The trio decides the itinerary for their evening, making an appointment for each assassin.
Vicki scrunched her eyebrows together, looking away from her friend. “Am I supposed to know that name?”
“No. But it’s one to remember. He’s the first victim of a new guy. He seems to go by the name ‘Enigma.’ When you get back to the cave, I need a new file created. I’ll deal with him later.” She heard an all too familiar shuffling through the phone, and a rush of air, and she knew that he had just stepped off of a building, and was currently soaring through the air. The noise was dimmed considerably after the take-off, as he had designed it to be. “Is Quinn okay?”
“She’s fine, as expected.” Vicki smiled. “Apparently, she was so distracted by our Christmas gifts that she didn’t notice what happened outside.”
“What? She didn’t notice? How…? Oh, the earbuds?”
“And now I know why you don’t trust them.” She sighed tiredly. She had no doubt he wasn’t going to let this go anytime soon. Bruce wasn’t against the earbuds and Walkman that she had gotten the slightly younger blonde, but he had warned her that she would abuse the volume to a point that she’d be ignorant to the outside world. He was more thinking along the lines of not being able to hear them when they called, by phone or in the mansion, but on this scale…
“Seriously, what happened?” Harleen almost yelled, her eyes wide. She marched out the door into her adjoining office and straight into the hallway. “Oh my…” Her mouth gaped at the destruction she saw in the hallway. While she was nowhere near the prison cells, it was obvious that a path had been led through by a rather raucous group. “I didn’t hear a thing,” she muttered to herself, disbelievingly. She found herself leaning on the wall. “Not a damn thing.” Vicki had followed her, and her quick hands were the only thing that stopped her from sliding down the wall, her legs giving out. She pulled the girl into a hug.
“It’s okay, dear Harley,” she cooed into her girlfriend’s ear. “It’s okay. You’re safe. The door was locked, and if they tried to break it in, you would have heard it. You’re okay.” No response. She pulled back, concerned. “Harleen?”
“You called me Harley…” she whispered, her hands tightening around herself. “I like it,” she quickly clarified, noting the worrying look Vicki had.
“Are you sure? I know you never liked that name.”
“You’re not making fun of me when you say that name, right?” She let out a dry chuckle. “You say it out of love, Vicki. Unlike my old classmates, you actually get to ride the Harley, not just saying it to piss me off. And I like ‘Quinn’, but Harley sounds more… girlish, y’know?”
Vicki hugged the doctor again, glad to have the girl’s sense of humor back, even though it was a bit forced. “I promise.”
“I know that door wasn’t locked, by the way.” Harley muttered, breaking up the hug. “But thanks for trying to make me feel better. I could’ve taken them, no sweat. Stuffed their heads into my new oven. It can probably fit up to four.”
Vicki laughed, despite herself. “There’s the Quinn I remember,” she smiled genuinely, grabbing the blonde’s hand. “Feel like taking the night off?”
The blonde’s face fell. “I don’t think I can,” she said gloomily. “I’m the most senior medical staff member here tonight. Technically,” she glanced around, “I’m supposed to be in charge.”
“You’re not in charge of security,” Vicki replied firmly. “Ambulances are already out in the front. There have been a number of casualties, but everyone else should be okay. Right now, though, Bruce needs our help. You up for it?”
Harley looked around one last time, before she looked firmly into Vicki’s eyes, her hand squeezing the older blonde’s. “What do we know so far?”
Harley’s fingers glided over the keyboard with ease, her fingers tapping merrily as she stared at the screens in front of her. “There we go. Enigma file created.” She leaned back a bit in her cushy roller chair. “Permission to freak out now?”
“I’ll allow it,” Vicki smiled grimly, standing beside her chair.
Harleen cleared her throat dramatically. “ASSASSINS? Are you kidding me? You have to deal with Assassins?!”
Bruce winced, not at the volume, but her tone. He was perched on top of a Gargoyle, patiently waiting for Penguin’s men to appear at the rendezvous point in the Plaza. “I’ll be fine, Quinn. I don’t think I’ll be back in time for dinner, but – ”
“Not the time for jokes, Bruce! We just saw the video. That chick snapped a man’s neck with her leg! That guy just killed four officers with a single bullet! And you have to deal with Bane and Shiva? You – you’re … you’re stepping into hell, Bruce.” Her voice suddenly sounded meek. She deflated. “Nothing I say is going to change your mind. Be careful.”
