Batman Quest: Bethlehem Rising, Issue #13

In the small hours of the morning, shortly after your return to Wayne Tower, Gotham was finally provided the sweet relief it longed for. The clouds opened up, and rained down salvation upon the burning city. Though things have by no means returned to normal, the downpour, persisting throughout the day, has served to ease the tension bubbling beneath Gotham’s skin. Curfews are still in place and relief centers still open, though much less crowded. High above the streets in Wayne Tower’s penthouse suite, you stand on the balcony and let the cool water wash over you, soaking your bedclothes and coursing in runnels down your face. You are Damian Wayne, son of the Bat and his successor, and this is your city.

On the news, reports on the global environmental summit, set to take place at Gotham’s downtown convention center tomorrow, have taken over. Jonathan , the event’s coordinator and illustrious presenter besides, is the face being interviewed on nearly every major news network, speaking of his hopes for the summit, saying that Gotham is the ‘perfect place’ for the event and that this hellish summer is the ‘perfect time’ on the basis that he believes the tortuous conditions imposed by the heat will force Gothamites to sit up and take notice of the fact that their city is choking to death on the clouds of pollutants hovering over it, and will help drive home the urgency with which he believes this needs to be changed.

The environmental summit, however, is the least of the Batman’s concerns. No, your interest lies elsewhere, particularly in the illicit activities of a previously unknown super villain calling himself ‘The Instigator.’ You have been pursuing this elusive target for the past two weeks, always only a few crucial steps behind. Now, with your lead from William Cobblepot*, you’ve been able to determine that the Instigator may have already met with Scarface, an old rogue of your father’s… Or, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch them in the act.

At your disposal is O.R.A.C.L.E., a supercomputer and database to assist in your investigations. ‘She’ is the greatest of your assets, but far from the only. The Wayne Tower penthouse has all the comforts of home: state of the art forensics lab, vehicle deployment bays, the hall of armor… and of course, the Beacon. You’ve done your best to replicate the Cave. Something is always missing.

You allow yourself a moment or two longer to enjoy the rain, then come in from the helipad, towel off and don the cowl. Alfred, your aging feline companion, settles into your lap as you sit down and access O.R.A.C.L.E. The supercomputer presents several priority returns, many of them suspicious riots occurring within the last twenty-four hours. How many of his devices might the Instigator have fashioned by now? How many did he have in the first place?

The Machinist still hovers on the periphery, dropping occasional subtle hints on private message boards that they’re still interested. Curious… You were sure you had initiated a blackout a week ago. All evidence of your passing ought to have been erased.

On Gotham’s south end, men in pinstripe suits and fedoras have been conducting hold-ups with old fashioned drum-barrel automatics. Fifties aesthetic? No, earlier. Stupid to extend their vanity to using outdated weaponry, though.

You attempt to find a thread from which to begin tracing the Investigator’s footsteps, but to your frustration can find nothing, save Cobblepot’s tip about Scarface.

After a quick glance over the profile on the so-called “Pinstripe Robberies,” you determine that the members of this gang are nothing more than hapless thugs, routine offenders that have spent more time inside the House than out. How they have managed to get this far without the GCPD bringing them down is beyond you; this should be child’s play for Barbara’s men.

You stand and begin striding toward the helipad, but pause upon seeing the torrential downpour outside the one-way full pane glass. You toss a glance toward the stairwell leading to the vehicle bay.

Deciding against exposing yourself to the elements, you descend the stairwell into the vehicle bay. There you find that three vehicles have been recent cycled into preparatory phase: your familiar cycle, always at the ready, the car, which has recently been upgraded and the plane, outfitted with non-lethal ordnance.

Descending the ramp into the bay, you call the car up to the hydraulic lift that lets out into a tunnel that does not exist on any map of Gotham. The current model idles up to the platform, controlled via remote by O.R.A.C.L.E. It is sleek but powerful, strong lines and inky blacks, the cabin glass tinted crimson. Settling into the cockpit, you listen to the armored roof’s powerful locking mechanisms slam to.

“Welcome back, master Damian,” chimes in a smooth British voice, one that stirs faraway memories in your mind, “it’s been a long time.”

“Thank you, Alfred,” you say, a ghost of a grin on your lips, “manual controls, please.”

“Of course. The wheel is yours.”

Moments later, you roar out of an apparently abandoned warehouse two miles away which, if one cared to look closely enough, just so happened to bear a faded and worn “Wayne Enterprises” logo on its wall.

