Chapter 3: One Month Earlier…
Selina came down to breakfast as she had every morning for the past week: in a foul temper veiled behind a pleasant smile. It was unusual for her. Like any cat, when she was troubled, angry, or annoyed she expressed it freely, as when she was happy, playful, or lustful.
In the case of the Gotham Post, however, she didn’t feel exactly free to growl and hiss. Bruce had gone to so much trouble, and probably considerable expense. It was the most astonishing gift she’d ever received—the most astonishing gift anyone ever received. When she thought about what he’d actually done, it gave her chills. For the past week she couldn’t look at him without feeling it all over again. Like now…
She’d waited until he was in the shower before she looked at the newspapers Alfred brought on the breakfast tray. She bypassed the real news in the Gotham Times, and with stomach clenched in dread she opened up the Post. “Catwoman” was still in the East End, still carrying on like she gave a shit about that grimy, repellant corner of the city, still consorting with the lowlifes that lived there, and still fighting crime! First they admit that idiocy is a tissue of lies and then they go right on doing it! Selina was so angry she’d marched across the hall, tripled the tension on her Bowflex, and worked out until her muscles screamed with a fiery pulling pain. She hadn’t worked out half her fury but she went downstairs to breakfast, still in a disgusted, sick, ferocious, wrathful funk—
And there he was: Bruce.
Bruce, who’d done this amazingly wonderful thing for her.
She couldn’t hiss and growl at his gift, she couldn’t.
She just couldn’t.
So she did the unthinkable and buried Catwoman’s ire behind a sweet, loving smile and purred “Good morning, Handsome.”
“Morning, Kitten,” he answered, buttering toast. “If you’re not doing anything today, Lucius is coming over with Gladys Ashton-Larraby to discuss this fundraiser she’s putting together for the Foundation. She asked pointedly if you could attend.”
Images of the Post’s goggled counterfeit and the images of Batman-the-wonderful presenting her with a purple-Catwoman gift flickered out of Selina’s focus as this new idea moved in behind the frozen mask of her smile.
“Why?” she asked suspiciously.
“I’ve no idea,” Bruce said honestly. “But that’s why the meeting is here at the house instead of the office, so you can sit in.”
“I do not like the sound of this,” Selina noted, pouring herself coffee.
“Neither do I,” he said grimly. “but it goes with the territory.”
Selina was about to object. He might not like it either, but for entirely different reasons. He might chafe at Gladys Ashton-Larraby’s snobbery and pretensions, but he was Bruce Wayne and her event was for the Wayne Foundation. As he said, it went with the territory. Selina’s unease was very different. She’d acted as hostess at plenty of Wayne functions by now, so it wasn’t that, not exactly. But being in on the planning of some Wayne Foundation fundraiser? That seemed a bit much. “It goes with the territory” Bruce had said. For him, not for her. Why was she being involved in this so particularly?
And why could that wretched tabloid writer go so far as to print “I’m
sorry about what I did to you. I didn’t have the right, none of us did,”
and then go right on doing it?
Fury spiked again, and Selina bit off a piece of croissant like she had a grudge against it. A growl vibrated deep in her throat, but she bit it back when her eyes fell on Bruce again.
“Sure,” she said forcing the growl into a warm purr. “For you, my love, I’ll make the time.”
He looked startled but pleased, nodded, then grunted.
“We’ve got a few hours yet,” he noted, dipping unconsciously into the Batman voice. “I have some work downstairs if you want to keep me company.”
“Sure,” she agreed in the same forced purr. It was an unusual offer, but he’d obviously missed her while she was away, just as she had missed him, and they hadn’t had much time together since her return. So she accompanied him to the cave and watched while he opened a metal chamber. He took out a small digital device attached to what looked like a pound of C-4, a second identical digital clock, and a bag of loose chips and irregular scoops of the white claylike explosive.
“This is why you were late last night,” Selina noted wryly.
“This detonator was never activated,” Bruce graveled, pointing to the one on the left. “This other one was, so I removed most of the explosive after defusing, but I still wanted to store it in the coolant tank overnight before examining it further. These guys had no idea what they were working with. This wouldn’t simply blast open a vault door, it would decimate everything inside and probably the perps as well.”
“Amateurs,” Selina sniffed, disgusted. “I never had to blow a safe door in my life.”
“They can’t all be you, Catwoman,” he murmured, engrossed in his work.
