She had been deciding what to get from the vending machine as the early morning light was filtering in from the front of the tourist center. A shadow passed across her as the large figure moved in front of the building and then came in through the front door. She turned and saw the figure that was tall, bulky, with a dress shirt on and jeans, his hair was clean cut and cropped and the sunglasses shielded his eyes from view. It was a dark, menacing figure that took measured steps and scanned the empty visitor's center as it came back to the vending area. The figure didn't react to her, didn't linger on her, and continued walking as if nothing could threaten it or stop it no matter what it planned to do. It wasn't just a stone cold killer for it was closer to being stone than human and so could only kill in a cold and efficient manner. It would think nothing of killing her if she got in its way... or if she was just inconvenient to it.
As it came towards her the room darkened, chilled and fog swirled between her and it as it came towards the rack of brochures to look at it and then leaned over to pick some up. Darkness, fog and flickers of light went between her and it and her fear which had gripped her was still there, still part of her. The dress shirt was gone, replaced by a blue work shirt and its face was gaunt and the sunglasses long gone. It pulled its hand from a dark mass in front of it as the flickering overhead lights shone down upon the Rolls Royce Merlin Engine it was working on. In its hand was a piston attached to a rod that helped to drive the engine.
"You were right, Miss Rose, the rings are worn," it said to her in a calm, even tone one that was no longer flat.
She smelled something that wasn't the dust of the visitor's center or the fumes and fog of the shop at the boat house. Vivian Rose squirmed as she woke up and smelled coffee, toast and something that smelled suspiciously like fried eggs. As she moved to the edge of the bed and shifted herself upright, her feet found the slippers on the floor and she walked towards the chair by the small desk in her room and took the pink robe from the back of it and put it on. As she walked by her dresser she picked up a comb and slowly slid it through her hair, and then reached out to open the door and pad softly down the hallway. The smells led her to the kitchen and again she saw the bulky figure from her dreams, this time in a t-shirt and jeans, as it worked at the stove heating a pan and pouring some batter into it.
"Good morning, Miss Rose," it said in a deep, rich voice which had changed subtly over the months.
She padded over to the coffeemaker on the counter on the other side of the stove and got a mug from the cupboard, and poured herself a mugful while eying the clock set into the stove.
"Yeah, normally don't see much of morning on a Sunday. Where's Frank?"
She walked on the old linoleum floor over to the spartan aluminum table with chrome chairs with padded seats and backs that had seen better days before she rescued them from a dumpster behind the ATC East main building. The kitchen itself, with the black and white floor tile and white woodwork and wall treatments might have been bright and cheerful when it was originally painted in the 1960's, but had gained the patina of Gotham City to them since those days. The light blue curtains did help some with the overall tone of the kitchen, but it mostly spoke of being used sparingly by the occupant who had other matters on her mind. Everything was in its place, easy to find, and the Project had determined the layout of it within minutes of first opening the cupboards.
"He is out getting a paper and some creamer at the convenience store," it said adjusting the heat on the stove so that the pan was ready for the eggs that would finish up at the same time as the pancakes. With an egg in each hand it used the edge of the pan to crack them open and put the eggs into it with a sudden sizzling.
Vivian looked at the figure which was attractive, in a generic masculine way, but its movements still showed no sign of interest from it in certain ways that always made her feel creepy. Still, it was learning and quickly.
"He's had enough of black coffee for awhile, huh?"
"No. He prefers pancakes made with creamer."
She nearly snorted coffee through her nose when it said that.
"That's impossible! Especially if its that dry stuff! That's just horrible to think about before I've had my first cup of coffee."
The door to the main hall opened and Frank Rock stepped through it carrying a paper and plastic bag that had a few items in it. He had the paper up in one hand to read it and was closing the door with his left foot and locking the multiple locks without looking at them.
"Morning, Frank! Got your horrible pancake starter mix with you, now?"
Frank looked up from the paper as he walked towards the kitchen.
"Field mix. Learned that from my son after he went to field camp. Dry mix, dry creamer and the water doesn't have to be too clean so long as you cook the pancakes through."
He handed the bag to the Project and nodded to it, while it nodded back. Vivian smiled as the Project had come to be something special to Frank Rock. Not a friend, really, but the untiring adjutant to the small outpost commander who lived alone and generally liked it that way after the passing of his wife.
"Plenty of milk here for regular pancakes," she said watching the project turn the pancakes and then the eggs even as it was taking containers and boxes from the convenience store bag.
Frank Rock got the mug he had left at the sink, rinsed it, and went to pour himself a refill, all the time reading the paper.
"I wanted to get a paper for the news."
She shook her head.
"Gots that tv in the corner there," she gestured to the old Zenith black and white television on the counter next to the coffeemaker, "or the radio over there by the sink."
The Project got a plate down from the cupboard and filled it with the pancakes and eggs, then undid a set of papertowels and put two slices of bacon on the plate. It picked up the plate and handed it to Vivian.
"Thank you," she said smiling.
It smiled and nodded, "Welcome."
"I did listen to the radio softly, didn't want to wake you up," Frank said sitting to her left and across from her at the small table, "and that made me want to get a paper. I figured that getting breakfast started would get you up."
She sipped coffee.
"It usually does. So what's up? Something in Lebanon?"
He shook his head.
"No. Last night something happened at the Convention Center at the costume fashion show. Something happened, spooked everyone..."
