the sale of existing inventory; everything was recalled and destroyed.

The decision – though a drop in a bucket to the company's bottom line - had been controversial to say the least. If nothing else, it cemented Bruce Wayne's reputation as a strict pacifist. The last thing anyone expected of him was to authorize a weapons program.

"I understand the challenges, Lucius. Do it. Then have the Director of Research solicit new proposals from his staff, no matter how unorthodox. Set a reward for promising ideas. I'll be the judge of what that means later."

"Sure. Understood."

"Good. Next, figure out the quickest way to get us a basic research lab: whether we buy one, sponsor one, build our own, I don't care"

"Excuse me, Mr. Wayne, we already run several distinguished laboratories."

"Those are for applied research, Lucius. Applied research is essentially a fancy term for new product development.”

“...Is that a problem?”

“Basic research is the pure pursuit of new knowledge. That's what I want. Get me a lab that does basic research in the material sciences. Something that can win us a few Nobels. Figure out a plan and quote a price. Have the recruiter draw up a list of the top researchers in each field , public or private, active or retired, who might work with us."

"This is no small project."

"Which brings me to my last point. Have the Comptroller look at our books and tell me how far we can dip into our savings without publicly rocking the company. We can't be taking loans for this, understand? No publicity. If we need extra funds to get started, find me projects we can afford to sell, then find me some buyers."

"Sell? I don't expect that's necessary, but, uh, what would our time horizon be for that?"

"Immediately. Liquidation rates."

Lucius said nothing for six seconds. "Mr. Wayne, that sounds like an awfully big sacrifice."

"That's because it is. Pretend the world is ending next month. Get on it."

Another pause. "You got it, Mr. Wayne."

"Oh, and Lucius?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you. This is going to mean a lot of long nights for both of us. Give yourself a raise. Something generous. Take it out of my salary."

"Uh, are you sure ab-"

"I have to go, take care of yourself. Bye."


---​

Batman awoke contemplating the Woman.

His first conscious thought was the memory of her deflecting his salvo of batarangs with those long metal cuffs on her arms. While intercepting, she had moved with a speed that, in hindsight, was clearly unnatural. With such reflexes, she could probably catch an arrow. But if her arms could move so fast, why didn't she strike that way? She was a quick boxer, astonishingly quick, but still human. Compared to how she intercepted projectiles, she brawled like she was stuck in molasses. He shouldn't have been able to land a punch. Why the difference? That made no sense at all.

Then he recalled the words she cried when he burned her neck. His thoughts were foggy now, possibly concussed, and he couldn't remember all the details of last night. Fortunately, her voice was burned into his memory. He would still write it down when he had the chance. The words weren't familiar but he could spell them phonetically. He resolved to find recordings of native speakers in similar-sounding languages. Maybe he would get lucky and recognize a match. He knew a few academic libraries that had such recordings. If that failed to uncover her secrets, he would ask a linguist. He tried to avoid sharing cases beyond his regular collaborators, but he deemed this instance relatively safe. Batman doubted her words were incriminating or personal. They were likely some variation on “Ouch” or “Stop” or, more likely yet, profanities.

He was about to entertain a third thought, wondering where she had acquired an authentic bronze breastplate in her exact size, but he was interrupted by a wave of extraordinary pain.

Every inch of him was sore, and he felt a stiffness in his joints bordering on paralysis. He doubted he could outrun a toddler today. Worst was his neck. It had been injured somehow, and he couldn't turn it at all. He still wished to pry off the rest of the armor, but at least the gorget served as a sort of neck brace – a stiff, metal, ill-shaped neck brace, but better than nothing.

He felt the terrible burns on his right hand itch. The first delicate strands of new skin were just starting to form under its gauze wrap. He knew it would sting it he flexed his hand at all, and he knew the itching would only get worse.

He felt the crude splint around his middle finger. It was just badly sprained; she hadn't crushed the bone, a fact he now regarded as a minor miracle. Still, he had little faith in the skill of his field medicine given his condition last night, and if the splint was crooked, he would need to reset it later. Doing so would peel off the new skin, ruining a day's worth of healing.

The two gaps in his teeth should have been nicely infected by now, but he supposed his livestock-sized dose of antibiotics staved that off. That was still a stupid risk in hindsight. The penicillin had conducted a scotched earth campaign through in his intestines. If he had eaten more than soup in the last ten hours, he would have vomited it all in his sleep.

The swelling in Batman's bruised face had reduced a fair bit, but he would have to do something about the sight of it. He was still counting his other bruises when he smelled something appetizing and heard a squeaking in the distance. Confused, he opened his eyes and struggled to roll onto his side. He knew it was well past dawn, but his little camp in the tunnel was in perpetual darkness. With one good hand, he managed to light his lamp in short order. By then the squeaking had stopped and the appetizing, bready scent seemed close enough to taste.

The lamp flickered to life, and Batman saw a silver platter holding a plate of French toast, a glass of orange juice, and a note. The platter shifted. Batman peeked under it and saw it was being carried by six rats. The juice was starting to slosh, so Batman took the platter and placed it on the ground. The rats ran off into the darkness.

Batman looked around (a slow process that required him to turn his whole upper body). There was no one in sight, rodent or otherwise. He read the note. It was written in pencil on the back of a gas station receipt. The handwriting was atrocious.

Hey buddy Thansks again for th advice last night.

Its going too be a hole new ball game now! Consider food a tokeen of my admiration.

Come backe any ime!!


Batman dropped the note and stared ahead in grave concern. He hazily remembered speaking with the Ratcatcher for thirty minutes or so before they parted ways, but he couldn't recall for the life of him what advice he had offered. The possibilities were troubling.

He put that concern out of his mind and focused on the platter. There was no way he could swallow toast. He could probably drink the orange juice, but the acid would cause some sublime discomfort for the next few hours. He left the platter and enjoyed a swig of water from his camp kit instead. Then he remembered the note.

Consider food a tokeen of my admiration.

Batman frowned. “Hmm.”

He crouched and poured the orange juice down a small drain. No point in being rude. He was about to stuff the French toast down the same hole, but then he recalled that the Ratcatcher could evidently talk to rats. He remembered what rats were like. After a moment's hesitation, Batman solemnly balled up a slice of toast and fit it into a belt pouch, cramming it tight with his thumb before closing the flap.

---​

The Marston-Peter Municipal Airport was little more than a grassy field and a few overgrown shacks six miles west of Gotham City limits. The site was popular with private pilots who flew for recreation, given a loose definition of 'popular' anyway. At its busiest, Marston-Peter might handle two flights a day. Unsurprisingly, there was only one car in the dirt parking lot when Batman arrived astride a motorcycle when the sun was low in the sky. He knew who owned the car, a semi-retired flight controller and part-owner of the airport named Jeb Dunn. He was almost certainly sleeping in the tower. A marching band passing under his window wouldn't wake him at this hour.

The regular customers who rented space in the hanger had a dingy locker room in the terminal. Batman went to a certain locker. It had the name Malone stenciled on it. It was also locked, but the metal was old and a strong tug yanked it open. Inside, he found several gym bags filled with assorted sets of clothes, cosmetics, and other props.

After a brief shower, “Matches” Malone woke his good pal Jeb Dunn. The old man helped Malone taxi his yellow Piper J-3 Cub onto the runway for a scenic run down the coast.

---​

Maria Bertinelli leaned on the sea-worn handrail of the boardwalk and watched her three children chase each other across the beach. Children were tough. Mothers didn't like to admit that, but they saw it best of all, and thank God for it. Maria had taken her children in the middle of the night on a seven-hour car trip, booking the last dirty vacancy of an old hotel when they arrived at this mid-Atlantic no-name town. Her kids had been scared, but she didn't know what danger to comfort them against. They missed their father, but she wasn't sure he was ever coming. She couldn't even promise he was alive. Maria had faced that doubt, that specter of widow-hood countless times back in the vendettas. She knew the man she married. She had made her choice. But her bambinos didn't get to choose their father, and they were too young to remember the old days. This was all new to them.

Maria and Arturo had started a family late, even by American standards. Most of her sisters and friends had adult children by now, but her oldest was twelve. That had been Arturo's decision. Maria had begged him for years, even brought a priest to plead on her behalf, but Arturo had resolutely refused to bring a child into his bloody world. It wasn't until the final months of the vendettas that he gave in to her wish. By then she was worried it was too late for her, but her prayers were answered three times over.

Maria Bertinelli scratched her wrist. Her skin and gums felt dry. Arturo didn't like it when she smoked. He said it wasn't proper, and she tried to obey him. The children usually kept her busy enough to ignore the little itch. Maria bit her lip and patted her purse. About once a month, she sneaked into a corner shop and bought a pack of smokes. She would carry them around for a day or two, feeling all the furtive thrill of a dance hall floozy and a sinner. Then she threw them out, defeating temptation for another month.

Maria swallowed. Heaven help her, she had bought a pack yesterday.

Her children still chased each other along the surf, and there was no one else on the beach. Maria glanced around then discreetly dug a cigarette and a match out of her purse. Head bent, she bit the cigarette and tried to strike the match on the wooden rail. No luck. The sea breeze and the cloudy sky kept the rail as moist as driftwood. She frowned, shifting the cigarette to the corner of her mouth with more skill than she liked to admit. She struck the match again and again until the head broke off. Maria tossed the stick and cradled her face in her hands in frustration.

"Need a light?"

Maria lifted her head and turned. A distinguished old man hobbled towards her on a cane, flipping open a lighter. He was only four steps away, but she hadn't heard him approach.

"Uh, yes, please."

She leaned towards his hand, lips around the cigarette, and he smoothly lit the tip. She closed her eyes and took a long drag.

"Ahhhh. Thank you, signor."

"Non è niente, madonna."

She blinked at him, lines of smoke still trailing from her nose. "You're Italian?"

He smiled with his eyes. "È il Papa?"

She laughed in spite of herself, holding the cigarette languidly at her side. It was the first thing she had done languidly in a long time. The man slipped the lighter into a trouser pocket and stood beside her to watch the waves. Even stooped with age, he seemed tall and broad, though it was unclear how much of this was an effect of his big coat. He wore an old-fashioned hat any padrino might wear back in Sicily, and had a thick white beard. When he rested his hands on the rail, she could see his gloves were a fine leather. Maria knew the kind of bags under his eyes came only with age or a punishing bout of insomnia, and he seemed rested. Like most older men, he also smelled funny.

He gestured towards the beach where her children played. "Sono questi i vostri bambini?"

