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The Glare of Gotham Lights

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The boy looked young, perhaps fifteen years old at most, but he fought with the skill and ferocity of a combatant with years of training and experience. The men swarmed at him, most twice his age and almost all twice his size, but he handled them with ease, dodging and darting around them, landing punches and kicks without breaking a sweat. His agility was remarkable, his timing impeccable. Acrobatics and gymnastics were woven seamlessly into his movements, and he seemed to possess an almost supernatural sense of anticipation, predicting their shots and already dancing away from them before they’d even had the chance to swing.

“He’s good,” observed Sal Maroni from the second story platform above the warehouse floor, taking a long drag on his cigar. One of the head bosses of the mafia within Gotham, his wealth was evident throughout every aspect of his appearance, from the wingtips of his imported leather loafers to his coolly disinterested demeanor.

“Then you’re interested in retaining his services?” The eagerness was apparent in Nicholas Galtry’s voice.

Maroni shook his head. “With the freaks we have running around Gotham everyday, he’s got to be better than just good to make it out there. I’m not sure it’s worth the investment.”

“Oh, I can assure you that he’s more than a match for the freaks.” Galtry smirked, then called down to the boy. “Starting shifting. Nothing serious.”

The blond boy suddenly vanished to be replaced by a green tiger, much to the surprise of his assailants. The tiger roared at them, halting them dead in their tracks before they began to back away with yells and swears.

Maroni’s eyebrows rose. “Impressive. Can he change into anything else?”

“Any creature to ever be real or imagined,” Galtry replied smugly. “He can shrink to the size of a gnat, or grow to the size of a dragon. It doesn’t matter if you want a cyclops or a chupacabra, or a monkey or a mountain lion. He can shift into anything— admittedly, though, it is always green,” he conceded.

“Doesn’t matter what color he is,” Maroni said with a dismissive wave of his hand, watching the tiger prowl around the floor. “Anyway, the work I want him doing is covert. At night— fewer questions that way.”

“Of course,” Galtry agreed immediately. “He’ll do anything you want him to. And I do mean anything you desire.”

Reaching into his jacket pocket, Maroni withdrew a photo from his suit jacket and handed it to Galtry. “The cops seized one of my apartments a few weeks, looking for dirt on me. They took this ring as evidence.”

“Oh, you’ll find that the shapeshifter is quite skilled at retrieving evidence from police stations, sir,” Galtry rushed to reassure him.

Maroni shook his head. “Nah, they dropped the charges, and all of my possessions were returned to me. Except for this ring— they told me it was lost. I think it’s more like some dumb cop swiped it and hawked it to the nearest fence they could find. That’s the downside of most of the police in Gotham being on my payroll— they’re not exactly an upstanding bunch.”

“And you wish for the ring to be found,” Galtry presumed.

“Right on the money.” Maroni turned toward the stairs.

“Perhaps it would be helpful, Mr. Maroni, if you could explain the significance of the ring—” Galtry began, but Maroni cut him off.

“Family heirloom. But all you need to know, Galtry, is that it’s mine and I want it back,” Maroni tossed him a hard look as he began down the stairs. “I want that ring returned to me as soon as possible. You and your boy,” he nodded at the young shapeshifter, “will get five thousand a week as long as he works for me, with a ten thousand bonus once he finds it. If he does well with this job, I might just scrounge up some other work for him.”

Galtry’s eyes gleamed. “Splendid.”

An unpleasant smile crossed Maroni’s face. “I’ll warn you once, Galtry. If either of the two of you try to screw me on this, you’ll live to regret it— at least, during the short time you’ll have left, anyway.”

With practiced caution, Gar ascertained the coast was clear before he flew, as a bird, to the window of his apartment. Not many people resided in his neighborhood, but the ones who did were also out and about at night, and not the type he wanted to encounter. The building where he lived was condemned and mostly empty, but every once in a while, Gar saw a woman dressed in a red and black clown outfit coming or going, swinging on a grappling line and cackling with mad joy as she did so.

From the first time he’d seen her, Gar was wary. For as long as he could remember— which, admittedly, was only the past few months— Nicholas had warned him against interacting other people or attracting excess attention, advice that Gar followed to the hilt. Back when they were in Star City not too long ago, Gar hadn’t been careful enough during his jobs, which brought the police to them, forcing their flight to Gotham.

