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Chapter 3: Playing Catch Up

 

It should not have been possible to break Zogger. Bruce knew that; he designed it. He built Strategic Self-Mutating Defensive Regimen 4, somehow designated ‘Zogger’ in Dick’s teenage years, to be the perfect tool for drilling fighting skills until the movements became reflex. 

In his heart, Bruce knew that if he’d been using the system as it was intended, he never would have broken it.

He was only trying to focus.  He was only trying to silence the half-dozen issues bouncing and echoing through his mind so that Batman could focus.  There was a dangerous criminal at large.  Last night, Riddler had kicked off a new crime spree with a decisive win.  He had gotten away with his prize before Batman even suited up, almost before he had solved the riddle. He needed to focus. Obviously, he needed to focus. He had to get there first next time, before the crime even started, and end it.  He had to stop these crimes and he had to put a stop to Riddler’s sick schemes before he could cause real harm. 

It was late when Bruce gave up on sleep and came down to the cave. He knew he wasn’t as sharp as he should be to run the Strategic Self-Mutating Defense Regimen, so he selected the lowest setting.  It was an elementary level created to introduce Robin to the system.  It was never meant to run on Bruce’s profile.  He hadn’t given it a moment’s thought when he placed his thumb on the ID-panel to enter the fight area. He only thought of it as setting the mechanisms to the proper height and weight.  It was only when the puncture arm snapped off in his hand that he realized the attacks launched at him on his profile required a level of force in defending himself that the elementary settings could never withstand…  Before he could complete the thought, the alpha arm launched itself at his head.  He reacted automatically, with a powerful block that ruptured the pressure chamber at the joint. Hot steam oozed from the crack, widening it, until finally the whole joint broke open. The steam started pouring out in thick billows, and the whole system seized with a mechanized groan.  The remaining attack arms wobbled from the sudden loss of pressure.  Then… there was only the squeak of bats unsettled by the disturbance below.

Batman was stoic, standing there surrounded by the lifeless carcass of a crimefighting tool that had served him well.  Strategic Self-Mutating Defense Regimen 5 was overdue, anyway.  But it would be weeks before he had the time to build it.

In a small, innocent-looking curio shop in the heart of Gotham City’s Chinatown, the man who was born Greg Brady—renamed Gr’oriBr’di when Ra’s al Ghul hired him to head the Gotham City operation—listened to the new agent’s surveillance report on the Iceberg Lounge.

Greg was, by far, the most patient and least-bloodthirsty lieutenant in the DEMON organization.  He himself had been a Joker henchman, and he felt a natural camaraderie with the men that was unusual in the strict caste system of DEMON.  As such, Greg didn’t always know how to deal with new arrivals like this Il’Nar.

Il’Nar had been an assassin.  Since his arrival, he had twice offered to list all the men he had killed “for Esteemed Master Gr’oriBr’di’s consideration.”  Greg concluded that Il’Nar was a very good assassin and was eager to recite his resume so ‘Esteemed Master’ would know to give him the really good kills.

But Greg had no real use for an assassin, so he put Il’Nar on intelligence detail.  He gave the newcomer the same first assignment he always gave: the Iceberg Lounge. Greg knew the Penguin’s nightclub was the best instant introduction to the many costumed characters that populated the Gotham Underworld.  And in about half the cases, it loosened the men up a bit.  Greg had no idea what went on in the desert compounds that churned out these minions like so many mindless automatons, but he knew there was nothing like drunken Ghost Dragons having a Green Day sing-a-long to put that DEMON indoctrination into a proper perspective. Greg never expected Il’Nar to be one that loosened up.  He just didn’t seem the type. But Greg had sent him to the Iceberg all the same, since intelligence about the various rogue activities, and particularly any run-ins with ‘The Detective,’ was an important part of DEMON’s operation in Gotham.

It was this report Greg listened to now—and he wasn’t at all sure what to make of it.  Could it be a joke? Could Il’Nar be the kind of guy to pull his leg?  It didn’t seem likely. Guy that fresh off the boat offers to tell you about all the people he’s killed didn’t really seem like the prankster type.

“Riddler is working out of the Iceberg’s backroom?” Greg asked skeptically.

“Yes, my lord.”

“And you think he’s living in the basement?”

“There were personal items kept there, my lord.”

