|Trick or Treat
Author: chris dee PM
Cat—Tales 24: An exhibit celebrating the Mystery Whodunit opens on Halloween nightRated: Fiction T - English - Mystery/Romance - Chapters: 5 - Words: 11,880 - Reviews: 33 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 10-17-02 - Published: 10-03-02 - Status: Complete - id: 997280
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Trick or Treat
"When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
"Are you going to be like this all week?" Selina asked.
"I've always loved Sherlock Holmes," Bruce answered with a boyish grin.
"Yeah, I gathered that from the nine times you mentioned it on the drive over."
They were in COME AS YOU'RE NOT, a costume store conveniently located between the park and the theatre district. It benefited equally from uptown masquerade parties and the hundreds of theatre companies, nightclubs, and entertainment venues throughout the city. When Bruce and Selina entered, the salesclerk immediately recognized them as "Society," not "Showbiz," and he led them to the more luxurious (and more expensive) costumes.
Bruce pointedly ignored the selection of Batman, Joker, Harley Quinn and Catwoman costumes, although Selina was gratified to see the dingy gray of that tabloid imposter was relegated to the discount bin, while the "Cat-Tales Classic" look still brought top dollar.
The clerk, noticing her glance, informed her that the purple catsuit on the mannequin was the last in stock. She looked to be the right size for the display model. If she wanted it, he could give her a ten percent reduction for wear and tear.
"Um, no, thank you," she demurred.
"We can't seem to keep them in stock," the clerk enthused. "The gals that come in wanting Catwoman are so disappointed – and I try to point them to the gray version, instead. They say it's more practical but the gals aren't dumb, they know better. 'Catwoman is not about practicality,' this one told me, 'it's about style.' So what could I say, I sold her a Scarlett O'Hara dress. And I got her phone number. We're going out Friday."
Selina listened to this amiable young man with the fixed listening-face she'd seen Bruce use at Wayne functions. When the clerk reached a stopping point, she asked about period costumes and he directed her down a hallway where Bruce was already browsing.
He had already found the trademark deerstalker hat, a vintage suit that seemed to possess the right level of tweediness, and a high period collar and tie. Selina smiled warmly, spotting an overcoat with the requisite half-cape that hung from the shoulders.
"Here," she held it up to him with a twinkle, "It's you."
"It's perfect," Bruce beamed.
I had never seen him like this.
Driven, yes. Passionate – blush – certainly. Intense, most definitely. But boyishly enthused, that was a new one. Yet, from the very first mention of this party, he's been positively buoyant.
It started at d'Annunzio's. I got there first for once, and Giovanni seated me with assurances that 'the riffraff' (meaning Miller and the wannabes) would not be seen there again.
Bruce arrived in… well, I guess the only way to describe it is musical comedy mode: a spring in his step, a smile on his face, and the overall impression that—with the right motivation—he might burst into song.
It was scary! Even without the mask, it was SCARY. And Halloween was still a month away!
"The Folklore Museum," he began, leaning across the table while Giovanni brought his drink, "The Gotham Museum of Mythology and Folklore is opening a new wing…"
"Hang on," I interrupted, "This would be the charming institution that pissed off Jervis last year because they didn't have an Alice in Wonderland exhibit?"
"Yes, that's it."
They weren't like an art museum; they had no valuable antiquities or relics, just dioramas and tableaus about legends and literature – like a science center about books. As such, they weren't of much interest as a criminal target. And they weren't of much interest to society patrons that funded the arts. But the Wayne Foundation was a sponsor and Bruce was on their board. He seldom missed a committee meeting.
"They're opening a new wing, on the Murder Mystery."
I confess, I didn't exactly see why that was cause to sing. Bruce saw my expression, but misread it. "You know, mysteries, whodunits, detective stories," he explained.
"I am familiar with the genre," I said.
"I've heard of him."
"There will be a complete recreation of Holmes's study on Baker Street," Bruce announced.
I was beginning to see the light.
"I've loved Holmes since I was a kid. And the opening party is on the 31st. Halloween! A costume party."
