Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx
Chapter 17: Portents of the End
Thanks to clever engineering, the muzzle energy in Captain Steven Trevor's concealed two-shot pistol rivaled a large hunting rifle, but no clever engineering could replace a rifle's stock, which allowed the rifleman to support the weapon with both hands and a shoulder. Instead, the pistol hardly had room for a trigger, and when Steve fired, it kicked into his palm with the recoil of a large hunting rifle. This broke his hand and sent the hot pistol flipping over his shoulder.
Curiously, when the noise cleared, Steve was the only injured party screaming, despite being the least wounded. Milliseconds after firing, the two bullets passed cleanly through Carlos Salazar's chest. He never made a conscious noise again. One of the bullets then went through the arm of an elderly lady who was sipping wine behind the mortally wounded Salazar. She gagged and coughed, and her glass shattered on the floor, but she never screamed. Meanwhile, the flying pistol struck a gentleman far behind Steve in the face. That man cursed and collapsed backward but didn't scream. Only Steve screamed.
At least until the crowd screamed. Crowds were shrewd at realizing when something was wrong, but they tended to be helpless at learning what. The echo of a single gunshot was too low and abrupt to cause a panic through the entire ballroom. Only those circled around the bloodshed began to react. These witnesses caused a ripple through the crowd, and it was slower than one might expect. But within a few moments, everyone was appropriately terrified.
Steve had expected to be shot dead. It would occur to him much later that losing his pistol probably saved his life. The two soldiers escorting Salazar were too surprised to react instantly, and by the time they turned on him, a convenient block of escaping dancers blocked their path. Steve realized he wasn't dead yet, so he grabbed Diana's wrist with his good hand to get her attention.
She watched him, still wide-eyed.
He brought himself to her ear and rasped in pain, “Don't d'nothin', 'kay? G'out!” He then shoved her as roughly as he could, and she was bewildered enough to let this propel her a few steps. The pair of soldiers finally crossed the distance and dogpiled Steve. He didn't put up much of a fight, mostly bleating whenever an errant limb smacked his broken hand.
Diana curled her fists. Her instinct was to rush in. He had put a gun to her back like her dream foretold a man would, and this sensation still split a cold streak over her spine. Here the murderous Man finally showed his colors. But instead he shot Salazar. Diana wasn't certain what had happened, but she made a snap decision to believe that Steve was still her dear friend. A strange, rash, violent friend who had pushed her away. Diana's trust in his intentions was just strong enough to restrain her titanic impulse to seize these presumptuous guards by their collars and toss them through an ice sculpture. Instead she watched as a third, fourth, and fifth soldier joined the pile.
Diana winced and turned. Carlos Salazar bleed to death in plain view on the dance floor. She realized that Steve had acted to protect her. He was making a sacrifice, rescuing them both from her own impetuousness. She had broken her oath of deference; that much was clear. He had always been adamant that she keep her divine capabilities hidden, and a normal woman had neither the strength nor the will to kill with empty hands. When her blood boiled, she tended to forget that. If she had taken the diplomat's life, it would have sparked a hostility that would ruin not only her immediate mission but her long-term prospects as an ambassador of peace. The Amazons believed many unflattering myths about Man's World, but even they wouldn't think men stupid enough to ignore the murder of a high official. She would be branded an outlaw and despised.
Likewise, she couldn't dig Steve out of his predicament now without risking the same exposure. Besides, Diana while was coolly confident that she could exit this room by force no matter the mortal obstacles, she couldn't guarantee Steve's safety. He was only a man.
Diana knew that Captain Trevor's half-lucid admonition was correct. For good or ill, he had played his part. Now she had to g'out.
Diana tried her best to stay inconspicuous as she followed the panicked masses to the exit. However, this was difficult with her being the one of the tallest people in the room and failing to lose her composure. Her efforts ultimately proved moot when the crowd was stopped at the entrance by a sudden line of guards and staff. Returning the guests to the ballroom would have been obscene, so they were ushered en masse into several parlors and bedrooms. Diana was stuffed into a room with fifteen strangers near the rear of the villa. There was only one door, blocked by a soldier, and no windows or other obvious paths.
Diana sat on a couch and tried to avoid eye contact. Surely, they would be released eventually. Many minutes later, an officious-looking soldier entered the room and escorted a man away. They eventually returned, and the soldiers took another man. Diana found this pattern concerned concerning. She just needed a minute alone to hide so she could start her hunt for Steve. Who knew what these uniformed thugs were doing to him?
When the soldier returned again, he approached Diana. This didn’t surprise her.
“Te llamas Elizabeth?”
“You come, si?”
It wasn’t much of a question. He led her through several hallways to a kitchen, then through a door to a spacious storeroom. The walls were unvarnished wood, dust floated in the air, and bags of grain and bushels of fruit were stacked to her shoulder. The escort stayed at the door. Another soldier, an officer by his medals and attitude, stood behind a pair of dining room chairs. The officer scrutinized her.
“You are una norteamericana? Only speaking English?”
“Yes, just English. Sorry.”
