This is a sequel to Sins of the Fathers, I'd recommend going back and reading that story before proceeding. If you have read it, welcome back, I hope you enjoy the next story!
The streets have changed these last six months. Crime had always been rife; otherwise, people like me wouldn't need to exist, but this had been like nothing we'd ever seen before. I was barely sleeping and I'd dropped out of college completely. No one was that surprised considering our professor had been revealed as a criminal mastermind who'd brainwashed students into carrying out a terrorist attack.
I couldn't think much about any of that though, a girl was dead, the third one in the last eight weeks to wash up on the Bleake Island riverbank. Harvey Bullock was pacing beneath me, cursing under his breath and puffing frantically on a cigarette as I hovered discreetly a few metres from the crime scene. I was pretty sure he knew I was there, he usually did. He looked dreadful, clearly he'd not slept for days, probably toiling over the case just like I'd been doing.
Every database I could find, I'd combed through it several times over, whoever was killing these girls was an unknown or someone with exceptional skill at covering their tracks.
"Sir, we've finished cordoning off the scene," A young officer said, trembling slightly as he approached the hot-tempered Bullock.
"You want a medal, son? Get back over there and wait for forensics," Bullock snarled, and the officer scurried back to join his other colleagues by the yellow police tape.
A year ago I wouldn't have thought twice about dropping down and assisting directly with the investigation, but after the 'Red Hood' fiasco, a handful of terror attacks and the unofficial disappearance of the Batman, our favour at large with the boys and girls in blue was waning, to say the least.
We still had favour with Gordon which was something, and Bullock would tolerate me if I had useful information, but at that moment I was as stumped as he was.
Another detective who had been examining the body pulled up the yellow tape and ducked under it, strolling over to where Bullock was pacing. I knew her as Renee Montoya, a good officer, but not my biggest fan. It turns out she was a close friend of Ellen Yin's, a victim of the 'Red Hood' as far as the public was aware. I knew the truth of what happened to Yin, murdered by the Court of Owls, but it still felt like my failure was the real reason she died.
"It's all but confirmed, Harv," Montoya began, "Same brand as the last two vics, can't say for certain but she's around the same age, and..."
"... and a brunette," Harvey sighed, tossing the nub of his cigarette away.
"Yep, forensics are about five minutes away, let's hope there's something new to pull from this one," Montoya said, with a complete lack of optimism.
The first victim was a woman named Polly Matheson, she was 38 and worked as a teller in a bank, she was found washed up with her throat cut and a brand burned into her shoulder. The second victim was named Rachel Hanna, 36, manager of a clothing store in the mall. They were both dark haired and of a similar age but other than that there didn't seem to be anything that linked them on a personal level, no shared acquaintances, they didn't even live in the same part of the city.
"Hope ain't helping, Ren. We need to be out on the streets leaning on perps and making more goddamn arrests, the scum ain't running scared no more which is making sick bastards like these think they can go around murdering innocent people," Bullock said angrily, "I got a niece and nephew in this city, I want 'em to be able to go to school with some peace of mind."
"No offence, Harv, but if they want peace of mind, they're living in the wrong city," Montoya said, and I couldn't help thinking she was right.
There was no ID yet on the third victim, but she seemed to fit the bill of the first two. The coroner explained that the brand had been applied post-mortem, and that the girl had been dead for a few days, and kept somewhere cold, before being discarded in the river.
After giving his report to Bullock, the coroner was kindly asked to leave the morgue. Harvey stood for a moment alone with the body before looking in my direction, in the shadows in the corner of the room.
"You'd better have something for me," He said.
"I'm afraid not," I replied, stepping into the light and looking down at the body on the slab, "I'm just here to get a closer look."
"Well we ain't got jack either," Bullock snarled, "I'm half tempted to bring you in for B&E just to make myself feel better."
"You can try if you like, but I've got a feeling you don't move like you used to, Bullock," I jabbed.
The ageing detective let out a laugh, "I don't, but my gun works just fine."
Whatever witty retort I was about to come out with was to be saved for another day, as I noticed something almost microscopic under the fingernails of the murder victim. Delicately I lifted up her hand and took a closer look at what appeared to be yellow fibres.
"Your boys pick up on this?" I asked.
"Do we look like amateurs?" The detective snapped back.
"Should I really answer that?"
Bullock took a deep breath to curb his instinct which may have been to shout at or slap me and began to explain, "The forensics took a sample of it at the scene, they think it might be fibreglass."
"Like roof insulation?"
"So he could be keeping them in a loft... Or more likely he's using it for soundproofing," I said.
"Maybe, it at least gives us another line of enquiry."
"Every time you say us, I get this nasty feeling in my gut like you ain't gonna leave me alone anytime soon," Bullock snarled.
"I hate to say it, but you're one of the few cops I can trust anymore," I admitted.
Bullock laughed again, "Now that is sad."
"Tell me about it," I said, looking more closely at the body.
"Here," Bullock said, shoving a clipboard into my hands, "Read the report, instead of acting like you know what you're doing."
