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Chapter 6: East End

 

Ladies and gentlemen, East End Charters welcomes you to Grand Cayman. The local time is approximately 10:47 am.  Please keep your seatbelts fastened and carry on items stowed until the seat belt sign is turned off.

Bruce noted the time, but before dismissing the coincidence, he allowed Selina’s words from the auction house to float back to him.  ‘It’s hunting, Tommy.  Hunting involves luck: good if you’re the predator, bad for the prey.’  He considered his prey: Bratsie Drammen, Luthor’s personal money manager, rising to get his carry-on from the overhead bin of the chartered 737.  The flight into “everyone’s second favorite tax haven” (as Selina put it) was slightly over half full; there was no need to rush this or to follow too close.  Bratsie certainly wasn’t in a hurry, helping a short woman with her carry-on after he’d got his own. 

The Caribbean plinking of a steel drum played on the short walk from the plane into the airport.  All but one passenger had made the turn for visitors and he proceeded alone through the doorway for simpler processing.  All but two puddled in the ground transportation bay after presenting their passports, queuing for the shuttles to the big resorts or the well-known car rentals.  Only Bratsie Drammen and Thomas Pearl left the airport on foot.  They didn’t speak on the short walk to the strip mall down the road, there was just a moment of acknowledgment as they separated from the amateurs who stayed at the Ritz.

Tommy went into a mom and pop called Palms Car Rental without bothering to notice the name on the door Bratsie disappeared into.  The clerk had an envelope waiting along with the car he’d reserved, and in that envelope were the keys to a house he’d rented on the Internet and a map with handwritten directions.  Unsurprisingly, Bratsie’s pick-up was accomplished in the same span of eight minutes, and Tommy was able to spot the white Jeep pulling out of the parking lot while he was loading his own suitcase into a sporty convertible.  While not following the Jeep, he spotted it twice on the winding drive through pleasant suburban neighborhoods to a cinematic cliff-road that twisted as it rose above the coastline.  When the Jeep finally turned, he noted the spot with a predatory lip-twitch.

He continued another three miles to the very edge of the dramatically rocky coastline and the modest villa poised over it, “hawk like” as its name implied, that was to be his home for the next two days. The house was called Séaghdha, an old Gaelic word, and was built by an Irish privateer at the turn of the 19th Century.  None of the original structure remained but the name stuck, and though the 3-bedroom villa was thoroughly modernized, the online reviews were dreadful—to those who didn’t know the code. 

Feeling no need to unpack beyond tossing his bag into the bedroom, Tommy noted all the features that made the house seem so unattractive to those who didn’t understand what was really being offered: The pool was indeed ‘slime green,’ meaning no pool cleaner was around to see who you were.  The breeze was blocked by the trees when the wind came from the East, meaning no one could see onto the deck or through the windows.  There were ‘treacherous’ stairs down to a thin strip of beach that was far too rocky for sunbathing (though there was evidently delightful snorkeling if you really had come for some sort of a Caribbean sea-based experience.)  The wi-fi was poor, the cable limited and there was no housekeeping.  That did mean if you wanted fresh towels, you’d have to wash them yourself—hardly an issue if you were only there for a night or two, and again there was no maid to see who you were.  You dropped off the keys at the car rental where you picked them up, completing the “overall poor service” which the cognoscenti understood to be secured anonymity.

The purchased privacy confirmed, he pulled a slim tool from his wallet to deliver the enhancements Batman’s interests demanded.  After a scan confirming there were no bugs or hidden cameras, he set up a perimeter of small discs to enhance and encrypt his uplink to the Wayne Tech satellite.  Telephone and internet arrangements seen to, he checked in with Clark (this was a LexCorp investigation, after all) and then made his way to the Veles Property Bank.

His first order of business was the Thomas Pearl cover and setting up the real off-shore accounts to mirror the sham ones created for appearances in Gotham.  A world-class thief needed the proper type of bank for an employer or fence to wire payments, and those set up through Ilya’s man in Little Odessa really didn’t put him on Catwoman’s level.  So he began at Veles and the polished Caymanian accounts manager who could not have made a more striking contrast to the oily Mr. Sadik at the Ottoman Bank.  In her mid-twenties, possibly mixed race, her hair in a tight chignon, her smile was gracious rather than hungry.  Her business attire, while probably less expensive and certainly of lighter fabric, fit impeccably.  She introduced herself as Binta Watler, and walked him back to an office that was airy and welcoming rather than stuffy.  There were no precious ornaments or exotic brick-a-brac, only a potted plant that was clearly benefiting from the floor-to-ceiling windows and the sunlight that had bleached most of her binders.  And while her Ottoman counterpart hit the Excellents with such greedy gusto, the cadence of her strong Caymanian accent emphasized Service, Exclusivity, Anonymity, and Security.  She also managed to convey that the actual service they were selling was ultra-secure mailboxes.

