Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Nightwing: A Matter of Vengeance

by John Westcott

Chapter 3: A Night On The Town

Author's note: For those unfamiliar with the character of Joey Flaherty, who appears in this chapter and throughout this story, he and his brother Mully first appeared in my Nightwing fic Moving Target. His history is explained here so there is really no need to read Moving Target but if something is left unclear in this story as to his motivations and relationship with Nightwing / Dick Grayson, then please refer to Moving Target.




The Voltage Club did not exist. Not on paper anyway. Three days of futile hunting through everything from the Bludhaven yellow pages to the records in city hall resulted in a complete failure to turn up any mention of the words "Voltage Club". Dick Grayson knew, however, that just because The Voltage Club was not listed as an official business in this city, did not mean that such a place didn't exist. Bludhaven had far more underground clubs than it had legitimate clubs, especially in the wake of new citizens arriving from Gotham with vices to nurture. Several abandoned buildings from the dilapidated downtown core to the warehouse district had been converted into after hours clubs where anything goes. Sex, drugs, and perversions of all kinds were bought, sold, and traded to the bass beat of generic dance songs at ear shattering volumes. Bludhaven was the perfect city for such a wealth of underground clubs with its corrupt police force and a wealth of forsaken buildings, which anyone could move into and set up a sound system. Knowing that The Voltage Club did not exist on paper made Dick's job that much harder, for with no easy address to look up, he had no clue as to where to search in the entire city limits for the building in question. Indeed the job was far more difficult now, but not impossible.

Night had fallen, and that meant that the hunt for the club in question would be taken to the streets. Donning his kevlar body suit, gauntlets, boots, and face mask, Nightwing leaped out the window of Dick Grayson's Bludhaven apartment. Racing over the city's rooftops, Nightwing realized that while he may not have had an idea of The Voltage Club's address, he knew where to find some people who might indeed be privy to such information. The first person on his list of contacts was a streetwalker named Celeste. Celeste was not his target because of her special knowledge of Bludhaven nightlife, she was only necessary to lead him to her boyfriend and sometime pimp, one Willy "The Finger" Sanders, a leech on society and his only lead to The Misfits he had encountered a few nights before. Although it could be said that people such as Willy contributed little to society, it was people like "The Finger" who knew the city for what it was. Willy would never be a crime lord, he was far too stupid for that, but he knew people and those people knew people. All of them worked outside the law. Willy was his connection to a network of underground crime that vigilante types such as Nightwing rarely came across, if anyone had heard of this Voltage Club, The Finger would have heard as well. Fifteen minutes later, at the corner of Carpenter Avenue and Franklin Drive, he spotted his quarry.

Celeste was probably a very good looking woman at one time. Even now in her middle thirties a shadow of her former beauty shone through the thick makeup she wore. Years of living for the night and all the vices that go with it had dulled her good looks though, making her appearance even more depressing. Nightwing couldn't help but notice the fact that Celeste and her fellow lady of the night were not alone. In fact, they were bathed in the glow of a klieg lamp, a video camera in their faces, and a microphone in hand. Immediately, he recognized the voice of the woman interviewing them, the woman from the channel four news team who had shown up several days ago at the scene of the latest Misfits attack. He decided it would be best if he were to listen in on the interview and find out just what this reporters angle was. The conversation was in mid stream with the reporter, speaking in a perfectly clipped tone, asking the questions.

"Do you two ladies fear for your lives out here on the streets?" She asked.

What a stupid question. Nightwing reasoned, never voicing the thought in his head.

"Sugah, after over a decade on these streets, I have seen it all and I guarantee you there ain't nothin' that scares me no more." Celeste was quick to respond, her southern accent slipping through and proving she too was annoyed by the question.

"Are you aware of the recent brutal attacks on women who walk the streets at night here in The Haven? Women beaten and raped and left in dumpsters? What are your feelings toward that?"

Nightwing appraised the young female reporter as she started asking the harder questions. She was one shrewd cookie to be sure. Dressed in a knee length brown skirt and matching jacket with the channel four logo emblazoned on it, she looked every inch the no nonsense reporter, but how did she get a handle on this story in the first place? Mac Arnot had made sure that there were no traces of evidence left behind at the crime scenes, and most everyone on the force was in Blockbusters back pocket, so there was little worry about leaks to the press there. No other member of the press had an inkling as to what was going on in the streets of Bludhaven, how did she? Lost in his thoughts, Nightwing tuned out the remainder of the conversation and noticed that the channel four team was packing up their equipment and getting ready to leave. The reporter was handing Celeste and her friend her business card. She then proceeded to get in the van and drive away, her face a mask of frustration. Apparently she had reached a dead end talking to the street walkers much as she did with the police. When the van was safely in the distance, and the street appeared deserted, Nightwing leaped from his perch atop a flagpole and alighted on the pavement only three feet from Celeste and her friend. Neither of them heard him drop down beside them.

"The reporter is right."

Both women turned around so fast that their spike heeled stilettos almost broke and they clung to one another for support to keep from falling to the grimy sidewalk below them. "Good God man, what the hell are you supposed to be?" Celeste's girlfriend stammered.

"Don't worry, I don't mean you any harm. I just thought you should know that reporter was right. Women are being attacked in The Haven, beaten to death and raped, you girls might want to take a few nights off until I can take care of whoever is behind it."

"Just who are you? Batman?" Celeste asked, her voice raspy from smoking too many cigarettes and God only knew what else.

Nightwing had to arch an eyebrow at her comment, he wasn't that dour was he?

"No. Batman doesn't enjoy a good Snickers bar like I do, he's more of a dark chocolate kind of guy. I'm just a friend, and I'm looking for Willy Sanders. Do you know where he is Celeste?"

Immediately he noticed Celeste's body language tightening up. She folded her arms across her chest and straightened her slightly bent knees, before she even answered the question, Nightwing knew that she was fully aware of Willy's whereabouts, and that she wasn't willing to share. "Willy is a creep and a loser, but he is my man. I ain't gonna go around telling some masked nut where he is just because he tells me to. I am a loyal woman who loves her man."

Great, this is just what he needed, the old 'stand by your man' routine. This was not what he needed to hear. Nightwing had never been able to bring himself to intimidate a woman like Batman would just for the sake of information. Fear and intimidation were excellent tools, but to scare the daylights out of a woman who posed no threat to him, he just never found it particularly honourable. Instead, he appealed to that same sense of loyalty to a man who didn't deserve her love.

"Listen, Celeste. Willy knows who's behind these attacks and he hasn't done anything about it or even warned you about it. How much do you think he'll care if you end up in a dumpster? Not only that, but these bastards that are attacking women don't consider Willy one of them. If you don't help me find Willy, he may be the next one to end up in a dumpster. Please help me help him."