Entering his small apartment through the window, Gar was greeted by the yips of the stray dog he’d found during a nighttime jaunt several weeks back.

“Easy, Cliff,” he said, kneeling down to stroke the corgi’s soft fur. Though he could not determine why, the name “Cliff” stood out to him, as if it was important to him, inspiring him to use it to christen the dog. “Sorry I’m late. Let’s get you some dinner, huh?”

Moving through the spartan apartment, Gar picked up the cracked china bowl he used for Cliff’s food and set it on the counter, filling it two-thirds of the way high with kibbles. “There you go,” he said with a soft smile, setting it down in front of Cliff. He turned to put the dog food away, studying the remaining contents critically. “Looks like I’ll have to out soon and buy you more food, girl.” But at least he had another job and was earning money again, which was good. He’d be able to buy enough groceries, for now, anyway.

Both he and Nicholas survived on the wages he earned. Nicholas was in poor health, and because he was sick, needed Gar to help him by going out and working. In fact, Nicholas’s health was extremely fragile, to the point that Gar couldn’t live with him because Nicholas needed as much quiet and as little stress as possible. But Gar didn’t mind having to help Nicholas out. Nicholas was the closest person Gar had to a family, and family helped one another.

Passing by the splintered mirror, the only decoration on the walls of his sparse apartment, Gar caught a glimpse of his reflection. He hadn’t been aware of it, but he’d shifted back to his normal human form, the one with fair skin, blue eyes, and blond hair. But while this appearance was the one he used to go outside during the day when he needed, to be normal, being in this form was strange. Not that it felt physically strange— it didn’t feel at all different from his green human form. But whenever he saw himself in his blond form, either in mirrors or store windows, the sight startled him.

Not that it was unfamiliar . . . oddly enough, his blond form seemed almost too familiar, as if it reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t quite recall who. Every once in a while, Gar shifted into that human form and gazed at himself in the mirror, studying his reflection, trying to figure out just who it was that his blond self was reminiscent of, but never to any success.

“But I’ll figure it out,” Gar promised himself aloud. “Some day soon, I’ll know the truth.”

Of course, part of the problem was that Gar couldn’t remember very much of anything. He knew his name, “Gar,” as Nicholas told him, and he knew that Nicholas was caring for him because his parents died a long time ago. But none of Gar’s memories went further back than a few months ago, when Nicholas found him. But Gar’s parents, his other family, even people he supposed he should have remembered— he couldn’t remember them ever existing.

Sometimes, there were instances when Gar was sure he was remembering; there was a time when he saw a smiling young woman with auburn hair walking hand-in-hand with a redheaded man, and another when he saw a NASCAR race playing on the storefront televisions when passing an electronics store. But beyond creating a vague sensation of familiarity, Gar’s mind was blank. He couldn’t at all figure out why those images would be important to him.

A loud growl from his stomach reminded Gar that he should eat dinner before leaving for work, and he moved to the cupboard, withdrawing a bag of rice for his meal. As he prepared the grains, he surveyed his apartment. It wasn’t much— a studio-style with a bathroom and a kitchenette. For meals, he used a card table with a folding chair; for sleeping, he had an inflatable mattress with sheets and blankets; and for relaxing, he’d culled some tumbling mats from a nearby high school and stacked them in the center of the room to serve as a couch. Cliff had her own bed, a fancy one, just for dogs, that Gar had bought at the pet store with some of the money Nicholas gave him from working.

At the thought of work, Gar sighed. Usually, he was stealing— so his goal this time, searching for a lost ring, was an improvement. It wasn’t that he wanted to break the law, but Nicholas told him there was no other way for Gar to earn enough money to pay for Nicholas’s medical treatments.

But at the end of the day, Gar reasoned, Nicholas was the only family he had, and it was important that Gar help him.

And maybe, once he finished the job of locating Maroni’s ring, Maroni would give him better work— legal work that paid well, so Gar no longer had to break the law.

“I’d like that, to work inside the law, for a change,” Gar said to himself, as Cliff nudged at him with her paw, trying to earn a taste of the rice cooking on the stovetop. He reached down and picked up Cliff, cuddling her close. “I’d like that a lot.”