30/30 - Tales from the Bloody Rudder
Disclaimers and other information in "Opening Credits"
Alfred had, however, so Superman congenially pointed to the folded suit bag. "Dining out again?"
If there was a critical note in the world- famous baritone, this time the usually astute detective missed it. Or ignored it. In any case, the reply was Bruce-bland. "Most dates involve food."
"Food yes - but this?" Superman gave a vague wave that could - but apparently did not - take in the entire planet centered on the screen. "This is the Bruce Wayne Tour of Overpriced Dining."
"Your suggestion?" A bit of Bat edged back onto the armored posture. "Given that not all of us can snack on a sunbeam."
"Don't you know any CASUAL places?" Superman tried to keep the question light. Not that - to Bruce - most of the worlds great restaurant weren't casual. The man probably wore a tux more in one month then Clark would in a whole year. And that was now that Clark was keeping up with Lois's social schedule. But even by Wayne standards, the last few dates had been society column fodder. Which Clark should know - since he had to edit those columns.
Bad enough that Bruce was being pretentious. Did he have to be boring as well?
"It hardly matters what I know..." Both Brucie and Bat vanished into the true Bruce. Who was - in Clark's opinion - a bit of a spoiled snark. As proved by the arched eyebrow aimed from under the usual expressionless cowl. "The bet requires that we chose from your... list." East coast drawl turned the last word into four letters not so innocent.
True - to be fair. But right now Clark Kent was totally bored and not particularly feeling like being fair. "Heck. If you need it on the list... Superman's fingers blurred over the keyboard, and a new line appeared on the monitor screen nearest the Bat. "Go someplace you don't need to wear a tux." Clark mentally added 'somewhere I don't need to find space for in the morning Calendar section.' "In fact?" Superman's smile showed just a few too many teeth. "Make it someplace you wouldn't wear a suit at all. " The flashing blue eyes added 'I dare you'.
"Bruce?" J'onn drifted into the room. Still in green, so not yet impatient, but with the body language of one who was wondering what the holdup was.
"J'onn?" The word was nothing - but Superman caught the slight glaze in expression that meant an entire dialogue was taking place on another plane.
"Casual would be different." A statement without discernible intonation, but again - the Martian hardly required the use of speech.
"Very well." A statement to the third party. J'onn didn't need words. The Bat had made his decision.
Bruce Wayne pulled off his 'Gotham Yacht Club' baseball cap and pointed it at one of the more impressive piles of hammered planking. "My favorite casual restaurant - The Bloody Rudder."
"Bruce." The feminine whimper and the clutch at his t-shirt sleeve were half acting - but only half. "Clark said casual - not capsized."
Bruce smiled as he guided the slim, dark-haired woman over the driftwood-cluttered beach. "Trust me."
"With my life, yes, but...." The young woman came to a sudden stop as he read the faded sign over the door. It was a ax carved slab with the restaurants name and a Spanish motto : Alimento Malo - Cerveza Débil. "Bruce - this place advertises its bad food."
Chuckling, he pulled back the cork-draped net that passed for a front door. "They make up for it in atmosphere."
"Bruce." The female form didn't move. " We're in the Caribbean. If this is a bar? Aren't I supposed to go in though the 'ladies' entrance?"
"Dat's Jamaica. Doll. We ain't be British 'round dis Island." The booming voice came from a woman with vaguely Indo-African features. Although - at nearly 300 pounds and dressed in colors that would shame a parrot - her ancestry was the only even slightly vague thing about her. "Sides - ain't never a la-de-da lady come to de Rudder - so we don need no door for such. Although? " Rolling out from the darkened interior, the speaker took her time eyeballing the new visitor. "You, honey chile? You might be fixin to be the first. Brucie-lad?" If the last was a question, the question was 'where are your manners'.
"LaTasha Martinez, Mama Jo." Bruce offered the introduction with all the formality of the Founders Club Cotillion. "A seriously good friend of mine. And as honest a woman as you are yourself." He held up one hand in mock-scouting fashion. "I swear it."
"Well, then?" The lady scanned 'LaTasha' with a penetration that an MRI would envy. "I be that happy for you. Come along." Mama Jo swung her fluorescent self back towards the cluttered interior of the restaurant. "My nephew come in lucky - we got dolphin on de grill."
