"By-laws, By-laws. Whatcha' Gonna Do...?"
Tommy Monaghan often wondered if his job would feel more rewarding if his employers stopped lying to him.
"I don't know why Wallace is after me. Maybe he thinks I cost him his job, or he thinks I owe him more money. I don't really care. I just want him dealt with." Aaron Simms' lips were moving but Tommy wasn't really listening. Tommy had a knack for knowing what other people were thinking.
Okay, not really a knack -- more like a super power.
Tommy could hear Simms' thoughts coming in loud and clear and they were far more interesting than the crap coming out of his mouth. Wallace wants me dead, and I can't blame him. I destroyed his life. Must have driven him mad. Now the stodgy old bureaucrat is going to ruin everything. I have to have him killed before he works up enough good sense to actually tell someone why he did what he did. Tommy didn't get everything, just the stuff on the surface, but it was enlightening.
Still, it was all just background. It didn't bother Tommy Monaghan much that his employer was a scumbag. After all, "scumbag" pretty much described all his employers. The non-scumbags of the world didn't have much use for hitmen. Tommy was selective about his targets, since he only wanted to kill bad guys, but clients were picked by the size of their wallets.
"Okay, Mr. Simms. I've been patient, but I already told you I accepted the job. So if you answer a few questions for me I can go out and Kevorkian this Justice guy for you, and we can conclude our business." Tommy drew from his cigarette and prepared for the lies. "What's this guy's real name?"
"How do you know him?" Tommy followed quickly.
"We are business associates." He's some low rent civil servant I bribed to keep quiet.
"Do you know where I can find him?"
"I have no idea." He moved out of his place, he has no family, no one for me to lean on and make him back off.
"Why is he doing the vigilante thing? He's been harassing all kinds of people in the last two weeks. Jaywalkers, smokers and loiterers are living in terror. But if this is really about you, why isn't he here trying to off you right now?" Tommy doubted Simms could put up much of a fight.
"I don't know." Wallace always has to be right, damn him. He's toying with me.
"Have it your way, Mr. Simms. You go back to collecting rent from crackheads and leave the Justice to me. I'll call you when the job is done." Tommy got up and opened the office door.
"What do I do if Wallace comes after me again?" Simms' voice contained a sudden rush of panic as he realized he was being left alone.
"Probably... wish you had hired a bodyguard." Tommy continued out the door, and didn't look back. "So long, Mr. Simms. I got a super-type to put some holes in."
Tracy felt she should be happy. But when she looked around their bare room, all she felt was dirty. "Are you sure you can afford this, Reggie?" She felt a sudden sense of regret. Why couldn't she be happy? It was a home, a roof over their heads. Sure, it wasn't the Masters' house, but a street urchin like Tracy had to be a little more realistic now that No Man's Land was over. The window was boarded up, the washroom was non-functional and she found it hard to believe that there wouldn't be a bug problem, but with the kind of money they had available for rent, they were lucky to have this much.
"Yeah, I told you. No problems. I got it covered. This guy Allister says he might even be able to give me a job!" Reggie was always so selfless, and it was a trait that was in tragically short supply among the homeless of Gotham city. He needed so little for himself that she and Carl were always provided for. But this willing acceptance of less also brought with it a certain lack of ambition. It frustrated Tracy sometimes how Reggie could look at what she saw as absolute squalor, and think that it was enough.
Carl brought their box in from the hall. It contained what few possessions the three of them had. "Come on, Tracy. This Allister guy is giving us a deal."
"He is not giving us a deal. He wouldn't rent us this place for so cheap if people were actually allowed to live here. The whole Halston Tenement is condemned! I didn't hear you say anything about a lease. This Allister is selling you his garbage." Tracy crossed her arms to emphasize her point.
Carl looked angry. "Grow up, Tracy! What have we been living off the past eight months? This is all we can afford. Nothing else we do gives us points for legal, and it certainly wasn't legal living in the park! Now are you in or not?"