He meant it in one context, but she heard it in another. There was no thief like Catwoman—ever. She was Selina Kyle as Selina Kyle invented herself: Gotham’s greatest thief—free, independent, and purple. She had style, wit, grace, intelligence, beauty—and Batman. That was Catwoman. She was Catwoman. And that disgusting tabloid was making her out to be some insipid gutter-trash crimefighter in goggles. Still they pretended Catwoman was some ex-whore crimefighter running around the East End in goggles, even if they finally admitted that idiocy was not Selina Kyle…
“C-4 plastic explosive is a favorite,” Bruce was saying, “because without any kind of triggering mechanism, it’s a relatively harmless compound not unlike modeling clay. You can mold it, stretch it, cut it or shape it without concern; without a catalyst it won’t explode-period. You can set it on fire; it simply burns like a piece of wood, though somewhat hotter. You can shoot it with a high-powered rifle and it won’t go off. But add some kind of detonator, like a blasting cap or an electronic detonator like these, and it’s incredibly destructive.”
“Mhm,” Selina answered, her eyes narrowing.
…The Post finally clued in that the image they’d been offering of a goggled crimefighter was completely incompatible with the true Catwoman—something she’d made perfectly clear all those years ago from the stage of the Hijinx Playhouse. Yet they’d continued all this time, stubbornly ignoring what everyone else in Gotham knew: that’s not Catwoman. Now, at last, they were prepared to admit the truth…
“The primary agent, commonly called RDX for ‘Research Development Explosive,’ is mixed with a binding agent and a plasticizer, and usually a ‘chemical marker’ like dimethyl dinitrobutane mixed with motor oil. The result is a completely inert clay-like substance that needs the proper amount of energy from a detonator to cause a chemical reaction in the compound. When the chemical reaction begins, the C-4 decomposes to release a variety of gases, notably nitrogen and carbon oxides, which expand at about 26,000 feet per second and ignite.”
…But unable to come right out and say they lied, the Post tried to explain it away with a bit of typical Gotham Postitude. They latched onto the Dr. Light story and decided that Zatanna—ZATANNA the mindwiping tnuc—had done the same thing to Selina that she’d done to Dr. Light and the Top… Well, not quite the same. Dr. Light only got a lobotomy. “Selina” apparently got a crappy apartment, a closet full of spare Trinity outfits, a whiny whore hanging around like her sidekick and a Harvey Bullock wannabe acting like her boyfriend…
“…two metal-tipped plastic prongs sticking out of the back of the detonator. When the timer reaches zero, a high-voltage current would pass between the two prongs, providing just enough energy to detonate the bomb.”
Selina slammed the nearest object on the nearest surface, which happened to be a batarang on a mousepad—which failed to make the desired clang and instead produced a muffled thud.
“Why tell me?” she blurted. “I don’t disarm bombs, Bruce, it’s not my kink. Other than being glad they didn’t blow you up, I really don’t give a shit whether some hopeless amateurs tried to rob the federal depository last night. It’s got nothing to do with me.”
He looked up, astonishment blotting out any other reaction. Before his anger overcame the shock, Selina’s had given way to that lingering warmth and gratitude for the initial gift.
“Sorry,” she murmured, strangely off-balance. “Guess my coming down here wasn’t such a good idea. I should get ready for this Ashton-Larraby thing anyway.”
Bruce watched curiously as she walked up the stairs and disappeared into the clock passage.
Harvey Dent set down the newspaper, his mouth twisted into a pucker of… of…
He was of two minds. He hated admitting that, but he was of two minds about what he’d read.
He was pleased, in a way. The Gotham Post, which had barely mentioned him since his face was healed, was suddenly portraying him as a good guy. They made him out to be a crimefighter, maybe not on par with Batman, but out there all the same, fighting the good fight: stopping bank robbers, holding a line against criminals as he’d one done as D.A. and… and balancing the scales, in a sense, for the crimes he’d committed as Two-Face.
That was where the second reaction came in. In reality, Harvey hadn’t done much of anything with his new life except rebuild his wardrobe, reactivate his membership at the Harvard Club, and resume a tentative social life among people who did not appear on the GCPD’s most wanted list. The thought of making up for the past had honestly not occurred to him. As District Attorney, he fought to make criminals pay for their crimes. As Two-Face, he’d been obsessed with balance and counter-balance, good and evil. How could he have failed this way, failed in both his mindsets, to recognize that need to, somehow, make up for what he’d done?
This Harvey Dent in the pages of the trashiest, most repugnant tabloid in Gotham, in this tabloid that made all living souls out to be monsters a hundred times worse than their true selves, was doing what Harvey himself never thought to: making amends.
Harvey wondered if he should do likewise. The idea was strangely unappealing. He felt he ought to, certainly, but he didn’t want to.
Not at all.
