Chapter 3: A lucky star's above, but not for me
Let me be clear about this: I have not changed sides.
One does not overturn the principles of a lifetime on the spur of the moment because of something a friend said at lunch—at least I don't. Having invented myself, having discovered that putting on the catsuit and giving myself over to the way of the cat works for me, I would not cash all that in for a pair of Prada slingbacks.
The thing is, Catwoman prowls at night, and Harvey had me worked up NOW.
"The angry, angsty, love/hate, are-we-or-aren't-we, want-ache, slap-spank, kiss-cuff, lust-smack, who needs that shit… Don't tell us you didn't feel exactly the same way when you traded in 'Mean and Moody' for playboy Bruce." That's what he'd said. So fine, I decided to walk home instead of cabbing, because—still hours until dark and slipping into the catsuit—I could at least STOMP. And as I was stomping along, I saw the boots in Romano's window. And then a couple blocks later I came to Prada, and the slingbacks matched my new bag. So sue me. I bought shoes.
That doesn't mean I've gone over to the other side. Catwoman will still be prowling tonight – and how! And anybody who gets in the way is a scratching post.
And that was when I saw him. Jean Paul Valley. The imposter's dayface. Hanging around outside my apartment like one of those guys that lurked at the stagedoor during Cat-Tales, EW!
Why Bruce lets him stick around, I still don't understand, after all that happened.
They're all nice to him. Because Batman took him back into the fold, they all do. Well, they can do whatever they want. I've never changed my behavior to accommodate what Batman thinks is right, and I wasn't about to start now.
I glared at Jean Paul like a bug that crawled under the door.
He waved like a dolt, crossed the street—nearly getting clipped by a taxi on the way—reached the curb—tripping into one of my shopping bags and knocking a rollerblader into the doorman.
"Hi," he chirped, "I was hoping we could talk some."
The cheetah has speed, the lion has strength, and this man's special gift is saying something as witless as "Hi" after making a total ass of himself.
"You're quite a klutz," I observed before turning my back.
It was meant to be rude. It was a dismissal. He took it as an invitation to follow me inside. The ride in the elevator was silent and tense while I tried to work it out. It's true that my interaction with this guy, both the day and night versions, has always been spiky. But still, you'd think he'd know the difference between "get off my planet" and "come upstairs for a chat."
When we reached my apartment, Whiskers and Nutmeg greeted me at the door. I didn't say a word, I even looked at Jean Paul with a half-smile. I trust feline telepathy. I willed them to know: this is him. The imposter. The thing in the Bat-costume that awful night.
I should have known the instant he talked about nerve gas. Batman knows me better than that. I knew soon enough, though; I felt it the second he got close. It wasn't him.
Nutmeg turned and walked into the living room, flung herself under the coffee table, and pouted. She was here that night, you see… when I got home… knowing he was gone… not knowing if he was dead or alive… and no way to find out… She had to deal with it, Pheromones. She dealt with the damage you did, you miserable shit.
Whiskers was marginally more polite. He walked forward and sniffed the Imposter's shoe, once, before turning and following Nutmeg.
Jean Paul seemed to feel the rebuke; his shoulders sagged a little. Good.
"Cats already know everyone they want to know," I said as unconvincingly as possible, "It's nothing personal." A lie. An obvious lie.
To his credit, he didn't remark on the lack of "cat stuff" in my apartment like most people do, and he managed to avoid sitting on Whiskers's cushion. Instead, he picked out a dining room chair, turned it around and straddled it backwards.
"Catwoman," he said finally, "I know we got off to a bat start—A BAD start. Bad start…."
I stared. It was so off-the-scale unbelievably the wrong thing to say – even he couldn't be this much of an idiot, could he? To allude to that night…
"Do you want to keep digging that hole," I said finally, "or do you want to stop there?"
"I know I was an idiot to think that you would accept me as the Batman," he went on in a rush, as if reciting a well-rehearsed script, "Especially when I obviously read your motives wrong…"
It almost sounded like an apology.
"…I was not experienced…"
"…only one of a number of things I screwed up at that time…"
It was disturbing. Whatever goes on on Gotham rooftops, we all deal with the consequences as best we can. But no one, to my knowledge, had ever come up with something as monumentally bizarre as:
"I made a mistake. I am sorry. I have learned much since then. And I hope to continue to learn to do better."
