In Need Of . . .
. . . A Father
The man who took Dick Grayson gave out a Cheshire Cat grin. He believed he had Bruce Wayne over a barrel. It would be his revenge for what happened to this brother, Tony Zucco. Even if Wayne didn't pay his ransom for the boy, he would still get his revenge, by making certain that Wayne never saw his boy ever again. The man climbed the steps to the top of the Gotham Tower Clock carrying the boy over his shoulder.
Dick started coughing and mumbling in his sleep. He was delirious. "No no no no. Don't leave me . . . Mom . . . Dad . . ."
"Remembering Mom and Dad kid? Well, too bad. My brother botched the job when he left you alive. In fact, you were supposed to die first. I buried my brother today, because of you. He died on death row. Saw you over by that large gravestone. Imagine my surprise when I saw that it was your folks buried at Robinson Cemetery. A most fortunate circumstance for me; kept me from having to search you out. Now you're going to pay the piper for sending my brother to prison and the electric chair."
Dick's foggy brain barely registered what the man was saying. "Who . . . What . . .Where . . ." Dick started coughing, his chest tight from fear and hurting from being carried. He tried to struggle, but he had no strength.
"Who am I? Ralph Zucco. Tony Zucco was my brother and I'm your worst nightmare. Go back to sleep kid, you're dreaming."
Ralph Zucco carried Dick up through the tower. He entered the clock tower room then placed Dick Grayson in a most precarious position, right on the narrow base of the carrousel between two of the three figures.
"Uhh, *cough, cough, cough*," Dick moaned and continued to cough, the fever once again taking hold and plunging him into that shadowy world of the semi-conscious dream state. He tried to move, but he didn't seem to have the strength from where he was laying. He watched through half lidded eyes as the man called Ralph Zucco paced the room.
Ralph Zucco couldn't wait. Midnight was approaching. He walked around the clock examining its mechanism. This particular clock had a special set of chimes and a carrousel containing three figures. As the clock would strike the hour, the bells rang out and the figures on the carrousel would start to move. The carrousel's base was triangular in shape and very narrow, just wide enough for a body to lay on it. Inside the room, there was no need for precautions. The room was large enough so repairs could to be done to the clock's mechanism. Outside, one false move and a person could fall. It was the perfect place to send someone plunging to their death without any witnesses. There was barely a minute left as he waited. It wouldn't be long until his revenge for his brother's death would be complete.
"Too bad you're asleep," Ralph Zucco said to Dick as he checked him one more time. "I'd love to see the look on your face when you find yourself falling 15 stories to the ground. It will be the last flight you ever take."
"Not if I can help it."
"What?" Ralph Zucco looked up into the darkened rafters.
Batman jumped down at that moment landing in front of the thug.
"Come any closer and I'll dump the kid," Ralph Zucco said.
The clock's hands moved toward the hour of midnight. The chimes began ringing and the carrousel started to move. It was just what Batman needed to distract him.
"You let him fall, so help me I'll hunt you down."
Zucco reached to grab Dick Grayson to drag him to the opening and at the same time Batman grabbed a large wrench on a nearby workbench and tossed it in Ralph Zucco's direction. The thug tried to avoid being hit with the wrench. It clattered to the floor up against one of the metal frames of the carrousel. Zucco then rushed Batman to buy himself some time to allow the carrousel to move in position. Batman struck him as Zucco came in close forcing him back. Zucco tripped on the wrench almost landing on the prone figure of Dick Grayson as the carrousel moved closer to the outside. Dick in his fevered state started tossing around. Oddly enough, it was as if Dick sensed the danger and in desperation, he grabbed Ralph Zucco and tossed him toward the figure of the blacksmith. The move was one of the grappling moves that Bruce had been teaching Dick. Despite his feverish state, Dick caused Ralph Zucco to crash into the blacksmith's anvil. The force knocked the thug unconscious. Dick fell back exhausted, his chest heaving and he started coughing again. Turning over on his side, his body half on the frame of the carrousel, half off, he feet dragging on the floor, he once again slipped into that semi-conscious world.
Batman rushed up to the prone figure of his partner and lifted him from the moving carrousel before his body would be crushed between the outside wall and the frame. He gently laid Dick on the floor of the tower room, feeling Dick's fevered body. Batman had to do one thing to ensure that Ralph Zucco didn't get away. He pulled out a pair of bat cuffs and secured him to one of the support posts of the tower room. Then he gently picked Dick Grayson up holding him close to his chest, not wanting to let him go.
"I've got you."
"Dad," Dick murmured then snuggled closer. "I . . . missed you."
"It's okay, son," Batman said. "You're safe." Dick seemed to require that reassurance.
