Batman Quest: Judge & Jury, Issue #1

Gotham is a city bisected. Half of it exists in the gleaming rays of the morning sun, prosperous and bustling, rife with opportunity; but the other half, some say Gotham’s true face, only shows itself by the light of the moon. This half is scarred and bruised, downtrodden and given up on. And yet it is the more precious to you for that. Gotham under the sun is a lie; Gotham by moonlight may be ugly, but at least it is an ugly truth.

You are Bruce Wayne, the Batman. Just now, however, you are not adorned in the cape and cowl of the Dark Knight, but a rather smart tailored suit which you’ve been assured exemplifies the very peak of modern fashion. You are making a rare appearance this morning at one of Wayne Enterprises board meetings, and you are not altogether impressed with the proceedings.

“I’m telling you, Albert,” blusters Francis Gorospe, “the Sorelli account is stable and profitable. We would be doing a disservice to the company by not taking it.”

Francis is an old associate of your father’s, one of the less reputable types Thomas Wayne was forced to deal with in the early days of his enterprise. Age has not been kind to Francis; he is round in the middle and red in the face, with only a few lovingly cultivated wisps of hair straddling his crown. Still, he remains an exceptionally fierce participant in these proceedings, often bringing new potential revenue streams to the board’s attention. What he’s brought to the table today, however, has more than a few other members in an uproar.

“I’ve heard your argument. But the Sorelli’s aren’t just stable and profitable; the account is increasing in revenue like clockwork. And from what? A few shipping contracts in Taiwan? Come on, Frank. You can see the writing on the wall here. This is exactly what the Falcone’s tried to do to Thomas in fifty-eight!”

Albert Branaugh is another of the old guard, and Gorospe’s most vocal opponent. Today’s docket has the pair particularly fired.

“Please, Albert. It isn’t the same world out there anymore. The mob isn’t waiting down every alley and backstreet. Gotham’s finest have seen to that.”

“ ‘Gotham’s finest,’ hah! That psycho in the bat costume has had more to do wi–”

You raise a warning hand.

“Thank you Albert.” You interrupt. “And you, Frank. As always, your insights are invaluable to us. However–if you’ll indulge–I think I’ll take the reigns on this one.” You stand, throwing your suit jacket over your shoulders and smoothing your tie.

On one hand, Wayne Enterprises’ financials have been sagging of late, in part due to your off-the-books expenditures, but also as a result of a general decline in Gotham‘s wealth over the past six months. A shot in the arm from a wealthy partner could help revitalize your share prices.

On the other, you’re fairly certain Albert is right. Though you have no hard evidence linking the Sorelli’s to organized crime, their paperwork is a bit too neat and their profits per quarter a bit too steady to be legitimate.

As the board awaits your decision, you scratch at your chin a moment, feigning indecisiveness. Finally, you snap your fingers as if arriving to some unexpected conclusion.

“Frank,” you say, pointing at the portly old stock market hound, “how long have the Sorellis given us to make a decision on the account?”

Frank smiles, apparently thinking you’re favoring his side of the argument. Let him think that. “My contact says the family would be most disappointed if deliberations took longer than a few days.”

“How many is a few? Be specific.”

“Three, Mr. Wayne.”

Three days. Awfully short negotiation window. Doesn’t give you long to get an investigation underway, either. You turn to Pamela Quitely, your head bookkeeper. “Pam, how long can we stall them? Fudge some financials, make it look like we had a sloppy intern last quarter.”

“That will reflect badly on my work ethic, sir.” Squeaks the mousy Quitely.

“Well thank god you’ve got a seat for life here then.” You say dismissively.

Finally, Albert can no longer maintain his silence.

“Sir, I really must object. This is not the kind of activities the Wayne Corporation engages in–”

“Actually Albert, I believe I make that decision. And for the record–” you say, casting a meaningful glance at Frank, whose expression changes from smug satisfaction to resentful disappointment “–I haven’t decided yet. But three days isn’t enough time to gather enough information to properly accept or dismiss the offer. Pamela, make that delay happen. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I must excuse myself–lunch date. Albert, Frank, don’t kill each other while I’m gone.” You finish with a mischievous wink and smile, then turn and stride from the board room.

