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Chapter 7: Fortuna

 

It sounds like a lonely life, he said. 

“Nah.  Not really.  There are other satisfactions.”

I sat in a thick hotel robe in the middle of that achingly tasteful suite at the Roff Metropolis… and mocked myself.  “Nah.  Not really.  There are other satisfactions.”  Yeah.  Sure. 

The coffee is still damn good: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.  The sheets are nice: hand-stitched Italian percale.  The petite filet mignon au Roff is still the best late night dinner on any room service menu in North America.  And I miss Bruce. 

It’s only one night.  It happens often enough.  But never like this.  Never on the heels of “it sounds like a lonely life” and here I am in Metropolis breaking into Lex Corp.  It feels so much like my old life but… it wasn’t really this empty, was it? 

No, it wasn’t, I’m sure of it.  I just felt a little off because I missed the window to call and say goodnight.  I knew Batman was packing every punch he could into the last hour of a half-patrol before knocking off early so he could make that flight to the Caymans in the morning.  And I was looking at an early morning myself: Welcome to Metropolis, where even the burglaries are a daytime thing.

I did a speed review of the Oxford Complex, where LexCorp is headquartered now, and the route I planned to follow.  This job, there was going to be a lot of back-and-forth… I had a client once, a Mrs. Simmons, absolutely obsessed with jewels claiming some connection to the Empress Josephine.  When I finally got her one of the Nitot cameos, she was convinced I was a magic user.  She’d been fixated for so long, she knew almost as much about Gripsholm Castle as I did.  She knew it resembled a Gordian knot more than any building has a right to and the security was a tangle of Christmas tree lights balled around the knot.  (A layman’s simplification.  It’s more like Christmas lights around a knot with the whole thing then drizzled with honey and a few thumb tacks thrown in for fun.)  Still, dilettante generalizations aside, Simmons understood more than most clients, so I understood why she kept asking what no client ever should: How did I do it? 

I understood why she asked.  And that’s why I broke down and told her. 

She didn’t believe me.  She decided I must be a wizard using some kind of magical teleportation because nobody—nobody—would run around that much, backtracking and re-backtracking and then going back again: to close the window, going back to the east parlor to reconnect the camera, back to the pink room through the service corridor this time to put on the maid’s outfit and going back to open the window again, going back to disconnect the camera again… Nobody would go to all that trouble to advance only eight feet and then have to backtrack to the service corridor again and change into the jumpsuit to “fix” the wifi, drop the birdseed, go back to the pink room and ditch the jumpsuit, catch up with the tour and notice the birdseed, finish the tour and wait six hours, put on the hat and come back for the garden party.  Nobody would do that!  There simply had to be a bibbity-bobbity-boo solution.

I never told Tommy that part because Bruce already knows.  The things he’s done as Batman, the protocols he’s come up with, the martial arts he’s mastered, he’s no stranger to marathons of nobody-would-ever-be-crazy-enough-to-do-that. 

I checked the time.  It was too early for bed, too late for more Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.  I considered the suit…

Working visits to Metropolis, I learned a long time ago the best camouflage for a woman alone booking a night or two on short notice was the Retail Therapy Package at the Roff.  It includes a professional make-up application from one of Miracle Mile department stores “a few short steps outside your door.”  (They never choose a good color palette for me; there must be something about the air in Metropolis.  Golds and browns this time, I mean really.)  There are two big perks: it gives me a unique look for the brief time I’m here that I’ll never use again, and it’s an extra layer of camouflage.  Women who notice my face in any detail tend to note the pro make-up job and that’s what they remember.  Beige Mousseline eyeshadow and dashed eyeliner, not green eyes… The package also includes a customized mock fashion magazine made up by your Shopping Concierge (Nicole) from the current offerings at the Miracle Mile shops, still a few short steps outside your door.  The suit was Oscar De La Renta, a throwback to this thing he did in 2011, really rather smart on its own: the jacket was a little busy but paired with a solid grey skirt it wasn’t a horror… apart from the blouse.  Ruffles!  I know it’s de la Renta, but come on!  With a multi-color tweed jacket trimmed with unnecessary florals at the sleeves and a skirt that, despite being solid, is still a bit much with that jacket—and you’re adding rufflesWhy? 

It fascinated. 

And appalled. 

And was enough of a mental palate cleanser that I could do another speed-run over the LexCorp layout and my plan of attack… By the time I got to the security manager’s office, I’d considered what the jacket would look like with a simple scoop-neck shell… not pink like the ruffled horror, but black silk would work best, cream a close second… 

It was still too early for bed. 

It sounds like a lonely life… 

It occurred to me that I was technically in Metropolis to commit a crime, and they did offer a resident cape for the convenience of visiting cat burglars who found themselves at a loose end.  I hadn’t planned to call until morning, but I did happen to know he had monitor duty tonight and Lois did mention he was finding the news feeds up there hard to take...  And I had a JL communicator in my phone that I hadn’t used since Bruce installed it.  No need to go through Oracle, no one had to know… Do it quick, I thought, like ripping off a Band-Aid.

..:: Watchtower,::.. he answered.

“Hey, Spitcurl.  How’s my second favorite obstacle in a cape?”

 ..:: Catwoman, good evening.  Not much of a night, actually.  A storm system in the Atlantic I’m keeping an eye on, a fire in Auckland the locals are on top of, the Dow closed 130 points down, and someone I’ve never heard of is refusing to apologize after ‘a backlash’ on Twitter that Chris Hayes is reporting as if it’s Khrushchev banging his shoe at the United Nations.  I’m very glad you called.::..

“Lois did mention you’re losing patience with the news these days.”

..:: It’s that SIEVE fiasco Luthor set in motion.  When we shut it down, it was a reboot for journalism.  Rather than address any of the problems that have become standard practice, they just picked up where they left off.  It’s very hard to take, sitting here seeing the questions that aren’t asked, the angles ignored, complexities glossed over… And the superficial irrelevancies that— a backlash on Twitter?!  At home with Lois it’s hard to take, but at least we have each other to…commiserate.  Up here, it’s just nine channels of it and grinding my teeth.::..

“I’m sorry.  I’m in Metropolis, I could knock over a jewelry store if you want to take your mind off it.”

..:: No thank you.::...

No thank you.  He’s so cute.

“I figured not.  But listen, I am in Metropolis and I really could use a favor.  You remember Barry Hobbs, professional nincompoop at the Tae-Vrroshokh exhibit, squealed like a cartoon character when the fear gas kicked in?”

..:: I remember Mr. Hobbs..::...

“His company has two offices: the Paulson-Hobbs Building midtown and a suite in the financial district.  Any chance of you giving me a speed-fly back to Gotham tomorrow and buzzing them?”

..:: Buzzing them?.::...

“You know, make few high speed passes past the windows.  Fast enough that they see something that’s probably you but can’t be sure.”

