Night of the Hornet
Chapter 6: Black on Green
Disclaimer: Characters here are possessed by DC and numerous others, but not by me. So you can send the exorcist home.
Slash: They wish. So do I. But really, in an abandoned mine? Same language as before. English.
Alarm went off at 1:15. Silent, in ear job. Very effective. Earl came up with them, and they don't have a snooze button. I tried to move carefully, to let Bruce get in another ten minutes or so. No luck. One twitch and he is eyes open and moving. I never wake that well, but two minutes of isometrics have me at least functional. I pull on sweats. We'll dress in the plane. By 1:25 I'm downloading the modified ATV's. Slow work. Without a hanger I have to work in blackout. 1:35 - Bruce arrives with Kato. Guess he wakes up like Bruce. I help Kato into his Kevlar while Bruce checks the locational transponders planted yesterday, then put on my own. Unmarked suits. Balaklava instead of the usual mask. Nightwing would not be seen in the neighborhood. This was a Hornet gig. Sweats over the top to reduce recognition and cut down on chill. Transponders are good. Bruce suits up. 1:50 - the Batman joins Kato and Nightwing on the dirt. To close to the hotel to risk sound, even with the near-mute engines. We walk the vehicles across the tarmac. No other movement. Good. Batman's signal. We mount and follow our beacons across the desert.
Good night for travel. Three-quarter moon. We reach the mine without incident. Batman has a copy of Begay's key. No delay with the locks. We pull the ATV's inside. Relock the doors. Tape the frame. Now we can work with lights.
Kato needs no prompting. "Nine levels down. We took that shaft." I walk over, checking it again with the Geiger counter. Everything had shown clean earlier, but paranoia comes with the training. Zero. Not even the normal mine count. Give Firestorm credit for a through job. I slap counters on all three of us just in case.
He points to a dark drop at the other end from the working lift. Another shaft.
"It should be safe. This structure was far from the blast. The cage likely will not work..."
"No maintenance." No way I would even try. I'd trust my de-cell line. Even spikes. But fifty year old chains?
Following the Bat, I pull off my sweats and attach drop lines to the harness in my suit. We will belay Kato between us.
"Sabotage. They had damaged the cage lift to delay Mr. Ness."
I hooked Katos lines as Batman started into the pit."Belay on"
It was a long drop, but clean and slightly angled. Easy. Kato was more agile then I had expected. No trouble. The old cage blocked the bottom of the shaft, but it's roof hatch was open. Easy access. Whoever last came out hadn't worried about going back. No lights here, but our helmet lamps sufficed.
"That way". Kato indicated one of the branching tunnels. "It was passable at least to the control room. The men in there came out. After that...I do not know." A shadow passed over his face. "I was not there. He told me to stay. To fix the lift for the police who could not climb. I was here when..." His voice was even, but the pain was in it. Fifty years, and still fresh.
Batman moves cautiously into the tunnel. We follow in silence. Bits of rubble lay underfoot in spots, but nothing to slow our travel. After a few twists, we emerge into another large chamber scattered with rusted machines. Here the damage can be seen. Miniature train tracks cross the floor at seeming random,scorched ties showing here and there the effects of fire. Wheeled boxes lay on their side, scattered like discarded toys. Ropes and chains, damaged with heat, hang down from the darkness above our heads.
"The control room."
Kato points to a strange structure, framed like a small building, that now leaned heavily against one hewn wall. Puckered paint testified to the former heat, but the wood itself had passed through intact. Heated air from a blast, perhaps, but not much force.
Batman moves across the chamber, observing the marks remaining in the decades old dirt.
"We had been staying there, waiting for the smugglers. There goods were here, machine guns and artillery stolen from Fort Eaglesham. We knew they must come for them. We could not know the other weapon they would bring. That night they arrived. It was just after sunset when they came down the shaft. They were laughing, excited by their big score." He gestured behind us, the way we had come in. " There were many of them. Five cars. They shot the control box, thinking none could come after them. But we were already here."
