Part 12: Cat-Tale – Vine and Cartier’s
“Banned!” Oswald Cobblepot declared, pointing at Poison Ivy.
“Banned!” he repeated, pointing at Hugo Strange.
“Fired!” he yelled, pointing at Greg Brady.
“Banned!” he cried, pointing at Roxy Rocket.
“Fired!” at Gina the washroom attendant.
“Banned!” at Jonathan Crane.
Then finally, the tip of his special machine gun umbrella pointed to the petite groupie covered in vine leaves. He considered for a minute, as a king might weigh arguments of clemency for a first time offender. “BANNED!” he pronounced finally, then turned and left the exiles in the street outside the Iceberg Lounge, returning alone to the ruin that was once his nightclub.
“Root rot,” Poison Ivy hissed. The birdman would come around. And if he didn’t see reason on his own, a whiff of jungle mist would bring him around. Having a tantrum because his precious bar suffered a little damage. Why, if anybody should be complaining… she was the one who was humiliated! She had honored his bar with her presence, she had honored his bar as the site to unveil her new creation to the world, and this is how she was being repaid???
Certainly it was her prerogative to take this sweet young thing, so naïve as to be infatuated with Firefly, under her wing. “Smoke,” she decided, was a promising seedling that chanced to sprout in unhealthy soil. She needed to be transplanted to a more fertile environment. Consciously, Poison Ivy saw an open and malleable specimen she could mold into something great. Unconsciously, she was lonely and knew she had found a sympathetic listener.
“First things first,” she had ordered, “you’ll need a name. Leaf? No. Sounds like a contestant on American Idol… Petal? Er, no. Harvey called me that once when we were—Never mind… Flora! How about Flora? No, you’re right. That’s a middle-aged cafeteria worker in a hairnet… Oh, I’ve got it. VINE!”
Then came the weaving of leaves into a becoming tunic to replace that leotard. The girl was hesitant at first, but Ivy made her understand the great honor: She herself, Poison Ivy the Irresistible, Chosen of Gaia, was to be her mentor. Ivy would train her. They would begin… well, we had to run before we could walk… they would begin at the Iceberg, by enticing that new bartender away from Roxy the Rocket Harlot. That brought the girl around, and Pamela preened herself on her powers of persuasion.
Vine started off well enough, entering the room with a grace and majesty befitting one decked out in leaves. She approached the bar as instructed, emitting a silent aura of irresistible sexuality.
The object of her seduction seemed appropriately awed and receptive, waiting, it seemed, for an order from his goddess. Ivy waited for her protégé to exert her power.
Then, as sometimes happens in cultivating a new hybrid, things took an unexpected turn. The bartender got tired waiting for his goddess’s command and asked outright: “What’re you drinking, beautiful?”
He was only waiting for a drink order. A setback, to be sure, but one that could have been dealt with if Roxy hadn’t chimed in that “the little sprout” didn’t look old enough for more than a Shirley Temple. Snickers led to slaps which led to hair pulling which led to…
Hugo Strange really was a vile pustule on the buttocks of Mother Earth. It could have all been handled if he hadn’t pushed her buttons with that smarmy suggestion about mud wrestling. Women, nature’s chosen vessels of life, slathered in mud, the earthy soup from which all plants spring! For the gratification of loathsome, drooling, slimy cretins like that… that… that… STRANGE! Poison Ivy could not contain her disgust and she let fly as any sane woman would! And if that WASHROOM ATTENDANT was so wanting in sense that she actually saw Hugo Strange’s desecration of all that was beautiful and magical in female sexuality as something POSITIVE, then the traitor to womankind would have to be punished along with the men… While Ivy was distracted with these matters, the repugnant Jonathan Crane, the only lowlife low enough to hang with a human weed like Hugo Strange, went to work on the bartender.
“Fearsome choice before you, I fear,” the Scarecrow began, warming on his favorite subject.
Greg Brady did not see it that way.
“You mean the girls? Girls, girls everywhere, I don’t know that that’s anything to quake about, sir,” he answered respectfully.
“Two of those girls are wearing leaves, boy,” Scarecrow insisted. “Around here, leaves mean trouble. And usually a rash.”
