Part 9: Cat-Tale – ‘Fraidy Cat
Of all my objections to Jonathan Crane—and it is a lengthy list—the one point I will concede is that sometimes Fear has a purpose. Sometimes, fear is nature’s way of saying: Whoa there, Sundance, you sure you want to be jumping off that cliff, what with the rocky bed of the Colorado River churning 300 feet below?
Sometimes, Fear has a point.
Of all the little expressions having to do with cats—and I’ve heard’em all—the one that really burns my butt is ‘fraidy cat. The cat has eight more lives than you do, Pal. If you’re charging forward and she’s hanging back, you might want to stop and consider the possibility that she knows something you don’t.
Intimacy is scary stuff. Much as I… love… Bruce, much as I’m happy to have helped him, I can’t help but feel we’ve crossed a line—a very serious line. Like the masks. The first time we made love without masks. After he was asleep, I crept into the bathroom and sat on the edge of the tub. I sat there for an hour, naked, staring into the darkness. The thought I couldn’t shake: it was never supposed to happen. We’d convinced ourselves Batman and Catwoman could never get past that fundamental impasse: he is a crimefighter; I am—or was—a thief.
We had done things as Bat and Cat; we’d tasted, taunted, and torn at each other… because it was safe. Everything was allowed because nothing could ever come of it. And now, suddenly, Batman and Catwoman were gone, like a spell broken at the stroke of midnight, and Selina found herself looking into the eyes of a lover who said his name was Bruce. It was a lot to process.
Compared to the cave, that hour on the edge of the tub was nothing.
He was hurting. He was in pain. And I wanted to help. I’m glad I could help. But the helping took us somewhere nobody is supposed to go: Inside his head… Inside his soul… I don’t need to understand him that well. I don’t need to understand anything that well.
Now what? Was he entitled to crawl inside my skin just as deeply? It sure seemed like it. Inside my heart and my soul. It was never supposed to happen AT ALL!
… I know I’m overreacting.
Lack of sleep will do that to you. Your perceptions go wonky. The last real sleep I had was the post-Iceberg catnap, which, considering the martinis and jetlag, may not count as actual sleep. The cave was draining. And after that, even a lazy evening purring in his lap turned into a nightmare. Literally. We were dozing in front of the fire when I felt this spasm shoot out from under me. It was Bruce’s arm, twitching, and he was moaning.
I’d heard about wives of combat veterans waking up in a stranglehold when those night-terrors take hold. It’s never happened to me, although Bruce’s nightmares are a regular occurrence. Still, these dreams were obviously a lot worse than normal. Understandable, I suppose. Between Hell Month and the ordeal in the cave, his dreams were worse than normal. The more serious complication was that he was so exhausted he wouldn’t wake up. I soothed him as best I could: stroking his brow, whispering that he was safe and at home, assuring him the horrors weren’t real, only a dream and an echo. It would seem to work for a while, and then just as I’d start to doze off myself, he would start twitching… or shaking… or moan again. It made for an awfully long night.
Morning came, finally. Alfred brought a tray around seven. Juice, coffee, muffins… I tried to apologize for spending the night on the couch, but in my frazzled state it came out: “About the alfred, sorry, sofa. Too tired, move not…”
That’s when he shushed me.
“Don’t trouble yourself, miss. It is not unusual for Master Bruce to go wandering the night before the ‘anniversary.’ I am well accustomed to having to search for him in the morning. This year, the task was much easier than usual, as I see neither of you has moved from where I left you last evening. As Master Bruce is not awake yet, I shall leave the coffee here and go about my business.”
There was an elaborate casualness the way
he said it: “As Master Bruce is not awake yet…” An overly deliberate
airiness I recognized from—it took me a minute to place it - FROM THE ROGUES!
…“Gotham is so cold in January, I think I’ll just pop down to South America and see how many species of orchids grow in the rainforest.”
…“Croc visit swamp now. Good time, no tourists.”
…“Calloo callay, Hat Expo in Bombay.”
…“I left something on the stove at the HA-HAcienda in Mexico, HAHAHAHAHAAA.”
And now… “Since he’s not awake, I’ll just leave the coffee here.”
It all amounted to the same thing, a fancy way of saying: I prefer to be wherever he isn’t right now.
