He had climbed up from the river to the rusted iron ladder and took his clothing from its sealed plastic bags. They were old clothes that he had picked up five or six years previously, then sealed them in resealable bags. His people had numerous caches of clothing and other surface dweller items, which included their own personal clothes at the one closest to the island city. After putting on undergarments and gaining composure enough to reduce the surface appearance of his skin, he then added shirt, jeans, boots and jacket. He left the pack amongst the rocks and climbed the ladder to the bridge which crossed from mainland tunnel to island tunnel. The bridge, he saw in the dim light with moon fully behind cloud banks, had been reworked in recent years, not just in the side abutments but in the actual framework. Structural members that had been cracked or corroded had been removed, the entire structure stripped down and repainted with the smell of the latest coat, put on just a few month before, still something his senses could pick up. He moved to the one platform, mid-way up, and saw the locked box of sensor feeds there and shrugged before he continued.
Eyesight attuned to the Depths meant he could see further and keener than any land dweller and the places where cameras had been added were readily apparent to him. By placing a hand on the rock he could detect where power feeds were active and determined that there was still power flowing into the tracks system, although the actual live rails had no current in them. Sensor systems were active and the threat of power still present. Espying a side door he slid himself up and over the edge to present as little profile as he could, and slithered over the concrete side walkway to the nearby door. That door was unlocked and he slid up against the rock next to it and tested the handle. When it didn't turn he applied his strength to feel where the lock's mechanism was, and then used his fingertips to feel where the inset in the metal door was for the locking bolt. He had kept a small tool roll from his days in the Army and used the files and small picks he had gathered, previously used to clean rifles, pistols and finely machined pieces, and went to work until he could work a curved pick into the bolt recess.
There he felt for the remote controlled relay head and worked the pick in until it was able to push back on the remote retainer for the bolt that would cycle the lock. Grasping the inset frame, he slowly pulled on it and the pick went further in until the retainer pushed back far enough to cycle through a full retraction and reset. In that span of time, less than a second, the had the door open enough to allow him to see beyond it into the unlit service corridor, and then retrieved his pick and examined the locking mechanism of the door. Using the pick to keep the electrical connection he slid through the slim opening, compressing his chest as deep pressure would do to him, and then got to work on the door switch from the inside. From the inside he was able to open the simple light switch, see its connections and then short out between two of them that would signal the door to be locked and secured. He took his pick out and then dismantled the actual locking bolt, broke off all but enough to keep the door closed and repaired it. With a simple jiggle of the lock handle, the door opened.
"Are you there?" came the voice of Shlasuar from just over the edge of the tunnel.
"Yes. I had to deal with the security system, which we will try to avoid. I've gained access to the service corridor behind the subway. I see no signs of cameras or other devices in it."
"Good, yes? Is it safe to come up now?" he heard Maria ask, probably from the platform.
"Slide over the edge, keep to the ground until you are at the door, then slowly stand and enter. The door can now be opened with a slight motion on the handle."
He heard Shlasuar move and the sound of Maria climbing the ladder and watched carefully from the slightly opened door as he came over the top and slid to the door, stood up and came in. Just as Maria was getting to the surface they heard the rumble of a train on the tracks.
"Stay over the edge!" he shouted in the increasing din of the tunnel.
Maria could not hear him, but could feel the rush of air and hear the sound and even know how close it was by the vibrations through the rock. The light and howl of the train caused her fear and she gripped to the ladder and looked over the edge to see the train coming on the tracks and looked at its mesmerizing light as it rushed past her. By design she was in a safe area, as was anyone who had gripped to the walls in the tunnel, but the nearness of rushing metal and the flash of sparks that illuminated the gleaming black letters of WIST on the side of the train were deeply impressive to her. She had been on subways in many cities, of course, but rarely underneath one and never gripping to a ladder to cling to a cliff face as one came out of a tunnel.
It was a simple one car train, driverless in its night mode, and it held no one this night and would only retrieve the last of the second shift staff from the Wayne Foundry and ATC East complex. While not a true robot, it had its course and destination set and sensors warned it of any track problems, thus making it an automoton with no reasoning ability and only the simple logic of set course and speed. In its wake Maria tore her eyes from its retreating red lights and then leveraged herself up and over the edge and slid over to the two who waited for her.
When she got to the door she slid up next to it and John pulled her beyond it and shut the door.
"You fool, there is a camera in the tunnel! Anyone watching could see by the light of the train."
"Is anyone watching it?" Shlasuar asked, his eyes gleaming dimly in the near darkness provided by a simple low powered light over the door.
John pursed his thin lips together in a flat line and looked at the youngster and then Maria.
"We had better hope not or else it is a retreat to the river and sea from here, our mission failed before it began."
Listening, Maria calmed herself and nodded.
"I will take blame, John," she looked from John to Shlasuar, "And youngster, you have learned of the inattentiveness of the surface dwellers but it is best to minimize exposure. Especially on such a mission as this."
The youngster with the pale gray skin looked at the two older Changelings and understood that while Maria leads the mission it is John who took care of the actual doing.
"Yes, Priest, you are right," John said, "Now where from here? You said there were traces of power and conflict near here, in which direction?"
Closing her eyes Maria slid to the floor to prostrate herself and move slowly across the floor and then turn slowly to the south.
"Down the tunnel to the south and it is close," she said opening her eyes as she stood up, "does this tunnel go there?"
Shlasuar had become less interested in the affair of the train and now took steps down the tunnel, keeping to its side and watching for anything that was neither tunnel nor conduit. Signs he saw, but could not read as they were not in the language of his people, but he could feel drafts, light ones of course, and smell the fetid odor of the Underworld of Gotham City. Soon he felt John come up behind him and place a hand on his shoulder to hold him still.
"You saw the camera in the tunnel, yes?"
Shlasuar shook his head in the negative.
John inhaled enough breath to fill his lungs so he could get enough oxygen to continue on.
"They have power and other cable feeds to them and are usually situated high above eye level. They have a single optic, like an unblinking eye, and sometimes a box behind them to which the cables attach. All made of metal or forms of surface dweller plastic, with glass. Some have a light that comes on to show they are active, others do not do this, and it is undependable as a way to assess them."
