Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Nightwing: A Matter of Vengeance

by John Westcott

Chapter 5: The Prodigal Son

"Nightwing......... and me without my gun." Flaherty sneered in disgust at the masked vigilante who had blatantly trespassed on his property. Whatever Nightwing expected of Joey Flaherty's place of residence, this was not it. Flaherty resided in a two story home in the Eagle Crescent area, a well-to-do middle class suburb less than two miles from the mansions of the Bludhaven movers and shakers in Avalon Hill. Joey's brother Mully had lived in a one bedroom apartment downtown, and for some reason Nightwing expected Joey to be the same. He was wrong. The house lay on your typical suburban rectangular plot along a quiet, well lit street. A well kept lawn, now growing brown and covered with dead leaves, adorned both the front and back of the property. Classic white siding and a black shingled roof along with a two car garage made it the ultimate up-and-coming yuppie home. There was even a white picket fence along both sides of the property. Mully had never mentioned Joey, but it was obvious his brother had a family, which could certainly complicate things.

"You had a gun the other night, Sergeant. You didn't use it then. I thought we might talk." Nightwing held up his hands in a peacemaking gesture. "Just talk."

Flaherty exhaled in resignation. It was becoming clear to him that his connections with Nightwing were not that easily severed. For some strange reason he never understood, his late brother Mully had decided to partner with the costumed vigilante and died as a result. He had always believed that Nightwing was the true cause of his brothers death. He wanted to believe that was true. Maybe he even needed it to be true. Here was the man who he believed had caused his brother's death. If he was the good cop he believed himself to be, he would have to give the man he accused a chance to defend himself. Joey collapsed lazily on the couch behind him and grabbed the mug of coffee he had thought abandoned for the night.

"You're just damn lucky my wife isn't here. I still have a daughter living at home, too. I would have shoved my gun barrel down your throat had you popped in on one of them."

Nightwing looked as if Flaherty had insulted his intelligence. "I made sure you were alone before I came in through the window, Mr. Flaherty. The last thing I want to do is give someone in your family a heart attack."

Flaherty took a sip of his coffee and, realizing it had gone cold, grimaced as he swallowed. He then carefully placed the mug on a coaster on the coffee table. Apparently, Mrs. Flaherty ran a tight ship. "Okay. Spit it out. Say your piece and then let me go to work."

For the better part of the afternoon Nightwing had planned out what he was going to say to Joey Flaherty when he saw him. He wanted to apologize for being negligent and allowing Bane to kill his brother. He wanted to assure Joey that if he were able to trade places with Mully, he would do so. In a second. Now, confronted with this man who so reminded him of his dead comrade, he found himself momentarily at a loss for words. What if he said the wrong thing? He didn't want to cause the Flaherty family any more grief, especially Joey. With all of those worries running though his head, he realized that Flaherty was looking at him expectantly, waiting for him to begin. Nightwing forced himself to exhale and began to speak the first words that came to mind.

"The first thing I should say is that I'm sorry about your brother. Mully was a great man and a top of the line cop. I've never known a braver man. I would have done anything to save him. It just wasn't possible." Joey grimaced as he thought of his brother, lying in a hospital room with life threatening injuries, and not even a visit from his brother. What if Mully needed a blood transfusion or some other medical transplant that Joey could have assisted with? Would he be alive today? There was no way to know for sure. Flaherty wondered if the anger he harboured toward Nightwing was because of some misplaced guilt. Nightwing had formed a bond with Mully while the brothers were estranged, Mully died by Nightwing's side, not Joey's. This self psychoanalysing was presenting some ugly facets of his personality that he rarely acknowledged, not to mention that it was giving him a headache. The pained look did not escape Nightwing's wary eyes and he worried that he might have said the wrong thing. Well, it was too late to back off now. Undaunted, Nightwing continued.

"Look, I can't bring him back, although I desperately wish I could. If it means anything, I was ready to quit my crusade against crime back then. I continue on, at least in part, to honour his memory. His last words to me were those of encouragement. He told me to never give up. He said that the city of Bludhaven needed me, and it still does. Now, I need you to help me."

Flaherty shifted uncomfortably where he sat. "That sounds like Mully, all right. He always was overly dramatic." A wistful look now passed over Joey's face as he remembered his brother during happier days. Nightwing couldn't help but feel a twinge in his stomach.

"I've done some checking. I found out that The Misfits case was originally assigned to you, until Inspector Mac Arnot took it out of your hands. I don't imagine you're happy with what he has accomplished so far." Nightwing told him.

Flaherty snapped his head around to look at Nightwing with an accusing stare. He didn't like being checked up on, that much was obvious, but then the look in his eyes softened somewhat as he realized the truth behind Nightwing's words. Without warning, a memo had landed on his desk telling him he was off The Misfits case, no reason was given. It was signed, "Arnot". He had heard the rumours about this punk kid who had taken Dudley Soames' position as enforcer and liaison for Roland Desmond. How dare he? Some punk kid telling him he was off a case? After nearly two decades of service to the police force? The thought made his blood boil and the vein in his temple throb. He took some time to compose himself before answering, letting the silence pass unbroken for almost a minute. When he finally found his voice, it was choked with barely restrained fury. "Arnot wouldn't know a proper investigation procedure if it bit him on the ass. All he wanted to do was cover the whole thing up. Damned if I know why, though."

Nightwing sat down on the couch next to Flaherty and looked him squarely in the eye as he spoke. "I know why. You know as well as I do that Arnot works in some capacity for Roland Desmond. That same Roland Desmond is the principle investor behind the new casino that's being built on the top of The Bludhaven Plaza Hotel. He doesn't want the public to panic because it would be bad for business. Arnot is doing nothing to solve the case, he just covers it up, but pretty soon this whole thing is going to explode in their faces and a gang war will erupt. Innocent women will continue to be killed and God knows how many more if this erupts into full scale gang warfare. Arnot put out an APB on me for questioning in the case. I had nothing to do with it and I have nothing to do with these Misfits. I'm doing everything I can to stop them, but I can't do it alone. I need someone on the police force I can trust, someone who can help me make a case against The Misfits. A case so strong that not even a Bludhaven jury could find them innocent, no matter how corrupt they are. I think the person on the inside I'm looking for is you. You have the knowledge of the case, and........ I can trust you."

Flaherty chuckled at his last remark. The chuckle was devoid of joy however, and sounded almost remorseful. It was certainly chalk full of cynicism. "How the Hell do you figure that?"

Nightwing's response was equally quick. "You didn't shoot me. You didn't allow an officer under your command to shoot me. Not to mention........if I have to put some blind trust in anyone in The Haven, I'd rather their last name be Flaherty."

Flaherty rose from the couch and walked over to the open window through which Nightwing had entered. He stared absentmindedly out at the deserted street as he continued. "What guarantee do I get that I won't be killed? I have a wife and two daughters to think about. Even Chief Ebersol is frightened to death to take Arnot on."

Nightwing also rose from the couch and stood behind Flaherty, the two men were bathed in the light from the street light beyond. "You're a cop, Joey. You know as well as I do that there are no guarantees. Even if you don't help me, you could be killed tonight while you're on duty. I can't make you do this and I refuse to coerce you into doing it. I don't work like that. It has to be your decision, but let me add this: you said you have a wife and two daughters to think about. You saw for yourself what The Misfits did to those women. Wouldn't you like to take a positive role in putting the scum who did that behind bars? To prevent it from happening to someone else's wife and daughters? I'm telling you, these murders are just the calm before the storm. Pretty soon, all Hell is going to break loose."