Moving through the streets on silent running, you navigate via the infrared built in to the Batmobile’s windshield, it’s classified Wayne tech not only throwing the nighttime city into stark contrast, but also providing a heads-up-display with objective settings, distance markers and system status readouts. Making use of the secret ways you’ve come to familiarize yourself with in the city, getting to the south end doesn’t take all that long, and you almost enjoyed the drive. You pull quietly into a darkened alley that you favor in this part of the city, then take to the rooftops and begin moving on foot. For the first twenty minutes, you find nothing.

You find yourself somewhere dark, quiet and out of the rain to work, then patch into the database.

“O.R.A.C.L.E., give me the files on the Pinstripe case and your extrapolations again, please.”

Instantly, a number of text documents open one on top of the other, each with accompanying image indices and glossaries. You’ve gone over them before… Your basic enforcer types holding up banks way beyond their capabilities in archaic, matching outfits. There must be some driving force… A leader.

Scarface?

As soon as the name crosses your mind, the pieces line up together and fall into place, the seal airtight. The Pinstripe Gang isn’t hitting commercial properties or banks, it’s all clandestine. They’re targeting mobs, known associates of super villains, all the people you wouldn’t normally want to cross. Unless you were making your grand return to the underworld and wanted a little breathing room.

Unfortunately, that leaves you no closer to finding him or his gang right now.

Gerry Degauss is a small-time pimp and former pusher in Gotham’s south end. Confined on either side by gang territory, Gerry’s business doesn’t have a lot of place to grow. That makes him resentful of the rest of the city’s criminal element, which leaves him pliable to questioning, if you know what buttons to push. His positioning, while unlucky for poor Gerry, puts him conveniently in the underworld information thoroughfare. Just big enough to hear things, just small enough to go unnoticed, he’s been a reliable informant in the past, so you seek him out at the flophouse he frequents most. Sure enough, he’s there, having locked off part of the house to enjoy with his ‘girls,’ according to the terrified crackhead you interrogated on the way in.

The door to Gerry’s part of the house is at the far end of a dark hallway. You can hear the grating, scraping sounds of what passes for music these days coming from the room beyond. Light and show dance about the crack between the door and the warped floorboards.

Choosing to move to the other end of the hallway, you enter a room that has no door handle, pushing lightly on the cheap, swollen wood, its hinges rusted from years of water damage and neglect. The thing creaks loudly, and in the room beyond, the drugged up occupant groans. In the span of a second, you’re there with the startled druggie in a sleeper hold. He struggles feebly for a brief moment, then lies still in your arms. You release the pressure and check his breathing; regular and unobstructed. If this junkie dies tonight, it won’t be on your hands.

You remain crouched there silently for another few minutes, straining to hear any response to the brief scuffle from another room. There is nothing.

You exit out the junkie’s window and use your grapnel gun to ascend to the roof. From there, you creepy quietly across the gravel and secure your line on the other side, then rappel down the face of the building, stopping at Gerry’s window. He’s in there, passed out on a mattress with two much younger women draped across him, snoring fitfully. Their makeshift bed is surrounded by the evidence of a hard night’s partying. Pills, coke, a syringe or two, enough alcohol to poison an elephant… And vomit.

Silent as a specter, you ease the rotting wood frame of the window up, then slip into the room. Immediately, the reek of it hits you. Old sweat, alcohol, sex and vomit all at once. Your lip curls and you activate your cowl’s filtration system.

Sometimes you wonder if Gotham’s people are worth saving at all.

You move quietly to the foot of the mattress, standing there with rain sluicing off you for a moment before speaking.

“Gerry.” You growl. Degauss’s eyebrows furrow and his snoring stops momentarily, but otherwise he seems to pay no mind.

“Degauss!” You bark, kicking the mattress.

That wakes him and his two friends. They both gasp and start looking for clothes. Degauss’s hand starts to slip under his pillow.

“Don’t be stupid.” You sneer. “I want information Degauss, and you haven’t paid for your freedom lately.”

“I…” He starts defiantly, then withers. He knows that you have him cold if you want him. He’s in your pocket. “I’m sorry. What do you need to know, Bats?”

“Everything you know about the Pinstripe gang.”

Degauss sighs heavily and falls back onto the bed, responding whilst staring at the ceiling.

“Was afraid it was gonna be about them.”

“Who do they work for?”

“Who do you think?”

“Scarface.”

There’s a pause.

“Sounds like a pretty good bet, Bats.”

“Where are they gathering?”

Degauss rolls off the bed, starts pulling on stained pants.

“If I had to guess, it’d be ‘La Vittoria,’ one of the old Falcone fronts the creepy doll there took a liking to when the old families went under.”

“I know the one. Smart move Degauss, giving up the information willingly.”

“Oh yeah, and what do I get out of it?”

“You get to go back to bed.”

Degauss props himself up on his elbows for some vicious retort, but finds himself looking at only a dark and empty room.

