Chapter 2x: A Christmas Special
Since the wedding chapter was not ready in time for Christmas, Chris Dee released this series of alternate openings that might have introduced Chapter 2, but didn't.
EXT. COUNTRY ESTATE – DUSK
We swoop in on a grand country house lit for a big party. Rolls Royces, Daimlers and limousines, their headlights on despite the lingering light, are queued in a billionaires’ traffic jam along the narrow, winding drive. They disgorge their passengers at the entrance. Over the gate is draped a banner indicating a fundraiser for the symphony.
EXT. COUNTRY ESTATE – DUSK
Closer now, the first of several long takes follows the cars, picking up one conversation before drifting to another, establishing the camera as a wandering party guest. It’s all Newport and Beacon Hill, Bunny’s new nose and Daphne’s riding lessons, until we reach a humble Ford. CONNER, MEL and SADIE squeezed in the backseat with their instrument cases, MORRIS is driving with his cello riding shotgun.
|Will we meet the famous Hal tonight?|
|Right, we’re here as the help and
be pretending not to know you. Charming.
|Excuse me, sir, you the performers?
got to swing around and park in the service area.
|Never let the peasants forget their place.|
Proving his point, the camera meanders ahead of the Ford, first to the main entrance, the elegant guests getting out of cars, ELLA and BRYCE sweep in with the rest of the crowd while security guards check names against a guest list. After their names are checked, the guests enter, but before they’re inside a BEAUTIFUL WOMAN recognizes Bryce.
There is history here. A
lot. But the camera moves on to the service entrance where a uniformed guard
is stationed with a folding table, opening each instrument case and
inspecting the instrument before the musician is clear to enter. The BLONDE
from Vienna is here with a flute case. The case is well-worn but when it is
opened the lining is vividly new. Each piece of the flute is lifted lightly
from the case and inspected. The guard nods: it checks out but everything
about the encounter feels sinister.
A maid leads the musicians through the kitchen.
|You'll be performing in the garden
Just put the cello there for now. In between
sets, you are absolutely not to speak to
the guests, or interact with them in any way.
|That’s classist. And against union rules.
|This is a right-to-work mansion. Leave
union shenanigans at the door. When not
performing, you may sit at this table, and
there are refreshments at hand.
Conner, Mel, Sadie and other musicians follow, but no sign of the Blonde from Vienna. The only flautist is a tall, black man.
INT. GUEST BATHROOM
Distant music from the party is heard. Blonde has taken the body joint of her flute and extracted a metal dowel she loads into the ‘mouthpiece’ turning it into the a high tech blowgun we glimpsed at the embassy. Cut to
EXT. GARDEN – MAGIC HOUR
More bits of conversation, again all champagne and polo ponies until the “that Kiev business” and “the reactor.” Bryce is chatting with the Colonel while Ella approaches Quince. A new angle on the ‘my husband is ignoring me’ bit, this time playing out in the back as a silent pantomime. Bryce appears not to see, but as Ella is getting Quince to the dance floor, we see the tell-tale dot of red on his cuff.
EXT. GARDEN MAZE – MAGIC HOUR
For the first time, we see the blowgun in action and the Blonde using it. It’s to her mouth. The data from her watch is mirrored on the HUD in her glasses. The second sight appears on Quince’s shoulder.
EXT. GARDEN – MAGIC HOUR
Bryce sees the sights. It’s Vienna all over again. He looks around trying to spot the assassin. He disengages with the Colonel and moves towards Ella and Quince. The faint sound of a helicopter in the distance.
EXT. GARDEN MAZE – MAGIC HOUR
Close-up on the Blonde, aiming. Then the view from her HUD. Under all the medical readings that word DOYLE in all caps.
Close-up of the same data on her watch: DOYLE. The sound of the helicopter more present.
Bryce trying to make his way to Ella. Obstacles everywhere. The third dot appears, bright red, on Quinn’s neck.
05:35:00:0513418197431328. Sunrise. Inside the housing that looked more ‘magic orb’ than ‘futuristic drone,’ Faust’s digital code infused with magic recognized the day and initiated the final routines for which it was programmed.
