From his first appearance, everyone knew that Two-Face was crazy. The coin flipping, referring to himself as “we” and “us,” splitting his wardrobe and even his hideouts down the center to match his disfigured face, it went beyond unhealthy obsession into a full-blown, psychotic disconnect from reality.
But as Two-Face himself was always happy to explain, there are two kinds of crazy in the world. There’s the stupid, pointless, self-destructive crazy, and then there’s smart crazy. He was the latter.
He did not go shooting his own henchmen just to prove he was a bad guy. He didn’t go shooting his own henchmen just because it was Thursday. He didn’t even flip his coin to decide whether to shoot a henchman for such an idiotic reason. His rationale was sanity itself: henchmen were a limited good. There were a finite number of men in the world that you could hire to carry a bomb for you. There were a finite number of men who would run up to Batman with their fists clenched rather than run screaming into the nearest alley, police precinct, or church. Of those, only about two-thirds would accept a suitable designation, such as Duo or Ditto, and wear a costume properly divided down the center. In short, while there were plenty of potential henchmen out there, there weren’t so many that you could go around shooting them willy-nilly. It was for practical reasons as much as theme that Two-Face preferred using the same henchmen a second time.
The world at large was not privy to his reasoning (although Batman had speculated a few times in his logs), but they knew the result: Two-Face reused henchmen. Since a copycat would be perfectly aware of the practice, Batman wanted to roust as many former Two-Face henchmen as he could find. Not only were they likely to be approached by either a copycat or the original, they were in a position to know the difference.
It was certainly the most promising route of investigation, but it would have to wait. Nick the doorman was the top priority.
Nick was a longshot as far as having useful information, but he was a civilian and a working man. Civilians deserved better than nightmare shadows coming to life outside their windows in the dead of night and midnight interrogations from masked vigilantes, particularly when they had to be at work in six hours. So Batman called on Nick first, when it was more dusk than dark outside and while the man was still awake and watching television. The silent appearance at the window still startled Nick momentarily, but a fully silhouetted and recognizable Batman wasn’t soul-wrenchingly terrifying the way a mass of black with only two slits of vengeful hate glaring through the darkness is terrifying. At least, that’s what Batman told himself. It was just possible that innocents like Nick didn’t fear him simply because they were innocents. A clear conscience and all that.
As expected, Nick didn’t have much to say about Harvey’s movements beyond what he’d already told Selina. He did mention that Mr. Dent was quite the ladies’ man (not news), and that he seemed to be something of a serial monogamist. First, there was this hot redhead (Claudia Muffington, surely), then a thin, petite brunette he called Dina (Diana North, Bruce had seen them at D’Annunzio’s a couple times), and the current one was blonde. Lotta Botox. Usually wore red. (Could be almost anyone, but the red argued for Angela Vraag…)
Vraag was the Dutch word for “question,” and Riddler had kidnapped her once. An ongoing criminal connection was unlikely, however, since Nigma later dated her cousin Penny. That presumably meant he was done with the Vraag angle for criminal targets, but Batman left a mental asterisk over Harvey’s lady friends anyway. If Harvey was dating Angela Vraag, and if other avenues of investigation came up empty, it was worth following up with Nigma.
“What is like the popular table in high school… or 16th-century Versailles… covered with leopard print throw pillows… with a little patch of radiant purple in the center… sipping her favorite martini?”
Raven sighed as if she’d heard more than enough of these whimsical requests to be seated near Catwoman in the most exclusive corner of the VIP room. It was never like this at the Iceberg. Oswald’s office was just Oswald’s office. It had nothing to do with Raven as the hostess. And even if she had been stuck acting as his doorkeeper, she imagined the rogues wanting to see him wouldn’t have been in such a party mood.
She didn’t show Riddler to a table, she just made a disinterested nod in the general direction. He would just get up as soon as she’d seated him and wander over to Catwoman, assuming he hadn’t offended Clayface. If he had, Clayface would morph into the MGM lion, roar twice, and if the unwelcome rogue had really offended him, chase him up to the rafters (since the VIP room, unlike the Iceberg dining room, had no chandelier).
