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Wayne Rises

by Chris Dee

Heh —Bruce Wayne struggled— Heh-hic — to contain the rhythmic expulsion of vocalized breath —Heheh— which had always resulted from the chemical excitation of muscle and respiratory function—hA! — producing the involuntary, spasmodic responses known as laughter.

“Oh look, The Dark Knight chortles.”

Until today it had always been chemical.

“Ha-heheheh, I’m sorry,” Bruce laughed helplessly, letting his head fall back against the high-backed chair while Selina, seated on the sofa, affixed him with that look which, throughout history, cats and women have directed at the men and dogs who don’t quite get it. 

Alfred wasn’t faring much better.  There was a smile aching to push through his butler’s reserve.  He was serving tea in the morning room.  He shouldn’t appear aware of the conversation unless and until Master Bruce or Miss Selina included him.  He wouldn’t feel so strongly about it if Wayne Manor operated like other houses of its kind, if tea in the morning room was part of the daily routine.  But it wasn’t.  It hadn’t been for decades.  But now, now that the “war” between the Rogues and the mobs had ended with virtually all theme criminals behind bars and an unprecedented gutting of organized crime, Master Bruce had permitted a normalcy to return that was a little hard for Alfred to believe. 

“I’m sorry, Kitten,” Bruce sputtered, surrendering at last to the humor of the situation.  “I just knew you would have to say something about it.  A major Hollywood blockbuster—”

“It’s not like I’m saying I didn’t like it,” Selina insisted.

“About a cat burglar, an absolutely gorgeous jewel thief with sort of a cat ears thing going over her mask—” he said, illustrating ‘cat ears’ in a ridiculous move cupping his hands over his head. 

“I didn’t say two words about her costume—”

“In a city very much like Gotham—”

You’re the one who said form-fitting head-to-toe black isn’t going to cut it against a city sky as bright as—”

“Who gets involved with an industrialist very much like Bruce Wayne—”

“And a cute one too when he bothered to shave, but all I said was get the details right, if she’s a jewel thief—”

“I just never imagined, of all the things you’d decide to nitpick—”

“You don’t steal from people while they’re at a charity fundraiser, that’s all I’m saying.  The charity event is where you shop.  It’s where the goods are out on display: you spot a nice ruby necklace on the dance floor, some diamonds and sapphires at the buffet, then you let them go home, put them back in the safe, and you go in next week to get the goodies when they’re taking little Daphne to her cello lesson.”

“It’s not supposed to be you exactly; it’s not ‘Catwoman.’  So she operates a little differently—”

“Sherlock Holmes isn’t supposed to be Batman.  How many times have I listened to your diatribe about that Robert Downey movie?”

“That’s completely different.  His whole process was wrong.  A rational man devoted to deduction and scientific method—”

“Forty-two.”

“Does not simply accept the supernatural—”

“Forty-two times I’ve heard this, Bruce.”

“When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains must be true.  That means you reject the supernatural explanation first thing and start looking for what’s really going on, not the other way around.”

“And if you’re an art thief, it’d be fine to rob Erin Adelsberger when she’s at the Wayne gala, because her Chagall would still be hanging on her wall.  But if you’re a jewel thief, there is no point in breaking into her penthouse in FiDi, because her best pieces aren’t in the safe.  They’re across town hanging around her neck and dangling from her wrist…”

Alfred had set down the tray and turned to the wall so neither Bruce nor Selina could see that he was smiling wider than either of them.  The argument was so… normal, so domestic, so…  Despite the Batman and Catwoman trappings, the sentiments could have been those of Dr. and Mrs. Wayne returning from an outing.

“You should have seen her, Alfred,” Bruce said, his eyes on Selina with a teasing look that was almost boyish.  “My doppelganger was better at banter than I am.  Every time he got off a good line, she pinched my leg and pointed at the screen.”

Normalcy.  With the change in routine, an astonishing change had occurred in Master Bruce himself. 

“Yes, but balancing that, you’re much better at holding onto your cars.  As trade-offs go, it’s a better skill to have.”

