Arthur’s departure came as a shock to all of us. I knew things had not been going well for him for a while - I think everyone could see that - but I never imagined how bad it had gotten. Over the next couple of weeks, I went down to Atlantis to visit and talk. I was trying to get some sense of what had precipitated his leaving. It took several visits to convince him that it was me, as a friend, coming to see how he was doing and that I wasn’t sent by the League to "feel him out" (Diana brought that idea up once and was immediately out-voted 6-1). Arthur told me of the problems in Atlantis and his own desire to focus his attention on ruling his kingdom - which I understood completely. Sure, most of us have "day jobs" - some more stressful and busy than others - but sometimes I don’t think the rest of the League truly understands what Arthur - or rather, King Orin - has to deal with.
After a few weeks of visits, I started noticing some changes in Arthur. He was more relaxed, more laid back - less angry. I commented to him about it and he just smiled. "I’m happy, J'onn," he told me. "Probably happier than I have been in a long time. As cliched as it sounds, I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders." In some respects, he was more correct than he knew - at least, the weight of the "Surface World" had been lifted from his shoulders.
Officially, the League listed his departure as an "Extended Leave of Absence" in order to make things easier if he ever decided to return. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one we had lost thanks to the Imperiex debacle. Steel was officially on extended leave as well - his injuries were pretty severe and he wanted to take some time off to heal. Clark told me later that John Henry was actually considering hanging up the armor for good - wanting to focus more on SteelWorks. Arthur and John Henry were just a few of the "Casualties of War" from that conflict. It seems that the publicity and morale problems we were facing weren’t exactly League-specific - many in the "Superhero Community" had been feeling the strain as well. Several others used the Imperiex thing to justify hanging up their capes and tights and fading into relative obscurity or (as in Hippolyta’s case) simply returning home.
The rest of us were in desperate need of some relief. Even the mood at the recent Third Saturdays get-togethers had been more somber than in previous years. Thankfully, a relief of sorts did present itself, at least for some: Dick Grayson and Barabara Gordon’s wedding. I was able to attend the wedding - disguised as a caterer - and I have to say it was one of the most moving and beautiful ceremonies I had ever witnessed. It was heartwarming to see that, in the middle of all of these problems, two young people who had been through so much were able to come together and dedicate their lives to each other, "for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health". So I was happy, not only for the two of them, but for all that were there to witness their union - allowing the happiness of the occasion to lift their spirits.
While I attended the wedding, I did not attend Dick’s bachelor party. Don’t get me wrong, it had nothing to do with Dick or with anyone else in attendance. The truth is, after Clark’s bachelor party… well, let’s just say that my involvement in needlessly needling the others into a superhero show of one-upsmanship that eventually led us all over the West Coast and resulted in the power displays that turned parts of the Nevada desert permanently green had turned me off to parties of that nature. I had no doubt that with Bruce and Clark both in attendance, Dick’s party would in no way lead to another "unnatural disaster," but I just couldn’t… well… I think it’s best that we just leave that alone and go with "I was unable to attend."
Anyway, from what I understand, the party was a rousing success - a much needed release for quite a few that needed it. According to Wally, it was quite the little gathering… up until Pamela Isely (a.k.a. Poison Ivy) crashed the party. And I’m also lead to understand that Diana apparently crashed Barbara’s bachelorette party as well, though details are still a bit shaky on that one. All in all, though, it appears that a relative good time was had by all.
On the public front, however, things continued their downward spiral. As expected, Luthor dodged the bullet of Clark’s story - vilifying Clark in the process. We admonished Webster Hoyt in private, expressing our displeasure at the way he handled the situation. He promised to "do better" in the future. Whether he meant that he would try to operate more to our liking or that he would just try to hide his tracks a little better is still a matter of debate amongst the League - though we would get a pretty good indication during our next big public perception problem concerning Arthur’s "disappearance"…
"It’s not that big of a leap to make," Webster argued, tossing the tabloid down onto the coffee table and leaning back in his chair. The PR Subcommittee - or rather, what was left of it with Arthur resigning and Oracle attending to "an important case for Batman" (Barbara Gordon working on the last minute arrangements for the wedding) - sat around the Watchtower Rec Room discussing the latest headlines affecting the League. Specifically, they were discussing the National Tattler Webster had just tossed back onto the coffee table, glaring up at them with the headline: Aquaman Dead!
"He’s been gone since the Imperiex Invasion," Webster continued. "There have been no less than four public battles by the League since then and two standing room only Press Conferences - all with no Aquaman. It’s not really surprising that they came to this conclusion."
"Came to that conclusion?" Diana retorted. "It’s an outright lie!"
"And that’s new to us how, exactly?" Webster replied, smirking. "Like I said before, one of the main things to keep in mind with a PR nightmare like this is that we have to learn to pick our battles. And this isn’t a battle we need to win. Besides, you people die and come back all the time, don’t you?"
Diana narrowed her eyes in Webster’s direction. "What did you mean by that? 'You people'?"
"He meant Superheroes, Diana" J'onn replied, glancing in her direction before returning his attention to Webster. "What about a retraction?"
"You know how it is - big story: Page 1, above the fold. Retraction: page B-27 under the Victoria’s Secret ad. It’s pointless and a waste of time. Pick your battles. Oh, speaking of which, I still feel really bad about the whole Luthor thing. So you think we ought to do something for that Kent fellow? You know, help him find a new job or something?"
"Kent’s already taken care of," Superman offered, hiding a smile. "You don’t need to worry about that. He’s a… close, personal friend."
"Oh? Well, okay then," Webster replied with a smile. He began collecting the various newspapers and folders they had used during the meeting, stacking them in his open briefcase. "I guess that’s it for this week. I’m putting together some new things for us - a couple of high-profile appearances and such. You guys have done some pretty phenomenal work these last few weeks and we need to get that message out. I’m working on a deal right now with MTV to get a few of you on TRL one day next month. It'll really punch up the 12 to 20 numbers."
The three Leaguers traded slightly concerned glances as Webster closed and latched his briefcase and then stood up. "I've got a few other irons in the fire, so to speak, as far as League visibility goes. I’ll fill you all in on the details next week. Diana, don’t forget about the panel discussion at the UN conference on Thursday. You've been doing great on the Argentina thing - great Women’s Rights stuff. Housewives across the country are eating it up."
Webster moved toward the doorway, his eyes never leaving the group. J'onn marveled at the man’s ability to walk in any direction while still keeping focussed on the group. He began to wonder if Webster had some strange directional control meta-gene.
"And don’t worry too much about the Aquaman stories," Webster continued. "Truth be told, the sympathy vote will probably help us in the long run."
Superman, Diana and J'onn looked to each other in concern and confusion, then simultaneously turned critical stares in Webster’s direction. Superman spoke, asking the question they were all thinking. "Webster? Did you… plant that story?"
"What? No!" The agent replied quickly. "No, no. I was just… you guys have got to learn to see the silver lining on these things. Think positive," he added with a wink. "I’ll see you guys next week." Webster turned and left the room. The trio waited until they heard the faint hum of the teleport tube activating, then looked back at each other, trying to confirm what they all suspected.
"He’s lying," Diana stated matter-of-factly.
"Yes," J'onn confirmed, leaning back in his chair and massaging the bridge of his nose.
"Unbelievable," Clark muttered, slowly shaking his head and crossing his arms across his chest.
"What are we going to do about this?" Diana asked.
"About what?" J'onn answered. "About the fact that he lied or about what he’s been doing in general?"
"Either!" Diana responded, bordering on exasperation. "Both!"
Ever the mediator, Superman stepped in. "As far as him lying, I think we'll just have to let that one go for now. It’s not the first time he’s done it and I’m sure it won’t be the last. About his job in general… I don’t really know. The truth is, he’s doing the job we hired him to do…"
"Yes, he is. And regardless of whether or not we agree with his methods, he’s doing it the way he knows how," J'onn agreed. "The man has a lot of energy; a lot of drive, dedication and tenacity. The real problem here is that he has no real direction."
"Exactly." Superman nodded slowly. "Asking him to fix our 'Public Relations problem' is a pretty broad request. So he’s dealing in pretty broad solutions."
