BACK
LinkExchange FORWARD

A Parent's Nightmare
By Syl Francis

 

The door to the Wayne Enterprises' executive conference room burst open.

"Mister Wayne! Mister Wayne!" Bruce's executive assistant, Maggie, was beside herself with agitation. "Sir…the television! Quick! It's on the news…hurry!"

Lucius Fox immediately jumped up and hurried to the small set kept in the conference room. What they saw was a parent's worst nightmare.

The calm voice-over of the local GNN newscaster could be heard. What was obviously a helicopter camera panned first one way then another. Police officers in full battle gear were running in different directions, taking positions along the tree-lined drive leading to the building's main entrance. What caught everyone's attention was the location: Gotham City Boys' Preparatory!

"…Police have currently cordoned off the five mile area surrounding the exclusive school. Stay tuned for more details. This is Jack Ryder, reporting for GNN. "

"Maggie, call the Manor. Inform Alfred of the situation. Lucius, call the heliport. Inform the pilot that I need him to pick me up in five minutes on the roof. Oh, and tell Commissioner Gordon that I'm on my way!" Bruce issued his orders in short staccato commands while he crossed over to his adjoining office in the executive suite. Bruce hurried to his desk, threw miscellaneous papers into a briefcase, snapped it closed and made his way to the door.

"But, Mister Wayne," Maggie called after him. "The police have specifically requested that concerned parents remain calm and stay away from the school. The situation there is critical!"

Bruce turned cold, furious eyes on his loyal assistant. "Didn't you read the court papers, Maggie? I'm not a parent…just a legal guardian. Dick's not my son…just--" A look of pain flitted briefly across Bruce's eyes. "--just my 'ward'. And if Child Welfare Services has any say in it, Dick won't even be my ward much longer."

Maggie looked like she'd been slapped.

"Mister Wayne, I'm so sorry," Maggie said softly. "C.W.S. should have their collective heads examined. Anyone can see how much you and Dick--"

"--Haven't you heard?" Bruce's voice took on a false cheeriness. "According to Doctor Cunningham's latest report I'm an unfit parent. I'm an irresponsible playboy who leaves Dick alone in the care of a 'male employee' sometimes for days at a time." Bruce turned abruptly and stared out at the Gotham City skyline spread below him. "So, she's going to take my son away from me."

Bruce spoke this last so softly the others in room had to strain to hear him.

"Please tell Alfred where I'll be." Bruce left, slamming the door behind him, rattling the numerous framed pictures and awards that hung on the walls of the conference room.

Fox quietly walked over to his CEO's desk and picked up the phone. A framed 8 by 10 school photo of nine-year-old Dick Grayson caught his eye. The boy's engaging smile showed a vulnerability that always seemed to catch at Fox's throat.

"Not his son," Fox repeated aloud. "No, just his heart and soul." He glared at the others in the room as if daring them to contradict him, then quickly called the heliport.


Alfred drove the Bentley like a maniac, occasionally taking the twists and turns on the tree-lined back roads on screeching two-wheels! Bother the speed limit or any considerations of personal safety. The young master! Alfred had to see to the young master's safety.

As he drove, Alfred turned on the radio and tuned it until he found a news station.

"The police report what they believe to be nine or ten masked gunmen have taken over Prep, Gotham's most exclusive private school. GCPD hostage negotiators are on the scene. Commissioner Gordon again requests that all parents and civilians please remain calm and to not come to the school. The situation is still extremely volatile!"

Alfred kept driving…after all, he wasn't a parent, he told himself. How had Child Welfare Services referred to him? Ah, yes! Alfred was described as 'a male employee' in the Wayne household.


"Bruce! What are you doing here?" Gordon asked looking harassed. He didn't have time for this! "We've asked parents to please stay home. I've got a job to do, Bruce!"

"So do I, Jim. Who are they? What are their demands? Money? Transportation out of the country? Weapons?"

"They've identified themselves as the Army of Daylight. As for their demands…Bruce, you know we can't bargain with them. It's against our policy. Once we give into one group of terrorists' demands, then the next one will come along and ask for something even more outrageous. And the next. It will never end. I'm sorry, Bruce."

"Maybe you can't bargain with them, Commissioner, but I can! That's my son in there, and I'll do everything in my power to get him back safely."

"Bruce, listen to me. Whoever these Army of Daylight bozos are, they haven't made any demands yet. They said they'd speak only to the Feds. The FBI is sending their top hostage negotiator. She should be here any minute."

"She?" Bruce asked. His eyes must have registered his surprise.

"Yes…she," Gordon confirmed.


"Hsssst! Help! Is anyone there?" Dick whirled towards the sound of the disembodied voice. The air conditioner vent! Dick was crouched inside the School Chancellor's huge executive desk. The exceptionally large desk had several shelves and "secret" compartments that were just the right size for a small child to squeeze into.

Dick had been running over a plan in his head on how to escape and get Bruce, or better yet how to overpower the gunmen. He finally admitted to himself that he'd need help to do the latter, when he heard the call for help.

"Jimmy!" Dick whispered. Extricating himself carefully from his hiding place, Dick hurried to the door and listened. Satisfied that there were no bad guys out there, Dick made his way directly under the air vent.

Expertly sizing up the material at hand, Dick quickly leaped up and grabbed a handhold on one of the Chancellor's bookshelves. Pulling himself up, Dick found himself face to face with Jimmy Trane, his best friend at Prep.

"Can you open the vent, Dicky?" Jimmy asked tremulously. "It's awfully dark in here." Dick studied the grill critically, then reached into his pocket. Alfred gave Dick a small penknife for Christmas. It had been Alfred's when he'd been a Boy Scout. Dick pulled out the various tools until he found the one he was looking for, a screwdriver.

As he worked, Dick talked calmly to Jimmy. He could tell that his friend was near the edge.

"How'd you manage to escape, anyway, Jimmy?" Dick asked.

"When they came in at first, they weren't counting heads all that carefully. I was the smallest in the classroom, so I hid behind the science display. After they took the others away, I snuck into the air vent."

"Hey, way cool, Jimmy!" Dick said admiringly. "I didn't do anything that terrific! When they were leading us all to the cafeteria, I just sorta hung back and slipped away into Doctor Chamberlain's office." Dr. Leonard Chamberlain was the School Chancellor and Headmaster of Gotham City Boys' Preparatory and a close family friend of Bruce Wayne.

Working fast, Dick undid the vent's screws and freed Jimmy. Once Dick had Jimmy safely out, he lowered him to the floor and replaced the vent cover.

"We've gotta find a way outta here, Dicky, and go get help!" Jimmy said in a shaky voice.

Dick nodded thoughtfully. "I'm pretty sure that our folks and the cops know about what's going on already. They've probably even made ransom demands, or something, so I don't think they plan on killing anyone at first. Maybe we can help free some more of the guys in the meanwhile?" Dick looked at Jimmy to see if he was game. Jimmy's eyes widened in fear.

"But they have guns, Dicky!" Jimmy's frightened voice was barely above a whisper. A light smattering of freckles stood out in his pale features. Dick nodded in understanding. Jimmy was good kid, but he wasn't a junior superhero-in-training. Dick had to get his friend to safety first. Then, he'd be able to think about how to help the others.

Yeah, Dick thought, determinedly. That's what Bruce would do!


"Special Agent Deborah C. Galloway." The tall, no-nonsense FBI hostage negotiator introduced herself to Gordon and Bruce. "These are my assistants, Special Agents Johnson, Myers, and O'Connell."

Gordon and Bruce shook hands all around.

"Forgive my abruptness, Mister Wayne," Galloway said harshly, "but what is your interest in the matter? It's my understanding, Commissioner, that all civilians were restricted from this area."

"Bruce Wayne's young boy is amongst the students being held in the school. Mister Wayne was just leaving. Weren't you, Bruce?" Gordon held Bruce's eyes firmly. Bruce's jaw line worked in anger, but whatever words he was about to say, were interrupted by one of the FBI's field technicians.

"Agent Galloway! We have a call coming through, ma'am!"

Galloway rushed to the communications van. The others followed at her heels. As they clustered around the open van's double doors, they could hear a loud male voice yelling obscenities in the background. He was answered by younger male voices raised in defiance, in language that Gordon knew the boys' parents would find shocking.

Suddenly, the loudspeakers burst with the distinctive rapid fire staccato of automatic weapons. They could hear loud screams in the background, crashing noises, objects being smashed, the piercing screams of the injured.

