Chapter 3: Then and Now
This whole thing was out of control. I had let everything spiral out of control. Lunch with Poison Ivy is no way to get your head together. And shoe shopping! What was I thinking? What the hell was I thinking?
That’s other women; that’s not me. I needed to get my head back in the game. I needed to prowl. And I wasn’t going home first, not to his house.
I didn’t even call. That might get Alfred bent out of shape if he thought I was coming home for dinner… Good. Sooner or later, even Alfred has to realize that a cat will never walk on a leash. No matter how generous you are with the cream and catnip, a cat needs to be free. I had to prowl, I had to feel like me again, I had to stamp out those urges to go flitting around Gotham Plaza looking at the goddamn Christmas tree—“Oh look, that’s where I bought bonbons”—what the hell is the matter with me?! That’s not a prowl, is it? I had to get my head back in the game.
I stopped at an old lair I still had on West 79th. He never found it, not that I know of anyway. I was pretty sure I had an old costume there. Only problem was I had to dig through a Hellmouth closet, circa 1998, to find it. That brought up a few memories I didn’t need. Like when Blake made his debut as Catman and decided to make me “his bride.” Only time in my life I actually tried to hack up a furball.
The old costume was tight—Alfred’s cooking, no doubt—but I managed. I headed out as soon as it was dark. I went straight for my old apartment. That’s where I used to begin a prowl and that’s where I would begin tonight.
The klutzy reordering of the pillows on the settee was one of those unconscious holdovers from the fop act, but it did permit Bruce to steal a glance at his watch as he sat down.
His guest certainly wanted to talk.
And he didn’t want to offend her by obvious clock-watching.
The first thing I noticed was that the hawks were back. Back in the day, this pair of red tail hawks made a nest on the top of my old building. People noticed. They started bringing binoculars and telescopes into Robinson Park to watch them. That stirred up my neighbors more than a little. Binky Sherborn was especially upset. She had spent the entire proceeds of divorce #3 for that apartment with a view of Robinson Park, and now she had to keep her curtains closed because the hoi polloi were pointing telescopes at her living room. So the building board invented a problem: they claimed the nest could cause the façade to crumble and threaten pedestrians below. The nest was removed, the public protested, and right about the time I moved into the manor, a hotel down the block volunteered to host the hawks’ nest on their roof. End of story—except I guess the hawks didn’t take to the new roost and came back to the site they had picked out for themselves.
You had to admire that. It showed surprising sense for birds.
Now I had a choice: 3 blocks uptown to the museums or 2 blocks downtown to Cartier… Cartier is usually my favorite spot to think. But right now, they would have their Christmas decorations up: the whole building wrapped up in a big red ribbon, just like it was that first night with Batman…
I wondered if he noticed that I never came home this afternoon. It didn’t matter; he could wonder or else he could go all great detective and work out a theory—like he knows me inside and out. Arrogant jackass. Anyway, it didn’t matter.
But I didn’t feel like Cartier would be a good choice for me tonight. So I headed to museum row—the Egyptian wing of the Gotham Museum of Art was always a favorite, and the Guggenheim is right there too. I opted for the Guggenheim, because the Egyptian room was one of my first encounters with Batman too, even before Cartier, and this wasn’t supposed to be about him. So I went to the Guggenheim instead… which turned out to be a mistake.
“Oh yes,” Bruce drawled, “the new yacht. I know it’s smaller than most people expected. But very luxurious in its way and so comfortable. Can I get you a drink?”
Say yes, Bruce silently prayed. Getting up from the settee, going to the bar, preparing a cocktail… It would, if nothing else, change the subject away from the yacht. The yacht he named for Selina, La Gatta Mobile. That was awkward.
But his guest asked what he had been doing with his money, and there was no way the Fop could not boast about his new boat.
He did his best to look like a man born and bred to mix her a cocktail and willed her to please accept the offer of a drink.
It really wasn’t about Batman after all. It was about that other museum, the one not on the row, the MoMA.
