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Chapter 4: Opportunity Cost

The Oracle console behind Barbara wasn’t as impressive as the Batcave workstations, but it could display the results from an equal number of data streams on an equal number of monitors.  All but the three primary view screens were small, and Tim found himself trying to figure out what they were showing while Barbara was in the kitchen. 

“Traffic camera, 911 Call Center, GCPD Dispatch, Wall Street Heliport,” he said as she returned, pointing from top to bottom at a column of screens down the side of the console.  “But I can’t work out those bottom two.”

Barbara smiled and handed him a can of Pepsi.

“Took me a while too,” she said.  “It’s the camera hub for a Bludhaven casino.”

“Why would it take you a while to figure out what it was?” Tim asked. 

“Because it’s not my hack.  I like to keep an eye on the best efforts coming out of the MIT dorms.  This year it’s him.”

“Hudson’s got some good hackers,” Tim said defensively, and Barbara laughed.

“Not this year.  CalTech might have one worth watching, but she’s still a freshman mucking around with Facebook hacks.  She might get interesting next year, but I’m keeping my eye on Harvard for next year’s candidate and Ms. Porter at CalTech for the year after that.”

Tim scowled.

“You’re seriously underestimating Hudson hackers,” he said.

“Nah, the best Hudson has to offer is sitting here,” Barbara answered, short circuiting Tim’s ability to complain further—something he obviously realized since he smiled, drank his Pepsi and asked why Barbara wanted to see him.

“Have you noticed anything strange with Bruce or Selina since they got back?” she asked directly.

“Strange how?”

“C’mon, Tim, you know what strange means.  Anything unusual, out of character, not quite adding up.”

“No,” he said with an ‘of course not’ shrug.

“You patrolled with B a few times since they got back from Paris, didn’t you?  Nothing odd on the Bat side of the equation?”

“No.  Babs, what’s going on?  What are you getting at?”

“Cassie has this crazy idea.  She says something happened in Paris.”

Tim rolled his eyes.

“This is a body language thing?”

“Nothing that pronounced.  Just looks, voice timbre, skin tone—”

“Skin tone?  Bruce and Selina don’t blush, Barbara.  And I don’t think their eyes look to the left when they lie either.  They both know all the tricks.  Look, Cass gets those ideas now and then.  And if it’s a banger or a wiseguy she’s sizing up, she’s usually right on the money.  But the further you get from street fights and the more it’s personal stuff like Bruce-Selina-Paris, the more likely it is she’s way off base.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought too, at first.  But it’s not just ‘Paris.’  Tim, when she first brought it up, she said Paris and Cartier.”

“Well duh, their logo is panther.  Catty’s crazy about Cartier, always has been.  And those cat pins were, like, the first present he gave her.”

“Yeah, but then Cassie says she was over at the manor this morning for help on this Desantis thing, and she overheard Selina telling Alfred that Bruce gave her a diamond.”

Tim’s head dropped to where his chin touched his chest.

“And you both went all girly ‘cause you think that means he proposed,” he mumbled, his eyes closed, contemplating the horror.

“No, Tim, listen, you’re not listening,” Barbara said, her eyes glistening with excitement. 

“I am listening, Barbara.  He gave her a diamond.  He does that, he’s Bruce Wayne!  Even before Selina, he was always giving them little pendants and tennis bracelets and stuff—”

“Cassie didn’t jump to any conclusions,” Barbara interrupted, pronouncing each word slowly and distinctly.  “She asked Bruce about what she’d heard, and he said it wasn’t a real diamond at all.  It’s a floor display from a jewelers that they took for the trophy room.”

“See, there you are,” Tim said emphatically.  “Diamond for the trophy room.  That sounds just like them, doesn’t it?”

“Exactly.  A little too much like them, don’t you think?”

“Huh?”

“You said it yourself, Tim.  Bruce is a terrific liar who knows all the tricks.  That’s exactly the kind of cover story he’d come up with, something totally plausible.”

Tim stared.

“Let me get this straight,” he said finally.  “You think that Bruce and Selina got secretly engaged in Paris, and that Bruce is making up this story about a big diamond in the trophy room as a cover.  And the reason you think it’s a lie is because it’s just the sort of lie Bruce would tell… because putting something like that in the trophy room is just the sort of thing Bruce and Selina would do.”

“Right!”