Dolphin? The mental question was joined by a not-only-mental shiver.
Just a fish. Bruce thought back. No sentience involved.
The wave of relief was palatable. Unfortunately - it was also fleeting.
LaTasha stopped dead about three inches past the threshold. Bruce - there are knives stuck in that wall!
It took a moment for Bruce to process what J'onn was angsting about. Not because he couldn't see it too. After all - a three foot machete tended to be hard to overlook. Except - as in this case - when they were an expected part of the scenery Mama doesn't let folks carry them in. He reassured J'onn. She likes her fights honest.
Local hobby. Following the proprietress, Bruce stepped past J'onn's female form and headed for a table in the corner. Much of what I know of bar fighting I leaned right here. But don't worry. It's too early for anything major. Not to mention that the concept of one of the most powerful metas on the planet being put off by a little harborside dust-up was... ridiculous. But if J'onn wanted to play out his current persona? Bruce had no objection to thoroughness. Especially when this one of J'onn's creations was so thoroughly delectable.
He pulled the curved body closer. "I'll protect you."
"No need fo that, boy. You know folks don give my guests no trouble." Mama Jo guided LaTasha to a table made from a packing crate. "Now you just be sittin here, chiles. I go fetch you some supper."
Seeing that Bruce was waiting also, J'onn gave in.
Bruce held the cut down barrel for his date.
Bruce? J'onn looked around cautiously. Shouldn't we ask for a menu?
Menu? For once Bruce Wayne's mental smile reached his face. "Mama's place. What mama cooks we eat."
J'onn gave in. And sat down. I'm being to see where you get the attitude.
Bruce laughed as he took his own seat on a three-legged chair. Mama also taught me a lot.
Mental exchanges are fast - but apparently Mama Jo was faster. By the time they had settled into their chairs she was back behind Bruce. "Here." The drinks clattered as she slammed them onto the table.
J'onn lifted one cup carefully. "She serves drinks in tin cans?"
"Pewter." Bruce's grin grew wider. "These tankards are probably old enough to drop jaws at Butterfield's." Picking up his own, he took a deep swallow. "Mama doesn't allow glass bottles. Folks break them in fights - and then she doesn't get her deposit back." Seeing the hesitation in his dates eyes - or possibly in his mind - Bruce added a mental whisper. Don't worry - a little lead isn't that dangerous.
Is this place real? J'onn's eyes searched to corners - although whether for seams in the illusion or just for the toe- nibbling local crabs was anyone's guess. Or is this one of your elaborate scams?
"All real." Bruce shifted his seat to allow a better view of the bar. Just because the place seemed peaceable this early...well, Mama's machete policy wasn't instituted just because. "The Rudder hasn't changed since..." Bruce considered a moment. "Probably not since the back half of the Unlucky Lady washed up... pretty much where it is today. Local palm is not much good for shipbuilding, so...well, repairing it was pretty much out of the question. Even if they could have gotten the front half back off Cat's Cove. So... Alfonzo, I think it was... anyway the ship's cook took what he could salvage and turned what was left of his galley into a tavern."
"A tradition that continues, I gather."
Bruce finished his drink and held up the cup for a refill.
Mama responded by tossing over a jug. Plastic, fortunately. Plus with reflexes he'd never show in Gotham, Bruce did manage to catch it.
"Pretty much." Bruce refilled his cup, ignoring J'onn as 'LaTasha' hadn't even started on hers. "The island is pretty good for simple crops, but after that? The locals import or make do. Mostly make do."
"Living by their wits?"
"Their wits are a lot more reliable then the government mail boat."
J'onn took a sniff of his own cup - and almost shifted back to green. From the fumes alone. "This is the 'weak beer'?" Because it was more likely that he had been slipped a jug of medical alcohol. Or embalming fluid.
"Cane punch." Bruce rolled his own drink casually on his tongue, as if savoring a fine wine. "About a thousand times stronger then beer. Although the beer isn't all that weak."
J'onn took a small sip. A very small one. And even that made the terran throat close from the pure chemistry. "You DRINK this?!"
Bruce passed over his jug. "I have fruit juice."
