Too Many Long Boxes!

End of Summer

Brothers in Arms

by Syl Francis

The first stealthy shadow entered through the fire escape. Moving without sound, it paused momentarily. Gesturing impatiently, it urged a second shadow to follow, and then began inching forward again.

A loud crash, instantly followed by a soft ~THUD~, and a whispered "Sorry!" brought the first shadow to a sliding halt. The next few seconds were a confusion of hissed warnings, muttered yelps and the distinct ~thump~ of flesh being pounded on flesh.

"Ouch! I said I was--!"

A sharp ~SLAP!~ accompanied by an angry "Shut up!" interrupted.

"Ow! Whatcha do that for?"

~SLAP!~ ~SLAP!~ ~SLAP!~ and a "Shut up!" were the only response.

"Jack--" Twitchy whined in protest.

Furious, Jack grabbed Twitchy by the collar with his left hand. His right, he clenched and held under Twitchy's nose.

"I ain't gonna tell you again, Twitchy!" he snarled, keeping his voice low. "Zip it, or lose it! What's it gonna be?" He glared up at his younger (and much larger) brother's wide, hurt eyes. He felt himself begin to falter under Twitchy's look of gentle reproach.

"You promised Ma you wouldn't hit me no more," Twitchy reminded him for the thousandth time.

Jack closed his eyes, and taking a deep breath, started counting to 10. He got as far 75 before he thought he could risk talking.

"Jack, your blood pressure..." Twitchy said gently.

"Twitchy...this is a bank robbery," Jack explained through gritted teeth, barely able to suppress his growing rage. "Get it?"

Twitchy nodded uncertainly. "Yeah, Jack, I get it. But, uh, I'm not sure this is such a good idea. I mean, robbing a bank and all...? We just promised Mr. Wayne and that nice little kid, Dicky, that we'd stay straight. He even gave us a job...Mr. Wayne, I mean--not Dicky."

"Yeah, he gave us a job all right--mopping floors!" Jack said in disgust. "Look, I may be nothin' more'n a penny-ante safe-cracker--"

"Jack! You're not a penny-ante--!"

"But I got my pride! I ain't no janitor...I'm a-a professional crook!"

"Jack, you're the best B and E man in the business. You know that."

"Oh, yeah? So how come nobody else does?" Jack asked, his shoulders suddenly slumped. Twitchy placed a warm, reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"We're just a little down on our luck, bro'. But it's New Year's Eve! And we've got us a job to tide us over until things get better. You'll see...something good will come along. Soon. Really."

But even Twitchy's normal optimism seemed forced. Jack shook his head.

"No, bro'...we gotta pull this job. It's the only way. If Papa were still alive and knew all I was good for was pushing a broom--"

"A mop," Twitchy corrected thoughtfully.

Jack gritted his teeth and bit down on his retort. Instead, he muttered, "Let's get goin'. It's almost morning."

"And we gotta clean up after the New Year's Eve office party at Wayne Enterprises tonight," Twitchy said easily, as if cleaning up after society's elite were something he actually enjoyed.

"Let's just get started," Jack said, his voice tired.

" just don't seem right, somehow. After all, Mr. Wayne did talk to the governor and all to get Ma out of Blackgate on account of her lumbago--"

"Twitchy, Ma doesn't have lumbago. You know it's all part of her con--!"

"But it's the thought that counts, Jack. Isn't that what Papa always said?"

"Yeah, and he also said 'There's a sucker born every minute!'" Jack shot back.

"Aw, but Jack we promised Mr. Wayne and Dicky--"

"Look, Twitchy...we've been over this. Wayne and his kid ain't family. But Ma is. The old doll's gonna be released from Blackgate in another day or two and whadda we got for her? Nothing!"

"But we got us a nice little place--" Twitchy protested.