The arrival of a new groupie at the Iceberg Lounge was always an occasion for speculation among the regulars. Whenever a new one arrived, the first thing the villains would do was try to deduce which of them the newcomer admired. The homemade costumes were a good clue, always either mimicking or complimenting the chosen rogue’s theme.
In the case of the new girl, her costume consisted of a smoky gray leotard and full-face mask. It was not unlike the getup that made that NightThief character look so much like a potato, but on this girl’s trim young frame, the effect was most becoming. Only Scarecrow didn’t think so. He likened it to the ruched see-through bodice Gweneth Paltrow wore to the Oscars: “Showing off what, I ask you? Flat breasts ruched down to a non-existent waist.”
Mad Hatter disagreed the loudest. “That girl is as frabjous as a Jabberwock!” he declared. Hugo Strange agreed. Both had noticed black curls painted up and down the length of the costume and hoped they were meant to suggest hypnotic spirals. If so, they were both in the running as the villain the girl doted on, and each was mentally redecorating his hideout to accommodate the new henchwench.
When they learned the curls were not hypno spirals but wisps of smoke, and the costume was meant to salute Firefly the pyromaniac, both Hatter and Hugo revised their opinion.
“A frumious bandersnatch,” Jervis announced, causing Hugo to mutter something by way of agreement that raised eyebrows even at the Iceberg bar.
Beneath the newcomer’s mask, Cassie Cain decided the exact tendons she would sever in punishment for that remark when Batgirl next encountered Hugo Strange. She then smiled, pleased that her disguise was such a success. She took a seat at the bar and reveled in her proximity to the adored one, the Adonis tending bar, Gregory Brady.
“Are you wearing those shoes? You might want flats if it’s muddy.”
That was the first inkling I had that he was expecting me to accompany him to the gravesite. He brought me to the alley last year, but it wasn’t planned. It’s just the way it played out. Because we quarreled, and because we were together when he had some sort of epiphany about the past.
I rummaged in the little corner of his dressing room where I keep a few things, looking for a pair of flat-heeled shoes and reflecting on the RBD Theory.
RBD Theory is Joker’s brainchild. It says: All it takes to turn one of them into one of us is a Really Bad Day. The Quinn AA-Postulate, added a few months later, is as follows: in the throes of a RBD, anyone is capable of anything.
The vehemence with which any given individual will argue the RBD Theory depends on whether or not they’ve had one.
However, I have heard Harvey Dent go off on the subject a number of times. And all I can say is: I didn’t know Harv in his prosecuting days, but when he argues RBD Theory, I get a glimpse of the brilliant advocate he once was. If that acid hadn’t scarred his face, creating Two-Face one RBD in August at the Gotham County Courthouse, I have no doubt he would be Governor Dent, Ambassador Dent, or Chief Justice Dent today.
Was I in the midst of a RBD, I wondered?
The disguised Batgirl first realized something was amiss when the villain known as Crazy Quilt entered the Iceberg Lounge. He looked exactly as he did in his mugshots: a pencil thin mustache… a patchwork costume of yellow, red, and blue… a helmet which threw colored light of those hues onto his victims’ faces, causing disorientation. He sat next to her at the bar, ordered a Mud Slide, and launched into a spiteful diatribe against Robin.
Robin thwarted him in the early days, it was said. He held a grudge. Robin was his particular nemesis—like Sideshow Bob had Bart Simpson. Robin was the ruin of all his great plans. He could a’ been a contender!
He didn’t seem to distinguish between the Robin of then and the Robin of today. But that was not what troubled Cassie. What bothered her was that he wasn’t supposed to be here at all.
To select a villain on which to model her disguise, Cassie had researched “B-List” rogues recently captured outside of Gotham. That way, she could be sure the villain her ‘groupie’ cover supposedly admired did not actually show up. There was no shortage of names to choose from; almost everyone was out of town for Hell Month. Crazy Quilt was one of those she considered, gone to Keystone City and apprehended only last Thursday by The Flash.
So how could he be sitting next to her drinking a Mud Slide?
Was I in the midst of a RBD?
