The night envelops the city again, embracing it, giving it rest. It needs rest. People need distraction from their work. They have earned it. But there are others who abuse the rest. They seek their own benefit at the cost of others, they take what they want from anyone who can’t protect themselves. These vermin do not understand. They come out at night, thinking the darkness is a cloak to hide them. They ignore the basic, obvious truth. I am the darkness, and I will explain it to them, again.
Two in the morning, I heard a child crying. Children cry all the time. Usually not in warehouses that are supposed to be deserted. I twist mid-swing and release, gliding underneath the overhang protecting the ridge vent on one end of said warehouse where I catch the rafter. Hanging there, I listen intently. I can hear my partner, Blackwing, land on the other end of the building, 300 feet away. He is almost completely silent tonight. Fine progress.
The crying child is not alone; at least two others are attempting to comfort him. There is much despair in here. And there is compassion and cold-heartedness. A strange mix and yet too common, given the necessary ingredients. The ridge vent is blocked by a grillwork that has long since rusted into place. I doubt that anyone inside will hear me if I force it, but that sort of entry is for amateurs. Below me, a sentry has just stepped outside to stretch and light a cigarette. Perfect. I will get him to let me in. I descend to the corner of the roof, hand over hand, and drop the twenty feet to the ground where I land almost completely flat to the ground. While his cigarette flares to life, I stand and melt into the side of the building. He turns to go back inside. I approach the door he will enter. He opens the door, I catch the top of it in my hand. He lets go of the handle and steps inside. I follow him in and release the door, letting it bang shut. He turns to look at it, maybe he noticed it took an extra half- second to shut. I’ll have to remember this guy pays attention.
He heads for a corner of the building where three others are sitting around a poker table. I leave him go his way. I have to find out why there are children here. The supporting structure for the roof is in good shape, I can travel anywhere I want inside without touching the floor. Searching from the rafters, I find the children, some 40-odd of them, corralled inside a prison made up of crates stacked twenty feet high. There is a makeshift door that opens directly toward the poker table composed of 10-foot sheets of metal leaning against a gap in the crates from the outside. Moving the metal would be noisy.
Last month, I heard a child threatened with being sold to slavers. It was a very effective threat. I didn’t believe it. I do now. These thugs are watching to make sure these kids stay here. The oldest kids could easily get everyone free if unopposed. The fact that the opposition is stiff is obvious. Some of the children have broken arms and noses. They are bloody. They tried to get free before. They were discouraged. My rage burns. The horror is unspeakable. I will not allow anyone associated with this abomination to escape. I ascend to the rafters again. Blackwing is not in the building yet. He is outside looking for a chance to match my entry. Good, he likes a challenge. And smart, a truck is rolling up on his side of the building.
The truck enters the building, let in by a couple poker players after answering a cell phone lying on the table next to the apparent leader. I join Blackwing on top of the truck’s boxed cargo bay as it backs into the warehouse. We watch in silence as the truck is backed to the corral, the sheet metal is moved, and the children are loaded, roughly, sometimes bodily into the truck. They are not gentle, the things they do to the children are intolerable, but probably mild in comparison to what they have already been through. I can hear Blackwing’s pulse gradually increasing in tempo and strength. He is controlling himself remarkably well. I am proud of him.
42 children are locked inside the truck. One, a girl of 14 or so, is taken to the cab. I recognize her. She is a street kid, a survivor, but she is unhappy here, she doesn’t want to be here. She was the one holding the crying boy’s head in her lap earlier, a good one. I will not allow her to suffer any more tonight. We will not allow it. A carload of bosses waits outside as the door opens to let the truck out. There is also an SUV full of thugs and an empty SUV, which the poker players head for once the warehouse door is closed behind us.
The ride to the freight terminals at the airport will take 45 minutes. We can’t wait that long. There are two monsters in the cab who will have ideas about what to do with a young girl while they drive there. They will take those ideas to their nightmares. I take the driver’s side of the truck, Blackwing takes the passenger side. The truck is following the bosses and one of the SUV’s, the poker players are in the second SUV, behind us. This will need to be quick and stealthy, can’t let the attentive one in the rear SUV know anything is wrong yet. The children are being delivered somewhere. To more monsters who must be found,… and dealt with.
There is a tunnel transit which must be completed on headlights only, our chance. We descend to the top of the cab. Once in the tunnel we have less than a minute. Blackwing smashes the window on his side and hauls the passenger out through the shattered remains onto the top of the truck. He is really mad. He didn’t say a word from the time he began until his target was unconscious on top of the cargo box. I have the complicated job. I have to steer the truck while I deal with the driver. I enter the window feet first, double kicking the driver, pushing him and the girl across the seat. Once inside the cab, I take the wheel in one hand and the driver’s throat in the other. He grabs my arm with both hands, attempting to dislodge my grip. Suddenly his struggle ceases, he is reduced to protecting his groin with both hands, still gagging in my choke-hold. The girl did something very unladylike. It is a shame that at her age she has to have so much experience incapacitating men.
