Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx
Chapter 12: Times That Try Men's Souls
85th Street. Gotham City.
The wail of sirens heralded the course of passing emergency vehicles. A theater’s worth of spinning lights painted brief ghosts of red and blue in the soft afternoon shadows of a hundred brick storefronts.
These fleets spoke a language the locals knew.
A single cop followed by an ambulance after a polite delay spoke of a private drama. A family feud gone too far. A suicide.
Fire trucks with bells ringing and volunteers hanging on the sides gave a battle cry that the problem was a force of nature or grave incompetence. A fire. A flood. A chemical leak.
And the keening wail of police cruisers and ambulances coming by the swarm after a big public shootout was an old refrain not sung these days: it sang of an open season on innocence; it sang that peace had skipped town, and tranquility hadn't left a forwarding address. It sang that the Vendettas were back on.
The fleet hogged both lanes of 85th Street as it converged on Carlo’s Bar. The road in front of the building was already clogged with three cop cars and a Cadillac, plus assorted civilian vehicles along the nearby curb, so the first responders were forced to park in an ever-expanding circumference from the building's front door, even blocking the neighboring intersection. The shooting had ended, but there was a natural delay in passing news up the grapevine that site needed fewer lawmen and more medics, and this delay caused the rings of parked vehicles to slowly flux as the scene unfolded, moving the vital ambulances inward and sending the outermost cruisers away entirely. Seen from above, the bloody street might have resembled a very dense atom with automotive electron - if the observer was patient and had a heart of stone.
Officer Otto Wilkes was still screaming as he was loaded onto a stretcher. A tourniquet was fitted on his leg, and a one of the bar patrons was pressing yet another rag against his knee. The first two rags lay on the ground, both saturated red. His rescuer, Officer Walt Smith was holding Wilkes' hand and offering steady encouragements. They hadn't known each other long, but if Wilkes survived, they would be as tight as brothers forever.
At least, that's what Officer Renee Montoya suspected. She had been comforting Wilkes herself – for what little good it did - but a doctor had pulled her away. Montoya had some of Wilkes' blood on her uniform, and the new doctor was checking her for wounds. It was no use explaining that the blood wasn't hers - as if she could fail to notice being shot. Montoya mentally shrugged and tried to relax. She had actually heard of folks who failed to notice their own bullet wounds for hours, even days. It could happen. And wouldn't that would be a stupid way to bite it.
There was no use being stubborn, so Montoya played the good little patient and sat in the back of an ambulance, the hatch door providing a semblance of privacy as she stripped off her coat. While the doctor checked her back, Montoya craned her neck to peer over the door. She could just see the crowd forming around Detective Harvey Bullock. Montoya had only caught a glimpse of Bullock on the way over, but the Detective had been a real horror show. Just looking at the backs of the crowd made her soul feel bruised.
Montoya told herself the big lug probably had as much blood as a yak, and a regular tenth of it was booze anyway, so he had plenty to spare. Sure. The crowd was struggling to lift Bullock's not-yet-literal carcass off the ground. He broke through the first stretcher they tried, so someone stacked two together and tried again. More and more hands rushed over to help until the effort was less a medical procedure and more a barn raising.
“Hey, yo, Montoya!”
Montoya turned. Officer Danny McCoy walked up to her in nothing but underwear and shoes, his rolled-up uniform tucked under his arm. Another doctor was babbling after him whom McCoy resolutely ignored.
Montoya raised a quick hand in greeting and tried not to stare. “Hi there.” She pointed at his sodden uniform, “That stain from Bullock?”
McCoy nodded and pointed at the black-red smears on her own uniform, “That one from Wilkes'?”
Montoya grimaced and nodded. She looked McCoy up and down, contemplating his near-nudity. “Bullet check?”
Montoya gave a trademark snort and tugged at her outfit. “Just about to get to the interesting part.”
