A lovely young woman stood defiantly in front of an equally beautiful but far worldlier woman. The girl had blonde hair that cascaded down around her delicate features in dozens of tiny ringlets. Her face was pale, but her striking gray eyes seemed to flash with passion and emotion as she faced her enemy.
“Countess Marcella, how dare you? What kind of woman are you to lure me here with that terrible note about my father? I was worried half to death by the image you conveyed of my poor father ill and in need of me! I assure you that no matter what vile plans you and your brother had for me, they will not come to fruition!”
She smoothed down the ornate and elaborate ruffles on her bright blue gown and drew her traveling cloak tighter about her chest. Before she could leave, the fiery-haired woman who stood before her laughed in a bitterly mocking tone and tossed back her own heavily curled locks as she drew closer to the startled blonde.
Countess Marcella reached out one slender gloved hand to clasp the girl’s wrist. “Oh, my dear Lady Panthea, do not presume that merely because your sainted father is currently in good health that he will remain so. Any number of maladies might befall the old gentleman unless you assure his safety by remaining here as my brother’s bride!”
Lady Panthea’s innocent features flushed with horror as she said, “You unspeakably foul witch! No matter how much I hate your brother and his lecherous ways, I will not allow my father to be harmed. I will stay here, but I promise you that I will never love your brother, although I may become his wife!”
“And cut! That’s a wrap! Excellent work, ladies. We’ll resume shooting after a lunch break,” said the director, Myron Fitzhugh.
Panthea smiled and turned to Marcella as the older actress smiled in return and said, “Well, how about a bite to eat? Not that I’m at all sure that my corset will allow me to even grab a salad!”
Lynette Anderson, who played the part of Panthea, said, “That would be super! You’ve been so kind to me, Miss Pennyworth!”
Daphne Pennyworth, who played the part of Marcella, placed one hand on the other girl’s arm and said, “Not at all, and for the hundredth time, call me Daphne! We may be playing enemies from Miss Hartland’s novel, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be chummy when the cameras are not rolling!”
As they walked away from the Regency-era drawing room that turned out to be a set with a well-decorated façade that ended where the rest of manor house should have been, neither actress noticed a figure that lurked in the shadows and watched them with rather hungry red eyes.
Later that afternoon, two figures sat to the side and watched as the crew continued to film the adaptation of the romance novel. Bruce Wayne, a handsome man in a dark suit, turned to an older man who leaned closer to hear his guest’s words.
“Wilfred, it’s remarkable how much your daughter has grown as an actress. She is carrying off the role of villainess vixen with style and ease!” he said.
Wilfred Pennyworth smiled with a slight display of pride. “Indeed, she is very captivating in the role. But then Daphne’s time with the Royal Shakespeare Company has more than prepared her for material of this level! Miss Anderson is quite good as well.”
Bruce grinned and said, “I take it you don’t hold Miss Hartland’s books in high esteem? She turns out one a month, or so I’ve heard.”
“True enough, but one does prefer quality to quantity,” said Wilfred. “Still, she is very popular, and Daphne’s work in this film will be widely seen. As for Miss Anderson, she has a bit of a following from a rather tepid situation comedy here on the telly.”
Bruce nodded and said, “I promised your brother Alfred that I’d look you up, so I was happy to accompany you here to watch Daphne’s afternoon shoot. I’m enjoying a rather spontaneous vacation right now. I don’t expect it to last for long.”
The statement about the vacation was ironic, to say the least, since he had been fighting for his life against a group of killers in France merely a day ago. (*) The statement about the peace ended soon was proven to be prophetic as he looked upward.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Batman and Fleur-de-Lis: Tangled Webs.]
He frowned as his keen eyes detected a shadowy figure prowling overhead. That’s certainly not an extra high above the set, and no crew member would be dressed like that, he thought.
Bruce moved away with a characteristic agility and grace and swiftly reached the ladder leading to the platforms above, where wiring and lighting and other technical aspects of the production came into play. As he drew closer to the odd figure, he noticed in more detail just how strangely the figure was dressed.
He wore a long frock coat that was now tattered and faded with age and use. He also stood taller than the average man, and his body was distorted in some unclear manner. It appeared as if his upper torso was slightly twisted or narrowed above the hips, while rippling muscles were evident where his shoulders and arms could be seen.
Bruce had started to draw closer when the man turned and stared at him with burning red eyes. He moved aside as the being raked out at him with razor-sharp claws. He felt his jacket rip, and he connected with his own blow, only to frown as the odd being seemed to shrug it off with ease.
Moving aside again, Bruce tried to corner the attacker, but before he could do so, the strange man jumped over the railing and vanished. He’ll be killed! thought Bruce as he leaned over to catch any glimpse of the man in the old-fashioned coat.
To his surprise, the wildly leaping man landed far below like an ungainly cat and then dived forward to clutch a frightened Lynette to his chest and vanish in a puff of smoke. “The smell of brimstone? Don’t tell me another Felix Faust type has entered my life,” he said.
He hurried down to the now-chaotic set, and Wilfred and Daphne greeted him with alarm etched on their faces. “He’s got her! I thought she was only joking!” whispered Daphne.
