#20 – Made In America, Part 1

A young boy, perhaps nine or ten years old strolled down a street in Gotham City just after 8 p.m., carrying a bag full of groceries. His parents were going to be home soon after working a twelve hour shift at the factory – and it was up to him to bring the raw materials to make dinner home.

He walked with his head down, cringing at every voice, every crash of breaking glass, or clink of aluminum cans hitting the street. Just like every week, he prayed that he would be left alone to complete his small mission – or that he would simply slip through unnoticed.

But tonight, he realized as he saw tall shadows blocking his way, that would not be the case. There were three shadows – one took the paper grocery bag from him and began emptying the contents onto the street. Another shadow shoved him into a brick wall. The three shadows then began laughing as they picked up the most valuable of the grocery items and wandered off, fading away into the darkness of the street.

The boy sighed as he looked at what was left – a loaf of bread and a head of lettuce, both purposely torn open and cast into the rain-slicked street. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked down again, quickly shuffling toward home. His mom and dad would be very disappointed…again. For the second time this month, they would spend the week hungry – sadly, there was no more money for groceries.

One day, he remembered his dad tell him, they would have enough to move away from this place. Enough to afford food for the entire week, and to be able to safely transport it home. And maybe enough to have a real home, with electricity and telephone.

As the boy rounded the corner into an alley between rows of crumbling apartment buildings with boarded up windows, he sighed. For now, this was home. And in spite of his dad’s dreams, he instinctively knew that there was no escape.

One day he would be bigger and stronger, like the shadows which took his groceries…and maybe he could become a shadow himself. Someone who rules this place, instead of being crushed by it. One day…he would be king.


It was unusually cold that night, as Batgirl crouched inside a window well alcove several stories above the street to shield herself from the icy rain which was falling, as she silently watched and waited.

Robin sat next to her, casually leaned back against the wall of the building next to the window. He seemed so relaxed, he could have well been asleep – while Batgirl, on the other hand, wrapped herself in her cape and hoped that Robin wouldn’t notice her shivering.

“A little chilly out,” Robin whispered. He looked at Batgirl, who still crouched at the end of the rear of the alcove, wrapped in her cape. He could see her breath as clouds of smoke as she stared straight ahead, refusing to speak or gesture a response. “I know Bruce asked us to wait outside…but he didn’t say where.”

Batgirl looked at him for a moment as he carefully forced the window open and slipped inside the building, motioning for her to follow. She did so, without speaking a word…but she did silently wonder where he was leading her, and how upset Batman would be when he found out they weren’t outside.

Batman was in the building across the street, which was taller than the building she was following Robin through at the moment. He was the one who picked the alcove because it gave an excellent view of the street and most of the building across the way.

As she followed him up a flight of stairs toward the roof, she began to wonder if he’d been in this building before. He seemed to know the place pretty well. She followed him through a door and onto the roof, only to be greeted by icy rain pelting her leather costume. She was almost ready to curse him for luring her up there…

…until she realized where they were headed. One corner of the roof, just above the alcove where they were hiding earlier, was covered by a glass pyramid. It was some sort of greenhouse.

Robin opened the glass door, and she followed him in quickly to get away from the relentless icy drops of rain. He closed the door behind them, offering her one of three plastic lawn chairs left there by the garden’s caretaker.

She sat down quickly and rolled into a ball, wrapping herself in her cape. It wasn’t much warmer in the greenhouse than in the alcove…but at least it was dry and less windy.

“You’re hopeless, you know that?” Robin joked. He leaned over Batgirl suddenly…and she turned around to see that he was turning on a propane heater installed in the greenhouse which had been installed by its builder to keep the plants from freezing on cloudy Gotham winter days. It was powerful, too – warmth began oozing from pipes along the bottom of the walls almost immediately. “How are you going to survive the winter?”

“I wear more layers under this in winter,” she replied in a whisper.

“What’s under the costume now?” Robin asked. He almost didn’t expect an answer after Cassandra gave him an icy glare.

“Not much,” she replied, eyeing him as she suspected her answer might make him more curious. “Something, but not much.”

“Ah. Underwear.” Robin leaned back in his chair, ignoring the even colder glare Batgirl sent his direction. “Does it match the costume?”

