Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Nightwing: A Matter of Vengeance

by John Westcott

Chapter 7: Flashpoint

"I do so hope that you found doing business with The Misfits a satisfying career choice, Mr. Sanders, as you will end up paying the ultimate price for your allegiance to the upstart who leads that motley assemblage." Never before in his entire life had Willy Sanders been so afraid. Fear clutched at his spine and refused to let go, sending icy tendrils of dread throughout his body. Only once before had he feared for his life as he did at this moment, but even then it was not as intense an experience as this. Only a few short days ago, Willy, better known as "The Finger", was threatened by the masked vigilante known as Nightwing, who wanted to know the location of The Voltage Club. At that time, Willy thought he could never be that frightened ever again. It just couldn't be humanly possible, he reasoned. In the heat of the moment, he wondered if the dark clad hero was about to drain the blood from his body as if he were the vampire he was rumoured to be. Perhaps he would, as he threatened to do, hang him from the top of The Bludhaven Plaza Hotel and leave him there to die of exposure. Alas, Nightwing did none of these things, he merely vanished into the ether, as if he never was.

This was not Nightwing standing before him in this warehouse, however, this was Roland Desmond. While Nightwing threatened violence, Willy knew Desmond would not stop at threats, he would do far, far worse to the greedy little man who defied him. People who got in Blockbusters way ended up with their heads literally turned one hundred and eighty degrees in the wrong direction. The survival rate for this procedure was not very reassuring.

"Um..... listen, Mr. Desmond. Y....y....y..... you got it all wrong. I'm just small time, Mr. Desmond. I would never do anything to challenge you or side with anyone who had it in for ya, honest Injun'." Willy replied as trickles of sweat beaded down his cold, clammy skin.

Desmond scowled at the tiny man cowering in front of him as a vein began to throb on his forehead. "You are a known associate of The Misfits. You helped them raid a military installation in this city to further their war against me using stolen, military grade weaponry. There is no point in denying it, I know everything that happens in this city. Did you truly think that your actions would go unpunished? You offend me."

Willy "The Finger" Sanders always wanted to be a big time operator, he wanted to be a somebody. Someone who had both a gorgeous wife and a sexy mistress. Someone who could refuse other peoples calls and make them wait for him, make them sweat for a change. Someone who would bathe in corrupt money and have scantily clad servants to grant him his every wish. When Jonah and The Misfits came to him, looking to use him in their war on the reigning king of crime in Bludhaven, Willy was promised that he would be an important man in the new pecking order. The Misfits would rule and Willy would be their man of the hour. Why not? Roland Desmond certainly had no use for a small time thug like him. For once, maybe Willy would end up on the winning team. This man who called himself Jonah, the leader of The Misfits, was certainly a very ruthless and convincing individual, perhaps it was time for the younger blood to take control. All those hopes and dreams vanished into nothingness much the same as Nightwing did, now that he was being confronted by this behemoth. Now, of all times, Roland Desmond finally noticed Willy Sanders. Too bad this would be the last time anyone ever noticed Willy.

"Are you gonna k... k... k... kill me?" Willy stammered.

Much to Willy's surprise, Desmond actually smiled. "No. No, Mr. Sanders, I am not going to kill you."

Could it be true? Desmond might actually respect the moxy that it took to stand up to him? Perhaps things were finally turning around for good old Willy Sanders, after all. Then the truth dawned on Willy as two more men emerged from Blockbusters black limousine, and his heart sank while his stomach turned, making him feel weak in the knees. Willy recognized both men, one was Tico, a known enforcer for Blockbuster, and the other was a smaller gentleman of Asian heritage, wearing an operating gown and dirty surgical gloves. The man was known throughout the Bludhaven underworld simply as "The Doctor". The appellation was something of a morbid joke, as The Doctor was legendary at inventing new and excruciating techniques to kill a man as slowly as possible.

"I'm not going to kill you, Mr. Sanders....... they are." Desmond reiterated, gesturing towards his associates.

"Will someone please tell my girlfriend that I'm dead? Her name is Celeste." Willy asked as tears streamed down his cheeks.

Blockbuster turned his back to Willy Sanders for the last time, and as he retreated to the safety of his vehicle, his voice was deadly even as he spoke. "You can tell her yourself when you see her, Mr. Sanders. I've seen to it that she's already waiting for you. This is now a gang war, you and your wife are but the first casualties. Many more will soon follow."

Even though he knew it would do him no good, Willy screamed.

And he screamed, and he screamed, and he screamed........

*****

"I guarantee you'll never be more aware of your sphincter muscle than when I lodge my boot heel in your ass!" Nightwing's comment was meant to be threatening, but even he was surprised by the amount of venom and hatred that laced his voice as he addressed the garishly attired leader of The Misfits. Jonah's actions continued to be loathsome, cowardly, and murderous in the extreme, and the charismatic leader of The Misfits always managed to evade capture. Having to continually deal with this homicidal, psychotic maniac was wearing thin on Nightwing's nerves, it was almost as if Jonah's deranged actions were contagious, leading others to behave with more aggression than they normally would. He reasoned that this was no doubt at least part of the secret behind The Misfits new, malevolent attitude. More and more, it seemed Jonah was on the verge of becoming a killer on the same level as the lunatics he used to run into on a regular basis back in Gotham City at Batman's side, and Nightwing knew it was up to him and his new ally, Joey Flaherty, to stop the madness here and now before it went too far. The most frightening thought that occurred to him was, what if things had already gone too far?

"Walk away, Nightwing. You and your partner need to just walk away." Jonah replied with a sneer as his free hand reached out to pet his loyal dog, Sampson, who growled at Nightwing, baring sharp teeth.

"I have a shot. I can take him down." Joey Flaherty interjected, his voice as deadly still as the gun he held in his hands.

"No!" Nightwing yelled as he placed a hand on Flaherty's gun, slowly lowering it to the policeman's side. "You know as well as I do that even if you hit him he still might manage to shoot her with that nail gun. Trust me to handle this, Joey. Please."

"Fine then, punk. Just make sure you handle it." Joey sighed as he eased the hammer back on his revolver.

Once again, Sampson growled deep in his well muscled throat, all the while looking straight at Nightwing. The vigilante had just about had enough of Jonah's minions, be they human or canine, getting between him and his quarry. In response to Sampson's continued snarling, Nightwing bared his own teeth in a similar sneer, turning his attention to the animal.

"SIT!!!"

Sampson reared back, his teeth now fully bared, ready to pounce, and then surprisingly settled back on his haunches and began panting, the sneer was gone, the growling stopped. Jonah fumed silently as his trusted pet backed down while Flaherty looked on in silent appreciation. Nightwing took a moment to let the tension in his muscles and the anger in his soul subside before he turned to face Jonah once more, his arms outstretched. Hostage situations were always tense, a palpable sense of urgency filled the air, and allowing Jonah's maniacal blood thirst to infect others would surely result in death. When he spoke next, his tone was far more conciliatory and soothing than before. "Jonah, you can't get away with this. You think I'm hard to handle? That sound you hear is the sound of approaching police cruisers. Most of them aren't looking to uphold the law and put you in jail. Most of them are on the take, that means they're on Roland Desmond's payroll. You remember Roland Desmond, don't you? He's the man you've been ticking off for weeks, the man who'd just as soon twist your neck like a bottlecap rather than negotiate with you. They'll shoot you as soon as look at you. They won't care about your hostage." Nightwing gestured to the trussed up woman in the van beside Jonah, a look of sheer terror etched on her face. No matter who she associated with back at Johnny Russo's club, Nightwing reasoned, she didn't deserve this, no one did. "Like it or not, I'm the best person to surrender to at this point."

Jonah shook his head in frustration, as if he were the only one who could see that he held all the cards. "Am I the only one here with any brains? You care about the life of my beautiful hostage, Nightwing? I don't. You better take your own advice and let me go before the police show up, because if they don't care if I live or die, then I'll die, along with my lovely and talented assistant." He said as he waved the nail gun arrogantly in the woman's face. "Now, I won't say this again. You and your cop friend need to turn around..... and walk away." Both Nightwing and Flaherty jumped back in shock as Jonah's fingers tightened around the trigger and a single nail shot out. The bound hostage screamed in terror. Thankfully, Jonah aimed to miss, and the nail punctured the wall of the van, only inches away from the poor woman's head, a warning shot.

Jonah looked down at the horrified men and smiled. "Have I made my point?"

"Yeah, Jonah. You've made your point."

Flaherty suddenly looked at Nightwing with alarm "What? What are you saying? You get his point??? We've come this far and now you're going to do what this freak tells you to do? Come on, punk, pull a rabbit out of your hat!"

Nightwing turned to look at his partner, his face a mask of defeat. "We don't have a choice." Then he turned back to Jonah. "Okay, Jonah. You win. I'm going to walk away."

For everyone on the scene save Nightwing himself, processing the chain of events during the next sixty seven seconds would have to wait until later, as things moved so quickly that few others could follow what was happening through their adrenaline induced haze. Flaherty, especially, took special care to reconstruct the events that transpired. The first act that set off the chain of events was that of Nightwing, turning his back on Jonah and taking his first step away from the scene. Flaherty remembered his eyes widening with terror as the psychotic gang leader's lips formed a cruel smile and he brought the nail gun to bear, not on his female hostage, but on the back of the retreating vigilante. Jonah moved so fast, Flaherty knew that he would not be able to take aim and fire at him before it was too late. Why did Nightwing insist that he drop his weapon to his side? Were he poised with his revolver ready, he could have dropped the psycho then and there, ending the entire fiasco. Flaherty raised his gun, while at the same time opening his mouth to shout a warning to his masked partner.

