Chapter 2: Lady Tinfoil
During his recent stint at Arkham, Edward Nigma had had plenty of time to consider his standing in the Gotham Underworld. As Riddler, he had no pretensions to being “Batman’s Greatest Foe.” It simply wasn’t a distinction that interested him.
He was not a humble man; he knew his was the finest intellect among Batman’s many enemies. And he knew that, as Batman was essentially a detective and a thinker, that set Riddler apart from the other rogues, for his game with the Bat was entirely intellectual.
As an intellectual, Nigma had no interest in labels like “Batman’s Greatest Foe.” Joker and Hugo could battle it out for the peons to think of them in such terms. But for Riddler, it was enough that he knew—and that the only other mind on his level, Batman, knew also. What was it Shakespeare said: Play to those who get it. Don’t dumb it down “to split the ears of the groundlings.”
“DRONING SLUG, Sly, DRONING SLUG.”
“Come again, Mr. Nigma?”
“Groundlings. The lowest common denominator. Mindless rabble.”
Sly slowed his methodical wiping of the bar. There were times when a bartender’s role was drink-pourer and times when it was sympathetic-listener. This clearly was one of the latter.
“Rabble still messing with your riddles, Mr. Nigma?” he asked, sliding a cocktail napkin into place in front of his customer.
“Let’s put it this way,” Eddie replied, removing the napkin and setting a folded paper in its place, “you can set my drink on that.”
Sly looked down at the carefully folded puzzle, then up at Nigma.
“It’ll get wet, sir. It’ll get ruined.”
“Precisely. Four nights I have tried to deliver that brilliant bit of braintease to the bat, and on each and every occasion, I was stymied by premature Bat-Signal! That damn bat-flashlight keeps going off before I get to police headquarters, and now it’s too late. My coveted quarry will be off to Metropolis in an hour.”
Sly looked sympathetic, for everyone knew the Riddler’s code demanded that he announce an intended crime beforehand with some kind of puzzling clue.
“You couldn’t have maybe delivered your clue some other way?” Sly remarked.
“Why should I? Why should I, The Riddler, Prince of Puzzlers, adapt my methods because some…” he raised his voice meaningfully so others in the bar could hear “because some no-account upstart is monopolizing the Bat’s attention!”
Bruce took the pad of gauze doused with disinfectant, stretched and dabbed at the wound on the back of his thigh, and winced in pain. It wasn’t quite as awkward to reach as the last injuries on his back, but it hurt more to try.
Resignedly he touched the intercom. “I’m in the med facility. Would you come down here for a moment, please.”
:: Me? You want me to come down? ::
“Yes Kitten, please.”
:: Okay, be right there. ::
His lip twitched at the surprise in her voice. It was unusual for him to ask her. But he didn’t need Alfred’s attitude right now, literally adding insult to injury. For cat-scratches, yes, he would call Alfred, but not for Zogger punctures. Selina would at least understand the need for intense physical outlet after a revelation like this.
He shook his head as he waited. Four days. Those clues had been coming for four days—boxes of them, left at the Bat-Signal, sometimes two deliveries in one night—rubber chickens, whoopee cushions, smiley stickers. It was all too clear who was behind it: Joker. Not even released yet, and he was somehow arranging to have these clues left at the Bat-Signal. Clues to what, that was the question: what fiendish horror was the twisted freak planning now? The sheer number of objects seemed to indicate it was something big. It was going to be bad. Very bad. Unless Batman worked out what the monster was planning before the killing started.
For four days he’d wracked his brains—joke gum, silly putty, super soakers, gummy bears—what did it mean? He’d considered the objects individually and in combinations, what came in what box. There was no pattern. He’d wracked his brains—there was no pattern. The only common thread seemed to be Joker himself. What did it mean? What was it all pointing to?
That is the question that had consumed him for four days. His patrol interrupted twice a night by another box of Jokeresque bric-a-brac that made no more sense than the last. What was it all pointing to? That is the question he had been eating, sleeping and breathing for four days, and when he finally learned the answer… it was a blow. It was a blow that required Zogger.
Alfred would never understand that. Selina just might.
Catman stalked into the Iceberg bar as an enraged lion might charge a herd of gazelle just to watch the lesser beasts scatter and scurry.
When, so far from scurrying, the lesser beasts failed to acknowledge his arrival in any way, he stalked with equal menace towards the jukebox. A marathon of “Stray Cat Strut” would teach them to ignore the arrival of the King of Cats.
Bruce lay on his stomach, propped on his elbows while Selina treated the wound on the back of his thigh. He winced, not from the sting of disinfectant or even from the tremors of laughter that caused Selina to push the gauze into his wound with a little more force than necessary. It was the mirth itself that stung:
“Harley?” Selina gasped, “Harley Quinn? With the tassels and the Marilyn Monroe squeak. Harley QUINN did this?”
