Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tangled Web–Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Driving on 40th Street he passed through the intersection of Martin St. which had signals flashing yellow in his direction. The snaking blue glow had turned into a dull haze that clung to lamp standards and flowed across wires and gave the outlines of windows in an unearthly hue. Guthrie nodded as he shifted gears going through the intersection, looking up into the sky and smiling at the errant flakes of snow still drifting down from above.

"I don't believe much of anyone is out tonight, what with the frost and ice on the pavement, the sporadic power outages and the cold wind pushing in from the south," cars parked by the side of road showed signs of blue glow and white frost, and a few also showed signs of windows frosted from other means as well as paint marred and scrubbed as if someone had taken a giant wire wheel to them from a given direction. At one street corner a few individuals huddled around a fire in a metal can, rolled out from some nearby alleyway and given a blaze so that they could stay warm this night. They looked at the Bora as it hissed through the streets, a phantom on wheels that paid no attention to speed limits nor lights nor much of anything at all.

Sighing Guthrie took a left on Jewel Street and started making his way over to areas that felt unobstructed of debris and showed no flashing lights of either the yellow or red variety common to service and emergency vehicles. He gave a glance in his rearview mirror and saw something move under the flashing lights at 40th and Jewel, first a yellow on black and then a red on black, and a blocking of a clear view to the few flickering street lights on Jewel Street in the distance.

"Why, it appears that there is someone else out tonight, beyond service crews, police and ambulances. Perhaps it is that apparition I saw last night? Ah, but this one appears just a bit too physical to be such an apparition and as the natives say, the Ghost Trains only run on tracks. Perhaps it is time to see if this apparition is just around by happenstance or by intent..."

He pushed in a cassette of Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks and then started shifting gears to downshift and take a corner at speed, going right. As he turned on 43rd he upshifted and pressed the accelerator down letting Kellerman Street go by and then tapping the brakes, downshifting and turning left on Independence Avenue, then downshifting yet again for an alleyway, down which he shut off his lights and let the car coast as he gazed at the few trash cans to be avoided and one dumpster he slid by with barely a foot of clearance for his vehicle. As he saw a motion pass by the entrance to the alleyway he put the Bora in gear once more and slid out just to the edge of the buildings and then stopped and waited, rolling the window down and seeing the street sign indicate Heath Street and Anjou Court.

"Most inappropriate," he whispered. As he listened he caught the sound and feel of the motion on the wind and closed the window again.

Carefully he put the car into gear, keeping the clutch depressed and the brakes on. As he caught a flash of motion out of the corner of his eye he put the Bora's lights on their bright setting and let go of the brake and the clutch as the vehicle sped past in front of him. With a quick bit of acceleration he was behind that vehicle heading in the direction it had come from.

"Someone is looking for a dance partner on the streets tonight, it appears," he smiled as the music washed through the car at a low setting. "And it is a night for dancing amongst the frost and flakes, now, isn't it?"

With a grin of happiness he worked through the gears of the Bora as he saw a great number of sparks in his rearview mirror and saw a lampost come crashing down into the intersection of Heath and 43rd Street. Ahead he could see the great supported Gotham Interconnector which ran over the rail lines and showed itself as a ribbon of blue with twinkling white lights mixed with red and yellow ones indicating that efforts were still ongoing to clear the cars that could not navigate that highway's frozen pavement. At 51st he pulled a hard right and started shifting up the alphabet past Galaway, Faber, Exeter, then pulling a hard left on Draper. He saw the vehicle following him flash by on Faber and felt more than heard its rumble as the driver downshifted to go up 44th.

Ahead now lay the North Island wharves, with the rail lines under the Interconnector which had a strong glow more than 50 feet above the surface on the underside of the bridge and down its supports. Those supports still supported the snaking light and Guthrie nodded.

"Time for some open field dancing, now," he said letting a gloved hand pat the dashboard of the Bora, "just a few curbs and rail lines to watch out for, nothing that can't be handled.

The streets of Gotham City were not meant to be taken at over 100 mph and of the handful that even attempted this, Guthrie Lewis would have his name added to those ranks if anyone were around who kept track of those things. There were only two living residents of Gotham in the City who had actually accomplished this feat and one was at home wondering what new paint job she should get for her Camaro and the other was now topping out his vehicle in pursuit of Guthrie Lewis.

"Always the guilty man fleeth, hmmm? But I am only guilty of seeking what is needed... and I do intend to deal with those intent on stopping or even questioning that."

As the lettered streets disappeared he pulled a hard right onto a service road, the Bora now the fastest moving ground vehicle in Gotham City and only now topping out its performance range on the parking lots and trailer lots that serviced the small rail yard and wharf owners. Swinging his head to the music he saw the larger, black and faceted vehicle come out from 44th and screeching hard to turn to follow Guthrie's Bora. The Bora jumped a railroad intersection and then braked hard pulling right on a wide service street on the other side of the tracks and under the Interconnector, proper. Here it slolamed between the pillars holding up that elevated causeway and Guthrie saw the black vehicle catching up and trying to pace him on the other side of the tracks.

"Tsk, tsk, that was never made for racing, now, was it? What a clumsy dance partner I have tonight. I'm sure there are better performers than this in Gotham."

