It Should Have Been Me
By: C.W. Blaine (email@example.com)
DISCLAIMER: The characters used herein are the sole property of DC Comics Inc. and are used without permission for non-profit, fan-fiction related entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. This original piece of fiction is copyright © 2001 by C.W. Blaine. All comments, questions or concerns should be addressed to the e-mail address above.
He could see the air slowly rise from the super-cooled barrel of his weapon as he momentarily moved his eye away from the laser scope. The pack on his back hummed silently, constantly circulating the coolant that ran through the weapon to remove the excess heat and keep the temperature of the ammunition well below freezing. It was hard to believe that this weapon, as sophisticated as it was, was over 50 years old.
That wasn't entirely true; the design was that old, the actual weapon only two weeks old. He had been surprised when he had originally come across the blueprints, written and specified in German, in one of the footlockers he had inherited. At the time, he didn't understand exactly what it was he was looking at, but after graduating from college and a two-year stint in the Marines, the purpose of the blueprints became crystal clear.
He smiled and put his eye back to the sight and traced the outline of the building across from his vantage point. A voice told him that what he was doing was not only wrong, it was dangerous. This was the territory of the Bat, Gotham City. He snorted at the thought and chased it away with a mental torch and pitchfork. Let the Batman come, it wouldn't bother him in the least. He was sure a super-cooled bullet of ice would do him in as surely as it would his current target.
He saw the light go out in the apartment he had been observing, telling him that the occupant was getting ready to leave for work. He had observed the man for three days, and was confident that he would be leaving for work at exactly the same time as he had during his observations. He hoisted the weapon to a more comfortable position and flipped the safety off. There was a slight change in the hum of his backpack as the air compressors began to build up the air charge for putting velocity on the bullet.
The weapon had been a secret Nazi project, a forerunner to equipment currently being employed by super-villains such as the Icicle, Captain Cold or Gotham's own Mr. Freeze. It wasn't the only weapon he had, but he knew he would have to sell it right after this hit in order to finance his next project. It bothered him that he had to sell nearly everything he possessed in order to afford to build this. Some people, he thought with a sneer, didn't have to worry about such things; they had enough money.
The front door to the three-story apartment building opened up and an older man walked out, just as the sun was beginning to come up over the Gotham cityscape. The man, an older gentleman, probably nearing retirement age, stooped down to pick up the newspaper on the steps when the back of his head simply exploded. Blood and brain matter sprayed onto the side of the building and completely covered the front door. As the body started to fall over, another explosion ripped through the torso and something resembling a liver bounced off of the door and landed on the sidewalk in front of the building.
The man put the weapon back on safety, waited 30 seconds and then shut the unit down. He reached down for the mini-crossbow in the gym bag he carried some of his equipment in and pulled it out, aimed for the corpse and fired a bolt into it.
It had taken less than one minute.
No witnesses. No sound.
One down, so many more to go.
"Dick," came the voice of Barbara Gordon, also known as the cyber-sleuth Oracle.
Dick Grayson, busy putting on his uniform for work, put his phone on speaker and began adjusting his tie in the mirror. "What's up, Babs?" he asked.
"Do you remember Mr. Nichols?"
Dick Grayson knew a lot of people. For a moment, it reminded him of once when he was in California and someone had asked him if he knew such-and-such person, because they had both come from Gotham City. "I don't really have time for this, Red," he said, pulling out his service revolver and loading it. He hated guns, but he knew that when he was wearing the uniform of a police officer, the firearm was part of it. Just like the mask went with his Nightwing uniform.
"Remember Gotham High?"
Dick paused and then smacked his head in frustration. "Of course, Mr. Nichols! That Mr. Nichols! You need to be more specific, Babs. Yeah, I remember him, he was my favorite teacher! What's up? Is he retiring?"
"He's dead. Murdered."
Dick stopped looking in the mirror and picked up the telephone. "Say that again?"
"He was found this morning, shot at the stoop to his apartment building. Well, apparently shot."
The last statement intrigued the detective deep inside of him. "What do you mean by that?"