..:: I can do that.  So what are you doing in Metropolis?.::...

“I told you, knocking off a jewelry store.  And possibly buying an ugly suit.”

..:: Fine, don’t tell me.  What time tomorrow?.::...

Okay, it wasn’t exactly a brazen Riddleresque taunt, but the call did provide a second palate cleanser which let me make a third and final speed run over my LexCorp plan of attack.  Three is the max, more is just over-rehearsing.  I didn’t tell Tommy that either because, again, Bruce already knows.  The things he’s done as Batman… You know how you take on an armed or super-powered attacker?  You prepare to the point it’s effortless but not ingrained.  Because there’s always a snag.  Every plan goes awry somehow and if you’ve got it down to a reflex, you can’t adapt.  But as long as you’re choosing to act each step of the way, you can make those hundred minor adjustments without slowing down, half the time without noticing there was any drama at all.  The things he’s pulled off as Batman, he does that part better than anyone I’ve ever met.

I got into bed, set the alarm, and… froze for just a second, that last thought lingering like a taste…  The things he’s done as Batman.  I have no word for the feeling.  It wasn’t nostalgia or déjà vu or anything like it.  It was… I was in a cold bed big enough for two, alone, final rundown of tomorrow’s break-in fresh in my head, and the last thought as I turned out the light was Batman. 

Going to sleep in that kind of a time warp, it’s not surprising I dreamed about dimension hopping.  Happily, there were no other aftereffects, not even a glance at Mirror Bitch on my way to the shower.  The morning of a heist is too exciting for her nonsense.  I had my usual Heist Day breakfast, placed an order for later with the Puxi Terrace, and before long, I was on my way into the employee parking garage as Georgina Barnes, her trademark blue office attire concealed by a dreary maintenance jumpsuit and the red wig tucked under a utilitarian headscarf.

Metropolis or Gotham, the parking for downtown office buildings are pretty much the same this time of day and Oxford was no exception.  Technically there’s a card reader requiring an employee ID, an easy hack, even at the old Tower where LexCorp was the only occupant, the garage keypad was an easy hack.  But at this time of day, when the whole world is queued back to the turn off Grant Street creeping three inches at a time between car length lurches, hacking it isn’t necessary.  You don’t even need to be sneaky about it, just walk in on foot past all the cars coming through.  Maintain a brisk pace to the camera’s blind spot and then squat and dash to the supply closet…  One step into this revolting corner of the garage, it’s very clear why it needs ample ventilation.  Exhaust fans, car exhaust, puddles of oily ooze, plastic barrels of god-knows-what.  The vent was hot, smelly—and even roomier than it looked on the blueprints. 

If I hadn’t studied the plans I could have followed my nose.  In a moment that simply reeked “crime doesn’t pay,” the smell of what I have to assume was some kind of breakfast burrito pushed through the garage smells as I neared this little security room for the garage alone: Bare bones, no dedicated monitors or anything.  Just a laptop on a folding table, phone, fire extinguisher, two lockers, two folding chairs, and that quaint relic of a bygone era: a pneumatic tube station.  Later in the day there would be two guards but now there was only one, watching the feed from the cameras on the laptop.  Watching in theory, while playing minefield in a reduced window covering most of Camera 4. 

My position in the vent was an ideal distance to tap into the phone.  Pretending to be the reception desk, I told him we had a report that some kids were playing with spray paint outside the west entrance.  He went to check it out, and I slid down from the vent.  I checked the laptop first.  There was an email with a door code for the day.  (Three digits—556—what you put on a door you don’t care about.)  The laptop also controlled the garage cameras as well as monitoring them, so I switched off the one that would cover my exit.  Then I sent my packet through the pneumatic tube and was on my way.

There was an elevator and a stairwell leading from the garage to the lobby.  I opted for the latter—door code 556—and shed the maintenance togs.  At the old LexCorp Tower, coming in through the employee garage saved six or seven steps compared to the front entrance, but at Oxford it dumped you into the same lobby.  (Woof.)  I presented myself at the reception desk with an eager happy-to-be-here smile. 

“Hi, I’m Georgina.  Georgina Barnes.  LexCorp.  First day.”

This brought a sour look, an annoyed glance at the tiny tilted screen on the top of her desk, a more searching look at a larger recessed screen hidden behind the desk, and finally at a clipboard.

“We’re not expecting any new employees,” she said tersely.

“I spoke to Justin in H.R.  He said my badge and welcome packet would be waiting for me,” I told her.

“Nobody told me anything about this,” she said, the sour deepening to produce a pucker but it was no longer aimed at me.  “Hang on,” she said and took a few steps out from behind the desk before turning back.  “On second thought, you better come.” 

She waved me to go around the desk, right past the guard at the security check.  That was unexpected so I just let my natural reaction happen and shrugged at the guard as I passed.  I followed her back through the lobby to the main security office—or the show security office, I should say.  It was a movie set: Halfway down was a glass wall and beneath that, SECURITY etched into the plaster in this really tasteful two-tone racing stripe.  Behind the glass was the most pristine, ergonomic, well-funded and photogenic security closet I have ever seen.  Not a soda can on the desk, no unsightly stacks of binders or unfiled papers.  What file boxes there were had been placed at neat right angles to the edge of their respective tables.  The coffee mugs had LexCorp logos which faced the window, handles in perfect alignment with the edge of the desk.  There were three men inside and their uniforms fit like they were tailored. 

At the end of the glass, there was a metal door (with more exquisitely designed lettering reading SECURITY, AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY) secured with a regulation Hockley & Lowe keypad in custom eye-candy housing out of a Mission Impossible movie.  Think a Volkswagen engine in a Porsche body.  In any case, Sourpuss ignored it and knocked on the glass, and one of the impeccably tailored guards looked up.  With his face tilted up that way, he looked like a 1930s recruitment poster, like he was looking forward to marching into Czechoslovakia.  He opened the door, Sourpuss went in and the two of them looked around the desks, the inboxes, and finally the pneumatic tube.  Sourpuss came out with an unsealed envelope in her hand, looking infinitely less sour.

“I’m so sorry about that,” she apologized.  She’d slid an ID card from the envelope, glanced at me comparing the photo, and then handed it over.  “Welcome packet’s right here.” 

“Bad hair day,” I smiled, flashing the photo at her, and she actually smiled back. 

She walked me to the elevators and pointed me at the card scanner… where of course my counterfeit ID did nothing.

“I’m fired already?” I joked.

“First day glitches; welcome to LexCorp,” she said, unclipping her own badge and scanning it to let me through.  “If it keeps acting up, bring it to security.”  She pointed back to the office we just came from, and the handsome if unnervingly Aryan guard.  “Kevin,” she mouthed, mock-fanning herself.

