This isn’t opera, this is life.
Why should love have to be tragic?
— Langford Wilson, BURN THIS
January 7th, A-minus 14
The degree to which Batman was genuinely troubled may be gauged by the fact that he cut the final turn from the public road onto the Wayne property so short that the left rear tire flattened a miniature dogwood, turfed a patch of azaleas, and ultimately failed to set off the electric eye. Having failed to disable the hologram that concealed the cave’s main entrance, he drove through what appeared to be a wall of solid rock without batting an eye.
He removed the costume like a man in a trance, then stood in the costume vault for a full minute, staring at nothing. To conceal his preoccupation, if only from himself, he took a shower in the cave before changing into Bruce Wayne’s sweater and slacks and ascending, reluctantly, to the manor. Selina would be there by now—and Dick—and Barbara. Saturday. Family dinner. Why did it have to be tonight? He needed her alone. And Dick would be so damn amused if he asked to talk to her privately. Dick’s flippant amusement was one thing he didn’t need right now.
There had been a cat crime at the historical museum, a cat’s eye crown set with onyx and lapis lazuli. Catwoman hadn’t done it; that was obvious. Even Bullock knew it. The crown was, in all probability, less than 300 years old, made to cash in on an 18th Century fad for ancient artifacts. The same museum held far more valuable pieces; some Roman mosaics depicting leopards in the coliseum were valued at $450,000. The crown was, at best, worth $15,000. If he knew that, Selina did. Her guilt or innocence wasn’t the issue.
The issue was that he knew—KNEW—she was innocent before he’d heard the facts of the case. It WAS NOT POSSIBLE that she had done it, no more so than that Dick or Tim or Alfred could have done it. He trusted her, that was the issue, trusted her absolutely.
He’d thought love was the big word. It was a big, yes; hell, when it finally came along it was monumental. But this was something more. This was his jugular exposed, his neck on the chopping block—total naked vulnerability. He trusted her. Jesus Christ, how did this happen?
They had to slow down, that’s all there was to it. The situation had gotten completely out of control.
Barbara had been busy. After selecting Dick’s new couch she looked at carpeting, chairs, endtables, wallpaper, plants, pictures—the works. She wanted to surprise him, set it up while he was away. She called his landlady to find out about wheelchair access at his building. But Barbara was no decorator. She was Oracle, she was once Batgirl, and she was a policeman’s daughter. She could read people. Something in Clancy’s manner, her voice when she said Dick’s name, it was a dead giveaway.
This was so much worse than Huntress. A one-time bit of passion between costumed identities was one thing. An ongoing flirtation, if not an intimate friendship, if not more, with Dick, that was another matter entirely.
And she hadn’t known about this one.
Alfred repeated that he was not aware of any change in plans.
Bruce’s continued absence from “Family Dinner” might be explained by the signal that had appeared just at dusk. But it was turned off over two hours ago and he still hadn’t returned.
Dick was a no-show and so was Barbara.
To be honest, I wasn’t that heartbroken about Dick & Barbara. I was getting a little uncomfortable with them lately, particularly the bride-to-be. Since the engagement, Barbara seems to want a ‘girlfriend’—which would be fine, except… she’s asking way too many questions like: if they have the wedding at the manor, what colors would be good in the great hall?
And then if maybe I don’t want to voice an opinion about a color scheme for a freaking WEDDING in the great hall of WAYNE MANOR (for godssake Barbara!), then I get: “Oh come on, don’t look at me like that, Selina. You have good taste—Or the garden! Wouldn’t the garden be perfect in the springtime?”
Plus, okay, maybe I’m still smarting from having stepped into that trap in the delicate matter of the Bridal Registry.
Alfred said register at Bergdorf’s: silver, crystal, china. Barbara thought Bergdorf’s was stuffy. Bruce grunted something about listening to Alfred. Dick said who cares. And then—then—all four of them turned and looked at me.
Now, okay, a lot has changed in recent months, but still. Remember me, lady with the whip? Meow? We can never get past smoldering looks ‘cause you’re a thief and I’m Batman? REMEMBER THAT SHIT? I don’t think I’m the one that should be stuck breaking deadlocks because the bat family can’t reach a consensus.
I didn’t say any of that, of course. I went and powdered my nose. But Barb followed me! A little estrogen solidarity, she asked for.
Okay then, I told her: Marveck’s on 49th. Gorgeous stuff, tasteful, quality, but not stuffy.