A bit of a rushed solution, but you think it will work. The Sorelli account may be suspicious, but the truth is that Wayne Enterprises can’t afford to turn anyone away unless you’re absolutely certain. Three days isn’t long enough to get a proper answer, but hopefully your people in bookkeeping will pull through with a delay. That would give you enough wiggle room to determine what exactly the Sorelli’s are into, both in Gotham and, if need be, overseas.

As for the lunch date, that wasn’t entirely a fabrication. It is necessary for you to maintain a proper cover as Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy, and in order to do so you must engage in gaudy social events on a regular basis, as one would expect from a vapid heir wasting his parents’ money. This social event is lunch at the Lounge with Carmella d’Avotti, last surviving member of the d’Avotti family after a vicious turf war with the Falcones. Your suspicion is that the shootout was orchestrated by Carmella as a kind of power grab; the fact that she’s one of the city’s most eligible bachelorettes provided you with a convenient excuse to get close. You extended the invitation to Carmella along with your deepest sympathies and regrets. She took the bait immediately, probably smelling what she thought was a clandestine business deal in the making. Outside Wayne Tower, Alfred awaits with your limo.

“Were the board members chipper as always, sir?” He asks dryly.

“Frank nearly gave Albert a stroke over the Sorelli account, Pam is likely to sabotage our books by year’s end.” You reply in a deadpan. Alfred opens the door and you climb into the back of the car, only to find it already occupied.

“Dick,” you say, “to what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Wanted to know if you knew anything about Yellow Sun. They’ve been making a lot of waves in Chicago of late. Also, you want to get dinner tonight?”

“Yellow Sun…” you repeat, trying to link the name to a memory, “Can’t say that I have. New gang? Dinner might work at the manor. Won‘t have time to get ready for tonight otherwise.”

“More like a cult. Can’t get a line on them yet. Good. Alfred,” he says, tapping the glass between driver’s compartment and passenger’s, “you owe me twenty bucks. Got him to agree to dinner.”

After a moment, the divider slides down. “The deal, master Richard, was that you convince Bruce Wayne to have dinner with you. Not Batman.” With that, the divider slides back up over Alfred’s arched eyebrow.

“He’s a thief. You should cripple him. Let me off at the next block.”

Dick gets out a few blocks down, then you head off to meet with Carmella.

The Iceberg Lounge is as impressive as it ever has been as Alfred pulls up to the valet station. He waves off the red-vested attendant that scurries up to the driver’s window. As far as Pennyworth is concerned, the Wayne vehicles are off-limits to any hands but his. A moment later, he opens the passenger door and you step out to a hundred flashbulbs going off at once. Familiar, but no less aggravating because of it.

“Please folks,” you say affably, throwing your arms up in surrender, “can’t a guy grab some lunch without being followed?”

“Not when he’s Bruce Wayne!” Calls a voice from the crowd. The jeers continue.

“Are you meeting with Carmella today, Bruce?”

“Adding another notch to the bedpost, eh?”

“Wayne Enterprise stocks are the lowest they’ve been in years. What do you have to say to that?”

You ignore the paparazzi and their incessant nattering and head in, letting the host lead you to your table, where Carmella waits.

She is quite the sight. A classic Italian beauty in a clinging green dress. Full lips, sea-green eyes and an expression that both invites and forbids.

“Bruce, so glad you could make it. Was one o’clock too early for you?” She asks coyly.

“Business, Carmella. Forgive me.” You say, taking your seat. You order a bottle of fine wine, then settle in to your conversation with Carmella. For once, you’ve arrived at a situation entirely unsure of how to proceed.

For a few moments, an uneasy quiet presides over the two of you. She breaks it first.

“Well, Bruce?”

“Well what?”

“You invited me here. This is your baby. So…” She says, giving you an expectant look.

“Well I–” You hadn’t expected her to be quite so forward. “I wanted to express my condolences.”

“You already did. My people got word from your people.”

You lean forward, putting your hand on the table just close enough to her to be seen as an invitation.

“Don’t live in that world now, Carmella. We spend our whole lives there. ‘Your people’ and ‘my people,’ it’s all so impersonal. Whatever happened to just me and you?”