They stood in stale silence as their respective doctors poked and prodded. Montoya once heard a teacher say that the rush people feel during danger and stress was a chemical called adrenaline. Montoya felt like she had downed a forty ounce bottle of the stuff. She had the brass to talk a good game, but standing still with nothing to prove, she only wanted to vomit. The blood wouldn't settle in her head. She had never seen killing before. Her mind flashed to the Bertinelli gunman whose hand had blown away. One second, a stong body in all its marvelous capacity, the next, a cripple. And now a corpse; Montoya had watched two patrolmen cover the body with a sheet.
McCoy broke through her spiraling thoughts. “Hey, Smith is over with Wilkes, right?”
Montoya managed a grin. “Yeah, the big cabron pulled him to safety and tied a tourniquet. Saved his life.”
“Look here, you both saved his life, see? And, hey, he must'a got blood on him too. Why ain't Smith gotta stand for for some quack's lil' touchy-feely.” The doctor examining Officer McCoy studiously ignored their conversation, but McCoy slapped his shoulder anyway. “No offense, doc.”
Montoya answered, “Smith stayed because he punched out the first guy who tried to pull him away.”
McCoy grinned. “Sounds about right. Why didn't we think that?” He slapped his doctor's shoulder again. “Just kidding, doc.”
“Hey, Danny. You okay?”
Officer McCoy looked away, his smile not disappearing but shrinking. “Been better.”
She looked down sympathetically. “Right.”
The firefight had taken less time and effort than fetching the morning paper, but she knew they both looked like they had run a few laps up a hill.
“Hey, Montoya, it was tough to see back there. Were those mooks carrying Hargraves?” His eyes said he wanted her to lie.
“Yeah. All five.”
“I plugged one of them. Did'ja see? Bullseye. Straight through the heart.”
“Yeah, you cheered like a kid who knocked one over the fence. All that noise going on, and I still heard you.”
“I did cheer, didn't I?”
She didn't respond. Her doctor had her turn away so he could discreetly check her abdomen. McCoy's doctor was rubbing along McCoy's scalp like he was checking for ticks.
Something in McCoy's expression cracked. “They're gonna kill me, aren't they? All of us, but me first. Some dark night when I'm grabbing dinner or getting off the John. Just, pow.” He made his hand into a gun and shot it at his chin. “Just for that.”
Montoya had nothing to say. McCoy let out a short, flat curse, then a long curse which he held for several seconds, then punctuated with another curse. He rubbed his hand over his face. His eyes were suddenly wet.
The doctors stepped away to confer. Montoya noticed something over McCoy's shoulder and cursed.
McCoy frowned. “Huh?”
“Well ain’t that just the icing on the cake.”
Montoya stood out of the ambulance, took a step towards McCoy, and whispered so the doctors wouldn't hear. “Your five o’clock. Across the street. Look slowly.”
McCoy looked around and flinched. “Fffffffu- Flass.”
Detective Arnold Flass flashed a badge to an officer keeping back the crowd and stepped into the crime scene with his posse. A towering man with white-blond hair, Flass looked like a hero from a Nordic legend got a crew cut. He was surrounded by a few of his pet gnomes and trolls, the sycophants who did his dirty work when he didn’t feel like throwing his figurative or literal weight around. And they had plenty to do, since all of Flass’ work was dirty. It took a real hijo de puta to stand out as crooked in the GCPD - Flass was a bonafide celebrity.
Until now, no one with enough rank to debrief Bullock’s team had arrived, so Montoya and the other officers from the shootout were technically at liberty to run the scene. However, Flass had the clout to take the lead himself. Whether or not the regs would justify the decision later didn’t matter a plug nickel. Knowing his reputation, he was probably here at the quiet order of someone in command anyway. Either that or he was sniffing for something juicy to bargain off later. No one had raided a known Family property in forever, long before Montoya’s time. The plan had been quick and lean, and kept strictly need-to-know, which was why there weren’t more big dogs marking their territory yet. This would shake some deep roots. When the dust settled, whoever controlled the fallout could spin it a dozen ways for professional gain. That was a huge temptation, even for a clean cop. A vulture like Flass would be capable of anything. He used these sorts of ugly cases like currency. If they found evidence inside, who knew how he’d abuse it? If nothing else, the last thing they wanted was to encourage any questions about Bullock’s informant.
