Dearly Beloved
Chapter 3: at the reception


12:45 p.m.

"Hiya, Mr. Nigma," Sly greeted the man he recognized as the Riddler, Edward Nigma, despite his conservative suit and false mustache.

Nigma shushed the bartender, but took two glasses of champagne off the tray.

"Sly, you ever see a movie with Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith crashing a wedding?"

"Working Girl, Romantic-Comedy, Mike Nichols, 1988."

"The part I'm thinking of," he said, with a glance at a blonde guest a few feet away who stood with her back to them, "Ford realizes the girl dragged him to this thing to meet some business hotshot, the bride's father, but they're not invited and says: 'You're like one of those psychotic cops that nobody wants to ride with cause all their partners wind up dead!'"

"Yeah, I remember that," Sly said with a laugh. "That was funny."

"I used to think so too," Nigma said, turning away from Sly and handing the second glass to the blonde.

"Tell me again, why we are risking this?" he asked, "This place is full of cops!"

"I told ya, Eddie, think of it as a puzzle."

"When is a puzzle not a puzzle, Harley? When it is a SUICIDE MISSION. This is like hitting a donut shop."

"Eddie, you don't have to stay. I thought it'd be less conspicuous coming in as a couple. I'm in now so if you want to go, GO."

Harley Quinn had finally achieved what the Joker's homicidal reputation, right cross, and the torture of 76 Trombones could not: scared Riddler off the idea of pursuing her romantically.

He made for the door. As he went, eyes on every policeman he recognized and not on where he was going, he collided with a table - and then with a very irate Frenchman.

"Watch where you are going, you silly man! Cake is for eating, not for wearing."

"Cake?" Nigma sputtered.

"But of course, this is the wedding cake that you nearly toppled into."

Nigma looked at the table he'd nearly bumped – it was a waterfall. The cake was a waterfall. He looked back at the Frenchman.

"The cake is a waterfall?"

"Mais oui."

Nigma smiled.

"That's very…enigmatic. I like you."

"Tres bien. But don't upset the cake-table, Sillyman."

Nigma tried again to leave, but having again not looked where he was going, he suffered another collision. This time it was a familiar voice that told him to "Vatch vere you are going - Meester Nigma? Dat is you under dat silly moustaches? Where you get that thing, Halloween shop? You come to me next time, I make you one that match your haircolor. Not look so silly as dis."

Nigma backed up from Mr. Kittlemeier directly into Jim Gordon, who excused himself looking past both men towards the table.

"Why is the cake a waterfall?" Gordon asked no one in particular.

Nigma bit his tongue as a dozen answers to the riddle suggested themselves.


12:50 p.m.

Harley Quinn detached herself from the party. She set her champagne glass on a tray and wandered out of the Great Hall, presumably – so it would look to anyone watching – in search of a powder room.

She passed the door to the powder room, however, continued past the next door, then the next, and finally opened the double doors to the library. She sighed. Right there was where her precious Puddin' kicked the cameraman in the nuts when they invaded that food festival…. And right over there was where he threw a pan of scalding oil at her.

And over there was the door to that little room where she hid when all hell broke loose. She opened the door to the little annex and began rummaging in the moss beneath a potted palm tree. She bent on all fours and looked under the booktable, then behind that little loveseat where - she stopped. Looking through the legs of the loveseat she saw silk shoes dyed a bright yellow to match - she looked up - ruffles.

"Hiya, Catty. Heh heh. Nice color on youch ouch ouch."

Selina grabbed hold of Harley's ear, and pulled her to a standing position.

"Explanation?" was all she said.

"I, ah, ah, lost something last time I was here."

Selina raised an eyebrow.

"I need it back," Harley added.

Selina said nothing.

"It's not like this place is open to the public every day, Catty, I need my bra-ack. I need to get back the thing that I lost."

Selina felt a tug on the corner of her lip. Rather than permit it to turn into a bat-twitch, she let it relax into a full, natural smile, then composed herself and became matter-of-fact.

"Harley. You were on the Riviera recently, correct?"

Harley nodded.

"With a French count."

"Mhum," Harley confirmed, chewing on her lip.

"François de Poulignac?"