“I know small English. It must do. Sit.”
Diana sat. The officer sat in the other chair across from her. He pulled her invitation out of his jacket and inspected it.
“You are Elizabeth Byrne.”
“My friends call me Lizzie.”
The officer gave her a cool stare. “Forgive me. We are no friends, Elizabeth.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I am Teniente Primero Juan Perez, and I am leader of the assassin search. I must see if you are involved.”
“But you caught the man. There were a hundred witnesses, surely.”
“We have this man, John Gibbons, but I am no certain he worked alone.”
“Well I don’t know him.”
“Several people say you danced with the shooter for much of the party. Including the time of his attack.”
“How would they know me?”
“Ms. Byrne, you have remarkable, uh, cómo se dice … proportions.”
“I beg your pardon?”
The officer was unashamed. “You are easy to remember. And people remembered.”
“Fine, yes. He was a good dancer. That's all.”
“And also un norteamericano.”
“That’s right. Fine. It was nice to meet someone from home. It gave us something in common.”
“Ciertamente. And there are so few norteamericanos here.”
“But I just met him today. We’re both from America, but that doesn’t mean we knew each other. Do you think I would spend time with terrible murderers?”
Perez was blunt. “I can no say. I do no know you. But I know that one of my men says he found you and our shooter in another room of the villa. Alone.”
“Oh.” Diana blushed. “John said he wanted to show me something.”
“Ah. I’m sure he did. But then you, a young widow, go with him? Dios mio.”
“Well he didn't want to show me a gun.”
“You miss your late husband, yes?”
Diana was surprised by this change of topic. “We weren’t close.”
“No? Ah, pobrecita. I saw your husband once.”
Diana’s stomach dropped. “Really?”
The officer’s expression remained level. “Yes. Tell me, Elizabeth, what was his hair’s color?”
“That is what I said. You lived far apart, I hear, but you must notice it at your wedding at least.”
“My husband was bald.”
“But he had a little beard. It was black.”
“And his mother’s name?”
“And your wedding day?”
“April 8th. Six years ago.”
“Foredeck of the Southern Delight, anchored off Aruba.”
Perez looked past her, disappointed. “Hm.”
“Is that all?”
“Another question. Your accent. It is strange. It does no sound as inglés estadounidense. Where are you from?”
“It sounds like that because I grew up in … uh … uh … Idaho.”
“El estado de Idaho! Of course! Muy exótico.”
“May I go? I don’t like being stuck in the same building as a killer.” Diana shivered. “A killer who even held me. Oh, the shame. The disgust!”
“Do no worry, Elizabeth. This man has been taken far away.”
“He is gone. He will no see outside a prison again. That must please you, yes?”
Diana forced a smile. “Oh … yes. So much. Thank you.”
“De nada. But you will stay in this villa until I am done. I may have questions more. Now go.”
Perez waved her away. Diana stood and followed her escort out the door. In the kitchen, another soldier was leading a guest to the storeroom. This guest was oddly familiar, and he didn’t take his eyes off Diana as she passed. She was almost out of the kitchen when he pointed at her and yelled something in Spanish. Diana’s escort stopped and asked the guest an irritated question. Diana tried to understand what was going on. Then she remembered: this was the man in the tuxedo who glimpsed her when she kicked the door off the bathroom. Her outfit had been different, but he clearly remembered her. Teniente Primero Perez was right: Diana had remarkable proportions.
For example, arm span.
Before the excited guest could answer, Diana reached across a counter and picked up a distant bread knife. In a quick motion, she turned and cut the strap on her escort’s hip holster. Diana grabbed the falling holster, backhanded his face, then threw the holster at the other guest's escort. The leather missile carried three pounds of metal and struck him in the ribs at the speed of a bush league fastball.
Teniente Primero Perez heard the commotion and stuck his head through the doorway in time to see Diana breaking through a window.
He found a ladle and rapidly smacked a hanging pan, yelling, “Guardias! A mi! A mi! Ella es escapando!”
In seconds, a line of soldiers ran into the kitchen, and Perez ordered them through a nearby door which opened out to the same yard where Diana had fled.
“Pero cuidado! Ella esta de Idaho!”
Out in the wide yard, Diana was pleased to learn that she could run in her red dress. The expensive fabric gently ripped as she accelerated barefoot over the grass. An occasional shot sped past her, too wide to worry about. Diana didn't bother to consider the cars parked in front of the villa. She hardly knew how to drive, and some cars required keys to start their ignition. Beyond the small hill of the yard was arid grassland out to the horizon. Diana reckoned that she could outrun a foot pursuit indefinitely if forced, but there was nowhere to hide nor landmarks to follow out in that wild land.
Instead, she turned and made for a long stable. Even in her brief stay in Argentina, it was obvious to Diana how the citizens were fond of horses. She was too. The running squad of soldiers had nearly lost sight of her when she enter the stables. They were nearly to the entrance when Wonder Woman burst out a side door on a chestnut racing colt, wearing some strange metal outfit instead of her party dress. The soldiers swiftly leveled their carbines and opened fire. A bullet struck the back of her breastplate and deflected. Another round traced to her chin, but her forearm was already there, and it ricocheted off her silvery cuff.