“Shut up,” Batgirl warned. “At least I wear mine inside the costume.”

Robin whistled out loud. “Ouch. That hurt, Cassandra. You’re becoming more like Barbara every day.”

Batgirl gave Robin an icy glare before removing a set of powerful binoculars from a pocket on her belt, quickly unfolding them to look at the building across the street. It was a four floor office tower stacked atop a four-story factory, totalling eight floors tall. The roof of the building she was on was about the level of the sixth floor across the street.

And Robin was right. They did indeed have an excellent view – the sixth floor was where she caught fleeting glimpses of Batman moving from office to office. He was searching for something, trying as much as possible not to leave any evidence of it by moving furniture or leaving drawers open.

“The factory across the street’s a sweat shop,” Robin whispered as Batgirl silently watched. “That’s why it’s camouflaged to look like part of the office tower.”

Batgirl nodded silently, dropping the binoculars in her lap as Batman vanished across the hall to more offices. “In Gotham?”

He nodded. “The workers probably live in broken down apartments near here.”

“Or under here.” Batgirl pointed around the greenhouse at the sparse foliage and hand-cleaned panes of glass with rusty steel between them. “This is…hope, put here by someone who has none.”

Robin looked around at the greenhouse quickly as he remembered the empty, crumbling apartment and dark stairway they used on the way up to the roof. “You know…you’re probably right. Nice going, I didn’t know you were so observant.”

She smiled, her eyes closing for a moment as she remembered the rose bulbs she had planted somewhere on the grounds of Wayne Manor, and watered daily. She made a mental note to herself to check on them later. It was own her symbol of hope.

“Don’t you feel lonely sometimes?”

Batgirl turned to face Robin just as she raised the binoculars again, giving him a suspicious look.

“It’s just that…most of the time you’re either fighting with Bruce, or hiding from him. Sure it’s a big house, but–”

“Sometimes I do”, Batgirl interrupted. She paused long enough to smile at Robin. “But you’re always nice to me…so are Barbara and Alfred. I survive.”

Robin smiled and waved a finger at Batgirl as she returned to her binoculars. “Don’t let Bruce hear you use the word ‘survive’. He’ll tell you a whole story about bats being survivors.”

Batgirl shrugged. “I’ve heard it.”

She looked up suddenly as the sound of the rain suddenly changed from a light tapping on the glass to louder clacking. It was falling harder now, and leaving a shiny coating atop the glass panes of the greenhouse.

Robin removed a small electronic device from his belt and pressed it against the glass for a few seconds. A number flashed on its small display for just one moment. “It’s dropped below freezing. The building’s going to be really slick.”

“We’ll just stay in here.” Batgirl looked at Robin for a moment, and found him looking back, before she wrapped herself in her cape again and leaned her head back against the glass behind her.

A few seconds of silence passed as Robin removed his binoculars and watched Batman attempting to open a safe in an office across the street. “Might as well. Batman’s doing a thorough job, he’ll be there for a while.”
“I hate freezing rain.” A young man, perhaps eighteen years old, wrapped his jacket tightly around him as he watched his friends approach through the darkness through a window. Well…they were less friends, and more like employees – though he let them think they were ‘partners’.

They would rob neighborhood residents of money and food, and return them to their hiding place – not that they needed one, since the cops never lifted a finger to stop them. The hideout happened to be a storage room for a factory which was closed at that time of the night. The factory’s owners had no clue that the room was being used after hours…and they probably didn’t care.

“Big score, Zeke,” one of the returning ‘partners’ said, “Some old guy was carrying 1200 bucks.”

Zeke held out his hand and waved his fingers in the younger man’s direction. “Great. Hand ’em over.”

“But…what about my cut?”

With that, Zeke whipped out a switchblade in a blur, slicing open a gash on the younger man’s arm, forcing him to double over in pain. “There’s your cut. Now hand it over.”

He handed the bundle of money to Zeke, and started backing out of the small room quickly. “You’re crazy man. You’ve totally lost it. I’m not coming back here again.”

“Yes you will,” Zeke said calmly, “Or the others will be hunting for you tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. Get the picture?”

