Chapter 15

6 Months Later

Batman Springs His Trap

Bruce’s alarm rang. He opened his eyes and was instantly flooded with Bane’s perspective. It finally happened. He’d killed again. It turned out to have been the unfortunate Mr. Mackelray after all. Bruce knew just what he was going to do, but first he sent up a prayer to those who were probably listening: “No more death. From now on we stop it before it happens. I’m serious. That’s what I want.”

He’d already planned where he was going to make it happen. He’d installed floodlights there. It was far enough removed from populated areas that there wouldn’t be anyone to interrupt him. Unfortunately he would have to miss school — he’d come up with some excuse. He’d been waiting a long time. He knew he’d have to be ready for it.

A few weeks ago his trainer Candace had allowed him to bring the jetpack/gliding contraption, which resembled wings when the electric system extended them, home from Applied Sciences. She’d judged him capable of operating the machine on his own. He packed the equipment into a duffel bag along with the fully charged electric gloves. He wore the body armor under his clothes. It was hot. He quickly worked up a sweat, but comfort was not his first priority. He would only get one chance. He had to make sure he got it right.

He took the train downtown then the subway to the street in North Park where Mr. Mackelray had met his end. He found the garbage can where Bane had deposited his bloody knife and gloves. Bruce had a knife of his own: a Swiss army knife. He used it to pick the garbage can’s lock. They’d told him how to do it. It was easily accomplished. And there they were, the material he needed to convict John Banneman. Careful not to leave his own fingerprints on them, Bruce put the knife and gloves in a large padded envelope which he then sealed. The parcel had a name and address on it: Detective Stark of Gotham P.D. Homicide. He went to the phone booth and called a bike messenger service. Twenty minutes later the messenger arrived and Bruce gave him two packages: one to be left at Gotham P.D.’S downtown front desk, and one to be hand delivered to John Banneman at his place of employment, the Commerce Way branch of Empire Bank.

Bruce paid the messenger and watched him leave. That was it. The wheels were in motion. Now it was time to get his head right. Going to school of course was not an option. He wanted to practice first, think things through, prepare his nerves. He’d been anticipating this day for a long time. He wanted it all to have a certain poeticism. So he took the subway back to the train station and bought a one-way ticket upstate to Niagara Falls. It was as good a place as he could imagine. Besides, he liked flying. There was something cleansing about it. He wanted there to be plenty of it in his future.

He stared out the window at the passing urban, then suburban, then wooded landscape.

This is it, he thought, this is how Batman meets the world. He did not want to disappoint, and he didn’t think he would. He imagined the timing of it all would be just about perfect, and would come with it the requisite amount of mystery: Bruce too, after all, had no idea how he knew the things he’d been told. Perhaps it would be a long, fruitful correspondence. Gotham City, after all, needed all the help it could get.

John was, undeniably, all nerves. He noticed the bike messenger as soon as he came into the bank, but such characters were common at any bank.

The pace of business was slow. There was no one in line. Imagine then the little thrill of shock that ran through him when he saw the messenger speak to one of the attendants who turned and pointed at John himself. All at once he knew he’d made a mistake. He never should have killed Terrence Mackelray, even if the presence hadn’t been there for months. He must have missed it. He must have been found out.

The messenger approached him and produced a manila envelope.

“John Banneman?” the messenger asked.

John nodded mutely.

“Special delivery.”

The messenger handed him the envelope, then seemed to linger, as if expecting a tip.

“What, you want money?” John burst out. “Get the fuck out of here!” and he pointed heatedly towards the front door.

The messenger left, but now John’s co-workers were eying him humorously.

“It’s nothing,” he announced. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.”

Hands shaking, he opened the envelope. Inside there were only two items: a letter and a photograph. The photograph he instantly recognized as the one he’d seen the presence take when John had tried to confront him. There, after all, was John Banneman himself, alone in the middle of a night time street.

“It’s him,” he muttered, and the prospect of discovery exploded in his mind. He hadn’t even sent a photograph to the papers this time. Too much exposure. He’d been too daring, less than careful. He should have just quit while he was still ahead.

Sweat beading on his forehead (he felt like he was overheating, a mean red flush consuming his whole body), he turned his attention to the letter. This is what it said:

Dear Mr. John Banneman,

I found the knife you used to kill Mr. Mackelray, along with the gloves you were wearing. By this time tomorrow every cop in Gotham will know who you are and what you’ve done. It’s too late. There’s nothing you can do about it. However, if you have any questions for me, how I did it, why I did it, or who knows what else, you’re more than welcome to meet me tonight, 8:00 PM, at a warehouse at 3226 Water St just South of the port. I’ll be waiting. I very much hope to see you so I can pulverize you myself.

Sincerely, your lifelong enemy,

   Batman

A haze fell over John, a veritable bloodlust.

“I’ll see you there,” he said. “What you might not know is I’ll be packing heat.”

