Chapter 13 – Pickman's Legacy
One Month Later…
Gotham City – Wayne Manor
Alfred Pennyworth hastened once again down the lengthy corridor to the Wayne Library; this had become a regular routine by now. He carried a large silver platter which held Master Bruce's dinner (half a roast chicken, baby red potatoes, poppyseed bun, steamed vegetables), and a carafe of coffee, since he was spending so much time in there. Likely he would only touch the coffee, and ignore the food, Alfred thought.
Lately, Master Bruce had thrown himself wholeheartedly into exploring family history - and certain other tangential matters - so much so that he had entirely neglected his social life: virtually every spare moment he was not attending Wayne Enterprises or with the Justice League, he was shut up in the library, engaged in 'research.' Alfred therefore had the rather unpleasant duty of having to make excuses to several self-proclaimed "girlfriends" who were growing impatient at Master Bruce's lack of communication, as well turning away all sorts of other individuals who wanted to talk to his employer on one pretext or another; usually journalists and those wanting charitable contributions, or employment. One young woman even had the impertinence to show up at the front door, like that odious photographer from the Daily World! Of course he would not trifle Master Bruce with such tedious matters. Like the DW photog, she had left her calling card, although he couldn't remember taking it from her hand (he had politely but firmly shut the door in her face in the middle of her rushed sales spiel) but had found it later in his coat pocket; he thought he might as well leave it on the tray for Bruce to read – it might provide some amusement, given that there was certainly no place for a person of her questionable "skills" at Wayne Enterprises, except possibly for employee family-fun events. The card read in glossy embossed letters:
Zatanna Zatara, Mistress of Magic!
The premier magician of her generation!
You will not believe your eyes!
Available for birthdays, weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and corporate events.
As Alfred entered the library, he saw Bruce Wayne sitting at his usual place at the desk, nearly buried by piles of books and papers, intently reading something in his hands, an electronic tablet glowing next to him. His long, nimble fingers raced across its flat surface entering in notes, his eyes never leaving the yellowed sheets he clutched in the other hand. He couldn't help but noticing that Bruce looked rather drawn and tired, and wondered how long he had gone without sleep.
"Your dinner, Master Bruce," Alfred announced, then wondered where he could possibly set the tray, since every inch of flat space was occupied by massive old tomes. The butler recognized some of them as being purchased by himself: in the past weeks Mr. Wayne had sent him on buying trips to antiquarian bookstores throughout Gotham City and beyond, so that he could personally purchase certain rare and obscure titles. During his shopping trips, Alfred had rubbed shoulders with some decidedly odd proprietors. The experience had raised certain suspicions in Alfred's mind - it had occurred to him that there was more than mere family curiosity that drove him along this path of research. Knowing his employer's innate rationality and typical disinterest in such occult topics (unless it involved fighting the criminal practitioners of such), Alfred suspected that it must have something to do with his work with his League colleagues. Still it filled him with a certain disquiet, and premonition.
As usual, Bruce barely noticed that dinner was being served. "What? Oh...thanks, Alfred. Just set it down over there."
He gestured offhandedly towards a side table, where another tray rested. Alfred's suspicions were confirmed: his employer had barely touched his earlier lunch. He set down the fresh tray, although first he had to move aside a book that Bruce had rested next to it. It was one that he recognized from one of his trips– the title read, Cultes des Goules.
"I do commend you on your devotion to family research, Master Bruce," Alfred frowned. "However, may I remind you that an unrefreshed mind and body may make many errors of judgement?"
"What?" Bruce looked up and blinked, puzzled, as if Alfred was speaking a foreign tongue. "Oh…yes, I'll eat something…eventually. Just pour me some coffee, please."
Alfred did so, pouring expertly from the carafe into a china cup. "Might I inquire as to your latest discoveries, Master Bruce? Perhaps I might act as a sounding board?"
"I…don't know, Alfred," Bruce finally put down the papers he held and rubbed his eyes. "I'm not quite sure what to make of it all, just yet."