Celeste was silent, considering Nightwing's words. For his part, Nightwing had no idea what she would decide to tell him, perhaps she would remain silent on Willy's behalf, or maybe she would talk. Nightwing refused to think about what might happen if she wouldn't talk. After a few moments of exchanging concerned glances with her friend, she finally relented. "Willy said something about the naval base on the waterfront. That's all I know."

*****

This disaster was long overdue. The moment the words 'naval base' reached Nightwing's ears he immediately knew that something big was about to go down. Several jumplines later he was nearing the waterfront. Shearwater Naval Base was almost abandoned these days, with only a skeleton upkeep crew remaining. The base may have been without personnel, but it was not lacking in armaments, a virtual arsenal lay within its gates, with very few people to defend it. In the past, many top secret naval vessels were constructed right here in the Bludhaven Naval shipyards, and security was high. Budget cutbacks led to the downsizing of the once bustling base, and most of the security personnel had been transferred out. The weapons were slated to be destroyed but they remained simply because it would have cost more money from an already tight budget to move or destroy them. As he sprinted across the moonlit rooftops, his breath emerging from his mouth and nostrils in a misty vapour, Nightwing could already hear it from a distance. The chanting. That one word chanted over and over, drilling its way into the mind.

"Misfits, Misfits Misfits, Misfits, Misfits, Misfits!!!" He heard it drifting up over the rooftops as if it were smoke spiralling from a chimney. The rhythmic chanting truly made Nightwing's skin crawl, and he realized how odd it was that it made him feel that way. He could not deny that the word 'Misfits', when chanted by these violent thugs, slurred together and overlapping as it was, sounded much like a hissing snake. He had seen so much in his lifetime, and faced the worst the world had to offer, and yet this simple chanting still managed to put him on edge. For Nightwing, that was just one more reason to put these rabid psychos out of business.

Someone in The Misfits' ranks had finally realized that the pickings were ripe here at Shearwater Naval Base, and The Misfits were taking full advantage. As he reached the edge of a rooftop overlooking the base below, he saw that the swarm had already infested the place. The base seemed practically alive with them. From the rooftop above, they almost looked like ants crawling over an anthill, making Nightwing feel itchy all over. Every one of them wearing a fright wig and that strange glow in the dark makeup on their faces. Nightwing estimated that at least three dozen of them were charging through the gates and toward the main buildings. At their head were two Misfits waving them on and pointing the way. Instincts borne from years of crime fighting told him that the only way to take them on and win was to take out their leaders. Nightwing shot out a jumpline and leaped into the open air. All at once, the combined movements of The Misfits stopped and they looked skyward as Nightwing descended toward them. It was obvious to Nightwing that they were used to being the ones who inspired the fear, now they watched in awe as the dark clad vigilante swung over their heads as if he were a bird on the wing. Some pointed, some merely dropped their jaws, and then Nightwing was upon them.

He landed in their midst, bowling over five of them as he lashed out with a series of kicks and punches. As before, The Misfits tried to swarm him, attempting to attack him from all directions at once. For a brief moment, Nightwing disappeared beneath a sea of violence only to emerge moments later, spinning the Misfits about like ten pins. There would be no surprise attacks like last time, he was aware of their numbers and their tactics, and he was ready for them.

"Frankie, this is the guy from the other night!!" One of them yelled.

"Then kill him, you idiots!! He's only one guy!" The man Nightwing now knew as Frankie ordered.

"Easier said than done." Was Nightwing's only reply. Executing a standing leap over the gathering crowd of Misfits, Nightwing broke into a run for the one who called himself Frankie. Seeing the masked vigilante running toward him at full speed sent Frankie into a panic, and he in turn broke into a run for the main building, The Misfits following both of them. Glancing to his left, Nightwing saw two of the guards on night watch, unconscious and bound, Willy The Finger was standing beside them, watching the whole ordeal as if it were the Monday night football game. The few officers stationed at Shearwater who were actually capable of handling these killers were vastly outnumbered and unprepared for an attack. Nightwing was on his own, as he always seemed to be in Bludhaven. From beneath his vest Frankie produced a nine millimetre handgun, but instead of shooting at Nightwing, he shot the lock of the door that barred his way. Nightwing leaped through the air at Frankie just as his quarry shouldered the door open. Frankie was just stepping inside as Nightwing layed his hands on his shoulders, yanking him back through the doorway into the open night air.

"Come here, you!!" Nightwing growled as the rest of The Misfits approached at full speed from behind them.

"Get away from me!!" Frankie yelled, extremely agitated by Nightwing's sudden appearance straight out of the night sky.

Nightwing leaped behind Frankie and grasped him firmly in a shoulder lock manoeuver that prevented him from moving. Using Frankie as a shield, Nightwing then began kicking out to either side against the oncoming tidal rush of Misfits. One by one they tried to get at him and through the now open door that lay behind them, and one by one they fell backwards under the impact of Nightwing's ferocious kicks. Frankie howled in frustration as some of the Misfits tried to simply rush Nightwing head on and impacted with bone jarring force against Frankie's ribs or his pelvis. Needless to say, Frankie was not enjoying himself. Even with his current success against this horde, Nightwing knew that this couldn't go on forever. This was merely a stopgap measure to keep this violent swarm from the weapons that lay within. Even The Bludhaven Police Force would respond to an attack on a naval base reasonably quickly. He hoped Bludhaven's finest would for once be punctual. Dashing his hopes of keeping The Misfits from the weapons inside, three of The Misfits attacked him at the same time on his left flank while two more attacked on the right. Frankie simultaneously bellowed with all his rage and thrust his body weight backward against Nightwing. The two men toppled backward through the door as The Misfits lunged for the weapons inside. Frankie landed as hard as he possibly could on the fallen hero, knocking the wind from him as The Misfits trampled them both underfoot.

Someone flipped a switch and one by one banks of flourescent lights hummed to life, revealing the interior of the room. It was basically a rectangle shaped room lined on either side with weapons of all shapes and kinds. Nightwing pushed Frankie off of him and rolled to his feet as he witnessed the dozens of Misfits now grabbing whatever they could off of the walls while three others stood off to one side handing out clips and handfuls of ammo from a storage locker. Automatic and semi-automatic weapons of all shapes and sizes, and a few hand held weapons Nightwing didn't immediately recognize were all there for the taking. The Misfits looked for all the world like kids in a candy store. He immediately knew that his task had just become far more difficult. He had failed in keeping them from the weapons room, now they were all very quickly becoming very heavily armed.

Almost as if they shared a group mind, all of them turned their attention upon Nightwing, who filled the doorway and blocked their only escape. A condescending smile passed across the lips of most of them, indicating that their fear had now been displaced by the false bravado one felt when holding a gun.

"Oh ............crap."