"Look, maybe you should stop by the Cave tonight. Bruce has asked for a full report. He's not very happy about it. He's got me checking into Nichol's background, looking for possible motives." She paused briefly. "I don't understand it; he was such a nice old man. I had him my sophomore year…"
"Don't get too wrapped up, Babs; I'm sure your dad will have this case solved before I'm off-shift."
He said good-bye to her, telling her to give his best to her father, Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon, and then hurried to get ready. His partner for the month would be a sergeant out of another precinct who was close to retirement, while his regular partner, Amy, was attending special classes at the prestigious FBI Academy.
He tried to put the death of Mr. Nichols out of his mind, but he knew that would be impossible. There had been so much death in his life, starting with his parents, killed while performing with the circus when it stopped in Gotham City. That night, another orphan, another victim of senseless violence, Bruce Wayne had stepped up to the challenge of raising the boy named Grayson who had just lost everything.
Billionaire Bruce Wayne just wasn't some bored philanthropist looking for a tax shelter; he was a man who had transformed his rage over his parents murder into something positive. Bruce Wayne was the Batman, the shadowy, mysterious, but oh-so-human Dark Knight that prowled Gotham City by night, looking to exact justice for the weak and fearful. In his mission, he had brought in another lost soul, and Dick Grayson had become Robin, the Teen Wonder.
That had been many, many years ago and now Dick Grayson lived in the city of Bludhaven, another urban jungle down the river from Gotham City. Here, he patrolled the streets by day as a police officer and at night as the super-hero known as Nightwing. He didn't have to work; he was independently wealthy, even if you took away the generous expense account that Bruce had opened for him. While Dick didn't worry too much about money, he did secretly enjoy knowing that he could do anything he wanted at any time. He had more money than most people could even imagine, yet he barely spent any of it. In fact, one of his financial advisors was shocked to discover that Dick paid more in taxes than he actually spent each year.
But Mr. Nichols didn't have that way. He had worked as a teacher, mathematics specifically, for nearly forty years. He was as much an institution in Gotham City as the Batman was. When an earthquake had leveled Gotham, Mr. Nichols had stayed. The gangs had left him alone, probably because he had either taught the gang members or their parents. He had weathered so much only to be shot down in front of his own home.
It was crimes like that, the cold indifference to human life, the disrespect for the sanctity of the soul, that really got Bruce's blood boiling.
Dick grabbed an orange out of the refrigerator and ran out the door.
Cases like this pissed him off too.
He catered to class.
It was a simple message, written in a non-descript script. No fingerprints or hairs had been found on the note. The crossbow bolt it had been attached to had been retrieved from the body of Mr. Nichols, and was found to be a common sporting variety. Millions were sold every year in the United States and Canada, and the lot number on it suggested it was nearly two years old.
No bullets had been found, though the evidence from the autopsy, the report of which had been hacked out of the Medical Examiner's computer by Oracle, was that a single gunshot to the head had killed the schoolteacher. The caliber was guessed at 9mm, but that was not 100% positive. The second shot, the one, which had removed the liver, had served no other purpose than what appeared to be cold, sadistic pleasure.
No metal residue had been found in the wounds, or in any of the blood samples. No gunpowder residue.
However, there did appear to be some damage to the skin surrounding the second wound that indicated instantaneous freezing.
"Mr. Freeze?" Nightwing asked, setting the report down.
Batman, reviewing the digital photos of the skin samples shook his head. "Not his style at all. He wouldn't have done anything so secretive."
"Could someone have stolen one of his weapons?"
Batman looked up. "And lived? I don't think so. Even the Joker isn't crazy enough to try and steal one of Freeze's weapons from him."
Nightwing turned back to the report. "What about this name, 'Gravedigger'?"
"I have Oracle and Tim looking into it right now."
By referring to him by his first name that meant that Timothy Drake was not in his Robin costume for this mission. Nightwing was glad; he wanted Tim to try and have as much time out of costume as in. He was sure that it was the reason he turned out more…sociable than Bruce. "Have you talked to Helena? Mr. Nichols was like a mentor to her."