The Amazons hadn't known of saddles, so Wonder Woman had no trouble riding bareback. She might out-sprint a horse, but a top thoroughbred would get the better of her over a few kilometers. Also, riding was less tiring than running and gave her a platform to see ahead. She rode around the villa to the long driveway. At least the road would get her to a town eventually, and she recalled passing woods not far from the estate.
Hours later, four soldiers astride their own horses picked their way through a forest. They were following a trail of hoof prints, but the setting sun made their tracking difficult. Eventually, the group agreed the prints were too faint to see and turned around.
That evening. Gotham City.
A burial ceremony was coming to an end in the Old Lundergrin Cemetery. Land was expensive in Gotham City, and the GCPD had invested in a hundred plots here nearly a century ago to hedge against inflation. Any officer who fell in the line of the duty had the right to be interred here, and roughly one in four were. Since then, seventy-two graves had been dug and filled. Now the undertakers filled the seventy-third. They called this place Blue Hill.
The minister, a sallow, ancient figure, recited psalms to the assembly as dirt was shoveled behind him.
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples; a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain; the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.”
A crowd of fifty circled the fresh grave, many in polished blue uniforms. All hats were held. All heads were bowed.
“Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’ So sayith the Book of Isaiah.”
Officer Francis Gilford had been young and popular. He was cop-from-cop, meaning his father and grandfather were police. People had said he was going places. Even joining Jim Gordon’s band of malcontents hadn’t dimmed his potential. And the poor kid left a wife behind. They weren’t quite newlyweds - that would have been too tragic for words – but the couple had only been married for two years. Much of the crowd had attended their wedding.
Gordon could see her from where he stood. He tried not to stare. The girl had enough witnesses to her grief. There was a small chance Mrs. Gilford hated him now. That was her right, of course, but the widow rarely took it out on the commander, even when she should. Gordon stared at his shoes and tried to listen to the minister. Once again, he felt the hot bile of guilt in his gut. He should have been there. It was Gordon’s own standing order that his crew would jump on any credible lead on the Bertinelli case without delay. But he was in court that day, just pure bad luck, giving a deposition on an unrelated larceny. But he should have been there. And now Officer Francis Gilford, that young man with so much potential, was cold and six feet under.
The bile jumped to his throat. Gordon coughed.
When the ceremony ended, Gordon waited for the knot of family and closer friends to move away, then he knelt beside the grave and placed a white lily. “Sorry kid.” He turned and headed down Blue Hill. Officer Danny McCoy called to him at the cemetery gate.
Gordon nodded. “Hello Danny.”
“Sergeant, hey, would you hold up a minute?” McCoy looked anxious. Gordon stopped.
“What can I do for you?”
“Listen, hey, I’ve been wanting to say something, but it hasn’t seemed the time, but I got to say it now. So I’m just going to put it out there.”
“Sergeant, it’s been great with you, but listen, I just got to do it. Nothing personal. I’m no coward, you know, but I can’t take this.”
“Officer McCoy, what are you trying to say?”
McCoy clenched his eyes tight. “I’m resigning.” He opened his eyes. “I’m putting my papers in tomorrow, but I wanted to tell you first.”
Gordon was stunned. “Resigning? But Danny, you-“
“Sergeant Gordon, look, I know this isn’t the place to do this. I’m sorry. But I’ve been trying to work up the nerve, and I’m scared if I don’t say it now, I never will.”
“Why? But why?”
“Listen, I can't take it any more. They're after me. I can't so much as use the John without checking for some goon with a knife.”
“Look, I remember the Vendettas, Sarge. And I shot one of them.”
McCoy shuffled close. “The Bertinellis, Sarge. No mistaking those gats. Well, I shoots one of 'em. Pretty sure he's dead now. You remember what they used to do if you knocked off one of them? Back in the old days?” He held two fingers to his head like a pistol. “Pow! Never see it coming. Even in your own bed. And that's if they're friendly.”
Gordon tried to sound unimpressed. “Hey, we haven't seen any retaliation yet. Lord knows they've had the opportunity. I think they're lying low for now. It isn't the old days anymore.”
“Look, look, I know the deal. Yeah, we're working for something bigger than us. Yeah, yeah, I get it. But I just don't have the heart for it any more. I haven't, well, haven't slept in days. Got no appetite. Geez, Sarge, I almost shot my cat. Twice! I'm real sorry. I just got to get out of town, go somewhere they can't find me. Like the moon. I'll see ya at the office. If they don't get me first.”
And with that, Officer McCoy turned and slumped away.
Gordon watched him go. He was too tired to frown. He eventually went to find his car. There were a few tasks to finish at the precinct before he called it a night.
Later, he was signing papers in his office when he heard a knock at his door. Gordon should have recognized something was off when he first heard a hush cross the office floor, but his mind was on the paperwork. Gordon muttered, “Open.”