His accent was unfamiliar. It was heavy on the consonants and lacked the musical quality of conversational Italian. He certainly wasn't from southern Italia like most immigrants. Maybe that was how they spoke in the northern cities. Folks up there were practically German.

Maria nodded. "Sì, sono miei." She looked across at the stranger and tried to recognize him. "Ci conosciamo , signore?"

The man shook his head. "No." He clasped his hands meekly on his cane and didn't meet her eye. "No, we haven't. But I'm afraid our meeting isn't chance. I know your family well, Mrs. Bertinelli."

Maria froze. She rubbed out her cigarette out on the rail and dropped it in the sand. "Who are you?"

"A negotiator."

Her voice ran deathly cold. "For. Who?"

The stranger said nothing for a moment. He watched her children skip across the sand, an attention that now filled her with dread. "I regret sharing bad news, but your husband has been taken by men who wish to hurt him, Mrs. Bertinelli. I am here to stop them."

Maria's expression didn't change, but the lines on her face and neck deepened, and her pupils focused to hateful dots. The man didn't notice or didn't care. He briefly described how Arturo looked last night: the pajamas, the ceiling dust, the revolver he carried, the color of his socks. There was no question he had seen Arturo up close or spoke with someone who had.

"What do these men want with him?"

"Two months ago, your husband abducted a group Ukrainian immigrants to use as forced labor." He saw the smallest glimmer of recognition in her eyes. "The men holding your husband are … sympathetic to the plight of these immigrants. They feel a Slavic kinship. They are, in a sense, family." He knew this was laying it on thick, but subtlety was overrated. "These men only want to know where their family has been taken."

"And Arturo will not help them." It wasn't a question.

"He's quiet on the subject. But I'm afraid his captors' desire for an answer is becoming more and more … urgent."

"No. No."

"I represent certain authorities who have dealt with your husband in the past. We would like to see his safe return, but we need your help."

"Me?"

"It wasn't easy to find you, but you seem a wise woman, madonna. I suspect you have the answer that could free Mr. Bertinelli."

"The answer he would rather die than let the bastardi know."

The old man held out his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I won't insult your loyalty. As I said, I'm a negotiator. To cool their tempers, I discreetly suggested I had another source for what these men want, and they've delayed their interrogation. Your husband may have-" The man looked at a pocket watch. "Two hours to live. Maybe three. I'm not sure how much blood a man needs."

Maria bent over the rail and let out a rasping sob. She gradually regained her composure, but she didn't look at him again. Her voice was low and drowned in malice.

"And who says you are not with them, ah? Who says if I have your answer, I get Arturo back at all?"

"I suppose I can't prove that. But trust me, if I was one of your husband's captors, we wouldn't be talking here. You would be waking up in an abandoned house, and I would have a gun to Anita's head." He looked forlornly at her children on the beach. "Or Paulie. Or Lucia. That's who we're dealing with."

He could see the tendons in Maria's small fists, and he knew that if she had any weapon at all, even a splinter of wood, she would have stabbed him already.

"Or perhaps it would satisfy you to know that I've dined recently with Mr. Sal Maroni. We ate on green-patterned china. Agostina Maroni makes a lovely pasta with sea urchins, and she had this almond candy shaped like peaches and oranges, frutta martorana, I believe. Personally, I think these were too bitter, but she seemed so proud of them that we all ate at least four. Afterward, his granddaughter entertained us with her violin."

This stopped Maria in her tracks. The Four Families rarely ate together, especially lesser branches like Arturo's, but she once enjoyed dinner at Salvatore Maroni's house. The stranger's description was exactly as she remembered. It was a sign of supreme trust and affection to invite an outsider to dinner in your home, and Maria couldn't imagine any way a person could discover such private details of a mob boss' domestic life otherwise. This old stranger was, in the strongest possible sense, 'connected'.

"You have great kids, Mrs. Bertinelli. It is a miserable thing to lose a father. Believe me."

He slowly turned and hobbled away. Maria Bertinelli watched him leave down boardwalk. He seemed to blur, and she realized her eyes were wet.

She called out. "There's a bar on 85nd Street, Carlo's." The man stopped and looked back. She had to yell to reach him over the gulls and the breeze. "Behind the furnace in the basement is a hidden panel. He doesn't think anyone knows about it, but I-" She paused. "If he has something to keep from the world, he'd put it there."

The man considered this, then took off his hat and offered a gracious bow. Maria watched him climb the grassy hill over the boardwalk and out to the parking lot.

---​

It was a bad stereotype that the wife always knows. Some men were truly as tight-lipped as they pretended, and some women were simply unobservant. Nevertheless, Batman found that in nine cases out of ten - whether a debt, a racket, an affair, a grudge, or a body – the wife knows. Batman didn't take advantage of this fact very often, but when an investigation went south, it was a priceless trump card.

---​

Tommy "the Snake" Santini was a young soldier in the Bertinelli crime family. Like most of the organization, he wasn't actually family. Not even in that casually adopted sense the really old guys who knew Frankie from the beginning enjoyed. Like many kids who came of age after the Peace, Tommy never had the opportunity to make his bones the proper way. He was forced to forge a name for himself through the relatively sedate jobs available, usually messenger, doorman, or delivery boy plus the occasional scare-job. In the old days, the kids who hung around the bottom of the totem pole wouldn't have earned even a steady paycheck from this kind of work. Now, it was all there was to offer. After just a few years of hustling, such work was enough to earn Tommy a place in the Family proper. The lowest rung of the Family, true, but a position on the inside all the same. That was how bloodless the game had become. Now the problem was moving up. No one died or went to prison anymore, so he couldn't promote into a vacancy, and there was no war to win honors or new rackets left to prove his entrepreneurial savvy. No, Tommy was forced to run errands. Even so, he always gave it his all, trusting that one day his opportunity would come knocking.

Today his errand was picking up Mrs. Bertinelli and her kids at some hotel a ways south, and to do it quick. The circumstances were odd, but he didn't consider asking questions. Tommy received the call just before breakfast, which he skipped, and in no time he was racing down the interstate in a borrowed truck (his coupe didn't have enough seats). It was well past noon when arrived. When he parked, he noticed one of Mr. Arturo's cars nearby. Tommy walked briskly into the hotel, passing an old bearded man in a big coat using the payphone outside.

Tommy had been told that Mrs. Bertinelli was hiding under an unknown name, so he made up a simple lie for the receptionist about being an undercover cop investigating a report of a lady stealing hotel furniture. The reecptionst was more than happy to tell him that 'Mrs. Parker', who matched the description, had left in the direction of the boardwalk hours ago with three children.

Tommy jogged to the boardwalk and found Mrs. Bertinelli leaning on the railing and looking out to sea. "'Scuse me, Mrs. Bertinelli."

She spun in surprise. He held up his hands. "Mrs. Bertinelli, forgive me. It's me, Thomas Santini. I'm sorry. Good to see you. Didn't mean to scare you." He noticed she had been crying. "Whoa, what's wrong? What's the matter, Mrs. Bertinelli? Is something wrong here?"

She swallowed and asked him in a rough voice, "Why are you here?"

"Hey there, hey, your husband sent me, Mrs. Bertinelli. Mr. Arturo says you can come home. He wants to let you know he's alright now. Everything's good. He says leave your car here. I'm driving you and the kids home. You can relax, maybe take a nap or something. Whatever you want, okay?"

Maria Bertinelli looked like she hardly heard him. She was staring into space, and her stare grew heavier and darker. Her mouth was a tight line.

"Mrs. Bertinelli?"

Finally, she snapped out of it and addressed him with a cold clarity that belied the dry tears on her face. "Go back to the hotel, Tommy. Call Arturo. Tell him I told a man about Carlo's."

"What? What man?"

She shushed him and slapped his cheek lightly. "Carlo's. Run."

"I-"

Mrs. Bertielli huffed in disgust and rushed past him up the hill. She couldn't run with much speed, but not for lack of trying. Tommy caught up with her. "I'm sorry, madonna, you can't call Mr. Arturo."

She didn't stop but sharply asked, "Why?"

"I don't know, I don't know. But something's happening. They're hiding him. I'm only here because he passed the word along to Don Bertinelli who told me to come."

"Then call the Don! Now! Andava!" She slapped him again. "Tell him to ask Arturo about Carlo's Bar. It's an emergency."

Tommy ran ahead. Fortunately, the old man at the phone was gone. Tommy pulled a nickel from his pocket and dialed the trunk call.

---​

85th Street had been well outside contested territory during the Vendettas, so its residents had largely been spectators to the city-wide battlefield. Still, they used to say a family had to pass Idaho to avoid the Vendettas altogether, and 85th Street eventually experienced a few drive-bys, an alleged poisoning, and a smattering of police raids. Nothing impressive, but enough to stick in the local memory. So, folks were edgy for a time, but the Peace of Falcone proved remarkably stable, and the thought that anything could upset the neighborhood a decade later seemed absurd.

So 85th Street reacted with disbelief when a wedge of three GCPD cruisers with their lights flashing sped through several stop signs and squealed to a stop in front of old Carlo's Bar on the corner. Two cops popped out of each car and rushed to the entrance. One pair went around the back while the other four flanked the door. It was closed, but they could hear voices and movement inside. Like many bars, they were sure it served as a private clubhouse for the owners and their friends in the off-hours. It was impossible to tell if the occupants heard them arrive or how many were inside. Today it didn't matter.

Detective Harvey Bullock rapped on the door, keeping his body well to the side of it. He sang out, "Little pig, little pig, let me come in."

The noise inside stopped. A man called back, "You better make tracks, buddy. We're closed."

Harvey nodded to his team. "Then I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll-"

A bullet shot through the door, missing his head by a foot. He heard it ricochet off his car. Harvey flinched and kicked open the door with his size 15 shoe. "Police! Drop the heaters, all's a' ya!"

He peaked inside, then waved the other officers in. His team entered with their weapons drawn. There were five people in the dim bar, two men and three women. One of the men was busy putting a cheap pistol on the ground. Harvey stomped up to him and shoved the punk against a table. "You think that was wise? Huh, buddy? Taking potshots at a cop? That funny?"

The man tried to keep his balance. "Hey now. You didn't say you were cops."

"Must'a slipped my mind." Harvey comically twirled a finger around his ear and rolled his eyes. "Oops."