"Look out!!" He tried to yell. But before the first word was out of his mouth, Nightwing was already moving. Did he know what Jonah was going to do? Did he have some kind of mental powers that allowed him to know how others were going to act, or was he just inhumanly fast? Joey made a mental note to himself to ask Nightwing later how he managed to accomplish this.

Nightwing's actions were so fluid, so fully realized, that it seemed as if he were performing a dance of some sort, not reacting to the lunatic actions of a murderous killer. Flaherty watched as Nightwing pivoted on his right foot and shifted his weight on it, so that his entire body turned sideways as Jonah pulled the trigger for the first time. He would not get a chance to fire the weapon a second time. The galvanized steel nail, which measured almost two inches long, whistled through the air........... and right past the now much smaller target of Nightwing. To Flaherty, it seemed as if Nightwing remained turned that way for some time, allowing the nail to streak by him, but that was not the case. In fact, Nightwing continued to pivot around to face his opponent, fully turned 180 degrees now, as the nail struck the pavement behind him. Had Nightwing not turned sideways at the very instant he did, the nail would have impaled him through the base of his spine, rather than dart past him.

It was in that very instant that defence became offense.

Following through on his arc and using the momentum it gave him, Nightwing's right hand shot out, an escrima fighting stick darting forth, truly faster than the eye could follow. Flaherty didn't know how his masked partner knew exactly where to aim, it was possible he didn't know where to aim, and just got lucky, but for some reason Joey seriously doubted that. Whatever the case, the escrima stick hit it's mark with unerring accuracy, striking Jonah's wrist only a millisecond before he squeezed the trigger once more. Jonah's arm recoiled in agony as the shot went wild, into the roof of the van.

"My arm!!!" Jonah screamed. "You broke my arm!!! You bastard!!" Jonah's dog Sampson did nothing but sniff himself as the events unfolded.

At that point, Flaherty expected things to slow down once more, but in fact, events continued to speed up, or at least, so it seemed.

"Grab him!!!" Nightwing yelled as he dove for Jonah, knowing full well that the gang leader would not be rendered harmless until he was rendered unconscious. As if he were watching events happen from outside his body, Flaherty remembered jumping into the van and launching his own body at Jonah, just as Nightwing was doing. Jonah was not a small man, he was in excellent physical condition, he knew how to fight, and he had that extra strength advantage that madness always brings. Struggling and biting and kicking, he proved to be a dangerous foe, even with one arm injured. Nightwing punched the madman directly in the jaw, only to have Jonah spit at his face and unleash a punch of his own with his remaining good arm. It was beginning to look like this may be it, the threat of Jonah may end here and now, but Jonah always had a way out. Once more, the passage of time slipped from seemingly fast forward to a slow crawl.

"Leave him alone!" The voice that came from behind them all was strangulated with barely contained fury, cutting above the din created by the three men struggling in the van. Nightwing whirled around to face yet another threat, as if this night wasn't rife with them already. One lone Misfit, a crazed look on his face, held the barrel of his gun to the woman's temple. Flaherty and Nightwing both realized that this was the driver of the van. Assuming that Jonah was driving the vehicle was a mistake both men made. Certainly, a man as used to living in luxury as Jonathon Masters The Younger, would not drive himself. He had his own personal chauffer the entire time.

"Where have you been hiding?" Nightwing asked.

"I jumped as the van was slowing down, hotshot. Now leave him alone, or this useless bimbo buys it right here and now."

Nightwing shot a caustic glare at the leader of The Misfits, who was just now rising to his feet, hindered by his now useless arm. Beside him, Flaherty was also rising to his feet, dropping his weapon to the floor and raising his hands. In a continuing display of strategic skills, it seemed obvious to them both that the former West Point student instructed the driver to leap from the vehicle and wait in hiding, ready to strike as Jonah's ace in the hole. The cold drizzle that had been falling earlier had now become a full fledged snowfall as the temperature dropped and a white blanket of snow began to fall. Jonah moved out in front of them and reached down to pick up his nail gun with his left hand. He turned to face the remaining Misfit who kept his weapon tight to the woman's temple and smiled.

"You did well. I'm proud of you." He said, addressing his minion. The newcomer beamed with pride.

"Hold them here, until I leave, and then kill them all." Jonah said as he leaped down to the street and began to close the doors of the van behind him. "We'll come after you. I promise. We'll free you from jail."

"I know you will, Jonah."

Flaherty nudged Nightwing in the hip with his elbow. "What are you waiting for? Do something!"

Nightwing shook his head. "I can't do anything. That gun's too close to her head. We don't have a choice, we have to let him go...... this time." He increased the volume of his voice so that Jonah would realize that he was addressing him. "Enjoy your freedom while you can, Jonah. Next time, there'll be no hostages and no thugs, just you and me, and a world of pain for you."

Jonah whistled for Sampson, which would normally bring the loyal dog to his side, so that the two might escape together. Instead of running to his master, however, Sampson merely wagged his tail and remained at Nightwing's side.

"Disloyal bitch!" Jonah spat as he shut the doors of the van and vaulted over the guard rail, disappearing into the night, leaving the remaining four in the back of the van to await the police, whose clarion sirens screamed loudly, only seconds away. The one remaining Misfit drooled as he leaned into the young woman tied to the wall of the van, his weapon at the ready. Flaherty looked over at Nightwing, an uncomfortable look on his face.

"Any ideas, punk?" He asked.

Nightwing remained perfectly still as he heard the police sirens scream and watched as the Misfit fidgeted, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "Only one." Nightwing replied as he pointed to toward the young Misfit and uttered one word under his breath, Flaherty couldn't quite make out what the word was, and he looked on in awe as Sampson leaped through the air and sank his teeth into the arm of the terrified mook, causing him to instantaneously drop the gun to the floor of the van as Nightwing lashed out with a devastating right cross that spun his final opponent completely around before crashing in a heap. The terrified hostage, her mind flooded with fear, finally screamed and passed out.

"Cut her free!" Nightwing told Flaherty as he grabbed Sampson by his collar and restrained the dog, uttering another barely audible word that caused him to immediately cease his attack and curl up at his new masters feet.

"Mind telling me how you did that?" Flaherty asked as he layed the now unconscious woman gently to the floor of the van.

"There's no time. I'll tell you later, I gotta get out of here and find Jonah."

Flaherty shook his head in amazement. "You really are crazy, you know that?"

"Yeah. I get that a lot." Nightwing replied in a dry, matter of fact tone.

Nightwing kicked the doors open and ran for his car, gunning the engine. The police were now in sight, they would be on top of the scene in less than thirty seconds. Time enough, to leave his new partner with a some food for thought. "You said it yourself, Joey. If this case goes south, you'll have to take the heat, not Mac Arnot. It may not be the easiest thing to do, but you have to take this case back. Take it away from Arnot. Get yourself some new recruits to the force, some new blood that hasn't had time to be corrupted yet, someone you can trust. Together we'll find Jonah and end this insanity before it explodes into something we can't handle. Things are approaching flashpoint, Sergeant, and we don't have much time." Nightwing was about to step on the accelerator when he paused to give Joey one final piece of advice. "And take good care of that dog." Flaherty noticed that the fierce canine was now completely docile, standing at his side. Joey reached out and petted Sampson, as the dog wagged its tail in appreciation. "He's actually a real teddy bear when you get to know him." With those final parting words, Nightwing screeched off into the night in search of Jonah, although he suspected that the charismatic gang leader would be long gone.

*****

It had been a long time since Jonah had run into the night, fleeing from something so monstrous it would give him nightmares for the rest of his life. A long time ago, Jonathon Masters Junior acted in a very similar fashion, running into the night, not toward something, but away from something, and someone. In fact, his path all those years ago led him to a location not far from where he was now. Leaping over the guardrail and beneath the overpass, Jonah panted with exertion as he disappeared behind Rabe Memorial Hospital and into nearby Melville Park, running as fast as possible before there was enough snowfall accumulated so that he would leave footprints to track. If Nightwing were somehow able to survive, and he had little doubt that he would, he would surely be on his trail by now. The vigilante was like a bloodhound, once he got the scent of his prey, he refused to let go. Of course, Jonah did his best to act calm and collected in the heat of the moment, but deep inside there was something about Nightwing that shook him to his very soul. In Nightwing, Jonah saw something of himself, a mirror reflection, perhaps, someone cut from the same superior cloth as himself. Perhaps they were indeed two sides of the same coin. That in itself was enough to make Jonah afraid, for if Nightwing were indeed of the same caliber as himself, the vigilante could be just the right person to end his crusade for power. Jonah wanted desperately to be the one to kill Nightwing, but now was not the time or the place. When he killed Bludhaven's crusading hero, he wanted the whole city to be watching, not just some clock punching cop and a woman.

As he darted from shadow to shadow, past the Melville Park Band Shell and through Melville itself into the Baily Church District, memories of the past came to him, unbidden, memories of his flight through this area of the city many years ago. Then, like now, he was running, not to something, but away from something. In one way or another, he had been running all his life. He remembered, and he saw himself in his minds eye, as a small boy, running away from home and the father he both loved and despised. The father who blamed him for the death of his beloved wife, Jonah's mother. The father who caught him running away from home, crossing the drawbridge en route to the train yards, bound for anywhere but here.

"What the Hell is the matter with you, boy?" He recalled his father screaming at him. He didn't even seem slightly impressed that such a young boy made it all the way from Avalon Hill to the drawbridge all by himself, with little or no money to his name. His father, of course, blamed his son for his wife's death. Had he not been so weak, so lacking in dedication to his cello lessons, so very entranced by a frivolous poster advertising the circus and it's star attraction, The Flying Grayson's, whom he so desperately wanted to see, they would never have been hit by that truck. A beloved wife and mother would still be alive and well today were Jonah not so weak that the very sight of him sickened his father. As a child, Jonah was perplexed. How could he not be entranced by the poster, with the picture of the red and yellow clad daredevils, the youngest a boy not much older than himself? His father told him such things were a waste of time, young John Masters was going to inherit a lot of money and power some day, and he had to spend his time getting tough and becoming a man. Learning the cello taught him dedication to a craft, how to properly focus his mind on a task, and an appreciation of classical music. When he got older, his father planned for him to begin boxing and martial arts, which would teach him strength of body to compliment his mind.