At the mention of the Huntress's name, Batman seemed to stiffen. It was no secret that he held the Huntress in low regard. A child of tragedy, just like the two of them, she was willing to kill to get justice done. The Batman had tried several times to steer her in the right direction, going so far as to nominate her for induction onto the famed Justice League of America. However, even there, surrounded by the great peacemakers of the times, Superman and Wonder Woman, Helena Bertinelli had still tried to met out her own vengeance on the League's enemies.
Since he had personally thrown her out of the League, the two of them had barely spoken to each other. In fact, though Nightwing had no way of confirming it, it was rumored that there were certain sections of Gotham City that the Batman simply did not patrol anymore, yet the Huntress was there night after night.
What was ironic was that Batman had thrown the Huntress out of the League because he couldn't trust her not to kill; the Batman was thrown out weeks later because he couldn't be trusted…period.
"We'll leave her out of this for the time being. If she involves herself, I'll handle it, Dick," he said, a father-giving-the-final-command tone to his voice. The one time romantic tryst with the Huntress practically damned him in the Batman's eyes sometimes. "Understood?"
Nightwing smiled. "Understood."
The Batman turned and faced his former partner. "Are you holding up?"
Nightwing pointed to himself. "Me? Yeah, I'm fine. I mean, Mr. Nichols was a great teacher and all, and he was definitely my favorite…"
"You weren't exactly a model student…"
Nightwing smirked. "I was a perfect student, thank you, Mr. Private-Tutors! Mr. Nichols was a great influence, academically, for me when I was in high school. I admired his way of getting his point across by having you work through it, kind of the way you taught me deductive reasoning. I guess I should have kept in touch with him after high school…"
The Batman turned back to his work. "I wouldn't worry about it; teachers expect that. I taught you and watched you move on to bigger and better things. That's why we teach, whether it be in school or in the Cave, to pass on knowledge and hope that someone puts it to positive use. I think you did exactly that."
Nightwing set the folder down on the table. "You're getting sentimental in your old age…"
Batman ignored him as he usually did.
It had been a week since the murder of the old man, and the man who called himself Gravedigger found himself walking down the sidewalk in one of Bludhaven's less-reputable sections. He wasn't too worried. First, he was black, which meant to the local mentality that if he was in this neighborhood, he wasn't worth bothering or else he was trying to buy drugs.
That's all you damn niggers do, smoke crack and live on welfare!
The memory stung him as much as the words had the first time he had heard them. As with all other thoughts that bothered him, he pushed it back, locked it up in a secret place to be burned in the incinerator of his consciousness some other time. He had work to do.
He had managed to find a buyer for the "Cold-Rifle", but he knew that the person who bought had thought of him as nothing more than a common street thug, a hireling that probably stole the weapon from a more powerful villain. The money he had received, though, allowed him to acquire everything else he needed to complete his task. Once the task was complete, though, he had no idea what he would do.
You'll earn you're keep here, boy! Take it like a man! Quit that crying! It doesn't hurt that much!
He stopped breathing and had to will his lungs back into action. He felt beads of sweat forming on his brow. He concentrated on the task at hand and considered the second point as to why he wasn't in danger. He was willing to kill anyone who got in his way.
"Wassup," he said, adding as much stereotypical hip-hop accent to his voice. The truth was, he spoke like a "white guy" as his, for lack of a better word, friends had told him.
The youth he had approached looked up. He had been just standing against the wall of liquor store, drinking a coke. "Yo, wassup," the youth replied.
"I wonderin' if you could help a brotha out?" Gravedigger asked, putting his hands in his jacket pockets.
The boy shook his head. "Sorry, yo, but I don't do the business anymore. I'm out, strictly legit. Don't want the man sending me back to Juvee."
Gravedigger smiled. "Wassat? Cops come down on you, little brotha?"
"Yep. But they was cool, though, ya know what I mean? One of 'em even went to the judge and told him I wasn't a bad kid…stuff like that."
Gravedigger nodded and pulled out a semi-automatic pistol, equipped with a silencer. "Too damn bad; you probably are a good kid." He pulled the trigger, striking the youth in the heart. As the body slumped, he pulled the trigger again.
Satisfied, he ran down the alleyway and escaped into the coming night.
