FRAIDY CAT

 

            If Gotham City were a train, Mayor Randy Golini mused, it would be described as back on track and making good time.  During his twenty-two months in office, the former prosecutor had overseen a remarkable turnaround in the crime rate.  His emphasis of no-nonsense law enforcement and integrity on the police force resulted in a double digit decrease in violent crime, as well as a number of major corporate investments in the beleaguered midtown and East End sections.  Tourists were coming back, and the old Gotham Cathedral was even being renovated as a symbol of the city’s new spirit.

            Golini strolled confidently into the City Hall conference room to begin an important meeting.  Several familiar faces smiled upon his arrival: Bruce Wayne, media mogul Bill Tate, Gotham University President George Bethard, and Police Commissioner James Gordon.

            Bruce shook the mayor’s hand, as did Gordon.  Taking his seat, Golini put on his reading glasses and opened a folder in front of him.  “After the way last night’s Council meeting went, it’s good to be among friends for a change.”

            Everyone chuckled.

            “This is our last meeting on preparations for the ‘Gotham Cares’ campaign later in the month.  The flyers and buttons are being given out all over town this week.  Bruce, as chair of the Events Committee, can you update us on the schedule?”

            Wayne cleared his throat.  “Certainly.  The week kicks off with Gotham Cares in the Park, Sunday afternoon, October 24th.  We’ll have food vendors, local musicians, clowns, games, and representatives from fifteen social service agencies to give out information on how the citizens can get involved in caring for the less fortunate.  The mayor has a televised address Monday night.  A dual lecture series at Gotham University and the museum runs Tuesday through Thursday.  On Friday, Sherry Miller and I announce our donation at the Women’s Haven.  Everything wraps up Saturday night the 30th with a charity benefit costume party at Wayne Manor.  Just a little pre-Halloween shindig with a thousand dollar cover charge.”

            “Guess that leaves me out,” Golini laughed.

            “Bruce,” Gordon said, “I missed the last meeting.  Tell me about the donation thing.”

            An attractive brunette seated to Wayne’s left turned to him.  “May I?”

            Bruce nodded.

            “Commissioner, I’m Sherry Miller, the CEO of Minerva Beauty Products.  As Bruce can tell you, in my last few years at Wayne Enterprises, I really yearned to do something for women.  When I left to start Minerva, I didn’t just want to sell cosmetics--I wanted to sell a message of hope and encouragement for the women in society who end up on the short end, for whatever reason.  Minerva is an affordable lifestyle, an attitude that says it’s okay to feel good about yourself.  You can look nice just for you.  Our motto is ‘Minerva.  Because you matter.’

            “Business has exceeded even my high expectations.  My assistant was supposed to be here to elaborate--”

            At that moment, a rather flustered raven-haired woman stumbled into the room.  Gaining her composure, she walked to the table and sat down next to Miller.  “My apologies for being tardy.  There was a bus accident on Fourth, and the cab had to take a long detour.”

            Sherry smiled reassuringly.  “Gentlemen, I’d like you meet Minerva’s Gotham district manager, Selina Kyle.  Selena, do you have the numbers?”

            “Yes.”  She reached into her portfolio and produced a red folder.  “Minerva is the second-fastest growing personal products company in the country, as well as the most successful startup of the past two years.  Our sales are approaching…well, let’s just say we’ve met our fourth year sales target in half that time.”

            Sherry continued.  “As you can see, we’ve struck a chord.  Now, it’s time to give something back to the women of Gotham.  Bruce and I were both contemplating a donation to the Women’s Haven, so we decided to join forces and roll our combined $500,000 gift into a Gotham Cares event.”

            “Thank you, Ms. Miller,” Gordon replied.

            As the mayor continued to discuss logistics, security, and media coverage, Bruce looked over slyly at Selina.  She emerges again, he thought.  He almost didn’t recognize her, now that her blonde tresses were black.  Had it really been two years since the fiasco at Stump’s casino?  My, time flies.

            She noticed his look and shot him a flirting glance, hoping the others were too busy watching Golini to notice.

 

            After the meeting broke up, Bruce chatted with Miller and Golini.  “I have seldom been more proud of a former employee than I am of Sherry.  Wayne Enterprises could not hold her.  She had a dream and a vision that yearned to break free.  So I sent her off with my blessing.”

            “And a few dollars,” she said with a smile.  “You might say he bought the first symbolic shares of Minerva’s stock.”

            He smiled back.  “It was a bargain.”

            She motioned for Selina.  “Bruce, I’d really like to thank you for recommending Selina to me.”

            Wayne looked puzzled.

            “You remember, Bruce,” Selina chimed in.  “You said I could list you as a reference on my resume.”

            He knew he’d never said such a thing to her.  “Oh, yes, of course.”

            “When I saw that, I had to hire her on the spot.   I knew anyone you’d recommend had to be a winner.  And she certainly has been one for Minerva and for me.  Well, listen, I’ve got to run.  Selina, you’ll be back in the office after lunch?”

            “Yes.”

            “See you then.”

            “Lunch,” Bruce said slowly.  “Would you care to go grab a bite, Miss Kyle?”

            Her eyes gleamed.  “Why, I’d be delighted, Mr. Wayne.”

 

            Picking up deli sandwiches, they went for a walk through the city plaza.  “District manager.  Not bad for two years’ work,” he said.

            She looked embarrassed.  “Thanks for not blowing my cover.  I’m sorry about the resume thing.  I took your advice and kept a low profile for a while.  I met Sherry when we both volunteered at the Women’s Haven.  She told me about her vision for Minerva, and I was sold.  When I listed you as a reference, it was my way to let you know I was doing alright.  I never imagined she wouldn’t call you to follow up.”

            He put his arm around her.  “I forgive you.  Again.  Say, what’s with the dark hair?”

            “Now that I’m wearing it longer, the blonde really stands out against my…my uniform,” she said with a wink.

“Ah, so the cat still prowls.”

“Uh huh.  How have you been doing?”

            “Fine.  I took on a partner last year.”

            “Oh.”

            “A business partner.  Well, not exactly business-business.  You know, my other business.”

            “What’s her name?”

            “Do I detect some jealousy?  His name is Dick Grayson.  Young kid, eighteen.  Parents were killed by a mobster.  Sound familiar?”

            “Too familiar.”

            “It’s okay.  I’ve made peace with who I am and why I do what I do.  I’m teaching him the ropes.  I hope he can avoid some of the pitfalls I went through.”

            “Experience is the best teacher.  I’ve learned that.”

            “Sometime I’ll introduce you.”

            “Sure.”  She looked at her watch.  “I’ve got to get back to the office.”

            “I understand.  How about dinner tonight?”

            “I’d love to, but we’ve got a company function.  Tomorrow?”

            “It’s a date.”

 

            Returning home, he went down to the Batcave.  In the training alcove to the left, Dick Grayson refined his kung fu moves by practicing kicks on weighted inflatable replicas of the Riddler and Penguin.

            “Hya!  Unh!  Hya!”

            Bruce studied his performance.  His kicks were consistent and accurate.  His reflexes had improved, as well.

            Sending Penguin slamming into the wall, Dick took a break and grabbed a towel.

            “I sure wouldn’t want to get into a fight with you in a dark alley.”

            “Hey, Bruce!  I’ve been doing a lot of practicing with those new moves you showed me.  I really like ‘em.”

            “Good.  I’ll teach you some more later in the week.”

            “I’m just getting the hang of these.  Can’t you wait?”

            “You need to be as sharp as you can at any given moment.  That’s why I train and exercise at least an hour a day.”

            “I’m not you, Bruce.”

            “But you could be.  That’s the key.”

            Dick sighed.  “Yes, Dad.”

            Wayne sidestepped the remark.  “Something else I want to talk to you about.”

            “Not the ‘C’ word again?”

            “It’s time for you to enroll in college, Dick.”

            “Why?  I’ve learned everything I need from you.”

            “No, you haven’t.  You need a well-rounded education before you make your way in the world.”

            “Make my way?”

            “You’re not planning to be Robin forever, are you?”

            “Why not?”

            “You’ve seen what having a dual identity costs me.  I can’t ask you to make the same choice.”

            “Bruce, there isn’t anything else I want to do.  I want to fight crime.”

            “Join the police.  They really need good men.”

            “Not enough fun.”

            “Okay, even if you go through life as Robin, you still need a college education.”

            “For what?”

            “Chemistry, to study drugs, poisons, and other criminal tools.  Biology and psychology, to understand the human body and mind.  Art, history, and literature, to make sense of the Western world.  Political science, to appreciate your role as an adjunct law enforcer.  Shall I go on?”

            “No.  Can’t I just learn it from you and Alfred?”

