In the Steal of the Night

February 23, 2018:

Daredevil might not be in his hometown but it doesn't stop him from popping in on a robbery in progress. The culprit however turns out not to be one of your run-of-the-mill thieves…or of this world!

Cobble Hill, Gotham City

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jane Foster

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

It's a chilly Gotham winter evening, but the darkness is where some tend to thrive, and many apply their 'specialized' trades in the concealing shadows, perhaps even daringly considering the infamous caped crusader that goes after those who turn a blind eye to the law.

Despite the cold, some areas still draw their share of warm bodies, clubs tantalize with their neon lights and unspoken but highly suggested promises. Here on this side of town things are a little quieter, where respectable businesses have long since closed shop for the night. Just off of Cobble Hill's Grand Avenue, a line of shops specializing in jewelry and gemstones of the finest cut sit with alarms no doubt set, and a security guard or two prowling the street and the few alleys in between.

It seems like all's well, and the disturbance in the quiet is all so subtle. There's no ring of alarms or shouts. There's a strange clatter of what turns out to be a mag-light, the thud of something substantial and heavy.


Gotham has a storied history of vigilantism. For more than a quarter of a century, its storefronts and homes have been ferociously defended by a stealthy, resourceful, and ruthless ninja who has single-mindedly instills fear in the hearts of wrongdoers. And who has mentored disciplines that follow in his footsteps — a whole surrogate family of relentless, highly-trained crime fighters.

The black-clad, masked man who leaps from rooftop to rooftop on this winter night is not that vigilante, or even one of his brood. Though it's safe to say he was inspired by them. In the years before a chemical spill robbed Matt Murdock of his sight, the boy watched, read, listened to, and otherwise soaked up stories about the legendary Caped Crusader any-which way he could. The battles with the Joker, the Penguin — a whole rogue's gallery that made Gotham seem like some madcap, funhouse version of the gritty streets of Hell's Kitchen on which he grew up.

Then, during the difficult years that followed the accident, the stories - now read and listened to, but unwatched - were a blessing. An escape from a life that had taken a hard right turn. And there's absolutely no doubt that later, those stories created a space in his mind for what was possible if he put his own peculiar gifts to use. Without Batman and Gotham City, there would be no Daredevil.

So how could he not explore it while he's here? He swings, vaults, flips, and soars through the unfamiliar cityscape, taking in all those unfamiliar scents and sounds with relish. There isn't any of the driving urgency that spurs his patrols of Hell's Kitchen. He's open to adventure, attuned to cries for help — but this isn't his territory. He's a tourist, really - even if he's dressed up like a burglar.

Still, when his sensitive ears pick up that clatter and crash in an otherwise quiet neighborhood, he can't turn a - well. A blind eye. So he grapples down the fire-escape, turning the full scope of his senses towards where the sound first sprang.


Near the mouth of the alley closest between the first set of jewelry shops lies one of the security guards. Not dead, but his breath is shallow, a low groan the only other sound he makes as he rests in a heap against the wall, his heavy-duty light still on, its light beaming into the empty alley as if attempting to fight away the shadows on its own.

Having been just a few shops down, the other security guard hurries his pace towards where he'd also heard the sound, not nearly as much an amazing feat as the black-clad tourist taking the 'scenic' route over. "Will?" is called out as he finds the other guard, his head jerking up at the crisp sound of breaking glass behind him. That triggers the alarm as well it should, and the second guard is up on his feet and whirling around, his sidearm loosed and leveled. "F-freeze!" he shouts.

"…that will never cease t'be an annoyance," comments another voice in turn, completely dismissive of any orders by his tone, a British accent with just the slightest tinge of the north to it.

"What the hell-" The guard nearly chokes on a gasp as he brings his light up, and then there's a ring of metal and the clunk of his own flashlight going to join the other on the floor.

"Shame on ye'- such manners! Didn't yer mum tell ye' it be rude'ta stare!"

Shots ring, two that seem to go wide of their mark as they seem to miss completely, judging from the sound of the slugs hitting nothing but masonry. A pained cry from something swung, and one more body lands on the sidewalk.

