Part 2: Two Parties
By October 10th, Selina realized she might have a conflict. Every year he was free, Jonathan Crane (a.k.a. Scarecrow, the Master of Fear) threw a Halloween party. He invited everybody who was anybody in the rogue community. It wasn’t a party any of them wanted to attend, Jonathan’s notions of “Trick or Treat” being peculiar, even by rogue standards. But it wasn’t a party any of them refused, either. Jonathan took it personally, and then it would be 364 nights of fear instead of 1.
On October 15th, the invitation had arrived, and by the 22nd, it looked unlikely that Batman would be popping Scarecrow safely into Arkham by the magic night. So the Scarecrow party was on, and Selina had to make an appearance, it was that simple. She would meet Bruce at the mystery opening as soon as she could get away. Holmes would have his Irene, she assured him.
So it was that Sherlock Bruce arrived at the Mythology Museum accompanied by Pennyworth the butler, Sam Spade, and a druid.
“I am not a druid,” Barbara insisted, after Dick repeated his joke for the 14th time. “I’m a monk. I am Venerable Jorge, the killer librarian from The Name of the Rose.
“And how, exactly, do you figure anybody is going to know that?” Dick asked.
“How do you figure they’re going to know you’re Sam Spade and not Philip Marlowe or Lew Archer?”
“The cigarettes,” an attractive silver-haired woman answered from the foyer. “Sam Spade was a heavy smoker, rolled his own, Bull Durham, brown cigarette papers. Marlowe smoked Camels. Archer smoked for thirty years but not before breakfast. Gave it up in 1968.” She spoke in the crisp rat-tat-at of an old-fashioned typewriter. She looked from Dick, to Barbara, to Alfred, then finally spoke to Bruce.
“Claudia Lennox, Museum Curator. I’m glad you came early as I suggested, Mr. Wayne. This way, I can have a few minutes of your time now as a board member and sponsor, then you can relax and enjoy the party. Is this the actor?” She looked at Alfred.
Alfred began to answer that he was Mr. Wayne’s butler, here on loan, but Bruce cut him off.
“Yes, this is Alfred, who you might have seen in Who’s Your Father a few months back, and since then, he’s been helping out taking assorted Shakespeare programs around to the schools. He’s agreed to act as Pennyworth the butler tonight.”
Alfred gave Bruce a sideways look, but greeted Ms Lennox with a respectful nod. She looked him up and down with approval.
“Good outfit. Very detailed. Authentic looking. Now you understand that your principle function is to circulate with cups of tea and glasses of port, generally keep the guests fed and lubricated, but since this is a mystery theme, you should also appear sinister. Like you know something about each one of them they wouldn’t want to be made public.”
Alfred was put out.
“The function of a butler, Miss, is to give good service. Making the guests feel uncomfortable would not, I fear—”
“Oh,” she clipped off the word. “You’re one of those method actors. Didn’t think your kind meddled in Shakespeare. Well then, do as you think best.”
The formidable Miss Lennox pointed Alfred to the prep area. Dick and Barbara, she directed to the main exhibit halls. The doors to the mystery rooms would not be open for another hour, she explained, but they could tour the rest of the museum while she completed her business with Mr. Wayne.
At the Crane party, Selina tapped the Headless Horseman on the shoulder with mischievous glee.
“How’d you know it was us?” he asked from under a pumpkin head divided neatly down the center and carved into two distinctly different faces.
Across the room, Marilyn Monroe danced with Pagliacci.
“I see Joker and Harley made up,” Selina
Joker always dressed as a clown. He was, after all, the king of the Rogues Gallery, and while he had no objection to appearing in costume at a costume party, it was important his subjects all recognized him and paid proper respect.
Harley, on the other hand, had clearly given up trying to match his costume. It was last year’s Raggedy Ann and Andy debacle that did it. Her look this year, in the signature white dress from Seven Year Itch, was much more becoming. Joker was the only man insane enough not to think so.
“They’ve made up for now,” Harvey noted. “Won’t last. As soon as Jack sees you two are here and starts paying more attention to ‘Brucie’ than her…”
“Then it’s Harley’s lucky night,” Selina told him. “Bruce can’t make it. Another party.”
“Well that bites,” Harvey objected.
Selina stared. Joker’s incomprehensible fixation on ‘Brucie’ was bad enough. Then Eddie latched onto Catwoman and Bruce Wayne as an example that a costumed rogue could have a viable relationship with someone “normal.” Jervis said Bruce was easy to get along with, not like some. And now Harvey was turning!
