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Chapter 2: Natasha and Anton

 

Selina Kyle’s other alter ego, known only to her and most often referred to by the colorful moniker MirrorBitch, regarded her other self with a look of truly bat-like disapproval.

“Don’t you give me that shit,” Selina told her reflection, “I tried to warn them.  I’m not my brother’s keeper, and I’m certainly not my old boyfriend’s drama queen sister and her bipolar husband’s keeper.   I tried to warn the rogues, I tried to warn the bats, I told them all what would happen.  They.  Didn’t.  Listen.”

 

“You’re not listening.”

“I am listening, Eddie,” Selina replied, repeating his complaint thus far as if she was a secretary taking dictation.  “Everybody got entirely the wrong idea about you and Aunt Maud.  You admired her for her many fine qualities, not the least of which was her superlative grasp of the question mark.  It was a purely intellectual and yet mutually-rewarding relationship and they all turned it into something sordid.”

“Yes, they did.  Even Batman took a shot about it.  Batman, can you believe it?  A cheap shot!”

Selina was bursting to know what the cheap shot might have been, but she didn’t trust her voice to ask.  That was probably just as well, for any comment would have only prevented Edward Nigma from going on to the real subject of his visit. 

“I just want to have a night out with Doris, and she won’t come to the Iceberg unless—”

“Doris is crossword girl?”

“Doris is the lovely young lady I met while she was doing a crossword puzzle, yes.  Do we have to come up with cutesy handles for everybody?”

“Eddie, turn around and look at yourself in that mirror, particularly the sixteen yellow question marks on your tie, and four dozen others on your jacket, then ask yourself just how stupid you must’ve sounded asking that question.”

He sighed. 

“Look at me.  I am Riddler,  I am E.  Nigma,  I am the Prince of Puzzlers.  I query, therefore I am!  Selina, why won’t she see me in action?  Why won’t she be my sidekick?”

“Not everybody’s cut out for spandex, Eddie.”

“Doris is.  Selina, you should see.  She’s 5’5’’ and a size 2.  She’d be such a luscious Query or Echo.”

“Attractive as I’m sure she would look in a leotard, I meant that not everybody is cut out for the Gotham nightlife.”

“But I AM, Selina, I am!  I thrive in it.  And she won’t see me there.  She won’t even come to the Iceberg to see me in my element.  So I thought, maybe … well… you could get Bruce Wayne to talk her into it?”

Selina’s face froze, but Nigma didn’t seem to notice.  He just went on:

“He’s fit in so well.  It’s really your relationship with him that’s encouraged me to hope things will work out with Doris.”

“Um… ah… er…”

She was saved by the telephone.   

“Hello….  François! Bon jour… Oui…  Oui, je me rappelle les, I remember them….  Uh-f course.  Of course.  Yes, I’ll be delighted.  Sure, I’ll tell him.   Sure, I’ll tell her too.  Okay.  Au revoir.  -click-  MERDE.”

“That didn’t sound good,” Eddie observed. 

“François de Poulignac,” Selina said despairingly. 

“The French count that Harley ran off with?”

“Do we have to come up with cutesy handles for everybody?” Selina quoted.

“I never got to meet him, but the dish was prime!  He’s coming back?”

“No.  No, much worse.  His sister Natasha is coming—with her husband.  Oh god, we’re all doomed.”

“Why, is this an Aunt Maud situation? They won’t be able to handle the Gotham thing?”

“N-no,” Selina explained haltingly,  “It’s not that exactly.  It’s more like—”

 

“‘Will Gotham be able to handle them?’ What does that mean?” Bruce asked testily, “Have you been hanging out with Riddler?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.  That’s not the point.  He didn’t get it any more than you do.”

“Selina, I am approximately five hundred times smarter than Nigma or anybody else you know.  When I ‘don’t get it,’ it’s because there’s nothing to get.”

“Oh yeah?  They’re not even here yet and it’s starting already.”

