Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dr. Gotham Steps Out - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Erin Norris shivered in her black outfit as the landside breezes funneled down the Gotham River channel and spilled above that to the surface streets, causing slow whorls and eddies in the gathering fog. She looked around, fear still with her but slowly abating, as she realized that she still had the bag of jewelry taken from the store.

"Ronny..." she whispered and shook as the breeze slipped out of the channel and swirled around her.

"I've got to get..." she looked around and thought about the bridges from the Gotham Islands to the mainland.


The northernmost, the main train bridge, the Interconnector and Mid-North were out of the question. After that was the Mid-South, the old subway/train bridge, and the Lower South bridge. Her headlong sprint and then run from the other side of the South Island had left her between the Mid and Lower bridges, with the old subway bridge being close if she could find an entrance to the old subway system or a part of the Underworld near it. She knew there was a part of the Underworld on the north side of the Island, but didn't know exactly where it had entrances.

She started to walk absently to the west and the Lower bridge which was near the low rent warehouse district and home to the various flophouses that tended to cater to dock workers and those newly poor or coming to the scant few jobs that Gotham held. Only the influx of some people working at the Wayne Mill and ATC areas had started to gentrify one or two blocks in that poorest region of Gotham. She knew of one fence in that area who might be able to solve some of her problems, maybe most of them.

She hurried down the sidewalk, then darted over one block to get away from the open area along the river channel so she wouldn't be easily seen. And to get away from that fog that seemed to be following her, slowly, wherever she went. She started to hurry to get away from the encroaching fog until she got to 2nd Street and turned right to head to one storefront that had an all-night business that also served as a front for her fence - Charlie's Diner.

It had once been a greasy spoon sort of place owned by local family from Italy and then was bought out by third generation man by the name of Harrison Wong back in '78. He closed it down for six months for serious renovations which allowed it to pass the health inspection codes without a single bribe being handed over. It was accepted that his fiance at the time, Betsy Petruzzi, had a hand in making sure things were smoothed over, but the scuttlebutt in the Health Dept. was that this was on the labor and cost side of renovation and not the bribe side. By February 1979 it had re-opened with little fanfare but with a gleaming chrome counter, well appointed booths to go with the stools along the counter, and a take-out place that served noodle soup and other Asian cuisine, which was dubbed 'Charlie's Deli'. Morning foot traffic to the corner bus stop and the renovation of some of the buildings in the area to serve as apartments and even condominiums for locals working at the Wayne Foundry and Wayne ATC meant more business and somewhat better clientele.

What wasn't well known was that Harrison's half-brother, Sam, who owned a small warehouse on the nearby waterfront, was a fence for stolen goods and an importer of goods meant for the Asian market but diverted to the West to be sold at cut-rate prices. This went beyond electronics, household items and such things as videotapes, and into gray market pharmaceuticals. He worked with Cathy Li, part owner of the Golden Tiger social club on the North Island, who utilized Sam's warehouse space to ship some black market goods, which used to include heroin from the Golden Triangle. As the demand started to outstrip supply she switched over to the Bay Boys from NYC, who were able to increase their throughput for a middle-man's cut. By utilizing locals of a nondescript sort to do the exchanges, the entire way of getting drugs into Gotham was masked, although a few land-side busts outside of NYC made it safe to assume that the local police were working with the NYC police to thwart such transfers. Thus the Bay Boys, operating in the Long Island Sound area, who did much of the transfers for the gangs in NYC, were happy to expand their trade to Gotham, as well.

When Erin pushed into the Diner at 3AM, there were only a few customers in booths and one at the counter with the night manager, Irwin Brooks, at the main part of the counter and grill area and Lisa Choi at the deli portion, where she had been preparing noodle dough and cutting it to strips or putting it through a press to get finer noodles. They were hung up in racks to dry under the front heat lamps of the counter, which normally held goods near final preparation or prepared items awaiting pick-up. Erin knew the night manager, but it was Lisa Choi who knew her best, and they had got along well together over the few years she had worked as a call girl from Minerva Beaumont's establishment in Mid-South and was often getting take out from the Diner at night for Minerva.

Lisa looked up from her book as the door gave its electronic bong and started to smile until she saw the state of Erin. Dressed in black, a dark set of cloth bags tied to a belt around her waist and still carrying the blacked out rope, although the grapnel wasn't all that visible. Irwin looked up from behind the counter and did a double-take as he saw Erin, thinking her a robber, which would be unwise due to the loaded double-barrel shotgun behind the counter, but then saw that it was a customer just dressed as a catburgler. He just couldn't picture Erin Norris as a cat burgler, but some of the customers for Minerva had... unusual tastes.

