Paper Hearts, part 7

By Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Barbara frowned at her screen, replaying Bruce's description of the night's events in her mind. The busboy's claim of not remembering even obtaining the gun, the attack that J'onn had not been able to read before it came, J'onn's confirmation that it seemed like there was some sort of mind control going on... it had Hatter's fingerprints all over it. Not that Hatter hadn't developed some pretty sophisticated remote technology, but from within Arkham? How was he transmitting? More to the point, how had he found a way to get any receiver onto - or into - the busboy?

Dick's voice suddenly came through the speakers, interrupting her train of thought. "Fear antitoxin? Yeah, we've got some," he was saying.

An unfamiliar voice answered him, and she realized he'd opened the link for her benefit. "Thank god. Ambulance delivered these two GSWs about fifteen minutes ago absolutely raving. Screaming their heads off in terror. Doc Leslie took one look and said Scarecrow, so we don't even dare sedate them. It's an unholy..."

A sudden alert blared over the conversation, and Babs felt a sense of dread as she silenced it. Arkham. Someone had called Arkham and triggered the software that picked up key combinations of words. She turned down the comlink speaker and pulled up the recorded phone log.

Shit.

GCPD called Arkham, looking for report of Scarecrow's breakout. Arkham hadn't made one - because their internal cameras were showing the same thing hers were. But a physical check had revealed he was gone.

Shit.

Her hand flew to open a channel to Batman. What was going on? Her monitors should have caught it. If Crane had been out long enough to actually do something...

"Come on, Bruce," she muttered.

No answer.

Damn. Damn damn damn.

She flipped off the signal angrily, then remembered. Batgirl.

Cassandra at least answered promptly.

"Here."

"Batgirl, hold up," she ordered.

"New orders?"

Barbara thought for a second. "Revised orders. Scarecrow is out."

"Need me-"

"No, I still need you to check Arkham. But be careful - my monitors didn't show the Scarecrow breakout."

"Hatter might not be there."

"Right. And I can't trust my reports to back you up when your in."

"Will check in," she promised. "Batgirl out."

Barbara closed the signal with a sigh, squeezing her eyes shut against a growing tension headache. When she opened them again, a red signal light reminded her that Dick was still transmitting. She turned the speaker back up.

"...you Batfolk," Dinah's voice was saying.

"Part of our charm," Dick answered, and Barbara could not resist a snort. Yeah, Dinah was really keen on Bat charm. Dick raised his voice to say, "We're clear."

Barbara felt a sense of relief when she heard a muffled reply - a note of gratitude in a familiar voice. J'onn. At least there was one less thing to worry about. They talked for a moment about the Scarecrow's unexpected presence, and she gathered that J'onn was well enough to make it to the penthouse - and to chafe a bit at not going into battle himself. That would reassure Bruce, take some of the edge off his brusque communications. Not that the Scarecrow wouldn't do his part to put that edge right back on.

Dick was asking Dinah if she wanted a lift somewhere, and she was answering that she had to pick up her bike. Barbara nodded with approval. They might need her again. Then Dick's voice was asking, "You catch all that, Oracle?"

"J'onn to the penthouse, Dinah back to the bike, you en route to meet Batman after you drop off the ambulance," she rapped out firmly.

"Understood," he replied. "Nightwing out."

She closed the channel and rechecked her Arkham monitors. Scarecrow still looked to be in his cell. Yes, whatever this was was big enough to deal with Batman if he squawked about her sending Nightwing. Not that she suspected he would - not once he realized that he had two lunatics working their will in his city.

A new signal sounded, and she opened the link.

"Report," came the expected growl.

"We got new problems," she said grimly.

"I know. Scarecrow."

She allowed herself an ironic smile. Akins was doing his job. "Arkham confirmed his escape ten minutes ago. Nightwing is en route to your location."

She could hear Sasha's voice in the background, whatever she intended to say abruptly cut off as Batman answered Oracle. "Tell him to meet us at Gotham Cathedral. Batman out."