"Are you still investigating a certain relative's history?"
Bruce looked sidelong at Alfred. The wily old Englishman no doubt knew what he was doing, and probably more than suspected the reasons why.
"I was just trying to find if he had left any more journals. But most of what I've found consists of letters…"
"Ah, yes. In this era of email and 'texting' I'm sure it is difficult for people of a certain generation to believe that one Americans were quite proficient letter writers! It was considered the high mark of a gentleman to have excellent penmanship…"
"Yes, yes," Bruce interrupted impatiently. "What I meant to say was, it seems one thing has led to another…"
Alfred set the steaming cup of hot black coffee before his employer and folded his hands in front of him.
"Indeed. I assume, that once you learned of Mr. Carter's encounter with the mysterious females on the Olney, you wished to ascertain whether or not this was an accurate depiction of Miss Diana's people. If so, it would point to a distinctly disagreeable fact about them – that they are implacably, even murderously hostile to any who uncover their…secrets, whatever they may be."
Bruce sat back in his chair thoughtfully, his hand to his chin. "Yes, all the evidence seems to point to that."
He had found more papers by his distant relative Randolph Carter. He was evidently just as Alfred suggested, a very prolific writer, amongst a circle of certain people. In addition there were additional scribblings - he had gone to the time and expense of tracking down Carter's old library, which was dispersed throughout New England. Like other eccentric writers, Carter had tended to jot down notes in the margins of old books. Those notes would appear to any other reader as clearly and utterly mad, but Bruce had had his own experiences in journeying into dark places, which would send most other civilians to the clinic. His own intuition was that Carter was not as insane as family history had made him out to be. If his writings were not the ramblings of a mentally disordered mind, then...the fact that Amazons had traveled to Man's World before Diana did not concern him so much as to why they were there.
"So, Master Bruce, you do believe that they were Amazons?"
"These letters were addressed to his friend Etienne-Laurent de Marigny, about a year after their escape from the Olney. It appears that Carter deduced that's who those women were that attacked them. But he wanted to find out why they were attacked."
Bruce handed the letters he'd been reading to his butler, who retrieved his reading spectacles from his vest pocket and read them aloud:
My dear friend, Etienne,
As you may recall, I have been passing my time in Kingsport and other places uncovering anything I can learn about those who attacked us on the Olney. I have spoken with some of the old sailors down by the harbor (it is instructive what one may learn from such men if the proper liquid stimulant is provided to them), and they also have spoken of lost comrades at sea. Perhaps this is what gave rise to the legend of the "sirens" who lure unwary seafarers to their deaths. These Amazon women (for that is who they must certainly be, or a remnant of the Greek original tribe) must exist in some place where they cannot be easily located even by our authorities. It seems likely to me that they reside in no place in our modern world, but perhaps dwell in some location OUTSIDE of it. I am convinced that they have some means of bridging the gap, as it were, or perhaps are even aided by persons on our end. But there must be a deeper reason they voyage outside of their domain...I suspect they seek out human men in order to re-populate their unwholesome species...
Alfred glanced at Bruce. "Extraordinary. Could it be true?"
Bruce looked grim. "I don't know. There have always been unexplainable lost ships at sea. But it would be one reason that they came after him later."
Alfred's eyes widened, and continued reading, squinting at the spider-thin calligraphy. Due to the condition of the letters, and that part of them were torn or missing altogether, he could only make out the following passages:
...I burst out of my room through the adjoining door, and climbed up the fire escape up to the roof. I heard the curses of the pursuing Amazons behind me and I hastened to leap from the building to the next – fortunately the next structure was within my ability to reach. Only the fact that I was forewarned, the incoming fog, and the pistol in my pocket – I fired several shots into the darkness at my pursuers, which apparently struck one of their number (I discovered traces of blood on the ground in the morning) – enabled me to survive the night. However, I knew that without help – and since you had already departed for France – I could not count on surviving another such attack, and there would surely be one, for I believe these women will not stop unless they achieve their objective, which is to silence me for what I know. Therefore I decided to once again contact my old friend, Richard Upton Pickman, for help in this matter. You may recognize the name, as he was once a quite eccentric painter and artist, who garnered a certain degree of notoriety in his day. I believe one of his paintings was recently acquired by that dissolute showman, A. Crowley. He still visits Arkham and Boston and other places in this world. He still visits places in this world, on occasion..."
