Disclaimer: Batman, assorted other characters and Halloween do not belong to me.
Murder at Wayne Manor
It was a dark and stormy night.
"You didn't tell me it was going to rain."
"You didn't tell me you were going to ride a motorcycle to this party."
"It's a masquerade. The bike is part of my costume."
"No kidding. And what fabulous disguise are you hiding behind tonight?"
"Black Canary," Dinah declared. "Old school."
"You're dressed as you?"
"I prefer to think of it as 'dressed as the World War II era heroine I succeeded with a few costume adjustments'."
"In other words, your mom. In your old costume."
"Look, if someone hadn't sent me to Cordova three times this month--"
"They're having a civil war!"
"--then I would have had time to pick out a better costume!"
"Bet you're sorry you ordered those onion rings last night."
"I was being facetious about the cellulite."
"Hey, I'm not the one who just turned twenty-nine for the sixth time and is wearing fishnet stockings tonight."
Dinah Lance killed the motor on her Harley and swung her leg over the seat.
"Here are the keys," she told the valet calmly, tossing him a single key on a thin ring and sauntered to the front door.
"Ms. Lance, so very pleased you could attend." Dinah walked through the door held open for her by an impeccably dressed Englishman.
"Let me guess," Dinah said, tapping her chin. "You're dressed up as the butler tonight, Alfred?"
"I prefer the term valet, Ms. Lance. Please, allow me to escort you to the ballroom."
"You're not as much fun when you're not plotting, Alfred," Dinah whispered as he escorted her from the main hall.
"You have no evidence that I am not currently plotting," Alfred pointed out.
"Oh. Good point." Dinah ran a hand through her damp hair as she checked out the expensive antiques lining the halls.
"Try not to frighten him too much," Alfred suggested with a sigh, opening the doors to the grand ballroom and bowing from the waist.
"Oh, wow." The room was filled with hundreds of people, most dressed in extravagant costumes complete with jewels, feathered masks and rich accessories. Dinah nodded to Alfred and wandered into the room. She accepted a glass of champagne from a roving waiter and nearly backed into a Merlin in a richly embroidered robe. Apologizing profusely, she turned right into her host, who steadied her arm just in time to keep her champagne from splashing across his tuxedo.
"Mr. Wayne." Dinah's face split into an impish grin. "No costume tonight?"
"I'm not much for disguises, Ms…?"
"Don't you read the papers, Mr. Wayne?" Dinah asked, taking his arm. "Dinah Lance. I'm the Black Canary."
"Really! A real, live superhero! Hey, everybody!" Bruce called over his shoulder. "Look! We have a real, live superhero here! It's Miss, um, Canary!"
Dinah gritted her teeth into a cheerful smile and waved to the bemused Wayne guests who were greeting her in various stages of interest.
"I told you he wasn't going to cooperate," Barbara laughed in Dinah's ear.
"Gosh," Bruce added in a quieter tone, scratching his head, "I'm glad you got here, but I know I didn't invite you. I wouldn't even know where to send the invitation!"
"Oh, we met a long time ago," Dinah said casually, hoping that he didn't notice she was dripping rainwater onto his marble floor. "Although I think you were wearing a different suit then."
"Well," Bruce said doubtfully, "I have three tuxedos…"
"But I got my invitation from a mutual friend."
"Really? Well tell me who it is so I can thank him."
"Her, actually. Barbara Gordon? She does…research for me."
"She's the hot chick in the wheelchair, right? Jim Gordon's daughter?"
"You're not going to win," Barbara told her sympathetically. "You might as well just play his game for a while."
"I don't want to play his game," Dinah snapped. She raised her head to see Bruce staring at her blankly. "Um, did I say that out loud?"
Barbara's laughter answered for her.
Tim hated the Arkham Patrol. To be fair, he had the limited Arkham sweep, which meant he didn't actually have to go inside, but he still got chills looking over the rooftop and checking the doors to make sure nothing was amiss. The absolute last thing he wanted to find on Halloween was an open shutter.
