No Such Thing As No Regrets
Officer Mark Burton was not having a good night. He and his partner, Lou Fontana had been driving through Tricorner when police dispatch had reported a possible B&E at 93 Cameron. The residence, apparently, was equipped with a home security system that immediately notified the alarm company when tripped. As per standard procedure, the company had telephoned the residence to verify the situation. When nobody answered their call, Protectarm Security Systems had notified the police, again standard procedure.
The reaction, however, had been anything but standard. A loud report, not unlike a firecracker blasting off, had come from behind the two officers. Whirling about, Burton had noted two things: A car, previously parked across the street from the residence, suddenly accelerating forward, and Fontana crumpling to the cobblestone walkway, a dark, wet, spot visible on the right shoulder of his Kevlar vest, radiating outward from a hole that had not been there a second before. Beneath Burton's horrified glance, the spot grew steadily bigger. His heart began to pound. Frantic, he dashed back to his patrol unit. His sweating hands fumbled the radio controls, as he relayed the message no dispatcher ever wanted to receive: "Officer down! We need assistance. Any units in the vicinity of Cameron and Weisinger please respond…"
From the window of the car, Burton thought he saw two shadowy forms leap from the roof of the residence to that of the next house over. He bit back a curse. He couldn't leave Lou. And, without backup, there was no way he was going to pursue those suspects, in any case.
"Copy that, Unit 14. Ambulance on its way, ETA 15 minutes, minimum. Additional units are being dispatched to your position, ETA 35 minutes." Burton shook his head. Fifteen minutes or more for an ambulance. How long did Fontana have? He looked out at his partner, unmoving on the front walk. The perpetrators were long gone by now, he reminded himself furiously. He left the vehicle, moving, with some trepidation, to where his partner lay bleeding. He was breathing, barely, but the breaths were slow, shallow, and labored. Suddenly Burton went cold. Like himself, Fontana was wearing a bulletproof vest. But he was bleeding from a gunshot wound. But that meant… armor-piercing bullets. Oh… crud. This was bad. This was very bad. He bent down next to Fontana.
"Buddy?" He whispered. "Lou, can you hear me?"
"He's having trouble breathing," A harsh voice whispered. "You know emergency first aid?"
Burton didn't look up. "Wha-what?"
"First aid." The voice paused, waiting for an answer. When none was forthcoming, it continued, "move."
"Move!" Instinctively, Burton responded to the order, sensing, more than seeing the other person move into the position that he had just vacated. "What's his name?" The figure asked, bending low to examine the fallen officer.
"F-Fontana," Burton stammered. "Louis Fontana." He stared at the shadowy form hovering over his partner. The man was wearing a hood of some sort, with two spike-like protuberances rising from the crown, like horns… or ears. But… but, he was supposed to be in custody, wasn't he?
In one swift motion, Batman removed his cape and laid it horizontally across the fallen officer's upper back, arranging it so that one end lay directly over the entry wound. He hastily folded the rest of the cape several times, creating a pad. "Louie?" He asked softly. "Louie, can you hear me?"
Burton shook his head, disbelieving. Who would have thought a guy that scary-looking could sound that… gentle?
"Take it easy, pal," Batman continued. "EMTs are on their way. We just need you to hang in there until they show up, okay, Louie?"
"Ummm…" Burton coughed. "It's 'Lou'. He hates 'Louie'." He felt his face grow hot. Lou was down, maybe dying… Batman was trying to help, and he, Burton couldn't do anything better than correct him on the proper nickname? He was such a moron! To his surprise, the cowled figure merely nodded.
"Sorry, Lou," he said. Suddenly, he looked up, cursing. Fontana had stopped breathing. Batman's glance fell on Burton. "Come here," he instructed. Burton complied, hesitantly. "There's blood on his face. Looks like the lung's been damaged, and he's slipping into shock. I need your help."
Batman needed his help? They were in trouble. Burton crouched down next to his partner. "What do I do?" he asked.