Now let me be clear about this: I have not changed sides.
I despise the arrogant imposter and I always will. It's simply that the apologetic tone was unexpected, and I was caught off-guard. I may have said something, purely as an instinctive response, that he took to be less than hostile. Keep in mind that this moron took "you're a klutz" to mean "follow me up to my apartment like a puppy and wear your heart on your sleeve."
And even for a cat, the instinctive response to a puppy on your doorstep is not to kick it. However it happened, he took my declining to kick the puppy as a cease-fire. He better not think that means we're friends.
"We recommend the bao tu jambon," Harvey told Eddie and Clurissa. "Specialty of the house. We would join you, but we had it for lunch."
Eddie looked a question to his "date," a fix-up, and nodded confirmation to Tuan. Across the table, Harvey and Roxy were looking at entrees prepared for two. On a double-date with Two-Face, he had to be out of his mind. Harvey had insisted. He said there was a limit to the therapeutic value of scotch whiskey, country music and anagrams. He said Roxy knew a girl. But it was a mistake. It was too soon after Doris. Besides – he looked at the girl – what kind of name was Clurissa?
"So, Clurissa," he began casually, trying to make it sound conversational, "That's an unusual name. Is it Spanish?"
Eddie looked at his drink, a sake martini, hardly his preferred tipple. At the Iceberg, Oswald stocked his special scotch, Glenundromm, an obscure brand of fine aged malt which just happened to rhyme with conundrum. But alas, the Iceberg was off-limits for Harvey and Roxy at the moment. Of course, if the couples split up at the end of the evening…
"Answer me this, my lovely Clurissa," he asked gamely, "Would you accompany me later to a room carved from ice, where a bird rules and-"
"The Iceberg," Clurissa cut him off brusquely, "Yes. I'll go."
"Oh, Clu knows all about the Iceberg, Eddie," Roxy giggled. "That's where I met her. 'Bout a year ago, wasn't it?"
Harvey looked at the girl appraisingly.
"Oh, yes. We remember you now. You used to hang around looking for… who… Catman, wasn't it?"
Eddie felt ill. A groupie. They had fixed him up with a groupie.
"What were you calling yourself then?" Harvey was asking.
It was worse than he thought.
"Catty-anna," Eddie said, picking up the pun immediately. "So Clurissa is…"
"For Cluemaster," she sighed dreamily.
"CLUEMASTER!" Eddie's eyes bulged.
"Shh, keep your voice down," Harvey cautioned, "this is a family place."
"Cluemaster? Cluemaster?? A new villain from MiltonBradley!" Eddie sputtered.
"He's a criminal genius," Clurissa looked to the heavens and spoke with the devotion of an acolyte. "The way he's taken the crimes of those old guys as a baseline and perfected them."
Eddie and Harvey looked at each other.
"Those old guys?" they asked in unison.
"Truly a villain for the 21st century," Clurissa declared.
"So, Roxy," Harvey turned to his more appreciative escort and changed the subject, "you up for a few thrills after dinner?"
"Doubleday Jewelers and Second National Bank," she suggested.
They clinked glasses, and again Eddie felt ill.
"You two want to come along," Harvey asked.
"Without sending clues, I mean riddles, beforehand?" he was shocked.
Cassie hit the mat with a dejected slump.
Azrael was a no-show, again. The cheese doodles he always munched when he came to the satellite cave sat unopened on the snack counter. She opened the bag and tried one. It had the texture of packing material, but a salty, tangy flavor. She ate another.
Batman had spoken to her seriously. He stressed that it was not a reprimand.
"If there was a flaw in your fighting stance," he had said, "I would tell you so you can correct it, do you understand?"
Batgirl lowered her eyes – then blushed as she realized Batman would now see the eyeshadow. Then she realized with the higher cut mask he would see the blush! She wanted to cry, but instead fell back on her sign language, though she could speak well enough to ask:
"Problem. Fighting stance."
"No," Batman said without inflection, "this is different. It is an adjustment you should make just as you would to your battle technique. You should look at it that way. As an adjustment, not something you've done wrong."
"When you fight, you must maintain balance. In your other training, there must be balance as well. You already fight well, Batgirl. You have to spend less time on the physical workouts and more time developing your other skills."
He'd left her with a stack of case studies: old cases, some solved, some not, to hone her detective skills.