Someone stepped inside. Gordon glanced up then straightened with a start. “Sergeant Harrison!”
Sergeant Wallace Harrison was so old, his first sidearm was a bow and arrow. Harrison was so old, he broke labor strikes at the Great Pyramids. Harrison was so old, literally no one alive had seen him do a full day of work. He was a quiet institution of the GCPD, as constant as a mountain. There were many thousands of officers in the GCPD, but he seemed to know everyone over detective, and his memory for names was legendary. He had never been an especially competent cop, nor ambitious, nor all that ethical, but his sheer averageness was so quintessentially ‘police’ that it made him an icon. All this, combined with the facts that he stayed out of politics and any rivals were long retired, gave him a reputation as the Department’s great uncle.
Gordon would later recognize that it made sense for the brass to sent Sergeant Harrison to break the bad news. They weren’t stupid.
Harrison started his talk with that old man sucking noise that sounded prepared to either spit or burp. “Ho there, Jimmy.”
Gordon straightened his glasses. “What can I do for you, sir?”
“Sir? These old eyes could be fleeced, but seems we got the same rank now, Jimmy. Ain’t that right?”
“I suppose, yes. Yes it is. How can I help you?”
“Welp, I’d take it kindly if you could bring your boys together. Got a matter that needs shared.”
“On it.” Gordon stood and clapped. “Hey, team! Round up here.” Pens dropped, phones were cradled, and two rows of chairs squeaked as the occupants hustled over. Unlike Harrison, Gordon was extremely competent, ambitious, and ethical, and his role in Gotham’s law enforcement had quickly grown from an oddity to a pariah to a bona fide faction. A small faction considering the competition, but nonetheless a movement with legs, a challenge that couldn’t be silenced without consequence. But they tried.
Harrison lifted a hand. “Alright, alright, gather round, boys. Sweetheart, why don’t you fetch us coffee.”
The last remark was directed at Officer Renee Montoya. The other officers tensed. Montoya was about to speak but Gordon beat her too it, “We’ve not much in a mood for coffee, if you don’t mind, Sergeant. And I’m sure Officer Montoya here is eager to hear the news.”
Harrison looked mildly taken aback, but he shrugged it off. “Captain Donnelly heard I was passing through and wanted me to tell you that your multiple requests to aid the investigation into that gunfight on 85th Street have all been denied.”
There were sounds of disbelief across the row. Montoya stood up. “You mean the shooting we were in?”
Harrison remained seated. “Look here, darling, your participation would be what us old-timers call a ‘conflict of interests’. Can’t let anyone who was involved or anyone on their team be on the case.”
“Now don’t you worry your pretty lil’ head over it. By the way, the Captain also wants you lot to stop asking when you’ll be interviewed. Your statements at the scene are serving just fine, and he’ll visit if he needs more.”
Gordon asked, “He? You mean the Captain?”
“No. I mean Detective Pettigrew.”
Gordon looked like he had been slapped. “Pettigrew! That cross-eyed narcoleptic twit is on this investigation?”
“No, Pettigrew is the investigation.”
This caused a chain eruption of disbelief. Officer Smith threw his arms out. “So they put one detective on the case? Just one? For a multiple shooting in broad daylight that put cops in the dirt? One detective? What is this?”
Harrison made a sad nod and whispered, “... Ain’t straight.” Harrison had the moral integrity of a jellyfish, but the old cop was still a cop.
Gordon's team quickly wandered away, and Gordon was about to offer Sergeant Harrison a brisk walk to the door when Harrison rheumy eyes turned uncharacteristically serious and clear. He faced Gordon and folded his arms. “Look Jim, I’ve seen your boat before. Want my two cents?”
Gordon shrugged. “Sure.”
“You kids stuck your necks where they didn’t belong. No, don’t tell me why. Don’t much care why. Details mean diddly-squat. What matters is you crossed a line. And some good boys here got the short end of it for their trouble.” He shook a stern finger. “But you’re lucky. Most times, this would come back to eat all of you, one way or the other. The plain fact that that you lot are still wearing that badge is no small miracle. I see you're proud. You got big ideas. But be grateful you dodged what you did. Best toe the line now, hear? You let this go!” Harrison leaned back and sniffed. “Or next time they’ll fit you for a pine overcoat.”
Gordon watched him leave. He returned to his desk but did nothing for a minute except examine a pencil and think.
Gordon had contemplated for years about what specifically was wrong with his city. He suspected that Gotham's problem – well, one of its problems – was that Prohibition had broken the old game of cops and crooks. It gave the cops so many impossible demands, and the crooks so much leverage, that canny crooks and desperate cops had hammered out an unholy bargain, the so-called Peace of Falcone. It kept the city in stasis, each rotten side proping the other up at every turn. There was no fixing the streets until someone fixed the cops, and there was no fixing the cops until the Peace was gone.
Of course, Gordon knew the alternative to peace.