Flaherty continued as if Nightwing had not spoken. "Did I leave out the part about the government screaming to know how a simple gang can steal weapons right off a military post? They haven't said anything through official channels yet, but they will soon if something isn't done. This is one Hell of a mess, and when they come looking for a scapegoat, they won't find Arnot, they'll probably find me." Flaherty looked as if he were going to say more, but then fell silent. To Nightwing, it appeared as if he were turning the situation over and over in his mind, trying to do the right thing, but wondering exactly what the right thing was in this situation. Eventually, he sagged slightly against the window and sighed loudly. Here, in the moonlight, he could have been Mully's twin. "I think I might have something that can help you." He turned and walked over to a well polished wooden desk in the far corner of the room. The papers on top were arranged in perfect fashion. Joey pulled his key ring from his pocket and unlocked the bottom drawer. He then reached in and pulled out a thick dossier, tossing it on the coffee table. Nightwing looked at him curiously.

"What's this?"

"Evidence. From the first Misfits attack. Arnot didn't care where it went as long as it never saw the light of day. So I kept it for myself, hoping it would be useful. I even have a DNA sample from the first crime scene."

Nightwing reached the coffee table in two strides. He could barely believe his ears. Inside the dossier, there were several files, pictures of the crime scene, the dead body, and interviews with potential witnesses, all of whom claimed to see little or nothing. What really interested him, though, was the DNA evidence. "Did you come up with a match for the DNA?" He asked.

"Unfortunately not." Flaherty returned with a sigh of exasperation.

"It might interest you to know that I managed to take a little DNA sample from a recent attack myself. Tests are being run on it now. It would be very interesting to see the two compared, wouldn't it?"

"Even if they matched we still wouldn't know who it belonged to." Flaherty informed him.

"I have a hunch that these DNA strands will all match up, Sergeant, and if I can get a sample of DNA from one Jonathon Masters Junior, I'm betting that will match up as well."

"Who's Jonathon Masters Junior?" Flaherty asked.

That was an excellent question. It seemed no one knew the real Jonathon Master Junior. Hours earlier, Dick Grayson had done some checking into the young man's background and it was indeed revealing, not to mention disconcerting. Jonathon Masters Junior was the only son of wealthy Bludhaven businessman Jonathon Masters Senior. He was twenty-three years old with shoulder-length black hair and piercing blue eyes. His mother had been killed in a car accident, in which Masters Junior had been the only passenger, when he was all of six years old. After the death of his mother, the young boy became increasingly moody and distant. He spent his early years in a private schooling institution in Bludhaven, and then attended a boarding school in Switzerland, returning home for most school vacations to be with his father. Not once did the young man ever attend a weekend getaway with friends his own age. In fact, it seemed he had no friends his own age. In school, Masters was a top level student who also excelled at boxing, wrestling, and football. In his final year in boarding school, Masters was involved in some type of investigation involving the disappearance of two women from the girls school a few miles down the road. Insufficient evidence was brought forth and the matter was subsequently dropped.

At this point, Masters went on to attend The United States Military Academy at West Point, where he once again excelled at all things physical, he also received top marks in many classes. It was in his third year that Masters was involved in yet another scandal, this time toward female members of the military while on leave. It looked to be bigger than the infamous 'Tailhook' scandal, until the matter was just as suddenly dropped. Nightwing suspected Masters Seniors' influence at work, as he was good friends with several higher ranking officials in the school. No charges were filed, but Masters ended up being expelled from the school that had shaped such American icons as Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ulysses S. Grant, and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin. Seven months later, Masters apparently told his father that he wanted to find himself and left home. He hadn't been heard from since. Nightwing proceeded to tell Flaherty all he knew of the young man and his encounters with his gang during the past week and a half. He had been forming a theory about these attacks. He postulated that while these women were beaten to death by The Misfits and raped repeatedly, they were not necessarily raped by different people. He was beginning to believe that Jonah was the only one raping these girls, due to his psychotic hatred of women. If that were true, the probability was high that the DNA samples would all belong to him. Joey listened with rapt attention. When Nightwing finished speaking, Flaherty shook his head in disbelief.

"Holy shit." He exclaimed, incredulously.

"That's how I felt. Now the question is, are you going to help me put this psycho away and reduce the Misfits to a non-factor in Bludhaven?"

Flaherty smoothed out his pockets in a mock gesture, pretending to search them. "I'm not Jim Gordon, punk, and..... oh gee, I seem to be fresh out of Bat-signals. Maybe I left it in my other pants."

Nightwing smirked at the remark and reached into a compartment in his gauntlet. From it, he produced a tiny device. In the darkness, it took Flaherty a moment to make out what it was. A cellular phone. "This can be our personal Bat-signal. My number is in memory. So, just dial memory one and your voice transmission will be put through to the speaker in my gauntlet." Nightwing handed him the phone. He had picked a web enabled Motorola i1000 Plus. The black flip phone only weighed 5.4 ounces, so Flaherty could keep it on his person at all times and use it without attracting attention to himself. It could retain its charge for up to thirty hours, could be used for teleconferencing, and could be set to vibrate instead of ring, ensuring that an incoming call from Nightwing would not bring any undue attention to Flaherty. It even allowed for voice mail so that Nightwing could leave a message for him.

"Man, you can even surf the net with one of these things." Flaherty let out a low whistle of appreciation.

"Feel free to consider it an early Christmas present. Just don't say I never buy you anything." Nightwing replied with a smirk, then adding: "Don't bother trying to trace the phone number or the owner either, because you won't find it. I'll drop the charger buy another time." He pointed to the dossier on the coffee table as he continued. "For now, you hang on to that evidence file, I have a feeling it's going to come in very handy."

Flaherty nodded as he clipped the phone onto his belt. "I have to get to work or I'll be late for my shift. What's your next stop?" he asked.

"I'm going to visit The Masters Estate in Avalon Hill."

*****

Every city, town, and village, no matter what its size, has its own elite population. In Bludhaven, those elite people reside in Avalon Hill. The stretch of land that bore the name was by far the most neatly kept, well lit, and police patrolled area within the city limits. Row upon row of perfectly contoured hedges hid the occupants from the prying eyes of outsiders, along with the wrought iron gates and stone fences. Roland Desmond kept a home in the area, as did most of the mob bosses that answered to him. The Mayor, the city's Judges, and the few industrial giants that Bludhaven had produced were neighbours with the mob bosses, drug dealers, and other various and sundry criminals. The Masters Estate was one of the gloomier looking households in the area. It was a two story, eighteen room mansion measuring over 8500 square feet, and covered in crawling vines. Such a large house, and yet so empty. Nightwing shuddered as he took in the Masters Estate looming before him like a mausoleum. He hadn't mentioned it to Joey Flaherty when they had spoken, because it would have meant giving away more information about himself than he cared to, but Jonathon Masters Junior was reminding him more and more of himself. Masters the second had lost a parent at a very young age. He excelled in school and in all things physical. He grew up in a mansion to a life without material needs. Masters had a father figure, but no mother left to him. They even looked alike. For Nightwing, there were far too many similarities for his liking. Change the names and a slight few of the circumstances, and it could be Dick Grayson that was being described, not Jonathon Masters Junior.

Unlike most of the mansions in Avalon Hill, The Masters Estate had no security guards patrolling the grounds. Nightwing scaled the gates easily and quickly, disappearing into the mist-shrouded grounds before anyone could see him. As he tossed out a jumpline and found a secure purchase for climbing to the roof, he wondered just what it was that had turned Masters into a killer. He recalled pouring over all the available information on the young man earlier in the afternoon. Other than the loss of his mother, Masters had suffered little in life. He was born to privilege, he was gifted with both mental and physical traits that were above average, he still had a loving father to guide him. Was the death of his mother enough to make him what he was today? Had that one tragic moment somehow triggered something deep within him? Something that led to a life of violence toward women? Some underlying psychosis just waiting to take hold, given the right set of circumstances? It was possible, at least. Trauma's such as those, especially when experienced at such a young age, have been known to cripple a person for the rest of their lives. He only had to think of Bruce for proof positive of that. Nightwing also had to remind himself that seeing his own parents killed before his eyes under the big top of Haly's Circus had changed the course of his life forever. Fortunately, Bruce had taken him in, given him an outlet for the anger and the frustration over it all. What happens when a person can't deal with the grief? Do they end up just like Jonah?

