SERIAL NUMBER T109458

 

            Working quietly in the Batcave, Batman and Robin pondered the set of clues they had been given by the Riddler.

Robin picked up the green cards and read them again.  “What is Warsaw’s favorite Olympic event?  How is a postponed baseball game like the story of a king’s rule?  What kind of CD holds no music?  What form of gambling can be fatal?”

            “Have at it,” Batman said.  “You need to learn how Riddler’s mind works so you can outsmart him.”

            “I think I know the last one—Russian Roulette.”

            “Good.”

            “A blank CD has no music,” Robin said.

            “But it could,” Batman pointed out.

            “A data CD?  What else could he mean?”

            “You’re only looking for surface meanings and logical connections.  You’ve got to dig deep to understand Riddler.  Alternate meanings, puns, homonyms…those are his specialty.”

            A light went on for Robin.  “A CD from a bank!  A Certificate of Deposit has no music.”

            Batman nodded.  “Exactly.”

            “I feel like I’m on Jeopardy.  My Olympic history knowledge is pretty weak.  What events have been big for Poland?”

            “Again, you have to go past the obvious.  He could’ve said, ‘Poland’s favorite Olympic event,’ but he didn’t.  Why?”

            Robin frowned.  “Because Poland is part of the answer?”  He pondered it for a minute.  “Poland…Pole land…Pole—pole vaulting!”

            “Now you’re getting it.”

            “No idea on the second one.”

            Batman said, “Break it down.”

            “A postponed baseball game…well, that’s usually due to rain.  Yes!  A king’s rule is also called his reign!”

            “And another word for story is….”

            Robin hit his forehead.  “Account.  An account of reign.  Oh, I hate this guy.”

            “Now put them together.   Remember, the answers are often clues themselves.”

            “Russian Roulette, Certificate of Deposit, pole vault, and account of rain.  Or reign.”

            “See any connections?” Batman asked.

            “Deposit, vault, and account are all banking terms.  He’s robbing a Russian bank?”

            “You’re on the right track.  What else comes in deposits?”

            “Minerals.  Gold.  Diamonds.”

            “Russia has been known for its diamonds since Peter the Great.”  Batman showed him the morning paper.  “The Gotham Museum is hosting an exhibit of diamond jewelry crafted by the legendary Count Raskov, including several items that belonged to Catherine the Great.  The pieces are stored in a special vault every night after the museum closes.”

            “Uhhh….  Can I please punch Riddler just for the brain strain he’s causing me?”

            “Maybe.”  Batman pressed his communicator.  “Oracle, come in.”

            “Good evening, Batman,” she answered.

            “We  need some police to meet us at the Gotham Museum.  Riddler’s about to take a very expensive five-finger discount.”

 

            Oracle radioed Batman about an hour later.  “How’d it go?”

            “You’re the all-seeing, all-knowing one.  You tell me.”

            She smiled.  “You give me too much credit.  The police report from Montoya states Riddler and two henchmen apprehended without incident after being subdued by Batman and Robin.  Vault wasn’t breached, Russian jewels are safe.”

            “Subdued.  That’s one way of putting it,” Batman commented.

“What would you say?”

“They’ll be experiencing some pain and discomfort for a couple of days.”

            Oracle laughed.  “Love that Montoya.  She really has our backs.  By the way, if you’re still downtown, can you swing by here?”

            “Why?” he asked.

            “I’ve got some interesting ballistic evidence I’d like you to see.”

            “What about your strict ‘no visitors’ policy?”

            “You’re family.  But wipe your feet on the way in,” she joked.

 

            To an outside observer, there was nothing unusual about the old Clock Tower.  Its faces, like those of London’s Big Ben, faithfully showed Gothamites the time.  But inside it held far more than gears and motors.

            Batman took a hidden elevator to the top, where Oracle lived and worked.  Without even looking away from one of her twelve monitors, she said, “Come right in.”

            “I see you’ve made good use of the surveillance system I designed.”  He looked around at the array of computers, screens, and communication equipment.  “As well as my money.”

            She turned her wheelchair to face him.  “What can I say?  When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.”

            He nodded in satisfaction.  “You’ve done a good job, Barbara.”

