Times Gone By
January 23rd, A + 2
It would be fair to say Deputy-Commissioner Morrison looked at Batman like he was insane. The break in at the historical museum was weeks ago and they had called him. The other one? There was no other one. If there was another cat crime they would have signaled and told him, but there wasn't!Of course they would know, they were the police!
Batman gave up and went directly to the museum. It sometimes happened that this new commissioner could not supply more information than the newspapers – but this was the first time he'd offered less.
As Batman landed on the roof, the numb calm he'd maintained since the cave began to buckle.
This wasn't happening. It was a bad dream.
And reality tore abruptly through the haze: Nightmares.
For godssake, Selina, I didn't mean ithis thoughts ran as he replayed that last fight before the cemetary:
"The dreams are… so not about you… Believe me, Kitten, you are not that big a factor in my life."
(I didn't mean it.)
"You think it'd destroy me if you betrayed me and left?"
(Oh god, I didn't mean it. Don't you know that? Couldn't you tell?)
He removed a ventilation hood and entered through an air duct, just as she must have done.
At the grate above the Roman gallery, he saw the indentation of claw marks at the seam.
You think I care if you up and vanish some night. I do.
You think I'm afraid of being alone again? I am.
I dropped to the floor, not caring much if there were floor sensors to trip. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I made out, quite distinctly, a display of four mosaics depicting exotic animals in the coliseum. There was a rhinoceros, an elephant, a zebra, and in the spot where the leopards should be were… leopards. Gold tiles, broken up every so often with blacks faded to gray faded over the centuries… But… those were supposed to be stolen…
I took a closer look and saw one of the spots wasn't right - too regular and too black - electrical tape. I peeled it off and a note, folded and refolded to a tiny square, dropped at my feet.
"No, I didn't take it. Why would I? Because of you?"
I looked back at the leopards. Another too-square spot, and another note:
"You're not that big a factor in my life."
"You don't have that kind of power."
"You presumptuous arrogant bastard."
I tried her apartment. I tried Barbara, I tried Dick, I tried Tim. I snooped around the Iceberg, and Two-Face's loft over the Janus Club. I realized I don't have much experience finding her when she doesn't want to be found.
I went over her workstation in the cave …found how she sent the bogus crime alert to my monitor… found an e-mail to Barbara… If Barbara knew where she was, she would've told me… there was no point in opening the letter… the subject line read "estrogen solidarity"… impossible woman.
I looked over the bogus newspaper. After the details of the cat crime, there was a story about a school board and a municipal bond referendum. Every movie where they show a newspaper, next to whatever headline you're supposed to look at, there's this story about the school board and municipal bond referenda. Every time. I turned to the last page where the crossword was just a little larger than it should be. Underneath it, in three point type were the words Nigma Novelties.
Much as I wanted to beat the truth out of him, I couldn't actually confront Riddler. Selina could have told him anything. If she said "fight with Bruce" and I went in there as Batman, I was busted. But if she had said she wanted the paper to taunt Batman and I asked about her as Bruce…
So I was slightly screwed.
I waited until the little weasel left, then conducted a thorough search. I found an address book, which was so easy it would have been a trap coming from any other source. With Riddler, it was exactly what it appeared: an address book. If it were a trap, it would be Phonetian hieroglyphs written backwards in lemon juice.
The book listed three cat-lairs.
One was an old address: a fur warehouse before the quake, now a homeless shelter.
One she'd apparently rented to Mr. Freeze as storage space. Six coldsuits and a dry ice machine.
The third lair had a light on…I let myself in … there was a distinctive smell in the air - a heater that had been cold a long time had just been turned on again… And there she was, stroking one of the cats, though I couldn't see which. I moved closer - it was Nutmeg. Selina didn't know I was there yet but the cat did. It's creepy the way those cats reflect her feelings. The amber eyes staring at me were most definitely hostile. I needed to announce my presence before the little furball tipped her, so I said:
"You do have an astonishing array of cat-stuff around this place, you know that?"
"If I wanted to talk to you, I would've waited on the roof," she answered without turning.
"You're not going to make this any easier are you?"
Shit, out of practice. I set that one up. Here it comes, I thought, an "easy way or the hard way" comeback.
"You're tracking mud on my carpet."
That wasn't encouraging.
"C'mon, Kitten, work with me here. 'the easy way or the hard way…'"
She turned to look at me.
"Look one of us has to be the black hole of brooding despair and if you're not going to do it…"
Aha. Banter. It was a start. Except there wasn't a hint of anything in the words. No anger, no sarcasm, no spite; so much for foreplay. It was time to do what I came for:
"I'm sorry," I said sincerely.
"Not good enough."
"I can't unsay what's been said."
"What was said was that…"
Oh God, don't repeat that please, my brain railed at her, please don't say it, don't say it out loud, don't say it…
"…I'm not that big a factor in your life and that—"
"PLEASE don't repeat that."
"WHY NOT!" I heard her scream only after my own "I KNOW WHAT I SAID!"