It had been a good Halloween so far. Before it had started raining, he'd instructed Cass on the intricacies of trick-or-treating and netted himself a pretty sizable stack of Mounds bars, thanks to Cassandra's disdain of coconut without real nuts. He'd had to barter away his Almond Joys, but he rationalized the almonds were just standing in the way of more coconut anyway.
Cass was patrolling, too, as was Spoiler. Batman wouldn't be out until much later, and it was up to them to hold down the fort until he was available. Spoiler had an early evening--she had a test the next morning, and Cass wasn't allowed near Arkham, even before the Joker incident.
Anyway, he decided with a swell of satisfaction, everything looked locked in tight at Arkham. Just one more sweep and--
Tim froze as he saw a patch of darkness in the field of gray shingles comprising the roof.
"Oh, no, no, no," he whispered to himself as he touched down. Three long strides, a prayer sent heavenward with each one, and then he was down on one knee, counting the number of shingles that were missing and wishing his Mounds bars weren't home on his desk.
"So tell me what it's like to be a superhero."
Dinah squinted at Bruce Wayne's handsome face and wanted nothing more than to drive her fist into it.
"It's very exciting," she informed him, keeping his arm locked in hers. "We get to wear really nifty costumes and meet lots of interesting people."
Bruce's head bobbed next to hers and for a moment she was seized by the possibility that she might actually have been wrong. If Bruce Wayne was really Batman, surely he'd have slapped her upside the head by now. She was being at least as annoying as Guy Gardner had been when Batman decked him with one punch.
"Bruce," she said suddenly, "I have to tell you something."
"Oh?' he asked, turning toward her quizzically.
"Yeah." She studied him for an instant, then grabbed his face and kissed him.
Outside, thunder cracked and lightning illuminated the windows.
Inside, the lights went out.
"Oracle, we have a problem."
"Arkham. Missing shingles."
"Four. Scarecrow could fit. Ivy, Harley maybe, and Zsasz…"
"And the Joker."
"He's on duty."
"He's got drunk duty at Frightland."
Robin switched channels, rolling his eyes.
"Right here, good-looking."
"I need you to report back to the Clocktower and keep an eye on Oracle."
Possible Arkham escape. I want her protected, understand?"
"I'm all over it."
"Good. I knew I could count on you." Tim took a breath and dialed his communicator to the next private channel. "Batgirl? I'm on the roof of Arkham Asylum. I'm going to need backup. What's your ETA?"
There was a lengthy pause on the other end of the line.
"How fast can you get here?" Tim rephrased. Then, in case she couldn't do time, "Where are you now?"
"Garden. With flowers. But…"
Wayne Botanical Gardens. Good. She could get there in ten, maybe fifteen minutes.
"…can't fight costumes."
"Batman said. Can't…fight…costumes."
Oh. Tim cringed. Batman had decreed that Batgirl wasn't allowed to confront any of the costumed criminals. He should have sent her to the Clocktower to protect Oracle instead of Spoiler. Tactical error in the field. He still wanted Cassandra at his back--he wasn't sure of Stephanie's training when it came to the loons, but Batman's edicts weren't to be taken lightly. He winced and lifted his communicator to switch their assignments when he heard a blood-curdling scream from inside the building.
"Just get here."
"What was that?" Bruce Wayne asked, his eyes sketching around the ceiling at the newly working lights.
"Most people call it a kiss," Dinah said patiently. "Some call it--"
"The lights," Bruce interrupted, waving a hand to put her off.
"Yeah, they went out, but it was probably the storm," Dinah said dryly. "Kisses are great, but it usually takes a little more to knock out an electrical grid."
"We have a backup generator," Bruce said shortly. "There's no reason for the lights to have gone out."
"Delay in the backup?"
"Not more than a flicker."
Bruce Wayne looked back at her in a decidedly non-Bruce Wayne way.
Before either of them could verbally confirm what they both suddenly knew, they both heard a blood-curdling scream from the other end of the ballroom. Their eyes met and they sprinted across the room as one, elbowing guests and hired waitstaff out of their way.