 

I took the elevator to the third floor, simply because it’s not staffed with a lot of 9-to-5ers arriving en masse at this hour.  I waited until the coast was clear and hit the doors with a locking EMP.  Reasonably sure I wouldn’t be interrupted, I squeezed and squirmed my way behind a soda machine to another comfortably sized vent.   All buildings have their hidden support and maintenance areas behind the walls and off the beaten path, but the ones Luthor rents and everything he builds tends to have entire corridors, and even the occasional room, dedicated to his anti-Superman measures.  The vent brought me to an electrical room where I could trip a breaker if I needed to, access the elevator shaft or—what I’d come for—climb to a different network of vents.  I made my way to seven offices on four floors, knocking out a total of nine computers with a pinpoint EMP.  Then I made my way to the IT department and waited.  I suppose I should have felt bad, but these guys do work for Luthor.  Fuck ‘em.

It was a large room with impossible sightlines.  An entire wall consisted of servers behind glass doors that were reflective enough to let anyone facing one see movement throughout the room.  There were six island workstations heaped with peripherals (and one or two goofy action figures) where everyone working could see everyone else.  

The phone started to ring.  One by one the staff of six was whittled down.  Nine non-responsive computers and related hiccups spread over four floors… The last man stayed behind to answer the phone and act as dispatcher.  When he was alone, I made my move. 

There are a lot of ways to take a man out.  In an isolated corporate environment in the middle of a work day, I like the one that makes him a co-conspirator.  Exiting my vent, I crept into position and tossed a very mild gas pellet onto the desk.  These things are the most anemic excuses for anesthetic you will ever find, good for maybe ten minutes, no hangover to speak of.  Why?   Because someone not answering their phone for three hours gets noticed, and when somebody comes looking and finds him unconscious, that raises flags.  But someone who nods off for a few minutes and wakes up to find three of those miniature airline bottles of vodka in the trashcan, they’re going to keep their mouth shut even if they notice something on their desk isn’t exactly the way they left it.

I dropped the two empty bottles into his trash, poured the contents of the third into his coffee and dropped that empty in a drawer.  Then I went to work on his computer.  He was already logged in, no hacking required, though it took me a few to find the security partition with the door codes. 

The real “Main Security Office” (as opposed to the show one in the lobby) was on the 28th floor, door code 1137.  The security manager (poor bastard) was next to that, door code 57319, and Mercy Graves was next to him, door code 11573 (though in my experience Mercy was never far enough from Luthor’s boot to use it.  Whenever he had a meeting she waited outside the door like a spaniel, making his secretaries uncomfortable.)

Matt Montrasante was on the 32nd floor with Luthor, and all of the upper management had voiceprint locks.  Matt’s key phrase was a perfectly Luthorian bit of pretension: Vitam regit fortuna, non sapientia.  Fortune not wisdom rules lives… I’d be willing to bet he thought that Fortuna meant money rather than luck.

Back to the vents, I made my way to the security manager’s office.  Leon Borch (poor bastard).  When I first came after LexCorp, he was a homeless guy—appeared to be a homeless guy—sleeping on a bench across the street from the old towers at the ideal spot to do recon.  The idea, I suppose, was that nobody with strictly innocent intensions would decide to sit on that bench next to the large, scary homeless man, whereas somebody doing recon for their upcoming heist would consider it a cost of doing business.  It’s a cynical theory, pure LexCorp. 

Me?  I didn’t go near him for one simple reason: it was a stupid place to sleep.  The wind coming off the lake was a constant.  There had to be a thousand warmer benches in the city.  The only reason to pick that one was for the reason I spied it: to keep an eye on LexCorp’s front entrance, the plaza and the path going around the side to the service door…  So I kept an eye on him as I went about my work from more discreet locations, and I discovered the “homeless man” knocked off a few minutes after ten and… went home. 

So I made him a hobby.  LexCorp—the old LexCorp, those old towers which were then the brand spanking new towers with a brand spanking new security force to match—that was a tough recon.  Even before addressing the Superman factor, it was a hard heist to get my head around.  I was looking at nine days of legwork, feeling completely overwhelmed most of the time, and Leon’s routine became a welcome touchstone.  His daily stop at Big Belly Burger, for example—though what possesses a man to eat something called Death by Bacon three days out of five, I still don’t want think about.

The amazing thing is, he paid off.  Day Four, he left his bench at the height of the lunch rush, disappeared into a Wendy’s down the block and came back looking cleaner, tucked in, a windbreaker draped over his arm… his walk through LexCorp Plaza wasn’t exactly uptown but he was no vagrant…  He went in a service entrance, and I followed, of course—it was the breakthrough.  He was going to pick up his paycheck and then file his timecards for the week, and he led me right through the security staff’s organic backstage pathways to do it. 

Now he was security manager for the whole place, reported directly to Mercy… It’s weird but I was almost proud of him.

He wasn’t in yet, no distractions required.  First thing, I found the black box/encryption terminal and coded myself a working ID so I could start using the elevators like a normal person.  Then I attacked his computer.  The first thing I found was… actually the most disturbing tidbit I’ve found in all my LexCorp recons.  The file was titled SPOOKS.  Apparently one of the parting gifts Luthor brought with him from the White House was a list of CIA operatives to poach for LexCorp security.  He had some tagged as likely to retire, some were down as ‘wooable,’ ‘doable,’ and one just had a string of dollar signs after his name.  I copied all but the last.  I couldn’t say for sure Bruce would make them a better offer but, speaking for myself, if we’re going to have retired counterintelligence in the game, I want them on our side in Gotham and not working for the other guy. 

I continued to search…

Borch’s computer also controlled the cameras (I switched off the pertinent ones so I could leave through the door and not a vent) as well as the nasty stuff in… we’ll call it R&D.  It’s nothing like the Wayne Tech equivalent, but it is a high security vault (if you can apply the term to three entire floors of a downtown high rise) where LexCorp keeps its deepest, darkest secrets.  You can never dope out these high security areas in a LexCorp HQ from blueprints.  He uses shadow manufacturers from, I assume, the Secret Society or the Injustice Gang.  He fudges the building permits, insurance, fire exits and power drops.  There’s just no way to know what you’re dealing with other than coming into the building, dead reckoning through the vents and looking at it—or coming into the security manager’s office and reading the labels on the controls.  The office was the safer option.  The controls included a k-metal laser grid, k-metal laser turrets,  robot sentries with (you guessed it) k-metal lasers.  Lexxy really wants to be able to fry any intruders with kryptonite-radiated light beams.  

This is where all those surveillance cameras came in handy.  Borch was far above the grunts assigned to watch those boring video feeds, but his controls display the feed from whatever camera is selected.  I could use th—SHIT!

“Borch.”

Mercy.

The communicating door was opening.  —SHIT!

“Not in yet.  Of course not in yet.  God forbid we get anything done around here before the circus comes to town.”

