by Libbylawrence and Doc Quantum
“It was the owl that shriek’d, the fatal bellman,
Which gives the stern’st good-night.”
— William Shakespeare, Macbeth
The next morning, Dr. Thomas Wayne looked over to a now-sleeping Helena Pennyworth and vowed to suppress his worries. He had a new foe to face, and he would do so as he always had before. He was Owlman, and no one could defeat him. He glanced once more across the lawn to a shining monument in a private family cemetery, and closed one hand into a fist of defiance. He would certainly not allow the past to bring him down.
The following evening Raven slipped on his mask and asked, “So, what’s the plan? Are we robbing a bank or pounding on some of ol’ Big Jim Gordon’s mobsters to teach them who rules the city?”
Owlman shook his head. “Neither. I spent most of the morning backtracking through a series of false records until I was able to determine that the technology our gallery of super-heroes has been using against us came from the mind of an inventor named Noah Kuttler. He has a keen mind, but he also has a massive ego. You could say he ‘signs’ his work. There are certain minute similarities in all his designs, and that bit of ego or artistic pride will spell his downfall when we confront him tonight. That little pattern enabled my computer to determine exactly who we’re dealing with, and why.”
“If he’s so smart, why haven’t I heard of him?” asked Raven. “He’s certainly no Luthor, Ivo, or Atlanta!”
“The very fact that most people haven’t heard of him makes him of value to his employer,” explained Owlman. “You see, he works for a billionaire named Julian Falstaff, and Falstaff is equally secretive. He supports dozens of charities and pays for dozens if not hundreds of scholarships, but he values his privacy above all things. He must have decided to use his wealth to pay Kuttler to become a one-man super-hero factory!”
Raven slammed his fist into his palm and said, “So if we shut down Falstaff and his pet genius, we also put an end to all the stupid heroes who think they can beat us!”
As the Deadly Duo departed their secret cavern headquarters, Owlman continued to battle a disconcerting series of memories. He shook his head as he recalled once more how much it had hurt him to place his firstborn son, Thomas, Jr., into the clinic. He also felt the old stirring of pride he had felt as young Bruce developed into a bright and inquisitive child. Fighting his way through the memories, he tried to concentrate on the task at hand.
The duo parked their car behind a looming skyscraper, then swiftly used a combination of scaling tools and a small motorized lift to carry them to the roof.
Calmly taking a series of lightweight expandable tubes from his utility belt, Owlman expertly looped them within the lining of his cape until it formed a small, serviceable glider.
“Wait here. I’ll be back as soon as possible!” he said before stepping off the roof and gracefully descending to the penthouse located on the roof of a smaller neighboring building.
Raven watched in amazement. “He’s incredible. I can’t imagine a trained acrobat trying a stunt like that without a lot of worry, but he makes it look easy. I know he was always a skilled athlete, but he never did tell me where he learned to do things like that! I can’t imagine the guys at the Gotham Country Club have a gliding team!”
Deftly adjusting a small handheld device before his descent, Owlman landed expertly upon the penthouse roof. A localized electromagnetic pulse will temporarily disable any security devices. That will give me enough time to make a quick, silent entrance, he thought, skillfully picking a lock then entering the darkened penthouse.
Owlman smiled as he gazed around the rooms with his night-vision sensors. Falstaff is a man of refinement and taste. I believe that vase over there even came from my former collection!
A slight hint of irritation crossed his face as he recalled the pain he’d felt years ago when the loss of his family fortune had forced him to sell many prized heirlooms. He stepped forward and frowned as a hugely obese man in a dark suit turned around in an equally large office chair and faced him across a broad desk.
“Owlman! I am Julian Falstaff. To what do I owe the pleasure of this nocturnal visit?” said the smiling billionaire. Falstaff had a ruddy complexion and the cherubic features of an oversized infant. He was also rumored to be a brilliant businessman. He certainly displayed no surprise at being confronted by one of the world’s greatest super-villains.
“I’m here to put your hero-for-hire business to an end,” said Owlman. “I know all about Kuttler. I don’t mind the occasional opportunity to do more than outwit the regular police or dismantle Gordon’s mobsters, but your hero of the month club is beginning to annoy me!”
Falstaff linked his plump hands together as if he was mulling over the most mundane of business proposals. “You are a blunt one, my friend. I am more loquacious. However, I will be equally direct this time. I am a humanitarian. Kuttler is my agent, as are his creations. I may be very wealthy. I might even be considered obscenely rich. I choose to use a portion of that wealth to improve the lot of the common man. I find that the removal of your kind does much to benefit society. I have, in fact, been responsible for the removal of several villains before they became notorious enough to attract the attention of the media. Bringing you down would do much to clean up Gotham City!”
Owlman looked down at his gloved hands, which were beginning to tremble involuntarily. “You’ve drugged me, you fat monstrosity! There’s some kind of undetectable toxin in the room! You’ve managed to immunize yourself!” he said as the room began to swim before his blurry eyes. Whirling around, Owlman attempted to approach the exit, but his muscles stiffened, and he collapsed to the floor, unconscious.
