Illo: Nigel Lowrey
Widely regarded as one of Birmingham’s most controversial sons, millionaire playboy Bruce Stein was sole owner of the vast family business founded by his grandfather, Capability Stein, the eccentric Victorian scientist who famously invented the world’s first nasal contraceptive. Bruce – the only son of Thomas and Martha Stein – was born in 1920 at the family’s stately manor in Frankley Village. Their home was said to be so large and imposing that it once dominated Birmingham’s city centre skyline, despite the fact it was located in Worcestershire.
As a child Bruce idolised his parents, but a family trip to the Aston Hippodrome theatre to catch the opening night of a Pirates of Penzance revival ended in tragedy when he saw them shot down in cold blood by an out-of-work vaudevillian with a casting grudge. At his parents’ funeral the grief-stricken lad made a solemn vow to avenge their deaths, avoid Gilbert and Sullivan operas and make do with matinee performances whenever possible.Following graduation and the incident with the shoes, Bruce spent many years travelling to exotic locations to study various ‘bleeding-edge’ combat techniques. While he was away the Second World War broke out and, ironically, if he’d delayed his travel plans by just a few more weeks he could have got the same training subsidised by the government.
After returning from his travels, his application to join the local constabulary was declined on the grounds that he’d refused to reveal his mother’s maiden name. Undeterred, Bruce decided instead to finally avenge his parents’ deaths by prowling the streets of Birmingham dressed as a rodent-themed vigilante. This plan had to be abandoned, however, after he received a strongly worded cease-and-desist telegram from a major comics publisher.Like so many other wealthy orphans forced to renege on a graveside vow of vengeance, Bruce felt that his only remaining option was to physically resurrect his parents. As luck would have it, he was already equipped with a good basic knowledge of bringing dead people back to life as he’d signed up for ‘Resurrection Techniques – an Introduction’ during Freshers’ Week at Oxford. He thought it would look good on his CV.
After renovating his grandfather’s abandoned lab underneath Stein Manor and setting up some lightning conductors on the roof, Bruce exhumed Thomas and Martha’s corpses from the family crypt. He was horrified to discover, though, that their mortal remains were in a terrible state of decay. Due to an embalming fluid shortage at the time of their deaths all that was left was the left half of his father’s body and the right half of his mother’s. Fortunately, those were the sides they preferred to be photographed from.
Ever resourceful, Bruce laid them out on metal gurneys and set about stitching their two extant halves together to create what social workers would now call ‘a single parent’. During a dark and stormy night he attached electrodes to their extremities, pulled a massive lever and stood well back as massive bolt of lightning struck his unnatural handiwork. “I am the new Prometheus!” he cried, as his patchwork parents’ spasmed violently to life in a manner not dissimilar to freestyle body popping. Unfortunately, as Bruce forgot to strap them down securely, the next bolt of lightning caused them to suddenly catapult from the gurney and ricochet off the walls.For Bruce, the final outcome was a mixed result. True, he had successfully brought his parents back to life, but these were not the same kind, loving yet effortlessly sophisticated people he fondly remembered from his millionaire playboyhood. Due to neurological damage at a cellular level caused by being dead, the resurrected Creature was stupid, ill-mannered and refused to treat Bruce as a grown-up. To make matters worse, it was also prone to bickering amongst itself.
Rumours of strange goings-on at Stein Manor soon spread amongst the superstitious locals of Frankley, who promptly descended on the house carrying torches and pitchforks. Unfortunately, due to the war, outraged village folk were somewhat thin on the ground so additional outraged village folk had to be coached in from neighbouring areas. The crowd soon dispersed in embarrassment, however, when the Creature was seen giving Bruce a spanking over a minor curfew infringement.
Happy childhood memories faded as Bruce became increasingly resentful of his overbearing ‘born-again’ parents. A prisoner in his own home, he’d often taunt them by saying childish things like: “What do you get if you mix Dad and Mum? ‘Mad’ and ‘Dum’.” In return, they’d simply retaliate by giving him a spanking over a minor curfew infringement.Within a year of their rebirth, however, Bruce’s parents separated. He could see it coming, of course – they’d been drifting apart for months, their lives moving in different directions – but when the day finally came he was overcome with guilt and remorse. It felt like he was losing them again.
“If only I’d used stronger thread,” he thought.