The scummy pond of Gotham's back alleys was rich in curious and rare creatures who filled specialized niches in their unique ecosystem. One curious creature was Blind Henry. The man known to all as Blind Henry was born Henry Walter Mellon, and his life was remarkable in three ways: he practiced dentistry, he went blind, and then he practiced dentistry blind.
After an accident took his sight on his fiftieth birthday, Henry Mellon's dentistry license was revoked, and he despaired at finding work again. That is, until late one night a distant cousin visited and asked Henry to insert a dislodged tooth. Henry feared the harm his sightless fumbling might cause and refused, suggesting a colleague across town. But his cousin stayed and begged, and Henry, against his better judgment, agreed to give it a try.
A painstaking hour passed. Amazingly, the now-unlicensed dentist discovered that his keen sense of touch and decades of experience won the day. Henry expected that strange and stressful episode to be finished, but soon more patients began arriving on his doorstep after midnight, seeking all kinds of dental care and claiming to be friends of his cousin (these friends usually brought a companion to do the actual talking due to their jaw fractures and such). Henry hated to hear folks suffer, so he usually gave the poor souls a shot (or, when he made a mistake, several). In short order, he had developed a steady clientele.
Henry wasn't stupid. He typically saw that cousin's branch of the family in prison or wanted posters. It wasn't a challenge to guess what sort of “friends” might need a dentist who couldn't identify them on the witness stand later. And he was okay with that. Blind or not, Herny was a proud dentist. Everyone deserved healthy teeth, whatever their choices, and it was his duty to care for them. If blindness prevented him from treating lawful citizens, then so be it. And if his income happened to be double what he received at his old licensed practice, well, a professional ought to be rewarded for a good job. And if reports of purse-snatchers and petty burglars on his block soon fell to zero, who was he to complain?
Most of Blind Henry's patients didn't schedule appointments. This was fine; he charged them a hefty walk-in fee. But John Doe always called ahead. Henry liked John. He liked the man's obvious refusal to put any energy into a pseudonym. Too many folks hemmed-and-hawed about their disguises, thinking up ridiculous things, but John understood the whole point of the service and didn't play games.
John stopped by every few months to fix some trauma. He arrived at his first appointment already sporting several fake teeth, and Henry helped him order and install more as the need arose. John claimed to be a boxer, and maybe that was true. Henry didn't care.
The bell on Henry's door rang. As usual, John was right on time. His dental suite was set up in his basement, and entrants had to descend a short staircase just around his back door. He didn't have a receptionist.
“Well, well. Mr. John Doe. Haven’t seen you around.”
“What's new? Got a cavity?”
“Not quite. Remember when I said I was training for a big exhibition match?”
“I got the worst of it a few nights ago.”
“Uh-huh. Let me guess. Lost a tooth?”
“Johnny, you shouldn’t wait so long to see a dentist if you lose teeth. I can't always get them back in.”
“You couldn’t anyway. I don’t have 'em.”
“Oh. So when you say you lost them, you…”
“Really lost them.”
“Must have taken a serious whack.”
“You could say that.”
“Bet it hurt something fierce.”
“Wasn’t bad. They were all fakes already.”
“I imagine you’re here for some replacements, then.”
“If you’re not too busy. And a cleaning while we're at it.”
“Well, I'll feel out what you need then get some pearlies from your reserve. You know my rates.”
Bruce put a hand on Henry’s arm and handed him a few bills. Henry rubbed each greenback between his fingers with a look of concentration. Then he smiled. “Yep. This’ll do it.”
John whistled. “That trick never ceases to amaze me.”
Henry grinned as he put the cash in a shoebox. “Better pay attention. Next time you climb the canvas, some fella might knock you blind, then you'll need it.”
“If I'm blind, at least I can always be a dentist.”
“Ah, but this job takes book-learning. Can you handle books, John?”
“I don’t know, Henry. I’ve never been much for book-learning.”
“Few too many blows to the head?”
“That’s part of it.”
“Well, it's even tougher reading blind. And you have to pay through the nose for books in braille. That's if they even have them.”
“Ha. What a knee-slapper.” Blind Henry picked up a big dental pick. “Get in the chair, Buster Keaton.”
Officer Renee Montoya was dressed as forgettably as she could in an old brown coat and plain hat. She used a bus stop three blocks further than necessary, walking much of the way down Dog Road to its venerable First United Methodist Church. Renee doubted any parishioner of the First United Methodist had seen a Dominican in their church, and she wasn't eager to be the first. She kept her head down and her hat low. There were no services at this hour, but even passing her on the street, it was clear Renee wasn't from the neighborhood. This certainly wasn't the only time she felt uncomfortable in her skin, but it was the only time she let it bother her. There was far more at stake than her own comfort and safety. For the sake of her Brothers, she couldn't afford to be noticed.
Renee slipped inside the church's empty vestibule. The lights were on, and she could hear a choir practicing in the worship hall. Renee didn't join them. Instead, she found a secluded staircase to a dank basement. She used a lighter to guide her way to a broom closet at the end. Renee entered and shut the door behind her. The floor here hid a trapdoor, but Renee knew where to spot the handle. Below the closet was a ladder that led to a cramped tunnel.