"Nice?! The place is a fleabag. Five flights up, no heat, no hot water--and the roof leaks! What kinda a place is that for an ol' doll like Ma? She's getting' on in years, y'know. And besides...she's got her pride, too. She's used to the best, like Papa always provided for us." Jack paused, looking suddenly angry. "If we don't pull off this job, Twitchy, we may have to put her in a home for ol' dolls. Is that what you want?"

His hard eyes pinned his brother to the floor. Reluctantly, Twitchy shook his head, 'No.'

"Okay, then," Jack said. "Let's go."

"But, Jack..." Twitchy said unhappily. "I still don't think it's right--!"

Exasperated Jack whirled and again grabbed Twitchy by the collar. "Twitchy, how many times do I gotta tell ya? You don't do the thinking! Or the talking!" Jack's annoyance was mirrored in his rapid-fire delivery. "We agreed to pull off this job for Ma, understand? And remember what Papa used to say about bums who walk out in the middle of a job!"

At this, Twitchy's eyes widened and then dropped in shame. There had been nothing lower in their father's eyes, except maybe, someone who hurt kids or dames.

"Twitchy, you're either in or you're out. Which is it?"

Twitchy nodded halfheartedly. "Okay, Jack...I'm in. All the way."

"Good. Let's go, then...and try not to trip over anything."

Twitchy immediately tripped over his own two feet with a loud ~THUNK~. "Sorry!" he hissed.

Jack turned disbelieving eyes on his clumsy brother. Taking a deep breath, he walked over to where Twitchy was struggling to stand. He grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and pulled him to his feet. All the while, Jack kept a firm grip on his brother's collar--and his temper.

"Little bro'," Jack said with infinite patience, "the whole idea behind a criminal undertaking such as the one we are attempting is to steal the loot and not get caught."

Twitchy nodded, foolishly. "Oh, um...I knew that!"

"And in order for us avoid the long arm of Commissioner Gordon's boys in blue, we do our best to stay quiet," Jack added, evenly and rationally.

"Um...right, Jack," Twitchy broke in a bit tentatively.

Jack's fingers around Twitchy's collar began to twist, tightening the collar around his brother's neck. Before long, Twitchy's eyes were bulging, his cheeks flushed crimson.

"And we stay quiet by keeping our big, fat, dumb mouths shut...and we don't trip over our oversized, clumsy feet!" Jack snarled. "Got it!?"

"" Twitchy choked out. Jack instantly released him.

"Good! Now, we got a job to do. talking--and no tripping!" With that Jack jerked his head, indicating he wanted Twitchy to follow.

Twitchy tiptoed behind Jack, following his brother in a poor imitation of Jack's fluid movements. Hurrying to keep up with his older brother, Twitchy could only watch in open admiration as Jack flitted smoothly across the wide, marbled foyer, his catlike stealth borne from a lifetime of practice.

Just like Papa, Twitchy thought proudly. Realizing that he was falling behind, he sped up to close the gap. Unfortunately, Jack chose this particular moment to stop suddenly in order to get his bearings. Caught off-guard, Twitchy tried to follow suit; however, he slipped and lost his footing on the bank's highly glossed marble floor.

"Jack--!" he warned in a loud whisper.

"The safe should be through that door--" Jack was saying, when he was suddenly thrown forward as Twitchy slammed into him from behind.

", s-sorry, Jack--!" Twitchy stuttered, and stunned, watched as Jack's forward momentum continued unabated.

Careening out of control across the slippery marble floor, Jack found himself unable to stop. He flew headlong through one of the teller windows. Moments later, Twitchy was at his side.

"Jack!" he hissed, panicked. "Are you all right?"

Jack sighed and looked up at the ceiling. Why me? he asked no one in particular. Grabbing Twitchy by the collar yet again, he pulled his younger brother down to him, nose to nose. Glaring into Twitchy's wide, calf-like eyes, he felt the anger that was always bubbling just below the surface boil over.

"Twitchy, I might've promised Ma I wouldn't hit you no more. But I never promised her I wouldn't kill you!"

