Trick? Or Treat?
Happy Halloween folks! I’ll get to the story in a minute; just give me a chance to get a little mushy here. What a story this simple little fairy tale mutated into! The more I’ve written about Olivia and her family, the more I seem to discover about them, as if it was all already there, just waiting for me to write it out. I’ve enjoyed it and would like to say a sincere thank you to everyone who read the story of the Midwinter’s and have given me so much encouragement to keep going with this crazy family. Thank you, everyone single one of you, for every word of response and feedback. And on behalf of the Midwinter’s I extend their thanks for your comments.
*This story contains historic spoilers for the upcoming movie ‘Affair of the Necklace’, just thought I’d warn you.
Characters and concepts of the Batman and Batman Beyond shows belong to DC and WB. Mirage belongs to Miss Batgirl; the Angel of Death belongs to D. of E. All notes on the Diamond Necklace Affair come from the book Private Lives and Public Affairs by Sara Maza, except for the description of the necklace itself, which comes from affairofthenecklace.com. Lady Molly belongs to baroness Orczy. ‘Once Upon A Dream’ and ‘Everybody Wants to be a Cat’ belong to Disney, ‘L’il Riding Hood’ is by Ronald Blackwell, ‘That’s what living is to me’ is by Jimmy Buffet, ‘Distance’ is by Cake, and ‘Happy Endings’ is from a Shirley Temple movie.
Dedicated to all those still suffering from the September 11th as the world (sort of) moves on.
Trick? Or Treat?
Amidst the towering megaliths and mountains of steel and glass, places like this little building were becoming very scarce. The original foundations had seen many changes in Gothom and had been used for many different purposes over the years, currently serving as a historical society. However, history wasn’t the most popular subject at the moment and retro was totally un-schawy. The building was in a less populated district. The section hadn’t exactly gone to seed – yet – and the Tomorrow Knight had hardly ever been sighted over here. But still, the area was by no stretch of the imagination anywhere near any source of any action whatsoever. The days when this had been a popular target were over - until now.
On a normal night the museum was as silent as a grave after closing time. It was so still you could hear the dust settling and spiders spinning webs in dark, forgotten corners of areas with the original wooden paneling and flooring. Small discreet lights gently illuminated a few strategic areas, but for the most part the only light came in from the street through the windows. The hum of vehicles could just barely be heard in the early evening, but usually not once the night progressed far enough. On a normal night the scene was so boring it would have made a sloth yawn.
This wasn’t a normal night.
The main room of the small museum was on the second floor. A figure emerged from the shadows and entered the middle of the room, gently illuminated by city light pollution, spilling in from the skylights. But even in the semi lighting the figure was undistinguishable due to being shrouded in black. The living shadow walked to the main display case, confident no alarm would go off, having just dismantled them five minutes ago. In a very few minutes the thief obtained the goal, the final goal, from the case and just as silently and mysteriously left.
On the black velvet cloth a white business card lay in the now vacant area. The backside was facing up. In fancy cursive writing were written the words:
Midwinter has returned.
Meanwhile, across town…
The room was decorated all in oranges and blacks. Genetically engineered pumpkins, large enough to serve as Cinderella’s coach, leered from the wide French style windowsills. A legion of paper bats had been hung on the walls and the normal floral patterned curtains had been exchanged for black ones. Bowls of dry ice steamed on tables in the corners and the refreshment table practically groaned under the weight of an assortment of typical Halloween treats and other Halloween type foods. Fake spider webs decorated the ceiling corners eerily and tall yellow candles dripped as the room thronged with people dressed up in all manner of costumes. It seemed almost all time periods and all of Hollywood’s greatest were represented in the crowded ballroom. On stage a group of monsters were playing something appropriately spooky.
Unable to take it all in, Ellie picked out a person here, a group of three there, a couple dancing on the marble floor, all in sharp detail. A roman legionary was dancing with Lara Croft, a flapper was gossiping with Empress Josephine and the guy from Saturday Night Fever while a little green alien helped himself to the punch.
Ellie gracefully edged her ways through the crowd, politely responded to a remark or two flung her way. She paused to agree with one of her father’s work associates dressed up as a demon that yes, it was a lovely party. Her long gown swept the floor and she gently fingered her heavy necklace as she scanned the room, wondering if a certain someone was going to show up. She was pretty sure he would, and she struggled not to let her emotions show on her face. She knew tonight was going to be something of a showdown, and it seemed hard to believe this had begun only a short while ago. On stage the band broke into some late 20th century stuff.
He’s going the distance!
He’s going for speed,
she’s all alone, all alone, all alone,
in her time of need,
because he’s racing and driving,
and long ago somebody left with the cup
Somewhere in the back of her mind a voice reminded Ellie that this had started a long time before that as she thought back…
…The courtyard echoed with the sounds of a vicious swordfight. The sound of metal against metal clanged out, vibrating back against the stone walls and arches surrounding the open practice yard. The voice of the fencing master could be heard calling out instructions, praise, and criticisms.
“Excellent parry, Lady Eleanor!” exclaimed the training master.
The fighter didn’t answer; she liked the tactic of not talking during bouts. Another parry followed by a thrust.
“Now the feint,” he ordered and she launched into that move.
Clang, clang, as the swords met as she tried a new disarmament move, “I would practice that move some more before trying it in a bout m’lady,” the fencing master said as he lead the next series of moves.
Her boots moved across the courtyard with a grace of many years of practice. She was dressed in practical pants and shirt, both were dirty, smelly cloths, worn out by practices, none of which the fencing master ever commented on. It was his job to teach fencing, not be a fashion critique. They went through some standard moves but mixed up to test her reflexes.
She went through a complicated compound attack move, but was unable to disarm the fencing master. She then defended another complicated series of attacks from the fencing master, wary of any possible traps. She readied herself to expanded into one of her non classic styles to contradict his style.
A voice suddenly called from behind, “Ellie!” It was her mother.
The girl stamped her extended right foot twice in the ritual call for a pause in the bout. She and the fencing master made brief salutes to each other. “Yes, mother?” She asked solemnly, waiting expectantly for the reason behind the unusual interruption.
“That will be enough for today,” said her mother firmly in a voice there was no use arguing with, sounding sterner than she had wished too. It was her daughter, she reflected, her formalness always brought formalness in return from her.
“Yes, mother,” Ellie said politely. She bowed graciously to the training master in the ritual end of bout salute. “Thank you very much for the lesson; until tomorrow then, Libellule.” She then called out into the courtyard, “Computer, end Fencing Master 3000 program!” The image of the training master, courtyard, church steeple, sun, grass, and the rest of 15th century France dissolved to reveal a small empty gym as she removed her VR helmet. It was an excellent VR program.
Her mother looked out of place standing in the small gymnasium in her stylish dress, the very latest from Milan.
Her mother glanced around. “Amazing that you’ve never lost your enthusiasm for this… ‘hobby’ of yours.” Easily decoded was the unsaid message – such energy would be better spent elsewhere. Ellie wanted to say something about the silent rebuke, but years of training in good manors held her back.
“It makes for a good exercise – both physically and mentally,” was all she said. ‘Hah’, she thought mentally, knowing there was little one could say about more genteel hobbies in those two areas.
Her mother raised one eyebrow, but other than that did nothing nor said anything. An awkward moment passed before she said briskly, “I would like you to please come meet me in the solarium as soon as possible - as soon as you’ve showered and changed of course”
“Of course,” said Ellie graciously while pushing down a nasty remark about how she would probably be expected to take the time to dress appropriately if a fire broke out. Then she suddenly realized this had to be of some importance if her mother had come in person to tell her. “Is there anything- ?” she started to ask but her mother interrupted her with an indulgent smile.
“No dear,” she said, holding up a manicured hand as if to physically block all worries, “there is nothing wrong. In fact, you have received a present.”
“A present?” Ellie repeated dumbly. She could only stare back blankly. It wasn’t her birthday, no holiday loomed near except Halloween (and that didn’t count) and she couldn’t think of anything she’d done lately that would merit a gift.
“Yes, it appears you’ve made another conquest.” And on that note her mother left the room.
Ellie went to her bedroom; she left the practice sword – more an electronic stick really, with the pile of others and then picked up one of her real swords to try out the new feint she had learned today. She tried the move and few thrusts with one of her epées. Then she picked up her prized saber and slashed at the air in a move that felt like dancing to her.
This sword had been a present from her father. He had picked it up on a business trip to Japan. It was a real sword – not one of those tourist trap souvenir ornamental decorative useless things, this one was something designed with an eye on real duels. This was something made to bring swift death to anyone who felt its cold bite, something that would cut through the body like a knife through butter. Ellie thought it was beautiful.
On her wall was a framed piece of rice paper on which were written several Japanese characters. It translated to: “the sword is the soul of the samurai”.