His hand felt achingly empty. A decision like this, a decision like none he’d faced in all this time since the healing—like none he’d really faced ever in his life. What he wanted to do and what he felt he ought to do were… were completely… opposed. Black and white. Opposite sides of the… This went beyond his fingers itching to flip the coin. This was deeper, beyond habit, beyond uncertainty, beyond anything.
He closed his eyes and, in that dark cavern of his thoughts, he visualized the coin: the smooth edge, the ridges just inside the rim, the raised spikes of the liberty head, the rough crease where the deep scars cut across her face.
Visualizing the scarred side, Two-Face pointed out in his mind’s ear.
Harvey shook himself. Two-Face was gone. Gone forever, just like his scars, as long as he never again used that coin, used fate or chance, to make a decision. Two-Face was gone. He, Harvey Dent, had visualized the scarred side of the coin…
It meant only what he knew before: he didn’t want to go out at night and be a crimefighter. Maybe he should, maybe it would be noble and right and worthy to put himself on the line that way and make up for the harm done by Two-Face. But he didn’t want to, and he wasn’t going to. There. Decision made. The end.
He picked up the newspaper and dropped it into the trashcan in disgust. He really didn’t know why he bought that silly thing.
It was earlier than Edward Nigma liked to get up. Like most rogues, he kept a late schedule even when he wasn’t actively engaged in a crime spree. His schedule wasn’t exactly “up at dusk/bed at dawn,” but it was such that eight a.m. was too early to start the day. Yet here he was, awake, dressed, and making breakfast of a cold bacon cheeseburger he’d picked up the night before and stuck in the refrigerator, knowing this would occur. He ate as he waited by the phone for the inevitable. When it happened, he picked up on the first ring.
“Good morning, Pamela,” he said wearily before she’d spoken. “Yes, of course I knew it was you. You’ve only been calling every morning for a week… No, you do not get anagrams. At this hour, you’re lucky you get verbs… Because we do not all share the plants’ love of sunshine, Ivy.”
He pulled the phone from his ear and rested it against his forehead as it chirped into the air in an excited female voice. Eddie took a deep breath and returned the phone to his ear.
“Yes Pammy, that’s wonderful news,” he said automatically.
Every day for a week, he thought. It had been wonderful news every day for a week. Such wonderful news that Poison Ivy had to share her joy with someone, and evidently a greenhouse full of plantlife wasn’t adequate. Eddie wasn’t sure why he was so “honored,” but every morning once she’d seen her new coverage in the Post, that phone rang and the festivities began.
“M-hm,” Eddie said at intervals, adding the occasional “Yes,” “Good,” and “Yup” for variety. He hadn’t seen any of the previous stories she was talking about. As far as he knew, nobody had seen them. But evidently some little corner of the tabloid that nobody paid attention to had falsely reported that Poison Ivy was dead, and now they had corrected the error. It didn’t strike Eddie as any great cause for celebration, at least not at eight o’clock in the goddamn morning.
The cheeseburger had left a light greasy film on its waxpaper wrapper, and on this Edward Nigma scratched out the word POTS with his fingernail. Followed by TOPS, SPOT, OPTS, STOP and finally the generator for these anagrams: POST.
“Yes, certainly,” Eddie murmured into the mouthpiece, having no idea what he was agreeing with… apparently, that unlike previous 10ish years worth of the Post which was an unforgivable waste of newsprint, this issue was a noble use of nature’s most glorious creation (trees), and these gracious and dignified wood titans (trees again) did not give their lives in vain.
GOTHAM POST would produce a far more extensive list of anagrams, and Eddie reached for a pencil and began scratching out HAG MOST POT, HAG MS POTTO, HAG PS MOTTO…
“Gotham After Dark?” Selina said weakly.
“Yes, Dear,” Gladys smiled effusively, setting down her teacup. “That amusing column in the Gotham Post about all the night people. Surely you know of it.”
“Yes,” Selina said with a strange charge in her tone. “I know it. I know all the columns in the Gotham Post, Mrs. Ashton—”
“Gladys,” Selina bit off the word with a feline snarl.
“Such a splendid idea for a party, don’t you think? I mean, if we’re going to insert an extra fundraiser into the social calendar to fund these new programs, we simply have to offer something more than another dreary chicken a la king dinner dance.”
“Y-yes,” Selina managed, looking in panic to Bruce, to Lucius, and even to Alfred, but finding only shocked stares as stunned and horrified as her own. “But surely, Missu- Gladys- The rogues aren’t exactly- Nine out of ten Wayne events get hit as it is and… Somebody help me here.”
“No,” Bruce said forcefully. Then realizing, from Selina’s startled stare more than anything, that there was entirely too much Batman in his tone, he began stammering like the fop. “I mean it’d be fun, sure, to dress up and all, but I have to consider the safety of my guests.”
