Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx
Chapter 31: The End of the Beginning
The twin-engine airplane carrying Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Steven Trevor, and Coronel Santiago Romero away from the midnight battle for Río Gallegos didn’t carry enough fuel for a trans-continental flight. Happily, the city was at the slender tip of South America, only a short hop from the border with neutral Chile. Their navigational maps didn’t extend far into Chile, and the old plane didn’t have the most modern instruments for night flying, so it was impossible to be sure just where they were. Captain Trevor merely flew until he reached the Pacific then followed the coast north, rationalizing that this was the best way to find a settlement, and if he had to make an emergency landing, at least it wouldn’t be in the mountains.
Hours into the flight, as the fuel ran low and the edge of the sun touched the horizon over the eastern hills, the long-dead radio on the instrument panel squawked to life. Captain Trevor nearly fell out of his seat, and acting co-pilot Wonder Woman was woken from her nap. Steve toggled the radio and answered.
It was the Chilean Air Force. An interceptor was on his tail and wanted to know why a lone aircraft with Argentine military marks was in his airspace.
Steve hesitated. He looked at Wonder Woman who shrugged. He answered that he was an agent with the United States government looking for safe passage.
There was silence on the line. Finally, the Chilean provided coordinates for an airstrip an hour north and ordered them to follow his escort. The Chilean plane flew overhead, keeping pace just in front of them.
By then, Batman and Coronel Romero were in the cockpit to see the situation.
They group discussed their options, whether they could escape or land or return to Argentine airspace, whether they could slip away on the ground or fight their way out, all except Batman who kept silent.
Finally, Batman told them to land where directed and not resist. Steve pointed out that it would be difficult to explain themselves wearing an Argentine Coronel’s uniform, a bat costume, and bronze armor, and while several of them were conspicuously bloodied. There were no other clothes on board. Wonder Woman mentioned that she could change her outfit, but she would still look wounded.
Batman dismissed these concerns by pulling out fifty thousand Chilean pesos.
Steve asked what they should do if the authorities simply stole the money. Batman answered that, in such a scenario, they would be obliged to fight their way out.
Happily, the Chilean authorities let the group go for a small customs fee and the donation of their aircraft. On their new temporary visas, they were listed as war refugees, which was almost accurate if one squinted an eye and closed the other. The authorities were even generous enough to leave them enough pesos for a train to the capital and a change of clothes.
They took the train to Santiago. Steve, now dressed as a humble Chilean farmer, visited the American embassy and exited with four new passports and IDs. His own was real. The others were temporary fakes. Batman, now dressed as a humble Chilean farmer who saved up for a nice pair of sunglasses, entered an international bank and exited with several traveler’s checks and a few American newspapers.
They traveled to the airport and found a restaurant while they waited for their flight.
Steve thumbed through their passports. “These will get us into the States. Study carefully.”
Diana, dressed as a humble Chilean farmer, asked, “Did you tell the embassy staff our story?”
Steve nodded. “I sent a diplomatic cable, yes. They have the rough summary.”
Batman asked, “Did the embassy staff treat you strangely?”
Steve shook his head. “Considering the circumstances, no.”
“Not at all?”
“Why? You sound nervous.” Steve clicked his fingers. “Wait, you're worried because you're a fugitive from the federal government, aren't you?”
Batman gave him a long, level look. “So?”
Steve snickered. “I'm an agent of the United States. What do you think I ought to say to you in this situation?”
Batman considered the question. “Welcome to the club.”
Diana gently explained, “Amanda Waller predicted that when you returned, you would be arrested.”
Steve frowned. “Why?”
“Assassinating an ambassador.”
“Oh, yeah. That.”
Diana held his hand. “You don’t need to return to captivity.”
“Diana, I swore an oath to my country. I think I did the right thing, but if they disagree, well, sometimes you just got to face the music. I’m no coward.” He smiled sympathetically. “Don’t worry, angel, I’ll figure out a plan to get you out before I turn myself in.”
Diana hummed uneasily. “Actually, Waller promised that I would be rewarded for killing Der Wehrwulf.”
Coronel Romero, dressed as an arrogant Chilean farmer, put down his spoon without sipping his soup. “And you just say this in front of me?”
Diana sneered at him. “Don’t fear. I’m sure they’d find a live Nazi more useful than a dead one.”
Steve chuckled. “Hey, there’s my answer. I helped catch the Nazi, they’ll give me a pass.”
Diana asked, “I thought you were going to face the music?”
“Sure, but I’m not going to break into the concert.”
Batman said, “Our last connecting flight is from Miami. They'll likely arrest you there instead of waiting for you to land in Washington. They'll be waiting in the terminal, so I'll part ways shortly after we disembark.”
Diana asked, “What will you do in DC without us?”
“I'm heading for Gotham.”
Steve looked at him skeptically. “You're taking the flight to Gotham? They just issued your new ID. They can track the plane you board.”
“They can try.”
Coronel Romero growled, “Don’t think you can leave without healing my poison, child!”
Batman faced Diana. He reached into his bag, took out a syringe, and laid it in Diana’s hand. “Use it on your guest when you want.”
After the meal, they waited in the terminal for their flight. The others talked or read. Batman slept. At least, his companions thought he was sleeping – he sat erect and moved somewhat less than usual. When anyone needed to speak with him, he was alert within a second. At one point, Coronel Romero had to use the restroom, so Steve escorted him. Diana sat beside Batman and looked at her knees. “I haven’t thanked you yet.”
Batman didn’t respond.
She looked at him. “Thank you.”
Batman didn’t respond.
Diana said, “We disagreed about our task, but when our aircraft was struck, I feared for your life. I was heartened to see you survived. Without you, I don’t believe I would have triumphed.”