            “We don’t have that much time.  Besides, I can help you apply what you learn to our work.  That way you’ll get the best of both.”

            Dick felt pulled inside.  Part of him wanted to break free from Bruce’s parental authority structure and do his own thing.  The other part immediately understood the wisdom of his mentor’s words.  He wasn’t sure how to handle these growing pains.

            “Think about it.  Enroll and take a couple of classes at Gotham U in the spring semester.”

            Looking down, Dick said, “Okay.”

            Bruce offered a smile.  “Chin up.  It’ll be a good experience for you.  You’ll be a better Robin when all is said and done.  That’s really what you want, isn’t it?”

            “Yeah, it is.”

 

            Selina came for dinner the next evening at seven.  Alfred ushered her into the study, where Bruce and Dick were reading.

            Bruce’s face lit up at her appearance.  “Selina, come in.  I want you to meet my ward, Dick Grayson.”

            Dick shook her hand.  “A pleasure, Miss Kyle.”

            “Likewise.”

            “Selina and I go back...a few years.”

            “Nice to meet you.  Bruce, I’ll leave you two alone.  I’m going riding with my friends.”

            “Wear your helmet,” Bruce called as Dick closed the study door.

            “He wears a helmet to ride horses?”

            “Motorcycles.”

            “Oh.”  She snickered at her obtuseness.  “Of course.”

 

            After Alfred’s sumptuous dinner, Bruce and Selina sat in the den in front of a cozy fire, glasses of red wine in hand.

            “I didn’t realize how glad I would be to see you again until you walked into the mayor’s meeting.”

            “When we last parted, you weren’t so sure.”

            “Time has a way of making things clearer.  And a lot’s happened inside me since then.  I no longer feel compelled to be Batman.  I choose to.  I finally discarded the false guilt over my parents’ deaths.  I’m not in it for revenge now, I’m in it to bring justice and safety to Gotham.”

            “You’ve said that before.”

            “I said it because I was trying to make myself believe it.  Now I do.”

“Good.  You seem much more at peace.”

“I think I am.  So, how about you?  You hinted earlier that you’ve still got the catsuit and whip.”

            She laughed.  “Yep.  I pull them out of the closet every now and then when I feel like doing some ‘community service’ for the girls.”

            “About nine months ago there was big drop in assaults and rapes, along with an increase in the number of creeps arrested with cuts and bruises.  The press even tried to cook up a police brutality scandal.”

            “Meow, darling.  Just the fruits of my labor.”

            “So you’re on the side of the law now?”

            “I’m on the side of women, Bruce.  Since the majority of violent crimes occur against women, it seemed the best place to use my, uh, talents.”

            “You’ve changed.”

            “Mmm...evolved.”

            “Domesticated?”

            “Never.”  She planted a juicy kiss on his lips.

            “My, my.  District manager by day, feminist crime fighter by night.  And I thought I’m complicated.”

            “I’ve done quite well, haven’t I?”

            “Very, very well.”  He embraced her, and they kissed passionately.

 

            After breakfast, Dick started up the stairs, only to be sideswiped by Selina scurrying down.  “Sorry, Dick.”

            Bruce sauntered behind her, all smiles.  “Call me later.”

            “I will.  I’ve got to go home and change before my sales meeting at ten.  ‘Bye, darling!  ‘Bye Dick!”  The front door slammed.

            “Wow,” Dick muttered in astonishment.  “I had no idea you two were so serious.”

            “Like I told you, we go back.”  Bruce headed to the kitchen to get some orange juice.  “You might even say that when we first met, there was a real animal magnetism between us.”

            “Uh huh.”  Dick didn’t get the joke.

            “Don’t you know who she is?”

            “Selina Kyle.  You introduced me last night.”

            Bruce raised his eyebrows.  “You mean I never told you about her?”

            “No.”

            “She’s Catwoman.”

            “What?”

            “Yeah.”

            Alarmed, Dick said, “Bruce, if she finds out--”

            “She knows.  Has for years.”

            Dick shook his head.  “I’m in the twilight zone.  Batman is dating Catwoman?”

            “Sleeping with the enemy, is that what you’re thinking?”

            “Exactly.”

            “She’s...reformed.  Sort of.”

            “She’s pulling the cowl over your eyes.”

            “Remember the Stump Casino incident?  When she turned against the Joker because he was blackmailing her, she captured him and saved my life.”

            “Do you trust her?”

            “Yes, I do.  For a long time I couldn’t have said that.  She’s kept her nose clean, crime-wise.  She has an excellent job.  We’ve both made peace with ourselves.  I think we’re making peace with each other.”

            “I don’t know, Bruce.  It still seems like a security risk.  If anyone finds out she’s Catwoman, it could be a big nightmare for you.  ‘Billionaire Dates Known Criminal’ headlines and all.”

            “I’ve thought of that.  I’m working on a way to get the mayor to pardon her.”

            “Good luck.  Golini is as likely to pardon a supercriminal as Mr. Freeze is to move to Arizona.”

            “I’ve documented her help.  If the mayor gets a file from Batman asking for amnesty, I think he’ll listen.  Batman has a good reputation.”

            “Which he could ruin with the wrong woman.”

            “It’s my life, Dick.  Don’t make me pull rank here.”

            He let out a frustrated growl as he walked away.  “I just don’t want you to wreck everything that you’ve accomplished--that we’ve accomplished--all because you’re blinded by love.”

            Though they stung, Bruce weighed his words.  Am I losing my objectivity, he wondered?  Would this relationship truly take him where he wanted?  He honestly couldn’t tell.

 

            Over lunch at the exclusive Green Room, he decided to lay his emotional cards on the table for her.  However, he didn’t quite know how to begin.

            Fortunately, she gave him an entrance.  “What did Dick think of me?”

            He swallowed hard.  “He thinks you’re a security risk who can’t be trusted.”

            She gasped, almost choking on her salad.  “You told him off, right?”

            “Kind of.  I mean, well, this whole thing is getting much deeper than I ever imagined.  I love you, Selina.  And that scares me.  Not because I’m afraid of commitment, but because I’m afraid I might be missing something.  What if you are a risk?  I--I just want to make sure I’m not losing my head over you.”

            “Is that what you think?”

            “No, but--”

            “Look, Bruce.  Face the facts.  When we first met, we had an attraction.  Before we even knew each other, something was there.  When this side of us met, something was there.  When we put everything together, it was still there.  Time, space, distance--nothing has changed it.  It’s not going away.  Last night just reaffirmed it.”

            “Still, I--”

            “Bruce, you need to decide if you want it.  I do.  I love you.  I want to be with you.  I know I first told you that a long time ago.”

            “And then you said you couldn’t live with yourself if you did.  No ‘happy ending,’ you told me before you fried Max Shreck and disappeared.”

“We aren’t the same people we were back then.  But this attraction, it’s bigger than both of us.  Or all four of us.”  She leaned close.  “Think about it.  Think about everything we’ve done to try to kill it.  Good Lord, Bruce, we could write a book on how to destroy a relationship.  If there’s a way to do it, we’ve tried.  But it hasn’t worked.  And it won’t.  We belong together.  All this coming in and out of each other’s lives isn’t good.  If you want it half as much as I do, then let’s make it happen.”

            “What if I don’t?”

            “Then we cannot see each other ever again for any reason.  I know you aren’t going to leave Gotham, so I’ll make it easy for you.  Sherry has asked me to consider becoming Minerva’s Vice President for West Coast operations.  I’ll tell her yes and move to Los Angeles.  End of story.”

            “I know Dick’s wrong about the trust thing.  I trust you.  You’ve shown every sign that your turnaround in life is genuine.  As far as the security aspect goes, I’m not sure.  Someone could always find out who I am, they could find out who you are.  It’s an insecure world.  My reputation might help convince people you’ve reformed.”

            “Darling, if no one’s outed me by now, I doubt they will.  The Joker swore up and down he’d ruin me for helping you, but he hasn’t done a thing.  I’m careful.  Besides, it’s not like I have the same long rap sheet as the rest of your rogues’ gallery.”

            “Selina, I want this relationship, and I want it to work.  I’m just not sure how to take it there.”  He breathed deeply.  “Let’s stay with it, and when I’m less busy after the Gotham Cares campaign, we’ll look at where we need to go.  Okay?”

            She smiled.  “Okay.”

            “I don’t want to lose you.  It would be a tragic mistake.  I have to take the time to do this right.”

            “I understand.  Like Sherry says, ‘If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?’”

            “That woman is a genius.  I couldn’t have said it any better.”  He finished the last bite of his chicken.  “You free tonight?”

            She gave him a bedroom eyes look.  “What’d you have in mind?”

            “Champagne bubblebath for two.”

            “Sounds delightfully…effervescent!”

