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THE PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR OF GOTHAM, New Jersey sat at his desk, watching a man flail about. He found it impossible to actually listen to the words.

The man had barged into his office, asked if he was the detective, and a litany of words had then spilled out uninterrupted. Why was he still talking?

Although he’d planned to close the office twenty minutes ago, Dick Grayson perched in his seat entertaining a client, determined not to look at the clock and frown. He nodded his head, seeming more attentive than he was from his office swivel chair. Slats of dusty light filtered through the window blinds, landing on the faded carpet Dick had had no say in when he agreed to lease the space two years ago. He kept himself carefully curated to show thoughtful concern even as his internal monologue began to wander. He wanted to hit the pavement, to take on an important case as a proper gumshoe. He hadn’t had a real case in months.

On the other side of Dick’s hand-me-down walnut desk were two barrel chairs he thoughtfully picked out and paid for after the success of his first real job. The man in front of him neglected both seats to continue to stand and spew his problem with all the personality of a klaxon horn. His blond hair was plastered to the side of his head and he wore a pastel green sweater paired with woolen slacks in this heat. The client leaned forward, his eyes wide as they bored straight into Dick’s soul.

“It’s not fair for the owner of the building to just parade around whenever and make a mess of things! There is proper procedure! I am a man of some means and I shan't be trampled on!”

An inconsiderate property owner. Great. The mind and connections of a private eye brought in for a squabble. It was like the goddamn Theodore situation all over again. 

Last month, a couple had stepped into his second floor office, all nervous energy and faces of uncertainty at braving the audience of a private detective for the first time. Dick had tried his best to be encouraging, offering water or spritzer depending on taste or mood. He knew most people found him charming, though foreign from the stock Gotham usually produced, and he had offered the couple a warm smile. After three minutes, when neither of the pair had spoken, Dick pulled open a drawer where he kept the smelling salts, wondering if he was going to have to light this fire himself. And then the woman spoke.

“He’s gone,” she had said without preamble, but it had been a start.

“Okay,” Dick followed. “Tell me who ‘he’ is.”

“Theodore. He went missing yesterday afternoon and he’s still gone.” She then turned to the man next to her, a flash of a thick gold ring on her finger. They looked at each other for a moment before she turned back to face Dick. “We think he ran off because he was mad at us. We’d...we’d scolded him fairly harshly.”

Missing. Finally. There had been a few unofficial rumors of people missing, but no one had gone to the police to officially file, or come to Dick to help find them. He had nothing but hearsay to go on and an itch to find out more of what was going on. He’d prefer to receive payment for his services, however.

“Ah, gotcha,” he had acknowledged in an attempt to dampen down his excitement. “Has he done this before?”

“No! He’s usually so well-behaved!”

The man spoke, “We run a tight ship in our household so Teddy usually doesn’t get the chance to run off.”

Dick remembered tilting his head at that, starting to get an inkling that all was not what it seemed. “But Teddy has displayed a willingness to run off?”

The man scoffed. “Of course. Most dogs do.”

Dick had simply stared at the couple, then remembered himself and schooled his features. He took a deep breath.

“Teddy is your dog,” he had said.

“Yes, but he’s our only dog,” corrected the man.

The woman instead had turned to begging. “Please! Please say you’ll search for him! We can pay you!”

Dick had noticed the tailored clothes of good quality. Silk and wool and the real stuff of finely woven material, he could tell. None of the fabric bunched where it was tucked in or sat on. He supposed they certainly could pay. And this deep into the Depression, Dick couldn’t afford to be so selective.

But Jesus Christ. A dog?

He had shaken hands with the couple, gotten more information, and then hit the pavement to eventually find some yellow Labrador with more curiosity than sense. It had taken three weeks to find the damn dog and the couple had subtracted payment from their original contract because of the timing. Mostly he’d been glad to see them go.

The man now — Mr. Garrett Nielsen, Dick remembered — continued to rant about the owner of his building’s faux pas. 

“I need you to find him and tell him he must employ a respectable landlord to conclude his business with. This isn’t right!”

Well, Garrett, this wasn’t exactly detective business but Dick supposed as an orphaned outsider with no roots and a living to earn, he could work around that detail.

“You haven’t seen him?” Dick probed instead.

“Not for the last three days.”

“So...would you say your situation has improved then?”

“No! He must be told! Also, there’s a huge drip coming from the ceiling and it must be a rusty pipe because the discoloration is awful. It’s right over my dining table! He has to take care of it! And he needs to hire a landlord first to then hire a handyman to deal with it! Proper procedure!” he shouted.

Dick wanted to grumble. It wasn’t that he disagreed with Garrett’s words. Quite the opposite. He’d seen enough owners take advantage of their tenants. He mostly disagreed with Garrett’s general presence and the way he shouted at him about something that shouldn’t involve a PI. But Dick was a tenant of space too and he needed the job. This is going to ruin my reputation, dammit.

“I’ll see what I can do for you, sir,” Dick said. “Can I come by tomorrow?”

“I’m out between the hours of ten and noon. That’s when I take tea at the Rose Café after I grab a filthy paper from those street rats shouting the most ridiculous headlines. But feel free to come by at half past noon.”

Dick wanted to mention he had, at one point during the circus off-season of his youth, stood on the street corners with papers he’d bought to sell to people exactly like Garrett. He held his tongue and shook the man’s hand instead. “I’ll see you tomorrow at twelve-thirty then.”

The man turned sharply and finally left. In his office alone, Dick felt more tired than he had in ages despite the fact that for the entire meeting he never even got out of his chair.

 

 

WHEN DICK GRAYSON FINALLY quit work, he found the Gotham air heavy with the promise of rain. A promise rarely delivered, choosing instead to dole out muggy days and humid nights to torment the late summer season. The streets were filled with working men in denim overalls and rags tied at the neck, with women in durable skirts and matching jackets. He wound his way between them, enjoying an ecological sense of belonging to this living, breathing environment. He stopped by City Hall as its doors were closing, to patronize the employees he was familiar with for the latest news. It proved to be the same old gossip of Gotham pandering to her newest entrepreneur: Roman Sionis, whom the city seemed to bend over backwards for. The fawning sure seemed to bring in the money, though.

There was still no news regarding the rumors of missing Gothamites. Figures. Another whelming situation. 

He kept walking, letting his empty stomach guide him to accept a table at a frequented restaurant. He enjoyed a quick dinner, then meandered back to his office.

Inside, Dick turned the lights on and closed the blinds, shutting out the fading dusk and the soft orange glow of the city’s street lamps. He hung up his coat and his hat, removed his gloves and threw them onto a table under the window: rich mahogany with simple dovetail joints he found at an estate sale. He had figured it would make his office feel cozier and inviting with added furniture besides a desk, but all he ever did was toss his gloves onto the beautiful dark stain of wood.