"Isn't that the point?" she asked innocently as she looked at him. He opened the paper and put it down. The headline read: 'Horror Stalks Fashion Show - 8 dead in mayhem'
"Oh!" she exclaimed softly. "What the hell happened?"
"No one knows for sure and descriptions vary. At least two people were scared to death in a very real way. Their bodies untouched by anything, but their hearts stopped due to sheer terror. One man was thrown thirty feet apparently from the stage and landed with a broken back, right arm and leg and is in a coma. Another woman is in a coma but with no marks on her and nothing broken. Two of the dead and the woman in coma are from WMM."
The sound of pancake batter being mixed could be heard in the background, along with a pop from the pan on the stove.
"Bruce made a statement late last night. He had stepped out about fifteen minutes before whatever happened and was expressing condolences not only to the dead from WMM but for all those killed last night. He said he would arrange a memorial service for today and invited all other companies and parties involved to help with that."
Vivian was stunned as she had never heard of anything like this happening much of anywhere.
"But what caused it?" she asked.
Frank sat back, sipping coffee as he looked out the window at the brick wall of the adjoining building.
"No one knows. Over the radio the eyewitness descriptions vary widely and no one had a camera ready for a picture just then. Only a few of the pros were still there for the awards and they were stampeded in the first minute. Police aren't saying anything, either. You can take your pick of a whirlwind, a glowing light like a will'o'wisp, a gelatinous mass... all the way to a snake, a large centipede with arms or an elephant. A green elephant."
"What?" Vivian had been expecting a gang, maybe, or at least something doing with something human where descriptions of varying between 5'9" and 6'2" with either brown or black hair, not something where even the basic idea of what it was couldn't be accurately described.
The door buzzer sounded and Vivian shook her head, got up from the table and walked over to the intercom in the hallway.
"Who is it?" she asked.
"Martin Carstairs, Viv. Is Frank there?"
She looked down the hallway and Frank shrugged as the Project served him breakfast.
"Yah, come on up," she buzzed for the door to be unlocked on the first floor.
"Thanks, Viv. Be right there."
She waited by the door since she knew that for just being three floors up, Martin Carstairs would take the stairs, not the elevator, and probably two or three at a time. Shortly enough there was a knock on her door and she double-checked via the peephole to make sure it was Martin before opening the door.
"Come on in, Martin. What's got you out today?"
He shook his head while entering and waited until she closed the door to start talking.
"You heard what happened last night? At the convention center?"
As she finished with the last of the quadruply redundant locks she looked at him.
"Just the moment before you got here, from Frank. What the hell happened?"
She stepped past him and they walked down the hallway towards the kitchen.
"That's the hell of it, Viv," he said while walking, "for all the people there, no one knows exactly what the hell went on". As they entered Frank stood up to shake his hand.
"Good to see you today, El-Tee," Frank said.
Martin shook his hand and nodded.
"Knock it off, Sarge, Wayne has trouble and he contacted WD and they only had Grimes on call, and he knew I was in town and got me for doing the forensics. He's holding things together at the Hospital for WMM until their fourth line boss gets up. He's expecting someone to sub for him in an hour or two, but the hot potato got tossed at me as I'm retired LE."
"Coffee?" the Project asked as Frank let go of Martin's hand.
"Desperately, thanks," he said turning to wait until the Project poured him a mugful.
"And you need the Project," Frank said as Vivian sat down to start attacking her meal in earnest.
When Martin got the mug he nodded to the Project and went to the opposite side of the table from Vivian with Frank on his right.
"Uh-huh, he is a walking, immediate forensics lab. He has better vision and can break down the spectrum on the spot and give me a quick chemical assay without even having to get a sample. I didn't know he could do that until he started doing precise mix work for the fluid for the internal bladders."
The Project was cleaning up the stove top which had gotten grease spatters.
"I only had immediate biochemistry knowledge suitable to field maintenance," it said, "additional texts were provided by Mr. Fox and Mr. Chapman. Calibration work with Mrs. Dickerson and Don Carstairs was a total of two weeks so that internal processing procedures could be created to do functional spectrum analysis."
Vivian looked up at the Project.
"That stuff nearly sunk me in college," she said between bites, "and there you go doing it with just having to sort out your optical sensors somehow to match up what you see with the known spectral lines."
"Yes, Miss Rose, routines such as those are not in the Terminator programming inventory. Mr. Carstairs, are you hungry?" the Project looked from Vivian to Martin.
Martin nodded negatively.
"I got a bite at Charlie's on the way here, a grab'n'go special," he said referring to the sausage and egg special done in an English Muffin.
"Mind if I tag along?" Frank asked.
"Not at all, Sarge, happy to have you."
As Vivian finished her breakfast and took the plate over to the sink to get some water on it to soak, she looked at Martin.
"I can be ready in 5, Martin. You'll need something better than your Town Car for tooling around in and while my Camaro is a tight fit, its not likely to grab attention in the area."
Martin shifted to look back at her.
"Don't mind at all, Viv. I got decent street parking over at Arsenal that I would hate to lose since we aren't a hop, skip and jump from Father Jordan's ministry where the memorial will be held later today."
"When is that?" Vivian asked.
"Four o'clock," Frank said nodding at the paper, "service for the dead at 4 and memorial at 4:30. Over by 5."
"Great! Be back in a moment," Vivian said walking out to the central hallway to head down to her room.
The Project moved from the stove to the sink, carrying dishes over.
"So what are you two doing in town, today?" Martin asked, "I tried to get you at the house, but got your machine."