“Right?!  It’s a lie because it makes sense?  That’s crazy.  It’s like the people who say Lee Harvey Oswald is the kind of guy you’d frame to shoot the president because he’s exactly the kind of guy who would shoot the president.”

“Ah, Rhetoric 100,” Barbara chuckled.  “You’re up to Kennedy/Oswald. Professor Geffen’s still using that for reversal arguments?”

“More like Occam’s Razor,” Tim said, sounding a bit like Bruce refusing to let an investigation be pulled off track by wild speculation.  “You’re making this complicated for no reason.  Cassie heard something, she asked Bruce what it meant and he told her.  Why not believe him?”

“Because we can’t get into the Batcave,” Barbara said instantly—and Tim’s mouth dropped open.  “Cassie said there were tells if she even looked in the direction of the clock entrance when she was talking to Bruce.  He repeated twice that she couldn’t go down there today.  And he’s running a diagnostic so I can’t access any of the cave systems or the camera feeds.  Now you tell me why?”

“I don’t know, Barbara. It’s Bruce, there could be a hundred reasons.”

Including that there’s no big diamond down there to back up the story he told Cassie.  He hasn’t had time to get one, and until he does—”  

“You want me to break into the Batcave,” Tim said gravely.

“Just see if you can get in,” Barbara said lightly.  “If you can, no harm no foul.  Check your email while you’re there and get a fresh reel of tungsten.  But if the lockouts are in place, then we’ll know where we are, won’t we?”

Once the DNA established that it wasn’t either of Joker’s hyenas that killed the police informant, Batman checked the other contaminants in the sample.  He determined that the hyena had drunk untreated river water as well as tap water that passed through old, little used, industrial pipe.  Not conclusive on its own, but given the trace metal shavings the police lab noted elsewhere at the crime scene—the kind of shavings an animal might pick up in its pads walking near railroad tracks—the warehouse district seemed likely. 

It wasn’t a large area.  Too big to search blind, but small enough that the Batmobile would be quickly spotted passing through.  Its slow, eerily silent pass through the warehouses between the river and the railroad tracks provoked the usual response from guilty but naïve criminals who assumed that Batman was actually in the car: one ran out the back of Warehouse 7 to secure the locks on the loading dock doors while one on the inside called his boss.  Stationed on a roof at the north end of the district, Batman intercepted the call.  He notified Catwoman, waiting at the south end, and they closed in on Warehouse 7 from opposite sides.

It was a short fight: One silent takedown (his) and one whip crack version (hers), and they both retreated to the rafters.  The first man to investigate the whip crack and find his fallen comrade was alone, so Batman took him out with a batarang.  Then three more arrived which he took out with a concussion grenade.  The last he knocked over with a ‘rang, swung down, and finished with his fist.  By then, Catwoman was on her way into the loading bay and, finding the hyena was caged, gave him the high sign. 

Warehouse secured: thirty-nine seconds.

Catwoman pocketed the gas pellet she didn’t need for the hyena, removed her rebreather, and began a cursory inventory of the animals.  Then she joined Batman in the main room.

“Three macaws,” she reported.  “A couple parrots, a bear cub, monkey, iguana, at least dozen turtle eggs…” Then she looked down on one of the unconscious smugglers, put her boot on his hip and rocked his body forward onto his back.  “No cats,” she said, looking down on him grimly.  “So they lucked out on that one.” 

“Maybe not,” Batman said, handing her a phone he’d taken from the man under her foot.  She glanced down at it as he said “That’s the one who made the call I intercepted as soon as they spotted the Batmobile.  Check the number and read the texts.”

She did, and saw the phone had since received a text message from the same number since the last phone call.  It read only:

Well?

That came in during the fight, apparently.  And it had been answered only a minute ago.  As in: since the men were down.  As in: the thug under her foot couldn’t have sent it.  As in: Batman must have.  That text message read:

All clear.  False alarm. Bat not here for us. 
Mustve followed new customer. Catwm. 

She looked up at him. 

“You sent this,” she said, noting the obvious, and he nodded.  “Handsome, I can tell when you’re following me.”

“Of course you can,” he graveled, turned, and walked out.

She followed, and the conversation resumed as they reached the Batmobile.

“Wait a minute, this message is telling their boss that Catwoman came by to see about buying a tiger or something, right?  And Batman followed her.  That’s why you were in the neighborhood, that’s why they saw the Batmobile.  False alarm on their part, you weren’t after them, you were only here because you were tailing me.”