He sat down at his desk and pulled out his receipts and his date book, determined to figure out his schedule for tomorrow and the next day. Plucking a pencil from its holder, he wrote in neat lettering his appointment with Garrett tomorrow. But the writing began to feel like an elaborate gesture to something that wasn’t; something of no real purpose. An alarming amount of Gotham citizens were rumored to be missing, an industrial monopoly was purchasing property left and right, and Dick was gifted with another case for the vapid landed gentry. His detective skills continued to waste on the simply inconvenienced, when he received a commission at all. Dick stared at the other blank diary entries and felt the beginnings of a depressive spiral, a quiet crisis that whispered what was the point of anything, when a brief knock interrupted his melancholy musings. The door opened not a second later to reveal a man who let himself in without waiting for permission. Dick, familiar with the person’s timing, didn’t bat an eye at the intruder. Instead, his spirits rose and with this guest, Dick thought his day might be salvageable after all.

The man was all thighs plus broad, inviting shoulders and arms to die for. His name was Jason Todd and he stood before Dick; his friend and informant. He wore a light poplin khaki jacket with an open neck and dark gray trousers, shod in brown leather boots. More importantly, Jason raised a bottle of rye whisky with one hand in a celebratory air.

“I bring congratulations. I heard you found Teddy.”

The fact that the ass could say it with a straight face brought forth a groan of despair from the depths of Dick’s soul. He beckoned for the bottle all the same and fished through the deep bottom drawer of his desk to produce two tumblers. Jason set the bottle down, then removed his safari jacket to deposit it on the same table Dick usually tossed his gloves onto.

“It’s a true testament to how much I trust you that, one, you get away with that statement and, two, I’m not even checking to see if this is poisonous.” Dick pushed both glasses to Jason’s side of the desk where the man sat down, rolled his sleeves to the elbows to reveal browned skin and muscled forearms, and started pouring.

“We’d have to rethink my role as an informant if you didn’t trust me.”

Dick stared into Jason’s eyes, challenging. “I’ve been burned before,” he revealed, then accepted the tumbler back from Jason and took a sip. Dick loosened the tie at his throat and tugged it free from his shirt altogether, tossing it onto the top of the pile they had started on the office side table.

“What, by informants?” Jason asked. “Well then, we could just be friends, you know. Let me down easy, Dickie, I can take it,” he said with a wink.

Dick waved his hand dismissively. “No, no, none of that. I mean I’ve been gifted spirits before meant to poison me. One of them tarnished my favorite silver spoon.”

Jason blinked once then threw his head back and laughed. “My God, does this happen often?”

“It was only a few times. And one of them wasn’t intentional. Just homemade Grappa gone wrong. Though I am thrilled you find my brushes with death amusing.”

“Ah, come on, it comes with the job description, right? You’re alive now. You get to laugh in the face of their failures.”

A slow smile spread across Dick’s face, remembering past cases of adventure and excitement — when Gotham had been more of a free-for-all and less an epicenter for entrepreneurship as the City saw these days. “I should advertise that for my business.” He spread his hands wide as if to behold a vision. “Dick Grayson, PI: Still Not Dead.”

“That’s the spirit.”

They sat there and sipped at their drinks, talking about everything and nothing as the clock on the wall softly ticked the time away. When the moment came that Jason drained his third glass, Dick knew the night was over. Jason would leave one way and Dick the other: Jason out the front door of the office, Dick through the back where his bedroom and bathroom en suite were housed. Just as they always did, almost every night since they first met nearly two years ago.

“Welp, I’ll see you around, Dick Grayson, PI.”

“Gotta keep getting the scoop from you, Jason Todd, mouth.”

Jason pursed his lips at that. “Mouth, sure,” then turned to walk out of Dick’s office. He gave a lazy flick of a wave and Dick watched the back of him leave his space. 

Dick’s glass, however, still held liquid and he drank the rest by himself.

 

 

THE NEXT DAY, Dick dressed comfortably for field work and met Garrett at half past noon just as promised. He regretted taking the case instantly. The location was near the Harbor District, an already loud area filled with seagulls and cargo ship horns. The smell didn’t help either. Worse still, Garrett first gave his pleasantries in the form of loud opinions based on the morning’s tea service and then the dirt on the face of one of the newspaper boys.

“Do you mind if I take a look around?” Dick asked, seizing an opportunity as Garrett took a deep breath. The client’s place, Dick surmised, was nestled somewhere in the baroque-styled Queen Anne Victorian currently sandwiched between red brick buildings of geometric design. Down the road, closer to the City Center, stood the Italianate Gotham Opera House. The Kane family used to own some property on the street, before the monopoly wars, Dick recalled. But right in front of him in the here and now, Garrett’s tenement looked downright whimsical in comparison. Dick was surprised the owner had managed to hold out from the art deco fury that descended on Gotham three years ago. He wondered if Garrett’s motivation to find the missing eccentric was simply due to the building’s facade.

“Of course. Here, allow me to take you around,” Garrett said once he exhaled, and he held the door open for the PI.

Dick stepped into a neat hallway and moved forward just enough to allow Garrett the room to join him, waiting for the man to then point out where he would like Dick to go.

“In here to the sitting room.” The man gave an indiscriminate nod forward and to the right.

Dick took the hint and walked to the end of the hallway. To the right and the left were entrances to more of the townhome and he moved into his client’s sitting room. Garrett made a circle in the new room like a man studying the home for the first time before flinging out an arm.

“That way’s the kitchen and dining room. Back from where we came leads to the bedrooms.” He paused and pointed further on. “The offending stain’s this way.”

He charged ahead through the kitchen and Dick followed.

The kitchen was also neat and looked ill-used; not a crumb in sight.

“Over here,” the man shouted. Dick found him in the next room staring at the ceiling.

It was a high ceiling, but Dick could make out the large stain in detail in addition to a faint metallic smell. He narrowed his eyes, taking it in and assessing. He let out an appropriate, “Hmmm” to signal to Garrett he was working and not just staring blankly. A trick he learned after his first few cases when potential clients brought forth their tangible suspicions and would pester him when he didn’t immediately respond with, Do you see it? It’s right there. What do you think? Hello?

What did he think? The stain was rather brown, came to mind.

“Who lives upstairs?” Dick asked.

“No one. The living arrangement of no upstairs tenant was supposed to be one of the perks of letting the unit. Instead, the owner was over at all hours making a God awful racket.”

“Hmmm,” Dick said again. He examined a large window; unlatching the lock with a swipe and pushing the frame up out of the sill. The glass was thicker at the bottom than at the top of the pane, like the material had flowed down over the years with gravity. “All the same windows, yes?”

“Of course. Wouldn’t be proper to display different window types. The chaos!”

He wound back the way he came until he found himself in the foyer. He took the stairs to the upper unit and tried the door. Locked. He inspected the hardware. A Yale lock. He went back down the stairs.

“What now, Mr. Grayson?”

Dick didn’t answer. He instead made his way to the exit. “Help me verify the correct window.”

Garrett did so, winding the PI along the ornamental, three story Victorian. The Baroque style would provide plenty of handhelds.

Dick climbed, gable to gable, finial to finial, letting muscle memory of his youth direct his speed, his grip. He used his thighs, his calves, pushing his way up by his legs and using the momentum to pull himself up higher and higher. Easy.

Dick gripped the lattice work and pulled himself up to the second floor deck landing. He tested the window where it rocked in its sill but failed to open, prompting Dick to pull out his pocket knife. He slipped the blade between the rail of the single hung window and flipped the sash lock open. He returned the knife to his pocket then stepped into the shut up room, the air heavy with a secret burden. He slowly, cautiously raked the environment with his eyes until his view landed on the far corner of the room. He knew what was before him the moment he spotted them.