Frank Rock was cutting up his pancakes and took a sip of coffee as he munched on the first bite.
"Got a gift from Wayne, the old family speedboat. The engines needed stripping down and we were debating if we should put that off for a week when Viv got there. She knows those Merlins inside and out."
"Yeah, her mom and dad did a rescue salvage of a P-51 almost a decade ago, I think it was. She got to help rebuild and restore the thing along with being ground crew when he went display flying."
"So I've learned. What do you make of what's been going on?" Frank asked finishing the last of his spare breakfast and getting up to hand the plate over to the Project.
Martin grunted and nodded his head.
"You have got me on that one, Sarge. I still know a number of guys on the force and they are baffled..."
Vivian walked into the room with a dark olive green shirt and khaki pants on, along with sneakers and white socks, her hair was combed back under a cap she used for driving. She walked behind Frank, went over to the coffeemaker and took a thermos from the bottom cupboard and filled it with the remains of the coffee.
"OK, I'm driving, I gots my coffee and will get my jacket on the way out. Where to?"
"We will start at the convention center, Viv."
She nodded, smiling as she screwed the top of the thermos in place and then the cup that covered it.
"I love Sunday morning drives, don't you?"
She beamed at the two men and the Project, the latter of which was draining water from the sink and washing its hands.
"Any day is a good day to drive, for you," it said.
"Damn straight. C'mon! Morning gloom is awasting!"
* * *
Lisa set the phone down on its receiver in her efficiency apartment kitchen area.
The phone call was from Elizabeth, and she reported that Erin hadn't sought help from her family.
She came home last night after Erin had left for the convention center to get some much needed rest. The middle of the night phone call from Harrison had shocked her as Erin had disappeared from the loading dock area and then could not be found before the uproar a few hours later. She had vanished into thin air with others killed or wounded from whatever it was that caused the scene there. They had meant to find her a place of safety and, instead, sent her directly into a disaster. No one could have known that was coming, of course, but the effects on Lisa were still the same.
What she hadn't expected was that her cousin Mark Re had been at the fashion show as a model. He was there to earn some extra money showing off one of the martial arts costumes from Hideko Manufacturing. He was in the Ninja outfit. He died of a broken neck and back after something had flung him from the stage thirty feet into the main ballroom. What was worse is that no one could identify who the killer was or even what he looked like. The only thing of note was a woman in the Edwina costume running in front of whatever it was as Mark was picked up and tossed off the stage area.
Erin Norris had described something that also couldn't be easily pinned down as to what it was, what it looked like or even what its shape was.
Somehow it was real and it had chased her there.
What had happened to her?
What had happened to the creature?
Lisa listened to the news on the radio, re-read the story in the newspaper and felt frustrated.
Finally she picked up her light jacket and put it on over her sweater and jeans outfit and headed out of the apartment. She had to do something, anything, to assuage her conscience.
* * *
"Barbara you really don't need to be here. I'll be fine now that we are at the crime scene and can get a Patrolman to take me back to my offices."
The young woman turned to look at her father as she turned off the engine to the car.
"Dad, I know you! You'll want to be traipsing all over Gotham to be anyplace but at your desk. You do that with every major case which is why your car is in the shop and you were fine with me as your driver while mom took the car out for the weekend retreat at Prescott Lake. I was tempted to go with her, but I know how you drive, daddy. I can't afford your repair bills on my econobox."
The man with the prematurely white hair and glasses sighed and pushed his glasses up higher towards the bridge of his nose. He unbuckled himself and arranged his trenchcoat for the early morning damp hours that still lingered on the North Gotham riverside. He sighed and shook his head coughing to cover the faint smile on his lips.
"Have it your way, then, Barbara. Just stay clear of anyone doing their work and mind the evidence tapes."
"I know the routine, daddy, you know that! This isn't the first time I've been out with you to a crime scene, you know?"
She had released the car belt buckle and zipped up the front of her light brown coat and was putting on a knit cap over her somewhat unruly hair which had decided that high humidity was a perfect time to make itself unmanageable. That was a constant state of things for her in Gotham City.
"All right," he said with resignation as he opened the door, "most of the evidence should already be collected but leave things where they are."
Barbara rolled her eyes back and shook her head as she opened the driver's side door to get out of the car, closed it and walked beside her father on Riverton Road which fronted the North Gotham River just across the street and over the black railing set up to remind people that it wasn't smart to try and go swimming amongst the rocky slope and rushing water. The fog made the north side of the bank a place of swirling haze where part of one of the closed chemical plants loomed seemingly resistant to the elements and time.
A man in plain clothes with overcoat came towards them from the building that still had a squad car in front of it and two vehicles with magnetic flashing red lights on their roofs.
"Ah, Commissioner, I'm glad you're here! I don't know what to make of this," said the somewhat short statured man with the grey overcoat on over what appeared to be a nondescript set of clothes that conformed to what a professional would wear out of the office. In other words a set of dark brown pants with brown shoes that hadn't been polished in a year or two were visible below the overcoat and a white shirt with no tie but with a matching brown suit coat were visible due to the overcoat only being buttoned in two places.
"Fill me in, Colton. I was going to head to the convention center when your call came in just before I went out the door."
Deputy Commissioner Travis Colton nodded.
"Glad you came here, Mr. Gordon. What we have is one of those places that was put up during the '20s and then divided into an in-law home front to back. The couple that owns the front half rent out the rear half of the house, and they are not entirely deaf but close enough to it for their age not to matter. They didn't hear anything that went on in the back of the house."
