by Immortalwildcat, Dave Barnowski and Starsky Hutch 76
“Please, please tell me you are kidding me, Jay!”
“I’m afraid not, Alex. In fact, I think they’re replaying the news item about the explosion now.” Jay Garrick picked up a remote control and turned up the volume on the television in his study on the All-Star Express campaign train.
“Reports are still sketchy about the explosion that was reported last night in this exclusive suburb of Gotham City. A few witnesses have reported seeing something streaking up and out of the explosion at the mansion still known as Wayne Manor, despite its current owner.” A reporter on the screen stood before the closed gates of Wayne Manor, with the home barely visible in the distance behind him. Curls of smoke were visible in the early morning. “So far, official sources have been unable to confirm or deny these reports. However, just a few minutes ago, we were able to speak to a representative of the estate’s owner.”
The scene cut away to a close up of a thin, balding man of late middle age. At the bottom of the screen, the name Alfred Beagle was displayed. “During the night, it appears that some miscreants took it upon themselves to take advantage of the upcoming nuptials of Mr. Grayson and Ms. Starr. Unfortunately, their crude entrance into the Manor ruptured a gas line, causing the explosion.”
“What about your employer, Gotham attorney Richard Grayson?” asked the reporter from off-screen. “Is he all right, and will this have any effect on the wedding?”
“Mr. Grayson suffered some minor injuries, but he and Ms. Starr have decided that their wedding shall proceed this weekend, but not here at the Manor. After the events of last night, I’m sure you understand that they have decided to keep the location private.”
As the picture shifted back to a newsroom anchor, Jay turned the volume back down. “The wedding is being held on an island, courtesy of an old friend of Dick’s.” Jay held up a hand to forestall the objection forming on Alex Holton’s lips. “Now, son, transportation is not going to be an issue. Green Lantern himself has offered to transport our group there.”
“Are you sure that’s safe, Jay?” Alex turned away, his hands crossed behind his back as he stared at a picture of the gathered members of the JSA. “After the debate and all? We still can’t be one hundred percent sure that it wasn’t Superman’s or Power Girl’s heat-vision in that attack. (*) Now I don’t want to accuse your friends, but you and I both know that there have been cases where members of the JSA have been mentally controlled and forced to do things they would never do otherwise.” He turned quickly to face Jay again. “Don’t we?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: The Race, Book 3, Chapter 13: The Debate of Unanswered Questions.]
In his mind’s eye, Jay saw Mister Terrific struggling to take his final breath as his own hands closed on his throat. He had not been conscious during the time his body was taken over by an old mutual enemy of theirs called the Spirit King, but he had often regretted that he had so easily been taken over, and he replayed the images in his mind as he imagined they occurred over and over in the years since then. “Yes, we do,” he answered in a quiet voice. He shook himself to clear the image from his mind. “But we also don’t make assumptions without proof, and we don’t allow fear to control our lives. Therefore, Alex, we’re going. Make what preparations you feel necessary, and have a list of the people from your detail who are also going by noon.”
In one of the train’s sleeping compartments, Helena Bertinelli pulled two overstuffed garment bags out of the small closet and opened one up. Inside were several gowns in various colors and materials. “Here it is, kid. When I heard you were going to be sticking with us for a while, I called an old friend and had these sent out. Mom kept every gown I ever wore, had them cleaned and sealed in plastic. God only knows what she expected me to need them for, but there you go.”
“Wow! These are beautiful, Hel!” Courtney Duncan held up a yellow dress to her chest and looked in the mirror. “This looks pretty decent, doesn’t it?”
Helena shuddered. “Much too pale for your skin tone and hair color.” When Courtney turned to face her, she continued. “Look, I was supposed to be the delicate lady growing up. You learn about these things. Now, this is going to be formal, and you’re going in heeled, right?”
“Heeled? You mean, high heels?”
“No. You’re going to be armed, right? The belt and bracelets?”
“Oh, yeah, I get it! I don’t know, do you think I should?”
Helena rummaged through the dresses and pulled out one in bright blue. “Absolutely. Officially, All-American Girl isn’t part of the security detail. But you’re a heck of a secret weapon in case some nut job realizes that this is a gathering of most of the JSA and other mystery-men. Now, this is the one I was thinking of.” She held it up. A long dress with gathered folds around the waist and long, translucent sleeves. “Perfect. The folds at the waist will cover the belt, and your bracelets will look like regular jewelry under these sleeves.”