WHAT is starting already?”

“Look, Natasha is a perfectly lovely woman, except she is slightly more melodramatic than Maria Callas having a divafit… think Poison Ivy on Prozac!  And Anton, he’s wonderful, except when he gets excited about something, he makes Ra’s al Ghul sound like Hemmingway.  And even that would be fine except for one thing:  they married each other.  And they’re coming here!  Mark my words, sooner or later they’re going to have a spat.  And when that happens, within six hours, everybody around here is going to know about it.  And within an hour of that, everybody will have an opinion, and within ten minutes of that, everybody will have taken sides…”

 

“Is it my imagination, darling,” Anton deNuit asked his wife as they walked to the baggage claim, “or does it seem like everyone on the plane was bad tempered by the end of the flight?”

“Certainly everyone in First Class seems to be squabbling,” Natasha answered. 

“It was that movie, showing a chick-flick in a closed cabin where a man can’t get away.” Anton muttered. 

“It was a very touching story, rich in romance, which you might appreciate if you were openminded enough to give it a try.”

“WHAT IS THAT DOING HERE?” Anton demanded, pointing at the baggage carousel as if he were the hero in a silent movie indicating the coffin of the Vampire King. 

“I wanted to bring the costumes,” Natasha answered evenly, picking up a small, green valise, “so I did.  It doesn’t mean we have to use them.  But at least this way, we have the option.”

“The option of putting on absurd outfits to commit ‘theme crimes?’”

“The option of ‘when in Rome,’ having a little fun like the natives do.”

“Instead of the perfectly dignified and lucrative practice of grifting jet-setters in our own element.”

“Perfectly dignified, perfectly lucrative, and perfectly dull.  That harlequin woman made it sound like such fun… Where was the place she told us all the colorful ones gather, The Icy Lounge?”

“That harlequin woman was insane.”

“Icecube, maybe?  Or Icicle?”

“As is this Nocturna-Thief of the Night business.  And what’s more—”

“Maybe it was Icing, does that sound right?  The Icing Lounge?”

Anton sighed heavily and picked up the last two bags. 

“Or was it the Isaac Lounge?”  Natasha guessed getting into the taxi.  Anton sighed yet again. 

“Eisenberg’s?” she said, as they checked in at the hotel.  Anton huffed.

“Eyes Only,” Natasha pronounced as the bellboy brought the luggage to the room. 

“No, it’s the Isis Lounge,” she decided, tipping the bellboy with no actual cash but a warm smile that made his knees weak.   

“ICEBERG!!!” Anton screamed once they were alone.  “IT’S CALLED THE ICEBERG!  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WILL YOU PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WOMAN, DROP IT ALREADY!  IT’S CALLED THE ICEBERG.  LIKE WHAT SUNK THE TITANIC.  NO LIFEBOATS AND 1500 PEOPLE DROWNED.  THE ICE-BERG LOUNGE!”

“Of course, the Iceberg,” Natasha repeated, pleased to have the name finally, and completely unmoved by the volume at which it was shouted. 

Anton huffed again, defeated.  His wife said if he coming down with a cold, she’d packed the nasal inhaler. 

OraCom: Channel 00

“One second, Robin,” Barbara whispered, her fingers performing a rapid sweep over the controls.

…encrypt… …all other links locked out…

“OK, Tim, it’s totally clear,” she announced.  “None of them can access this channel.”

::None of who?  Barbara, we’re the only ones left.  It’s like a haunted house movie!  One by one, everybody’s disappeared.::

“I know,” she sighed into her mic.  “Black Canary said that counterfeiting case led to Montreal and she didn’t know how long she’d be away.  Cassie wanted to try one of those camps to learn a foreign language by immersion, but she was scared, so Stephanie went with her.”

