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C. Syphrett
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Post by C. Syphrett » Mon Jan 24, 2005 12:06 am

Lemuel Toadkin sat at his desk. He looked out of his window at the busy New York street below. It had taken a long time for him to reach this spot. He had worked his way across the country with the help of big weddings, and small.

He could not say how many weddings he had helped plan and carry out over the many years he had been in business.

He had learned, like many soldiers learn, that plans never went the way they were should.

Lemuel turned his chair quietly, round head swiveling on his shoulders to look at his next wedding that lay on his desk. It seemed simple enough. A talent manager and a secretary wanted to get married quietly. Their list of invited people was short with some familiar names on it.

Had it really been twenty five years since he had talked to the Kords?

Where does the time go?

Toadkin remembered his first wedding like it was yesterday. He had started in the business in San Francisco. He had been approached just after the war by man named Fu Chang. That had been his first break even though he had not known it then.

Fu Chang wished to marry his sweet heart, Tay Ming. He wanted the marriage to take place on the small farm he owned outside of the city.

Lemuel had driven out there in his own car to see what he needed to do before the ceremony took place. He would have to decorate it, provide a small reception, and so forth. The place looked prosperous to the wedding planner as he stood at the white picket fence looking on the property for the first time.

Lemuel met Tay Ming for the first time as he walked the farm. Everywhere he looked men were working hard, and this vision approached out of nowhere. He was struck by her beauty, and the way the men bristled when she placed a hand on his arm to lead him around.

Lemuel and Tay Ming talked for several hours as she went over what she expected. Lemuel pointed out what he could do with what he had. Tay Ming smiled, promising him all the help he would need to finish any arrangements.

The wedding planner nodded.

Already in his mind’s eye, he saw floral arrangements, a small band for music and dancing, a buffet table, and seating for the guests.

It was going to be the first big job Lemuel had ever done, and he wanted to make a good impression.

This could break him if anything went wrong.

Lemuel assembled everything he needed in the weeks before the wedding. He set up the buffet table first. Marcy and Blondie showed up with the food, and set about cooking for the numerous visitors expected.

He received the floral arrangements, immediately decorated the immediate area around the site of the ceremony. He tried for as much to make it look as natural as he could. He stepped back, satisfied with his work.

Lemuel checked on the food, and then began assembling fold out chairs for the guests. Now all he needed was to check on the bride and groom, then see what was keeping the band.

He felt so calm, even though this was the most nervous energy he had ever spent on one thing in his life.

Lemuel Toadkin inspected the area one last time before he went to make sure everything was going as planned as far as Fu Chang and Tay Ming was concerned. In his limited experience, sometimes cold feet manifested and ruined the day.

He found the groom surrounded by farm hands in their best clothes. Fu Chang, dressed in a black tuxedo, smiled and waved acknowledgment to the younger Toadkin. The wedding planner nodded back, confident that the groom was ready for the upcoming nuptials.

He went to Tay Ming’s room and knocked on the door.

As soon as he checked on the bride, he could go back to worrying about the missing band.

Lemuel called the band’s manager to see what the the hold up about the musicians. As he was talking to the man, a station wagon drove up the farm’s long driveway to the farm house. He hung up without another word.

It only took a moment to place the band in their positions.

Everything was in place to go.

The ceremony began after Fu Chang and his best man joined the reverend at the front of the cleared space. Guests began to arrive and were placed on either side of the center aisle. The band broke into the wedding march. Tay Ming came down the aisle after a flower girl. Her maid of honor walked behind her.

Lemuel nodded to himself as he watched the proceedings from the back of the makeshift chapel. Everything seemed to be according to plan.

The Reverend began the invocation as the couple smiled at each other with gleaming eyes. The crowd watched silently, as the vows were given. Smiles and tears were everywhere that Lemuel looked.

The Reverend called for anyone who objected to speak or hold his tongue forever more. At this exhortation, the ground bubbled under the loving couple. They were flung apart as the ground opened under them. Small insects flew from the rupture, buzzing angrily.

Lemuel slapped a hand over his face.

“My first big job ruined,” he said to himself gloomily.