“In order to secure the type of banking services you’re looking for, an individual must establish residency on the island or maintain offices in the case of a company…”  And then, without connecting any dots, she merely stated “Veles, as one of the leading corporate archives in the world, offers a number of services to protect sensitive documents and materials for some of the most powerful businesses in the world, including ultra-secure corporate vaults as well as executive safes for smaller accounts.  Those are mostly held by executives from the client companies, of course, though select individuals have also been approved…”

It was clear the ‘executive safes’ were the mailboxes, whether they were held by a company or a person, while the corporate vaults also designated the size of the space rather than the type of owner.  They were actually ‘container vaults’ like shipping containers in a secured underground storage facility beneath the building. 

“Access is the predictable state-of-the-art nightmare,” he related when he called Selina later.  “EVX-40 Rotating Encryption System.  The network can only be tapped directly from a terminal inside the facility, and there’s a ten minute window before the encryption program resets and locks us out again.  Visiting the safes or the vaults is by appointment only.  That’s when they use the terminal, and the system is programmed to accept only that client’s individualized keycard within the ten minutes following their appointment time.  Their key—and only their key—will then disable the automated security inside the vault: infrareds, sentries, pressure sensitive floor, thermal detectors, you name it.”

..::Well, nightmare by some standards, I suppose, but not like a LexCorp facility.  I mean, no laser turrets, no robot sentries that shoot kryptonite-radiation beams out of their eyes, no—.::..

“Correct, nothing lethal,” he agreed.  “Not even a floor pad that delivers 80,000 volts if it doesn’t detect an employee badge.  Hard to believe Lex lets his man do business with such pacifists.”

..:: So it’s the usual Menu A and Menu B: cameras, thermals, PIRs, etc. and the keycard switches it all off, meow.  I told you once, every lock ultimately has the same flaw.  They’re meant to be opened.  Everybody has to go home at night and that means opening the door. ::..

“Well unfortunately this doesn’t open the door,” Tommy growled.  “All the keycard really buys is the ability to walk into the executive safe room or up to the door of your specific container vault without all the sentries going wild and the cameras recording.  Getting in still require a biometric: a fingerprint.”

..::Not a problem, you got Bratsie’s prints when you got mine, right?::..

“It’s not that simple.  Veles doesn’t use an ordinary optic fingerprint pad.  It’s what’s called a capacitive sensor, what I use for the cave elevator at the penthouse.  It measures the change in voltage across the micro-ridges of a fingerprint.  It can’t be fooled with a copied print.”

..::Yeah, it can.  I wasn’t going to tell you because I know how you get, but um… Gummy cats.::..

“Excuse me?”

..::Gummy cats have the same resistance as human skin.  Instead of latex or cellophane, transfer the print onto a gummy cat and press lightly.::..

“I use this tech to secure the satellite cave and you’re telling me it can be beaten with…”

..::With a gummy cat, yes.  But it’s not the kind of thing even thieves on our level stumble on unless they happen to have a cat theme, so don’t worry about it.  Your elevator is as secure as—::..

“We’ll talk about this later.”

..::Joy.::..

“What about your mission?”

..:: LexCorp jet landed at the airstrip as scheduled, Montrasante’s checked into the Intercontinental, his usual suite, and unless feline instinct is letting me down—and it rarely does on something like this—he’ll be having drinks with Barry tonight at the Pegu. ::..

Bruce grunted, and she mused:

..:: Vitam regit fortuna, non sapientia. ::..

“Fortune, not wisdom, rules lives.  Cicero.  That’s what you need him to say?”

..:: Those are the syllables.  Shouldn’t be hard.::..

“Blaine would be better.  It would be… neater.”

..:: Too neat and tidy isn’t a virtue.  Isn’t that the sort of thing that sets off a great detective?  I say Matt is who the Fates sent us; it would be rude to ignore him.  Besides, a clean data trail in Metropolis isn’t everything.  I can put Matt to better use against Barry.::..

“I trust you,” Bruce said simply.  There was no one more adept at pushing a man’s buttons and a part of him wished he had recruited her a long time ago to help with the boys’ clubs that clustered under adversaries like Luthor.

He finished the paperwork registering Tommy’s shield companies, visited two regular banks and got the paperwork he needed there, and then made his way to a non-descript restaurant in a non-descript shopping center.  He found a comfortable reassurance in the sun dropping below the horizon as he pulled into the parking lot, noting the white Jeep with rental plates a few stalls away.  So far from Gotham in an identity so different from Bruce Wayne and on a mission so different from Batman’s, the real work still began at nightfall.

The place was busy, but Tommy waved past the hostess giving discouraging estimates of the wait time and headed into the bar where Bratsie Drammen stood with a beer and a basket of something fried.  He had the look of an aging golden boy who wore his success like a comfortable old sweater.  There was none of Luthor’s strutting aggression, just the easy confidence of one born to privilege, raised to expect success and given the advantages to bring it about, but whose hard work and genius had brought wealth that dwarfed that of his grandfathers.  The havoc and destruction his genius enabled through the Luthors of the world simply didn’t occur to him, so he was able to enjoy the lifestyle untroubled by the specter of human misery and ruined lives.