Alfred noted that Bruce had double underlined the words 'in this world.'
...I conversed with Pickman at length. He was happy to learn that I had survived my quest to unknown Kadath, and returned with all my faculties intact. As in the dreamlands, he was more than willing to assist me with my present difficulties. He has achieved considerably standing in his community, and assured me that if these malignant women were still in the vicinity, he would see to it that they not harm me again. However, I was surprised to learn that his people had had certain dealings with this lost tribe before. He confirmed that they regularly traveled from their world to ours, just as his people did...but whereas they mostly avoided the living, the Amazons actively sought fresh victims among ships, and that the Olney was only one of many that came under their depredations...he advised me that if they know my name, they will not cease their attacks..."
"Quite extraordinary," Alfred commented. "I must say the tone and content of this letter is quite disturbing. Have you uncovered who this 'Pickman' is?"
In response, Bruce silently picked up a large coffee-table book, which Alfred saw was an exhibition catalogue from the Metropolis Museum of Modern Art, entitled "Arkham Art - A Retrospective." He opened it to a bookmarked section 'Richard Upton Pickman' and showed it to Alfred, who recoiled upon seeing the color plate with its bizarre subject matter.
"Good heavens! How absolutely dreadful!"
"According to this catalogue his paintings now sell upwards in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars, since they are quite rare and as you can see...unusual," Bruce said. "If this is the same Richard Upton Pickman, which I think it is. As it says here in the book, he was a painter who was considered controversial, even dangerous. He wasn't popular in his time, unlike now. Tastes change," Bruce frowned. "Like Carter he also vanished; you'll see there is a question mark next to his year of death. This letter, however, dates several years after his presumed disappearance and death."
"So Carter knew he was still alive?"
"It seems so," Bruce said. "But the other things he mentions, the 'people' he is talking about...I haven't quite ascertained what he means...quite yet, although have some ideas."
Alfred thought about the books Bruce had acquired, but said nothing. Alfred continued to read through the last letter in Bruce's collection:
...I am afraid I cannot go on always looking over my shoulder for these women, who can be quite clever at disguising themselves among the 'normal' women of our society, such as they are! Although Pickman was of great help to me, he advised that I should abandon my residence and accompany him back through the doorway to the dreamlands for good. He added that I may do more do stop these depredations upon our world from that end, than from this one. Therefore I shall do as he suggests, which seems to be for the best as I cannot afford the rent for another month, in any case. I shall be traveling to Arkham, to where Pickman used to live - I will meet with him there, and from there we will depart together. The Amazons know of this portal as well [Alfred saw the double underlines again], and may try to prevent us but with luck, we will make the journey unimpeded. This is the last communique you shall receive from me. I hope we shall meet again once more in the dreamlands, and wish you the best of...
The letter ended there since the last part was charred, clearly once burnt. He put them carefully back down on the desk.
"May I inquire how you came across these letters, Master Bruce?"
"I inquired through certain business contacts in France about the de Marigny family," Bruce replied. "The family is actually American, of Creole descent, but an elderly niece lives in Normandy, on a tiny government pension. She has very little recollection of her uncle, other than knowing he was a bit of an eccentric scholar. When he denied she inherited his belongings. She was the only relative I could trace. She was willing to lend these materials for a helpful donation. I'm sure she doesn't know anything, I don't believe she ever even read them."
"Indeed," Alfred said. "What eventually happened to this Mr. Carter?"
"This is the last letter I have been able to trace. He vanished several weeks later, disappearing from his residence in Boston, in a classic 'locked-door' case - the door was bolted from the inside. There was some speculation by the police that he threw himself into the Miskatonic River - he was virtually penniless at the time – but no body was ever found, and there were no clues, at least none that anyone was able to detect. He was the last of his side of the family, so there was no one to challenge the finding."
