Chapter Three: The Son Returns

The war has been raging on in Gotham City for months now. A mysterious force has been going after prominent organized crime leaders in the city, beating them bloody and leaving them hanging for GCPD to clean up. Often detailed surveillance and evidence left alongside the criminal victims. These cases are all on their way to the Supreme Court, as no judge in Gotham City will render a verdict from evidence provided by, at best, a vigilante.

It was a few days after the Batman’s first major blow, his assault on Mayor Klass’s dinner party, that GCPD Commissioner Gillian Loeb announced the formation of a special task force dedicated to investigating, and eliminating, vigilante justice in Gotham City. A task force that has been wholly ineffective thus far. A task force that’s quickly becoming a stain on the pristine record of it’s lead detective, James Gordon.

Night after night the war continues. The vigilante striking at Gotham’s criminals. The GCPD failing to turn up a single clue as to who this masked figure might be. The organized crime in Gotham growing more paranoid. More desperate.

For months the newspapers have covered every perceivable angle of this story. The Gotham Gazette insisting this Batman is a menace. The Gotham Chronicle rallying support for Batman’s war on crime. The Gotham Weekly sticking hard to the speculation that the Bat-Man is more Bat than Man.

Then the story changed. The Gazette first broke the headline, “GOTHAM’S PRODIGAL SON RETURNS!” The Chronicle got the first quote from the twenty-five year old billionaire, “For years I lived in the shadow of my parent’s death. In a moment of weakness I fled and lived abroad. I’ve returned to help the city my parent’s loved. The city that they gave their lives for.”

The Weekly, true to form, began questioning Bruce Wayne’s sexual escapades for the last decade. What debased behavior has he been engaging in across Europe? How many bastards have been left in his wake?

It wasn’t until an interview of Good Morning, Gotham! did someone finally ask Wayne for his thoughts on the Batman.

“A guy who dresses up like a bat… clearly has issues.”

Part One: Nate Briggs

It’s been a strange couple of months. Stories about Batman are on everyone’s lips these days. Most of them are in the vein of “my friend heard from her aunt, who heard from her boss,” etc., etc. I have one. But just the one. The Batman hasn’t given me any grief lately, but the pressure’s on the guys I’ve picked up for our boss. Lot of them have looked spooked. Or like they took a cinderblock to the face recently.

The task force hasn’t seemed too effective from what I hear. Not at catching Batman anyway. They like to set up ambushes for him. In alleyways especially. I’ve had to go more and more out of my way when I get a “special call.” There’s not been one of those in a month now. I heard that Batman showed up at our boss’s place and threatened to not just beat the bejeezus out of him, but also to eat his kids in front of him, before flying off into the night.

Today, Bruce Wayne came back to Gotham. It’s dredged up old memories. He’s not a kid anymore. Handsome, got an education around the world apparently. All his parents’ money. Why come back here? To this hellhole? Still.. something wasn’t right, no Wayne in Gotham. There’s a tender spark of.. something.

I got a call. A new “special fare.” It’s been a month. I say “okay,” and get the information. Something has changed. This time, it’s a family.

I pick up a mobster earlier on. Another favor. Some street-level goon. We drive a ways. Find an alley. He wants to know what’s happening. Where are we going? Shortcut, I say. Why’s it stink back here? Just Gotham, I say. I park and he realizes what’s happening. Goes for his piece. These idiots fitted my cab with bulletproof glass to prevent this exact thing. Didn’t want their marks to shoot their way out of suffocating. He yells, threatens, pleads like all the rest of the people he and his boss have had me kill, amid the choking coughs and increasingly bloodshot eyes. Then, it’s over. That family isn’t going to get hurt, not by me. No one else. I decide the “special rides” now. I’m going to take my damned life back, one gas-ride at a time if I have to.

Part Two: Christopher Ramsay

It had been months since my run-in with the Batman in WayneTech’s R&D Conceptual Labs. I reported it, but nothing ever became of the incident.

The city felt like it was ready to pop. With the Bat waging his one-man war on crime, everybody was on edge. I kept a close eye on what was happening within the GCPD and there was a schism in their ranks. The line seemed to be clear – those who were on Gordon’s task force, and those who weren’t. Those who weren’t were almost always on the take, and were afraid of the Batman coming for them. People said he could fly, that he could turn invisible, that he drank blood, that he wasn’t human. Police aggression was rampant, as was the paranoia, and most people had begun to learn if you didn’t see those task force uniforms, you steered clear.

A reprieve arrived in the form of the return of none other than Bruce Wayne himself, orphaned son and gajillionaire. Headlines shifted from “crime wave”, “gang war”, and “Batman” to “Prodigal Son”, “Wayne Returns” and “Turning Point for Gotham”. My mother, who I ate breakfast with every Saturday morning, was thrilled.

