That's true of most people these days, I guess, but even more so for an athlete with delusions of grandeur like me. We finished filming the commercial with no further hassles, thank God. Karlo was slick as snot and just full of praise for my every move. I think he had his mind on a movie, starring yours truly. Hell, I'm positive of it. To tell you the truth, I wasn't all that enthusiastic about the idea, really. Sure the crowds and the adoration were fun, but Christ, filming is hard work. And don't let anyone ever tell you differently. Take it from me. By the end of a day on the set, I was as exhausted and wrung out as an old limp dish rag, as if I'd spent the day running hard on the track or training on the field.
And, of course, I couldn't help but think of all those athletes turned actors. A pretty big crowd to fight your way through, even with an Olympic medal dangling from your neck. And, frankly, I've seen some of those films and things. Pardon me while I upchuck. Just because a guy or a girl is a great (or even not so great) athlete and nice looking is no garnet that they can act. Not in the least. Fact is, most of us can't. So unless the film is some mindless piece of action or fluffy eye candy that doesn't demand a lot of skill, the chances are pretty good that it sucks.
Okay. If you're thinking that I didn't want to embarrass myself like that go to the head of the class, gang.
And who could find the time, anyway? I was still snowed under with all my various training regimens. So, it's no wonder that I wasn't paying much attention, huh? I saw Bette Kane hanging around on the edges of my life for days afterwards, but I didn't really think much about it. What was to think? She had a right to the training fields and the exercise equipment, too, didn't she?
Even when Tula mentioned her, I didn't think much of it.
Tula smiled in that fierce, protective way she's got. Usually she's protecting Garth, who needs it, but sometimes she can spare the rest of us a thought or two. To emphasize her point she did something painful but vital to the muscles of my calf and I yelped satisfactorily.
"Got a new admirer, Dick?" she teased.
I groaned. "Jeez, weren't you paying attention in those Anatomy and Physiology classes, Tula? I thought that was your Major. I don't think that joint is supposed to do that! Some Sports Medicine doc you're gonna make!"
She grinned, raised one exotically beautiful eyebrow at me, and her Maori heritage came rushing to the forefront. Fierce people, the Maori. Ask the Aussies about that. People figured she was a shoo-in for at least one swimming gold at the upcoming Sydney 2000 Games in a couple of years. She and Garth. Swimming's answer to Bogie and Becall. In the meantime, she was training here in the US from her native New Zealand and studying Sports Medicine. Earning a few vital extra dollars as a P&A therapist for the Titans along the way and learning a lot from Dr. Charles McNider, the team doc. "Doctor Midnight" may be blind but he's the best. He kept Tula pretty busy most of the time but she and Garth always seemed to find time for one another. God knows where.
She continued her "therapy". But she fell so
I was really glad that she took her hands off me just then. Tula is amazingly strong for a woman her size, believe me. And if the fire in her brown eyes was any indication of her mood ...
For a heartbeat she didn't answer. I thought I was going to be ignored. But then -
"Garth came home from Maui a couple of days ago," she said almost matter of factly, no preamble, no build up, no nothing. Just tell it bang and shame the devil. "He didn't want to make love. Wouldn't even let me take off his shirt for a massage. Made a big joke about it. 'You're going to wear me out, girl!'" I closed my eyes and my stomach took up queasy residence somewhere down around my ankles. I had a pretty good idea of what was coming. I was right.
"At first I thought he was just tired. Long flight and all that," she continued in that quiet, somehow disturbing voice. "Didn't press him. I walked in on him when he was undressing for bed, though. He was covered in bruises. All over. I examined him as closely as he'd let me. I think one of his ribs is cracked. He won't see doctor McNider. Begged me not to tell him. Won't see a doctor at all. Jesus, Dick, what am I going to do?"
"I'm gonna kill Arthur freakin' Curry, is what I'm gonna do!" I exploded. "Damned sadist! Why can't he find another punching bag for Christ's sake!"