“Correct.”

“But I wouldn’t be that dumb.  I don’t go leading tails I’m unaware of into the heart of a criminal operation.”

“You also wouldn’t be buying from scum like that.  Selina, let’s say we never got together and you discovered a smuggling operation like this, the way you did with Stephen Chase.”  The car turned onto the main road and passed a police car and two vans heading for the clean-up at Warehouse 7.  They were keeping their sirens off as requested, but the lead car flicked its lights as it passed the Batmobile, and Batman flicked his in return before continuing:  “You said you ‘hadn’t come up with a gameplan’ all those years ago with Chase.  This is your gameplan.  Tonight, this is how you should have proceeded.”

“Getting you involved?!” Selina exclaimed.  “Get your attention and let you follow me thinking you’re clever.  Let you have all the satisfaction taking him down, what fun would that be?”

“I had all the satisfaction anyway,” he noted, and then pointed to the smuggler’s phone in her lap. “In any case, Catwoman, we can make up for it now.  It will be hours or even days before the ring leader on the other end of that text can find out what happened at the warehouse.”

“In the meantime, we can set him up,” she smiled, pressing the redial. 

Since the original team-up after the Sue Dibny murder, Dick had often taken Tim back to Bludhaven for a few weeks’ partnership whenever he needed a change from Gotham.  So tonight, Robin figured he would be able to find Nightwing without resorting to the OraCom.  Between midnight and two, he’d be somewhere between the Red Line and The Spine.   And any late arrival at the St. Eustace shelter should be able to tell him where Nightwing had been spotted since midnight, or at the very least where the night’s hot spots were in The Spine…

Batman had few chances to hear his exploits described by someone who had been there.  Bruce Wayne sometimes heard the stories: Bunny Wigglesworth regaling the others at the Country Club about a robbery he foiled at her dinner party or Richard Flay telling his golfing foursome about Batman’s recovery of a stolen Rembrandt.  Bruce always reacted in character, producing a glib smile or a foppish laugh while he privately noted what he could about the way the non-criminal public perceived him.

Such stories were seldom told in front of the masked man himself, however.  On the rare occasions when police or bystanders discussed his actions in front of him, he assumed a fixed expression of focused and righteous determination.  On the equally rare occasions when he and Robin overheard criminals discuss a “Bat encounter,” his expression was similar—but with a dark satisfaction simmering just under the surface, a malicious contentment in the fear he could instill.

That was the expression Batman had assumed soon after Catwoman began her phone call.  She had hit the redial on the smuggler’s cell and introduced herself with purring politeness when his boss answered.  She could have told him anything to explain why the notorious Catwoman was calling on his flunky’s phone, but she opted for something very close to the truth.  When Batman realized she was giving a rogue’s eye view of his assault on the warehouse as if she’d been watching from the shadows, his jaw automatically stiffened into that grim scowl of focused determination...  The Silent Takedown.  Grapnel to the rafters.  Batarang Takedown.  Triple Takedown with a concussion grenade… But then he heard that old charge in her voice as she added these little details: the way he stretched his neck and shoulder after the last man was down.  The way he adjusted his gauntlet “calm as you please, not even out of breath.” The way his cape fluttered over one of a downed henchmen’s legs after he’d stepped over them and he gave a slight sneer as his shoulder flinch-adjusted the cape, as though he resented the accidental contact. 

Bruce’s glib country club smile threatened to shatter Batman’s mask of grim reserve, so he permitted his lip to twitch to relieve the pressure. 

“Yes, everything at the warehouse is lost,” Catwoman continued, and Batman could tell by the rise and fall in her voice that she was playing the man like a Stradivarius.  “Pity.  Those turtle eggs must go for five-thousand a pop.  But Bat-losses are a cost of doing business in this town, after all.  And I understand you keep your men in line very well.  None of them will talk.  They know what happens to stool pigeons, right?”  Then the wickedest laugh he’d ever heard from those feline lips.  “So you’re safe.  So is any other merch you’ve got stashed away.  Briggs did say you had some big cats that might interest me…”

Robin intercepted Nightwing near a crappy motel off the Interstate Bypass and joined him in breaking up a poker game run by a nobody Pelacci associate.  ‘Wing’s contact in the organized crime task force said that Tony Russo, a Pelacci underboss, had pulled strings to get a special guest in tonight’s game.  Word was that Russo would be there in person, maybe even sit down for a few hands to get his friend off to a good start.  That alone made a raid worthwhile.  But ‘Wing also heard a whisper that the special guest might be Luke Gold from Keystone.   Luke Gold who was poised to take over when Old Man Fiacchi finally kicked—and since Fiacchi just had his fourth heart attack, that day could be coming soon.

