CHAPTER 1-A Night at the Circus

BRUCE-Age 22

DICK-Age 8




WARNING-Robin, if you have somehow opened this document, close it immediately and I will not tender any sanctions against you. This is a private file for my own use and is not to be accessed by anyone but me.

The death of my parents is never very far from my mind. Alfred says that I am obsessed with it, but I don't know any other way to be, so I simply accept it as my reality. In my dreams, I still hear the sound of the gun that brought my father down, then the explosive sound of the bullet that killed my mother. I hear the chik-chik-chik of the pearls on her necklace scattering on the wet pavement. I smell the gunpowder from the gun and the killer's cheap aftershave mixing with Mother's Chanel No. Five. I feel the pavement beneath the heels of my hands as I crouch next to her and hear her final, bubbling breaths.

I don't forget. I never forget. Nobody, no child should ever have to live through these dreams of mine. I've dedicated my life to make sure that no other child ever does.

Sometimes I fail.

I heard that Haly's Circus had hit town and decided to go see the show. Many of the acts in the average circus use skills I've added to Batman's repertoire, among them escapology, illusions, gymnastics and acrobatics, even walking the tightrope. Also, because of the Joker, I have made a study of clowns and am familiar with the traditions of the Commedia dell'arte.

I bought a standard ticket and entered the Big Top with the ordinary crowd, for once not Bruce Wayne, socialite, but just another attendee. The headliners were the Flying Graysons, a family of aerialists. According to the write-up in the Gotham Gazette, the boy was known for his quadruple somersault, one of only three people on earth who could perform it. I had assumed that the boy, Richard Grayson, would be older, maybe in his teens. When he entered with his parents, dressed in green, red and yellow costumes, I could see that he was a small boy, maybe only seven or eight years old. Even so, he looked confident and relaxed, waving to the crowd with a big grin. His hair was curly and dark, more a mop than anything else, filled with cowlicks. But what impressed me the most was the way he moved. He walked like a dancer, as though gravity had no claim on him. In my life, I have only seen one other person as graceful. I had the privilege of meeting Dame Margot Fonteyn, the famous prima ballerina, before her passing. Her every movement was grace personified. This boy had the same quality.

I watched as the parents performed overhead without a net. Young Richard was standing up high, waiting his turn to throw a quadruple, when it happened. Everyone in the audience gasped as John and Mary Grayson plummeted to the sawdust floor, landing with a wet smacking sound. Their son remained crouched up on the platform, tears streaming down his face while the circus workers gathered around the dying Graysons.

There were loud cries and screaming from the crowd as people streamed from the bleachers toward the exits. I couldn't see anything but that boy. As I watched, the ringmaster coaxed him down and pulled him away from the dead Graysons, now covered with tarps until the police could arrive. It didn't matter. I could see the boy's eyes focusing on the pool of blood spreading in the sand. Slowly, I followed the crowd down from the bleachers. This boy had just been orphaned, just like I was ten years before. Someone brought a blanket and draped it over the boy, but he shrugged it off. He was sobbing audibly, tears running down his cheeks. I approached hesitantly. I know enough about grief to know that strangers aren't wanted in its presence.

"What will happen to him?" I asked the ringmaster, Pop Haley as I now know him.

"I don't know," Haley said, mopping his brow with a bright bandana. He crouched down in front of the boy, who was staring at the puddle in the sand. "Dick? Do you want to go back to your trailer?"

For the first time, the child looked up at us both. His huge blue eyes were swimming, even though Dick was making every effort to wipe his eyes. "No...I gotta talk to the police when they get here. Mom and wasn't an accident...Zucco killed them."

Zucco? I knew the name and knelt down in front of Dick so that I could talk to him face to face. "Dick, why do you think that this wasn't an accident?"

"Zucco...he came here yesterday and told Pop that something bad would happen if he didn't pay him. And...and...I saw Zucco near the rigging before the show...After Dad had checked it. I tried to tell Dad, but he wouldn't listen...There's no way that line broke! I should have made him listen..." Dick was looking up at the broken trapeze lines now, a familiar expression on his face. I'd seen it on mine more times than I could count since my own parents were murdered. At that moment, I was standing next to my younger self, a boy who felt afraid, angry and helpless. And guilty.

Looking up, I saw Lt. Gordon of the Gotham Police Department and I waved him over.

"Bruce! What are you doing here?" Gordon looked at the tarp covered bodies, now being examined by the M.E.

"The boy says this wasn't an accident," I pulled Gordon away so that Dick wouldn't overhear. "I believe him. Or at least, I think he's telling the truth as he sees it."

Gordon frowned and looked up at the trailing lines. "I'll have them tested. But you didn't answer my question. What are you doing here?"

I shrugged and did my best to look like an amiable fool. "I decided to go to the circus. I was in the audience when all this happened. I was wondering, though," I nodded towards young Dick Grayson. "What happens to the boy?"