 

            Around 8:15, three Gotham police cars rolled to a stop a short distance from the east waterfront dock.  Acting on a tip that a major drug smuggling operation was underway, the officers drew their weapons and quietly surrounded an old, weather-beaten pleasure boat named Ching Dao.

            Several men in overcoats rapidly moved a stack of tightly wrapped brown bundles from the boat to the back of a white Ford van.  One of the men dropped a bundle on the dock and it split.  The night ocean breeze whirled its powdery contents into a white cloud which drifted over the dock.

            “For Pete’s sake, Joe.  Be careful.  That’s a hundred grand worth of blow you just got all over us.”

            “Sorry, Mac.  It slipped.”

            “Shut the freak up, both of you.  You wanna broadcast what we’re doing here?”

            “Back off, Danny.  Go start the van and make yourself useful.”

            Ten minutes later, the offload was complete.  As Mac locked the back of the van, one of Gotham’s finest turned on a spotlight.

“This is the police.  Stop!  You are under arrest.  Put your hands behind your heads and lay down slowly.”

            “Motherfreakin’ crap!”  Danny stepped down from the van.  Busted!

            As the officers moved in closer, three men in the boat stood up, their hands in the air.  “No shoot!  No shoot!”

            Soon afterward, Joe started breathing heavily on the ground.  Without warning, he stood up, grabbed a length of pipe, and charged at the police sergeant in front.  “Yaaaahhh!”

            The cop tried to dodge, but it was too late.  Joe’s pipe caught him squarely in the temple and smashed his skull.

            Four other men jumped to their feet and picked up whatever weapons they could find--chains, axes, two-by-fours--and attacked the officers like screaming, savage warriors.  Danny grabbed a semiautomatic and sprayed the area.  Another officer fell.

            Startled and confused, the surviving policemen regrouped and fell back.

Shooting and swinging, the men kept charging in their direction.

            The lieutenant in command yelled, “Fire!”

            In seconds, gunshots blanketed the dockside, and all six men were slain.

            As the lieutenant called for backup, two cops looked over the carnage.  The corpses all had expressions of rage on their faces, but their eyes were wide open in fear.

            Trembling, one officer said, “What was that all about?”

            “I don’t know, man.  I don’t know, but I never want to see it again.”

 

            Ten p.m.  Bruce was sound asleep, gently holding Selina.  A flash of bright light burst through the bedroom window, shocking him awake.  The unmistakable outline of the Batsignal shone in the sky.

            Moving quietly, he hurried down to the Batcave, donned his black suit, and sped off toward police headquarters in the Batmobile.

 

            “Commissioner, you’re working awfully late,” Batman said when he entered Gordon’s dimly lit office.

            “They called me back in.  My men made a serious drug bust by the East River.”

            “Cocaine?”

            “That’s what we thought, but the field lab’s tests showed it was not.”

            “What is it?”

            “They don’t know.  It’s something new, but it’s definitely not heroin or coke.  The regular lab won’t be open until morning, and I need to know what we’re facing right away.  Here’s a sample.”  Gordon handed over a vial.

            “I have some testing equipment in the car.  I’ll run an analysis and give you a readout in twenty minutes.”

            “Thank you, Batman.”

            “One question.  Why is it so important to have an answer tonight?”

            “It just is.”

 

            True to his word, the Dark Knight came back exactly twenty minutes later with a small thermal printout.

            “Your verdict?” Gordon asked.

            “It’s a previously unknown chemical compound with a fairly straightforward makeup.  It could be manufactured in large quantities using a lab of medium sophistication.  It has extremely high psychosis-inducing properties and can probably create or intensify anxiety and agitation levels.  The granular structure is very fine, indicating high dispersion in air or liquids.  Contact with the skin would also likely result in elevated absorption levels.  A dosage of as little as thirty micrograms would create an intense hallucinogenic experience.  Snorted or injected, this stuff could create a ‘high’ that makes LSD look like aspirin.”

            “Oh, Lordy.”

            “If the drug spreads through the user community, Gotham will be facing a great health and public safety crisis.  Half a dozen kids tripped out on it could be more dangerous than an armed gang.  I see why you needed to find out tonight.”

            “You don’t know the half of it.”  Gordon told him about the incident at the dock.

            “So everything was under control, and all of a sudden the creeps just went ape?”

            “That’s what my men reported.  One of them said a bag of the junk spilled open while they were under surveillance.”

            “Logical.  The powder contacted their skin and became airborne.  So it can also act very quickly on the central nervous system.”

            “There’s one more bit of bad news.  My men only got half the shipment.  The other half was already unloaded and trucked somewhere else.  Batman, we have to find those drugs before they hit the street.”

            “Agreed.  Have you had any luck tracing the shipment?”

            “Minimal.  It arrived by private boat from somewhere.  The dock they used is leased by a dummy company with phony Chinese registration.  The van has expired out of state plates.  VIN shows last owner was a salvage yard in Florida.  Dead ends everywhere you look.  The only bright spot is that the warehouse is leased by an actual company called Fiesta Importers.  They have offices and another warehouse about two blocks from the dock.  We’re waiting for a warrant to search them in the morning.”

            “I’ll check them out.  They may move everything before you get that warrant.”

 

            Sometimes, even Batman isn’t fast enough.  Reaching Fiesta around eleven, he walked right in through the wide open loading door.  The place was deserted.

            Even the office sat unlocked.  He saw hastily emptied file cabinets, ledgers with missing pages, and mounds of shredded paper.  In one room, he found a polished pair of men’s dress shoes.  Whoever was here departed in haste, probably within an hour after police raided the dock.

            He decided to look more closely at the dark warehouse.  No vehicles, no papers, and certainly no traces of the drugs.  Nothing except...the strong feeling someone was watching him.  Standing still, he looked around.  Even though he saw no one and heard nothing, his instincts told him he wasn’t alone.

            A brief shuffling sound high above confirmed it.

            “Hey, Batman!” a voice called.

He spun around.

            A figure hidden in the shadows dumped a bucket of water on him and laughed.

            Not the least bit amused, he shook off the shower and darted up the closest stairway.  When he reached the catwalk, he glanced around.  The prankster had vanished.

            In the parking lot, a car started and barreled away, burning rubber as it went.

            Unable to pursue the stranger, and with the warehouse completely devoid of evidence, he saw no reason to remain.

 

            “Gordon.”

            “Commissioner, Fiesta was picked clean by the time I arrived,” he explained on his car phone as he sped home.

            “Damn!  Right at square one again.”

            “I’ll put Robin on it and call you tomorrow.”

            “Let’s pray those drugs don’t get out tonight.”

“Or ever.”

 

Back in the cave, Bruce unsuited and began running some computer searches.  Yawning, he checked the time.  Midnight.

“Hi, Bruce.”  It was Dick.

He yawned again.  “You’re up rather late.”

“Barbara Gordon and I went to a concert.  You’re up late yourself.  Rather play with your computers than Selina?”

“Dick, that’s out of line.  Gordon put on the Batsignal.”

“I’m sorry, Bruce.”

“We’ve got a very bad situation developing.  A new and extremely dangerous psychotic drug may soon hit the streets.  It could turn junkies into paranoid killers.”

“So what’s she like?”

“What?”

“Selina.  Is she good in bed?”

“Dick, what is going on?  It’s not like you to be so rude.”

“I bet a lot of guys think she’s really hot, too.”

Bruce grabbed him by the collar.  “Shut up!  You’re being very vulgar and insulting to the woman I love.”

“I wonder who else she’s been with.  Riddler, maybe?”

“That’s enough!”  Bruce belted him in the jaw, and he toppled to the floor.  “Get out of my house!”

Standing up, Dick just smiled.  “What’s the matter, old Bat?  Worried she might be sleeping around?”

“Get out of here before I kill you!”  Bruce tackled him and wrapped his fingers around his throat.

Dick set him reeling with a hard kick to the groin and a punch in the mouth.

Leaping to his feet, Bruce speared Dick’s belly with his head and slammed him into the computer bank while pounding his face.

Retaliating with a double jab to Bruce’s eyes, Dick pushed him off and assumed a kung fu stance.  He then administered a stinging kick to the ribs.

Staggering back, Bruce groped for a weapon.  Feeling his Batarang blade on top of a work table, he grasped it.

A panicked look crossed Dick’s face.  “No, Bruce!  Don’t!  Stop!”

Bruce flung the blade with all the fury he could muster.  Its razor edge whistled in the air and surgically sliced through half of Dick’s neck.

Making a sick gurgling sound, the boy collapsed and died.

A feeling of utter horror gripped Bruce.  Disoriented and breathless, he clambered out of the cave.  Racing drunkenly through the darkened mansion, he staggered up the stairs.