::That’s a crock and you know it!  It’s not a ‘foreign’ language, it’s ENGLISH.  She’s got immersion in English every day.  She’s learning as fast as she’s going to.  They just don’t want to be here stuck in the middle of the Batman-Nightwing mess.::

“YA THINK!” Barbara exclaimed.  “Tim, I’ve got the most respected figures in the JLA MAKING UP reasons to avoid Gotham City!  You know where they allegedly are right now?  The Gamma Quadrant.  You know why?  Asterisk-8 is collapsing commercial wormholes to blockade Alpha Centauri.”

::Gee, that does sound serious.::

“ASTERISK-8?  That’s Clark!  That’s Clark Kent lying—badly!  He’s looking at a keyboard while he makes up an excuse.  Asterisk-8, that’d be, what, the son of Ampersand-7 and OpenParenthesis-9?  AND HE’S TRYING TO PULL THIS SHIT ON ORACLE!”

::Um, Barbara, I’m wearing an earpiece.  I know you’re pissed, but could you please not shout?::

“I’m sorry, kid.  Azrael is the only one who’s man enough to admit he’s avoiding us.  Of course, in his case, it’s not Batman & Nightwing so much as Catwoman working for Grayson Associates.”

:: Oh? ::

“Yeah, you hadn’t put this together?  Dick’s the only one, in JP’s opinion, that won’t forgive and forget the AzBat era.  Dick hired Selina, the one person whose mere presence causes him to make a total ass of himself.  Those two went into business together, Az found stuff to do out of town.”    

:: So it’s just you and me.  They’ve all abandoned us.  What happened to not leaving a man behind enemy lines?::

“Now, Tim, it’s not as bad as all that.”

::It’s not?  These aren’t battle conditions?  Dick and Bruce are both mad at you for sending them individually to meet Catwoman and then each other.  Selina’s mad at them for ‘being fatheads’ and not working it out.  And then there’s this whole other round of Riddler - Doris - Iceberg - Fop - Alfred that everyone’s pissed about, and I don’t even know what that IS!!! ::

“One second.”

…OraCom: Channel 00… re-encrypt… …all other links locked out… …rephase every 30 seconds…

“Okay, I wanted to make doubly sure the line was secured.  Robin, this can go NO FURTHER EVER, do you understand?  If one word of what I’m about to tell you leaks out, I will…”

The threat was punctuated by the high-frequency squeal of an old-fashioned radio receiver. 

:: Ergle-gulp.  I understand.  Won’t tell a soul.  I swear Barbara.  I’ll never tell a soul.::

“Okay then.  The rogues have an instant messaging system.  Selina’s on it.  Bruce knows.  Neither of them know that I know.  Last Thursday night, I hacked it.  Between that, Dick, and Selina I got the whole story.  And Tim, you won’t believe this…”

Robin’s eyes glazed slightly as the excited chirping in his earpiece explained that Edward Nigma a.k.a.  Riddler finally brought his non-spandex-wearing girl Doris to the Iceberg under the impression that Bruce Wayne would be there with Selina.  He wanted the girl to experience a certain normal factor on her first visit, and indeed see a happy and well-adjusted Costume/Normal couple.  Bruce and Selina didn’t show, and Doris latched on to the only other “normal” in the place, the bartender Sly.  She listened with sympathy to his tale of a horrific date with Roxy Rocket that confirmed her worst fears.  Eddie was less than pleased with Bruce and Selina, but just as pissed at Sly.  Threats were made, which honked off Oswald because, before Sly, Iceberg bartenders only lasted a night or two, and if Oswald could put up with Sly stealing “his precious Roxy” out from under him, Eddie should certainly be able to deal with this minor setback with a girl he hadn’t even gotten to second base with  (although how Oswald knew that, Oracle couldn’t say).  Then there was something about Scarecrow playing “on the pink team” and Hugo Strange playing with Barbie dolls that didn’t quite make sense to her either…

::O…kay,:: Robin said cautiously as the excited narrative concluded.  ::I guess that’s Riddler, Doris, and the Iceberg explained.  But what about—::

“Fop?” Barbara cut in, “I’m getting there.  Selina was here the other day talking to Dick, and the two of them didn’t know I could hear.  She said Bruce caught himself calling Two-Face and Riddler ‘Harvey and Eddie.’ And there might have been something else about Ivy and Ventriloquist, I’m not sure about that.  But the upshot is he’s decided the whole Iceberg slumming thing had gone too far, and if he loses his reputation as a ne’er-do-well and a rake, so be it.”

