Chapter 1: Ancient History
Antonio Cosagliozzo arrived in Gotham in 1810 from Cerami, Sicily. His emigration documents were incomplete, but Antonio was no fool. He had brought a few baubles to fill in the gaps in his paperwork. A silver ring and a cameo slipped to the sympathetic translator, the latter passed along to the less sympathetic clerk, solved the bureaucratic formalities as they always had and always would. Antonio left the Castle Island processing station as Anthony Cerami, but he walked out onto American soil. He had no sentimental attachment to his new name, so when the time came to set up his own business, he wanted something more meaningful. If he had been born Anthony Cerami, if it was the name of a father whom he loved, maybe he would have felt a sense of pride attaching it to the jewelry he produced. But as it was, Cerami was merely a town that wasn't promising enough to go on living in. One of the largest and most beautiful estates in Cerami was owned by the Falconi family. The name might mean nothing to the wealthy of Gotham, but Antonio knew the aristocratic splendor it implied. For him, that was enough.
The pieces Antonio made were exquisite. Not the costliest jewels in Gotham, he had no means to compete for the largest diamonds and rubies needed to create such pieces, and he didn't particularly want to. Instead, he fashioned more modest gemstones, along with semi-precious corals, lapis lazuli and onyx, into miniature masterpieces set in delicately etched gold. Antonio had two sons, neither achieving his level of artistry but both were competent craftsmen. The business did well enough producing simple variations on the founder's original designs for more than a generation – until the war years. Three of the Cerami heirs were killed in action, a fourth in the influenza epidemic that followed. A fifth came home too scarred and bitter to care about a family business. But the twenties were filled with survivors who wanted to feel alive again after the horrors. There was a heedlessness in the air: women with shingled hair and short skirts, men flush with new fortunes playing the stock market. It was no time for a storefront in the Diamond District to be sitting idle. Every flutter in the highly volatile radio stocks brought a virtual flood of buyers into The Street, and John Cerami's widow didn't intend to waste the opportunity. She had a storefront and a name in Falconi's. What she lacked was merchandise. So she began buying wholesale. It might not be "artistic" but it was faster than trying to make the stuff. And her customers certainly didn't know the difference.
When the final "flutter" of radio shares in October of 1929 ushered in the Great Depression, Falconi might have gone into a decline but for the purchase made on September 3rd by Nathan Everidge III. On that day, the Dow reached a record high of 381.2 and Everidge came into the shop to select an engagement ring for his bride. He expressed his view that the situation with the stock market was out of hand, the market could not sustain itself and the speculators were pushing them all to ruin... He looked around as he said it, and he remarked that shares might rise and fall but diamonds at least would always hold their value. Almost on a whim, he bought a pair of loose stones as "insurance," joking that he'd probably have them made into earrings for their anniversary. After the crash, when the retail market all but vanished, Mrs. Cerami kept the business afloat making discreet purchases from families that had to sell their valuables and selling the loose stones as a safe and portable, easily-hidden investment to those who still had fortunes to transport and hide.
It was enough to sustain them through the Second World War. The end of the war brought a boom in engagement ring sales—and a refugee named Cesaro Pitronaci. Pitronaci arrived in Gotham with little more than the shirt on his back, but by 1981 when Carlotta Cerami died childless, he had amassed enough to buy Falconi Jewelers from the squabbling cousins fighting over her estate. By the time Falconi Jewelers caught the eye of Oswald Cobblepot, the whole neighborhood was calling him "Mr. Falconi." Cesaro didn't mind, it was good for business. For a jeweler, there were few things that added respectability like a brass plaque on the door reading "Since 1823," but one of those things was a white-haired old man behind the counter who answered to the same name as the sign above the door.
Cesaro was a skilled jeweler, so he renewed the practice of buying loose stones, gold, and silver and fashioning his own pieces. He still kept the Cerami wholesale contracts for watches, pearls, and the like—which is how he came to the Penguin's attention. In those days before the Iceberg Lounge, Oswald had to rely on opportunistic henchmen, and Vulture was as greedy as they came. He'd somehow got himself a job driving for a delivery service and was trying to work out how to switch IDs with one of the bonded guys who got the valuable payloads. He got as far as Peterson's route map and saw the regular deliveries to Falconi's. He was pretty sure a falcon was some kind of hoity-toity bird, and he knew Penguin paid well for any tip that had to do with birds of feathers. It was a lot easier pounding faces for Cobblepot than trying to figure out a way around the delivery service safeguards, so he took the info to Penguin and let the better man do the thinking.
