Author's Note: This is set after The Dark Knight.
Catch That Cat
Less than a mile from the east edge of the Palisades, the Brixton jewelry store stands at one end of an upscale shopping center, just across the street from a popular mall. By day the area is busy; but now, in the middle of the witching hour, the area is as close to deserted as any paved-over portion of this city is ever likely to be.
A patrol car swings through the parking lot. The two occupants—a rookie and her training officer—see nothing out of the ordinary through the front windows of the Brixton store and proceed going slowly down the line, glancing at each storefront in turn. These visual checks are really pro forma; in recent years the cops have acquired an increased faith in the constantly improving electronic security systems which prosperous businesses purchase and regularly upgrade.
This is all to the satisfaction of the woman stretched out on the floor behind a display case, watching until the police car has left the lot before she moves again.
The car swung through the parking lot at least ten minutes earlier than she'd expected, but there was very little chance of either officer noticing her in her hastily-assumed position; some of her body was concealed by the base of the case, and most of her head, like all the rest of her, is shrouded in nonreflective black material. Car headlight beams, partially reflected and partially refracted at each stage as the light struck consecutive layers of glass (the windows, the fronts of the display cases, the backs of the display cases) were highly unlikely to make her noticeable, but well she knows that sudden motion is what really catches the eye!
Fortunately the threat of living, breathing, human watchmen isn't nearly as common as it used to be when Selina Kyle was a sweet little thing, just learning how to pick a lock. Cameras and motion detectors and other electronic wizardry have become more sophisticated each year . . . and once you install them, they don't expect steady salaries and paid vacation time. Increasingly, the paper-pushers who always have one eye on the bottom line are looking at the spreadsheets on their flatscreens and deciding, "It's more cost-effective to only use high-tech methods to keep the area secure after our good little worker drones have gone home for the night. Computers are harder to bribe than low-paid rent-a-cops, for that matter!"
That sounds good when you're slashing budgets, but the reality ain't quite that simple. Never has been, and she devoutly hopes it never will be. Whatever clever gadgetry a man can devise, another man (or better yet, a woman!) can find ways to avoid, spoof, disable, or persuade someone else to ignore on the theory that it must be glitched. You just have to try harder and think smarter than whatever criminals the designers were using as the baseline, and learn from the mistakes of people who actually got caught in the act.
Now she has left the showroom and is casually manipulating the controls on the door of the vault. One reason she picked this place for tonight's score is that the vault can be opened by just one person at a time, unlike most modern bank vaults.
It wasn't exactly easy to discover the lengthy combination which will open this one, but it wasn't too intellectually tasking either. Just a matter of careful preparation. The Brixton people need to better consider the fact that modern surveillance technology can work for you or against you, and thus a prospective burglar just might have entered the store with a good cover story during normal business hours, and then might have planted some little gadgets of her own in odd places so as to collect good intel about the site, long before she returns to break in after hours.
Selina Kyle—or Catwoman, although she's never yet had occasion to introduce herself that way in any face-to-face meetings—smiles a smug smile and enters the now-open vault. What a beautiful assortment of fine pieces . . . emeralds, diamonds, rubies, all the classics are represented!
With a connoisseur's eye, Selina examines the available swag for the most valuable items. She intends to fill her backpack just once and then leave, without pressing her luck by coming back for refills.
It only takes a few minutes to satisfy herself that she's collected the cream of the crop.
Gently she swings the vault door shut, reflecting that the staff probably won't know anything is wrong until they open it up tomorrow. At that point they will probably scrutinize the door for any signs of recent tampering, fail to find 'em, and eventually reach the conclusion that they haven't been as careful as they should've been about keeping the combination secure.
So perhaps they'll learn a valuable lesson from all this, she tells herself virtuously. Better they learn it at her hands than from some terrorist nutcase who might penetrate their security to plant a few bombs. Selina won't feel the least bit inconvenienced if the Brixton people upgrade everything to the nth degree; she never hits the same store twice.
She heads for the service door at the back of the store, the same way she entered tonight, feeling the euphoria that comes when a job is nearly completed and everything has gone perfectly according to plan—
—And there he is, looming out of the shadows between her and the exit: Gotham's most notorious watchdog. How he has detected anything wrong in this building is beyond her at the moment, but it doesn't matter. He's here. She quickly steps backwards, out of this corridor and into the showroom, watching him for any sign that he's about to lunge and strike. Instead he follows her without closing in, moving surprisingly quietly for a man so much bulkier than she. (How much of that bulk is just his dark armor, though? Hard to tell.)
"Make it easy on yourself," he says in that grating voice that almost has to be artificially distorted. "Surrender now and save me a little trouble."
She's never seen Batman up close before, but she's heard stories. Doesn't he usually prefer to start the festivities with lightning strikes from the shadows instead of wasting time on conversational preliminaries? Why the break in pattern? Does he have previously unrevealed scruples against hitting a woman without warning? Possible, quite possible. Who says chivalry is dead?