"Jack--?!" Twitchy gasped in shock. "You shouldn't oughtta say stuff like that, even as a joke."

"Who says I'm joking?" Jack growled, giving his brother a shove. He sat up in disgust. "You pull another bonehead move like that one--ruin this heist for us--don't worry about the cops gettin' you. I'll take care of you myself! Got it?"

"Jack..." Twitchy tsked, shaking his head in gentle chastisement. "You don't mean that. We're partners, remember? Pals?"

Jack closed his eyes and brought his hand up, pinching the bridge of his nose. He felt a headache coming on. Why me? he repeated. Shaking his head, he stood up and deliberately faced his brother.

"Pals, huh? Well, listen, pally--" he began, spitting out the last word. He stopped, abruptly caught in his brother's soft, understanding gaze. "Aw, drop it...just drop it..." Shrugging, he shouldered his tool bag and turned towards the vault.

That's when all Hell broke loose.

Instantly, Jack and Twitchy ducked under the teller counter.

"I don't believe this," Jack muttered. "A bank robbery! Why the dirty lousy bums! They're trying to steal our money!"

He started to get up to sneak a peek over the counter, when he realized he couldn't budge. Looking down, he saw the cause. Twitchy had crawled into Jack's lap for protection, burying his head inside his older brother's jacket.

All around them, the building reverberated with the sounds of a wild gun battle.

"Aw, for cryin' aloud--!" he said in a low voice. "Twitchy, get off me!" A stray round ricocheted nearby, ~ZINGING~ as it passed overhead.

"Mama--!" Twitchy wailed and automatically tried to burrow even deeper.

In disgust, Jack reached down and clamped both his hands on his brother's shoulders, throwing him off his lap. "Twitchy, will ya listen to me?" he hissed. "We gotta get outta here. These bums are makin' so much noise, they're gonna bring down every cop in Gotham on us--Get it?"

Twitchy stopped...well, twitching...and listened. Finally, giving his brother his most trusting look, he nodded. "Uh-huh...I got it, Jack."

Releasing him, Jack said, "Let's go, then...And be quiet!" As the two brothers started crawling away from the sounds of battle, everything suddenly went deathly still. Jack and Twitchy exchanged frightened glances.

"Mama..." Twitchy whispered.

He looked pleadingly at his brother. Jack would know what to do, he thought, and was relieved when Jack placed his finger to lips--Quiet! Twitchy nodded. Jack next pointed at him, and then deliberately at the floor--Stay here. Eyes wide, Twitchy opened his mouth to protest, but Jack clamped his hand over it.

Locking eyes, the brothers fought a silent battle of wills. Finally, Twitchy dropped his eyes in defeat. About to investigate the situation, the situation suddenly revealed itself to them--the dark form of a man-sized bat suddenly fell from the rafters!

Twitchy gasped in terror. Instantly, he was climbing on top of Jack for protection. Jack, meanwhile, struggled to keep from being flattened under his much bulkier and heavier baby brother.

The crumpled form groaned softly. Jack looked nervously at the strange monster. It was still alive, whatever it was!

I've gotta get Twitchy outta here, he thought desperately. I promised Ma...

A bone-chilling laugh echoed eerily through the bank's cavernous foyer. "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA--!"

This time Jack and Twitchy threw themselves into each other's arms.

"Jack...What was that?" Twitchy's eyes were as wide as a television screen, his complexion a sickly green.

"I don't know," Jack squeaked, his body trembling. "And I don't think I wanna stay and find out. Let's get outta here!" As one, the two brothers started crawling as fast their arms and legs could pump. The dark figure stirred, emitting another low groan.

"Go find 'im boys!" the maniacal voice shouted, his words bouncing off the empty walls. "First Fatman...and then that annoying juvenile delinquent, Birdboy, the Boy Blunder!"

Jack felt something suddenly grab his foot from behind. Terrified, his reflexes took over. He turned over and without looking, kicked out with all his power.

And narrowly missed his brother's head.