She changed into an outfit of soft pinks and complimentary grays, knowing her mother would expect nothing less. Fashion had been instilled into her growing up along with manners and morals. She had developed an excellent eye for fashion – her godmother, Lana Lang, thought her fashion instincts were suburb and had subtly hinted once or twice she could easily take over the reigns someday soon of LL Fashion Industries – but to Ellie style was a chore, something to be taken care of as quickly as possible and then forgotten about until the next time it was necessary.
Downstairs she entered the solarium and saw both her parents were already there, not surprising since they enjoyed sitting and talking in there before dinner as the last rays of the sun came in through the west facing windows.
“Ah, Ellie. The present in on the coffee table,” her mother pointed as Ellie walked in unannounced.
There was a brightly wrapped box, about half the size of a lap top, festively topped with a gold ribbon, with a white card attached to it sitting on the glass topped low table. She picked up the card first and opened it. In fancy calligraphy written in gold ink was the message: ‘to Princess Eleanor, from the Marquis of Carabas.’
She unconsciously raised one eyebrow, looking very much like her mother. “ ‘The Marquis of Carabas’?” she exclaimed in surprise and disbelief “Do they even have those sorts of things anymore? I thought they went extinct along with baronets and arch-duchesses.”
“Your great-great-grandmother was an arch-duchess,” admonished her father.
“And I do not find it impossible that one of European’s remaining gentry should have heard of us. The Vreeland’s are practically American aristocracy,” put in her mother, Mrs. Bunny Vreeland.
“And the Milhailovich’s are still very much the royalty of Russian,” added her father, Joseph Milhailovich.
Eleanor Isobel Milhailovich-Vreeland sighed. “It could be a trick,” pointed out Ellie practically. Her father shrugged.
“Open it and find out,” suggested her mother.
She carefully unwrapped the package and opened the white box. The box held a pin shaped like rabbit made of gold and silver with tiny pink opals in it’s wide eyes.
“A broach, how old fashioned,” remarked Ellie’s mother, sounding slightly disappointed.
“But expensive looking,” observed her father.
Bunny peered at it more closely. “Yes, it’s all real.” They debated whom it could be from for a bit; suddenly Mrs. Vreeland glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. “Oh! It’s time for your singing lessons, Ellie.”
“Can’t I drop those yet?” Ellie asked, trying not to whine.
“You know the deal – we agreed ages ago – ”
“- ‘If you sing, then you can fence’, I remember, I remember.”
The thing about preserving old buildings is that they can never be fully modernized. This, from the mouse’s point of view, was a good thing. There were plenty of old-fashioned nocks and crannies to hide in that would not be found in the sleek smooth modern museums. This mouse often feed on the crumbs from the security guards’ lunches. Tonight something disturbed its rest. In its entire lifespan (and his soft museum life had been longer than most street mice) this had never happened. It went out to investigate…
You are cordially invited
To a Masquerade Ball
At the Vreeland Mansion
Please RSVP within the next few days
Bruce smoothed out the card he had initially crumpled up as he walked up the steps to the Vreeland Mansion front door and glowered. After about fifteen minutes wrangling with her social secretary Bruce finally got in to see Veronica. She was in the solarium doing some paperwork at a lacquered rosewood desk.
“Bruce!” she exclaimed, standing up as he entered the room. “What a delightful though unexpected surprise! What brings you here?” She gestured towards a settee. Bruce remained standing. He got straight to the point.
“Veronica, are you insane? What possessed you to throw a costume party on Halloween?
“That’s what people do on Halloween, Bruce,” she said as if explaining something to a toddler. “Go out in costumes. For fun.” Her tone got slightly less friendly. “Something I doubt you could ever understand.” She remained standing as well.
“It’s also the perfect excuse for half the inmates of Arkahm to try and crash it. Remember the Dashwood’s party a few years back?”
“Who could forget that? The Dashwood daughters only just got out of therapy. Actually, I wonder if it would be appropriate to invite them…” She trailed off thoughtfully.
That had been a costume party as well and the Scarecrow had dropped by to give the people some real Halloween scares at Dashwood Hall and it would have ended much worse if Batman hadn’t shown up in time.
“And the Foxx fiasco,” Bruce reminded darkly. Joker had shown up in the middle of the party with his usual tricks while helping himself to the treats at that particular charity auction. Thank goodness for Nightwing and Batgirl!
“Yes, I know, it was just horrid when the Joker showed up and ruined everything. Thank God he’s back in Arkahm.”
“For now. Don’t forget your own last costume party.”
Veronica made a look of disgust. “Yes, that little Cinderella tramp. Well, she’s rotting in jail now and I see no reason why past incidents should spoil my fun. I’m not going to let a bunch of criminals and psychos run my life – and I’m not going to let you either!” Her back went as stiff as a board.
“Its not me, Veronica! Think for just a minute; everyone will be in masks and-”
“And I intend to enjoy myself Bruce. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” She said it so resentfully that it didn’t sound cliché. Veronica crossed her arms in a manner that reminded him strongly of Selina. He consciously had to unclench his jaw as he found himself against the will that was Vreeland.
“Fine! Throw your little party Veronica. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He turned to go.
“I’ll consider myself warned,” she said dryly. “Now,” she went on brightly and briskly, “you can be such a prig sometimes but you will come, won’t you Bruce?”
He turned to face her over his shoulder. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world Veronica,” he said in a flat, humorless tone.
Back at Wayne Manor Bruce frowned at the sound of an argument coming from one of the rooms. Both of the agitators had very weird accents. He entered the room to see the TV on. Anastasia was playing on the screen. At the moment a supposedly “cute” character could be heard saying: “Oh sure, blame the bat. Why not? We’re easy targets.”
A cascade of laughter erupted from behind the tall armchair facing the screen.
Bruce leaned over and ever so casually said in his young ward’s ear, “Homework done?” Tim leapt almost a foot in the air.
“Oh, um, yeah, that.” He coughed nervously. “Sort of.”
Bruce picked up the remote and clicked off the TV just as Dick walked in. “Told ya you’d get caught,” he said to the chagrined Tim.
Bruce didn’t bother with small talk; he gave Dick the invitation card.
Tim peered over Dick’s shoulder, “Another costume party?” he asked. “So what are you going as?”
“I’m getting a little sick of these costume parties,” said Dick, “it seems like every time someone in Gothom tries to throw one something goes horribly wrong. Like the Dashwood disaster.”
“Are the sisters still in therapy?”
“No, they just got out.”
“And don’t forget that Halloween Fair in the park Poison Ivy broke up with her exploding pumpkins,” pointed out Tim.
“Well, I guess I know where we’ll be this Halloween.”
The broach was followed by another present form the ‘Marquis of Carabas’. This time the box contained a thread thin silver necklace with a delicate miniature fish made of jewels and silver. Tiny emeralds winked in the eyes, beaten silver made up the scales treated in such a way that it glowed in an iridescent manner, sapphires were affixed into the tail and rubies composed the mouth as it seemed to hang from the necklace as if caught on a hock.
She was wondering around a country fair. People from several different historical times seemed to populate the crowds and booths….
“Tell your fortune, mademoiselle?” An old crone waved at her from a brightly colored tent, sitting at a table with a crystal ball and a pack of fortune teller cards. Olivia had a feeling the old dame was speaking 14th century French, but she still understood her perfectly.
“No thank you Madame.” Olivia tried to decline, she had a strong feeling that she had to go met someone.
“But wouldn’t you like to know what comes next – Olivia?”
Olivia sat down at the booth.
“How much?’ she asked practically.
“Six sous.” The old woman replied promptly. Olivia discovered she had some very old coins in her pocket and gave six of them some over to the woman. She received the silver coins into her palm and happily tucked them away into a little pouch. “I’m glad you sat down, Mademoiselle. I love to tell fortunes to people like you.”
“What do you mean?”
“The irony. You reek of it.”
“I can hear the sound of Fortune’s wheel creaking, see people’s luck, feel the clothe the Fates weave which people call chance, hear the sound of the god’s dice rolling destinies, and you, ma cheri, smell of fate’s meddling!
“What’s it smell like?” the young thief asked, intrigued against her will.
“Like perfume!” the old woman cackled happily. “As if the gods dumped a bottle of the stuff on you, instead of the usual spray all of us get. Everything will come out quite interestingly!”
“What will? Enough riddles – what’s my fortune?”
“Ahh, but remember, I deal in nothing but riddles. Now, let me see your palm so I can get it right.” Olivia hesitatingly started to extend her right hand, palm up, but the ancient one said at once, rather sharply with a harsh reprimand, “You’re left handed!” With a gulp of surprise Olivia hastily switched hands. The elderly woman gave it a searching gaze, tracing certain lines, clearly looking for something undetectable to most.
A juggler pranced by, waving a stick of bells. “I see without seeing; to me, darkness is as clear as day, what am I?” he asked. He was ignored so went up to other people demanding the answers to riddles such as why was a raven like a writing desk or singing silly parodies of popular songs –
“Dirty mop! Dirty mop! Did you ever wonder why/ my kitchen is so dry?” No response from the crowds.
