Looking out of his window at the busy New York street below, Lemuel Toadkin sat at his desk as he awaited the arrival of his newest clients. It had taken a long time for him to reach this place.
He was a wedding planner who had worked his way across the country with the help of many weddings, big and small. He could not say exactly how many weddings he had helped plan and carry out over the forty-plus years he had been in business. He had learned, like many soldiers learn in battle, that plans never went the way they were should.
He was a short, small-framed, elderly man who wore spectacles and had thinning white hair. Turning his chair quietly, his round head swiveled on his shoulders as he considered the next wedding he was to arrange. It seemed simple enough. Two young scientists wanted to get married quietly. Their list of invited people was short, with some familiar names on it. Had it really been twelve years since he had last spoken with the Kords? Where did the time go?
His clients soon arrived, and the wedding planner began going through the usual planning stages. Soon he was waiting as the young couple leafed through several wedding books, and he lost himself in his reverie. Ted and Tracey Kord — he really would like to look them up again soon. Now there was a strong and lasting relationship if he ever saw one.
Lemuel looked up from his memory as he realized his clients had just asked him something. “I’m sorry, could you repeat your question?” he said politely. “Just wandering down memory lane.”
“I was just wondering if you could get us an estimate on the cost,” said the groom-to-be, a young man with short-cropped brown hair whose name was Mac Rey. “Fera’s father said he would pay for the expenses, but I don’t want to go overboard and run up a huge bill.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Rey,” Lemuel said with a smile. “The most expensive thing on your list is renting the chapel. That I will have to check for the exact price. I would estimate that your cost won’t be more than ten thousand. I’ll know better once I start assembling things.”
“You said you knew the Kords? Tracey and Ted?” asked Fera Serch, smoothing back a lock of her shoulder-length red hair.
“I arranged their wedding, Miss Serch,” said Lemuel. “As I recall they were a couple of young scientists like yourselves.” He smiled.
“Yes, they’re colleagues,” said Mac.
“And friends,” added Fera with a glance toward her fiancé. “In fact, they were the ones who encouraged us to get married. We can only hope to have a marriage as good as theirs. Tracey also told me they’d begun trying to have their first child.”
The wedding planner smiled. “I’m glad to hear that they’re still together, with the divorce rate the way it is.”
“Tracey said that you practically saved their wedding,” Fera said.
“That’s probably an overstatement,” said Lemuel with a wave of his hand. “She was a very kind woman, if I recall correctly. I will get on these arrangements and talk to the both of you in, say, a week? I will have a more accurate estimate of the cost then.”
The wedding planner smiled and stood, walking them to the door and shaking their hands as they left. He closed the door and stood with his back to it. He then began to shake uncontrollably as he recalled what he had been forced to do at the Kord wedding. It all came back to him in a flash.
Hub City, 1973:
Lemuel Toadkin had gained great respect as a wedding planner after arranging several well-publicized Hollywood weddings throughout the 1940s. In 1949, tiring of the shallowness of Tinseltown and the countless relationships that he had watched go sour after his weddings, he moved from California all the way to the Eastern Seaboard in 1949, settling in Crown City. The first wedding he arranged after the move was for media tycoon Sam Starr. He remembered the man’s cigars most of all after the event. He knew Starr had been married before, and he noted that his children, Syd and Celia from that marriage, weren’t happy about his current love.
The wedding planner’s business was very good, growing from some good publicity he had received over the years. It was from the coverage of one of his weddings that he first met Vic Sage, then a print reporter for the local paper. Lemuel noted that the younger man was rigid and set in his ways. He became an investigative reporter and then a popular newscaster for WWB, which was Sam Starr’s flagship TV station. Lemuel smiled once when he heard Sage referred to as “the conscience of Crown City.”
Some years later, Vic Sage remembered the interview and in 1973 recommended Lemuel to Sage’s friend, Ted Kord. Mr. Kord of Hub City had not been married before, and he wanted something special for his fiancée, Tracey Simmons. They had been through a period of dating and working together, and he wanted a small-scale celebration of their nuptials to share with their friends.
The wedding planner studied the smiling Ted Kord and his lovely fiancée Tracey at that first meeting. He was impressed by the two of them and the feelings they positively radiated for each other. Lemuel was also pleased to note the stark contrast between the true love these young people had with the shallow Hollywood substitute for love he had been used to in California. “I will see what can be done,” he said kindly.
Lemuel Toadkin went about the arrangements in his usual methodical way. Since it would be a May wedding, the biggest problem was to arrange the use of Hub City’s convention center for the event because of the popularity of that month. The city wanted reams of paperwork for the ceremony, but the wedding planner — as always — persevered with patience.
