Chapter 9: Why Do We Fall?
Witness Protection. For Anthony and Susannah, it was the offspring of the childhood Boogie Man and the alien parasite in a monster movie. They were raised with it as the fate that befell bad little boys and girls who ratted out their families, and they saw the horror played out on the big screen happening to people so different from them, they could indulge in the horror vicariously. Since they would never turn rat any more than they would be the crew on a mining craft in outer space, they could watch Henry Hill wind up a Midwest nobody in the same way other people watched the alien burst from John Hurt’s chest.
What was worse, the ultimate Witness Protection horror scene at the end of Goodfellas portrayed permanent, government-orchestrated relocation. Henry Hill’s fate living out his days in some suburban, tract house hell where egg noodles and ketchup passed for pasta with marinara was looking pretty good. It was the happy ending to aspire to when Batman was ready to turn them over to the Feds. Right now, he wanted to keep them close to Gotham, reserved for his own use in the war between the mobs and the theme rogues. Anthony didn’t mind the physical labor. Working outdoors was pleasant, and the physical effort wasn’t nearly as punishing as his routine working out in the gym. Compared to the weights, the wheelbarrow was nothing. Compared to sparring with Mackenzie, gardening was a vacation. For Anthony, as for Henry Hill before him, the real punishment was the food. Not his own though; the cats’. Before coming to the Catitat, Anthony had never seen a raw chicken, let alone touched one. Now he checked a spreadsheet each day, saw which pens were due for feeding, and an hour before sunset, loaded up his wheelbarrow with the carcasses of chickens, ducks, and a mash of meat, organ meat and bone meal. He set off to make his rounds, flung the stuff over a fence here, through an opened gate there, and vowed to become a vegetarian. The vow never lasted, because Susannah’s limited cooking skills were further limited by the cabin’s tiny kitchen and the sparse selection of groceries at the only market within twenty miles. He woke up each day to the smell of frying bacon, and that was enough to recall him to the meat-eaters for another twelve hours.
He was at that point in the day when it really wasn’t a bad life: he and Susannah playing house, cleaning up the breakfast things together like newlyweds and then waiting for Mr. Sanchez to come by with the day’s itinerary. Except today there was no rattle of the ancient Land Rover. Instead, they heard a helicopter. Anthony’s first instinct was alarm, but before the thought could solidify into a definite wish that he’d fought Batman harder on the issue of keeping his gun, he saw the big “W” on the bottom of the copter, the word “Wayne” emblazoned on the door, and a woman inside who was certainly unlike any Falcone hitter he’d ever seen.
Susannah said it was Mrs. Wayne, the owner of the preserve, and as the woman got out of the helicopter and came towards them, Susannah proceeded to reel off every issue of Gotham Magazine, Town & Country, Vogue and W in which the gorgeous socialite had been pictured and “who she was wearing” on each occasion. Anthony had never seen an issue of Town & Country any more than he’d seen a raw chicken, but he knew the woman coming towards them was Selina Kyle, not Wayne, and that the smart money said she was Catwoman. That meant things were about to get a lot more interesting than feeding raw chicken to lynxes.
Zooks was worried. Zed had the worst luck of any of the Z. He drew the short straw going to the meeting the first time Joker wanted a lair built. Some quirk of his metabolism made him immune to the antidote for Scarecrow’s “henchman insurance” fear-toxin but perfectly susceptible to the gas itself. After that, Zoiks said fine: you fall off a horse, we put you on a pony. Sent him on the call for the least lethal client they would ever have: Catwoman—and they were ambushed by Robin and Batgirl. Catwoman blamed Zed for “leading them straight to her,” a trauma that left him with an acute fear of claws, masked women and purple Lamborghinis—no Scarecrow toxin required—and made their second meeting something that Zed was never really able to relate. They knew his phone was destroyed. They knew whatever happened involved a lamppost. They knew he didn’t want to talk about it. They knew he’d come back with a concussion.
Now he was two hours overdue getting back from Home Depot. He’d just gone for more PVC, spray paint and masking tape so they could finish converting the Jade Rendezvous into a Hatter-themed wonderland. It was a far cry from going to meet Joker, Scarecrow or Catwoman. A simple supply run and bring back some munchies.
“This is really bad,” Zoiks said, holding up his phone. “He’s not answering. It keeps going into voicemail.”
“Better than last time, right?” Zowie said hopefully. “I mean, no answer at all is better than one ring, squick, and then ‘the number your are trying to reach is unavailable or has traveled outside the service area.’ Right?”
“Doesn’t feel any better to me,” said Zooks.
“Me either,” said Zoiks.
“Me either,” admitted Zowie.
“Did you hear that?” said Zound.
He pointed at the window, and they all froze. Silence reigned for about five seconds, during which they all turned one by one to Zound.
“I thought I heard…” he mouthed—when the door burst open and Zed walked in. His clothes were dirty, torn, he had a swollen lip, a black eye, and dried blood caked from his left nostril to his jaw… and he looked positively euphoric.
“ZED!” three voices cried in unison as a fourth yelled “Why the foo’ not answering your phone, man?!”
“Everybody calm down, everybody calm down,” Zed said, with more confidence than they’d heard from him in—ever. “I’m not answering my phone ‘cause I got a new one. Old one’s down a sewer and you’re all going to do the same with yours. Those things are like a Lojack if you got the stuff to track ‘em. I got us new ones. Wayne Tech. Totally untraceable.”
He was holding up his, and Zoiks took it from his hand and began ogling it.
“Man, this is like—5-G. What the hell is this, some kinda prototype?”
“Whoa, shit, where’d you get this?” Zound said, taking it from Zoiks and fondling it like a sex toy.
“Excuse me, don’t you think we should start by asking what happened to his face?” Zowie said.
Zed took a deep breath.
“Right. Short answer: Catwoman—”
“Oh Jesus,” said Zoiks. “I warned her,” said Zound. “Strike three, you crazy bitch,” cried Zowie.
“No,” said Zed with a firm bandleader “instruments down” move. “The lady kind of saved my life this time. It was a couple Falcones who did all of this. I was looking at Death by Tire Iron, and then there was a whip crack and a boot and I’m looking at the guy who had the tire iron rolling around on the floor saying she broke his arm. And you could like see the bone pushing through the skin. It was great! Then—then—she held the other one still so I could finish him off. How menschy is that?”
“Menschy?” said Zowie.
“You think Catwoman is menschy now?” said Zoiks.
“Uh, yeah!” said Zed emphatically. “Saved my ass, showed me how the creeps found me, gave us new phones to keep it from happening again.”
“And what’s she want in return, hm?” asked Zound.
“Nothing but that we keep doing what we’re doing. Whenever Riddler takes over a lair, we make it over in whatever theme he wants. Look, the lady is a Rogue, right? Says as long as we’re working for them, she’s got our backs. These phones all have a panic button, in case Falcone tries again, push there and help’s on the way. And best of all, she says it’s cool if we put these on Riddler’s tab for the next lair.”
“That’s cool,” “I’m sold,” “I’m in,” were said in unison.