The younger man, blood flooding down his arm, backed up until he felt the wall behind him, and then slid down to the floor. He mumbled something unintelligible to himself…but the expression on his face confirmed the realization that he knew he had no choice.

“Any competition yet?” Zeke asked.

Most of the young men he’d recruited from the street shook their heads, bringing him a smile…almost. One young boy simply bowed his head, avoiding Zeke’s gaze. “Who is it?”

The boy looked up slightly, but remained silent at first – up until the point where Zeke drew his blade again and took a step toward him. He stammered something quickly just to stop Zeke from slicing him to bits, though at first it made no sense.

“J-Joker’s g-gang has been m-moving in.”

“You’re lying,” Zeke said, dismissing the boy as he turned to walk away.

“I’ve seen ’em. Guys with white painted faces wearing purple and green. I’m tellin’ you, they’re around.”

“Me too. I’ve seen ’em too.” another youth volunteered.

“Anyone else seen ’em?” Zeke asked. Another round of shaking heads. “All right…I’m getting us some weapons for tomorrow night. I’m not letting ’em on my streets. I’m still the king around here.”
The minutes seemed to run together as Batgirl sat in a plastic chair, leaning her head back against a glass pane and looking straight up through the glass insulating her from the freezing rain falling outside. Inside the greenhouse, it was warm…toasty, even. She wrapped herself in her cape more for comfort than to conserve heat.

Robin was still all business, and highly vigilant. He divided his attention between looking through his binoculars at Batman sneaking around the office building across the street, and glancing around the greenhouse to make sure no one was visiting the roof.

Batgirl, on the other hand, had her own method of watching the area around them. She remained perfectly still and silent, until she could hear every frozen raindrop tap on the glass around her. It wouldn’t take much of a sound to break her concentration and earn her attention…only problem was, every time Robin moved, she felt disturbed by the sound of the fabric of his costume rubbing together.

“Let’s go.” Robin suddenly said.

The two words Batgirl found most irritating – just when she had warmed up and relaxed, now she would be forced back out into the cold. She stood reluctantly, cringing as Robin opened the door, allowing a blast of icy air into the warm greenhouse…

…and promptly slipped and fell on his back. “Ow,” he groaned, slowly propping himself up against the doorway.

Batgirl removed a cable launcher from her belt, waving it under Robin’s nose. “Want to try that again?”

He frowned at her before removing a launcher of her own, waiting for her to lead the way. She aimed at a ledge on the building across the street…and then Robin stopped her.

“No. It won’t be able to retract if ice forms on the cable. We’ll have to walk down.”

“You walk down,” Batgirl responded. She tossed her cape behind her as if to underscore what she planned to do – dive off of the building, using the cape as a parachute. She knew full well that Robin’s lighter, smaller cape lacked that ability…but she didn’t care, as she still felt annoyed at having been pulled from the warm greenhouse.

“Hey, wait,” Robin whispered behind her. He waited for her to stop and turn to face him. “How much weight can that cape support?”

She sighed and waved for him to move closer to her. “One way to find out.”

Robin barely had time to scream silently as Batgirl suddenly clipped two climbing hooks to his belt and pushed the both of them off of the edge of the roof. He heard a loud ‘whoosh’ as Batgirl grabbed the fringes of her cape tightly in her gloved hands and strained it, trapping as much air as possible beneath the cape to slow them both. But…

…they were still going too fast. She heard Robin audibly gasp as she purposely aimed for a large car parked on the side of the road. With a crunch of metal and the sound of exploding glass, the two of them tumbled from the roof of the car onto the hood.

Batgirl quickly unsnapped the two climbing hooks and stood, tumbling off of the ice-slicked car onto the pavement. She didn’t let it slow her, though – she stood quickly, placing one hand on the slippery pavement to stabilize herself before she raced quickly to the alley, where the Batmobile was parked.

Once she slipped the Batmobile’s remote from a pocket on her belt and opened the car, she glanced behind her. Robin was doing his best to keep up on the slippery street – his softer shoes, designed more for acrobatics than traction, weren’t making it easy for him.

“Come on,” Batgirl slid back to the entrance of the alley once she realized that he had been hurt in the fall, which was slowing him down even more. She pulled his right arm across her shoulders, gently helping him into the Batmobile, climbing in herself a moment later. “Are you okay?”