"People these days. 'tis no wonder this city rots from the inside out." No other sound accompanies the voice, no crunch of glass or squeak of hinges from a door, no swish of cloth. But within the shop whose alarm still rings, more sounds of glass breaking. Strange!


There's one thing the 'Devil of Hell's Kitchen' does better than most other people on the face of the planet — and that's understand the world around him. Because of his heightened senses he knows it in ways few others can. After nearly two decades — and even after one year of increasingly weird encounters that include biogenetically engineered sea monsters, dragons, and warlocks — Matt Murdock doesn't often come across a scenario that well stumps him.

This does. A sudden, bludgeoning swipe, the fall of the guard, and then, within the shop, the breaking of glass. But where is the connective tissue that links them? The footfalls, the creak of a door or rattling of a window, the trail of scent? The frantic heartbeat of a criminal at work?

Matt has no idea what is going on, but he knows that two men have just been badly hurt and a shopkeeper's livelihood is being taken from him. His town or not, it's not the sort of thing he can look over. And so he leaps down from that fire-escape into the alley - and he'll listen for the breath and heartbeat of both guards before stalking his way towards the shop itself, and making his way through whatever breach triggered that ringing alarm that assaults his ears.


The sounds resume from within the broken-into shop, unmistakable sounds of looting, as faint as they might be in comparison to the incessant ringing of the alarm bell. "Ah, me lovelies. E'en across th' ages, they still shine just as bright." The burglar speaks idly as he gathers up shining chains and bracelets, rings, pendants, the fine tinkling of metal muffled as dropped into a bag.

It's a strange atmosphere here within the shop, and with the blind vigilante's heightened senses, all the more noticeable. The shop is almost as chilly as outdoors, which is strange because the temperature shouldn't have shifted so abruptly from the breach of the window. There's an odd scent to, just at the fringes of one's awareness, but definitely out of place once observed- an old smell, like the dust from an attic, and the faint hint of decay.


Ancient phantom jewel-thief, Daredevil thinks as he creeps, a nearly-silent shadow among so many others that line the darkened store. He hasn't become inured to the surreal, but after a year of walking in the same circles as Jessica Jones and others, he finds he can make logical leaps to the supernatural with increasing ease. In just the last month he's faced a dragon, a killer robot, a phantom wolf, and a rogue A.I. It almost makes me miss the Russian mob. Almost.

Now, how one fights… whatever this is… is a conundrum. Especially if it's not corporeal. He's got the wrong skillset for this — John or Zee or Jane would be far better-equipped — but when has that ever stopped him? He still reaches for those goddamn escrima sticks at his calf and makes his way deeper into the unnatural cold to get a better sense of whatever this thing is.


Daredevil's practically hit this mystery right on the nose. Further in, another case is shattered, the gathering of jewels commences. And then all at once silence falls.

It's not the silence of someone no longer there. It's the silence of someone who's realized he's not alone here. The cold lingers. Something is watching. Or rather, someone.

"Oh, and what do we have here?" the voice speaks up, amused, and there's at least a definite direction that it comes from. There's an underlying layer to the foreign tone, something hollow, something airy. It's not a voice spoken by someone of flesh and blood. "And here I was about'ta ask if ye fergot yer cape. But you're not him, are ye?"


But you're not him, are ye?

He realizes, somewhere in that surge of fight or flight response (hint: with Matt it's almost always 'fight') that here in Gotham he must really seem like a poor man's, knock-off Batman. He's been without the fancy red suit Jane Foster made for him for nearly half a year now; even her high-tech handiwork couldn't survive a full-on assault by Wakandan hardware. Since then it's been back to basics: his mail-order vigilante costume and the simple black mesh wrapped around the top of his head.

"No," Matt manages to say, though his response approximates some of Batman's low growl as he draws both sticks in either hand. "I'm something else." His footsteps, careful, measured, but relentless, carry him towards that voice. "Who are you?" he asks.


The unidentified thief makes something of an amused noise at the reply that's finally given. "That ye are…" he muses, and then there's a bit of a gasp when a question is directed at him this time. "Oh, but where are me manners! Jim Craddock's the name, Gentleman Jim Craddock- at yer service."