Batman still patrolled, but Commissioner Muskelli was adamant that he stay clear of organized crime.  The fall of Carmine Falcone created vacancies the Yakuza, Triads, and Russian mobs would try to fill.  Knowing that, the police were poised to take advantage of the situation and make inroads into all those remaining criminal enterprises.  Being police, they could do it by the book, in such a way that would not jeopardize the upcoming trials of all those Falcones.  Batman raising the specter of vigilantism could only inspire defense motions and Op Ed pieces, poison jury pools and generally pull focus from the important business of the day: getting the most mileage out of this unprecedented win for the good guys. 

Patrolling such a relatively peaceful city took less time, and Batman usually returned home well before three.  Alfred wasn’t sure when Catwoman got home, but she was now getting up at the same time as Master Bruce and accompanying him into the city.  Alfred wasn’t completely clear on how the financial endgame of the war resulted in Miss Selina controlling sizable amounts of Gotham real estate, but he knew there was a great deal of what Master Bruce called “sorting out” to be done, which required her working daily with various offices of the Wayne Foundation. 

It was only on weekends like today that he expected to prepare a midday meal, but this morning Selina had told him to cancel lunch since Bruce was taking her into town to see a movie.  Maybe they could have some tea when they got back. 

“You know that blend he really likes,” Selina had said, her face suddenly appearing much younger and almost shy, apart from her eyes which reflected something older, joyous and wise.  “Lapsang Souchong and Darjeeling.”

“Yes, miss, I know the one,” Alfred had said, meeting her eye.

It was her favorite too, and Alfred knew why.  Specifying that blend, together with the changes in Master Bruce and the tone and tempo of the day’s conversation since the couple returned from the city, Alfred couldn’t help but wonder if it was time to raise an issue openly that he gave up even hinting at years ago.

 

Norm had been working on the Sub Diego project since the day the Wayne Foundation got involved.  He had begged for the assignment.  He was from San Diego originally, and the news of the earthquake had been devastating.  The mall he’d hung out in: rubble.  The hotel where his senior prom was held: submerged.  Then there were the casualty reports—followed by the spine-chilling news that hundreds, perhaps thousands of those believed dead had been discovered living underwater.  A madman called Anton Geist had tampered with their genetic make-up to turn them into water-breathers. 

Aquaman had found them, mostly living in the resort hotel and navy base that were the largest structures submerged, and Atlantis had ‘done what they could’ to get things organized—and didn’t do a very good job of it, as far as Norm was concerned.  It tore him up for days as the Wayne Foundation got involved and he saw more and more that was just plain wrong.  Stupidly wrong, pointlessly wrong.   He didn’t even know how to begin making sense of it. 

Then he had the dumb luck to run into Bruce Wayne.  Norm still didn’t know what possessed him, how he ever got the idea that Bruce Name-on-the-Building Wayne would stand there and listen while this little nerd from a cubicle data-dumped on his thousand-dollar Italian shoes that way.  But before Norm even knew what was happening, before he even processed how he had overstepped, there was this hand on the center of his back guiding him back towards his desk and Bruce Name-on-the-Building Wayne was saying “Let’s go back to your office and talk about it.”

They sat for almost an hour, and as Norm listed the many, many things Atlantis was screwing up, Bruce’s nods grew more frequent and emphatic.

“That makes sense.  Atlantis is a self-contained underwater society.  Has been for millennia.  Self-sufficient, independent… isolated.  All of their assistance to Sub Diego is from that mindset.”

Norm stared, suddenly seeing the common thread in all his complaints about Atlantis.

“They’re not thinking how all of those people are from the land, went to St.  Bartholomew’s and PS-23,” he said.   “That they had jobs and friends—still have friends and families up here.”

“Right.  They don’t want to be ‘independent and isolated,’ they want to still be a part of the world they were born into.  Atlantis is trying to set them up to leave all that behind, cut all ties.  It’s the wrong approach entirely.  What does Mr.  Anders have you working on?”

Norm showed him a few things and Bruce took the folder, but after he glanced through it, he didn’t give it back.

“Forget about this.  Why don’t you look into what they’ve got down there in Sub Diego and see what they can actually do better than we can here on land.  They have access to different resources, different physical conditions, their people are all water-breathers now.  There have to be all kinds of things they could do more efficiently.  Then see what Atlantis is trying to get them doing for themselves that’s just not worth the trouble.  And establish trade.  California and Mexico are closest…”

After a few weeks, Bruce came back and asked how it was going.  Norm had a feeling he might and had an idea ready to pitch.

