Chapter 3: Two Fronts
To hear Ra’s al Ghul tell it, he had warned Napoleon about fighting a war on two fronts. He was such a promising fellow; Ra’s so wanted to help. But you couldn’t talk sense to a stubborn little Corsican: Napoleon was determined to make an example of Czar Alexander, so he marched into Russia while he still faced rebellion in Spain. Instead of dazzling the world with his overwhelming strength, all he did was show them he was no longer the man he had been.
Selina Kyle knew better. Going down to breakfast the morning of the barbecue, she too was faced with war on two fronts: Batman and Alfred. Batman was responding with unexpected aggression to her escalation of their nightly game. The first night when he didn’t find her at one of the obvious “pick up spots” near Cartier or the art museum, he probably considered it a fluke. The second night, purr-haps he started to wonder. After the third, Bruce didn’t speak to her at breakfast and she found a tiny bat-shaped homing device embedded in her boot. Selina was certain what the Control Freak Crusader really objected to was a twist in the game that he didn’t initiate, so she wasn’t about to give any ground. Selina he could have whenever he pleased, but if he wanted “Catwoman” again, he’d have to find her.
The second battlefront, Alfred’s determined effort to domesticate her into some sort of socialite-hostess with a catsuit under her bed, was a much trickier proposition. She wasn’t about to let any man make her a housecat, least of all Batman’s housecat, but she had found something warm and unexpectedly wonderful in making a life with Bruce, something deeper and more strangely compelling than the lusty pull of those rooftop Bat-games. Plus, there was the other little reality that her most effective battle tactics, those related to the whip and claws as well as the hipsway and naughty grin, were not an option against an adversary like Alfred Pennyworth.
Cats do not surrender, nor do they compromise. It’s their chair/pillow/terrace and that’s that. If human doesn’t understand, the lesson will be repeated until he figures it out. But if it is a sacred principle that cats do not retreat, it is just as important that they don’t lose. And fighting a war on two fronts, particularly against two such formidable opponents, was the road to Waterloo.
Cats will not retreat or compromise—but they will strike a bargain, and Selina was prepared to make a few gestures with Alfred in exchange for postponing their contest until she had vanquished this other foe.
Oswald Cobblepot was worried.
First it was Raven, his hostess. The one time he’d asked her to stay after closing to help with the inventory, she’d opened her purse and pointed out her brass knuckles, pepper spray, and the business card of one Morris Kleinschmidt, Sexual Harassment Attorney. Yet today Raven had come into work, taken one look at him and cooed! She positively cooed at him, like a rare specimen of Peach-Faced Lovebird rather than the coarse squawking raven.
Then Gina came in, walked right past him as she always did to stow her purse in her locker, came back into the dining room to take her station… and got this funny look on her face. “Good to see you’re on time tonight, Miss Hempstead,” Oswald quacked irritably—in reply to which, she hugged him.
Sparrow, the new cocktail waitress, now addressed him as “Oh Ozzy-Wozzy,” Brenda ruffled his hair, Gloria pinched his cheek, and Janet touched her finger to the tip of his nose.
Oswald was quite seriously worried. Could he be ill? Dying even? And no one would tell him? Something was happening, that much was certain. Something had stirred this strange affectionate sympathy in all the lovely ladies on his staff, and whatever it was, it couldn’t be good news if they all knew and he didn’t.
Selina entered the Wayne Manor dining room, prepared to make peace on one front to buy victory on the other. She saw Foe #1 entrenched for a protracted siege (Bruce was already sitting at the table reading his newspaper), while the subtler Foe #2 had laid a cunning ambush (Alfred left the day’s menus next to her coffee cup).
They helped themselves at breakfast, so Selina went first to the sideboard, poured herself a glass of orange juice, and stole a sideways glance at Bruce. His eyes did not appear to be moving across the newspaper, which meant he wasn’t reading the page he was looking at but displaying the reverse side for her benefit.
She was in no hurry to read whatever that message was, so she took her time spooning scrambled eggs onto her plate, taking a strip of bacon, and then surveying the pastry basket as if she was window shopping at Jimmy Choo… Hmm, try on the round-toe pump or no?
There wasn’t a peep from the belfry, not an audible breath, not so much as a crinkling of that newspaper. Selina’s inner-cat wanted to hiss. He was used to hours of fruitless surveillance; he could wait her out. So she took an English muffin and returned to her place at the table. Still the newspaper didn’t budge, but Selina was certain she could perceive the lip-twitch going on back there.
