The Huntress: Aces and Eights, Chapter 1: Standoff

by Bejammin2000 and Immortalwildcat

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“Son, you’re in way over your head. These past ten months you did good, but not tonight.” The speaker was called Slow-Go, because he was always slow to go. The man sitting across from him was some twenty-something nobody who just happened to look like he stepped off a riverboat. Hell, he even had a flower in his hatband, and he called himself the Maverick, of all things. Who did this kid think he was, the Gambler?

“Firstly, I will not be called kid, son, junior, half-pint, sawed-off, runt, boy, or any other term of demeaning that reflects my youth. I’m the youngest player — get over it. And secondly, are you sure you got me beat, pops?” the Maverick replied. Other than the thin smirk on his lips, he showed no emotion.

“Yeah, I’m sure… boy. Straight flush,” Slow-Go said, laying down his cards, a deuce through six of the diamond suit.

“Damn, that is a very good hand,” the Maverick commented. Slow-Go sneered and reached for the chips.

“But… not good enough,” the Maverick added, showing his hand with a flourish — a royal flush in spades. And with that, the last table still playing, this month’s round was over.

The Maverick whistled a tune as his money was counted, then handed to him. It was a good system. Pay twenty thousand dollars, get an amount of chips equal to that value, a twenty-five-dollar chip being worth twenty five dollars. At the end of the evening, each chip value was worth a quarter. That same twenty-five-dollar chip was then worth twenty five quarters. That way, everybody left with money — three folds and you were out, but you got money like everyone else. The rest was then added to the pot for the winner. Usually ten million dollars was the total.

“Ten thousand, two hundred and thirty-seven. Nice take tonight, huh?” asked the money manager, Abacus, so-called because he could do math very, very quickly. As he spoke, he gave the card sharp Maverick a carpetbag full of said money.

“Yeah. See ya in thirty,” the Maverick replied. He was getting closer. In the Derby, you got a point for every thousand dollars won, and he was in the lead by a hundred points, with two months to go. Hell, he even had forty thousand dollars collectively from his winnings. He never won less than ten thousand. He’d have to hit the local games to get entry money for the next month, though. But he had plenty of time to do that.

“Plenty of time, indeed,” the Maverick said to himself as he made his way to the motel he was staying at.

***

The back room of the pool hall was smoky, but that suited the Maverick just fine. It was frightening how he could take five thousand and turn it into twenty thousand in one night. He had nearly half a million just from gambling in the regular dens.

“Just youse an’ me, kid. An’ I got youse all figured out. Youse been playin’ me for a fool.” The man was big and brawny, but could play one hell of a game of cards. That’s why they called him Ace.

“Have you, now? Who’s to say that I haven’t been leading you to that assumption?” The Maverick stated his question, which caused Ace to raise an eyebrow.

“Huh?”

“I could’ve been bluffing because I need to. Or I did it to give you a false sense of security. And now that I know that you know I may be bluffing, I can’t lose.”

“Screw it. I fold,” Ace said.

“Good thing. I had crap,” the Maverick said, placing down his hand. He had a pair of deuces. You could almost hear the blood boil in Ace. But the Maverick hadn’t cheated, so there was nothing that he could do.

With that, the night was over, and the Maverick had more money than when he came.

While this illicit monetary transaction was happening, someone was taking great interest in it.

“Gambling dens. I hate gambling dens,” the Huntress said to herself. Whereas crimes like robbery and murder were savage beasts that attacked the city, gambling was a cancer that ate it from the inside out, buried deep and far reaching.

“Time for some symptom relief,” the Huntress said grimly. That’s all she was doing, she knew: relieving the symptoms, not curing the problem.

“Twenty thousand dollars. Almost makes me sick how good you are,” the money man said to the Maverick.

“Well, fortune, luck, and chance favor those who take risks,” the Maverick replied.

It was at this time that the Huntress crashed the party, and everything went wonky.

“Time for me to make my daring escape,” the Maverick said, grabbing his carpetbag. He figured that the goons that guarded the place would be enough of a distraction for him to escape.

Unfortunately, the goons never faced anyone more challenging than a disgruntled drunk. The Maverick was almost to the door when he was stopped by a crossbow bolt. “That’s a little too close for my comfort,” said the Maverick, staring at the bolt near his feet.

