“I said ‘Fuck the Post’ not ‘Fuck in the Post,’” Eddie exclaimed, staring at the picture of his best friend screwing his worst enemy. He felt a throbbing behind his eyes, which he shut as he reminded himself that he didn’t care anymore.
He was The Riddler, he was The Smartest Villain in Gotham, the only man with enough going on above the neck to bring the Batman to his knees, and he had been reduced to being Fate’s Bitch—largely because of that bitch “spreading her legs for him in the Gotham Post!” Eddie said aloud at his computer screen. The website of the notorious tabloid said nothing in reply, and Eddie switched off the monitor.
Enough. E.N. Ough… No, too obvious, E.N. Houg, that would do for the junior partner, and the senior, the senior partner was to be A. Repo… Yes, he liked the sound of it: Repo and Houg, Attorneys at Law… or maybe CPAs… or book publishers. Maybe leave their profession unspecified. Fittingly unknown: Repo and Houg, Mind your own disgusting little middle class business. If you don’t know what we do here, you shouldn’t be knocking on our door.
He already had the Scottish tote bag. He’d decided to go with the Blackwatch pattern after all. His first thought was to use the tartan of the Wemyss clan, that would be a nice shot at Bruce Wayne, but on reflection, Eddie decided he didn’t want to take a shot at the man under the mask. Too much of his descent into Fate’s Bitch status resulted from Selina’s involvement with Bruce Wayne. The Riddler wanted to keep this professional: a tartan tote full of roses left at the Bat-Signal, and he would be on the road to reclaiming his pride, his penis, his spine and his self respect—four things that are any man’s by right and which Fate’s Bitch had taken from him for far too long…
“I feel pretty, oh so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and bright, and I pity—Good morning, darling—any girl that wasn’t me last night.”
Selina had paused her impromptu morning sing-a-long just long enough to kiss Bruce’s cheek and steal a bite of croissant off his plate, then she practically danced across the dining room to pour her coffee at the sideboard and, while her back was turned, Bruce glanced uncomfortably at Alfred.
“Who’s that pretty girl in the Gotham Post? Who can that attractive girl be? Such a shapely calf, such a curvy hip, such a curvy ass, such a gorgeous rack, such a pretty me…”
This was not part of the protocol.
Batman had anticipated Selina’s giddy satisfaction with certain aspects of the plan, but it wasn’t a factor in achieving the protocol objective so he didn’t give its ultimate form of expression much thought.
“It can’t possibly be in the print edition yet,” he noted as Selina settled in at the far end of the table with her coffee and scone. It was only three hours since their steamy rooftop sex for the benefit of a traffic camera hacked by the Gotham Post. There was no way those pictures could have hit the newsstands already.
“Probably not, but it’s on their website. I checked before I came down.” She sipped her coffee and then winked at him with the naughtiest of grins. “Be glad we don’t get the Post in this house, Alfred,” she said playfully without breaking eye contact with Bruce. “I know you like to run a hot iron over the Times before it goes on the breakfast tray each morning, and with what’s in the Post right now, that would not only be redundant, but knowing you’d seen it would make it hard for Bruce and I to sit here eating eggs and chatting about the weather without the whole thing feeling like a Noel Coward play.”
“Indeed, miss,” Alfred smiled. “Master Bruce did inform me of the graphic nature of the images that were essential to his plan.”
“Mhm, it’s quite diabolical,” Selina said, her voice dipping into a sinfully deep register as her eyes remained locked on Bruce’s. “Nothing focuses, directs and dominates the Collective Rogue’s attention like Batman.”
Bruce’s lip twitched, and he took up the narration in Batman’s deep gravel.
“After the fiasco at the Pelacci-Marcuso wedding, it was clear that the ‘Collective Rogue’s’ interest in Bruce and Selina had to be dealt with. Their interference presents a danger to innocent people.”
“And less-than-innocents,” Selina added. “I know we’re talking about crime families, but I felt sorry for that poor girl. She might be the daughter of a mob boss and she might have been marrying Carmine Falcone’s godson, but still: greened federal agents chasing down weaponized venom-penguins, hatted bridesmaids terrorizing fear-gassed groomsmen… Harley singing. It’s not the wedding day every girl dreams of.”