Down the curving tunnel, Renee found several other tunnels join hers, all combining toward the same path. Finally, she reached a heavy door. Renee knocked with a complicated five-strike beat. A small slot opened, revealing light that was quickly covered by a pair of eyes.
“Dublin trail,” said Renee.
The slot closed. Several locks and latches were undone, and the door swung open. Renee closed her lighter and entered. It was a small room lit by a propane lamp hanging from the ceiling. The husky doorman eyed her. His face was covered with a bandana, and he was armed.
The doorman said, “Good to see you, Renee.”
She smiled and took off her hat. “Hey, Clarence.”
The doorman took her hat and coat and led her through another heavy door which he unlocked with a key from around his neck. It led to a larger space, about as large as a classroom, with enough chairs in rows to seat twenty. However, there were only eight people present, including one standing behind an old lectern at the front.
This leader nodded at her. “Hey there, Montoya.”
Renee nodded back and took a seat, “Hey, Sergeant Gordon.”
James Gordon faced his audience and tapped his knuckles on the lectern. “We have plenty to discuss, so I call this meeting of the Dog Road Chapter of the Brothers of the Shield to order.”
Gotham was built on myths. The city loved urban legends like Milan loved fashion or Paris loved riots. Gordon once regarded the city's myths as a defect. Only lately had he seen the use. Myths, at their heart, were shared lessons. They were examples to follow in a world that so often failed to provide real role models. Myths were catalysts. Like in the old folk tale of the stone soup, when a traveler made a stingy town generous with nothing but a story and a pebble. Gordon already had the stones, and a year ago he found his story.
The myth was called the Brothers of the Shield. It was known only to cops and only to a few. It was said to be an ancient and secret order resurrected whenever Gotham police were at their worst. Gotham City predated America, so it was anyone's guess when the Brothers were actually founded. There were no records; the legend could only pass by word of mouth. For all Gordon knew, Bullock had invented it from scratch last year.
They had a very good reason for the secrecy. Gotham's police weren't individually more corrupt or brutal than other agencies. The GCPD's claim to infamy was its radically tribal attitude, suspicious of strangers and spiteful to critics. All police were clannish by nature, but Gotham's Finest were in a league shared only with dictatorships and cults. Visitors were stunned by how quickly brass and the rank and file could come together to eviscerate muckrakers. And Heaven help whistleblowers. So Gotham's otherwise regular police had no checks and balances, and all their little sins piled together into something far worse than the sum of its parts. Historically, the corruption tended to sputter to an ugly wreck every thirty years or so. Then something shocked the system back into alignment – an angry new mayor or mass retirement. And rumor had it that every shock tended to be sparked by the hidden machinations of the Brothers of the Shield. Naturally, each generation's cop establishment was hostile to even a rumor of mythic reformers in the habit of knocking them over.
So Gordon had co-founded the latest edition of the Brothers with the cop he trusted most, Harvey Bullock, his old partner from the Skeleton Crew, that gang of has-beens and dead-enders that served as the only law in the Narrows. The pair agreed that the Famlies needed to be taken down, but the Familes had taken down Bullock first.
That should have been the spark. Police looked after their own, and when a gang of gunmen armed with .31 Hargraves entered a deadly firefight with a squad of boys in blue, it should have caused a wildfire accross the Department, but it didn't. Gordon's name was so dirty in the GCPD that casualities in his team were evidently considered acceptable losses. Something to be negotiated. Even Gordon hadn't expected the brass to stoop so low.
But, as Gordon explained in his opening statement at the lectern, that was the reality they faced. A large police department was a business, an army, a fraternity, and a lobbying firm. And in Gotham, the Families had their claws in each facet. The whole force from the commissioner down was compromised. Taking every sort of payoff and protection. Avoiding certain buildings, avoiding certain questions, certain cases, certain suspects. Telling enough lies in the mirror and on the stand to float a cruise ship.
While this state of affairs might sound rotten to the core, Gordon still believed the GCPD had a core. Something they would not stand for. The Brothers of the Shield just had to find it. And if their order lacked motivation before, several Brothers had been gunned down by those dirtbags. Now it was personal.
Three days later.
Diana traveled through six towns before she found a public phone that took international calls to the United States. She spent the better part of a morning haggaling with several operators to let her call collect. Eventually she gave up, visisted a construction site across town, and without saying a word, carried a few hundred cement blocks up a tower during lunch, took some pesos from the baffled foreman, and purchased the call.
Amanda Waller had given Diana and Captain Trevor instructions on how to handle several epsionage emergencies, including a number to reach if they were stuck in South America.
It took five minutes to patch through the many networks between the Argentine countryside and Washington DC, not including the several decoy operators it seemed screened all of Waller's calls. The call was picked up on the seventh ring.
“Miss Waller, it is Diana. I need your assistance.”
There was silence on the line for a moment. When her voice returned, it was full of carefully-supressed anger. “Do you want to tell me why I see the saw the assassination of Carlos Salazar in the papers yesterday?”
“Yes! That was Steve's act.”
