Title: WHODUNNIT?

By: Laurel & Robyn Romm, May 2004

e-mail: kjrommcommspeed.net

Feedback: Please R&R! All constructive comments welcome! (Destructive comments need not
apply!)

Summary: Alfred has disappeared from Brentwood! What will the Bat-family do?

This first-ever fanfiction story was written at the insistence and with the assistance of my eleven-year-old daughter Robyn!

Disclaimer: All characters owned by DC Comics. (Wish they were owned by me!) No money being made. No copyright infringement intended. No lawsuits, please.

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Tim Drake woke up one morning late for class. He had missed breakfast, and there were no clean clothes laid out for him. This was odd...this was very odd. Yawning and rubbing his eyes, Tim wandered into Alfred's room, but Alfred was nowhere to be found. This was more than odd...this was just plain freaky. No Alfred - just a green envelope lying on the bed.

Suddenly wide awake, Tim picked up the envelope. On the back flap, there was a large purple question mark. Tim immediately knew that this was not a matter for the police. This letter needed to go to the Dead Letter Office - a.k.a. the Batcave. Just as he was considering how best to disappear from Brentwood Academy unnoticed, the bell for second period rang. "I'd better get to class before someone barges in here looking for me." Throwing on the first clothes that came to hand, he grabbed his books and ran for the classroom, sliding into his seat just before the tardy bell. "Lunch," he said to himself. "I'll call Bruce during lunch."

The period crawled by. Tim had never imagined that class could move by soooo slowly. He was sure the clock was broken - the hands hadn't moved since the last time he looked, had they? Just before the lunch bell was finally due to chime, the classroom telephone rang. Mr. Henshaw picked it up, listened for a moment, replaced the receiver, and loudly snapped, "DRAKE!!!", startling Tim into literally jumping out of his seat.

"Yes, sir," he answered.

"You're wanted in the Dean's office. You're in big trouble this time, boy!" Uh-oh. What had he done now? His friends were looking at him with mingled admiration and fear as he slunk out of the room.

Tim pushed open the door to the Dean's Office, to find the secretary looking at him pityingly. "Go right in, Mr. Drake. He's expecting you." Double uh-oh. Things were getting worse.

The Dean looked down his nose from behind his large desk. "Drake. Would you care to explain?"

"Um...explain what, sir?"

"Your attendance - or more precisely, lack thereof - during first period."

Oh. Was that all? Quickly thinking on his feet, Tim answered, "Saying goodbye to Alfred, sir. He'd been suddenly called away, and was leaving immediately."

"Humphf." The Dean was obviously disappointed that he had no excuse to punish Tim. "You are dismissed." The lunch bell rang as Tim left the office, but he had never felt less like eating. He returned to his room, just as he always did at lunchtime. (Alfred prepared much better food than the school's cook.) Rushing to his phone, he pushed the button to speed-dial Bruce's private line.

Bruce picked up the phone, only to hear Tim's frantic voice. "Alfredsmissingandthe Riddlerleftanenvelopeonhisbed!"

"What? Slow down, Tim. Back up and start over and tell me what's wrong."

"Alfred is gone! I woke up late for class this morning because he didn't get me up as usual. I went into his room. He wasn't there, but there was a green envelope with purple question marks on it lying on his bed."

There was a pause. The next question came not from Bruce, but from Batman. "What's inside?"

"A sheet of paper. At the top it says '$1,000,000 or he dies.' Then there's a riddle."

"What does the riddle say?"

" 'A man looks out the window of his house and sees a bear walking by. Grabbing his gun, he goes outside the house to look for the bear. He walks one hundred feet south, then one hundred feet west, and finally one hundred feet north, and finds himself back on his own doorstep. What color is the bear?' "

"...white."

"What? How'd you figure that?"

"There's only one place on Earth where someone can walk south, west, north and be back where he started."

"...oh. The North Pole."

"Right. So it's -"

"A polar bear! But what does it have to do with Alfred?"

"It must be a clue to his location. North...polar...white...what do these have in common?"

"Polar bears have fur? It's cold at the North Pole? A fur shop?"

