NOT-SO-EASY MONEY

 

            “All units, robbery in progress at Gotham Bank & Trust.  Officer on scene reports two male victims, both deceased.  One has multiple gunshot wounds; the other is encased in ice.”

            “Dispatch, this is Unit Thirteen.  Repeat last.  Over.”

            “One victim encased in ice.”

 

            As soon as Batman heard that exchange on his police scanner, he knew the Bat-signal would soon light up the night sky.

“No reason to wait.”  He jammed on the Batmobile’s brakes and made a hard right turn.  Gotham Bank & Trust was only five blocks away.

 

Patrol Sergeant Ted McGillis  gave a sigh of relief when Commissioner Gordon’s car pulled up.  He was still shaken by what he had seen inside the bank.

“What’s going on?” Gordon asked.

“We got an alert--silent alarm in the basement vault was tripped.  When I arrived, I found the night watchman in the lobby shot to death.  Then I went down to the basement and saw the other guard dead inside a block of ice.”

“Mr. Freeze.”  It was a statement more than a question.

“First thing that crossed my mind,” McGillis said.

“Get some men and clear the area.  I’m gonna wait for Batman on this one.”

“He’s already here, sir.  I saw him on the roof about five minutes ago.”

Gordon glanced up at the Bat-signal and shook his head.  “I just turned that thing on.  How does he do it?”

 

Batman made his way down to the lobby and surveyed the situation.  The dead guard had been riddled with bullets.  An automatic, he judged, by the shell casings several feet away.  “Not Freeze’s style.”

Pondering the incongruous evidence, he quietly descended the stairs to the basement, where he heard loud arguing followed by a gunshot.  The ruckus seemed to be coming from the direction of the vault itself.

As he proceeded cautiously beneath the dim security lighting, he came upon the guard desk and its frozen occupant.  The enormous vault door several yards behind him stood ajar, and the soft red glow of emergency lights emanated from inside.

He stepped through the barred gate into the vault area.  With his back to the door, he took a collapsible periscope from his utility belt and peered around the edge.

Mystery solved, he thought to himself with a grimace.

 

            “Did I make my point clear?” the diminutive wooden dummy known as Scarface asked.

Mr. Freeze looked down at the body of his strongman while keeping a tight grip on his own freeze gun.  “Quite clear.”

“Good.  Long as you don’t catch a case of the stupids like your friend there, everything’ll be okay,” Scarface said, waving his smoking MAC-10.

Freeze stared at him, eyes filled with anger.  But he made no move.

Scarface noted the calm with satisfaction.  “I knew you were a smart man.  Boys, I think we’re gonna be here a while.  Looks like we got one of those, uh, Mexican standoffs.”

            The Ventriloquist scratched his balding head and adjusted his glasses.  “Sir, did you have to kill him?”

            “The guy wasn’t gettin’ my message.  I told him to stop pointin’ that little popsicle maker at me.  Gets me nervous.  And are you questioning my decisions, dummy?  Maybe you’ll be next.”

            “No, Mr. Scarface, I just—”

            “ ‘Scuse me, sir,” Rhino interrupted, “but since there’s three of us and only one of him now, why not just waste ‘em and go?”

            Scarface slapped Rhino with the barrel of his gun.  “What is this, Mutiny on the Bounty?  When I want your stupid advice, I’ll ask for it!  Maybe you hadn’t noticed, but Frosty the Snowman has a big popsicle gun, and before you get a shot off he’ll turn me into an ice cube!  Shut your trap and let me make the decisions.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “When I’m talkin’ I expect people to listen.”  Scarface said to Mr. Freeze, “You’ve already caused me enough trouble just by being here tonight.”

            “Then let me be on my way, little man,” Freeze said in irritation.  “I’ve got what I came for.  You can have the rest.”

            Scarface turned to the Ventriloquist.  “Get a load of that.  Old Man Winter called me little.  Can you believe it?”  He pulled the trigger and sprayed bullets into the ceiling. 

Both Freeze and Rhino cowered as shots ricocheted off the steel walls.

“I AM NOT LITTLE!”

            Freeze stood back up as the echo died away.  “There’s no need for this.  The vault has enough money for both of us.”

            Sez you,” Scarface shot back.  “You don’t know nothin’ about how much moolah I need!  Geez, the nerve of this overgrown icicle.”

            “I’m not what you would consider a patient man, Scarface.  And you’ve just about pushed mine to the limit.”

            “Maybe you’re forgettin’ I have enough bullets in this gun to make your snowsuit look like a cheese grater.  I’m collectin’ all the money in here.  Empty out that bag, or else.”

            Batman entered the vault, a Batarang in each fist.  “Where you’re going, Scarface, money will do you no good.”

            “Oh, that’s just great!” Scarface growled.  “You dummies delayed me so long, the Bat shows up.”

            “Everybody drop your weapons.  Now!