Massive, transparent wings erupted out of the opening in the ground. An enormous body followed, pulled by the beating of the wings. Lemuel turned away from the almost human face mounted on the bulbous torso. Saliva dripped from clicking mandibles.

Lemuel felt himself shrinking inside at the sight of the creature. He found his legs locked in place, too scared to run from the strange menace.

“I have come to make you mine, beautiful Tay Ming,” the giant insect boomed in a hissing voice. “I am the only one you shall mate with.”

“Not if I have something to say about it,” said Fu Chang, bounding to his feet. He affected some type of boxing stance to Lemuel’s eyes.

“Then I will brush you out of my way,” said the insect.

Lemuel looked at his ruined ceremony, feeling anger at the intrusion. A piece of what was left of his mind told him to get away from what was going on.

The rest didn’t even think as he grabbed a glass punch bowl, contents spilling over the rim. He flung the container as hard as he could. The punch flew out of the dish as it sailed through the air. Then the bowl smashed against the strange party crasher’s head.

The insect flapped its wings furiously. The air trapped by the buzzing appendages vibrated in a wave. Suddenly it turned, an onrush of dirt flying at the young wedding planner. It crashed over him, burying him in darkness.

Lemuel realized instantly he had been buried alive. He flailed with his hands, pawing at the dirt frantically. His dreams of a perfect event were shattered by the unusual gate crasher.

He pushed the burial mound out of the way as he crawled from the makeshift grave. He grimaced at the giant insect floating in the air, buzzing at Fu Chang who held it off with a broken piece of wood. Tay Ming had vanished from sight before he could dig himself out. The farm hands held themselves in a circle around the combatants.

Lemuel seethed as he got to his feet. Surely he could do something to help, but what? As he pondered, tiny men flew around the giant fly in swift attacks. The bug seemed distracted by the miniature flyers slicing at it with tiny swords. It whipped its limbs about in a vain effort to ward the swarm away.

Fu Chang stepped on a table top after righting it. Holding his spear like a javelin thrower, he leaped in the air. He released the piece of wood as he arced upwards. It sliced the air like a bolt of lightning, before impaling the intruder’s body. The creature dropped to the ground dead.

Lemuel wiped the sweat from his brow as he looked at the ruined area.

Lemuel quickly got the guests reseated, the band playing gently and slow, and the bride and groom back in their places. He found the minister under a small bush. A splash of water and five minutes to clear his head got the reverend checking where he had been interrupted.

Lemuel settled back into the background as the ceremony was finished before anything else happened. He noted the presence of the tiny men who carried the invading insect off afterwards.

Everyone cheered, at the end of the ceremony.

Lemuel was glad his first near disaster was over, and all that remained was the clean-up.

The Fu Chang wedding was in 1944. Lemuel’s practice began to pick up in the Bay area. He was so busy, he hired an assistant to help him with the workload.

Who would have thought that the war winding down would create such a demand on his business? Still it kept him hopping from one wedding to another until his mother asked him to move back east.

He cleared his accounts until he only had one left. That was the Townsend wedding.

It looked simple enough.

He didn’t know that Townsend would bring a unique personal problem to the wedding, or that he would be among those who would be nearly killed in the frozen waters of the Bay.

Looking at his present visitors reminded of the strange things love and hate does to influence people. He wondered if these two had thought about their future beyond their wedding.

Tom Townsend had decided he wanted his wedding and reception in the new Bridges Hotel overlooking the San Francisco Bay. A restaurant occupied the top floor and could be rented for the service. It could also cater the dinner celebration from its kitchen.

Lemuel agreed with the assessment, but wanted to look at all the details in person. He had heard of the Bridges, but had never used it as a site before. A closer look was in order before the wedding actually took place.

First time for everything he told himself as he took a cab to the building. He decided to look the restaurant over without saying anything first. If it lived up to expectations, he would talk to the manager and get the ball started.

He paid the driver, looking up at the glittering expanse of the new hotel. The waters of the bay, and Alcatraz island reflected eerily on the glass face. The Golden Gate gleamed against the dark water.

It was hard to believe that the bridge had just opened ten years ago.

Lemuel found himself staring at the gleaming expanse quietly. He shook off the mood, and headed into the hotel.