In most nightclubs, a good hostess did everything she could to avoid that kind of a scene, but at Vault, like the Iceberg before it, such uprisings were part of the charm. So she just waved the big names through… Riddler, Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Mr. Freeze… and let them fend for themselves.
Harvey’s building had a night doorman as well. He was on duty until dawn, and there was no reason to question him before midnight. But Batman decided to talk to him next, while the details of Harvey’s domestic situation were fresh in his mind. The man’s name was Ian Fisher, and Batman had investigated him thoroughly several years earlier. It was shortly after he began visiting Selina’s apartment after his late patrol. Doormen are paid to notice the comings and goings at street level. It was unlikely he would see a black cape against a black sky all those stories above, even if he happened to look up at just the right moment. Nevertheless, as Batman began swooping down to that same balcony night after night, he thought it prudent to investigate that nagging “what if.”
He learned that Ian Fisher was a native Gothamite, the oldest of four boys. He attended St. Swithun’s Pre-School, Elementary, and High School. Joined the Navy, honorable discharge. Married a girl from the neighborhood. 2 kids. Worked as a bouncer at a club inside a downtown hotel. After six months, he became a doorman at the hotel, and three years later took the same job at a residential building in Harrow. Stayed there six years before taking the job at Selina’s building. Volunteered at the Adult Literacy League and Habitat for Humanity. A family man, ties to the community, an ideal employee in every respect… which made it very strange that he wasn’t at his post.
Batman made four passes around the block, muscle memory adjusting the angle of the batline each time he made the final swing north towards Selina’s balcony. On the fourth swing, he twisted abruptly as he saw Ian Fisher back at his post, the legs of his uniform and shoes just visible under the awning, right where they had always been when Batman made this approach in the past. He shot a new line to the nearest gargoyle, swung low to a streetlight, and then dropped to the sidewalk four feet from the awning.
Fisher was slow to react, and Batman proceeded carefully, although he was beginning to suspect why he had left his post for so long.
“Mr. Fisher?” he said, louder and more aggressively than he would normally address a civilian who had done nothing wrong.
This time there was a response: only one word and murmured too softly to be heard. But by now, Batman was quite sure what had happened: the day’s events, the proximity of the park, the Sherborn woman’s dogs and Selina’s investigation… Batman was quite sure what had happened, and he was quite certain what the unintelligible word was. The day’s events, the proximity of the park, man’s eyes were glassy and unfocused…
“Fisher!” he barked, shaking the doorman’s shoulders.
“Greeeeen,” came the blissfully anguished reply.
Catwoman’s Queen of the Underworld differed from Oswald’s Emperor Penguin in many respects, the most obvious being her availability. She did not own or manage “her” nightclub. She wasn’t on the premises any time the doors were open. She made an appearance most nights, but only after her prowl and only if she felt like it. Top tier rogues, even those who had never set foot in Vault, approved of her methods. It signified a practicing villainess who was still out there, actively challenging the Bat each night in person. Penguin was among the best in his day, certainly, but when did he ever have to vanish from the Iceberg for nearly a week because Batman was out for his blood and Superman was tearing up the skies looking for him after a double-rout in Metropolis?
So Riddler wasn’t particularly surprised to see the booth was empty when he reached the back corner of the VIP room; he was disappointed, naturally, but not surprised. He scanned the room for someone else to show off his wonderful new riddle-delivery system. Magpie would be appreciative, but she wouldn’t get it. Roxy would be enthusiastic on general principle, but he didn’t think she would get it either. She probably thought riddles were a way to secure Batman’s presence at a crime in order to lead him on a high-speed pursuit through a fireworks factory. Double Dare were too full of themselves to appreciate anyone else’s methods.
He sighed. It looked like the only rogues present capable of really appreciating the cleverness of his new toy were Clayface, Scarecrow, and Mad Hatter. Was it really worth impressing them?
Psychobat hated all criminals. It was the fire that drove him through pain and exhaustion, in the face of impossible odds and daunting setbacks. But even that most basic core hatred had an ebb and flow. There were degrees and levels. There were spikes and valleys.
Poison Ivy was a spike.
