Tim stood before the mirror in his hotel room bathroom trying to focus on tying his tie and the mission ahead of him rather than what had occured earlier that morning. He had made it back from the Bristol home of Bruce Wayne around elevn o'clock and had spent the last half-hour telling himself he was getting ready for his important metting with the board of directors of CyberTel Industries. His company had sent him back to Gotham to close this multimillion dollar deal and so he stood in the bathroom retying his tie and telling himself that everything was fine. Only problem was everything wasn't fine.
The phone rang and he rushed from the bathroom and picked up the reciever. On the other end, the cool, clean voice of the clerk said, "Mr. Drake? The limo from CyberTel is here to pick you up." Tim acknowledged and then replaced the reciever before rushing out the door with his briefcase and a roll of charts under his arm. He looked down at his shaking hands and tried to regain composure in the elevator on his way to the lobby. His mind began to drift back to the events that happened after his revelation about Bruce Wayne, but just as he began to reflect, the bell of the elevator ran and he stepped out into the plush lobby of the Soundgate Hotel.
From the elevator, Tim could see a tall black gentleman standing by the front desk with two men in black suits wearing earpieces standing to his rear. The men in black suits constantly scanned the lobby with their sunglass shielded eyes, and Tim could see from the buldges in the suit jackets that they, like the rest of Gotham City, were armed. The black gentleman's eye was caught by Tim and he took a few steps in Tim's direction, the men in black following close behind.
As Tim began to walk forward, he was intercepted by the man who greeted him with a warm handshake and a s smile. The man was around Tim's age and towered over Tim at about six fett, four inches. He had a cleanly shaven face and closely cropped hair. Resting on his nose were a pair of wire frame glasses and Tim noticed on his right hand a class ring from Princeton University. The man squeezed Tim's hand saying, "I'm Avery Carter, Vice President of CyberTel Industries. Glad we could finally meet, Mister Drake."
Tim nodded and replied, "So am I, Mister Carter."
Tim's eyes begant to wander toward the two men behind Carter, a jester that Avery caught and then explained, "These two men are with CyberTel security. The gentleman to my left is Mr. Terry Okida, head of CyberTel security." Tim looked over to the well built Asian man and nodded his head slightly. Avery's arm quickly wrapped around Tim's back and began to guide him towards the exit of the building as Carter said, "Come on, Mr. Drake, the limo awaits."
They walked out into the light of the late morning sun and were greeted by a long, black strethc limo that was heavily armored. The driver, another man in a black suit and carrying a gun, was holding open the door that led into the back of the vehical. Before and behind the limo were two humvees that had the CyberTel logo painted on the driver door and were manned by men in blue uniforms with patches that indicated they were CyberTel security as well. Tim's eye quickly picked up the machine guns mounted to the back of the humbees that would be manned by one of the uniformed guards once the convoy started. In the street blocking traffic were four Gotham police cruisers, two in front, two in back.
Avery looked over and noticed Tim's examination of the security measures and said, "Gotham's a dangerous town. There are a lot of crazies and terrorist out there who would love to grab a high-powered executive. Come on." He pushed Tim into the limo and then followed behind. Okida, the head of securtiy, spoke quickly into the ear of the driver then rushed around to the passenger side to get in himself. The guard that accompanied Okida in the hotel hopped into the forward humvee. When the driver of the limo climbed in, Okida picked up the CB and said, "Unit 11, we're all set to roll."
Tim sat there staring ahead, not paying attention to what was going on inside the limo. He heard in snatches Avery Carter's conversation on his flip phone, but was really focused on what had happened earlier that morning. Now that he had a car ride to think, he allowed his mind to wander back to that morning and reflect.
After Tim emerged from the study of Bruce Wayne with a complextion likened to that of a ghost and visably shaking, Stephanie Brown guided him out to the patio where one of the servants set up a patio table and arranged two chairs around it. A tall, lanky butler named Walters brought them a pot of coffee and two cups and Steph carefully poured the liquid into both cups.
Tim's complextion warmed up once he had the hot coffee in him and Steph gave him a weak smile before saying, "He didn't wnat anyone to know. He thinks of it as a sign of weakness, and the great Batman can't appear weak."
Tim gave a sarcastic chuckle and then replied, "What Batman? I see a hellhole that is crying out for an avenger and a man who can make a difference living as a hermit."
Steph's smile vanished and she leaned forward, trying to capture Tim's line of vision. Tim, in a bout of anger, had let his eyes wander out and he was watching the small army of gardners trim, mow, and manicure the hedges and lawn of the rear fields of the Manor. Steph grasped Tim's hand, and with his eyes refocusing on her face, she wet her lips and said, "You weren't here Tim, sot there's no way you could have known. Things aren't as black and white here in Gotham as they were when you left. Gotham started to go down hill, and no one, not the Batman, not me...No One...could stop it. There was the Blackgate Riots--which my father was killed in--the Fire, the fiasco with the Riddler, not the mention the rise of the Joker as a major crime boss. Batman tried to stop it all, and he began to push himself to the brink of utter collaspe. Under extreme exhaustion, one night he got careless.
