Part IV

After the cocktail party-from-hell Bruce decided it would be Batman following Selina from now on. He followed her home and installed himself on the rooftop directly above her posh upper Westside penthouse. He was beginning to feel foolish when several hours after sunset, there was no sign of life from within. Stakeouts were like that, hours of waiting with nothing to do but second-guess yourself. He thought over their exchange at the party, when as Bruce Wayne he had unconsciously spoken in Batman's voice to a woman who was quite likely to recognize it. He cursed himself and his carelessness. Why had he let her get so close? How could he let his guard down that way? What was he thinking these past weeks flirting with her like she was some ordinary girl? Was he subconsciously trying to get himself killed? "Does it occur to you that there are a lot of angry people in this city?" She had said. "People get angry when they feel powerless. When they get the feeling that they're being shafted, even if they don't know exactly how." The anger that comes from powerlessness he could relate to - but before he dared ask what she meant by the rest, she seemed to shake off her mood. "Y'know what" she turned with a smile and gestured with a bottle of Perrier: "I'm switching to vodka." His legs were cramping. As he stood to stretch them he saw movement, a shadow of a shadow on the penthouse balcony. The shadow stretched and pulled itself into a shape - my, but she did have a lovely shape.

He followed her across the park, trying to ignore the guilty thrill he always had watching her move in that costume. She first went back to the Carmen Gallery. She seemed to examine the front entrance and the rear, but she didn't go inside. From there she went to a photography studio. She defeated the minimal security in a matter of minutes. Through night-goggles, Batman watched her remove a pane of the skylight, lower herself into an office, and go to work on the safe. He didn't wait to see more, but positioned himself on the roof near the skylight she'd used to enter. He waited until she remerged and carefully replaced the glass.

"Why bother." He growled in the kind of voice icebergs might use if they spoke.

Catwoman was visibly startled, but she didn't run.

"You don't think they'll figure out they've been robbed," Batman continued, "when they come in in the morning and find the safe is empty?"

Catwoman stood very slowly, sacheted over to him and spoke in a seductive purr:

"You think I took something from the safe? Search me."

"Okay then, why are you here?"

An eyebrow raised behind her mask.

"Giving me the benefit of the doubt? What inspires such unprecedented trust?"

"It hardly seems up to your standard. What could a photographer have that's valuable enough to pique your interest?"

"How about a 200-carat emerald necklace."

It was Batman's turn to start in surprise.

"But you didn't take it?"

"I invited you to search me, Handsome."

"Then I'll ask again, what are you doing here?"

She smiled. "Why, confirming that the necklace is a fake, of course."

"Enough games, Catwoman. What's going on here?"

"Does it occur to you that there are a lot of very angry people in this city?" She repeated her query from the party.

"Is that supposed to be an answer to my question?"

She sighed. "If we both keep answering questions with questions, we'll be here all night."

Batman said nothing.

"There was a big to-do a few months ago about that "Scandals" exhibit at the Gotham Museum, you remember it?

"Go on."

"You know what publicity like that does to the value of the artworks? Raises it through the roof. I've had some unbelievable offers to 'acquire' pieces from that show for collectors in Bangkok, in Buenos Aires, in Singapore - people that never heard of the artists before. Those pieces are world famous now."

"That exhibit closed months ago," Batman interrupted, "and none of those works are here at this studio."

"Wait for it." Catwoman chanted playfully, then continued her explanation. "Most of that collection **has** been sold since the show - do you know who did the selling? "

Batman shook his head.

"Carmen Gallery. They've made over a million dollars in commissions, kickbacks, finders fees, over the table and under. Now they're giving that necklace to the museum's fundraising auction - it's a payoff, for delivering the public outcry that tripled the price of the art."

"Why didn't the gallery hold the exhibit themselves?"

"Because the people who would object would never have noticed - no, it had to be a publicly-funded museum. That was sure to get everyone's attention. So all those people who were offended, and all those people defending free speech, were all being used by a few very oily individuals that have made an awful lot of money."

"Where does the fake necklace come in?"