He pulled hard right, just passing a support beam on his right and the Bora flew across the at grade crossing of the tracks and was 10 feet ahead of the black, bulky vehicle. Again the Bora pulled out into the parking lot, and it darted between truck trailers as it sped out and back to the more open part of the lot. In the rearview mirror the large vehicle had taken a right turn to the outside and was on the Sounds side of the lot and near the access road that paralleled the railroad tracks, growling in the distance as it picked up speed. With a shift the Bora went out of one parking lot and into another and then darted to the right making for a street in the mid-40's beyond the parking area. As he saw the larger vehicle shift to follow, moving into the open parking lot, Guthrie swerved to his left and made a wide turn with the Bora, which would be extremely tight for any normal vehicle but wide for its class and size.

Finishing the turn to point it back towards the far part of the North Island where the lighthouse, Maritime Museum and Marina were situated, Guthrie accelerated his vehicle towards the larger one that had now been able to turn to come in his direction. He could see that the larger vehicle hugged the ground with bare clearance that would put field mice in danger if they ever dared to venture in front of it while in motion. He had seen air panels come out and those were now retracting on the right side of the vehicle as he faced it, the speedometer going higher as the two vehicles came at each other.

"Why, I do believe that we have a game partner, after all," Guthrie said, "but what game is it we are playing, hmmm?"

Guthrie kept the Bora's lights at their lowest setting, enough to let him see the angular facets of the oncoming vehicle and its large, red headlights. He had caught glimpses of its wheel system which was unlike any he had experienced and he expected it was the cause of the wonderful traction that vehicle had on such a slick surface. Of course the Bora was not a match at traction, but it had a driver that knew how to use it and the Bora was its own force when under such control. Guthrie grinned as the distance between the two vehicles closed and guessed at what the final height of that vehicle was and eased off just a bit as he let the distances fall into place. If he were facing any other vehicle he might think of veering off, of pulling a sudden swerve or any other such that would avoid such apparent disaster. But this was not what he intended and now it was left to his dance partner to see if it would keep a steady course.

He was sure that the other driver thought he would do something hard, daring and ultimately fatal at this speed.

Instead he drove straight and at the last instant put the brights on so as to blind the other driver temporarily. Even in IR these bright lights were overwhelming and the other vehicle's driver made no changes in course.

With some sparks from the undercarriage the Bora's front tires went up and over the angled hood of the other vehicle, if hood it was, and then the rear tires joined in as the reinforced laminated glass took the pressure of the front tires, only forming spider's webs where they passed. Then the rear joined them. Then the Bora was airborn and sailing from one lot to another. With a shower of sparks it touched down, and the lights went back to dim mode, and the vehicle slowed and took a left to head back to the high 50's of streets. The larger vehicle had swerved after the collision and took down a light standard which toppled away from it. It's lights flickered for a moment as the standard lost its blue glow and parts of the vehicle gained one. Still it was able to move and a few seconds after the impact it did so, gaining speed and turning in Guthrie's direction.

"Ah, yes, this dance is not over, yet. Let's say you lead and I'll follow?"


This was to be a night of simple observation, staying in the shadows or follow at a distance discrete enough where he wouldn't be noticed. If the man he was following had been walking, things would have been much easier to do from the rooftops. With his target driving, however, he had the same problems as the night before in that the car could easily be out of sight with a simple turn or two and the rooftops had obstructed observation the lower the numbers went on the North Island. Tonight he had found the Bora only a few minutes before Guthrie Lewis had come out of the restaurant, and that meant no trackers on the car. He was sure that Guthrie was going to go back to the hotel right up to the first turn that wasn't the fastest route to get there. Then observation became a matter of trying to find the Bora, keep it in sight, and not lose track of it as it went down side streets. That had proven to be frustrating as the nimble Bora proved to be difficult to keep in sight and, once lost, he had to think quickly about what he would have done if he meant to shake someone following him. Guthrie had obviously thought about that, as well, and the sudden glare of headlights and roar of the Bora coming out of its concealment meant a sudden turn using the vehicle's grapnel to grab an overhead signal pole which also pulled the pole down but allowed him to spin his vehicle completely around and head back after the Bora.

That had not ended well and the cracks across the armored laminate windshields plus the left side door being indented was a testament to that as well as the various red indicators on the dashboard. The heating system of the vehicle was out, and cold air now came in through the openings at the base and sides of the driver's side door. He ddn't need the red indicator to show that the door was non-functional as the cracked pivot shaft and leaking hydraulic fluid told that tale. Sensors on the frame of the vehicle now indicated that it was as much as three degrees from true along the front to rear axis and that might indicate other problems as the concrete base of the light standard had yielded, but not before his vehicle also suffered stress deformation because of it.

The racing blue glow amongst the readouts and their sporadic turning on and off indicated that as well as the engineers at Wayne Defense had made this vehicle, it was still subject to some problems that were not expected on a battlefield. His right hand moved to shut down the sensor readouts and then put the vehicle back into gear so that he could see if the main drivetrain was still functional. It was, although some piece of the lower armor structure was dragging on the ground, and as he turned it pulled off as a twisted piece of metal that was then flattened by the rear tires. Looking to the right he could see Guthrie cruising along back to the higher numbered streets of the North Island and he reflexively turned his vehicle to follow.

