Too Many Long Boxes!

End of Summer

Somebody Up There Hates Me!

by Syl Francis

The shoppers rushed hurriedly through the crowded Gotham streets. The weather report was snow, snow, and more snow. It seemed as if the great Snow God had unleashed its fury on the good citizens of Gotham City and was not about to relent just yet.

Snow banks piled along the roadways made it almost impossible for Christmas shoppers to make their way through the slippery, snow-clogged sidewalks. Parking was out of the question.

"Look at that one, Alfred!" Dick shouted, laughing in a high-pitched childish giggle. He pointed at a car that had been literally buried under a mountain of white by overzealous snowplow operators. "I don't think he'll be able to get out before Spring."

"Quite so, Master Dick," Alfred said drolly. "We're quite lucky that we have a permanent parking space under the Wayne Enterprises building. Others must make do, apparently."

"Alfred, why do we have to go to the bank, anyway?" Dick asked. "I thought you did all of the banking--how did you put it?--online?"

"Indeed I do, young sir," Alfred agreed. "However, today I'm here to inventory the safety deposit boxes that Master Bruce maintains here. I'm afraid that that is a job that must be done in person."

"Really?" Dick asked excitedly. "Do you know what kind of vault the bank has? A Remington or a Mosby?"

"I am quite sure that I do not have that information readily available, Master Dick," Alfred said. "But perhaps, if we are on our best behavior, one of the bank clerks might be persuaded to demonstrate the intricacies of the bank's security system."

In the previous month, the Dynamic Duo investigated a string of bank robberies that plagued Gotham City. This led to Dick's sudden interest in all matters of physical security. Alfred caught him crawling around the house on hands and knees with a large magnifying glass looking for weaknesses in the Wayne Manor security system.

So far, the junior sleuth had managed to pick more locked doors and cabinets than Alfred thought wise. In fact, Alfred finally put his foot down when Dick broke into the wine cellar, and Alfred found him toasting his victory with his newfound cache of 'grape juice.'

Alfred rolled his eyes at the memory. The boy's seemingly boundless energy was the equivalent of a hurricane gale-force wind, sweeping out the stale, stodgy air within the old manor. Alfred watched with tolerant amusement as the youngster, arms out on either side in simulation of airplane wings, deliberately slid down the sidewalk just for the pure fun of it.

"A most welcome, bright disturbance into our dark existence," he murmured.

A Christmas display in a store window caught Dick's attention, and he hurried to it. "Whoa! Alfred, look at that! We'll have to show it to Bruce when he gets back from Japan tomorrow!"

Alfred walked up and stood next to Dick, placing his warm, gloved hand on the excited boy's shoulder.

"Yes, Master Dick," he said quietly. "We shall indeed."

As Dick eagerly pointed out the different miniature landmarks of the Christmas Town, Alfred smiled down at him. Dick's first Christmas without his parents was a milestone that had worried both him and the boy's new guardian.

Now, watching Dick's face flushed with excitement, hope began to dawn inside Alfred. Perhaps, the young master was going to be all right, after all.

"Oh, lookit that, Jack!" Twitchy called out, pointing excitedly at a Christmas window display they were passing. "It's a bee-yoo-ti-fool Winter Wonderland!"

"Look around, Twitchy," Jack growled. "We're living in a Winter Wonderland. If the Parole Board planned to let us out of Blackgate, couldn't they have at least waited for Spring? No! They let us out in the middle of the Blizzard of the Century! Some Christmas--Bah! Humbug!"

"Awwww...come on, Jack," Twitchy said disappointedly. "When are you gonna get in the Christmas spirit? We was given parole, weren't we? And Ma's life sentence was commuted to twenty years. With good behavior, she'll probably be eligible for parole in another couple of years, and we'll all be together again." Twitchy looked at his brother with hope. "Our guardian angel has been looking out for us this Christmas. Somebody up there must really like us!"

Jack glowered at his younger brother. "Guardian angel? Bah! Humbug! If we have a Guardian angel, you'll probably find him passed out in some alley on skid row."

"Jack!" Twitchy gasped in shock at his brother's irreverence. "Santa, he didn't mean that, honest," he added, praying fervently.

Jack jammed his ungloved hands in the pockets of his thin jacket and stomped away, slipping several times on the icy sidewalk. "God, what did I do to deserve this?" he muttered. A few steps later, he added, "Okay, but besides that!"

Twitchy sighed. "Sheesh! Talk about a Grinch," he said under his breath. Spotting an elderly gentleman with a dark-haired, laughing boy enjoying the Christmas window display, Twitchy suddenly felt better.