            “Thanks.  Knowing your high standards, I consider that a true compliment.  And where’s Tim?  You didn’t need to leave him with the Batmobile.”

            “He’s heading on home.  Bad case of brain strain from dealing with Riddler.  You said you have some ballistics to show me?”

            “Yes.”  She rolled over to another computer station.  “A couple of weeks ago, Dick asked me to access the ballistics report on a gang shooting in Bludhaven.  He wanted to know if there were any recent unsolved murders in Gotham that matched.  I found two.  I also found at least three others, dating back twenty years or more, plus the wounding of a store clerk four years ago.  The strange thing is, the gun was never recovered.  But in every case, the slugs taken from the victims match perfectly.”

            “Were the older crimes solved?”

            “Most of them.  Ironically, the DAs didn’t need ballistics to get their convictions.  They had confessions, eyewitnesses, or other evidence.  It’s fascinating, in a way.  Somewhere in this city there’s a .38 that’s been used by several criminals for over two decades.  Who knows how many hands it’s passed through?  The stories it could tell….”

            Folding his arms, he said, “A statistical curiosity, but why involve me?”

            She took off her glasses and gazed straight at him.  “The oldest match I found was to the bullets taken from Thomas and Martha Wayne.”

He felt his heart race.

“The gun that made you Batman is still on the streets of Gotham.”

            “Now I’m interested.”

            “I thought you would be,” she said, turning back to the computer.

            “Tell me about the unsolved murders and the case Dick is working on.”

            She brought a document up on the screen.  “East End cab driver found dead in his vehicle two months ago.  His cash box was missing.  Last Monday, bakery owner murdered Downtown after hours.  Register was cleaned out.”

            “Ordinary robbery-homicides.”

            “Exactly.  Nothing special at all.  And as far as I know, Dick’s investigation isn’t earthshaking, either.  He said the Caballeros gang recently ‘terminated’ one of its officers, a kid named Hector Martinez.  There’s a big outcry because he was the son of Councilman Victor Martinez.  Dick’s theory is that the gang brought in an outsider to do the hit, rather than get their own hands dirty.  All the gang members were questioned by Blüdhaven cops and their weapons seized, but none of the guns matched.”

            “And he wondered if his freelancer might be operating in Gotham,” Batman concluded.

            “You got it.  Find the shooter, solve three killings and get an infamous gun out of circulation.”

            “I will,” he said firmly.  “Thanks, Barbara.”

            “Anytime.”

 

            A night later, Batman found Nightwing on a rooftop stakeout in north Blüdhaven.

            “Still don’t know how to knock, huh?” Nightwing said.

            “Not my style.”

            “So, what brings you out here?  Other than tracking me down.”

            “Ballistics,” Batman answered.

            “Ah, you’ve been talking to Oracle.  You after the same perp?”

            “Just his gun.”

            Nightwing frowned.  “Okayyy….  Not your usual goal, but, hey, none of my business.”

            “Did you get a name or description?”

            “Bobby Minnelli.  No relation to Liza.  He’s about five-foot eight, hundred and eighty pounds.  Close cropped red hair and tattoos on both arms.”

            “You still on his trail?”

            “Nah, I gave his name to the cops.  They can handle it.  Now tonight, I’ve got something that could be huge.  Seems the Santa Loma cartel wants a local distributor for help with their new shipments of white powder.  What’s more, rumor mill says Scarecrow is trying for a cut.  Can you imagine ten thousand cokeheads in Gotham strung out on one of his fear toxins?”

            “I’d rather not,” Batman said.  “Keep me updated.  Any idea where I could find Minnelli?”

            “He’s been laying low since the hit.  Not too long ago, he worked as an enforcer for Roulette at the House.  Might start there—if you can get within a hundred feet of the place.”

 

            The House was a neon-lit, two thousand-seat fight club arena where muscled brutes competed in something that made mixed martial arts seem tame.  Dubbed Mega Brawl, the late-night weekend battles attracted well-to-do spectators who ate and drank while betting on the caged gladiators at center stage.