One of his officers pocketed the weapon. Harvey pushed the lowlife aside and took in the scenery. The place was a real dive, and Harvey Bullock was a man who knew his dives. A woman, some blond dame that might have been pretty ten years ago asked him, "What's youse officers want? We done nothing wrong, honest!"

Harvey turned her way. "Is that right, honey? You done nothing wrong?" He pointed at her. "Save it for your pastor. We're looking for one thing, and it ain't to break up whatever game of patty-cake we stepped in on. So shut those lips and keep your head down."

Another woman, a perky lil' thing with glasses asked him, “Well, what's the one thing you want?”

She sounded earnest. Harvey had a soft spot for glasses. "I understand this place has a basement. I want to see it."

"Oh." The men and woman eyed each other in sincere puzzlement. The girl shrugged. "Sure. There's nothing down there though."

"I'll be the judge of that, toots. Let's get going."

"It's back here."

Harvey was about to follow her into a narrow hallway when he heard engines sputter outside. Harvey turned to another cop. "Gilford, keep an eye on this crew." The officer nodded and guided the bar's occupants into the back room. Harvey and his two other teammates went to the door and peered out.

A pair of shiny Cadillacs were parking outside Carlo's Bar, barely fitting around the trio of cop cars – the mass of vehicles easily blocked both lanes. The Cadillacs' doors opened and five men calmly stepped out. All tough customers, all in three-piece suits. Harvey gaped open-mouthed for a moment and gestured for his two teammates to hold position. He holstered his sidearm and walked outside.

"Marco Bertinelli."

The man in the middle of the new arrivals, a strong, fat guy looked back at Harvey with level contempt. Except for Marco's darker features and nicer suit, he and Harvey could have been twins.

Marco spoke plainly. "Bullock, this is Family business." He unbuttoned his suit and brushed it open, revealing a Hargrave .31 at his side. "Get going."

The sight of the Hargrave sent a bead of cold sweat down Harvey's back, but he held his ground. "No dice, Marco, this is Gotham business. I'm gonna have to ask you and your boys to drive away."

Marco shook his head. "Can't do that. If you defy me here, some important people are going to be disappointed with you."

"And normally I'd be shaking in my boots, honest. But yesterday I found something new."

"What?"

"A spine. You should try it sometime."

"One last warning, Bullock." His four colleagues slid open their jackets and palmed their own Hargraves.

Harvey's face went white. "Whoa! Whoa. Let's talk about this. No need to rush."

"I know you got another cop in there, Bullock. Bring 'em out. Can't let you paw around in there."

"Oh, he's not doing anything. Just getting a drink."

"Four seconds."

"Hey, now! You need us. You hurt me, the Families lose the GCPD."

"I don't think so, Bullock, you washed-up drunken slug. If I hurt you, all the world loses is you. Can't say that feels like a sacrifice."

The five Bertinelli men drew their weapons.
Author: Batman 1939
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SCRawl
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby SCRawl » 2016-09-30 11:40pm

I have two things to say about this last installment.

The first is constructive criticism. The transition from Batman being in the sewer not eating breakfast to arriving at the airport is very jarring. I mean, I can imagine how Batman could get from the sewers to a motorcycle, but you need to at least nod in that direction. It's the only flaw I've noticed so far in your story-telling.

The second is an observation: the scene near the end in which Batman impersonates someone to get information from the wife, upon which another person with a "legitimate" reason for being there shows up and exposes the ruse (or at least part of it) reminds me a great deal of a scene in "The Dark Knight Returns". In that one Batman impersonates a police detective to get intel from the new police commissioner, and as he's walking away the guy he's impersonating shows up to talk to the same person, and then the chase is on. If it's intentional, kudos. If not, well, it's still a nice scene.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-10-01 01:22am

I noticed the same thing, and yeah it's basically the only noticeable flaw I've seen yet in XYZ thousand words. There's a whole day of time passing (from some time in the morning to some time in the evening), but you mention it only in passing. A little more is needed. A paragraph or so, perhaps.

Does Batman check back in with Alfred? Is he still in his battered state when he reaches the airport? If so, "inside, he found several gym bags filled with assorted sets of clothes, cosmetics, and other props" explains where he found what he needs, a mix of medical supplies, cosmetics to cover up his bruises, and so on.

But without a little more language to cover all this, we go from "Batman has been beaten to within an inch of his life and is barely able to crawl out of the sewers, unfit to win a footrace with a toddler" to "Batman is on a motorcycle heading to the airport to fly a plane to New Jersey to impersonate an elderly man with Mafia contacts." Not enough transition.

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-10-01 06:19pm

SCRawl wrote:The first is constructive criticism. The transition from Batman being in the sewer not eating breakfast to arriving at the airport is very jarring. I mean, I can imagine how Batman could get from the sewers to a motorcycle, but you need to at least nod in that direction. It's the only flaw I've noticed so far in your story-telling.


Simon_Jester wrote:I noticed the same thing, and yeah it's basically the only noticeable flaw I've seen yet in XYZ thousand words. There's a whole day of time passing (from some time in the morning to some time in the evening), but you mention it only in passing. A little more is needed. A paragraph or so, perhaps.

Does Batman check back in with Alfred? Is he still in his battered state when he reaches the airport? If so, "inside, he found several gym bags filled with assorted sets of clothes, cosmetics, and other props" explains where he found what he needs, a mix of medical supplies, cosmetics to cover up his bruises, and so on.

But without a little more language to cover all this, we go from "Batman has been beaten to within an inch of his life and is barely able to crawl out of the sewers, unfit to win a footrace with a toddler" to "Batman is on a motorcycle heading to the airport to fly a plane to New Jersey to impersonate an elderly man with Mafia contacts." Not enough transition.


Alright, that's a decent point. I can't edit these posts, but I'll add a special addition cut here:

---

[Story ...]

He crouched and poured the orange juice down a small drain. No point in being rude. He was about to stuff the French toast down the same hole, but then he recalled that the Ratcatcher could evidently talk to rats. He remembered what rats were like. After a moment's hesitation, Batman solemnly balled up a slice of toast and fit it into a belt pouch, cramming it tight with his thumb before closing the flap.

He made a mental note to restock this camp and considered relocating it. The Ratcatcher travels on foot, so he likely lives nearby, he and his ... swarm? Pack? Colony? Thralls? Family? Hmm. Friend or not, I loathe the idea of sleeping where someone can find me. Yet if his rats are at liberty to roam, then hiding another camp here long-term means finding a place where rats can't go. That may not exist. Alternatives? Motivating him to live elsewhere; inventing a rat repellent; hermetically sealing a camp; releasing feral cats; never sleeping. Not great. Will contemplate options later.

Batman rose and took off his cape - it was dead weight to him here. He was fortunate that his legs and spine weren't substantially injured. He could walk. It took all his stubborn focus, and his headache pulsed, and his joints yelled, and all the fabric on his outfit had been drenched and dried stiff and abrasive, but he could walk. He started his trek through the tunnel. It worked as a nice crossroads of underground paths, but he had also valued it for security since it was below most of them. After all, the Meat Pool had been several stories deep, and he had slipped into a sewer under it and traveled downhill from there. A few of the paths behind and above him enjoyed faint light filtering down from storm drains on the surface far above, but here there was none.

Plodding through this iron sub-basement of the city, Batman began to hear an occasional mechanical squealing. Two hundred yards and three tunnel turns later, he reached a jagged hole in the wall. didn't know who had made it. It looked old: the metal edges were long rusted, and the passage was packed rubble more often than bricks. And it was crooked, like something a huge groundhog would dig more than anything planned. The hole gave the impression that it could collapse any minute, but it sure was a nice shortcut.

Batman emerged from the other side in a low chamber with unfinished walls of stone. A few ancient shovels and picks lay around. The mechanical noise here was near-deafening, and the room shook as it passed. There was a ladder on the far wall made of iron bands drilled into the stone. With his feet and one good hand, he steadily climbed the ladder. It ascended through a narrow chute that almost touched his back. At the top, he reached up with his free arm and elbowed aside a loose tin sheet. He stuck his head up - finding himself beside a subway track. A fair distance away, he could see the faint lights of a platform.

Batman knew Gotham's subway lines intimately. He knew that the train on this line slowed the last hundred or so feet so that the first car entered the platform at a mild jog, and the caboose entered at a crawl (Gotham's subways were much slower than her surface trains). He knew that there was twenty-seven inches of clearance between the frame of the caboose and the track ties below. And he knew that he had installed a sling under the caboose where he could fit like a crude hammock.

Unpacking his sling from its hidden crevice beneath a still gently-moving train was a challenge. Crawling into it was more difficult still. The pain in his neck at the first acceleration almost made him pass out. That would have been problematic since he needed to grip a bar above him the whole ride lest he roll under the wheels.

Batman let go between the ninth and tenth stop. There was an art to slipping out of the sling without rolling sideways, and he managed it, though his nose came close to being grinded off. He lay a minute in the pitch dark tracks as the train traveled ahead. When he could manage, he stood and soon discovered that his timing had been off. He had hoped to slip out near a maintence access, but he was a seven minute walk away. He kept to the side. Another train passed as he walked, but if any passenger noticed him, he didn't care.

The lock to the maintence room was lost. The room was chock full of wires and valves and a staircase to the surface. It led to a small entrance shed. Its door had a lock, so Batman exited through the window. It was well into the morning, and there were few shadows around, even in the warren of back alleys he found himself in. A few people saw him, but they didn't call to him or approach. Most of humanity avoided large, bloody men in strange outfits, no matter what time of day it was.

Around a corner at the end of a dead end lane was the burnt ruin of what had once been an apartment. Batman entered the collapsed skeleton of the building. Under the remains of the staircase was a deep pile of ash. And under the pile was a fine motorcycle.

The roads were busy in the morning, but Batman didn't always use roads. He was out of town in twenty minutes.

The Marston-Peter Municipal Airport was little more than a grassy field and a few overgrown shacks six miles west of Gotham City limits. The site was popular with private pilots who flew for recreation, given a loose definition of 'popular' anyway. At its busiest, Marston-Peter might handle two flights a day. Unsurprisingly, there was only one car in the dirt parking lot when Batman arrived astride a motorcycle when the sun was low in the sky. He knew who owned the car, a semi-retired flight controller and part-owner of the airport named Jeb Dunn. He was almost certainly sleeping in the tower. A marching band passing under his window wouldn't wake him at this hour.
Author: Batman 1939
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-10-01 07:50pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 10: Kiss the Sky​


Albert Einstein's theories of relativity introduced the idea that the flow of time wasn't constant but depended on the frame of reference of each observer. In 1919, a solar eclipse showed that gravity bent light the way his general theory predicted, making him an overnight celebrity. Of course, this new physics craze didn't make physics any simpler, and plenty of journalists and academics made a living trying in vain to explain his papers to the public. For years afterward, it was common wisdom that only a handful of geniuses truly understood relativity.