“I know a couple of the guys down there, two from my high school and one just from the neighborhood.  Got me thinking this would be a lot easier if we had an actual office down there, hire them to staff it.  And then they’ve got another source of income.”

Bruce loved the idea, and before long, the Sub Diego branch office had a staff of thirty employees.  Since then, it had become a routine:  About once a month, Bruce Wayne showed up at Norman’s desk.  He’d ask how it was going, Norm would tell him whatever the new challenges were, and within a few days, the emails would begin.  Norman Nobody @waynefoundation.net was suddenly being CC’d on memos from Wayne Industries about a robotic exoskeleton they were developing, from the aerospace division about new materials that would withstand the undersea pressure levels, and so on. 

Bruce’s last visit was more than a week ago and Norm figured the mighty Wayne Tech Communication Division did not have anything to improve on the jerry-rigged system Josh and Alvaro had come up with—when he was blind copied on a memo from wayneenterprises.co on a new extranet architecture that would provide the same connectivity to the undersea office as he had to his colleagues on the 28th floor.

 

For Selina, the day began as usual, with an appalling stream of sunlight on her face, a feral growl beside her, and Bruce rolling into her as he tried to get away from the demon sunlight.  Juice and the morning Times on the breakfast tray.  Separate showers if they were having breakfast downstairs in the dining room.  Once or twice a week, Selina liked to invade Bruce’s shower or else rush her own and wait in his closet, stretched out naked over the long bureau of his folded shirts.  On those occasions, there was no time for breakfast and they’d each get a coffee from the little cart in Wayne Plaza before going their separate ways: he to the Wayne Enterprises executive suite on the 77th floor, she to the Foundation on 61.

From the first day of this NMK business, something about the drive in was preying on her.  Bruce was different.  Almost, but not quite, Batman.  Batman certainly wasn’t a problem, it was that side she’d fallen for first.  But usually when Bruce gave off the Batman vibe out of costume, there was a definite reason.  All he was doing now was driving. 

She started off working with Gwen Chatham, the Foundation’s Executive Director.  Selina knew her slightly from various Wayne events, and while she had certainly formed a high opinion of the woman’s intelligence and education, Selina couldn’t help but note Bruce’s fingerprints on the plan Gwen was laying out: this person would be investigating each property by various means, what it was and who owned it on paper, what it was and who owned it in practice.  This person was the go-between with law enforcement, this one with the city.  This was the level of interaction with the Mayor, the City Council and other official bodies that Selina herself should participate in, this was the knucklehead stuff that the Foundation would take care of…  It’s not that any executive on Gwen’s level wouldn’t be capable of making and articulating the plan for a complex, multi-faceted project.  It was simply the way it was all being presented, the little checks and balances, the way this category was broken down into two subs with two examples given for each.  Catwoman had seen enough Batman plans play out over the years, and Selina had seen the mind-bending mirrors of those plans in Bruce’s daily life—he had a protocol to take over the grill during a cookout, for Bast’s sake!  She could tell.  It wasn’t any specific thing, she could just tell.  It felt like him.  Gwen may have laid the groundwork, but Bruce made sure it hit his desk when she was done with it, and as soon as he got his hands on it, he made all these little adjustments.

Which was rather sweet, Selina decided.  She wasn’t sure she actually felt that way, but it was the way she was deciding to feel.  Like the atmosphere in the car on the ride in, there was something vaguely peculiar going on.  Too vague to even be sure it was there, let alone be sure what ‘it’ was, let alone have definite feelings about it.

After the big picture sessions with Gwen, Selina spent most of her time with Cynthia Merrithew and Ron Altman on grant proposals that were a match for the properties they might want to develop on their own, and a Small Business Incubator for those they didn’t.  Like Gwen, Selina had met Cynthia at a number of Wayne events.  Ron was new to the Foundation, and Selina found him a useful touchstone for that reason.  Virtually everyone else in the office knew her from the receiving line at formal parties standing next to Bruce: vintage Dior, shake hands, ballroom small talk, then move on quickly because the boss is in demand.  Ron had never done that, so he was useful for comparison.  Everyone else was changing gears.