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… :: Duty Log: Batman :: … … …
… … … … :: New Database: Personal Revisions, Restricted Access
… … … … :: Encryption Matrix: New
… … … … :: Encryption Key…
Bruce paused as a voice from the past wafted through his thoughts, coaxing the corner of his lip to twitch as his fingers began to type:
Encryption Key… Why do we fall
He omitted the question mark, not because the hexadecimal code would interfere with the encryptions but because he didn’t want Nigma’s signature that omnipresent in this particular log. These revisions would be personal, containing the thoughts and reflections he normally rejected as not belonging in a duty log—as the numerous occurrences of [Section Deleted] in Catwoman’s files would attest. It was undisciplined, letting a record of the night’s patrol read like a personal diary, letting personal hopes and fears corrupt the data.
Yet he was doing this because the data had been corrupted. All these weeks, as Rogue after Rogue fell… because he didn’t realize what was happening. Had his own hopes and fears kept him from seeing it? Now that he had some suspicion what was really going on, the pertinent logs had to be revised. But he didn’t want to overwrite the originals. It was important to keep that record of his first impressions intact, however much he’d overlooked. Revising in this way, even though it meant preserving the assumptions and false conclusions…
Why do we fall, Bruce?
To learn how to get up.
Some good had to come from this mess.
The only thing to do faced with this appalling run of mistakes was to learn.
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… :: Duty Log: Batman :: … … …
… … … … :: Personal Revisions | Restricted Access
Superstition is for criminals. Nigma is inclined to see curses; Nigma would have seen the run of disasters befalling the Rogues as “bad luck.” I have no such excuse. Yet I accepted the intelligence as good luck without ever stopping to consider…
The first episode, there was no pattern to see yet, but even so, should I have suspected something in the way the information came to me? Criminals are greedy and stupid, as a breed. I roust the scum in any given bar, on any given night, there’s always one or two that don’t move as fast because they’re trying to hold onto something. The war has been bad for business, and a fence foolishly stopping to take his stuff before rushing out the back was not suspicious. He was no different than a hundred lowlifes who’ve fallen into my hands over the years. It was no different from the intel I’ve gotten from a hundred others.
Beginning with what I already knew.
It was not suspect because it was grounded in what I already knew to be true. I knew that Rogues don’t approach crime the way the mobs do and they weren’t making use of Falcone’s operations once they took over. Physical spaces yes, men occasionally; they’d take the money, dump or destroy the guns stored at any given location, and leave the criminal operations lying fallow.
Except the protection rackets. Scarecrow took over there because it was a thematic fit. I was aware, but it had no bearing on the priority: minimizing casualties, preventing loss of life, and reducing power on both sides beginning with apprehending Joker. Extortion isn’t pretty, but those who were already being victimized paying Scarecrow’s men instead of Falcone’s had no immediate impact on the war or those top tier priorities.
Until the ill-named “Fast Freddie” told me Scarecrow was collecting the payoffs himself. It made sense. The money was meaningless to him, he wanted the fear that impelled his victims to pay. Sending men like Skate or Jimmy-P to collect would defeat the purpose. So he made the rounds in person so he could look a shop-owner in the eye and savor their fear. All I had to do was follow. The hardest part was watching, not stepping in while he accosted owner after owner—and racked up no fewer than 23 counts of felony extortion. The video evidence assembled, I was finally able to move in.
Crane was prepared: a pair of cross-firing toxin projectiles on his person, activated when I grabbed his collar. I was prepared with a prophylactic antidote that reduced the effects to transparent visual hallucinations and minor ear ringing – easily ignored. His apprehension was accomplished more easily than ever before. I attributed it to the fact that Crane was so out of his element with such a mundane operation, he simply wasn’t very good at it.
As much as I have analyzed it, I do not believe I overlooked anything vital in Jonathan Crane’s performance in that final confrontation. The mutilated men, on the other hand, I cannot excuse myself so easily there.
Scarecrow does frequently operate without henchmen or associates. And unidentified persons are checked into hospitals every night, many are beaten and bleeding. There was no reason to suspect anything amiss in Scarecrow being isolated and alone where I could apprehend him so easily. There was no reason to connect the absence of henchmen with a few emergency room admissions that were initiated two blocks away. Maybe if… if they found their way to the emergency room in some other way, maybe the nature of their injuries would have tripped something in Oracle’s data sweeps. But a priest from a homeless shelter finding a few men in an alley, there was just… there was nothing about the episode, on paper, to put it on our radar, and so no way to make the connection. I would never have known it had happened if it weren’t for what happened next, and the suspicions it eventually raised…
I’m not sure how to remedy that. But I must. It cannot happen again.
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… :: Duty Log: Batman :: … … …
… … … … :: Personal Revisions | Restricted Access
Sharkskin Vinnie Valducci. Outside Falcone’s inner circle, he was known for his terms: 30% a week, you pay back the vig before you pay the principal. 20% went to Carmine, 10% was Vinnie’s to keep. And that’s what he was known for within Falcone’s circle: Vinnie apparently spent every penny of that income on motorcycles. He generally had four, occasionally five. He would buy the best he could find, lavish money on it, make his own modifications, and replace one only if he found one more promising.
I received a tip that a chop shop Riddler took over last week is where Valducci housed his bikes and that Roxy Rocket went there nightly to take one for a joyride. Like Fast Freddie, nothing about the lead was suspect. It’s the nature of being Batman, being a detective, patrolling, being aware what is going on in my city… it is a process I’ve honed all these years pursuing my mission. Finding things out is almost second nature. Is that the problem? Did I miss something I would have seen otherwise?
I secured the location before RR’s arrival and documented criminal trespass and grand theft. Attempted apprehension resulted in four additional charges for reckless endangerment, three for criminal mischief and one each for damage to public property, indecent exposure, assault on a police officer (human), and assault on a police officer (canine).
Unlike Scarecrow, Rocket had no special preparations for a confrontation with Batman. The threat she poses is not malicious and results entirely from her thrill fetish. As such, she’s as much a danger to herself as to others and will be spending the first two weeks of her incarceration in the Arkham infirmary.
Once again, the men brutalized and terrorized behind the scenes escaped my notice. How can I excuse that? Falcone’s men may be gangsters, but even gangers have a right to live without fear threatening to explode their hearts within their chests. But I DID NOT KNOW Scarecrow had men with him that night, which meant I didn’t know they had fear toxin with them or that there was fear toxin unaccounted for. Far too much I didn’t know, but if I did, would any of it have made a difference?
Being an enforcer in the Falcone mob is a dangerous life. A couple of thugs beaten, a couple of thugs in fear for their life, even in fear for the lives of their families—would I have ever made the link between those baseline realities of a criminal life and a tip where Roxy Rocket would be on a given night?
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… :: Duty Log: Batman :: … … …
… … … … :: Personal Revisions | Restricted Access
I’m convinced that, whatever I may have missed elsewhere, the reason I didn’t notice things going too smoothly with the Golden Hands Massage case was simply because it was Hugo Strange.
Special awareness is always necessary confronting Strange in costume. His knowledge of my identity is analogous to a gun in the hands of a street thug: half the tactical advantage is simply knowing that it’s there, and it is vital to remain aware of it and its location regardless of what else is happening. That’s where my focus was. If the information that Hugo was amusing himself with Falcone’s whores came too easily, I was too busy thinking ahead to the special precautions of dealing with him to notice.