“Zogger. I know, Zogger stuck the hole in your leg, small wonder with how hyped up you’ve been. I was just thinking to myself that if you didn’t calm down soon it’d be time to bait you ‘til you popped. And now you’re telling me Harley Quinn beat me to it?”
“She didn’t bait me, I didn’t pop.”
He glared a glare of quiet menace—a glare meant to impress upon glib criminals the gravity of their situation.
“Batman does not—”
“You popped like an unforked potato in the microwave.”
He sighed. It was too much for one day. First that note, then Zogger, and now Selina having her fun treating him like Catwoman’s yarn toy.
“I have been working on this for four days,” he said firmly, his voice plummeting into Batman’s deepest gravel. “I thought I knew what I was dealing with. Boxes of clues, boxes of Joker stuff.”
“And instead you find out it’s not ‘Joker stuff’ but Joker’s stuff.”
“That woman is insane. Okay they split up; it’s about time she came to her senses on that score. She’s free; he’s not; so she’s moving him out of the Hacienda. Where another kind of girlfriend with a grudge might throw the guy’s things into a dumpster, Harley comes up with the novel idea of giving it to Batman.”
As before, Selina began trembling with barely stifled laughter, agitating his leg with the gauze.
“I think you’ve got the wound cleaned out well enough, Kitten,” he noted. “I can bandage it myself. If you want, you can read the note she left. It’s on the table.”
He meant it as a dismissal, to get her to stop poking him with her laughing dabs. But instead of being dismissed, Selina put a finger under his chin and turned his head to face her, smiling into his eyes.
“Soon,” she said, “Not quite done yet.” Then she leaned in and kissed him, ran fingers through his hair, and gave a happy sigh. “Now we’re done.” She winked and clip clipped off to his workstation, and then picked up the note. Bruce watched as her eyes moved over the paper and saw her start to chuckle again. For the first time since finding that outrageous document in the last box of ‘clues,’ Bruce felt a tickle at the corner of his lip.
All of Gotham had assumed Harley Quinn’s obsession with Joker was a byproduct of their love affair, and if the one ended, the other would too. Everyone assumed that—even Joker.
Bruce permitted the tickle to tug again at his lip.
They were wrong. Quinn was just as Joker-obsessed as ever. But she no longer loved him.
♫ Get a shoe thrown at me from a mean old man,
Get my dinner from a garbage can. ♫
The distant sounds of “Stray Cat Strut” bled into the office from the Iceberg jukebox. Sly and Greg Brady sat on opposite sides of Oswald’s desk, reviewing the account ledgers for their individual ends of the business. Greg stopped, not for the first time, and searched around the desk and then the filing cabinet.
“Mr. Cobblepot is a big name in the biz and all that,” Greg said finally, “but he really doesn’t seem to have been very organized. He must have kept a lot of details in his head.”
Sly raised an eyebrow. He respected Oswald up to a point, but he thought Greg was inclined to give their boss too much credit. If something was misfiled or wasn’t written down, Sly assumed it was laziness or a mistake. Greg was inclined to think it was part of a master plan.
“You’re starting to sound like one of those groupies,” Sly observed. “Oh speaking of groupies, that lady in tinfoil—talked to her earlier. You’ll never guess. That outfit of hers, it isn’t meant to be a tribute to anybody. She’s not a groupie, she just wanted in and didn’t know the clientele well enough to do something appropriate.”
“You’re shittin’ me! Why’d she want to come here if she doesn’t know who’s who and what’s what?”
Sly grinned. “Scouting. She’s a television producer, a reality show, scouting locations.”
“You’re shittin’ me!”
“No lie. Her name’s Lori Leeberg. She’s with that makeover show, Fab!, five gay guys, each week they take a straight man, fix up his hair, apartment, wardrobe, teach him to cook, whole deal. And it’s always to prime him for some big event. Well…” Sly looked around theatrically, although they were the only two people in the room, “Dr. Strange wants to get on the show.”
Greg’s eyes looked as big as saucers as he asked “Hugo Strange?”
Sly nodded. “Dr. Hugo Strange, yes! He wants on the show—to get fixed up so he can go on a date with that Manikin chick. Remember her? She was in a while back, would order a Diet Coke with lemon and nurse it all night. Well anyway, if Dr. Strange gets on the show, that will be the big event. A date with Manikin. Here! At the Iceberg! What great exposure for us, huh?”
Greg looked thoughtful.
“It will draw attention to the ‘Berg as a center for criminal activity too.”
Sly gave him a look. “The big sign ‘O.Cobblepot, Proprietor’ in ice blue neon over the front door kinda has that covered, man.”
“It’s one of those best-kept-secrets-because-everybody-knows deals,” Sly offered.