Seconds later, bullets chewed up the walls and doorway where Nightwing had been standing. With all the live ammunition in that room, Nightwing was mostly afraid that The Misfits might blow themselves up. Firing weapons as carelessly as they were in a room full of explosives was most unwise. Fortunately, he need not worry about himself. The moment The Misfits trained their weapons on him, he darted out the doorway and leaped gracefully over a nearby military jeep for cover. In the distance, he noticed two MP's speeding toward them in a jeep of their own. Worrying more for their safety than anything else, Nightwing let fly with a handful of his customized throwing stars that were shaped somewhat like his own face mask. Heaving them through the air with all of his strength, several of them pierced the tires on the jeep and sent them careening away from the scene just as The Misfits burst forth from the weapons locker as if they were religious zealots in a holy war, bullets spraying in every direction.

Nightwing knew these madmen had to be stopped. Who knew what armaments they were now in possession of? With bullets flying in every direction, he again somersaulted forward and landed in their midst. This time, the one known as Frankie was actually the voice of reason.

"Don't shoot!! You'll end up shooting each other!!"

Nightwing again began to lash out with spinning kicks and palm thrusts while hurling handfuls of throwing stars in every direction. All about him, flesh ripped and bones crunched. For the first time, Nightwing felt as if he might have a chance to stop The Misfits here and now. That was when The Bludhaven Police Force once again made its entrance into the fray. Two squad cars careened around the corner and pulled up to the open gates to the Shearwater Base. The crux of the problem was the fact that these particular police officers, whether they were clean or dirty, wanted Nightwing, not The Misfits. Nightwing was wanted for questioning by the police, not The Misfits.

"Put your hands where we can see them!! Right now!!" The lead officer fired three times in the air to make his point as The Misfits turned and ran in the other direction, scurrying off into the darkness like roaches fleeing the light. Within seconds, they had all disappeared from sight, the chanting had finally ceased. From the squad car, another plain clothed officer emerged and ran toward them. Nightwing couldn't help but feel a sense of warmth when he recognized who exactly it was coming toward them.

"Well I'll be damned." He muttered under his breath, "Joey Flaherty."

*****

Jonah leaned his chair back against his private bar in the back room of The Voltage Club. The wooden chair squeaked and strained under his impressive bulk, but he made no attempt to change his posture, if the chair broke, no one would be there to see him fall, and therefore he didn't care. Were any of his Misfits in the room, he certainly would have been careful not to show any weakness or clumsiness on his part in their presence, but once alone, he allowed himself to relax and indulge in a simple pleasure. As always, Sampson lay at this feet. More than anyone else, Sampson had seen him through the many changes that his life had undergone. Sampson bore silent witness to the turbulent life he had led as his former self, and his eventual rebirth as Jonah. Only Sampson knew why he referred to himself as Jonah, because of the bad luck that had followed him all his life, of the constant obstacles life had thrown in his path and forced him to overcome, making him that much stronger. Jonah the unlucky. Jonah the cursed.

He allowed himself a brief smile almost completely devoid of joy and reached into his pocket, once again pulling out the wrinkled photo of his mother. Tears began welling up in his eyes as he looked at the photo with a melancholy look upon his face.

"Mother, I don't know if I would like to have you here to see me or not. I did it. I grew up big and strong, and now I'm becoming my own person, a person with power. You may not like my methods, but just wait until you see the results."

He knew that soon, his Misfits would return from their mission. They would have the weapons he would need to continue his quest and they, acting as his army, would enable him to carve out his own destiny, and show the world once and for all that he was a power to be reckoned with.

*****

Joey Flaherty levelled his Smith and Wesson at the masked man before him, no hint of recognition for the vigilante before him was evident on his face. Nightwing couldn't help but feel nostalgic when his eyes fell upon the police officer. Nightwing had worked with Joey's brother, Mully, to help bring down a subversive group known as Cabal. Unfortunately, Mully Flaherty died at the hands of Bane, who was employed as Cabal's enforcer at the time. When they had first met in Hogan's Alley, Mully told Dick Grayson that he had no family and basically lived for his work as a police officer, it was not until after Mully died that he met Joey at his brothers wake. Joey had informed Dick that he and Mully had had a falling out years ago over Mully's drinking problem, and the bridges that had burned between them had never been repaired. Dick made sure that Joey was fully aware of his brothers heroic death and that he died serving the city he loved and the cause of freedom itself. Dick had never seen Joey Flaherty after Mully's funeral, but from his current attitude toward Nightwing, he thought maybe it would be best if he never saw Joey again.

"You move and I'll ventilate you, Nightwing."

"Listen to me, Officer Flaherty, you must know that I'm on your side here. You of all people must know that after what I went through with your brother."

"Leave Mully out of this!" Flaherty snapped back. "Because of you my brother died before I got the chance to see him again and make amends, before I got the chance to make things right between us. It's your fault I had to bury my own brother." Nightwing couldn't help but notice the hurt that permeated Flaherty's voice and it pierced his heart to remember his fallen comrade.

"That's not true, Officer. Bane killed your brother, not me. You have to let me go or something even worse than Bane is going to hit this city. You must have seen them scattering off into the night. Those are the ones responsible for the attacks on women in this city, and now they're heavily armed without the slightest regard for human life. It's The Misfits you want, not me."

Flaherty snorted at that remark. "What do you think I'm going to do Nightwing? Drop my gun and let you run away? Work with you and die like my brother did? Forget it. If you're innocent, you'll get your day in court; that's the way it is."

"I'm sorry you feel that way Officer." Nightwing could offer no witty comeback to a man like Joey Flaherty. He deserved Nightwing's respect. Nevertheless, there was no way he was going to allow himself to be taken in by the police, no matter who they were. Nightwing threw a tiny capsule to the ground which was followed by the sound of breaking glass. Instantly, a cloud of smoke enveloped him and Bludhaven's Avenging Angel broke into a mad dash in the direction most of The Misfits had disappeared. The patrolman standing at Flaherty's side brandished his weapon and took aim at the centre of the smoke cloud, only to have his gun knocked into the air by Flaherty.

"No!" Flaherty shouted as the gun went off straight into the sky. By the time the smoke cleared, their quarry had disappeared along with The Misfits.

"What the hell did you do that for? We have orders to shoot him if he resists." The patrolman shouted. For several minutes Flaherty simply stared at the spot where Nightwing had been standing seconds before. When his response finally came, it was not an answer at all.

"I......... don't know"

"Someone's gonna be real pissed off, Flaherty." The officer responded.

"I don't answer to Inspector Arnot. If he's got a problem with how I do things he can come and tell me himself. Then I'll have an excuse to kick his butt personally."

