Authors: Martin H. Greenberg
In the morning, Red Murphy surprised his staff by announcing that he was going to Lake Sarmatian, the manmade lake that had been created by the recent damming of the North Pecos River. He had his staff pack the new Carlino-Gar Wood monohull, still in its packing case, onto the back of his heavy-duty pickup. The gates opened and Murphy sped through, waving to his guards.
Twenty miles down the road there was a grove of cottonwood trees used by the local high school and bible college for barbecues and song fests. It was deserted now. Murphy negotiated the steep dirt road and pulled out of sight of the highway. He got out and went back, pry bar in hand, to open the packing case.
Batman, who had been secreted within the packing case, had already worked his way out and was sitting under a tarpaulin, reading a plane schedule with a little penlight.
“Hope it wasn’t too uncomfortable for you,” Murphy said.
“I’ve been in worse,” Batman said. “It was easier than breaking out of your factory again.”
“What do you want me to do now?” Murphy asked.
“I’d like to leave you here for a while,” Batman said. “I’ll drive your truck to the airport alone, and arrange to have someone drive it back here.”
“That’s fine with me,” Murphy said. “Lucky I brought along a newspaper. But why can’t I drive you to the airport myself?”
“When I reach the airport,” Batman said, “I will have changed clothes and become someone else.”
“And you don’t want me to know who that someone else is?”
“That’s it. Please understand, it’s not that I don’t trust you. But it should be obvious that there’s no sense being an anonymous figure if everyone knows who you are in real life.”
“Makes sense,” Murphy said.
“Sometimes,” Batman said, “the costume changes are more difficult to arrange than solving the case.”
“I can imagine,” Murphy said. “Here, Batman.” He handed the masked man the car keys. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Just a final point or two. You said that the Joint Chiefs are about to sign the contract with ARDC?”
“I got confirmation of that only yesterday. It ought to be signed into law by tonight.”
Batman nodded. “I think there’s still time to do something. I’m glad you let me have the facsimile plans for your production models. I’ll have a chance to study them on the plane to Washington.”
“My competition would do a lot to get their hands on those blueprints.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll destroy them when I’m finished with them. Now, these people who took over your company. You really have no idea who is in control of them?”
“None at all. Whoever it is, they seem to have some friends in high places. I’ve never seen a contract go through so smoothly.”
“One more question. Do any of your weapons systems make use of hallucinogens?”
Murphy looked surprised. “How did you know? That’s the tightest secret of the century.”
“I learned it from a man with green hair,” Batman said.
“Forget I said it. Goodbye, Murphy.”
“Good luck, Batman.”
“Thanks,” Batman said. “I suspect I’m going to need it.”
Batman drove another five miles down the highway. No cars passed him in either direction. That was just as well; your average cowboy might become curious if he passed a new red pickup driven by a man over six feet tall dressed as a bat. Not that that was likely. Batman had taken the precaution of spraying the windshield and windows of the pickup with a glare-resistant compound that did not impede vision from inside the vehicle but rendered it opaque from the outside. He had neglected to tell Murphy that the compound washed off with soap and water—an uncustomary lapse, but no doubt Murphy could figure that out for himself.
Batman stopped the pickup on a turnout and quickly changed to the sober and well-tailored suit of Charlie Morrison. He packed up the Batman gear in the folding valise he had brought along for that purpose, and went on to the airport.
Bruce decided not to take a commercial aircraft, since none were scheduled at a suitable hour. He quickly arranged to charter a plane for the trip to Washington. Although he was an experienced pilot, he also hired a pilot. It was simply easier that way.
The Batman gear, the two suitcases of special equipment, and the utility belt fit nicely into the Lear jet he had rented.
He had time for a quick brunch while the pilot fueled up and made out a flight plan. He had a small green salad and a side dish of guacamole, accompanied by plenty of strong black coffee. He had just paid his bill when he remembered a phone call he had to make. He telephoned Commissioner James Gordon in Gotham City and told him briefly where he was going. That was necessary in case anything happened to him. If Robin could be killed, then Batman could be killed, too. But crime fighting had to go on.
Then he went to the Personal Services Booth and arranged for a chauffeur to take Red Murphy’s pickup to where he was waiting, reading a newspaper under the cottonwoods. And then it was plane time.
It was early evening when the quick little Lear jet flew into Washington’s Reagan airport. The evening lights were on in the city; twinkling little fairy lights belying the skullduggery that went on in the nation’s capital.