There is a figure standing there, all clothed in white from head to foot. Perhaps the details or even the fact that someone stands there beside the broken jewelry display cases is lost upon Matt, but the Gentleman Ghost isn't hiding at the moment. Not that the security cameras will pick up anything but the dark-clad figure arming himself with batons.

"I must in turn ask th' same of ye- if you're not the Batman, then who might ye be? One of his many apprentices, mayhaps?" By his tone, Craddock seems dubious of that. "Oh, but you're not here for pleasantries. I can tell that much."


"I think pleasantries went by the wayside with those two men you attacked outside," Daredevil throws back as he stalks towards the voice that emanates from beside the wrecked displays. Part of him is wondering why he bothers. Bantering with a criminal is useless enough — but with a ghost? Still, Matt Murdock has always had a curious turn of mind, and besides — every word spoken is more information he can add to his view of the room.

And so when Craddock asks, Who might ye be?, Daredevil answers: "I'm no Bat," he answers, though without anything like disdain. "I guess you could call me a tourist." His hands clench around the batons. Almost in striking distance, if there is any such thing when dealing with a phantasm. "Mind telling what use a ghost has for jewels?"


"I plead guilty to th' first, and out of self-defense, the second." There's a shrug implied in that, of which he follows through with. Craddock taps the top of his cane idly with a finger, and even were the Daredevil able to see, about the only sure way to tell that his head was moving was the subtle turn of monocle and tophat as the Ghost watched the other move.

"A tourist. Which means yer jus' passing through, is it? Why trouble yerself then?" He sounds amused, and at the question even chuckles, the sound of chains and rings jingling against each other as he swirls his hand around the bag of his loot. "Let's just say…some habits die hard."


The ghost freely admits assaulting two men just trying to protect this community, these places of business, offering a shrug of nonchalance instead of a real explanation. He unhurriedly taps his cane, watching Daredevil approach with the look of a man who has nothing at all to fear.

And asks Matt a straightforward question: why intervene, why play the vigilante when you're out of your territory? Out of your element? Out of your depth?

"I guess," the masked man offers with a set and reset to the hard line of his jaw, "my reason is the same as yours." Some habits die hard. And with that, the Devil of Hell's Kitchen drops to a fighting stance. "You should really clear out of here, Mr. Craddock."


Again the Ghost laughs. "Hmm, well, I s'pose that's a shame," he says, shaking his head as the black-clad man shifts his position. "An' well I mean to, Mister Tourist. Most likely not in the way ye mean."

Twirling his cane, he seems to have turned his back upon the man in favor of returning to his work. "But I must ask, ye don't see all that startled'ta be meetin' a ghost. Most curious! Have we become commonplace?"


Have we become commonplace?

"You mean ghosts?" Daredevil asks, his head canting to the right, as he slowly circles his — opponent? An opponent who barely shows up in his hodgepodge, impressionistic view of his surroundings — and then largely through the clinking of chains, the shift of footfalls, the laugh. "Uh, no. Definitely not commonplace. But I'm getting used to things like you, I guess you could say."

Which isn't to say he knows how to fight one. Instead of meeting Matt's challenge, or fleeing the scene, the specter simply turns his back on him. There's a beat. Well, if he doesn't care about me, go after something he does care about. He completes his circle, until Matt is standing next to that broken jewelry case. He extends one hand and places the baton squarely in Craddock's way; a line in the proverbial sand to prevent any further collection from the cases.

"I said you should get out of here."


"True, there be stranger things than ghosts this day an' age," Craddock comments with a shrug. He seems to pause in his collecting, admiring a particularly fine cut of gem set amongst a nest of smaller ones upon a gold ring. Tink. Into the bag with the rest.

Oh, but perhaps he's also waiting. Waiting to see what this person who isn't Batman, whose habits die as hard as Craddock's own- will do. When that baton is held out, the Ghost pauses again.

"And I said I would," he agrees, and he moves a gloved hand to rest a finger upon the baton, which suddenly bears the sensation of another's hand upon it as he tries to nudge it aside. "-in me own time, good sir." Outside in the distance, the faint echo of police sirens can be heard. "…although maybe this gentleman will take yer advice after all."


