Batman Quest: Judge & Jury, Issue #2

Damian Wayne, the Boy Wonder, watches as a single muzzle flash brightens the night before all is quiet and still.

“Fa–” He falters, nearly forgetting himself in his concern, “Batman, can you hear me?”

Nothing. No sound, no movement. Breathless, the Robin drops from the rooftop on which he perched, rolling to a crouch much the same way his father did before him, only seconds ago. The lights have all come on in the shipping dock warehouse now, and there are raised voices inside, audible even at this distance.

Soundlessly, quieter than the slight breeze that moves about you, you slink across the open lot and sidle up to the warehouse’s exterior. The voices, an indistinct murmur before, have become sharp and clear.

“What the fuck, Donny? Honestly, what the fuck was the plan here?” Demands one voice, the weight of authority clear in its tones.

“I–He was trying to break in, man!” Answers ‘Donny,’ baffled and terrified.

“Oh yeah? The Batman was trying to break in. The BATMAN, Donny. And you shoot him?”

Donny can only stammer in reply.

“Oh, you don’t? You don’t. Let me explain it to you, kid. This guy, this guy right here? Used to be trouble enough. Had a way of shrugging off shots like what you plugged him with. Had a way of coming back to get you in the end. But now? You think Wayne cutting ties with the Bat’s army meant anything to this freak and his pals? No. Now he’s got friends.” That last word dripping with contempt. “And his friends don’t play so nice.”

Snapping back to attention, you fire your grapnel gun up to the roof and ascend. Batman may lie below in the hands of his captors, but the story of how he got there will be up here.

Above, your eyes quickly find the scene. The maintenance access door to the warehouse below hangs ajar and splintered, its bent hinges creaking slightly in the breeze. Closer, you see the tell-tale streak of blood from a gunshot wound. Powdery indentation in the cement means the bullet went right through.

Searching around on your haunches, you see the second shot. Blood’s smeared, victim was lying down–on his back, it looks like–shot took him in the front, maybe the chest if you’re lucky. Hard to tell the angle without additional equipment and time, neither of which you have right now.

Around you, three methods of entry. Maintenance access, a skylight and the furnace exhaust. Batman has limited time below, even if they haven’t hurt him any more.

In the bright warehouse below, Donny’s unfortunate situation has escalated to the point of him being on his knees before what Robin could only guess was the authoritative voice from before. That second voice had a gun. Donny was crying.

The Dark Knight lay crumpled beneath his cape a mere few paces from the action, the carmine slick of blood spreading slowly from his silhouette.

“Sorry Donny, this is just the way it has to be,” spoke the man with the gun, “Boss is gonna want blood for this. You got no idea the kind of heat this’ll bring down on he–“

Suddenly, the shrieking splinter of glass, followed swiftly by razor-sharp shards falling heavily amongst the crew of enforcers. Then, a flash of red and yellow, flicking back and forth faster than the eye could follow, leaving streamers of blood and sailing teeth in its wake.

Donny’s would-be murderer staggers back, blood gushing from a rent in his forehead.

“You see what you fucking did, Donny?” He screams, alternately clutching at his wounds and wiping blood from his eyes. The pistol shakes in his hand. “You stupid motherfucker–”

The Batman stirs then, stumbling blearily into consciousness. He sees the gang boss, wild with anger and desperation, standing at the edge of the pale light cast down by the broken skylight above. Then, the tiniest glint from the shadows, a green-armored wrist flicking forth from the dark.

“No!” He bellows, his hand reaching out as if to stop time with only his willpower. But its already too late, and Donny’s would-be murderer stumbles in place, slipping to his knees. His hands have forgotten the pistol they held and now clutch desperately at his neck, where a stinking red flower blooms and blooms, its center a dark green Batarang. After what seems an impossibly long time spent gurgling and gasping, the enforcer falls to the ground.

Stepping forth from the shadows, Robin makes to comfort you and check your wounds. You have but a few fleeting moments of consciousness left before the black takes you again.

