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Past Imperfect

by  VicXntric

---

It was almost two in the morning when the Batmobile roared into the parking lot of the Gotham Museum of Man and Nature. The Dark Knight stepped out and headed towards Commissioner Gordon, "What is it, Jim?"

"Robbery." The Commissioner answered. "At 1:30 a.m. a security guard came in to change shifts and found his buddy in a broom closet, out cold. He called us right away. According to the victim, the robbery took place around midnight."

"What was taken?" Batman asked.

"The collection of cat's eye jewels from Asia that were on display. Other than that, a few displays featuring mainly gold and jewels." James Gordon shook his head as he lit his pipe, "Whoever it was didn't even trigger the silent alarm, and it was on when we got here."

"Did the security cameras pick up anything?"

"They were totalled, and the film was shredded--there's no way to salvage it."

"I want to talk to the guard that was attacked," Batman said.

"You won't get much out of him," Gordon countered.

"Where is he?"

"Still inside. We called an ambulance to take him to Gotham General. Mild shock."

Batman strode into the lobby of the museum where he immediately spotted the pale, pudgy man who was constantly wiping his face with a handkerchief. "Mr. Rowls?" he asked, reading the man's name tag. "I'd like to ask you some questions." The man didn't answer, and Batman decided that was about as close to affirmation as he would get. "The men who attacked you--"

Rowls began to shake his head vigorously. "N-Not men...th-th-this...l-lion juh-juh-jumped out at m-me fr-from no...wuh-where!"

"Lion?" Batman looked sharply at the Commissioner, who shook his head, indicating that this was the first he had heard of it as well. "Was there anyone with the lion?"

"Juh-just the lion..." Rowls replied.

"Did you hear any voices?" Batman asked.

"The l-lion knocked me out c-cold..."

For a split second Batman thought that perhaps Rowls had pulled the heist himself, but dismissed it immediately. The man's terror was obviously real. Still, he got the impression that Rowls was keeping something from them. "Just a lion?" he asked again. "Nothing else?"

"J-Just a lion," the man repeated adamantly.

Batman was now convinced that Rowls was holding back something, but he realized the man was to shaken to tell them anything else. "Get him to the hospital," he ordered one of the officers before heading up the stairs to the cat's eyes exhibit.

*******

When Batman finally left the museum two hours later, he was not any further ahead than he had been after talking to the stuttering Rowls. Like the police detectives before him, he found scratches on the museum's newly waxed floors, and tracks immediately outside the museum that added to the security guard's testimony that he had been attacked by a lion. Batman was willing to accept the concept of a well-trained feline attacking a guard, but to shut off an alarm and then pull the entire heist? That was ludicrous.

As he entered the dim Batcave, the Dark Knight almost missed the slim figure hunched over the computers. "Richard!"

"Oh. Hi, Batman." Eleven-year-old Richard Grayson gave his guardian a sleepy smile.

"What are you doing up?" Bruce asked, pulling the Batman's cowl from his face, "It's four in the morning and you have school tomorrow."

"I wanted to help you on the Neill's Jewellery case. To see if I could find anything."

"And did you?" Bruce asked, amused. The robbery at Neill's Jewellery the night before had completely stumped the entire G.P.D. and the Batman, as well.

"Well..." Dick said slowly. "I thought I had, but the more I consider it, the dumber it sounds."

"Well, let's hear it anyway."

"Okay," Dick switched on the computer screen. "Well, you said that you hadn't been able to find a point of entry anywhere, but when I was checking the pictures taken last night, I found this." He gestured towards a picture of the jewellery store's maintenance room. The cover of the small drain in the middle of the floor had been pushed aside.

"What about it?" Bruce asked.

"It's an entry point." Dick glanced at the screen, then back at his mentor. "It's the only one I could find."

Bruce stared hard at the picture. "Dick, that drain can't be much more than three or four inches wide."

"Three-and-a-half," Dick said helpfully.

"Three-and-a-half inches," Bruce repeated. "No one could fit through that size of an opening."

"Well, no...but then I remembered last year when there was a snake in the pipes at my school--it came out of a drain. So I thought..."

"That it was a snake?" Bruce asked incredulously.

"Or a fish or a lizard or something."

"You think something robbed Neill's jewellery?"

"Or maybe someone is using animals to help them commit crimes. Like Catwoman. What do you think?" Dick looked up at his guardian expectantly.

Trained fish, Richard? Bruce tried to hide his smile, "I think you should get upstairs and get some sleep. I don't want you falling asleep in class again."

"Oh, alright," Dick reluctantly headed for the stairs. "G'night, Bruce."

"Goodnight, son," Bruce replied, then turned back to the computer screen. He was about to begin entering the information from tonight's case, but sheer curiosity brought him back to the Neill's case. He studied the picture more intensely, hoping to find something unusual about a very ordinary drain. It's open. Big deal.

He pushed the museum break-in to the back of his mind as he found himself going back to the very basics concerning the Neill's case. Fact: The drain was the only entrance to the store that had been tampered with. Fact: No human being could possibly fit through a 3 1/2 inch drain. Fact: It was not a fish. Who would go to the trouble of actually training a fish? he wondered. Beside fish couldn't swim up drains, could they? No, of course they couldn't.

