Chapter 4: Link
This was the true consequence Bruce hadn’t foreseen when he asked Selina to move in. It wasn’t visitors like Montoya coming to the manor. It had nothing to do with blueprints or Interpol reports. Ultimately, it wasn’t even about a stolen cat statuette in his bedroom. It was that link he had with Catwoman.
In the minutes before he’d discovered that cat in the curio, Bruce thought about how he and Selina would always communicate nonverbally more fully than they could in words. The ‘whatever it was’ between Batman and Catwoman existed for so long as shadow and nuance, they connected on a level that was mutually understood but never admitted, a primal, physical and subconscious bond.
It was there when they had a whole city to get lost in after they clashed. Why hadn’t he realized what it would be like with her right across the hallway? Or right across the breakfast table?
There she sat. She didn’t have to say it. He knew: She saw his reaction to the stolen cat as a rejection of a fundamental part of her, a part she thought he’d embraced long ago. The accusation was as clear as if she screamed it. He felt it as acutely as if she screamed it.
And she knew his grievance too; he could tell that also: He felt betrayed and disrespected by her bringing stolen property into his home. She knew that, and she was defensive. (“Cats do not regret.” Impossible woman. Catwoman was never defensive. Catwoman gave as well as she got, he knew that better than anybody. It was Selina who was hurting… who he had hurt. Bruce thought back to that little bit of blue carving that started it all: the front paws crossed one over the other—a relaxed attitude—the creature would have to feel very safe to let its guard down that way. Yes, she brought a stolen cat into his house. He asked her to move in. He watched for four days to see if that curio went into her rooms or into his. He’d wanted her to make it their home and not his. And when she finally did…
So okay, she was defensive.
That didn’t change the fact that he was a crimefighter and bringing the spoils of a crime into his home was a mockery of all he stood for. It was regrettable that she couldn’t see that…
He felt a chill and looked across the table into hostile feline eyes. It was almost as if he’d said it out loud, for he could see the sound positively hovering on her lips: Pfffffft.
Typical. The answer when she didn’t have an answer.
No, the green orbs shot back, it’s the answer when you’re being too pompous and stupid for even Feline Logic to apply.
Feline logic, he mentally sneered at his own expression. Moral relativism, that’s what it is.
He didn’t say it aloud. He hadn’t said anything out loud, and yet she stood and left the room as if he’d insulted her.
One thing I’ll say for all the masked melees between Batman and Catwoman: You knew where you stood. You could tell when one was happening and when it wasn’t. A grab could go wrong and I’d find myself pulled by my own momentum into an iron pin, a disorienting lead, and an unceremonious drop to the floor. But I knew where I stood—even if it wasn’t standing at all but an ungraceful heap on the floor.
Technically, the fight was over in the sense that we stopped talking about the cat in the curio. But somehow… it didn’t feel over at all.
He can’t really be surprised, can he?
World’s Greatest Detective.
He knows I’m Catwoman. He knows what business Catwoman was in. It never dawned on him that in the course of a thousand prowls, a hundred robberies, I might have kept a piece or two that struck my fancy???
He ASKED me to move in. He knows I’m Catwoman. He doesn’t get to act surprised.
Neither do you, Kitten.
He might not have said it out loud, but the implication was clear enough from that glare burning through the backside of Alfred’s menus. It said:
Yes, I asked—and YOU moved in. You knew I was Batman. And you knew Batman is a judgmental jackass. You didn’t know this was coming? Of course you did, you had to know sooner or later there would be an issue. You just figured you’d do what you always do: purr in my ear and play with the insignia. And if that didn’t work, you’d bait me ‘til I tripped over my own pomposity and fell on my face. Then you’d smile and meow because you love me anyway, and we’d slip back into the old banter without even realizing it. Bat and Cat, life goes on.
Maybe he didn’t say it, but it was implied. The contempt was very definitely implied just by the way he chewed his toast. He knew that collection was a reflection of me. He knew cats and thief. Why couldn’t the World’s Greatest Detective make that jump, hmm? That just MAYBE there would be a piece or two in there that was stolen? World’s Greatest Detective, why couldn’t he make that jump?
