I had the dream again.
The one where a totally pissed off Nightwing hunts me down and accuses me of ruining his life. Then he morphs into a ten-year-old version of Dick in Nightwing pajamas and asks why I stole his Barbie doll.
Don’t really need Freud to work that one out, do I.
I got up, stumbled to the bathroom, and assured the face in the mirror that it was not my fault the wedding was called off. It’s not. It absolutely is not. Gordon was in a state before I got there, anybody should be able to see that. A Joker attack—at Wayne Manor—Barbara could have been there. But for the grace of Mr. Jose at the House of Shri pretending there are 67 shades of white, Barbara would have been there. Christ, no wonder the poor man freaked a little. That compiled with whatever other qualms he had about Bruce - and opinion at the manor is split on just what those might be—and we get a fiery proclamation denying his consent.
The bitch in the mirror didn’t seem to believe me, so I reiterated: not my fault.
I may have picked a bad time to sweep into the library, but it wasn’t half as bad as Barbara’s performance out in the foyer. She hadn’t expected to see her father and was a little bubbly with enthusiasm about the fabrics. And, okay, she was a little bubbly from the bubbly at the House of Shri—again this is not my fault. We all have to get over this idea that whenever a bat-somebody exceeds their limit, it’s somehow Kitty Cat’s doing.
Anyway, Barbara was happy, she was excited, she’s getting married and she had just picked a dress. Life was grand. She hadn’t expected to see her father and when she did, she bubbled. She showed him some fabric swatches and babbled about the veil. He tried to bustle her out of there, may have mumbled something about the recent events, and if the reports are to be believed, she answered, “Joker caught, that’s nice, now about this dress…” And that’s apparently when Gordon blew. “No daughter of mine will marry into this loony bin where a Joker attack is just another Thursday afternoon!”
So you see, this really isn’t my fault. You can knock off the dream, mirror-bitch, it is NOT MY FAULT!
That ended the conversation as far I was concerned, and I splashed some water on my face, brushed my teeth and then… then mirror-bitch took advantage of the silence to replay the last conversation we had about one of her little dream-plays:
“‘The Relationship’ is just a part of my public image…”
I stuck out my tongue at her.
“Batman & I are nothing more than adversaries who enjoy suggestive banter instead of spitting venom like other enemies do…”
I threw the luffa sponge at her. I had said that once upon a time, but that really wasn’t the point.
“Men who dress up as bats and fight crime do not get cuddly with women who dress as cats and commit crimes,” she reminded me.
I wasn’t about to break a perfectly good mirror over this.
“Batman will never allow this to develop beyond meaningless flirtation….”“Batman will never allow this to develop beyond meaningless flirtation….” atman will never allow this to develop beyond meaningless flirtation….”
The phone rang, ending the debate before I had to admit the dreams were right that time and I was wrong—about Batman. That doesn’t mean they’re right now. The wedding debacle is not my fault. I glanced at the handset to see it was the Rogue’s line.
“Good morning, Catwoman’s House of Pain.” I answered, because it’s the little touches that mean so much to them.
..::Hey, ‘Lina. Have you got a rhyming dictionary I could borrow?::..
“Eddie? Um, no. Not being a professional songwriter, I don’t even own a rhyming dictionary.”
..::Shit. Okay, thanks anyway.::..
Well that was weird, I thought, but I didn’t think too much of it until lunchtime, when he called back.
..::Do you have that funny e-mail I sent a couple months ago with the made-up words?::..
“Eddie, what’s going on?”
..::Do you have it or not?::..
“I think I kept it. It was some of your best stuff.”
..::Thank god, I’ll be right over!::..
I found the e-mail, printed it out and Eddie came over. That’s when it got weird.
“Dope-ler effect,” I read, “the tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly,”
“That’s good,” chuckled the author, “but I can’t use it. Next.”
“What is this about?”
“Next one, please.”
“Huff,” I grumbled, then read again from the printout. “Inocu-latte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.”
