Chapter 3: Deja vu All Over Again—Again
Lucius Fox had been quite sincere when he told Selina he liked “her movie.” That was before he spent an afternoon with her learning how to think like a super-thief and the rest of the month outsmarting himself as he maneuvered his way around all the systems he himself had designed. Nothing feeds a brilliant mind like discovering a new way of thinking, and long after the high of his first ‘heist’ had run its course, he was still intoxicated by this practice. He decided he didn’t like the movie much after all and opted to rent more traditional heist films rather than seeing it a second time. Whoever made that cat burglar so angry and bitter didn’t grasp what the real Catwoman did, how good she was at it, and how much fun it was to bob and weave around the tiny limited minds that make up the systems meant to keep you out. They certainly didn’t grasp how gratifying it was to be so very good at what you do, or how hard it would be to maintain a good mad-on if you were the kind of person who has that much fun on a regular basis.
Not a great movie-watcher, none of this was the sort of thing Lucius would normally think about, but in this case, he had an ulterior motive. He wanted another master class with Selina now that he had the Data-Lock Process 2.0 ready for testing, and he wanted to sit down with her and go over all the WayneTech internal system security. He had learned a lot in that one afternoon, but he certainly didn’t feel ready to ‘fly solo.’ He needed Selina’s continued involvement, and a few pithy words about the movie would make an ideal icebreaker.
He hadn’t wanted to interrupt when she was occupied with board members and donors, and he hated the idea of big-footing when she was chatting with Foundation employees, so he waited until she was dancing with Bruce.
“Wh…?” Selina had said just as Lucius came up to them.
“Evening,” he smiled. “Selina, you’re looking lovely. Bruce, do you think I might borrow her for a minute?”
“Absolutely,” Bruce smiled, taking a half-step back but holding onto Selina’s right hand just long enough to lift it to his lips. “This isn’t the best place to talk anyway,” he said, grazing her fingers with a gentle kiss and meeting her astonished eyes with a penetrating Bat-stare. “It’s a starry night out, we’ll finish up later.”
Lucius was delighted that he didn’t have to use any of his prepared material. Selina came right out and asked how he had been getting on since the thieving-tutorial, so it was easy to book her for another afternoon to ‘check his homework,’ as he put it, and he even got her tentative agreement to meet for a series of working lunches to go over the rest of the Wayne Tech systems. At the conclusion of their dance, however, as he looked around to turn her back over to Bruce, it seemed that his boss had disappeared.
“He does that,” Selina noted wryly.
“You’re noticed that too?” Lucius grinned.
“It’s a starry night out.”
There was no question what it meant. Virtually the last thing he’d said to her as Batman was to “Stay away from that Van Gogh.” The Museum of Modern Art had announced they were moving their entire collection out to Queens to be displayed in a temporary facility while the midtown building underwent a massive renovation. Catwoman was on the roof above to keep an eye on the art, Batman was there to keep an eye on her… and the roles that had been subtly but insistently evolving since the Cat-Tales show suddenly evaporated completely. Without either intending to make a personal revelation, it was suddenly out there that she didn’t care that much for Monet and they both preferred the Van Gogh. More intimate exchanges followed, which were followed in turn by a hasty and determined retreat into their old adversarial roles: “When they reopen down there, it’s going to be a banquet” and “Stay away from that Van Gogh.”
By the time the renovation was completed, Bruce and Selina were a couple. They were a fixture on the social scene, invited to the reopening as a set. Yet the Bat/Cat history was so present and the associations with the MoMA so pronounced… “When they reopen, it’s going to be a banquet. They’ll have a huge party, crème de la crème decked out in their best jewels and all the new security will be suspect…” The idea of dressing for that party in the same room was unthinkable. The idea of him coming up behind her and fastening the jewels she would be wearing… So they parted for a night, arrived separately, and after putting down the kind of criminal uproar that leaves so many Gotham events of that kind in a shambles, they rendezvoused hours later in a dark, empty and war torn gallery in front of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
The only question was whether “a starry night out” meant to meet in the gallery in front of the painting or on the roof of the original encounter. Selina assumed the latter, but she popped inside first to leave a miniature camera on the bench in front of the Van Gogh, just in case. She got as far as the third floor panel to disable the second floor cameras when she caught the shadow shifting in her peripheral vision.
