“What a vision you are, Thief. I can see why my beloved amuses himself with you until we can be together.”
I turned, making a mental note to stop spending so much time at Bruce’s and beef up my own security a little. There she was: Talia Al Ghul, looking impossibly arrogant, composed—and cool. Immaculate linen suit, not a hair out of place, and smelling—unless I’m mistaken—of amber incense and Chanel Number 5.
I had so hoped she’d want to avoid a face-off as much as I did. I so hoped she’d be passive-aggressive like her old man and try to pass it off as being a mastermind: Send an assassin to kill me, Cupcake, or frame me for some cat-crime. But no, you’ve gotta let yourself into my bathroom on the hottest bloody day of the year when I just had a work out and I’m sweaty and my hair is frizzing…
“Did you hear me, Thief?”
I made no attempt to make conversation. This seemed to piss her off in a very gratifying way. She was there to throw a tantrum. If I hurled barbs back at her, it would have only inflated her importance. Deny her her moment of drama, and…
She slapped me! The miserable little… How old was this demonspawn brat? She wound up again and I grabbed the incoming wrist… then the other… not letting go and not pushing back but redirecting the momentum of her strikes to the side.
Now I’ve been on the other side of that particular move, and I know it’s maddeningly frustrating. The more you put into it, the less able you are to make contact. A part of me truly did empathize with the impotent rage behind the ear-splitting scream she let loose—the rest of me remembered that when Batman grabbed my wrists that way, I kept my dignity.
I closed my eyes (and ears) and summoned thoughts of Yo Yo Ma, Bill Conti, and Bobby McFarrin. …This too shall pass, and when it does, I’ll get my shower—then a martini, an evening of quiet jazz, and a foot massage… I opened my eyes.
The tantrum seemed to have exhausted itself and I tried to throw the wrists up and backward hoping she’d follow. It didn’t quite work, but she half-fell/half-sat on the clothes hamper next to the sink.
I noted, with a satisfaction I’m not proud of, that her clothes were now wrinkled and her hair was mussed. It evened the playing field a little.
“This concludes the physical portion of our confrontation,” I thought hopefully—but she had a little more inarticulate cussing to get through before we could get down to business. After the fourth repetition of “lousy bitch” I allowed myself a smirk.
“You dare laugh at me, Thief. Tell me what you find so amusing.”
“You know what I was thinking, Princess? I’m thinking that you’re not very good at this. I guess growing up in your father’s court where nobody’d raise their eyes to an Al Ghul, let alone disagree with you, or god forbid deny you something you wanted—well, let’s just say your creativity with the language of insult leaves a lot to be desired….”
I paused for a split-second, then just to make the point I add:
“As, I expect, your imagination is lacking in a number of other arts.”
I was ready for her to come at me again –but it took her too long to work out what I was saying. By the time she got it, she’d look stupid as well as spoiled if she reacted.
“You may insult me all you like, she-witch,” She said finally, “but you can never come between my beloved and me. We are destined for each other. He is chosen above all men to continue the line of my father’s glory.”
“You’re just starring in your own little Euripides play over there, aren’t you?”
“You mock matters of great importance…”
“I’ll give you one thing, Precious: As pompous as Bruce can be when he’s on a roll, you make him look like Nathan Lane in drag.”
“…but what are you, Thief, that you flatter yourself that you’re dear to him? He is a man, he found you pleasing, so what. Now that he’s had you, what can you possibly offer him…”
OK, Now I was getting pissed. I was determined not to let this become one of those hissing-scratching-hairpulling sideshows where overdressed women with big hair knock each other into swimming pools and soggy shoulder pads float up to the surface. That was NOT going to happen—but damnit this posturing little twit needed taken down a peg!
I glanced up and saw she was still at it:
“…You’re nothing special. You’re just some passing amusement, a conquest for the great crimefighter…”
You know, you can say what you want about Joker being a homicidal maniac, but in his insanity he sometimes sees things much clearer than rational people. He told me once that if I ever found myself in one of those standoffs with Ra’s al Ghul, when you put on a brave show trading insults but he’s got the upper hand and you both know it, that I should look him right in the eye and do what no one, not even “the Detective” had ever done—laugh right in his face.