“I have no intention of taking on all eight of them, and if I did, you know I’d be careful. It’ll take a lot more than that.”
“Sure,” Vicki murmured. She didn’t sound too positive about the entire thing. The things that she saw in that video… she didn’t know how Bruce didn’t enter shock when he watched it the first time.
However, he had signed up for this, and he knew something like this could happen, and prepared accordingly.
And she’d be damned if she lost him on Christmas Eve.
She now had a choice. She could go out under the guise of Vicki Vale, investigative journalist, and gather as much information as she could, for Bruce’s sake. It wouldn’t be the first time. She could broadcast through the radio, any potential attacks that the assassins will undoubtedly provoke to get his attention, and get him to arrive before they’re sufficiently prepared. This had proven to be a very productive strategy in the past.
There was a problem, however, that made this situation different from before; while the city of Gotham was virtually stuck at home (this would have been the perfect time for ratings), most of the power was off tonight, so she would be stuck to video recordings – Besides, if she tried to do live coverage of something she shouldn’t be seeing, it would be pretty easy to locate her – she was usually in her helicopter, safely out of harm’s way, and while she could do a lot of things, reporting, filming, and piloting a copter was one of those things she couldn’t do at once. It was safe to say that she didn’t have to really work tonight. Her boss would be breathing down her neck if he himself weren’t curled up in front of a fire at home – he probably didn’t even know what was going on.
Her crew had ran straight for the exit back at the prison when she went to find the security room, and she doubted they would come back to her if she called for them. They were loyal enough to a point, but this snowstorm, combined with escaped criminals and ‘rumored’ assassins, was far and beyond past the point.
For the rest of the night, she would be on her own.
“Harleen,” Vicki began, and the doctor looked back over her shoulder and waited for her next words. “I need all the information that we have on Roman Sionis – especially his businesses. I need everything you can find on Janus Cosmetics and the Merchants Bank. If there is anything that looks the least bit interesting, I need to see it. We’re taking this son of a bitch down.”
Harleen nodded, turning back to the computer. “Done. I guess you’re heading back out?”
Vicki was far more aware and in tune with Harley’s emotions more than the young girl could ever imagine. She heard the light tremor in her voice, and knew that the thought scared her as much as Bruce being out there.
She quietly stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her dear friend’s shoulders; to her credit, she only jumped a little. “A little later, Harley. I have some work to do.” She kissed the side of the doctor’s head. “I’ll leave Bruce to the dangerous stuff. I’m taking the desk-job tonight.” She smirked a bit. “Got a problem with that?”
She hummed happily to herself in a negative fashion. “No complaints here!”
Vicki chuckled at the bespectacled blonde’s exuberance. “You’d go crazy without me, Quinn.”
The doctor shrugged, unconcerned. “Nah. I’d be sane without you two. You just brought me down to your level.”
“You’re welcome,” the disembodied voice sounded in her ear. “Put me on speaker if you both plan on sticking around.”
When the doctor acquiesced, Batman spoke his plan to them. “The drone I found at the prison belonged to Cobblepot. If I find out where he is, I find Sionis and convince him to call off the hit. Penguin’s arranging an arms deal here. His men will be here shortly.”
“Even if he calls off the hit, I’m ruining him,” Vicki spoke with conviction. “The second I find any shady information about his business, it’s over for him.”
“That may be a problem,” Harley muttered, almost to herself. She pointed to one of the many monitors she was currently working on. “According to this, Black Mask is dead.”
The batcave was deadly silent, were it not for the whirring of technology around them. Even the bats above their heads seemed to understand the significance of the silence, and not a screech was squeaked out.
“What?” the standing blonde finally questioned her.
“Apparently, there was a murder at Lacey Towers, in his safe house. Tiffany Ambrose, his girlfriend, was murdered, and The Black Mask’s remains were found. This isn’t a rumor or anything. This is the GCPD police report.”
“He seemed okay to me an hour ago,” Batman spoke after a pregnant pause. “I may not have been able to see his face, but… hold on. Remains? Did they confirm the identity as Roman Sionis?”
“Let me see… No, they didn’t. He was burned badly, his mask fused into his skin. They’re analyzing his blood. They have a type, but we have nothing to compare it to – we don’t have Sionis’ blood or prints on file, and even if they have his blood, they wouldn’t think to compare it to Black, Mask’s. I’m sending you the report now.”