“Training of a Knight! Those were the days when crusades were the thing! First a page then a squire you’ll be!” Crickets chirped.
“My in-box piiiiiiiiiiiile, is towering towards the sky!” A few rotten tomatoes were flung his way and he shut up.
“Ahhhhh,’ sighed the old woman in satisfaction, “As I suspected.”
“Here’s what I See: three people, one in the Past, one the Present, and one in the Future,” Olivia could hear the capitalization’s of the words from the way Madame stressed them, “they share a name and a profession. But these are not life long careers. There are problems hinging on three animals.”
“Animals?” Olivia’s voice scaled up in disbelief. In the background the jester broke into a very rude French revolution song, which graphically described what the citizens of the new republic would like to do to Louis and Marie Antoinette.
“Un chat, un rat, and un chauve-souris,” the crone said in a sing-song voice. “And remember not to take things on face value.” Cat, rat, and bat, thought Olivia, that actually makes sense. And despite the bright sunshine and cherry atmosphere, the hairs on the back of her neck prickled as she thought, ‘Grandpapa was the Past, I must be the Present, so who-?’
Answering the unspoken question Madame said, “Tell your grandson to be careful when he decides to take a trip to Gothom, for that city is mixed up in all this as well. And take care to remember yourself that your name is no accident, Olivia Midwinter - granddaughter of an Oliver and grandmother of an Oliver!”
The woman began to cackle loudly as bouncy Warner Brother’s movie music began to play in the background.
An alto sang:
The best of beautiful times!
Just like in nursery rhymes.
What made Cinderella braver?
She knew her prince would come and save her!
Joy and laughter,
Happy Endings to you all!!!!!”
Olivia woke up in a cold sweat. Still in jail.
She blinked and then rubbed her eyes as she groggily tried to sort out what were dreams and what was reality. She felt disoriented before the events of the past few months came back to her. After that disastrous 4th of July the Guild of Thieves was no more. Then she remembered what today was and groaned. Visitor’s Day. The re-occurring event that always drove home the point she was alone.
She was in the cafeteria area at one of the deserted tables while others were talking with family members and friends who had come to visit. She was reading a manual she had checked out of the prison library on a recent style of safety vaults, popular among private collectors, when a strange man suddenly sat down across from her. He was rather tall, and couldn’t have been very much older than her. He had dark brown hair and looked nice enough except his rather pronounced ears gave him a boyish look further underscored by a look of bumbling earnestness on his face.
He glanced at the book in her hand. “Ah, très bon, you are keeping up to date,” he said. He had a southern French accent.
“Are you my new court appointed layer?” she asked sardonically.
“To quote Erin Brokovitch, ‘Oh no, I hate lawyers, I just work for them.’ My name is Michel Perrault. And you are just, how you say-- ? just what the doctor bought?”
Ellie speeded over the back roads. She always took the long way from school since she enjoyed driving – and enjoyed being alone. Also, in the fall the woods were gorgeous as Mother Nature put on a delightful fashion show of reds, yellows, and oranges. Ellie’s car phone rang and she activated the speakerphone. “Hello?” she asked politely.
“Do I have the honor of addressing the Princess Eleanor?”
She slammed on the breaks, skidded to a stop, parked on the side of the road, and grabbed the cell phone. “Who is this?” she demanded, slightly confused, slightly angry, and very curious.
“I am calling on behalf of the Marquis of Carabas to have drinks at the Café du Soleil.” Ellie raised an eyebrow; that place was fancy – and pricey; she herself had only been there a handful of times. “The Marquis’s paying,” said the voice on the phone wheedlingly.
“When?” she asked, telling herself that wasn’t a yes.
“In about twenty minutes. Ciao.” And the person on the other end hung up.
Ellie blinked rapidly, then quickly made another call before starting the car up again. She was going to be a little late for a previous commitment.
Fifteen minutes later she found herself going into the glorified coffee house and scanned the room, unsure of what do next, and consumed with curiosity.
“Bonjour,” said the maitre de, “mademoiselle Vreeland I presume?”
“Yes, I came to met someone one.”
“Yes, table for two. Monsieur Chaussure ez expecting you.” He bustled off and she followed him to a secluded corner where he graciously pulled out a chair at an empty table set for two. She sat down at the circular iron-wrought, glass-topped table. Alone, she opened her bag and pulled out a small black hardcover book and flipped it open to where her bookmark was.
A young man, only a year or two, if that, older than her, strolled up to the table. The man wore a formal business suit that didn’t look out of place on his young frame. His hair was dark brown, his facial features were arranged in a very pleasing manner and he walked with confidence that bordered on arrogance.
“I’m so glad you agreed to come,” he said with a smile, with just the trace of relief. It was the same voice from on the phone. “I figured you’d like to meet in a public place. Not far from the police station, lots of security nearby, other people in view, lots of ways to excuse yourself if you want to make a break for it, all you have to is shout if you feel threatened, etc.”
“And what a considerate stalker you are,” she said cheerfully as he sat himself at their table.
“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. What are you reading?” he asked with a nod at the book she was putting back in her bag.
“Its called ‘The Book of Five Rings’” she said. “It’s a masterpiece on Japanese sword fighting – among other things. It’s meant to be read over and over.”
“How many times have you re-read it?”
“I’ve lost count.”
“Interesting.” He then dug into his jacket pocket and held out another small package, decorated the same as the other two. “For you,” he said simply.
“Ahhhh, so you’re Puss in Boots,” she said with amusement.
His face broke into a wide grin. “You figured it out!”
“It wasn’t too hard.” Mock serious she added, “I am an honors student.” They regarded each other, both struggling to keep straight faces, and then both burst out laughing.
“So, you gonna open that or not?” he asked when they managed to calm down.
Curiosity seized her again and she tore off the wrappings and opened the little box. “Pretty earrings, but what are they shaped as? Swans? Pea*****?”
“Still following the fairy tale?” she asked as she fastened the crystal birds on to her ears.
“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” She smiled at the answer, but noticed he didn’t protest that he was merely under orders.
“So what shall I call you?” she inquired.
“Oh, just call me Puss in Boots.” A waiter arrived with a tray and two steaming mugs. “I took the liberty of ordering two hot chocolates. Forgive my juvenile preferences, but I can’t stand the taste of coffee. Too bitter.”
“That’s all right, this is the prefect thing for a windy day like today.” They both took a mug.
“To the Marquis of Carabas,” he said. They toasted and drank.
“So who is he?” asked Ellie as they put down their mugs.
“I thought as much,” she said as she got up. “Sorry to cut this short, but I do have a previous engagement to get to.” Then, with as much haughtiness as a real princess, she enunciated clearly, “You may meet me tomorrow eleven at The Blue Room for a light brunch.”
And she left without turning back.
Friday afternoons after classes were done at Ridgewood Academy it was a standing arrangement for Ellie to have tea with her grandmother at her grandmother’s townhouse.
After grandpa had died Veronica had told her daughter and son-in-law it was making her nervous to be rattling around in that big house so she had given Vreeland Mansion to them and moved into a slightly more modest sized house. Not that it wasn’t decorated like a small museum, filled with lifetimes of Vreeland acquisitions. It was filled with so many treasures and decorations of such an eclectic sort she often thought this was what a dragon’s horde might look like – if dragons had townhouses.
Ellie parked her car at grandmother’s house. “A legend, a rumor, a mystery,” she whistled to herself. As ironic or appropriate as it was, as a child she had loved to watch the DVD Anastasia - the musical cartoon version.
Tea with grandma was pretty normal, until she mentioned her parents were thinking of having a big Halloween bash this year and would grandma like to come?
“A costume party? Oh no, I don’t think I could make it. But really, well that’s lovely Ellie; there hasn’t been a big costume party at the Mansion since… well, never mind. Its sounds like it will be great. Maybe the Cinderella thief will show up again,” she added with a conspiratorial wink.
“Oh grandma, not that old story again.” Ellie rolled her eyes; she’d only heard the tale about a thousand times. “She’d have to be, like-”
“-younger than me,” warned her grandmother in a now not so sweet and grandmotherly tone. “Tell your parents to be careful with the guest list and watch who shows up.” Ellie thought that was an odd piece of advice, but let the conversation shift to other things.
“It’s: ‘just what the doctor ordered,’” corrected Olivia coldly.
“Merci.” There was an awkward pause until he cleared his throat and said, “So. You are le Chat’s granddaughter.”
“I think you have me confused with another species.” She was gripped by fear and anger; it was as though ice filled her stomach. Is this what it comes to? The rest of her life a star zoo exhibition? Well, she wasn’t going to play along with, especially for some gangly European foreigner who could barley speak English. Well…his English wasn’t that bad, but still--!