Breaking up the card game was easy, the kind of exercise Batman had started Tim on his first week as Robin in order to assess his abilities.  Letting Gold escape and tailing him back to his hideout was more like his second week in the cape. 

“What about the penny?” Catwoman said abruptly.

“What?” Batman asked.

“Well, here we are waiting again.  Malenkovik won’t get here for another hour with the jaguar.  It is date night.  And after the dinosaur story, I’m kind of curious where you got the penny.”

“Oh,” Batman’s lip twitched.

“I know it was made here in Gotham,” Selina grinned.  “And I know it wasn’t Harvey.  Tim thinks it is, by the way.  He mentioned it in passing one day.  ‘Two-Face’s big coin in the cave.’  I didn’t think it was my place to correct him.”

“Joe Coyne,” Batman graveled.

“Coyne?  The guy’s named Coyne?  You’re kidding.”

“It’s not the coincidence it seems.  As a result of the name, Joseph Coyne hated pennies.  Taunting on the school bus or something.   Some childhood association he wasn’t even aware of until he woke up after a drunken spree with the words ‘I HATE PENNIES’ tattooed on the side of his neck.”

“On his neck?  Oh, ick.”

“Up until then, he’d been a small time con,” Batman sighed.  “Picked pockets on the subway.  Robbed a bodega, a fast food place, a grocery store…  All of a sudden, he was noticeable and memorable.  No one on the subway lets a man with a tattooed neck get close enough to pick their pocket, and Coyne realized that if he didn’t start killing everyone he robbed, they’d be able to give the police a very accurate description of a unique and prominent feature he couldn’t easily hide.  Witnesses can’t always judge height, weight, or ethnicity, but ‘I HATE PENNIES’ in big block letters… A smart man would have simply reformed at that point, but a smart man wouldn’t have gone that route in the first place.  He decided to move up to theme crimes.   The ‘Penny Plunderer.’”

“That’s tragic,” Catwoman said flatly.  “All the heists in town for a dime or under?”

“No.  Reasonably lucrative targets with pennies as the gimmick.  Taking a collection of antique penny banks from a collector and ransoming it back.  A gimmicked roll of pennies that released gas to incapacitate a bank teller.  Coin collectors were a bit obvious, but he indulged in those occasionally, and any stamp collector with valuable 1-cent stamp was an easy target.”

“This is still incredibly lame,” Catwoman noted. 

“Compared to you, sure.  Compared to the other rogues, but not compared to what Coyne had been doing before.”

“No, it’s still lame,” Selina insisted.  “Compared to being the night manager at the Times Square Wendy’s, it’s lame.  Compared to doing PR at the Gotham Post for the past twenty years and then getting replaced by some new kid out of UCLA and having to take the job as night manager at the Times Square Wendy’s, stealing a 1-cent stamp and calling it a theme crime is lame...”

“Possibly.  But whether Coyne saw it that way or not, he had to see Congressman Aringa’s penny for the opportunity it was.”

“Opportunity cost,” the congressman announced to his visitor.  “Every dollar we spend, we could have spent on something else—a computer instead of a television, a book instead of a hamburger.  And everything we do, we could have spent that time doing something else.”

“I remember the lecture,” Bruce laughed.  “Do you miss teaching?  Your Macro Economics 400 was the only morning class I bothered going to.”

“I miss the students, but not Princeton.  I can do more good here.”

“By eradicating the penny?”

“It costs the U.S. mint 1.7 cents to make a penny, Bruce.  It’s worth 1 cent exactly and costs 1.7 to make.  That means we’re spending 70 million a year, 70 million taxpayer dollars spent every year subsidizing the existence of the penny.  That would be one thing if the bacteria-laden discs of suck actually facilitated the exchange of goods and services, but they don’t.  No parking meters or vending machines take them.  None of the places we use coins, not even gumball machines take them.  All pennies do is keep Americans busy dealing with them.  Estimates say a billion a year in opportunity costs.  That’s paying 70 million a year in cash to lose a billion in productivity costs, it’s insane.”

