Chapter 1: POV
The day began at 9:43 when the alarm clock blasted Puddin's favorite sound bite off the walls of the HA-HAcienda:
: This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot. :
"Leggo my Eggo, HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAA!" Joker cried, swiping at Harley's wrists with a carving knife. After that, he chased her around the kitchen table, down the stairs and into a taffypull deathtrap that would one day pound Batman into batgoo.
"And your little dog, too!" he warned, plunging the knife into a bucket of silly putty he kept on hand for emergencies. Then he blew a kiss and returned upstairs.
By the time Harley got back to the kitchen, he had eaten her Pop-Tart and left, so she took the hyenas, Damien and Slobberpuss, out for a run. Puddin' liked to call them Bud and Lou, but anybody could see that Damien was a Damien and Slobberpuss was a Slobberpuss. For their part, the hyenas didn't care what their names were. Harley fed them, so they answered her voice. Joker kicked them, so they ran behind Harley when he called.
After walking the hyenas, Harley went shopping:
Crazy Glue (Mistah J. said not to EVER run out of Crazy Glue).
Fruit Loops, HoHos, DingDongs, and Spackle.
9 sacks of White Castle Burgers (Mistah J. said NEVER go Krystal; Krystal cleans the grill!).
Ben & Jerry's: 6 pints of "Half Baked" for Mistah J, and 1 pint Cherry Garcia Frozen Yogurt for her.
When Harley got back, she was surprised to find Puddin' was home already… And he was hysterical.
"I CAN'T SEE! I CAN'T SEE!!" he cried, "And I can't play the piano! I can't sing Georgia on My Mind! Where shall I go?! What shall I do??"
"Sick 'em, Slobberpuss!" Harley called to the hyenas, thus concluding the consultation with her esteemed colleague. Why had she called Hugo Strange for a second opinion? He wasn't just a quack; he was a slimy quack, far more interested in her underwear than in tending to the patient. Her poor Puddin' was blind! And all that mannequin freak could think to talk about was underwear.
Speaking of which, she'd have to remember to warn Catty: since that picture of Batman and Catwoman appeared in the Gotham Post, it seemed that Hugo—who everybody knew had a pretty whacked Batman fixation—was dressing up his mannequin in purple.
Normally Harley wouldn't care about something like that, but it wouldn't be a bad time to make a little gesture where Catty was concerned. There was a story going around the Iceberg that Selina might be moving. If she was, that meant a primo apartment was about to become vacant and…
"Har-ley!" Joker called, "I'm going out. I'll need Bud and Lou for guide dogs."
"Ah, Puddin', I don't think it works like that. Guide dogs gotta be trained special."
"Nonsense! Just put dark glasses on them and give 'em a white cane."
"Put glasses on the dogs?"
"A little Crazy Glue and a little patience," Joker instructed.
"Whatever you say, Puddin'."
"Less patience and more glue!" Joker had ordered.
Well it worked. Kind of. Except now Harley was glued to the kitchen table. It wouldn't be so bad, she told herself. She could read—if someone brought a magazine to the table, at least she could turn the pages with her free hand. And she could eat. She could just reach the refrigerator if she pulled the table a few inches to the right. Of course, she would have to use the bathroom eventually, and that was going to be tricky…
At that moment, the phone rang, and Harley added another item to the list of things she couldn't do glued to the table.
She couldn't reach the phone.
: -click- HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAA! Boy, did you get the wrong number! Leave your name and number at the sound of the shriek… No, please! Don't! Ahhhrghhhhhh!:
: -beep- I hate that damn message, Harl. Pick up, will ya, it's Pam… Harley? Harley, are you there? … Damn. Well, call me as soon as you get this. There's this Highland Festival in the paper; they must be stopped. They're tossing trees, did you ever hear anything so barbaric! Caber tossing, they call it. Only men could come up with something this perverse. We have to do something… Oh, and I don't know if you heard, but word at the 'Berg is Catty is moving. You know what that means? Her apartment. A Classic-6 on the Park, rent controlled. What's that expression: "Meow." Call me. :
Joker's day began at 9:43 when the alarm clock blasted his favorite sound bite off the walls of the HA-HAcienda:
: This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot. :
Ah, the Dead Parrot sketch. A Monty Python classic. One day, Joker would have to find that John Cleese and have him stuffed.