Well, I was standing on a hill on a particularly gray corner of the vast Wayne property, where the family has interred their own since Robert Wayne wrested the manorship from the Dutch in 1679. I knew this because the little stone plaque honoring the event was the only place to stand without sinking ankle deep into the snow. It was nearly an hour since Bruce hugged me and disappeared over the far side of the hill where the more recent generations were buried. By now, I could tell you the complete saga of First Manorlord Robert, the first Wayne in America, son of Joseph “the Uncompromising,” who left Scotland to seek his fortune in the New World when the family ran afoul of the new English king…
It was never supposed to happen at all, that’s all I’m saying. From scuffling on a penthouse terrace so he won’t notice the timer to creeping from his bed so he won’t feel me trembling… not supposed to happen. From swinging the whip handle across a throat not shielded by body armor, to running my fingers through hair not covered by a cowl… what were the chances? From “the easy way or the hard way” to “My name is Bruce; I’d like to hear you to say it.” From a humid rooftop in July, toying with the emblem on his costume, looking for a moment’s indecision to kick an incriminating knapsack over the edge… to a freezing hilltop in January, reading how Robert Wayne infiltrated the Nieuw Nederland colony, earned the trust of the Iroquois by learning their language, and exposed a criminal enterprise in the fur trade.
A shadow fell across the snow, the bottom of an overcoat billowing like a cape. That he could cast a shadow when it was so gray and overcast was one of his creepier mysteries. What was even creepier was the way that, apart from the pointy ears, the shadows looked so similar in costume and out.
I turned and looked at him. He seemed better… There was a tiny mark of a dried tear on his cheek, but apart from that he looked… calmer… Something about the way he stood was both relaxed and resolved. While I paused, searching for something to say, he leaned in and… kissed me. That was, frankly, creepier than his casting a shadow without sun. It was a good kiss; don’t get me wrong. Long… loving… tender but… nonsexual, if you know what I mean… Pure…
“Let’s head back,” he said finally, “I’m famished.”
“My battle against the Batman raged on!” Signal Man narrated with dramatic flare, “Until chance intervened. A bystander, young boy, wandered too close to the fight. The Batman was distracted. The moment’s diversion was all I needed, and I struck! Clubbing him into unconsciousness! I bound his inert form and encased him INSIDE THE BAT-SIGNAL! What a triumph! An anonymous tip called in to that fool Gordon, and he raced to the roof to light the bat beacon! The Batman would have been fried in his own signal!”
“It’s the ‘would have been’ that robs the tale of panache,” Oswald observed dryly.
“That and the fact that you tell it incessantly,” Hugo grumbled.
“You must picture the scene,” Signal Man insisted, gesturing to the bartender to refill his glass with the blend of hot coffee, whiskey and amaretto known as Tennessee Mud. “Imagine my loathed foe waking up to see that bat on the glass right in front of his face! It was a triumph, I tell you!”
The only Iceberg patron that didn’t groan at the outburst was the new groupie they’d dubbed ‘Smoke.’ The rogues assumed she was attentive only because she hadn’t heard the story before, 19 or 20 times, as all of them had. In fact, the reason for her rapt attention was puzzlement. Batgirl had confirmed, through a hurried communication with Oracle, sent over her touchpad-OraCom from the Iceberg washroom, that Crazy Quilt was indeed in Iron Heights prison in Keystone City. Yet he appeared at the Iceberg. Now he was gone, but in his place, actually seated on the same barstool, was another villain that Cassie’s research told her should be incarcerated on the other side of the country!
Green Arrow, the Emerald Archer who had been such a lively guest at the satellite cave that night, had captured Signal Man in Star City last Saturday!
So how could he be sitting next to her now drinking Tennessee Mud?
On the walk back, I jettisoned all thoughts of the RBD Theory. It was comfortable, walking along, talking. Bruce was in good spirits, like a weight had been lifted. He talked about making lunch himself.
Cut to Alfred’s kitchen twenty minutes later, Bruce had me seated on a stool, watching, while he laid slices of lunchmeat on toasted bread.
“Now, heated turkey on one slice, sprinkle with a little pepper, ham on the other slice, sprinkle with a touch of garlic, and just a hint of oregano—the real stuff—very important, not the generic kind from a supermarket. You listening, Kitten?”
I nodded… I may have nodded off actually; because the next thing I knew, there was talk of melting cheese and a dash of paprika.
“Then I do sliced up cucumber… a little lettuce… and a pickle.”
I could have kicked him off that terrace all those years ago and nobody would have been the wiser.