"Just about to go off-shift and this comes in," one patrolman said as he put up the yellow police tape. Several cars and an ambulance had responded to the call of a dead child at the side of a liquor store.
Officer Dick Grayson stepped out of his patrol car while his temporary partner radioed to headquarters. He approached the officer putting up the tape. "What do have?" he asked.
The officer tore the tape off and began tying it around a fencepost. "Dead kid. Black. Name's Reginald Thompson."
Dick's eyes went wide. "I know him! I busted him six months ago for dealing crack. Are you sure?"
The officer snorted and blew out. "Yeah. Took a slug to the chest and stomach. He was cold by the time we got here. He was found by some gang-bangers. Miles is questioning them now."
Dick looked over at the body, covered under a white tarp as evidence technicians took pictures of the scene. He could see paper markers indicating where spent shell casings had been found. There were several markers. Obviously, the area had been the scene for several shootings. It would make matching the slugs a little more difficult, but nowhere near impossible. "Did he have anything on him?"
The officer, one of the few that Dick knew was basically an honest cop, looked over at the body. "Yeah, he had coke. As in Coca-Cola. He also had $15.00 in his pockets. We think it's probably gang-related."
Dick didn't take his eyes off of the corpse. He had gone to court to speak on the boy's behalf, to get him probation after the he had confessed that he was scared for his life in juvenile detention. "Why do you think that?"
"There was one eyewitness, an old bum in the alley. He was half-tanked when it occurred, but he swears that he saw a black man trying to buy drugs from the kid. We also found a symbol painted on the wall at the other end of the alley, still wet."
Dick crossed under the tape, sticking to the outside edges of the crime scene so as to not disturb any evidence, and headed down to where another patrol car was sitting. An officer from the Gang Crimes Unit was there, dressed in civvies, taking pictures. Dick looked at the symbol on the wall. It appeared to be a cross painted in red. "You ever scene anything like this, patrolman?" the detective asked.
Dick offered a lame reply as he studied it. "Church?"
The detective shook his head. "That's great," he turned to his partner who was sitting in the patrol car writing notes. "Officer Grayson thinks the Pope did it!"
The other detective snorted and both began laughing as Dick slowly walked away.
Department of Defense Official Document
Top Secret Clearance Required
Captain Ulysses Hazard, Code-Name Gravedigger
United States Army Reserve
Commissioning Date: January 1942
Special Forces commando assigned to European Theater during World War 2. Assigned to African Theater during World War 2.
Expert marksman. Trained in demolitions. Martial arts expert. Weapons expert.
Current Status: CLASSIFIED by Executive Order, President Harry S. Truman
"Not very much to go on," Nightwing said as he sipped his hot chocolate.
"More marshmallows?" Barbara Gordon asked as she wheeled herself into her small kitchen.
"Yes, please," Nightwing replied as he examined the digital photo that came with the hacked computer file. He saw a black man, large and strong, dressed in the Class A uniform of an Army captain, circa 1942. There was a scar on the man's face, shaped like a cross.
Barbara wheeled back in and dropped some mini-marshmallows in Nightwing's cup. "Handsome man, even with the scar."
"You like scars? I ever show you the one…."
"Cool your jets, loverboy," she chided as she pulled up another file. "As near as I can tell, Captain Hazard had polio as a child and spent years building his body up to it's full potential. When he enlisted in the army, because he was black, they assigned him to a grave digging unit…"
"Hence the code-name?"
She smiled and patted him on the thigh. "Good boy! If he survived World War 2, I haven't been able to find out. I don't know why his record would be this classified though…an Executive Order?"
"Because he obviously did some things that the government doesn't want our allies to know," the batman said as he climbed in through the window. His sudden appearance had spooked both of them and Nightwing had sloshed hot chocolate onto his uniform. "I read you report, Oracle," the Batman began as he headed to the kitchen. He returned moments later with a damp rag for Nightwing. "It doesn't tell us much about the man, but it does tell us something about the killer."
Nightwing took the rag and began trying to rub the stain out. "Could it be the same person?"
