A Girl's Gotta Protect Her Reputation
Chapter 5: Encore

I'd disconnected the venthood, lowered myself into the power distribution venue, and began redirecting current to deactivate the motion-detectors without signaling a power outage. It's time-consuming but brainless work, and I got to thinking about my history with this institution, the oldest and most prestigious museum in Gotham City. I've documented eight separate ways in over the years. Thanks to me, they got it down to four, which is plenty.

I should explain that. In order to get on the museum's A-List to receive invitations to the good openings and receptions, you can't just be a regular member. You have to make a donation of at least 5,000. Every year I do, happily. This museum is not only Catwoman's chief supplier, it's also a place Selina enjoys going on a rainy afternoon to commune with the Impressionists.

So the 5,000 donation I don't begrudge them. I've always specified my donations go to the acquisitions fund. More and better art on their walls and in their vault is in both Selina's and Catwoman's best interests. But two years ago, Impression Sunrise was stolen – and not by me. It pissed me off more than the time Batman called me "kitten."

Claude Monet's Impression Sunrise! This is THE painting! It launched Impressionism and, in a way, all modern art. The guy who took it came in through the skylight over the sculpture court. I mean, really! How movie-of-the-week can you get? I was pissed. I decided if they didn't tighten up security, every schmuck with a rock-climbing harness could walk off with whatever they wanted. We couldn't have that.

So, in the interests of keeping the masterpieces in the museum's collection exactly where they were for whenever Selina decided to view them or Catwoman decided to take them, I specified that my next donation be used to engage a top security consultant: Foster and Forsythe. I wasn't worried that a review by Foster and Forsythe would cut off all my entries. They can't, really. The Gotham Museum of Art has a complete mock-up of a pyramid inside its walls, a full-size Roman temple, and a loading dock that has to be able to receive monstrously large and heavy antiquities. And all of it has to be kept within very specific temperature ranges. The heating and ventilation requirements alone ensure that I'll always have plenty of options for breaking in, moving around, and getting back out along unexpected pathways.

Within two months, Foster and Forsythe had identified four of my pet ways into the East Wing, and closed a lot of smaller, less-significant gaps in the security setup. That, as I said, still left me with four routes in – which is three more than any self-respecting catburglar needs. Tonight, like picking the parking space at the mall nearest the entrance to your favorite store, I went in through the climate control shell between that pyramid exhibit and the museum's actual roof.

As I lowered myself to the floor, the first sight that greeted me was a magnificent, full-size sculpture of a woman with the head of a lion. At her feet were four life-size statues of cats with jewel-encrusted necklaces. That, I knew, would be Bastet. Not to be confused with Sekhmet, the lion-headed woman in the outer alcove.

You see, the Egyptians understood cats better than any people in history. Bastet came first in their mythology. In the beginning, she was the mother of the savage-faced lion god called Miysis, "Lord of Slaughter." She was a god of war, of sorcery, associated with the eye of Re, the power of the sun and moon, and the breath of the desert. Over time, the goddess's character became more and more friendly, her sorcery associated with healing, her motherhood emphasized, she became a protector. And so the fierce and destructive aspects of her character became Sekhmet. Her dark side was recognized as an independent personage. Something about that has always appealed to me…

"That's breaking and entering. You want to stop there, or should I come back in ten minutes once you've added a few counts of burglary?"

The voice and the tingle were unmistakable… Him.

But the words weren't right. I'm the one who plays games. Bats is always direct. I turned to face him.

"Why the choice?" I asked bluntly, "I'm the one who plays games. You're always direct."

He did that quirky thing at the side of his mouth, and I realized I must've sounded just like him right then.

"Look, one of us has to be the straight man," I said, a bit defensive about that sudden lapse into battitude. "If you're not going to do it, there's a vacuum. It has to be filled. So I repeat: Why the unusual opening? Why has it been all of 45 seconds without your trademark threat to 'take me down'? … And why are you doing that bizarre twitchy thing with the side of your mouth that I assume is a smile?"

A real smile followed. It was possibly the creepiest thing I've ever seen. The creepiest thing I'd ever heard was to follow:

"Because this isn't a crime and for once I'm not going to pretend it is. You want to talk 'whys': Why break into this painfully obvious exhibit the very first night your show is closed, huh? This isn't a burglary; it's a date. You wanted to talk to me, Kitten, well here I am. What do you want to say?"

I stared. It may be fair to say: I gaped.

The awful thing is he was right. For Catwoman, Egyptian cat gods are a hackneyed cliché. I needed another Bast statuette like I need a hole in the head …I realized at that moment that I was even thinking in clichés, which was disturbing… And Batman was staring. I guessed the favor of an early reply was required. I'd been facing off against him for years. I'd never feared him like the others do, and I had never, ever felt this… UNCOMFORTABLE. I heard my voice saying the first thing that came into my head:

"Shouldn't we be fighting or something? I mean, it's midnight. It's a museum. You wear a cape. Isn't this all a little talky?"