In Key West, they had something called Dead Parrot Wings at that delightful Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant. But Joker never got around to trying them before that silly waitress made him take her hostage and those Jimmy Buffet Stormtroopers had him thrown into a dungeon and chained to a wall… It was good to get away from Gotham. But he'd missed all the news… well, all except for that story about Nightwing and Poison Ivy, HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA! It was such fun watching Harvey froth at the mouth that way. But there had to be other news he'd missed. He'd have to stop by the Iceberg and catch up.
For breakfast, Joker treated Harley to a spirited game of Leggo my Eggo, then set off on his day's mission: How to lure the Monty Python crew to Gotham City so he could meet John Cleese and have him stuffed? He seemed to remember that you could get entertainers to make appearances if you offered them money. There were some sorts of theatres and theatrical agents midtown near that… what was it called? The theatre district, that was it… so he headed there. Entering Gotham Times Square… Joker blinked. He felt a powerful sting in his eyes and they watered painfully.
There was—a billboard, three stories high. Gotham Post, it said in large black letters. And underneath was—it was—it was BATS! And he was—he was—WHAT WAS HE DOING TO BRUCIE'S GIRL!!
Before Joker could even process the horror before him, the same image, slightly smaller, was coming at him on the side of a bus! He dove out of the way into a newsstand plastered with dozens of the same picture, the horror, the bat—NOOOOOOO!
It all blurred, fuzzier, darker, fuzzier, until everything before him was totally black.
"Hysterical blindness," Dr. Strange declared, "Do you concur, Dr. Quinn?"
"Oh Puddin'," was Dr. Quinn's diagnosis, "and I just bought a new teddy!"
"Oh really?" Dr. Strange asked with interest.
"Sick 'em Slobberpuss!" Harley called to the hyenas, thus concluding the consultation with her esteemed colleague.
Harley the heartless didn't understand. Joker had to get to Brucie at once. He had to console his bestest buddy in his time of need. For that, he needed dark glasses, a white cane, and guide dogs!
To the manor, you huskies! To the manor, I say! HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA!
The adjustment from overworked Police Commissioner to retired gentleman of leisure was still not an easy one for James Gordon. The worst adjustment was being awake at six in the morning with no earthly way to get back to sleep and no earthly reason to get up. When he was working, he would never go to the office this early, preferring a late afternoon routine that allowed him to overlap some of the standard 9-to-5 workday, but also some of the nightshift when Batman was active. For that phase of Jim Gordon's life, six am was the middle of the night. But now, now this damn retirement schedule caused some shift in his metabolism. His body would fall asleep in front of the television at ten o'clock, and it seemed to think six am was the start of a new day.
Gordon grumbled his way to the kitchen and started coffee. Decaf, his doctor ordered. It was unnatural. Not that he needed the pick-me-up of caffeine. He was just grumbling how he was wide-awake. But it was the principle of the thing! Decaffeinated coffee: It was utterly against God's plan.
Two cups later, after he'd dressed, he examined the papers laid out on his desk. The Highland Games. Genealogy was the one activity he'd found to fill his time since retirement that brought him true satisfaction. His early research found the link to Clan Gordon easily enough, and he learned there was a network of family associations here in America, clustered around major cities like Gotham. The Gordon Clan in America was delighted to discover a descendent of such prominence as the former Police Commissioner of Gotham City. They promptly made him an officer.
The distinction brought some organizational duties, nothing that was beyond him after running an operation the size of the GCPD. The greatest responsibility was helping organize the Highland Games with the other clans. The games were a kind of heritage festival with traditional foods, music, folk dancing, pipe bands, a parade of tartans, crafts, demonstrations, and, of course, traditional Scottish sports: the sheaf toss, iron toss, hammer throw and the famous caber toss.
"A caber toss, that's like a tree trunk, isn't it? You want me to throw trees for distance? You got the wrong guy, Papa Jim, you want to be talking to Superman."
"Dick, ordinary men have been competing in this sport for generations. And it's not a tree exactly. It's more like a pole."
"A pole. How big?"
"18 feet long," Gordon admitted, "about 130 pounds."
Dick glared a glare learned from Batman, when he failed to complete a Zogger round in the allotted time, and from Alfred, when he fibbed about finishing his schoolwork. It had the desired effect. Gordon squirmed, then coughed.
"Er, they do cut them from tree trunks, I believe."
Dick grunted like his mentor.
Gordon pulled out all the stops: It was the least Dick could do, having taken his little Barbara away. Dick had an obligation to give back to the family that gave him so much. And Gordon was so very proud to at last have "a son" to enter into these games that brought such joy to his people for so many generations. "Today, Richard Grayson, you are a Gordon!" And with that, he slapped a tartan down across his son-in-law's knees.
