Genesis 1:5 – “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And then he created Batman, to be the Night’s unrelenting warden.”
Okay, so not exactly scripturally accurate, but I know men who would rather face God’s wrath than Batman. Hell, I know gods who don’t want to face Batman. He’s this all-encompassing, almost mythical figure. He’s a savior, a guardian, a hero…a reckoning. But when you’ve spent as much time around him as I have, you realize something. Above all else, he’s just a man—as human as anyone else. He can make mistakes. He can fail. I wonder, what was the bigger failure for him? Letting me die, or letting my murderer live?
Friedrich Nietzsche has this quote. Something along the lines of “if you stare long into the abyss, it stares back into you.” Funny story—I didn’t spend as much time gazing into the abyss as one might think. Instead, I was pushed in headfirst by a psychopath with a clown motif. And when I was resurrected, yanked back out by a process I’d rather not think about, some of that abyss came with me. I was changed, fractured, and to be honest I think the abyss is what stuck the pieces back together. And oh the things I noticed once I was alive again. You see I learned something. Or maybe I always knew, and it took my own death to finally accept it. Bruce has always been a half measure. All the crimes and atrocities his rogues committed, yet he let them live. Always opting to lock them up instead, just hoping that they’ll miraculously turn their lives around. To his credit, he has had the occasional win here and there.
Unfortunately, I’ve never quite had his patience. Imagine my shock when I found out the Joker, the f***ing Joker of all people, was still alive. Well that was the final nail in the coffin—metaphorically speaking, of course…I’d like to avoid any more coffins. I decided that I would do what Bruce wouldn’t because the city needed more than a stopgap. If Batman was content to be Gotham’s warden, then I would be its executioner. Gone was Jason Todd, and I’d be damned if I was ever called Robin again. The abyss gave me a new persona, plucked straight from my murderer’s past: The Red Hood. Every crime family, corrupt syndicate, and illegal organization was in my crosshairs, literally and figuratively. I didn’t hide in shadows and patrol on rooftops. I singlehandedly laid siege to the underground and let everyone know they were on notice. And anyone who opposed me, whether it was some low-ranking thug, hired gun, crime boss, supervillain, or…otherwise, would get a bullet to the head, maybe several depending on my mood. Bats wouldn’t approve, but I was prepared to handle him accordingly. At least I thought I was. That was my mistake. I failed. Spectacularly, I might add. Don’t get me wrong, no one knew what hit them when I arrived back in Gotham. But I must have forgotten just how hard Bruce was willing to fight for his city. That man would take down anyone for the sake of Gotham—including his own ward. Didn’t mean I’d give up after one try…
Needless to say, we didn’t see eye-to-eye on most things. Somehow, I was labeled a villain, which didn’t really sit right with me. How could someone hellbent on being the most effective countermeasure in Gotham be a villain? Didn’t the ends justify the means? No, I wasn’t wrong. I was just wrong according to him. So we clashed. And I lost. Rinse and repeat. It took a while, but eventually I grew tired of getting my ass kicked, and we finally decided to reconcile. I forgave him for everything that happened with the Joker. He forgave me for…well I was never looking for forgiveness in the first place. He even welcomed me back into the Bat Family, though I kept my status as something of an independent contractor. You should’ve seen the rest of the clan when I walked through the Manor doors. Surprisingly, Dick was the one who had to be restrained. My money would’ve been on the runt. Bruce did have one non-negotiable condition if I was really going to be brought back into the fold. He knew I was much too stubborn to just go back to doing things his way, but there would be no killing as long as I was in Gotham, and he’d be watching me like a hawk to make sure I kept my word. That rule did not however extend beyond the city limits.
That brings us to the here and now. And “here” is 70 miles outside of Gotham, in a small town called Solo Santi. I’m in the penthouse suite of a hotel room registered to one Nicholai Fedorov. Him and his boys own a few legitimate businesses in Gotham, nothing too extravagant. However, they meet out here every so often to engage in some not-so-legitimate activities, namely sex trafficking. The good news for Fedorov? He chose somewhere quiet and sparsely populated enough that he could avoid Batman. The bad news? He chose somewhere quiet and sparsely populated enough that I could avoid Batman. His mistake. And that mistake has led to a middle-aged Russian begging for his life at gunpoint.
“Please! Whoever you are! Just take what you want!”
“Are you trying to bargain with me, Fedorov? Don’t you think you should’ve tried that before you had your men fire at me? You could’ve saved a lot of time…and roughly 15 lives.”
“Please! Just name your price and I’ll pay it!”
“I’m richer than you.”
“Look, Mr. Hood, I—”
“So you do know who I am. Then you should know why I’m here.” The dumbass had the nerve to look confused. I don’t have time for this. The cops will be here any minute in response to the firefight, and I plan to be gone when they arrive. I let off a shot near his ear.
“The girls, Nicholai. Where are you keeping them? Answer me or the next bullet goes between your eyes.”
“OKAY! There’s a safehouse. 20 miles south of here tucked inside an apple orchard. You’ll see two green trucks parked out front.”
“How many girls, and how many men guarding them?”
“I swear if you don’t—”
“Eighteen. There’s eighteen girls. I have ten men stationed inside. They have instructions to leave at 10:30.”
“Thank you, Nicholai. Now was that so hard?” I could hear the sirens rapidly approaching. Time to make my exit. “I don’t care what you tell them, but you will not mention me. Am I clear?” I watched him nod his assent. “Good. Do svidaniya, Nicholai. Oh, and this should go without saying, but if you’re lying to me…killing you will be the most merciful thing I do.” I left him quivering in fear as I took off into the night. Bruce would be proud. Sort of.
I pushed my motorcycle – which is definitely better than Dick’s by the way – as fast as I could. Assuming these guys were the punctual types, I had about 7 minutes to get there. It wasn’t long before I spotted the orchard, and then the green trucks in front of a small, unassuming 2-story house. I watched them walk out of the safehouse and assessed their numbers and positions. Two in the front, 3 on each side of the girls, and 2 in the back—10 total. In the middle of them all, I could make out just under 20 heads. Looks like Fedorov enjoyed living. Too bad his men wouldn’t be afforded the same luxury.
Truth be told, it was more difficult than I anticipated. Killing Fedorov’s men was easy enough. If I had to make a guess, I’d say they were hired mercenaries, probably ex-military. Definitely not on the cheap end, but nothing I couldn’t handle. My main challenge was killing them and keeping the girls unharmed. The fact that I left the cops an anonymous tip beforehand didn’t do me any favors either. That meant no guns and a time limit. I don’t know what type of trauma any of those girls had before tonight but seeing me tear through ten men with just a blade probably added to it. But what’s done is done. They’re in police custody, presumably getting help, and I still have other issues to worry about. Priority number 1 is whoever’s been tailing me…