*****

Willy Sanders felt as if his childhood nightmares were here and now in the present, haunting him in his waking hours as they once did in his childhood slumber. When Willy was a young boy growing up in Bludhaven, his mother (when she was sober) would always scold him for not doing his homework or for getting caught smoking once again. She would tell him that he was going to be hunted down by a man who lived in the night time shadows and ate little boys that did bad things. He always thought his mother was cruel for saying such things, for they had given him recurring nightmares that didn't disappear until he turned twelve. Now, for the second time in a week, he had witnessed this black clad masked man descend from above to throw a monkey wrench into everything. Who was he? Where did he come from? He had heard some stories circulating around the local Bludhaven dives about a masked vigilante waging a war on crime in Bludhaven, but he had always assumed these were stories fuelled by drinking too much tequila. Now, as he ran down a back alley, the shadow passed over him again, and he knew that he had been discovered.

"Stop where you are, Willy." Came the voice from the shadows.

Needless to say, Willy stopped in his tracks immediately. After witnessing the way he was taking care of The Misfits, Willy was not going to resist. Seconds later, Nightwing emerged from the shadows behind him and he did not look pleased. Willy threw his hands up in the air and turned to face his pursuer.

"Listen, I just watched them storm the place, I didn't have anything to do with it."

Impossibly strong hands reached out and grabbed Willy by his leather jacket, pinning him against the alley wall. "That's a load of crap, Willy and you know it. You helped them incapacitate the guards and get past the gates in the first place. And what do they do when I show up? They run and leave you high and dry."

Willy smiled innocently. "That just goes to show you I have nothing to do with them."

"Wrong. That tells me you mean nothing to them. You owe them nothing, Willy and all I want from you is one thing. The location of The Voltage Club." Willy's eyes widened into almost perfect circles as he heard Nightwing mention the words 'Voltage Club', Nightwing immediately knew that Willy was perfectly aware of the existence of the club and no doubt it's location as well. Nightwing shook the man violently for several seconds before speaking once more.

"Unless you want to end up hanging upside down from the top of The Bludhaven Plaza Hotel, tell me the location of The Voltage Club. Now."

Willy was many things, but he could never be considered brave. "The corner of Royal Avenue and Tain Street downtown. Please don't kill me!" Willy whined as he closed his eyes, preparing himself for a violent assault from the masked man his mother had warned him about. When no attack came, he opened one eye warily and scanned the area for Nightwing. All he could see was a newspaper rustling by in the wind. Nightwing was long gone.

*****

"Tonight is the night!! The night The Misfits start taking their piece of the pie!!" Jonah was practically foaming at the mouth as he stood atop the single table in the back room of The Voltage Club, addressing The Misfits that had returned with an impressive array of weaponry and an itch to use it. "At this very moment the beautiful people are partying and dancing the night away at a dance club owned by Tony Vincenzo, a powerful ally of Roland Desmond!! The true ruler of this city!! Tonight we storm his club. Kill 'em all. If innocents get in the way, fine!! That will send our message even clearer!! The gang war starts tonight and The Misfits are going to win it! Are you with me?"

As before they began to chant, this time to indicate their solidarity under Jonah's leadership. From the skylight above them Nightwing listened and again felt his skin crawl. That chant really struck a nerve. He had reconnoitred the building known as The Voltage Club and found this large room in the back where the Misfits had gathered. He had arrived in time to hear Jonah's entire rant and he knew what he had to do.

The skylight shattered beneath his boots in a dissonant symphony as Nightwing descended via jumpline and landed on the bar at the back of the room. "I think it would be best if we all went home early tonight don't you? Bludhaven is my city and if I have to I'll spank you all..........hard."

The Misfits recoiled, cowards at heart when confronted with this costumed vigilante who seemed to follow them so relentlessly, even into their own sanctuary. Jonah was the only one of the assembled thugs who did not appear afraid at all. In fact, with his loyal pet by his side, he appeared more angry than anything else. The leader of The Misfits practically snarled as he spoke to the intruding Nightwing.

"Who the hell do you think you are? You're interrupting the greatest moment of my life! How dare you?" Jonah was almost trembling with rage as he spoke. Nightwing immediately realized that this was the leader of The Misfits, the linchpin that had to be removed in order to neutralize this violent gang.

"You better watch it, pal or I'm gonna introduce you and your boys to exactly six new and different types of pain." Nightwing countered as he held up six fingers to drive his point home.

Jonah's lips pulled back into a feral sneer. "Kill this idiot."

At Jonah's command, The Misfits suddenly grew enraged and began firing their automatic weapons at Nightwing, who back flipped behind the bar he was standing on. For several minutes they riddled the bar relentlessly with bullets. Finally, they stopped shooting, only to hear the sounds of a crazed and panicked crowd in the main area of the club running for their lives. Slowly they advanced on the bar, holding their collective breath as they waited for some sign of life. They were within four feet of the bar, and consequently too close to use their weapons when Nightwing emerged from behind the bar in a blur of motion. Filling the air with thrown shot glasses, liquor bottles, and waving a fire extinguisher, Nightwing flipped into their midst and took the fight to them, the room erupted in violence once again.

"I told you, but would you listen? NOOOOO. A good spanking is what you kids need." Nightwing taunted as he slammed the extinguisher into the crowd of would be killers. The Misfits scattered to every corner of the room as they felt the metal extinguisher bowl them over. When the last of them were sent scurrying Nightwing turned to address their garish would be leader.

"It would be best if I introduced myself. Gentlemen, they call me Nightwing. Bludhaven is my city. I stand between the innocents and psychotics like you. I can't be killed and I can't be stopped. You can leave here with me peacefully or I can break your legs and carry you. It's your choice."

Jonah remained silent as Nightwing said his piece, finally he smiled and decided to return the favour as his Misfits watched the exchange between the two. "Then allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jonah, and my choice is always death. Preferably YOURS!!"

Jonah howled in defiance and leaped halfway across the room at Nightwing. Nightwing in turn leaped forward to meet him halfway. He was surprised and impressed with Jonah's animalistic strength and fighting prowess. Both men punched and kicked at one another and neither managed to land a solid blow. Losing himself to his blinding rage, Jonah attempted to throw a sloppy roundhouse punch, Nightwing saw his opening and ducked while landing a devastating kick to Jonah's knee, sending him crumbling to one knee. From nowhere Jonah produced a large gun and fired point blank. The bullet was on the mark, aimed directly at Nightwing's heart. Except that Nightwing was not there any more. Highly developed reflexes allowed Nightwing to flip out of the way and let fly with his two escrima fighting sticks that were strapped to his back, the bullet barely grazing his arm. One escrima stick missed while the other hit Jonah hard in the jaw, sending him reeling. In the distance, sirens could be heard. The gunfire had finally attracted the attention of Bludhaven's finest. The Misfits watched the display of fighting prowess with a morbid fascination but did nothing, almost as if they were incapable of independent action.