The whole time breaking into the Guggenheim, I was fine. I felt alive again. Finagling their new perimeter sensors was a kick. Disabling heat alarms, meow. Negotiating the electric eyes, purr.
And then I saw the Kandinski.
And it all came crashing down.
The Guggenheim’s collection is a lot more modern than the GMA, and the sight of that great spattered canvas, five feet high, seven feet wide, it screamed MODERN ART! It screamed at me to wake up and realize why I was really there, why I was doing all this: Richard Flay and his goddamn country club chitchat.
“Of course, the MoMA is reopening soon. You and Bruce will be at the gala, I’m sure. Art event of the decade, right?” Right before Bruce came over, right after Flay admired my cat pins… “You’ll be at the gala, I’m sure.” Maybe the cat pins triggered it, reminded him: Catwoman was sitting right there. Catwoman who was something of a player in the art world—that other art world, the underground, black market.
You can’t trust just anybody that says they’ve got a Picasso to sell, taken from the Hermitage in ’89, so keep it under wraps. There are particular thieves and fences who can handle important works without invalidating the provenance. If the Picasso just goes missing and then shows up in the collection of a Richard Flay a decade later, it will never be fully accepted as the original. It could be a forgery. It could be anything. But if it was known to be taken by Catwoman, fenced through Beverly Stendal in Argentina or Igor Fabricant in Brussels, it’s the same in the underground art world as if it had legitimately changed hands through a dealer.
“You’ll be at the reopening gala, I’m sure,” Flay had said.
I had made big plans for that opening. And I had forgotten it completely.
The Museum of Modern Art was built in 1929. It had long outgrown its space. Right about the time I mounted Cat-Tales, they announced they were closing their doors for an unprecedented renovation and expansion. They would move the whole collection out to Queens while they fixed up their midtown building. I remember going to watch as they loaded the trucks. Batman saw me. It was one of those strange encounters.
After Cat-Tales, after I closed the stage show and went back to prowling, it started getting weird. The first night, the first confrontation of bat and cat in the Egyptian room, he smiled at me. We got back into the chase and scratch soon enough but it was… different. Nothing about him, about us, was predictable anymore. He had smiled at me—that’s what that twitch was, there was no pretending otherwise. It was a smile.
Cartier was next. Then a penthouse in SoHo. Then Gallery Blu. Each time, he would start off just a little sterner, a little gruffer… and each time he let it go a little sooner. He just… let it slip somehow, the hard, rigid crimefighter would… blink.
And then he found me on top of the MoMA. I was on the roof across from the loading dock, laying on my stomach propped up on my elbows, watching them cart their whole damn collection out to Queens.
All of a sudden, I knew he was there. I felt that tingle. I didn’t say anything. Then I heard the rustle of his cape in the wind. I pretended not to hear. Then a long pointy shadow stretched to the edge of the rooftop. I pretended not to see.
“Don’t try it,” he graveled, deep-throated, ominous, sexy beyond belief.
“I wondered which one of us would break the ice,” I purred quietly.
He stepped beside me and squatted, and looked down to the workers below loading the trucks. He obviously wasn’t going to abandon an action-ready position, but it seemed like he was relaxing in his way.
He didn’t say anything more at first. I couldn’t believe it. Each time we’d met since that night, he had eased up just a little quicker, but this was too soon, too easy. It wasn’t right; it was… a little scary. So I did… what I do. I baited him.
“Don’t try?” I teased playfully, “I should ignore this? What fun would that be?”
“This isn’t fun,” he pronounced, “Nothing about this is entertaining or exciting.”
“Want some licorice?”
I pulled a small packet of candy out from the pouch where I stash my lock picks.
“What do you expect me to say when you had been standing back there watching my ass and now you tell me it’s not fun or exciting?” I looked up at him and offered the package of licorice. “I figure they’re going to be at this all night, so I brought a snack.”