Shlasuar nodded looking to his right and down the tunnel that intersected the access doorway.
"There is a tunnel here," he said, "going South."
John nodded and stepped by him, looking at the signage.
"Service tunnel, not guarded. We'll take it and see about any cameras along the way."
Slowly the three walked down the tunnel on the hard concrete floor that had a drain channel on their right. There were few lights and no easy to discern cameras, and the state of the tunnel pointed to little use. They passed doors on the right as they went and one on the left, most likely to a stairwell to go upwards above the subway tunnels. A few doors were of newer vintage and the tunnels much cleaner, but after three such doors the tunnel returned to its former state of disuse. At the second door after that Maria stopped and looked at the door.
"Power," she whispered.
The others stopped and John turned back to stand next to her at the door. He looked around it and saw one area where corrosion had eaten into the metal and, startlingly, into the rock itself to show the frame's interior. Some air passed through from the outside tunnel into theirs from it, and it was cold and damp air.
"This door, then?" John asked.
"It's just a normal door, isn't it?" Shlasuar asked.
Looking at him, Maria stared and then nodded.
"Yes. But it has been in contact with something powerful and it has left affinity with the door, even the rock."
John placed his hand on the door and then slid it over the metal to the frame and then the rock.
"Here, place your hand here, Shlasuar. Close your eyes and feel."
Shlasuar did so, and slid his hand over to where John's was. There he felt sudden and deep cold, far beyond any air could deliver, and felt something move that wasn't there. For a brief instant he saw something beyond... just beyond... in folds of blackness with the distant sounds of singing in a wordless song that had no melody. Then it felt as if something was pulling at him and he opened his eyes and snatched his hand away.
"What...? An Old One?"
Maria shook her head from side to side.
"No, youngling. This was not the presence of an Old One or Ancient One, nor any of the other Ones. It was a conduit. An Avatar. Here our journey begins, just beyond this door."
John turned the handle and the door opened with a tug, its outer frame somewhat twisted, bent, corroded and the face of the door had the imprint of something on it. With some light from the distant station filtering in they saw that it was the imprint of a body with a tail and that its head was near the top of the frame and its arms easily spanning it. Etched metal without paint and freshly corroded held the imprint of the Avatar and while on two legs it was not like anything else on two legs. Not like the people. Not like the surface dwellers. Not like anything John or Maria had ever encountered.
"What sort of Avatar was this?" John asked softly as he looked at the door.
"You can see where it stood, too," Shlashuar said looking down at the concrete with two depressions in it and cracks running from them that looked fresh.
Maria stepped by them and out to the ledge that ran along the tracks. This portion of the tunnel was unlit as it was not used often by Wayne Corporation for its WIST cars. She shivered as she stepped out to the tracks and jumped back up running into John who held on to her.
"What is it, Priest?" he asked looking past her and out into the confluence of tracks and the intersecting tunnel on the other side of the tunnel.
"I... something powerful has been along those tracks... a great darkness and hunger has been here..."
Stepping by her John jumped across the tracks to an open area of concrete and knelt down, running his left hand over the rail. He inhaled and drew his hand back, looking at it and then out into the darkness to his right.
"It isn't here, now, whatever it was," he said turning slowly, "and something has happened here. You can see marks on the floor and further south to the wall, spalling of the concrete.
Maria walked along the ledge heading north and looking down at the tracks.
Shlashuar watched the two from the doorway and decided to jump down and across the tracks to touch them with his hand to feel what the others had felt. There was little rust on the rail as it was used infrequently, so there was no build up as there was in the rest of the tunnels. Cool steel chilled his fingertips and then he started to feel heat drawn from his body by... something... that was dark, a void to energy and life. Sliding his hand away he stood up, looking at John who traveled south.
"Very powerful this Avatar," John whispered as he crouched by another set of tracks that curved to intersect the easterly set.
John looked back to see Shlasuar looking at him and then beyond to Maria who was on hands and knees to reach out to the central drain of the eastern tracks, sliding fingertips in and then smelling them.
"Shoggoth..." she whispered and that whisper echoed in the tunnel intersection, "... that old Shoggoth that lived near here... and... others..."
"More Shoggoth?" Shlasuar asked as he moved along the curving track intersection towards Maria.
"Not exactly. I think..." she looked at Shlasuar as he approached and stood up, then stepped down to pick her way across the tracks and then kneeling to reach out and dip fingers into the more central drain channel. She sniffed her fingers and then slid her tongue out to wrap around them and taste them. She spat out a flavor and stood up.
"All three of their kind were here."
"Three?" John asked walking slowly back beside the tracks. "I know of those of Shog and those of Shag and was unaware of a third kindred to them."
"N'glui dwellers, of the Spaces Between and Amongst. Their number are few because of their need for power, but they are, perhaps, the strongest of their kind because of it."
Shlasuar looked puzzled as he looked at the old Priest, as he had never heard of the N'glui, although had experience of avoiding Shaggoth in the dreamlands, and knew of the potent though reclusive Shoggoth that could slide as easily on land as in water. This third and different kind sounded like they were someplace at once more remote and yet more omnipresent than their kin.
"But what are these other ones of N'glui?"
"Not to be trifled with, Shlasuar," the Priest said looking at him and seeing that John had turned to walk along diverging tracks through the open space, "they were some of the first made, the Formless Ones, and as they developed they diverged from shog to shag and then to n'glui a realm between all other realms and where power of a type none other can use is present. These ones are able to live as their cousins and partake of the power and let it become part of them. As they can slip into anywhere they are the deadliest of their kind. They are, however, rare even very rare and they are at a place that is equivalent in power to those of the Elder Races."
John stepped over a set of tracks and bent down, rubbing fingertips into the concrete then tasting them.
"Raw power," he whispered and then sidled over and knelt to look at the concrete, "and something else, as well. It is of the being that lives here... a surface dweller, I think."
Maria followed along the tracks she was near which curved slowly through the tunnel.
"It is known to have a Servant, though it has not been seen for decades."
Just past one intersection she stopped and stood still staring into the distance at a rock wall.
