Disillusion

By Adrian Tullberg.

***

The butler stood by the phone, face unusually tense.

"No sir, I will not comment on those insinuations, in any way, shape or form."

He glanced in the direction of an old grandfather clock before speaking again.

"Let's assume that sum exceeded my weekly wage. The answer would still be, and I repeat, no comment. Good day."

Without preamble, he dropped the receiver.

Alfred Pennyworth took a deep breath, and headed for his quarters. His master engaged in regular, time consuming preparations of events that couldn't - or shouldn't - happen. Despite earning the ire of several of the world's most powerful individuals, he still persisted.

The reason the gentleman's gentleman made only token protests towards this practice was that he also made preparations as well.

***

Bruce Wayne exited the cave, the sealed, secret door automatically closing. He'd solved two cases and added three kilos to his existing bench press record. The sun was dawning, and while everyone else was shuffling off to work, he felt the energy that only a truly productive day could afford.

Heading to the kitchen, the first clue to this day's downfall came when he saw Alfred sitting at the table. Normally, he was bustling about, making conversation, ascorbic comments, and gourmet meals simultaneously. Now he was just sitting there.

Alfred looked up at his employer with a darkening expression. "Please sit."

Bruce found himself seated before he could register. "What's wrong?"

"Do you know Miss Jacqueline Rigelford?"

Bruce nodded. One of Gotham's aristocracy - although the writing on the wall said this was a temporary affair at best. Lost a fair bit of money when the quake hit. Tried to reclaim her losses with day trading … lost even more.

"Miss Rigelford is attempting to recoup her fortune by serialising her grandmother's and mother's journals … I'll spare you the sordid details and get to the point. Your parents will be mentioned."

"Whu … why?" The Rigelfords had an infamous reputation … they were the inspiration for Bruce's fop act. How his parents could be implicated in…

"Your parents had … a more extensive social life than you were familiar with, Master Bruce."

Bruce tried to remember … fundraisers, charity galas, debutante balls, an elaborate seventh birthday party on his behalf…

Alfred produced a bottle of Neopolitan brandy and a highball glass, setting them down before delivering his message. "They were what is commonly referred to as 'swingers'."

There was a realisation dawning in the back of Bruce's mind. "Please tell me they liked to dance."

Alfred exhaled, producing a yellowing, sealed, manilla envelope. "I kept one of every copy I could buy, beg or steal … destroyed the rest…"

While Alfred poured a glass, Bruce took a butter knife and tore the paper with fumbling fingers. The contents were over three dozen black and white photos. The first one produced a muffled squeal from the back of his throat.

"As you can see … they liked to entertain."

"I've heard of performance art … but…"

"They made sure you were tucked in before … entertaining."

Bruce took the highball and swallowed noisily before looking back at the photos, expression growing more frantic by the second.

"I … I know most of these … that man. Justin Haber. I … I played with his son"

"And, as you can see, he liked to play with your mother."

Bruce drained the glass, Alfred automatically refilling it. Bruce's motions grew more galvanised, jerking the photos through the pile. "I don't know this woman…"

"Actress, I believe. Films."

Bruce peered at the image. "I still can't remember…"

"At that age, you weren't aware, let alone allowed to watch the films she starred in."

Bruce shuffled another photo to the top - and wished he didn't. "M …mom … they're … crushing…"

"Five at once. Personal best."

By now, Bruce was making some unusual choking noises through his nose. It complemented his slowly reddening complexion.

"Master Bruce?"

"I … this is…"

"They were not bad people. They did not do bad things. What they did was not in the social norm, but didn't hurt anyone." Alfred refilled Bruce's glass again. "And, in a way, they helped."

The red in Bruce's face was slowing turning purple. "Helped?"

"In all my years of dealing with costumed vigilantes, superhuman heroes, invisible aliens, steroid bound villains and dangerous sociopaths, I have been proud to say I have never lost stride … 'lost my cool', is that how they put it? You learn, very quickly, to 'keep your cool', when you watch the Lady of the house, riding the Master of the house, complete with specialised saddle, reigns and bridle, round and round the living room, while she shouts 'Prance, My Pretty Pony!' over and over…"

"ALFRED!" Bruce tried to stand up, legs shaking.

The butler efficiently swept away the photos, and sat the distraught man back down. "We'll discuss this later, shall we?"

Bruce held his head in his hands, trying to assimilate this new information, trying to think, to process…

… at this point, he'd settle for coping.

The door opened again, revealing a young Asian teenage girl.

"Cassandra?"

"Hi." The girl jumped up on the table. Bruce dimly noticed that she had a large green garbage bag with her.

"Spoiler give." She upended the bag's contents all over the table.

"Barbies?"

"Spoiler give." Cassandra picked one of the dolls up, pride of ownership etched over her face. "Didn't want." She gave a brighter smile as she smoothed the blonde hair. "First toy."

Bruce gave a half-hearted, if somewhat haggard smile. "That's … that's good."

"Show Barbara." The girl smiled. "Said Go Bug Bruce."

"I'm not surprised."

"Astronaut Barbie."

"Oh."

"Disco Barbie."

"I see."

"Riding Barbie." Cassandra plonked the doll on a plastic bareback horse.

"My Pretty Pony."

***

Alfred had locked the envelope in the vault when he heard the shriek. Dashing to the kitchen, he saw Bruce cowering in a foetal position, wedged between the fridge and the counter, clutching a plastic horse.

Cassandra gave the butler a perplexed look. "What up butt?"

Bruce gave a strangled sob, his knuckles turning white around the horse.

Alfred held his hand out. "Give Miss Cassandra her horse back."

"She'll hurt him!"

"Give."

The fear was growing in Bruce's eyes.

"Give…"

Bruce handed the horse to Alfred, who placed it gently on the table. Helping Bruce up, murmuring gentle reassurances, he led the broken man out of the kitchen.

Cassandra mentally deliberated the situation, and quickly made an assessment.

"Need get laid."

Satisfied with her diagnosis, the girl started hunting for the sugarcoated cereal that Alfred kept for the boys, but Oracle wouldn't let her have.

Barbies and sugar frosting. A very good start to the day.

***

No Batmen were hurt during the creation of this story. Any and all psychological injury was already there to begin with.

Please send any and all feedback to adriantull@urban.net.au