by Ben Sloane
An hour later, Red Robin and Batwing perched atop two stone gargoyles overlooking Gotham City’s fashion district. Beneath them sat the city’s newest nightclub, Seventh Heaven, host that night of a high-profile charity gala.
“You think this is it, Red Robin?” Batwing asked.
“It’s just a hunch, Batwing,” Red Robin replied. “The Gotham Children’s Fund hopes to raise over five million dollars in donations tonight. I’d already planned for us to stand watch, just in case any of Gotham’s other unfortunates got ideas about helping themselves to the take.”
“But you think Batman and Robin will be here, too, right?”
“It makes sense, in a Gotham City kind of way,” Red Robin said. “Today, they thwarted a crime at First Gotham bank, prevented the murder of three mayoral candidates, and saved five babies.”
“One, three, five…” Batwing said. “Then, seven — Seventh Heaven!”
“With each intervention, they’ve also advanced more into the public eye,” Red Robin continued. “They allowed themselves to be caught on video camera, then appeared in front of reporters at the mayoral debate. After rescuing the Madison quintuplets, they waited for reporters to arrive. If Batman and Robin want to introduce themselves to Gotham City with a bang, then tonight’s gala is just the ticket.”
“It looks like we won’t have to wait long!” Batwing yelled. “Look!”
Through the skylight, Red Robin and Batwing could see a man with a machine gun advancing toward the twenty-foot-tall fishbowl containing the evening’s cash donations. He fired into the air. The caped crusaders could hear screams of panic all the way to their vantage point. Quickly, a group of men joined the first in surrounding the cash. All had guns to hold the crowd at bay, and each man wore a different type of face-concealing mask.
“The False Face Society!” Batwing said.
Like the Injustice Society of the World, the False Face Society resurfaced every few years, never with the same exact membership. Sometimes a master criminal, seeking to disguise his identity, fell in with the False Facers; usually, though, random hoods seeking easy money and an easier reputation formed a loose coalition under the False Face name.
Red Robin and Batwing dropped to the roof of the nightclub. They leaned over the hole in the skylight where the first thug’s bullets had shattered the glass.
“Nobody move!” yelled one of the group, a man wearing a pig-faced mask.
Another False Facer stepped to the front of the group. This one wore a mask crafted to resemble Richard Nixon.
“We are the False Face Society!” he boomed. “Give us the money, and nobody gets hurt!”
“Except you!” Batwing muttered as he pulled his bat-line from his utility belt. Red Robin placed his hand on the boy’s arm and shook his head, no.
Below, the False Face Society members packed cash and jewels into large sacks. To Red Robin’s relief, no one in the crowd attempted any heroic gestures.
From the kitchen area, two large platters flew through the air like a pair of frisbees. Each struck the head of one of the False Face Society, knocking them to the ground. Batman II and Robin II appeared, swinging from two chandeliers high above the heads of the nightclub patrons.
The pair of new heroes went into action, taking out two more of the gang before any could react. The crowd panicked. At that moment, thousands of balloons and confetti streamers fell from the ceiling. In the confusion, Batman II and Robin II had clear shots at the bewildered gang members. The giant collection bowl toppled. Robin II leaped atop it, guiding it with his feet like a log in a river, and took out the last of the gang by rolling over him. The entire mop-up lasted less than ninety seconds.
“They’re good,” Batwing said, impressed.
“Let’s see how good,” Red Robin replied.
Batman II and Robin II disappeared into the chaos of terrified nightclubbers, balloons, and string. They ducked through an empty kitchen, found a hidden emergency stairwell at the rear of the building, and ran up six flights of stairs to the roof. As they crawled through an access hatch onto the rooftop, Batman II shined a powerful penlight onto the far corner. He pulled Robin II through the opening. They raced to the corner and looked frantically around the surface of the roof and over the edge.
“Looking for these?”
Batman II and Robin II whirled to face Red Robin and Batwing, who held two nylon cords in his hand.
“I wondered when you two would cross our paths,” Batman II said.
“Wondered?” Batwing said. “Or feared?” He punched his fist into an open palm.