Strange’s mental state is so fragile and volatile. When he feels himself in control, he will taunt me with knowledge of my identity—but only when no one else is around to hear. It’s when he starts losing that his knowledge becomes truly dangerous. When everything was going his way, he was discreet in front of the girls. Even though they were hypnotized, he was psychologist enough to know that what was said would be heard and subconsciously registered. But when it became clear that his activities on the premises opened him up to over a dozen E felonies related to prostitution and pandering, and that he had no physical means to escape or overpower me to evade arrest, his mental state deteriorated into the obsessed ravings that are the norm. His fixation on the bat mantle always gets the better of him, and I employed a high-pitched sonic disruptor to drown out his ranting for the few seconds it took to render him unconscious.
In retrospect, the massage parlor should have had a bouncer. If it was business-as-usual, the absence of hired muscle to protect the girls would be suspect, but with Hugo taking over, there was no reason for it to raise any flags. He presumably sent the guy away. And if I was investigating from another angle, the disappearance of a guy working as a bouncer at a whorehouse would not have raised any flags either. He could have skipped town for any reason. He could have been beaten within an inch of his life for any reason completely unrelated to the Rogues, to Falcone, or to the war.
There was just no reason to connect this growing number of mauled and beaten men in Gotham emergency rooms with the capture of Rogues blocks away from where they were found, nor to recognize any of it as collateral damage from the war. But I should have. Somehow I should have.
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Bruce awoke to what had become the norm since the night they talked about Bane: Selina was still asleep, not resting her hand lightly on his chest the way she used to but wrapped around him in a tight hug, with the mark of a dried tear on her cheek. It was very un-Catwoman, which is why he wouldn’t mention it. He could tell by the way she slept in each morning that she hadn’t been sleeping well, but she wouldn’t admit it. The one time he asked, she snapped in such a way that reminded him of his own feelings when they first started sharing a bed. The sex was amazing, having her in Bruce Wayne’s life as well as Batman’s was beyond anything in those fanciful wish-dreams he had in the early days, but the nut-kick when he realized she knew about his nightmares: it felt as though she’d unmasked him—worse—he felt so un-Batman. Batman was a nightmare to Gotham’s criminals; he didn’t have them. Selina had never been like that. The more intimate they became, the more walls dropped between them, Catwoman and Selina seemed very much the same person, the one a natural and seamless extension of the other. If she was only now uncovering parts of herself that she had to come to terms with on her own before she was comfortable letting him see, he could understand that. He had been there.
But understanding couldn’t beat back Batman’s desire to fix whatever he saw that wasn’t right. As soon as she was awake, he set about trying to cheer her up:
“Tetch is out of the game,” he announced with more Bat-gravel than was usually heard before breakfast.
Selina tilted her head.
“You got another one? That’s the fourth this week if we count Hugo.”
“We count Hugo,” Bruce said tersely. “He might not have the Mad Hatter’s mind control chops, but he has the knowledge of my identity that I wasn’t comfortable having in that Rogue ‘think tank.’”
“Careful, Bruce, I think you just implied you’re ‘comfortable’ with Eddie.”
“Nigma’s taken his best shot on the personal front,” Bruce said evenly. “Having failed to gain any tactical advantage throwing Bane between us, it’s doubtful he’d try it again.”
Selina got up from the bed, went to her vanity and started brushing her hair. After a minute, she looked up and met Bruce’s eyes in the mirror.
“Eddie throwing Bane between us? That’s a really unfortunate mental picture,” she said—it was the teasing tone she used on rooftops when she had the valuables on her person. She was putting on her light and sassy act, the same old Selina and don’t you dare think I’m waking up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Bruce pretended not to notice, but he was sorry he’d mentioned Bane.
“So, it’s Joker, Scarecrow, Roxy, Ventriloquist, Freeze, Croc, Strange, KGBeast, Ratcatcher, and now Mad Hatter, safely confined to Arkham for the duration,” he said with as much modesty as possible given the length of the list. “At this rate, the situation will be completely defused in another week or two. We could get away for a bit. There won’t be any Rogues left.”
“Hey!” Selina said with that particular note of outrage Bruce knew was offended feline pride.
“Any Rogues except you,” he amended in a conciliatory tone that, from anyone other than Batman, might sound whipped.
“If I have you all to myself, there’s no need to leave Gotham, Dark Knight.”
That tone he knew too, and it always made him want her. The many, many, many nights he couldn’t act on that desire always pushed past his rational mind now that he could. Despite the completely inappropriate nature of the conversation, a part of his mind started undressing her and another let his hand stroke lightly across her belly...
“And Carmine hasn’t been able to reclaim a single one of the properties Eddie took over when you put away the Rogue that was occupying it?”
“Hm?” Bruce said, the part of his brain nibbling her nape nudged Psychobat to answer the question. “No, he hasn’t.”
Selina turned, noting a smile that could have been either for the secret nape-kisses or the thwarted mob boss.
“Imagine that,” she said, with a seductive smile of her own that also fit both possibilities.
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… :: Duty Log: Batman :: … … …
… … … … :: Personal Revisions | Restricted Access
Special awareness is also required when dealing with Firefly, but as many times as I’ve gone over the case, I cannot see that I overlooked anything because of it. Unlike Roxy Rocket, Garfield Lynns has no desire to risk death. He takes all necessary precautions in storing and handling explosives, and as a former Hollywood effects man, he has the expertise to do so. The danger arises in his unofficial and illegal status. The pyro he gets his hands on is usually old or else deliberately mislabeled in order to divert it from being shipped where it was intended.
Receiving a tip that Lynns was storing explosives in a seized Falcone warehouse, my first order of business was to ascertain how stable those explosives were. Only then did I determine that it was safe to wait and watch, and apprehend him when he returned.
Maybe… maybe I should have thought to question the information, but in this one area, thugs aren’t that different from other Gothamites. Explosives aren’t cocaine or heroin or counterfeit Gucci bags, and the men interested in buying or selling are looked at a little differently, even in the underworld. They’re scrutinized, and if anything is thought suspicious, it’s reported. Even if I’d questioned the tip beforehand, there was certainly no reason to question it after the fact, not when it led to the apprehension of a dangerous felon, a stash of dangerous explosives, reclaiming another Falcone property, and an overall de-escalation of the war.
There was no reason to question any of it – but I should have. Now Selina is…
I can’t even type it.
“Why do we fall,” yeah, how’s that working out, Bruce? I can’t even type it.
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“Just look at this! Pine scented, lavender scented, lilac scented,” Mollatova raved, sifting through a crate of cleaning products. “If plants and trees are so nice to smell, maybe it’s not such a hot idea to be killing them right and left to make all that cotton and paper. And what do we have here, as if I didn’t know.” She stormed over to the staff break area and started waving a box of teabags like it was a severed head. “TEA! COFFEE! Instant COCOA! All plants. Of course it’s all plants. Soda machine full of sugar water, candy bars—all the chocolate and nuts! Have they no shame?! No shame at all!”
Ivy stared ahead dully, letting the river of words flow on by. With their numbers dwindling, it was no longer possible to stay with Harvey. Every warm body was another base that would remain occupied Rogue territory. And going out to grab the day’s booty from Falcone was falling to her more often. The combination of her pheromones and Mollatova’s knowledge of the mob men and operations. Ivy wouldn’t stand for it if she thought she had a choice. Every time Nigma gave her a new assignment, she thought about greening him, and every time he vetoed her idea to take Harley or Harvey along instead of Mollatova. But if she greened Nigma, she’d have to take over the war herself, and she really didn’t see herself pulling it off in the midst of all these reversals.