Tim pounded through the hallways of Arkham Asylum bo staff drawn and extended. He shouldered through confused nurses and psychologists, dodging in and out of conference rooms and offices. He finally found what he was looking for at the end of the hall.
A nurse cowered against a massive maple desk, her dress streaked with blood.
Tim scanned the room and dropped to one knee beside the victim. Stark terror was frozen in his lifeless eyes, his rigored hand still clutching the knife he'd driven into his heart.
"What happened?" he asked.
"It…it…I don't know," the nurse stuttered. "He…Dr. Crane…"
"Where'd he get the gas?"
"I don't know. I didn't know he had it. I just…I walked in and Dr. Geddes was…he was…"
"Ok, ok," Tim said as she dissolved into hysterics. He patted her shoulder awkwardly. "Call the police. Get Bullock and Montoya here." He pulled a pad of cotton out of his utility belt and dabbed the victim's face with it.
"Oracle," he said into his collar, "it's the Scarecrow. And he's on the move."
The rain pounded on the ceiling and dripped down the windows as the silent guests at Wayne Manor gathered around the body of the gentleman in Merlin garb.
"Call the police!" Bruce commanded, taking charge of the scene. "Black Canary…" He paused and gave her a significant look. "Can you help?"
"Sure thing." She stood up and held her arms above her head. "Everyone, please listen to me! I need you to all go back to the other side of the room and sit down. On the floor, unless you've got a bunch of chairs somewhere."
"Do we have chairs?"
"Several hundred, sir."
"Great. Grab a few guys you know and have them help you."
Alfred vanished and Black Canary turned back to the crowd.
"Um, is there a doctor in the house?" She looked around helplessly. "No? C'mon? Anyone? Dermatologist? Professor of history?"
"I think he's pretty dead," Bruce reported, kneeling by the body.
"You think?" Dinah leaned over, ignoring the appreciative glances that rippled through the room.
"Oh, yeah." Bruce nodded significantly at the man's wide-staring eyes. He pressed two fingers to the fleshy neck and shook his head. "Gone."
"Do you know who he is?"
"The doctor you were looking for," Bruce reported wryly. "Anton Selikov."
"Right. I don't see any blood."
"Strangulation. Ligature marks under his jaw. High, it was someone taller than him and they pulled upward."
"Too bad it wasn't the guy next to him. Selikov could have saved him, maybe."
"Doubtful. Selikov was a psychiatrist. Studied abnormal brain chemicals and…" Bruce trailed off.
"Arkham?" A significant glance replaced their hushed conversation. "Oracle, you there?" Dinah waited a moment for an answer and shook her head. "Oracle, come in. This is BC. We need your eyes, lady." Silence. Dinah shook her head again, raising her eyes to meet Bruce's concerned countenance. "No good."
"She uses satellite uplinks," Bruce murmured. "Shouldn't be affected by the storm."
"Then why isn't she answering?" Dinah asked, knowing her worry showed in her voice. Bruce caught it and gave her a warning glance.
"I need to get downstairs," he said quietly. "Cover me."
"Hell no!" Dinah announced, remembering belatedly to lower her voice. "I'm coming with you."
"Someone needs to distract the guests."
"Let Alfred do it."
"Alfred, did you contact the police?"
"I did, sir. Commissioner Gordon is sending Officers Allen and Montoya. Sir." Alfred met his eyes steadily. "Officers Bullock and Bock are accompanying Commissioner Gordon to Arkham."
"The Scarecrow, sir."
Bruce muttered a curse, balling his hand into a fist.
And then the lights went out again.
Robin squatted on the roof, studying the broken shingles when Batgirl touched down next to him. Her suit was slick with rain and her eyes were mere shadows in the planes of her mask.
"Check your commlink," he ordered succinctly. "See if you can reach Oracle."
Cassandra nodded and touched her device.
"Oracle?" She waited a moment and tried again. "Oracle? No answer."
"Me either. Try a different channel. Try calling BC or Nightwing."
