Chapter 3: Then It Got Weird
“Aunt Maud,” Jervis intoned proudly, “This is my fiancée, Alice Rocket.” And he pronounced it ro-KAY.
The older woman eyed Roxy as though through a monocle.
“Sit down with me, young woman,” she commanded. Roxy did so. “And tell me about yourself. How old are you?”
“I’m not going to answer that,” Roxy objected.
“Then how did you meet my nephew?”
“26,” Roxy answered.
Aunt Maud glared.
Jervis stepped in. In his panic, he blurted the truth: “We met through work.”
“You did not work at this club, surely?” Aunt Maud sniffed. “This is only a barely acceptable situation for a man,” she paused to glare mercilessly at Jervis before continuing, “Let alone….”
“Oh no, my old job,” Jervis adjusted the story, “We met at my old job, when I was an editor. Roxy is, ah, a librarian.”
Roxy’s eyes bulged slightly.
“Indeed,” Aunt Maud nodded approvingly, “a most respectable profession. What it lacks in social cache, it makes up for in refinement. I like a well read girl. Tell me, Miss Roquet, which is your favorite Bronte sister?”
Roxy swallowed. Behind her, the Rogues within earshot began whispering: “Roxy hasn’t read a book since high school,” “She goes into Barnes and Noble for calendars and coffee,” “$50 she makes up a name,” “$100 she says ‘the quiet one,’” “‘with the bangs.’”
“What are those ill-bred people whispering about in that rude fashion?” Aunt Maud wondered audibly, and the most notorious representatives of the Gotham underworld hung their heads like truant schoolboys.
“Actually,” Roxy tried to extricate herself from the most objectionable lie so far, “that was just when we met. I haven’t worked in a library for years.”
Now it was Jervis’s turn to swallow…
“And what do you do now?” Maud was asking.
Why oh why did he get Roxy for this? He knew educated women. Harley Quinn was a psychiatrist (speaking of which, where was Harley these days?) Poison Ivy was a botanist. But Roxy, Roxy was a lovely girl and not stupid, but not book smart, not the kind you bring home to meet Mother. Before turning to crime she had been…
“…in the movies,” Roxy was saying.
“Yes. She used to be a stunt woman,” Jervis cut in, glaring at Roxy, “but that was just temporary.”
“A TEMPORARY stunt job?” Roxy glared back.
“In a very important art film,” Jervis went on, “…and actually now she’s… she… she works at—”
At this moment Selina Kyle entered the dining room with Bruce—
“Wayne!—Wayne Foundation—She works at the Wayne Foundation!”
Dearest, Dearest Barbara,
I’m so very pleased to be able to offer this bracelet as your ‘Something Borrowed.’
It was my ‘Something New’ when Clark and I got married, a gift from Papa Kent.
I would have brought it to the shower next week, except I’m not yet sure I’ll be able
to attend. A story developing in Pango Pango might keep me away. But you
know I’ll be there in spirit.
“It’s beautiful,” Dinah remarked, handing back the note and picking up the bracelet of tiny seed pearls.
“Yes,” Barbara agreed, “I admired it at her wedding, and she remembered, isn’t that sweet.”
“Reporters,” Dinah grumbled, “may log everything that’s said to them, but that doesn’t mean they’re sweet, caring or in any way sensitive to their fellow human beings.”
Barbara raised an eyebrow, and Dinah stood down.
”Okay, that was my thing.”
“Still sore about the Ra’s al Ghul stories?” Barbara guessed.
“One does not forget being labeled a living demon’s love slave,” Dinah declared adamantly.
“But that wasn’t the Daily Planet’s doing and it certainly wasn’t Lois Lane’s.”
“No, but come on Barbara, what kind of friend is this: I’ll be at your shower if I’m not busy breaking some story in Pango Pango?”
“Dinah, don’t be a featherhead. Pango Pango is Diana.”
Dinah blinked, so Barbara explained.
“Lois’s spies in the JLA have not yet told her if Diana is coming to the shower. If she is, big story in Pango Pango keeps Lois away. If she’s not, ‘oh look, I’m free after all.’”
“Are you telling me Lois and Diana avoid each other?”
“One Superman-Wonder Woman rumor too many, in my opinion.”
“But Lois can’t think there’s anything in that! I mean, boy scout: Truth, Justice, and cheating on his wife? No way.”
