Still Waters and Quiet Men
A Starling Mystery
By JA Ingram
Cover art by Eilowyn :
Cover art by Federica :
“Beware of still waters and quiet men for both contain dangerous depths." --Russian Proverb
“Oracle to Batman.”
“What is it?”
“Are you still patrolling near the docks?”
“Affirmative,” he said as he scanned the area from his vantage site high above the warehouses and landing docks that littered the East End of Gotham. It was a high crime area, popular with dealers and smugglers, but had been relatively quiet as of late since word had spread amongst the underworld that the Batman had laid claim to this particular part of the city.
“I’m picking up something…unusual near that area. Can you change your heading to East 44th Street and Lamb in the Tenderloin?”
“Are you picking up police chatter or an alarm?” He asked already on the move, his body flying through the air as he leapt from rooftop to rooftop.
“Um, no. Not exactly, no.”
Batman frowned, “Explain.”
“It’s the Watchtower program, um, something is…pinging the system.”
“I’m going to need something more specific,” he growled in irritation, his pace increasing as he neared the location.
“I wish I had something more specific to tell you,” Barbara muttered. “From what I can tell someone has activated a doctored version of the Protocol and is attempting to locate an FBI safe house location. There appears to be a Trojan in their version of the program that is pinging Watchtower their location and destination.”
“Why would they want us to know where they were heading and who are ‘they’ exactly?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that they were doing it on purpose; Trojan remember? As far as I can tell they have no idea that the program is telling on them much less leading them on a wild goose chase.”
Wild goose chase? “So they aren’t headed to an FBI safe house?”
“That’s the thing; it is a safe house but it’s unoccupied at the moment. However the program is telling them that a midlevel Mafia informant from the Bertinelli Crime Family is holed up there. As for whom it is, the system is tracking her on its own and sending me everything from traffic cam footage to private security feeds.”
“Her?” He scowled and mentally ran through his Rogue’s gallery for likely suspects but came up blank. Selina had left Gotham years ago and from what anyone could tell she was now living under an assumed identity somewhere in Europe and none of the other women he knew who frequented the shadows of Gotham would be remotely interested in the Mob much less one that was a leftover from a West Coast defunct crime family. That meant that there was someone new in his city and he didn’t like that idea one bit. “Description and location?”
“Tall, dark hair, black leather, carrying what looks like…a crossbow. That’s different. Great, why do they always have to come here? It’s like all the lunatics in leather got a damn package deal or something. She’s traveling on your 6 about half a klick away. She should be within sighting range right about…now.” He could hear Barbara mutter something unintelligible under her breath then a surprised squeak.
“What is it?” He growled softly as he sank into the shadows. A mere second later he watched as the masked woman ran along a rooftop across from the darkened safe house.
“A dossier on our girl just opened up. Damned if I know where it came from but I have my suspicions—“
As Barbara spoke the lights came on in the safe house. “Are you sure the safe house is unoccupied? I have lights.”
“Yeah. Oooh, aren’t you just a clever thing? I am going to have to call your mommy and get her to send me some of those new apps she’s apparently been working on.”
“Oracle, stay on point!” Batman bit out as he watched his adversary crouch down and begin her surveillance.
She cleared her throat and mumbled a quick apology. “The lights are attached to the security system. The doctored Watchtower program hacked it as soon as she came within a certain distance to the target location to mislead her into thinking she was on the right path. My guess is the programmer designed it to cast a wide net so it would slow her down long enough to buy some time. It’s tapping into the power grid and sending out all kinds of goodies too. I imagine there are some really pissed off prime time TV viewers in that apartment complex because she’s got signals scrambling all over. And you better hurry because it appears to be on a timer. If whoever she had intended to play catch up doesn’t apprehend the target and turn off the signal within a set amount of time after she’s engaged, every single police scanner and phone system within twelve blocks is going to get a message to scramble on that location, guns hot.”
“Who is the programmer that has us and her running in circles and what does the dossier have on our crossbow enthusiast?” He demanded icily. He disliked being manipulated as much as he disliked outsiders coming into his territory.
“Helena Bertinelli, code name Huntress. She’s a former Mafia Princess who appears to have a well-deserved beef against the crime syndicate, particularly anyone who is associated with her late father, Frank Bertinelli. She got busted a couple of years ago but broke out and has been waging a one woman war against the mob ever since. She calls herself a vigilante now but she’s not afraid to get her hands bloody. She’s managed to rack up quite a few kills, all made guys or their associates, but if anyone gets in her way she doesn’t differentiate between cops and killers. She nearly took out an entire FBI taskforce to get to one of her targets so I suggest you take her down fast and hard.”
“Not a problem; and the programmer that has managed to hack our system and gift us with this lovely little surprise?” He growled in low tones.
“Um. A friend?”
