by Brian K. Asbury
“This is an absolute disgrace! How dare you treat me in such a manner, you jumped-up little civil servant? Typical! Absolutely bloody typical!“
“If you’ll just calm down and take a seat?” Detective Chief Superintendent Ken Hanson of New Scotland Yard indicated a chair with the wave of his hand. With his other hand, he pressed the secret button that would broadcast every word spoken in the office to six burly and well-armed constables who would burst in at any sign of violence to restrain his excitable visitor.
“Take a seat? Oh, yes, thank you very much. Are you sure that’s enough, though? Do you think it would be more appropriate for me to prostrate myself at your feet, perhaps? Or would you like me to strip naked and kiss your–?”
“That is enough,” said Hanson, much more firmly. “Sit down!“
The tall, gangly man in the comic-opera costume sat down.
“Thank you,” said Hanson. “Now, about this request of yours…”
“Request, he calls it,” the other man said, apparently to himself. “And that’s it, isn’t it? I have to request an audience. I’ll bet Batman never had to request an audience. I’ll bet you’re the one sucking up to his bum, matey!”
“What was that?”
“I would hope so. And for your information, I have never met Batman, but if I did, I would certainly not feel inclined to suck up to any part of his anatomy. And now, if we’ve got the hysterics over with, let’s discuss this request of yours. And I’m being polite here, because in my humble opinion, it was phrased more as a demand. Or even as a threat.”
“Threat? Threat? Good God, no.” The costumed man abruptly switched to obsequious mode. “No, no, no, no. Not at all. The very idea of my threatening such a fine, upstanding servant of the law as yourself…”
“However,” said Hanson, steepling his fingers, “request, demand, or threat, it makes no difference. Because I am not interested in making use of you in the department of Crimes Involving Non-conventional or Exotic Means or Abilities.”
“But that’s outrageous. Whyever not?”
“Because you are not a super-hero.”
The other stood up again. “But… but… but… but… but I am! Look, man — can’t you see? I’m wearing a costume. And a mask. And I have a golden sceptre of power. I’m the Beefeater, defender of Albion’s fair realm! How can you sit there and say I’m not a super-hero?”
“A silly name and an even sillier costume does not make you a super-hero, my friend, and your antics so far have borne that out. You’ve had several outings in that get-up, and each time you’ve done little more than make a fool of yourself.”
He sighed. “Look, I don’t mean to be unkind, but if you carry on like this, you’re going to get yourself killed. You very nearly did when you tried to take on a Martian spaceship with a sceptre of power that didn’t work.
“Ah. Ah. But you see, that was just a temporary glitch in the system. It’s been in for servicing since. It works perfectly now.”
“Look, you’ve got to take me for your team. Every team needs a patriotic super-hero, and you can’t get much more patriotic than this, can you? Hmn? Hmn?”
“Besides, I’m carrying on a proud family tradition with this, you know. The staff of power belonged to my father. He was the first Beefeater, and he defended this blessed plot of land against the Nazis during the war. The Nazis? Remember them? Led by an ugly little chap with a silly moustache?”
He put his left index finger along the top lip of his mask in imitation of a moustache and proceeded to goose-step around the office, his right arm raised in a Nazi salute.
Hanson buried his head in his arms in despair.
“All right, enough!” Hanson said. He produced a file of notes from a drawer in his desk. “He fought alongside that great American hero, General Glory, didn’t he?”
“Ah! Then you have heard of the glorious legacy of the Beefeater?”
“Oh, yes. Right here,” said Hanson, pulling an antique comic book out of the folder.
“Er… what’s that?” asked the Beefeater.
“A comic-book,” said Hanson. “American. General Glory, Defender of the Flag. Cover date March, 1943. Cover story, ‘Enter… the Beefeater.'”
“Y… esss,” said the Beefeater. “Of course, that was the thing with the Yanks in those days. Make their heroes even larger than life by putting them in comic-strips.”
“Not quite,” Hanson said. “This particular comic-book wasn’t based on real-life heroes. General Glory was a fictional character. And in this issue, his writers decided to send him to open up a second front in Europe and had him encounter his British equivalent. They had some batty idea that a patriotic English hero would sell more copies of their comics over here, so they created a ridiculous-looking character dressed up in a costume straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Yeoman of the Guard, gave him a golden sceptre of power, and partnered him with their star-spangled General for a few issues. As a marketing ploy, it didn’t work, so they dumped the character, and he hasn’t been heard of since.”
“But… that’s just what everybody was supposed to think. The Beefeater was real, though. He fought the Nazis alongside General Glory, and he was my father.” The Beefeater held up his sceptre. “For God’s sake, man, where do you think I got this from? Woolworth’s? Oh, yes, I could just see me walking up to the hardware department and saying, ‘Have you got any sceptres of power in stock?'”
“I don’t know where you got it, Mr. Fecktiffe, but…”
“What did you call me?”
Hanson sighed again. “All right, there’s no point in hiding the fact anymore. I know exactly who you are. It’s all in this report.” He patted the file.
“No, it isn’t.” Hanson opened the file. “Your name is Michael Douglas Fecktiffe, and you run a small hotel in Brixham, Devonshire, helped by your wife Lisa and a Portuguese waiter.”
“How… how could you possibly know that?” spluttered a nonplussed Beefeater.
“Well, you remember a couple of weeks ago when you tried to gatecrash the Conservative Party Conference?”
“It wasn’t gatecrashing! I wanted to offer my services to Mrs. Thatcher. Our greatest leader since Winston Churchill needs a super-hero bodyguard.”