Lemuel walked across the expensive lobby to the bank of elevators. He took one to the top floor to talk to the manager of the Bay View Restaurant at the top of the building. Once that was secured, most of the rest should be easy to accomplish.

Mr. Townsend had already ordered minimal entertainment for the arrangement. He didn’t want anything more than a piano player and a club singer at most.

Lemuel could get someone to fit the bill easily if the restaurant was available for private parties.

One negotiation at a time was his motto.

He waited for the doors to open. Then he stepped out into the foyer of the place. He mentally gauged the decor as he knocked on the locked glass doors. He continued his inspection as a waiter came to the door and cracked it open. The man looked down his long nose at the short, rounding Toadkin.

“We’re closed until five,” the man said mildly.

“I was wondering if I could talk to your manager for a moment,” Lemuel said, trying to smile. “I would like to rent the restaurant for a wedding some time in the next month.”

“Wait here,” said the waiter, stalking away, head back slightly.

Lemuel and Mr. Satterwaite sat down at a table overlooking the bay. They resembled each other like brothers, except that Satterwaite was a full two decades the elder. He polished his glasses as he waited for the younger man to speak.

“My name is Toadkin,” said the arranger. “My client wants to get married within sight of the Bay and the skyline of the city. I would like to rent your restaurant for that purpose. A reception as well as the actual ceremony would take place here.”

“I see,” said Mr. Satterwaite, adjusting his glasses on his round face. “I am sure we can work out some type of arrangement. How many exactly are you expecting for this party?”

Lemuel smiled as the negotiations started in earnest. The first step was securing a place to have the friends and family of the couple to gather to celebrate. A simple round of haggling would secure that, and then he could move on to the next steps.

The men drank coffee as they went over the upcoming event.

Lemuel walked home after the meeting. He had eaten a piece of pie, and deposited some of Townsend’s retainer as a down payment. Tomorrow he would go about dealing with musicians, and decorations for the restaurant.

He would get his assistant to assemble the decorations and flowers he needed tomorrow.

He unlocked the door to his apartment. He needed some sleep before he could do anything else.

Lemuel cut the light on in his living room. He was surprised to find a pale man sitting in his favorite chair. The man stood up in a swirl of his purple coat. The wedding planner sensed something dangerous about this man, something that would not haggle with him for his life. He turned to get back out of his place as fast as his short legs could move.

Hands grabbed Lemuel by the neck. He flew across the room, slamming against the small couch. It overturned, dropping him to the floor. He tried to get up. A sharp crack faded things to black.

Lemuel awoke to the sound of splashing water. His mouth was dry, filled with an old rag. He looked around him with dazed eyes. A chain wrapped his legs tight. The chain was tied to the eye hole in the shaft of a rusty anchor. The arranger saw the pale man in purple approach from the other end of the sailboat he was on. The rocking of the boat exacerbated his headache into a lightning bolt of pain.

“It’s too bad you had to wake up before this was done,” said the pale man, skull face drawn in a frown. “On the other hand, tell Davy Jones that the Black Hand sends his regards.”

A black gloved hand pushed against Lemuel’s anchor suddenly. It tipped overboard in a blur of rusty steel. The chain yanked his legs out from under him. The anchor splashed when it hit the water, and vanished. Lemuel followed with a painful bump against the hull of the boat, silently screaming in fear.

Lemuel headed for the bottom of the San Francisco Bay at a frightening speed in his opinion. His side screamed a little louder than his head from where he had bounced from the boat. The water grew darker as he plunged away from the surface.

Lemuel tried to keep his panic under control. Part of his job was repairing things that had gone wrong at weddings. He was supposed to handle the unexpected well.

He couldn’t an instance where he could have drowned at a wedding in the last few years.

The arranger felt the bonds on his arms with his hands. He was relieved that only some kind of rope held his wrists together. His fingers worked at the knots desperately as he sank. Finally he loosened the bonds enough to allow him to slip one hand free. He flexed his hand to get some feeling other than aches and freezing cold from the ocean.