"A kilt!" Dick sputtered, unbelieving, "I have to wear a kilt??"
"Of course, sweetie," his wife chimed in, "all the athletes at those games wear kilts. It's been too long since the world has seen those knees, Wonderboy!"
Gordon showed himself out to sounds of "Barbara stop… the shorts were from my old circus costume… stop it… I mean it, that tickles…. sigh, where do I sign up?"
He smiled to himself. Only one more item on his To Do list for the festival, and that would get him out of the stinking city for an hour. From Barbara's apartment, there were several routes out to Wayne Manor, so Gordon chose the more scenic, across the Lee Street Bridge. It was a mistake. To get to Lee, he had to go through Gotham Plaza, and there was an enormous traffic snarl from some accident up ahead. By the time Gordon got to the orange cones and flares, there was only a shaken news vendor, the shattered remnants of his newsstand, and the front bumper of a crosstown bus lying on the sidewalk.
"The 27th Laird of Glencairn is officiating these Highland Games and you want Wayne Manor to put him up?" Bruce asked with a markedly batlike undertone.
Gordon nodded. The hint of disapproval was unexpected. He was used to asking whatever he needed, from either Bruce or Batman, and getting it without hesitation.
When he'd finally escaped the midtown traffic headaches, he'd found the trip out to Wayne Manor refreshing. Alfred brought tea and Gordon felt his worries were over. What he was sure was a mere formality, asking Bruce Wayne for a favor, made a pleasant excuse for a chat.
"Let me check something," Bruce growled quietly, then he called out "Oh Darling, would you step in here for a minute?"
Selina Kyle appeared a moment later. From the speed of her appearance, Gordon deduced that she had been in the next room. From her appearance itself: dressed in street clothes but with a leather whip tied around her waist like a belt, he concluded that she was in a "Catwoman" frame of mind.
"Selina, you wouldn't happen to be acquainted with one Galen MacDonald, 27th Laird of Glencairn, would you?"
"Never heard of him."
"Then Jim, Wayne Manor will be happy to play host for your guest Laird MacDonald."
They went on to discuss the games. Gordon thought he heard a derisive sniff from Selina when he announced Dick was competing.
After Selina excused herself, Gordon could not contain his curiosity.
"What's with the whip?" he asked.
"Well," Bruce seemed strangely embarrassed, "we've sort of… discussed the possibility of her moving in. And, eh, let's just say an activity has begun that is no less dear to the people of Gotham than caber tossing is to the Scots…"
"Jockeying for a better apartment," Gordon guessed.
Bruce's sleeping brow furrowed. His tongue felt his lower lip, searching for a lock pick… He was chained, hanging upside down, like Nightwing… A fuzzy sound slowly came into focus. Music. Vivaldi. E-major. His eyes flickered under closed lids and more information flooded in: The Four Seasons—Spring—first movement…
The dream faded—no chains—bed sheets of crisp Irish linen. He lay there, still drowsy, not comprehending, while some rebel corner of his subconscious filled in more detail: Spring Concerto, Vivaldi's Four Seasons—Boston Symphony Orchestra recording from the late 80s—Seiji Ozawa, conducting—Joseph Silverstein on violin…
His eyes popped open, and he wondered why his first conscious thought of the day was Batman's: "…playing on a Bang & Olufsen stereo across the hall and two, no, three rooms away."
He poured water from the bedside decanter and looked at the rumpled sheets that surrounded him. No Selina. And no breakfast tray. She and Alfred were both letting him sleep, getting back on a normal schedule after the prolonged hunt for Nightwing.
The Vivaldi gave way to an electronic pulse and a throbbing guitar… The Who—Teenage Wasteland… Was Dick home? By the time Bruce shaved and showered, the pulsing rock had segued back to Vivaldi. Bruce followed the sound to the guest suite across from his own bedroom. This suite of three rooms, originally a bedroom, boudoir and sitting room, had been emptied of furniture and only the farthest room was now occupied. Peering through the open doorways, Bruce saw the carpet had been removed and a tatami mat lay on the hardwood floor. He moved cautiously through the first two rooms to better see into the third: Selina was working out on an exercise machine. Before her stood a multilevel cat perch. On the top shelf, at eye height, sat a portable DVD player. Behind it on the wall hung the sleek stereo from whose speakers Vivaldi segued again, this time into… another throbbing guitar—Janis Joplin.
A twitch tugged Bruce's lip as he watched: Selina. Beads of sweat glistened on her face. More glazed her arms and chest as she moved. She was breathing hard. Little grunting cries escaped her lips with each exhale. After the strain of Hell Month, it was difficult not to think, at last, of a release.
