"For Life, Marguerite"
WABS Studios, Apollyon City
The powerful presence of Greta Garbo filled the large white, screen at the front of the room. As she and Robert Taylor shared the summer romance of their on-screen lives, Alan's thoughts turned to the woman he loved. Molly lay unconscious in Wingate Memorial Hospital, the victim of a stroke. Uncertainty gnawed at his thoughts.
On the screen, Robert Taylor's character held his dying love, Marguerite, in his arms. "Think of the day you found that four leaf clover, and all the good luck it's going to bring us. Think of the vows Nichette and Gustav made and that we're going to make to each other. This is for life, Marguerite!" Armand looked down, a hopeful smile on his face, but Marguerite lay lifeless in his arms. "Marguerite. Marguerite! No, don't leave me! Marguerite...come back."
Alan cursed his youthful body. He was older than Molly and should be the one feeling the vise of mortality's strong hands. Instead he sat in the comfort of his theater in perfect health, but felt more broken than his wife's aging body. Where was his vaunted willpower now? He spent his entire life cheating time, but every so often it crept up on him to remind him that it was still there and there was nothing even he could do to slow its foreboding march. It refused to be cheated and Alan's loved ones were the collateral it sought in exchange for youth. It was a deal he never negotiated with any devil or deity. His thoughts turned to the JSA's old foe, Vandal Savage. Surely sometime during the eons of his life, immortality proved to be a curse. Had he ever loved and watched the object of his affection pass into history? Surely Savage had a heart, even if it was black as deep space and poisoned with evil. Alan sighed. He was no immortal, but fate was nearly as cruel to him when it paved him a path to an emerald fountain of youth.
The closing credits started to roll. "Camille" was never one of Alan's favorite movies. He sat through it a few times with Molly, but it never moved him before. He usually teased her when she cried at the classic death scene at the end. Now Alan understood. Sometimes love has to let go. His heart both ached and rejoiced for Armand.
"Excuse me, Mr. Scott?"
Someone had slipped in on him. That would never have happened at WGBS. The heavy doors of his Screening Room there creaked when someone opened them, announcing their presence. This new theater offered no such warning system. Alan turned to see who was intruding on his time alone.
It was Felicity Barnes.
"Yes Felicity? How can I...?"
Felicity approached slowly. Her delicate features were illuminated by a flood of black-and-white lighting as the closing credits continued to roll. She was a pretty girl who carried herself with the grace and dignity of the stars of old Hollywood. Her smile was welcome and put Alan at ease. "I just wanted you to know that I'm sorry about your mother. If there's anything I can do to help you or your family, please let me know."
Alan winced at the word "mother", but nodded politely. He wanted to say more, but numbness forced him to steer the conversation with formalities. "Thank you Felicity. My family and I appreciate it."
"Have they found your father yet?"
The question struck Alan like water from the icy North Atlantic. He failed to consider that people would expect to see his father during the family emergency. "Um...no, they haven't."
Felicity smiled. "I'm sure they will soon. Modern technology has made the world a much smaller place than it was in his day."
His day? Alan didn't care for the direction the conversation was taking. Somewhere along the way he lost control of its reins. "Excuse me, Felicity. I... have.... meetings to attend."
Felicity nodded and stepped aside, allowing Alan to enter the aisle. She touched him on the shoulder. "Surely someone else can take care of your schedule. Your mother..."
"Is being cared for by the best neurologists in the country! Would you please just leave me alone?" Alan brushed Felicity's hand aside and turned to face her. He stood defiantly, with a sneer on his face. He balled his hands into fists, as if he faced Solomon Grundy rather than an attractive, sympathetic newswoman.
Felicity jumped back from his outburst. She covered her mouth with a shaking hand. "I'm sorry.... I didn't mean to intrude." She choked on her words before bolting for the door.
"Felicity! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to go off half-cocked like that," Alan called after her.
The young woman never turned. Alan ran his fingers through his blonde
hair in frustration. He would apologize to Felicity properly, but first
he needed to get away and think. He knew just the place.