"Until we can find some family, Social Services will take him I suppose," Gordon said. "Not much choice. He's a material witness and a circus is entirely too itinerant for the D.A.'s office to leave him here."

"I could take him," I said, my eyes caught again by that small boy. He'd stood up tall and clearly saw himself alone against the world. I knew that feeling well. "That is," I returned my gaze to Gordon. "If Social Services approves. Might be safer for the boy if he were at the Manor. I've got excellent security and if his parents really were murdered..."

"I take your point," Gordon's eye had wandered to the boy as well. He had a soft spot for kids; he'd just taken in his orphaned niece and was planning to adopt her. We both saw a child services worker approach Dick and try to pull him away. Dick, surprisingly, fought back.

"Leave me alone! I won't go with you! Just..leave me alone!" he shouted as he backed away.

The worker, Miss Simms, as I found out later, simply looked frustrated and approached Gordon for help. "Lt. Gordon, would you please help me with this boy? I have to take him to the Hall for tonight at least."

As we both turned toward Miss Simms, I could see the boy running away through the crowd. "I'll get him," I told Gordon and took off after him. I caught up with him in front of a small trailer. It was old and shabby looking, clearly well-used. He heard me come up behind him and backed against the closed door.

I raised my own hands and tried to look as disarming as I could. He wasn't buying it. His blue eyes met mine. "Are you helping that lady? You gonna help her take me to Juvie?"

"Excuse me?" I answered. For such a small kid, he sounded very grown up. "She's going to take you to a foster home, isn't she?"

"A gypsy kid?" Dick folded his arms across his chest. "Kids like me go to group homes or worse. Nice people don't like to take us in. Most gadjo think we're thieves or something." He gave me a look that dared me to disagree.

"I don't think you're a thief. Let me introduce myself," I held out my hand. "I'm Bruce Wayne."

"Dick Grayson," he replied and shook my hand. "I've heard of you. Rich playboy, huh?"

I fought back a smile at his impudent manner. It was hard to impress this kid. "Some people say so. I prefer the term 'philanthropist'."

"Oh, Mr. Wayne, you've found him!" An irritable voice came from behind me. I turned to see a red-faced Miss Simms. "Richard, you have to come with me. Let's go pack you a bag and get away from" The tone of her voice implied that 'here' was home to rats, cockroaches and other undesirables.

Dick looked around for an escape, so I broke in. "Miss Simms," I used the smile that works with the Board of Directors. "I have lots of room at the Manor and am happy to take the boy in until you can locate his family. Subject to your approval of course. I know how overcrowded the juvenile facilities are in Gotham. I discussed it with Lt. Gordon and he seemed in favor..."

"You, Mr. Wayne? Why that's a generous offer," she eyed Dick with distaste. "You are right, though. We're putting wards in with the kiddie crooks, we're so overcrowded. All right, that sounds fine to me," she said with relief. "I'll fax your office the foster application but I don't think you'll have any trouble getting it approved."

Dick eyed us both with suspicion. "You mean I don't have to go with you?" he asked her.

"No, you'll be going with Mr. Wayne," she said, smiling now that her problem had been solved. "But you should pack a bag." She moved towards the door of the trailer, but I got there first.

"I'll help him, Miss Simms," I said easily. I could see that Dick was about to explode at this stranger going into his home, uninvited. "And if he needs anything, I'm happy to provide it."

"All right then," she nodded. "I'll call you tomorrow to see how Richard is doing."

"Dick," I heard the boy mutter. "My name is Dick."

"Would it be okay if I help you pack?" I asked and nodded toward the trailer door. Dick looked surprised that I was asking permission, but he nodded and opened the door for me and led me in.

The trailer was small, more for a vacation than a permanent home, but it was very clean with brightly colored quilts on the beds. Dick nodded toward the one I was looking at. "Mom made that out of costume scraps." He went to a small bunk in the back and opened the drawer beneath it. His pile of clothing was pitifully small and much mended. I began to understand why he hadn't wanted the unpleasant Miss Simms to see it.

He pulled out a bright backpack and stuffed the clothing into it. Then he shot me an embarrassed look and went back to the bunk. Rummaging under the pillow, he reluctantly pulled a stuffed elephant out. It was bright blue with multicolored polka dots, clearly much loved. Face flushed, he shoved the elephant on top of the backpack and zipped it closed. Dick took a long look at his home, then shrugged the backpack over one shoulder. "Okay, Mr. Wayne, I'm ready...I guess."

"Bruce. Call me Bruce," I answered and followed him outside the trailer. At the time, I only had one thought, that I had to help this child. He deserved what I'd never had: closure and protection. It never occurred to me that I was making a lifelong commitment to raising another human being. What was I thinking...?