Apart from the security guys on laptops, these LexCorp computers have glass monitors that rise out of slats on the desktop.  I had smacked a button on the side to turn it off before diving under the desk where the actual computer still hummed, the hard drive clicked—it sounded like a bloody percussion band from where I was squatting—and up on the desk, the keyboard was actually lit.  The monitor would have residual heat if not a residual glow… Four ways a half-alert person might notice the computer had just been used—plus, someone with Mercy’s training just might have the ki awareness to sense a person in the room.

Shit.

Shit, shit, shit.

She was coming to the desk. 

Shit, shit, shit.

Shit, shit.

She was scribbling something, while I was remembering the serious beating I took the one time we fought and tracing my best two routes out of the building through the main office door or the second communicating door to security—the latter meant a pursuit from anyone who was in there, but that was no obstacle last time.  (Last time when they were fresh new hires anxious to impress)

Mercy was walking around to the front of the desk—and I considered the fact that I’d had several years of sparring and an actual lesson from Batman since then, as well as a stint with one of his old sensei.  I could certainly handle her better than I did last time, and could possibly flatten her sufficiently to use the vent with minutes or more of a head start...

It was also possible that she was too focused on her concern of the moment to take in anything else, because that scribble was a Post-it note she affixed to the keyboard without noticing or finding anything suspicious in the faint red glow under its keys, without hearing the hard drive clicking, the processors humming or sensing me under the desk.

Vitam regit fortuna, non sapientia

She left. 

And I waited. 

Heart was still thumping.  The rush is similar to a Batman chase, not the same but in the ballpark, though not nearly as much fun… But anyway, still thumping when I got out from under the desk, but the volume was down.  I stretched out my legs and listened carefully at the communicating door… 

Silence. 

I counted to ten and then eased it open just enough to peek…

It was dark and empty. 

I took a deep breath, closed the door and went back to work. 

Borch had control and override for every surveillance camera in the building, and when a camera was selected it displayed the feed.  That let me have a good look around the high security floors without going down there: I saw the laser turrets, the robot sentries… the elite guards’ lockers and break room… and arsenal.  Not that I expected Luthor’s security to be armed with slingshots, but bloody hell, they had firepower to hold off an army. 

It was educational, but not what I was there for.  I checked Lex’s floor.  There was a second laser grid.  This one was military grade, dynamic frequency lasers and it was good to know where I could shut it off, but I wouldn’t need to do that today.

The job was done.  Before I shut everything down, I read the Post-It. 

“Four more guests for the America’s Cup.  Fri only for the practice day so Tier 1 background check will be fine.  Remember LL coming Sunday only.  All Sun guests must be cleared to Tier 3.”

Surprise cream.  No self-respecting cat turns her nose up at that.  I searched Bosch’s files and found the guests with cleared background checks.  Added Thomas Pearl, Cora Colette and Selina Kyle at Tier 3, just in case we wanted to use them.

 

It was a little under two miles from Oxford to Prosperity Partners, that’s thirteen minutes in normal traffic, sixteen to eighteen in heavy.  Time was I would have waited for lunchtime to score that extra layer of anonymity, but since none of these were Missing Van Gogh burglaries I wasn’t terribly worried about the redhead in the blue suit being remembered.  Plus Superman was giving me a ride home; that made any nod to Catwoman’s old anonymity checklist rather precious.

Prosperity was across the river and past the theatre district, a stone’s throw from the park and the Art Institute.  It was a pleasant drive.  Past CBMetro, formerly the Commerce Bank of Metropolis and jewel of LexCorp Financial’s Crown, bankrupted by Talia al Ghul, bailed out and rebranded to become my favorite place to burgle when I need to blow off steam outside Gotham.  Meow.  Past Gucci and Bvlgari—I considered running in for a little sparkly since I did tell Clark I’d be hitting a jewelry store… Tiffany (Ibid)… Saks if I wanted that suit (I didn’t.)… MaxMara, where Doris got her inspiration for her Game Theory costume.  The things I taught Bruce for Tommy were so far beyond anything I taught Doris.  She was operating in a city with a far more informed Batman than I ever did, poor thing…  I was pulled from my reverie by the cabbie, who evidently made me as an out-of-towner but not one with a right-thinking Gothamite’s understanding of what does and does not constitute a pizza.  He informed me when we were within a block from Giordano’s and two blocks from Gino’s… 

We passed the Daily Planet, crossed the bridge… the underpass that was my Plan-C escape route when I went for the X-27, it hadn’t changed… Past a caterer Lex often uses—my first time in Metropolis I’d broken in, copied their logo and taken a uniform.  I was sure it would come in handy one day.  It never has…  There were two armored cars outside the County Clerk and Treasurer’s Office, and people on the sidewalk pointing up.  Even bet Spitcurl had just done something, though the spot the cabbie pointed out as the shadow of his cape was obviously from a flag… With that bit of drama behind us it was just another block to the turn, past another bank that had been Luthor’s until Talia came along, and two blocks more to Prosperity Partners.

Compared to the gravitas at LexCorp, Prosperity was a much lighter affair: the atmosphere as much as the décor felt like a software company.  High ceilings, funky colors, a faux skylight… This was a hip west coast software company, not a powerful financial concern piping dark money into a darker Luthor agenda.  There was a slick curved wall in the middle of things with a subtle light show playing over blue tiles and an embedded monitor.  That ran a slideshow displaying (I suppose) all beautiful and exotic places you could travel to with that titular prosperity, and driving the point home, the name Prosperity Partners in one of those hipster Silicon Valley fonts.  Completing the picture, a “conversational group” of pastel colored bean bags on a circular rug… Young, hip—and way too open for the constrained sightlines you expect in the halls of a somber financial juggernaut. 

Nevertheless, I’m a pro.  Cats do not curl up their tails the minute things get hard.  I shed Georgina’s jacket—a white blouse and navy skirt seemed less conspicuous than the full suit—and I played the angles as people passed through the lobby, mingling into this crowd and that one until I made it past reception.  A little dead reckoning though the side halls brought me back to the lobby in easy distance to the elevator—which was glass.  They had a glass elevator, which I hadn’t figured on.  But the trick to invisibility in an aggressively open and casual space is to make like someone at home in a fishbowl… I got into the elevator, silently praying no one would get in with me but outwardly too absorbed in my phone to notice if they did...  The door closed and, even though I knew I’d be facing something weird, I didn’t know what and I wasn’t quite prepared for the sight of it.  There were no buttons.  None.  Everyone could see me having strolled in like I worked here and knew what I was doing—walking into an elevator with no buttons.  Only a circular receptor with a lit wi-fi symbol and the name Prosperity Partners again in that obnoxious hipster font.  Apparently you just had to zing the code for your floor into the thing like a Martian telepath introducing himself. 