Training fish, he smiled as he shed the dark costume. That's even more far fetched than the thought of a lion knowing how to shut down an alarm system. Bruce frowned suddenly as the similarities between the two cases hit him fully. He checked off the few clues he had in his mind: no forced entry in either building, although there had been extensive damage inside; the alarms hadn't sounded in either cases, and in both cases, they were still on when the police arrived; the security cameras had been destroyed and the film shredded in both cases. Definitely not a coincidence, Batman decided with a frown.

He momentarily debated whether he should work on the case or head upstairs. Upstairs won out immediately, because other than what he had not found, he had no clues in either case.


This is bound to be a good, old-fashioned break-in, Batman thought as he arrived at Gotham Trust. Please, let this be a good, old-fashioned break-in. The Caped Crusader wanted this case that required so much attention over. He still had a case from last week that he hadn't had time to close. Well, that one's probably open and shut, he reminded himself. It looks like the work of the Penguin, so I'll just have to track him down whenever I'm through with this. That decided, he stopped the Batmobile in front of the Bank and turned his attention to the case at hand.

The Commissioner was waiting on the steps. "Another one," he said, barely suppressing a sigh. "And this one has to be seen to be believed."

Frowning, the detective followed Gordon into the bank, his sharp eyes scanning the area for any sign of forced entry. Again, he found nothing. "The alarm?" he asked shortly.

"Still on, but it never sounded."

"Fingerprints?"

"Nothing, but that isn't too surprising. Take a look." The Commissioner stepped aside so the Batman could get a good look at the vault.

Batman barely caught himself before his mouth dropped open. "What the--?"

"My thoughts exactly," Gordon agreed.

The vault door was nothing more than a pile of twisted metal and cracked chunks of cement lying inside the vault. The first impression Batman got was that someone or something had battered on the door until it gave way and collapsed inward. He knelt down for a closer look at the rubble.

"There's no trace of explosives," the Commissioner said. "We checked.

Batman stopped dead, "None?"

"None."

When he considered everything he had seen in the last two nights, he believed it. He didn't find it easy to believe, but he believed it. "I suppose the security cameras were destroyed again."

"Actually the film wasn't so badly damaged this time. Detective Korman brought it down to the station to see if it can be salvaged."

Batman nodded absently, checking the broken bits of plaster and bricks as he listened to the Commissioner. He found no obvious signs of explosives, but he took a few samples of brick to be analyzed back at the Batcave, anyway. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he was that the same criminals were responsible for all three crimes, and he told the Commissioner so.

"That's impossible," Gordon looked at him as if he had spouted antlers. "Every crime has a different M.O."

The Dark Knight shook his head, "There are more similarities than differences. Whoever did this merely made necessary adjustments for each crime. Think about it, Jim." As Gordon studied the vault more intently, Batman stood up, "I'll see if I can come up with their pattern, if there even is one. Contact me if you manage to salvage that film."

"Will do," the Commissioner nodded. "But I don't see how you're going to--" he turned back to the Batman, but found himself talking to empty air. "You'd think I would have learned by now," he sighed.


Bruce Wayne swore softly under his breath. He had been hunched over the Batcave's main computer for nearly two hours, and still wasn't any closer to a lead than he had been three nights ago when he had started investigating the burglary at Neill's Jewellery. Three nights ago it looked like something that could be wrapped up in a matter of hours, but now it looked like Gotham City was in the middle of a crime wave and her protector without a clue. "Damn!" he slammed his fist down on the computer console.

Dick Grayson had just returned from school. "Bruce? What's wrong?"

"Dick, come here. I want you to take a look at this." Maybe a fresh point of view will help.

The young acrobat hurried to the computer screen where Bruce was seated.

"These pictures were taken the night before last, just outside the Gotham Museum of Man and Nature."

"Cat tracks," Dick said immediately. "Probably a lion. Do you think Catwoman is back?"

"Well, you tell me," Bruce said, "The display of cat's eye jewels were stolen," he held up his hand when Dick opened his mouth to reply. "But the thieves also robbed other displays of gold and jewels. Meanwhile, the one-of-a-kind gold Egyptian statues of honouring cats weren't touched." Dick frowned as Bruce continued, "Now I'm sure you've realized..."

"All four cases have the same M.O."

"Exactly," Bruce nodded, "All thr--did you say four?"

"Well, I was just thinking about the robbery at the Historical Museum last week. The one where the display of Crown Jewels were stolen. It has almost the same M.O." Dick watched Bruce pull the file up, "Except the criminals used birds instead of cats."

Bruce scanned the evidence, which did indeed fit the M.O. of the current robberies. "I'd assumed it was the Penguin," he said to himself.

"He's in jail, I checked."

Trying to scoop the old man, eh, Dick? Bruce thought, even as his respect for the boy went up yet another notch. "Alright, we have four robberies, all with the same M.O."

"And animals," Dick added.

