“…and to the earth, we commend the remains of Jackson Theodore Carson.”
The minister lifted a handful of soil and dropped it into the open grave, the clods of dirt hitting the coffin with a muted clatter. Members of the family stepped forward to drop in a handful of soil or flowers before moving away from the graveside to their waiting cars. Finally, the only ones left were the minister and the widow.
“Thank you so much, Reverend Halliwell. I know you must have so much to do. I really appreciate your taking the time to perform Jack’s funeral.”
“Who else could have done it, Mrs. Carson? I performed the wedding ceremony for the two of you thirty-five years ago, your son’s wedding fifteen years ago, his christening, and your granddaughter’s christening. I can’t let anyone else tend this special portion of my flock.” Reverend Halliwell took the hand of Mrs. Carson and led her toward the waiting limousine. When they reached it, he turned to her. “How is that boy of yours, anyway? He didn’t make it here for the burial, did he?”
The graceful older woman shook her head. “No, the rift between Phillip and Jack never did heal. He called me to express his sympathies, but I don’t think he’s greiving too much.”
“Kathy, what happened between them? What drove them apart?”
“Phillip is an idealist. He has all these great visions of a pristine Earth. Jack’s mining operations have been the focus of Phillip’s hostility for over a decade. Phillip thought his father was destroying the Earth, and Jack thought that Phillip was out to ruin him personally. Phillip went so far as to change his name years ago. He thought that by using my maiden name, he could hide his relationship with his father.”
Reverend Halliwell’s eyes widened. “You mean that your Phillip is the man that made the news last week? The one who tried to stop the new mines in California by tying himself and his daughter across the entrance?”
“That’s right, Reverend. Phillip Kane is my son.”
“Elizabeth Katherine Kane, aren’t you ready to go yet?” The angry voice came from downstairs. “The rally starts in less than an hour.”
“I’m not going, Dad. I’m not up to it today.” Elizabeth Kane sat hunched over her desk, studying an English text. “Besides, I have homework to finish.”
Downstairs, her father shrugged his shoulders as he poured a last cup of coffee. “I don’t know what’s gotten into her lately. I used to be able to depend on her, but the last few weeks…”
“Phillip, you know damn well what it is. Ever since you refused to go back for your father’s funeral, she’s been angry with you. With both of us.” Bonnie Kane was putting the dinner dishes in the dishwasher. She straightened up and reached for the jacket hanging on her chair. “Now, let’s get up to the mine.”
An hour later, Phillip and Bonnie were on a picket line, trying to block a convoy of trucks from leaving one of the Carson Industries mines. Despite the efforts of forty-five protestors, the trucks did get through. After their unsuccessful efforts, the demonstrators gathered at a local diner.
“OK, folks, that was our last chance to stop this filth at its source. We can’t stop them from processing this batch — that’s now under government security — but we can show these bastards just how much damage nuclear power can do!” The speaker was Frank Childress, a large man who planned most of the operation of the Coastal Anti-Nuclear Visionary Action Society. “There is a new nuke plant going online near Gotham City in two weeks, and it’s time we did something stronger than a protest march to get our message out!”
Phillip stood up. “Wait a sec, Frank. I’m all for getting our message out, but just what are you planning here?”
“What do you think I’m planning, Phil? We’re going to put that plant out of commission even as they dedicate it. Right now, one of my East Coast contacts is bringing enough plastic explosive into Gotham to punch a hole right through the side of the that plant’s containment vessel. They built it far enough out to sea that the only people likely to be hurt when it blows are the dignitaries right there on the island.”
“No, that just isn’t right! Bonnie and I came here because we were concerned about the environmental impact of the mining and the nuclear waste. Nobody ever said anything about killing. We’re out of here.” Bonnie had stood up by his side, and as Phillip finished, they quickly darted out of the diner.
“Idiot! Now they know what we’re planning and when. We’ll have to eliminate them both. Now.” The voice crackled in Frank Childress’s ear. “Make sure you identify anyone else who might turn on us. We’ll be back shortly.”
Frank’s reply was uttered low enough that nobody else in the room could hear it. He smiled as he heard the sound of the Kane’s Jeep pulling from the parking lot, followed by the low purr of a large car.