"Good morning," he said, unaware until he spoke how the lustful thought brought his voice down an octave into the batgrowl.
"Morning, Handsome. Alfred know you're up?"
She never broke stride. Predictably. Common criminals might start at his sudden appearances. So did civilians. So did most cops. Even Gordon did it. Even Clark did on occasion. And Kyle could have a seizure. But Selina? He could count on one hand the times she'd reacted with anything but this easy acknowledgement—"Hi, Handsome, nice night for a stroll." (20 stories above street level in the diamond district)—like she'd sensed him there all along.
His thoughts were interrupted by a respectful cough from the doorway. "Excuse me, Miss Selina—oh, good morning, sir; so good to see you up and about. Miss Selina, this object is beeping again." Alfred held out her cel phone on a little silver tray.
Performing one of Catwoman's more elegant fire escape-to-rooftop maneuvers, Selina reached out with one hand, taking the phone from Alfred, while the other hand arced forward to a bottle of water on the cat perch. The maneuver, while a triumph of feline grace, also afforded Bruce a glimpse at the Caller ID: JervisHat.
Bruce's jaw set; his muscles tightened. HATTER! What could Mad Hatter possibly want with…
"Catwoman's House of Pain," Selina purred into the phone.
What was she doing?
"…Mhm…" she went on, "How'd you hear that? …No comment… That's a big IF, Jervis… and that'd be a Big NO…"
"Excuse me, sir," Alfred interrupted at the worst possible time. "Master Bruce, as you know, I strive to keep your calendar clear of, shall we say, distractions during the month of January…" Bruce strained to follow Selina's conversation while appearing to listen to Alfred's. "…This year, due to the unfortunate circumstances with Master Dick, I did not think it appropriate…" but ultimately he had to give in and give the butler his full attention, "…to begin scheduling appointments at the conclusion of Hel- on February 1st as usual. I wondered, sir, if you are now ready to resume your regular schedule?"
Bruce paused to reflect on how much Alfred really did for him, and how seldom he stopped to recognize that fact. By the time he'd dressed and reached the dining room, Alfred had prepared a schedule. Next to Bruce's place at the table lay a single sheet of paper from a looseleaf dayrunner. Beneath the printed date was a handwritten list of appointments.
11:00 a.m. Lucius Fox WE/F
concurrent: Fitting with Goldman Sr, Goldman and Sons tailors
out: Sterling Vintage Autos, by appt only, to view classic Aston Martin (James Bond car), newly restored
3:00 p.m. James Gordon
Bruce couldn't suppress a chuckle. Alfred's attention to detail was phenomenal. The purpose of the eleven o'clock entry was to see Lucius. Bruce would be resuming regular visits to the Wayne offices next week, and this meeting would get him caught up on Wayne Enterprises and Foundation business. Should Bruce require them, Alfred had supplied both a distraction and an escape hatch. A tailor chalking fabric and sticking pins during the meeting gave Bruce a plausible reason to be distracted without seeming genuinely stupid. Then this appointment to view a restored Aston Martin gave him a reason to end the meeting on short notice.
"Bloody hell!" Selina stormed in from the hallway, holding her cell phone from the antenna like a dead rat. "Nine voicemails at home, NINE—Jervis, Eddie, Barbara, Pam, Josiah Arkham, Randolph Larraby, Derek Drake, Gunshy Barton—I don't even know who that is!"
Bruce started to tell her, then thought the better of it. There was a look in her eye that it wasn't worth messing with unless there was a half million dollars worth of someone else's jewels to recover.
"Thank you, Lucius. It was good of you to come out to the house for our meeting—and to put up with all that nonsense with the tailor. I'd ask you to stay to lunch, but I must be rushing off myself. I've an appointment at Sterling Autos downtown—a wonderful little Aston Martin, just restored. That was James Bond's car, you know."
Instead of the terse disapproval Lucius usually exhibited when a Fop excuse was uttered, he smiled agreeably and adjusted his glasses. "Not at all, Bruce. I understand completely. We've all been there; not enough hours in the day." He paused, and nudged his glasses again. "And of course with, eh, the changes and all."
"Selina's, eh… going to move in, I heard."
"Where did you hear that?"
"Leslie Thompkins told me."
"Leslie? How did… never mind."
"Anyway, I was just wondering, has Selina promised her apartment to anyone?"