"Dragons, killer robots, demon bears," Daredevil says in a wry rasp to the shade, who seems… strangely companionable, if obviously capable of violence towards innocents. "It's crazy out there, Mister Craddock."

Safe to say Daredevil hears the approaching sirens even before James. It's the cavalry, but it's also every bit the threat to him that it is to James. Whatever good will he's built towards the police precinct in Hell's Kitchen has no currency here, in Gotham. He is, after all, no bat — and the police are just as likely to think him a robber as the ghost.

There's limited time, and James seems to know it — he relents. But Daredevil pushes the issue further. The baton on which James's suddenly weighty hand rests lifts and moves towards the bag, there to pin it. "Good call, Mr. Craddock. But you should really leave that here when you go."


He'd only been a thief who'd wanted better for his life, shame though he'd had to turn to criminal activity for it. "Were I anyone else I would've wondered about yer sanity, Mister Tourist! 'Tis a reminder that there are worse things than vengeful spirits."

For all that the police are nearing, Craddock doesn't seem terribly in a hurry to be away. And ghosts don't show up on security video.

"Ah, and put a night's efforts to waste? I think not." There's an experimental tug at the bag, obviously more corporeal than the rest of him. Craddock removes his hand from the baton. "How long are ye willin' to stand there for it? I daresay th' local law enforcers might not be so understanding of th' situation t'see ye here." There's a subtle teasing in his tone. This person is being quite reasonable, perhaps a refreshing change from screams and futile attempts to attack him.


"What are you avenging, exactly?" Daredevil asks the ghost, passing time he doesn't have. He knows exactly how long it will be until the police get here — his own strange brand of vision is radial, and cares only a little for walls. It's finely attuned to space, distance, and density. It's the sort of sight that lets him know that attacking Craddock would yield nothing at all — because there's nothing to attack.

Then Craddock references the approaching sirens, and how the officers in those two cars that are pulling up are likely to regard the masked, black-clad Daredevil as the burglar he looks the portrait of. How long are ye willin' to stand there for it? Craddock says, challenging Murdock to the world's strangest game of chicken. "I'm not going to let you steal jewels you don't need from these people you don't know," the so-called 'Man Without Fear' says, and living up to the appellation in this particular moment — if the even tone of his voice is any indication. He hooks the fabric of his bag under the tip of baton, pulling it gently in his direction. "You. Should. Go."


The Gentleman Ghost snorts lightly. "What would ye care? Oh, but I would indulge ye, but methinks that's not something either'o us have the time for, and I'd be askin' in turn what reasons give ye such habits as to ply such a trade yerself."

His grin is unseen, but unmistakable when he speaks again in response to Daredevil. "An' I su'pose you know who it is I steal from? Or what do ye care for who these belong to?" Yes, he is playing this game, but to some extent the masked man has intrigued him.

Despite being dead, Craddock sighs as the man pulls the bag towards him more emphatically.

"…so should ye."

The counterweight of his hold on the bag suddenly slackens, and a gloved hand smacks the bottom of it in an attempt to free some of its contents, a glittering splash towards Daredevil. Outside the police cars have just come down the street, the sirens' whine growing louder.

Craddock himself is chuckling, barely heard for the lack of contest against the sounds outside, but the laughter fades, and Daredevil with his heightened senses would notice the miniscule shift of the lingering chill, perhaps the only sure hint to him that the Ghost has indeed departed.


It's an interesting question the ghost poses. Whose shop is this? And why would a vengeful spirit be stealing from it? Enough to give Daredevil momentary pause that — again! — he cannot afford. Craddock underscores that point with that final, 'So should ye.' Because right as Craddock and his clanking chains and his chill are vanishing into the ether, the fast and familiar footfalls of police officers are sounding on the sidewalk pavement.

"PUT YOUR HANDS UP!" comes the shout, the click of a safety.

Daredevil does not. He casts the bag he'd been fighting with the spirit over aside and bolts for back entrance he can see two rooms away. Shoots fire after him, but he's too fast, and running too low to the ground for them to find him. He turns the corner and they'll never get another clean shot at him - not before he's out the back door, lassoing a fire-escape, and swinging himself into the Gotham night.

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