"Only two of them definitely involve animals," Bruce reminded the boy. "And the fourth--" he broke off as the phone rang, and grabbed the receiver, "Batman here," he said in a deeper, colder voice. He listened for a few minutes, nodding, "I'm on my way."

"A lead?" Dick asked as Bruce donned his second skin.

"I hope so. While I'm gone, I want you to take a look at the clues from the bank robbery last night--after you finished your homework," he added when he saw Dick head for the computers.

"Right," Dick headed straight for the stairs.

Batman thought he had agreed a little too easily, "And don't stay up all night this time. I want you in bed by nine," he said.

He heard a gusty sigh from the stairwell as he made his way to the Batmobile.

*******

"Alright, Jim," the voice filtering in from the window made Gordon start. "What is it that I have to see but I won't believe?"

Gordon scowled at the caped figure perched on the windowsill. "Do you always have to do that?"

"Of course not," the Batman replied, slipping into the Commissioner's office. "Now what is so urgent?"

"Korman managed to save some of the film from the security cameras."

"Anything interesting?"

Gordon chuckled as he slid a video cassette into the player. "Why don't you tell me?" he pushed playand the stepped back to lean against his desk.

Batman stared intently at the screen, his arms folded across his chest. Try as he might he couldn't see anything interesting about a vault door. The only change on the screen was the seconds' column of the video clock.

"There's nothing here," Gordon said, fast-forwarding until the clock read two minutes past midnight. "Okay, watch this."

Batman stared at the exact same black-and-white image for another fifteen seconds. Then he blinked at the sudden, bright flash of light, nearly missing the hawk that swooped straight towards the camera, claws extended. After that, the screen went blank. "What the hell--?"

"Interesting enough?" The Commissioner smirked.

"You think this is funny, Jim?" Batman asked incredulously. "That film was supposed to be the piece that finished the puzzle." He rewound the film to watch the hawk appear again. "The certainly doesn't help, if anything, things are more confusing mow than they were before."

"Of course, of course," Gordon tried to hide his smile.

"If you think this is funny, I'm sure you'll find it hysterical once the city loses another few million dollars," the Dark Knight scowled, heading for the window.

Gordon's lips tightened. "I had a copy made for you," he held out another cassette case.

"Thanks. Maybe once I get a closer look, I'll be able to crack this thing."

"Good luck," the Commissioner said, not realizing he was the only person left in the room.

*******

Batman slid the cassette into the Batcave's video system, fast-forwarded until the video clock read two minutes past midnight and watched until the hawk appeared to attack the camera. Alright, now how does someone make a bird appear out of thin air? he wondered, rewinding the picture to the flash of light. This is impossible! Just before the flash of light, he noticed a small dot in the spot where the bird would appear seconds later. He paused the film there, and began to enlarge the screen. To his amazement, it wasn't a mechanical device, but a small fly. Advancing the film slowly, he watched as the fly became a hawk.

"What in the world..?" he rewound the film again. And again. And again.

For the life of him, he couldn't see any mechanisms behind the transformation. He thought he might be dealing with androids, but the actions and movements of the bird seemed completely natural and very focused. The detective decided that even a hawk that had been trained would not dive headlong towards the camera as this bird had done. Too focused to be a live bird and too natural to be an android. Terrific, he thought with a sigh. Be realistic--if that's possible. It has to be an android. A fly can't change itself into a hawk. Or a lion. Or a fish, he reminded himself, cracking a smile for the first time in days. Don't forget the fish.

Almost as if in punishment for not having the answer, he forced himself to watch the bewildering film over and over. He glanced at his wrists watch--eleven-thirty. Mentally he cursed himself for staring at the screen like any couch potato for hours without having come up with any new hypothesis. I'd be better off going out on patrol. God knows I'm getting nothing done in here. No reason to let the rest of the city suffer just because I want to catch myself a sci-fi burglar.

*******

An hour later, after having stopped four muggers, three arsonists and two would-be armed robbers, a small portion of the Batman's wounded pride was restored. Yet instinct told him that his criminals would be out again tonight. And why shouldn't they? No one has come close to stopping them. But that will change, Batman promised himself as he slipped from rooftop to rooftop. Tonight. Even as he was convincing himself, two men outside of Patrick's Jewelry caught his eye. Silently, he swung down for a closer look. One of the men was whispering harsh orders to the other as they pulled open the door and walked in.

No alarm sounded.

This is it, Batman thought smugly. I've got you now. He followed them into the store, and stood in they shadows as they smashed the casing and piled millions of dollars worth of jewels into cheap nylon knapsacks. Although he had pictured a process more technologically advanced than this one, the Batman was more than willing to settle for what he had. Drawing his cloak over his shoulders, the Dark Knight stepped out of the shadows. "Working overtime, are we?"

Both men froze, and the taller of two yelled at the top of his lungs and charged the detective. Batman caught him easily and had him down when something toppled him from behind. The detective twisted and turned until he was out from under the pile of bodies and spun around to confront the burglars again. He stopped short, however, when he saw that one of his combatants was a lion. A green lion. "What in the--?"

