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Part 4


Mick, Joey Bluehat, and Switch waited nervously for their audience with Blockbuster.  They had successfully hijacked a truck.  They thought it contained microwave ovens.  Instead, it contained DVD players.  That meant more money.  Lots more money.  It wasn’t likely word would be on the street yet, but they weren’t taking chances.   Blockbuster would have his cut before he even heard about their score.

Better safe than sorry.

Remember Deadly Soames?  Remember Little Eddie?  Remember Blade Walski?  And Nickie the skunk.  Bad things happened to guys who crossed Blockbuster.  “He didn’t rewind” was the way they spoke of it on the street. 


Inside the de facto throne room built in a gutted strip club, Blockbuster readjusted himself on his specially made, titanium-reinforced chair. The difficulty was not in finding a material that would hold his enormous bulk, but in making it comfortable.  The chair frame was hard as a rock.  Placing mere cushions under his ass did nothing but press the padding flat within seconds.

He had finally found the solution, bladders of industrial polymer inflated with pressurized air.  But he was still working on the right psi.

Blockbuster was pleased at the tribute Mick, Joey Bluehat, and Switch had rendered.  More than pleased. But the news they delivered with it was troubling. No, not troubling.  Troubling implied fear, and Blockbuster feared no challenges to his criminal empire. But it was… perplexing.

The Bat was in Bludhaven.  On what business, no one knew.  There were reports of confrontations between Batman and Nightwing. Indeed, “arguments” would not be too strong a term for the scenes his informants had witnessed.  If the scouts were not exaggerating, it would be fair to say a fight was what occurred between the two vigilantes.

The development would require some thought. And Blockbuster resolved to apply the 45 minutes prior to his dinner to a strategic analysis of Batman’s appearance in Bludhaven. 

Every day at 7:15 precisely, Blockbuster’s cook, Akira Gomasuri, hired from a Japanese Sumo stable, would enter and bow greeting to Desmond-san. Blockbuster would nod and dispatch his man, Riley, to help the cook carry the four bags of groceries Akira brought with him. Riley would stay with the cook and observe the preparation of his master’s meal.

At 8:00 Akira would enter again, bow, and present a great pot of Chanko-nabe, a hearty stew of vegetables, meats, seafood and tofu made to feed entire teams of Sumo Wrestlers.  Riley would eat a portion of the dish in Blockbuster’s presence, and then the criminal kingpin would commence to eat.

Whenever Blockbuster had a problem of some importance, he devoted that time between Akira’s first bow and his second to the full study of it. Blockbuster knew he was the greatest criminal mind of his generation. Any problem he gave his full attention in this manner would be quickly disposed of.

This night, as Blockbuster ate his Chanko-nabe, he was confident. He had thought through every possibility and permutation of the Batman problem.  He could find no special opportunities in the Bat’s arrival, but neither could he see any particular danger, either to himself or his operations. Whatever Batman’s business was in Bludhaven, it originated in Gotham City.  It was not one of Blockbuster’s minions, then, that Batman was chasing. If whoever or whatever it was succeeded in evading the Bat, they were here now and would have to pay tribute like anyone else. If they didn’t, they would learn. He would make an example of them: like Soames.


The anatomical anomaly that was once Dudley Soames took his usual route to BLUE, a third rate watering hole with a first rate crap game. He took his usual route because it was dark, unpopulated, and he wasn’t likely to be seen.  Soames could navigate well enough, thanks to the special glasses that let him see “behind” him, i.e. in the direction his feet were walking. But being able to walk from point to point, aim, and fire a weapon were not the real challenges of his life. The challenges were getting through day-to-day tasks like walking to his hangout without the stinking mass of mouth-breathing morons pointing at the freak “walking backwards.”  Then he’d have to stop and teach them some manners, and there goes another evening of craps.  So it really was best to stick to the back streets where he wouldn’t be noticed.

BLUE was named for the Blue Line, under whose tracks the seedy establishment was located.  And if the beer was swill and the whiskey was watered, it was at least the kind of place they knew not to give a man shit just because his head was on backwards.  At BLUE, the regulars all knew (and the newbies would be told soon enough) that the guy in the neck brace has the barstool by the wall. He comes in and sits, twists around, and he bends his elbows backwards to drink.  “Dunno how, don’t ask. Maybe he’s double jointed.  Point is, don’t stare.  Guys get ventilated who stare.”  The same held true in the men’s room. Whatever he was doing, Soames’s head faced behind him. You got a problem with that, take your leak in the alley.