Cassie took another handful of cheese doodles.
She didn't like this assignment. The discipline of her early training did not permit her to question her sensei's orders, but she had rebelled as far as working out in the satellite cave before opening the first case study. The only way to postpone further was to listen to the police band while she worked. If some theme-crime was in progress, that would supercede any order that fell under the heading of "training."
Cassie brought the radio – along with the bag of snacks and her files – back to the exercise area and spread out over the mats. She checked her makeup in the reflective surface on one of the weight machines. The thin layer of perspiration from her workout had smudged the eyeshadow. It looked better this way.
Maybe Azrael would still come by later. Batman had said she could ask Robin or Oracle for help with her assignment. Surely there would be no objection if she asked Azrael as well. In matters of detection, as in all things, he would be a wonderful instructor.
I tell you, Mortal, that you have done us irreparable harm in the Feline's eyes. To admit weakness in the face of an enemy…
It had been going on like this since Jean Paul left Selina's apartment. Jean Paul was not a drinker – but he was beginning to wonder if a half-bottle of Jack Daniels, drunk rapidly, might silence this incessant critic for a few hours.
… to express remorse …
That's what we were there for. As I tried to explain several times while you kept saying "she's a criminal, arrest her now that you know where she lives."
… to seek the approval of those horrible furbeasts!
The cats? They were cute.
They did not disguise their contempt.
No. It's true. They didn't seem to like us much. Still, that's no reason to freak out like you did.
An Azrael does not 'freak out.'
"Kill it now." That's what you said. Is that your idea of not freaking out?
It is always prudent to eliminate a threat as soon as it makes clear its hostile intent.
A THREAT? Azrael, you just described a six pound cat called Nutmeg as "a threat." A six pound kittycat. Of Kittycat-lady. You Dumasian powder puff.
Mortal, what is this substance you are imbibing?
Oswald Cobblepot toddled to a special booth in the rear of the Iceberg dining room. This was a time for tact – one of those moments his fellow rogues would never understand – a time it was necessary to think as a business man, the proprietor of a successful nightclub, and not as the criminal kingpin known as the Penguin.
He neared the booth of a thorny problem that was also one of his best customers: a special booth he had made to accommodate this customer's ideology: a table and chairs made of polymer, not wood. The booth and its occupant were almost completely hidden from view by a wall of thorns.
"Miss Isley," Oswald addressed the image from a fairy tale with regal formality, "would you mind stepping into my office for a moment?"
The foliage parted before him and an equally regal voice answered, "No. But you can step into mine."
"Madam, the matter I wish to discuss with you requires privacy -kwak- and confidentiality. And besides, your 'office' is one of the issues we must discuss."
There was a sharp, sudden whiff of lemon as Poison Ivy stood.
"Oh, alright," was all she said, most of the foliage rising and moving with her as she walked. It was like something out of a demented Disney movie and the sight of it made Oswald shudder. That, and the knowledge, as he followed her to his office, that if he wasn't wearing noseplugs, he would be in her thrall by now.
Like poor Jervis, at whose table she had stopped on the way in. On a whim she told him to give the proceeds of his latest heist to save the bog peatlands of Scotland. When Hugo Strange objected, he was made to give twice that amount to rescue tall grass prairies in Canada.
Reaching his office, Oswald was dismayed to see the plantlife that surrounded Ivy was making itself at home, spilling onto his desk. Through his monocle, he saw tendrils coiling around his banker's lamp, his filing cabinet, and his umbrella stand! His antique parasol—that vine was ruining his priceless antique parasol, said to have been the property of Queen Victoria! Another tendril of clematis threatened to topple his crystal penguin figurine! And that climbing wisteria was clogging the sprockets of his PRIZE UMBRELLA! The one he used to escape the Antarctic Club, spiriting a collection of priceless artifacts away from not just Batman but Mr. Freeze as well!
"Eh, kwak, perhaps outside would be better," he grumbled.
"Whatever," Ivy shrugged, seeming suddenly like an unruly teenager called to the principal's office.
Relocating outside the Iceberg service entrance, Oswald resolved to waste no more time. He would get to the point. He was sympathetic for her troubles, and if she wished to drown her sorrows in his bar, that was fine. But there were ground rules: the plants had to stay outside. She couldn't enslave the other customers and make them give their hard-stolen loot to the reforestation of Pago Pago, and if she did exceed her limit and Sly was forced to cut her off, she absolutely could not sprits his best bartender with pheromones. THAT must be clearly understood. He could not stress that more strongly—
There was a whoosh-blurr and a squeal.