Detective Harvey Bullock had failed introductory algebra. Yet the idea that time could change depending on the observer seemed obvious. Bullock was no genius, but he was observing five killers drawing gats on him, and he swore he could finish War and Peace between each heartbeat.

KA-TUMP


His pulse was as loud as a screen door in a hurricane.

KA-TUMP


Harvey began to step back. His fingers patted around his hip, desperate to catch the top of his holster.

KA-TUMP

The Bertinelli hit squad had already slapped leather. One on the left, the quickest of the lot, had his piece up and was drawing a bead on him. The goon was fast, but from practice, not rushing. Family soldiers knew how to aim. They were fifteen paces apart. He wouldn't miss.

KA-

"HEY! HEY! DROP IT!"

Bullock's heart skipped a beat. Cop and crook alike turned to the voice.

---​

Four hours earlier.

Walter Brown was a humble man. He was a manager of middling rank at a paper company where he had worked for thirty years. Lately, he had declined several promotions so he could spend time with his wife and grandchildren. He had few friends, wasn't a member of any team or club, and rarely left the house after dinner. Indeed, there was nothing remarkable about Walter Brown except that he happened to be the Deputy Mayor's brother-in-law and the County Commissioner's second cousin. Fate had given him a better view of the halls of power than any journalist or bureaucrat could ever hope to glimpse.

Walter never cared for politics, but he wasn't naive. He knew that when certain relatives asked him for a favor, it was considerably more serious than borrowing a grill. There was a world of difference between what a politician had to do and what a politician could be seen doing. Public leaders needed to delegate. But who could do the job? A politician's staff could go where he couldn't, but having an assistant caught crossing a line was only slightly better for a boss' reputation than finding his own name in the headlines. A politician's immediate family faced the same scrutiny, especially since the siblings, wives, and children of those in power tended to have a history in the public eye of their own. But then there were those distant relations with no presence on the social circuit. The Walters of the world were the invisible option. He was too boring to need an alibi.

So when a conclave of Gotham City's highest elected officials needed a messenger to pitch their grievances at a meeting of its most notorious gang lords, Walter was the man they sent. He received a phone call from his brother-in-law last night, warning that his services might be needed. This morning, a stranger from City Hall visited his home, briefed him for ten minutes, and called him a taxi. The taxi left him in a parking garage somewhere in the East End – the hand-off point was different each time – and a shiny blue Lincoln picked him up. Two polite but serious men frisked him, then he was taken downtown to a dark gray skyscraper. The sign over the entrance had the name of an insurance company he had never heard of. But the two men escorted him around the building to a secluded back door protected by a security guard. The guard unlocked the door, and Walter was guided down two grimey maintenance hallways to an old elevator. There was no operator. One of the escorts produced a key. Holding down an unlabeled button, he turned the key in a hidden hole. An unseen bell rung twice.

The elevator car ascended for quite some time. When the doors opened, Walter stepped into a quiet lobby. Sixteen well-dressed men waited here in the rows of plush chairs, reading or playing cards, and the whole group glanced at him as he entered.

The scene was so mundane, it took a moment for Walter to realize that they all had submachine guns.

---​

The present.

When Harvey Bullock's team stormed Carlo's Bar, a pair of officers had hooked around through the alley. Hundreds of exciting chases were aborted every year when fugitives dashed out their back door only to be tackled by a flanking element, and if the front entry went hot, a strike from the rear could save lives. In this case, Officers Wilkes and Montoya had hardly turned the corner when they heard one of the bar's occupants fire a shot. They burst in, but Detective Bullock had already secured the scene. Seeing the situation under control, they returned to the alley to establish a perimeter while Bullock grilled the locals.

Not a minute later, Wilkes and Montoya heard cars pull up in front. Montoya asked if they were expecting more units. Wilkes shrugged. Then they heard Bullock's unmistakable bark:

"Marco Bertinelli."

The pair froze. Officer Wilkes whispered in horror, "Ah, poop."

Officer Montoya, no less distressed, put a shaky finger to her lips and nodded to move to the corner. She peaked around and whipped her head back. Wilkes looked at her. She wordlessly held up five fingers. He nodded, swallowed, and readied his weapon. She did the same. They listened to the pack of Bertinellis trading barbs with Bullock. Then it went south. Montoya looked and saw the gangsters go for their guns. She leaned out of the alley and yelled, "HEY! HEY! DROP IT!"

Bullock turned and saw the pair he sent around the corner jump out and get the drop on the Bertinellis. Beautiful timing. With the gunmen distracted, he stumbled backward and half-ran, half-crawled trough the door into the bar. The two officers bunkered inside the door glared at him in exasperation. He realized that while standing outside, he had been blocking their line of fire. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He rolled out of the doorway and finally found his weapon.

Officer Gilford hustled out of the back room, but Bullock snarled and waved him away. Someone had to keep an eye on the locals. Who knew what they were up to? He patted Officer Smith on the shoulder, and the kid peeled away from the door to take a position by a quarter-open glazed window, holding his service revolver in one hand and the cheap popgun he took from the barfly in the other. Bullock stepped into his place and looked outside.

---​

Three hours earlier.

Walter Brown was politely frisked again, then he was led down yet another hallway. He made small talk with a new escort he recognized. A short distance down the hall was an undistinguished door protected by big guards, all standing at attention, all armed. One nodded vaguely in his direction. Another knocked twice then opened the door.

It was a surprisingly humble meeting room, given that the four gentlemen inside all owned residences as nice as the governor's mansion. He could imagine it holding budget discussions or job interviews like any mid-rent office in the city. The table was unvarnished, the wallpaper was cracked, layers of tobacco soot smudged the furniture, and the red blinds were faded nearly white. His escort pulled out his seat and offered refreshments, which he declined.

Unlike the room, the four men at the table looked like a million bucks. Walter wouldn't have been surprised if gangsters kept half the haberdashers in the city afloat; they always wore the finest suits and every accessory. Walter had met them all many times and never saw one thread out of place. Even relaxed, the bosses made a powerful image, and today they were not relaxed.

Franco "Frank" Bertinelli was uncharacteristically sullen but as intense as always. He was a small man and a bit pudgy, but he moved with an energy that made him almost seem average-sized. Not coincidentally, Walter doubted anyone had called Frank short since he was fourteen, or at least no one had lived to tell about it.

Salvatore "Sal" Maroni was much bigger, with a fleshy face and a truly impressive gut. Whereas Frank seemed grim, Sal had the same smirk as usual. It made him look a little foolish. Walter wasn't sure the deception was intentional, but he doubted anyone underestimated him these days. And smirk or not, today he seemed on edge.

Giovanni "Icepick Johnny" Nobilo was as silent and inscrutable as the rest of the Nobilo clan. Walter couldn't recall ever hearing more than five words out of those thin lips, and rarely more than one. Giovanni was blessed with features so average and forgettable that he could hide in a crowd of two. After all these years, he was still a mystery.

And finally there was the man himself, Carmine "the Roman" Falcone. Tall, svelte, refined. Walter had never seen him act any way but the perfect gentleman. And coming from a family of politicians, Walter could spot a fake. Yet for nearly fifeteen years, this gentleman had been mythologized as a sultan among thugs, a grandmaster of blood and deceit, the one who could touch the untouchable. Those guards outside were frightening, but Falcone was something more sublime. He was humbling. And today he was not pleased.

Of course, he was gracious about it.

"Mr. Brown, greetings. To what do we owe the honor?" Falcone smiled, gesturing to his guest.

Walter nodded in return. "You're too kind Mr. Falcone, I'm sure the honor is mine. Mr. Nobilo, Mr. Maroni, Mr. Bertinelli, thank you all for having me."

The other three bosses nodded their cautious welcome. Only half of their quartet had been born in America, all grew up dirt poor, and none had finished school. Yet Walter, who discreetly represented some of the most powerful and privileged men in the country, was essentially an ambassador in their underworld court; he would kneel and kiss their rings if they so beckoned him.

"What can we do for you, Mr. Brown?"

---​

The present.

When two cops jump out of an alley and train guns on a gang of normal criminals, most often the criminals run, fire back, or stick up their hands. So when the five gunmen merely scrambled for cover, it was either sheer brass or a gut-deep trust that their name made them invincible. Bullock suspected both, but mostly the later. No cop had shot at a made Family man in something like eight years, and this wasn't the closest an encounter had come. Close, but not quite.

And they were right. Montoya and Wilkes hadn't pulled the trigger. Even when the Bertinelli soldiers ignored a direct order, even though they were about to shoot a brother cop, his two officers didn't pull the trigger. And Bullock's kids weren't even dirty. The GCPD just put the rule in your bones. His men wouldn't shoot the Families.

Not first, anyway.

The five gunmen were now ducking behind their two Cadilllacs and a cement tree planter. Marco, just as big as Bullock, was barely nimble enough to slide over the hood of a car, and he huffed as he looked back-and-forth for any other surprises.

Bullock called out, "What are we even doing here? I don't know what this is to you, Marco, but it ain't worth it."

Marco ejected the magazine on his Hargrave, re-counted the rounds, and snapped it back into place. He called back, "I wouldn't be here if it weren't worth it, and you better believe that, Harvey. I swear on my sweet mama's grave, we will go through you to get in that bar."

"Wait, your mom's alive, though."

"You know what I mean."

"Let's calm down and we can all go home with the right number of holes in our face. We both want something here, maybe we can work something out."

"I'm done talking. You need to walk, chubby."

"Oh, that's rich."

Bullock's mind raced for a response to keep the conversation going. The five police and five gangsters kept their standoff cool by a hairsbreadth, shuffling around their covers and sweeping their guns from target to target. His squad wouldn't panic easy, but they weren't angels. And the bosses would only hand out five Hargraves to a team that bled ice, but everyone made mistakes. Bullock felt like he was holding back a flood with his thumb. He wasn't hot on the idea of reenacting the O.K. Corral. Then he had a great idea.

"Marco, just-"

Two streets over, an idling truck's old exhaust backfired. BANG!

---​

Three hours earlier.