She briefly noted the headline he wished her to see. It was the financial section. Wayne Tech beat out Star Labs in a bid to manufacture a new “smart chip.” The message was clear enough: Wayne wins.
Mm-hm. If she wasn’t already decided, that would have done it. Selina picked up the menu, which represented the other enemy’s latest broadside: Alfred had presented her with a menu that was, quite simply, insane. She would have to go to him and fix it, or else, if she stubbornly refused to play mistress of the manor and let it stand as it was, she would wind up with…
“A lunch for twenty-two people.”
“I don’t understand, miss; you wish to make some alteration to the menu?” Alfred asked, all innocence, when she broached the subject.
Selina closed her eyes and summoned up the image of an arrogant bat-lip twitching madly behind a newspaper reading WAYNE WINS. There was a more pressing battle for which kitty had to save her strength.
“Yes, Alfred. I want to change the menu. Because it’s just me, Bruce, and Harvey this afternoon. He’s going to think this is either a bizarre, retroactive tribute to Two-Face or else we’re feeding a football team.”
Alfred gave a pleased nod.
“Very well, Madam, er, Miss Selina, that is. I expect I was somewhat over-enthusiastic. It has been quite a long time since Master Bruce entertained purely for recreational purposes. Such a pleasant change in his demeanor in recent years, don’t you agree? What modifications would you wish to make to the luncheon menu?”
Selina managed a frozen grin in reply. He was rubbing it in, obviously. He had her playing mistress of the manor and he was rubbing it in. But there was nothing for it unless they really did invite the Gotham Generals over to gobble up the leftovers.
“I think we can do without the corn & tomato salad, the turnip greens, the potato salad, the barbecue chicken, the kabobs, the green peppers, and the lemon meringue pie.”
Alfred ran a pencil approvingly through each line as Selina listed the items to be removed. She stared for a full second, envisioning Lex Luthor for some inexplicable reason…
“Very good, miss. That leaves only the steaks—will the ginger-teriyaki rub be acceptable, or do you prefer some other seasoning for aged beef?”
Yep, Lex Luthor. Flushed with victory because she had successfully escaped with the computer disks he wanted “stolen” from his office, and then pushing it because he thought he’d won, smugly refusing to pay her fee because her appearance brought Batman and Superman into the equation and thwarted his larger scheme.
“Why, yes, Alfred,” Selina answered crisply, just as Catwoman had answered the complacently conceited Luthor, “The ginger-teriyaki dry rub sounds absolutely delicious.”
“Very good, then. The steaks with ginger-teriyaki char crust, Vidalia onion slaw, cornbread, and for dessert, watermelon ices… Good heavens, with such an abbreviated menu, I shall have a great deal of time on my hands this morning. Would you like me to arrange a festive centerpiece for the patio table?”
Luthor all over again. Definitely. Strutting because he thought he’d won.
“Sure,” Selina said flatly. “Festive centerpiece, knock yourself out. Just stay away from the tulips; you know how Harvey was with the double entendres back in the day. Wouldn’t want it to seem like we were small and petty, rubbing it in.”
She marched from the morning room up to her own suite. Luthor had his moment of satisfaction, but he soon discovered that Catwoman’s fee had already been transferred into an offshore account. Transferred from his personal account via his own desktop computer, in fact, approximately four minutes before she’d taken those disks from the wall safe.
And Alfred? Well, Alfred would be satisfied for now, and Selina could concentrate on that other war that lay ahead.
Harvey was thunderstruck by the sight before him, so much so that Alfred had to repeat his question a second time:
“Pimm’s cup or lemonade, sir?”
“Oh, ah” Harvey gasped, suddenly aware of his faux pas and grasping wildly at syllables to work out some sort of answer to the question he hadn’t heard. “Pimm’s, by all means,” he managed finally. “Wonderfully refreshing on a hot day.”
“Very good, sir,” Alfred said mildly, pouring the drink.
Harvey continued to stare.
“Selina, you look… stunning,” he said at last.
When Bruce had extended the invitation, he jokingly said Selina would be running around in her bare feet. He wasn’t far off: she was wearing some kind of flat, leather sandal, just a little strip of yellow thong between her toes (She had very pretty feet, Harvey noted—and then felt like a heel for noticing)… Short-shorts (With effort, Harvey prevented himself from noticing the curve of her suntanned legs)… And this t-shirt… It was… it was… two cats! Harvey’s eyes riveted on the image: two cats, one black and one tan, curled up together in a circle so that they almost formed a yin yang.
