I was having a good day, that's the thing.
Since Bruce, there are more of those than there used to be, but a good day is still not something to take for granted. And this was a good day.
The Girls' Night Out was more fun than I expected, and the epilogue - MeowPurr - that went way beyond fun.
Next morning, I drove up to the Catitat. There was still a lot of squabbling going on in Gotham, fallout from Nocturna & Anton, and I wanted to slip away for a bit.
Nirvana had a cub with her. You can't NOT have a good day meeting a little handful of baby ocelot no bigger than Whiskers and Nutmeg.
When I got back, I had two new messages: Bunny Wigglesworth wanted my opinion on a painting she was buying. And Dick. Grayson Associates got a contract…
:-beep- Glory Hallelujah, Selina, I got a job! Goldberg and Sons. Not exactly Wall Street, not yet anyway. But a solid third generation business. In the diamond district. I'll have a site study for you. :
Isn't that too cute for words? A site study. That's the bat-influence. He doesn't like phrases like casing the target or breaking and entering. They're paying him to fix up their security, and he's paying me to work out how it needs fixing. He wants me to case their operation, break in, and crack their safe. A "site study." You gotta love him.
I had a fitting at Kittlemeier's. He was a shameless flirt, as usual. And a stickler for his rules, as usual. Bruce had wanted me to pick up his order for him.
"You want fries with that?"
"Selina, he's not an idiot. He's repairing a utility belt with a catclaw jammed into the winch. He knows we're together."
"He's still not going to go for it. Hell, I don't think he lets Harley and Joker pick up each other's stuff."
"It can't hurt to ask, can it? Smile pretty. Meow."
Can you believe it? "Smile pretty and meow, Kitten; it can't hurt to ask." Shall we revisit just how successful smile-pretty-and-ask has worked in the past: "Put the diamond back… pretty or not, it's not yours… put it back and maybe you won't spend the rest of the night in a cell."
And yet, there he was, my Dark Knight, telling me to bat my eyes at Kittlemeier and ask to bend the rules.
It went like you'd expect. People who think Batman is a black-and-white proposition have never dealt with Mr. Kittlemeier, that's for damn sure.
"Ze rulez is ze rulez, Zelina, you know diz. I make exzeption for you, next time he zend Nightwing. Pretty zoon, Mizz Quinn and Mizz Query want to come zhopping together, what do I zay? Now I got zilly girls giggling in my fitting roomz. No, no, no. No exzeptions, and I gonna charge you both extra for asking."
"Okay, okay, okay. Mr. Kittlemeier, I apologize. I really do. And I have never apologized, all right? I won't ever bring it up again. You can tack on whatever surcharge you like onto my account, I'll pay it gladly. Just one thing: You MUST let me tell him he's paying extra because he tried to break the rules. PLEASE, LET ME TELL HIM… Meow?"
He smiled. See, when it's my idea Meow/Ask Nice does occasionally work.
I got dressed to meet Bruce at d'Annunzio's. A new dress – with a short skirt – which I knew he'd enjoy almost as much as pretending not to notice that it was a new dress with a short skirt.
And yes, new ivory pumps. I still don't get the whole shoe-shopping thing. But I had to make an effort with Doris, for Eddie's sake. And she is a civilian. It's what they do, right? Normal women that don't wear spandex and prowl rooftops, normal women that work at Barnes & Noble, they go shoe shopping. Besides, these pumps are the perfect color.
I got to the restaurant only a little behind schedule, and Giovanni d'Annunzio was deliciously understanding.
"Cara gatta," he assured me, "For a beautiful woman, there is no 'late.' She is always on her own time, perfetto! If the man he must wait – all the better to appreciate her when she appears. And you are not so cruel as you might have been. Signore Wayne, he is only waiting a few minuti."
Just as Gotham City is Batman's turf where he metes out his own brand of justice, just as Kittlemeier's shop is his domain where he enforces his rules as he sees fit, so too is Giovanni the master of his realm. He has his own system of rewards and punishments. If you've displeased him, you'll wind up waiting for a cramped table in the bar. If he's happy with you, he may invite you to proceed unescorted to meet your party in the great dining room.
"You make an entrance, Selina! Go right ahead. By yourself. Just for wearing that dress. Bellissima. Not many women know how to enter a room with class."