“I know I’m going to hate myself for asking this but… Il’Nar, what kind of personal items?  I mean, isn’t it possible Cobblepot is just letting him store some stuff to—”

Il’Nar bowed and left the room while Greg was still speaking. He returned a minute later with a bulging duffel bag.  He pulled the cord and began dumping small wads of green fabric onto the desk, causing Greg to jump back in surprised horror.

“Is that Ed Nigma’s laundry?” he asked, voice quivering in dread. 

“Yes, my lord.”

“Get it off my desk,” Greg ordered quickly.

“Yes, my lord.”

“Er, thank you for the very, um, thorough report, Il’Nar. You better return that stuff to the Iceberg though before it’s missed.  And, eh, to keep a low profile—when you’re not leaving the other guy dead, we like to ‘keep a low profile’—so don’t bring back any more, uh, ‘visual aids’ to go with your reports from now on.”

“Yes, my lord.”

Greg sighed.  He thought of adding that it wasn’t necessary to keep repeating the Yes-my-lords after every little thing. But he’d learned that the more fanatical minions could only handle one or two ideas at a time, and he definitely didn’t want any other directives competing with NO MORE GREEN UNDERWEAR ON MY DESK.

“Is there anything else?” Greg asked, mostly to be polite so Il’Nar didn’t have to gather up the dumped laundry in silence. 

“There was speculation about the handmaid who stands at the door with the book of names.”

“Raven.  She’s Ozzy’s hostess. Cute little bird, isn’t she?  Particularly when walking away,” Greg winked to show that this kind of between-men banter was acceptable in his operation.

“The handmaid Raven,” Il’Nar merely added the name to his report without acknowledging (or perhaps without comprehending) the joke. “There is speculation of her ties to the Scarecrow.”

“Whoa-nonono.  I think you’re confused there, buddy.  Scarecrow is the straw guy. Big into fear. Doesn’t like bullies.”

“Yes, my lord.  Jonathan Crane the Scarecrow.”

“I can see how you might be confused.  Scarecrows are made to scare off birds, a raven is a kind of bird.  But, y’see, the whole henchwench thing, I don’t think Mr. Crane is exactly into the whole… eh… boy, how do I put this?”

“I am not speaking of my own observations, my lord. My report merely repeats what the hatted one was heard to say.”

“This is from Mad Hatter?  Well, shoot, Hatter is never wrong about these things.”

“As you say, my lord.”

“Anything else?” Greg asked.

“The beacon of He Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken was lighted—”

“Batman.  Here in Gotham, we just call him Batman.”

“But my lord, it is death to speak the name of the Great One’s mortal foe in the presence of—”

“Il-Nar, this one is a deal breaker.  It’s Batman. The light is the Bat-signal, the car is the Bat-mobile.  Otherwise, by the time you go through all the rigmarole to tell me the car’s out front and he’s coming in, he’ll already be in here and I’ll be scraping my jaw off the floor.  ‘Kay?”

“This is an order, my lord?”

Greg paused, weighing the relative merits of Il’Nar adapting his speech to the Gotham standard versus not having any more Riddler laundry dumped onto his desk. 

“Nah, it’s just a request. If you really want to go on calling Batman HWNMNBS, that’s fine.  Just remember—no more taking souvenirs from the intelligence missions, okay?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Well, this is new,” Selina purred with amusement. “In the past when you’ve interrupted my workout, you waited until I actually started my workout.”

She stood in the doorway of her exercise room in her three-room suite across from the bedroom she shared with Bruce. 

“This thing isn’t bad for isolating muscle groups,” he noted, bending the arm of her Bowflex in a slow deliberate move that caused the muscles of his forearm to bulge just before the bicep followed suit. “Smoother resistance than free weights.”

“Mhm,” she noted dryly, never taking her eyes off the swelling muscles.

“I adjusted the tension for the leg exercises, you’ll want to make sure you change it back… Um.  Hello?”

By now, Selina had come into the room and straddled the bench, resting her weight on his legs and stroking a finger down the bicep with slow, reverent delight. “Meowww,” she breathed.

“Kitten,” he said, a dry irony creeping into his voice as she kissed down the muscles of his arm, “do you mind if I borrow your exercise room for a while until I rebuild Strategic Self-Mutating Defense Regimen 4?”

“Mmmmrrreworl,” was the soft, feral reply.

Bruce stroked the back of her head for a moment, hugging her to him. Then he took a bit of her hair at the neck and gently pulled upwards, turning her head to face him. 