"He crashed in on the Joker and his men as they were clearing out a police warehouse of conficsacted contriband. He had taken out five of the Joker's men and was about to get the drop on the sixth when he was surprised from behind by the Joker himself. One bullet and the lack of body armor cost Bruce his career as the Batman. Doctors said the bullet ripped through his large intestine on its way through the lower half of his spinal column. Alfred came up with a good cover story and the identity of the Batman was safe.
"Bad thing was, Joker and his gang began to spread the word that Batman was dead. All hell broke loose. They burned City Hall and killed the mayor. Someone named the Clock King went on a rampage that ended with a shootout at Gotham U. that killed ninty-seven students and faculty. The Joker beca me the king of crime, him and his Wildcard Syndicate. The police were scared and so was everyone else. I did what I could here and there as well as the Huntress and Nightwing.
"Then, Harvey Bullock had enough. He resigned from the police force after Jim Gordon was pushed out to pasture and threw his hat into the mayoral elections. He promised to turn things around, but all he did was make them worse. He cut some deal with some government agency he had ties to and turned the Gotham P.D. into his own personal army and set them out in Gotham City. They had armored vehicals, military weapontry, like machine guns and rocket launchers, tanks, and a whole bunch of other thins that had the criminals running. Well, all the criminals except Joker. Once Joker begant to fight back against the P.D. and win, the other crooks in town took after him and began to fight back. Gotham became a warzone as the Gotham Police went to war against the hordes led by the Joker.
"Things just went from bad to worse when some nut-ball vigilante named Cardinal Sin killed two Gotham Police officers. Bullock bullied City Council into passing City Ordinance 316, which outlawed masked vigilantes. Bullock's administration has pretty much run this city into the ground trying to bring his style of justice to the city. A whole lot of people have been killed and now everyone feels the need to carry a gun. It's like the wild west...Dodge City out there. Street gangs inspired by the Wildcard Syndicate control the neighborhood blocks, and through the gangs, the Syndicate itself controls the city."
Steph leaned back a little while still holding Tim's hand. He began to feel the soft, familiar stroke of his hand by her gentle fingers and his mind drifted back to a night of weakness and a vow he made never to break Arianna's trust again. He jerked his hand from her's and, surpressing the lump in his chest, he regained composure saying, "I don't buy it. So what if Bullock doesn't like masks? Batman has a job to do. If Bruce couldn't do it, why not ask Dick...or me?"
"You," Steph began, her voice quivering from the shock of the question,"you were married and living happily ever after with your wife and son. As for Dick, a few years ago, Starfire returned to earth with John Stewart, a man who was leading an alien organization called the Darkstars. It seemed there was some kind of war going on out in space with an alien race called the H'san Natall. The Darkstars, Starfire's people, and their allies were losing so they came to get help on earth. Dick didn't think twice about gathering together a group of heroes he called Task Force Titan and heading into space to fight with that alien woman. It's been five years since we left and we're still counting."
A hand landed on Tim's shoulder, and he looked over to see it was that of Avery Carter. Carter said, "I'm sorry about the lack of conversation, but I had to confirm a few things with Mr. Bates. So, I hear that you are from Gotham originally."
Tim nodded slightly and replied, "Yeah, I grew up over in Bristol."
"Bristol. You may not know this, but my father knew your father. They were classmates all those years ago at Princeton." Avery gave a slight wag of his college class ring from the prestigious ivy league academy.
Tim gave a slight chuckle and replied, "I'm a Harvard man myself."
Avery joined in the chuckling and then said in a sarcastic tone, "No one's perfect, my friend."
Tim nodded and his mind began to drift again. He was still trying to understand what had happened that morning at the manor. After Steph had told him about Dick, Walters came back and told her she had a phone call. She excused herself and then returned five minutes later saying she had to go. She still hadn't told him the story of how she came to be living in Wayne Manor. As he would find out, it was a story with some intriguing twist and turns that could lead to the salvation of a damned city.
He felt the car turn slightly and he looked out of the window to see the extremely tall building that was covered with glass windows. The CyberTel complex was the tallest building in Gotham and it was a dominating force on the skyline. It was hastly constructed on the ruins of the old City Hall once the new mayor ordered the construction of the City Citadel across the river. There had been rumors that CyberTel had done some back door dealings to get the construction permits, but those rumors were constantly dicounted by CyberTel founder and CEO Gill Bates. Bates had insisted that the biggest corporation in Gotham have the biggest building in the city, even though CyberTel still trailed Wayne Enterprises on Wall Street.
The journey through Gotham City ended abruptly as the door was yanked opened by Okida and Tim and Avery Carter filed out in successive order. Tim grabbed his briefcase and charts and said to Carter, "Let's get this show on the road."
He was determined to get this deal done in an expeditious manner so he could get out of Gotham City. Too many things had changed and it didn't feel right for him to be there. His mind wandered back to the oddities of the morning and he felt compelled to run to the airport at that very moment. He wanted out, and he wanted out now.
Across the street from the CyberTel building was a small, brown sedan. Inside, a man sat in a purple wind breaker observing the scene through a pair of binoculars. The man picked up the cell phone under his seat and dialed a number quickly. After a series of rings, he said in his thick Gotham accent, "It's Andy, put me on wit' da Bawss. Yea'...yea'. Yea'...Mista Joker. Yea', the chickens are in the roost, send in the bouys. Yea'...yea'. See ya in ten."