What was true of the father was doubly true of the daughter: self-importance can’t abide silliness. And so I just let go and laughed at this last bitter diatribe. She tried to look superior, like the inability to control this wild mirth was a sad mark of my inferiority. That I actually did find funny and that made it all the easier to keep the laughter going.
Finally, I made a great effort to control my breathing enough to sputter out, just a few words at a time: “I guess… I must have… achieved some kind of status… in Bruce’s life unless… unless… you break into the bathroom… … … of every woman he dates… and give that same speech!”
I composed myself and concluded, “Let me tell you something. I think it’s really sweet that you’re so protective of and committed to a relationship that doesn’t exist. It says a lot about you. And it’s almost hard to choke back the tears while I say …YOU’RE INSANE! Get out of my bathroom, you crazed nutcase from hell. Lady, you are about five different kinds of crazy, plus -you talk like Theodoric of York!”
Cats are amazing creatures really. They have this wonderful ability to try and jump to the mantle from the end table, miss, spill a vase of water onto the sofa and knock a Faberge egg into the wastebasket as they claw at air on the way down, fall ungracefully on their furry rumps, and then blithely lick a paw like that’s exactly the way they meant it to play out.
So I’ve decided (despite my continued opinion that women with a conflict involving a man should avoid water whenever they meet) …I’ve decided that I actually meant to keep harping on Talia’s pretentious ranting until she got mad enough to come at me again and knock me into the shower, meant to pull her in with me (by the lapels, mind you, not by the hair!) and throw her back against the knob bringing a stream of ice cold water down on both of us. After all, I was in my own apartment and she had to get herself home through midtown Gotham at rushhour in a soaked white suit.
I snickered as I wondered if she walked, tried to hail a cab, or (giggle) took the subway!
I’d emptied the martini shaker twice. Hard as I tried to make light of the incident with Talia, the aftertaste was standing up to vodka surprising well.
I told myself that she’s a spoiled child that can’t accept not getting her way.
Then I thought that Bruce too is a child in some ways. Perhaps they had that in common.
I told myself she’s a humorless, obsessive, borderline psychotic with a skewed and limited view of the world. They had that in common as well.
I told myself he chose me to help fight her off when she attacked his company. And then I remembered how little he minds being attacked under certain circumstances.
I told myself vodka is fattening, and if I made another shaker of martinis I would be too hungover to work it off tomorrow.
I filled the shaker anyway.
I wanted to be numb. I wanted to block it all out of my head.
There was the catsuit. I never tried to drown my troubles in a bottle before; I just put on the mask and let the way of the cat handle everything.
Cats are independent. Cats are loners. Cats might let you stroke their fur and give them catnip, but they ultimately don’t care if you also have a dog or a parakeet or a girlfriend that you maybe like better or—ARRRRGGGGHHHHHHHH!
I threw the martini shaker at the nearest breakable object, and felt like nothing so much as a childish, spoiled undisciplined daughter of a demon that needed a good spanking.
Cats aren’t like this. Cats aren’t jealous. Cats aren’t possessive. Cats are independent. Cats are loners. Cats are… oh hell, who was I kidding.
Whiskers and Nutmeg were peeking out from under the sofa. They sniff my shoes every time I return to the apartment. They crawl into any book or newspaper I try to read instead of paying attention to them. And right now, they cared that their flatmate was too busy throwing things to sit down and make the lap they wanted to be curled up in.
It was time to let the cat out.
Nightwing slid his arm under Barbara’s back as she nuzzled his throat while a distant news report droned on about some important race that was being run.
“Oh Dick” -snick snick- “Oh Dick, you shouldn’t be shy with me. So what if he got here first. You’re almost as good as he is, really.”
“Almost … as … good … as who?”
“Why, Azrael of course.” -snick snick-
-snick snick- -snick snick-
Dick’s eyes popped open. That was NOT the alarm clock. -snick snick- Nor the telephone. -snick snick- He looked bleerily in the direction of the sound: -snick snick- Window—Claws—Gloves—Mask—Catwoman?
He went to the window and opened it.
“Since when do you knock?” He wasn’t awake, and it came out sounding more hostile than he’d intended.
Dick tied the belt of his robe with a sharp jerk. Now that he was awake his inner-Alfred reminded him that we do not leave ladies standing on our fire escape at four in the morning in the drizzling wet.