The Huntress had to admit that the man was dressed oddly. He looked like he’d fit better in a New Orleans saloon or a riverboat on the Mississippi.

“You going to give up? Or will I have to convince you?” the Huntress asked, loading a new bolt into the crossbow.

“That’s a very good question. Name’s Bat Lash,” he said. “Now, you can call me Maverick. Oh, and I see your crossbow and raise you a Derringer.”

The aforementioned revolver appeared in his hand from up his sleeve. “I don’t want to shoot you, but I will if I need to,” the Maverick added.

“Looks like we’ve got a little standoff, then,” said the Huntress.

“Not really. You gotta worry about Ace of Clubs right there,” the Maverick said, knowing the Huntress wouldn’t fall for that trick under any circumstance.

But she didn’t figure that the man would tell the truth. By the time she had the thug subdued, the Maverick was gone, and only the flower that was in his hat band remained.

“Somehow I think we’ll meet again, Bat Lash,” Huntress said, picking up the daisy.

***

A low rumble echoed throughout the cavern, but the raven-haired woman did not look up from the computer screen. As a sleek, dark red car pulled into its spot, the sound echoed off into a relative silence that was broken only by the sound of heated metal cooling and the hiss of two hydraulic doors.

“Hey, I didn’t expect to see you here tonight, Helena. Everything all right?” Red Robin pulled the cowl off his face and smiled at the woman who was, for all intents and purposes, his kid sister. Behind him, the young hero called Batwing pulled a fuel hose from its place and started filling the tank of the Red Racer.

“Oh, hi, Dick. Heya, Jason.” Helena Wayne looked up from the terminal and rubbed her eyes with her palms. “I thought I might have better luck with the computerized records you have here than the books at the Brownstone.”

“Have a run-in with one of the JSA’s bad guys, Hel?” called Batwing.

“Not quite, though I think he might be related to one or two guys the JSA met. You remember that case the Society had with the League, when we met up with a bunch of heroes from the past?”

“I heard about it, sure. A Viking, a World War II fighter pilot, a couple of gunslingers from the old west, and a few others, right?”

“That’s the one, and one of those gunslingers went by the name of Bat Lash. Tonight, I broke up a gambling den, and there was some clown dressed up like an old western gambler, and he gave the name of Bat Lash. Looked and acted like he could be working with the Gambler, though.”

Dick Grayson seemed amused. “Of all the villains to hook up with, this guy has picked a real loser. Don’t tell me this guy gave you a real fight.”

“Not really. He managed to get the drop on me with a hidden Derringer, then I had to take care of one of the other players who I thought I’d knocked out. When I was finished with that, this Maverick was gone.”

“Did you say Maverick?” asked Jason Todd, now finished with the refueling and coming over to join the older pair. He continued in a western drawl, “Ah’ll see that there knife, son.”

“And raise you a Derringer,” finished Dick. Both of them raised their left hand, and together said, “SHAACKT!”

“What the–?” asked Helena, looking from one to the other.

“Come on, Hel. The Maverick! That was part of the schtick!”

“What schtick?”

“On the radio.” Jason dashed over to a console near the workout area of the Batcave, then came back with a box of cassette tapes. “Dick got me into these old radio shows. Maverick was a popular one from the late ’40s. Matt Maverick, a gambler with a heart of gold in the Old West.”

“And if he’s our world’s version of that Bat Lash that the JSA met, or a descendant of our version, he’s got the Old West ties to go with the character.” Dick leaned over the keyboard and started typing. “I don’t know if it will help, but I have all of the U.S. Census data in here since 1890. You can see if there was a Bat Lash living anywhere in the country, or at least in the areas where the census was complete.”

“OK, I’ll check that while you two go up and get changed. I’m sure Sonia is driving Alfred to distraction by now.”

As Jason headed up the stairs to Wayne Manor, Dick stayed behind. “How’s the adoption process going?”

“I’m not sure,” replied Helena as she studied the screen. “I know I have everything in order, but the judge seems to be stalling.” She looked up at the older man. “I wonder, though — am I doing the right thing? Adopting her, that is?”