Harley nodded again. Selina sighed, looked around the room with a knowing eye, then moved to a shelf that looked to be the right height. It displayed a variety of ancient artifacts. She picked up an Alexandrian oil lamp that seemed the right size, looked inside it, and extracted a ball of fabric. She handed it to Harley.

"Your bra. Now get out."

"Catty I…"

"I won't tell Joker. Just. Get. Out."


2:30 p.m.

The banquet was being cleared and strains of music called the guests into the large drawing room where a dance floor was laid. To the casual observer, Alfred's appearance was as dignified and impassive as ever. But those who knew him well could see he relaxed considerably now that the meal was successfully completed.

Selina in particular, sensitive to barely perceptible changes of mood in stoic, inexpressive men, decided to acknowledge this as she would with any other stoic, inexpressive man: by playfully tweaking his nose.

"Alfred," she whispered, hanging back as the guests migrated out of the hall, "later we must talk about the clean-up after these big events. You won't believe what I found stashed in the oil lamp in the library…"

This was all Martin Stanwick overheard or needed to hear. He had already seen the cook, the caterer, and the wedding planner coming to her with questions. He'd seen her receive what looked very like a sarcastic "Yes, Dear" from Bruce. And now she was giving instructions to the butler.

She might be wearing a bridesmaid's dress, Martin thought, but his Hermoine-sensibility recognized the "mistress of the manor" when he saw her. She might not be Mrs. Wayne officially – but in this day and age those distinctions had little to do with legal names. She was the one to be courted if Hermoine was to be invited to all those Wayne galas in the future, and he would lose no time in doing so.

Unfortunately, this was easier said than done. As a member of the wedding party, Selina seemed occupied with duty dance after duty dance. And when free, she and Wayne gravitated towards each other in a way that obviously wouldn't welcome Martin's cutting in.

He danced instead with the Maid of Honor, a stunner, certainly. Beauty, Brains, and (Martin was certain) Breeding (although she denied any connection to the Lances of Newport or Palm Beach). At the conclusion of their dance, Martin asked to be introduced to… he looked around, but Selina didn't seem to be in the room. "Bother," Martin said aloud, "where did she go?"

"Who?" Dinah asked.

"Mrs. Wayne," he answered absently.

Dinah chuckled at this and politely told him she assumed he meant Miss Kyle. She pointed: "She's dancing with the groom."


2:40 p.m.

"You're in trouble, Richard, there's plotting in the air."

It was a mock-serious tone with which Selina spoke, and Dick played up to it with a deadpan.

"I'm shaking."

"I'm serious, I've been dancing with several of your old college buddies, and I must say, you have not guarded your secrets well."

Dick stalled their dance and looked at her, curious.

"Oh?"

Selina nodded grimly.

"Bengay. Jockey shorts. There's payback in the air, my friend. And they all seem to know you're in the bridal suite at the Carlyle tonight. If I were you, I'd sweep the room for microphones and strip search the guy who brings room service."

Dick laughed.

"You had me going for a second."

"Just consider this, so far you've already had Stevo bring Poison Ivy into your path by accident. Can you imagine what he might come up with if he really tried?"

"I'm done imagining. Selina – we did it! We beat the curse!"

Selina laughed and sighed.

"Cocky. I've always said that'll be your undoing one day."


2:47 p.m.

It began with Martin's distracted misstatement to Dinah:

"Mrs. Wayne" …Overheard by Mrs. Wigglesworth, who then saw Dinah point to Selina…

"Dancing with the groom" …Mrs. Wigglesworth told Mrs. Ashton-Larraby she'd already heard talk of who's next, mouthing the words "Mrs. Wayne" and pointing, as Dinah had, towards Selina.

Mrs. Ashton-Larraby said at last her lips were unsealed! She'd known for months, but didn't want to spread idle gossip. Mrs. Ashton-Larraby told Mrs. Helbrook, who told Mrs. Ford, overheard by Mr. Upton.
Mr. Upton told Mr. Drake, who told his wife, who told Mrs. Fox…

By the time Selina returned to her seat, there were four separate accounts of the engagement being circulated. Hearing one of these, Aunt Kate sought out Selina to offer her congratulations.


2:48 p.m.

"Excuse me?"
I couldn't have heard that right.