Montoya and McCoyshared the briefest look. Gunfight or not, they had a job to finish.
McCoy tossed his uniform into the ambulance. “I'll run interference.”
Montoya finished buttoning up and nodded. “I'll find Gilford in the bar and check this basement.”
McCoy had already started walking but froze. He glanced back, biting his lip for all the pain he didn't have time to express. “Gilford's dead too.”
McCoy was walking away again. “Let's do this, Montoya.”
The two doctors evidently decided that it was no use asking their patients to finish their examination and said nothing as Officer Montoya pushed her way through the thickening crowd. She ignored the stares. She overheard a pair of technicians arguing over whether it was appropirate to start investigating at all. One insisted that they weren’t supposed to look into cases with Hargrave .31 rounds at the scene. The other countered that the rule had an exception if those rounds were found in GCPD personnel.
She entered the front door of the bar. Most of the main floor was being cordoned into sections for study. Cops were taking photographs and unpacking swab kits when Montoya walked in. She saw a cop she recognized.
The cop lowered the camera from is face. “Well, hot dog! When d'you get here, Renee? Looks like you spilled something on your pants.”
“Listen, Vinnie, have you guys checked the basement yet?”
“Not yet. Just took a glace when we walked in. It's back there.”
She got close and whispered in his ear. “I want to check it out. Could you do me a favor and make sure no one goes down for a few minutes? Don't make a big deal, just try to steer them away, maybe?”
“If Mr. Lincoln says so.”
Montoya didn't hesitate. She pulled out a fiver and slapped it on his chest. “You're a real prince, Vinnie.”
“Love you too, Renee.”
Montoya found a rotted staircase in the given direction and made her way down. Its steps were slanted with age and poor construction. She found a light-switch and saw a room about as bland as she expected. There were crates of beer, nearly empty, and sundry cleaning supplies, all untouched.
“But no furnace.”
It took some searching, but Montoya found a small door concealed behind a stack of crates. It led to a miniscule bathroom, so compact the sink almost hung over the toilet. Most of the porcelain was chipped away and the mirror was covered in mottled yellow stains. There was hardly room to stand. The bulb in here was almost dead, so it took Montoya a few moments to realize that the back wall wasn't a wall with ugly wallpaper at all. It was just an ugly shower curtain. Pulled aside, the curtain revealed...
It took some stretching and no small amount of grease and dust on her uniform for Montoya to fit herself behind the furnace. The alleged hidden panel Bullock had mentioned at the briefing was there, knee-level, but not very hidden in her estimation. Unfortunately, the panel was bolted shut. Montoya fumed for a minute then remembered seeing some tools in the main room of the basement. Montoya again squeezed around the furnace, marveling that a stocky little guy like Arturo Bertinelli managed it. She left the bathroom and indeed found several sizes of wrench on the wall. Montoya grabbed two and hurried back, squeezed around, and hurried to take off the bolts.
They came off without much struggle, meaning they had been fastened too recently for rust to build. She dropped the unbolted panel to the floor, pawed inside, and pulled out a worn green notebook.
Montoya heard the clatter of heavy steps coming down the stairs. She almost jumped out of her skin, but there was no room to jump. Instead, she pushed one last time around the furnace, fast enough to for the friction to make her side burn. Montoya deftly shut and locked the bathroom door.
The steps had reached the basement, and the noise of the shut door brought them towards her. Fighting down a panic, Montoya closed the shower curtain and, despairing for any good hiding spots, stuffed the notebook down the back of her shirt.
There was a hammering on the door that almost broke through it.
On the other side, a commanding yell said, “Officer, this is Detective Arnold Flass. Open up.”
Montoya found her composure and responded in a voice that wasn't nearly as trembling as it could have been. “Just a second!”
She opened the door. Detective Flass was taller than the doorframe and had to lean inward just to loom over her. The weak light made his face a haunting mask.
“Step out of there.”
