I approach the boy with caution. I say ‘boy’ – recent tragic events have shown him to be more of a young man. Emphasis on the ‘young’. I have to say. He is not ready for this. No one is ready for this.
He is sitting at the desk, slumped over the blotter. He has tilted back the head of the bust of Shakespeare and his finger toys with the red button exposed by the Bard’s decapitation. He presses it again and again. Behind him, a door disguised as bookshelves slides open and closed, open and closed.
I clear my throat and make a suggestion of soup to keep his strength up or perhaps a cup of tea. He barely registers my presence. Beneath his mask, his eyes flicker. I wait. Eventually, he straightens and looks at me.
“People will know,” he says. “After all this time, how careful we were – Everyone will know.”
I know at once what he is talking about but I act as if I do not, just to keep him talking. Saying anything is preferable to the quasi-catatonic state he has been in since it happened.
“With him – and Bruce – disappearing at the same time, never to be seen again – People have come close before. They’re bound to put two and two together.”
I want to say I can’t see how that matters and perhaps it is time his guardian’s efforts to keep the city safe are recognised. But I hold my peace.
The boy – he is the young master now, I suppose – pushes away from the desk as though repulsed. He strides around the study, yellow cape swirling behind him.
“They’ll come for me!” he stops in his tracks. “They will know who I am and they will come for me.”
He launches himself at me and seizes the lapels of my tailcoat.
“Alfred!” he urges, spittle spraying onto my pencil moustache. “You’ve got to get me away from here. I can’t stay here – like – like a – like a – sitting robin!”
A bell chimes. The front door. I glance at the grandfather clock. The mail!
I leave Master Dick and cross the hall to receive the delivery. There is no mailman on the doorstep, just a package, a box wrapped in red ribbon. There is no label but two slashes of red, curved to make a broad and grotesque grin identify the sender.
That diseased maniac…
Gingerly, I pick up the parcel and remove it to an outhouse at the far end of the grounds, wary that it might explode in my face at any second. So, he has worked it out already. Others would not be far behind.
I hurry back to the study. Master Dick has changed into sweater and slacks, looking all the younger because of it.
“You have to help me pack, Alfred,” he paces the rug in front of the fireplace. “I must leave the country and live the life of a fugitive.”
The sound of the shed blowing up rattles the windows and sets the chandelier aquiver.
“Already?” Master Dick pales. “I must leave! Now! You can send my things after me. I’ll send you a code – my coordinates.”
“Master Dick!” I snap, getting his attention as surely as if I had slapped his face. I move to the Shakespeare bust and press the button. “Just one more sighting of the caped crusader will put everyone off your scent and then you may remain here at Wayne Manor in peace and unmolested.”
He frowns. He’s not getting it, but I am already embracing the fireman’s pole like a koala in a eucalyptus, ready to descend to the subterranean cavern, the hub of the late master’s endeavours.
Master Dick’s eyebrows lift. “Holy sacrifice! You would do this, Alfred? For me?”
“Why, yes! And for Master Bruce and for everything he stood for. I shall put myself about a bit, rough up a couple of ne’er-do-wells, that sort of thing. The time has come,” I announce dramatically, “for me to assume the mantle of the Bat!”
And do you know what? I’m rather looking forward to it.