“They thought it was our wedding they were trashing,” Bruce reminded her. “MY life and YOURS, that those criminals and psychopaths took it upon themselves to interfere with. That wouldn’t be acceptable if they hadn’t endangered a soul. But they did. They endangered life and property and it has to stop. Their interest in us as a couple has to be dealt with, once and for all.”
“Mhm,” Selina agreed, rubbing the pad of her index finger rhythmically inside the bowl of her teaspoon. “Dealt with.”
“So Master Bruce’s plan is essentially a program of misdirection,” Alfred said, largely to demonstrate that he was following the conversation but taking no notice of the subtext.
“Not exactly,” Bruce answered. “Misdirection is effective in short spurts. Batman and Catwoman carrying on like porn stars in the Post will grab their attention momentarily, but it’s not a permanent solution. In three months, in six, in a year, something else could set them off and they’ll be all over us again. For the long term, we need to flood them with so much data they won’t notice anymore.”
“That’s where I come in,” Selina said with a wicked laugh reminiscent of Catwoman’s most malicious criminal escapades. “I go forth and bitch. To Harvey, to Hagen, to Oswald, to anyone who will listen: ‘The Goddamn Post is at it again.’ The fact that it’s Batman will make them all kinds of uncomfortable and they’ll wish me gone, gone, gone. Just shut up already and go… until they’re numb to it. They’ll stop processing new information, Bruce and I can get on with our lives without worrying how the Rogues will react whenever some picture from a Wayne fundraiser makes Page 6. Protocol achieved,” she concluded with an adoring smile.
“Ingenious, sir,” Alfred said appreciatively.
“It really is,” Selina said softly.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Bruce said modestly. “Last night was only Phase I.”
“And Phase 2 is already set in motion. I have a lunch date with Harvey tomorrow: ‘The Goddamn Post is at it again. Did you see all the places he had his hands? And those boots—it’d be like trying to sneak quietly through a museum with taiko drums strapped to my feet.’”
“Good girl,” Bruce said, reaching under the table and pulling out a vivid orange and brown shopping bag. “But we haven’t quite settled accounts on Phase I yet.” He rose from his chair, pulled a gift box from the shopping bag, and walked it over to Selina. “You wore a ‘zip-up bikerchick’ catsuit, clodhopper boots, and tucked your hair into an appalling hoodie of a catmask. I thought you deserved a reward.”
Selina’s eyes flicked down to the signature orange and brown box tied with an equally distinctive brown and white polka dot ribbon, then looked back up at him with an acquisitive gleam.
“Is that what I think it is?” she asked in a tone that recalled an early encounter over a case of loose diamonds.
“Open it and see.”
A line suggested itself, but Selina waited until the lid was removed, the tissue paper folded back, the camel dust bag extracted, and her fingers were caressing the impeccably stitched snakeskin of a plum Hermes Kelly Bag.
“If I’d known you were planning this, I wouldn’t have made them Photoshop in the goggles,” she purred.
It was a common misconception that “physically strong” meant “stupid.” As an educated man, Bane was aware of this and he used it more or less to his advantage. Foes who expected a big, hulking steroid case to have no thought beyond “Hit it ‘til it cries” quickly found themselves backed into a corner where he could pick them up by their skull and crush it in his hand. That said, his grasp of strategy didn’t go much beyond that. Strategy was setting up the playing field. It was how you got that foe backed into that corner where you could “Hit it ‘til it cried.”
That was all the tactics he needed for Gotham. The costumed freaks who ran amok here had cheated him out of his glory. He had beaten their Batman, he had broken their Batman, and by natural law that made him their king. They denied him that respect, they denied him that tribute, and now they would pay. One by one, they would pay. He would start with a small one who would squeal long and loud. Let his name be howled to the heavens, then whispered in terror in the alleys: Bane is coming for you next.
Anthony Marcuso was too young to have his own table at Rao’s, but Carmine Falcone had one on Tuesday nights. At least once a month he offered it to Anthony if he wasn’t planning to use it himself, or else he invited his godson to join him. Tonight’s invitation was not unexpected: Anthony had been expecting it since the wedding imploded.