“Hey, Harv, Earth to Harvey. Meow?” Selina was saying sweetly, squatting down to place her face in the path of his eyes. “You’ve seen ‘the girls’ before, Harvey,” she teased, “and in tighter packaging than this, so what say you reclaim your title as the one man in Gotham that can look me in the eye.”
Days of tense worry exploded inside Harvey Dent’s brain, and he heard a rumble of powerful laughter bursting out from his belly, vibrating through his chest, and bursting out through his lips. Selina. Dear, impossible, impossibly heedless, impossibly shameless Selina. The little sister he never had.
“Thanks, Kitty, I needed that,” he gasped when he regained his breath.
“So I gather,” she said, in that same easy lighthearted way. “Haven’t heard a cackle like that since the Joker/whoopie cushion incident at the ‘Berg that time.”
Harvey smiled, but it was a sad smile.
“We’ve—I’ve been having some dark thoughts lately,” he said seriously. “Darth Duality—or the echoes, at least. Two-Face is gone but… not forgotten. But,” he paused with the practiced air of a brilliant trial attorney about to reveal the most important piece of evidence, “whatever Darth residue may remain, none of his depraved, licentious thoughts of you can withstand a performance like that. ‘The girls!’” He burst out laughing again, “Selina, you’re a pistol.”
“Bang, bang,” she said dryly, blowing on her pointed fingertip for effect. “Come on, I’ll take you outside. Bruce had to take a phone call from Lucius Fox, wheels are coming off some business deal. He’ll join us as soon as he can.”
They walked together to the patio table and sat; not for an instant did Harvey register the sway of Selina’s hips, nor did he blink when she crossed her legs.
Oswald was becoming very, very worried.
It was one thing when three cocktail waitresses and a washroom attendant got all misty eyed and started impulsively hugging him. It was another thing entirely when women from that other side of the Iceberg’s operations began acting the very same way.
He had started the weekly meeting for snitches as he always did, handing out assignments for what the “word on the street” was to be for the next several days.
“Organization is the key-kwak!” he reminded them. “Otherwise, you’re putting Joker in six different parts of town Thursday night.”
That’s when he noticed Lexxi had that same look in her eye, just like Raven and Gina and Brenda, the one that came right before “Oh, Ozzy” and the hug!
“Ahem,” he quacked for attention (although no one had interrupted him). “As I was saying, organization is the key. It takes time to properly disseminate a rumor about something going down on the docks, and of course, not all Rogues are prompt about turning in their work orders.”
There was that look again. Lexxi had it, and so did Liza, and so did Magpie. Looking at him like a stuffed teddy bear, looking ready to “Oh, Ozzy” and the bearhug.
“Kwak! As I was saying, kwak-eh… Yes, with proper management, we can insure that the whole of Team Bat will show up or not to any given crime. Wouldn’t you know it, there are six crimes demanding immediate attention, all at least twenty blocks apart, that kind of thing–kwak! But we can’t have Mr. Freeze showing up at 9:30 saying ‘I need Batman at my warehouse at midnight.’ IS THERE SOMETHING I CAN DO FOR YOU, MISS GIANELLI?!”
“Your nose, Mr. Cobblepot, it’s just so… adorable!”
Worried. Oswald Cobblepot was becoming very, very worried.
After a few minutes quiet contemplation on the patio, Selina finally spoke, quietly serious.
“So Harvey, ‘Darth residue’ aside, how are you?”
“Oh, you know, can’t complain,” he said modestly. “And yourself?”
“Okay, I guess,” she lied. The year had been difficult, with Sue Dibny’s murder right in the middle of Hell Month and then the Zatanna outrage coming to light, but she couldn’t allude to any of that or the toll it had taken on the family. Selina could lie convincingly, but Harvey had been a savvy prosecutor and was still her closest friend. Big brother mode subconsciously engaged.
“O-kay… you guess,” he repeated, raising a skeptical eyebrow.
In response, Selina gave a theatrical smile, and her tone became markedly lighter as she blithely changed the subject.
“MoMA opening last week! Guess you saw in the papers. Blake.” She made a playful scratching motion that made Harvey wince in mock sympathy.