The crap game was slow getting underway tonight. The guys were excited about the fresh meat. Soames could see why.  She was hot.  Not seven-come-eleven hot. Hardbody-wrapped-in-leather hot. 

“You’re on the wrong side of the river, Pussycat,” Soames sneered, by way of introducing himself.  He didn’t turn from his beer and he spoke loudly, as if addressing the room at large. He saw the feline rise and walk to meet him with a viciously round sway of her hips.  Something cold and sharp bit into the divot under his chin and pulled him by it, causing the barstool to swivel until he faced two eyes of piercing green ice.

“Whatever side of the river I am on,” the vixen purred, “is the right side… Mr. Torque.”

He swiveled the stool back around to face the bar and pointed an invitation to the seat next to him.  The feline sat, and Lou - who never waited on customers himself - sat an icy martini before her in seconds.

“Pint a’ catnip,” Soames quipped in one of his trademark palindromes. “The name’s Dudley.  So, what do you want, Alleycat?”

“From you? Nothing,” Catwoman replied dryly. “I do have a message to interest several in this dreary little ‘burb. You’re not one of them.”

“Tell me anyway,” Soames pressed, his soft tone meant to seem both menacing and seductive.  “Villain to villain, tell me.  Let me decide what interests me.”

“A party in Gotham wants it known that Oswald Cobblepot only takes a thirty percent piece of the action.  Blockbuster, I understand, takes fifty.”

“A ‘party in Gotham’ wants that known here, eh,” Soames chuckled. “Cobblepot wants to muscle in? Change protectors, keep an extra twenty cents on the dollar?”

“I didn’t say that,” Catwoman purred. “But you see now why this matter doesn’t concern you. You’re no longer on Roland’s payroll, now are you?”

“I want him dead, that’s not a secret. And I want it to hurt.”  From his flowing overcoat Soames produced a vintage weapon, caressed its barrel lovingly as he held it out for Catwoman to see. “That’s a vintage Thompson .45 caliber machine gun, commonly called a Tommy Gun.  Made by Colt.  100 Rounds.  That’s what Al Capone used to kill Frankie Yale.  First time a machine gun was used to commit a homicide in the city.”

Selina fought down her nausea and answered with the cool detachment of a business woman:  “Vengeance is fine, Studley, if that’s what gets your juices flowing. But there isn’t any money in it. You and your vendetta are of no interest to my associates.” 

“What about the Bat,” Soames hissed. “He’s ‘of interest,’ isn’t he? Word is, he’s in ‘Haven.  Even bet he’s here for you.”

Catwoman tossed her head.

“Batman is not a concern.  Haven’t you heard?  He’s far too busy squaring off with Nightwing to bother about little ol’ me. Take a tip, Studley, villain to villain. Bats and Nightwing are fire and gasoline. Something bad went down there. Lot of bad blood.  If they’re going at it, you can consider the coast clear for…whatever.”

“My only ‘whatever,’” Soames said, throwing a bill onto the bar, “is seeing Nightwing suffer as much as Blockbuster.”

He slipped on his glasses and left the bar. He was bitter at the feline’s cool dismissal of the mission of his life. But not so bitter that he was unaware of his surroundings as he walked home.  He knew he was being followed. His route home was darker than his route to BLUE, and from the black beyond the dim streetlight, the shadow of a vigilante fell over his features. A shadow with pointed ears and more cape than is seen in Bludhaven alleys.


Bruce couldn’t sleep.

He lay with Selina tucked under his arm on the pullout sofa in Dick’s safe house.  Dick and Barbara had the bedroom, but from the sounds seeping through the wall, they weren’t sleeping either.  It took him twenty minutes to work out what was going on—TV was on, CNN, then Letterman, then CNN, then TVLand.  Remote war in progress. The remote, so deduced the World’s Greatest Control Freak-Detective, was kept on the nightstand on Barbara’s side of the bed. It was she watching CNN and Dick changing to lighter fare.

Bruce thought about warm milk.  He was reasonably sure he could heat milk without difficulty. But that would wake Selina.  He looked down at her.  Catlike, she could sleep anywhere. 

The reason for his wakefulness was certainly not the Bludhaven operation. The plan was going well.  The staged confrontations with Nightwing had been cathartic. And Catwoman played her part beautifully. After she’d laid the groundwork, Batman had no trouble manipulating Torque.  He made the villain think it was his own idea:  If it was Batman who took down Blockbuster, it would destroy Blockbuster, but it would also deal a crushing blow to Nightwing. The ultimate insult: this rival he despised from Gotham comes into his city and takes down his great foe

Torque cared nothing for justice.  But playing both sides against each other was always appealing. In the interest of injuring both his enemies, at little risk to himself, using this preposterous caped vigilante as his tool, he agreed to help Batman take down Blockbuster.