The way that woman could wreak havoc on a well-planned course of action. In the past, he’d lost entire weeks of crimefighting in the grip of her pheromones, weeks that should have been spent protecting his city, lost in her madness of green. Somehow, this was more infuriating. At least then, she was DELIBERATELY TRYING. When she greened Bruce Wayne, when she greened Batman, it was a purposeful, premeditated and calculated act, with malice aforethought and criminal intent. But this! This was… She was costing him hours—scarce, valuable hours that he did not have to spare from the Two-Face investigation—as a mere waste product of her lonely, psychotic, dysfunctional...
“Greeeeen,” the figure in the passenger seat moaned as the Batmobile turned onto Gotham General’s emergency ramp. He barked instructions to the trauma team. He nearly punched a nurse’s aide coming at him with a clipboard. Emergency room personnel were supposed to know that when the Batmobile shows up, the only question is “SmileX, gunshot, fear toxin, or pheromones?” The rest was not Batman’s concern.
He glared at the sniveling non-entity, glared with the ferocious loathing usually reserved for gunmen in back alleys. He spun on his heels, producing a dramatic sweep of the cape worthy of a Dracula exit, got into the car and drove off.
Only then did the guilt hit. His frustration was with Ivy and with the Two-Face situation. He had no business taking it out on a girl on a loading dock, even if she was a more-than-usually-stupid bureaucrat. The Wayne Foundation would have to make up for it, as usual. Arrange an event of some kind to recognize hospital employees, special mention for the night shifts in the emergency rooms, etc. He’d get Cynthia on it in the morning. In the meantime…
He checked the dashboard clock…
Damnit. Nearly midnight and he hadn’t even made it back to the Liberty One building yet.
The satellite cave underneath the Wayne Tower was physically smaller than the manor cave, but Batman had made no compromises in the lab and research facilities.
On his return to the Liberty One building, he’d made imprints of the scarring on that giant coin in the lobby. He fed these into the Batcomputer to try and determine what kind of instrument could have made them.
He initiated several other standard routines on the Batcomputer, including a search of the previous night’s police reports, since there had been multiple shots fired in the course of that Two-Face encounter. He would like to think that the noise would have been heard and reported… but it looked like the only reports of gunfire in the vicinity was the domestic disturbance at the townhouse. Bruce forced down a second attack of guilt. He’d been bored before the Two-Face encounter. He’d been craving action. And now…
On the long work table, Batman prepared slides with remnants of the “goo” harvested from the Liberty One stairwell, and samples of the same substance dried on his grapnel and on his cape. Analyzing these, he found it was a high-viscosity lubricant composed of fatty acids, graphite, and mica, enriched with Teflon and molybdenum disulfide… used in countless facilities in the greater Gotham area, no help there.
The sample from the grapnel had particles of the container it had pierced, releasing the oil slick and springing the trap. It was made of an ordinary polymer, mustard yellow. That detail gave him the manufacturer. According to the Batcomputer, of all the industrial lubricants with these chemical ingredients, only ThomChemCo used mustard yellow in its packaging… The Thomas Chemical Company was founded in 1949, factory in West Virginia, distribution hub in Bludhaven… number one industrial lubricant on the market, used in at least 8,000 facilities in Gotham… no help at all.
He turned his attention to the bomb. All manufactured C4, and several of the standard components for making it, contain chemical markers such as 2,3-dimethyl-2,3-dinitrobutane to indicate their source, makeup, and manufacturer. It should have been a simple matter to track down where they came from, who manufactured them and who purchased them… but it wasn’t. The C4, the timer, and the blasting caps all traced to an Argentine arms dealer who dealt exclusively in the sales of tanks, rocket launchers and Scud missiles. Not likely… A little looking into a forged extradition request regarding a hijacking that never took place uncovered a second provenance for the explosives and the blasting caps: an IRA supplier operating in San Francisco… who turned state’s evidence in 1982.
Two false trails.
Worse. Two false trails laid by a person (or persons) with detailed knowledge of forensic investigation. The kind of knowledge an experienced district attorney had at his fingertips.
Batman shook that troubling notion from his mind and checked the time.