Including Selina herself.  She had discovered quite a kindred spirit in Madison Hargrove, the Development Director.  In charge of all fundraising for the Foundation, Madison was present at every single Wayne Foundation and most Wayne Enterprises events, big or small, and all the woman had ever talked about with Selina was her shoes (Manolo?), her handbag (Judith?) or her earrings (Meru?)  Selina had been impressed with the last—the Meru Brothers eclectic shop in the artistic Brera district of Venice wasn’t widely known—but she had written off Madison as someone who didn’t take an interest in much more than clothes.  Their first meeting at the Foundation seemed to confirm it.

“Ooo, nice B Bag,” it began. 

Selina thanked her, complimented a necklace Madison was wearing in return, and was surprised to hear it came from the gift shop at the Whitney Museum.  That led to a discussion of the Yayoi Kasuma exhibition, which they both found overrated, and the next day when they ran into each other at the coffee machine, a follow up about the perfectly awful Kasuma in the window at the Phipps Gallery—and a shared loathing of the short redheaded salesman there who always tried to bully you into buying the most appalling pieces.  They made a date to do the trunk show at Henri Bendel together, and then drop in at the Phipps to bait him.

Most days, after putting in a few hours of work on the NMK project, Selina took the elevator up to 77 to meet Bruce for lunch.  Today was no exception, nor was the conversation she walked in on anything out of the ordinary:

“Falstaff again,” Lucius was saying.

“Who is this guy?” Bruce said, a hint of Bat-exasperation at the edge of his eyes.  “He underbids Trump on the Riverfront project, he outbids Drake on the Rothko.  He steals the Fenwick deal out from under Larraby Chemicals, he’s got Malt Industries running for cover on the Belmont project.  I mean, everything he touches turns to—Hi there.”

“Hi,” Selina said.  “Don’t let me interrupt.”

All she’d done was flick her eyes from the papers on the desk up to the man standing behind it.  It was innocent and casual, but to one who first encountered those eyes behind a mask, the subtle move had resonance—and the same effect it used to: derailing his train of thought.

“This the same Falstaff from the Empire Club?” Selina asked, and Bruce’s eyes grew dark and menacing.

“Falstaff, Inc.,” said Lucius.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.  Blows into town, buys up the First Knickerbocker Tower, adds ten floors—making it six feet taller than the Wayne Building—and expands into seemingly a dozen industries at a time.”

“While adding as little as possible to the Gotham economy,” Bruce interjected.  “If he could have outsourced the construction jobs to India, he would have.”

“It’s not a ‘he,’ Bruce,” Lucius insisted.  “Falstaff, Inc. is a business, not an individual person.”

“But Gregorian Falstaff is,” Selina said.  “It wasn’t a corporation that parked us in at the Empire Club and spent the afternoon talking trash about the Wayne Foundation.”

“I don’t know when I’ve had such an urge to punch someone in the face,” Bruce said.

It was said without a hint of Bat-subtext, and Selina had a feeling he meant it.  You don’t come into Gotham City, build your building taller than Wayne, park your Delorean next to his Lamborghini, and go around saying the charitable foundation built in his parents’ memory blows at least 80-cents on the dollar on administrative costs with only a pittance making it to people it’s meant to help.

“Well, he may have the manners of an angry mongoose, but he’s a formidable businessman,” Lucius concluded.  “He hasn’t challenged WayneTech or Wayne Industries, not yet, but I’d say it’s only a matter of time.  He’s taking on everyone in Gotham, and so far, when he throws down that gauntlet, he wins.”

Bruce glared with the willful intensity that was pure Batman, first at Lucius and then at the edge of a paper on his desk: the two red hexagons with a white letter F in the negative space that constituted the Falstaff logo.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he graveled.

 

One of the more ironic oopses of ‘the movie’ was demonstrating that their cute little cat burglar was NOKD by having her pronounce Ibiza like someone who’d only read the name and never heard it.  Now, my family wasn’t quite in Bruce’s league, but my mother did dance with the Gotham Ballet and every third year they performed in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, and then afterwards took a few days to unwind in Ibiza.  It’s my first memory of my mother not being home, she was in Ibiza… I knew that name before I knew New Jersey.  I lisped it before…  Yeah.  Well.