“Oracle,” he growled warningly.
“Um, well, here’s a hint: Helena Bertinelli’s body count started in Starling City.”
Batman’s mouth tightened as he thought of a name he hadn’t uttered out loud in over four years while in cape and cowl and only rarely outside of them. “Has she contacted you directly yet? Patch her through coms,” he ordered.
“That’s the thing, this Trojan is set to trigger automatically and ping the closest Watchtower location. She isn’t necessarily in the system right now. Huntress activated the program when she tried to use whatever program she’s got loaded on her hardware. She must have designed it so that when Huntress used it she could track her movements from a Watchtower console…just maybe not ours.”
The leather of his gauntlet squealed in protest as his hand tightened into a fist. “You think that she set up a Watchtower for the ‘Hood’ vigilante in Starling City?”
“It’s Arrow now; changed his name last year along with his MO shortly after the Glades terrorist attack to reduce his body count. As for you-know-who,” There was a sarcastic bite in how she said it making it an obvious dig aimed toward him, “that would be my theory anyway. I don’t know anyone else who could get through our firewalls. After all, she helped design them, remember?”
He chose to ignore her sarcasm. There was a time and a place and he wasn’t getting into this old chestnut with her while engaged in the pursuit of a proven killer. “Find out her location and call Alfred. Have him pack me an overnight bag and bring in Red Robin then get the jet ready to leave as soon as I finish dealing with our tourist friend from Starling City.”
“Um, Batman, you do know that they have email and even phones in that part of the world? Hopping a jet seems a bit--”
“She’s on the move. Engaging.”
Huntress had readied her crossbow to send a grappling line to the building across from them. Just as her line pulled taunt, Batman sent one of his razor sharp batarangs out to cut the line, causing her to falter for just a second before turning on him in a defensive posture. It was all the hesitation he needed however. Before she had time to react he kicked her weapon out of her hand and over the side of the building while catching her jaw in a powerful backhanded punch that sent her sprawling. The fact that she was a woman didn’t rate much with him considering the amount of corpses she had already left in her wake.
He leapt on to her, gripping her by the front of her leather jacket with one hand as he deflected the foot that was aimed at his crotch with the other. He twisted her around and slammed her into a large brick smokestack and pulled her arm behind her in a painful move to ensure she could get no leverage. “Try it and you’ll lose an arm.” He said quietly.
“I thought the Batman didn’t kill,” she gasped with a chuckle despite the fact that her nose was bleeding profusely.
“You can live without an arm,” he growled. “So ‘Huntress’, what brings you to my city?”
“Revenge, justice, same thing you do only I have a specific variety of scum in my sights. You can keep all the masked freaks and lunatics, I just want what I came for and I’ll be on my way.” She answered. “In fact, you should be thanking me not slamming me against walls and being all ungentlemanly.”
“I’m no gentleman.”
“I could tell, most gentlemen don’t hit ladies.”
“Most ladies don’t commit murder.”
“The term ‘murder’ only applies if you’re taking the lives of innocents. The men I hunt deserve what they get,” she bit out.
He thrust her away, allowing her a little space but making it clear with his body language and alert gaze that he could take her down again with less than a thought. “Maybe, maybe not, but you leave devastation in your wake; collateral damage. That might fly in Starling City with your friend the Arrow but Gotham is mine and you aren’t welcome here.”
“He’s no friend of mine,” she spat out as she rubbed the circulation back into her arm. “As far as I’m concerned, he and that little gang of his are just as guilty as the men I hunt. If he wants to protect them from me then he can meet their same fate along with anyone who stands with him.”
“This is my city,” Batman growled, “I say who lives and who dies here so I suggest you go back to Starling City and take your issues up with him and his so-called ‘gang’. Gotham is off limits.”
She looked him up and down contemptuously, “What is it with you self-proclaimed vigilantes and the ‘this is my city’ spiel? It isn’t ‘your’ city any more than Starling belongs to the Arrow.” She advanced on him slowly, “You want your city to yourself, fine! Keep it! Like I said, all I want is my prey and you can keep the rest. As soon as my bolts find their mark I’m out of here.”
Batman glowered at her for a moment. “I tried to give you an out but I can see you’re not interested in taking it. Whether your tactics are justified or not, you’re wanted for murder, and if you try to take your hunt to my streets then I will take you down hard.” He took a step forward, his impressive height looming above her as he fixed her with a spine-chilling glare. “Get out while you still can, I won’t be merciful a second time.”
Despite her bravado he could see her throat work as the fear he so often struck in his adversaries crept over her. “What about Marconi? He’s who I was hunting; I tracked him to this location.”
“Marconi isn’t here and hasn’t been for a while. Your information is wrong.” He stated in a tone that would brook no further argument.