And she cackled. No “Wonderful, thank you so much!” No “estrogen solidarity.” She indulged in one of the most revolting cackles of triumph I have ever heard in my life—and I’ve heard Joker! This was a spectacle. It echoed through the halls of the manor. Dick heard it, Bruce heard it, and worst of all, Alfred heard it. (I don’t sweat pissing off Nightwing or Batman, but Alfred? I may be brash, but kitty isn’t crazy.)
So I tried to concoct a nice, respectable, Catwoman reason for knowing about Marveck’s.
“Couples leave town right after the wedding,” I told her, “leaving an unoccupied condo full of gifts. A Bridal Registry is like a thief’s yellow pages.”
Maybe not brilliant, but plausible, don’t you think? I really think a ‘girlfriend’ should have backed me up here, but ol’ Barb cackled even louder. Estrogen solidarity indeed.
No modern woman likes to admit to thinking about this stuff. It’s not important after all. Marveck’s happens to have nice china and crystal—and they happen to have a bridal registry. I don’t know why I retained that little bit of information, but I did. Sue me.
“None of them called?” Selina asked with a touch of that hardness Alfred had once assumed was her ‘Catwoman’ voice.
“No Ma’am, er Miss.” Alfred had never encountered ‘Catwoman,’ so it was
a normal assumption at first. But the more he saw of her at the manor — —
—at the far end of the dinner table, sitting with Bruce by the fire, spatting with Bruce by the fire
—Alfred was beginning to hear something else, a similarity to the late Mrs. Wayne.
If Bruce was a forceful personality, it could be fairly stated that Martha Wayne was a force of nature. That’s not to say she was shrewish, but she was strong and confident, as the daughters of those founding families tend to be. Like Bruce, she felt deeply and had strong views about the way things should be.
Also like Bruce, if she latched onto something, she committed totally: 10,000%. That 10,000% was a concept not recognized, nor even possible in any type of mathematics would not deter her one bit. Hospital needed a Neo-Natal wing and Mrs. Wayne was on the job: organized 3 balls in 7 months, made the rounds of all the industrialists before corporate donations were a common practice. She preyed mercilessly on the social climbers, dangling invitations to the Wayne Garden Party and the Debutante Cotillion. If only they could give enough to get onto that committee with her their place in Society was assured….
It was she, Alfred knew, who was responsible for the Wayne name on all those libraries, museums and university buildings. Thomas would have written a check quietly, but Martha! Martha wanted to use the ambitions of the nouveau riche the same way Bruce would one day use fear in criminals. There was the same kernel of ruthlessness behind it, any means to the end: There was only so much one family could do on their own, but if their donations could motivate others to give, that’s what they needed to be doing. Hence, ultimately, the Wayne Foundation.
It was also Martha that instilled a great sense of responsibility in Bruce. “The more you are blessed with,” she would say, “the more you need to give back.” Bruce was to inherit a great fortune, a name that brought influence. She could see from the similarity to Thomas that he would be handsome, and even by age six it was clear that he was fiercely intelligent. He’d been given so much, she instilled this sense of noblesse oblige, a responsibility to give back, which—although she certainly never intended it—contributed more than a little to his tremendous sense of guilt.
Batman found a way to postpone Bruce’s return to the manor: It was a cat-crime. It was a frame-up. And there was one particular person that would want to harm Selina—one who, still on the outs with her father, would not have access to subtler means of making trouble.
Bruce sat at his workstation and pulled up the file on Ra’s Al Ghul, then entered a secondary code that accessed his private file on Talia.
Out of habit he avoided looking at the picture and concentrated his attention on the text. Scrolling past the introductory facts, dates, and places, his stomach tightened as he neared his observations and analysis in the fields below.
The first phrase that popped out at him was “genuinely torn between me and her father…” It struck him that that wasn’t entirely accurate. She chose her father every time. She always said she felt bad about it, but that’s not being ‘torn,’ that’s disappointment that she couldn’t have her cake and eat it too.
“Divided loyalties…” Again, it seemed a poor choice of words. Loyalty was a free and independent being’s conscious choice, a choice to stand by a friend or a cause, come what may. It was a commitment of strength and character. Passively staying with a tyrant because you’re conditioned to be a submissive little lotus blossom, that is neither free nor choice nor strength nor character.
Bruce glanced absent-mindedly at the photo, then kicked himself for the slip. Her image would suck him in now, silencing his doubts in spite of everything…
Except it didn’t.
He saw a lovely and exotic face, a face he knew—that was all. It had no power over him. He saw a woman that would caress his cheek instead of scratching it and call him ‘Beloved’ instead of ‘judgmental jackass’—and would leave him, hurt and defeated and alone.