I paused in the archway for just a second, taking in the room, pretending to look for Bruce's table. This was unnecessary; Bruce is always seated at the best table. But the pause gave him time to see me. The eyes flickered over me, top to bottom before he met my eye. I smiled a greeting, and walked to his table… not too slow, not too fast… 2/3 a Bryn Mawr walk, 1/3 cat.
Bruce was appreciative, I could tell. Like me, he felt the room watching. For their benefit more than his, I kissed his cheek as he stood to greet me:
"Good evening, Darling. Sorry I'm late."
"You look… fabulous," he murmured.
˜˜And good evening to the fop.˜˜ I signed, secretly.
˜˜Not the fop talking,˜˜ he answered. ˜˜You're stunning.˜˜
So you see, it had turned out to be an extraordinarily good day, and I was planning to stretch that into an extraordinarily good night. Then it happened. Giovanni brought my regular cocktail, and as I turned to thank him…
"Grazie, Giovanni, troppo pronto, da vero-"
…I saw them. F. Miller, author of Catwoman: an Unauthorized Biography, seated with the three stooges of Catwoman exposes, the Miller-wannabes: M. Newell, E. Brubaker & D. Cooke!
Bruce turned, curiously, to see what I was staring at, then looked back to me.
"Darling, we can leave. I can take you anywhere you wish. Anywhere. Not another restaurant. Paris. Rome. Let's just go and…" he trailed off. Then Batman's voice picked up…"Selina, you're not thinking of doing anything rash, are you?"
Giovanni was the only one who said anything worth acknowledging, so it was him I answered:
"Who is at that table that offends you, Cara gatta?"
"Several years ago, Giovanni, that man, in the center, with the unfortunate mop of hair, wrote a book saying I was common, uneducated, a victim, and a whore."
I had to stop for Giovanni to express his outrage. He had no idea, he said, or he would never have admitted such riffraff into his establishment. Why if anyone was common…
He offered, with the Italian machismo of a man half his age, to throw Miller and his party into the street.
"Giovanni, please, no. That would hardly be productive. You know what they say: Mantenga vicini i vostri amici, ma più vicini i vostri nemici. Si? Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."
Bruce brooded. I went on with the history…
"In any case, he wrote this book. It sold. I wasn't crazy about it, but I figured it would blow over. It's the price you pay, being a public figure. Also, I didn't have the Cat-Tales idea back then. But anyway, the thing is, it hasn't blown over. And every parasite that fancies himself a new Dickens, Raymond Chandler or Judith Kranz goes back to this sorry orphan-streetwalker-headcase he invented…"
"Selina, when you said 'keep your friends close but your enemies closer'…" Bruce put in.
"Not now, dear. Where was I? Oh, yes - headcase he invented, which we all know is not me. Hello? Art expert? Graduated summa cum laude from the Sorbonne, thank you very much…"
"Bruce, please, I'm talking to Giovanni. Do you have a pen, by the way? Anyway, I speak three languages. I dated French aristocrats, not mob enforcers. And as for Slam Bradley, oh please! But nobody would buy the asinine adventures of their badly dressed streetchick if they didn't call her Catwoman, now would they?"
"Selina, I do have a pen. If you want it, TELL ME WHAT YOU'RE PLANNING TO DO."
I snatched the pen, and began to write.
"I'm making a list."
Dick Grayson had never been to d'Annunzio's, and he did what all first-timers do. He stood in the great atrium entrance and tried not to gape while waiting to be noticed by the attendant. His eyes fell where they were expected to, on the plaque that read…
"d'Annunzio's is the quintessential Gotham dining experience in a setting of opulent elegance, offering patrons an award-winning wine list, unparalleled service, and an electric fusion of classic Italian cuisine with modern innovation and flair…"
If you were standing there long enough to read further, you might as well leave, for the haughty proprietor would not be acknowledging your existence. Fortunately, it was at this point Giovanni noticed Dick.
"And how may I help you." He made it seem like an answer, not a question.
"Reservation for Wayne, for two, for lunch?" In reply, Dick's answer sounded like a question. But the Wayne name, as it did so many places in Gotham, worked its magic. Giovanni's features transformed entirely.