There were three places he could easily access the old subway tunnel system. The old hill entrance on the southwest corner of the North Island was accessible by the front roads from the wharf complex, but it was miles off and would have suffered the brunt of the chill ice fog and static charges coming in from the sea. Even though he had placed that mechanism some years ago to allow him entrance from that site, he didn't know if it could take both the sudden cold and static electricity that would course through it to ground.

A second choice was a parking garage next to a small hotel on the River side of the North Island just amongst where the old Warrens & Shops district had been. An old Wayne holding there was refurbished and leased out, and he had the parking garage next to it upgraded and then did his own add-on work to access the old crossing subway tunnel that was never completed to the laying of tracks. He had just been through many of the streets he would need to traverse to get there and was not sanguine as to getting a path back to it. After the incidient with the traffic light post coming down, he felt that he shouldn't be putting fear into the crews that were desperately working to get such problems fixed on an early Sunday morning.

That left the warehouse across from the Marina near the KK on the northeast part of the island. It would be safe from the cold, although a chill wind would blow down the Gotham River Channel, a couple of blocks in would insulate it from the worst of those effects. The static build-up would be addressed by the building structure and the electronics should function normally. Unlike those in the vehicle which were semi-reliable at best. There was only one problem with the obvious choice: it was the one Guthrie was headed towards as a general direction. Yet if he chose another direction, Guthrie would notice and double-back and have some chance of seeing him heading across the island to the more central return point and have clear view of him on the access road along the southern part of the Island.

Accelerating the vehicle he saw frost building up around the frame of the door and the forward IR had become virtually useless due to the stress cracks in the laminated glass. Switching over to the standard lights he was little better off, but could navigate more easily with the somewhat better definition of normal lighting. Swerving over to what would become 56th Street he went faster and adjusted for the problems in the frame of the vehicle which had put the front right tire pod out of true. Parts of the driver's side laminated glass started to flake off as did some on the front of the vehicle, and that added to the distortion on both sides.

He was angry at himself for having taken the bait of Guthrie moving faster as if he was on a course towards something and not realizing that he was just playing with him. The bag of tricks the vehicle held were mostly passive, with the grapnel system being one of the few active things it could do. The air brake system was another, as well as the hydraulic jack system for having the vehicle be self-righting or to even flip it if it was on a very steep incline. Those did him no good in this situation. IR was functional but limited. He could lay down a smokescreen if Guthrie got behind him.

Two blocks down the Bora streaked from left to right in front of him and he could take no chances, now. He doused the main lights and went to underbody running lights which were yellow fog lights to mask his presence and yet give some light to the surrounding streets as he drove. They offered necessary minimal illumination which was broken up by the cracks in the glass laminate, but still allowed for some visibility as they did not throw the surroundings into high contrast, the cracks were less important. He then turned the vehicle right to parallel Guthrie's course and then take two blocks before turning left on 58th. He passed Indepence and Jewel and gently increased the vehicle's speed and trying to calculate what Guthrie would do and what his plan was. Without knowing who he was or what he was doing, and having a set of personal traits that were not obvious but were similar to what was going on in Gotham City, he had only the shakiest of notions on both and it was pure supposition on his part to even think that he could understand Guthrie Lewis.

On one of the small, flickering monitors in the lower, central portion of the console, he saw the Bora crossing on Martin St. behind him, and with that he added more speed on towards the riverside and Riverton Parkway. He did have options, but the best way to get to the entrance of the warehouse with the automated sensors was to swing around in front of the building and then directly in, and that meant Riverton Parkway to the Upper North Bridge and then a swerving right across the four lanes there and then into the building. The entrance was situated so that anyone who was at an oblique to the building might mistake the vehicle going into an alleyway and while not true camouflage, it offered a diversion in case he had to do exactly that. At the riverside he slowed as he took the turn and then accelerated abruptly as there was no sign of Guthrie behind him or to his right.

Just a few blocks away and the bridge was evident by the blue glow going along its girders going in a sideways zig-zag on either side of the road with a trussworks above it to hold it all together. He blew through intersections with blinking lights or with lights that were still out, and could almost drive by the glow along the iron railing which went along the sidewalk to prevent anyone from falling into the river below. His lips pressed into a thin line as he sped up getting ready to do a wide swerve through the intersection, and before he did that he put on the normal headlights to make sure that the intersection was clear.

It wasn't.

There, sitting across the roadway was the Bora with Guthrie Lewis out and lighting a cigarette as he leaned against the driver's side door.

He was out to see if he could find out what Guthrie Lewis was about. Not kill him.

With enough of the Bora out into the intersection that it blocked the direct route across he did what came naturally and swerved left onto the bridge. A sign flashed by and he knew that it warned of the bridge pavement freezing first. First the front of the vehicle started to skid and then the massive rear began fishtailing through an arc and he attempted to compensate for that to turn into the skid. The intensity of blueness across the vehicle's readouts and the darkening of indicator lights showed that there was extreme interference with all the on-board electrical systems including the wiring to keep the engine running. It faltered and he started to lose hydraulic pressure to the brakes and steering as the vehicle hit the curb and pitched up onto it, taking down the metal guardrail and railing. A cracking sound could be heard from the left front of the vehicle as it ploughed into the concrete sidewalk and the front of the vehicle partially rolled into the girder.

