The boy is nervous. He should not be; nothing will go wrong. When I look at him, I can see slight tremors starting in his hands. He is not looking at me. His eyes are fixed unblinkingly on the road ahead. I lean over.
"I think it's alright to let it out of second gear now, Tim." His immediate reaction is to grip the steering wheel tighter. He will not take his eyes off the road.
"I don't want to go too fast." He tells me, trying to sound firm.
"Twenty miles an hour is not a dangerous speed, Tim. You know where the brake is, should you need to use it." The boy nods in agreement.
"Right." Nothing happens. Tim's hand fails to leave the steering wheel.
"Put it into third gear, Tim. Remember the procedure for changing gear?" I decide to speak my last sentence in a softer, less indifferent tone of voice. Perhaps it will ease the boy. He nods.
"Tell me everything you do."
"I need to speed up to make the gear change necessary." He says. I feel a slight increase in the car's overall speed. I nod.
"Then I need to put my foot down on the clutch pedal, take my other foot completely off the gas and make the gear change as smoothly as possible." I hear the engine quiet and watch the boy make a perfect, if hesitant transition to third gear. Again I nod.
"Now I just need to gently ease pressure off the clutch pedal and put my other foot back down on the accelerator." He performs the last sequence of movements with excellent timing and control. I tap the dashboard with my hand.
"Very well done, Tim. Now, bring us to a gentle stop." The boy decides to allow his control to slip somewhat, braking with an unpleasant juddering motion than a smooth halt, but he does stop the car. I see him wince at the noise.
"That wasn't great, was it?" He asks, finally letting his gaze drift from the road to my face. I make a dismissive hand gesture.
"Never mind. Now, back into neutral, apply the handbrake and kill the ignition in that order please." The boy does as instructed. When the car is finally silent, Tim removes his hands, slouches back in his seat and lets out a sigh of relief. When he looks over at me again, I offer him a small smile.
"Congratulations, Tim; you've just completed your first driving lesson. How did it feel?" The boy shakes his head.
"Freaking terrifying. My heart's going a hundred miles a minute. What did you say you drive the Batmobile at, one hundred-and-twenty miles an hour?"
"Don't concern yourself with things like that, not now."
We get out of the Rolls-Royce and find Alfred standing close by with a relieved smile of his own; he was awfully particular I did not allow the boy to drive the Rolls, but I was insistent. I assume the idea of permitting a fifteen-year-old boy with no driving experience whatsoever to command a vehicle that has an estimated worth of almost half-a-million dollars did not sit well with the old man. The fact I could easily buy a replacement was not his chief concern; Alfred has been caring for that car since I was born; he cherishes it almost as much as me, although it is less argumentative and stubborn.
"You looked surprisingly adept at handling such a monstrosity, Master Tim, especially since it was your first time. Bravo." Alfred says presenting the boy with a glass of lemonade. He has neglected to bring me one, his idea of a dignified protest at my actions. I do not begrudge him. Tim's hand is still trembling slightly as he takes control of the glass.
"Thank you, Alfred. I'm glad you managed not to have a heart attack standing here." The boy says taking a sip.
"Either Master Bruce is a far more competent instructor than I thought or you are a far less reckless youth than your peers. I am inclined to believe the latter." The old man shoots me a small smile.
"Slur me all you like, Alfred. You will find yourself disappointed when I am proven faultless."
"There exists no such man, Sir. Even you have faults common to the rest of us mere mortals."
"Isn't it dinnertime?" Tim says to bring our banter to a shuddering halt. Both Alfred and I look at him with something approaching irritation. Dick and Jason never seemed to mind our little exchanges. They would often join in. This boy does not share that similar vein of humour. He needs to become less wooden and more relaxed. Seeing our thinly veiled annoyance at his interruption, Tim adopts an embarrassed look. I believe we still intimidate him to some degree. He is not afraid of criminals, only those he needs to impress. I break the tension by patting him on the shoulder.
"You're right Tim. Shall we go back to the house?" I turn to look at the old man who bows his head.
"Yes Sir. However, this time, I believe I should conduct the driving. What do you say Master Tim?"
"Yeah, probably for the best."
It is close to two in the morning. Tim and I are on patrol in The Narrows, following a large-scale investigation into money laundering. We have been conducting the current study of this particular operation for the last six weeks and have collected a wealth of information. At present, we have traced the nucleus of the operation to a known philanderer and habitual criminal called Greg Taylor, the proprietor of a laundrette on Cherry Street, a once thriving area of commerce. It is something of a novelty to find a money-laundering operation under the guise of a laundrette. I find myself with a slight smile as we slip into the alleyway adjacent to the building. The boy notices this.
"What is it?" He asks. I gesture at the building.
"Laundering through a laundrette." Tim grins at my explanation. It is one of the rare instances in recent weeks I have seen him smile at all during work. He seems to take all this rather seriously for a teenager.
"Funny. So what's the plan?"
"Taylor is the intelligence in this operation. Without him, the entire infrastructure currently in place to move the money will fall apart. What needs to happen now is the gathering of hard evidence. Because he used so many false leads and aliases as well as middlemen, Taylor will think nobody will trace the money back to his establishment. I believe he has ledgers and some of the money itself somewhere inside this building. All we need is an excuse to search these premises."
"So we need to engineer something to occur here to let Gordon get inside. Why didn't you brief me about this before patrol?"
"You need to learn about improvisation, Robin. You cling too fiercely to planning. Observe how I create trouble to exploit." I proceed to step out from the alleyway's shadows, affect a low-brow manner of speaking and shout at the top of my lungs.