“Of course not. But look, Lois is in the rumor mill business. It’s not like she can pretend she doesn’t hear that nonsense, and she gets tired of it. Says Diana doesn’t do anything to discourage it - which is true enough.”
“Staying ‘above it all,’” Dinah hazarded.
“I suppose,” Barbara answered. “Worked okay for you.”
“What did? Head down and wait for it all to pass? Yeah, technically it’s over, I guess. The papers went on to write about something else - but a lot of people still think that I was in love with that slimy, creepy, icky, evil…”
“Cadaver?” Barbara prompted.
“YES!” Dinah cheered, “Cadaver. Perfect term. Thank you.”
“You’ll have to thank Catwoman for that one. It’s what the rogues call him.”
“Catwoman,” Dinah repeated. “Now THAT was a solution: Get yourself on stage, sell tickets, and tell it like it really is.”
“Maybe a TV show,” Barbara giggled, “It’d have to be cable-access, I guess, but it’s not like there’s any shortage of material. When they got done smearing Catwoman, they did you and Ra’s, then Joker was supposed to be dead. There’s even a story now that Bruce Wayne is supposed to have killed somebody, there’s no end to it.”
Dinah beamed a smile of almost sexual excitement: “Let’s do it, Barbara, you and me. You’ve got the equipment here to make up some holodeck character—”
“Whatever, to appear as the host. Let’s do it!”
“You can’t be serious!”
“Why not? Barbara, why not? I’m so sick of this bullshit. And I’m sick of these mindless lemmings thinking whatever those scandal sheets tell them to… about all of us!”
Barbara just smiled, not unkindly. Then Dinah smiled too.
“Okay, was a silly idea. Done now.”
“Good. So tell me who’s coming to my shower.”
One thing Selina Kyle knew, her friends and enemies would have to agree, was how to enter a room with distinction.
She did so now, surveying the table at which Jervis Tetch, Roxy Rocket and an unknown large woman sat…
“A foundation,” the large woman cooed, “That is most respectable.”
…the many clusters of Rogues watching the
“The nerve of the guy,” Hugo Strange muttered, eyeing Bruce contemptuously.
“Oh give that a rest,” Penguin retorted. “Look at her, my Roxy, pretending to be with Jervis Tetch.”
“Your Roxy, oh please, she hasn’t spoken to you since the Christmas party, has she?”
“Hasn’t even looked at me,” Penguin admitted.
…and Harvey Dent at the bar…
Normally either Harvey or Eddie would be her first stop in a room full of rogues. They were her preferred informants for whatever was going on beneath the surface… Except Eddie was still in Arkham. And Harvey was nursing his wounds after their last meeting.
She sighed, glanced at Bruce, and then, as if by mutual consent, they went up to greet Jervis and Roxy.
“You’re not in costume!” were Jervis’s first words, uttered far too loudly considering the whole club was straining to hear every syllable uttered at that table.
Selina didn’t react at first, and Jervis, in a near panic at the waves of disapproval he felt coming from Aunt Maud, turned to her companion and said: “Or you either, Bruce!”
There was a guffaw from Hugo Strange, but the room was otherwise silent.
“It’s Viva la Difference Night, did you forget?” Jervis prompted.
“…Is… it… Viva la Difference Night already?” Selina managed slowly, “Where does the time go?”
Meanwhile, while everyone watched Selina, Bruce took a heavy plate from the table and tossed it like a Batarang into Hugo Strange’s head.
“Aunt Maud, despite the nondescript clothing, I know you won’t mind being introduced to Bruce Wayne, of the Wayne Foundation.”
Bruce shook Maud’s hand, but eyed Jervis warily. That was an unusual introduction.
“And this is Selina Kyle, she’s in… acquisitions.”
There was a guffaw from Roxy this time, and Selina very sweetly batted her on the head with her tiny hardcase handbag.
“Hand slipped,” Selina cooed sweetly, “Sorry, Roxy.”
“Roxy?” Aunt Maud raised her eyebrow.
“Oh, that’s a nickname she picked up… in college… rocks! Alice studied geology before she went into library science… so they called her Rock-sy and Selina still calls her that because… they were sorority sisters.”
The rogue audience almost applauded this magnificent whopper, so impressed were they with the effort Jervis was putting into each syllable. As lies went, it was an impressive tour de force.