“Whoa. This is gonna look so cool!”
They were interrupted by a knock at the compartment door. “Probably Alex, making sure we’re still going,” muttered Helena as she opened it. “Oh, hi, John.”
“Um, hi, Miss Bertinelli. Look, uh, can I talk to Courtney for a couple minutes?” The slender, bookish teenager gulped once, then a second time. “Alone?”
Helena smiled as she glanced back at Courtney. When the younger girl nodded, she moved aside to let John Garrick into the compartment. “Sure, I was just going to check in with Alex. But leave the door open, you guys.” She slipped out the door, leaving it partly open. In the corridor, she saw Joan Garrick. “Everything all right?” she asked quietly.
“We’ll see,” replied John’s mother, pressing a finger to her lips.
“Hi, John. What’s up?” asked Courtney as she reached into the compartment’s small closet and hung up the dress.
“Hey, Court. Look, you know we’re going to this big wedding a week from Saturday and all, right? And I was talking with my folks, and they thought, well, I guess, they figure I should have a date for something like this. And I know my friend Jason is going to be there, and he’s bringing this girl he knows, and, um…”
Courtney turned back toward him, put her balled fists on her hips, and asked, “Are you asking me for a date, John?”
“Um, well, yeah, I thought that, since you and I are the only kids, I mean, teenagers on the train, and I don’t get out of here all that much, well, yeah, I thought maybe you and I could go, you know, together?”
“Yeah, I know.” Courtney turned and looked out the window, watching the rolling hillsides of Upstate New York roll by. “You know, John, I’ve been on this train for over a week, and you’ve hardly said boo to me. Now you come in here, asking me to go to this wedding with you. What’s a girl supposed to think?”
John looked shocked. “Oh, gee, I didn’t mean to — I mean, I’m not good at talking to girls and all, and — oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you, and–”
“Yes.” John stopped in mid-sentence as Courtney turned back toward him. “Yeah, I’ll go with you John. On one condition.”
“You better know how to dance.”
Back in the corridor, Joan Garrick looked upward. “Oh, thank heavens.”
Moments later, after John left, Helena came back into the compartment. “Nice job, kiddo. Just one problem…”
“Huh? What’s that?”
“I thought I told you not to go reading my romance novels!”
As Alfred Beagle was giving his press conference to the reporters camped in front of Wayne Manor, Detective First Class James Corrigan and his partner, Detective Third Class April Catrella, were wrapping up their investigation into last night’s events. The police commissioner himself would handle the press, and their case would be taken out of their hands, as the Huntress was already involved.
The Gotham City Police Department had a standard policy of non-interference with cases involving the Huntress, Red Robin, Green Lantern, or the JSA. If an officer had a case that involved them, they were to turn the information over to the masked men. It sometimes rankled the men in blue, but it got positive results in that the felons were generally apprehended.
Jim left April to handle supervising the officers on the scene while he spoke in private with the owners of the manor.
Dr. Charles McNider had been called in the middle of the night, as Dick Grayson had been moved several times when he shouldn’t have been. Grayson was suffering from a concussion, and while rest was the order of the day, all the jostling around could have made his condition worse. Dr. McNider pronounced that Grayson was no worse for wear, however.
The same could not be said for Grayson’s fiancée, Karen Starr. She had a couple of cracked ribs and was in quite a bit of pain, because with her being Power Girl, there was no pain medication or anti-inflammatory medication that could ease her pain.
Jim Corrigan knocked at the door and asked if he could come in. Helena Wayne opened the door, and Jim found Dr. McNider taking Grayson’s vital signs, with Kara was sitting in a chair beside the bed of the unconscious Dick Grayson. On the other side of the bed was a young woman Corrigan had just met named Rachel Levine, whom he also understood to be Grayson’s daughter and possible also a fledgling hero. This was all strictly off the record, of course; as a JSA member himself in his other identity of the Spectre, Jim Corrigan would not put any of this into his police report.
“Haven’t we answered all your questions, Detective?” asked an obviously put-out Helena Wayne.
“Yes. I’m not here as a police detective. I’m here as the Spectre.”
At that pronouncement, they all looked at him, some with a little fear.
“I’d like to give you a wedding present, if it’s all right with you.”
“What kind of present?” asked Kara, remembering the gift that the Spectre had already given them a week ago.
“Normally I can’t give it to people who haven’t been directly affected by my actions. But I asked the Voice, and he said OK.”