Nigma, that obnoxiously arrogant man, seemed able to adapt. Even as Batman picked them off one by one, he revised the attack plans, rearranged who stayed where, and rewrote riddles on the fly so it hadn’t slowed their campaign against Falcone a bit. Every day another property fell, his own and his suppliers’ and customers’, the yakuza and triads that did business with him. Typical man mentality, it would be disgusting if it wasn’t working so damn well.
“Okay, it’s just like we thought, my one and only, Gaia’s chosen, goddess of green. They started out legit, bonded cleaners for office buildings. Owner fell victim to a badger game, and since then, they’ve got the office cleaners spying on the companies worth spying on. Then they started this cheap vacuum service to get into residential homes. Target the places worth robbing and go in a couple days later. Looks real profitable if you’ve got the buyers lined up for the information and the furniture and stuff, otherwise it’s probably not worth the trouble to keep it going.”
“Bring the books,” Ivy ordered. “We’ll let Harvey go over them and decide if there’s anything worth salvaging.”
“There’s always something worth salvaging,” an ominous voice graveled from the shadows.
Mollatova betrayed herself as a Gotham outsider by shrieking at the voice and then at a scalloped shadow which appeared on the wall for a moment and then was gone. In contrast, Ivy smiled grimly.
“Well, well, look who’s here,” she called out as the vines brought to mark the place as Rogue territory began snaking up the walls.
Molla sank into a half crouch, looking to different corners of the rafters with twitchy, birdlike head-flicks. Tense seconds passed, until the silence was broken by the soft hiss of an aerosol can. One of the vines dropped to the floor, but before Ivy could shriek for her fallen baby, Molla was running to the spot where it fell.
“PLANT SLAYER!” she cried, and Ivy winced at the rookie mistake, then murmured “No, no, no” in tones too soft to be heard. The batline coiled around Mollatova’s ankles and hoisted her into the air.
Days of incessant prattle flashed through Ivy’s mind, and she felt a certain… lack of hate for Batman as Mollatova’s unconscious form was silently lowered on the same batline. The gratitude didn’t last, for mere moments later there was another aerosol hiss and another vine fell down dead. At virtually the same second she felt a presence behind her.
“That woman is under arrest for attempted murder and arson,” he announced with all the usual cape pomposity. “You are for the usual special circumstance extortion,” he added as Ivy spun and tried to knock out the nose plugs he was sure to be wearing. Her flat-palmed strike was well-aimed, but so thoroughly predictable that Batman simply intercepted it, twisted her wrist back with a nikyo that dropped her to her knees, and cuffed her before the paralyzing sizzle of the nerve pinch ceased to throb…
… … … … :: Duty Log: Batman :: … … …
completing the quickest and easiest Rogue capture yet.
There was no reason to find that suspicious. Rogues like Ivy are usually expecting a confrontation with Batman. They craft their crimes deliberately to bait me, set the scene beforehand, and have a trap in place, ready to spring when I follow to wherever their trail leads.
Ivy’s capture was accomplished so easily for exactly the reason I initially surmised: she wasn’t prepared for the encounter, and I was.
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The overlook near the Arkham parking lot, which had provided such a perfect spot for Edward Nigma to fire an arrow-tipped plunger/flag-of-truce message into the hood of the Batmobile, now saw that same Batmobile return with that same Edward Nigma inside as a crumpled, bruised and manhandled passenger-prisoner. Above, Bane watched with satisfaction as Batman marched the odious little man through the Arkham gate—and into the death chamber.
Most of them were there now: Joker and Riddler, Scarecrow and Croc, KGBeast the assassin and Firefly the arsonist, the mousy little Mad Hatter with whom Bane had begun. Assorted other circus freaks whose names were not worth remembering. They would all be mixed together anyway as the walls of the place came down to crush them into a fleshy paste. It wasn’t easy getting them all together in there—getting the information to execute their captures into Batman’s hands without his ever suspecting the source. It wasn’t easy getting his hands on the stinger missile, rocket propelled grenades, 14.9mm SOP rifle, or confirming that the ammo for the last could travel at 3,350 fps with 42,104 ft/lbs of energy.
What was easy was getting Sal Moriarty to give up Falcone’s munitions man “Needlegun,” getting Needlegun to convert the SOP cartridges into nuclear flechettes, and more importantly, to give up his man inside Falstaff, Inc. Getting that sad little scientist to pinpoint the precise points in the cliffs under Arkham Asylum to open a breach wasn’t much harder, nor was getting him to give up his identification card and provide access to a certain subterranean vault . Men who feared physical pain were so easy to break. He didn’t have to touch them, he only had to describe what he would do…
A shoulder cannon to fire oversized bullets was, in Bane’s view, a pathetically small man’s idea of a weapon. What was it good for? Taking out columns of armored vehicles rolling through the streets? What kind of destruction was that? Man-made thing against man-made thing. But tossing the rifle aside and repurposing those payload-bearing projectiles as directed shrapnel for Falstaff’s SoLARGE machines, positioning the STOR-M units to puncture the weak spots of the earth’s crust rather than be shot from a gun into mechanized tanks, igniting their payload there to generate rifts in the lithosphere and become a defacto earthquake machine that would break open the planet to reclaim Arkham and its inhabitants into the primordial slop of earth and sea—that’s how a man killed his enemies.
All he had to do now was arrange for the Rogues who were still free to be in one location also: the Iceberg, their precious Iceberg, what better place to gather them all together. A little celebration to savor their victory, the end of their war with Carmine Falcone. And now that Riddler was among those who would perish at Arkham, he knew just who to give them to rally around at the Iceberg Lounge. He would give the triumph of defeating Carmine to the one costumed freak that Batman would accept it from as well as the other Rogues. The rest of them would gather to honor Catwoman assuming she fought for the same reason they did. Only Bruce Wayne would see her taking down Falcone as a gift from his lover.
Bane’s lip curled downward slowly at the thought: it was a pity. He had no grievance with Batman this time around, and killing his woman would stir it all up again. Bane wasn’t quite sure how he, himself, felt about killing a woman. He had, now he thought about it, never had occasion to do so, not even with the rabid she-wolves that passed for women in Peña Dura. It was a shame. Catwoman was the only one who’d shown him any respect, but she was still one of them. She’d probably have to be dealt with anyway after he killed the others. The vengeance of women was not something covered in the manuals of war Bane had studied, but he knew they had a history of violating men’s business and that violation brought nothing but chaos.
You didn’t serve as aide, confidant and butler to the world’s greatest detective without picking up a few habits. When Selina came into Alfred’s pantry, he felt something was just a little different about her. She asked if he had any ribbon he could lay his hands on without it being any trouble, and he realized it was her make-up. The make-up around her eyes was quite different from her usual daytime style—and he realized with a start that she was made up to wear a mask.
Alfred got up without a word, opened a drawer, fished around, opened another, and pulled something out of the back.
“As the gift you are preparing is for Batman, I believe this will be an ideal choice of color, miss,” he said, handing over a spool of thin black ribbon. “While Master Bruce has gone down to the cave already, he will be working out for another twenty minutes or so. It would therefore be prudent, in my opinion, to wait half an hour, or perhaps forty minutes before joining him.”
You didn’t share a home with the world’s greatest detective and his butler without being used to this kind of thing, so Selina just took the ribbon and thanked him.