Reggie appeared to be backing Carl up. "It's at least safer. With that Justice goon running around we can't afford to live on the streets. It's too dangerous." Reggie put his hands on Tracy's arms and rubbed gently. "Come on, Tracy. We won't let anything happen to you."
Tracy hesitated for a moment, and then raised her hands to hold onto Reggie's. "All right. I guess it is safer than the park."
"You said that to Simms? Tommy, what are you doing? You know the kind of people he knows." Sean Noonan slid the beer down the bar and Tommy caught it in his left hand. Tommy was not yet drunk, and he had just finished telling the story of his day. Sean and Nat both wore looks of disapproval. Six-Pack was nearby, and the beer-soaked look in his eyes beneath the dirty super hero mask informed them that he had taken an interest.
"What can I say, Sean. The guy bugs me. Gangsters I can look in the eye and know that they're motherlovin' bastards -- but I can let it go. After all, they play the same game I do and some day they're gonna get gunned down. But big money scum like Simms get to walk between the bullets. I mean, can you think of anyone who has done less good for the Cauldron than Simms? Who's gunning for him?" Tommy took out another cigarette but didn't light it. He turned it around in his fingers.
"Tommy, it don't matter if he's scum," Nat said. "The dude's protected. He's got friends. That's how he got in touch with you. You make this guy an enemy and your next hit might be the unemployment line." Nat always had a way of making things make more sense. Nat was his partner, after all. This was his career, too. Simms was a big name even if he wasn't in the Mob. Tommy had to get this one right. Simms and his eventual unpleasant death was someone else's problem.
"So how are you going to get this Justice fella?" Sean asked as he poured a beer for Six Pack.
"That bathtard! Gives us superheroes a bad name! I should go out there and bring the Justice to..." Six-Pack hesitated as he lost track of his sentence in favor of the beer placed in front of him.
"I have a plan. I'm just glad I asked up front for expenses." Tommy smiled, and Nat got a sinking feeling in his stomach.
The lock opened after the third attempt and the door swung inward. Huntress walked silently into the central archive of the new Gotham Hall of Records. It was truly an impressive building. The Hall of Records was a testament to what could rise out of the ashes of No Man's Land.
The original Hall of Records had survived the Gotham quake only to be demolished during NML in a mysterious explosion. When the engineers arrived after the city re-opened, it had been one of the first buildings to be rebuilt, at the insistence of billionaire Bruce Wayne. It hadn't been his money, mind you. That honor belonged to the philanthropist whose statue stood in the lobby, welcoming all who sought knowledge.
The Huntress sought knowledge, but for some reason Lex Luthor's big bronze smile made her feel less than welcome. It had been a couple of weeks since the Huntress had faced off against the Justice, and in that time both she and the Justice had been very busy. She had patrolled every night, trying to catch him in his particular brand of crime fighting, but they had never met up. Huntress had always arrived just as he had scared off the illegal street vendors or torn the illegally-sized fence out of the ground. She quickly realized that she needed a plan.
The Justice seemed to have a fairly basic modus operandi, even if he was clearly nuts. He seemed to fancy himself something of a "by-law avenger" -- a vigilante that nit-picked about how long people's driveways were and when they put their garbage out for pickup. It would be laughable if his actions hadn't been so serious. After all, Gerry Trannon was dead, and Aaron Simms had nearly joined him. Gerry Trannon was the only death so far, although the amount of assaults and property damage had become quite substantial.
Huntress was used to libraries, and found the deeds that she was looking for without too much trouble. It had been bugging Huntress for almost a week now: what was so special about Gerry Trannon and Aaron Simms? Why had the Justice targeted them to die? She had done as much research as she could on Gerry Trannon. He was a small-time muscle for hire that someone had paid to push people around in the Cauldron. The Gotham mobs had little or no interest in Trannon's activities, and their information as a result was rather sketchy.
Huntress was done her investigation within an hour, and a picture was beginning to form in her mind, centering on the image of scared little Aaron Simms, the mousy old man whose life she had saved two weeks earlier. It was a very dark picture, and one that Simms might not want too many people to see. Huntress slipped down the hall in search of the civil service employment office, and the file of a man named Wallace Hammond.