The plan was fine.  It was working.

So why couldn’t he sleep?

Well… it could be the hour. In Gotham, he would just be starting the late patrol.  And there were the city sounds.  Despite being the quintessential Gothamite, Bruce was used to the quiet of Wayne Manor. Besides, Bludhaven sounded different. There were fewer skyscrapers, the roads were a little wider, water traffic was everywhere.  It sounded different—that was it.  That would keep any Gothamite awake, surely.

Well…. He glanced at Selina again and stroked her hair absently with his free hand… any Gothamite but one.

Why wouldn’t she go along with the tiger-bodyguard? He only wanted to keep her safe, couldn’t she see that? It was the same reason he planted the tiny bat-shaped homing device in her costume—which Dick saw, and made him remove. 

“You have no grasp of boundaries at all, do you?” Dick had said—a line taken from one of their phony rooftop fights staged for Bludhaven informants—delivered with real affection here in the safe house, instead of the venomous spite of the rooftop. 

Through the wall, the hum of the television switched back to CNN. It was a comforting sound, it sounded like monitor duty at the Watchtower, a bore.  Bruce closed his eyes, willing the sense-memory of boredom to lull him to sleep.

Then his eyes opened and he looked at the ceiling. 

This was Selina’s doing.  No.  Not quite.  It was Catwoman’s. The night’s activities had stirred up old feelings. Trailing her—not Selina on some Girls’ Night Out, but Catwoman: claws, whip and attitude—to underworld dens, consorting with a villain like Torque.  No wonder he felt… 

How did he feel? 

Back when they were… as they used to be, adversaries… he wouldn’t have just trailed her to Torque, there would have been an encounter. Then he would have gone home to his lonely bed and looked up at the ceiling, not this ceiling, but one looks much like any other… and he would replay it over and over, lingering on the more personal aspects that always worked their way in, no matter how much he vowed that this time it would be strictly business…  He’d blot out the sting of fresh scratches and wonder what if… what would it be like if… to hold her, to spend a night with no Gotham to patrol and no crime between them, only the warmth and softness of her in his arms…

And now she was here.  The warmth he had imagined.  The details that go with reality he never envisioned… the weight of her head cutting circulation in his arm, the way she managed to take half his pillow no matter how many others were on the bed… this was no fantasy Catwoman. It was real.  In his dreams, he never figured on…  loving her… on losing her. 

Bruce thought back to the hangar:

“You want to go too.  Go.   Leave,” he had said, “Just go and leave.”

“Like he did?” she had asked.

Like they all do.  His parents. Jason. 

What was so silly about a tiger-bodyguard, after all?  If you have a nine-hundred pound carnivorous pet, why not leverage it for a little peace of mind?  If your lover is the most dangerous man alive, Kitten, why not let him protect you?

Through the wall, the dull hum of CNN gave way to the carefree whistle of the Andy Griffith Show.  Bruce sighed, and the sleeping cat in his arms murmured “judgmental jackass.” His mouth twitched.  If that didn’t justify waking her to get up for some warm milk…


Batman and Nightwing trailed Blockbuster’s man Riley from the Stark Avenue Pharmacy to a boarded up strip club in “The Spine.”  Batman brought this information to Dudley “Torque” Soames. Soames remembered Blockbuster’s routine and timed his arrival just after Akira Gomasuri’s first bow. Riley would be off supervising the preparation of Blockbuster’s dinner. It was the only opportunity for an unannounced audience…

Blockbuster was suspicious, just as Torque knew he would be. When the former lieutenant you maimed for betraying you, who vowed vengeance on nine separate occasions, shows up on your door at dinnertime with information, SUSPICION is to be expected.

But Blockbuster knew Soames’s track record. He’d sell anybody to anybody, everybody to everybody else. And what he had to gain in this case, Blockbuster could see, might be just enough to overlook the past vendetta—at least for now.

“Mutiny,” Soames said, “Cobblepot, from Gotham, is offering 30 percent. Half the operators in ‘Haven, from pimps to dealers to the guy running the three-card-monte by the stadium, are all ready to defect. You don’t act now? By morning, you won’t have anything left.”

“Why tell me,” Blockbuster asked with soft-spoken menace. 

“Doom an evil deed, liven a mood,” Soames said reflectively, trying out one of his signature palindromes. “I like the thought of you owing me. B’sides, Roland, to keep what’s yours, you gotta bust some heads. Anybody that don’t live through the night, I take over their operations. And I’ll pay you forty percent.”

