Holidays,  Short Stories,  Thoughts

Batman Day 2023 – Gotham Boils Over

Many people have hobbies, most of the time they are a nice distraction from the busyness of life. Often they don’t draw a lot of attention, unless you meet someone who is interested in the same hobby. In most other cities, even Metropolis, it wouldn’t be an issue. Gotham isn’t most other cities, it’s why Batman has a file on the known hobbies of Gotham citizens.

Of particular note are those whose primary occupations bring them into contact with the caped crusader on a regular basis, whether friend or foe. Commissioner Gordon for example enjoys reading biographies, Batman sent him a new one on Churchill on his last birthday. Even those on the opposite of the law are encouraged to be a little distracted by their hobbies.

On the first day of the Riddler’s most recent prison stay, he received a magazine on stamp collecting, paid for by an “unknown” benefactor. At times the two occupations do come together in a somewhat harmless way. The Penguin for example has published multiple volumes on ornithology under the pseudonym of O. C. Boniface. King Tut made a quite a good return when he sold the rights of a book on Egypt for an upcoming Lexcorp Studio film.

Those are the hobbies that usually don’t produce any noise, but those which do can cause incredible danger to the rest of Gotham’s population. All of this is why when Gotham’s own culinary channel BOIL advertised a cooking competition welcome to all applicants a shiver went up Alfred Pennyworth’s spine. He placed a quick call to Bruce who was flying back from a mission for the Justice League.

“Good afternoon sir, I know re-entry isn’t for another hour, but I think we may be about to have an issue. I’m not near the computer at the moment, but do you recall which of your more interesting clientele like to cook? I seem to remember you mentioned a comment or two towards the subject.”

The rest of the league could not hear the conversation, but they could see Batman frown. He pushed three buttons on his com link, and returned to his conversation with the rest of the league. The com link translated this into a voice response to Alfred of three words. File A1 Powderkeg.

Alfred blinked twice, which for most would be the equivalent of dropping everything. He turned, used one of the many secret entrances to the Batcave, and once safely inside, ran to the computer. The word that concerned him was naturally the last one, Powderkeg. He typed in the necessary codes, and within seconds four photos of some of his adopted son’s antagonists were on the screen.

“Of all of them, why did it have to be these four? Why couldn’t it have been Condiment King? It’s going to be another long few weeks.” Of the four, one like to bake, one liked to grill, one enjoyed barbecue, and the fourth was a vegetarian. Suddenly Alfred found himself without any appetite whatsoever.

By nightfall, every gourmet supply store, restaurant, culinary school, and grocery store had extra surveillance. Batman and his team were ready for any attack. Gordon was checking all of his leads for any hint of unusual activity, and Alfred was brushing up on his recipes. He had an idea of his own that he hadn’t yet mentioned to Bruce, waiting for the right moment.

That time happened when Batman returned to the batcave about six am the next morning. Alfred was waiting for him on the Batmobile’s platform. This was an established signal to Bruce and the rest of the team. They were about to have a father son conversation that all other ears were not welcome too.

Each of these talks began much the way a teenager would have responded, with an extra button or two. Batman would mute his com link, sigh, unmute, then mentally prepare himself for whatever was about to be said. He loved his adopted father, but he knew these types of conversation were not only infrequent, they were rarely ever present.

After Bruce and Alfred were safely in the elevator to the top level of the compound Bruce spoke first. “It’s not one of the family’s birthdays, we’ve already had the annual you need to find a good girl, get married, and give me grandchildren conversation for the year, what are you about to tell me?”

Alfred half snorted, half smiled. “For all of your maturity you still have that adolescent snarky sense of humor you had when you were twelve years old. Beyond pointing out my concerns are valid, I will ignore them momentarily. This conversation is about some field work, you need an expert of a different type this time, and that is me.”