In the airport, taking a private booth in the first-class lounge’s men’s room, Bruce dressed again in the Batman outfit. This time he left off the mask and cowl, concealing his costume under a long camel’s hair overcoat. He was going to need both of his identities if he hoped to get this job done.
When he emerged, he looked like any well-dressed young man.
The overcoat was loose enough to conceal the bulky utility belt. It was difficult to know in advance exactly which piece of equipment he would need.
He caught a taxi into Washington proper, directing the driver to take him to Old Edward’s Chop House on Fifth and Ohio. It was a popular dining place for Washingtonians. It also was just across the street from the Gaudi Building, where, in the General Procurement offices on the fortieth floor, the contracts for ARDC were to be signed.
The Gaudi Building was not a simple glass tower like so much of the recent construction in Washington. It had been done in a florid neo-Baroque style, with pediments and gargoyles and odd curves and unexpected angles. The architect, Nino de Talaveres of Barcelona, the eccentric Spanish mystic who had won the Prix de Rome for architecture two years running, had predicted, accurately, as it turned out, that the Gaudi Building would introduce a new and popular style into the sterile skyline of the nation’s capital.
This unique and unexpected building was liked by many.
Batman was not one of them.
Batman’s judgment was not aesthetic, however. It was purely functional. He had worked out long ago a system and the necessary equipment to scale glass towers with great speed and sureness. Now, faced with a brand new version of an outmoded architectural schema, he saw that he would have to improvise.
The porous Carrara granite offered unreliable purchase for the quick-release suction cups that he usually relied on.
The laser glasscutters he had used so often to gain entry through the gigantic picture windows would do no good with windows shaped like slits and barred with wrought iron bars.
He sighed. It was hard enough staying up with new technology without having to reinvent ways of scaling ancient buildings.
He could try to get in through one of the entrances, of course. The thought was attractive, but impractical, he decided after giving it a moment’s thought. There was an unusual flurry of activity around the building tonight. The streets were full of police SWAT teams. There were also a lot of men lurking around in simple seersucker suits and rep ties with bulges in their jackets. These, Batman knew from previous experience, were apt to be Secret Service men.
Had Murphy talked to the people who had such a hold over him? Had he given Batman away?
Batman thought not. But they might have become curious about Murphy’s unusual actions of the night before, firing off his .44 Magnum and then, in the morning, driving out in his pickup. They would have to be extremely obtuse not to relate these discrepancies. Would they have time to do anything about them? He would have to wait and see.
Batman had had a chance to study ARDC’s plans on the trip to Washington, concealing them within a newspaper so that the pilot, a cheerful Tennesssean named Cohen, would not get curious.
Bruce Wayne had a fair technical background. He augmented it with a great deal of mathematical and scientific reading.
He was able to supplement his insights now by using his laptop computer, built to his own specifications at high cost, but with the power of a third generation mainframe.
The insights he had gained into the blueprints had been eye-opening, to say the least.
If that contract were signed into law . . .
He studied the building again. Getting into it was never going to get much easier than it was right now.
He finished his meal at the chop house, paid his bill, went to the rest room, and slipped out the back way.
He was in a noisome alley. Yowling cats slunk around overflowing garbage cans. The zebralike combination of strong lights and impenetrable shadows made the perfect milieu for a man on the run—or a bat in flight.
Within the Gaudi building, on the fortieth floor, in a special amphitheater with recessed lighting, the Joint Chiefs were meeting to consider the ARDC contract proposals. Admiral William Fenton was chairman for tonight’s session. He was a squarefaced old seadog with iron gray hair and a bulldog mouth. General “Flying Phil” Kowalski, Commandant of the Air Force, sat at his right hand. Kowalski was tall and slim; his baby face, tousled blond hair, and easy laughter belied the fact that he had been an ace during the recent incident in the south Caribbean, piloting his own Thunderclap-class all-weather interceptor and shooting down four Trinidadian jets before it was discovered that the U.S. was not at war with Trinidad. Beside him was General Chuck Rohort of the army, his short, heavily built body displaying the concentrated attentiveness that a really good tank commander needs.
“Well,” Admiral Fenton said, “we might as well call this meeting to order. I propose that we waive the reading of the minutes of the last meeting. There are entirely too many important decisions to make tonight without having to rehash any old ones. No objections? Good, let’s go on. I believe that General Kowalski has a somewhat unusual request to make.”