“They don’t have that much cash at Starbucks. Next.”
“Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.”
“Eddie, what the hell is going on?”
“SELINA, JUST READ THE NEXT DAMN RIDDLE!”
“Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.”
He tore the e-mail from my hand and murmured: “Hipatitis: Terminal coolness … Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid….Oh, this is pointless!”
“I agree. What is it?”
He sighed, huffed, wadded the e-mail into a ball and threw it at Whiskers, then dropped back into the chair.
“I’m blocked. I can’t write anything. Not a single clue. So I thought maybe if I found an old riddle or something I could retrofit it to a target.”
“START with the clue? I don’t think that’s going to work too well, Eddie.”
“I don’t either, but I’ve got to try something. I can’t write! I’ve got 76 Trombones stuck in my head.”
“Yeah, the song, from The Music Man… ♫ Seventy six trombones led the big parade… With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand ♫ It’s stuck in my head, I keep singing it over and over.”
“Well, I can see where that’s kind of a problem unless you want to steal 110 cornets, but c’mon Eddie, everybody gets a tune stuck in their head now and then. It’ll pass. Let me make a pot of tea, and we’ll get caught up. I haven’t seen you since the Christmas party.”
In his years as Robin, Dick developed a profound loathing for strategic self-mutating defensive regimen 4—otherwise known as Big Bad ZOGGER. It was run twice a month, on the 1st and 15th—except when Bruce was worked up about something, and then it ran 4 hours a day every day until he got it out of his system. The “something” that brought these sessions on was almost always a run-in with Catwoman. Dick was too young then to see the connection between the voluptuous leather-clad thief and the need for intense physical exertion. But he understood now, and in his charged emotional state after Mount Gordon erupted and showered hot lava on the fragments of his engagement, he was finding settings on Zogger he never knew existed.
He stood now in the cave infirmary, smearing disinfectant on a puncture below his ribcage.
“What did you do?” Bruce asked with a disapproving scowl, having followed a trail of blood from the workout mats to the small heap of bloody gauze beside Dick.
Dick smiled for the first time since he’d moved back into the manor.
“I found the switch labeled ‘François,’” he
said. The scowl deepened slightly, and Dick’s smile broadened.
“She still does it to you. Somehow I find that very comforting.”
“She still does it to you. Somehow I find that very comforting.”
“Fine. I’ll just leave you to bleed,” Bruce grumbled.
“It’s like coming home.”
Bruce had started to leave but he spun back now and said, “Hey, in all the uproar, I never got an explanation, okay. I’m not used to that. No François, no Pheromones, no nothing. So don’t talk to me about—”
He stopped. Dick’s lighthearted manner had suckered him in, and he momentarily forgot what ‘all the uproar’ referred to.
“Do me a favor, okay Bruce? Consider yourself cordially invited to shut up about this. She picked you, didn’t she? You didn’t get the François story or the Pheromones story, well boo-hoo. You got Selina! What the hell are you whining about? She chose you. It’s more than Babs seems willing to do.”
“Yeah, well, she might come around still,” Bruce offered half-heartedly. He left in a semi-huff. If Dick didn’t want his opinion, why did he come home at all….
His peripheral vision picked up Alfred entering the infirmary with a plate of chocolate-dipped double-chocolate chip cookies.
When I returned from the kitchen with the tea, Eddie was humming then sang, “♫ They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuosos, the cream of ev’ry famous banDAMNIT! There it goes again!”
I stifled a laugh.
“It’ll pass,” I told him. “Talk about something else. So, what’s the news?”
“You heard Joker got caught, right?”
“Out at Wayne Manor, of course I heard! I heard it first; I was on the clean-up crew. Jack’s quite a party animal, y’know.”
“Well anyway, I went to see him out at Arkham. Figured he’d be lonely. Harley’s disappeared right after the… well, I guess you heard that too. So I thought I’d cheer him up.”
