Chapter 3: How Do You Say in Your Language “I do not like this new Frenchman”
There was another long silence in the darkness.
Jean Paul Valley (aka Azrael, the once and disastrously ill-equipped Batman stand-in) had had no contact with Selina out of costume. He didn’t follow light news: he had no knowledge of her as the star of Cat-Tales nor as Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend. His contact with her as Batman was… not a pleasant memory. He had been distracted. He had not been prepared for the effect such a woman might have on him. He had not performed well. And she would not let him forget it, ever.
He had no idea what Catwoman was doing in the Batcave, but it figured. Whenever he had a bad time, she was somehow there to witness it. Somehow, that voice was there to rub it in. Whatever the actual words, the message was always the same: how dare he. How dare he have taken Bruce’s place. How dare he have called himself Batman, watched her, had thoughts about her… when he didn’t even turn her on.
Everyone else had moved on. At least, everyone (except Nightwing) had (if not “moved on”) collectively agreed to work together and pretend the whole thing never happened.
But Catwoman ignored the rules then, and she ignored them still. If Azrael screwed up, she would be there and she would comment.
Like now: reaching for his helmet - for the night vision as much as to protect his identity - he had some how managed to bump it off the desk where it rolled across the floor and came to rest against her foot. The beam of the Maglite “looked down” at it, then back at him.
But before Selina could comment on this latest development, the work lights hummed and came on again. Cassie, whose Batgirl cowl was also equipped with night vision lenses, emerged from the alcove with the emergency generator. Jean Paul, grateful for the distraction, gave her a bright smile, then sunk back into the strained silence with Selina and Bruce.
Not comfortable in any non-combat situation, Cassie didn’t perceive anything unusual in the stand-off. She walked straight up to Bruce and asked his permission to work out. Although the manor and cave were off-limits for the duration of the festival, she was here now, and it was after hours. Bruce nodded.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Jean Paul returned to the workstation and resumed checking his e-mail.
Selina ambled next to Bruce and whispered, “Do the computers have power at this level, or just the lights?”
She looked at Azrael. “Should you tell him?”
“But he’s typing. Does he think he’s online?”
“Leave him alone; he’s saving face. Help me with the generator.”
She started to follow, then looked back.
“You don’t think that’s odd behavior, even for around here?”
“You fluster him. Leave it alone.”
“Me? I am full of sweetness and light.”
Bruce’s look said “oh please;” his mouth told her to bring the light, if not the sweetness, over to the generator.
“Hand me the five-sixteenth, would you, Kitten.”
He wasn’t jealous. That was not his way. It simply was not.
Jean Paul, Azrael, and “AzBat” were obviously a non-issue. They didn’t even like each other, that much was plain. François, on the other hand, was not a non-issue. That’s not the same as being jealous, Bruce told himself. It’s simply that he wanted to know the precise nature of their relationship. What exactly did they do together? He wanted to know, he wanted details, and he wanted to hear from Selina’s own lips that it wasn’t better than what he had with her… Well obviously it wasn’t better than what he had with her, he knew that, but he wanted to know that she knew that.
“Whew, Bruce, stop man, replay that - that was one spectacular sentence.”
For some reason, his inner voice sounded like Dick today. Flippant. Sarcastic. And underneath the wiseass banter, insecure.
“Now the wire-nut, I need to get this last bit tied off.”
There was a faster way to redirect current without rebooting the system. But you couldn’t tell Bruce anything. Let him do it his way, Selina thought. She was in no hurry. Dick’s offhand remark at the jewelers had struck a chord.
“Next time, you could just say so,” Dick had said. For some reason, that was harder. A gesture was okay, some little sign. But saying it was different: “You’re a good kid, and I like you, and I’m glad to be part of your family.” What would be so hard about that? Why did it seem like losing face? Why did it seem like… a liability that would be hanging around her neck for all time: “Why on February 4th you said ‘nice kid, like you.’ Would you like the court stenographer to read that back?”
“Hey, Kitten, wire-nut, it’s the little plastic cone with the tieoff.”
She handed it over automatically, not bothering to mention “Catwoman! Dismantled alarm systems from time to time; knows what a wire-nut is.”
