If Bette had waited just a little bit longer, I might have done something really stupid like lower my guard. But finally, on a wild Saturday night, it happened. Just as I knew it would. I paid off the bimbo of the hour, slipped her out the back door, arranged the bed convincingly, and settled back in the quiet darkness to wait. I didn't have to wait for long.
I heard her jimmy the lock on the door clumsily and fell instantly still, scarcely breathing. She tip-toed her way over to the bed and stared at it for a moment. Briefly, I was terrified that her eyes might adjust to the dimness and she would see through my little scam. Then I saw the metal gun barrel flash in a ray of silver moonlight and I relaxed. She fired six shots into the bed and then turned to leave. Even in the ghostly glow of the pale moonlight I could see her smile as she trod for the door and freedom.
At the unexpected sound of my voice, she spun around and I heard the futile click-click-click of a trigger striking an empty chamber. I smiled.
"It's empty, Bette. I counted. Five rounds in the chamber, one in the barrel. You'd have been better off with the .357, sweetheart."
With an inarticulate scream of rage, she threw the useless gun at me. I didn't even bother to duck. It struck the wall about a foot to my left, fell to the berugged floor, and discharged loudly. My grin was predatory this time.
"Oooops." I said merrily. "Why, I must have miscounted. Heavens to Murgatroyd! Silly me!" I braced myself against a wall as she rushed me. "Don't believe everything somebody tells you, babe." I advised, reaching for her.
"You bastard!" she screamed at me. "You bastard! I'llkillyouI'llkillyouI'llkillyou!"
I used my greater weight to bear her down and ground her face into the stained floor rug. "You had your chance for that, Bette. And you blew it. You keep missing the target, honey. You've got to shoot straight."
She heaved and bucked beneath me, screaming and fighting me with every breath she drew. Grimly, I hung on, trying her hands behind her back with my belt. Then she unnerved me completely by bursting into frantic tears, wailing like a lost child.
"You bastards," she sobbed. "You bastards ... you always win ... you always win. You always hurt me ... you always hurt me ... " She curled into a fetal position, weeping from the heart. "Why do you always hurt me?"
For a moment I remembered her very real terror when she spoke of the man who'd injured her, ending her tennis career. And I thought about how many others must have laughed at her desperate attempts to make a comeback. I closed my eyes. So much pain ... so very much pain ...
But I didn't let that stop me. My hands were absolutely steady and so was my voice when I dialed the GCPD and told them where to find Bette Kane, the Championship Killer.
Hey kiddo. It's me again. Yeah, your big brother Dick. So, how's this Heaven gig going, huh? Look, I know I haven't talked to you in a long time, little bro. Sorry, but I've been kinda busy, you know? Wally getting along okay up there? Brucie, you're really gonna like Wally. Make him show you how to run the 100 in eight seconds flat, why don't you? He'll like that. But, I've gotta warn you, kiddo. Better watch out for water balloons dropping from off the Pearly Gates. Wally's sense of humor is kinda juvenile. You two should get along just great. Don't let the ol' Flasheroo get you into any trouble with The Big Guy Upstairs, though, hear me?
God ... I miss him.
The costume is beginning to feel natural. I'm not sure if that's good or not, Brucie. What do you think? It's kind of confusing, I guess. I mean, on the one hand, The Batman is really doing some good here. There's no way that one man can clean up the bloody streets of Gotham, that's for sure, but I've got to try. I have to. I can't let what happened to Dad Wayne and Wally and Babs happen to anybody else. I just can't. Not even if I die for it. And I guess I just might.
On the other hand, I don't want to lose me in all this craziness. It would be easy to do, you know. To submerge myself, drown myself in The Bat. Hell, I could even call myself altruistic, a selfless hero when I did it. I'm kinda scared here, Brucie.
But I'm not alone. The Batman has a new friend. Commissioner Jim Gordon. That was kinda scary at first, let me tell you. I grew up with Jim Gordon and his family. They were frequent guests at the Manor, you remember, I'll bet. The first time I ever met with him off the record, I was terrified he'd know who was lurking beneath the Suit, sneer at me and demand: "Dick Grayson take off that ridiculous costume right *now*, boy!"