Batman could feel the fever, even through his light kelvar shirt. He quickly moved down the tower stairs to the batmobile and placed Dick on the passenger seat. He pulled out a blanket and covered his ward with it to keep him warm from the night air. He climbed into the driver's seat and started the engine and moved out.
"Don't worry old chum, we'll get you home. That's as close as I ever want to come to losing you," he said. Batman picked up the portable bat phone in the batmobile and called Commissioner Gordon. "I apologize for the lateness of the hour, Commissioner. There's a package waiting for you at the top of Gotham Tower Clock. See to it that he serves time . . . in prison for the kidnapping of Dick Grayson. I will fill you in on the details in the morning. I am returning Bruce Wayne's ward to him."
The fever finally broke two days later. Dick's eyes fluttered open to find his guardian, Bruce Wayne sleeping in a chair by his bed.
Alfred came in at that moment and brought a tray of tea and a thermometer. "Open your mouth."
Dick did as he was told, but he could not help asking about Bruce. "Wuuhy ith he thleeping. . ."
"Keep your mouth closed so I can get a reading, Master Dick," Alfred interrupted with a frown.
Dick shut his mouth and after four minutes, Alfred removed the thermometer. "Your temperature is down, it's 100, but you still need to stay in bed until that temperature is normal."
"Awe. I'm feeling better . . . and I'm hungry."
"I shall bring you some toast."
"Alfred, I had the weirdest dream. I dreamed someone kidnapped me. And then I was in this strange room . . ." then Dick remembered his excursion to his parents' grave and he looked over at Alfred's face. "It wasn't a dream . . . was it?"
"No, Master Dick. And once Master Bruce is awake, you do have a lot of explaining to do."
"Can't I tell you and you can tell Bruce?"
"Tell me what?" Bruce woke right at that moment as Alfred left the room.
"Um . . ." Dick started. "I . . . I'm sorry for running away."
"Why did you?" Bruce knew in his own way, but he wanted to hear it from Dick.
"It's been a year since my parents . . . I wanted to . . . say goodbye . . . And well . . . I know I said I didn't want a father . . . " Dick turned his head away trying to hide the tears. "But I . . . I really . . . I didn't know if . . . if you'd catch . . . Catch me when I fall."
"Dick, you don't have to say anything more. I should be the one to apologize to you. I took your words seriously and at face value. When in truth, we often say things we don't really mean in times of extreme stress. I know you loved your parents very much. I could never replace them, but I learned some things while you were gone. I learned even a ward needs a father figure. I think we need to start over. So, if you'll have me, I'll do my best to be that father figure."
"Really?" Dick asked, his eyes growing wide and his heart filling with hope. "You mean . . . you'll catch me when I fall?"
"Of course I'll catch you when you fall. I nearly lost you two nights ago. I'll always be there when you need me," Bruce nodded. "I can't promise that I won't screw up every now and then, but if you'll have me . . ."
"You bet, Bruce," Dick flung himself into Bruce's arms, hugging him tight. "Can you tell me one thing? Did Batman save me from some guy that looked like Zucco or was I dreaming?"
Bruce debated about telling Dick the truth. He didn't want to scare the lad, but he did deserve to know just the same. "Batman did save you, and it wasn't a dream. Now, you better get back into bed before Alfred has a fit."
"Can you read to me?" Dick asked.
"What do you want me to read?"
"Coming right up." Bruce moved to the bookshelf and pulled the old worn out book from its resting place. A memory of his father came to him when he was a boy of seven. "Read me Robin Hood, Daddy."
"I've read you that book five times now," Thomas Wayne said.
"I know, but I love it when he helps all the poor people," young Bruce said. "And when he defeats the Sheriff."
"All right. Settle down in the bed and let me find the book."
With the book in hand, Bruce turned back to where Dick waited. There was a large grin on his face and a twinkle in his bright blue eyes. It was the same look that he would have on his face when his father would read to him.
'Like father like son,' he thought.
Bruce moved to the chair next to the bed, and opened the book to the first page.
"In merry England in the time of old, when good King Henry the Second ruled the land, there lived within the green glades of Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham Town, a famous outlaw whose name was Robin Hood . . ."
A month later, Bruce drove Dick to Newtown. They headed to Robinson cemetery and Bruce parked in front of the Grayson grave stone. They got out of the car and silently stood in front of the marker. When Dick was ready, he placed a large bouquet of flowers at the base.
"I'll be over here, under the trees so you can have some privacy," Bruce said.
Dick nodded and Bruce moved under the trees, keeping Dick in his sights.
"Mom, Dad, I miss you so much, but I'm learning to . . ." Dick drew in a sigh and a tear tracked down his cheek. "Maybe I should begin by telling you about my guardian. His name's Bruce Wayne. He has a butler named Alfred. You'd like Bruce. He's an orphan, too . . ."