“What kind of present?” Kara repeated as she started to get angry.
“Your health,” said the Spectre as he gestured. Immediately, Kara felt her ribs heal, and Dick began to stir to consciousness.
Kara looked at the Spectre in awe and then went to Dick. And Corrigan quietly left the room.
Social circles where abuzz on the small island nation of Valonia when word got out that Prince Stefan was going to host a wedding for a former U.S. ambassador. Tongues wagged even harder when one local newspaper managed to obtain a photo of the ambassador and everyone saw how the two looked so much alike. He could almost be the Prince’s son. Many gossip rags theorized that he, in fact, was the Prince’s son. After all, the Prince had been something of a lady’s man up until his forties when he had finally wed an American actress.
The rumors continued until it came to light that the Prince and the ambassador were actually the same age. Grayson was just extremely (and surely somewhat artificially) well-preserved. That didn’t stop some reporters from searching frantically for some sort of family connection to explain the resemblance. Surely, they thought, there was an even bigger story here beyond one friend simply hosting a wedding for another.
The Cathedral of St. Dumas was an elaborately decorated remnant of an era when churches were created to reflect the glory of God. It was seen as appropriate that it should be as grand and as beautiful as wealth and skill could make it. Every window bore a rich, colorful, stained-glass mosiac. The pews were of richly detailed, hand-carved mahogany. Enormous velvet draperies hung from the ceiling. Its chief feature was its main dome, whose interior was covered in an elaborate renaissance-era mural depicting man’s exile from the Garden of Eden.
“It’s… breathtaking,” Karen Starr said, staring up at the interior of the dome.
“I agree,” the Prince said smiling. His eyes, however, said it wasn’t the view of the Cathedral’s architecture he was admiring.
“If you’re through admiring my bride-to-be’s arches, I’d like to say thank you for all you’re doing for us.”
The Prince and Karen both turned in the direction of the voice coming from the center aisle as the figure approached, his cane click-clacking on the marble floor. Karen winced at the sound of the cane. The antique cane had been a gift from Prince Stefan upon their arrival. Until recently, though, she had figured he might really need such an apparatus, given the extent of his injuries. Merlin’s crystals had sped up his healing process, but in his case, that had been more of a curse than a blessing. Alfred Beagle, bless his heart, had not done a very good job of setting his leg, and Dr. McNider had been forced to break it again and re-set it. If not for the Spectre, he might have needed that cane to walk down the aisle on their wedding day, or worse, use a wheelchair.
“I was just happy to finally be able to repay the favor I owed you,” said the Prince. “Given the delightful occasion, perhaps it was worth the wait.”
“It’s hard to believe it was so long ago,” Dick said, looking at the Prince. Even if Dick Grayson’s face didn’t show the entire passing of years, the Prince’s did. They might not have been as harsh as they could have been because of a life of privilege, but he still looked significantly older. It had indeed been four decades since a mischevious young prince had knocked Robin unconscious in order to take his place as the new partner of Batman, simply so that he could leave the drudgery of being a prince for a day. (*) Ever since then, Prince Stefan had owed him a debt, which the Prince preferred to think of as a mere favor. Dick had encountered plenty of old acquaintances and thought he had become accustomed to the strangeness of his prolonged youth. However, nothing illustrated it quite like seeing his own face wearing those extra years.
[(*) Editor’s note: Prince Stefan, young ruler of Valonia, first appeared in “His Highness, Prince Robin,” in World’s Finest Comics #26 (January-February 1947) as a perfect lookalike for Dick Grayson.]
“So do you think our humble church will meet your needs?” Prince Stefan said, smiling.
“It’s more than I could ever have hoped for!” Karen exclaimed. “It’s like something out of a fairy tale.”
“I’m glad,” Prince Stefan said. “This is the church where my Jane and I were wed. And if I must say, you will be the most beautiful bride this land has seen since she walked down the aisle.” His eyes grew moist, and he brought his hand up to cover them. “You must excuse me. It has been a few years since the car crash that took her from me, but I still get emotional every time I say her name.”
“I understand,” Dick said, placing his hand on the Prince’s shoulder. “You loved her very much.”
“With all my heart and soul, my friend,” the Prince answered. “I can see the same kind of love when I look at the two of you. I wish you as much happiness as we had. And many more years.” He clasped each of their hands and said, “I’ll inform the Bishop there is to be a wedding and to make preparations posthaste.”