There was more than enough of the night left to round up those old Two-Face henchmen. He instructed the Batcomputer to relay its findings to the Batmobile and set out for the most popular criminal hangouts…
As usual, Catwoman felt a dozen sets of eyes tracking her movements as she entered Vault. Some were subtle: KGBeast and Firefly. (What could they want? Torching Petrossian and fencing the stolen caviar?) Some were not: Eddie stepped away from a video poker machine, leaving the nearest henchman to play out the hand he’d already paid for while he made a beeline for the stairs to the VIP room. At the same time, a ball of cat-size black fur that appeared to be “napping” on the bar suddenly sprouted cat ears, stretched out into a long sinewy form, and then leapt to the stairs as a magnificent panther.
The three settled in at her booth, drinks and snacks were ordered, and Eddie took out a thin wooden box, the size of a small picture frame, to demonstrate his new contraption.
“I got the idea from ancient Rome. They had most of their documents written out on these wax tablets set into wood cases just like this. Check it out, ‘Lina, what is the stuff of bees and trees, but holds the keys (to my next criminal escapade), or just a tease.”
“Cute,” Selina smiled, while Clayface morphed into a Roman senator and posed dramatically with a document/riddle-box identical to Nigma’s.
“Cute? Cute?! Why, it’s more than cute, it’s brilliant! Did you know the Roman calendar had special days set aside where no legal business could be conducted? They were called the dies nefasti, which is an anagram for, among other things: FINEST IDEAS!”
“I see why you’re excited,” Selina laughed.
“There are also several anagrams with ‘safes’ ‘finis’ ‘fiend’… I tell you, there’s no end of the fun I can have with this.”
“I’m glad. You haven’t had much fun lately. Of course, a safe is also a vault, Edward. You get any ‘finest ideas’ about attacking here, Batman will be the least of your worries.”
She said it teasingly, but Senator Clayface growled anyway.
“East Side Fin,” Eddie offered as an olive branch.
“Damn straight,” Clayface said, returning to his natural glorpy form.
“RANG!” a male voice called from below, and the VIP room collectively winced as the shout doubled into two and then was drowned in a concussive crash of breaking glass, falling wall sconces, and, to the trained ear, a man of at least Maxie Zeus’s size being hurled into a jukebox.
“I fear someone got up on the wrong side of the cave,” Scarecrow observed with the bored drawl of a seasoned rogue surprised by nothing.
“Well this should be interesting,” Riddler said with a satisfied smirk. “‘Lina, my pet, I don’t think you’ve ever been here before when ol’ Batsy showed up and trashed the place.”
“Lucky me,” she said flatly, looking daggers at him.
Another loud crash erupted below, followed by a roar from Croc and a loud cry in Russian merging into a different crash. To the trained ear: KGBeast hurled into a table where Croc was sitting, and Croc retaliating with a barstool.
“Want me to handle it?” Clayface asked, morphing his hand into a bat trapped in a birdcage.
“No,” Catwoman shrugged. “Either he’s just messing with the little mice down there, or else he’s coming up here when he’s finished. If it’s the former, it doesn’t concern any of us, and if it’s the latter… well, why not let him tire himself out first?”
She was pleased with her edict, as everyone else seemed to be… but she avoided Edward Nigma’s eyes all the same. It was only after two more crashes that she dared look his way. She saw his arms crossed and an expression both judgmental and peevish.
Downstairs, it became quiet… then absolutely silent… the kind of silence that meant the Bat was leaving. After a minute, the baseline chatter resumed, and a minute after that, Peahen came up the stairs from the main level. She handed Raven a folded note, which Raven then brought to Catwoman.
It was all very discreet, but veterans from the Iceberg knew the routine: Batman comes in, busts up the place, and leaves a snarling, threatening but cryptic message with Sly for his boss. It starts with a patently unapologetic apology for the mess, then gets to the ominous “... and give your boss a message for me: Tell him that if that cache of diamonds ends up anywhere outside US territory, I’ll be back to have a little chat with him.” Sly never knew what the messages meant, but Ozzy (and anyone else involved in that particular operation) knew it was days or even hours away from a Bat shutdown.
Catwoman read the note impassively, aware that all eyes were on her.
Bat said “Tell your mistress that I’m oh-so-sorry for the disruption and that for a woman of her obvious taste and style, I’d have expected a Van Gogh or two instead of all the high tech vid screens.”