Gordon looked at Bruce. His friend's normally stoic features looked like someone had just walked on his grave. Gordon sent out a mental prayer pleading for the life of one small boy. God, forgive me, Gordon prayed silently. I don't want any of those boys to be hurt…but I don't know all those boys. Just one!

Gordon placed his hand on Bruce's shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze.

The gunfire suddenly ceased. There was dead silence from the speakers. The listeners strained to hear any sound that might come through. Finally, the sounds of frightened sobbing and moaning from those who'd possibly been injured began gaining in volume.

The transmission ended.


"But I must get through! I simply must! Master Dick needs me. He's only a child, can't you understand that? He needs me!" Alfred addressed the police officer as he would a Neanderthal.

"I'm sorry, sir, but no one goes in. Police Commissioner's orders."

"And what might your name be, my good sir?" Alfred asked haughtily.

"Bullock. Detective Sergeant Bullock. Now, 'my good sir', will you please step back? You're holding up traffic." Bullock turned away and shouted. "Mendoza! Bring it through!"

Bullock's momentary distraction was the chance that Alfred needed. As soon as Bullock faced away from him, Alfred slipped through the Police Line and vanished into the shadows.


"You've got to go now, Jimmy," Dick insisted. He'd managed to sneak them both outside of the building, although they'd had a few heart-stopping moments when they heard the sudden sounds of gunfire coming from the cafeteria. Now, Jimmy refused to budge.

"But you can't stay, Dicky," Jimmy protested. He was near tears. "They'll kill you, too." The boys were crouched outside along the building's east facade, hiding in the shadows of the school's impeccably maintained hedges.

"Look, Jimmy," Dick said trying to remain reasonable. "You need to make your way down to Founder's Run, then follow it all the way to the road. That's highway Sixty-three. If you go east on it, that should get you home."

"But Dicky," Jimmy sobbed. "What if I get lost?"

Dick sighed. How could he help his friend and the others, too, he wondered? Jimmy was a special student, requiring special tutors and one-on-one instruction. The other students used to tease him unmercifully, but that soon stopped when Dick became his friend. Jimmy was actually the sunniest boy on campus, seemingly always happy and greeting others with a smile.

When Dick first arrived at Prep, still lonely, and shy around the other boys, it was Jimmy who sat next to him during lunch. It was also Jimmy who showed Dick around campus. Even more importantly, when Dick was initially teased by some of the others who called him "Circus boy," it was Jimmy who stood up for him, and told the others it wasn't nice to call people names.

It was inevitable that the two boys who didn't quite fit into the school mainstream should just naturally gravitate to each other. The two soon became inseparable.

"Jimmy, listen to me," Dick said. "You've got to be brave, Jimmy. The lives of the others depend on us. You don't want me to let them down, do you?"

Jimmy shook his head, no.

"I know you can do it, Jimmy. You're the one who first showed me Founder's Run, remember?" Jimmy nodded, yes. "You showed me how it empties into that culvert near the highway, and then how it goes underground for a while until it joins up with the Gotham River. Remember, Jimmy? You showed me!"

Jimmy nodded his head vigorously. "I did! I did show you, Dicky!" Dick smiled in relief.

"Then, do you remember how to find Founder's Run, Jimmy?" At Jimmy's enthusiastic nod, Dick continued. "Jimmy, this is very important…Do you think that you could find Founder's Run by yourself?"

"I can, Dicky," Jimmy said excitedly. "I know I can!"

"Good, Jimmy. I know you can, too." Dick proceeded to give his special friend simple to follow but complete instructions on what to do once he arrived at the highway.


The low rumble worked its way insistently into Bruce's subconscious. Finally, Bruce realized that he was actually hearing what sounded like a tracked vehicle moving towards the Command Center.

"Jim! What are you doing?" Bruce demanded. He'd finally recognized the sound an instant before he saw the monstrously huge, lumbering object, which confirmed his worst fears.

The GCPD had brought in their SWAT tank. It wasn't really a tank, in that it did not have a barrel that fired a large caliber round. However, it was a tank in every other way: armored body set on tracks instead of wheels, a swivel turret capable of turning 360 degrees, twin-M60 machine guns mounted on the turret's cupola, a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on the turret's base. The icing on the cake? A one-ton battering ram mounted on the front of the vehicle.

Maybe the GCPD couldn't go toe to toe with the US Army, but it could probably take down just about anything that the Gotham City underworld threw up at them.

"Jim! Are you crazy? Do you know what those gunmen will do the kids if they see this thing coming?"

"Bruce," Gordon began, his patience almost at an end. "Please…go home."

Galloway walked up to them. "I'm afraid that I'll have to agree with Gordon, Wayne. You shouldn't be here. We have a lot of work to do and civilians will just get in the way."

"Agent Galloway!" the FBI technician indicated that they had an incoming transmission from the terrorists again.

"To whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?" the disembodied voice said over the loudspeaker.

"This is Special Agent Dorothy Galloway. Please, whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?"

"I am but a soldier in a cause, Agent Galloway. 'Agent Galloway.' Please, that sounds so formal. May I address you as Dorothy?"

"Of course."

"As I was saying, Dorothy, I am but a soldier in a cause. The Army of Daylight wishes to bring to light that which grovels in the shadows. We wish to shed light on those who suffer in darkness. More importantly, we wish to enlighten the masses who live with the black corruption of their souls."

"That's very interesting. It's also quite poetic. May I ask how you wish to carry out your plans?"

"By making bargains with Satan, of course. Such is the sad truth of life, that in order to bring forth the sunlight, one must first wallow in the mire."

"The kids!" Bruce hissed. "What about the kids?"

Galloway glared at him. "Excuse me, uh, Soldier of Daylight, but we heard the unmistakable sounds of gunfire earlier. Were any of the hostages injured? If I'm to help you achieve your goals, you have to do something for me as an act of good faith."

"…" The listeners at the Command Post could hear the faint sounds of whispering.

"Very well, Dorothy. You sound like someone whom we can trust to help us carry out our mission. Therefore, as an act of good faith, we will release the injured and the dead."

Before Galloway could say anything further, the line went dead.


Alfred made his way steadily and carefully through the woods that encircled the vast school grounds. As he went, Alfred carefully blazed a trail, using the basic techniques he'd learned as a young lad while in the Boy Scouts. Those skills were later elaborated and improved upon while in Her Majesty's Secret Service.

As he walked, Alfred's mind replayed the outrageous legal documents that Child Welfare Services had slapped Master Bruce with earlier that week.

"And wherein, said minor child, Richard John Grayson, has been left in the sole and unchaperoned care of one Alfred Pennyworth, a male employee in the Wayne household, on several occasions for days at a time, Child Welfare Services hereby petitions the Court to immediately suspend Mr. Bruce Wayne's guardianship of the aforementioned child…"

"'Unchaperoned care', indeed!" Alfred muttered. "As if I were some kind of child--" Alfred couldn't finish the sentence. The very thought made him ill. Poor Master Dick had already been through so much. He was finally beginning to settle in. He was smiling again.

Even Master Bruce was emerging slowly from his own self-imposed cold, emotionless prison. Alfred hadn't heard his surrogate son's laughter in so long, that when he it heard again a few short weeks after Master Dick's initial arrival at Wayne Manor, Alfred rushed to the study to see who was with the young master!

Alfred's eyes softened as he recalled the previous evening. Master Bruce had only recently started the young master's training and last night the Dark Knight tried to teach his young protege about the science of aerodynamics.

Alfred smiled. Master Dick wanted to learn to fly the Batwing, but Master Bruce wanted him to know more than just how to handle the plane. He wanted Master Dick to understand the principles behind heavier than air flight…

"But Bruce, what difference does it make? I mean, does it matter that I know the science behind microwave ovens if I want to reheat my cocoa?"

"No…no it doesn't, Dick," Bruce admitted. "Not from that standpoint. But there's more to microwaves than just being used to zap a meal or heat your drink. Microwaves are also used in telecommunications, weapons targeting systems…and in other uses. That kind of knowledge can come in handy for a crimefighter."

Dick listened intently, his young, intelligent face taking in what Bruce was trying to say.

"Okay, Bruce, I'll really try harder," Dick promised. "But some of this stuff…it's a little above my head." Bruce gave Dick a half-smile. On impulse, Bruce reached over and ruffled Dick's hair. As he did so, an idea suddenly came to him.

"I think I know how to make it simpler for you, chum," Bruce said. "Come on. Let's raid the printers for some paper."

