Now what? thought the lieutenant. It was late in the day, only one of his four vehicles was still out on patrol. Everyone else was getting ready for shift change, and the sergeant who had the evening watch had just arrived. The end of a long, boring, hot day, the lieutenant thought. Then a man came in to the police substation and complained that his teenage daughter had disappeared that morning with a friend of hers. The sergeant began talking to the man as a patrolman began filling out a report; the lieutenant went to get a drink of water in his office. But now the sergeant called to the lieutenant.
He explained that the girls that this man was reporting missing had just arrived themselves, only with a remarkable story. They said they had been taken by some men to a clearing in the nearby forest, and there raped and abused. The lieutenant nodded; it was good, at least, that one of the girls had her father there. These men were undoubtedly the ones he had been looking for, the ones kidnapping girls in this part of the district and forcing them into prostitution.
But then the story got more chilling. Something -- some big, black thing -- came in from the forest, overpowered the men, and released the girls.
Suspecting drugs were involved as well, the lieutenant ordered his men to get ready to go out. The two girls drank some water. The lieutenant asked them if they could show him where this happened, but they were afraid. The father intervened, however, and insisted that he and the girls go with the police to catch these men. Quickly, three police trucks sped off with the girls, the father, and ten heavily-armed policemen, the lieutenant in the first truck, the sergeant in the third one.
Stopping at a place indicated on the road, the lieutenant hopped out. The girls pointed down a trail. The lieutenant left the three policemen drivers with the civilians and the vehicles at the road; with the sergeant and the other five policemen, he hurried down the trail. About five minutes into the forest, they came to a clearing. What he saw there he wouldn't soon forget.
Four men from the kidnapping and prostitution ring were badly beaten and bloody. They were tied up on the ground, unable to move. A fifth man, the ring leader, was in slightly worse shape: he had been beaten, knocked unconscious, tied to a pole in the clearing and left there, baking in the sun, ants climbing on his body; it looked like he had been left to die.
The shadows were getting very long now, as the sergeant radioed back to the men at the trucks. Meanwhile, the lieutenant was listening to the tales of the prisoners.
Confessing their affiliation with the prostitution ring, the prisoners promised the lieutenant full cooperation in exchange for one thing only: protection. The lieutenant thought they meant protection from other members of the gang, but they emphatically said no: they wanted protection from whatever had done this to them. The lieutenant asked what that was, and the terrified men began chattering incoherently. From what the lieutenant could make of it, it was a giant, menacing, supernatural figure -- kind of like a bat!
The truck with the girls and the father returned to the police substation to work on the report, as the last of the substation's trucks, which had been out on patrol, pulled up to where the remaining two were parked, their men hurrying down the path into the forest.
Their search of the area finished, the policemen began taking the prisoners down the trail to where the trucks were waiting. The sergeant and one man were taking a few last things into evidence, and making a few final notes.
It was getting dark fast now, and the forest was very dark, as the lieutenant gazed out into its depths and wondered: what was out there?
They had finished dinner. Dr. Sandra Villanova took another sip of her wine, as Bruce Wayne glanced back behind him: his bodyguard and driver, Sasha Bordeaux, was still there, keeping a casual eye on everything.
"Who are you, really?"
"What do you mean?" asked Wayne, turning back to her.
"I had always taken you for a shallow playboy," she admitted. "But, tonight, you surprise me. You are intelligent, profound...."
Wayne blushed a little.
"The shallow playboy is only a mask, one that the real Bruce Wayne wears," she added. "Yet, I feel as if Bruce Wayne is only a mask, and I wonder who wears it."
"We all wear masks, Sandra."
"Well, I will confess that I, too, wear one around my friends."
Wayne looked at her with curiousity.
"My real name isn't 'Sandra' -- that's only what my friends call me."
"What is your real name, then?"
"Cassandra. Cassandra Villanova."
Dr. Villanova paused to let that sink in with Wayne. Earlier in the evening, she would have assumed he wouldn't have understood the significance of that; now, she was confident he would.
Wayne thought about it. Cassandra was a figure from Greek mythology; she had an ability to foresee the future, but was cursed by the gods so that no one would believe her prophecies.
"You think this War on Crime is going to go on for a long time?" Wayne asked, sipping his wine.
"I think Gotham is in great danger," Cassandra replied. Then, looking in the mirror, she adjusted her hair ever so casually, adding, "and I think you are not so much a shallow playboy as you are a dark and brooding detective."
The big, fluffy cat was purring, as Selena Kyle thought about her husband.
Someone had taken him away from her. They had more money, now, but the magic was lost in their relationship.
Selena had been secretly investigating what was wrong, and took her concerns to a freelance reporter named Linda that she had met at the gymnasium. But, Selena wanted to keep her identity secret, so she sent anonymous riddles to the reporter, steering Linda's investigation of corruption in the Gotham Bureau of Investigation, without Linda knowing where the information was coming from. Selena's plan was to have Nick come clean with the GBI at some point, and get an amnesty in exchange for his help cracking the case. Nick would of course lose his job with the Bureau, and Selena would undoubtedly have to work again. They might have to sell their house, too, but none of that mattered; she would work, she would sell the house -- she would kill -- just to have her husband back.