"What Jack needs is a nice Christmas gift--" he began, and stopped. His eyes popped open. He felt his heart start hammering his chest. He began hyper-ventilating and couldn't catch his breath. He opened his mouth to call his brother, but no sound would come out.

Gathering his wits about him, Twitchy ducked into the nearest doorway, and looked back at the well-dressed gentleman and little boy.

"It's him," he whispered, biting his nails. "Superman, Jr.!" Twitchy gaped a moment longer. Realizing that they were turning towards him, he pulled his stocking cap down lower over his eyes, and hurried after Jack, slipping and sliding on the icy sidewalk.

"Jack!" he hissed, catching up awkwardly, almost losing his footing at the last moment. He grabbed Jack for support and almost brought them both down. Fortunately, Jack managed to maintain his balance and somehow kept them both from falling.

"What's the matter with you, Twitchy?" Jack yelled. "You trying to get us both killed?"

In response, Twitchy clapped his hand over Jack's mouth and dragged him to the next available doorway. Seeing that it was a revolving door, Twitchy lifted his much smaller (and quite surprised, not to mention irritated) older brother and carried him bodily inside.

Before Jack could protest, Twitchy saw to his shocked dismay that the gentleman and Superman, Jr. were entering the bank. Grabbing Jack by the shirtsleeves, Twitchy pulled him to a customer convenience counter. There he took out a couple of deposit slips, handed his brother a pen, and pretended to be filling one out.

Twitchy made meaningful faces at Jack, squinting, staring pointedly, jerking his head in the general direction of the Preferred Customer service cubicles. In his mind, he was practically screaming, "IT'S THEM!! BE CAREFUL!!"

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Watching Twitchy's facial gyrations with a fascination bordering on fright, Jack had no idea what was running through his brother's mind. Indeed, he concluded that Twitchy had finally gone over the edge.

Deciding that humoring his baby brother was the lesser of two evils, Jack picked up the pen and pretended to be filling out a deposit slip. "You've really lost it this time, Twitchy," he muttered. "And when we get home, I'm signing the commitment papers." He sighed. "Wherever 'home' is," he added emptily.

The overhead lights caught and brilliantly reflected off of a finely chiseled crystalline angel topping the giant Christmas tree in the bank lobby.

"What are you lookin' at?" he growled.

"Go on," Alfred said to his anxiously waiting charge. Smiling broadly, Dick took off towards the security area where the safety deposit boxes were kept.

Twitchy's nervous eyes followed the boy. Glancing over his shoulder, Twitchy scowled when he saw the well-dressed gentleman sit down with a Bank Vice President.

"Jack, I think it's safe to--"

"Get down!!"

"Everybody on the floor!"

"Freeze or die, fatso!"

When the first harsh orders were shouted out, Twitchy and Jack dived for cover underneath the customer convenience table where they'd been standing.

"It's a bank robbery!" Twitchy hissed.

"Thanks, bro. I never would've figured it out if you hadn't told me," Jack replied irritated, slapping his brother.

"Ow!" Twitchy protested. He gave Jack his usual hurt look. "Jack, it's Christmas," he mouthed, pointing at a Santa poster.

Jack covered his eyes and shook his head. "How many times to I gotta tell you, Twitchy? There ain't no such thing as Santa Cl--"

"Please don't hurt us!" a man shouted.

"I said 'Get down' and 'Shut up!" the gunman screamed, shooting at a Nativity scene for emphasis. The crowd of customers and bank employees screamed in terror. The Christmas tree toppled dangerously, several decorations falling to the floor below.

Twitchy ducked under Jack's protective arms. "Amateurs," Jack muttered in disgust. "The whole GCPD is probably on its way, and they're playing stupid games. Papa woulda had the money already and been gone by now."

"Yeah, Papa woulda been halfway to Haven County by now," Twitchy agreed shakily, eagerly showing his brother how unimpressed he was by the robbers' technique.

"Quiet!" Jack said, jabbing his brother in the ribs. "Remember what Papa always used to say. Never insult a guy with a loaded gun."

"But you said--"

"Never mind what I said," Jack hissed, refraining from punching his brother. "Remember what Papa said." Twitchy nodded solemnly. Papa had been the best in his days. He'd even made the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List, a source of deep family pride.

From their location under the table, all the brothers could see were a lot of bodies lying in various positions on the floor, with several legs running around, jumping over the prostrate forms.

"Junkyard! Check around. Make sure no one's being cute!"

"Gotcha!" Junkyard answered.

Twitchy sucked in a deep breath. Junkyard took off in the same direction as Superman, Jr. "He'll hurt him!" he said in a loud whisper. "Jack, we've gotta help him!"