Shlasuar was not looking at her, stepping towards the dimly lit tracks closer to the station to their north.
"What is it?" John asked as he looked up towards her from where he had tasted the remains of something now gone that had once been there and bled there.
She shivered and turned slowly to look at him.
"I think... power... formless connection... and someone... I... can feel that change here."
Stopping to look up at one end of the tunnel Shlasuar turned to look at Maria.
"From here, yes?" he said pointing upwards.
John stood up and stepped over the tracks and stepped to where a metal drain grate served to drain from both directions, and the one he had stepped from.
"An attack, yes?" he said.
"Yes," Maria said turning and looking at Shlasuar and then up, "from above him there. Someone was connected to it and they..." turning to John she looked at him in shock, "...John this power put someone into n'gha f'tagn. Most powerful of anything I have heard of."
"A surface dweller in full?"
"Is that even possible?" Shlasuar asked.
"It happened. Right here," Maria said.
"They wouldn't know, would they. Whoever it was... they wouldn't know. Just appear dead. But they... couldn't be... dead. Whoever that is wouldn't dwell here in f'tagn, would they Maria?"
"I don't know," she said shifting to look at the space above Shlasuar, "Do you feel anything of power there? Any affinity at all?"
"Yes. Not like at an idol or altar or made thing. And not just one affinity, but two."
"Active, then, for it to stay," John said, "close your eyes and point to the direction of where the affinities are."
Shlasuar tilted his head and looked puzzled then closed his eyes. His left hand rose up slowly pointing towards the northeast. In a moment his right hand came up, pointing a bit south of east, and upwards.
"And Maria, the same," John said softly.
Maria nodded and shut her eyes, turned completely around and then lifted her left hand which pointed north of east.
"Underground north of east," John said, "I think that is it Shlasuar, Maria. The strong affinity here is underground north of east which leads off the island to the east. In that direction lies the mainland suburbs and the airport. And the cemetary."
"They wouldn't know of the power," Maria said.
"No they wouldn't. That lesser affinity I don't know," John said, "is it very weak?"
"Compared to the other, yes," Shlasuar said, "and its not a right feeling, a current that goes true. It varies, it doesn't feel right. Not like an invocation or commitment but a shifting of current in different directions at the same time."
John looked to Maria.
"Not to be trusted such a confusion of affinity."
"Yes," Maria said, "and this place is not safe. It was a nexus of powers and may still be watched. John we must leave before any power seeks us out."
He turned slowly and looked at the door they came through.
"Back the way we came and out. Follow the river shore and ascend to the roads, cross at the surface bridge and then east. We will need something to help us find that one connected with n'gha f'tagn."
"Nafl f'tagn..." Shlasuar said, "one of those cannot be f'tagn. Nafl f'tagn."
Maria shook her head.
"Such is this power that it can do that. And we do not want that power interested in us until we know more of it, Shlasuar. We may have already overstayed here. Attention we do not want."
Picking his way across the tracks and back towards the other two, Shlasuar looked around one more time.
"I've never been in such a place before."
Walking to the door, John checked the tunnel and looked back at the other two and nodded.
"I have. It is not a good place to be where an Avatar was thwarted. Something lingers here, and we had best not."
Together the three left the tunnel intersection across from the dark opening to the west where tracks came in and the beginning of the end had started.
The Rambon Restaurant was relatively quiet as it was only a Thursday night. It was late and it had been weeks since a new play opened or even a new movie to drive the mid-evening traffic. Still a few of the old High Rollers had shown up before their shift to some of the more exciting venues that could be offered by the Petruzzi family outside of the Rambon or the Chase Hotel. In theory the Petruzzi family should be at the top of the crime heap in Gotham City, with the fall of the Brancuzzi family and the major hit that happened at the Kosmic Klub earlier in the year. Scevola Petruzzi stood next to the dais of the maître d’hôtel at the hotel side entrance of the restaurant and looked out into the entrance area.
"Remember what this was like 10 years ago, Gino?"
The other man standing there looked at Scevola and grimaced.
"Yeah, even on a Thursday... hell a Tuesday night, the place would be hopping. Oh, nothing like The Palace," he said referring to the other hotel the Petruzzi's owned, "but still moving and shaking. We got the older crowd, of course, but nothing wrong with old money."
Scevola smiled and nodded.
"Spends just the same. Wish there was more of it but it is what it is."
Looking back into the lobby area Gino caught a flash of a car's lights going by to the area the valet service kept for itself in the garage. He couldn't make the type of car that it was, but it was low to the ground and classy looking. The slim figure in black dress and fur lined velvet jacket, in black high heels with sunglasses on was just as classy looking if not so low to the ground.
"Ahhh..." Scevola said moving from next to Gino and out into the hotel lobby, "Selina! Long time, no see!"
She took her glasses off and blinked to let her eyes adjust to the brightly lit interior and put them away into her slim, black purse. She smiled and stepped up to Scevola and hugged him, giving and receiving a kiss on each cheek.
"I've been on vacation, Lefty," she said as they released their hug and she looked him up and down. "Last I heard your father left on one, also, and is still away."
He raised his eyebrows and shook his head.
"Taxes. The Feds. You take your pick along with the local cops. Not enough to extradite Giancarlo, mind you, just want him for 'questioning', you know?"
She nodded and slid her arm through his as they walked to the restaurant.
"And you've been kept well by Josephine, that I don't even have to ask about."
Scevola laughed as they transitioned into the darker foyer of the restaurant and he gave a signal to Gino for a good booth away from the windows on the left side.
"She's been on me to lose a few pounds, sure, and I did, too! We got short-handed in the kitchen for a few months in the early summer and I was making like a line cook on lunch and early dinner hours. Claude does not approve of me, all told, but he does approve of my work. I hadn't worked next to pappy Giancarlo and Giuseppi, God rest his soul, all through the '60s and early '70s to not learn the trades."
Gino stepped up, and brought the evening menus with him, but was given a look by Scevola, and the menus deflty transitioned to the table next to the dais.
"It is good to see you tonight, Miss Kyle," Gino said.
She let go of Scevola's arm and shook Gino's hand.
"And me to see you, Mr. Carelli. You were just head waiter when I left, so it looks like you took a step up while I was away."