“Take it easy, youngster,” Red Robin said under his breath, so that only Jason could hear.
“Bring it on, ‘prom date’!” Robin II yelled.
“Easy, partner!” Batman II muttered. “No fighting.”
“What game do you think you’re playing?” Red Robin said. He and Batwing stepped closer to Batman II and his partner.
“Same one as you,” Batman II replied.
“No!” Red Robin yelled. “It’s not the same! You haven’t the right!”
Batman II placed his hand on Red Robin’s shoulder. “We can work this…”
“Get your hands off me!” Red Robin smacked Batman II’s hand away.
“Don’t touch him!” Robin II yelled, leaping at Dick.
“Hey!” Batwing yelled. He swung at Robin II, landing a punch in his sternum.
The boys scuffled. Red Robin and Batman II grabbed their respective partners to separate them. Pushing the boys aside, Red Robin and Batman II squared off, chin to chin. Red Robin raised a fist to Batman II, but stopped himself abruptly.
“This is wrong,” Batman II said.
“It is wrong,” Red Robin said. “But not for the reason you think.”
Batman II took a step backward away from Red Robin. He held out his hand to Robin II. “Let’s go, kid,” Batman II said.
“Are you going to let them–?” Batwing began, before being silenced by Red Robin.
As he and Batman II climbed down the side of the building, Robin II turned to hurl one last taunt.
“Hang it up, retreads!” he yelled. “Everything’s better the second time around!”
Batman II shushed his partner, then scuffed him on the back of his head. Robin II hollered more in surprise than pain.
“Jerks,” Batwing said.
“Not here,” Red Robin said. “In the Batcave.”
In that very place a while later, Batwing removed his mask, revealing the face of Jason Todd, dark hair pasted to his head with sweat.
“I still can’t believe we let them go!” he yelled. “Why didn’t you do something?”
“What would you suggest I had done?” Dick said. “They committed no crime. In fact, they stopped a crime. We would have looked very foolish beating up two men who just rounded up a notorious criminal gang and saved millions of dollars in charity donations.”
“So we’re going to let them be Batman and Robin?”
“No,” Red Robin said. “We’re going to let them operate until they reveal their true motives.”
“And in the meantime?”
“In the meantime,” Dick said. “I’m going to make a phone call.”
With that, he crossed to a desk by the Bat-computer. He lifted the receiver and dialed. After a moment, he spoke.
“Yes, this is Dick Grayson, from the Wayne Foundation. I need to inquire about the status of one of your patients. Yes. His name is Paul Sloane.”
Several miles away, in downtown Gotham, the pair of second-generation heroes scaled the side of the city’s tallest buildings, the Twin Towers. As they reached the top penthouse apartment, two bay windows swung open to accommodate their entrance.
“Are you there?” Batman II asked into the dark room.
“We’re here,” came the reply. The voice belonged to a soft-spoken male. “You defeated the False Face Society?”
“And you crossed paths with the crimson crusader and his new partner?”
“Yes,” Batman II said. “Just as you expected.”
“How did you know they’d find us at the nightclub?” asked Robin II.
“Because that’s how we planned it!” yelled another voice, deeper and raspier than the first.
“Please, forgive us,” said the first voice. “We’re a bit anxious.”
There was a sound of a throat clearing, then the first voice continued.
“With the first Batman gone, Red Robin is the best there is,” he said. “We knew it was only a matter of time before he tracked you down, so we left clues to make it that much easier. It was elementary. As surely as day becomes night. A, then B. One, then two…”
The figure stepped forward into the light from the moon outside the penthouse windows. A handsome man of about sixty-five, he dressed in silk lounging pants and a cashmere robe.
“His movements are predictable, when you know them,” he said. As he stepped forward, Batman and Robin could see the rest of his clothing, a ragged half-shirt and pants leg that might have been pulled off a homeless man.
“And who could know Robin better than an old foe?”
Robin II flinched at the light played along the man’s torn and burned skin, his purple lesions, his bulging and swollen left eye.
“Who could know him better… than Two-Face!”