I’ll tell you why. He’s Batman!
Same reason he expects the JLA to follow his plans, the same reason he didn’t feel the need to explain his presence at a meeting with Scarecrow that only Bruce Wayne knew about:
He says so.
wanted us to be together. We are.
He wanted Catwoman to stop stealing. I have.
He wanted me to move in. I’m here.
It’s automatic. He wants it and it shall be thus. So naturally there couldn’t be something he doesn’t approve of in that curio or in me, or I would have sold it off ages ago! Given the proceeds to charity! Donned sackcloth, ashes and a scarlet A!
Well, guess again, Dark Knight.
I stood and left the dining room.
Cats do not wear sackcloth.
Bruce threw his napkin down angrily beside the crumpled daily schedule Alfred left beside his breakfast plate, then he followed Selina from the dining room.
How is that insulting, hmm? He silently asked the hallway carpet. Catwoman always admitted she was a thief. If she wasn’t downright proud of it, she was certainly proud of her forthright admissions about it.
The hallway carpet had no answer, nor did the hardwood floors of the morning room. Indeed, the clunk of his shoes on the tiles of Jeffersonian parquet oak evoked the clunk of Batman’s boots landing on a rooftop. That only affirmed his arguments:
She didn’t ever deny her criminal activity. Catwoman’s code of conduct is her own. Society’s ideas of right and wrong don’t apply. She understands what they are just fine; she isn’t insane like the Joker. She just blithely ignores whatever little rules and laws don’t suit her version of things.
But she can always be counted on to do the right thing as she sees it.
Bruce looked around the empty morning room. Selina wasn’t there; she must have gone up to her own suite.
But she can always be counted on to do the right thing as she sees it, Batman repeated. It was the Batman part of him, the stickler for Justice. Yes he was mad at her, he was disappointed, and he was hurt. But he would not stand by and see her falsely accused. She was many things, a thief among them, but she was not immoral, dishonorable, or unprincipled.
She COULD be counted on to do the right thing as she saw it. She just didn’t like admitting it.
She used to steal. And now she doesn’t.
It was true enough. And she hadn’t done it for him, that was for damn sure. She’d always made it clear, those thousands of times he tried to reform her: she was who she was, and she wouldn’t tone herself down to suit somebody else’s idea of what she should be. She had stopped stealing and not for him, which meant it had to be because she recognized—because she allowed herself to recognize, finally—that it was wrong.
That must be it. It was the only progression that served logic, feline or otherwise.
Feline logic. What a contradiction that was. And how it suited her. Military Intelligence. Jumbo Shrimp. Feline Logic… Catwoman. She’ll decide all on her own that stealing is wrong, but she’ll keep the spoils of her criminal past and not give it a moment’s pause.
What was he going to do with her?
You know what pisses me off more than anything? This is all about that little blue cat. Condo full of stuff, I found a cute little carved sweetie that was too darling to fence, so I popped it into the curio and never gave it a second thought. THAT is what he chooses to bite into like a rabid rat with wings. Does he even notice the Egyptian Sekhmet from the museum? Oh no. First time I ever escaped from Batman with the loot. That he can’t be bothered remembering. But he notices some sentimental hogwash on the bottom of the blue one. “Candice,” for pity sake.
Way to make a girl feel appreciated, Stud.
I’ll bet this is how he treated the bimbos: “Were you the one that wore green on our first date? No, no, you must be the one that likes Van Morrison… Oh, I know, you’re the purple one from the rooftops, the non-complex one that won’t change to accommodate me. Been through it all before, Babe, so I know exactly how it will work out if I let it continue. Better have Batman step in and take full control of the situation, because that always works so well.”
Climbing the stairs to the bedrooms, Bruce noted an absence on the landing. Whiskers was not in his usual “gargoyle” position overlooking the Great Hall. Making a left at the hallway, he knocked on the doorframe of Selina’s suite. The door was open, and yet he knocked. She should appreciate a gesture like that. He’d seldom knocked at her apartment; it was almost a running joke.
“Yes?” It was a flat voice. Not Come in, certainly. More like What do you want now?
What do you want now, Jackass? The Catwoman in his head amended the quote.
