Part 2: Cat-Tale - Oh my
Tim Drake and Cecily Grenville sat in Gino’s Pizzeria, across the table from Cassie and Randy-quad, all discussing the second installment of The Lord of the Rings:The Two Towers. Tim made an effort, but the truth was, he hadn’t enjoyed the movie at all. Not having read the book, he didn’t know there would be treeherds avenging the destruction of an ancient forest. The sight of giant, sentient trees running around wreaking havoc, so thrilling to the rest of the audience, left Tim wrestling with unwelcome memories of Poison Ivy and her warrior plantlife.
“And when that one big treeguy caught fire
and ran to the burst dam to douse the flames!” Randy enthused.
“…Yeah,” Tim said finally. “That was… funny.” Though in his heart, he had been disappointed not to see the psychotree burn.
The petite, dark-haired hostess called
Raven ushered the ninth job applicant through the Iceberg’s main dining room.
She gave him a judgmental look up and down, then pointed to the office door.
“Mr. Cobblepot will see you now,”
she pronounced, her dour monotone reminiscent of the sinister housekeeper in a
Gothic novel. The applicants were not to blame, but she blamed them
anyway. She was a hostess, not a secretary. When Mr. Cobblepot
asked her to come in to work in the middle of the day, that was one thing.
The club was closed and no patrons meant no tips. But a job was a job and
he was the boss. So she came in, as requested. Still, if the slimy
birdman made one false move, said one word that could be construed as a
proposition, she was ready with the pepper spray.
Turned out she didn’t need it. He wasn’t hitting on her; he had scheduled interviews all afternoon and wanted her ushering the losers back to his office like he was some kind of big shot.
Nurse Chin waited until her colleagues
left for lunch, then let Pamela Isley into the infirmary. It was strictly
against policy to let one Arkham inmate visit another this way, but poor Harley
Quinn was having such a rough time of it. Why it took them twenty minutes
arranging her pillows in the morning, getting her into a position where she
could lie comfortably. All those bruises. Dear girl. If a
visit from her friend would cheer her up, Chin could see no reason to deny them.
And besides, an underpaid junior staffer at Arkham Asylum never knew when she might overhear something… profitable.
“Harley, my dear, this time you’ve really gone and done it,” Pam chided, “Giving Joker Punch and Judy dolls, it was bound to give him ideas. What were you thinking?”
“Wasn’t that, Red,” Harley moped, “my
Puddin’ is excitable, that’s all.”
Pam swore under her breath, then changed
the subject. She was here to cheer Harley up, not chew her out.
There would be plenty of time to make her see reason about Joker—later.
“Here, I thought you’d find these amusing.
Clippings from that website, hotwing.com.”
Harley clapped her hands, anticipating a
treat. When Oswald, the party poop, whitewashed the women’s washroom at
the Iceberg, the graffiti went online. The best of it, dedicated to the
oh-so-delectable Nightwing, was housed at hotwing.com—and it only got better
over time. Pam had spent the morning surfing, and began reading the
most entertaining clippings:
“Sculpted. The man is positively
sculpted. Buns of steel, arms like those thick braided loaves of bread,
thighs of a Clydesdale…”
Nurse Chin, hearing this, raised an
eyebrow, but kept her eyes on the file she was pretending to read. Pamela
continued to read, unaware of her audience:
“…just the right amount of chest hair…”
Poison Ivy speaking that way about
Nightwing? Nurse Chin smiled. Her generosity in letting Isley visit
her friend had been well rewarded. Indeed, one never knew an underpaid
Arkham staffer might hear something profitable. She closed the file on her
desk and consulted a small card in her wallet: Gotham Tattler
212-555-6719 ext. 12.
“Mr. Fox?” Moira knocked timidly on the Chief Operating Officer’s door.
Lucius gestured for her to come in as he made a final note and hung up the
“I’m not sure if you’re aware,” Moira
informed him as she sat, “that Mr. Wayne was in the office this morning.”
Lucius nodded. He was aware; he
simply avoided Bruce as much as possible in the month of January.
“He dictated a letter and a memo. As
you requested, I’m showing it to you before sending the letter out.”
Lucius removed his glasses and massaged his eyes. Every year it happened: Bruce in January. On one of his temperamental rampages, no doubt. At least this year, Lucius had the foresight to pull Moira from her regular duties and have her act as his secretary. She was certainly qualified, having served the LexCorp CEO before Wayne Enterprises stole her away, but what made her particularly well-suited to Bruce in January was not her stint at LexCorp, but her pilot program training assistants to deal with difficult people.