Despite the fact that he blamed his son for the death of his wife, John Masters Senior would carry out his task, he would mold his son into a proper and worthy man, someone with all the necessary skills to survive in the world. From that day forward Jonah's nightmare commenced, left to his father's care, the daily beatings began. When he wasn't receiving a beating, his father was constantly berating him, always hoping that his son would one day stand up to him, and be a man. The years passed, Jonathon Masters Junior appeared, to the outside world, to be the perfect young man. He excelled in school, he excelled in sports, it was rumoured that he was going to attend West Point. For his father, though, it was never enough. Any psychiatrist would have been able to tell that the father was continually punishing the son for what he saw as an unforgivable sin while the son continually sought the approval of the only parent he had left, but Jonathon Masters Senior would never allow a child psychiatrist into his house. Psychiatrists were for pansies and weaklings. No longer was the young boy to be indulged and pampered, he would be made into a proper man if it was the last thing he did. All the while, Jonah developed an all abiding worship for the lost parent he adored, and at the same time a hatred towards her, for dying and leaving him at the hands of his father. Women. Who needed them? They were weak and indulgent and they always left you at the worst time, anyway. Who needed them? Who needed a mother to love? Sadly, Jonah always knew in the back of his mind, that he did.

Once he found himself in the thick of the Baily Church District, Jonah ran to a manhole cover and pried it open. Normally, that would be no easy task, but this particular manhole had already been loosened, by his Misfits, for gaining easy access to the underground sewer system. Replacing the cover as he slipped beneath the surface, Jonah continued his mad dash for safety. His destination: a largely forgotten and mostly outdated sewage monitoring station underneath Baily Church. The cavernous area was supposed to be under lock and key, of course, but no locked door could stop his Misfits. In the back of his mind, he wondered what would happen to the men he led, now that they were in police custody. Would Roland Desmond have the gall to see all The Misfits "suicided" while awaiting trial? Surely, that would never happen, not even in Bludhaven could someone get away with that. No matter, he would soon gather others around him, and he would continue his war against Desmond. He would take over the cities underworld. He would be a rich and powerful man. All without his father's assistance, and finally, his father would see that he was a man.

As Jonah entered his lair, he skidded to a halt as his eyes fell upon a sight he never would have expected.

"Mister Jonathon Masters Junior, I presume?" Blockbuster said. "Your late associate, Mister Willy Sanders, was good enough to tell us the location of your hideout before he passed away. I'm afraid your reign of terror in my city, is at an end."

For the first time since he had fled the scene with Nightwing, Jonah realized that he still held the nail gun tightly in his left hand.

*****

Jonah had disappeared as easily into the Bludhaven night as Nightwing himself would have. The snow was falling heavily now, making the terminally filthy city appear as if its buildings were new once more, succeeding in covering the cities many ugly flaws where the endless coats of paint slapped upon it by the cities elders failed. After over an hour of searching the city, Nightwing could find no trace of his quarry and decided to head back to his apartment for the evening. His advice to Joey Flaherty regarding the recruitment of younger officers to form a sort of unofficial task force, rookies new to the force and not yet corrupted, had a unique purpose. First thing in the morning, Dick Grayson was going to volunteer for temporary duty with Flaherty. Amy Rohbrach, his current partner, would be glad to get rid of him for a while, as the two never seemed to get along in the first place, as she assumed his badge was obtained through corrupt means. Nightwing was positive that Jonah would lie low, at least for the rest of the evening. With the vast majority of his gang under wraps, with enough evidence for even a Bludhaven jury to put them away, Jonah needed to regroup. Dick had no intention of giving the madman that kind of time. Moving against the psychotic during the day, giving him no chance to recover from the previous nights events, was something Officer Grayson could do, and Nightwing could not. Officer Grayson also had a trump card hidden up his sleeve, the fact that he knew Jonah's true identity, as did Joey Flaherty. He could have revealed that knowledge during their encounter earlier, but decided instead to keep it to himself, as it may prove far more useful later on. Thankfully, Flaherty also declined to comment on their shared knowledge. With nothing left to accomplish that evening, Grayson headed for his apartment, hoping to get an early start in the morning, it was not to be.

Dick had barely collapsed into his bed when he heard a knock at his door. Crestfallen, he untangled himself from his sheets and worked his way to the front door. The last thing he expected to see was the stern face that greeted him.

"Commissioner Gordon??" Grayson said as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Am I under arrest? I swear I didn't remove the tags from my mattress until I bought it." Dick grinned in jest as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Gordon was not amused.

"Sit down and shut up." Gordon said as he strode through the door, his large frame pushing past young Grayson. For his part, Dick shook his head with confusion.

"I'm sorry, sir. Is there a problem?" A pang of fear filled his stomach. "Is Barbara okay?"

At the mention of his daughters name, Jim Gordon's face became a virtual thundercloud. It was then that he finally realized why Gotham Cities Police Commissioner was standing in his apartment now. "I won't say it again, Grayson. Sit down and be quiet. We have some things to discuss regarding my daughter. Actually, no. I am going to talk, you are going to listen." Gordon said as he began rolling up his shirt sleeves, causing Dick to wonder if The Commissioner was going to beat him up. Dutifully, Dick took a seat from the kitchen and brought it into the main living area, wisely choosing to keep his mouth shut until Gordon seemed ready to begin.

"What's on your mind, sir?" He asked.

"My daughter tells me you two are becoming serious. She tells me you're dating her. What I want to know is, why didn't I hear this from you, Grayson? I know that Bruce Wayne isn't your biological father, but you've been his ward since childhood. I know his reputation with women, and that alone give me cause for concern when his adopted, wealthy son, who almost married a Titan at one point, is now setting his sights on my little girl." Dick winced as Gordon brought back memories of his almost marriage to Kory Anders, the beautiful Titan known as Starfire, before it was disrupted by Raven. Undaunted, Gordon continued his tirade, Dick worried that Gordon's heart was becoming too stressed by the revelation that he was dating Barbara, he could never live with himself if such a situation caused a relapse of the man's heart problems. "I'm an old fashioned man, Mister Grayson, with old fashioned values. I didn't grow up the son of wealthy man, and I raised Barbara with those old fashioned values. When a man expects to date my daughter, I expect that man to come to me and ask my permission. Or didn't that occur to you? You didn't need common sense to get though the Bludhaven Police Academy. I know all about your 'unexplained absence' during your time there, and it worries me. I don't like the idea of you not coming to me and presenting yourself, young man. Nor do I like the idea of my daughter dating a Bludhaven cop."

Dick shifted uncomfortably in his chair under Gordon's steel like gaze. He hadn't really thought of Jim Gordon's attitude toward his daughter dating a police officer, but it made perfect sense. He was so wrapped up in his duties as Nightwing, with becoming a police officer and getting placed on the force, juggling The Titans and any one of a million other things, that he forgot the oldest rule in the book: never...... ever..... tick off the father of the girl you love.

"What I want to know, Grayson, is do you have the wherewithal to do the right thing now? With me standing right in front of you? Because if you don't, be warned young man, there won't be a hole deep enough for you to hide in if you hurt my daughter."

"Sir... I..."

"Shut up until I'm done talking!!" Gordon yelled. Dick nodded patiently and awaited his turn. After sitting in silence for about thirty seconds, Gordon finally spoke again.

"Well don't just sit there, say something!"

Dick sighed in frustration, he had been completely unaware of Jim Gordon's attitude towards Barbara, and for that he felt like an idiot. He had been away from Gotham for a while now, wrapped up in his own life, but at one time he knew Jim well, and he should have seen this coming. After a few seconds to gather his thoughts, Dick decided that the best way to win Gordon's trust was a show of strength coupled with honesty delivered in a straightforward manner. He raised himself up to his full height, which was still only as high as Gordon's nose, and approached him.

"Sir, I'm sorry if I offended you. Don't think for a second, though, that I will stand by and let you insult my foster father. Bruce and I may not always agree, but he raised me with values as my biological parents before him did. I came from a circus family, we had nothing but each other. Bruce Wayne may be wealthy, but when I came into his care, he continued to instill family values in me. He showed me that money doesn't make you any better than anyone else, and it comes with the responsibility of giving back to the community, as I'm sure you can see through his many philanthropic ventures. He doesn't do it because it's a tax write off, sir. He does it because it's the right thing to do."

Gordon scowled at the young man, but said nothing as Dick continued.

"As for Barbara and myself, I should have had the good sense and taste to come to you and tell you about us, but I didn't. There are two reasons for that: one, because I thought you are an incredibly busy man, with the recent earthquake and all the problems in Gotham, you're not exactly the easiest man to get in contact with, the second is because I've been so busy and wrapped up in becoming a police officer that the thought rarely occurred to me. That being said, it's still no excuse, so I apologize. I can assure you, for whatever that's worth, that my intentions toward your daughter are completely honourable, she will never come to harm if I have anything to say about it."

Jim looked Dick, this time without a stare that would bore through him, smiling for the first time. "You mean that?"

"I swear it, on my parent's graves."

Gordon hated to admit it, but he was impressed. Everything the young man standing before him in a terrycloth robe with sleep in his eyes said was spoken with conviction. If Grayson wasn't telling the truth after Gordon's theatrical and brusque appearance, he had a career as one hell of an actor. Still, that was not enough to satisfy the police commissioner. "I hear things, Grayson, cop talk mostly. I hear there's a gang war brewing up here. You're a cop, you know what that means. My daughter tells me she's planning on spending some more time with you down here. Are you really going to let her come into a potential war zone? Just for a date?"