“Daphne, what do you mean?” asked Bruce. “What do you know about that thing?”
The British actress glanced from her father to her family friend and said, “Lynette said she was being stalked. She’d caught a glimpse of something before, and she’d long had the feeling you get when you feel eyes on the back of your head. She was so vivacious and full of fun, that I’d assumed she was exaggerating the whole thing. Now, I can see she was all too right!”
“You can be certain of one other fact, as well,” said Bruce. “We’ll find her and rescue her. I can call Commissioner Gordon, and he can summon Batman. Don’t worry; he’ll track them down.”
Bruce could make such a promise with more than the casual certainty of a man used to exercising great wealth and influence. He could guarantee the Batman’s help, since he was himself secretly the caped and cowled guardian of Gotham City.
Even as Bruce Wayne managed to separate himself from his friends in order to race into action in his costumed role, another man was sliding a heavy bookcase away from a wall to reveal a secret chamber.
“I don’t know if everything will work the way I hope or not, but either way I have no choice but to act. If I fail, then I’ll either die or end up in a madhouse! Those odds aren’t exactly shocking to one from my family.” He stepped into the chamber and started to remove his clothing.
Meanwhile, Tina Sperrit was stifling a yawn as she turned off the lights and locked the door of her small shop on Poynders Road in Clapham. She stretched for a moment and then turned to hurry home. Kitty Korner may be Kitty Klosed if business doesn’t pick up soon, she thought.
Mum told me I was crazy to open a cat toy store, but I love cats and figured there’d be a market for other pet owners who wanted to spoil their babies, too, she thought as she ran a hand through her unruly black hair and prepared to make her way down the street and cross through Agnes Riley Garden Public Park.
She hurried down the street and thought, Hope I haven’t seen 3 Up 2 Down tonight, otherwise the evening will be dead boring! But Tina never reached her home, because before she could do more than turn off the road and approach the park, a maniacal laugh pierced the night, and a dark-clad figure in a tattered frock coat bounded out of the shrubs to block her path.
Tina screamed as he glared at her with blazing red eyes and reached out to tear at her coat with clawed hands. “Leave me be!” she yelled as she tried to fight her way to freedom. She hit the man again and again and caught a glimpse of a pointed nose and slightly pointed ears before he pulled her close, and she knew no more.
He held her for a moment and then tossed her back to the ground before raising his face to the rising moon and jumping back into the darkness once more.
Meanwhile, a grim Batman confronted a young man inside a seedy bar called Flash Dancers. He stepped through the crowd of drinkers and dancers and spoke in a determined and commanding tone. “Devin Willis? I’d like a few words with you.”
The crowd of revelers stared at the costumed hero, but as he noticed their odd and often androgynous garb, he realized that his own costume was not as sensational as it might have seemed. “Who are you supposed to be? Somebody outta Doctor Who?” said the young man.
Batman moved a chair out of his path and leaned closer even as a weird man in a loose white smock darted nearer and batted heavily painted eyelashes at him.
“I like your gear, mate! How about buying me a drink?” he said in a rather deep-toned voice.
“Sorry,” said Batman. “I’m here to talk to Willis. It’s a police matter.”
The other man pursed his red lips together in mock horror and moved away as he said, “The cops? You don’t really want to hurt me, now, do you? I don’t have no truck with the law!”
Batman ignored him and said, “Willis, we can take this outside, if you prefer. I’m here about your former girlfriend, Lynette Anderson. She’s missing, and I know for a fact that you’ve been calling her with some rather abusive threats!”
Willis stood up and said, “She’s a witch! She dumped me for some pretty-boy Canadian singer. She was in his videos, you know! I’m done with her!”
“Lynette’s parents gave me the letters you mailed to their home,” said Batman. “You are lucky she didn’t choose to press charges. In any case, you’ve left yourself open to suspicion in the current matter. Come with me.”
Willis pulled away and said, “Keep your hands to yourself, creep! I got friends here. I’m not scared of you!”
Batman smiled grimly and said, “That’s your second mistake!” He spun around and knocked a burly man with a shaven head to the ground seconds before the brute could bring a blackjack down on his head.
Sneak attacks don’t work in places like this. Mirrors on all the walls make it all too easy to see any attack coming, thought Batman. He caught a second man as the greasy-looking punk pulled out a knife.
A swift and certain karate chop disarmed him, and a quick jab to his chin dropped him to the ground. Willis saw it all and started to flee, but Batman was upon him before he could reach the door. He gripped his foe by the shoulder and spun him around before pulling his arm back in a wrestling hold.
“Devin, I’ve searched your place. I’ve talked to your pals. I found nothing. Still, you turned against Lynette when she left you, and you threatened her. I need answers. Do you have any idea who else might be after her?”
The angry youth hesitated and then said, “No! Look, somebody was following her back when we was together. We chased him once. He was all in black, like something from an old movie. You’re gonna think I’m high or somethin’, but I’ll tell you the living truth. I chased him once, and just when I thought I had him cornered, he turned and jumped away over a gate. That gate was ten-feet high!”
Batman released him and said, “I believe you. I don’t like what you said, but I believe you.”