Bruce allowed the actual fear he suddenly felt to go to his face. “It’s too dangerous, this isn’t the third string group. I couldn’t possibly allow you to take this risk. I’m sorry, but the answer is no.”

Alfred pushed the stop button. He was about to use a tone that he had not in a long time. It wasn’t an angry one, but an authoritative one. “I love you son, as much as Mr. and Mrs. Wayne, as far as I’m concerned you are also my child. Technically I work for you, but my time off is my own. I’m going to do this, with or without your approval, you can’t stop me, and you had better not try! Now, will you help me or not?”

This time Batman didn’t hide his sigh. “You know I’ll help you, and you know this is crazy. Why put yourself in harm’s way when it isn’t necessary? I can enter the competition as Bruce Wayne, you taught me how to cook. I can win it.”

“I believe that first question is one I asked you a long time ago, and I agreed with your answer, or you wouldn’t be wearing that costume. You’re a great detective, and an excellent chef.” As he was pushing the button to continue the trip Alfred smiled and added, “but I’m a better one. Besides your lobster thermidor still needs some refinement.”

Both men stifled a laugh, and Bruce hugged him. “Please be careful. I need you to not take chances that I would take. You’re more important to me than I am.”

Alfred smiled once more, “I believe the answer you give me every night when I give you that speech is the same. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”

With that, the course of action was settled, and Batman told the team. Each had reservations, but they all knew, if Bruce couldn’t talk Alfred out of it, no one else could. All was left was for Batman to call Commissioner Gordon, he wouldn’t be happy either.

Gordon saw the flashing light on his private line. “Nothing yet on my end, do you have something? A volunteer, who? … We don’t talk about this, but you know that I know, I’ve known ever since… I’m not happy about this, but then I expect you aren’t either. He wouldn’t be talked out of it? Okay, I promise I’ll do my best to protect him on my end.” Batman thanked his friend and disconnected the call.

BOIL had stated that all applicant submissions had to be submitted within two week’s time. They came from all corners, but hordes of them were Gotham locals. Some complete amateurs, some restauranteurs who wanted to become the next celebrity chef, and a few colorful characters.

One applicant was a big farm to table proponent, and insisted on fresh produce and proteins, never frozen. This was ironic given the doctor’s history, but he believed his food would speak for itself. Victor Fries was so confident that he signed his own name to the application.

Another one of his circle considered that, but inclosed a playing card instead. The Joker believed his smoked flounder to be good enough to win the entire competition, despite any annoyances the judges may have with him. “They’ll have to decide mine’s the best, everything will be fine. … They had better accept my application!”

That was the predicament the executives at BOIL were experiencing when they received a handful of applicant forms. “Who would have thought any of them would apply? I didn’t know any of them even cooked. What are we going to do now? Commissioner, you’re the expert, help us.”

Gordon was used to people demanding things from him so he didn’t even wince. “You’re in a mess, it’s why most Gotham channels stopped holding contests years ago. Did you even consult your legal team before you did it?”

Mr. Vincennes, the head of the network explained. “Hardy there leads the legal team and other areas, they are a firm from Boston, not here. My mistake was forgetting that when I assigned him to boost the network’s image. The idea was already on air before I saw it, by then it was too late.”

Gordon mentally stifled an out of towner comment then responded. “My advice, accept the biggest and baddest applicants. You can eliminate them easier than you can refuse them.”

“If you refuse them they could hit you from anywhere. If you accept them, at least we know where they’ll be coming from if their food gets turned down. On the off chance one of them wins the competition, we’ll only have to worry about the others trying to kill him.”

Often in Gotham it’s the unexpected that becomes the issue. The day the competition began, the authorities were prepared for anything, except for what happened. It even surprised Batman to see his most dangerous foes be taken out at the same time.

Mr. Freeze was plating when the explosion occurred. His suit prevented him from third degree burns. The Joker was hit, not with his own toxin, but sleeping gas. He would not be happy when he woke up. Louie The Lilac was the victim of food poisoning when tasting his own dish, but the violent kind that was clearly no accident. Two Face could possibly be the angriest one though, his chicken emitted an electric charge when he went to carve it.