No squawk, she noted with satisfaction, as she opened a channel to Nightwing.

"Go ahead, Oracle."

"Batman requests a rendezvous at Gotham Cathedral. You have an ETA?"

"We're almost to the dispatch center. J'onn's already at the penthouse. Tell him fifteen minutes. I'll call him directly once I'm airborne."

"Will do. Oracle out."

She closed the channel just as another line beeped. No rest for the weary, she reflected, answering Batgirl's call.

"Infiltrating Arkham," the younger woman reported. "Assume security high?"

Right question, Barbara noted, glancing at her Arkham displays. They did show the security alert, suggesting her tap into the official lines was still active. Perhaps it was just her cameras that were suspect. "Very high," she replied.

"Good. Give twenty."

"Starting the clock. I'm calling Robin in if you don't call by then."

"I'll call." The line closed, and Barbara shook her head at the confidence in Batgirl's tone. She would call, Barbara had no doubt. And Barbara would still put Tim on standby. But for the moment? She pinged Batman.

"Yes."

"Nightwing ETA 15 minutes - he'll call you once he hits the jumplines. Batgirl's entering Arkham and will call in in 20 minutes. I'm about to contact Robin for backup. And J'onn's at the penthouse."

Did she imagine it, or did she hear a release of held breath over the line? "Good. Have any Scarecrow information you can get ready when Nightwing arrives."

"You got it, boss. Anything else?"

"Just continue as you are. Out."

An alert came from her monitor, and she saw the police report on the Scarecrow incident was hitting the database. She'd pick it up in a minute. First, another call.

"Robin," she spoke into the line.

"Found Hatter?" he asked.

She snorted. "I wish. He might be at Arkham."

"Might?"

"Something's wrong with my system - I've got the Scarecrow active in Crime Alley and still appearing sound asleep in his cell."

"That's not good. You sure it's the Scarecrow?"

She paused, considering. Were they dealing with some villain who was borrowing MOs? None of them had actually seen Hatter or Scarecrow. "Good question. Although Arkham confirms his escape."

"But not Hatter's?"

"Not yet, anyway."

"Great. So we've got an information glitch. You need me to check it out?"

"I may. Batgirl's investigating now, but if she runs into problems -"

"If she runs into problems, then you'll need more than me."

Barbara smiled. Some days she thought Tim was the only half-sane one among them. "Don't sell yourself short, junior. I might need you anyway if Cass can't track the problem."

"So you're telling me to stand by."

"Right on the nose, Boy-Wonder. Can you get clear of the folks?"

"No sweat. I'm crashed in my room as far as their concerned after having way too much fun out with the guys. Speaking of which, how's J'onn?"

"He's fine - back at the penthouse. And I've gotta get back to work."

"I'll wait for your call."

"Thanks, Robin."

She took a moment to mentally place everyone on the team. Batman, Sasha, and Nightwing meeting at Gotham Cathedral, Batgirl at Arkham, Robin on standby. Alfred at the penthouse - and J'onn, but the odds that Batman would allow him to help? And then there was Dinah-

As if on cue, the comlink pinged.

"Yes, Dinah."

"Hey, girlfriend," Dinah's voice called cheerfully. "Got Bats on the wing tonight, eh?"

"And how. You on your way in?"

"Gotta return your bike," she pointed out. "You gonna need me?"

Barbara didn't miss the hesitation in the offer. "I might," she allowed. "How soon can you be here?"

"Ten minutes - fifteen at the outside. This got anything to do with J'onn playing bodyguard for Bruce?"

Barbara blinked and swallowed a laugh when she realized Dinah's misapprehension. "No. No, nothing at all. But I'll fill you in when you get here." Maybe, she added to herself.

"I'll hold you to that. See you in a few."

Dinah signed off, and Barbara turned to the police report. The digital clock display showed 2:04 a.m.



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