Chapter 1: Prowl
There's nothing like a good midnight prowl.
There is no state of angst, confusion or exasperation that cannot be eased by slipping on the catsuit, slinking out to the rooftops, and letting Gotham night work its magic.
Tonight, I didn't have a lot of angst or confusion, I was just … out of sorts somehow.
They were putting up the tree in Gotham Plaza and I went to watch. It takes them a week; they only work after dark. One of the secret shows only the night people get to see: First night they reroute the traffic and close off streets to get the thing in place, then the scaffolding goes up around it, and then they decorate it. This was the last night of the decorating. The formal tree lighting would be tomorrow. Bruce was invited to sit on the platform. He was planning to cancel at the last minute and make Lucius Fox go in his place.
I still don't understand how this is good for Batman. So Bruce Wayne is undependable and rude, that means he can't be Batman? Batman is plenty rude. I know him as well as anybody and I adore him, but even I've got to admit that the popping in and out without a word is downright obnoxious. Especially in the old days, popping out when things were just starting to heat up. And as for dependable, well, it's a given that anything that gets between him and his mission gets tossed by the wayside, no matter what he may have promised or what's at stake.
Anyway, I had prowled down to midtown to watch them decorate the tree. I was feeling "Christmassy" this year. Maybe that's what had me off-kilter.
I'd been shopping that afternoon. It was nothing major, some bowls of holiday potpourri, apple & cinnamon for the morning room, sage & citrus for the drawing rooms, a few candles, some petit fours, chocolates, and kringle… Some ornaments…
I looked down into the plaza, past the tree into Dean & Deluca – I had stopped in there earlier as well. I ordered a snowflake cake, caviar, and some imported panforte.
It was an impulse, just like prowling, you have to go with your impulses and not worry too much where they come from. I had passed their window display and it all seemed so festive. I don't know what the manor's routine is at Christmastime, but I had an urge to make some little contribution. – And I always trust my urges when it comes to window displays in this part of town. It used to be emeralds at Tiffany's or Cartier, but today it was potpourri and petit fours.
This was a strange prowl.
You know it's funny, one of the first things Bruce and I nailed down when we began, first date, practically the first conversation we had as a man and woman instead of bat and cat: we're never going to be normal. Our lives aren't normal and we will never fit into what "normal" people consider a "normal" life.
Prowling is like that. Normal people could never understand what it's like, that pull out into the city, out into the night, being called out there by something, to become a part of it. Some of it is routine; I have my territory just like he has his patrol routes. But it isn't like some pitiful security guard making his rounds through the museum at 10, 12, 2, and 4. Prowling keeps you open to impulse and instinct. I don't know where the whims come from; I don't know where any of it comes from when I put on the catsuit. It's just a sense: this is the place to go, now. Tonight that place was midtown to see them work on the Christmas tree.
And just like anything you do regularly, there are good nights and bad nights; there are normal nights and… strange ones.
Tonight was a strange prowl.
I don't know why I felt Christmassy or why I came down to see the tree.
I drifted over towards the Wayne Building next and broke into the penthouse just to keep my hand in. Alfred is right, the place could use some work. The art is first rate, more modern than the pieces at the manor. It's a shame really, to keep pieces like this hidden away where nobody ever sees them. The decorating style, on the other hand, could best be described as early "I'm rich" with occasional touches of "I'm horny" and an understated influence of "I'm better than you." I'm sure this was fine for the playboy bachelor days but it certainly couldn't be described as homey.
I suddenly felt very uncomfortable and got the hell out of there. That is an important rule on any prowl – if the inner warning bells go off, SCAT! Don't think about why, don't stop to close the safe, just get the hell out NOW.
I soon found myself back uptown.
I always loved uptown Gotham. Of the twin neighborhoods flanking Robinson Park, the upper west side is flashier: more movie stars, rock stars, new money. They show off more, which kept me in catnip without even trying.
The opera house is there, and I stopped on the roof. That was where it happened – that first date - when we admitted our lives would never be normal.
The upper east-siders across the park showed off too, but they were a lot more subtle. The art collections alone, reowrl… and the jewels. They were social people, snobs in fact. That's why I chose to live there, despite the slightly stuffier atmosphere than there would have been on the west side. Snobs are better than the yellow pages for a thief on my level. Besides which, rock star neighbors might be good for a laugh now and then, but Yoko's party guests coming and going at four in the morning would be more likely to notice Catwoman's comings and goings at four in the morning…
I had an urge to see my old place and took the shortest route through Robinson Park.
And the strange prowl got just a little stranger.
I passed the clearing where Poison Ivy, smarting from an image setback, unleashed a nightmare of berserkers and black magic on Gotham. She had been so traumatized by the whole thing, she checked herself into Arkham. I was remembering that whole mess when I felt this tug, a light little pull around my right ankle. It felt exactly like Whiskers trying to cajole my feet to move towards the kitchen. But this was no cat; it was a plant, one of Ivy's pet vines, being more polite than usual.
