Fic in progress. I'm posting because...I wanted to show off, but I didn't want to put it on any lists until I'd finished the story and edited the heck out of it. Because it has Plot! and would probaby benefit from a complete view. I haven't decided on a title yet, either, and am calling it "Dead Men" in the interim. It's a Nightwing story and the desire to write it came about from listening to the bitching about the characterization and development (or lack thereof) in the title. (Which I'm not reading.) I figure the timeline to be around the time Devin Grayson came onboard. I haven't really kept up, so it's loose.

Dead Men
By Smitty


Those who say dead men tell no tales are wrong. Dead men have plenty to say. You just have to be listening very carefully.

The body I was listening to on the night of the 23rd was sending me mixed signals--like most of the women in my life, Perry Taylor was playing her cards close to her vest.

My name's Dick Grayson. I'm an ex-circus performer, ex-bartender, ex-cop and the ex-sidekick of the man who holds Gotham under his thumb--Batman. With credentials like that, I should have Bludhaven quaking in its boots by now. Sad thing is, a city like this isn't so easy to intimidate.

Two in the morning on the 23rd, a Thursday, saw me where most nights did--squatting on a window sill in blue and black Nomex-Kevlar weave pajamas, looking at another example of senseless violence in the nastiest city I could find. Batman was welcome to Gotham. He's held that town under his thumb, both as Batman and as Bruce Wayne, for the past decade. The deaths, the rapes, the mass destruction by Arkham inmates, it's all just to spite to him now. But Bludhaven--Bludhaven collected the refuse Gotham spit out and that led to good people scraping a living in a city that didn't want them. That was where I'd thrown in my lot, for better or for worse. Bludhaven was my city and we were going to do battle until one of us surrendered.

It wasn't going to be me.

I was in Perry Taylor's apartment because of a 911 call from downstairs. Her scream had woken the baby of the couple that lived below her. The wife had called emergency services. The husband had knocked on the door and gotten no answer. He was waiting for the police in the hallway. I couldn't hear his footsteps pacing the carpeted hall but I could hear the creak every time he passed over the loose board at the top of the stairs.

Perry hadn't been dead long, but she'd died quickly. The wound was in her stomach--usually an indication of a bleeder and a long, painful passing--but she'd been dead for almost half an hour now, which put her time of death just after the neighbors had heard her scream. Her shirt and the skin around the wound was crusted with blood, but she should have been soaked with the stuff and wasn't. Looks like I'd be using the Coroner-Cam tomorrow morning.

Before I could do any further poking around, I heard the standard Bludhaven police knock.

"Police! Open up!"

By my count, they were two seconds early when they broke down the door. Bludhaven PD has never been particularly good with procedure. I watched from the ledge outside the window as two uniformed officers entered, weapons drawn.

"Aw, crud," one of them groaned. The other was my former partner, Malloy. That was one shred of hope. The less corrupt this investigation was, the less time it would take me to figure out what was going on. "I'm checking the bedrooms," he called.

Malloy nodded and kept scanning the premises as he knelt beside the body and laid his fingers on her neck. Her eyes were open and staring at the ceiling but I was glad he checked anyway. Procedure or not, I was glad he checked.

The guy I didn't know came out of the back, piece still drawn, but lowered.

"Nothing in the back," he reported.

"Corpse is still warm," Malloy said. I could hear the regret in his voice muted by the cold wind I whipping past my ears. Malloy always was a soft touch. "I'm calling it in to Homicide. Let's get this scene secured."

I considered doing a loop around the Zee Moores while we waited for Amy and her people to get there, but I didn't want to miss anything. It was a good thing I stayed.

Malloy was taping the door and the other guy was talking to the man who lived downstairs when Mac Arnot showed up.

Mac Arnot is dirtier than the sewer under my apartment building and up to his ears in it. He took a liking to me when I was still on the force but I never figured out why. Maybe he thought I was corruptible. Maybe he thought I wasn't. Mac always liked a challenge.

"What have we here?" he asked, ducking under the tape and pulling gloves from his pocket. I was surprised to see that he had any interest in preserving the integrity of the crime scene. Mac's interests didn't usually run toward truth, justice, and the American way. More often than not, they ran to sandbagging investigations that would lead us to Roland Desmond--Blockbuster.

The Bludhaven PD is full of crooked cops, but none so blatant about his crimes as Mac Arnot.

"Body, inspector," Malloy answered. He hates Arnot as much as I do. "Female, late twenties. Name, we think, is Perry Taylor."

"You think?" Mac turned on his heel and tilted his head in a way he probably thought was charming. "What's the question?"

"Uh, well, sir, this is Perry Taylor's apartment," Malloy said. "We have no confirmation that this is Ms. Taylor."

Arnot nodded and turned away. He squatted next to the body and surveyed the state of the corpse without touching anything. Then he nodded again and rose to his feet. "You checked the bedroom?" he asked.

"Dominguez did," Malloy answered.

"Bedroom and office," the other officer--Dominguez, I knew now--said, ducking under the tape as he re-entered the scene. "She has a computer and writing desk in there. Reference books, too. No signs of struggle."

Computers and reference books. Sounds like time to contact one of the other difficult ladies in my life.