As all these thoughts roiled through his head like a thunder cloud, Nightwing had reached the rooftop and began to look inside every window for occupants. After searching seven windows, he had yet to find anything but locked up rooms, collecting dust. It was not until he got to the eleventh window did he see something that caught his eye. This room was well lit, its walls adorned with posters and trophies. The posters featured images of Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Bella Lugosi, and other legends of classic horror films. This room must have once belonged to Jonathon Masters. The window was unlocked, and Nightwing slipped inside quietly. It was a spacious room, with a plush carpet and a double bed. Nightwing moved to the walk-in closet and opened the door. The closet was filled with clothes ranging from military dress uniforms to football uniforms to tuxedos. Jonathon Masters, like his alter ego Jonah, enjoyed dressing up in uniforms of all kinds.

He moved across the room to the desk, upon which sat an outdated computer. Powering it up, he activated the modem and opened the Internet browser. He opened the bookmark file and was instantly alarmed by what he saw. Book marked sites related to Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Jack The Ripper, David 'Son of Sam' Berkowitz, Albert 'The Boston Strangler' DeSalvo, Hitler - a plethora of psychotic killers. There were also links to sites on how to make bombs, martial arts, and a few porn sites as well. There was little doubt left in his mind, Jonah had a serious attraction to violence, especially toward women. His theory about Jonah raping his victims multiple times was making more and more sense. He was beginning to think the man was totally mad. What he didn't know was.... what had triggered it? The bedroom was in perfect condition, dusted and tidy. It seemed to him as if it was kept in this condition almost as a memorial to a lost son who might return home at any time. He had learned all he could here, and retreated to the rooftop once more. He moved along, checking every window as he went, to find nothing else of significance. He dropped to the ground and began a search through the ground windows. He stopped in his tracks when he saw what looked like Jonah himself standing inside a darkened living room.

Upon closer scrutiny, he noticed the thinning hair, the slight grey at the temples, and the middle aged paunch around the stomach. Nightwing realized that he had come across Jonathon Masters Senior. Masters was alone in the room, cast in the glow of the television set. A fire crackled in the fireplace behind him. He was leaning against a drink trolley and in the process of draining a glass of its contents. From the clear fluid, Nightwing guessed that the glass contained either water or vodka. Judging from the grimace that masked his face as he gulped down the last of the liquid, Nightwing laid odds on it being Vodka. He was only slightly surprised as Masters Senior whirled around and threw the empty glass with all his strength into the fireplace. Masters then turned back to the drink trolley and ran his arm across it, sending the contents crashing to the floor.

"Quite a temper you have there, Mr. Masters. It seems it's been inherited by the prodigal son." Nightwing muttered to himself. His thoughts were interrupted by the slight vibration in his wrist. He was receiving a call. Nightwing retreated into the shrubbery and flipped open his gauntlet communicator. The message was audio only. It had to be Flaherty.

"Go ahead." he said into the communicator.

"Punk? Is that you? Or did I get the pizza place?" Came Joey's voice over the tiny speaker.

"It's me, Joey. What's up?"

"I think you better get down to midtown right now. I'll be waiting for you in the alley beside the AT&T building. As fast as you can. Something is going down. Something involving The Misfits."

Nightwing broke into a run before Joey had finished his sentence. "I'm on my way, Joey. Sit tight."

*****

Joey Flaherty pulled the collar of his trench coat tight around his neck to suppress the chills that he was experiencing. With that done, the chills didn't stop, in fact, they increased. Flaherty quickly realized that it was not the late fall chill in the air that was causing tingles to shoot through his body, nor the darkened stormy sky above, it was the ominous sounds that emanated from everywhere around him and nowhere all at once. "Just in time for Halloween." Flaherty thought to himself. When he felt a strong hand suddenly clasp his shoulder, he practically jumped out of his skin. He let out a small shout of alarm and brushed the hand away, turning on his heel to see Nightwing standing behind him.

"I see why you called me." Nightwing said. Throughout most of the main downtown core, the sound emanated from everywhere, causing those who walked the streets after dark to look around for the source, and find none. Anyone who walked the streets of midtown this night found they quickened their step in order to get out of earshot.

The Misfits were near.

The chanting emanated from every manhole, steam vent, and subway tunnel in the immediate area, rising like the steam and echoing off of the walls of the concrete jungle, creating ghostly afterimages of the original sounds. As always, it was that same word, repeated over and over.

"MISFITS! MISFITS! MISFITS! MISFITS! MISFITS!"

"This is gonna be bad, isn't it?" Flaherty asked Nightwing as he dropped to his knees and listened at a steam vent.

"Bad enough." Nightwing replied. "Thanks for calling me."

Flaherty pointed his finger accusingly at Nightwing as he spoke. "This is your one chance, kid. You say you want to put these nuts away, now you can prove it."

Nightwing leaped to his feet, his eyes scanning the area warily. They were in the area, somewhere in the sewer system, or perhaps in the subway system. For sure they were underground. He walked past Joey to the mouth of the alley and scanned the street. They were in this area for a reason, and he had to determine why.

"If they're here, they're here for something in particular. What could they hit in this area? It would probably be something connected in some way to Roland Desmond."

Flaherty scratched his head as he ran the options through his mind. They didn't have much time. The Misfits could strike at any second, and when they did, it would be lethal in the extreme. There were few things deadlier than a gang war, and this one was about to erupt. Suddenly, a look of realization dawned on Flaherty's face.

"I got it. Two streets down, on Ellroy Avenue. Johnny Russo's club, I think it's called 'Shooters', a take off of 'Hooters'. Russo is supposed to be up to his neck in the drug trade with Desmond. A lot of Blockbusters' guys hang out there when they want to party."

Nightwing broke into a flat run as he called to Flaherty over his shoulder. "I'll meet you there."

Leaving Flaherty behind, Nightwing ran for the nearest fire escape and scaled it within seconds, leaping to the rooftops and racing toward the scene with as much speed as he could possibly muster. Using the 'Rooftop Express' as he called it, would get him to his destination faster than any other mode of transportation, and before any of Arnot's crooked cops could arrive and make a bad situation even worse. Seconds later, he skidded to a halt as he came to the edge of a rooftop overlooking Ellroy Avenue. His breath caught in his throat as the situation became clear to him. Shooters was just like any other building in Bludhaven, on the outside, it was a nondescript store front, with four large windows, two on the bottom floor and two on the top floor, each one comprised of a frosted glass that would not allow anyone to see in. Usually, a pounding bass beat emanated from the building, the sounds of men and women living it up entwined in every note. Stage lights of every color swept across the dance floor, illuminating the clouds of smoke that rose above the crowd. None of that was happening now. It was here that the chanting was the loudest. Nightwing realized that The Misfits were travelling underground, using the tunnels and ducts underneath the city in the same manner that he used the rooftops, and they had surfaced at this dance club.

Two equally different and yet disturbing types of light reflected across the frosted glass in the front windows. One was the sputtering flash of silenced gunfire, the other was the bouncing light of flickering flames. There was no bouncer at the door. The Misfits were already inside. The fact that there was silenced gunfire told him that whoever was supposed to be guarding this place was probably dead. Desmond's men didn't have to worry about attracting attention from the police, The Misfits did. He immediately tossed out a jumpline and kicked off of the building opposite Shooters, increasing his momentum. Extending his legs outward, Nightwing streamlined his body to the best of his ability in order to gain more speed. He released the jumpline at the last second and felt the second floor window give way underneath the impact of his boots. What he saw inside the club shocked and revolted him. The Misfits had tied up all the women in the club and gagged them. A ring of fire burned around them, closing in on their flesh. The corpses of their male companions, Roland Desmond's guards, and innocent partygoers, lay strewn everywhere. Most never knew what hit them. Apparently, the men deserved a quick death, while the women had a far slower and more painful demise in store. All eyes turned toward Nightwing, as his own registered all of them in the gloom, illuminated only by the fire that was threatening to consume the women. They all drew back in fear as they realized it was Nightwing, come to haunt them once again. Nightwing enjoyed their reaction fiercely.

