By Thundering Monkey
Stalking and Talking
Cassandra Cain was an excellent detective if she did say so herself. Her information suggested that whatever was happening was going down today and sure enough, her quarry appeared right on schedule, zipping his jacket right up to his chin against the early morning chill. He pulled a bright woolen cap down over his ears, stuffed his fist into his pockets and headed up the street. Cassie huddled into her black hoodie and followed, wishing she’d brought something a little warmer. Maybe if he got careless she could steal his cap.
Tailing people was one of the first things she had learned from father along with seeing and hitting. Blend with the crowd; use the terrain to break up your outline. Follow the target but don’t hunt them. It defied logic, but sometimes a dangerous enemy could seem to sense the crosshairs, and..shit he’s turning around. She barely had time to snatch a copy of Cat Fancy from a nearby newsstand and hold it in front of her face. After a few tense moments, she risked a peek around the over the top of the magazine. Her target had apparently not noticed anything and was now crossing the intersection. He looked at his watch and picked up his pace a little.
“Hey sweetheart, this ain’t a library” growled the balding fireplug of a man, running the stand, “You read it, you bought it.”
Cassie frowned. Her reading was much better than it was even last year, but she didn’t need a copy of Cat Fancy. She thought of arguing with the man on principle, but her quarry was slipping away, and she could always give it to Selina later. She could probably use a magazine about cats. She thrust a wad of bills at the man, and then smoothly dashed across the street using a city bus for cover.
Working at the Gotham branch of the Civil Rights Coalition of America was more often than not an exercise in frustration, disappointment and heartbreak for Michael Kowalski. The pay was lousy, the chances for advancement were few and far between, and the ACLU hogged all the good looking interns, but every now and then life threw you a win. He jotted one more quick note on his legal pad wishing once more, that the Coalition could find enough money to get them all Waynetech tablets. Well, maybe just one.
“Alright people” he called out “Bring it in. Hey Andy, tell them you’ll call them back. Come on people let’s get this thing started.”
The cramped office was dominated by a large table in the middle of the floor with desk and filing cabinets pushed against the walls. The obligatory picture of Martin Luther King was pinned to the wall over Melissa’s desk and Omar had hung one of those motivational posters that you got at the mall with a quote by Ghandi over the table he split with Andy where they did the office blog and the weekly newsletter. The wall by the door was morbidly referred to as “Death Row” and displayed the pictures and names of each of the twelve men currently scheduled to be executed in Blackgate. Each name had a date scrawled under it marking the deadline the Coalition was working against to save his life. They were counterbalanced on the other side by letters from grateful prisoners and family members who the Coalition had freed through their tireless efforts. There were depressingly few.
The others gathered around the table shuffling the remains of the Chinese takeout they’d had for lunch around to make room for an assortment of legal pads and laptops, finally settling in giving him their attention.
“Ok, first order of business” started Michael, “Donny Ray Boggs. We’re getting down to the wire people. He goes to the chair in six days. I know we’ve all been working very hard on this one, but let’s try to make one last push for clemency. Melissa, I want you to try to talk to the Delgado’s again. A statement of forgiveness could carry some weight with the governor. Fire up the social media, any boards you’re members of, get the word out, and remember your talking points. There’s no proof the death penalty deters violent crime. Mistakes get made and innocent people have been executed, you know the drill.”
“Moving on, we have a new development in the Joseph Keller case, for the interns, this was one that happened a few years ago. An 18 year old girl named Stephanie Brown was found dead in an alley by a sanitation worker. The police report indicated she had been attacked with a knife and fought back. Anyways, several days later Joseph Keller was brought in by the vigilante calling himself Robin, poisoned with Joker toxin and barely alive. He was arrested for the crime and sentenced for 30 to life. But here’s the thing. Last month, another lifer by the name of Cyrus Dufresne confessed to the murder, including details that the police had withheld from the media. Mr. Keller contacted us and asked for help getting his wrongful conviction overturned. We recorded Dufresne’s deposition and filed our motion with the court on Friday. It’s too soon to know for sure, but it looks like the court has found the confession credible. With any luck by this time next week Joseph Keller will be a free man.