Its Gamma protocols interfaced with the butler’s database at the St. Regis hotel, indicating Anna Karalis had a 7:15 wake-up call, followed by an asterisk, breakfast ordered for 7:30 with two asterisks, a make-up artist and hair dresser arriving at 8:15 and a car ordered for 9:30. There were four asterisks after the last indicating a reminder that the garment bag with her bridesmaid’s dress must be with her at that time. The concierge at the Roff Robinson Park had nothing booked for Lois, but there was a charge on the Kents’ room from the hotel salon for hair set and manicure the day before. A subroutine over-rode the flags downgrading Kent transportation needs while it updated current weather and recalibrated expected traffic for the day, projecting taxi and Uber availability for the hours prior to the wedding and then initiating a pattern of reservations and cancelations that would ensure Clark have easy transport to the Wayne penthouse to meet Bruce and a limo would be waiting outside the hotel at the optimal time for Mrs. Kent’s departure. It determined the most desirable arrival times for Dick and Barbara Grayson, Tim Drake, and Cassandra Cain, factored in traffic and weather conditions and scheduled wake-up calls to each household to inform them of their optimal departure times to reach Wayne Manor at the target time before the ceremony. It ran similar routines to insure the unhindered arrival of florists, caterers, musicians, waiters, Patrick McKael the society photographer and Martin Stanwick the society and gossip columnist for the Gotham Times.
Its Beta routines downloaded the day’s headlines and projected the conversation of morning radio personalities that might result, expanded projections to include a.m. news show chatter for the purpose of identifying environmental variables affecting subject Hagen, Matthew. Having previously analyzed all screenplays read by Hagen, Matthew and evaluated against 493 psychological profiles, it determined no environmental factors from radio or morning news had significant probability of affecting the previous determinations.
Meanwhile its Alpha… hiccupped.
The gentle strumming of Tommy Emmanuel playing Questions drifted through Riddler’s hideout. The song might be thematically satisfying, but it was too soft and lyrical to wake the bed’s occupants. Subconsciously Eddie heard it, the knowledge deep in his brain registering that the track was three minutes and thirty-eight seconds. Three minutes and thirty eight seconds before the much more spirited track began and he would have to get up… The much louder and more aggressive track that was now playing because his sleepy brain didn’t realize Questions was already two minutes in when he started his internal timer.
Doris groaned… “Ed” …nudged his shoulder… “Ed” nudged his hip… “Eddie get that” and finally crawled over him to get his phone from the nightstand. It required a fingerprint to unlock, and she went for his hand—which his seemingly sleeping body moved. She went for it again and he sprang to life, flipping her onto her back. Wrestling-tickling-nibbling commenced for one minute and thirty nine seconds until the wild percussive intro to Emmanuel’s 2013 performance of Classical Gas, which they both cursed at. Eddie relented and turned off his alarm, and Doris announced “Wedding Day!”
“What is it with women and weddings?” Eddie questioned the Universe represented by the ceiling.
“Don’t be a killjoy, Edward, they don’t get cake.”
“I don’t like cake.”
“They don’t get to bang a bridesmaid.”
“Weddings are awesome. We should have more of them.”
The synchronized brushing-shaving-showering-hair drying of two people used to sharing a bathroom was spent reviewing their first target Bradford Dormont: his biography, novels that sold and were made into mini-series, novels that were savaged by the critics, and his more notable essays in Mayfair magazine.
Making and eating breakfast was spent on the secondary target Ash Torrick, his early novels hailed as masterpieces, his inexplicable break from serious writing and rebranding as a low-brow peddler of dodgy symbolism, secret codes, and conspiracies for the crackpots who think the Illuminati hide messages in their Home Depot receipts.
They agreed that Eddie would do the heavy lifting with Torrick, Doris would focus on Dormont, and then as they cleaned up, they quizzed each other on details of the champagne and flowers sure to be repeated in the pages of Mayfair if dropped into Ford’s ear at the proper time.
“Lily of the valley signifies a return of happiness, hyacinth means constancy in love, myrtle is love and marriage, and if Pammy ever finds out I memorized this shit I’ll have to nuke Robinson Park, so let’s keep it on the QT,” Eddie declared.
“Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque Blanc de Blancs 2004,” Doris countered. “Chef de Caves Hervé Deschamps, bottle decorated by Emile Gallé. The phrase ‘Art du Millesime’ indicates the most representative expression of a particular year, the exaltation of a specific harvest through the interpretive keys of, in this case 2004.”
