I’m not an unreasonable man.
If there’s something I’m not understanding, explain it to me.
When I didn’t know about escapes, I learned.
When I didn’t know about climbing, I learned.
So if there’s a reason the catsuit can’t be hung on the hook built for that very purpose in the costume vault, why not just explain it to me instead of consistently leaving it on the bedroom chair, on the tallboy, or under the bed.
She says she’s fastidious. She says it’s a cat quality.
So explain that closet.
She once lost a cat inside it.
I offered to help her get it organized. What did she say: “Why bother?”
Why bother. Kitten, you can’t find anything in it. What’s the point in keeping stuff if you can’t lay your hands on it without rummaging for half an hour and losing a cat in all the clutter?
And then… I saw it coming… head tilt… eyebrow up… “Pfffffffffft.” Same way she’d answer “Crime doesn’t pay.” Infuriating woman.
“It’s not a trophy room,” she says, “it’s a storage closet.”
“And what’s THAT supposed to mean?”
“Selina, I’m not an unreasonable man…”
“…if there’s something I’m not understanding, explain it to me.”
“I just don’t feel the need to have my old junk filed clockwise around the room in chronological order.”
::brrzzzz:: The intercom interrupted.
::Sir, Ms. Barbara is on the line. I fear she sounds somewhat agitated.::
Dick’s face was bruised, swollen, and blood seeped through the bandages that ran from his cheek down to his collarbone.
“That’s a cut?” Selina was aghast, “Richard, this is serious; that could’ve opened your carotid artery.”
“I don’t need to be grandma’d right now. Okay, Selina?”
“GRANDMA’D!” she exclaimed before Bruce pulled her away from the bed.
Dick looked grateful.
Talking was painful, but what he had to say to Bruce and Selina—and to his wife—couldn’t wait. When he spoke, he addressed the room generally, but seemed to be speaking more to Bruce.
“The one-night-a-week plan isn’t working. Before the wedding, Nightwing spending one night in Gotham and the rest of the time in Bludhaven made sense. Gotham has a fulltime protector. But trying to work it the other way: living in Gotham, checking in at ‘Haven once a week, it’s not enough. Every time I go back, it’s six days worse. Blockbuster chose Bludhaven to be the seat of his criminal empire because it didn’t have a hero. I worked too long and too hard to stop him, to clean up the corruption there; I can’t turn my back on it now.”
“Dick,” Barbara pleaded, “I can’t leave Gotham. You can’t ask me to do that.”
“Then I won’t,” her husband replied simply, “but I won’t leave ‘Haven the way it is, either, under Blockbuster’s thumb. We’ve got to end him.”
The only response was from Bruce; Dick understood the grunt to be approval.
“I couldn’t stop him before, not alone,” Dick said in reply, still addressing Bruce more than the others. “But I have three advantages now he knows nothing of: Oracle, Batman, and Catwoman.”
“Okay, now I’m feeling insulted,” Robin complained. “I’m not invited to participate in the Battle of Bludhaven. Fine. I accept that. I’ll stay in Gotham and mind the store while you’re all away. No worries. No egos here like on some teams. I accept my assignment. But you’ve got to rub it in by having me run the projector for your briefing!”
“Robin, Tim, Bro!” Nightwing pleaded, “I need this. This is Blockbuster. This is the big one. If it were a briefing at Titans Tower, I’d be golden. But it’s not. It’s in the cave. It’s in his cave, and he’s made a hundred little tweaks to the system since my day. If I go in there without you, I’m going to hook up my laptop to the big screen, I’ll launch my slideshow, and it will crash the system. And there goes my credibility right there. Goodbye forever to my chance of running this thing.”
“Alright,” Robin sighed, knowing he was beaten. “I guess I can be there for half an hour and click a mouse for you.”
The next day, Tim Drake drove out to Wayne Manor after school. Instead of going straight to the cave, he walked the long way around the house, to the kitchen door. He knocked and entered.
