Trick or Treat
Chapter 5: Elementary
It was with a cold numbness that Bruce called the others back into the study: Mrs. Ashton-Larraby, Omar and Moira, Alfred, Eddie and Doris, Martin Stanwick, Claudia Lennox, and Selina.
He sat her in the visitor's chair—a low, velvet-covered affair, edged with brass-nails, with five orange pips, antimacassar-protected seat, calculated to ease the innocent and terrify the guilty.
"The damnedest thing about this case," Bruce began, "is the trappings of the detective story all around us."
"Right down to the amateur sleuth calling everyone into the library for the grand dénouement," Edward Nigma remarked.
"Indulge me," Bruce answered with a soft menace.
He listed the many conventions of the whodunit genre that had occurred so far, right up to the second murder attempt that failed. This caused a certain excited gasping from those who hadn't appreciated Doris had indeed been poisoned.
"One of the most classic twists in the better mysteries is that the two people who cannot POSSIBLY be working together, who HATE, LOATHE, AND DESPISE each other and make no secret of it - are, in fact, partners in crime. Was there a pair, I asked myself, in our little guest list tonight known to hate each other with sufficient venom to make any alliance between them an absolute impossibility?"
No one else seemed willing to speak, so Selina did, in a voice thick with Catwoman's taunting amusement:
"You mean other than me and Talia?"
Bruce turned towards the visitor's chair and, despite Nigma's presence, he answered Catwoman's voice with Batman's: "No, Kitten, I mean including you and Talia."
He resumed in his natural tones before anyone could react. "It was the funniest thing, you arrived late, you heard Talia had been here, and you never asked how I got her to leave. Or even what was said between us. Then I remembered what Talia was wearing."
"Ocelot fur," Moira remembered, "I thought that was in very poor taste."
"OCELOT FUR!" Selina screamed, as if she hadn't heard this particular detail before now.
"Yes, but that's not what I meant," Bruce answered Moira, ignoring Selina's outburst. "I meant her dress, the neckline; it was very low."
It was Martin, the high-society observer, who understood the significance of that: "Randolph did follow the titties around a party."
Mrs. Ashton-Larraby buried her indignant snort in a mournful sob.
"Exactly," Bruce went on, responding now to Martin and ignoring Mrs. Ashton-Larraby's outburst. "It would have been a simple matter for Talia to lure Randolph to a quiet spot, like this room, drug him, and leave him for her accomplice to finish the job. She also changed the recording in this device," Bruce pointed to the wire recorder. "The recording placed here by the museum said 'Elementary, Watson, you know my methods; apply them.' This wire plays thirty minutes of silence, followed by a man's scream."
The room was silent as Bruce pulled the lever and the wire spun across the playerhead. Then, after several seconds, came the scream. More silence followed until Bruce spoke again.
"So Talia left. The murder scene was all set to be discovered long after she's gone. I call it 'the murder scene' even though no murder had taken place yet."
"No murder?" Moira and Martin asked in unison.
"No," Bruce answered, "Randolph Larraby was unconscious but still alive when we broke through the partition. That much was very clever. Nobody needs an alibi for the time after a body is found. Then in the blackout, the killer finished the job."
He looked directly at Selina, Holmes's maxim sounding over and over again in his mind. When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable….when you eliminate the impossible… but this was impossible, wasn't it? Catwoman didn't kill. At her criminal worst, she didn't kill. When you eliminate the impossible…
Maybe he was considering the wrong things impossible. A different Holmes quote came to mind:
It is impossible as I state it, and therefore I must
in some respect have stated it wrong.
Bruce looked up in a daze. On the wall opposite, above a cushioned fainting couch, were the letters V.R. for Victoria Regina, a patriotic display of bullet holes punctured out by Holmes in The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual. Mounted beneath the letters was the very hair trigger revolver with which he had done it.
Bruce focused on the gun, his sense of time and place receding. In the room, something preposterous was happening. Selina was confessing to killing Larraby for Ra's because it turned out she was one of those long lost half-siblings nobody ever knew about 'til years later. Some dalliance between Ra's and a Gotham U Co-ed in the early 70's. "Why, Ra's, we hardly knew ye," Bruce thought with a twitch as he began to sense the true reality of what was happening… It wasn't, certainly, Selina and Talia rediscovering that sisterly bond in killing off Randolph together for dear old dad, then Talia tying up loose ends by eliminating Selina and accidentally poisoning Doris instead.