“Best conch fritters on the island,” he said as Tommy approached him, recognizing an obvious member of the club.

“Conch,” Tommy said, sampling one.  “Those are the big shells?  Mm, spicy.”  He ordered a basket and a beer, introduced himself as “Tom Althorp, Greenwich,” and they chatted.

Bratsie mentioned a sailing school in Greenwich and Althorp mentioned the upcoming America’s Cup in Metropolis.  Then Bratsie mentioned the folder of papers Althorp had with him, and the conversation shifted naturally into their respective business on Grand Cayman.  Drawing on Tommy Pearl’s interest in fine spirits, Bruce had devised a very particular type of hedge fund Pearl would come up with for his cover.

“Getting $10 million together for a very simple private equity fund investing in rare, limited-edition scotch whiskies.  The supply strategies in the ‘80s didn’t anticipate the growth we’re seeing in Asia.”

“Simply put: running out of the rare vintages?” Bratsie said with a twinkle.

“According to indices produced by Whisky Highland UK, sales of the top 100 single malts are up 230% over the past three years.”

Bratsie let out a low whistle, and somewhere deep in Bruce’s psyche where his various mindsets coexisted, he realized that if Pearl was a con man instead of a cat burglar, he might have a mark.  Psychobat snarled not to give the newcomer any ideas, while the more reasoning aspects of Batman pointed out that Catwoman had dipped her toes into those waters once or twice.  Grifters might like to believe they were different from thieves, but there was considerable overlap… It was probably Psychobat which then prompted a healthy swig of beer, while Pearl quietly noted that he was not a moron.  Drammen was tight with Lex Luthor and that’s not somebody you mess with for pocket change or in any way that leaves a contrail.  Psychobat drank again, noting the pun—a contrail?  A con trail?—while the more reasoning Batman again noted that Selina deliberately baited Luthor after the quake, preying on his interests in Gotham and signing her name to every act in order to provoke him.  It might not be a pun but nevertheless… Psychobat and Pearl then roared together that he was not—was not—a theme criminal.  There would be no puns, there would be no costume, there would be no gimmicks, and… At that moment, Psychobat and Pearl realized they were in complete agreement and peace was achieved.

After a pleasant hour chatting, Althorp and Bratsie went their separate ways, the former with a recommendation for the best lionfish tacos on the island, the latter with a Wayne Tech DB83-nano attached to his watch.  Tommy meant to test that little gem of cat burglar tech before pulling out of the parking lot.  He sat in his car watching the black screen on his phone and holding his breath.  Was the feed from the micro-camera dark or was it simply not sending?  He thought about checking its homing signal, even though it wouldn’t be nearly precise enough to be effective.  It was made to track a target driving at high speed to a particular building; he would need to pinpoint Bratsie’s location within inches.  If the camera didn’t work, that would leave him with the crapshoot of Plan B and only…  

The gnawing question became moot.  The feed from Bratsie’s wrist suddenly brightened, clearly showing the speedometer of the Jeep and a portion of the windshield.  It was working.

Tommy took a deep breath and headed home where, ironically, his online purchase of gummy cats had been delivered by a Global LEXpress drone. 

 

… … … … :: Duty Log: Oracle :: … … …
Selina is becoming Mrs. Batman.  She had me pull all the tail numbers for the LexCorp fleet and won’t say why.  She said thank you, which makes a nice change, but not a hint what it’s about. I told her we automatically scan flight plans filed out of Metropolis and flag anything Lex-related heading for Gotham.  She must know that, but I told her just in case she wanted me to track the numbers manually and cross-reference with five or six ancillary parameters.  In case something was going on.  There must be something going on if she’s pulling tail numbers, right?

So I told her we’re already tracking, and she didn’t bite.  So then I came right out and offered to check for her, keep an eye on Metropolis and let her know when something happens—and she said no, she’s rather do it herself.

Rather do it herself, how is that for a she-Bruce?  I mean, yeah sure, Flight Aware, Jet Charter, anybody with internet access can track a plane.  But if the All-Seeing Oracle offers, who besides Bruce says ‘Grunt, no, I’ll do it myself.’

Needless to say, I decided to keep an eye on those planes anyway and some others she didn’t ask for.  Unlike Bruce, Luthor doesn’t have any personal craft; they’re all technically owned by LexCorp.  But a few of his friends (technically he doesn’t have those either, but, y’know, the neighbors one mansion over) have a plane, so I added them to my list.  Other rich people at the country club he’s willing to be photographed with, some of them own planes… on the list.

And I just happened to check the Watchtower schedule and saw when Superman had monitor duty.  It is LexCorp, Metropolis, planes fly, he flies; you never know what might casually come up in casual conversation.  So I called to pass the time, since it was a slow night.  He didn’t mention anything about an investigation with Batman or anything related to Gotham.  Or anything about Luthor or LexCorp.  Or Selina apart from unsealing a Justice League file so she had access to Mxyzlptk Blackout Dates and something called The Camelopardalis Alignment.  That’s, like, some kind of Lemon Nebula Mardi Gras the Green Lanterns keep an eye on.