"So, do we define more specific instructions?" Diana asked, getting into the discussion. "Give him a direction?"
"Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of a target," J'onn offered.
Superman immediately saw the benefits of J'onn’s suggestion. He'd helped Lois wrestle a time or two with similar problems when she was trying to write a story with particularly vague sources. "Something specific that he can focus his energies on."
"Or someone," Diana suggested.
The two men looked at her -it was apparent she had someone in mind.
"Luthor," Diana answered their unasked question.
"No," Superman shot back emphatically. "Not a chance. I think recent events are enough of an explanation for that. Webster just doesn’t have what it takes to take on Luthor and win. The problem is that Webster doesn’t really know Luthor like we do. Luthor plays dirtier than anyone else alive."
"Not to mention Luthor would be able to trace Webster back to us and the last thing we need is to hand Luthor more fodder against us," J'onn added.
"Besides," Superman continued, "Luthor’s not our problem here. Our problem is OUR public image and going after Luthor to try to counteract that will look exactly like what it is: Political. We're not running for office here, we're doing what we were meant to do: protect the people of this planet."
"I agree with that sentiment, Clark," J'onn responded. "But at the same time, our public image problem is basically a political one - and that’s what we've hired Webster for. We didn’t hire him merely to book us on MTV talk shows or set up photo-ops, we hired him to handle the backlash against us in the press -- and that, in and of itself, is a political fight. That was one of the main reasons we chose him in the first place - he has a pretty impressive history of dealing with just these kinds of problems. So let’s take the leash off of him and see what he can do."
"Also," Diana interjected, "we're not really looking to attack anyone, we're merely looking for a voice to communicate our message and to counteract the rampant anti-superhero sentiment out there. Part of that counteraction may be to deflate the argument by pointing out the inherent fallacies in it, but if it’s handled correctly, that doesn’t have to come off as an attack."
"But are we sure that Webster can do it that way?" Superman asked. "Can he be trusted to handle it without going too far?"
"We won’t really know until we let him try," J'onn offered.
"Still," Diana asserted, "given what we've seen here today, we'll still need to keep an eye on him, just to be sure."
"Diana has a point," added Superman. "It'll take a little closer monitoring. We've all now witnessed the lengths he’s willing to go to. I think it’s time he had someone double-checking his work, so to speak."
"Perhaps we could get Oracle to work her magic on this one," Diana suggested. "Have her keep tabs on him as he works…"
J'onn and Superman traded brief glances, then J'onn responded. "I don’t think that’s going to work, Diana. The… case that she’s working on for Batman will pretty much keep her unavailable for the next month or so."
"She is a member of the League. We all make allowances from time to time when duty calls. I’m sure she can spare some time away from this 'case' to help out…" Diana insisted.
"Actually, the kind of time we're talking about here is more than Oracle could spare at this point," Superman replied and J'onn nodded his agreement.
"What kind of case is she working on that takes this much of her time?" Diana prodded, her tone bordering on accusatory. She was starting to get that "Boys Club" feeling again - that she was purposefully being kept out of the loop.
After a quick traded glance between the two, J'onn replied. "That’s irrelevant, really. Especially because I've noticed that Webster tends to use pencil and paper quite a lot so that kind of falls outside of Oracle’s realm…"
"But who else do we have that could keep an eye on him without raising suspicion? Ray Palmer, maybe?" Diana and Superman continued discussing the possibilities as J'onn sat in pensive silence. He was beginning to realize exactly what Batman had been talking about when he was convincing Arthur to be on the Public Relations Subcommittee. Without that "grounding" voice of dissent, they did have a tendency to over-analyze things - and this conversation was certainly starting to prove that theory. Why did they do this? Why did they feel the need to nit-pick into every last detail or every conceivable outcome like this? He knew he was just as guilty as Clark and Diana, and that thought bothered him the most. They weren’t like this in the field - in the field you do what needs to be done, no matter the cost, in order to get the job done. No lengthy discussions, no voting - you just do it because it’s the only way to succeed and, in many cases, survive! Perhaps it was time for a little more action…
"I’ll handle it." J'onn’s voice interrupted the conversation between Superman and Wonder Woman. They both turned slowly and looked at J'onn, leaning back in his chair with a sly grin on his face.
Wally thought he knew Gotham City. Over his many visits to the city, he had become familiar with the general layout of the streets and the traffic patterns. However, being able to navigate through the streets on foot (at 250 mph) was one thing. Being able to navigate a large rented SUV through midtown - where you are subject to traffic laws, street signs and other vehicles - during early evening business traffic was something else entirely.
It didn’t help matters that his passengers kept purposefully trying to mess him up. Kyle, his navigator, was purposefully making a habit of answering every question with "Right" - half the time meaning the direction and the other half meaning "Correct". After a particularly confusing round of this that resulted in Wally having to make a hairpin left-hand turn in the middle of an intersection, almost colliding with a taxi, Wally finally gave up, snatched the directions from a giggling Kyle and navigated himself.
Once his heart had stopped pounding from close encounter with the taxi, Wally turned to Kyle, still giggling in the seat beside him. "Look, about what I was saying before…"
"What 'before'?" Kyle asked, confused.
"Before. You know… before. Before you turned this whole trip into a… Laurel & Hardy skit," Wally grumbled, eliciting another chuckle from Kyle.
"Yeah, what about it?"
Wally sighed, knowing that what he was asking was only going to make things worse on him in the long run - he was throwing himself on the mercy of the court, begging for Kyle to give him a temporary reprieve from their growing prank war. "I’m not asking you to put an end to this stuff for good. Just please hold off until after the wedding, okay?"
"Uh-huh," Kyle replied flippantly, staring out the passenger window at the passing foot traffic on the sidewalk.
"Dude, I’m serious!" Wally pushed. "Please just lay off for now."
"Sure, whatever." It was just as flippant as before.
"Kyle, look, it’s not for me, okay? It’s for Dick and Barbara. It’s their special day - that once in a lifetime day where they both want everything to be perfect. And I don’t want to be the one to ruin it because I’m standing up in front of God and everyone scratching my nuts at supersonic speed!"
"Okay, fine!" Kyle responded defensively, holding his hands up. "I’ll hold off. Geez. Don’t go all Diana on me…"
Wally shot him a disgusted look, then turned at the fourth light as instructed. There was a light coughing sound from the back seat, obviously aimed at the back of Kyle’s head.
"Hey! No comments from the Plastic Gallery, please," Wally shot toward the back.
"Meh meh-meh meh meh Meh-meh Meh-me-meh," came the whiny mimicking reply, followed by a quick "Thhhbbbbbbt!" Wally gave a quick glance at the rear view mirror to the stretched out passenger in the back. Eel sat with his back to the right rear door with his legs across the back seat. He returned Wally’s gaze with a huge cheesy grin, then chugged from a bottle of whiskey in his hand.
"Dammit, Eel!" Wally shouted. "I told you to stay out of the back! That’s for the party!"
"Hey, it ain’t like you don’t have enough booze back here to sink a battle cruiser, Wally." It seemed that Eel was already getting into the "party spirit".
"What all did you get?" Kyle asked eagerly as he spun around in his seat, trying to sneak a peek into the back of the SUV.
"What he got," Eel answered, a wide (and slightly drunken) smile across his face, "was enough alcohol to stock Warrior’s for a month!"
"No shit?!" Kyle suddenly unlatched his seat belt, then climbed between the front seats, eagerly scrambling for the back of the SUV. He accidentally kicked Wally on his way back, but ignored the shouts from the front seat as he climbed over Eel and started rummaging through the stacks of alcohol in the rear of the vehicle. Wally glanced in his rearview mirror and was treated to two butts sticking up in the air as Eel and Kyle rummaged around in the stacks of bottles, giggling like schoolgirls.
"C'mon, guys, we're like ten minutes away! Can’t you two hold your wads long enough for us to get there? I promise you, that stuff’s not gonna disappear before then."
"Wanna bet," Eel mumbled jokingly to Kyle, taking another swig from the bottle he already had open. The two snickered at each other and continued their foraging.