The masked man paused. "We have to stop the bleeding," he said, thinking aloud, "which means we have to apply direct pressure to the wound… but we can't move him around too much, or we risk shifting the bullet. But we've got to get him breathing again… Damn." He looked at the officer kneeling beside him. "Alright," he said resolutely. "You. Jacket." For an instant, Burton stared, confused. Then realization hit, and he quickly removed the lined jacket he wore over his vest and uniform.
The others on the force kidded him about wearing his coat on all save the hottest of summer nights. Burton didn't care. He happened to be more sensitive to cold than most, and was more than willing to put up with a bit of teasing so long as he remained warm. And the best treatment for shock… he realized, as Batman took the garment from him and draped it over Fontana.
"Alright," Batman said again. "If you know any prayers, now would be a good time to start saying them. Specifically, pray that the bullet didn't send bone shards into his spinal cord. If it did, we're about to make matters worse. Now. What I'm going to do is turn Lou, here, over, so I can get at his airway. I need you to keep his torso elevated, and keep pressing on the wound. I'm going to start rescue breathing. And let's hope the ambulance gets here, fast. Got it?"
Burton nodded. He swallowed. "You don't know what you're doing, either," he said miserably.
"Get ready," Batman said, as if he hadn't heard. "On three… one… two… thr" and Burton was supporting Fontana's upper body. Batman exhaled. "You're okay holding him like that?" he said, tilting Fontana's chin and pinching his nose shut. When Burton nodded, Batman covered Fontana's mouth with his own and gave two long slow breaths. He hesitated, and then placed index and middle finger to Fontana's carotid artery, checking for a pulse. Five seconds later, he gave another breath. He waited another five seconds before repeating. After the fifth or sixth repeat of the procedure, Lou drew a breath of his own. Officer and vigilante sighed, relief palpable.
"You have a name?" Batman asked.
"Burton. Mark Burton," he said dully.
The masked man absorbed that as he moved one hand to each side of Fontana's head, holding his neck immobile. "Thanks for the assist, Mark. What happened before I got here?"
Burton frowned, trying to remember. It felt like years since they'd parked the squad car. "Burglar alarm went off," he said finally. "The perps had a lookout."
Batman frowned. "With armor-piercers." It wasn't a question. "Perps?"
"Hopped the rooftops. The lookout drove off."
The Dark Knight's jaw clenched. "The lookout fired on an officer, and drove away. The thieves took a riskier escape route than…" he broke off as sirens wailed in the distance, growing louder with each passing second. "Something doesn't add up," he muttered, as the ambulance pulled up.
If events had moved swiftly before, Burton now felt as if the Flash had carried him a quarter-mile. He and Batman helped the two paramedics logroll Fontana onto a stretcher and carry him carefully into the waiting ambulance. Everything became a blur, as Burton donned a pair of latex gloves, and did as he was instructed. Somewhere in the middle, Batman vanished. One moment, Burton saw him pass an IV bag forward to one of the medical personnel, the next, it was as if he had never been there. Although the abandoned cape, and the night air breezing in from the rear door gave evidence to the contrary.
"You copy that, Oracle?" Dick asked.
"I am never going offline again," Barbara's disgusted voice came through his comlink. "It's too frustrating playing catch-up. Near as I can figure, Signorello's had a real run of bad luck. First he tries to corner the Gotham drug trade. When we put a stop to that idea, it looks like he took all the capital he'd raised and reinvested it in munitions."
"Cop-killer bullets?" He made sure nobody was watching before driving his motorcycle onto a barricaded turnoff, past a sign that read: Bridge Out.
"Well," Oracle said, "it's not like I have a signed charge copy with a credit card imprint, but there is a cash trail. Large shipment of ammunition intended for the military goes missing. Amount of cash totalling street value of said ammo plus a little bit extra suddenly disappears from Signorello's accounts. That officer who was shot, Louis Fontana, happens to have been one of the arresting officers of one Minas Celani. The man was doing some low-level enforcing for Black Mask, but he's connected to Signorello as well.