“Hey, Alf,” he called as he went through to the elevator entrance in the butler’s pantry, “Going downstairs.”
Alfred Pennyworth knew his duty. Tim was the only Robin that didn’t live at Wayne Manor in his civilian identity, but Bruce still wanted him to treat the house as his home. And Tim had always done so. He didn’t need to check in the way he had just done. The only reason for Tim not to let himself in the front door and go straight through the grandfather clock passage to the cave was to pass by Alfred and make his presence known. And the only reason to do that, Alfred knew, was to get fed. Mrs. Drake was on another health food kick.
Alfred prepared a plate of sandwiches and brought them to the cave in time to see Tim, already changed into Robin, helping Nightwing move a long conference table into the main chamber.
“There,” Nightwing declared with a satisfied grin, “now everybody will have a clear view of the overheads. Robin, you can sit there and run the slides off the laptop. Now where are those binders?”
Catwoman took her seat in the Batcave. She took one look at the glossy black binder before her - with a Nightwing emblem emblazoned on the cover - and drove a claw into her palm to fight back the smile.
Without turning her head, she stole a glance at Batman, staring down at an identical binder placed in front of his chair.
˜˜Don’t say it,˜˜ he signed. ˜˜Just don’t say it.˜˜
˜˜Chip off the old block,˜˜ she signed back.
˜˜I mean it. Stop.˜˜
“Shall we start then,” ‘Wing began, and the projection screen lowered silently down. A Nightwing symbol appeared on the giant monitor that loomed over the cave.
Barbara, on the other side of Batman’s chair, sitting before a third black binder, voiced the comment Catwoman would not.
“Nice logo, Sweetums.”
‘Wing glowered at her.
“Shall we start?” he repeated.
“Un film di Nightwing,” his wife sang out.
“Says the gal who normally comes to meetings dressed as a hologram,” ‘Wing shot back in Dick’s voice.
“And this is the crack team that kept me from the Katz Collection,” Catwoman muttered.
“That, and a henchman who couldn’t keep his mouth shut after a couple boilermakers,” Batman noted under his breath.
“Leon was a fence, not a henchman,” she corrected.
“I’ll say, glass jaw.”
“Alfred,” Robin hit the intercom, “are there any chicken strips left? It looks like I’ll be here for a while.”
After the snack arrived, Dick removed his mask and rubbed his eyelids.
“Bludhaven briefing, take two,” he said.
“A lot of alliteration from nervous Nightwing,” Barbara chided.
“Here we go again,” Robin mumbled.
Batman cleared his throat, “Can we get started here?”
Just like Batman did, Nightwing cleared his throat before speaking, “Uh, yes. Yes, I think we’re all set now. You ready, Robin?”
“Sure thing, Bro,” answered a too-cheery voice.
“Blockbuster is Roland Desmond,” ‘Wing began. He nodded to Tim, who clicked the mouse as instructed. A surveillance photo flickered simultaneously on the laptop and the huge projection screen. It showed a well-dressed but unremarkable man entering a car. Then the same man’s mugshot appeared on the screen. “He is the numero uno criminal in Bludhaven.”
Nightwing paused, looking at the others in the room, trying to judge their level of interest. Batman already seemed bored.
A third slide came up, showing the same man’s face on the body of a behemoth. It had a huge balding head, but long grayish-blonde hair flowed from the back, down past the shoulders.
“WHOA,” Tim exclaimed. “What happened?”
“Experimental steroids. In prison. Roland is now 8 feet tall, weighs 825 pounds, and fights like something out of Lord of the Rings.”
“That’s not even human,” Tim winced.
“Bullseye,” Barbara said, “Ten points to the Boy Wonder.”
“The human heart Roland was born with couldn’t accommodate his new body. Somehow, he got himself a transplant… from Gorilla City. Physically, it’s his only weakness that I know of.”
Batman stifled a yawn.
“Ok, we get the picture,” Selina put in. “He’s a velociraptor in a good suit. What else has he got going for him?”
