Batman Quest: City of Fear, Issue #2

ISSUE #2

Welcome back to Batman Quest. You are the Caped Crusader. You spent last night’s patrol following up on a lead about some murders in the Narrows, and got in touch with James Gordon, who provided some unsettling suspicions about a mole in Gotham PD.

You arrived home last night exhausted and dissatisfied. What you had hoped would be an open-and-shut case of murder amongst the thriftless has taken a sharp left turn toward uncertainty. The hours you frittered away in pursuit of that goal could have been spent following up on Gordon’s suspicions… Or finding Nightwing. Still no word from Dick. It’s been almost a week.

Doesn’t matter. It’s sundown again. Time to come alive.

You manage to shave off two minutes traveling in from the palisades compared to last night. Not fast enough. Tomorrow will be better.

Nevertheless, it isn’t long before you’re back on the rooftop of the MCU. This time, however, there is no Jim Gordon awaiting you and the Bat-signal lies dormant. By now you can get past the inadequate locking mechanisms securing the MCU’s rooftop entrance about as easily as shaking someone’s hand, so you’re hardly slowed down by the details. A few tight squeezes in the dark later and you’re in Gordon’s office, seated at his desk, rifling through his files. They seem much more organized than usual, standing in neat piles all next to one another on the corner of his desk. You know from breaking in here for information in the past that Jim Gordon’s office is usually a tragic mess, the kind of thing that cleaning agencies turn down due to “hazardous condition.” What’s got Jim so nervous that he actually found time to clean up?

Then you find it. The equipment manifesto for the riot locker, and the requisition logs accompanying it. You scan the list until you hit the most recent requisitions, the ones Jim mentioned last night. And there they are… The tear gas, the tactical shotguns, the armor, the ballistic shields. Everything. And all signed out under one name:

James Gordon.

You hear a sudden scuffling beyond the door, and a shadowy figure can be seen through the treated glass pane of Jim’s office. Must have been too absorbed in your reading to catch it. Sloppy. Don’t let it happen again.

You suffer a moment of actual panic before your training reasserts itself and you rise soundlessly from the desk and melt into the shadows, sliding along the far wall, positioning yourself behind the door so as to be out of the figure’s line of sight when it comes in.

It turns out to all be for nothing, as the figure is seized by a coughing fit before it can even reach the light switch.

“Jim.”

Your voice slices through the silence in the small room like a blade through rib bones. Jim stiffens a moment, then lets his shoulders slump.

“Oh… It’s you. You know, someday you’ll do that and I’ll have a damn stroke and fall over dead. What are you gonna do then?”

He demands, not even bothering to turn and face you. Not having time for games, you hit the light and toss the files you had borrowed on the table, their contents spilling across the desk.

“We need to talk.”

Gordon blinks away the blinding light, then looks down at the files. He sighs.

“I came back here for that, hoping you wouldn’t have found it.”

“Well I did.”

The silence stretches.

“So you did. What do you want to know?”

“Did you do it?”

“The short answer? I didn’t requisition it. And I tried to hide the fact that it was MY codes they were using as a proxy because it would make you waste valuable time suspecting me. Anyway, it’s good that I’ve found you, because something else has turned up. I was tracing the history of these requisitions, trying to see how it slipped past so many pairs of eyes–“

You don’t have the heart to tell him the obvious: that it was likely those eyes just weren’t watching.

“–and I found something. Y’see, the department has a couple of checks and balances set in place to avoid a situation just like this one,” he says, gesturing to the documents spread across the table, “There are three different levels of security, and requisitions have to go through all of them. First, there’s the pit boss… Any request has to go through the acting officer’s immediate superior. Then there’s internal affairs. Finally, there’s me. I set up a system whereby I should know if anything, ANYTHING leaves the lock-up for any reason.”

You cross your arms. Jim’s going somewhere with this. Might as well let him get there. Any input from you is just going to slow down the process.

“Anyway, the reason nothing was ever triggered is that every request was immaculately falsified. Even I wouldn’t have picked up on it if I hadn’t been looking.”

“That’s to be expected. Whoever has the gall to steal from a police lock-up had better know what they’re doing.”