"Nnoooo...I don't think so...but you're close! White's Ice Company!"

"Which is...???"

"Mr. Freeze's latest lair - and it's at the far north end of Gotham!"

"Freeze? Does he work with Riddler?"

"I don't know, but I'm going to find out."

"You mean WE'RE going to find out."

"Tim, you can't leave..."

"Bruce, YOU can't leave me here! Alfred's important to me, too!

"...."

"I told the Dean Alfred had to leave suddenly, and that's why I missed class, but I can't just sit in class this afternoon when he's in danger!"

"OK, OK. I'll pick you up in half an hour. I'll tell your Dean I'm handling interviewing for a temporary valet for you, since your dad's out of the country right now." ::Click::

---------
Tim studied the grid map of extreme north Gotham projected on the Batcomputer screen while he pulled on his insulated boots and gloves. Bruce, meanwhile, was reviewing the layout of White's Ice Company.

"The front entrance is on Wilder Street,, while the loading docks back onto 47th Ave. Skylights all along southern roof line. Regular drill. Watch out for other hostages." Tim didn't need to reply. This was just like a thousand other takedowns - except this was Alfred who could get hurt. Tim felt his gut tighten at the thought.

---------
The Caped Crusaders gazed through the skylights in bewilderment. There was no one in the factory below. The lights were out, the machinery was silent, and there was an undisturbed layer of dust on the floor.

"Curiouser and curiouser," muttered Robin. "Do you think we got the wrong spot?"

"No. Wait here." And before Robin could respond, Batman vanished.

"Grrrrr. Even I hate it when he does that. And how can he do it in broad daylight?"

Moments later, Batman returned. But he was no longer empty-handed - another green, question-marked envelope was clasped in his gloved fist.

"Where did that come from?"

"The supervisor's office desk."

Batman carefully slit the envelope, and pulled out the single sheet inside. 'You're not getting any warmer, Batman. And where's my million dollars?

'What kind of salad ingredient do you find at the South Pole?'

Batman looked quizzically at Robin. "Salad ingredient at the South Pole?"

"That's easy, Batman. It obviously leads to the Penguin."

"Easy?"

"Yeah. Iceberg lettuce. You just don't know anything about cooking."

---------
The Iceberg Lounge, as usual, was crowded and noisy. But there was no sign of any illegal activity - at least, not that Batman and Robin could see from the rooftop across the street. The two crimefighters looked at each other. Batman's face was impassive as usual, but Robin shuddered inwardly at the angry frustration barely leashed in his eyes.

"What now, Batman?"

"We've wasted enough time here. Let's go pay Cobblepot a direct visit."

---------
Oswald Cobblepot, known to his criminal associates as The Penguin, entered his opulent office alone and closed the door, only to give a startled squawk as the lights snapped on and Batman and Robin menacingly stepped up to either side of him.

"I didn't do anything!"

"Where is he?" came the familiar growl.

"He who?"

"The Riddler, Cobblepot."

"Waack, waack! The Quirky Quizzical Questioner? The Perplexing Prince of Puzzles? He's not here, Batman. But he did drop by earlier. He left this for you. It took you long enough to get here, I must say."

"What does it say?"

"How should I know, my fine flying rodent? I don't read other people's mail."

For a moment Batman looked like he was going to punch the Penguin's monocle entirely through his skull. Controlling himself with an effort, he reached out and snatched the now-familiar green envelope out of Penguin's grasp. A moment later, Cobblepot found himself alone in the office, with the window curtains blowing in the night breeze.

---------
This time only words on the green sheet of paper were: 'Don't forget my money.' Instead of the expected riddle, there was a schematic drawing of a section of arena seating, with a neon green dot at the intersection of the third row and the walkway. Batman immediately recognized the seating layout as the third-base box section of the old Bludhaven stadium.

As the Batmobile sped the sixty miles south to Bludhaven, Robin looked at Batman's grim face and argued with himself. Did he really want to bring this up? Finally choosing the (marginally) lesser of two evils, he ventured, "Do you want me to notify Dick about this? It is his city, after all."

