Chapter 2: Prowling Again
It took fifteen minutes to get to my first stop, which, it turned out, was a few minutes less than it would take to get over the heady thrill of being in costume again, prowling for criminal purposes.
The panel before me was part of the PHOENIX 9000, one of the best, if not the best, security systems on the market. This panel took up to a 10-digit digital PIN that could take four hours to crack—and then only if you had the right equipment.
Fortunately, it wasn’t going to take me anything like four hours, because I was damn sure I could guess the owner’s PIN: 22222 222 22
There was a low hum and the indicator went from red to yellow to green. The system was deactivated.
I let myself in and, since Harvey wasn’t around, I made myself at home: fixed a cup of tea and stretched out on his sofa with a box of Goldfish crackers.
For some reason, on getting home a half-hour later, Harvey acted like this was a big deal: What was I doing here, how did I get in, etc. etc.… I mean, really, you would have thought he was channeling Batman.
“Harvey for God’s sake, it’s Gotham City, and you’re in the murder and mayhem business. Even with a Phoenix 9000, you must’ve had people let themselves in before!” I insisted, a little put out that he was being such a prude.
He just looked at me, then said, “You know, Selina, exactly TWO other people have been able to ‘let themselves in,’ as you put it: Poison Ivy. And Batman. Neither one of them, we assure you, sat on the couch and ate Goldfish.”
“What Batman did, I can guess,” I said with a laugh. “But Ivy? I don’t ever want to hear about that.”
He smirked and that ended the preshow. I got down to business.
“I need a favor.”
“A good favor or a bad favor?”
Harvey raised an eyebrow, then the Two-Face voice cut in:
“This mean love’s young dream with Bruce Wayne is over and done with?”
“No,” I answered. I would have preferred to deal with Harvey alone, but there’s nothing for it when Two-Face decides to get involved. You have to roll with it like it’s perfectly natural. “This is by way of being a favor for a friend,” I explained casually.
“A criminal favor,” one of them observed.
“Yes. So will you help me or not?”
They flipped their coin, then appeared to have a disagreement whether the result meant yes or no. ‘Favor for a friend’ being construed as a good thing, ‘criminal favor’ being bad.
“Look boys, I hate to interrupt, but this sounds like a crock to me. Bottom line is: one of you wants to help me and the other doesn’t. If you’ll just tell me which of you it is that’s being a fathead, maybe we can cut a deal.”
It was Two-Face who spoke up: “You want to make deals, precious, you deal with us. If it was Pretty Boy Harv that needed convincing, you could just whip him into line with that braided leather sextoy you got hanging from your belt.”
If this was the way it had to be, it’s the way it had to be. I would have preferred to play nice, talk like civilized people - but some things you can’t let pass. I uncoiled the ‘sextoy’ enticingly and purred.
“Now Two-Face, that’s not how I hear it at all. Word has it, your bedgames with Ivy, you like it rough ‘n’ ready.”
It was enough. Two-Face may consider himself the baddest thing on two legs, but a few non-ambiguous words from a comely lady in leather and he loses it. Well, maybe he didn’t ‘lose it’ exactly, but he hesitated long enough for me to swing the whiphandle across his throat and plant a heel in his gut. I was sorry, pulling him by the hair, that Harvey had to pay for Two-Face’s mouth. Not sorry enough to stop slamming his head into the kitchen table, but sorry enough to fix him an icepack when it was over.
“Sof fwhat ifsit sfat you fwant?” Harvey managed from under the ice and swelling.
“What can you tell me about police evidence lockers?” I asked.
Harvey Dent staggered into the Iceberg Lounge looking like he’d been in a battle.
Sly, the only bartender who had stayed at the Iceberg for more than three weeks or three brawls, decided not to notice this until Mr. Dent gave some sign that he wished it to be noticed.
“Evening, Mr. Dent.”
Two-Face growled, “Two double malts on the rocks. And make them doubles.”