On the floor were two bodies.

They were tangled together, and from their epicenter spread an impressive pool of blood on the hardwood floor. Long, dark hair partially obscured the view; flowing from the crown of a head and swept across to drape over the shoulder from the other body. Dick stepped closer.

He identified a man and a woman, dressed casually in denim and linen for him, a light floral dress for her. The hemline would have fallen at the shin if she'd been standing, Dick supposed. But what he could also determine was the man dead on the floor before him matched Garrett’s description of his landlord. He crouched down, the putrid smell wafting in concentrate this close to the bodies, to observe the origin of the blood: slashes at the throats that have long turned purple with age and exposure. Remembering the layout of Garrett’s apartment directly below, he felt comfortable with the assessment that the ceiling drip was not from a rusty pipe.

He committed as many details to memory as he could, then Dick turned back to the window, stepped out, and closed it. He climbed down with careful control and phoned the police.

 

 

NEWSREEL

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  • Funds Accumulate in Gotham Thanks to New Golden Son, Roman Sionis
  • Eliot Ness Battles Capone for Chicago
  • Supreme Court Finds Agricultural Adjustment Act Unconstitutional; 6-3 Verdict Dooms Other New Deal Laws; Confusion Is Widespread

 

 

TWO DAYS AFTER HE FOUND and reported the bodies, Dick stepped into the Gotham Police Department precinct and shuffled into the office of the rat faced uniformed man who smiled at him with his rat teeth.

“Private Dick, come on in.”

“Sergeant O’Malley. You need anything more for my statement?”

“Not at all. We simply like to keep informed those of us in this business.” He winked at Dick conspiratorially. “We’re in the same trade, you know. Gotta stick together.”

Dick gave a noncommittal, “Mmm.”

Another uniformed officer interrupted briefly with a knock on the open door. Dick turned to watch the newcomer raise a heavy eyebrow at his superior and for O’Malley to silently wave him off. The interloper glanced at Dick’s face and seemed to recognize him. His posture stiffened as if his whole body had been starched and not just his uniform before he walked away in a jarring motion without a word like a living and breathing automaton. Interesting.

“Anyways,” O’Malley continued, “thought I’d let you know we’ve got cause of death for the bodies you found.”

“Really? You guys work fast.” He wondered if the boys in blue were going to attribute the deaths to the Red Hood, Gotham's favorite suspect for these types of crimes, and not without reason.

O’Malley laughed in a pantomime of a joking camaraderie. “I’ll give the rest of the boys your compliment. But this case is closed. Murder-suicide. Lover’s tiff and all that.” 

Dick thought back to the crime scene. The line of red-purple across the throats, mirrored actions against two separate bodies, plus the initiated angle of the action needed. His own initial conclusion had been murder-murder. He locked those thoughts away for the safety of later.

“Glad to know it’s resolved,” Dick said instead. He was usually careful around O’Malley. He’d dealt with him a few times in a professional capacity. The sergeant was neither a surprising nor inspiring man. Nothing like the halcyon days when Gotham PD cooperated with Harvey Dent as the District Attorney.

“That’s the spirit. Gotham’s going up these days. Gonna be the leading city of the world. Take pride. If you weren’t a Gothamite before, you should be now.”

The sergeant had been quick to sniff out Dick’s migrant status years ago when they had their first professional encounter and Dick heard the threat in the officer’s words now. Dick Grayson, born elsewhere to a traveling circus, adopted by Gotham herself so he could stay in the city where his parents were buried. Check ups done by Dr. Thompkins’ free clinic. Legal assistance by Harvey Dent. Education provided by the Kanes. Housing by the Wayne shelter. Dick Grayson was sewn a motley identity by Gotham’s best, making him more Gotham than most, but an outsider all the same. And then the Wayne shelter had turned into a foundry for Sionis' business. Dr. Thompkins could no longer afford her free clinic. The Kanes had sold off superfluous property to retain their main estate and sense of dignity. Harvey Dent had gone mad. Civilians were missing but no one seemed concerned. What was happening to this city?

He thought of his client.

“What’s going to happen to the building? Is there family involved to take over?”

O’Malley pursed his rat lips into a kind of sneer. “No, no family. It’s been purchased actually. Going to get a nice Gotham facelift. Don’t you worry, Grayson. All’s taken care of.”

Dick walked out of the precinct worried.

 

 

THE FLOORS OF CITY HALL were scuffed to hell despite the thorough polishing Dick knew the city paid for. The interior flaunted marble and gold and velvet and a hefty cleaning fee, while the patrons and city officials smeared shoe polish and gouged baseboards with their trolleys. He wound his way through the building and landed at the city permitting division.

“Mr. Grayson,” called out a man. He set aside a stack of applications to offer Dick a smile.

“Mr. Reyes.” Dick offered a two-fingered salute and a nod of the head. “How you doing today?”

“Keeping busy as always.” He looked it, too. There was a sallowness to the man’s usually lively demeanor and his voice lacked the energy Dick was used to. Arthur Reyes had long manned the city permit’s desk and was happy to supply the detective with information, maintaining what he offered was public record anyways. 

“Damn, Reyes, the City holding its employees hostage or something?”

“Something like that. Money funnels in and we all gotta scramble.”

“They paying you vacation yet?”

“Word is the big bosses are close to ruling in our favor. I pray to God He might put in a good word to the tycoons above.”

Dick laughed. “Fingers crossed then.”

“And what are you here for, Mr. Grayson?”

“Wondering if you know about who’s purchased the ornamental Victorian by the harbor district.”

“Oh, that’s an easy answer. Who do you think bought it?”

“You telling me Sionis bought this one, too?”

Reyes nodded. “Sure did. Ever since that man took over his parents’ business, he’s done nothing but set his eyes on Gotham as far as my permit forms tell me.”

“He’s certainly just as synonymous with Gotham these days as he is with all things oil and steel.”

The man agreed and leaned forward like a conspirator. “I’m telling you, Gotham’s got a new golden son. Whatever hold the old families thought they had, Sionis is breaking those bonds.”

“But Sionis is Gotham-born, same as the others. Why’s he not included in their little club?”

“Sionis is only second-generation Gotham. Old families are at least five. The Elliot’s only go back four, something they’re bitter about. The Kanes and Waynes go back something like seven generations. They’re also intertwined through marriage. That Bruce Wayne, who became a recluse, his mother was a Kane.”

“Huh. Interesting. What about the less prominent folk who are multi-generational?”

“Gotta have money to count, but they’ll garner a bit of respect. But someone like me? Like you? We never had a chance, Mr. Grayson.”

“Like me?”

Reyes gave a hollow laugh. “Newcomers. Outsiders. Foreigners.” He stopped for a moment and tilted his head. “But for what it’s worth, I think that’s what makes you a fine detective. You see more of what they really are.”

“But I have to be careful saying anything just the same. I live and eat here, you know.”

Reyes nodded, thoughtful, then shook his head slow and deliberate. “You’re walking a finer line than a lot of us, that’s for sure.”

Reyes turned back to the stack of papers to his left, picking them up with purpose. “Good luck with your investigations,” he said.

Dick recognized the dismissal. He turned away and offered, “thanks for everything,” then made his way to the exit.