A continent away from Phillip and Bonnie Kane, Kathleen Marie Kane Carson sat in a darkened study, a glass of wine held in her long fingers, studying the play of lightning across the sky.
“What do I do with myself now?” she wondered, not for the first time in the last two weeks. “My last two years were filled with Jack’s battle with cancer. Before that, I spent thirty-three years as a society wife, chairing charities and planning parties. Now, what’s left?”
She set the wine glass down on the table next to her chair, stood up, and walked to the floor-to-ceiling window. The lightning flashed, revealing a tall, slender woman in her late sixties with long ebony hair with streaks of gray through it. She moved with a grace uncommon even among the high society women with whom she had associated all these years, and she was still strikingly beautiful.
“I suppose I could take an active hand in the circus. Dmitri would never forgive me for that, though. He’s the one who has turned a profit on it. Lord knows I never did. I wasn’t meant to be a manager; I was a performer.” To emphasize her words, she bent over, placed both hands flat on the floor, then raised first one, then both legs up into the air, until she was perfectly erect in a textbook handstand. Without wavering, she bent her legs at the hips, one to the front and one behind her, until both touched the floor. She then reversed them and brought herself up and over on the back foot, and ended by lowering herself to the floor in a split.
“Not too bad for an old grandmother. Still, I don’t think Dmitri would put me up on the high wire on a dare.” Rising to her feet, she brushed non-existent dust from the bodysuit she wore. “Of course, in this shape, I could almost consider going back to–”
The storm peaked, and lightning hit a tree somewhere just outside. The crack of the thunderbolt brought her out of her reverie.
“No, that’s just plain silly, Kathy. Don’t even think about it.”
The storm in Gotham City was mirrored on the Pacific coast. Bonnie and Phil drove north along one of California’s many oceanside cliffs, high above the shoreline. Phil was driving carefully, mindful of the rain and wind, but his attention was caught by the flash of lights behind him.
“This guy must be nuts. He actually wants to pass on a night like this?”
“So let him pass. Maybe then, if there’s anything in the road, he’ll find it for us.”
Figuring he had no better option, Phillip slowed the car down until he saw the headlights move to one side to come around. It was a large black sedan, with nobody visible inside through the rain-streaked windows. It pulled ahead, then pulled back into the right-hand lane.
Inside the black sedan, a lone figure in the back spoke on a car phone.
“Yes, we’re coming up on it now. Wait for my signal.”
There was a glow in the back of the car.
“Yes, I see you. Now wait… wait… now!”
Phillip saw the flash of light inside the car that had passed him but dismissed it as a reflection of the lightning that was flashing around them. It would not have occurred to him to suspect a connection between the short burst of greenish light and the log that dropped from a trailer alongside the road.
“Hang on, Bonnie!”
“Phillip? What is it?”
“Something fell off a truck or something. It’s coming this way. Maybe I can steer around it — no!”
The log had dropped to the road and rolled right at the Kane’s Jeep. Just when it looked like they would avoid it, a second log dropped and fell at an angle. It hit the road, bounced up, and struck the Jeep just ahead of the front passenger-side wheel. It struck with enough force that the front wheels left the road, and the Jeep twisted on its back wheels. When all four tires were on the ground again, the Jeep was pointed out over the side of the cliff, still traveling at forty-five miles per hour. It struck the guard rail, pitching the Jeep over the rail and over the side of the cliff. It turned over twice in midair before striking the rocks below, landing top-down.
In the the black sedan, the figure in the back spoke into the phone again. “Nice work, gentlemen. I do enjoy a good game of billiards.”
Kathy Carson hurried down the steps from the plane to the waiting taxi at the airport in Eureka, California. She settled in for the hour-long drive to her late son’s house and reflected on the last twelve hours.
It had started with the phone call at two AM. Her housekeeper Janice had brought the phone into her bedroom with a worried look on her face. When Kathy heard her granddaughter’s words, she knew why.
“Grandmother Carson? It’s Elizabeth. Something horrible has happened. It’s just awful.” The voice broke off in tears, and Kathy could hear someone else at the other end of the line. The next words that came over the phone were in the voice of a stranger.
“Mrs. Carson? I’m sorry; nobody realized that Miss Kane was calling anybody. My name is Alicia Price. I’m with the California Highway Patrol. I’m afraid I have some bad news, ma’am.”