"What--? Help who?" Jack's eyes widened in shock as he saw his brother suddenly start crawling towards the security area. "Twitchy! Come back here! Have you gone nuts?"

Twitchy kept going, however. Jack looked desperately around him, trying to find any of the bank robbers. He was in a panic. These bozos were amateurs and this made them doubly dangerous.

Taking one more look around, Jack started crawling after his brother's retreating backside.

As soon as they'd heard the shouts and screams coming from the front lobby, Dick and the nice safety deposit box lady hid behind her customer service counter. She put her finger over his lips and pressed the emergency call button.

Dick nodded, his eyes like wide blue saucers. He had to get away somehow and try to stop the bank robbery. He was Robin, the Boy Wonder, after all. Wasn't he? And Alfred! He was out there by himself. Making up his mind, Dick was forced to change it in the next instant.

Sarah, the nice bank clerk who'd befriended him so easily and offered to give him a tour of the vault as soon as Alfred finished his business with the branch vice president, suddenly gasped in a sharp intake of breath. She grabbed him by the arm and squeezed so hard she was hurting him.

He looked at her in alarm. "What is it?" he mouthed.

"My baby," she whispered. "I think he's decided to pick now to be born." If it were possible for Dick's eyes to grow even bigger, they would have.

"Now?" he asked, looking around in a panic. "You can't! This is a bank robbery. You can't have a baby during a bank robbery!"

"I'm afraid babies don't normally pick the most convenient of times to be born," she said, gasping between words. She smiled tremulously and patted him gently on the cheek. "You'll find out more about these things later. I promise."

A sudden noise above them made them both look.

"Well, lookit here. What do you know. A mommy and her little boy." He saw the glowing silent alarm button and his eyes turned ugly. He aimed his even uglier weapon at Sarah. "You shouldn't have done that lady. Now your kid is never going to get to meet his baby brother."

He started to squeeze the trigger.

"No!" Dick yelled, throwing himself at the gunman, deflecting the weapon as it fired. The robber grabbed Dick by the hair and threw him against Sarah. She held him to her, her arms encircling him protectively.

"You'll be following her, kid!" he growled, bringing the weapon to bear.

Dick twisted within Sarah's hold and turned around, hugging her tightly, trying to shield her with his own body. He squeezed his eyes tight, waiting for the gun to go off.

The sharp report of the 9mm Beretta made him jerk suddenly. Sarah screamed.

Twitchy saw the gunman taking aim. Not stopping to think about the consequences, he leaped at the armed man, knocking the gun out of his hand.

"Run, kid!" he yelled. Twitchy was suddenly struggling with the bank robber, and finding himself on the losing end. His opponent connected solidly with a right hook to the chin. Twitchy started going down but fought to keep his feet.

Suddenly, a moving train barreled into them. Somewhere in the background, a woman was screaming.

"My baby! Please, someone help me! I don't want to lose my baby!"

"Twitchy! Get up, bro! You've gotta help the lady," Jack urged. "I'll keep this loser busy."

Twitchy nodded, his mind still in a daze. He heard Jack yelling at the robber in that Special Voice he used when he wanted to scare others into doing what he wanted them to do.

"So, you like to scare pregnant dames and little boys, do you?" Jack growled. "Let's see how you do against someone your own size."

Twitchy smiled nervously, the familiar cold chill gripping the lower half of his abdomen. Jack rarely used that Special Voice on him, but when he did, you can bet Twitchy jumped.

Sarah was breathing rapidly, trying to regulate her breathing like she'd been taught in her birthing classes.

"Please, Sarah," Dick pleaded near tears, forgetting that a superhero wasn't supposed to cry. "You just can't have your baby right now. I don't know what to do."

"Just hold my hand, Dicky," she gasped. Dick nodded. He could feel the perspiration running down his forehead.

"Kid," Twitchy said, laying his hand on Dick's shoulder. "We've gotta get your Ma outta here. Ma'am, is there a safe place we can take you?"

"I--" Sarah screamed suddenly. "No! Please, not now!" She painfully squeezed Dick's hand. He grimaced at the pain, but didn't cry out. He looked helplessly at Twitchy.

"What should we do?" Dick asked.

Twitchy averted his eyes instantly. He couldn't let the boy recognize him. The sounds of fighting behind them galvanized Twitchy into action. He hurriedly lifted the pregnant woman, and looking around desperately he spotted the vault, noting its heavy-gauged steel door.

"This way, kid," he said. Dick saw what Twitchy intended and nodded, following him into the vault. It was a risky move, but at the moment it seemed the lesser of two evils.