Ostentatiously, she raises her apparently empty (although gloved) hands, fingers spread and palms forward to emphasize what a helpless, delicate, nonviolent creature she really is when directly confronted by Tall, Dark, and Scary. This act has caused muscular male authority figures to relax subconsciously in the past—it's so easy for their testosterone-saturated egos to believe that the typical woman is intimidated by their superior mass and stature and wouldn't even dream of wasting her time with violent resistance—but it's dark in here, and if Batman is relaxing even a smidgen, she sure can't see it yet!
"All right, you got me fair and square," she says in a light tone. "I won't even try to feed you a cock-and-bull story about how I'm a freelance security consultant working for the owner to find the weak spots before some nasty character can really rob him!"
"Wise choice," he says, gravelly as ever, stepping closer now.
"So how do we handle this now?"she inquires, still sounding cheerfully curious rather than tense as she counts his paces and juggles figures in her mind. "I don't care what Hugo Strange and the other talking heads on television say; I really don't think you kill every burglar you catch in the act. But you must have . . . something . . . in mind for me," she adds, putting a seductive purr into her voice just for practice, though she's sure it won't do any good. "Please don't tell me you're planning to drag me to the nearest police station. They'd be so busy shooting at you, they'd forget about me!"
"So I'll restrain you and then make an anonymous phone call," he growls, still stepping toward her carefully while one hand suddenly produces a pair of handcuffs from somewhere. "If this is a first offense, you might get off very lightly."
"Bondage scenario?" she asks dubiously. "Not my scene."
She can see his eyes clearly at this range. The whites look normal; he probably doesn't wear thick protective lenses set into his mask. Good.
Selina suddenly turns her head away to peer over her own left shoulder, asking in a worried tone: "Did you hear a scratching—"
Scratching was the keyword. The voice-activated trigger sets off the flash grenade Selina had thoughtfully planted in the showroom just before she saw the patrol car approaching and had to hit the deck in a hurry.
For her, with head turned away and eyes screwed shut at the last moment, the flash is no big deal. Batman, though, should be temporarily blinded—and when she peeps back at him, his reactions support that conclusion. He may have been obsessively watching her for any sign she was reaching for a weapon, but clearly he never realized she could've already deployed the weapon long before he showed up!
First she has to get out of the store as quickly as possible; then she'll find out if those daily six-mile runs are finally going to pay off . . .
Batman lost perhaps one second to shocked immobility before he started moving. The slender woman with the cute little cat-ears attached to her black mask may or may not intend a more vicious attack as a follow-up—perhaps with a gun extracted from her pack?—but it would be foolhardy to assume she won't be tempted to go for the kill if she sees him as a sitting duck.
He rolls to his right, doesn't hear anything coming, extracts a smoke pellet from his utility belt and tosses it down to crack open on the marble floor while he jumps backward, landing smack dab in the corridor leading to the back door. He couldn't see what he was doing, but trained memory had told him how many feet behind him and to the left the mouth of the corridor was when he was blinded.
No gunfire or other threatening noises—perhaps she's heading out the front door? Even to a man who trained long and hard with the League of Shadows, it is very hard to trace this woman's movements by auditory clues alone. He wonders where her training occurred.
Wait. The faintest sound of a footfall not far away—he hurls a batarang forward at waist level and drops into a defensive crouch, arms raised to protect his head against projectiles or other forms of assault—
Twin impacts that might be feet landing on his shoulders—Batman rises, trying to throw her off before she can do whatever nastiness she plans, and even as he does the extra weight departs! He hears her land several feet behind him, close to the service entrance. Then that door swings open and he knows she has left the building.
Should have seen it coming, he realizes sourly. The cat burglar had already gimmicked the back door; that's how Batman entered the building himself after he became suspicious. Evidently she didn't want to break a window or force the front door open for her escape; either would be highly likely to sound an alarm. So she simply refused to let The Dark Knight's presence in the corridor discourage her from using it as an escape route. When she leaped onto his shoulders and he jerked up, he added a little extra momentum to her next leap, speeding her on her way!
Batman has met plenty of crooks brave enough to try their luck at shooting or clubbing him, but precious few who would think to simply use him as a living springboard! This one has audacity; it's a pity she doesn't put her skills to better use . . .
He wants to charge out the door right after her, but that would be hopelessly insane when he can't see his hand in front of his face. He grits his teeth and waits, waits, waits . . .
Vision starting to clear. Batman tears out into the paved strip behind the building and frantically scans the surrounding area.
There. A dark, slender figure moving through the trees toward a nearby apartment complex.
On his way in, Batman didn't see any vehicles parked back here; the thief must have known that any passers-by would find that a suspicious circumstance at this hour. So she probably left her getaway car a few hundred yards away, anonymous among the horde of other vehicles which tenants and their guests have left cluttering up the parking spaces of the complex.
He runs after her. His legs are longer, but he's not closing the gap nearly as quickly as he'd hoped; this lady is quite a sprinter. She still has about a twenty-second lead when she disappears around the corner of a building, and then there's a smashing noise. Someone (guess who) has just broken a window.
Does she think I'll be afraid to follow her into somebody's apartment now that I'm a wanted man?
When he comes around the corner several seconds later, he can see what happened. The shattered pane is in a window on the second floor; looks like the thief must've been standing on the fire escape when she broke in.
