"Co$t of Living": Several years ago, Chicago's number of masked heroes was already declining, but citizens could still rely on Slipshift to protect them. The reason for the decline was a series of murders dubbed the "Mask Murders" in which the cities vigilantes were systematically hunted and
- The way I see it, I already beat you down twice. You try to get cute, we'll make it a hat trick. And the next time you wake up, there won't be donuts.
- -- Nightwing
Appearing in "Co$t of Living"
- Michael Pearson
- Joey (Phone Call Only)
- Detective Maxwell Morgan
- Brian Lester
- Nancy Lester
- Billy Lester
- Museum of Science and Industry
- Lincoln Park
Synopsis for "Co$t of Living"
Several years ago, Chicago's number of masked heroes was already declining, but citizens could still rely on Slipshift to protect them. The reason for the decline was a series of murders dubbed the "Mask Murders" in which the cities vigilantes were systematically hunted and killed. With confirmation that Slipshift was still in action, the media could only wonder how much longer he'd be alive. One night, after rescuing a busload of hostages, Slipshift was stabbed in the back by a dark figure. Though he was gravely wounded, he used his ability to phase through solid objects to get slink away from his intended killer.
Now, Nightwing has come to Chicago in search of Tony Zucco, and is learning the hard way that the city no longer appreciates masked men. That is particularly because a masked man called The Prankster has just trapped him inside a device meant to demonstrate the phenomenon of backdraft - and disabled his mask's visual display. As the oxygen leaves the chamber, consumed by a flame inside, Nightwing worries about what to do. He had come to the Museum of Science and Industry stop the Prankster from torturing a man named John Conaway and to ask for his help, but now his life is being held hostage in exchange for his identity. All he has to do to prevent his own suffocation or burning to death inside the device is remove his mask on camera, and see the right way out.
Intent on keeping his identity secret and concerned that if he does anything to break out of the device he will cause a backdraft that will consume him, Nightwing decides instead to put out the flame with a flame retardant capsule. With that done, he smashes through the glass to freedom. The Prankster makes a run for it, but Nightwing entraps him with a bola, by sound alone. After noting with some amusement that the Prankster is wearing high heels, Nightwing is forced to change his plans again, as the police arrive. He behaves as though the Prankster - who is a wanted criminal - is his hostage, and whispers that he can get them both out of there, so long as his mask's vision is reactivated. Dropping a smoke bomb, Nightwing allows the Prankster access to his hands, and once he can see again, he offers the Prankster a grappling line, and instructs him to wait for him on the roof. He then attacks the police, drawing their fire. The Prankster, meanwhile, has no intention of sticking around, but in his attempt to get away unseen, he is unexpectedly faced with Nightwing's fist, knocking him unconscious.
The Prankster wakes unmasked, and with Nightwing waiting for him with coffee and donuts. Nightwing explains that he needs help tracing an old email back to its source, which means putting a known hacker in front of a computer. The Prankster agrees to help, only if Nightwing will stop hunting him.
The next day, Dick's roommate Michael acts as videographer for a news anchor who is interviewing John Conaway - who himself is not very grateful for having been rescued, lumping both Nightwing and the Prankster together. Afterwards, Michael receives a call from his other roommate Joey, who has decided to let Dick sleep in her room while he's in town. After taking the call, Michael is met on the scene by Detective Maxwell Morgan, who offers him a camera that was recovered from the scene of the crime last night - and it may have belonged to the Prankster. Despite being ill-gotten, if Michael uses it, he could make his career on it.
Meanwhile, the Prankster determines after hours of work that Zucco spent two years in an Illinois state correctional facility during the same time as William Cole - brother of Chicago's current mayor - which is particularly interesting, since Zucco sent the email from inside City Hall. This evidence points to a man named Billy Lester, who records show didn't exist until three years ago, and now works for the mayor. The Prankster warns that the Mayor isn't the man he appears to be. Having got the information he wanted, Nightwing handcuffs the Prankster to a pipe, and leaves him for the police.
Nightwing finds Billy Lester's house easily, and gets in just as easily, noticing that there is nothing in the house to deter robbers - not the kind of house a wanted criminal would live in. Even so, photos in the house confirm that Billy Lester is Tony Zucco. The only problem is that he seems to have a family now; a son and wife.
Elsewhere, the police come upon the roof where Nightwing had left the Prankster, but he is nowhere to be found. Only his mask remains as a reminder that he is still out there.
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