The man and boy who would soon be known as the Dynamic Duo, spent that evening's lesson making paper airplanes. As the evening progressed the paper planes' design grew increasingly complex. Finally, Bruce and Dick were having Kitty Hawk competitions, seeing whose paper airplane could remain airborne the longest and glide the farthest.

Alfred smiled proudly. Master Dick won, of course. Master Bruce might know more about the science behind aerodynamics, but young Master Dick knew more about the art of having fun…!

Alfred's eyes suddenly mirrored Bruce's earlier pain. He couldn't believe that Child Welfare Services was going to take away the boy whom he had grown to love as a grandson.

"No! I can't allow the Masters to be separated from one another. If I'm the reason that Child Welfare Services is taking Master Dick, then I'll just have to leave."

Making up his mind, Alfred continued his trek.


The critically injured were taken away in air ambulances. Those who were beyond help were placed in the Coroner's vehicle. Bruce studied each boy's face carefully, remembering the details, the pain, shock, and fear over the past few hours. The dead were identified as teachers, Mr. Evans, who taught Math, and Mr. Beaumont, the French teacher.

"So Dorothy, now that I've done my part, it's your turn," the disembodied spokesman for the Army of Daylight sounded relaxed.

"Go ahead," Galloway replied. Her assistants were busily recording and analyzing the speaker's voice.

"It's quite simple. We have here the collected scions of not just Gotham City's wealthiest families, but of several famous and infamous families. Dorothy, I'm sure that you and your competent people can contact these families individually. Please pass on my regards to them and tell them that if the Army of Daylight does not receive the sum of one hundred billion dollars in gold bullion, placed in a soon-to-be-disclosed Swiss bank account, why they shall never see their beloved sons alive again!"

The speaker's announcement was met with shocked silence from the Command Center. Galloway felt an icy hand clutch her insides. The guy was totally whacko! One hundred billion dollars in gold bullion? No way could the combined families raise that kind of money. And even if they could, the US Government would never allow such a transfer to occur!

"Dorothy? Dorothy, are you still there, my dear?" the AoD representative's voice sounded like he'd just given the punchline to a rib-tickling joke. "Cat got your tongue?"

Galloway took a deep breath and began what she did best…negotiating for time.

"Look, uh, Soldier of Daylight…it's going to take us a while to contact each of the families individually. The school roster shows that some family members are located as far away as Mozambique--!"

"Oh, but Dorothy, time is the one thing you don't have! You see, my dear, my men have wired the cafeteria to go up in a fiery, spectacular display, in twelve hours. Unfortunately, the cafeteria is also were we happen to be holding the remainder of the student body. Heh! No pun intended!" He paused, then continued threateningly. "And tell that GCPD's flatfoot, Gordon, that if that SWAT tank moves even one more yard towards the main building, that I'll set off the explosion prematurely!"

At these words, Gordon got immediately on the GCPD's frequency and ordered the tank stopped.


Bruce checked his watch. Seven p.m. He looked around, noticing the lengthening shadows. It was time. Bruce melted into the gathering gloom, a will o' the wisp in the mysterious woods.

As soon as Bruce saw that he was alone, he began undoing his tie. Within seconds, Bruce Wayne was replaced by Gotham City's Dark Knight. Snapping open Bruce Wayne's briefcase, Batman quickly began assembling the apparatus hidden within.


Dick crawled through the seemingly endless air conditioning vents. Alfred was gonna kill him, Dick worried. He'd ruined his uniform jacket and trousers! Dick heard low voices up ahead. Hurrying, Dick made his way towards the vent immediately opening into the school cafeteria.

Dick took in the situation quickly. Four masked gunmen were watching the hostages. One on each corner of the room. The students and faculty were all sitting on the floor, their hands on their heads. They looked like pictures Dick had seen of prisoners of war.

Dick swallowed. Now that he was here, how was he going to help? He couldn't just jump in there. They'd shoot him or capture him before he accomplished anything. Getting an idea, Dick managed to turn around in the small crawl space. He headed towards the building maintenance utility room.


Jimmy stumbled in the woods. His knees, hands, and face were scraped from the myriad branches that slapped him, and the constant falls he'd taken. Jimmy had to make it! Dicky and others were depending on him. He had to go for help.

Jimmy paused for a few minutes to get his bearings and catch his breath. He clutched the piece of paper that Dicky had given him. It was a diagram of the school grounds…and the underground culvert that Founder's Run emptied into.

Jimmy remembered the day he'd shown Dicky his discovery. Jimmy had first sworn his best friend to secrecy…

"See? The culvert keeps going! When Founder's Run is running low, like it does at this time of year, you can follow the culvert until it goes underground!" Jimmy led Dicky through the dark, dripping concrete culvert. Soon, the boys came to an overgrown opening leading into another tunnel branch.

"It's an old tunnel!" Jimmy explained excitedly. "I followed it last year! It goes all the way back to the school, I think. There's a door at the very end, but there was a cave-in, probably years ago, and the door's blocked. I wasn't able to move the rocks and dirt by myself, but you wanna see it?"

Dick nodded enthusiastically. "You bet!" The two boys explored the tunnel to its origin, and together were able to remove most of the rocks and dirt that blocked the entranceway; however, even together, they couldn't budge a huge boulder. Eventually, Jimmy and Dicky gave up, but with a promise to return someday and clear the last remaining obstacle…!

Jimmy smiled at the happy memory. He looked around at the small clearing along Founder's Run where he currently stood. Nobody knew about the tunnel's existence, except Dicky and him. Now, the lives of the others depended on this information!


Batman checked the joints. They held. He spread the midnight black wings to their full twelve-foot spread. Settling the Nightwing on the ground, Batman turned his back to it, then lowering himself, he carefully brought the shoulder harness to the correct position. Tightening the harness straps until they felt snug, but comfortable, Batman took several steps backward until he was almost in line with the trees.

Taking a slow breath, Batman took a running start, then leaped into the night. The Nightwing immediately caught the air currents, and within seconds, Batman cleared the treeline. Anyone looking up at the moment would've been startled by the sight of a giant black bat swooping into the deepening darkness.


Alfred heard a child's sobbing. He stood in the dark shadows afforded by the tall broad-leafed trees indigenous to that part of the state. Moving carefully, Alfred came to a small clearing. Listening intently, Alfred again heard the child's sobbing.

The sound was coming from his left! Alfred moved quietly through the heavy underbrush. He paused to listen. The woods were absolutely still except for a gentle breeze soughing high above on the upper branches.

There! He heard it again! And just a few feet away. Alfred moved carefully, keeping to the treeline. If it were a child, frightened and alone, Alfred didn't want to scare him any further. On the other hand, if this was a trick, Alfred would be in the position to gain the drop on his enemy.

Placing his foot down carefully on the ground underneath him, toe to heel, Alfred finally reached his goal. To his relief, and immense sorrow, Alfred discovered that he had indeed found a crying child.

"There, there," Alfred said soothingly, "everything's going to be all right. I promise you."

The boy looked up startled. Alfred could make out pale features in the weak light afforded by the quarter moon. The boy quickly sat up, and pushed backwards until he came up against a tree trunk.

"Stay away from me! Please!" The boy was so terrified that his desperate plea was barely above a whisper. "Leave me alone!"

"Now, son," Alfred soothingly. "I know you've had a frightening time of it, but I assure you that I shan't hurt you! I'm a friend."

"A friend?" the boy asked suspiciously, yet hopeful.

"Yes, I'm Alfred. I'm looking for my…Dick Grayson. Do you know him, perchance?"

"Dicky? You know Dicky?" The revelation was too much for the boy. He began sobbing even louder. Alfred rushed to the boy, and held him in his arms, rocking him gently.

"There, there, there," Alfred whispered, over and over. "Everything's going to be all right. I promise…"


Much later, the boy, who'd introduced himself as Jimmy Trane, finally quieted down. Alfred, however, still held him comfortingly. Jimmy didn't seem ready to be released, just yet.

"How well do you know, Master Dick?" Alfred asked.

"Dicky's my best-best friend," Jimmy answered solemnly. "He's the nicest boy in the whole school."

"Yes, our young Master Dick, is an extremely good boy," Alfred said. "Tell me, Master Jimmy. Did you see Master Dick before you--?"

Jimmy nodded vigorously.