 

 

THE DAYS PASSED without any leads, without any new information, and it left Dick feeling useless and antsy. He sat at his office desk after hours as was his ritual, but his hands bothered him as he grasped his tumbler — an itchiness that came from an inability to hone in on what was keeping him from what he needed. He knew exactly what he needed. But more facts, more witnesses, and more time continued to elude him.

Jason sat opposite him in their age-old familiar way now, wearing a gray wool suit and speaking slyly in an even more familiar habit. A loose strand of rich hair kept slipping into his face and Dick focused on the motion of Jason combing it back with his hand several times. He watched, slightly enamored with the action in a way he refused to identify. Soothing, after the day he’d had. His favorite guest leaned comfortably slumped back in the chair, his legs parted wide and familiar. He offered a tantalizing picture before Dick. Except Jason dropped the usual sarcastic comments and the sweeping back of the hair after taking a moment to observe Dick.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Really.”

Dick paused, and then, “What do you know about the steel magnate? Roman Sionis? No bullshit.”

Jason narrowed his eyes. “I don’t bullshit you, Dick.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“He’s big business, what else is there to know?”

“His main building is in the Harbor District. On Merchant Street yeah?”

“Yeah…”

Dick pondered some more, then asked another question. “Do you know why Sionis took over the family business?”

“Word is his parents were seen as unfit and removed from duty.”

“Hmmm,” Dick trailed off again. “I wonder if his parents are proud of what he’s accomplished.”

“I think someone would actually have to get in contact with the parents to find out for sure.”

“No one’s heard from them?”

“They don’t seem to exist anymore, Dickie. The papers would be all over it if there was a quote from the family.”

Dick nodded in agreement. But his thoughts continued to wander and the nodding turned into slight shaking, the grip of the case on him completely. “There’s something off about him. And he’s involved with my case.”

“I thought your case was over?”

“Police think it’s over. They’re saying the dead people I found came about from a lover’s tiff. But I saw the death blows. Someone else’s hand did the killing. A third person. But the police haven’t been very welcoming of my suggestions. They only seem to care about Sionis’ money.”

Jason scoffed.

“Yeah, exactly,” Dick said, seizing on Jason’s attitude.

Jason sighed and began to list: “Sionis' big business has a hold on Gotham. He’s based on Merchant Street. I’ll see what else I can find for you.”

“Thanks, Jay.”

“You owe me.”

“Anything. You got it.”

“Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Offer anything.”

“Why? For you, Jay, anything.”

Jason stood up and looked about the office for his personal effects. “I gotta go.”

That caught Dick off guard. “So soon?”

“I got stuff to take care of.” Jason stood up, grabbed his jacket and flat cap, and walked out the office door. He took care to latch the door softly behind him.

Dick remained sitting, his eyes staring at the closed door. His hands no longer bothered him, but his chest did.



 

NEWSREEL

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  • Gazette Source Alleges The Red Hood Spotted Meeting With Golden Son Sionis
  • Gotham Police Department Praises Magnate Direction: “We Owe So Much to Mr. Sionis and We’ll Do What We Can For Him”
  • Dust Bowl “Okies” Encouraged to Migrate West — No Room in Gotham; East Coast
  • A Source For Gotham Gazette Found Dead In Home

 

 

OVER THE COURSE OF the next two weeks, Dick walked the pavement.

Technically the case was over. He had found Mr. Nielsen’s landlord, the exception being that he was very dead. Dick had torn up the contract in the end. He didn’t feel right asking for Garrett’s money, even if it meant skipping a meal or two because of it. He did, however, have a personal curiosity to satisfy. And he had done some more digging. 

Mr. Reyes of City Hall had managed to provide Dick with a line up of information: all of the original owners of properties purchased by Mr. Sionis in the last three years had fled Gotham. A few of the names were caught in the missing persons rumor mill.

Then on a slow, foggy day, one of those missing persons had shown up dead.

The term “missing” was used loosely and only by those who knew enough to feel the person’s lack of presence keenly. No police reports had been filed as far as Dick knew, a fact that nagged at him.

The dead man’s name was Frank Garland and he had sold his warehouse to Roman Sionis at just below market value then skipped town. The only witness to the whole affair was Harry, a friend and former business partner to the deceased whom Dick was currently huddled with in an alley for information.

Frank had come back to Gotham, Harry told him, something that apparently made certain people very upset. Only a few knew Frank was back in town. As Frank's only confidant, Harry was one in the know. And Harry was insistent Frank was back with a mission. He had figured Frank wanted more money. But before Harry could learn anything more, Frank was dead.

Dick closed his eyes at the news. He opened them again when Harry said, “It wasn’t part of his plan.”

“To be murdered?” Dick asked, barely concealing the flippancy from his voice.

“He was planning on dying in California with the sea air. Bad lungs,” Harry added when he noticed Dick’s confused face. The clarification left Dick feeling like an asshole. 

They stood there for a few seconds more. “He had gotten out,” Harry admitted. Dick wasn’t sure if Harry meant gotten out of Gotham, gotten out from Sionis, or out from criminal activities. In the end it didn’t seem to matter to Dick. Frank’s journey was over. 

Harry finished with, “I wish he’d never come back.”

Dick didn’t know what to say to that except “goodbye.” He did. And all that was left was for him to walk away.

His walk led him to the inescapable Merchant Street, staring at the Sionis flagship building. It was made up of large stone blocks with a geometric face and large brass lanterns on either side of the entrance. It was modern and grandiose and felt out of place with the harbor smell surrounding the area and the murky gray water providing the vista points. A wide path cut between the street and the harbor. It housed a small rose garden, protected from unwanted vagabonds with a decorative wrought iron fence. The gaudiness made Dick cringe, and despite the array of rose petal colors, he made his way back to the entrance, leaving behind the forced beauty. He walked inside the Sionis building, deciding to gather more information. The ceiling seemed to extend beyond the sky itself, with faint golden arches. Beneath his feet, the floors were polished marble and loud as Dick trespassed inside. The interior felt gilded, but impersonal; more of a Midas touch than a Sionis touch, Dick suspected. A desk clerk intercepted him before too long, armed with accommodating questions. She promptly answered his inquiry concerning the building’s owner with, “Mr. Sionis’ office is located on the third floor but requires an appointment three months in advance.” She finished with an arched brow, as if daring him to ask her more questions.

Dick thanked the matronly desk clerk and made his egress. Third floor, eh? It wouldn’t be the first building he’d broken into. Not even this month.

 

 

IN THE FOLLOWING DAYS, Dick saw Jason very little, but he returned to Dick's office during a thunderstorm.

“I saw you on Merchant Street.”

Jason Todd slipped into his usual chair before the desk with practiced ease and a refusal to acknowledge his absence or the slight wince when he settled. Dick assumed the man had been injured somehow since they last saw each other, but Dick could pretend nothing was out of the ordinary just as well. There was tension now instead of the playfully charged atmosphere, and Dick felt a bitterness he decided not to acknowledge. Thunder boomed behind them in the distance.

To Jason's accusation he said, “I know.”

“You didn't know that," Jason scoffed. Then, "Business or personal?”

“Business. Roman Sionis bought Garrett’s dead owner’s property,” Dick added.