Robin nodded, pausing to take inventory of himself again before giving her a weak smile. “Yeah. I just…landed badly.”

She closed the top of the Batmobile and slipped her mask off, sliding into the passenger seat as she watched Robin crawl into the nearly non-existent back seat and curl into a ball. He seemed to be in pain, yet he was trying to be brave about it. She didn’t quite understand why at first…but then she figured it out by recreating the landing in her mind.

A slight smile formed on her face, but quickly disappeared, as she realized how insensitive that was. A light throb from her leg confirmed her suspicions – when she had landed on the car, she attempted to break her fall by extending her feet below her, collapsing her knees, and rolling onto her back, just as Batman taught her to do.

What she forgot…was that she was carrying a passenger – and that the act of breaking her fall had caused her knee and thigh to slam into…well…everything between the legs and chest of her passenger during first impact. Cassandra didn’t even think about it before – because when she released the climbing hooks and sat up, Robin was on his back on top of her. She remembered having to push him off.

“I’m really sorry–” she started to say, before Robin finally sat up and leaned back in the rear seat.

“It’s okay. Really.” Robin whispered. “I’ll take a little pain over becoming road kill any day. Besides, if you hadn’t jumped off of the building voluntarily, we probably would have slipped and fallen off due to the ice.”

“The ice.” Cassandra bowed her head and gently smacked her forehead. “That’s why we came down so fast.”

“That’s right.” Robin nodded slowly and smiled to spite himself. “The freezing rain made your cape too heavy.”

“I’m so sorry,” Cassandra apologized again.

“You know, Cassandra,” Robin continued, “Maybe Bruce is right…maybe you are a little reckless and crazy. I was never more terrified than the moment you threw us off the building.”

“I’m–” Cassandra started to say again.

This time, Robin interrupted her by covering her mouth before the word ‘sorry’ came out again. “On the way down, however, it was one heck of a thrill. Sure, it ended kind of…painfully. But at that moment…” Robin smiled suddenly. “Now I know. I understand perfectly.”

Cassandra gave Robin a confused look. “And?”

“It’s because you can see the result…you can see how everything will work out–” Robin leaned closer to the front seat wincing as he felt pain from his ribs. “–and it all seems so easy to you. Easy as falling off a building, in this case.”

“Hmm.” Cassandra leaned back against the front passenger seat and shrugged. She hadn’t actually thought about any of that before…which is why Robin’s thoughts rang true. It was indeed easy for her, and her actions were as quick as her thoughts. Need a quick way down? Just jump off the building. It truly did seem so simple and logical to her. “Maybe you’re right.”

Silence suddenly took center stage as the shadow of Batman approached the car. Cassandra slipped her mask back on just as he opened the car and climbed in, removing it again after Batman was secured inside. He gave her a cold look as a result – he knew what she was up to – but she ignored it.

“How did it go?” Robin asked.

Batman shoved a folder in Batgirl’s lap – it was full of newly made copies. He began driving the Batmobile as finally spoke. “Zachary Key, known to his friends as Zeke. He watched his parents die at the Joker’s hands.”

“Just like–” Cassandra looked down at the folder as she caught an icy glance from Batman.

“Except he vowed to take the city from Joker. He’s forming his own gang–”

“So why was he on file at this office?” Robin interrupted.

Before Batman responded, a half hour of silence passed. It was almost as if he couldn’t concentrate both on speaking and driving at insane speeds toward the Bat Cave. Once the Batmobile pulled into its parking space and stopped, Batman opened the door, and Cassandra and Robin followed. He then paused to finish the conversation he started a half hour ago.

“It’s a sweat shop. Zeke and his gang have been employed by the factory to make sure none of the employees – all illegal aliens – become brave and decide to turn the owners in to the authorities.”

“But I think,” Bruce said, as he pulled off his mask suddenly and headed toward his computer console, “The file on him was placed there just in case. So if police ever search the factory’s records–”

“I think I get the picture,” Robin said. He then headed up a stairway toward the house to change.

Cassandra, on the other hand, simply stood there, looking at the file still in her hands, and then at Bruce. He glanced for a moment at her, and then at the small steel closet where he would store his costume.