“I know, I know. But that wasn’t the weird thing. Like I said, the requests were immaculately falsified across all levels of security… All but one. Mine. The fakes at my level were laughably obvious. I mean childlike. Especially in comparison to what came before.”

“What are you saying, Jim?”

Gordon sighs. “Isn’t it obvious? The thief blows through security like it’s a spider web and he’s a hurricane, then suddenly trips up once he hits the final hurdle? No, that doesn’t add up. Whoever did this wanted me to know they were doing it. That’s why he used my ID, and that’s why he triggered only my safeguard. He’s mocking me.”

Worrisome. Jim’s been the target of attacks before, obviously, but few have had the tenacity or skill of this one. The silence stretches on after Jim’s final remark until the cop finally decides to break it again, exasperation written on his face.

“Fine. Keep your secrets. I’m going home. I don’t suppose I’ll be getting those back anytime soon?” He gestures to the documents sprawled across the desk. You shake your head, the movement barely perceptible. He shakes his much more emphatically, then turns and slams the door behind him. You feel bad for Jim. You feel bad for keeping him in the dark about your suspicions, especially on a case in which he’s the victim. But secrets are necessary. Secrets keep everyone safe.

You’re worried about Nightwing, about Dick, but you can’t let that worry govern your decision making. You radio Oracle on encrypted frequencies and ask whether or not she’s heard from him.

“Not since he went after Slade last week, though when we talked he seemed to think he’d be away for a long while. Sorry Batman, that’s all I’ve got.”

Frustrated, you begin to search Gordon’s office as a way to release tension. When you start, you’re doing things automatically, by reflex, letting your mind wander over the facts of the cases you’re working while you scrutinize every square inch of the musty old office.

Before your conscious mind realizes it, your instincts recognize a pattern in the room and begin following it. Everything is so tidy, so ordered… It’s not right. Everything about it feels wrong. There should be a week’s worth of paperwork on the desk, more lying scattered on the floor, and where Gordon’s most recently abandoned coffee mug has been sitting for the past week there is only a ring of caffeine that will never come out. It’s a trail of cleanliness, a non-pattern. Someone came through here, did something and then cleaned up after themselves meticulously. The more you realize the extent of the job, the more you marvel at the drive behind it. This must have taken hours, which means whoever did it had unrestricted access to the most secure office in the MCU (which might not be saying much, but still). That implies an inside connection. Troubling. You make a note to yourself to ask Gordon who he REALLY trusts in his unit, and who has had access to his office in the past month. Somehow, you doubt he’ll be able to give you a solid answer for either question. Your thoughts are interrupted by a chiming in your ear, announcing an incoming call on an encrypted frequency. Alfred.

“Yes?” You ask without preamble.

“Sorry to interrupt sir, I’m sure you’re busy, but I thought you’d want to know. The Narrows killer has struck again. A young one this time. Just a little girl.”

“Let me guess: she died in an abandoned warehouse less than two blocks away from the alley murder.”

There’s a moment of silence, then, “Quite, sir. Or so I gather from the police chatter. They’re quite stirred up about this one. Shall I have master Grayson investigate?”

“Grayson is out of contact. I’m headed there myself.”

“Very well, sir. Do keep in mind the large police presence you’ll no doubt encounter. I believe they’re processing the scene as we speak.”

“Damn. Then they’ve already hurt my chances of finding this psychopath tonight.”

You give the office one more glance, promising yourself to come back to it later tonight if you have time. It’s a promise you already know you won’t be able to keep.

Once you’re back in the open air, your thoughts stray once more to Grayson. It’s unusual for him to be out of contact for more than a few days, practically unheard of for him to go a week. Well, at least since the scars that sent him to Bludhaven healed, anyway. You wonder, too, about James Gordon and his suspiciously clean office. His suspiciously clean slate. You’ve known the man for years. You trust him implicitly. But do you really know him? Do you really know he isn’t capable of making these withdrawals himself? You shake off the paranoia and try to keep your mind on business. Business right now is the Narrows killer, and making sure the police don’t mangle any evidence too thoroughly before you can get to it.

And somewhere, in the back of your mind, a frightened voice asks:

“Is it all connected?”

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