“You’ve already done this, I take it?” she asked just loud enough to be heard by a looming crimefighter.
“I meant to meet on the roof,” he said. “Came down here to keep an eye on that panel in case you misunderstood.”
“The roof was my guess,” she smirked. “I was going to plant a camera downstairs, just in case.”
Batman’s lip twitched. She took a step towards him, and his lip twitched again as she touched the emblem on the center of his chest, delicately tracing over the scallops of the right batwing as her own lips curled into a smile.
“You’ve started to think in contingencies,” said Batman.
“I always did, just not the same kind as you.” Another slow, silent scallop-trace, and then… “Roof? It is a starry night out, I’m told.”
A few minutes later, Batman walked the perimeter of the block glass roof, assuring himself there was no suspicious activity in the area that required his attention. Catwoman double-checked the sightlines, and then met him in the southeast corner on a favorite spot, where they could look through the clear floor, down into a row of Warhols and Lichtensteins.
“So,” she said.
“So,” he answered.
She looked confused. She waited for a minute, but the only response was another lip twitch.
“It’s your meeting,” she reminded him. “We left off at ‘you’ve been expecting it.’”
“Of course. You don’t have any idea at all what’s going on, not even a theory or a guess?” She knew the tone from their first ‘date night’ team-ups. He had this way about him when he tried to coax her into being a detective. “Think about when it started, this ‘poking around’ in your past. The timing of it.”
“It’s not the movie; Barbara and I eliminated that first thing. The stuff they’re looking at is all wrong for that.”
“Agreed. So what are they looking at: France, Italy, fashion. What does that imply about the person or persons doing the searching?”
“They know how to pronounce Ibiza, so what?”
“They know you know how to pronounce Ibiza. They know you, Selina. It’s not ‘fashion’ in general they’re looking at, but Fashion Week, the specific tents you went to. Given their ability to pinpoint actual dresses, I’d say they watched video from the runways where the audience was visible and noted which numbers you jotted down. That’s how I’d go about it.”
“Bruce, I get that you’ve got that whole Sherlock thing going where you, obnoxiously and presumptuously, treat me like a Watson-Robin that you’re training to think like a detective. Got news for you. Three pages before all that deduction stuff in the Detective’s Handbook is a technique I happen to know is a personal favorite of yours: Ask somebody who knows. And if they’re evasive, you make a fist and ask agai—”
“You’re being profiled.”
She blinked. Then:
“… Uhlhm… Come again?”
“You’re on the list. Have been since—You’re right, it has nothing to do with the movie, that’s not what I meant by timing—Selina, think about when this started, and then look at where they’re looking. You used the phrase yourself about Florence; you said it hit close to home.”
“So who do you figure the leak is? Alfred? Whiskers? You?”
“It’s you, Kitten.”
“Tonight alone I heard you talking to Richard Flay about a Della Robbia something in the Bargello. That’s not a museum that many tourists find, and you’ve been there often enough to know the same obscure pieces as Flay who lectured at I Tatti for a year. Couple minutes later, you’re telling me about some spot near Cahors, ‘without a native driving you’ll never find the turn.’ You’ve got earrings from this obscure shop in Venice that nobody’s ever heard of—”
“Madison has,” Selina cut in, feeling defensive but unsure why.
“Madison is the second-best detective in the city. That’s why I hired her.”
“Have you two made a lunch date yet?” he asked in a Bat-gravel that eerily echoed the timing and cadence of the Fop.
“Not… lunch...” Selina said, reeling from this second occasion on this roof when the man in the mask had spoken in a voice she’d never heard before. The first was the night of the Van Gogh revelation, and the unexpected voice she heard was Bruce. Tonight it was… uh, Batfop? While she regained her equilibrium from that, her mouth continued on auto-pilot until her brain could catch up. “We were going to do the next trunk show at Bendel together and then go see… Wait a minute. Time out. Your Development Director is the one stalking me with more energy and initiative than that insane Egyptologist who wanted me to be his Nefertiti reincarnate?”