“Happy hour, Mr. Dent. If you order two, I serve you four. If you just want two, only order one,” Sly advised, wisely.
“If you know what we want, Wise Ass, why don’t you just serve us.”
“Now, Mr. Dent, you know Mr. Cobblepot’d shoot me if I sold less than you ordered without say-so.”
Two-Face sneered, but Harvey smiled: “Just ‘one’ then - Double shot of double malt, please.”
Sly produced two drinks on cue.
“That’s what the doctor ordered,” Harvey held up the glass, touched a finger to the ice, then applied it to the inch of bruise on his forehead that extended to the unscarred side of his face.
Sly decided this was enough of a go ahead, so he spoke:
“You look like a man that broke one of the cat-lady’s rules.”
“Technically,” Harvey said wearily. “But that’s not why we require your services, oh barkeep extraordinaire.”
“Why’s that then, Mr. Dent?”
“Ask your new boss.”
“New boss? - Oh, you mean Mr. Tetch. Yes, we’ve all been briefed about that. Pretend Mr. Tetch runs the place. A little unusual,” Sly mused philosophically, “but not half as strange as some of the things I’ve seen in this club, Mr. Dent, nor you either, I expect. And it’s exciting for someone like me to be a part of it for once.”
Harvey liked Sly, his easy manner never put out by the most outrageous Rogue behavior. But there were times the guy was just too perky for Two-Face. The latter glowered. Sly met his gaze evenly, and Two-Face seemed to reconsider, like a charging dog that was challenged. In reward, Sly topped off his glass.
“So how does Mr. Tetch posing as manager of the Iceberg relate to—”
“You ever see The Birdcage,” Harvey explained, “gay couple playing it straight for a conservative politician and his wife?”
“Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Miramax 1996,” Sly answered like he was reading a resume.
“Guess you know it. You know the part where all the campy drag queens from the nightclub are redoing the apartment?”
“Where they get a moosehead and a crucifix - Playboys in the bathroom –‘ that’s what they read.’ I love that scene!” Sly enthused. “It’s funny.”
“We used to think so too.” Harvey replied. “No more. We just lived it.”
“Plants are chic,” Poison Ivy insisted, “You can’t have too many plants.”
“You can if you want to look normal, Pammy! This is like Wild Kingdom,” Harvey moaned.
If Jervis Tetch wanted to look normal, upstanding, and respectable for his aunt’s visit, Harvey thought he was the obvious choice to advise him redecorating this flat. He had been a successful lawyer and politician, he knew how to play that game. What Pamela Isley and Roxy Rocket were doing here was beyond him.
“Maybe we did overdo the green,” Jervis wondered, standing before two walls almost completely covered by potted trees, ivy-covered trellises, and hanging planters.”
“It was Riddler that overdid the green,” Roxy countered. “Without the plants those walls just look GREEN; this way it looks planned, like it’s part of the decor.”
“If the decor is Wild Kingdom, yes,” Harvey repeated, and Ivy kicked him in the shin.
“Why Riddler’s place anyway?” Roxy asked abruptly, “Why not either borrow someplace normal or redo your own hideout.”
“This is a better location,” Jervis ticked off his list of reasons, “It’s near the club, it doesn’t need nearly so much work as mine - just the green, the futon and the question marks really.”
“Oh, save that one above the mantle,” Roxy put in, “One big question mark in the room - it looks like art!”
Harvey, Ivy, and Jervis all stared.
“Or not,” Roxy squeaked.
“Let’s face it, the only hideout, lair, or apartment that wouldn’t need any work at all is Selina’s, and she wouldn’t cooperate.”
“You could have hatted her,” Ivy observed coldly, “that’d bring her around.”
Jervis winced and unconsciously moved his hand to his right side. The memory - and the scars - from the payback when he’d ‘hatted’ Catwoman were still far too vivid.
Harvey empathized and touched a finger to his own fresh cat scratches.
