New York City… while Damian is in Hong Kong…
After a relatively drab day of seemingly endless paperwork, Neal was more than happy to be at home, enjoying the company of both Mozzie and a visitor he hadn’t been expecting to see.
“Sorry to hear that heading to Italy didn’t work out for you, Alex,” he said as he poured out a glass of wine for her. “I know you’ll miss Rome.”
“Oh don’t worry about it,” Alex said as she watched the crimson liquid flow. “Mozzie’s got me covered. I’ll be right as rain after working on the job he’s got lined up for me.”
Mozzie inclined his head towards Alex. “It’s not so much our friends’ help that helps us as much as the confidence of their help.”
“Well said,” Neal remarked as he topped off Mozzie’s glass before doing the same to his own. “I only wish I could offer a helping hand of my own.”
“From what I hear, you’ve been pretty busy lately. I wouldn’t want to intrude on your hectic workload with the Feds.”
Neal shrugged. “It’s calmed down a bit. The last couple of days it’s been mostly pencil pushing and insurance fraud. Nothing very interesting.”
Alex smiled. “I heard the Wayne job was pretty interesting.”
“That was fun, I have to admit,” Neal said with a chuckle. “At least it was until I got ambushed. The way that demon brat throws a punch, I’m sure he must’ve been trained in some form of martial arts.”
Alex took a sip from her glass. “Demon brat?”
Mozzie laughed. “It’s his nickname for the Wayne kid.”
“Where’d that come from?”
Neal shrugged. “It’s the first thing that pops into my head when I think of Damian Wayne. He reminds me a lot of that devil kid from the Omen movies. They share the same name too, now that I think about it.”
The trio in Neal’s apartment relaxed and chatted while their host was cooking dinner in the kitchen. It was a very pleasant atmosphere. The conversation was leading into talk about the music box and speculations on where Diana was hiding it when a knocking at the front door interrupted them.
“Could you get that, Moz?” Neal asked. “I’m kind of tied up with this risotto.”
The short bald man got up from the sofa and went to see who was calling. “Oh hi June!” Moz exclaimed. “What brings you up to the den of thieves this evening? Has the aroma from Neal’s kitchen made its way downstairs again?”
From his kitchen, Neal called out, “I’m making plenty if you want to join us for dinner. I know how much you love my risotto.”
The elderly dark skinned woman smiled warmly. “It is tempting, but that’s not why I’m here right now. You have another guest, Neal, and I wanted to see if you were up for additional company.”
Neal looked over his shoulder as he continued stirring the rice that was on the stove. “Peter?”
“Ah, no,” a different, but familiar voice said. “I’m definitely not Agent Burke.” The tall figure of Richard Grayson stepped out of the shadows behind June and into the light. He smiled apologetically at Neal and his other guests, who were gaping wide eyed at the newcomer. “Sorry to interrupt your evening, but I was hoping to get some advice on the new security measures at the gallery.” He held up the folder he’d gotten from Peter a couple of days ago. “Your report was very thorough and helped us greatly, but I just wanted to double check with you to make sure we have all our bases covered. However, if you need me to come back at another time…”
Normally, Neal would have suggested precisely that. Grayson was a relative stranger, and he never made it a habit of welcoming unfamiliar people into his home. However, there was something about him in general that made it hard for Neal to even consider kicking him out. “Where’s your younger brother?” he asked warily.
“He had to take a last minute trip out of town,” Dick said. “He won’t be returning till the gallery opening.”
Well, there went the strongest excuse Neal could think of for showing Grayson the door. He looked at his other guests. “Would either of you mind it if Mr. Grayson-“
“Please, call me Dick.”
“Ah… Okay… Would either of you mind if Dick stuck around for dinner?”
Alex looked Grayson over and shrugged. “I don’t mind. It’s not every day I get to dine with charming heirs to multi-billion dollar corporations.” She smiled coyly at the newcomer while both Neal and Mozzie wisely bit their tongues.
Mozzie likewise seemed equally unfazed. “Sure. Why not? All the world’s a stage, after all, and who am I to deny the entrance of a new actor into the scene?”
At the rather perplexed look Dick gave Mozzie, Neal chuckled. It did take a bit to get used to Mozzie’s unique way of speaking. With his risotto cooked to perfection, he felt safe about leaving the kitchen for a few moments. “Let me make with the introductions. June, you’ve already met. This-” he motioned to Alex. “-is Alexandra Hunter.”
“Alex for short.” She offered her hand and Grayson took it with a debonair smile.
Neal took two more wine glasses from his shelves. “And this is-” he said as he began motioning to Mozzie.
“Ivan Bliminse,” Mozzie finished. Neal had to repress a snicker as his old friend gave the unsuspecting Grayson one of his favorite clever aliases.