You lie still and quiet as Robin radios the Cave for assistance, attempting to piece together what happened here in your mind. Part of you is all too ready to blame yourself–for carelessness, for not instructing your son better–but another knows the blame lies on Damian’s shoulders. There was no need for that man to die. Your eyes find his as he presses a field bandage to your torso. He risks a small smile that dies quickly when it is not returned.

“Damian…” You whisper, and the strength of your voice startles him.

“Don’t speak, Batman. Help is on the way.” He answers quietly. Some time passes in silence before you find the strength to speak again.

“You have failed me. You’re–” your breath hitches, a painful spike in your lungs, “–fired.”

Though he grimaces, Robin continues to bandage your wounds.

“Don’t speak.” He repeats.

The next three days pass largely as a blur, the calm of sleep broken by singular, sharply painful moments of waking. By the evening of the fourth, however, your exceptional conditioning allows you to be up and about, if not leaping across rooftops. The sun is dying over the hills as you look out upon the Wayne estate from your study. Damian stands a few feet away, balancing two logs from the trees he cut down yesterday on the flat of his skull. Ever the showoff, the has raised one leg to form a crane-like pose. Unnecessary.

Though you haven’t told him whether you plan on making good the firing from three days ago, he has behaved admirably, submitting himself to grueling training regimes without the need of your telling him so. Still, you must remind yourself, this is no Dick or Tim or even Jason; Damian was born to grueling training regimes. It would not affect him the same as the others.

Upon your waking, Alfred informed you of several pressing business concerns that have arisen over your recovery period. Carmella D’Avotti calls nearly every day, asking in increasingly rude manner when you mean to speak with her next. Frank Gorospe showed up at the door around lunchtime the other day, wanting to speak with you about the Sorelli account. Meanwhile your bookkeepers continue to send anxious e-mails about quarterly reports. This was a delay you could ill afford.

With a sigh and a suppressed wince, you stand from the wicker chair you had occupied for the last few hours. Glancing over at Damian, you catch his inquisitive gaze.

“Don’t get excited,” you say with no small amount of resignation, “I’m not ready to go back out yet, and I haven’t decided if you ever will again.”

His eyes harden at this, but after a moment he closes them and resumes a calm, focused expression.

“I’ll be here.”

He says to your retreating back.

After stopping by the wardrobe for a choice three-piece suit, you contact Alfred over the intercom and have him bring the car around. He meets you out front with a beautiful old machine, pearl with gold trimmings, fairly glimmering in the sunset. Of course the interior has all been overhauled, but you can’t help but have a fondness for the old and nostalgic. Alfred doesn’t seem to mind, either. Once you’ve made yourself comfortable inside and are watching the green hills of Gotham’s outer limits roll by, you make use of the car’s telephone, ringing your head of bookkeeping.

“Hello Mr. Wayne, what can I do for you?” Answers a polite-if-strained woman’s voice after a few rings.

“Carol!” You feign excitement at the familiar voice. “I was just returning your boss’s messages. Is she around?”

“Not at the moment, Mr. Wayne. Would you like to leave a message?”

“Must be busy,” you say smoothly, though you can think of no Wayne Enterprises business that would require her to be away from the office today, “Just let her know I’ve read her messages. Had a bit of a skiing accident, I’m afraid–”

“Another one, Mr. Wayne?” Asks the voice, edging on amusement. You laugh warmly in reply.

“Yes, I’m afraid I’m not very good at it. Hasn’t stopped me yet, though. Anyway, let her know that all is well and that the books will tip by the end of the quarter. Tell her I’m seeing to it personally.”

“Very well, Mr. Wayne. I’ll let her know.”

“Goodbye, Carol.”

You hang the phone up on her farewell, already thinking forward to the next call. This time a few more rings are necessary before a distracted, cross voice answers. Frank Gorospe.

“Gorospe–what do you want?” He demands.

“Frank,” –you say, and you swear you can hear his sharp intake of breath– “Bruce here. I heard you tramped all the way out to the Palisades the other day.” The epitome of casual.