Erin barely nodded at Irwin as she went towards Lisa who came out from behind the counter with a look of worry on her face. She hugged Erin who was shaking from more than the cold and her face was drained of all color.

"Erin!" she said in hushed tones, "What is wrong? Why are you dressed like this?"

"I... Lisa... I was on a job with Ronny and... and..." Erin started to cry remembering how the limp body of Ronny Norris was suspended in mid-air as best as she could see through the glistening, flowing stuff that was between them. And then she remembered the eye, the tendril... she hugged Lisa very tightly.

"It got Ronny!" she said in a half-sob.

Lisa's eyes widened as she pulled back to look Erin in the face.

"It? What? The Bat?"

Shaking her head from side to side, Erin took off the cap that held her blonde hair which went down to her shoulders.

"No... not... the Bat... him I could... no... this wasn't human... formless... green... it got Ronny..."

Lisa saw that Erin was losing control of herself and needed to be out from sight. She put an arm around Erin's back and waved to Irwin as she helped Erin to the back rooms, one of which had a small chair, cot and sink for friends needing a place to stay or a tired night cook after holiday events. As the door shut to the hallway leading to the rooms, Lisa hugged Erin to her as they walked, making soothing sounds as they got to the door to the back sleeping room. She flipped the switch light switch and sat Erin on the cot, got a glass of water from the sink, then pulled up the chair to sit across from her handing her the water. Erin accepted that and took two quick gulps from it.

"What the hell happened, Erin? Why are you dressed like this? I thought you left the business?"

Trembling Erin put the glass on the floor and then pulled off the rope and grapnel and tossed them on the floor near the sink.

"I... did leave that business, Lisa. You've met Ronny, he's a swell guy...met him at Minerva's... he wasn't no regular before he met me... Minerva was glad we got married! Ronny he's pretty sharp, you know?"

Lisa nodded, picking up the glass and refilling it, putting some antacids laced with codeine into the water. It had a slight citrus flavor and the dose was very weak, just enough to help calm someone down. As she mixed that Erin took off the black sweatshirt that was over a sweat drenched t-shirt, then took the bags from her belt and slid the belt off.

"I know, Erin, you are a good couple and have been here often. He works at Nelworth's Electronics Shop, off of 21st and Grant, right?"

She came back and handed the glass to Erin who took smaller sips. Erin's eyes darted around the small room and then settled on Lisa.

"Yeah, steady work. He's part sales and part transport, mostly to the docks to get shipments from overseas. Prolly spends more time there than the shop, but Tom Nelworth has no real complaint and Ronny is a good salesman, when he gets a chance to be."

Eyeing the sweat drenched t-shirt, Lisa could guess at the state of the rest of Erin's clothes.

"Sip that slowly, Erin. I think there is some clothing from upstairs that you can wear to replace..." she eyed the black sweatshirt, cap, rope and grapnel, black backed bags, and the form fitting black pants that were obviously sweat drenched from the crotch heading downwards. "... this stuff. Hold on a sec, ok? You're safe here."

"Thanks, Lisa! I couldn't think of where to go until I remembered..."

At the door Lisa turned back and smiled.

"That is what friends are for, Erin. I will be right back."

Erin smiled wanly, the memory of Ronny still in her head.

Lisa padded down the hallway to the door leading upstairs, turned on the light and went up one level to a storage room just past Sam Wong's rooms. The staff at the diner tended to keep extra outfits in an unused storage room on this level, next to the one used by Sam Wong for his work. Harrison kept rooms on the next level up, which had been reconverted to his needs when he bought the place. The two basements served as a general storage area for the business and any overflow from Sam's merchandise. Lisa turned on the light in the staff storage room and went over to a cabinet holding replacement shirts and pants, sliding out new ones still in their wrapping from Wentworth's Apparel. General outer garments were easy: t-shirt, blouse, pants, slippers, all were in storage. Lisa pursed her lips closing the cabinet and went to the small closet and opened its door and turned on its light. Setting the other pieces on the floor she got up on tip-toe and saw the women's costuming bag and pulled it down. There she found panties and bra, though not normal wear they would serve, and packed the bag back into the closet after pulling out a set for Erin.

Hearing a shuffle by the door, she saw Sam Wong, younger and somewhat more leaner of face than his older half-brother, in the door, with a green robe and slippers on. He had one hand in a pocket of the robe and he was obviously just barely awake.

"Lisa! What is going on? I thought I heard someone up here and got up..."

He pulled his hand from the robe pocket and made to double tie the sash on his robe.

"Erin Norris came in, and she is in shock, I think. Her clothes are not fit to be worn and she needs something to wear..."

