The rain is cold and heavy, beating a frantic pattern on his old, waxed trench coat. Commissioner James Gordon stands on the roof of the GCPD headquarters trying to light a damp cigarette. Above him, the bat-shaped smudge of light crawls across the midnight clouds – the batsignal. He looks over the rooftops. Maybe this time I’ll spot him, he thinks. Maybe this time I’ll see how he moves around so fast.
Then, too late, he hears the faintest scrape of a boot heel behind him.
“Foul night,” he shouts, without turning, struggling to make himself heard over the downpour.
“I’m not him,” says a younger voice. “He’s away.”
Gordon turns to see a young man in a skin tight black and blue outfit, with a mask across his eyes. The eyes are obscured by some sort of opaque lenses. The man’s body looks strong and muscled – an athlete’s body.
“A different suit,” says Gordon, flicking his cigarette away. “Got bored with yellow and green?”
The athlete smiles but says nothing.
“I’m a detective, son,” continues Gordon. “I’ve watched you grow up. What do I call you these days? Big Robin?”
“Nightwing? I’ve heard about you. Bludhaven, right?”
Again, the man named Nightwing smiles, but doesn’t answer. “How can I help, commissioner?”
Gordon, the rain running down his face and dripping from his nose, sighs and turns to look at Gotham once more. “It’s Harley. Harleen Quinzel.”
“And the Joker?” asks Nightwing, his voice suddenly tense.
“Still in Arkham. We checked and double-checked.” Gordon points across the city. “She’s at Mercy General. On the roof. She has a little girl with her and she’s demanding that the Joker is released.”
Gordon doesn’t wait for a reply. He knows by now that when he turns around the roof will be empty and he’ll feel like he’s been talking to himself. “I hope you’re as good as him, kid,” he mutters, and then shuts the batsignal down.
Nighwing presses himself flat against the side of an air-conditioning unit on the roof of Gotham Mercy General Hospital. The wind and rain continue to beat down on the city. Despite the cold, Nightwing welcomes the weather. It helps to make him silent. He concentrates, focuses on the voices of the five armed officers on the roof with him, all pointing their guns towards the northwest corner of the building. They talk quietly into their radios, to each other, but they no longer try to speak to the madwoman holding the child, standing at the edge of the roof. He can hear Harley crying, a high-pitched snivelling that carries over the low rush of the wind. “Let him go,” she cries, over and over again. “Let Mr J go.”
Nightwing gradually turns his head towards her, edging his way along the brick wall of the unit until he can peep around the corner and see her. She stands, swaying, with a six year old girl clinging to her, at the very northwest corner of the building. She looks for all the world as if she is about to step off the roof and take the child with her.
This isn’t like her, thinks Dick. This isn’t crazy enough, not cartoon-crazy anyway. What is she really doing?
He notes what she is wearing – her usual harlequin outfit, but this one has seen better days. It seems dirty and worn. Her hair looks matted, her make-up smeared by rain and tears. The child, wild-eyed with fear, looks like a younger version of Harleen – like a younger sister. Her blonde hair whipped by wind and rain, her dress bedraggled and torn.
Something has changed, thinks Dick. Something bad.
Nightwing steps out from the shadows. “I’m here to help,” he says, keeping very, very still. He hears the officers frantically shouting into their radios:
“Batman in sight…”
“Thought he was bigger…”
“Robin is confronting the woman now…”
“Stand down! Stand down!”
Nightwing ignores the police marksmen. He trusts that they will resist the temptation to shoot him in the back. He concentrates all of his attention on saving the child, just as Bruce trained him to do.
“Batboy!” shouts Harley. Somewhere over Gotham Harbour, thunder rolls. “Where’s the daddy-bat? Too scared to come out in the rain?”
“We don’t need the child, Harley,” says Nightwing. He keeps his voice calm and steady, just as Bruce trained him to do. “We can talk.”
“Let Mr J go, or me and this brat are gonna be sidewalk stains!”
“The Joker is ill. He’s where he needs to be. Let me have the ch – ”
“Mr J is not sick!” screams Harley. “You don’t know him! You don’t know anything about him!”
“I know he killed a young boy with a bomb. I know he shot a friend of mine through the spine.”
“He is naughty isn’t he?” she giggles, and then sobs. “Naughty Mr J…”
“You’re afraid of him too, aren’t you?” asks Nightwing, his voice kinder now. “Or are you more afraid of being without him?” He takes a step towards Harley and the girl. Then another. He keeps his hands relaxed by his sides, his eyes focussed on Harley, just as Bruce trained him to do. The muttering of the police behind him is silenced by the wind and thunder above.
“I’m no good on my own,” she says at last, tears lost in the rain. “It’s alright for your boys’ club. You got the B-man looking after you.”
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he replies. Now he is close enough to reach her, to hear the sobbing of the six year old clinging to her leg. “You could have someone too. Someone good.”
Harley moves forward; Nightwing tenses, ready to leap for the child. Harley leans towards him as if to whisper in his ear, but instead, she kisses him lightly on the cheek.
“Nah!” she screams and hurls the child from the roof. Without thinking, Nightwing has leap, arms outstretched for the girl. He has her, and now they are both falling, hurtling towards the concrete and cars and lights below. Then, the line at his belt goes tight and, with a jerk that winds him, saves his life and that of the child. He had attached the line to the air-conditioning unit ten minutes ago, just in case he had to make a grab for the girl, just as Bruce trained him to do.
He can still hear Harley screaming as the police drag her away:
“It doesn’t matter what you say, Batboy! Mr J is the only one who cares about me! Let him go! LET HIM GO!”