"Gotham Knights suck ass! They got no defence, no offence and their wide receiver's a damn joke! I ain't ever seen a worse performance than against Kings! How many freakin' tackles they miss?"
"Hey, you better shut your mouth!" Some anonymous voice calls from an open window across the street.
"Yeah? You gonna make me, asshole? Greg Taylor ain't afraid of no man!" I yell back.
"That a fact? We'll see about that huh?" I step back into the shadows. Tim is both stunned and bewildered by my actions. It is clear he does not understand. "There are two rival gangs in this neighbourhood, Robin, The Chasers and The Cardinals. Chasers support Gotham Knights, almost religiously. Cardinals support Gotham Rocketeers and always start fights after matches. Greg Taylor is a Cardinal; those individuals now on route to this laundrette are most likely to be Chasers. Word will soon spread, more gang members from both factions will come and eventually…"
"All hell breaks loose and Greg Taylor is cited as the source of all the violence. And then we raid his dirty laundrette." Tim pauses to consider something. "Does he really talk like that?"
What happens next is a textbook example of riot escalation as more and more gang members pour into the street in a conflict that started with only four people. After less than twenty minutes, there are at least one hundred people drawing battle lines and threatening to kill rival members. All this will take now is the right spark. When Greg Taylor wades onto the scene, the powder keg of human emotion is ignited. A mass brawl ensues. Gordon has already been informed and patrol cars dispatched along with riot specialist equipment. The boy and I sit in wait, watching for signs of violence and brutality being taken too far. However, the scene is exactly as I had anticipated; the fighting, and therefore the level of violence displayed, is superficial at best. The individuals involved will be bruised and bloodied in the aftermath, but nothing more serious. It is clear, even from my current vantage point, that the majority of the participants are intoxicated and can scarcely coordinate their actions. In some ways, despite this very scene being one I am working hard to prevent occurring in this city, this whole situation is amusing. The combatants overly telegraphed hits, misses and subsequent falls are all in line with a Laurel and Hardy or Three Stooges film, a masterpiece of precision and timing for comedic effect. My partner does not seem to share this opinion. The boy is always so tense, so on edge in this environment. I am cautious, but I am rarely tense when facing Gotham's army of scum and criminal fraternities. Tim must learn to relax a little and enjoy these moments.
The GCPD response time is impressive. Patrol cars and riot vans are on site within six minutes and gas grenades are being utilized to bring the masses under swift control. Arrests are made quickly and with little fanfare, the Miranda Rights echoing around the streets with fervour and conviction. I find myself in staunch admiration of these officers and their professionalism. The GCPD is now an efficient and tight unit, operating with a satisfying smoothness to their battle rhythm and processes. Despite the lingering traces of corruption still haunting their ranks, Gordon and his men have done a sterling job in helping people erase their previous opinions on law enforcement and make them look towards a brighter future. We wait until all outstanding personnel have vacated the scene before investigating the laundrette.
Officers are still wandering round the business with forensic kits as we begin to conduct our own investigations and analyses. They pay us little notice, proof that our presence is now seen as an aid rather than a hindrance or obstruction of justice. The brawl spilled into the laundrette via a smashed window and was therefore deemed within police jurisdiction, a calculated movement that thankfully played out exactly as intended. I allow Tim to run with the forensic analysis.
He instantly discovers what the professionals have missed through no fault of their own. Tim has found the ledgers that chronicle months of transactions through the business. He has uncovered these essential pieces of evidence because he is trained in what to look for. Unlike his predecessors, this boy's training in criminology and forensics was far more in-depth and demanding. The pass mark for his written exams on these subjects was ninety-eight per cent. The pass mark for his practical exams, investigating and processing a simulated crime scene for evidence and then formulating a plausible court case, required a one hundred per cent success rate. On all these exams Tim scored one hundred per cent. He is driven beyond the others for reasons known only to himself. Many key pieces of evidence during the practical assessments were carefully hidden. The majority of experienced homicide detectives would have missed these clues, only because they do not fit patterns of typical criminal behaviour or make themselves easily found. Tim is a true detective, almost without peer. He dissects the information in the ledgers on sight, committing the most pertinent points to memory. He then hands them over to the department. Apparently, we now have we need to close this case. I trust his judgement on the situation. A short time later, we leave.
"Tim?" I say to initiate a conversation on route back to the cave. Tim immediately gives me his full attentions.
"You put in another fine performance tonight. I hope you realize all your efforts have not gone unnoticed."
"You can relax, Bruce; I'm not going to shun you because you don't praise me every day of the week."
"I know that. Your training demonstrated that quite aptly. I want you to know that, out of all the Robins I have worked alongside, you are by far the most cerebral and level-headed. Both are qualities I need for the current environment in Gotham."
"You mean the network of gangs that runs the whole way between the city limits. You need me to help you implement a workable strategy."
"It's more than that, Tim. I need you to implement your own strategies to coincide with mine." This statement seems to unsettle the boy. He sounds uneasy in responding to it.
"You need me to help you make a plan?"
"Yes. Are you up to the task?"
"Yeah, I just thought you were the ideas man and I was the guy to put them into action."
"We BOTH need to have those abilities. I realise that now. It has been an inherent mistake I made with your predecessors, one that ultimately caused a rift between us. I will not make that error again, not with you."
"There is only one thing I need you to do for me in the meantime."
"What's that?" I smile before answering.