::Wow.::

“I know.  Quite a change.  But it’s not exactly out of the blue.  I mean, Dick says from the minute he told Selina the truth and dropped the bimbos, it’s been a matter of time before he gave up the Fop act.”

::I guess.::

“But the surprising thing is Alfred.  Alfred is totally pissed.”

::What?  But Alfred hated the Fop.::

“I know, but he hated it because he hated Bruce being thought of that way.  He’s mad because Bruce will give it up for a ‘Batman reason,’ i.e.  not thinking of rogues as people, but that Bruce’s own dignity wasn’t a good enough reason to end it.”

::Ouch.::

 

“Can we please for the love of God get out of this room?” Anton bellowed while Natasha again changed her earrings. 

“There,” she cooed, “I like these better.  They match the star on my handbag.”

“Fine, whatever, let’s just GO!”

“Anton, this is to be my debut as Nocturna.  The look I assume tonight will be the image associated with that name for all time.”

“It’s not ‘for all time,’ it’s for the week and a half until we go home.  I can live with that, let’s just GO ALREADY!  The invitation is for 8:30.  We have no idea how long it takes to get to this Wayne Manor.”

“So we’re a little late, so what?  Everyone is late for those things.”

“We’re the guests of honor.  Despite the fact that your brother probably chased Selina the entire time he was here, this Bruce Wayne is throwing a party to introduce us to Gotham Society.  We are not only using this event to launch our criminal careers as Nocturna and Thief of the Night, but you’re going to make us late as well?  Doesn’t that strike you as just a trifle rude?”

 

“The guests of honor are late? I do call that de classe,” Mrs. Ashton-Larraby sniffed disapprovingly as she and her son came through the receiving line. 

“Mother, please, don’t start,” Randy-quad pleaded.  “I only said I’d be your escort tonight instead of Dad because you promised it wouldn’t be one of these stuffy deals where everybody stands around judging each other.”

“Randolph, there are times we all must do what we do not wish to do for the sake of keeping up appearances.  You know your father simply could not bring himself to face Bruce Wayne after that unpleasantness with the foreigner.”

“I know that Mr. Wayne made a special point of inviting you both as a friendly gesture that there were no hard feelings after the ‘unpleasantness.’  And I also know that I was assured by both you and Dad that I would not be the only person in this room under ninety.”

“Randolph, really, you’re not even the only person under thirty-five.”

“Same thing.”

“That Drake boy is over by the punchbowl.”

“TIM!  Thank God.”

Nouveau riche,” Mrs. Ashton-Larraby sniffed as Randy-quad waved to his friend. 

Tim was quick to introduce the woman he was talking with: Renee Montoya, candidate for City Council.  And Montoya was quick to see a potential contributor in Mrs. Ashton-Larraby and a campaign volunteer in Randy-quad.  She set to work on recruiting them immediately.  By the time she had finished explaining her platform, the guests of honor, Anton and Natasha deNuit, had arrived. 

Tim explained that these were old friends of Selina Kyle’s.  He did not add, of course, that Bruce was making such an effort to get to know them and make them welcome in Gotham because he’d resolved to cut off contact with Selina’s other friends and acquaintances at the Iceberg. 

Given only this much information, Mrs. Ashton-Larraby was predisposed to approve of the deNuits, for she took a proprietary interest in Bruce and Selina’s relationship since she had announced their engagement to the social world.  She was not remotely deterred by the fact that the couple did not yet admit they were engaged. 