"With the government, anything is possible, especially with President Luthor in office." The Batman moved to a corner. "However, there seems to be another common link…"
"You mean me?" Nightwing asked.
"You said it, not me," Batman said.
"Why would a World War 2 commando be targeting people Dick knows?" Barbara asked.
"That's the real mystery. I talked with Alan Scott of the Justice Society and he never heard of the man."
"Yeah, well I talked with Jonathan Law, the former Tarantula, about an hour ago on the phone and he didn't know anything either. But, to their defense, neither one fought overseas during the war."
"Did you guys find anything new about the weapon used to kill Mr. Nichols?"
Nightwing nodded and picked up his cocoa. "Wally West contacted me earlier today and told me that Captain Cold had informed him he had bought a vintage Nazi cold-gun. It was the prototype that Cold based his gun on."
Batman spoke up. "Why on earth would Cold admit something like that to the Flash?"
"Wally said that Cold felt that the gun may have been used in a crime and he didn't want it pinned on him. He refused to surrender the gun, but he did say it was developed by the Nazi's in 1943 and was tested at a secret facility in France. I looked it up on the internet, the Israeli government keeps an extensive database of Nazi information, and found out the facility was destroyed in October, 1943, by an American commando unit."
"You think that Captain Hazard may have been involved?"
Batman nodded. "It makes sense. He may have found the blueprints and took them, probably to turn over to the government or maybe as a trophy…who knows? Obviously, someone got a hold of those plans."
"Well, Wally probed Cold a little more for information and he went on and on about the military grade laser site. Believe it or not, Cold is actually considering donating it to the Flash museum so long as he gets his own display."
"Arrogant bastard," Barbara said.
"Regardless, Cold isn't giving it up just yet, but he did let slip that it was a WayneTech MIL-14T laser site, and a brand new one at that."
Batman walked out of the shadows. "How could he get one without being in the military?"
Barbara smiled. "He couldn't. No way, I've checked over the WayneTech inventory and nothing is missing and you were the one who designed the security measures for all of our military contract inventory."
Batman rubbed his chin. "Still…"
Nightwing handed Batman his empty cup. "I've already asked Tim to check over the records; I gave him my password to access the mainframe from home, so you'll have to deal with Lucious Fox in the morning," Nightwing said, referring to the WayneTech CEO. "Babs is going to hack into the army CID database and see if any of the sites have been reported missing from any of the bases. I'm going to go back to Bludhaven and get some sleep. I've got a twelve hour shift tomorrow."
Nightwing gave Barbara a hug and whispered something in her ear. He nodded to the Batman and then stepped out of the window into the night. Barbara looked up at the Batman, still holding the empty cup. "You are going to wash that, right?"
The pattern was simple. Someone from the past, someone from the present. The schoolteacher had represented everything that had made the man; the boy had represented the man himself.
It was time to go for the heart.
Gravedigger sat in the beat up Ford Pinto he had picked up for a couple of hundred dollars, the radio hissing as it tried valiantly to produce music. He didn't care because he didn't much like music. The music brought back the memories.
His foster father would always turn up the music so that the neighbors wouldn't hear his screams.
It was so unfair that he, descended from a great man, a patriotic man like Ulysses Hazard, had to suffer as he had. After what had happened, he had been shipped off to a foster home, where the man and woman used the money the state gave them to finance their alcohol habit. Then, when they were good and drunk, they would begin telling him how his race had poisoned America and how he should be grateful that they had taken him in.
Not everyone will take in a damn nigger!
He shivered and again felt himself starting to sweat. It was the adrenaline; it had to be. He looked down at the small silver box in his hand with the single antennae and a black button. It had taken him only a few hours to put everything together, including purchasing what he needed from members of the Penguin's gang. His reasons were unimportant, so long as it didn't interfere with the Penguin's business. It wouldn't he had told them.
He saw the woman step out of the small office and walk towards the parked Lexus. She was pretty, long-legged and blonde haired, talking on a cell phone. He should be out looking for a good woman right now, settle down he told himself. Again, the second-guessing ate at him, tore at his determination and he had to struggle even harder to maintain his focus.