Catwoman. Meow. Purr. Hiss.
It was actually easier to stop stealing than to ’fess up and say it.
She looked at Bruce. That one time, yes, and he had started it. Since then, it was easier to make a gesture, or make a joke.
The generator hummed a happy brrrrrrll as full power was restored to the cave. “Now for upstairs,” Bruce said happily.
Selina watched as the terminal where Jean Paul pretended to work suddenly sprang to life. He looked down at it, regrouped, and resumed working—for real this time.
“Blonde,” Selina remarked, “Should have guessed he was blonde.”
“Will you give the guy a break already?” Bruce shushed her as they continued working on the generator.
“I did cut him a break. I haven’t used a three-syllable word with him since ‘Pheromones,’” Selina insisted.
“Someday I’ve got to find out what happened there.”
“I have limited patience with twits, okay. Unlike some people, I don’t date bimbos.”
“Yeah, that de Poulignac seems like a real rocket scientist,” Bruce grumbled.
“Guy is the most shallow, degenerate, snobbish, superficial airhead.”
“I seem to remember hearing that said about you in more than one quarter.”
“Yes, Love, but with me it’s an act.”
“Let’s see how long it takes the great detective to work this one out.” Selina paused then counted down. “3….2…1… Yes, we have comprehension!”
“You’re telling me that Lord, Comte, oh that’s okay you can call me Count, François de Poulignac is only pretending to be an arrogant, shallow, superficial snob.”
“This is not an attractive side of you.”
Bruce’s response could be called a silent “mhmph” and he began twiddling a random card on the generator panel. Too late he realized the parallel to Jean Paul’s phantom typing as Selina exclaimed, “Oh, NOW I see the resemblance!”
A change of subject was the only way to avoid violence.
“By the way, Joker came by to see you today.”
“Okay,” Selina played along, thinking I can’t wait to hear the punch line on this one.
“Yes,” Bruce explained crisply, “It seems he’s ‘dead’ and since you’re the ‘reigning queen of bitch-slapping the Gotham City press,’ he thought you might know what to do about it.”
“You’re serious?” she asked. Then, noting the
since-when-do-I-joke-about-Joker look, she muttered, “Stupid question.”
A heartbeat later the full implication hit her.
“You’re asking about Az and François before telling me about Joker?”
Bruce said nothing.
“That’s so sweet.” She purred, and gave his cheek a light peck.
Bruce continued to say nothing.
She thought for a moment, reached a decision then spoke:
“You know, Dick said something today. It started me thinking. Since things have… changed… with us, well, you’ve done most of the talking. And I guess I really should mention, that, um, well…”
She trailed off. Bruce smiled and began twittering with the random generator panel again.
“You’re not going to make this easier,” she observed.
“Oh no,” came the prompt reply.
The next change of subject came as abruptly as the last:
“Isn’t that cute; she’s got a crush.”
“Huh?” Bruce looked around, startled by the new direction the conversation was taking.
“Batgirl,” Selina pointed, “She’s ‘working out?’ She’s showing off is what she’s doing. And she keeps peeking to see if Az is looking.”
Bruce looked. She was doing exactly that.
“That could be…problematic,” he observed.
“Why? It’s cute. It’s a crush.”
Bruce looked at her penetratingly.
“I believe you were starting to say something else.”
“Well…um,” Selina looked cornered, caught with the goods, back to the wall, no avenues of escape. “It’s just that… I have turned every corner of my life inside out for your sake and…” she smiled suddenly, “I don’t care. Isn’t that something? I don’t mind one bit.”
Her look said There, close enough?
Bruce smiled, returned the peck on the cheek, and she grabbed his collar and spat out the rest without thinking, “Because I love you.”
This final silence was the long, and Bruce enjoyed it fully before ending it with an offhand, “So what kind of name is ‘François’ for a man?”
It is impossible for sane people to understand why a mind like the Joker’s decides all the commuters on subway platform twelve wearing yellow today must die.
It is difficult for those same sane people to grasp why he would create Joker-fish, all displaying his grotesque grin, and demand a royalty on their sale.