“Roman Sionis." 

“Fourth Gotham property he’s bought in the last three months, including the warehouse owned by the now deceased Frank Garland. City Hall calls him a Renaissance Man.”

“Well, if City Hall says so.”

“I think I need to go digging. Got any hot tips for me yet?”

Jason watched Dick carefully, thinking. “Word on the street is Sionis is feuding with the Red Hood.”

“Feuding with the Red Hood, eh? Unfortunately I can’t exactly deduce his character from that as Red Hood feuds with anyone it seems.”

A smile tugged at the corner of Jason's mouth. “Is that so, Detective?”

“God dammit, no it’s not, but why’s he gotta go in guns blazing and kill off suspects?”

“Does Red Hood always kill off suspects?”

Dick grumbled, grinding out a “No” from between his teeth. “Hey, whose friend are you anyways? Mine or his?” Dick poured himself another drink.

“Maybe I’m friends with both of you.”

Dick paused, his hand wrapped around the glass brought halfway to his lips.

“What?” Jason asked. “Am I not allowed to have other friends?”

Dick scoffed then finally took a drink. “No, it’s not that. I guess I don’t like the idea of you...and Red Hood…”

“Being friends?”

“I don’t want something bad to happen to you.”

“Aww, you do care.”

“Shut up.”

“We live in Gotham, Dickie. Getting hurt is just something that happens.”

“Is that why you’re wincing in your chair now? Just another injury from lovely Gotham?”

“It’s fine.”

“Did the Red Hood do this?”

Jason shook his head, but it seemed less out of denial and more from surprise. After a long pause he said, “I’m not his friend, you know. I think he’s necessary sometimes, but I don’t want to be friends with him. Not when I’ve got you.” A sly grin crossed his face. “Who else will tolerate my terrible taste in bootleg Scotch?”

Dick laughed at the assessment. “That’s true. And the company’s damn good,” he admitted.

“Thanks, Dick. And don’t you worry about me. I’ve got your back.”

“Only if you let me watch yours.”

Jason raised his glass. “To watching each other’s backs.”

Dick clinked his tumbler against Jason’s and drank deeply.

 

 

THE FIRST TIME HE had ever heard Jason whisper one of his secrets was late at night in The Delancey. Dick had pulled up a chair along the perimeter of the warm speakeasy, a darkened grotto filled with anonymous chatter. He had been hoping to drink unbothered, only to instead find a man sitting next to him, closer than he thought. The man appeared slumped in a disarming way, but Dick knew he was more alert than his body was trying to convey.

Dick had stupidly decided to prod the man about it. “You’re not as drunk as you wish to appear. Why?”

“Is that your professional opinion?” the man had asked, not bothering to answer.

“As a PI, yes it is.”

“A private investigator, huh? You here for me?”

“I’m not investigating you, no. Officially anyways.”

“But you don’t mind being here with me.”

“I’m just here to take this edge off from a long day. But the company’s swell,” he had said with a laugh.

The man then cocked his head at Dick. “You a pervert?”

“No.”

“I’m a bit of a pervert.”

“And you’re telling me because…”

“Just wanted to know where we stood.” He swirled the liquid in his glass. “PI, huh? I heard Zucco’s unhappy some PI’s been hired to find dirt on him.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I also know he keeps some interesting books in a box that’s supposed to hold some family keepsake from the Boer’s War.”

“And how do you know this?”

The man shrugged his shoulders and took another sip of an amber liquid. “I get around. I hear things. People tell me more things. And now I’m telling you, PI.” He had looked Dick square in the eye until a grin slowly spread across his face, as radiant and mysterious as a looming comet, and Dick felt then they were in on a joke only between the two of them.

Later, when Dick had found Tony Zucco dead, murdered by the Red Hood, he had felt anger, yes, but cheated too. He’d been robbed of the satisfaction to gloat, to figure out if his revenge was complete or not. He had, however, also found some interesting financial records in an heirloom war box that brought some prominent criminal masterminds to trial. He would count that as a win.

A week later, he had seen the man from The Delancey again at the same spot, and confided.

“Zucco killed my parents,” he had said. “And no one hired me. I investigated for personal reasons.”

The man nodded, face solemn. “I know.”

“You knew who I was the whole time?”

“No. Just put two and two together. Took a gamble. How many fucking PIs are there anyways?”

“Enough for Pinkerton to have a network of agents across the country. I’m Dick Grayson, by the way.” He had held out his hand and the man grasped it firmly and shook.

“Jason Todd.”

 

 

THREE WEEKS AFTER FINDING THE BODIES, Dick Grayson paid Merchant Street another visit late at night. He spotted several off-duty Gotham police officers patrolling the grounds, and more inside the building.

Dick retreated.

The day after, he stood at the landing of Garrett’s baroque Victorian again. He entered the hallway and found the man’s door. He knocked loudly.

Thirty seconds went by before Dick knocked again. After a third try, he gave up and turned away. He met another man on his way out.

“You knocking on Mr. Nielsen’s door?”

“You know where he is?”

“He’s gone.”

“Gone?”

“Hasn’t been around since the building’s purchase. He had some complaints.”

“Of course he did.”

“I thought maybe he’d moved out in a fit of pique, but…”

Dick waited.

“Well, his sister came by two days ago looking for him.”

Shit.

The man shook his head and laid a hand on Dick’s shoulder. “It doesn’t look so good for your friend. Sorry, man.” He took his leave and Dick followed.

Dick took a walk back to Merchant Street. The morning air was cold as steel and the newly purchased and renovated buildings caused the sunlight to glint harshly in Dick’s eyes. He turned his head to the side and across the street he spotted a group of men loitering around the entrance of Sionis’ flagship building. They wore clean, fine suits with silk scarves and top hats. Dick watched them laugh and shake hands with each other. One man spotted Dick.

Roman Sionis locked eyes with Dick Grayson across the street. The mogul offered a tip of his hat and a smirk before returning his attention to the men surrounding him. Dick kept walking, moving his feet to carry him away. But he had been seen. And he couldn’t shake the cold feeling of being known.

 

 

NEWSREEL

"We are only as successful as the support we receive," Sionis writes in his newly published self-help book, How to Win Money and Nourish Your Community, and he credits Gotham more so than even his parents in his rise in fortune. "I have no time for useless people. They’re a bane on society. Big business is more than just taking advantage of the capitalism that cradles us. It’s social Darwinism. And those with no purpose need to stay out of my way. But my hometown has always supported people like me, and I plan on rewarding her tangentially to how far I rise." The promise of a reward tantalizes the citizens of Gotham who seem eager to please Mr. Sionis. But Sionis’ words could easily be read as a threat if his hometown fails to deliver, especially when Gotham’s variables include the localized Red Hood. And if Gotham fails Sionis, one has to wonder what kind of disciplinarian he plans to be. — Lois Lane, The Daily Planet

 

 

DICK AND JASON MET away from the office the next night.

“God bless The Delancey,” Jason said, glass raised in a lazy toast. “You know what Benton’s is pouring?”

“No.”

Jason turned his body and looked Dick dead in the eyes.

“Milkshakes.”

Dick laughed.