After a moment, Batman finally spoke. “Before we were shot down, you agreed to follow your promise to me. No killing. You swore it. Then I see you with blood on your hands.”
Diana’s brow creased, but she resisted her anger. “From wiping your eyes. I saved you.”
“I made it to the heart of their camp on my own, all the way to their jail cell. They caught me because when they came to fetch Captain Trevor. They were using him as a human shield, weren’t they? Because you sacred them. You must have been terrifying. How many did you kill, Diana? How many children?”
She huffed and answered in a low tone, “I did not know about the children.”
“Neither did I, but my ignorance doesn’t leave corpses. I guess their human shield worked, since she caught you soon afterward. In the end, what did your violence accomplish?”
“But you were also violent. You poisoned Der Wehrwulf.”
“She was never in danger.”
“I gave her a mild stimulant. The other syringe was empty and missed the vein. The 'cure' I gave you has a little distilled water from the restaurant. She’ll be fine.”
“You let her fear she is dying.”
“Fear is a luxury of the living.”
“Well, I’m sure I won the battle for the virtuous side. That will save lives.”
“Perhaps you did, and perhaps it will. But that wasn’t your promise.”
“I saw a sign, Batman. I was lost and alone and saw a sword in a burning tree.”
Diana finally looked angry. “I will not be shamed if your are blind enough to dismiss signs, Batman. It was war! I confess I was wrong, but only in swearing to you. That was my true sin. Perhaps you would have succeeded, but I refuse to trust that your methods are best for all places or all people. I think you are the zealot.”
Batman said nothing. He still hadn’t faced her. She leaned over him, trying to shake his composure. “Well? Do you say nothing to defend yourself?”
“You rescued your man. You have your captive. We're done.”
Soon the others returned from the restroom to see Diana fuming and Batman still asleep. Steve looked between them. “What did I miss?”
Batman, Diana, Captain Trevor, and Coronel Romero were on their final shared connecting flight to Miami when Diana spoke to Batman again. “I still think your beliefs are mistaken.”
Steve and the Coronel looked at Diana in confusion. Batman didn’t respond.
Diana continued, “But I did break my vow. That is inexcusable, and I must make amends."
Steve asked, “Diana, what are you talking about?”
“I have wronged Batman. I owe him.”
“Wronged Batman? How?”
Batman interrupted. “That’s between us. You owe me nothing.”
Diana shook her head adamantly. “No. I will pay my debt.”
“Fine.” Batman looked at Steve. “Captain Trevor, if you’re still a free man, I’ll find you to ask about crimes performed by the United States government. Then some day I may need you to testify in court. If they don’t let you testify, there are journalists who will want to interview you. Promise me you’ll do this when that day comes, and whatever debts she owes me are clear.”
Steve hesitated. “Well hold on, I’m not sure if-”
Diana interrupted. “Of course he will. He is brave and will face the music. But I loathe to pass on a debt for convenience. How can I help you? What do you need in Gotham?”
Diana crossed her arms. “Hm.”
When the four reached Miami and stepped off the plane, the bright Florida sun shone down on them. They glanced up and shielded their eyes. When they looked down again, Batman had disappeared. Steve looked around the tarmac. It was empty for ten yards in every direction. He shook his head and fumed. Coronel Romero chuckled.
They entered the terminal. The four Bureau agents were easy for Steve to spot. It was the haircut. They walked up and introduced themselves. The agents dutifully flashed badges. One asked Steve to confirm some details of Der Wehrwulf in his report from the embassy, while another rest put the Coronel into handcuffs. Steve answered the questions, and the agent mentioned that they were building protocols for just such an occasion since Waller's discovery. Diana handed over her syringe, and three of the agents took the Coronel away.
Steve asked the remaining agent. “What about us?”
The agent said, “For you, I imagine you'll find out at your court martial.”
Steve accepted this solemnly. “Understood.”
“For Batman, I was told he would never be caught walking with the rest of you, and I shouldn't waste manpower combing for him.”
“And Diana goes free. Fair enough.”
“Actually, Captain Trevor, those aren't my orders.” With that, eight other occupants of the terminal stood up and formed a loose circle around them. “I'm taking both of you in.”
Diana looked around and said sharply, “We were promised I would be at liberty.”
The agent asked, “Promised?”
She hesitated. “It was suggested.”
“Hands behind your backs. Let's make this easy.”
Twelve minutes later, panting and sweaty, she and Steve climbed aboard the direct flight to Gotham. Their wardrobes and haircuts had changed. Steve knew enough about civil aviation to dismiss the possibility that they would ground all flights to find two fugitives. They might station cops at destinations of likely outbound flights, but Steve hoped Batman would have some advice on avoiding that.
They walked down the aisle of the plane and saw Batman near the back. Happily, there were two seats open near him. Batman frowned.
The Peppermint Club, Bludhaven.
Detective Arnold Flass sat on a couch with his arms around two young ladies. After half an hour in their company, Detective Flass had learned that one was named Brandy and the other was not. Brandy thought his camel hair coat looked expensive. Not-Brandy thought trumpets were funny instruments.
Flass ordered another round for the table and continued his story. “-So there I was, rescuing the mayor from a tiger, when lo and behold, the boat starts to sink.”
Not-Brandy gasped and covered her mouth. Brandy filed her nails and checked her teeth in the reflection of her glass.
Suddenly, a shadow fell across the table. Flass half-turned and muttered, “They’re with me, punk. Hit the road.”
A mean voice answered, “Only if you tag along.”
Flass looked up, past the considerable frame and into the sullen eyes of Marco Bertinelli. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”
Marco pulled open a flap of his coat, showing the handle of a Hargrave .31. “Then you shoulda ran more than three miles out of town, nitwit. Or maybe stayed outta clubs owned by friends of ours. That would make sense too.” Flass looked past Marco and saw two other goons near the entrance. He muttered something to the girls and left the table. Marco put an arm around his shoulders and led him outside, tipping the waitress as she walked by and sharing a nod with the doorman.
