Dick Grayson was in the Batcave beneath Wayne Manor, shooting pool with Wally and Kyle… when his pool cue turned into a garden hose and the pool table morphed into an oversized viewing screen. Batman’s face appeared on it, in an extreme close up, like Big Brother: “YOU’VE LET ME DOWN, SON,” he intoned as a whirring tone sounded…
“Brainiac has analyzed pizza delivery patterns from Gotham City, Hudson University…”
“…Bludhaven, and the Titans Tower and deduced Dick Grayson is Nightwing… ::Twitterbringngng::… Tim, Barbara and I are all exposed because of your midnight cravings for pineapple and anchovies…”
Dick’s eyes flew open and his arm shot out to smash the bedside alarm.
Oh hell, it was the phone. Who the hell would be calling at… He picked up the battered but not beaten alarm clock… 5:15. He picked up the receiver.
“HelloBruce, noyoudidn’twakeme,” he said without pausing for the other party to speak, “I only got in an hour ago and who needs more than forty-five minutes sleep a night.”
..:: Funny. Secure the line. ::..
What did I expect, thought Dick. “Oh gee, sorry kid, I never consider the possibility that other people have lives when they’re not acting as my supporting cast.” Aloud he said:
..:: I’m coming into Bludhaven. Thought we could have lunch. ::..
“O-kay.” (Did I really have to secure the line for this?) “Where and when?”
..:: I’m at that diner across from your building. ::..
“NOW? That’s not lunch. That won’t even be breakfast for an hour. That won’t be MY breakfast for another—yawn. Crud, I can’t do math before I brush my teeth.”
..:: Dick, I came to talk. ::..
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
As he dressed, Dick calculated that even with the fastest of the civilian cars, Bruce would have had to cut Batman’s patrol short by almost 2 hours to be in Bludhaven now. There was no way he’d do that for anything less than a cosmic crisis. “Dick, I came to talk,” he had said. Bruce wanting to talk could indeed be the portent of a cosmic crisis. Maybe different timestreams were converging again. On the off chance that this was a chatty, sociable Bruce from an alternate dimension, Dick greeted him with a little harmless smalltalk:
“So how was the show last night?”
The scowl made it pretty clear that this was not a chatty and sociable Bruce. Dick backpedaled.
“I, uh, thought Alfred said something about you going to—never mind. What did you want to see me about?”
“Am I a self-absorbed, self-righteous, inflexible prig?”
Dick suddenly felt like he was playing a LucasArts Adventure Game. He imagined four possible responses to Bruce’s question appearing under his chin:
That’s how I addressed your Fathers’ Day card.
Is that prig with an “R” Yes.
Why are you having new stationery made up?
YES YES YES! IN THE NAME OF ALL THINGS HOLY AND TRUE, YOU ARE THE KING AND LORD OF THE LAND OF SELF-RIGHTEOUS PRIGS!
And no matter which response the player chose, the character would say: “Why no, not at all. Why do you ask?”
Dick signaled to LuAnn, his favorite waitress, and ordered a bagel and coffee. Then he looked back at Bruce as if this, the most forceful personality in the JLA, might have forgotten his question. It didn’t work. The scowl had deepened from the Is-this-the-best-you-can-do (Bruce reading his 9th grade history report) to We-can-do-this-the-easy-way-or-the-hard-way (Batman staring down street thugs).
“Yeah, I guess that description isn’t wholly inaccurate, as applied to you, you know, by someone who felt you… were that way. Maybe.”
“Is cop out one word or two?”
“See, that’s the kind of thing you do that doesn’t give people warm and fuzzies. You put me totally on the spot asking this unimaginably impossible question. Bruce, what the hell’s going on? You show up here at the crack of dawn and drag me out of bed, I still don’t know why, and you put me on the spot with this… I don’t know what of a—”
Bruce lifted his palm, fingertips extended, for silence. It was a strange gesture, something an ordinary person might do if they got the gist of what you were saying but had to think through their response. That wasn’t Bruce. He just cut you off when he got the gist. And he never had to search for a response.
“I really wish you’d come to the theatre last night,” he said finally.
Dick started to laugh, then looked incredulously at Bruce.
“You mean this is really about that play? Alfred made it sound like a hoot, but I wasn’t going to drive all the way into the city just to see… So, what was it anyway, was it really Catwoman?”
Dick grinned uncontrollably.
“Of course it was. Who else could get under your skin so thoroughly that you cut a patrol short to drive up here AND TALK.”
“I know you don’t like her, but could we just put that aside for a minute and—”
“Bruce, I like her just fine, considering she’s a thief and all. But this thing you have about her, it’s just too good for me to leave alone. It’s like the only thing I can really rib you about. You love the wrong person; it makes you so HUMAN. You don’t think I’m going to give that up, do you?”
Bruce sighed. He didn’t even bother to challenge the use of the L-word.
“The first act was bad enough. She told… anecdotes… about us.”
Dick raised an eyebrow.
“No, not racy ones. Just accurate. Hearing it all from her point of view, it was… disconcerting.”
“And the second act?”
“Worse. She speculated how various figures in Gotham might react to her show. She did Two-Face, Joker, Riddler, Scarecrow, Ivy, Batgirl, Huntress, and Robin. I never realized she was so good at mimicry.” He paused. “It was, it was actually pretty funny.”
Dick stared, not quite believing his eyes or ears as Bruce chuckled.
“She imagined how Mad Hatter might rewrite her stories about me in the style of Lewis Carroll: ‘First the cat kissed the bat, said we’d have such a ball, but that isn’t all, no that’s not all at all. If the bat kissed the cat, lo Original sin! One’d wonder just which Catnip patch he’d been in!’”
“That’s more Dr. Seuss than Lewis Carroll.”
Bruce gave him a dirty look, and again Dick backpedaled:
“I like it. So then what? Did she maybe speculate how Batman might react?”
“She didn’t predict you waking me up at five in the morning next day, did she?”
“She said I was probably too much of an insufferable, self-absorbed egomaniac to even see the show, but if I did show up one night in her dressing room, she’d report back to future audiences with my response.”
Dick laughed delightedly.
“So now, if you/Batman do acknowledge the show in some way, she’s got a new finale. And if you don’t, then you prove that you were too much of a self-absorbed egomaniac to go see it.”
Bruce glowered at Dick.
“I’m just quoting you quoting her.”
An hour later, as Bruce was driving home, Dick snapped open his cell phone. “Wally, it’s Dick. Listen, are you doing anything this weekend? Call Kyle and Clark and the others. I just found out there’s a new show in Gotham you’re all going to want to see.”
To be continued...