Arnot wandered back to the bedroom area. I ducked under the window and walked the ledge to the next window--the smaller bedroom that Perry Taylor had turned into an office. The shade was drawn and the window was locked, but I pressed a listening device against the glass. If I was lucky, Arnot was the type to talk to himself.

I wasn't lucky. The best I could get was the shuffling of some books and papers. I hoped Arnot wasn't pocketing any disks or notes while I was stuck outside. I did manage to catch some new voices, one of them female, and I knew Amy was on the scene.

Amy Rohrback was my sergeant when I was first turned loose on Bludhaven with a badge. She was tough and she was fair. I should have been more careful about my identity around her, but I wanted an ally like Jim Gordon. I got one, but at a price--I had to leave the force. I can't blame her for that decision. She was a good cop and I was betraying my oath by breaking laws I'd sworn to uphold, circumventing proper procedure, and endangering myself and others by disobeying direct orders. The only thing separating me from Mac Arnot was my moral code and in her eyes, even that was suspect. Fair enough, and it wasn't as if I needed the money. Part of me missed that aspect of being Dick Grayson. Not enough to give up Nightwing, though, and I've made my peace with that.

"Arnot? What are you doing in here?" The light came on in the office and Amy's voice rang through the small room, picked up distinctly by my eavesdropping device.

"Just having a look around, Captain." Arnot's voice was as smooth and cold as the pane of glass I was pressed against. I couldn't tell whether or not he'd found anything useful before she interrupted him. A moment of silence. "If you'll excuse me."

I detached my little toy and crept along the ledge back to the living room window. It has been open when I'd arrived. I watched Arnot walk through the open door without stopping to acknowledge the other officers. He'd gotten what he'd come for. The thought galled me and it must have galled Amy, too. She walked into view, arms folded tightly across her stomach. The ME was standing back while the photographer angled for a shot from above. A fingerprint expert was dusting the phone. Investigation well underway. I squatted down on the cold ledge and settled in for a wait. I tensed and released my quads to keep them from getting stiff while Amy's Homicide squad did their jobs.

"Was this open when you arrived?" Amy asked and I realized she was peering out the window. I stilled myself and slowed my breathing. I was well in the shadow and her angle wasn't good.

"Yeah, it was, Cap'n," someone called from inside. Not Malloy--Dominguez, probably. "We didn't touch nothing."

"If you're out here," she said softly enough that she could only be talking to me, "meet me in an hour."

An hour wasn't much time, but she'd probably done that on purpose. She didn't need to specify a place. I already knew.

Amy and I had been meeting on the roof of the Bludhaven PD headquarters, where she generally berates me for everything but my true crime of having been playing both sides of the fence and occasionally throws me a bone. I waited around to see if anything new comes up in the clean-up, but after forty-five minutes, I'd heard nothing new so I decided to be early to our meeting. It's too late to make a good first impression, but it doesn't mean I ever stop trying.

She was fifteen minutes late. I didn't let on that I'd noticed.

"Are you up here?" she called softly, arms crossing over her chest.

"Right here."

She jerked and spun around, one hand clenched on the butt of her service piece in its holster.

"Do you have to sneak up on me like that?" she asked irritably.

"Hey." I spread my hands wide. "I was just standing here."

She scowled and my heartfelt attempts at goodwill were forfeit.

"The deceased," she said, pulling out a notebook and flipping it open.

"Perry Taylor?"

"Died of?"

"Something sliced her stomach open," I said. We played this game of brinkmanship every time we met. "But there's something not right, there. She died instantly and a gut wound should have bled more."

"Yeah, we thought that was fishy, too. We're having the ME check it out tonight. Not a happy camper."

"You're pushing for it tonight?"

"I have reason to believe enough delay and some of the evidence might just get up and walk out of that morgue," Amy said.

"Arnot."

"I don't like him."

"I've heard even his wife doesn't like him," I said.

"I don't like him around my crime scenes."

"That's smart."

"And I don't like you disturbing the scene."

"Who's disturbing the scene? I was just taking a look around."

Amy's eyes narrowed slightly as she studied me. If I was the type to get nervous, I'd be getting a real bad feeling about now.

"The window," she said.

"What about it? It was open when I got there."

"Was it? You're being straight with me?"

"I'm always straight with you, Amy?"

One eyebrow quirked and there I was, caught in my own words.

"Ok, I'm straight about evidence. I'm straight about cases. Can we move on? I didn't touch the window."

"We checked the building security cameras," Amy said. Perry Taylor had lived in a pretty swanky part of town, the sort of place where tenants have the key to the outside door and intercom systems let them communicate with the outside world. "No one came in the front door last night. No one left. We locked down the building and checked the stairwell tapes."

"Nothing?"

"Nothing. We checked the elevator tapes, too." Amy looked grim. "No one stopped on Perry's floor in the last four hours."

"Someone lying in wait?" I felt a wicked sensation of dread curl around my insides. Lying in wait is considered an aggravating circumstance in Bludhaven--death penalty level for sure. "Have you checked all the neighbors on that floor?"

Amy nodded slowly. "There are five other apartments there," she said. "One's empty--we searched that. The rest have couples or families. No killers hiding out that we could find." She fixed me with a level gaze and I noticed one of her hands rested on her weapon. "Best as we can tell, the killer came and left through the window."

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