Tula's eyes narrowed dangerously. "You'll have to stand in line," she told me, still in that awful voice. "Not if I get to him first, you won't kill him."
The trouble is this: I won't swear that she was exaggerating.
Quickly, I grabbed her hand and squeezed it lightly in comfort. "Hey, Tula ... it's cool ... it's cool. Chill, okay? Please? We - we'll think of something, I promise! I - I'll talk to Garth, okay? We'll work this out."
Jeezus. Listen to me. Ol' Gonna Save The World Grayson. But ... how? I didn't really think that talking to Garth would help. Lots of us have talked to Garth, one way or another. Hasn't yet done any good. So how was I gonna find a fairy tale happy ending in this blasted mess?
Didn't have the slightest idea.
Tula just nodded. Didn't say jack. I'm pretty sure she was far from convinced. So was I. Believe you me, I was still plenty worried when I left her sitting on the edge of a massage table, staring off into the distance, lost in her emotional turmoil.
So you can see how the subject of Bette Kane just sorta got lost in the fray, right p> The only thing I could think was: Donna. Maybe Donna could help.
Finding Donna Troy wasn't as easy as you might think, either. Student teachers don't have offices. Especially not in the Classics Department. That's not a department that gets a lot of attention in the first place. Not at Gotham U, anyway. These days there aren't too many students who're interested in learning about Classic Greek, Roman, or Egyptian literature, history and mythology. Too bad.
Donna Troy was definitely a God save for Professor Prince. Seeing Donna Troy and Diana Prince together was like looking at sisters, although as far as I know they're not related except by adoption. Diana's mother Hippolyta Prince adopted Donna when she was just a baby. Donna says she's got a lot to live up to in her family background. I guess so. It isn't every girl who's mother was once a reining monarch. Or whose sister is a retired United Nations Ambassador. Okay. So Themiscyra is a tiny little Greek island in the Cyclades island chain in the Aegean. It's still an independent nation, by God. Diana caused quite a stir among the stodgy, ancient Ambassadors at the UN. Do you know any other UN Ambassador who ever had their very own pin-up poster, hmmmm? Diana was furious, of course. Had the thing off the market so fast it could've made your head spin. Today that poster, when you can find it, that is, is worth a bloody fortune.
I still have mine.
I finally tracked Donna down to The Student Union. She likes to live dangerously so she eats there. It's also cheap. Teaching Assistants don't make much cash. Not even ones like Donna who speak six languages and whose doctoral thesis set the Classics world on it's collective ear. Rewriting parts of "The Iliad" will do that for you, I'm told. And she refuses to sponge off her mother or her sister. I gotta say, I admire her for that. A lot.
She smiled at me when she first saw me until she spied the look in my eye. Her fork she lay down carefully at the side of her unfinished salad and sugarless (yeah, I know her well enough to know that without having to see it) ice tea. Studying me, she was already trying to fathom my problem. Donna is like that. She's, like, mother-hen to the entire world. Especially one beleaguered jock named Dick Grayson. Donna is like the older sister that I never had. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent, curled up on her couch after a fight with Babs or one of my coaches, how often I've bent her ear with my problems. And she always listens. I've lost count of all the baklava and moussaka I've scarfed down at her table over the years. God, she keeps me sane.
Right now she was waiting patiently for me to say something, anything
I bit my lip and began. "It's Garth ... "
When the tale was told in all it's ugliness, Donna didn't waste a second on useless anger or rhetoric Oh, she was mad, all right. Her deep onyx colored eyes sparkled with her wrath. But that was for later. Now, we had to try and help Garth. As usual she cut right to the heart of the matter, like a surgeon with his healing scalpel.
"The first thing we've got to do," she declared, "is get him to see a doctor. Any doctor will do. How about your Dad, Dick? Think you could convince Dr. Wayne to see to Garth and then to be discreet about it? As a favor to you, perhaps?"