“Selina… I have some news… you’re not going to like it…”

In’Qel, a DEMON agent who was technically new to Gotham but, having only been transferred from Bludhaven, was far more receptive to Greg’s methods, announced that the visitor Gr’oriBr’di summoned had now arrived. 

“Thanks, In’Qel.  Um, before you show him in.  Have you guys done the jackelope thing to Il’Nar yet?”

“My lord?” In’Qel looked incredulous.

“Come on, I know all about it.  Every time we get a new guy, you order pepper steak from Ho Sai Gai and tell them it’s jackelope, an American delicacy, cross between a jack rabbit and an antelope.”

In’Qel grinned.  “Actually, my lord, we started getting pork instead, with the spicy mustard.”

“Ah,” Greg stifled a chuckle, “Of course, because the jackelope is such a hearty meat.”

“Yes indeed, my lord, quite gamey.  It takes a very tangy sauce to stand up to it.”

“Okay, well, have your fun, but go easy. Guy’s got the cork in pretty tight.”

“Sire?”

“Just go easy on him.  Oh and when you place that order, be sure you get me a fried rice and an order of spare ribs.”

“Of course, my lord.  Your guest, my lord.”

“Hey, Sly!” Greg called out warmly as In’Qel showed his visitor in.

Bruce was very thoughtful walking down the stairs, across the great hall to the south drawing room, then on towards the library.  Selina’s reaction to the Talia news was… puzzling:

“She’s back, eh?  Well, I guess that’s understandable.  Since she lost her gig at LexCorp, she’s only got three options left: back to daddy, find a new protector, or evolve.”

It was a bigger riddle than Nigma had ever thrown at him. 

She was absolutely calm.  She was downright detached.  Just one of those things.  Like when he had to cancel plans they had made for some JLA emergency.

“She’s back, eh?  Well, I guess that’s understandable…”

When she said it, Bruce remembered his hand moving instinctively towards the utility belt, which, of course, wasn’t there.  It was only when his fingers grazed the smooth warmth of Marc Cross leather that he realized what he was doing.  It was more puzzling than any of Nigma’s silly word games and a part of him moved instinctively to inspect the evidence for fingerprints, trace chemicals, or explosives. 

Not that there was any rhyming note to analyze.  There was just his girlfriend, still nestled on top of him from those few moments’ play on the Bowflex, looking up at him with warm loving eyes…

“…she’s only got three options left…”

He hadn’t expected her to be a raving lunatic, but he certainly hadn’t expected that. 

“…back to daddy, find a new protector…”

She wasn’t happy about it, but she wasn’t that upset, either.  Not unnerved or unsettled.  Annoyed would be the strongest word he could fairly use.

“…or evolve.”

It was good news, certainly.  He didn’t have to deal with a riled cat on top of everything else.  Talia was back and she would certainly pull something.  Riddler was active and there was no guessing what he was up to until the next clue came in. But Bruce could relax and know that, whatever was going to happen in the next days and weeks, he wouldn’t have to split his focus between it and wondering about Selina…

“She’s back, eh?  Well, I guess that’s understandable.  Since she lost her gig at LexCorp, she’s only got three options left: back to daddy, find a new protector, or evolve.”

His fingers moved again towards the utility belt, and again found only the soft gabardine of his civilian clothes. 

Dick brought a breakfast tray laden with juice, eggs, and English muffins from the kitchen, then stopped in his tracks when he saw Barbara already up and sitting at her workstation.

He sighed, altering his path to set the tray gently beside her.

“That was supposed to be breakfast in bed,” he told her, bending to kiss her cheek. “Incidentally, Woman, I’m quite aware that you’re an imposter.  The real Barbara Gordon Grayson is not a morning person.”

Barbara acknowledged the joke with a wry smile, took a muffin from the tray, and returned her attention to the screen.  She conducted the rest of the conversation without moving her eyes from the computer.

“I was anxious to get into this riddle,” she murmured. “I’m playing catch up here. Bruce didn’t show it to me straight off.”

“So you’re working on it now?  But we already solved it.  It was tears, for the teardrop heist.  The end.”

“Killer Croc/Tears was only the first.  He comes right out and says that.  I want to take this whole thing apart and put it back together every which way before the next clue comes in.”

Dick didn’t argue.  He was pretty sure the next riddles would follow the same puzzle-logic as the first: a clue pointing to a specific rogue and a numeric code. The key to the code would be a Gotham Post article about the villain in question.  Find the right article, you have the key document to use the code.  It didn’t require any elaborate computer wizardry at this point, and deep down, Barbara knew that. She was just prickly over not being given the riddle to start with, and this flurry of activity was the result.