            Freeze looked at the Dark Knight impassively.  “Batman, I have no quarrel with you.  Don’t try to stop me.”

“You know what you’re doing is against the law.  I have no choice.”

“Neither do I.  Times are tight.  I wish it hadn’t come to this, but I need money to continue my research on Nora’s illness.  I feel I’m getting close to a cure.”

            “Ever thought about going straight and applying for a grant?” Batman asked.      

“What are they talkin’ about, Boss?” Rhino wondered.

            Scarface chuckled.  Somethin’ with his wife.  I hear she’s frigid.”

            Rhino and Wesker laughed at the joke.

            “You mock my dear Nora?”  Freeze raised his gun and aimed at Scarface’s head.

            Rhino cocked the hammer on his revolver.

            Batman prepared to throw both Batarangs.  “Knock it off.  Everybody calm down.”

            “Same to you,” Scarface said.  “Put those toys away before I get nervous again and tell Rhino to whack you.”

            “This money doesn’t belong to either one of you,” Batman admonished them, “and nobody’s walking out of here with so much as a dime.”

            “To paraphrase Ben Franklin, three can keep the loot if two of ‘em are dead,” Scarface replied.

            “How very amusing,” Freeze commented.  “You take Batman out.  He takes me out.  I take you out.  It’s all so pointless.  Just let me go with the money I have, and I’ll trouble you no further.”

            Scarface frowned at him.  “Nice idea, except that would leave me, what, a million bucks short?  No deal!”

            Batman said, “I’m the last one who’d condone bank robbery, but at least Freeze has a better reason to be here than you do.”

            “What?” Scarface gasped.  “Are you nuts?  Well, yeah, you are, ‘cause you dress like a freakin’ bat.  I can’t help it if Jack Frost decided to knock off this joint the same night I did.  It’s not like we compare schedules.”

            “Enough talk!”  In a single rapid movement, Mr. Freeze used his gun to ice everyone’s feet to the floor, then picked up his overstuffed money satchel and stomped out of the vault.

            Scarface fired a burst from his machine gun but missed.  “Damn you!”

            Rhino summoned all his strength, broke free, and ran after Freeze.

Freeze destroyed the security lights, leaving his pursuer in the dark.

“Come back here, you frozen freak!”  Rhino fired two shots even though he could hardly see.

One of them hit Freeze in the left shoulder, but because of his heavily insulated suit, he didn’t feel it.  He quickly returned fire, coating the thug in a layer of ice.  Walking slowly back, he looked over his handiwork.  “Apology accepted.”

 

Batman was using the Batarangs to chip away at the ice around his boots when he heard the vault door closing.

“Goodbye, Batman,” Freeze said.  “This will be your tomb.”  The door clanged shut, and he covered it with a wall of ice three feet thick.

            Scarface yelled, “You’re a dead man, Freeze!  When I get outta here, you’re a very dead man!”

            “Shut up,” Batman told him.  “You’re wasting oxygen.”

            Scarface looked at the Ventriloquist.  “I can’t believe it!  That walkin’ refrigerator just sealed me up.  Well, don’t just stand there, dummy!  Free me!”

            “My feet are frozen, sir.  I can’t move….”

             Scarface trained his gun on Batman.  “Hey, Dork Knight!  Help me out.”

            “Help yourself.  You’re pretty good at it.”

            “I’m not asking you, I’m ordering.”

            “I don’t take orders from you or any other criminal scum.”

            “ ‘Scum?’  I’ve already killed two men tonight, and I wouldn’t mind making you number three.”

            Batman broke away the last piece of ice from his boots, then sat down and stretched his legs.

            “Did you hear me?  Bring those frog stickers over here and get me loose.  I’m startin’ to go numb.”

            “You’ll just shoot me afterward.”

            Scarface chuckled.  “Maybe.  But considering I’m gonna need every spare bullet to get the door open, it wouldn’t be smart to waste any, now would it?”

            Batman went to Wesker and started hacking away at the ice around his feet.  “Just so you know, bullets won’t do a thing against that titanium steel door.  It’s twelve inches thick."

            “Almost as thick as your head,” Scarface said.

            “It’s getting colder in here,” the Ventriloquist commented.  “And not just on my feet.”

            Batman looked at the frozen condensation on the vault’s lock mechanism.  “It is.  Mr. Freeze didn’t just shut us in, he iced over the door.”

            Agh!  Can this night get any worse?” Scarface groaned.

            “Yes.  I could spend the rest of it in here with you,” Batman intoned.

            His feet finally free, Wesker began to walk around.

            Scarface looked at Batman.  “Since you got dummy here out of the iceberg, I’m gonna forget your smart-ass remarks.  But watch it, ‘cause next time I won’t be so generous.”

            Batman ignored him.  Staring at the vault door, he made some quick calculations and pulled a handful of magnetic explosive charges from his belt.