He grunted—which meant no. I knew that from the five-hundred other offers he’d grunted no to over the years. So I took a piece, put the packet away, and returned my attention to the alley.
“That big crate’s got to be a Monet,” I pointed out. “Water lilies.”
He grunted again—which either meant he didn’t think it was a Monet or else that particular grunt was subjective.
“You sure you don’t want any licorice?” I repeated, just to nail it down about the grunt.
“Do you like Monet?” he asked.
This may sound strange, but I could feel a pulse in my lower lip.
He asked if I liked Monet? Batman asked. Batman did. Batman “That’s far enough, Catwoman/The easy way or the hard way/There are laws against breaking and entering” asked if I like Monet. It was on the tip of my tongue to say “No, I like what I could do with the $3 million the Monet will fetch in Amsterdam.” I opened my mouth to say that, but… I felt this pulse in my lower lip.
That’s not supposed to happen. It’s a very odd sensation.
Batman asked if I liked Monet and… Well, I felt like I should say something, so I told him the truth.
“No. Too much color and light.”
There was another grunt—one that sounded more like agreement. This was getting really confusing. Could a grunt mean yes, too? I wondered if I should come right out and ask—but sitting on a rooftop casually asking Batman about his taste in French art, that didn’t seem like something I could do. So I looked down into the alley and said the first thing that came into my head.
“Now the Van Gogh, that’s more my style. That’s meow.”
He said nothing, but my peripheral vision caught…
“A twitch? A sly, quick, barely perceptible twitch of that oh so sexy corner of that stern, rigid lip… because I said I like the Van Gogh? Do you… like… the Van Gogh, Batman? Did I pick your favorite? Or maybe it’s not the painting at all, hm? Maybe what you really liked was… the meow?”
Who was this woman talking? I had teased him for years, but it had never come out anything like this.
I had rolled onto my side and was looking up at him. There was no more lip-twitch, but there was no more grunting, either. And there was no staring or glaring or glowering. Instead, it seemed like he was… studying me.
“Good night, Selina,” he said at last, standing up. The old voice. The old manner. But not quite the old finality, not like when he’d say “Enough” and push me away.
“I could give you something better to do with that twitchy lip,” I mentioned, returning my attention to the alley, certain I had regained my old purr.
“Stay away from that Van Gogh.”
“Bite me,” I hissed.
I figured he’d be gone already, but he wasn’t. He was still standing there, looking down at me. I didn’t even know it until he spoke again.
“You know we can’t,” he murmured—it was a strange voice, one I had never heard before. A voice I know intimately now. It was Bruce. I got up and stood in front of him. It felt—so different. “Selina, we can’t,” he said softly, “This work… what I do… It’s my life. I couldn’t—wouldn’t… You can’t think I would compromise it for one night.”
Our eyes met. “Who said anything about one night, Stud?”
“You did,” he said. “’A wild night of passion, no names and no strings’—I believe the whip was also mentioned.”
He was quoting Cat-Tales. He was quoting my stage show, something I threw together because I was sick of those tabloids making me out to be an unstable gun-toting whore!
“That was a joke,” I blurted. “It was banter, it was a stage show, it was…”
I trailed off. At the time, I didn’t know why. By the time I got home, I’d put it together. That was a joke; that was banter… it meant that this, what we were doing now, was something else. I couldn’t begin to say what. So instead I said:
“When they reopen down there, it’s going to be a banquet.” My voice was off. I knew I didn’t sound like Catwoman anymore, but I kept going. “They’ll have a huge party. The crème de la crème will be decked out in all their best jewels—and all the new security will be suspect. A brand new system, impossible to tell if that’s a glitch or… meow… me going for the Van Gogh.”
It was three days later he sent me that note to meet him at the opera house.
Bruce set the cocktail on the sleek coffee table next to his guest.