He had never been with a woman and he wondered, briefly, what it would be like to walk hand in hand down the beach, children playing at your heels. He couldn't even imagine it. All he knew about love was that he had not known it for a long time.
The woman got into the car and started it. Gravedigger started his own car and pulled out. He drove past her and looked into her window. She saw him and smiled and he wondered if she would have gone out with him if he had asked her. As he turned the corner, he pressed the button and an orange flash appeared in his rearview mirror, followed by black smoke.
Dick Grayson said nothing, the full weight of what he had just heard settling in, like a wet blanket. It almost smothered him, and he found his jaw was trembling. "I'm here, Bruce."
"Are you okay? I can send Alfred over with the car. You can spend a few days at the manor, get your thoughts straight."
He appreciated how Bruce was trying to reach out to him. Not too long ago, it would have been impossible for the two to communicate on such a level. Time and circumstance had brought them closer, but he didn't know, at the moment, what he should do. "I don't know…"
There was silence on the other end. "I'll send him anyway. Call in sick." The line went dead.
Dick hung the phone up and moved over to window of his apartment and surveyed the city of Bludhaven. Someone was out to get him. Someone was after Dick Grayson, not Nightwing. Any of his foes that would have learned his identity would have tried to profit from the knowledge, not risk his wrath.
He had just learned that a former girlfriend, his first real girlfriend, had been killed when her car exploded. They had only dated for a few weeks, in high school, but she was the first real serious relationship he had been in. It hadn't been sexual, but there had been that feeling that there was something more to life than just swinging from rooftops and chasing bad guys.
She had two children.
He would arrange a healthy anonymous trust fund be set up for the children. He would use his own money. At least his financial advisers would be happy he was spending some of his money.
She had let him get to "second base" he remembered. He couldn't recall the last time he had talked to her, but he did remember she had been warm and friendly. The years hadn't dimmed her beauty any, either. If she hadn't married that stockbroker, who knew what might have been?
It was after her that he began to realize his feelings for Batgirl, then Barbara Gordon.
"This is ridiculous!" Barbara Gordon said as Nightwing stomped around her apartment. "I don't need you to protect me, Dick!"
"This isn't up for negotiation, Barbara!"
"It isn't like we were ever a real couple…"
He turned to her. "What about Maui?"
"That was coupling, not being a couple," she said, smiling despite her frustration.
"Look, this person, whoever it is, may know I'm Nightwing and therefore may have figured out how I feel about…"
Barbara felt as if she were going to pull her red locks out of her skull. "Look, dimwit, I am not in love with you and you're not in love with me…"
Nightwing turned and gave her a sour look. "Uh-huh," he said, folding his arms over his chest.
She screamed. "You are being so damn typical! I can take care of myself! Go to the manor! Go to Titans Tower, I'm sure Jesse Quick would just love being protected."
"Is this about Jesse?" he asked in an innocent voice.
Barbara wheeled over to her computer and brought up her internet spades game she had been playing. "Are you playing spades with Kord?" he asked, referring to Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle.
She ignored him and clicked on the ace of spades. "You know, if I wanted to hurt you, I would have gone after Kory. You did almost marry her."
Nightwing shook his head. "She's off planet, and besides, I don't think our assassin would like to face her when she gets fired up."
Barbara's voice was icy. "I'm sure you're the authority on getting her fired up."
Nightwing picked up a pillow from the couch and threw it at her head. He then plopped down on the couch and removed his mask. He felt dirty, as if an entire lifetime worth of grime had built up behind the mask and was now being exposed to the fresh air for the first time.
"Got an instant message coming in on the game channel…" Barbara began, her fingers nimbly moving across the keyboard. "Ted's got the information we've been looking for!"
Nightwing got up and reluctantly moved to a position behind Barbara. He hated getting any kind of help from Kord. "What's he got?"
Barbara held up a single finger for quiet as she typed in a web address. The site popped up almost instantly. Nightwing leaned closer and devoured the information as quickly as he could. When he had finished, he looked down at Barbara. "My God. I never even knew…"
Barbara shook her head. "I thought I knew everything about you…"
"This has nothing to do with me, but still…"
"It makes sense, in a sick and twisted sort of way. But you do realize that I'm probably not the next target?"