Bruce watched from a distance as Selina sat at the desk, scribbling on a notepad. He knew what she was doing. She'd measured her furniture, she'd measured the little rooms she'd taken over, and she was working out what to bring with her if she moved in completely.
If she moved in completely.
Bruce was too good a detective not to realize the truth about that exercise room.
The days and nights searching for Nightwing were difficult. They were long and strained and brutal, physically and emotionally. She had seen a part of him he never wanted her to know about. She had to deal with it on her own. She was isolated in his world and on an insane schedule. So she created a little space of her own, a corner for herself to cope.
It was a far cry from really moving in. She'd brought nothing personal. No clothes or furniture or—most telling of all—no cats. This space, she made to help her cope. Her cats were her center. And yet, all she'd brought of Whiskers or Nutmeg was that perch where she sat her water bottle while she worked out.
It was a far cry from really moving in, from making the manor her home. This was, at best, one of her trial runs. Casing a target, mapping out the guards' routine, the location of alarms and security cameras, before she'd set foot on the premises—before she'd commit to anything he could nail her for.
And now something had gone wrong; she'd missed something… and he was the one that had to tell her.
"Add Lucius Fox to the list of hopefuls, Kitten."
She acknowledged the statement with an angry hiss.
"I'm running out of ways to say 'Bite me.'"
"He, eh, did mention how he heard about it. Leslie Thompkins. She found out from Dr. Bartholomew. Bartholomew seems to be the crossover point from the Iceberg/Arkham set to 'upstanding citizens.'"
Two orbs of wickedly angry green glared up at him. He knew that phrase would get her. She had no idea how sexy she was when she seethed.
"And did your deductive prowess also work out how the Iceberg crowd found out?"
His lip twitched. There were times, when a villain taunted him like this, that it was a positive pleasure to rub a their face in the simple thing they'd overlooked. This was one of those times.
"Oh yes. From Nick. You know, your doorman: holds the door, offers to help get the exercise machine to your car, feeds your cats the many days in a row you don't go home because you spend the night here."
"I know who Nick is," she spat, "how does any of that get to the Iceberg? I take a tatami mat out to my car, Nick offers to help. I say I can manage, thanks anyway. Even if he works out from that that I might be moving…" she trailed off as realization dawned.
"Selina, you live on the park, Upper East Side. It's an upscale neighborhood. You don't think the likes of Penguin and Ivy and Scarecrow would ignore those buildings filled with millionaires just because…"
"Jervis hatted my doorman?" she asked flatly.
Selina massaged her temples.
"Ok. Nick figures out I'm moving. Nick tells Jervis. Jervis—"
"—tells many, many people."
"That does it," Selina got up, left the room, and returned a moment later whip in hand. She tied it around her waist like a belt as she decreed: "Next person to ask for my apartment gets flayed."
When the doorbell rang mere minutes after Jim Gordon left, Bruce assumed his visitor had forgotten something. He answered the door himself, and—
—gagged. Before Batman's reflexes could toss his assailant into the hedges, Bruce found himself –GAG- being hugged.
"Brucie, it's terrible. I came as soon as I heard!"
Forcing down the bile, Bruce managed to extract himself from Joker's clutches and neatly entangle the clown in his hyena leash.
"Umph—Ouch. Brucie, help me up, would ya. Boy, these floors are hard."
With a madman like Joker, it was always risky making assumptions. But the clown was directing his statements to a hat stand, holding out his hand for it to help him up. It was always risky making assumptions with Joker, but it looked to Batman like his nemesis couldn't see.
"Master Bruce, I heard the doorbell and… oh my word," Alfred gasped.
"John Cleese!" Joker howled, hearing an English accent, "HAHAHAHAAAAAAA! Now that's what I call a dead parrot—Where'd he go?"
Unable to stand the spectacle of Joker crawling around on all fours in the Wayne Manor entranceway, chasing after his butler and muttering Monty Python quotes, Bruce pulled the Joker to his feet and shoved him into the closest sitting room.
"What's this about, Joker?" he asked in a voice not entirely free of batmenace.
"Ooohhh Brucie," Joker wailed, remembering the reason for his visit, "I came as soon as I heard—I came as soon as I saw—and what I saw—THAT FIEND!—the horror—the purple—and then it all went black. We're going to blow up that billboard, Brucie, you and me. As soon as I find it again. To put a picture like that up there for all the world to see. A man like you, upstanding citizen, some faceless manbeast takes your woman and then they rub your nose in it! What a world, Bruce! What a world. There's no decency anymore. Well, never you mind, Brucie; we're going to fix it all. We're going to set the world right! We're going to blow up that billboard—and that bus with the bitchin' right hook. Never turn your back on a bus, Bruce. They kick. They kick hard."