In the past year, Bruce was doing better,
all things considered: more focused, less of a flake. And the support
staff at the upper echelons of Wayne Enterprises had responded favorably.
They had a far better caliber of employees assisting them at this level than
ever before. And all it would take was one of Bruce’s typical January
episodes and it would all be shot to hell. That was not going to
Lucius replaced the glasses on the bridge
of his nose and read:
F.B. Publicists, Suite C, Robinson Building
In reference to your letter of January 3rd regarding alleged misspelling of Zatanna’s name in promotional material for the Wayne Foundation Gala, December last. We beg to inform you that no literate person regards the use or not of capital letters throughout a word as misspelling. Furthermore, if your goal is to see your client’s name in print more often rather than less, you would do well not to antagonize her presenters in this fashion, to say nothing of the press, by insisting on these ludicrous marketing gimmicks.
If, on the other hand, your goal is to gain attention by being as obnoxious as possible, and assuming you don’t feel it’s pretentious enough that Zatanna has no surname, why not try changing her handle to some unpronounceable glyph.
Lucius winced. Typical Bruce.
“And the memo?” Lucius asked wearily.
Moira handed it over.
To: Lucius Fox
From: Bruce Wayne
RE: Moira Selmon
Moira is an exceptional employee in every respect, and I certainly must admire her poise in this absurd position she’s been placed in. She is, as you know, fully occupied with her duties implementing the assistants’ training program and DDP (Dealing with Difficult People) Seminars. A program for which she has particular insight because of her stint assisting Talia twitterHead at LexCorp.
“Talia twitterHead?” Lucius looked up.
Moira said nothing. After a pause,
she nodded. After four drafts, that was the politest term Mr. Wayne
had come up with. Lucius continued to read.
… assisting Talia twitterHead at LexCorp.
Anyway Lucius, it seems some damn fool has taken her off this worthy assignment, the job for which I hired her in the first place, and has her assisting me. Of course I have no complaint with her, but this is an egregious waste of her many rare talents.
Do see that she is reassigned A.S.A.P.
Picking up Selina at the airport this afternoon, so I shan’t see you until tomorrow. Let’s schedule a LONG lunch and you can bring me up to date on things.
Lucius looked up again. Moira had
stood and was smiling down on him.
“As my final act as Bruce’s secretary, he
had me put that lunch on his schedule for tomorrow and make sure Gale did the
same for yours. D’Annunzio’s. Try the shrimp, it’s to die for.”
“ … ” was all Lucius could reply.
“I like your friend,” Randy confided when
Cecily and Cassie went to the powder room. “She listens. Not like
Tim said nothing. He could tell
Randy was quite taken with Cassie, but Tim had more experience with Cassie and
her silences. He could tell she was not having a good time. Though
she talked more than she used to, each day acquiring more of a vocabulary and a
sense for how and when to use it, she still expressed more in her looks and
shrugs than in words. And her manner suggested to Tim that she was bored
to tears, both with Randy-quad and the dating experience.
Assuming she even realized she was on a
date. When she’d shown up for this, her first date as far anyone knew, in
jeans and a Buffy the Vampire Slayer t-shirt, Tim realized his oversight. He had invited her casually, “Come to the movies with me and Cecily and a
friend from school.” Any girl their age would have known what it meant.
Any girl not saddled with a David Cain upbringing. But Cassie, who knew
what she understood? Nuance, particularly social nuance, was still beyond
“So,” Randy asked hopefully, “think she
“…Eh…” Tim sputtered between pauses, “Shh, later, they’re coming back.”
“Your name?” Oswald asked the latest applicant, without looking up from his desk.
“Giggles, sir,” the young man replied.
Oswald looked up.
“Excuse me, for the last year, sir, it’s
just been Giggles.”
“Ah, you’re the chap that’s been working
for Joker then. I told you on the phone I don’t need a henchman, I need a
“Begging your pardon, sir, you need me.
Anyone can pull a tap or pour from a bottle. Not everyone can handle your
clientele, Mr. Cobblepot. I can. Mr. Joker’s henchman
for a year, and here I stand, breathing, sane, and only smile on my face is what
God put there.”
Oswald’s eyes narrowed. He said
nothing for a long moment. Then put the pen into his mouth like a
cigarette holder. “Giggles” took this as encouragement and continued.
“Well, maybe not God,” he said with a
between-men smirk. “Truth is, was that little Raven that showed me in
here. She’s a cute little bird.”
Oswald’s mouth dropped open and the pen
fell to his lap.