Batman was quickly scanning the scene, first for any sign of clues, but also any threat to the other participants. Alfred was safe, everyone else seemed to be. This was just the first round it could be they were beginning by dealing with the biggest threats first.

When the cameras stopped recording, Alfred put down his soufflé and headed for the judge’s booth. He along with four other contestants left the competition then and there. He knew the situation was drastically different than anticipated and him being there would now be a distraction to Batman rather than an asset.

Dick Grayson and he walked out almost immediately. He called Bruce on the way home. “I withdrew son. Our entire plan’s shifted, our main and ironically incorrect worry, has changed. Yes, I agree. Be careful, it’s just me and Nightwing in the car so I love you son.”

Dick Grayson looked at the man he viewed as his Grandfather. “What did he say? Any clues?”

“Not yet, but he did make two observations. First he has to find the man who took out his rogues, then he has to rescue him once they recover. He anticipates he’ll announce himself soon, they always make the mistake of gloating it seems.”

Almost on cue a video appeared on the network’s biggest display at the end of the semi-finals. A black cowled figure in a white chef’s coat appeared on the screen, “Hello everyone, I trust you’re somewhat curious as to what is happening. I’m afraid I cannot explain it all, but I can promise none of you are in any danger, if you listen.”

The villain continued. “My quarrel is not with the contestants, everyone should withdrawal today. If they do, they will not make an enemy of me. I’ve shown you all what I can do to my enemies, even the most dangerous ones, so I would act quickly. As for one of my objectives, it’s to destroy another enemy, this network.”

“Like the villains I incapacitated, they’ve angered me and I intend to do worse to their enterprise than I did to Two Face. You’re wondering who you are hearing from no doubt, we’ll let’s see, the only good thing about this place is its name, so you may call me BOIL!”

The transmission ended, and the display exploded. Batman had a new villain to contend with. This happened regularly in Gotham, so this was almost another news item. The question he had was what was the villain’s real motive.

He had learned what they said and what they really intended were almost universally two different things. Or to put it the way Plastic Man would say it, ‘there’s more than one Two Face in Gotham city.” Plastic Man was funny, and could be annoying, but then so could Bat Mite. A side thought ran through Batman’s mind, why weren’t any of the aliens from the planet called the Fifth Dimension ever antagonizing the villains?

Forcing the idea of mentioning this the next time he saw Bat Mite out of his mind Batman concentrated on Boil. His build put him at 6’2. The voice sounded American with a touch of accent, possibly South African or New Zealand though that too could be faked. The cowl covered from above his lip on, so that could mean trying to hide facial hair, but it could also mean exoskeletal weapons fitted in the mask. He could see a number of weapons built into his costume.

Villains liked to use synonyms so Batman had the Bat Computer research all meanings for the word boil. He also began compiling a list of subjects. The Batman’s detective mind narrowed it quickly to three groups.

The incapacitated villains, one could be playing two parts again. The contestants who immediately withdrew, minus Alfred of course. Lastly, and this was where Batman’s gut seemed to be heading, the upper management of the network Boil itself. He placed a call to the Commissioner.

“Gordon here. They all really seemed injured, we had to sedate them all when they woke. They were so angry and embarrassed they wanted to burn down the hospital. Typical supervillain behavior.”

“Checked on the contestants that immediately left. You can thank me for keeping Bullock from interviewing Alfred by the way. The contestants I think are a bust, though one is connected to an old foe, he’s the grandson of the Monarch Of Menace. It’s not his son’s boy, but the daughter’s. That branch of the family seems harmless on the surface.”

“Commissioner, what about the management team of the network. Did you see anyone you’d look into more? Anyone set off that alarm in your head?”

