by Starsky Hutch 76 and Blackwolf247
Helena Wayne and Rachel Levine finally had their sparring match in the Batcave’s gym, but it was a much more amicable affair than either participant had originally anticipated. Between moves they were joking, laughing, chatting, and gossiping.
Helena was surprised to see that Bat Lash had been right. They really were a lot alike, and they seemed to be getting along fabulously now that the original awkwardness of their first meeting was behind them. She found herself wondering what it might have been like if Dick and Rachel’s mother had stayed together. She might have been like the little sister Helena had always wished she had.
Rachel surprised her by dodging a kick and then leaping over her in a somersault to land and grab her from behind. Helena surprised her in return by using her own momentum against her with a flip that sent her flying.
Rachel landed gracelessly on her rump and looked up in surprise. “I didn’t see that coming.”
“In this line of work, you need to be ready for anything,” Helena said, holding out her hand to help her to her feet.
“It’s definitely a lot different than my karate lessons as a kid,” Rachel said. “You seem to go from one fighting style to the next without even thinking about it.”
“I was trained by the best: Batman, Robin, Catwoman, and sometimes Wildcat.”
“I thought your father didn’t want you to be a hero,” Rachel said.
“He didn’t. But he did want me to be able to take care of myself. Sort of like Maury letting you learn what you did.”
“Yeah, but I don’t think I’d be ready to put on a costume and go out and start knocking heads.”
“I don’t know about that,” Helena said. “You handle yourself pretty well, though your style might be a little conservative right now. The bad guys aren’t playing by any rules, so you have to be ready for that.”
“Yeah, I–” Rachel was cut off by a loud buzzing sound and flashing red lights. “What’s that?!” she exclaimed.
“Someone tripped the silent alarm,” Helena said. “There are intruders in the mansion.”
Franko Morelli peered around at the posh surroundings of Wayne Manor. Not much had changed since the last time he had been here years earlier. This time, he didn’t plan on being busted.
“Which room is the butler in?” Winforth asked.
“Upper left quarter,” Franko said. “Blondie’s supposed to be in the upper right, but she’s working late. Glad she’s gone. I don’t like hittin’ dames.”
“A necessary discomfort if she had been here,” Winforth said. “And one for which my employer would have rewarded you quite well, I can assure you. Quite well, indeed.”
Franko gave a half-grin/smirk and said, “Yeah, Melody’s got it bad for Grayson, don’t she?”
“Yes, all of Miss Melody’s emotions have some level of badness to them. Even the good ones,” Winforth sighed.
This drew another chuckle from Franko. A cough came from behind them, and the two men turned and looked back at the enormous group of street thugs they had taken on for hired muscle — Los Muertos, a street gang renowned for its violent tactics whose members were self-styled mercenaries for hire. The veritable army of gang members stood, looking on anxiously as they awaited their next order. The motley group looked painfully out of place in the lush surroundings of Wayne manor. This sort of thing was all-too new to them. They were used to carjackings, muggings, and street-level dope deals. Strictly small-time stuff. Most of them had probably dreamed of breaking into a place like Wayne Manor, but had never dared even try to get past the security. This seemed like some sort of surreal fantasy to them.
Franko snapped them out of their awestruck stupor by shouting, “Get on the stick, boys! You won’t be getting another chance like this anytime soon!”
The scruffy gang members let out enthusiastic whoops as they jumped into action, running about the house to pillage any valuables. Most of them had brought sacks to fill with loot, as Franko and Winforth had instructed.
The two older men turned at the sound of shattering glass, and Winforth’s face drained of color. “Good Lord, man!” Winforth exclaimed as he spotted a large young man tossing China behind him as he dug through a cabinet. “Have a care, you lout! In your search for valuables, you have managed to destroy priceless antiques!”
“You mean dat wuz wort’ sumthin’?” he grunted, looking down at the shards of porcelain on the floor.
“Give me strength not to murder any of these people,” Winforth said, raising his eyes upward. “And I do realize I am using the term people loosely.”
Franko chuckled. “Remember, we came here for something a lot more valuable than all this stuff. If letting these monkeys run amuck offends your delicate sensibilities, then don’t watch.”
“Good advice, old friend,” Winforth sighed. “I may find myself forced to raid Grayson’s supply of fine spirits before this is over.”
“Now there’s an idea,” Franko said.
“If any of you finds a wooden box filled with jewels, that belongs to us!” Winforth called out to the gang members over the noise. “Any attempt to purloin this item for yourselves rather than turning it over to our mutual employer will be a most fatal mistake, I assure you.” This caused many of them to pause long enough to give him a nervous look before returning to their pillaging.
“Funny how you can use all that fancy talk and still sound threatening,” Franko said.
“What are we going to do?!” Rachel exclaimed.