“Some other kind of costume party,” Selina suggested impulsively. “Some period where they wrote with feathers.” She looked abashedly at Bruce. “That way, only Penguin would be pissed, right?”
“Oh pish,” Gladys exclaimed, “I don’t see why any of these ‘rogues’ or whatever they’re called would be insulted if we used them as a theme. Why imitation is the highest form of flattery!”
Bruce was stymied by the need to quash this idea in the strongest possible terms and to keep any traces of Batman from creeping into his manner as he did so—which was almost impossible on this particular topic. Fortunately, Selina had no such qualms about behaving openly as Catwoman.
“I don’t fancy the idea of being in a roomful of goggled wannabes in bikerchick catsuits,” she snarled.
“Oh my dear, of course not!” Gladys gushed. “What on earth do you take us for? Why everyone knows that you’re Catwoman and that you’re with Bruce, so obviously Catwoman is taken… That was such a lovely picture of you too, in that last edition; Randolph and Randy-quad both remarked on it. How beautiful you look in purple and how nice it was that they finally got it right.”
“Oh,” Selina breathed, disarmed by the removal of her strongest objection. “Well, it was nice of them to notice.”
“I’m sure Selina agrees with me that Catwoman isn’t really the salient point,” Bruce managed, finding a tone at last that was neither too foppish nor too Bat.
Selina’s eyes flashed with a gimlet look he’d seldom seen outside a bank vault. Behind him, Alfred performed the swift and silent maneuver the Gotham underworld called a “Bat-exit,” but which Alfred himself considered a tactful withdrawal such as any butler knows to execute at such moments in the interests of discretion, diplomacy, and common sense.
“No, I wouldn’t agree with that at all,” Selina said with calm finality. “I’d say Catwoman is very much the point. If we’re talking about the Gotham Post, I’d say whether or not Catwoman is in purple or not, or wearing goggles or not, or… is ME or not, is very much the fucking point, Bruce.”
She caught herself before going further, collected herself, and primly folded the napkin in her lap.
“Excuse me,” she said quietly. “I’m going to check with Alfred about lunch.”
Dick Grayson emerged from the bedroom at the crack of noon, stretching his arms in a circular motion as he crossed the living room, as if he was swimming into the kitchen.
“Morning, sweetie,” Barbara called, looking up from her laptop. “Have a good night?”
“Good to be back on a normal schedule,” he answered loudly from the kitchen. Then he returned, drinking orange juice from the carton. “It made a nice change working with Cassie for those few weeks, but I’m glad to be on my own again –and really glad to be back in Bludhaven. I’m going to go back tonight, probably every night for a week or so, to make up for the lost time.”
“Chip off the old block,” Barbara teased.
Dick stared as if physically struck at the thought. Then he took another swig of juice.
“Maybe a little, just in this one area,” he admitted.
“Maybe a little?” his wife countered. “You were doing a full patrol in Bludhaven twice a week, as a rule. So in watching Gotham those few nights while Bruce was away and having Flash do a quick run through ‘Haven each night, you lost exactly nothing in patrol-time. Then partnering with Cassie since then—”
“She needed that more than Bludhaven needed Nightwing,” Dick interrupted.
“No one is arguing that point,” Barbara put in. “Partnering with Cassie, and not wanting to take her out of Gotham because of the whole Robin-ice cream sundae thing, okay. So how much did you really fall behind in Bludhaven?”
“It’s not a mathematical formula, Babs.”
“Three. You missed three whole nights in Bludhaven. The way you’re carrying on, you’d think they got bombed back to the Stone Age.”
“I’m not ‘carrying on,’” Dick insisted. “I just… I feel like I’ve been neglecting my best girl and I need to make it up to her.”
Barbara took off her glasses, raised an eyebrow, and glared.
“You better be finishing that orange juice and not figuring on putting it back in the refrigerator,” she said crisply.
“Let me clarify the whole ‘best girl’ analogy,” Dick said quickly. “What I meant was—”
“Chip. Off. The Old. Block,” Barbara said definitely.
Dick let his head rock backward until his eyes pointed to the ceiling.
“Okay, fine, you win,” he laughed. “I’m Bruce. I’m obsessed with my city. Grunt.”
“Truth is,” she pushed, “Bludhaven has hardly been the loser in all this. With Flash looking in on it every single night, whereas you only patrol twice a week as a rule.”
“Why are you making such an issue of this?” Dick asked suddenly.
She thought about this, and then took a determined breath before answering. “I just think it was good for everybody. Bruce took a little vacation, he and Selina got some time together, Alfred is happy as a clam, you were wonderful leading the team… I don’t want there to be any after effects that sours anybody on doing it again.”