“Got it.” He leaned back comfortably on the gargoyle in front of the clock tower, his attention on the image projection in front of him, his peripheral on the rendezvous point of the Ammunitions deal. There were no images that accompanied the police report. “They discovered this a few hours ago. The estimated time of the crime happened a week before.” He pondered to himself. “It could have been one of his safe houses, and it’s just a nameless henchman. But why would he send one of his lovers to a safe house? And why would Penguin’s prints be there?”
“He might’ve been there to brag,” the psychiatric evaluation specialist pointed out. “He can’t let his biggest competitor die without a few parting words.”
“Would he leave his prints at a crime he committed?” Vicki voiced her concerns. “And if the crime scene is badly burned, where would they find fingerprints? Something doesn’t add up.”
“Ah! Here we go.” Quinn forwarded the crime scene photos to Bruce, before expanding them across the screen.
Vicki studied them for a moment, before she raised an eyebrow. “The way she was hung on the chandelier, like she’s some kind of angel… could she have been caught cheating on Roman with the bodyguard? His henchmen wear those masks, too.”
“That would make sense,” Harleen muttered to herself.
“So that picture stuck out the most to you as well, huh?” Bruce asked them over the speaker.
“It’s impossible to not stick out,” Vicki crossed her arms. “Why do you ask? What are you thinking?”
“Could be nothing,” he muttered. “I’m running through a myriad of scenarios in my head right now. It could be an assassin wanting their payment early, and sending a message. It could be a simple situation of Penguin eliminating his competition, and a case of mistaken identity. But that is not the real Black Mask.” He zoomed into the picture, which was mirrored on their end through his view. “There isn’t a back to the mask. His hair is visible. It’s a regular, henchman mask. Roman wears a full head mask.”
The three reflected on his words, pondering what to do next. Vicki moved to the chair next to Harley, and leaned forward. “The Black Mask is a greedy man, we know that.” She glanced over to her companion, who stared back, curious. “He wouldn’t let this go. He couldn’t. I doubt he cares about one of his henchmen, but Tiffany is one of his girls. After an assassination attempt, would Sionis just… let it go? Would he really be focused on you right now? You haven’t bothered him in a while… so why would he be going after you on such a grand scale?”
“I… don’t think he knows, actually.” Harley pointed back to the picture. “If Sionis knew about either of them, he’d have the mess cleaned up. Come to think of it, if it was Penguin, he would have cleaned it up, too. If it was even an assassin, they would have cleaned it up if they had any sense.” She looked at another of the pictures. “They’d at least close the balcony door if they wanted the whole crime scene to burn. It’s been snowing non-stop for two weeks, and the crime scene shows it. Maybe… the person who committed this crime… wanted someone to find it?”
Batman thought furiously to himself, his keen mind calculating every bit of information in the images. He stopped abruptly as something caught his attention; the dealers and buyers had arrived at the spot. “I need to go there. This whole scene doesn’t add up; almost like it was staged.”
He turned off the display and crouched up to a kneeling position. “Once I get Oswald’s location, I get Black Mask’s. But before I get to him, I’ll investigate the crime scene.”
They understood the meaning of his words – he had no ammunition to stop Roman from calling off the hit. There was a lot of potential of what they could find there. They had no idea what they could find, but every little bit helps.
The clock struck nine. The bell gonged thunderously through the listless city, the echoes of the almost joyous sound travelling in solitude – The Christmas Spirit was nowhere to be found outside, in the almost subzero temperatures. It was a truly unwell season, culminating to this night. The dealer, leaning forward on his throne, his Santa hat perched on his bald head, smiled a toothy grin, his almost poetic words meaning nothing to the other thugs around him, but he preached anyway. He was the only one into the special time that was Christmas, and he was just fine that way. It was time for his Christmas Bonus.
His eyes glimmered upwards to the Clocktower’s chime, and his breath caught, before he saw no more.
Harleen handed her girlfriend a flash drive. “This is all the information we have so far. Embezzlement funds, incomplete tax returns, bribes to the Commissioner, some recent checks cashed by henchmen, links to offshore accounts… I don’t know who’s managing his cash, but they make it so easy, it feels like cheating.”
“He wouldn’t trust anyone with his money,” the blonde said easily. “As always, he’ll only have himself to thank. Great work, Harleen.”
