Chapter 1: Lacking Complexity
When Dick was living in Bludhaven and courting Barbara, the ritual of “family dinner” was a strict weekly appointment. It was a test of sorts; Bruce recognized that even if Dick did not. Dinner at Wayne Manor with Bruce, Barbara and Selina; a chat with Alfred; then Nightwing patrolled with Robin. Dick was testing them all, trying to decide if a return to Gotham was feasible. Now that the return was accomplished and Dick and Barbara were married, family dinners became more infrequent. They still occurred once or twice a month, but there wasn’t any hard schedule. Bruce or Alfred had to call, and everyone agreed on a date.
Tonight’s dinner would be the first in a month, and although Bruce enjoyed Dick and Barbara’s company, he had an ulterior motive in asking them. The Ra’s incident, DefCon4—it had all, perhaps, agitated him more than he liked to admit. And the agitation had led to one of the shortest At-Large lists in years. While Bruce never—excepting that one time Alfred tricked him—accepted the idea of “vacation,” he did from time to time take advantage of lulls like this to visit Tokyo, particularly the electronics district in Akihabara that ran 12-18 months ahead of Gotham and 2-3 years ahead of the rest of the country.
It had been a good trip—although unusual having Selina along. Bruce usually made these trips alone, apart from the one time he brought Dick as a training exercise. But Dick didn’t go shopping in Ginza while Bruce visited the Sony showrooms, nor did Robin insist on exploring the rooftops after dark.
But Selina—or rather, Catwoman—was fascinated by the Tokyo skyline. Skyscrapers were far fewer than in Gotham. From the top of one, you looked down onto thousands of smaller buildings so closely packed they seemed to engulf the surface completely. To navigate the city by rooftop, one didn’t seek out highrises as in Gotham; they were too few and too scattered. Instead, you stuck to the lowrises. But not Catwoman. Although each and every one was a dead end, she had to climb up—getting above the light haze of exhaust fumes—and look down on the dizzying sea of smaller buildings. Batman couldn’t figure it out any better than Bruce could. Certainly, from a hunter’s perspective, higher ground had its advantages. You could see more. But this wasn’t tracking prey; it was… sightseeing, for lack of a better word. And on higher solitary buildings, there was a greater risk of being seen.
“Feline logic” of course, that was the pat explanation. But feline logic was a phrase that made more sense in Gotham, where “good luck cats” didn’t beckon from every storefront, where you could walk for blocks without encountering a “Hello Kitty” cel phone or backpack.
She was still a mystery. Maybe it was true that you could never really understand a cat.
Still, the enigma of feline logic notwithstanding, it had been a good trip. And now Bruce was impatient to get caught up on happenings in Gotham. The logs were fine as far as they went, but the Batgirl-Giggles episode clearly showed how much they could miss. Barbara, on the other hand—in a relaxed family atmosphere after a good dinner and a glass of wine—Barbara and not Oracle was a far more efficient way to catch up on ALL the news.
Oswald Cobblepot tripped lightly down the stairs from his flat over the nightclub. Today was the day. Lark Starling was coming to the Iceberg. He had only to conduct one or two items of the ‘Berg’s more unofficial business before opening, and the rest of the day he was free to supervise. A little more spit and polish is what was needed around here, a surprise inspection or two, get the staff on their toes. For tonight, everything must be perfect. He wondered, as he opened the till and took out a stack of hundreds, if he should invest in a spa day. A manicure. Maybe a mudpack. For Lark, that dear woman who answered his personal ad, was a refined creature, a bird watcher. He had to look his best.
But first there was work to attend to. Oswald was always in the market to fence items of quality from the city’s more distinguished criminal element, but he seldom took new clients from out of town this way. Not until they had established themselves. Gotham was not Bludhaven, after all. He had standards. Nevertheless… Courtship cost money. A refined creature like Lark Starling was sure to have sophisticated and expensive tastes.
The door opened, and his appointment walked in.
“Akiki and Margot Marceau,” Barbara said with a superior sneer, “The Marceau Sisters, as they were billed at the Cirque Sensational. Trapeze artists. Twins. Redheads.”
Not a fork moved.
Alfred gave a soft cough and left to check on the soufflé. At the head of the table, Bruce’s face stiffened into Batman’s still deadpan. Across from him, Selina assumed a far away look, as if she was perhaps not listening to the conversation at all. Between them, Dick regarded his wife evenly.
“Actually, they’re not twins,” he said bravely. “Sisters, yes. Not twins. Margot is three inches taller, about fifteen pounds heavier.”
“You… weighed them?” Selina asked through the naughty grin.
Dick ignored the question, ignored Selina, purposefully ignored Barbara (blithering on about how minor physical differences didn’t mean they couldn’t be twins) and instead he looked to Bruce, to Bruce who taught him partners are there for each other.
“They go by Double Dare,” Dick said flatly. Bruce looked on, attentive but impassive. Like he was Robin again, giving a report on some case study Batman had assigned. Dick took this as a cue, and continued in the same vein, a dry, dispassionate report. “In Bludhaven, they targeted Blockbuster’s operations for some ready cash. They like hitting criminal targets. Probably figure the cops don’t care so much if they hit someone like…”
“King Snake?” Oswald looked from the one woman to the other, “You stole from a blind guy!”
