Chapter 6: The Size Up
Oswald preferred to distance himself from the day-to-day minutia of his more illegal operations. He ruled as a true emperor penguin, perched high on the very top of his Iceberg and leaving the piddling (and indictable) details to lesser men. He made one exception: sports gambling. He enjoyed an elegant revenge in profiting from sports, particularly football. The athletic obsessions of those obnoxiously manly men who got all the girls when they were young high school heroes themselves. Now they could do no more than watch (and place fat bets to assuage the doubts about their waning manhood). So they got a cheap thrill and some petty validation –kwak– Oswald got the cash.
Last night, he was immersed in odds and point spreads for so many Lions, Red Lions, Fighting Lions, Flaming Lions, Cougars, Tigers, Jaguars, Bobcats, Meercats, and Wildcats that he completely mistook Raven’s message. She’d come in just after closing when he was occupied with the east side bookmakers. He heard her say something about a cat-something at ten. He assumed it was a 10 G bet or maybe a revised point spread on the Wildcats. He quacked that he would get to it in a minute; Raven left the postit on his desk and went home. Then at ten o’clock in the morning, he awoke to an insistent doorbell. By the time he made it into his smoking jacket, his visitor switched to a sharp, persistent knocking. He growled and grumbled as he waddled to the door, missing the days when Dove and Sparrow were around for this sort of thing. Answering his own door first thing in the morning like some kind of peasant. He swung the door open in a fit of irritation—and there was Selina, thanking him for agreeing to see her so early???
Oswald was too proud to admit a mistake, or to receive a female visitor with anything less than his usual stream of exaggerated refinement. “Felicitations, my favorite feline,” he began. “Too long has my humble nest been missing your esteemed patronage.”
“Meow,” Selina offered, accepting and dismissing the compliment in one succinct word. With Oswald, there was no way to skip the overblown preliminaries, but she’d learned to hurry them along this way. He showed her in. Selina had never seen his living quarters above the Iceberg and she paused now, trying to take it all in. The décor was as overdone as his greeting; Oswald’s living room made the opulent nightclub below look like a shanty.
“So tell me, my dear Catwoman,” he cooed, holding her chair as she sat. “How might I be of service to the world’s preeminent procurer of prized property? Are you perhaps reconsidering my offer, looking for a better fence? For a client of your stature, I would be prepared to offer terms such as you will not find in a hundred—”
“Not today,” she purred, softening her usual refusal. “Of course, if today’s dealings go well, I might consider it.”
“I’m sure we can come to an understanding,” Oswald preened.
“Let’s start with information,” she stated, getting to the point now that Ozzy was softened up. “You are the man to know in Gotham, after all. If any ‘new faces’ have come on the scene lately, I’m sure you’d be the first to know.”
Oswald’s eyes gleamed with satisfaction. He never dreamed word would get around so quickly. Only last night Hagen made his first public appearance as Clayface, and now, so anxious was Selina to get in on the ground floor, that she had pulled him out of bed rather than waiting until nightfall. He couldn’t restrain his joy any longer and rubbed his hands together in an ecstasy of precipitate greed.
“Not a new face at all, my felicitous feline, but an old one has indeed returned. One who will not be at all averse to hearing any enterprising proposals you wish to make. Now about my fee…”
Oswald said he expected thirty-five percent of the take, twenty from Matt Hagen’s cut, fifteen from Catwoman’s.
“Pfft,” she replied, which was exactly the counteroffer Oswald expected. 12.5 percent he suggested. “Pfft,” she repeated. 12… 11.5… 10 and that was the absolute minimum he was prepared to accept.
“I’ll knock ten grand off the sixty you owe me from the Hapsburg dagger,” she said crisply.
Oswald gaped and sputtered, but Selina calmly reminded him of the exquisite jeweled artifact his “bungling birds” had allowed Batman to recover. His hands quivered with emotion. As much as he wanted to argue, he knew he would never get her back as a client if he did. Which was worth more, an eagle’s share of the Hagen job now or a plumper percentage of all Catwoman’s dealings once he was reinstated as her fence? His mouth watered at the thought of that… and he would still have fifteen percent on Hagen’s side.