"This is your stupidest plan ever!" Nat had said that so many times that Tommy was beginning to consider it a challenge. It would probably be hard to top this one.
"What?!" was Tommy's only reply. He had heard Nat the first time, but it was fun to rub his nose in Tommy's plan. They had been cruising around the neighbourhood for over three hours now, playing the car stereo loud enough to wake the dead. Ice-T blaring through the speakers made Tommy more than a little irritable, but it had been his choice of tape last hour.
"Explain to me again why he would care that we are waking up the whole damn neighborhood!" Nat pulled his hat down over his ears; the constant din was even getting to him.
"He's a vigilante! He'll come after us! I didn't think it was that hard a concept." Tommy turned the corner toward the mall again. He had almost given up on his current plan, but there was little else to try.
"Then why don't we just fake a mugging like with that Nightfist dude?"
Tommy shook his head and turned down the music, pulling into the parking lot of the Turner Street Mall so he could explain himself one more time. "Look, Nat, I'm telling you this guy doesn't care about that kinda stuff. He's some kinda weenie 'don't spit on the sidewalk' crime fighter. He's been out here for weeks and he only seems to show up when people are burning leaves in their backyard or not scooping up their dogs' crap in the park. So we gotta do it this way."
"Why am I wrecking my speakers, then?" Nat still sounded unconvinced and spoke a little too loudly over the ringing in his ears.
"It's three in the morning, Nat, we're disturbing the peace. As long as we keep driving around being all obvious and scofflaw, eventually he'll show up."
"Stupidest plan ever!"
"I'm waiting for a better idea." Tommy looked out into the distance and saw a police car. "Hey, there's a cop out there."
Nat didn't even bother to look. It wouldn't have done any good anyway. Tommy had the rather infuriating ability to see through walls, and Nat had long since accepted that Tommy's first warning usually came a few seconds early. Nat took his gun and hid it under the seat. Tommy did the same. The cruiser pulled into the parking lot and headed straight for them.
A portly cop with a big gray mustache stepped out of the cruiser. He walked toward their car and shined his flashlight in. "All right, get out." These bastards think they can break the law on my turf... So far, so good. But if his thoughts turned to one Tommy Monaghan, they might be in trouble.
The two hitmen stepped out of the car. "You boys lost?" Yep, that's them all right. When Tommy heard those thoughts he tensed and got ready to tackle the cop. This could get tricky. Tommy didn't kill cops as a general rule. But he wasn't a big fan of jail, either.
"Whose stereo is it?" Tommy was surprised by the question, and took a moment to look at the cruiser. Written across its side were the words "GCPD By-Law Enforcement." Tommy had to suppress a giggle.
Tommy smirked. "It belongs to the car. We try not to get involved." What could a by-law cop do to him?
"Oh, it belongs to the car does it now? Well, I guess I'll just give the car a fine, then!" The cop tore off a ticket that he had obviously written before he ever got out of his car. Tommy was taken aback by the force of the officer's statement. Tommy had been leaned on by cops before, but never by a by-law cop. The officer poked Tommy in the chest and growled, "Now turn the radio down, ya hooligans, or I'll write ya up again."
The cop walked back to his cruiser. Tommy checked the name on the ticket. Officer Calahan. That didn't sound good. He let out a quick whistle. It was a steep fine. "This could get pricey. We might need to be more subtle."
Nat shook his head. "Who needs the Justice when we got that guy?"
During the day was the only time Aaron Simms could get any sleep. It was only his secretary's insistent buzzing from the outer office that kept him from coming to the climax of his bloody nightmare involving a giant falling table. Simms sat up from his desk and rubbed his chin. He must look like hell. "What is it, Mrs. Durst? I said I didn't want to be disturbed."
"Sorry, sir," his secretary said over the intercom. "There is a young man here to see you, and he says it's important. He said to tell you it's Mr. Forman."