Walter folded his hands on the table. "Gentlemen, last night, a warrant was filed for the arrest of Arturo Bertinelli." He faced them in turn, but only glanced briefly at Frank Bertinelli, whose stare was dark and level. "Despite the city's efforts, he remains at large, and authorities are concerned that he is being sheltered by parties close to him."Walter hesitated here, but when he eventually spoke, his voice was firm. "Should Arturo continue to remain at large, the police will begin investigating his friends and family. Anyone found providing him shelter will be tried for harboring a fugitive and as an accessory to his crimes after the fact. And considering Arturo's particular crimes, that would be a grave fate indeed." Walter gave them a moment to consider his announcement, then he continued, "However, if Arturo is found before the end of the day, then it will be obvious he was acting alone and that line of inquiry will not be pursued."

There was silence at the table. They had known each other a long time. Walter could see conversations in their eyes, considering questions and knowing how their peers would answer. There was no bravado here, just calculating. Endless calculating.

He knew the Families observed a code of etiquette when meeting outsiders, and speaking order was paramount. Whichever boss answered first would have an advantage in setting the tone of the group; the others couldn't disagree afterward without looking divided. Of course, it would be offensive to take that advantage without a good reason. The first speaker had to know that he shared the group's consensus. And if there was doubt, then at least he needed some special authority on the issue. And if that was unclear, then at least he had to know the benefits of candor outweighed the risks, and that was rarely certain.

None of these judgments could be debated out loud, as disunity was weakness. Walter wondered why the bosses didn't simply send guests out of the room at the beginning and discuss every new issue first in private. He supposed they took too much pride in the impression of spontaneous unity.

As it was, he watched the silent politics play out across the table. The announcement wasn't a surprise, so there was no leader in knowledge. Bertinelli was the obvious interested party, but he had a reputation as a hothead and the others might see him as responsible for their predicament. Falcone usually led the meetings. Still, though famously impartial, he was known to favor cooperation with law enforcement, yet he kept a protective attitude towards the Bertinelli Family. Today such opposing interests made him a wild card. Of the other two, Maroni had a diplomatic temperment but also a reputation for brash self-interest, and he nursed an old feud with Frank Bertinelli that bubbled up inconveniently every few years. As for Don Nobilo, he had probably never spoken first in any meeting in his life.

Predictably, Falcone broke the deadlock. "We've heard Arturo is a wanted man. Naturally, we wish the best for our esteemed colleague, but it pains me that you would suggest we may be involved in aiding him."

Walter nodded slowly. "Then I beg your forgiveness, Mr. Falcone. Please understand that even highly-regarded citizens such as yourselves are questioned during police investigations from time to time. I've been promised such an ordeal would be conducted with all the discretion and speed your reputations merit. And, I feel obliged to reiterate, the unpleasantness could be avoided entirely should Arturo fall into police custody." Walter leaned forward and added a low tone to his voice. "That outcome would be most convenient for all involved, I'm sure."

The bosses eyed each other. Sal Maroni cut in, still wearing a friendly smirk that would impress a shark, "Hey, listen now. This Arturo is a slippery guy, see? What say he don't show up today? Surely the fine public servants of Gotham City aren't going to hold that against us. After all, we've been nothing but civic-minded and generous for many, many years."

"Be that as it may, Mr. Maroni-"

"Now, 'scuse me, 'scuse me, I respect you, but I want to say first that we have been enormously supportive of the election efforts of just about all elected posts in the city. That was 'cause we believe in this administration. Not once, not even once have we requested anything at all for our support."

As far as Walter knew, that was technically true. The Families had a talent for insinuating what they wanted without actually speaking a request.

"Sir, trust me, the administration values that immensely. But here is the harsh truth, gentlemen. If you weren't already aware, Arturo is wanted for abducting a boatload of Ukrainian travelers. Someone, and we're not sure who, leaked this information to the press before the ink on his arrest warrant was dry. It will make the evening edition of every paper in the city. That's front page material, in all likelihood.

"Now, most of Gotham's local Ukrainians are immigrants. Very tight-knit, you see. And unlike other disreputable races, they can be quite organized, and they they have considerable support with other Slavs – Russians, Poles, and Slovaks. Together, that's six percent of the city, almost all living in the same spot. These neighborhoods tend to be, well, restive I suppose is the word. Quite a chip on their shoulder. Quick to strike and protest, you see."

Falcone brushed his chin critically, "So, what you're saying, is …"

"Friends of the mayor have spoken to leading figures in Little Kiev and the major Orthodox parishes. They've been on edge this year from other perceived slights. If it came to light that we were ignoring crimes against their countrymen – who were fleeing the Nazis, mind you - then three thousand angry Slavs would tear down the district. It would be the Bonus March all over again. Gotham cannot afford that."

The other bosses looked at Icepick Johnny Nobilo. The Nobilos ran Little Kiev, and he would know the local situation. He stared for a minute, then shrugged, lifted a hand, and remarked, "No happy."

The bosses accepted this grimly. His response meant he recognized the residents' potential for unrest, and he admitted the community was too isolated for him to have much clout. The classic solutions, bribes and threats, couldn't manipulate a mob that size, especially if pride was on the line. Discouraging a handful of ringleaders wouldn't extinguish a popular uprising.

While none of the bosses were eager to admit this, if rumors spread that the Families were conspiring to hide Arturo, they would personally be in danger. It wasn't so long ago that Italians were a few steps ahead of dogs in the city's pecking order. Organized crime was an enterprise in greed, but only a fool assumed that the gangs weren't also a great excuse for a bunch of poor boys to hit back at a world that loved to spit on them. And now? These days open bigotry against Italians in the city was rare, and true hate crimes were nonexistent. Some of this improvement was the wider march of progress, but the bosses were sure a decent portion was respect the Families had personally earned by getting their knuckles dirty.

The lesson wouldn't be lost on the Ukrainians.

---​

The present.

Bullock suspected that, on some level, they all knew the noise had been a truck exhaust backfiring. They were just looking for an excuse.

Nine people fired ten sidearms. The cops had brought the .38 Colt Official Police, their six-chamber double-action revolvers. The Bertinellis had brought the .31 Hargrave, the infamous ten-round semi-automatic pistols, and that idiot from the bar had dropped an old seven-round semiautomatic of his own.

From first bullet to last, the encounter covered eighteen seconds. Again, Bullock had the mind-expanding sensation of time breaking open. When it was over, he would have guessed five minutes.

In the first minute, the world fractured in noise and light. Bullock felt a hot punch in his cheek, which he tried to touch but couldn't find. A window shattered nearby. He pointed his gun at an angry man in a suit crouching behind a tire. He pulled the trigger and the man's hand exploded. Bullock wondered if it had been his shot or someone else.

Out of the corner of his eye, Bullock noticed Officer Gilford dash into the bar, piece drawn. The kid had heard the music and decided the locals could watch themselves. Gilford made it four steps before some cosmically lucky shot popped through the wall and into his gut. The bullet had seemed so slow, Bullock regretted he hadn't plucked it out of the air.

---​

Two hours earlier.

Walter Brown had been thanked for his message and kindly escorted out. The bosses took a recess to contemplate and confer with their advisers. A light lunch was served, with serious topics forbidden by tradition.

When the bosses resumed their meeting, there was another silent contest over who had the first word. But the new calculation was easily in Frank Bertinelli's favor.

He pinched the fingers of both hands and held them up for emphasis. "Friends. Paisanos. My cousin may have the cleverness of a stupid potato. He crossed my trust, and in doing so, ruined my good name with you. He shames me. He shames us all. But he has a wife and three children. My lawyers suggest he would be put away for life. Life! And a big court case to suffer first. If he is to be punished, I will do it our way, so their home isn't dragged through the mud."

Johnny Nobilo waved his words away. "Feh! We'd risk everything. Let him suffer by the law. Other sons have fathers in jail."

Sal Maroni hummed with an unusually curious expression. "Just how much does Arturo know?"

Frank looked back, suspicious. "What do you mean?"

"Say he's put away for life. You Bertinellis pride yourselves on breaking out of the joint, but suppose he fails, or he doesn't have the heart. There he is, looking forward to thirty more years of a cement wall. Then some new fed comes in with a deal."

"... Are you asking if he would rat?"

"Maybe."

The Sicilian organizations followed a code of silence called Omerta which mandated death before giving evidence to the authorities. Breaking Omerta was unthinkable. There was no graver sin, save perhaps patricide. The number of violators in the history of Italian-American crime could be counted on one hand. Arturo had already shown his infidelity, but at least his sin had been an effort to keep his good standing in the Family. Turning rat was a different scope of betrayal entirely. Just hinting at the possibility under normal circumstances was fighting words, if not cause for a new vendetta.

Sal Maroni raised an eyebrow. "Worst case scenario. How much could he hurt you? How much could he hurt us?"

Frank glared, first with contempt, but this slowly morphed into concern. "You, no. Me?" He looked down in doubt. "Some. A lot." He pulled at his lip.

Nobilo slapped the table. "Then have a man inside keep an eye on him. Keep him honest."

Maroni didn't smile, but he looked far too keen at this path of conversation. "No, no. Don Bertinelli is right. We can't let the courts put him away. Too many opportunities for loose lips."

Nobilo asked, "Then what? Send him on a trip?"

Frank answered, "If it came to that, I'd really send him on a trip."

"You'd rub out your cousin for this?"

Maroni shook his head, "Better: get him in prison, calm the Ukrainians, then do the job, see? Everybody wins."

Falcone had held his peace so far, but now he stood and placed his palms on the table. "Please. Let's not be rash. None of our friends with the law have actually shown what case they have on Arturo. Assuming they can't break the man with their questions, and if they don't have the people he took, what then? On what grounds would they convict? Some vigilante fabricates evidence? Garbage. A child with a fresh diploma could argue his way out of that. What could the newspapers say? 'Some drifters were taken off a ship'? If we don't fall for crude solutions, this just may solve itself. No bodies, no crime."

The other bosses were about to consider this when there was a knock at the door.

A Bertinelli man stuck his head in. "Apologies. Don Bertinelli, a word from your cousin-in-law, Maria. It's an emergency. Something about the cops heading to find Arturo's secret crimes."

---​

The present.

Around the corner, Wilkes made a gargling cry. Bullock couldn't see Wilkes and Montoya from his post inside the bar, but it sounded bad. He wasn't about to cross No Man's Man to take a closer look. They were on their own.