“Smarts,” ‘Wing answered. “The first Blockbuster, his brother, was a muscle-bound ox. Not Roland. Roland is a genius. In addition to his sheer physical bulk, we’ve got to contend with, in my opinion, an unmatched criminal intellect.”
Batman spoke up, “Yes, yes, he ousted Bludhaven crime boss, Angel Marin, and was able to fend off Black Mask’s minions to keep a stranglehold on Bludhaven. Right, Wing?”
A clearly flustered Nightwing looked down and shuffled his notes.
“Uh… uh… yes, of course, that’s right.”
Batman spun his hand around a few times as an indication to speed up the briefing.
“Uh, Blockbuster operates a highly sophisticated criminal enterprise in Bludhaven. The largest of its kind, in fact,” Wing said as if he were reading from a script.
“Old news,” a bored voice rang out.
“Hey! Who the hell is running this briefing anyway?” Dick shouted.
“Apparently, you are,” Batman replied. “So tell me something I don’t know.”
Shuffling his notes again, Wing said, “Okay, okay, I will.” He looked up to Robin to change to the next slide. “The chief source of Blockbuster’s cash is a gang, the oldest and largest in Bludhaven. About fifteen years ago, this gang was started by Angel Marin. It originated in Bludhaven’s fourth police precinct on the South Side, and later spread its tentacles into almost every community in the city.”
Nightwing looked up and saw everyone in the room was staring at him. He continued.
“Originally, this gang developed as a traditional street gang. Their main desire was to protect their neighborhoods or turfs. Occasionally, they would do battle with rival gangs from other neighborhoods. During these battles, they developed a reputation for violence and brutality. That reputation is still with them today.”
Feeling more confident, Nightwing said, “Their criminal activity entails…”
“Narcotics,” Batman cut in, “drive-by shootings, intimidation, graffiti, burglaries and related thefts.”
Flustered once more, Wing could only say, “Uh, uh… that’s correct.”
“Of course it’s correct. I’m Batman.”
The room erupted into laughter. The only one that wasn’t laughing, other than Batman of course, was Nightwing.
Trying to regain control of his briefing, Nightwing ignored the laughter and continued.
“And he’s got the cops in his pocket. From Police Chief Francis Alexander Redhorn—slide—on down.”
Robin sobered quickly and clicked for the next slide. A publicity shot came up that was obviously from a City press kit: a middle-aged man in uniform, brown hair, built like a football player, a cigar clenched in one hand as he stood behind his desk, leaning over a tidy stack of papers and files.
“And this photo is trying to make him look good,” Nightwing remarked sourly. “Just about all the scum in ‘Haven work for Blockbuster too. He gets fifty cents of every dirty dollar.”
“That’s good to know,” Catwoman noted. “He’s greedy. If he’s taking fifty percent, he’s not that smart. That’s your weakness number two right there.”
Nightwing met her eye. “We’ll talk later,” he said with a smile.
Catwoman gave a pleased purr. “Don’t be territorial, Dark Knight; it’s unattractive.”
“Actually,” Wing said with a strange twinkle, “a little marking of territory is going to be crucial to making this work. Robin, next slide.”
The next image that came up looked altered.
“That is Dudley Soames. Used to be called Deadly Soames before he upgraded to the more colorful handle: Torque.”
“It looks like his head is on backwards,” Robin observed.
“It is. Soames was the dirtiest cop around, and also one of Blockbuster’s lieutenants. Played all sides against the middle. Even gave me info on Blockbuster’s operations for a while. Roland found out, twisted his head 180-degrees. Soames blames me as much as Blockbuster. Wants revenge on both of us. That’s the key to him. Weakness number three.”
Batman grunted again. “Summing up any time soon?”
“To end Blockbuster, we’re looking at a three-tiered operation: One: find him. Two: physically taking him down. And three: neutralizing the corruption in the force. Otherwise, he’s free as soon as we take him in.”
To be continued...