Bruce forced all the sounds of this idiocy out of his awareness and focused only on the wall and the bullet holes. Besides Holmes's weapon hung Watson's service revolver…
You know my methods… eliminate the impossible
Talia and Selina working together, that was impossible.
Selina bludgeoning ol' Randolph, that was impossible.
And as for the long-lost half-sibling… that old chestnut would make Ra's al Ghul himself roar with laughter, and he hadn't done that since the Inquisition.
Bruce focused on the guns, only the guns…
It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely
the most important.
He'd been going about this all wrong. There were only two real clues.
The clue that didn't seem to be one: a blade of dried grass in the tobacco tin.
Bruce fixed his gaze on the barrel of Watson's service revolver… and the smell of popcorn while he looked at the gun display.
He felt a hot nausea rising as he thought it through… The smell of POPCORN while looking at GUNS. There were no hot hors d'oeuvres at the party; people commented on it … they were only serving those dry tea biscuits. The popcorn smell came from… Crime Alley… at the movies with his parents… Zorro… popcorn… the smell… the shot… the scream… oh god.
Bruce's head jerked back. He breathed, swallowed, and forced his mind to move on.
The blade of grass… dried grass…. dried grass is… … (Clark Kent would know, Cityboy) … … … STRAW!
Hallucinating a smell associated with a traumatic event, and somewhere he'd come into contact with straw.
Scarecrow. Fear Toxin.
Bruce sat alone in the Holmes study, on the velvet-lined chair before the fireplace. He used the electrically powered simulacra of the flames as a focus for his meditation, inhaling deeply… Twenty minutes since he took the antidote. While the palpitations might recur for a few days, the hallucinations should cease… He exhaled… It should be possible now to rouse himself and interact with the world without delirium…
He sighed and looked about. There was no Randolph Larraby lying dead on the floor.
He breathed in… He'd been through this often enough. For most people exposed to fear toxin, it isn't over 'til it's over. The antidote must be completely absorbed into the system before they come back to reality, and even then the side effects can continue for a week or more. He exhaled… But Batman had long ago learned how to steel his mind against the delusions. Once he realized what was happening, he'd focused his psyche, sifting out the chimeras from the truth.
He found Dick. Dick who wouldn't have left the party because there was no murder to report, Dick who MUST still be there. Knowing Dick must still be present, Bruce found he was able to see him. He explained with a forced calm that he'd somehow been exposed to fear toxin, and sent Dick to bring him the antidote. QUICKLY.
"Knock, knock," called a soft voice. Selina stood at the partition by the doorway – which certainly had not been broken down. "That's twenty minutes. Are you fit for human company now?"
"Good." She sashayed into the room with a more provocative sway than he would have thought possible in a Victorian ball gown. Selina's felinity triumphed over nineteenth century couture.
"We can stay as long as we like," she smiled. "Miss Lennox is showing Alfred the plans for their next project, a recreation of the Globe Theatre. She's in no hurry to lock up."
Bruce offered a weak smile. "Everyone else has left then?"
"Dick and Barbara? Martin Stanwick? The Ashton-Larrabys."
"Anything strike you as – unusual - about Randolph Larraby tonight?" Bruce tested.
Selina seemed to think, then said, "Well, he still couldn't tell you the color of my eyes to save his life."
Bruce gave a half-twitch at her choice of words. Leave it to Selina, to Catwoman, to land on the perfect phrase even without knowing any of the particulars. He told her, as briefly as possible, what he'd experienced, watching her eyes grow wide with each new development. When he'd finished at last, he waited to hear what she'd say. Her responses, as always, surprised him:
"Well, let that be a lesson to you, Handsome, Jonathan Crane gets royally pissed if you blow off his party invitations."
"I'll keep that in mind," he said dryly.
They sat in silence for a while. Then she looked at him in disbelief.
"Ocelot fur and a Snoopy tattoo?"
Bruce defended his subconscious invention. "Ocelot fur is exactly the sort of thing she'd do."
Which was true, but Selina was still outraged.
"But she didn't do it. She was never here. You did it. That is a SICK, SICK corner of your brain that thought that up, and I would not expect a warm greeting from Nirvana next time we go see her."
Bruce sensed this visit would be occurring very soon, and that he did not have a choice in the matter.
"And how would Nirvana know?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
"Because I'll tell her," came the inevitable, unfathomable, feline logic.
Well, at least Bruce could defend the other detail.