While this fevered rant raged on, Bruce performed several tests that assured him Joker wasn't faking. He was truly blind. Bruce took out a pen and pantomimed jamming it into his own temple. No reaction from the Joker. He waved his hand in front of Joker's face, then switched it over to an obscene gesture. Still no reaction. Then, the ultimate test: He threw a punch toward Joker's nose. Not even a flinch.
As to what Joker was saying? Batman had more experience with the mad clown than anyone in the world. He'd even performed the unpleasant exercise of trying to "get inside Joker's head" on a number of occasions. Understanding how an enemy thinks is vital to predicting their actions. But Batman would have to admit, even with all that expertise, this gibberish made no sense.
"Anyway, we're going to blow up the billboard, and blow up the bus, and then we're going to kill the Bat. Yes indeed, he's gone too far this time. You let me handle that part, lad, you don't have the touch. And then you're going to get her back. That little lady wants a very serious talking to. No wait, FIRST you get her back, THEN we kill the bat. He must live to see it, Bruce. He must live to see you win her back!"
Of course, while he had logged more hours of Joker-combat than anybody, there were others, Batman would have to admit, with more experience dealing with the clown 'informally'. And one of those others was on the premises now.
"Selina," he called, "Kitten, would you come in here for a minute?"
"Still," Joker said thoughtfully, "even if we don't kill Batman yet, somebody has to die. You can't just go plastering the city with disgusting pictures of some other guy liplocking Bruce Wayne's girl. Not on my watch. No, no, no. Somebody has to pay."
"You bellowed?" Selina said from the doorway then she inhaled sharply as she took in the scene. Bruce pointed to Joker then signed ˜˜We have company.˜˜
She rolled her eyes, but put on a cheery voice.
"Hi Jack! What's up?"
"We're going on a killing spree at the Gotham Post!" he announced.
The day began at seven. He was moaning. The five o'clock nightmare. The 5 am nightmare at 7—his sleep schedule was still off-kilter. With practiced skill, Selina lifted the sleeping hand clenched into a fist and eased it open like the pressure-catch on a Mattson safe. Touching her fingertips to the soft flesh of the palm, she rubbed light circles and whispered "Easy love, you're all right. It's only a dream. You're safe, Bruce. The alley was years ago. You're safe at home."
There was no way to tell if the whispered assurances did any good, but she liked to think so. It had to help if some part of him knew he wasn't alone.
It was late enough to get up. With Catwoman's stealth, she eased from the bed without waking him, changed into a leotard, and slipped into the hall.
"Good morning, Miss Selina," Alfred greeted her as soon as she'd closed the bedroom door, "I trust you slept well."
"Very well, thank you Alfred."
"May I bring you some juice or coffee?"
"Nothing, thank you," she said, crossing the hall. This much had become routine in the last week of the Nightwing search. Frequently, she was up when Bruce was not, and vice versa. Rather than bring a breakfast tray, Alfred set up fruit and danish in the dining room for them to eat in their own time. And yet, he also managed to appear, somehow, soon after she got up, whenever she got up, offering juice and coffee. He offered, she refused, and that was that. Except today, he followed her into the suite and coughed.
"Excuse me, Miss Selina, if I may say, you've become something more than simply a frequent guest at the manor. If there is some particular refreshment you would prefer…"
Selina Kyle was not easily embarrassed. She was a woman who could wrap her body in tight leather and banter hardened crimefighters into stunned silence. Yet somehow, this simple question brought color to her cheeks.
Part of it was Alfred himself. There was something about his manner at times like this; it reminded her of Bruce. In fact, no, it reminded her of Batman, Batman at his most rigid and insistent. "If there is some particular refreshment you would prefer…" It might have been worded as a request from a kindly family servant, but it was no such thing. She was just put on notice that she was now part of the household and expected to… to do what exactly? …to contribute to his routine in some way, she supposed.
"…If you are not disposed to partake of a large breakfast before you exercise, Miss, I could bring you a protein shake or even a chilled bottle of water."
Catwoman had a sixth sense that tingled when the Dark Knight was near. Quite different is the sense all women have when their body is being ogled. When a woman looks like Selina Kyle, that sense becomes highly refined from regular use. It was this sense that sounded now. Not the Dark Knight tingle at all. Someone was looking at her ass. Somehow, she didn't think that someone was Alfred.
"Good morning," said a deep voice.