She searched my eyes for an answer. I whacked my forehead sharply at such gross evidence of my own stupidity. "Christ!" I moaned. "Paint me red and call me an idiot! I should have thought of that! Of course! Dad Wayne
She managed to smile at me. God, she has the most beautiful smile in the world. Next to Babs, that is. "That's all right, Short Pants," she reassured me. "Sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees, I guess."
I blushed at the use of her private nick name for me. I'm never gonna live down those knickers that came with the school uniform for Gotham Prep. Never. Not in this lifetime, at any rate. Guess I might as well get used to it. And it's not so bad. You don't wanna know what she call's Roy. Heh. I got off easy, trust me. Well, the nickname's not too awful when Donna uses it, anyway. Anybody else calls me that and it's knuckle city.
I gathered her slim hand in mine. "Does Mr. Terry Long know just what a lucky man he is?" I inquired, softly. At the sound of her fiancee's name Donna brightened, her face aglow with pleasure. And, despite myself, I was jealous as Hell. There's no doubt about it. She really loves the guy. Diana is happy for her, but the rest of the administration of Gotham U isn't so understanding. Terry Long does teach for a rival university, after all. They're both Classics profs. That's how they met. Terry has tenure at Empire State. Donna doesn't.
She grinned. "There's a rumor going around to that effect, yes," she admitted blithely.
"Any truth to that rumor Miss Troy?" I quipped.
Sternly, she pointed to the bank of phones near the entrance. "Go!" she ordered. "Phone your Dad! Now!"
Sheepish in my embarrassment, I rose and bowed low. "Yes, Oh She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed! At once, My Queen!"
I ducked just in time to avoid the crouton she threw at me with unerring accuracy and scurried away.
The phone rang twice before Alfred answered it. "Wayne residence. Alfred Pennyworth here. How may I help you?" God, I love that man. Alfred is like the rock upon which Wayne Manor and it's household rests. We'd all be lost without him. Me, most of all.
"Alfred? Is Dad home? I need to speak to him. It's kinda urgent."
"Ah, Young Master Dick!" he murmured, glad to hear my voice, I could tell. Christ I ought to get home more often. "One moment, Sir. The doctor is ... in his study ... "
I had to grin. " ... in his study ... " Heh. That's AlfredSpeak for "He's upstairs with your Mom, makin' whoppie!"
In fact, Dad Wayne was still kinda breathless when he finally answered. "Dick, son? Is everything all right, my boy?"
I closed my eyes and rested my forehead on the cool metal surface of the public phone. Kept me from falling down, I guess.
"No, " I whispered, "they're not. Look, I need a favor, okay? A - a really big favor ... "
Half an hour later, I hung up the phone, pale and more than a little shaken . Dad Wayne had agreed to help Garth. He wasn't happy about the secrecy involved, no. Not by a long shot. But he understood. In the end, he'd decided that the only way to help Garth was on Garth's terms. I guess he'd dealt with enough runaway kids and street people in his free clinic to realize how important secrets were to some. But I was pretty sure that The King Of The Seven Seas, his self appointed majesty Arthur Curry, was headed for trouble. Big trouble. Dad Wayne owns a lot of stock in a lot of different companies. And he knows a bunch of people in the health care industry all around the world. Not to mention a whole gang of state officials across the US and Europe. I had the definite feeling that a long overdue investigation into Garth's home life was about to mysteriously take shape.
I hoped they french fried the scum-sucker.
And they, did, too. The press got hold of the whole incredible mess and crucified the bastard. Today, at his own request, Garth Curry is an "emancipated minor", and Arthur isn't allowed to come within a hundred yards of him by court order. He's broke but he's happy. Thank Christ something good came out of all this horror. One of the only good memories I have of this time is the shy smile on Garth's face when he thanked me. That almost made the whole thing worth while.
Donna welcomed me back to our table with open arms and that lovely smile; I suddenly felt much better than I had in what seemed like ages.
Bette Kane was the very last thing on my mind.
End, Part Two