“I always start with the top three, Mr. Vincennes chairman of the network, Crandall executive VP in charge, and Sandra Riley they’re next in command. Beyond them, which we’re checking on, there was part of the legal team. Ethan Turner Hardy is one of the partners on the Boston based firm. There was just something about him I didn’t care for, but then my profession and lawyers don’t always get along.”

Batman thanked Gordon and had the Bat Computer read him everything they had on all the names Gordon had shared. Redington Vincennes seemed to have no motive. Mega millionaire foodie who had invested heavily in the success of Boil, but who also would not be too hurt if it were to fail.

Andrew Crandall had a career in television, very successful. He also seemed to have no motive. The same was true of Sandra Riley. She had been with the network almost since the beginning. Her stock options alone would be reason enough to keep the network successful.

There was a thought, publicity. It was Gotham. The Riddler came to mind, “Riddle me this Batman, If you’re in a landline field, how do you survive and thrive? You make land mines.” It would definitely keep everyone watching for awhile, even if it was to see when the network blew up.

Batman would not allow himself to use the pun that was at the top of his mind. His sense of pride couldn’t bring him to do it. Instead he turned to the last suspect Ethan Turner Hardy, who was this Boston lawyer? “Bat Computer, full bio of Ethan Turner Hardy.”

“Ethan Turner Hardy, partner Alexander, Grimes, Hardy Boston, Massachusetts. Grandson of founding partner Alistair Hardy. Honor roll student from elementary through law school, graduating with a 4.0. Very charitable, popular in political circles, seems to have everything going for him. No sign of any record of trouble with the law.”

When you’re a detective, little things bother you. Slips of the tongue, unexplained mood swings, unusual attitudes from people, and certain words. With Vincennes it was the phrase would not be too hurt if it were to fail. Sandra Riley, the phrase keep the network successful sounded off for some inexplicable reason. A last of all it was the phrase about Hardy, no sign of any record.

A sign didn’t mean there wasn’t trouble, just that it wasn’t on the surface. This was true of all possibilities, motive was more than money. It could be related to insanity, pride, revenge, power, or greed. Whoever Boil was, he had taken on the Joker and others, that was insane. He seemed to think very highly of himself and his actions, pride. He mentioned paying back his enemies, revenge.

Batman felt ill in the pit of his stomach. “Bat Computer, search again, check the last three names for anything odd, not illegal, but odd. We need to know their entire life’s history, down to what they eat on a regular basis, and where. Anything related to food we need to know it.”

Meanwhile Boil sat in his safe room giving orders with four people around him. “I want that broadcast sent in two minutes precisely. I’ve timed it to coincide with a delivery. Fail me and you’ll be promoted from henchman to joining the other super villains in ICU!”

He checked off a list of ingredients, then double checked his watch. The video went out on time. He was pleased, now he would prepare for the next step in his recipe. The woman beside him smiled too.

The video was playing on the main Batcomputer screen when Batman exited the Batmobile. “Hello Gotham City, Boil here. I’m pleased to say all of the contestants adhered to my demands. The network’s stock has plummeted to rock bottom this afternoon. The first part of my recipe, mixing the ingredients has been successful.“

“Now for the combining of them. If Vincennes and his executive team want to live, they will transmit fifty million to my the number on the screen within the next three hours. Any longer than that, and the antidote will not work. That is all.”

The video ended without an explosion this time, and Batman was back on the road. Gordon was also racing towards Vincennes’ office. “Stop anyone from eating anything, even a pack of popcorn. We don’t know where the poison is coming from. I want every antidote we have on file ready, we don’t yet know which poison they’ll use.”

Between the two, they were successful in preventing the mass poisonings without exception. The news media proclaimed the joint effort between the Caped Crusader and the Police Department a tremendous success but Batman and Gordon knew what it really meant. If the poisoning was easily stopped, it meant that Boil wanted it stopped.