“Ivy of the non-poison variety also stands for marriage, fidelity and affection but it was vetoed for obvious reasons.”
“Normally the Belle Epoque cuvée is a blend from the villages of Cramant, Avize and elsewhere, but ’04 was one of the rare years with an exceptional harvest, winter frosts didn’t something or other, zig instead of zag, so it’s the super-rare Blanc de Blancs produced entirely from Grand Cru Chardonnay grapes from the 65 hectares the Maison owns, making it the rarest in the Perrier-Jouet line of production…”
One of the hawks for which Red Tail Mountain was named soared gracefully over the dojo Bruce called home for the last six months, then dove to a favorite perch over the door. Bruce counted subconsciously honing his sense of time, the idyllic beauty of the scene lost on him. This mountain temple with its bamboo and wild flowers, its tori gate heavily patinaed and strewn with prayer flags. It was unlike the dojo or the boxing club in Tokyo, or anywhere he would train in the years to come. The cinematic perfection of every detail, down to the water lilies in the meditation pond.
Twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six. The hawk remained on that perch only twenty-to-thirty seconds if its mate was in sight, probably keeping an eye on a nest Bruce couldn’t see… As the hawk rose to circle again, Bruce’s eyes flicked towards the temple rather than following it. Hamada Taijo again. How the old man watched him on the mat. Never corrected his technique like Maki Sensei, never a word of direction or correction like senior sempai. Indeed Hamada hadn’t spoken more than ten words to Bruce in all the time he’d been there. But how he watched.
Then yesterday, for the first time, there was the slightest acknowledgement when Bruce saw him looking. Just a barely perceptible nod. Then Hamada left like the senior-most student he was while Bruce remained behind to clean the mats and refill the incense. This was the first Bruce had seen him since then, and more than nodding, the old man was coming over. He knelt next to Bruce as if he intended to meditate, then he considered the hawk for a moment, and then he looked at Bruce.
“You will leave us soon,” he said without preamble.
“Hai. I’ve learned all I can here.”
Bruce knew the words would sound like appalling arrogance, but now that he was finished here, he didn’t mind being dismissed as a young know-it-all who would be quickly forgotten. But instead of a rebuke, Hamada looked up at the hawk.
“Yes, the technique comes easily to you,” he said, his eyes shining. “The discipline, the drills, control and focus. Self. Denial,” he said the last words in English, and with a peculiar smile, his old tongue shooting out of his mouth and smacking his lips as if savoring a favorite old treat not tasted for many years. “You remind me of myself when I came here. All the things they struggle with, I don’t know why they have so much trouble when it is all so simple.”
He then looked shrewdly back at Bruce.
“Do you know the one thing that took me the longest to understand? It is in the path of our happiness we find the learning for which we have chosen this lifetime. It’s in our nature to seek happiness, and if we do, we will find what we're meant to find, meet who we're meant to meet, and learn what we're meant to learn.
“But some of us pursue learning instead of happiness. The Universe can work with that. For those who take that road, it will place the happiness in the path of our learning, and it all works out the same,” he smiled, and then became grim. “It’s only if we pursue neither, if we seek neither learning or happiness, that it is a wasted life.”
The hawk’s shadow passed between them, and Hamada followed the path and pointed out the nest Bruce had been unable to see.
“Twenty years,” he concluded with a contented nod, “You don’t see it now, I know that. Young buck hears an old man’s words like a woman in a shop deciding what to take home for whatever she’s planning to do. But one day, if you’re as smart as you think you are, you’ll understand. Twenty, twenty-one… maybe twenty-five, twenty-six years before I did.”
Bruce’s eyes snapped open. He looked at the ceiling of the penthouse bedroom. Snatched his phone from the nightstand and switched off the alarm.
Clark knew agreeing to be Bruce’s best man would be more complicated than holding onto the rings. The morning of the wedding he awoke before dawn, kissed Lois, left the hotel and placed an order at Pola’s Bagels before zipping off to Metropolis just to ensure there would be no interruptions from that quarter. There was new construction at a warehouse Conduit used a couple of times, and just to be safe he dismantled enough to set the work back a day. He bypassed the LexCorp tower and flew instead to the company’s data center by the river, though it was equipped with the same anti-Superman measures. Unable to penetrate the building, he superheated the air around the intake vents, pushing the environmental controls to the breaking point. Then he flew to a LexCorp office in Portland and gave it the same treatment. Then Montreal… Vancouver… Star City… and Cleveland. Within an hour, alarms would be going off that air conditioning and dehumidifiers were failing and servers in danger of overheating at six far reaching locations, and that should keep Luthor’s paranoia fully engaged for the day. He returned to Gotham and picked up his bagels.