“If the two of them want to go on denying what anybody at all can see just by looking at them together, that’s nothing to me,” she pronounced definitively. 

Tim’s eyes bulged in disbelief.  As an excuse to leave, if only for a moment, he offered to bring Mrs. Ashton-Larraby a drink or canapé.  By the time he returned, her opinion on the guests of honor had shifted.

Anton deNuit had asked Selina for a tour of the manor, while Natasha latched on to Bruce in a fashion Mrs. Ashton-Larraby found distasteful. 

“That woman,” she said of the newcomer, “has a terribly unhealthy pallor.”

“She is a bit pale,” Renee Montoya agreed in suitably non-committal terms for a politician. 

“Pale.  She’s got, like, no blood pressure at all,” Randy-quad added more definitively. 

Within mere minutes of her introduction to the guest of honor, Mrs. Ashton-Larraby attached herself to Bruce and Natasha, quite determined that if this presumptuous EuroTrash was going to monopolize Bruce, she not be left to do so alone.  And since she could not be in two-places at once, the formidable Mrs. Ashton-Larraby sent her son to inflict himself similarly on Selina and Anton. 

His father would have leapt at the chance to spend time with Selina, but Randy wasn’t as adept socially, so he ran to Tim for moral support.  The two of them disappeared in search of Selina and Anton while Mrs. Ashton-Larraby dug in at Natasha’s side and made relentless small talk. 

“Your name is deNuit?  That’s French for night, isn’t it?”

As meaningless small talk goes, this strategy was a mistake.  For Natasha prattled something about night being the cloak that adorns mystery with its elegance, starlight in the ebon vault of the sky, and similar drivel.  It taxed Mrs. Ashton-Larraby’s ability to smile impassively.  By the time Natasha and Bruce began discussing sleeping during the day and thereby “dwelling in darkness around the clock,” Mrs. Ashton-Larraby considered that she should have assigned the boys to this pair and gone instead to keep Selina and Anton apart.  No sooner did she have this thought, however, than the boys appeared:  Randy was chatting with Selina, but Anton was nowhere to be seen. 

She motioned to her son and suggested he try the terrace.  Husbands who wander off at parties, she informed him, are invariably found on the terrace. 

But before Randy could do so, the glass doors to the terrace were shattered by…  well… the doors were shattered. 

The… figure that did the shattering was… somewhat nondescript.  It was man-sized, man-shaped, and gray.  From head to toe, it was dark gray.  

Having ripped a curtain from the wall during his entrance, the intruder spread the fabric out on the floor and demanded, at gunpoint, the guests place everything of value onto it. 

The guests, jaded Gothamites all, did so with an aura of condescension.  Most were already considering how they would tell this story the next day.  This person was obviously here for criminal purposes, for he waved a gun and took their valuables.  Plus, whatever else that outfit might be, it surely was not a Ralph Lauren tuxedo.  The question was: what WAS it?  Much as one liked to think they were above such things, a Gothamite did get to know the various costumed characters.  “We were robbed by Penguin” was easy.  “The Joker, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy attacked the party,” that everyone understood.  But this character? How were they to describe it:  “We were robbed by a man-sized glob of gray that looked rather like a potato?”

In a bizarre and puzzling finish, the PotatoMan allowed Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, and Natasha deNuit to keep their valuables.  Then he fled. 

After the nondescript criminal’s departure, the upper echelons of Gotham society waited for the police with all the urbane sophistication of party-goers who still have an open bar, a full buffet, an orchestra, and a mansion full of amusements to while away the time until they gave their statements. 

In this atmosphere, Natasha deNuit managed to slip away.  

Bruce was trapped as host.  But he sent Tim.  Soon the police band would pick up the story.  Then Oracle would know.  Nightwing and Robin could take it from there.   

To be continued...

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