“You understand you can’t marry her now,” Carmine began without preamble. “I had 80 guests in, special guests, to see my godson married to Joey the Bull’s daughter from Keystone. Wedding doesn’t go off because of those costumed freaks, you can’t go sneaking off to Vegas next month to marry her quietly, you understand? That makes it look like those figlii puttane put a stop to the wedding and you’re running scared.”
“I understand, Uncle Carmine,” Anthony said gamely. He also understood that, costumed Rogues aside, Joey Pelacci was now a threat rather than a prospective ally and Carmine didn’t want a family tie. The old man had come to Gotham to see his daughter married, and instead he’d had a run in with Joker and Harley Quinn. He’d been insulted by Uncle Carmine simply because he asked Susannah if she wanted to go through with the wedding after batarangs were found in the wedding cake and the best man was frozen behind a wall of ice…
“Maybe in a couple years when things settle down,” Anthony said hopefully.
“Maybe,” said Carmine, meaning pigs might fly.
“His man Russo is still a big deal in Bludhaven,” Anthony pointed out, noting two of Tony Russo’s button men, Pollati and Biscotti, were sitting at the bar.
“I’m aware,” Carmine nodded, watching them in the mirror behind Anthony’s head. “’Chicken and Biscuits’ never went back to Keystone with Pelacci, and they’re not going back to Bludhaven with Russo. Just been sitting there all night, nursing those same two glasses of bourbon.”
“Well, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to go back to Keystone or Bludhaven, would you?” Anthony joked.
Carmine considered this. For a couple Midwest hitters like that, coming to Gotham without spending at least one night in Rao’s would be like a priest going to Rome without seeing the Vatican. And whatever provincial troughs they had in Bludhaven, there would be nothing to equal the fame and exclusivity of 455 East 114th Street.
On an apparent whim, Carmine waved his hand and invited them over, then clapped his hands like a sultan and pointed for the waiter to bring a few chairs. At first Anthony smiled at what he assumed was Uncle Carmine’s little joke: playing up the Big Don to impress the Keystone rubes. But then he started to hear what Carmine was saying:
Gambling was still the best business for any organized crime family to be in, because it didn’t just generate revenue, it gave you power over people that was more useful than any amount of money alone…
It was all said through the delicate code words that kept conversations like this from turning into grand jury testimony, but Uncle Carmine was still spelling out an important Falcone operation for a pair of mid-level out-of-town nobodies.
We had this dentist that likes Texas hold’em and college basketball. Lost thirty grand in a weekend. Now, I could’ve pushed and collected the cash, but instead I put him to work…
Anthony knew to hold his tongue until they were outside the restaurant. He mentioned Dr. Parks by name as they were getting into the limo so Uncle Carmine knew to raise the privacy screen.
“You’re wondering why I told Chicken and Biscuits about the dentist,” he noted.
“Well, yeah,” Anthony admitted. “He’s a cash cow. The stuff he gets into Blackgate sells for ten times what we could get on the street.”
Men in prison sometimes needed dental work, just like anyone else—particularly prisoners in Blackgate if they’d been sent there by Batman who had the meanest right hook north of Sicily. Depending on the procedure, a prisoner could be taken under guard to the dentist’s office. Parks gave the Falcones a heads up whenever he had a patient coming in, and they send a woman the day before “to have a cleaning.” She’d give Parks the drugs which he’d hide in the washroom. The next day: prisoner was brought in, he’d use the toilet, pick up the drugs and smuggle them back inside…
“The big picture, my boy,” Carmine said with a fat, self-satisfied grin. “The big picture. Thirty grand Parks owed. How much more than that has he made for us, because I put him to work. The kid holding his marker—was another Anthony, Fat Stefano’s boy, Anthony Crispi—he couldn’t see that. He couldn’t see past that single IOU and what it would do for his weekly numbers. This is the same thing.”
“You’re saying I’m missing the big picture,” Anthony nodded. “That the money Parks makes us on the Blackgate operation is nothing compared to something else? Well, okay, but how does telling Chicken and Biscuits figure in?”
“It’s not a case of more money, son. It’s less. Sometimes the money has to be sacrificed in the face of… other considerations.”