“It wasn’t an intentional slight, y’know,” Dick mentioned, sneaking a portion of her eggs onto his own plate.  “Bruce wanted to attack this one his own way.  He would have brought you in on it soon enough.”

“An omelet is supposed to be a solid half-moon of delicious golden-yellow…” she noted.

“…with the structural integrity to hold the ham and cheese in the middle. Yes, I know. And I can’t do that.  So until we get invited over to the manor again, you get scrambled eggs.”

Bruce was so absorbed by his thoughts that he didn’t notice he’d picked up an escort.  Whiskers was following his left heel like a remora trails a shark, staying a precise six inches behind the foot however it moved.  Bruce reached the grandfather clock, turned the hands to 10:47, and started automatically into the cave without realizing what was happening.

Suddenly, a feline yeowl erupted behind his foot the same instant a cyclone of squeaky pandemonium started whirring overhead.  Whiskers dashed back towards the clock passage and, finding the entrance closed, he ran back at Bruce, leaping frantically up his leg then climbing to his chest, whining piteously for protection from the wild squawking of flying mice.  Bruce hurried back to the study, instinct blotting out the pain of tiny claws clamping into his flesh in a terrified effort to gain shelter from the bats under the nearest refuge—which happened to be his shirt. 

“Okay, fella,” he told the cat calmly once they reached the quiet peace of the library.  Not surprisingly, the cat didn’t budge.  “It’s okay,” Bruce added with a half-hearted pat.

But it wasn’t ‘okay,’ not at all.  He had been unaware, Batman had been unaware of what was going around him. He had no idea what was happening until it erupted all around him.  That kind of mistake he couldn’t afford.  That kind of mistake got you killed. 

He went on stroking the trembling fur in silence for a minute or two.  At last the cat relaxed the clawfists digging into Bruce’s torso and looked up at him with a contented purr.

“Haven’t you heard about curiosity?” he asked severely. “No, I guess you wouldn’t have, not from Selina.”  He gave Whiskers a final rub between the ears, then grabbed the scruff of the neck, pulling the cat away from his shirt and setting him on a chair.  “No more cave for you,” Bruce instructed—but Whiskers had already decided the whole episode never happened and was studiously licking a paw.

Bruce returned to the cave, more alert than before, but angrier.  He wasn’t sure if he was angry at Selina, for being such a distraction, at himself, for letting her get to him, or at the little six pound furball that was only doing what came naturally, even if it did bring the whole situation to Bruce’s attention in a way he couldn’t ignore. 

In his mind’s eye, Bruce pictured Selina watching him waste time on this ridiculous question… Those damnable green eyes dancing with triumph, so pleased with her ability to steal his focus, even away from such important matters as…

“If you’d ever embraced Feline Logic, Bruce,” the phantom cat chided, “you could just blame Eddie.  If he hadn’t picked such an inconvenient time to be going off with the riddles, you could give the demonspawn matter the attention it deserves…” 

Bruce felt his lip twitch as the imaginary Selina started to fade, then snapped back into focus to add the afterthought “…not that she deserves much.”

Sly looked at Greg incredulously.

“Jackelopes?  That gag was like… summer camp, around 8th grade?”

“Most of these guys are playing catch up,” Greg explained. “Not a lot of outside interests, so we start with the basics.”

Both men relaxed, and the next few minutes were spent in polite chitchat before Greg changed the subject abruptly. 

“Ozzy treating you okay?” he asked.

“It’s a little awkward,” Sly admitted, “but we’re settling back into a routine.  Few months, it’ll be like it never happened.”

“Still, until he trusts you again, probably going to be watching you, testing you, who knows what all…”

“Eah,” Sly made a dismissive wave. “I don’t mind that. My first six months at the ‘Berg was that way.  It never stopped.  All the other bartenders came and went, he couldn’t figure out why I stayed if I wasn’t up to something.”

Greg chuckled. 

“We all know why you stayed, Man.  How is the Rocket?”

Sly blushed, then laughed in return.  “Haven’t seen her.  Don’t want to.  Look, I admit there was an attraction there once upon a time; she’s a hottie.”  Sly stopped and sighed. “But she’s nuts, Greg.  I chased her for a year, nuthin.  We had one date, she damn near got us killed.  I go off to Florida, all of a sudden she wants me back?  And then that whole catfight with Miss Isley, damn near burned the Iceberg down.  Enough.  Find me a nice normal girl that likes to go home at the end of the day, order a pizza, watch a video.”