All of which brought us to COME AS YOU'RE NOT, costumes and novelties for all occasions. By the time I reached the backroom where they kept the period stuff, Bruce had already found several items. His enthusiasm was contagious, and I picked up a coat that looked right and held it up to him. He beamed.
I had never seen him like this.
It gave me a chill. It was the same chill as that night in the vault, the night I looked into his eyes and saw a real person looking back, the guy inside Batman.
It's a creepy feeling to be going along, living your life, doing what you do, all perfectly normal, and to look up, see him doing something so ordinary and natural, and be STRUCK - like a sudden, physical blow - with this sense that you truly love him.
I panicked that night. Today, I managed to do a little better. I avoided the eyes and concentrated on the coat. The detective's coat - with a cape.
"It's you," I said. A purr I hadn't intended crept into my voice, so I turned my attention to a dress.
"This, on the other hand, is not me." It wasn't. It was Mae West.
"It's not supposed to be you," Bruce pointed out, "that's the idea."
I picked up a parasol and gave it a twirl.
"Here we are," Bruce said with a curious inflection I've only heard in the cave. When he's sitting at his console. When his overnight downloads have turned up a Gemini Jewelers or a Starling Imports, something that's sure to be a rogue target or a lair. He was holding a dress. Fawn. With ivory embroidery. "This is Irene Adler."
"Too Eliza Doolittle," I said.
"Selina," I heard whispered in my ear, "There are only two female options in the Holmes canon: dear old Mrs. Hudson the housekeeper, a supporting role at best… And Irene… 'To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman,' Watson wrote, 'In his eyes, she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.' Holmes himself said he'd been beaten only four times in his long career, three times by men and once by a woman… THE Woman."
He was pressing against me and had drifted into the deepest Batman tones.
"I've devoured Sherlock Holmes stories since I was seven. Do you know why I don't already have a costume? Why I've never once dressed as Sherlock, even though Bruce Wayne has to attend some masquerade party or other every year? Because I had no one to go with."
"Couldn't get Dick to go as Watson," I smirked.
If I didn't already know from the voice, the twitch-smile made it clear this was Batman.
"Be my Irene," he breathed, and he said it with this delicious burr: Ee-ray-nah. "Selina, put on the dress. Be my Ee-ray-nah."
So I tried it on.
I emerged from the fitting room some ten minutes later, a vision of 1890s chic to be sure, but once you'd said that, you'd said it all. Victorian Adventuress is something of a misnomer, the Victorian canceling out most of the adventure.
"I think we've just answered the question of why there isn't a lot of sex in mysteries," I remarked.
"I won't ask how it feels," Bruce said apologetically, "I think I know."
Heh, not so fast, Dark Knight, I thought. You started this game; you'll finish it.
I pressed in just as closely as he had before and breathed Catwoman's sultriest whisper into his ear.
"I've gone to all the trouble to put it on, pity not to find out how it feels… first hand…"
Then I took his hand and placed it firmly on my hips - where four layers of period underwear made it impossible to feel a live body in there.
"'THE Woman,'" I quoted, "how could he tell?"
It was Alfred who came up with the solution.
Bruce was right. The limitations of that particular dress not withstanding, Irene Adler was a perfect fit for me. Unfortunately, the perfect fit included a corset. I don't know about Irene, but I personally find it difficult to feel sexy without a reasonable quantity of oxygen reaching all those parts that like to move during sex.
I said as much, and Bruce pulled that face where he tries to look disapproving even thought he's clearly turned on - one of the few expressions that looks equally silly with the mask on and without it.
It's great fun to tease him whenever that face appears, and I would have done so, except there was a respectful cough from the doorway. That meant Alfred would leave if we wanted, but he had something to say if we'd knock off the nonsense and listen.
"In houses of a certain stature, sir, miss, charades were a very popular entertainment until the invention of the radio rather displaced it. The game was far more elaborate than what is played now, being intended to pass entire evenings. Teams would be formed to pantomime scenes, complete with costumes and props, to illustrate a particular syllable. For that purpose, it was the custom of country houses to keep a 'dress-up box', a large trunk with a great variety of garments from many periods. I believe you will find such a trunk in the attic along the north wall to the left, beside a George III Sheffield samovar and an indifferent portrait of Sir William Howe."