“The all-seeing Oracle,” Dick said fondly.
She smiled and didn’t deny it.
“Cyber-busybody,” he added.
Again she smiled and didn’t challenge the label.
“I owe Wally huge,” Dick noted. “Thinking maybe take him and Linda to dinner. What do you say?”
“Sounds good,” Barbara murmured, returning her attention to her laptop. “Oh, and the Gotham Post is at it again, bird-o-my-heart. The Nightwing Workout.”
“Why me?” he asked.
“’Cause you’ve got the tightest tush in spandex, Dickie. The Tattler made quite a stir with that ‘Riddle Me Thin’ idea and tabloids copy each other.”
“Why come up with a new idea when you can repackage the ‘Buns of Steel’ workout,” Dick laughed.
“Something like that,” Barbara smiled.
“She’s… a little emotional today,” Bruce said hurriedly as he stood to follow Selina out of the room. He caught up with her on the second floor, at the door to her suite.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he hissed softly.
“Have you even read the Post since any of this started?” she hissed back.
“I’m on damage control down there, Selina, and I’d appreciate a little support instead of—”
“They’re fixing everything except me, Bruce: Batman, Robin, Riddler, Ivy, everything they’ve made such a mess of, except me. And you know why?” She held up the dictaphone. “Because of you. They know you arranged that sale; WayneTech gave them these. Even if you didn’t buy the Post outright, they know you were involved and they don’t want it looking like all these changes have anything to do with you. So I get screwed. Gladys is right, everybody knows that we’re together. So I get left out of all the improvements just so they can make it look like the changes can’t possibly be connected to Bruce Wayne.”
He let out a long, frustrated breath.
“Okay,” he said quickly. “I’m sorry; I wasn’t aware of that, but… Can we possibly deal with this later, go downstairs now and deal with the fresh disaster. A Gotham Post party, God, only Gladys Ashton-Larraby could possibly—”
“Their big editorial revamp is now, Bruce. If Catwoman doesn’t get a piece of it, who knows how long it will be until—Do you know how my gut clenches up when I open that paper each morning? Do you know how sick I feel turning the pages, dreading what they might have come up with this time?”
“Selina, please,” he said simply.
“Yes, fine,” she answered, then placed the dictaphone in his palm in the same confrontational silence that he’d handed over her claw on the rooftop. “I will come downstairs and talk to Gladys. But this isn’t going to go away, Bruce. I haven’t been able to keep breakfast down for three days because of this, and it’s all your doing. Hope you’re pleased with yourself and your big romantic gesture.”
Neither heard the quiet click on the dictaphone. Both proceeded downstairs, and both tried to make Gladys Ashton-Larraby understand that her idea of a perfect themed fundraiser might as well put up a banner that said “HELLO GOTHAM ROGUES, PLEASE CRASH THIS PARTY!!!”
It didn’t go as Bruce hoped. Gladys Ashton-Larraby was almost a rogue herself once she latched onto an idea. She had the same selective comprehension, the same unfathomable blind spots, and the same stubborn resolve to carry on in the face of any and all opposition. Bruce was hampered by his fear of appearing too Batlike in his arguments. Lucius was flummoxed by the sheer insanity of the woman’s thinking. And Selina—Selina was his one solid hope. She humored and handled the worst rogues in Gotham. But she had a weak spot that no theme villain would ever find but which Gladys could exploit without even trying: Mrs. Wayne. Selina was off-balance in any situation that put her in “Mrs. Wayne” territory for the first time. As long as she could speak as Catwoman, the only person in the room with first-hand knowledge of the real Gotham City rogues, she felt perfectly secure. She was sure, succinct, and persuasive, and her arguments would have swayed anybody—except Gladys Ashton-Larraby.
In Gladys’s peculiar view, the very fact that Selina Kyle was Catwoman meant the party was secure. Yes, of course Wayne events might have been targeted in the past, but now that Selina was with Bruce they were all safe as can be!
Selina was obviously confused by the appeal. She confirmed, with a wary eye to Alfred, that the party, of whatever theme, wasn’t going to be held at Wayne Manor. It was to be in the Grand Ballroom of the Robinson Plaza Hotel, Gladys was organizing it, Gladys would be the hostess. What did any of it have to do with her?
Gladys merely smiled a wide, hungry smile, and stated the obvious: “It’s to benefit the Wayne Foundation.”
“Yes, I know,” Selina said in the same tone she’d earlier said she knew the Gotham Post.
“Well there you are!” Gladys announced triumphantly.
To be continued...