“Sixty?” he said at last, pride demanding one more round of bargaining before he agreed, “I thought it was fifty you were still owed for that regrettable reversal with the dagger.”
Selina smiled wide, Cheshire style. “Let’s call it fifty-five, less ten for this, you’ll still owe me forty-five.”
Oswald sniffed as if evaluating the air at the tip of his nose.
“Naturally,” Selina went on smoothly, “while I do expect to be paid some time between now and the afterlife, I am quite content, for now, to let you go on deducting my Iceberg tab from the total each month.”
“Done-kwak,” Oswald pronounced definitely.
“Meow,” Selina answered, equally satisfied.
She supplied the location of a catlair, specified a time, and… and before she could leave, Oswald took off on another flight of rhetorical fancy: what a delight it was –kwak– doing business with another true aristocrat of the rogue world. There wasn’t enough of that anymore. All these new people that put on such airs when they were what? Nothing but glorified highwaymen. Adequate, that’s what they were, –kwakwak– passably adequate, and for that they expected kudos. What had any of them done but mimic their betters? -kwakwakwak- And even that they didn’t do very well. The original rogues were rogues! kwakwakwakwakwak The true crème de la crème and for that…
Selina interrupted, saying how she really needed to get going, run a few errands before meeting Hagen at the lair.
Oswald showed her to the door, working in one more reference to criminal bluebloods and his profoundest hope that her upcoming collaboration with Clayface would usher in a Renaissance of classical old school roguery.
Alfred Pennyworth was not a superstitious man. There was a time, certainly, when most domestic servants were prone to the most outlandish beliefs. That, Alfred reflected, was simply because they were uneducated. Young, simple girls away from home for the first time, come to a big house to work as kitchen maids or scullery maids, sleeping together in creaking attics, indulging childish imaginations and working each other into a frenzy, it was no small wonder.
But those days were long past. Alfred was an educated man in the employ of an accomplished scientist. Apart from one or two theatrical observances, such as never whistling backstage or quoting the Scottish play, he had no foolish notions of ghosts, curses or jinxes. He was certainly not ready to give up on the day before 9 o’clock simply because he was wet in the shower before he realized he was out of shampoo, or because he absent-mindedly put tea into the coffeemaker in preparing the upstairs breakfast. These were the little mistakes everyone made from time to time, and it in no way constituted “one of those days.”
By eleven-thirty, he was finding it harder to maintain that high, rational position. His trip to Harriman’s Gourmet Pantry had elicited the most frightful news about the Finns’ dinner party. Evidently his nemesis, the chef Anatole, had indeed committed “chocolate-covered onions” for the savory course, and not only that! He apparently got this Joker-worthy idea for a food pairing from a shop in Marseilles which made chocolates with such peculiar ingredients as fennel, lavender, or—yes, regrettable as it was—onions. So now, Mr. Harriman lamented, the hostesses of Bristol were all pestering him to stock these delicacies from Chocolatière du Panier. He had spent the better part of the morning on the telephone, wrestling with a French phrasebook.
The “errands” Selina invented were nothing more than a polite excuse to leave Oswald’s in a hurry. She went straight to the catlair, although it was true that she had one or two adjustments to make once she got there. This particular lair, disguised as a Cats Cosmetics warehouse, was set up as little more than a themed love nest for when the Bat/Cat games became nostalgic. So the first order of business was to doublecheck that no extra gauntlets or batarangs were left laying around. Satisfied, Selina removed the jacket and tshirt she used to make the catsuit appear inconspicuous on the street. She pulled on her clawed gloves and fastened the whip to her belt, although these weapons would be useless against someone like Clayface. She filled two atomizers and a small water pistol with superconductive fluid, just in case.
After that, she waited. She didn’t have to wait long.