Greg smiled, but again steered the conversation back to the subject he’d invited Sly over to hear about.

“So the situation with you and Oswald, during the day, like, when it’s just the two of you before customers arrive.  It’s not too difficult.”

“Nah, it’s fine.  ‘Course it’s a lot easier with Mr. Nigma there.”

Greg’s face betrayed no emotion, but inside he was relieved.  It looked like Il’Nar—although an assassin that might consider his reassignment to spy as something of a demotion—was not actually making up tall tales just to mess with him.  Having confirmed this much, Greg decided to probe on the rest of his agent’s report.

“True what the grapevine’s saying about Scarecrow and Raven?”

Sly shook his head.  “I don’t know what’s going on there.  They say Mr. Hatter is never wrong, but I dunno.  I didn’t think Mr. Crane swung that way.”

Greg nodded.  “Me either. Guess we’ll see.”

Nearly every diamond sold in the United States, nearly half those sold throughout the world, pass through Gotham City’s Diamond District. The insular world between 48th and 46th Streets, between 5th and 6th Avenue, feels more like an East European village than midtown Gotham, as flocks of Hassidic men in high hats and flapping black frock coats push past gawkers in leather miniskirts.  During the day, the air is musical with the sounds of Yiddish blended with Spanish, Japanese and Urdu. At night, it becomes a cat’s cradle of electric eyes, with the most sophisticated security systems in existence hidden behind the most unimposing storefronts.

The Parker Exchange was an oddity in this tiny community. Only a year old in an industry dominated by fifth and sixth generation businesses, they were playing catch up and they knew it. They’d found a shortcut to reputation in a flashy specialty:  colored diamonds, the largest “fancy” diamonds available in yellow, pink, red, and blue. 

Yellow diamonds, called “Canaries” in the trade, had made tempting prizes for both Catwoman and Penguin over the years.  If the Parker Exchange had opened sooner, it’s doubtful they would have made it to this first anniversary. But the Penguin had retired from active burgling—and while nobody was quite sure about Catwoman’s status after Selina Kyle did that stage show, insurance rates had been quietly adjusted on certain categories of jewels and artwork.   

The Parker Exchange was therefore proud, rather than fearful, to celebrate their anniversary with a spectacular display of the Kimberly Canary. At 82 carats, it was the eighth largest yellow diamond in the world and famous for its unequalled clarity.

A jewel of such importance would obviously tempt the greed of any number of evil-doers, so Azrael had been keeping a close eye on the Parker Exchange. Tonight, he sensed something was wrong as soon as he approached the building, and he silenced the mortal’s prattling about the Gotham Knights’ chances against the Metropolis Meteors. 

Something wrong, Az? the mortal asked.

There is… death… in the air, Azrael answered, before tuning out Jean Paul’s thoughts completely from his consciousness.

Yes, there was death here, hovering in expectation. Someone was ready to kill.  Azrael advanced cautiously into the building, noting subtle signs of an intruder.  They knew enough to avoid setting off the alarms, but had not bothered to shut off the security cameras.  Azrael moved quickly, realizing such disdain for the living men that monitored those cameras must mean the thief intended their deaths.  That is what he sensed from outside: the intruder must surely realize he would be spotted, must expect to be confronted by the guards, and his resolve to kill was so powerful that the aura of death was already present, as if the veins already oozed out the lifeblood of the vic—

Azrael stopped in his tracks, frozen by the sight before him. 

Mortal? he called to his other half.

Oh sure, just shove me aside and then—

Mortal, I wish to know your view of what it is we are seeing.

Uh… what do you think it is, Az?

It looks like the Feline.

Y-yeah.  I’d say so.

You concur?

Definitely a woman. Definitely a cat-getup.  Purple. Ears.  Tail. Um.  I thought she wasn’t stealing anymore?

This establishment houses valuable gemstones, including a canary diamond that fits in well with her ‘theme.’

Yeah, I guess.  And they’re not exactly open for business this time of night.

So you concur.  It is Catwoman, and she is here for dire criminal purpose?

Uhhhhhh…

Mortal, while the criminal is taking some considerable time dismantling that display base, our time is not unlimited.  If you would please reach a decision.