“Fuckin’ capes.” He complains impotently to the darkness.

Two minutes later, you’re back on the roof. La Vittoria is an American-Italian restaurant eight blocks from here. The food is praised by critics, but it was never the cuisine that kept La Vittoria in business. Rather it was the mob money flowing through it, being laundered, changing hands. La Vittoria remained a neutral trading ground through two criminal empires before a deal gone bad and bloody within its very walls soured the front’s reputation.

You swing over the side of the building with your grapnel gun, then release at five stories, letting the exoskeleton in your suit take the impact. From there, you climb into the Batmobile and key the ignition, engaging silent running. The car’s electronically sensitive paint job goes dull and seems to absorb light, and the engine seals itself off from the outside world in a soundproof compartment, running at minimal power to avoid overheating. It takes a little longer to navigate the back alleys to La Vittoria in this fashion, but it’s safer and smarter. Something Grayson might have done. Father would likely have gone on foot. He always did spurn outside assistance when given the choice; there was part of him that needed to hear the wind over the rooftops and feel the rain making the ground slick and treacherous beneath his feet. As far as you’re concerned, no advantage can be turned away in this endless crusade.

In minutes, you are slowly rolling by La Vittoria. Sure enough, the lights are on and the restaurant is busy, filled to bursting with slab-jawed men in pinstripe suits and fedoras, attended to by women in extravagant, revealing dresses. The place has been fixed up, restored to look as it did when it shined the brightest in the underworld, just before its fall. There are what are obviously guards posted outside, four of them, each with the tell-tale bulge of a firearm under their jackets. None of them so much as blink as the Batmobile passes silently, invisibly by.

You continue on to the end of the block, then make a u-turn in the abandoned intersection, slowly approaching La Vittoria once more, but this time at an angle. Once you’re satisfied with the vehicle’s positioning, you pop the hatch and vault over its side and onto the street. Fading off to the left, you crouch in an alley and hug the wall of the building next to the restaurant.

“Batmobile,” you say, blink-clicking through options on your cowl until you get to bright light adjustments, then set it to automatic, “Lights.”

On the street, the vehicle’s horn chirps. Confused by the sound and unable to see its source, the four guards begin to gather together, straining to see in the dark. Just then, the Batmobile’s powerful floodlights snap to life, blinding everyone in and outside the restaurant with searing white light. La Vittoria’s cadre of guards have already produced firearms, but none of them dare squeeze off a shot while their vision is so impaired.

You move quickly, though not as quickly as you’ve come to expect of yourself. Stepping out from cover and toward your prey before they’re done cursing and rubbing their eyes, you put two down with rapid strikes to the temple or kidneys. The third is trigger-happy and fires before he knows exactly what he’s aiming at. The slug hits the fourth guard in the chest and he goes down, whimpering and pawing at the entry wound. You break the gunman’s arm at the elbow, then disassemble his weapon and toss it aside. That done, you open La Vittoria’s heavy oak door and step inside. There, you are greeted with cold stares by the cream of the low-life crop. Strongmen, hackers, planners, psychopaths and spies all inhabit the various booths and tables here. No one’s eating. No one’s drinking. It’s all business once you get past the front door. Or at least it is until La Vittoria’s patrons get a look at you. Then, a tense silence falls over the room and all eyes turn to you.

“I’m looking for Scarface.” You announce simply. In response, a meaty and none-too-bright enforcer goes for the piece in his shoulder holster. Instead, he gets his hand pinned to his ribs by a razor-sharp piece of steel known as a Batarang. He howls and falls out of his chair, tugging at his bleeding hand.

I. Am. Looking. For. Scarface.” You repeat emphatically. A well-dressed (even for this place) man in the back of the restaurant surrounded by a dozen of what must be bodyguards stands up and clears his throat.

“I will take you to see Mr. Scarface.” He says. His bodyguards look at him in astonishment, but he waves away their concerned expressions.

You are led to a back room by the man in the suit, his muscle crowding you on every side. Once there, the man sits behind a mahogany desk littered with papers. The room itself is a cluttered office; there’s more logistics to a life of crime than most would like to think. The main in the suit produces a small wooden box not unlike a child’s coffin from behind the desk, lays it on the table and unfastens its clasps. Inside lies the puppet known as Scarface. Slipping his hand into the doll’s back and taking hold of its controls, the man shudders and undergoes a terrible transformation. His expression darkens and his eyes become hard, and his voice, previously even and smooth, rasps from too many years’ worth of heavy smoking.

“Scarface.” You say, watching the doll’s eyes take on that unnatural, eerie light of life.

“Alright, Bats,” says the raspy voice, “you’ve knocked out a bunch of my boys, made a big show of wanting to see me. Here I am. Whaddya want?”

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