As he burst through the bedroom door, he blurted out, “Selina!  Help me!  I killed him!”

Selina bolted upright.  “Bruce!  What’s wrong?”

“I killed him,” he panted.  “I killed Dick!”  Bursting into sobs, he explained, “We got into a fight and I killed him!”

Alarmed, she gave him a hug and tried to calm him down.  “Darling, it must’ve been a nightmare.  You would never hurt Dick.”

“Yes, I did!” he shouted.  “He was insulting you.  We got into a fight in the Batcave and I killed him.  Look, he hit me in the face.  My lips are bleeding!”

“Darling, your lips looks fine.”  She kissed them.

He yanked her out of bed.  “Come on, I’ll show you!”  Dragging her down the stairs, he stumbled several times and nearly fell in the dark.

The lights went on, and Alfred appeared.  “Something the matter, sir?”

“I killed Dick!  Down in the Batcave, come on!”

Alfred looked at Selina, who just shook her head.

The trio entered the subterranean cave.

“Right over there,” Bruce yelled.  “I threw the Batarang and it nearly cut his head off.  Over there, by the….  Where is he?  Where’s the body?”

Alfred and Selina could see some sort of struggle had taken place.  Overturned chairs and papers scattered all around spoke of a great commotion.  But there was absolutely no blood and no body anywhere.

“Come, Master Bruce.  Let’s go back.  I’ll get you some water.”  Alfred gently urged him out of the Batcave.

Covered in sweat, but breathing more slowly, he made his way to the study and fell on the sofa.

Selina accompanied Alfred to the kitchen.  “Does he ever get like this?”

“No, Miss Kyle.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.”  He poured a large glass of water.

“What do you think it is?  Stress, maybe?”

“He has had a lot on his plate this week.”

“I hope it isn’t me.”

“Miss Kyle, you are the brightest spot in his life of late.  He seems so much more energized when you’re around.  Still, I have occasionally worried that all this Batman business might one day make him go over the edge.  One can’t be inside the criminal mind as much as he is and not be affected.”

“Oh, I hope you’re wrong, Alfred.”

“Give him this.  It has a mild sedative in it.”

She took the water and handed it to Bruce, who sat up and guzzled it down.

Dick appeared in the study doorway.  “Hi, everybody.”  Noting the scene, he asked, “What’s going on?  Is Bruce alright?”

“Master Dick!  We were wondering where you were.”

“I just got back from taking Barbara Gordon to the symphony, Alfred.  What’s wrong with Bruce?”

“Nothing.”  Wayne got to his feet and lurched toward Dick, embracing him amid sobs.  “Nothing’s wrong.  I’m so glad you’re alive!”

Dick frowned.  “I think I just got in on the third act of this play.  Can somebody clue me in?”

“Master Bruce had a very bad dream.”

“It wasn’t a dream, Alfred.  I was wide awake.”  He dried his tears.  “Dick, I thought I killed you in the Batcave.  We had an argument that turned into a fight, and I killed you.  It seemed so real....”

Selina said, “Well, whatever it was, it’s over.  Go back to bed, sweetie.  I’ll be up in a few minutes.”

“I can’t.  Dick, we have work to do.  A new drug threat is facing Gotham.  There’s no...time...to...I...feel...sleepy....”

“Darling, I’ll get you to the bedroom.  Just put your arm around me.  Careful.”

While Selina climbed the stairs with Bruce, Dick turned to Alfred.  “Did he get hit in the head, or something?”

“I really don’t know.  The Batsignal was on earlier.  He went out with the car, so he could’ve gotten involved in almost anything out there.”

“What was that about a drug?”

“Must be something he learned tonight.  I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for him to tell you in the morning.”

 

Before he slipped off to sleep, Bruce had one final, terrifying thought: Am I losing my mind?

 

Alfred’s sedative did the trick.  After sleeping restfully for nine hours, he awoke feeling clear headed.  He showered, grabbed a bagel and some fruit, and headed down to the Batcave.  It took him ten minutes to clean up the damage from whatever had transpired the night before.

Dick came down to see about him.  “Morning, Bruce.  How are you?”

“Better.  I still don’t know what happened to me.”

“Tell me what you remember.”

He relayed everything from seeing the Batsignal to the hallucination of killing Dick.

“You must have come in contact with the drug somehow.”

“I was very cautious when I tested it.  I didn’t spill any in the car.  There wasn’t a trace of it in the warehouse.  Wait--the bucket of water!  Whoever dumped that water on me put the drug in it.”

“Man, it must be some drug.  Six guys go into a homicidal rage.  Batman imagines murdering his partner.”

“That’s exactly why the commissioner and I are so worried.  It won’t take long for the drug to get on the street, and once it does, any junkie could become a freaked out killing machine.”

“I would’ve thought even the drug lords wouldn’t stoop that low.”

“I don’t think they did, Dick.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think there’s a twisted mind behind this whole thing.  Last night was a warning.  Commissioner Gordon said the tip about the smugglers came from an anonymous phone call, not their normal network of drug informants.  Somebody wanted the police to find it.”

“And they probably knew the Fiesta warehouse would be checked out.”

“So they sent a message.  Even Batman is powerless against the drug.”

“So what chance does the rest of Gotham have, huh?”

“Not exactly.  If they wanted to target the whole city, they wouldn’t begin with a small subset like the junkies.  They’d taint the water supply, or do aerial spraying.  No, this is something more insidious.”  He pondered everything for a moment.  “Bring up the map of Gotham on the computer screen.”

Dick complied.

“Now, think about this.  Junkies are all over the city.  If just one freaks out here, and here, and here, and here, you have the potential for a terrorist-type incident in four parts of town.  What might the people think in response?”

“It could happen anywhere.  When will it be my turn?”

“Precisely.  Then imagine someone putting a cupful of the drug in the Mercantile Exchange ventilation system.  Next week, at the museum.  Then City Hall.”

“Those kinds of attacks are nearly impossible to prevent.  The city would be paralyzed with fear.”

“Yes.  Fear--the most powerful weapon in the criminal arsenal, and the favorite tool of--”

“The Scarecrow!” Dick blurted.

“It has to be.  The psychotic drug, fear-inducing random attacks...Dr. Crane’s M.O. for sure.”

“How do we stop him?”

“By thinking like he thinks, and he’s thinking like a terrorist.  Go beyond streetcorner addicts dishing out random violence.  What kind of targets do terrorists really like?”

“Big ones.  Symbolic things.”

Bruce said, “Things like the upcoming Gotham Cares campaign.”

“Whoa!  As my friend in the Air Force says, that’s a ‘target-rich environment.’”

“The city has too much riding on the campaign to cancel it.  That would send a whole host of negative messages.  We’ll have to stop Scarecrow before he acts, whatever his plans may be.  Dick, I want you to follow up on the results of those searches I ran last night.  I’m interested in any other buildings owned or leased by Fiesta Importers or Crane.”

“What about the risk to the campaign?”

“It’s only a hunch at this point, but I’ll send a message to Commissioner Gordon, anyway.”

 

Gordon called an emergency meeting of the Gotham Cares planning committee that afternoon at three.  “I’m glad you all could come on such short notice,” he said right after Bruce took his seat at the table.

Mayor Golini replied, “I know you hate meetings, Jim, so it must be important.”

“It is, indeed,” the commissioner replied.  “I received a very disturbing note from Batman this morning.  Based on my department’s recent investigations, as well as information he’s uncovered on his own, he believes the Scarecrow is planning a series of terrorist-style attacks on the city using a deadly new psychosis-inducing drug.  These attacks may--may-- target one or more of the Gotham Cares events.”

“What should we do?” Sherry Miller asked.

“I think it’s obvious.  As a precaution, we should cancel the whole thing.  For a possible attack of this type, I cannot guarantee the security of your events, even if I had twenty thousand men.  And those events would certainly be a juicy target for a mastermind like the Scarecrow.”

“That’s it, Commissioner?” Bill Tate asked, not believing what he heard.  “That’s your response, to cancel Gotham Cares?  Mr. Mayor, the city needs this campaign.  Are you seriously going to consider scrapping everything and waste tens of thousands of dollars, all on the word of a recluse who dresses like a bat and comes out only at night?  We’d be the laughingstock of the nation.”

“Batman provides an invaluable service to Gotham, may I remind you?  His instincts are impeccable,” Gordon retorted.

Gotham University President George Bethard tapped his pen on the table.  “I agree with Mr. Tate.  I’m not disputing the help Batman provides us, but to cancel an entire week’s worth of events that will be so beneficial to the city is madness.  Even if Batman is right and this Scarecrow is going to do exactly what he says, we should never retreat.  It’s what he wants.  Terrorists want you to be afraid.  If we give in, it only strengthens them and weakens us.”