            Overseeing it all: a tall, mysterious woman named Roulette.  She had a fondness for red Chinese gowns and sported a dragon tattoo which snaked its way from her chest down her right leg.  Security at the club—especially near her office—was suffocating, to protect both her and the small fortune she raked in.

            As she tried to schedule the next week’s bouts, she heard a muffled fight outside the office.  Astonished, she saw an unscathed Batman effortlessly enter.  Pulling the long, needle-tipped pins from her hair, she leaped up and took an aggressive stance.  “One more step and you’ll be a very dead Bat.”

            He locked the door but remained where he was.

            “How the hell did you get through all my layers of security?”

            “Disable, destroy, defeat.  The usual.”

            “If you did it to make a point, message received.  I’ll be looking for a new security chief in the morning.”

“I need to talk to you.”

“Schedule an appointment,” she hissed.  “Now go!”

            “Not until I get what I came for.”

            She looked up at the camera monitor above the door.  “There’s a dozen heavily armed men converging on this office.  If you’re after me, I’m afraid you’ll be leaving disappointed.  Or in several pieces.”

            “Relax, Roulette.  Save the queen bee act for someone else.  I want information, not you.”

            “Such arrogance!  You break into my business, beat up my guards, and demand my cooperation.  What makes you think I’d give you anything?”

            He held up a small computer disk.  “This.  It’s one of several copies of your financial records for the past three years, detailing payoffs to local officials and underreported income from Mega Brawl.”

            “You bastard!  You hacked my computer, too?”

            He slipped the disk back into his utility belt.  “I won’t tell if you won’t.”

            “Well played, Batman.”  Putting her lethal hair pins back in, she picked up a microphone.  “It’s okay, boys.  Stand down.  Batman’s going to be my guest…for the moment.”  Smiling slyly, she said, “I have to admire someone who takes that big a risk.  But you do know the odds favor the House…in more ways than one.”

            “I only gamble when I have to.  I’m looking for a man named Bobby Minnelli.”

            “Ha!  Get in line.  Haven’t seen the jerk in nearly a month.  He just disappeared, with a set of keys that belong to me.  Had to have the whole place rekeyed, thanks to him.”

            “Do you know where he might be?”

            “Bruno, my soon-to-be ex-head of security, heard he joined up with Two-Face in Gotham City.  Not sure if it’s true, but a set of keys isn’t worth tangling with that nutball.  What’s your interest in a hack like Minnelli, anyway?”

            “Like you, he has something I want.”

            Glancing at the clock, she pulled a derringer from her gown.  “Then I suggest you start looking.  And if you ever show up here again, Batman, I guarantee your reception will be far more painful.”

            “As I said, I only gamble when I have to.”  He threw a capsule to the floor, and it exploded in a cloud of gray smoke.  By the time she could see clearly, he had vanished through the skylight.

 

            Alfred buzzed him while he was en route to the Batcave.  “A bit of interesting news on TV, sir.  Police are saying Two-Face’s gang pulled off an armored truck heist tonight.”

            “How much did they get?”

            “That’s the odd thing,” the butler replied.  “All they took was the Rink’s truck.”

            “No money?”

            “No, sir.  The news people are even joking about what a blunder he made.”

            “Harvey’s too smart for that, Alfred.  If he only stole an armored truck, then it’s all he intended to steal.  I’ll be home in about ten minutes.”

            “Very well.  See you then.”

            Batman pondered the information.  Two-Face was plotting something big enough to require assembling a new gang, if indeed Bobby Minnelli and others had joined him.  And it had to be more than stealing an empty armored truck.

 

            The next evening, he got his answers.  Wearing uniforms of the Rink’s security guards, Two-Face’s thugs used the stolen truck to pick up the daily cash-in-transit from Gotham’s Second National Bank.  Arriving twenty minutes early, they made off with more than a million dollars before anyone realized the deception.  The truck was safely hidden in a waterfront warehouse by the time police issued an alert for it.

            While Two-Face and half his gang counted the money, the other half busied themselves repainting the truck midnight blue and changing its license plates.

            Followed by an unmarked moving van, a glossy black limousine rolled to a gentle stop outside the warehouse.  Like Marines securing a landing zone, four heavily armed men emerged from the van and took up positions around the two vehicles.  After several seconds, one of them gave a hand signal to the limousine.