The impact deformed the front of the vehicle and the mass of it continued its fishtailing arc and pitching up as it came to the sidewalk. The rear of the vehicle was now twisting the entire vehicle as the rear went into the air. With the glass shattering, the front of the vehicle twisting and the rear now dragging the entire vehicle through the open truss girders, all he could see was the darkness of the sky and, below that, the deep darkness of the Gotham River.

Guthrie watched as the vehicle spun slowly through the girder framework and arced down, twisting apart and catching fire as it did so, and parts falling from it as it splashed into the water. As it fell he could see white light flashing and bubbles coming up from beneath the surface and heard small vapor explosions from it until it sunk completely out of sight. He finished the cigarette and flicked it to the ground, then ground it out with his right foot.

"Good dance partners are so hard to find," he said, and then turned to get into the Bora and head off to his hotel so that he could get a good night's rest after such a busy day.


Tonight was not the night where the bullwhip served as a way to swing out and across rooftops as the hide would have been nearly frozen solid if she had opted to bring it. No, this night required the poly and nylon line, grapnel hook and a decent set of boots with real tread to stop her from skidding on frozen building rooftops. The wind wasn't all that friendly tonight, either, and she had been knocked flat on her ass more than once by that blue glow when she had become grounded out against some piece of pipe while grabbing onto a glowing iron ledge or window frame. She had picked her way across Gotham City and finally gave up on a across-city route and decided to go out the 5th and then come back into Gotham on the South Island's bridge at the Central Gotham River channel, and then over the northern most cross-bridge to get into Mid-North, such as at was.

No one was out tonight from hookers to dope peddlers to kids out on the street to watch the effects of the non-storm that had rolled over Gotham City. There were a few of the homeless and a few others that tried to find buyers for their goods, but the takers were not out and by just after sundown it was apparent that the frigid night that was descending on Gotham City would shut down such activities. She had to go for thin layers of silk and cotton under her night-time attire, and that could not be the leathers she preferred nor the stylish if stifling latex, but normal dark clothing that could remain flexible when in contact with the frigid air. Keeping warm required activity and after a number of steps slipping, sliding and generally finding out that taking more than mincing steps on ledges could be nearly fatal, she got the hang of how to move around on the frozen rooftops of Gotham City. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop, however, was problematical and required real thought and using the rope and grapnel as a safety back-up and as her means of ascending a few of the newer buildings that didn't feature fire escapes.

The building that housed the Golden Tiger Club was a mid-rise and the last of those buildings topping out between 10 and 20 stories on the South Island. To its north was a building of equal height and across the street the last mid-rise was three buildings down the block to the west although there was one additional one two buildings to the east, it was only 9 stories high and in that category of not being a mid-rise and too tall for a low-rise. On the west side of the building the Club was in there was a fire escape on the outside of the building which looked sturdy enough and was probably inspected within the last few years as the Club maintained a good 'in' with the city building inspectors and health inspectors. From having a generally upscale restaurant in the 1920's to a soup kitchen in the '30s and then becoming a small store with lunch counter, it had transferred hands many times and the purchase of the building in the early 1970's changed it from a run-down looking store and lunch counter to an upscale club with two floors devoted to club space on the bottom of the building and then a more private club area on the top floor. She knew the building, its floorplan and security systems after having been invited to it a few times to meet buyers from the Far East privately, and even purchasing a small jade feline figurine from Cathy Li just last year. Her apartments would be on the north side of the building while Li Sun's had been on the south side, and it had no fire escape out the front to the street below, with both on the 5th floor and taking up most of it.

She judged the security system 'adequate' to the neighborhood and common thieves, since it was a standard admixture of barred windows and doors on the non-street sides going up for two floors, and then windows with alarms leading to fire escapes and interior hall camera's situated along the central core of the building facing out to the main hallways. The south side had an interior stairwell and another stairwell went along the central core, both having doors on each floor and each also having a roof exit which was barred for exterior access and part of the alarm system as well, although this was the fire alarm system, not the security system. Beyond those items windows within easy reach of the fire escape were also made part of the alarm system and the camera feeds were watched by an attendant on the main floor near the lobby.

In theory two people did a security check of the hallways once an hour, but that was more for show than any serious investigation. The strange idea that all people with Asiatic heritage were martial artists was one that was hard to break after so many films had featured something of the sort, while the stark truth was that martial arts practitioners were few and far between, although concentrated in militaries, criminal organization and private training schools. Judging by the looks of the people that Li Sun had hired, less than half of the staff had any martial arts training and that initial estimate dropped to one-quarter after subsequent visits and not all of those were in the security staff or even his criminal operations but in his front operation which also turned a tidy sum year on year. Interior security tended to be lax, however, and that was with or without any martial training of the staff.

In general the layout was what she expected for the roof of the building, that had three small chimney or pipe vents used to ventilate the club and dining areas, a central structure for the two elevator motors, a doorway type exit to the roof on the south side and middle of the building next to the elevator motors, fire escapes along the non-facing sides of the building on east, west and south, and a few other pieces left over from the historical use of the facility which included metal bar positions for lowering tarps, stanchions put in to keep rigging and other pieces secured and a trap door on the near side north west part of the roof.

