Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Attack by Fire: The Pale Horse

It was going to be a terrific night – Johnny just knew it was going to be a night to remember.

Mr. Falcone had a big deal going down with Aladdin, and he had entrusted Johnny to supervise the deal.

It was in a warehouse area along a tributary to the West River which, in turn, wound past Gotham Island into the Gotham River.

There had been a great deal of business lately, with barges loading and unloading; some places in the area were working two and even three shifts. It was not unusual for activity to be occurring after midnight around here, so the deal wouldn't attract too much suspicion. Besides, Mr. Falcone had enough of law enforcement on his payroll to make sure the cops didn't come snooping around.

The only concern was whether Batman might show up, but they were ready for him. As a precaution, Mr. Falcone had made sure there were forty guys to guard the deal – with automatic rifles, grenade and rocket launchers – and that was in addition to the couple of boys that Johnny had with him to help watch things.

There was a yacht tied up at the dock. After the deal went down, Johnny was invited to make use of the yacht for a party that would last until dawn. He and his boys would party, while Falcone's men kept watch over everything.

Mr. Falcone had provided the girls, too. They were new in town, and he wanted Johnny and his boys to break them in tonight. Johnny smiled. Two of his men were keeping an eye on them now.

The only thing now was to wait for Aladdin's men to show up, they would check things out, make the swap, Aladdin's men would leave with their stuff, and it would be party time.

Johnny smiled some more. Mr. Falcone trusted Johnny, and Johnny was loyal to Mr. Falcone.

The master picked up his laptop computer, and started for the door. It was mid-morning in the village, which meant that it was after midnight in Gotham City. He had heard about what was happening in Gotham City, and he wanted to hear some news. There was a cybercafé in the village, and he could take his laptop there, go online, and learn what was going on.

Then he paused, reconsidering.

He needed a better source of information.

Looking around, he grabbed a package of his best tea, and a package of cookies, placed these in a bag and, with his bag in one hand and the carrying case for his laptop in the other, he started out for the fortune-teller's hut on the other side of the village.

Sasha's heart was beating rapidly; it felt as if her heart were in her throat.

Since becoming Bruce's partner, this was the first time she was out on a mission with him.

Bruce was in the Batmobile; the vehicle Sasha was in looked more like a sportscar, and wouldn't draw much attention. It lacked the stealth technology and the jet engine, but it had more armor, and a great deal more firepower.

Alfred was in the Batcave, monitoring. Bruce, Alfred and Sasha were sharing information via the Batlink, which was a frequency-hopping digital datalink transmitting and receiving data in coded burst transmissions. Anything that could be known by any one of them – or by the Batbot that was scouting the grounds – would be known by them all, immediately.

Sasha's job was as a backup – if sent in, either by Bruce or by Alfred, she would go in and get everyone's attention long enough for Bruce to regain the initiative. Then, Sasha would withdraw first, and Bruce, in the faster, stealthier vehicle, would make his escape.

The Batbot, too, could be used to create a substantial diversion, if needed.

Sasha looked at the multifunction displays – she was able to confirm the presence of the girls that had been trafficked in for the party near a small building on the corner of the property. She could also confirm the presence of the cocaine, high-tech arms and cash that were in the warehouse; Falcone was using this to pay for the heroin. There were pallets full of weapons, drugs and money, and when Aladdin's men got there, there would be several pallets full of high-quality heroin.

Sasha squinted into the screen. "Bruce," she whispered into the microphone, "the guards seem to be backing away from the girls a little. And there are some vehicles pulling up to the warehouse, too."

She immediately rethought her transmission. It probably was not necessary, as Bruce could see everything that she could see. Still, it might make everyone more comfortable to know exactly where the girls were. Above all else, they had to protect the girls this evening.

The master was nearing the fortune-teller's hut.

She was just coming outside, setting up her table.

Approaching, he smiled and bowed to her. She smiled and bowed back.

He offered her the tea and cookies, bowing slightly. Bowing again, she smiled and accepted them, and gave them to her daughter, who stepped inside to prepare the tea and serve the cookies.

"It's a beautiful day outside," the master said in the fortune-teller's language.

"Yes, it is," she smiled again. "It is a good day to be alive," she added, smiling.

It was awkward, as the master was eager to find out what was going on, and the fortune-teller of course knew what he was there for, but neither wanted to appear rude by beginning to speak about the business before them.

Happily, the fortune-teller's daughter brought out some of the cookies served on a plate.

"Our friend sent them to me, from Gotham City. They are made by a bakery that he owns. They are very good. Please, try one," he smiled, as the girl offered the cookies to him.

He took a cookie from the plate, and offered it with both hands to the woman. She took it with both hands, nodding and smiling, and tasted it. He was relieved to see that she seemed to enjoy it. She took a cookie and offered it to him in a similar manner, but he nodded in the direction of her daughter.

"You are too polite," she smiled at him. Relenting, she gave that cookie to her daughter, then offered another to the master.

Smiling, he accepted, and took a bite. Meanwhile, the girl hurried inside to prepare the tea, and just as quickly returned carrying a tray with a teapot and two cups on it.

"Speaking of our friend, how is he?" she asked.

Thankfully, she had brought the topic up first.

"I have not heard any news lately," he answered. "I am worried, and hoping that you can tell me how he is doing," he smiled back.

The deal was done. Aladdin's men were hurriedly preparing to leave with their merchandise, and Falcone's men were securing theirs. Johnny looked over at the girls, then glanced to the yacht, and thought about the party that was about to start.