“It’ll be like the old days,” she said. “When Thomas and Martha kept the peace.”

I wasn’t convinced. I had been a security guard for years, but I still had a cop’s eye. Something about Wayne troubled me. He said he was here to help the city, but there was something about the young man that was dark. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it turned out he was involved in the city’s underworld. I imagined Wayne Manor housing a high-tech drug lab.

All those thoughts were knocking around in my mind the day that I stumbled upon the wrong scene. Taking a different route home after my shift, I rounded a corner to see three GCPD cops brutally execute a street tough. These guys weren’t on the special task force, and I ran. They followed. They shot, and I was hit. I was left for dead in the gutter.

When I awoke in the hospital three days later, I could still feel pain in the arm that was no longer there.

Part Three: Arnold Harmon

It’s been months since Detective Gordon made that midnight call to my apartment. We talked about just how deep the corruption ran, laid out all our cards on the table, and confirmed what we both feared the rot ran too deep to fix from the inside. Three days later I was canned by the Gazette, never read the filthy rag anymore. I’ve moved, got my P.I. licence. I keep in touch with Gordon, he’ll steer some clients my way when he thinks I can help in ways he can’t. I’ll do some off the books investigations for him, mostly on the dirty cops. I don’t know what he’s doing with the info, ’cause he sure as hell isn’t turning it over to I.A. they’re dirty as hell too. I’m not about to ask though, he’s become my friend, and that’s what friends do, trust one another.

I still hear rumors about the Batman, hell I catch glimpses of things out of the corners of my eyes late at night around the city. James says privately that he thinks it’s on our side, I say whatever creepy as shit still. Most people don’t talk much about him though. Those on the up and up at least are going on about Waynes return, I don’t pay that much time. I have bills to pay ain’t no billionaire. What I do pay attention to are the ones who whisper about the bat in hushed tones. Thems the ones whose got dirt and blood on their hands.

Part Four: Isabella Fuente

“Hey Fuente, check this shit out.” Vega rolls up his right sleeve and shows me the fresh tattoo on his upper arm. I look. I roll my eyes. It’s a bat.

“Have you ever seen ‘Training Day’?” I ask, double-checking our patient’s vitals. Non-critical, bruises and a broken arm. Bleeding’s all under control, breathing is even. No broken ribs.

“That movie is the shit. Why?” Vega shakes his arm, causing his sleeve to fall back into place. He turns his attention back to the road.

“Do you remember the scene where Alonzo is asking Jake if he speaks Spanish? And Jake says he only speaks a little?”

Vega spares me a glance out of the corner of his eye, confused. “Si, mija. Cual es tu punto?” The Spanish rolls easy off his tongue. Vega’s parents are Mexican, he grew up speaking as much Spanish as English.

I point my chin at his tattoo, now hidden under his sleeve. “That shit’ll get you killed.”

Vega goes quiet. He’s always been impulsive, and probably didn’t think about what some of the people in the neighborhoods we roll through would do if they saw his new ink. He doesn’t say anything for several minutes. When he speaks again, he’s changed the subject. “You see Wayne’s back in town?”

Last time I saw Bruce Wayne was when he was kneeling over the still-warm corpse of his parents. Vega doesn’t know that — nobody but Officer Toure and his partner knew that, and as far as I know they never told anybody. It takes me a few seconds to calm down, to be sure that I can talk without my voice cracking. “So?” I try to sound disinterested.

Vega looks back at me through the rear-view mirror, another look of confusion. I hesitated, and he noticed. I pretend to be busy with the patient, but she’s sleeping. “What, you one of his side-honeys that the Weekly keeps talking about?” He’s teasing, trying to make light of it. Vega’s a good guy.

I frown down at the patient, take a deep breath, and lean back against the interior wall of the ambulance. “I went to school on a Wayne Foundation scholarship, Nate, so I owe that family a lot. But the money ran out not long after I graduated. I know a lot of people that could have gotten out, people like me, but they didn’t. The money ran out because that kid was drinking and fucking his grief away all across the world.” I didn’t realize I felt so strongly about this until now, until the words came out. I’m angry, and frustrated, and thankful. It’s all confusing and conflicted.

“Maybe he’ll start the programs back up now that he’s back in town. We can hope, yeah?” Vega shifts in his seat, turns his eyes forward again.

I wipe a tear out of the corner of my eye, sniff, clear my throat. “If he does, then he’ll be worth talking about.”

Part Five: Igantious Gallow

The Stacked Deck is crowded for a lunch hour. No one seems to want to go out at night lately. I catch phrases like “he drinks his victims blood” and “I got a friend who swears he saw him turn into a swarm of bats.” It all stops as they collectively turn to look at me.