She likes what you’re saying. You can tell that by the miniscule dilation of her pupils and the way she adjusts her shawl. But there doesn’t seem to be anything sexual in her attraction to you; at least, not as far as you can tell from body language.

“That’s a good question, Bruce. I don’t think there has ever been a ‘me and you.’ Unless you count me sitting across the ballroom with my father while you live it up with a clutch of supermodels, eh?” She says cattily. “Unless you didn’t mean that kind of ‘me and you.’” She says, her tone heavy with implication and her eyes searching.

You chuckle resignedly, then throw your hands up.

“Alright,” you say, adopting an entirely more wolfish demeanor, “you caught me. Perhaps my financial advisors were too harsh on you for being inexperienced.”

A blatant lie, but effective nonetheless. Her eyebrow jumps and she folds her arms across her chest, back straight as an arrow. Angry.

“Perhaps they were.” She responds coolly. You nod slowly agreement, steeping your hands in front of your face and leaning back, doing everything you know how to give off the image of a predator at rest.

“Alright then, brass tacks.” You say, appearing to come to some conclusion. “Your books don’t look so good, Carmella.”

“Yeah?” She says defiantly. “Says who?”

“Says a handful of extremely well-qualified people whom I pay extraordinary amounts of money to tell me such things.” You reply, narrowing your eyes slightly. It works, and you see her wither slightly; Bruce Wayne’s legend as a bloodthirsty stock market wolf has not waned with the waxing of the Batman’s as nighttime vigilante.

“Fine,” she concedes, looking at her hands folded in her lap, “Perhaps that’s true. My family did just suffer a devastating loss–” you notice she glosses over this entirely too quickly, “–but that doesn’t mean the d’Avotti dynasty is dead. Not with me at its head.”

“Carmella, trust me, I understand where you are right now emotionally more than most. But in truth, with you at its head the d’Avotti dynasty only has an inexperienced leader. You spent too much time under your father’s wing, didn’t you Carmella?”

She stiffens noticeably; you can tell you’ve hit a nerve.

“That isn’t a problem anymore. Was there a point to all this, Wayne, or did you just bring me here to humiliate me?”

You take your time uncorking the wine before replying.

“I’m not inexperienced, Carmella. Not with death, and not with running a company that I did not build. Not with rebuilding a legacy. In fact, you could say I’m an expert.” Her expression softens slightly as the woody red pours into your glass. “I think I could help you,” you continue, filling her glass in turn, “Mentor you, perhaps. If you’d like that.”

Carmella takes her glass with a nod of thanks, then proceeds to stare into the wine. Indecision. “That might not be bad, I suppose. And how exactly would Wayne Enterprises benefit from this?”

“A shrewd question, Carmella. Good. Wayne Enterprises benefits with fifteen per cent of your gross for the next twenty years after I revitalize your company’s efforts with a hefty cash injection, interest-free.”

Now is the crux of it. This moment, right now, when provided with a choice that involves sacrifice in the only way that matters to her, will d’Avotti show her true colors. You resist the urge to lean forward. After an agonizing minute, she responds.

“Very well. It’s a preposterous proposition of course, with you benefiting the greater, but I don’t suppose I’m in much of a position to negotiate.”

You smile behind your hands. “No Carmella, if my people inform me true–and they always do–you most certainly are not. I’ll have the contract written up and sent to your people by the end of the day.”

She smiles stiffly, clearly dissatisfied despite agreeing to the deal. She knows she’s getting played.

“Of course. Now, if you’ll excuse me I really must be goi–” She begins, gathering her things and standing. As she walks past, you catch her arm.

“One last thing, Carmella. Did your father ever do business with a Sorelli family?”

Hesitation flits across her face.

“Yes, as a matter of fact he did. I wasn’t aware the Sorellis had interests in Gotham now.”

“They don’t, but they have approached me with some international shipping contracts. What did your father think of them?”

“We did business all the time. I called Juan Sorelli ‘tio,’ because my father said he liked that. Helped grease the wheels. I think the old creep really just liked me, if you follow.”