Oswald watched Falconi for three months. He soon realized the wholesale stuff was inconsequential. Falconi admitted a diamond courier every Wednesday morning at 7 o'clock precisely, and he paid in cash. The falcon was a particularly regal bird, and ice was common underworld slang for diamonds, so he felt this was a target worthy of the Penguin's nefarious attentions. He told Vulture to get himself a conspicuously big gun, the kind that would scare an old man like Falconi and avoid any nonsense.
Unfortunately, before he could act on the idea, Batman packed him off to Arkham—kwak! But then fortune intervened: Two-Face, the crusading D.A. turned coin-flipping crime boss was arranging some kind of hearing to overturn his conviction on the grounds that apprehension by a faceless vigilante lunatic violated his civil rights. He invited Oswald to be a second petitioner, which Joker unfortunately overheard and invited himself to be a third. Harvey objected, naturally, three being an odd number, but he was overruled—twice. First by his coin, and then by Joker punching him in the nuts.
The hearing was a wash. The Bat's existence wasn't well known at the time, and the judge called "the alleged incidents with some imagined Bat-Man" irrelevant. Citing overwhelming evidence or some such rot, he dismissed the petition and denied the appeal. What Oswald objected to most was that word "imagined." How the judge could look down on a man with a still-broken nose and declare the breaker of that nose an imaginary urban myth—kwak!—it was literally adding insult to injury. He was just saying as much on the ride back to Arkham…
"Adding insult to injury—kwak—that's what it was."
…when the van was liberated. Catwoman had landed on the roof; they heard that much. (Joker thought it was rain.) She somehow incapacitated the guards and drove them all to freedom. She did it for reasons of her own, of course. Oswald didn't know what they were, and he didn't care. He was free to pick up where he left off: relieving Falconi Jewelers of all that precious ice, a substance that a penguin had more right to than a falcon, surely—KWAKWAKWAKWAKWAK!
He picked up Vulture and his equally large and imposing colleague "Vinnie." Oswald wasn't crazy about the name, but it was already Tuesday night. With a diamond courier heading to Falconi's in a few short hours, it was more important to have a second goon today than one who would answer to the name Raptor tomorrow. So Vulture and Vinnie it would be, even if it did sound like a live-action Disney movie.
It was hours before dawn when Vulture, Vinnie, and the Penguin arrived in the Diamond District, giving themselves ample time to deactivate the alarm and go inside while it was still quiet and dark. Vulture found the plan hard to grasp, being the sort of scraggly bird who would rush in when the place was crowded with customers, wave his gun around and yell for everyone to get on the floor. More than once, Oswald found it necessary to thwack that empty head with the point of his umbrella. It wasn't a particularly bird-like maneuver, but it was the only way to make the Vultures and Vinnies of the world pay attention: They were going in early, before the store opened—kwak. They'd get Falconi first when he arrived for the day—kwak—with the cash payment for the courier. They would then take their time cleaning out his current inventory—kwak-wak—and finally, they would wait for the new diamonds to arrive at seven. Nothing about it was difficult to understand—KWAK-WAK-WAK-KWAK-WAK-WAK-WAK!
While Vulture went to work on the alarm, Oswald tried to convince himself that head-thwacks administered by an umbrella could be seen as a bird pecking with its beak. That was a common way to exert dominance among the feathered, after all, and correct wayward behavior in the young… Except at that moment, Vinnie went bumbling under the streetlight where anyone looking out the window could have spotted him. Oswald thwacked him once again, and seeing his reflection stretching so far back to achieve an overhead blow on the much taller man's head, Oswald was forced to conclude that there was nothing 'peckish' about it.