Flass stepped aside to let her pass then peered around the bathroom behind her. Montoya saw that Flass had brought a few of his boys with him, part of a club whose members were mostly bad cops Flass had known for years, as well as few rookies that showed a dark sort of promise. Also along for the basement tour was the nearly-nude Officer McCoy, held at the arms by two of the Detective's goons.
When Flass had seen enough, he faced her and took a good look. “You're Renee Montoya from Bullock's team?”
“That's right ... sir.”
He pointed at the bathroom. “What were you doing in there?”
Montoya answered, “Oh. Well, um, some personal business.”
Flass cocked an eyebrow. “Business?”
Her voice turned low and embarrassed. “Yes.” She looked at her shoes. “Lady business.”
The men in the room shuddered. All were bachelors who took pride in remaining ignorant about anything irreducibly feminine and bathroom-related. Flass still kept a keen eye on her. “What's that in your pocket?”
Flass didn't bother to explain but reached over and pulled the two wrenches out of her pocket. He held them up and stared at her. “So, this, uh, lady business involves you half-covered in blood and grease, and having two of the buttons on your shirt buttoned wrong, and a wrench?
Montoya kept a straight face and meekly shrugged. “Well, it's that time of month.”
She could see the struggle in Flass' expression between curiosity and disgust. She would've paid good money to see what he was imagining. Finally, he gave her an annoyed glare as if this was one mystery he would leave unsolved. “Go. Get out of here. Or stay. Whatever it is you need to, uh, you know. Do what you need to do, is what I'm saying. M'kay?”
“I was just finishing up. I think I'll head up for some fresh air in a minute.”
“Ugh. Just don't scoot too far, got it? I might need to talk to you later. And take Mr. Exhibitionist here with you.”
The goons let Officer McCoy go and followed Flass back up the stairs.
When they were gone, Montoya collapsed onto an old stool and exhaled, pulling the notebook from out of the back of her shirt.
McCoy whistled. “Way to go, lady.”
Montoya stretched her neck and scratched her shoulder blades. “Nice job keeping them busy, Mickey Rooney.”
“Well, I was a little unequipped for the situation. I'd like to see you try.”
“Bet you would.”
“Tell me if you can read this handwriting.” Montoya tossed the notebook to McCoy who flipped through it for a minute.
“I'd say it could keep a prosecutor in business for a few years.”
“Check the most recent entry. Anything about keeping folks on forced labor leases.”
McCoy nodded and read carefully for another minute. Then he looked up.
“We got to make a call!”
The town of Deux Orignaux. 351 km. northwest of Montreal. Population: 96.
The town of Deux Orignaux was a peaceful little town, thank you kindly. It was untroubled by the dirty ways of life in those big famous cities like Val-d'Or or North Bay, with their jazz music and their pop drinks. No, only good, God-fearing folk lived in Deux Orignaux, and it only snowed six months a year. The town didn't know the meaning of miscreant, but it was still home to a small station of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The station was so small, in fact, that it was just a cabin, and only two mounties were staffed there, Constable Maurice Brig and Constanble Jean LeFoot. They were, at this very moment, sitting on a log in their office, each roasting a sausage over a small fire with the aid of a forked stick.
Constable Brig licked his lips. “Oh! Coming along a right beauty, eh. Hope you packed a few serivettes, guy.”
Constable LeFoot held up a packet of napkins with his non-roasting stick hand and nodded. “Got you covered, there, friend.”
“How aboot that. Aren't you a keener, eh.”
“Hey, buddy, why the mean words, eh?”
“Shucks, ya silly Newfie, I'm just poking fun.”
“Oh, it's alright. Sorry, eh.”
Their ancient telephone rang.
Constable Brig frowned. “Oh, fudge. You want to get that, friend?”
Constable LeFoot handed over his stick. “Sorry, oh, yes, I will.”
And with that, LeFoot took the phone's receiver and spoke into it.