A lesser thief would be screwed, but I am not a lesser thief.  As soon as Bruce put me onto Prosperity, I’d started digging.  I’d found a Mrs. Aldsby on maternity leave and I messengered her a package with a… call it a trojan phone.  Basically a stripped smartphone with a nanowire super-battery.  It sat in the mailroom, scanning for wireless signals and Bluetooth access points for days until it died, sampling the high-repetition signals on the most trafficked nodes.  I’m no hacker and I couldn’t pull off the miracles Oracle no doubt could with the access, but I had the elevator signal for the lobby, second floor, third and basement.  I used the last—and freaked slightly as my phone vibrated the exact second the elevator started to move

My stomach lurched a lot more than the elevator for the second it took to realize it was a real, actual call coming in. (An incredibly ill-timed call, but the ones I was expecting were important so…)  It was Cassie, reporting that Matt Montrasante was the sole passenger getting off the plane in Gotham, that he’d checked into the Intercontinental Hotel (his usual), a River Suite (his usual), and she even got his lunch and dinner reservations.  That girl is a treasure.

By the time we’d hung up, I’d reached the basement.  Strangely high ceilings, but at least it wasn’t hip.  It was maybe a little Soviet space station, but at least it wasn’t west coast hip.  Finding the server room wasn’t difficult.  Hacking the door was a bit more challenging than all those Hockley & Lowe keypads at LexCorp but I got in… Inside was much less Soviet space station, more the Stanley Kubrik variety that had mated with an Apple Store.  It was much smaller than LexCorp’s IT room.  There were three walls of black servers in white cabinets with glass doors, apart from a small section directly across from me with an access terminal: simple monitor and keyboard.  The top of the server cabinets were open, wires coming out there were neatly aligned in troughs that occupied a foot and a half between cabinets and ceiling which came together at a port high on the wall opposite the door, heading out to wherever terminals they fed throughout the building.  Hacking into the access station wasn’t difficult and with its help, I found the cable that led to John Blaine’s office:  J14-9.  Getting to it was a bit of a challenge—those server cabinets aren’t exactly made for climbing—but I managed, as cats do, and was attaching my little care package when my phone rang again.  I had never done a job like this, even team-ups.  Just as I had climbed and contorted, the black box for John Blaine’s office tucked between my neck and shoulder, cable J14-9 twisted around my pinkie and a pin-tip screwdriver between my teeth—

..:: Just had my get-to-know-you interview at the property bank.  It’s almost impressive how many ways they can deny being a tax haven.::.

I wished I’d gone to the Caymans.  Beautiful coral-sand beach, delicious seafood with Caribbean spices, vaults without laser turrets.

..:: Access is the predictable nightmare, ::.. he was saying.  An EVX with rotating encryption, hardly my idea of a nightmare. ..::The network can only be tapped directly from a terminal inside the facility::.. while I’m literally on my back, instruments laid out on my stomach, trying to separate those hair-thin filament connectors.  Jackass.

“So it’s the usual Menu A and Menu B: cameras, thermals, PIRs…” I said.  “Every lock ultimately has the same flaw.  They’re meant to be opened...”

I got it.  The blackbox was in place, cable back in place, indicator light on—it’s working, yay—and turned towards the wall just in case anyone who comes into this closet happens to look up.  I gathered my bits and slid down—always taking a quarter second to check the angle after that time in Barcelona.

..:: It’s not that simple.  Veles doesn’t use an ordinary optic fingerprint pad.  It’s what’s called a capacitive sensor::…

Oh hell, ever since that escapade using his own biometrics to break into Wayne Tech, I knew it was going to come to this.

..::…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?::..

Oh hello, Dark Knight.  Any chance I could get you to put Tommy back on the line?  We were kind of in the middle of something.

“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…::..

Breathe, Bruce.  I’m Catwoman and even I never would have discovered that little factoid if Eddie didn’t have a thing about remembering birthdays and sent a bag to the lair, if I hadn’t left the green ones because, really, gummy-minty-lime-ew, and if I hadn’t been bored laying low until Felix Faust left town because, really, sometimes the greater part of valor is just avoiding the wizard who says his wife doesn’t understand him.  So relax, your elevator is safe.  It’s as secure as it was eight seconds ago when you didn’t know what absolutely nobody in the world knows about the active capacitance of gummy cats—

..:: We’ll talk about this later.::..

Joy.

..:: What about your mission?::..

I gave him the 411 on Matt as I finished up the server room and headed back to the elevator.  Right before I stepped in he said ..:: I trust you.::.. and, and I must admit, the redhead riding that glass elevator up to the lobby may have had a bright, just-got-laid smile that was just a tad more noticeable than the jaded creature who’d gone down.  She may even have smiled all the way across the lobby, out the door and down the street to the Art Institute.  ..:: I trust you.::.. He just meant I knew what I was doing with Matt and Barry but, from Bruce, I don’t know, those three little words mean so much.

So… smiling… I reached the Art Institute.  Now, a rendezvous with Superman is like meeting any hero, except more so: if he’s late, something is on fire.  Something big and nasty is hurdling towards something soft and vulnerable.  So there’s a little tension as you approach the meeting place, even if you’re a bit early.  You feel it as soon as you’re close enough to see: Is he there?  Or is something terrible happening, somewhere? 

We were meeting at the South Lion, outside the Museum Shop.  I was six minutes early.  After four minutes, there was a slight breeze and I felt a tap on my shoulder.  I turned and Clark—glasses, tie—was in the South Garden beckoning with his finger.  I followed, and as soon as we were around the side in the building’s shadow, there was a blue-red-purple flash and we were airbourne. 

 

Aethyr Al El

 

Fortress of Solitude

 

Personal Log: Kal-El

I used to laugh at the way Catwoman befuddled Batman.  It seemed so simple. She was a thief, a criminal, his enemy.  But he was attracted to her and quite apart from that he liked her.  It was so hard for someone like him to reconcile, the logical parts of his mind locked up and created a lot of confusion where there didn’t need to be. 

That’s the way I used to see it.  It was his perceptions, his screwy way of thinking.  Now I’m not so sure.  Selina is… very hard to figure out. 

Bruce is investigating LexCorp.  He hasn’t said it’s related to the Demon case in Brazil, but it’s a reasonable assumption.  Luthor got off easy.  He was working with Demon.  Bruce doesn’t forget that, ever.  Once Joker got involved, the case became about that and Luthor slipped away.  That’s not something Bruce will let go. 

He made a new cover.  Tested it right here in Metropolis and didn’t say anything at the time about it having to do with LexCorp (typical Bruce).  Now he’s tracking Luthor’s personal money man through the Caymans.  And he’s got Selina involved.  She was in Metropolis this morning and asked for a fly home, so I met her at the museum at lunchtime.  She asked to stop at her hotel.  I assumed she wanted to pick up her bags, but no.  She had a couple of box lunches ordered from the Puxi Terrace.  The best fusion dim sum outside of Shanghai, she said.

“In my opinion nobody ever thanks you properly,” she said.