"Ah! She is a good customer to us both, Lisa. What do you think happened?"

Lisa scooped up the clothes and was walking towards Sam. Sam could see the look on her face and made way for her.

"I don't know, Sam, but I've never seen anyone this frightened in my life."

Sam raised an eyebrow.

"Frightened? What of?"

Lisa shook her head.

"I don't know, Sam. It looks like she was dressed for a job... not a Minerva one but...ahh... burglary. Something got to her husband."

As Lisa hurried down the hallway, Sam hastened to catch up to her.

"What? The Bat?" he said in an incredulous tone.

Turning back at the door to the stairs, Lisa looked back and shook her head negatively.

"She said it wasn't human, not the Batman, I have to go now, Sam."

Sam nodded once.

"Take good care for her, Lisa. Since I'm up now, I'm available if you need anything."

Lisa nodded.

"Thank you, Sam. I will."

She closed the door as she went down the stairs to get the story, such as it was, from Erin Norris. That, actually, wouldn't help anyone one, little, bit.

* * *

The vehicle's tires glided smoothly on the old subway tracks, leaving no trace of his passing and the rails barely disturbed as the tread was soft enough not to do more than disturb rust flakes, already coming off the rails. He drove with the adaptive light intensification system on, so that the very weak red lights of the vehicle would illuminate enough in their spectrum to give him near daylight rendition and yet still be just weak red lights moving through the tunnel. As the vehicle sped towards the Woodwright Station, he saw a vagrant sleeping on the platform, and shifted the gears to get a low pitched growl that would burn the somewhat sulfurous fuel less well. With that he saw the vagrant bolt upright from his blanket and stare wide-eyed at the approaching horror in the tunnel. Upon entering the station he changed gears to get a high pitched keening and saw the man run headlong to the ladder that led up to the old blockhouse in the Underworld.

He was sure that his would be yet another garbled story of a Ghost Train of Gotham.

As the old signs in the subways indicated that Cooper Station was next, he slowed the vehicle and lifted the guide system up so that he could move easily down a siding and to an accessway that the designers of Wayne Tower had put in as part of the old Public Defense System. As that had been a minor part of the plans, Bruce had emergency lift doors added and then took the lowest part of Wayne Tower out of active use and shifted its activities to the mainland. It was yet another of the private entrances he had installed in the building, this one co-opting an existing part of the design. For his purposes it had a different use, this night, and as the door swung open to the side of the maintenance track, he sped up to it and onto the roadway that led in a spiral upwards. The door shut behind him as the vehicle was swallowed up by the tunnel beyond the entrance.

By hitting a switch on the vehicle console he made ready one of the secondary doors to this spiral tunnel, and it indicated green for him and opened as he approached, which put him in the lowest part of the parking facility for the Tower, which held vehicles used for heavy maintenance. His low-set, faceted skin vehicle flashed through them as a dark part of the night in motion, that no one would see as most attention was paid to the upper parts of the garage, when any paid attention at all. A rolling disruption went through the camera system to mask his passage, a simple set of circuits behind a junction box triggered by the vehicle's approach. He geared down and accelerated, rising faster up the main corkscrew ramp and then straightened allowing him to gear up to go out for the topside entrance with speed. The gate raised as he approached and lowered behind him. In an instant he was on the streets of Gotham and went straight down one block before turning right into an alleyway.

Two men were in the alley, one holding a bag and gesturing to the other with the waving of fingers together that usually meant payment first.

He geared the car down and a deep, hard growl came from the engine. Then he put on the bright reds with dull lights to either side of the front quarter panels to warn that this was the width of the vehicle. The bag they had been attempting to exchange broke, and money went flying into the air as they pulled apart to get to either side of the alley and away from this apparition that was not stopping for them. A white powder mixed with the gathering fog and then swirled around the vehicle as it passed them, kicking bills into the air. It its passing the fumes of sulfur and soot mixed with the powder and fog leaving a miasma that settled on everything there. The two men ran away from the vehicle's passage, fearing its return.

His face was impassive in this, as it was part of what he did at night. On many nights they would have great reason to fear his return, but this night only the fear of his passage was available. He could not right every wrong, stop every criminal activity nor protect everyone from harm. That was not his task, as he saw it, and it often defined itself for him as he did it. Going four blocks down the alley he slowed and turned to the right back to the main thoroughfare through the last of the Hotel District, and stopped at the last light only long enough to make sure that Erin Norris was not visible on the far side of the bridge or on the immediate road going east and west on the other side. With the camera system watching the Norris' apartment he would be warned if she went back to it. Her headlong flight was one of stark terror, however, and that often did not mean clear thinking was in play. The flight to get away often did not include a destination. With her relative youth and fitness that meant she would be pulled up short by geography before she had a chance to consider where it was, exactly, she wanted to go, next.