Wingate Memorial Hospital, Apollyon City, The Same Day
The man in the long coat shuffled through the hallway. He passed several patient's rooms, not bothering to stop. A few people stared as he passed. It was the overcoat. It was much too warm to be wearing such a heavy article of clothing. It had been too long.
He made his way past the elevators, preferring to use the service
stairway instead. He encountered a heavy Latino woman on the sixth floor.
He didn't return her smile or bother to tip his hat. At last, he made
it to the eleventh floor where the neural patients were cared for. He
had some unfinished business with one of the patients.
Apollyon City, 1308 Hermes Court, The Same Day
The elderly woman with the gruff Romanian accent placed the key in the lock and turned it. The door opened smoothly. "...and we don't allow excessive noise! Most of our residents are elderly."
Zatanna nodded. "That sounds wonderful! After living in San Francisco, I'm looking forward to some peace and quiet for a change."
The old woman's hand halted at the light switch. She turned and pointed a bony finger in Zatanna's face. "San Francisco? You're not some kind of weirdo are you?"
Zatanna maintained her polished demeanor. "Goodness, no. I'm just a simple girl really. I won't even be home very much. I'm opening a florist on...."
The little woman's voice turned sweetly melodic. "A florist? Why didn't you say so, dear? I've rented apartments for years and found that florists and librarians make the best residents."
"I don't think that's likely to change with me," Zatanna answered. Of course, she would keep her show business and super hero backgrounds to herself. What Ms. Scievski didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
Ms. Scievski flipped the light switch to its "on" position. Zatanna was impressed. The apartment looked much bigger on the inside than it did from the outside. The walls were white, accented by a border at the ceiling. The border would have to go. Zatanna wasn't into the bovine theme. The living room was spacious and seemed custom built for entertaining. Built-in bookshelves were plentiful. Just off the living room was a small dining area. It was big enough for a table and chairs, and maybe a hutch. The compact dining area was a trade-off for an exceptionally large kitchen equipped with everything a girl needed to make life easier; a dishwasher, a garbage compactor, a built-in microwave oven, and an ice maker. A breakfast bar separated the kitchen from the dining room and living room. It was perfect. Ms. Scievski led Zatanna down a hallway to the three bedrooms. The first two were small. Zatanna quickly earmarked the one with an outside view for an office. Besides, the other had an adjoining half-bath, which would be much-appreciated by any guests who stayed the night. The master bedroom was breathtaking. The ceiling tapered from each corner to the middle, forming a vaulted trapezoid. A brass ceiling fan looked promising for keeping the cool air on her in the summer months and for assuring all the heat didn't rise in the winter. Being a corner room, the windows on either side offered a view to both the side and back of the building. The latter view overlooked an in-ground swimming pool. The piece-de-resistance was the master bath. It was dominated by a large whirlpool tub that rose from the center of the tiled floor. Two long vanities spanned the right and left sides of the room. To the right of each vanity, doors led to grand walk-in closets. Overhead, a skylight let in just the right amount of dusk light to let Zatanna know it was perfect for candlelight baths. Of course, she really loved a good hot shower too, and was pleased to find a corner shower with a massaging shower-head. The toilet was tucked away nicely in a small water closet. "I could spend all my time in a master bath like this!"
Ms. Scievski shook her head. "Bad for the skin. See what it's
done for me!" The petite woman held out her wrinkled hands. Her
laugh was coarse, like someone who had smoked too many cigarettes in
her long lifetime. Still, it was infectious and Zatanna joined in. In
their private joke, they bonded. As her laughter dulled to a relaxed
grin Zatanna knew she had found a home. She nodded to Ms. Scievski.
"It's perfect! I'll take it!"
The Asteroid Belt Between Mars and Jupiter
Sustained by an aura of green flame, Sentinel raced through the airless void of space. Occasionally a tongue of emerald energy leaped forth from his hand, disintegrating any rocks or chunks of ice that strayed into his path. Finally, he found the floating giant he was searching for. It was a hulking asteroid located near the belt's center. It appeared to be one-fourth the size of Earth's own moon. Ted Knight had discovered it years ago in his wanderings. He explored it thoroughly, but found it nothing more than a cosmic oddity, devoid of life. It was perfect.
