THE END OF YEAR ONE.
Dinner at the mayor’s house was always a chore. Nevertheless, like any chore, it certainly had to be done. Bruce Wayne knew how to play the game, of course, but he’d long found politicians distasteful.
Perhaps it was for this reason that he found himself sitting next to the only other attendee who looked as uncomfortable as Bruce felt: Captain James Gordon of the Gotham City Police Department. He knew he should minimize contact with Gordon in his civilian identity, but the risk was more palatable than listening to the mayor compare yachts with Roland Daggett or Carmine Falcone.
Bruce swallowed another bite of chewy steak and settled into the slightly-too-plush chair before speaking.
“And tell me, Captain, did you ever catch that vigilante fellow you were asking me about? The bat-fellow?”
Gordon shifted awkwardly and took a gulp of water from an expensive glass goblet. A voice at the back of Bruce’s head pointed out that he was holding the goblet wrong.
“Uh, no,” Gordon said, “In fact, we haven’t heard much… from him…”
Gordon trailed off as one of the mayor’s staff approached the table.
“Captain Gordon?” the man said with an audible sniff.
“So they tell me,” Gordon replied, “Is something wrong?”
“There’s a telephone call for you from police headquarters,” the man explained before beginning to stroll away.
Bruce reached out towards him and he stopped and turned.
“Say,” Bruce said, “Do you know where there’s a bathroom around here?”
“The powder room is down the hall and to the right,” the man explained, gesturing half-heartedly through the oak double doors at one end of the oversized dining room, “Will there be anything else?”
“That’s all for now,” Bruce replied.
He strolled out of the dining room, deciding that if anyone caught him walking to the telephone in the front hall instead of the bathroom, he’d say he got lost.
“Lambert?” he heard Gordon say, surprised, “As in the chemical king?”
There was a pause.
“If his son’s prints are on the knife, I don’t see how much of an alibi he can have.”
“Alright, I’ll come talk to him.”
This variety of nightly diviersion sounded more up Bruce’s – no, up Batman’s alley.
The police cordon around Frank Lambert’s house might have been difficult to slip past for the average snoop, but Batman bypassed them efficiently and soon found himself perched on a narrow ledge beneath Lambert’s second-story window.
“I don’t know what you expect me to tell you!” cried a voice from inside.
Another voice, Gordon’s, spoke.
“Calm down, son.”
“Calm down?! My dad’s dead and you think I did it! How can I be calm?!”
It was hard to tell without being able to see his body language, but Batman guessed the kid was either sincere or a good liar. Regardless, he’d met enough good liars (and, for that matter, enough innocent people) to know not to jump to conclusions.
“Then explain what your prints are doing on the knife,” said another voice, most likely another cop.
“Listen, man,” the younger Lambert said, “I’ve already told you. I heard him yell, found him stabbed, and took the knife out of him.”
Batman squinted, trying to focus on the young man’s reflection in the open casement windows.
‘Interesting,’ he thought, ‘No blood on him. Didn’t have time to wash up before the police arrived, and it would’ve splattered if he’d committed the stabbing himself. Wish I could get my hands on that knife to confirm, but I’m not out of options yet.’
“Alright, let’s suppose you didn’t do it,” Gordon said, “Did your father have any enemies?”
‘Stupid question. He ran-’
“My dad ran a chemical plant,” young Lambert said, “If you want the full list, talk to his lawyer.”
“The safe’s open and empty,” Gordon said, “What was in there?”
“Nothing,” young Lambert answered, “just some papers from the company.”
‘Interesting. Something involving Lambert’s partners?’
“Send someone to look into Steven Crane, Paul Rogers, and Alfred Stryker. In the meantime, we’re going to have to book the kid.”
‘And I think that tells me our killer’s next targets.’
Batman perched in the sturdy branches of an old oak tree in an affluent Gotham suburb, squinting through the night at Steven Crane’s two-story home. Everything appeared to be quiet, but appearances proved deceiving as the firecracker pop of a pistol shot rang out, echoing through the neighborhood.
‘Too late,’ Batman thought, ‘but it looks like my hunch was right.’
Batman swung into action, landing on the roof of the house and storming up the steep incline before sliding bumpily down the other side. A pair of masked men were running from the front door toward an old sedan waiting at the curb, a rolled-up piece of paper in one of their hands.
Batman springboarded off the lip of the roof, twisting in the air and landing in a crouch between the killers and the car.
“What is that?!” one killer cried, terrified.
“Shut up and kill it!”
The two looked at one another and reached into their jackets, drawing handguns. Batman had already drawn a batarang from his belt. He threw it, flicking his wrist. The small projectile arced through the air, slicing through both killers’ hands. They reflexively dropped their weapons.
Batman sprang forward, tackling the killer with the paper to the ground and ripping the document out of his hand. The other took a clumsy swing at Batman, who stepped backwards before doing so again to avoid another punch.
The killer had left himself open, so Batman struck, delivering a swift uppercut to the jaw. The killer was sent sprawling. Batman knelt down above the one who’d been holding the paper, grabbing him by the jacket.
“Tell me who hired you.”
“D-don’t hurt me…” the killer sputtered.