Either something else was happening, or it was designed as an alibi for one of the suspects. Batman felt like there was something that they weren’t seeing. It was a piece, or pieces of information, that they did not yet have. Usually when it was exposed, everything fell into place.

Batman needed to think. He asked Nightwing to take patrol that night, and Signal to watch the network. He changed into his Bruce Wayne clothes and started driving. He ended up at a little greasy spoon. The same one that Jim Gordon and he had coffee every Christmas as Batman.

Today he ordered bacon, eggs, corn beef hash, and coffee. The food was good, but that wasn’t why he was there. He was there to talk to his friend, possibly the best cook in all of Gotham City, even Alfred said so. Stan Bonner looked different than he had ten years ago when his face was all over the culinary scene.

He had restaurants, television shows, game shows, and all kinds of outlets, but he gave them all up. HIs son had gotten into some trouble and Stan left it all to get his son to a good place. He had, and now the family ran not a culinary empire, but the best diner in all of Gotham. It was one of the few secrets everyone kept including the villains.

“Hello Stan, how’s Blake doing? I didn’t see him when I came in.”

“He’s on his honeymoon, him and Tracy’s daughter got married. His Mom and I are lost without him around here, but his younger brother George keeps us entertained. What brings you in, don’t tell me you actually took a day off?”

“I wish, I need a favor. I’m guessing you can put two and two together as why I’m here. Could you take a look at this list of names and tell me anything that jumps out at you please?”

Stan smiled, looked at the list, and stopped smiling. “Say, it’s about time for me to start the lasagna, I could use a hand if you’re free?” Stan motioned to Sally and the two headed to the back.

“There’s more than one name on that list that i don’t like Bruce, but there’s two that I’m especially not fond of.” He circled them and handed it back to Bruce. “It could be either of them, but let me tell you why and you decide.”

He led Bruce to the cooler to get some Italian sausage, and to talk out of ear shot. “When you’re on top in the food business, everybody isn’t for you, that’s a misnomer. The ones who want you to succeed actually want your brand too, because it makes them money. Often they don’t like you because you get in the way of agreeing with their plans.”

“It’s your brand but they seem to forget that. When they see an opportunity to separate you from your brand to benefit them, they’ll do it. It’s often discreet, such as putting your name on a product they know won’t work, that lessens your control over your own brand. They’re hoping people will start to see you as a nice figure head and they can grab power. Those two names I circled, they like power.”

Bruce thanked his friend, and helped with the lasagna, paid his bill and left. Vincennes and Hardy were his prime suspects. He was hoping for an incident that placed everything into place, Bonner didn’t give him that, but he did narrow the field. More pieces were out there, but it still wasn’t obvious yet. It was time for detective work, which can involve not excitement, but tedious footwork.

Bruce began thinking, which one was the more obvious. Part of him said Vincennes, he’s the CEO. He would have an army of lawyers, people at his control, power without lifting a finger, and deniability. Though rich, Hardy wouldn’t have as deep a vault of resources. Hardy was where he was partially because his family were lawyers, Vincennes was a self made man.

Bruce smiled when a question came to him. Something his Dad had told him as a very little boy. He was looking at it all wrong.

Back then it was about a business deal Thomas Wayne was doing. “In these things Bruce, you don’t ask what they want, you ask how they got to the table. Knowing where they came from tells you why they’re there.”

Bruce knew why Vincennes was at the table, but Hardy was a partner in his firm. Why was a partner dealing with something so far away from Boston? Yes, Vincennes was a big client, but he wasn’t the firm’s biggest client. Why was Hardy in Gotham rather than Boston?

Bruce’s car drove under a bridge in Gotham but didn’t drive out. It was one of his mini batcaves hidden throughout the city. Through another seemingly unconnected exit, soon Batman and one of the batcycles roared out. He was on his way to Ethan Hardy’s Gotham office.

He made another call on the way. “Alfred, I need you to find a quick answer to something for me. Why did Ethan Hardy choose to represent his firm in this business? He could have assigned it to another associate, he didn’t.”