"Ah yes! You are Mr. Wayne's guest. He is already seated. Follow me please, Signore."
Dick was surprised, moments after their greeting, to realize he was dealing with neither Bat Bruce, at home Bruce, nor Fop Bruce. Instead, this was executive Bruce. It was the persona Dick had the least experience with but, like all the others, it got straight down to business.
"After the last time we spoke at your office, I thought it best to have this meeting elsewhere," Bruce said crisply. "I want to hire you."
"You want to hire me?"
"Yes, for a job. That is the purpose of opening an agency, isn't it?"
"Bruce, if this is a joke, I don't think it's funny."
"It's no joke. I have something that needs looking into that Dick Grayson can accomplish that better than anyone else." Dick understood the emphasis on the final words meant 'better than Batman or Nightwing.'
"Selina sat in this room last night, in that very chair, making a list I shudder to even describe. Your name is on it. So is Barbara's. So is Two-Face, Riddler, Joker and Scarecrow. It is a scary list. One line reads 'Wonder Woman OR Ra's al Ghul'. That comes underneath 'Oswald-dash-dollar signs', and before 'P.Ivy-smelly plants'. I'm sure Diana and probably even Ra's would want to know what's going on there."
"So that's the assignment? Find out what the list is?"
"Why don't you ask her?"
"I did. Seven times."
"Ah. Did, uh, Batman ask her?"
"I don't especially want to remind her of Batman at the moment."
"Oh? Why not?"
"Mantenga vicini i vostri amici, ma più vicini i vostri nemici."
"Huh? And what does that mean?"
"It means I'm very glad Batman never touched the particular nerve that set off the making of this list."
"Bruce," Dick began, then stopped. He saw an expression on his mentor's face he'd first seen as Robin. It was the "No Trespassing" sign. He'd first seen it the night they didn't chase Catwoman once she ran from the museum. "But she's getting away!" Robin had wailed. He continued complaining throughout the patrol and half the way home. Batman never responded, and eventually Robin noticed that he wasn't getting an answer. He looked over – and that was what he saw. Jaw set, eyes square. Private Property. Keep Out. Trespassers will be frozen out.
"Ok," Dick sighed. "I'll look into it."
The P.I. of bathetic fiction would have begun his investigation like so: Go to a seedy bar. Drink self into a stupor accompanied by theme music of a soprano sax passing a kidney stone. Stagger into parking lot and fall victim to menacing thugs in bad suits with warning to "drop da case or else, Mack, oooupph."
Dick Grayson, not being a geriatric bachelor with a drinking problem, left the luncheon at d'Annunzio's around 3:30, checked his office voicemail via cell phone, and headed home to his loving wife – who, he discovered, was having the object of his investigation to tea.
"Hey, Selina," the Private Dick began.
"Hey, Richard," the femme fatale answered.
"You weirded out Bruce big time with that list last night. What was that about?"
"It's a little thing I like to call 'People who Owe Me a Favor,'" Selina answered.
And there ended The Case of the Loathed List.
"So am I on your list?" Dick asked, already knowing the answer but reasoning this was as good an icebreaker as any.
"You are. Did I not go along with your Girls' Night Out setup?"
"And you had such a miserable time doing it," Dick joked sarcastically. "Really, Selina, it was the least you could do, I'd say – after Ivy went and ate my cookies."
"Excuse me," Barbara interjected.
"Um, nothing, Honey. Okay, Selina, you're right; I do owe you one. So what do I have to do?"
"Simply remind your wife that I wore yellow ruffles for her."
"I know, I know," Barbara wailed. "Okay, Oracle is in."
:Bruce, it's Dick. Secure the line.:
"Check," Bruce grunted as soon as they heard the click of the OraCom encryption engaging the landline. "Yes, Dick. What'd you learn?"
: The list is mostly people who owe her. She's calling in favors. And having heard why, Bruce, I gotta say, I'm totally on her side. :
"Dick, there's a conference call going on right now. She's on a speaker-phone with Joker, Two-Face, and Scarecrow. They're 'brainstorming' – their word, not mine. You should hear this. If you heard, you wouldn't be on board, believe me."
: Hey, whatever they're coming up with, better it's directed at Miller than at us, right? :
"Bruce, sweetie," Selina called from the other room, "There's a carnivorous plant that gives off an odor; it smells like rotting meat. Do you know what it's called?"