Cassie was pretty sure Tim (the suspect, she reminded herself) was messing with her. He had weaved through the foot traffic, narrowly avoiding several collisions moving purposefully uptown for 12 blocks like he was late for an appointment, only to buy coffee from a street vendor and relax on a park bench watching a group of children playing some sort of game that involved getting a hat on a reluctant Labrador. Worse yet, he had inconsiderately placed himself near the coffee cart so she couldn’t get her own delicious moccacino. She shrank back into a recessed doorway and muffled a sneeze in her sleeve. Cain would be appalled at how soft she had gotten. He would have had her doing kata in a meat locker for hours on end if he had caught her sneezing on a stakeout. She promised herself and extra session on the new “Luthor” setting of Zogger as penance for her moment of weakness, but first she would complete her mission.
She peeked around the corner to see the dog escape the clutches of a small blonde girl triumphantly gripping the hat in its teeth. It trotted around her just out of reach completely unfazed by her scolding. Her quarry smiled at the spectacle, a little sadly she thought, and snapped a picture with his smartphone while pretending to check his email. He lingered another minute then casually dropped his empty cup in a nearby trashcan and hailed a cab. Cassie had just enough time to get a tracker on the roof of the cab before it pulled away. He was almost out of sight before she reached the cover of an alley where she could retrieve her grappler from her messenger bag and take to the rooftops. It took her another 7 blocks of running, jumping and swinging between buildings to catch up with the taxi which had come to a stop in front of a florist shop. Cassie dropped down quietly around the corner and eased up to the window to look inside. Tim was at the counter pointing at something in a big book of flower pictures. The clerk looked skeptical and gestured to a lovely bouquet of lilies instead, but gave in as Tim shook his head and pointed at the book again. Cassie wasn’t sure what to think about this development. Tim had given her flowers once at a Wayne Foundation event and had laughed and called “Dibs” to the other men at the table when she said the flowers were pretty but a kung fu movie would have been better. Boys were weird.
She had just enough time to run to the street and get her own cab before Tim came back out with a bouquet of oddly mismatched flowers, got back into his taxi, and pulled away.
“Follow that cab” Cassie demanded imperiously, “and don’t spare horses.” The cabbie rolled his eyes and muttered something about always getting the crazies. Nevertheless he pulled into traffic several cars behind Tim’s cab. Cassie idly thumbed through her magazine. “Your cat is trying to kill you, here’s why” promised to be interesting, and the article on must-have cat toys gave her some ideas for Christmas, but this was starting to turn into one of those boring police stakeouts from those movies Tim liked to watch. She leaned forwards to see what the cabbie was doing.
“Look out for bike messenger” she warned, moments before a blur in spandex whipped across three lanes of traffic to make the turn. The cabbie hunched forwards and pretended not to hear her. “Red Honda want’s to merge” she added helpfully “is looking at you, hey buddy let me over. Like that.”
The cab driver grunted and glared at her in the mirror until she settled back in her seat.
“Can I drive?”
“How’s Space” Barbara’s bright voice came from the watchtowers communication panel. “Is it cold? I bet its cold,” Nightwing grinned; finally something to break up the monotony of monitor duty. He didn’t mind taking Bruce’s shift so he could have a little away time with Selina, but damn the hours could drag out when nothing was happening.
“Probably a bit colder than it is in Gotham right now, but I have some ideas about how we could heat things up a little,” he served up for her.
“Why Mister Grayson, I can’t imagine what you mean by that,” She volleyed back. “Surely you can’t be suggesting we use the Justice Leagues ultra-secure communications array to do something….inappropriate.” He could hear the naughty grin in her voice.
“Well Mrs. Gordon let me tell you what I had in mind. First…
And thus began the Fourth Age, which the Chroniclers of Martian History would call “The Withering” bringing with it droughts unlike any known to humankind.
“I’m not sure I know this one Dick, I’m game if you are, but you might have to steer me around the curves.” Barbara said drily.
“Damn it, we tripped the adult controls on the communications console. Ever since Eel called all those sex lines and had them talk to each other for three hours anything racier than a mildly suggestive double entendre gets preempted by Jonn reading from his biography. Sorry Babs, I guess we’re on our own.”
“Ah well “Barbara sighed, “I guess I can always catch up on my reading.”
“Not those fan fiction sites again! Babs those stories make you crazy. You’re the smartest woman I’ve ever met, why you intentionally inflict those things on yourself…..I can’t even watch Walking Dead any more after what you told me that lady wrote about Zombie Darryl.”
“Damn it Dick! If smart women stop reading fan fiction because of the idiots then the Terrorist win.” She was laughing now. “Hold on, I’m getting an alert from one of the flagged case files.”