James Gordon nodded as they walked towards the small driveway which adorned the old house, which had been a nice three story affair for its time, but was now cheek by jowl with other places so that it had next to no lawn in front of the porch. That had probably not been true before Riverton Road was expanded and straightened back in the mid-1960's but was the case now.
"Who lived in back?" Commissioner Gordon asked.
"Nominally a couple, Molly and Oliver Parker. Their real names are Morena Lovatch and Tarker Darden and they were using the places as a vice den for prostitution and drug distribution, mostly cocaine, heroin, speed and marijuana. They paid their bills and made sure that most of their, ah, 'friends' came in via a walkway behind the house that connects to Zevel Terrace."
James Gordon turned to look at the house in question, which was a dark grey in color that seemed to blend in well with the fog and the faded colors of the houses on either side of it. The small fence at the sidewalk enclosed a tiny lawn and abutted a driveway that went to the right of the house, which would have problems for anything as large as a modern pick-up truck to go down it. At the far back there was a nominal one-car detached garage that was leaning slightly to the left.
"What a dump," Barbara whispered.
"That sounds more like Bosco people than Petruzzis or Brancuzzis."
"Yeah, it is. Or was before last night. Come on, I'll show you."
Commissioner Gordon arched an eyebrow and nodded, then followed Colton to the police tape that went from the side of the house to the fence and ducked under that. One uniformed officer was coming out of the door at the side of the garage.
"It's clean in there," he yelled to the figures coming up the driveway.
"Thanks, Sheldon!" Travis yelled to him.
Two other uniformed officers were checking the back yard, such as it was, and the walkway in back.
As they turned the corner they saw the small patio in back, with two lounge chairs, and a pair of posts that would normally have a clothesline but now stood empty. Travis led onwards to the near side back door.
"The door on the other side connects to a hallway and the front of the house. Its locked and was painted over at some point. The couple in front never used it."
"Understood," Gordon said. He was used to the idea that those who had normal lives in Gotham often didn't want to find out about criminal operations going on in their own backyards.
As Travis got to the door he looked at Barbara and then James.
"Uhhh... its not all that pretty inside, Commissioner."
James and Barbara looked at each other, then James looked at Travis.
"You've gotten most of the evidence, right?"
"Yeah. Waiting for the coroner to do some final clean-up on the remains, but that's about it."
"She knows the rules, Travis. Lead on."
Travis nodded opening the door and walking into the hallway.
"First we will go to the left to the first floor bathroom. That is where we think the first two deaths took place."
"Deaths?" Barbara said softly, "Not murders?"
When Travis got to the doorway leading to the bathroom he looked back.
"You can decide for yourself on that. I don't know."
He walked into the small bathroom which had a sink set into a small counter, a modern tub that had been renovated in across from it, then a toilet next to the counter and an upright door accessible shower next to that.
Travis stood next to the toilet by the open door of the shower and nodded into it.
"That is where we think that Morena and another man, Elton Jurgens, were together. We found their clothes on the side of the tub and Elton had ID in his wallet. The clothing indicated the size and style that she wore based on her wardrobe."
James Gordon looked into the shower and noticed something.
"No body outlines?"
"You have to have bodies for that, Commissioner. We had someone go to the basement to check the pipe trap under here. That took about an hour."
"Pipe trap?" Barbara said looking down over her father's back and into the shower.
"Yeah. There were some slivers of bone here, but nothing you could place easily to a body. We found dental fillings in the trap after one of the officers noticed a glint of silver on the drain. There were also a couple of pieces of what we think are teeth in the hallway."
Commissioner Gordon stood up and looked at Travis.
"Dental fillings and bone slivers? What happened to do that?"
"You might want to take a look at the next set of remains, one Orton Novich, who probably died after these two. He's just up the hall in the next room."
James turned and Barbara stepped back and turned to go back to the hallway followed by the two men. When Travis got out after James he went up the hall and they passed a uniformed officer in the kitchen who had latex gloves on and was squatting down with a flashlight and a small resealable plastic bag. A few steps up the hall and Barbara stepped in after her father and Travis, with her father on the far side of a single bed in the more open area of the room and Travis on the near side next to a night stand. The bed had its covers moved aside and appeared to be wet with a faint smell of mildew with a dankness to it like in the calm air of the shallows of the seashore when the tide had gone out.
"This is how we found it, save for the wristwatch on the bed with some more bone slivers and dental fillings. There was also a revolver on the nightstand, a 38 Special, along with a wallet. Mr. Novich was a known operative of the Bosco organization, although just a low-level knuckle-buster. Oh, and the door to the room was closed and locked when we got here."
Sniffing at the bed James looked at Travis.
"What's the liquid?"
"Dunno, we are waiting for the lab report. There was a jelly-like substance here that was soaking into the blanket and sheets when we got here."
Barbara stepped past her father to look at the small closet and dresser where the police had already gone through them as seen by the opened drawers in the dresser and some of the shirts and pants still on hangers draped over the door to the closet.
"There's no other way in here, is there?"
"Only the heating vent, Miss Gordon. The door was easy enough to get open but was locked from the inside."
Getting up from next to the bed the Commissioner walked over and looked at the area that would be under the door if it were closed.
"Was anything found here?"
"Yes, sir, some of that jelly stuff, though not much. Just a thin film."
Looking at Travis the Commissioner nodded.
"I can see why you called these 'deaths'. It doesn't look like murder and yet something has happened to these people. How many more?"