Compared to the dangers at his old job, a rash didn’t seem so terrible a fate, and the former Joker henchman said as much. “An exaggerated immune response to nothing much. Bring on the rash,” he quipped.
Cassie and Roxy both heard, and the bar was assaulted with a hail of tables, chairs, bottles, and novelty Iceberg Lounge glassware.
It was just like the Ha-Hacienda on movie night, Greg thought, before Poison Ivy’s special wood-free polymer table hit him in the sternum.
I think better in the catsuit. Always have. It’s a sensual experience, not “changing into” but “becoming” Catwoman: the caress of butter soft leather pulled tight across my skin, pulling on the gloves, patting them smooth, tugging on the folds, then the same with the boots… pulling on the cowl and adjusting the mask, drawing my hair out the rear flap… something about it makes all the complicated questions simple and clear.
All but one.
Tonight, the caress of the leather only
stirred memories of another caress, great hands, warm knowing fingers… and when
I pulled my hair through the flap, it tilted my head back, like he does, running
his fingers through, kissing me over and over…
Actually, the catsuit might not help me think when He’s the quandary I’m thinking about. But it was either this or a trip out to the Catitat to see Nirvana, and I was already here so…
“Here” was Cartier, our first rooftop. First time it got interesting,
anyway. I don’t want to think about that right now, though.
Something about Hell Month, all his rituals, it all gets bogged down in the
past. All the junk in that damn closet. That was then and this is
now. It wasn’t “those jewels don’t belong to you” anymore, it was “I don’t
understand why you haven’t moved in full time.”
I still didn’t understand how we could get
there from here. From here, this very roof and “those jewels don’t
belong to you.”
Reflexively, I began thinking through how to get to those jewels that don’t
belong to me, how to get there, into that vault, from here, northwest corner of
the roof: Attach a jammer to the Phoenix relay and pop the vent hood over
the power conduits. Swing to the alley and disarm the floor alarms from
the electrical panels, in through the service door and attach a thirty-second
video loop to the surveillance feeds. Back out the service door and return
up here, in through the office ventilation ducts, left, down, left, left, down,
right and squiggle. Drop out in the corridor between the private showroom
and the main vault. 0010-048-73. Jewels that don’t belong to me.
Then the tingle… and the voice…
“That’s far enough, Catwoman.”
The jolt back to reality was almost physical, as if I was physically sucked out of that vault in my imagination through space and time back to the rooftop here and now.
Catwoman’s Rule #12 states that you never ever react with surprise when he
makes an appearance, no matter how sudden or unexpected. But Catwoman’s
Rule #12 was written when I really was opening the vault, not just thinking
through how. Catwoman’s Rule #12 never anticipated anything this surreal.
What was he doing here?
And “That’s far enough, Catwoman.” What the fuck?
Batman was irked, just for a moment, that
he hadn’t anticipated this. He’d wanted to predict Selina’s response to
the mouse, and here it was: Catwoman. Looking to play.
Watching her alone on that roof, there was no need to confine himself to a
twitch, and he felt a full smile melt over his features. He’d just been
remembering this, how she’d show up whenever he subconsciously needed one of
their run-ins, and now, here she was. He fired the grappler to the cupola
of the Frith Building, a spot he knew was high enough not to be heard on
Cartier’s roof, yet afforded the perfect angle of descent. He swung down
to meet her, his mind locked on old times, fully in the mood to ‘play.’
“That’s far enough, Catwoman!” …in his best BatGrowl, expecting the obvious,
“It’s never far enough, Dark Knight.”
All he got in reply was shocked silence.
It took him a moment to process: She looked like she just got caught at something… and wasn’t expecting to… In the old days, there was always that hint that, regardless of how careful she was being, she expected to get caught by the Bat. That was part of the thrill. This time, she honestly looked like she never expected him to show up…
It threw him…
He began to suspect something was wrong.
In the spirit of Hell Month, he began to suspect the worst.
“What exactly is Catwoman doing on
The moment had passed to register surprise
or not at his appearance. The only choice now was banter or a serious
reply. “That’s far enough, Catwoman,” he had said. A stunning
Catwoman rejoinder was called for, and it came out “…” That led to “What
exactly is Catwoman doing on Cartier’s roof?”
