Title: Let the Good Times Roll
Author: DC Luder
Summary: The Bat Family celebrates Fat Tuesday in style.
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: Bludhaven Mardi Gras challenge. Feverishly written on a late afternoon lunch break after too much coffee. Forgive the madness.
"A Mardi Gras party?"
"Apparently," Barbara replied.
"Well, I didn't get an invitation," I grumbled to myself.
Her voice sighed over the comm. link, "Dick, I'm sure you did… when was the last time you cleaned your apartment?"
"You are changing the subject. And the answer is last Tuesday," I replied, leaving out the part that said Tuesday had in fact been the last one in December, "Besides, if I had gotten a letter from Bruce, I would have opened it."
"It was from the Wayne Foundation," she corrected me, "It's a charity masquerade…. Besides, odds are he never saw the guest list."
"Did you get an invitation?"
I rose from the crouched position I had been holding on the roof of a Citibank operations center, "O?"
"Dick, I'm getting something on the line---."
"Dick, I'll call you back later."
"Not cool," I growled to myself. The bank's clock put the time at just afterfthree-thirty in the morning and a roaring temperature of twenty-one degrees. Weather reports were already issuing a winter storm advisory for Fat Tuesday, with snow accumulation in Bludhaven upwards of four inches and the suburbs were supposed to see twice as much.
I finished touring the north end, making my way through the rail yard surprisingly without incident. Thankfully, I came upon some action as I headed back south, running into a trio of miscreants bundled in down winter wear. They were incessantly harassing an older man who had been trying to set up his news and coffee stand. After seeing to it that they were sufficiently apologetic for their actions, I was thanked profusely by the victim and treated to his first cup of coffee.
Taking my leave, I sipped the hot coffee slowly, wondering if it was too late to buzz Barbara back. Worst case scenario, she wouldn't even pick up. No, that wasn't true. Worst case scenario, she would have just gotten to sleep, would have been woken by my call and then would subsequently kill me.
Best let sleeping cyber-masters lie.
Upon arriving home, I took the fifteen minutes to sleepily shower, clearing the way for a good day's sleep. Smelling of Nivea and aftershave lotion, I shuffled into the kitchen, downed a glass of water and the second half of a roast beef sub. Somewhat sated, I made my way back to the bedroom in the darkened apartment, crashing face first onto the bed. After rolling a bit, I managed to push my way under the down comforter, hiding my hands under the cold pillow.
Sleep at last.
That was until the coffee kicked in.
Although my body pleaded for sleep, my brain wouldn't shut off. An urge surfaced to get out from my downy heaven and sort through the monstrous pile of mail on my kitchen table. Surely if I had been invited, Bruce wouldn't have left me out of a potentially fun social gathering…
"Damnit," I growled, rising from the warmth of my bed. The hardwood floors were cold enough to make me walk on tip toes for a few strides. I managed to don my slippers, appropriately strewn in the hall rather than beside my bed. Flipping the kitchen light on, I sat at the table, quickly sorting through nearly three weeks of mail.
Bills piled to the left, magazines to the right, junk mail on the floor and miscellaneous in my lap. Sure enough, as I reached the bottom of the pile, I spotted a bright purple envelope, marked with gold and green. To one Richard J. Grayson, from the Wayne Foundation. The cutoff for affirming attendance had been a five days earlier, necessary to assure finely tuned seating arrangements and catered entrees.
Surely Al wouldn't send me packing.
Curiosity sated, I trotted back to bed, taking off at the doorway to land once more into pillowy bliss. The last I saw, my alarm clock showed it to be five-fifteen.
If I woke in twelve hours, I would have more than enough time to dress myself, pack a bag and drive to Gotham but I had better make it eleven hours, just in case.
I woke to a sliver of light that managed to pierce through the crack between two of the black out drapes. A car honked its horn angrily and loud shouts made their way up from the street. Moving to hide my head under the pillow, I reasoned I could lull myself back to sleep.
That was until my cell chirped merrily from the nightstand.
I answered with a Neolithic grumble.
"You're still asleep?" a voice asked.
I nodded, then realized the caller couldn't see through the phone, "Yes… Sleep. Good."
"Dick, it's three-thirty."
"So?" I replied, subconsciously placing the voice as belonging to Barbara Gordon.
She laughed, "What, are you giving sleep up for Lent?"
I finally surrendered, sitting up before replying, "Little known fact, you can't live without sleep for forty days… unless you're Bruce."
"Speaking of," she continued, "I called Alfred, you are invited---."
I cut her off, "I know. I found the invitation."
Barbara led, "Which means…"
"Youwereright…" I mumbled.