"It looks like you boys neglected to take your Ritalin. Now, I'll have to spank you a bit harder this time. Take my word for it, this will hurt you more than it hurts me."

Jonah's voice cut above the rest of The Misfits as he emerged from the throng of bloodthirsty killers. He held a woman by the throat, a knife in his hand and a grotesque smile on his face. "Why the Hell can't you leave me alone?" Jonah was acting as if he were a spoiled child, and after the day's investigations, it was starting to seem more and more likely that his mindset was exactly that. Nonetheless, Jonah smiled his evil smile. "You have a choice, Nightwing. Rescue the women, or chase us. I was hoping they would die in the fire but, I still think Desmond will get the message. Don't you?" The Misfits began clamouring for the exits as three vans screeched to a halt in front of the club. Like a herd of stampeding cattle, The Misfits began piling into each of the three vans. Neither the means of escape nor the type of crime surprised Nightwing. Jonah had set the women up for a painful death, and Blockbuster's men had been executed with extreme prejudice utilizing silenced weapons which would attract little attention. The Misfits had no doubt emerged in the basement of this club and swarmed its occupants, and knowing that their method of travel would be discovered, Jonah arranged an alternate getaway. It was worthy of an honours West Point graduate.

Nightwing turned to look at the bound and gagged women in the centre of the room, the tongues of fire reaching out and licking them, already causing some damage to the skin. There had to be at least twenty of them, their eyes all wide, pleading with the masked vigilante to rescue them. There were too many to carry out one by one. He needed to put the fire out, now. There had to be a fire extinguisher somewhere in the building. He only hoped that he wouldn't find it too late. He ran behind the bar, there was no extinguisher to be found. He looked up to the ceiling, there were no sprinklers or fire suppression system of any kind. He could hear stifled screams now, the women were in increasing amounts of pain. He spotted a broom closet and tore it open, he almost laughed in relief as he saw the red fire extinguisher sitting there. Heaving it out with one hand, he ran for the main area of the room and pulled the pin. Scant seconds later, the foamy chemicals gushed forth. As quickly as it had begun, the fire was out and Nightwing was cutting the women free of their restraints. The whole scene reminded Nightwing of a witch burning from medieval times. Unfortunately, some of them were already suffering burns and smoke inhalation.

"Do any of you have first aid training?" He asked. Two women, who looked more like ladies of the night than paramedics, raised their hands. "See to them." He ordered as he bolted down the stairs and out the main doors. An out of breath Joey Flaherty was approaching the building as the three vans screeched around the corner.

"Is that them? The Misfits?" Joey asked.

"In all their glory." Nightwing responded as he flipped open a compartment in his gauntlet and pressed a button.

"They're getting away." Flaherty spat in anger.

"No. They're not." Suddenly, another vehicle sped around the corner and screeched to a halt. There was no driver.

"Get in." Nightwing said as he rolled across the hood and climbed in, gunning the engine. Flaherty barely had the door shut when his masked comrade uttered some words of warning. "Better fasten your seat belt."

Before Joey could respond he was pinned back in his seat as the muscle car leaped away from the curb. The turbo charged engine purred like a content kitten as Nightwing eased the car gracefully through the gears. The red tail lights of the departing vans could just be seen in the distance, taking the Ericson Turnoff and turning onto the highway, trying to lose whoever might be in pursuit. In the time it took Flaherty to put on his seat belt, they were already approaching 55 miles an hour and hurtling down the nearly deserted street toward the same turnoff. Back at the club, ambulances and police cars had finally begun to arrive on the scene. Flaherty looked around the car, taking in the fact that this was no mere muscle car, but a powerful vehicle capable of outracing anything the police force could bring to the table. With a turbo charged aluminum alloy McLaren 640 horsepower engine under the hood, the vehicle was more air plane than it was car. The dashboard was not your average air conditioner and stereo controls either, with a computer interface, document scanner, fax machine, GPS system, and voice mail system alongside banks of buttons that he did not recognize, which he guessed were controls for hidden weapons. His eyes then fell on Nightwing, who had a distinctly sinister look on his face.

"What happened in there?" He asked.

"They killed all the men in sight, and they were trying to burn all the women alive. A pretty nasty sight. One I could have done without. They have a hostage, too. It makes me want to hurt Jonah...... badly." Nightwing replied, his voice deadly calm. Flaherty watched as Nightwing reached out to the dashboard, his thumb hovering over a small red button. "Hang on, this is a nitrous feed." Before Flaherty could ask what that meant, he was thrown back in his seat once more, pinned by G-forces that even an Air Force pilot would not enjoy. A quick glance at the speedometer told him they were approaching 120 miles per hour. When they hit the Ericson Turnoff, the rear bumper scraped the pavement and caused sparks to fly.

"We're gonna crash!" Flaherty yelled as he covered his eyes, only to separate his fingers and peek through them in morbid curiosity. "We're not going to make it!" He yelled as they hurtled up the ramp.

"Yes, we are." Nightwing replied calmly.

"No, we're not." Flaherty insisted.

"Yes, we are."

"No. We. Are. Not." Just as those words left Flaherty's mouth, they rocketed out of the on-ramp and straight into the air. All four wheels left the ground as the engine roared. Despite his tough cop demeanor, Flaherty couldn't help but scream. As Nightwing knew it would be, the freeway was almost dead at this time of night, and the three vans in the distance were clearly visible. As they tore through the air and landed with a jolt, Nightwing touched the brake lightly and tucked the car neatly into the passing lane. The vans were growing closer by the second. It wasn't long before the passengers in the van bringing up the rear noticed the car closing in on them.

"We've got visitors!!" Frankie yelled over his radio. In the lead van, Jonah rolled down his window and stuck his head out, spying the lone car racing toward them. In a fit of rage, he began beating his fist against the door.

"WHY! CAN'T! HE! LEAVE! ME ALONE!!!" He yelled in unison with his punches landing on the metal door. Reaching for the communicator, he activated it and issued his orders. "Kill him!"

Frankie coughed up a laugh as he strapped on the HUD over his eyes and let the safety off of his personal gun. Ordering the rest to stand clear, he kicked open the rear door of the van and activated the display. Nightwing's car lay directly behind them. Nightwing's eyes met Frankie's, and Frankie felt a shiver crawl up his spine for the first time since he had joined the Misfits. The look of cold, hard determination made him fearful. Needless to say, Flaherty was also alarmed.

"Oh shit!" Flaherty exclaimed.

"Eat this!" Frankie yelled as he squeezed the trigger.

Muzzle fire lit up the night as the explosive bullets hurtled at Nightwing like a swarm of angry bees. No one was more surprised than Nightwing when the tiny needles of explosive material chewed up the nomex windshield, sending cracks resembling an intricate spider web rippling through the main window, and causing Flaherty to swear and dive behind the dashboard for cover. Nightwing realized that this was no ordinary gun being fired at him, it was something more, some sort of Uber-weapon stolen from The Shearwater base. Another burst of gunfire, and the bullets would penetrate the windshield........ killing them both.


Chapter 6: Road Rage

Twenty one pills, taken before every meal.