“Yes, hello? Yes?” He suddenly stood up very straight. “Greetings, Inspector. We are. Uh, we are. We are. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Yes. Did you say that eighteen Ukrainian university students were taken by a master criminal in Gotham City who has lately absconded with them to be used by a nefarious confederate of the selfsame crime residing in our station's jurisdiction? Yes? Oh, dear.”
LeFoot hung up the phone. “Constable Brig, we've been called to action, guy. It seems eighteen university students were taken by a master-”
Constable Brig interrupted him by pouring a bucket of water of their fire. “Say no more, friend. I know what we need to do, eh.”
“To our steeds!”
The dashing Mounties dashed out their back door and mounted their mounts.
“Constable LeFoot, just where are these poor souls being held?”
“He says the old Donahue Logging Camp.”
“Hmm, sounds unfamiliar. Just where is that, eh?”
“Aboot forty kilometers upstream.”
“Oh, dear, I thought it would be closer, eh.”
“Ah, I'm sure the kids'll be swell, eh. Stiff lip and all that, friend.”
“Didn't mean to be a wet blanket, eh. Sorry.”
Three hours till midnight.
Forty miles west of Gotham City was a modest cottage in an apple orchard. It was a rustic cottage but loved, with daffodils in the window and pumpkins in the front yard. Farmhands and migrant pickers came through every year to run the orchard, but the owners – the people whose names were on the deed, anyway – had been on vacation since 1934. Incidentally, the lone copy of this deed was in a safety deposit box in a Savings and Loan two towns over, and this box's only key was at the bottom of a pond.
The yard was full of motion today, but the visitors were far too well-dressed and slightly too well-armed to be country folk. At some hidden signal, there was a knock on the front door, and Arturo Bertinelli exited this cottage escorted by several somber men. He was groomed and rested, and his two broken fingers were in a tidy splint. He had clearly enjoyed fine hospitality, but it wasn’t clear whether that had been as a guest or a captive. Arturo wasn’t sure himself, and he thought it better not to test the issue. So, when his hosts ‘suggested’ they go for a trip, he ‘decided’ that it was a dandy idea. Arturo had never been so terrified.
His escort brought him to a line of four vehicles, three cars with tinted windows followed by a garbage truck. Each vehicle already had a driver saddled up, and all four engines were gently idling. The men asked Arturo to step into the third car, and he did. They then dispersed among the motorcade until each vehicle was full.
The Gotham Families were strong believers in the value of the tactical convoy. A disproportionate number of successful gangland killings occurred on the road, as demonstrated by the deaths of Bonnie and Clyde or the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The Families had developed several countermeasures to this threat though the years, and the simplest was a highly-refined convoy system. Any trip that carried a VIP and even a whiff of danger was taken with at least three vehicles, and one had to be a heavy truck. Straight off the lot, a truck's engine block was fairly bullet-resistant. Its fat tires were slow to deflate, and many trucks drove on six. The cabin provided a high firing platform. Placed in back, a truck could stop several lanes of traffic and screen a convoy's escape, and put up front, it had the muscle to push through bad terrain or roadblocks which were often prelude to an ambush.
Arturo's procession went east out of farm country into the long hills outside the city. Though the road here could stretch miles on an incline, most were so gradual that they hadn't required much construction to work the hills' natural contours. There was one exception, the Van Buren Tunnel. The drivers had all passed through more times than they knew, but the sight of it still gave them pause. Though sunset was long gone, at least some gentle starlight outside gave silhouettes to the cascading hills around them. Even this modest glow was lost in the tunnel. The builders had installed petty orange bulbs every eighty yards. Beyond that, the convoy only had their headlights. Cars had come a long way since the men were young, but it still wasn't unheard of for a vehicle to break down with no warning, and, for a plethora of reasons, a traveler didn't want that happening in the middle of a dark hole in the earth.
Their anxious journey through the Van Buren Tunnel passed smoothly until just past the halfway point. Without so much as a sputter, the garbage truck's headlights suddenly went dark, and it swerved into the tunnel wall with a flash of sparks. This spooked the other drivers, and the harsh shriek of flaying metal nearly caused them to crash, but tactical convoys were trained to keep moving, and the three cars continued towards the circle of lesser dimness at the end.