Moments later, Batman springs in through that mostly-empty frame himself and lands in a crouch in someone's bedroom.
Head swivels—over against the wall, a bed; sitting up in it, the lady of the house, long dark hair spilling down around her shoulders and bedclothes covering her legs. Her torso is scarcely concealed by a gauzy nightgown.
She yanks at a quilt and pulls it up in front of her chest defensively. He hopes she'll be careful; a few shards of glass are still glittering where they've been caught in the knitted fabric.
"Stay put! A thief broke in a minute ago," he growls. "I'll get her out of your hair as quickly as possible."
A lightning glance into the bedroom closet shows no thief crouching among the frippery; then a quick glance under the bed reveals nothing human-sized; so he won't be leaving the quarry alone with a potential hostage when he exits the bedroom. With that settled, Batman charges through the bedroom door, ignoring the tenant who is now recovering from her first shock enough to say, shrill and indignant: "I didn't see any thief—"
Batman quickly determines that the apartment's front door is still chained and bolted from the inside. The cat burglar hasn't left that way . . . no other windows broken, nor even open a crack—he hastily checks closets, cabinets, behind a couch, inside the bathroom's shower stall . . . nothing.
Suckered! His quarry must've smashed the window to suggest she had gone that way in a hurry, then hid somewhere else and waited for Batman to lunge at the bait and waste precious time searching the apartment!
That's why the lady of the house didn't scream at any other intruder before Batman came in, after the breaking glass woke her up, and why she said she didn't see anyone else. At first he'd assumed the tenant just needed a few seconds to clear her head and focus her eyes before knowing if any strangers were rushing through her bedroom or not. Did the cat burglar break the glass as a diversion and then still make it all the way to the roof before Batman ever came around the corner to pick up the trail? Just barely possible. If he hurries, there's still a chance—
Batman races back through the bedroom, calling out a hopefully-reassuring "All clear!" to the frightened lady now huddled under the bedclothes, and springs out through the broken window. The thief might have leaped a few more floors up to the roof, or jimmied open another window and slid it shut again without leaving such glaringly obvious signs as shattered glass, or . . .
Batman elects to go for the high ground. Move further up the fire escape. Once on the roof, scan every direction for any sign of a fleeing woman.
Once Batman is no longer visible through the broken window, Selina pushes away the bedclothes to reveal the top half of her catsuit which she had previously shoved down around her legs after yanking the zipper down the front of her torso and wiggling her arms out of the sleeves. There had been barely enough time to finish setting the stage before the hunter came bursting in.
Even for one of her jaded tastes, it feels silly to wear a filmy nightgown under the catsuit when she's going out on another job. But she always does. This is not the first time she's pulled the "damsel in distress" routine. It's such a cliché, the action hero bursting into a room and the innocent woman screaming in terror, that it ought to push all a macho vigilante's buttons. He knows he's supposed to feel embarrassed, amused, protective, even lustful in a tactfully suppressed sort of way, anything but suspicious of this hysterical, terrified girl who looks and sounds so different from that sultry, confident burglar he'd confronted a few minutes ago!
(As part of her scouting process before the robbery, Selina learned the female occupant of this apartment would be gone all week. That made it the linchpin of one of her three planned escape routes if she had to outrun somebody. It's always good to know that if you must needs break a window, no angry occupant will grab a gun and start blazing away.)
Still and all, Batman is not a complete fool, or he never would have lasted this long in his odd line of work. He may guess where the real trick was, any minute now . . . Selina hastily slides her hands back into the gloves she had stripped off and stashed beneath a pillow, then retrieves her pack and heads for the front door. Out into the corridor, move two doors to the left, and open the unlocked door of the apartment she had rented a week ago as a hidey-hole for just such an emergency. (The security deposit and first month's rent were trivial expenses compared to the profits she'll reap from this caper.)
Once inside, this door now bolted and chained behind her, Selina lets herself relax. There is no way Batman can catch her now. Sometime tomorrow or the day after, he might—or the police might—get lists of all the recently arrived tenants in this complex and start looking for oddities. But she doubts anything will come up to let the cops get a search warrant for this apartment in particular, and even if they do, so what? She won't be here any more.
A few hours from now, Selina will leave the building dressed as a chubby, middle-aged woman on her way to get an early day's start at the office, climbing into a car which has the proper parking tag in the back window to show it belongs here. Batman will be long gone by then, and it would be a neat trick for him to recognize her in that get-up, anyhow.
She just hopes it was a sheer fluke that he stumbled across her this time. Surviving such a close call was exhiliarating, but she's not counting on it to work out the same way on a regular basis! If the police can ever book her just once, ending up with her photo, fingerprints, and DNA on file for future reference, her life will become miserable even if she subsequently escapes their custody . . .
Author's Note: I wrote much of this a long time ago, after I had written a few thousand words' worth of plot outline for what I would like to see in the next Batman film, and then decided to flesh out the part which dealt with the "first meeting" between the Bat and the Cat. I don't know if I'll ever go any further with that, but recently I looked at the unfinished rough draft of this sequence, and decided it would be good practice to polish it up and then post it as a self-contained short story.