I wasn't about to go along, no matter how polite the invitation. But the summons itself, a plant moving on its own that way, was an unwelcome piece of news: Ivy was free.
I continued on to the roof of my old apartment, then looked back down into the park, piecing it together: Once upon a time I helped Batman gaslight Joker. Like Ivy, he had checked himself in to Arkham – which meant he could then check himself back out whenever he wanted. When he did, the Arkham administration didn't notify anybody the way they would when they released a regular Bat-nabbed criminal. The same thing must have happened with Ivy. They let her go; they didn't tell anybody. Bruce didn't know, and now I'd have to tell him. Fun.
I thought about checking around for the Batmobile, but I wasn't in the mood. It could wait until morning.
A limousine was pulling up below and Binky Sherborn got out, swathed in sables. Nick, the doorman, hurried out with an umbrella and he held the door until she disappeared inside. I had the weirdest sense of déjà vu. This was my old building, and Binky Sherborn - 9th Floor, a small publishing fortune but the real bucks came from her four marriages - had been my neighbor. Binky was a trip. I could go down to Raoul's cart for a cappuccino, run into her in the elevator and walk away with three or four prime Catwoman targets by the time we reached her floor: A new Galanos dress? Oh of course, for the Wayne benefit next week! I simply must remember to get the rubies out of the safe deposit box, mustn't I. I guess I'll just keep them out since the Winthrop's party is only a few days later. Did you hear the Ravels are finally splitting? She's hiding assets, doesn't want him to know she owns a Cézanne…
One of Binky's more amusing snobberies was that she counted her visits to certain places: She could tell you exactly how many events she had attended at Wayne Manor, how many times she dined at the Finn's, how often she had seen Prince Charles play polo, and she could tell you exactly how many times she had been inside the Bristol Country Club.
I had a chuckle over that as I continued my prowl through the neighborhood, but then driving home, as I passed the turnoff onto Country Club Drive, I realized that I too know exactly how many times I've been there: Nine. Of course I know for a slightly different reason. Binky keeps track because the Bristol Country Club is the most exclusive enclave in the northeast and you have to be a direct descendent of God to become a member. For her, every time she walks through those doors, it's a triumph. For me, I remember because every time I go into that place, it's a disaster.
Visits 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 were all failed robberies; never once could I manage to get away with the goods. I turned the Jag off the main road and snarled at the unmarked division between the public road and Wayne property. I could never get away with the goods and now we know why, don't we. Pay no attention to the bland Mr. Wayne yawning in the corner, he's just consoling himself after a bad putt on the 12th green…
Visit #3 to the Bristol Country Club was your garden-variety bad date: Some Wall Street type, bragged about his portfolio (a lot), made a ridiculous performance of selecting the wine – and then, as if Harvey's pal Fate wanted a laugh at my expense, he ordered Chateau de Poulignac. Nothing like sitting through the dinner from hell staring at the name of your first boyfriend on the wine bottle above a pretty pencil sketch of his house.
Visit #7 was my introduction to "The Fop" and what a shock to the system that turned out to be. I wasn't even used to our being together yet. I hadn't adjusted to the idea of Batman having a name and a face, and he takes me out to dinner and springs a new personality on me.
Visit #8 was even worse. Visit #8 made me nostalgic for the good old days of Visit #2 when I damn near broke my ankle leaping off the terrace after a fucking batarang clipped my boot heel on the way down. Visit #8 was the night I discovered that a lifetime escaping Batman on rooftops in no way prepares you to escape Gladys Ashton Larraby in the powder room. She had finally put it together that Selina Kyle, the new brunette with Bruce Wayne, was the Selina Kyle from Cat-Tales, aka Catwoman the jewel thief. It's quite a coup in her circles to have your trinkets taken by someone who burgled the Vanderbilts, Gotham Museum, and Windsor Castle, and she wanted to know why her jewel box hadn't been accorded the honor. She followed me to the ladies' room and kept me there for 20 minutes, auditioning her jewels. That's the only word for it: the illustrious Ashton family name, the illustrious Ashton family fortune, this was famous jewelry bought by a famous fortune – and for the big finish, she had canary diamonds! She must have repeated that six times, like she was worried maybe I wouldn't get it: canaries are birds, and cats eat birds, so what a perfect item for Catwoman to steal. Finally I got away, and when I returned to the table, the Dark Knight Dilettante had, of course, figured out what all I was going through. The world's greatest detective thought it was funny as hell. He claimed it was the Fop, that too-cheery laugh, but I knew better.
