WILD BAT CHASE

 

            Commissioner James Gordon was having a bad week.  In addition to the normal daily headaches of his job, he had to finalize the police department’s budget request for the coming year and get it to the mayor’s office by nine the next morning.  He knew he’d be working very late.  Again.

            The numbers weren’t coming out right, so he went back over them a fifth and sixth time, paring dollars here and there to get under the budget ceiling.  “Thirty years of police experience, and now they expect me to be an accountant.”  He was so busy, he didn’t even have time to glance at his mail.

            To top it all off, he hadn’t seen or heard from his daughter Barbara in more than a day--a very unusual occurrence.  He might’ve worried more if he wasn’t so preoccupied with the budget submission.  She was an adult, after all, and college students had been known to become hermits to study for exams or complete big projects.

            Reluctantly, he made one more cut, and the figures finally balanced.  His office staff would have to go without new computers for yet another year.  After printing a final copy of the request and signing it, he looked at the clock.  Eight-thirty.

            Feeling beat and exhausted, he picked up his coat.  On the way out, he thumbed through the mail, and a padded green envelope caught his eye.  Something told him he shouldn’t wait until tomorrow to open it.

            Inside were a letter and a CD.  The letter read, “FOUND: Young Girl.  Answers to the name ‘Barbara.’  To identify, call 1-800-RIDDLER.”

            Pangs of anxiety shot through his stomach.  He sat down and nervously put the CD into his desktop player.

            “Hello, Commissioner.  This is your old pal Riddler.  Another long, hard day as Gotham’s top cop?  Why not join me in a little game to help you relax?  We’ll call it ‘I Want to Be a Millionaire.’  It’s very easy to play.  You have until midnight to deposit one million dollars into Gotham Bank and Trust account number 81573604, or Barbara goes to that great game show in the sky.

            “However, if you happen to be a little short on cash--it is the end of the month, after all--there’s an alternative.  You can try to find her.  And if you succeed, I’m such a nice guy I’ll let her go, fair and square.  But here’s what you have to do.  I’ll direct you to six clues scattered across the city.  Each clue contains a riddle pointing to the location of the next clue.  Find all the clues, and you’ll be able to find Barbara.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  I’m even going to make the first one easy for you.  Across the waters, I am three.  I am not old.  What can I be?

“Now, no help from the audience.  Well, on second thought, I guess you are entitled to a ‘lifeline.’  Better phone a friend.  And I just know who that’s going to be.  It’s probably around six o’clock now, plenty of time to find your darling daughter.  Good luck, Commissioner.  You’ll need it.”

Gordon swallowed hard.  Two and a half hours behind already.  There was only one thing to do.

 

Bruce Wayne was taking a shower and planning to turn in early when Alfred knocked on the bathroom door.

“Sir, the Bat-signal has been lit.”

“So much for plans,” he muttered.  “I’ll be right out, Alfred.”

 

Gordon paced incessantly across the police headquarters rooftop.  He prayed this was not the one time when the Dark Knight couldn’t come because some other villain had him tied up.

Batman’s shadowy form appeared at 9:02.  He noticed Gordon looked far more distraught than usual.  “Something bad’s happened.”

The commissioner nodded.  “Barbara’s been kidnapped by the Riddler.”

“What does he want?”

“A million dollars.  But he says he’ll let her go if we play another one of his stupid games.  He’s put six riddles all over the city.  Each one hints at where the next one is.  If we find them all, he claims, we can find Barbara.  Batman, we only have until midnight.  He expected me to open his message three hours ago, but I was too busy with budget paperwork.”

“Don’t worry, Commissioner.  I’ll follow the clues.  Go back to your office, and I’ll radio you as I find each one.”

“Take me with you, please.  I--I can’t just wait here while Barbara’s life is in danger.”

“I understand how you feel, but you absolutely should not go out there.  It’s too dangerous and unpredictable.  You might even be Riddler’s real target.  This could be a trap, or even a hoax.  Better if I go alone.”

“Okay,” Gordon said most unenthusiastically.  “But you call me no matter what’s happening.”

“Of course.  Now, where do I begin?”

“The first riddle is on this CD.  ‘Across the waters, I am three.  I am not old.  What can I be?’  He said that’s supposed to be an easy one.  Lordy, I hate riddles.”