The perimeter defenses tripped exactly ten minutes before the hour. At least he was prompt. She checked the camera that monitored the front entrance, even though it was a pointless exercise where Clayface was concerned. Still, she checked the camera with a cat’s curiosity. She saw that he’d obviously assumed a normal-looking shape to walk on the street. Now that he’d reached her door, he was morphing into the well-known “mud-heap” appearance. Selina put on her mask, although she realized with a bitter cringe that this too was a pointless exercise. If Clayface had infiltrated the manor, then he knew everything: Bruce’s identity, the location of the cave, the level of her own involvement with Batman, everything.
She swallowed, went to the door, and ushered in her guest.
Still reeling from the horror of chocolate and onions, Alfred saw Edith Mason waving at him eagerly from the doorway of Perdita’s Florals as he stepped out of Harriman’s. He pivoted swiftly on his heel, as if he’d forgotten something, and retreated into the store. He bought a bottle of Mediterranean sea salt as camouflage while he thought through his options. Ms. Mason was certainly waiting for him outside to learn how “the family” liked the new flower arrangement for the dining room. He could hardly tell her that they hadn’t seen it. Yet, as far as he knew, Master Bruce had not set foot in the dining room since its arrival, and he doubted Miss Selina had even noticed the pretty little spray of white carnations and fern. He simply could not say this to Edith Mason. It violated every precept of breeding, manners and common sense. So he would have to lie, telling her what he thought of the charming centerpiece as if it was Miss Selina’s view. In the ordinary course of running the manor, that was nothing. But ordering this fifth arrangement was already something he’d done on his own, and he simply didn’t wish to go further without some nod from the master or mistress of the house. What if next week Master Bruce did notice and wanted the flowers removed? What if Miss Selina preferred dahlias to carnations? How was he to come back to Edith Mason and explain such a change after he’d lied and told her just the opposite? He couldn’t. So he took his extra purchase (one could never have enough quality sea salt in the kitchen) and left Harriman’s in a fit of abstraction, so lost in thought that he didn’t even notice Edith Mason waving at him, nor did he hear her when she called his name. Twice.
He felt like an absolute heel, for despite his oblivious appearance, he saw her quite clearly and noted her acute disappointment. He vowed to somehow make it up to her. He also vowed that he would have some definite word from Master Bruce or Miss Selina about that centerpiece before he set foot out of Wayne Manor again.
“Do you prefer Matt, Matthew, or Clayface?” Catwoman began, projecting a smooth confidence she didn’t feel.
“Pretty gal like you can call me whatever you like,” Matt said smoothly. He might not be interested in whatever Catwoman was going to pitch, but the lady was easy on the eyes. He’d have no problem sitting and listening, as long as he could look at her. And the listening—man, that voice—she actually had a purr in her voice. Yes, he could easily sit here for the equivalent of five or six sour apple martinis, faking an interest in whatever she wanted to— Oh, she was asking a question.
“Been back in Gotham for a few weeks now,” he answered casually. “I’ve been keeping a low profile.”
There was an interesting look in her eye. He couldn’t quite place it at first.
“How low?” she asked.
“’No one but me knew I was in town’ low,” Matt answered—and there it was again, a vaguely familiar… almost like a studio suit.
“No one?” Catwoman asked coyly. “Not even Batman?
My god, that was it! The size up. She was sizing him up like a studio suit.
Auditions were for the hoi polloi. Once you got to be “box office gold,” nobody cared if you could act, but they still liked to check you out. Before they put a summer blockbuster in your hands, they wanted to make sure you wouldn’t put it up your nose. So the suits called you in and talked about your last picture, they asked how you got on with Cameron, they asked about Cannes and the Golden Globes… And all the while they looked at you just like Catwoman was looking at him now, trying to figure out what you were into and how much it could cost them if it went bad… Matt couldn’t have said what he expected from a summons to the cat lair, but it wasn’t being checked out by a studio suit.