He reached down and tried to unwrap the chain with his freed arm. He found that a padlock was secured in one end, tying it to his clothes. He decided he needed to live more than he needed a pair of pants. He undid his suspenders and belt, kicked his shoes free, and wiggled out of the weighted pants.

He began to kick his legs, heading for the surface of the bay. His struggle had only taken a minute, but his lungs were gasping for air. He broke the surface, trying to breathe through his gag. He floated for a long time, as he tried to figure a way out of his predicament.

Lemuel made his way to the shore. He was afraid that he would be washed out to sea by the strong currents, but he quickly realized that the man in purple had not sailed too far out on the water. He dragged himself out of the ocean minutes later. He shook uncontrollably as he tried to crawl forward.

His brain had seized on the thought that he had to get to a phone. He had to warn Mr. Townsend at the wedding. That was the only thing that was important. He collapsed within feet of where he had crawled out of the ocean.

He woke up when a beat cop violently shook him on his shoulder. The cop glared down at him perplexedly.

“What happened to you?,” the man in blue asked, spinning his billy club quietly by its thong.

“Townsend wedding,” Lemuel croaked out, eyes covered by a film, feeling frozen, shaking uncontrollably. “Trouble there.”

“Really now?,” said the cop. “How would you know that?”

“Black Hand,” said Lemuel, unused to feeling so weak. “Need to get there.”

“I’ll check into it, buddy,” said the cop. “Stay here until I get back.”

Lemuel watched the man saunter off, feeling hopeless. The Black Hand had probably already robbed the guests at the wedding, maybe killed some of them. The boat had been his escape route, and that’s why he hadn’t sailed out to sea to dump Lemuel like he should have.

How long have I been laying here?, Lemuel finally thought.

The cop rushed back down the beach. He grabbed the arranger roughly under his arms.

“Let’s go, buddy,” the cop said. “The Black Hand tried to rob a party at the Bay View. Captain Flag showed up, and threw a monkey wrench into his plans. The lieutenant wants a word with you.”

Lemuel looked up from his memory at an unheard question.

“I’m sorry, could you repeat your question?,” he said politely. “Just wandering down memory lane.”

“I was just wondering if you could get us an estimate on the cost,” said the curly headed groom to be. “My client said he would pay the tab, but I don’t want to go overboard and run up a huge bill.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Davis,” Lemuel said, with a smile. “The most expensive thing on your list is renting the chapel. That I will have to check for the exact price. I would estimate that you’re cost won’t be more than ten thousand. I’ll know better once I start assembling things.”

“You said you knew the Kords?,” asked Miss Collins, smoothing back a lock of her red hair.

“I arranged their wedding,” said Lemuel. “I’m glad they are still together with the divorce rate the way it is.”

“Tracy said that you saved their wedding,” Miss Collins said.

“That’s probably an overstatement,” said Lemuel, with a wave of his hand. “She was a very kind woman if I remember right. I will get on these arrangements and talk to the both of you in say a week. I will have a more accurate estimate of the cost then.”

Lemuel stood up, smiling. He walked them to the door, shaking their hands as they left. He closed the door, and stood with his back to it. He shook uncontrollably at what he had done at the Kord wedding.

Lemuel Toadkin had moved away from California in 1949. He settled in Crown City, and the first wedding he arranged was for media tycoon Sam Starr. He remembered the man’s cigars most of all after the event. He knew Starr had been married before, and noted his children, Syd and Celia, from that marriage weren’t happy about his current love.

Lemuel’s business was very good, growing from some good publicity he had received over the years. That coverage of one of his weddings was the first time he had met Vic Sage, then a print reporter for for the local paper. Lemuel saw the younger man was rigid, and set in his ways. He became an investigative reporter, and then a popular newscaster for WWB afterwards.

Lemuel smiled once when he heard Sage referred to as ‘the conscience of Crown City’.

Vic Sage remembered the interview, and recommended Lemuel to his friend, Ted Kord, in 1973. It was Mr. Kord’s first marriage, and he wanted something special for his fiancé, Tracy. They had been through a period of dating and working together, and wanted a small scale celebration of their nuptials to share with their friends.

Lemuel studied the smiling Kord, and his lovely fiance Tracey, at that first meeting. He was impressed by the two of them. They radiated their feelings for each other.