Dick returned Jim's level gaze, his tone growing deadly serious. "I can only tell you this, Commissioner. Tomorrow morning I'm volunteering for special duty to end this gang war for good. By the time Barbara makes her way down here for our date, I plan to see the people behind this in jail. I would never put Barbara in harm's way."

There was something about Grayson's voice that struck a chord in Jim. A kind of determination that he never once heard in Bruce Wayne's voice. He certainly didn't talk like a cop on the take, or a ladies man, both of which he assumed young Grayson was. Jim reached out and put a hand on Dick's shoulder, squeezing it slightly as he spoke. "You remember well what we've said here today, and everything should work out fine. Now, get some sleep, Officer Grayson. You've got early duty tomorrow."

Gordon smiled, his eyes lighting up with a twinkle that had been absent for many months. Dick returned the smile and nodded eagerly. "Yes, sir." Gordon rolled down the sleeves of his shirt and put on his trench coat once more, readying himself to leave. As he stepped into the hallway beyond Dick's front door, he turned back to the young man and smiled once more.

"Call me Jim." He said as he disappeared down the stairs and exited the building. Dick slowly shut the door behind him and leaned against it, sliding down the door to a sitting position on the floor, emotionally and physically spent. Dick exhaled in relief, wiping a film of nerve induced sweat from his forehead. Maybe now he could get some sleep.

*****

At the crime scene just off Highway 61, police cruisers and forensic specialists gathered evidence and marked off yet another crime scene with yellow tape. As always, Inspector Mac Arnot was among the first on the scene, shouting orders and threatening others who might consider challenging him. "I won't say this twice." Arnot yelled at his men. "All this crap gets buried! Just like before, we deal with the perps at a later time, but for now, destroy this crime scene."

"No." Came the voice from behind him. Arnot whirled to face Joey Flaherty, who just happened to have a monstrous looking dog standing at his side, this was the troublemaker responsible for this mess in the first place, the one who captured all these Misfits, making Arnot's assigned tasks even more difficult.

"What did you just say?" Arnot asked in disbelief.

"I said take a long walk off a short pier, Arnot. Check the assignment sheets, if you can read that is. This case was assigned to me, and I'm still in charge here, not Roland Desmond or even Chief Redhorn. These are my collars and it's my responsibility. Hit the donut shop, kid. I have no further use for you. In other words, beat it." As Flaherty finished his tirade against the inspector, everyone within earshot took a few steps backward, transfixed by what they had just heard. Not unexpectedly, Arnot began to reach for his gun and advanced on Flaherty, only to freeze perfectly still as the dog by Flaherty's side growled a menacing warning.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you. My friend here might just rip your throat out."

Arnot sniffed arrogantly and stalked away, leaving a trail of footprints in the rapidly deepening snow. "We'll see about that!" He shouted as he climbed into a police cruiser and sped off.

Some of the officers around them cheered, others were more restrained in their jubilation, while yet others glared with hatred at the cop who couldn't be bought. Flaherty would have none of it as he took each officer in with his gaze. "Nothing to see here, just do your jobs!" He ordered. With the sudden change of command, each officer redoubled his or her efforts. When he saw that the officers under his command were no longer watching him, Flaherty pulled the cellular phone from his belt that Nightwing had given him and flipped it open. He began dialling, not the number Nightwing had given him to remain in contact, but another one, this one more familiar to him. When the other end picked up the line, he spoke almost in a whisper.

"This is Joey Flaherty speaking. Let me speak to Moira Pierce, please. Tell her it's her father calling."


Chapter 8: King Nothing

"Then it all crashes down
And you break your crown
And you point your finger
But there's no one around
Just want one thing
Just to play the King
But the castle's crumbled
And you're left with just a name

Where's your crown, King Nothing?"

- Excerpt from The Metallica song "King Nothing" by J. Hetfield, L. Ulrich, and K. Hammett. Property of Elektra Records -




Jonah flexed his fingers around the handle of the nail gun he held firmly in his left hand. His right arm broken by Nightwing's escrima stick earlier in the evening, he could neither feel any sensation nor move it under his own power. The rest of his body was another story, however. The pain began in his right shoulder and pulsed throughout his entire body with every beat of his heart. For Jonah, it seemed as if agony lived beneath his skin and was breeding rapidly. It made no difference to him, he and pain were old friends. He had felt pain since that day so many years ago when his mother died, since the day she left him alone. As if his father were standing over his shoulder, whispering in his ear, he could hear Jonathon Masters Senior's voice in his head:

"It should have been you."

There had been many a day after that when Jonah wished he had died instead of his mother. Life with his father had been a living hell from that day forward. And yet, he was still driven to prove to his father that he was not the weakling boy who would rather see a circus trapeze act than go to a cello lesson. Every day had been a living hell after his mother died, up until these last few months. He had begun to forge a destiny for himself, one separate from the mold his father had poured him into. A destiny that would show his father that he was indeed a real man, and yet display his defiance all at the same time. A multi-pronged revenge against everyone that had ever hurt him, and against everyone that had ever left him. Jonah's thoughts strayed for barely a millisecond to the dog eared picture he kept in his pocket, the picture of his mother, as he remembered her from childhood. She was strong, she was beautiful, she was moral and intelligent, and yet she left him, too. What would she say now, after all the crimes he had committed against society in general and women in particular? What would she say if she could see him, dressed in his garish uniform, a nail gun in his hand and some anonymous woman's blood on his hands, the most prominent crime lord in the city standing before him?

"You cannot be my son."

Jonah grimaced with pain and straightened himself up to his full height, not allowing the pain that screamed through him to show through any more than was necessary. He refused to show Blockbuster that he was in pain. "This moment was destined to happen, Desmond. I've been looking forward to meeting you. We are, both of us, men who make their own way in this world, no matter what the dates throw at us."

Casting his huge shadow over the entire room despite the dingy lighting, Blockbuster sneered in contempt at the young man standing before him. "I assure you, Mister Masters, that I have nothing in common with YOU." Blockbuster replied, his words dripping with contempt for the thug standing before him. To Desmond's left stood his most trusted aide, Tico, and the man known only as The Doctor, his surgical gown stiffened with dried blood from his previous 'patient', the late Willy Sanders. Desmond had decided to keep his strike team small, for many reasons. His intelligence reports told him that Jonah's minions, known as The Misfits, were currently being rounded up on highway 61, unfortunately it was not under the watchful eye of Mac Arnot, but he would attend to the matter of Joey Flaherty at a later date. If things got out of control, Desmond's strike teams were only sixty seconds away, having established a perimeter outside The Baily Church district. Blockbuster wanted to handle this matter himself, in the most discrete and efficient manner possible. In that way, the general populace of Bludhaven would never know how close to a full out gang war their city came.

Jonah's mouth cracked a cruel smile. "Oh really? Are you trying to say that I don't have you worried? Do you personally attend the execution of everyone who challenges you? I seriously doubt it. Why don't you at least admit that much? What can it hurt to grant a dying man his last request?"

"Mr. Masters, you have been nothing but an irritant to me, a fly in the ointment. Were I not otherwise engaged in the creation of my legitimate business enterprise, I would have wiped you from the face of the Earth the moment you first stepped out of line."

Jonah snickered, despite his precarious position. "Oh yes, I've heard about your precious One In A Million Casino, at the Bludhaven Plaza, isn't it? Everyone knows why you're doing this, Desmond, you're dying. You have an enlarged heart. Why not just lie down and go out with some dignity? No one enjoys seeing has-beens hog the spotlight long after their time in the sun has past. The king will be dead, long live the king. I will be the new king of Bludhaven."

This time it was Blockbusters turn to snicker. "Don't count on that, Mister Masters. I'm sure even one of your limited intelligence has heard of a heart transplant. It's a rather common technique these days, and with the great advances in technology in past months, my survival is imminent. By the time my casino opens, I will be healthy once more and you will still be down here." Desmond made a sweeping gesture with his mighty arms, taking in their grungy and acrid smelling surroundings. "You will be the king of all you survey, a corpse with a kingdom comprised of sewers. All hail King Nothing."

Jonah made a clucking sound with his tongue and tilted his head slightly. "By the time your casino opens, I'll be the one on the top of the mountain, and you'll be feeding maggots."

"That's enough." Desmond roared. "Kill him."

Tico and The Doctor advanced on Jonah as the former reached into his jacket. Jonah eyed the large bulge under Tico's jacket and recognized it for what it was, a very large automatic weapon. He never got a chance to use it. Jonah sighed and nonchalantly raised his good arm with alarming speed and squeezed the trigger twice, rolling his eyes with mock boredom as he did. The nail gun let out a loud retort as the pneumatic powered construction tool spit forth with two galvanized nails. Both Tico and The Doctor were impaled instantly and fell to the ground. Tico's heart was instantly punctured by the foreign object, The Doctor received his blunt trauma wound to the forehead, he would torture innocent victims no more. Inwardly, Desmond fumed. How could Tico have been so careless as to let this happen to him? The Doctor's services had been extremely helpful to Blockbuster in his takeover of Angel Marin's Bludhaven mob, and now he too was dead.

"If you want me dead, you'll have to do it yourself, old man." Jonah said in a deadly calm voice, as if the lives he had just taken meant nothing, perhaps they didn't to him.

For the first time, Desmond was beginning to see how Jonah had become such a threat to his operations. The man thought nothing of taking human life, no matter who it was. He never hesitated before a kill, he was a new breed of brutal criminal, the worst kind of human being Desmond could possibly imagine. That was fine with him. Blockbuster momentarily considered pressing the small button on the remote control in his hand, the signal that would summon his strike team that would kill Jonah with extreme prejudice.