"Do you think he was indeed murdered? Perhaps these Amazons, if that is what they were, found their target after all?"
"No," Bruce replied after a long moment. "I don't. If they had, I think they would have left his body to be found, maybe as a warning to others. No, I think he escaped...into what he called these 'dreamlands.'"
"This 'dreamlands' - perhaps it is a code word? For some other place?"
Bruce thought for a moment. "I'm not sure...he spoke of a 'doorway' into this world, that connects worlds. Maybe like a Boom Tube, somehow."
"Surely, you do not think he could still be alive, Master Bruce?"
"He couldn't be, logically, he would have to be way over one hundred years old, but..." Bruce gestured at the stack of books about him. "There are references here in these books, Alfred, that I've cross-matched with other references in his journals and letters. If he was making all this up..." He shook his head. "I must know more, before I decide what to do."
Do what? Alfred thought he knew the direction his employer's mind was taking. He cleared his throat slightly.
"Any word from the 'young couple?'" This was how Alfred had taken to addressing Superman and Wonder Woman, together.
"No. I didn't expect any. Yet I can't help but wonder if Superman knew what he was getting into, and by that I don't mean marriage and kids. I know he doesn't know any more about the Amazons than I do. He couldn't have known this." He tapped the letters.
"He's an intelligent young man. Surely he understood what he was 'getting himself into.'"
"I...want to believe that. He's Superman. But I know he's in danger." Bruce replied shortly.
Alfred was stunned. "You do believe there is a danger, then!"
Bruce was silent.
The English butler lifted an eyebrow in disbelief. "But...not from Miss Diana?"
Alfred looked clearly distressed. He had only met Wonder Woman once, but even though he knew she was capable of, he thought her quite the charming young lady. "Oh, surely not-"
"I don't want to believe that, but I can't eliminate the possibility because I find it personally distasteful. It may be the danger lies elsewhere, that even she isn't aware of."
Alfred suddenly knew what his master intended. "But there doesn't seem to be a way that we could help Superman, even if that were the case," Alfred pointed out. "Unless you've learned a way to travel to Themyscira."
"Not...directly," Bruce clenched his jaw. "But according to Carter's story, the Amazons can travel from Themyscira to Man's World, and they do it regularly. Carter spoke of a 'doorway' or 'portal'...I think I can find it. I just have to find the guide."
Alfred looked alarmed; involuntarily he glanced at the old and moldy books around him.
"Master Bruce, I must strongly dissuade you from what I think you are thinking of attempting! Even if some of Mr. Carter's mad writings are indeed grounded in fact, it is too perilous to..."
"Alfred, I thought you knew me better than to keep me from doing something 'perilous. "Superman is my friend. So is Wonder Woman. If either of them is in danger, there is no obstacle that will prevent me from helping them," Bruce stood up abruptly. "I think I will have some dinner after all."
Alfred looked relieved, but then Bruce said, "Prepare a 'to-go' box, I'll be leaving in the 'wing in 10 minutes."
"Where are you going?"
"But when shall you return?"
"That," Bruce said as he walked purposefully out of the library, towards the Batcave. "I don't know."
AN: Is Bats right that Superman is in danger on Themyscira? Will he succeed in getting there? Will he find his "guide"? I'm afraid the answer may be affirmative to all three! But what kind of danger there is is yet to be revealed, and may take some unexpected turns.
The Lovecraft stories "Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath" and "Pickman's Model" inspired this chapter. It will give some foreshadowing of what Bruce will stumble across! New 52 Wonder Woman #7 and others illustrate what Amazons get up to with sailors! Shocking stuff to read. In the New 52 WW doesn't know anything about it until Hephaesteus tells her but I find that hard to believe IMO.
In the meantime how will Supes explain his presence to Lois? Or will he?
And what is going on with Steve Trevor?
Tune in next week dear readers! And please review!