Thirty minutes later, a meticulously groomed Catwoman made her way through the clock passage and down to the cave. She smiled as she saw Alfred had called it almost to the minute. Bruce had finished his workout. He was bare-chested, a sweat-soaked gi laying over the top of the mini-fridge, and he just finished draining a post-workout bottle of water.
“You look deliciously sweaty,” she noted.
He took in her costume with a deceptively quick flick of the eye, the way he used to. Back then the unspoken question was ‘What have you taken?’ Today it was ‘Should I change?’
“No, I’m not here to play,” she laughed as if he’d said it out loud. “I have a present for you.”
“And this is how you decided to ‘wrap it,’” he asked, letting his eyes flicker over her costume again.
“Something like that.”
Their eyes met for just a fraction of a second, and Bruce felt a thrilled sizzle up his spine. One of those impossible moments. Catwoman, here in the Batcave, I have a present for you…
“You know about specialty fences, right?” she asked.
“You know about Calicos and Persians, right?” came the reply, and she laughed.
“Okay, bad opening,” she admitted. “It’s not like just anyone can move a stolen Rembrandt or a Stradivarius. Specialty items, specialty thieves, specialty fences. There’s a guy in Little Odessa—”
“Korsakoff or Andropovich?”
“Korsakoff. Let me tell it.”
“You gave two examples, a Rembrandt or a Stradivarius, it could have been either.”
“It’s a high ticket violin story, so it’s Andre Korsakoff, let me tell it. And P.S. nobody in their right mind would buy a Rembrandt from Dimitri Andropovich.”
“The Brodmoors did.”
“In their right mind, I said. God, the people you fopped with.”
“Back to Korsakoff: fence, broker and intermediary for big ticket stolen instruments…”
“Has been after my business for quite some time. Del Gesù lifted from the Gotham Philharmonic, insured by Lloyds for 1.2 million. He’d like a piece of it.”
“I knew that was you.”
“This is your idea of a gift?”
“I’m getting there, you keep interrupting,” she teased. “So Kosakoff knows the kinds of things I stole, and still am stealing as far as anyone knows. He’d like some of my business. I thought he gave up long ago, but he just tried again.”
“To ingratiate himself. Maybe the war between the Rogues and the mobs gave him the idea. You know how those mob wives never got the memo on fur?”
Bruce blinked, not seeing the connection between a concert-quality, famous-maker violin and mafia wives wearing mink.
“They’re still stuck in the ‘50s, like fur is still a status symbol and not a symbol that, y’know, you’re the kind of missing link who would marry Carmine Falcone. Anyway, there’s this horrible furrier on Staten Island. Among other things, they’ve got lynx coats. How disgusting is that? Korsakoff came to me, he assumed I felt exactly the same way about furriers as Ivy does about lumber yards. And frankly he’s right, the only difference is I’m not willing to firebomb the place. And he told me… that they’re into something. Something illegal that could get them shut down.”
“Such as?” Bruce asked in the deepest Bat-gravel.
“He didn’t specify. I assumed smuggling something, probably drugs, in the lining of the coats.”
“We’ll go in tonight and check it out. There are several ways to x-ray without—”
“No, um, Bruce, I’ve already been there. It’s not… there was nothing in the furs, so I checked the office and…”
She ran out of syntax and silently held out a thin leatherette journal tied with a black ribbon.
“Late happy birthday,” she said, a little breathless. “Or early Christmas.”
Bruce took it, looked at it, hoped he looked present-from-my-girlfriend curious and not mystery-box-left-at-the-bat-signal curious, removed the ribbon, opened the cover—and felt his mouth go dry.
It was a date book with a number of entries in Falcone’s handwriting, followed by a few lined pages in the back packed tight with a list of names and phone numbers. Tucked into the cover behind that was an old-fashioned 3 ½-inch floppy disk labeled “Lex Tree.”
“Lex Tree the accounting software?” Bruce breathed.
“Mhm,” Selina nodded. “Backups for two years. No income statements or balance sheets because, duh. There’s a payroll module that looks like his housekeeper, and the ledgers that are… everything else.”
Dateline GOTHAM—The sweep began before dawn, with 800 federal agents and state and local investigators fanning out across the region. The targets, officials said, ran the gamut from what they called small-time bookmakers and shakedown artists to mob middle managers and the entire current leadership of the Falcone crime family, as well as two senior Pelacci family figures. Prosecutors said 34 made members of Gotham’s crime families and those of Bludhaven and New England were among those arrested.
The Gotham Observer ran the picture that would become the signature image of the event in the national media: the gymnasium at PS 14 transformed into an ad hoc processing center in the heart of the downtown raid zone. A host of dark windbreakers reading “FBI” and “GPD” in bright yellow were positioned in the background, setting up laptops linked to fingerprint scanners which would be featured in other photos. Another dark jacket in the foreground read “POLICE” in large type and then under the outline of a badge “US SECRET SERVICE” in smaller type below. He was leading a heavyset, handcuffed man through a metal detector. Detective Porpora of the Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force on Organized Crime was quoted saying "We are pleased today to announce an important step forward in our nation’s ongoing fight against the Mafia. More than 800 law enforcement officials have arrested more than 110 individuals on charges from murder and narcotics trafficking to extortion, illegal gambling and labor-related racketeering.”
The Gotham Times ran a different picture, a close up of Commissioner Muskelli from the press conference rather than anything related to the raids. They ignored Porpora and stressed the Gotham police over the inter-agency cooperation. They only quoted Muskelli. “A total of 107 people have been charged in 14 indictments, representing one of the largest single day operations against organized crime in the city’s history.”
The Daily News criticized the Times for framing a national crimefighting operation as a one-man advertisement for Lawrence Muskelli in a transparent attempt to influence his appointment to the Justice Department.
The Gotham Post ran a story on the Center for Disease Control denying they had a classified SOP for the zombie apocalypse.
The Justice League databank merely said that Batman would continue to be unavailable for monitor duty or regular staff meetings. His colleagues exchanged theories whether it was to contain the situation in Gotham—so many high level mob figures suddenly behind bars could create chaos with those who remained free competing to fill the void—or if the Dark Knight simply wasn’t through yet. It was a given that he was behind the massive mob takedown, but exactly how was something of a mystery. Speculation ranged from “followed the money” to the systematic intimidation of high-level informants.
The Iceberger, in-house newsletter for employees of the Iceberg Lounge, said that anyone not scheduled for work on the evening of the 20th was invited to a special celebration honoring the victors of the Rogue War: Oswald Cobblepot, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Clayface and Two-Face; as well as marking Oswald’s personal return to the daily operations of the lounge. Those working would be given a free drink to join in a midnight toast to Catwoman, who had made the Dark Knight himself her catspaw, taking down Falcone without a hint of suspicion being laid at her door.
“All armies prefer high ground to low.”
It was a principle of war so simple, Bane had never bothered to ponder it, nor did he pay much attention to the 9th Chapter of Sun Tzu that belabored the point. “Camp in high places” “Observe on high ground” “If the enemy holds the high ground, do not ascend and do battle with him.” No shit.
Tonight he was seeing high ground in a new light. It was more than a way to see farther and over obstacles, it was more than a way to place the enemy at a disadvantage in battle. It was a place to triumph, to beat one’s chest with a primal cry. To look, not with the strategic dispassion of a military general, but with the eyes of a conqueror on the conquered. And he had found the perfect vantage point: the rotating restaurant atop the Times Square Marquee Hotel boasted a 360 degree view. Arkham to the Northeast; Iceberg to the South.