He smiled looking at Scevola.
"That he did, Selina! Enrico finally got straightened out and now he is learning the ropes, so Thomas got his bump up after Enrico made his commitment and that meant that the opening left by Eduardo could be filled by Gino, here."
Gino's lips tightened and Selina turned to look at Scevola.
"What happened to Eduardo? He was a good man?"
He gestured her further into the restaurant and looked surreptitiously behind him and at the bartender as they walked by the bar area. He nodded at Scevola and smiled at Selina who wasn't looking at him. After turning the corner of the central bar they went through the small hall and into the main dining room. They walked down a row of booths and turned to the last one which was situated just in a small corner of the main dining area where it met up with the front dining area. He smiled and nodded his head and Selina sat down and slid half-way into the booth. He did likewise on the other side of it.
"What's the problem, Scevvie? What happened to Eduardo?"
Giving a last look around, Scevola then looked at Selina.
"He was late shifting between here and one of our Front Street ops, you know? Drugs, gambling, sex... decent cash in that stuff... and a trusted man. You don't get to his kind of position without learning the ropes."
Selina nodded as one of the waiters brought glasses of water for them. She looked up at the young man and simply said, "espresso, double" and he nodded and left them.
"Yes, I know. He had been here forever, it seems. Way back before my first job, at least."
The waiter arrived with the espresso cup and set it down in front of Selina, and put another one in front of Scevola.
"Say, Selina, how about the chef's special, eh?" Scevola asked, "You know, the roast pheasant with side of peppers and rigatoni? Maybe with a house salad and some of our chianti?"
Selina sipped the espresso and smiled.
"Well I haven't eaten since I got off the jet and crashed for a few hours with jet lag. And that is a lovely dinner! Just light enough to travel with, but enough with it to make sure I'm not hungry until noon."
"Excellent!" he said looking at the waiter, "Shelton, a chef's special for the lady and make sure you get the chef's recommendations, wouldya?"
"Yes, Mr. Petruzzi, one special, chef's orders," he looked from Scevola to Selina, "And thank you for dining with us tonight, Ma'am."
She nodded and glanced at the man's name tag.
"My pleasure, Mr. Ferris."
The waiter nodded and turned to head to the bar and then the kitchen. Scevola glanced at his back and then looked back to Selina.
"Good kid, new hire off the streets."
"OK, what happened with Eduardo? And why was he in charge and not one of Johnny's men?"
Scevloa leaned back and sipped the espresso after giving the lemon peel a slight twist and dropping it into the liquid.
"That's a long story... you know that Giancarlo left back at the end of February, right? No active papers on him so no one could stop him from going to see family back in Italy."
Selina nodded, sipping at the espresso.
"I mean, I'm only third son, so I get the regular business to guard. And what with Cosimo doing 10 to 20 and Ricky in for 8 to 15, then Larry out for 3-5, well that put Johnny up to keep the family running, you know?"
"It's been a rough few years for you, hasn't it?"
He exhaled and shook his head.
"We were never much into the knuckle-men and leg breakers, you know? Giuseppi had come over just before Prohibition and made a killing running Canadian booze and Jamaica fast boats, using Gotham to distribute to the City, mostly, though some to Boston, too. Giancarlo headed up the family back home and had to deal with the Fascisti and the war, and had goods to deal to the Allies beyond information and support. The family's record got... cleaned up, you know? Hoover didn't want to admit to the Families and the feds were more than willing to look the other way because of our wartime support. The family worked with Luciano and the other Families and the blind eye until the Kennedy's, at least, and that meant we could expand territory. Still Giancarlo had seen the Fascisti at work and was always a step ahead of them. Grandma Nana said that Giancarlo had intuition, second sight, and all that stuff, but from what I seen father just has the ability to add one and one. So when he left everyone thought it was pressure or going senile or something. But he told me to run the open side of things while he was away and keep my nose as clean as I could. That's what I do, too. Johnny ran the other stuff and one of his smuggling fronts was busted open back in late May."
Selina raised her eyes and Shelton arrived with a bottle and two glasses, put the glasses down and opened the bottle, giving Selina the cork to check out, which she did and nodded, handing it over to Scevola.
"Ah, good cork, at least. It's that dry chianti you like so much, Selina," he said putting the cork on the table and nodding for a short pour to sample the bottle. A thin layer of red wine was poured out and both Selina and Scevola sipped it, each tasting the wine and inspecting the remains in the glass.
"Mmmmm..." Selina sighed closing her eyes, "none of the vine taste you usually get with this."
Scevola swallowed his sip and put his glass down.
"Well we needed a new supplier for the wine, and this company doesn't let the stuff bake in a warehouse for a week," he said and looked at the waiter, "none for me, but let Armond know its a good bottle."
"Yes, Mr. Petruzzi. Ma'am?"
Selina nodded and he poured the glass half-full and set the wine down on a coaster at the table, with a white napkin around the neck of the wine. He put the cork in just enough to stopper the bottle and Selina nodded as she took a sip from her glass.
"Thank you," she said and Shelton nodded, took a step back, turned and headed back towards the kitchen entrance.
"I take it that Johnny was doing more than just importing wine and chocolates?" Selina said with a faint smile.
"Yeah, he got a decent source for heroin not having to go through the Albanians or those Middle Eastern creeps," Scevola said taking the last wine from his glass and swallowing it, "and they were just sorting out what bottles and boxes to set aside when they got busted."
"Gordon's men? He has a pretty good narc squad if I remember."
Scevola raised his hand level and then rotated his hand before putting it down on the glass of water to take a sip from it.
"They never would have found out about the operation, too many guys on the take down at the waterfront."
Selina pressed her lips together and said softly, "The feds?"
He shook his head from side to side.
"You must be joking, Lefty. He's just a myth to cover for the Family's having a number of incompetent people at the lower echelons. You grew too fast and paid the price."
Scevola shook his head from side to side again.
"Nope, Selina, the Bat is real and Johnny ID'd him. Took him down with a few of his lieutenants and by the time the cops arrived they were all trussed up with papers waiting to show what had been going on. The next night he hit the Rinaldi's... you know them, right?"