After a moment’s pause, he pointed at the folder. “Give this to Barbara,” he said, before disappearing into the small steel closet.

Before even bothering to change herself, Cassandra raced up the stairway into the house, and headed straight into the study. Her guess paid off – Barbara was there, seated in a comfortable chair with her wheelchair nearby. She was quietly reading a book in front of the fireplace.

Cassandra headed straight for her, approaching her from behind. Without a word, she waved the folder under Barbara’s nose.

“What’s this?” Barbara asked. She ended up answering her own question before Cassandra spoke a word, as she opened the folder and began leafing through it. “This is interesting. Very interesting.”

“What?” Cassandra asked. She sat down on the arm of the chair, trying to look over Barbara’s shoulder.

“I know this Zeke,” Barbara said, holding up a few papers from the folder. “Back when I was–” She suddenly stopped, worried that she was about to tread on a gentle subject.

Cassandra followed Barbara’s gaze down at the yellow bat symbol on her chest. She gave a slight smile to show that she wasn’t the least bit offended by Barbara’s trip down memory lane.

“When I was Batgirl,” Barbara continued in a softer voice with renewed confidence, “I broke up his gang a few times. He started forming it as a teenager.”

Cassandra shook her head slowly. “He’s gonna get himself killed.”

“Yeah, I know,” Barbara whispered, “One of these days, he’ll anger someone powerful, like the Joker.”

Nodding politely, Cassandra looked at her own gloved hands, wondering to herself if they would end up killing again. She happened to be referring to herself…not Joker. She didn’t want to tell Barbara that…because it scared her.

But she didn’t have to. Barbara could read her reaction. “Are you worried that he’ll force you to kill him?”

Without giving a verbal answer, Cassandra gave her a weak smile, just for a moment, before looking down at her hands again. That’s when Barbara reached over and squeezed both of Cassandra’s hands in hers.

“These doubts you’re having are good, Cassandra,” she said calmly, “They show that you’re learning and growing as a person. But don’t let them affect your judgement. Lives are at stake every time you go out at night.”

Cassandra nodded slowly. She knew Barbara was right, because her own fears were not the source of the doubts running through her mind. She was more afraid of disappointing Barbara, Tim…or even Dick and Bruce.

“One more thing,” Barbara said, looking around the room for shadows before lowering her voice again. “This…sweat shop you found tonight. Families are being hurt by this place…and kids, too.”

“You…want me to shut it down?” Cassandra smiled and rose to her feet, slowly. To date, only Batman had been allowed to take on such ambitious projects. Batgirl and Robin were simply a support team.

But Cassandra’s hopes were momentarily crushed when Barbara answered by shaking her head quickly. “If you do that, the families will no doubt be deported. See, that’s the handle the factory owner has on them. He virtually owns these people.”

“Hmm.” Cassandra rubbed her chin gently, leaning back against the arm of the second chair alongside the one Barbara sat in. “So how…?”

“They can be freed…but it would take a huge sympathy vote by the people of Gotham to keep them here.” Barbara smiled and leaned on one arm. “We’d have to secretly get the press involved. Batman has done it before, but it takes a lot of planning. That’s something the computer in the Bat Cave can help us with.

Cassandra noticed Barbara attempting to pull herself out of the chair to climb back into her wheelchair. She moved stood in front of Barbara’s chair, offering her a hand…but wasn’t at all surprised when Barbara declined.

Instead, Cassandra watched in amazement as Barbara slid forward in the deep chair, placed both hands on one of its arms, and then launched herself over the side of the chair and into her wheelchair. She was smiling as she straightened herself, and noticed Cassandra staring. “Pretty amazing for someone who can’t walk, huh?”

“Yeah,” Cassandra laughed. She led the way down to the Bat Cave as Barbara followed.
A Gotham City police officer stopped his car and sighed as he noticed a man in a tattered coat and long, scraggly beard curled up in the doorway of a closed shop. The steel blinds covering the windows and door were a fairly good indication that the store wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods, prompting the officer to check the man out.

He turned the car’s spotlight on the doorway and climbed out of his car, grumbling about the fact that he had to leave the warm comfort of his car to brave the freezing rain and deal with some miscreant.

