And hence, I give you a weekend's worth of procrastination...


Small Potatoes: Coming Home: Part 4
by Smitty


Dark. Warm. Soft. Smells like vanilla.

CRASH!

"Yo, you two are still in bed." Spud sounded disappointed in them.

"We work nights," Dick informed him, his face still buried in Barbara's hair. "We sleep mornings. At least until sunrise. And as long as the door is closed, you need to knock before coming in. Go out and try again. Knock this time."

Spud hesitated, frowning at the twin lumps in the bed. Finally, sensing no movement from either, he stomped out, slamming the door.

A pause.

Three knocks.

CRASH!

"There. I knocked."

"We didn't say come in," Barbara spoke up this time, her voice muffled by her pillow. "Go out, knock, *wait for us to say ok* and then you can come in."

With an aggravated sigh, Spud left the room once more. The knocks on the door were louder, with a pointed pause in between each one.

"Come in," Barbara called more sweetly than Dick could have managed.

This time, though, the door didn't slam open.

"Is this what rich people do?" Spud asked in disgust. "Lay around in bed all day?"

"Nope," Dick answered, without opening his eyes. "We lay around for half the day and then we stay up all night long. You wanna come up here with us?"

Spud eyed the soft bed and it's two inhabitants and frowned.

"No," he replied.

"Ok, then. You can get some cereal from the kitchen and watch some cartoons." Dick finally rolled onto his back and sat up with a grunt. "C'mon. I'll show you where they are." He kicked himself free of the bedclothes and shrugged on a robe over his pajama bottoms, glad he'd put them on a few hours before. "Let's go," he said, stumbling out to the kitchen. Babs had been up until nearly four in the morning helping Dinah blow up parts of Rheelasia. He was happy to let her sleep a little longer.

"Don't you people do anything?" Spud wanted to know, following Dick out to the kitchen.

"Sure. We do lots of stuff," Dick told him around a yawn. "But my shift doesn't start until noon and Babs can work whatever hours she wants. She was up 'til four this morning. That was hours after you went to bed."

"Can I stay up 'til four?"

"Sure. When you get a job that makes you." Dick opened a cupboard and pulled out two boxes of cereal. "You want corn flakes or granola?"

"Like a granola bar?"

"Only mashed up."

"Ok."

"Great." Dick poured a bowl of granola and a bowl of corn flakes and splashed some milk on both. He pulled a quart of orange juice from the fridge and resisted the urge to take a swig right from the container. Instead, he rummaged through another cabinet until he found two glasses and poured the juice into them.

"Am I gonna have to do dishes 'cause you're doing all that stuff?" Spud asked warily.

"I'll help," Dick said, setting a bowl and a glass on the table for him. He got his own food and two spoons and went to sit with Spud.

"We only do the hand-holding thing at dinner?"

"Usually. Unless you want to do it now." Dick looked up at him. "Do you?"

"No."

"Ok."

The two ate in silence for a few minutes.

"I've gotta go to work later," Dick said, breaking the quiet. "Think you and Babs can find something to do?"

Spud looked at him, blankly. Dick sighed.

"Maybe you two can go shopping," he suggested. "You can get some new clothes or something."

"'Kay." Spud stuffed some more cereal in his mouth.

Dick got the distinct feeling that clothes shopping wasn't exactly on the top of Spud's list of fun things to do. It was usually pretty close to last on his own list of fun things to do. Spud needed more clothes, though. He only had the jeans he was wearing, which appeared to be at least two sizes too big for him, and an assortment of shirts he wore all at the same time, layered from thinnest to a thick red sweatshirt that clashed horribly with his hair. Babs had suggested taking him to Dr. Leslie, too. His arms were so skinny they looked like sticks. Filb had mentioned that Spud looked small for his age, and though Dick didnít have a clue what size a normal 8-year-old should be, he could easily believe Spud wasn't there yet.

Noticing that Spud had finished his granola in record time, Dick started to take his bowl. He noticed Spud's gaze shift to Dick's own half-finished bowl, and then back to the empty bowl that Dick was aiming for the sink.

"How 'bout I get you some more?" Dick suggested, reaching in the cabinet for more cereal.

"Really?" Spud's face lit up.

"Sure. You're still hungry, right?"

Spud nodded enthusiastically and watched eagerly as Dick refilled the bowl.

Good grief, Dick thought as he replaced the cereal and returned the bowl to Spud. That kid sure can pack it away. I couldnít possibly have eaten that much when *I* was a kid.


"Who's investigating the shootout?" Dick asked as he sat down at his desk.