“Oh Eddie, every time you try to be nice, it backfires. Haven’t you noticed that?”
“What, you think I’m cursed or something? That’s ridiculous. Okay then, so Joker asks me to bring these tapes from the Hacienda.”
“Whose Line is it Anyway?”
“Yeah. What does he see in those?”
“I don’t know. So then what happened?”
“Nothing. I brought him the tapes.”
“Eddie, that is the most pointless story I’ve ever heard.”
“I didn’t say there was a point to it. I’m just talking to keep the trombones out of my head.”
“But I –”
“Sigh. ♫-There were more than a thousand reeds springing up like weeds there were horns of ev’ry shape and kind -♫ Hey, wait a minute. A thousand reeds—A thousand! A thousand something, that could be lucrative… ‘A thousand rings springing up like springs’ - OH MY GOD, DID YOU HEAR THAT? ‘SPRINGING UP LIKE SPRINGS?!’ MY BRAIN, WHAT’S HAPPENED TO MY BRAIN?”
98…99…100… Dick somersaulted out of the iron cross, landing smartly before the plate of cookies.
“Master Dick, it isn’t my place to say, but I do think you’ll find talking to the young lady more productive than working out or comfort foods.”
Dick took the cookies with him into the main chamber of the cave, leaned his favorite chair backwards and flexed, executing his pet maneuver to get a beverage (in this case, milk) from the mini-fridge behind him.
“I have tried, Alfred. Barbara’s an adult. It’s not like she needs her father’s permission to get married. It’d be nice to have his blessing, but if he wants to be this way, if he absolutely insists on this Jazz Singer ‘tude, I say we let Bruce or Clark give her away and MOVE ON with the game plan.”
“Indeed,” Dick repeated, as though convincing himself. “Yes. Makes sense, right: She’s a grown woman, and this is her choice. But Miss Barbie says NOOO, she could never do that to him. Stood by her when… well you know. Well we all ‘stood by her,’ didn’t we?”
“Y-es, sir. Still, Mr. Gordon is her father.”
“That is the crux of the problem. Barbara says it’d be like she was a rebellious teenager, stamping her foot: ‘I’ll marry Dick if I wanna and you can’t stop me.’”
“I hardly think anybody would think…”
“Yeah, seems a pretty radical interpretation of the text, doesn’t it.”
“So as far as Barbara’s concerned, Daddy has to be convinced or the wedding is off. Case closed.”
“Most distressing, sir.”
“It’s almost like… oh never mind.”
Dick bit into another cookie with an angry snap.
Bruce sat at his workstation in full Batman-mode. The current wave of Riddler crimes made no sense—even for Riddler. There were four clues, all left at a Kinko’s on the corner of 76th and Pine. That must mean something. The targets: a box office at the concert hall, then a shop with antique music boxes -that one had to be a clue-crime and not a real crime, since they couldn’t have had enough cash or valuables to pay off his thugs… ditto “Brassy Girl” Cosmetics. And then a return trip to the concert hall box office! That didn’t make sense either, hitting the same place twice.
He had to be missing something. Maybe cleanse the palette, he thought. Think about something else for a bit and when he returned to this Riddler question, the answer would pop out at him.
He punched a series of keys, pulling up a list of themed criminals currently at large.
Catwoman? Was that still in there? Better take that out, Bruce
Punching in another code which opened the criminal database connected to this list, he clicked on her name, the file opened—then a second window popped up on top of it:
::Took you long enough.::
He stifled a twitch-smile and closed the window. Another took it’s place.
:: I don’t care what Dick says, you DO trust people. ::
The twitch tugged harder this time. The window closed, and Bruce went back to the Catwoman file and hit DELETE. This triggered another pop-up:
:: Well, as you’ve finally decided I’m not a threat
to society, ::
:: come to my balcony tonight. Wear the blue. No Kevlar. ::
:: I want something I can shred. ::
:: Meow. ::
To be continued...