When he finally awoke, Owlman found himself face down on the pavement in a deserted alley. Pushing himself to his feet, he fought to shake off the lingering effects of the drug he’d inhaled in Falstaff’s penthouse. As he recognized his surroundings, he was filled with a fury that cleared his head even as it inflamed his emotions.
“Crime Alley! He dumped me here, of all places!” he said through clenched teeth.
As he steadied himself against a wall, he remembered the events that had led to his transformation from the seemingly respectable Dr. Thomas Wayne to the calculating and deadly Owlman.
Dr. Thomas Wayne and his family had been happy enough, considering the pain he felt over his oldest son’s condition. He, Martha, and Bruce had been a typical, happy family until one night when his life seemed to fall apart because of two swift and sudden events.
Young Dr. Matthew Thorne, who had seemed so very promising, had proven to be too ambitious for his own good. In early 1958, out of curiosity he had followed the esteemed Dr. Wayne to the nightclub one day and there discovered Dr. Wayne’s secret life as the so-called Crime Doctor, his shocked outburst causing Wayne’s hands to slip while he was working on an injured gunman whose fatal wounds proved beyond his ability to mend that night. Dr. Thorne was clever enough to escape with enough evidence to interest both the authorities and the tabloid press.
Dr. Wayne thus became the target of investigations by more than one agency. His once-honored name became a favorite tabloid headline. He lost his position at the hospital. He lost his medical license. He also lost most of his family fortune in the complicated legal battle that followed. When the dust settled, he was ruined. He managed to avoid jail time by using almost all of his wealth to buy his freedom, even if he still couldn’t secure his career or his good name, but he would still stand trial for criminal charges later this year.
Worst of all, he recalled the pain on Martha’s face as they left Wayne Manor in the hands of creditors and let old Pennyworth go. Young Bruce didn’t understand what was happening, but was scared because of the shouting and harsh words that now often rang out between his once-loving parents. He found the security of being a Wayne to be strangely fleeting. No doubt when he grew up he would learn to look on his family name and his father in particular with disgust.
At least those were the thoughts that crossed Dr. Wayne’s troubled mind as he fought to keep his family together and barely managed to escape imprisonment. Harvey Dent did a good job defending me, thought Dr. Wayne. He may be young, but with his brains and lack of scruples, he’ll become an important lawyer someday!
Martha Wayne had money of her own, and while it wasn’t enough to secure the formerly impressive Wayne holdings, it was enough to enable the family to find a home in the Park Lane section of the city, where they’d been forced to move so abruptly. This neighborhood had once been a bastion of the wealthy, but like many of its original occupants it had fallen on hard times.
By the end of May, Dr. Thomas Wayne had grown desperate to keep from losing everything else in a costly trial that could land him in jail, and set up a meeting at a rented hotel ballroom with an ex-cop named Lewis Moxon, who owed him a debt for saving his life several years earlier. He told him exactly what he needed to be done.
“I want you to silence Dr. Matthew Thorne.”
Lewis met the eyes of the man who had spoken those words and reached his trembling hand into his coat-pocket for another cigarette. “Uh… got a light?”
“I really wish you wouldn’t smoke those in here,” said Dr. Wayne, straightening his tuxedo as he stood up from a black leather chair and walked around a large oak desk. “They’re very unhealthy.”
“So let me get this straight, Doc, so I know exactly what yer sayin’,” said Lewis, reviewing their conversation. “You want me to confront Dr. Thorne on the evening of June 26th, as if he was being mugged, and… make sure he won’t talk at yer trial?”
“That is what I’m saying, yes,” Thomas Wayne answered, a slight, wry smile on his face. “Young Thorne will be taking his nightly stroll that evening as he always does, like clockwork, after his Thursday shift. He’s the key witness in my upcoming trial. I need him silenced. I don’t care how you do it, and frankly, I don’t want to know.”
Lewis took a long drag of the cigarette and narrowed his eyes. “What you’re saying could result in some very serious consequences,” he said. “What makes you think I won’t turn you in right now for tryin’ to hire me to commit a crime?”
The doctor smiled and walked across the floor to an antique, elegantly adorned, full-length mirror to straighten his tie. “For the same reason you were forced to resign in disgrace from the Gotham City Police Department, Mr. Moxon. Oh, I’ve done my homework… and I know that you’re desperate for money. I haven’t lost my entire fortune just yet, and I’ll surely regain it after you fulfill your part of the bargain. I found the skills you displayed as an undercover cop for the last five years very intriguing, Mr. Moxon. You have a way of blending into the shadows like none other.
“And besides,” he continued. “You still owe me for saving your life during that masquerade ball six years ago.”