"We can handle this without Nightwing," growled The Voice, deeper, rougher and definitely more dangerous than usual. Robin shrank back into his seat and didn't say another word.

---------
It was full darkness by the time the Batmobile screeched to a stop at the VIP parking section of the Bludhaven stadium. The team was playing an away series, so there were no signs of activity. "Balcony," Batman rasped to Robin, as he swung out of the car. Tim launched his grapnel and climbed to the stadium roof, as Batman slipped into the third-base dugout entrance.

Batman was peering carefully around the edge of the dugout, when the movement of a human-shaped shadow out on the field caught his eye. Without conscious thought, a batarang left his hand, whistling as it spun through the air towards the motion. Instead of a grunt or howl of pain, however, there came the sound of ripping paper. The next sound to strike Batman's ears was the roar of an explosion. The blast was immediately followed by a yelp from the balcony, along with a series of loud pops from the infield. Batman stood, for once utterly dumbfounded, as he watched a series of huge green balloons inflating along the first base line. Most of them had large purple question marks, but three of them had words, spelling out the message, "YOU BLEW IT," followed by a series of large purple exclamation points.

As Batman's hearing cleared, he heard Robin call softly from above, "Uh, Batman...could use a little help here." Firing his line-launcher, Batman instantly swung up to the balcony, to find Robin lying on the steps breathing raggedly. Kneeling swiftly by his partner's side, Batman rumbled, "What happened?"

"Shrapnel from...the blast...caught me in...the chest," Robin coughed. Batman quickly but lightly ran his fingers over the boy's side.

"Feels like you might have a couple of cracked ribs." Batman eased Robin to a sitting position, but the young man gasped as he tried to stand.

"I think I twisted my ankle when that chunk knocked me down," Robin continued. "What was all that noise, anyway?" Wordlessly, Batman gestured toward the field. Robin looked out over the balcony railing and grimaced. "Oh, my."

"Blew WHAT?" a new voice asked from above and behind them. Batman let out a silent sigh. What else should he have expected? Tim shot an "I-told-you-so" glance at him, as he acknowledged the new arrival with a single word. "Nightwing."

"I repeat, blew WHAT?" asked Nightwing, as he lightly jumped from his crouch on the stadium roof. "And what are you doing here? I thought we had an agreement. Aren't you supposed to CALL me when you're working a case in MY city?"

"It's sort of complicated," Tim ventured, when he realized Batman wasn't going to say anything.

"It always is with HIM. What is it this time? Besides the obvious," Nightwing said, jerking his thumb at the question-mark balloons.

"Riddler's taken a hostage," snarled Batman.

"So what else is new? If you'd called me, I probably could have saved you the drive." Nightwing was obviously annoyed at their intrusion onto his turf.

After a long silence, during which Batman became even grimmer and Nightwing became even more irritated, Tim spoke up again. "It's not just any hostage, Nightwing. It's.....Alfred."

There was another moment of silence, and Robin braced himself for the inevitable explosion. "ALFRED??? When did this happen? Why didn't you let me know immediately? Where's--"

"NIGHTWING." The growl was no louder than before, but it cut Nightwing off in mid-tirade. He took a deep breath and ran his hand through his hair.

"OK. So exactly what ARE you doing HERE? And what's with the balloon message?"

Knowing Batman wouldn't respond, Robin quickly outlined the day's events, ending with the riddle that had led them to the stadium. "But he's obviously not here," the Boy Wonder concluded. "So where is he?"

Nightwing held out his hand for the riddle. He studied it for a moment, then looked at the other two. "Guys, this has nothing to do with the stadium," he said. The Dark Knight and his sidekick looked at him questioningly.

"This IS the seating layout for this arena," Batman said pointedly.

"Yeah, but I think your worry for Alfred has clouded your thinking. The Riddler's never THAT obvious," said Nightwing. The others continued to stare at him. In exasperation, he pointed to the neon green dot. "What's another way to say: 'the intersection of the third row of seats and the walkway'?" he prompted.

There was more silence, then Tim suddenly hit himself on the forehead. "DUH!! The junction of row C and the aisle!!!"