Raw energy erupted from the ring on Sentinel's finger. This time no fly swats, or large fists, or jackhammers emerged from its face. Instead, the unbridled power of the Starheart slammed into the lifeless giant. It never stood a chance. In an instant, Ted's pet rock was a field of scattered debris.
Sentinel erected a force shield around him to protect him from the
shock wave of the blast. What had once been a large planetoid was now
many smaller asteroids. The large chunks were caught in the gravitational
pulls of neighboring bodies and were sucked down to their surfaces,
slamming into them violently. It felt good to let go. God knows he rarely
had the opportunity on Earth. Still, he had accomplished no more than
a wrecking ball powering its way through the side of a condemned building.
He floated in the quietness of space for what seemed like hours, but
in truth were only a few minutes. There was no peace to be found here,
only outlets for his rage, a silent jury of lifeless rock to condemn
him for the murder of one of their own. He landed on a nearby asteroid,
sat on the rim of a crater, and cried.
Apollyon City, Wingate Memorial Hospital, Neurology Waiting Room, The Same Evening
Jennie had taken off early from work to be here, even though hospitals wore her out. Her eyes felt like someone had rubbed them with sandpaper. Her hair was a mess. Her butt was numb from the sticky, puke-green vinyl chair that had molded to her shape. She was hot, miserable, and most of all, mad as hell. Her father still hadn't shown up.
She sighed , and with great effort, stood and stretched her lithe frame. She looked at her Spider-Man wristwatch. Where was he? He had better have a good excuse. The world had better be ending and someone just forgot to tell her. The Cosmos had better be torn asunder somewhere, or he would have a lot of explaining to do. The least he could do was call.
Jennie leaned over and rubbed her legs to try and restore the feeling. After a few seconds, she straightened up and walked to the open doorway adjoining the main hallway. She leaned against the door frame and watched. Not much was happening. The nurses were changing shifts at the nurse's station at the far end of the hall. The three who were coming on duty exchanged pleasantries with two who were leaving for the night. A door shut at the opposite end of the corridor. An elderly man in a pair of blue silk pajamas entered the hallway. He was hooked up to a portable I.V. and pushed the apparatus along beside him. He shuffled toward the nurse's station. He smiled at Jennie as he passed. It took him a few minutes to navigate the hall's length, but soon he stopped and spoke to the nurses. He appeared to be flirting with them! The ladies erupted in laughter. Jennie couldn't hear what the nurses said to him as he walked away, but the man's voice was surprisingly strong for someone who looked so puny. "Just getting in my laps like the doctor ordered," he said. Soon, he passed by Jennie once more. His return trip winded him, but he still took time to smile at Jennie and wink! She returned the smile and watched the man disappear into his room.
What a dear! She wondered about him. What was he like years ago? Did he have a wife? A family? What brought an old man to a young city like Apollyon? Of course, her father was roughly the same age and he....
He wasn't here! Jennie's exhausted mind wandered back to his unexplained absence. She was too spent to be angry again. Maybe he tried to call. Wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, she walked to the nurse's station. She found the three ladies buried in paperwork. The Head Nurse, a patrician-looking woman with striking features and silver hair, was threatening to write a complaint about the previous shift's handling of their duties. Busy with their work, neither nurse noticed Jennie standing at the station. She cleared her throat.
The Head Nurse looked up. "Oh, I'm sorry. We were-"
Jennie didn't mean to be rude, but plowed through the woman's apology with abruptness. "Could you please check to see if any messages were left for the family of Molly Mayne Scott? Room 1117."
The woman nodded and skimmed through pages of hastily scrawled notes in a worn message pad. "Hmm...no calls for 1117." She looked up at Jennie sympathetically. "I'm sorry," she added.