Mama Jo rolled over to crowd the small table with two heaping platters of vegetables and broiled fish. "Brucie-boy have a weak stomach since childhood. All de fault of yo mama listen to that doctor man."
"Mama Jo." A note of... could that be embarrassment?
"I know." The tone implied she knew no such thing. "He be your daddy. But that don' make him wise. Shoulda let me set you up. My boys - they don' have no problem eat or drink anything."
Bruce pulled his platter over - making room for salt and red sauce. "That's because you're such a good cook."
Mama Jo gave a pleased bow. "I am... say that." Dropping two spoons beside the plates, she headed back to the bar.
Bruce smiled at his date. "Dig in."
LaTasha stared at the heaping plate. I gather forks are also out of the question?
When God gave us fingers? Why bother?? Besides - cuts down on the puncture wounds.
J'onn's perception marched from Bruce - who was digging in to the broiled corn with unexpected vigor - to the decorations of the pub - nonexistent - unless beer ads counted - to the few other patrons - all busy with both business and beer. This was hardly the Wayne boyhood of legend, but... Bruce did not lie. Evade, yes. Frequently and with impressive skill. But lie? Not to his friends.
Of course, the absence of lies was not the presence of truth.
"Bruce?" J'onn waited until his date finished off a final bit of a roast banana. "You brought me here as some sort of a ... game? Test?"
"Not at all." Bruce broke off a corner of crispy fish and held it up for 'LaTasha'. "This really IS my favorite restaurant on the whole world."
J'onn sat back - and let that action demand an explanation.
"My ... I think it was great -great-grandfather. Or maybe it was a generation back." The rest of the fish temporarily distracted Bruce from his thoughts. "Anyway - the family acquired an island a few miles over."
LaTasha rolled her eyes at that. "I refuse to believe you don't know when Pere Wayne bought it." To the day. Make that the hour. Possibly the minute.
"What bought?" Bruce's answering expression was pure smirk. "I mean we HAVE an island. Since the days when Leatherwing sailed the main. And as no one has actually disputed our sovereignty..."
"Oh - right." Those who thought Batman was a humorless fanatic had never seen Bruce Wayne at a zoning hearing. The phrase 'my town' applied to Gotham in more then a vigilante sense. LaTasha sniffed at her own potatoes. In a very ladylike fashion, of course. "Go on."
"Anyway. My father used to bring us down here for the summer." An ear of corn was waved in what J'onn assumed was the general direction of the mentioned island. "He'd take the boat off on a clinic tour - and my mother would paint... and I would just... I mostly a ran wild."
Thomas Wayne's son and heir - running wild. That was less likely then a Wayne overlooking real estate. J'onn's expression must have said as much.
"Believe it." Picking up the tankard Bruce watered the sand with J'onn's untouched cane punch. Apparently even Martian physiology had its stress limits. "Mama Jo has pictures that Vesper would kill for. Well - maybe not kill but..."" He poured a fresh glass from the bottle of fruit juice and passed it back. "That one up there.
J'onn followed the pointed finger. "That's you???" The age was perhaps right - judging by the fading of the image - and the coloring - but the prospect of a Wayne of any age decked out in nothing but a straw hat and sandals was...."
"Bruce Wayne - age four." Bruce reinforced the printed image with a flurry of happy memories. "The islanders have their... rough side... But they are very very fond of children. I could play freely here in ways that I just... couldn't... back in Gotham."
La Tasha reached for Bruce's hand. "That's why it's your favorite place?"
That and...well... most of the kids I played with are still here. They leave to fish a little - or to work at the tourist hotels in the big islands- but the locals tend to come back. So here I'm just... Bruce."
And not Wayne or Brucie or the Bat or any of the other willing and unwilling masks that covered so much of his reality, J'onn finished mentally. "They don't ask you for anything."
Bruce laughed. Honestly and loud. "Oh - they ask me for lots of things. We'll be lucky if we get out tonight without my being conscripted to unload at least ONE load of fish. But..."
"That's different." J'onn finished.
J'onn understood. How he understood. His own spirit had been similarly gated - by duty first and then by tragedy. "A very good reason to value a place."
"Well, that and.." Bruce waved his now-empty platter at Mama Jo. "Do try the fish."