They slid into the backseat of a car.
Marco tutted as the driver pulled into traffic. “The great Detective Flass, hiding like a scared little girl. Heard you was supposed to be a real streetfighter.”
Flass crossed his arms. “Marco, right?”
“Yeah. Guess you usually deal with the Falcones. Here’s a hint: your posse shot my cousin.”
“Careful. If you touch me-”
“Heh, dat’s funny. Nah, this ain’t that. See, you’re cordially invited to inaugural meeting of the Committee For the Keeping of Gotham from Burning to the Dirt. See, because you’re the guest of honor.”
“What a gas.”
Flass had been happy to obey his mandated leave pending the investigation into the Arturo Bertinelli convoy disaster. He wasn’t stupid enough to believe it would blow over completely if he kept his head in the sand, but he had survived storms before by taking time to get his story straight and letting the hotheads tire each other out. Patience was a virtue.
There was also something to be said for tact, and Flass kept his mouth shut for the remainder of the ride. They ended up at a shabby hotel in midtown. Even a mover and shaker at Detective Flass’ level had precious little interaction with the Families directly, but he knew they had a particular code of etiquette for big meetings. It was never as flashy as one expected, and he guessed the owner of the place was some neutral party, an out-of-town investor or one of the exceedingly rare gangs with no Family ties. They ushered him through a lobby where everyone was armed and into the private lounge.
With Bertinelli carrying a Hargrave, Flass might have expected one of the dons to come by, but he didn’t expect all of them. Franco Bertinelli, Salvatore Maroni, Giuseppe Nobilo, and the biggest wild card of all, Mario Falcone. Flass wouldn’t have been more shocked if Roosevelt showed up. He also recognized Walter Brown, an old schlub City Hall sent around when they wanted to send a message off the record.
Flass was ushered to the table. He looked across the faces there and didn’t know what to say, so he nodded and said, “Gentlemen.”
By tradition, Falcone led these meetings, but only when that name meant Carmine. Mario hadn’t earned an ounce of the veneration his father commanded. Carmine’s runner-up in power and seniority had always been Sal Maroni, so he began instead.
“Officer. Heard you was out of town.”
Maroni was known as friendly but temperamental, and Flass couldn’t guess what might get on his bad side today. He glanced at Mario Falcone. Flass was tight with the Falcones, and Carmine was known to favor the police when possible, making them his obvious guardians in this crowd, but Flass had never met his son Mario. By reputation, Mario had a real short fuse, and it was an open question whether he was anywhere near the same negotiator as his old man, let alone where his interests lay.
Flass answered Maroni, “That’s true, sir. I was out of town. Vacation.”
“Oh, that’s not suspicious. Do you know what’s happening since you’ve left?”
“I’ve heard a little.”
“What have you heard?”
“I understand the Commissioner is on a warpath. Every friend and associate of the late Arturo Bertinelli they can collar for whistling without a permit is getting the third degree.”
Walter Brown stood up. “Er, yes, that’s correct, Detective Flass. He has been quite fiery in his campaign. However, the city has also suffered a number of other setbacks. A long list of neighborhoods considered, well, safe have suffered a sudden spree of muggings and burglaries. Gotham’s Sanitation, Teamsters, and Cementworkers Unions have all gone on strike on claims of unsafe working conditions. There have been two major riots in Blackgate Penitentiary, forcing extra correctional officers to be called in from across the state. And, strangely, numerous members of city government have had cars and houses repossessed to cover outstanding debts. Needless to say, the Mayor’s Office would like all of these problems to stop.”
Flass wanted to snicker, but he kept a straight face. This was the Families playing nice. A warning shot.
Franco Bertinelli suddenly spoke. “Arturo broke the rules, so my people wiped our hands of him. Everyone knows this. Then he kills a cop and gets blasted in return. Not our fault, not our problem. I'll pay for his funeral and bury it there. But still they harass us. That is inexcusable.”
Flass opened his mouth, but Bertinelli shook his finger and interrupted, “You cops, you say, 'ah, but Arturo had a shiv'. You cops assume I armed him.” Bertinelli scowled. “Why would we do that? You know what I say, I say some cops slipped him the shiv. So my business associates and I decide to demonstrate that we won't be railroaded like two-bit hustlers on a plea deal. What do you say to that?”
“Mr. Bertinelli, believe me, I agree.”
Bertinelli squinted at Flass. “Really?”
“It was a cop, but not all cops. We're on the same side here. Listen, I have been a steady partner to the Families for many years. I have nothing to gain from this. No one on my crew has anything to gain from this, and I have grilled them over the flames, believe me.”
“Then who does, Flass?”
“I don't know who slipped Arturo a shiv or how they did it, but I know this: that person wanted us to hate each other. Start a feud. Your cousin, hey, God rest his soul, but he was a tiger. You can't put him in a cage. We knew that. Whoever gave him a weapon must'a believed he was going to hurt as many cops as he could, even if it killed him. And Arturo took the bait.”
“So you're saying your bad at your job and useless to me?”
“Mr. Bertinelli, I don't know who passed the shiv, but I know who's behind it. You're right, there had to be a cop involved. No other way. And there is only one cop in Gotham who's proven time and again that he wants to wreck our mutual arrangement that badly: Jim Gordon.”
“The Golden Boy, you've heard the name. My friends in the Department have been working hard to sideline this nutjob for years, but he keeps turning up. And he's grown his own little crop of sycophants.”
“So one of them reached Arturo? Get near his cell?”