But Harvey’s gripe, at least, did not seem to be grounded in preferring Bruce’s company to hers. His complaint was a jealous one.
“We’d all prefer not to be here, wouldn’t we? Forget the fact that the punch might be drugged or the party favors loaded with fear gas. Hugo Strange dressed as E.T. That’s the real horror!”
When the meeting with Claudia Lennox concluded, Bruce caught up with Dick and Barbara in the main hall. They were in front of a diorama entitled THE BASTARD HALF BROTHER. It showed Greek gods, medieval knights, Russian officers, Japanese samurai, Dickensian moneylenders, and Shakespearean madmen interspersed with cartoon characters, galactic storm troopers and western gunslingers. The point was clear: What was once a literary convention was now a tired cliché, employed to force a melodramatic twist into a sagging story. The hero having a long lost or unknown half brother who turns up in order to… whatever.
“Hey Bruce,” Dick joked, “No unknown Wayne brothers lurking in unbeknownst corners of the globe, are there?”
Bruce’s lip gave the ironic twist that meant as Dick’s jokes go, this was less amusing than usual.
“The reason that sorry stunt is a cliché,” he remarked, “is because every third myth begins with some Olympian god or other going into town on a Friday night. My father was a little more choosey about how he spent his time. Let’s go in. They’re opening the mystery rooms, the party will be getting started soon.”
Selina thought a dance might be the best way to perk up Harvey’s spirits, so she cajoled him to the dance floor. But the subject of Bruce’s too-easy acceptance by the rogues was still nagging her.
“Harv, about Bruce fitting in and all. Doesn’t it bother any of you that he’s, ah, how do I put this delicately, NOT A CRIMINAL???”
“He’s like a mascot,” Harvey said.
Eddie and Doris, dressed as Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, danced alongside them and Eddie chimed in. “Like in baseball, those kids that hang out in the dugout and manage the equipment, what are they called again?”
Doris supplied the term, “Batboys.”
“I need a drink,” Selina said, ending her dance with Harvey.
“Punch might be drugged,” he reminded her.
“I’ll take my chances.”
The rooms of 221-B Baker Street were the crown jewel of the mystery wing, but by no means the whole of the exhibit. There were displays on many items prevalent in mysteries: poisons, ransom notes, the English country house, fingerprints, village life, the pub, train travel, bloodstains, the invalid’s tray, and, oh yes… guns.
Bruce couldn’t help looking at the thing. In fact, he stood before the display, transfixed, as it outlined outrageous inaccuracies in a typical novel’s depiction of firearms.
The anonymous hero of The Ipcress File is armed with ‘a hammerless Smith and Wesson, safety catch built into the grip, six chambers crowded with bullets.’ Except that no hammerless Smith and Wesson is six-shot, it’s only five…
Bruce felt somewhat ill as his eyes rolled over the words.
… and the safety mechanism does not, in strict terms, incorporate a catch, since it does not intercept the motion of an already cocked mechanism, but rather prevents an uncocked mechanism from being moved…
He felt uncomfortably warm. Pulled into a whirlpool of words about guns and bullets.
The .25 Beretta of Bond’s early appearances was at least concealable, and deadly enough if the brain or spine was hit…
And the smell, something warm. Popcorn.
…Ian Fleming sent James Bond forth with a .32 Walther PPK automatic in a Berns-Martin holster—to a chorus of anguished groans from the shooting fraternity, since the Berns-Martin was made only for revolvers, not for automatics…
Bruce pulled himself out of the swimming words with a jerk. He took a handkerchief and blotted drops of sweat from his forehead. Then he took a deep, cool breath and assumed the Fop smile. Guests were beginning to arrive for the party.
The Ashton-Larrabys. Good. Randolph got in over his head, getting involved in that Ra’s al Ghul business. But he’d helped Batman put a stop to it, and Bruce was determined that he not suffer for it. Bruce continued to get the Ashton-Larrabys invited to any party he could. Unfortunately, Randolph usually repaid the gesture by following Selina around and looking at her cleavage.
“Sherlock, pah,” was Randolph Larraby’s greeting as he shook Bruce’s hand. “Elementary, eh? Good to see you again, Wayne.”
“Brucie, darling,” his wife gushed, “such a wonderful party. So pleased to be asked. And where is that darling Selina?”