Two weeks before the wedding, Lemuel toured the place with Ted and Tracey. He wanted to keep his usual professional distance, but he found that they overrode all of his attempts to do so with their happiness. The only bleak spot was when Ted mentioned how much he would have liked his friend Dan, a college roommate, to have lived to see this day and be his best man. After a moment’s worth of uncomfortable silence, Ted glossed it over and explained that he couldn’t have found a better second choice than Vic Sage, who served as his best man.
The three finished the tour, quietly excited as areas were mapped for guests, and they made the march down the aisle where the speaker system would be placed for the musicians. Lemuel walked through the spaces, confident that things would go as planned.
The trio adjourned for dinner, and then Ted was called away on urgent business. He rushed from the restaurant, leaving money to cover the bill. Tracey took the unexpected interruption in stride. She smiled at Lemuel, calmly calling for the waiter to pay for their meal. Lemuel kept his thoughts to himself, but he privately wondered what could call such a devoted man away in such a hurry.
Time clicked toward the event. Lemuel went through the rehearsal, coaching the best man, Vic Sage, and the groomsman, a Captain Nathaniel Adam from the Air Force, where to stand and how. Tracey and her unlikely maid of honor — a Washington socialite named Eve Eden — walked down the aisle to the strains of the “Wedding March.” Lemuel nodded at the end, calling for the small dinner he had prepared to be served. Everything seemed perfectly in place.
The wedding planner retired to his home to read and nap until the morning. He had become something of an insomniac as he grew older. He didn’t quite yet know if that was a blessing or a curse.
As the sun rose the next morning, he was already dressed in the tuxedo he would have to wear for most of the day. He had one wedding to attend to before the Kord ceremony, but it would be short and over quickly. Then he would get his assistant to clean up after the crowd while he went and supervised the other event. He would stay through the reception and help clean up the convention center. He would then return to Crown City and think about the appointments he would have to go through in the morning.
He tried not to think that a life-changing event for others was another day at the office for himself, but sometimes it crept up on him. Presently he dismissed the thought as he readied himself to show up at the church for his first commitment, already seeing it happening in his mind, but knowing that no wedding ever went the way it should. The scores of weddings that he had planned over the years had taught him that wedding days were what Murphy liked to attend more than any other public event.
Lemuel arrived at the convention center an hour before the principals and guests. His trusted staff had quietly arranged everything with precision. He could hardly believe his eyes. He toured the facility quietly. The caterers were on site, preparing the reception for the array of guests. He smiled at Mary Wiggins as he passed. She waved back, frowning at the consistency of the casserole she had prepared. Lemuel smiled, hoping that bad luck would not visit this day.
He finished his check as Ted Kord arrived, tuxedo in a bag over his shoulder. The groom sipped from a can of soda as he looked around. “Are you ready, Ted?” the wedding planner asked, taking one last stationary look around the open space.
“As I’ll ever be,” said Ted, throwing the empty can away in a public trash can. “I just didn’t think I would have so many butterflies in my stomach.”
“Don’t worry,” said Lemuel. “That will pass once we start. Nervousness is a common thing for both the bride and the groom.”
“Have you ever been married, Lemuel?” Ted asked suddenly.
“No,” said the short older man. “I am a solitary individual with solitary tastes. Sharing my time and parts of my life with another person is not something that has ever appealed to me.” Ted seemed stumped for something to say, embarrassed by the answer he had received. “Don’t worry about it,” said Lemuel. “The guests will be arriving soon. You might want to change clothes before the bathroom is crowded.”
“Got a point there,” Ted said. He vanished into the bathroom with the clothes bag.
Lemuel shook his head as he went to the door to welcome the early guests. The smell of ionization was in the air, but he didn’t see a cloud in the sky. Captain Adam turned the corner in his dress blues. He doffed his cap as he walked up to the front door. “First one here?” he asked as he came up to the door.
“Ted is changing,” said the wedding planner. “You are the second one here.”
Captain Adam smiled slightly. “Is he as worried as you look?” Adam asked.
“Not really, no.”
The guests filed into the convention center in clumps as the party assembled. Tracey Simmons and Eve Eden arrived together and went to the ladies room to change. The priest then arrived and made his way up front, speaking a word or two to those in the aisles who greeted him. Everything seemed to be going well. That made Lemuel worry. Usually one person would have made a mistake by now. No one had. This caused the wedding planner to worry even more. Disaster was looming close enough for him to breathe it.
“Something wrong, Mr. Toadkin?” a familiar voice said at his shoulder, causing him to jump.