Dick nodded to himself as he drove his motorcycle around a slow sharp curve and into one of the ancillary 'caves', more like a bunker, really, that Bruce had established some years earlier. Things were beginning to make sense. "The burglary was a set-up," he stated as he parked the bike. He noted with satisfaction the two cars parked before him. They were designed to look like ordinary sedans. The touch of a button, however, would alter them to something quite a bit sleeker, armored like a tank, and rigged for stealth. That which he thought of as Batmobile, by any other name… he shook his head, trying to focus on the voice coming through his commlink.
"The burglary was convenient," Oracle corrected. "I'm not the only one with the capability to monitor police communications. If someone connected with the mob was able to tap into that frequency…"
"The mob would have known where Fontana and Burton were headed, and sent someone to intercept. It also gave Signorello the chance to make sure he got the ammo he paid for. So, if you're right, the Gotham mob now has access to dozens of rounds of cop-killer ammunition?"
"No," Oracle replied. "If I'm right, the Gotham mob now has access to fifteen hundred rounds of cop-killer ammunition. Not to mention standard ammo, and an assortment of rifles and handguns."
"We were wrong," Dick said, as he opened the costume locker and removed a fresh cape. "Us, the cops, the press… we've all been calling what happened last summer a war, when it was a pitched battle." He fastened the cape to the cowl. "If that… arsenal doesn't get off the streets, and soon, we're all going to learn the difference first hand."
Sitting at his desk at police headquarters, Commissioner Michael Akins felt his ulcer flaring up again.
On the desk before him was that day's newspaper, opened to 'Drawn from Other Quarters: a sampling of editorial cartoons from across the country.' The page ran on Sundays. What aroused Akins' ire was a single panel depicting a balding man in full police dress standing atop a high building labelled "Gotham Police HQ". At the building's base, angry crowds were rioting. The man was standing next to a large floodlight. In the night sky, a large "S" emblem shone, near a stylized "W" and a jagged lightning bolt. A second man was in the process of laying an emblem looking roughly like a circle super-imposed on a cylinder-the Green Lantern symbol-onto the floodlight, next to the other three icons. The caption beneath the panel read: Why isn't anybody coming? Was it something I said?
Akins buried his head in his hands. The night was not going well. And now, to top it off, Batman had been spotted. That simply wasn't possible. Wayne was under arrest, and Wayne was Batman. He knew that. He'd sent the costume and gadgets for analysis. If the man in custody wasn't Batman, he had to be military Special Ops, or some such. There was simply no other way to explain the level of technology he'd been carrying in his belt, gauntlets, and various other places in the costume. But if Wayne was Batman, and Batman was in custody…
Akins' fist slammed down on his desk, causing the surface of the liquid in his coffee cup to leap upward, falling just shy of the rim. "Grayson!" He snarled the surname as though it was an epithet. A moment later, he dialed the media relations office and left a voicemail for Edwards to schedule a press conference tomorrow afternoon.
Angelo Colletta excused himself from his card game and strode down the dingy corridor toward the men's room. His back to the entrance, he glanced left and right before pressing his shoulder to the dark, bullet-scarred wooden door. It gave way far too easily. Colletta lost his balance, as he half fell into the room beyond. A dark-gauntleted hand seized hold of his sleeve and dragged him the rest of the way inside, while a second gloved hand clapped itself over his mouth. It smelled of rubber, antiseptic, and blood. Aw, no! Colletta groaned inwardly. Signorello promised, no Bat interference, or I never would've agreed to do that job for him.The antiseptic smell was making him dizzy. He hoped he wasn't about to lose his dinner.
"Queasy?" The man holding him nearly spat the question out. "You must've been a lot less nervous when you fired that 9-milimetre about an hour ago."