That's what is required to keep Roland Desmond alive for another day. For Bludhaven's king of crime, the interminable and expensive pills were quickly becoming the bane of his existence. They seemed to take forever to ingest and he almost felt too full to eat after he had taken that many pills and capsules with the requisite glasses of water. Even after all that was taken into account, he hated them on another, even more personal level. The pills were a visible sign of his growing weakness, not only to him, but to those who prepared his meals and doled out his medication. No matter how much they feared him, his people would always talk behind his back to some extent. "Desmond takes more pills than a junkie." He could imagine them saying in hushed tones all over the city. Word was spreading. The king was going to die, long live the king. Desmond was quite sure that he could continue to rule this city if he had lost his leg, or an eye, but a weakened heart was an entirely different thing. A weak heart meant a weak body, and there was no way to overcome that particular disability without gaining a brand new one. Unfortunately, on this night, there were other matters at hand to ruin Desmond's appetite. He pushed aside his dinner of smoked salmon with assorted vegetables and sank back in the plush chair at the head of his finely polished oak dinner table, sighing heavily. The meal had been specially prepared for him by the famous chef, Wolfgang Puck. Desmond, however, was no longer in the mood to eat. He was growing wearier with every passing day. Every display of his mighty strength left him weak (by his standards) and bathed in the sweat of exertion. When his bodyguard and sometimes aide, Tico, entered the room, he instinctively knew that the exquisite repast would go to waste.

"What is it, Tico?" He asked, his voice heavy laden with both stress and annoyance.

Tico cleared his throat. "Sorry to bother you during dinner, Mr. Desmond. We just got word, Johnny Russo is dead. So are all his boys, and a few of your guys that were there at the time. Word is, The Misfits did the job. They were also going to burn down Russo's place with a bunch of women inside. Someone stopped them from doing that, but we're not sure who yet. Cops, medics, and fire brigade are all on the scene as we speak."

Blockbuster was silent. Tico was surprised to see the lack of raw aggression and violence that normally emanated from Desmond when others threatened him and his interests. Instead of destroying some furniture and knocking out a few walls, Bludhaven's vice lord merely reached out and rubbed his temples, his eyes fluttering shut. Tico had been with Blockbuster for some time, he had seen the death of Desmond's policeman enforcer, Dudley Soames, the death of Desmond's predecessor, Angel Marin, and scores of others, all at Blockbusters immense hands. He knew that someday, he himself might end up with his head facing the wrong way if he were to be the one who came bearing bad news, but the money was good, and Tico was an insanely loyal man in a world littered with traitors. Tico felt that was the risk of working for the winning side. Still, he feared that tonight he may anger Blockbuster with this news, possibly to the point where the rampaging behemoth may kill him, and yet he told him anyway, refusing to pass the chore on to a lackey. His fears proved ungrounded. For nearly five minutes, Desmond said nothing. A cold drizzle had begun to patter at the huge bay window in the room. In his mind's eye, Blockbuster replayed his last meeting with Nightwing, when he had informed Bludhaven's Avenging Angel that it would be in all their best interests to have Jonah killed. Over and over, Nightwing's words replayed in his mind, "Be careful you don't exert yourself, Rolly. When that enlarged heart of yours explodes in your face, you'll go straight to Hell.... where you belong." Surely, he thought to himself, Hell could be no more a headache than this. Finally, Blockbuster sighed heavily once more, and issued his orders.

"It appears Nightwing has failed. Spread the word, Tico. We're going to war."

*****

Barbara was beginning to really miss the lack of security monitors at the front door to her apartment. She had promised Dick, and herself, that she would take as much care as possible when answering the door. After all, she had already lost the use of her legs from opening a door, what could possibly happen next were she to repeat that mistake? What else could she lose? Possibly, her life. Nonetheless, the knocking at her door brought her across the room with an escrima stick securely in her right hand. Despite the fact that she had become intensely nervous and possibly paranoid about opening doors, she had a good idea who was on the other side.

"Who is it?" She called.

"It's Dad. I have an arrest warrant out for the prettiest redhead in Gotham." She smiled as she wheeled her chair in closer to the door. It sure sounded like her father, but anyone can make a recording of his voice. Gently, she nudged the door open slightly and peeked through. Sure enough, Commissioner James Gordon filled the entire doorway. She had been expecting him. Barbara tossed the escrima stick across the room and it rolled under the couch as she opened the door to greet him.

"Hi Dad. It's great to see you!" She said as he leaned over and hugged her so hard, he almost lifted her out of her chair.

"It's great to see you, too." He replied. His voice was pleasant and genuine, but retained a sullen undertone. Of course, Barbara knew the reason all too well. Her father still had not recovered from his wife's death. Sarah Essen-Gordon was another victim of The Joker's barbaric insanity in recent times, shot dead as she tried to save a newborn baby the psychotic had dropped to the floor. After shooting her, The Joker merely surrendered to The Police and Batman, as if it were all some game, or the final act of some play. The detective in Barbara noticed that her father had lost some weight, she had no doubt that he wasn't eating properly since Sarah's death, and not for the first time she worried for his health, both mental and physical. What must it be like? To see members of your family gunned down by the same babbling psychotic time and again, and yet remain relatively unscathed? Surely, Jim Gordon must feel as if he were the one cursed at times, only to be washed in guilt over his failure to protect his family, and of himself having the gall to feel badly, with his beloved Sarah dead and Barbara the one confined to a wheelchair. He even gained some measure of revenge for them all, shooting the Joker in the kneecap upon their last meeting, doing his best to ensure that the criminal would never walk again, much like his daughter. And yet she knew, without a doubt, that he gained no comfort in that revenge. It didn't help Barbara to walk again, and it didn't bring his wife back. Nothing ever could. For once, she had some good news to tell him. Something that would, hopefully, cheer him up.

"Sit down, Dad. Do you want some coffee or something?" Barbara said as he released the hug and they entered the living room.

"No thanks, princess. I live on coffee these days. I'm thinking of making it a food group all its own." He smiled, but the smile was weak. What was that old saying about clowns? They were only laughing on the outside. The same could be true of her father. She wheeled her chair in close to him and took him by the hand.

"I know the past months have been tough for you." She said in a soothing voice.

"Barbara...... I...." He stammered.

"Go ahead, Dad. Say whatever is on your mind." She encouraged.

"I still see her. I still see Sarah, sometimes. I could be at home or at police headquarters, and, just out of the corner of my eye, I think I see her walking around a corner. I still see her everywhere."

Barbara reached out and placed her index finger on his chin, bringing his eyes to meet her own. "I'm not sure if I should tell you this or not, Dad. I was hoping it would cheer you up. Now I'm not so sure, I just thought it would be best if you heard it from me before you heard it from anyone else."

Jim looked at his daughter conspiratorially. "What do you mean?"

Barbara sighed and gathered her composure. She wanted to tell him, he needed to know, but he was fiercely protective of her, and he was still grieving for the woman he loved. It was a risk, but if he heard it from someone else, he would think she was shutting him out. "Dad, I'm seeing someone. It's getting kind of serious." Barbara's heart nearly skipped a beat as her father looked upon her for the first time since Sarah's death with a genuine smile. He reached his strong arms around her and hugged her close once more.

"Barbara!! That's fantastic!!" He roared as she found herself in a hug so tight she could barely breathe. She knew he worried about her, worried that she would allow her injury to keep her from reaching out to others and finding true love, and the news had the exact effect on him she was hoping for. She allowed herself to give in completely to his hug and nestled herself in his mighty chest, feeling the cotton of his shirt against her cheek and smelling that faint hint of Stetson cologne mixed with the distinctive odour that one can only get from spending extensive amounts of time in a police station. It was a scent she knew well, a scent she grew up with, and a scent that brought her a great amount of contentment. Unfortunately, now the hard part was upon her. When she spoke again, her voice was muffled against her fathers chest, her words unintelligible. Jim released his grip on his daughter and allowed her to speak, not to mention breathe, once more.

"What did you say, honey?" He asked.

"The man I'm seeing, it's Dick Grayson."

Jim's smile disappeared. It was replaced with a scowl that would frighten the toughest of Gotham's criminals from Oswald "The Penguin" Cobblepot straight down to Tommy "Mangles" Manchester.

"A cop."

"Yes but..." Barbara began.

"Not only that, a Bludhaven cop."

"Yes but..." Barbara began again.