I started to feel bad.  I hadn’t realized it, but I’ve been a little “been there-done that” about the wedding.  I’ve been a Wayne Manor bride, and… I just hadn’t realized how much more complicated it is for Selina.  Becoming Mrs. Wayne is a bit more involved than Mrs. Grayson, just on its own.  Add in Batman as the groom and Superman as the best man, I can’t even imagine what she’s trying to juggle.  If she wants to be a little mysterious about some LexCorp investigation, I could be less territorial. 

So I had backed off tracking LexCorp planes and I didn’t think anything more about it until I fired up the OraCom to three alerts.  There was the reminder that B was going out of town again and Nightwing would cover his patrol.  It’s been on the schedule for days, nothing unexpected there: One night for certain, 20% projection it would extend to two, 5% projection it could extend to three. 

There was also an alert that B would be cutting his patrol short—also not unexpected if he was leaving early in the morning.

And then there was a third notice that Cassie was cutting her patrol short.  She wasn’t flying out with B, there’s no indication she won’t be back on the job tonight.  It’s not like her to put up an alert that way.  Normally she’d just tell me on the com at some point during the night, or even right before she takes off, and I’d find out then what it’s all about.  But an alert—an alert that (I checked) was entered into the system around four in the afternoon-it’s so formal.

So once she logged into the com, I asked what it was all about and she said she was cutting out early because she too had an early start in the morning, just like B but totally unrelated.  Selina called her this afternoon and told her to get a good night’s rest for an early start.  Now, Cassie isn’t the best for details so I figured I’d get the story from Selina when she logged in.  It was a busy night with this and that, I wasn’t paying too much attention, but around one I realized I hadn’t seen any action at all on Cat’s channel.  So I asked Cassie and she said Selina had gone to Metropolis.  She hadn’t taken Wayne One, obviously, or I would’ve gotten the ding when it filed a flight plan.  Selina’s credit cards are locked up now same as Bruce’s.  I don’t know how they do it but I can’t seem to track them.  Luckily they can’t lock me out of commercial airline manifests.  Since I knew where she was going and she booked under her own name, I found her flight and nailed down that she booked it this afternoon approximately 40 minutes before Cassie entered the alert. 

Then I remembered the LexCorp tail numbers and checked.  Sure enough, one of the Lex fleet filed a flight plan at 3:49 for a flight to Gotham today.  So I pulled out a spreadsheet and made a timeline.

-LexCorp pilot files the flight plan Metrop to Gotham
-Selina sees it and immediately books a flight to Metropolis
-calls Cassie and books her for a job early this morning
     (possibly meeting that flight and tailing whoever’s on it)
-Cassie logs her alert
-Selina flies to Metropolis
-AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON!

So like I said: Mrs. Batman.

 

The East End of Grand Cayman is not a figurative name.  The day began with the intense rays of a peach and purple sunrise streaming through the bedroom window and muttered curses from a man who didn’t like mornings as Bruce, as Matches, or as Thomas Pearl. 

Since the one thing he hadn’t managed the previous day was equipping the kitchen with breakfast staples, he had to forego Tommy’s breakfast ritual and set out to find a juice bar.  Sustenance accomplished, he made an appointment to visit his new box at Veles Property Bank and found a central but inconspicuous location to monitor Bratsie’s video feed. 

With considerable envy, Tommy realized Bratsie was enjoying the holiday lie-in that he would have liked himself.  The watch remained untouched on the nightstand until 9:41 when it jostled briefly and showed Bratsie moving towards (presumably) his bathroom.  It didn’t actually move to his wrist until 10:05, when Bratsie drove to the marina and had a leisurely breakfast at the yacht club.  Tommy’s bitterness calcified as he who had been (grudgingly) up at dawn watched this late-sleeper tucking into eggs benedict and blueberry pancakes at 10:26.  Selina’s admonitions about resenting the rich or speaking ill of bankers went out the window.  He was going to enjoy Bratsie Drammen’s executive safe laid bare before him.  Grunt. 

Eventually, Bratsie finished his meal and visited the First Caribbean National Bank, Scotiabank and Grand Cayman National… then he had lunch at Camana Bay overlooking the marina, and finally—finally—at the point when Psychobat and Thomas Pearl had again achieved perfect synchronicity in contempt and the words they used to expressed it, Bratsie drove to the Veles Property Bank. 

Tommy sat up, focused intently on the screen as the BankerCam on Bratsie’s wrist gave a jerky oblique angle of the Veles exterior, of the door opening, the lobby floor, the lobby fern, the receptionist, and finally a green plastic basket.  Tommy’s heart stopped as a minute passed, imagining worst case scenarios.  What if it was more than passing through a metal detector, what if items like the watch were removed before entering the vault?  Not only would the watch cam be useless, he would have to stow his own valuables when he went in and Plan B would be nullified too. 