"What are you doing--?" Jack hissed. Twitchy was crawling towards the supine figure. "Twitchy--!" Unable to do anything else, Jack quickly followed. Why couldn't I have been born an orphan, he wondered?

"Where is he, my mindless minions?" the high, cackling voice demanded. "I had him in my cross-hairs...almost too easy. Not much of a joke, really. Except on him!" He burst out laughing. "'It was a dark and dreary Knight! When suddenly, a shot rang out!' Get it? 'A dark and dreary Knight'? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA--!"

He was answered with nervous laughter.

"Heh-heh-heh...Uh, yeah, Mr. Joker."

"Good one, boss. HAHAHAHA!"

"Yeah, Mr. Joker...that's a good one!"

"I didn't ask you for a press release!" the Joker interrupted them, his tone dangerous. "I want you to find Batman!"

Batman? Jack mouthed. Mouth agape, he looked up from the still form over towards his brother. Twitchy, however, no longer had the same frightened look he'd had earlier. Instead, his usual nervous demeanor had been replaced with one of quiet determination. Without saying anything, he bent down and started to lift the unconscious hero.

"What are you doing?" Jack repeated.

"We gotta get him outta here, Jack," Twitchy said, struggling under the dead weight. "He's hurt," he added, pointing at a dark, crimson stain on the Dark Knight's cowl. "Here...take his other arm." At Jack's angry expression, Twitchy snapped, "Now!"

Blinking at his younger brother's unexpected tone, Jack quickly complied. "We oughtta have our heads examined," he muttered. 'Cause I know I gotta have rocks in mine, he grumbled silently. Nevertheless, acting together, the brothers managed to drag the surprisingly heavy, costumed crimefighter. For once, Twitchy was neither stumbling over his two left feet, nor annoying Jack with his constant nervous chatter.

Just as it seemed they were going to make it, they found themselves surrounded. Jack and Twitchy looked around, their knees suddenly watery. On all sides, men in clown suits, holding toy-like, oversized plastic weapons, stood with goofy-grins plastered on their faces.

Neither Jack nor Twitchy felt like laughing.

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA--!!! What have we here?" A frightening figure in a purple tuxedo, with green hair and a nightmarish clown face stepped out of the shadows. "Does the Caped Crusader have two new squires?" He laughed--again, that bone-chilling, someone's-walking-your-grave maniacal laugh.

Jack thought he was going to faint.

Gotta stay focused...I promised Ma I'd take care of Twitchy...

Glancing at Twitchy, he was surprised to see a stubborn look suddenly come over his younger brother. Like the time Papa told him to get rid of the hurt skunk. Jack sighed. His brother had a soft spot for injured animals, always bringing home strays and nursing them back to health. A guy dressed like a bat probably comes close, Jack surmised.

The clown's permanent laughing face took on a murderous, fanatical expression. "Give him to me. He's mine. I saw him first."

"You'll have to come through us," Twitchy said. Jack whirled on his brother.

"Are you crazy?!!! That's the Joker! Not some two-bit, penny-ante safecracker like me--!"

"You're not a two-bit--"

"--Penny-ante safecracker?" the Joker asked. "Are you telling me that you two gentlemen are here to rob this magnificent financial institution?"

Swallowing nervously, Jack nodded. His arms were beginning to go numb under the heavy weight of the still-unconscious figure.

"What's it to you?" Twitchy challenged, causing Jack's blood pressure to shoot off the scale. "And my brother's not a penny-ante safecracker!" Twitchy added. "He's the best in the business!"

"Oh, yeah...?" one of the Joker's minions guffawed. "If that's so, then how come we ain't never heard of him?"

"Yeah...? How come he ain't gotta rep or sumping?" Another asked.

Twitchy dropped his eyes momentarily. "Well...we're kinda down on our luck at the moment."

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA--!" the Joker's laugh interrupted the impromptu exchange. "Well...In that case, let's play, Let's Make a Deal!"