“The file did not mention you were sarcastic.”
“What does it say?” she asked, still hostile but genuinely curious.
“Basically, that you, Olivia Grace Midwinter, have no living relations, are a former cleaning woman, and are known as the Cinderella Thief.”
“And I can make six different kinds of cakes too,” she said with wide eye false sincerity.
He ignored her, instead he asked, “Have you ever heard of an alicorn?” His bland tone did not entirely cover up a note of anxiety.
“The A.L.I.C.O.R.N. 250 safety storage device that replaced the rather clumsy Unicorn series in the early 1950’s but began to go out of style in the 1980’s as computers were on the rise, but until technology became the only game in town the Alicrons were known for a track record as unbreakable and were used mainly for political documents and other types of records, no, what are they?” said Olivia sarcastically all on one breath.
“Excellent, I want you to break into one.”
“You are kidding, right?”
“Your grandfather managed to.”
“Yeah, which turned out to be a big fat waste of time for him since it didn’t have anything of interest to him.”
The man rolled his eyes heavenward. “Nothing of interest…” he muttered in incredulity. “Mon Dieu! There were only half a dozen treaties and letters in there that could have started world war three. He shock his head in disgust “It’s all about the cold hard cash with you plebeians.”
“May this plebian inquire what the legal situation is? Last I heard my court appointed lawyer was talking about some sort of plea bargain. I’m a little immobilized at the moment.”
“Your cast is off,” he pointed out blandly. “You are able to walk?”
She almost retorted ‘No, I’m paralyzed from the waist down.’ Instead she forced her self to politely say, “I’m perfectly fine, thank you, not that I’m going anywhere real soon.”
“But how about a better deal? Pick one little lock and you walk free?”
“Besides the fact it’s an alicorn lock – what’s the catch?” Her voice was mocking but it held a note of eagerness to it that was just barely perceivable.
He sidestepped the question. “Your lawyer is trying to bake up some sort of plea bargain deal but almost all testimony you might possibly give on the Guild of Thieves is pretty useless by now and since you’ve flat out refused to reveal where the Vreeland Cup is …”
“Never!” she said stolidly, clenching her teeth and breathing strongly through her nose.
He smiled, looking very pleased about something.
Ellie lounged in a chair on the balcony on the top of the skyscraper, enjoying the warm sunshine. It was one of the rare beautiful autumn days. It was probably one of the last warm days of the year and she intended to soak it all up while she could. She frowned as a shadow crossed over her.
She looked up – and smiled. “Hi.”
“Hi yourself,” said Puss in Boots. He took an adjoining chair. “What a view!” he rhapsodized.
“Mmmhmm,” she agreed. “The proprietors brag The Blue Room has the best view in Gothom; you can look enjoy the panoramic view of the skyline while enjoying their cuisine, a fine selection of local dishes as well as some more exotic blends of only the finest ingredients.” She sounded like she was mockingly quoting a brochure.
“I’d settle just for-”
“Something to drink? I’ve already order some juices. They should be here in a minute.”
“Well, we certainty seem to be able anticipate one another. Oh, before I forget,” he said, digging into his pocket, “I have a present for you – from me this time. I picked it up in the history section of a second hand bookstore. It’s a sort of fairy tale; a true one, with lots of role-playing, my favorite type of story. I thought you might like it.” It was an unwrapped book, looking slightly the worse for wear.
She took the book. It was slim with a blue hardcover and slightly worn pages. The spine had gold lettering that read: The Diamond Necklace Affair.
“Hmm, looks interesting.” She put it in her handbag and the conversation drifted on to other things. Nothing of real importance; at least, not to anyone else listening. But they were surprised at the number of opinions they shared, and issues that they did disagree on they enjoyed debating. Later, both were surprised that several hours had passed without their noticing.
That night back home at the Mansion Ellie was getting ready for bed when she remembered the book. She picked it up and flipped it open to the beginning, intending to glance over it before going to sleep. ‘Chapter One: only the diamonds were real.’ She started to read – and didn’t stop reading until much later when she got to the last page.
The story had everything - disguises, plots, intrigues, mistresses, royalty, aristocrats, prostitutes, court cases, media field days, escapes, and lots more all centering around a legendary necklace.
The Diamond Necklace Affair began with, predictably, a necklace. The Parisian Crown jewelers Auguste Boehmer and Paul Bassange had been commissioned by Louis XV to make a diamond necklace for his mistress, Madame du Barry. The necklace was made up of six hundred forty seven flawless gems and worth over one and a half million livres.
The search for a collection of pure diamonds took the jewelers all over Europe; envoys were sent to the diamond mines of India and South Africa. Thousands of stones were carefully examined until they picked out the world’s finest. They were determined to make the necklace their magnum opus. It was estimated to have weighed 2, 800 carats.
It was composed of a collar of seventeen large round diamonds that covered three fourths of the neck, and two dramatic cascades that hung from each side of the clavicle. Six magnificent pendent solitaire diamonds hung from the main collar, three of them surrounded by elegant diamond garlands. The principal solitaire encircled by pearls, was suspended from the central garland and delicately fell down the center of the neckline. Two more cascades crisscrossed in delicate diamond and pearl tassels on either side.
The king backed down because of the price, and political pressure. There had been growing anger at court due to the prestige and power the king’s mistresses were gaining, becoming patrons themselves, and critiques exclaimed that members of the court became slaves, crawling at the feet of a prostitute who had ascended in one leap from the brothel to the throne.
In 1778 the necklace was offered to the new French king, Louis XVI, for his queen, Marie Antoinette, but he allegedly stated that the nation was in more need of ships than necklaces. By 1785 the necklace had become an attraction at the jewelers shop. People came from all over to gawk at it, but no one bought it. No one could buy it because, besides the price, it would have been a serious faux pax to buy something the king could not afford, and no woman would dare wear something that was supposed to have adorned either the neck of a mistress or a queen. Especially not that mistress or that queen.
The necklace remained unsold, a fabulous construction and already surrounded with a disreputable and titillating history, fueled by the scandal sheets. It had been intended for two women, Madame du Barry and Marie Antoinette, and here were the beginnings of the interchanging personalities that would surround the affair. Already, Madame du Barry had been granted some praise for respecting a disreputable position while the young Austrian princess was accused of prostituting an estate that should have been invulnerable. Pamphlets declared a prostitute acted like a queen while a queen acted like a prostitute.
Meanwhile, at the royal court in Versailles, the cardinal Rohan was driven to gain higher political favors through the queen’s influence, if only he could get into her good graces. The cardinal had a mistress, the “comtesse” de la Motte. Jeanne de la Motte had been born Jeanne de Saint-Remi and had styled herself Jeanne de Valois, claiming distant connections to the French royal family through a bastard line. In 1783 she came to Versailles and marked the cardinal as an ideal con target. During ‘pillow talk’ with the cardinal she claimed she could get the cardinal back into the graces of the queen if only he followed her directions.
She started by forging letters from the queen with evasive replies to the cardinal’s pleas. Before he tired o this vague hope she searched out and found a young prostitute who resembled the queen, Nicole Le Guay. In the gardens of Versailles Rohan finally met his queen, the carefully dressed and coached Nicole, who stammered a few words at him before being whisked off by Jeanne de la Motte, the director of the little drama. The cardinal was soon convinced that the queen wanted the infamous diamond necklace and duly bought it and paid the first installment. He handed it over to a man Jeanne de la Motte said worked for the queen, and the necklace disappeared, most likely dismantled and sold on the black markets of Paris and London. Soon after, the scandal erupted.
Nicole Le Guay was arrested for impersonating the queen. Jeanne de la Motte was charged with setting it all up and Cardinal Rohan was arrested – in the middle of church services – for participating in the scheme, or, to put it more flippantly, for being an idiot.
Both the king and the queen were embarrassed by what the affair suggested of the queen. Despite the fact everything was entirely fictional, they both took it very personally that someone would believe that the queen would have met a person alone at night in a garden, like two characters in one of the popular scandal sheets. The king was supposed to be a paternal figure, a loving quasi-god like father figure who watched over his people. If it was thought he was unable to protect his own wife, then how could he protect an entire country?
While Jeanne de la Motte’s part in the forgery and theft added up to a common criminal matter that could be easily dealt with, the cardinal’s role provoked some serious questions concerning the queen. The question was, contemporaries felt, should the cardinal be charged with ‘criminal presumption’ for believing that the queen would stoop to dealing with the likes of Mme de la Motte and to assigning a nocturnal rendezvous? Or should he be acquitted on the implicit grounds that such behavior of Marie Antoinette was not at all implausible?
They were suggesting that queen was on the same level as a common prostitute. Court factions lined themselves up either as for or against the cardinal. The king decided to take the matter to court, rather than settling it quietly. This course of action gained him both praise and criticism for acting in “homage to the great influence of the laws” and “mind-boggling obtuseness”. He was in fact being forcibly prompted by others.