Satisfied that she wasn't heading off the South Island at its northernmost bridge, he turned the vehicle and prowled further along Front Street. He glanced back and forth in case she had decided to start walking back towards their apartment, but saw no evidence of her. He stopped above the subway/train bridge, got out and looked at it and the tracks on the other side of the river with his light intensification binoculars. Going to the railing on the sidewalk, he secured a grapnel to it and lowered himself down to the track level and the small maintenance platform next to the tunnel. There he tied into the Wayne subway system cameras and saw no evidence of Erin in the immediate tunnels. He hit the activator for the traction motors for his line and was pulled up with a faint 'zip' sound up to the railing. After swinging over it and retrieving his grapnel, he gave a final look around and went back to the vehicle.

Now he drove on with purpose, as the gathering fog made it hard to see even with the IR beams forward, the fog was getting denser and making it harder to see across the river as the land-side breeze pushed the fog from the river channel and onto the Islands. The heat leaving the Islands also brought fog in at the surface from the sea, which meant that most mornings saw the dank residue of the fog glistening on the lower floors of buildings, soon evaporated by the warming rays of the sun applied to the air. When it was sunny out, of course.

Erin's record hadn't shown much in the way of being a stand-out in anything. Not in school nor out, and even her criminal career pointed to low expectations and wants. This did not mean she was unintelligent, just that what faculties she had were not ones that tended to the standard paths of brilliance. That didn't mean that she wasn't capable, since she did have to survive at the lowest rungs of the Gotham criminal class and that meant some rudimentary survival skills and knowledge. Their foray into the Underworld showed that, clearly. He started to consider his options for Mid-South heading into the Lower South Island areas. There were a number of crooks of various sorts in the area: prostitution rings, gambling dens, pushers, vice rings, bookies, and the always needed fences to give pennies on the dollar for stolen goods.

If the Norris' were the ones on the drug deal he busted up then he was sure that they were not into enough cash to arrange such a deal. So they were 'fronts' to another operation. He suspected that with the Asian Bay Boys in on the deal that this led to the Golden Tiger Club, which had established itself in Mid-North four or five years ago. That was interesting as the Asian community mostly lived in Mid- to Upper South. Distance makes the blame fall farther away.

The cross-street numbers for the roads were getting into the single digits and he was approaching the western shore of the South Island and still, no sign of Erin Norris. The better lights near the 2nd Street Bridge meant that he could see to that but not beyond it. That strip of good lights on 2nd Street was the dividing line between the western docks and warehouses on 1st Street and the small commercial and mixed use district on the other side. There were criminal operations on the western shore, along with a fence or two, although it was unlikely that Erin or Ronny had any contacts with them. The Golden Tiger Club, however...

With final glances down 4th and 3rd Streets he gave the care some speed to dash across 2nd Street which was empty, this late at night. He then slowed the vehicle and dimmed the lights and went very slowly, letting IR do the work for him. As time dragged on he was beginning to suspect that Erin Norris had a destination he didn't know about. Yet he knew that there were fences in the area and if they were dealing with the Asian mobs, then they may just have a fence in that community. He applied all the sound dampners to the engine and exhaust, slowed his speed and decided that those IR readings just might be worth looking into.

After he passed the building with IR readings he sped up the vehicle and took a turn to the right in the next set of warehouses. While the western docks were utilized frequently, their night staff was relatively light and the chain-link fences served as enough deterrent to keep out the casual criminals from the dock areas, themselves, and the alarms for the warehouses required little to no oversight at all.

He stopped the vehicle between two of the large warehouses, just by the fence at the docks. Leaving the vehicle he pulled a small set of wire leads out from a side panel as the door shut, and went to the fence. As he examined the metal he took out to tiny canisters and attached them to the fence just above eye level on posts, then attached the wires to them. If the vehicle didn't come this way, the canisters would have their tops pulled off and their contents scattered into the air, useless as identification. Carefully stepping over the thin lead wires he looked up to the top of the warehouse, took out his grapnel and fired it. When he felt it catch on the metal side he used the traction motor to let himself glide silently upwards. At the roof he swung over the edge, retrieved the grapnel and walked over to the opposite side to see and hear what was going on inside the building with IR readings.

* * *

The old man walked slowly along the well lit 23rd Street that went down the center of the Hotel District which had some traffic during this late hour, mostly private vehicles with cabs and limos making up a fair share of the traffic. The types of vehicles, while still motorized and similar to those he had known, were sleeker and faster looking and many had tinted windows that made the interiors difficult to see. He could still identify them as cars, cabs and limos, however, as well as the bus he had seen here and there along the road and in traffic. Apparently the old trolley system had gone the way of all things over time, for there was no hint of it anywhere.