“Is this a masochism thing” Dick pleaded. “Are you punishing yourself for waiting so long to marry me?”
“Dick, we have to find Tim right now.” Barbara’s voice had gone from merry to dead serious in an instant. “They’re letting Stephanie’s killer go.”
Cassie edged silently along the wall of a marble crypt and peeked around the corner to where Tim was talking quietly to a nondescript tombstone. She’d known this was where he was headed as soon as soon as the cab had pulled up in front of this church in the suburbs. Spoiler’s gravestone.
“Your mom is doing better I think, “Tim said quietly. “Wonder Girl’s mother runs a kind of support group for parents. They get her out of the house at least. I haven’t tried to talk to her again after last time. I think it would just make things worse. Katie’s getting big. I know you said you didn’t want to know, but I always thought one day you might change your mind so I kept track of her. The people who adopted her seem nice. They’ll probably put her in dance or gymnastics soon. I’m voting for soccer. She has your giant feet…”
Tim cocked his head to the side as if listening to something. “You might as well come on out Cass. I know you’re there.”
Cassie stomped out from behind the crypt and poked Tim in the chest violently. “How?! I was SO quiet. I was like a shadow, and I didn’t buy moccacino or steal your hat! Did you hear me sneeze?”
Tim gave her his patented “You’re insane, but you’re cute so I’ll keep you” look. “It was your Oracom. Babs boosted the power on the new model to get better reception underground. There’s a little bit of feedback whenever two are close together. So what’s up? Why the cloak and dagger?”
“You said I should practice detective work, so I follow all day,” She stated proudly. “Found out lots of stuff.”
“That wasn’t exactly what I meant, but let’s hear it. What did your investigation uncover?” Tim asked with a faint smile.
Cassie pointed at the vase sitting in front of Stephanie’s gravestone. “The flowers don’t match, but not because you don’t know how. Flowers at Wayne party were prettier. Not that these aren’t good too!” she hoped she had not hurt his feelings. “Flowers mean something.”
Tim nodded and crouched by the vase touching a stalk of pink and white flowers. “These were given to Gladiators who fought in Rome. They’re a sign of respect for a brave warrior. He pointed to a pale purple one. “First Love.” Then a pink Carnation. “Remembrance” and finally a cluster of deep purple flowers almost the color of Spoilers costume. “Regret.”
“The girl with the dog?” Cassie asked, “She was Stephanie’s? The one she gave up?”
Tim smiled softly. “I was there when she was born you know. Her mom thought I was a friend from school. We weren’t really dating then, just kind of flirting a bit on patrols. Someone had to sit with her at doctors’ visits and those Lamaze classes. Her loser ex-boyfriend certainly didn’t stick around long enough to do it. Of course he didn’t get her killed, so who am I to talk.”
“Tim no!” Cassie exclaimed. “That wasn’t you. It was Stephanie. She made mistake and got killed. You’re just like Batman. Try to control everything. Feel like everything bad that happen your fault. Spoiler made choice that was bad, not you!”
“I know Cass, I know. There’s plenty of blame to go around. I blame Joseph Keller for being a sadistic murdering scumbag, I blame Steph for giving him the chance, but I put her there, you know? I was too young and too stupid to know what to say to let her down easy. It got out of hand to where we were just shouting stuff we didn’t mean to hurt each other by the end. She probably died thinking I hated her.”
Cassie had had just about enough. She plucked Tim’s cozy knit cap from where it rested and smacked him across the back of the head.
“Oww Cass! What the hell” Tim shouted rubbing his stinging head.
“You want fresh one?!” She shouted shaking her fist at him. “Stephanie made mistake but she wasn’t stupid. She know you loved her. You show her all the time. Tim Drake doesn’t date stupid women.”
Cassie jumped as her Oracom abruptly came to life in her ear. Barbara’s voice came through with an audible note of worry to it.
“Cassie, I need you to bring Tim to the clock tower immediately. Don’t let him out of your sight and don’t tell him anything’s up. Something’s happened and it will be better if he finds out from us.”
“We’re on our way.” Cassie said. “Come on Tim, Oracle need us to come in.”
“Did she say what it’s about?” Tim asked curiously.
“No, and am not worried at all about that” she replied.
They turned and walked side by side back to the front of the church, wondering how long it would take to get a taxi all the way out here.
“Cassie” asked Tim?
She looked over smiling innocently at him.
“Any chance I could get my hat back?”
To be continued...