Marie Antoinette had consulted her own faction and had been told a public trial would hurt the cardinal but not herself, and so she and turn told the king that a public trial was the way to go with this affair. Notably she had been advised by the Baron de Breteuil, who was holding a grudge against the cardinal. Royal factions and church factions got involved and what could have been a relatively minor criminal case became a major political debacle, with the queen caught up in the middle of it. Pamphlet sales skyrocketed and would continue to be bought by huge crowds as soon as they were published throughout the trial.
The defense for the cardinal and de la Motte bickered between each other about who was guiltier while the defense for Nicole Le Guay attempted to portray her as an innocent bystander who was tricked unknowingly into taking part. Nicole brought a baby into court with her, trying to play up the imagery of the good mother, something the queen had been failing at for years. In court and in the pamphlets Nicole was sometimes presented as an actress, which brought her both some grudging respectability but also lead to accusations that she was merely acting innocent. At other times she was portrayed as nothing but a prostitute.
Her defense claimed that she had been tricked into thinking the queen would be there watching her perform. If the queen was present, then she couldn’t have possibly been impersonating the queen. Throughout the trial everyone dragged in the name of the queen. Again, mistresses and prostitutes were being discussed within the same sentence as the queen of France.
At the end of the trial Jeanne de la Motte was condemned to a whipping, a branding and a lifetime imprisonment. Nicole Le Guay was fully acquitted, neither of the verdicts coming as surprising or controversial. However, the Paris Parlement found the cardinal not guilty. While Rohan left the Palias de Justice to the roars of a cheering crowd, the queen at Versailles wept tears of anger and humiliation.
Throughout the affair the pamphleteers had a field day reporting the true and not so true events with a large emphasis on gender and monarchy roles. Their angles insinuating that neither was being honored. Pamphlets published both court briefs and testimonies, recordings of every minute of court sensation, while others printed “biographies” of everyone involved, all which read very much like romance novels, with little or no bearing on the facts.
The public’s interest in the case seemed to be limitless and the scandal never really died down. Madame de la Mote escaped to London and several years later would publish some tracts on the affair that were more spiteful than truthful, dredging it up all over again. Many historians agreed it was a factor in the fall of the monarchy and the start of the French revolution
In this affair a nobody became a royalty and a prostitute became a queen. And the most valuable necklace in the world was stolen right out from under everybody’s noses. Truly a con to be remembered.
On the end page a note had been scrawled in the book: “Yeah, but she got caught!”
Driving home later that week the car phone rang.
“So, did you like the book?” asked the voice on the other end when she answered.
“Talk about the best con artist of the last millennium!” she exclaimed, keeping her eyes on the road.
In the dead of night the museum was as quiet as a tomb, save for a few muffled noises from the outside streets in the city that never slept. Black on black a figure crept through the display area. Less than minute later all was still again, and all was it had been before, save for some simple addition and subtraction that almost equaled out to zero.
“You’re a political clean up crew,” Olivia neatly summarized.
Michael Perrault fidgeted uneasily. “I think I prefer my explanation.”
Olivia rolled her eyes. The past few days had been a blur and all she wanted to do right now was take a deep breath; she’d been released on bail but had a feeling this Michael Perrault was pulling a lot of strings, she was now situated in a comfortable hotel room in downtown Gothom but Michael acted like a guard dog, hardly letting her do anything, and now he had told her why he had asked her about A.L.I.C.O.R.N.’s and she wasn’t sure whether to be amused or disgusted or scared or a combination of those or something else entirely.
“It’s a clean up operation and you want me to do the scrubbing instead of you,” she maintained calmly.
“I can’t do it myself! God knows I tried,” he gestured at the stacks of paper, books, maps, and manuals littered about the room pertaining to vaults, burglary, locks, Gothom, and the assignment. “Would you not rather like to think of it as being needed for your unique talents?”
“And what happens after?”
“Does Cinderella ever think about what happens after zee ball?” he snapped in a rather petty manner.
“In the traditional story Cinderella goes to three balls, surely you know that. Ask me when the third night’s over.”
It took a moment for it to sink in but then he smiled in relief at her agreement.
“Looks pretty quiet tonight,” Terry said to Bruce as he patrolled the city. “I’ll do one more sweep and then– wait a sec, I think something just came up. Scanner shows someone just tripped the silent alarm at the Gothom Historical Society.” He swept the Batplane downward as he soared over the city. On the other end Bruce raised one eyebrow, which of course terry could not see.
He entered. It was very dark but as his eyes got adjusted to the gloom he noticed someone leaning against one of the display cases, waiting.
“Twinkle, twinkle little bat/ How I wonder where you’re at.” The person said in a singsong voice, not quite facing him. It sounded like young man.
“How ‘bout right behind you?” Batman said harshly, bracing himself for an attack.
The shadowy figure turned to him. “Batman, marvelous. I was hoping you’d stop by.”
“Oh? Why?” Batman readied himself for another loony who deliberately wanted to take a swing at the Batman.
Quite conversationally the dark figure asked, “Could you possibly tell me the present location of the so called Nightwing?” Batman’s eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. “No?” said the man shrouded in black, he shrugged as if it were no matter to him and said causally, “Oh well, just thought I’d ask. We had a ‘friend’ in common, that’s all. Adieu.”
He extended an arm and Batman could vaguely make out a small rectangular shaped device in his hand. There was a click and every single light in the place came flooding on, temporarily blinding Batman and forcing him to look away. It was only a few moments but by the time he was able to see again the curious nighttime visitor was gone.
The next morning Terry was back in the museum, this time accompanied by Bruce. He glumly inspected the displays, but saw no signs of anything wrong. Certainly there was nothing in the atmosphere of the museum to suggest anything had happened last night as visitors examined the exhibits and a tour guide drowned on and on about the history of the building.
As they faced a glass cabinet housing a collection of arrowheads Bruce said, “There’s been some reports of disturbances late at night, although nothing missing, but I think after last night it’s worth checking out.”
“Doesn’t look like there’s much to check out,” said Terry, bored with the museum by day. The centuries old building had been meticulously restored to resemble how if would have looked back when it was a Dutch tavern, with the addition of glass display cases of all sorts of historical artifacts of Gothom’s long and sometimes sordid, history.
“Don’t let appearances fool you. There have been more attempted robberies here than almost all other Gothom museums put together. Most modern museums are designed to be like walk in safes, this, being a preservation of a very old building, is harder to secure, that combined with the type of items often displayed here makes a very tempting target. There had been a bit of a lull lately – until now.”
“My point exactly,” said a female’s voice behind them. They turned and saw a middle aged woman with heavy glasses that rested in the tip of her nose, slightly graying blonde hair, a blue blues and pants out fit and a security name tag that identified her as ‘Stacy Trethwell-Katz’. “I’m glad to hear someone agreeing with me. The security around here has become a disgrace. I’m not surprised at all that the disturbances have apparently become common knowledge. Some days I feel we might as will put a ‘help yourself’ sign on the door. The security system-”
An officious older man puffed up behind the woman to interrupt. “What are you doing?” he demanded. “I explicitly stated that we were going to handle this minor matter privately. All we need is to be into even more of a laughingstock chasing after some phantom intruder you dreamed up to-”
“I did not dream up those read outs! Someone is tampering with our system!”
“A few minor temporary technical difficulties!”
“Have any displays in particular been disturbed?” Bruce asked Stacy, ignoring the man he happened to know as the head curator, Ozias Canis.
“The cases with the Cinderella exhibit,” she said, “but it appears that nothing has been touched.”
“I’d like to examine them.”
“I’m very sorry,” she began, “but the public-”
“I hardly think the main contributor of funds is ‘the public’,” he said dryly.
“Oh - !” A light bulb went on as recognition finally hit. “Bruce Wayne!” Suddenly Stacy went from intellectual museum expert to star struck schoolgirl. “Oh, wow, I’m honored to meet you in person. Your donations have been exceedingly generous. I suppose we could make an exception for you to see them, not much to see though.”
“Mister Wayne,” said the head curator, suddenly all smooth, “if there is anything you would like to see to assure you your money is being well spent at the Gothom Historical Society you only have to ask.”
“And I ask to see the Cinderella exhibitions.”
“Certainly.” And he led Bruce away with Stacy and Terry following both only just managing to chock down laughter.
In the main exhibition room Bruce made a through examination of the jewelry from its encasement while Katz and Canis continued their debate.
“It’s impossible for someone to just waltz in here and help themselves as if it were some sort of salad bar!” He gestured at same of the more obvious additions of security imposed on the wooden timbers such as the security cameras and modern day locks.
“You’re forgetting your history, Ozias; this museum used to be a prime target and people got away with a lot. Security has gotten lax around here!”