“What else?” Helena said. “Go upstairs and take care of matters.” She looked at one of the monitors showing the thugs ransacking her childhood home. “Those @$%^&,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Won’t it look a little strange — a lawyer and a dancer handling all those guys?” Rachel said.
“I meant after we slip into costume, of course,” Helena said. “We can say we responded to the silent alarm.’
“Ahem,” Rachel said, her hands on her hips as she frowned.
Helena looked up from the monitor. “Oh, yeah. Sorry. I was a little distracted.” She looked around the room and then pointed to an old glass case. “There — the original Robin suit my father wore when he first started training to be a hero. It should fit you.”
“There’s no R,” Rachel noticed.
“He didn’t call himself Robin. That started with your father.”
“So what will you call me?”
“I dunno. I guess if I have to call you something up there to get our attention, I’ll call you Sparrow,” Helena laughed.
As Rachel donned the suit, she exclaimed, “It’s a little tight in the chest!” She attempted to button the tunic and found it would only go up to mid-chest.
“Don’t worry about it,” Helena said. “I’ve found that works out as a great distraction for the enemy.”
“I bet you have,” Rachel quipped. When she tried to put on the original mask, she found that the original adhesive had dried up long ago, so she took a green scarf, cut two eye-holes and tied it around her head.
“Looks great,” Helena said. “Know how to handle a bow-staff?” she asked, tossing the martial arts weapon to the girl.
“Only since I was ten,” Rachel said.
“Great. Then lets go get those SOBs out of our house.”
“My records indicate that name is already taken. Fictional source.”
“Patriot? Wait, already taken. I know. American Man?”
“Yeah, but it sucks,” Terry Lee Travis sighed.
From his hiding place in a tree on the other side of the street, Terry Lee Travis continued to peer through his night vision goggles as gang members filed into Wayne Manor. “Times like this, I wish I were a member of a team,” he said to the voice on the other end of the communicator.
“We are a team, of sorts,” the voice said.
“Yeah,” he said. “But it’d be nice to be able to hit my JSA communicator and summon some back-up. Maybe someday, if I live through this.”
As he scanned the colonial-style mansion, he could see silhouettes in nearly every downstairs window. “Looks almost like they’re having some sort of gang bangers convention. I’m sure Grayson’s not a willing host, either.”
He knew he couldn’t simply wade in there and take them all on. Even with his Navy Seal training, there were too many of them. He couldn’t simply leave Grayson to their tender mercies, either. “I’ve got to do something.”
“I’m going in.”
“Very well. I’ll search for the JSA communicator signal to try and alert them to what is happening.”
Terry reached down to one of the pouches attached to his belt and pulled out the crossbow attachment for his wristband and popped it into place. “Don’t alert anyone until I give you the signal, EAGLE One. I don’t want Grayson getting hurt in the crossfire.”
He took aim at the window seal beneath an upstairs window and fired. A rope now hung from the window seal and led to his wrist. He removed the wrist attachment and secured it to the tree. He removed another device and attached it to the rope. He grabbed the handholds, and the motor kicked to life, guiding him silently along the rope until he reached the window.
He knew the intruders had already disabled the alarms at this point, so there was no need to worry about that. He removed a tool from his belt, slipped it into the window’s lock, and jimmied it open. Once the window parted, he climbed inside. He couldn’t believe his luck. He’d landed in the bedroom belonging to the man himself.
The sleeping figure suddenly rose up, looking at him, as if through a fog. Terry wondered how in God’s name Richard Grayson could have slept through the racket the thugs downstairs were making but be awoken by his silent intrusion into the room.
At the sight of Grayson, he knew instantly how he could have slept through the racket. He was badly beaten. For a split second, he thought the gang members had already gotten to him. Those weren’t fresh bruises, though. Obviously, he had been mugged some time earlier. “Wow, talk about your bad days,” Terry muttered.
“Who are you?” Richard Grayson asked, slurring his words.
“U.S. Male,” Terry said.
“You’re with the post office?” Grayson asked.
“No. Uh…” Terry stammered, caught off-guard. “I’m still working on the whole code name thing.”
“You’re Lee Travis’ younger brother’s kid,” Grayson said, surprising him again by the mention of his uncle, who had been the Crimson Avenger. “I remember you from the service we had for him when we found out he’d died a couple years earlier. Jay, Ted, and all of us wondered if you would eventually pick up where he left off. You sort of look like a flag-colored version of him.”
Terry couldn’t help but let out a gasp. He didn’t know who Ted was, but he knew Jay was a reference to Jay Garrick, the Flash, who was now running for president. Grayson had described the service the JSA had held for the Crimson Avenger after the explosion that had killed him. Dick Grayson was obviously a member of the JSA, too, and he had a strong suspicion which one, given his age. Getting Grayson out was no longer enough. These gang members had to be driven out. If they continued to be allowed to ransack the house freely, they were bound to uncover his secret identity. First things first, though: get Richard Grayson to safety.
