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Chapter 4: Tea and Larceny

 

“The five-clawed dragon is a symbol of the emperor, while the three-clawed is a symbol of the prince.  So this jar would have been made for the Xuende Emperor…”

The video played on a third of the long, horizontal plasma screen in Thomas Pearl’s apartment while windows displaying other research filled the rest.  The coffee table was strewn with papers and file folders, along with a forgotten mug of tea.  He’d made a special trek to Chinatown to obtain that particular variety, the one non-painful memory from the kwoon in Hong Kong and, thanks to Alfred’s partiality to Indian teas, a sense memory that remained unique to that time and place.  It was proving an effective way to remind him he was a student again, and to separate Tommy’s domestic habits from Bruce’s—at least that’s how it seemed to him.  If Alfred was there, it wouldn’t have been the contents of the cup that sparked a comment but the fact that it was sitting there ignored and forgotten while Bruce lost himself in his work. 

“What is also typical of the Xuende period is this cross mark on the bottom from when it was fired.  This is very unusual because a lot of people who are copying it do not see the bases or the underside that is not pictured in the auction catalogue…”

Tommy looked up from his legal pad and studied the woman in the video: a curator in Crispin London authenticating a Ming vase.  Then he glanced past the cold tea without seeing it as he reached for a stack of Post-its, scribbled a note prompted by the video, and reached again past the tea to a stack of crime reports he was rereading with fresh eyes.

“Don’t become somebody’s Moby Dick” one such Post-it read, because he’d seen a pattern of federal agents retiring to the private sector and bringing a grudge about the one that got away.  Sometimes they even used the new employer’s greater resources to carry on a personal investigation. 

Another was “PHASays the thieves ‘took the small paintings because they’re easy to carry while escaping,’ and not 2 minutes later she said how HEAVY the Renoir is in its huge frame.”

And another “PHA ‘80% thefts FBI solves are inside jobs’ does not mean there are more insider thefts.  It means insiders suck at it and the FBI knows how to get the low-hanging fruit.”

A Quantico case study on a notorious Boston art theft was covered in these Pinhead Alerts questioning its conclusions.  It wanted the thieves to be unsophisticated, that much was clear.  A couple of louts without art knowledge who hit a famous collection and got lucky.  That was its hypothesis and it ignored any fact that contradicted it.  Interpreted others—twisted was a more accurate term—from the pieces taken to the way they were removed from their frames, in ways that didn’t make any sense.  It went beyond confirmation bias into a realm of cognitive dissonance that frankly—he would bench any Robin that turned in work like this!

His notes on the earliest files began with Selinaesque amusement... 

“Moving to the back of the building, the thief was able to get onto the first scaffolding ladder.”
He did this by walking up to it with his legs and stepping onto it with his feet.

“…and accesses a second ladder.”
With the grace of a gazelle, the police officer demonstrates the method by which ladders are ‘accessed,’ using sophisticated coordination of the hands and feet.  All of the careful planning that went into this reconstruction of the crime is apparent.

“From there he moves on the third floor, the fourth, and finally the seventh…”
The progression is astounding.  How the police figured this out: he went to the second floor before the third, the third before the fourth.

As he wrote those notes, Tommy could feel his inner Batman scowling at the mockery of what was, in all probability, nothing but an awkward translation from a Viennese police report.  Occam’s Razor, the simplest and most likely explanation is always the best, he chastised as if he were a Robin. 

Except, Tommy countered, you’re assuming a poor translation is more likely than the police being stupid.  That’s a crimefighter’s bias which needs some evidence to support it.  Get back to me when we’ve read a few more…

A few more sharpened the cattiness of his Post-it commentary:

“Police now thought they were able to track how the thieves got in and at what time”
There’s a broken window and an alarm went off on that window at 3 am.  What wizardry did they use to perform this feat of deduction?

And by the fifth report, it devolved into bitter swipes of a superior detective mind towards those who had let him down, resulting in the designation Pinhead Alert.

PHA—“There was no rhyme or reason for taking the Degas instead of a more valuable prize” should translate to “I don’t know what their goal was.”  The piece of evidence that doesn’t fit is key.  And like every bumbling Lestrade, you dismiss it rather than view it with supreme importance.  It’s a lead: maybe they have a buyer in mind who likes Degas? 

It was hours since he finished with the reports and he’d moved on to other aspects of his immersion study, but that Crispin video on the Ming sent him back, searching deep in the stack for one of the first files he’d read.  He quickly skimmed… he’d made only the briefest note that the FBI agent interviewed was making that classic error: Assuming most if not all art forgers copied only the front of a painting without attending to the exhibition and ownership histories revealed on the back.  Yet another case of police arrogance, assuming the mistakes he identified were representative of the whole.  Tommy tacked the Post-it about the Ming next to the existing note, as if he were setting up a cross-reference link in the batcomputer, and then returned to his lists.

His lists… He took a deep breath…

He was now the proud owner (well, renter) of three local depots to store his ill-gotten gain.  The safe deposit at Gotham National Bank was large enough for his bearer bonds, a bundle of cash, one or two items of jewelry or perhaps a gold bar; nothing bigger.  In Brooklyn, he had the Crispin storage unit and his own mini-warehouse and workshop across the street.  For those, he had a legal pad where he compiled a list of the valuables to be stored in each.  A part of him felt he was spending an inordinate amount of time on this, overthinking if not obsessing on irrelevant details.  But the instinct he was learning to trust said that the things were important.

If he was going to use Catwoman as a model, he should look at her as Selina the person, not a criminal specimen to be studied.  And Selina stole to fill a void that was achingly similar to his own: the comfort and luxury of her parents’ home that was stripped away at the same time as that protective shell of love and safety. The stuff had meaning.  And those associations deep in her psyche made her a better detective than she realized, precisely because she saw differently and thought differently, making connections no one else would.  She uncovered a 30-year old murder from an Imari bowl in a crime lord’s dining room.  Putting some thought into the stuff Tommy had taken—had taken but not disposed of either because he hadn’t found a buyer or held onto them for some reason—seemed like a worthwhile use of his time.

Covering the cities and specialties he’d already committed to, he decided on two Georgian silver tea caddies and a vermeil cake stand to cover London and the silver vaults.  All were worth more than he was able to get, and he’d made plenty on that heist as it was, so he’d held onto them.  Hong Kong was jade and gold.  For that he decided on a dragon bi-disc pendant from the Warring States period, a piece so rare and perfect he’d have been reluctant to part with it for the ten to twelve thousand it was worth let alone the meager two he was offered….  And gold, gold bullion.  That insulting offer from Cobblepot stung, no more than a finder’s fee when he didn’t even know what Tommy had to offer.  If he ever had a chance to make the greedy bird regret it, he wanted to have two or three of the ornately carved tael bars on hand that Oswald Cobblepot would covet. 

Japan was the Rubens.  His original thought was that Tommy had gone to Tokyo for that particular job having lined up a buyer beforehand and that was that.  But now, eating his Japanese breakfast every morning, with his sandalwood incense on the table and an order of chocolate bars on its way from Shibuya, the idea was… unsatisfying.  He decided he’d taken something else from the Odawara board room: a bottle of Macallan, the 62-Year Old that came in a Lalique decanter…  He would have known it was expensive when he took it, but never dreamed how expensive.  When he found out he’d been drinking a scotch worth over $40,000, it gave rise to his ‘kink’ as Selina would put it.  On the rare occasions he hit a private residence, he would take the extra hour or two doing his research and find out if they ‘collected.’  Only scotch at first, until he came across a furniture broker in Pittsburgh with a 1909 Château Latour.  Now he searched wine as well as scotch, and along with their Rembrandt or whatever, he would take a few bottles of an excellent vintage or a rare malt.  At present, this collection would consist of a Pétrus 1961, Romanée-Conti 1969, Château Mouton-Rothschild 1975… and whatever else Alfred decided to pick from the cellar.  In remembrance of the scotch that got him started: two bottles of a rare Bruichladdich.