"Dammit, you two!" Wally shouted, then suddenly began jerking the wheel back and forth, causing the car to weave back and forth in the lane and jostling the pair in the back. After a few seconds of slamming into each other, Kyle and Eel reluctantly spun back around and sat down in the seats. "I swear," Wally mumbled as he straightened the car and began looking down the street for his destination, "you're like a couple of children."
A unison "Tthhhhhbbt!" from the backseat was his only response. Wally shook his head, chuckling lightly to himself.
"Where'd you get all this stuff anyway?" Kyle asked, playful disappointment evident in his voice.
"Total Beverage," Wally answered.
"Total Beverage?" the now intrigued pair asked in unison.
"Yeah, Total Beverage. Dick told me about it. They basically take these old supermarket buildings and unused warehouses, renovate them and turn them into gigantic liquor stores. It’s just rows and rows of every make, style and flavor of alcohol from all over the world, all in one place. It’s incredible!"
"Holy poo on a stick!" Eel replied, staring wide-eyed at Kyle. "That’s sounds like a place I need to move next to!"
"Dude, you'd go broke in a month." Kyle joked, then looked up at Wally’s reflection in the rearview. "Speaking of which, how the hell did you afford all of this?"
"I didn’t," Wally answered tentatively. He'd been hoping to avoid this conversation, mostly because he knew where it would lead.
"What do you mean, you didn’t? Even you couldn’t have gotten out of there with this much booze without being noticed!" Kyle reasoned.
"No, I didn’t steal it, Kyle. What do you take me for?"
"An ass, but that’s neither here nor there," Eel joined in.
"Seriously, dude. How did you pay for it?" Kyle probed again.
Wally sighed. "I did this as a favor for Tim, so Tim hooked me up."
"Tim?! How the hell did he buy all of this?!" Kyle gasped, astonished at the thought that a teenager could be making that much more money than he was.
"Tim didn’t buy it, per se" Wally answered, still trying to be a vague as possible. "He just hooked me up with a way to pay for all of it."
"Okay, Captain Vague, care to elaborate on that one?" Kyle probed, poking Wally in the back of the head. "How exactly did you pay for all this booze?!"
"I paid with a credit card," Wally replied, still hoping to avoid the inevitable…
"Whose credit card?" Eel pushed.
Wally gave a resigned sigh and glanced up into his rearview mirror at the four penetrating eyes staring back at him. Realizing that he could no longer hide the truth, he slowly shook his head and mumbled a response, too low for the backseat occupants to hear.
"What was that?" Kyle responded, leaning his ear toward the front seat. "Who did you say?"
Wally mumbled the answer again, louder but no more intelligible. Suddenly, Eel’s head stretched up next to Wally, an ear the size of Wally’s head bobbing up and down right beside him. "What was that? We couldn’t quite hear you, Wals."
"Bruce Wayne, okay?" Wally shouted right into Eel’s giant ear. Eel retracted his head to the back and began wiggling his finger in the ear that Wally had almost shouted off as Wally continued. "It was Bruce Wayne’s credit card. Tim loaned it to me for the express purpose of purchasing the alcohol and renting this transportation to get it there. Okay? Happy now?"
"Bruce Wayne?" Kyle asked. "You mean as in Batman-Bruce Wayne? You mean as in Ol' Dark and Broody in the Cape and Cowl, multi-billionaire Bruce Wayne?!"
"Yes, Kyle, that Bruce Wayne," Wally confirmed as he pulled into the Wayne Enterprises parking garage.
"Let me get this right," Kyle began, his voice deceptively calm, "you were in a shopping mall-sized liquor store with a credit card that most likely has a spending limit greater than the Gross National Product of some third-world country and you didn’t call me?!?" Kyle thumped him on the back of the head again for good measure, then scoffed. "And you call yourself a friend."
Diana had a lot on her mind.
Surprisingly little of what had her mind swarming had to do with the cadre of Argentinean revolutionary soldiers she was currently facing. While most of the heads of state from Argentina had been in the United States for the UN conference, a small band of revolutionaries had taken the opportunity to stage a coup against a government that, they felt, had pushed their liberal agenda for far too long. Diana and the visiting Argentine dignitaries had received word of the coup and Diana had raced down to try and handle it quickly as a favor for Nestor Kirchner, the current President of Argentina - a man who was not only fighting corruption at the highest levels of his government, but was also putting forth the "radical notion" that they should nominate a woman to their Supreme Court.
While facing off against close to two hundred armed soldiers should have had her complete focus, she found her mind wandering to thoughts of a more personal nature: Barbara Gordon’s bachelorette party was to be starting in just under an hour. She had been wrestling with the decision to attend ever since she received the invitation. On the one hand, she felt an obligation to attend since the organizers had gone out of their way to send her an invitation. On the other hand, she wasn’t entirely certain why she had received that invitation in the first place.
Diana harbored no ill-will toward Miss Gordon - on the contrary, she found the young woman to be an intelligent, strong and beautiful person who had overcome staggering adversity and a life-threatening injury that had forced her to end her crime-fighting career. In fact, Diana had felt quite honored to receive the invitation, especially considering that she had never really had any close contact with the bride-to-be. She assumed that the invitation had been sent out of respect for young Richard’s close friendship with Donna, but she couldn’t help but wonder if maybe it had a slight hint of menace behind it. Diana had been fairly straightforward over the years (at least with Donna) that she had always expected Richard and Donna to end up together. Donna always poo-poo'ed the idea, repeatedly explaining that she and Richard were just close friends and that any thoughts of a romantic relationship between the two had long since passed. Although Diana genuinely liked Roy Harper, she never really thought of him as a lasting partner for Donna - he was too much like his former mentor for that. Richard, on the other hand, always seemed the perfect match…
Her thoughts were interrupted by a familiar sound - gunfire. Her arms immediately went into a blur of motion, deflecting bullets off of her bracelets with an instinctive ease. She leapt high into the air and came crashing down in the middle of this small band of soldiers, engaging them in close combat in order to keep them from firing and endangering any more innocent bystanders in the surrounding village. As her fist connected with one soldier’s nose, her body locking into a familiar rhythm of combat, her mind began to wander again.
Unsure of the true impetus behind the invitation, she had decided to take the question to the source, in a manner of speaking. She went to Donna. Before Diana got too far into a discussion over the wedding and what that meant for the possibility of a future relationship between Donna and Richard, Donna closed the subject once and for all. Richard was her friend - yes, a close, personal friend, but just a friend nonetheless - and he was marrying Barbara Gordon, a girl he has known and loved for many, many years. And, Donna added, she couldn’t be happier for both of them, because she had always known that those two were meant for each other. Diana had tried to push the issue once more and had received "The Face" - that look that she had seen on Bruce and Kal’s faces countless times - that look that meant the conversation was officially over. So she accepted Donna’s stance (for the time being, anyway) and moved on to the reasons behind the invitation.
The few remaining conscious soldiers broke away from the melee, running off toward the woods surrounding the village. Diana unlatched the lasso from her belt and hooked one of the fleeing men, yanking him back to her. Gripping the lasso tightly, she demanded that he tell her where his commander was located. The soldier stammered out a response, giving not only the location of the command tent, but a complete layout of the inside of the tent, the location of every guard protecting the tent and the hidden location of the commander’s wife and children. Diana mercifully knocked the man unconscious, then took off in the direction of the command center.
The trio managed to get the overabundance of alcohol out of the back of the SUV and stacked into the elevator in the parking garage. Wally pressed the button for the top floor, silently marveling that 40 stories sure looked a hell of a lot taller on the outside.
A strange silence filled the elevator as they started their ascent. They all knew Bruce had money - a lot of money - but none of them had ever really been this close to what that money afforded. The small elevator lobby on the parking garage level had been ornately decorated and now the elevator itself was truly a sight to behold - polished brass handrail and control buttons, mirrored rear wall, carpeting that looked like it belonged on the floor of an old southern manor house. Even the loud, brash dinging that most elevators used to indicate the changing of floors had been replaced by a soft clicking that sounded less like a clanging announcement and more like a gentle reminder.