Once again, he’d dipped into the hidden accounts from his brief reign as Gotham’s kingpin, reserved the place for a private party, and then paid off the duty manager to schedule no staff, ensuring privacy. He walked the perimeter of the circular room, surveying the horizon with satisfaction. The Wayne Tower was higher, but not so perfectly placed. Its penthouse would have its share of floor to ceiling windows and panoramic views, but nothing so tailor-made to his purpose as a round room of glass, with a fully stocked bar that he might sip a fine whisky as he watched the cliffs under Arkham quake and crumble, the ambulances and fire trucks racing towards the Iceberg. Yes, he had come to high ground to observe, but not coldly, not with the cool calculation of a military commander. He had come to watch the fall of his enemies.
He took out the weathered chess board from Rico’s, selected a table with the best view for his purpose, and then removed the flower, the candle and the place settings. He set the chess board in the center, and then opened the drawer underneath containing the pieces. He removed them one by one… A white rook… held up for a moment to be silhouetted against the cityscape, then he snapped it in two… A black bishop, snap… A black pawn…
“Nice view,” a low, feminine voice cooed behind him.
Bane turned to dismiss what he assumed was an overly-solicitous hotel staffer, when the words froze on his lips as he saw Catwoman standing in the central restaurant reception area like an invited guest.
“Hello, Bane. Been a long time,” she said with that same air of one whom he’d invited to share the triumph with him.
“You should not be here,” he said, honestly expressing the foremost thought in his mind rather than coming up with something more pertinent like asking how she knew he’d be here at all.
“You’re referring to the party they’re throwing for me at the Iceberg. I thought I’d be fashionably late. After all, what is the point in beating the big man and winning the day if you don’t strut a little, throw your weight around.”
Bitterness rose like bile in Bane’s throat, which he hid behind a mild laugh. He wondered if Catwoman would fare any better than he had—if those she imagined she would be strutting before lived to see the dawn, that is. Their petty, resentful natures couldn’t dismiss her as a newcomer coming in and dominating the field...
“Maybe it’s fitting that you’re here. You were the only one who understood that simple law of man and beast.”
“Actually,” Catwoman said as if an odd smell produced an unwelcome taste in her mouth. “Never been a big fan of laws. What exactly are you talking about?”
“The right of the alpha dog,” Bane declared as if pronouncing the founding principle of the universe.
“Ah. Well, not really a fan of dogs either, so no wonder…”
Bane looked puzzled.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
Catwoman stepped delicately out of the reception area and came to stand beside him, looking out at the view in the same direction as he, as if they shared some common purpose in looking.
“Last time we were in a room together, you were King of the City. Or at least king of the hill. ‘The man who put Batman on his back.’ And you were gracious enough to say that I could go on stealing. What was that phrase you used? ‘Continue doing what you do so well.’ As long as I used you as my fence, of course…”
It wasn’t the words that puzzled him, it was the strange emphasis on certain words, peculiar shifts in rhythm too subtle to be called a pause. He honestly couldn’t tell if there was mockery behind the words or not—and in fact, even Batman who lived with Selina on terms of intimacy and fought Catwoman for years before that would not have been able to say for sure. Bane had no chance at all.
“Tonight, I’m the queen of the city. The last man standing, so to speak, after the biggest Bad v. Bad tossup this town has seen since the Capes arrived. The only ones who aren’t up the river know that I’m the one who took down Falcone, so what I say goes. It would only be fair and respectful to say that you can stay, go on doing… whatever it is that you do. But the thing is, the prerogative of kings is that I don’t have to be fair or respectful. I want you out of my world. And, see above, I’m not all kinds of particular about laws that stand between me and something I want.”
Out of my world? Out of my world? There was an odd glottal rumbling coming from Bane’s midsection which continued for several seconds before erupting into a full belly laugh.
“So you imagine you’re queen of the city now, do you, Catwoman?” He glared daggers at her, but the mask he wore for the occasion – the old mask, the original – hid his savage grin, “You’re queen of the dead, my dear. ‘The only ones who aren’t up the river’ are at the Iceberg, which will very soon be at the bottom of a very deep crater. They’ll be the lucky ones, Catwoman; the explosion will certainly kill them before the bowels of the earth open up to claim the building. Not so the ones I’ve corralled at Arkham.” Months, years of bottled rage bubbled up to the surface. He had accepted that the Rogues would never know the extent of their failure, the way they’d walked into it. But now, here she was – the only one of that wretched rabble he had any qualm about killing – a most convenient witness to his triumph.
“I took pains to find the precise points to set off the explosions: under the front gate, to head off any rescue efforts, in the cliffs under the north wall, where the concussion will do maximum damage to the crust under the edifice, and at the junction to the maximum security wing, to make sure those madmen are completely cut off when the screaming starts. You know what they are, Catwoman, any who live will be feeding on each other within hours.”
He smiled smugly, picked the black knight from the drawer, and casually crushed it in his fingers.
“Then the game board is changed forever,” Bane said in a voice so deep it resembled the Bat-gravel. “And the only ones who remain will be those who know how to behave before Him who breaks the man who broke all of them.”
Catwoman did nothing but stare coldly for a count of ten. Then:
“I trust you heard all that, Eddie?”
..:: Got it! ::.. a chipper voice squawked from somewhere around her cowl.
“Any trouble disarming them now that you know where they are?” she asked as the blood drained slowly from Bane’s face.
..:: ‘Lina, please, who do you think you’re talking to? North Wall already snipped by yours truly, Lynns got the one at the front gate, and Jervis should be finishing up the third one as we … yep, there’s the signal. Tell Bane that Rabbi Nigma is happy to report a successful bris on his earthquake machines. Mazel tov!::..
“Eddie says ‘hi,’” she told Bane with a wink before resuming the ‘comm voice. “Everything in hand at the Iceberg, Matthew?”
..:: First time I’ve ever disarmed something like this without a digital timer on it,::.. Matt Hagen complained. ..:: It’s not nearly as dramatic, but otherwise, yeah, we’re all good. Oswald says hi.::..
“Oswald says hi, too,” she told Bane. “Now, you’re a smart man, so I’m not going to insult your intelligence belaboring the obvious… even though you’ve insulted ours a bit. Did you really think Batman wouldn’t suspect your ‘helping hand,’ the Rogues suddenly losing, right, left and center. He couldn’t figure out why at first, but he knew it was you. Why did you want all the Rogues out of the mob war? Then you gift-wrapped Falcone for us, and he put it together. You didn’t want them out of the war; you never cared about the war. You just wanted them all in one place where you could get at them with one big boom. Ending the war would make sure everybody who wasn’t in Arkham was in one place too… for the slaughter.”
There was a labored snorting as Bane’s breathing grew heavy, but only through his nostrils.
“It looks like you’re the only one I’ll be able to kill,” he said calmly, taking a slow, tree-trunk step forward and cracking his knuckles.
Selina merely smiled as he advanced on her. She didn’t take a single step back.
“Batman says without Venom, you’re just another thug. He says you don’t have the martial training to beat a brown belt… But I say, even without Venom, you’re an absolute mountain of a man.” She let the words hang for a moment, apparently gleaming with admiration before she continued. “And there’s simply no way you came up here in one of those elegant little glass elevators they have circling the lobby. If you could fit inside one at all, which is doubtful, it wouldn’t make it past the third floor. You had to take the freight elevator to get up here.