The only choice now was banter
or a serious reply… The fact that it was a rooftop, this rooftop
especially, argued for banter. It would be an insult to all that Cartier
meant to fall back on something as mundane as the truth. And yet, somehow
I heard myself saying: “Thinking. Just thinking.”
The un-cattiness in my voice startled me
much more than his entrance had. What was I saying? Like I owed him
some kind of explanation? Like I needed him to know I wasn’t here to steal??
Like there was something wrong with all the times that… oh screw it!
“I come here to think, okay, I don’t have a cave.”
Shit! The catty edge was certainly
back in my voice, but at what price? “I don’t have a cave!” where did that
come from? If the son of a bitch had his way I would have a cave.
“Thinking?” he asked. I don’t know
if it was Hell Month or what but it came off like: “YOU, thinking, since
“Yes, THINKING,” I shot back, “You
rub two brain cells together until they make a spark.”
Okay, that was a little more like her, so
he grunted. But still, there was something else behind it. It was
more “catty” than he expected, even from her. No playful innuendo, just…
hostile. There was something behind it all. Concern? Anger? …
Fear?! He decided the best course was to get to the heart of it
“And Cartier helps? What exactly
were you thinking about?”
Without even realizing, he scanned her for an empty loot bag—then immediately
shifted his gaze back to her face when he discovered what he was doing.
Did he think I didn’t see that? The
once over, he just glanced down at… I felt insulted, and at the same time I
wondered why. I decided to turn the screw. What was I thinking, he
“Just thinking about old times…”
Maybe it was nothing after all! She was in
the same frame of mind that he was, a return to the rooftop games. Except,
why the new reaction if she just wanted to play?
“…vent, left, down, left, left, down,
right squiggle, vault, 0010-048-73.”
Not thinking about old times like he was.
He felt his blood freeze, and something leapt into his throat from the vicinity of his heart. His worst fear was becoming true: She was stealing again.
“You know that’s not going to happen,” he gravelled, trying to hide the shakiness in voice, hoping the growl didn’t betray him. Why? Why was she doing this?!
“Careful, Dark Knight, that sounded a little like the voice of the master.”
For just an instant, two fingers on her right hand twitched ever so subtly
towards the whip…
This couldn’t really be happening.
Not Selina. Not his Selina. This wasn’t banter; this wasn’t
play. It was real. This was like what their confrontations should
have been all those years ago. Crimefighter vs. Criminal. Good
vs. Bad. Right vs. Wrong. It was suddenly all too much,
like a bad dream. He started to feel something he hadn’t felt in eons:
Fear. He was afraid of what this meant, for him, for her… for “them.” And
with Fear, came The Bat. The Psychobat, the Hell Month Bat. Ready to
handle the situation like he would with any of Gotham’s criminals.
He stepped toward her, almost daring for her to go to the whip.
“If you’re talking about a crime, in MY
city, then ‘master’ is the least of your concerns.”
The reaction was not that of any of
Gotham’s criminals, only this one: eye to eye, nose to nose, never been
impressed by that routine and never would be…
“If you’re talking about cutting off the
last link to my own life and moving lock, stock, and Whiskers into yours just
because you say so, then a crime in your city is the least of YOUR
Lock, stock, and Whiskers? What did she mean by that? Bat,
Psychobat and Bruce himself stared in deathly silence, until one of them forced
out a bewildered “What?”
It did not defuse the bomb.
“Why haven’t you moved in yet—like a good
little housecat—little shelf in the vault, little bowl with my name on it in the
kitchen—how about a collar with a bell! Have Alfred change my water now
and then. Insufferable jackass—”
Batman began dissecting the words like one of Nigma’s riddles. Move in?
What was she talking about? Where did she get an idea like tha-ah. In his
mind, it was almost as though Bruce tapped Batman on the shoulder as the memory
clicked. The previous night, before patrol, a remark blurted in the heat
of the moment… a casual, simple remark, that was all it was. It had been
in the back of his mind since missing her in Paris, but he never meant to…
It was the anniversary, he was going on patrol, he didn’t want to have an
argument about her staying the night or not. Why were they even wasting
time discussing it: Kitten, you’re here so much, why not dot the i and
cross the t?