"As for the tattoo," he said, "Daddy's approval – or the lack – is very important to Talia. And Snoopy and Woodstock are pretty silly. Anything so trivial and commercial and CUTE would rankle him no end."
"And I'm guessing Charles Schulz would be none too pleased about it either," Selina remarked.
Bruce allowed himself a chuckle. She was such a perfect fit in his life. So able to cope with it all: She wasn't offended that his psyche cast her as the killer in his dreamplay. If anything, she was pleased that the thought of her working with Talia to kill somebody ranked so high on his nightmare meter. She was fascinated when he pointed out how the details of his hallucination were all suggested by the surroundings and conversations of the evening, right down to the bit about long-lost siblings.
There was only one thing that puzzled him:
"The whole time I was immersed in the dream world, why didn't anybody notice something amiss."
"You were off by yourself a lot," Selina hedged, "kept wandering into this room. But we all knew you were really into Holmes, so that part didn't seem odd at all…"
"But besides that, my behavior, it must have been a little unusual."
"Well…" she trailed off.
"Selina," he said firmly.
"I suppose an objective observer might say you were a little moody."
"Moody and withdrawn."
"See, the thing is, you've been creepy-cheerful since this whole thing started, so I guess we all chalked it up to making up for lost angst."
"You know, getting the old brain chemistry back in balance."
"Well," he concluded, "I guess as Scarecrow episodes go, this was – comparatively – a bit of a lark. I mean, I did get to be Sherlock Holmes."
Bruce's grin turned into a wide smile, and Selina felt the goosebumps of that first lunch return.
"Here we go again," she murmured.
"Holmes once said 'There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you.'"
He was looking on the bright side… boyish enthusiasm… Batman in musical-comedy mode… BOO!…
"Stop doing that," Selina begged, "Just stop it. Right now, I mean it."
He laughed. She was the one of all his enemies he had never been able to spook. Now at last he'd discovered how.
"Knock it off," she warned, "or you don't get your present."
He stopped, mock serious, and raised an eyebrow.
In a move that merged Selina Kyle and Irene Adler more eloquently than Bruce would have thought possible, she raised her skirt, revealing a bewitching length of silken leg, and slid, from beneath a Victorian lacy garter, a folded paper tied with ribbon. She dropped the skirt back into place and glanced up as if admonishing him for peeking. Her tongue fluttered, moistening her lips as she undid the ribbon, unfolded the paper, then read:
"'What is it that we love in Sherlock Holmes?' an editorial by Edgar W. Smith in the second issue of the Baker Street Journal…"
"What is that?" Bruce asked, squinting in wonder.
"Weren't you listening, it's the second issue of the Baker Street Journal," Selina smiled, and Bruce could almost see feathers creeping from the corner of her feline mouth. "I have an associate who deals in rare books and similar hard-to-find items."
"That would be CatSpeak for 'a fence'," Bruce observed.
She glanced up over the paper.
"If you want to hear this, then behave."
"'What is it that we love in Sherlock Holmes?'" she repeated, "'We love the times in which he lived, of course… There was no threat to righteousness and justice and the cause of peace on earth except from such as Moriarty and the lesser villains in his train.'"
"Lesser villains, eh," Bruce twitched.
"Don't interrupt," Selina warned, "I'm not going to tell you again. 'We love the place,'" she went on, "'It was a stout and pleasant land, full of the flavor of the age; and it is small wonder that we who claim it in our thoughts should look to Baker Street as its epitome.'"
There was a soft grunt of approval at this appreciation for the detective hero's city.
"'But there is more than time and space and the yearning for things gone by to account for what we feel toward Sherlock Holmes,'" Selina continued, "'Not only there and then, but here and now, he stands before us as a symbol—a symbol, if you please, of all that we are not, but ever would be. We see him as the fine expression of our urge to trample evil and to set aright the wrongs with which the world is plagued.'"
"Maybe skip this part," Bruce suggested with a vague blush.
"'He is Galahad and Socrates,'" Selina continued relentlessly, "'bringing high adventure to our dull existences and calm, judicial logic to our biased minds. He is the success of all our failures; the bold escape from our imprisonment. Or, if this be too complex, let it be said, more simply, that he is the personification of something in us that we have lost, or never had…."
"'And the time and place,'" Bruce cut her off, reciting the conclusion from memory, "'and all the great events are near and dear to us not because our memories call them forth in pure nostalgia, but because they are a part of us today. That is the Sherlock Holmes we love—the Holmes implicit and eternal in ourselves.'"
©2002, Chris Dee
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