“Are you that stupid or just self-destructive?” The voice was so soft, Bruce thought for a moment it was his own—until the hand reached around and snapped off the monitor.
Dick was livid.
He’d opted for “advice from the more experienced playboy womanizer” and he’d come to Bruce—but the Bruce that advised him on the proposal dinner, the Bruce who pulled it together and was finally making a life with Selina. Not this schmuck sitting alone in the Batcave mooning over Talia’s photograph!
“She’s the best thing that ever happened to you,” he screamed. “How can you jeopardize that? How can you even think about ruining it for some meaningless flirtation with… that… psychotic, shallow, obsessive, treacherous daughter of a Fu Manchu clone!”
Dick had never hidden his contempt for Talia or for Bruce’s weakness for her. Defensive, Bruce had always shutdown these outbursts with brutal finality.
On this occasion, however, there were no tender thoughts to be defensive about. He was clear-headed enough to see as Batman saw. He noted the words Dick spoke and the telling pauses… “the best thing that ever happened to you… how can you jeopardize that… for a meaningless flirtation with -pause- treacherous daughter of Fu Manchu” (Dick’s usual tirade about Talia).
Instead of Batman’s most ominous growl, it was a strangely tentative voice that finally spoke.
“Dick, has something happened between you and Barbara?”
The Sensei said those moments of understanding never last. He said it’s easy to forget our times of knowing, to believe we made an error at the very moment we were truly wise. He said I would suffer this more than most, as I am prone to assume the worst of myself.
Of course, the Sensei never understood. He knew I was there to get something. He knew I could only go along with the philosophy to get what I needed. The training said the hate, the fear, the pain disrupted the natural flow of Ki. You must let go of these to connect with the Oneness of Being. I can put myself into that mindset to workout and to fight, but I can’t live there. I cannot give myself over to the ebb and flow of the universe. I can’t stop hating. The Sensei knew that much—he made it clear that I wasn’t fooling him—but he didn’t understand. He thought I was stubborn. He thought I had a choice. He didn’t understand that the world isn’t like that, that you can’t think that way and live in this world.
When I left, he said he’d lived in this world longer thinking his way than I had thinking mine. But his world isn’t Gotham.
The moment didn’t last.
I could see he was in pain. He hates Talia, yes, but that outburst wasn’t meant for me. I tried to be there for once, to be understanding. And what did I get? “Bruce Wayne and his women… Batman and his women.” My reputation was the cause of all his problems, like he’s had nothing to do with this harem that’s collected around him. When I was his age I was preparing, studying. I was in Tibet listening to the Sensei tell me the moments of understanding don’t last.
“Damnit, boy,” I snapped at him when I could stomach no more, “You want to be your own man, stop blaming everyone but yourself for what your life is.”
That’s how long the moment of understanding lasted.
Well, no one ever called me “Mr. Sensitivity.”
It’s done now. There’s no taking it back.
Robin and Spoiler were young enough to still celebrate when they’d captured a name criminal, even one as inconsequential as The Mime. Nightwing found them near their favorite drivethru. Irked at the happy-couple appearance he perceived (though in fact, they were just patting themselves on the back), he was less than polite to Spoiler. He said he needed to talk to Robin on “family business” and turning his back on them for Robin to follow or not.
“Well, that was rude,” Robin announced when he caught up with Wing.
“No hassles tonight, okay bro?” The weariness in his tone said it better than the words.
“Okay, Dr. Drake consulting. What’s up?”
“You know what today is?”
“Yeah. JANUARY 7th—fourteen days and counting. All the excitement with the engagement I forgot: Hell Month, bro.”
“Shit. I forgot too.”
“I just yelled at him.”
“You what? Wha’d you go pick a fight for!”
“I FORGOT, OKAY. And I didn’t PICK a fight, I had it thrust upon me. I found him hunched over his computer sighing over Talia’s picture for chrissake—and Selina waiting upstairs!”
“I don’t care what he was doing, you’ve got no business yelling at him at a time like this!”
“Do you think I don’t know that!”
“Yeah. Well. Better to apologize now, you think, or wait ‘til after?”
“I don’t know. Better to get it over with I s’pose. Hey, did you ever warn Selina?”
“About Hell Month? No, did you?”
The Sensei said those moments of understanding never last. He never mentioned that they might flicker out (or in) in the middle of a sentence. That you could go into a room thoroughly expecting to say one thing and suddenly find your mouth has been hijacked and you’re saying something else entirely.