Then he reconsidered.

How would that look to his men? It was bad enough that he favoured Jonah with his presence in this scenario. How would it look if he called in an entire strike team to kill this little man? The Blockbuster of old would have snapped Jonah's neck fifteen minutes ago. They would see him as weak. It would have been akin to trying to kill a house fly with a shotgun. They would see him as a frail man with a failing heart. He would have to show them, and Jonah, that he was still a force to be reckoned with. Desmond lunged at his opponent, ripping his custom tailored jacket at the seams as he did so. Jonah had seen a lot of punches coming his way in his time at West Point, and even from his father when he was growing up, but he had never been attacked like this. The small mountain known as Roland Desmond was on the other side of the room in two steps, his giant hand closing around Jonah's own large neck, lifting him high in the air so that the two were eye to eye. Jonah's eyes bulged as Desmond tightened his grip.

"Where is your confidence now, whelp?" Desmond asked.

Jonah did not answer with words, he answered with action. Never releasing his grip on the nail gun in his hand, Jonah aimed blindly straight down toward the floor and pulled the trigger. Once more, the nail gun let out its loud retort, and this time, Blockbuster screamed in agony as the nail punctured his foot and continued on into the cement floor beneath them. Desmond reflexively released his grip on Jonah and screamed toward the heavens above as the nail pierced muscle and bone. Jonah fell to the floor in a heap, gasping for air. Desmond reached into his pocket and thumbed the tiny remote in his hand.

"Enjoy your moment while you can, you bastard." Desmond snarled as the sound of helicopters filled the air above them. Jonah was still gasping for air as he stumbled to his feet. He briefly considered putting a nail through Desmond's head, but was dissuaded as the manhole cover in the distance was removed and a small army of men descended upon them, firing automatic weapons.

All was not lost, Jonah thought to himself. There was still a chance to get away. No one knew these sewer systems better than he did. Utilizing the wisdom taught to him at West Point, Jonah had long ago mapped out the area, in anticipation of events such as this. When one goes up against Blockbuster, one has many escape routes at the ready. Ducking down a dimly lit corridor, Jonah ran as if the hounds of Hell themselves were nipping at his heels, bullets zipping past him.

"Get him! Kill him!" Blockbuster roared as the small army of armed shock troops ran past him. Only one man, the leader of the strike team, stopped at Desmond's side. He grimaced with revulsion as he saw what Jonah had done to his employer. "Mister Desmond, are you all right? Should I get a doctor?"

In response, Blockbuster's eyes squeezed shut and a deep growl began to build in his massive chest. The strike force leader watched in amazement as Desmond pulled his right foot slowly from the floor, the two inch nail remained embedded in his foot and the tip poked through his heel. It was a herculean effort that would have caused most men to pass out from the pain. "That will not be necessary. I will see to it myself. Just find him and kill him." For some reason, Desmond realized that Jonah would not be easily found. No matter, the meddling psychopath had run out of places to hide, and his identity was now out in the open. Desmond swore to himself that within forty eight hours, Jonah would die.

*****

Dick sat bolt upright as the shrill "beep beep beep" of his alarm clock woke him up at precisely eight in the morning. He rarely used the alarm clock on his bedside table, as he valued his morning ritual of oversleeping. After his long nights of fighting crime both behind a mask and behind a badge, Dick grasped at every spare minute of morning slumber with the desperation of a drowning man reaching for a life preserver. He had tried setting the alarm to the local radio station, preferring to wake up to music, and he had slept through it every single time. Music, no matter what the genre or volume setting, never woke him. Finally, he settled on the electronic beeping sound, even though he hated the sound intensely. For Dick, there was no worse sensation than waking up to the jarring sound of an arrogant electronic wailing. Still, there was absolutely no choice in the matter on this day. Dick needed to get up early and get down to police headquarters, hopefully he would be able to volunteer for duty with Joey Flaherty, and bring the menace of Jonah to an end. Dick slept so deeply that he woke up in the exact same position that he originally fell into when he collapsed into bed. After a night filled with chasing Jonah through the streets of Bludhaven topped off with a confrontation with an extremely menacing Jim Gordon, who was not at all pleased with him, Dick literally couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. Only sixty seconds after Dick grabbed the alarm clock and ripped the cord from the wall, his phone began ringing incessantly.

"It's gonna be a long day." He mumbled as he reached over and answered the phone. His groggy spirits lifted immediately and his face blossomed into a smile as he heard the voice on the other end.

"Hey, handsome. It's me." It was Barbara.

Dick shook his head slightly as he marvelled at the woman's timing. "Good grief, woman. How did you know I just woke up?" he asked.

"I'm Oracle. I know everything." Dick scanned the room and eyed the furniture suspiciously.

"You don't have a camera in the light fixture or something do you?" He asked.

Oracle laughed that musical laugh that he loved so much. "If I had a camera in your apartment, it would be in the shower. To be honest, I didn't really know you were awake. I just came across something on the television that you need to see."

Suddenly, Dick became wary. "Let me guess. Channel four?" He said as he scrambled for the remote.

"You move on to final jeopardy, former boy wonder. I think this will shed a lot of light on your mystery reporter. There's a big news story breaking in Bludhaven this morning."

Dick thumbed the remote control and the television lit up. Fortunately, it was still on channel four. He wasn't surprised when he saw Moira Pierce's pleasant features on the screen. What truly surprised him was the face of the man standing next to her, which belonged to none other than Joey Flaherty. The footage was obviously shot hours ago, after the skirmish on the highway. Dick instantly recognized Jonah's van in the background and the yellow crime scene tape that surrounded it. What was Joey doing talking with this woman? As Joey began speaking into the microphone, it became obvious what his intentions were.

"Moira, the people of Bludhaven need to know that there is a criminal on the loose in Bludhaven, one that is a serious threat to women. As the officer in charge of this case, I am personally forming a task force that will begin searching for this man first thing tomorrow morning. I fully expect to have this perpetrator in custody within forty eight hours, but until that time, I urge everyone to stay off the streets after dark. I intend to keep the citizens of this city fully updated on our progress. I can't give away any more details other than that without compromising our next move against this latest threat to our city, but I assure you that I will put the perpetrator responsible for these crimes behind bars." Dick had to admit that Flaherty sounded convincing. His tone was even and his presence exuded determination. Were Dick an average citizen of Bludhaven, he would feel reassured to hear such words of courage from a Bludhaven police officer, as it was so rare that such words were uttered from a policeman in this city. But Dick was no average citizen, he was also Nightwing, and he was standing on that very spot just last night. Barbara's voice chimed in once more, rousing him from his thoughts.

"I've done some checking......"

"Uh oh, that sounds ominous." Dick replied.

"It was by no means difficult, checking into Moira Pierce. Were you not so busy with Jonah, you could have easily found out this information for yourself. The thing of it is, Pierce is her married name. Care to venture a guess as to Moira's maiden name?"

Dick grumbled as he ran a hand through his tousled hair, he never did like guessing games like this. It reminded him too much of his sidekick days. "I'll bite. What is it?"

"Flaherty."

Barbara was silent as she let the information sink in to Dick's sleep addled brain. Dick slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand and fell backward into his warm, all embracing bed. Of course, it all made sense. "He's the one that was supplying her with information on The Misfits, trying to warn the public in his own way, trying to undo the damage Arnot's been doing to this case. That sneaky little son of a...." his voice trailed off as Barbara interrupted him.

"But why is she doing this? Other than to help her father, I mean. She's been putting a great deal on the line by helping to expose The Misfits like this."

Dick nodded as he took in the meaning of Barbara's question. "Good question Babs, I'll have to ask him that, myself." He smiled as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and crawled out of bed. "By the way, did you know I got a visit from your father last night? He wasn't here to talk about how well the Gotham Knights were doing this year, either."

On the other end of the line, Barbara groaned audibly. "Oh God, sometimes I just can't believe him. He was angry enough when he left here last night. I'm sorry he took it out on you. I hope he wasn't too blustery and rude."

"Don't worry about it. He was doing what he did because he loves you and he wants to protect you. There's nothing rude about that. We cleared the air and I think we came to a bit of an understanding. Maybe it would be better if you didn't mention to him that I told you about this, just in case he comes back for round two." He said as he padded across the floor and into the bathroom, cordless phone in hand, and began the morning ritual of shaving and brushing his teeth.

"You're sweet for being so understanding. I'll let you know if I turn up anything else useful. Oh and by the way, how about that date, handsome? Are you ever going to get around to showing me the big city of Bludhaven? I just got my replacement monitor modules, I thought you could come up here and help with them, and then we could venture down south for the evening of wonder and enchantment you were telling me about earlier."

Dick tried his best not to smile as he ran the blade of his razor across his now lathered up cheek, the phone still in one hand. "As soon as this business with Jonah is cleared up, hopefully by tonight, I'll be right up to help you with that, and then we're off to Bludhaven for everything I promised....... and more."

"Sounds dreamy," Barbara replied as she absentmindedly twirled a lock of hair in her fingers. "Don't take too long."

The duo shared some friendly signing off banter before closing the connection, and Dick continued his shave. Seven minutes later, the stubble had been rinsed down the sink. Before he took his shower, though, he had one more phone call to make. Moving back out to the living room and across to the walk in closet where he kept his Nightwing uniform, he opened it and removed the gauntlet with his communication system in it. He flipped it open and seconds later the tiny speaker sounded as if it was connecting to the phone system, dialling a phone number. He would have to speak to Joey Flaherty once more before he met him as Officer Dick Grayson. After three rings, Joey picked up the connection.

"Yes?"