Careful to touch nothing, I glance inside the fragile structure. A metal cot. File cabinets. A small table with one chair. Another chair near a workbench holding antique equipment. The radio. Possibly a seismograph. Short-line hand crank telephone. Crude conditions, but not uncomfortable.
"The Hornet notified Mr. Ness. His men came, but they were...slow. Too slow. Only three of them had the courage to come down the shaft by the ladder."
"We knew they had another exit. One we had not found. One they might escape through, taking their death-tools to use on the innocent. The risk was too great. He told me to fix the lift. To bring down the G-men. He left one agent here with the radio. With two men, he followed them."
Kato moves over to the most damaged of the radiating tunnels. The one Batman had also focused on. I follow him, shining my lamp into the shattered darkness.
"The Green Hornet caught up with them deep inside the mine, learned the terrible thing they had stolen, and overheard their evil plans. He carried a very powerful pocket radio, one that could pass through this stone.
"The G-men were on the radio with...Green Hornet... when they heard the explosion. That is how they knew."
"The gangsters, those who escaped the blast, fled out the hidden door. The sheriff's men were waiting for them.
He turns slowly, sharp eyes searching the darkness, coming to focus deep within the damaged tunnel.
"One man died in the blast. One FBI man, West, made it almost this far. Carrying the Hornet. The radio man, man, Gordon, he went in for them. He took a cart. Went down the shaft. He found them but... my wasp was dead. Gordon carried West to the lift. He had to leave Britt there. Then there was... the fire. Later they went back for the body, but not that night. I heard, on the radio, the order to evacuate. Up the shaft. Gordon helped West climb the rope ladder. I stayed with them until they were out and then...
Almost this far? How near? Were we seeing the spot where Britt Reed had died?
"I should have been there. I should have saved him."
Nothing to say. I lay my had on his shoulder in comfort.
'Actually, it would make no difference where you were."
I was shocked. Even Batman is not usually that cold. Granted, the odds were heavy, but Kato was extremely skilled..
"The minute he touched the trigger he was a dead man. As were they."
Holy...how heavy were those old atomic bombs? To much to carry. To big to put in a car. And if they stole just the trigger.....with pellet plutonium. I felt sick. My eyes went without thinking to my counter. Still clear. I had to ask. "Did anyone make it? Any of the men who were down here? The one on the radio, or the one who went into the shaft?"
"They reached their friends on the surface. They were burned, but walking. I am certain they recovered."
The Bats voice was a knife. "You are certain. You saw them afterwards? How many hours later?"
"It was just before sunrise when I .....left. I saw them then. " He gave us both a puzzled look "Why would it matter?"
"They were treated for their burns?" The dark voice grew even more insistent. " They were cared for with the others? In the same place as the men who were shot?"
"And you know they could hear the Hornet's radio? Clearly? Until the end?"
"Everyone heard the blast. Myself, the agent below, Nash on the surface. I carried the other hand radio. I heard them all."
"Afterwards? You still heard them?"
"Yes. Ahh." A twisted comprehension began to cross Kato's face.
"Nightwing, set the spelunking gear. I have to go down."
"I'm smaller." For all the good it will do. Correct procedure would be for the heavier man to hold the ropes.
"The tunnel was clear for two men to get out. "
That means he knows I'm right, and we're still going to do it his way.
Ten minutes with no call. I can still pick up his transponder. Good sign. If the walls were weak he'd turn it off to lower the risk. Ocassional tensions as I play out the ropes. Kato and I don't talk. He's too lost in the memories of this place, and I wouldn't know what to say. Sorry he's dead? Sorry your life went down the crapper and nobody cared? That's the breaks? Sometimes I think that's why the Justice Society, and the Justice League and all those Justice whatevers joined up in the first place. To attend each others funerals.