In the low-light din of the speakeasy, whispered honesty permeated the space, accentuated with stools scraping the floor and glasses falling to the table tops from loose, heavy hands. A woman three seats down ordered her second highball. A nearby laugh was quickly muffled by the crowd of bodies. Dick could feel Jason’s thigh pressing against his own, warm and strong. Jason’s arm brushed past him as he reached for their drinks, leaning heavily into his space. It made Dick’s heart rate speed up. It made him press into the man. It made him feel dangerous.

He gave himself a mental shake.

“You know, it’s technically legal to drink,” Dick said, then took a sip of the concoction Jason passed to him. “Just can’t distill and manufacture.”

“Or sell.”

“Or sell,” Dick agreed. “Except the pharmacists. And if you’ve got a condition. A lot of people with conditions these days.”

Jason shook his head. “The only people allowed to make money right now seem to be American bankers.”

“And steel and real-estate tycoons,” Dick supplied, thinking of Sionis. The woman three seats down was now on her third highball and openly winking at him.

“Damn them all. Damn Wall Street. Damn the White House. And God damn Prohibition. You know, Big Business keeps telling us that if Europe didn’t have such loose morals they’d have never gone to war?”

“Damn them all.” Dick clinked his glass against Jason’s.

“You’re a good one, Dick. You work for whoever you want, always up to solve a mystery whether it’s a crime of passion or a runaway dog.” Jason laughed at that, slow and without malice. “You’re a good one,” he said again.

Dick stood up, pulling Jason with him, hand wrapped around the man’s bicep. “Come on, let’s get you out of here. My ego can only take so many compliments.”

“You tryna leave with me?”

“Well, you are my favorite pervert.”

Jason snorted, but Dick could see a flush on his neck and face that had nothing to do with the alcohol. He slipped his arm from Jason’s bicep to around his waist instead, wondering how far the man’s blush would go. But as he walked with Jason out of The Delancey, he felt fiercely protective of the man beside him. He thought of Garrett missing. Missing. His new euphemism for dead.

Beyond the doors of the establishment, the chill in the night air left Dick feeling exposed and he pulled Jason closer.

 

 

DESPITE GARRETT MISSING and a dead Frank Garland with past ties to Sionis, Dick took other jobs in as frequent succession as he could manage. Husbands stepping out on their wives. Embezzlement. The usual. No dogs.

But he kept asking around, too. He had heard whispers of financial ties between Frank and Sionis from the witness Harry, then found a record through City Hall substantiating those claims. Despite taking other cases, Dick’s routine work continued to include walking the bustling pavement of Merchant Street.

One night, when the weather was starting to turn bitter, Jason lingered longer than usual in Dick’s office and it was Dick who finished his glass first.

Dick said, with Gotham and Garrett and Frank still on his mind, “Word is Sionis is in Europe. I’ve heard both for pleasure and for work.”

“Can you imagine Sionis anywhere for pleasure?” Jason responded and Dick laughed into his empty glass at the imagery.

“I’ve never seen him in any capacity of fun,” Dick offered. “I’ve never even seen him out with a dame. What do you think he does for a good time?”

“Maybe he’s like me,” Jason mused. “But truthfully, I think business is pleasure for him. I think he climaxes after closing a deal.”

“Jesus Christ, Jay.”

“You agree with me,” he sang.

“Yeah, you got me.”

“So. Europe, huh? How will Gotham survive without her golden boy? Better hope some of the other families take advantage of Sionis’ absence or drastic measures will have to be taken. Too bad most of them are land rich, but cash poor these days.” He gave a laugh, but it felt forced to Dick. An awful suspicion took root in Dick’s mind; of Jason pretending for his benefit.

Dick took a breath, exhaled. “What are you not telling me, Jay?”

Jason watched him, calculating.

Dick decided to fill the silence. “You know the body that turned up? Frank Garland? Turns out he’d been on Sionis’ payroll for a couple years before selling the tycoon his land.” Dick rested his chin on his hand, as he sat in his usual office swivel chair. “Roman’s not a good guy, is he?” Dick prodded. “You know this for sure.”

Jason paused, but then confirmed, “No, Dickie, he’s not.” He occupied his mouth with a slow pull of a drink.

Later, when Jason left, Dick replayed the evening in his mind. He sifted through the words exchanged between them and he felt a whisper over the shoulder asking what else was his informant, his friend, not telling him. But then he thought of Jason’s earlier words, of him saying Maybe he’s like me and he fixated on that instead, wishing he could tell Jason the truth, his own truth that he’d held back when Jason had offered his own all that time ago, wishing the words out of Jason’s mouth had been Maybe he’s like us.

 

 

NEWSREEL

  • Red Snow Falls On Gotham As Blighted Top Soil From Dust Storms Travel East
  • Gotham Looks To Sionis For Its Savior: “Feds Too Busy Buying Starved Okie Cattle To Care About Us” Sionis Says
  • Carrie Nation, Hatchet-Wielding Vigilante, Continues Destruction Of Speakeasy Liquors; Says Will Stop Shattering Booze When Men Stop Hitting Women
  • Uptick In Violence As Red Hood Murders Known Gang Leaders

 

 

IN THE STREET AGAIN, Dick wandered the Harbor District as he was wont to do lately. He was flustered in a way he rarely experienced: his detective skills told him he was on the grasp of knowing something horrific about Gotham’s painted smile. He knew the way forward to find his answers for Gotham. But it was his personal inexperience with what he was chasing with Jason that left him at a loss of what to do next. Jason in a professional setting made sense. Jason as a friend made sense. The way Dick loved to watch Jason’s eyes crinkle with enthusiasm when he got to talking, the way he watched his large hands emphasize a point and wishing the hands would occupy themselves in a more mutually obliging way refused to make sense.

Dick Grayson was flustered.

He heard a yell and a raised voice somewhere around a street corner that drew his attention. He brushed past a bystander who watched him run off and make his way towards the commotion.

“We put in an official bid! You can’t do this!”

“Turn back now,” the man said, “or I’ll have to make you.”

“Leo, honey, come on. Let’s go.” A woman’s voice.

“Best listen to your little wife.”

“How dare you threaten—”

Thwack!

A scream sounded — the woman — and another violent strike rent the air, followed by more screaming.

Dick turned the corner and came upon the scene. He slipped between the men, shoving what looked like hired muscle out of the way. “Come on,” he said and ushered the couple away from a building’s entrance. It was listed property, with a For Sale A-frame sign propped up on the sidewalk. Dick got another look at the muscle before the man turned away and slipped through the entrance doors.

But Dick recognized him. The automaton-like officer from weeks ago. He remembered the moment back in Sergeant O’Malley’s office, watching the superior officer wave a man off. He remembered turning to see who had captured the sergeant’s attention. The man tonight was the beat cop out of uniform.

Dick was sure the officer recognized him, too.

Three days later Dick discovered the man he’d helped had died violently, caught up in gang activity. The wife was moving out of state to live with her sister.

A week later, Roman Sionis put his name on the building.

 

 

ONE EVENING DICK decided he was done not knowing.

He walked back to his office in the dark, lamp lit streets of Gotham from the police station. He’d been brought in for official questioning regarding the disappearances and deaths of Gotham civilians. Finally the police station had started a tab on the missing people. And their tab included witnesses who had placed him with a few of the disappeared or dead. Dick wasn’t surprised it had come to this.