But he didn't.
I'm not sure if he knows or not. Sometimes I think he does, or at least suspects. But then, other times ... Jeezus, I'm sure he hasn't got a clue. If he saw through The Voice, that phony, deep tone I use when I'm Batman, I couldn't tell. So, if he knows, he's not saying anything. That's good, right? I knew that I had to make an ally of him right from the start. This masked vigilante of the night thing would be almost impossible without his cooperation. He still smokes too much, but now he knows that he has a friend, someone else who loves this damned city as much a he does. Gotham City and justice. So he keeps his mouth shut tight and his hands open. He lets me into the files whenever I want and he's even come up with this thing he calls The Bat Signal. It's a freakin' big spotlight sitting on the top of One Police Plaza that the authorities use to summon The Batman when they need him. Jim's idea. Damned thing must cost the city a bloody fortune in electricity to use.
And Alfred! Kiddo, you wouldn't believe Alfred. That's right. Alfred. The Wayne family retainer is a vital part of The Batman. Christ, I wouldn't know what to do without him. How did he know? Don't ask me. They're starting to call me The World's Greatest Detective, but I haven't got a clue about that. He just knows.
Alfred was the one who showed me the cave. You know the one full of bats that you fell into when you were about five and broke your leg, little buddy? Alfred says that it inspired that Halloween costume of yours that I'm wearing now. We brought some WayneTech construction people in who cleaned out the place and installed all the comforts of home. Alfred calls it my "Bat Cave". 'Course, he's usually rolling his eyes when he does but I kind of like the name. I think it's gonna stick.
Installing the DSL lines and all that electronic stuff for Babs' Crays was a real pain, I've got to admit. She calls them The Bat Computer. Yeah, Babs' is involved in this mess, too. Up to the rim of the wheels on her wheelchair, in fact. It was touch and go with Babs for a while. She's still in physical therapy. But she's doing fine. And she's found a great way to put all that training in research and computer science to work.
She calls herself Oracle these days and she's almost as well known as The Batman. Babs tackles a project, those Crays hum and BINGO! Out comes the solution! It's like magic. I love to watch her fingers fly over that keyboard. Especially the one with that four carat perfect blue-white diamond sparkling on it. Officially, Babs says that the ring is ostentatious. That she never expected anything that expensive for a wedding ring. But personally, I think she was secretly pleased. Babs has promised me that we can name our first kid after you. Would you like that, Brucie?
Mom Wayne... isn't getting any better. I'm sorry little bro, I wish I had better news for you about that, but I've got to be truthful with you. If it weren't for Doctor Leslie I don't know what I'd do about Mom. Dad's old medical partner has moved into the Manor to take care of Mom. Oh, she still has her Free Clinic. Couldn't blast her out of that place with a pocket nuke, I don't think. But she devotes most of her time to Mom, these days.
Well, like I said, I'm pretty busy all things told. Between my "night job" as Batman and being Chairman of the Board of Wayne Industries, I don't have a lot of spare time, anymore, I'm afraid. The sports career had to go by the boards. Wanna hear something really funny? I don't miss it. Well ... not most of the time, anyway. Flying over the rooftops of Gotham is such a kick! God, I haven't had this much fun since I was a Flying Grayson. I sorta forgot what that was like, I guess. But Batman reminds me every night. And, hey! With the lifts built into the Suit, I'm finally six feet tall! So, I'm a happy camper.
The Batman is the new media darling of Gotham's press corps. Rumor has it that he's an Urban Legend. Urban Legend, my batarang! But everything isn't all hearts and flowers, though, I gotta tell you. Some odd people are starting to give me some pretty bizarre looks, kiddo. And I'm not sure what to do about it, to be honest with you. Not sure at all.