The line between Bruce’s upbringing and mine is a lot more subtle.  It’s not social or cultural, it’s… zeroes.  It’s scale.  And it’s rather strange that the first and only time that difference became apparent was today, right on the heels of “Ibitha.”  The advisability of going all movie-catburglar in head-to-toe black aside, the one thing that flick completely botched is the Dickensian nonsense.  I like Dickens, don’t get me wrong, to read on a cold winter’s night with a glass of Merlot in front of a roaring fire.  But I’m not A Tale of Two Cities, I’m The Philadelphia Story.  “The prettiest sight in this pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges.” 

So it’s really quite strange that not twenty-four hours after “Actually, it’s pronounced ‘Ibitha,’” I realized Bruce actually had been using a freakishly old money codeword in a way I didn’t understand.  Every time he’s mentioned NMK Holdings and the properties he acquired to keep Falcone from getting control of them, he said it would have to be ‘sorted out.’  Lucius would help sort it out.  The Foundation would play a role in sorting it out.  I would go down and work with Ms. Merrithew and Mrs. Chatham sorting it out. 

What I didn’t realize at the time is that ‘sorting out’ is WayneSpeak for massive amounts of money flowing into your pocket.  Massive amounts.  Not Picassos and Lamborghinis/we don’t mention the price because it’s tacky.  Small countries and space programs/we don’t mention the price because—see above—we’re The Philadelphia Story and not A Tale of Two Cities, and we mean to keep it that way. 

Pronouncing I-b-i-z-a “Ibitha,” that I knew.  Pronouncing “Kitten, if you’re up for some no-limit Texas Hold’em with Gates, Zuckerberg and a few members of the Saudi royal family, I got you a seat at the table” as “sorting out,” that one I didn’t know.

Most of it isn’t going to be staying.  As soon as we confirm that someplace Carmine took over started off as a legitimate business, we set about turning it back over to the people who owned it originally.  If they’re no longer around, it goes into the Small Business Incubator with all the fronts that were owned by Falcone middle men.  Then there are the “abandoned” properties that haven’t officially been anything for a decade.  What’s sold outright funds subprime loans for the incubator.  What’s kept, if it can be rented out to one of the incubator candidates, only charges minimal rent.  Subprime interest on the purchase price of Gotham real estate and minimal rent still comes to a bit more than a Monet oil on canvas. 

I kissed a man in a mask, that’s really all I did. 

And he’s become more of a mystery than ever.  Riding into town this morning, it felt like Batman sitting there.  He’s always the one who drives when we’re on our own, so it wasn’t that.  And the Porsche is less like the Batmobile than some of the other cars, so it wasn’t that.  Maybe it’s just that when I’m with him in the Batmobile, we’re partners.  Bruce and Selina have always been just ‘Bruce and Selina.’  This going into town together, going to the Wayne Tower, having the ungodly responsibility of all these assets to sort out, it’s… it’s very hard to wrap my head around. 

I’m The Philadelphia Story.  I took Rembrandts and Picassos and rubies and emeralds.  This is another level.  This is another scale.  I’m starting to understand the Foundation as more than a way to avoid A Tale of Two Cities.  There are an awful lot of people whose lives Bruce makes better, with plenty left over for the Rembrandts. 

And I think… I think he knows I’m thinking that.

And I think that’s why it felt like Batman sitting there as we drove in together.

And I think that’s why I have the urge to punch him in the face.

 

The Paris Judicial Police, Gendarmerie and Interpol all had it tagged differently:  a string of burglaries, home invasions, grand thefts, thefts of cultural property… assaults… murder. 

Different neighborhoods throughout Paris.  Different stately homes in the provinces.  Paintings cut from the frames.  Safes emptied of their jewels.  And the violence was escalating. 

The first servant they found on the premises was merely struck on the head. 

The second was beaten nearly to death with a fire poker. 

The first victims they found at home, they broke the wife’s arms when the husband refused to open the safe voluntarily. 

The second one who resisted had opened her safe; she only wanted to keep her wedding ring.  They cut it off her finger with a bolt cutter, stabbed her in the throat, and stuffed her body into the emptied safe.

The last one, they’d written “Villon” on the wall in the victim’s blood.

 

Selina had spent the morning in Cynthia’s office sifting through grant proposals tagged as primary matches for the Stevensburg properties. 