Alfred typed swiftly on the keyboard. “Ethan Hardy had a two month lapse in his education. He had submitted a letter dropping out of law school but it was retracted and his Grandfather almost successfully erased any record of it, almost. Apparently the younger Hardy had also applied to the Le Cordon Bleu but the day his withdrawal from college was reversed the culinary application was withdrawn.”

When Batman arrived Hardy was setting down to lunch. ‘Hello Batman, the Commissioner said you’d be stopping by. This business is exhausting. Our client is rather unhappy as you may imagine. Care for half my sandwich, it’s a quick lunch but pleasant.”

Actually I’m looking for anything that might point to who the villain is. Have you had any unusual activity with anyone, anything you would consider suspicious? Did anyone say anything you might not expect?”

‘I’m a lawyer Batman. My clients are out of their element when they come to me. They’re always nervous, anxious, a little off. It’s when they’re not that I worry.”

“I once represented Lex Luthor for example. He and a group of co defendants were facing serious charges. I was on the verge of getting the charges dropped, he seemed fine when I left him.”

“That night one of his co defendants blew up the jail they were in up, and my plea deal went out the window with it. Lex fired me and hired another firm, the judge suddenly disappeared along with the primary witnesses. Luthor walked but I looked bad, I didn’t like it, but what was I to do?”

Batman thanked him and made his exit. He noted the sandwich came from the best diner in Gotham, Stan Bonner’s place. On the way to the airport he called Gordon. “No proof yet but Hardy is our man. I’m going to see Luthor, for once he might be on our side.”

He toyed with the idea of showing up as Batman, instead Bruce rolled up in the newest limo in Metropolis. Luthor met him by the time he stepped off the elevator. “Bruce, it’s so good to see you. You know my CEO and fiancé Mercy, and my Executive Assistant Otis? These members of the press are here for an interview.”

Take your time Lex. I was hoping to discuss some other business when you’re finished. Is there a place I can wait until then please?”

He was conveying to Lex two things. First he was being nice, second he meant no harm. The third thing, that he needed something had been obvious when Luthor saw Bruce’s plane land on his Lexitron surveillance.

Luthor smiled please enjoy my office I should be finished in five minutes. Bruce didn’t bother to touch anything, he knew of course that he was being watched. Luthor walked in alone and the room sealed. “What brings you here?”

“You’ve no doubt heard what happened to Joker and the others, I think the man behind it used to represent you, Ethan Turner Hardy. Although he’s going by Boil now.”

Luthor laughed, “Old Eat Hearty finally snapped huh? He almost blew his top the day I fired him. Oh he’s been a ticking time bomb for years. At least that’s what Dent said, he’s from Gotham you know? He was born there, but his Boston Grandfather needed another heir when his brother rebelled and Ethan was drafted.”

‘He attempted his own mutiny by escaping to France and Culinary School, but his Grandfather wasn’t allowing another rebellion. This grandson was told to say goodbye to the girl he loved, the career he wanted, and go back to law school. He was in my social circle and seemed controllable so I finally hired him.”

Bruce looked out the window. “When did you find out he wasn’t as pliable as you thought? When you fired him?”

“No, it was the day he grabbed me by the lapels and hit me. I had insulted him and he didn’t like it. I broke his nose, and he dislocated my shoulder. I was tempted to eliminate him, but I thought his brand of crazy might one day become useful. Maybe that day is soon.”

“Lex he hurt the others just enough to embarrass them. Is he that crazy, that ignorant, or that arrogant? What am I dealing with, also who was the girl?”

Lex looked sincere. “He’s as crazy as he is brilliant, and he’s stronger than he looks. The Grandfather wasn’t happy but he also doesn’t know everything. Ethan did secretly marry the girl, her name is Sandra Riley.”

Bruce didn’t move. “How do you know that? I didn’t run across this information.”