I have never in my life been so envious of Bruce's ability to keep a straight face.
So we went up to the attic. And I must say, I never fully appreciated what a shameless hypocrite the man is. It's one thing to hide your face and commit the occasional assault, battery, blackmail, and assorted infractions in the name of upholding the law. It is quite another to critique other people's storage closets while living underneath the accumulated clutter of nine generations of Waynes.
He stood there, this man who called my closet a hell mouth, he stood there in front of, I swear to God, a skeleton wearing a Union army jacket. The little brass plaque on the skeleton read "Gotham University Medical Center, 1959." The brass buttons on the jacket read "Vigilant and Invincible."
"This is certainly a samovar," Bruce said, lifting an elegant silver urn with scrolled handles and a spout.
"And there's the trunk," I said, "So we'll assume the guy in that oil painting is Sir William Howe. P.S. Alfred needs to get out more."
"He does," Bruce agreed, opening the trunk.
"Whatever happened to the amateur dramatics?"
"It petered out when the flirtation with that director came to nothing. A shame, really, he enjoyed it."
Bruce pulled a ruffled pirate shirt and a rapier out of the trunk and stared at them like they were specimens.
"LeatherWing," I joked.
He didn't get it. Fingered the tip of the rapier as he asked, "Whatever happened to Cavalier?"
"Moved to Las Vegas," I answered casually. "Doing voiceovers for local radio."
"He went straight?"
"I'd hardly put it that way," I smirked. Bruce looked blank. "He's living with a blackjack dealer named Stan."
We returned our attention to the trunk.
"Maybe I can get Alfred involved in the party," Bruce mused. "The planning committee thought about having a butler serving tea and port all night, always hovering, generally looking suspicious."
"So he gets to hear 'the butler did it' all evening? Oh, I'm sure that will be great fun for him."
"If I'm going to this thing as history's greatest detective," Bruce insisted, ignoring the sarcasm, "and you're going as his adversary that just happened to be the love of his life, I'm sure Alfred can pull off serving tea."
I sighed. There's no arguing with him when he gets like this, so I dropped it. I found an elaborate Egyptian headdress in the trunk. Bruce took one look at it and winced.
"Not the Cleopatra story again, please," he said, then returned to the subject of the party. "Besides, the curator of this museum, she's an older woman, about Alfred's age, very erudite."
"Oh, we're going to play matchmaker," I teased.
"Only fair, he did it to me."
"Somebody had to," I growled under my breath.
He gave me a very curious look and said, "You don't think I would have found you on my own?"
There was a strange intensity in his voice, and I wasn't sure what to say. I opted to tease.
"Finding me, you always seemed to manage. It was knowing what to do with me that posed the difficulty."
"Impossible. You are an impossible woman," he balked. Then the curious look returned and he looked straight into my eyes while he pulled a glorious gown of deep green from the trunk. "You're an impossible woman, but you'll look stunning, in this."
Moira sat at her keyboard, fingers poised, eyes focused on the monitor before her… and hadn't a clue what to type.
Since she was transferred to the Gotham headquarters to deploy her "Working With Difficult People" program for all Wayne Enterprises support staff, the story of how she'd been hired became legend within the company: Yes, she confirmed it at the start of every seminar, she was the executive assistant to Talia Head, CEO of LexCorp. Bruce Wayne was in Miss Head's office, stormed out of a less-than-satisfactory meeting, and hired her on the spot on reading her screensaver: You don't have to be a deranged psychopath to work here, but it helps. When the laughs died down, she would explain the moral: When it comes to dealing with difficult people, it's all about choosing your attitude.
Whether they embraced her philosophy or not, everyone remembered the screensaver story. And everyone who passed by her desk stole a look to see what it said today. It had become an unofficial part of her job description: Come up with a pithy new saying about the workplace each week.
Except, this particular week, she simply couldn't think of anything. It was Monday. It was Monday morning and Omar let them run out of coffee. And it was Monday morning. Monday. Morning.