“Oh, hold on… what’s this? Oh! It is! Let’s see… a recent fifty two million dollar withdrawal from one of his accounts. I’m willing to bet the two mil is for processing fees and extra security.”
“And that leaves fifty million dollars unaccounted for.” Vicki rested her hand on Harleen’s shoulder. “This is just what we needed.”
Harley pulled out a small, nondescript memory card. “Should I?”
Vicki shrugged. “Might as well tell them what we know. It’s not like they would release the information.”
The doctor nodded and slid the memory card into the slot. “Copying information now.”
“Good work, Harleen,” Batman muttered, over minimal static.
“You’re crazy, man! You’re freaking crazy!”
The Caped Crusader ignored the man known as ‘Loose Lips’ in favor of the information on his cell phone. “Penguin is somewhere in Gotham, but he seems to be untraceable. Can you search for any strange places in the area? I’ll look from above.”
“Alright,” she said uneasily, tapping slowly. “Should I ask what you did to make that guy scream like that?”
“I dropped him on a Christmas tree.”
“I suppose I shouldn’t have,” Harley said with a smile.
“Sometimes, I think he delivers it in that voice because he knows it’s funny,” Vicki noted, her grin wide.
“I’ll neither confirm nor deny.” He landed on top of a tall smokestack, and covered his mouth from the billowing smoke. “I see a large cargo ship off the coast of the amusement mile.”
“That may be it,” Harley muttered. “It would explain why I’m having a hard time finding him in Gotham.”
“I would hope that’s the place. It’s got snipers.”
“Snipers? And no one’s reporting this on the police scanner?” Vicki wondered incredulously. “Hold on… what would he need snipers for? To protect himself from the assassins?”
“If he was worried about the assassins, he wouldn’t be putting out snipers on display,” the doctor pointed out. She noticed a banner on the screen, through Batman’s cowl display. ‘Fifty percent off?’ Oh! His guns!”
“That makes sense. He’s protecting his ammunitions, and he’s about to sell it all off.” The Dark Knight grimaced. “I have to stop this. Once I get my information, call Gordon. That’ll keep him off me for a while.”
“I think he would still be at the police station, with Loeb’s body. I don’t think he’d be after you for a few hours yet. Are you sure you want to give him the credit?”
“Good point. Send it to Renée.”
Harleen nodded approvingly. “Now that’s someone I’d like to see rise in the ranks.”
“You’d see her any way you could,” Vicki whispered. Harley began to blush, but didn’t comment. “I wouldn’t mind a night with Miss Montoya myself.”
“That makes three of us,” Bruce muttered, surveying the armed thugs. “At the last charity fundraiser, we flirted for a while, and she told me her girlfriend had a crush on me.”
The younger blonde gasped in surprise. “Did you get an invitation?”
“That would have been rude to the date I was with, Quinn,” he said in an amused tone. “Though, they had been eyeing each other all evening. We probably could have made an arrangement, but there was a shootout at Maroni’s restaurant. I had to bow out early.”
“This is exactly why you need a sidekick,” she muttered.
“I’ll take it into consideration. Going into radio silence.” When he didn’t hear a response, he clicked off and jumped from the ledge, gliding straight for the lookout sniper.
“Here ya go,” Harley beamed, handing over the memory card. “I recommend copying the information to your laptop. Wouldn’t want the card to stay inserted for too long.”
Vicki quickly thanked her and left. “Alone again,” she sighed, leaning on her hands. “I wish I brought my oven with me…”
“You haven’t checked your room yet, have you?” Bruce chuckled into the intercom.
“Wow. That was quick.”
“They were easy. Heading into the boiler deck. Going back into radio silence. I shouldn’t need you for an hour or so, so don’t feel obligated to stay in the cave. Take your tablet with you, in case.”
“Roger that,” Harley pushed herself away from the desk. “I’ll stay close-by; I think I’ve opened enough presents to last me till morning. And I’ll be sure not to listen to any music until then. Have fun.”
Batman hmph‘ed to himself. Harley was practically convinced that he was having fun doing this. He wasn’t sure himself, but sometimes; it didn’t feel like a job, and it was far more than fulfilling.
He opened the door and strode into the well-lit room. He knew Penguin’s process, and there it was in front of him. Two men, with their backs turned towards the door, their knives forgotten on the table beside them.
He dispatched of them quickly, and pressed on.