Still, they would soon be inside, waiting for an old man to arrive with a briefcase full of cash that would feather his nest for quite some time. And then, before long, a younger pigeon would come along with a case full of ice. That would be enough to make him a happy, happy bird…
It didn't exactly go as planned. First, Falconi was already there when Oswald and his men got inside. What's worse, he wasn't alone. At Cesaro's age, it was getting harder and harder to get up at five, get dressed, and get down to the store for that 7 o'clock rendezvous with the courier. It was also getting harder to bend down to reach the lower shelves in the safe. So, in the time Oswald had been in prison, Cesaro had made a few changes to his routine. He left the store before the banks closed on Tuesday, withdrew the cash and spent the night at his store, sleeping on a couch in his office. He'd also hired Stefan, and Stefan was a good kid, grateful for the job. He'd stayed late "to help with the inventory," but really, he was worried about Mr. Falconi being alone in the store with all that cash.
When Penguin's men burst in, Stefan grabbed the phone and took it with him into the storage closet. Vulture spotted the cord and, following it, found Stefan himself. Before the lumbering goon could finish saying "must've called the police," Batman was crashing through the skylight—Batman who should have been busy with Joker and Two-Face still at large, not to mention whatever Catwoman was up to. Kwak-wakwak-wakwak.
Then The Cat herself arrived—as if this simple little nest-raid wasn't already crowded with extra beaks—and swung right into the middle of things before Vulture could plug Batman. Oswald was too smart to stand around wondering what had gone wrong. He simply repeated to himself what the Catwoman herself once observed: a penguin can't fly the coop, so it was time to waddle. He helped himself to Falconi's waiting briefcase full of cash and made for the door. A whipcrack later and the hellcat was swinging towards him. Try as he might to slash at her with his umbrella, she vaulted right over his head and past him. Then, with another crack of that whip, something went wrong with his ankle and he was sailing head first into a 40,000 carat "diamond" of… well, Oswald couldn't say what the display gimmick was really made of, but it was hard and it hurt—kwak.
In the years that followed, Falconi's seemed to lead a charmed existence. All of Gotham came to know that Batman was more than a myth, and the places where he was known to have foiled crimes were seen as unlucky by a certain type of criminal. Others noted the similarity between the Falconi name and that of rising crime boss Carmine "The Roman" Falcone. Nobody wanted to risk crossing Carmine, and there were plenty of other jewelers in town…
It couldn't last forever. The yakuza scoffed at Bat-superstitions, perhaps unwisely, and their new boss made it clear that he'd welcome a chance to insult Falcone. One of his more ambitious men took the hint and brought in a specialist to tackle the security at Falconi's Jewelers. It had improved exponentially since that ancient Penguin attempt, but even the best Diamond District systems would crack under Miyamoto's expertise.
It was not "Date Night" and Catwoman was not "patrolling." She was prowling as she always had. Tonight it was the Diamond District. Despite the superior merchandise on Fifth Avenue, the Street had better security. The prize or nostalgia might bring her to Cartier, Bvlgari, Van Cleef & Arpels or Tiffany, but when she wanted to exercise, it was the Diamond District. She took her usual route to the top of Shenoa & Co, which had the best leap over the traffic cameras to her favorite niche between the Gotham Jewelry Center and the Gotham Jewelry Exchange… when she saw some odd scrapes in the concrete. The mark of a traditional zipline... Well, not quite 'traditional,' but the sort anchoring the line of a cat burglar without her claws, whip and specialized gear.
Whoever it was, their placement was perfect, and Catwoman couldn't help but be impressed. They'd found this optimal spot, which she herself had taken more than a week to pinpoint, and they hit it from the perfect angle. She was curious to see where they were going and followed the trail to the half-dozen blue awnings that made the string of independent stores at the corner look uniform and unified.
Then she sucked in her breath as she saw the Rickart Box on the 4th floor window directly above… above… oh, meow.
It was an average night. Dick had done a good job, covering Gotham in his absence. There was no sign that the underworld had noticed Nightwing patrolling instead of Batman, and if they had, they certainly hadn't been emboldened by the change. So it was an average night. A meth lab, a jumper, a lead on the location of Riddler's new lair. Oracle had gone quiet. She'd found a cybercrime ring operating out of an unlikely location, an innocent-seeming bakery in Chelsea, and she was quite preoccupied with her find. She answered whenever Batman spoke, but he could tell from her tone it was an unwelcome interruption. So he'd let her be. He watched over a pair of undercovers making a gun buy. They didn't spot him, of course. He simply watched from distance, making sure the deal didn't go bad, and once they made their arrests, he moved on. An average night, until…
..:: Batman? ::..