“Well, good luck with it,” Bruce smiled, rising and shaking his old professor’s hand.  “When reelection time comes around, you know who to call, right?”

“I may need you before that,” Aringa said impishly.  “1.7 cents to make a 1 cent coin, 70 million a year to incur a billion in opportunity cost, it’s pretty dry stuff.  I need a stunt, something theatrical, something that will get this thing off the Beltway and grab the national media’s attention.”

“What can I do?” Bruce shrugged foppishly.

“I see your name in the paper more than the President’s, Bruce.  Arriving at that nightclub opening by helicopter with six Alitalia stewardesses as your escorts?”

Bruce laughed it off.  He wasn’t proud of that particular episode.  Fop stunts were meant to camouflage Batman, not to indulge his private grievances.  But after that stupid bimbo spending an entire limo ride on the phone, describing the Iceberg Lounge as ‘run by some weirdo that used to be a gangster—but not a cool one like the Joker,’ Bruce decided that group dates would be a lot less irksome—and so would a method of transportation so loud that the women couldn’t make phone calls.

Luckily, Congressman Aringa found another way to be ‘theatrical’ when he was ready to introduce his bill on coinage reform.  He commissioned a giant penny to be built as a prop for his speech.  The scene shop at the Gotham Opera was making it, since their reputation for large set pieces was unsurpassed in the country.  Naturally, the Feds didn’t bother informing Commissioner Gordon, but Batman’s overnight downloads alerted him to the contract: an item being manufactured in Gotham heading for Washington.  An item pre-tagged with every delivery clearance necessary to be taken directly to the secured loading dock underneath the Capitol Building and rolled straight onto the House floor. 

Gordon was livid when he found out, naturally:

“The thing is big!” he screamed into the voicemail of some Junior Assistant to the Deputy Director of Capitol Security.  “It's not like it can go to this congressman's office in a Fedex envelope.  Men have to pack it, load it onto a truck.  Have they been checked out?  I don’t know because nobody told me any of this was happening.  And all the paperwork to take this thing straight into the Capitol Building.  For heaven’s sake don’t give the Gotham police a head’s up that information like that is sitting in some tech director’s desk drawer at the opera house.”

Batman understood the concern, but he was less worried about the clearance documents being copied than the cleared item itself being used as a trojan horse.  His suspicions were confirmed when he discovered one of Coyne’s associates working off a 30-day community service sentence cleaning at the opera house.  A temporary janitor in the education wing didn’t technically have access to the scene shop, but Batman wasn’t taking any chances.  He kept an eye on the situation.  When Coyne made his move, he followed the penny to Washington. 

“It was a judgment call,” Batman said, breaking off his narration while Catwoman resettled on the roof.  At first he thought she was reacting to his mention of the bimbo, but now it was clear her foot was asleep.   After a minute of stamping it out, she decided to stretch. 

“A judgment call,” she prompted to show she was still listening.

“I could have stopped him at criminal trespass here in Gotham,” Batman resumed. 

“But you let him cross a couple state lines, get all the way into DC, he just keeps racking up the years.  Let him make all the way to the House Chamber, and they’ll throw away the key.”

“Not exactly,” he said with a lip-twitch.  “Coyne had never been violent.  If he’d been a genuine threat to the congressmen or the Capitol, I never would have let him out of the city.  But I wanted to see what his goal was, since it certainly wasn’t terrorism or mayhem.  This was an unprecedented opportunity to study the criminal mind—the theme criminal mind—at work.  Coyne was ‘The Penny Plunderer’ and chance had given him—not a target, but a method to commit a crime that he simply couldn’t ignore: a giant penny, built in his backyard and heading right into the well of the U.S. House of Representatives.  But there wasn’t a theme target attached.  He had to somehow use this thing to commit a crime.  What crime would he commit?  He had no say in where it was going, so what would he choose to get with it when it reached its destination?”

A soft, secret smile began to dance on the corner of Catwoman’s lips, but she said nothing as Batman continued.

“His M.O. as the Plunderer frequently involved taking valuable objects from collections: antique banks, coins or stamps, and then ransoming them back to the owners.  The Speaker of the House at that time had a letter of John Adams framed in his office, and the Minority Whip had a piece of the lunar module from one of the Apollo missions…”

The Surrender of General Burgoyne,” Catwoman interrupted quietly.  “One of the big paintings in the Rotunda.  John Trumbull, 1821, oil on canvas.  But he wasn’t going to ransom it back.  He had a buyer lined up.”