"I know what I said," I repeated softly.
Even yelling wouldn't work now. Nothing would. I couldn't change anything that happened. We had our whole lives before us, we had all those possibilities… and I poisoned all of it forever.
"Would it help if I said I didn't mean it?"
Desperate. Foolish. If I didn't mean that what else didn't I mean. Here it comes…
"It might," Selina said gently.
"It might help a little."
"I don't understand."
"Yeah, that much you've made very clear. You asked, I believe - do tell me if I've mistaken something - you asked if saying you didn't mean it would help."
"Right, I was here, I know what I said."
"That's really not a phrase you want to be repeating right now."
I felt my cheeks burn at the slap. She went on.
"I said it might. That's 'would it help'/'yes it might.' And you're at a loss on what to say next?"
"I just don't understand."
"I can't believe this is the crack intellect that's the terror of the underworld. Have you always been this dense? 'Kitten, Would it help if I said it I didn't mean it'-'Yes Bruce, actually it might'- and now you say…"
"But I can't unsay it."
"No, the past is funny that way. You can't unsay what's been said or undo what's been done. You deal with it and move on."
Something very important just happened.
"Say that again."
"Oh I give up. First you said—"
"JUST REPEAT THAT LAST PART," I shouted.
"Deal with it and move on?"
That was it: Move forward.
This one thing in the past didn't get to dominate all that came after it. It didn't have that kind of power. Deal with it and move on. Can't change what's happened - move forward.
The Sensei said those moments of understanding never last.
But at that one moment…
Stop, assess what happened, then move on.
I'm not sure how long I stood there. I'm not sure if she said anything. I'm not sure if I said anything. It might have been only a second.
"I have to go somewhere. Hold that thought," I stammered, then realized that was wrong. "No, better idea, you come too."
She thought I was crazy. She might have been right.
It was a short walk, and she said nothing. I said nothing.
We reached the alley, and realization dawned.
"This is where it happened, isn't it?" she whispered. "Your parents?"
"That spot right there. 24 years, 2 days…"
"Oh holy sh—"
"…and 4 hours ago."
"Well that explains a lot." She looked at me shrewdly. "Doesn't excuse it, mind you, but it explains it."
In my mind's ear I heard my mother's voice:
"Exactly what I was going to say. Smart girl, Bruce…"
"I get it, Mom" I whispered.
"…but the wardrobe needs some work. Is that purple leather?"
January 29rd, A + 8
"Miss Gordon," Alfred was saying, "I do beg you to reconsider. Gotham City is a fashion capital. There are over six thousand dress-makers and couturiers. If Miss Crenshaw, whom I recommended, failed to please, there are certainly other alternatives without resorting to…"
"Mr. Corry recommends Flavel, Wenelio's, or, what was the third one?"
"The House of Shri," the odious Mr. Corry lisped.
Alfred sighed. Barbara's tastes were sufficiently conservative to accept his direction on tableware, invitations, and menus. But not in matters of dress. The stolid Englishwoman he brought in had produced such stodgy sketches of high-bodiced lace, the psyche who designed the Batgirl costume rebelled. She called Mr. Corry, and the dreaded wedding planner now had his foot in the door once again. It wouldn't stop with the dress, Alfred was sure. There would be more abominations to endure.
"Wenelio will provide a crash to contrast your dress," he was saying, "Silver lame is very becoming against the white."
Alfred coughed. "I really don't think…" he began.
"I like it," Barbara chirped.
There they sat, the bat family. Like nothing happened.
Well, no. It had been a little strained with Bruce, but we were working through it. Barb's a doll. Dickey the Dick, on the other hand, didn't get around to telling me about Hell-Month until A + 5. What a guy.
In sync, the four of them turned and looked at me:
Deadlock. A silver lame crash.
"What does Dick say?" I asked.
"I vote against."
Take that you little shit. Meow.
Bruce came over beaming, and I guessed he was the second vote against the crash.
"You ever going to let Dick off the hook?" he asked.
"Eventually," I smiled.
"I've been meaning to ask: recent events improve your opinion of Ra's at all?"
That's silver lame crash to forgiving Dick to Ra's the hairdo! I will never understand the way that man's mind works, not after a hundred Hell Months. My confusion must have showed because Bruce very thoughtfully reminded me of my early assessment:
"He's a flyweight, he's a hairdo…"
"He is," I answered, "he really is."
"You don't think he's a dangerous threat?"
"Cause he shows up every fifty months looking jaded, bleak, and gaunt? No. I'm not threatened by gaunt. Gaunt is not a global threat. They're gaunt over at Tower Records. It's not intimidating."
"You are the most impossible woman."
"And he has a cape, oh well, then he must be a force to be reckoned with… Oh, sorry. Incidentally, somebody should tell those people at Tower Records that they're not rock stars themselves."
©2002, Chris Dee
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And so it goes.
Poor Alfred, More headaches in store for him in the next installment
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