“All right…on your feet.” the officer said. The man ignored him completely…so he approached cautiously, pulling up on the man’s coat as he got closer. “Let’s go. This isn’t a hotel, bub.”

The man still refused to budge. Even as the officer pulled him up by his arm, he just hung there like dead weight, shivering.

“Possible code six,” the officer said into his radio, looking down the street at the nearest intersection. “I’m on sixth street. Request backup.”

The man finally looked up, shivering uncontrollably as he tried to force a few words from his quaking jaw. “C-Can’t…w-walk. S-some o-one stole…wh-wheelchair.”

He slumped back into the doorway as another police car pulled up, red and blue lights flickering throughout the street. A large officer stepped out and headed toward him.

“Clarkson, right?” the larger cop asked.

The officer who had arrived first nodded.

“You’re new here,” the larger cop said, as he slowly drew his nightstick from his belt, “You don’t know how to deal with these types yet.”

“No…p-please!” the old man sputtered.

“Hey, wait,” Clarkson started saying, “He was saying that he can’t–”

Before Clarkson finished his sentence, the first blow from the larger officers’ club struck the shoulder of the old man. He howled in pain, his screams echoing off of the surrounding buildings.

“Stand down, officer!” Clarkson yelled, his voice nearly muffled by the sounds of the old man crying and begging as the larger officer raised his club again. “I said, stand down!”

“I outrank you, Clarkson!” the larger officer yelled back, “Either back me up…or don’t bother to report for duty tomorrow.”

Before Clarkson could protest again, the larger officer brought his club down upon the old man again. More screams of pain. Clarkson became numb as the other officer brought the club down again, and again. The echoing of the old man’s screams began to fade into the darkness around him…and then it stopped.

Clarkson took a step forward to look closer as the larger officer backed away. He was lying in a quickly growing pool of blood, which ran with the rainwater across the sidewalk toward the drain. “Oh, hell,” he whispered as he began walking backwards slowly, “What did you do?”

“Hey, the mayor himself wanted these filth off the streets,” the larger officer said calmly as he slipped the night stick back onto his belt, “He didn’t move when I asked him to.”

“What the hell did you do?” Clarkson yelled this time. He angrily shoved the larger officer…who promptly shoved him back. “I’m reporting this. There’s no way–”

“You do, and your career is over.” The larger officer stood in front of Clarkson, pointing a finger accusingly at him. “You’ve got a wife and a new kid, Clarkson. Think they want to see you go to prison?” He tapped the gun at his side gently. “Or worse?”

“Are…are you threatening me?” Clarkson asked, his voice wavering slightly.

The larger officer shoved him again. “Go home to your wife. Go on…get out of here.”

Clarkson sighed, hanging his head as he returned slowly to his car. Before he opened the door, he glanced up at the top of the buildings nearby…but there was nothing. He remembered hearing the urban legends about a man dressed as a bat…and he kind of hoped that such a man would be a witness to what had happened this night. No such luck.

He did go home to his wife that night…and he told her everything he had seen. When she asked him why he didn’t do anything to stop the larger officer, he only shook his head and began crying.

That night, as he awoke during one of his bouts with a fitful sleep, he realized that he had a visitor. A large shadow, the shape of a tall man, wearing a cape. One eye blink later, the shadow disappeared. But after that, he was finally able to sleep soundly. There was indeed a Batman…and he had seen everything.
Cassandra walked through the Bat Cave, noting as she did that the Batmobile was missing. He apparently had returned earlier just to bring her and Tim back – and then he went right back out again. She felt a little jealous that she wasn’t invited along, but she also could appreciate his need to work alone once in a while. Sometimes she wanted to work alone, too.

Barbara rolled across the concrete floor of the Bat Cave in her wheelchair, just ahead of Cassandra. She was rolling down a wide ramp, heading directly toward the computer center.

It amazed Cassandra to see how quickly and easily Barbara worked with the computer system – she must have truly been a marvel as Batgirl. Cassandra was far from being technically illiterate, but, as Barbara’s expertise seemed to accent, there was always room to learn more. Barbara knew everything; every inch of Bruce’s computer system, and how each of his devices were designed.

She watched for a moment as Barbara began looking through the public library computers with frightening efficiency. They weren’t exactly open to just anyone…but Barbara seemed to find their security to only be a minor distraction.