“I was, um,” he began, and then broke off as he took in the scene. The closet door was open, and somehow, she had already managed to recreate the hellmouth that existed in her apartment. She was squatted down, searching through a stack of clutter spilled out over her feet. Whiskers and Nutmeg climbed over the mounds of disorder like Sherpas, while Selina muttered curses at the mess.
It was quite endearing, and he allowed his lip a half-twitch.
“I thought you were going to sort through that stuff when you were packing, clear out the junk.”
He didn’t mean it to sound like “That’s far enough, Catwoman.” Playing it back in his head, he was quite sure it didn’t sound like “That’s far enough, Catwoman.” Yet she reacted like it was Sotheby’s vault at four in the morning with a sack full of other people’s property dangling from her delicate wrist.
Or… she didn’t really react like it was a vault. The pause at his words was the same. And the slow turn to face him. But then she didn’t say anything. No springy comeback. Not even acknowledgement. Just an angry stare.
“Never mind,” he said, turned, and left.
Huntress was livid. Something beyond mere anger had taken hold when Montoya challenged her. Who was this miserable bitch to interrupt her interrogation like she was pulling over SoccerMom for running a stop sign?
“You understand nothing—” she had spat. She broke off, not because of the hard dark eyes promising they would make good their threat of a spanking, Huntress would not be intimidated that way. She was simply… at a loss to say what it was Montoya didn’t understand.
“No?” Renee said simply, humoring a child. “Then explain it to me. Tell me what I don’t understand about the need to stop this man from hurting people without crossing the line and violating his rights, hmm? Tell me what it is I don’t see.”
In frustration, Huntress made a fist and punched her victim squarely in the stomach, then looked to Montoya with a snide ‘take that.’ Renee was unimpressed and said nothing. She waited with seeming patience for an answer. Finally Helena began to speak, slowly at first, her words gaining speed and passion as she continued.
“You… don’t understand… what it is to be out here night after night because you want to do good… And for that, you get no respect from your allies, no respect from the people you protect, and the lowest, slimiest filth think they have a piece of you simply by your existing… You dare come out into the Gotham night, you are theirs to define with their own sick twisted measuring stick of—” She paused, stuck for words, and pulled back to punch again, this time aiming for the villain’s crotch. Her elbow was seized and a numbing jolt like electricity shot up her arm from the wrist, dropping her to one knee.
“I don’t know disrespect?” Renee said simply as if, instead of delivering a paralyzing nikyo, she had merely admired Helena’s handbag. “Have you seen the papers? I’m a lesbian. Lady cop must be gay, right? That’s the natural order of things. And if I deny it, I look bigoted and adios to reelection. And why? I’m a woman and I live in Gotham, so I’m fair game. That’s all they need to smear you. You don’t need to wear a mask. These chorra pichacorta are threatened by any woman that… you think I don’t know disrespect, Little Miss?”
Huntress snarled and stood.
“Spare me the sisterhood crap, okay? You want sisterhood, Ellen, go back to your boyfriend over there and let me do my job.”
“Torturing this man because life kicks you in the alimentos, no. You’re going to learn to behave, Little Girl, or you wind up alone in this world. You don’t make this man and everybody else a scapegoat because you’re unhappy. You’re gonna grow up and now: You want respect, you earn it. You start by cutting him down and drop him at the 21st precinct, or else I take you both in.”
That was how the scene had played out. Huntress told herself she complied with Montoya’s outrageous demands because there was no choice. The woman was a city official and could make plenty of trouble if unappeased. And Helena knew she would get no support from the Bat-family. On the contrary, he’d let her swing: Told you so. No good. Violent. Rash. Loose cannon. Lost cause. Cut bait.
The pig. The control freak bat-chauvinist bat-prick.
Huntress’s stomach seized on the word and her mouth soured with the taste of stomach enzymes and rage.
Renee Montoya, a woman. When she accused Huntress of the same things Batman did, it was not so easy to shrug it off as a pigheaded man pissing on her parade. She might or might not be a dyke, but she was certainly not a bat-chauvinist bat-prick.