Immediately one of his clown minions took up the game, his voice taking on the timbre of a game show host. "What do we have for our two contestants, today, Mr. Joker?" he asked.

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA--!" Joker laughed in his madman's glee. "Why, Happy-Face, today we have a special holiday package. For our first place prizewinners...if they leave the Dynamic Dumbo here on the floor, then our two, small-time crooks get to walk out of here with all of the depositors' money. No questions asked!"

The other clowns clapped and cheered their enthusiasm. Twitchy and Jack exchanged shocked glances. Walk out with the loot? No questions asked?

"And what of our second place winner, Mr. Joker?"

"Why, Happy-Face, our second place winners get to walk out without being killed--but no loot. Just the clothes on their backs."

This was met with some boos and hisses.

Glaring dangerously at his clown minions, Joker's face worked its way from psychotically homicidal, to one of childish glee.

"But of course...! The audience has voted! Second Place winners don't get to walk out tonight. Or ever again, for that matter."

Jack and Twitchy each took a step back, as the clowns all pointed their ridiculous, oversized toy-guns at them.

"So, which is going to be, my dear, penny-ante bank robbers? Do you turn over the Caped Creep, take the loot and live happily ever after? Or do you stop living right now?"

The brothers again exchanged glances. This was it, Jack knew. It seemed as if their entire lives had been lived for this moment. Batman didn't mean anything to them, he argued. They needed the money, for Ma. Hadn't she and Papa taken care of them? Taught them all about the family business since they were kids?

But blood money?

Twitchy and Jack didn't even carry a piece on them. One of the lessons learned on their parents' knees was that armed robbery meant 25 to life. Murder--the chair. But just a simple unarmed Breaking and Entering, meant maybe time off for good behavior.

No, Twitchy and Jack might be crooks, but they weren't murderers. And if they left the unconscious Batman with this vicious killer, it would be the same as if they'd killed him themselves.

Straightening to his full height, he met his brother's calm gaze and knew that Twitchy agreed with him. Taking a deep breath, Jack turned to face Gotham City's most infamous criminal mastermind.

"Stick it in your ear, Laughing Boy!" he sneered. "You heard my brother. You'll have to get through us first!"

The Joker pointed dramatically at them. "Happy-Face, April Fool, and the rest of you clown minions--ready, aim, fire--!"

At that moment, several pellets rained down on them, bouncing crazily on the floor. As they rolled, the pellets started spewing a cloud of strange-smelling gas. At the soft hissing of the quickly expanding gas, the clown minions immediately panicked and dropped their weapons, running in every direction.

The Joker, a gas mask appearing as if by magic on his face, shouted angrily at his terrorized lackeys to return to their firing positions.

Meanwhile, Twitchy and Jack took advantage of the diversion and started for the exit. Their flight was short-lived, however.

"Halt! In the name of all that's funny!" The ineffectual command was given reinforcement by a sudden burst of automatic fire at their feet.

Twitchy and Jack skidded to a halt. Slowly, reluctantly they turned to face their tormentor. The Joker's men were probably halfway to Metropolis, Jack figured. Meanwhile, the gas had dissipated harmlessly, and the Joker was steadily holding a ridiculously gigantic blunderbuss aimed directly at them.

Too bad, thought Jack. A little knock out gas woulda been nice just about now. Noticing the Joker's facemask, he shrugged. Oh, well. It was a nice thought.

"Nice try, Boy Blunder!" the Joker shouted to the building at large. "But as I always say...never send a Junior Birdboy to do a man's job--!" He was interrupted by a small, hard black object whirling out of the shadows. It struck his wrists with powerful force.

"Ow-oww-ouch! Hey! That hurt!" He cried out in protest, hopping around, holding his injured wrist. The next instant, a second and third similar object came whipping around him, trailing a heavy line behind it.

Within seconds, the Joker was bundled like a belated Christmas package on the bank's highly glossed marble floor. In the distance, Twitchy and Jack could hear the sounds of approaching sirens.