“No, the searches Barbara uncovered wouldn’t have been Madison; they would have been her counterparts at other charities trying to catch up. They know Madison has a head start, having daily access to you at the Foundation. Selina, don’t you see, the moment you signed off on that first NMK property becoming a thrift store for the Cancer Society, you became a whale for the professional fundraiser.”
“And the non-professionals who are simply board members for this cause or that. They’ll have reclassified you too, but they’ll be a lot more circumspect. They won’t want to risk offending Bruce Wayne or alienating the Foundation, so they won’t just ask you to write a check. There will always be some slant, some reason that makes you the perfect person to go to for this, so it doesn’t seem like poaching. If it’s for an animal sanctuary or saving the snow leopards, that’s easy, but if it’s ‘landmines’ or ‘cleft palate’ they’ll have to get creative. Maybe the event is a wine tasting, and of course they know you’re so knowledgeable about wine. Or there’s a jazz artist performing at the event who they know you’re fond of, or maybe they’re auctioning off this wonderful book on the Art of Florence, so of course they thought of you.”
“Doesn’t it strike you as just a little hypocritical that you've got Wayne Tech trying to lock down exactly the kind of things the Wayne Foundation is digging up on people?”
“World of difference between you researching someone to find out what they have that’s worth stealing and Madison—”
“Researching me to steal the 21st Street lot for the Foundation when it’s already earmarked for the Junior League? It’s not all that different, Stud. If it was, my respect for Madison would have gone down just now instead of up.”
“Impossible woman,” Batman muttered.
“Whatever. But why not tell me?! If you knew this was coming, why not give a girl a little advanced warning instead of—”
“If Oracle had brought this to me like she should have, maybe I would’ve, but—”
“Whoa! ‘Maybe you would have,’ we’ll do later. And the original question of why you didn’t tell me when you were expecting it absent any word from ‘Oracle,’ we’ll also postpone for later. Barbara brought this to me, I’m guessing because she has this crazy idea that since it’s my life and not yours, I’m the interested party here. What part of that isn’t making it through the graphite headgear?”
“Oracle works for me. Monitoring queries about you is an operation she undertook at my—”
“Because you’re a presumptuous controlling jackass. We all know it, it’s a cost of doing business within a country mile of you, but you do not—”
“—own protection, not to mention long range—”
“—thinking you can treat people like a computer program with—”
“—out any regard for what it would mean to the people who care about you—”
“—and actually going to say ‘It’s Selina’s life but she isn’t the one who initiated the query at the c-prompt, so I can’t disclose—”
“—the stock dropping a quarter point just be—”
“—cause she’s a person not an ATM that will only spit out—”
“—wedding invitations instead of diamond cat—”
“—pin code is the only way to get it—”
“—after all we accomplished with the town halls, it’s a gift!”
“—pon yourself to dictate how my life’s going to be, I’ll thank you not to screw up quite so spectacula—Wait. The what of the what now?”
“It’s a gift,” he repeated, his arm out, palm up, with an ‘isn’t it obvious’ gesture. “After all we went through with the town halls to make the stockholders see your relationship with Bruce Wayne in the proper light, to now have you seen as the white whale on the charity circuit…”
“Would you please stop using that word? Literary allusion or casino slang, I do not like being referred to as a whale that many times in one conversation.”
“A lion then,” Batman replied patronizingly. “A social and philanthropic lion equal to Bruce Wayne himself. Selina, you can walk into Cartier tomorrow singing ‘An Old Fashioned Wedding’ and the market won’t even blink.”
“Ohhh,” Selina said, a long, low breath of recognition drawing the simple word out for three syllables. “You… controlling, manipulative, son of a… protocol.” The last word could have been shouted, instead it was barely above a whisper. “You planned this. You scheming bastard. You planned this from the beginning. You didn’t take just any shield company that was handy to grab up all those Falcone properties, you did this deliberately as...what, as Town Hall 2.0!? You don’t even want to marry me, you’re just too much of a control freak to stomach the market having an opinion on the idea.”