Colletta squirmed, as he struggled to get loose. The hand released his jaw the instant before his captor slammed him into the wall. He felt his arms yanked behind his back and secured. While one hand continued to press him against the cold enamel tiles, the other relieved him of his gun and ammunition, then plunged into his pockets and removed their contents. His assailant then spun him about, and propelled him backwards into a toilet stall, shoving him down on the only seat available in those confines. The hand was over his mouth again, as Batman loomed over him. "We're going to have a conversation," he gritted. "Or rather, you are going to talk, and I am going to listen. I'm going to hear about Signorello, and Black Mask, and a load of armour-piercing bullets. If, instead, I hear you calling for help," his cape seemed to flow outwards, its inky blackness completely filling the entrance to the stall, "I can guarantee you that will be the last time you will be able to use your voice above a whisper for a very… long… time. Do I make myself clear?"
Colletta swallowed. He managed a shaky nod, and suddenly his jaw was free. He gulped in a few breaths, before Batman brought his hand sideways below his chin, forcing Colletta to look up into those dead white eyes.
"Start talking," Batman ordered.
Detective Romy Chandler walked into the GCPD cafeteria, fumbling in her pocket for loose change. The cash converter always found her dollar bills to be too crumpled to accept; the vending machines didn't take pennies, and tonight, she was apparently one nickel shy of a chocolate bar. Muttering to herself, she continued to feel about for another coin, while she took inventory of the contents of the machine. Espresso Crunches left a bitter aftertaste. Monte Christo? Good, but less filling. She needed an energy boost, maybe something nutty. A Chuckles bar? Nutty. Chuckles. Unbidden, a chalk-white face with unruly green hair flashed into her mind, and cackling laughter shrilled in her ears. She grunted, exasperated, as she tried to get the image out of her head. That maniac was responsible for the death of her partner. Not solely responsible, she reminded herself, grimly. She thought back to that winter. Major Crimes had been trying to find Angie Molina before the newscaster became the Joker's next victim. When they discovered her, chained to a bomb in a toy store stockroom, with less than five minutes to detonation, Nate had insisted that he would be able to handle things himself. He'd ordered her out of the building. As a result, Romy didn't know exactly what had happened next. But when the blast went off, she had run back into the store, in time to see her partner lying in a bloody heap… and Batman cradling Molina. The masked man had been forced to choose between rescuing a civilian, or a law enforcement officer. He had made his decision between a decent, upstanding young man with a life and career before him, who could have made a difference in this, or any other city… and an obnoxious outspoken critic of the GCPD and all it stood for. He had chosen wrong, and Nate Patton had died for it. Romy hadn't forgotten, and she would never forgive.
Footfalls behind her startled her. She spun, her hand flying to her non-existent holster, to see Akins stride past her to the coffee machine. He filled his mug mechanically, and slammed it down on one of the tables.
"Commissioner?" Romy asked, concerned. "You okay?"
Akins took a long sip from his mug. He didn't answer.
Akins muttered something under his breath. Romy frowned, leaning closer.
"What," Akins repeated, "have I done?"
Romy blinked. "I don't understand."
"I never thought we'd actually get him, you know," Akins said morosely. "After the stunt he pulled last summer, the way it backfired, at that moment, I could cheerfully have emptied my revolver into him. At that moment, Detective. But like this…" He shook his head. "This is all wrong."
Her breath caught. "You're not thinking about letting him go, Sir." Akins was silent. "Tell me you're not considering that!"
Akins steepled his fingers, and shut his eyes, for a moment. "There are twenty-eight officers gone because of that man's arrogance, Detective Chandler. I cannot face their families and tell them that I'm going to release the man most responsible for their deaths. I can't."
She breathed a sigh of relief. "Then… then, I don't underst-"
The commissioner exhaled wearily. "There are several hundred thousand Gothamites who are alive today because that man expended every effort to find the cure for the Clench virus about four years ago. To say nothing of the individuals he's rescued over the years. I was furious with him. I still am. But… nobody wants to go down as the 'man who puts Batman behind bars'. There was an editorial in the Post, today, asking for an accounting as to how much of our budget was 'wasted' on trying to bring him in, and how much we were spending now to keep him in custody, with the likes of Black Mask, Riddler and Stirk running loose." He pressed a weary hand to his forehead and slid it across to his temple, and down to his jaw-line.