But if those sane people are honest with themselves, they will admit that they can understand, quite readily, the Joker’s reaction standing at the 59th Street newsstand, surveying a dozen headlines about his supposed death:
According to the Post, he had a brain
According to the Star, he was beaten to death by Nightwing (“with the candlestick, in the conservatory” he mused.)
According to the Post-Herald, he was blown up in a suspicious warehouse explosion - a ‘suspicious’ warehouse explosion, mind you, not the routine kind.
And according to the Daily News, he’d bitten the big one at the hands of his own beloved Harley in a sordid love-triangle with some slimy private eye called Bradley.
The sanest, kindliest, most moral citizen should be able to empathize: he thought the people responsible for these stories should die.
The problem was deciding what manner of death would be most appropriate. Death was a tricky thing. You only got to dish it out once to a customer, so in cases like this it was important to choose just exactly the right one. If you picked something too quick and painless, there were no do-overs. That was the problem with Batsy. That one mustn’t be wasted.
SLAM BRADLEY! HIS YOUNG LITHE AND LUSCIOUS HARLEY AND SOME FAT OLD SLOB OF A FLATFOOT! How could they print that bilge?
Selina would know what to do. Those damn reporters. She hadn’t gotten a retraction for the lies they had spread about her. But people were fired. She’d made them blink. She had made them a laughing stock. Not quite as good as making them dead, but you could do it over and over. If they did it again, she could mock them again. Yes, that was a very satisfying idea. Like that Carnie-game called Whack-a-Mole: Whack-a-Hack.
François de Poulignac had planned on giving his American hosts, as a token of his appreciation, a case each of an indifferent vintage. Americans, it was said, “talk dry but drink sweet.” They would have no appreciation for Grand Cru, the choicest wine of his family’s great château. But Selina’s presence in one of the households changed this. She knew the difference, and she would perceive the insult in a gift of substandard wine. So he sent for several cases to be shipped from his private reserve, a gift denoting the very highest respect. These were to arrive at the Gotham Airstrip this afternoon, and he invited Selina to accompany him to pick them up. It would give them a chance to catch up on old times.
This they did over a bottle of the aforementioned Château de Poulignac, Grand Cru.
François had already been in Gotham for several days, and a sixth generation winemaker is expected to have high tolerance for his own family label. But François claimed the wine plus the jet lag left him in need of a nap, and he made himself comfortable on Selina’s sofa. Selina smirked at this, but went on with her business. She was answering e-mail when the doorbell rang.
“HAHAHAHAHAHAAA! Hiya, Catty!”
“Oh shit,” Selina hissed under her breath. “Hey, Joker. C’mon in”
He did, looked around, and then pronounced, “You know what, I’ve never been here before. You don’t have a lot of cat-stuff, do you?”
Before Selina could glower a reply, a dark head popped up from the sofa.
“Petit chat, qu’est-ce que ça veut dire 'cat stuff’?’”
Selina turned and answered, “Ça veut dire des bibelots de chat.”
“Ah, parce que tu es la femme-chat?”
Joker watched this exchange, fascinated. Then he noted the empty bottle of wine, François’s tussled hair and reclining posture on the sofa. He recognized his antagonist.
“Hey, you’re the guy from Wayne Manor!”
Selina started at this outburst, but François responded in kind.
“Oui, and you the fellow with the grand smile and the odd pallor whose femme is screwing around.”
“You two, ah, know each other?” Selina stammered. “And who is screwing around?”
“THAT’S WHAT I WANT TO KNOW!” thundered Joker.
Observing the sacred principle not to ever respond when Joker thunders, Selina choked back her answer and Joker continued.
“Apparently that sort of thing doesn’t bother some people, cause this guy was saying things in front of Brucie that struck me as in very bad taste considering.”
“Wait a minute,” Selina sputtered, “‘BRUCIE?!?’”
“Yes… in very bad taste considering your thing with Bats.”
“Ah oui, Brucie, the other fellow - with the dour expression,” François added helpfully.
“Well, who can blame him!” exclaimed Joker, confirming the identification.
Selina began massaging small circles above her eyebrows. One couldn’t stop for clarification every time Joker said something nonsensical, nor correct every loony idea he decided to spout off. It wasn’t safe—besides which, there wasn’t time. You had to pick your battles.