He returned to the hotel, leaving one order of bagels for Lois and picking up his suit. He brought the rest to Bruce’s penthouse—where a note was waiting. Clark shook his head at whatever bat-protocol was in progress, and read:
Dr. Hugo Strange was booked on a seven-day cruise to Alaska, see attached itinerary. I told him if he wasn’t on it, he'd wake up in the cargo car of an unreliable train in the Karwendel Alps, chained to a goat. He was checked in when the ship left yesterday, but please confirm he is actually onboard and in his cabin. If not, I leave tracking codes for that train, an alternate traveling between Madras and Pune, a dhow approximately six days out of Bombay, and a Yugoslavian freighter somewhere between Madras and Singapore. Select whichever is most convenient, and do not forget the goat.
Also be advised several rogues in favor of a Bruce-Selina union presume a jilted and jealous Batman is a threat. One or more may be planning criminal activity to coincide with the ceremony and keep me busy elsewhere. Take whatever steps are necessary. –B
Well… it was straightforward enough as bat-marching orders went.
Hugo Strange was right where he should be, but before Clark could begin to contemplate the rogue problem, his phone rang. This time it wasn’t Bruce but Alfred Pennyworth asking him to come to the manor “most urgently.”
Mahmoud performed his usual percussive wake-up on the doorframe of his daughter’s room which hinted that at least some of her musical talent might come from him.
“Good morning, sleepy face,” he teased, and then with mock sternness: “Performance Day, so no phone. Breakfast in ten minutes.”
They were on their own this morning. It was Saturday and his wife and son were sleeping in. It fell to Mahmoud to get Femi ready for the biggest day of her young career. The woman who made it possible for her to play a Stradivarius. The man whose foundation provided security and transportation and storage. He thought it was hyperbole when Edward Nigma said he would get his daughter a Strad. A quality instrument, sure. Something better than his cabbie’s income could manage so when she was ready for Julliard she could audition on equal footing... He never dreamed, never in a thousand years did he imagine…
Mahmoud went to the kitchen and turned on the radio while he made himself a smoothie and a pop tart.
.::This is WCDE, Motley in the Morning, I'm Ken Motley. So the big day is here. The Kyle-Wayne wedding out in Bristol. Might create some traffic on the 10th Avenue Bridge, but it won't because the people invited are probably going by helicopter, am I right? Hovering next to each other, asking for Grey Poupon.
.::For those of you just waking up from a coma, Bruce Wayne is marrying Selina Kyle, said to be Catwoman since, you remember, that Cat-Tales show a few years back. Is she? I don't know, but bad guys, word to the wise, Batman could be in a really foul mood tonight!
.::Speaking of the Dark Knight, I don't know if you all saw the Bat-signal last night. No idea what it's about, but there is this thing in the police blotter about an alarm going off at the archaeology museum on the Hudson University campus. I don’t know what they keep in a place like that, if it’s like, skulls and dirt or what, but if there are two words I never like to read the day after the Bat-signal’s lit, it's—::.
Femi came into the kitchen then, freshly scrubbed but yawning, and Mahmoud endeavored to wake her up with an enthusiastic barrage of questions and reminders while he made her breakfast.
“Tell me again what you’re playing.”
“Debussy, Chopin, de Senneville. Debussy is Clair de Lune. That means light of the moon, for Miss Selina’s name.”
“Good, and what else? Chopin is a Nocturne but which one?”
“E-flat major, and Mariage D’amoure, that means love match, by Paul de Senneville.”
“Very good. And remember, when Miss Selina talks to you after the ceremony, what do you call her?”
“Mrs. Wayne. And if the mayor compliments us he is called Mr. Mayor, and the bishop is Bishop, not father or reverend.”
“That’s right. And if there happens to be anyone who says they’re from the press and they ask about your instrument, what do you say?”