“The autocrat that won’t let Superman second guess his judgment is going to teach Saul Drescher of the Financial Times a lesson.”
“I won’t pretend I’m not capable of—”
“And Lucius’s thing—I BELIEVED YOU! You told me you didn’t plan that setup, and I actually believed… But you were just packaging ‘Selina’s a jewel thief’ as a WayneTech asset for the fucking stockholders!?”
“NOT CAPABLE,” Bruce repeated the last words to regain the floor over her interruption, “of planning and executing a protocol ten times as complicated as the one you’ve laid out, nor will I apologize for that ability as if it’s a character flaw, nor will I pretend I don’t consider this to be a desirable outcome, nor will I apologize for that opinion. I will just—”
“Deny that you did it.”
“I didn’t,” he graveled with I’m-Batman finality.
Selina paused, cocked her hip at particular angle that harkened back to long ago rooftops. Her head tilted to match it, and the voice, when she spoke, was the taunting purr of old Bat/Cat confrontations.
“You don’t think that voice makes it more credible, do you?” she said mockingly. “Considering everything you used to deny in that tone. Do I need to remind you?”
“Could we stay on the original subject, please? I have told you that I did not put your name on NMK Holdings or use that company for the Falcone acquisitions as part of a protocol.”
“And I don’t believe you,” Catwoman answered.
“I can’t help that; it’s the truth. That’s what exists whether you believe in it or not. Perhaps you’re thinking of Tinkerbell.”
A sputtered laugh escaped her, and Selina hastily brought her hand to her mouth to cover it. Another convulsive giggle followed. Then she got control of herself, and looked up at him. She was still murderously angry, and his deadpan scowl made her angrier. But the markedly unBatmany expression that had just popped out of Batman was… funny.
“Tinkerbell?” she managed. Batman’s deadliest death-glare was the only answer, and Selina took a deep breath. She glanced down into the Pop Art gallery, and happened to see a Warhol-style silkscreen of Batman scowling in four different color palettes. “Okay,” she said wearily. “Let’s say … strictly for the sake of not putting a cat-scratch on Batman’s cheek that Bruce would find hard to explain tomorrow… that I believe you. How long does this unplanned and non-protocol-induced gift being profiled and cyber-stalked by the PLUs continue?”
“Right now, you’re fresh meat,” Batman said in Bruce’s everyday non-fop tone. “The intrusive searches, the aggressive contacts, that will all subside after a month or two. Then it will surge like it does for everybody in November, drop off in January, hiccup briefly in May, July and September.”
“Okay, well, thanks for the advance warning, jackass.”
“There is one more thing I wanted to talk about,” he said. “So much has happened with the Pelacci wedding and Bane and the Rogue War, I barely had a chance to think it through myself, let alone mention it to you. I realize it’s not ideal timing, but since you brought it up and… we’re here…”
I found myself thinking about Jervis. I’ve only been hatted once, and I don’t remember a second of it. As soon as the headpiece brushed against my temple, everything frizzled into white nothingness. That’s the typical experience, but I understand there are variations. He has different devices inducing different mental states, depending on what he needs you to do. One of those states can, allegedly, produce fantastically detailed dream worlds based on fantastically implausible premises. I really hoped this wasn’t one, but I was starting to wonder. It seemed the only explanation for the waves of nonsense buffeting me since Bruce grabbed me for that dance.
Or maybe I did hope that was the explanation. I knew it wasn’t; Jervis was in Arkham. But as a way to make sense of it all, it seemed, I don’t know, so much simpler.
“Since you brought it up,” Batman was saying.
I had no idea what. I certainly hadn’t ‘brought up’ anything connected to the Pelacci wedding, Bane or the Rogue war. Or anything connected to the MoMA roof and its special significance in our past.