I heard the clatter of key from the phone, of course, she was already hard at work. "So, any thoughts on a plus-one?"
"Thinking of going stag. Just pick up a girl or two there."
I finally caved, "Yeah, not a plan to take to the bank. Good thing I was taught to always have a back-up plan."
"If you're insinuating that I am a back-up to going stag, you might as well stay in Bludhaven, my friend."
Rising to my feet, a caught a glimpse of my disheveled form in the dresser mirror. I proceeded, "Come on… I'm practically irresistible… you should check out my pillow hair, it's adorable."
"So it is…" she snickered.
I glanced around the room sharply, "I thought I got all of those peeping tom cameras…"
"Guess not… Well, I have to go… but if you were to be at my place at six, wearing Armani… I might consider going with you."
"It's a date, Gordon."
"Dream on, Grayson."
After hanging up, I decided the best way to get the blood pumping was a quick run. Pulling back the drapes, I cringed at the wintry wonderland before me. No doubt the roads were crap, which would mean the commute to Gotham would be hazardous at best.
Stretching my legs, I smirked, always up for a challenge.
Rather than risk my life out on the streets, I opted to stay indoors and take advantage of my neglected treadmill. Instead of my usual fifty minutes, I hacked it in half and increased the incline to compensate. Perhaps after the party, I would be able to sneak down to the Cave to work out the rest of the kinks. Maybe even con Tim into a game of Robin versus Robin.
A quick rinse and shave later, I was in my closet, searching through a number of garments that rarely saw the light of day. They lady had requested Armani, which narrowed it down to three tailored ensembles. Given the festive nature of the night, I settled on the charcoal and gray striped suit, pairing it with purple dress shirt. As luck would have it, I found a green and gold tie amidst the bundle that overflowed a tie rack.
I waited to look myself over until after I was dressed, cuff links and all. After adjusting my tie, I ran my hands through my hair, uncertain as to how best to tame it. Opting for casual chaos, I backtracked to the bathroom and spread a dollop of gel through it, letting it fall as it wanted to.
Barbara had said to be there at six, but I knocked on her door at ten of. She opened it and had to suppress her grin as I greeted, "Tahdah!"
"Not bad, not bad… like the tie," she backed out of the way, letting me into the atrium.
I touched it subconsciously, "Thanks… almost forgot how to tie it… Been a while since I've had to whip out the old cross knot. Only things I've been tying up lately have been bad guys and my sweatpants."
"Classy," she commented.
As Barbara excused herself to grab her purse, I took the chance to look over the back of her dress. Thankfully her new wheelchair had a low back support, showing off the low V shape of her green dress that faded to black at the very bottom of the skirt.
Although we had given up on an official relationship, we had remained close. It would have been impossible not to considering how elemental she was to our work. That, and I had known her since before my voice had cracked. No matter what, we had agreed, we would always be friends.
Barbara reappeared wearing a black dress coat, charcoal colored scarf and a matching wool cap. Opening the door for her, she nodded, but rather than thank me, she nodded, "Suck up."
"Excuse me?" I asked as I closed the door, immediately checking the locks.
"Show up early… open the door for me…"
"Chivalry is in my blood."
She looked up at me before moving into the elevator, "Thanks to Alfred,"
I nodded, "Well, there's that. He had to have at least once charge to heed his lessons."
Pressing the button for the ground floor, Barbara snickered, "You know, I don't think bashing the host of the party you're going to is mannerly."
"I'm not bashing… merely stating the obvious."
She looked up at me, her left eyebrow arching higher than the right, "What are you a detective?"
"Nope," I played it deadpan, "Flashy decoy."
She let me drive her Land Rover up but refused to let me help her in. When I grabbed her wheelchair and folded it up, she pinched my arm through both my blazer and wool coat.
"Um, ow?" I commented before taking a step back.
"I can only handle so much nice."
"I know, grumpy gills," I started, leaving her to shut her door while I stowed in the back hatch. Once I was in the driver's seat, I finished, "But you see, I'm nice through and through, not a mean bone in this really, ridiculously good looking body."
Barbara shook her head as she buckled her seat belt, "We'll see about that."
The drive to Bristol went far more smoothly than the trek I had made from Bludhaven. The expressway leading out of the city was well cleared and salted, not to mention there was a third of the usual traffic to do battle with. As I took the exit for county Highway 32, I suddenly realized we were both missing elemental articles for a Mardi Gras party.
"What about masks?" I asked suddenly.
Barbara looked up form her Blackberry, "Alfred said you get one when you walk through the door, big table full of them. Also, punch bowls of beads."
I smirked, "Nice."