“That can be arranged,” Batman growled, “If you tell me who hired you.”
“I- I-” the killer began.
They were interrupted by the sound of police sirens. If the police caught Batman out in the open, things could get difficult. He would have to hope the document could shed some light on the killer’s identity and motive.
He jumped to his feet and took off into the shadows, even as the street was flooded with the light of the police car’s headlights.
Batman unrolled the document on the evidence table in the Batcave and examined its title.
“AGREEMENT FOR THE PURCHASE OF A CONTROLLING INTEREST IN ALLIED CHEMICAL ENTERPRISES, INC.”
He moved to the introductory paragraph.
“This contract (“The Agreement”) is between Alfred G. Stryker, an individual residing at 27 Kane Street, Gotham City, NJ (“Stryker”), and the following individuals (collectively, “The Shareholders”): Franklin Lambert, residing at 1939 Sullivan Place, Gotham City, NJ, Steven J. Crane, residing at 40 Thomas Wayne Memorial Parkway, Gotham City, NJ, and Paul B. Rogers, residing at 1914 Finger Lane, Gotham City, NJ. The preceding four named individuals (collectively, “The Parties”) are joint and equal shareholders in Allied Chemical Enterprises, Incorporated, a corporation headquartered at 1 Moldoff Avenue, Gotham City, NJ (“A.C.E. Chemicals”) and there are no other such shareholders.”
This much, he knew or suspected already. He skimmed to some important terms.
“3. Stryker will pay to each of The Shareholders a sum of one hundred thousand (100,000) U.S. dollars annually for the following ten years (“The Payment Period”), due on the thirty-first of December (“The Payment Date”).
- In consideration of the payment identified in Section 3, The Shareholders will, no more than thirty (30) days after the final Payment Date of the Payment Period, transfer ownership of their respective shares in A.C.E. Chemicals to Stryker.”
“Hm,” Batman muttered, “Maybe someone didn’t want to pay?”
He skimmed through the rest of the document, until one final provision caught his attention.
“27. If one or more of The Shareholders dies before the end of The Payment Period, his shares in A.C.E. Chemicals will be distributed evenly among the remaining Parties, regardless of how many payments Stryker has made.”
“Got you,” Batman muttered.
As Batman snuck into the twisted Gordian Knot of pipes and smokestacks that was the A.C.E. Chemicals building, he noted that the old plant at least had a state-of-the-art security system. It was only moderately difficult for Batman to simply break in without triggering a silent alarm, but he would’ve hated to have been an untrained criminal actually trying to steal from the site.
He took a perch in the rafters of the mixing room, looking over the cavernous network of catwalks and vats as he heard voices. A burly man in worker’s coverall’s was dragging a mustached man in a suit into the room.
“Jennings,” grunted the suited man, “Why?”
“‘S money,” Jennings said simply, “Now shaddup and die, Rogers.”
Jennings began to heave Rogers into one of the vats when Batman dropped from his vantage point, landing directly on Jennings’ shoulders. Jennings stumbled and hit his head on the railing.
“My god!” Rogers cried, “Who-?”
“A friend,” Batman said, “Come quickly, before-”
As Batman and Rogers neared the end of the catwalk, a fourth figure burst through the door at the far end, charging toward them and brandishing a handgun.
“No you don’t!” he shouted, “Not when I’m so close! Die! Die!”
Batman shoved Rogers through the door and dived off the catwalk, rolling behind a vat as a gunshot ricocheted behind him.
“Alfred Stryker, I presume,” Batman called from the shadows.
“Who are you to presume?!” he yelled back, madness dripping from his voice. “You’re a dead man, that’s who! I kill you and I kill Rogers and it’ll all be mine, yes!”
Batman curved around another vat, hoping to approach Stryker from a good angle to disarm him, but the madman was moving too erratically, turning every few seconds. Batman had to keep him talking.
“Your plan is ingenious,” he said, “Kill your partners and let their shares vest directly to you without paying a thing.”
“It’s going to work, too,” said Stryker, “Just you watch. Wait, no, you can’t watch; you’ll be dead.”
He fired off another shot wildly towards the floor.
‘Still six more in his gun,’ Batman thought, ‘If I wait for him to run out of ammo, I’ll be here all night.’
“There’s just one thing I don’t understand,” he said out loud, “All three of your partners drop dead and a secret contract giving you control of the corporation turns up? You’ll be the prime suspect.”
“I didn’t do it,” said Stryker, “Jennings did. But he’s dead. I’ll shoot him and say he came for me.”
Batman heard faint shuffling on the catwalk, and realized what was about to happen.
“Stryker, wait! Jennings isn’t dead! I only-”
“Don’t try to distract me!” Stryker yelled back.
“Die, traitor!” Jennings roared, tackling Stryker.
Batman reached for his Batrope, but before he could throw it, Jennings had knocked Stryker and himself clear over the railing, sending them careening into a bubbling vat of toxic waste.
Batman’s arms fell limp at his sides. He hated when any case ended in bloodshed, but he had to admit one thing about Stryker’s death: It was a fitting end for his kind.
THE BEGINNING OF YEAR TWO.