“I will see what can be done,” Lemuel said.

Lemuel went about the arrangements in his usual methodical way. The biggest problem was to arrange the use of Hub City’s convention center for the event. The city wanted reams of paperwork for the ceremony, but Lemuel persevered patiently.

Two weeks before the wedding, Lemuel toured the place with Ted and Tracey. He wanted to keep his professional distance, but found that they overrode any attempt with their happiness.

The only bleak spot was the mention of a missing relative named Dan. Ted glossed it over after a second of uncomfortable silence.

They finished the tour, quietly excited as areas were mapped for guests, the march down the aisle, where the speaker system would go for the musicians. Lemuel walked through the spaces, confident that things would go as planned.

The trio adjourned for dinner, then Ted was called away on urgent business. He rushed from the restaurant, leaving money to cover the bill.

Tracy took the unexpected interruption in stride. She smiled at Lemuel, calmly calling for the waiter to pay for their meal.

Lemuel kept his thoughts to himself, but wondered what could call such a devoted man away in such a hurry.

Time clicked toward the event. Lemuel went through rehearsal coaching the best man, a Captain Adam from the Air Force, in where to stand and how. Tracey and her maid of honor, Eve Eden, walked down the aisle to the strains of the ‘Wedding March’. Lemuel nodded at the end, calling for the small dinner he had prepared to be served.

Everything seemed perfectly in place.

Lemuel retired to his home to read and nap until the morning. He had become something of an insomniac as he grew older. He didn’t quite yet know if that was a blessing, or a curse.

When the sun rose, he was already dressed in the tuxedo he would have to wear for most of the day. He had one wedding to attend to before the Kord ceremony, but it should be short and over quickly. Then he would get his assistant to clean up after the crowd while he went and supervised the other event.

He would stay through the reception and help clean up the convention center, then he would return to Crown City, and think about the appointments he would have to go through in the morning.

He tried not to think of a life changing event for others was another day at the office, but sometimes it crept up on him.

He dismissed the thought as he readied himself to show up at the church for his first commitment, already seeing it happening in his mind, knowing that no wedding ever went the way it should.

Fu and Tay Chang, and the scores of marriages that came after, had taught him that weddings were what Murphy liked to attend more than any other public event.

Lemuel arrived at the convention center an hour before the principals and guests. His trusted staff had quietly arranged everything with precision. He could hardly believe his eyes.

He toured the facility quietly. The caterers were on site, preparing the reception for the array of guests. He smiled at Mary Wiggins as he passed. She waved back, frowning at the consistency of the casserole she had prepared.

Lemuel smiled, hoping that Murphy would stay away from the proceedings.

He finished his check as Ted Kord arrived, tuxedo in a bag over his shoulder. The groom sipped from a can of soda as he looked around.

“Are you ready, Ted?,” the arranger asked, taking one last stationary look around the open space.

“As I’ll ever be,” said Kord, throwing the empty can away in a public trash can. “I just didn’t think I would have so many butterflies in my stomach.”

“Don’t worry,” said Toadkin. “That’ll pass once we start. Nervousness is a common thing in the groom and bride.”

“Have you ever been married, Lemuel?,” Ted asked.

“No,” said the short man. “I am a solitary man with solitary tastes. Sharing my time and parts of my life with another person is not something that appeals to me.”

Ted seemed stumped for something to say, embarrassed by the answer he had received.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Lemuel. “The guests will be arriving soon. You might want to change clothes before the bathroom is crowded.”

“Got a point there,” Ted said.

He vanished into the bathroom with the clothes bag.

Lemuel shook his head as he went to the door to welcome the early guests. The smell of ionization was in the air, but he didn’t see a cloud in the sky. Captain Adam turned the corner in his dress blues. He doffed his cap as he walked up to the front door.

“First one here?,” he asked as he came up to the door.

“Ted is changing,” said the arranger. “You are the second one here.”

Captain Adam smiled slightly.

“Is he as worried as you look?,” Adam asked.

“Doubt it.”

The guests filed into the convention center in clumps as the party assembled. Tracey and Eve Eden arrived together, and went to the ladies room to change. The priest arrived, and made his way up front, speaking a word or two to those that spoke to him.