The situation with Selina was—is—completely out of control. And I was—I am—I will put a stop to it. It’s just that, when I walked into the dining room and saw her, I realized there was the whole cat-crime thing to explain first. She had to be told, and it was going to be hard enough going into that while making it clear she was not a suspect and this was not a conversation with Batman… but we need to slow down. No. That just wouldn’t work.
So I put it off. Yes, I put off saying “let’s slow down,” but that doesn’t explain how I wound up saying the other.
“Sorry I took so long,” it began.
“No problem,” she said airily, “I just sat here watching the silver tarnish. Anything exciting in town?”
“No. Not really. Well, not exactly–”
“This sounds good already.”
My first mistake. I hedge and she gets excited. Like if I’m uncomfortable, it automatically means she’s going to have fun. Impossible woman.
“It’s not what you would consider a big
exciting case, no,”
“What a curious formula of words.”
The gimlet look. She knew I was being evasive and she did—damn her—she did was she’s always done. Stuck her hand on my chest and her tongue in my mouth and pulled whatever she wants out of my brain while all the blood is flowing elsewhere.
“Don’t… do that,” I stammered.
The voice in my ear was all hot breath:
Never worked before. Didn’t work now.
The voice in my ear was all hot breath:
“This is serious,” I said, pulling her arms off me and trying to step back. That never worked before either… but it never produced the look she gave me now. No playful pout, no ‘claws are out’ glare, no naughty grin, it was more… Jesus, what was that? Cold. Searching. Gears turning. Selina?
Without meaning to, I blurted it out.
“Something’s happened—historical museum—a cat-crime.”
The whatever-it-was look deepened into whatever-it-was squared—hurt, scared, indignant, I still don’t know.
“Look, I know you didn’t do it. It’s
a non-issue, I swear. Even the police know—they knew before they called
me…” I was throwing out too many words without thinking—not like me—but I had to
make that look go away. “Selina, listen to me, this isn’t a
thing. I know you didn’t do it.”
“Selina, listen to me, this isn’t a thing. I know you didn’t do it.”
“I heard you the first time.”
What does that mean?
“What does THAT mean?”
“It’s not like you to repeat yourself is all.”
“So what did the police want?”
“Hmph, kind of funny actually. New commissioner has political ambitions—doesn’t want to honk off Bruce Wayne or his new girlfriend, so…”
She smiled. A good sign.
“…so they asked Batman to question me?”
she said, showing she understood.
she said, showing she understood.
“Yep. Well not question-question. Just, ‘do you know of any enemies that would want to set you up this way?’”
She gave a disgusted grin: “Yeah, head usher at the Hijinx Playhouse.”
It was my turn to smile. She prattled on about how the ushers hated the part in her show where she walked through the audience on the armrests. I slid an arm around her waist and felt the tension ease out of my shoulders. It was over; we were going to be all right…
NO! This was not all right. This was not the status quo. ‘All right’ was not my relaxing because Kitten wasn’t upset with me. ‘All right’ was not feeling good that Pussycat understands I’m not accusing her of anything. ‘All right’ was not trusting Catwoman so blindly and absolutely that she could destroy my world just by–
“Bruce, you’re holding on a little tight there, you want to let go.”
…I looked down into those deep pools of green. Yes, she could destroy me. But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t betray me, then leave me hurt and alone. She wasn’t like Talia…
“I’m not kidding, let go.”
hurt and alone. Why would I want that? Why did I ever think even for a moment… Are you stupid or just self-destructive, Dick had asked…
A blinding pain shot from my elbow to my wrist, and the arm fell open.
“Sorry about that, but I warned you.”
I stared stupidly.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“I’m sorry… Kitten… I just have… a lot on my mind right now.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” The whatever-it-is look was back. “Give the demonspawn my best,” she said and started for the door.
“You said her name during your little fit of catalepsy just then.”
The sound of her heels clicking towards the door was enough to snap me out of it. Selina wouldn’t leave me, I had said. That’s true… unless I drive her away.
I ran after her. I thought ‘out of control’ ‘jugular exposed’ ‘slow it down.’ I caught up with her.—‘neck on the chopping block’ ‘slow it down’—I turned her to face me.—‘slow down’ ‘slow down’ ‘slow down’—and I started to say it:
“After all we’ve been through, all that’s happened, not just the past year, but all of it… Selina, Selina how can you doubt that it’s you who… are the love of my life?”
To be continued...