            The back door opened and out stepped a tall, heavyset Slavic man with a shaved head.  Yuri Basov looked around and gave a single nod.

            Wearing his trademark half-black, half-white suit, Two-Face left the warehouse and greeted him.  “Mr. Basov, we finally meet.  You have the merchandise?”

            “I do.  You have the money?”

            Two-Face pointed backwards.  “All in there.  One million U.S. dollars.”

            The Russian gestured toward the van.  “Enough assault rifles, RPGs, and ammunition to stock an army .”

            Two-Face smiled in satisfaction.  “I’ll have my men give you a hand.”  As he walked back to the warehouse, he flipped his coin.  It landed scarred side up.  “Good news, boys,” he shouted.  “Fate decided to give us a hundred percent discount.”

            “What?” Basov exclaimed.

            Dent’s gang opened fire, quickly killing the Russian, all his men, and the hapless limo driver.

            When the echoes of the last shots had faded, he said, “Double time!  Get those guns out of the van and into our truck.  After all that racket, it won’t take the cops long to show up.”

            Less than five minutes afterward, one of his goons abruptly raked the roof of the warehouse with gunfire.

            “What the hell?”

            “I saw movement, boss.  Somebody’s up there.”

            “Are you sure?” Two-Face asked.

            Before the man could answer, a Batarang knocked the weapon out of his hand.

            A smoke grenade exploded at his feet, and the Dynamic Duo rappelled down into the middle of the operation with fists flying.

            Coughing, Two-Face scurried away from the cloud of smoke and pointed at the intruders.  “Take them out!”

            Gunfire erupted from every direction, forcing Batman and Robin to dive for cover behind Basov’s bullet-riddled limousine.

            The whine of sirens rose in the distance and grew louder by the second.

            Another well-aimed Batarang disarmed the closest thug, allowing Batman and Robin to run into the warehouse, where they quickly subdued three goons working on the armored truck.

Police cars pulled up at both ends of the warehouse, blocking Two-Face’s avenues of escape. Bobby Minnelli leaped from the back of Basov’s van and shot out the first cop car’s headlights.

Detective Harvey Bullock returned fire, killing him where he stood.

            A second thug emerged from the van and crouched behind it while trading shots with officers.  One bullet holed the gas tank, and another ricocheted off the rear axle.  The resulting spark ignited leaking gasoline, sending the frightened gunman sprinting in the opposite direction as fast as he could.

            As flames reached the gas tank and ammunition inside, the van exploded with a deafening roar.  The blast knocked Two-Face and the remainder of his gang to the ground, where they were easily apprehended by Bullock’s unit.

            Chewing on his ever-present toothpick, the detective looked at the van’s flaming remains.  “Geez, Dent, what’d you have in there, a year’s supply of C4?”

 

            Despite the intense heat emanating from the wreckage, Batman made his way from the warehouse over to Minnelli’s body.  The infamous gun lay mere inches from the dead man’s fingers.  He bent down and warily picked it up, as though it were a rare artifact.  Turning it over, he noted the serial number stamped on the side: T109458.

            Nothing special, he thought.  Just one of thousands of cheap handguns filling the criminal underworld.  And yet….

            For a moment, he thought about bringing it back to the Batcave as an addition to the ever-growing collection of criminal memorabilia.  But, no.  This is something that doesn’t need to be preserved.  He turned and hurled it into the inferno.

            “Hey,” Bullock called, “that’s evidence!  You’re destroying police evidence.”

            Batman walked away, giving the rumpled detective an annoyed scowl as he passed by.  “Put it on my tab.”

            Bullock flicked his toothpick in the Dark Knight’s direction.  “One day, Batman.  One day you’ll step over the line.  And I’m gonna be there as they haul you off to Arkham with the other weirdos.”

            “Don’t bet your retirement pay on it,” Robin said.

 

            Firefighters soon arrived to battle the blaze which had consumed Basov’s van and its contents.  By the time the last tongues of flame were extinguished, the arsenal Two-Face hoped would be his had melted into a pool of slag, along with a certain nondescript handgun.