“Ooh-wait, ooh-wait, ooh-wait,” Harley enthused, bouncing her fists excitedly on her knees. “I’m telling it wrong, I forgot the choking Robin part.”
Leland Bartholomew realized he was potentially standing at the threshold of a new life. Professional accomplishment—indeed, fame and recognition well beyond the world of clinical psychiatry—could be a few weeks, a few sessions, possibly even a few paragraphs away.
Harley Quinn had reconciled with Joker. Disastrous for her recovery, utterly disastrous. But after months of separation, they were evidently back together and “catching up”—or at least Joker was telling Harley a great deal about his life and activities since they parted. She, in turn, spent her sessions talking of nothing else. Nothing, it seemed, was as exciting to her as “what Mistah J said…”
It was a heartbreaking setback so far as reaching Harleen Quinzel and freeing her from her sad obsession with a homicidal madman. But the insights into Patient J that were emerging… Bartholomew heard about most of these episodes, in detail, from Patient J at the time they happened. He had compared J’s account to the official reports, and drew what conclusions he could about Patient J’s perception of events as contrasted with, well, reality. But now he had the unprecedented opportunity to glimpse how Patient J’s comprehension changed over time, he was hearing—in vivid detail via Harley—how Patient J remembered these same events months later. The variations were astounding, and offered to revolutionize his understanding of this, the most puzzling criminal psychosis on record.
Understanding Joker, it was the holy grail of clinical psychiatry.
Yet strangely, Bartholomew felt remarkably indifferent about it. In his younger days, when he first joined the Arkham staff, the possibility of making this kind of breakthrough would have him skipping around the office (“figuratively,” his dignity added), delirious with joy.
Where had it gone? Only a few short years ago… last year, in fact… last year, at this time, he still had aspirations, still had that capacity to hope and dream. Where had it gone?
“And that’s when Puddin’ climbed up to the top-o-the-scrapheap that had once been the Batcopter, and planted a smiling flag in the rubble like…ooh, I forgot who it was like. Does Neil Young and Buzz Lightyear sound right?”
“I imagine you’re thinking of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin,” Bartholomew said dully. “Moon landing, 1969.”
“Oh right,” Harley giggled.
Bartholomew decided that answered his question. It was one too many of those: planting the flag like Neil Young and Buzz Lightyear… Just one too many.
Matt Hagen didn’t know Catwoman well in the old days. They didn’t move in the same circles. A smiling nod at the Iceberg, “Merry Christmas” at the Christmas party, that was about it. He knew she was A-list, and that might have been why he’d kept his distance. It wasn’t that she was beautiful; they were all beauties. Even Ivy was nice to look at if only she’d shut her yap now and then. But Selina Kyle was the woman in that very top of the very top tier. “Gotham rogues? Why there’s Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, Penguin…” She was a star in this world just as he had been in his. As the biggest star at a star-studded party, he’d walk up to a woman like that, lion to lion. A smooth line, a knowing wink, a couple drinks… The memory was too vivid back then. So he’d never approached Catwoman, and never really thought about her until Oswald called to set up a meeting. He couldn’t have said what he was expecting. Maybe a she-Oswald, greedy and obvious but nicer to look at, or maybe a purple Ivy, vain and shrewish, with fur instead of leaves. But whatever he was expecting, it wasn’t a size up from a studio suit.
She kept asking about Batman, directly and indirectly. What, if anything, Batman knew about his return to Gotham? Finally, Matt stood and morphed into a pantalooned caricature of an effete old world actor, swelled his hand into a human skull, and addressed it with affected gravitas.
“What a piece of work is Bat! How annoying in reason! How infuriating in faculties! In cowl and cape, how dark and dramatic! In action, how like an agent! In apprehension, how like a pain in the ass! I don’t know about Batman, Catwoman. Who ever knows for sure with him? But I can tell you that he hasn’t paid me a ‘visit’ warning me to keep my mud to myself, as he’s been known to. So if you’re done interviewing me like some, some E! red carpet twinkie pretending to be a hardcore investigative journalist, could we possibly get on with whatever it is you want?”