“…you and Batsy, which, okay, everyone knows about, but it’s cruel to stand in the guy’s house and rub it in that way.”
This one might be worth the battle.
“Now look, Joker—” Selina began.
…But the moment had passed. Joker had seated himself and introduced the reason for his visit.
“It seems I’m dead,” he began. “Now I don’t feel dead. Don’t look dead. Don’t sound dead - HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA! - but the papers all say I am. So what I want to know is: How can I best contradict this?”
“You could appear in public,” suggested François, “and let it be seen that you are alive.”
“Don’t help me,” Selina told him.
But Joker seemed to be considering the idea. “Yes, but even if they see me alive now, they might think I died and came back. You know, like Ra’s. Heard you met him, by the way,” he said, turning to Selina, “Did I lie? Hairdo?”
Selina raised an eyebrow. One never liked to admit the Joker could be right.
“Did he tell you about all these famous people he knew? King Tut, Henry VIII, Alexander the Great. Yeah, like you can check up on that stuff.”
“Wagner,” Selina admitted.
“We were talking opera. He said he knew Richard Wagner.”
Joker knew nothing about opera and made no comment. But François was curious:
“I don’t understand. How could he know—”
“It’s a long story,” Selina sighed.
Joker eyed the Frenchman unpleasantly.
“Are you still here? Why is he still here? Go away.”
“Every person in your life is there because you have drawn them there. What you do with them is up to you.”
When did fortune cookies go New Age, Jim Gordon wondered? There was a time you could expect a nice “Good day to travel” after your sweet and sour pork, or even “Beware falling rocks.”
He tossed the cardboard containers into the kitchen trash and reached for the old Cumberland pipe. Then he thought the better of it, went to his study and took the new one, the Bruyere, from its place on the desk. He didn’t like it so well, but he better get used to it. The sleek, too elegant smoking instrument was a retirement gift from Bruce Wayne, and Wayne would have plenty of chances in the coming weeks and months to notice the gift being used or not as they met for whatever reasons connected to the wedding…
Yes, the wedding. Gordon chomped down on the new pipe without lighting it.
Item 1 was Bruce Wayne. Item #2… was also Bruce Wayne.
Now wait a minute, Barbara wasn’t marrying Wayne, she was marrying Dick Grayson…
Still. The family mattered.
The kind of man Dick was was whatever Bruce Wayne raised him to be.
Values. Standards. Character.
So yes, Bruce Wayne was very much a relevant factor to consider.
And Bruce Wayne - it was time to stop beating around the bush and say it outright - Bruce Wayne dressed up as a bat and took the law into his own hands, hiding his face, hunting down criminals in total disregard for due process and the rights guaranteed them by the law of the land. That was part and parcel of the values, standards, and character he’d passed on to young Dick.
THAT is what his little girl was marrying into.
The Rich are different, he said before. Jesus Christ. Like it was chilling the salad forks or what wine goes with caviar.
Gordon saw what it did to Barbara’s mother, casually seeing him off every day never knowing if he’d come home alive. He didn’t want that for Barbara. That’s the way things are married to a cop, and that was bad enough. But how much worse is it if the ‘cop’ - if - oh for pity sake.
It’s not like he wasn’t expecting this…
In fact, it was overdue.
Did he ever discourage it? No. On the contrary, he needled them both for taking so long.
Because deep down he knew this was coming, and he knew it was right, and he knew it’s what it would take to make them both happy.
The rest was the price you pay.
Well, that was that.
All that was left was telling Bruce how much he knew. If they were going to be family…
It suddenly occurred to him that, as they were going to be family, it would be a damn site more appropriate for Bruce to finally confide in him. It’s not like he was an insurance salesman, after all. He was - had been - the Commissioner of Police and Batman’s closest ally in the official establishment. He was Bruce Wayne’s friend, or so they all maintained. It was high time they cleared the air. He would go to Wayne Manor, speak about the wedding, and give Bruce every opportunity to come clean. If he didn’t, then Jim Gordon would have to do the job himself.