Tate asked, “Commissioner, have you received any tangible threats directed at Gotham Cares?”

“No, sir.”

“Then it would be ridiculous to cancel even one event.  We just can’t.”

“Mr. Tate,” Gordon said with clenched teeth, “this city has seen before what Scarecrow can do.  He’s not to be taken lightly.  Batman--”

“Batman, Batman, Batman.  Mr. Mayor, maybe if Commissioner Gordon and his police force did a better job, Gotham wouldn’t need the help of a vigilante in a rubber suit and tricked out sports car.”

“Tate, if you think you can do a better job of protecting--”

“Alright, alright!  Everybody just calm down for a minute,” Golini shouted.  “We’re not here to throw insults or debate the merits of Batman.  Commissioner, can you provide extra security for Gotham Cares, especially for the park and the charity ball?”

“I can double the detail, yes, sir.  But I reiterate: I cannot guarantee the security of either event from an airborne or waterborne drug.”

“Commissioner,” Bruce said, “I have had certain security measures in place for years at Wayne Manor.  With your increased presence, I think we can make the ball safe.”

Golini said, “I appreciate your concerns, Jim.  But in the absence of a specific threat, I see no reason to cancel Gotham Cares.  If something should change, I’ll reconsider.  Meanwhile, let’s focus our energies on finding the Scarecrow and his new drug before the campaign.  Jim, that gives your men less than three weeks.”

“We’re already on it.”

“You know,” Tate said, “we should all come to the costume ball dressed as scarecrows to thumb our noses at him and say we’re not afraid.  In fact, that’s just what I’ll do.  Is anybody with me?”

Miller said, “I like it.”

Bethard nodded.  “Not just Scarecrow, but how about Joker and Penguin as well?  We can give a good old fashioned middle finger salute to all the criminals in Gotham.  We aren’t scared of any of you.”

Although he shared the sentiment, Bruce thought it was the worst idea he’d heard all week.

 

Dick was waiting for him in the Batcave when he returned.  “I found something.”

“Good or bad?”

“Good.  Dr. Crane’s old office has never sold.  It’s been closed and boarded up for years, but it’s still in his name.  Here’s what really curious.  The abandoned law offices next door were purchased five months ago by Fiesta Importers.”

“Great work, Dick.  Tonight we’ll make a doctor’s appointment.”

 

Crane’s former office was located on a derelict block half a mile south of Gotham University, where he once lectured.  Batman and Robin arrived long after sundown, hoping to catch the doctor “in.”

Sending Robin around to the law offices, Batman stealthily entered the side door of Crane’s place.  Although the front of the office, visible from the outside, was deserted, he noticed that its appearance seemed somehow staged, as if it were a carefully constructed movie set.  The disorder was not random, and it looked far too clean to have been empty for a number of years.

Going down the hallway, he saw light escaping from under a backroom door.  Moving to investigate, he heard the floor creak behind him.

“Boo!”

Whirling around in the dark, he found himself facing the Scarecrow.

Dressed in a brown coat and trademark floppy hat, Crane concealed his face behind a hideous burlap scarecrow mask which also served as protection against his own powders and gases.  “Did I scare you, Batman?”

“No.  Try harder next time.”

“I wondered how long it would take for you to track me down.  Did you like my little surprise last night?”

“The water laced with your LSD knockoff?”

“You insult me!  My drug is much better than LSD.  That’s child’s play.  Did you like the hallucinations?  Feel like killing anybody?”

“I’ve had better nights.”

“How about another surprise?”

Before Batman could react the Scarecrow flung a handful of powder in his face, then darted away.

Sneezing and coughing, Batman dropped to his knees.  When he could see again, he charged after Crane, but the man could not be found.  Turning a corner, he ran through a newly-cut doorway that connected the old law office to Crane’s.

Robin jogged to meet him.  “Nothing over here.  What did you find?”

“Scarecrow.  He threw his drug in my face.  Drive me home quickly, before it takes effect.”

Both men hurried to Crane’s office and retraced the route back to the door where Batman had entered.

“Did you get anything useful?” Robin asked when they reached the street.

“I didn’t have time to look before--”

Crane’s office building exploded in a flaming ball.  The blast’s force pushed the Dynamic Duo to the ground.  A few seconds sooner, and....

Picking themselves up, they trotted another half block to the Batmobile.  They were about to climb inside when they heard a scream.

Across the street, two hoodlums roughed up a young Hispanic hooker.  “Help!”

Batman raced over to her.  He grabbed the first mugger and threw him to the pavement.  Picking up the second, he hurled him down a large manhole.

The girl disappeared.

The man on the sidewalk produced a gun and fired point blank at Batman’s chest.

The Dark Knight kicked the gun out of his hand and smashed the man’s face into the wall.  It felt so good, he did it again.  And again.  And again.

Robin pulled on his arm.  “Batman!  Stop!  He’s out.  You don’t need to kill him.”

Batman angrily flung the creep to the ground and turned on his partner.  “Leave me alone!”

Robin ducked as Batman swung at him.  He narrowly escaped a left hook, but Batman’s right cross connected with his chin.  Stumbling backward, he slipped on a patch of oil and fell hard, striking his head on the curb.

Looking around, Batman saw two black clad figures in scarecrow masks carrying clubs.  A third appeared behind him, swinging a length of chain.  A fourth walked up slowly, his hands holding a blackjack.

Trying to steel himself for the fight, Batman noted a strange fear and disorientation surging through his body.  He swung limply at the man with the blackjack.  “No, please don’t hurt me!  No!  Don’t hit me, please!”

A blow struck his head, and he lost consciousness.

 

When he awoke, his mind felt groggy, and he had no idea where he was.  A single soft light shone overhead.

Unable to move his arms, he realized he was tied to a chair.  The unmasked Scarecrow stood in front of him.

Smoothing his hair, Crane smiled.  “Twice now, you’ve had the privilege of experiencing my Phobos drug.  What do you think?”

“You’re insane.”

“It’s so easy to dismiss what we don’t understand, isn’t it?  You have no idea the power this drug has.  You’ve only received mild doses.  Imagine what it’s like at full strength.”

“What do you want?”

“Such a pedantic question.  I want revenge--against you, against this city, against all the arrogance and pomposity of people who live like they’re better than everyone else!”

“Revenge is a costly pursuit.”

“Some things are worth any price.”

“I will stop you.”

“No.  No, I’m afraid you’re quite wrong there, Batman.  Oh, I know you’ll try.  But you won’t succeed.  You see, your enemy is not Scarecrow.  It’s the tiny little grains of Phobos powder.  Anywhere my darlings go, Phobos can go with them.  And I have several variants, each creating slightly different symptoms.  Variety is the spice of life.  And death.”  He laughed.

The Caped Crusader made no reply.

“Isn’t this where you’re supposed to say, ‘You’ll never get away with it, Dr. Crane?’”

After a few moments of silence, Batman replied, “I like playing against type.”

A light came on in front of him.  He saw an observation window which revealed a room on the other side of the wall.  A pair of teenage boys were shoved into the room.  Another man dressed like the thugs who captured him threw steak knives in and locked the door.

“A demonstration,” Crane said.  “Two adolescents, each given a soda laced with full-strength Phobos half an hour ago.  What do you think they’ll do?”

“The twist?”

Crane struck his cowl.  “Shut up, you Batbrain!  Someday, I will kill you.  I’ll find a glorious way to frighten you to death.  But not tonight.  Tonight, you will be my messenger.  Observe.”

At first, the boys eyed each other suspiciously.  Then they exchanged words.  Progressing into an argument, they began getting physical.  Punches and kicks led to stabbings and slashings once they picked up the knives.

Unable to watch any more, Batman closed his eyes.

Within four minutes, the boys were mortally wounded, yet they did not stop fighting until they died from loss of blood.

Grinning at the sight, Crane turned off the light in the death room.

Batman opened his eyes to the dark.  “You have to be the most reprehensible man on earth.”

“Your opinion means nothing to me.  I want you to remember what you just saw.  Remember how you felt tonight and last night.  Remember your thoughts, and tell the mayor and Commissioner Gordon, because that is what’s coming to Gotham at times and places of my choosing.”  He pulled a syringe from his pocket.

Batman began to struggle with his bindings.

“Relax.  It’s not Phobos.  Just something to put you out for a little while.”

 

Batman came to an hour later.  He was lying on his back between two dumpsters in an alley on the other side of town from where he’d been captured.  Although tired, he seemed none the worse for wear, considering all he’d been through.

He noticed a folded piece of paper between his utility belt and suit.  Pulling it out, he saw it was a Gotham Cares flyer--with one letter added.  “GOTHAM SCARES,” it now read.