Dick smiled brightly. “It’s a pleasure to meet all of you.”
Dinner itself went exceptionally well. It certainly went better than anyone had thought it might. Despite never having met anyone else besides Neal before this evening, Dick Grayson seemed to have this aura about him that made everyone feel relaxed and comfortable in his presence. June joined them for dinner as well, and the five of them shared in good food, fine wine, and intriguing conversation.
“I remember my first date with my dear husband Byron, God rest his soul, was at a performance of Haley’s Circus back in the old days,” June recalled after dinner was over and coffee was being poured. “I had no clue, though, that you were one of the Flying Graysons. Back then, the Flying Graysons were still a duet. Your parents were wonderful performers. I’m so sorry about what happened to them.”
“Thank you,” Dick said with a nod. “It was hard, losing them the way I did, but if it wasn’t for Bruce, I really don’t know life would’ve turned out for me. I was fortunate.”
“Do you ever miss it?” Alex asked curiously. “The circus and performing and traveling and all that?”
A rather mysterious smile flashed across Dick’s face. “Sometimes,” he admitted. “Sometimes I miss it, but then there are other times in the dead of night, it feels as though I’ve never left.”
“Ah, dreams,” Mozzie quipped as he passed a cup of coffee to Alex. While he was handling the java, Neal was at the recently cleared dining table, going over the new security plans for the gallery.
“Hey, Dick,” he said as he made a few marks on a diagram of the gallery layout. “Could you come over here?”
Grayson got up from the sofa and went to stand next to Neal. “What is it? Did you spot something?”
“Yeah. Everything overall looks good, but you’ve still got a couple of spots here and here that need some extra attention.”
As the pair of them stood together at the table, pouring over schematics and security plans, Dick couldn’t help the sensation of nostalgia washing over him. The original plans for the evening were to just use the gallery’s security plans as an excuse to try and get to know Neal better, to try and gauge the kind of person he was now, outside of everything the FBI and Interpol files said he was. He never expected that he’d enjoy a meal with several of his closest friends, and be welcomed so warmly in the process.
He knew Alex Hunter by reputation from the files he had on Neal. She was a well known black market fence and thief. Neal and her had worked together often in the past before a falling out in Copenhagen when a job they were on went south.
The man calling himself Ivan, who Dick knew was really called Mozzie, was still a mystery. Despite his obvious tech skills, from how well his home made bug detecting device worked earlier in the week, the man of short stature and receding hairline seemed to have quite an eccentric personality and loved to share quotations.
June had been a total surprise. She was the very kindly old woman who owned the building and was technically Neal’s landlord. Dick thought that, if given the chance, she and Alfred would probably get along beautifully.
And then there was Neal himself. Dick had to force himself time and again to call his brother “Neal” even in his head as he conducted this covert investigation. There was none of the hostility from when he’d last been in this house, dressed as Nightwing. Instead, there was this charming, debonair, confident man that seemed to be everything his brother hadn’t been when he was a teenager. Tim had been relatively shy around newcomers, extremely awkward around beautiful women, and was so clumsy in social situations that it was almost painful to watch him crash and burn sometimes. Dick wondered if this current persona of his brother’s was a result of whatever caused his amnesia over the years, or if it was something that would’ve happened naturally if Tim had been given a chance to grow out of it as he got further into adulthood naturally.
“Um… Dick? Are you alright?”
“Oh? What?” Dick looked over at Neal, who was studying him curiously.
“You kind of spaced out there. Was I boring you with all this technical jargon?”
Dick shook his head. “Oh no… It’s just… You remind me a lot of my younger brother… Not Damian, but another one I haven’t seen for a very long time.”
“Ah…” A strange expression crossed Neal’s face. He went to take a sip from his coffee, only to discover that his mug was empty. “Hey Ivan? Is there any coffee left in the pot?”
“There should be enough for two more cups in there.”
“Thanks.” Neal grabbed his mug, then offered to take Dick’s. “Would you like some more?”
“I would, thanks.”
Neal took the ceramic mugs and started making his way to the kitchen. Midway there, though, a small flash of red darted across his vision, blinding him briefly and giving him pause. “What the-?” He rubbed his eyes with the back of one hand.
At that moment, Dick looked at Neal and paled when he saw a tiny, bright red laser dot lining itself up with his brother’s head.
“Everyone get down!” Grayson yelled with alarm as he bolted for the kitchen. “Tim! Look out!”
Before Neal could voice a question to Dick, the older, taller, and significantly stronger man tackled him to the floor. A fraction of a second later, the glass door leading to the balcony shattered, and the mirror that had been directly behind Neal exploded into a million pieces by the high powered sniper bullet that had been fired at the place where Neal’s head used to be.
Welcome to Chapter 14. Now serving wine, risotto, coffee, and snipers.