“What? Hand that boy the phone.”
“I cannot! He has been arrested. I beg you, help me find where they have taken him.”
There was another silence on the line. “Why don't you start from the beginning?”
“We found Carlos Salazar at the dance. I wished to quesiton him and-”
“Did Captain Trevor agree to your idea?”
“He ... eventually!”
“We found Salazar alone and caught him. Then I made him reveal his identity and mission.”
“And how exactly did you do that?”
“I ... force. I used force to cower him.”
There was more silence on the line. Waller's voice came back oddly muted. “I see. Very well. What did he say?”
“I ... can only suggest. Captain Trevor spoke with Salazar at length, but did not have time to repeat him in full. Salazar is not Der Wehrwolf, but works for the same army, the Abwehr.”
“Salazar competed with Der Wehrwolf, whom he expects is somewhere in East America. They oppose each other greatly.”
“Really? That's what he said? And you're this confident he was truthful?”
“I am certain. When I learn the truth, there is no mistake.” Diana briefly thought of the Batman but repressed the memory. “I learned he is a Nazi with a hand in many cruel Nazi acts.”
“Many! Spying. Destruction. Aiding rebellions. Steve heard more. Sadly, Salazar was freed from us, so I sought to kill him before he could escape. Steve tried …” Diana's voice caught. She said nothing and held the receiver stiffly down.
Waller's modulated voice squaked through the speaker. “Did what? What do you mean?”
Finally, Diana continued. “He was carrying a gun. He fired on Salazar for me, then was overwhelmed by the guards. He wished me to stand aside lest I implicate the two of us. So I did not touch his captors. Instead I escaped.”
“And you got away quietly?”
“No, I was chased with great vigor, but I eluded them on horseback.”
“Yes. And I've been moving elusively since.”
Diana could hear Waller rubbing her forehead. Finally, Waller said, “A search for Captain Trevor takes time. For now, get back to the States. We can talk more in person. But their police will be watching borders and airports, and they'll probably pass around a sketch of you soon if they haven't already, so you'll have to be careful. Head to a major port. Every dockyard will have English speakers. Find a small tramp steamer leaving the country soon. The US would be great, but we can pick you up from Mexico or the Caribbean. Do what you have to do to get on board. Just remember one thing.”
“Whatever you find, call me first! Tell me the ship, its destination, and when it plans to depart. Ideally a day before. Can you do that?”
“Good. And good luck. You better get going.”
“One last question. You've said you've been away from your home less than a year, never heard from the outside world before that, and you've only visited America. Why exactly do you hate the Nazis?”
Diana paused, sounding like she was suprised to hear such a simple quesiton, “They are the scourge of the world. We must cast them down.”
“Right. Just curious.”
Many moons ago.
Queen Hippolyta of Themyscira sat playing the lyre late into the night on the terrace of her bedchamber. After many sour attempts at a difficult chord progression, she stopped to watch the moonlight on the lapping waves far below. The round terrace was the highest point of her royal palace; the Queen could see across her domain in any direction. Her people had never been inclined to hide nature with walls and roofs. Their cities were festooned with balconies, courtyards, porticos, and windows of every size to take in Themyscira's beauty and enjoy its gentle climate.
When she had rested, the Queen returned to her music with a new focus and worked through the chords on her first try. She smiled lightly, played it again at speed, and continued with the haunting piece. A dove fluttered onto the balustrade rail. She watched it as she played. It didn't preen or hop away as birds did but seemed to eye her keenly. Queen Hippolyta watched amused until she plucked another false note and looked down at her instrument.
A large shadow covered her, and the bitter scent of bronze and sweat wafted across the terrace.
Queen Hippolyta turned. "Great Hera!"
"I'll tell mother you think so."
A giant stood behind her, ten feet tall and clad in gilded armor. His sharp features and coal eyes held a steady and enormous passion. The giant looked down at her with interest. "Hippolyta of Themyscira, Forsaken Queen of the Exiled Amazons." He offered a short nod as courtly as one could hope from a warlord and as humble as one could hope from a god. "Fair greetings."
She stared flatly up at him. "Ares."
Ares stepped around so he no longer cast a shadow on her. Though the terrace was large enough to host a small party, he circled it halfway in three steps. All to see her more clearly, the Queen noticed. She wore a diaphanous sleeping dress that draped across the floor and her long curling tresses lay unpinned over her shoulders. He seemed to approve.
"My dear, beauteous Hippolyta, still as ravishing after all these years."
Many Olympians and their kin would eye a queen in her nightwear as a juicy prize - or worse - but Queen Hippolyta didn't worry. His complements were idle talk. She knew Ares' lusts were never for beauty.
(Except for Aphrodite, of course, but if ever an exception proved a rule ...)
The Queen raised her brow with impatience. "A dove, Ares?"
"I'm in an ironic temper today. Blame Dionysus."
Queen Hippolyta didn't know whether to take his excuse literally or poetically. She put down her lyre. "Why did you come here?"
Ares casually planted his foot on her marble balustrade and looked over her island. "It's been a long time, hasn't it?"