Removing the transmitter from his belt, he called the Batmobile.  It was too far to walk home.

 

Selina, Dick, and Alfred all met him when the car pulled in.  Quickly shedding his Batsuit, he embraced Selina tightly.

“Thank God you’re okay.  We feared the worst after Dick said you disappeared.”

Bruce looked up at Dick, who sported a bandage on his forehead and an ugly bruise on his chin.  “I’m sorry, Dick.”

Grayson put his arm around his mentor’s shoulder.  “No apology necessary.  I know you were under the influence of Scarecrow’s drug.”

“May I get you anything, sir?”

“A hot cup of coffee, Alfred.”

Selina helped him to a chair.  “What did they do to you?”

Bruce spent the next fifteen minutes describing his two encounters with the Scarecrow.

Frowning, Selina said, “I’ve heard of evil, but this takes the cake.  Making two kids kill each other to demonstrate the power of his drug?  How sick can a man get?”

“When the man is Jonathan Crane, there’s no limit.”

“Can you stop him?”

“In theory, no.  He has all the advantages: method, location, time, manpower.”

“But in practice?” Dick asked.

“Yes.  We have to draw him out.  We have to give him something so tempting, he feels compelled to do the job in person.”

“What could that be?” Selina wondered.

“Batman.”

“You?”

“He hates me.  Tonight he even reiterated his threat to frighten me to death one day.  I’ll just become a visible, irresistible target.”

“How?” Dick asked.

“By surrounding myself with everything he hates: Gotham’s leaders, the rich and powerful, and plenty of ‘beautiful people.’”

“The costume ball!” Selina said.

“He may already be planning to strike it, but the presence of Batman should guarantee he’ll be there.”

“You want him to attack here?” asked Dick.

“The city may suffer some small incidents between now and then.  That can’t be helped, and we need to prepare for it.  But forcing him to focus on the ball may spare Gotham from more of his terror in the long run.”

“You’re taking a big risk, sir.  Someone will almost certainly get hurt.  Or worse.”

“I don’t like exposing my friends to danger, Alfred.  You know that.  But I’d rather have it happen here where I can control the environment, rather than a crowded bus or a packed office building.”

“What if Scarecrow smells a trap?”

“His ego makes him think he can outsmart me, Dick, so he probably won’t care.”

“How do we let him know you’ll be at the ball?”

“Publicity.  We put the word out in the media that the benefit is such a worthy cause, even Batman will be there.”

“I’ll prepare a press release for you in the morning, sir.”

 

Before the sun rose, Commissioner Gordon was at his office.  Golini’s refusal to cancel Gotham Cares left him with a huge security headache.  He’d never had to deal with an invisible enemy who could strike anywhere, anytime.  Worse yet, no one might know an attack had occurred until the victims became violent.

Batman did not help matters when he showed up with confirmation of Scarecrow’s plot.  Nor did Gordon like the sound of his solution.

“That’s mighty expensive bait you’re proposing to dangle in front of Scarecrow.  Everybody who’s anybody in Gotham will attend.  Are you prepared for the fallout when--not if, but when--something goes wrong?”

“Commissioner, I don’t take the notion of playing with people’s lives lightly.  But if we don’t lure Scarecrow out and take the best chance we have of apprehending him, he and his men can ultimately threaten every resident.”

“You’re asking the folks who make this city what it is to be on the front lines of a crime war.  That’s the job of my men.”

“They already are on the front lines.  Every inch of the city is a front line.  But think about this.  The theme of the event is ‘Gotham Cares.’  We’re trying to send a message to the citizenry that the city is concerned for their lives and well-being, and that they should care for others.  Isn’t it in keeping with the theme for the people at the ball to put their mouths where their money is?”

“You’re putting them at risk without their consent.”

“Scarecrow’s already done that.  I believe he intends to target the ball anyway.  But if we put out the word that I’ll be there, maybe we can beat him at his own game.”

“Will Robin be there?  I’d certainly feel better if you had some inside backup.”

“I wouldn’t do this without him.  And I think I can count on help from another old friend.”

“Who?”

“Catwoman.”

“Catwoman?  The last thing we need there is another criminal.”

“When she save the day for me at the casino two years ago, I told you I believed she was trying to reform.  I can tell you with confidence that she has.  I’m working up a petition for clemency from the mayor.”

“Really?  All right, if you trust her, that’s good enough for me.”

A red glow appeared on the horizon outside Gordon’s window.  Dawn was minutes away.

“I wonder when it’s going to start.  I briefed my lieutenants on what to watch out for during patrols.  They’re nervous, Batman.  After the dock incident, they don’t know what might happen out there.  Every call could be the one.”

“If your men are afraid, Commissioner, it’s already started.”

 

The Dark Knight was right, if not prophetic.  In the following week, four incidents involving street people or addicts occurred.  A homeless man with a baseball bat demolished a sidewalk café, severely injuring three women.  A vagrant pushed a tourist in front of a speeding train.  A junkie near the East River assaulted a cop, took his gun, and randomly shot two people before leaping off a bridge to his death.  In the last and most disturbing case, two addicts climbed aboard a bus and clubbed five children on a field trip before turning on each other and sending the bus careening into a lamppost.

The public began demanding answers, and a day after the fourth incident, Mayor Golini summoned Gordon to his office.  Shoving the morning paper across his desk, he said, “Look at that headline.  GOTHAM TERROR WAVE?’”

“It’s the Scarecrow, sir.”

“Yes.  You as much as warned me.  But what are you doing about it?  People want reassurance.  An editorial on page thirteen says, and I quote, ‘Are Gotham’s police powerless to stop this outbreak of violence among the city’s downtrodden?  If Gotham really cares, it should be more forthcoming with an aggressive plan to deal with the homeless problem so future incidents are less likely to occur.’”

“I have men sweeping through every part of the city trying to get that new drug off the street.  But it’s kind of hard, since cops aren’t exactly a junkie’s best friend.  We’re closing up every shooting gallery we can find, confiscating needles and syringes, but it’s going to take a lot of time to cover the entire city.”

“I’m having a press conference at ten, and for the first time in my political life, I’m going to stand there and lie through my teeth about all this so we don’t send everyone into a panic.”

“There are going to be more of these incidents, sir.”

“I know that.  And to anticipate your next question, no, I’m still not canceling Gotham Cares.  I want you to catch the Scarecrow.”

“Batman and I are working on it.”

“Crap, we’re down to Batman again?”

“He’s planning to be at the charity ball as an added security measure.  He thinks the ball is Scarecrow’s most likely target, as well as our best chance to stop him.”

“What about your men?”

“We are going to surround Wayne Manor with officers and plainclothes.”

“Good, because if any of those moneybag guests get hurt, you and I will both be in the hot seat.”

 

As glibly as he could, Golini prepared to tell lie after lie to the people who elected him, all for their own good.  Has it really come to this, he asked himself.

He began his press conference with a prepared statement.  “Good morning, citizens of Gotham.  I know you have been shaken by the recent wave of violence, as I have been.  I want to assure you that we are taking all possible measures to prevent a repeat of those attacks.  Please remain calm and go about your daily business.  Commissioner Gordon’s officers are out in force to safeguard local businesses and public transportation.  I am forming a task force to look at the homeless problem in the city and determine how it may have contributed to these assaults.  When those issues are clarified, I promise you we will put forth a comprehensive plan for aiding the homeless with dignity and compassion, because, as our upcoming campaign states, Gotham cares.  I will now take questions.”

“Mayor Golini, do you have any idea what caused these homeless men and drug users to become so violent?”

“Yes, we do.  It appears that a new type of hallucinogenic drug, similar to LSD, has hit the streets.  From what I’m told, its side effects include a strong tendency toward violence.  We are working even as I speak to sweep the drug off the streets and locate its source.”

“Mr. Mayor, are these attacks connected in any way?”

“Not that I’m aware of, other than, as I said, they seem to involve a new drug.”

“Any chance that terrorists are behind this?  Could they be creating new footsoldiers out of addicts?”

“We have no evidence of terrorism or any other organized plot.”

“Will Gotham Cares be cancelled or postponed?”

“No.  We do not see this as related at all to the Gotham Cares events.”

 

Bruce turned off his television.  “I feel sorry for Mayor Golini, Dick.  But he’s doing the right thing.  Keeping the public’s level of fear down is the best way to thwart Scarecrow right now.”

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better, isn’t it?”

“Most likely.  With only ten days to go until Gotham Cares starts, Scarecrow will probably keep the heat on.  But he can’t go too far, or the mayor will cancel it, and he’ll lose the target he’s been hoping for.”

“I bet stopping the campaign would make people more angry than scared.”

Bruce chuckled.  “I know a lot of folks who will be furious if it’s cancelled.  What are you going to wear to the costume ball?”

