Wednesday, June 15, 2016


This story intentionally follows comic book canon only loosely.

                The doorbell chimed throughout the mansion. A tall, white-haired butler clicked across the tiled floor to the doorway. As he opened the door, a dark-haired man stood in the pouring rain.
                “Welcome, Mr. Kent,” said the butler.
                “Alfred,” the man replied as he handed the butler a pair of glasses. “I’m always glad when I can take those off. Especially toward the end of the day, they really hurt my eyes.”
                “Indeed, sir.” Alfred carefully set the glasses next to a potted plant on the entryway table. “You are the last to arrive. The others are in the den.”
                Mr. Kent strode across the entryway toward a door spilling light into the foyer. As he entered the room, a hexagonal table stood in the middle with five chairs pulled up to it. A man with a firm, square jaw met him at the door with a handshake. He wore a black cape and mask that looked like it had cat ears pointing up from the sides.
                “Clark, so glad you could make it tonight.”
                “Me too, Bruce. I wasn’t sure if Lois was going to let me go or not.”
                “How is Lois?”
                “Fine. Still unsure if she loves Clark Kent or Superman.”
                “You mean she still hasn’t figured out it’s the same person?” Bruce chuckled lightly.
                Clark shook his head and sighed. “No. You know, for being such a brilliant investigative reporter, sometimes I think she’s rather clueless. Our relationship would be so much easier if I could just tell her, but then that puts her in even more danger than she gets herself into.”
                “That’s why it’s so much easier not to get seriously involved with anyone.”
                “But that’s so much lonelier too. Am I right, Pete?” Clark called across the room to a young man sitting at the table looking at a handful of cards.
                “I feel you,” Peter called back.
                “Well, let’s forget our troubles and play some poker,” Bruce said, clapping Clark on the back.
                Clark nodded as they walked toward the table. He shook hands with Peter, who wore jeans and a t-shirt, and nodded toward the only woman in the room, a buxom brunette.
                “Hey, Diana. How are things tonight?”
                “Quiet, so far. Sorry to overhear about Lois. She’s sensitive; she’ll come around sometime. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if she knows, but she’s just afraid to admit it.” She patted Clark’s arm as he sat beside her.
                A man in jeans, a button-up shirt, and sportcoat on the other side of Clark spoke up. “Are we here to bemoan failed relationships, or are we here to play poker?”
                “Thanks for the reminder, Tony,” Clark said drily. “Speaking of failed relationships, how’s Pepper?”
                Tony abruptly stood and slammed his hands on the table.
                “Come on, guys,” Bruce said from across the table. “We haven’t even started the game yet. Can we please not bust up my table this time?”
                Tony glared at Clark, who looked coolly back. “Remember I could laser slice you in an instant for your rudeness.”
                “Perhaps,” Clark replied, “but you’d have to get to your mechanical arm first. And my lasers are already in my head, so I’m pretty sure who would win that race.”
                “Boys.” Diana stepped between them with one hand on each chest. “Let’s cool it a bit. Clark, apologize to Tony for being rude, and Tony apologize for being insensitive.”
                They both muttered apologies to each other and Tony sat back down.
                “That’s better. Now, who’s dealing tonight?”
                “I asked Alfred,” Bruce said.
Alfred dragged a stool over to the table and sat on it, elevated a bit above the others.
“Hey, Bruce,” Parker said as he handed over the cards in his hand, “I thought tonight was casual. Why are you dressed up?”
Bruce huffed in his chair. “Robin had a family emergency, so I’m on call tonight.”
The other four friends nodded.
“Could you at least take your mask off?” Tony said. “I feel it’s an unfair advantage for a poker game.”
“Fine.” Bruce peeled off the black leather, revealing fierce eyes. “Can we play now?”
“Where’s everyone else?” Clark asked.
“Thor and the other Bruce are taking some much needed R&R. Steve is working in Europe. And Logan just flat-out refused to come.”
“Sounds like him,” Peter said.
“What’s against inviting more women?” Diana said.
“I’ve got nothing against women,” Tony said.
Bruce rolled his eyes. “There aren’t that many women of our caliber. I’ve invited Natasha and Jean over the years, but they’ve usually refused me.”
“I’ll try and get Storm next time. I think she’d have fun,” said Diana.
“Again with the unfair advantage,” Tony piped up. “She’s got those milky eyes that are impossible to read.”
“Feeling threatened, are we, Tony?” asked Clark.
“It’s not like you couldn’t afford to lose a game,” Peter muttered.
“’Losing something to a woman’ is usually where at least a third of my money goes,” Tony said.
“Come off it,” Diana said. “Let’s play.”
Alfred dealt the cards and the group perused them in silence. That’s how most of their games went – silently, other than declaring bets. Evenly matched, one night’s winnings would go to one player, while the next night’s would go to another.
After ten rounds, the ante rose to $7,500. “I fold,” Clark said. “Too rich for a newsboy.”
“I’ll second that,” Peter said, throwing his cards facedown onto the table.
“I’m out,” Diana said. “I’m saving up for a new bustier.”
“Who says you need one?” Tony said, smirking.
“Eyes on your cards,” Diana replied without looking up.
“I call,” Bruce said.
“Three jacks,” Tony said, reaching for the pile of chips.
“Hold on a minute,” Bruce said, gripping Tony’s forearm. He laid his cards on the table: a three, a seven, a jack, a four, and an eight, all spades.
Tony’s shoulders slumped as he withdrew his hand.
As Alfred began to shuffle the deck, Bruce sat straight up. The red phone in the corner began to ring at the same time.
“Damn,” Tony said, “now I can’t win my money back.”
“You can afford it,” Diana said.
“Guess we better clean up,” Clark said as he gathered the drink glasses on the table.
When Bruce got off the phone, he talked to Peter while pulling his mask on. “Why don’t you come help me tonight? They’ve spotted the Green Goblin flying around near the power plant.  What do you say?”
Peter’s jaw clenched. “I’m not your sidekick.”
“I didn’t say you were. But you know this guy better than anyone else.”
“And I have a night off. Besides, I can’t help you because I know him. You’ll be able to capture him and turn him in. I’ll just kill him.” Peter shook his head. “No deal tonight. You’re on your own.”
The rest of the friends had been sneaking toward the door when Bruce turned to them. “Anyone?”
They all shook their heads. “Sucks that you were on call tonight, but we’re out.”
“Fine. I don’t need anyone’s help anyway. Alfred, show them out.”
Bruce’s black cape swirled behind him as he stomped toward the elevator.

The friends looked at each other and shrugged. “See you next month.”