It was Kyle that actually broke the silence, commenting that he thought the elevator was larger than his first apartment. The three traded glances and immediately broke into laughter that underscored their own embarrassment. None of them wanted to admit to being impressed by the whole thing, but in an already impressive city… and in the middle of it all is this huge building with his name on the front…
They joked about people with more money than sense - obscene amounts of money that lead to almost laughable extravagances.
"But it’s not about him," Wally was quick to add. "Tonight’s about Dick."
They all agreed, deciding that regardless of the location, this was a party and a party to celebrate their friend’s last night of freedom. It didn’t matter that the party was being held in a room that probably cost more to furnish than all three of their apartments put together…
The elevator doors slid open and they immediately began unloading the cases. Halfway through the unload, Wally glanced around at the ornately lavish room. Or at least, it should have been an ornately lavish room - but instead what he saw was rows and rows of cubicles. He stopped, looking around in confusion. Kyle and Eel joined him and the three stood dumbfounded for a moment before Eel had to spring back and catch the closing elevator doors.
Thankfully, they located a goateed, pony-tailed twentysomething working after hours who dismissively explained about the split-bank elevators: one set went from the lobby to the 40th floor and the other set went from 40 on up. He ignored their thank-yous and shooed them out of his cubicle so he could return to his work. They transferred the refreshments to one of the other elevators and were soon on their way to the 77th floor.
The squirrelly, after-hours corporate drone only added to their growing mirth. Eel mimicked the weaselly man and Wally did his best two-minute Arthuresque diatribe about the evils of corporate life in the big city. By the time the elevator reached the top floor, they were all laughing hysterically. Their laughter quickly died as they stepped out of the elevator and into the reception area of the executive offices. Eel held the elevator while Kyle and Wally approached the young switchboard-receptionist at the front desk and asked for the Penthouse.
The young woman stared at them quizzically for a moment, then informed them that the Penthouse could only be reached through the express elevator - back down in the lobby. Wally and Kyle looked at each other, exasperated, and replied in sarcastic unison.
Shaking their heads, they made their way back to the elevator, filled Eel in on the story and the trio headed back down, chuckling the whole way. They ran into the twentysomething again on the 40th floor as they transferred their haul back to the lower-bank elevator and had to control their own laughter as he rode back down to the lobby with them. Eel certainly wasn’t helping by making faces at the back of the businessman’s head. The young worker ignored the stifled chuckles behind him as he tapped away on his handheld personal organizer, thinking about all of the potential "brownie points" he would acquire for having the forethought to call security after his first run-in with these miscreants. They would certainly be in for a surprise once they reached the lobby.
During their previous conversation, Donna had confirmed to Diana that she, too, had received an invitation to Barbara’s bridal shower but that she was not going to be able to attend - she had promised Roy to look after Lian so he could attend Richard’s bachelor party. Diana was always glad to see Donna take such an active interest in helping to raise Roy’s daughter so all disappointment over Donna not attending the shower quickly faded. Diana had mostly decided not to attend the party considering Donna would not be there, but was still a bit baffled by the invitation. Donna continued to express that it must be because of Richard’s friendship that Diana had received the invitation, but Diana could sense that her "sister" was withholding something. Diana continued to press but Donna would only tell her that there might be other reasons that she was not at liberty to discuss. A lengthy conversation on Truth and Trust soon followed, that concluded with Donna dropping a major bombshell on Diana…
An explosion rocked Diana from her thoughts again and threw her off-course. She quickly scanned the ground and located the source of the attack. The soldier was frantically attempting to load another projectile into his shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. Before he could lock the rocket into the tube, he suddenly found himself hurling through the air and into a bank of trees some 200 yards behind his guard station. Diana stood in his guard post, the soldier’s rocket launcher gripped tightly in her hand. She glanced around at the other sentries, then bent the rocket launcher in half. Most of the other sentries traded glances, then deserted their posts and ran off. Those that didn’t soon found themselves relieved of their positions by a well placed kick or flying punch. After sailing through the woods and knocking out the snipers guarding the compound from the trees, Diana landed in front of the compound’s main gate and strolled defiantly into the camp.
Barbara Gordon was the daughter of Gotham Police Commissioner James Gordon. Barbara Gordon had been a librarian and a student at Hudson University. Barbara Gordon had also been Batgirl. Barbara Gordon had been shot and then brutalized by the Joker, resulting in a spinal cord injury that left her wheelchair-bound for life. All of these things Diana knew - had known them for a long time, as did many of the Justice League members and many more in the superhero community. What Diana hadn’t known, and what Donna had inadvertently blurted out during their conversation, was that Barbara Gordon was, in fact, Oracle! This piece of information added a whole new dimension to Diana’s decision - she hadn’t just been invited to Barbara’s bachelorette party because of her relationship to Donna, but because Barbara was a fellow member of the Justice League! Diana had already convinced herself that she needn’t attend the party before Donna told her the whole truth and now Diana found herself reconsidering once again.
Within several minutes, the revolutionaries' campground was strewn with unconscious soldiers and destroyed weaponry. Diana quickly dispatched the guards forming a human shield in front of the command tent and strolled through the flap into what was once of the shoddiest looking command centers she had ever seen. After disabling lieutenants and personal guards, Diana stood face to face with the leader of this little movement as he clutched a loaded AK-47 rifle pointed directly at her head. Seconds later, "Commandant" Miguel Manuela found himself disarmed and face down on his make-shift desk. Diana bound him with the lasso and set him on his knees in front of her, demanding a confession.
And confess, he did. He confessed to organizing the coup and planning it for the week of the UN Conference. He confessed to amassing the army of soldiers through strong-arm and guerrilla tactics, forcing many members of the former ruling party to join or be killed. He also confessed to receiving financial and legal support from several sitting judges on the Argentine Supreme Court who were hell-bent against allowing a woman on the bench. Before Diana could stop him, Miguel Manuela also sobbingly confessed to his own personal reasons for staging the coup - that his long-seeded animosity toward his own stern mother had shoved him into a life of degrading and admonishing women of power. He confessed that his mother, a seamstress, used to make him wear girl’s dresses so that she could hem them. He confessed that his biggest fear in life was a female with power over him and that he feared that the current Argentine governmental movement was simply the first step at women taking over his beloved country - that while a lone woman in power might make things difficult, opening the door to many women was too great a risk, because when women band together, no man could oppose them…
Diana stared at him for a moment, then removed the lasso. She grabbed a rope off of a nearby munitions case and tied up the now sobbing Commandant, who let out a faint whimper as she yanked the knot a little too tightly around his wrists. All day, she had been battling in her own mind over the decision of whether to go to Barbara’s bachelorette party or not and this little misogynistic bigot had just made the main point she'd missed throughout the entire process. Oracle was the only other female member of the active JLA roster! And as such, Diana knew she had a moral obligation to be there to support her. This went beyond personal concerns, this surpassed all concerns over social niceties - this was about two strong, independent women, joining together in a den of testosterone. This was about achieving true women’s equality in a reputed Boys Club! Barbara wasn’t just a casual acquaintance, Barbara wasn’t just a former hero. Barbara was a Sister in Arms!
Brian Kesner, the late-night worker from the 40th floor, couldn’t help the smug grin creeping across his lips as the elevator doors opened to reveal two Wayne Enterprises security guards standing in the lobby. The grin evaporated immediately when he noticed that standing between the guards was…
Brian dropped his briefcase and fumbled with his PDA, nearly dropping it too before managing to slide it back into its belt holster with a shaky hand. The CEO of Wayne Enterprises took a step forward and held out his hand. Surprising himself, Brian managed to shake it without puking all over the imposing figure’s shoes.
"Mr… Kesner, is it?" The light baritone voice belied the man’s size. Brian had never met the man in person and was immediately taken aback by his over-six-foot frame. Not only that, but he knew his name - the owner and CEO of the large corporation where he’d been working for only 9 short months actually knew who he was!
"Y-yes, sir. Brian Kesner. A-Accounts Receivable, Engineering Division," he stammered.
"Well, Mr. Kesner, thank you for helping my friends find their way," his employer said graciously. "They seem to have gotten a little lost on their way to the Penthouse."