"Give it up, Jonah. Beating me isn't an option. You think you're in pain now? It hasn't even begun. You can't win."

"Maybe not now, hero but what about next time?." Jonah suddenly produced a lighter and, activating it, dropped it to the now liquor covered floor which immediately erupted in flame. The room was quickly engulfed in fire, separating Nightwing from Jonah, his powerful pet Sampson, and the rest of his gang. Nightwing activated the fire extinguisher, only to find it empty. Unable to do anything more before the police arrived, Nightwing hit the fire alarm, praying that it still worked. To his surprise the alarm went off, but the sprinklers were well past their prime and barely managed to spit out any water as the pressure in the pipes was almost nonexistent. Beyond the wall of flame, Nightwing saw The Misfits charging out the doorway and into the main area of the club, which had emptied as the late night revellers heard the gunfire earlier. Somehow, Nightwing knew that they would manage to disappear before he managed to exit through the skylight once more.

He was correct. Somehow, Jonah and his Misfits had managed to disappear once more. He watched from the rooftop across the street as fire trucks, ambulances, and police arrived. The Misfits may have disppeared just as quicly as they usually did, but this time he knew exactly where they would show up next, Tony Vincenzo's dance club known as 'The Cage'. That would be his next stop of the evening. He was just starting to feel the adrenaline rush leave him when he felt a small pinch on the back of his neck. Nightwing reached back as if he meant to swat a fly and felt something there. He pulled the tranquillizer dart out of his skin just as the darkness enveloped him completely...................

*****

................."Wake up!!." A slap in the face brought him back to consciousness. His eyes began to focus on the mammoth figure standing before him. Nightwing's heart began to race as his eyes cleared and he recognized Roland Desmond. Blockbuster. Bludhaven's primary crime lord. Nightwing tried to strike out only to realize he was chained to the floor.

"What do you want, Desmond?"

"I will be as succinct as possible. I need you to kill this upstart Jonah for me."


Chapter 4: Equal To The Enterprise

Nightwing tried his best to act in a nonchalant manner when he awoke but he knew this may indeed be the night his luck ran out. This may be the night he dies at Blockbuster's hands only to be found in a ditch somewhere with his head pointing in the wrong direction. Even with all that running through his mind, he wasn't about to give Roland Desmond the satisfaction of seeing him fearful. "Can we make this snappy, Rolly? I have to get in line to see the next Star Wars film." Desmond's face was the epitome of the word 'smug' as Nightwing inwardly cursed himself for being so wrapped up in Jonah and his gang of Misfits that he was sloppy enough to fall into Roland Desmond's clutches.

Nightwing looked around and took in his surroundings in an attempt to form a getaway plan. At first, he thought he may have been in Desmond's palatial home but immediately dismissed that idea when he heard the sound of a nearby train. The fact that he smelled salt water on the air led him to believe that he may be somewhere in the Sea Isle area to the south of the city. The room was small, dark, and grimy, it was also bare of any furnishings that could be used as weapons. A single open window behind him allowed fresh air and light into the room. Nightwing tested the chains that bound him, there was enough length of chain to allow him to kneel on the ground, which he did. Desmond obviously enjoyed seeing his masked foe kneeling in a supplicant manner before him. The manacles around his wrists were pure galvanized steel attached to the length of chain. The chains were welded to simple steel rings on the floor. He could easily pick the lock, but not before he was shot by Desmond's goons. If he was going to get out of this, he guessed that the best chance to escape would be to somehow remove the steel ring from the old, and hopefully decaying, floor. An escape plan began forming in his head, his timing would have to be perfect if he was to survive such a stunt in these close quarters with Desmond and his men. If he could get free of the manacles around his wrists, he could possibly slip out the window behind him and simply hitch a rid on a northbound train back to his apartment. The fact that Desmond was flanked on either side by one of his minions, each with a bulge under his well tailored jacket indicating large concealed weapons, made that task exceedingly difficult at this time.

"Jest if you must. I make a serious offer." Replied the hulking figure known as Blockbuster.

"You'd be well advised to let me go, Desmond." Nightwing replied. " The Misfits are going to hit Tony Vincenzo's nightclub and I might be the only thing standing between you and them."

Blockbuster grasped the lapels of his jacket (which consisted of enough material to make a four man tent) as he addressed Nightwing's concerns. "You are in error. Indeed, The Misfits may have been planning on destroying the club and those in it, but I believe you have dissuaded them, at least for the time being. An hour has passed since you have come into my possession, and nothing has happened. I believe The Misfits have disappeared to regroup." Nightwing said nothing as he took in the meaning of Desmond's words. Without waiting for a response from his vigilante foe, Blockbuster continued his speech as he paced back and forth in front of his captive.

"This Jonah with his gang of misfits has become an increasingly annoying thorn in my side for months now. They kill innocents such as unarmed women. Unnecessary deaths create chaos. Chaos which hurts my revenue. As you well know, I am suffering from an enlarged heart and my days on this plane of existence may be limited. I am currently involved in a legitimate business enterprise which will allow me to die a very wealthy and legitimate businessman. I am the principle investor in the 'One In A Million' casino currently being constructed atop the Bludhaven Plaza Hotel and I have no wish to wage a gang war or deal with a crazed and paranoid public while having to deal with all that goes into forging a new and legitimate empire for myself. The new influx of citizens from Gotham will bring more money than ever before to our city, and I wish to exploit that. Many will return to Gotham, of course, but just as many will stay in our fair city and begin anew, and that brings more expendable income to Bludhaven. Income which will go directly into my pocket, and it will be one hundred percent legal. I knew the actions of these Misfits would eventually necessitate your involvement and I have had dozens of men combing the city with tranquillizer guns, monitoring the emergency services calls, waiting for you to show up. Now I offer you a choice, you can kill their leader for me, or I will see to it myself. If you force the latter decision upon me, things may get......." He paused as he searched for the appropriate adjective. "Bloody. Very bloody. Gang wars tend to be that way. It behooves us both to see them eliminated immediately. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as they say."

"If I make any more friends like you, I'll end up in the morgue. What if I disagree with your take on how things need to be handled, Rolly?"

Desmond snorted at Nightwing's use of the familiar "Rolly" followed by a smile of pure satisfaction. "Then I can just kill you here and now. At least I can feel like I've accomplished something today."

Nightwing smirked confidently. "Not even with me chained to the floor Rolly. You just don't have the stones to kill me."

Desmond's brow furrowed as he stared daggers at the masked hero. "I do suggest you rethink your attitude towards me while you are at my mercy. My leniency only goes so far."