She wanted to start with the easiest way in that she could think of and that was to investigate the trap-door that was behind the top floor club venues, if the one ladder leading up to the roof in the back of a hallway leading to the restrooms that she had seen during a prior visit was any indication. It was probably put in during the 1920's during Prohibition and may have served as a way to get illicit liquor out of the club and put into more secure areas during a raid which would take its time getting to the top floor, not to speak of the roof.

One of the few pieces she had acquired was a night vision monocular scope while in West Germany, and it showed her the layout of the roof and that her best bet was one of the steel rods used in prior eras to lower tarps around the upper floors for when the building was being refurbished in the '70s. Seeing the rod spacing on the far side of the roof and its allowance for the fire escape she inverted that and did the same for the near side, and moved over closer to the south side of the building she was on. On the west side no lights could be seen save for the first two floors and those were only the night security lights, not real lighting used by active people. As she thought it out she realized that the lack of traffic, indeed anyone walking around anywhere, meant that she had another way into the building. She smirked and took a few swings of the grapnel with its rope and tossed it across near the south side of the building.

The first time she nearly caught the upright of one of the bars she couldn't see and the second time she could feel it grab on but with only one of its tines. After two more tries she got it firmly established and then looped the rope through a stanchion on the roof she was on and looped it three times around and then took the rest of the line with her to pay out so she could descend safely once she was across. With one hand and both feet looped over the rope she made her way across keeping it as taut as possible and made it over to her objective and swung her feet over her head to get over the low wall of the roof and onto the the roof itself. There she pulled slack out of the line, and went to the south side and found another steel bar set that would allow her to lower herself down to the windows she knew where there on the 5th floor. Using a friction safety she slowly lowered herself down to the last few feet of rope which she didn't have to pay out as she was on the ledge of the picture window from Li Sun's old apartment. It was very dark on the inside and she used the monocular scope to see that much of the furniture was gone, that most of his personal items were also missing and only the shrine to his ancestors, the one to his father Ta Wei and the quite lovely Golden Tiger statue were still there. She smirked looking at the statue for there was no way that this piece was going to leave with her tonight as it weighed far too much for her to tuck under her arm.

Satisfied that Cathy Li had not changed apartments she swung over to the west side of the building and grasped the frigid and iced stone work and shook her line to shift it to the corner. With that done she swung around past windows and to the west side fire escape, which turned out to be as cold as the night and extremely slick with ice and icicles hanging from it. What it offered was a way for her to clamber up next to it so she could ascend quietly to the roof and she let her line go through her safety rig until she got near the top. This was a much faster ascent although one that still required exertion and flexibility to find places to put her hands and feet on the outer part of the fire escape. Her bruised ankle, even under a sports wrap to support it, protested at this exercise and once she reached the roof she was able to peel back her leggings and let the chill air get to the wrap to comfort her and ease any swelling her exertions had caused. She undid the line, pulled it all back and coiled it, then carefully went over to the trap door set onto the northwest corner of the roof.

It had a padlock on it on the outside, going through eyelets set into the frame and door, and the padlock was an old key lock, and that meant a quick dart of her hand to unzip the top of her suit and pull out the small tool roll of picks to get the lock open. Opening the lock felt like it took hours, but it was only seconds as her bare hands were necessary to manipulate the tools and then, finally, open the lock. If you put a lock on the outside of a trap door on a roof, was there any reason to rig a more sophisticated alarm to it beneath? Her answer was 'of course' but most building owners saw the added expense and cut the corner of it. She lifted it, carefully, and listened for any clicks or other indications that it had been made part of the alarm system. Deploying her tiny flashlight she looked around for any of the types of contacts used for such doors or power leads to it, and saw none. This was a cut corner and it offered her a way in. And out.

She was sorely tempted by the statue and she knew that an attempt to get it, now, would make it nearly impossilbe to get to the item she wanted. With an effort of willpower she pushed the thought to the side as thinking ahead and doing a proper job of casing a place meant future success. From her belt she took one of the tiny spray cans of penetrating lubricant that she had bought up by the case load when they first were available and squirted it into the lock's mechanism to make sure that it functioned smoothly in case she had to use it in the near future. From her belt came a thin spool of wire that might be mistaken for thread if it wasn't examined closely, and used that to go through the opening the lock had secured, then twist tied that off. She then fed a piece out to the lock separately so that it would be easy to get with a simple tug on the line and she left the lock open for much easier application of it if she came out this way.

Now with the door secure to casual pushing to check it, she moved to the nearby roof corner, secured the grapnel to the bar system there, and then walked next to the fire escape and fed her line over a metal support for this side of the system and watched as the line dropped down next to the fire escape. Her guess was from the position of Cathy's apartment and what layout she remembered of the building, that she would have at least one room facing onto the fire escape next to the hallway leading to it. This was the pattern for most of the building with only a few rooms varying from it due to later construction and reconstructive work.