Batman smiled slightly.  “It is easy.  What in the city goes across water?”

Gordon thought for a moment.  “Bridges, I guess.”

“If something’s not old, what is it?”

“New.  New bridge.”  The commissioner’s eyes lit up.  “The New Trigate Bridge!”

Batman patted him on the back.  “You’re not as bad at this as you thought.”

“I’ll leave the rest to you.  Just find Barbara.  That’s all I care about.”

 

            Batman sped off in the Batmobile to the New Trigate Bridge, in the northwest corner of Gotham.  Once there, he searched around the base of the bridge and a few minutes later found a green envelope with another letter inside.  Promptly returning to the car, he called Gordon. “I’ve got the second clue.”

            “Read it.”

            “‘Chester Carson Cheerfully Chomps Chocolate Chip Cookies.’”

            “What the hell kind of clue is that?”

            Calmly, Batman answered, “Seven words that begin with C.”

            “Seven Cs.  Oh, like in ‘sailing the seven seas?’”

            “Yes.  The next clue is located in a place that has something to do with sailors.”

            “Good grief!  The coastline is full of ports.  It could be any of them.”

            “Most of the ports are for commerce.  Only one is strictly for pleasure boats.”

            “The Rogers Yacht Basin!”

            “You really are good at solving riddles, Commissioner.  I’m on my way.”

 

            Located on the city’s northeast coast, the Rogers Yacht Basin was a sailor’s playground for the rich and famous, much like the Hamptons on Long Island.  Batman tried to imagine where the Riddler would put his clue in so spacious a place.  He decided to begin at the Gotham Yacht Club clubhouse, the largest and oldest.

            Nothing turned up when he searched the grounds.  The building was locked, so he decided it would not be there.  He had almost run out of ideas when he noticed the mailbox by one of the shrubs.  An envelope identical to the one he found at the bridge lay inside.

            “Where else would a letter be?” he gently chided himself as he opened the envelope.

            Once back in the Batmobile, he again radioed Gordon.  “Clue number three: ‘Follow me to where evening is not simple.’”

            “‘Follow me to where evening is not simple?’  No idea.  It doesn’t even make sense.  You’re going to have to handle this one.”

Batman thought out loud.  “‘Not simple.’  The opposite of simple is complex.  Evening…sunset…night.  Complex night.  Night complex….  Got it!  The Knights Dome Sports Complex, where the Gotham Knights play.”

Astonished, Gordon shook his head.  “You have an amazing mind, Batman.”

“So does Riddler,” he said in grudging admiration for his opponent.

 

The Caped Crusader put the car into overdrive and zipped south to the Knights Dome, situated on Gotham’s far east coast.  It was already after ten, and he hoped he would not run into traffic from the game.

            He made good time and was relieved to see the parking lot empty.  The Knights had an out of town game.  He jumped out of the car and ran to the most obvious spot Riddler could leave a clue, the front ticket office.

            He didn’t even have to search this time.  The scrolling marquee above the Will Call window flashed a four-word message: “Nary a contrary Mary.”

            “Too easy,” he said as he pulled the Batmobile back onto the road and headed for the center of town.

            Five minutes later, Gordon called.  “Batman, are you there?”

            “Heading to clue number five, Commisisoner.”

            “What was four?”

            “‘Nary a contrary Mary.’”

            The lawman groaned.  “‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary.  How does your garden grow?’”

            “What’s the nicest garden in Gotham?”

            “The Wayne Botanical Gardens.”

            “I’ll be sure to tell Riddler how well you did on his clues.”

            “Tell him to give me my daughter back and go to hell!”

            Batman shared his aggravation.  Dealing with Riddler never failed to make him feel like a lab rat in someone else’s experiment.  He detested having to play along with the man’s mind puzzles, but he knew there was no other way to stop or apprehend him.  The game had to be won from within.  The trick was not to let his mental guard down, even when things appeared to be going his way.

            He also hated knowing Riddler got an enormous kick out of seeing him forced to play.  But the victory was sweeter when he could defeat the man at his own labyrinthine game.