Selina never used the OraCom. She'd answer if you called her, but she never initiated contact that way.
Batman wasn't sure what to expect when he answered, but it wasn't… it couldn't be… a heads up on a jewelry store robbery in progress?
Once she got close enough to see the Japanese cat burglar, Catwoman realized he must be Miyamoto. She could also see he wasn't equipped to leave the way he'd come, not with a briefcase full of cash or a sack full of loot. She guessed he was just there to get in, turn off the alarms from the inside and admit others who would do the actual burgling: the kind of specialist job she'd be offered twice a year when she was working and had always turned down.
So… three or four locals and an out of town specialist who wasn't even armed… Hardly a challenge. There was no way she could keep them dancing until Batman showed up, and there would be no point taking them all out herself before he got there. The only way to make it work was to delay the confrontation. So she followed Miyamoto through the upper floors of the building next door, rerouting each of his reroutes so he had to circle back. She chuckled as she heard him cursing the timed reset he couldn't find. She wondered if she would be doing the same, searching madly for a mechanical timer instead of considering the possibility of a human player undoing all her careful work.
She sank into the shadows and waited, remembering. "Yo down there. Tall, dark and handsome! Long time, no see…" It took them fifty-eight seconds to wipe up Penguin and his men all those years ago. "…And I told you I could help." Fifty-eight seconds. "The Penguin! He's getting away!" "Take over for me and he won't get far."
And this time, there were no civilians to worry about. She decided she'd wait until Batman was about two-minutes away before she let Miyamoto reach the final alarm. Then he could get into the actual Falconi building from its taller neighbor, and she would use the same perch she had last time, over the skylight.
"Yo down there. Tall, dark and handsome! Long time, no see…"
The same skylight he had crashed through, so her entrance wasn't as showy. With all of the glass already broken, none of them heard her coming. That hulking brute pointing his gun at Batman had no idea what was coming until the whip wrapped around his arm and yanked his aim up to the ceiling. Then
"Yo down there. Tall, dark and handsome…"
She told him she could help. She told him. And then she proved it.
"The Penguin! He's getting away!" "Take over for me and he won't get far."
She watched Miyamoto make his way through the showroom and into the back… let in his men… all three of them (yawn)… and get to work on the safe… He was good, might get it open sooner than she expected, but she wasn't worried. Batman had a way of always getting there before the last tumbler clicked into place. So she slipped back outside to get into position on that little ledge above the skylight. Looking down into the showroom, she noted the 40,000 carat fiberglass "diamond" had been replaced by a modest pyramid of gift boxes. It was infinitely less tacky as a floor display, but it wouldn't be nearly as dramatic as a battle fixture. But then, no one in that trio of yakuza would be as dramatic as Oswald was crashing into it.
She chuckled at the memory and waited until she saw a cape flicker at the end of the street, then she crashed through the skylight—this time with the cacophony of shattering glass that marked Batman's entrance the last time. She snarled at the presumption of these sad little men and snapped her whip like a cat lashing her tail, spoiling for a fight—and Catwoman certainly was. Once the fight began, it commanded her full attention—but the shift when Batman entered the fray was unmistakable. It wasn't anything you saw or heard. It was something you felt: a violent vacuum across the room, sucking away her opponents' focus, pulling the weight from their blows, and… somewhat greedily… pulling the actual man from the path of her final swing to deliver the coup de grace himself.
"Show off," she said dryly.
He grunted. And then… a different kind of vacuum sucked the air from the room. The moment crystallized. It was where they'd both stood on that night so long ago, silent, flushed from battle, a crew of unconscious goons at their feet.
"Fighting together felt good, didn't it?" "It feels good alone." "But it's better to share… Maybe I deserve one more chance." Then a kiss. And a "No!" Now, here they were again.
"Fighting together felt good, didn't it?" she said softly.
Selina's heart pounded in her ears, unsure why she'd said it and unnerved at the lack of response.
"Fighting together felt good, didn't it?" "It feels good alone." "But it's better to share… Maybe I deserve one more chance." Then a kiss. And a "No!"