You sigh. “I certainly do. Unfortunately I don’t have a pretty face with which to woo them.” You say, thinking more of your investigation than contract negotiations.

Carmella laughs, the sound musical and probably practiced. Couldn’t have socialites braying like donkeys at the ballroom, after all.

“Of course you do, Bruce. You have mine.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to involve you, Carmella, really.”

“It’s no trouble, Bruce!” She says, her mood suddenly improved as she grabs your elbow. “I have you to thank for saving my company, of course. It’s really nothing. Shall we dance?” She asks, a twinkle in her eye as she tugs you toward the dance floor.

“I thought you were on your way out? Pressing business elsewhere?”

She rolls her eyes. “I can cancel. Now get up here.”

Not to seem impolite, you accept her invitation and spend the next several hours drinking and dancing. At around nine o’clock, you break away from a particularly vigorous salsa number, thank her for all of the excitement, then head back to the manor, where the real excitement begins.

“I can’t believe you left me here all day.”

This is what you’re greeted with at the door by Damian, your biological son with Talia Al’Ghul and the current Robin.

“There was nothing you could have helped with. Your presence might have aroused suspicion.” You reply, pushing past him and into the foyer. You’re already unfastening your tie, anxious to be rid of the trappings of the life of luxury you were supposed to have. Titus, Damian’s great dane, follows behind you, licking your fingertips as you walk.

“I ran Wayne Enterprises while you were gone! I bet they’d be relieved to see me. Frank would.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Damian leaned towards Gorospe’s side of things when he stood in for you. Though he would never admit it, you think he might actually have something like respect for Francis.

“I’m done talking about this. Have you completed your workout regime for the day?”

Damian sighs explosively. “Yes, and I’ve walked Titus and I’ve cleaned my room and I’ve reorganized the evidence locker. I. Am. Bored! At least tell me you’re taking me with you on patrol tonight. Please tell me that.”

“You’re coming, but you’ll do as your told. I won’t tolerate another incident like what happened with Nobody. Do you understand? Make one slip-up and you’re fired.”

“You can’t fire your son.”

“I can fire my Robins.”

To that he has no retort, and so simply follows you quietly down to the cave. You enter by the simpler route of the hidden staircase behind the grandfather clock in the study, rather than the usual firepole method. Below it is damp and dark, bats flitting to and fro by the ceiling.

“So this Sorelli thing–here’s your suit–what do you make of it?” Damian asks, handing you a fresh Batsuit. You begin to strip while simultaneously attempting to eat some of the foie gras Alfred has left out for you.

“There’s definitely something going on. I don’t quite know the size of it, but the d’Avotti’s have done business with them.”

Damian whistles, long and low. “Yeah, that’s a pretty scathing indictment. I was listening in when you talked to Grayson–I notice he didn’t bother to come by the house–and I looked into some of this Yellow Sun crap. Seems like a fairly new outfit, not too much power yet, but they’re… enthusiastic.” He muses, taking a huge bite out of his sandwich.

“Dick said they’re a cult. That true?”

Damian nods. “Or a gang posing as one for shock value. Hard to tell without actually getting our hands in the mud over there.”

Finally, you don your cowl and the transformation from Bruce Wayne to the Batman is complete. Damian met you at the door in a bathrobe, which he now removes to reveal his Robin suit underneath.

“I see you didn’t wait for my go ahead to suit up.”

“You need me.”

“Yes. I need you. I need you to stay focused, and I need you to control your impulses. If you can’t do that, I’ll need you to hand over your uniform.”

“… Yes father.”

A few moments later, you roar out of the Cave in the Batmobile, Damian sitting quietly beside you.

You gun the Batmobile’s engine as you hurtle down the backroads of the palisades, then take the route that will bring you closest to Gotham’s harbor.

“Harbor? Stopping on the Sionis family?” Asks Damian.

“No,” you reply, tapping the Batmobile’s main console a few times to bring up the pertinent information, “the Sorelli’s.”

“Thought they didn’t shit where they eat.”

“Watch your language. And they don’t, but they do have a small dock at the shipping yards reserved for the rare occasion when they make a delivery to Metropolis through us.”

“So you’re thinking you’ll find something there? Probably just an empty lot.”