“I thought you didn’t know anything about this,” Batman said. 

“I didn’t.  But buyers are funny that way.  Sometimes when they’re expecting a piece and the theft doesn’t go through, they’ll hire someone else to get it.  Or try to.  It’s pretty funny, really.  A painting they didn’t know existed three months earlier, and now their lives won’t be complete until they get their hands on it.  There’s this woman in Philadelphia called Chambers, pipes up every few years trying to commission the theft of Trumbull’s Burgoyne from the Capitol Rotunda.  Never gets any takers.  The damn thing’s 12 by 18.  If you don’t have a giant penny to roll it out in, who’s going to bother?”

“Well, now you know where the penny came from,” Batman concluded.  “Not an especially exciting case, but with an intriguing aftermath.  My apprehending Coyne exposed some serious flaws in Capitol Security.  The Washington authorities could have responded in one of two ways: with gratitude, or—”

“Or throwing their feces like howler monkeys,” Catwoman nodded.  “In my experience that’s how sad little men generally behave when you show them they’re not very good at their jobs.”

“I was going to say ‘with hostility,’ but yes, that’s basically the way things were going.”

“Let me guess, they wanted to punish the self-appointed amateur for exposing their shortcomings rather than, God forbid, behaving like men and fixing them…  And yet, you have the penny.”

“Congressman Aringa intervened.  It was something to see.  He didn’t big-foot them like a typical politician.  He had exactly the same ‘Aw Dad’ manner I remembered from Princeton.  After about ten minutes, the head ‘howler monkey’ shook my hand, thanked me for my help, asked some fairly intelligent questions about the methods I’d used in Gotham and asked my opinion on one of their new procedures.  At the time, I assumed it was because Aringa was still in the room, but later that year, the League had a showdown with Starro in D.C. and that same agent was our point man with the Capitol police.  Directed all of his comments to me, not to Superman or Wonder Woman.  That’s… very unusual.”

“Sounds like it.  So that’s why the penny’s a trophy.  Not because of Coyne but what happened later.”

“That’s why I kept it.  Aringa gave it to me as a memento of Coyne.”

“Ah.  Well it does fill the space nicely with the T-Rex and the Joker card.”

“Yes, it does…  Can I ask how you knew it wasn’t a Two-Face trophy?”

“You can ask but you’ll have to wait for an answer.  Because I’m betting that’s Malenkovik’s truck coming in at 3 o’clock.  Look big enough to hold a jaguar cage to you?”

Cigars was a bar that would have been called seedy in Gotham, but in Bludhaven, it was considered only slightly below average.  Not the type of place that would care if an underage kid entered, in a mask or not.  But Bludhaven was Nightwing’s town.  Robin knew that Dick had been in contact with Detective Porpora of the organized crime task force, and since Luke Gold was from Keystone, he suspected that Nightwing might also be working with Flash.  Robin didn’t know enough about either angle to get involved in the case, so he waited once he’d trailed Gold to the seedy bar.  And then, once Nightwing arrived, he waited some more. 

One thing that Batman had taught him was that ‘waiting outside’ doesn’t mean being useless.  He waited near the men’s room window, where he could scare the one guy who always tried to sneak out the back when they saw someone like Nightwing come in the front. 

The guy was smalltime.  He just had a little pot and a roll of twenties in his pocket, so Robin let him run off.  Then he went back to the Central Business District to wait for Nightwing.  There was a department store roof where they always used to meet after splitting up on those joint patrols.

Malenkovik had no reason to suspect Catwoman.  She was a criminal with a cat theme, exactly the sort you’d expect to be in the market for a big cat that could rip somebody’s throat out.  She wasn’t picky, she’d take whatever type of big cat he had on hand: cougars, panthers, pumas, it didn’t matter.  She had the cash, didn’t need time to get it together, and agreed to his price without haggling.  Just the kind of buyer Malenkovik liked, as a rule.  But even if he had no reason to suspect her, he’d lost a warehouse, men and merchandise tonight.  He wasn’t going to take any chances.  He brought a modified TEC-9 in addition to his favorite Glock, and just to be doubly safe, he slipped a hunting knife into each boot.  If that stinking Bat thought he’d sting Serge Malenkovik twice in one night, he had anoth—

“That was way too easy,” Catwoman said, standing over him.