"Don't you think I keep up on these things, Barbara? I know Dick Grayson. I've met him a few times. I know his step-father. I spoke to Bruce Wayne two weeks ago at a charity ball, he told me Grayson graduated from the academy. Not that graduating from Bludhaven Police Academy is really much of a feat, all you have to do is be a criminal to begin with."

"Dad....."

Jim got up from the couch and began to pace around the room as he continued his rant. "Just a cop would be bad enough. Haven't you seen the things Sarah and I went through? We loved each other more than anything or anyone else on Earth, and we STILL fought like crazy sometimes. Most of the time it was over this stupid badge! And why in God's name did he go to Bludhaven to be a cop? There isn't an honest badge in the entire city limits!!"

"Dad...."

"I'm telling you, anyone who goes to that city ends up corrupt! How can Dick Grayson choose to live in a city like that? It makes Gotham look good for Heaven's sake!!"

"Dad!!!" Barbara yelled at the top of her lungs, stopping her father in his tracks and causing him to look at her as if she had just sprouted another head. "Dick is a cop. I admit that, but he isn't crooked. He's an idealist, if he's anything. He doesn't need to be crooked, Dad. He doesn't need the money, his step-father is one of the wealthiest men on the east coast. He wants to make a difference in a city that's rife with crime. Is that so bad? Is it so wrong that he has ideals?"

Jim's reply was quick. "He's either a deluded dreamer or an idiot to think he can make any changes in that city."

"Isn't that just what they said about you when you came here from Chicago?" She countered.

Gordon opened his mouth to speak, but the words never came out. He wanted to reply, but she was right, there was no counter argument to that. After a short time of just staring at his daughter, he walked back over to the couch and sat beside her, taking her hand in his once more. "What I do is very dangerous. You know that better than anyone. It can also be heartbreaking. I've always hoped you find someone to share your life with, but becoming the wife, or even the girlfriend, of a cop is not an easy task. Are you sure he's the one you want to get involved with? Does he make you that happy?"

Her smile lit the entire room. "Dad, I love him."

Jim nodded his head slowly and pursed his lips slightly. "Then he makes me happy, too." And then, his smile returned as well. He reached out his arms and beckoned her once more, she gladly melted into his hug.

"I guess this means you're going to be spending some time in Bludhaven." He said.

"Maybe a little." She replied.

"Then I think you should have this." Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out a key chain, on one end was a whistle, and on the other a small container of pepper spray. He handed it to Barbara, who couldn't help but laugh at the sight of it. Little did her father know that she had far more dangerous weapons at her disposal, should she require them.

"Don't laugh. We give these to street girls all the time. This might save your life some day if you keep going to that wretched city." Her father replied.

"I'll keep it close, Dad. I promise." She said as she clipped the key chain onto a belt loop on her jeans.

"Thanks, princess. I feel better already. I think you made my day, not to mention my week, and my month."

"My pleasure, Dad. Can you stay for dinner?" Barbara asked as she wheeled her chair into the kitchen. She was almost tempted to bring up the subject of Christmas, which was only a month away. She wanted to make sure that her father celebrated Christmas with her, and not buried in depression at his lonely home downtown. She decided that it was too early to bring up the touchy subject, and kept it to herself, for now.

"I wish I could, but I have to arrange a stakeout with Bullock and Montoya. You just remember what I said, okay? Remember, I love you." He told her.

Barbara smiled and bid farewell to her father as he left the apartment. Jim hated having to lie to his daughter, he had rarely done it in the past, but it was necessary this time. He had arranged the stakeout with Bullock and Montoya hours ago, now it was time to see to more personal matters. Gordon exited the building and climbed into his car, calling up the Bludhaven address for Officer Dick Grayson. He trusted his daughter's instincts and respected her happiness, but by God there was no way young Grayson would date his daughter without having to put up with the customary grilling and third degree from the father. And being a cop, Gordon was sure to make it a third degree the young man would never forget.

*****

One in every one hundred high speed pursuits ends in death. That statistic screamed through Nightwing's mind as he practically stood on the breaks, throwing both himself and Joey Flaherty forward against their seat restraints. Joey made the sign of the cross against his chest as he felt the seat belt bite into his chest and waist. Frankie squeezed the trigger on his weapon and laughed maniacally as he sprayed the air with bullets. Unfortunately for him, Nightwing's car was suddenly far behind them as the van sped away and the explosive bullets tore into innocent freeway pavement instead. Frankie hooted triumphantly as they left their pursuers, and some badly torn up asphalt, in their wake. Flaherty looked over at Nightwing, who was hauling the wheel back and forth, trying to maintain control as they swerved to a stop. As quickly as it had begun, the chase seemingly ended. Flaherty let out a sigh of relief, and then choked on it as the air horn of an oncoming truck sounded behind them. Both Flaherty and Nightwing scanned their side mirrors and watched as the speeding truck's headlights grew ever larger.

Without saying a word, Nightwing threw the car back into gear and curled his toes around the accelerator. Tires squealed, smoke plumed as rubber burned, the air horn sounded once more, and Nightwing's car quickly zipped from the passing lane over to the service lane on the far left of the highway. As the truck passed, the pair realized that they had almost been rear ended by a tanker truck hauling gasoline, which had missed Nightwing's rear bumper by only a scant few feet. Had they collided, everyone involved with the crash would have died in a fiery explosion. Flaherty gave Nightwing a look of pure terror coupled with disbelief.

"You're saying you and my brother did this kind of stuff on a regular basis? You're both crazy! When this is over I'm giving you the mother of all speeding tickets!"

Nightwing tilted his head slightly toward Flaherty and flashed an apologetic smirk. "You don't like my driving? Then you're really not going to like this." Nightwing reached out and touched a button to the left of the steering column and all the lights in the car were immediately doused. With only the illumination offered from a distant street light, the duo could barely make out one another's faces. Once more, Flaherty's voice was filled with dread when he spoke.

"Oh, God. What the Hell are you going to do?" He asked.

"Only this." Once more, the car roared to life and streaked away from the service lane as Nightwing pressed the accelerator to the floor. Flaherty gripped the dashboard so tightly his fingers began to ache.

"What are you doing?" He asked, his voice a terrified whisper.

"Relax." Nightwing responded. Flaherty seemed somewhat less than reassured.

"Relax? RELAX? We're driving down the freeway doing fifty-five..... no, make that sixty miles an hour. WITH NO LIGHTS ON!! Most every street light in Bludhaven has been shot out or doesn't work. Can you clue me in on how we're going to keep from dying in a car crash?"

"We're going to use these." Nightwing reached out and tapped a small button on the dashboard. In response, a small hidden compartment slid open revealing two pairs of high tech looking goggles. They were, in fact, two pairs of Night Owl Infra Red Goggles, model NOTG1. Nightwing had personally tested many different brands and makes of infra red goggles when he had originally built the car, and found The Night Owl product met his needs perfectly. The device gave him a very impressive 35,000x light amplification and a field range as wide as 1885 feet for almost 1000 yards ahead. Although the starlight technology in his mask provided excellent night vision for everyday (or night, as the case may be) circumstances, something more powerful was required during instances such as this. Nightwing reached out and grabbed a pair, slipping them on over his own mask, Flaherty did the same. Both men activated their respective devices and the night time world suddenly repainted itself in red and orange with as much definition as would be available during broad daylight. Objects that were invisible to them only seconds ago were plainly seen now. In the distance, they could see the three vans belonging to The Misfits, and the gasoline truck that lay between them.

"Do me a favour and kick out what's left of that windshield." Nightwing told him.

Flaherty's face was the picture of disbelief. The look communicated the police officers world of concern about unbuckling his seat restraints while his masked partner was behind the wheel. In the handful of minutes since the pair had taken up pursuit of The Misfits, they had flown through the air at over one hundred miles per hour off a freeway on-ramp, had the windshield riddles with bullets, and narrowly missed being rear ended by an oncoming gasoline truck. Interpreting the knitted brow and wide eyes correctly, Nightwing was quick to reply.