"You didn't tell me that the reporter who's been dogging The Misfits was your daughter. You've been supplying her with tips, trying to warn the city." Dick said, speaking more from the chest than from his throat, to help throw off any recognition of his voice when Flaherty heard it later on in the day.

"Yeah, well, you didn't tell me how you got that dog to attack last night, either. So now we're even."

Dick shook his head in wonder at the man's evasiveness, no wonder he fit in well with Dick, he was just as evasive as Bruce could be. "Not that it matters now, but the dog was a Doberman pincer. A dog favoured by many who attend West Point because of their skills as attack dogs. There's a popular method of training Doberman's which is also favoured by many at West Point because it utilizes many techniques taught there. I happen to be familiar with the attack commands, and after I put on a strong show of force with it earlier in the evening, it obeyed my commands. It was a calculated risk. Oh, and don't worry about the dog attacking anyone, unless you spoke the exact code words, which are in Latin, in the exact manner, they're as friendly as a dog can be."

He heard Flaherty expel whatever it was that he was drinking from his mouth as he took in Dick's words. "You mean you put together a few facts and you guessed? You risked our lives on a guess?"

"It was an educated guess." Dick replied.

"You sure have some luck, punk. Since you answered my question, I'll fill you in. My daughter Moira is a devout feminist, and she was outraged by what The Misfits had done to those women. She was about to go off half cocked and start an investigation into them anyway, which I felt was sure to get her killed, so I used what knowledge I had of the case to guide her in the right direction. It was better than watching her try and get facts from a local dive and ending up dead herself. She's a lot like me, you can't tell her anything. So I figured if she's going to do it anyway, which she was, I'd better help her and give her good information."

"That's pretty brave. Any luck on recruiting for the task force? Any volunteers showing up at your desk?"

"Not many yet, but I'm still waiting for the morning shift to show up. Chief Ebersol and even The Mayor have given me hell this morning about making that announcement the way I did, but they can't do much now that it's all out in the open. By the way, I didn't let it leak to the press, but soon after you and I finished up with Jonah and his goons, there was a massive shootout in sewer system under Baily Church. From what evidence my guys have gathered, it looks like it was a small army of Desmond's men. My guess is they found Jonah's hideout down there, but as of yet, Jonah hasn't been found. No bodies of any kind have been found. That psycho has nine lives, it seems, but he's running out of places to hide, not to mention that he's injured. We also have plenty of Jonah's DNA samples from the van, the lab boys are rushing work on it now. If it matches the samples you and I have, he's as good as behind bars for murder one, at the very least. It's only a matter of time before we run him into the ground, now. That's IF I can get any volunteers to help track him down."

"Keep your chin up, Joey. I have a hunch you'll get your volunteers soon enough." Dick replied as he closed the line. At least there were one or two things cleared up this morning. The identity of the mysterious reporter who has been dogging The Misfits every move and where she has been getting her tips from. It took a lot of guts for both Joey and Moira to embark on a quest like that, and for that he respected them both. It seemed the entire Flaherty clan was comprised of people who didn't take injustice lying down. It reminded him of his own family, of Bruce and Tim, Alfred and Barbara. Not to mention the extended family of his friends in The Titans. It was nice to see similarities between someone other than himself and Jonah, for a change. Dick dialled one more number before putting the phone down. After two rings, the line was picked up.

"Wayne Manor, Alfred speaking." Came the impeccably dry and polished voice of Alfred Pennyworth. As always, Dick smiled broadly at the sound of his old friends voice.

"Hi Al, it's me. Is Bruce around?"

"Master Dick, it's always a pleasure to hear from you. Master Bruce is currently sleeping off his nocturnal activities. Shall I wake him?"

"No Alfred, that's not necessary. I was just wondering about a DNA sample that I dropped off with Bruce a while back. I was hoping it would be analysed by now. Things are coming down to the wire, here." Dick said as he looked at the clock on the wall, realizing that he was going to have to get the lead out to make it to the Justice Centre by nine. Fortunately, luck was with him.

"Ah yes, Master Dick. Master Bruce did mention that should you call while he was out, that the analysis of the DNA sample is complete. Shall I forward it to you via that demonic invention, email?"

Dick laughed at Alfred's remark. The kindly old butler made a great show of disliking technology, but in truth was probably as fluent in computer usage as Dick himself was. "I'd appreciate that, Al. Not only that, but send a copy to Barbara, too, with instructions to see that it finds its way into the inbox of Sergeant Joey Flaherty, B.C.P.D.."

There was a moments silence on the other end of the line. "Flaherty, sir? Is this gentleman any relation to the police officer you allied yourself with against Cabal and that monster, Bane?"

"He's Mully's brother, Alfred."

"I hope for Mister Flaherty's sake that this relationship works out better than your previous one."

"So do I, Al. So do I."

With little time to spare, Dick said his goodbyes to his old friend and jumped in the shower to clean himself up. Twenty four minutes later, he was setting his alarm system and heading for Police Headquarters downtown.

*****

Blockbuster was grinding his teeth together so loudly that Mac Arnot could plainly hear it from the other side of the room. Desmond was sitting in a massive recliner with his right foot resting on a stool, his personal physician was on his knees before Blockbuster, wrapping some fresh bandages around his employers injured foot. Arnot had only been given the job of Bludhaven's Inspector less than two months ago, and he had never before been summoned to Roland Desmond's palatial home. Arnot thought that he was as angry as one person could possibly be, but he soon realized that his own rage paled in comparison with that of Blockbusters. Arnot grimaced with sympathetic pain as he took in the wound that Jonah had managed to inflict on the massive crime boss and lit a cigarette to give himself something to do other than stare.

"Joey Flaherty decided to grow himself a set of testicles, Mister Desmond. He's taken back the case, and I'm sure he's got Nightwing backing him up. With the masked nut on his side, I can't just throw my weight around with him. I need something concrete that'll make Flaherty knuckle under."

Desmond winced with pain once more and stared daggers at his doctor, who apologized sheepishly, before answering. "Mister Arnot, if your predecessor had one redeeming quality, it would be that he didn't have a foul mouth like yours. What you are saying, in your own eloquent manner, is that Sergeant Flaherty, boosted by Nightwing's backing, has found the strength of will to challenge your control of the situation. What you need is some leverage over the flat footed civil servant, something that even Nightwing cannot downplay. If memory serves, Flaherty's brother allied himself with Nightwing against that madman known as Bane, and died a hero because of it. It appears his brother is equally stubborn and idealistic, perhaps he has even allied himself with the costumed cretin in tribute to his fallen brother."

Arnot shifted uncomfortably and rolled his eyes. "I think that's what I said, yeah."

Once more, Desmond shook his head in annoyance with his stooges lack of refinement. "If Flaherty has taken over the case that means that Nightwing is indeed behind the scenes, pulling strings to make sure that Jonah ends up behind bars. I can only think of one better arrangement than seeing Jonah in jail, and that is seeing him dead. Nevertheless, if Nightwing and Flaherty can actually manage to capture Jonah and end his challenge upon me once and for all, than I would rather see the police expend their energy to do it rather than use my own. Take heart, Inspector, I may not be willing to push Flaherty off of the case, but I do happen to have a very useful piece of information concerning that particular thorn in your side, one that will insure that any future rebellion against your power will be immediately quelled."

Arnot let out a low whistle. "You got some dirt on him, huh?"

"In fact I do. Your Sergeant Flaherty is not as squeaky clean as his brother was. He has a skeleton in his closet that we can exploit to the fullest."

*****

The police headquarters at the justice centre in downtown Bludhaven were, without exception, among the nosiest, dirtiest, grimiest, most overcrowded buildings in the downtown core. Packed to the brim with petty criminals, hookers, street corner drug dealers, their families and lawyers and hangers on, not to mention the constant rotation of police officers going on and off duty, the two adjoining buildings that comprised the justice centre were always abuzz with activity. The most overpowering characteristic of the centre was the lack of personal space. Everyone was everyone else's face, shoving their way past the crowd to post bail, participate in a line up, give a statement, or any one of a million other activities. The second characteristic that one notices is the smell. A combination of various scents, ranging from sweat to urine to cheap cologne assaults the olfactory senses even before you walk in the main doors. Dick was still new to the building, and it took him some time to find Sergeant Joey Flaherty's desk, tucked away in a corner on the main precinct detectives floor, but when he did, he noticed that there was a buzz of activity localized in the general area around Joey's desk. Shouldering his way through the crowd, Dick soon laid eyes upon the owner of the desk, his eyes intent upon a printout.

"Officer Grayson, reporting for duty, sir." Joey Flaherty put down his mug of cold coffee and looked up from his desk as the good looking young man before him snapped out a stiff salute and favoured him with his most sceptical look.

"Damn, you're young. When did you get your shield, Grayson?"

Dick stammered for a moment as he searched for the proper way to word his lack of experience on the force so that he wouldn't immediately disqualify himself from the task force. "Uhhh, I technically don't have a badge yet, sir. I'm just out of the academy and I'm riding with Officer Rohbrach. She's taught me a lot, sir."

Flaherty chewed on the tip of his pen as he looked the young man over from head to toe. The sceptical look on his face did not lessen. "I'm sure she did, rookie. I'm sure she probably taught you how to sit in a ride and drink coffee. You don't look like you have a lot of flavouring, son." Somewhere on the far side of the room, a junkie, high on some drug or another, broke away from the officer handling him and flew into a rage. Out of pure instinct, Dick tensed, feeling as if he should do something about the possible escapee, but before he could act, six other officers leaped through the air and wrestled the crazed mook to the floor. Dick almost laughed, he may be Nightwing, but these men lived with this kind of working environment every day. Dick returned his attention Flaherty, who was still awaiting some kind of answer to his estimation of his abilities.

"With all due respect, sir, you're short selling a good officer. Officer Rohbrach knows her stuff and she does her best to uphold the law in this town. I guess I kind of learned from her example."