"I'll take him now," a young, confident voice said from behind them.

Twitchy and Jack whirled around in surprise, almost dropping their burden. For a moment, Jack thought there was no one there, but then a bright something caught his eye from below. Looking down, he was shocked to see a small, masked boy dressed in a yellow cape and a colorful red and green costume, looking up at them.

"I'll take him now," he repeated, his tone businesslike.

"You'll take him--?" Jack sputtered. "How? With what?"

"With this," the boy retorted. Faster than Jack could follow, the brightly garbed youngster took out a metal hook and clasped it to the Dark Knight's belt, connecting it to something on his own costume.

Before Jack could utter a word, the boy placed one of his arms around Batman, pointed at the ceiling with what looked like a starter gun and fired. Instantaneously, the brightly garbed boy and Dark Knight flew up, disappearing in the shadows above.

"Wha--? Who--? How--?" Jack stammered.

He felt a comforting arm placed on his shoulder. "Jack, you know who that was?" Twitchy asked quietly. Jack mutely shook his head. "That was Robin, the boy wonder. I've heard of him...he's the Batman's partner. Funny...I never woulda thought he'd be such a little kid."

Laughing Twitchy turned and pointed at the Joker. "I guess the last laugh's on you, eh, Joker? Taken out by a fourth grader! Wait'll the guys back in stir hear that!"

"Awww...shut up," the Joker growled. Grinning the two brothers high-fived each other.

The next moment, every cop in Gotham seemed to converge on top of them, their guns drawn.

"Your hands...I wanna see 'em reach for the ceiling! Now!"

Exchanging rueful glances the brothers did as ordered. Slowly, Twitchy and Jack raised their hands above their heads. As they did so, the Joker began giggling at first, quickly changing to his patented, nails-on-chalkboard laugh.

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA--!!! Now who's got the last laugh? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA--!"

"Awwww...shaddup, ya creep!" Jack growled. Ignoring the fact that enough guns to start a war were pointed directly at him, he hauled off and kicked the Clown Prince of Crime directly on the chin, knocking him out. The next moment, Twitchy and Jack were handcuffed and dragged off to a waiting squad car.

As the door slammed shut on him, Jack looked up critically up at the heavens.

This is some Auld Lang Syne. Thanks! For nothing!

The sound of keys turning a metallic lock jerked him awake. Jack was instantly on his feet. The night duty sergeant stood in the open cage door.

"Hey! Come on...I tell ya, we was framed," Jack insisted. "We didn't do nothing wrong!"

"Out! The twos of ya!" the guard ordered impatiently. "You're both wanted in the Commissioner's office."

"What? As in the police commissioner?"

"What other kind is there?" the guard asked. He jerked his thumb in the direction he wanted them to go. The brothers followed as ordered, Twitchy meekly, Jack rebelliously.

"We didn't do nothing! This city should be thanking us for helping to capture the Joker! But no...we're tossed in jail like a couple of bank robbers!"

"Uh, um, Jack," Twitchy began tentatively. "We did try to rob the bank--"

"But we didn't! We was sidetracked into helping that superhero, remember? We coulda walked away with the loot," he added. "But did we? No-ooo-o...! We stayed and played hero. And what did it get us? Jail! And probably a one-way ticket back to Blackgate."

"In here." The guard indicated a door for them to enter. 'Commissioner Gordon' was stenciled on the door. Sighing, Jack straightened his shoulders, and turning the knob, pushed the door open...

Pushing his mop on the glistening floors of the Wayne Enterprises executive suites, Jack was still numb from their earlier close call. During their visit to the police commissioner's office, Gordon yelled at them continuously for several minutes, impressing Jack with his colorful ability to spew a string of anatomically impossible threats. Beet-red, Twitchy clapped his hands over his ears!

Pausing only long enough to catch his breath, Gordon then proceeded to tell them they were free to go. That a 'friend' had informed him that the brothers had helped capture the Joker. And that if he ever found them even near a bank again--Gordon stopped, choking on the rest of his words and pointed at the door.