That left Italy.  There was a 10th or 11th century manuscript from Southern Italy that his great grandfather brought back from his Grand Tour.  Aesop or something, unframed drawings on parchment in a morocco case, from a monastery near Rome.  Bruce hadn’t seen it since he was a boy, but he knew it was in that little niche outside the blue room and it might have some kind of cat or tiger.  That introduced a topic he’d been wrestling with.  Selina wanted him to bring Batman’s intellect.  That meant being prepared, plotting out foreseeable developments, having a plan and assembling whatever resources that plan might require… 

Tommy had been to the Iceberg.  He had dangled bird bait in front of Oswald.  Ilya knew he received a riddle, and either Nigma and Game Theory might reveal it was a favor for Catwoman.  If Tommy was in business with or had some connection to Catwoman, he should have a few cat items.  It was unlikely they would be needed, but he should make sure his stash of loot had a few.  Hm...

There was a 17th Century Kangxi vase outside the Chinese room that incorporated fu lions, and a silver tiger bracelet with rubies and sapphires from the Thai gem market.  With the manuscript, that should be more than enough cats.  Birds were trickier… Richard Flay, Gotham’s premiere collector of Chinese ceramics, had a number of pieces Bruce didn’t know the details of.  It took a frustrating hour of research to nail down that there was a Yongzheng shipwreck charger, circa 1725, with some cranes or ducks, and a pair of wall plaques, one with a cockerel and one with geese.  Total value a little over $20,000.  Bruce had a similar but much more important plaque from a famous maker (alas, with no birds) worth over 50,000.  He added it to the list.  He would have to go into Flay’s and switch them after he picked up his own haul from the hotel, which would mean another three hours, possibly four, lost from patrol.

There was nothing to do but accept it.  The night was lost and he picked up the phone…

Logistics managed, Bruce-Tommy shook the Bat arrangements from his mind and returned to his real work.  He shut down the video and cleared away all the clutter relating to the storage unit, the warehouse, and the loot from heists that never were.  That was all set dressing, character prep, and theatre.  But this…

He brought up the photos of Barry Hobbs and the Hobbs Trust building, the balance sheet of Paulson Hobbs, the flow of funds.  His head tilted back very slightly and the lip above his canine... moved into something that wasn’t quite a smile.  A twitch flashing the teeth in a frozen moment—hungrier than the detective but more deliberate than a predator. 

…this is what Tommy Pearl was created for.

 

The Journal of Alfred Pennyworth

One has never thought it proper to comment on Master Bruce’s claims regarding one’s alleged delight in saying “I told you so.”  One’s track record speaks for itself, in my opinion.  Having acted in loco parentis in the master’s early years, later assuming the role of doctor, coconspirator, research assistant, sounding board, and even father confessor as the situation warrants (all the while ensuring that the duties of butler, valet, cook and social secretary were not neglected,) well, one gains a certain perspective.  Given one’s detailed and intimate knowledge of the master’s affairs, it is not surprising that one is right more often than not.  Pointing it out is merely a way of giving good service, so the master might make better use of advice he is, perhaps, too quick to dismiss.

Consider his certainty that with the long-awaited ceremony formalizing Miss Selina’s status as Mrs. Wayne “nothing is going to change.”  He has declared this in that tone of authority the mightiest beings known to us, both his allies and foes, will often yield to as a force unto itself.  So here I sit with my pot of tea, the last blueberry scone, and a little dish of shrimp bits should Miss Nutmeg decide I am to be forgiven for this morning’s outrage with the vacuum (If she persists in holding grudges, they can always be pureed for the sauce normande) wondering how to enlighten him.

It is true, Miss Selina has been his wife in all but name for some considerable time.  It is true she is mistress of Wayne Manor.  It is true he has accepted Catwoman as a partner in his mission, and on an equal footing I frankly would not have thought him capable of in that sphere of his life.  His belief that nothing will change is understandable, however mistaken.  Change is not only inevitable, it has already begun.  Consider my orders for today.  I have assembled the most astonishing assortment of jade, porcelain and other valuables, as well as wines and spirits of such rare and desired vintages that they are designated collectible.  This list, I would have guessed had he not confirmed, he slaved over, giving each category considerable thought and then specifying the exact items to be included, except for those where he named enough objects to establish a pattern and gave me leave to select two, three, or four items that met his criteria.  It is precisely the type of list he drew up for the early incarnations of the Batcave.

I was then to secure a suite with its own in-room safe at the Sherry-Netherland and decide for myself if Master Dick was up to the task, aesthetically speaking, or if I should check in myself and arrange everything in the room: wines and spirits on the bar and in the dining room, some valuables in the safe, others arranged throughout the rooms as if they belonged there, etc.  In either case I was not to involve Miss Selina in any way, and in either case I was to inform Master Dick that Nightwing would have to cover Batman’s patrols this evening and that he was to “swing by” the Sherry only once, at a random hour, neither ignoring the suite if he knew about it nor paying special attention to it. 

Now, this is all supremely odd but not unprecedentedly so.  Master Bruce has given bewilderingly detailed instructions before without any hint of the complex tapestry one’s efforts were to fit into.  It is the exclusion of Miss Selina that prompts speculation, given the rather curious epilogue. 

One should perhaps explain.

Master Bruce is ostensibly ‘out of town on business,’ a not infrequent ploy when a Batman operation requires constant attention over several days.  In the past, whatever social and business engagements he had were cancelled (to the eternal annoyance of Mr. Fox, one believes.)  In this case, Miss Selina is taking his place at a few select events.  She had already assumed his seat on the museum board—a highly irregular business which was, needless to say, a Batman matter—and then, on the heels of announcing Master Bruce would not be home for the rest of the week, she informed me that she would be standing in for him at a Wayne Enterprises photo op as well as the America’s Cup regatta in Gotham Harbor. 

Consider then: the wedding has not yet occurred.  Already Master Bruce makes use of her Mrs. Wayne status in his Batman schemes—while withholding details just as he does with myself and Master Dick.  She complies as if it’s nothing at all.  Despite her excessive preoccupation with her independence when she first joined the household and his certainty that nothing is going to change, they both regard it as nothing at all.

Some days one can only throw up one’s hands and be glad they found each other, for no other sentient being could fathom either one of them.

 

Being Bruce, Day 5.  It’s not a full schedule or anything, not like when I was covering for Batman.  Just a board meeting/committee thing at the museum, a photo op, and a few public appearances he didn’t like to cancel.  (Alfred is over the moon at that part: Bruce choosing not to cancel something that he easily could under the catch-all heading: Bat business *grunt*)  Besides which, crimefighting wasn’t my kink, whereas a lunch with docents (from a museum I never even robbed) is a chance to hear about their Georgia O’Keefe.  Posing with Lucius in the Wayne lobby was a chance to see Lucius, who I hadn’t talked to since acting as Bat-liaison on the fake news Joker hunt.  And watching yacht races from the sponsors’ hospitality boats, meow, very much my kink.

Still, I’m not sure why Bruce has me doing it, and that’s set off the old itch.  When you get away with a Charlemagne talisman, you know that’s not the end of it.  You know he’s not going to give up.  He’s out there somewhere, plotting.  Or more likely, he was plotting before you ever got your claws on the thing.  His completed plan is now hanging in the air above you, ready to do its thing if you don’t figure it out in time… It’s fun.  It’s invigorating.  Usually.  In my lair admiring the beautiful carving on the gold and the artistry of the gemstones, it’s fun.  Waking up at the manor, in our bed without him, and Alfred bringing me breakfast alone, it’s unsettling. 

Every time I’ve mentioned that it’s only five days, Alfred’s had this weird look, like he knows something.  Like he knows something that I would know too if I was paying attention.  Alfred does.  I realize that he’s known Bruce longer than I have, but he hasn’t deliberately baited Batman and then sat his lair with a Mogok ruby waiting for a Bat-plan to unspool around him.  Whatever the jackass is up to, I should see it. 

And he is up to something.  I can understand sending Bruce Wayne out of town so he can focus on Tommy without the hassle of changing back and forth all the time.  But why have me take his place?  At first I thought it might be that smug, Psychobat-jackass sense of humor setting me up as an adversary: the crimefighter who just happens to be there to notice (or fails to notice) him casing the place.  That would be just classically, infuriatingly, insufferably typical of the Bat who once plagued me.  But try as I might (and I have tried) I can’t make these particular appointments and meetings fit the theory.