“Particularly when walking away,” Giggles concluded.
“If you made such observations about Ms. Quinn when working for Joker
you would not be standing here now,” Oswald observed coldly.
“Actually, Mr. Joker specifically
instructed me to learn as many blonde jokes as I could find and accompany him—”
“Oh, kwak-kwak, that was you, eh?
Well that’s a little different. Giggles, hm. What was it before?”
“Your name, my good man. You weren’t
born ‘Giggles,’ were you?”
“ … ”
“Come, come, out with it. What’s
your name, Boy?”
“I will be happy to accept any designation
you wish, Mr. Cobblepot.”
“Your NAME? Kwak-kwak.”
“Brady, sir. Greg Brady.”
“ … ”
“ … ”
“ … ”
“That sounds familiar,” Penguin said finally.
“I’ve heard all the jokes, sir.”
“Yes, I’d imagine so.”
Nightwing crept into the dark, still
bedroom with as much stealth and caution as he would entering a criminal lair.
The fact that it was his own bedroom—and the room’s sole occupant his own
wife—made no difference. It was Barbara’s attention he so desperately
wanted to avoid attracting just now.
He couldn’t hope for much of a reprieve.
Barbara was Oracle; Oracle found out everything. She probably knew
But at least if he didn’t wake her, the fireworks could wait ‘til morning.
He tiptoed into the closet, stowed away
his costume behind the false door, returned to the bedroom, and slipped silently
between the sheets. He stared at the ceiling. Maybe he was
overreacting. It wasn’t a story any woman would be happy hearing
about her husband, but Barbara wasn’t stupid. She’d know to take that kind
of thing with a grain of salt.
The rumor mill was what it was.
Every few weeks, it linked some male and female—the more improbable the
better—just to see what would stick: Hawkwoman and Mad Hatter, Lady Vic and
Catman, Batman and Wonder Woman. It was only the galactically clueless, the
emotional twelve-year-olds, or the clinically insane that latched on to any of
that nonsense. It took a special kind of stupid to believe such garbage.
Barbara was none of those things. She wasn’t insane, depraved or
emotionally stunted, and she certainly wasn’t clueless. She would laugh at
it. Any sane woman would laugh at it. What was he worried about?
So the tabloids picked up some story about Nightwing and Poison Ivy. That
didn’t mean he was neck deep in fertilizer. Dick smiled at the ceiling,
gathered the blanket to his throat, and turned over. Then the light
“Dicky, my sweet,” his wife addressed him,
“it’s one thing to be the subject of idle gossip, happens to the best of us, and
with a luscious bod like yours, speculation is inevitable. But you really
don’t help the situation skipping your shower after patrol, sneaking into bed
this way, and laying there brooding for half an hour.”
“ … ”
Oswald sipped the concoction Greg “Giggles” Brady set before him.
“An adequate igloo,” he proclaimed,
setting down the signature drink and regarding the prospective bartender
shrewdly. He was, at least, one of them. A patron could sit and tell
his troubles to a former Joker henchman as he could not to Joey, the applicant
from the Waldorf, or Susannah from TGI Friday’s.
“It was Nigma who brought on this crisis,” Oswald said, cupping his drink and sitting at the bar like a customer. “Edward Nigma, the riddling excrescence. It’s not like he’s the first criminal to take a vacation in January, mind you, it’s always a bad month for business. Bats goes batty and everyone lies low. Nigma, being a genial sort, sends a gift basket: oranges, marmalade, some key lime wine that was quite palatable. It was good of him. We received no such gesture from Ms. Quinn when she went to France last year.”
“She’s cheap,” Raven pronounced from the doorway, “just like Joker.”
“Now, now, my dear,” Oswald waved her in,
“Don’t be bitter just because they tip you in monopoly money. Come meet
our new bartender, Greg Brady.”
“Groovy,” was Raven’s only response.
“Anyway, to resume the narrative,” Oswald
continued, feeling his new bartender was indeed very easy to talk to, “the
trouble with Nigma is that he thinks he’s so terribly clever. And he
always has to be proving it. So with the basket of this and that—that key
lime wine was surprisingly good—there was a letter. A long, detailed
letter which I suppose he intended to be entertaining, effervescing about the
many pleasures of this lush tropical paradise: Sunset Celebration in
Mallory Square, colorful characters, live and let live attitude, taverns
everywhere, a party town, warm tropic climate, and so on.”
Oswald paused, reflecting that perhaps he
shouldn’t go into such detail with the new bartender. Seeing where this
was going, Greg covered the awkward hiatus by refilling Oswald’s glass.