She looked him in the eye, gauging his sincerity, before taking the small handheld device from her belt and shattering it on the ground. “That little bitch! I did him a favor when I turned down that contract on his geek girl; next time I won’t be so nice!” She laughed humorlessly to herself, “Even with a crossbow to her throat she managed to screw me over. What is it with the Arrow and his women?”
Batman’s hand shot out and he gripped her by the throat, squeezing in slow increments as her feet dangled helplessly above the ground. “Who?” He growled, “I want a name!”
“W-What?” She choked.
“The name of the people contracting the hit!” He growled.
“D-don’t know! C-came through an a-anonymous broker!” He squeezed and tears slipped from the corners of her eyes as real fear changed her expression from defiant into a mask of pain. “I-I don’t do contracts! I turned it down!”
He bared his teeth and picked her up one-handed; bringing her so close to his face he could feel her stuttering, gasping breath against his cheek. There was still a chance he could be wrong. “The target?”
“S-she’s just some IT girl,” she gasped as she gripped his wrist in an effort to save herself. “She works for him sometimes.”
Batman drove into the cave, already barking orders to Alfred through the coms as he was screeching to a halt. “When is the jet going to be ready?”
“I decided it would be best not to call them, sir.”
He slammed the door of the tumbler and strode towards Alfred who was standing near the console, his expression livid, “And why the hell not? I need to get out there ASAP!”
“Oracle tracked down the broker believed to have contacted Huntress, sir. For the moment the contract has been placed on hold. Apparently whoever the client was, they rescinded the original offer.”
“I still need to get to her!”
“I agree, sir, which is why you’re heading to Starling City on Friday,” the butler said calmly as he removed the Bluetooth headset from his ear and turned toward his charge. “You had a meeting scheduled there already so I thought it might give us a bit more time to prepare a dossier.”
He stopped short. “I am? Since when?”
“Technically sir, Mr. Fox has plans to be in Starling City to meet with Queen Consolidated’s Board of Directors on Friday but, as you are the head of the company, I thought that it would be best to add your name to the itinerary as to avoid any questions should someone ask why you were there.” He handed Bruce who was already stripping off his cowl, cape, and gauntlets a tablet. “Here is the proposal you will be hearing as sent by Mr. Fox along with background information on the key players at the company, an Isabel Rochev and Oliver Queen.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of Queen,” Bruce said absently as he skimmed the information. “Dime a dozen trust fund brat who came home and found religion by taking up his old man’s mantle. Heard he’s doing pretty well given all that’s been going down over there. The Rochev woman is the one I’m not familiar with but from what I heard she’s a bit shady; connections to less than savory overseas interests.”
“Indeed sir,” Alfred agreed. “However, Mr. Fox and Walter Steele were quite close, from what I understand, and although Mr. Steele is no longer the CEO he does have a vested interest in the company as his bank financed Mr. Queen’s bid to retain control. He requested Mr. Fox hear the proposal as a personal favor to him.”
Bruce set the tablet aside carelessly as he plopped down in the chair in front of the console. “While I’m sure this is all very important, I don’t have time to sit in some meeting that is probably going to go nowhere. I need to find Felicity and put a stop to this before she gets herself in trouble and I’d like not to have to involve Lucius if I can. He’s been a good friend to our mission over the years but when it comes to her--”
Alfred picked up the tablet and held it out to him, “I think, sir, you should peruse Mr. Queen’s file a bit more carefully before you make a decision.”
“Why?” Bruce frowned as he accepted the tablet again and began to read through the file.
“Many reasons, sir, not least of which is that the ‘Arrow’, as the vigilante is apt to refer to himself, only appeared after Mr. Queen returned from the island of Lian Yu, a suspected training ground for The League of Assassins.” Bruce looked up sharply but didn’t interrupt. As Alfred had suspected, anything connected to Ra’s al Ghul would instantly capture his young Master’s attention. “In fact, the first appearance of this ‘Arrow’ fellow, then known as ‘The Hood’, was when he supposedly rescued Mr. Queen from an attempted kidnapping. Furthermore, Miss Barbara was able to research this vigilante and uncovered eye witness accounts and some rather poor quality surveillance tapes which prove that this man has had advanced training similar to the type you received under the League’s tutelage.”
“So is Queen the Arrow or is he funding him?”
“I do not know, sir,” Alfred said formally although with an intrigued twinkle in his eye. “After all, five years is a long time and it is not unheard of for a, as you called it, ‘trust fund brat’, to turn himself into a costumed vigilante. Also, Mr. Queen was arrested on suspicion of being the vigilante but all charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.”
Bruce’s eyebrow rose ever so slightly as he scrolled through Queen’s background check. “Interesting. Any connection to Felicity Smoak?”
“You could say that, sir,” Alfred said, his severe countenance shifting into a slight but triumphant grin.