Chapter 1: A Sudden Announcement
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Lost in study, my first warning is the slam of my office door. I open my awareness to the intruder.
"Dick!" I rise from my chair. It's great to see him, but...why? Didn't he mention having some police business in Bludhaven today?
"Damn it, Bruce!"
Quick mental check. What did I do now? That Dick would object to? That he could know about? Oh well. At least if he's yelling he'll tell me. That's better than the silent sulks.
"Dick?" I ask. Should I apologize? I have no idea what for, but...
"Those idiots!" He slams his fist into the back of a leather chair.
Not me, then. Probably no one important.
"Why the hell did I ever become a cop?"
Danger! Do *not* touch that line. "What's wrong", I ask. Because something is. Nothing too serious, but still...
Dick spins. "Do I look stressed to you?"
Not a question. And I do not fall for obvious traps.
"I am not stressed. I have no reason to *be* stressed. I am the least stressed person you could ever meet." He paces the carpet, pausing only to snatch the mints off my desk.
"OK, Dick. Who said...?"
"Dr. Bashir, that's who." He punches the chair again in passing. "Staff shrink at Bludhaven PD. She's got some weird theory about overtime. Says we don't take our vacations and so we get stressed and so *that's* why the force has so many fuck-ups. Not Redhorn, not Roland Desmond, not the FBI. No, it's all 'cause we flipping don't go to the beach."
"Which annoys you because?"
"She gave me a month to take off two damn weeks. At least." He makes another grab at the mints. "And the bitch even wants to know where I plan to go. Like some stupid school essay. 'Where I went on my Summer Vacation', by little Dickie Grayson."
OK. It's nothing. By tomorrow he'll be over this. Which does not mean I can't take advantage of it today. Because, damn it, Dick *does* need a vacation.
"How about South America?" I ask.
"What?" That stops him. And just when he was in the middle of a great rant.
"Santa Amoza, to be precise."
"Why would I want to go to Santa Amoza?" His voice is calm now. Mildly curious.
"Well. It's warm. There are beautiful beaches, scenic mountains - and a little question I might like help clearing up."
I smile at his expression. After fifteen years I do know his weak spots.
"Not exactly. More of a businessman Bruce Wayne question at this point. Although..." I give it some thought. Why not a full scale investigation? If it is nothing? If they are clean, or at least insignificantly criminal, no one need ever know. No harm, no foul. If not? Perhaps a little prevention would be in order. Either way... I punch up a file. "You know about WayneTech's recent expansion into inland Santa Amoza and Delezon?"
"Cell phones and net links." Dick shrugs. " Some radio."
"A bit advanced for the area, but the investment is justified. And air is far more economical then putting in ground lines. If the area is to move forward, global linkage is the only way..."
"Yeh." He cuts me off with a smile."I heard the speech. From Lucius."
"Well. As we moved in, we naturally came in contact with the local businesses. For the most part, no problem. The usual bribes and politics, but no problem. We understand where they are coming from. We know what we can accept. And the local organizations do want to do business. Except for one." A part of me will always be his teacher. As he listens, I warm to my theme. "One very unusual little company. Or perhaps not that little. Quarter billion a year in apparent capital transactions. Offices listed in Metropolis, London, Crescent City. Warehouses in Calais and Brighton as well. Listed stock, but no movement. On the books, a nice little privately held shipping company."
"Except?" Dick makes the question rhetorical.
"They don't seem to want to ship for us. In fact, they don't seem to ship anything for anyone."
"Drugs?" This time the question is real. "Guns? Jewels?" He pauses a moment. "People?"
"I don't know. Which is why I was considering paying a short visit to Santa Amoza. To solve the mystery of the Hidalgo Trading Company."
As I speak, I can see the strategist in Dick emerge. A mystery has always appealed to him. He drops sideways into the abused guest chair, relaxed and happy. "So. Who are we taking?"
"Taking?" He knows me too well. Still, I try to sound offended, "You think Batman and Nightwing need backup to take down one puny smuggler..."
Dick gives me the *look*.
"Dinah or Jean-Paul." I concede. "I'd rather take Bane for his local experience, but...some of that experience was entirely *too* local. I don't want to stress him this soon out of rehab."
Dick nods agreement. Even at the worst times I felt he had a sympathy for all Bane had been through. I am reminded again how Dick is a truly good person.
"So other then an international spy or your own personal assassin, we'll actually be spending a whole two weeks on our own?" Dick laughs. That sound should be registered. "How romantic."
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Hardly. Unless your idea of romance is an evening in the cave going over half a century of financial reports. Oracle has delivered every one of Hidalgo's known and unknown accounts. That's a lot of money to wade through. More than I thought.
Dick may not care much for finance as a career, but he's viciously sharp when it comes to law enforcement. The IRS would love to have him. Except, as he pointed out the last time I told him that, he is *not* a villain.
By ten o'clock, two things are obvious.
First: This crew is tricker than the Penguin. Richer too. If they are not straight Barbara may get a new mainframe. Not that I totally approve of her habit of robbing thieves, but it *is* in the tradition. And at least she's not murdering murderers.
Second: Whatever they are doing to get that rich, it isn't moving cargo. The company owns two ships, but neither of them has docked at a registered port since computer registration started. And that was in the sixties. They own five warehouses, but according to the tax records never take in goods. They own six airplanes - including, I'm shocked to discover, a WayneTech AT 4210 - but hire no pilots and file no flight plans. They have cars without drivers and offices without employees. And they have quite a number of well filled bank accounts.
All considered, perhaps I'm better off if they *don't* want my business.
The monitor chimes for attention. Oracle.
"I have more info on the Hidalgo Trading Company." The silver face speaks from the corner of the large computer screen. "It took some looking, but they do have a list of public officers."
"President and CEO, Mrs. Patricia Renwick. American citizen, but permanent legal resident of Hidalgo. Married to a General John Renwick. Same citizenship, same residency. He's retired from the U.S. Army and also on the board."
Interesting. Weapons can be a hot commodity in South America.
"Also another military man. General Thomas J. Roberts. He appears to keep an address in Crescent City, but customs records show him as visiting Hidalgo six times last year alone. Long visits, as there was a visa issued each time."
I scan the list of names that has appeared on the screen. "All Americans?"
"Two Hidalgo natives, also with US citizenship. Theo and Adrianna Fiero. Apparently siblings. They are younger than the others, and were elected to the board within the last ten years. They replaced a Mrs. Mona Fiero. No reason given for the change."
"Nice little family business." Dick has noticed what I have. What the SEC should have noticed.
"That's it?" I ask, not from doubt but from shock. Five members is a minuscule board for a company of that size.
"Two over the legal minimum, with three unrelated persons." Barbara's opinion comes past the mechanical filter loud and clear. "It's legal."
I ignore the sarcasm. "What can you give me on their background?"
"Just now?" The screen shifts again. "Nothing much. Some data on the two military men.They had fairly impressive careers. Not what you'd expect if you were looking for smugglers."
Not, I think to myself, that you can ever tell.
Dick smiles at the cave camera. "Thanks, babe. Send it over. And try to get more on the others in the morning."
The printer hums to life as the screen goes blank.
"That's it, Bruce. We've done all we can tonight." Dick yawns, stretching."I'm headed upstairs. You coming?"
"Soon. I hope." I watch his back as he heads for the cave stairs. I may have to rethink the meaning of romance.
END CHAPTER ONE
KKR - 2003