Oswald looked up—and saw ROXY! On her rocket! With DENT!
The rocket turned, and a whoosh-blurr-squeal later, Oswald realized they were BUZZING THE ICEBERG! THE CHEEK! THE UNMITIGATED GAUL! HOW COULD THEY! ROXY!!
"That tramp got exhaust in my hair," Ivy wailed.
Bruce lay on Selina's couch, relaxing in a half-doze. He was tired, that's why he'd been so foolish. Too often, he let himself get so tired that he didn't think something like this through. Like today: up nearly 'til dawn trying to work out what was behind the Joker's bizarre rampage. Up nearly 'til dawn, but there was too much Foundation business to put off. So he'd gone into the office and worked a full day. The work of the day had brought back turbulent memories and he was still sore from the battle with Croc. He decided to cancel his date with Selina. He'd called to cancel, to cancel on her like she was some bimbo.
It didn't work. She saw right through him.
:Laughing boy tuckered you out, eh?:
He couldn't quite keep the smile out of his voice as he answered, "Let's just say it's been a very long day."
:That's okay, I don't feel like going out either. But come over anyway. I'll order in. Sesame noodles. Please, I want to see you tonight.:
He started to object. He wasn't hungry. And there was a full night ahead for Batman. He heard the note of – disappointment? or something – in her voice, and still he'd started to object. He just didn't think it through. Because he had called to cancel, that's what he was going to do. It was lucky Selina was stubborn, she wasn't discouraged by his moods, and she knew how to tempt him.
"So if you're not hungry, forget the noodles. There's still no point in going all the way out to the manor when you're just going to turn right around and come back into town. Come over. You can grab a few hours sleep on my couch before you have to go out."
She didn't used to be this logical when she tempted him. At least, he didn't think she was. Possibly he was more exhausted than he knew. Her points were sound. There really wasn't any need to go out to the manor. He had a spare costume in the satellite cave. He wouldn't have the Batmobile, of course, but he could always get a ride back with Robin in the Redbird… Or stay the night at Selina's….
Five minutes later, he knocked on her door with a sheepish smile. She seemed awfully glad to see him. Even the cats seemed glad to see him, which was unusual. Selina offered noodles again, which he declined, and a neck rub, which he accepted.
As he relaxed, he found himself telling her about Leslie. And Batgirl.
"Makeup. And a new mask, more like yours. I'm not cut out for this. Teenage boys, okay. I used to be one; I know the drill. But not girls."
"What about Barbara?"
"Barbara had a family. She had a life. Cassandra was never socialized as a human child. She wasn't exposed to anything that wouldn't help her be an assassin."
"Put it that way, the crush on Az was inevitable."
"Is that still going on?"
"Makeup and a new mask."
"You don't approve?" Selina asked.
"She's too young for him, obviously."
"Obviously. And if she was a normal seventeen year old and this was a budding romance, I'd say 'No, the twenty-something bat wannabe with ego-deficit disorder and a limited vocabulary is not a good choice to be her gentleman friend.' But if she's really been that sheltered all her life, then she's playing catchup. This is the Tiger Beat crush, the one most girls get at twelve or thirteen. Not a big deal."
Leland Bartholomew set down his "Frasier Crane…I'm Listening" mug on the AOL Sign-up CD he used as a coaster. He took a deep breath, poised a sharpened pencil over his daily planner, and turned the page to the day ahead. He drew a neat thin line through his scheduled appointments. Then he penciled in:
11:00 Press Conference
Dr. Arkham himself had asked Bartholomew to be present! The week had seen a number of Joker sightings, but the behavior was far from typical for "Patient J." Bartholomew was asked to review the police reports and be prepared to offer speculation to the press and public. What a boon! If the conference was televised, there would be highlights of his comments on the news tonight. TONIGHT! Leslie's first evening back in Gotham, and he would be pictured on the news as a distinguished authority in his field.
So his morning appointments would have to be cancelled. He could use those hours to read the police reports and review Joker's file.