Visit #9 would make me nostalgic for Visit #8. It was a garden party right after Dick and Barbara's wedding and the whole "Mrs. Wayne" mix-up was still going strong. I would have rather been… anywhere. Karaoke night at the Iceberg, a Lazarus Pit, a story meeting at the Gotham Post, anywhere at all but that damn manicured lawn wearing a flowered hat. But Bruce had to go - in case it turned out to be a Poison Ivy target, so I had to go – in case HE turned out to be the Poison Ivy target. Ivy never showed, and it might have been a less painful afternoon if she had. I could have clawed something green and leafy instead of sitting there, my very presence providing the cue for everybody who was at the wedding to show off that fact by telling anybody who wasn't about that delightful Mrs. Wayne story.
Nine times I've gone to the Bristol and nine times it's been a fiasco.
That's not a thought you want lingering at the conclusion of a strange prowl, so instead of going up to bed, I headed for the cave.
I almost always beat Batman home, so I figured I had some time. I made myself comfortable at Workstation 2 and started playing with a little idea I'd had at the penthouse. I thought it would be fun to fix it up for him, as a surprise, then lure him up there for a bit of after hours fun. I wouldn't do anything as elaborate as redecorating (like Alfred had been hinting), but a few little touches here and there to make the place more livable, what was the harm in that? The penthouse was more like an extra catlair than anything else: You didn't live there, but on those occasions when you did use it, you wanted it to feel like you, not like you were hiding out at the Gotham Hilton.
So… a few little touches, like I'd already picked up for the manor, and then I would send him a message at Wayne Enterprises, something anonymous and cryptic, make him think something was up, maybe he was a target. He'd stay after hours to investigate, a little cat and mouse through the building, finally leading him upstairs to the new penthouse.
It would be fun. He needs more fun.
I surfed a few websites for some decorating ideas, but figured I could do better in person. I decided to go back into town tomorrow – when the Batmobile roared into the cave.
"Honey, I'm home," I purred when he saw me.
"You're still up?" the great detective noted.
"They were right about you, your powers of observation are something special," I teased.
He took off the cowl, like he couldn't banter in full costume, and then delivered the stunning rejoinder: "Woof."
I smiled, glad that he was home, and he sat down at his workstation and started on the logs.
"Ivy's back," I mentioned casually.
"I know," he said without slowing his typing, "The northwest corner of the park is thickening, new growths, about two days' old. So I checked the Arkham records and sure enough, they released her Monday."
"Hell," I grumbled under my breath. "Just when I thought we could settle in for a nice, quiet Christmas."
"Hm? Did you say something?"
I sighed. Why go into it.
"I said I saw them putting up the tree in Gotham Plaza," I fibbed.
"Do you think it will be a target?"
"No. I had moved on from thoughts of Queen Chlorophyll to—never mind. I just had a weird night, that's all."
He grunted like he wasn't really listening and kept on typing.
I'd had enough. I try to be reasonable; I try to remember he is a dedicated crimefighter, an important CEO, and the only thing that keeps the Justice League from putting aluminum foil in the microwave. But there comes a point when I need him to be mine. And this was one of those times. I'd had a strange day and a strange prowl, and I needed him to be mine.
So I did what any cat would do, I crawled into his lap and positioned myself between him and his computer screen. He went on typing, although he obviously couldn't see the screen, so I was forced to escalate the maneuver, purring in his ear.
"Kitten, the log," was as far as he got before I started kissing around his jaw.
"Selina, please," came next. I knew the tone, the rooftop tone, right before he'd push me away with a gruff "that's enough." It meant I was getting to him.
"You really want me to go?" I purred, running a claw over the bat emblem.
His eyes burned.
"I'll be up in a minute," he said at last.
I shook my head no.
"Now," I insisted.
I felt him lifting me up, and tried not to look too smug in my victory. Then I heard the beep of the shutdown behind me. Somehow he had finished his entry, saved his file, and shut down the log.
"Jacmph—" I started to say, but it's hard to call someone a jackass with their tongue in your mouth.
It was a beautiful day to be a plant. The air was crisp, but not cold. The sunlight glistened off the lake in Robinson Park and warmed the soil still thick with yesterday's rain. Sunlight, air, and water, what more could any plant want?
What more could any plant want?
Well. A little company would be nice for starters.
Poison Ivy liked to think she was more than just Queen to all this wondrous vegetation; she liked to think she was their mother. And what mother is not content if her children are happy? The air was sweet with honeygrass and strawflowers. Wasn't that perfect bliss? Her flowers were happy, her trees, bushes, grass, all her subjects, all her children, perfumed the air with their contentment.
So why should she sit here restless and unfulfilled?
So Harvey Dent took it into his head to reform. So what? Whatever Two-Face might have been to her once – and he was never more than a pleasant distraction – it was long over. She didn't need him. He was only a man. And a man – any man – she could have back any time she wanted. One whiff of her lure, a thousand times sweeter than the fruity scents now tickling the air, and he would crawl back on his knees, he would bow at her feet and think himself blessed if she commanded him to be her footstool.