There was pandemonium among the passengers, of course, and no shortage of loud speculation, but they wouldn't stop for anything. The cars left the tunnel without further incident and continued down the road, a little faster than before.
To their relief, a minute later they saw the familiar headlights of the garbage truck approaching from behind. It was impossible to see inside its cabin, but it seemed intact and quickly it fell into line. The four drove on.
Hills passed. As the convoy approached a particularly sharp turn, the driver of the rearmost car noticed the garbage truck start to drift across the center lane. He assumed an axle had been bumped during its accident, but that didn't explain why the truck started accelerating. By then it was too late to react. As the last car started to take the turn, the hefty garbage truck sideswiped it clean off the road. Both vehicles were airborne for a moment as they cleared the raised ground under the asphalt, then they rocked onto the grass and shot down the hill. The slope was too gentle for a automobile to easily flip, but it was steep enough to send one sliding. The car spun like a top, while the garbage truck merely fishtailed.
The base of the hill flattened nicely, but the ground here was rockier than the slope, and the poor car was jostled around until it hopped into a stream. Just behind it, the garbage truck weathered the bumps well and eventually recovered its control. It turned nimbly and parked near to the stream.
The driver's door opened and Batman climbed out. With the speed of an old warhorse, he gingerly made it to the dirt and plodded toward the half-submerged car. Batman waded into the water. The car's front passenger had made it out, but the dizzy gangster was having trouble standing, slipping again and again to his knees and hands.
Batman approached silently from behind, nigh-invisible in the starlight. When the gangster slipped once more, Batman leaned over and calmly pushed his head down into the water. The gangster panicked, kicking and waving his arms. This merely caused him to slip further into the stream, and soon he was flapping on his belly, geysers of bubbles rising from his mouth and nose. Batman had already let go. When the man surfaced again, drenched and exhausted, Batman reached into his shoulder holster and pulled out its stubby handgun.
The car battery must have shorted then because the headlights died. Batman left the man to sputter and waded around the car. The driver had been struggling to open his door against the current. Finally, he had the bright idea to roll down his window and was now attempting to climb out. His head and shoulders were hardly through when Batman reached him. With the force of an elder, Batman raised the handgun and swung its wooden stock into the driver's nose. The blow didn't even draw blood, but it was enough to stun the driver. As he slumped forward Batman felt inside the man's coat and removed another handgun. The Dark Knight dropped both guns in the stream and heard satisfying twin plops.
The nearest rear passenger was muscling open his open door now. It was about a third of the way open when Batman turned and, taking advantage of his superior leverage, gave the corner of the door a tiny kick. The was enough to send the door rushing closed, right against the passenger's hand. He screamed awhile.
Batman continued around the car until he could see an outline of the other rear passenger, Arturo Bertinelli through the window. Bertinelli was curled up in a fetal position – not an unreasonable reaction to endure a spin-out without a seat belt. Batman took a tire iron from his belt and cracked apart the window with a few light hits. He used the tool to try rubbing away the worst of the glass shards along the window edge, then he reached through and took Arturo's hand. Specifically, he took his finger splint. With just a slight tug, he jolted Arturo to a sitting position.
Batman spoke, his voice hoarse. “Out.”
Using the finger splint like a leash, the Dark Knight guided Arturo out the window. The gangster was small and fit for his age and managed to avoid the broken glass. Batman led him ever so slowly by the hand, the two of them moving like an old married couple. He was surprised Arturo didn't call for help. This wasn't a kidnapping to him; it was escape. That was interesting.
They wandered until the stream was beyond hearing, far past out-of-sight. He handcuffed Arturo to a convenient tree branch and faced him. In the dark, they could only see the shadows of each other.
Arturo spoke, sounding wry. “So what'd you do all that for?”
Constables Brig and LeFoot rode their horses briskly down a game trail, their red uniforms bold against the scenery. LeFoot was confident they were in the vicinity of the Donahue Logging Camp, which was to say within a half hour's ride of it. The lush sea of timbers stretched out around them. Besides the occasional bird cry and the sound of the own beasts, the world was silent.