Simms panicked for an instant and then calmed down. So the fool couldn't follow orders. He would learn soon enough. "Send him in, please. And hold my calls."
The door swung open and a street thug with black hair and a grey leather jacket walked through the door. Allister Forman was a wannabe tough, the kind that could threaten and occasionally follow through, but only when he knew he was untouchable. In time he might develop a reputation, but for now he was just a face. Unfortunately that face looked as scared as hell at the moment. "Dude, you were right! I think he's following --"
"Shut up! You're high again, aren't you?" Simms stood and even with his height disadvantage he still stopped Allister in his tracks.
"No boss, I just --"
"You shut up. How many times have I told you? You work for me, but you do not work from this office. You do what I tell you and when I don't tell you to do anything, you stay in the Cauldron until I tell you to leave! I am paying you a lot of money and in return for that payment I expect you to keep me out of your activities." Simms was frustrated now. He stepped closer and lowered his voice into a hiss. "Do you know how replaceable you are? When Gerry died I dragged you off the street in 24 hours, and I can get the next thug just as quickly." Simms calmed himself. It wasn't about this idiot. Take care of business first. "Why on earth are you here?"
"It's the superdude! The one you were worried about messing with your buildings in the Cauldron. The one in the purple robe. He's following me."
Simms boiled and froze at the same time. "The man who is trying to kill me is following you, so you came HERE!" Simms suddenly stopped and his voice became quiet again. "Did you say purple robe?"
"Hello, Mr. Simms," the Huntress said, stepping out of the adjoining washroom.
Simms gave no order, but Allister was too high to care. When he saw the figure in purple, he went for his gun, and Huntress was in motion.
Allister's gun had barely cleared his jacket when Huntress grabbed his arm and with a loud pop dislocated it. The gun clattered to the ground.
Huntress covered his mouth as the thug tried to scream. She pulled back on his face and shoulder and flipped him backwards. His head collided with Huntress' knee and suddenly Allister was in blackness.
Huntress turned from the unconscious man and said, "I don't suggest you try to alert anyone, either. I may not want to just talk, but it is the reason I came here."
"How did you get in here?" Simms took several steps backward. He wasn't sure what to think. This was the woman who had saved him from Wallace a couple of weeks before, but she did not look friendly.
"I know what you are, Simms, and it disgusts me. Every day people like you make this city less livable." Huntress approached him slowly. She couldn't hurt him, not really, but the fear was gratifying.
"I'm just a businessman," Simms whimpered.
"You're a slumlord. You've been sucking money out of the Cauldron to pay for your mall, and half of your buildings are unsafe. You're taking advantage of the temporary lapse in building standards after No Man's Land to drain the vagrants dry before you kick them out like squatters to make way for new development."
"I've done nothing illegal," Simms said, but it was a rote reply.
"Just because Gotham City doesn't have the manpower to hold you to proper building regulations doesn't mean you aren't violating them. Your buildings are unsanitary and dangerous and you know it. That's why you hire scum like Gerry Trannon and this idiot to fill your buildings for you."
"What are you going to do to me?"
Huntress clenched her fist in impotent rage. "Nothing. Assuming you tell me what happened to Wallace Hammond."
"We're stopping now, Tommy! I ain't getting one more ticket!" Nat the Hat was furious as he walked in the front door of Noonan's pub. It was early in the morning and the bar was shutting down.
The bartender waved at Tommy and Nat and greeted them, "I am Baytor!"
"Come on, it's gotta work eventually. It's not like you're paying for them. Simms is footing the bill." Tommy sat down at the bar.
"Every time we try something that cop Calahan writes me up! I ain't doing it no more."
"One more night."
"Look man, no dice. I may not have much of a rap sheet in Gotham yet, but there ain't no way I'm filling it up with No Smoking violations and littering charges. Get yourself some other sucker."
Tommy ordered a beer in an attempt to pacify his partner. "I am Baytor," the bartender said apologetically.