"Out! Get out! And I never want to see either of you again--!" But Jack and Twitchy were halfway down the street by that time...


Jack snapped out of his daydream. Looking down, he realized that he'd absentmindedly mopped over the same spot for almost fifteen minutes.

Mike, his supervisor, was gesturing impatiently at him. Here it comes, Jack thought resentfully.

"You'll wear out that spot!" Mike growled. "Come on, you and your brother are already behind schedule! Get the lead out!"

Nodding, Jack pretended to mop with added gusto. However, as soon as Mike was out of sight, he plopped the mop back into the bucket. Angry, he vented his frustration by kicking it. The bucket toppled over, spilling its soapy contents onto Bruce Wayne's immaculate, mirror-surfaced floor.

Deflated, he dropped his head, bringing his hand up to his eyes.

Why me?

"Jack, now what did you do?" Mike yelled. "Holy Moly! Can't you do anything right? I told the Personnel Department they were out of their minds to put you on the payroll. You and that idiot brother of yours--!"

"You leave my brother out of this!" Jack said threateningly, instantly itching for a fight. "Nobody calls my brother an 'idiot'--'cepting me!"

"Well, clean this mess up. And I swear, if you've done anything to damage Mr. Wayne's office, it'll come out of your pay!" He emphasized his point by jabbing his finger in Jack's chest, turning and leaving before Jack could break it.

"Awww...blow it out yer ear!" Jack muttered, bending down to pick up the mop. About to straighten up, he was surprised by the unexpected appearance of a very expensive pair of Italian leather shoes.

"Hey, buddy, can't you see you're in my water?" he asked annoyed. Leather Shoes were soon joined by a small pair of sneakers.

"A little accident?" A deep voice asked.

Looking up from the shoes, Jack's eyes traveled up the expensive cut of designer trousers, which were standing next to a comfortable pair of child-sized jeans. Stopping momentarily, he noted that a large hand was holding a much smaller one.

He caught sight of a pair of smiling, blue eyes. The dark-headed boy broke into a bright smile. Jack recognized him instantly: Superman, Jr., the kid he and Twitchy had attempted to kidnap once before, only to rescue him from a locked vault less than two weeks ago.

"Hi, Jack! Where's Twitchy?"

"Um...uh, hi, kid. He's, um, uh--in the John--uh, I mean, in the Men's Room--"

"Can I go see him, Bruce?"

"Of course, chum...but remember he's working, so don't stay too long." Jack watched as the man's large hand fondly combed back the boy's bangs. He felt a sudden twinge inside. Just like Papa used to.

"Okay, Bruce. Bye, Jack!" He waved happily and trotted off. Jack began to wave back, and then, catching himself stopped. Bruce Wayne was standing next to him, he suddenly realized. The Big Bad Boss was standing in a soapy puddle of dirty water that he'd spilled.


Jack's eyes slowly traveled up the tailored jacket to the perfectly knotted tie...and stopped at the coldest pair of blue eyes he'd ever seen.

Swallowing, Jack stood reluctantly.

"I'm, uh, sorry about the mess, Mr. Wayne..." he stammered, ashamed of himself. "I-I'll have it cleaned in no time--"

"Jack, I told you to hurry up and clean up this--!" Mike interrupted, stopping at the unexpected sight of the company's chief executive. "Mr. Wayne, excuse me, sir...I didn't know that you were here, sir."

"That's quite all right, Mike. Dick and I will be leaving for Metropolis in a few minutes. I wanted to stop by and sign some papers before we left this morning. As a matter of fact, I'm glad that I happened to run into Jack, here."

As Wayne talked, Jack noticed a small butterfly bandage on his forehead, surrounded by a purplish-green discoloration. What happened to him? he wondered. Wayne's eyes were suddenly on him again, catching him staring. Jack quickly dropped his eyes.