“I saw… at the Harvard Club. With Richard Flay. He’s very keen for everyone to notice his quote: ‘lovely evening before the uncouth ruffian showed up.’ Makes it sound like Blake was using a toothpick at the buffet.”
Selina smiled sweetly. “He almost used a Batarang as a toothpick at one point, but that really wasn’t his idea. And I believe Talia al Ghul’s shoe came into contact with his pearly whites once or twice.”
Harvey’s eyes shifted at this second mention of Talia’s presence at the party, but he said nothing. Instead, he shifted focus back to the least controversial party guest he was aware of.
“Did you have the misfortune of meeting the Flayster himself at this shindig?”
“I did,” Selina nodded, sliding easily into gossip mode. “He asked Eddie out to the Hamptons to ‘see his art.’”
“Riddle me that,” Harvey said finally. “Well, I can see how it could happen. Did you see that picture of ‘The New Riddler’ in the Post the last few months?”
“You mean the new GenX, manscaped, exfoliated Riddler. I know. Harvey, I swear, I think it’s almost worse than the goggles.”
“No,” Harvey assured her, “Selina, nothing is worse than the goggles. That creature in the tabloids looks like Bee-Woman. Although I think the texture of the catsuit itself is getting better.”
“Well, I’ll take your word for it, Harv. I don’t read the Post and I don’t plan to until they get it through their thick skulls that to a girl like me, ‘the East End’ is where you get stuck in traffic driving out to the Hamptons on a Friday afternoon, and that’s it.”
Harvey started to chuckle.
“Oh, I’ve got it. Let’s say Eddie took Richard Flay up on his offer—”
“Eddie doesn’t swing that way,” Selina interrupted.
“Work with me, you’ll like this,” Harvey said excitedly. “The Post already gave him this godawful, metrosexual makeover. Just like what they did with Catwoman, right: Looks nothing like him, acts nothing like him—so he’s heading out to the Hamptons, through East End, gets stuck in traffic, gets out of the cab to stretch his legs…”
Inside the manor, Bruce watched as the animated conversation on the patio burst into a chorus of happy laughter. Then another. Then another.
“Anagrams for ‘My Beloved East End!’” Selina’s voice cheered audibly through the window.
She hadn’t smiled like that, laughed like that, in months. Whatever they were joking about—
“If the East End ended east of the edge where—” “Where a woodchuck would chuck wood? Time out, flag on the play, that’s a tonguetwister, not a riddle.” “You didn’t let me finish.” “Pffffft.”
She seemed so carefree. It was exactly what Bruce had wanted… but now that he saw it, he didn’t quite like it. He remembered that his own playboy years had been nothing more than an act, while Harvey the “Dentmeister” had been very real indeed. They once had a contest to see who could score the most with the other guy’s date. Harvey won, although he didn’t know it. Most of the women counted as Bruce’s victories consisted of taking the young lady down to the car, letting her see the wetbar and other amenities in the back of a Rolls Royce, and then when she was suitably dazzled, suggesting Alfred drive her home while it was still early enough for all her neighbors to see. They always jumped at the chance, freeing the remainder of Bruce’s evening for Batman.
Harvey’s victories in this same contest, Bruce could only assume, were exactly what they appeared to be: Harvey “the Apollo” turning all his charm on some woman Bruce had brought to a party, making her laugh, making her feel special, showing her such a good time that when he suggested a quaint place down the street for a nightcap…
“’Giggles’ Greg Brady?” Selina gasped, “Iceberg Greg Brady?”
“The one and only,” Harvey answered.
“Well, I guess he is handsome in that decorative henchman way,” Selina admitted.
Harvey raised an eyebrow.
“There’s a ‘decorative henchman’ way?”
She bit her lip. It was a look Bruce recognized: “How do I explain this to your limited male/crimefighter/non-cat intellect.”
“Just take my word for it,” she laughed, evidently giving it up as impossible in this case.
“You’re thinking of Felix, aren’t you,” Harvey said shrewdly. “That henchman you had for the Pollington heist, looked like a young Harrison Ford. My god, we hated him!”
“Who hated him, Mr. We-don’t-talk-about-ourselves-in-the-plural-anymore?”
“Not the me-and-Darth ‘we,’” Harvey insisted, “This was the every red-blooded male in the Iceberg ‘we.’ We all hated your Han Solo henchman, Selina.”