“I mentioned Dent, he was Best Man at the Wedding. Back then he was able to hide the records so the Grandfather and her family wouldn’t find out. Neither approved or the marriage, she’s Rupert Thorne’s Granddaughter. The old Hardy worked for him but neither wanted their families together.”

“For once Lex I owe you, though you could have called me. One last question. Is Two Face one of his victims or still his Best friend?”

Lex smiled. “I’d love to say flip a coin but I won’t. Two Face told me this stuff years ago, he didn’t call me on this recent incident. I had talked to him when I dug up dirt to control Hardy.”

“Joker did call, he suspects Boil had help. I didn’t tell him anything, I was curious to see how many grudges Boil actually held.”

“Would they go after you, the older Hardy, and Thorne? Is this more about revenge or greed? How much danger are we looking at?”

“Boil really did cover his tracks well didn’t he? They forced his Grandfather into retirement. Sandra convinced her cousin to turn states evidence against Thorne. It’s why he’s in prison now. He’s already hurt me with this Boil fiasco when the stock sank, who do you think really bankrolled Vincennes? I’ve controlled him for the last five years. He was integang I until I started building him up.”

“Lex the limo outside is the first in Wayne Enterprises’ newest line, please accept as a gift from me with my thanks. This was a pleasant conversation, goodbye.”

Lex was about to ask how Bruce was going to get back to the airport, except that Bruce was already gone. He simply was gone. Lex started laughing.

He knew how he did it, once Bruce disappeared the small drone inside the hologram was exposed. Bruce wanted him to see it now. He had never been there to begin with. Lex had been talking to a hologram projected by a minute reflective drone.

A drone which broke apart and disappeared when the acid self destruct sequence harmlessly ate its motherboard and other parts. Lex was impressed when he was outsmarted, as long as it didn’t mean he was going to prison, or that his plans were thwarted. He hurried to the elevator to see his new car.

Batman stood on the top of the Daily Planet. It looked now like he had most of the pieces, but something didn’t feel right. Revenge, pride, insanity, power, and greed the typical motives of the Gotham underworld.

He had dealt with revenge before, Bookworm’s recent adventure came to mind. Pride more than revenge had been the center of Clock King’s feud with Egghead. This didn’t feel like either, it felt like power and greed. Batman needed to talk to one more person at the Daily Planet, and it wasn’t Superman.

“Hello Perry, it’s been a long time. I need a favor. It’s a day for them apparently. Can you tell me what you know about Alastair Hardy, Ethan Hardy, and Rupert Thorne.”

“I’m an old reporter, and old reporters don’t believe the headline. I can guess what you’ve heard but it leaves out a lot. The older Hardy didn’t order Ethan to go back to college, he bribed him. He explained if he would go back and become a lawyer, Ethan would get control of the family, including the power that came with being Thorne’s Comptroller.”

“An Rupert Thorne, he did go to prison, but it was by choice. His granddaughter didn’t turn evidence against him, she testified to protect someone. It’s up in the air whether it was for his sake or hers. Amanda Waller wouldn’t want the world to know who her maternal Grandfather is.”

“The apple doesn’t fall far as they say. Anyway she kept Killer Shark from killing Thorne, then forced Shark to work for her rather than going back to prison for attempted murder. Ethan’s wife, Rupert’s other granddaughter, has the goal of becoming the new Thorne. They say with not only Thorne’s approval but by his choosing.”

Batman looked at White. “What’s your take on the attack on the villains? Was it real?”

“It looked real, it felt real, but I just kept thinking one thing. It couldn’t be real, who plays a joke on the Joker? Also, why would Hardy attack his best friend Dent? The others I could buy, but not those two, even in Gotham.”

“Thanks Perry. You’re still a great reporter. You should give yourself a bonus, you just broke the story of the year.”

Perry didn’t look up, he knew Batman was already gone. He sighed. “Doesn’t either of them know how to use a door?”