“I hate to waste the beautiful work this Z outfit has already done,” Cynthia was saying, “But they turned 323 into a restaurant and 329 into a bar.  They’re going to have to pass inspections before they’re allowed to open for business, and the cosmetic fix-ups aren’t going to impress a fire marshal.  So why don’t we just take the hit and say ‘since it’s going to have to be redone anyway, let’s gut it and let the dance ensemble turn 323 into a rehearsal space.’  And the 329 address could become an artist’s studio.  Either the glassblower or the pottery collective could put that wood burning pizza oven to good use…”

Selina’s lip twitched. 

“Cynthia, this is the sixth one—sixth and seventh—of Ron’s turnkey businesses earmarked for the incubator that you’ve tried to poach.  Now, they’re Pre-war buildings.  323 has a dumbwaiter and an icebox by the window.  329 was a speakeasy; they’ve got an honest-to-god hidden room in the basement with a secret exit out to the sewers.  We can get the historical society onboard to keep them just as they are: get a waiver, get the oven grandfathered, no major construction needed.”

“You always fight me when it’s the Z,” Cynthia teased.  “Your little pets.”

“I don’t.  We’ve just been down this road enough times, I’m getting a sense for the ones you’ll go for.”

“Can’t blame a girl for trying,” Cynthia said with a smile, her head tilted at a playful angle that made Selina oddly uncomfortable.

They broke at 12:30, as usual, and Selina headed to the executive floor for her regular lunch date with Bruce.  On the way to the elevator, Madison called out to her.

“Selina!  Just who I wanted to see.  Look at this.  That movie about you, you know the trailer where she steals his car…”

She handed over her phone, and Selina took it with the poised smile and ready laugh that was now an ingrained response.  The whole world knew that Bruce Wayne had bought Selina Kyle one of the limited edition Lamborghini Reventóns.  Her movie double stealing a Lambo belonging to Bruce’s counterpart was the most striking indicator that their cat burglar was based on Gotham City’s Catwoman.

Selina had seen the TV spot a number of times, so she wasn’t expecting anything new—until she looked down and saw the YouTube that Madison had cued up on her phone did not preview anything at all from the movie.   It was a tiger in a large, fenced off pen.  Selina glanced up at the other woman, who grinned back impishly.  Selina hit play.

BIG CAT RESCUE PRESENTS… flashed on the screen.  BIG CAT TV… and then it transitioned to the tiger from the preview, a television placed in front of him on the other side of the fence at face height where he could easily see.  Selina laughed as she heard a few lines from the movie, distorted and garbled on the distant TV screen while the tiger perked up, apparently interested.  Then, after a cut, she saw the TV over the tiger’s shoulder as the rest of the TV spot played.  When it was over, the tiger got up, walked towards the camera, and growled.

“The Rescue says they do everything they can to make the cats comfortable and keep them stimulated while living in captivity,” Madison explained.  “Part of their ‘enrichment program,’ always trying new things to see how the cats respond.  Today’s experiment: watching TV.”

They chatted for a few minutes about the challenges faced by preserves like this Big Cat Rescue, the problem of confinement stress in zoos, and the plight of those animals in the wild.  Then the elevator arrived and Selina went on her way.

Arriving at the executive suite, she found Lucius Fox in the vestibule outside Bruce’s office.  It seemed completely serendipitous, but something Selina couldn’t quite put her finger on said that it wasn’t. 

“I’m afraid Bruce had to fly out to the R&D campus,” Lucius said lightly.  “I wondered if you’d like to have lunch with me instead.”

“Sure,” she smiled.  “We haven’t had a chance to really talk since the Auto Show.  How did that whole GeoSeek promotion play out?”

He gave her a more detailed version of the Wayne Tech triumph than Bruce had, and Selina was amused to see that Lucius was modestly glossing over those portions of the tale that reflected his own genius, the very parts that Bruce had stressed.  Lucius was also stressing Bruce’s contributions, which Bruce had omitted entirely.

Then he said he’d seen “her movie” and enjoyed it quite a lot.  Then he asked her to “come on back to the office for just a minute” while he collected his coat.  Selina followed, but once again, something seemed just a little… suspect.  Particularly once Lucius closed his door and invited her to sit. 