"So," Romy began, "what do we do?"
Akins sighed. "According to reports I was handed a short while ago, Batman's out there, tonight." At Romy's gasp, he held up a hand. "Before you ask, Wayne hasn't escaped from the hospital, and his leg hasn't magically healed up, either. Which means there's somebody else running around in costume. That doesn't place us in the best light. It opens the door to too many questions. You know how rumors fly. First, they'll say Batman escaped. Which certainly doesn't make us look good. Then, they'll start asking whether we're positive we have the right man in custody. Which makes us look worse."
Romy nodded, grimly. If it comes down to a choice, I'll bet Molina and Chen come out supporting Batman over the GCPD on the airwaves, she thought. "Is there any way to fix things?"
"I hope so," Akins intoned. "I'm calling a press conference for tomorrow. We're going to announce that we're holding Wayne, and why. As for the guy in the suit, I've got a pretty good idea who he is, but I'm not going to make accusations without evidence. Too much potential for this whole thing blowing up in our faces." His index finger polished the rim of his coffee mug.
"I really hope he snapped," Akins continued. "I hope to G-d he's not in his right mind. If that hearing finds him incompetent, then we can justify the expenditures, say we had to hunt him down because in his existing mental state he poses too great a threat. We all know the damage he can do, the injuries he's able to inflict… if he's legally insane, then he either… gets the help he needs, or he stays safely locked away where he won't cause any further harm… and the people he's helped won't rise up in arms to defend him… the families of those officers won't accuse us of sacrificing justice to the whims of a vocal minority…" He grimaced. "In point of fact, Detective, once his attorneys pull the JLA defense, the prosecution's case basically falls apart. We're stuck charging him exclusively for crimes committed after the League disbanded. If he doesn't pass that hearing… that's the best thing that could happen for us at this point. Because if this case ever gets to trial… no matter what the outcome…" he swallowed, "we're screwed."
"Dick?" Barbara pushed herself away from the computer station. "You look like—"
"Something the bat dragged in?" He asked lightly. The costume was ripped in a half-dozen places. The part of his face not covered by cowl, was streaked with grime, and soot. He was favouring his right leg, leaning heavily against the doorframe. Despite all of that, he was grinning broadly. "You should see the other guys." He pulled off the cowl and ran his fingers through his flattened hair.
Barbara gestured to her array of security screens. "Who says I didn't?" She asked, as he staggered to a chair and collapsed with a sigh. "Well," she continued, "I saw some of them, anyway." She wheeled over and slapped her fingers lightly on his forearm. "I also saw the medical report on Fontana. He's going to make it."
Dick brightened again. "That's great! I really hated dashing out like that—"
"You left him in good hands. Oh, and you have a message on your cell phone. Came in about two hours ago." She handed him the small device.
"Akins," Dick said, accepting the telephone from her. "He's the only one who has this number who wouldn't have tried my comlink, first." He played back the message, and frowned. At Barbara's questioning look, he said, "he wants me to meet with him at eight this morning. Sounds important." His adrenaline high was all but gone, leaving him drained from the events of the last few hours.
"Sounds like he suspects, you mean," Barbara countered sharply. "It was after two when he called."
Dick closed his eyes. "I know," he said.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Dick sighed, pulling off one of his boots. "Nothing serious. I was chasing a purse-snatcher when I tripped on some uneven ground and twisted my ankle is all." He flexed the offending joint. "Yeah, it's only twisted. Should be fine." He crossed over to the sofa, and stretched out full-length.
"Better wake me in a couple of hours, Babs."
At 8:05, Dick Grayson dashed into GCPD headquarters, nearly colliding with the reception desk.
"May I help you?" A bespectacled woman in her early twenties, red-brown hair tied back in two tufted pigtails smiled up at him.