Or, rather, they should have been. Officer Smith, who had been covering Bullock's right, hopped through his shattered window and scrambled down the sidewalk, firing guns akimbo like a real cowboy. Despite all odds, Smith was kissed by an angel on his run and made it through a salvo of hot lead untouched, diving the last five feet headfirst and sliding into the alley. Bullock heard Montoya provide covering fire as Smith dragged the hefty Wilkes down the alley to relative safety.

Officer McCoy, the cop covering Bullock's left, had been picking his shots carefully, and suddenly cheered like a child as he nailed one of the hitmen through the chest. The dying thug didn't fall but slumped against the car. Marco Bertinelli saw this and something broke in his mind. He called a retreat, opened the door of the Cadilllac and shoved his buddy inside - not that it would do the goner any good. Then Marco himself struggled into the driver's seat. The Bertinellis who could still stand made their way inside the car as well.

Bullock watched for minutes as Marco tried to put the car in gear. He raised his revolver, made a shot. The rear-view mirror fell off. The car started to pull away.

No. He couldn't accept this. Leaving the safety of the doorway, Bullock jogged four steps into the street, lined up a shot while jogging, and crushed the trigger.

Click. Click. Click. Click.

Empty.

Marco saw the weapon aimed at his face, lifted his own gun at Bullock, and squeezed.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

---​

Twelve years earlier.

Officer Harvey Bullock looked to all the world like another skinny, smooth-cheeked rookie, hardly more than a cadet. He stood in front of a dry goods store in his shiny blue uniform, whistling and tipping his hat at the ladies who walked by. There was a great deal of commotion inside the store, sounds of falling shelves and thrown cash registers, and now some yelling and crying. Soon, the noise stopped, and Marco Bertinelli, a muscular young buck in suspenders and stained undershirt, walked out the door grinning.

Marco held a paper bag in one hand and a golf club under the other arm. He reached into the bag and threw Harvey a thin stack of cash. Harvey grinned and they walked to the shop next door.

---​

The present.

Detective Harvey Bullock looked up at the clouds. He faintly realized he was laying in the road, his head resting on the curb. When the bullets flew, time moved like molasses. When they stopped he swore an hour paced every time he blinked. His hands were sticky. He had dropped his revolver a few decades ago. He had been in pain for a while, but not any longer. Now he just enjoyed the clouds.

---​

One hour earlier.

The bosses of the Four Families sat in council once again. They occasionally discussed strategy as a group, but they hadn't discussed tactics in years. Still, coordinating a simple snatch and grab was elementary. The only complicating factor was that they had good reason to believe they were in a race with the cops.

The last point to debate was whether they ought to arm the crew with a Hargrave to show any flatfoots they meant business, and business came straight from the top. It wasn't a symbol they offered lightly.

The issue was deadlocked. Bertinelli and Maroni wanted to send the crew along with one. Nobilo was against it. They turned to Falcone. The weight of his word alone would settle the issue, though the others were sure they knew what a cop-friendly peacemaker like him would say.

He sat in thought, fingers steepled, then decided, "Don Bertinelli, you shouldn't send a Hargrave," The others began to respond, but he wasn't finished, "You should send five."
Author: Batman 1939
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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-10-03 08:48pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 11: Assess and Reload​


Diana Prince was dead tired when she reached her hotel room last night for the second time. Neither she nor Steve were in a condition to make conversation – they practically napped in the taxi, each leaning on the other's shoulders. Before they parted ways in the lobby, they promised to meet for breakfast, although after laying down for good, Diana feared she would sleep until noon. Fortunately, in this regard, anyway, her fears were in vain. Diana awoke half an hour after daybreak, gummy-eyed and sore. Rubbing her face, she tried to ignore the incessant noise outside her window. She was sure she could hear four jackhammers working on streets beside their hotel alone. It was a miracle anyone lived here without permanent insomnia, but if that insight offered any deeper wisdom into Gotham City, she was too sleepy to realize it.

Diana put on a yellow sundress and found her way to the cafe on the ground floor. Her table overlooked a swimming pool that a few guests were already enjoying. Diana had once tried one of Man's swimming pools. When she had dived in, Diana discovered to her confoundment that the owner had dumped bitter chlorine into the water. Diana nearly attacked the lifeguard, certain he was an agent of the cowardly poisoner, but was talked down before she became violent. Today, she was content to watch.

Diana expected to see Steve waiting for her; he was always up early. But he was nowhere to be found. She seated herself and picked up a menu. A waiter came around.

"Excuse me, Miss Prince?"

Diana was busy trying to decide whether Eggs Benedict was a kind of egg or a kind of Benedict and delayed in looking up. "... Yes?"

"A Mr. Trevor left a message for you a few – I'm sorry, is something wrong?"

Diana had slumped down in her chair and was rubbing her eyes again. She missed him again. It was decidedly not a regal posture. She didn't care.

"No, nothing's wrong, sir. Forgive me. What was his missive?"

"Um." The waiter pulled a scrap of paper from his apron. "He said, 'Diana, be back in a minute. Don't get into any trouble!'"

"Why did your voice rise at the end?"

"He wrote an exclamation mark. See?" The waiter turned the paper around. "I assumed he meant it in a playful tone."

Diana tapped her lips. Man's punctuation was a fickle, poetical art. "Perhaps. Or perhaps it was a warning."

The waiter shrugged. "Or a command."

Diana's eyes narrowed. "No."

"Well, that's the message. Did you want to order anything?"

Diana heard her stomach rumble and appraised the menu again. "Get me your, hmm, best food."

"Our … best … food."

"Yes, please." Diana smiled up at him. "Two of them. And an iced tea."

Diana's breakfast of two steak omelets was quite satisfactory, though she was so hungry, she would have finished a plate of shoe leather. She made to push herself away from the table when a pair of hands covered her eyes.

“Guess who?”

The first time Steve had tried that, it earned him an first class ticket into a rosebush. He kept his distance for a few days afterward, until she sought him out and explained that she finally understood the game. He was a good sport about the incident, as the locals would say.

“Steve!”

She stood and gave him a hug. He was wearing his dress uniform, like usual.

They broke and Captain Steve Trevor handed her her an orange. “I went to this little stand a few blocks down. You can't find good citrus in these hotels.”

She grinned and peeled off half the skin. “Thank you!” She took a big bite.

He shook a finger at her, “You were sleuthing without a license, miss.”

She pointed a finger at him, juice dribbling down her chin. “Your name's Archibald.”

“Uh, yeah, my middle name. How do you know that?”

Diana dabbed her chin with a napkin. “A small lady told me.”

“Diana, please don't tell me you called my mom! She still thinks I'm a mechanic in Albuquerque.”

Diana looked thoughtful. “I don't think this lady was your mother. She offered no resemblance, and she didn't share your surname,” Her nose made an annoyed crinkle. “Which I know is spread patrilineally.”

“What was this lady's name then?”

“Amanda Waller.”

If Steve was surprised before, this almost knocked him over. “No! Wait, was that the lady next to you at the police station?”

“Yes, she said she was expecting me, which I found impressive. I hadn't even been expecting me until shortly before I left.”

Steve folded his hands over his head and fell into the seat beside her. “Ah, Jeezy-petes. I am so fubared.”

“What is 'fubared'?”

“Oh, uh, it's an acronym. We say it sometimes in the military when we hear bad news.”

“What is this acronym mean?”

“Um. It's F, U, B, A, R, and then the '-ed' just makes it a verb.”

“And its full meaning?”

“Right, well, it's, uh, Follies, that's right, Unfortunately, uh, Blight, uh, All, um, Responsibilities.

“Follies unfortunately blight all responsibilities?”

“Yes, that's it. You know how it is, you're trying to get a job done, when gosh darn'it, all this follies start blighting your responsibilities. Cause we all make mistakes. Unfortunately.”

“That's a wise motto.” She nodded and took her seat again. “Why does this lady cause you to make such fubars?”

“I only know her by reputation. She's very influential, I suppose that's the best word for it. I'd love to share more, but even most the rumors are classified. Some of it sounds positively un-American” He whispered 'un-American' like is was a naughty curse. “They say she put a guy in Leavenworth for sneezing on her. I heard she once drafted a baby and sent it on an undercover mission by swapping it with some dictator's baby. I don't know what she wanted, but my life was much prettier before she knew I existed.”

“Perhaps she's always known you've existed.”

Steve stared at her and slowly grimaced. Diana realized her remark wasn't as comforting as she had hoped. She patted his knee. “Don't be forlorn. I think her intentions are honorable. She offered me great help.”

“Yeah?”

“First, she said I shouldn't enter the law building to retrieve you last night.”

Steve expression bent in a awkward fuse of pride and horror. “You were going to do that for me?”

“Yes, but she suggested it would be counterproductive.”

“No kidding. Please don't do that, okay?”

Diana folded her arms. “I make no promises.”

“Fair enough. What else did Waller tell you?”

“She had some ideas about our, um, what you called 'arrangement'.”

“Were they bad?”

“Some of them were accurate.”

“Oh, dear.”

Diana smiled. “She also commended me for routing the Batman!”

Steve spit out the iced tea he was stealing. “That scumball racketeer was telling the truth?”

“What is a scum'd ball?”

“Arturo Bertinelli. He said you came to his apartment with the funny walls. He said you chased after the Batman.”

“I didn't think the walls were funny, but yes. I followed Batman away. I knew you would ferry Arturo to safety.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “Only too well, it turned out.”

“What do you mean? Didn't the military officers wish his protection?”

“Not for very long. We discovered he was a crook Diana. A real bad guy. Maybe as bad as Batman. I don't know how the-” Diana watched him speak, but she didn't hear anything further. Her pupils shrunk to dots. She felt a throb in her ankle and the itch of nigh-invisible burns. With a rush of vertigo, Diana subconsciously touched her hip for a golden lasso that wasn't there.

Diana blinked. She noticed that Steve had just asked her something. “I'm sorry, what?”

“So you didn't catch this Bat guy?”

Diana nodded then shook her head. “Yes, no, I, he did get away. I chased him a time, but he lost me in these many street. Yes.”

“Wow. Shame. You don't remember where he went? Did he say anything?”

Diana paused.

Steve lifted an eyebrow. “Angel?”

She forced her most candid smile. “Nope! Sorry, I was recalling how frustrating it was. He is very elusive. I don't know the names of the paths; they all look the same to me at night.”

“No kidding.” He shrugged. “Well, you tried. And you saved Arturo; I bet the Bat was going to kill him, which - like the guy or not - is not what we bargained for. I don't know what that nut-job’s problem is, but I'm sure they'll find a nice padded room for him sooner or later.”

