“So, Father,” Peter Regal said, pushing vegetables around his plate with his fork, “what have you been doing these last eight years?”
“Oh, this and that,” Albert Regal said. “After I left Belgravia, I wandered Europe for a bit. Had an adventure or two with the Global Guardians, but they’re kind of a strange lot. I mean, the one with the third eye in his forehead–!” The elder Regal suppressed a shudder. “I helped out during the Martian invasion, of course; I was in Sweden when that happened. (*) Didn’t see much fighting there.” Albert paused, taking a sip of wine. “And you?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Between Sea and Sky.]
Peter sighed. His father knew very well what he had been doing. “I joined the new government in 1981,” Peter said. “Right after you left. Worked my way through the ranks very quickly. I got the ambassadorship two years ago. I’ve been here ever since.”
“Yes, you’re doing quite well for yourself… Comrade,” Albert said smoothly. “Your new masters must be pleased.”
Peter threw down his napkin. “Must we go through this again?” he demanded. “I didn’t like it any better than you, when the Soviets invaded and took us over. But, like Afghanistan and so many others, we got no help from the United Nations. It’s a pity Belgravia had no oil, or anything else America wanted. So what were we to do?”
“We could have fought!” Albert cried, slamming his fist onto the table. “We could have fought back, resisted the Russians and their takeover! Risen up like men, instead of–“
“Of giving up?” Peter prompted. “That’s what you were going to say, isn’t it? Well, you know why we didn’t! Belgravia lost most of its young men in the Great War! We were just starting to rebuild our fragile population when the Soviet tanks came rolling in. Nobody had the spirit anymore.”
“No,” Albert sighed ruefully. “Not even my son.”
“Damn it, Father,” Peter exploded, “we’ve been through this more times than I care to count! I’m not going to apologize for not being like you, for not thinking that some people are entitled to a better life than other people just because of the last name they happened to be born with! All those years, growing up in King Paul’s court, watching the peasants work from sunrise until long after dark, just to scratch out a living, while the so-called ‘nobles’ ate till they vomited and then ate some more–! Is it any wonder the communists’ ideas sounded good to me?”
“So you gave up,” Albert said coldly. “You gave up your home and your heritage, and became one of them. A lackey for your Red masters.”
“Oh, please!” Peter cried. “‘Red masters’? Can you even hear yourself? Look, I’m doing what I think best for my country, and you’re doing what you think best — chasing adventures wherever you find them. We’re different people, Father. Let’s just leave it at that.”
Albert sighed and took another sip of wine. “I suppose we’d best, my son. I had hoped to resolve things, before… well, I’d hoped to resolve things, is all.”
Peter stared at his father. Even as a child, he had always been able to tell when his father was holding something back. “Before what, Father?”
“Before I die,” Albert said simply. “Before this cancer eats out my insides for good and all.”
Peter nearly leapt out of his chair. “Dying? Cancer? When did this happen?”
“I found out about it just about six months ago,” Albert said. “I was in Argentina. Thrilling case, that; I was tracking a shipment of plundered archaeological treasures across South America. I met up with Bushmaster, who was working the same case at that end, and we both ended up in a struggle with an American super-villain who was working as hired muscle for–“
“Father!” Peter prompted forcefully. “The cancer?”
“Oh, yes, that,” Albert said, nonchalantly. “Well, I got pretty banged up fighting this costumed clown; I’m not as young as I was, you know. Bushmaster insisted I see his personal physician, a man with a keen medical knowledge and a soul of discretion. The doctor checked me over, bandaged my injuries, and found a large, inoperable cancer in my liver.”
“My God, Father!” Peter gasped.
“I know,” Albert said. “It doesn’t give me any pain, not usually, anyway. I’d never even have known it was there. But there’s no treatment. Radiation or chemotherapy would be useless. The doctor gives me two years at the most, barring any miraculous remissions.”
“You… you got a second opinion, of course?” Peter asked, hopefully.
“Oh, yes,” Albert said, “some of the finest physicians in London and New York. I did get out of Belgravia with most of my fortune intact, you know. That’s why I was here in New York, at first. I’ve been here about two months now.”
“Two… and you haven’t called me before this?” Peter asked.
“You didn’t seem all that pleased to see me, Peter,” Albert reminded him.
“But — but, Father! I didn’t know–“
“That I was dying?” Albert asked. “You knew I would someday. If that made any difference to you, you should have thought of that.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Albert said, waving his hand. “I didn’t mean that. I guess, deep down, I’m a bitter old man. I lost my country and my only son in one quick throw, you know?”