“I really did like the movie,” he said, settling in his own chair and leaning forward like Eddie did before an opening chess move.

“So did I, but I actually had nothing at all to do with it,” said Selina. 

“I did have one scare,” Lucius went on as if she’d said the exact opposite.  “That whole subplot with the data erasure gizmo, at first I thought it might be hitting a little too close to home.  Seeing that a master thief was involved in the story.  You see, we’ve been developing a program to lock down sensitive information about high net worth individuals, information that could be exploited for criminal purposes—is that a smile I see, Ms.  Kyle?”

It was and it erupted into a full laugh.

“I’m just thinking of all those town halls I sat through, with Bruce playing Walt Disney and acting the proud papa about all the projects you had in the pipeline.  Funny how he never mentioned this one.”

“Well, this isn’t an item that will ever be openly advertised.  But I’d be lying if I said we hadn’t thought about your involvement with Bruce being a selling point.”

“A selling point?  I would’ve thought the opposite.”

“Nobody can make a better lock than a thief, Selina.  Having that mindset involved is a definite plus designing a product of this kind.  It’s subliminal, we’d never say it outright, but the type of person who needs this kind of protection is the same one who sees you and Bruce at all the parties and openings together.  We release this as a Wayne Tech product, they’ll assume we’ve got the inside track…”  He waited for a beat before adding “It’d be a shame if we didn’t.”

In her mind’s eye, Selina saw herself in costume before an open safe, hearing the click of a door close behind her, and seeing the scallop of a bat-shaped shadow on the wall ahead.

“What do you want me to do?” she asked flatly.

In response, Lucius tossed her what first appeared to be a dark file folder—until she caught it and saw Wayne Executive Dining Room embossed in gold on the cover of red leather.

“Order some lunch.  The sirloin tips are my favorite, the shrimp are also very good, and the steak sandwich is the easiest to eat while you’re sitting at the computer. 

“What I’d like to do is just spend the afternoon going over all the types of information we’re looking at and what databases they’re stored in, and maybe you can tell me what would actually be useful to you as a thief researching a target, and what’s a waste of time.”

 

Barbara Gordon wheeled slowly and thoughtfully from the hidden back room of the co-op where she kept her Oracle’s den, through the living room and into the bedroom.  Her husband was still asleep, and she knew she should probably let him be.  But Gotham was quiet, and it’s not like Nightwing had all that much to do.  So she picked up a pillow and flogged him with it.

“Wake up.  Dickie, wake up.”

He pawed at it, growled and rolled over to face his attacker.

“Good morning,” he croaked.

“Good afternoon,” she said.  “Wake up, I need Bat-brain.”

His brow fell into a low, venomous, vigilante glare, although the deep gravel that followed was less the voice of Bat-menace than the simple throatiness that came from sleeping openmouthed against a pillow and not having brushed his teeth.

“It couldn’t wait?” he asked.

“I’ve been waiting, I don’t know what to do and I want to talk to someone.”

Dick half-sat up against the back of the bed and blinked, which Barbara took as a go-ahead.

“Bruce has gotten a lot more sophisticated with his shield companies and cover stories over the years, camouflaging purchases and travel patterns, but the world has also gotten a lot more sophisticated with its data collection and sifting capabilities.  So I monitor a lot of different ways that any of us could be searched, tracked or monitored.  If anything pops up that’s, you know, ‘related to anything related,’ I’m set up to flood the data channels with misinformation.  If they’re looking into rare coins the M. Gerard ID bought at auction, he’ll suddenly make a ton of purchases in Etruscan bronzes and Japanese woodcuts.”

“And a German cartel will have bought twice as many Gold Napoleons as Gerard did,” Dick said, nodding vigorously.

“Right.  Needless to say, Selina’s been on the list since, like, six months before Bruce moved her into the manor.”

“Wait a minute, she’s out,” Dick said, rubbing his forehead like this was a lot to dump on a man before he’d even gotten out of bed.  “I mean, sure, she’s family, but the whole world has been playing ‘is she or isn’t she’ since before she and Bruce got together.  Since she did that Cat-Tales show, ‘Selina Kyle probably Catwoman’ isn’t news to anybody.”