Everything seemed to be going well.

That made Lemuel worry.

Usually one person made a mistake by now. No one had. The arranger began to worry even more.

Disaster was looming close enough for him to breathe it.

“Something wrong, Mr. Toadkin?,” a familiar voice said at his shoulder, causing him to jump.

“Ah, Mr. Sage,” said Lemuel, gaining his reserve in a split second. “Pleasure to see you after all these years.”

“You seem to be worried,” said Sage, intent on an answer to his question.

“Just wedding day blues,” said Lemuel, dismissing his feeling in the company of the reporter.

Sage nodded, not really understanding, but willing to put the subject aside for the moment.

The roof of the convention center bulged suspiciously as the vows were exchanged. Suddenly a blue clad figure was thrust through the ceiling. He hit the floor violently and skidded across the marble tiles.

A female figure floated through the hole. She wore a white linen dress, with gold bracelets and a girdle. Her headdress floated slightly in the wind she created to carry her.

“Thank you, Beetle, for leading me here,” the woman said, voice like thunder. “Now I will destroy you, and all of these others as a reward.”

There was a flash of light, and then Captain Atom flew on the scene.

“I think you need to surrender,” he said, a fireball appearing in his hand.

“Foolish mortal,” said the woman in white. “I have waited for centuries to return since I was banished the wizard O’Kent. Now that I am here, I will assume my place as ruler of the world.”

“Not if I can help it,” Captain Atom, said hurling the fireball. He wanted to have the ball explode close enough to knock his new enemy out without seriously hurting her.

She caught the fireball in her hand, and crushed it out of existence.

“You are obviously inferior to me,” said the evil queen. “So I will be merciful and have my troops end your life swiftly.”

Scarlet amazons in red armor descended through the hole in the roof of the convention center. Sword blades caught fire as they were drawn from scabbards. Yellow light danced merrily in their eyes as they walked towards the hovering hero.

“These are my royal guard,” said the queen. “I think we shall kill any who oppose us, starting with the silver armed idiot.”

Lemuel had been shocked by events so far. He frowned at the casual pronouncement of his fate. He moved to the buffet table to arm himself as the royal guard began to advance on the guests.

Captain Atom found himself in a precarious spot. His best shot had been casually stopped by the witch in white. Her scarlet guards marched on the guests, swords at the ready. He needed a way to buy time for the civilians to get clear.

He looped around and swept in from one side of the advancing group. He hooked their legs out from under them with his speed and strength. The sound of metal on stone rewarded his efforts. He flew up to the ceiling when he cleared the group, fireball in hand.

Ted had grabbed the blue suited figure by his chain armor, pulling him clear of the fighting as Eve pushed Tracey behind her. The guests were heading for the door in a mad scramble. Vic Sage joined the wedding arranger at the buffet table set up for the reception.

Captain Atom sent the fireball upwards. He didn’t give the magic user a chance to extinguish this fireball as it arced into the ceiling over her head, and exploded. A rain of building material distracted the woman enough for him to fly over and pick Tracey up and make a quick exit.

He helped along any guests that were in front of him.

As soon as all of the civilians were outside, he could put his whole attention to the problem at hand.

“Take cover, Tracey,” he said in the bride’s ear as he deposited her on the sidewalk across the street. “I’ll look out for Ted.”

“Tell him he has five minutes to wrap this up,” Tracey said, trying to make a joke of her worry.

“Right,” said Atom, flashing back into the building.

Lemuel grabbed a plate of potato casserole as he watched the warrior women advance. Vic Sage was at his side, the spoon from the punch in his hand. The arranger didn’t know what good that would do against the flaming swords the amazons were wielding.

Ted Kord had the mystery man behind the cover of the podium where the reverend had been forced away from his place. Eve Eden stood nearby with a music stand in her hand as a staff. They were cut off from either exit by the swirling crowd.

The woman in white gestured, her golden girdle glowing as a door opened in the air. They could see women lining up, archaic armor and flaming blades in hand, beyond the portal. They began to march forward into the space bending aperture.