"I promise I won't crash the car while you're out of your seat belt. Okay?"

Flaherty groaned and released the seat belt. Positioning himself on one knee on his seat, he kicked out with his right leg against the windshield. After three more kicks, the entire sheet of bullet proof material dislodged from the car in one piece and flew across the road and land safely in the ditch. As soon as that was done, Flaherty leaped back into his seat and cinched up his seat belt as tight as he could manage it.

"Nice shot." Nightwing said as he watched the sheet of nomex skid across the road and land safely in the ditch. "You must have played some soccer as a kid."

Flaherty straightened the collar of his trench coat and beamed proudly. "I've been playing since I learned how to walk, both Mully and I were first picked for every game."

Somehow, Nightwing could imagine both Mully and Joey playing soccer in the back streets of Bludhaven, before the city had become what it is now, before Blockbuster, before The Misfits. "Remind me not to get in the way of that kick." Nightwing replied with a smirk. The car rocketed ahead, hugging the curves in the highway easily, the wind whipping their hair back with no windshield to protect them. They had gained a lot of ground in just a few minutes, and were now overtaking the tanker. Nightwing pressed the accelerator to the floor and zipped past it easily. The driver of the tanker barely noticed the shadow that whisked past him. The three vans were now within thirty feet.

"Here's the plan, Joey. I hope you're up to this. This car only has enough fuel left for one more nitro burst. That will give us one last burst of speed, and this time, you're going to be behind the wheel. I want you to sidle over here, and I'm going out there." He said as he pointed straight ahead. Flaherty looked at him, not comprehending.

"Where? Where are you going?"

"Out there." Nightwing replied as he pointed once more. "On the hood."

"You'll be killed." Flaherty's voice was incredulous.

"You'll find I'm hard to kill. Now listen, when you get behind the wheel and I climb out there, I want you to hit that button." He paused as he pointed to the same button Flaherty had seen him push earlier. "This time we're not going to come up behind them, we're going to slip in beside the van in the rear. They won't see us coming with the lights out. I'm going to jump aboard and do what I do best, which is kick ass. Now, do you think you can handle driving this thing?"

Flaherty shook his head in disbelief. "You're crazy, do you know that? Do you really think you can do this?"

"Yes."

"Yes, you're crazy, or yes, you can do this?"

Nightwing didn't answer the question. "Time is running out here, Sergeant."

Flaherty nodded and adjusted his infra-red goggles. "Good point. Move over, I'm driving." Nightwing smiled triumphantly and activated the cruise control while he began to climb out over the steering wheel and onto the hood as Flaherty climbed into the driver's seat. As Nightwing was climbing out, he heard Flaherty address him one final time, but in a softer, more sincere voice than he had ever heard the sergeant use before.

"Nightwing? I just wanted to say..... good luck."

"Thanks."

Nightwing felt the wind and the near freezing drizzle that had begun to fall bite at his cheeks as he exited the car and emerged on the hood. The precipitation that had begun to fall would not make this stunt any easier for him, but it still needed to be done. The Misfits had to be stopped here and now. After one final glance at the vehicles in front of them, he tore off the infra-red goggles and tossed them on the passenger seat while activating the starlight technology in his mask lenses. Having grown up in the circus, part of an aerialist act, and having grown up as The Batman's sidekick, Nightwing was quite used to maintaining composure and balance while on an unstable surface, but there was little in the way of a secure purchase on the hood of a car racing along at over one hundred miles an hour. He felt as if he wanted to remove his gloves and dig his fingernails into the paint to gain some stability.

Unfortunately, there was little in the way of a handhold to be found. Nightwing made a mental note to himself to build handholds into the next version of his car as he flattened his body against the hood to the best of his ability, face to face with Flaherty, who was straining to look over his vigilante partner's body as he drove.

"You ready?" Nightwing asked.

Flaherty simply nodded.

"Hit it!"

Flaherty reached out and thumbed the same button that he had seen Nightwing hit earlier, and the car surged ahead once more. Joey had driven souped up police cruisers before, but never had he felt such power in a car. The tail lights of the van in the rear grew larger and larger as they streaked forth, the bitterly cold rain and wind biting at both of them. This time, their approach went unnoticed. Joey barely had the time to react as the car surged in behind the trio of vans and hauled the wheel to the right, putting the car in the passing lane and beside the last of the three vans. Flaherty watched as Nightwing rose to his feet and took a moment to time the jump correctly.

And then he was gone.

Nightwing leaped high in the air and landed squarely on top of the van beside him. Unlike the approach of his car, the loud thump that followed his landing did not go unnoticed.

"What the Hell was that?" Frankie asked no one in particular. His fellow Misfits shrugged in response. Frankie had a very bad feeling about this. Strapping on the HUD once more, he kicked open the read doors of the van, only to see....... nothing. In the distance, he noticed an oncoming tanker truck, but nothing else. What had made the noise on the roof? The answer came all at once as Nightwing's car, with Flaherty at the wheel, slipped back from the passing lane in behind them and switched on the headlights, blinding them all momentarily. At that same instant, Nightwing somersaulted into their midst from above, silhouetted by the powerful high beams.

"Hi there, freaks. I'm on tour with kick-your-ass-palooza and this is my first stop."

Frankie was the only one dumb enough to fire his weapon in such close quarters, despite his warning about doing such things back at The Shearwater base, no doubt he fired on instinct, not with the reasonable part of his brain. Nightwing lashed out with an old fashioned roundhouse right to the jaw as Frankie fired, his shots going wild and ripping into many of his fellow Misfits. Moans and screams of pain filled the contained area as the garishly dressed thugs fell. Luckily, the burst of gunfire did not find Nightwing. All at once, the remaining gang members swarmed him, and it was then that he realized how many of them were crammed into this van. Nightwing estimated that there were at least seventeen of eighteen of them, there was barely room to breathe let alone fight. Just as they had done in the alley on the first night he had encountered them, fists and boots came at him from all directions, but he wasn't going down so easy this time. Utilizing an ancient fighting technique which he had learned years ago, Nightwing pushed off of the floor with all his might and did a back flip in the air, both feet landed on the chests of two Misfits that were attacking him from behind. Turning his defence into offense, he then pushed off of them with all his strength, thereby sending the two behind him reeling, and launched himself into the crowd in front of him. The Misfits were sent reeling as he somersaulted forward and landed on his feet once again. What Misfits hadn't already been shot by Frankie, were now unconscious or immobilized, clutching their wounds.

Nightwing ran to the front of the van, where one final Misfit was cowering behind the wheel. He looked up at the masked vigilante, his lips trembling with fear. "Nighty night." Nightwing said as he let loose with an open palmed strike to the jaw that immediately knocked the driver out. In one swift motion, Nightwing grabbed the driver by the collar and hoisted him out of the driver's seat and sliding behind the wheel himself. Pushing the accelerator to the floor, the van quickly began to gain ground on the second van. Checking his rear view mirror, he saw that Flaherty was still bringing up the rear. Nightwing opened a compartment in his boot and removed the only pneumatic powered grapnel in his arsenal. He disliked the grapnels that Batman so heavily favoured in Gotham city, preferring to use his de-cel cord and his aerialist abilities, instead. Nonetheless, he always kept one launcher on his person in case of emergency, every so often, they did come in useful. Now was one of those times. When the van he was driving came within ten feet of the van in front of him, Nightwing opened the door of the van and stepped out. Immediately, the van began to decelerate. Within minutes it would come to a stop, but Nightwing would no longer be in it. Activating the release, the grapnel hooks shot out and lodged itself securely in the rear door of the second van. Preparing for the tremendous jolt on his arm, Nightwing jumped from the van and into the air, while activating the 'retract' button in mid-air.

