2 minutes chopping, and you're all tears
|Didn't take long.|
The throaty noise in the distance grew louder and louder. Definitely coming closer. Most people assumed crotch rocket, but we knew better. We knew lots of things about lots of people most others did not. We'd unintentionally formed an extremely exclusive club, and all things being as they were, certain standards continued to apply.
2006 Twin V soft tail. Super tuned. Immaculately maintained. Grumbled along the gravel drive.
Estate had been intentionally built as far away from noise and from dwellings as might be considered humanly possible. Family loathed uninvited disturbances. And rightly so. World full of chaos. Family full of real thinkers creating promise, safety, forward progress in the minutiae. The little details granted all the access, propagated pockets of influence and of power. Established leadership that demanded continuance at the risk of ultimate failure. And failure would bring the entire city to its knees.
I pulled my gloves on, brushed some lint from my blouse, straightened, cleared my throat and turned toward the house.
Warm lighting emanated from the rear exteriors set high across the tops of the drawing room windows. Nothing too bright. Just enough to establish an appropriate mood around the intimate little table 10 paces inside the low stone wall letting onto the back lawn. It was a reasonably chilly spring evening, just enough breeze to prickle the skin, but the exterior heaters were alight and pumping admirably.
The grumbly engine noise on the other side of the house seemed close enough, she would need to downshift or else plunge through the stand of cypress flanking the edge of the turnaround.
On queue, the rumble intensified with a downshift. Pebbles flew in every direction as she kicked the machine around just past the car park at the side of the garage. A garage locked against intrusion, housing a dozen vehicles of every shape and design ... except one.
I grinned to myself, straightened my tie, raised my chin to a prominent position and simply watched the house.
Two turrets rose above the drawing room with a central, slender, towering spire offset between. It was an imposing structure silhouetted against the light as it was, and high above, among the clouds, a singular token blazed against the sky.
Oh my my. Not good. Almost forgot. I tapped my watch. The clouds above went back to being clouds. Wouldn't do to have more than one guest at this juncture.
Surely the gate had closed per usual after her signature had passed beyond.
I watched the expansive roofline. Listened to the silence. Waited watching the gargoyles. And all the while the gargoyles waited watching me.
Inis, Eda, Moran, Clepta, Felic, Gon, Kryla, Dothan, Nux, Witcha, Klyd, Sanda. Twelve otherworldly protectors, silently watching, unblemished since the beginning.
But wait. There appeared to be another. A smaller shadow set between Clepta and Felic. Completely static, silent and still.
Let the game begin.
I leveled my gaze, lowered my eyes to the patio, watching peripherally as the smaller shadow detached from the other and disappeared along the roofline. Moments later, with a crack like thunder, a barbed javelin carrying a line impaled the lawn just to the opposing side of the wall nearer the far end of the patio. In an instant, the line pulled tight and a figure detached from the building.
A flash of purple and gold descended, twisted through the air and tumbled to the ground with a forward roll ending in a masked woman standing proudly, perfectly upright and still, studying me at a distance.
I waited calmly, watching her as intently as she watched me. Locking eyes with those two unnerving white spots set into her headgear.
She was taller than I remembered, but I supposed that should have come naturally with maturity. She had the body of an athlete. Heavier in the hips than one would assume, but perfect for a gymnast. I had heard rumors of her exploits, but this was our first physical meeting, one on one. Flaming red hair fanned out over her shoulders perfectly coiffed beneath headgear accented by two spiky protrusions, one at each side of her head. Absolutely no way that hair was natural.
It occurred to me I had her at an advantage, and this silent standoff was getting us nowhere.
I extended a gloved hand in a flourish and motioned toward the table.
"Madame. Welcome. This is a mee ..."
"Where is he?" she interrupted without moving and between lips that scarcely moved.
"He is ..." I motioned toward the house not entirely sure how to qualify, "unavailable ... and precisely my motivation for having you out."
I bent and drew my crumbler across one forearm palmed my small, silver tray and motioned to the cart at my waist.
She studied me stoically and took a slow, apprehensive step forward. Combat boots. Sturdy, laced high. Purple though. Matching sock and spandex tucked smartly into their shafts. I did a slight double take as I pulled a bottle from the bucket. Not spandex, heavier, cotton tights? Like long underwear?
"Never on an empty stomach."
"A canapé then." I bent, distributing a few biscuits with chopped egg and smoked salmon, a few with caviar, fine onion and a spritz of lemon.
She relaxed a little as I crossed the stones to her proffering my tray as passively as was possible.
Her chin gave away only the briefest glance at my offering. She watched my face, paid particular attention to my stance and to my shoulders. I did my best to remain as submissive as possible continuing to stand on line with my tray extended.
After a moment, she took up a small wedge of toast topped with salmon between a purple thumb and one forefinger. I turned on my heel and retreated back to my cart she she bit down with a crunch.
I plucked up a flute, wheeled back around and began pouring some champagne. Was shocked to find her standing within arms reach. Almost dropped the bottle actually but managed to affect composure as if it were all so expected.