The first engagement was the most promising, at the museum.  There’s a George Stubbs hanging in the board room.  No one capable of getting that far into the museum would bother with such a modest prize, but I still spent the meeting breaking down camera angles and sight lines, sniffing around Sophia Beaufort’s handbag and Trip Corcoran’s briefcase for any sign of bat-gadgets (well, Tommy-gadgets).  I even forced down the bile and struck up a conversation with Barry Hobbs as we were all filing out…

“Mr. Hobbs!  Share an elevator or should we take the stairs?”

He turned, all nose as usual though I suppose he can’t help that.  It’s what the eyes do above it that makes him look like an intense yet spiritual psychopath, a snob with indigestion, or a surprised owl. 

“Elevator.  I think it would be more challenging to push me down that, though I wouldn’t put it past you,” he said with the enthusiastic raised eyebrows that brought us the owl.

“You’re a finance guy, right?  No risk, no return.”

I pushed the button, and he accepted the dare.

“So, Bruce taught you the one thing he remembers from the one class he showed up for at Princeton?”

I smiled.

“Now that’s exactly the sort of antagonism I was hoping we could put to bed,” I told him.  “Let’s be friends, Barry.  So I got my Man’s Reach event.  Considering the way it turned out, it can hardly be called a triumph.”

“You proposed a major initiative your first day on the board. It was beyond ambitious, it was arrogant.”

“Yes,” I admitted.  (And it was.  I went in with all the confidence of a cat burglar who had done the legwork, knew what she was up against and came prepared.  And like every other time I’d come into the museum that way, it worked.)  “But let’s be fair, you had it in for me before that.  You were waiting when I walked in the door that day.  You said—”

“I said your excuse for taking over Bruce’s seat before you had any official connection was patently absurd.  I said your claim that he had so many commitments all of a sudden while you had time to spare would most certainly be accepted by anyone who had never been to a wedding.  That we all know brides-to-be have oodles of time and nothing at all on their minds.  The way those things plan themselves, it’s a wonder of nature.”

I ignored the sarcasm.  He was baiting me and he wasn’t very good at it.  He had all the subtlety of a dog person—and a Luthor fan.

“You also said Ted Layne and all his Groton buddies would be against me,” I reminded him. “Because of something Poison Ivy did however many years ago.  And the Brodlands were going to blame me for a burglary I had nothing to do with.  They all voted for the Man’s Reach idea, Barry.  You’ve been on this board for, what, three and a half years?  You should have had no trouble quashing my proposal, with all the respect and good will you’ve built up in there.  It was my first day; I would have been completely declawed.  Wouldn’t have the credibility to second approving the minutes.  But nobody—nobody—voted with you.  Because nobody, except maybe Lex Luthor, shares your weird contempt for Superman.  And I’m saying that as someone he dangled over a river.”

“So why are you trying to make nice?” he asked, resuming the owl but more skeptical than surprised.

“Call it random felinity.  There are people I tussle with that I actively dislike.  You’re not one of them.  In rogue circles, we’re inclined to forgive the little things in those cases.  Makes Friday Nights at the Iceberg less volatile.  And we will be seeing each other at the Regatta, I assume.  Just about all of Wall Street is sponsoring, yes?”

“Ah, that’s it,” he grinned.  “Bruce wants to make nice before the races because Wayne Enterprises has naming rights on the time clock.”

“No, Bruce won’t be there.  Still out of town.  This is just me.”

“Oh!” He gave it three syllables as the elevator door opened and we stepped out.  This time the owl really was surprised.  “Really?  Well then, um, yes.  A very civilized gesture, Selina.  I will see you there.”

He offered his hand—a firm good-meeting-with-your-broker handshake—and left.  Eek!  I didn’t expect (or particularly want) to mend fences.  I only wanted to share the elevator so I could watch him leave and see if he picked up a tail as he left the building.

He didn’t.  I might have followed him myself if not for having the next most-suspect appointment to keep.  The Outreach Committee, that’s Samantha Ambrose, Richard Flay and me, was playing host to these docents visiting from some southern museum.  Richard skipped the board meeting and had been with them for the last hour, giving a tour of the current exhibits.  They were about to finish up in a small gallery that was closed for the event, and where Samantha and I would join them for lunch among the Robert Henris.  When Gotham decides to impress, we do it very well.  The docents were thrilled, and I was on alert.  An event like that is a good chance to case the place.  So I kept my eye on the docents during lunch (Bruce couldn’t get past me in disguise, but he could charm one of the visitors into some innocent-seeming task).  The conversation consisted of the aforementioned O’Keefe and a jade mask in their Pre-Columbian collection.  Quite frankly it didn’t sound spectacular, but it cost nothing to lie and say that Catwoman would have been interested if I’d known about it (it was supposed to be a jaguar) and that’s obviously what they wanted to hear.  Afterwards, I went to the security suite and played them like a Golden Age Strad. 

The head of security is the one person who doesn’t benefit from my new status as board member and patron.  The prestige of the museum’s collection doesn’t affect him.  He’s got no social prospects, so it’s not like he can be struck from a guest list he was never on.  And while, strictly speaking, he gained professionally when Catwoman stopped burgling the place (aka showing the world how bad he is at his job,) seeing that requires a level of imagination the average MuSec simply doesn’t have.  In short, I was sure he’d have been watching me since I came into the building—and making his staff uncomfortable.  Nobody can do their job properly with the boss standing over them cursing that damned cat thief.  That meant all the other camera feeds were being neglected.  It only took a hint to get them to check the footage… and to see that nothing happened.  No cameras hiccupped.  Nobody had a coughing fit.  No one stole glances at their watch coinciding with the guards’ movement.  No one spilled a drink on one of the paintings, causing it to be moved to the restoration room where the security is lax.  Absolutely nothing happened.

The next day was free of Bruce-duty, and the next was the photo shoot with Lucius.  Something called the WorldTech Expo is about to begin next week in New Delhi and naturally Wayne Tech has a huge presence.  The centerpiece is a communication bay with “the same nano-optics network and holographic imaging that powers the Justice League com systems.”  (Yeah, I know.  Forced smile.)  Expo visitors can use this station to call anywhere in the world, any phone with video capabilities, and put themselves in front of dozens of live backgrounds—including the Wayne Enterprises lobby.  A new display of Wayne Medical scanners is being set up to be visible in that background.  I had three minutes smiling in front of the scanners, another three posing in the lobby’s own communications console, similar to the ones at the Expo, and then it was up to Lucius’s office to get prepped for the yacht race. 

Yep.  Being Bruce Day 3 was going up to Lucius’s office to get briefed on the America’s Cup, and then to a tavern near the harbor to repeat most of it in a pre-Regatta video. 

What he didn’t have to tell me, what I knew since that wild summer with Fabrizio, was that the America’s Cup is the oldest trophy in international sports, named for the schooner that first won it.  In 1851 The America won a race around the Isle of Wight for what was then called the £100 Cup—won by such a phenomenal margin the trophy became The America’s Cup.  It was installed in the Gotham Yacht Club where it remained for the next 132 years, defeating all challengers until the Australians won it in 1983.  It’s changed hands a number of times since then and the next big race is next year in Bermuda.  The challenger is selected in a series of races throughout the world: regattas in Metropolis, Portsmouth, Toulon, Fukuoka, and this weekend—starting today, in fact—in Gotham Harbor.

As Barry Hobbs said, Wayne Enterprises is sponsoring the timeclock.  More importantly Wayne Tech created something called the Omni Iris, which I, appearing as Gotham atmosphere—the kind who just popped into Les Halles for a baguette slider and a glass of Malbec—would be excited to talk about with the helmsman from the New Zealand boat that I just happened to meet there. 

From Lucius’s POV, the Iris is a tool for television broadcasts covering the race and a toy for those downloading the race app: an integrated system of computer simulation, animation and live footage which not only draws in the course parameters—the starting line, boat paths, trajectories, and the like—it allows viewers to see the boats racing in real time from almost any angle and degree of magnification, notated with their country’s flags, knot speed, speed arrows and other indicators that can be toggled on and off.  You can also listen in to the audio from individual boats, view their deck cams, reverse the action...  In other words, it’s the next generation of Bruce’s after-action sequencer that he’s used to break down and study incidents at the Watchtower. 

So anyway, after the video I was allowed to skip the pre-Regatta ball last night.  I was glad, it would be an odd event to attend without Bruce, but I was also annoyed.  If he was positioning me as Tommy’s adversary for a theft, the ball was the best target by a mile.  It was a reminder that I still don’t know what he’s up to. 