            “What are those?” Scarface demanded.

            “Our ticket out of here.”

            “Don’t try anything funny.”

            “Wouldn’t think of it.”  Batman carefully arrayed the charges on the lock mechanism and hinges.

            Coming closer to watch the Dark Knight’s work, Scarface asked, “How many gizmos you got in that belt?”

            “Enough.”  Batman activated the charges.  “Move to the rear of the vault and lie down.”

            As he stepped back, Wesker slipped on a puddle, twisted his ankle, and fell.

Scarface went sailing and tumbled to the floor.  “Hey!  What the hell are you doin,’ dummy?”

            Despite his pain, the Ventriloquist crawled toward his boss.  “I’m coming, sir!”

“There’s no time.  Take cover!”  With just seconds left, Batman seized him by the collar and dragged him to the farthest corner of the vault.

“Where are you going?  Come back and save me!  That’s an order!”

            Wesker struggled to pull free of Batman’s grip.  “Mr. Scarface!”

            “Dummy!”

            The explosion tore the door loose and destroyed its lock.  But because of the thick ice on the other side, some of the blast’s force blew into the vault, sending metal shards and burning dollar bills flying.  The charred form of Scarface crashed into the back wall and dropped in front of Wesker and Batman.

            “Mr. Scarface!” Wesker wailed as he began to weep.

            Batman left him and pushed on the warped door until it collapsed.  The fire from the explosion had melted a large part of the ice.

            Gordon and several officers swarmed into the vault lobby, guns at the ready.  Seeing Batman emerge from the cloud of smoke and vapor, the commissioner asked, “Is anybody else in there?”

            Batman handed him the freeze gun.  “One dead thug and a very sick ventriloquist.”  Without another word, he walked away and began following Mr. Freeze’s icy escape trail.

            Paramedics thawed out Rhino, who was only minutes from death, while police removed the body of Freeze’s henchman.

           

It didn’t take Batman long to home in on Freeze.  He just followed the frozen labyrinth of tunnels and holes in subterranean walls made by the scientist’s ice gun.  As the chase moved closer to the Gotham River, he noticed fewer and fewer boot prints in the slush.  Just outside the city’s pumping station, he heard a familiar voice.

“That’s far enough.”  Freeze was sitting on a hill of ice not far from the sluice gate, cradling his powerful weapon.

Batman knew something was wrong.  He took a flashlight from his belt and shone it on Freeze.  “You’re injured.”

“My suit, to be precise,” Freeze said, pointing at his left shoulder.  “Scarface’s enforcer got a lucky shot.  I didn’t even notice until I inexplicably began slowing down.”

“Time to return to Arkham.  They’ll patch you up.”

Freeze raised his gun.  “I’m not going back there.”

“If you don’t, you’ll die,” Batman cautioned.

“Some days, that seems preferable.”

“What about Nora and all the work you’ve been doing on her disease?”  Batman inched closer as he kept the supercriminal talking.

“I wonder…if she were cured, what kind of life could we have together?  Would she think me a monster, condemned to live forever inside this cold prison, unable to feel the warmth of her touch or return any affection?”

“Let her make that choice.  Tell me where she is, and I guarantee the best medical minds in the country will be put on her case.”

“No.  She is too precious for me to trust her in anyone else’s hands.”

“You have my word, Victor.  Nothing will be done without your consent.”

Freeze grew weaker as the temperature inside his suit continued rising.  “You told Scarface I had a better reason for being in the vault than he did.  What did you mean?”

“It’s the difference between a man who steals bread because he’s starving and a man who does it out of audacity.  Neither is right, but one’s a lot more understandable.  Speaking of stealing, where’s the money?”

His strength failing, Freeze reached around and pulled the big canvas satchel from its hiding place.  Throwing it at Batman’s feet, he said, “Take it, and leave me be.”

“Your life is worth more than that, however much is in there.”

Freeze pulled the trigger on his gun.

Batman leaped aside and rolled over.  Looking up, he saw the money had become a block of ice.

 

            An ambulance crew stabilized Mr. Freeze and took him to Arkham, where he recovered in the infirmary before being returned to his refrigerated cell.

Under Gordon’s watchful eye, two officers tried to extract Freeze’s money sack from its icy enclosure.

            “That’s about a million dollars,” the commissioner reminded them.  “Be extra careful.”

            “They’re wasting time.”  Batman emerged from the shadows.  “You’ll end up with either mush or chunks that break like porcelain.”

            “Yeah, I know.  We still have to try recovering the evidence.”

            “How’s Wesker?”

            “They tell me he cried all the way to Arkham and hasn’t said a word since.”  Gordon shook his head slowly.  “The poor souls in that place…so many are just too far gone.  It’s depressing if you think about it for long.”

            “Commissioner,” one of the officers called, “who you talkin’ to?”

            Gordon turned and noticed Batman had vanished.  “Nobody, apparently.”