Suddenly, the sharp report of a rifle cracked the air. Brig's horse nearly bucked. Birds and woodland creatures sped out of their nests and burrows.
“We must away! Excelsior!”
The Mounties took off at a gallop. If the shot had come from the camp, they were even closer than Constable LeFoot had expected.
But they hadn't traveled twenty strides when another rifle shot split the stillness.
This continued at a steady pace until eighteen shots had been fired.
The constables raced on with ashen-faced intensity, murder in their eyes.
The State of Gotham.
It was for the best that Arturo couldn't see Batman well, or else he was sure to notice out the shabby condition of the Caped Crusader. He was still stuck in his torso and neck armor, so he hadn't been able to change into a fresh suit. Instead, most of the outfit was stained or weathered. He was missing his long gloves. The parts of the armor he had removed had awkward fasteners and ties under them, and many were bent or ripped. In short, he looked a wreck.
“Last evening, a woman opened your security door and followed me out of your room. Tall. Dark hair. Accent. Boots. Metal chest-piece. She asked about you by name. Who is she, and how do you know her?
To Batman's irritation, Arturo responded with a stare followed by a chuckle. “What, you want her number? Of all the storms breaking around the city, all the uppity chickens running with their heads cut off, she's the one you ask about? That spangle dame? Legs? Jeez Manetti, what a card, this one.”
“Funnier thing, heh heh
, I have no idea! You said she asked about me? That's real sweet.”
They saw the edge of an arc of headlights sweep the ground in the distance. The other cars of the convoy must have followed them down the hill. Arturo swallowed. “Hey, Batman, can we take this little interrogation somewhere more private?”
Batman looked at the fading light behind them then appraised Arturo. “No. You'll stay until I'm satisfied.
“Fine, what do you want? I really don't know her.”
“You have no idea why she came to defend you?
There were far-off shouts. Batman coldly folded his arms. The motion felt like someone stuck a screwdriver in his elbow, but he didn't let it show.
Arturo was sweating. “Okay, okay, here: she's with the Army.”
“... The Army.
“Or the Navy or something, I don't know.”
Batman started pacing around the tree. “And how are you involved with that?
Arturo kept his lips shut of several seconds. Then he heard another shout, a little closer.
“Okay, okay! But you didn't hear this from me, cause everybody'd want my head, see?”
“Here's how it is. We got a deal with the Navy, okay? They want the scoop on krauts messing up the city. We happen to be positioned to help in that regard.”
“All the Families?
“As far as I heard, yeah.”
“How deep in is the deal known?
“'Bout half a dozen for us, can't speak for the others.”
“Who's your contact?
“Big Navy honcho. Guy named corn-something. Cornhole. Corn husk. Cornwall. Don't remember. Can we get going?”
“And the woman?
“Look, when you broke into my home, I called the Navy for some help, and they send her along. Never seen her before; I was just as surprised as you. But she says she's with Uncle Sam, and her buddy who came later sure was military. He was convinced you'd be a goner, so I guess whatever her story is ain't news to them.”
“And that's all you know?
“We didn't have time for a picnic lunch, right? Yeah, that's it, now can we get going?”
Arturo heard no response. He looked around. Batman's menacing shape was gone.
He heard a search party calling to him from just beyond his stand of trees. A flashlight beam swept his way.
Constables Brig and LeFoot brandished their service weapons and burst into the clearing of the logging camp. The sight that greeted them was so macabre and bizarre, it was like they were seeing a staged tableau. Eighteen young men and women, all obvious victims of weeks of hard labor and neglect, stood rigid in a semi-circle around two bodies on the ground. The young people were standing in rough order from the strongest and most assertive to the most meek, if such a thing could be judged at a glance. The last, a wisp of a girl with rivers of dried tears on her face, was holding a rifle, a tongue of smoke still wafting out of the barrel. The two bodies were ground beef, each riddled with nine bullets fired at close range.