She seemed downright pleased with his outburst. Here he was bracing for an Ivy-style blowup because he dared speak slightingly to the great she-rogue, and instead, Catwoman seemed almost… relieved.
“Well, if you can stay ahead of the Bat, that’s usually the ballgame,” she purred—and God, he did like that purr. It rippled the mud.
He sat, morphing back into clay, producing a clay chair under his clay rump. Catwoman might be a lovely creature to look at, but keeping up with the ups and downs of this conversation was exhausting.
“And will you be ‘keeping your mud to yourself?’” she asked pointedly. “Or do you have something… lucrative… going?”
Matt sighed. He explained, yet again, to yet another opinionated first tier rogue who wouldn’t listen, that he had little use for money, that whatever Catwoman brought him there to pitch, whatever “lucrative” inducements she planned to offer, there was little point.
She looked thoughtful at that. Not instantly argumentative like Oswald, but she clearly didn’t get it.
“I would have thought maybe, I don’t know, some kind of research to, well…”
““Cure my condition?” he said bluntly, and Catwoman nodded.
“I tried at first,” he said. “I had money, even before the big Brinks job. Hell, the Space Tempest action figures alone… But this isn’t like diabetes or Parkinson’s; it’s not like there’s a department of shapeshifting clay-flesh studies at Harvard Medical School. I didn’t know where to begin. My skin does this—”
He held up a hand and morphed it swiftly from clay to a hand to a wing to a fin.
“Who do I see about that? Who do I hire? Where do I find them, how much do they get paid, and what kind of lab do they need?”
He sighed, reliving a bad memory. Something about his expression right then reminded Selina of Bruce.
“I went to Luthor,” he said at last, eyes going dull and his clay slumping with the weight of past mistakes. “Boy, what an Ishtar-meets-Waterworld screwup that was. I figured here’s a guy who’s legit, who can approach the right people, make the right offers. I couldn’t; I’m a wanted criminal. Once they knew I was Clayface—and let’s face it, I kinda had to tell ‘em if I wanted them to cure me—even if I knew who to go to, I could never get legit scientists to work for me. Luthor said he’d help. Yeah, sure. He pulled a few ‘scientists’ from one of his research labs. What exactly their specialties were I never found out. They’d take sections out of me and boil it, electrocute it, freeze it, and point a blow dryer at it for hours at a time. And all the while, I’d let Luthor tell me what to do like I was some paid flunky. No, never again.”
“Not all rich men are like Luthor,” Selina pointed out, thinking of that Special Foundation Initiative §4, Humanitarian link in Matt Hagen’s file in the Batcave.
“Everybody wants something,” he said, shaking his head. “I learned that at my first Hollywood party. Everybody’s always wanted a piece of me, Catwoman. I accepted that a long time ago. It’s just a question of what. I’m sitting here waiting for you to tell me what it is you’re after?”
“Bullshit. You asked me here to pitch me something. Now you hear that money won’t tempt me to go along with your plan and impersonate some museum guard for you or whatever, but that don’t change the fact that—”
“Oswald gave you the wrong idea,” she said bluntly. “I don’t have any offer to make, Matt. I don’t want to team up, I don’t want you to impersonate a guard. Why on earth would I want—never mind. Look, I wanted to see you face to face because I thought you might be involved in something that I’m looking into. But now that I’ve talked to you, it’s obvious that you’re not, and so I’m… I’m really sorry to have taken up your time. That’s it. That’s all I have to say.”
“Well that’s new,” he observed. “Nice delivery too. Convincing.”
Selina laughed—and as much as Matt liked her look and her voice, he really liked her laugh.
““You think I’m lying,” she noted.
“I think you’re acting, and you’re not bad for an amateur. Ozzy just kept trying to convince me I could use the money after all. He suggested revenge. It wasn’t a very nuanced performance.”
Selina looked at him carefully.