"I thank the Fates Themyscira hasn't offered cause for your attention."
"Ha! You are a peaceful little flock. I've often wondered why you even bother with your vaunted forts and towers and tournaments. Compared to the rest of the world, I'd say you're practically Switzerland."
"Who is this Switzerland?"
Ares shook his head and paced back around her. "My dear, for such advocates of wisdom, you must venture out more."
"We're content here, Ares. Reminding me of Man's savagery is weak enticement to travel. You'll have to slake your thirst elsewhere. And our warriors have been busy here."
"Yes, yes, the mighty Amazons: guardians of this mortal realm, scourge of the Plutonian hordes. How many of you have shed blood this year? This decade? Your legions have hardly seen a skirmish."
"And I pray that may continue for decades to come."
For the first time, Ares' smile dropped to a less-pleasant sneer. "Pitiful."
"Why have you come, Ares?"
"I come bearing prophecy, Hippolyta of the Amazons."
"I didn't know that was among your gifts."
"When there are storms on the horizon, it is."
"Very well. I beseech you speak your message, Lord Ares."
"All the mortal world is engaged in a vast war, and soon your island's isolation will no longer exclude you from its flames. There are hosts on the march whose cruelty and ambition exceed even your biases against them. Extinction rides forth, valiant Amazon, and it casts a long shadow before it. You may ready arms and join this war, but it will be a great sacrifice for you and those you hold dear. And they may yet sacrifice in vain."
She stared hard in his eyes as she mulled these words. "So simple? I thought prophets were supposed to be cryptic."
"I loathe to twist words. The raw truth serves my aims just as well."
"And why should I believe you?"
"I care not either way. Take up the sword, or hide in paradise until your own shores are besieged. The second road will be more costly in flesh, but the first might let us witness a long and contentious campaign. Both please me."
"You dismiss our defenses. The Amazons can stave off a phalanx a hundred ranks deep. No army will pass our beaches."
Ares sighed. The sigh of a god was a mighty event. "My dear girl. I almost wish to agree just to let you feel the barb of your hubris. You are clearly too ignorant to know even the stratagems that might add glory to your doom. But I am the god of war, not the god of slaughter. Heed then this vision, that you may act to dignify your fate."
He made a sweeping gesture, and a rush of thunderheads rolled in front of the moon. Themyscira's night sky faded into an orange dawn. Queen Hippolyta saw a long line of ships on the horizon, but these were imaginary vessels - hundreds of feet long and lacking sails or oars. Smaller ships sped towards the shore at an unnerving pace. She saw ranks of Amazons girded in armor along battlements and hilltops above the beach. Grey soldiers - men - hustled through the surf, twenty or thirty at a time. Many fell to the constant rain of arrows and incendiary shells. The few who reached cover struck back with stick weapons that spat bulbs of fire. There was a terrible thunderclap from one of the distant ships, and a square of archers disappeared in a flash of light. There was another thunderclap, and a nearby tower of her palace collapsed, its marble turned to dust.
A host of Hippolyta's swift cavalry bearing swords and lances galloped along the beach to flank one wing of the amphibious infantry. But a great silver bird dived out of the clouds with a tooth-shaking shriek. Lines of dust whorls stitched across the sand. The twin streaks met the mounted host and three riders crashed. Women and horses were rent open; even from a distance, the Queen could see smears of dark red. Further inland, a company of Amazons ran down a road to reinforce the frontlines. Another silver bird crossed far overhead. Two round shapes fell out of its innards like rotting fruit from a tree, and the advancing company was consumed in a sudden inferno. Queen Hippolyta was too far away to hear the screams, but she was near enough to see the writhing.
Hippolyta flinched. "Stop! I beg you stop!"
Ares lowered his hand, and the soldiers and ships and smoke disappeared. The black clouds rolled away to let out the moon, and the orange light of morning faded into night. "It is a brave new world, Queen of the Amazons."
Queen Hippolyta put a hand to her chest and realized her heart was racing. She hadn't felt this way in many years. "Is this- Does this- Is your vision a promise of the future, Ares, or-?"
"Even I cannot say. It is a possible future, yes. Perhaps the only one, perhaps one of many. The only way to know is to live it."
"How do I start? Even if we should venture out, how do I know which factions to seek accords and which to fight?"
"You will soon have a message from the sky. It will guide you to your path. Send out a champion to study the ways and actors of this age. Then you might stand a chance."
"When will this come to pass?"
"Goodbye, Queen Hippolyta."
She stood and reached for him. "Wait!"
Ares folded into a dove and flew away. Queen Hippolyta watched in despair. The night on Themyscira suddenly felt cold.
There was a violent knock on her bedchamber door. She harnessed her composure and went down from the terrace. "Yes?"
A palace runner nearly broke through the door. "My Queen, urgent word from the coastal sentries!"
The Queen's breath caught in her throat. Her heart skipped a beat. "Of what sort?"
"The spotters from the Sappho Cove tower swear a great silver bird has fallen into the sea!"