Argh!  That man.  Still a jackass.  On either side of the batarang, still an infuriating jackass. 

 

It was five days since Red Hook, almost to the minute when Bruce began preparing the apartment to welcome Selina.  It would either be a triumph on the scale of their beating Ra’s at Kapheira or a failure on par with his first proposal at the MoMA; there was no middle-ground he could see.  Luckily, both the thief and the crimefighter (and even the alum of the London School of Economics) knew the importance of taking risks.

When the knock came, he answered the door and was pleased to see Selina’s eyes flicker up and down over his clothes.  He was wearing Loro Piana cashmere, the same color and a similar style to what he often wore at home.  She liked the look, but he suspected there was a different reason for that hint of a smile that followed.

“Sit down, have some tea,” he said with a casual gesture as he pointed her to the sofa.

She laughed when she saw the table—another good sign.

“Not sencha from Tokyo,” she noted, pointing to the pot.

“Correct.  Lao Shu Dianhong from Bai Ying Mountain in Lin Cang, tea master Chen Ke.  You tell me why,” Bruce said, handing her a cup.

“Um, Mask of the Emperor’s Consort… No, that was a movie.  Oh!  There was a really ugly bronze cat… that would not interest you at all, what am I saying.  Um, let’s see, Bai Ying mountain in Lin Cang?  Bai Ying mountain in Lin Cang… I haven’t the slightest idea,” Selina laughed. 

“Of course you do.  You know what I was doing in China,” he took a satisfied sniff from his own cup before sipping.  “I rarely get to drink this any more, but it’s quite a sense memory.  Remember, I told you when Gina brought all those Yixing pots to Matches’s place?”

He could see she looked confused, trying to crack the code rather than absorb the symbolism.

I told you,” he repeated.  “Not Matches.  I told you about the kwoon in Foshan I was only allowed to enter after I proved myself in Hong Kong.”

“Yes, I remember,” Selina grinned.  “But I still don’t quite understand why we’re drinking it.”

“I emailed a physics professor at Peking University to learn how to make it,” he added.  “That’s why it’s here.  Not because Tommy scored a bronze statue in Guangdong, but because when we got together, you pointed out that if Batman can extract vapor pressure from Thanagarian mercury, I should be able to toast bread.  Selina, it’s here because I studied Wing Chun in Foshan, and when it was just you and me in Matches’s apartment, it was just you and me.  It’s here because Alfred prefers serving India tea, so we may as well take advantage and have some now when we can.”

Selina bit her lip.  She might have been getting a glimmer of what he was saying.

“I understand how my approach to Tommy was wrong, and a little insulting.  We took different paths, but we started in almost exactly the same place.  Tommy is who I might have been if I stepped to the left instead of the right.  That’s why I’m dropping the name Coronet, I’m certainly not some kid who found a glamorous appeal in movies.”

“Okay,” Selina nodded uncertainly.  “I do like where this is going.  So, we start over?”

“Not quite, what you taught me wasn’t wasted, I just needed time to… integrate it.”  He reached into his pocket and pulled out the cocktail napkin from Bar Drôme.  “You said Batman would be able to find you and when Tommy could I would be worth your time.  When I approached this work with the same tools and understanding that I do Batman’s—” He handed her then napkin.  “The five occasions when you were ‘buzzed’,” he reminded her, pointing to the napkin.  “What makes these particular jobs special?  It wasn’t our confrontations. There’s no common element in the locations, the security you had to defeat, the owners… Superficially the items themselves share no common features: two paintings, one single very large ruby, an emerald necklace and earrings, and the vault at Federated First Metro.”

“Superficially,” a voice from the past agreed.  “Astonish me, Dark Knight, what do these widely different heists have in common?”

“None of the thefts would be reported, because the people you stole from weren’t supposed to have those things.  The Manipur Ruby was a 194 carat pigeon blood stone from Mogok, Burma, at a time when it was illegal to import gems from Burma…”

“And Markinson already had two strikes for violating sanctions,” Catwoman purred, settling deeper into the sofa in a pose of satisfied felinity luxuriating with a dish of cream.  “He really couldn’t afford a third.”

“Federated First Metro,” Bruce continued with just a touch of the Bat-gravel.  “It was the branch on 26th and Fifth.  That holds all the collateral for their private banking group.  A hypothecation package, how you get money for assets you can’t sell.  The bank holds the asset until the debt's repaid... ”

“Beautiful gems and artworks that would never see the light of day again because the owners can’t let them be seen, so they just keep letting those loans roll over.”

“So someone had secured a loan with… conflict diamonds?  From Sierra Leone perhaps?”

“Like the ruby,” Selina smiled.  “It’s smarter to eat the loss than face the legal music of having it, the international quagmire trying to get it back if it’s recovered, and the catastrophically bad press when it comes out that you not only had the forbidden thing, you tried to monetize it.  That’s the part that really doesn’t play well in the Times.” 

Bruce grunted.  “The Monet was the same,” he resumed.

“Only in that it was securing a loan,” Selina purred, then sipped her tea before continuing.  “Bassett-Blore Industries got their hands on it somehow, but it’s got a much nastier provenance.  The Monet, the Degas and the emeralds were all pre-stolen by Nazis.  Goering.  Goering was a piece of work.  He had these private showings of the best pieces they’d looted from all over Europe, and of course Hitler got first pick.  So what do you do to make sure he doesn’t take the pieces you want for yourself?  Pack the show with pieces he’ll like more.  The Nazis had declared the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists ‘degenerate,’ so he would trade them.  Our friends the Swiss facilitated the trades through diplomatic pouches, and they would trade sometimes twenty or thirty Impressionists in exchange for two of the German landscapes that they liked.

“I thought about those deals a lot when I got home after one of our big fights about ‘rightful ownership.’  Black and white, right and wrong, my… ‘rationalizing.’  God, if I rationalized the things I did, I’m sure I’m an amateur compared what those collectors and curators must have done.  Bast and her kittens, the arguments that must have gone on in museums and embassies: Do you save a Van Gogh if you have a chance?  Getting it out of Berlin however you can, even if you are making a deal with the devil?  Are you saving it, or just indulging your own greed… And does that even matter?  If it winds up safe in Lucerne or Paris or London, is it just ego to think your personal ethics should enter into it?”

She met his eyes. 

“I didn’t realize…” Bruce began cautiously, “that you—”

“Thought in those terms?”

“That you thought about those arguments we had, after.” 

She sipped her tea rather than answer.

“Well, anyway, Monet’s Poppy Fields of Pontoise and Dégas’s Dancers in Blue, they found their way home, eventually.”

“You don’t mean the descendants of the original owners—”

“No.  That much justice is beyond rare, I’m afraid.  None of these stories have what you’d call ‘happy’ endings.  But they both went back to Paris.  Igor is sentimental that way and, pieces with a history like that, he tries to get a buyer in the artist’s home country if he can.”

“‘If he can’ meaning if the price is right.”

“Yes.  Art theft is not a charitable undertaking.  It was eight months work getting that Degas, a small fortune in specialized equipment, not to mention setting up a cover to get into the Italian Embassy, a wrecked Porsche, a torn Versace, a Bat-encounter, I want my four million.”

“So, as a thief, it’s return on investment commensurate with risk?”

“And even for me, a run-in with Batman is a risk.”

His lip twitched.

“What about Catherine the Great’s court necklace?  You called them—”

“Figgy’s emeralds,” Selina grinned.  “Looted from the Winter Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.  The Nazi documents indicate a tiara, necklace, bracelet, earrings and ring were in a jeweled box that was brought to a castle outside Berlin.  In 1945, the Allies recovered the box along with a number of paintings and a gold leaf mirror taken from the same room in the Winter Palace.  But the Allies’ inventory lists only the tiara and ring inside the box.”

“So, your ‘buzz’ came—not from getting to view (or possess) art that nobody else had seen in decades—but in acquiring clandestine pieces that were more than forgotten, they were hidden.  Guilty secrets that weren’t supposed to exist, in a way… Does that qualify as ‘finding you,’ Catwoman?”

“It does,” she blushed.  “Boy, it’s been a while.”  She looked up at him, a momentary hesitation before meeting his eyes, throat dry.  “Great detective,” she said softly.