He began thinking through ways to smuggle his phone in, when the question was again made moot as the camera’s still image came to life.  Lifted from the basket, blocked momentarily by Bratsie’s fingers as he put it back on, and offering a picture-perfect close-up of Bratsie’s keycard sliding into the reader.  Tommy scrutinized the movements as Bratsie walked through the vault to the executive safe room…  Even from the watch’s oblique angle, it was an impressive sight coming into view.  Dark, polished slate floors, cream colored walls trimmed in silver metal forming an open doorway… It didn’t look like “a vault” but some ultra-rich space station.  Through the doorway, what looked like space age ceiling art camouflaged the multi-tier security that had all been switched off.  Boxes were visible to the left and right in a series of recessed, angular bays that tilted hopelessly out of focus as Bratsie reached the doorway. 

Tommy watched fixedly… Three steps down… Right hand set of four bays A01, A02, A03, with signage on the sides that were probably instructions… a better view of the boxes then… the third bay from the door… Tommy could see now that the “signs” were really recessed flatscreens displaying, not instructions but the capacity, humidity, and more he couldn’t make out as Bratsie moved past… Bottom row… the first box in, though his hand obscured the number… Placed his finger on the pad… And that was that; Pearl’s lip twitched into that unique hungry-deliberate curl that wasn’t quite a smile.

The smile didn’t last, but Selina did say there’s always a snag. 

It was almost two hours later when he was the one retrieving his watch, keys and phone from the little green basket.  He slid his keycard into the reader and seemed jaded enough as the row of LEDs lit their approval and the door before him clicked like an ordinary lock unlatching.  It then slid open like an elevator, and only then did Tommy betray himself as a first timer, turning to the guard and confirming all the security measures inside were disabled, most especially the cameras.  The guard gave a patronizing nod.  It was the usual concern. 

Tommy walked first to the same box Bratsie had, Batman’s perception easily taking in the flatscreens at a glance now that he had an unobstructed view:  Capacity, Humidity, Temperature and Pressure on the top left.  Below that, a window full of machine code, probably related to the EVX-40 and the various systems it monitored.  In the middle, a narrow window displayed three colored graphs charting the second-by-second fluctuations in something.  And on the far right, circular meters of global usage and memory.  Tommy’s brow crinkled and he turned back for a longer look.  Displays like this weren’t usual on EVX units.  It could be something Veles rigged up to impress the clients in their vault, that was the likely explanation.  It wasn’t using a Wayne Tech visualization matrix; it might be a LexCorp and that would be worth a closer look.  He recorded a few seconds video of the display to study later. 

He continued to Bratsie’s box, opening a false compartment in his phone and extracting the prepared gummy cat.  Psychobat seethed for a silent moment as the light around the scanner turned green.  It was the technology he used in Wayne Tower – the tech that protected its Batcave – active capacitance, 20 milliohms, minimum error threshold – and Pearl could now beat it – because Selina could beat it – with a gummy cat.

He glanced through Bratsie’s papers: the expected bank statements and passbooks, a few deeds… He took what snapshots he needed and then fingered the real items of interest: two USBs and a portable hard drive.  The last was almost an inch thick with the footprint of three credit cards, quite bulky for a mere terabyte of storage.  The current Wayne Tech models would pack five times that into a unit this size with a resident power supply.  Tech snobbery aside, it is what he hoped to find.  An older unit should mean older data, and a few years of historical data was a priority for the mission objective Selina didn’t know about.  

The one flash drive copied almost instantly, but the portable drive would take some time and the second USB held a nasty surprise.  He connected the portable drive to his “phone” and would leave it it to run inside Bratsie’s safe while he took his gummy cat to the second destination...  As he did, he tried to think if there was any solution to the second USB besides taking it with him, working on it overnight and bringing it back.

He had time to decide.  Closing Bratsie’s safe, he followed the path he’d seen the other man take to the elevator that led to the container vaults.  Lacking a keycard authorized to use the elevator, he had planned to hack the controls but decided to check a vent he’d noticed on Bratsie’s watch cam.  It would be faster if it was big enough to crawl through… 

And it was...  For all the imposing security, Veles had vents a man his size could crawl into.  Even the vent cover came off quickly, and for a moment he paused, considering if it might be a trap.  He glanced around the rim looking for tells… and found none.  More importantly, the instinct that sniffed out the silent ways into Demon bases and Joker hideouts said that this vent was exactly what it seemed.  He crawled in and crawled down— right— forward—

He did have to stop and remove grates every few feet, so the Veles wasn’t completely oblivious about the uses a man-size vent could be put to…

The grates didn’t take long to open, however… Certainly not for Batman…  And while he considered that all those silent infiltrations of criminal dens made him faster than a typical thief, it really didn’t seem likely.  The grates simply weren’t the impediment the designers thought. 