Bruce shook his head sadly.
"Never mind," Selina called again, "Harvey's got Pam on the other line."
Bruce turned back to the phone.
"They're now discussing a plant, the Malaysian Devil's Tongue. If, in the next year, Nightwing finds himself confronted with a giant carnivorous blossom with a foul, carrion-like stench, think back to this moment and remember this brainstorming you dismissed so airily."
: Bruce, it's not like she's the only one Miller libeled, you know. He's got Batman using a gun and killing people.:
There was quacking Bruce recognized as Barbara talking in the background.
:Besides, Babs thinks after all the fights last month, this could be a very constructive exercise. Sure, we quarrel among ourselves, but we can still all come together and make this guy eat his spleen… :
More quacking before Dick added:
:…with a spork. :
"Well, that was entertaining," Selina purred, catching up with Bruce in the cave gymnasium, "but not especially productive. They mean well, poor dears. But smelly plants and fear toxins, well, it's not exactly the right tone."
Bruce continued his workout. There was no sign that she was being listened too – except for a single grunt that had more to do with the parallel bars than anything she was saying. Upstairs, Selina had been preoccupied with the conference call. She hadn't noticed the "brooding bat" quality of Bruce's vanish from the study. But she was now beginning to detect the unmistakable aura of Bat-disapproval.
There was only one way to deal with Bat-disapproval, she'd discovered long ago. You had to feed it until it popped.
"I mean, really," she cooed, "this thing needs to be fought on a certain level, and I don't see that Jervis & Jonathan debating whether to make him afraid French fries or pens…"
Another grunt. Good. He was getting angry.
"Although I must admit, Harley's little brainstorm of making him deathly afraid of toilets, that's got some style."
Bruce leapt off the bars, grabbing a suspended jump rope on his way to the mat.
Selina appeared to ignore this and chattered on…
"By the way, Jack is on some kind of kick with fondue forks, you might want to be aware. Nobody knows what set it off, and obviously no one wants to ask."
Bruce slammed his jump rope into the mat.
"You're going about this all wrong, you do realize that, don't you?" he blurted angrily.
Catwoman's iciest stare was his answer.
"What would you have me do," she countered. "Turn the other cheek? I did that. If I'd dealt with him as he should have been dealt with all those years ago with that first smarmy book, then Carlton, Brubaker, and the rest of it never would have happened. I gave them an inch, look what happened. It ends now."
"Selina, do you want to cause him pain? Or do you want to win? Because if it's the latter, Joker and Scarecrow don't have the answer."
"So what do you suggest? Write a terse little letter to his editor, the same editor that's greenlighted all this shit?"
"Are you asking for my help now? Because, if you remember back that far, I was at the restaurant. I would have helped then if you'd asked for more than a pen. I'm not crazy about you looking right past me while writing down Dick, Barbara and Ra's Al Ghul."
"Ra's has a grudge against the American press, and he says he knew Cleopatra. That reminds me, did Wonder Woman? She's borderline immortal, right? If she did, that'd be better. It would be much better coming from a woman."
"I…don't know. I think Vandal Savage mentioned her once."
"No good. If Diana can't help, I'll go with Ra's."
"Don't do that. You've totally changed the subject. I hate that. Could we please stick to the point?"
"Cleopatra IS the point."
"The point, Selina, is are you going to let me help you? Or not?"
"The point, Selina, is are you going to let me help you? Or not?"
I hadn't felt like this since he hit me with "a crimefighter loving a thief." It came out of nowhere. He wanted to help. I had thought, I don't know why, I just assumed he'd go all judgmental-jackass about this. But that wasn't it. It wasn't disapproval. He was upset that I didn't go to him first.
"Well?" he asked.
Just like he used to be, all hard and moody and monosyllabic. I could never resist him like that. I got close and fingered his shirt collar as I might the bat insignia.
"And if I say 'Help me, please'," I purred, "what have you got to offer?"
His breathing was ragged. I was getting to him.
"Martin Stanwick," he rasped, and I tried to concentrate, but I must admit, that voice doesn't make it easy. "From the wedding. He might be useful to you. He's really 'Hermoine,' the society columnist."
...to be continued...