“Don’t skip town,” the copper told him.

Dick had loose ends to tie up. He wasn’t going anywhere. He continued to walk the Harbor District, this time with a recorder in his pocket at all times.

 

 

TWO DAYS LATER, the cops shoved a warrant under his nose and rifled through his office apartment, turning out desk drawers and bedside tables throughout his personal and professional spaces with reckless abandon.

“Don’t skip town,” they said again. “O’Malley’s confident you're not a flight risk. Wouldn’t want to prove your guilt by fleeing now, do ya?”

The itchy feeling Dick had first caught weeks ago came back.

 

 

“THERE'S FOUL PLAY AT HAND, Jay.”

“Your suspicions are not enough.”

Dick paced his office, his energy manic and desperate to latch to anything that would lead him to hard evidence. “Then help me! The brass is making a case against me. You’re my informant. You’re supposed to help me.”

The whirlwind of emotions contained in the office stilled, a mimicry of Jason’s own fury frozen self.

“Is that all I am to you?”

“What? No. God, no Jay. I just...I need something to keep me safe. Sionis and the police are thick as thieves, I’m never gonna be able to charge him. But I gotta get them off my back.”

“It’s gonna work out, Dick. I know you’re scared, but I need you to wait before you do something rash. Don’t worry.”

“Don’t worry? Rash? Wait? You gonna wait for me after my prison sentence? And what if it’s worse? You can’t wait around for me if I’m hanged.”

“I need you to take time away from this, Dick. Take a day to cool off and collect your head.”

“Are you even listening? You’re the only person in this God-awful world I care about and you’re telling me to take a day to myself? Taking a day to myself means clearing my name. I’m gonna meet him. Sionis. That’s what I have to do, damned as I please.”

“No, Dick.”

“You don’t get to tell me no. We’ve got dead bodies and I’m being incriminated. I’ve got to face him. Gather evidence and possibly go into hiding, or at the worst, make a deal with him.”

Jason shook his head and stared at the ground. He didn’t look up, but Dick could tell by the slight warble in his voice he was upset.

“Thursday,” Jason said, today, on a Sunday. “He’s back from out of town Thursday. Wait till then.”

 

 

THE TIME WAS NOW. Tuesday. Night.

Dick Grayson, PI and murder suspect, strolled his familiar route while he still had the freedom to do so. He took in Gotham’s Harbor District and its collection of townhomes and storefronts and warehouses. A few people scurried about and from a small distance a woman yelled out “You bastard!” into the dark sky while a man laughed. From the third floor of the Sionis flagship building, a light burned bright. But it was Tuesday, not Thursday. Jason had said to wait, but Jason had also said Sionis was out of town.

Dick Grayson's trusted informant had lied to him.

In the end, Dick’s aerial skills he’d honed before Gotham adopted him wasn’t used. His sly detective skills weren’t used either. He made a pass by the fenced in rose garden, a rainbow of beauty kept jailed for Sionis' predilections, then he walked through the building’s unlocked double doors.

He wound his way up the grand staircase and got off at the third floor landing. He made his way along the corridor to the end of the pathway where he could see a lit office suite: a corner room with enormous windows and views of both the harbor and the city center. A throne room for an emperor surveying his domain.

Dick patted his pocket with the device, then opened the door to Sionis’ office and found the man himself.

“You’re early,” Sionis said, then looked up. “Oh. The detective. Not whom I was expecting.”

“You’re meeting someone? I’ll be quick then. What do you get out of offing Gotham citizens and blaming me?”

“Oh, is this how you wanna play, doll? Then let me change the game,” a smile spread across his face, “I ain’t misbehavin’. And I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sionis moved towards the large estate desk in the middle of the room and sat atop it. “And you might want to halt the insinuations on my character. No one’s going to want to hear slander from someone like you. I’m not sure where you’re from, but you sure ain’t a native Gotham kid. Your word is dirt.”

“Fine. No one will believe me. So what is it that I’m going to take the fall for anyways?”

Sionis laughed. “You’re gutsy, kid. I like you. Unfortunate about your circumstances.”

Yep, that’s me. Gutsy. I’m also a trained escape artist with a recording device in my pocket. Reveal yourself to me.  

“So, what, business is so hard you have to murder no nothings to win?”

“You trying to bait me with your stupidity? Everything I do is calculated. Big business is an alive and growing being. Do you know what it’s like to negotiate a contract? It takes a skill few have.”

“And so what’s the big plan here?”

“Why does there always need to be a plan with you types? It’s not that hard, detective. The navy has an incredible lease on oil right now, which I get a cut of. The oil brings me coal to the Gotham shipyard. The coal is used to make steel. The steel builds railways and buildings and munitions for the Spanish Civil War and then when the League of Nations goes to war with the rest of Europe. It’s just business.”

“You saying there’s gonna be another World War?”

“Let’s just speculate there will be. Probably. Who knows? Not me. We live in a world where Italians occupy Ethiopia and honest to God women defend Barcelona against Franco. You know what that means for me? The money is good right now. And from what I can tell, it is always gonna be good.”

“And the properties?”

Sionis laughed. “You’re dumb as bricks, aren’t you? They’re just commodities.”

“What?”

“I’ve got money to spend. The locations are close to the harbor. I just liked them. I bring money into the city, to the police. They like me and look the other way when my suppliers come in and out. The properties are just small potatoes.”

“And the people you had killed? They small potatoes too?”

“Look kid. I’ve got vision. I’ve got use of the harbor and I’ve got a name to brand and sell. And to see it all through, I need to do whatever I can unencumbered. When are you gonna get it through that thick skull? The only business is business. I bring business to Gotham, therefore bringing her money and influence. And if you’ve got nothing to offer, you might as well be dead. So what are you offering? Or are you planning on blackmailing me like the detective you are. Gonna report me to the Hearst papers?” he leered.

Dick stood there in the oppressive silence, calculating how quickly he could make his escape from the door behind him.

“Guess you’re dead then.”

Roman Sionis stood there with a smile on his face as he reached for his inner jacket pocket. Dick didn’t hesitate: he fled for the door behind him where he almost made it. A shot to the right of the door jamb pulled him up short. 

“Don’t,” Sionis said. Dick stopped. “Turn around.”

Dick found Sionis with a pistol in his hand, trained on his chest. His breath hitched and his heart rate sped up.

The door opened behind him and two off-duty police officers moonlighting as security guards sauntered into the room.

“Grab him.”

One guard grabbed Dick’s wrists behind his back while the other shoved Dick to his knees. Sionis loomed over Dick, grinning in his face.

“This is my city, now. It’s over for you, detective.”

Dick agreed. It was over.

Dick Grayson, PI, headbutted Sionis with as much force as he could muster, leaving the man staggering backwards, hand clutched to his head. “Fuck! Get him!”

But the guards had hesitated at the incident and Dick used the opportunity to wrestle free of their grasp. He delivered a blow with his fist to the soft underbelly of the beat cop to his left. But the officer to his right maneuvered his thick hands around Dick’s neck and began to squeeze. Dick gasped for breath, and kicked out at the recovered officer approaching. He got him in the shin, but it was a glancing blow.

“I think it’s time we enjoyed a little fun,” Dick heard Sionis say with the opening of a desk drawer. “Turn his face to me. I want him to see what’s coming.”