Flass hesitated. "We're still checking 'em wit' a fine-toothed comb. Most were nowhere near. There is one of 'em, this little doll of his in my station, but we keep her in the basement where she can't get up to no trouble."
“Then what is this Gordon to us?”
“I'm telling you, somehow it was him. All of you, ask your best earners how many good rackets he's knocked over. He's a menace, and this is right where he wants us. He's going to tire us out and go in for the kill. But I'm going to go out there and make him spill what-”
“No," said Mario Falcone. The word was simple and ended the discussion. "Detective, you had your chance. I'm putting an open bounty on this Gordon's head. Ten grand." He looked at the other dons. "If it was Gordon, problem solved. If not, one less troublesome cop. No one plays us for chumps. That will put us on the right foot to deal with the Commissioner.”
The other dons eyed each other with restrained displeasure. This was not how matters were settled. They should have retired to discuss the matter in private. Mr. Brown knew that. Detective Flass knew that. The young buck in Carmine's chair absolutely knew that. They could see behind the brash act well enough – he had to prove himself to the old guard. But this was the wrong move. There were avenues to investigate this Gordon first, make sure they had their man. And if it was time to take him out, their were professionals for a reason. Little Mario was looking to make a show of it like the old days, but the Families had grown very good and very comfortable working behind the scenes, and an open bounty was the hundred piece orchestra of shows.
Still, this was a test. The Falcones were first among the Families for a reason. To step back at Don Mario's first challenge would be a defiance tantamount to a vote of no confidence, and that was a dangerous road indeed. They could only make him back down if all three stood together right now.
Bertinelli was the first to pound the table. “I'm in. Ten grand.”
After a pause, Maroni rapped his knuckles as well. “Ten it is.”
Nobilo simply nodded.
The GCPD River and Maritime Patrol had its headquarters in a converted fish plant near the private wharfs of the Colonial Waterfront neighborhood. The two-story building was set on an anchored platform fifteen yards from shore. It could be reached on foot by a wooden pier, but most visited the River and Maritime Patrol HQ by sea. The building's entire perimeter was fixed with berths and mooring lines, and there was always a small flotilla present, both utility craft for the Patrol's use and boats impounded as floating crime scenes.
River and Maritime cops spent more time in the field than most GCPD stations, so its headquarters tended to feel empty. The building rarely held more than thirty personnel, and today held just eighteen. Four were members of the Patrol's Homicide squad. One was Sergeant James Gordon. Gordon was in his undershirt and briefs, idly holding a hairdryer over his drenched uniform. He fell into water about weekly now, and his Accounting wouldn't comp him for dry cleaning.
Gordon's desk phone rang.
He lifted the receiver. “Homicide. Gordon speaking.”
“Sergeant, it's Montoya.
Gordon turned off the hairdryer. “Go ahead.”
“I tapped Flass' phone. He just passed a call to the street patrol lieutenant around Colonial Waterfront to lay low for an hour. There's an open bounty out.”
Gordon almost dropped the phone. He fumbled it back to his ear. “What! On who?”
“No idea, but it's your neck of the woods, and Flass is involved. Figured, well-”
“Yeah, okay. Hey, Montoya?”
“If … well, tell my family I love 'em.”
Gordon hung up.
The open bounty was born in the most desperate days of the Vendettas. If a Family boss wanted to make a hit public and crude, an open bounty meant anyone was free to cash it in at time by any means. The offer spread by word of mouth from the Families' subsidiary gangs, to the smaller gangs in their shadow, to the rough crowds on the fringe of the criminal life. There were more than enough desperate souls in Gotham to blanket the streets with would-be murderers if the price was right. In practice, the target's own family or coworkers usually did the deed, but if the target survived longer than an hour, then the hit became a communal activity. Eventually, someone would spot the target, and crowds of opportunists would mob them and finish the job.
Sergeant Gordon picked up his revolver, checked the chambers, and was about to exit the room when his phone rang again.
“Sergeant, I'm back in town. We need to meet.”
“Batman, thank God! Are you psychic? You need to tell me if you're psychic. I'm making that a rule.”
“What's going on?”
“I think I just got an open bounty put on me.”
There was a silence on the line. “Can you get out on a ship?”
Gordon blew air through his teeth. “Maybe. But the beat cops around here have just been told to stand down, so the bounty's must've already been passed to every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a rap sheet. If any have the notion to sail in, I don't like my chances caught alone on the water. No, I'll turn the place into a dang fortress.”
“Hold tight, Gordon. I'll send help.”
They both hung up. Gordon wasn't sure what Batman meant, but it managed to put a smile on his face. That was one buddy you wanted in your corner in a fight. Holding his revolver high, Sergeant Gordon exited his office. Officer Ritter, one of his homicide boys, was eating a danish in the mess room across the hall.
Ritter looked up. “Hey, Sarge. Where's your pants?”
Gordon pointed at him and barked, “Ritter, get everyone in the building to the front desk right this second.”
Ritter nodded. “You got it.”
Gordon returned to his office, slipped on his sodden trousers and a belt, then left for the lobby.
The eighteen occupants of the River and Maritime Patrol HQ quickly came together at the news that the Homicide Sergeant was running around in his skivvies with his sidearm out. Gordon found that he was the highest ranking man in the building at the moment, which wasn't a surprise, as their captain spent as much time as possible on 'inspection' cruises on pleasure craft owned by shipping magnates who disliked intracoastal safety procedures.
Gordon paced back and forth in his bare feet in front of the assembled officers and other staff. He wasn't pointing his weapon at anyone deliberately, but he didn't seem concerned about its direction either.
“Listen up! Who here remembers what an open bounty is?”
Several hands went up. Those officers with their hands up looked terrified.