“Possibly, considering all the enemies she’s made,” said Hanson, a sardonic grin playing about his lips. “But in lieu of getting one, what makes you think she’d settle for you?“
“Never mind. The point is that after you were thrown out, you were seen sneaking back into the hotel where you were staying, still wearing that costume.”
“So you had to collect your key to get back into your room. As you were checked in under your real name, it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out the obvious.”
“Ah. Typical. Bloody typical of hotel staff these days. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted that little bitch on the reception desk with keeping quiet. I’ll bet she was from Barcelona.”
“Anyway, having done a considerable amount of research on you, I know now that your father, far from being the Nazi-smashing hero you claim, joined the Army Catering Corps in 1940 and spent the duration of the war in the cookhouse at Aldershot — right here in England.”
“I do know where Aldershot is. But it doesn’t mean…”
“Mr. Fecktiffe, your father was not a super-hero. You are not a super-hero. And that sceptre is probably a prop left over from your father’s amateur dramatics days.”
“But… but… but… but… but you don’t understand. The golden sceptre of power is real! Honest! Allow me to demonstrate.” And he pointed the sceptre straight at Hanson.
“I should warn you,” Hanson said, “that if that reject from a souvenir shop really does fire anything in my direction, I’ll have you in a cell so fast that you’ll think you really are a super-hero — the Flash!”
The Beefeater lowered his weapon. “I am a super-hero, you know. I really am. For God’s sake, man, give me a chance. I know you’ve only got a couple of people for this team you’re forming. You need me!”
Hanson raised his eyes to the ceiling. “I don’t really have to tell you this, Mr. Fecktiffe, but there isn’t a team as such, yet.”
“But there is going to be one?”
“Yes. I hope so. But I want real heroes, not people who think they’re comic-book characters.”
“You still refuse to believe my father was the Beefeater?”
“Watch my lips. The Beefeater was a fictional character.”
“Ah. Ah. But that’s where you’re wrong,” said the Beefeater, pacing up and down. “And I can prove it.”
“Can you? This should be good.”
“Right. Right. We’ll see who’s right, then, Mr. Clever Clogs. You think the original Beefeater didn’t exist, just because he appeared in a comic-strip, yes?”
“Ah, well that’s where I’ve got you. Because whose comic did he appear in? General Glory’s, that’s whose.”
“So General Glory was real. Look, you can’t deny it, man. It was in all the papers a little less than a year ago, just before the invasion. General Glory came back and joined a Yank superteam called the Conglomerate.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: A New Beginning, Chapter 2: General Glory.]
“I see. And if General Glory was real, then so was the Beefeater, right?”
“Well, what else do you think I bloody well mean? Look, the comic-book was a front to cover up for what was really going on. Nobody thought they were real, because they were comic-book characters. It was the perfect cover story.”
“Of course,” said Hanson, drumming his fingers on the desk. “Just one problem with that argument…” He reached into his desk drawer once more and pulled out a file marked Conglomerate. “Read this,” he said, opening it to a particular page. He passed it to the Beefeater. “It says there that the so-called General Glory who appeared a while ago was some strongman that Max Lord found and dressed up in the costume.”
Hanson stood up. “Look, why don’t you just go home to your wife? She’s probably wondering where you are, and…”
“That’s it! That’s it!” shouted the Beefeater, scattering the contents of the file. “I’m not going to take any more blithering crap from the likes of you. I don’t pay my taxes so that jumped-up little civil servants like you can tell me my beloved father wasn’t the Nazi-smashing hero that I know he was. It is true, and I’ll prove it!”
And so saying, he pointed his golden staff of power at Hanson once more and fired.
“Surprise, surprise,” muttered Hanson.
The Beefeater stared at his weapon in numb astonishment for at least a second. “Rrright! That’s it!” he growled. “That is most positively it! You’ve done it now! You’ve let me down for the last time.”
“Beefeater… will you–?”
“I’m going to show you who’s boss, you miserable excuse for a sceptre!” the Beefeater screamed, pushing buttons on it frantically. Suddenly, there was a loud doiing! sound, and it tripled in length, shooting out and hitting the Beefeater on his own foot. He began to hop around in pain.
“That does it,” said Hanson. “I’ve had enough of this.” He jabbed the hidden button again.
The Beefeater, meanwhile, was becoming even more hysterical, if that were possible. “I told you!” he screamed at the sceptre. “I told you if you did that again, you were for it! Right! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” He began to slam the sceptre repeatedly on Hanson’s desk.
Six armed-response constables burst into the room. “Don’t just stand there,” shouted Hanson. “Grab him!”
They did so. The sceptre clattered to the floor and sprang back to its normal length. The Beefeater struggled, but to no avail. “You can’t do this to me, you bloody hooligans! Don’t you know who I am?“
“Show this — gentleman — off the premises,” said Hanson, gritting his teeth. He picked up the sceptre and handed it to one of the officers. “And please inform the front desk that I intend to petition the Home Secretary to bring back the death penalty for anyone who lets him back in again.”
“But… but… but… this is outrageous! I shall complain to my MP. I shall complain to Mrs. Thatcher. I shall…”
“You shall shut up, if you know what’s good for you,” said Hanson. “Look, if you really want to become the bodyguard of a political party leader, try that new Monster Raving Loony Party. I’m sure their leader, Screaming Lord Such, would love to have you. Now goodbye.” And he slammed the door after them.
“God,” he muttered as he regained his seat. “What next? Ambush Bug?“