Bruce interrupted to calmly announce, “It’s a fake.” The curator started blustering again, but Stacy joined him in examining the ruby necklace in his hands. He pointed out the telltale marks and she swore softly, apologized, and then examined the rest of the collection. The ring, earrings, and necklace had been replaced with very good fakes, but the original tiara remained.
Terry and Bruce left with both museum caretakers promising stepped up security and then promptly arguing with each other over what as the best way to go about implementing that.
“Do you think he’ll come back?” asked Terry once they were in the car and he was driving Bruce back to the manor. “It was like he was mocking me last night, toying with me like, like a cat with a mouse.”
“That might be truer than you realize,” said Bruce in a foreboding voice.
Back home Terry entered the apartment to find Matt and their mom in the middle of an intense debate.
“Oh come on mom!” said Matt in a pleading voice, “no one else needs a dumb ole babysitter to go trickertreating!”
Terry jumped in before he got roped into overseeing a bunch of trick-or-treaters. “Yeah, mom, I think the squirt’s old enough to go with friends without being supervised.”
“Terry, you’re not helping,” said Mary, frowning at her oldest son.
“Pleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease!” begged Matt.
“Ohhhh…all right.” Mary rubbed the bridge of her nose the same way she always did when she was annoyed and tired.
“Yes!” said Matt, punching a fist in the air.
“On one condition,” she continued, and Matt froze in the middle of a whoop of joy. “You have to take Tammy with you.”
“Tammy Gaddis? But she’s such a baby!!!!!” he wailed.
“No but’s. And she’s five, not a baby. Mrs. Gaddis,” their neighbor across the hall, “has to work and I already promised her Tammy would get to go trick or treating.”
“Fine,” Matt grumbled reluctantly, clearly not thrilled about the prospect of going from babysittee to babysitter.
Ellie met with Puss in Boots several more times. Right before Halloween they walked in the park, debating the French revolution. They slowly meandered along one of the paths under the tress as he explained why he was a Marat supporter and she rooted for Danton.
“Will you come to a Halloween party at my house?” Ellie asked suddenly, interrupting their own discussion.
“I’d love to come,” he said just as they reached the gates. Ellie reluctantly said goodbye and went back home.
Once back home she sifted though the day’s mail and froze as she picked up an envelope addressed to her with the return address of a certain discreet agency she had learned of through careful inquiry. She opened the envelope, read the paperwork she had asked for, read it again three times, and as the implications of what she had just learned hit her, she burst into tears.
A few days later all over the city residents prepared to celebrate as the sun set on Halloween and night rapidly took over.
Matt was pulling on the monster feet for his costume when suddenly something pounced on him and a hideous and grotesque black and white face shrieked at him.
“Arghhhhh!” Matt screamed.
“I am Tamora, Queen of the Goths!” announced the little horror draped in black rags and wearing a red crown. “And I scared you!” she crowed triumphantly as she removed her shocking mask.
“You little-” Matt started to say but the doorbell rang and Mary McGinnis came in before he could kill Tammy.
“Matt, you friends are at the door,” said his mom. “Having fun Tammy?” she asked in the nice voice she reserved for other people’s children. Tammy managed to give May McGinnis an innocent angelic look, despite the costume.
Matt’s group; a skeleton, a fireman and a zombie, gathered in the doorway. Mary gave them some candy and Matt left with them, Tammy in tow. “Remember, nine o’clock – no later!” Mary called after him as they left. Just then, the first wave of trick or treaters came to the door consisting of a ghost, a cowgirl, and a fairy princess. A chaperone soon followed the first group holding a baby in her arms dressed as pumpkin, sheparding a lion, an Arabian princess and a geisha.
As the last touches were being up in place downstairs, upstairs in the Vreeland mansion Eleanor’s mother sashayed down the hallway like it was a catwalk, twirled on her toes at the end, making her red and purple silks swing gracefully, and said with a fake Yiddish accent: “Who’s says I don’t still got it?” She was laden with almost as many jewels as her daughter, and wore shockingly bright make up, looking very much the part of the Cher of the Bible.
“You look wonderfully darling,” said her father. He was pompously dressed as Czar Nichols II in full military regalia complete with those little tasseled gold shoulder pads. “You make a fantastic Jezebel.” He gave her a peck on the check.
Ellie went downstairs to the now fully transformed ballroom just as the first few guests came trickling in.
She caught the eye of a girl in her late teens in an Elizabethan costume standing next to a knight errant. ‘Great party’ the girl mouthed across the room. Then she walked off, probably to go look for a (very) stiff drink.
The band was dressed up as the usual assortment of Halloween Hollywood style monsters – Frankenstein played second guitar, a mummy was at the drums, the Yeti was at the electric keyboard, and a vampire played lead guitar. A werewolf and a vampiress both sang into mikes.
Frankenstein looked pretty conventional with the green makeup, crew cut, steel plugs in throat, and tattered clothing and the mummy was also what you could except, although any pretense at looking scary was lost by the way he occasionally got his sticks caught in his own trailing bandages while drumming away up there on stage.
The Yeti looked like an albino version of Chewbacca, or maybe a really big Muppet. The werewolf, despite the fur, fangs, and claws, looked ultra cool in a leather jacket and shades.
The werewolf’s singing partner was a very gothic looking vampires dressed in a nightmare of 18th century fashion. An extremely flowly black dress with layer upon layer of ebony silk flared out to the floor from a tight form fitting bodice that had a low v-cut with a little silver frill around the edge. Her long hair was swept into a half ponytail, silver against pearl like skin.
She smiled, a chilling sight that revealed her dangerously sharp looking canine teeth, one inch long – at least – making her shiny black stained lips even poutier. Her sleeves were tight around her arms, ending in a loop around each of her middle fingers. Except for her lips and part of her jaw, her face was covered in a black mask, with featureless blank white eyes shining from the depths of the eyeholes. The design all came together to make her look like something from a classic silent film, or perhaps an Audrey Beardsley drawing.
They started to play the inevitable ‘Monster Mash’ with all of the musicians really getting into it, dancing all over the stage.
A lot of the animal themed costumes made Ellie wonder if laws about splicing had been ignored for the night. Besides the band there was also several Hollywood monsters lurching on the dance floor and among the gossiping guests. A very graphic dead person came in with a vixen; followed by a grim jester with a skeletal face and a girl all in what with what must have been a mask of a unicorn head, complete with long golden spiral horn. A tart looking rabbit joined in the dancing with a reptilian guest.
An owl and a hawk were checking their coats just as John Smith and “Pocahontas” walked in, looking as if they’d just stepped out of the movie Matoaka. She had even copied the neck tattoos faithfully down to the last detailed swirl.
Brunhilde was chatting with Alice in Wonderland, who were ignoring the Tinman and Sitting Bull’s invitation to dance.
“Ellie I need your help!” her mother suddenly called from the base of the staircase as the band went into another song. Ellie unwillingly left, reluctant to leave her post watching the entrance, waiting.
Everybody wants to be a cat,
because a cat's the only cat who knows where it's at;
while playin' jazz you always has a Welcome mat,
'cause everybody digs a swingin' cat.
Everybody digs a swingin' cat.
Le Chat, Oliver Midwinter, sat smugly in a tall red leatherback chair with the satisfaction of someone who has just one a chess match. A full moon and the lights of Paris shown through the windows. Everything had gone as he had planned without hitch. He was extremely proud of himself for pulling this off. A lot of planning had gone into this one. Not only had he had several intricacies to work out, timing was of the utmost importance to make sure he broke into the study when the house was empty.
He puffed on the extremely expensive cigar, compliments of his “host” and contemplated that night’s haul, spread out before him on the coffee table. He had picked up a lovely assortment of unset polished rubies and emeralds in Paris’s famous jewelry district earlier on in the evening. He had relieved a snobbish rich society woman of part of her collection of diamond rings, each would go for a pretty penny, and now he had this crystal goblet. Quite a feat for someone many people would simply dismiss as a rather short weak looking fellow. He knew his brawn would never help him out, so he had made it a point to exercise his brain to the fullest – and it always paid off.
He contemplated the goblet. It was a hunting trophy recently won by some rich American tourist currently residing in Paris. Not that he cared, what he cared about were the jewels lining the rim and base, twinkling now in the moonlight. Each small, but all flawless, and together quite a nice assortment of precious stones.
The hunter had a well-stocked liquor cabinet and Oliver hadn’t even had to bother with one of his tools of the trade since it was unlocked. He considered first the fine brand of scotch whiskey, then the cognac, and finally decided to help himself to a particularly good quality red wine of an excellent year. He had already left his business card on the mantelpiece, gold paw print testifying to his presence as he wickedly poured the red liquid into the goblet itself. Ah, he thought to himself, there really is no better way to celebrate a successful foray into the night then with a cigar and a glass of the house special – especially if they’re stolen. Just as he raised it in a toast to himself for thinking it through he froze at the sound of footsteps right outside the door to the study. The door flung open and mister big game hunter Vreeland himself stood there, rifle in hand.