When he returned to the batcave, it was time to draw out the new villains, Boil and the new Thorne. To show them how things really went in Gotham. Wayne Enterprises made a surprise announcement that they were buying the culinary network Boil had taken his name from.

They were also offering a million dollar reward for Boil’s capture. This was a direct response to Boil’s last threat, made while Batman was away. Only this wasn’t in the form of a video, but a comment emailed to the Gotham Gazette website.

“To all of Gotham, you’ve done well so far, but it’s time to go ala carte. I want fifteen million dollars or the suburbs of Gotham are going to boil over with toxin. You’ve got 24 hours, signed you know who.”

Batman made one more visit, this time to Arkham. “I know why Joker did it, he’s crazy enough get a kick out of playing a reverse practical joke. That and Hardy paid him two million to rig his own attack. Why did you do it Harvey?”

Two Face smiled. “Simply friendship, Ethan saved my life not once, but twice. It’s also why I only took a million. The friendship occurred long before my pension for the number two. The application for the contest was real for each of us. Ethan didn’t approach us until the night before the contest.”

“He offered us each a bundle. He’s as rich as they come but he was poor in commodities when it came to Gotham underworld. Him and the new Thorne want to be big fish, what better way than to take Gotham by storm at the expense of its big bads?”

“If he’s your friend why are you telling me this Harvey? You have to know I’m going to stop him. What do you hope to gain?”

Two Face looked at Batman. “Ethan’s Achilles Heel is his anger. He could get so mad that he’d burn the house down around him rather than be outsmarted. You’d go after him without me talking to you, but this way you know. Do whatever you have to Batman, but please take him alive, and keep him that way?”

Batman left Arkham cold. Dangerous, deadly, and crazy how many times had he dealt with that combination? It usually ended badly, how could he keep his promise to Harvey? There was only one way, and it made Batman very sad.”

That evening Gordon showed up as Sandra Riley was leaving her office. “Sandra Riley, or should I say Sandra Casia Riley Hardy, you’re under arrest for assault, attempted murder, and criminal activity.”

It was broadcast on every newscast in Gotham, and in Boston. Within the hour Boil in full costume and his specially designed assault plane attacked Gotham PD to rescue his wife. Batman and the Batwing were ready for him.

It was a fierce battle across the sky of Gotham. Boil had plenty of firepower, but he had never faced Batman before. Once Batman had determined his fighting pattern, he forced him down. Immediately Boil went after Batman on foot.

The villain was far stronger than he appeared but was still no match for Batman. Boil used a wrist crossbow to shoot toxin arrows, but he deflected them with his cape. “Hardy, it’s time to turn yourself in.”

“I don’t think so Batman. I’m in no mood to go to jail or Arkham. I’ve got a better idea.”

Before he could make his jump to the river below Batman said something. “What will she do without you? Are you going to be selfish, or are you going to care for your wife?”

Hardy didn’t hesitate, all of his anger and desperation left him. He removed his mask, “you win Batman, for now.”

Gordon put them in adjoining cells. In Gotham the danger is never over, but it was temporarily stilled. Hardy and his wife would not become the heads of Gotham’s Underworld this time, but they had made their mark.

It didn’t matter that he would lose his license to practice law, or that his firm abandoned him. Hardy didn’t need to be a lawyer to think like one. Luthor had given him more than a broken nose all those years ago. He had given him a get out of jail free card.

The only real witnesses against Boil and Thorne were the villains, they mysteriously and conveniently escaped Arkham the next night. With the majority of the witnesses and the judge recusing herself because of previously working for Hardy’s firm they were released on bail. The two used the opportunity to promptly disappear.

Batman knew they were probably in one of Rupert Thorne’s underground mansions. He would have taken time to find them, had he not been dealing with Joker and Two Face’s latest schemes. Gotham had two new villains, and Batman had more on his plate to deal with than ever before.

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