He crawled out into the underground complex where the container vaults were housed… nothing to impress a client from this view.  It was like a sprawling multi-layered warehouse, all grungy efficiency.  He was on a kind of cramped stairwell, climbed over the railing and down a shadowy, non-foot-friendly route to a keypad.  Though Veles claimed all the vault security was switched off when a client was admitted, he had his doubts.  An area like where a client had no reason to be… Sure enough, the keypad was active, though it was an easy hack…

LexCorp’s container vault was on the second floor, and it wasn’t difficult finding his way to the elevator.  From there, he followed the path Bratsie had taken from the elevator…  He entered the narrow corridor consisting of a concrete wall on his left, the long wall of the container vault on his right, and the access panel directly ahead.  The fingerprint reader was identical to the one on the executive safe and the gummy key was just as effective, but unfortunately, after that he was on his own. 

The corporate vaults were shipping containers just as he’d been told—extremely clean, posh, space age looking containers, but shipping containers all the same.  But either those slick, pristine walls were treated with something that had messed with the camera feed, or else...  or else, he was screwed.  All Tommy knew for sure was that the camera feed had become a jolting wall of static once Bratsie stepped through the door.  If the interference came from the something in the walls blocking the signal, Plan B should let him track Bratsie’s movements in the cavern of archived documents.  The DB83-nano had a thermal signature and it was less than two hours since it moved through the space.  Once he was within the same walls, he should have no trouble picking up the trace signature.  Even Bratsie’s wrist might have picked up enough residual radiation that if he had removed the watch, Pearl could still track his movement through an insulated vault where the air hadn’t been disturbed. 

If the interference came from the walls.  That was the crucial point. If it didn’t, if Lex had Kryptonite stored in there and the radiation from that created the interference, it would more than blot out the miniscule signature from the watch…  Tommy pressed the gummy onto the reader and an entire section of the wall slid out just as it had for Bratsie, revealing a keypad.  The keypad didn’t look like it required a fingerprint, but he used the gummy anyway to type in the 4 digit code he’d seen Bratsie enter, the last images he’d seen from the watch before that break-up into hopeless static.  He held his breath as the door panel slid open and he looked on the interior of the LexCorp vault.

At first glance, it looked like a storage closet at the Watchtower.  The long, rectangular floor tiles were dark and slightly reflective.  Indirect lighting that was chosen for practicality wound up presenting a theatrically space-age feel.  The walls sectioned off: a column of drawers here, a shelf with a row of binders there.  A low bench covered in blueprints, another with long black suitcases that looked like they might contain weapons.  A shelf with document boxes, a large stack of more document boxes, another low shelf with a laptop…  Selina once spoke of the instinct that led her through a home, a sixth sense that prompted her to take or avoid certain items in a safe… “I’ve been doing this a long time” she’d said.  He hadn’t.  He’d had no time at all to hone that instinct and his awareness of the fact manifested as a sickly clenching at the back of his neck.  Searching blind without a hint of what Bratsie had done in here would take days, perhaps weeks…

He let out the breath and took out his keychain, activating a delicate sensor in the fob…

If Luthor had kryptonite in here, he was absolutely screwed… 

The tension at the very base of his hairline seemed to spread outward…

And he was holding his breath again…

Well…

There was no overwhelming surge of a radioactive space rock wreaking havoc from a few feet away…

Whew…

There was no subtle clicking of a DB83-nano moving through the space 90-minutes ago either…

He took a slow step towards the long metal drawers on the right wall of the container… then another… then another… deeper in, farther right… deeper in… towards the center… deeper in… farther left… -click-

-click-click-click-click-  -click-click-click-click- -click-click-click-CLICK-CLICK-

He resumed breathing as he followed the auditory trail of Bratsie’s movements through the vault… To one of the archival document boxes…  The Collateralized Debt Obligations, the Credit Default Swaps, all the underlying documents for the alphabet soup of acronyms Dick had railed against.  The physical contracts, deeds, bonds and policies that would be triggered when the lynch pins were removed.

He shoved these into his briefcase and hurriedly closed up the storage boxes and continued to scan.  The trail led to one of the binders next, whose pages he photographed… Then one of the drawers… charters and paperwork for the holding companies LexCorp (probably) used to hide its income like any other corporation using the tax haven in the usual way… Probably.  With Luthor, you never know.  He took these documents as well.  If closer inspection revealed it was simple tax avoidance, that was between Luthor and whatever passed for his conscience, but if it was the means to construct his next SIEVE installation, his next Intersect or his next Sinister Citadel…  He resumed scanning. 

There was a small safe in one of the wall panels beneath another row of drawers, beside a keypad he was not prepared to crack.  Batman merely noted it along with the black suitcases, a wall panel of “drawers” that looked like they might conceal servers, and the low shelf with a laptop…  He grunted.  It was never over for long with Luthor and there would be a time to return and make this vault cough up every one of its secrets.

He left the vault as he’d found it, returned to Bratsie’s executive safe and collected his phone with a few quick snaps of cable and then marched out in the snappy but casual rhythm of a world class burglar with a plane to catch.