“See, the thing is,” Dinah mugwumped, yet again, about a name Barbara suggested for the guest list, “I’m not sure I can contact all these people.”
“C’mon, Dinah, we can use our imaginations here,” Barbara urged, “JLA distribution channels.”
“I can’t actually get in there, Barbara.”
Barbara stared in horror.
“Birds of Prey! Takes up too much of my time and now I’m no longer a full-member of the League, so according to Diana, Queen Bee of the Watchtower, my access has to be approved case-by-case now.”
Barbara rolled her eyes.
Then a solution presented itself.
Oracle was, herself, a full member of the JLA, but it wouldn’t do to use the database for her own bridal shower. But there was another member of the bridal party on the JLA membership rolls…”
“Selina can get the list,”
Barbara declared happily.
Barbara declared happily.
“CATWOMAN! Catwoman can use the JLA DISTRIBUTION CHANNELS and I HAVE TO GET APPROVAL CASE BY CASE!” Dinah fumed. “SHE HELPED OUT TWICE!”
“Yeah,” Barbara hedged, “but…well, you know…Batman…. Nobody was sure what the situation was there and… I guess everybody figured they weren’t going to be the one to take her name off the computer…”
“You know what I think,” Barbara chirped, “I think you should co-host the shower with Selina. And once we have everybody together, we make a point of how nice it is to be able to get together like this, more socially, and we need to do it more often, so let’s keep the rolls open for invitations. Have more events like this. Gosh, somebody shouldn’t have to get married for us all to get together. From what Selina says, the rogues do it all the time. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do stuff like that…”
“WHORE???” Ivy bellowed.
“SORORITY SISTERS???” Selina yelled.
“LIBRARIAN???” Roxy screamed.
“Mamma’s Boy,” Two-Face taunted.
“Getting into a slap-fight in front of Auntie Maud,” Jervis complained.
“Somebody threw a plate at my head,” Hugo Strange slurred.
The moment Aunt Maud retired to the ladies room, pandemonium had broken out at the Iceberg Lounge as everybody jostled for airtime to voice their grievance before she returned.
Only Sly and Bruce Wayne remained totally
“We don’t actually hire stunt people at the Wayne Foundation,” Bruce told the bartender, quietly.
“We don’t actually have a Viva la Difference Night,” Sly confided in the billionaire.
“JER-VIS!” Aunt Maud bellowed, officially ending Open Share Time by dragging Gina, the washroom attendant, into the dining room by the ear. “I have learned things,” Maud announced, red with indignation, “I have learned monstrous things from this young woman about the goings on in this club and the kind of people these are with whom you surround yourself!”
Jervis Tetch gulped, looked around like a startled deer, and then stammered, “But Auntie, whatever do you mean?”
“Mammasboy,” Two-Face coughed; “Excuse us,” Harvey apologized.
“That man,” Maud pointed accusingly at the Penguin, “has betrayed your trust. Not only does he claim to own this establishment—”
“OSWALD!” Jervis turned on the Penguin with a what-can-I-do shrug as he wailed, “AFTER ALL I’VE DONE FOR YOU!”
“-he has had an indiscreet liaison with your fiancée.”
“YOU TROLLOP!” Jervis wheeled on Roxy.
“Yeah,” Dinah agreed with Barbara. “It’s a shame we don’t all get together more.”
“Nonono,” Selina was saying, holding up a hand to silence the rogues gathered around the Iceberg bar, “I got in and out of a police evidence locker tonight, I can get through this without help from any of you.”
She gestured to Sly, who filled the shot glass sitting before her.
“Jervis Tetch,” she began, “who is not the Mad Hatter, used to be an editor at Harper and Row and now runs a nightclub called the Iceberg, which is not a criminal hangout. He’s engaged to Roxy, who is called Alice, Rocket, pronounced Roquet, who is not a criminal, but used to be a librarian and now works at the Wayne Foundation, which is very respectable, even though Bruce isn’t wearing a costume because he forgot it’s Viva la Difference Night.” She downed the shot, there was a collective cheer, and money changed hands.
“I don’t get it,” Killer Croc said. There was a collective groan and more money changed hands.
“Next,” Selina called out, admitting defeat. And Scarecrow took her place trying to explain the tangle to Croc.