Kathy’s hand gripped the phone hard enough that she heard the plastic creaking under the pressure. “What is it, Officer? Has something happened to my son?”
“Umm, Mrs. Carson, I’m sorry to have to tell you, but your son’s vehicle went off the road tonight, and both he and his wife were killed.”
The blood drained from Kathy’s face. Janice took a blanket from the bed and wrapped it around her employer. “Dear God in heaven. How did it happen? Was there another vehicle involved? Did something go wrong with the car?”
“We don’t know yet, ma’am. Our people are going over the vehicle. It was raining pretty heavy this evening, and those roads up along the oceanside cliffs get hit with some wicked winds on nights like this, too. We won’t be able to release the bodies until late tomorrow. Do you know who your son would want to handle the arrangements?” A detached part of Kathy’s mind noted the detached way in which the officer handled the personal details.
“Officer Price, I will be there tomorrow afternoon to handle everything. I’ll see to it that Miss Kane’s other grandparents are notified and there as well. Could I speak to Elizabeth again, please?”
“Of course, ma’am. And thank you.” Kathy heard the phone being transferred to another person.
“Grandmother, what am I supposed to do? I don’t have any idea.” The tears were gone for the moment, but it sounded like they could start again any second.
“For now, you try to get some sleep. I’ll be there as soon as I can get out of here in the morning, and I’ll get your mother’s parents out there, too. We’ll take care of everything then.”
Now she was pulling up in the driveway, and Elizabeth was running out of the house and into her arms.
“Grandmother! Thank God you’re here!” Elizabeth Kane threw herself into her grandmother’s arms.
Kathy Carson put her arms around the sobbing girl. “That’s right, Elizabeth, let it all out.” As her granddaughter cried on her shoulder, Kathy picked her up, cradling her against her as she walked up the steps to the house. The cab driver followed with a surprised look on his face. Kathy disengaged one arm long enough to grab a pair of twenties from her purse and pass them to the driver. She laid Elizabeth down on the couch and sat with her.
“Can you tell me what happened, honey? Is there anything more that the police didn’t tell me?”
“No, there isn’t much more. They found the car this morning. They said it looked like a tree fell during the storm and hit the car. After that…” Elizabeth leaned into Kathy’s shoulder again as the tears flowed once more.
After a few minutes, Elizabeth was calmed down a bit. “I don’t know what I’ll be doing now. Everything I did outside of school was with Mom and Dad.”
“Well, it is up to you, but you could come and stay with me. I’m sure your mother’s parents feel the same way, too.”
“Could I? In Gotham? That would be terrific. I really don’t want to stay around here now.”
“Of course you can. I’m all alone in that big house. I would love to have you there.”
“What about the funeral? Will that be here, or…?”
Kathy thought about that one. “Perhaps your grandparents will agree that it’s better your parents be buried back home, where they spent most of their lives. Your mother was from Gotham, too, so that should work out. In that case, we will probably be going there tomorrow. Shall we start packing, since there isn’t much else we can do right now?”
It was a week to the day after Elizabeth Kane’s parents were killed. During those seven days, she had traveled across the country, attended her parents’ funeral, and tried to get settled in her grandmother’s mansion.
Kathy Kane had not quite told the truth about being alone in the house. There was Janice, her personal secretary, a cook, a housekeeper, and a gardener. While they were technically employees, Kathy regarded each of them as friends and treated them as such. Still, it was a lonely place for a teenage girl.
“I’ll be glad when school starts. No offense, Grandmother, but I’m bored.”
Kathy had already been considering that problem. “How about you join me for my workout this afternoon?”
“Let me guess — a private spa?”
“Yes and no. Not a club — I have my own gym, of sorts.” Elizabeth did not miss the odd smile on her grandmother’s face.
“What do you mean by that?”
Kathy got up from her chair. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
Taking the young girl’s hand, Kathy led her to the foyer. There, she reached up to twist one of the spindles of the large staircase that led up from the foyer, and a panel below the stairs opened up.
“Watch your step. It’s kind of narrow. This used to be part of the steps to the basement.”
“What did you do? Hollow out a gym under the house?”
“No, the cave was there. And it seemed like the right idea at the time.”
Elizabeth was about to reply when the lights came on below her. She reached the bottom and looked out into a large cavern.