Johnny did anything Mr. Falcone asked, and did it well, and, in return, Mr. Falcone took care of Johnny. It was like Rick had said that one time to the boss: "Your problems are our problems."

Johnny smiled.

One of his men came up to him with some kind of an envelope.

Likely a little something extra from the boss, he thought.

He looked at the girls again, dressed in their skimpy outfits and huddled near the utility shack, trying to stay out of the wind.

It was quite chilly, and, aside from looking nice, dressing them like that helped deter anyone from getting any ideas about running away in the cold.

He smiled – they would be happy to get inside the yacht, he thought.

He looked down at the envelope and opened it up.

It was a card.

He took it out.

On the front was some kind of a strange shape.

It was an oval shape, with a black outline, and a yellow background inside the outline. Against the background was a black shape – it looked like some kind of creature, some kind of winged creature.

Johnny's heart skipped a beat.

It looked like a bat.

Hurriedly, he opened the card and read what it said.

Regret to inform you,
the girls will be unable
to attend tonight's event.

– Batman

The fortune-teller pulled out her deck and handled the cards, first smiling at her guest, then losing herself staring out into space ahead of and above her. Slowly, the smile disappeared as she handled her deck of cards.

Her daughter served them tea, then withdrew with another cookie.

The master smiled at the girl, then looked at the fortune-teller. Despite his years of training, there were times when he found it difficult to control his impatience.

She placed some cards down on the table in front of her.

Trying to not appear too anxious, the master leaned over casually and looked. He could make out the King, Heaven, the Sword and Justice among the cards on the table before her.

Alfred was studying the displays – it appeared the Batshield had been deployed around the girls near the building.

Those guards stepped a little too far away from the girls, and at the wrong moment, Alfred thought. Now they were about to regret it.

Johnny looked up from the card, in the direction of the girls, but he could no longer see them. There was something covering them, kind of like a giant parachute or something – and it had the same insignia on it that the card in his hand had on it.

Somebody next to him pointed at a dark vehicle between the warehouse and the utility building.

"It's Batman!" the man yelled.

"Powerful is the Emperor of Heaven, and fierce is His righteous wrath," the fortune-teller said. "Sharp is the sword of His Son, Who executes His Father's judgment."

It was all happening in slow-motion.

Johnny saw dozens of men simultaneously open fire on Batman's car.

Johnny looked behind him to the shooter, but the shooter was running away as fast as he could.

Sasha looked at her display. The Batmobile's master-arm switch was on, and Bruce was employing the fuel-air munitions.

The fortune-teller looked up, and the master smiled and asked her, "And where is our friend right now?"

Johnny's thought went to the warehouse. He looked at it, and, in that moment, orange fire leapt from every opening, orange fire leapt out the windows, and the walls suddenly came apart at the seams, large panels of steel flying every which way, large panels of steel flying directly toward Johnny!

The fortune-teller placed more cards on the table. The master looked: the Warrior, Hades, and the Devil.

Suddenly, Johnny realized he was no longer standing, but was on his back, hurt, several yards from where he had been. He looked around, and other men had been knocked down, several were firing automatic weapons at the dark vehicle, and many were just running as fast as they could.

He looked up.

Bits and pieces of the warehouse were raining down – the weapons that now belonged to Aladdin's Mujahideen were raining down, too.

It was raining big bags of heroin and cocaine, most of the bags broken open.

It was raining money – bundles of cash, burning, smoldering. Individual bills were floating in the air, twirling, falling toward earth.

Intent on her screen, Sasha could see the Batmobile advancing toward several men in front of the vehicle. Bruce was now arming the flamethrower.

The fortune-teller opened her eyes, looked at the cards, then looked at the master.

"He has descended into the lower parts of the earth. There, he is surrounded by devils."

They were motioning to Johnny to run for the yacht. Several of his men were on it already, and others were covering him, firing at the dark car.

He started running toward the yacht – it was only yards away, but it was taking forever.

He looked toward the dark car, which was approaching his men.

Suddenly, it belched fire!

"What is he doing?" the master asked.

The fortune-teller closed her eyes, handled her deck, and began to place more cards on the table.

Sasha winced. At a range of less than five meters from Falcone's men, the Batmobile's flamethrower was being discharged.

He made it to the yacht, and turned and looked. Men were on fire, rolling, running, screaming... and still, burning debris was floating in the sky.

He looked again. It was raining money!

It was raining money, and nobody cared!

The yacht's motor was running, and the yacht was pulling away from the pier, amid a rain of smoldering money, and by the light of human torches.

He looked at the dark vehicle. It had approached the end of the dock, and it was pointed right at the side of the yacht.

Men were shooting at the vehicle, but most had given up; they were starting to jump off the yacht into the water.

Alfred was looking at the display from the Batmobile, with an eye on the image from the Batbot's camera. The Batmobile's missiles were armed, and – fire one!

The Batbot's camera was directed at the yacht.

The yacht disappeared in a blinding light.

The camera quickly corrected the infrared gain, and the image could again be seen. Direct hit! Amidships, below the bridge, right above the waterline! The yacht was burning furiously, broken in two large pieces, which were settling fast.

On the table, she placed the Magician and Fire....

"There he works magic; using the eternal flame, he torments the devils," the fortune-teller explained, opening her eyes.

From behind some crates about a football-field away, the shooter looked at the scene, unaware of his own furious and heavy breathing.

From deep in the back of his mind, he recalled something his great-grandmother used to say to him when he was a young child, and had been misbehaving:

"And I looked, and behold a pale horse:
and his name that sat on him was Death,
and Hell followed with him."

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