“But the thing is,” Sly cautioned, “we can’t tell anybody about this. Lady at table six wants to wear tinfoil, we don’t know anything about why.”
“You got it.”
The music outside went silent, then started up again.
♫ Black and orange stray cats sitting on a fence,
Ain’t got enough dough to pay the rent. ♫
In the main room, the crowd groaned as “Stray Cat Strut” played for the fourth time. Tom Blake ignored them. His last visit to the Iceberg, he had set off to investigate the groupie in silver foil. He struck out, getting nothing more than a name, Lori Leeberg, and a phone number that turned out to be MovieFone.
As was his custom, when the man struck out, the cat struck back. He hit that “Catworthy” jewelers, and did the Bat even bother to show? No. A Gotham jewelry store dares proclaim its wares “Catworthy.” Was it not a foregone conclusion the great feline of the underworld—the criminal king of cats—would respond? So where was Batman, hm? Where the hell was Batman? What criminal also-ran could possibly take precedence over his staking out the Catworthy jewelers to challenge the great Catman to single combat?
The song on the jukebox ended, and before Blake could move to insert another quarter, a blast of freeze ray encased the mechanism in a block of ice.
Blake spun with feline swiftness towards the direction the blast came from—In a corner booth, Tetch and Nigma sat with Victor Frieze. Tetch was holding the freeze gun, pivoting the tip so it now pointed, not at the jukebox, but at Blake himself. All three were looking at him, Tetch pointing the gun, Frieze shaking his head “no” and Nigma wagging a warning index finger.
Blake drew himself up with great dignity, and addressed the room at large:
“A merchant in the business of peddling precious gems takes out an advertisement where all who cross the 9th Street Bridge cannot help but see it. They put up a giant picture of diamond rings with the word CATWORTHY in letters six-feet high. I went there. I saw these gems. I found them Catworthy, just as advertised. I took them! I, the Catman, took the Catworthy jewels! And where, I ask you, Gotham City, where was Batman?”
The whole of the Iceberg Bar and Dining Room stared at Tom Blake. He looked around at them for a full second before building to a dramatic crescendo:
“WHAT DOES A CAT HAVE TO DO TO GET NOTICED BY THE BAT IN THIS TOWN?!?”
Dead silence fell over the room as everyone mentally wrote their own punchline.
Catman looked around again, hissed, and stalked towards the door.
“You’re all des-picccable,” Nigma quipped.
Jervis shook his head. “That’s the duck. What does the cat say?”
“I thought it was Sylvester,” Frieze put in.
“It is Sylvester,” Eddie insisted, “but Daffy says it too.”
While Nigma, Hatter and Frieze argued, the woman in tin foil slipped her cell phone from its holster. “Bradley? Lori. Tell the crew we’re a go. This place is going to make GREAT TELEVISION.”
Harley wrote, then chewed the tip of her pen thoughtfully.
These Yanni CDs really should be the last of Mr. J.’s stuff. I know I said that with the last 2 boxes, but then I found some more things I thought you might like to know about. And then I remembered the notebook. Whenever Mr. J. got an idea, he let me write it down for posterity. And also because he forgets. The ones in red ink are the crime ideas. And the ones in green are
She paused, wondering if household was one word or two.
She scratched her head with the pen.
She petted Slobberpuss.
Tipping Batman to some of Mr. J.’s crime ideas was her best idea so far, but it still seemed kind of… she sighed… dull.
“Gave that no-account clown the best years of my life,” she told Slobberpuss, scratching the hyena’s fur with the pen. “Best years of my life. Why I was goin’ places, I was gonna be a celebrity psychiatrist soon as I wrote my book. I’ll teach that no-good green-hair creepo to take the best years of a promising young future celebrity psychiatrist and toss her away. I’ll teach him good, Slobberpuss, I really will. I gotta find something better than this tho, ya know what I mean? Something ta really wipe that big grin off his face. Something to—oooh! Idea! Idea! I got an idea!”
To celebrate, Harley stood and skipped to the kitchen, returning with jerky treats for the hyenas and a chocolate cupcake for herself.
“Brucie!” she announced, “That’s what I’ll do. I can get to Mr. J through his good buddy Brucie! Now, what to do, what to do. Kill him?”
She looked down at the hyenas, who looked back up at her, expecting more jerky.
“Nah, I guess not—or MAYBE—OH, I KNOW! Catty! Yes, that’s it. Hee hee. Hee, hee, hee, heeeee-YEAH! That’s what I’ll do! What if I was to break up Bruce Wayne and Catty! Oh, that’d be perfect. That’d drive Puddin’ crazy, cause he was so happy when Brucie got her away from—oh, THAT’S even better! Hee hee. Hee, hee, hee, hee-YES! I’ll split up Bruce Wayne and Selina and get Catwoman back together with Batman!”
To be continued...