Meanwhile across the room, sweat poured from Jervis’s brow as he spun story after story trying to explain the latest revelations to Aunt Maud. Finally he joined the rogues at the bar.
“Selina,” he whimpered, “come to the flat for a bit with Wayne. This place is too dangerous, but if I have to take her home - the only thing she likes there is this painting of a question mark. She thinks it’s art. I can’t BS about art. Please help me!”
Selina looked at him coldly.
Jervis looked to Bruce, who didn’t look any warmer.
“C’mon, guys, I just had to break up with Roxy and fire Oswald. I’m desperate. HELP ME!”
“C’mon, Selina,” Harvey urged, “one good favor deserves another. Or rather, one bad favor deserves a good one.”
Bruce raised a disapproving eyebrow. ˜˜I’ll want to hear about that later,˜˜ he signaled in their secret sign language.
˜˜You’re bluffing,˜˜ Selina countered.
He had the same look he had watching Ra’s Al Ghul on The View. He was having a ball but wouldn’t admit it. Which meant (God help us miserable sinners, Selina thought) they were going to the flat.
“This would be… a… meditation on uncertainty, I would say. Taking a familiar, commonplace image like the question mark and forcing us to… grapple with the complex… philosophical… abstract… ideas it represents.”
I took a deep breath. The evidence locker was nothing compared to this. Breaking into Fort Knox would be nothing compared to this. Explaining true modern art to non-art lovers who say “my three year old could do that” is no simple feat, but trying to pass off a piece of Riddler kitsch as fine art, that requires some heavyduty footwork.
Outthinking Batman was easy compared to this—Speaking of which, was I getting any help at all from Mr. Twitch-smile? No, I was not.
It was RIDDLER’S HIDEOUT they fixed up! Nobody at the ’berg had mentioned that! We walked in and there were two walls covered in plants, just barely obscuring the signature lime green wallpaper. A third wall was a bookcase full of Harvey Dent’s old law books, and the fourth was covered in posters from Roxy’s old movies. There was a book on igloos sitting on the coffee table and a giant oil painting of a question mark over the mantle. Tell me who wouldn’t laugh at that?
But did the guy with a trophy room full of this shit so much as blink? No reaction whatsoever. Thanks, Dark Knight. I owe you one.
Two. I owe him two, because Jervis decided to play host, offering us drinks and coffee - when he didn’t have the slightest idea where anything was kept. So Bruce offered to “help” him. Any excuse to go snooping around, opening all Eddie’s drawers and cupboards, no doubt. Wonderful, Batman finally got his inside peek into a rogue’s private life other than mine - except it left me alone with Aunt Maud and the punctuation still-life.
The two of them, Bruce and Jervis, somehow managed to make coffee and returned with a tray just as I was running out of unanswered questions the painting invited us to reflect upon. Like: What is the sound of one hand clapping? Why am I here? and What’s taking so long with that damn coffee?
With the arrival of the coffee, I was officially out of material - and apparently, so was everybody else. We sipped in awkward silence just long enough that it was almost a relief when the doorbell rang.
There was the awkward matter of who it could possibly be and what they could possibly want.
The question mark painting was looking a mite more profound than I thought, especially when Maud asked Jervis if he was going to answer the door or not.
He did, muttering an obscenity cut short by the sight of Harvey escorting a sobbing Roxy Rocket.
“Jervis, forgive me, forgive me!” she cried, throwing herself at his feet.
“Hugo Strange has an Aunt Gladys,” Harvey explained quietly to me and Bruce, “He is very sympathetic to Jervis’s situation. He went to work on Roxy right after you left. ‘Sticking by our own in time of need’ and all that rot.”
“Jervis, forgive me, please. It will never happen again, I’ll be good from now on,” Roxy went on, sobbing.
“Isn’t she taking this a little far,” I asked, somewhat nauseated.
“She’s on a mission,” Harvey agreed, “Hugo pushed her buttons pretty good.”
“Please Jervis, please…”
“You know Roxy has a bit of an inferiority complex,” Harvey continued, “not been among us very long, and being able to help an old guard criminal like Mad Hatter, I think Hugo put it in terms of ‘earning her wings,’” Harvey concluded. “-or earning her horns,” Two-Face corrected.