When the vault door closed behind them with a resounding clang, Dick felt a momentary stab of fear.

"I hope," he muttered.


Gordon impatiently looked around, trying to find the source of Bullock's voice. The GCPD had responded to the silent alarm and stopped the robbery. However, at least two bank robbers were still missing, as was a large amount of the loot. Almost forty-five minutes had passed since they'd received the alarm.

Gordon finally spotted Bullock. The rumpled police lieutenant was supporting Alfred by the elbow. Alfred meanwhile was holding a bloody handkerchief to his temple.

"Alfred!" Gordon called out worriedly, hurrying to him. "Montoya! Get an EMT over here!" Montoya nodded and rushed off.

Alfred waved him off in a failed attempt to maintain his dignity. "I'll be quite all right, sir," he managed. "But Master Dick. Where is the young master? I can't seem to find him." Alfred wobbled slightly and Gordon immediately steered him to a seat.

"Was Dick here with you?" Gordon asked.

"Yes, sir. He was curious about the bank vault." He laughed slightly. "You know how boys can be." Alfred paused, swallowing. "He went on ahead to the security area where the safety deposit boxes are kept."

"Bullock, have it checked out," Gordon said.

"On it, Commish." Bullock turned and called out, "Lopez! Panopoulos! With me!" As soon as Bullock and his officers left, Montoya arrived with the emergency medical technician.

A few minutes later, Lopez was back. "Commissioner, we got two injured in the secure area. Gunshot wounds."

"My word!" Alfred whispered. About to follow after them, Alfred's eye caught the Christmas treetop angel lying broken on the floor, the head still intact. The angel's beatific expression was meant to offer solace to the troubled heart, but all Alfred felt was fear.

"Please. Not now. Don't take him from us."

"Ma'am, you're gonna have to help us," Twitchy said soothingly. "I never done this before. And, well, I don't think your little boy here has either."

Despite her circumstances, Sarah still had the presence of mind to answer. "Dicky's not my little boy," she gasped, her eyes tightly shut, squeezing Dick's hand. Her face bright with a soft sheen of perspiration, she smiled suddenly.

"But if I have a little boy, I hope he grows up to be just like him." She opened her eyes momentarily and held Dick's. He smiled sadly in response. His gaze took in both adults.

"I don't have a mother," he said softly. "She got killed."

"Oh, Dicky," Sarah said, her eyes filled with pain. "I'm so sorry, sweetie."

"She and my dad are both in heaven," he said. Looking suddenly lost, he whispered, "I've never had a Christmas without them before." Feeling the tears about to start, he bit his lower lip.

Before Sarah could take him in her arms, Twitchy beat her to it. Awkwardly hugging the boy to him, Twitchy held him in his arms for a moment.

"I'm really sorry, kid," he said. "I lost my Papa when I was just a little older'n you, but I got Ma and my brother, Jack. He's a little gruff sometimes, but he loves me and takes care of me."

Dick nodded, wiping his eyes. "Bruce and Alfred take care of me," he said. "I know they love me, but--" He stopped, unsure how to explain how he felt without sounding like a crybaby.

"But it's not the same," Sarah finished for him. He nodded, feeling as if he were betraying Bruce and Alfred. "Give it time, Dick. It may never be the same," she said. "But it'll be different in a nice way, because--"

"--Because Bruce and Alfred are different in a nice way, too?" Dick asked. Sarah nodded. All three smiled, sharing in the sudden feeling of mutual camaraderie.

Sarah suddenly gasped in pain, breaking the moment.

"I-think-it's-time--!" she got out through clenched teeth.

"I recognize that man!" Alfred announced, pointing at Jack.

Jack looked up from where the EMT was treating his shoulder wound. His eyes opened wide. It was the old guy from Wayne Manor! The one who waved the dust mop under his nose when he and Twitchy tried to kidnap Superman, Jr. The old guy had waved that horrible, dust-mite laden weapon right in his face, throwing the allergy-prone Jack into a sneezing fit that almost killed him!

"What have you done with him, you villain?" Alfred demanded dramatically.

"Done with who?" Jack asked. "I had nothing do with nothing! Honest!"

"You know whom I mean," Alfred said imperiously. "I mean Master Dick. The same child whom you and your brother attempted to kidnap several months ago."

"Waitaminute--!" Jack said, a light bulb coming on. "You mean the kid! The kid who was here with the pregnant dame. Hey, I didn't do nothing to him. That guy tried to plug the kid and lady." He pointed at the unconscious bank robber. Their violent struggle over the weapon resulted in the both of them being shot.

