Christmas Eve, 1978:
Twenty-one-year-old Helena Wayne whistled a Christmas melody as she adjusted the garland over the French doors in her new townhouse. The feelings of guilt over moving out of her father’s home were still there, but his constant reassurances kept those feelings dampened most of the time. “A young woman with a career needs to be out on her own, not anchored down with her old man,” he had said.
Since finishing law school the previous spring — the youngest in her class by several years — she had been splitting her time between working at the law offices of Cranston & Grayson, studying for the bar exam, and embarking on her nighttime activities as the Huntress. Having a place of her own made it much easier to keep her double identity a secret from her father.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. She picked it up. “Hello?”
“Helena! Glad I reached you at home!”
“Dick? What’s up? Something you need me to bring to dinner tonight?”
“That’s the problem, Hel,” said Dick Grayson. “Alfred and I are stuck in London, and we won’t be home until sometime tomorrow.” Helena’s eyes widened as she realized what the man she’d long considered to be her older brother was saying.
“You mean — Dad will be alone at the manor tonight? On Christmas Eve?”
“Yeah. There was a problem at Heathrow as we arrived from Capetown, and there aren’t any flights leaving for the States until later tonight.”
“A problem? A problem involving Robin, perhaps?” said Helena as she reached for the television remote and turned to the twenty-four-hour news station.
“Um, yeah. Some guy with a bomb; he was taken down, but they aren’t letting any planes fly until they sweep the whole airport. Man, I’m so sorry I talked Alfred into coming with me on this trip.”
“Don’t be. Ever since you got that post, he’s talked about going to South Africa with you. Look, I’ll pack some things, and I’ll stay out there with Dad tonight,” said the young attorney as she watched a news report detailing the capture of a hijacker in London.
“Good. If things go as planned, we should get into Kennedy Airport in New York around seven in the morning. I’ve got the company jet there, and we’ll fly right out.”
“You want me to light up the barn for you?” asked Helena, referring to the old barn on the grounds of Wayne Manor that disguised the underground airplane hangar used by her father years before.
“I just might,” replied Dick. “Give Bruce our best, and tell him we’ll be there for brunch.”
“I will, Dick. Safe journey.” Helena hung up the phone and scurried around the townhouse, packing an overnight bag. She looked at the oversized shoulder bag she had taken to carrying for the last year or so, shrugged, and slung it over her shoulder as she headed out the door.
“Not coming, eh? I was afraid something like this might happen,” murmured Bruce Wayne after hearing the news from his daughter. “Hard to get upset about it, considering the number of holidays I missed around here.” Bruce gave her a hug and continued, “Well, we’ll just muddle through, as Alfred would say. How about an early, light dinner, with a smorgasbord of cheeses and such later in the evening, dear?”
“Sounds great, Dad. Let me put my stuff in my room, and I’ll help you get it together.”
Three hours later they were sitting in the dining room, talking about the latest happenings in Gotham. Most of the discussion centered around crime, since Bruce had assumed the mantle of Police Commissioner two years earlier.
“Having the JSA meeting regularly here in Gotham has helped keep criminal activity down. But then, I’m sure you and the rest of the JSA already know that,” said Bruce with a smile.
“Me and the rest — what are you talking about, Dad?” asked a startled Helena.
“Come on, Hel. How long did you really think it would take me to find out?”
Helena gave in to the inevitable. “So, how long have you known?”
“Three months,” said Bruce, sitting back and pulling a pipe and tobacco pouch from his shirt pocket. “You’re very good, you know. It took me a year to be sure that it was you, even with the obvious homages to your mother and myself in your costume.”
“Wow. I thought you might have figured it out as soon as I went public after battling the Strike Force with Wildcat and Star-Spangled Kid.” Helena took a final bite of the mince pie, then looked over at her father. “You’re not mad, are you?”
Bruce chuckled as he lit his pipe. “Mad? Hell, baby girl, I’m proud of you. If you had asked me first, I probably would have objected, but there’s no mistake about it — you were born to be the Huntress.” Bruce cocked his head as the police band radio in the living room came to life.
“All units in vicinity of Brooklawn and Levitz, fire in progress at the Brooklawn Apartments. GCFD requests assistance with rescue and traffic control.”
Bruce looked over at Helena, who was already starting to rise from her chair. “That’s not far from here,” he said.
“I know,” she replied. “I’m going to–”
“You have your working clothes?”
“Good. Meet me down in the cave — three minutes,” said Bruce, a grim smile on his face as he rose from his own seat.
“You mean–?” said a startled Helena. Then a smile broke over her own face as she dashed off to her bedroom. “Can I drive?” she called as she ran.
