It was a regular, quiet night at the museum. The empty stillness and peace that permeated this particular section of the building was only helped along by the various antiques and rusty memories from a time gone by. And the greatest of these memories was positioned in the middle of the floor, a gem thought lost in an accident at sea during the great age of pirates. And saved only through the efforts of a master thief who had stolen it and replaced it with a fake the day before it left port.
Now the priceless artifact was here, protected by some of the best security systems man could invent. Simply waiting to be stolen again, to be snatched away by someone worthy of its legacy. That certain someone silently removed the grate in the wall and crawled out of the ventilation shaft, dropping to the floor without a sound.
After just a few steps towards her prize, footsteps reached her ears. She ran for cover, hoping she could evade attention until the guards moved again.
But these were no guards. From the darkness she could see a group of men, six all in all. The man in front was dressed in black pants and shirt, a dark green jacket and a hat of the same color rested on his head. He swung his cane this way and that, as if he was venting his need to burst into dance. The cane had a curious shape. A question mark. From reputation she knew the same symbol was on the hat.
Just her luck. One of the Arkham crowd. The type of man who advertised his plans and used every opportunity to practically invite Batman to come stop him.
The Riddler sauntered onward. She could see him more clearly now. He looked down as he walked. A smile broke out on his face and disappeared just as quickly, as if he had just thought of something very amusing. Then his face lifted and he gave the room a quick look. The cane was raised in the air and they all stopped.
Shit. He'd seen the missing ventilation grate. He gave a theatrical sigh and looked down at the ground, using his cane to push the hat further up his head. Then his head shot back up and a large smile spread across his features.
"That was quick. You're getting infinitely better at this. Although I suppose you had a good teacher," the Riddler addressed the room.
When no answer came, the smile diminished.
"Batman? Riddle me this: Why has no bat-shaped piece of metal embedded itself into my hand?"
Silence was the only answer as she mulled over the situation from the safety of her hiding place.
"Because you're not there. Yes…yes, that must be it. I guess it's just some thief then. Well, then. I'll go do my thing and you do yours, friend. Or run away, your choice. If you need anything, you know where to find me!"
Having finished his announcement, the Riddler went on with his business. Which took him straight to her prize. Just her luck. A confrontation was needed.
As he stared at the glass containing the jewel, amusement and avarice battling for dominance in his eyes, the crack of a whip sounded through the room. He looked up, a puzzled look on his face as he took her appearance in.
A small grin appeared. His men did not draw their guns, merely stood back, unsure of how exactly to behave during a encounter between two of the slightly screw-loose part of the underworld. Of course they'd think of her as one of the Arkham crowd. Her costume was a bit out of the ordinary.
"Hmm. Those don't look like bat ears. The whip doesn't fit either. Let me guess," he said and tilted his face to the side, tapping his fingers against his chin, "The dominatrix?"
He looked straight at her and the smile vanished. "But in all seriousness. Who are you, what do you want, etc. etc."
"That gem is mine," she said in a deadpan voice, to make it clear this matter wasn't up to debate.
"Wait! I've read about you in the papers, haven't I? Yes, it all fits quite nicely: the ears, the robbing, the general look of competence, if you'll forgive the flattery. You're the elusive Catwoman, the most exciting rumor currently known to Gotham. I'm almost tempted to say it's an honor."
How anyone could say something so arrogant in such a friendly and conversational voice was beyond her. The old aristocratic hags that were present at every single fundraiser and high-class parties she presented, who liked to throw "subtle" insults at her, could learn a thing or two from this man.
"You're not very impressive either. Have you ever pulled off a job in this city without getting caught?"
The smile returned to his face, but the men behind him looked uncomfortable at having to stand there while Batman was no doubt on his way.
"Hah! A competent burglar capable of inspirational sass! Absolutely delightful. The demanding attitude could be a problem though. Tell you what," he said, his eyes expressing intense curiosity, "Since you're so sure of yourself, let's make a game of it."
He gestured lazily with his hand and his men rushed at her.
"Beat four of my little helpers and the trinket's yours."
They did not draw guns. Whether he had ordered them not to or whether it was out of self-respect she did not know. What she did know was that they did not take her seriously and they were ready to beat up a lady.
Their attacks were clumsy, typical of Gotham thugs who relied on brute strength more than anything else. A block here, a kick in the groin there and a broken nose finished off one.
That impressed them enough for them to act more cautiously. But in a matter of moments two more were down.
The last one threw a punch which she easily dove under. She kicked his knee, then followed up by another kick to the neck, bringing him down hard.
She tried to calm her breathing as she looked up. The Riddler was standing by the glass box along with his remaining henchman. The gem had been replaced with a piece of paper.
"Impressive. The prize is yours."
He threw it over to her and she caught it in one gloved hand. But he was still grinning. She stared at it for a while, then tossed it to the floor.
"That's a fake."
He genuinely smiled this time.
"And she's got brains as well! You have to be one of the most charming ladies I've met in a long time."
He held out his hand, the real thing resting in his palm, eyes pursed in amusement and focused absolutely on her.
"Go on. You've earned it."
She smiled back for the first time. Being put off balance wasn't her style. Whatever this bizarre crook had to throw at her, she could deal with. She sauntered over to him, feline grace and power evident in each step. She snatched the gem and still he did nothing but smile.
"Is the question "Why" racing through your mind? Please, allow me to alleviate your worries. It's a pretty little thing, but I don't need it. As long as Batman finds an empty jewel box and a riddle, I'm happy. The game can go on."
He brushed past her, the henchman following. A quick inspection of his downed men followed before he set off for the exit, leaving them behind.
The henchman muttered something to his boss. "Such is life," was the answer.
As they reached the exit of this section of the museum he turned around.
"I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship."
A tip of the hat and he was gone, leaving her alone with her prize.
Later that night, at her apartment, she celebrated the successful hunt with a bottle of red and pondered the night's events. The night was slightly sullied by someone else doing the actual stealing and then throwing it to her like a bone to a dog. On the other hand it went pretty well for an encounter with one of the city's more flamboyant criminals. And if she looked at it from his point of view, he had been friendly, in a way. Out of all of them, he was probably the best to run into in such a situation. Just think if it would have been the Joker.
A priceless gem and a bizarre new "friend". Not a bad night, all things considered, she thought as she studied her prize.