"Me and my brother saved them." He looked suddenly outraged, his complexion instantly taking on a dangerous shade of purple. "Hey, you should be thanking me for saving your kid, not yelling at me. I got shot trying to help him."

"Thanking you?" Bullock sneered. "We're arresting you."

"On what charge?" Jack demanded, suddenly going pale and then purple again. He could almost hear Twitchy warning him to be mindful of his blood pressure.

"Try attempted bank robbery. Assault with a deadly weapon. Possible kidnapping." Bullock rapidly ticked off the charges with his fingers. "And that's just for starters. I'm sure we'll be adding parole violation to the list soon."

"Parole violation--?" Alfred spluttered. "Do you mean to suggest that this--this 'child predator' was released on parole?"

"Hey! I ain't no child 'pred-pre'--what you called me. I ain't never hurt no kid in my whole life."

"No, you just try to snatch them from their bedrooms," Bullock said in disgust. "Montoya! Read 'im his rights and get 'im outta here. Scumbag makes me sick."

"Wait!" Alfred called. "Master Dick! He still hasn't told us what he's done with him."

"I told you that I didn't do nothing with him!" Jack protested. "We was trying to help him and the pregnant lady. That scuz bucket was about to plug 'em both, when me and my brother stopped him."

"Oh, yeah?" Gordon said, his tone dripping sarcasm. "Let's just say for the moment that I believe you. Just what were you two doing in the bank if you weren't part of the robbery, and you weren't following the boy with intent to commit kidnapping?"

Jack sighed and covered his eyes. Somebody up there hates me, he thought bleakly. "You're not going to believe me," he began.

"Try me," Gordon said flatly. Shrugging, Jack related the events to the best of his ability.

"As to why we came in the bank. Your guess is as good as mine," he finished. "We're walking down the street when suddenly Twitchy grabs me from behind and carries me in here. He was acting very weird. And believe me. For Twitchy that's really weird." He paused gauging their reactions. He swallowed hurriedly and continued.

"Next thing I know the bank's being robbed and before I can say 'What the f--'" At Alfred's disapproving glare, he stopped himself from uttering the expletive. "Well, anyway, there's Twitchy crawling away. Saying that we have save 'him.'" He shrugged helplessly.

"I had no choice. Twitchy's my brother and he was putting himself in danger. I promised Ma a long time ago that I'd watch out for him. So, I followed. I heard the lady scream and that's when I just sort of starting fighting with him!"

He pointed at the bank robber with his chin. The guy's eyelids began to flutter open. Jack kicked him in his injured leg. The guy groaned and reverted to unconsciousness.

"What'd you do that for?" the EMT shouted.

"Creep was gonna shoot a kid and pregnant lady. What do want me to do? Kiss it and make it better? Scum like that gives guys like me a bad name."

"You're breaking my heart," Bullock said. "Enough happy talk. Tell us where you stashed the kid, or so help me, I'll--"

"Bullock--!" Gordon warned.

"Stashed the kid--?" Jack protested. "I told you already. We were trying to save him."

"If you're such a hero, then tell us where he is!" Bullock pressed.

Jack shook his head. "He should be--" He vaguely waved his arm around the security area. "I don't know where he is." He turned to the others, looking desperate. "I swear, I don't know. My brother was fighting with the creep and he got hurt. I shouted at him to take the lady and the kid. The guy had a gun."

The others stared at him impassively.

Jack shouted in exasperation. "I was just a little bit busy, okay? I told Twitchy to take 'em to safety. I heard a door clang shut, and next thing this creep shot me!"

In frustration, Jack again kicked the injured bank robber who was just beginning to regain consciousness. The guy went under once more. The EMT called for a stretcher.

"Commissioner, I've gotta get my patient out of here, before this other guy kills him!"

Gordon nodded. "Go ahead. He's not doing us any good anyway. What about this one?" He nodded at Jack. The EMT glared at Jack while shielding the injured bank robber. Finally, he nodded reluctantly.

"That shoulder wound needs looking at," he admitted. "I'd recommend we transport at the earliest--"

"'Clanged' shut?" A dazed voice interrupted the EMT's report. All eyes turned to Alfred who was currently looking as sick as he felt.

"You said you heard a door 'clang shut,'" Alfred repeated dully while staring horrified at something in front of him. The others' eyes followed the direction in which he was staring.

"The vault," he whispered. "Heaven help us. They locked themselves in the vault."

Sarah absolutely glowed with happiness.

"A boy," she whispered. "I have a son." Her newborn baby was swaddled in Dick's soft, Cashmere sweater.