It started with Roy. Yeah, ol' "Speedy" Harper. Can you believe it? Well, I couldn't. Now, don't get me wrong, Brucie. I love Roy like a brother. Sure, he's a jerk sometimes, but he's got a good heart, you know? And he's probably my best friend now that Wally is up there with you, racing through the Golden Streets. But this? I just don't know, little bro. I mean, for God's sake, I don't think Roy's ever had a serious thought in his entire life! And now he wants to join me in this costumed vigilante gig? How do I make him realize that this is for real? That he could *die* out here on these streets? That it's not a game? That this isn't just for *fun*?
Especially when I'm having so damned much fun myself.
Well, I can't really stop him if he's determined to do this can I? Hell, I sure didn't ask anybody's permission before I put on the Suit. Roy doesn't need my blessings. And ... and ... damn! I could really use some help out here, you know? That bow of his could come in *real* handy. And it's for damned sure I could trust him to watch my back. Hey, he's even got a lot of pretty nifty ideas for some truly strange non lethal arrows, too.
And then there's Jean Paul ...
Yeah, I'm talking about The Angel, all right. The truth is, he's an important part of my life, now. I'll bet you never thought you'd hear me say *that*, huh? When I gave up the sports thing, I found that I'd let go of a lot of extraneous baggage that went along with it, somehow. Including my feelings of resentment and anger about Jean-Paul. Sloughed it off like a snake sheds its skin. I'm a lot better for it, I think. Another favor that I owe him. The fact is, when Babs and I were married, Jean-Paul performed the ceremony. We still have the picture Donna snapped when Babs made sure that he kissed the bride. The look on his face was priceless and Donna captured it exactly. She's a good photographer.
He's fully ordained, now. Taken those vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The only fly in the perfection of the blessed ointment is a young nun named Lilhy. Yeah, believe it or not, The Angel has Fallen. He's fighting really hard, though. It's way up in the air (no pun intended!) what's gonna happen.
In the meantime, he's stuck in the arse end of nowhere. I mean, okay, the Tricorner district isn't the end of the world ... But you can see it from there. He's the assistant pastor of St. Jude's, serving under Father Mongahan. Tommy is a good guy, but, well, let's just say that St. Judes is appropriately named and leave it at that, okay? Yeah, the patron Saint of lost causes, all right.
All this courtesy of Monsignor Caspian, the Bishop of Jean-Paul's diocese. Judson Caspian was a good friend of Dad Wayne's so I know him pretty well. He's a tough old bird. Jeezuz. Tough? Heh. That's the understatement of the millennium. They don't call him "The Reaper" for nothing, believe you me. And he doesn't much like Jean-Paul. Doesn't approve of all that running. Too worldly. And Jean-Paul won't give up his "link to God". So Jean-Paul is assigned to St. Jude's and he's likely going to rot there before Bishop Caspian changes his mind. What a freaking *waste*.
JP doesn't complain, of course. I think he sees it as just punishment for his feelings about Lilhy. That's pretty sad if you ask me. Nobody does, of course. I don't think JP is very happy. He's searching around for something, *anything*, to help his parishioners. And himself. He looks around him and sees all the poverty and crime in The Cauldron and wants to do what he can to stop it. Most of his parishioners are stuck in The Cauldron. They can't afford to live anywhere else. The elderly, the disabled, the poor, and the forgotten. The ones who have nowhere else to go. The ones no one cares about. He wants desperately to help them.
And, through me, he thinks he's found a way.
But do I have the right to ask him for that help? If he follows me into this never ending night, into the deepening shadows, he'll lose his battle with Azrael. He'll lose JP. The Angel of Destruction will take over completely. And what happens to Jean-Paul Valley when he does?
Even better question: have I got the right to refuse him? I mean, what if I'm wrong, huh? What about that, kiddo? Should I have more faith in Jean-Paul's strength of will? Maybe ... maybe this is exactly what he needs to put Azrael to rest for good and all.
I don't know, little bro. I just don't know. I wish I did. Can ya help me out here, kiddo? Hey, I know. Pretty heavy stuff for a six year old, huh? But Mom Wayne always said you were the smartest kid she ever knew. So maybe you've got the answers. Jeezuz, I hope so. 'Cause I sure as Hell don't.
Please God, you've got to have the answers. Somebody's got to have the answers.