Blockbuster was playing into his hands, Nightwing needed Desmond to become enraged, angry enough to lose his cool and strike out at him. A million cute remarks and cutting one liners raced through his mind and he instantly rejected them all. None of them were insulting enough to illicit the reaction he needed. This situation called for something even stronger. "Be careful you don't exert yourself, Rolly. When that enlarged heart of yours explodes in your face, you'll go straight to Hell.... where you belong." Both of Desmond's guards actually stepped back a few paces as they expected their employers rage to explode like hot magma from the earth's crust and neither of them wanted to catch any of the fallout from Blockbusters anger.

The guards obviously knew their employer well. Desmond sneered in disgust as he reared back and threw a punch with all the force he could muster at Nightwing. Reacting with his customary cat like quickness, Nightwing leaped as high in the air as the chains that bound him would allow. Blockbuster's powerful fist missed the masked hero by barely an inch and crashed into the floor below them. At the same time Nightwing leaped atop Desmond's back and pulled with all his might against the manacles that held him down. Nightwing felt the floor beneath him creak and shudder under the combined force of Desmond's blow and his own screaming muscles. Just as he was about to black out from the strain against his chest and arms, he redoubled his efforts and suddenly felt the wood that held the steel rings to the floor give way. Nightwing swung both arms forward, turning the chains that had bound him into weapons as he lashed out at the two guards behind Desmond, knocking them senseless as the length of chain on each arm impacted with their heads.

For his part, Blockbuster stumbled forward, his weight distribution thrown off as he missed his target, Nightwing pushed off of Desmond's back, sending him hurtling forward into the wall behind them. When Blockbuster whirled around to face his foe, Nightwing was already climbing out the window, the chains and manacles still hanging from his wrists. Nightwing couldn't help but leave Desmond with some parting comments.

"First off, Rolly, you can be damned sure I will take down this bunch of psychos....and you can be sure that when I'm done with them...... I'll come after you." He smirked confidently once more as he spied the north bound train passing not far from the window. "You should have killed me when you had the chance, Desmond." With his final stinging comment still dying on the wind, Nightwing leaped into the Bludhaven night.

"I shall endeavour to correct that mistake in the near future."

*****

"I'm going to tell you a story, one that will cause your skin to grow cold and the contents of your stomachs to curdle. This is the story of sophisticated and brutal sacrifice. The kind of sacrifice I expect from you without question. For only with this type of loyalty and devotion to our cause will we succeed in becoming the true Lords of Bludhaven." Jonah sat in their new lair, one he himself had chosen as a backup should the police ever decide to actually enforce the law in Bludhaven and shut down The Voltage Club. His Misfits sat cross legged around him on the grimy floor as he himself stood on a chair overlooking them, almost as if he were a teacher instructing a kindergarten class. All of The Misfits looked directly at him in rapt attention. The stench that permeated the air at first caused them all to blanch, but eventually they got used to it and no longer even noticed it. Far beneath the city in the Bludhaven sewer system, the men planned their heinous acts.

"This is the story of The Nubian People, a people I learned about in my past life, before I came to you. The Nubians were an ancient people dating back to three thousand years before the time of Christ in North Africa, along the banks of The Nile. These mysterious people, whose kings at one time rivalled that of Egypt's Pharoh's, practised a form of human sacrifice. You may say that there is nothing new about that, there are cults today who practice this, but not like The Nubians did. No one made sacrifices like The Nubian people. When a Nubian King died, a large tomb was created, and the king would be laid to rest inside it.

A Nubian King, however, owned his servants completely, even in death, and the king would have need of those servants in the afterlife. To that end, the king's servants and the complete royal household, including his concubines, men at arms, and his entire court walked willingly into the tomb and felt the mighty doors shut behind them, sealed in with their dead king. Before too long, they would feel the air grow thin, and they knew they would die a horrible, horrible death. What did these servants, wives, and guardsmen do? Did they scratch and tear at the sealed doorway until their fingernails were ripped out and their hands bloody? No. These brave men and women took a simple sedative to calm themselves, and died with honour for their king. They were buried alive."

Jonah paused as he cast his eyes about the room, searching the eyes of those men gathered around him. Some were looking at him with their mouths wide open, hanging on his every word, while others simply nodded in understanding. Jonah knew that he had them in the palm of his hand.

"What The Nubian slaves did for their kings, I expect you to do for me. I am, in effect, your king, your leader, while you are my servants, carrying out my will. For our ventures to succeed, I need you to give me exactly that kind of loyalty and dedication to our cause. Should our war with Roland Desmond call for you to sacrifice your lives for me, then that is what you must do. We must, all of us, be equal to the enterprise. Our war with Desmond is complicated by this interloper known as Nightwing......"

Once again Jonah paused as he ran his hand over the leg which Nightwing had kicked, the pain was still shooting through his leg. "We must do everything we can to rid the city of Nightwing. If any of you have the opportunity to kill him, even at the expense of your own lives, you must do so. Together, we must eliminate Nightwing and Roland Desmond, and when we do........." Once more he rubbed the sore spot on his leg and smiled as the pain shot through him, reminding him of his hatred for his foe. "Bludhaven will be ours for the taking."

In response, The Misfits began their chant. The sounds of their unified voices echoing throughout the labyrinth of tunnels created an almost ghostly effect as it trickled across the city and even emerged through steam grates and manholes, causing more than one streetwalker and homeless person on the streets above to feel a shiver crawl up his spine.

*****

With little else he could accomplish after his run in with Blockbuster, Nightwing sat atop the 'A' train headed north as he picked the locks on the manacles that held him. Within seconds he had them removed and tossed them in a swampy area as he passed. His conversation with Blockbuster had told him many things. He began to hum 'Takin' The A Train' to himself as he examined what he had learned. The first thing he had realized was that Jonah and The Misfits posed enough of a threat to Blockbuster that he would rather use Bludhaven's avenging angel to eliminate them than go to war himself.

Secondly, these Misfits were far more dangerous and organized than they at first appeared. These savage attacks on women were merely a symptom of a greater disease. Assaulting women appeared to be nothing more than a way of announcing their presence on the Bludhaven scene, something they did on the side for kicks. The thought disgusted him. That they thought so little of human life that they would kill a defenceless woman just to prove how brutal and sadistic they were proved how sick they were. Even Roland Desmond's sometimes vile actions were preferable to this kind of senseless death. He shuddered as images of a full blown gang war between The Misfits and Desmond's forces flashed through his mind. The Misfits were brutal enough, but he knew Blockbuster's methods well, his retaliation would be nothing short of full, deadly force brought to bear on Jonah and his confederates. The loss of life, both innocents and criminals, would be a kind of wholesale slaughter worse than anything Bludhaven had ever seen before. One life lost was too many, he admitted to himself.