“The futon’s got to go,” Roxy declared, again changing the subject at an opportune moment.
“Throw some pillows on it,” Jervis suggested.
Harvey realized what this scene reminded him of, and quoted The Birdcage: “Don’t add, just subtract.”
“Don’t bring in pillows, get rid of the futon.”
“Then where’ll we sit?” Jervis asked peevishly.
“Surprise!” Penguin called from the doorway, “I brought you a -quack- house cooling present.”
He handed over a coffee table book:
THE WONDER OF IGLOOS
Jervis looked at it, then up at Harvey who repeated, “Don’t add. Just subtract.”
“So, Mr. Tetch is not just pretending
to run the club, he’s pretending to live at Mr. Nigma’s?”
“That is the second tier of his deception, yes” Harvey answered, gesturing for his glass to be filled.
“What does Mr. Nigma say about this?”
“He’s up the river, not saying anything at the moment,” Two-Face answered, gesturing for the other glass to be filled.
“Only one to be complaining is Roxy,” Harvey continued.
“Miss Rocket?” Sly’s tone changed slightly. It wasn’t the first time Harvey had noticed such a change. Roxy was the one rogue that caused Sly to lose his unflappable cool.
“She’s posing as Jervis’s girlfriend,” Two-Face informed him maliciously.
You would think that someplace like the police evidence locker for all of metro-Gotham would be a fortress, wouldn’t you? Turns out their “security” is set up by bureaucrats. It’s all about paper, documenting the chains of who handled what: this officer turned in this item on this date, tagged to that incident report, that lawyer signed it out on that date. The priority is maintaining the legal integrity of the stuff, not the physical security. I mean, it’s not totally unprotected, but compared to museums, galleries, jewelry stores, bank vaults, government installations - in short, the kinds of places I break into - this was a walk in the park.
In under an hour, I was inside and doped out the layout. There was a cage on each floor that led to the records for a block of precincts. The 29th, which is where Barbara’s casefile would have been “misfiled” according to Gordon, was on the 3rd floor. There was one guard that patrolled the 1st through 10th floor stairwells and elevator—slowly. He was, to put it mildly, not difficult to avoid. There was one clerk in the cage. That took a moment’s thought… Traditional gas pellets, while effective, would be remembered. When he woke up, he’d know he was gassed. A couple drops of chloral hydrate in his coffee would do the job too, but the hangover’s a dead giveaway. So I opted instead for a 100mg dose of a common over-the-counter antihistamine. It was risky, as I couldn’t be sure he was completely out. So instead of taking his keyring, I figured I’d just pick the locks beyond the cage.
Maud Wodehouse sat at the best table at the Iceberg Lounge, alternately singeing the rogues of Gotham with glares of haughty disapproval and crinkling her nose as if to avoid some unpleasant smell.
The rogues looked at Aunt Maud, then at each other. Formidable didn’t begin to describe her; the woman was a cross between the Queen of Hearts and Batman. Hell, you’d think after growing up with a gorgon like that, Batman would be a breeze!
“JER-VIS,” the Wagnerian voice intoned, “This novelty glass in which that slippery bartender poured my drink is an abomination. Please instruct him to serve me with ordinary glassware in future.”
“Yes, Aunt Maud,” Jervis groveled.
He was mortified letting the other rogues witness his humiliation, but there was always the chance one of them would snap and kill her.
“Very interesting,” Hugo Strange observed from a corner table. “This is perhaps why Herr Tetch is so scared of The Batman - she reminds him of his childhood terror: Aunt Gladys.”
“Aunt Maud,” Scarecrow corrected.
“Aunt Gladys,” Hugo repeated, lost in recollection of his own family burdens, “could make grown men to climb trees and pull them up after them.”
“You guys are pansies,” Poison Ivy observed. “A strong woman should be celebrated. It’s nothing to be intimidated by.”
“You go over there and say that,” Scarecrow challenged her.