She slid over the edge and lowered herself down to the 5th floor and carefully went onto the platform of the fire escape. The hall window was easy to discern on the far side of the platform and it was also a point where the stairs from the floor above ended. Under that was the set of stairs going down, and it had a platform next to the window in what should be Cathy Li's apartment. Examining the window she saw that it had no windowshade, just rather gauzy drapes that were pulled across it. Selina also noted the thin tape going around the interior edge of the glass which would sound an alarm if the glass was broken, and she knew it also had a magnetic switch in case anyone tried to lift the window which would also sound that alarm. As she looked at the window she saw that it had not been upgraded to a tempered glass and the lack of clear manufacturer and of any sign of layers in the glass, indicated that it might just be original glass to the building when it was constructed. Such glass could be very brittle, she knew from experience, but some of it was also very susceptible to having a diamond scribe utilized to allow a controlled fracture for entrance. It was rare to get the push-in of a scribed out piece, but a fracture inside the enscribed line of weakness would suit her just as well. She made a mental note to carry a quick straight edge with sharp corner with her for her next visit.

Utilizing the monocular she took a moment to steady it so that she might be able to get some information on what was on the other side of the drapes. A bit of humidity at the bottom of the glass on the inside, and frost there on the outside, indicated an old boiler driven radiator just below the window. She slowed her breathing and heart rate and waited for her eye to adjust to what little she could see, which was something with a reflective surface and set of drawers under it.

"A dressing table?" she whispered to herself and tried to see if there was a chair under it. The diffuse light wasn't helping matters and she slowly scanned beyond it and saw a low, black rectangular object sitting on the floor.

"An old floor safe," she whispered and then scanned slowly across to see an open door that led to what was probably a confined space.

"Closet," she said knowing that the shoe rack on the door clinched that.

Warily she moved around to the other side of the window and avoided the stair opening of the fire escape to try and see further in, but was being blocked by the drapes. Giving up on that she put the monocular away, tucking it into her belt pouch that had a loop to secure it there, and quietly unzipped a small pouch next to it and took out an earpiece and then a small circular disc with wires coming from it that went into the pouch. Pressing the disc to the window she slid a finger into the pouch to turn the device on. From the earpiece she got amplified sound and could hear a few things. HVAC was retrofitted in the '70s and she could hear a rattle from it somewhere in the apartment. A soft bang on a steam pipe sounding close by was confirmation of the radiator. Then came the sound that mattered, the sound of a soft snore.

Smiling she turned off the device and put it away.

"Bingo! Bedroom."

Stepping back to her line she gave it a flipping tug and did so a few times to finally get the grapnel free and then around the support. She hung onto it and took two quick coils from the line as it dropped so that it wouldn't hit the ground below. With that done, she pulled it up, put it on the floor of the fire escape near an upright for the railing, and then went over the railing and slid down the line, giving it a tug at the bottom when she was on the ground to let it fall out and a bit away from the escape to clatter next to a dumpster. In moments the line was coiled and she was going from shadow to shadow to her Bobcat which looked to be in bad enough shape to keep even desperate thieves away. There she popped the hood, took off the blanket on the engine, and opened the door, wrapping herself in the blanket and started the vehicle. It purred to life, and she carefully navigated out the back alleys and out onto the streets of Gotham City, looking to use the nearest of the low bridges that was open to cross back to the South Island.

The easy part was done.

She scowled thinking of exactly how she was going to get into Cathy's room to get the Faberge piece. She had no worries about foiling the alarm system. Her worries were about Cathy Li. And to the light wind she gave no thought, at all.


Barbara Gordon looked around at the Underworld level of the Curiosity Shop and could see the outlines of where the display cabinets had been as well as the shelves and a few tables. She hadn't been to the shop, itself, entering from the Underworld in a door that Dr. Gotham had put in against all regulations and building codes, told her much about his lack of fear of the Underworld, itself. They had met twice after what had happened in the old subway tunnels and both times were at the Library, and while she had large amounts of skepticism about what he told her the cold facts of what she had seen and done denied any normal form of explanation. For all his quirks, eccentricities and somewhat archaic ways of looking at things, she actually came to like Dr. Gotham. She was surprised to see him and Erin Norris at the library as she had thought that each of them would be elsewhere for what was going on in Gotham today. There was a feeling of foreboding she had seeing them together and carrying what was obviously a minimal amount to get around in the Underworld. The memory of the subway, being with them, her father, Deputy Commissioner Colton, Batman and the other... things... came back to her instantly as she had not seen them together since that day.

The library had decided to stay open as it still had power, albeit not as many lights, and central heating, and was one of the few places on the southeast side of the South Island that was still fully functional. The staff had to send someone to the radio station that was situated nearby to get word out that the library would serve as a place of warmth for those who had lost power and heating for the night. By the time the two had arrived the first floor was pretty well populated, with people moving tables aside to open up floor space and other bringing blankets to cover the marble Grand Entrance, and she had shifted to the third floor where few had come to settle down for the evening. She had learned a bit about the ionizing of gas called plasma, the fourth state of matter beyond solid, liquid and gas, and the form that drove stars which were large balls of plasma. Being ionized it served as a means for electricity to travel and could be used to light up neon signs, flourescent tubes and allow lightning to pass through it.