“I had a bit of an epiphany when I went to Atlantis,” came next. And before I could even add ‘Or Atlantis’ to my thought, he’d gone on to Mongolia. “That time Ra’s kidnapped you just to, to get my attention…”
“Well nobody ever said he wasn’t a dick,” I murmured, but all I could think was ‘Mongolia now!?’
“…Aida has never been one of my favorite opera and my mind wandered…”
So, let’s take it down: the MoMA roof, the Pelacci-Marcuso wedding, Bane, the Rogue War, Atlantis, Mongolia and Aida. I think I can be excused for wondering if rascally little Jervis hadn’t got himself an early release from Arkham, snuck up behind me, and given me a hard shove through the looking glass.
And I was still furious with him—with Bruce or Batman or Bat-Fop or whatever the hell he was turning into now—which made it all quite hard to process:
“I remember thinking about that night at the other museum, when it started. That first burglary after Cat-Tales, in the Egyptian wing. You were so… beautiful and exciting—and funny—I let myself smile at something you said and…”
And that sounds like I was down the rabbit hole, doesn’t it?! That’s just not the kind of thing Batman says on a museum rooftop, even that one.
“Then years later, there we were, sitting in front of that Van Gogh and… talking about marriage. It was all so tied up with… mortality, the fear of losing you on that flight to Mongolia, the muscle failure that night in the cave, and then the mindwipe and hell month and…”
“Bruce, you said that you didn’t have a chance to ‘think this though’ yourself, so maybe you should just wait and go do that, because whatever it is you’re trying to say to me, it’s just not coming through—”
“I was wrong. The… sick dread I felt at the vaguest allusion to marriage, I thought it came—Selina, don’t you see, I thought it was tied up with ideas of death because of Crime Alley. And it wasn’t. It came from Ra’s.”
“Bruce, you’re talking about a guy whose best idea in the last ten years was to steal a bunch of yours. You can’t honestly think he’s capable of that kind of mindfuck.”
“No, not intentionally. But these associations were formed in the course of that kidnap plot of his, and I simply cannot allow Ra’s al Ghul to have that kind of influence over my life.”
I nodded, because he obviously felt very strongly about all this, and because getting the idea out at all seemed up there with passing a kidney stone.
“Well, good then,” I said, nodding again.
“Good then,” he echoed.
That was followed by a strained silence.
Anywhere else it would have felt like he was waiting for something, but on a museum roof, it felt like the old tension. Back then, in the split second when his arm would start to move, I could feel it: there was a battle raging in there, whether that hand would go to the belt and reach for the batcuffs or stretch out to wrap around my waist and take me into his arms. It was a thrilling tension, then.
Tonight, it felt like vertigo.
Then it peaked into absolutely nothing.
“We should tell Alfred first,” he said. “Then have the kids over. And right after that, I’ll tell Clark, because he’ll know the second he sees—”
I’m not sure how it happened, but I had my fingers curled around the whip handle before I caught myself. Bruce’s voice faded into sort of a head cold kind of pressure pushing outward, and my heartbeat was thumping uncomfortably loud and heavy, considering I wasn’t doing anything physical.
“Stop right there,” I breathed against that really uncomfortable chest tension. “I am going to ask you nicely to stop right there, because if you don’t, you will be cut off by a whipcrack, is that clear?”
“IS THAT CLEAR?”
“Selina, get a hold of yourse—”
And I’m not sorry.
I did warn him.
He was obviously pissed. But he made that hand-raise gesture, so I knew I had the floor.
“Sorry,” I said, putting the whip away with an equally exaggerated but conciliatory gesture, because I really did feel we better get the temperature down quickly. Also, my heartbeat was still too thumpy and my breathing too heavy to want to get into a full scratch-off with Batman. “Are you… under the impression—I don’t believe I’m even asking this—Bruce, are you under the impression that you just proposed?”
“I said that I had an epiphany—”
“Y-yes, that you hadn’t had a chance to mention to me. And then you started a story about Ra’s. Now, I realize that we are not the most conventional couple in the world, and I’m really not the kind of woman who needs a gazebo and a red rose and the whole down-on-one-knee thing. But ‘I can’t allow Ra’s al Ghul to have that kind of influence over my life’?! Really? Ra’s al Ghul, that’s a name you think belongs in this conversation?”