“Typical,” Catwoman sniffed. Then she stood, telling Clayface and Riddler to enjoy the snack plate she’d ordered. Everyone understood that she had some loot to secure before Batman could find it, and they congratulated themselves on hanging out in a club with such a brazen criminal queen pin running the show.
On her way out, she stopped at the bar—just to tell Sly that she was picking up Riddler and Clayface’s tab for the night—and while she was there, she overheard the specifics of what the Bat bust-up was about.
He was looking for a Red Coat operative out of Star City. The man’s name was Leonard Berlander.
“Stay away from that Van Gogh.”
That echo from the past repeated and reverberated in Selina’s brain as she traversed the rooftops towards the MoMA.
“Stay away from that Van Gogh.” It was virtually the last thing he’d said to her as Batman, that last encounter before their relationship changed forever.
“I’d have expected a Van Gogh” was definitely a summons to meet on the roof across from the MoMA, and Selina didn’t need that “or two” to tell her what it was about.
Leonard Berlander was NOT a Red Coat operative out of Star City. Leonard Berlander was a dead thug. One of Harvey’s first convictions, one he later found out was innocent. But he couldn’t be bothered making it right when he found out. He was busy by then, making war on crime. He was forming alliances with police and vigilantes on rooftops, and burning up warehouses full of Falcone cash with Batman. He was building a case against Salvatore Vincent Maroni, the capo dei capi of the biggest crime family in the state. He was on his way to becoming the most successful district attorney in Gotham history, and then the youngest Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, or who knows… He certainly didn’t have time to worry about little Leonard Berlander.
It was only years later, years after the acid, that Two-Face found out Berlander committed suicide. The reminder that Harvey Dent was not the pinnacle of virtue he liked to remember unleashed an identity crisis of epic and violent proportions. For how could Two-Face be Harvey’s opposite if they weren’t black-and-white but a mottled and subjective gray?
Catwoman thought over the nightmare encounter that followed, until she neared the MoMA. Batman was waiting on the roof across from their loading dock, right where she expected… even from a distance, he radiated that dark intensity. Everything about his stance said that a light opening about the Van Gogh would be horribly inappropriate.
“That’s not a good news face,” she observed as she landed.
“No. It’s not,” he said. It was the severest bat-gravel, the most foreboding how-dare-you-pull-a-gun-in-my-city delivery that could make hardened wiseguys run for cover. Then the bat intensity seemed to blink away. His jaw softened, his whole body seemed less dense.
Selina’s heart stopped. Bruce just sent Psychobat out of the room. This was going to be very bad news.
“I have a number of automated routines on the Batcomputer,” he began quietly. “Routines specially designed to identify and track potential targets of interest to specific criminals who are active at a given moment. Those having to do with Two-Face obviously track all manner of twos, doubles, Gemini and Janus imagery, twins, binary—”
“I get the idea,” Selina interrupted.
He was hedging, delaying the inevitable. He knew it and he hated himself for his weakness, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. There was no way to just blurt it out.
“In addition, the program tracks anyone connected with the acid incident. Everyone connected with the Boss Maroni prosecution, the defense attorneys, jurors, bailiffs, clerks, everyone who was in the courtroom that day, as well as the personnel at the hospital where Harvey was taken…”
“What’s happened, Bruce? What did you find?”
Another time, he might have reacted to the name. Tonight, he just looked north towards the river, towards Gotham General Hospital.
“There was a John Doe, a car accident hit and run, in the ICU at Gotham General. The man was apparently on foot, between 97th and Loeb, struck by a stolen mini van.”
“You said there was a John Doe, past tense?” Selina asked, with a sick apprehension creeping up her throat.
“He’s still alive,” Batman said swiftly. “He was, past tense, a John Doe in that he was unidentified. When it goes to 24 hours and they can’t match to a missing persons report, they take finger prints. In addition to convicts and military personnel, there are all kinds of prints in the system, including city employees, including current and former workers in the distric—”
“Spit it out, Bruce. Who’s lying in that ICU in Gotham General?”
“Vernon Fields, the assistant district attorney sitting second chair the day Sal Maroni scarred Harvey with that acid.”
To be continued…