The thief said that.  The cat burglar.  There is a degree of selfishness implied in that career choice, yet of all the people who’ve asked flying favors over the years, she is the only one who’s brought a gift.  “Nobody ever thanks you properly.”  I don’t know how to respond to that.  Prawn & Pea Shoot Dumpling, Lobster & Chicken Dumpling with Black Truffle, Foie Gras & Duck Dumpling—I’m not kidding.  There was enough for four people and she only nibbled.  After Gotham, I brought the leftovers home to Lois and we had a desk picnic. 

In Gotham, she wanted me to ‘buzz’ two buildings owned by that Barry Hobbs character who apparently hates me because he likes Luthor because Luthor and Bruce are rivals and he hates Bruce.  I buzzed the buildings as requested, and in addition to lunch, I got a hard promise that before this thing is over, I will get the full story.  And that’s when I got introduced to the “naughty grin” that, I have to admit, is very difficult to know how to respond to.  I admit I was unfair to Batman, I was unfair to Bruce, it is very, very difficult to know how to deal with.

But I will get the full story, that much is locked down. 

The byline I am not promised because she’s seen those Bruce-Lois negotiations and doesn’t want to step on toes if he’s already promised her an exclusive.

She hinted that I should have my tux ready, and that “the last act, aka the fun” would be in Metropolis. 

And she had a look that… I wouldn’t like to call wicked but it was definitely the villain who dropped an elevator to trick me into aiding her escape more than the friend who bought lunch because nobody thanks me properly.  It was Catwoman the villain saying that I—saying that I as Superman—could expect to enjoy where this LexCorp plot was heading. 

A development that does make me wonder what the heck they have in store for Luthor.

Then in virtually the same breath she says she owes me for the Mxyzlptk and Camelopardalis Blackout Dates and regardless of what Bruce and Lois have worked out, she’s going to make sure I get something “juicy.”  (She doesn’t owe me a thing, needless to say.  I gave her information she needed to plan her wedding safely.  What friend wouldn’t?)

Selina is good for Bruce, that’s been clear for a long time and that’s why I so hoped they would get married.  But I have to say, all those years I laughed, I did him wrong.  It wasn’t his perception, it wasn’t the logical parts of his mind locking up and creating confusion, it was her.  That woman is a mystery I will never understand.

 

The original Pegu Club was an officers club in 19th century Burma.  Kipling wrote about it: always filled with people on their way up or on their way down.  Its reincarnation in Gotham is more homogenous: filled with people who were born up, live up, and prefer to drink up surrounded by the impedimenta of Empire.  For Barry Hobbs, part of the Pegu’s charm was how very much it would offend the people who most offended him—if they knew about it, that is.  Pegu is nothing like Bar Drôme with its six o’clock parade of Dolce and Gabbanas trotting along that brownstone-lined street to enter through a hotel that bleeds UES Beaux Arts posh.  There’s nothing to see approaching the Pegu but a block of tiled buildings that’s 60s kitschy at best, a door with the name and logo etched in the glass (not even the pretentions of a faux speakeasy trying to pretend it’s a secret,) and through the door: stairs.  There are no suits and ties climbing up; no one would come straight from work.  It’s all bankers casual: good polo shirts with a good watch, khakis from someplace like Asprey or Kiton.  In short, nothing to tip off the kind of people Barry Hobbs hates until they make it past the doorman. 

Then the really astute egalitarian might get a whiff: East Asian dark wood grilles across the windows, potted palms, low wood tables that are both polished and rough-hewn, it all hints at a romantically exotic locale without overworking it.  There’s a staggering variety of gin and a suspicious dearth of vodka behind the bar.  But even then the lost traveler might notice how each table is equipped with a box of eyedroppers and flavored liquids to customize their drinks with lemon, lime or bitters.  He might well dismiss the preponderance of gin (and very, very wet martinis) as an uncoded, apolitical tribute to an age that took its cocktails seriously.

Be that as it may, our wanderer’s innocence would not survive an encounter with the leather bound menu which could not be clearer in its message: Back when Britain had an empire and the sun never set on it, the Pegu Club was a British Colonial Officer’s Club in Rangoon…  nor would it survive the snatch of Barry’s conversation overheard as I approached his table:

“While other analysts were being grilled about convexity and duration, I was talking about boarding school pranks, the somm at the French Laundry and scuba diving in Maldives.  Of course, I got the job—Selina!  What a pleasant surprise!  We don’t often see you in this part of town.”

He managed to introduce and dismiss his friend in one surprised owl/spiritual psychopath flutter that rivaled Bruce for midsentence juggling of personas.  I was installed in his friend’s vacated seat, receiving the first timer’s advisory of drinks and nibbles to sample and which to avoid.  And then, social niceties dispensed with, he assumed that look that had me convinced he’d collect German Expressionists.

“So why are you here?” he asked, direct as usual.

“I came to hear about scuba diving in Maldives,” I told him.

“I’m meeting Montrasante later,” he said as if I hadn’t spoken.  “I know he gave you a prospectus on the East End.”  He leaned forward.  “You wouldn’t be here to see him, would you?”

“I may have heard a murmur that he was in town,” I admitted.  “And if I wanted to catch you both together, I would have to move swiftly before you spirit him off to one of those men only dinners.”  He went full owl at that.  Eyebrows and all, it’s the damnedest thing you’ve ever seen.  I took advantage of his surprise to redirect the conversation.  He’d been leading, and that didn’t suit me.  “But I won’t be one of those tiresome people who tracks you down to your neighborhood bar to talk shop.  So tell me about this interview, the somm at the French Laundry and scuba in Maldives.  It sounds like a hoot.”

You can’t go wrong letting a man like Barry Hobbs talk about himself.  It opens them up.  Soon he was pointing discreetly around the room expounding on the class system of wrist watches on Wall Street with all the nuanced complexities of cariocas explaining the beach: from the analyst’s Submariner to the associate’s Sea Dweller or Blancpain Aqua Lung to the vice president’s Vacheron Constantin Overseas—and the need for serious research on the bizarre, possibly Freudian water motif in timepieces favored by those who hadn’t yet made director. 

I missed Bruce. 

Because that was Barry’s idea of a joke.  And that’s what dates were once: men who ordered Chateau de Poulignac at the Bristol and thought the water motif among midlevel investment bankers’ watches was funny. 

It ended.  A Breguet Classique or Jaeger LeCoultre Master Tourbillon meant a director who had three years to get promoted or his career was toast, a Patek Philippe was the exclusive provenance of the managing director rung, and another I-guess-the-word-is-joke that “you never actually own a Patek Philippe, you look after it for your douchebag son.”