“Can you teach me to do that?” Cassandra suddenly asked.

“Huh?” Barbara seemed confused at first, her concentration on her work having been broken by what seemed like a question out of the blue. But after a second or two, she figured out what Cassandra meant. “Oh. Yeah, I guess I could. You really want to learn this stuff?”

Cassandra nodded. “I want to be as good at it as you are.”

Barbara stifled a laugh. “That takes a lot of time, Cassandra. If you want to do something to impress Bruce, then learn more about the Batmobile than he knows.”

“No.” Cassandra shook her head…but then paused thoughtfully, and smiled at Barbara. “Well…maybe. But not to impress Bruce. I just want to know things.”

“That’s good.” Barbara smiled. “Sure, I’ll teach you. If you really want to know a lot, though, the man to ask is standing right behind you.”

Cassandra turned around slowly, expecting to see Bruce standing behind her. After all, he had an annoying habit of sneaking up on people and just standing there, silently, until he would be discovered by accident. But instead, in his place, was Alfred…just as silent, as a result of training himself to stay in the background.

“Alfred?” Cassandra asked.

“Sure,” Barbara laughed, “He sees everything that goes on around here. Even things I don’t know about. Right Alfred?”

“Absolutely, Barbara.” Alfred smiled at Cassandra. “When shall we begin our lessons, Cassandra?”

Cassandra looked at Barbara, and then back at Alfred. “Won’t Bruce be upset?”

Alfred chuckled and placed a hand on Cassandra’s shoulder. “Why Cassandra, who do you believe taught Bruce? Did you assume he was born with the knowledge?”

She had to smile at the mental image of a small child named Bruce Wayne skulking around the dark corners of Wayne Manor. Of course, the concept was ludicrous…he had to have a teacher.

“Uh-oh.” Barbara whispered, loud enough to attract the attention of both Cassandra and Alfred. “Remember when the mayor said he wanted to clean up the streets of Gotham? Looks like some cops took it too seriously.

Cassandra leaned over Barbara’s shoulder at the computer screen. A small homeless advocacy newspaper showed fuzzy pictures of a bloodied old man with a beard, with the headline, ‘Mayoral Decree Claims First Victim’. The neighbors, who wouldn’t be identified, said that the police did it – and that the victim was a Vietnam Veteran who couldn’t walk. The local news web sites had no such information…as if the story were simply being swept under the rug. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Barbara whispered, “I really don’t know.”

With that, Alfred headed back into the house to finish a few errands…and Cassandra wandered outside, this time in a heavy raincoat. She wandered to the edge of the property, to a spot she had visited many times before.

She was a little afraid as she approached the small grove of trees next to the walled-in border of the Wayne Manor grounds. It had been raining off and on lately, but she had forgotten to return and water the rose bulbs for a few days. She feared that nothing would be left but shrivelled buds and overturned earth. But as she approached, she realized there was a lot more.

Several small leafy vines were beginning to grow, but they lacked support. They leaned away from the tree line, looking like they were in danger of falling over. She looked at the small piece of green wire mesh she had stolen from the gardener’s shed and carried out there – she brought it just in case her fear of the roses’ demise was unfounded. Now it would come in handy.

Cassandra gently shoved the wire mesh into the ground as close to the rose vines as possible, making sure it was secure. When she drew her hands back, one of them brushed against a vine…and came away with a scratch. They had thorns already. She felt a little amused that something she had planted learned to defend itself before it did anything else.

Then she just stood and watched them for a moment in the moonlight as the freezing rain pounded on her raincoat, and left a glittering icy coating on the vines in front of her. The image of the old homeless man with a beard, beaten to death in a doorway, flashed through her memory for a moment. It was done by cops, the people charged to protect the citizens of Gotham.

She frowned and took a deep breath as she watched the rain come down. It wasn’t fair – Bruce thought she was dangerous…yet she couldn’t stomach the thought of an innocent man, unable to run away…beaten to death by clubs. Her hands clenched into fists. What if the next victim would be Tim, or someone else she knew? Or…she thought with a painful cringe…what if it were Barbara?

Something had to be done…she knew that much for sure. And something would be done. Tomorrow night, she would put a stop to it once and for all.


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