The first rays of morning sunlight began to peak across the horizon, illuminating the billowing smoke stacks of The Bludhaven skyline and causing the sky to turn pink. It was time for Nightwing to retire for the day. After switching trains thrice more, Nightwing arrived in the city proper and began his trek home over the rooftops, finally bringing him back to his apartment. Stripping off his Nightwing uniform, Dick Grayson once again emerged. Dick locked his uniform in his walk-in closet and fell limp to his bed.

"Morpheus, I'm yours, baby," he mumbled into the pillow. Less than two minutes later, he was snoring.

Six hours later, Dick awoke to the incessant ring of his phone. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he stumbled for the phone and lifted the receiver to his ear. "Al's all night deli." He croaked into the phone.

"I knew you'd be asleep. Turn on your television, quick. There's something interesting on Channel Four."

It was Barbara on the other end. Dick sat upright immediately and smiled. "Hey, beautiful. No 'Good morning, honey' or 'I wish I was waking up with you, honey'?"

Dick tried his best to be cute with her, but, for the moment at least, Barbara was all business.

"Cute later. Serious now. Turn on your television." Dick immediately knew something serious was at hand and scrambled for the TV remote. His apartment was, to say the least, not up to Alfred Pennyworth's standards of cleanliness, but he finally found it under a sweater on the floor and he switched on his Panasonic CT-31XF43C Gaoo television set. The thirty five inch screen lit up and he immediately recognized the face that looked back at him. The reporter that had dogged every step of the Misfits actions was standing at a street corner, the morning sun coming up behind her.

"It's her again," He said, mostly to himself. By the time Dick had turned on the television, she was half way through her report. Dick listened intently to the rest while holding the phone to one ear.

"Are the women of Bludhaven being targeted by a malevolent, brutal street gang? The Bludhaven Police Force refuses to comment on the matter and no official statements have been made, but unconfirmed reports of several horribly beaten women are surfacing among not only the average patrolman on the street, but the women who risk their lives nightly walking the streets. This much can be confirmed, over the past several weeks the police and the coroner's office have been summoned to darkened Haven alleys to investigate some brutal crime, something we, the people, have not been apprised of. It's time to lift the veil of secrecy that cloaks the Bludhaven Police Force, if the lives of women are at risk in The Haven, it's time to let the people of this city know. For Channel Four, I'm Moira Pierce."

The picture switched to the morning anchor man, who was shuffling papers as he spoke. Dick turned his attention back to the phone at his ear. "Somehow, this woman is the only one who has a bead on these Misfits. I can't help but wonder how. She could be putting herself in serious danger, but I have to admire her guts."

Barbara's reply made him cringe slightly. "Yeah, I know what you mean. I know all too well about violence toward women."

Dick ran a hand through his mussed hair as the full impact of her statement hit him. "Yeah, Babs, I guess you do. This must be bringing up some bad feelings for you."

"That's an understatement, Boy Wonder."

"Listen, I'm gonna shower and shave, how about you and I talk later? Maybe I'll take another drive up there. We'll work on this case, do some research, and maybe work out this date you promised me."

All at once, Barbara's voice increased in pitch and he could tell her spirits were lifting at the mention of their upcoming date. He was glad to see that the thought of being with him lifted her spirits so.

"I'll be waiting right here." She replied. They said a quick goodbye and Dick leaped into the shower once more, his mind reeling with thoughts of the possible gang war in the making, and of this Moira Pierce. Why was she so vehement on dragging The Misfits into the light when every other reporter was completely in the dark? Someone had to be supplying her with information. The question was, who?

*****

Unbidden, the dream came to him once more. He had relived this pivotal moment in his life so many times in his dreams, both conscious and unconscious. Childhood innocence turned into the darkest of nightmares. His mother, so full of life and vigour, at the wheel of their Oldsmobile. They were singing 'There was an old woman who swallowed a fly' as they drove along. That was when he saw the posters along the freeway. The circus was in town. Could they go? Pretty please? After what seemed an eternity, she relented. What was one cello lesson missed? He was a young boy, and what was a childhood without a trip to the circus? Misspent, that's what. When the eighteen wheel truck struck them on the drivers side, his world changed forever, and not for the best. His mother, lost to him forever. All that was left was his father, and all the pain that came with his presence in their lives.

Jonah sat up, his clothes covered in cold sweat, his breathing rapid and shallow, his eyes as wide as saucers. That damn dream from his past. Would it ever leave him be? He felt his mother's eyes upon him even now. Judging him, accusing him, God, how he had grown to hate her. It took him a moment to realize where he was, the smell of the nearby sewers was quick to remind him. Then he realized Frankie was standing next to him, a quizzical look on his face. He waved his hand as if trying to wave his concern away.

"I'm fine. What time is it?"

"It's about noon." Frankie replied. Jonah turned back over on his cot.

"I'm going to try and get some more sleep. Wake me as soon as the sun sets. I want to find myself another woman tonight, and this time we'll send a message to Desmond, Nightwing, and all of Bludhaven. A message that no one can ignore."

Frankie left their leader alone to sleep and went back over the list of weaponry he had compiled from their raid on the Shearwater Base. Their haul included such gems as AK47 Kalashnikovs, Galil automatic assault rifles, Skorpion sub machine guns, fragmentation grenades, smoke canisters, and one weapon in particular that Frankie did not recognize. He immediately decided to keep it for himself. The weapon looked like a cross between a Heckler & Koch MP5K (a popular choice of police forces around the world) and a grenade launcher and it bore no markings whatsoever. The weapon also came with a special pair of goggles that, when activated, gave the user an overlayed HUD (Head's Up Display) that pinpointed exactly where the weapon would fire no matter where you pointed it. Frankie had tested it in the tunnels and found the HUD gave him the ability to shoot a rat at over one hundred fifty feet with pinpoint accuracy. The greatest feature of the weapon was that it did not employ standard ammunition, but instead employed a magazine full of needle sized bullets with a collar of explosive material around the tip. Frankie saw the advantages immediately, in that one loaded magazine allowed him far more than thirty or forty bullets, he estimated that there were over two hundred rounds to each of the ten magazines he had stolen. The automatic weapon was lethal in the extreme. If they had been a thorn in Roland Desmond's side in the past, surely he must be sweating bullets now. Frankie laughed quietly to himself as he patted the gun at his side in the same manner that Jonah would pat his loyal dog.

*****

Dick arrived at Barbara's door and knocked twice. With the motion sensors offline, the door opened barely a crack and he was greeted by Barbara's wary eyes. Upon seeing Dick she opened the door and found herself face to face with one red rose. A girlish giggle followed by a squeal of delight escaped her lips as she reached out and took the rose from him. She smiled as she inhaled the rose's scent and looked up to see that Dick's face was a mask of concern.

"What's wrong?" She asked.

"I'm not sure I like the lack of security you have at the door. We'd better hurry up and get those monitor modules replaced."