Cassandra was less familiar with those channels, but she tried anyway, moving the settings on her communicator carefully.
"No one," she reported.
"Ok." Tim stood and put his hands on her shoulders. "Look, I know what Batman said about not fighting the costumes. I know he'll be mad. But the Scarecrow's loose. We can't contact anyone else. Spoiler's back at the Clocktower, Nightwing's in Bludhaven, and Batman's busy. We have to go find the Scarecrow and bring him back. You have your breathing device?" He pulled his own out of his utility belt as a demonstration.
Batgirl nodded and found the replicate device in her own utility belt.
"Use it. He has fear gas, ok? And I don't want you breathing it."
Because, Tim thought with a sick feeling in his stomach, Cassandra Cain's worst nightmare might just be the death of him.
This time, the blood-curdling scream came in chorus and started before the lights came back on.
"Histrionics," Bruce muttered disgustedly, one hand curled around Dinah's elbow. He pulled her back against him, one arm hooked protectively over her shoulder. "Alfred?"
"Right here, sir."
"Canary and I need to get to the study."
The lights came back on and the shrieks died down before one rose loud and clear above the murmurings.
"Who now?" Bruce wondered as he and Dinah ran across the room.
"He…he…" The woman was in her early fifties, though regular facelifts kept her looking younger.
"Please, come with me, madam," Alfred invited, leading her away.
"Strangulation again?" Dinah asked quietly, knowing to look for the red and purple marks on the man's throat.
"Yes." Bruce frowned at the body, checking again for signs of life and finding none.
"Excuse me, sir?"
"Alfred. What now?"
"The phones, sir. They're dead."
Tim wasn't sure how she did it, but Cassandra Cain could track people just as easily as she could track a Mr. Goodbar. Of course it helped that Crane tended to leave straw in this wake.
Batgirl was holding another piece of the stuff, twirling it in her fingers as she considered which way to go. Tim paged frantically through a copy of Crane's file, hastily provided by an Arkham intern, who kept mumbling about how she was going to quit her job and change her major to fashion design.
"This says he was growing increasingly irritated about some conference," Tim called to Batgirl over the howling wind of the storm. She gave him a blank look and headed northeast. Tim followed willingly, stealing a peek at the file when he could shield it from the rain. "Oh my god," Tim whispered when they paused under a streetlight. "I know where he's going."
Bruce whipped out his cell phone and listened for a dial tone. When he got one, he punched in a number from memory.
"Commissioner Gordon?" Bruce nodded once to Alfred. "Right, same here. No, nothing. Commissioner, there's been another murder." A long pause. "Yes. Yes, we'll do that. No, we won't. Yes, I understand. Yes. Are Batman and Robin on it? Robin and…Batgirl? I see. Ok, thank you. We'll sit tight." He thumbed the phone off and looked up at Alfred, Dinah and the waiting guests. "Phone lines are down," he reported grimly. "And the Kane Memorial Bridge is flooded out. The police can't get here for a good hour."
This started a frightened ripple of conversation throughout the party guests as Bruce turned away.
"All right, all right, everybody calm down," Dinah called, lifting her chin in an effort to see over everyone's heads. "I know you're all worried." She bit her lip and looked around at everyone. "Bruce," she asked suddenly, turning her head to see him conversing quietly with Alfred. "Did you know the second victim?"
"I knew of him," Bruce answered immediately. "Dr. Valery Przblinka."
"Really." Dinah frowned. "Another Belovian?"
"Vlatavan, actually. They were both here for a conference Wayne Enterprises was hosting."
"Is he a psychiatrist, too?"
"A pharmacist, actually."
"Let me guess."
"Why didn't he answer when I asked if there were any doctors?" Dinah muttered under her breath.
"Probably because he doesn't speak English."
"But his wife does?"
"Only a little." Bruce narrowed his eyes. "As far as I know."
"All right everyone," Dinah announced, turning to the group. "Here's the deal. If the lights go out, duck your heads like you used to for civil defense drills, and raise one arm in the air. I'm off to investigate a lead, but I'll be back as soon as I can." She glanced back at Bruce. "You coming or staying?"