Dick laid a hand on her shoulder. “Helena, Sonia has no family to call her own. She’s just like I was when my parents died: all alone. I think it’s becoming something of a family tradition, taking in orphans.”

Just a few months ago, before Halloween, twelve-year-old orphan Sonia Alcana had been the lone survivor of a massacre at the Wayne Home for Children. Although the crime had never officially been solved, the JSA and the Junior JSA had discovered that an occult force had been behind it. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Fear the Dark, Chapter 6: Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite.]

“I think you’re right, Dick. And she’s a good kid — strong, smart. She’s already asking questions about the work we do, so I think she’ll want me to start training her. Think the world is ready for another member of the Bat Family?”

“I know it is.”

***

“Ms. Wayne, I found that book you were looking for,” one of the librarian assistants said. Helena couldn’t find much on Bat Lash, but there was info in spades on Bartholomew Lash.

“Thanks,” Helena said to the young man, taking the rather heavy book. This was going to be a long night.

Of course, the book wasn’t just about Bat Lash; it chronicled several heroes of the Old West: Johnny Thunder, Nighthawk, Scalphunter, and the more mundane ones, such as Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and Buffalo Bill Cody. And it had some good information on Bat Lash.

Unfortunately, it was nothing that Helena could use. Though it did say he was last seen in Shanghai in the 1920s, or so said the account of the World War One German flying ace, Hans Von Hammer.

***

In his motel room, the Maverick was readying himself for the night’s festivities. Currently, he was wearing his trousers and an undershirt. He was adjusting his spring sleeve, as well.

“The Odessas are having a game tonight. Wonder if they’ll let me play?” the Maverick asked himself as he finished his adjustments and reached for his ruffled shirt.

***

It didn’t take the Huntress long to discover the pattern of the Maverick’s appearances. That was why she was across the street from the Kiev Delicatessen, a known Odessa facility.

“Right on time,” the Huntress said to herself. She spotted the Maverick, bag in hand and flower in band.

The Huntress usually wasn’t impulsive, but the Maverick had embarrassed her. He tricked her by not tricking her. It was complicated, yes, but she didn’t like it, not at all.

The Maverick noticed the small sound, the pok. He moved his hat higher up his head as he looked up and saw the black line. “That can’t be good,” he said, commenting on the line. A small zipping sound confirmed his suspicions.

“Well, nice to see you again. Knew I was irresistible,” the Maverick said. Almost immediately, a crossbow bolt hit his right forearm on the inside. He flicked his wrist, and nothing happened.

“How the hell did you know that?” the Maverick asked. The bolt somehow jammed itself into the mechanism.

“I did my research,” the Huntress said with a smirk. “All spring sleeves have something in common: the lever that releases the spring.”

“Really?” asked the Maverick, grabbing the bolt and pulling. Nothing happened. He adjusted his grip and pulled again, and nothing happened. It was jammed in good.

“Really,” the Huntress replied. Of course, during this exchange of bluffs, Murphy’s law decided to play its hand in the form of a large Odessan enforcer named Boris, who yelled something in Russian.

The Maverick turned to the Huntress. “What he say?”

“He’s blaming you for leading me here.”

“Oh.”

With a roar, Boris charged the two. The Huntress, being the more athletic of the two, leaped over the Russian. The Maverick wasn’t as capable of doing so and took the hit, quite heavily, to be truthful.

“OK, mister Mack truck, you wanna throw down, you got one!” the Maverick exclaimed, rolling to his feet. True, he didn’t have access to his pistol, nor was he carrying his belly gun, but he wasn’t without arms.

See, the Maverick had two rigs, one for his Derringer on his right arm, and one on his left. This one carried five playing cards — five razor-edge playing cards. It wasn’t a unique gimmick, but it would work, hopefully. He drew out a card and twirled it in his fingers. Boris was pushing the offensive against the Huntress.

“Hey, mister Mack truck! Pick a card!” the Maverick yelled, throwing the card. The way Boris turned caused the card to slice against his chest.

The scream echoed throughout the Russian neighborhood, which attracted Boris’ colleagues.

Three men dressed in sharp suits stepped out of the Kiev Delicatessen, all brandishing Mikhail Kalashnikov’s brainchild.

“Ahhh, damn…”

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