Filb raised an eyebrow at his partner's obvious lack of civil greeting. "No one," he replied. "It's a random act of violence. Bunch of kids fired on another bunch of kids. Couple of the detectives went out and talked to the neighborhood folk yesterday and came up with nothing. It's a closed case."

"A closed case?" Dick stared at Filb in incomprehension. "You're kidding me. Twenty-some kids shot each other to death and no one's to blame?"

Filb leaned back in his chair, knowing what was coming.

"I'm gonna look into this."

"You're going to make Amy mad."

"I've made her mad before."

"This is not a good idea."


"Hey, kiddo."

Spud didn't look over his shoulder. He knew it was Babs.

"Hey."

"You ready to go on a little trip? Dick and I thought you might want to get some new stuff."

Spud shrugged, then paused.

"You can drive?"

"Yup," Babs replied with a grin. "I have a special car and everything. You want to see it?"

It took Spud all of a second and a half to decide that a car that held a wheelchair had to be neatest thing ever. He was off the couch in half that time and on his way to the garage.

Barbara grinned at her temporary victory and followed him.


"Yo, Wiest!"

"Grayson?" The balding youth cop looked up from a frighteningly tilted pile of paperwork as Dick leaned into the hole-in-the-wall Wiest and his partner Conrad called an office.

Dick had heard that Wiest was amazingly good with kids and visited chronically ill children in Rabe Memorial on the weekends, dressed as Winky the Clown. But on this morning, as he slouched in the cracked leather chair, rubbing the bridge of his nose, with a coffee stain already set proudly in his white shirt, Wiest just looked like a tired old cop.

"Yeah, mind if I come in?"

"Sure, get in here." Wiest waved a file folder at him absently. "Move something and sit down."

Dick walked through the door and instantly found himself at the desks, which were pushed head to head so their occupants could face each other. He shoved a pile of papers and a huge water gun to the side and hitched his hip on Conrad's desk.

"I hear the gang shooting case got closed," Dick said casually. Or he thought it was casual.

"I heard you got custody of one of the kids," Wiest returned.

"Yeah." Dick nodded slowly. It was subtle, but it was clear. Wiest knew what was up on this case. Dick did not. "My parents died when I was about his age."

Wiest didnít touch that one. He just nodded and directed the conversation back to its more professional aspects. "We got hold of as many of the guns as we could. Tracked them all, traced the serial numbers, fun stuff like that. Talked to their last owners. People break all kinds of laws out there, Grayson, but this was a case of one kid was sleeping with another kid's girl or insulted another kid's mother or something else asinine and a fight started, a gun came out and then everyone who was carrying was shooting." Wiest sounded disgusted. "Your kid didn't shoot no one... spent the whole thing in the dumpster. We got a couple of them on the streetóhard to hide with no gang. And we got the rest of 'em in the hospital. Case closed."

"I was thinking," Dick started, "I'd like to look into it a little bit... y'know, so if Spud starts asking questions, I can tell him what happened."

Wiest studied him hard, decided he was blowing smoke and picked up a file anyway. "Here," he said shortly. "You got five minutes. When I get back from my coffee run, it better be back on my desk, with nothing missing, got it?"

"No problem," Dick agreed, taking the folder.

Wiest picked up his now-empty cup and headed for the coffee machine down the hall. Dick sat down at his desk and quickly skimmed the file. He had five minutes and he decided to focus on the guns. He found the list of serial numbers, their descriptions and their origins and set to work committing them to memory before Wiest returned.


Babs used her remote to activate the car's lift. Spud was enthralled. She let him stand on the platform and ride it up and into the car. Depositing Spud in the front seat, she lowered the platform again, backing her wheelchair onto the platform and letting it lift her into the car. She turned, settling herself behind the wheel and looked to see if Spud was buckled in.

"Wow, look!" Spud exclaimed, reaching for a control. "All the stuff's up here!"

"Don't touch that!" Babs exclaimed, raising her hand to block his.

She was shocked when he shrank away, his face closing up.

"I just meant--" she started, then realized what he had thought. "I wasn't going to hit you! I justó" She stopped and looked sadly at Spud, who was now staring out the window. "I just didnít want you to touch that," she finished.

Spud didnít reply. Babs watched him for a few more moments, then opened the garage and started the car.


"Time's up, kid." Wiest was back.

"You know," Dick started.

"Donít try it," Wiest returned. "The case is closed."

p>"Ok," Dick agreed. "But what could it hurt to poke around just a little longer? You never know what might turn up in a day or so that got missed with all the rush."