"So, why exactly are you wanting to join this task force, rookie?" Flaherty asked as he took a sip of his coffee, and, realizing it was cold, grimaced at the flavour. Dick's reply was immediate.

"Because there's a woman I love, sir, and I want her to feel safe when she comes to see me.

Flaherty nodded and chewed his bottom lip as he considered Dick's words. Standing here before him was a fresh faced rookie, as green as they come, but there was something about him that exuded confidence and honesty. Wasn't it Nightwing that suggested he get some recruits fresh out of the academy? A good idea, that.

"Have we met before, Grayson?"

"Yes sir, we met a few months ago. I used to work at Hogan's Alley and we met after the..." Dick paused for a moment, choosing his words. "...after the untimely death of your brother, Mully. We had a special wake for him there."

"I thought you looked familiar. So you decided to do more with your life than just serve drinks, huh? I can respect that, Grayson." Flaherty had already made his decision. The rookie was in, no doubt about it. He liked the kid's attitude, and there was nothing more valuable than having a task force full of men with a personal stake in putting the perp behind bars. "Let's get you a flak jacket. We've got twenty five men and women ready to roll. You're the last recruit. I happen to have some inside information on this Jonah character, and I have a pretty good idea where we can find him. If there's something you're not sure about, remember that I respect an officer that will ask a question far more than one that forges ahead and hopes he's right."

Dick grinned. "I understand."

Flaherty led Grayson down a set of back steps to the basement locker room and weapons depot. Once there, Dick was issued a bullet proof vest and a Heckler and Koch SP89, an updated version of the gun renowned throughout the world as the representative heavy firearm of police and government agencies worldwide, the H & K MP5K. It was sleek and very manueverable, as was the H & K trademark. With a dual magazine clamp delivering thirty rounds of semi automatic fire, it was a brutal opponent, to be sure, but as Dick slipped the shoulder strap on, all it felt was ugly and uncomfortable. Everyone on the task force had been issued the exact same weapon, and the odds for Jonathon Masters Junior surviving the next twenty four hours were dropping considerably. Unlike Bruce Wayne, Dick didn't develop the same hatred for guns at an early age as his mentor did. Dick's parents died in a tragic fall from a sabotaged trapeze, not from bullets fired from a muggers gun. However, Dick had suffered his own loss through gunfire years later, when The Joker shot the woman he loved, paralysing her from the waist down. From that day forward, Dick had borne his own hatred for guns, and he refused to use them, even against someone as vile as Jonah. While the others were busying themselves getting outfitted for their move against Jonah, equipping themselves with fiber optic cameras and Sting Ball riot grenades (known in the vernacular as 'flash - bangs'), Dick inconspicuously pocketed an air taser. The device allowed a user to fire two compressed air propelled lengths of taser wire. The probes at the end of each wire would attach themselves to the assailants clothing, and sending an electric current through the wires, would incapacitate any normal person for several minutes, all without causing any permanent damage.

He prayed he would get a chance to use it before any more lives were lost.

A short time later, Flaherty called the assemblage to order for a briefing before they moved out. Dick stood off to the corner, watching Flaherty as he spoke. "All right folks, listen up. You're here because you volunteered for a dangerous duty. You're here because there is a very dangerous, homicidal man out there and he threatens you, your wives, your children, and anyone else you hold dear. I have personally seen this man threaten to crucify a woman with a nail gun. I shit you not." Flaherty began passing out a stack of papers, xeroxed copies of a photo of Jonathon Masters Junior, with some scant biographical information on the young man. Flaherty continued on as the papers were passed out. "His real name is Jonathon Masters Junior. His father is Masters Senior, yes, you heard me right, the man who owns most of the prime real estate in this city. Junior now goes by the name Jonah, and he's making a bid to take over the cities crime rackets, and as you might guess, royally pissing off the current crime lords in Bludhaven. Last night, after myself and an associate chased Jonah through the city streets after an assault on Johnny Russo's club, a small war erupted in the sewer system under Baily Church. We have reason to believe that this was Jonah's hideout, and that the cities crime lords were carrying out an assault of their own on him. No bodies were found, and very little blood was discovered. It's a good bet that our young West Point student had an escape route handy. I've just had word that our lab boys have several DNA samples from Jonah out of the van we captured last night. I had them put a rush on the results, probably a first for the lab. An email from my associate confirms that all the DNA samples match up. That's more than enough for an arrest warrant, which Judge Anders just rushed over to us."

From the back of the room, another officer raised his hand. "So with his hideout gone, where exactly do we find this guy?"

Flaherty strapped on his own flak jacket and loaded his personal Smith & Wesson .357 model 686 before answering. Dick didn't like the looks of the gun, which was basically an updated version of the classic "Dirty Harry" pistol used by Clint Eastwood. One shot from that would take Jonah's head off. Flaherty then produced his own SP89 and flash bangs. This was a lot of firepower for one criminal on the run. Then again, Jonah was a murderer, it didn't pay to be ill prepared. Finally, Flaherty gave the answer the entire room was waiting for. "His gang is in custody, the entire underworld is on his trail, and he probably has very little in the way of money and resources by now. It's my guess he's gone back to the only refuge he has left. He's gone back to dear old dad. Now, let's move out. Grayson, you stick with me."

Together, they all loaded into three vans, on loan from the SWAT division. Dick sat next to Flaherty in the front of the lead van. Why had Joey insisted that the young rookie stick close to him? Did Flaherty know more than he was telling? Had he made some connection between Dick Grayson and Nightwing? Or was it simply because he remembered Dick from Hogans months ago, and respected his choice of career? It was too late to try and sort it all out now. Within a few short minutes, the task force had parked their vans out of sight of The Masters Estate and approached as inconspicuously as they possibly could. Flaherty sent three teams over the fence and into the bushes, their orders to approach the house and surround it. If Jonah was here, and Dick believed Flaherty was correct and he would be, there would be no way out for him. Joey tucked his handgun in a holster on his belt and produced the warrant. He motioned for Dick to follow him as the two entered through the gates and approached the main doors.

"This is it. Stay frosty, Grayson."

"I got your back, sir." Dick thumbed the safety on his weapon to the on position, he refused to use the gun. Instead, he double checked that the air taser on his belt was safely secured to his belt, and hidden from view under his flak jacket. To their surprise, Masters Senior answered the door personally. He was much the same as Dick had seen him once before. Haggard, his face soured in a perpetual frown. Jonah's father was not at all a happy man.

"What do you want?" Masters Senior asked.

Flaherty produced the warrant for Masters to see. "Good morning, sir. I'm Sergeant Flaherty. I'm sorry you have to hear this from me, but we have a warrant for the arrest of your son, Jonathon. The charge is several counts of murder one."

That was when Masters Senior did something Dick had never imagined that prune like face doing. He broke into a smile, and it looked forced. Something was wrong. "I haven't seen my son in months, much to my delight. If you should come across him, I hope you put him in a deep dark hole for the rest of his life."

Dick's body tensed, something definitely wasn't right here. He was sorely tempted to let Joey in on his intuition, but he was Dick Grayson now, not Nightwing. The rookie officer should be following his senior officer's lead, not the other way around. Fortunately, Flaherty lived up to his reputation as a savvy police officer, and he too noticed that something was wrong. "As this was his official address, we do have a warrant to search the premises, sir." Flaherty told him.

"You will do no such thing, officer." Masters responded stiffly. "I own this town. I could have your pension for this treatment."

"I'm sorry you feel that way, sir." Joey began to make his way past Masters and into the main foyer when all hell broke loose. Still dressed in his Jonah garb, his face bloody and bruised, Jonathon Masters Junior leaped out from behind the door, his right arm in a hastily contrived sling and the nail gun he favoured using from the night before held tightly to his fathers temple. This was something no one had prepared for. They assumed that if Jonah was actually here, his father would be willingly giving him aid, not held hostage. In a flash, Joey's gun was in his hand, Dick's weapon remained at his side. Jonah sneered and pressed the nail gun into his fathers temple.

"I told you to get rid of them, father. Can't I trust you to do anything right?" Jonah spat as he dragged his father backward into the house, Officers Flaherty and Grayson following cautiously.

"It's you who can't do anything right, you ungrateful little bastard. You've been a mewling weak baby since the day you were born. Your mother coddled you and encouraged your every weakness. Go with them and take your medicine like a man." Masters senior retorted. Dick brandished his gun in a show of force at Jonah, but the safety remained on. Instead, his left hand reached around ever so slowly for the air taser clipped to his belt.

"You couldn't love me." Jonah ranted, his eyes welling with tears. "You don't know what it is to love anyone. You're incapable. All you ever saw in me was a vessel to correct all your failures as a child. When I couldn't measure up, you tried to beat me into the man you wanted me to be." Joey and Dick shared a look of surprise at the bickering between the two family members.

"Your mother loved you and you killed her with your weaknesses." Masters Senior retorted, his voice thick with bile and hatred, all of it directed toward his own soon.

"HEY!!" Flaherty snapped. "Remember us? The cops? How about you two work out your problems on the next Jerry Springer at a later date?" Dick knew that outside, the combined members of the task force would be moving in on every side of the building. Joey's orders were such that if he hadn't signalled the others within ninety seconds of entering the building, they were to assume something was wrong and move in, shooting to kill. Dick couldn't allow that to happen. He wanted Jonah behind bars, not dead. His left hand inched its way ever closer to the taser under his vest. Fortunately, the two Masters men were barely aware of anything except the airing of their hatred for one another. Dick felt his skin crawling at the sight of the father and son feeling such revulsion for one another. All at once, Dick realized that there may have been a lot in common between himself and Jonah, but there were a lot of differences as well. Jonah and his father seemed to truly hate one another, for whatever reason. Dick had always thought of Bruce as the ultimate distant father, but compared to Masters senior, he was truly an overwhelmingly loving father figure who gave far more of himself than Jonah's father ever did. Through the corner of his eye, Dick saw a team of three officers approaching the window on the far side of the room, weapons at the ready. Within a few short minutes, there would be even more weapons trained on Jonah, so many that he might not come out of this encounter alive. Time was rapidly running out, for all of them.