“Now you’ve come all this way. Don’t go validating the ‘muscle means dumb’ thing at the eleventh hour. I’ve told you we knew you were targeting Arkham and the Iceberg and that meant you just had to be here to see the fireworks. You had to take the freight elevator to get here. Tell me, Big Man, if you know exactly where the enemy will be and when, how’s it gonna go down?”
Bane stopped. He felt the fury rising; she was a woman, and he had considered her a potential ally, but that coy voice and the flashes of loathing he saw unmasked in her eyes itched at his skin. He felt hot in his black formal suit, stiflingly so. Muscles strained beneath his flesh, fingers flexed, but his breath felt thick and his skin suddenly greasy and tight. The sensation, he realized in time with her words, could not be natural.
“You poisoned me as I rode up in the elevator.”
“I’m not a killer, Bane,” she said softly, coldly, “You’d have been dead long before you came back to Gotham if I was. You’d have been dead before you left the first time. Or did you really think I’d come to see you to kowtow at your throne all those years back?”
Hot. Hot in the suit, hot in the mask. Too hot to breathe. She had respected him. Hadn’t she? He thought back to that meeting, remembering that same cold look in her eye… Hadn’t she?
“…but you have been thoroughly misted with a transdermal polymer. That’s ScienceSpeak for a microscopic layer of plastic coating the inside of your pores. It’s going to be really hard to perspire for the next four days, Bane, so I suggest you try not to exert yourself. Your body temp goes up, it’s not coming back down. It’ll be like running a high fever for days at a time. You could boil your brain.”
Bane let his eyes close.
Without Venom burning in his veins and clouding his thoughts, he was able to fight down his breathing.
He bore it down to natural levels, nostrils flaring.
But he knew she wasn’t bluffing.
He felt the itch all over his body.
And he forced himself to speak calmly.
“What happens now?”
“Well, as soon as I leave, the Capes come in. Batman won’t touch you, and nothing that you’ve done in Gotham ever happened. Get that through your head right now. You’d just go to Arkham or Blackgate, and nobody but Falcone or Joker wants that. But the Justice League heroes have a pretty wide reach. They’ll offer you a nice selection of things you could have done elsewhere, each with a corresponding Cape that would have captured you and a prison they’ll take you to rot in. Iron Heights, Metropolis Penitentiary, the Green Lanterns have some kind of energy field on Omega 9, I really don’t care… Although I would suggest you avoid the Metropolis Penn. I have it on good authority that Superman doesn’t like you.”
Bane looked out the window thoughtfully, not at Arkham this time, but at the highest man-made peak in any direction.
“Tell me, Catwoman, given what I know about you and Señor Wayne, why would I go along with—”
“With the most humiliating sentence handed down since Antonio missed a payment to Shylock?” It was said with a smile which, at first, seemed like pleasure at a clever turn of phrase. When she continued, its true meaning became clear. “Batman said you would ask. He said to tell you ‘Lucha libre is a passion play. The journey of men who uphold values of honor, tradition, and respect. Gotham is his. It belongs to the Dark Knight, the Gotham Rogues, and the people who were born here or come here to live because they feel an affinity to the place. A ‘Blue Demon’ pushed his way in and tried to break, eclipse, negate and replace those who belong here, who are of Gotham, naturally and rightly. All to gratify his own ego. And True Gothamites rose together to expel him. That’s the storyline, and he knows you will honor and respect it.’”
Bane’s back stiffened and he watched her judgingly, appraisingly. After a long, awkward moment of silence, Catwoman got to witness the oddest transformation in anyone’s history with Bane that didn’t involve coming down from a Venom rage. He exhaled slowly, his shoulders shifted, his whole frame deflated, not physically, but as if all of the wrath powering him drained slowly away.
“No, you got it wrong,” he said patiently. “It’s the Blue Demon who avenges his partner’s humiliation by hunting down Santo, as Señor Wayne knows, and deals him a defeat that is remembered and celebrated for decades to come.”
Catwoman winced apologetically.
“Sorry, I knew I was going to get it wrong. See, around here, Demon is… when you’re talking big ego outsider pushing his way in, trying to blot out everything that went before, remake everything in his own image for the greater glory of himself, you kind of think of... Never mind, it’s a long story. But you’d like him. You two… have a lot in common.
“Anyway, I’m sorry I butchered a mythos that obviously means a lot to you, that you were raised on and use to… make some sense out of your world. I told Bruce this is a guy thing and I’m probably going to get it wrong. Did I get… any of it right at all?”
Bane glanced out the window where no Arkham cliffs had fallen into the sea, where no Iceberg Lounge was burning. It’s not like he didn’t have time.
“Blue Demon was a member of Los Hermanos Shadow,” he began, gesturing for Catwoman to sit at the table, while he lowered his bulk onto the raised stairs to the reception desk. “His partner and friend in this brotherhood of shadows was the Black Shadow, who was beaten and unmasked by El Santo. Blue Demon swore his revenge and became a técnico…”
… … … … :: Duty Log: Batman :: … … …
Sickened as I was at the idea of Catwoman alone with Bane, she was undoubtedly the best person for the job. Without knowing whether his ‘earthquake machines’ operated on a timer or would be triggered by a remote device on his person, we had to get him to reveal the locations of all the Arkham devices without his figuring out our real agenda.
I’m not unskilled in interrogation techniques, but neither is Bane. We know the same tricks, and to a degree, think in the same way. He could always catch on, particularly if I only got one location out of him and had to keep the conversation going until I got the rest. With Selina, there was no such risk. Bane never stood a chance. Raised in a prison, studying warfare, worshipping lucha libre, everything about Bane is forged in masculine systems. It is the chief limitation to his thinking. And Selina all but encapsulates womanhood. No matter which direction the conversation took, there was no way he would be able to anticipate her, let alone see the way she was pushing his buttons.
And Selina can push a man’s buttons. He chose the Metropolis Penitentiary, Selina’s little improvisation about Clark disliking him apparently having the ‘opposite’ effect from what she intended. Which I’m sure was the idea all along. She never wanted to give him a choice. That was my olive branch.
How typically Catwoman. In the old days, whenever circumstances forced us to team up against a common foe, she always found some way to assert her independence.
And like those early team-ups, there has to be a final meeting to settle accounts before things can go back to normal. I’ve chosen ‘her’ gargoyle for the meeting. It’s Batman and Catwoman settling accounts, Batman and Catwoman who teamed up in an enterprise that was as exclusively crimefighting in nature as any operation will ever be. And yet, it’s Selina Kyle who’s involved in this endgame, not “Catwoman.” It might honestly be more appropriate for Bruce Wayne to ask her to drop by the office tomorrow—which is so absurd it makes my head ache.
Yet absurd as it is, it’s somehow more appropriate.
… … … … :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: … … …
Catwoman approached the gargoyle thinking she was early… until she was close enough to see a dark shape on the ledge behind it. When she realized what it was, her heart nearly stopped: a large, weathered, old-fashioned picnic basket. The one that had been left with such conspicuous bat-arrogance at the jewelry store nearest the opera house the night of their first “date.” She peaked inside before picking it up. The contents were similar but not identical. Then it was a bottle of Bordeaux, a half dozen peaches, loaf of bread and a round of Brie. Now that he knew her first boyfriend was a French count with a vineyard, he substituted an Italian Cortese for the Bordeaux. Now that he knew she loved red raspberries, a pint of them were tucked behind the peaches. The addition of caviar, she assumed, was because this was a celebration.