"Get him, you moron," the first thief gave the lion a good, hard cuff.

Batman knew he should take the offensive, but he merely watched, fascinated, as the lion looked from the burglar to him and back again.

"You heard me! MOVE!"

"But that's Batman..." the lion began, and Batman's jaw dropped. He barely heard the second man behind him before stars exploded behind his eyes and everything went black.

*******

"Batman?" a voice broke through the haze of the Dark Knight's mind.

"Damn," Batman whispered slowly getting to his feet.

"Are you alright, sir?" asked a police officer worriedly.

"Fine," Batman replied, glowering down at the young man to prove his point. You're stupid, Wayne. Stupid! You froze like a child in a spookhouse.

"Did you get good look at him?"

"I'm afraid not," the detective lied, knowing now what Rowl's had been keeping from the police. "One of them caught me from behind." The officer nodded and it annoyed Batman slightly that he found nothing odd about the Caped Crusader being brought down so easily. Rookie, he thought as he turned to leave the store.

"Batman! We need a--"

"Report. I know. I'll file one with Commissioner Gordon."

"Oh...uh...alright..."

"May I go?" Batman asked mockingly, amidst grins and snickers from the other officers present.

"Sure...I guess..."

"Thank you." Batman left, and climbed to the rooftop. Definitely a rookie.


The dilapidated appearance of the small room provided a stark contrast to the small piles of diamonds and gold strewn carelessly about, but the effect was lost on the trio that entered the room. "You stupid little freak!" the largest man practically threw the small boy into the apartment. "How many times have a told ya? Keep yer damn yap shut when we're working!"

"I'm sorry, Brock. I forgot," the boy replied, barely regaining his balance before the second man shoved him over on his way to the kitchen.

"You forgot? Yer just as stupid as y'are ugly, ain't ya?" Brock sneered as he threw himself on the rat-eaten sofa. "Forget again, freak, and peel yer green skin right offa ya."

"I won't forget," the boy murmured, not bothering to stand back up. Instead, he crawled to the corner furthest from Brock, hugged his thin knees to his chest and prayed neither men would notice him for awhile.

"Brock," complained a voice from the kitchen. "There ain't nothing to eat in here!"

"So go out and get something, stupid," the first replied. "And bring me back a coupla hamburgers."

"Don't call me 'stupid'," the second man vented his anger at Brock by giving the boy another smack as he left the apartment.

Eddie Brock glared at the child huddled in the corner, wondering if he shouldn't have just left the brat in Africa, where they'd first met. When he'd first landed in Africa after yet another scheme had gone awry, he'd heard talk about the two rubies the size of golf balls that belonged to a jungle tribe. The tribe's witch doctor had been willing to make a trade--he'd give Brock access to the rubies and all Brock had to do was--"kill for me one small boy." No problem--until he saw the boy, that is.

When he first saw the emerald skinned Garfield Logan change into a green tiger, Brock nearly followed his partner's example and fainted dead away. But then the wheels in his tiny but busy mind started turning. He never bothered wondering where the boy came from or what had brought about his powers, his only thought was that this freaky kid sure would come in handy back in the States. Then he discovered that the witch doctor had lied and the jewels were inaccessible, and it seemed only fair that they take the kid for their trouble--after killing the witch doctor, naturally.

His partner had worried Brock to death about the danger of their plan--what if the kid didn't like the idea? The freak could turn them into hamburger without a second thought. As it turned out, there was no need to worry. Having lived in Africa for seven out of his eight years, Gar wasn't used to being constantly screamed at or slapped around, and the first mention of freak cowered him more quickly than any blow could have. Within three weeks, Brock had the boy under his thumb, or his fist, such as the case may be.

***

Garfield Logan shifted uncomfortably under his "boss'" stare, wondering if it meant another beating was at hand. At the thought, Gar involuntarily rubbed his newly healed forearm, which was a result of the last occasion he had spoken during a robbery. He braced himself when Brock got up and strode to the corner where he was crouched. "Whatcha thinkin' about, freak?" he asked, nudging the shape-shifter with a booted toe.

"Nuthin'."

"Y'ain't thinkin' about goin' to the Batman, are ya?"

Gar looked up at him in surprise. "I can't. He's a cop."

"That's right," Brock nodded approvingly. "And what happens if he catches you?"

"He'll beat me up--worse than you do," Gar mumbled.

"And then what?"

"They'll take me to jail," Gar sighed. They went through this recital every other night. The eight-year-old wasn't too sure about everything he was saying, but it was better that being beaten.

"Why?"

"'Cos I'm a crook."

"And then what?"

"They'll take me to a lab and cut me up."

"Why?"

"'Cos I'm a freak," Gar replied, his voice barely audible.

"And don't you ever forget that," with a slightly harder kick as a reminder, Brock left the boy alone.