"Not a real family. Lots of pretenses but no follow through and mostly leg breakers and pushers,protection racket, right?"
"Yeah, that's them. Don Amelio had gotten it pretty good, able to muscle in where other families were losing out. Heck, they had almost as much stuff out on the street as we did by May."
Selina sat back with her espresso, setting the glass of wine next to her glass of water.
"So Johnny says he's real... all right, he is pretty level-headed, at least."
"Yes he is, Selina. Now there is one thing that is really important between Johnny and the Rinaldi's."
"And that is?"
"The Bat has changed. He was in his pretty normal outfit as its been described, you know? Black, hard body armor, cape that just kinda sits there, and the belt stuff well its different now. He can move in ways that are just, well, its like he changed into something different... plus his vehicle, whatever the hell it is, it used to be just a souped up sedan but now its different, too. Even Johnny couldn't really describe it since Don Amelio can't. Big, mean, nasty and not like any other thing anyone has ever seen. Kinda spooky the way Amelio described it third-hand, almost like it was alive or something. And its been seen since then and no one can really say what it looks like and you don't hear it unless he wants you to."
"Uh-huh," Selina said, "pretty much a plodding sort of guy but with a big bag of tricks and the car. So? What's changed beyond the looks?"
"Well first the Rinaldi's, they had a car with them with their half-cousin or whatever he is, Manny, at the wheel. That car got pulled up over 40 feet in the air and was suspended to a crane that wasn't working and out of service."
Selina blinked and stared at Scevola.
"Then Manny said he saw the Bat... coming out of thin air and flying to the car... smashing in the window to knock his gun away and... ummmm... glue his hands and forehead to the steering wheel of the car."
Selina took a moment and reached out for the glass of wine after setting the espresso down. She took a hefty gulp of the wine and then looked at Scevola.
"He... could you repeat that? I think I heard you say that the Bat flew to the car, punched into it through the window, and glued his forehead and hands to the steering wheel."
"That's it, exactly, Selina."
"You're joking, right?"
"No, Selina. After doing that he caused the boat carrying a shipment of Colombian cocain to explode or maybe it was before, the guys in holding were sketchy about that, and then flew down from the car and started knocking guys down and out, gluing faces and lips to the dock and pavement and even each other. Don Amelio was found by Gordon and the cops with his hands glued together around a lamp post and asking to be put in jail for safety."
Selina couldn't help herself and started laughing.
"You have got to be kidding me! He may not be the brightest of the bunch, but Don Amelio is no coward."
"No he isn't, Selina and that's... say did you check out the KK?"
She nodded as she took a sip of wine.
"Yes I have thought I might check it out but... the place is dead, only the bar area is open and only part of the parking lot available. I just drove past and decided to come here."
"The Bat took it down the same night with lots of family and syndicate lieutenants there to work out deals on territory, and that's where Eduardo was while Johnny was cooped up," he said calmly.
Wine is meant for ingestion and not aspiration, and when it tries to do the latter the result is often unpleasant and puts the unfamiliar presence of alcohol with tannic acid and other molecules through the nasal passages, often at very high speed. Selina picked up her napkin and started mopping at her nose and face, and had inexpertly set the glass down and it toppled over, spilling contents over the table and onto her lap. Scevola got out of the booth and picked up napkins from a nearby table that was set but empty, and handed one to Selina while using another to start the process of stopping the flow of liquid across it.
She put up a hand after a moment and used the fresh napkin to finally get control of the aspirated and dripping wine that was soaking into her clothes, shaking her head and trying to reach for her glass of water. She knocked over the remaining espresso and the glass of water which just added to the liquid battlefield of her table, in which the liquids were currently winning against the table cloth. Shelton had come over as Scevola had gestured to him, but with only the small waiter's towel he was ill-prepared for the liquid mess.
"Get a table cloth... no two! And a pitcher of water."
Shelton nodded after delivering the small towel and ran down the aisle to the waiter's station and started grabbing at tablecloths and picked up a pitcher of water, as well as a handful of napkins.
Selina was coughing thougn not choking and was bending her head over the table trying to spit out the small amount of wine that had actually reached the wrong destination. As Shelton arrived Scevola took the pitcher and righted Selina's glass and refilled it, while Shelton moved around to hand Selina another napkin.
"Here, Selina, drink some water since that taste isn't pleasant, I know," Scevola said in a low, mellow voice.
Selina nodded and reached out, and was able to actually grab the glass and only spilled some of it on the way to her mouth. As she did that Scevola took a tablecloth from Shelton and gave it a quick snap in the air and let it settle over the table. Slowly the fight with the liquids was turning. The next coughing fit temporarily renewed it, but the cough was healthy and followed by the clearing of Selina's throat.
"Shelton, get that other table cloth around her back, wouldya?"
He nodded and opened the tablecloth and started draping it around Selina's shoulders.
Finally Selina was getting full breaths in between the coughs, and started to blot at her face and particularly her nose which still had a vile, acrid astringency that was smarting her mucous membranes.
"Gotta get to the women's room," she said moving to get out.
"Never. Come on to room 107 and you'll get fixed up right," Scevola said helping Selina up from the booth and to drape the tablecloth around her body.
"Shelton, contact Sonia and see what she has back at 12! And Selina will be at 107, so just get her meal over there... and no more wine for the night, although maybe some espresso and grappa would do... I'll help Selina over there..."
"You don't..." Selina said coughing again and taking a napkin to her nose to try and blow out the smell and taste which was becoming nauseating on its own.
"Yes, I do, Selina. You're like family to me after your papa died."
Shelton had since moved off, leaving a pile of napkins on the back of the booth bench and Scevola got his arm around Selina's shoulders. As he looked at the room he saw people from a couple of tables looking in his direction.
"Just a bit of misdirected wine, folks," he said loudly, "remember it is for drinking not breathing, no matter how good it smells!"
With knowing nods and some chuckles he helped Selina get out of the restaurant and to one of the rooms he kept vacant for emergencies. To him, this qualified.
"... and the cold front is expected to pass just north of Gotham tonight, and we will only get cloud cover, winds gusting to 30 mph with temperatures hovering just around 30..." the radio in the car was turned off by a gloved hand.