Psychobat hated agreeing with rogues about anything, but Bruce remembered that henchman and he had despised him. His lip twitched faintly at the memory of a roundhouse kick that sent the guy sprawling, but the recollection was cut short by another duet of merry laughter erupting from the patio. Bruce indulged in a final bat-grunt before transforming his features into a foppish grin and heading out to greet his guest.
Oswald wasn’t exactly hiding in his office. He had to get out a new issue of The Iceberger, his new in-house newsletter for Iceberg employees… “Become the Terrified Stool Pigeon: The Stanislavsky Method for Surviving a Bat Encounter intact,” he typed.
Something was going on with them, all of them. “Oh, Ozzy”—smother hug.
He was thinking of hosting the next theme-weapons seminar: an umbrella firepower demonstration, perhaps, to remind everyone he was a hardened criminal.
With the upcoming introduction of the “Stool Pigeon” package, we can expect a significant drop in Bat-interrogations of non-stoolies, however with the drop in frequency, the intensity of interrogations will presumably—
It was this younger generation, that was the problem. They knew him only as Oswald Cobblepot, nightclub owner. They knew nothing of the brilliant, ruthless master criminal that was The Penguin. He would have to remind them. It was time to remind them all that “Ozzy” was Oswald THE PENGUIN Cobblepot-kwaaak-wak-wak!
He had a protocol. Selina couldn’t quite believe it, but her heart skipped a beat as she watched the scene playing out on the corner of the patio. Alfred had positioned Bruce near the grill with a spatula in his hand. It was clearly for appearances only, because the “patriarch” was supposed to run the show at a barbecue. But Alfred obviously intended to do the cooking himself and had his own spices and utensils arranged with butlery precision on a little table facing the grill.
First, Bruce asked for more ice in his lemonade, and when Alfred went to bring it, Bruce repositioned the steaks over the flame.
Selina actually felt her lips part when she saw it. He had a protocol for the barbecue. Her skin warmed at the thought, and her heart beat faster. Games were games and she wasn’t about to stop playing them, but nothing in the history of bat/cat rooftops would have ever delivered this moment: Bruce, at home, just as he was, and he was Batman. And she loved him. There he was: Batman’s mind, Batman’s strategy, Batman’s stubborn. Plan all mapped out in advance so he could run things his way at the grill… She loved him so much.
After the ice diversion had played out, he slipped a hand casually into his pocket and turned towards the house. “That’s the telephone, isn’t it, Alfred?”
Alfred looked suspiciously towards the French doors, a muffled ring barely audible behind the glass.
“Perhaps Miss Selina would oblige me by going to check?” he said, reaching for the meat tongs.
Selina never got to see Lex Luthor’s face when he realized Catwoman had taken her fee from his accounts before completing the job. She imagined it looked very much like Alfred’s did now. He’d wanted her to be mistress of the manor, and mistress of the manor she would be.
“I’m sorry, Alfred,” she said sweetly. “Harvey and I haven’t seen each other for months. I really can’t tear myself away right now. Would you be a dear and see to it yourself?”
Alfred nodded with the good grace of a butler who has been outmaneuvered, and Selina’s eyes met Bruce’s for a fleeting moment before he turned back to the grill.
“Harvey?” Selina said, without taking her eyes from the figure vigorously sprinkling seasoning onto the steaks, “If lunch is inedible, it’s entirely my fault.”
Harvey had already noticed her expression watching Bruce, an expression he associated with talk of Cartier’s, art galleries, and Bat-encounters.
“You’ve got it bad, Kitty,” he observed.
“Yes. Yes, I do,” she admitted.
“I’m glad,” he whispered. “He’s much better for you than—Oh look, down there by the garden maze. I thought I saw something moving.”
Selina recognized the maneuver.
There were rules about Catwoman and Batman, rules every rogue knew and which
they violated at their peril. They who hinted, alluded, or teased got
scratched, clawed, or mauled. Quite often, if a speaker was prattling
along and caught himself about to commit a clawable offence, he would stop
mid-sentence, just as Harvey had done, and “notice” something—usually a
shadow that might be a vigilante. See that movement right over
there, that looked like a cape, didn’t it look like a cape?
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Selina said mildly, not even glancing towards the garden maze. “A bird, maybe, or a squirrel. The ground security is first rate. I don’t see anything larger than a chipmunk getting in this far.”
“A security system you approve of? I take it that means you’ve made your famous adjustments to it.”