"Oh, that's the best part. The gallery plans to rip the suckers off one last time - swapping the real necklace for a paste copy after the experts have authenticated it. Before the fundraiser the museum will want to have a lot of press devoted to the auction and the necklace. This photographer will take the publicity photos for the press kit. When he does, he'll switch it for the fake, and return the original to Carmen's."

"And that's where you come in - robbing the robbers."

"There's a certain poetic justice to it, don't you think."

"Only if you're planning to give it to the high-bidder that winds up with the fake."

Catwoman pouted.

"You're no fun."

Batman sighed. "So you weren't targeting the museum itself for a robbery, you were there to find out details like who was selling the Scandals art and who would be taking the publicity photos of the necklace."

Catwoman's eyes widened. She was silent for a long moment, and then smiled a slow, enigmatic smile. "Enough games indeed" she said. "You're the great detective - I haven't been able to figure out how much the people at the museum know." She leaned in closer and began tracing the bat emblem on his chest…"the staff, the board." She paused and looked up directly into his eyes: "If they're actively conspiring with the gallery, or if they're pawns too. …Maybe you can do better, find out what I couldn't."

He grabbed her wrist. "You mean, why don't I be a good little boy and investigate the museum while you steal from the gallery. No."

Her eyes never left his. "I mean, my Dark Knight, that being on the board yourself, being on that fundraising committee, it's a good bet that you **didn't** know anything shady was going on. But you are in a plum perfect position to find out if anyone else did."

Batman was silent for a long moment.

"How long have you known?"

"For certain, about 3 minutes - that voice of yours, granite and steel inside a subwoofer - it's pretty distinctive, but I had to hear it again to be sure. But, since I'm not a bit surprised and since it should be one hell of a shocking revelation, I suppose some part of me has known for a while now."

He didn't respond. Batman had sometimes considered what would happen if an enemy learned his secret identity. He envisioned ninja-like assassins invading the manor in the middle of the night, firebombs, blackmail. He'd never imagined civilized conversation.
While these thoughts raced through his mind, Selina continued her monologue:

"-In fact, my god, you told me in a way that first night: men compartmentalize their thinking more - at any given moment you're either Bruce or Batman, but very seldom both at once, am I right. Ha - boy that must be weird. So which one of you picked that movie, huh? The Thomas Crown Affair - that was good. That was very, very good."

A lifetime of fighting had taught him to turn his responses over to instinct during attacks. His instincts didn't know what to make of this. She was so damn AMUSED by it all.

"Did you recognize me right off?" she was asking "I'm surprised you didn't put the moves on me - wouldn't that have been kinky, you sleeping with me, knowing who I was but my not knowing you…"

This was intolerable.

"Alright!" he cut her off "God, You are the most infuriating woman I have ever known! Okay, you know a name, an address, and a face - but so do I. It would seem we're at an impasse. I know as much about you as you do about me."

"So what do you want to do about it?" She asked softly.

He didn't have an answer. Where were those finely honed instincts when he needed them.

"Well, let's see. We could…ignore the situation entirely, pretend it didn't happen, never speak of it, like the survivors of the Donner party… or we could call a truce and work on this museum investigation together… or we could get naked and shake the cobblestones loose… or we could change all the names and write a trashy tell-all book… or maybe-

Instinct finally did take over. In a lightning move he reached out, took her face in both his hands, and stopped that babbling, beautiful mouth with a hard, passionate kiss. Her body arched upwards - in shocked surprise as much as in passion. The come-ons and innuendo between them was almost routine, his hands traveling down her back and grabbing her ass was not. "Oh" she gasped finally into his mouth. He broke the kiss just long enough to say "you say 'cat got your tongue' and I'll have to spank that pretty bottom." Her eyes danced with mischief at this challenge. "Not on your best day" she breathed as her mouth explored the edge of his cowl, where the mask met his throat.
It was sad, in a way, Catwoman thought as a gloved hand fastened on her breast, the end of an era. But the teasing couldn't go on forever. After years of denial and desire, it was time to move beyond foreplay.