Peter reached out across the table and took his father’s hand. “You never truly lost me, Father. Despite our differences, you’re still the man who made me who I am today.”
Albert smiled. “And you are my legacy, Peter. Every day, you make me proud of you.”
Peter smiled, doing his best to hold back tears.
It was a warm night in early autumn. After the meal, Albert and Peter decided to walk back to the embassy. “What will you do now, Father?” Peter said. “The accommodations provided for me; they’re not luxurious, but there’s more than enough room for you.”
“No, Peter, I don’t want to sit still, waiting for the end to come,” Albert said. “I’m going to die as I lived, seeking adventure. Maybe doing a little good along the way.”
“But, Father,” Peter protested, “I may never see you again!”
“Then remember me as I was,” Albert said, “a dashing, romantic figure with a mask and a bow, not a shriveled yellow husk wasting away in a hospital bed.”
“Peter!” Albert hissed, grasping his son’s arm. “Look!” They were just across the street from the tiny Belgravian Embassy building. Albert pointed; Peter squinted to see through the deepening shadows. He made out the darkened figures of three men slipping around the building to the back of the embassy.
“Who are those men?” Albert demanded.
“I-I don’t know!” Peter said. “We never get deliveries this late. I-I’d almost think they were breaking in, but why? There are no valuables–“
“They must have their own reasons,” Albert said grimly. “Come on!”
“Come on?” Peter replied. “Father, if those men are breaking into the embassy, this is a matter for the police!”
“No,” Albert said, smiling as he unzipped his duffel bag. “It’s a matter for us.” Peter looked inside at the scarlet costumes and bows and arrows resting inside — two of everything. He glanced at his father’s face in surprise; then a slow smile spread across his own face.
One last time. For my father.
In the basement of the embassy, three men in dark clothes worked swiftly, piling wooden boxes at strategic points in the embassy. The boxes contained high explosives. Placed as they were, if all the boxes detonated simultaneously, the building would collapse like a house of cards.
The boxes all placed, the men ran wires from the piles to the center of the room, where they attached these wires to a central metal control box. One of them asked a question in a language that was neither English nor Belgravian. In silent reply, this one lifted a small remote control device from his jacket pocket.
Instantly, this device was pierced by a crimson arrow, snatched from the saboteur’s hand and pinned to the basement wall.
The three saboteurs looked around in shock. The Scarlet Bowmen, in full costume, stood before them, bows drawn. “Surrender!” Albert cried out authoritatively in English.
The saboteurs snarled and drew their guns. Arrows flew like scarlet lightning bolts. In an instant, the three men were disarmed. One of them tried to run away, up the stairs into the embassy; the other two rushed the Scarlet Bowmen.
Peter brought down the fleeing saboteur with a bolo-arrow around the legs. Albert engaged the other two with his fists; one he brought down quickly, but the other one grappled with him in wrestling fashion. The fight was swiftly ended by Peter, who brought his bow crashing into the back of the saboteur’s neck. As his assailant crumpled to the floor, Albert massaged his own neck, where the saboteur had grasped it.
“Why did you horn in?” he asked. “I had him right where I wanted him!”
“You wanted him to choke the life out of you?” Peter joked.
“Insolent boy,” Albert scowled.
Moments later, the three saboteurs were bound hand and foot, awaiting the police.
“You did well, for being out of practice,” Albert said. “Why don’t you hang onto the costume and the bow? You never know when you might need it.”
“America has plenty of super-heroes, Father,” Peter said. “But I’ll keep them — as a reminder.” Peter, the Belgravian ambassador, turned to the saboteurs. “Why did you do it?” he demanded. “Why were you trying to blow up the embassy?”
“We are Toranians,” the leader of the three spat rebelliously. “We would gladly give our lives to bring your evil empire to an end once and for all!”
“Glory Toran!” another saboteur cried, and his chant was carried on by the third.
“Toranians?” Albert asked. “I don’t understand. What quarrel have you with Belgravia?”
The saboteurs goggled in surprise. “You mean,” the leader asked haltingly, “this isn’t the Galonian Embassy?”
“No,” Peter said. “That’s two blocks over. This is the Belgravian Embassy.”
The saboteurs sat in stunned silence for a moment. Then the second one turned to face his leader and said something in his own language that was obviously a curse. In seconds, the three were arguing heatedly in Toranian.
Albert and Peter looked at each other, then burst into hilarious laughter.