Anthony wondered what Carmine meant. He wondered if it was the money or the money-maker that had to be sacrificed. He still couldn’t see any point in telling Russo’s men about any of it, but he was done asking for clarification. He didn’t like that needless detail about “the other Anthony.” Fat Stefano’s boy Anthony Crispi was promoted too soon, that was the general consensus. He was too eager to please, too quick to boast about a temporary surge in profits as if it reflected on him personally—and then too quick to assume the inevitable drop would reflect on him just as poorly. One bad month and, assuming Uncle Carmine was going to exterminate him, he’d gone running into Witness Protection. At least that was the story. Whether it was true, whether Fat Stefano’s boy had gone into Witness Protection or had simply gone, that was something Anthony Marcuso didn’t like to think about.
He probably did, and that simple remark that they shared the same name probably meant nothing. But Anthony wasn’t going to take any chances. He still had no idea what the big picture was that Uncle Carmine was talking about. He’d try to figure it out on his own, but he absolutely was not going to ask again.
The red eye from Philadelphia wasn’t exactly a tourist flight, and the pilot knew most of the passengers wouldn’t care that the Bat-Signal was visible on the left side of the plane as they followed the river south for the final approach into La Guardia. But there was that one family with the two kids. If they were still awake, it’d be a big deal for them. So he made the announcement…
The kids were not awake, but one passenger several rows in front of them did look out the window with a sour puckering of her lips. The Bat-Signal. If Mollatova was as Russian as her nickname, she might look on it as a bad omen. As a pragmatic Irish-Catholic from Fishtown, she only saw it as a heads up: going into Gotham to kill people was serious business. There was more than the cops and Feds to contend with…. Her employers generally had a friend or two in the local precincts, friends who would see the investigation only went so far in a certain direction. With the Feds, they had no such influence, but by the time the agencies got involved, Mollatova was safely out of town.
Gotham City was a different story. Gotham City had Batman. Nobody controlled him, he was nobody’s friend, and every time one of her competitors did a job in Gotham, he always got there before they made it to the airport.
That wasn’t going to stop her from taking the job—refusing wasn’t an option anyway when Roman Falcone dialed your number—but it was enough to be careful. Falcone had explosives men of his own, but he wasn’t using them. He wanted her, and she couldn’t guess why. She wondered if it was connected to that signal—if Roman was suddenly squeamish about Bat-attention and figured out of town talent wouldn’t be traced back to him. It was possible, but even so, she had to wonder, why her?
Mollatova would have liked to be as cocky and confident as any other hitter who had stayed alive and stayed out of prison, but she knew her skills were as pedestrian as her street name. From the molotov cocktails she favored in her early hits, it was like some kind of cockney rhyming slang that gave up half way through.
Catwoman smiled when she saw the Bat-Signal. He’d be busy for a while. Good.
It wasn’t date night, and even if it had been, that practice was suspended for a bit. They had agreed Batman and Catwoman should avoid each other once the sex pictures hit the newsstands. Anyone who actually knew her would know the costume was wrong and would therefore assume the whole thing was another Gotham Post fabrication. But a Batman and Catwoman who had a) not had sex and b) not deliberately staged the photos would certainly not want to be seen together. So for now avoidance was the name of the game. Batman would be heading to the roof of One Police Plaza, leaving her free to amuse herself on Museum Row or the Diamond District until—
..:: Catwoman? ::.. the OraCom graveled in the voice of a crimefighter who was supposed to be avoiding her.
“I’m sorry, Catwoman can’t come to the phone right now. She’s busy working through a backlog of jewels and artworks that want some love since the World’s Greatest Thief was sidetracked by a laughable stint at cough-fighting.”
..:: Fine, just don’t make plans for Friday. We’re going to the opera.::..
She said nothing for a moment. “Fine” wasn’t the usual way he responded to the mildest allusions to her stealing. And even if they weren’t in avoidance mode, he would never use the OraCom to discuss a private Bruce-Selina matter in the middle of Batman’s patrol.
“Anything special I should wear?” she asked. Her tone made it clear that she understood this was work, but she was thinking of some particular item of jewelry he might want her to dangle as bait. She wasn’t prepared for the answer that came:
.:: Green should piss him off.::..
“O-kay,” Selina said quietly.
..:: Batman out.::..