Travis took out a small notebook from his overcoat.
"Lets see... on this floor we have Enya Clorden, she died in the kitchen from what we could tell of the few bone slivers, glasses and amalgam mixed in with her clothes..."
"They were on top of her clothes?" Barbara asked.
Travis glanced at her.
"No, Ma'am, some slivers were in her pantyhose and blouse. Her glasses were next to her clothes. She died at the entrance to the kitchen, probably coming to find out what was happening in this part of the house. After her there is Jerry Cheznicki and Tara Warren on the mid-level in the first room in from the stairs there, and then Julie Darden, Tarker's daughter, and we think two of her friends, Terrance Rosten and Esmerelda Vakkors, apparently getting high or already stoned, there was a bit more left of them with a few identifiable bones and even parts of a few teeth..."
"Any of the wet material at these places?" James asked.
"Yeah, all of them. A bit more at the room with the three teens, pretty messy stuff on the floor with what we think is human excrement."
Barbara swallowed hard when she heard that.
"And then on the top floor was Tarker Darden and his apparent mistress Holly Fenton. We have the most remains of them and we are waiting for the coroner to come take a look."
"What's the state of their bodies?"
Travis closed the notebook and slid it back into his trenchcoat.
"Well, Commissioner, we have parts of the skeletons of both of them there, including the full skull of Fenton. All the soft tissue is gone from both."
"Gone? From inside the skull?" James asked.
"Yes, sir, as far as we could tell with flash lights and probes. You can see right past the orbital sockets and to the back of the skull. Strangest thing is when you shine a light through it comes out the back through lots of tiny holes. We didn't want to move it and are afraid to touch it because it looks fragile."
"Tiny holes in the skull?" Barbara asked very softly.
"All around it pretty evenly spaced. It looks like solid bone until you get a light shone in. We've seen a bit of that on some other fragments, but nothing so complete as this."
James took his glasses off and got a kerchief out from his pants pocket to wipe them.
"No signs of violence? No struggles?"
"No, sir, although its hard to tell from just fragments of skeleton what went on. Tarker and Holly were in bed like Orton, here," Travis said gesturing to the wet bed, "although the sheets and blankets were off of the main area, just like here, so its hard to tell. We also found some more jelly in that room and in the bathroom at the end of the hall."
"What happened to them?" James asked.
"You got me there, Commissioner. If it had taken longer I might guess at one of those wasting diseases, but nothing acts like this in 6 hours or less, which is the last time the kids were seen until the scene was discovered this morning by Lena Elton, a friend of Julie's. She didn't notice anything until she slid on some of that jelly in the kitchen and fell down next to Enya's clothes and glasses. That scared her out of her wits and she didn't stop running until she got home, two blocks over."
"I need some fresh air, excuse me," Barbara said slipping past her father to leave the room.
James put his glasses back on and watched her leave the house and then turned to Travis.
"Do you have the convention center events, too?"
Travis shook his head.
"No. Coordinating with Samantha Hagen on that. She was on-call from OCG and when this was discovered she contacted me. That was pretty much wrapped up a couple of hours ago. Its been a real mess today. I can't remember the last time we had 20 dead in less than 24 hours."
Muscles flexed along Gordon's jawline.
"I don't like it, Travis. Make sure this leaks out as something like 'gang related deaths', which is bad enough but we can't let the press know what happened here until we can track it down. All of this doesn't look like a disease, it looks intentional."
"Uh-huh. Just one problem. What caused it?"
"I don't know Travis, and that has me worried."
"You and me both, Commissioner."
* * *
"I am sorry, but Master Sun cannot see you," said the man at the front desk of the Golden Tiger Club.
On the other side of the desk from him was Lisa Choi.
"It is a serious matter. I must find out what happened to my cousin."
The prim man in the black suit behind the desk looked up at her.
"I am sure that Master Sun cannot help you, Ma'am. He is a busy man."
Lisa pressed her lips together and leaned forward on the desk.
"He was there when Mark Re was killed last night. Mark Re is my cousin. He was modeling for Hideko last night and was killed. I want to find out how he was killed."
The man was startled as he looked up into the serious face of Lisa Choi.
"I am sure he would be able to relate what he saw during the last moments of Mark's life since he was there last night," she was speaking very softly, like the gentle breeze before the typhoon and her eyes grew as dark as the clouds that give warning of the storm, itself.
"I...I...let me phone..." the man reached over to the phone and knocked the receiver off its cradle and darted a glance at it to pick it up and then pressed for a connection to another phone from it. He could feel the very gentlest of breaths from Lisa, who was breathing slowly, regularly and gazing at him steadily.
"Yes, this is Tan Wu at the front desk. I have a relative of Mark Re who wants to speak with Master Sun...."
He glanced up at her, shivering.
"... it was a long night, yes..." he said softly, "... but please.... yes, I'll hold..."
A stirring of anger in such a slim woman was something he could feel and see as her face became set. He doubted she had any training in martial arts, but that was something he would not want to contest as he knew what such steadily rising feelings could become and do.
"...that's right, at the front desk.... yes.... ahh...." he cupped his hand around his mouth and turned away from Lisa, "... please, anything... yes..."
Lightly a finger tapped at his shoulder and he started and looked up at Lisa who had her hand out.
"Give it to me and tell me who is on the other end."
He shifted slowly and moved the phone from his head and towards her hand, as he was gazing into the face of the storm about to descend upon him.