Catwoman's Rule #12 demanded she answer with a cheery "Morning, Handsome. Alfred know you're up?" but at the same time she twisted her grip on the handlebars, forcing a little more tension on each stroke.
She wasn't pissed—not exactly—but still.
Fact is, even though their relationship was unusual in many respects, in one or two ways they were still a man and a woman. And no matter what the history, a woman doesn't necessarily want the man she's sleeping with to see her in sweaty, grunting, hair-frizzed workout mode.
That guttural growl of his was unmistakable. In a vault, it might mean "Drop it, Catwoman. This ends now!" but anywhere else, it meant "Here, kitty-kitty." She was working out! She was sweating! She was HOT! She had a body temperature of 412 degrees and he wanted to come piling on another 98.6!
: You have nine new messages :
-beep- 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe; the Cheshire Cat is moving sayeth the Jabberwock, moving to mimsy borogoves, and that does leave her rent controlled penthouse up for grabs now doesn't it, Catty? Call me!
-beep- Riddle me this, Lina! Who has the best apartment in Gotham City? Who is her dearest friend? Who gave her a hand up when she first put on a mask, hm? Who never once forgets her birthday? Who got her those exquisite antique tarot cards in that beautiful carved puzzle box?
-beep- Selina, my dear. Pamela. We had such fun the other night at the Iceberg, I wondered if we could get together again. We don't see enough of each other, Selina—why with my living in the park, and your apartment being right there—RIGHT ON THE PARK –with that big glorious terrace looking out over all the trees—we have to get together more often, Selina. Call me! We'll do lunch.
"Bloody hell," Selina whispered.
-beep- Miss Selina Kyle, yes? You don't know me; my name is Dr. Josiah Arkham. Harvey Dent is one of my patients and he happened to mention…
Bruce's meeting with Lucius gave Selina a perfect opportunity to catch up on her e-mail. It, like everything else, had taken a backseat to the search for Nightwing.
She took her laptop up to the suite of rooms on the second floor. There was a phonejack along the east wall; her desk would go over there. She sat on the floor and started to plug in the laptop, then stopped. Her nose twitched. It felt… funny.
Rather than continue, she went across to Bruce's room. The clothes she'd ordered in Paris had arrived. All the boxes stacked in the little dressing room off the closet. She hadn't touched them. It was time. She opened the first, a Chanel suit, and tried it on. Then the Balmain gown. They too felt… funny. She didn't buy them. She didn't steal them. She didn't buy them with money she stole. He bought them. Wearing clothes bought with Bruce Wayne's money, it wasn't what the couturiers called "a snug fourreau fit."
Of course, the shopping spree was a gift. Gifts were allowed. The cat pins were a gift. But the cat pins did not entail her going into Chanel and Balmain and having saleswomen fawn over her because her purchases would be billed to Wayne-comma-Bruce, Gotham City, USA.
She put the clothes away, retrieved her laptop and took it downstairs. She set it up in Bruce's study, like she always had in the past. She'd just started downloading e-mails when Alfred popped in. He was serving tea in the North Drawing Room for Master Bruce and a guest and thought she might enjoy a cup. He left the cup—mixed with a splash of milk no sugar, just how she liked it—and an orange scone—her favorite—next to her elbow.
Unable to ignore it, she sipped with a deliberately absent air while she looked over the e-mails. 40 new messages. She scrolled, looking for any subject lines of interest. There were 3:
From: Dick Grayson (D.Grayson(a)oraclesecure.bludhaven,net)
Re: Did I hear that right?
Hey Selina, I know I had a bump on the head, and I know these are good painkillers Dr. Leslie has me on, but I could have sworn I heard you and Babs whispering something about you moving in with B.
You know how happy I am about you two. I really am, Selina. He's a new man.
SO anyway, I was thinking—you remember that time back in the day—museum—you played dirty. You know the time I mean. I was young and inexperienced and you took advantage of a young boy with a crush. And you had a whip!
They do say a guy never gets over his first crush. Sigh.
So ah, who gets your apartment?? : )
"Oh Darling," a deep voice called from the next room, "would you step in here for a minute?"
After listening to as much as she could stomach of Jim Gordon's talk of the Highland Games, Selina returned to her laptop.
