A man chained into his wheelchair has been pushed into the middle of a busy road: someone wants him dead, and wants a message to be attached to the death. When Nightwing rescues the man (who has anyway died of a massive coronary), a gun-woman makes certain of his death before escaping. The man was Leonard Holcomb, a former commissioner in Bludhaven. Nightwing later discovers that someone had branded him with the number 1049. While he and Oracle begin to investigate, the masked woman brands Frankie Deever, son of Lunchmeat Deever and ensures that he is crushed by an incoming ferry. Then she sends a car over a bridge: with a branded ex-police chief aboard.
Homicide chief Detective Addad apologises to Officer Grayson, who was the first to suggest a message crime when confronted by the death of Leo Holcomb, but neither is initially able to work out what the branded numbers are. Until, that is, Grayson sees his colleagues cover their badge numbers in memory of chief Frantini (the 'crash victim'). He discovers that each of those badge numbers was worn by a member of the Riordan family, whose careers all ended on the same day as each other. Hogan, his former-police friend who's now a bar-owner, tells him of this family: a long tradition of law-enforcers in Bludhaven, whose newest cop recruit, Kate Riordan, became a media sensation. A group Riordan photo-call was organised, and targetted by Angel Marin and Lunchmeat Deever. All the Riordans and a number of reporters died in a massive explosion. Well, nearly all, Kate was thrown clear, but her face was irreperably ruined. Now, years later, it seems that she's back, exacting revenge on all those with any connection to the slaughter of her family.
The only survivors, once she kills current police chief Ebersol, are Deever (in witness protection), Dudley Soames (in Lockhaven, the local jail) and disappeared Chief Redhorn. Consequently, Nightwing and Oracle pull out all the stops to find out where he might have gone, tracking him down to a fishing resort, Snug Cay. Nightwing arrives shortly after Kate Riordan, who Redhorn assumes was sent by Blockbuster (in revenge for betraying him, an act of which Blockbuster is unaware). Redhorn tries to escape from both Nightwing and Hella (Kate) - his boat explodes; Kate should once again be dead, but she's survived explosions before...
Nightwing suggests that the chief returns to Bludhaven.