Dick waved an imaginary sword around.  “Zorro.”

“Just keep your Robin suit close by.  You’ll need it before the evening ends.”

“What’s Selina coming as?”

“I don’t know.  We haven’t discussed it.  She could come in a paper bag and still look smashing.”

“You really love her, don’t you?”

“I’m going to propose after the ball.”

“Uh-huh.”  Dick felt like he’d just lost the big game.  “That’s going to change things for us, isn’t it?  With Catwoman as your new partner, it won’t leave much room for me.”

“Nonsense.  She’s not going to be my partner like you are now.  She doesn’t want to fight crime all the time.  Dick, you’ve been an enormous help to me.  I want that to continue.  You have so much left to learn, so many ways I can help you be what you want to be.”

“Bruce, for a while I’ve been thinking about going out on my own.  Maybe do for some kids what you’ve done for me.  If you guys get married, it would be a logical time to bow out.”

“I knew this would come up someday.  I don’t think you’re ready, but I can’t force you to stay.  Let’s take a little time to think it over and discuss it after Gotham Cares.”

“Yeah.  With Scarecrow on the loose, it’s not a good time to make changes in the team.”

 

Over the next seven days, three more incidents occurred, though they were not as bad as the first ones.  A college girl high on Phobos smashed plate glass windows of several boutiques downtown.  A homeless man in the East End set fire to a police car and tried to come at the patrolmen with a hammer.  In a heightened anxiety state, he died from a heart attack as the police sought to restrain him.

The third report was different.  Several pimps and pushers got roughed up by a mysterious figure in black.  Two prostitutes reported having their lives saved by the same shadowy creature.

Folding his newspaper, Bruce smiled at Selina over the breakfast table.  “I wondered how you were spending the nights you didn’t spend with me.”

“Meow,” she purred.  “Gotham Cares just has me in a charitable mood, I guess.  Besides, the exercise is good for me.”

“Just be careful.  There’s a lot more police around now, and I don’t want you to get caught.”

“You know I can take care of myself.”

“I like to take care of you, too.”  He stood up and gave her a kiss.  “What are you wearing to the costume ball?”

“I counted on coming as Catwoman.  You’ll need me against the Scarecrow.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little risky?  The police are more apt to mistake you for Scarecrow’s ally.  Your reputation isn’t exactly clean.”

 “It’s a costume party, Bruce.  Come on.  It’s no more risky than you dressing as Batman.  Why not just yell out, ‘Hey everybody, I’m really him’?  Once the Scarecrow attacks and you leap to the rescue, they’re going to figure it out, anyway.”

“There are still things you don’t know about me.  I have a foolproof way to do it, one that’s worked before.”

“You need me ready to pounce as your backup.”

“There’s more than one way you can back me up.  What I really need is someone in the Batcave to keep an eye on all the cameras.  Alfred will be busy serving, and Dick’s going to be covering the ballroom with me.  How about you being my eyes?  Get suited up and watch everything in the cave.  At the first sign of trouble, come join us.”

“Okay.  In case Scarecrow seals off the ballroom, that leaves me free to move around and save your Bat tail.  Again.”  She kissed him.

“Selina Kyle, what would I do without you?”

Another kiss.  “Don’t even think about it.”

 

No more incidents occurred in the week leading up to Gotham Cares.  Each day of the campaign passed in agonizing slowness for Gordon and Golini.  The park event went without a hitch.  So did the lecture series and the Women’s Haven donation.  By the time Saturday morning arrived, they both sensed that Batman had been right all along.  Scarecrow was drawing a bead on the costume party, yet they had no idea what sort of heinous attack he planned.

At noon, police deployed around the perimeter of the Wayne estate.  Sharpshooters climbed on the roof to hide.  Three officers dressed as groundskeepers stood watch over the HVAC system.

Noting the heavy police presence, Selina asked, “Makes you feel like a prisoner in your own home, doesn’t it?”

Bruce replied, “I’ve felt that way for more than half my life.”

 

Festively attired guests began arriving at seven.  Bill Tate made good on his promise to come as a scarecrow.  His wife ran with the idea and dressed as Dorothy.

Commissioner Gordon came as a Keystone Cop, prompting the Abe Lincoln-clad Golini to chide, “Jim, that’s how a lot of people in Gotham already think of you.”

Wearing his full Batsuit, Bruce greeted the guests as they entered his lavish, cavernous ballroom.  Two other scarecrows also passed him, along with Peter Pan, Humpty Dumpty, and three Elvises.

In a move that stunned him, Sherry Miller appeared as Catwoman.

After greeting her, he glared in Tate’s direction.  With the way things were shaping up, the idea of people dressing as criminals had become downright idiotic.

Adjusting his Zorro hat, Dick approached Bruce.  “Where do you want me to be?”

“Wander around the back half of the room, by the balcony.  I’ll cover the front.”

For the next hour, Bruce walked and talked with the partygoers, all the while wondering about Scarecrow.  Would he make a dramatic entrance, or was he already there in some other disguise?  Maybe the fellow in the clown suit?  Nah, too chubby.  Perhaps one of the scarecrows.  But which one?

If he wasn’t already there, Bruce knew with so many police around, he’d have a tough time breaking in.

 

Two hundred feet above Wayne Manor, a man in a black bodysuit hovered silently over the estate.  Thin hoses from the wingtips of his black hang glider sprayed a fine mist as he flew along.  The electric motor hummed softly in the breeze.

No one heard a thing, since noise from the party carried out to the lawn.

The sharpshooters on the roof yawned and fought to stay awake but dropped their weapons and slipped into deep slumber.

Police on the ground lost consciousness two minutes later.  The mansion now lay completely unguarded.

Two dozen armed thugs in black ninja uniforms swarmed out of the darkness and surrounded the house.  Quickly opening their knapsacks, they set about barring doors and windows.

 

Stopping the engine of his glider, Jonathan Crane landed softly on a flat section of roof.  Unstrapping himself, he shed his ninja suit and donned the familiar Scarecrow mask and hat.  Already he could see his men pouring into the house.  Perfect.

 

The flashing intruder alarm caught Catwoman’s attention.  Scanning the bank of  Batcave monitors, she saw ninjas with AK-47s running down the north hallway.  “So… it begins.”

 

Staccato bursts of gunfire brought the ball to a screeching halt as two ninjas on the balcony shot out the chandeliers.  Within seconds, the room fell silent and all eyes gazed up at them.  Unnoticed in the commotion, a second Batman slipped into the room and blended with the crowd.

 

Dick scurried out a side door and dashed to the Batcave to don his Robin suit.  Passing Catwoman on the stairs, he said, “They’re already in the ballroom.”

“I’m on my way!”

 

Scarecrow posed on the balcony between his henchmen.  “Happy Halloween, you sniveling sophisticates!  A great man once said, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’  Tonight, the only thing you have to fear is each other!”  With a sinister laugh, he began lobbing small balloons into the air.  Each one exploded with a loud pop, releasing Phobos powder everywhere.

The guests rushed en masse toward the ballroom entrance, but found the doors locked.  As panicked screams rose throughout, several men tried futilely to ram them open.

“Get down!”  Batman pulled a gun from his belt and fired a projectile at the center of the doors.  It blasted them apart, knocking one completely off its hinges.  “Everybody out!”

While Scarecrow’s balloons continued to unleash their deadly contents, people jammed the doorway trying to flee.

Gordon managed to squeeze out.  Shooting the lock off the mansion’s front door, he led a coughing and wheezing group out on the lawn, where the cool night air made breathing much easier.

 

Catwoman kicked in a door and immediately confronted one of Scarecrow’s men.  It was no contest.  She flipped him, and he went crashing into the wall.

 

With the crowd now half gone, Scarecrow’s two men opened fire.  Everyone who remained inside lunged for the exit in desperation.  It was total, noisy chaos.

Hearing the shots, Batman grabbed Catwoman’s hand and ran toward the wall under the balcony, where the gunmen could not see.

“Give me that!”  Eyeing the Caped Crusader, Scarecrow snatched one of the guns away.  He sprayed the area in front of the balcony with bullets.

 

Batman made it under the balcony’s shadow.  Catwoman did not.  Two rounds pierced her chest a second before she reached safety.

“Ahhh!” she cried out, then dropped to the floor.

“Nooo!” Batman yelled in anguish.

 

Outside, the guards slowly awoke.  Gordon called for reinforcements and ambulances on his radio.  “They’ll be here soon,” he told Golini.

The mayor looked around at everyone who had escaped.  “Jim, if that’s the real Batman in there, where is Bruce Wayne?”

Emerging from behind a bush, a Batsuited Alfred replied, “Right over here,” in a flawless imitation of Bruce’s voice.