I drag him across me and shove him out the window, holding his throat in my left hand now. Blackwing grabs him and pulls him on top of the truck. He has maybe twenty seconds to get this guy secured on top of the cargo box and get in the truck. Then the chances that he will be noticed climbing in the side of the truck increase. Not to worry. The kid is getting quick.
The girl’s pulse is trip-hammering. Wild eyed and crying, she askes, “why are we still following them?” Blackwing explains it to her as only a 16 year old boy can express these things. She understands. She wants to know if we are going to kill them. I do too. She gets no answer. We will all find out together.
35 minutes later, we roll up near a cargo plane, tail opened up, a cargo container and a huge forklift tractor waiting beside it. There are a few thugs around, 10 to be exact. Including the ones in the vehicles, 22 scum are still conscious. As we approach, we see the cargo box is open. It is apparent where the children are supposed to go next. Blackwing has changed to street clothes while we were driving. Someone will be expected to get out of the truck and open the cargo box.
I back the truck toward the van and stop about 30 yards away from it. The thugs object. Blackwing hops out of the truck and takes the girl with her. She cooperates. She seems happy to go. Maybe she wants to help again. He opens the doors of the cargo box, using one door to conceal himself from recognition as he swings it completely open. The approaching thugs spread out to head off any escape attempts and funnel the children in the direction of the waiting container.
They are loading their victims now. The container is barely fit for human habitation, a freight van fitted with lumpy racks and inadequate sanitary facilities. Slave trade. They prey on runaways who have run out of hope. Pretending to offer care and shelter, they give a future without hope, where the only possibilities are a life of abuse or death. The rage fuels me, energizes me. I let it build as I wait, watch, and seethe.
The faces of the children are forlorn, desperate. Some look around in the vain hope of rescue, knowing that once the freight van is sealed, they are lost. Only the girl seems to have any initiative, encouraging the others to get inside, ‘where they will be safe.’ They expect to be sent to some third-world cesspool where they will die in torment and abuse. Boys and girls, anywhere from 10 or 12 to 17 or 18, going to their ends, observed by in-human vermin who only see money walking into their in-excusable lives. The cargo box will never be closed.
As the last of the children approach the container, I drop the truck into reverse and stomp the throttle. The low geared, gasoline powered truck revs and begins lumbering backward, gathering speed toward the assembled group. I see Blackwing (in costume) ascend to the top of the cargo box for the ride. I aim for the car on the far left in the rear view mirror, impacting it at nearly 35 miles an hour. The truck continues, pushing the car sideways into the plane, crippling the right side landing gear. I have already jumped clear, rolling to a flattened press on my hands and toes. The very angry thugs surround the truck, thinking the driver is still inside. In fact, when the truck hit the car, the driver and his passenger slid off the top of the cargo box onto the car. When the car impacted the landing gear, they were ejected from the car roof into the side of the plane. Blackwing rode the momentum and allowed himself to be launched off the top of the van by the final impact, just clearing the aircraft as he flew over.
While the shock of the severity of their interruption sinks into the dumbstruck animals, their attention riveted on the scene of destruction, I stand up. Flood lights illuminate me from behind, my silhouette, rising from the pavement, envelopes them in a darkness that rises up out of the very ground.
Dumbstruck shock turns to abject disbelief. As they turn to confirm their fate, abject disbelief turns to sheer terror. I was counting on that. They will have forgotten about the children entirely. I deliberately wait too long. I allow them to react to my presence, to take action, to attempt to deal with me. They convict themselves individually. Blackwing has circled around and landed on top of the container where the children are. The stage is set.
The above image will appear very dark. This is intentional as the setting is intended to be The Bat’s normal working environment.
Unaware of Blackwing, one of the hardier thugs bellows an order, “Drill ‘im! Gun ‘im down!” The thugs all begin to raise hell. I stick a chunk under it.
I had surreptitiously loosened my cape while I waited. Now, fastened to a batarang, I hurl it directly into the center of the group as they try to draw their weapons. In the grip of panic and uncertainty, several of them leap aside from what they think is me, spoiling the aim of many of the others. I have rolled to my left, coming up to a crouch.
Now I charge them. They are in a general panic. I have to keep them that way. Bullets still kill, even if the shooter is scared. The first one I reach reacts to the threat I pose, trying to bring his shotgun to bear. I grab the rising barrel in my left hand, spin to the right twisting the weapon free of his grip, and continuing my spin, break the butt over the back of his skull as I pass his crumpling body. 21 left. Correction: 20; Blackwing is a good partner.
The next thug stares at me trembling, rooted by his fear to the spot he stands on. I catch him full on with both hands flat in the chest and heave him before me into the center of the remaining thugs who were still on their feet. They will be the first to fire, they must be occupied first.
The body I have just thrown back becomes just that, a body. It twitches from the impact of several bullets which were intended for me. 19.
I dive under the slowing body into a somersault roll and spring out of its shadow to plant a size 12 in the chest one Reynaldo Jorge-Mantero. He is a lieutenant in a drug cartel operating out of Columbia. Now I know where the trail leads. The other size 12, I put behind the jawbone of his driver who was attempting to gain the safety of the far side of their car. By the sound of tearing cartilage, he will have to wait until he can find his lower jaw to voice any objections. Mantero’s body impacts the side of his car so hard that it stuns him. He makes no effort to catch himself or slow his fall, his nose and several teeth breaking as he rebounds off the car face-first into the pavement. 17.