“Ah, Mr. Sage,” said Lemuel, gaining his reserve in a split second. “It has been a pleasure to see you again after all these years.”
“You seem to be worried,” said Vic Sage, intent on an answer to his question.
“Just wedding day blues,” said Lemuel, dismissing his feeling in the company of the reporter. Sage nodded, not really understanding but willing to put the subject aside for the moment.
The roof of the convention center bulged suspiciously as the vows were exchanged. Suddenly a figure clad in blue chain mail was thrust through the ceiling. He hit the floor violently and skidded across the marble tiles.
A female figure floated through the hole. She wore a white linen dress with gold bracelets and a girdle. The white headdress she wore over her brunette hair floated slightly in the wind she created to carry her. “Thank you, Beetle, for leading me here,” the woman said, voice like thunder. “Now I will destroy you and all of these others as a reward.”
There was a flash of light, and then Captain Atom flew on the scene. “I think you need to surrender,” he said, an atomic fireball appearing in his hand.
“Foolish mortal,” said the woman in white. “Do you not know who I am? I am the White Queen, and I have waited for centuries to return since I was banished by the wizard Merlin. Now that I am here, I will assume my place as ruler of the world.”
“Not if I can help it,” Captain Atom said, hurling the fireball. He wanted the ball to explode close enough to knock his new enemy out without seriously hurting her.
She caught the fireball in her hand and crushed it out of existence. “You are obviously inferior to me,” said the White Queen. “So I will be merciful and have my troops end your life swiftly.”
Scarlet amazons in red armor descended through the hole in the roof of the convention center. Sword blades caught fire as they were drawn from scabbards. Yellow light danced merrily in their eyes as they walked toward the hovering action-hero. “These are my royal guard,” said the White Queen. “I think we shall kill any who oppose us, starting with the silver-armed idiot.”
Lemuel had been shocked by events so far. He frowned at the casual pronouncement of his fate. He moved to the buffet table to arm himself as the royal guard began to advance on the guests.
Captain Atom found himself in a precarious spot. His best shot had been casually stopped by the witch in white. Her scarlet guards marched on the guests, swords at the ready. He needed a way to buy time for the civilians to get clear. He looped around and swept in from one side of the advancing group. He hooked their legs out from under them with his speed and strength. The sound of metal on stone rewarded his efforts. He flew up to the ceiling when he cleared the group, his hand glowing with atomic energy.
Ted had grabbed the blue-suited figure by his chain armor, pulling him clear of the fighting as Eve pushed Tracey behind her. The guests were heading for the door in a mad scramble. Vic Sage joined the wedding planner at the buffet table set up for the reception.
Captain Atom shot a nuclear blast upward. He didn’t give the sorceress a chance to extinguish this blast as it arced into the ceiling over her head and exploded. A rain of building material distracted the woman long enough for him to soar through the air, picking Tracey up on the way, and make a quick exit. He helped along any guests that were in front of him. As soon as all the civilians were outside, he could put his whole attention to the problem at hand.
“Take cover, Tracey,” he said in the bride’s ear as he deposited her on the sidewalk across the street. “I’ll look out for Ted.”
“Tell him he has five minutes to wrap this up,” Tracey said, trying to make a joke of her worry.
“Right,” said Atom, flashing back into the building.
Lemuel grabbed a plate of potato casserole as he watched the warrior women advance. Vic Sage was at his side, the spoon from the punch in his hand. The arranger didn’t know what good that would do against the flaming swords the amazons were wielding.
Ted Kord was hunched over the collapsed body of the mystery-man who had fallen face-down behind the cover of the podium. The reverend had already taken cover by the wall. Eve Eden stood nearby with a music stand in her hand as a staff. They were all cut off from either exit by the swirling crowd.
The White Queen gestured, her golden girdle glowing as a door opened in the air. They could see women lining up, archaic armor and flaming blades in hand, beyond the portal. They began to march forward into the space-bending aperture.
Lemuel threw the plate at the nearest scarlet woman as hard as he could. The heavy glass and hot potatoes and cheese splashed against the woman. She knocked the plate away with a grimace. She growled as she advanced on the buffet table.
A pie flew from Vic Sage’s hand, hitting his target in the face with smooth accuracy. He smiled slightly as he reached for the next thing on the table and flung it forcefully across the room. His second victim slipped when the plate of deviled eggs hit her on the forehead. Vic smiled slightly as he reached for the next thing on the table.
“I think it’s Dan!” said Ted, recognizing the blue costume of the mystery-man who had crashed through the ceiling. “I mean, the costume’s slightly different, but who else could it be?”