            Ever mindful of the passing time, he felt frustrated as he detoured around a car-bus collision near Robinson Park.  However, unlike the other clue locations, this one was very familiar to him.  Having been intimately involved in the planning and design of the Gardens, he knew exactly where Riddler’s clue would be.

In the middle stood a very old oak, commonly referred to as the Founder’s Tree.  It was the Gardens’ most noted feature.  Indeed, beside the plaque marking it as a Gotham historical site he saw one more green envelope.

Before he could open it, he heard what sounded like a cry for help.  Stuffing the envelope inside his utility belt, he ran in the direction of the sound.

About a hundred feet from the tree, he saw a teenage thug hitting a homeless man with an aluminum bat.  The man fell off the bench he was sleeping on and tried to crawl under it to escape.

Batman didn’t need the delay, but he had to help.  He grabbed the punk by his sweatshirt hood.  “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size, creep?”

“Hey, what do you think you’re--oh, crap!”

With two quick punches, the Caped Crusader turned out his lights.

The homeless man looked at him saucer-eyed, then scurried away, leaving a half-empty bottle of cheap wine behind.

Batman jogged back to the car and got in.  “Sorry for the delay, Commissioner.  I had to teach a skinhead a lesson.”

“Do you have the clue?”

            “Yes.  ‘I can’t be touched or seen, but I’m priceless.  Everyone wants more of me but can never find it.’”

            He repeated the clue to Gordon.

            “Something priceless that everybody wants?  Money.”

            “You can see and touch it.”

            “Fame?”

            “Not everybody wants it.”

            “Sleep?  Happiness?”

            “No.”

            “Then what does it mean?  It’s 11:15, dammit!  We’re running out of time!”

            The solution flashed in Batman’s mind.  “Yes!  That’s it.  Time.  Everyone always wants more time.”  He fired up the Batmobile’s turbine.

            “What is he saying?  You can’t hide a clue in time itself.”

            “You can hide it in something that measures time.  I think he’s saying the final clue is at the Clocktower.”

 

            The old Clocktower in the south central part of the city was one of Gotham’s most famous landmarks.  Because of its size, Batman figured the clue would be somewhere inside.  To be sure, he searched around the perimeter first.  Finding nothing, he entered the service door and ascended the stairs to the clock itself.

            Stepping around the massive gears and shafts, he scanned the entire mechanism.  Attached to the bell was one more green envelope.  He took it and exited quickly to avoid accidentally entangling his cape in the machinery.

            Much to his surprise, there was no riddle in the letter, only a brief rhyme: “The clues you have now number five.  They’re all you need to keep Barbara alive.”

            Returning to the Batmobile feeling cheated, he called Gordon and broke the news.

            “No clue?  What do you mean?”

            “It just says I have everything I need to find Barbara.”

            “Do you?  It’s 11:35.”

            “Riddler always plays the game through.  I’ll work on it and call you back in ten minutes.”  He took a pen and paper and wrote down the names of all the locations where he found clues.

            If the answer was a word puzzle, it sure didn’t jump out at him.  He tried putting parts of the names together.  He wrote their initials and made various combinations.  Nothing worked.

            He tried spelling them backwards.  He scratched out common letters.  Everything he tried became a dead end.  Clearly, he wasn’t taking the right approach.  Or else Riddler had led him on a wild goose chase.

            In desperation, he wondered if the locations themselves might be the answer.  Activating the computer screen, he plotted each one on a map of the city.  He connected the points and sighed with relief.  They formed the hook of a question mark.  Only the period was missing.

            Poring over the map, he saw just one significant location south of the Clocktower: Paris Island.  And he knew the abandoned Sphinx munitions plant sat at the island’s southernmost point.  “The riddle of the Sphinx.  Perfect.”

            He checked the time.  Eleven forty-six.  “Commissioner Gordon, meet me at the Sphinx munitions plant on Paris Island.  We’ve got just enough time to save Barbara.”

 

            Ten minutes later, the Batmobile screeched to a halt outside the Sphinx warehouse.  The door stood wide open, so he charged in.

            The warehouse was pitch black, except for the soft green light which illuminated a small, sparse office.  Riddler sat behind a desk, nonchalantly throwing darts at a Batman picture on one of the partitions.

            He tipped his green hat.  “Congratulations.  Eleven fifty-seven, just under the wire.  I must say, though, I’m surprised you took all six hours.”