“In the dining room?” he was asking, handing me a plate, “or better still, there’s a fire in the library. It’ll be cozy.”
Cozy. Home and hearth mode. Shudder.
We ate… he talked about his parents… the portrait over the fireplace….
“I remember my mother wearing that dress. It was my father’s birthday. She gave him… something to do with ships?”
I listened while he talked. I didn’t know if he was aware of my sleepless night. You’d think he should be, great detective and all. It would be obvious from the bags under my eyes. What I really wanted to know was: did he know why? Did he remember his nightmares? Did he know he spent the night writhing and moaning? I’d consider asking, but not after last year. I didn’t know anything about Hell Month then. I had no idea why the dreams were getting worse. So I told him. His reaction was… ugly. Hurtful. I’d never seen him like that.
“A model sailboat, that was it, the kind you steer with a radio control…”
Now, Catwoman has a rule: Rule #7. Never EVER cease a behavior or alter course because of what he’s said or done in the past. If he went ballistic over a Monet, that was my cue to stick with the Impressionists for a while. Or if he grumbled because I used the signal to call him, I’d make a point of doing it again by the end of the month. But the dreams, well, obviously, that’s a different animal.
‘Fraidy cat? Or a prudent pussy negotiating a Really Bad Day? You tell me.
The light in the room reddened, and the shadows lengthened. Soon it would start to get dark. So would he…
He told me about the ritual of Anniversary Patrol. It wasn’t a ritual in his mind, it was sound strategic thinking: Batman always patrolled the city twice each night: early patrol and late patrol. On this date, he observed his parents’ deaths by visiting Crime Alley. But it would be sacrilege if this visit allowed a crime to be committed that he otherwise would have prevented, if innocents were victimized because of his observance. So he would still cover the full route of his early patrol, looking in on all the locations—but he was on the clock.
If God forbid he found criminal activity, they weren’t just committing a crime on the hallowed day, they were threatening his schedule. He knew if it took him too long to dispatch the perpetrators and if he suffered more interruptions later, he could conceivably not make it to the alley before dawn. Bruce said he was aware that factor made him more ‘agitated’ in these encounters. (Dick had a different way of phrasing it: “Like something you only see in Rocky movies,” while Tim said: “Tyson fights. Violent, brutal and wicked fast.”)
By now, the light outside the window had faded and the city across the river glimmered like a jewel. The sixth sense that told me Batman was near quivered. We’d been together all day, but only now did I feel the tingle. And I knew he was looking at it too… out the window… his city. I knew too that he was about to speak, and when he did, the voice would be the deep gravel of the Bat.
“I better get going.”
I smiled, kissed his cheek, and stood to gather my things.
“Just as well,” I said, collecting my bag, “you wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I haven’t had much rest since Paris. I can’t wait to get home, draw a nice bath and-”
I paused, because that is one of those words you want to be very sure you heard correctly before responding. Giving it due reflection, I was satisfied I had, in fact, heard the deep Batman gravel saying exactly what I thought it said. But just to make sure, I prodded:
“I said No. I don’t want you leaving. I want you to be here when I get back.”
Like a spaniel.
Like Krypto, the goddamn faithful wonder mutt.
I was trying to be supportive and patient. I was trying to finesse the whole no sleep, hangover, cave, jetlag, freezing hilltop, and new mood of unnerving togetherness. But there are some things a self-respecting feline simply does not let pass.
“You seem to be confusing me with someone you get to order around,” I said, “I don’t do ‘sit and stay’ and I especially don’t-”
“No. I want you here tonight. Honestly, I don’t understand why you haven’t moved in full time.”
That’s the last really solid memory I have.
I know I was still standing there alone
after he’d left, trying to process those last words spoken before he vanished:
“Think about it. We’ll talk about it when I get back.”
When Firefly, a villain Cassie knew for a fact was hospitalized in Keystone City, entered the Iceberg Lounge a scant twenty minutes after Signal Man left, the disguised Batgirl decided to take action. He sat on that same barstool next to her, and began instructing Bartender Brady how to make a shooter called a Clay Pigeon: “Vodka. Apple Juice. Stir.”
Her vocabulary was limited, but not so limited that she couldn’t tell this imposter, point blank, that the real Garfield Lynns, a.k.a. Firefly, onetime Hollywood F/X wiz turned criminal pyromaniac, ran afoul of a Flash villain called Heat Wave and was currently laid up in the hospital ward of Iron Heights Prison.