“Yes, that very excellent key lime wine, I must remember that,” he said
Finally Raven continued the story, picking up where Oswald had left off.
“Whenever someone that knew Eddie came
into the bar, the letter was read again. And I guess after the sixth or
“Sly quit,” Oswald said flatly.
“At first, we thought something happened
to him,” Raven moaned, “he just didn’t show up for work one night.”
“Like when Kittlemeier disappeared,” Oswald said confidentially, remembering Greg was a Joker henchman and would know about Kittlemeier and the mugging incident. “Then the letter arrived. His resignation. Postmarked Key West. He’s opened his own bar.”
Not knowing what consolation to offer in the face of such dire news, Greg Brady remained silent.
At four o’clock in the morning, an awkward
“ … ” was the best comeback Dick could devise for his wife’s comments. At
nine o’clock, having made the pilgrimage to that fountain of inspiration, the
Mr. Coffee, he felt he could do better.
As expected, Barbara did not rant like a
jealous harpy because of the deluded fantasies of The Gotham Tattler.
These things happened, she said. Her objection was that he’d tried to hide
from it, which he certainly wouldn’t have done unless the story struck a nerve.
Last night, he didn’t have an answer. Now, revived by Mr. Coffee’s
elixir of reason for beleaguered husbands—with milk and two sugars—he knew what
“Babs, I didn’t want to get into it in the
middle of the night, that’s all. I’m cool with it; I really am. It’s
no different than that ludicrous Nightwing-Catwoman story a few years ago.”
“Except you laughed that off,” Barbara
objected, sipping her own elixir, splash of milk, no sugar, “Cucucachoo, Mrs. Robinson, and all that. Whereas with this, you brooded like a bat.”
“It’s easier to laugh when you’ve got
Selina standing on a stage, mocking the idea in front of a cheering audience,”
Dick insisted. “Somehow, I don’t think Ivy is so accommodating. If
she has a sense of humor at all, I don’t know anybody who’s seen any indication
“Fair enough,” Barbara conceded.
She’d reached the same conclusion in the time she’d spent eavesdropping on the
rogue’s IM network.
“I swear, I don’t know where they get these stories,” Dick sighed, relieved that the storm had passed.
“You DON’T? You obviously haven’t
seen the cover of the Gotham Post this week, have you?”
Dick stared, not understanding.
“They’ve got their highest circulation in YEARS, my dear,” Barbara crowed. “This bit about you and Ivy in The Tattler is obviously a ploy by their chief competitor to get a piece of the action.”
“I don’t get it, what kind of picture
could the Post be running that could possibly lead to a Nightwing and Ivy
Barbara pointed to her monitor where she had pulled up the picture from the Gotham Post website.
“…Oh… …my…” Dick gulped after a
“Bonjour, mon chevalier noir adoré,” Selina gushed stepping
past the customs gate and throwing her arms around Bruce, “Tu m'as tellement
manqué, tu n'as pas idée.”
“Watch your language,” Bruce chided lightly. He meant her addressing him in public as chevalier noir, ‘Dark Knight,’ and realized too late, only when she laughed musically, that his words seemed like a joke about her speaking French.
“I missed you too,” he whispered, kissing
her cheek, “I missed your laugh.”
In the time it took to walk past the Duty
Free, the ATMs, the tourist information booth and the food court, they caught up
on those aspects of their lives it was safe to discuss in public. They
turned the corner, heading for the elevators to the parking garage. Bruce
explained that he didn’t have Alfred or the limo with him.
“I came straight from the office. I
just hope there’s room for your bags in the Jag, otherwise we’ll have to get a
taxi to follow—”
He stopped speaking and turned slowly to
the left. From long habit, Bruce constantly scanned his surroundings,
unconsciously processing whatever his peripheral vision detected. In this
case, it was a newsstand, a common enough sight in a busy airport, but
Gotham Times. Herald Tribune.
Daily Planet. London Observer and then… There they were… in living
color on the front page of the Gotham Post… Batman and Catwoman… in
one of the most spectacularly passionate clinches ever portrayed on newsprint…
Her arm wrapped around his neck, she was pressed tight against his body from
chest to knee… his left hand cupping the back of her head, while the right
grasped her waist… the cape whipping around their legs… a glorious full moon
above, golden cityscape behind… It was… Wow.
He felt warm breath on the back of his neck and turned to see Selina behind
him, looking where he had looked.
“…Well…” she said finally after a lengthy
pause, “There’s something you don’t see everyday.”
To be continued...