"Oh, yes, Alfred! Dicky helped me escape. He told me that I had to go for help. Look!" Jimmy held out a filthy piece of crumpled paper. Alfred took it gingerly in his fingers, then spread it out on the ground below him. Reaching into his backpack, Alfred took a small penlight.

He aimed the red-filtered light on the paper. What he saw got his adrenaline racing!

"Master Jimmy! Please, young sir…do you know where this opening is? This is very important!"

Jimmy nodded, "Of course! Like Dicky told me…*I'm the one who showed it to him in the first place!"

Alfred immediately jumped to his feet. He carefully folded the small map, and handed it back to Jimmy. Looking anxiously at his diminutive guide, Alfred declared, "Then let us not tarry here any longer! Lead on, Master Jimmy!"


Dick gave the vent grill a final kick and was relieved to see it pop open. Lowering himself into the utility room, Dick began looking around for anything that might help him.

Going down the list of items in his mind that Bruce made him memorize one night, Dick began checking them off: power, extinguishers, batteries, wire, pliers, wadding, bottles, cleaning solution.

Recalling the extensive instructions he'd received that night, Dick began gathering the necessary ingredients.


Batman landed on the building's eaves, easily and gracefully. Quickly removing the Nightwing's shoulder harness, he made his way lightly across the old fashioned gabled roof. Remembering how a very young Bruce Wayne used to gain egress from the school grounds so many years ago, Batman allowed himself a momentary half-smile before he continued on the dangerous task at hand.


"Master Jimmy, it is highly imperative that you continue on your mission to get this map to the proper authorities. Do you understand, young sir?" Jimmy nodded solemnly. He blinked rapidly, fighting back tears. Before Alfred knew it, Jimmy threw his arms around Alfred's waist and sobbed his heartbreak.

"Dicky loves you, Alfred! He told me so! He loves you and Mister Wayne, and he doesn't ever want to leave you!" Alfred looked down at the small golden head buried in his waist with stunned awe. Master Dick said that? Alfred's own eyes began blinking rapidly. Holding the boy tightly to him for a moment longer, Alfred struggled to get his raging emotions under control.

"I assure you, Master Jimmy, that I love Master Dick, too. Very much so. Thank you for telling me." Alfred knelt down until he was eye to eye with Jimmy. "And might I add, Master Jimmy, that Master Dick is an extremely lucky boy to have such a 'best-best' friend as you."

Jimmy nodded, sobbing and swallowing at the same time, his tear-stained eyes trying hard to appear brave. "Please be careful, Alfred. Dicky would never forgive me if I let anything happen to you!"

Alfred smiled fondly upon his young charge's friend. "As I said earlier, Master Jimmy. Everything is going to be all right. I promise."


Dick looked around the utility room again. Did he forget anything? He looked at the fuse box. His cross wiring was delicately connected to the old style pocket watch. Dick looked at it regretfully. It was the last thing of his Dad's that he owned. It had belonged to Grandpa Richardo Grayson. Dick squared his shoulders. Bruce said that a good soldier always used whatever material was at hand.

Dick's eyes followed the long, improvised fuse to the containers of cleaning fluid. He checked his own wristwatch. He sighed. If he only knew how to use the digital timing mechanism, but Bruce hadn't taught him that yet; therefore, Dick was forced to use the analog timer in his grandfather's watch.

"Get over it, Grayson!" Dick said harshly. Others' lives were depending on him. "Besides, you know as well as I do, that Dad would've approved of how you were using Grandpa's watch--to save peoples' lives!"

With a last, regretful glance, Dick climbed back into the air conditioning vent.


Batman moved stealthily through the darkened corridors. As he worked his way steadily through the ancient building, memories of his days as a schoolboy came to him unbidden. Most of Bruce's time here had been spent in deep loneliness, especially after his parents' deaths.

Dr. Chamberlain had taken special interest in the quiet boy, often making time for him, drawing him out of his shell. The kindly school Chancellor had even succeeded in making young Bruce smile a few times.

Batman's mouth quirked up at the memory. Coming back to the present, Batman's eyes hardened, his chiseled chin drew into a straight line. He knew what he must do.


Alfred found the end of the old tunnel. Just as young Master Jimmy had described, it looked like a cave-in had blocked the secret entrance to the school. Reaching into his backpack, Alfred grinned.

"Plastique! Never leave home without it!"

Alfred worked quickly, placing the charges in the vulnerable points. As he wired the giant boulder, Alfred kept in mind to place the charges only on the spots that would guarantee an implosion. He wanted to turn the force of the explosion into the boulder, not away from it.

This would not only minimize the chances of debris flying out and possibly killing Alfred, but it would also keep the possibilities of the tunnel collapsing to a minimum.

Within minutes, Alfred was ready. He set the timer, then ran quickly to put as much distance between himself and the explosion, counting by the thousands.

"Eight One-thousand!" Alfred dove for cover behind some debris. As soon as he hit the ground, the tunnel was rocked by the sounds of a muffled explosion. The sound continued to echo down the corridor until it seemed to disappear.

"Well, if they didn't know I was here before, they probably do now!" Alfred stood up and ran towards the door. Success! The explosion not only pulverized the boulder, it knocked the ancient doorway off its hinges.

Not pausing to think of the consequences, Alfred went through the open threshold.


Dick paused in the air vent. He'd felt what seemed to be a minor earthquake. Remaining still a moment longer, Dick shrugged and proceeded.

Dick kicked open the vent to the Boys' Locker Room. He quickly climbed down, then hurried to the equipment locker. Going through the items, he discarded most of them without a second look. Finally, he found a few items that could prove useful…


Batman felt the explosion as it rocked the old building's foundations. It had come from a part of the building that he'd believed unoccupied. Narrowing his eyes behind his cowl, Batman hurried towards the cafeteria.

Taking out a portable spectral analysis device Batman began looking for telltale signs of explosives. He was met with success almost immediately. Following the device's glowing red and amber lights, the Dark Knight was able to determine quickly where the terrorists had placed their charges.

The indicator lights showed that the support beams running immediately underneath the cafeteria floor had been wired. Batman slipped downstairs to the school building's complex subterranean area and slowly traced the explosives.

Running a spectral analysis of one of the charges, Batman saw that it could be easily disarmed without setting off the companion charges. He checked the wiring again for booby traps, or anything else that could come back and bite him.

"Child's play," Batman uttered and got to work.


"One hundred billion in gold bullion?!!!"

"Are they crazy?"

"Even with our combined wealth, there's no way we could raise that kind of money!"

Galloway held her hands up for quiet. "Please! Ladies and gentlemen! I can't hear what you're saying!"

"Aw right! Everybody shut 'cher traps!" Bullock's voice roared over everyone else's. "The Commish has sumpin' t'say!"

"Thank you, Sergeant Bullock," Gordon said quietly. "Ladies and gentlemen, please understand that we are dealing with a new and previously unknown terrorist group here. Their demands show something of their inexperience. They obviously believe that raising that kind of hard currency is easy…and accordingly they haven't given you the time necessary to raise it. The timers on the explosives in the cafeteria are counting down even as we speak."

His words were met by hysteria and anger.

"Gordon! I demand that the GCPD get my boy out of there! What do the taxpayers pay your salaries for anyway?"

"Commissioner! Commissioner Gordon, please! My little boy is only six! This is his first year at Prep. Please, Commissioner…since his father's death, Teddy's all I have in the world!"

"I'm sorry, ma'am," Gordon said quietly. Teddy's mother looked at Gordon then turned away with a sob.

"Agent Galloway, I don't understand! The terrorists must know that we can't meet their demands. Why are they asking for such an outrageous amount?"

"Hey…Where's Bruce Wayne? Shouldn't he be here?"

"Yeah…where is that irresponsible playboy? He's the only one of us who owns his company outright."

"Yeah! Wayne Enterprises has never gone public…Last I heard, it was the largest privately owned company in the world! Rumor has it that if Wayne ever takes W.E. public, his personal wealth could increase exponentially and take him to the stratosphere."

"Why isn't he here, Commissioner Gordon? I thought all the local parents had been contacted."

"Haven't you heard? Bruce Wayne isn't a parent, just a legal guardian. And if Child Welfare Services has anything to say about it, he may not even be that much longer!" All eyes turned to the new speaker. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Lucius Fox, President of Wayne Enterprises, International."

"And Bruce Wayne's right hand man," someone added.

"Ha! Last I heard, Wayne was nothing but a puppet and you were the puppet master!" Another called out derisively.

