Welcome to the 2022 April A to Z Challenge! Each day (minus Sundays) in the month of April will feature a short work of fiction based on a random word beginning with the corresponding letter of the day. Those random words will be provided by various friends and family members throughout the month. Today’s word, grunt, was provided by my friend, Erin.
Waylon Jones had to admit to himself that he was bored.
The man who was doing everything he could to shed the identity of Killer Croc was having a difficult time living the life of legitimacy. How could he live like everyone else looking the way he did? He had never been accepted by society. It was likely he never would be. But he kept telling himself that he had to try.
Growing up being treated like a half crocodile/half man had started Waylon off down the wrong track. As a kid, he’d had no intention of becoming a criminal. But he was constantly rejected, first by his parents, then by the government system that was supposed to be in place to help children who had no one to turn to. He was teased… bullied… belittled… Who wouldn’t snap under those circumstances?
But that was his old life. That life of crime and violence was behind him. He had played along with Amanda Waller’s Task Force X and had done an excellent job, if he said so himself. This provided him with his freedom, but not much else.
Instead of returning to Gotham, a place where Jones had had one too many run-ins with the Batman, he decided to call Blüdhaven home from now on. But it wasn’t as if he could march into the local housing authority and ask for a decent place to live. No one in their right mind would lease an apartment to the infamous Killer Croc. So he was forced to do what he had done for so many years. He retreated to the sewers and the connected tunnels beneath the city.
On the bright side, this gave him the ability to move about the city undetected by the people above.
Waylon had carved out a decent little living space that was just far away from the main sewer line that he was able to get away from the smell. Not that a dank, underground cave didn’t have its own share of odors to contend with. But it was better than what the people of Blüdhaven regularly flushed down their toilets.
During the night, he had sneaked up to the surface and snatched the previous day’s newspaper from a trash can. Now, by candlelight, he read about how the Joker might be in town. He read that the clown had already killed four people with one more in critical condition. Jones just shook his head. “Same shit, different day,” he said, dropping the paper to his side.
Yes, Waylon Jones admitted to himself he was bored. As a criminal, at least he was able to make his presence known. He was able to get some sunlight. He was able to get some exercise. Now that he was a fine, upstanding citizen, he had to hide away in the darkness. He knew that revealing himself to the world would only scare people. Scared people are unpredictable. And if he was ever forced to defend himself, he would end up looking like the bad guy all over again. I’ll take bored over bad guy, he thought to himself.
That’s when he heard the unmistakable sound of an explosion.
Jones leapt to his feet and followed the darkened tunnels toward where he believed the source of the explosion to have been. He had only been down here for a few weeks, but he was already as familiar with the layout as if he had spent his entire life in these tunnels.
He could sense that the epicenter was not far from where he had been. He could feel the vibrations of collapsing structures. It was all happening just above him, maybe a block away.
Waylon reached a ladder that led to a manhole and began to climb. Then he stopped himself. What good will it do for me to go up there? he silently asked himself. But he was curious. Maybe he couldn’t reveal himself. Maybe he couldn’t be of any help to the injured. But that didn’t stop him from wanting to see what was going on.
Against his better judgment, Jones made his way to the surface. He lifted the cover just enough to look down the street. He could see smoke billowing out of a couple of nearby storefronts. He could hear the sirens of fire and EMS vehicles growing steadily closer. Then he heard the sound of two feet landing nimbly on the pavement next to his head.
“Know anything about this, Croc?” asked a voice that belonged to the black booted individual who was obviously facing toward the source of the explosion, just as he was.
Who is that? Jones thought. He knew it couldn’t be the Bat. The voice wasn’t deep or scary enough. This had to be one of the sidekicks. Hadn’t he heard that Nightwing patrolled Blüdhaven sometimes?
Still holding the manhole cover barely above the street’s surface, Jones shook his head. “I don’t know nothin’ man. I just heard the explosion and got curious is all.”
“Yeah?” said Nightwing, sounding not completely convinced, “Why don’t you come up here and we can talk about it?”
Jones closed his reptilian eyes. He had no reason to have a talk with Nightwing. He should not have to explain himself to this junior Batman. He was a free man who had done his time and he was just trying to stay out of trouble. But he knew the assumption would always be that he was up to no good.
“Fine,” Waylon said. And with a grunt, he flipped the heavy metal disc onto the road and pulled himself up to ground level. It made him feel good to tower over Nightwing the way he did, even though he knew from experience that this guy could throw a solid punch.
“For the record, Jones,” began Nightwing, “I believe you when you say you don’t know anything about the explosion.”
This caught Waylon off guard. The shock must have shown on his face.
“Don’t look so surprised. You think I don’t do my homework? I know you were released from Belle Reve and I know you’ve been trying to lie low here in Blüdhaven. You ever think about hanging out somewhere other than the sewer?”
Waylon smirked, “Crossed my mind.”
“Look, I also know that the Joker is in town and he’s been waiting to make some kind of move,” Nightwing continued. “I’m willing to bet real money this explosion has something to do with him. I’m just grateful that no one was hurt.”
“Really?” asked Jones.
“Too early,” said Nightwing, “none of the stores were close to being open yet. My guess is that this is a distraction. Which is why I really asked if you knew anything? The circles you ran in, maybe you’ve picked up something that I can’t?”
Was Nightwing really looking to Killer Croc for help figuring out what the Joker is up to in Blüdhaven?
“Sorry, man,” said Waylon, shaking his head, “I really don’t know anything.”
“You’re not just holding out on me hoping I’ll pay you for info, are you?”
His anger began to rise. “I ain’t that kind of crook no more!” he shouted, causing Nightwing to take a slight step back.
The vigilante put up his hands in a defensive posture. “Okay… okay… I believe you.”
Jones dropped his head. He felt slightly guilty for nearly losing his temper. Why wouldn’t Nightwing assume he was trying to get something for any information he had? It’s certainly what he would have done in another life.
Nightwing started to walk away but suddenly stopped. He turned back toward Waylon and held out a business card. “If you ever get tired of sewer life, call this number.”
Jones read the card. It was from the Wayne Foundation. “Why would Bruce Wayne care about whether or not I live in the sewers?”
Nightwing laughed at that. “Oh, Bruce Wayne probably couldn’t care less. But he has some really good people on staff with the non-profit he started up. Use me as a character reference.”
He studied the card for a moment. “I don’t have a…” Jones began before looking up to see Nightwing was already gone. “…Phone.”
Jones looked up and down the block, then shrugged his shoulders. Oh well, he thought, gotta be a payphone around here somewhere, right?
These characters are not my own. Batman and all related characters are the property of DC Comics. This is a work of fan fiction and is just for fun. Please don’t sue me.