"Y-You're friends?" Brian asked, then shot a glance back over his own shoulder to see the three guys standing in the elevator behind him smiling widely as they held the doors open. The odd one in the glasses and pompadour haircut waved. Realization suddenly slapped him across the face like a wet fish - these three drunkards were friends of Bruce Wayne… lost… here for some party… the Penthouse?!? No wonder Mr. Wayne was there! Security no doubt notified him right after Brian had called them… oh God!… right after Brian had called them and told them that there were three drunken reprobates parading the halls with a shitload of booze! That’s why Mr. Wayne knew who he was. Security must have told him that he had called… and… Oh God, No. He'd called his boss’s friends drunkards… and idiots… and… oh God! And now his boss - you know, the guy whose name is on the front of the building, the guy who signs his checks! - was standing there in front of him, shaking his hand and thanking him for… oh God!… and WHY AM I STILL HOLDING HIS HAND!?!…
"Y-you're w-welcome…" Brian managed a weak smile as he released Mr. Wayne’s hand. He stood there, silently quaking and grinning like a jackass.
"Good night, Mister Conner," Bruce said vacantly, turning his attention to his guests. Brian, too frightened to correct the man on his name, hurriedly scooped up his briefcase and stumbled out toward the door, followed by one of the two security guards.
"Good evening, boys," Bruce greeted as he glanced into the elevator. He looked at the massive stack of alcohol then turned to Wally. "Think there’s enough for everyone?" It sounded like a honest question, not a hint of sarcasm at all. Before Wally could decide if he was being judgmental or not, Bruce stepped aside, revealing an older man in a Wayne Enterprises maintenance uniform with a large, flat-bed handcart.
"Damn," Wally commented, "I should have thought of that!"
They loaded the drinks onto the cart and followed Bruce and the remaining security guard toward the rear of the lobby, the maintenance man bringing up the rear, pushing the now-laden cart. Bruce patted the pockets of his suit as they reached a set of shiny brass doors, then turned a plaintive eye to the security guard. The guard produced a security badge from a retractable zip-line on his belt and slid it into a slot next to the doors.
The doors slid open to reveal an even larger and more ornate elevator than before. They all filed in except for the guard. Bruce turned and thanked the guard by name, and asked him to say hello to his wife and kids. As the elevator started to move, Wally apologized for getting lost, explaining that they had never seen a building with different elevators for different floors.
What happened next scared the trio more than anything they had ever seen Bruce do as Batman. He rambled. Bruce - master of the one-word answer - launched into a light, long-winded explanation about how split-level elevators helped to move large quantities of employees between so many floors in a shorter amount of time and how it helped to maintain the structural integrity of the buildings to not have giant holes through the center of the buildings going from foundation to roof… and on and on and on. As he blathered on, the trio traded shocked glances back and forth, completely dumbfounded by this drastic difference in demeanor from their usually monosyllabic comrade. Wally was the first to key in to the fact that had the maintenance man not been in the elevator with them, they probably wouldn’t be witnessing this strange presentation, but that didn’t reduce the Twilight Zone-iness of it all. It was a bizarre display for all three of them - it was their first introduction to The Fop. By the time they reached the Penthouse Suite, none of them could believe - even though they knew the truth - that this blathering, vapid idiot was the same man under the Cape and Cowl that was justifiably considered one of the most dangerous men on the planet.
As they exited the elevator, Tim rushed up to them, letting out an overly-relieved sigh. They all helped set up the bar area and Bruce dismissed the maintenance guy with a warm handshake and the promise of a healthy quarterly bonus.
Twenty minutes later, most of the guests had arrived, including the guest of honor. Little pockets of conversation peppered the suite as the guests mingled around - each taking a turn at congratulating Dick on his upcoming nuptials and congratulating Tim on organizing the party.
Kyle made a point of telling every new person he ran across about how Bruce had scared the living piss out of this weaselly little bean-counter - and laughing hysterically each time he did. Wally, as the purveyor of the alcohol, found himself being designated de facto bartender - for all of about ten minutes until he emphatically announced that the bar was now Self Serve. He didn’t want to get stuck pouring drinks all night and missing out on the fun - especially if Oliver Queen showed. Being that man’s bartender was a full-time job.
Diana stood outside the door to Barbara’s apartment. She'd made good time from Argentina but was still arriving close to two hours late. Common courtesy dictated that when one attended a bachelorette party/bridal shower, one should bring a gift for the bride-to-be, so Diana had stopped by a small shop she knew of in Mexico City that had the most precious little hand-carved statues. She debated her choices for a few moments, deciding that giving an ornate sculpture of Chicomecoatl - the Mayan Goddess of Corn and Fertility - to a woman who was paralyzed from the waist down could potentially appear insensitive. She had opted, instead, for a small hand-carved bone statue of Ix Chel - The Mayan Goddess of the Moon. It somehow seemed more fitting.
She raised her hand to knock on Barbara’s door, then paused. The laughter and merriment from inside the apartment could be heard in the hallway, but Diana’s ears singled out one particular voice from amongst the others.
Diana hadn’t considered that Kal’s wife would be at the party. It was no secret that Lois disliked Diana - though for what reasons, Diana couldn’t even begin to imagine - and so whenever they had been together in any sort of social setting…
Perhaps this hadn’t been such a good idea…
Diana shook her head lightly, chiding herself for such a ridiculous concern. Tonight was about Barbara, not Lois or herself. She raised her hand again and knocked loudly on the door. After a few moments, the door opened revealing Barbara, who suddenly had a rather surprised look on her face.
"Diana! You made it after all. How… wonderful."
Clark happily listened to Steve, Dick’s third groomsman, spin tale after tale about Dick’s misspent college days - the all-night parties, the drunken pranks and, of course, the women. Not that he was particularly delighted by the stories, funny though they were - no, he was more delighted just that Steve was there. One "normal" civilian meant that all of the superpowers in the room had to keep their true identities under wraps - and that meant that the chances of another debacle like at his own bachelor party were pretty slim.
The Penthouse elevator dinged an arrival and Oliver Queen walked into the room. Clark watched intently as Ollie made a bee-line for the bar, grabbed a bottle of tequila and headed toward Wally and Kyle. Clark traded silent glances with Bruce, standing on the other side of Steve. With a slight nod, they both made an unspoken vow to keep a watchful eye on the goateed archer - there was no telling what kind of trouble he would get himself into.
Across the room, Kyle almost immediately snuck away from Ollie and Wally and latched on to Dick and Tim instead. The truth was, Ollie made him nervous - almost as nervous as Batman made him, but for entirely different reasons. While Batman made you think he was always one second away from snapping you in half like a twig, Ollie had that inscrutable way of making you think he would willingly lead you to your own destruction - and make you enjoy every step of the way. And while that can be kind of fun from time to time, Kyle certainly didn’t want to do it in Batman’s Penthouse Suite… at least, not without a shitload more "liquid courage"…
Meanwhile, Eel was scouring the Penthouse, looking for a Wayne Enterprises telephone in a discreet location. Somewhere in his drunken brain, he had come to the conclusion that Bruce Wayne having such an obscenely large bank account while there were so many others with so much less (Eel included, of course) bordered on criminal - and Eel was a crime-fighter! He was Plastic Man, damn it, and his purpose in life was to thwart criminals and to fight for those less fortunate souls. So in his quest to strike back against the "evil rich", he had decided that a few lengthy long-distance phone calls to Japan would hit the corporate fat cat where it hurt - in the wallet. It didn’t matter that this same "corporate fat cat" was also Batman - in fact, in his mind, that made it worse! Hypocrisy, thy name is Crime Fighter!
About halfway through his search - and halfway through the bottle of vodka he’d lifted from the bar - he’d forgotten why he was searching in the first place, his quest drowned out in a sea of extravagant décor, luxurious furniture and remarkable Russian potato liquor. He stared, glassy-eyed, about the room, his mind wandering to far more… personal endeavors. He began to wonder exactly what it would take to sneak a woman into this place - that with a place like this, he would undoubtedly be able to "close the deal" with just about any woman he chose… but to get her past security… never mind W.E. security, but Bruce was sure to have his own Bat-level kind of protection on this place… and the woman would have to be in on it and… he was pretty sure Catwoman could do it! Mmm… Catwoman…
As if somehow magically drawn to the lewd and lascivious thoughts of others, Ollie sauntered up to Eel. "How bout this place, huh?" Ollie asked, motioning around the suite with a wave of his hand. "Have you ever seen a more elaborate display of snobby, elitist, pretentious bullshit in your life?"