"Give it up, Grayson," the older cop told Dick with a shake of his balding head. "You're not going to find nothing. Now scram."

Dick scrammed.


"Grayson!"

"I told you that you were gonna make Amy mad."

Dick shot a glare at Filb and looked up carefully into the flashing eyes of Capt. Amy Rohrbach. "Hi, Captain," he said, shooting her a charming smile.

"Don't 'Hi, Captain' me, rookie."

Filb winced. Amy was breaking out the 'rookie' full-force.

"Now, that's not fair, Amy," Dick tried to reason. "I've been on the force for six years..."

"And you're still being a bonehead. Didn't I teach you anything?"

"Everything I know about being a cop," Dick started.

"What are you doing, rookie? Selling out your Academy instructors? Don't give me that."

Filb had been right. Dick had made Amy mad. The old cop leaned back in his chair to enjoy the show.

"I *know* what you were doing with Wiest and Conrad and the answer is NO, Grayson. Do you hear me? NO. You are not reopening this case. You are not going to obsess over it and beat it to death. You are not going to waste the taxpayers' money going after a non-existent supervillain, got me?"

"Amy, you know meó"

"Oh, I know you, all right, Grayson." Amy was wearing a smile that was starting to worry Filb. "You wouldn't believe how well I know you."


TWEET!

"You know this is all your fault, Grayson," Filb told Dick conversationally.

"Yeah, I know," Dick replied, more annoyed that Amy had temporarily thwarted his investigation than the actual traffic duty itself. He backed up and waved a Volvo through the intersection. The Volvo was being piloted by a student who floored the gas after passing Dick, heaving the car up to a full 45 miles per hour and spewing exhaust into Dick's face. He coughed and turned his head, blinking a few times. He started to glance back at the hiccoughing car to catch the number on its license plate when a neon sign caught his attention.

Rook's Pawn Shop.

Dick's analytical mind flashed back to the list he'd seen on Wiest's desk. Rook's Pawn Shop had been listed as the last registered owner of one of the guns confiscated at the scene of the shootout. With a little concentration he remembered the make and model, and then he was off at a jog.

"Hey, Filb!"

Filb turned to see his partner running off down the street.

"Cover for me," Dick requested, still moving away. "I gotta check something out."

Filb frowned as his partner disappeared into the seedy pawn shop.

"Amy's gonna eat that boy for lunch," Filb declared, then barely jumped out of way as a MAC truck barreled down the street where he had been standing. "Hey! You get back here!" he barked belligerently at the back end of the truck. He growled. "Wait 'til I get my hands on that guy."


"Mickey Rook!"

Officer Richard Grayson sauntered into the small, dark, pawn shop, a nasty smile on his face.

The gangly, dark-haired man at the register lifted his hands and backed away from the counter.

"Yo, Officer G, I ain't done nothin' wrong."

"You sure about that, Mickey?" Dick asked, leaning on the glass counter.

"Uh..?" Mickey shifted his glassy eyes as he thought back over the last few days. "Pretty sure..."

"Let's talk about a gun, Mickey," Dick suggested icily. "A Smith and Wesson .38 with a plastic handle. A gun that *should* still be in your possession."

"Look, Officer, I told that other guyó"

"WHAT other guy, Mickey?"

"The other cop... the one that came in here yesterday!"

"Yeah, and what did you tell him, Mickey?"

"I-I-I told him I sold it to Moira... Moira Finnegan. I let her have it before the waiting period was over, 'cause she thought her old man was going to kill her or her kid. I told the other cop that, honest! He told me he'd have to let people know, but he wasn't gonna fry me this time."

Dick felt like turning away and sighing. This was common enough. The kid probably took the gun.

"So how come we found it on the street?" he growled, instead. "How come it killed a kid? Maybe a bunch of 'em?"

Mickey was shaking. "I dunno, man. I guess her brat took it. I heard he was one of the kids who got killed."

"Great," Dick said disgustedly. He started to turn away but then turned and latched his hand into Mickey's collar, pulling him up to the counter.

Mickey Rook suddenly found himself cheek to cheek with a rather angry Officer Grayson.

"Mickey, listen to me," Grayson growled in his ear. "If I ever, and I mean *ever* catch you doing sketchy things with gun sales again, I can promise you that my next visit won't be nearly as friendly. You got me?"

Mickey tried to nod but was unable to do anything more than twitch.

"Y-yessir," he babbled. "I gotcha."

"Good." Dick released him and stalked out of the store. He felt dirty and the bright sunlight only made it seem more obvious.