I know I’m a sight. They just now got my arm out of a cast, but not a sling. Bandages are still around the left side of my head from where the jokers had crushed my orbital. Docs are saying it will be a miracle if I don’t lose the eye. Days of stubble darken my cheeks, where I haven’t been able to shave. Franky is still in the hospital. He is probably never coming back.

Lana, my usual waitress comes out from the bar to take my overcoat off my shoulders. Everyone pointedly ignores the butt of the gun sticking out from under my left shoulder. “Gallow, baby, what happened to you?” She is walking me towards my usual booth. “Was it the Bat?” She asks in a whisper, but I know they’re all listening.

I grind my teeth. “Don’t call them that. It isn’t one guy. This,” I point at my face, “wasn’t the work of one guy.” I wasn’t sure. It could have been one it could have been twenty, but I am tired of all this hokum about a mystical bat vigilante.

I slide stiffly into my booth. No sooner has Lana placed my scotch on the table than Jimmy Malone slide in opposite me. “What do you got for me?” He asks without preamble. Jimmy always reminded me of an overstuffed weasel. If he wasn’t related to the Roman I’d probably give him a long walk off a short pier.

“Got what Jimmy? I’m just here for a drink.” I growl back at him.

Jimmy leans in. “Word is with Tony out of the picture you’re in line to be the new caporegime, so you gotta know what we’re going to do about this Bat-Man.”

I slam my good first down on the table. I hurt and I’m tired. “There is no Bat-Man. This is just a bunch of freaks with a fetish. Give them time, they’ll start trying for turf like the rest of us.” I knock back the rest of my drink. “And second, Jimmy, you might have married a Falcone but you ain’t Family, so “we” ain’t doing nothing.”

The air is tense after my little tirade. Someone unmutes the bar’s only TV to cover the silence. Some puff piece about Bruce Wayne is running. I glare at the screen. “Little whelp finally decide to come back.” Jimmy follows my gaze looking confused. I drum my left hand on the table. Across my fingers is tattooed the letters G A T E. My right hand, which is still bandaged has similar ink. The right set is B L A C K. “Had the high and mighty Waynes not been capped I would have been caporegime a long time ago.” Lana slides another drink in front of me. She’s heard this story more than once. I pull her down next to me before continuing my rhythmic drumming. Jimmy is watching my fingers. “Ever been up state Jimmy?” I ask coldly. He shakes his head. “Then unless you want to take a little trip, I suggest you forget all about the bat-men.” He nods. “Now let me enjoy my drink and some pleasant company.” Jimmy shakes his head in agreement and moves off to another table.

Part Six: Marcus Toure

Wayne is coming out of the restaurant and I’m there. The girl with him looks familiar, like from an MTV video.

“Mr. Wayne?” I ask, my recorder in hand.

“A member of the press!” he says, his voice stinking of expensive whiskey. He stops and looks at me. “What can you do—I mean, what can I do for you?”

He stopped. Okay, keep your cool. Remember your line of questions.

“Mr. Wayne, you’re the inheritor of the greatest fortune in Gotham’s history. How do you plan on using it?”

He gives me a twisted smile, points at the girl on his arm and says, “Am I being subtle?”

“Gotham could use a man like you, Mr. Wayne. A man of resources. An educated man. Your fortune could help turn Gotham’s fortunes.”

He points at me. “That’s a good line,” he says. “You gonna use that in your story?” Then, he laughs and falls down. The doorman helps him back up.

“Mr. Wayne, I…”

The doorman gets between us. “That’s enough,” he says.

I try to talk around him. “Mr. Wayne! There have been over 600 homicides in Gotham just this year! You aren’t the only one who lost a family in this city!”

Wayne’s getting to his feet when I say that. And for a second, I see something very dark in his eyes. His gaze falls on me… and my knees almost crumble.

“Don’t you ever talk about my family again,” he says. With a voice that sounds like it crawled out of a grave. Then, he grabs the woman by the arm, throws her into the back of his limo and climbs in himself.

I charge after him, trying to catch my foot in the limo’s door. “Mr. Wayne!” I shout. But he slams the door shut.

Hours later, I’m at my apartment in front of the computer. The page is blank. Piles of research on my table. Photos of the crime scene. Photos of a young boy in a tuxedo and a cop’s coat. I have rumors and hints from places like Zimbabwe and Tibet.

I write the headline.

GOTHAM’S RICHEST ORPHAN COMES HOME

Credits

Chapters written by Rob Justice
Arnold Harmon written by Artemis Knight
Christopher Ramsay written by Robert Wakefield
Igantious Gallow written by Steven A Skidmore
Isabella Fuente written by Michael Curry
Marcus Toure written by John Wick
Nate Briggs written by Zachary Alan Gourley

Posted in A City Without Hope.

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