At which point, having followed the lecture with great interest, I saw he was nicely softened up to talk shop.  I asked which of the two Paulson Hobbs offices manages the East End fund and then played just slightly dumb as he explained that everything but the high-frequency trading division is Midtown.  Just slightly was just dumb enough to get a detailed snapshot of his HFT operation:

“In the 1800s (right about the time Kipling was writing about the original Pegu Club as it happened) the Rothchild fortune was expanding faster than any other family’s because they could send instructions to their banks all over Europe faster than anyone else.  Do you know how?”

Of course I did, and even if I didn’t chat with Oswald often enough to know these things, I could have guessed:

“Carrier pigeons,” I smiled and he nodded without too much condescension before explaining that two hundred years later, the principle is the same: no matter the technology, whoever reacts fastest to any piece of news makes the most money.  Paulson Hobbs, like all firms of its stature, has its particular highly secret algorithm, a complicated series of commands to buy and sell in response to market conditions, millisecond by millisecond.  That fraction of a second more or less in orders reaching the trading floor could mean the difference between making or losing millions—hence his FiDi office for the high frequency trading mere yards from the trading floor so as not to lose those precious milliseconds transmitting from Midtown. 

This wasn’t news.  Pre-Talia, LexCorp had been investigated for market manipulation tied to high frequency trades.  They were claiming—get this—that they’d patented a way to line up the electrons in their electrical current to squeeze out extra milliseconds transmitting the buy and sell orders.  They were selling this edge to a half dozen corporate clients and allegedly doing something shady with their market orders before passing them on.  I alluded to this, and Barry beamed at the reminder of Luthor genius:

“Market manipulation,” he said proudly.  “Yes, I remember.  Strange activity from the company's server caught the attention of the S.E.C.  80% of the time they can't prove those things and the investigation boosts the guy’s rep.  Luthor understood that.”

I smiled, impressed, like this was a point in the East End’s favor, and with perfect timing, Matt Montrasante arrived.  I teased that his ears must have been burning, which allowed for a recap of LexCorp topics while he got settled in with a new round of drinks.  And I readjusted to turn just a little away from Barry to give Matt more direct attention.  

He was a tall, well-built man in his late forties.  Brown hair in a chic, slightly tussled style that was a little too young for him with the receding that had just begun on the right and bits of grey popping in on both sides.  He was otherwise the picture of a successful, conservative businessman—except for a strange distance in the eye and a stranger not-quite-smile.  Together they hinted at a ravenous hunger that would never be sated, and at constant, complex calculations in which the comfort or misery of millions was a simple variable designated ϻ.

I wasn’t rude, I’d just turned slightly towards Matt, leaned just a little and mirrored him subtly while the conversation expanded to more general Metropolis topics.  It was meant to be the lightest subliminal hint at who outranked whom. 

“I imagine you’re why we had Superman sightings today,” I told him, offering an eyedropper of bitters like a geisha waiting to pour his sake. 

“What’s this?” he said, looking sharply at Barry. 

Barry confirmed that there might have been something outside the office, and of course he’d taken no chances.  He ordered integrity checks and security audits at both Paulson Hobbs locations… I let my eyes almost meet Matt’s and assumed that would get the job done.

Conversation returned to safe Metropolis subjects, nothing LexCorp specific but never too far from Lex’s shadow.  The regatta for instance.  Matt repeated John Blaine’s invitation and naturally I demurred; it wasn’t Bruce’s kind of thing… And was it my imagination or did Matt’s gesture wave rather vaguely in Barry’s direction, including him in the dismissal of irrelevancies that aren’t worth considering. 

The next round of drinks brought a large platter of smoked trout deviled eggs.  At first, it seemed like a whim, like Matt shared Barry’s preference for the dishes that alluded to that officer’s club in Burma (the eggs were made with curry).  But then, after the order was placed, he rather pointedly suggested Barry call the restaurant and push back their dinner reservation.  The reception in the bar sucked (at least for their crappy LexCorp phones) so Barry had to go outside.

“He’s not one of us,” Matt said, looking piercingly into my eyes as soon as Hobbs was gone.

“I didn’t mean anything,” I said as if caught off-guard.

“You did.  The Superman sighting.  What did he say?  What did he miss?

“Oh, it’s nothing; it’s just… nobody seems to have actually seen the Alien.  It’s only vague reports of something at the window, maybe.  And then ordering security audits just to be sure, it’s all a little… familiar.  A hate-on for superpowers is easy to exploit.  Keystone Steel building one time, I faked a Flash incursion, they lost their mind running ‘integrity checks.’  Take critical systems offline, it’s nothing but reboots and resets, and for three days every little blip is attributed to that.  I waltzed right in.”

“So he’s played right into someone’s hands.”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.  “Maybe.  Maybe not.  We’re sitting here sipping cocktails, it crossed my mind, I pass it on.” 

He made a noise like a deeply disapproving sneeze, and I did my best socialite at the Wayne Gala changing the subject to lighten the mood. 

“You’ve got a great dinner to look forward to,” I said, trying to lift his spirits.  “Edo has an amazing rep.”

“Well, I would invite you to join us; we could go over this East End business, but I’m afraid the group we’re dining with is—”

“Is tripods only, I’m aware,” I laughed.  “Pisses off all the right people, doesn't it.  Weeds out all those who aren't worth the time.  Hell, they weed out themselves without you having to show your hand about anything that matters.”

“Hmph, Lex was right about you.  He said you’ve an excellent nose for bait.  But how do you know that's not a convenient excuse and we’re not really sexists who don’t want women around ruining our dinner?”

“I don't care, Matt, under the same principle.  If you and Hobbs would let my lack of dangly bits get in the way of a good business deal, you're not worth my time.”

“But Selina, if we’re chauvinist assholes, we'll assume we’re smarter and try to double cross you,” he pointed out like I wasn’t aware he worked across the hall from Alexander bloody Luthor.

“Matthew, Batman thinks he's smarter than me.  And I’m sitting here.  I'm still free and engaged to Bruce Wayne.  You think you've got a shot to take, I look forward to showing you my backhand.”

He’d come alive.  His pupils dilated, his skin looked warmer, his legs had spread just a tad as he leaned forward and his smile rose above his mouth showing off the front teeth.  “Touché,” he said, and then popped an egg into his mouth and devoured it with more pleasure than anything he’d eaten or sipped thus far.  There was no doubt the stories were true: he liked fighting more than winning. 

“Lex also thought he was smarter than me,” I told him.  “And tried a double cross in exactly that way.  Ask him how it turned out.”

“It turned out with him sending me here to give you that prospectus.  Have you had a chance to read it over?”