"He's beautiful, Ma'am," Twitchy said awed.

"What will you name him?" Dick asked. "Nicholas or Noel on account of he was born so close to Christmas? How about Christopher?"

Smiling, Sarah shook her head. "No, sweetie," she said, running her finger tenderly along her baby's soft cheek. "My last name's Levy," she explained. "I'm Jewish. We don't celebrate Christmas."

"Oh," Dick said, embarrassed. "I didn't know. I'm sorry."

Sarah looked up suddenly. "Oh, Dick, there's no need to apologize. There's no way you could've known." She looked at them both thoughtfully. "But there's no real reason why I couldn't name him after you two. What's your full name Dicky? And yours Twitchy?"

"Richard John Grayson," Dick said. "My first name is after my grandfather and my middle name is after my dad."

"Hmmmm. 'Richard' isn't biblical, but 'John' is. It means 'gift from God' did you know that?"

Dick solemnly shook his head.

"It's actually a fairly common name in the Bible," she said turning to Twitchy. "And how about you? Please don't take this wrong, but I don't think that 'Twitchy' is biblical."

Twitchy grinned embarrassed. "My brother, Jack--he gave it to me when we was kids. I used'ta have a real bad twitch."

He didn't tell them that he'd developed a nervous twitch because Jack's favorite game when they were kids was called, 'Ambush.' And Twitchy was usually the victim. Poor Twitchy was terrorized as a little boy, never knowing out of what dark corner his brother would jump out from and yell, 'Boo!'

"So, what's your real name, Twitchy?" Dick asked.

"Awwww...You wouldn't want to name your baby after an ex-con like me--" he began.

"--Ex-con?" Dick asked, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. "I've been thinking that you look kind of familiar. Have I seen you before?"

"Uh, um, uh," Twitchy stuttered, scooting away from them and trying to make himself invisible. "I-I--" His body began shuddering. "I didn't mean to scare you that night," he said. "I told Jack it wasn't right, but he's the leader of our gang and--well, he's my brother. So, I said okay on account of we was really down on our luck. But we never woulda hurt you, honest. We're not very good kidnappers, see? Our Papa raised us to be bank robbers, not kidnappers."

Dick and Sarah gaped at him.

"You tried to kidnap Dicky?" she asked.

"That was you?" Dick asked indignantly.

Twitchy nodded miserably. "I'm sorry."

"What are you doing out of prison?" Dick demanded. "Did you escape? Were you here to rob the bank?" Twitchy shook his head, 'no.' Dick's eyes widened. "Were you following me? To try to kidnap me again?"

It was Twitchy's turn to look shocked.

"No! That's not true. We was paroled fair and square," he said. "I spotted you on the sidewalk and recognized you. I guess I got kinda scared and panicked." He somehow managed to explain the entire story, in a slow agonized stutter.

Dick looked at him skeptically. "I don't know..." he said, his voice heavy with disbelief.

"Dicky," Sarah said gently. "He did save us from that other horrible man," she reminded him.

Dick nodded reluctantly. When the gun had gone off, he'd expected to be dead. He'd never been so pleasantly surprised to still be alive.

"We-ell..." he said. "Maybe you're right." He looked around the vault and shrugged. "It doesn't matter right now, anyway," he said, and immediately regretted his words at Sarah's sudden look of fear.

"Do you think they'll get us out of here?" she whispered. "Before--?" She didn't finish her sentence.

"Aw, Ma'am," Twitchy said in quiet reassurance. "You don't have anything to worry about. This here vault is a Mosby Elite Model 370. Your bank sure picked one of the best in the business. It's fire rated up to two hours, and has an anti-theft rating of three hours. But it also comes with a failsafe in case anyone gets locked up in it, its own ventilation system that's earthquake rated."

"What does all of that mean?" Sarah asked confused. "I know that I should know all of that, but really, my training only includes what I need to know about the safety deposit boxes."

"He means that if the bank caught fire," Dick eagerly jumped in, "that the vault's contents would be safe for up to two hours. And that it's been tested to withstand a theft for up to three hours." He sat back in his heels. "Of course, that means that we have a long wait. But since it does have its own ventilation system, we're not really in any danger."

"Sure, ma'am. The only thing that could maybe go wrong is that the power to the ventilation system might be accidentally cut off and the chances of that happening are one in a million--!"

The next instant, the lights went out. And in the sudden darkness, they noticed that the comfortable background hum of the ventilation system had also gone still.

"Mama," Twitchy whimpered.

"I can't believe you cut the vault's power cable!" Jack shouted at the hapless security technician. "You're an idiot! Where'd you learn how to break into bank vaults? From a correspondence course in bank robbery?"