He could already imagine himself holding his .357 Magnum to Batman’s head and forcing him to be before he pulled the trigger, destroying a face which John may or may not find familiar. Had he ever met this person? How was it possible? Indeed, he had plenty of questions to which he would require answers. A rendezvous on Water St sounded like just the thing.

He still ha three hours before his shift ended. The time passed tortuously.

Bruce found a bench with a good view of the crashing, calamitous water. He let himself relax. He took deep breaths and let the calm before the storm wash over him. His psychic handlers had been absent all day. Fuck them, he didn’t need them. Besides, he liked imagining Bane’s confusion and fear himself. If the two met tonight, and Bruce believed that they would, it might become the perfect catharsis to his grief, which sometimes still felt fresh. Bane might never know he’d killed Batman’s parents. Maybe Bruce’s visit to the bank, so long ago, might occur to him at some point, but who would listen to him? Bruce would just deny it. He imagined the hole into which the justice system would plunge John Banneman would be far too deep for his recollections to matter.

The sun was beginning to set. The view was incredible. He was alone at this portion of the observation deck. He went into his duffel bag and took out his wings and jet pack. He took off his civilian clothes so now he wore only his body armor.

He approached the fence dividing him from the fall bellow, and put on his equipment. He threw the duffel bag and his clothes over the side. He activated the electricity to extend his wings, and revved up the jetpack’s engine with the handlebars he held in both hands. Bruce began to lift off. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he heard someone scream when he went over the side.

He swooped down towards the water, air beating his face, then righted himself and came up. He pulled a figure-eight just for the hell of it, then headed South East. He imagined it would be an hour and a half or so to reach the warehouse on Water St. Therefore he had plenty of time. He could already almost taste his victory, though, of course, there was still one thing to do: catch the monster who had killed his parents himself.

John arrived at the rendezvous one hour early. It looked to be just another abandoned warehouse in a neighborhood full of them. The whole time he waited there he saw no sign of life: no foot traffic, and not even a single automobile. Batman, then, like, Bane, decided on his surroundings with care. It was unnerving. It made John feel like he was being outsmarted. And what a strange name for himself he’d come up with. John craved a better look at him.

Apparently an hour’s head start had not been enough. The hands on his wristwatch approached 8:00. John didn’t know what else to do but follow his tormentor’s instructions.

He came out of the shadows and approached the warehouse. When he got close enough he saw an answer to a question he’d generated for himself some half an hour ago: whether or not the door would be locked. Indeed there was a deadbolt above the doorknob: there was also a key in it. The door was locked when he turned the doorknob, but when he turned the key in the deadbolt above it the door swung open. Beyond the threshold was further darkness. Bane stepped into it.

“Close the door,” came a booming, amplified voice from all sides.

Bane spun around, looked at all sides, one hand still in his jacket pocket with his Magnum. He saw no one and nothing.

“Close the door. I’m only telling you once.”

“Okay, fine,” John said and closed the door. As soon as he did the warehouse exploded with light. There was a system of floodlights on all sides, all aimed at John. But, crucially, no Batman.

“I just took some more pictures of you, John. One way or another this is your last night of freedom.”

“I know,” John said, still pivoting, looking to all sides, “I just thought maybe I’d get the chance to take you with me.”

“Take my advice. Look in front of you.”

Unable to resist the power of suggestion John did as the voice bid. Indeed there was something there, some kind of pedestal with some object upon it. Not requiring any further impetus, John slowly approached it.

“It’s… some kind of mask,” he said. He drew near it. It was black. Indeed it called to mind an animal, perhaps even a bat.

“It is a mask. It’s my mask. And that’s as close as you’re ever going to get to touching it.”

Then something fell on him and John realized his mistake: while he’d looked to all sides, he’d failed to look up.

It was a net. He found himself instantly fighting for mobility, but finding little. Its sides must have been weighted. And then Batman himself descended upon him, pummeling him, knocking him down with kicks and punches that felt somehow especially painful.

With some difficulty Bane took his gun out of his jacket and tried to gain enough distance from the apparition to point it at him, but the thing struck the Magnum’s muzzle and deflected it, and the shot rang out harmlessly. Bane was now on the floor, and Batman’s heavy boot was on his wrist, and then his painful fist knocked the gun away. It skittered away across the floor, and the fists and kicks kept falling as John found himself beaten down and immobilized, pain all throughout his body as the blows kept coming, helpless, so quickly and easily defeated. He curled into a ball and tried to put his arms over his head. The hits kept coming, and Bane felt the fight completely beat out of him, and then some more.

It must have been several minutes later when Batman stopped hitting him. Through his fingers which were tented over his eyes, Bane watched the thing approach the pedestal, take the mask, and put it over his head. Then it turned to face his captured prey. All Bane could tell was that it was thin, and that it had brown hair. Now its image was complete: some dark, winged thing with indeterminate identity.

Bane began to cry. There was no denying that he had been bested. What with the net and the pain inflicted on him he was afraid to even move.

Batman knelt at John’s side and rolled him onto his stomach.

“Stay still,” he said. “If you move I’ll kill you.”