Fox bristled under the insults against his friend and employer. And Bruce wants to help these people, Fox thought amazed. His disgusted eyes sought out Commissioner Gordon.

"Jim!" Fox walked up to his friend and shook hands warmly. "I need to speak to whoever's in charge here."

Gordon pointed at Galloway with his chin. "That would be Special Agent Dorothy Galloway, FBI." Fox's eyebrow shot up. Female FBI agents were still enough of a rarity to cause a stir, but one who was in charge of such a volatile hostage situation? Agent Galloway had to be 'special' indeed, Fox punned silently.

"Agent Galloway!" Gordon called her over. "Agent Galloway, this is Mister Lucius Fox. He represents the interests of Wayne Enterprises, International."

Galloway shook hands with Fox. "What may I do for you, Mister Fox?" she asked curiously. She'd noticed that Wayne had disappeared as soon as the terrorists revealed their ransom demands. Was Fox here as a replacement?

"Agent Galloway, I am here in the capacity of Mister Wayne's proxy. He has given me full authority to offer the Army of Daylight the following terms." Fox handed Galloway a thick document. By then the other parents had gathered curiously around Fox.

"What did he say?"

"I'm not sure…something about being Wayne's proxy."

"What do you think he means by that?"

"Shush! I want to listen!"

Galloway flipped through the document quickly. Some of the subheadings gave her an immediate visceral reaction: WayneTech Satellite/Military Technology; WayneCommSys Telecommunications, and its subdivisions, to include, WayneNet.com and Wayne/CompUSA; WayneOil; Wayne International with its myriad interests: agriculture, construction, manufacturing…the list was endless.

Galloway looked up at Fox. "Mister Fox, I'm afraid that it's going to take me and my assistants quite a while to go through this massive document."

Fox nodded his understanding and pulled out a single sheet from his briefcase. "Perhaps this might help, Agent Galloway. It's an executive summary. It's been signed by myself and co-signed by Mister Wayne's legal representative, Ms. Mary Margaret Scott. It states that we agree to the immediate liquidation of one hundred percent of Mister Bruce Wayne's private assets, to exclude the Wayne Foundation." Fox paused as those around him gasped when the implications of his statement finally sank in.

"Furthermore, I have here a petition signed by all the current employees at Wayne Enterprises, Gotham City. Even as we speak, more petitions are coming in from all over the world of Wayne International employees agreeing to this action, even though they know that it could well put them out of a job."

Fox turned to face the other parents. As Fox spoke, his intense glare melted through the others' defenses, and one by one they dropped their eyes in shame.

"Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that 'wacky' boy billionaire, that 'irresponsible playboy', is pledging his entire personal fortune to ensure the safe return not just of his 'ward', but of all your sons as well, and the Prep faculty members currently being held hostage."

Fox turned back to the FBI agent.

"Agent Galloway, do I have your authorization to speak to this terrorist and get the ball rolling?"

Galloway stood gaping mutely for a split second. She'd been just as stunned by Fox's announcement as the parents of the Prep boys. Now, however, she found her voice.

"Mister Fox, I'm sorry, sir, but as I've said before, the US government does not bargain with terrorists. They probably plan to use this money in the purchase of weapons of mass destruction. We can't allow such vast amounts of hard currency to fall into terrorist hands."

"I'm sorry, Agent Galloway, but you see…you have no choice. As I was speaking, this whole conversation was being videotaped and transmitted to a satellite uplink directly tied to the terrorists' receiver frequency. The deal, Agent Galloway, whether you or the United States Government likes it or not, has already been brokered."


Alfred kept to the shadows. Prior to entering the building he'd taken the time to quickly smear mud from the tunnel's dank and filthy muddy corridors on his face. After a moment's pause, he also rubbed some liberally into his thinning hair. As his special services training clicked into place, Alfred transformed internally into the former operative for British Intelligence.

Alfred paused to take some items out of his backpack: a small penknife (identical to the one he'd given Master Dick), his penlight, and a meter length of wire. The last items he removed were a pair of black leather gloves, and--Alfred hesitated--a small, snub-nosed, specially modified .22 caliber pistol with silencer.

Master Bruce abhorred guns, as did Alfred. He'd seen all to well what horror guns could inflict into people's lives, first, while in Her Majesty's service and then later in the aftermath of the Waynes' double murder. However, Alfred couldn't let his conscience get the best of him right now. He had to use all the materials available to rescue the young master. That's all Alfred would allow himself to dwell on. As for the rest--!

"Bother the consequences!" Alfred muttered.


Dick knew that he had to time his actions just right, or he'd lose the element of surprise. He went over the plan in his head once more. So many things could go wrong, and unfortunately, they all ended with him being killed. He was hiding behind one of the vast array of computer stations in the school's computer lab.

Dick shrugged, inhaling deeply.

"Here goes nothing!" he whispered. Eyeing the masked goon standing guard a few feet in front of him, Dick gauged the distance. Whipping out his homemade slingshot, Dick placed one of the heavy metal golf tees he'd found in the equipment room into it. Swinging the slingshot until it was an almost invisible blur, Dick let fly!

Bulls' Eye! The bad guy went down like he'd been shot! Dick ran towards him and quickly disarmed him. Remembering a trick he'd learned from Barbara Gordon, his occasional babysitter, Dick tied up the mook using the gunman's own jacket. Looking around the lab for something a little more permanent, Dick spied a few telephone cables. Knowing that these had steel wires inside for added tensile strength, Dick took a ten-foot length of telephone cable and tied his prisoner even more securely.

"There! That should hold you!" Dick said satisfied. Running to the lab's door, Dick looked around the outside corridor to see if it was safe. All clear! Dick took off at a fast jog to his next location--the student lounge!


As Dick took off, he was being watched by another pair of eyes. Luckily for him, these eyes smiled with pride as their owner beheld the sight of his young protege following in his footsteps. After Dick left, Batman walked up to the unconscious gunman and checked his bonds. The boy did a good job, he thought admiringly, and then proceeded to tighten the knots with a few tricks he'd learned in his world travels.

This was one terrorist who wasn't going anywhere for a while. To ensure that, Batman taped the man's mouth shut to prevent him from calling for help when he woke up, and then dragged him out of sight into a small broom closet.

Allowing himself a half-grin, Batman ran off in the direction he'd seen Dick going. Abruptly, something caught his eye out of his peripheral vision, and Batman instantly ducked into a recessed doorway.


Alfred stalked his intended target from behind on catlike feet. Abruptly, Alfred brought the thin wire up and over the guard's head. Twisting viciously, Alfred waited for the terrorist to stop squirming, then instantly released him. Alfred remembered how, as a young operative barely out of training, he'd killed one too many of the enemy simply because he didn't know when to stop applying pressure.

Once the terrorist collapsed at his feet, Alfred gave him a tentative kick with the toe of his shoe. Seeing no response, Alfred bent down, and removing his glove, checked the man's pulse. Weak, but still there. Alfred smiled. Like a riding a bike, he thought proudly.

Alfred looked at the ugly welts already forming on the man's neck. Grimacing, Alfred stood and dragged the unconscious man into a room along the corridor. Memories of why Alfred quit Her Majesty's Service in the first place returned in a sudden deluge. Unable to look at his handiwork, Alfred abandoned the terrorist in the middle of the room, and left quickly.


Batman observed the elderly and kindly butler's antics with a bit of astonishment. He'd known of Alfred's past service with British Intelligence. But to actually see the quiet and dignified old gentleman who'd raised him--the loyal friend and confidant who'd always been there for him, the man who was more father than employee--garrote another man…Well, it gave even the Dark Knight pause!

Batman waited for Alfred to leave the room. Once he was certain that Alfred wasn't returning soon, Batman stepped forward, checked the terrorist, and was relieved to see that the gunman was still alive. Batman quickly slapped a pair of Bat-cuffs on the man's wrists and then applied a short strip of tape across the prisoner's mouth.

Finally, Batman stuffed his prisoner inside a small crawlspace underneath the stairs. It was beginning to look like Batman was about to spend the remainder of the night playing cleanup crew for his "Bat-family."


And so it went…

Dick brought down three more thugs with his improvised slingshot. One didn't go down immediately, and the young acrobat had to Brainstorm's Corner. Batman watched with pride as Dick executed three handsprings in rapid succession, leaping impossibly high into the air while spinning, and kicking out with all his might. The momentum produced by Dick's acrobatics added to the full force of the kick, knocking the terrorist unconscious.