Lemuel threw the plate at the nearest scarlet woman as hard as he could. The heavy glass and hot potatoes and cheese splashed against the woman. She knocked the plate away with a grimace. She growled as she advanced on the buffet table.

A pie flew from Vic Sage’s hand, hitting his target in the face with smooth accuracy. He smiled slightly as he reached for the next thing on the table and flung it forcefully across the room. His second victim slipped when the plate of deviled eggs hit her on the forehead.

Vic smiled slightly as he reached for the next thing on the table.

“Dan!,” Ted Kord said urgently, shaking his mentor by his shoulders. “Wake up!”

The second Blue Beetle made a sound, opening one eye. Several bruises marked the visible parts of his face. That was better than the last time when Dan Garrett was dead.

“Ted?,” the Blue Beetle said, blinking rapidly. “Where am I?”

“Hub City Convention Center,” Ted said, helping his friend to sit up. “Why aren’t you dead?”

“I am near invulnerable, Ted,” Dan said, rubbing his eyes with torn gloves. “As long as I possess the mystic scarab, it will try to keep me going. Sometimes it just takes longer than others. Thank Kha-ef-re for that. It waited for him to return, and someone to oppose him for years before I discovered it.”

“Say what you are saying is true,” said Ted, shifting his attention to the approaching women. “How do we get rid of those broads?”

“Ah-hem,” said Eve Eden, spinning the music stand in her hands.

“I don’t know,” said Dan, finally focusing on the problem at hand. “I think we can force them back through the portal, but I don’t know how except by brute force.”

“Too bad I don’t have the Bug at hand,” said Ted. “I have been working on its systems for this kind of situation.”

“Bug?,” said Dan, unaware of the younger man’s advocation.

“I’ll explain later.”

The scarlet women swung their flaming swords at the five remaining members of the party and their surprise guest. Lemuel ducked away from flaming arc that cut the air above the table. His temporary guardian, Vic Sage, hit the woman in the face with the spoon from the punch. The thin metal bent under the blow. The woman staggered back, more surprised than hurt.

Lemuel threw the punch bowl at her, as he ducked an overhand from another of the praetorians. He spotted a flying ham as he grabbed another item from the table. The second woman went down under the weight.

“Let’s join the others,” Vic said, as he grabbed an arm after a failed swing. He dragged the soldier over the table top, dumping her on her face with a spinning turn.

“Right behind you,” said the arranger, gesturing for the reporter to precede him.

Sage kicked a woman in the knee, as he dodged a lunge. Her crimson face fell into his rising fist, causing her teeth to clack together unpleasantly. He shoved her out of the way efficiently.

Captain Atom flew into the Blue Beetle’s opponent, trying to hurl her clear of the portal summoning. The last thing he wanted was reinforcements for the amazons already attacking the others. She soared upwards enraged.

“You dare touch my person?,” said the otherworldly queen, raising a glowing hand. “I command you to die, mortal scum.”

A beam tried to slice the nuclear man in half. He dodged in a zigzag as the room’s floor steamed up in a line of melted tiling. Unfortunately while he had dodged the ray, he was too low to avoid several of the women who grabbed his legs. They dragged him down to the floor under a pile.

He punched one in the face, before the mass of metal and flesh drowned him from view.

The Blue Beetle took aim with his eyes and fired an intense beam at the mound. The three women on the top flew off, armor melted slightly. He staggered slightly from recoil. That was enough for Captain Atom to dump his enemies off of his body. He summoned enough strength to take back to the air, laying about with metal fists, fighting to get free.

He flew backward to float in front of his comrades.

On one side, Captain Atom and Blue Beetle blocked access to the remaining members of the wedding party. Opposite was the floating queen, and her emerging army. The scarlet guard formed an advancing line of armor and burning blades on the beleaguered heroes and their aide.

“Any ideas?,” whispered Atom.

“I think her girdle is helping to perform her witchery,” said Lemuel, gasping at the sudden exertion he had underwent. He wasn’t as young as he used to be. “If we could get our hands on that, perhaps we could put a stop to this.”

“Good idea,” said Ted, smiling at the thought. “All we need is a distraction, and some interference with the girl squad.”