“It’s lucky,” he told her foppishly, “that the bar is still stocked from Richard’s bachelor party. I don’t live here, you see. This penthouse, it’s useful to stay in for a few nights now and then, when my schedule is tight with in-town appointments: the week of the stockholders’ meeting or if there’s a trade show where WayneTech is rolling out some new software. But it’s never been a home away from home.”
“Mmm… lucky,” she responded, sipping her drink.
“Tim was under age, so he imposed on one of the other groomsmen to buy the liquor for the party,” Bruce babbled. “They went a little overboard. Always happens first time I give someone my credit card.”
That was then and this is now.
Once I’d faced up to what was really ruffling my fur, I left the Guggenheim and went straight to the MoMA roof.
This was it. This was where it happened. Something said or not said that night made the decision for him; something that night moved him to send that note. They closed up the museum, they trucked the stuff out to Queens, and now they were ready to reopen.
I stood there a long time trying to deal with it.
I stood there a long time thinking about that Van Gogh.
I had made plans for that Van Gogh. I was going to steal Batman’s favorite painting from under their very noses… During the gala, a cat scratch would appear across the attribution plate, just to remind him… And later that night…
Now none of it would happen. Because the masks are off, and I live in his house, and his butler sneaks Nutmeg treats. I’d be there, all right, just like I said. Oh yes, Catwoman would be at the reopening gala. I would be there as his date.
This would be tricky.
Bruce had already written off the night as far as Batman patrolling. It was already dark, it had been dark for hours. He wasn’t sure how long, and he couldn’t risk another peek at his watch. His guest had already noticed something in his expression while she was talking. He thought the “listening face” seemed attentive; the WayneTech executives always took it as such. But they were employees, he supposed, where his guest was not.
In any case, she thought he wasn’t listening—which, of course, he was. More than she knew. He was hanging on her every word, but now he made sure she could see that.
So there was really no way he could risk another glance at his watch.
I wasn’t going to steal the Van Gogh the night of the reopening gala. My heart was racing as I stared that reality in the face. My life had changed that much. I had changed that much. It wasn’t going to happen, not the Van Gogh, and not any of the jewels on the party guests, and not any of the other treasures.
I wasn’t dead.
The universe didn’t explode.
I hadn’t lost all respect for myself and my life.
I was with Bruce now, and things had changed as a result of that
…and it didn’t kill me, and the world didn’t end, and I didn’t hate myself for letting
It took about ten minutes for my heart to slow down to the point where I could travel. Rooftop whip-swings, you want to be focused. It took about ten minutes, but as soon as I felt it was safe, I took off. I knew where I was going, I just wasn’t sure what I’d do when I got there. I’d work that out on the way.
A lot of modern art looks alike. I couldn’t take the Van Gogh; it was too conspicuous, one of the most famous paintings in the world. But the rest… Bruce had a lovely collection at the penthouse. It would be no great feat to swap one for a piece at the museum of about the same size.
I absolutely giggled at the thought—which isn’t that easy to do mid-swing and I had a bouncy landing on a noisy fire escape as a result. I was giddy at the thought of it—what would he do? Would he even notice on his own or would I have to point it out? Would he get the joke? Would he even remember the significance of…
The thought went unfinished, because as soon as I reached the Wayne Tower, I had that feeling that you never, ever ignore if you’re a Gotham night person, no matter what you’re doing, no matter where you are, no matter who you’re with or think you’re with.
The best way I know to describe it is that split-second between taking a swig of milk and realizing it’s sour. There’s this tightening somewhere between your throat and your solar plexus and it pulls in both directions, and your skin feels like you’re standing next to something highly electrified, and all you know is that something is wrong—very wrong—and you better figure out what before it crashes down on your skull.
That’s how I felt landing on the Wayne Tower roof, and that’s how it felt moving to the window. Something was wrong, very wrong. I did figure out what it was before it cracked my skull open. It was impossible to miss. Looking into the penthouse, the penthouse Alfred said needed redecorating… It had been “redecorated”—it was covered in ferns, grapevine, pansies and primroses.
To be continued...