“A-hem,” Alfred coughed mildly from the doorway. “Might I speak to you inside for a moment, sir?”
Bruce started to object, his eye on the grill. It was almost time to flip the steaks over—but Alfred’s next words hit a nerve. Something deathly serious underneath the casually respectful tone:
“I am sure Miss Selina will oblige us both by turning the steaks, sir. If I could speak to you inside for a moment.”
Bruce turned from the grill and met Alfred’s eyes, a tense pulse of alarm radiating across the terrace between them.
“Okey dokey,” he chirped lightly, subconsciously snapping back into an exaggerated fop.
Selina noticed the overcompensation, but buried her concern in the need to appear casual for Harvey. “Looks like we’re saved, Harv,” she said brightly. “Let’s go rescue our lunch.”
Tense moments passed while Selina chattered with determined vivacity about Richard Flay and his art collection.
“I hit his beachhouse twice: once successfully (got the most beautiful Durer), and once not (bat-trouble). But it was that night I saw he had the Picasso I took from the Winthrop Collection in Boston.”
“Oh dear,” Harvey said faintly.
“Bev never told me who she fenced things to. Anyway, that was that. Can’t go stealing from a customer, however roundabout.”
“Eh, no, Selina, I meant—”
“Selina, do shut up and turn around. I believe you have another few guests to contend with.”
Selina turned… and her mouth dropped open in shock—as did that of the uninvited “guest.”
Ra’s al Ghul stood at the edge of the garden path off the patio, his arms outstretched in a broad, welcoming gesture, his face rapt with pride and satisfaction—until the woman with dark hair turned…
Then he stared, uncomprehending.
His astonished eyes began to flicker wildly from Selina to Harvey and back to Selina. He glanced at the centerpiece… and looked back at Selina.
He looked to the French doors… and looked back at Selina.
He looked at the steaks, the spices, the utensils laid out by the grill, the tongs Selina held in her hand, the very strange image on the shirt she wore, and then he looked her up and down from head to toe.
“You,” he said dully, his face a mask of stunned bewilderment.
“Me,” Selina answered, lips pursing into a crisp expression of patient feline pity.
The French doors burst open, and Bruce and Alfred stepped hurriedly onto the patio. This gave Ra’s two new people to look at, which he did in turn: first at Bruce, then back at Selina… then at Alfred, and back at Selina… and once again at Harvey… at the grilling steaks… and back, yet again, at Selina.
“The Det-, the, that is,” he stammered, his mouth going on to form some syllable or other without any sound behind it. His eyes had stopped darting around the patio and remained now riveted on Selina, the dull bewilderment giving way to the usual intensity of the Demon Head’s powerful glare.
“You?” he repeated.
“Yep. Still me,” she said with a nod. “We did this already. Before we go again, I’m just gonna flip these steaks over.”
“What is going on here?” Bruce asked tersely.
Ra’s looked suspiciously at Harvey and assumed a sour expression, then he looked at Bruce helplessly. Surely the Detective must realize that, in front of this guest, whoever the man was, no answer was possible—nor even a question, of which Ra’s had several. Bruce glared hatefully but said nothing, so Ra’s merely drew himself up proudly.
“I have brought a gift,” he announced flatly. “Ubu, place the Ata al Ghul on the table.”
Ubu bowed and produced a long, flat parcel. He moved the centerpiece aside—bringing even darker glares from Alfred than Ra’s was receiving from Bruce—and laid the parcel on the table.
“Okay, that’s enough of this nonsense,” the unexpected voice of Harvey Dent rang out, a startling aura of authority solidifying around him. “I’m perfectly aware what’s going on here.”
“Um, Harvey,” Bruce began while Selina said “Harv, really,” and Alfred murmured “Mr. Dent, I really don’t think…” Ubu said nothing but calmly assumed a defensive stance and analyzed the terrace for an optimal battle position.
Harvey then performed the most
unnerving double maneuver, the two sides of his body seemingly operating
independent of each other. His right ushered Selina behind him as if
to say “Stand back, little lady,” while the left waved off Bruce with
a clear air of “Don’t bother with this, Buddy. It’s beneath you. Let me
“See here, Ghul,” he pointed like an indignant prosecutor, “you sent that messenger to summon Two-Face to some job interview last year, and that was obnoxious enough. One o’clock indeed, don’t think we haven’t—I haven’t—forgotten that little insult. But now you want to hire Catwoman for something! Well, you don’t just barge into a place like this with Boo Boo over there. Bruce Wayne is a fine, upstanding citizen. I would introduce you, but people like him don’t care to know your kind. You do not go inviting yourself to his home—we’ve got steaks grilling here, for god’s sake.”