“Probably, but detective work is half intuition and half process of elimination. This is the first target on my list to be eliminated.”

Damian sighs, resting his head on his hand and looking out the window.

“Whatever. Sounds like a waste of time to me. Should hit them where they live, hard and fast. Quickest way to get them to squeal.”

“It may come to that, but not before we’ve exhausted all our options.”

The rest of the drive passes in silence. You leave the Batmobile cloaked in an alley several blocks from the harbor, security measures primed, then take to the rooftops. These moments are the ones you enjoy most with your son; there is something about the way he leaps from building to building, eschewing his grapnel gun or any other kind of safety net whenever possible, relishing the speed and danger, that you love. Perhaps because it reminds you that your son is not you; there is still a love and lust for life in him that was long ago replaced by cold vengeance for you. Naturally, he arrives at the designated vantage point first. He’s already scoping it out with his binoculars when you come up behind him.

“Place looks deserted.” He says, the viewfinder whirring as he adjusts its zoom, “No security patrols, no lights on inside.”

“As a seldom-used shipping yard should.” You reply, taking the binoculars. “But that doesn’t mean it’s a dead end.”

You survey the building, seeing several conventional entrances as well as those you might improvise with. Too many.

“One of us is going to have to stay up here to monitor the building.” You say, not taking your eyes off the dock. “Otherwise someone might slip out the back while we’re looking around.”

“If you make me stay up here while you go down and crack skulls, I’m not buying you anything for Father’s Day.” Damian replies moodily.

“You’d just use my money anyway.” You respond. “Now take these,” –you say, passing the binoculars– “And keep watch for me. I need you to tell me if anyone is slipping away or sneaking up on me.”

“Great,” he replies, rolling his eyes and reluctantly accepting the binoculars, “I’ve spent my whole life training for this: lifeguard duty.”

“Focus on the mission.” You caution, then leap from the roof and let your cape billow out and slow your descent. Gliding down and over the dock’s razor wire fence, you tuck and roll to dissipate the impact, coming up in a crouch and looking around.

“Any movement inside?”

“Nothing.”

You cross the lot quickly, staying in a low crouch to minimize your profile. Sticking to the outside wall, you slide up until you find an entrance. Locked, of course. You hand sign for a status report, knowing Robin’s eyes will be on you.

“Still clear. No movement, no lights.”

The door would be the obvious way inside, and for that reason you decide it’s not going to be what you go with. You take a few steps back and ready your grapnel gun, firing and looping it around a runoff pipe. Keying the retraction mechanism, you begin your ascent.

“Heads-up, Batman. We’ve got lights inside.” Comes Robin’s voice in your ear. You handsign an affirmation.

Upon reaching the roof, you quickly unfasten your line and scour around for an entrance. There’s maintenance roof access, a locked door which you assume connects to a staircase on the other side. A sunlight is another method, though it would probably look directly down on the open floor of the dock. Might attract attention. Finally there’s a vent that likely leads down to the furnace where they burn off waste. Not the most attractive option.

Deciding to forego the more exotic methods of entry, you stride over to the maintenance access door, boots crunching on the gravel that covers the rooftop.

“Definitely someone in there, Batman. People moving, and the rabbit ears are picking up sound.”

He’s referring to the less-than-reliable listening device he created in his spare time. You allow him to bring it on patrol as an indulgence rather than out of necessity. You ignore the comment and begin to work the door. You’ve only been at it a few seconds however, when it suddenly flies open, slamming you backward and prone. The guard that had been posted on the other side of the door glares down at you.

“Thought you were supposed to be sneaky?” He says, racking the slide on his automatic. “I heard you the second you started tinkering with your toys.”

You reach for your belt, all the while berating yourself for having been so sloppy. Robin’s voice is in your ear, loud and full of concern, but he can’t help you from where he is now. Just as you’re withdrawing a Batarang, however, your enemy gets the drop on you. A flower of blinding pain explodes in your right shoulder as he fires wild and gets lucky. The shots sound like thunderbolts at close range like this, the muzzle flash all but blinding you. You roll to the side, trying to regain your feet–

And across the street, Robin watches one more muzzle flash before everything goes quiet.

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