From: G. Mariposa (Mariposa(a)GothamAnimalRescue,org)
Re: "Free to good home"
Several years ago, your preserve, The Catitat was good enough to take in four of the leopards we rescued from a cage hunt in Texas. I write today because we are trying to place no fewer than 20 tigers and cubs from a failing zoo in the Kurac which is simply unable to provide adequate space and care for these beautiful creatures. I know small, private preserves such as yours must budget carefully…
She closed the e-mail without reading further. Twenty cats? The Catitat wasn't large enough to take more animals. The only reason she could take the leopards last time was because Jason Blood hired her to filch the Scrolls of Delataire from the Museo d'Magiques. That bought an additional ninety acres and the services of an extra groundskeeper.
And the time Mariposa brought her a cougar the FEDs had seized guarding a drug lord's garage in Miami, Blood showed up again. That time, he wanted a jeweled sword from a private collector refusing to sell. Somehow, whenever she needed money for the Catitat, Jason Blood came into her life.
The hairs on the back of Selina's neck quivered and chilled as she scrolled down the inbox, knowing what she would see.
"Speak of the devil," she whispered, hovering her cursor over the words:
From: Jason Blood (defluoanimus(a)dis,net)
Re: What's New Pussycat
Eerie. The man was eerie. She had liked Jason from their first meeting. Despite the fact that he introduced himself as "a demonologist," something told her not to dismiss him as a kook. His voice was quiet, cultured, polite even—but there was an edge of steel beneath it. His glare spoke volumes. This, she had known as if an unseen spirit whispered the words in her ear, was a dangerous man. She hadn't flinched at the revelation. She liked her men on the dark and dangerous side.
"Kitten, would you come in here for a minute?"
Selina laughed out loud. Dark men with precious timing. She strode across the hall, in a good mood for the first time today. "Kitten" he had called for, and Kitten decided it was time to play.
"You bellowed?" she asked with mock-scorn a split second before registering the scene… Joker? Here? Fuck.
˜˜We have company.˜˜ Bruce signed.
No kidding. Fuck.
She plastered on her humoring-Joker smile and braced for the atrocity de jour.
"Hi Jack! What's up?"
"We're going on a killing spree at the Gotham Post!"
"Cool!" she blurted, ignoring the deathglare from Bruce.
˜˜Behave,˜˜ he warned like the killjoy he was.
˜˜By the way,˜˜ he added, ˜˜laughing boy is blind.˜˜
"Got any snacks?" Joker asked, chewing on an ashtray. Then his head snapped up. He looked in Selina's direction like he'd just processed her arrival.
"YOU!" he roared, pointing with the ashtray, "Faithless hussy! You've got a nerve to show your whiskers around here!" Leading with the ashtray, he charged the space next to her and ran into the wall. "That'll teach her," he muttered, staggering back to the chair.
"Let's try that again," Selina purred, nonplussed. "Hi Joker, what's shaking?"
He ignored her pointedly.
"So anyway, Bruce, stop me if you've heard this one. There's this guy, right, he's seeing this girl. And this girl is drop dead—not like 'Harley bring the shotgun' drop dead—but drop dead gorgeous. And this guy and this girl, they're doing well, seen in all the right places, known by all the best people. HAHAHAHAHAAAA. And then, alas, one fateful day, the chicken crosses the road and gets mowed down by a number seven bus. And on the side of that bus is a picture of Batman with his hand up your girlfriend's tights, my friend. Moral of the story? The chicken looked both ways! Don't talk to me about justice. DEAD CHICKENS IN THE STREET! Is that any way to run a city? Dead. Chicken. Roll it in flour, little salt and pepper, fry it up. Good eatin'. That's what I'm saying. Eeeecccht… can't… breathe."
Bruce did nothing to intervene when the whip snaked around Joker's throat, nor when Selina took a chunk of his hair and slammed his head into the coffee table.
"Do I have your attention, Jack?" she asked sweetly.
"Good. You are alluding to a picture, I believe?"
"Recently seen in print?"
"Now above that picture, there were words."
"Those words said what?"
"Right. Gotham Post. And who was it last year at this time said you were dead?"
"Gotham Post again, hmm. And who was it that said Harley was frenching Slam Bradley at Lot 61?"
"Yes indeed, Gotham Post again. Seeing a pattern here? And, oh yes, who are the journalistic giants that announced Azrael is dead and reincarnated as a sacred gourd in Yoruba?"
"Selina, I hate to break in," the Fop interrupted, "but these examples could go on forever, and his air supply won't."
"Oh that's okay, we're almost done, aren't we, Jack?"
"I thought so. So who do we know better than to believe when they come up with this ridiculous shit?"
"That's all I wanted to hear. Glad we straightened that out. Because of course, if we didn't, you could go breaking one of my rules about you-know-who, and then, Joker, my pet, I might get angry."
...to be continued...