Being hired by Roman Falcone wasn’t like getting a job from other bosses. Most of the big shots used public places to do business: bowling alleys and strip clubs, places with so much ambient noise that they didn’t have to worry about listening devices, and where a given person walking inside wasn’t necessarily going to meet anybody in particular. Falcone used his own townhouse in the middle of Brookline’s “Brownstone Corridor.” Mollatova wasn’t even sure she was in the right place when she walked down the tree-lined residential street. She knew she’d taken the right train, she knew she was in Brookline, but she couldn’t help thinking she’d gotten off at the wrong stop or something. Particularly when her GPS plopped her right at the door to a ritzy looking brownstone. It was definitely the address she’d been given—thought she’d been given—but she had to wonder if maybe she’d taken it down wrong.
But she’d rung the bell, and the guy who answered certainly had the look. So she’d given her name, been escorted inside, and now she waited in a foyer that was about as far from a bowling alley or a strip club as you could get. Oriental carpet, big round table with a big spray of flowers on it, potted tree in the corner. It looked like a snooty hotel lobby. Every now and then, a set of heavy double doors opened and Mollatova could see into Roman Falcone’s office, hear a few words of conversation as whoever he was talking to was dismissed. The tone was always the same, that jovial “nice talking to you” voice, like politicians on the news coming out of a sitdown. Didn’t give away a thing about what really went on behind closed doors. Each time the door opened, Mollatova looked up, hoping her meeting would be next. Each time one of the men inside shut the door without acknowledging her.
The door handle jiggled again immediately before the door opened, and once again Mollatova looked up.
“Splendid work, Jim, splendid. I knew they’d see it our way in the end. That’s why I told you to ignore those last jabs from Sensocallo and Smith. They were bound to take a few last shots once they realized they were going to lose.” That in Roman’s voice, followed by a fat, satisfied laugh and some approving murmurs from the others in the room as Jim left. It was like every other exit Mollatova had witnessed, until that final second before the door closed and she saw Roman coming into view as he sat at his desk: a suave smiling face that matched the voice she’d heard. Then in an instant it transformed: the lips drew back from the teeth in a snarl, the eyes came alive with savagery. An instinct older than stone told Mollatova to look away, but instinct was too late and Roman caught her staring. There was a queer flicker in his eye, a queerer smile, and then the mask of polite affability returned. Mollatova shuttered as the ancient instinct prompted flight: she had looked into the face of something beyond fury, into a nearly insane rage. RUN! instinct prompted.
“It will be just a few more minutes,” the voice of civilization countered—in the person of a man in a suit standing just inside the door. “Mr. Falcone will see you next.”
..:: O-kay,::.. Catwoman said quietly.
“Batman out,” he snapped before closing the OraCom and returning his attention to the clues laid out on the worktable. The satellite cave beneath Wayne Tower was smaller than the one under the manor, but it was just as well-equipped. There were a few more tests to run, but Batman was reasonably sure there would be no coded images hidden in the pattern of the tote bag, none of the fibers would be treated with a chemical signature revealing a second riddle, and the roses would not turn out to be some obscure hybrid named for the mistress of a 19th Century German painter whose masterwork was currently on display at Hudson University and whose name was an anagram for “obsessive-compulsive puzzle-crazed pain in the ass.”
He could have told Selina the rest, of course, but what would be the point? He didn’t even intend to mention Nigma when he called her. Just secure her presence for Friday night, like he would Robin or Batgirl or even Superman if he needed them for a particular operation. But she asked what to wear, so… Selina was no fool, she had to know this was coming. Riddler had been quiet for too long. An action was overdue. While Batman was taking the matter seriously, it wasn’t unexpected so it wasn’t as troubling as Muskelli’s other news.
The police commissioner had three items of information when Batman arrived at the signal. There was Jervis Tetch’s early release from Arkham, which of course he knew. There was this Riddler clue, which he solved within seconds since he’d been expecting something like it for years…
The Sator Square was a popular graffiti dating back to Ancient Rome. Some historians called it “The World’s First Meme.” A 5-by-5 grid spelling out five words that were a Latin palindrome: SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS, spelled out perfectly across and down. The wordplay alone would be enough to pique Nigma’s interest, but there was more: the translation. No one was completely sure what “Sator arepo tenet opera rotas” meant. It had something to do with putting your hand to a plow, but there was no one definitive translation because nobody knew what that word “Arepo” meant. It was an unknown. A riddle.