There was foot traffic on the sidewalks, as well, which consisted mostly of small groups of people in fine evening attire going from hotel to restaurants. The nature of the clothing had not changed much in styling for men, but the finery for women and concepts of modesty had changed drastically. He could still spot hobos and bums in alleyways, and they tended to fade back when a police vehicle went past on the road, then fade forward after it had left. Some things had changed, some remained the same and some were just unidentifiably... different.

This had always been a main thoroughfare on the mid-Gotham River on the South Island as it had serviced first the old port, then the new port, then the mills, then the industrial shops, then the first few electronics shops. As he looked at the mixture of hotels, storefronts, and conversions of some of the older structures he began to get an odd feeling, as he walked north towards one of the bridges connecting the two islands. Others looked at him not gawking, as such, as the stares and smiles he had gotten indicated that no matter how out of step his dress was with the times, it was still understood as clothing acceptable in public. The Park Crest Street bridge was the one he wanted, which was near the old Cooper Station, as it was one of the widest, in his day, and saw much foot traffic for the management of businesses along 23rd going east to the North Island where they had lived.

Some of the buildings he could tentatively identify due to their structures and how their roofs looked. As he crossed 23rd Street at Oriole Court he looked up at what should be the Framer's Building, which had been one of the first lumber mills on the South Island and was then changed over into water driven paper mill, then partially torn down and reconstructed for garment production. It had distinctive gargoyles on its corners and a bronze crest along the roof wall which was hard to miss, and he did not miss them, even in the dark and somewhat foggy night.

He looked up getting to the west side of 23rd and realized what had been bothering him. The roof was closer than he expected. Almost one floor closer if not two, as the Framer's Building had been eight stories tall and now looked to be six stories. He counted six full stories with a number of windows below the sidewalk level which now had their own wells with drains in them. He doubted the building had sunk, which meant that the road had risen. Still a building was hard to move and its placement allowed him to orient on the city, itself.

As he walked to the north side of the building, his suspicions were confirmed by the sloping roadway that went down two full stories over the next two blocks to reach the ground level bridge which was still there and saw much traffic both vehicular and foot, going between the islands. Unlike in his day the flux of foot traffic was from east to west, North Island to South Island as the old manufacturing center of the city had become a hotel district and the old middle class apartments with some scattered warehouses had become a theater district.

Walking down he could make out the older buildings along the middle branch of the Gotham River and the sloping hillside that went down to the old river trainway which had serviced the basements of warehouses and businesses along the South Island mid-waterfront. There were no lights on down there, and it was difficult to make out the flat area that was once a graded rail bed. Some of the new hotels shone light into the modest valley, and their refelected lights on the river told him that it was still there, that there may even still be tracks, and that the bridge was still some 30' above water level. In his day that part of the rail system was declining in use as the mills, warehouses and factories closed up, and he had thought that it was near the point where it would not be efficient to operate it any longer.

One of the abutments for the bridge had its original construction year of 1927 still on it, and next to that was an expansion and buttress that had REN 1953. He stopped to look at one of the parked cars on the 25th Street that ran along the hillside by the river, and saw under a streetlamp that one of the stickers on it had an inspection sticker dated to expire in 1985. He walked back to the bridge and stood by the original abutment and looked down the valley towards the Sound and thought about that.

"Fifty years..." he whispered as a dank fog started to rise from the river bed, a mixture of fresh and brackish water that combined with the car exhausts to create a stifling mixture to breathe. Gone was the soot and sulfur and chemical fumes from his day, and while this replacement was actually less infused with particles it was, somehow, less easy to breathe.

"Someone...." he said just barely aloud, "... no, some... thing... has used its power on me."

Looking and staring into the fog his eyelids squinted as he pressed his lips together. A look of determination hardened, replacing the open if questioning looks he had displayed previously.

"Perhaps..." he started to himself as his eyes shifted to the North Island, "... just, perhaps..."

He nodded and started pacing out over the walkway on the Park Crest Bridge and to the North Island, taking in the changes but still having a destination in mind. The slope started up from 27th Street to 28th and then 29th Street, until he came to the main intersection at 30th Street. He walked past the theaters, which were letting customers out after their shows, and many of the restaurants along the street were open into the long hours of the night for such custom. After some blocks he had gotten to what used to be Maple Court. He could see its name on the far side of the street but on his side there was no extension of it to the old Lavalier Building, an upscale apartment building. There was no Lavalier Building, either, but the Herald Theater, which stretched across where the old Maple Court was. There was no sign of Maple Court or the Lavalier Building at all, no hint that they had been there: they were gone.