When gas was ionized in quantities it could induce opposite charges and cling to surfaces and yet not discharge due to the excited state of the plasma. That blue glow was induced ionized gas that had gained a charge from distant clouds where particles were rubbing against each other to form static electricity and the build up of it induced the plasma that had infiltrated across Gotham City. In general it was not a dense plasma, but could channel electrical charges through it which meant that anyone touching it would have to be aware of not just their immediate surroundings, but of possible charge locations that could be very distant and would seek out a path for discharge. For all of that it was cold plasma they saw on display, not the hot type that drove stars, and it was generally benign unless it was observed during an electrical storm, in which case it could be the indicator just where charges were seeking to find a path for the shortest distance to a lightning discharge. As she had watched it through the windows, careful not to touch the metal casements, she saw that on some older street signs with wire rigging that the plasma followed a magnetic pattern of induced electricity in the wire.

And there had been discharges of lightning, particularly on the North Island.

Erin and Dr. Gotham had come from there and if the few news reports were accurate, they had come from the place that had seen the worst of it: Gotham City Convention Center. She had taken some persuading but when Dr. Gotham talked earnestly of the North Wind marching across the North Island, she felt a chill go through her that she couldn't explain. It was like he was a real doctor diagnosing a patient and telling what the cause or at least suspected cause of a condition was. That the diagnosis was strange and highly different from what the weather forecasters were talking about, with air inversions and fronts, and all the normal talk that went on during the few minutes devoted to weather reports, was something to consider. But, like what had happened in the subways, his details fit the facts far better than anything else and that she had brushed up against part of the explanation herself gave him credibility. What had been going on had been associated with the north wind, or at least Arctic cold fronts and the jet stream. Those bits all clicked into place for her intuition, just as the creatures described in the Rhinold documents had done so just a month before, and Barbara Gordon soon found herself having to ignore her father's warnings about the Underworld, her own knowledge that it was a horrifically dangerous place to be if you were at the wrong place at the wrong time. She followed the other two back down and out of the library past the place where Dr. Gotham had deftly disabled the alarm to the door leading to the old Central Station Subway Terminal, and to one of the few places of refuge that any of them could think of. Or at least remember how to get to, which was the now basement, once first floor, of Dr. Gotham's Curiosity Shop.

She had walked to the rear of the old shop floor to the back room that Dr. Gotham once had as his work room, back in the day, and looked around where cupboards had been before they were moved upstairs by the shopkeeper who took care of the place while Dr. Gotham went missing. Old overhead light fixtures from the 1930's had been replaced with modern ones sometime in the mid-1960's and those put a warm, yellow glow over the entire area that used to be the shop and back room now converted into a general storage area. With the front room now holding a long work table and side shelving for some lumber, Barbara got the distinct impression of recent activity, as the power tools that were inside shelves under the table were modern ones. In the rear hand tools in an upright cabinet spoke more of an earlier era and the outlines of where other items had been on the floor showed that general storage had started to give way to more activity, as well. Still there was an old bed frame in the rear portion of the back room, as well as modern metal shelves that held boxed up material that looked like it dated back decades. As she and Erin looked around after Dr. Gotham had opened the place he had carefully unbricked where the old front door was, they started to understand that the pieces of what they had been told looked to have a physical reality. The shop had not been under his care and he had been away from it all those years, and while the shop keeper did his best to keep the old look of the shop, the problem of dealing with that had been left up to someone who wasn't Dr. Gotham.

"I shall be a few moments, please forgive me but I will need to get some items from the upper back room so that we can be a bit more comfortable down here. This is but a place of temporary safety and if we truly are facing someone who is even a Priest or Shaman of Boreas or the Winds themselves, then this is only a refuge for us, not a sanctuary. Feel free to move furniture and boxes around to be more comfortable," he said walking by a sofa and chair set that only had a stack of boxes two high on them, "as I don't know exactly how long we have here, but it should be more than just tonight. The mattress and box springs behind the frame are only a decade old, and new bedding should do for it. Then I'll bring down enough for a meal, although it will have to be cold as I would prefer to disturb the upper areas as little as possible while we are here."

Erin looked at Barbara who shook her head.

"Well its not as messy as the back room of our apartment," Barbara said, "but something hot to drink would be nice."

Turning to go up the stairs he looked at her and smiled.

"There is a hot plate in one of the newer boxes in the front room. Feel free to rummage through anything that is down here and anything you think of use or that appeals to you, do take. My shop is about finding the right items for the right people, and when I first started, it was what you thought their worth was to you that I asked for in payment. We are, however, in dire need of anything of service to us and you two young ladies will know more about that for the world today than I would."

Erin chuckled and looked at the sofa and back at Dr. Gotham.

"That thing is an antique, you know? Same with the chairs. You could get decent cash for them at a few antique places I know."

Dr. Gotham shrugged and nodded.

"And tonight they are needed more here than being on sale elsewhere. I am willing to work with other establishments, Ms. Norris, when it is appropriate to do so. I will make a few trips and bring down the coffeemaker as well, since that is something that the front of the shop will not be needing for the near future."

"Sounds good, I need coffee in the morning," Erin said having walked to the understairs area and seeing the trap door that led further down.

"You got a real basement here, too?"

"Of course, Ms. Norris. That was used for wine and liquor storage during the 1920's and served as the old service room for the shop. I've since had help in cleaning it out and it is empty now. What is up here in the way of boxes is all that remains of those items. Now, feel free to make a home here for yourselves, and then I will return to help get the bed put up. I'll sleep on top of the shop table as I usually do during late hours in the early daylight morning."