She turned, the weight of that old rejection crushing her from the inside, and saw he was gone.
A Bat vanish?
This is why she told him about the robbery, wasn't it? This moment. This… closure. She could have taken one cat and his three yakuza buddies out herself—or she could have ignored the situation entirely, because one crime more or less in Gotham was not now nor had it ever been nor would it ever be something she would lose sleep over! She TOLD Batman that Falconi Jewelers was being burgled so he could come, so they could stop it together, here, in the spot where they… where he… where he REJECTED her offer to fight crime with him the first time. What the hell was she thinking? Why the hell would she open herself up to this? And why would he come if he—
It was the strangest feeling, this sick, cloying tension climbing up the back of my neck, spreading into this dizzy ache along the back of my head. My stomach in knots. My heart pounding in my chest with the same ferocity as this angry pulsing behind my right eye. Reliving this utterly shitty moment, having no one to blame but myself for the memory, but rather than Bruce there to take out the sting and give me some closure, he up and VANISHES on me, and then k-tump
Martian Manhunter once told me thoughts get "rather loud" when I'm worked up. He told Bruce they were screaming when the awful truth came out about the mindwipe. The volume was certainly cranked up in those awful minutes since the Bat-vanish, but no cat burglar in the middle of a closed jewelry store would ever let her raging thoughts drown out the softest noise from the real world. k-tump Distant. From the back room. I took a step to see what it was, when it repeated. A light… soft… fiberglass… k-tump.
I took more than a step then, I took 14 steps very, very rapidly—by which point I could see INTO the back room, and took five or six more at a dead run. There was a weathered wooden door open, with stairs leading down to a basement (presumably) and coming UP those stairs was a 40,000 carat fiberglass diamond with the tip of two bat-ears just visible on the figure behind it.
I know I let out some kind of noise that might not have been too feline. It might have been called a girlish squeal, actually, and I called out for him to let me help. It really looked like the diamond display gimmick was too wide to come up those stairs and fit through the doorway, but since we both knew the thing started out in the showroom, it had to have fit through once.
He pushed, I pulled, and in less than a minute, we had it on solid ground in the back room.
"Nice to see Ozzy's head didn't leave a permanent dent," I said. It was supposed to be playful, but it came out a lot softer than I intended.
"I thought we'd take it for the trophy room," he graveled. And I don't think I have ever sucked in as much air involuntarily in a single breath before—except when I'd been drowning or being strangled. Maybe mistaking my silence for hesitation, he added "There should be something of yours in there."
Technically there was. He had one of my old costumes and a frayed whip handle. But I understood what he meant. Those represented the Catwoman who Batman fought. This would be the Catwoman he worked with, Catwoman the… crimefighter. Technically there was something of hers in there too. The second week I covered for him when he'd hurt his back, I demoted Victor's freeze ray to the back row of a display case and stuck in a souvenir glass from the Iceberg. I certainly earned it that night. But I know Bruce. That's his cave, and if he didn't put it there, it doesn't count.
It was really very touching. More than touching. I knew I had to say something, so…
"I can't think of anything more appropriate to say 'me,'" I declared. "Great big diamond, right?" I said, knocking on the side.
"I can't think of anything more appropriate either," he graveled. He said it so seriously. It was clear he didn't mean it in the sense of 'jewel thief' the way I had. It was very clear he meant…
"That night," I whispered.
He didn't say anything more, just bored into me with that silent intensity of his. Normally I love it. But right then, in that store next to that diamond, it… it had echoes. "You're just going to let me walk away." "No. It's worse than that. I have to take you in."
He didn't of course. He just turned away, stood with his back to me while I left. Didn't say a word.
Just like on the ride home—with a 40,000 carat fiberglass diamond strapped to the trunk of the Batmobile like a Christmas tree.
Life is very strange sometimes.
"It's taller than Robin," I mentioned, mostly to have something to say once we got it back to the cave. "It will fit right in."
I meant figuratively—amidst an animatronic dinosaur, 8-foot playing card and 13-foot penny, the giant diamond fit right in. But Bruce looked towards the Trophy Room and shook his head.
"Actually it won't. Literally. We'll have to make some room."
To be continued…