"I'm going with you." He looked at his valet. "Alfred, you'll keep things calm here?"
"Of course, sir."
"Which way?" Dinah asked impatiently.
"Follow me." Bruce led her quickly out a side door of the ballroom and through a non-descript hallway. "Raising the hand?"
"Got it from Phantom of the Opera."
Dinah wasn't sure if Bruce was being appreciative or sarcastic, but she knew one thing--Bruce Wayne was definitely Batman, and by the end of the night, there was no way he'd be able to prove otherwise.
Oracle was going to owe her twenty bucks.
Batgirl and Robin were drenched to the bone. Tim's precious file copy was jammed behind his utility belt. Cass already had her rebreathing device clenched between her teeth.
"Wait." Batgirl had stopped on a roof, leaning down to observe a tussle on the street below.
"Cass, this is--" Tim looked down and saw a slight blonde girl struggling against three large men. "Oh." The girl reminded him, just a little of Steph, and he wondered why the Clocktower wasn't answering. "Let's go."
They swung in together, Cass ramming one with her feet pressed firmly together, her tiny fist flashing out to catch the other one under his jaw. Tim took the last one with a solid roundhouse to the face and turned to see Cass crouching on the alley floor, picking up the pieces of something.
"Are you ok?" he asked the blonde girl, who nodded. Tim couldn't tell if the water running down her face was rain or tears or both. He directed her out to the street and knelt to see what Cass was picking up.
"Breath thing," she said worriedly as Tim knelt beside her. "Broke when hit him." She pointed to one unconscious thug.
Cass had sworn never to kill again, Tim knew, but the Scarecrow's fear gas was a powerful thing and he didn't want to think about how she might react to it.
"Here," he said grimly, taking his own out of his pocket and handing it to her.
"There are catacombs that run under and through Wayne Manor," Bruce explained, reaching up to unhinge the grate to an air duct. "I used to play in them as a child." He made short work of the screws and lowered the grate to the ground. "When we rebuilt the house after the quake, I tried to leave all the nooks and crannies intact, as much as possible, at least." He laced his fingers together and bent both knees. "I'll boost you up."
"What are we looking for?" Dinah asked, putting her foot in Bruce's linked hands. "He can't be hanging people from the air ducts."
"There's a sub-attic over the ballroom," Bruce explained. "I think he may be operating from there."
"Oh, good," Dinah muttered, letting him shove her into the shaft. "Let's hope he's not standing at the entrance with a sub-machine gun."
"Not the Scarecrow's style," Bruce assured her unreassuringly.
She heard him boost himself up after her as she wiggled through the tight air shaft. "Go straight?" she asked, as if she had any other choice.
"Yes. And don't talk."
Ok, she thought silently. Don't talk. She inched along until she came out into a small pocket, about as high as she was tall, and about seven feet deep. Bruce exited the air duct behind her and pulled a candle from his trouser pocket. He struck a match against the wall and the candle flared to life. Dinah saw in the dim light that he'd shucked his jacket before crawling into the duct. She looked at him questioningly.
He tilted his head at her, beckoning for her to follow. She did, following the orange light through pocked stone walls, until he halted her and extinguished the light. A moment later, she felt his hand wrap securely around hers in the dark and lead her forward through the twisting tunnel. Dinah couldn't be sure in this light, but she was fairly certain they were following subtunnels that Bruce knew. Curiouser and curiouser.
Bruce's hand tightened on her own and her drew her closer to the mouth of the tunnel.
"Selikov, Przblinka and another man were working with Wayne Enterprises to create a medication that used the formula of Crane's fear gas to influence society-appropriate behavior," Bruce murmured in her ear. "I think Crane is using extreme doses of that medication to paralyze his victims with fear before strangling them. The killings are quick and there doesn't appear to be much of a struggle."
"Will he try to use this medication on us?"
"You," Bruce corrected. "I'm a billionaire playboy with no fighting skills."