“Good,” he grunted.  Then paused.  Refilled her tea and then his own, and finally said, “Because you’re about to become extraordinarily mad at me.”

 

When I arrived at Gotham Harbor, there were exactly three topics of conversation: the sun (shining), the wind (fierce) and the current (rough).  The crowd outside the sponsor tent was more diverse than you’d expect when you hear ‘yacht racing,’ thanks to the local news.  There hadn’t been an America’s Cup event in Gotham waters since 1920, so the regatta was news even if it was only a preliminary trial.  More important than the history, all the promotional stories featured video of the boats: sleek catamarans hydrofoiling—flying, basically—making this incredible high pitched whine as they skim above the water.  People wanted to see it for themselves, and the crowds encompassed everyone from the Hudson U students camped out by the jumbotron to the families tailgating in the parking lot to the Swedish tourists who asked me to take their picture with their country’s boat Artemis Racing in the background.

Which took some doing, by the way.  Getting enough of the sail in the shot for the boat to be identifiable without cutting off the wife’s head.  Lacking the Swedish to get her to move to the left (though I still think “Mer till vänster” and a hand gesture should have worked, but it didn’t) I had no choice but to keep twisting and adjusting on my end.  Still, it was worth the two minutes fussing.  They were so excited to be there, they both had the warmest smiles—only a particular type of misanthropic dick wouldn’t think so.  Only someone like John Blaine. 

He’d been standing outside the sponsor tent as I approached, and greeted me with “The sun is shining and the wind is up, we should have plenty of action.”  There was recognition and familiarity in his body language, and I thought he must be confusing me with someone he’d been flirting with at the ball the night before.

I smiled and agreed about the wind, then nailed down that we didn’t know each other.

“John Blaine, Prosperity Partners,” he said smoothly.  “We’re guests of Paulson Hobbs.”

I introduced myself, and he praised the Wayne Foundation even before mentioning Wayne Tech’s Omni Iris that would be making such a contribution to the day, so I figured that, despite the Barry Hobbs connection, he wasn’t a rabid Wayne-hater.  Then he said he hoped he’d have the pleasure of seeing me again, hopefully with Bruce, at the Metropolis race where he’d be a LexCorp guest.  I was non-committal and went inside.  Greeted a few people, met a few I didn’t know.  The oddest moment came when Roberta Sedgwick, one of the banking people, asked if Bruce was coming.  Before I could answer, Barry Hobbs appeared behind me and said “Away on business” so casually, like we were all one big, happy family.  “So we’re all taking care of her,” he added later in a similar context.  That time he had his hands on my arms—not in a creepy stalker way but a creepier avuncular way.  Like I’d never been to a party on my own before.

I said as much jokingly to the man I was chatting with: Dean Rhoads, his family runs one of oldest Beverly Hills law firms and daddy has some Tibetan silver I once had my eye on.  He thought what Barry probably meant was my representing Wayne Enterprises solo.  “That’s certainly diving into the deep end.”

“Oh she’s quite comfortable in these waters,” a new voice said, a voice known to anyone who pays attention to the national news.  “Lex speaks highly of you as a business woman,” he confided (with his hands on my upper arms again.  Why did they all keep doing that?)  “NMK Inc., Nicht Meine Kragenweite International, very highly.”

It was Matt Montrasante, spin doctor for the Luthor campaign and author of the Gotham-bashing angle that played so well in the Midwest, but he’d only done a few months of light work in the administration before resigning.  Speculation was he liked fighting more than winning.

By this time everyone had arrived, put away their first glass of bubbly and were ready to take the launch to the sponsor boat, which was Barry’s own yacht the Positive Carry.  Wall Street guys, you gotta love ‘em.  This is when John Blaine showed up again on the gang plank right behind me, eager to get onboard and clear of the tent which he described as rabble-adjacent

Seriously.  They weren’t Occupy Gotham protestors or the fishwives of Paris ready to storm Versailles, they were the couple that wanted their picture taken with the Royal Swedish Yacht Club’s entry Artemis Racing in the background. That was the rabble Blaine couldn’t wait to get away from.  Two minutes to frame it the way they wanted, and all he could do was grumble and huff.  As I said, misanthropic dick.

The races themselves were very exciting.  All the skyscrapers do crazy things to the wind.  It can be wickedly intense one moment and fall to absolutely nothing the next.  The hydrofoiling sounds like—Well, put it this way, novice speedsters often make this sound when they come to a stop.  Bruce says it’s their heels ‘leaking’ a speedforce and sound waves lap their echo or something weird like that.  So, imagine six very loud teapots whistling inside that phenomenon with only the echo coming out, that gives you a sense of foiling.  It would make the most boring race in the world seem dramatic, and these were not boring races to start with.  New Zealand crossed the starting line too soon and took a penalty, and then they hooked the mark and still came back to win the race and the regatta.  The Omni Iris was a triumph.  Barry had two large view screens (LexCorp, of course) below deck, one with the television coverage and one running the app.  There were also tablets (LexCorp again, natch) passed out like party favors on the upper deck.  It was one thing to see the demo in Lucius’s office, quite another to see twenty people playing with it in real time.  Everyone loved it.

Everyone was also surprised how little I knew about catamarans.  I’m sorry, theme isn’t everything and they were still racing 12-meters the year I learned most of what I know about sailing that summer with Fabrizio.  So Bratsie, Dean and Roberta got to explain a little about cats, which we all enjoyed, and I got to tell a bit about the 12-meters, which we all enjoyed.  The afternoon passed very pleasantly, except for the part where the U.S. boat capsized and the part where Matt pulled me aside to give me a Luthor prospectus. 

You’re about to become extraordinarily mad at me…

“Not for this part,” Bruce said, opening the rock crystal snuff box and pressing the button that revealed the enormous plasma screen.  “I hope,” he added, realizing it was technically a remnant of the satellite cave.  “VOX control, restore desktop configuration: cat lair.” 

He stole a glance at her as the arrangement of clippings and photographs from their hunting trips appeared in a neat horizontal flow chat, reproducing their placement on her coffee table with more precise alignment and notations.

“You were right, this method of arranging the particulars of a heist is astonishingly similar to a crime board.  Instead of a victim you have the statue or the necklace, instead of suspects and evidence, you have—”

“I get it,” Selina cut it off.  “You made it nice and… angular.”

“I did a little more than that.  VOX control, restore desktop…” he looked at her, “Belfry.”  The images spawned from the Crispin catalog and Bar Drôme flashed and vanished, then the section on The Modern slid to the far left of the screen as all but the heading and the photo of Barry Hobbs faded.  A mosaic of new data appeared: bank statements and balance sheets, brokerage reports, blueprints for the Pegu Club, floorplans for a 2,000 square foot loft on Mercer Street, multiple exterior shots of a Fifth Avenue office building, and snapshots of Selina chatting with Barry and several other men on board the Positive Carry during the race.  Close-ups of the men appeared below that, Bar Drôme reappearing under one, Gotham National Bank under another. 

“You were right about Beginner’s Luck,” Bruce said casually, pointing to the screen.  “That’s not why I was tracking you at the regatta.”

“We’re coming up on the part where I’m going to be pissed,” Selina guessed.

He nodded and then pointed at the screen.  “You were also right that in all of our hunting, Hobbs was the target that interested me.  The Goldscheider at Crispin, Ian Scully’s Foujita, I could play along with those in order to learn.  But if this is going to be me following my gut…  VOX, Data set 2...  Paulson Hobbs is one of the largest and most respected Wall Street Banks, I imagine they mentioned that forty or fifty times in their sponsorship of the Cup.  I’m sure there’s something there.  They ran the paper on LCII and the new LexCorp when it went public, and while that’s certainly not a crime—”

“Ah! So I’m going to be pissed this just became a crimefighting exercise,” Selina began.

“Oh no, it’s very much a heist,” Bruce said quickly.  “But let’s get the hissing and scratching out of the way before we get into that part, so I can use it to get out of trouble.”

He winked—a wink that resembled Catwoman’s careless rooftop play more than Bruce’s playboy charm, and Selina stared, a mixture of shock and caution.

“Sure, hit me,” she said finally, accepting a dare.

He disappeared into the kitchen, and Selina covered her mouth wondering what kind of Bat-nightmare was coming.  He returned with what looked like a black, soft-side flute case. 