“Leave that to us,” said Dan Garrett, energy coursing feebly to his eyes. He flew into the advancing crowd with a measure of his full strength. Bodies flew from his path, as he swung his mailed arms in wide arcs.

Captain Atom flew up over the charging amazons. He saw the Queen’s glowing eyes grow wide as he slammed into her, knocking her out of the sky. She hit the convention floor in a slide.

“Let’s go,” Ted said, charging forward into the chaos.

Vic Sage and Eve Eden followed him into the massed horde.

Lemuel lost sight of his friends amidst the melee. He didn’t lose sight of the Blue Beetle creating havoc among the women soldiers like a rogue elephant. He winced as one slammed into a wall and slid bonelessly to the floor. Then Captain Atom smashed into the ceiling. He flew back into his personal battle, and was lost beyond the sea of heads.

Lemuel selected a golf club from a bag someone had wrapped in a ribbon and brought to give to Ted. He hefted it, trying to guess how much damage he could do with it, if he had too.

Some of the amazons broke away from the Beetle’s grasp. They saw the arranger standing alone in his corner. They advanced on their easy prey. He brought the club in a ready position.

He wouldn’t be as easy to take as they seemed to think.

The first to arrive swung an overhand cut at the arranger. He hopped out of the way. He swung the golf club as hard as his arms could. The head of the club banged against the woman’s helmet and snapped away. The amazon kicked the struggling Toadkin in the gut, sending him sprawling.

She stood over him, bright sword upraised.

Lemuel saw the woman smile, a bit of flame escaping her lips. Her comrades paused at her side. He saw the blade descend towards his head. He closed his eyes to miss the moment of his death.

He heard an outraged cry. A wind plucked at his torn sleeve. Then the wind was a typhoon in the confines of the convention center. He opened his eyes as he looked around for something to grab. He saw his attacker trying to grab him, and scooted away as fast as possible.

Lemuel had no desire to visit a place ruled by bloodthirsty savages.

The amazons vanished through the reversed gate, dragged by the lightning from the belt the Queen wore. The woman in white held on to Captain Atom desperately, trying to avoid returning to her own world. He pushed her away with both arms. She flew into the portal, with a vengeful scream. One by one, her soldiers joined her until they were all ejected from reality.

“Looks like we beat Tracey’s deadline,” said Captain Atom, wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.

“We got a wedding to finish,” said Ted. “Where is Tracey?”

“Across the street,” said Atom. “Let’s get everybody back here and we can do the ceremony outside.”

“My thoughts exactly,” said Ted, trying to brush the dirt from his ripped tuxedo.

“I have to get going, Ted,” said the Blue Beetle, smiling. “Congratulations on the marriage.”

“I still have a lot of questions,” said Ted, frowning slightly.

“I’ll call you some time and explain everything,” said the masked Dan Garrett, vanishing through the hole in the ceiling.

The Wedding Planner epilogue

The Kord wedding carried on in the street. Ted Kord stood in his ruined tuxedo, grinning at the world. Tracey Kord held him close, black smears running the length of her white dress. Eve Adam and Nathaniel Adam stood on one side, smiling in reflected happiness. Vic Sage stood on the other, not quite smiling, but not quite as stiff as usual. Lemuel took the picture and added it to his scrap book.

He moved away from Crown City a week later, opening an office in a building across the street from a private detective named Mauser. His business began to grow again, causing him to move to a more prosperous place on the East Side.

Mauser had remembered him, and called on him to arrange a wedding for his assistant at a strip club. Alec Tronn seemed at once innocent and ancient at the same time. The wedding had went off without a hitch, with the bride and groom departing for their honeymoon shortly afterward.

Then the Villain War commenced. New York was devastated like it had never been before. Lemuel had watched as a plastic giant had set fire to the sea with a shudder. In the wake of the victory against the villains, Lemuel’s business had boomed again.

Customers called on him to arrange the finest celebrations that he could humanly perform from everywhere in the country. None of them went as smooth as he had wanted, but none had been decimated like the ones that had prompted his moves east from California.

He went over Mr. Davis’s and Miss Collin’s list. This looked like an ordinary set of arrangements to him.

He kept in mind his rule of Murphy’s wedding law as he set about his work.

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