Jennie was more angry now than before. She thanked the woman and turned to walk back to the waiting room. She made it as far as the water fountain before the Head Nurse called after her. "Miss! Miss!"
Jennie rushed back to the nurse's station, eager to hear the first
good news of the day. "Someone called?" she asked.
"Mr. Scott was here early this morning, but there was someone else." The nurse shook her head and squinted to make out the name. "A Mr.... Bolnikov? At least that's what it looks like to me. I'm not the best with foreign names."
Jennie nodded numbly. "Thank you," she said as she turned
away. She had been at the hospital most of the day and saw no one coming
or going from Molly's room. Who was Mr. Bolnikov and what was his business
Gotham City, 3:07 A.M.
Sentinel sat on the precipice of the old WGBS building and looked out over the city he called home most of his adult life. From this vantage point, it looked so peaceful. He knew better.
He wished Molly was well enough to move her back to Gotham. She was at home here before he uprooted her to Apollyon. He never considered the stress such a move placed on a seventy-year old woman. Did he really need the challenge of starting a new station? Or was it just his arrogance? After all, he was an old man whether he looked the part or not. The truth hurt worse than a Solomon Grundy haymaker. He enjoyed his youth. His only regret was that Molly couldn't share in it. Sure, she fawned over him and at times seemed to enjoy her "young" husband. She kidded him, squeezing his muscles like an adoring groupie and saying things like, "This is the Green Lantern that melted my heart all those years ago!" Those were the good times. Other times their age difference felt like a great chasm between their worlds. He had needs again, young man needs. He worshiped Molly, but she showed little interest in those things any more. She tried hard to keep up with him, but usually just tired herself out. Often, they both fell asleep frustrated.
Sentinel's thoughts were interrupted by a wailing siren from below. He watched as several police cars gathered around Ashton Manor like sharks on a feeding frenzy. The Ashton was an exclusive downtown playground for the Gotham elite. Here, the heavyweight power brokers gathered for a nightly round of cajoling and deal-making among the finest luxuries money could buy. The place was more of a country club than a hotel, preferring to maintain a guarded approach to those it allowed inside and seek out only those individuals they deemed worthy of their ranks. Gotham's true aristocrats knew its amenities well. Those who were merely rich dreamed of invites that never came. The Ashton didn't like attention, and its patrons preferred to keep it that way. It even went to extremes with its security force. They were highly-trained former officers and servicemen. Several had served in the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit and were adept at dealing with metahuman emergencies. Something was definitely wrong if the Ashton required assistance from mere police officers.
Sentinel readied himself to leap into the air. A voice behind him cut short his leap. "They say you can never go home again."
Sentinel turned, not really surprised. "I was wondering if I'd see you here."
Batman stepped forward from the shadows. "What brings you back to Gotham?"
The next few seconds passed like hours as the two heroes looked one another over. Since when did he need a hall pass from Batman to visit his old city? Sentinel never cared for Batman. He was an effective crime fighter, but they disagreed on the fundamental tactics of the super-hero business. Early in Batman's career, Sentinel had considered taking him in for vigilantism. However, the task proved more formidable than he ever dreamed. Batman seemed to appear and disappear like a magician's assistant. Superman later vouched for him and that alone was enough. The Man of Steel's explanation was right, even if disturbing. There were two kinds of heroes. Some were like them. Their job was to give the public something good to believe in, an ideal, as well as to protect them from the occasional alien invasion, nuclear threat, or near-omnipotent beings from other dimensions. Then there were guys like Batman. His lot was to do the dirty work, to take care of the horrors that haunt the public's collective imagination.
However, Sentinel was not going to let Batman demand an account of him. "I have my reasons."
Batman never flinched. "Running again?"
Sentinel moved closer to Batman, until the two stood nose-to-nose. "You're quite cocky for someone with no powers."
"Cocky?" Batman asked. A smug grin nearly parted his tight lips, but was quickly beaten into submission by a familiar scowl. "I would say...observant."