"It's Cathy Li, she owns..."
Lisa took the receiver from his hand.
"I know who she is..." she put the phone to her ear, "...Cathy, it's me, Lisa Choi, I work at Harrison's place. Mark Re was my cousin and I want to find out how he was killed."
She listened and nodded, then put the phone on the receiver. She looked down at Tan Wu, who was trembling.
"He will see me now," she said as she turned from the desk to go to the left hand corridor to summon an elevator. It arrived and she punched the button for the 5th floor and waited unmoved by the plush red carpeting and wooden paneling on the walls of the car. When the door opened she saw an older woman with salt and pepper hair, and short stature in a red robe who stood in the hallway.
"I am sorry you were not put through immediately, Lisa," Cathy said as Lisa stepped out.
"As am I. And it isn't just about Mark, Cathy. Erin Norris was at the convention center last night as she wanted to be closer to her husband and the work crew arranged for a room for her to stay in for one or two nights there."
Cathy inhaled then nodded.
"Please come with me, Lisa and tell me about this as I did not know."
Walking beside Cathy, Lisa started telling her about what happened after Erin arrived at the diner and the arrangement made between Master Sun and Erin via Sam and Elizabeth.
"But what happened at the shop they were robbing? I have only heard some rumors, but nothing about what it was is that caused this to happen."
Lisa slowed as they went down a hallway leading to Li Sun's quarters.
"What Erin described... its unbelievable, Cathy. A mass of material that glistened green that you could see through... it could manifest eyes... tendrils... other things from that mass. She said it had Ronny..."
Cathy stopped just a few feet from Li Sun's door and looked at Lisa.
"Green glowing mass?" she asked quietly.
"I know that sounds strange, but it is part of what Erin described."
"That is very much what Master Sun describes before the crowd... he wasn't badly hurt but dazed from the rush of people pushing to get past him and others who were in their way. He will have to tell you, Lisa. You were right to come here."
Smiling wanly, Lisa nodded.
Cathy inhaled and turned to the door and knocked.
"It is Cathy with Lisa Choi, Master Sun."
"Come," was the muffled voice heard through the door.
Cathy left her slippers on the mat next to the door and Lisa took off her sneakers and likewise left them there.
Cathy turned the doorknob and walked into the well appointed entryway of the small apartment that was Li Sun's quarters. The entryway led directly into the main room which had a set of three large windows looking out just over the low-rises of the North-Central district and then over the remains of the ridge just a mile or so distant and to the sea. There were sofas and chairs, a set of three coffee tables, a television set plus various wall hanging depicting scenes from the Orient centering on Chinese culture, but also with significant pieces of statuary from Japan, Korea and Malaysia. The soft dense throw rugs were on a polished hardwood floor that was done in a dark wood. A single light was on over a painting of Li Sun's father, Ta Wei, and an old oriental crossbow that was under it.
Li Sun was dressed in a red and green silk robe over a white shirt and black trousers. He sat on a cushion that had been flattened over the years, and gazed out the center window and to the sea. The drapes were partly drawn so the other two windows were occluded from view. A tiny table with tea cup and saucer sat between him and the window.
"Welcome, Lisa Choi. Pull up a chair, please, so we may talk," he said softly with his gaze not wavering from the distant horizon under the slightly overcast sky.
"Thank you, Master Sun," Lisa said and moved to a chair on the far side of a sofa near him, while Cathy gestured that she would get some tea for her. Lisa pulled her chair over not next to him, but to his left side and angled so she had a vision of the main window, right side window and the etched marble of a Golden Tiger with onyx stripes.
"There is not much I can tell you about what happened to your cousin, Lisa. I had seen him thrown with my last clear sight before I was pushed to the refuge being under a table."
Lisa nodded and worded 'thank you' to Cathy who brought her a cup of tea and pulled a side table to her, then stepped around to the other side of Master Sun to pull up another chair for herself.
"I understand, Master Sun. This is not just about my late cousin. It is also about the one you promised to protect yesterday, Erin Norris. She was at the convention center, as well."
"What?" Li Sun barely whispered.
Lisa sipped from her teacup and set it down and pulled up her legs and crossed them.
"She had felt cooped up at the diner and feared for her husband, Ronald. She wished to be closer to him. She said she also felt trapped, hunted. Perhaps by the thing that she and her husband encountered during their burglary. Sam's warehouse manager knew the dock foreman at the convention center and arranged for a back room she could stay in until the next event there later next week. After getting to the loading dock she disappeared."
Li Sun continued to gaze at the horizon.
Cathy spoke softly.
"Lisa could you tell me what Erin said was at the shop?"
"It is hard to describe even from what she has said, but I will try. She described a glowing green mass that you could see through, even though it distorted what you saw. She said she saw Ronald being picked up inside the room through the mass that was coming down from the upper floor of the building. That mass shivered as she approached... I...she said it manifested tendrils then... an eye... perhaps an antennae... it looked at her and started shifting... she screamed... seeing Ronald limp in its grasp and now it... moving towards her... she ran and ran and ran in pure fright until she reached the river. Then came to the diner after that."
Li Sun closed his eyes and bowed his head.
"That is... what I saw, Lisa," Master Sun started speaking softly, barely above a whisper, "a woman was fleeing in front of it, still in costume... as the... mass... growing in size as it came out... moved out to the stage it had Mark in a tentacle... as the crowd broke from the door I saw... he was... it... eyes...a shifting wave of things on it... he was flung... out.... the crowd... the man I was with pushed me back... he... trampled..."