"Congratulations! Oh right, that's the wrong way round. You only congratulate the man. I should congratulate Bruce, and I compliment you."

"Come again?"

"Selina! Don't be coy. I just heard you're engaged."

E-e-e-en-ggggg-aged??

"Engaged to do what, exactly?"

Anyone 'in the family' would know the tone. It said "as you have blood in your veins that you want to keep in your veins, think carefully before you speak next." But of course Kate wasn't in the family, neither family that knows Catwoman's voice or what it means. She went on as if the answer was obvious:

"To get married."

My next question, to intimidate her into backing off should have been "To whom?" But I couldn't say it. If I asked the question, she'd only answer it, and I didn't need to hear that.

Instead I opted for: "Engaged in what sense of the word?"

Kate smiled now, and she used the tone I use with the cats when it's time to get them in the carrier for the vet.

"There's only one sense, dear. Weren't you listening earlier: 'For better for worse, for richer for poorer.'"

I turned away. I didn't need to hear it again. I didn't need to snap at the silly woman. I did need to find out where she got this monstrous idea, but before I could calm down enough to know where to begin, Stephie bubbled up with a note from one of the catering staff "For Mrs. Wayne" she giggled, she guessed that meant me!

I don't happen to know ClueMaster, Stephanie's daddy. He's a 2nd class rogue, and we've never moved in the same circles. But I made a mental note that if I ever did meet him, I must mention that, in my opinion, this giggling little twit is not too old for a spanking.

I grabbed a bottle of champagne from the nearest cooler, and scanned the room: Barbara was busy, obviously. Dinah…Lois… Perfect. Who else? I spied a blonde head ducking behind a planter. Harley. Still lurking. Okay, fine. For this, she could stay.


2:49 p.m.

Clark Kent's super-hearing picked up the story in its earliest stages, and he shared it with his wife with some amusement.

Lois only smiled for a moment, then looked disapproving. She said it would be very awkward for both Selina & Bruce to be the subject of rumor and innuendo and if Clark had even an iota of sensitivity he might appreciate-

"Darling," Clark cut her off, more amused than ever, "neither of them are new to rumor and innuendo. Think about it for a minute."

Lois delivered one of those looks that say "Enjoy the pull-out sofa." If after the bachelor party, the Diana stories, and the whispers still going around about his own bachelor party, he couldn't understand how distasteful it was to have people talking about…

"C'mon," Selina passed the table with Dinah and another woman in tow, each holding a bottle of champagne. "We're getting drunk."

Lois grabbed a bottle from the table, shot a parting look at Clark, and stood to follow. Clark stared in disbelief.

"Catwoman, Black Canary, and I think that other one is Harley Quinn just invited me to get boozy with them. I might want to write a book one day."


4:15 p.m.

"Okay, here's what I want to know," Selina slurred. "'Til death do us part' – Could we possibly come up with a more terrifying concept? We'd have to make up new words to top that one."

"I think," Dinah mused, "it was the same guy who came up with 'if I should die before I wake.'"

"I think it's nice," Harley said, shaking the last drops from her bottle into the glass.

"You would," Selina accused, passing Harley her own bottle, "with Puddin' around, you're always close to the escape hatch."

Lois took Selina's bottle from Harley and filled her own glass.

"It's not so bad," she declared, as the only qualified spokesman for the married state, "unless you've got the alsoran waiting in the wings, waiting for you to kick. She is, you know, just biding her time. Thinks I'm too dumb to know it. Smallville's too simple to get it, but I know. -hic-"

"Lois, it's just talk," Dinah whined. "There's nothing in it. Move on."

Selina squinted at Dinah critically. "That's not what you said when the talk was 'bout you." She looked at Harley. It was unfortunate they couldn't speak plainly. If Harley could know Dinah was Black Canary she would understand. The Gotham Post's ridiculous stories about Canary loving Ra's Al Ghul… and Harley would love Dinah's impersonation of Ra's. Well, Selina could speak plainly about one topic, the Post had written other lies:

"And it's not what I said when the talk was about me either. Arrested, brainwashed, streetwalker, flat-chested." From her tone, it was clear she felt this last slander the most. Then she pointed at Harley… "An' can y'see me letting this tasseled twit make me her bitch?"

Harley did a spittake.