Batman's lips tightened. "The rail yards at Sea Isle Junction. That's where he'll be. Nightwing, tend to Robin's injuries." Before either of his proteg├ęs could respond, he was gone. Two seconds later, the roar of the Batmobile sounded from below.

Nightwing looked at Robin. "Injuries?"

"Yeah, a chunk of something from the blast cracked a couple of ribs, and I torqued my ankle when I fell. But we're not letting Batman go in alone, are we?"

"Of course not. Let's get you taped up. My bike might even be able to catch up to him."

---------
Batman stealthily entered the freight yard warehouse via the skylight. This was the last place left to look. Judging by the large question marks all over the walls, it was also the correct place. Swinging onto one of the large central rafters, he began to explore the premises. Unfortunately, his concern for Alfred distracted him just enough for the Riddler's trap to spring. Batman's well-known fondness for high places and shadows proved to be his mistake.

As Batman paced along the rafter, he felt a slight 'click' under his left foot. Immediately clouds of green smoke began to billow from pipes running along the underside of the roof. Batman, however, was well prepared for a gas attack. But as he pulled his respirator from his utility belt and slapped it over his mouth and nose, he felt a slight sting just under his chin. His last thought as the anesthetic dart pushed him into unconsciousness was that he had been suckered. The gas had been a decoy.

---------
Nightwing's motorcycle pulled up next to the Batmobile in the dark alley. Robin stiffly dismounted, turning to Nightwing as he parked the bike.

"You're sure you're up to going in with me?" Nightwing asked.

"I'm sure not going to sit out here and wait!" was the indignant reply. "You put enough tape on me so I can move, and that's all I need."

"OK. You may be able to move, but you can't climb, so we'll have to go in at ground level. That actually might work to our advantage, since everyone expects us to sweep down from above."

The two young heroes avoided the normal warehouse entrances, choosing instead to slip in via the rail trenches. They expected to find Batman in the middle of a fight, and were planning to serve simply as backup. But as they peered from between the freight cars, they were startled by the scene on the main floor.

The Riddler and several of his goons were clustered together near a black bundle suspended from a crane over the open hatch of an oil tank car. Nightwing and Robin froze momentarily as they recognized the bundle as an unconscious Batman, bound tightly in his cape and hanging from his ankles. Then all those hours of training paid off. No words were necessary. They moved in opposite directions, Nightwing going left while Robin went right.

Three seconds later, pandemonium broke loose. A blue and black form crashed into the middle of the gang, and Nightwing took down thugs right, left and center. Moving so fast his hands and feet seemed to blur, even the two men with guns couldn't draw a bead on him before they were flattened.

Riddler gaped in shock. Via his remote camera, he had seen Robin get taken down by his 'land mines' at the ballpark, and had concluded Batman was the only hero left to worry about. He had not anticipated Nightwing's involvement, and had no 'Plan B'. The only thing left to do now was...RUN!!! He didn't get more than five steps, however, before a batarang collided with the back of his head. A moment later, Robin stepped out of the shadows to retrieve both his weapon and the clobbered creep.

It was only a matter of a few more moments before Nightwing and Robin had Batman safely down on the floor. While Nightwing disappeared in search of Alfred, Robin snapped an ammonia vial under Batman's nose, and the Caped Crusader awoke sputtering, coughing and fighting.

"Hey, Batman, cool it! It's me!" Robin exclaimed, trying to stop Batman's fist in mid-punch. Batman froze, took in his surroundings with a glance, and growled, "Where's Alfred?"

"Right here, sir, and none the worse for wear...although these grease stains will take forever to remove from this shirt." Batman spun around to see Alfred standing next to Nightwing, vainly trying to brush the dirt of the rail yard from his shoulders. The Dark Knight had to restrain himself from catching his old friend in a relieved embrace.

"The police will be here momentarily, Mr. Pennyworth," Nightwing said formally.

"I shall be glad to return to Brentwood, young sir. I've had quite enough excitement for one day," Alfred replied, his eyes twinkling. "Young Master Drake must be worried sick."

Robin had to cough to keep from laughing out loud.

THE END