But, it turned out that the reporter Linda, while conscientious and honest, had no connections to get the investigation moving, so it stalled. Not knowing what else to do, Selena Kyle began sending her riddles to Bruce Wayne, the Prince of Gotham. Wayne had the power to make something happen, and was believed to have the integrity to do so as well. The trouble was, did he have the brains to put it all together? After all, he was such a shallow playboy!
But then, at the gymnasium the other morning, she saw first her husband talking to Linda, then a dark, menacing figure giving a package to Linda.
This figure was a new factor; somebody dressed up like a bat! She had heard a story from Linda one time in the gym about a bat-man in Gotham City, but then when she saw this bat-man actually talking to Linda, that was really exciting!
This bat-man was a wild card. Maybe he could help somehow. But, if he couldn't, no big loss. If he became part of the problem, Selena would find a way to deal with him, too.
Selena Kyle stood in front of the mirror, gently scratching her kitty's chin. "After all," Selena whispered in her kitty's ear, "I am a woman scorned. I'll have my Nicky back, won't I, Miss Kitty?"
Miss Kitty purred softly.
"And tell me, Miss Kitty, what is a bat, if not a flying mouse? And, what am I, if not a cat-woman?"
Miss Kitty stretched her chin toward Selena's caresses, as Selena continued whispering in Miss Kitty's ear.
"Just as a mouse is no match for Miss Kitty, so is that bat-man no match for this cat-woman."
Her eyes closed, Miss Kitty purred loudly in agreement.
"Did you hear about the prostitution ring the district police broke up?" The master looked at him, as they were walking through the village. "The lieutenant from the substation in the next village took the men into custody late yesterday. The village is buzzing about it."
Bruce Wayne looked at the vendors, selling their wares and fresh produce. A young boy, perhaps four or five years old, approached him to try to sell him some candy. Wayne handed him two coins, and the boy handed him back several small plastic-wrapped pieces of chewing gum. Wayne offered the chewing gum to the master, but he declined it. Another young boy approached; Wayne offered him the chewing gum, and he gladly accepted it.
"The official story is that two girls escaped from the ring's custody, ran to the village, told the police, and the lieutenant went out with three or four truckloads of police and arrested everyone." The master looked around. "Unofficially, however, there are some details that seem to have been left out of the story. It seems a giant black figure came in from the forest, surprised the criminals, and overpowered them, beating them senseless, then setting the girls free. The criminals themselves are said to have complained of a giant demonic figure, dark and menacing, and very angry. They suggested that it resembled a giant, malevolent bat. It seemed possessed of the strength of many men." The master looked at Wayne. "They said it came straight from hell."
Wayne looked at the master.
"Whatever happened, it made quite an impression on the members of the criminal gang. As injured as they are -- and they were badly beaten, the leader was beaten half to death! -- they are even more terrified. They are cooperating with the police fully, openly confessing everything. Their only request is that the police protect them from that giant figure they encountered in the forest."
Wayne looked around some more, as they continued walking slowly through the village.
"The villagers are all excited, because there's an old folktale from this district about a giant man-bat that sleeps in the forest here. Supposedly it awakens when there is too much evil nearby, and attacks the evil-doers, going back to sleep only when they are vanquished and all is peaceful again. The story was all but forgotten until word arrived this morning of yesterday's incident."
They continued through the village, approaching the hut where the fortune-teller lived.
"An old man who lived much of his life in another province tells a similar story from there," the master continued. "He tells of a giant bat that is born in a foreign land, but that travels here, where it comes of age, before returning home."
"Interesting," Wayne commented, glancing in the direction of the fortune-teller's hut. Her table was outside, but she wasn't.
"Indeed it is. When asked about the story of the men he arrested yesterday, the lieutenant indicated that drugs had been found on the scene, and suggested the men were hallucinating. He seems to think they fell upon each other under the influence of the drugs. But," the master leaned toward Wayne, "the lieutenant has asked that if anyone knows anything about the incident, they should please tell him. You see, there is the occasional problem with vigilantism here, and the police are concerned that the problem might grow, especially in light of yesterday's incident."
They stopped near the fortune-teller's table, just as she was coming out of her hut. She had something shiny in her hands. She looked at Bruce Wayne, and the two made eye contact.
She bowed, and offered him the shiny object that was in her hands. He bowed back, and accepted it with both hands. It was a small mirror, surrounded by a black, plastic frame.
Although it was not customary in the local culture, Wayne bowed again, and kissed the woman's hand, hoping she would understand his sincere appreciation for the gift, and deep respect for her.
She smiled and said something in her language. The master translated.
"She says she knew you would like it. She says, 'What creature isn't fascinated by a mirror?'"