“I SAID that I hadn’t thought through exactly how to broach—”
“Right! You have protocols for Poison Ivy attacking the Beatrice Inn with bamboo and King Snake smuggling credit card blanks into Chinatown inside fake Gucci bags, but you decide to just mention to me that your views on marriage have changed, since I brought it up and we’re here! Not like it’s anything important. You’ll wing it. ‘Bane. Ra’s. The Rogue War.’ You’ve already got the fix in with the stockholders and the social register. Telling me is just a formality after all.”
“Well uhy—” I heard, and I could see it. I could see it. He was going to say ‘Uh, yes.’ I don’t know when I’ve felt so, so… cheap.
He did stop himself from actually saying it out loud.
But we have a long history of knowing each other’s thoughts.
Some of it happened right on this roof, in fact.
And most of all: taken for granted.
“So you figured, what, that I’d be flattered by this? You ‘changed your mind’ so it’s Christmas morning for Kitty.”
“I thought it’s what you wanted. You said—”
“That night, yes. In a weak moment, downstairs by the Van Gogh, I did want it—for all the wrong reasons. You said it yourself: it was about mortality. For me too. It was fear. It was the mindwipe, I was feeling vulnerable—that you were vulnerable and we were—and maybe getting married was a way to, I don’t know, make it feel more… solid, permanent… something.
“And okay maybe that’s not the healthiest reason in the world to want to be man and wife, but it’s a damn sight better than ‘Ra’s al Ghul cannot be allowed to have that kind of influence in my life.’”
“Fine, I shouldn’t have mentioned Ra’s,” he said—with all the piercing insight of ‘I don’t think those jewels belong to you.’
“I salute you, World’s Greatest Detective,” I spat reflexively.
“I’m sorry I asked,” he spat back.
“You didn’t,” I pointed out.
And he hadn’t.
Maybe it was all the talk about my past. My roommate at Miss Corinne’s loved Pride and Prejudice. She had the entire text of Eliza Bennet’s refusal to Mr. Darcy memorized. I wished I remembered more of it. All I could recall right then was that the pompous jackass “spoke of apprehension and anxiety but his countenance expressed real security.” i.e. He was the catch of the county, he knew it, and there wasn’t a chance in the world of any semi-lucid woman saying no. But even he went through the motions. It’s the rudest proposal in English Literature, and even he bothered to ask the question and pretend he was anxious about the answer.
I would have mentioned it, but even though I didn’t hear him fire the line, I knew there was only empty roof behind me.
He had gone.
The “apartment” the Colemans had bought from Sweetzer Platt’s widow in 1988 was, in fact, three full floors of a Yorke Street high-rise, consisting of forty-one rooms. Geoff Coleman had ingeniously converted the bottom floors into studios and one-bedroom flats, resold them, and recouped the entire purchase price with enough left over to furnish the remaining rooms in regal style. In Bruce Wayne’s circle, however, it was still called “Justine Platt’s apartment.” To the insurance company, it was simply called “The Nightmare.” Ninety windows altogether. Thirty on the top floor where the Colemans’ palatial residence was protected by the first-rate security of Foster and Forsythe. Sixty identical windows below where the affluent residents weren’t quite in that league. Sixty windows where a skilled would-be thief might practice.
In the hours before dawn, as Geoff and Lily Coleman were sleeping off the Tattinger from the Wayne Foundation Fire Ball, one of those windows was breached. A silent figure moved through the rooms with the instincts of an accomplished thief. In less than three minutes, the Colemans’ safe was located. In less than fifteen it was cracked. And in less than twenty the figure was gone, along with $175,000 in jewelry, $196,000 in bearer bonds, and a miniature of “The Spice Merchant’s Wife” that had hung low over the table inside the foyer where the invitation to the next Wayne gala sat in the mail tray.
To be continued…