A man dressed in a black leather jacket and black jeans outfit drove down the Interstate and took a turn-off for the Ridge Park Road that would run up to the ridge line of the hills just north of Gotham. The silver Maserati Bora moved easily into the turnoff and the driver slowed it for the surface streets, turning the lights on as darkness fell. From four lanes the road narrowed to two lanes with the shoulder disappearing as the road twisted through an old subdivision that was no longer as prosperous as it was in the 1930's and the large houses of the old rich were still populated even though the occupants of them now resided just in the upper middle class. The mirrored lenses of the sunglasses the driver wore reflected the deepening gloom around him and showed the beams of his headlights in miniature. His light hair was well trimmed, his face clean shaven, and his hands sure of what they did as he drove, sliding a cassette out from under the dashboard and placing it into the player built into the radio. A string quartet started playing and his lips twitched slightly.
"Mozart," he whispered, "perfect for a night drive."
Light wind blew through the trees around him and he felt the car shift slightly for which he nimbly adjusted with small movements on the steering wheel.
On the seat next to him was a black briefcase with gold locks, and a small namplate that was blank. He did have a name of course. Many of them. If pressed he might even remember his real name, his given name, but that was so rare as not even to be mentioned. On his license he is listed as Guthrie Lewis and that was the name he was known by, at least for now.
As the roads twisted through the subdivision the grade to the main road started to increase until it was twisting up and out of the valley and then up to the ridge. Still the Maserati was doing a leisurely 50, scattering gravel on turns and skidding slightly with sudden changes of direction. The vehicle slowed as it reached up to the Ridge Park and pulled into the parking area. No one was in the park, picnic tables sat empty, grilling sites sat cold and the Maserati stopped and Guthrie pulled the parking brake on and shut the vehicle down. He stepped outside the car, his white leather boots crunching on gravel as he walked to the low stone wall that offered a look down into the valley of the Gotham River and then to Gotham City beyond it. Nightfall had brought darkness to the surroundings but the lights of Gotham City clearly showed buildings and roads, with cars moving along the roads in streams of head and tail lights. On top of the Interconnector, tall buildings, radio and electrical towers red lights blinked on and off. To the east a plane coming in for a landing over Long Island Sound could be seen by its lights and the sound of it in the distance.
Guthrie took in the landscape and smiled as he looked east and then frowned as he looked south into the City.
"Someone is hiding them," he whispered to himself, "and that will need to be addressed." He looked to the west and his hair moved as the wind passed around him. "And, really, it is so much easier to get these things when they don't have to be pried from cold, dead hands."
He stood near the top of the Interconnector's western tower, looking down into the darkness of Gotham City. Behind the high rises and midrises the ridge line of the Gotham Hills stood out against the clouds passing to the north. Blinking white and red lights from towers along the ridge were mere dots in the distance, while the buildings of Gotham were giants. Below him, almost directly, was Gotham Central Library and beyond that the Shambles, which he saw looking from east to west. There were no lights on in the Shambles, and his night vision goggles showed only one or two people moving furtively in that land of predators. He had cleaned it up, cleaned out gangs that had tried to set up shop, and made sure drug dealers knew that they were unwelcome there. The City had plans to clean up the area, and only lacked funding year on year on year.
South Gotham Island yielded up very few direct views save down Arsenal, and he saw the old Water Tower that he had used there to intimidate gangs and track down Family Enforcers. The worst of the vice dens, pushers, prostitutes, and gang-bangers had fled to the darkness of the alleyways, and many of them soon found themselves at the end of their careers as darkness swarmed out to greet them. The South Hills and mid-rises on the north side extended to within a few blocks of the Shambles and he could see nothing of note amongst the gently rolling hills that were evident only near the main road of the Interconnector. Wind blew from the west northwest tonight and his cape shifted slightly with it. Scanning across Mid-South to South Central he saw one set of flashing police lights, and another of an ambulance, but little else of note. He knew that there were still small time pushers, prostitutes, gambling and other dens in apartments and hotel rooms dotting the region, but they were not known as central points for extortion rackets, loan sharks or knee-cappers. Looking directly up the Mid-Gotham River he saw nothing but reflections of light along the channel and any odor from the sewage plant and the remaining chemical industry were well taken away by the wind and not settling in the channel tonight.
North Gotham started with gently rolling hills along the channel, meaning that he couldn't see very far to the north and northeast, and the mid-rises along there which had once been apartments for the wealthy and was now the Theater District kept him from seeing if there were any stick-up artists around or anyone getting mugged. Because he couldn't see there directly he had made it a point this last month to start dealing more harshly with foreign organized crime elements from other parts of Europe and the Middle East that had set up shop over the last decade in Gotham City.
The wind picked up, blowing his cape out slightly as he looked to the northeast.
"Not a night to glide in," he said softly to himself.
He attached a dragline to a stanchion in the upper part of the abutment and lowered himself to the ground, activating the vehicle's doors as he got within ten feet of it. Once his feet touched down he gave a shake to the line and it started falling and being retracted simultaneously. The gull wing door deflected the grapnel hook and gave a slight metallic cling off of it and then was pulled into its recessed hollow in the dragline holder. Gusts of wind flowed around the overpass at ground level, picking up dust and loose papers as it did so. The vehicle pulled out smoothly, heading for the Mid-Gotham River and an old, abandoned railbed that led to an entrance to the old subway system that looked very secure and yet, with a simple electronic command, retracted and then reset itself after the vehicle passed.
The Wind did not need eyes as its every tendril could feel that which it flowed around, if it was paying attention. As the great jet stream slowly shifted more and more attention was going with it and the storms would follow if the Wind was denied.
Selina had her right leg up on a suede footstool in her apartment with an ice pack on it due to the bruising it had received from the grip of Tom Octurian earlier in the day. She had applied a chilling and warming salve to it, of course, and bandaged it, but she needed to remove that after her problems at the restaurant and needing to swap clothes with Sonia, a girl with long blonde hair and a figure almost as full as her own in some areas but not as slim in others. Scevola had her dress sent to a local dry cleaning operation that the family ran, and while it wasn't a 24 hour operation, the proprietor knew that when family business called there was no denying its custom.