Any chance he had of finding Martha Culligan were evaporating in front of him.

He walked up to see that the Herald Theater was presenting something called West Side Story and that its next play date for tomorrow, Saturday October 13, 1984, had been sold out and was now SRO.

Looking to the north he turned in that direction and muttered to himself.

"Friday the 13th is falling a Saturday this month."

He knew that the shop, or at least the place that had been his shop, had summoned him. Now with this primary task at a stop, he headed back towards the Park Crest Bridge, the South Island and what would be some walk to get to his old shop. He was becoming very unamused by this future, and the thing which now might have no owner left to it that he carried with him. It had attempted to neutralize him and there was no telling what it had done with Gotham City during his absence. Under all the change there was still that which was Gotham City here, it was still Gotham City and he was its servant.

* * *

Irwin went back to the manager's office which was across from the kitchen area in the back part of the Diner. He had left Tony Horvinski in charge as the night cook to take care of the front of the house while he met up with Lisa in the manager's office. She was sitting on one of the three chairs in front of the desk and he slid into the chair behind it.

"So what's up, Lisa? What happened to Erin?"

Lisa shook her head from side to side.

"She isn't very coherent, Irwin. From what I can tell she was doing some sort of job to help pay off a debt owed to Mr. Sun and... something got to Ron."

Irwin raised his right eyebrow and leaned forward, his hands together on the desk, fingers intertwined.

"Soooo... she wasn't doing something for Minerva?" he said softly.

Lisa gave him a sharp look.

"Irwin!" a look of disdain accompanied that, "She's married now! To Ronny. She doesn't do that sort of work any more."

Irwin raised his hands palms up and sat back in his chair, watching Lisa.

"Hey, hey! Nothing against her, Lisa, you know that. Heck, I was invited to the wedding. Its just that Ron doesn't have anything requiring... ahhh... night activity working at the electronics shop. Well, he didn't..."

He put his palms on the desk leaning forward with a look of concern on his face.

"He didn't get involved in that stuff again, did he?" he asked softly.

Lisa pressed her lips together, closed her eyes and nodded.

"Yes, he has," she whispered, "with Erin. Not just mules but distributors for Mr. Sun. They were go-betweens with the Bay Boys."

Irwin inhaled sharply.

"Not the sorts of people you want to run with, you know, Lisa?"

She exhaled slowly and opened her eyes.

"I know, Irwin. It's just that after the hit at the Kosmic Klub back in June... well... the Families and that north end group..."

"The Bosco's, yeah. They ran the place, I think."

"... well, there were pushers with nothing to push. And with so many going down in the months afterward... the demand was the same and anyone able to get stuff in could start to eat into the market..."

"Christ!" Irwin said softly, "And it looks like easy money, too... but it isn't as easy as it used to be."

She looked at him and pressed her lips together.

"Yes, not everyone has figured that out, though. Ronny was pretty decent at that work before he got married, and Erin... she was a small time jobber on the side when she worked with Minerva. You have to be with the sorts she worked with, you know? Escort for a few that went to the KK? Good with locks, did a few small jobs?"

Irwin nodded.

"Uh-huh, it wasn't something that was, you know, really bad, just small time stuff, some shoplifting and shit I knew about. Figures that she has the fingers for the locks, just never knew..."

"Yes," Lisa said, "do you remember the take down a few days ago of the Bay Boys on the ferry?"

"Uh-huh, real mess, heroin flying everywhere with c-notes. One guy glued to the deck, felt sorry for him as he left some of his face and palms there. Another with hands stuck together over the railing hanging off the side... the last guy... couldn't get away from the briefcase of stuff he had... stuck to his back like that..."

Lisa chuckled, then looked serious again.

"Erin and Ron were the transfer agents for that trip. Li Sun's cash for the heroin, then they would distribute it to a few pushers at the Tiger and a then start in on some of the street pushers on the South Island. That was their third or fourth trip and they were just starting to make it pay when.... that happened to them."

"The Bat," Irwin said softly, shivering.

"Yes," Lisa said clipping the word off carefully.

"And they... teamed up to do a job to pay off Mr. Sun?" Irwin asked.

"It went bad for them," she said.

"The Bat?"

"No, something else... I... Irwin I don't really know how to explain it, but something... well she only said it was like a mass of something you could see through but shifted on its own... it had appendages, grew eyes, glowed green in the night..."

"What?" he said softly leaning forward, seeing Lisa shiver.

"It had... picked up Ronny... she could see that through... whatever it was... then it grew eyes and started to come after her, shifting towards her... it was... engulfing... Ronny..."