"Yo, you ready for lunch?" Filb asked, appearing beside him.

Dick looked down the street and realized the broken light had been repaired.

"Nah," he muttered. "I'm not hungry."


"There's too much room in the crotch," Barbara lamented. "Try on this pair."

Spud rolled his eyes. "They're *supposed* to be big," he informed her.

"Not *this* big," she protested. "Try on this pair. I'm afraid the other ones are going to fall down."

Spud grudgingly took the jeans and stomped back to the dressing room. "This sucks!" he announced from behind the closed door.


Forty-five minutes later, Barbara and Spud left Gotham's largest department store with five new pairs of jeans (a little too big for Barbara's taste) and an assortment of t-shirt, a couple packages of socks, and to Spud's acute embarrassment--underwear.

"Do you want to go get some lunch?" Barbara asked. "There's a little luncheonette across the street."

"Sure," Spud shrugged, still smarting from the clothes ordeal but never willing to turn down food.

They crossed the street at the crosswalk, Barbara holding back Spud from running through when there was a lapse in traffic.

"Wait for the light to change," she instructed him. "Gotham is a little bigger than BlŁdhaven."

Spud blew air out his nose. Didn't she *know* he used to live on his own? Certainly he could cross the streets by himself!

They crossed to the corner where O.A.F. Weiss, the giant toy store, attracted children of all ages. Babs started rolling toward the little luncheonette next to it. Spud kept up with her, but she didn't miss his eyes dart back to window of the store, which was crowded with animatronic toys, stuffed animals, and multiple train sets.

He didn't say a word during lunch, munching on his tuna sandwich thoughtfully and eating all his potato chips.

"So," Babs asked casually as they exited the small cafť. "Do you want to look around the toy store?"

"Yeah!" The word erupted from Spud's mouth and he was already pushing on the revolving door as she laughed at his response. She went through the automatic door to the left of the revolving door and met a somewhat dizzy Spud on the other side.

"Tell you what," she grinned. "You were really good at the store today. Pick out something you want and you can take it home with you."

"Really?" Spud asked, awestruck.

"Really," Barbara confirmed with a smile.

Spud looked amazed but undertook his task seriously. He walked each aisle slowly, examining every toy on every shelf. He picked up trucks, considered stuffed animals, and, with Babs' assurance, jumped on the floor piano. He compared building sets, played with plastic toys and studied action figures.

And then he found the bargain bin.

"Is this one ok?" he asked hesitantly, clutching a floppy fabric horse.

"Of course it's ok," Barbara assured him immediately, studying the toy. It was a cloth horse with wide eyes and stiff, tubular legs. It was part of an Old West set that had been popular several years back. "But don't you want something newer?"

"No," Spud said immediately. "I want this one."

"Ok," Babs agreed. "Let's try to find the rest of the set."

"No. Just this one." Spud's eyes were solemn but his chin was set stubbornly.

"Just that one?"

"Just this one."


"Where *is* that thing?"

"Yo," Dick greeted his household, tossing his duffel bag on a nearby chair.

"Hey there, former Boy Wonder," Babs greeted him, searching her utensil drawer. "How was work?"

"Frustrating," Dick admitted, leaning down to kiss her. "I'll tell you all about it later. How's Spud?"

"Good," Babs replied with a smile. "We went out and got him some new clothes, we went out to lunch *and*," she paused dramatically, "we even went to the toy store."

Dick grinned. "Sounds like a great day. Sorry I missed it."

"You should be. We bought a toy."

"You did?"

"Yep." Babs grinned at him. "He's been in his room playing with it all afternoon. Go see."

"Sure thing." Dick kissed her on the forehead and started down the hall.

"Take your bag," Babs called after him. "And see if he knows what happened to my wooden spoon."

Dick scooped up his bag and headed back to the bedrooms.

After a few minutes, Babs gave up on her search for the spoon and decided to wait for Dick to return. He didn't, so she went down the hall.

She found her husband leaning against the wall, looking into Spud's room.

Dick caught sight of Babs and crooked one finger at her, holding another to his mouth in the universal demand for silence. She rolled cautiously to his side and followed his nod to Spud's room. She peered through the doorway.

Spud sat in the middle of the room, running his new horse around Barbara's wooden spoon. The spoon was wearing a Kleenex as a cape and had a Magic Marker mustache drawn across the bowl.

Babs and Dick watched as Spud's horse tackled the spoon and pinned it to the floor, making growly horse sounds.

"Grrrr. Take that Evil Spoon! The good guys ALWAYS win!"


Continue To Chapter Five A


Back To The Main Story Page