"Jack, I believe that Mr. Fox would like a few words with you," Wayne said.

As if waiting for his name to be mentioned, Lucius Fox, Wayne's right hand man appeared at the door. A slow cold feeling gripped Jack in the pit of his stomach.

"Mike, would you please excuse Jack?" Wayne asked. "Oh, and would you please send someone to mop this up?" With a meaningful glance at Fox and Jack, he added, "I'm afraid, Mike, that Jack won't be working for you anymore."

At this, Mike seemed to snap out of a daze. Grinning broadly, he gave Jack a triumphant look. "Of course, Mr. Wayne. I have some other people I've gotta check up on." With that, Mike squeezed past Fox who was still waiting patiently for Jack in the doorway.

Looking from one senior executive to the other, Jack shrugged and followed Fox out of Wayne's office.

This is it. I'm fired. Happy New Year, Jack.

"Jack! Jack!" Twitchy called as soon as the elevator doors opened, and ran up to his brother.

Jack stood on the Mezzanine, his elbows on the metal railing overlooking the vast entrance foyer of Wayne Enterprises. He felt bewildered by the unexpected turn of events. The hustle and bustle of people flowing in and out of the Fortune 500 Company was lost to him...

"Congratulations, Jack," Fox said, shaking hands with him. "Wayne Enterprises is proud to hire you and your brother as security consultants for our Gotham City Corporate Headquarters. Welcome, aboard...!"

Security consultant...?

"Jack, what happened? Mike said you was fired!" Twitchy grabbed him by the arms. "Come on, bro'! You know it don't matter to me none. You're still my best pal!"

Jack had barely heard Twitchy's worried chatter. But at this last, he smiled. "Yeah, Twitchy...we're partners, right?"

A hundred thousand starting annual salary...

"Sure, Jack. Sixty-forty all the way. On account of you're the leader and all." Concerned, Twitchy studied Jack's face. "Bro', are you sure you're all right? You look kinda funny."


Company car...

"Yeah, you're smiling. It's kinda creepy," Twitchy said, looking apprehensive. "Jack, the Joker didn't--you know--poison you with that laughing gas of his, did he?"

Grinning broadly, Jack clapped his hands on his brother's shoulders and started laughing. Soon, he had his arms around Twitchy and was suddenly leading him in an impromptu waltz.

Private office in the executive suite...

Nervously, Twitchy tried to fight him off, edging uneasily away. "Jack! Jack, please tell me! What is it? What's going on?" At Jack's continuing high jinks, Twitchy made a dash for the elevators. Laughing, Jack followed, catching up to him just as the doors closed.

"Jack--?" Twitchy looked helplessly cornered. Relenting, Jack backed off, his hands out to his sides.

Company apartment with the option to buy after one year...

"I'm fine, Twitchy," he assured him. "In fact, I couldn't be better. You could say I was fired, though," he admitted.

"Aw, bro', I'm real sorry," Twitchy said sympathetically.

"Hey, don't worry. Like I said, I never liked that mop anyway." Unable to contain himself any longer, Jack broke into another uncharacteristically wide grin.

Check the company security systems for weaknesses, develop improvements...

Twitchy took a step backwards and bumped into the elevator wall. At this moment, the elevator ~DINGED!~ signaling they'd arrived at the lobby. Twitchy tried dodging around Jack as the doors opened smoothly behind his older brother, but Jack was too quick for him.

"Oh, no, you don't! You don't run out on this partnership, pally!" Jack warned. "You remember how Papa treated those who walked out in the middle of a job, don't you?"

"What job?" Twitchy's expression showed that he clearly didn't understand.

Placing his arm around his brother's shoulder, Jack led him outside into the bright, mid-morning January sun. "Twitchy...everything's gonna be all right. Remember what you said about how something good was bound to come our way in the New Year?"

Twitchy nodded uncertainly.

"Well, bro', it looks like we're not gonna have to put Ma in a home for ol' dolls after all!"

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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