Dick landed lightly in a crouch. He studied the downed terrorist to ensure that he was indeed unconscious, then further restrained him with an electrical cord. Once finished, Dick checked his watch, gasped at the time, and took off at a sprint.

Batman quirked an eyebrow. He quickly checked Dick's knots and loops, and determined that they didn't need further adjustment. The boy was improving as the night progressed.


Similarly, Alfred brought down two more terrorists by garroting them from behind. A third put up a fight. Batman watched, ready to Brainstorm's Corner and provide assistance if it looked like Alfred needed it. Alfred didn't.

Alfred and the terrorist struggled for a few minutes. The killer took out a huge knife and began to toy with Alfred, making lightning quick slashing movements to frighten the old man. Alfred's eyes widened and watched as if mesmerized for a few more seconds.

Finally, tiring of the game, Alfred dove and rolled right. As he did so, Alfred took out his snub-nosed .22 and fired! Both Batman's and the terrorist's eyes widened in shock. The subdued "phwit" of the gun's silencer seemed to echo in the absolute silence. Alfred stood and walked over to the terrorist. He casually toed the unconscious man, grinned sardonically, then strolled away, like a Sunday in the park.

Batman stood momentarily frozen in place. Alfred used a gun?! He couldn't believe it! Alfred hated guns as much as Batman did. After Alfred left the room, Batman walked as if in a daze towards what he believed to be the dead man.

Bending down, Batman quickly checked him for entry and exit wounds. There were none! Slowing down, Batman began looking him over carefully, checking for anything unusual. By then, he'd realized that the man was breathing, had a rapid pulse, and clammy skin.

Finally, Batman found it--a small dart! Alfred's gun must have been specially modified to fire darts, instead of bullets. Batman looked down at the gunman with relief washing over him. He might've known that the man who'd raised him since his parents' murder could never have resorted to shooting an opponent, no matter how seemingly well-deserved.

Batman felt his chest swell with pride as he reviewed Alfred's actions in his head. Standing straight, Batman left the room and followed after his "father."


"Commissioner Gordon, place this man under arrest," Galloway ordered indicating Fox. "The charges are high treason against the Government of the United States, aiding and abetting a known terrorist group in the execution of a federal crime, negotiating with a known terrorist group, and…" Galloway paused, sounding harassed, "…and I'll think of something else, I'm sure!"

"Agent Galloway, this is outrageous!" Gordon protested. "Lucius Fox is one of Gotham City's most respected citizens! The charges you've just listed are bogus and you know it!"

The parents of the Prep boys overheard Galloway's charges and exploded in anger!

"You can't do this!" One father protested.

"Those are our children in there!" another cried out.

"At least Wayne and Fox are doing something concrete!"

"Yeah! What have you Feds done to get us our sons back, Agent Galloway?"

"My Teddy is only six…and his medication for his asthma--! He needs it!"

The crowd started getting ugly.

"We won't let you arrest Fox!" The first father who'd spoken said threateningly.

Gordon stepped in. He raised his hands for quiet and called for calm.

"Please! Ladies and gentlemen! I know that you are all worried about your children…I know how you feel. Believe me! I'm a father myself…but this isn't the way! Mister Fox, here, would be the first to say that. Right, Lucius?"

Fox stood in the center of the storm. He looked steadily at the worried, angry parents who appeared ready to become an unruly mob. His eyes caught the professionally determined closing-in of police ranks. Officers seemed to be melting out of the shadows, appearing with weapons held at ready, apparently putting up a hard-line approach to keep the restless crowd from rioting.

Fox slowly nodded his head, signaling his agreement with Gordon's statement. Fox walked up to the unsteady line of parents, which seemed ready to break at any provocation.

"Look, this is no good. You know that. Your sons need their mothers and fathers to be strong for them. They need to know not only that you love them but that you are all waiting here to take them home. How do you think the news that you tried to break through the police lines and were arrested will affect them?" Fox paused, gauging the effects of his words.

"Right now, your boys have very little hope with which to keep up their spirits. The only thing that they have…the only thing that they know that they can depend on…is your unconditional love for them. And the knowledge that it's waiting for them when--NOT IF--they get out of this alive." The parents' eyes showed that his words were having an effect on them. A few husbands suddenly hugged their wives. Not a few wept.

Fox could feel the tension in the crowd dissipating. The mob quickly transformed itself back to several small groups comprised of individuals, mothers and fathers who feared for the safe return of their sons.

Fox sighed in relief. He turned to Gordon and held his hands out.

"I'm ready to go now, Jim," Fox said. "However, Agent Galloway, I must warn you. By locking me up, you lose the only person who can stop the financial transactions from taking place. When the satellite uplink set the wheels in motion for the liquidation of Wayne Enterprises' assets, it was done with a failsafe." Fox grinned. "Mister Wayne wouldn't want his assets to be transferred to a known terrorist group should the FBI successfully manage to stop them in the execution of a federal crime." Fox paused to let his words sink in. He saw that Galloway was beginning to understand.

"That's right, Agent Galloway. The liquidation has not occurred yet, but unless I send the correct code word to the WayneCommSys satellite, which is due to pass over Gotham City in another…" Fox checked his watch. "…thirty minutes, then I'm afraid there's nothing that will stop it!"


Dick crouched behind one of the endless gleaming kitchen cabinets. He checked his watch again. It was almost time. He looked around the kitchen for items that he could possibly use. Spotting a giant butcher block, Dick's eyes widened. It held a bevy of chef knives! Dick quickly moved to it at a half crouch.

Dick remembered the Great Marko and his knife-throwing act. Dick's Mom disapproved of her son hanging around what she considered an extremely dangerous act, but Dick loved to watch Marko in action. Marko eventually taught Dick the rudiments of knife throwing, a skill that Bruce was helping Dick improve upon.

Dick already knew how to throw, with deadly accuracy, several weapons, in addition to knives. Dick smiled.

"Guess it's back to basics!" Quickly gathering several small paring knives, Dick stuck them in his belt. He pantomimed reaching for the knives to ensure that he could get to them easily.

Dick checked his watch again. Time!


Alfred moved through the immaculately kept kitchens. He looked around in approval. Once this horrid affair was behind them, Alfred promised himself that he'd pay a personal call to the school's master chef and offer him his personal congratulations on the chef's pristinely maintained kitchen.

Perhaps Alfred might even share a few of his secret recipes with the chap. Alfred smiled, momentarily caught up at the pleasantness of the thought. Suddenly, his previous vow to leave Wayne Manor when this crisis was over came back to him. Alfred felt a wave of profound sadness flood his soul.

Leave and never see Master Bruce or Master Dick again? Alfred's heart ached at the thought.

A boy's cry from the other side of the wall brought him back to the present. Before the night was over, Alfred knew that he might resort to killing. As the danger that these men placed Master Dick and his schoolmates settled like a shroud over Alfred's consciousness, a cold, dark fury slowly began taking over his very being.

"If those villains harmed even one strand of hair on the young master's head, I shall--!"

"Alfred!" Alfred immediately dropped behind the shiny kitchen appliances. "Alfred!" The whisper was insistent. Alfred looked up cautiously. That sounded like…but no! It was too much to hope for!

Then he saw him! Master Dick! Looking very disheveled and much the worse for wear! Oh, dear, Alfred groaned! The young master ruined his new school blazer and trousers! Not again, Alfred commiserated. All of these thoughts and observations flashed through Alfred's mind in a split second, but were soon overshadowed by Alfred's all-consuming joy at seeing Dick again--very much alive!

Dick ran into Alfred's arms, his relief at being reunited with Alfred obvious. Dick hugged Alfred's neck tightly. Alfred could feel the boy's hot tears on his exposed face and neck. Neither dared speak. Alfred didn't think he'd be able to anyway.

Alfred held Dick at arm's length and just drank in the boy's features. Dick swallowed and wiped his eyes and nose with his sleeve. Alfred grimaced at such unrefined behavior. Really! Alfred thought. I'm simply going to have to give the young master lessons in basic good grooming. One must maintain appearances, after all!

Alfred smiled suddenly. He realized that he didn't care! Alfred was just so happy to see Dick alive that it just didn't matter if the boy ever learned proper etiquette.

"Alfred, we have to hurry! It's gonna go off any second!" Dick persisted.

"What's going to go off?" Alfred asked, quickly standing and following Dick.

About to answer, Dick suddenly blinked and looked at Alfred as if for the first time.