Oh merde, thought Oliver as he lost the trophy and kissed his career goodbye.
Ellie returned from helping her mother with a minor crisis involving a silk dress and scanned the dance floor. She saw in one corner of the ballroom a biker chick, the Red Baron, Ishtar, a flower speckled tie-dyed hippie, and Spock gossiping away. In another group a genie, a Madridian bullfighter, a conquistador and Nixon chatted, a girl in cheetah spotted spandex, a fuzzy and whiskered face and two fuzzy ears poking through her messily tousled hair was at the punch bowl with Shrek and Gandalf, and Hercules joined the dancing with the Queen of Hearts.
Suddenly she spotted him. He was chatting easily with Ken and several Barbies, a sultan, and an astronaut – that sultry femme fatale from the movie ‘Dark Matter’.
The band played on:
Everybody wants to be a cat,
because a cat's the only cat who knows where it's at.
Everybody's pickin' up on that feline beat,
'cause everything else is obsolete.
He looked up and saw her looking straight at him. He smiled and making some apologies, left the group, leaving behind several disappointed Barbies, and came striding towards her. He was wearing a floppy wide brimmed brown hat, loose white shirt, brown pants, tall floppy boots, and a 17th century style sword in a scabbard on his belt.
As he came up to her she remarked flirtatiously with a flutter of her fan, “I love the costume, what are you supposed to be – The Last Musketeer?”
“No. Good movie. But no. I’m Puss in Boots of course – notice the ears.” She looked more closely and saw a pair of fuzzy ears was attached to the hat and he had applied some black makeup on his face to look like a cat’s nose and whiskers. “And you?” he asked, “Marie Antoinette?”
She laughed, shaking her head ‘no’; “Actually, it was you who inspired me, with your book. I am Comtesse Jeanne de la Motte. Notice the necklace.” She playfully fingered the faux diamond necklace twined around her neck. She then curtsied; he bowed graciously in return - as naturally as if they were at a dance in pre-revolutionary France.
“I watched every single film version of the story – including the 1934 French black and white adaptation – and instructed a jeweler to make a copy of the design I liked the most with cheap crystals.”
He peered closer and looked startled for a moment and frowned as he inspected the fabulously designed necklace. “Crystal is not always valued so little,” he murmured.
“I suppose worth is in the eye of the beholder,” she replied in not quite a whisper.
She cleared her throat and he quickly replaced the frown with a smile and all he said was, “It’s lovely. Any favorites among the retellings?” The conversation swung back up to a much lighter tone after that very brief digression.
“I really loved Hilary Swank in the 2001 version. She did a great job of making you feel sympathy for her comtesse character. I didn’t like the 2030 remake as much. It was kind of dark the way they were saying everyone was a con artist in pre-revolutionary France and the comtesse was the only one who would admit it.”
“Huh, I didn’t think much of Hilary Swank as the comtesse – I liked her better as the bitter old witch in Spielberg’s last flick- ‘ The City ’. Anyway, enough of Hollywood, may I have this dance?’ he asked courteously.
“Why no gentle sir! Did thee not knowth ladies of the court are forbidden to fraternize with roguish musketeers such as thy own self?” she said with mock surprise, playing along with the roles.
He laughed. “No problem! I got kicked out that gig last week.”
“Well, ok then.”
And they danced like characters from the ending of a fairy tale with Tchaikosky playing in the background.
As they waltzed Ellie sang the words in her head that had been set to this piece:
I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream. I know you, the gleam in your eyes is so familiar a gleam. Yet I know it's true that visions are seldom all they seem. But if I know you, I know what you do. You love me at once, the way you did once upon a dream
As the song ended she thought to herself, ‘This is all a dream. I’ll wake up and he’ll be gone.’ She shook herself of such melancholy thoughts and said, perhaps a little too brightly, “I forget how much fun this holiday can be. I usually think of Christmas as my favorite, what about you?”
He took a moment to reply, giving the question some serious thought. “Well… I’d have to say Halloween is my only holiday.”
“For starters, I feel allegiance towards no country, so therefore I don’t celebrate any nationalistic holidays. Second, I see Easter as a duty and obligation. I’ll occasionally go to Easter mass and mutter something about resurrections along with the audience, but get no holy joy from it. And third, I NEVER celebrate Christmas.”
“That was the day my parents were killed,” he said calmly. “Three days after I was born.” He voice was chilly but then he abruptly went breezily on, “But I like Halloween because the idea behind it transcends all cultures, countries, races, histories, religions and societies – no matter when or where you are it is believed that the dead will always come back to haunt you.”
She gasped, missing his main point, “Your parents died on Christmas?”
“People die every day, Ellie,” he lightly admonished.
“But…how?” she asked, looking appalled.
“Do you remember learning about the Belgium riots in some civics class?”
Ellie clasped her hand over her mouth in sick comprehension.
He continued, “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They died trying to help people; I think there are still a lot of people who couldn’t ask for a better why to die. But it certainly gave me a skewed view in things.”
She frowned and ventured to say, “And that’s why you hate nations.”
“No, that’s why I hate politics.”
In front of her vanity mirror Barbara fiddled with her hair and glanced at her watch. It looked like she was going to be fashionably late. She hadn’t exactly been lying when she had told Dick she wasn’t going to the party. (Such a hurt puppy dog look he had given her! Really, he could be quite charming when he wanted to be.)
She wasn’t going per say; rather an old friend was coming back for a visit – so to speak. Barbara grinned at herself. She playfully twirled her hair into buns. “Throw in a pair of square glasses and I could work at Gothom City Library,” she told the teddy bear that lay on her bed. She giggled. “Mild mannered librarian by day, crime fighter by night! What a hoot! ‘Cause nobody ever suspects the librarian!”
She removed the costume from its carefully stashed hiding place. She dressed carefully, layer by layer, savoring the moment. Ever so carefully she applied the makeup and tied all the lacings. She surveyed the final effect in her full-length mirror and felt the old rush come back as she cheeked to make sure every detail was in place.
Black leather heeled boots went all the way up to her knees, from there fishnet tights went up, covered by short black leather shorts. She wore a white tank top showing off her flat stomach, underneath a back vest that laced up the front like a medieval dress. The vest had long sleeves that flowed down shapely arms ending again in a medieval style with a narrowed triangular bit of fabric covering the top of her hand ending at the base of her middle finger in a point.
Her hands and face had been whitened with a heavy cream. Glitter sparkled over the hair all complimented by a flowing black cloak. Her lips pouted, covered in black lipstick, and the blackened eyebrows and eyelids made her face even more ghostly white, almost skeletal.
The party was in full swing when Bruce arrived. He scanned the room casually, no chaos reigning or maniacs reeking havoc … yet. Veronica saw him enter and came over. “Bruce! So you did come!” If she had sat down and researched every single costume that could possibly represent something the most totally opposite her she couldn’t have picked a better one. She was dressed up in the dull black garb of a Puritan, complete with that little white cap the women had worn. “No costume?” she asked with a pout.
“Forgive the social gaffe, I just don’t seem to see the fun in it right now.”
“Oh cheer up Bruce,” she said blithely, “Have a drink. Dance. And for God’s sake smile!” Bruce continued to talk with Veronica, or rather let her talk at him, but kept one eye on the crowds.
That tragically misunderstood hero, the Phantom of the Opera twirled his black cloak as he swept dramatically by. He went over and chatted with the deejay, a modern day witch – short black flouncy skirt, black midriff, black spiky heeled boots – only the pointy hat was traditional. He pointed out one of the CD’s in her stack, making a request. She smiled and dimpled prettily, looking like she was promising to do her best to fit it in later.
Marilyn Monroe was cutting the dance floor with James Dean and Elvis and Queen Victoria made a hysterically mismatched pair as they danced as well.
It turned out the Dashwood sisters had been invited and surprisingly had come. The younger was dressed as a butterfly with pastel see through wings on her back and the older was dressed as a geisha, paste white face, finely drawn eyebrows high on the forehead, lips painted like a rosebud and an artfully done black wig arranged with two polished mahogany sticks.
The Angel of Death stalked past, dressed in a slightly sheer black dress that fell past her feet and fingers in graceful tatters. Underneath the skits tatters black tractor tread boots were just visible. Her thin torso was constricted by a leather and metal plate corset that tied up the front with leather cord.
Her white neck was accented by a choker necklace of metal and black leather with studs and a chain hanging down her chest. Her face was covered by a black mask made of half leather and half metal and a pair of gigantic black angel's wings affixed to her back. Her short black hair was set in spiral curls and streaked with silver. Hanging off a chain belt wrapped around her waist was a blade that looked like a cross between a Chinese sword and the Old Year’s scythe.
“I can’t believe I didn’t get to dress up!” griped Olivia as she tried to look as if she lugged around crates of caviar every day.