“I can’t think why Alice is so late,” Jervis was saying with a twitchy expression. “She’s usually so prompt.”
“Alice?” Scarecrow asked, in a hushed whisper, “I thought Roxy was posing as the girlfriend.”
“Fiancée,” Ivy sneered in disgust, “it’s more respectable.”
“Fiancée then,” Scarecrow countered. “I thought it was Roxy.”
“It IS Roxy, you straw-brained nitwit! He’s calling her Alice. Says Roxy’s not a normal name.”
“Oh, like JERVIS is?”
All the locks behind the cage were Medico, and Medico locks…Well, let’s just say they can be picked if you know what you’re doing, but it takes a while. Easier by far to cut or blast through them, except this needed to be an invisible job. They weren’t supposed to know anything had been tampered with. So I went back to the dozing clerk, held my breath, and eased the keys from his belt. He didn’t stir—some guys just can’t hold their NoSneeze Nighttime.
I made my way to the appropriate room, the right filing cabinet, and the right drawer. At last. Found the file… and it was sealed. Thank you, Commissioner SuperCop, for not giving me a hint about that little surprise. Now I had to somehow get the pictures out without breaking the seal!
More lost time.
“Explain to me again, Jervis, why so many of the patrons here dress in such an odd and conspicuous fashion.”
“It’s, ah, well, a kind of custom here. It’s called Viva la Difference night, the, ah, third Thursday of the month, all the regulars dress in wild outfits. The more respectable they are, the wilder the getup, you see.”
“How very peculiar.”
“It’s like Mardi Gras!”
Damn, I’m good.
Plain ordinary exact-o-knife dipped in liquid paper… slid ever so gently up the seam opposite the seal… so I could open the file without the seal ever being broken. Got the pics, and re-glued it with more liquid paper. Was it absolutely undetectable? No. But you’d have to be looking for something amiss. And it wasn’t like this case would ever be appealed or retried.
I opened the file and a thin plastic sheet, like a transparency for an overhead projector, except opaque and gray, fell to the floor. I picked it up and noticed a faint chemical smell.
I returned it to the file and paged through the police report. I could see why Dick and Gordon would go so far as to break the law, commissioning a crime, to get control of the pictures that accompanied this report, the words were graphic enough… Poor Barbara. She’d hate that I thought that, and I’ll never let her know if I can help it. Still. Poor Barbara. She opened the door, that’s all she did: Makes her dad cocoa, sets down the tray, doorbell, “It’ll be Colleen from across the street. Yoga class tonight” – and BANG! – psycho-clown out of a nightmare blows a hole in her spine.
Then he took off her clothes and took pictures—bleeding, naked—quite a variety of poses, judging by the testimony. He blew them up into slides and plastered a funhouse wall with them. He wanted to prove a point, he said, he wanted to drive Jim Gordon mad. Didn’t work. He considers it one of his failures.
Some failure. Barbara’s still paralyzed.
I was skimming. I didn’t want to be reading any of this. I just wanted to find the part where it said how many photos, slides, negatives, and whatever there were to track down.
I found the photos—they were blank, all the same solid gray as the plastic sheet. I looked for the negatives, and found they were in the same condition. The slides were in an envelope with another tiny strip of plastic. They too were solid, opaque gray.
I pasted the folder back together at the seam, returned it to the filing cabinet, relocked the cabinet, relocked the room, returned to the cage and replaced the clerk’s keys… all the while waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I was nervous. I don’t like surprises like that in a job, any job, but my first in months, I especially didn’t like it. In the heart of police territory, I especially didn’t like it.
I took an extra minute to evade Captain Efficiency patrolling the stairwell. I was being too cautious, which in itself was dangerous.
I made my way to the roof—and with the shock of the cold night air, the explanation hit me. It was so obvious and so right I almost laughed.
The chemical smell.
I should’ve thought of it before I wasted six hours on a fool’s errand.