Nightwing looked up and cursed silently to himself. "Bruce."
Bruce Wayne was happy he had allowed Alfred to go to the theater after the fruitless drive to Bludhaven to pick up Dick, because he would have just been in the way. Seated in a chair, with rope tying him to it, he watched as the young black man; armed with the semi-automatic pistol, pace back and forth.
The man had not gotten the jump on Bruce, but he had instead allowed himself to be taken so as to find out the mystery of the Gravedigger. The bindings were good, some of the best Bruce had ever seen, but they were not enough to keep him from getting out if he wanted. So far, Gravedigger had not indicated that he knew that Bruce was also the Batman, and he wanted to try and keep it that way.
He supposed he could activate any of the several alarms; it would have the police racing to Wayne Manor and his rescue, but that again would not allow him to get the information he so needed straight from the source.
"You don't think you'll really get away with this, do you, young man?" Bruce asked in his best mock-bored tone.
"Shut up! I didn't tell you to talk!" Gravedigger screamed, moving over to Bruce. He brought the gun back, as if he were going to strike the billionaire, and then slowly let his hand fall. "I should just shoot you right here, get it over with. That'll show him."
"Show who?" Bruce asked, trying to put the sound of fear in his voice.
"You're son! The little bastard who took my life!"
Gravedigger looked as if he were ready to burst into tears, and Bruce noted that from the way his eyes were moving, he was probably reliving some trauma from his past. "Richard never hurt anyone in his entire life!"
"Damn you, you racist! Quit defending him!"
That statement took Bruce slightly aback. In his life, both as playboy and super-hero, he had been called many awful things, but not once, not ever, had he been called something as despicable as a bigot. "I don't hate people because of their color…"
This time, gravedigger did not hold back and Bruce's head rolled back with the suddenness of the strike. It was not a calculated hit, but one that was thrown out of anger and frustration. By the way Gravedigger moved, he guessed that he had some military training, but nowhere near what Captain Hazard would have received. This person was modeling himself after the original Gravedigger, but he didn't have the experience that went with the name.
Bruce spit out some blood. "Happy now?"
Gravedigger brought the weapon up and aimed for Bruce's skull. Bruce calculated at least three different ways of escape and had finally decided on one when he heard a familiar voice from the entrance to the library. "Drop the weapon now!"
Gravedigger turned slowly, not lowering the weapon, to face Dick Grayson, in his Bludhaven Police department uniform. "So, the Great White Hope returns home to save his Massah!"
"Richard! Do you know this man?" Bruce called in his favorite playboy voice.
Dick did not waiver in his standard firing stance. "His name is Cletus Hazard. He believes that his grandfather was Ulysses Hazard, the commando agent known as Gravedigger…"
"I don't believe in anything; I know the truth!" Gravedigger interrupted.
"His parents were killed in the parking lot of the Haly Circus, by a lone robber, the same night my parents were killed."
His face twisted into a sneer, spittle flying from every syllable, Gravedigger launched into another tirade. "That's right, only Mr. White-Bread Moneybags there didn't want the poor little Negro boy to adopt…"
"What are you talking about? I've never even heard of you," Bruce said as he began to work the ropes loose.
"Drop the weapon, now!" Dick ordered.
"If little Richie Rich hadn't lost his parents, too, maybe all of this would have been mine!"
"You're insane," Dick began, trying to keep Gravedigger's attention as Bruce got free. "What makes you think that Bruce would have adopted you instead? Hell, I didn't know who you were until a few hours ago!"
"You don't know what I went through! Raised by white folks who hated black folks, so now I don't even have a feeling for my own culture…the only thing I got is the footlockers my grandfather sent home from the war!"
Dick shook his head. "You got those footlockers by mistake. They were sent to your grandmother by accident; you're real grandfather was killed at Okinawa. The records got crossed. You received another man's stuff!"
"You're lying! See, you want to take something else from me, just like you took away my chance to be happy after my parents were…" his voice trailed off. His trigger finger tightened. "It should have been me…not you!"