“You remember I thought I could do better adapting my own specialized tools without the exposure of going to someone like Kittlemeier.  And I could see that the job I have in mind would require a very specific type of… there.”  As he spoke, he had extracted a slender, folded, flexible antennae-periscope… thing… unfolded here, screwed in there, and now handed it to Selina.  “It’s a surgical laparoscope,” he said.  “Or it was.  It’s meant to be inserted into the body through a small incision to maneuver a tiny light, camera and forceps as needed for diagnosis.  You’ll see I replaced the forceps with a snipper.”  He took it back and demonstrated sliding it behind the de Hooch.  “Slide in, snip the alarm wire, shock sensors, what have you.  It’s purely mechanical, will require practice but no testing.”

“Mhm,” Selina noted, crossing her legs with a little smile and then swallowing. “Have I mentioned lately that I love you?” her voice cracked. 

“The second one is more complicated.  A micro-EMP or else a pinpoint wave cancellation unit in place of the blade—see which works better—but it means replacing the camera with a mirror.  Will need extensive tests before trying it out in the field.”

“Uh-huh,” she managed, stunned. 

“Selina, you don’t get a pair of gynecologist’s laparoscopes from Russian military surplus.  Or the RFID tech I wanted for smart paper, or the heavy load super-magnets for telescoping bolts.  I knew where I could get everything I wanted: Diagnostic and Biomedical Technologies, 62nd Floor, keycard B; Polymers and Nano Tech on 17; Industries R&D on 26, also keycard B.  There was only one snag.”

“That Wayne Enterprises has the best locks in the Northern Hemisphere, you’re not the first to hit that particular snag, m’love.”

“None of you have this particular snag.  I got into the building yesterday to suss out how the system works—”

“Which you knew.”

“As a knowledgeable stranger I could figure out where the items I wanted were located, and I could learn enough to determine there’s no way in.  There is absolutely no way to access those keycard B areas without one of four people’s biometrics.  And the only one that’s absolutely safe outside of the proper time window is my own fingerprints and retinal scan.  So I asked myself what would make it okay to use my own biometrics to open those doors?  And the answer is…”

“Yes?”

“Something you said last week, something that’s bugged the hell out of me.  You said I think I’m better than you, better than Catwoman.  And that is just not true.  I consider you an equal, and I decided this was the perfect way to demonstrate it.  I would try to steal your biometrics, and if I could do it, I figure Tommy is good enough to steal Bruce Wayne’s.”

“You’re giving me that Batman headache again,” Selina said, rubbing her brow. 

“I knew you would be on alert when I asked you to take my place.  You weren’t going to fall for anything that seemed even a little bit suspicious.  You weren’t going to fall for anything I wouldn’t fall for myself if I was there instead of you.  If in that state of heightened awareness I could get you stand where I needed, handle whatever was necessary, and then get the data and get away without your knowing anything had happened—”

“Wait… God, the pounding… You mean I’m as good as you, so if you can steal my prints and scan my… that means you’re clear to use your own prints and retinal because Tommy could have just as easily stolen Bruce’s if he… wasn’t actually you?”

“Correct.  Would you like an aspirin?”

“And you’ve got the stuff on the table now, so that means you’ve already done it?”

His lip twitched, and Selina drummed her nails, deciding whether to be angry or confused.

“How?” she asked finally.

“At the regatta,” he said, pointing to the picture on the viewscreen.  “That’s why I was there.  The Swedish couple who had you take their picture.  The ‘phone’ they handed you wasn’t the usual type of camera.  It scanned your eye for the retinal print, which it can now reproduce.  Prints from your glass.  I had to take the whole tray from the bus boy, so as a bonus, I got Hobbs, John Blaine’s and Bratsie Drammen’s.”

“You got my prints and my retinal scan in an hour, with less than 5 days prep?” Selina exclaimed.

“Yes.”

“I would like an aspirin, thank you.  And this is the part I’m going to be pissed at?!” she called after him as he stepped into the bathroom.  “Please, God, say this is what I’m pissed at, because I don’t know if I can take any more surprises.”

“You’ll like all the surprises from here on,” Bruce said, handing her the bottle. 

She popped two aspirin in her mouth and swallowed without water.

“Okay, Dark Knight, take your best shot.” she said.  “You stole my biometrics to get equipment from Wayne Tech for your big graduation heist, because you have not, in fact, turned Kitty’s perfect wedding gift into crimefighting (thank Bast and her kittens).  What have you turned it into?”

“I need more than equipment, Catwoman, I need you.  I need a partner.”

“Well you’ve gotten very good at ignoring the question that was asked and answering an entirely different one.  Normally, that would be hot, but since you’re casting me in the caped nincompoop role to do it, not so much.  What’s the heist?”

“I need a partner and a sensei.”

“Flattery now?”

“I don’t want to say too much before I’m sure; I don’t want to get your hopes up.”

“One: what else is new and two: you’re failing.  Bruce, tell me something because I don’t take jobs for employers—or with partners—who don’t tell me what it’s about.  And you will not like the company you’d be in asking me to break that rule.”

“I’ll tell you this, the first job—”

“The first job?”

“The first—”

“How many are there?”

“After the first, I’ll have a better idea.  At least two...  Probably two… Possibly more.”

“Is Psychobat okay?  We didn’t, like, ‘break him’ or anything, did we?”

“I assure you that the discipline and focus which you insist on calling Psychobat is entirely onboard with this.”

“Well now I’ve got to help you,” Selina said, annoyed, “because I’ve got to know what ‘this’ is.”

“VOX, magnify Photo 2-G and fill screen,” Bruce said, then pointed to the wall screen.  “Paulson Hobbs underwrites his IPOs, Prosperity Partners is his dark money, Montrasante is back at LexCorp...  Barry Hobbs is doing something with Luthor, something here in Gotham.  I want to know what it is.”

“And this isn’t crimefighting?”

“I need to start by getting into the Hobbs building; their systems are cut off, unhackable without being on-site.  And I want to get into Barry’s private office and access his private files and paperwork.  Once I know what they’re actually doing—”

“So it’s crimefighting with a little break in tacked onto the front end.”

“First, despite the age of the structure, nothing about the prospect of breaking into the Hobbs Building qualifies as ‘little.’”

“For an ordinary thief I’m sure that’s true, but kindly remember who you’re talking to.  Meow?” She then made a mechanical scratching motion, which had the added benefit of waving her engagement ring in his face.

“Selina,” he said, grabbing the hand and bringing it to his lips—then perhaps sensing it might be perceived as empty playboy gesture, he amended the form of address.  “Catwoman.  You told me once that whenever you see the stories painting you as some kind of Robin Hood, you think about how you would do it—just once—to show them what it would really look like if Catwoman ‘robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.’  If I’m right, if this Hobbs-Luthor thing is anywhere near what I suspect, you’ll get your chance.  It will be billions.  The kind of heist that’s talked about and studied and written about forever.  And it will establish, absolutely, that the people who circulated stories about that street waif don’t know anything more about Catwoman than cavemen knew about nuclear fission.” 

He completed the hand kiss and said impishly, “I thought that would make a more fitting wedding gift, which is why I changed the name to Tommy Pearl.”

 

The new routine was established.  Bruce returned from his “business trip” and resumed working a half day at Wayne Enterprises any time Batman got home before four.  He left the office around two, sometimes referencing a late lunch, sometimes wincing about wedding plans.  He went straight to The Mark hotel, and Tommy Pearl emerged about ten minutes later.  Selina would be waiting at the flat with a pot of some new tea Alfred wouldn’t approve of.  It was French Breakfast for the slide show and summary of Bruce’s research so far; Russian Imperial for a detailed briefing on Barry Hobbs Prep School through Princeton.  Earl Grey Provence covered the Upper East Side mansion where he’d grown up, the SoHo loft he’d bought on graduation with a multimillion dollar loan from his parents, and the chic, shadowy Pegu Club that became his regular bar and hangout.  A Moroccan Mint neither of them liked was sipped as the rest of his surveillable habits were analyzed: he played golf at a club that didn’t allow women and ate steak once a month with a dining club that didn’t allow women.  He also shopped at a ‘tie bar’ that Selina was pretty sure was a front for The Z.  Finally, a Red Himalayan from Nepal was sipped for the social register gossip and business journal bios…

“Hobbs has been a name in Gotham commerce since Wall Street was literally a wall along the north border of the colony where most of the trading was done,” the first briefing began, a slide of a 17th Century map on the screen labeled Nieuw Nederland, which made Selina smile.  It was so perfectly Bruce.  No other thief in the world would start there (unless they wanted to steal the map) but it was quintessentially Bruce.  He continued:

“What’s now Paulson Hobbs began as the family’s private bank, the Hobbs Trust, hence The Hobbs Trust Building designed by Montague in 1916, completed 1917.  They have large offices in FiDi, of course, but this is the company HQ right here.  Twenty-two stories, a Fifth Avenue landmark, all that Beaux Arts detail you mentioned in your show… VOX, close-up on that exterior… providing a lot of terribly useful footholds.  Unfortunately, that’s the extent of the good news.  Nothing behind that façade is antiquated.  Last renovation was about four years ago.  I don’t know exactly what they did, but the rents on the few available spaces went up almost 3,000%.  That’s not a typo.  The security at a Wall Street bank isn’t to be taken lightly, but I can’t even get information about the water mains near the building, the number of fire exits, basic publicly-accessible information—what’s usually publicly-accessible information—is locked down tight.”