 

… … … … :: Audio Log: Batgirl :: … … …

Lessons with Selina Sensei confusing.  More than with Bruce Sensei or Sifu Tsu or even Father.  But feel better confused after Selina lesson than sure after others.  Today got samples.  Facial scrub, toner, lipstick, rope darts and makineko.  From fancy Paris cosmetics line.  Scrub and toner and lipstick, not rope darts or makineko.  Those from Kittlemeier.  Makineko is like makibishi, ninja caltrop that can also be thrown.  “Maki” means “scatter.”  “Bishi” is diamond shape like water chestnut.  Selina Sensei gets special ones made, shaped like cat.  Cat is “neko.”  Makineko can’t be thrown like shuriken, but work good for scatter when escape through vent or tunnel.  Anyone try to follow or chase, must slow down or get sliced.  Hee hee.

 

Unfortunately, thanks to the problematic second flash drive, Tommy wasn’t quite ready to get on that plane.  He returned to Séaghdha, tossed the infuriating object onto the dining room table and set his phone beside it, double checked the encryption perimeter and began its upload to the Wayne Tech satellite.  He unpacked the briefcase, sorting through the stolen documents and arranging them in neat piles.  He powered up his laptop and established its uplink to the satellite and the BatComputer beyond… and then he made coffee.  It was going to be a long night…

By morning, he’d confirmed Selina’s assessment of Luthor.  The lynchpin loans that could destabilize the East End portfolio predated Bruce and Selina’s engagement and so did the fund’s acquisition of all the derivatives.  There was no way Luthor or Barry could have engineered it as a cat trap.  The fund was exactly what it seemed, and Selina would never have to know he took extra steps to make sure she was safe before they continued.

He did not have the crucial list of East End Holdings subscribers—that was a little too much to hope for—but he’d learned the location of that list in Metropolis.  Selina wouldn’t be thrilled at the prospect, but with a little teamwork, they’d have all those investing in the fund in time for the payoff. 

Finally and most importantly, he had all the details of the small private banks East End dealt with and the larger correspondent banks they relied on for currency exchange.  The Achilles Heel… All those yen becoming euros becoming pounds becoming dollars, becoming renminbi and rupees, becoming dirham and dollars again…

The challenge of the flash drive wasn’t insurmountable.  Its controller chip was smart hardware, a second-rate version of the Wayne Tech smart chip.  A simple code was etched into the USB connector.  Any computer meant to receive the drive would check for the physical presence of that code and, if found, would send a signal to the controller chip unlocking the drive.  Attempting to use the drive on a device that didn’t check for that code—well, the result of that unknown.  It might just remain locked, but if the data was valuable enough, the control chip might very well destroy the contents of the drive.  Considering it was Luthor, that was the likely outcome. 

He’d considered opening the case, physically removing the memory stick without the control chip and installing it in a normal case with a normal USB connector and a normal regulator chip.  But since it was the first thing he thought of, he felt sure it would be the first thing Luthor’s team thought of and there would be additional fail safes in the software.  He considered the rigorous testing at Wayne Tech, brainstorming countless ways people might try to fool the smart chip and devising ways to thwart them… It wasn’t worth the risk.  It would be far simpler to fool people.  So he’d placed an order which had not yet arrived. 

He made another breakfast foray, this time finding a pleasant waterfront spot favored by the locals.  Passing on the ackee & codfish, he opted for bacon and eggs on the patio deck… A pair of restaurant cats were in residence: one black and white, perched on the rail; one a dark solid grey, stretched out on a chair.  It was clearly their deck and they gave him the once over the moment he stepped onto it.  Judging him an acceptable addition, they became very friendly.  Naturally he thought of Selina, if she were here with him—the glamour of the international thief finding a small corner of his mind to settle in.  Tommy Pearl and Selina Kyle… or, no, Selina was Catwoman who was very much spoken for, better leave her out of it.  Tommy and Colette, nestled in that oh so private rental in the middle of the Caribbean.  Rich hunting among the people who came here.  Finding a place like this a few minutes away, sound of the waves breaking, clear turquoise water with the tarpon swimming around, a tree with shoes nailed to it for some reason... passing the time when their heist hit a snag… Certainly wasn’t a bad life.  For Tommy, for a man with no obligations, who felt no compulsion to protect people who were victimized.  Who simply didn’t think of them and felt free to apply his talents in whatever way served his appetites. 

The black and white cat rubbed against his leg… And when those ways to apply his talents violated the law, it simply didn’t figure into his thinking.  He did as he pleased, just as Bruce had done becoming Batman.