Again Helena’s stomach seized. The very idea that the lack of respect was her own doing heaved through her insides, and she knew she wouldn’t stop tasting bile until she proved Montoya—and therefore Batman—wrong.
She had to do something, some gesture, some stupid gesture. Something the holier than thou Bat would preach—COBBLEPOT! She would warn Oswald Cobblepot his new ladylove was a black widow out to kill him. He was a corrupt, worthless slimebucket, and she would save his worthless life. And when the world was no better for it, she would be proven right and they would be wrong.
And a vile sleaze like Cobblepot would owe her his life. That, at least, would be satisfying. How she would make him squirm to repay such a debt.
Yes, it was an excellent plan. Already, Huntress felt her guts unclenching.
Like any establishment that serves alcohol, the Iceberg Lounge had a policy for customers who lose consciousness in the bar. The proprietor, Oswald Cobblepot, was not an unworldly man. He appreciated that sometimes a patron had a little too much Jack Daniels and required a nap. And he appreciated that sometimes a patron played Red Red Wine once too often on the jukebox and Killer Croc found it necessary to put them through a wall.
But whatever the reason, it was unseemly having customers passed out on the floor. So Two-Face, like any other incapacitated client, was neatly deposited in a back room beside Oswald’s office.
Behind closed eyelids, Harvey saw himself as Indiana Jones running from a giant two-headed coin, a coin not rolling but flipping towards him, a bat emblem emblazoned on both faces. Mere seconds before impact, his theme music swelled and he skidded through the escape hatch, reaching back to retrieve his dusty fedora. Then he heard Sly’s voice: “Yellow PVC halters trimmed in black… bikini bottoms, gloves and boots.” The words repeated. The voice sounded again—and again—like chanting. The chanting opened the ground beneath his feet and Harvey felt himself falling through a whirlpool of yellow and black… “PVC… matching bikini bottoms… from their circus act… sisters.”
Indiana Two-Face landed hard on solid ground, the fedora tipped back slightly as he rolled his head backwards onto the floor. “Twins,” he muttered, “Why did it have to be twins?”
Then he blinked… he felt hot and sweaty… and he was staring at acoustic tiling. He sat up and looked around. The Iceberg, the back room, damn.
He stood and shrugged off a wave of dizziness in the doorway. In that moment’s hesitation, he chanced to hear voices across the way—Oswald’s office. A woman’s voice… was that… No, it couldn’t be. Huntress?
“Listen, you miserable little shithole…” Yes, that was Huntress. “…doing you a favor you don’t deserve. And don’t have the—”
“My dear good woman,” Oswald’s voice interrupted with smug condescension, “I fear that caped hooligans like yourself simply cannot understand a refined creature like Miss Starling…”
“You CAN’T be so stupid as to think that’s her name.”
“As I say, you cannot begin to understand: Lark Starling is a lady.”
“She’s a black widow, you stupid bird. She marries men with money and then she kills them, inherits everything they’ve got and disappears. You’re going to be next. You’re going to be Mr. Lark Starling and then you’re going to be the late Mr. Lark Starling, and then this shithole of a bar is going to be sold off to Donald Trump and he’ll put in a fucking Starbuck’s…”
“Enough. Huntress, I must ask you to leave. You have slandered my fiancé, and now…”
“…and a Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse…”
“Get out of this establishment now, you Wallowing Wannabat!”
“And a donut shop. They’ll put in a Krispy Kreme right where the bar is now, and there will be a constant stream of cops in and out of here whenever that Hot Donuts Now sign is lit.”
There was the unmistakable sound of an umbrella thrashing through the air and hitting a filing cabinet.
“Bony-bottomed batslut!” Oswald called as the door opened and Huntress stormed away in a huff.
Two-Face appeared not to notice, seeming to look through her at the spectacle of Oswald, brandishing his umbrella like a rapier as he ran after her to fling a final “Callous castoff!” at her retreating form.
Two-Face rummaged in his pocket, retrieved the coin, and looked at it. Harvey knew what he had to do. Two-Face knew what he had to do. In his mind, the staccato trumpets of a Hollywood theme song resumed, he tipped his imaginary fedora to Penguin, and returned the coin to his breast pocket, unflipped.
To be continued...