"Your face is dirty," Dick said amazed. He squinted his eyes and studied Alfred closely. "So's your hair!" Dick sniffed and suddenly grimaced at the noisome smell. Looking up at Alfred, Dick's face suddenly took on a neutral expression.

"I'll explain later," Alfred said, eyes twinkling. "What's going to go off?" he repeated.

A muffled roar suddenly reverberated through the building. Alfred looked up. It sounded like it came from the air conditioning vent! He turned a quirked eyebrow at his junior charge.

Dick grinned.

"I kinda hot-wired the place. The lights should be going out just about--!" The lights went out! "--Now!" Dick finished proudly. The unexpected darkness was met by what sounded like a riot in the cafeteria. Dick and Alfred could hear the sounds of a large crowd of people suddenly scrambling.

Sounds of heavy objects being dragged, people running, falling…mass confusion could be heard.

To Alfred's dismay, the next sounds were heart-stopping in their terror! Automatic weapons being fired at the ceiling and guards shouting to restore order. Screams from the escaping and frightened prisoners could be heard over the din! In the chaos, Alfred lost Dick!


"Commissioner Gordon! Commissioner Gordon!" Gordon looked up at the small throng of policemen who were making their way to him. Gordon noticed that one of the officers was carrying a small boy! He hurried towards them.

"Commissioner, one of our officers found him wandering down Highway Sixty-three. He says he managed to escape from the school with the help of another boy."

"Uh-huh," the little boy said timidly. "My best-best friend, Dicky Grayson helped me."

"Dick Grayson!" Fox rushed up at the mention of his employer's son's name.

"Uh-huh." The boy looked at all of the grownups solemnly.

"Is Dick with you? Did he escape, too?" Fox asked.

"Uh-uh."

Fox looked at the boy desperately, but controlled his escalating concern. "Can you tell us what happened, son?"

The boy nodded, his eyes wide with fright. Gordon stepped forward and introduced himself.

"Son, what's your name?"

"Jimmy Trane."

"Jimmy, can you tell us what happened, son? I promise you that you are not in any kind of trouble."

Jimmy studied Gordon with wide guileless eyes. Finally, as if convinced of the veracity of Gordon's statement, Jimmy explained how Dick helped him escape. Reaching into his jacket pocket, Jimmy pulled the much folded and crumpled filthy piece of paper.

Gordon took the paper, and asked someone to shine a light on it. Gordon studied the child-like scrawl and drawings. Gordon looked at Galloway excitedly. "This is it!" Gordon declared. "Sergeant Bullock, ready a SWAT team! We have a way in!" Gordon turned to the little boy. "You're a real hero, Jimmy. You might just have saved the lives of all of your teachers and classmates. Thank you."

"You're welcome," Jimmy said solemnly. Then he gave Gordon his sunniest smile.


Dick took out two of his paring knives. He held them both in one hand like Marko taught him. Dick crept along the wall, following the brief flashes of gunfire. As Dick reached the first gunman, he took stock of the situation. In order to throw effectively, Dick would have to expose himself completely.

Although the overhead lights were out, the cafeteria's emergency lights kicked in immediately. Dick could now see the gunman's outline in the faint light. Unfortunately, if Dick could see the gunman, then the gunman would be able to see Dick.

Dick slid down the table he was cowering behind. His fear suddenly sprang to the fore. What was he doing, he asked himself? He wasn't a super-hero! At least, not yet! His training wasn't even complete!

I'm just a kid, Dick protested! What can I do?

Suddenly, Dick's mind flashed back to his earlier conversation with Jimmy Trane.

"The others are depending on us! You wouldn't want to let them down, would you?"

Dick mirrored Jimmy's solemn headshake. Of course he couldn't let his classmates down. He'd be letting Bruce down. And Alfred. Most of all, he'd be letting himself down.

Dick steadied his breathing, and felt the balance of the knives in his hand. They felt different than Marko's had. The balance was slightly off. Dick would have to compensate. Nodding to himself, Dick suddenly stood, and not bothering to aim, Dick let both knives fly!

The gunman's scream was the signal Dick needed. His knives had successfully found their target. Now it was up to some old-fashioned hand-to-hand to finish off the bad guy!


When the lights went out, Batman sprang into action. No need for skulking, or hiding along the shadows. The entire place was blacked out! Batman heard the chaos coming from the cafeteria. That was the first priority!

Taking out a set of batarangs, Batman rounded the open corridor that led straight to the cafeteria. Ducking under the sudden gunfire, Batman came up throwing! In rapid succession, he threw three batarangs! One knocked the weapon from the gunman's grip; the second struck him on the temple; the third passed the gunman, then returned and began looping a rope with heavy weights around him.

One down!