Fire Battalion Chief Larry Gilbert stood at the curb of Brooklawn Drive watching the men and women under his command fight the blaze that was engulfing a four-story apartment building. He saw a truck from Gotham Gas and Electric pull up and directed a team of firefighters to assist them in getting the gas service to the building shut off. “At least we’ll have that out of the way,” he said to Captain Mike Todd, who stood next to him relaying orders over the radio.
“Too late for the folks in the back apartment, though, Lar,” said Todd, shaking his head. The initial report was of an explosion at the back of the building. A jet of flame shooting up around the back wall when the first firefighters arrived was enough to signal that a gas line had ruptured in the building.
“Maybe, or maybe we’ll get lucky. Have to concentrate on getting the other floors evacuated; they still have a better chance of being alive.”
“Weldon and Abington Companies are making their way up now, and–” Mike Todd hesitated as he heard a new voice coming over the radio. It came through on the headset worn by Chief Gilbert as well.
“Gotham Fire, this is Huntress, inbound on Levitz. What’s the situation? Over.”
Larry nodded for Mike to answer. “Gas explosion on first floor of four, one family evacuated from first floor; we have teams on the second floor, and they’re on their way up to the third and fourth floor, with possible victims stranded in rear apartment of first floor.” He broke protocol to add, “I hope you’ve got the rest of the Justice Society with you, ma’am.”
“Sorry, just myself and one other. But we’ll do what we can, sir. We’ll be approaching from the back. Huntress out.”
A block away, the Huntress put the microphone back on its clip and looked over at her father as he drove the big, midnight-blue car up over the snow-covered curb and pulled up behind the burning building. A wall of flame reached from the ground, up past the second floor despite the efforts of three hose squads. “You sure you’re up for this, Dad?” she asked.
“I’m not as young as I once was, but I still keep in shape, Hel. You have your headset on?” Bruce tapped his ear to indicate what he meant. When she nodded, he continued. “Stand by; I’m opening the top. Stand up on your seat and ready a line.” Her father flipped a toggle switch on the dashboard, and the glass dome over the front seats of the vintage Batmobile lifted up and back. As one, they stood up as he counted down. “Four. Three. Two. One.”
WHOOOMPH! Compressed air tanks under the seats were released, and the seats themselves rose three feet into the air. Father and daughter were hurled into the air, each of them swinging a weighted silken cord up ahead of them to wrap around outcroppings on the building.
A dozen firefighters looked up in awe as, for the first time in too many years, Batman took to the air of Gotham City.
“I think I see her, sir. Up on the roof.” Mike Todd pointed to where he saw a violet cape billowing in the heat of the fire. “There’s someone with her; looks like — no, it can’t be!”
“Who is it, Mike?” asked Chief Gilbert. “I can’t see them from here.”
“Naw, it can’t be him. I can’t see them now; they must have gone inside already.”
At that moment, a voice came over Chief Gilbert’s radio. “Sir, you’re not going to believe who just showed up to help us out!”
Inside the building, on the fourth floor, the Huntress kicked open the door to one of the apartments. “Anyone here?” she cried, coughing on the smoke that was making its way up from below.
“In the bathroom,” came a response. Closing the door behind her, the Huntress crossed the living room decorated sparsely with old-fashioned decorations, some homemade, and slipped down a hallway. Two bedroom doors stood open. She stopped at the third closed door.
“I’m here to get you out,” she called. The door opened, revealing an elderly couple. “Come on — I’ll get you up to the roof, then we can lower you down in the front of the building.”
“Oh, thank God! We heard the explosion, and the stairwell was full of smoke. Paul thought he saw flames down below, then when we tried to get out to the fire escape in the back, it was hanging loose from the wall.”
“I saw that. Looks like the initial explosion caught the bottom of it and pulled the supports loose,” said the Huntress as she led the couple out. “Was there anyone else here with you?”
“No, it’s just the two of us,” said Paul as they emerged from the apartment into the now-smoke-filled corridor. “But the Ingrams, across the hall — they’ve got four children.”
“Let’s see if we can get them now,” said the Huntress, kicking the door on the other side of the hall. It opened onto a room full of people gathering up clothing, bedding, and a few wrapped packages. “Leave that! Let’s get you all to safety,” she said.
“You heard the lady, kids,” said a heavyset woman in her late thirties. “She’s gonna get us out of here.”
The Huntress touched a hand to her belt buckle, activating her radio. “Gotham Fire, have you got an aerial truck that can reach the roof?”
“We have one running two hoses trying to keep the fire below the third floor, Huntress. A second one is arriving now for rescue operations.”
“Copy that. I’m bringing people up to the roof now.” As she spoke, she led the group of residents toward the stairs leading up to the rooftop. She turned when she reached it. “Can you make it up on your own? I need to check downstairs.”
Paul and his wife nodded. “I’ve got it from here, ma’am. I would have tried going up sooner, but I had no way of knowing if it would do us any good.”
“Good. Godspeed,” said the Huntress as she started down below to join her father.