The guard with his hands around Dick’s neck turned him to face the steel magnate. He held a wicked looking dagger.

“We’ve got a few minutes. Time for an unscheduled art session. The medium for tonight is the flesh of a private eye.” He motioned for the guards to bring Dick to his desk. The dagger taunted Dick with a gleam from the desk lamp, illuminating the gathered in an evil light.

“That’s enough, Sionis.”

The words came from behind, from nowhere, and Dick risked a breath as deep as he could hope for. The men looked beyond Dick to the intruder at the doorway, until Sionis flicked his gaze to a clock on the wall, then groaned. “This again. You’re early for our meeting.”

“Your light was on,” the man said.

But Dick knew that voice, slightly affected as it was and muffled. The man gripping him let his fingers loosen at the interruption. Dick took a deep breath and turned his head.

He expected Jason Todd. He did not expect the sight before him. His vision captured the red scarf tied around the face, obscuring his mouth and nose but revealing blazing eyes, paired with a black fedora adorned with only a single ribbon of crimson silk. A man of Jason’s height and Jason’s build stood in the doorway, the smell of cigarette smoke wafting in. The two identities formed a diptych for him to ponder. Dick knew this man was the Red Hood. But he also knew this man was Jason Todd.

“Let me conclude my previous appointment,” Sionis was saying as Dick’s senses caught up to the moment, “and then we can move on to ushering you into the fold. Is that agreeable? You still want in, right? We can make this quick.” He held up his dagger as evidence of how quick he could be.

"No, I don't think that's agreeable at all." The Red Hood crossed the threshold swinging.

He kicked at the knee of the guard in front of Dick with such force the man went down before he could realize what was happening; the guard's whimper came after he hit the floor. The Red Hood then delivered a punch to the other guard’s kidney before prying Dick from the guy’s grip.

“You weren’t supposed to be here, Dick,” Jason said.

Dick responded by punching the knee-injured guard who was attempting to stand up.

“I’m fine,” Dick said, just as Sionis reacted and threw his dagger straight into Jason’s side where it stuck.

Jason flinched and the officer he’d been grappling with leapt onto him in an attempt to take him down. But even wounded, Jason remained planted on his feet and sent the officer sailing over his shoulder. Jason pulled out the dagger and raised it, his own blood dripping from the blade’s edge and down the tang. He walked towards the desk which Sionis had retreated behind. The second officer made another attempt on Jason, but Dick swiped out at the back of the man’s leg and delivered a palm strike to the side of his head. He fell to the floor unconscious. Jason continued towards Sionis.

Gotham’s golden son then remembered his revolver and he searched for it before grasping it with a lone frantic hand and firing wildly once before Jason reached over the desk and grabbed his wrist, slamming it down on the table top. Without hesitation, Jason drove the dagger through Sionis’s hand and the man let out a strangled howl. He flailed, trying to put pressure on the wound with a knife pinning him to his stately desk and failing miserably. Jason took a couple steps back, contemplating the scene before him. He was an artist before his canvas, wondering how the next brush stroke should land. And in the middle of the chaos, Dick watched only Jason, and his eyes widened in quiet alarm as Jason reached beneath his jacket to reveal he was holstered. He pulled twin Savage pistols from each side of his rib cage.

It was this moment when Dick realized Jason wasn’t just an informant. And he wasn’t just the Red Hood. He was an Abaddon in the biblical sense, a demon of destruction hell bent on scourging the city from other criminals in his own violent way.

“I’m not here to make deals with you, Sionis. I’m the goddamn Red Hood.”

And he shot the tycoon square in the chest.

 

 

JASON SHOT THE TWO GUARDS, too. Then he holstered his weapons and turned to Dick, but it was slow and labor intensive. “The Red Hood will take the blame for this. He’s not gonna be needed for a while.”

“Okay.”

“I wasn’t gonna let him do this to Gotham. And I wasn’t gonna let him take you from me,” Jason said.

Dick didn’t know what to say. Instead, he walked to his side and pulled an arm over to shoulder him out of the building in a pantomime of all the times he’d shouldered Jason out of The Delancey. Under the cover of night, they made it back to Dick’s, through the detective’s office and into his bedroom in the back. He sat Jason on his bed and left to search for a towel and his medicine cabinet for iodine and bandages. He laid the towel on the bed and lowered Jason upon it, the action of doing something leaving Dick with the feeling of satisfaction. Then he peeled off layers of clothing to dig in.

Dick started with Jason’s jacket, flecked with blood. He draped it over the chair in the corner. Then he carefully probed for the holster’s latch. He removed the guns from Jason’s person and deposited them further on the bed. He unbuttoned the gray linen shirt with reverent fingertips, slowly undoing the man before him. Jason laid bare before him, chest rising with each breath, and wound seeping. Dick got to work.

He poured the iodine and wiped it gently across the open gash before applying pressure with a clean cloth to the area. Dick sat there, his hands on Jason’s side, then broke the silence with an accusation.

“You lied to me.”

Jason sighed. “That I did.”

“You were working Sionis the whole time. You’re the Red Hood. But worst of all, you lied to me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Are you?”

“Partially.”

“Damn you, Jason Todd.”

“He was going to kill you, Dick.”

Jason had him there. They made an unspoken pact to stop talking. Jason laid on Dick’s bed, head and chest propped up by a pillow. Dick sat on the edge of the bed, hand pressed to the man’s wound. They stayed like that, connected, until the bleeding stopped.

 

 

IT WAS MORNING when Jason finally sat up.

He groaned with the movement, disturbing Dick out of his slumber next to him on the bed.

Dick laid in a stupor next to his bedfellow. He flicked his eyes to Jason quickly before looking away, confusion and rage and sadness and fear churned in his gut. Time ticked on, but still Dick could not wrangle what warred inside him.

“I’m calling in that favor,” Jason said after a moment. “The one where you said you’d give me anything.”

“Are you serious?”

“I’m asking that you don’t hate me. For what I’ve done. Please.”

“That’s the favor?”

“That’s the favor.”

Dick wanted to tell him he could never hate him. That he loved him. But his head was a jumbled mess from the events and his heart stubbornly beat out betrayal with each pulse and what he said instead was, “Okay.”

Jason stared him in the face, as if attempting to detect a lie or to glimpse a shadow of what Dick really felt behind his slumped demeanor. “Okay,” he echoed, a neutral agreement between them, then stood up to gather his belongings and leave.

It was Jason wincing as he tugged on his holsters and jacket that shocked Dick out of his listlessness. “You not gonna give me the courtesy of a goodbye?”

Jason paused, his brow furled as if he was analyzing his own great internal war. Then he steeled himself for a decision, a leap. 

“I’ll see you around, Dickie.” He leaned in, hand pressed against his injured side as he did so while his other hand reached for the back of Dick’s neck, and kissed Dick fiercely on the mouth before taking off into the new day. One moment, he was pressed against Jason, the heat and force of him surrounding and occupying him, and in the next Jason was leaving. Dick watched him go, stunned. From the kiss. From the violence. From the double indemnity and the realization that a shift in his viewer’s lens painted a different picture of the man closest to him. But what did it matter? The Roman Sionis case was done.

The bastard was dead.