"Wait a minute." she mumbled, chewing and licking away some crumbs. Pointed at the tray. "More of that please."
I held out my little tray and finished pouring with my other hand. Adept at all when it came to waiting on hand.
"Certainly." I reassured with a small smile and a nod.
She grappled with another salmon, popping it into her mouth, before swiping a few wafers with caviar into her opposite hand.
I offered a glass of champagne, held onto a napkin as she gulped it down.
She handed me the empty glass, I filled it again while she munched some caviar.
"So what is all this?" she sputtered tilting her pointy ears toward the house. "And who are you?"
I held out the glass again as she downed the last of the caviar. Began a slow walk and motioned toward the table.
"Me?" I answered pursing my lips. "Oh, no one of consequence."
I pulled out a chair for her, placed the champagne upon the table beyond a knife. She sat with a quiet, pensive, "thank you."
"Now as to this place." I retreated cat quick back to my tray, pulled back the heating drawer and withdrew two large plates of Barramundi Fillets Puttanesca and roasted new potatoes. Gingerly I placed one of the warm plates before my guest and placed the other opposite her. I filled the water glasses and sat down at the table.
I could tell her eyebrows were raised beneath her cowl.
"This." I stated waving around at the grounds and the house. "Is where it all began."
I placed my napkin into my lap. She did the same, still studying me.
"Well, a very prominent family held the property here since the foundation for the city was laid. They were very influential."
She turned her attention to the rear windows and the stone work surrounding their astounding numbers.
"So a founding family."
"Yes ma'am. But sadly, they are all gone. None remain with the passing of their sole remaining member."
That got her. She hitched. Stammered. Choked back half a swallow of water. The glass rang against the table as she slapped it down. She sat up, holding a hand to quivering lips.
"Madame I ..." no going back now. She'd connected the dots.
"B-Bruce." I nodded furrowing my brow, hoping to come across as some grandfather consoling his dear, disturbed granddaughter.
"Bruce Wayne." I nodded again without speaking. "This is Wayne Manor. And you ... you are ..."
"Alfred, I'm afraid."
"Oh god." she said trembling. "Oh god, that would mean Bruce was ..."
I nodded, sat back, closed my eyes and waited.
"And so ... and so ... now he's ..."
"Yes ma'am. He passed away. Nearly a year and a half now."
"Oh. My. God."
I just sat and watched her. What else could I do.
"So this place. This is all that remains. Of everything." I nodded knotting my napkin in my fist. "But ... how ... what are you ... doing? What are you going to do ... now?"
A single tear coursed its way down her cheek. Can't imagine what tears might do to her optics.
I sat forward and replaced my napkin. Steepled my fingers beneath my chin, pushed my fingertips through my mustache. "Well, I was actually ... hoping you might help me with that. I am not family, but the entirety of the estate was left to me in perpetuity as a sole surviving resident and caretaker of the grounds. I am not of an age that would be deemed overly compatible with the age or the times."
She wiped her cheeks with the backs of both gloves, raised her napkin and dabbed her chin as more wetness rolled down. Really coming now ... she was absolutely heartbroken ... devastated ... really struggling to keep it together.
I replaced my hands in my lap and taking the most consolatory tone I could manage ...
"It's a large place. And it obviously hold many secrets. The rest of the world remains completely unaware that his presence and authority is askew. We're lucky he has had such an affect on dark pursuits, as it were. Fear has held most of the possibility of upheaval, the rise of criminal wrongdoing at bay ... but I fear it is only a matter of time before all of this tenuous stability ... comes unraveled. The world needed him, you see."
She nodded like a small child who had lost her favorite pet. She sniffled a little.
"We all did." I insisted laying a hand upon the table between us. "When we were afraid of the dark, he was the one thing within the darkness we knew would keep us safe. To those monsters who might do us harm, he was a monster ... and he kept them at bay."
I grew weary. The weight of tremendous loss suddenly bearing down.
We sat together in silence.
I looked over at her and withdrew my hand from the table. Puffed out my cheeks and exhaled a massive breath. Made sure she was watching me as I pulled off my mustache. Dabbed some water from my waterglass onto one corner of my napkin and began rubbing spirit gum from my upper lip ... felt her eyes widening ...
"You." she stated quietly. "YOU'RE ..." her voice rose with excitement ... in expectation ...
Almost got it ... but not quite.
"Well." I said letting my voice flow back into its natural intonation. "Not exactly."
"I am one version. I was the first. This place was where it all started, and ... well ..." I continued, swiping away my sideburns and pulling off my gray, balding hairpiece completely and placing them to one side. I scratched at my bald spot surrounding the salt and pepper beneath. God the breeze felt really good. "I'm the one who started it."
She only stared. Pressed her lips together taking in this person suddenly seated before her, a mere 2/3 the age he was supposed to be.
I leaned all the way forward and in an educated, midwestern accent sprinkled with southern drawl, I simply laid it out there:
"So Barbara, I was kinda wondering if you might consider taking over."
"Oh. My. God." she said, staring flatly back.