“I get fifty, Soames, and you know it.”

“You won’t get anything without me,” Soames oozed.  “Egad, a base life defiles a bad age….   You don’t change protectors like changing credit cards, Roland.  All your scum-lapping minions know that. To go over to Cobblepot’s camp, they’ll have to remove you.  They’re having a war council—the men, the money, and the guns, all in one place - tonight. You want to stop this, there is one way only: You say ‘Help me, Dudley, my friend and partner.  Help me in my hour of need. Tell me where they’re meeting, and I’ll meet your price.’” 

Blockbuster was suspicious, but he had no choice. Soames had made his ultimatum, and having made it, he would only answer “No, it is opposition”  to all further queries.  “No, it is opposition,” a curious phrase, a palindrome, spelled the same way backwards and forwards, one of Soames’s obsessions since Blockbuster had twisted his neck into Torque.

“Alright, it’s a deal,” Blockbuster agreed, “where’s the meeting?” 

If this was a setup, he was more than able to handle whatever waited from him at….

“The St. Eustace Mission.”

And if it was not a trap, there would be plenty of time to eliminate Soames afterwards, once Blockbuster’s empire was again secure.


Suspicion was lost in raw rage when Blockbuster reached the mission and found EXACTLY what Soames said he would find—three hundred of his operatives and their flunkies, gathering for war.

He had no time for subtle strategy and none was needed. This was a challenge to the dominance of the alpha-male and he met it as such: with a primal yolp and beatings of his chest. The five boldest of the challengers moved in on him and were quickly dispatched.  Five more came and fell likewise.  Then five more… Shampoo, rinse and repeat. 

After the 20th group was thrashed, Blockbuster felt sure the others would submit.  But the rest were sure he would tire soon.  When the unconscious form of the 182nd man was thrown into 183, 184, and 185, those that remained fled.

Blockbuster had won.  But he was tired.  The physical fight was necessary—no guns—he had to beat them into submission. It was to prove a point, like when he twisted Soames’s head around.  Soames who, curiously, had told him the truth about this meeting.

Well, it was enough for tonight.  He was tired.   The matter of what to do about Soames could wait until morning.  All Roland Desmond wanted now was home and bed.

Except… here was Soames again… Shit.

“That was very impressive, Roland,” Torque twinkled with a strangely psychotic glint in his eye. “Won Now, you could say.”

Palindromes.  Freakin’ palindromes from the freakin’ freak.  He’d just fought 180 strong men, did he have to suffer this now?

“Doesn’t look like you killed any, though,” Torque observed, glancing at the moaning thugs scattered around the mission, “That was petty. Don’t want to pay my fee?  Well, fuck you, Roland! I knew you’d try and stiff me, that’s why I held back the real prize.”

He took a clawed purple glove from his pocket and twirled it. “Was it a cat I saw?

Blockbuster took the glove and examined it, then looked to Soames.

“I have her.  Catwoman.  She’s been working the town for Cobblepot, his mouthpiece, organizing this thing.  So before you go home to whatever retention pond a thing like you uses for a hot bath, I’d say you have one more stop to make.”

“Give her to me, Soames,” Blockbuster said dangerously, “Give her to me, and I’ll send her back to Gotham in pieces. I’ll send Cobblepot and everyone else a message about fucking with my operations.  Give her to me, Soames, or it’s you I’ll be ripping apart.  Piece… by piece… by piece.”

The barrel of a vintage Thompson .45 caliber machine gun pressed into Blockbuster’s throat.

War, sir, is raw.  You know my price, Roland.  I take over the operations of everybody lying on this floor, and I pay you 40 percent.”

“Fine,” Blockbuster said, wanting only to kill the Cat, go home, and REST. “Where is she?”

“Basement of the Devin Building, in Melville. Take her under the cloverleaf before she wakes up,” Soames suggested, taking back the glove, “and the noise from the Little Narrows Bridge will drown out the screaming.”

Roland Desmond roared off with blood in his eyes, and Soames smiled as he toyed with the purple glove, his ‘souvenir’ of this episode. Blockbuster was depleted from his marathon battle, but had strength left, certainly, to kill one defenseless woman. Except, he wasn’t going to find a defenseless woman. There was no captive Catwoman at the Devin Building.  He was going to find Batman… waiting. 

“You’re a fool, Roland,” Soames told the night sky as he left the mission and started for home.  “The basement of the Devin Building!  And what’s on the top floor, hm?  An elegant restaurant overlooking Melville Park—best view in the city, they say—and what’s it called: Top Spot.  A palindrome.”  

To be continued...

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