Suddenly shaken from his thoughts of illicit rendezvous' with the purple-clad beauty, Eel woozily followed Ollie’s hand gesture, then sloppily grunted an agreement.
Ollie continued, using a high snobby voice. "Ooo! Look at me, I've got money… OOooOOooOOoo!" He grunted in disgust, then pointed to a small elaborately-decorated amphora displayed on a small shelf. "And to think, that vase over there could easily support a staving nation…"
Eel agreed with a bob of his head, then raised the vodka bottle to his lips. Seizing his moment, Ollie leaned in and added with a sly grin, "… or your hooker habit."
The resultant spit-take was loud enough to grab the attention of everyone in attendance. Most of the partygoers turned just in time to see Oliver slowly wiping the vodka off of his face. Clark and Bruce traded glances, each ready to intercede before Eel ended up as a wall decoration, but Wally beat them both to it. After a few minutes, Kyle joined Eel, Wally and Ollie as well and Clark and Bruce returned to their conversation with Steve and Tim.
A short while later, upon overhearing discussions of purple leather, Tommy Monaghan and broken glass, Clark turned to Bruce again only to see him already staring intently at the quartet. Bruce excused himself and strolled over, returning shortly with Kyle in tow. Wally eventually wandered off to join his old Titans buddies at the poker table, leaving Eel and Ollie alone and trading drinking stories of the "Young and Super".
Kyle was finally able to sneak away from the conversation with Steve and Clark and wander over to the poker table.
"Favorite Fantasy TV Star:" Roy offered, glancing around the poker table mischievously before supplying his answer, "Lucy Lawless!"
The others around the table - Gar Logan, Vic Stone and Wally - all groaned and tossed quarters onto the growing pile in the center of the table. They all turned to look at Wally, seated to Roy’s left. As he sat, thinking hard, Kyle came up to the table, bottle in hand.
"Hey guys, whassup?" he greeted slowly, eying the rest of the room quickly before sneaking a sip of his Zima. They all greeted in return, their eyes never leaving Wally. Wally glanced around at each of them, then cocked a sly grin.
"Favorite Action TV Actor: Lorenzo Lamas," Wally supplied and another round of quarters hit the pile.
"What the hell are you guys doing?" Kyle asked, staring at the shining pile of silver on the table.
"Superman Bingo," they replied in hushed unison. Wally shot a quick glance around and saw Clark, Bruce, Dick and Steve, engrossed in their own conversation, seemingly oblivious to the goings-on at the "poker table".
"Superman what?" Kyle asked, obviously a little too loudly for the players liking as they all shushed him harshly.
"Superman Bingo," Gar reiterated in a low voice before returning his attention to the other players. "Favorite Movie: Liar, Liar."
Vic, Roy and Wally all tossed quarters onto the pile as Kyle looked on in confusion. Wally reached back and pulled another chair up to the table, motioning for Kyle to sit beside him. As Kyle sat, Wally leaned over and explained the rules.
"Okay, you know about Superman and the number of double-L people around him, right?" he asked.
"Sure," Kyle replied. Most of the Superhero community was aware enough about Superman’s life to know that for some reason, people with the initials "L.L." always seemed to gravitate toward him. It had become a long-running joke amongst many in the community that any time they came across some new villain with the initials "L.L.", they were to notify Superman immediately. "Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Lana Lang… we all know about that…"
"Right, so that’s the basic premise behind Superman Bingo," Wally explained. "Basically, the object is to come up with as many double-L names as you can and how they relate to Superman. It goes around the table clockwise, each person adding a name. Every successful name, everyone except the namer throws a quarter into the pile. Once you get stumped, you're out and the remaining people continue until there’s only one left. The winner gets the pot."
"Okaaaay," Kyle replied slowly, still not quite grasping the point of the game. "So, what’s with the cards?" he asked, pointing toward the playing card hands that all the participants held.
"The cards are just a smokescreen," Wally explained, lowering his voice even more. "Y'know, considering who is in attendance tonight…" he nodded in Clark’s direction.
Kyle glanced over, then nodded. "Ah, I see."
"Favorite Clothing Catalogue: L.L. Bean." Vic offered.
Wally motioned toward the pile after he tossed in his quarter. "As you can see, we've been at it for a while, so we're starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel. This is where it starts to get interesting." Kyle sat in silence, watching the game progress.
It was back to Roy. He studied the pile for a moment, fingering the stack of quarters in his hand. The other players traded grins, thinking they'd come to their first elimination of the game. Roy suddenly flashed a smile. "Favorite TV Show: LA Law."
They all groaned in disappointment and tossed their quarters in. Wally looked at Kyle again, then leaned in to explain more. "Okay, if you want in, you have to ante in - a quarter in the pile and you immediately get next turn. If you need change, Roy’s got the bank." He pointed to the large sack on the corner of the table next to Roy. "Couple more rules: no repeats, no passing and there’s a one minute time limit."
Kyle nodded, content to just watch the game for a moment. At least it was more fun than being stuck between Bruce and Ollie as they verbally sparred with each other.
"Favorite Female songwriter: Lisa Loeb," Wally put in. Several of the others cursed quietly as they tossed in their quarters. Everyone looked at Gar, who was looking around nervously.
"Damn you, West," Gar grumbled, then began tapping his cards nervously on the table as his mind scrolled through his mental Rolodex. Before he could come up with an answer, a hand stretched in to the middle of the table and dropped a quarter on the pile. All eyes turned to see the pliable newcomer smiling widely.
"Favorite Porn Star:" Eel intoned playfully. "Linda Lovelace!"
"Oh yeah," Wally grumbled sarcastically, reluctantly tossing his quarter in with everyone else, "because, as we all know, Supes is all about the porn."
The others laughed as Eel stuck his tongue out at Wally. "Just because he’s ‘super', doesn’t mean he’s not still a 'man'," the Man of Plastic offered. "And a man has needs…"
"Ulgh," Vic responded lowly, "can we please avoid discussions of Superman’s masturbatory impulses, Eel. That’s just… wrong."
Eel began making an obscene hand gesture and scrunched up his face in a look of intense concentration. "Up… up…. and awaaaaaaaay…"
The whole table groaned in disgust, Vic and Gar grabbing Eel’s arms and pulling him down into a chair. Once seated, Eel received a slap on the back of the head from Vic. "Thanks a lot, Eel. I’ll have that mental image stuck in my head for days now…"
"Back to you, Garfield," Roy instructed, chuckling as he added the newest entry on the list. He looked up from his pad, quickly flipped a page over and held up his cards. "Cards up guys!" he whispered forcefully.
Vic, Wally and Gar all held their card hands up like they were actually playing poker. Confused, Eel and Kyle glanced at each other, then turned just in time to see Clark stroll up.
"Gentlemen," Clark greeted cheerily, clasping Wally and Kyle on the shoulders. "How are we this fine evening?"
They all returned their greetings, still feigning their poker game, each one of them positive that they were busted.
"I hate to intrude," Clark continued, "but apparently, Steve wants to make some sort of announcement and has asked that we all join him."
"Sure," Roy happily chirped, looking at the other players as they all mentally breathed a sigh of relief. They all stood, laying their cards down and leaving their individual piles of quarters on the table in front of their respective seats.
They all moved to join Clark, who was now standing a few away with his hand in his pocket.
"Oh, and by the way?" Clark smiled, freezing them all in place as six hearts leapt into six throats. They stared in wide-eyed amazement as he pulled his hand out of his pocket and tossed a quarter onto the pile on the table.
"Favorite Pop-Star: Lisa 'Left-eye' Lopez. Triple-L - ultimate trump. I win."
Transcript: The Cannity & Holmes News
© AlternativeNews Network.