With relief, Selina shut the door behind the Joker. She turned to her remaining guest, who instantly dropped the charmingly confused, I’m-just-a-bewildered-foreigner expression he had maintained for the past hour.
“You do that very well,” Selina observed.
“Do what well, Chérie?”
This shrewder de Poulignac did not pretend ignorance of the English word.
“It is not so difficult when it is what they expect.”
“No, really. It’s a good act. I talked with the world’s foremost expert on that particular routine a few hours ago and you had him completely fooled.”
“It is not difficult, Chérie, when it is what they expect.” The weight he placed on the words seemed to say he knew the ‘expert’ she spoke of was Bruce.
“So, Chérie,” he went on as he uncorked another bottle of Grand Cru, “the happy fellow, he seems to say the dour one, ‘Brucie,’ would not approve of your ‘screwing around,’ yes.”
Selina couldn’t help but smile at this.
“There are quite a number of things ‘Brucie’ doesn’t approve of. Let’s leave it at that, shall we.”
“And this Harley he speaks of,” he handed her a glass, “is she really ‘screwing around,’ do you think?”
“You like that expression, don’t you.”
“Oui.” He then put on the ‘fop’ expression for her amusement as well as his own. “It will be the new English phrase I use when I get home, so everyone knows I have been in America.” François then became serious as only a Frenchman can be when discussing such matters. “So does this Harley with the luscious tush screw around, and, if so, when can I meet her?”
“François, there’s something you should know about Gotham City. Some of these men will do more than key your Lamborghini if you make love to their women.”
François leaned in close as he asked, “And is ‘Brucie’ one of these, Chérie?”
Selina turned away before his lips could make contact. It was a subtle rebuff, but understood, and François’s next comment merely acknowledged it.
“I did not think much of him, your Bruce Wayne. He is not overly friendly like most Americans, which I thought would be an improvement, but alas.”
And it was done. Finis. Next topic.
“So tell me about this Batman. He is the other man in your life, yes, so says the laughing fellow.”
Selina did not smile this time.
“You don’t want to meet him, Frank.”
“No? I could not drop in on the art galleries after dark and meet the great crime-fighter American, how do you say, the ‘Dark Knight?’”
“François, I’m going to say this once: if you know what’s good for you, don’t go there. Not in Gotham. Pigé?”
François shrugged noncommittally.
“Besides, now that you’ve come into the title and made such a success of the château, is it necessary?”
He said nothing but regarded the label on the wine bottle. It pictured the château, his family home, nearly lost in his youth to debts and usurious taxes. He had found a way, as every generation must, to hold on to it.
“But I suppose it never really was,” Selina was saying.
François responded now, with some passion.
“Of course it was. Chérie, you know it was necessary. What was I to do? To save the estate, to save the family! What would they have had me do? Marry some horrible heiress!”
“There are worse fates.”
“Bah, I did not wish to marry the horrible heiress, I wished to marry you.”
There was a long pause, then Selina sighed.
“Why wouldn’t you marry me, Selina? We were so good together. We had so much in common. We were such a good team.”
“Same reason I left, Frank. We were a great team, but training together like that, I never had a chance to see how good I was on my own. I had to find out how much of it was us and how much was me. Besides, settling down - ’til death do us part - we were, what, twenty? It would have been a mistake.”
“You would be the Comtesse de Poulignac now.”
“And you would still be asking if it’s true Harley Quinn is screwing around and if so you’d like to meet her.”
“Harley Quinn! Her name is Harlequin! Oh that is too rich. I must meet this woman, I must. You must arrange it, Petit chat. I beg you. I will buy for myself a costume outrageous and make-up my face and you can introduce me as Pierrot.”
Selina laughed. There was something about Gotham.
Joker was not at all pleased with the day’s events. He didn’t like François de Poulignac. He didn’t like the idea of girlfriends stepping out with other men. He didn’t like this man saying those things in front of poor Brucie then showing up on Selina’s couch looking disheveled. The feeling of kinship with Bruce Wayne, the distaste for de Poulignac, and the whatever-it-was that went on between Selina and you-know-who… Somehow, in Joker logic, it all led to one inescapable conclusion: François de Poulignac was Batman!
To be continued...