The ersatz Firefly pulled her into a quiet alcove away from the bar, near the door to Oswald’s office. Those who saw the move tittered, assuming Firefly was picking up his option, deciding to make the devoted groupie Smoke into an official henchwench.
Instead, the moment they were alone and out of sight of the bar patrons, “Firefly” morphed. The hand that clutched Cassie’s elbow melted into a thick muddy ooze - that still maintained a surprisingly strong hold on her as the man before her twisted and glurped into a massive bulk of grayish brown clay.
Batgirl’s warrior instincts kicked in and she delivered several crippling blows to the creature’s arms and torso - what should have been crippling blows - except that the torso just softened on contact, allowing her punches and chops to pass through without resistance, spattering a bit of muck onto the walls, but inflicting no damage on her target.
Screaming for help was not Batgirl’s style, but even if it had been, one of the cloying clay appendages snaked around her mouth, making even guttural battle cries impossible. Breathing became difficult when the gooey claw stretched over her nose, and her struggling slowed. An alarming rushing sound rose in Cassie’s ears and the sight of her attacker blurred into spots before her eyes. And then…. nothing. The crushing foe was pulled away from her.
Realization flooded with the first full breath. Leafy vines were coiled through four separate mounds of dirt that had once been the solid mass of her attacker. The vines held the tiniest drops of animated mud in place with tenacious grasping roots.
“Hello, Hagen,” the pleased voice of Poison Ivy sang from the doorway, “I would have thought you learned your lesson last time, Clayface. But no matter, a great mass of potting soil like you is just what I require to fertilize my new babies.”
I went down to the cave and put on the catsuit. I think better in the catsuit. Usually. Tonight, I only managed to freak myself out even more. At first, I couldn’t find the damn thing. I’d forgotten — note to self: I’ve GOT to get some sleep soon — I’d forgotten I left it in the costume vault when I went in and discovered the shelf smashed to bits.
The catsuit — MY catsuit — Catwoman’s catsuit — in his vault.
Like Catwoman is something that belongs to him. “We’ll talk about it when I get back… I want you here tonight… I want you here when I get back”
… I want you waiting here where I tell you to be, because you’re mine now, my little kitty cat. Property of Batman. We’ll get that insignia tattooed on your pretty backside any day now…
… Selina, I’ve decided Batwoman would be a more appropriate guise for you from now on. I’ll be flying you to Mr. Kittlemeier’s for a fitting this afternoon…
…of course you can’t leave against my wishes, Selina. Remember all those times Catwoman got away when, let’s face it, we both know you wouldn’t have if you were anyone else… you owe me, Kitten. I’m calling in the marker…
There was a click and those new, modified Batcuffs were on my wrist. “We’ll talk about it when I get back.” He couldn’t possibly think those would hold me. I was out in seconds. Dashed upstairs and… something was wrong. The moment the grandfather clock closed behind me, I could tell something was wrong.
The ornaments, for one thing. It’s an occupational hazard. Walking through a doorway, Catwoman catalogues a room’s contents like other people wipe their shoes on the mat. The first thing I noticed, there was a bright Impressionist landscape where the picture of Bruce’s parents was supposed to be. Instead of the wrought iron bookstand with a first edition of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, there was a little mound of needlepoint and an old-fashioned wooden tennis racquet. In the corner, in place of Michael the Archangel, there was a spray of rhododendrons, a radio controlled model sailboat, and a roll of wrapping paper.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, dear,” a crisp voice said behind me, “Alfred would have offered you some tea, but, you see, we’re having a dinner party tonight. It’s my husband’s birthday, and I’m afraid the setup has proven slightly more complicated than the staff anticipated.”
I turned, knowing what I would see: Martha Wayne in the smart, tailored dress from the portrait. She sat at the desk and consulted a sheet of paper as she spoke:
“Now then, Selina, isn’t it? I see you’re going to be moving in soon. About time he got around to that. Of course, you could have helped him along, my dear. Men want encouragement for that sort of thing. And, if I may say, you haven’t entirely been doing your bit. Considering the way you began, I mean. You used to be the aggressive one, weren’t you? ‘You’re part of the night just like me,’ ‘How hard do you want it to get,’ etc.”