But why should she even bother; he wasn't worth enslaving. He was just a man, and she could have any of them. They were perfectly interchangeable. It was ridiculous to pretend Harvey Dent was anything special. What could he do for her that any of them couldn't do? Indeed, Ivy thought bitterly, what could he do for her that any of them couldn't do twice as well.
Maybe she was just a little bothered by the stories that reached her at Arkham: they said that Harvey Dent "was back" but not in the way they usually meant. They didn't mean that he was captured and rotting away in Cell #2. They meant that Harvey was "back" and Two-Face was "gone" in the sense that he somehow got his face healed and turned his back on all things roguish… It was an upsetting report. But it was the gossip of lunatics. Ivy would have to be crazy to take the raving of lunatics at face value.
Of course she could go to the Iceberg, always a more reliable source of information than Arkham. But the last time she had gone there, bored and restless after an Arkham release, it set off that absurd Roxy Rocket provoking that ludicrous catfight, culminating in that outrageous video. If there was one thing Poison Ivy could not abide it was commingling with the absurd, ludicrous or outrageous.
It had taken her… considerable effort to regain her dignity and position after those horrific events. She had resorted to… conversing with Dr. Bartholomew as if she really were a stressed out mental patient needing therapy. She did not find it an uplifting experience. But in humoring that little man in his deluded ideas of being a doctor in a position to counsel her, she had reclaimed her plantlike serenity at last. And now that she was free, she had only to learn the truth about what happened to Harvey and life could return to normal.
But she would be happier if she could find out the truth without going back to the Iceberg. The sight of Sly alone…
Harley! Harley was always good company, and usually a good source of information when she wasn't confused beyond reason by the mad cackling and constant abuse of that sick clown. Harley was the perfect companion. It always took her a few days to adjust, to realize she was away from Joker, but as soon as she did and recognized Ivy was in charge, they always had the most wonderful time together.
The tricky part was hooking up. Ivy had no idea which Hacienda Harley might be using. Trial and error threw her into Joker's path more often than not, which always gave her an upset stomach.
So. How to find Harley?
The Bentley made the turn Selina's Jaguar had bypassed the night before. It turned onto Country Club Boulevard, and Selina clutched her handbag a little tighter, knowing they would soon arrive at the front gate of the Bristol Country Club -where her every visit was a worse disaster than the last.
Her eyes flickered as she snuck a peek at Bruce.
"Yes?" he graveled, to show he'd noticed.
"Nothing," she smiled, "You're sexy like that."
She didn't answer out loud, but she thought it: Bat-mode. She wasn't happy about their going to the country club, but the reason they were going thrilled her. It was a case, it was crimefighting, and Bruce was completely in Bat-mode. No mask, no gloves, no cape, but it was Batman sitting there all the same. Delicious.
It had been a long time since they had worked together. It was delicious. Even if he only brought her tonight as camouflage, and even if she was dreading what the cat-hating gremlin of the Bristol Country Club might have in store for her this time, it was pure catnip being with him so entirely in Bat-mode.
"You're clear on the plan?" Bruce asked suddenly, "We can't talk openly from the moment the valet opens the car door, so this is the last chance to—"
"I'm clear on the plan."
"We're having drinks and dinner, Bruce. It's not the Normandy invasion."
"I just want to make sure—"
"It's eating and drinking. Tell me you're not about to coach me on eating and drinking. Tell me before the valet opens that door that you do not have a martini protocol."
"Are you through?"
"Good. Then tell me the plan."
Selina sighed, trying to fathom why she found Bat-mode sexy. Then she recited the mission of the evening as the Bentley pulled into the circular drive in front of the club.
"The City Council just granted permission for an environmental artist called Kristov to build an installation in Robinson Park. He's putting up pathways of curtained gates which, although temporary, might stir up Ivy into expressing her displeasure in an epoch-making manner. You want to find out more from Richard Flay, insider on all things artsy in Gotham, but you want it to look like a casual meeting. So –whereas once the Fop would have made a spectacle of himself, hanging out at the bar all night pretending he's an idiot, repeating the imbecilities of some bimbo that thought he was a socialist because he said he liked the Marx Brothers - you now have me – to sit with, talk with, have a cocktail and eat a civilized dinner."
She had timed it perfectly, so the car came to a stop and the valet opened the door on her final words, making it impossible for Bruce to respond without breaking his own rule.
His lip merely twitched as he got out of the car. He looked at her for a moment before they went in, his eyes agleam and distant, as if completing some private calculations. When he moved again, placing his hand to the small of her back to guide her towards the door, he was no longer Bruce-in-Batmode, but a subconscious echo of the Fop.
...to be continued...