"I-I'm sorry," the technician stammered. "This is only my second time doing this."

"For the love of--" Jack glared at the group of police officers and bank supervisors who'd gathered around the security area. "Amateurs! I'm surrounded by amateurs!"

He looked around for something to kick, but the EMT had already taken the injured bank robber and Twitchy was currently locked up in the vault. Jack stomped over to where the technician was kneeling in front of the vault's steel door and shoved him out of the way.

"Give me that thing," he growled, taking a burglar's tool (or rather a Mosby Security System's certified tool) from the technician's hand. Jack stared at the unfamiliar tool and tossed it aside in disgust.

"Where's my tool bag when I need it?" he muttered.

"Sir...?" Alfred began uncertainly.

"Yeah?" Jack asked distracted, digging through the technician's tool kit.

"Do you think you can open the door?" Alfred asked.

"I don't think. I know," Jack replied immodestly.

"I protest, Commissioner!" a new voice broke in. Jack looked up annoyed. The speaker was one of the 'Suits' who'd gathered round. A bank supervisor, Jack surmised. Jack didn't have much use for 'Suits.' In fact, Jack hated 'Suits.'

"I won't have a-a bank robber break into one of my safes!" the 'Suit' protested. "What will our depositors say should they hear of such a thing?"

"What will your depositors say if they find out you let a pregnant dame and a little kid suffocate?" Jack shot back. He was beginning to hate this particular 'Suit' even more than usual.

"And never mind your depositors," he added. "What do you think I'll do to you if my brother suffocates inside your lousy safe because you wouldn't let me get him out?"

"He threatened me!" the 'Suit' cried, his eyes wide with fear. He turned to Alfred, grabbing him by the sleeve. "You-You heard him! He threatened me! Commissioner, I demand--!"

Alfred coldly clamped his hand on the panicking bank supervisor's wrist and squeezed. The man gasped in pain and released his hold on Alfred's sleeve.

"If you don't cease your histrionics this instant, I'm afraid that I might have to punch you in the teeth." The supervisor's eyes widened in shock.

"My young master is in that vault," Alfred continued evenly. "And if this gentleman has the skills and know-how to get Master Dick out then, by George, you're going to let him. Heaven help you should any harm come to my boy. And you needn't worry about Mr. Jack threatening you. You'll have me to answer to. Not to mention Mr. Wayne, whom if memory serves correctly, happens to be your bank's largest single depositor."

Jack had been leaning on the vault door impatiently observing the turn of events before him. The bank supervisor nodded at Alfred and turned to Jack.

"Please, sir," he said, his voice close to desperation. "Whatever you can do. Just hurry." The man turned away without waiting for a response from Jack. "Bruce Wayne's kid is locked in there," he muttered. "I'll lose my job..."

Jack grimaced in a sour scowl, but he got down to business.

Sarah was leaning comfortably in Twitchy's arms. She was crooning softly to her baby. Dick was huddled next to them, not wanting to be farther away than arm's reach in the dark.

If only Bruce wasn't in Japan, he thought. His guardian would've had them all out by now. Dick wracked his brains, trying to think of a way out, but he didn't have any equipment with him, and he wasn't familiar enough with the complex electronic locking mechanisms of these high security vaults.

Twitchy had already confessed that while he knew how to break into a Mosby safe, he'd never tried to break out of one. Dick noted that the air inside was growing stale.

"Twitchy," Sarah said, breaking the silence that had grown between them.

"Yes'm?" he asked.

"You never told me your name."

"You promise not to laugh?" he asked, the irony of someone being nicknamed 'Twitchy' asking her not to laugh at his name completely lost on him.

Sarah smiled in the dark. "I promise," she said.

Twitchy sighed. "Abner," he said. "Ma named me after her favorite cousin once removed. Cousin Abner. He used'ta run with the Darrows gang, before the Texas Rangers caught up with 'em. Never made a lotta money, but he sure did have fun holding up small stores and stuff. Did you know that Texas is so big that Cousin Abner's gang never once had to leave the state when they were on the run?"

"Abner..." Sarah mused. "That means 'Father of light.' What a lovely name, Twitchy. You shouldn't be ashamed of it."

"Really?" Twitchy asked, pleased. "I never knew my name meant anything."

"I don't understand," Dick said. "How come your family are all--" he stopped.

"Crooks?" Twitchy finished. "Bank robbers?"

"Uh-huh," Dick said.

"I don't know," Twitchy admitted. "My Papa robbed banks. And his papa before him. Ma ran one of the best bunco games of her time. They raised us to follow in their footsteps." He shrugged in the dark. "I guess I never really thought of it as being 'right' or 'wrong.' Just the family business."