Since when do you ask for my opinion on a crimefighting thing?

… 

Since it’s Catwoman? I mean, er, since we think it’s Catwoman?

Our previous confrontations with the Feline were not… satisfactory.  As you have frequently reminded me—

You accused her of stealing nerve gas for terrorists—something she would never do, as everybody in this town seemed to know and most of them tried to tell you, but you went right ahead because you were Batman—and she will never, ever forgive us.

Azrael said nothing, but Jean Paul experienced a sensation he had not felt since childhood when his father was about to lose his temper.

That is why I am asking you to confirm my reading of the present situation, Mortal.  That is Catwoman, she is up to no good—

You are NOT thinking of confronting her, Az.

She is a criminal.  She is intending mortal injury on the guards here. Our duty—

No, Az.  Catwoman doesn’t do that. Everybody knows that, too. I don’t know what she’s doing over there, but it… oh man, I bet it’s a setup, Az.  Catwoman doesn’t steal anymore and if it looks otherwise, what do you want to bet she’s staging it to trick us into accusing her.

She mocks us?

She mocks us whenever she sees us, Az.  But this is a new low. Boy oh boy, I thought we reached an understanding last time.  But to do something like this just to trick us?  Look out, she’s coming this way!

“Halt! Cat Thief, I charge you in the name of St. Dumas to state your business in this place!”

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!

I had no choice but to confront her once she had seen us, Mortal.

Yeah, but ‘charge you in the name of Dumas,’ where’d THAT come from? You haven’t spouted like that since, y’know, the days back in the other guy’s cape. 

There are aspects of my performance that will always be dictated by the System, Mortal.

Whoa, look at that, now she’s hissing. Oh, you have really done it now, Az.  Az?  Az?  HEY, AZRAEL!  She’s getting away.  AZ, focus already.  Gal in the catsuit is running away.  Shouldn’t we—

Silence, Mortal.  You were correct.  Her purpose here tonight was only to mock us.

HUH?  Az, what gives?

That was not the Feline we encountered previously.  It was not the woman Selina Kyle who lives at Wayne Manor.  That was an imposter.

I am so confused.

It was an imposter.  You were correct. She seeks to mock us.  She would trick us into making ourselves ridiculous before Batman.  Your pride would be so damaged we would be forced to depart this city—

My pride?  Wait just a darn minute—

An Azrael cares not for the goodwill of others, Mortal.  I care not if we stay in this city without the good opinion of its protector or his agents.

I still don’t see why you let her get away—ESPECIALLY if you know it’s a copycat?

You are so eager to remind me of our first encounter with the Feline, Mortal.  Need I remind you that the accusation about the nerve gas was but the least of our offenses by her reckoning.  She saw at once we were not the Batman she knew.  She calls us ‘the imposter’ to this day. 

She calls us ‘Pheromones.’  Imposter would actually be an improvement.

She persists in alluding to that incident at every opportunity.  This is but another example.  It is exactly as you said.  She staged this to trick us into accusing her.  She sent this imposter Catwoman to remind us of—

—Of an imposter Bat? I don’t think so, Az. When we thought it was Selina Kyle, yeah, a setup seemed like the most logical explanation, because Selina’s Catwoman doesn’t steal anymore. But if it’s not her, then—Az, Az you’re not listening to me.  Az, where are we going?  Az!  Az, you’ve got the wrong idea here.

Enough prattle on matters you know nothing of, Mortal.  Tell me again about these Gotham Knights and their quest to subdue the Meteors of Metropolis.

Jean Paul sighed, knowing from long, hard experience it was impossible to reason with an angel once he’d made up his mind—no matter how wrong he might be.

Once the vigilante had left, the room remained still for a long moment… then a figure emerged from the shadows.  The outline of a man took on a greenish tint as it moved into the glow near the window. Edward Nigma looked quizzically at the stand where the sleek figure had fiddled with the base of the diamond display, then left without her prize.  His eyes moved carefully to the spot where she came forward to hiss at Azrael. “Barney Fife,” Nigma mouthed, his brow knit in some arduous calculations.  Then his eyes flickered to the spot where Azrael had stood like a statue all that time—watching the cat—getting hissed at—then standing some more after she left. Just stood there like a dolt, and then he left. Nigma’s eyes turned slowly to the door, following the path where Azrael had exited. 

“Well now, REVENGE HAS THY NIGHT, CAT.”

To be continued...

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