I scanned the report without replying to Bullock, it didn't say anything that surprised me, and I'd spent enough time in the morgue for one day - Heading for my exit, I turned my head back and said, "That phone I gave you, I want you to use it if there are any breakthroughs."
"I told you before, I ain't gonna…"
"Use it, Harvey, because if you don't and another girl washes up and there was something I could have done, it'll be on you."
I didn't wait to hear Bullock's curse-laden outburst.
A perfect breeze whistled in my ears as I leapt from rooftop to rooftop. The fluid movements soothed me as I sailed through the air on my grapple line. In spite of all the takeout food, I'd trained hard since Bruce's death, and I was probably fitter than I'd been for years. It honestly felt like I was at my peak, something that strangely reminded me of the circus, a memory which had been unfortunately tainted by the revelation that my father, John Grayson, had not been the man I was sure he was.
Before long, I was passing the roof of the Gotham museum, and my timing couldn't have been better. A slender female figure in a tight-fitting leather jumpsuit, complete with a cat-eared hood was peering down through the glass skylight.
Quietly, I dropped on to the roof and circled around to make sure Catwoman was working alone.
Satisfied with my sweep, I crept forward.
She purred as she leaned lower with the intention of cutting the glass.
"You know," I began, "I was swinging by, minding my own business and I thought I saw a puddy cat," She turned around and hissed at me, "And guess what? I did, I did saw a puddy cat!"
"What do you want, bird-brain?" Catwoman sighed in a sultry manner.
"I'd say that was kind of obvious, I stop crimes, you were committing one," I said, folding my arms and shaking my head.
"You stop crimes? That's not what I've been hearing, pretty boy. Where is the Bat, these days anyway?" She laughed.
"He has bigger fish to fry than the likes of you," I lied.
"Is that so? I heard he'd retired and left you to run the city all by yourself. And I must say you're doing a wonderful job, crime has… What was it… Doubled in six months?"
"It ebbs and flows," I said casually, "I'm sure I can bring it down a little by taking you in."
"True, but you'll have to catch me first," She immediately tried to catch my face with a crack of her whip, but I was too fast and caught it firmly in my right hand and pulled her toward me. Before she could make another move, her arm was up her back and her whip was on the ground.
"Well, that was an epic chase, we should do this again sometime, Selena," I said, bringing her other arm around and cuffing her by the wrists.
"You can't arrest me, I didn't even do anything," She protested with confidence.
"Oh please, I can pin years of unsolved burglaries and assaults on you," I said, sitting her down against the side of the skylight, "Unless of course, you help me out?"
"You scratch my back, I scratch yours? Kinky," She said, winking at me, "And what could little old me possibly help you out with."
"Information, for a start."
"You vigilante types are all the same, you never want anything fun." She sighed.
"Oh we could have fun," I said, "For example, wouldn't it be fun if I visited you in prison? They might let us play Jenga together."
"Alright I get the picture, bird-boy, what do you want to know?"
"There's a killer on the loose," I began.
"Isn't there always," She said sarcastically.
I gave her a scathing look and continued, "He's killed three girls so far, brunettes in their thirties, branded their skin like cattle. We have no leads."
Selena's interest suddenly seemed piqued, she also seemed pissed off, "You know I'm the first to punish any man who's hurting women, I'm offended you think I'd know something about it."
"I didn't think you would in all honesty."
"Great, so you were tricking me, off to jail then?"
"If you want," I said, "Or, you can keep your little ears to the ground and do some asking around for me, I'm sure you know plenty of unsavoury characters who wouldn't give me the time of day."
"Can't I just give you some names, and you can go hang them off rooftops or whatever it is you do nowadays?"
"I'm taking a softer approach on this one, no room for mistakes," I said, leaning over her and unlocking the cuffs.
"How do you know I'll hold up my end of the bargain. I never even agreed to anything?"
"You'll meet me back here in a week's time and tell me one way or another if you've found anything, and you'll do it because you don't want the death of a woman on your conscience."
She considered me for a moment, before asking: "What does this brand look like?"
I sat upright on the couch and wiped still-forming tears from the corners of my eyes, I must have fallen asleep, and I don't think I'd been having a good dream. I'd been laying on that couch since I got back from the museum, and it was getting light outside. Fumbling around, I reached down the side of the cushion I was sat on to find the TV remote. My eyes stung a little as the picture flashed to life, it was the news.
"... While the Police have no official comment, our sources tell us it has been at least four months since the last sighting of the Batman," The news-reader said, "The rising crime-rates in the city seem to suggest that the once-feared protector of Gotham has gone into retirement."
Her words made me think back to a conversation with Barbara and Alfred; when they told me that they wanted me to take up the mantle and become the Bat, insisting it was what Bruce would have wanted. But I couldn't. Being the hero, catching bad guys and bringing them to justice, that's me. But the drive, the one inside Bruce that pushes him and keeps his mind on the mission at all times, it just isn't there in me. Bruce Wayne was just a facade, a mask to hide the Bat, but Dick Grayson isn't, he's real, and Dick Grayson can't be the Batman.