"It's a charity event for the Anna Coleman Children's Hospital, Dick, not Girls gone Wild on Bourbon Street."
"A boy can dream," I said under my breath.
Pulling up to Wayne Manor, I wasn't surprised to see at least seventy luxury and sports cars already meticulously parked in the rarely used parking area to the side and rear of the garage, in addition to a few dozen of limos waiting in a row. As I turned right to head out back towards the service entrance, a grumpy, red-cheeked valet in a balck wool coat waved his hands angrily.
Rolling my window down, he started saying, "Sorry pal, you have to check in up front."
I leaned out and smiled, "Sorry chief, but we're parking out back."
He sighed heavily, obviously over his night's shift even though it was far from over. Glancing over his shoulder where three other similarly garbed men were standing by the front steps, he dropped his eyes back to me.
When he went to open his mouth with a threat, I cut in, "Your boss has a problem with it, tell him to come talk to me. After I drop Gotham City Police Commissioner Gordon's daughter here off at the party."
Barbara leaned over and blew him a kiss.
That shut him up for a second. Then, "All right, just don't block in the catering vans."
I let Barbara out at the door before leaving to park at the end of a row, next to a bright orange Hummer. Classy. Careful not to slip on the slick pavement, I trotted back to the house to open the door for Barbara. The atrium of the service entrance was filled with rich and spicy aromas and I couldn't' wait to see what the catering service had concocted for the event.
Running into a few white garbed workers, I nodded and gave them the thumbs-up, "Smells great."
We quickly made it to the east corridor and I took our coats while saying, "Go see what they have left for masks, I'll go stow these upstairs."
"Want me to tell him you're here?"
"Alfred, yes… Bruce, no."
It took fifteen minutes to sneak around the back, avoiding the main reception area in front of the grand staircase. The event was being held in the ball room with the coat check no doubt in the spare room I had once dubbed, "the Observatory" given it's similarity to the Clue room. Rather than check in there, I raced up the rarely used back stairs and secured our belongings in my old bedroom on the third floor.
Rather than backtrack to the front of the house, I decided to head straight for the ball room, stopping to use a guest bathroom to check my hair.
Dashing to the last, Alfred would have said.
I spotted a flash of red hair and shimmering green material as I neared a pair of open double doors. Hundreds of tuxedos and brightly colored gowns cluttered the wide corridor, faces concealed behind gems, feathers and sequins. Barbara had already donned hers, a beautiful purple velvet mask with a trio of large green feathers coming out the right side to cover her cheek and ear.
Her father stood beside her, sporting an old but well maintained black suit, matching the black and white checkered mask that adorned his face. As I approached, I smiled at Jim as he extended a hand. Shaking it, I said, "Nice, Commissioner, very modern."
He touched the mask and sighed, "Makes me look like a checkered flag."
"Stop it, Dad," Barbara laughed, "It looks fine."
"They have any good ones left?"
Barbara nodded, before handing the mask she had upside down in her lap, "I tried to get one to match your shirt, this was as close as I could get…"
The hue was a shade darker but pretty damn close. Rather than a typical domino shape, it was more akin to the mask of the Phantom of the Opera, covering one side of the face from the hairline to the chin. It was black with a number of purple and green gems overlapping one another, creating a feathered effect.
After donning it, I said, "Well?"
"Dashing to the last, Master Dick."
I spun around to see Alfred standing by, wearing his own tuxedo, complete with coattails. He wore a white mask that had been embroidered with gold and black thread.
"Al, long time no see," I turned and hugged him, knowing it always caught him off guard but that he secretly enjoyed it.
He gently patted my back before I released him, "Far too long, young sir… I must say, I am surprised to see you in attendance considering your name was not on the final guest list."
"Hey, I was just visiting, not my fault there happens to be a party going on."
"Indeed," he paused, "Well, I shall inform Master Bruce, no doubt he will also be pleasantly---."
"Ah, I'll tell him, Al," I interrupted him, "Where is he?"
The bright look on Alfred's face faltered and he looked to the ballroom, "Last I saw of Master Bruce he was playing host to a number of young guests."
"A number of young female guests?" I inquired.
Although Jim laughed out loud, Alfred was not amused.
Leaving Barbara in her father's company, I bid them farewell before diving into the mob. The massive dance floor was filled and from the looks of it, the attached formal dining hall was outfitted with numerous white clothed tables. The bars, however, were situated along the far wall of the ballroom and it took nearly ten minutes to force my way over. It hadn't taken much longer to find Bruce, sitting on the middle bar with six gorgeous woman standing before him, each one wearing a lower cut dress than the one beside her. The median age for the girls was at best twenty-three and their hair color ranged from caramel to sandy blond.