“She’ll be along in a little while,” Bruce answered, “She had another event to look in on.”
At the refreshments table, Selina looked with suspicion on a great tray of candied apples. Harvey joined her. Then Eddie. And Doris. They all stared blankly at a row of caramel, caramel & peanut, chocolate, and chocolate and cornflake dipped apples.
Oswald waddled up, took a chocolate one and bit into it.
“Perfectly safe,” he quacked, “Hugo brought ’em.”
“There’s a logic jump,” Selina said flatly.
“He didn’t expect to be asked,” Oswald explained. “‘Specially since he and Jonathan have been quarreling. So he brought a couple gifts. Wants to ingratiate himself.”
As always, at the mention of his name, Hugo Strange came to join any group savvy enough to be discussing him. Seeing that his apples were viewed with favor, he bustled off and returned with a new tray of meringue ghosts, chocolate covered spiders, and a cake with a huge bat-emblem under a red slashed circle.
When he left again and was safely out of earshot, Eddie whispered as if confiding to an invisible stand-in: “Hugo, c’mere. There is a line between discreetly dodging an exploding pumpkin full of fear toxin and actually kissing your host’s ass.”
Doris and Selina chuckled, but Harvey was more sympathetic.
“What does he know, his girlfriend’s a mannequin. Dealing with other people not exactly Hugo’s strong suit.”
“So he became a psychiatrist,” Eddie remarked.
At that moment Dr. Marilyn Harley Monroe gave her trademark squeak-giggle, and Selina decided she’d been at this shindig long enough. Since Hercule Eddie Poirot and his date Miss Doris Marple looked to be heading for the same party, she offered them a lift.
Harley/Marilyn quoted from The Seven
Year Itch, “Hey, did you ever try dunking a potato chip in champagne?”
Oswald removed the gas cartridge from his umbrella and used the remaining compressed air to blow Marilyn’s skirt up.
Harvey looked at Selina, Eddie and Doris. “Please take us with you.”
Alfred serpentined through the party guests, discreetly offering refills from a heavy silver teapot and a thick crystal decanter. He realized the Whodunit butler’s status as the most-likely suspect was not unfounded, he himself having overheard an astonishing series of conversations…
… the Ashton-Larrabys explaining to Barbara that their seemingly non-descript costumes were Ann and Billy Grenville from The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, a society couple of the 1950s. It was true that Ann shot Billy in Chapter 24, and that seemed an unfortunate omen for Mr. Larraby. But he didn’t seem to mind, as it meant he could wear white tie and tails instead of dressing up in some ridiculous outfit…
…Lucius Fox explained to Dick that while Barbara’s outfit might not be meant to be a Druidic high priest, his was. Beneath the hooded robes, he wore the scarlet tights of a Mephistopheles costume. He was only here as a duty appearance, since he didn’t think Bruce would show. There was another party he wanted to attend, at his daughter’s. Since Bruce was here, Lucius was free to leave and planned to as soon as he decently could. He didn’t like being in the same room with that awful Larraby, mixed up in all that insider trading…
…Omar told Martin Stanwick that his hooded cloak, although identical to Barbara’s and Lucius’s, was meant to be Brother Cadfael, a medieval monk. He was a humble man who was nevertheless the detective hero of many excellent mysteries. Brother Cadfael had been a Crusader, the former DEMON Messenger explained, but he put that world of violence and conflict behind him for the quiet life of the monastery…
…Martin told Moira that his costume was meant to be Lord Peter Wimsey. This permitted him to appear in white tie and tails, without suffering the indignities of a silly costume AND not being a man marked for death. Note to Randolph Larraby…
“How’s it going, Alfred?” Bruce chirped.
“The evening would appear to be proceeding in a most satisfactory manner, sir,” Alfred intoned, with less of his usual, respectful reserve, and more hauteur of an actor playing a stage butler.
“Had a chance to talk with Miss Lennox?” Bruce asked casually. “I thought her ears perked up when I said you’d done Shakespeare. So when I was in her office, I suggested she might show you around the other exhibit later where they have—”
“Master Bruce,” Alfred interrupted with the tone he would have used with the boy at age twelve, “A gentleman does not discuss his personal affairs in the midst of… oh dear.”
Bruce followed Alfred’s glance, and the unlit pipe nearly fell from his mouth.
“Talia,” he breathed, “Shit.”
To be continued...