Diana was familiar with the reference. “Yes, nice and padded. So Arturo is bad? Are you sure?”

“You don't want to know, believe me. But yes. He's bad news, Diana.”

“And he's not in custody.”

Steve frowned. “No, he's not. That's on me. Before word got out that he was bad, I even helped him catch a train.”

Diana shrugged a shoulder sympathetically, “Well, sometimes you're just fubared.”

Steve snorted and tried to hide it with his knuckles. “Yeah, I guess so. Let me grab a quick bite, then we can take a walk.”

“I'd like that.”

“Me too. But we're going to talk about you going out last night after we agreed you wouldn't, capisci?”

“What does that mean?”

“I don't know. Bertinelli kept saying it. I thought it sounded neat.”

The waiter walked up to their table and cleared his throat. “Phone call for the gentleman.”

Steve looked up, distracted, “Yeah, sure. Hold on, Diana.”

He followed the waiter into the back room of the cafe. Diana ate her orange. When Steve returned, she saw in his expression all she needed to know.”

“Sorry, that was-”

“The General?” she interjected rhetorically.

“Sort of. I'm sorry, but I have to head to a meeting tout de suite. You understand.”

“If you say so, Captain Trevor.”

He chuckled with a little guilt. “Right, well, take care of yourself. I don't know how long this job will take, so if I don't get in touch, let's agree to meet back here for dinner around, say, six. The concierge desk over there will tell you about all the big landmarks if you want to take a tour. Or you can go shopping. I know you brought some cash, and they say everything's for sale in Gotham,” Steve paused and his pleasant expression turned uncertain, “Which, now that I think about it, might not be a positive thing. Anyway, tootles!”

He waved and turned to jog away, and Diana realized she never finished sharing what Amanda Waller had offered. After draining the last of her iced tea, Diana walked past the hotel concierge to the pay phone near the spinning entrance door.

She took Amanda Waller's number out of her purse and turned the dial. The call took a long time to connect, but once it did, it picked up on the second ring. A clipped male voice said, "Surgeon General's office."

Diana froze in confusion and peered again at the number. "Euh. I-"

"Can I help you, ma'am?"

"I was told this was the number for an Amanda Waller."

"And you name?"

"Diana Pr-"

"Please hold."

An interminable time later, someone else picked up the line, a woman who spoke with a long drawl. "Alabama Bureau of Hog Breeding."

"What?"

"I said you have the BHB, can I do you anything today, missy?"

"I'm sorry, the BHB, I was transferred to this line from some sort of, um, surgeon, I think, and I believe there's been a mistake."

"Maybe I can straighten things out there then. Who're you lookin' for?"

"A lady by the name of Amanda Waller."

"Well, shoot! With whom do I have the pleasure of speechifyin'?"

"My name is Dian-"

"Beauty. Hang on jus' one moment then, hun."

Diana tried to stutter out a plea to wait, but it was too late. She lowered the receiver from her ear and looked dumbly at it.

A familiar woman's voice came on the line. "Waller."

"Miss Waller, it's Diana Prince."

"Miss Prince, what a pleasure."

"We spoke last night at the entrance to a law enforcement station. You promised me help."

"And I certainly didn't forget."

"Good. Yes. Well?"

"Here's what I have in mind, dear. I happen to be friendly with the chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He's traveling at the moment, but if you'd like, we could have a chat with his chief aide tomorrow afternoon on Capitol Hill."

"And this is useful?"

"It most certainly is. I can't promise anything now, but let me present what I might offer you succinctly, Diana. Can you guess the difference between a random spot on a map and a diplomatically-recognized ally of the United States of America?"

"No."

"About seven swing votes, if you know what you're doing."

"Swing votes?"

"I suppose you don't remember the lesson on the legislative branch in primary school."

"Yes! I went to the schools. We learned about the branch. We learned all the trees."

"Uh-huh. The legislative branch of the legislative tree."

"Yes."

"Charming. Well, listen. If that meeting sounds agreeable to you, here's what I want in return. After the meeting, you come with me to another meeting just outside Washington with some other friends of mine."

"Other politicians?"

"Ha. No, these are special individuals who also have an interest in being helpful like yourself. I'd like you all to get to know each other."

"I suppose that does no harm."

"Then call me Hippocrates."

"Alright, Hippocrates."

"Uh-huh. So we have a deal. I'll have a car pick you up around three."

"You don't know where I'll be."

"Yes I will. Goodbye, Diana. Enjoy Gotham. Y'know, if you can."

Amanda Waller hung up. Diana returned the receiver to its cradle and stood in the booth for a minute. In her eventful life, she had almost never faced the challenge of free time. She didn't know what to do with herself. Then she was struck a bolt of inspiration. She looked under the shelf and found a hefty Gotham City phone book. After the kind of night she had been through, a lady had certain needs.

---

Forty minutes later, Diana stepped out of her cab in a quiet part of town. She looked at the sign on the store in front of her.

Terrible Swift Sword Antiques

Weapons, Armor, Martial Souvenirs

For Sale or Trade


The window displays were gleaming exhibits of swords, shields, pikes, halberds, flails, and other sharp metal objects Diana didn't recognize but wanted badly to learn. She could feel a wide grin growing across her face.

Diana opened the door and skipped in. The store's only occupant stood behind a counter in the back, and this was the sort of cluttered specialty store which lacked neat aisles or straight paths of any kind. Diana weaved around cases of spears and arquebuses and ducked under some sort of camel armor suspended from the ceiling before she could clearly see the man. He was strong and portly and bearded. Despite his grey suit, he looked every bit the classic blacksmith (this body type even held true for blacksmiths in Themyscira - minus the beard, usually).

An engraved block on the counter in front of the man read: Louis Delacroix, Proprietor and Head Antiquarian. Diana nodded at him eagerly. "Hello, Mr. Delacroix." She utterly failed the French pronunciation, De-la-kwah, instead calling him De-la-crocs.

Louis Delacroix favored her with a big toothy smile. He was always happy to great a customer, and her enthusiasm would have been infectious anyway.

"Hello, hello! How can I help you, young lady?"

"I'm looking for a sword."

"I see. Do you know much about swords?"

"I'm all about swords!"

"Do you have a style or era in mind?"

Diana used to fancy herself a mistress at arms in every sort of weapon, but since visiting Man's World she had learned enough to realize that she only had a firm grasp of a few weapons of the Bronze Age Mediterranean. She didn't even know what to call half the merchandise in the store.

"I'm just browsing. Perhaps you could you show me your favorite items?"

Louis chuckled. "Oh ho! I could hardly list them all."

"Then could you show me everything?"

"Ha. You are a perfect treat, madam. Yes, I could show you everything you'd like. Perhaps it would be useful to ask, if you're looking to buy today, what you intend to use a sword for?"

Diana tilted her head at him, puzzled. "I would carry it, of course. To cut down foes in my path." She said this like it was the most obvious fact and didn't understand why he seemed taken aback.

Louis recovered quickly and said, "For one thing, if you're new to this fine city, I feel obliged to point out that publicly carrying a blade five inches or longer is illegal."

"That's preposterous!"

"I agree, and while we're on the subject, feel free to peruse my best-selling collection of knives with four and nine-tenths inch blades. It's the display case to your left. Big discount this week: ten percent off."

"No, I'm certain I'd like a sword."

"Well, as a lady, I'd suggest you start with a foil or rapier." He busied himself behind the counter and brought up an example of each. They were frail, twig-looking things. Sharp enough, she supposed, but far too flimsy to cleave a helmet. What was the point?

Not realizing her own pun, Diana shook her head and looked around, tapping a finger on her lips. "Ah!" She paced over to a stand in the back of the store and pointed to a monstrous blade the shape of a classic European broadsword but three times the size. It was taller than most men, the cross-guard alone was over a foot across, and the blade had what seemed like a small second cross-guard above the first.

She made a noise in awe. "Tell me of this one."

Louis eyed her curiously. "Madam, that's my zweihander. Late 1540s. German, obviously. The little cross features on the blade are called the parierhaken or parrying hooks. That kind of sword was a famous weapon of the Landsknecht mercenaries. In particular, it would be used by a special kind of troop called a doppelsöldner, which literally means 'double-pay men', since they were paid double. Go figure. If you look at the base of the grip on this one, the symbol there is a crude impression of the coat of arms for the Brotherhood of Saint Mark, a fencing guild. The man who sold it to me that claimed it was a teaching weapon at one of their affiliated schools in Frankfurt, though I think the symbol was added much later as a wishful decoration."

Diana casually gripped the huge sword in her right hand and held it aloft. She had seen a blade like this in the Smithsonian, but she hadn't been allowed to touch it. Diana swung the sword lightly back and forth. "Zweihander. What does that mean?"

Louis ogled her in astonishment. "Uhh, it means 'two-hander'. You see, since most people can't do, er, that."

Diana blushed and put the sword back. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it."

Half an hour later, Diana walked out of Terrible Swift Sword Antiques carrying three swords, a shield, and a short spear. She took a bus back to the hotel. Though the bus was nearly full, no one sat within three seats of her.

---​

For complicated reasons, Gotham City had long avoided hosting major military installations (besides the naval yards, which was a whole other story). Until recently, the nearest post was a depot several hours upstate called Fort Morrison. But lately, issues of national defense compelled the reluctant authorities to invest in sites closer to the city proper. The first of these to open its doors was the Conroy National Guard Barracks near the edge of the Youngstown suburbs in the southwest. This was, by psychology and population density, about as far away from central Gotham as you could go without giving up a city address.

Captain Steve Trevor took another taxi to pick up his car at an impound lot. He wasn't sure what amazed him more: how quickly the towing company stole his ride from a public parking lot, or how his new cop buddy got them to hand over the keys free of charge. From there, the route to Barracks was easy enough. He took one of the city's few raised highways that didn't end abruptly in the sky, gliding eight stories over the streets for most of a mile. Then the road dipped into a tunnel where Steve wasn't sure whether he was underground or merely inside a large building. Then, without climbing or descending, the tunnel somehow opened straight onto a regular ground-level road, which almost seemed exceptional given the ride thus far. He was lost in traffic for twenty minutes, then crossed a bridge and was lost in traffic for twenty more minutes. Then the traffic thinned and he found a sign pointing him to Youngstown.

The National Guard property was a casual place compared to the grim military bases where Steve usually worked. A guard ushered him through the small checkpoint, and Steve saw a baseball game going on in the grassy yard as he drove past. He parked in front of an officer's mess. Inside, they were still serving the last dregs of breastfasters the last dregs of breakfast.