On a hunch, I pegged at least four of them to be models, one was an actress and the sixth was a divorcee.
They laughed at whatever he was saying, half of them waving at him to stop while the other three actually put their hands on him. One had swatted at his chest, the other had a grip on his knew and the third had latched onto the front of his belt. For any man in the universe, it would have been heaven to be loved on by six beautiful women.
For Bruce, it was torture.
He wore an elaborate mask with an entire row of feathers ligning the top of his beaded mask. Around his neck hung at least two dozen strands of beads and the girls started reaching out to snag at them. I stepped up behind the girl in the teal dress, her mask up on her forehead holding back wavy blond locks.
Bruce acknowledge with a barely noticeable nod, but continued to entertain his new friends, "Now, now, ladies… It's far too early to be exchanging necklasces… maybe after the Mayor leaves…"
"Oh Brucie," they cooed in near unison.
He hopped off of the bar and winked at them, "I know, I know… I'll be back," he turned to the bartender, "Abe, see that these fine ladies do not go thirsty tonight."
Bruce nearly snuck away before the caramel colored beauty grabbed his arm, kissing his cheek before whispering into his ear. He snickered and returned the gesture.
After untangling himself, Bruce set a hand on my shoulder and laughed for no reason. Taking a few strides away, Bruce sighed, "Let's get some air."
"What, harem getting to hot for you?" I laughed as he led us through the side doors and into the corridor.
Trekking towards the back of the house, he replied while wiping lipstick from his face and pushing his mask over the top of his head, "You have no idea."
Catching up with him, I asked, "I thought you were dating whats-her-face…the ballerina?"
"Veronika?" he clarified. After I nodded, he continued, "Yeah, that was... Complicated."
"Hate to say it, all women are complicated, I've learned at least that much from you."
As he pushed open the rear terrace doors, Bruce looked over his shoulder at me, "Good… did you come with Barbara?"
"Why do you assume that?" I asked. When his brow rose, I nodded, "I did, but still…"
"She's considerably less complicated. Safer that way," he stated as he rested hisarms on the wrought iron railing. Although the night air was chilly, it was welcoming after spending twenty minutes in the kiln-hot ballroom.
"Yeah, safer, aside from the fact that her father packs a Sig Sauer."
Bruce smirked, waiting to speak until I walked up beside him, leaning on the railing as well, "Didn't expect you to come."
"Yeah… didn't know I was until four-thirty this morning… and I packed a bag, seeing how the roads are pretty slick, might end up having to stay over night… if that's okay."
"This house is as much yours as it is mine, Dick," he replied without an ounce of emotion. It was fact, not a sign of affection.
"I know…" I nodded trying to find a way to lighten the mood. Knowing where his true passions ran, I asked, "So, I saw you nabbed Scarecrow. Well done."
Bruce grunted before commenting, "Arkham should have never allowed him to work study, even if he's one of the less violent and better educated inmates. He has a doctorate yes, but so does Harley Quinn."
I laughed at that. Bruce looked away and I knew it was because he was smiling. When he looked back, his solemn face had regained control and he inquired how Bludhaven was doing.
"Not bad, just the usual run of the mill criminal activity… nothing major in a while but I'm sure that will change once spring starts."
Silence fell between us.
I turned around ,leaning my back to the railing while crossing my arms over my chest, "So, never figured you for the Fat Tuesday type."
"It was the Foundation PR team's idea… Although I would much rather honor Mardi Gras as opposed to any other holiday."
"The symbolism. Take for instance the colored beads."
"What?" I exclaimed, "I know Bruce Wayne loves his ladies, but you can't be serious---."
He cut me off, "Not the… exchanging of the beads between men and women… the colors."
"Oh, do tell," I smirked at him.
"Purple represents justice, green stands for faith and gold symbolizes power… Combined, they are admirable traits of a strong leader, of a protector."
I nodded, doing my best to remain deadpan as I said, "Right… nothing to do with giving beads away. At all."
He held a better poker face as he retorted, "Who invited you, anyway?"
Before I could respond, there was a knock on the glass door and Alfred stepped onto the terrace, "Master Bruce, I'm afraid a dispute has begun at the bar over who will be receiving your… beads… this evening… I believe the feud has narrowed itself down to a Miss Veronica, a Miss Sadie and a Miss Jenna…"
I bit my cheek in order to staunch my laughter. Although Bruce was a master of delivery, Alfred was indeed the carnivale king.
Bruce sighed, pulling the mask back over his face.
As he left to follow Alfred back to the party, I called out, "Laissez les bons temps rouler!"