Blackwing has grabbed one and rammed him cross-body into a crowd of thugs who emptied pistols in an effort to stop the assault. He succeeded in pushing one of the animals into the side of an SUV at nearly 50 miles an hour, pulling out of his dive at the last moment to just barely clear the roof of the vehicle. Several bullets broke glass or careened off the roof as he went over the top. He is a good student, using the vehicle for concealment. 15.
I allow my momentum to carry me over the trunk of Montero’s car and I roll onto the pavement under the cover it offers. There is only one guy on this side of this particular vehicle. I flip a batarang into the center of his forehead, he slumps to the ground like a wet burlap sack. 14.
I know I only have a couple seconds, half a dozen of the vermin will be coming around the car, front and back, shooting. I crush two smoke pellets under my heel as I listen to their approach. The smoke billows in torrents around me, enveloping me and most of the vehicle. I leap back over the car under cover of the smoke and find the immediate scene clear. Near the trunk of the car someone empties a pistol into the smoke. Stupid. The grunts and screams near the front of the car tell me the results. The shooter was by the trunk of the car, I go there. Inside the growing cloud of smoke he is easy to find. His weapon is empty, but he gives himself away, yelling, “I got ‘im, I got ‘im!”
You have me alright, here I am. Two of them are together, fanning at the smoke, trying to see the imagined victory before them. I grab a handful of each head of hair and sharply bang their skulls together. While the smoke is clearing I head for the front of the car. One guy is crouching down in front of the car, yelling, “Stop shooting, stop shooting!” I skip over two bodies to get to him and clip him across his temple. He crumples on top of a struggling wounded body. I stomp the struggler’s skull brutally into the pavement. He’ll live. 8.
Correction: 5. Blackwing has just clipped two more who were sighting me in from behind using a third as a battering-ram. He has this thing for using one body to hit others with, not sure where he got that from. As he pulls up, he releases the body he was carrying, allowing it to tumble to ground where it bounces before landing and sliding into the forklift. I heard at least three bones break. An SUV starts up and speeds off as the last of four miscreants scrambles into it. Blackwing dons a sour grin as he turns in their direction. Let him handle it.
At the cargo container, the last of the scum has just slapped down a boy of maybe 12 with his pistol. He grabs the broken arm of another boy and yanks him by it, pulling him in front of himself like a shield. He puts his pistol into the boy’s ear, telling me, “stay away or I’ll kill this kid and all the others! I swear, I’ll kill ‘em.”
I stand; Tall, Silent, Menacing. I do not move. I will not have to. I have done this before. Terror is the most powerful weapon I can have, but I must develop it still more. The more often I use it, the more these cowardly vermin will spread the tail among themselves, about the terrible power of The Bat. Little do they know they are building it for me. I just stare at him. I am beyond rage. My control is gone. If I touch him at all, I believe that I will mangle him beyond recognition. Control is the key here. I am the darkness itself, come to restore the peace I brought with me when I first came tonight, the peace I bring every night, the peace the vermin always want to destroy.
I can see the strain developing on his face. He has told me to stay away, and I am doing that. Yet he doesn’t have what he really wants. He struggles to understand what is wrong with his situation. He can’t seem to realize that what he really wants,… is peace. He is stuck on the idea of me staying away from him. As he tries to comprehend what he should do next, I see his reason slipping away. He has the power to accomplish what he wants, point the pistol at me and fire. He cannot even think that far ahead. Color begins to drain from his face. He is going into shock. Behind me I hear a CRUMP noise, the sound of a concussion grenade. A motor races as the tires it was driving are lifted off the pavement. Metal and glass crunch as the vehicle tumbles and bounces, finally skidding to a stop. 4 more down. I have the last one.
The action sparks a thought in his head. He yanks the kid by the arm, hauling him up in front of himself again. By the time he looks back at me, I am standing immediately in front of him. All the blood drains from his head; I am amazed he is standing. His arms fall limp. The agonized boy slumps to a seated position, cradling his busted arm, crying. I catch the thugs left arm, the one he grabbed the boy’s arm with, the boy’s broken arm. I break it. His last act is to cradle his arm with his gun hand while he slumps to the ground, unconscious. I doubt he knows his arm is broken.
(Across the way, hovering near an up-side-down SUV, Blackwing:) I don’t understand how he can just not kill. He sees the same thing I see, he knows how horrible it is, and yet he controls his anger. I am grateful; his example helps me control my anger. If I were alone on this action, I would probably have started in the warehouse and then let the kids finish the deal. I don’t like feeling like this. I don’t know how he does it.
(Walking toward the nearest building with sirens approaching in the distance, The Bat:) We didn’t kill any of them. I doubt any of these beasts understands yet, but they will. I am the darkness, and I will expel them.
The NEW YORK DAILY BUGLE
April 21, 2004
AMERICAN GLADIATOR, NYPD
SAVE CHILDREN FROM BAT