“Well, long story short, I'm a wanted man. A lot of bad guys are about to come here to punch my ticket in exchange for a whole lot of dough. Anyone interested in trying themselves better step forward now. No? Good. Prescott, unlock the armory. Everyone load up for war. If you don't carry a badge, consider yourself deputized and get yourself a piece. You two.” He pointed at two of the building's maintenance crew. “Get out front and find a way to break the pier. No one walks here. We are now in a state of siege. Mack, take six men with rifles and find positions on the roof. Wait for my orders to fire unless fired upon. The rest of you, let's barricade the entrances.”
The River and Maritime Patrol hopped to it. Gordon used the front desk phone to call around and see if anyone could provide dirt on the bounty or send help. If Montoya's warning was credible, his enemies in the Department would run interference as long as possible. He'd never seen a open bounty mob in action, but he'd heard the stories. They went from nothing to nasty in seconds flat. If this wasn't such a fancy part of town, no doubt someone would've taken a swing at him by now.
One of the maintenance men ran into his office with a fire axe. Gordon coolly put him in his sights and the man froze. “No, stop! They're coming!”
“Big crowd heading up the street.” Gordon followed him to the nearest front-facing window. He pointed out. “Look!”
Careful to keep out of reach of the man, Gordon peered through the window. A crowd of people, about thirty strong, were approaching the wharfs. They were a rough bunch, mostly young men with a surplus of stubble and scars. They carried bats and chains and other classics. He saw that the pier was broken – a twelve foot section of boards had been hacked apart. He wondered how many in the crowd could swim. Fifteen yards was not very far.
No one seemed interested in trying yet. But then someone in the crowd noticed a rowboat tied to the pier on their side. They untied the boat and six hooligans jumped in, almost capsizing it. The oars weren't around, so with the surprising teamwork of a mob, the new sailors used their bats and hands to set off. The others on land cheered them on.
Gordon muttered, “Oh, no.” He ran to the roof and ordered one of his riflemen to make a warning shot near the rowboat. The hooligans flinched at the shot and one fell out. Two friends pulled him back in, but their petty momentum was lost, and the nose of the craft started to turn. Another warning shot, and they reluctantly climbed back out onto the pier. Gordon ordered the officers to scare any trespassers off as long as possible, and to stop anyone who crossed their moat. He admitted to himself that the crisis was going pretty well, all things considered. No one had ever survived an open bounty, but he couldn't recall whether other bounties had a police station's worth of backup or a makeshift castle. He felt okay.
Then he saw more punks join the crowd. At least twenty were coming one way, some on bicycles, while five cars arrived from the other direction and spilled their passengers into the throng. Some carried guns. One of his officers shouted through a megaphone that anyone who tried to approach would be met with deadly force. The faint mummer grew louder with curses and jeers. One lean man took a running leap and crossed the gap in the pier. He made it across, but then the officers on the roof opened fire. The young man was hit and collapsed.
The crowd screamed. Some ran away, but most were simply angry. A few with guns took potshots at them. The rest of the roof flopped prone and looked at Gordon for orders. He told them to hold fire – he wasn't about to start a massacre if he could avoid it. Instead he told them to head down into the building. The upper windows offered more cover than the roof, and visibility was no longer their priority.
The two sides settled into a stalemate as yet more angry people joined the mob outside. Soon there were at least a hundred. Occasionally, a few would try some scheme to get across – swimming or other boats sailed in, and the police inside would drive them off with rifles and pistols, then the gunslingers in the mob would return fire in vengeance, though not very well. Once, a truck rolled up and off-loaded a man-sized catapult. They flung a flaming bottle at the building, breaking a window and staring a small blaze in a storage closet. When they loaded another flaming projectile, one of Gordon's riflemen fired at it before it launched, catching the catapult aflame.
This stalemate continued for half an hour. Then Gordon heard one of the most beautiful sounds in his life: police sirens. Two cruisers raced up the street. The drivers must have noticed the mob's size at the last moment, as they hastily stopped and tried to turn around. The mob pelted the cars with bricks and clubs. One finished the turn and sped off, but the other was surrounded. The officers inside stumbled out and ran while the mob flipped the car and set it on fire. The River and Maritime Patrol officers cried out in dismay. Gordon was too busy noticing more little gangs arriving left, right, center to join the mob. How much had it swelled? One hundred and thirty? One hundred and fifty?
One of the newcomers brought his own megaphone to the lynch mob. He made it to the front of the crowd and addressed the cops.
“Give up James Gordon, and y'all can live!” The mob yelled and fired into the air. The new ringleader continued, “Keep him and you'll get what's coming!” More yelling from the mob.
Gordon watched from a high window. Four others stood in the meeting room around him. Most looked defiant, but a few seem troubled. He pointed at the most uncertain-looking, a deputized janitor. “You're Huey, right?”
The man nodded. “Yeah, Sarge.”
“Can you make sure all the motorboats round back are ready to sail? I'd be nice to have an escape route.”
Huey seemed to be relieved by the idea. He gave a thumbs-up and left. Gordon's expression remained grim. He needed to maintain morale, but that escape route was a pipe dream. The position of other wharfs forced their craft to run parallel to the shore for a fair distance before reaching the open Bay. They would be easy targets for even a lousy marksman, and patrol craft had no armor.
Then they heard more sirens. Salvation! A line of police vans appeared in both directions. Some press cars followed after. The vans formed a loose arc around the mob, who let loose with their stones. A platoon of officers emerged from the vans in helmets and heavy jackets. Their front line marched in swinging batons.
The chaos was vague, but the noise was horrifying. Flashes of gunfire were seen. After a minute of violence, Gordon and his defenders in the building could see the mob losing ground. They were already pushed to the waters edge, and some started jumping in and swimming for their island. As the mass of the crowd saw their rear lines break, more and more jumped in themselves. Dozens struggled through the short stretch of water. Some seemed to drown, though it was impossible to track anyone in the confusion.