Irwin was speechless, his jaw dropping as he exhaled.

"They weren't on something, were they?" he asked as Lisa looked at him, trying to remember what Erin had said.

"No, they know better beyond... checking for purity... it eats into profits quickly if you are an addict and a distributor. And they never did acid, so its not a flashback."

Irwin shook his head as he sat back again, hands gripping the arm rests of his chair.

"Then what the hell was it? There isn't any animal... not like that... where the hell did she see it?"

Lisa smirked.

"They were doing a curio shop just inside the Shambles. They had seen a few items, good ones, that should be pretty valuable... but... when Ron went to the back of the shop looking for liftable antiques... that... thing... got him... when it came for her she... ran... didn't stop running until she got to Front Street."

"Wow! That had to be... what?... an hour ago then?"

Lisa nodded.

"Between 1 AM and 2 AM, I think. Not much comes out then, especially there."

"Uh-huh, the Batman's been busting heads around there for months, when he isn't busting up the families. But the Bat, he don't do shit like that... no way..."

"So she came here as I'm a friend, Irwin. Got her to calm down, got some clothes from upstairs in the store room. Met Sam while I was doing that..."

"He's up, then?" he asked.

"Yes. He came down after she changed and was resting on the cot. She couldn't sleep and I was with her while she went through the story again with him. He asked if he could look over the stuff she had with her, not knowing what to make of the story. He said most of it was high grade antique quality, that he should be able to get a good price for them. Asked her if he should go ahead and see if he can settle accounts with Mr. Sun. She agreed. I gave her small glass of plum wine and left her sipping that to come talk with you."

Irwin raised his eyebrows, blinked and nodded.

"OK. No one is going to trace her here, and no one out front will talk about her... they're regulars. She will be good enough here until Harrison gets in for the breakfast trade. No one has come running in with reports of the Bat or police looking for her, so far, so she'll be safe enough here until she gets some rest."

Lisa smiled at him.

"Yes, I'll talk with Harrison and he can talk with her after she gets some rest."

"Sounds good. I'll finish up with cutting the noodles you left and you make sure Erin gets to sleep. You can take over from me when she's finally asleep, OK? I figure Harrison will get in early for the Saturday morning trade, make sure I've done my job with Tony and got the bowls filled and shit."

He stood up with her and put an arm around her back as they went to the door.

"I'm sure she will be OK, Lisa. I'll see if there is any word about what went down coming in. Maybe Sam will know something once he gets back from the office."

Lisa nodded and then shivered again.

"What she described... Irwin... it sounds... I've never heard of anything like it before."

Before opening the door he look down to her and nodded.

"Same here. Doesn't seem to be following her, though, so that's good enough. Give her some more wine, hell, leave the bottle for her. She'll be out soon enough, I expect."

"So do I, Irwin. Thank you, I didn't know how you would react."

He smiled, opening the door.

"She's good people, Lisa. I'll cover for you until she's asleep, no problem."

They stepped out into the dimly lit hallway, smells from the kitchen letting them know that someone had ordered pancakes and bacon.

A comfortably normal smell for an uncomfortably abnormal night.

* * *

It had purpose, function and affinity.

Being dismissed from its place had left those things in place and so long as the affinity lasted, it retained purpose and function. That meant that dismissal had not displaced it within space but in space, which had meant from within the confines of shop and into a nearby open space. That was the alleyway to the side of the building and it found itself in the night air of Gotham City.

Not that it cared about day or night.

For purpose and function to remain active required power and it was now shut off from the pool of power in the shop due to the dismissal. It retained power from its summoning which remained so long as the affinity was in place, thus it retained physical presence to complete purpose and function. When that reserve of power was used up it would cease to exist. It knew this as its kind had that as part of their nature, and it also had ability to draw on power when it could find it. Like all natural beings it understood how to find sustenance which, for it, was not mere material requirements but power, as well. From where it had come power was not a problem and it existed freely available to it. Where it was, however, did not have such ready power available and required that it find sources of power that would sustain it.

To continue purpose and retain function it required power, and the first business it had was to find power so as to then fulfill purpose and function. The one who brought it to this place had utilized power and that power had a maker's affinity to it. There is a difference between the power that an individual had and the power crafted by an individual: they were only one in the same for a few class of beings. Those in this realm typically did not have unitary affinity but personal affinity and maker's affinity, which are connected but of different formulations and flavors, as these things go.

It could utilize many different power types in this realm beyond the crafted ones. There was the power that it understood from its home realm, which also manifested in this realm but only in certain places. There were related powers that were general to its class of being, which were also localized in this realm of being. Crafted power types tended to be very specific to being, class and affinity, so what might be a mighty power source for one being would not even register as something of power to it. It also understood toxic power types, those that would destroy it either slowly or quickly but they, too, were very limited in this realm.