He grabbed one of John’s wrists and pulled it to the small of his back. He straddled John’s body, which was strangely tingling and numb.

“What did you do to me?” he asked.

“You’ve been hit with electric shots. It’ll wear off in time. I only wish I could be there when it does so I could hit you some more.”

John couldn’t be sure but he thought Batman was doing something to his hand. He did this for a little while, then he did it to the other hand.

“Who are you?” Bane asked.

“I told you already. My name’s Batman.”

“How…? What…?”

“It doesn’t matter. The police will be here soon. I’m going to make this as easy for them as possible. I’ve just finished taking your fingerprints, which will match perfectly with the ones on the knife that is now in police custody.”

A bit more time passed and then the thing stood up. Bane found his wrists and hands, still numb, were now bound together. Next Batman did the same to his ankles, leaving Bane trussed up and dressed like a Christmas present.

“See?” Batman said, dangling a piece of paper before Bane’s eyes. “Those are your fingerprints. See? I know what I’m doing, don’t I?”

Bane was still crying. There was nothing else he could think to try to accomplish.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I wanted to, that’s why.”

Then Batman kicked him in the ribs.

“The police will be here eventually. What are you going to tell them?”

“Huh?”

Batman kicked him again.

“What are you going to tell them? Who did this to you?”

“I don’t… I don’t…”

“Fucking say it you worthless sack of shit!”

He kicked Bane again, and again, and then grabbed the back of his head, pulled the head back, and slammed it into the pavement.

“Batman!” Bane shouted. “Fucking Batman did this to me!”

“Very good, John Banneman. Tell them that. Some day they’ll love to hear it.”

Batman pressed John’s face hard to the floor a little while longer, then he stood up.

“Goodbye, Mr. Banneman. I don’t believe I’ll ever see you again. You better hope that’s true.”

Bane was still crying as he heard footsteps leaving him. Then the lights went out. He heard the door open and close, leaving him in total darkness.

The phone was ringing at the Gordon family’s apartment. Jim answered it.

“Hello?” he said.

“You will find Bane, true name John Banneman, gift wrapped for you at a warehouse on Water St. Do you have a pen?”

“Huh?”

“You heard me. I called you once before but apparently I hadn’t been convincing enough. This time there’s no mistaking it.”

Indeed, Jim recognized the voice, which, in keeping with the last time he’d heard it, didn’t sound like much more than a kid.

“A pen?” he said dumbly.

“Yes. Write it down. 3226 Water Street, just South of the port. You got it?”

Gordon scrambled a moment to find a piece of paper and he wrote down the address.

“Gift wrapped?”

“Hog tied and everything. I even took his prints for you.”

Jim had already received notice that they’d received a promising tip about the Bane murders. Every cop in the city was on the lookout for a big, hulking ex-military man named John Banneman, though last Gordon had heard the man hadn’t returned to his apartment.

“Do you want to tell me your name?” Jim asked.

“Ask Bane. He’ll tell you.”

“You sound pretty young to me.”

“I am, but I won’t be forever. I don’t think this is the last time you’ll hear from me. I’m sort of in training.”

“Not even a hint?”

“Just another crazy I guess, but me, I like to call myself Batman.”

Then the line terminated.

“Batman,” Jim echoed. “Interesting.”

Jim hung up the phone. He walked into his bedroom and put on a coat. Then he gathered his cuffs, badge, gun, and flashlight.

“I’m going out,” he said to Celia.

He walked quickly down the stairs and got into his car. He fought the moderate nighttime traffic East. Twenty minutes after he left his apartment he arrived at the address on Water St. He was glad he’d thought to bring his flashlight, because it was a ill-lit area indeed. Like Bane had before him he found the key already inserted in the locked door. He opened the door and clicked on his flashlight. It didn’t take him long to find John Banneman’s inert form.

“Mr. Banneman?” he asked. He received no answer, but, as he got closer, he found that the man was crying.

There was a slip of paper on the ground next to him with a full set of well-applied, labeled fingerprints. Whoever Batman was, he didn’t seem willing to take any chances.

“Who did this to you?” Gordon asked.

John Banneman only seemed to shake his head and cry harder. Whoever it was had done quite a number on him.

“Batman?” Gordon asked.

John nodded.

“You’re Bane aren’t you?”

“Am I arrested?”

“I should say so.”

“Some nut in a costume. He had wings. He put on a mask. He said his name was Batman.”

“Batman. How very strange.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll tell the papers all about it. Credit where credit is due.”

Somehow, it made Jim Gordon smile. They’d had no leads whatsoever on catching Bane. Finally, a good guy. Just what Gotham needed. How was it possible?

Over the ensuing days the newspapers asked the same question. Like many others, Gordon turned the thought over in his mind. He wondered why it had been he that the apparition had contacted. But there was no denying a certain celebratory relief in the city to know that the serial killer that had been terrorizing them was finally caught. And the captor’s name had been Batman. Maybe, just maybe, exactly what Gotham needed.

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