The early swimmers began to reach the other side of the moat. Gordon considered ordering his men to hold fire in case they were attempting surrender, but he was too late. Several of his cops fired out of his fort, and the panicked rioters rushed for the only cover on the platform – the building itself.
As his cops struggled to fight them off the walls, the whole neighborhood heard a loud buzz. A yellow plane swooped low overhead. A figure jumped out, dropped fifty feet, and landed in a roll on the station roof.
It was Wonder Woman.
She stood at the edge of the roof, arms akimbo, and addressed everyone. The thirty-strong rearguard of the mob in the station's courtyard watched. The cops who could lean out their windows and look up at her watched. And both sides of the melee on shore stopped and watched.
She cried out, clear and even as a bell, “Stop this fury! See the humanity in your foe. Is he not your brother? See that you love him, then leave and fight no more.”
The assembled hesitated two seconds, then they all continued brawling.
Wonder Woman looked disappointed and cracked her knuckles. “So it is this.”
She dropped from the roof, landing in front of a ragged man trying to break through the doors with a crowbar. She picked him up by his collar and belt and threw him aside. Across the courtyard, a large lady with a wooden plank was pummeling one of her own comrades, a bald man curled on the ground. Wonder Woman tossed her golden lasso and caught the woman like a rodeo steer. She pulled the lady off her feet, knocking three others over in the process.
At this point, most of the courtyard mob took notice of the tall stranger. Even some who had made it into the station and were struggling hand-to-hand with officers inside paused to watch her. Like a tidal wave, the mob held back, then rushed her at once. She retracted her lasso and clotheslined the first two who approached, grabbed the third by his face, and shoved him at the fourth. She heard two street toughs run from behind and pivoted with a spinning kick, booting both airborne. Without lowering her leg, she shifted and snap-kicked another, then another. Each kick hit like a bus.
Sergeant Gordon watched dumbfounded from his window as this one-woman whirlwind demolished a baseball team's worth of thugs and cutthroats in as much time as it took to describe. Then he heard breaking glass behind him. A mean voice yelled “Payday!” and another yelled “Meat!” Gordon turned. Two wicked-looking twins, hardly old enough to drive, had smashed open the neighboring window and climbed in. One had a chain wrapped around his fist, and the other pulled a wrench from his waistband. Their hands were cut from the glass.
Gordon fired his revolver from the hip and hit Chain-boy in the leg, but Wrench-boy closed the distance and swung at him. The wrench head struck Gordon a glancing blow, more sleeve than shoulder, but he dropped the revolver and flinched. Wrench-boy raised his arm back to knock Gordon's lights out, but Gordon popped him in the nose with a good jab-cross. He was about to finish with his patented left hook when he felt a crushing sharpness in his calf. Gordon glanced down and saw Chain-boy biting him from the floor. He stomped on the kid's ear and hobbled backwards. Wrench-boy swung again and hit his forearm. Gordon growled in pain and ran. There were no other cops in sight, and the pair were blocking his path around the building. The only escape was the staircase to the roof.
Gordon hustled up the stairs. Wrench-boy followed steps behind, hissing taunts. They reached the roof and Gordon turned around. Wrench-boy had taken his twin's chain and causally spun it in his off-hand. He stalked toward Gordon who continued pacing back. The kid was no wimp, and if it came to duking it out here, Gordon didn't like his chances. He considered hopping into the water when he saw a round shadow expand on the ground. Gordon looked up. So did Wrench-boy, but a moment too late.
A parachuter fell out of the sky and landed on Wrench-boy's chest. They tumbled to the roof, getting lost in the parachute which settled over them. Gordon pulled aside the parachute to find the attached man sitting on the kid who clearly had the wind knocked out of him.
Sergeant Gordon helped the man stand, then picked up the kid by his collar, marched him to the end of the roof, and tossed him into the bay. He turned back to find the man slipping out of his parachute pack and removing his helmet. He was young and blond, clearly military, though his jumpsuit looked civilian. Gordon strongly doubted he was here about the bounty, but he eyed the stranger carefully just the same.
The blond man held out a hand to shake. “Steve Trevor, Army Air Force.”
Gordon shook the hand. “Jim Gordon, GCPD. Thanks for the help.”
“Hey, no problem.” He smiled. “Jim, you said? You're just the man I'm looking for.”
Gordon's jaw tensed. The GI looked strong. Gordon could take him, but it would be a slog. “Is that right?”
Steve nodded. “Batman thought you could use some backup.”
Gordon's jaw stopping tensing so hard it dropped. “Batman's working with the military?”
“Well,” Steve shrugged unconvincingly, “Kinda.”
Gordon walked past him. “Explain that mess later. I need to get back.” He headed down the stairs and found his revolver. Chain-boy had crawled off somewhere based on the blood stains. Steve followed Gordon down. “Any spare guns?”
Gordon glanced back. “You can borrow any you find.” They looked out the window. The wild woman was almost finished clearing out the courtyard. The mob was either limp on the ground or jumping back into the water. Only one incredibly confident thug still faced her. She knocked the starch out of him and surveyed her handiwork.
Gordon nodded at her. “You know that gal?”
Steve grinned with pride. “That's right.”
“What is she, Batman's cousin?”
Steve stuttered, but Gordon wasn't paying attention. Back on land, the larger mob had rallied after the initial push from the riot police. Several more cop cars had arrived on the scene since, but the mob's weight in numbers was finally forcing the GCPD line back. Pockets of officers on the flanks had been surrounded or driven off. Having seen his share of riots, Gordon knew the police were in trouble. “Jeez, they're about to crack us like an egg!”
Steve pointed at the courtyard. “Don't count your chickens before they hatch.”