For one brief second, Nightwing thought that the grapnel was not going to retract quickly enough and he would hit the pavement. He held his breath as he waited for the pain that would follow when he fell. A brief flush of panic welled within him and was immediately suppressed by years of training, there was no time for regrets or fear, he would do his best to roll with the impact and survive the fall. At the last second, he felt the tremendous pull on his arm and he was pulled in while behind him the van full of Misfits coasted to a stop, only to be arrested by Joey. His feet scrambled for the rear bumper as the grapnel reeled him in. His right foot missed the bumper. He sighed in relief as his left boot found purchase. Whoever was in this van was not nearly as attentive as Frankie and his goons in the rear. It was possible they still didn't know what was happening. Taking any advantage offered to him by fate, Nightwing gripped the handle of the door and tore it open. He immediately wished he hadn't. Over a dozen more Misfits were sandwiched into this vehicle. Unaware of his pursuit, they regarded him with slack jawed awe.

"What is this, a clown car? You boys are stuffed in here like sardines." Nightwing gave them no time to think up a witty reply as he tossed out a tear gas pellet, acrid gas billowed throughout the van as the capsule broke with a metallic "tinkle", causing The Misfits to double over, choking for a breath of even the most stale Bludhaven night air. Nightwing considered using one of his own shurikens to blow out the rear tires, but dismissed it as an unwise practice to cause blowouts at this speed. Producing a re-breather from his gauntlet, he leaped inside and proceeded to knock out as many of his foes as he possibly could while he made his way to the driver, who refused to stop even though he was choking on the tear gas and could barely see. When he arrived at the front of the vehicle, he realized that the driver had rolled down his window, allowing himself some fresh air, and a vent for much of the repulsive fog.

"Pull over! Now!!" Nightwing commanded in a tone that clearly indicated that he was deadly serious. When the driver refused to comply, he reared back to throw a punch at The Misfit, only to have him relent at the last second.

"Okay! Okay! You crazy freak!!! I'm pulling over!!" He yelled. Seconds later, the van had safely pulled over to the service lane on the left hand side of the road. Nightwing hauled all of the unconscious Misfits out of the van and tied them together with a jumpline. There was only one van left, the van that held Jonah. The one he most needed to stop, and time was running out. Two, maybe three miles down the road, this four lane highway opened up onto the six lane Highway 61 northbound heading towards Gotham. There were a million turn-offs and service ramps that Jonah could take and thus elude him. Not to mention, that no matter what time of day or night, 61 was always busy. That meant more possible hostages and more possible victims of car crashes in this deadly game of chase. He could not allow Jonah to reach Highway 61. A few well placed throwing stars in the tires of the second van made sure that even if his captured Misfits regained consciousness, they wouldn't get far before the rest of the police force showed up. He began to wonder how Joey was doing, he had stopped to take care of The Misfits in the first van they had tackled. Just as Nightwing was beginning to worry, a set of headlights became visible and grew quickly in the darkness. It was Joey. He pulled over to the side of the road as he approached and slid into the passenger seat as Nightwing once more took the wheel.

"How are things back there?" Nightwing asked.

"I left them all handcuffed to the guard rail and called it in. Arnot and his boys will be right behind us." Joey replied.

"As long as they're behind us, they won't get in our way." Nightwing commented as he tore away from the side of the road and began pushing the car to its limits for what he hoped would be the final time tonight.

"You got any other tricks up your sleeve, punk? Looks like we've been pretty lucky so far." Joey said.

"Just one." Nightwing reached over to the panel of buttons and jabbed one. On the front of the car, the headlights recessed into hidden compartments, causing the pair to don their night vision goggles once more, the headlights were replaced by a pair of devices that Joey did not recognize.

"What the hell is that? A rocket launcher or something?"

Nightwing smiled a mischievous smile. "Nothing so lethal, I'm afraid. I have the ability to generate an EMP, which stands for electromagnetic pulse, which will deaden any circuitry in Jonah's van and he'll have no other choice but to pull over."

Flaherty looked angry. "Why the Hell didn't you use it before?"

"I can only use it one time, Sergeant. I don't have power enough for three bursts."

"Won't it knock out this car, too?" He asked.

"No, my car is shielded against EMP's. It has been since I read that police forces are starting to experiment with the exact same technique." Flaherty returned the comment with a sarcastic smile, doing his best to indicate that he thought his vigilante partner was a smart-ass. Nightwing found himself wishing that he hadn't used up his two nitro bursts in the chase already. Nothing was more imperative than getting to Jonah before he hit Highway 61. At his current speed, he calculated that he would indeed intercept the leader of The Misfits before he hit the northbound highway, but just barely. He would have preferred far more leeway to stop the madman, but at this point would accept any advantage he was given, even if it was only a matter of seconds.

In his rear view mirror, Nightwing noticed flashing lights, the Bludhaven Police were finally taking an interest in the happenings on the highway. At least the majority of The Misfits gang would indeed spend the rest of the evening in jail. Even Arnot couldn't help but imprison them for suspected murder, possessing illegal stolen weapons, and even reckless driving. Whatever they had accomplished this night, they had seen to it that The Misfits' ranks had taken a serious beating. Nightwing knew, however, that with Jonah's magnetic personality, he would soon fill those ranks in with even more dregs of Bludhaven society. All these thoughts passed though his mind as they approached the final van of the trio. He had wondered why exactly so many of The Misfits had piled into two vans, which would leave the third, Jonah's, with plenty of space. It could be that Jonah demanded it be that way due to his ego, but Nightwing feared there was more to it than that. He feared for the fate of the hostage in Jonah's grip, and wondered if he hadn't made a mistake by not going for that van first, despite the fact that Frankie made that task almost impossible with his hail of gunfire. Finally, they were within range of Jonah's van. Nightwing prepared to activate the EMP.

He stabbed the activation button. Just as he had surmised, the pulse worked perfectly and the van began to slow down. All the lights in Jonah's vehicle went out. The streetlights of Highway 61 were only a few hundred feet in the distance. The van was coasting now, losing momentum rapidly. Nightwing edged his car in behind the van and waited for it to stop. He knew Jonah would not come quietly, perhaps he would try and use his hostage to escape, but Nightwing was determined, Jonah would NOT escape him again. The van finally ran out of forward momentum and came to a stop. Nightwing and Joey leaped from the car and ran toward the van. In the distance, the whine of police sirens could easily be heard. Hopefully, they could end this before Arnot and his men arrived.

"I'm going to open this door." Nightwing whispered to Flaherty, who now had his gun in hand. "I want you to cover me, got it?"

Flaherty nodded. Nightwing reached out and grabbed the handle of the rear door. Holding his breath, he pulled on the handle and the doors swung open. That same held breath caught in his throat as he took in the scene before him. The female hostage from Russo's club, her face bloodied and beaten, her eyes brimming with tears and terror, and Jonah, his own heavily made up face streaked with her blood, a powerful and well muscled dog at his side. Clearly, Jonah needed the extra room in this van for amusing himself while his men fought for his freedom. She was almost naked, now. Her arms and legs, also streaked with blood, were tied to the wall of the van, her palms facing out. In his hand, Jonah held a portable nail-gun, used by many construction workers. The thought was too horrible for Nightwing to accept it at first. Would Jonah be so sick and twisted that he would actually do what it seemed he was now planning? The answer came quickly as Jonah, grinning like The Cheshire Cat, made his intentions known.

"If you won't leave me alone, Nightwing, you'll just have to play my game... MY WAY!!" He said, yelling the final words at the top of his lungs, as if he were a spoiled child. "Take one step closer, and I swear this little lady will find her hands nailed to the wall. Those Romans really had a flair for inflicting pain, don't you think?"

When Nightwing replied, his voice was pure menace. "Don't. You. Dare."

Jonah's counter reply was equally menacing, and tinged with an insane malevolence. "Think I won't do it? I'll crucify her right here and now if you don't turn around and walk away!!"

 
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