She was still trying to get it straight in her head just how much had changed in Gotham City, and as she sipped at a snifter of brandy she saw Conrad perched on a bookcase by the window peering his head around as the wind started to whistle between the buildings. Smiling she watched him and used the remote control to turn on the TV and then mute it, sitting back in her plush chair trying to will her muscles to relax.
"So the Bat is definitely real," she said to herself softly.
Conrad slowly closed his eyes as he continued to look outside into the darkness.
She took a sip of the brandy warming in her glass and then inhaled its aroma.
"That was a major bit of work back in May... then he shifted focus to the Asian gangs. Took his time, figured out how they were operating and..." she shivered as she reached over to the envelope she had picked up from her office that held clippings Amy had saved for her in neat little envelopes inside a larger one. May was a busy month, as she saw it at least, and June was tapering down of activity with no real highlights save for proceedings against multiple families and organizations. A few articles highlighted the behind the scenes problems of law enforcement trying to figure out just who should be tried in which jurisdiction and that had become a sticking point through July. One of the judges started hearing habeus pleas and started to let some of those that had been apprehended during the flurry of takedowns to go free on bail. Not everyone was going to be prosecuted, of course, but enough of the mid-level Capos and Lieutenants and Seconds were on the hot seat as well as a few of the family directors, Dons and organization heads to put a serious crimp in operations across Gotham City.
"Ah, July in the Swiss Alps..." she said letting the May and June envelopes drop to the floor. Chelsea sat next to the chair and started as they dropped next to her, and she yawned then got up and stretched to investigate these toy possibilities that had been given to her. "I remember that well, right after running across a few baubles in Belgium. Nothing worth keeping, of course..."
The clippings from July were sparse with only a few heroin busts on the North Island pointing to a change in venue for the Bat. No one would know that at the time, but he was active, just no longer paying full attention to the prior targets as they were now laying low. The lazy days of summer is what it looked like as she dropped the envelope to the floor, scattering clippings that Chelsea knew had great potential as she pawed at them, scattering them further. One hind paw on May flew out and more clippings spilled out and this unexpected attack demanded retribution. Soon paper was turning into shreds. Conrad turned to look back with slitted eyes deciding that it wasn't worth his effort to join in the fight against the clippings.
August and September were also slow months with only a few reported sightings of the Bat until late in August when he made his first daytime appearance. Scevola had mentioned that but, as luck would have it, all the tourist types on the ferry didn't have a camera out and ready or those that did had such a bad angle as you only get to see a blur of black against the sky or a shadow with only faint bat-like outlines. Still the evidence and eyewitnesses all agree the Bat came, he punched out a number of individuals actings as mules for the Bay Boys, then dropped down to his vehicle which had come from shore. There were a couple of pictures of that, amidst the misty haze the wheels kicked up behind it as it skewed towards the shoreline. There was more than enough evidence to trace the mules back to the Bay Boys, but after that it was dead leads. Someone was obviously paying for that stuff, but the Bay Boys wouldn't tell who it was and decided to take the fall. Other DAs got added to the mix of those who had a sudden workload increase, as well as the FBI who was trying to figure out just how the Bay Boys got the stuff, but the Boys weren't talking about that, either.
" 'Officials estimate that the vigilante known as Batman or The Bat flew nearly a mile from Gotham City without aid of a vehicle...'", Selina read aloud from an early September clipping. "I just couldn't believe that even coming from Scevola. From a Deputy Commissioner, well, that is something that you just might believe with that Gordon guy in charge. Did he jump out of a plane or helicopter?"
She reached back for the August envelope she had let slide to the floor and found herself in a tug of war with Chelsea who had gotten her teeth into the envelope as soon as she had started to pick it up. Selina set down the one clipping on her lap and picked up an older one and dangled it in front of Chelsea who immediate let go of the envelope to get this new foe that was dangling so close to her eyes. As Selina let go the clipping was in a death grip and Chelsea had her rear paws working over the one end as she ripped at the other. Chuckling Selina re-opened the envelope to get some of the clippings that focused on the take down and also to see what was going on in the weeks prior to it.
"Hmmmm... large man, bulky, and strange 'scales' under his costume? No one could see his eyes... he looked like a bird soaring in from Gotham City? What? No equipment? No jet pack? No helicopter? Plane?" she shuffled back to the September clippings and shook her head. "How the hell...? No one makes anything that can do that, and the cape isn't something that you can turn into a hang-glider and then back into a cape on a moment's notice. But it doesn't sound like magic, either."
She noted that one of the gang members had fired a 9mm pistol at the Bat, point blank, couldn't miss and the compressed shards of the projectile found by the GCPD and Coast Guard pointed to the fact that the Bat had not been missed. Another report of a criminal attempting to stab the bat, and maybe penetrating some cloth, but getting no further before he got a boot to his face. And then there were the trademarks of men stuck to the briefcases they had with heroin and cash, as well as railings, decking and other surfaces less savory. One handcuff had been used to wrap a briefcase around a railing and then secured with a carabiner that was glued shut so the man dangled over the railing held up by his wrist.
Sipping at her brandy Selina inhaled.
"This isn't the punch'em out Bat that I heard about before my vacation," she whispered, "although he still does that. A lot of it, but he has changed. He used to have on this hard armor, solid, made him sound like a fighting brick, but not this Batman, not any more at least. And his car used to be a souped up limo from the '30s not something..." she picked up one clipping that had a series of photos showing the black vehicle and in one showing odd angles to its side, but none of them glinting light, "... that I don't think has ever been produced by a factory, anywhere for anyone."