Slowly I stretched out my arms before getting to my feet and scanning the room. The glow from the TV highlighted the growing number of fast-food containers which littered the lounge floor to the point where I could barely see the tattered rug covering the creaky hardwood floor. A pile of washing up was starting to breed life in the sink, and the laundry basket was overflowing. Under the lounge window sat a single cardboard box which I'd lazily taped up. The word 'Melissa' was scribbled on the front of it.
Melissa had been my girlfriend until her discovery of my secret identity - she'd seen me allow her father to fall to his death, despite the fact I'd done everything in my power to save him. The post-mortem on what was left of him revealed that a toxin had led to his psychotic behaviour, but by the time Melissa discovered who I was, the damage was done. That box had sat under the window for months, and I wasn't under any illusions that she was ever coming to collect it.
I weakly slid some of the takeout boxes over to the trashcan by the kitchen with my foot, noticing my phone was sitting on the kitchen side. The screen lit up with the message '3 Missed Calls', all three of which were Barbara. I flicked on the main light in the apartment, amplifying the true extent of the mess, before putting the phone in my pocket, deciding once again not to call Barbara back.
With another stretch, I headed over to the bookshelf which doubled as a secret door to my hidden attic. Something squelched under my foot as I activated the lock. The door swung open and I peeled a piece of day-old pepperoni from the bottom of my bare foot. I swore to Barbara the last time we spoke that I wasn't wallowing, but from the state of my residence, it sure looked like it.
The light at the top of the stairs was on, someone was in the loft. Fists ready for a fight, I crept up the stairs, music was playing.
"Hey, about time you woke up!" Steph said loudly over the music.
Relieved, I let my guard down and replied, "Steph, what are you doing here?"
She was sat at the main computer with a mug of coffee, she'd cut her hair into a tousled bob since the last time I'd seen her, I'd advised a haircut as she was complaining about it irritating her in costume.
"I came in earlier, you were asleep so I just came up here," She said smiling, "Thought I'd go over some of those courses Alfred set up for me."
"When did you get a key?" I asked.
"Door was unlocked, bro," She laughed.
Now that I thought about it, I didn't actually remember coming in or locking the door. Everything past speaking to Selina at the museum was a total blur, probably a symptom of not getting enough sleep.
"So..." She said, making a shape around her head with her hands and fluttering her eyelashes mockingly, "What do you think?"
"The hair? I like it, very fashionable," I replied.
"Like you know anything about fashion, you own a pair of cargo shorts," She mocked, scrutinising my outfit with her eyes.
"It's called being practical, you can never have too many pockets..."
"Hmm, any leads on that killer you're looking for?" Steph asked.
I shook my head.
"Damn," She said, "If you need me to help out, just say so."
"No, it's fine, stick at your training for now. We'll do our Friday patrolling as normal," I said. Since I took Steph under my wing, Alfred had helped me devise some training programmes to help her improve on her awareness and detective skills. She'd proven herself as a fighter but there's a lot more to what we do than just cracking skulls. However, we'd taken to patrolling together on Friday nights, to keep her from losing her fighting edge.
"Alright, can you do me a favour though?" She asked.
"Clean up a little, the place is starting to smell."
"Is it?" I said jokingly, "I thought that was you."
"Shut up," She laughed, "Help me out with this will you, what the hell is an Escrima stick?"
The following afternoon, I was doing as Steph had instructed and tidying the apartment when my phone rang, an encrypted contact that immediately activated the voice changer software Barb had kindly installed on my main device so that I didn't have to carry two phones. I pressed my thumbprint against the button, the only way to answer these types of calls, and put it to my ear.
A gruff and agitated voice spoke, I could almost hear his pride moving down his throat, "It's Bullock."
"Got something for me?" I said.
"We got a DNA match to another case."
"An assault witnessed in Morrison Park two weeks ago, a kid called us and said he saw a woman hit over the head and dragged off matching the vic's description."
"A team checked it out, no evidence he saw anything, the kid has all kinds of behaviour issues, lives in a foster home, we put it down to a hoax. Last week we get a call from the foster home, saying the kid rocked up with a shiny new iPhone that he couldn't unlock, and the lady there hands it into the station."
"Right, and you think he took it from the assault victim?" I asked.
"I know it. There was a fingerprint and a smattering of dried blood still on the phone. Forensics didn't process it until last night, and it came up with a match on our database."
"So we have the victim's phone?" I said, jumping up from the sofa with excitement, just the breakthrough we needed.
"Yeah, but we ain't the NSA, we don't have some magic key to unlock it, so..." Bullock said, swallowing that pride all over again.
"So, you wanted to see if I could do it?" I laughed.
"Yes, I can, how quickly can you get it to me?"
"I'll call you back once I've got it from evidence, might take a day or so," Bullock said.
"Quick as you can, that phone could end this before someone else gets hurt."
"I ain't a frickin idiot. I'm bringing the kid back in for questioning first thing in the morning."
"Alright, keep me posted," I said, and the line went dead.
Immediately I called Barbara, who answered with a whisper, "What is it? I'm working?"
"Sorry, sorry," I said quietly, "Call me when you've finished, we've got a breakthrough."