“Yeah, but this is Bruce we’re talking about.  Mr. Protector.  ‘Stand behind me, Little Lady.’”

Dick couldn’t suppress a laugh.

“Yes, and doesn’t that make him a terrible person,” he said in sincere defense of his mentor.

“Point is, I’ve been picking up some unusual searches.  There’s a huge spike in interest in her, naturally, because of that movie.  But the movie’s based on that trashy biography and the garbage in the Gotham Post a few years back.  It has nothing to do with the real Selina, it’s not even in the ballpark.  This one cluster of searches is different.  It’s Miss Porters, Baldwin, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Mont Fleuri and Monte Rosa, some other school in Switzerland…”

“Wait, she didn’t go to Miss Porter or...  it was some other—”

“Miss Corinne’s, I know,” Barbara cut him off.  “They hadn’t found her—yet.  And now they’re not going to, because I’m just that good.  But they were looking in the right places, Dickie.  The Sorbonne, a yacht registry on Lake Como, a polo club that French count belonged to.”

“François?” Dick said, bolting upright, full awake.

“Was that his name?  All I remember was Château de-Something, Joker trashed the food and wine thing they were hosting at the manor, and my father said it would be a cold day in hell before he’d let me marry into the crime and chaos that orbits Bruce Wayne.”

“It was François de-Something, I know this because there is a button labeled ‘François’ on Zogger that you don’t ever want to push.”

“Bruce has a button on the self-defense trainer in the Batcave labeled with the name of Selina’s old boyfriend?”

“Barbara, wife of my bosom, I love you, but there are things you simply do not understand.  It is a crime against Man Law that François de-Something was allowed to leave Gotham un-punched.”

“Man law?  You just made my decision.  Thank you, you can go back to sleep now.”

“What?”

Barbara was already rolling out the door.  Dick looked around at the empty bedroom and then down at the pillow used to pummel him awake.

“Man Law,” he repeated with a pleased nod.

 

I was so pissed.  I wasn’t going to take it out on Lucius, but it was entirely possible that when I saw Bruce again, he’d be having a near-death experience to put Batman’s worst day to shame.  Jackass!  Scheming, manipulative, son of a…

Lucius had flicked a control on his deck that opened a panel in the wall behind him.  I recognized the configuration of screens from the Batcave.  It was Workstation 1 when Bruce and I first got together.  Now it was more like a poor relation of Workstation 3, which is still about eight years ahead of anyone else’s computer toys.  The only real difference was that in place of the silver bat emblem at the top of the monitor, the words WAYNE ENTERPRISES were spelled out in beautifully finished pewter.  I also recognized something else, and I realized I could take just a little bit out on Lucius after all.

“I have the prototype installed on this unit,” he was saying.  “It’s an isolated system, connected to a closed network of dummy databases to simulate the internet, corporate firewalls, insurance records, bank accounts, feeds from traffic cameras, and so on…”

As he talked, he was going through a start-up routine that caused the screens to spring to life one at a time.  I knew what was coming up on the main one.  And as soon as the password prompt appeared, I pounced.

“Wait!” I said.  “Master thief, remember?  Allow me.”

He tilted his head like I couldn’t possibly be saying what he thought I was.

“You think you can crack my password?” he said incredulously.

“That’s why I’m here, isn’t it?  Teach you how I think?  Show you all the ways your precious data isn’t quite as secure as you think?”

I brushed past him and stood over the console.  Looked around his office briefly, then pointed to the screen. 

“Double cipher prompt, it wants two words.  This is a prototype, it’s not real data and your office is already secure, so the password is a formality.  It’s the kind of thing people use their middle name for, sometimes their first name.  But that’s not your style.”

I turned and pointed to his desk, then to his book shelves, then to the groupings of photos on the wall.  Everything was grouped in fives.

“Five, five, five, five,” I said.  “Got a little thing for fives, Lucius.  Might be a touch of OCD, but with your genius, it’s probably a pentagram thing:  golden mean, replicating patterns.  Anyway, something obvious and simple, right in front of me, fives…”

I pointed to the words atop the monitor.

“Wayne Enterprises,” I read.  “First five letters W-A-Y-N-E,” as I typed them.  “Last five… R-I-S-E-S.”

I hit return, and the system sprang to life.

To be continued…
 

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