Li Sun pressed his lips together his hands with fingers intertwined and the dragon ring catching a glint of light from an errant opening in the clouds.
Lisa looked at Cathy who had her brows furrowed in obvious worry for the old man.
"Erin said she could feel it as it looked at her. She felt that it was there for a purpose."
Opening his eyes, Li Sun glanced at the ring and then lifted his head and looked at Lisa.
"Yes," he whispered, "chaos and death. If what you say is true, then it followed Erin. She could not survive a confrontation with a being of the dark..."
Lisa looked puzzled.
"Do you know about what this is, Master Sun?"
"It was told to me and my brothers and sisters by our grandmother. She had stories from the Old Country and the things peasants feared in the uplands near ruins of older Empires. The stories of the creatures and their human followers of the Agate Hand who place themselves in that service. I had thought them stories meant to keep us in order... stories of strange creatures... malevolent and evil."
"You have never told me those stories, Li Sun," Cathy said leaning forward.
Li Sun slowly turned, raised his eyebrows and smiled.
"Of what purpose are they, Cathy? They are for children, to scare them and let them know that not all evil goes bump in the night but lurks for the unwary. I have never seen one of those things until... last night. Now, decades from those stories and rarely repeated since I was a child I find that grandmother was not telling us of made-up beings, but real ones, and they are not amenable to persuasion, talk or reconciliation. They do as they wish for reasons all their own."
"But... why here? In Gotham?" Cathy asked.
"Perhaps the name of where we live has meaning beyond just the gargoyles perched on buildings?"
Turning to look out the window, Li Sun could barely make out an older building just a few stories taller that had one of those on each corner of its roof.
"Warders and guardians. Awful to look at yet benign of purpose. They are part of Gotham City, yes, Lisa. And Gotham a part of them. They are immobile and ever-watching, a stone purpose over all too fleeting life. Perhaps they draw such to them to be watched over or perhaps those watched over wish to defy such watchers. They will not rescue Gotham those figures on buildings for that is not their purpose."
"Can this... thing... be stopped?" Lisa asked.
"Grandmother told us that there were those with knowledge of the power to do much. I am afraid many of those died with the coming of Mao either killed outright or worked to death... or they fled to other lands. Those at the center of the Eight Fold Path have not been heard of since those stories and those date back perhaps centuries, or even many millennia. We attempted to make a human horror far greater than other horrors and only saw horror as the means to an end, not the end itself. Not all those that bring horror are horror in their being, just horrific in their means. Our horror is simple to end by stopping those doing it. Ending horror that arrives on its own, is not simple nor easy to do if it can be done at all."
Cathy looked at the direction of his gaze to the rooftop two streets over.
"It can be done?"
"Yes, my flower, with those who know how to dismiss such if they do not live here. Dwellers out of darkness are not exactly from here and so can be summoned and dismissed."
"Killed?" Lisa said softly looking at the old man, who snorted.
"In stories with devices and powers beyond ours, of course. One suspects that such did not happen like the story tells and that the evil saw a better place to be and left for it. If you survive then you welcome madness, and always is the word of the mad to be doubted for such things. For who is it that can look into the true heart of darkness and come out whole?"
"Erin..." Lisa whispered.
He closed his eyes and bowed his head.
"I give you my condolences for your cousin Mark Re, Lisa Choi. He did not deserve that end. If Erin lives then I keep my word to help her and her husband, both. I have contacted a lawyer on behalf of her husband who knows another that will help him. I wish no ill upon Erin Norris nor upon her husband, Lisa. My people will watch and listen to see if she still lives. I can do no more."
He inhaled deeply and Cathy looked at Lisa.
"It is best, perhaps, to let Master Sun rest."
"Of course. I thank you for your time and wisdom, Master Sun," Lisa said unfolding her legs to get out of the chair.
"You are welcome, Lisa Choi," he said looking up and opening his eyes, "I have seen the horror that Erin saw and now know just how small we all are before it. Good day."
Lisa followed Cathy out of the small apartment and retrieved her sneakers.
"I am sorry for you, Lisa," Cathy said, "a cousin dead and a good friend missing. This cannot be easy for you, this day. I will be attending the service today with Master Sun if he can rest enough for it. You would be welcome to join us."
Lisa was bending over to lace up her sneakers, her hair hiding her face. She looked up as she finished the second sneaker and stood up.
"If I can, thank you Cathy. But I can't... just let this stay as it is... if Erin is still alive then someone must find her and help her. To help her I must be able to help. I will look up old stories today, Cathy. I am no hero, but must help a friend."
Lisa was surprised when Cathy hugged her, as they knew each other they were not so close as that.
"You take care, Lisa. Do not get yourself hurt in this."
Lisa held her as she felt that Cathy also feared for Master Sun and had no good way to express that, either.
"Care for yourself and Master Sun, Cathy. He needs you," she said softly.
Cathy let go and pulled away.
"Yes, he does. The last day has been a shock to him, unlike any other."
Nodding, Lisa fastened her jacket.
"Good bye, Cathy."
The path to the grey streets of Gotham that always promised daylight was short. The rest of the day would be long.
* * *
"You aren't on the force any more, Martin. Remember?"
Samantha Hagen was wearing an old brown pantsuit with a black jacket that had her police badge draped out of the front pocket. She was with a group of people from Wayne Corporation that were at the loading dock trying to get into the convention center. They were standing at the side parking area that would normally be for delivery vehicles, but now had two GCPD cruisers along with three unmarked cars with temporary lights mounted on their roofs.