Barbara turned the chair from him and wheeled herself back into the room as she waved him in. "We'll get them fixed as soon as I get the replacements, which should be any day now. Until then I keep an escrima stick handy." Suddenly she felt his strong hands on her shoulders, halting her chair's momentum.

When Dick spoke again, his voice was calm and soothing, but with more than a touch of concern. "Don't just roll away from me like that. I worry about you and you know it. You have to be careful answering that door, especially considering what you do for people like me. There are lots of people out there who would love to put you out of commission, given the chance. Maybe I should ask Bruce to check on you every so often until we fix those modules."

Barbara wheeled her chair around to face him, a look of anger and annoyance on her face. At first she said nothing, and then the anger passed and the muscles in her face relaxed once more. She knew he was concerned for her, and she had to admit that having such an obvious gap in her security net made her feel vulnerable, but she also didn't want to be coddled by the man she was dating as if she were some china doll. Both of them remembered all too well what The Joker had done to her when she opened the door so many years ago without checking through the tiny peep hole. The bullet was meant for her father, and found her instead. She reached out and took his hands in hers, clutching them to her chest and hugging them tight, kissing the top of his hands.

"I love that you're so concerned about me, but I don't want, or need, nightly checkups from Bruce. Most of this security is to keep him from doing exactly that. I promise to install a taser at the door immediately. I'll even initiate a password, even you won't get in without it."

Dick dropped to one knee in front of her and kissed her on the cheek. "I'm going to hold you to that."

"I'd rather you just held me."

Dick scooped her up in his arms and did exactly that. The two young lovers simply stared into one another's eyes as they rested their foreheads against one another, Barbara tapping into Dick's endless well of strength and love and letting it flow into her. Dick was likewise tapping into Barbara's feelings and drawing strength from her, as two lovers should. Dick broke her gaze and looked at the clock to realize they had held one another for almost twenty minutes, it seemed like barely a minute to him. Finally, Barbara broke the reverie herself and he placed her back in her wheelchair. The two put aside their budding romance for the moment and went to work researching Dick's case. It wasn't long before Dick was sitting beside her as she took her place at her workstation. He watched as she scrolled through her email messages, including some from Tim Drake, who was requesting help with a history paper. He made a mental note to ask him what kind of advantage having the mighty Oracle at his disposal gave him over his peers at school. He noticed a stray lock of bright red hair drop down into her eyes and he reached out and pushed it back behind her ear. To his delight, she didn't even say a word, she was becoming more comfortable with him by the day. By God, but she was beautiful.

Barbara was in 'all business' mode now, scanning what information she could find on Dick's quarry, The Misfits. He watched as scanned .jpg images of newspapers came up on the screen. "Your boys, The Misfits, have been around for years, and since their first appearance in Bludhaven they have never been a big factor in the crime scene. At one point in the nineteen eighties, they started a turf war with the Street Demonz in Gotham. Before Batman could even intervene The Demonz sent The Misfits running home with their tails between their legs. According to the information I've found, they never dressed in that Marilyn Manson garb either, they basically looked like Hell's Angels rejects. Leather jackets and tattoos, that sort of thing. Fast forward to the present, The Misfits resurface with this Jonah character as their leader, they dress differently, and they are far more brutal than ever."

"They sure are, they went from losing fist fights with The Demonz to making Roland Desmond sweat. I have a gut feeling that this sudden shift in their attitudes can be traced back to their leader, Jonah. It's almost like he gave them a kind of cult mentality that unifies them and makes them more of a threat."

She looked over at him, and saw that he was staring at her instead of looking at the screen. He flashed her a smile and she couldn't help but return it. "So, what about this date?"

"How about you come to my place. I'll make you dinner."

Barbara almost choked as she burst out in a fit of laughter. "You? Cook? What will be having? Pizza?"

Dick favoured her with a mock fit of laughter. "You know, as a comedian, you make a great crime fighter. I'm serious. How does Fettucine Alfredo and a nice red wine sound? All hand made by me of course."

Barbara stopped laughing as she realized he was deadly serious. "You really mean it......" She said, her voice trailing off in amazement.

"Damn right." Dick replied, lifting his chin high in defiance.

"You'd cook for me?" She appeared almost stunned by the realization.

"Only if you don't mind making the trip to The Haven. It has to be at my apartment because I have a few surprises for you that I can only give you there."

Barbara looked at him suspiciously. "What are you up to?"

It was Dick's turn to favour her with a fit of mock laughter. "I'll never tell."

Suddenly, Dick's eyes narrowed as his gaze locked on the computer screen before them. Something in the list of files of that directory caught his attention. He reached out and placed his hand over Barbara's right hand, which happened to be controlling the computer's mouse. She looked at him as his soft touch guided her hand, and thus the cursor, across the screen. The cursor came to rest over a hyperlink titled "Voltage Club Info." Following his lead, she double clicked the left mouse button and the file opened, filling the twenty inch computer monitor.

"This is all the information you can find on The Voltage Club?"

Barbara nodded as Dick's eyes scanned the file. "It says here that it used to be Masters Department Store."

Barbara nodded once more. Dick continued to speed read his way through the file, using the mouse together, they clicked their way through various hyperlinks within the document, opening other documents in Barbara's maze of files.

"It says here that Jonathon Masters was one of Bludhaven's greatest businessmen in the seventies and early eighties. The recession hit, and he basically retired." At the bottom of the file lay one final hyperlink. Dick guided the mouse over it and double clicked it. A scanned photo from The Bludhaven Gazette dated July 17th, 1987 began to fill the screen. It was a grainy picture of The Bludhaven businessman and his son posing in front of the once opulent building during Bludhaven Pride Week, a tradition long abandoned in the city. As the pixels formed on the screen, Dick felt his muscles tense instinctively. The faces of those in the picture became visible, and Dick had recognized one of them. He was younger, and without the fierce makeup that adorned his face, but Dick still recognized the younger boy standing at his fathers side. The byline indicated that his name was Jonathon Masters Junior.

"That's him." Dick said as he pointed to the picture on the screen. " Jonathon Masters Junior...... is Jonah."

Barbara looked at the screen. This young man had grown into an unprincipled killer? "What are you going to do?" She asked, her voice hushed.

When Dick replied, it was in a voice of pure iron determination. "I need to talk to someone."

"About what?"

He brought his face in close to hers and kissed her on the cheek. He noted with delight that she pressed back against his lips, sending a thrill down his spine. He grabbed his well worn leather jacket and bolted for the door. She heard his reply drift in from the main room as he shut the door behind him.

"About forming a partnership."

*****

That Evening In Bludhaven:

"Officer Flaherty." Joey Flaherty was in the process of leaving his home to begin his night shift when the coarse voice startled him. When he turned in the direction of the strange voice, he found himself standing toe to toe with Nightwing.

"We need to talk."

 
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