He reached down and ‘greeted’ the cat with a fingertip aimed at his nose, and considered Selina—not the woman of today but the Catwoman of countless frustrated logs… The Catwoman who felt no compulsion to protect people who were victimized, who simply didn’t think of them—until a situation was playing out before her.  And then, whether it was Prometheus tearing up the Watchtower or civilians trapped by the quake or Croc menacing Nightwing or Joker running free or a Penguin henchman pulling a gun, she always stepped up.  Always.  She became defensive as hell if you said anything, but she always did the right thing as she saw it.  Thomas Pearl, he wasn’t so sure.  For the separation he liked to maintain between Batman and his cover identities, Thomas Pearl should be too selfish to put himself in danger to protect other people.  Yet it didn’t sit well.  The only real model he had for a criminal of this kind was Catwoman, and if she saw innocents in danger she would act.  She was also his sensei and she taught a very hard lesson about the parts of himself that must not be excluded from Tommy.

The best he could come up with was that Tommy had never been in a situation where he had to make the call.  He probably would act if he saw people in trouble, but he was utterly unaware of that fact and should forever remain so.

He finished his meal, headed home and found the Global LEXpress drone had once again made its delivery: a brown LexCorp flash drive nearly identical to the one with the smart chip.  He applied a few scuff marks, took out a jeweler’s loop and an airgraver, and carefully reproduced the code etched into the metal tip of the USB connector.  He would return to Veles on his way to the airport, place the duplicate flash drive in Bratsie’s executive safe, and when the replacement was eventually used and found to be blank, it would be assumed the failsafe was triggered and the drive wiped clean.

 

… … … … :: Audio Log: Batgirl :: … … …

­Never hee hee with other sensei.  And other sensei start “Today we work on this.”  Very grim.  With Selina, not always sure what lesson is about but is never grim.

Call yesterday, say ‘Go home, get rest, go early tomorrow Bristol Executive Air Strip.  Slim chance I will be back in time and meet you there, but probably no.’  So get up early.  Run.  Get bacon-egg-cheese on everything bagel from Polas.  Go airstrip. 

Only one got off plane.  Matthew Montrasante, Luthor big shoe.  Followed to the Gotham Intercontinental Hotel.  Now, Selina Sensei not say anything but tail, but Father teach much about hotels.  Say target checking in to hotel is best thing to observe.  See if goes to concierge.  See if has mail waiting.  See if hands over anything to go into hotel safe.  See if makes reservation…

Lobby make good challenge.  Big, like train station.  Open sightlines.  Sofas and chairs in middle of everything.  If face check-in, would have back to concierge.  If face concierge, have back to check-in.  Have to turn or move to see both, and anyway, too far too hear.  No good.  And Luthor big shoe not like other businessmen.  Can tell by back of neck.  Also muscles of cheek.  Is aware of surroundings, could easy notice tail.  So must be careful. 

Lobby has two shops.  Jewelry store, mostly watches and scarves in window.  Not my style so I don’t look too long.  Clothing store is my style, but window too far from concierge to hear.  Don’t look there too long either.  Lobby also has entrance to restaurant and entrance to spa, still too far away to hear but spa has little take-away slips with list of services and prices.  I take this and wander like distracted, pretend to read.  Go right up close enough to hear reservations: he is confirmed for lunch at Forty Cloves and asks if Edo lives up to the hype.  Concierge says yes, so he says get reservation dinner.

He went up to room but I wait.  Pretend to read restaurant menu and watch his luggage go up.  Use phone to look up: Forty Cloves is in Moxton Building, famous restaurant for power lunch.  Has “Picasso Alley” most people don’t know, between Pool Room and the Grill Room.  Big tapestry, 19-by-20-foot, largest Picasso canvas in United States.  Selina Sensei will like detail like that.  Edo is new steakhouse in Meatpacking District.  See enough pictures to make up sketch floorplan for both.  Edo best place for hit.  Strange entrance, long hallway, stairs.  Good sightlines to hide in shadow, strike fast and escape.

Also spa has hydrating bamboo facial and glitter tip manicure.

 

The subtle tells of a man fresh off a plane from the Caymans was not to be wasted, and Tommy called Ms. Lowell on his ride from the airport to clear a quick drop in at Crispin’s Fine Art Storage.  His cab pulled up within the half-hour, and on the pretext of visiting his unit he laid the groundwork for another new client: a married woman, the very reclusive wife of a very private Metropolis tycoon.  Mrs. Blaine had rarely been seen, never photographed.  Tommy wasn’t sure when she would be flying in, but he urged Ms. Lowell to be discrete even by Crispin standards.  Any security who saw her, any other staff she came into contact with… it was terribly important they didn’t stare or give the impression that they might be, you know, sneaking a photo.  Samantha Lowell assured him the Crispin staff were models of professionalism, and Tommy nodded: Yes, he had seen that himself, no offense intended.  It’s just that Mrs. Blaine is a stunning beauty and even the most decorous professionals have been known to stare and then turn away too quickly if they think it’s been noticed.  If the client is anxious to begin with…

Samantha nodded, repeated the assurances in another key so to speak, and thanked Mr. Coronet for the heads up.  Tommy called Selina from the parking lot. 

“You can be confident no one will be looking too closely—”

To be continued…
 

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