"Talky? You've been standing on a stage every night for almost four months telling stories about us."

"You know why I had to do that," I hissed, "You of all people must understand the importance of – respect – for the masked persona."

"Yes, yes." He sounded annoyed, like I was deliberately missing the point. "As far as protecting your image goes, it was ingenious. It's just – did you have to drag 'us' into it that way?"

Oh. My. God.

I suddenly clued in that this was the dressing room visit I'd been dreading and hoping for.

"Well… Maybe I didn't have to – but I think the audience would've felt pretty shortchanged if I'd dodged so central an issue, don't you think. If it's any consolation, after going over it 500 times, I don't understand it – us – what we do – whatever it is, any better now than I did before."

He scowled. I gave a flirtatious smile. At least that much was back to normal. Any second now, he'd grab my wrists and say how he's going to take me down.

"How are we ever going to get back to where we were?" he asked.

I'd been getting big laughs on the inanities of our relationship for 15 sold-out weeks, but I've got to say, at that second, I no longer found it funny. Something snapped.

"Why in hell would we want to? Christ, how many years… how many years has it been that you haven't noticed 'where we were' SUCKED! Do you think I ENJOY being taken to the brink and back time after time after time after time after time? Do you think I get off on that 'Thanks but no thanks' martyr routine of yours?"

He looked mystified.

"I honestly thought you enjoyed it. You certainly looked like you were having fun."

"Maybe I was, maybe it was exciting – the first five or six times – but it got old. Don't you think it's gotten old?"

The twitch-smile returned.

"Honestly? No. Maybe you've never noticed who else is on my dancecard. With week after week of twisted riddles, giant flytraps, fear toxins, SmileX gas, megalomaniacs, mutant assassins, not to mention the garden variety murderers, rapists, muggers, mobsters and drug cartels, I've always found our little scuffles to be a welcome and refreshing change."

"Most people that want a change would, you know, take a vacation. Long weekend in the mountains, maybe some skiing. Or snorkeling. Surfing's good. Some just lie under a palm tree eating those big shrimp, sipping frothy drinks with umbrellas."

"I don't."

I felt a quirky twitch starting on the left side of my own mouth.

"Workaholic, I take it?"

"That's what they tell me."

"So you'd actually be quite pleased if I grabbed, eh, that bronze calico with the ruby collar and took off for a sprint across the rooftops?"

"No. I wouldn't."

"But you'd get as closed to pleased as you CAN get."

Long silence. He was considering it. I could see the answer in his eyes: "Perhaps." But he couldn't say it out loud. That would be admitting too much. For some reason I decided to let him off the hook, changed the subject. I also shifted my weight in the direction of the altar with the calico.

"I had it all worked out you know…" "…what I would say if I found you in my dressing room – so it would sound good later…" "…it started with 'is that a batarang on your belt or are you just happy to see me.'"

I gave him the naughty-grin. He loves the grin.

He took a step closer, closing the distance between us. He was as close to me as I was to the altar with the calico.

"This," he said, "is the part where I'm the killjoy, right? Wet blanket? Stuffed shirt? Pompous self-righteous prig?"

"Well, if you want things back to the 'way they were,' then yeah, that'd be the way to go."

"Is that what I do in the scene you had scripted?"

"Well, if you really want to set up the perfect bit for my finale, in the show I'm no longer doing by the way, you put on your best Bud Abbott/Harvey Corman/straightman face… Yep that's the one, you got that down… And you say 'So Catwoman, doesn't it bother you that you're mostly thought of as a busty, leggy sex kitten?'"

"So Catwoman, doesn't it bother you that you're mostly thought of as a busty, leggy sex kitten?"

He did it. He actually did it. No hesitation, not a smirk. And not the slightest hint that the great Dark Knight was above this totally silly exchange.

"Hey," I answered on cue, "We have a killer clown, birds and umbrellas, schizophrenic lawyer, Alice in Wonderland, Shape Shifter, Fearguy, Mutant Plants, and Sex…which would you pick?"

You keep setting them up, Handsome; I'll keep bringing 'em home.

The mouth twitch returned. I got him.

I edged towards the altar again, he countered. It wasn't 'where we were.' This was a new place.

But we can't change too much too fast.

©2001, Chris Dee

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All stories and intellectual property, Cat-Tales and its associated original characters Whiskers and Nutmeg, Omar, Moira, Francois de Poulignac, Anatole, Martin/Hermoine, Giovanni D'Annunzio, Aunt Maud Wodehouse, Mr. & Mrs Ashton-Larraby, Randy-quad, Ulstarn, Dr. Bartholomew, Sly, Greg "Giggles" Brady, Doris, Detective Porpora, Mr. Offred, Ramona DeSlice, Derek Drake, Draco, Nethal, Mr. Corry, Mr. Jose, Nurse Chin, Raoul, Steve, Gina, Claudia Lennox, Miriam Nash, Lawrence Muskelli, Nirvanna, Richard Flay, and the Wayne ancestors in the Wayne Family History are © Chris Dee.