"Fine, me then. Scarecrow uses, gas, right?"
"Yes, but this medication is in liquid form. I don't know what he's using, but try not to breathe while you're fighting him."
"Oh, right, no problem. I'll get started on that world peace thing right after lunch, too."
"Canary?" Bruce's voice, hushed as it was, held the faintest note of amusement. "Why are you here?"
"I bet Oracle twenty bucks that I could get you to admit that you were Batman by the end of the night." Dinah glanced into the open anteroom and the straw-clad villain opening the fuse box. "Showtime!"
Black Canary launched herself into the room, hitting the Scarecrow in the solar plexus with a well-placed spin-kick. He went over like a ragdoll, bouncing to his feet to weave in front of her.
She danced backwards, unused to working in heels again, and threw her arm up as he hurled the rope noose he held in his gloved hands. The noose wrapped around her forearm between her glove and the cuff of her jacket. She used the grip to yank Crane into her, smashing her fist soundly into his nose. But…wait. That would hurt! She curled her fist into her chest, rubbing the aching skin and backing away from Crane. Wait, this wasn't right, she told herself, but she wasn't sure she should listen. She was afraid.
Someone was yelling at her and she cowered from the sound.
She peeked up from where she was curled to see Bruce Wayne land a perfect kick on the villain before crouching down next to her, hands cupping her shoulders.
"The noose," he hissed in her ear. "It's poisoned."
Timidly, Dinah shook the rope off her arm and she felt the prick of a needle in her left elbow.
"What's that?" she asked worriedly. "Will it react badly with over-the-counter drugs?"
"It's an antidote," Bruce murmured, pocketing the syringe. "I had Alfred bring it up when Valery died."
Dinah blinked a few times and realized the antidote was as fast-acting as the poison. She looked up to thank Bruce and screamed.
Batgirl and Robin crashed through the plate glass window to the Wayne ballroom seconds after the tussling villain and heroine fell through the ceiling onto a table full of petit fours and tiny cups of mousse. Dinah kicked him off her and rolled to her feet as Tim swept his bow across Crane's ankles, tipping him to the floor. Batgirl snapped a plastic tie around his hands and hauled Crane to his feet by the ragged rope looped around his neck.
Police sirens sounded in the distance. Dinah grinned at Tim and nodded to Cass, before suddenly going sober.
"Have either of you been able to contact the Clocktower?" she asked, lowering her voice so the guests wouldn't hear her.
They both shook their heads in the negative.
"If you can stay and take care of all this," Tim said, "we'll go make sure Oracle's all right. I haven't heard from Spoiler since I deployed her."
"Spoiler's with Oracle?"
"Yeah, I sent her there when we realized there was an escape from Arkham."
Dinah shook her head. "In that case, you'd better make sure Spoiler's not dead."
Hours later, Dinah and Bruce sat next to each other as the remains of the night were cleaned up. Gordon and Bullock had come to collect Scarecrow and take him back to Arkham. The ambulances had loaded up the bodies and gone wailing to Gotham Mercy. Montoya and Allen were taking statements from the guests.
"Ba--Oracle!" Dinah gasped. "Where have you been? We were worried sick!"
Oracle's delighted laugh filtered over the line. "Turns out Nightwing got off early and decided to come trick or treating. Trick was on him when he found out he had to get through Spoiler, first!"
"Oh no. But you were incommunicado forever!"
"Oh, yeah, those two made such a mess. Shorted out my entire fusebox trying to get in and my communications cables got used for, well, let's just say it took a while to get everything back online. Tim was here to help, thank goodness."
"Good to hear," Dinah agreed, glancing at Bruce. He raised his eyebrows at her and she nodded and winked. He nodded, face impassive, but if she was a betting woman, she'd put money on his relief.
"Yeah, so, what's going on? Tim said something about needing a Mounds bar, but he didn't say what went on all night. Anything happen?"
Dinah looked at Bruce speculatively.
"Oracle? I think you owe me twenty bucks."