“You’re an interesting man, Matt Hagen. I’m sorry we never got to know each other before,” she said sincerely.
“Yeah, well,” he mumbled, strangely embarrassed. It had been quite a long time since anyone called him a man.
“To appease a cat’s curiosity, you don’t want money and you don’t want revenge, so what do you want?”
“What’s my motivation?” he smirked.
Selina smiled at the thespian cliché. Matt morphed into Lance Starfire, but immediately realized that was wrong and opted for the crusading attorney Grant Gifford instead.
“I’d like my life back,” he said, Grant’s warm summation tones dripping with sincerity. “I’d like my house in Malibu, my six Porsches, and every goddamn role Tom Cruise destroyed in the last ten years that should have been mine—not to mention a piece of that Kidman chick with the legs and that sexy accent. But none of that can happen now, so I’ll settle for revenge on the person who took it all away and made it impossible for me to ever have it again. But it’s not the kind of revenge Ozzy was selling, Catwoman. I don’t need money or power to destroy Rebecca. I just need to find her…”
At first, Selina sympathized. Revenge on the person who took it all away, it resonated. Once already Matt Hagen had reminded her of Bruce, but as he went on outlining the particulars of his revenge, it became harder to empathize.
“Then I can wrap around her, ever so slowly,” he was saying, “in a sticky, cloying cocoon, oozing right into her pores until she can’t breathe, y’know, like they almost killed Buddy Ebsen painting his skin silver for the Wizard of Oz, or the way that chick died in Goldfinger. I won’t suffocate her, though, I just want her struggling to breathe. Then we’ll have a nice long talk about old times.”
The word servant no longer denoted an ignorant scullery maid on her hands and knees, scrubbing down floors from dusk ‘til dawn. No one had to rise at 4 a.m. to stoke an oven anymore or heat water bucket by bucket for the master’s bath. The chopping and dicing that would have once required a chef like Alfred Pennyworth to suffer a kitchen maid, he accomplished himself with a priceless button on the food processor labeled “Pulse.”
The kind of staff butlers like Alfred managed, even in the late Dr. Wayne’s day, were accomplished professionals, not appliances with legs. The labor regulations, health insurance, and pension arrangements alone for assembling and maintaining such a staff, the managerial skills, the purchasing and inventory responsibilities involved in running an operation like Wayne Manor were on par with being General Manager of a large hotel—and were paid accordingly. Alfred was quite aware that his annual salary, in the low six figures with a generous employer contribution to a 401k, was roughly three times that of people whose fanciful egalitarian principles bristled at the thought of servants, and often couldn’t even use the word.
As such, Alfred could easily afford the expense of a night on the town for himself and Edith Mason. A revival of some musical of their era and a late supper at a suitable restaurant. He could easily afford the gesture, the only question was the ethics of making it. He had no romantic designs on Miss Mason, and would not wish to foster such notions. Still, the more he thought about scaling back the plans, the evening began to look more suggestive rather than less. A meal at a modest local restaurant rather than going into Gotham proper might be less expensive, but it was undeniably more intimate, the object clearly being the pleasure of Miss Mason’s company and nothing else.
It was a predicament. Alfred very much wanted to make some definite gesture, for he had been unconscionably rude to Edith Mason and her distress was most apparent. He wanted to make a gesture, just that. That was his dilemma. He didn’t want to “start” anything. His schedule wouldn’t allow it for one thing. Wayne Manor’s timetable was not that of a typical country house, Master Bruce’s schedule was not that of an ordinary—
It was there he stopped, for his eye fell on the cards where he wrote out each day’s menu for Miss Selina to approve. Alfred realized with an eerie pang that he was rationalizing just as Master Bruce had done for years, imagining he couldn’t even entertain the possibility of a love life because of Batman’s activities. This infuriated Alfred when Master Bruce had done it, and it irked him no less now that the excuse was proved so patently false.
Now, here he was doing precisely the same thing.