His stomach knotted. OK, she was
freaking over his suggestion to move in. She felt cornered by it, and
struck out. But all of that led her here?!
“So that’s what this is? You’re going back
to stealing just because I ruffled your fur a little?”
The incredulous “WHAT?” that
answered him echoed his own confused outburst a moment before. But Batman
was still at the helm, and Batman knew the criminal mindset: Denying it,
like they all do.
“You heard me,” he growled, “You’re trying
to get back at me and you think this is the way to do it?”
The moment hung suspended in the icy stillness of a Gotham rooftop in January
until an invisible string broke with a silent plunk. Nothing had changed,
neither had moved or spoken, but suddenly, everything felt different.
The first thing Batman noticed was her eyes—while he was not actually being
laughed at, the amused “you’re so cute when you’re stupid” expression was aimed
directly at the tip of his nose.
“Yes, that’s it exactly…” came the answer at last, a blend of sarcasm,
amusement and affection as only Catwoman could deliver them. “I came back
here to ventleftleft-downrightsquiggle-001004873-jewelsthatdontbelongtome, all
to get back at you for ruffling my fur. That’s it exactly…”
Wait for it.
“…I salute you, World’s Greatest
Banter. For the first time ever, it
was music to his ears. She really was just thinking, stewing over
what he’d said. He still didn’t quite understand what that had to do with
Cartier, but then he didn’t understand how Cartier could be their first rooftop
when it came 69 days and 7 encounters after the train station.
“Fine,” he grunted, then realized that
simple sound was a throwback to the old way. This was a new game and new
rules were called for. Perhaps the truth:
“Was it really that bad a suggestion?”
Bruce’s voice. Cheap shot, Dark Knight.
“It… … … … …”
My heart was racing.
“… … … … … … … … … …”
I love him, I had to admit, both of him. All of him. I love being
with him. He brings out the best in me.
“… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …”
I like myself with him.
“… … … … … It’s an awfully big mouse,” I whispered finally.
TwitchSmile. Does he know how sexy
“But catchable,” he said. The combination of Bruce voice and choppy bat
syntax is freakier than I can begin to express. It unnerved me.
And not wanting him to think he had the upper hand, I felt I better make it
clear I wasn’t rolling over like a spaniel.
“If I were to say yes, I’d need to have my own space, totally mine,
like an embassy is foreign soil.”
Instantaneous answer. Compromise has never been a happy notion for the
right & wrong crowd. “No chance,” he said with another sexy lip twitch.
This, I decided, was no different than getting to leave with the diamond
necklace. It only required a little feline finesse. I leaned in
close and stroked the edge of his mask, just at the cheek. I felt him
tense and I drew a claw down his arm.
“A little space of my own,” I repeated,
fiddling with the edge of his cape. “Totally mine…” I purred, fingering
the insignia on his chest, that oval he uses to mark all his possessions.
“…Like an embassy…” There was a rumble from deep in his chest as I traced the
batwing on the emblem. “…Foreign soil.”
There was one final pause, not at all
awkward. He was thinking. And then…
“Do you want to pick a room or should I
build you a new wing?”
I’ll admit I wasn’t ready for the win. And I knew I only had seconds
before the window of opportunity closed.
“Just a room or two on the second floor will be fine,” I soothed, “and an
acre on the grounds for Nirvana’s pen.” Was that greedy? Yes.
Why not. Cats always take what they can get.
“We’ll talk about it later,” he brusked,
pulling away, “I have to get to work.”
It stung. I should have expected it, the gruff “that’s enough”
dismissal from the end of every encounter, but still it stung.
“That was only ‘if I said yes,’” I
reminded him, letting him of the hook. I turned to go, hoping he’d stop me
but knowing he wouldn’t, when…
I turned back, floored, and saw him pressing his hand to his ear.
“Say again, Oracle… How long ago? … No,
I’ll check it myself… Batman out.”
In one lightning move, his hand dropped
from the ear to the utility belt, drew the grappler and fired. “C’mon,” he
ordered, extending the free hand, “Game over. It’s Nightwing. He’s
To be continued...