She bent and delicately picked up his keys from where they had fallen, while Batman once again stretched his neck and adjusted his shoulder.

“You could have waited two seconds,” she noted.  “Let him get a word out.”

“You didn’t see the crime scene photos, remember?  I didn’t want him getting a word out.  I didn’t want him talking to you, I don’t even want this filth in my city.”

“See, this is why bringing you in on the case still wouldn’t be my gameplan with Stephen Chase.  How much fun did I have tonight?  I whipped one guy back at the warehouse and made a phone call.”

“You saved a jaguar,” Batman said, pointing to the truck.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Catwoman said, unlocking the back.  Then, from inside “Oh, look at you, you handsome guy.  What beautiful markings you have!  Did that awful Malenwoof feed you enough?  How would you like to go to a reserve in Mexico with all the white-tail deer you can eat?”

Batman glared down at the unconscious Serge Malenkovik and cuffed him.  Then he glanced at the truck and hesitated for a half-beat before touching the button on his belt that alerted the police.  The man had murdered two CIs.  That wasn’t a criminal he would leave cuffed to a streetlight until a squad car came by to collect him.  He’d wait until they arrived and took Malenkovik into custody, hand over the evidence pack personally…  Which meant ‘date night’ would be ending early. 

He climbed into the back of the truck and told Selina, and a strained silence descended.  It was the same tension that often marred the end of their team-ups in the early days.  He always assumed it was the transition from ad hoc partners back to adversaries, but now... It’s not like he had to worry she would expect special treatment the next time he ran into her emptying a vault at Tiffany’s.  The next time he ran into her would probably be getting out of the shower.  So where did this strange tension come from? 

Catwoman looked back at the jaguar before moving.

“It’s the Chamela-Cuixmala Reserve in Jalisco,” she said pointedly.

“I’ll remember.”

“And there’s no reason to move him to another cage.  He’s used to this one.”

“He belonged to a smuggler.  I’m sure the authorities will dismantle the cage.”

“Idiots.”

“Catwoman, go.”

She hesitated for another second, and then left.

“Thanks for the assist,” Nighting said, landing on the department store roof and glancing past Robin to the Gotham skyline in the distance behind him.  “What brings you to ‘Haven?”

Robin also glanced towards Gotham, then back at ‘Wing.

“Bit of a situation with Batgirl and Oracle,” he began, then reconsidered.  “With Barbara and Cassie, actually.  I’m thinking I should tell B, but I wanted your opinion.”  He briefly related the Paris Proposal Theory and the mission Barbara sent him on to check his access to or lockout from the Batcave.  “The thing is, Bro, I am locked out.  Electric Eye Omega does not recognize the Red Bird.  It wants a keycode from my personal transponder, like we’re at DefCon4, but…”

“But we’re not at DefCon, so your transponder hasn’t received any keycode,” Dick noted.

“Right.  I’d have to go into the house and through the clock passage to reach the cave.”

“Did you?” Dick asked, fascinated.

“No way.  Maybe Barbara’s right about all this, but maybe she’s not.  If it’s a real DefCon, I’m not going to go marching into the manor in costume.  I just won’t do that to Bruce.”

Dick nodded, wondering if he was so conscientious at Tim’s age—and suspecting he wasn’t.

“So, you want to just tell Bruce what’s going on,” Dick nodded.  “Why come to me?”

“Second opinion,” said Tim.  “Crossing both Babs and Cassie—and potentially honking off Selina if it’s an estrogen solidarity thing.  Wanted your take.”

“You are wise beyond your years, Timothy,” Dick declared sagely.  “You had the right idea.”

“Going to Bruce?”

“Coming to me.  I’ll go to Bruce.”

“Huh?  Wha?”

“Nothing in the women’s story sounds like Bruce.  It sounds like them.  If there is something going on with the cave and DefCon protocols, it might be really serious.  We should talk to him, but… it should be me.”

“Whyyy?” Tim asked, dragging out the word for three syllables.

Dick didn’t answer for a long minute, he reached to his belt, switching off the OraCom tracker, and looked towards the Gotham skyline and its highest peak: the Wayne Tower. 

“I have my reasons,” he said finally.

To be continued…

 

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