“I, I,” Ra’s sputtered, “I wish to hire the Feline?!”
The words were uttered in pure astonishment at the outrageous idea, but suddenly Ra’s jolted with a flash of recognition. The lawyer Two-Face! One of those preposterous rogues that infested the Detective’s city! Wasn’t there some intelligence report or other saying the man had been healed? Ra’s mouth curled into a superior smile of sudden understanding, this was no random gentleman on Bruce Wayne’s terrace, it was the criminal Two-Face.
Harvey Dent knew that look, knew that smile. From waiters, from store managers, from postmen, at the Harvard Club, at the liquor store, at the dry cleaners. Ten times a week, he saw that look and that smile: Oh, you’re Two-Face! It was irritating, it was nauseating, but from sales clerks and socialites, it was at least understandable. He’d learned to live with it. But from this, this low-rent Lugosi-wannabe prick? Hell, no.
Ra’s al Ghul started to speak. He’d gotten as far as “Ah, I begin to comprehend the nature of the situation, but—” when Harvey exploded:
“NO! No buts, no ands, no maybes! You’re leaving and you’re leaving now! You’re completely out of line here, Ghul. You’re interrupting an otherwise perfect afternoon, and all because you’re too arrogant, too misguided, and too stupid to realize what a horse’s ass you really are. So take your trinkets, take your little man-bitch and your $2-a-bottle dye job, and get the hell out of here!”
Shocked at hearing his master so addressed, Ubu grabbed the hilt of his sword. Harvey spun on him.
“What, Boo Boo? You gonna whip out that little piece of tin and go to work?” Harvey sneered in disgust. “For once, use that engorged head of yours for something more than bowing to Fu Manchu over there. A house like this, there’s cameras everywhere—and cameras mean videotape evidence. One swing and I’ll have your ass brought up on assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder. All of Heady’s power and money won’t protect you from the guys in Cellblock C who think that little loincloth ensemble looks real purdy.”
At the conclusion of this astonishing tirade, Ubu and Harvey stared each other down for a full second.
It was Ubu who broke first, glancing to his master for instructions.
Ra’s, of course, had noticed what Harvey Dent did not: the Detective had moved into a position where Ubu would not get his sword from its scabbard before being overpowered. Reluctantly, he nodded, and Ubu grimly slackened from his battle-stance.
Buoyed by his victory over the minion, Harvey wheeled again on the master.
“Now then,” Harvey said, calming considerably, although his face was still flushed from the burst of anger. “You want to hire Catwoman for something. Why wouldn’t you, she’s the best. You have some little trinket you want purloined in the course of doing whatever overrated hairdos do when you’re not pretending to be Batman’s greatest foe.”
Ra’s eyes darted feebly towards the Detective’s, but the man had moved from where he had been standing, and Ra’s found his eyes meeting the manservant’s instead—which were fully as pitiless as the Detective’s might have been.
“You do what any civilized rogue would do,” Harvey continued. “Get down to the Iceberg and send a message through proper channels. Then maybe, if she feels like it, Catwoman will be good enough to take your call. But I wouldn’t count on it, Lurch, because this was just rude. Very idea, showing up at a place like Wayne Manor—you owe Bruce an apology, you over-hyped goatherd.”
Before Harvey Dent could proceed with this monstrous suggestion, Ra’s al Ghul drew himself up with the cold hauteur of one who has ruled for a dozen lifetimes.
“The privilege you have all enjoyed, basking in the Demon Head’s Illustrious Presence, is now at an end,” he declared imperiously.
Ubu reached to retrieve the package, but Harvey bellowed “LEAVE THAT!” with such ferocity that Ra’s felt it best to sacrifice the package, temporarily, rather than prolong this interminable misadventure.
“Keep to the path on your way out,” Harvey called out haughtily. “Don’t let Boo Boo go trampling the flower beds.”
An edgy silence enveloped the patio as Bruce, Selina, Harvey and Alfred watched Ra’s and Ubu walk down the garden path and disappear finally over the horizon.
The moment held.
Until Selina blithely sniffed the air and glanced at the grill.
“The steaks are burning…” she said.
To be continued...