Bruce got behind Gravedigger and landed a stunning blow to the back of the gunman's skull. His eyes went wide and then he slumped to the floor. Bruce nodded to Dick, who holstered his weapon. "Did you know?" Dick asked.
"No, I had no idea. I was so caught up in trying to deal with you that I shut myself off to the rest of the world for a while. You were my primary concern at the time," Bruce conceded. "However, had I known, I doubt I would have done anything different. I experienced your parent's death; I was there…we shared in that. It gave us a bond. I had no such bond with this poor soul."
Dick pulled out his handcuffs and secured his prisoner while Bruce called the Gotham Police.
"And of course, Doctor, the Wayne Foundation will be approving another year's worth of funding for your project," Bruce Wayne said from his seated position across from Dr. Michael Richards of the Arkham Asylum. Seated next to him was his ward, Richard Grayson.
"Thank you, Mr. Wayne, your generosity seems to know no bounds." The doctor looked over at Dick. "Of course, your own donation to our Child Psychology Department was well-received also, Mr. Grayson."
Dick said nothing but simply nodded. He wished Bruce would hurry and get to the point, but Mr. Wayne was the expert at such meetings. "Doctor," Bruce began, a bored smile on his face, "about that ruffian that broke into my home several weeks ago…is he a danger to me or my ward?" He laid a hand on Dick's shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
The doctor pushed his glasses up on his face and smiled warmly. "Oh, heaven's no! Mr. Hazard is kept in our high security ward, under 24-hour surveillance. He has not yet responded to treatment, but we believe, given time, he will. He has led a most...how should I put it…difficult life. There appears to be emotional, physical and sexual abuse in his past. His fixation with your ward is just a response to the abuse; not a healthy response, but a response nonetheless. When he inherited the items from his grandmother, it planted false ideas in his head. He saw your ward as the cause of his problems and if he destroyed him, caused him as much pain as he had suffered, then he would not be tormented any longer. His military record shows as much. He apparently held a grudge against another soldier and practically beat the man to death, resulting in a dishonorable discharge."
"He accused Bruce of being a racist," Dick began, "why did he do that?"
"The couple that raised Cletus was not suited to be foster parents. The state failed on that. They were apparently not shy about their opinions of Mr. Hazard's race and worked very hard to get him to reject his culture. To him, everyone is a racist. It's very, very sad and troubling, but rest assured, he is no longer a danger to either one of you."
Bruce Wayne smiled. "I'm ever so happy to hear that, Doctor."
Dick said nothing.
Alone in his cell, Cletus Hazard waited for his next session with his staff shrink, a pretty little Asian woman named Dr. Lynn. She kept asking him questions about why he hated white people so much. He kept telling her, it wasn't white people he hated, and it was whites that thought they were better than blacks, or Asians, or Hispanics. Like Wayne, who went out of his way to adopt the light-skinned circus boy, but couldn't spare a dime for the grandson of a World War 2 hero.
She kept asking him about his foster father and the things he had done, but Cletus wasn't going to talk about that, especially to such an attractive woman as Dr. Lynn. He didn't want her to see him less masculine because of what he had endured.
See, boy! If you had been white, maybe that Wayne guy would have taken you in as well!
He fought back the tears as years and years of torment threatened to burst out. He should have killed his foster-father, but he was still scared of him, still shook in the man's presence.
Son, you can't judge a whole race based on the actions of one idiot.
His real father had told him that and it was a constant source of mental conflict.
He spit on the floor and pulled out his notebook and pen and began making his list. Luckily, he had hidden most of his stuff somewhere other than the flophouse room he had been living in when the police came and got him. It would all still be there when he got out. He had been wrong to go after Wayne so soon; it was obvious that the man meant a lot to Grayson, but who else, he wondered? He had researched Grayson extensively at the Gotham library; he was a local celebrity for quite awhile before he moved to Bludhaven. Funny how nobody seemed to know his name there.
He crossed off the name Kory Anders, the alien super-hero known as Starfire. She had disappeared a while back. Then he examined the rest of the list. Betty Kane. Barbara Gordon. Amy something-or-other. Jonathan Law.
So many to choose from.
One day, he swore, Grayson was going to pay.