“And that’s when you decided you needed me again,” Selina grinned. 

“I always intended to resume my lessons, sensei.”

“Yeah, I bet that’s what you told all of them when you folded up your white belt and got on a plane,” Selina said, turning her attention back to the screen.  “Okay, let’s start with that renovation four years ago.  People rarely lock chests that aren’t worth opening, so let’s find out about this renovation whose permits they won’t let us see.  Bring up the Google Earth street view.”

“I did that the first day,” Bruce said.  “VOX, data set, Belfry—”

“Not your screencap, I want the actual internet, please,” she said.

Bruce noted the please and her leaning forward on her knees, staring intently at the wallscreen.  Clearly conversation would have to wait, kitty had the scent.

“VOXRec Initialize voiceprint Cat,” he announced, touching her leg and signing ~Say anything~ once he got her attention.

“Meow,” she said absently, and then “VOX, repeat last Google Earth search,” and then, then came the ‘Aren’t I a naughty girl’ grin that used to taunt him.  “Access Historical Image for this address going back six months.”  It appeared; very little changed.  Next to the ornate old world exit, the ground level to the corner consisted of small shops: a perfumery, salon, clothing boutique, a pizza place, espresso bar, city tours, and a Bank of America branch.  “Go back eight years,” Selina said, and the image blurred and reclarified.  The façade around the storefronts changed completely, an ugly black granite that clashed with the limestone and classical Beaux Arts detailing above.  The perfumery and the boutique occupied twice their current space with nothing in between, the pizza place was the same, the espresso bar was a soup bar.

“Oh I remember them,” Selina noted.  “The shrimp bisque was in-credible.  Hey, do you have any of that chocolate left—Oh, or grapes!  Those grapes were wonderful.”

“What is it with your appetite planning a crime,” Bruce said.  “Is this something I should know, or is it just you.”

“Um… just me, I think.  Francois never snacked that I recall.”

Bruce glared.

“But look, this is interesting.  Between the soup and the Bank of America, where Gotham Tours is today, it was a security firm.  I will bet you a Talisman of Charlemagne, those are the guys they flushed when they renovated.”

“Is that useful?” Bruce asked.

“Stick a pin in it.  Nobody likes to be fired and places like that never secure their own data as well as they think.  The files from an old client who’s a bad memory… But that’s not why we’re here.  VOX, move forward six months.” 

In six months nothing had changed.  Nor six months after that.  When they approached the four year mark Bruce had mentioned, scaffolding appeared on the façade with monochrome temporary signage in front of it. 

“Here we go,” Selina said, moistening her lips.  “What do you see?”

Bruce made a few observations about the tenants and their square footage, but Selina shook her head.

“Let’s take a little stroll down to the corner,” she said, ordering up a new angle and magnification to center on a sign.  WEST GOTHAM RESTORATION, it read.  There was a street address and two phone numbers, permit number and expiration date, even an email address.

“The plans always exist.  Like you said, there are fire codes, building permits.  They’re in a half dozen dusty godforsaken systems out there.  All you have to do is convince somebody you need to see them.  And people who work in dusty godforsaken offices don’t have a lot going on to keep their imaginations alive.” 

She’d taken her phone from her purse and dialed.

“Hello, this is Loretta Chausie for Geoff Peterbald at Birman, Singapura, Bombay and Mau.  I just wanted to give you a heads up that you’ll be getting a letter requesting blueprints from a few years back, ah—Fifth Avenue, Permit number 140052092, due to an impending lawsuit…  Well technically it was a broken water pipe that damaged some servers, but a reasonable person would conclude it was a foreseeable humidity issue.  The servers never should have been placed where they were… Yes, I’d expect the letter to arrive tomorrow or the next day.  If you could have the plans ready that will certainly save time.  Thank you so much.”

“Chausie.  Peterbald,” Bruce graveled.  “Birman, Singapura—

“Birman, Singapura, Bombay and Mau.  The trick is to reel it off like it’s one long word.”

“They’re all cats,” he noted.

“Remember when you put my name on NMK Shipping?  Private joke at the end of a paper trail nobody is ever going to follow.”

“What if they do, what then?”

“If they do, so what?  Look, best thief in the world here, I can tell you that the only person that might conceivably find some bizarre, brilliant, impossible series of dots to connect one of my burglaries to a set of blueprints I got this way is Batman.  And he was there, he’s seen my ears.  ‘Cats’ is not going to tell him anything he doesn’t know about who committed the break-ins.  I’m not suggesting you go out and register Brown, Black, & Vampire Legal Services, but as long as you don’t lick the envelope, lick the stamp or leave fingerprints, it’s not a thing.”

The blueprints thus obtained, a Wuyi Mountain tea called Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong saw Bruce and Selina study them (and Selina cursing a good deal about the tiny footprint and impossible sightlines of early century foyers) while its rarer sister Jin Jun Mei would be sipped while the neighboring building was researched.

“Alright, so the renovation took off this seriously stupid black granite that went on in 1960—thank you, good taste—revealing the original limestone.  So much for cosmetics.  Those ground floor shops turn out to be seven bays on the north face, five on the west.  This last one,” she pointed dramatically to the southernmost bay on the avenue, “is the main entrance.  Recessed metal-and-glass doors, letting you peer in from the street, and it’s one of those goddamned postage stamp foyers.  Christ, I hate those.  Ivory and cream marbled walls with muted olive trim is supposed to be impressive.  Lots of gold and brass on the elevators and doors, be still my suffragette’s heart, what luxury!  You know what I consider luxury, besides being able to vote and not getting bombed by zeppelins?  Being able to turn ninety degrees without some goddamn security oaf stepping on my petticoat.”

“You’re yelling at the blueprints,” Bruce noted, sipping his tea.  “Is this normal?”

“No,” she said petulantly.  “And I’m not ‘yelling,’ I’m venting a little.  I really hate those fuckers.  Love those old buildings, they’re a joy of living in Gotham.  But then those tiny little entrances ruin all the fun.” 

“Back to the façade,” Bruce said.  “The fourth floor has that small cornice running along.  Projecting sills on the fifth, modillioned sill on the sixth.  Another pair of cornices on seventeen.  Two-story crown has rounded Corinthian columns between each window in the middle bays, with those cast-iron spandrels between the floors, and the end bays at the 18th floor have small stone balconies.  Is it my imagination, or is this thing made for climbing?”

Selina laughed.

“Yes, it’s a rare gym that has a rock-climbing wall as well conceived as that middle section.  You could even make base camp on those balconies for your final assault if there was any blessed way to beat those windows.  Everything from fifteen up, they put in that second generation smart glass, and Bruce, I don’t know how long it will take us to think up a way to beat it.  Or how much prep time that theoretical solution will require.  It’s not a puzzle worth solving in my opinion.  I say we need to go in lower—though not through the street entrance, clearly—but one of the lower windows and work our way up from inside the building.”

“Where we don’t know what we’re up against,” he said.

“Non-interlocking PIRs and a few cameras probably.  Nothing to sweat over,” Selina said.  “Top floor is accessible by two elevators and the fire stairs…”

“Where we also have no idea what we’re up against.  There’s a much taller glass box next door,” Bruce mentioned.  “At least forty floors.  Probably a spacious, modern foyer that won’t annoy you.  Go to their roof and rappel down to the Hobbs roof.”