 

Tears welled up in Batman’s eyes as he cradled the dying Catwoman.  “I’m so sorry, Selina.  I failed you.”

With blood on her lips, she tried to speak, but no words came.  She moved her hand and fingered her mask.  He shook his head and clasped her fingers in his glove.  “Be still, my love.”

Her eyes grew wide and she coughed.  While trying to lift her head, she fell limp.

An unbridled fury filled Batman as he stood up and glared at the balcony.  Seeing Scarecrow holding the gun, he leaped for the railing.  Grabbing hold, he hoisted himself onto the platform and charged after the hastily retreating villain.

 

Gordon’s cops took control of the house, killing or capturing the thugs one by one.  Robin neutralized two on his way to the ballroom and knocked out one more when he got there.

A policeman with weapon drawn ran to him.  “Hold it!”

He turned around slowly.  “It’s okay, officer.  I’m Robin.”

“Where’s Batman?”

“I just saw him go up after the Scarecrow.”

 

Crane had studied the layout of Wayne Manor, but never memorized it.  Knowing Batman and the police were in pursuit, the best he could do was look for an obscure place to hide and hope to sneak out later.  He sprinted around corners, through hallways, and down stairs, doubling back whenever he saw a cop.

Batman followed him through all his twists and turns like a homing pigeon.  The closed doors and overturned objects Scarecrow tried to impede him with only made him more determined.  For all the misery he caused Gotham, and for murdering Catwoman, Jonathan Crane had to die.

Hearing more and more police around, Scarecrow ducked through the closest unlocked door when a dark figure appeared at the end of the passageway.  He found himself in Wayne’s museumlike hall of weaponry.

Armored fighting suits from seemingly every country and epoch were lined up on display, along with dozens of swords, spears, and countless other weapons.  He laughed at his good fortune.  It would be almost too easy to eliminate Batman in here.

The sound of boots grew louder, so he hid behind the door while deciding which weapon to use.

Batman paused outside.  Pushing the door back slowly, he walked in and looked around.

Scarecrow slammed the door behind him and locked it.

Batman spun around as Scarecrow smashed the side of his cowl with a mace.  The concussion from the blow dazed him, and he tumbled to the floor.

Standing over his foe like a victorious boxer, Scarecrow reached into his pocket and flung a fistful of powder into Batman’s face.  “Do you fear death?  You soon will.”

The irritation from the powder actually helped Batman regain his focus.  “It won’t work, Scarecrow.  Your plan failed.  I developed an antidote to Phobos and laced the drinks with it.  Nobody’s going on your bad trip tonight.”

Crane yanked the Scarecrow mask away and pulled a .44 Magnum pistol from his other pocket.  Cocking the hammer, he said, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid!”

“Hey, Scarecrow!  Haven’t you heard, it’s bad luck for a black cat to cross your path.”  Catwoman emerged from behind a large Roman shield on a pedestal.

“I thought I killed you in the ballroom.”

“Well, you know about us cats and our nine lives.”

As he aimed his gun at her, she cracked the bullwhip.  Its tip wrapped around the halberd of a medieval suit of armor.  She yanked, and the heavy suit toppled over on Crane, sending him sprawling.

Batman leaped up, kicked the gun away, and pulled Crane from under the armor by his lapels.  He grabbed the man’s hair and began pummeling his face.  That’s for Gotham, he mused.  After one particularly vicious punch, he thought, And that’s for trashing my home.

Jumping from her perch, Catwoman called, “I think he’s done for the night.”

Tossing the unconscious Crane to the floor, Batman gave her a bear hug.  “Is it really you, Selina?”

“In the fur.”

“I thought you were dead!”

Looking confused, she asked, “What did he mean, he killed me in the ballroom?”

“He did.  You--you died in my arms.”

“I couldn’t even reach you with people running every which way.”

“Then who…?”  A look of worry covered his face.  “Sherry!  She came dressed like you.”

“Oh, my God!”

Together, they raced out the door.

Just missing them by half a minute, Robin ran in and saw the motionless Crane.  “He always leaves the cleanup work to me!”

 

The siege was over.  Gotham police and paramedics tended to the wounded in the ballroom.  As Batman and Catwoman entered, attendants covered the bloody, unmasked body of Sherry Miller with a sheet.

“Oh, noooo!” Catwoman sobbed.  The sight of her massacred mirror image was overwhelming.  Unable to handle the shock, she whispered, “I’ll be in the cave,” and ran away.

Battling his own mixed emotions, Batman told a couple of officers where to find the Scarecrow.

They needn’t have bothered.  Robin dragged Crane into the room and left him in the middle of the floor.

Commissioner Gordon looked the groaning, bleeding psychopath over.  “Once we get you cleaned up, it’s back to Arkham.  Waste of taxpayer money!”

Mayor Golini came forward and shook the Dark Knight’s gloved hand.  “Thank you, Batman.  We are in your debt once more.”

“I’m very sorry about Sherry Miller.  Was anyone else hurt?”

“A few nicks and scrapes.  One guy got a bullet in the leg, but he’ll be okay they tell me.  All in all, it could have been so much worse.”

In another perfect imitation of Bruce’s voice, the costumed Alfred said, “My thanks, as well, Batman.”

“Sorry about the damage to your house, Mr. Wayne.”

“I needed to do some redecorating, anyway.”

 

Several minutes later, Bruce disappeared down to the Batcave and got out of his suit.

Selina sat at the computer console, crying her eyes out.  “She was like my older sister.  She taught me so much.  The world needs her!”

He put his arm around her.  “She had my deepest respect and admiration.”

“I don’t know, Bruce.  Maybe I’m not cut out for this life of yours.  How do you live with so much death, day after day?”

“I’ve lived with it since my parents were murdered.  I guess you just get used to it.  But in those minutes where I thought Scarecrow had killed you, my world crumbled.  I wanted to kill him and then drop off the face of the earth.  I need you more than I’ve ever needed any woman.  Will you marry me?”

“No.”  She burst into sobs again.  “Yes--yes I will!  I love you, Bruce Wayne.  I need you, too.”

They both cried, their tears a mixture of sadness and joy.

 

A few days afterward, things at Wayne Manor had more or less returned to normal, and repairs were underway.  The police managed to get the last of Phobos off the street, and Jonathan Crane again resided in the maximum security ward of Arkham Asylum.

Bruce, Dick, and Selina gathered in the study after Sherry Miller’s funeral.

“It was a lovely service,” Selina commented.

“Yes,” Bruce replied.  “It seemed like half the women in Gotham were there.”

“I was really glad about that.  She touched so many lives, I don’t think even she realized how much women love Minerva.”

“What’s going to happen to the company now?” Dick asked.

“The Executive Vice President has taken over.  She promoted a couple of other ladies and asked me to become VP of East Coast Operations.”

“What did you say?”  Bruce leaned close.

“I said I’ll talk it over with my fiancé.”  She winked.  “So, what about you and Dick?”

“They say three’s a crowd,” Dick answered.  “But I’m staying around a little while longer.”

Bruce said, “Dick’s agreed to let me give him a six-month accelerated training program, then he’ll go out on his own.”

“As Robin?”

“Robin is a boy.  I’ll call myself Nightwing.  It’s a nod to Batman and sounds more mature.”

Alfred entered carrying a tray with a bottle of champagne and four glasses.  “Rather than focus on the bad things of late, I thought we should celebrate the happiness of your engagement, sir.”

“An excellent idea,” Bruce said.

Alfred poured the bubbly and they raised their glasses.  “To the happy couple.”

“To the happy couple,” Dick echoed.

“The Bat and the Cat, together at last.  I have another piece of good news.”  Bruce reached into his pocket and pulled out an official looking paper.  “‘Upon the recommendation of Batman and Commissioner Gordon, and in view of her changed life as evidenced by her work in apprehending Joker and Scarecrow, I hereby offer this complete and unconditional pardon for Catwoman.  Signed, Randolph Golini, Mayor of Gotham.”

Selina blushed.  “Thanks, Batman.”

“To new beginnings,” Alfred proposed.

“To new beginnings.” Selina smiled and sipped her champagne.  “Alfred, Bruce told me that you actually fooled the mayor and Commissioner Gordon into thinking you were him?”

“Yes, Miss Kyle.  It’s something we do when Master Bruce and Batman must be together.  Which, thankfully, isn’t too often.”

“Alfred’s being modest.  He has a background in the theater, and voice impressions are one of his specialties.”

She shook her head in admiring astonishment.  “You were right, there are things I still don’t know about you.  But now I know one more of your secrets.”

“Just remember, we’re professionals here,” Bruce said as he embraced her.  “What happens in the Batcave, stays in the Batcave.”