Glancing over the knee-high wall that separated the ledge from the rest of the roof, she saw he’d already picked a spot: a thick blanket was already laid out. So she brought the basket, took her place on the blanket and started unpacking the goodies. She heard the flutter of a cape as soon as she set out the wine glasses.
“You’re really quite a romantic in ways not everybody understands,” she said, holding up the corkscrew without turning.
He took it, grunted, opened the wine, and silently handed her a glass.
“I should probably let you believe that,” he said finally. “The truth is, it’s a protocol.” He paused just long enough for her to raise an eyebrow or take a sip of wine. She did the latter, and he continued. “I wasn’t sure how you were going to react, so I picked a time and place you’d be most receptive, set the stage…” He gestured to the picnic things, and this time, he got the eyebrow.
“I honestly can’t tell if you’re serious,” she said.
“Do I look like I’m joking,” he said, quoting the old line with a scowl. Then he walked to a pair of exhaust vents and retrieved what Selina called a “Bat box.” These black metal boxes were the size of a phone book and secured with magnets to any number of rooftop surfaces. He returned to the picnic blanket and set the box down between them.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Selina said, picking up a raspberry and popping it into her mouth to illustrate. “Hit me with it, let’s see how I’m going to react.”
Batman glanced at her suspiciously, then touched the bat emblem on the side of the box which acted as a pressure release. The front tipped open to reveal a thick packet of papers. He took the top folder, handed it to her, picked up a peach… and waited.
“What is this, a balance sheet?” she murmured. “NMK Holdings, why do I know that—OH! It’s the initials. It’s the… Used to be NMK Shipping, that dummy corporation you set up to intercept Demon minions Ra’s was smuggling into Gotham.”
“That’s right. Because it was Ra’s, it had to be completely separated from the Wayne name and Batman’s shield companies.”
“Yeah but it was all smoke and mirrors. NMK didn’t own anything, they just brokered cargo space on other people’s ships so it seemed to Ra’s like a company that had been around forever. But they didn’t own a single ship in the registry. This NMK, this is… this is a lot of real estate I’m looking at. Gotham real estate.”
“That’s why I used a company not associated with Bruce Wayne. Between my personal fortune and Wayne Enterprises, I control quite enough of Gotham. More would raise flags.”
“’Used a company not associated with Wayne’… for what, exactly?”
“A lot of the places the Rogues took over from Falcone are fronts, owned by him personally or by criminal colleagues that work for him. But a lot of them aren’t. A lot belonged to innocent people who were running a nice family business until a nephew with a gambling problem or a daughter with a drug habit wound up in Falcone’s book.”
“Oh God, you didn’t!” she said, massaging her forehead through the mask. “You bought them up as you were putting the Rogues away, to keep Carmine from taking over again.”
“Yes, and now it all has to be sorted out.”
From her seated position, Selina had lowered her back until she was flat on the blanket, then she picked up her wine glass and splashed the contents into her face.
“What’s wrong?” Batman asked tersely.
“I kind of had the same idea. I had Marcuso map out all the properties Carmine had lost and what they were really for. I had the Z go in as soon as you’d nabbed someone, un-theme all the hideouts they’d done in that Rogue’s style and ‘re-theme’ them as what they were originally if they were legit and something appropriate to the neighborhood if they weren’t.”
“A dry cleaners, a beauty salon, an ordinary apartment building. A computer store, a bakery…”
“You hired the Z…”
“Yeah, and you’re going to be buying dinner for a while, ‘cause when the bill comes, it’s going to be quite a tidy sum.”
“I think you can afford it. You’re NMK Holdings.”
Selina sat up slowly, her mouth hanging open and a drop of wine dripping from her eyelashes.
“I’m… what?” she said as if responding to the phrase ‘under arrest.’
“I set up NMK when my back was hurt and you had taken over Batman’s patrols. The whole Ra’s sting was in response to a lead you uncovered. It’s not like it mattered whose name was at the end of a paper trail no one would ever see. It was just my private little joke.”
Selina shut her eyes, the memories of those few weeks of crimefighting dancing behind closed lids as the phrase she often used to describe the activity rose with new significance.
“NMK,” she said flatly. “Not my kink. You are such a jackass.”
“It was a private joke, and a set of letters that was easy to remember.”
“Did I say jackass? I’m sorry, I meant you have the strangest sense of humor of any human ever.”
“It’s not the end of the world, Kitten. Lucius and the Foundation will help sort it all out. Turn over the legitimate properties to the people they were taken from, convert the rest into some kind of…”
“We’ll think of something.”
Selina started to laugh, poured herself another glass of wine, and ate another raspberry.
Batman’s lip twitched. Then he assumed his most foreboding accosting-the criminal-scowl as he graveled “You do realize you can’t say it anymore.”
“You gutted Gotham’s most powerful crime family, and for an encore, you took down Bane. If there’s a world’s foremost expert on crimefighting in Gotham City, it’s me, and I’m telling you—and there’s really no way around this now, Selina—it’s your kink.”
The Metropolis Penitentiary was a far more humane institution than Peña Dura, but Bane found his arrival there humbling. They were used to super-powered threats, threats that had challenged Superman. Bane’s physical size impressed no one, nor did his strength with or without Venom. In a sense, it was the perfect codicil for his disastrous bid to beat some respect out of Gotham City. One final failure to drive the point home. No one in the world would ever remember Bane as anything more than the one note flash-in-the-pan who…
The bitter thought dwindled to a thoughtful silence as Bane saw through the bars to the small cell he was to occupy. On the sole cot, three boxes sat in a row, bearing the markings common to all correctional facilities. All the markings that show the items have passed through the gauntlet of searches and tests—superficially to check there are no weapons or means of escape being smuggled in, but more importantly to make the point clear to the prisoner that this contact with the outside world is the gift of the powers that be. He himself has no power.
Bane waited until the door was closed, the guard withdrawn and the chamber sealed. Then he opened the first box. It contained…
“Osito?” he murmured, lifting out the stuffed bear that had been his sole companion growing up in Peña Dura. Underneath were two dog-eared paperbacks and an envelope of thick black paper. The books he recognized, so he went straight to the envelope, opened it and read the note inside. It was brief: Regardless of your motives, Falcone takedown was a great benefit to Gotham. Enclosing personal items left at your hideout. —B
He opened the second box with more curiosity than suspicion. It contained a small tin with the silhouette of a black cat on the lid. Opening it revealed white powdery lozenges that smelled faintly of peppermint, black currents and spice… and yet another note. No envelope this time, just a small card with a purple border. It read: That furrier is out of business. Even though your motives were shitty, I figured you deserved some reward. These pastilles should help with the no perspiring thing. Meow.
Bane’s brow knit in confusion. He looked guardedly back at Osito lying in the first box, then down at the card in his hand. Bane let out a long breath, reached out to the edge of the bed and opened the lid of the final box.
A deep belly laugh rumbled up into his chest as he looked inside.
It contained a chess set with yet another note, this one propped up against the king, bearing an embossed question mark at the top like a royal crest: Truth is you were a better opponent than Carmine. Pawn to King-3.