Again, she looked at the paper, as if it was a resume and I was a job applicant—actually, more like I was already on staff and that paper was my annual review. When she continued, it was with a tsk-tsk quality that was pure Bat:
“And yet, despite this admirable beginning, it seems as though my son has been taking the initiative since this situation began to develop: sending the note that brought you to the opera house roof for that first date, kissing you in the vault, following to your apartment, inviting you to Xanadu, revealing his identity, he was the first to say ‘I love you’…”
“Now look here,” I cut in, because Catwoman’s Rule #4 states that you never, ever allow that Bat-tsk-tsk routine to go on for more than six seconds. It was seldom an issue with Batman, but with this woman…
“I’m not criticizing,” she went on seamlessly as if I hadn’t spoken, “you’ve more than evened the score with that scene in the cave yesterday. That was admirable, Selina, it really was. Opened him right up. Brought you both to the next level.”
“Close your mouth, dear. Ah, I see now, that’s the difficulty, isn’t it? You took the initiative this time. So now… what? You’re wary of the consequences? You’ve always done what you pleased up until now and damn the consequences, correct?”
“It’s different,” I stammered, “I do do whatever I please. But sometimes… well, sometimes that’s gotten me in over my head. And when that’s happened… damnit, whenever that happened he’s always been there to get me out.”
“Ah. And he obviously won’t be doing that if you get in too deep this time… You are quite the ‘fraidy cat, aren’t you, Selina.”
“He didn’t even ask,” I mentioned, feeling the focus of this little chat had really drifted off the point, “He just told me to stay. TOLD me. Told ME! Like I’m something that belongs to him. Nobody does that, nobody!”
“Look around, dear. It’s Wayne Manor. You notice that great big ‘W’ on the front gate? And the one on the mantelpiece. The one etched into every piece of silver in this house, embroidered on the table linens and the bedsheets, embossed on the corporate letterhead…”
While she went on listing items that were branded with the Wayne monogram, I thought of another series of items: the utility belts, the homing tracers, the batarangs, the lasers, the grapplers, the body armor, the handsets, the batcuffs, all with the emblem, the sleek silhouette of a bat…
“…and always inside an oval. It’s the way they are, the Wayne men, they like marking their territory. And there is a certain tendency to regard anything within that territory as theirs. But that’s nothing smart women like us can’t handle, now is it? One day, Selina, I really must show you a set of letters I received on my wedding day…”
“Excuse me, Martha,” a warm masculine voice interrupted, “Oh, I see you have a visitor. Selina, isn’t it? Thomas Wayne.” The new arrival took my hand as if to shake it, then lifted it and touched the fingers to his lips. “I hear you’ll be moving in soon. Well done, Kitty.” He winked then turned to his wife, “I just wanted to tell you Annie Hall is on television in the study. That scene you like so much, where Diane Keaton and Woody Allen move in together. She’s ready to give up her apartment, but he says ‘No, it’s like a floating lifeboat; why cut it loose.’ Ha, ha.”
He winked again… “Nice meeting you, Miss Kitty”… and left. I’m afraid I was staring after him. It was Bruce… Bruce’s face, Bruce’s voice… except… so…
Martha must have read my thoughts because she said, “Almost like the Fop, but not shallow, not stupid… and not faked. Now you understand: What might have been, what’s been lost. Does it really matter so much if he occasionally barks an order instead of wording it as a question? Come now, Selina, you of all people must know, a woman’s role, like a cat’s, often amounts to letting them believe they’re in charge. It doesn’t mean you can’t get the sofa cushions arranged exactly the way you want them, have your catnip and caviar prepared to your liking, and your fur stroked exactly where you please. It merely requires a little feline finesse.”
She paused, smiled, then added:
“So wake up and get to it, Kitten. Kitten. Kitten, wake up.”
I blinked and Bruce was bending over me.
“I’m sorry to wake you, Love, but another night on that sofa is the last thing you need. Come up to bed.”
The little voice in my head was quick to object: C’mon, girl, come when called, like a good puppydog. Instead, I looked up into his eyes, and caressed a fresh bruise on his cheek.
“Rough night?” I asked.
“I’ve had worse.”
“Okay then. You can tell me about it in the morning.”
To be continued...