Gar released his pent up breath in a huge sigh of relief. He'd been let off easy--for once. Resting his chin on his knees, he considered what Brock had said, what Brock had made him say. He could never be sure how much of what the two men said were true, but he did remember witnessing the punishment of a thief in Tawaba's tribe. The thief had stolen a goat, and Mobu had removed six strips of skin from the man's back in ceremony that was part-justice, part-religion. The thief had screamed for hours, and almost died. Gar was pretty sure that the jewels he was helping to steal were more valuable than the goat had been. Is that what happened here? Would they strip his skin off his back? The Batman certainly looked like he was capable of such practices. I'll bet even Mobu would have been scared of him.

Then there was the lab. Gar still had vague memories of his parents' laboratory, with its rows of bottles that broke so easily and its caged animals. Isn't that what jail is? he wondered. And they'll cut me up. Maybe that's where they take the skin off...in the lab. Brock's words were beginning to make more and more sense all the time. Now if he could just figure out for sure what a freak was. It's gotta be something really, really awful.

*******

Gar jolted awake when Brock cuffed him across the head. "Get up!"

Wearily, Gar slid off the chair where he had curled up the night before. "We leavin' now?" he asked, yawning.

"Leaving? Look outside, stupid! It's not dark yet. It's gotta be dark before we can go to work, you idiot."

"You mean we're pulling a job tonight?"

"No, stupid, I thought maybe we'd go around and give everything back tonight," Brock scowled. He stretched out on the sofa and began emptying the nylon bags in prepar-ation for the next robbery.

"But Brock..."

"Hey, I don't want to hear anything out of you."

"But Brock..."

"Just shut up, you little freak."

"But, Brock, I think we should just take what we got and leave. There's lotsa other places we can go."

"Well, will ya lookit who thinks he's the boss now." Brock picked up one of his cowboy boots and hurled it at the shape-shifter, catching the eight-year-old squarely in the ribs.

"Ow-w-w! Brock, don't!"

"Then shut up! Why should we leave? Gotham's the biggest haul we've had yet."

"But Brock--the Batman."

"What about him?"

"He saw me!"

"Next time make sure he doesn't," Brock returned, carelessly tossing a handful of diamond necklaces onto the coffee table. "Or better yet, next time kill him instead."

The dark green eyes widened in fear. "Th-the Batman..? B-but..."

"Yeah!" Brock exclaimed, impressed with his sudden inspiration. "Tonight at the bank you wait until Batman shows up and then kill him."

"But I can't kill the Batman!" Gar protested. "Who'll take care of Robin?"

Brock burst out laughing. "`Who'll take care of Robin?' Yer a funny kid, freak. Y'know that? `Who'll take care of Robin?'" he hooted, and laughed again.

Summoning his courage, Gar said, "I won't do it!"

Brock stopped laughing. He got off the sofa and moved towards the shape-shifter. "What did you say?" he demanded, collaring the boy and slamming him against the wall. "What do you think this is, freak?! You think this is summer camp?! When I tell you to do something, you do it!" He slammed the boy against the wall with every shout. "You don't ask questions!" Slam! "You don't whine about doing it!" BANG! "And don't you ever, ever tell me 'I won't do it!' Understand?!"

Gar tried to nod, but was too dazed to make his head and neck cooperate.

"UNDERSTAND?!" Brock roared, pulling back his fist.

"Yes! I understand!" Gar gasped.

Brock let go of him and watched as the boy crumpled to the floor. "You'd better be able to work tonight."

"I...I will," Gar said weakly. "I'm fine." He held his head in his hands in a vain attempt to stop it from pounding. Please, please, let me be able to change! He looked up to find Brock still staring hard at him, "I'm fine," he repeated.

"If you foul this job up freak, I'll make you wish you'd never been born."

Gar nodded that he understood. Brock gave him another painful kick in the leg for good measure and then left the apartment. He left me alone? Gar thought in surprise. When his head stopped ringing however, he heard Farley's snoring coming from the bedroom.

With an inward sigh, Garfield put all his concentration back into trying to change his shape--without much success. By the time it gets dark I'll be able to, he prayed. Please. The worst beating he had ever had resulted in the one time he had been unable to shape-shift due to a bad injury. It was nearly two months ago, but some of the scars on his back still weren't fully healed, and the burns still itched like crazy.

Carefully, Gar got to his feet and made his way into the tiny kitchen. Various containers from nearby greasy spoons were scattered across the counter-top, and Gar climbed onto the cupboard in the hopes of finding some supper. After a few minutes of searching, he found Farley's half-eaten hamburger from the night before and a day-old order of french fries. He ate as quickly as he could, just in case Brock walked back in. The meal was far from filling, but at least it would keep the hunger pains from gnawing at him until Brock and Farley decided to buy him a hamburger. Every now and then, they did remember.

He hopped off the cupboard and had to wrestle with the archaic refrigerator door before getting it opened. The shelves were empty except for a six pack and a can of Coca-Cola. Gar wondered briefly if Brock would find a cola worth a beating (nearly everything else was), but was thirsty enough to risk it. He grabbed the can and wandered back into the living room. I wish we'd stayed in the last city, he thought moodily. At least in the last place we had a T.V. ...and Batman wasn't around.