"Catty, honest, I never even dreamed of—"

"Oh, stand down, ya silly twit, I know you had nothing to do with that ridiculous story. You couldn't even keep track of your underwear with Count François."

Harley giggled, Lois and Dinah stared, and Selina concluded, "I don't see you as a mastermind."


9:00 p.m.

Once the happy couple left and guests began making their exits, Clark identified the room where he'd earlier heard the women's giggles, whispers, and heartbeats. He collected a barely-conscious Lois and agreed to drop an equally inebriated Dinah on their way out of town.

Harley Quinn was entrusted to Sly. She was still wanted for the last attack on the manor, but Bruce thought it would be impolitic for him to openly hand her over to the police. So Sly was instructed to drop her at the Hacienda and an anonymous tip would take care of the rest.

That left Selina.

As he watched her stretched on the sofa, eyes closed, lips parted, chest rising and falling as she breathed, a wicked glint came into Bruce's eye. It was the memory of her with which he'd started this day, taunting him back to consciousness in some alley. He leaned over her sleeping form and fingered her hair gently, where the mask would be, but wasn't.

"Catwoman." His voice was soft and seductive, but still Batman. "Catwoman, wake up."

Her eyes opened dreamily, then focused, boring into his – and the vaguely formed idea of payback fell to pieces as she began babbling woozily:

"You were no help… Can't just stand by and watch that kind of thing …. Napoleon in the parking lot and ruffles in the family … and the altar with Dante's Inferno…and Tim!…ring at the 7-Eleven…Why'd he want t'send Flash to 7-Eleven to get a ring anyway?… and somebody had to take French Gilbert and Sullivan to the dining room cause he won't talk to Alfred after something happened at Christmas…"

"Yes, Dear."

"Stop saying that," she muttered, as he steered her up the stairs. "You. You did this to me. I liked my life. Finally had it down to where it worked. I had a good little thing going, 'til that Carlton bitch at the Gotham Post says I'm in jail, flat-chested Jane Doe brainwashed by Harley Quinn! But I would've let it go. I let it go when that Miller asshole said I was a whore, what do I care? Let it go when they said Watchtower was a threeway with you and Black Canary…" She stopped leaning against the wall and pointed unsteadily. "…but you smiled. You did that fucking twitch smile. And that's how it all started."

"Yes, Dear."

Selina looked up at the ceiling, then around.

"Who keeps saying that?"

Bruce steered her into the bedroom, removed her dress, folded it neatly, and placed it in a drawer.

"Then came the museum, 'this isn't a crime it's a date' and the vault, and the demonspawn … none of this was s'posed to happen? And, lil game with Catwoman breaks into the manor, fine, no harm in that, then the Cadaver's in love with Canary, …and R-Word… and Pheromones…"

She wound down, and Bruce smiled.

"Don't stop now."

She removed the dress from the drawer.

"This is how it starts," she said, looking for a chair to toss the dress onto, "Kitten this, Kitten that, and before you know it your bra is stuffed in an Alexandrian oil lamp." There was a moment's silence, then she yelled, "THAT'S IT! THAT'S THE TWITCH. STOP DOING THAT."

Bruce laughed.

"I like you when you're drunk. You're cute."

"This is your fault! THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT."

"Selina."

"WHAT??"

"Shut up for a second."

He wrapped his arms round her, then said gently, "Mrs. Wayne isn't that terrible a concept, is it?"


I felt naked – not because most of my clothes were in the drawer, draped over the chair, or on the floor – but because… this… person… Bruce, Batman, the guy inside Batman… was looking straight into my soul. It, ah, sobered me up in under a second.

I felt my arms lifting, settling easily around his neck, felt my head tilt back and my eyes close as I leaned in to kiss him… then I felt a jolt – He had my wrists in one hand and my chin in the other.

"Won't work this time, Kitten. You can't escape that way anymore. Answer me. Mrs. Wayne isn't that awful, is it?"

I didn't trust my voice, so I shook my head a little. He released my chin, then my wrists, and then he was holding me again.

"Good, I just thought we should settle that before we went any further."


©2002, Chris Dee

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NEXT:
An ordinary night in the life of Batman...
...before complications set in
in
KNIGHTLIFE
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