She typed: "Monday…..Morning…… Getting Coffee."
There. Either they'd get it or they wouldn't.
She went for coffee, and in the break room saw the notice:
The Mythology and Folklore Museum
opens a special exhibit
on the genre of the Mystery-Whodunit
Made possible by a generous grant
from the Wayne Foundation
Trick or Treat
AWESOME! Moira had been reading Agatha Christie novels since she was thirteen. They had to go, she and Omar. That was all there was to it. Costumes optional. Hm. Well, she would think of something. Something whimsical. A gothic nightie, maybe. Like the ones all those silly governesses wore to go exploring the creak coming from the locked room in the great house after midnight. Yes, that would be rather fun. Omar might not be a mystery fan of course, but he'd go along to please her. His costume, hmm... What goes with Gothic? Max DeWinter? Heathcliffe? Mr. Rochester… those really didn't suit him… she'd think of something.
She turned, much invigorated although she'd not even sipped her coffee. As she did so, she saw Lucius Fox reading the party announcement over her shoulder. He had a sour, disapproving expression.
"Good morning, Mr. Fox."
"Morning," he said curtly, still eyeing the notice. "Going to have to go to that now. Hmph. Bruce said he'll go, but you know what he's like. Chances are something more amusing will come up and he'll give it a miss. And somebody from the Foundation should be there."
Moira left him to his grumbling. You had to choose your attitude, it was that simple. You could let these things get to you, or not. Grumbling about going to a party for heaven's sake…
She reopened her screensaver control and typed: "Chemical formula for a healthy outlook: 1-part Inspiration, 1-part Caffeine, 6-parts seeing someone grumble on a lovely Monday morning and deciding not to be that guy…
Gladys Ashton-Larraby read the invitation aloud to her husband.
"Murder mysteries, pah," her husband replied, "Bunch of chinless Oxford dons and repressed vicars knocking each other off with African blowguns."
"It lacks the cache of the Opera Gala, I'll grant you that, Randolph, but we weren't asked. We're off the A-List, I tell you since... since the unpleasantness with the foreigner…"
For that was the way one described Randolph Larraby's involvement in Ra's Al Ghul's network trafficking in underground information. By assisting Batman in taking down the network, Larraby had escaped criminal prosecution. But the scandal set him back socially, and his wife was determined to repair the damage before the Christmas round of parties.
"We are off the A-List, I tell you, and the one way to get back on is through Bruce Wayne. The Wayne Foundation is sponsoring this institution."
"Along with every other damn fool thing," Randolph harrumphed.
"Randolph," his wife pulled out the big gun, "Your son, Randolph Larraby IV…"
"Here we go."
"…who is so-named because you insisted on having that pretentious IV after his name…"
"Yes, yes, yes, and denying him any distinction from his mother's illustrious Ashton legacy, skip to the refrain why don't you, Gladys."
"Randy is almost eighteen. This year, the girls in his circle will be coming out, and he will be asked to escort the most sought-after debutantes, assuming we can get ourselves out of this hole you've dug us into. For that reason, Randolph, we are going to this party."
"DORIS!" Edward Nigma yelled, not because he was angry but because she was two rooms away, "There's a square cut out of the newspaper. This little box announcing a MYSTERY EXHIBIT. I love mysteries; they're like puzzles. It says opening at the 'M-' and then there's a big gaping hole in the page."
Doris appeared in the doorway and glanced at his paper.
"Oh that, I clipped something off the back. Little piece about that nice Mr. Dent from the Iceberg."
Eddie looked stoically through the hole in his newspaper and resisted the urge to smack his head into the coffee table.
"Um, Doris, Darling, my little PuzzleMuffin, do you still have the clipping, or have you pasted it down flat into some scrapbook of 'Loony Lawyers I have Lunched With?'"
"No need to be testy, Eddie; it's right here."
"And Doris, my own crossword-queen, what does it say on the back?"
"YTHOLOGY AND FOLKLORE MUSEUM, Opening party October 31st," she answered, "Ooh, costumes optional."
..to be continued...