Sitting on the sofa, he tried to push Brock's orders to the back of his mind. What would happen if I just left? he wondered, automatically glancing at the door. He'd barely considered the thought when Brock walked back in.

"Here, freak," he tossed a greasy parcel towards the shape-shifter. "Hurry up, we got work to do."

"What?" Gar asked as he ripped through the foil.

"Farley!" Brock bellowed.

Gar ducked involuntarily at his shout, but the prospect of a whole hamburger made for a speedy recovery.

"Whaddya want?" Farley yelled back.

"Get out here! I've figured out which store we're gonna hit tonight."

Gar was halfway through his burger by the time Farley hauled himself out of bed. "Hey, where's my burger?" he demanded when he saw Gar.

"Shut up, Farley," Brock replied. "He needs to eat. He's gonna be doin' ahelluvalot of changin' before tonight is over."

Uh-oh. Gar stopped eating a looked at Brock warily.

"Yeah, why?"

"Didn't he tell you? He's gonna kill the Batman tonight," Brock grinned. "Aren't ya, freak?"


"But Bruce--"

"I said no, Dick. You have two tests tomorrow."

"But I've studied for them already. I know the material," Dick protested.

"I'm sure you do, but you also need a good night's rest, and that means no patrol."

"You're going after that robber tonight, aren't you? The one who uses animals?"

"If I can locate him, yes," Bruce said as calmly as he could. Actually, he wasn't sure what he was going to find, but he knew that he was not about to bring the eleven-year-old into such a situation. He slipped behind the grandfather clock and started down the stairs to the Batcave.

Dick was right at his heels. "I took two naps today, Bruce. Two!"

"I'm glad to here it," Bruce said absently as he started putting on his uniform.

"So I won't be too tired for the tests tomorrow. C'mon, Bruce! I want to be there for this one!"

"Dick, please," Bruce sighed, as he pulled on his cowl. "I said no, and I meant it."

"But I've been on it almost from the beginning..."

"Richard." Batman said. "Didn't you here what I just said?"

*******

"Are you listening?!" Brock demanded.

"Yes."

"What did we just tell you to do?"

Gar took a deep breath, "I get into the store and shut down the alarm, then I let you in. Then I go back outside as the lookout. If the cops come, I fly in and warn you, then go back and distract the cops."

"And if the Batman shows up?"

Gar hesitated, "I warn you..?" he suggested in a small voice.

"And..?" Brock grabbed a green arm and twisted viciously.

"But Brock, I don't even think I can--"

"He ain't gonna do it, Brock," Farley warned.

Brock's other hand encircled Gar's throat. He felt the boy swallow convulsively, "When Batman shows up, freak, what do you do?"

"Change into a lion," Gar managed.

"And..?"

"Go for his throat," he whispered.

"Go for his throat," Brock repeated. "Now get to work!" He tossed Gar out of the alley they were hidden in. "And, freak..."

Gar looked back.

"Farley's still got that bullet for you."

The shape-shifter nodded that he understood before changing into a fly and searching for an air duct. Once inside, he hunted down the fuse box, shifted into a bear and wiped out all the fuses. Brock and Farley were waiting by the appointed side door and when they spotted the green child, they walked in. As usual, Gar held his breath as they pushed the door open. If he messed up and the alarm went off..."Alright, now get outside and keep watch!" Brock hissed.

Gar pushed the door open, changed into a sparrow and perched on the ledge over the door to keep watch. C'mon, Brock. Hurry up! Please, please, before...oh no! Terror filled him as an unmistakable shadow loomed from the roof of the store. Ogodogodogod. What do I do? Oh man, we've gotta get outta here! Please, God, don't let him see me, Gar thought as he fluttered through the side door. "Brock!" he whispered urgently, shifting back into his human form. "Brock!"

Brock looked up from the knapsack he was filling. When he saw the boy, his face darkened murderously. "What the hell do you think you're--"

"Batman's here!"

"Where?" Both men froze, glancing warily from side to side.

"Outside. On the roof. We gotta go, Brock!"

"Whaddya mean `we,' freak? You're staying here to take out Batman."

"No, Brock, please..."

"Move it!" Brock growled, advancing on the boy.

Gar retreated until his back was against the door. "But, Brock... what if I can't do it? What if he catches me?"

"You keep you trap shut if he does. You know what they do to freaks around here?" Brock watched smugly as the dark green eyes widened in dread. "You fly away if you have to, but so help me, freak, if you come back and tell me that Batman's still alive..."

"I know," Gar said miserably.

"Then move it!" Brock shoved the frightened shape-shifter out the front door while he and Farley fled in search of a back window.

Garfield managed to change himself into a lion, just as the Batman swung down from the rooftop. Oh man! he felt his hind legs beginning to wobble. I can't do this. I won't be able to do this. The cowled figure before him was ten times more terrifying than Brock at his worst, and Gar felt paralysed. He's gonna kill me. I can tell he's just waiting to kill me.

*******

Batman's brain immediately shifted into combat mode when he spotted the green lion crouched in front of the door. Part of his mind noted with some surprise that the lion seemed to be afraid of him, while the rest watched for the slightest movement from the animal.