I said I had skimmed but hadn’t read in any detail, that I’d have studied it properly by the regatta and they would have my answer then.  Then Barry returned and, given Matt’s new mood, I decided to roll a die I’d been thinking about since those first words I’d heard when I arrived.  I was pretty sure I had all the syllables I needed to cut together Matt’s voiceprint.  But he was excited right now.  He was lit up by that hint of a challenge.  If I could get him to say the actual words…

I started by telling Barry that I’d given Matt the highlights of his treatise on the hierarchy of watches (since it was clearly one of his pet conversational ploys) and he reprised with a few variations based on new arrivals in the bar, such as $23,000 Panerai Luminor “favored by Emerging Markets guys who brag about cheating on their wives.”  That prompted the expected question from Matt as to how this ludicrous subject came up in the first place, and that led back to the original story about new cabs on the French Laundry’s wine list and the staggering revelation that Yes, Virginia, there’s a class ceiling on Wall Street. 

“That’s just it, some people are in a position to bring up quite naturally in the middle of the interview how the cellar had dwindled to about 1500 bottles,” I noted.  “So the sommelier’s been on an enviable spree and was deepening the focus on Napa.  Some aren’t.  Which you are mostly depends on what you’re born into and that’s really, ultimately, a matter of luck.  There’s a saying like that, isn’t there?  Your life is decided by chance and not—”

“Fortune rules lives, not wisdom,” Matt declared sagely.  “Vitam regit fortuna, non sapientia.”

I lifted my glass and toasted him like it was the Sinister Citadel and he’d just spelled out his plan to take out the Justice League.

Vitam regit fortuna.”

 

That was work.  I don’t remember when I’ve had such a damn checklist to get through on a single conversation, but I’m sure I didn’t have to put away as much Pernod and Plymouth Gin to do it.  I stopped at the nearest cat lair and checked the recording: Vitam regit fortuna, non sapientia.  No editing required.  As for the rest, I’d have to wait and see. 

Waiting.

My evening was free; that was unexpected.  I thought I’d be editing Matt’s password from the recordings. 

My evening was free.  However, I had the parentheses open on two heists—three if you count Tommy’s—and those aren’t optimal conditions to prowl.  Besides which, it had been a long day, Metropolis felt like a week ago, and there wasn’t even a Bat to play with.  So no prowl. 

Another night I might hit the Iceberg, but after Pegu another bar wasn’t appealing. 

I wondered what happened at Veles.  All I had from Bruce was a text saying he needed an extra day to finish up in the Caymans.  I could have called, but a text argued that he was busy and whatever it was, he obviously had it under control.  No point in bothering him just because I was bored...

I drummed my clawtips on the table.

Pestering Eddie could only bring trouble.  He’d be with Doris, and I didn’t want shop talk with those open parentheses on three heists.

Pestering Barbara could only bring work I didn’t want to be bothered with, helping Robin with some surveillance thing I didn’t care about.

I dusted Bast. 

Pestering Jason Blood could literally bring a detour through a Temporal Wormhole cum Mirror Dimension to stop a seventh century river cult from calling forth an eight-headed Japanese god-dragon.  I wasn’t that bored.

So I went home.  Alfred must’ve sensed something.  He knew Bruce and I had a project but as far as I knew, he didn’t know anything about a heist.  He just happened to make the same scrambled eggs with asparagus that he had waiting the night of the Holce Concepts-Alman Freely break-ins.  Just his usual more-mystical-than-Jason wizardry, I suppose.  I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if there was Ethiopian Yirgacheffe on the breakfast tray. 

There wasn’t.  It was his usual Italian roast—along with a thank you note from Clark. 

I was up early and dressed in the layers of careless, multi-textured, I’m-not-a-Kardashian grays that are the ideal urban camouflage in Soho.  I took up my position on Mercer Street across from the 2,000 foot loft Barry bought fresh out of college with a multimillion dollar loan from his parents.  Inside was a Dybek 7X-3000 reinforced titanium safe, the most expensive model they’ve got, six cylinder with two false gates—and a glass jaw.  Never came across one that could hold off a Forly box for more than 89-seconds, which is several seconds less than a cheap Gorman-4.    

Not that there was anything worth taking, not yet.  Right now I was just there to follow Barry.  I didn’t think he was likely to do anything before work, but I wasn’t about to risk it.  Sure enough, when he emerged he went straight to the Hobbs building on Fifth, no stops.  At 9:26 he came back out again and returned home.  Gotcha!  I figured Matt had passed along the idea that the Superman sighting was a trap and that Barry stepped in it running those integrity tests.  The only smart move he had left was to get that algorithm out of his office and put it somewhere safe.  While that could have meant a safe deposit box at Gotham National or a rented compartment in Vault 23 at Midtown RDFI, a man who bought a Dybek 7X-3000 was most likely to take it home. 

At 10:15 he was gone again, and now that safe was worth cracking.  Getting in Barry’s front door was indecently easy.  (Lock picks, they work.)  Alarm system indecently easy.  (People like Barry never have anything complicated, they want the housekeeper able to deactivate it.)  Getting the Dybek open was indecently easy.  (34-22-93-73 and as a matter of interest, Barry’s safe has an internal temperature of 63.31 degrees, internal humidity 24%)  Really the worst part of the job was waiting for a cab at the Roff Soho.

Still, a cab is the least conspicuous way to the airport, and a commercial flight is the least conspicuous way back to Metropolis.  Back to my room at the Roff there, back into Georgina’s wig and make-up, back into LexCorp—now with a working ID—and back to Leon’s office to turn off the cameras and dynamic frequency laser grid for the 32nd Floor.  Wait… Perform an intricate ballet of clip-clipping, mad dashing, stealthy incursion, and feline hiding to blend with, evade or divert the secretarial staff and security between the 32nd Floor elevator and the sanctum.  The holy of holies in Lex’s world: the Office of the Chief Executives of LexCorp. 

It’s sealed off from the rest of the floor, as if the staff within require specially filtered air.  Smart glass of course, bullet proof, with opacity or transparency controlled from within.  Right now it was transparent, so the elevated peasant lucky enough to get this far could see inside.  Marble floors, slate and metallic walls, all in gray, green-gray and blue-gray.  The art, the lighting and furniture was all “corporate tasteful” if you know what I mean.  And there was one reception desk for the two offices: Lex Luthor, CEO to the right, through a large richly appointed waiting area like a hotel lobby to a pair of stately double doors.  Matthew Montrasante, CSO to the left, up an awkward staircase and to the right, up another flight of stairs behind the reception desk.  It was pure Lex: putting you close enough to signal your importance to them while making sure you never forgot your place.

With no cameras to worry about, it was simple getting past reception and up the stairs to Matt’s office—“Vitam regit fortuna, non sapientia ” (with a spritz from a body-temp atomizer to give the sensor the hit of moisture it read as human breath)—and I was in.  Set up my remotes to match the ones at Prosperity Partners and was soon checked out of the Roff and on my way back to Gotham (after one quick stop on the Mile for the Oscar de la Renta multi-color ruffled tweed of horrors, a new hat, dark glasses and gloves).

The call came from Bruce while I was picking out the gloves:  ..::You can be confident no one will be looking too closely…::..

To be continued…
 

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