"OK," Barbara said moving over to help Erin as Dr. Gotham went up the stairs. As they shifted boxes to the floor she looked at Erin.

"He seems a nice enough guy, at least."

Erin stood up after putting a box on the floor and pointed next to the chair that was next to one of the under stair treads.

"Right past that is a coffee table that goes with this. It has got to be turn of the century... and he has been nice to me, Barbara. After breaking into his shop and stealing from him he... told the DA that he would not be pressing charges and would only want recovery of what was stolen from him. And he would stand up in my defense as a character witness if the DA thought it was worth pressing charges. That's more than just nice, Barbara."

"He did?" Barbara whispered. She knew that there would be no charges brought as the DA's office was busy with the organized crime cases that were working their way through the system. They had little overhead for new cases for the next year and she thought it was that this was a minor crime that led to them not pressing charges. She hadn't known of what Dr. Gotham had done to prevent prosecution. When the victim of a crime stands up to defend the perpetrator, and say that the pressing of charges are against his wishes, then you have an extremely tough case if you have any case at all.

Once they cleared the sofa, chairs and table off, the two of them piled the boxes to the side of the room. Dr. Gotham came down the stairs with bedding piled in a box. When he got to the room he put that box on the coffee table, and took out the bedding which was on top of a coffee maker, box of filters and can of coffee, plus a number of sandwich making items from the refrigerator upstairs. Under that was a pile of manilla folders. Barbara and Erin started moving the sandwich makings off to what remained of the sink arrangement in a far corner of the room that still had cabinetry attached to it. Although it took a minute for the water to gurgle through the pipes, it ran clear when it did arrive.

"I will have to go up for cans of soup and such, but I am sure that the hot plate and stainless steel kettle are down here as they are not upstairs."

"What's with the folders?" Erin asked.

He blinked and look down at the table.

"Ah, yes. Those are the items from my table upstairs that help me organize events. I'm starting to think that Boreas may be breaking the Cardinals and Crosses paradigm and may be working counter to the Frame and Loom. If that is the case then the Great Circles and Gyre are how he is looking at things and if I can figure out where we are in the Gyre, then where is safe and where isn't will become apparent."

Barbara looked at Erin who was looking at her.

"Not that, again," Erin finally said turning to look at Dr. Gotham, "I couldn't understand it the last time you tried to explain it to me and I don't think I will do any better this time."

"What is the Great Circle and Gyre?" Barbara asked.

Looking at both of them in turn, Dr. Gotham nodded more to himself than them.

"A circle has no end and no beginning, yes? It is a group of points around a given center. Yet when you draw one it has a beginning and an end that starts at the beginning. If Boreas is looking to close a Great Circle or enclose a Gyre, a vortex of self-sustaining events, then he will have a different set of motives and directives than the other frameworks. Here, let me go to my work table and explain..." he said picking up the folders and moving to the other room with them, and he put the folders down and moved the hand drill that was on the table along with some other tools into their drawers and cabinet spaces in the table.

"Now, if this is all about three pieces, then which is the starting point? Is it the Tooth of Tiamat, the Icon of the Spider or the Ring of Mother's Return? Two deal with the same subject, and one is a counter to chaotic trends but only within a framework. The Spider, itself, is not a creature of pure Order and may even be said to be of Chaos more than Tiamat is. So I would place the Spider as the outlier and countervailing force to its own purposes. That leaves the Tooth and the Ring, both regarding the same subject and the most powerful items. Those came into Chester Rhinold's posession over years, but are dated to be together no earlier than 1890, yes?"

Barbara nodded, "That's right, 1892."

Dr. Gotham nodded and took out a folder for Chester Rhinold from the stack.

"Now with the Ring and Tooth, he would have drawn to him, or his family by then, the Faberge Spider Necklace. Yet only two items of these three, the Necklace and Ring, are in his estate at his death. The ring would come to my shop from his daughter in the 1920's. After that Martha Wayne nee Culligan found the Tooth Amulet in 1934 and in 1935, after finding it had no claimants, came to my shop to have the piece examined and cleaned. After that, in 1937, the Faberge Spider necklace would arrive at the shop, the place now having affinity to the other two, the third goes to them. And that sounds like the start of the actual Great Circle, or perhaps only a Gyre we are in, and that is when this should start."

He placed a slim folder with the tab marked, Wayne nee Culligan, Martha to his right on the table.

"See how easy that is? We now have a starting point!"

Barbara looked at Erin who turned from looking at Dr. Gotham to her.

"This sounds insane," Erin started.

Barbara shrugged.

"I'm out of ideas, Erin. Say, I'll look for the hot plate and kettle, and then we can start on getting the bed set up. Although I'm starting to think that this might take most of the night.

Erin shivered as the furnace that was put in just a decade previosly kicked on in the sub-basement beneath them.

"It just doesn't sound, ummm, all that good, you know?"

Dr. Gotham shrugged as he watched the two women.

"It never does when you are caught up in events ordered by others. Still, we are not Pawns in anyone's game, Ms. Norris. And if we understand the purpose of the Circle or at least a Gyre, then we will be able to navigate to our own purposes. Now let me go upstairs and get the rest of what we should need for the night."

They broke up the immediate session, but the prediction of Barbara would be one that proved all too true.

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