This staring contest can't go on forever, he told himself and began to reach for the capsules of tear gas in his utility belt. He'd barely twitched his right arm when the lion came hurtling towards him. Batman immediately dodged, leaving the lion to charge past him. The detective grabbed a batarang from his belt and whirled to face the animal again. Much to his surprise, the lion hesitated momentarily, then turned and ran. I know I'm going to regret doing this, Batman thought, even as he hurled the batarang towards the fleeing animal. The this unbreakable cord wrapped itself around the lion's rear paws, and Batman pulled, yanking the lion's hind legs out from under him.

The was a cry of pain that was unmistakably human before the lion disappeared in a flash of light. Batman hurried to the spot and found himself staring down at a unkempt, thin green boy. "What the hell..?"

The boy was gaping at him with the undisguised awe children usually held for costumed heroes. Then as if he suddenly realized what their actual relationship was, the boy jumped to his feet, and promptly fell down again, his legs tangled in the batarang's line. He worked frantically to untangle his legs, but his desperation only made him more clumsy. Batman laid a firm hand on the boy's shoulder. "Easy, kid."

"Lemme go!" the boy successfully twisted out from under Batman's hand and tried again to untangle his ankles.

"Just a minute," Batman caught his wrists in a gentle but unbreakable grip.

"Let go!" the boy whimpered, obviously trying not to cry.

"Take it easy," Batman ordered. "I'm not going to hurt you."

"You're lying!" the boy cried, "You're gonna beat me up! You always beat up on crooks!" He tried to gather his feet under him and let out a gasp of pain when his torn knees hit the concrete again.

"Will you just calm down?" Batman said, gritting his in frustration. "I'm not about to beat you up. I just want to talk to you."

The boy stopped struggling, but remained so tense that Batman didn't dare release his hold.

"Now...what's your name?"

The boy pulled his lower lip in between his teeth.

"Come on, kid. Your name," this was accompanied by a slight tug at the pale green arms.

The boy winced, "Garfield."

Batman's frown deepened, he didn't like the idea of using pain and fear to make this child--criminal or not--talk. He cursed himself for having made Dick remain at Wayne Manor. This "Garfield" would have probably been more willing to talk to someone nearer his own age. Well, it's too late for that now, Wayne. Work with what you've got--a green kid who is scared half out of his mind. Great.

"And how old are you?" Something simple so he doesn't clam up.

"Eight."

"Eight," Batman repeated, trying to decide what to ask next. Just what do you ask a green boy upon first meeting him? "Where are you from, Garfield?"

The emerald eyes widened momentarily before Garfield's struggles began anew.

Bad question. "Alright, alright, just hold still." Batman tightened his grip. "Garfield, keep still."

Something in his tone made the boy freeze, and his lower lip began to tremble.

For God's sake, don't start crying! "Garfield, I want you to listen to me, alright?" As if you have a choice. "I know you work for two men. I want to know if one of them is one of them your father."

For a moment, an emotion other than fear was apparent on the green face--indignation.

I think it's safe to take that as a 'no,' Batman decided. "Alright then, if you'd just tell me where these men are, we can...hey! Easy! Calm down."

*******

Tell you where they are?!? Garfield thought in horror. Brock hadn't even had to warn him about that. It was an unspoken threat that Gar had come to realize early on in his criminal career. He knew it would mean a death as long and as painful as Eddie Brock could make it.

"Garfield," Batman said, bringing the shape-shifter's thoughts back to the present. "Just calm down and..."

Man, I gotta get away! C'mon, change! Change, change, change!

"...the police will arrest them and put them in jail..."

Gar tried to ignore his badly skinned hands and knees, and his still-aching back and ribs as his put all his concentration in changing shape. This has gotta work! God, please...

"Once they're behind bars, Garfield, we'll take you to--" Batman broke off, surprised by the boy's near-hysterical terror. "Garfield..."

"NO!" In a final burst of desperation, Gar managed to shift into a small sparrow and flutter out of Batman's grasp. He flew back towards the apartment as fast as he could, never even bothering to see if the Batman was following him or not.

*******

Batman tracked the small green bird twelve blocks, then lost sight of him. He took to the rooftops and searched for another half-hour before realizing his efforts were useless. Damn. Now what? Go rattle every slumlord in the neighbourhood and ask them if they've seen a green kid? He considered the chances of such a tact. Well, how easy can it be to keep something like that kid a secret?
*******

Gar tapped sharply on the glass with his beak, bringing Farley to the window to open it for him. Gar barely managed to fly in before exhaustion overtook him and forced back to human form. Brock was towering over him almost immediately. "Well?"

"I got away from him," Gar panted. "He was gonna take me away and--"

"'Got away from him?'" Brock grabbed the boy by the collar and hauled him up until they were nose to nose. "You weren't supposed to get away from him, stupid! You were supposed to kill him."

"I...I know, Brock, but..." Gar tried to pull his shirt out of the man's grasp. "But I...couldn't hardly shape-shift and...Brock!" he cried in alarm when he saw Brock's fist arcing towards his jaw. The blow sent him head over heels, but he managed to keep from passing out. "Brock, please, I tried...really I did, but..."