“He may be blind…” Akiki said evenly. “…but he has lovely things,” Margot completed the thought. “Don’t you think?” Akiki asked.
Oswald looked again from one to the other.
“First rate,” he agreed, ‘lovely’ not being a standard that interested him much compared to the value of the merchandise in cold hard cash. “Sir Edmund Dorrance was a wealthy businessman before rising in the Hong Kong drug trade,” he said, the nasal tone creeping into his voice that often punctuated his snobbery. “Ergo, one would not be astonished to find items of quality in his possession.”
“So you’re buying?” Akiki asked bluntly.
Oswald fingered the merchandise carefully. His hesitation had nothing to do with their value. He knew he could get $5,000 for the inkwell alone. But Snake’s inclination for revenge was well known. His skill as a martial artist was well known. And the reputation of his Ghost Dragons as the best-armed gang in the city was well known. What was less widely known, but carried great weight with Oswald, was the Ghost Dragons’ bar tab. The Dragons embraced a “work hard/play hard” philosophy that was little known in rogue circles. They seemed to regard partying as an aspect of their training, one to be pursued as regularly and intensely as any other. And they had an honor code that demanded they settle their debts in full at the close of each month. With most regulars, Oswald had to take hostages to get a tab settled, and even at that, Joker paid in monopoly money. But the Dragons… If the truth were known, it was the Ghost Dragons that kept the Iceberg’s legitimate operations in the black month after month. There was simply no way he could jeopardize that.
“I’m sorry, ladies,” he said regretfully, pushing the goods back across the desk, “perhaps a pawn shop.”
In his role as comedic commentator of the Bat-Family, Dick got great mileage out of Bruce’s “focus”—or, as he put it during the worst of the Nightwing-Batman tension: “those bat-blinders he puts on to any aspect of the argument he doesn’t want to acknowledge, like the part where you’re right and he’s wrong.”
Tonight, Dick regretted those words. For Bruce listened to the entire history of Nightwing’s encounters with twin redhead trapeze artists without betraying so much as a twitch of amusement. Like a true partner. Like a stand-up guy.
In stark contrast to Barbara—his loving wife who was ruthlessly mirroring his own strategy. Just as he had ignored the women and spoke to Bruce, Barbara was ignoring him and speaking directly to Selina.
“Of course, I don’t hear about any of this until months later, when Dinah had a run in with Blockbuster. Couldn’t help but wonder why Dickey never mentioned it…”
Selina shot an amused look down the table and made a gesture with her finger that looked almost like sign language. Dick didn’t understand what it meant, but Bruce scowled.
“…did some digging,” Barbara went on, “and then once I saw their picture…”
Another look and a gesture from Selina, and this time Bruce grunted.
“Let me guess,” Selina interrupted Barbara, “they’re totally lacking in complexity?”
Both women laughed, and both men looked confused.
“In his log, he calls them The Double-Ds,” Barbara grinned.
Unable to continue pretending he wasn’t listening, Dick turned to the women with a look of theatrical bewilderment.
“Excuse me,” he broke in with a dramatic huff, “‘totally lacking complexity?’”
“Inside joke,” Selina explained patronizingly, “It means they’ve got big tits. Complex women of character and substance don’t have tits.”
“Look,” Selina said, cupping her ample bosom, “Complex…” she pressed inward. “…Shallow” she released, then repeated the demonstration. “Complex… Shallow… See how that works?”
“No, but maybe if you showed me again a couple more times.”
“Dick!” Barbara yelled with playful outrage, forgetting she was mad at him. Then after another minute’s teasing, she gave a more thorough explanation. “At my shower, we found a chatroom where these…” she paused, looking for a description, “reality-challenged gentlemen put forth some—questionable—theories about women in spandex.”
“Breasts are bad,” Selina said crisply, cutting through the euphemisms, “Cup size is inversely proportional to character.”
“I’m confused,” Dick said.
“That’s probably because you have a real, bona fide woman to go home to at night, Kiddo.”
“Okay,” Dick sat up, assuming a ‘solve the puzzle’ tone he used approaching Riddler clues, “so a round and feminine beauty that men actually find attractive makes a woman dumb?”
“Right,” Selina confirmed the postulate, “And the men who find it attractive are perverts, by the way.”
“I see,” Dick said, moving on to line two of the riddle, “And these rocket scientists who don’t like boobs and insult the women who have them, they’re the good guys?”
“Yep!” Barbara nodded, “Because they’re so deep and sensitive.”
Dick looked deeply troubled. He looked from Barbara to Selina and back to Barbara. Finally, he asked with a voice quivering with anxiety: “They don’t… have any similar… eh… ‘rules’ … for men, do they?”
Both women broke into heartless cackles.
“You mean ‘better shrink down the package if you want to be taken seriously?’ No. Curious how that logical extension of their theory doesn’t seem to have occurred to them.”
Dick refilled his wineglass and gulped in relief.
A silence came over the room, such as happens when a subject has run its course. Dick turned to his mentor, who had been silent throughout the discussion.
“What’s your take on this, Bruce?”
Bruce looked thoughtful. Then, after a pause, Batman’s voice answered: “I wonder what Two-Face will do when he learns Double Dare are in town.”
To be continued...