“Would you like to come in and, I don’t know, have some coffee?” he offered.
She looked like he’d hit her. What the hell?
Then he saw it: Catty looked awful. Besides the wet, she seemed tired and hurt and bewildered… The light dawned: Way to go, Bruce.
“Look I’m sorry, come on in. I’m not awake yet.”
She did come in but didn’t speak, didn’t apologize for waking him… Plenty upset, and not saying a word… God, she and Bruce were perfect for each other.
He sat her down and waited patiently. It came out slowly about her encounter with Talia. From the sounds of it, she gave as good as she got, but it obviously bothered her.
He would tell her his pet analogy, Dick decided. About Bruce and Talia. The analogy meant a lot to Dick. It was funny. It was right. And there were very few people he could share it with, most of whom, like Alfred and Superman, were too straight-laced to see the humor. Selina was not straight-laced. She knew Bruce better than almost anybody; she had no love for Talia. She was sure to see the funny.
“Talia is Lucy,” he explained. “Bruce is Charlie Brown. Every time she comes around she swears she’ll hold that football in place, and every time he falls for it and believes she’d left Ra’s and is ready to start a new life …WHOOSH…Oh Good Grief!”
Selina looked at him like a kitten that’d been stuck on a fire escape in the rain until four in the morning. She did not see the funny.
Okay, so much for lightening the mood, Dick thought.
“You have any pet analogies about me, kiddo?” she asked softly.
Man this was awkward.
He had, in fact, what Tim described as a “killer ten minute standup routine” on the subject of Batman and Catwoman.
Dick was always something of a wiseass. It was the circus kid in him. You grow up touring from town to town with a troupe of performers, you get accustomed to a certain level of banter, and you develop a pretty sharp wit of your own to keep up. It was a shock when Dick went to live at Wayne Manor to discover that everybody didn’t sing at parties! Some people couldn’t sing at all—some couldn’t even tell jokes!
When Bruce and Dick had their falling out, his humor became a defense mechanism, and unintentionally he’d wound up the comedic commentator of the Bat-Family, saying serious things in a funny way because it was just too painful to hit them head on.
There was no point in telling Selina any of this. He thought she was good for Bruce. Why mention that his most frequent observation during his years as Robin was that they should “just do it already and defuse the bomb.”
“How about this,” he said gently, “I’ll just shut up and you take your time and tell me whatever it is you want to talk about.”
She opened her hand and held out a pin: a leopard—platinum set with diamonds, its spots picked out in ovals of highly polished onyx, two tiny emerald eyes. He recognized it—it was somewhat famous, made for the Duchess of Windsor.
“I found it in his private safe. It’s my thank you for the security thing. There was a card.”
Dick smiled. “That’s so cute. He locked it in a safe! I didn’t think Bruce had it in him.”
Selina gave him a look that said I’m going to start over, ’cause that’s how completely you’ve missed the point. “Yes, it’s a cat and it’s beautiful and he locked it in a safe for me to find… Don’t you get it? It’s for Catwoman. The son of a bitch… I just… I thought we were past that. I thought… I thought he liked ME. Now it turns out I’m nothing special, I’m just … the first bad girl that happened to run across his path. A conquest.”
Dick shook his head in wonder.
“You’re unbelievable. The both of you are absolutely fucking unbelievable. From Bruce, of all people, this is a monumental gesture of affection and acceptance and all you can… unbelievable…”
He turned and walked into the next room muttering aloud: “Do you, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle promise to forsake all others and reserve your warped, angst-ridden, dysfunctional nincompoopery for each other, thereby saving at least two innocent people and providing untold hours of fascinated diversion to the rest of us who might otherwise think WE have screwed up relationships!”
He returned and flung an auction catalog into her lap with a cover photo of the cat she held in her palm, and one other exactly like it.
“It’s one of a pair, Selina! I remember because when it came up for sale we were keeping an eye on the auction house, and I had a bet with Batgirl whether you or Two-Face would make a try for them!”
She looked up, confused.
“Don’t you get it? If he had one locked in a safe for Catwoman, he probably has the other in a giftbox to give Selina. My guess is he’ll give it to you at dinner as soon as he sees you found its mate. Try to act surprised.”
To be continued...