Farley didn't bother giving the familiar scene a second glance. He merely flopped into a chair and lit up a cigarette.

"What did I tell you, freak? What did I tell you?"

Gar managed to roll out of the way of the vicious kick aimed at his ribs, and knew he had only succeeded in infuriating his "boss" more.

"Did you at least knock him out so he couldn't follow you?"

"Follow me?" Gar echoed weakly.

Brock's face contorted with rage. "I warned you, freak. I told you what would happen if you screwed up. And you screwed up bad this time."

"But, Brock..." Gar tried to edge away from him.

Brock grabbed him by neck and threw him to the floor, then he sat on the green legs, pinning the shape-shifter down. "Farley!"

"Yeah?"

"Gimme your cigarette."

"Here, I'll light you a new one," Farley pulled another Camel from his pack.

Gar watched his actions as if hypnotized. "No, no...please..."

Brock held the glowing tip bare millimetres from the wide emerald eyes. "See this?" he asked unnecessarily. "This is what happens when you don't follow orders!"

*******

"Dammit, Farley, hurry up!" Brock hissed as he threw knapsacks full of precious jewels into the trunk of a rust-coloured car. "If the Batman followed the kid, he could be here any minute!"

Farley unceremoniously dumped the limp body of the shape-shifter on top of the jewels. "What about his leg?"

"I know a doctor in Chicago--you pay him enough money, he doesn't see nothing," Brock grinned, slamming the trunk shut.

"That where we're goin' next? Chicago?"

"That's right. I know a guy there who'll take all those diamonds off our hands," Brock explained as he got in and started the engine. "We're gonna haveta get a new car, too. Just to make sure."

"When're we gonna start living high, like you said?"

"Soon as we cash in," Brock replied practically licking his lips in anticipation. "Then we'll run our operation from the poshest penthouse in the city. Broads, booze, coke..."

"What about the freak?"

"We'll buy him a gold cage," Brock dead-panned, before both men burst into loud laughter.

*******

"Okay, okay! So maybe I saw a green kid," the pudgy man squirmed under the Batman's glare. "But, hey, they're payin' customers. It ain't my job to ask them questions."

"Which one is theirs?" Batman demanded.

The man debated not answering, but soon decided this was not the time to start espousing on his civil rights. "3B. Up the stairs to your left."

Batman rushed up the stairs, and paused outside the door of apartment 3B, listening. Asleep? he wondered. That's their problem. He kicked the door open, prepared for an attack. Gone, he thought, straightening. He moved further into the apartment. There was no sign of life anywhere. He checked the kitchen, the bedroom, the fire escape, but there was no sign of anything or anybody. As he moved back into the living room, a light patch and dark splotches on the floor caught his eye. He picked up the torn piece of cloth, recognizing it as a piece of the shirt Garfield had been wearing. Half of it was drenched in blood. Batman's shoulders slumped. Damn.


"Good morning, Bruce," Dick said as he sauntered down to the Batcave, hair brushed, face washed and ready for school.

"Good morning, Dick," Bruce replied.

"Did you get them?"

"Get who?"

"You know, those animal robbers."

"No, Dick, but I don't think they'll be pulling off anymore jobs in Gotham City."

"Then you got them!" Dick finished excitedly. "How did they do it? Were there--"

"Dick, I just told you I didn't get them," Bruce snapped. "I just happen to believe that they've left the city."

Dick knew that there was alot Bruce wasn't telling him. "But you saw them didn't you? I mean, I just want to know how they--"

"Richard, you've proven to be a tremendous help to me since I took you on as my partner." Bruce's voice had chilled considerably, "But I think it's high time you learned that there are some cases that are simply none of your business. Now stop grilling me like I'm a common stoolie and get to school."

Dick's pale blue eyes widened under his mentor's onslaught, and with a mumbled: "Yessir" he hurried back up the stairs.

Bruce sighed, "Dick!" he called.

A disembodied "Yes?" floated down from the stairwell.

"Good luck on those tests."

"Thanks."

Snap out of it, Wayne! Bruce told himself. You did everything you could. Besides what would you have done once you'd put those two bastards in jail? Adopted another kid? And a green one to boot. Then what? Turn him into a vigilante, too?

Five months later...

Bruce took another long sip of coffee as he finished off his morning newspaper. The headline of a small article at the bottom of the last page was what caught his eye: "Green Child-Criminal Heir to a Sizable Fortune."

Bruce was immediately engrossed in the article, barely even returning Dick's wave as the youth left for school. He read the article nearly three times, trying to glean as much additional information as he could.

"...green boy that has the amazing ability to turn into animals..."

I knew that.

"...declared the F.B.I.'s Most Wanted Eight-Year-Old because of his powers..."

I'm not surprised.

"...identified as Garfield Logan, son of late scientists Mark and Marie Logan..."

Well, at least it's a relief knowing that he got away from those scum that had him.

"...has been placed in the custody of Nicholas Galtry."



End





 

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