The woman below had noticed the dire situation on the other side of the water. She ran down the pier, cleared the gap with yards to spare in an enormous leap, and tore into rear of the mob with a vengeance.
Steve said, “I got to help her.”
Gordon glanced across at him, dubious. “I need to see to my men. Good luck.”
They shook hands again. Steve jumped out the two-story window and landed in a roll. Gordon rolled his eyes and paced down the hall. He reached the lobby mezzanine and found three of his squad resting behind an overturned table. The officers waved at Gordon. Officer Brewer said, “A crew of 'em made it through the front doors. Looked bad since one had a Tommy gun, but it jammed. Guess he ain't heard you don't swim with it. We took two down. Rest scampered off.”
Gordon nodded. “Let's sweep the building. Make sure all the bad guys are out of our house. Check for causalities. Tell everyone on our team to regroup in the lobby.”
“Sergeant, don't we need everyone at their posts?”
Gordon shook his head. “You haven't seen outside?”
“Fights over, Brewer. Cavalry's arrived.”
A stone's throw behind the ring of police vans, a gaggle of journalists and photographers reported on the riot. Being a reporter on Gotham City's crime beat meant a near-pathological indifference to danger, but on days like this the men really earned their health insurance. Maurice DiMilo of The Chariot had already been beaned with a glass bottle and was resting in his car. They all could see the cops were losing. That would make for great press, but if it got much worse, they'd need to pack up before they were trampled. Most people didn't realize the job required such delicate timing.
They had spied a figure earlier on the roof of the River and Maritime Patrol building. They couldn't hear that oddball over the din or get a good look at them. They figured they never would as the figure soon jumped.
Oliver Endelburg, a photographer with The Gazette, was the first to spot the woman. Gaps in the police and rioter lines momentarily matched like the planets' aligning, and Endelburg glimpsed the middle of the riot where the woman held two men off the ground by their shirts and knocked them together. He took a quick shot, though he wasn't sure what he had seen.
Joe Siltz, a cub at Citizen's Weekly, was the first to point the woman out. She had cleaved a path through the rioters and reached the front line. After wrestling a bearish miscreant to the ground, there was a lull near her. She took a deep sucking breath, shoulders hunched forward, and dragged a curtain of matted hair out of her face. Joe quickly slapped his neighbors on the backs and gestured at her. “Hey, boys, check it out!” She stood a head or two above the crowd with a red breastplate. His colleagues noticed.
“Yowza,” said one reporter. “Hot dog! Look at her go!”
“Wow,” said another as she snatched a bat out of a thug's hand and smacked him with it. “What a dame!”
“Yeah,” said a third. “She’s a real wonder woman!”
The group paused. Something clicked their collective journalistic minds. They slowly looked at each other, nodded, and scribbled furiously in their notepads.
Soon enough, the mob was broken. Many scattered. The rest were arrested en masse as more police vans arrived and sent to lockup or the hospital. In the middle of it all was Wonder Woman, exhausted but standing tall. Captain Steve Trevor sat on the ground nearby. He was cut, bruised, and carrying a bent golf club. When the riot had nearly ended, a squad of officers approached Wonder Woman, keeping a fair distance. Steve, who had swam the moat and fought to her side, acted as her agent with the cops. He showed them his soggy War Department ID card. Legally, this meant nothing, but in a riot, the difference between a helpful citizen and a rioter was an officer's judgment call, and the police tended to respect a soldier. Steve managed to convince them that he was a good guy, and she was with him.
Finally, the cops let the press through. Steve and Wonder Woman were resting when the reporters rushed toward them. They ignored Steve entirely and surrounded Wonder Woman.
“Who are you?”
“Where did you learn to fight like that?”
“Are you with the police?”
“What makes you so strong?”
“Is this a political statement?”
“Does your husband know you're here?”
Wonder Woman blinked at the flashbulbs and tried to quiet the gaggle. “My name is Diana Pr-” She looked over as Steve patted her arm. He stood and whispered in her ear. She seemed uncertain but nodded. “Princess Diana of Themyscira. I came to aid these noble law enforcers in restoring peace.”
A reporter asked, “Princess of what?”
She spoke more confidently. “Themyscira. A nation … known to few, but ...” Steve nodded subtle encouragement. “... But which has recently signed a treaty of alliance with the United States of America!” Steve was stunned and waved unsubtle discouragement, but Wonder Woman continued, “I was sent here as ambassador to negotiate this treaty, as both our peoples are concerned by the menace of Nazi Germany. I am forever grateful that your leaders recognize our mutual interests. In that spirit of gratitude, I have stepped beyond my role as ambassador to offer my talents to your military and law agencies in whatever manner they see fit. Your safety is my safety, and our successes are one.”
Steve watched her speak in mute horror. The next reporter asked, “Ambassador, with respect, can you confirm your association with the US military or law enforcement?”
Wonder Woman hesitated, then smiled confidently. “But of course. I would like to introduce Captain Steven Archibald Trevor, of your Army Air Force.” She gestured to him regally with both hands.
Steve, against his better judgment, stood at attention and offered a crisp salute. “Yes, hello. I am Captain Trevor, and recently I was honored with the task of serving as the official liaison to Princess Diana while she volunteers with our national security mission. You gentlemen have seen with your own eyes how handy she is at knocking some sense into the enemies of freedom, and you have my word as a commissioned officer of this country that she is just as dedicated to democracy, baseball, and apple pie as any American.”
A reporter in the back raised his hand. “Captain Trevor, are you saying this riot had military or diplomatic implications?”
Steve took a stern tone. “I'm sorry, that's classified.”
The questions continued from all sides, and Steve and Wonder Woman handled them like pros.
A shabby hotel in midtown.