"Grayson, do you have a shot? I can't take him cleanly." Flaherty asked as he pulled back the hammer on his revolver.

"Uhhhh, no sir." Dick replied. It was then that Jonah's eyes widened in disbelief at the mention of Dick's name. Grayson? How could he ever forget that name? It was The Flying Graysons that caught his attention that night. In a sense, it was The Graysons that set him down a road of anguish and pain. For a few scant seconds, Jonah was no longer a young man standing in his fathers home, he was a young boy once more, his mother at his side. He easily recalled the poster that had caught his attention, entrancing him from the moment he laid eyes on it. He could clearly envision the three members of the circus act as they were portrayed on the poster. From that day to this, Jonah had never heard that name again. He scanned the young man standing before him. He would be the exact age of the young Grayson child he so desperately wanted to see. A quick glance at the name on his rookie shield indicated that he was indeed Richard Grayson.

"Grayson?" Jonah repeated the name. "Are you related to the Graysons in the circus act? The Flying Graysons?"

Joey and Dick shared a concerned look. Flaherty shook his head as if he didn't know what to do with this strange line of questioning. Finally, Dick decided that honesty would serve him best in this tense situation. "They were my parents." He replied, swallowing a lump in his throat as he recalled his parents.

What followed was pure insanity, and exactly the break Dick was looking for. As his left hand closed around the grip of the taser. Jonah pushed his father to the ground and leaped into the air at Dick, the nail gun in his hand and aimed straight at the young rookies head. "It's all YOUR FAULT!!" Jonah screamed. Flaherty was ready and poised to fire. Dick would have to be just a hair faster than his commanding officer. Faster than the human eye could follow, Dick's hand whipped around, activating the release button on the taser. Jonah never had time to realize what hit him. The first strand of taser wire missed him completely and lodged itself in a wall, while the other hit him dead centre in the chest. 35.000 volts of electricity surged through the wire and into Jonah's body, immediately causing every muscle to lock up, sending him crashing to the floor. At the same time, Joey Flaherty fired his Smith & Wesson at Jonah, but the bullet missed its target as Jonah was sent tumbling. At that point, Dick became aware of two other events, the remaining members of the task force charged into the house through various windows and doors, and Jonathon Masters Senior fell backward to the floor.... clutching his chest. The remaining police officers jumped on Jonah, whose muscles were still frozen, and Dick ran to Masters Seniors side.

"Get an ambulance here, now!! It's his heart!" Dick yelled as he began to administer CPR. As he did, Masters Senior summoned his strength and pushed him away, his eyes searching out his son on the floor not far away from him. Jonah was unable to speak, but his eyes were wide as he watched his father dying on the floor. As the officers secured the handcuffs around Jonah's wrists, Flaherty unclipped his belt radio and called for emergency services ASAP. Only Dick and Jonah heard Masters Seniors final words, whispered in a weak voice, to his son.

"It should have been you. You should have died. You are not my son."

And then something inside Jonathon Masters Senior rustled and he was gone.

Dick was truly stunned. How could any man hate his son so? Jonathon Masters Senior was filled with bile and hatred, and he warped his own son with that hatred until he became a murdering psychopath. Jonathon Masters Junior could have been a community leader, a man capable of doing some good for Bludhaven, instead of the waste of potential that he was. Ever so slowly, Dick's eyes followed the dead man's own line of sight, until he saw Jonah. Never before had he seen such hatred, and the hatred was no longer directed at his father, Jonah's eyes bore straight into Dick Grayson. Although he was still unable to say anything due to the effects of the taser, the look in his eyes said it all.

"You are the reason for my suffering."

Unable to bear the horrific look in Jonah's eyes any longer, Dick rose to his feet and stumbled out of the Masters Mansion. He had been in so many battles in his lifetime, as Robin, as Nightwing, alongside Batman and as leader of The Titans. Never before had he been affected by the collar of a criminal like this. Without the mask, without the kevlar body suit and the escrima sticks, as Dick Grayson, he had just earned the hatred of someone he had never met. It was brutal, it was ugly, and it was a way of life for every cop. This sensation was completely foreign to him. In the past, when he earned the hatred of a foe, it was as Nightwing, Dick Grayson remained safe and anonymous. This time Dick Grayson was the focus of all that hatred. Even though he had seen far worse in his lifetime, Dick leaned against the police van outside and threw up. Joey Flaherty rushed to his side as they dragged the now raving Jonah from the house.

"Are you going to be okay, kid?" Flaherty asked as he handed Dick a towel.

"I think so. That's a first for me." Dick replied, his voice shaky.

"You did great in there. Although I don't remember authorizing the use of tasers. It doesn't matter, though, just like the Mounties, we got our man. That's what's important. I'm going to put a commendation on your record for this, Grayson."

Dick rose to his full height and wiped his mouth once more. "What's going to happen to him?" He asked. "Surely you're not putting him in the general population at Lockhaven?"

Flaherty clucked his tongue as he answered. "Oh good God, no. He'd have a prison riot incited in his first hour in the place. I've made special arrangements with Jeremiah Arkham, up in Gotham. Arkham has the knowledge and the facilities to deal with people like this. He'll be tested for competence to stand trial, I have a nagging suspicion he'll fail. I imagine he'll have an extended stay with Mister Arkham after that."

Dick exhaled loudly. "So, it's over?"

Flaherty patted him on the shoulder. "Take the rest of the day off, kid. It's over."

In the back of his mind, Dick couldn't help but wonder if any good had been accomplished here today. He wanted nothing more than to go to Barbara and lose himself in her warm embrace.

*****

Arkham Asylum was, without a doubt, created with the best of intentions. Intended as a home for the criminally insane, the asylum was meant to not only protect society from these people, it was also meant to protect them from themselves. Jeremiah Arkham was the owner and director of the institute, and when contacted by The Bludhaven Police Force about housing a murderous criminal, he of course accepted. He promised Sergeant Flaherty that he would do everything in his power to test the young man for competency to stand trial, and should Young Jonathon Masters Junior fail those tests, he would do everything possible to cure him of the demons that haunted him. After taking the time to process Jonah through the Bludhaven Justice Centre, fingerprinting him, taking his picture, and issuing him the standard inmate togs, it was nightfall when Jonah arrived in Gotham City. Arkham Asylum was in 'lights out' mode already and Doctor Arkham had left the grounds on personal business. With no standing orders for Jonah, the Doctor's assistants merely stunned the by now raging lunatic and encased him in a straight jacket. At that point, Jonah was escorted into the 'Maximum Security' wing and placed in a darkened cell. A shatter proof wall of clear plexiglass slid shut behind him as he was placed on a cot and left to himself until morning. Someone in distance was moaning, another was crying uncontrollably. Arkham Asylum may have been created with the best of intentions, but on this particular occasion, it served as a catalyst for every psychotic urge he had ever experienced. Jonah began to scream at the top of his lungs.

"I'll kill you all for this! Nightwing! Grayson! Flaherty!! They'll die first, but they won't be alone!! Soon, I'll choke you all with your own blood! Do you hear me? I'm Jonah and my bloodlust will not be denied!"

Jonah repeated those words over and over like a mantra, until he noticed another sound not far away. Not the crying, and not the moaning he had heard, but something else.

A low snicker.

"Who's that? Who's there in the dark? Are you laughing at me? I'll eat your heart!!"

From the darkness, the laughter grew. "Oh, do shut up." Came the slightly nasal voice.

Jonah strained against his jacket, but to no avail. "Come into my cell and say that. I'd rip your eyes from their sockets."

"If you only knew who you were talking to." The disembodied voice responded in a condescending tone. "Tell me, what was that you were saying about Nightwing? I happen to have a few issues with the young man and his elder partner, as well."

Nightwing. Just the mention of the name made Jonah's blood boil. "I'll kill him! He put me here. Him and Grayson. I'll get out of here, and then my Misfits and I will skin him alive. What the Hell do you know about Nightwing?" Jonah screamed at his tormentor.

Nightwing. The voice from the darkness remembered Nightwing well. Nightwing. Batman. Robin. Bullock. Montoya....... and of course Gordon. He remembered them all staring down at him with contempt and revulsion, as if they could even begin to comprehend the brilliance of his work. They all looked down their noses at him as he clutched his injured knee, cackling only because they expected him to. He remembered Batman and Nightwing looking down at him, and the spark of genius once again ignited within his incredibly twisted brain. Wouldn't it be fun to exact some revenge on The Bat by killing his eldest offspring through a vassal of his insanity? Oh, what a delicious chapter in the novel of his life that would be. Nothing tasted better than revenge, unless it was a Big Mac and fries. On more than one occasion, The Bat had taken on an apprentice, why should only the so called heroes get to have all the fun? Why couldn't he pass on his special brand of lunacy to the next generation as well? Surely, that would drive The Bat and his clan simply starkers? Yes, it certainly would. And even if he grew bored with it, he could always kill the newcomer at a later date. Confined to a wheelchair, he rolled himself into a dim ray of light shining through a crack in the wall. Jonah could barely make out the green hair, the chalk white face, and the blood red lips that smiled cruelly at him from directly across the hallway.

"Who are you?" Jonah asked.

The lanky figure dressed in purple grinned and crossed his eyes. "I, good sir, am renowned worldwide on stage and screen. I am The Joker, and I'm going to teach you how to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight."

End of Act 1
To be continued in Fanzing #39!

 
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