Sentinel wasn't about to let the Bat spook him. He glanced toward the Ashton. "Observant enough to realize there's something going on right under our noses?"
Batman pulled away and walked to the edge of the building and looked down at the Hotel. "Observant enough to know it's the Riddler's operation. Observant enough to notice you're wearing your ring again."
Sentinel blinked. He held out his ring. There was a faint trace of emerald glow on its face, more like a child's hastily charged glow-in-the-dark toy ring than the awesome weapon on his finger. Dr. Mid-Nite was the only other man he had ever met who could have made such an observation so quickly in such poor lighting.
"Why have you come back?" Batman asked. "Are you abandoning Apollyon so soon? Or do you plan on playing part-time hero there too?"
"And just what the hell does that supposed to mean? I've been at this super-hero business for sixty years. I was putting away bad guys long before you ever heard of spandex!"
Sentinel was nearly livid. "Mister I'll have you know..."
"Look at this city! I'm cleaning up your mess to this day! There's no "retirement" in this business. What were you thinking? That you could one day say, "Well, I've done my part for truth, justice, and the American way. Now it's somebody else's turn", and it would all go away? My father kept your newspaper clippings in a scrapbook. He trusted you to keep the streets safe, but where did that get him?" A fog rolled in as Batman peered down into the cold Gotham night. "I've said too much."
Sentinel looked away. He was more embarrassed for Batman now than angry with him. Batman blamed him for the cesspool Gotham had become and somehow his father was tied into it. Of course, Batman could never understand what it meant to be a super-hero in the McCarthy era. He may have read of it, seen excerpts from news reels, or watched documentaries, but he never lived it. Right or wrong, the JSA made their choices and stuck to them. They did see a little action throughout the fifties and sixties, but nothing like what they saw during their golden age. He was glad when the second generation rose up in the 70's.
Sentinel wasn't a bad detective himself. Years of whodunits on both the silver screen and in print had honed his skills of deduction to a razor's edge sharpness. There were very few truly violent crimes in Gotham during that time. Batman's father sounded like a good family man, so Sentinel quickly eliminated the ones with ties to organized crime. The only crime that came to Sentinel's mind was the shooting...... he froze. Thomas Wayne? That meant....
It was only an educated guess, but it would certainly be easy for Sentinel to research it further. If he were so inclined, but he wasn't. If the Batman was Bruce Wayne then it was a secret Sentinel would not betray. He respected the Wayne legacy.
Batman interrupted Sentinel's thoughts again. "Observant enough to know you understand more than I meant for you to."
Sentinel nodded. "And observant enough to know that I'll conveniently forget once we leave this roof."
Batman shook his head. "We aren't going anywhere. Gotham is my city now. We all have our reasons for doing what we do. I suppose you had your reasons for retiring. I was taught to respect that, but I've got to do this alone. Go! Appollyon needs you now. Just don't run away from her like you did Gotham."
Batman's last verbal jab stung, but Sentinel knew he was right. This was no longer his fight or his city. This was the Gotham of the Joker, Riddler, and Two-Face. Gone was the Gotham of the Sportsmaster and Fiddler and two-bit thugs. Batman even had his own Harlequin in Catwoman. Gotham was no longer the Sentinel's home. Maybe it hadn't been for some time. Apollyon was his home now. It required a different kind of hero. It needed the patient nurturing of an old man who had been given a second chance. He looked at the ring on his finger and started to will it to fade away, but left it. The ring was no longer a crutch, but a reminder of who he was, where he had been. He was a charter member of the Justice Society of America and served in the All-Star Squadron. He looked down at his chest. The brightly-colored costume began to change as a familiar glow of a lantern appeared on his chest. He respected Hal, John, Kyle, and even Guy, but the legacy was his. He was the Green Lantern. The first. The original. The torch-bearer. The world would have to get used to it again. The Green Lantern rose into the air and headed home.
He didn't look back, but did hear as the Batman let down his guard.
"Thank you," the Dark Knight whispered as he dove off the
rooftop toward the Ashton down below.