He would have to look in on Roxy Rocket and Harvey Dent as well – brought to the Arkham Infirmary last night following their capture. A capture by Batgirl seldom piqued the media's interest, but since reporters would be there anyway for the Joker matter, they might ask a question or two. It would be best if Bartholomew could say he had "just seen them on his morning rounds."
A manicured fingernail picked at the eraser as he moved down the page to circle:
1:15 Gate 21
Gate 21, Terminal B, Gotham International Airport. He could still make it. If the press conference went over an hour, it could be tight, especially fighting midday traffic. But he would make it happen. He'd have to forego the stop at a florist, but he could still meet Leslie's flight. What a surprise. How thoughtful of him to remember… Surely she would be moved by such a gesture and grant him the dinner she had refused in Metropolis.
"GENRE" Edward Nigma murmured in his sleep. "Eng re… no. Erg ne… no." His eyes popped open. Genre was it. There were no other anagrams for Green.
His goddess didn't seem to mind. But he so wanted to present her with a gift from his mind. One no one else could give. Regrettably, neither "Ivy" nor "Pam" was suited to the construction of anagrams.
Was it only last night he discovered her? After that horrid date, that awful woman, Clurissa… back to the Iceberg, he thought, for a glass of Glenundromm… and music… a few songs of heartache to assure him others knew what it was to be alone…
And there she was… standing beneath the canopy out front… his Green Goddess… No, she said he wasn't to call her that, it sounded like salad dressing… his Poison Ivy. Pamela. So leafy and beautiful. Why did he not see at once how beautiful she was? Why did he not see she was troubled by the sight in the sky? He was so callous, looking up at Harvey and Roxy and making crude jokes.
"Most girls, going for a 'ride on their rocket' would be a metaphor."
She'd made him see how cruel that was. And she allowed him to atone by telling her all the details about the double date.
"Good morning, Edward," the voice of the goddess poured over him like syrup.
Good morning, Mortal!
Are you not energized from your indulgence in spirits?
I am most invigorated.
Let us greet the new day by stepping through "The Devotion to the Most Glorious St. Dumas by Way of the Sword"
The voice was a soft breeze on a warm night, and it blew away the last specks of a nightmare that hovered on the fringes of Bruce's consciousness as he woke.
"That's an improvement," he murmured as a spectacularly naked form reached across him to pull her robe off a bedside chair.
"What is?" Selina asked, fighting Whiskers for the belt of the robe.
"Naked Catwoman much better than laughing Joker," he explained, snapping the belt away from Whiskers with a lightning flick of the wrist and twirling it around Selina's waist.
"Yeah. I don't understand what he's up to. There's no pattern. It's bad."
"You'll crack it," she assured him.
"Before or after somebody dies?"
"That's it. Be as melodramatic as possible, because that always helps."
He smacked her bare bottom in acknowledgement.
"So was this the same dream as always?" she asked, gathering the robe around her.
"Not quite. It was in the cave. That was from the other development last night. When I went to the cave, the satellite cave, to get my spare costume, it was… it seemed… 'lived in.' The cave's been reopened. A bulletin board tackled with notes. Files & papers spread out over the mats. Empty pizza boxes. It looked like a dorm room."
"It's not funny. Bags of snack food laying around. Selina, it's not funny. It might not be the Batcave, but it's a batcave. A little decorum is all I ask. Not open bags of cheese doodles laying around and orange powder on the exercise equipment. Selina, could we dispense with the Joker imitation, please, it's not funny."
Leland Bartholomew waited at Gate 21, Terminal B, Gotham International Airport, with a bouquet of roses from the airport florist. He saw Leslie deplane, look straight past him, and smile at a total stranger holding a sign reading "Dr. Thompkins."
"Did Bruce send a car," she cooed at the young driver, "how very thoughtful."
Bartholomew watched her follow the paid chauffeur to the baggage claim. He glanced at his own image on the television screen overhead. GCN, the Gotham Headline News channel, teasing soundbytes from the press conference when they returned from a commercial break.
A lot of good it did him.
He dumped the flowers into the trash on his way to the parking lot.
In the back of the limo, Leslie Thompkins looked eagerly out the window as the Gotham skyline came into view. It was so kind of Bruce to remember her return and send a car. He was such a thoughtful boy – so thoughtful and kind. Just like Thomas.
©2002, Chris Dee
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So ends our medley of Torch Songs.
But what IS Joker up to?
Next time in
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