Lewis nodded, remembering the costume party for Gotham City’s elite very well. That year the theme of the ball had been flying creatures, and the wealthy men and women of Gotham had dressed up accordingly in order to raise money for charity, appearing in costumes making them look like eagles, moths, bats, angels and any number of winged beings. Dr. Thomas Wayne, he recalled, had worn a costume with an owl motif. The costume consisted of a helmet that looked like an owl’s head, along with a grey bodysuit, and blue boots and shorts, a yellow belt, and a blue cape representing an owl’s wings. Moxon had always been good at remembering details, even years later.
“If you recall,” said Dr. Wayne, “you’d been shot by a bank robber in the line of duty, and stumbled into our little costume party seeking help. I removed the slug and patched you up before the ambulance could arrive.”
“I remember,” said Moxon.
The door to the study opened then, and Lew Moxon removed himself to a dark corner.
“Yes, dear?” said the doctor.
“The guests are waiting,” replied his wife.
“I’ll be right out, honey,” replied the doctor as his wife returned his smile and closed the door. “You do have an enviable talent, don’t you, Moxon? I didn’t even see you move.”
Lewis stepped out of the shadows and rubbed his unshaven chin. “You learn some things on the street, Dr. Wayne.”
“My darling Martha is calling me, Mr. Moxon, and so I must go. It would not do for Gotham’s once most renowned physician and philanthropist to keep the Ornithological Association waiting. I may be in dire legal and financial straits, but it is paramount to keep up appearances in these trying times. And I am so looking forward to seeing the mating pair of rare owls we have on display tonight. So… do we have a deal?”
Lewis Moxon looked at Dr. Thomas Wayne — who held one hand outstretched and wore his famous smile — and tentatively shook hands with him. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, I won’t be able to do the job myself, since you and I are known associates, but I’ll arrange it to happen that very night. I know just the right man to send a message to Thorne that he’ll never forget.”
“Excellent,” said Dr. Wayne, and he left for the charity event he was sponsoring.
Dr. Thomas Wayne bided his time over the next several days as he awaited the beginning of the end of his troubles. Dr. Matthew Thorne may have been a good friend once, but now he had become an impediment to his and his family’s happiness. He busied himself with the Ornithological Association, even volunteering to keep and take care of a rare owl at his home for a few days.
Finally, on the dark night of June 26, 1958, Dr. Wayne walked alongside his wife Martha and their eight-year-old son Bruce through Park Lane from a movie at the local theater not far from their home; they had seen a rather forgettable film that Bruce had been excited about at the time but that Thomas could no longer remember. Many others had seen them attend, establishing for him a solid alibi at the same time Moxon or his hired man confronted Thorne. As they strolled through their new neighborhood, only a block away from their home, they were suddenly stopped by a gunman.
Dr. Wayne was shocked as the gunman waved his gun at him and his family in a threatening manner. He had expected to have a quiet evening while Thorne was silenced. He could only assume that this gunman, hired by Lew Moxon, had mistaken him for his true intended target. “What are you doing here, you fool?” he hissed. “You’re supposed to get Thorne, not me!”
“What do you mean, Thomas?” cried Martha, as young Bruce held closely to her for protection.
“Never mind that now, Martha,” he replied. “This is simply all a big misunderstanding. I–”
“Wayne, you killed my brother!” the maddened gunman finally cried, worked up. In the distance, Thomas could have sworn he could hear the hooting of the owl at his new home nearby, as if portending death; it must have been startled out of slumber by the gunman’s shouting.
“Wh-what?” cried Dr. Wayne, frowning as a strange, unfamiliar feeling of fear began to creep over him.
“I was hired to give Thorne a good scare across town tonight,” said the gunman, whose real name was Joe Chill. “But I came here to find you instead! My brother died on the operating table in the Diamond Club! He may have been a triggerman, but he was still my brother! He deserved better than dyin’ at your hands just because Gordon didn’t like him!”
As Martha screamed, and Thomas quickly thrust himself before his wife and son, the gunman pulled the trigger on his M1911 pistol, firing again and again.
As if in a dream Thomas saw Martha and Bruce slump to the ground before he regained his senses and managed to disarm the thug. He’d taken more than one bullet himself, but was still standing.
The murder weapon tossed to one side, Dr. Thomas Wayne dropped down to the cold pavement on his knees and reached out to the lifeless bodies of his wife and child.
All he found was a chill that shook him to the core as he was swallowed up in darkness. All he could hear was the tap, tap, tap of the disarmed thug running off down the street in a panic — that and the sound of the owl that shrieked in the night.
“Crime Alley was once Park Lane,” said Owlman in the present. “Falstaff had me dumped here as a mocking message. He knows who I am, and this is his way of rubbing that fact in my face!” He was furious; no one could ridicule the loss of his wife and son and live.
“He’ll pay for this!” vowed Thomas Wayne. “I don’t care if all my recent visions of losses and hints of death mean anything or not. I’m going to make him pay for this cheap stunt!” he cried, but as he stared down Crime Alley, all he could see in his troubled imagination was Park Lane and the two still, once beloved forms of his wife and son.