“Bruce!” He rushes, nearly stammering in his haste to make nice, “Yes, yes, I wanted to talk to you about that Sorelli matter. Your butler told me you took a nasty fall. I was sorry to hear that.”

“Nothing a good, stiff drink won’t fix. Speaking of which, Frank, I was hoping you’d join me for one or two–and a little food on the side.” You add conspiratorially. It draws the expected belly laugh.

“Just like your father you are!”

“How about that diner we all used to sit at?”

“What, that dirty old thing? Good a place as any, I suppose.”

“Good. Twenty minutes?”

“I’ll be there. See you soon, Bruce.”

You pass the rest of the ride in quiet contemplation, wearing your “detective face,” as Damian would call it. Though Frank was a fierce combatant in the board room, he rarely pursued his interests with you outside of Wayne Tower. For him to have come unannounced to the manor was completely out of character. Watching the streets roll steadily by, you suddenly realize how close you are to your destination. Little time to plan.

Huntington Eatery. A study in opposites. A fine, strong name for a filthy, rundown diner. As the car pulls up, you can hardly remember enough to superimpose the image of the Eatery as you knew it over the rotting skeleton it is today.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the mission gets results, that it matters. Especially when you see things like this. Relics from the past dragged down into the common mud of the present. You step out of the car–taking care to ensure you don’t walk in any of the many oil-slick puddles–and walk into the diner. It smells of old grease and cleaning products used too frequently and in too great amounts, to no avail. Scanning the booths, you see Frank wave at you from the corner.

“Good to see you outside of that damned board room, kid.” He says as you walk up.

“You too, Frank,” you reply, taking a seat, “you too. How are the grandkids?”

“Sophie’s doing just fine, at that age where she can do no wrong, y’know?” He smiles that knowing smile that grandparents like to. You smirk into your drink in reply.

“Don’t stay there long, do they?” You poke.

“No, they don’t–you certainly didn’t!” Frank laughs.

Your talk goes on like this for a while, circling the important matters, sticking to the comfortable fringes. Food and drink is ordered (beer, to reinforce the image of a simpler time in Frank’s mind) and the sun’s few remaining fingers of light sink past the horizon, leaving only Gotham’s sweaty night outside the windows.

“Alright, Frank,” you declare of a sudden, leaning back in the feigned satisfaction of a good meal, “are you full? Comfortable? Shall we get down to business?”

Frank smiles slyly at you, the twinkle of greed in his eyes. “Ah, yes. The Sorelli account.”

“The Sorelli account.” You echo with mock solemnity.

“I’ll assume you’ve looked at it,” Frank continues, picking at the fries left on his plate, “it’s good for business. Rock solid numbers, steady profit. It’s what the company needs, Bruce.” He says, stressing the word.

“Except Bert doesn’t think so.” You counter, taking another swig of your beer. “Why’s that?”

Frank scowls. “He’s just afraid, living in the past. Used to be the Sorelli name was linked to some unsavory business.”

“Unsavory? Let’s be specific, Frank. It’s just you and me, and dad if he’s watching.” You wink.

The older man waves his hand dismissively. “Some family stuff, back in Gotham’s heyday. Used to run with the Falcones.” He hurries to assuage your worried expression. “Used to, Bruce! Used to. They’ve been out of that for a long time, making a killing in the shipping business overseas.”

“That so? Shipping?” You say, pretending to bite more of the bait than you do.

“Yes!” Frank lights up, sensing his victory to be near. “That’s it, Bruce! I don’t understand why the rest of the board is in such a fit over this. It’s something we could have left to the juniors, for Christ’s sake!”

You rub your chin, pretending to be deep in internal debate.

As if coming to some conclusion, you lean forward with your elbows on your knees.

“Alright Frank. I believe you think this will be good for the company, but I’m not without my reservations. Give me something to sell me, Frank. Something other than the numbers.”

Frank’s look becomes searching for a moment, then he seizes on something. “You know me, right Bruce? Since you were knee-high.”

“Since I was knee-high.” You echo.