Dick affected a relieved smile. "I sure hope so, ma'am," he said. "I think I might have just missed Commissioner Akins-"
"No such luck," a deep voice deadpanned behind him. Dick whirled about, hastily. "It's all right, Stacy," Akins continued. "I've been expecting Mr. Grayson." His grim stare was almost bat-worthy. He pointed down the hallway. "You already know the way to my office, I believe."
Without waiting for an answer, he strode off in that direction. Dick smiled ruefully at Stacy. "Nice meeting you," he murmured, before following the commissioner of police.
This time, Akins didn't wait for Dick to be seated. "I see what your word is worth," he snarled. "You knew damned well I didn't mean for you to go running around in a different costume! This time, your sanction won't protect you-"
Dick held up a hand. "Whoa. Whoa, hold on a minute, Commissioner. Frankly," he fibbed, "I haven't got the foggiest idea what you're talking about. There's a new vigilante in Gotham?"
"Please," Akins said, "spare me. Where were you when I left that message?"
"Well," Dick said levelly, "considering that it was after two in the morning, and you'd made it very clear that you didn't want my help, I was trying to take advantage of the situation and do something I don't get to do enough of. Namely sleep. Sorry, Commissioner, if there's someone else running around in a new costume, I've got nothing to do with it." It wasn't a lie. The bat-suit hardly qualified as a new costume, and Dick hadn't asked anyone else to assist.
Akins considered. "So, you weren't running around as Batman last night?"
"No, Sir." Dick said immediately. Walking, driving, leaping, dodging, looming ominously… but no, I don't think I was doing much running. "Although," he added, "going by the headlines in today's Post, I really hate to say 'I told you so', but it looks like whoever it is might be doing this city a favor."
The commissioner sat down, giving the younger man a hard look. "So, you're happy with the situation. Someone else wearing that suit."
"Well, it's not the first time," Dick caught himself an instant after the words left his mouth. He shouldn't have… wait, had he really given anything away? The 'multiple Batman' theory seemed to crop up every now and again, usually because somebody else was running around in the cape and cowl. An off-the-cuff remark that supported the hypothesis wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
Akins absorbed that. Almost imperceptibly, he nodded. "Well, between you and me, I hope it's not the last."
Dick did a double take. "Seriously?"
"Seriously. By the way, I've let the guard detail at the hospital know, you can see him at ten."
"Ten." Dick pretended to think the matter over. "That's great, Sir. My morning is pretty open, so there's nothing to reschedule—"
Akins smiled, unpleasantly. "Oh, I didn't mean ten a.m., Mr. Grayson. I meant this evening. And I sincerely hope that Batman is also spotted around the time that you're visiting Wayne. Because otherwise, I may just have the grounds I need to bring you in on suspicion… and then we'll see if there are any further sightings of costumed vigilantes while we hold you both in custody.
"Thanks, I owe you." Dick hung up the phone, grinning.
"Oh what a tangled web…" Barbara quoted, her smile matching his.
He laughed. "I know, I know… but it's just too perfect. It's going to kill him, you realize that, Babs."
"Just don't get too carried away, Former Boy Wonder. The more you embellish the scheme-"
"The greater the chance of the whole thing blowing up in your face. Got it."
Barbara sobered. "I think it's time," she said quietly. "The autopsy results should be filed. Want me to check?"
The smile vanished from Dick's face as though it had never been there. "Please. Though I don't know why we're bothering. Does it really matter whether cause of death was the fall or the debris?"
There was no response. Barbara was typing in the codes to allow her access to the information she sought. A moment later she looked up. "That can't be right," she muttered. "Let's try…" After a few point-and-clicks her expression grew even more perplexed. "Dick," she said curiously, "was Alfred… diabetic?"
"What? No. At least," Dick caught himself, "I don't think he was. You know he might not have mentioned it, if he were but… no, in all the years I lived at the manor, I'd think he might have let something slip if he were. Why?"
"Because," Barbara said, "the cause of death is listed here as 'insulin overdose'."