Tommy looked disappointed. "Come on, Baytor, a beer for my buddy the Hat."
Baytor, the giant many-toothed demon behind the bar, shrugged his shoulders and pointed at his watch. It was after last call.
To Tommy it was a lousy end to an even lousier day. "Look, Baytor, I don't care what city hall..." Then the idea popped into his head. "Hey Baytor, get Sean on the phone. I've got a proposition for him. How would you like to earn some overtime tonight?"
"I am Baytor," the bartender replied eagerly.
The party lasted well into the early hours of morning. Tommy was impressed at how quickly his plan had escalated into a bona fide rave. The party seemed like a good idea when he thought of it. Serving alcohol after last call was illegal, right? Just break the rules and the Justice comes to you. If it had ended there, with a few guys up all night drinking, his job would have been simple.
But now they were breaking so many rules it made Tommy's head spin. Hundreds of people had heard the music and joined the party. Noonan's bar had spilled out onto the street, and a block party had formed. A band had even set up on the street. Where the hell did they come from? Noonan's had run completely dry by around three in the morning, but people had simply started bringing their own liquor. The streets outside the bar were crowded to bursting. The cops hadn't shown yet. Perfect conditions to grab a by-law vigilante's attention. But how was he supposed to kill the Justice in front of this many people?
"Nat, this is my stupidest plan ever."
"Yep," was Nat's sullen reply.
And then the vigilante showed up.
"Nat, get into character. We got company." Tommy started making his way through the crowd toward her. Tommy had heard of the Huntress before but had never seen her. She wasn't one of the approved-list hero types, not like the Batman, but she had done enough during NML to gain a fairly good street rep from those who approved of vigilantes and didn't trust the papers. She was standing on top of a nearby truck and was shouting to get the crowd's attention. "Listen to me! You are placing yourselves in great danger. Disperse immediately." But the crowd was paying more attention to Six-Pack's drunken ranting than they were to the newcomer.
Tommy walked up beside the truck and leaned against its side. "Can I help you, miss?" he said with his most ingratiating smile tacked on the end.
"Who are you?" Huntress turned her attention to the strange man with the sunglasses.
"I'm the host of this little party. Is there a problem?"
"Yes, you are placing all of these people in mortal danger! The Justice could see this as a personal insult. He could attack!"
"We wouldn't want that." Tommy climbed onto the truck and put his arm around the Huntress' shoulder in an overly familiar fashion. "Look, Huntress, do you see what's going on? These people are having a good time. Do you know how rare that is around here? The city needs this. The Cauldron needs this. These people have crawled out of the garbage heap they live in, climbed to the top of the pile, and for the first time in months they can get together and look at the sky. You wanna take that way from them?"
Huntress still looked worried. "But they have to know they are in danger. If I could get their attention..."
"Oh, is that all you want?"
Tommy pulled out his gun and fired three shots in the air. All eyes turned to the Huntress.
Huntress blinked. Even the band had stopped playing; everyone was staring at her. Huntress had always been a much braver crime fighter than a public speaker. Her mouth dried up and her palms began to sweat. She tried to speak firmly. "Ahem... you are all placing yourselves in grave danger. The Justice will surely attack when faced with this kind of provocation and you are in violation of local by-laws..." The Huntress tried to continue but the crowd had already laughed at her and lost interest. They started up the talking and the music again. They hadn't taken her seriously. Huntress wasn't sure why.
Of course, Huntress hadn't seen Tommy behind her sticking his tongue out and twirling his finger beside her head. Tommy stopped before Huntress turned to face him.
"You have to get them to leave. With this many people in one place, the Justice could cause horrendous damage."
"Look, lady, you had your chance. Now don't worry about this party. It's my party, my problem."
"It's your party?" said a voice from off the side of the truck.
"Yeah, it's my party and if this Justice guy shows up looking for trouble I'll..." Tommy trailed off as he and the Huntress came to the same realization. They turned their heads to look down on the man in the white wig and judicial robes standing next to the truck.
" Oh, crap," they said in unison.