(beep)//Nightwing. I've reached the storage area. Definite center of the blast. Major damage, but the support appears stable. Several remains with trauma signs. I'm going in"//
The ropes go limp. Damn. No transponder either. Appears stable my ass.
Kato hears the beep. He looks at me.
"Batman says he's reached the explosion site. He's going to investigate, then call back."
Why do I talk to him like a civilian? He hears everything I don't say, and this time it's his hand on my shoulder. He's a good man. He wants closure for his friend, but not at the cost of mine.
"What was he like?" I'm not just asking to make conversation. I want to know. There are so few of us in this business, and so many secrets.
"A good man. A brave man." He pauses. What is there to say? "But you know that."
"Yeh." I do know that. I have known so many good men. "I just wondered... why the Hornet? Why him? Why you?"
"I could ask the same? Why you? Why him?"
"Vengeance, I guess. For my parents murder. " I thought for a moment. "At least at first. I was nine. Kids can be...dramatic." And after Zucco? "And after... it was what I knew." More truth there than I like.
"It is all loss. My Britt...I can not say what he lost. He was...as he was...before I knew him. That is the how and why of our meeting." He looked at me but saw another. " He came because...I had certain skills. He was already training, already given to his cause, but...he never told me why."
And that hurt. Still hurt. After all the years.
"As for me? Britt was my cause. All my purpose. All my loss...."
He falls silent. We sit together, but say nothing. There is no answer to death.
Two minutes in when the shake hits. Nothing major. Just one of those minor jolts the locals ignore. Just enough to put my heart in my throat. 'Locals' don't have someone crawling down an unshored tunnel. I check my time. Ten minutes going in. Less two. If I don't get transponder in eight I'm going after him.
(beep) Less then thirty seconds. He knows how I think. // I have something. I'm coming back.//
The ropes re-tension, and I wheel them in as he moves back up the tunnel. Faster now. I signal Kato to pick up the gear. When Batman get's here, we are getting out.
Under five minutes, and he springs up from the tunnel mouth. Dusty but undamaged. Something under one arm wrapped in a black mylar sheet. He drops the harness. "Leave the gear. Let's go."
Good idea. I've had enough of this pit. But it gives me an idea just how shaky that run was. Normally the Batman is insistent about cleaning up. I don't suppose it matters. We own this place. No one else will come here. But. If he's willing to exchange privacy for time, we're moving fast.
The trip back is the same as the trip out. Just in reverse. On the public levels Batman is back to his usual caution. We remove the signs of our visit before following our own trail back to the plane.
I still don't know what he found. What he brought back. I think on it a little, but can't reach any clear conclusions by the time I have the equipment re-secured and make my way to the front of the plane.
Bruce is still in Kevlar, but he's Bruce again. No mask, no gloves. Standing by a battered hunk of metal with a serious smile on his face. Very few things make Bruce really smile.
"This, Mr. Grayson, is an atomic trigger." My total horror must have reached my face, because his smile slipped a bit. "Safe now. The explosive burned out, and Firestorm neutralized the plutonium." He waved the Geiger counter. Near flat.
"Then the explosion?"
"Standard TNT. " He glanced towards the third man, " I suspected as much when the radio continued to operate."
"Even a 'fizzle' reaction" Kato interjected "such as must occur should an intact trigger fire and 'miss', would tend to release some gamma radiation. Enough to disrupt radio communications at short range."
I know enough about warheads for that thought to twist my stomach.
"Removing the pellet would prevent fission, but the exposed plutonium would 'poison' the blast. One could expect those directly exposed to show signs of radiation exposure. As would everyone near the pellet when it was unshielded."
"I didn't have much time for details, but the explosion was not caused by ordinance. It was a pipe bomb that had been planted off to one side. With what looked like a radio trigger. A very deliberate and intentional bomb."
"We now have motive, opportunity,..and murder.
End Chapter 6
KKR - 2003