            “How about three?  Commissioner Gordon didn’t get your message until almost nine.”

            “Ah, I stand corrected.  Very nice, then.”  He pressed a button on his computer.

            To his right, a spotlight shone down from the rafters.  It revealed Barbara Gordon, suspended by her wrists from an overhead girder.  Below her sat a large water tank with four thick cables protruding from it.

            “Yes, those are live electric wires running into the tank,” Riddler said as he turned to face Batman.  “Now that you’ve made it to the final round of my little game, I’ll ask you three easy questions.  You have ten seconds to answer each one.  If you get all three right, Barbara goes free.  If you get one wrong…well, let’s just say she’s in for a big jolt.  Ready?”

            “No.”

            “Good.  Question one: How far is up?”

            “Twice as far as halfway up.”

            “Ooh, I thought I might trip you with that one.  Sometimes I forget how sharp you are.  On to question two.  What part of you weighs nothing, but is impossible to lift?”

            “Your shadow.”

            “Heard it before, huh?  Now the suspense is building.  Will he make it three for three?  Barbara sure hopes so.  Alright, here’s your last question.  Who...is...Batman?”

            Even though he expected a trick at some point, the question nevertheless surprised him.

            Riddler grinned.  “Tough one, eh?  Five seconds left.  Four…three…two…one.  Ding!  Time’s up.  What’s your final answer?”

            “Nobody knows.”

            “Ehhh!  Wrong!  Sorry, Barbara.  Looks like it’s time for some shock therapy.”  Riddler pressed another button, and the chain holding her released.

At the same instant, Batman threw a Batarang straight at her.  As it flew, it fired a small rocket-propelled rope which wrapped securely around the girder.  The Batarang then circled her several times, binding her with the rest of the line.  The rope stopped her fall, leaving her suspended a mere two feet above the electrified water.

            Riddler’s chair turned around, and he disappeared into the darkness.

            Hearing several footsteps behind him, Batman turned and saw three Gotham police sprinting into the warehouse, followed by Commissioner Gordon.

            “Where is she?  Is she okay?”

            “Sort of.”  Batman pointed as she swung precariously over the deadly tank.  “Turn the power off and get her down.  I’m going to find Riddler.”

            He dashed through the blacked out warehouse with the assumption that Riddler would try to escape instead of hide.  When he exited the building, he saw a long dirt path leading down to a small jetty where a speedboat was tied up.

            Riddler scurried along the trail, hoping to reach the boat before Batman caught up.  When he saw that his nemesis was going to overtake him, he turned to fight.  His cane could still be a decent weapon, and all he needed to do was land one good blow.

            Batman wasn’t going to give him the chance.  He made a leaping tackle and knocked him down.  They tumbled together and came to a stop at the foot of the dock.

The Dark Knight grabbed him by the necktie and punched him squarely in the nose.

Riddler collapsed and tried to scramble away.  He managed to grab his club and smash the head into Batman’s cowl.

Batman stumbled back, but snatched away the club and broke it over his knee.

Riddler got to his feet and took a swing, but Batman sent him down again with a hard chest kick.

“I’ve got a question for you,” Batman said as he pulled him up and handcuffed him.  “Who owns the night?”

“I think I’m supposed to say, ‘you do.’”

“Good answer.  You just won a free trip back to Arkham.”

 

While his men hauled Riddler away, Gordon offered Batman a firm handshake.  “I always say thank you, but this time I mean it even more.”

“I would do the same for any other citizen.”

“I know…it’s just nice sometimes to be able to say it in a more personal, less official way.”

“I understand.”

As her father walked away to wrap up the case, Barbara turned and smiled shyly.  “Wow!  I finally get to meet The Batman.  You are so cool.  Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Miss Gordon.  How do you feel?”

“My arms are sore, but other than that, I’m okay.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“That was some rescue.  I mean, I thought I was going to die.  But that boomerang thing…awesome.  I wish I could do stuff like that.”

With a smirk, he said, “Eat right, exercise, and finish college.  Good night, Miss Gordon.”

She frowned and gave a pouty look as he left.  “Some day, I’ll show you,” she muttered.  “It’s about time for a little equality in this superhero business.”