This was unacceptable. Edith Mason was a charming and delightful woman of his own age and background. He had every reason to seek out her company, and the means to show her a good time as he did so. If something came of it which might or might not inconvenience Master Bruce and his “schedule,” he would deal with that when the time came. For now, he would peruse the theatre listings and restaurant reviews…
The meeting with Clayface went long enough that Selina got caught in traffic heading back to Bristol. At least it gave her time to think. She’d been so sure Clayface was behind this when she saw that file in the Batcomputer, but now that she’d talked to him, it just didn’t seem possible. It was obvious he knew nothing about Bruce or the manor. He didn’t care much about Batman. He didn’t lust for money, power, or world conquest, so it wasn’t very likely that he’d be scheming along those lines. Other than some fairly gruesome fantasies about torturing that Rebecca woman, he seemed like a fairly ordinary and borderline-nice guy.
That had been her thought as Matt concluded his plot summary for Rebecca and the Tarpits of Doom, starring Matt Hagen as the Tarpit and Rebecca the Bitchqueen as herself.
“Too much?” he’d winced, noting her disapproving body language.
“Not really,” she’d shrugged. Bruce would consider it moral relativism, but Selina had befriended rogues before—Two-Face, Riddler—you had to make allowances, take the good with the bad. She found it easier to do with a good rogue than a bad hero, that’s for sure. Her body hadn’t been turned into glop. Who was she to judge?
So she’d ushered Clayface to the door, and as they said goodbye, he asked one last time “what she really wanted” from their meeting. She repeated what she’d said before, there was nothing he could to for her—unless, she added as a half-joking afterthought, he knew anything about Harley Quinn kryptonite.
He sort of froze; his clay almost seemed to thicken for an instant. Selina didn’t know him well enough to guess what it meant, and she was mentally counting steps back to the water pistol… when she realized his reaction was shock, not threatening.
“Harley Quinn’s kryptonite is Joker,” he said bitterly.
“True enough,” Selina said softly. That interpretation hadn’t occurred to her, but at the moment she was more interested in Matt’s tone and behavior than reworking Walapang theories. There would be time for that later, stuck in traffic on the 10th Avenue bridge. “I’m afraid I struck a nerve,” she noted kindly.
“Look, I dunno how discreet Sly is,” Matt answered. “Iceberg gossip being what it is, you’ll probably hear the story soon enough anyway. Harley and I had a thing, couple months now, since I’ve been back.”
“You’re the Monarch of Menace,” Selina murmured, remembering Bruce’s comments on Harley and a new player.
Matt shook his head and laughed.
“The Iceberg rumor mill,” he noted. “Yeah, I’m the Monarch—was. Just did it for her, really. We get separated for five minutes, basically, and she goes running back to Joker, can you believe it?”
“Yes,” Selina said as if he’d asked whether she believed in gravity.
“Yeah, I guess,” Matt said sadly.
The traffic opened up once Selina made it off the bridge, and she revved the Jag mercilessly as soon as she made the turnoff towards Bristol.
So Harley and Clayface “had a thing” —and Harley and Clayface were both Walapang clues. She didn’t know how that fit in to whatever was going on with Bruce, but it was a start. Harley and Clayface had a thing, one of those links Bruce talked about that day in the cave, the key to most detective work is finding some overlooked link between the person—whoever it was—and the deed—whatever that was.
And soon it would be late enough that she could go for the third gold bar.
None of Alfred’s management skills were wasted now that he was the sole member of the Wayne Manor staff. He found purchasing for the Batcave particularly invigorating, for as Mr. Arden, Mr. Pipwick, or Mr. Stevens of the various dummy corporations, he was able to indulge, in a minor way, his actor’s weakness for accents. Getting shipments delivered, either to the private airstrip if they were parts for the Batmobile or Batwing, to WayneTech R&D if computer equipment, or to the Park Row Clinic if medical supplies, was as simple as pressing the right button to print out the right purchase order. Getting the items picked up from those official locations and brought to the Batcave, that was another matter. That’s where the savviest personnel management was called for.