Open bounties rarely lasted longer than four hours. Anyone worth putting a hit on tended to be known to the underworld, so finding them wasn't a challenge, the manpower was available at the drop of a hat, and it was virtually impossible for the hit itself to fail. On the contrary, the most common problem was that evidence for who specifically performed the coup de grâce was hard to come by since the final instant was often ten ruffians against one dope. When there were several claimants to that final hit, the prize could be split or fight over. The later option was more popular.
Knowing how quickly open bounties were resolved, the bosses of the four Families had elected to stay at their designated meeting site until the bounty was closed so they could move on to other business. It was just over two hours after the call was put out when their lieutenants called them back to the conference table. They expected good news, but they were in for two surprises.
First, Detective Arnold Flass meekly explained that Sergeant James Gordon had survived the attack on his life, and he and his allies were going into hiding. Before Flass could explain how Gordon had survived, Mario Falcone stood and threw his water glass across the room. The other bosses glared at this horrendous breach in protocol, but Mario had already began to yell that they needed to send a professional this time and that Gordon would not defy them any longer.
At the moment, the second surprise walked in. Carmine Falcone, older than ever but clean-shaven, clear-eyed, and serious as the grave, didn't take his eyes off his son as he crossed the room. Mario sputtered in disbelief. The other bosses watches as Carmine kissed his cheek and spoke quietly to him, then Mario marched from the room like he had seen a ghost.
Carmine Falcone took his rightful seat at the table. He nodded graciously to the others. “Don Maroni, Don Nobilo, Don Bertinelli, forgive me for my absence. It was a private matter, and I don't wish to speak of it today. Instead, I request we handle larger dangers at hand.”
This was agreed around the room. Few would notice, but lines of relief crossed the other men's faces. Don Falcone was back.
“Detective Flass, you may go. I must request in the strongest terms that you mention my appearance here to no one. Consider me a dead man until I instruct otherwise.” Flass hastily nodded and backed out of the room. Falcone waited until the door shut behind him. “I am withdrawing the open bounty on James Gordon. He may yet be our enemy, but this is not how we stop our enemies. This is how we make them.” He turned to Franco Bertinelli with a voice of velvet on iron. “Frank, the Police Commissioner has all but declared a vendetta on you. We will not abandon you, but since it was your man that brought this upon us, you will bear the most weight to fix it.”
Bertinelli held out his hands. “Carmine-”
Falcone raised a single finger, and the interruption died. “Frank, you will stop any harassment of the cops or the city. No further retribution, I don't care what insults he spits or how many of your family he takes to trial. And however the rest of us are aiding you will stop as well. We will be model citizens. Agreed?”
The bosses all nodded, Bertinelli with some surliness. Falcone continued, “Good. Then we will make our amends. Our accountants will determine the price of the harm we've caused, and we will pay reparations. That means lost work from labor strikes or repairs for prison riots. Also, we will ensure that the Commissioner and his family will never want for anything again. If his children go to college, if his brother buys a car, it will not cost them a cent. The bills for these amends will be divided like this: Frank, you will pay half, and the other half will be split between the three of us.”
Bertinelli stood and planted his hands on the table. “Carmine, you go to far. My cousin was also killed by this man's officers, and we don't know whether they planted the shiv.”
Falcone slowly shook his head. “No, Frank, this ends. Perhaps they did plant the knife. Your man picked it up. It doesn't matter. We’re all paying for the unrest you’ve allowed to happen.”
“Don’t challenge me on this. You’re risking our hard-won position, and I promise you if you do anything to damage the peace, today or tomorrow or next year , then we’ll have your head.”
Don Maroni and Don Nobilo slowly nodded.
Bertinellli sat down, simmering red.
The White House. Washington DC.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Come in, Cordell. Seen the evening edition? Same headline, every paper.”
“Yes, I've seen it.”
“Each one: 'Wonder Woman'.”
“Unless I'm mistaken, I've never signed a treaty with a country called Themyscira. I was about to call our friends in the Senate and see if they've sent me such a treaty.”
“There is no nation called Themyscira, sir.”
“Yet I'm informed by Army Intelligence that this woman has worked for us.”
“That's … interesting.”
“And this Captain Trevor was indeed her official liaison. At least until he sparked that fiasco in Argentina. Now he's a wanted man.”
“That was him?”
“We will take the Captain in, and we will get to the bottom of the story.”
“My press secretary is already drafting our formal denial of this 'Wonder Woman' and her claims. For the sake of consistency, I've held off all calls from the papers until it's done, but that should be in a few hours, sir.”
“Good, I suspected that'd be the case, Cordell. I've given this some thought and wanted to discuss with you the bigger picture.”
“This fake ambassador, this 'Princess' Diana. Well, we're seen some polls already. She's the most popular figure to come out of nowhere since Charles Lindbergh.”
“No, her numbers are better than mine. And what's not to like? Good smile. Good speech. She beat the stuffing out of some Gotham street trash; America loves that. And our Air Force man takes a good picture, too.”
“She's a fraud, sir. Whoever she is, she's using us.”
“Perhaps. But I've told you for years, what's my number one mission?”
“Let's hear it.”
“... Rolling back isolationism. Countering the Axis powers at every level.”
“That's right. Winston knows the score. The Brits have been at the battlements, red in tooth and claw. It's high time we take up the banner.”
“And from line one, this Wonder Woman throws her hat in the ring. As 'both our peoples are concerned by the menace of Nazi Germany'. What an opener.”
“She's dictating our national position!”
“Yes, and the reaction has been unprecedented praise. Cordell, I need a cheerleader. If this girl didn't exist, I'd need to invent her. Look, she didn't tie us to a declaration of war. Let's just wait and see if there's an arrangement to be found before we rebuke her and burn this opportunity.”
“Are you asking me to withhold my press release, sir?”
“No, 'asking' isn't the word I'd use.”