“Do you want to get caught?” asked Michael as he carried in a huge silver coffee urn. He had informed her he had determined the best way to get into the Vreeland Mansion would be to sneak in with the caterers. She privately agreed with him, after looking over his notes and research, but saw no need to inform him. Now they deposited their burdens in the kitchen and casually went into the hallway. Olivia had originally laughed when told this particular alicorn was in the Vreeland Mansion, but at the moment she had her doubts about being able to pull this off.
Michael must have been having doubts as well because he asked nervously, “You’re positive your grandfather showed you to open one correctly?”
For some reason his nervousness cheered her up. She decided she was reassured by the proof he was human. “Only fools are positive,” she told him optimistically as they moved towards their goal.
Comtesse de la Motte and Puss in Boots collapsed into two chairs on the sidelines, gasping for breath after that raucous line dance where they had been squashed in between an Aztec and one of the Beetles and behind Napoleon and a girl in a white sweater and poodle skirt.
As Ellie regained composure she observed from behind her fan. A slow tune played and Tristan and Isolde slowly twirled in the center of the dance floor. Their medieval costumes were a prefect match as they danced to the monsters’ notes. She wore a gown of deep blues with green trim while his tunic and hose were of dark green with blue trim. Her golden cornet caught the light and his lute was slung comfortably on his back as they weaved through the other dancers as if they weren’t even there. The dancers looked as if they were dancing underwater, or in a dream, or maybe, Ellie thought cynically, it was just the lighting.
The song ended and the band broke into a rocked up version of Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs’ ‘Li'l Red Riding Hood’.
“Had enough?” he asked, jerking his head towards the rapidly filling up dance floor.
She smiled, “I’m just getting warmed up!” she promised and they rejoined the dancing as the werewolf sang solo:
Who's that I see walkin' in these woods?
Why, it's Little Red Riding Hood.
Hey there Little Red Riding Hood,
You sure are looking good.
You're everything a big bad wolf could want.
Listen to me.
They danced in the middle of the marble floor,
Little Red Riding Hood
I don't think little big girls should
Go walking in these spooky old woods alone.
Directly beneath the chandelier,
What big eyes you have,
The kind of eyes that drive wolves mad.
So just to see that you don't get chased
I think I ought to walk with you for a ways.
Ignoring all the others, as if they were alone, now I’ll tell him, she thought.
What full lips you have.
They're sure to lure someone bad.
So until you get to grandma's place
I think you ought to walk with me and be safe.
Ignoring the clock that was striking midnight, as if time was no matter, now I’ll tell her, he thought.
I'm gonna keep my sheep suit on
Until I'm sure that you've been shown
That I can be trusted walking with you alone.
loving the feel of their perfectly synchronized bodies,
Little Red Riding Hood
I'd like to hold you if I could
But you might think I'm a big bad wolf so I won't.
and leaned closer to each other,
What a big heart I have-the better to love you with.
Little Red Riding Hood
Even bad wolves can be good.
I'll try to be satisfied just to walk close by your side.
Maybe you'll see things my way before we get to grandma's place.
Little Red Riding Hood
You sure are looking good
You're everything that a big bad wolf could want.
Owoooooooo! I mean baaaaaa! Baaa?
a long, deep, love-for-the-first-time-this-time-for-real kiss
The song ended and everyone clapped enthusiastically.
“I-” they both said at the same time and then both stopped.
“Let’s get out of here,” said Ellie, shouting slightly to be heard over the now blasting music. He nodded.
As they left she noticed a creature out of mythology with hooves, furry goat legs, panpipes, and horns helping Little Bo Peep who had got her lace train caught on some snag and was attempting to loosen it with her shepard’s crock.
I Love It!!!!!
I absolutely love this story!!!!!!!! So far I think I've managed to place everyone that turned in their invites. Interesting, but I think that Silverknight is the only one at the future party. I also think that DoE is none other than the angel of death. So very descriptive was the costume, that it could have only been her. I can't wait until barbara shows up in her mirage costume! Oh, and is batchik/catwoman going to be at the present party, or the future one? I can't believe that I forgot that you were going to post this story on Halloween. Please write more!!
This story is amazing Panther! I love the description of all the costumes. The reaction when Babs shows up as Mirage at the party is going to be awesome. Can't wait for more!!
ACH! Too much of a good...thing!!
*collapses after art-attack*
Seriously though, that was amazing! The description, the character development, the COSTUMES!!! And I loved the details about the Diamond Necklace Affair...I saw a preview for it when I went to the movies the other night and was immediately enthralled! Counting how much French revolutionary influences you chalk up, I would think you'd enjoy my next piece to SoA. But, for now, I must salivate in anticipation of another great set from Ms. "P-is-for-Pretty-Damn-Great" Panther!!
"Paris is a city for lovers. Maybe that's why I've never been there for more than half an hour."
Humphrey Bogart, Sabrina
Witness, Orcle, D of E -
Thank you so much for your resones - they really kept me oing as I forced myself to finish this. I must admit I dragged my feet a bit over (one) worrying about living up to people's expecatations concerning those who were promised to show up and (two) characters developing in a direction I hadn't anticpated. So thanks for making me keep going!
I'm so glad costumes are a hit - I was wondered I might have gone overborad with that.
Well, on with the show!
In the ballroom Veronica practically dragged a man over to meet Bruce. "Bruce, I want you to meet Ravi Das." Mr. Das was a few inches shorter than Bruce and far less built physically; he had olive colored skin and was dressed in the costume of a Hindu prince.
"He's my new financial adviser," gushed Veronica. "Ravi's an absolute whiz with numbers!"
"Miss Vreeland is too kind," he said humbly, his English sounding slightly British. A patriot looking more like Mel Gibson than an American revolutionary swaggered over to join the group.
"Veronica, are you ignoring me?" he asked in a charmingly hurt voice. "You did promise me at least one dance." Veronica laughed/giggled and let the freedom fighter pull her onto the dance floor. Bruce continued to carefully observe the party for any sign of something going wrong. Barbara hadn't been able to make it tonight, and both Nightwing and Robin were on an important separate stakeout down on the docks, so Bruce was going to have to be fours sets of eyes in one. He sternly reminded himself he shouldn't be so reliant on backup.
Puss in Boots and the Comtesse wandered outside the ballroom to a wide veranda where she took off her heavy white wig while he used his cravat to wipe off his already melting face paint.
"Ellie-" he began, but she stopped him.
"No, let me go first."
"As you wish."
She twisted her fingers together nervously. "I, uh, oh this is hard." She took a deep breath and said in a rush, before she lost her nerve, "I know you're a Midwinter."
He exhaled, very slowly. "Again, you anticipate me," he said, ultra calm.
"You were going to confess?"
He took a moment to reply and then said in a deadpan voice, "Confess is such a strong word."
"Oh!" She flung her arms up wildly. "So its true!" she burst out and started to rant. "I always thought my grandmother was just obsessed with the past the way all old people are. A reactionary conservative who refused to look forward! But it's true! The Midwinter's came back! And!" Here she addressed the stars rather than him, "and his great-great grandfather was caught by a Vreeland and his grandmother by a Bat and now he's in a city with both! My God," she turned back to him, "aren't you worried? Do you have a death wish? How could not tell me, Oliver?"
She was forced to draw breath and he took the chance to put in his two creds. "It would hardly be good planning to waltz into Gothom with 'Midwinter' stamped on my forehead, now would it?" She glared at him in frustration. "So how did you figure it out?" he asked, genuinely curious. "I was very careful. Or at least, I thought I was - mostly," he admitted.
She straightened her shoulders and with every ounce of dignity she had said, "I wanted to find out who Puss in Boots was, and since I figured curiosity killed the cat, not the Vreeland, I didn't feel so bad getting your fingerprints from that ticket you gave me the day we went in the carriage ride in the park and sending them to a agency that specializes in, err, researching people's biographies. You're on file, Oliver Midwinter, and since I grew up hearing about your family…" she trailed off as she came to the inevitable conclusion. She sounded sad that she had ever heard the word Midwinter.
He gave her an extreme cat-like look and asked, "So, going to denounce me - make a citizen's arrest?
" 'Denounce?' Have we really regressed back to that?" she asked angrily, referring back to one of their past discussions of history to try and dodge his question.
"But you think you should." It was a statement, not a question.
"Oh Oliver," her tone was pleading and defensive, "it's just, just, - we're so much the products of our families." It sounded lame to her when she said it but he nodded in agreement.
"Yes," he agreed solemnly, "we're all made by our families, the people we are born to, dead and alive, shape us. You, me, even that Bat Man is shaped by family."
She desperately grabbed the change of subject. "Who did you think he is? Where does he go when the sun rises?"
"Oh, probably just hangs around some cave all day." They both giggled, then he sighed, "There's no escaping it, Ellie, we're trapped in family circles. Circles painted in blood lines."
They both sighed again and an uncomfortable silence feel.