Finally came October with more fallout from all the prior busts with arraignments, plea deals, and trying to find enough snitches to make a wider case and maybe get ahead of the Bat for once. The wheels of Justice were turning very, very slowly, but it looked like most of those without priors would be getting light charges against them but those higher up were getting a slew of large charges and even conspiracy thrown in by multiple counts on top of racketeering. Johnny Petruzzi was facing some low level beefs, that might put him away for up to 5 years, while Eduardo was looking at multiple 15 year charges due to the Kosmic Klub takedown. That one still rattled her as she had loved the KK for its atmosphere, back area gambling and generally wealthy clientele where she had picked up more than one job over the years and sometimes as much as two or three a year. Batman hadn't wrecked the place, although he had wrecked a large number of the vehicles there, and the chips to paint, pulled up carpeting and broken windows could all be fixed. The people who ran it, mostly Albanian family members and some East Europeans from the Bosco Organization, were not so lucky. While low class in many ways along the northern waterfront of the Gotham River, had still yielded enough to start the Kosmic Klub and a nice little eatery near the Marina District. She liked both, but only the KK would yield jobs.
"From southwest to northeast Batman has left a trail of broken criminal organizations behind him and the asian ones were obviously the next target and they started to get it by the Bay Boys going down. Now its clean-up time..."
The last of the clippings in October had brought a change to them that was disturbing in a whole other way.
Parts of the Bosco Organization was trying to diversify and spread out, move into some previous Brancuzzi territory with some of the better neighborhoods just back from the River on the North Island. Something had happened to one of their vice dens, which tended to run to drugs and prostitution. The GCPD Special Crimes Unit tried to pass it off as some inter-gang rivalry, but the rumors left by that just a month ago were disturbing, even to Scevola. Special Crimes was not a leaky unit, but the forensics lab and a few of the messengers inside the GCPD were relatively easy to bribe for information, but the reports and analyses made no sense at all. Multiple locked room murders where the bodies had been... dissolved? She hadn't believed Scevola but he swore it was the truth and the GCPD was keeping a tight reign on the information.
Then, just after that on the same night, came the Halloween Costuming Show and that went from something pretty basic to multiple dead, dozens traumatized and no description of what had caused it save that some 'creature' that seemed to be a cross between a vapor, a green mass, a slug, or just a mass hallucination had gotten in back stage and let pandemonium loose. There was one reporter that thought he saw the Bat going after the thing, but no corroborrating evidence, and no other eyewitnesses to that and the reporter had only glimpsed him as he was running from the stage area and saw the Bat through a back stage opening.
Setting the brandy snifter down on left side table, Selina re-read that article and others put out by the local papers which Amy had collected. It was a strange collection of articles which had a theme to them, which was somthing strange had gone on at the Civic Center during the fashion show, but there were no weapons used. No guns, no knives, not even something like poison gas. Some of the dead were trampled by those running in fear, but others were alone in the rear, found slumped to the floor, without a mark on their bodies. She started setting articles down next to the brandy snifter and took out one which was from the following day after the Civic Center attack, which now had articles on the problems at the Bosco run house in the Riverside neighborhood. Police had been tighter-lipped about that, trying to get forensics done to come to some conclusion as to what had gone on there as the forensics people had a few hours head start on it. Answers were lacking, of course, but they would continue to be lacking thereafter. The Sunday papers had lurid headlines but there appeared to be nothing connecting the two attacks beyond both being on the North Island and both being unexplainable, but in totally different ways.
Then came the Monday evening paper clippings where the remains of one of the foremost businessmen in the Chinese community, and suspected Triad member, Li Sun were discovered in the old subway tunnels on the South Island near midtown. Also arriving DOA from the scene was Lisa Choi...
"Lisa?" Selina whispered, "Not..."
She read on and started blinking as she had met Lisa Choi over at Charlie's place at the west end of the South Island. She had contacts with shippers, both straight and crooked, and no matter who you were getting to meet, Charlie's Diner was a necessity as it was one of the few open around the clock and did its best to run a place on the up and up, even while the owner was not necessarily so praiseworthy. Lisa Choi worked the night shift, which Selina did when she didn't have jet lag due to her occupation, so that meant actually getting to know Lisa on a basis of eating out at the Diner, perhaps once or twice a month.
Those two had not been alone, down there, in the tunnels. The Commissioner's PR flack let everyone know that there were some leads that pointed to use of the tunnels and the Commissioner as well as Deputy Travis Colton, both had reported that Lisa Choi had been traveling with Barbara Gordon...
"The Commissioner's daughter? Huh? This is making less and less sense..."
Barbara had been doing research on what had happened at the Riverside house and the Civic Center and had met up with Lisa who was looking into... mythology? Selina had been trying to quiet down her nerves, get a decent night's rest in to let her body recover from the travel and her long day. Concentration wasn't coming all that easy to her and she was trying to get some handle on just what sort of insanity had been going on here during the last month and that wasn't happening. Reading on and between the lines with what Scevola had told her, she saw that body parts of Li Sun had been found: parts of his right hand, a mangled part of his left foot, a few vertabrae near the base of his spine, blood spattered on tunnel walls, floor and ceiling. She knew that the forensics people would later classify this as whole body blunt force trauma and nothing, not even the pictures of the vehicle the Bat used could do that sort of damage. And the Bat was down there since he is the one who raced Lisa to the Gotham Central Hospital faster than any mere ambulance could do.
There was just one picture in the papers of the crime scene as it had restricted access, but an enterprising photographer had used the Wayne Tower service corridors to get there before he was escorted out. It was a photo of Gordon and Colton squatting over a part of the subway rails next to a man who had his back to the camera, but was obviously pointing something out on the ground, where Colton was about to place a tiny flag. The caption under the photo identified the man who had his back to the camera as 'Doctor Gotham'.
The wind had picked up in the South Central's south side, and it ran along the ridge road and lettered streets and swirled down alleyways. Moaning as it sometimes did between alleyways, Selina looked up to see Conrad arching his back and baring his teeth towards the window. Chelsea had scampered off all of the sudden. She had heard that sort of wind during the winter, but never in the fall as the wind patterns had to be just right to cause the wind to do that. As she watched the window a piece of paper whirled around from an alley and was plastered to the window, causing Conrad to jump off his perch and go tearing out of the livingroom area. The paper slid first down and then up the window until the wind slowed and it fluttered away. Selina felt like she had been observed and that frightened her as, surely, the wind could not see and really wasn't alive. Yet the shifting of the paper like some inverted pupil on her window caused her to reach out to her snifter... which she knocked to the floor.
Another battle with liquid had just begun.