CANNITY: I know exactly what you mean, Mr. McKinley. It’s exactly this type of pandering in the "Mainstream Media" that allows this abuse of power to continue. Where is the balance? Where is the Truth? Where is the voice of the common man? I’ll tell you where! Right here, ladies and gentlemen, on the Cannity & Holmes News Hour where we continue to break through the BS and bring you the cold hard facts. Now, I have here a news report from this morning’s paper - and a story that I think our guest, Mr. Leon McKinley will find quite interesting. Now, keep in mind that I found this story in the Gotham Times - a well known hot-bed of liberal-agenda-pushing spinmeisters - and that I found this story on page forty two of the Local section. Not on the front page, not as a banner headline, but on page forty-two of the Local section! [Hands newspaper to McKinley] Have you seen this article, Mr. McKinley?
MCKINLEY: Yes. Yes I have.
CANNITY: What this article states, ladies and gentlemen, is that last night, right here in Gotham City, there was a vicious assault by one of Gotham City’s most notorious villains - Poison Ivy - on an unsuspecting and helpless collection of men at… wait for it… a bachelor party! That’s right, a bunch of friends, getting together and enjoying one man’s last night of freedom - a happy gathering among friends and they were targeted by this… insane woman! Now, as horrid as that sounds, that’s not the real story here. Oh no, the real story is that the groom-to-be, an off-duty Blüdhaven police officer, managed to subdue and disable this criminal before anyone was hurt! That’s right, this well-known Gotham criminal heavyweight was taken down by a normal, every-day American - NOT some super-powered 'hero'.
MCKINLEY: Exactly, Mr. Cannity. You see, this just illustrates that these so-called 'heroes' aren’t the only ones capable of protecting the normal, decent citizens of this country. Here’s this normal, off-duty police officer, having his last hurrah with his compatriots and this Super-Villain just bursts in, bringing chaos and destruction in her wake. And does this young man call for help? Does he open a window and scream for some mythical hero figure to come and rescue them from the evil clutches of this evil temptress? No! Like any good, decent American, he defends his honor and defends his friends - disabling the criminal and saving the day. So this just leads me to the question - if we're perfectly capable of handing these menaces to society by ourselves, do we really need these so-called "superheroes" parading around, doing more damage than good?
CANNITY: Do we indeed, Mr. McKinley. Do we indeed…
Webster clicked off the television and stared at the blank screen for a moment, deep in thought. After yesterday’s weekly meeting, J'onn had pulled him aside to talk to him a bit about the job he was doing. J'onn had said that they all thought he was doing a wonderful job, but that they wanted him to focus his direction a little more - to work specifically on retorting or deflecting the growing negative backlash against the JLA.
"Finally," he thought to himself. The League had finally gotten with the program and realized that in order for him to be effective, he needed to be handling these things in a much more direct manner. His hands were finally untied and he would now be able to run the kind of PR campaign he had wanted to all along - and this kind of campaign was something he excelled at.
The main trick, of course, was to find the enemy - find the loudest proponent of the opposition and take the wind out of their sails. It was not unlike the strategy his clients used on the battlefield - find the biggest threat and destroy it first. An agent could easily get mired down trying to handle each individual negative story but in Webster’s experience, the best defense was to find the loudest detractor and take them down. Once the biggest opponent gets toppled, the rest of the opposition tends to fade away, at least for a while.
As soon as J'onn had finished talking with him, Webster knew exactly what he had to do - take on this Leon McKinley guy. McKinley was, by far, the loudest opponent of the League and the Poster-boy for the Anti-Superhuman movement. Taking him down would be a huge step forward in shifting public perception back in the League’s favor…
"Excuse me. Mr. Hoyt, sir?"
The timid voice shook Webster from his thoughts. He turned to see an attractive, young-looking blonde woman standing in the doorway to his office, a large pile of folders and binders in her arms.
"Who are you?" Webster gruffly asked.
"J-Julie, sir," the young woman replied, visibly nervous. "Julie Meriwether."
Webster calmed, the annoyance of being interrupted starting to fade away. "Well, Julie Meriwether, would you mind telling me what you're doing in my office?"
"W-well, sir, Mrs. White asked me t-to compile this stuff for you, sir, and I…" Julie stammered.
"Okay, backup a minute," Webster interrupted. "You work here?"
"Y-yes sir, Mr. Hoyt. Since yesterday… I.. I’m your new intern, sir."
"I see. And Laura - Mrs. White - hired you?"
"Yes, sir. Ten hours a week, sir."
"And she asked you to bring me those things? What are they?"
"Well, she didn’t ask me to bring them directly to you, sir, but since it’s Saturday and she’s not here and I finished putting these together just now and I figured you'd want them because she said it was important and…"
Webster held up his hands. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down, Ms. Meriwether. What is all of that?" he asked, pointing to the large stack of folders piled up almost to her chin.
"Mrs. White asked me yesterday to compile any information I could find on a… L-Leon McKinley, sir…" It sounded more like a question, as if she were trying to verify the instructions she was given the previous day. "She told me it could wait until Monday, sir, but I finished up this morning and I saw that you were here so I…"
"That’s the McKinley files?" Webster asked, at bit surprised at the size of the pile.
"Y-yes, sir," she confirmed.
Webster excitedly motioned to his desk as he moved around behind it. "Please, set it all right here."
Julie moved across the office and placed the pile gently on the desk, then separated the files into smaller piles to prevent them from all falling over. Webster looked at the piles then back to the intern.
"So, Mrs. White gave you this assignment yesterday, told you it could wait until Monday, yet you came in and finished up this morning?"
"Y-yes, sir," she replied tentatively.
"And you compiled all of this by yourself, Ms. Meriwether?"
"Excuse me, sir?"
"Why?" Webster repeated. "Why come in on the weekend and finish this up when Mrs. White told you to wait until Monday?"
"I…" she paused, looking down in embarrassment. "I w-wanted to make a good first impression, sir."
"I see," Webster replied, a small smirk crossing his face. "Consider a good impression made, Ms. Meriwether."
Her head suddenly shot up, a warm smile crossing her face. "Really, sir? Thank you, sir!"
"I mean it, Julie," he replied, smiling in return. "Nice job here. Thank you."
"Y-you're welcome, sir," she bubbled.
"Now go home." His smile disappeared as he focused on the piles of information in front of him.
"S-sir?" she responded, her nervousness returning.
"Go home. It’s Saturday, for chrissakes. Go enjoy your weekend and we'll see you on Monday."
"Thank you, sir." She smiled again, relieved, then turned and headed toward the door.
"And Julie?" Webster called after her just as she reached the doorway. She turned back to regard him.
"Welcome aboard," he added with a smile. She thanked him again and left, quietly closing the door behind her. Webster couldn’t help but chuckle lightly as he pulled the folder off the top of the first pile and began to read.
Wally stood alone in the entryway to the gardens behind Wayne Manor, sipping his champagne and watching the handful of workers as they broke down the ceremony area.
"It was a beautiful ceremony, don’t you think?"
Startled, Wally turned to see Bruce standing quietly a few feet behind him. Even out of the cape and cowl… how did he do that?!?
"Yes, it was," Wally agreed, once he’d managed to reconcile the out-of-cowl Batman magical appearing act in his mind. Bruce joined him at the entryway, both of them looking out over the grounds. After a few moments of strangely comfortable silence, Bruce spoke.
"Wally, you know that Dick and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on a lot of things…"
Absently, Wally turned to look back at Bruce and responded jokingly. "That’s an understatement…" He immediately kicked himself mentally, remembering who he was talking to. Bruce turned to regard him and Wally thought he saw that glimmer of the Bat in Bruce’s gaze, but as soon as it appeared, it vanished - replaced with a light smile.
"Yes, I suppose it is," Bruce replied calmly. "One of the main things that we always disagreed on was his role in the Titans. I always thought that he was just being rebellious - that you all were. I thought that the Titans was your collective way of striking back at us…"
Wally inhaled, about to retort, then stopped suddenly as that look returned to Bruce’s face - that look Wally had seen a thousand times underneath the cowl - the look that said that in no uncertain terms should you interrupt him again. And just as suddenly as before, the look disappeared.