“I’ve always done what’s best for this company. You know that.” Which was true enough, if only because the interests of Wayne Enterprises had mirrored his own on so many occasions. “I’m not going to risk sinking the ship your father built.”

“That’s my line.” You say with a boyish grin.

A look of exasperation momentarily crosses Gorospe’s face, then it is smooth and open again. “Well, let’s just say I have a personal stake in the matter. I don’t back losing horses, Bruce. I want you–and Wayne enterprises–on the winning side.”

“The winning side of what, Frank?” You ask with sudden intensity.

He shrinks back from you momentarily. “There’s change coming to Gotham–it’s already started happening–one of those grassroots changes. A rearranging of the rocks we built this burg on. Some people are gonna get caught in the cracks when it all goes down. I don’t want you or your father’s company to be among them.”

He finishes by grasping your shoulder in a reassuring, protective hold, and you are reluctantly impressed by his powers of persuasion. Fortunately for Frank, you had already made up your mind about the Sorelli account before obtaining this last bit of information; Wayne Enterprises will take the offer, because every company needs money.

“Alright Frank, you’ve convinced me.” You declare, standing and fastening the button of your suit. “We’ll take the Sorelli account. Albert will just have to accept that. I know he will, in time.”

“Of course he will.” Frank agrees obsequiously.

“Have the paperwork at the Tower for tomorrow.” You shake the man’s hand warmly, then make for the exit.

“Sure thing, Bruce.” His satisfied–perhaps relieved?–voice follows you out.

You decide to spend your last few hours following up with Carmella D’Avotti. It takes several attempts to get through to her, but finally her personal secretary answers, and after a few pleasantries, Carmella’s smooth Italian accent filters through the phone.

“Bruce,” she says, her tone vaguely pleased, “I was worried we were going to have to give up on you.”

“Carmella, so sorry to have left you in the dark this long.” You respond in a carefully practiced blasé. “Had a bit of an accident up in the Alps, I’m afraid. Can we meet for drinks?”

Forty-five minutes later, you are seated once again in the Iceberg Lounge across from Carmilla, who appears to have been more conscious of her powers of feminine attraction this time out. Instead of the elegant-yet-sober green of before, she wears a vibrant purple (and extraordinarily low cut) gown, and her long hair is drawn back into a silken ponytail.

“Bruce, I’m shocked. It’s almost as if you’ve learned to tell time.” She jokes as you take your seat.

“Miss D’Avotti, you look absolutely stunning.” You say, shrugging off her comment. “I hope you haven’t had too much trouble in my absence these past few days?” You ask, all earnest concern and protectiveness.

“Not too much,” she answers cryptically, “though I have to admit, the foyer at the D’Avotti estate could use some primping.” By which she meant, of course, that she had failed to see the proof of your boasts a few days ago.

“Yes, that,” you said, giving her a winning smile, “it will all be handled in the morning. My accident delayed matters, you understand.”

“Of course, Bruce.” She smiles, though it’s restrained enough to make you think she might not quite believe you. Or perhaps there’s something else tugging the edges of her mouth downward. “Now, am I lucky enough to enjoy your company on a social occasion, or did you have some business you wanted to discuss?” She asks.

“As much as I’d like to while the night away with you, Carmella, there is always business to attend to.” You say in an honestly weary tone. “This business with the Sorelli’s. It seems the time table has been moved forward, and I was hoping for your help.”

“My help? How?”

“I want to schedule a meeting with Juan Sorelli.”

She scoffs. “Bruce, even if you could get a meeting with Juan–and of all the people in the world, you’re one of the few that might be able to–he never comes to Gotham. He hates it here. Always used to call it ‘a city of necessary evil.’”

“I don’t want to meet Sorelli in Gotham, Carm.” You interrupt, using the familiar nickname, which you note causes her pupils to dilate momentarily. “I wouldn’t want to make a business deal somewhere my partner is uncomfortable anyway. Bad juju.” Here bouncing your eyebrows conspiratorially.

“No, Carmella… I was wondering if you might accompany me to Taiwan.”

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