"Oh," Dick said, not quite sure what else to say. "So, are you gonna continue in the 'family business' if we get out?"

"Nah. We promised Ma we'd go straight this time," he said.

"That's good," Dick said. "Batman doesn't much like bank robbers."

"Batman--?" Twitchy shivered.

"Uh-huh," Dick said. Twitchy didn't say anything, just tensed at the thought of the Dark Knight coming after him and his brother.

The silence was suddenly broken by a high-pitched whine above their heads.

"This won't work," Jack said flatly. The others looked at him. "This is a Mosby Elite Model 370," he explained impatiently. "It's been tested by experts to withstand a determined burglar for up to three hours. Since brainless over there just cut off their air supply inside, we don't have three hours."

"What do you suggest?" Gordon asked, turning away from Montoya. She'd just reported that the missing bank robbers and stolen money had been recovered. Idiots had been stopped by a patrol car for failing to signal a left turn.

"The back door," Jack said, picking up the tool kit. At their blank looks, he sighed and explained. "Mosby Elites have a weakness. Mosby Security Systems doesn't make it public, of course, but those of us in the 'business' are pretty much aware of it. While the vault door has an anti-theft rating of up to three hours, the sides are only rated up to half that. And Papa showed me once that the rating is too high, 'cause he was able to break-in in less than half an hour."

He began making his way to the elevators. "This vault," he said sharply, pressing the elevator 'up' button, "it's used for safety deposit boxes, right?"

The bank supervisor nodded. "Thought so," Jack said. "I suppose they're lined up along the walls and bolted to the floor?" The supervisor nodded once more.

"Thought so," Jack said as the elevator doors slid open. He stepped on without saying anything further.

"Wait! Where are you going?" the bank supervisor called.

"To whatever room is above the vault," Jack replied.

The supervisor's eyes widened. "But that's my office!" he protested. "What are you planning to do?"

Gordon, Alfred and Bullock crowded into the elevator with Jack. The supervisor was shoved aside. As the doors closed in his face, Jack replied sharply, "I'm gonna tear your floor open and break into the vault, you idiot!"

"By why through my office?"

"It's the only section, except for the floor, that isn't blocked by safety deposit boxes. And I sure ain't pulling no Michelangelo!"

When the doors closed, he added, "Too bad it's not your frigging skull!"

Afterwards, things went fairly quickly. Jack proved he was his father's son, and in fact, he did his father one better--he broke into the vault in under fifteen minutes--to the cheers and relief of the onlookers and the people trapped inside, but to the worry of the bank supervisors and the Mosby Security Systems representatives.

The fire rescue squad gently lifted Sarah and her baby out of the vault in a stretcher. However, she refused to be taken away in the ambulance before Twitchy and Dick were pulled out.

"Jack!" Twitchy cried out, hugging his brother unashamedly to him. Jack almost passed out from the agonizing pain shooting up from his shoulder wound. "You did it, bro! You broke Papa's record! He'd be proud, man!"

Jack blushed in embarrassment, and then looking up momentarily, gave a brief prayer of thanks. Maybe their guardian angel wasn't off on a drinking binge after all, he thought.

"Alfred!" Dick cried, leaping into Alfred's waiting arms.

"Master Dick!" Alfred said, tears of relief streaming down his cheeks. "This is indeed a Christmas blessing. Thank you Master Jack," Alfred said gratefully. "For giving my boy back to me. If you'll give me a number where we can reach you, I'm sure that Mr. Wayne will wish to thank you personally."

Twitchy thumped his brother on the back. "You're a hero, Jack!" Jack grinned goofily. Yep, things were definitely beginning to look up.

"Twitchy? Dick?" Sarah called. She was lying on the gurney ready for transport to the ambulance. Both Twitchy and Dick walked up to her. She looked at them both and then at Jack. Dick smiled broadly in understanding.

"I think that it's a super idea!" he said, nodding in enthusiastic agreement. Twitchy and Jack looked at her blankly. Sarah smiled at Jack.

"Is Jack your real name?" Sarah asked.

"No, ma'am," he said respectfully. "My real name's John, after Papa."

"That was my father's name, too!" Dick said proudly. Sarah smiled happily and very carefully held her baby up for all to see.

"Everybody, say 'Shalom!' to 'Abner John Levy.'"

The End

Syl Francis --who totally ignores current canon in her Batman/Nightwing fanfiction -- teaches by day, feeds her cats by night, and on occasion enters into an intelligent conversation with her husband.

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