“It’s on loan from the Wayne Foundation. Through their… pay-tronage,” Mahmoud mouthed this word with her and nodded, pleased at how well she’d picked up the lingo. “Through their patronage, Maestro Prohm was able to form a string quartet that brings together the best instruments ever made: a Stradivarius, del Gesu, Hilaire and Nagyvary, for listeners to compare.”
“Good, good. And today’s program?”
“Specially commissioned arrangements by Maestro Rott, conductor emeritus of the Gotham Symphony, which retains ownership as a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Wayne, creating an…I forget the word.”
“Endowment,” Mahmoud prompted. “That means the symphony will have an ongoing source of income from those arrangements, because a Wayne Manor wedding is something many brides will want to copy. When they do, they pay a royalty.”
“And there is going to be a recording next week, and they will make money from that too,” Femi grinned.
“Your first recording. The first of many,” Mahmoud beamed. All because he picked up an escaped Arkham lunatic in his cab. “If you see Uncle Edward there today, you be sure to tell him. Now go get dressed, I’ll take you to the Crispin Center and we’ll pick up your instrument. Security escort will meet us there and take us to the wedding.”
“Will it be Mr. Craft again?” Femi asked.
“I don’t know, sweetie. Whoever the insurance company sends. No matter who it is, they’ll be there to protect you.”
“They’re there to protect the viola,” Femi said sagely.
“As long as you stay with the viola, it amounts to the same thing,” Mahmoud said impishly, and Femi giggled.
She ran along to get dressed, and Mahmoud smiled.
“The winter frost didn’t compromise the yield,” Eddie murmured, looking over the tasting notes while Doris ran around the bedroom tossing socks, stockings and a headband onto the growing pile on the bed. “Protected the slow ripening that began during a cool June—who cares— Continued through a warm and fair summer—who cares—The bouquet—Here we go—has notes of white melon and kumquat, frangipane and hawthorn flowers, almond paste and white chocolate with a hint of oyster and saffron—Yes! I am using that. M-K-F-H-A-W-oysters and saffron?”
“Question mark cufflinks or plain?” Doris called from the bedroom.
“Doesn’t matter!” he answered. “Mouthfeel is lithe and lively, blah blah blah, concentrated salinity, no way that makes it into print...”
The phone rang.
“Notes of crunchy apple and linden honey, hm, apple and honey, apple and honey, Isaac Newton, Bees, Newton Engineering and Beeton Brothers Aerospace, that’d be a nice payday…”
“Eddie, it’s for you. It’s Bruce— ”
“You mean Selina; I'll get it in a second… The wrapping finish has a joyous and juicy persistence of pineapple and gingerbread, with an aftertaste of iodine many minutes later—Oh come on, they made that up.”
Doris’s head appeared in the doorway.
“Puzzle Muffin, Bruce’s voice and Selina’s are not easily confused.”
“So you mean it’s Wayne Manor, that butler, Pennyworth. Let me wrap this up, I'm almost done.”
“It’s Bruce. Pick up, will you, I have a curling iron to get back to.”
Eddie looked down at the tasting notes and the riddles they could spawn.
“It’s like he knows,” he muttered.
The arch-demon Belial was one of the highest ranking angels cast out with Lucifer. Though he subsequently fell, he was part of the first ruling triumvirate of Hell and it was during this reign that he spawned Etrigan, as true-born a Prince of Hell as was ever baptized in the Infernal Flame. In the year mortal dust counted as Five Hundred and Sixty, Etrigan, son of Belial of the Seven Evils, was bound by his half-brother Merlin in the mortal flesh now known as Jason Blood. It is therefore unsurprising that Jason, his soul trapped and intertwined with the demon’s for centuries, lied when he said the AI Faust was free of magick. It was from a future so distant that wizards incorporated technology into their magick just as Jason might do a Google search to find a magic shop selling wormwood. Its housing and programming were the work of non-enhanced science, but inside, its core was infused with Jason's spell and tuned to the harmonics of his particular magick.
Thus at 05:35:00:0513418197431328 as the AI came to life at the moment sunrise was predicted at Wayne Manor, Jason’s eyes snapped open, a line of Shakespeare lingering inexplicably in his thoughts:
Now, soldiers, march away:
And how thou pleasest, God, dispose the day!
To be continued...