“Are there any secret passages in this old house?” Terry asked.
The injured man raised his arm slowly and pointed to a section of wall. Terry started to feel around the area for any hidden switches or buttons. Grayson staggered next to him and gave a series of knocks on the wall. A hidden door suddenly opened, revealing the secret passageway.
“Pretty neat,” Terry said.
“I thought so, too, when I first saw it. Believe it or not, Bruce didn’t have to build these. They were already here.”
That helped confirm who he thought he was. Yet another reason to keep him from the enemy. Whatever blows he had taken to the head were making him indiscrete.
After closing the secret entrance behind them, Terry helped Grayson along the shadowy hallway, guiding him with an arm around his shoulders for support. Every once in a while, he would come across a sliding panel with a pair of eye-holes. As he looked through them, Terry pictured the movies he had seen where there would be a painting whose eyes followed the hero as they walked past.
Through these openings, he could dimly hear the crashing and smashing of the gang members as they ransacked the downstairs part of the mansion.
He was about to ask for directions to the nearest hidden exit to the outside when he felt Grayson go limp. He looked and saw that the older man had suddenly slipped into unconsciousness. He sighed and thought to himself that the one thing he would have given most for now was a plan. EAGLE One might have sounded like a professor, but that was just his programming. If he was to succeed here, he was going to have to think himself out of this mess. But how?
Melody Jones watched the commotion from the comfort of her long, dark limousine that sat a safe enough distance away from the action. Next to her sat a man who possessed a maniacal hatred for Richard Grayson that nearly matched in strength her own maniacal love. His name was William Lodgkins Defoe. After a recent meeting, the two of them had decided that they would work better together than at odds. The culmination of that meeting was the attack upon Wayne Manor.
“Is it everything you hoped for?” Melody asked.
“And more,” he said eagerly, his eyes wildly animated. “Do you think he is in there?” he asked.
“We never saw him leave,” she answered. “If he is, Winforth has given your thugs strict orders that he is not to be harmed.”
“And if he is?” Defoe asked.
Melody said nothing. She simply drained the silver goblet from which she drank, held it up as if displaying it, and then crushed it in her hand as if it were made of paper.
“Point taken,” Defoe said dryly. “What of his woman?” he asked. “If she should show up, I think she should be slain — slain before his very eyes. Erase any hopes he’d ever had of a life of happiness.”
“What need does he have of happiness when he has me?” Melody said smiling. “I will give him eternity.”
Sure, Defoe thought to himself, but an eternity with you would be nothing short of Hell, which is all I have ever wished for Dick Grayson. As Melody filled up another goblet of wine, Defoe smiled at her and raised his own and clinked it to hers in an unspoken toast. Both their gazes then drifted back to the mansion.
Terry Lee Travis checked his pistols, making sure both of his military-issue, nine-millimeter pistols were loaded with mercy bullets — that is, rubber bullets that would render human or animal targets unconscious rather than dead.
As a trained former member of the U.S. Navy Seals, Travis had no qualms about killing when necessary, but his feelings in this case were that it would be better if the people currently tearing apart Wayne Manor were taken to prison rather than the morgue. Some of them might have some valuable information — information that might not be available if he killed the wrong ones.
“Hey, Travis,” Richard Grayson whispered. “Your uncle was the Crimson Avenger, right?”
Travis looked over toward the battered and seriously injured attorney, concerned about the question, since they had already had this conversation and had established this fact. Grayson’s injuries were making him not only indiscrete but also forgetful. He whispered back, “Yes. So?”
Grayson coughed and said, “Instead of the U.S. Male, why not–” He coughed again and gasped, “–the U.S. Avenger?”
Travis liked the sound of that, and was about to agree when he noticed something. Grayson was unconscious, and his vitals were low — how long had he been unconscious, anyway? Could he be communicating with his mind instead of his voice? Travis idly wondered. He already suspected that the late Bruce Wayne had secretly been Batman, which in turn would make this man Red Robin. But, Travis considered, nothing in any of the books I read said anything about them having ESP. He shrugged and dismissed the thought. Obviously, Grayson must be slipping in and out of consciousness. That was why he was able to make his name suggestion and then fall back into his stupor.
Then he listened closely, his ear pressed to a listening device he had placed on the wall. “Jose! Manuel! Come on! Jesus found something most interesting,” one of the gang members said, pronouncing the name Jesus as hey-zoos. “Say, what is this room, homes?”
“We think it’s where that chica used to sleep — look at this poster of that #%*^@ David Cassidy, man!” he laughed.
“Hey, homes, what did Jesus find, man?”
“Grayson’s room, and he had been there recently, amigo. His bed was still warm, and there was fresh blood in it.”
Travis prepared to go through the secret doorway when he heard footsteps in the corridor he and Grayson were in.