"Uh-huh, Sam, I know that. We're here to see what we can make of things for Mr. Wayne, not mess up an investigation. You know me better than that."
She grunted and nodded.
"I do, Martin. Its just that we haven't finished with all the areas yet. We have finished with the back areas and now have people in the ballroom taking pictures and gathering evidence. That place is big."
"You got the backstage area done, though, right?"
"All the dressing rooms and halls back there, yeah. All the evidence gathered with chalk outlines and pictures. The lab boys are getting a workout."
"So nothing we can mess up?"
Samantha pulled a blue cap from her jacket to go over her dark hair as she sighed.
"I guess so. And you all have Wayne's go-ahead?"
They all nodded.
"Right, let me get your names," she said flipping out a notebook dutifully taking down names until she got to one.
"Frank Rock?" she asked looking up at the older man who had on a loose blue work shirt, black trousers and leather military boots.
"Yes, Ma'am. That's me?"
"Easy In, Easy Out?"
"I wrote that, Ma'am, and my late wife edited it so people could make sense of it."
Commander Hagen smiled and said, "Right, and she did it all by hand gestures from you, no doubt."
Sgt. Rock chuckled.
"No, Ma'am, it was just a hard time in my life to talk about and she smoothed over the rough spots. It wasn't about me, but the men I served with."
"Well they are remembered, Sargent Rock. How did you get involved with this scruffy lot?"
Rock raised an eyebrow and glanced from the Project to Vivian to Martin, and then back to Samantha.
"If you read the book you know the medic and doctor who patched me up along with a number of my men."
"Uh-huh... Lieutenant Tom, right?"
"That's right. Lieutenant Thomas Wayne."
"Ohhh..." she said softly, "you never..."
"He would have said he was just doing his job, Ma'am. I talked with Bruce about those times where his father appeared. He and Alfred agreed that Thomas Wayne wouldn't want the spotlight, either, and that it should be about the men being saved. That made it harder and easier to write those sections, but I knew his father and think he would approve. You can find his name in listing at the back of the book."
Samantha Hagen looked at Frank Rock and then briefly down.
"I never looked there. I'm sorry..."
"Most people don't, Ma'am. That's OK. The names are there and what they did was important and you can match name to accomplishments if you ever want to."
"I do," she said looking at Frank and then Martin.
"OK, go get temporary tags from Officer Morton just inside the loading dock by the forensics van."
"Thanks, Sam!" Martin said, "And let me know if you ever need something."
"Nah, its all right, Martin. You're good people and I was sad to see you leave the force. Glad you landed on your feet running."
"And working harder now than when I was in Mid-South. Thanks again, Sam, and the offer is always open."
She waved at Martin as he led the group away from her at her car with the magnetic light attached to the roof.
"What is her job, anyways?" Vivian asked when they were out of earshot and nearing the loading dock proper.
"She was head of Homicide for Mid-North and then got pulled in as a Deputy to Gordon, working OCG. She was probably on-call to cover this as its a bit out of her bailiwick, but OCG does know how to cover large crime scenes. They proved that after the take-down at the Kosmic Klub earlier this year."
"I thought it was that Batman guy that took 'em all down," Vivian said.
Martin looked at her as they approached the stairs by the large panel sided van at the loading dock.
"Its a sore point at OCG since he did more in one night than most of OCG did in a year. Possibly two or three years, really. Plus the evidence was all there to collect since it was stuck around to be collected."
Vivian laughed and Rock chuckled as they remembered the reports they had heard and read about that after they had arrived from trailing the Project.
They walked up to a uniformed officer at a table who was transcribing notes he had taken into a notebook.
"Officer Warren?" Martin said looking at the man's nametag.
He looked up and nodded.
"Yes, sir. What can I help you with?"
"Deputy Commissioner Hagen said we could get temporary ID here so we can get inside to scope things out. We're from Wayne Corporation."
"I can do that for you!" he said brightly reaching around to pull a box off of a stack behind him on the loading dock. He took out a clip board and placed four tags on it.
"Just sign and date next to your tag and I'll clock you in. After that just stay out of the way of investigators and anything marked as 'No Entry'. We've taken most of the tapes down after the forensics people got here a couple of hours ago."
"Standard protocol, no problem, officer," Martin said signing for the first tag and adding the date next to it. He handed the clipboard to Vivian next.
"Ah, you know about that, then?"
"Yeah, I cycled out of the force a few years ago as a plainclothes detective, Mid-South. I'm Martin Carstairs."
The officer reached across the table and Martin shook his hand.
"It's good to meet you, Lieutenant Carstairs."
"Same here, Officer Warren. In another couple of years you might be filling my old slot."
"I like the Marina District just fine, thanks. I won't be dead-ending there, but I'm not looking for a more active assignment."
Martin shook his head from side to side.
"It'll find you, don't worry," he watched as the Project signed and took up the ID and pinned it to his light jacket that was on over a t-shirt.
"If we are all tagged?" Martin asked and got nods in response, "Then you can log us in, Officer Warren."
Warren took up the clipboard, glanced at his watch and started noting times.
Martin led the way into the convention center's back area which was now mostly quiet, save for a few voices far down one of the halls.
"Where do we start?" Frank asked.
"At the beginning, at the Wayne dressing room. We have one dead and one down there, and if I have learned nothing else since coming on to Wayne Corp. is that our business comes first."