A cook behind a huge vat of oatmeal called at him as he approached. “Captain Trevor?”

Steve nodded. “Yeah, that's me.”

“You're wanted around back. You can head straight through the kitchen.”

“Sure. Thanks.” Steve walked through swinging door at the rear of the room, through the cramped kitchen, and out the back door. It led to a small park with varied exercise equipment surrounded by thin trees. Mounted on the back wall of the mess was a set of pull-up bars, and here a huge soldier in sweat-stained fatigues pumped out steady pullups. There was no one else around. Steve watched for a minute, duly impressed. He couldn't tell whether the man had done merely twenty pull-ups or two hundred; he wasn't slowing or shaking. Big guys could be strong, but they rarely moved their own bulk so easily. This one was as nimble as a middleweight.

The big guy paused briefly over the bar and glanced down. “Steven Trevor?”

“Yes. Sorry I'm late.”

The big guy dropped and wiped his palms. “I knew you would be. Don't worry about it.”

Facing him, the man seemed older than Steve first thought, with white hair, small wrinkles near his eyes, and a crooked nose. Steve glanced around his fatigues, but they were unmarked and revealed no name or rank.

The man held out his beefy hand. “Lieutenant Slade Wilson.”

Normally, a lieutenant would not have treated a captain so casually, but Steve was sure this encounter was anything but normal. And he had the odd feeling that he had heard that name before.

Steve shook the hand. “What's this about, Slade? They told me nothing on the phone.”

“Well Steven-”

“Steve.”

“Steve, sure.” Slade picked up a Dopp kit sitting against the wall. “Let's walk by those trees.”

Steve let Slade take the lead. He struggled to remember where he had heard that name. When they were beyond earshot of the mess hall, Slade stopped and leaned against a balancing log. “I got to say, Steve, you're my own personal Errol Flynn.”

“What's that mean?”

“I mean I've been at this a long while, and I've yet to bag a sweet dame as my assignment. But you?” He clucked his tongue approvingly. “One for one. Some guys have all the luck.”

Steve crossed his arms and stood back. “And just what have you been at?”

“I think you can guess. We're in the same line of work.”

“You're a pilot?”

“No. And maybe that's your specialty, but it ain't your work. Not for long, anyway.”

Steve began to sound annoyed. “I'd quit it with these runaround answers, Lieutenant.”

Slade cocked a eyebrow, still friendly. “Is that how you treat an old bud?”

“I don't know you.”

Slade rubbed a hand over his face, “Am I getting so long in the tooth? Okay, maybe we weren't buds, but you knew me. Think back. Lincoln Battalion. Jarama, '37.”

Steve stood still, mouth tight, thinking hard. Finally, he shook his head. “You're dead.”

“Yeah, I was.”

---​

Diana Prince did find it difficult to retrace the steps of her chase in the light of day, but she certainly hadn't forgotten. She was reluctant to enter the Twelfth Street Arms again lest anyone recognize her, so she asked the taxi to let her off two buildings away. It was another apartment building. No one met her inside. She climbed the stairs three at a time. The window at the end of the top floor hallway didn't have a balcony or any platform outside. The sill was barely wide enough to plant her feet. Still, she opened the window, climbed onto it, and carefully turned around, blindly crouching five stories over the pavement. Then, a remarkable leap! Diana caught the edge of the roof and swung herself over – not the easiest maneuver in a sundress.

It didn't take long to reorient herself to the path Batman had fled out the rear of the Twelfth Street Arms, leaping from rooftop to rooftop in a fairly straight line. She even found the footprints she had originally followed, plus another set of her own. Heedless of the pedestrians who might see her, Diana bounded easily to the final roof overlooking that bleak industrial area. Now in daylight, many of the buildings were in operation: smokestacks smoked, assembly lines whined, shift bells chimed, trucks rumbled, and dozens of men walked about like ants below.

But to her relief, though not a great deal of surprise, the half-built factory where she had found Batman was deserted.

Or had he? Before she slid down, Diana considered that Batman might live inside, or at least travel through frequently. As a general rule of nature, it was uncommon for man or beast or return to a lair so recently attacked, but wasn't he uncommon?

Deeply regretting her decision to leave her new swords in her hotel room, Diana cautiously approached the skeletal structure again. It was not a small building by any measure, certainly not by her old standards, but it seemed so much smaller in the day. She was surprised Batman could ever hide from her here. Generous beams of sunlight glowed through the many holes above, illuminating all but the most obscure corners. She was sure Batman wasn't here now.

Wandering around, Diana noticed several lightbulbs snapped at the stem, the glass shards littering the floor. It wasn't hard to find those sleek black throwing knives nearby, often stuck point-first into a wall. She put all of them into her purse.

In time, she found that round, open room with the chute in the floor, site of their final encounter before he fled the building for that ungodly abattoir where he disappeared – a feat that still had her convinced he was favored in some way daemonic. Diana walked a slow circle around the room. The most obvious artifact was that length of thin steel Batman had purposed as a staff weapon with … adequate success. Not the skill of an Amazon, but decent. She considered taking the staff home to practice with the new metal, but she wasn't sure how she would fit it inside a taxi or onto the plane later. Besides, she already bought a new spear today.

The next item to catch her eye was that electric drill still plugged into the wall. She noticed its stiff bit was tweaked and blunted at the end – she didn't remember holding on quite that tight, but her memory of the experience wasn't detailed, and perhaps that was a mercy. She unplugged the tool and moved on.

Diana passed twice by a tiny device on the floor that looked something like a tube of charcoal mounted on a pistol grip. She assumed it was another unknown construction tool. Finally, whim had her kneel and take a closer look at the thing. The tube seemed much too small for whatever the grip was meant to support, as if it was the bottom of a larger frame that had fallen off. Diana touched the tube and realized it wasn't charcoal, it was some dense metal or stone that had been covered in ash. No, the larger frame hadn't fallen off; it had melted off. She absently touched at her waist where the deep burn was still healing and winced. What alchemy of Man had caused that? He must have been too hurried to take it with him. Or, more likely, it had been too hot. She wiped the worst of the ash off the device and slipped it into her purse which was nearly out of space.

Diana didn't think she was deliberately searching for the room's final rewards, the teeth, but somehow she managed to find them in a dirty corner anyway. There they were, only a foot apart, trailing a stain of dark black spots through the dust. Her expression turned grim. Diana had no hesitation to violence, but there was no pride or honor in brutality. Granted, that was a hazy word, perhaps best left to philosophers, but here in the light of day, she wasn't feeling pride at knocking that man's teeth out. She took an old paper mint wrapper and picked the teeth up. They looked somehow unnatural, but she wasn't sure. Diana took these as well; perhaps a great detective could take advantage of them if she ever decided to share.

Diana climbed to the roof. She ignored the other black throwing knives as well as their longer cousins which Batman had used to parry and stab. No, she was here for the gloves. Of course, they were there where she had dropped them. She picked one up. It was so light yet so strong. Even by the level of Man's craft, it was made of wondrous materials indeed. She slipped one over her hand. Every joint of every finger articulated freely with hardly an effort, yet she had to muster a modest force to squeeze a dent in one of its joints with her other hand, despite her Amazonian strength. Incredible.

These didn't fit in her purse. She carried one along anyway.

---​

In the exercise yard of the Conroy National Guard Barracks.

Steve shook his head. “No, this is impossible. Not only is Slade Wilson dead, he looked nothing like you.”

The self-proclaimed Slade Wilson seemed unconcerned. “Alright, I'll stop playing cryptic. Force of habit, you see.”

Steve didn't respond.

Slade placed his Dopp kit on the balancing log and unzipped it. “Slade Wilson was just another Americano looking to kill some fascists. So was I. He died in combat. A hero, but tricky to identify given the sort of wounds you get playing hero. And you're wrong, he looked a hell of a lot like me. By coincidence, around the time he kicked the bucket I had fallen into rough circumstances myself, the kind where I was about to feel either a noose or a bullet in the back. So I stole the departed Slade Wilson's identity.” Slade held his hands apart as if to gesture to the scenery. “And here we are.”

“Wait, hold on. What? How? And why? If you're not lying, why did you want to meet me?”

“First, this meet wasn't my idea, I'm just a delivery boy shooting the breeze before we get to business."

"What's your real name?"

“Does it matter?”

“I guess not.”

"Listen, I promise I'll tell you the story if you don't make a stink about your gift. Deal?”

Steve wasn't any less suspicious, but he considered his options manfully and accepted that he had his own orders to follow.

“Deal. What's the gift?”

“Look at this.” Slade lifted a tiny pistol out of the Dopp kit. It seemed like a two-shot derringer from an Old West saloon, but fatter than any classic model. Slade held the gun up gently. “Custom-made. Just small enough to fit in a pocket or a shoe, but big enough to fire these,” Slade popped open the barrels and shook the contents onto his palm – two enormous bullets, each cartridge longer than one of Steve's fingers. “A variation on the .470 Nitro Express. Accurate to about six paces. One trigger pull fires both rounds. I'll say right now, these will probably break your wrist.” Slade tossed Steve one of cartridges. "Here."

Steve caught it and took a close look. “They're heavy."

“That's the last surprise. Remember your periodic table?”

“No.”

“The core is made of a metal called tungsten, nearly twice as dense as lead"

Steve whistled and tossed the cartridge back. “So it's an elephant gun packed into a fly swatter. Why only one shot?”

“My unit has practice using heavy weapons on targets with a thick hide. In our experience, these enhanced rounds tend to either be overkill or useless. If two rounds at once don't work, another shot won't help."

"What if I miss?"

"Then you're six paces away with a broken wrist." Slade loaded the rounds into the pistol. "I suggest you aim carefully."

"And if I have two targets?"

"You won't."

Steve was about to speak but paused. He mulled a thought, inspecting the pistol intensely. "Tell me, Slade, who's this one target?"

Slade gazed coolly at him and handed the pistol over. "You know."
Author: Batman 1939
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Elheru Aran
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Elheru Aran » 2016-10-04 10:38am

So now Captain Trevor is going to be Waller's ace in the hole should Diana turn on her schemes... fascinating.

'The Agency' is a term I've heard for whatever Waller's in charge of. 'Checkmate' might be the more usual term, though that's more along the lines of Maxwell Lord's spinoff, or Division X.
It's a strange world. Let's keep it that way.


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