Selina frowned.

“Their main roof line is marked by this saw-toothed band of finials,” Bruce said, pointing on the plans.  “With the penthouse level recessed above, that’d be ideal for a descender like I supposedly used in Tokyo.  Come in through a lower window and, as you said, go up on the inside.”

“Well,” Selina bit her lip.  “The lower windows aren’t going to be quite as easy as you’re saying; they are first generation smart glass, but you’ll be able to pull it off.  So round two: figuring out the roof of the high-rise next door, and what’s waiting for us inside Hobbs once we make it in.”

That led to the happy discovery that the high-rise had thirteen offices for rent on eleven different floors.  There was no need to bog down in blueprints when they could go in and see for themselves.  A field trip was declared posing as prospective tenants, and on their return:

“You don’t think it sets off any flags that we only wanted to see the offices with windows facing Hobbs?” Bruce-Tommy asked.

“That’s guilty mind thinking, like when a magician makes a point of walking through the empty space to the left of the soon-to-be-vanished girl.  Why do that?  Why prove you can walk through that particular patch of empty?  Fact is, salesmen are used to customers wanting dumb things, it goes in one ear and out the other—as long as you don’t draw attention to it.  We’re weird, we want a north view.  And it worked; we scored.  What did you see?”

“Well, Hobbs lobby first.  Looking in from the street as we passed, you can see the guards are no slouches.  The haircuts, bearing, posture all say ex-military.  If that’s the day crew, you can bet whoever’s on the desk after hours isn’t someone you’ll waltz in and distract pretending to be a French model looking for a rave; I don’t care how short your dress is.”

“Are you finally willing to admit you were jealous?”

“I was not.”

“Bruce, we fuck now.  And we’ve set the date.  And I’ve read my Justice League file.  It’s time to admit you’ve got a little thing for the cat burglar and were out of your mind pissed that night because I flirted with a couple security goons.”

“I really wasn’t.”

“Did you notice I never did it again?”

“…” 

“I’m a nice girl, and I saw how it pushed your buttons.  I don’t like to win that way.  So… what else did you see?  About the building next door.”

Bruce cleared his throat. 

“Their lobby is a lot more promising.  Security monitors are at the guard’s desk, which means the same men watching the door are responsible for watching the camera feeds.  Go in there after hours, you can certainly keep them occupied while I get to the elevators.  Ordinary keycard unlocks the elevator after business hours.”

“Good.  What else?”

“In the last office we toured, you perked up at something outside the window.  There was a white van outside Hobbs, Purity-H.  A water delivery.  Let me guess: nobody blinks if they get a second service one week.”

“Or if there’s a sub replacing their usual guy,” Selina smiled.  “It’s the most natural thing in the world.  You get a good look around the office and install a miniature camera on the watercooler.  Watch their routine in real time.  Make it a camera and mic if you want to listen in on the gossip.”

“Steal a truck and a jumpsuit,” Bruce murmured, processing it.  “Or just divert the regular guy and take his place.”

 

Finally, it was Keemun Imperial Black Snail when they broke down the results of the Water Cooler data…

“I am really starting to dislike this guy,” Selina said, replaying a 12-second snippet of video, her mouth curled into an angry frown normally reserved for Azrael.

On the screen, Barry Hobbs’s back produced a blur for a split second, then cleared to show the security panel on his office door subtly different from a typical card-reader.  The object in Barry’s hand was also subtly different: an abnormally thick keycard or an abnormally thin phone.  Rather than swipe it, he tapped it near the reader as if he was blessing it, and Selina snapped a remote to freeze the picture.

“There!  Now watch the panel when it accepts it, the configuration of lights.”

“Five, three, nine, red, orange, yellow,” Bruce said.

“It’s a horizontal PQR bar.  Mavikson only puts that on the extreme top of the line units.  They look cool, that’s it.  Any ordinary LED would do the job: red/green, your door’s locked or it isn’t.  But Barry’s system has the slick PQR indicator.  Put that together with his movement—“

“He doesn’t swipe,” Bruce noted.  “Because that’s not a card reader, it’s—”

“An SRFID interrogator.  I could understand using radio frequency ID to lock his phone or his laptop, but did you ever hear of someone using one of those on a door?  What a self-important ass.”

“You should have seen him in high school,” Bruce said wryly.

“He’s on the boards of two art museums and has lunch at The Modern, I’ll bet he’s got something just stupid impressive on his walls in there,” Selina said, her lips parted and a light flush rising to her cheeks.  “What do you think it is, George Grosz, Max Beckman?  He strikes me as a German Expressionist kind of guy.”

“Can we stay on topic, please?” Bruce graveled.  “Skip ahead to that final clip, towards the end of the work day… There, that’s a burn bag.  He’s not content to shred his documents, he sends the strips to be incinerated.”

“Same as Luthor,” Selina noted, prompting a look that was certainly Psychobat.  “What, you don’t think I did my homework breaking into LexCorp?”

He grunted.

“The electromagnet, telescoping bolts with buffered rollers and something to pry with will get me in a the window, Kittlemeier’s wave cancellation box knocks out the sensors, and an ordinary keycard will open the door from the stairwell.  That gets me this far, but how do I open that office door?”

“That card of his is basically an integrated smart circuit and an antenna.  The key is transmitted over radio waves.”

“It’s a lock, how do we pick it?”

Selina stared at the screen and shook her head.

“We don’t; that’s what I’m saying.  It's like Robin's transponder at Defcon.  The key isn’t a passive thing.  It’s second gen RFID; it has to beam the code into the reader.  We’d have to get our hands on his card.  Either swap it out, use it and get it back in his wallet by morning, or else get him to use it for us and, I don't know, somehow block the door open.”

“No, there's another way,” Bruce said excitedly.  “There was a memo last year about a new type of corporate espionage: you park a nano-drone outside the window of an office using wi-fi to send jobs to the printer.  You can grab the signal and print your own copies of their documents.  If the interrogator on Barry’s door isn’t physically reading a magnetic strip of a keycard, if it’s receiving a transmitted signal, we can snatch it out of the air the same way.”

“With a drone… I don’t see why that wouldn’t work,” she said. 

“A bonus once we have that code, it probably unlocks his computer as well.  We’ll check the hard drive, any paper files sensitive enough to be kept in there…”

“The safe.”

“See if he has a safe.”

“They always have a safe,” Selina said.

“And place a remote scanner on his shredder.  That way we’ll get a copy of whatever he’s destroying each day.”

“Always knew you’d be good at this,” Selina smiled.

 

Selina hit the stop watch the instant Bruce reached the Sherry-Nederland roof. 

“Activate headgear,” she called as he touched the side of a sleek, black-visored headband that provided dynamic night vision.  It was also equipped with an L.E.D. to make his face invisible to cameras, and could sprout a pseudo-cowl to prevent shedding an incriminating hair in an air vent. 

“Nineteen seconds,” she announced when he reached his mark.  In a single, fluid move, he whipped out a strange, many rodded, ratcheted thing.  In a rhythm, a climbing rope followed, a carabiner snapped into place, line pulled taut, line pulled taut… 

“Forty-five seconds,” …as a cover snapped open to reveal a jarring high tech screen that seemed at odds with the heavy, mechanized housing.

He typed a target distance onto its keypad, silently checked the tension, double checked, and made his way to the edge of the roof.  Centered himself, looked over the edge, touched the headband, and shifted his weight as if to leap. 

“Time?” he called sharply.

“One eighteen point three,” Selina answered.

“Damnit!” he snarled.  “Almost fourteen seconds off your time.  I’m really taking fourteen seconds longer?”

“It’s not shabby, let’s just go on to the next—”

“There’s nothing I can do about the speed of the descender.  It’s going to take twenty-six point eight seconds to slow my fall safely at the Hobbs roof.  Another one-eighteen there, nine point three seconds to descend seven more floors, and a minute seventeen for the window. That’s roughly five minutes and fifty-two point nine eight seconds until I get inside.”

Roughly fifty-two point nine eight seconds?”

“Selina, this may comes as a shock, but everyone who isn’t you wants to minimize the chance of being seen by Batman.”

“You are a crazy person,” Selina informed him.

To be continued…
 

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