Then disaster struck. There was a jiggling sound from the door, it opened, and Edward Nigma walked in. He looked around the room, and you could read the thoughts clearly on his face: Selina. What are you doing here? And Jervis. Harvey. Bruce Wayne. Large woman -Who are you? …and WHAT HAPPENED TO MY WALLS?
It wasn’t necessary to read that last part on his face, because he said it out loud.
And I have to hand it to Jervis, who I would have written off as a flyweight a few hours earlier, but now recognized as the most creative and courageous improvisational liar of my acquaintance.
“This is my decorator,” he declared without a moment’s hesitation, “Edward Nigma, he goes by Enigma.”
Eddie just blinked.
“My stuff,” he stammered.
“Mr. Nigma, this is my Aunt Maud.”
“My stuff,” Eddie repeated. “That wall - and that one - and that one.”
“You know how temperamental they are when they’ve put so much of themselves into a design. Eddie, not all the stuff worked out, so I’m sure you can get a FULL REFUND, OK?”
Hearing the magic word “refund,” Eddie nodded.
If Jervis is half this impressive in the field, without the added indignity of a bawling Roxy Rocket clinging to his pant leg, I have no idea how Batman can deal with him—
“Jervis, please forgive me,” the dialogue from below resumed.
And that’s when it got weird.
“Alice, do stop that,” Jervis muttered, “I forgive you, just go over there and be quiet.”
“Roxy, what are you doing here?” Eddie asked, looking down.
Roxy rose from her knees, an actress whose scene was completed, and - in an inspired touch - she gave Jervis a light kiss on the cheek.
Now Eddie, it should be remembered, is particularly sensitive about mind control issues right now. He saw Roxy: on her knees, answering to “Alice,” and being submissive to Jervis. He jumped to the not-entirely-fantastic conclusion that she’d been hatted. So far, so good.
He jumped to the conclusion that she’d
been hatted for some romantic rather than criminal purpose.
Well, considering: Hatter, Kiss, “Alice” …Again, I say: So far, so good. Not completely through the looking glass, as logic jumps go.
But! Then Eddie wheeled on me!
“And you just stand here and look at this like it’s nothing?”
He turned to Bruce!
“I can’t believe you approve of this.”
Maud assumed he was talking about the desecration of his decorating scheme, and she agreed that the plants were way too much but at least they obscured that hideous wallpaper, and the only object of real beauty in the room was that painting of a question mark.
Eddie wavered for a second.
“That’s true,” he brightened, “so few people really appreciate the cache of an unanswered question.”
For a second, I thought that was the end of it. Eddie wandered into a corner, then turned back, bewildered.
“Where’s my futon?”
Roxy gestured for him to join her on a window seat and, before long, he was searching her helmet and goggles for the mind control chip he was certain was there. I know because I heard her whisper “Stop pulling my hair” and Eddie answered “It’s for your own good.”
“She’s letting the decorator take liberties now,” Maud observed.
And where was Bruce during all of this? Standing there. Like it was a video of Ra’s Al Ghul on national television covered in papier-mâché with a yapping dog on his lap…
The phone rang. Things had gone so far at that point we all just looked at each other, everyone too stunned, panicked or overwhelmed to move to answer it.
It rang again, again, then there was a click.
“Riddle me this,” Eddie’s disembodied voice intoned, “What do you get when you cross a hive-dwelling insect with a yellow marshmallow Easter treat: BEEP.”
Jervis looked around frantically, but couldn’t find the phone.
::Hiya Eddie,:: a second voice cut in, ::It’s your HA-HA-HAR-LEY! ::
Now Eddie too joined the wild search for the phone.
:: Didja get my postcard? Paris was so fun, but they talk funny and you can’t understand a word they say! Anyway, I just wanted to say, I heard you had trouble with Puddin’ over the video we made… ::
Jervis and Eddie collided with each other before a small cabinet. Bruce casually opened the cabinet, picked up the receiver and spoke in his foppiest drawl:
“Hello… Yes… Yes… France. Aha. Yes. Puddin. Mhm. Mhm… Okay, I’ll tell them. Goodbye.::
He hung up, looked at Eddie, at Jervis, and then at me. When he spoke, it was a magnificent deadpan.
“She went to Paris and the Riviera with a
French count. She’s back now. Don’t tell Puddin.”
To be continued...