Utilizing its senses to identify power it could sort out where it was and determine how much energy it must expend to get it. Just like people had to expend calories to get food, so it must expend energy to get power, and the congruence of these were plain to it and would be to any with the knowledge of power.

Sorting through its senses it could identify a few sources of power, beyond the now nearly depleted pool of the shop. The maker of that pool had set up another pool as part of a warding, but it had been in a state of no mainenance for a long time and its size was far diminished from what it was. Still, by using the affinity of summoned by maker, it could tap into the remains of that pool for some time. It could also sense many lesser sources nearby beneath it, though they tended to be skittish semi-motile pools that understood that they were prey when a being who knew how to get power was near them. One or two of those would serve as supplements, only, if they could be held at the edge of their motile range.

It also knew that it could serve as prey to others with higher capability and affinity, but it could detect no real presence of those anywhere in the vicinity. They left a form of power residue behind them, and their markings were distinctive, just as its were for those who knew. With those pieces of knowledge in place it oriented on the maker's other source and determined that it must go underground to get to it. This was good as the semi-motile beings were also in that direction and it might be able to get one or two of them as separate sustenance.

There would also be the need for physical sustenance, but there was plenty of that in the city.

Hundreds of thousands of them nearby.

With its orientation now fixed it slid through the holes of a manhole cover and down the sides of the hole until it found itself on the roof of a bricked over space that held a street below it. Sliding over the roof to a pillar it then slid down as a thin sheen of green tanslucence to the old roadway now in the Underworld. From there it went over the paving stones following the path of sand and gravel, piece of wood, glass and cans, to a large grate that it oozed through until it found itself in a tunnel of roughhewn stone and brick with tracks on the bottom of it. Orienting by power it slid over the roof of the tunnel and could sense the semi-motile beings fleeing from it, sensing a predator on the move.

It required little in the way of sensory organs down in the tunnel, but when it felt a rumbling it manifested hearing organs and then heard the grinding and keening coming down the tunnel. Not knowing what this was it stopped and prepared itself in case this was an attack by a predator that masked itself until it was ready to pounce. Feeling some heat from the distance it manifest eye organs and saw two red spots that glowed in what we would call red and infra-red. This was something that some tunnel dwellers did, to illuminate their prey, but those were of this realm, not power eaters. Still it was best to be wary.

A physical food was coming at it, but it was coming fast, behind the red eyes, and it was protected merely by metal. But it was fast and in moments it could barely see the metal around it, then it manifested many senses as it came by too quickly to really be understood. That food did not think of itself as prey, as it understood that. And while it did not have power it recognized as such, it did utilize power, that was obvious. After the passing of that food it then continued on its course, hoping that a semi-motile power was hovering at the edge of its range, fearing to dart past this predator.

These power sources knew their terrain too well to let that happen and it was not worth extra time and expenditure of energy to get them. Continuing along the roof of the tunnel it passed one station and then came to another where it felt a maker's power pool nearby. It was in the old Gotham Central Station which was now a library. This library had expanded from the one that had been next door to the old Gotham Central Station building and had its original portion just off of the main library area. It slid along the wall heading up, curving over the roof of the old station and then headed to a doorway that it slid under and around to get to the stairway heading into the library. When it got to an old, sealed off sub-basement of the old library it paused.

This had been bricked off, which was generally a good physical barrier to it. Sliding up it found an old EXIT sign and felt that behind it was a tube for its power cables, now fully rotted out. It eased through the vents on the sign and the space behind it where a gasket had fallen out, and then slid into the tube behind it, sliding easily along it until it found it led to another EXIT sign inside the old sealed off sub-basement. Coming out into the old abandoned hallway, it went along the wall until it was opposite a door which had led to the rare documents room. Here it could feel the sigils of power hidden from normal view but plain to its senses.

Utilizing its affinity it seeped up to the door frame and established its connection to this power pool.

It had been hungry as the pool that had summoned it was nearly depleted.

For the first time in this realm it was now coming back to a full power status, and its senses expanded, deepened and proliferated.

It still had function and purpose, plus the affinity to those, of course, that was the nature of how it was brought to this realm.

With its expanded senses it could sense a far deeper power of its own class and type, meaning it was something it just might be able to utilize, although it was from no known maker or being that it understood. Yes there was power available in this realm. And if it could establish its own independent source, then after its function and purpose had been fulfilled, it would then have its own affinity and none could dismiss it.

Yes things were, definitely, looking up now.

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