He first called Master Tim, as always. The boy was notoriously dissatisfied with the institutional food served at his boarding school and the faddishly healthful alternatives offered by his stepmother when he went home. As such, the promise of a tasty snack was usually enough to produce the final leg of any delivery. On those rare occasions when additional inducements were required, a veiled reference to unauthorized use of the game room with Master Dick (or more recently with Miss Cassie) nearly always produced the desired result. On this occasion, unfortunately, Master Tim “had exams” and Alfred was forced to try elsewhere.
Master Dick, having grown up in the house and “in the Batman-trade,” as it were, needed no bribes or blackmail; if he could help, he would. Unfortunately, he was tied up in Bludhaven for another two weeks. Naturally, as soon as he got back, he’d be happy to…
Reluctantly, Alfred called the third name on his list, Jean Paul Valley. Mr. Valley very kindly agreed, as Alfred knew he would. Despite the unfortunate history, Alfred had no doubts that Valley was a good man at heart. He still regretted having to make the call, that unfortunate history being what it was. Quite apart from Miss Selina’s aversion to the man who had taken over the Bat-mantle, Mr. Valley himself would be made most uncomfortable performing a task of this kind. And making anyone uncomfortable was anathema to Alfred. Whatever the reason, whatever the need, he hated doing it. It was a servant’s responsibility to put guests at ease, and here he was doing the precise opposite… but it couldn’t be helped. Master Tim had exams. Master Dick was away. And Bat-supplies could not be left unattended. Alfred could only hope the timing was such that Mr. Valley could make the required delivery without encountering Miss Selina.
“I have four gold bars hidden around the house, grounds, and cave,” that’s what Bruce had said. Catwoman was certain that meant one bar, at least, would be hidden in the house—check, 00570, Harley Quinn Kryptonite. One in the cave—check, 14129, Hagen, Matthew a.k.a. Clayface, Incapacitation/Immobilization/Neutralization… And one on the grounds.
While the ground security was among the best in the world for deterring, detecting, and, if necessary, repelling intruders entering Wayne property and moving towards the house (as well as deterring, detecting, and, if necessary, repelling Kryptonian busybodies flying through Wayne Manor’s airspace), there was little in the way of “securing” property in a particular location the way you had alarms on a painting or combinations on a safe.
There were only two spots Catwoman knew on the vast estate that were secured the way you locked down a place to store valuables: the garage and the greenhouse. The reason for the garage was obvious: a Daimler, a Rolls, a Bentley, two Porsches, a Ferrari, and a Lamborghini. The greenhouse would be a mystery to anyone that hadn’t seen the blueprints—all the blueprints, and knew what they meant. The greenhouse was built late, over what had once been the kitchen garden. It was still the kitchen garden. There were no exotic orchids or rare tropical hybrids that needed protection from the normal Gotham climate. There was nothing valuable about Alfred’s little plots of fresh mint, sage and tarragon. There was nothing valuable at all. There was just a patch of soft earth that collapsed once. If you fell through it the wrong way, you would find yourself in the Batcave.
So the greenhouse was constructed simply so it could be built over the spot and locked. It was locked well, but there was certainly nothing Catwoman couldn’t circumvent. A simple wire splice and a timed pulse from another Kittlemeier’s exclusive fooled the door’s magnet sensor into thinking its circuit hadn’t been broken. She picked the lock, opened the door, and that was that. The bar was under a layer of topsoil in a freshly planted flatbed. The serial number was 00339. And Project Walapang’s answer to that was…
An article on blood stains. Selina noticed the original files that had been doctored were all dry and fairly basic criminology subjects. She guessed this was so no one would disturb them. What were the chances that Barbara, Tim, or even Cassie would go looking for info on Kastle-Meyer tests? And Bruce himself probably mastered this stuff by age 12.
She scrolled down, and right there, between a graph on DNA typing and an illustration on proper swabbing technique, was a list of names:
To be continued...