"But seeing Dick up there today," Bruce continued, turning back to look out over the grounds again, "and seeing you standing there beside him… I realized exactly how much you all meant to each other. I know that the five of you were closer than any of us in the League ever were. I can see now that you and the others were there for Dick in ways that I could never have been, that you all were… and are… so important to him… and I see now how instrumental you were in making him the man that he is today. It makes me glad as a friend and mentor and proud as a father to know that he’s always had people like you to count on. And I understand why he chose you to be there with him on what is probably the most important day of his life. What I’m trying to say is…"
He turned to Wally, extending his hand. "…Thank you."
As The Flash, Wally had seen things that would cause most normal people to pass out. He had seen some of the strangest people and places imaginable and witnessed some of the most bizarre occurrences in the history of the universe - and done it all with his own grace and style. But being on the receiving end of that speech was hands-down the most bizarre thing he had ever experienced. He realized that that speech hadn’t come from the gruff and overbearing Bat - nor had it come from The Fop that Wally had been introduced to just two nights before. No, the man standing in front of him at that moment was Bruce Wayne - the real Bruce Wayne - who was honestly and sincerely offering his thanks. Wally was shocked - absolutely floored. What did this mean? What would happen next? Would Batman suddenly become a more gentle, easy-to-get-along with person?! What would their next confrontation in costume be like? Was all Time and Space about to collapse in on itself…
"You're welcome," Wally replied, taking the offered hand and shaking it. He breathed a mental sigh of relief as the Universe maintained its structural integrity and the Earth continued to spin. The two men traded warm smiles, then released the handshake and both turned back to the entryway in silence.
"It was a beautiful ceremony, don’t you think?"
Bruce and Wally turned to see Clark approaching. Wally felt a strange sense of relief wash over him as the bespectacled reporter neared them and he recognized the sensation as one he’d felt a hundred times in the field - Superman had just swooped in to save the day.
"Hey Clark," Wally greeted, perhaps a bit too eagerly. "Yes, we were just saying that…"
"Clark," Bruce greeted, shaking the man’s hand. "Thanks for coming."
"Wouldn’t miss it for the world," Clark responded. Wally stood there, still reeling over what had transpired while Clark and Bruce cheerily discussed the wedding. For some reason, Wally was still having a hard time wrapping his mind around the whole conversation.
"Where is Lois, anyway?" Wally heard Bruce ask and he forced himself to focus back on the current conversation.
Clark answered, unable to hide a smirk. "It seems that your girlfriend had received a few too many 'Mrs. Wayne' comments for her liking and she absconded with my wife, Dinah and… some other woman I didn’t recognize… for the express purpose of draining as many bottles of your expensive champagne as humanly possible."
The two men stared at each other for a moment, the "some other woman I didn’t recognize" comment hanging in the air between them. Bruce, knowing full well that Clark had more information than he was admitting, felt his jaw stiffen lightly. Clark, firmly displaying a "don’t ask, don’t tell" expression, offered no further explanation.
Wally, who honestly thought he couldn’t be shocked any more that he already was, almost dropped his champagne as he witnessed one of the most intense and frightening transformations in existence. Bruce’s entire demeanor suddenly and abruptly changed - his jaw clenched tightly, his eyes darkened and his entire body seemed to just become more… dense. Wally swore that he could actually see the outline of the cowl suddenly appear on Bruce’s face as he looked past Clark back toward the main area of the house.
"Wonderful." It was a voice that Wally knew all too well - Batman was not happy. He watched as Bruce excused himself and moved away. It wasn’t an angry stomp or even an agitated march - it was a walk with purpose. Batman was on the case…
After watching Bruce round the corner and disappear, Wally looked down into his champagne flute, watching the tiny bubbles cascading up the side of the glass. "That was… weird," he muttered to himself.
Thinking that Wally was speaking to him, Clark agreed. "I've known that man for ages," he offered, "and sometimes seeing him shift into Bat-mode like that is still… disconcerting."
Not wanting to reveal that he had meant his and Bruce’s earlier conversation - and not entirely certain that he could explain it at that moment anyway - Wally simply nodded and took another sip of his drink.
"You guys did great up there today," Clark offered, sensing the need for a change in topics. "All three of you - you, Steve and Tim. You looked really sharp."
"Thanks," Wally replied, glad to pull his thoughts away from the maelstrom in his mind.
"Speaking of Tim, have you seen him recently? I've been looking all over for him to offer my congratulations…"
"Last I saw," Wally answered with a chuckle, "he was passed out in the Dining Hall."
Clark lowered his glasses down his nose with one finger and glanced out over the rims, scanning the manor with his x-ray vision. Sure enough, there was Tim, head down on the dining table, breathing in and out in a slow, steady rhythm. "Poor kid," Clark remarked, sliding his glasses back up his nose. "He’s exhausted."
"It’s no wonder," Wally stated, "poor kid’s had a rough couple of days. Between being Dick’s 'handler' this morning, the rehearsal dinner yesterday and Friday night’s bachelor party…"
Wally sensed Clark stiffen slightly at the mention of the party. He cocked a grin in Clark’s direction and inquired slyly, "Still in the doghouse?"
Clark’s face twisted into a strange amalgamation of offense and disgust - as if the very concept of Superman being "in the doghouse" was ludicrous. Then suddenly, he relented, letting that aw-shucks farmboy smile shine through. "Aren’t you?"
"No, this bastard got off light!" Kyle replied, walking up toward the pair with three small plates balanced in his grasp. On the plates were pieces of cake - two white, one a dark chocolate color.
"Just for my buds," Kyle announced, handing each of them a plate. "For the Clarkster - one slice of yummy white wedding cake. And for Wally, a slice of yummy chocolate groom’s cake, just because I know how much you love chocolate."
"Thanks Kyle!" Wally smiled, placing his champagne flute on a nearby end table and scooping up a forkful of cake.
Clark, too, took the proffered cake with a smile and began to eat. After swallowing the first bite, he cast a questioning look at Kyle. "What did you mean: 'he got off light'?"
Kyle glanced around, making sure they were out of earshot from prying ears, then explained. "You see, it turns out that Mister Speedy here has this extra-fast metabolism - so like thirty seconds after Dick put Miss Isley down for good, he was free and clear of all the effects of her toxins while the rest of us spent the next several hours having to explain to our significant others why we had the overwhelming urge to convince them to dye their hair red…"
Clark looked to Wally for confirmation and Wally simply waggled his eyebrows as he swallowed another forkful of cake. After his third bite, Wally’s lips curled back slightly and he eyed the cake warily.
"Are you okay, Wally?" Clark asked, noticing the grimace. "Is the cake bad?"
"No, it’s not bad, per se," Wally offered, sniffing the cake lightly. "It’s just not what I was expecting, I guess…" He took another bite of the cake as if testing it, then shrugged.
"Anyway," Kyle continued, unfazed by Wally’s cake issues. "It seems this jackass skates by with a simple explanation while the rest of us have to face the wrath of our collective women-folk. All because his body can process toxins at light speed."
Clark turned to Kyle, a look of confusion on his face. "Kyle, how is it that you know so much about Wally’s metabolism?"
Kyle smirked as he took another bite of his own cake. "Funny story. About a week ago, I was in Manchester following a lead on a case. I figured while I was in town, I’d swing by and say Hi to Max and Bart. Somehow, we got on to the subject of Bart not getting sick when all the other kids at school were because of his immune system working at such an accelerated rate. I asked if all of his bodily functions worked at a higher rate and he told me 'yes', and filled me in on all sorts of interesting facts…"
Kyle paused, looking over just as Wally was getting ready to shovel the last bite of cake into his mouth. With a smirk on his lips, Kyle continued. "… like say, exactly how much industrial strength laxative one would need to mix into something like a slice of cake to cause a Speedster to have major gastro-intestinal issues…"
Wally froze, his last forkful of cake hovering just in front of his open mouth. He stared at Kyle, a mixture of shock and anger flashing across his face. "Y-you… didn’t…"
As if in reply, a cacophonous gurgle erupted from Wally’s stomach - the kind that signifies severe bathroom events on the horizon. Wally’s expression changed into one of pure panic for an instant and then with a great "whoosh!" he was gone.
Clark frowned, turning that parental how-could-you stare at Kyle. Kyle simply smirked as he finished off his own cake. "Hey, I agreed to hold off until after the wedding. The reception is after the wedding, isn’t it?"
To be continued...