Well, if I wasted my time, it was worse for poor Harvey. Beat him to a paste for nothing.
I did laugh then.
I really should have expected it.
“JER-VIS!” Aunt Maud bellowed for the ninth time since arriving in the lounge.
“Is it my imagination, or does she hit the same notes as Joker calling for Harley?” Penguin asked, waddling up to the table from the direction of the imperious Maud. “She wants to meet you,” he told Poison Ivy.
“-quack-, ‘Cause it’s Viva la Difference Night,” Penguin answered.
“Don’t ask me why,” Scarecrow offered a longer explanation, “but it seems in the World According to Jervis, the wilder the outfit you wear on Viva la Difference Night, the more respectable you are. She took one look at me and decided I was a corporate vice president, at least. Now she wants to meet you, because she decided you must be practically a duchess if you come here dressed like a whore.”
“WHAT!” Poison Ivy screamed, while Scarecrow and Strange held her back.
“C’m off it, Pammy, it’s not like the ‘foliage’ leaves a lot to the imagination,” Harvey pointed out.
Ivy spun around and slapped him. He turned back from the slap with Two-Face’s lecherous grin.
“Ooh, Baby,” he growled, and slapped her back.
Jervis ran over in a panic.
“What are you doing! No slapping, no slapping!” He looked back at his aunt in alarm, “Thank god, she didn’t see it. Oh, where is Roxy? This is not going well.”
“Jervis, something I don’t understand,” Scarecrow began, “If your aunt’s such a problem, why not just pop one of those mind control chips on her head and shut her off.”
“She is my mother’s sister, Jonathan. Does a man ‘hat’ the mater’s own sister? And if he does, what happens when she goes home without any memory of it, and my mother asks ‘How was your trip and did Jervis take good care of you?’”
“Mammasboy,” coughed Two-Face.
“JER-VIS!” Aunt Maud bellowed for the tenth time since arriving in the lounge.
I love the windows they put on those old mansion houses, I really do: foothold - foothold, and a shelf if you have some heavy safecracking gear you need to set down while you work on the alarm system. This particular system was the best commercially available before the little adjustments that make it all but impenetrable… but no system is foolproof, not even his. There was a flaw, a very tiny one. If you weren’t the world’s very best thief with exhaustive knowledge of the technology AND had a set of razor-sharp cat claws, you could never, never get passed it.
I opened the window silently and entered. Padded quietly over to the bed and watched him sleep for a moment before lowering my head and meowing softly.
His eyes opened instantly, bright and clear and blue.
“Hey,” he murmured softly, reaching to pull me to him, “There’s a Catwoman in my bed. Y’know, I actually have a dream that starts just like this..”
He reached up around my waist -and then his hand went flat against my back and the other felt my arm. He sat up abruptly.
“Your costume’s cold. How long have you been prowling tonight?”
In one move, I laughed, smiled and kissed him. Busted in under ten seconds! You gotta love him.
“You really are the best, you know that,” I meowed, settling back on his bed, enjoying the situation tremendously.
“Selina, what have you done?”
“You tell me,” I challenged him.
My Dark Knight Detective, I thought, You tell me. Let me
watch your mind work.
He looked into my eyes for a long moment. I used to wonder if he could read my mind when he did that.
“Police evidence locker.
I guess he can.
“And all for nothing,” I confirmed it, as if he needed me to. “You got there first.”
“Well…” he looked embarrassed, “it’s not like I removed anything.”
You gotta love him.
No, he didn’t steal the photos, he just added something that reacted chemically with the paper and negatives. I wanted to kiss him and tell him what a sweetie he is under all that avenging badass of Justice - but I just couldn’t. Not when he was Bruce. When he was Batman in a righteous spate, yes, but not like this, all warm and blushy. I let him off the hook with a change of subject.
“Since you’re awake, what would you say to a little excursion? There’s quite a show on at the Iceberg tonight.”
To be continued...