Batman shot out a grappling line to the ceiling, and used it to swing across the large open room in a GIF89aP`_` &hhsLLS||==AEEI113ุ٨yyzppqWWXXZjkm}ʬ9AJ?CE G K2h>pGuO{aq}EFILK L M OR!\ExVgvIۈ   [7a1d] ri J mg lqz+Aa~~l /tq0݅z yb`Eȵf]vk<6*&F?!VK3-nl]*'eY=8TSNMG, MJA.+$hhh,PsH*\ȰÇ :Hq3j؃Ǎ CI2(: 2_HF͛(Ӄi7 JѣHK`8{ÂsӊX8CkC FQ0A F^V L (2-Ko!,SoƏ ixC3ŘF˭BӠ4@*|Q `p=Z\{'Cq#@b!dh E D  AMr Tқ И .(KMϰ g85oj s6@ E(Q\p;y(sߺ>0TڧP LhibtPhBLh32!,ASapPM8|Nspj:98n sgņs ְxęX,B゠d)& `@ @@*!~eN,q׫I\1br!:,40T`k27i40 F1z+&F!Qk:Lb[Ia`4" N@4 W9)T `$z/ ?87@)t)u1G `@F8j\$@lW)E2Dd\'n+2N@w>}D_dȀM6 @+w)S8d1:dϙ  @ O~J~} @{Bq 8&puU@ /LAz nGO b5wCIpm 3zMW~d"`0Ю17,M7ZQ\Q W P P y1}p @ {@ 0u~gWR%X:3 Ҡ;8U~041 pH^ I@ D @ \ }@@ u~`v@ x8xC Ѡ Q0 u#Lq # P [r π  gt0 E! uP}HҠr71 ' P6LAwYuP! ` @ `P   | P !( ` vcGА `h09% 4 0h0 p @ 0  (UB @ ,$:$`0 kf; [ ]Y\0 +h t@IpipN 8~ m   0 ɥQ ue( 7q0 @66Q&UcxbS Wl] P !w gT HM PP3U[' `h2vaGO 0t$gxaPyat07! iu 0CS|9,yks6q l$v2ЖwE@I|ppmC0P"S“@ js0q^ 5 #l;*m}f~RYa p  ' ) ՀԀP497 P82%  cJ °0Hq ǣtP  @ 0  efQ+` P   A$gh p !ɕ wfJܗ_:dzX'S' }0 H&x2`6 9' ` ` lК@B` {ɵp8 mDz t` 7 "SGx5 2;PPǠ P [*  `H iwtb`HI P {0,)`h-)8*P0 ` ]H0 `" DY 2 |[ U1  Z t|@%h @  иa;%BA&ж #T O 0]GU` @`K&  ʈLU(Up Pk G pԐ ~t" a0Ҡw(Lq^ \zIp  < 0˕2ѹ'k`&mh!< $7 ` ꝺp 0 pupu igx s{tqpeqqlmcpia bp!` [?n`b[?n`b l8l94da9@f`fp>b,=I@5D]bL4IKl f|j3py@ mUH @g+x~@,x_\9p9]^F_Lǝ? A4BBA \C3W P[7 @ y٢?bGv P LA@4Q@ @J69>,A4?ClAc 0 ȪȞt\# )3 А͜\@PG|9l<_KgvwpWK   fqlP!MQ14q>4N@59DB@Q9fjy0 .!p -_  K9Q0A}\9]=P؇n]= ~\:lhx0pg\Q?V L ~!A4<xy)¢V  2[EP˗ۂL${ |[“   FLq|^~ w HH]#$  >|#>|IDlн0 `IgIq eA>! xl3= >"\مlL+MS=j#kMTj p 0 М"$~1@P˷˻\Q+]MpF#lX˦bM`ٜLlfngv Ўx"Гp n\-pa~ϋ^#N4aƬ,B\W ^ `mLu2!R- ,Ɛ!+nBP]]Ů<{.Y`a GM]bM5BW Ҧ,X~۫^~ Qa 0AQ MC0-~ >ʒPyCҿpS(} ` k,F0v-g]!NX=\oq)b?d_f;bG*)Vr=IbfnFcM±L^`!c+W&Tg k8>.X͍)hGǪa 9"w-@_义O!@VF)Ȃhl [*SĜ \ _d%8sxd^6.%*, bqWzxZ8zPr'EP).㙑TDyTysZ1`PY}\C=dPр4y_)(%س !Ry*Ρ% PF02܊07f4iU @`8 JB@ H[t*v201wbL#tC%4\ !2!+ iKJ35Z4׀:#2reZ?kKEɉh yOlc\,Ж5 AJ1l%ȪRP%Rz ]Ӵ_& i+Or~@IY )0 mM'Bƞ{SD5MMIȑ  BPL JKE,MPֽD5s4G֞'?K|_7[nHb@ AcO>CfJ/J's6bejD%ݑyɂB5E_:5L$xW٩υ~6N×3-rԳ^u&!.>C^z12}nUE$O>?$#4M>lV[Ӕ>RC^`f ߚM`(mO;[#V4ERn ,P˦UX-ۯł/5ҀA&^?g(LE3C mv hu eܯ" bR5L:= +܇TTe4s՞C@aj5 @)/& d!*DPՖmvYH't^.)ҩn}@!RDbi Vg+\C.S2YqEK;,އo2ݭɨ4#DA$eAD!_XRkοأN y(@8iNF!?t_i:#Q=D紇2Mm V`FjD,L-2&;[X낥d꾪e疧MuhބJ/0t`r5juvF$FF'[Hs!$׫|fTߖ00dcs H(udB{@AKh)l$[ڞ_(]O6@.VQXN`B\NPL`L@|ҳaq@m+<'5(3@褌Ѫ'.δRWKA$,2ܕ(lSSNaal'K ڳaT-Ia/Np4gBQ/,JBz+9vR͂KZOX*-2)Id Wd1†a@^f  p5@%Vp\="?jBI2E%=ұX4'"*mtNJ40(HQNFƥx%ACpb-E?@,H˛Stx!d)H +,ܬJ3}nPlJccsr_#QVh4<*q'A? pUY5l G᳉ ΔG-q,"Õ ?Ą6ƴ,UX %.VXWpyh)" 4)e{NU%}:B 94h`\]q\D:G8 ŜF ?)cpcoI;o(B֢.SzMH8>"t٣֖^=?M]P9I_ `%v{28T3N`HSI rxØPjjl덻]Ĥ&S^v "Ci~:C72VW)r! ~DiiKĤ sΈ1U\Ccmq#}Fָ+`|(7 ZyX$@m Q{nk/Dй#I"qiˬbbNUչzSN`:9r!85@9e_80 "%@#PM)XB}@"X XP|WR'W#AAB8;zQP9+/E"$w2b8PVp s%oHeq-@<u }]"/"p-RoLex,WjL+ -9OU7_ "&54eG\%Szv"R>+[p 0_2+ H]f"PW*O,5"2 YK 7K0 >Ắ P;4>ۻbzV'\SFA&&oQ>[ZVuuhPԩ/C z숵 PL,ZSJԪ<"ùܫ$UyK:BGkkPHRB(꬀'3Vː ;XPWQQ+.9x %fH\K=$PsXeuc&յ]`8w^`$"B,Ln XҞ!O쑥RHfp(Ho,-3$k fqp`Z,ùe fF9%k/J㰹p`+@9Y`:r\I59pQBdjY~VHѷYQ$%B9`iĴk孡 lR ʮ|(x=7[;OwjI_b(0DC';U]*Z *WPF.)L )P(^Nlc /o+M#@?i ̵Y|\wdn p:)Dy]d/|v7"Ҧ* -{cc>m<\8? }m6rDEf ^xK5gc!72Ӝ.B`Kd b́. Pj  =>㕱{mDk@rp,m08ffxYAXaX@ Kyr@HO큼'j[6f`. E35=pr9 xO]@X\fTI!J=ǶAReL w8m a/Y`T'?RЁі(7.q-c'%.72\`O?/ kh(5 q~?@F D`Uch"I=ɈtqQ jͭMfoY7H\e W- \z ?.VH[,Us(ߣk2⃩Е @Xt"a`*rJ ė:2$ 9$PN zj/Hԩ[E .6"6l/܀h0/]Yd"Y.{nUB,qE9຺XMعNk1-+@ A. INz5`,В\\9F>pxTF] Iy|҂,[K@фE}A͂P+q?pf/DĻBܵBCd $!n%  O`x\RTl7(\bԨ@sW>ӁO [K*@y ıIIW|S'9e[A9| e̥"]brdQ,9@ C)!WBP0^ ,+Gâ@X3y RKK@qB7JEqDZeN ȃ08$ A aJr\'NPp6;a)o<:TD@ ]'p%01wb4nPa 2@No+4|9Ѐ I{h`i:Om"^K+MiĕyӪaCZ+x?nִ 7f@^D /K՛gD  \Y~3J*{ L ( !l5"x9&Q$2耮qYevxת)L]p#^ ꘱9%R6X$=1•z̊$.UDg)6=ץNIk *kIb;H136 y0N.$ Ǔpp*g+i\H@lRD`:`0SY2?ørPNDeP$@V4$*BX,i: )Js*Qe8 ,w$QYYZqHS4f9adEq ;,U?@XӘ,|GYͩ^ A+*\0@I$l?wKUYs1NqgM_qޮp}ĩ We)2|*"׌ZP4;ݥr 4sa0`;= 3-pLZVA+|p'yA* D⹱!y0`"%dMRE%R(R8r>{[RErǬC%aFue]903n.H\HJ}9v}A+r9]lAUdz<8>a(8ך]`;BQIgMWۗJF`V@&.;QTBdV{Hsx뀌w!"GLN08[W''=:khcYS[#RI%#HҽvP&r*qx ԩ(ybFmX_<4BpE#j0 @q!eT)OH8H=8)+ nwD19XWRs@'\DE)>%6KDe]OpT < iݙxh9/ piqrph& "" ggfsj9`ldq_"# ;i%xu@${#rz=YUISHN# uv/+`ޫ2qnnˁk`wb2t[ănju~@bi`8y@&3b3ʍvezer֡c+(`%0w"m(~l0­'8҉*Ͷ1m( , '-29(lТ@"s u%lwu%lw gke/> T$`2pRM\Pc(X! I/VYH oZۊJ·T&1KuiVL8})8 oa:z&:¯MB(.>1^bl"e W@QTAHCKU q('Qe*P[k.#Vu@(P!"7jV<CР*]vb\&0\,',P(Psc.xW,u:.SE"@ i&?PZPa%):_HN0co $$Ђ)/La>$-=-l[>'J!T@~ 6K;Ao -c t]p8B$e̖ڐ01|8 1_Am$oDŽS|B!1x(p8nHH 9k=sB"pŘjۧA&\?ڢeI̢i5 %PP-IQOGvxeA\l(CҮ?k].> R`c3@ ?LĚsL]B?k A/Gt(Xzz6({iP#䜻/p }°R%`ؒ')݄ YAW ,Ѱ[p]cZFMMs v {Kw ;J<@H/ʟL C`ZYO't)##$O9?Yニh /]{\/A(G'ԕʓ01wbDUVD"@]<254 ' Oǹ$i1̀K_Im%^M1q옩g%n=r\%Z{U!d9!Qe\ [- B+k)GDUUD"@p/R#@aD_{r˙ܱD4`as KJ!G뽿Ԅcȹ5 ڂGo2sRjS)l2TUC"Ar]Gw `Wdy!9󲚔}a:AiM`Ѡov<9OU,i e*r{g΍^]:(qm" X, 0W`/r91즥}}CtZSX:4h-!"RcI@ʭOe$Twyx)ÎjNms00dc HK˛c߸=U0EUn!j*$ WʂEthbBŇ++Wă0 򷯁00ϡwU,>O 9_mbN w@Qw>Zs{R1b'DYL1:~ d""E!`iR wYh5cc؃;8$CbH±+)5O]J2Cgv'Asp u7""(K /c5 J*I#f%8q TalX(h +j!Grܩ"0lnˆsC ug IRHÔ{(D ղ56'-|xSz3WXPs-wSv+x~'#d %w.u+ +ԋJ0(S )ŕ@@