Three of the four remaining words were “Sator Tenet Rotas” which formed the anagram “Tartan Roses Tote.” As soon as Batman landed on the roof and saw a tote bag made of a Blackwatch tartan overflowing with roses, he knew Nigma was announcing an attack on the Gotham Opera.
The only real surprise on that roof tonight came from Lawrence Muskelli himself. The man who had served as police commissioner since Jim Gordon retired wanted Batman to know he was being vetted for a Presidential Appointment to the Department of Justice… In all probability, Gotham would have a new police commissioner by the end of the year.
Well, now Mollatova knew why Roman hired her: she was a woman.
She returned to the little hotel in Greenwich Village that had been a semi-residential shithole the first time she’d been to Gotham. It was now a ‘boutique hotel,’ meaning the rooms were still small, humid and noisy, but they cost four times as much. It was cleaner than it had been, the staff was friendlier, the funky smell was gone, and the air conditioner worked (mostly). It also had a great location. Walking distance to the subway and just a ten minute ride to Roman’s neighborhood…
While she unpacked, she put that look of savagery from her mind. It’s not like she ever thought Roman Falcone was a nice guy. He was a boss, he had enemies, he hired people like her to deal with them, and he paid better than most for that service. Mollatova did not get a lot a work from the kind of bosses who paid that well. She’d wondered why she got this job, and now she knew. One of the hits was on Poison Ivy, that eco-terrorist with all kinds of crazy powers to control men, so Falcone wanted a woman to do the job. Mollatova didn’t see that it mattered. Planting a bomb wasn’t like getting up close with a knife or a gun, so she couldn’t imagine what Poison Ivy could do to her if she had been a man… Looking at the photograph, she could imagine a few other things, and that made it seem like a terrible waste. If this Poison Ivy wasn’t the target, she was definitely Molla’s type.
The second target wasn’t nearly as interesting, and there wasn’t a known residence. Just a few businesses the guy was known to frequent. Might have been an issue in another city, but in Gotham, with this target, Mollatova couldn’t see it being a problem.
Twinkle, twinkle, little bat.
This time for sure, you will go splat.
It really was the most fetterishously frohmishful deathtrap Mad Hatter had ever devised. The treadmill would force Batman to run, unless he wanted to get swept into the deck of razor-edged cards. The squares made it look like a chessboard at first, but once it started to move—What plentasical plumistude! He could change the ratio of the squares just a little, and the optical illusion would be terrifically disconcerting. It seemed like the floor was stretching, then contracting, turning and twisting and tilting—What whimsistical wollishousness! Maybe it wouldn’t bother him at first, for Batman was very clever, but with all that running, he would get tired out, and sending the occasional line of pawns down the chess board that he would have to hurdle over, that would tire him out all the quicker.
Then, once the Dark Knight was really confused and panting like a Paisley-Chested Twaldorfrake, Jervis would dangle the bait. He would descend from above in a giant tophat (well technically, a parade float on a pallet lift but it would look like a flying tophat from Batman’s perspective) dropping exploding tea cups and rabbits as if they were additional hazards. Batman would evade them easily enough, and then—thinking he’s oh so clever, like a zoundling slurkinyagger—he would take out that grapnel gun and fire a line into the top hat, imagining he could ride his way to safety. When in fact, he would activate the Jabberwocks Jibbingdock, the fake Jervis in the hat would activate and the whole thing would send a sizzling taser-stream of tosmorgoliffically tizzmrafying electricity straight down the Bat-line into the Bat-brain frying the Cursed Crusader into a teacake!
Now that the hatted staff of the 73rd Street Starbucks had changed the sign over the door to “Alice’s Tea Cup” and the customers were nicely arranged to be his opening move chessmen, all he had to do was let one of them free to run to the police and… and…
An improbably large shadow fell across his chessboard… an improbably large shadow with no pointy bat-ears.
“Down the rabbit hole,” a voice behind him whispered as a hand the size of a 7-¾ fedora clamped down on his head and threw him down onto the chessboard.
It has been said that no man is a hero in the dentist’s chair. Blakely Parks didn’t feel any man was a villain there either. The Joker himself, the homicidal psychopath, was like any other patient: his mouth stuffed with cotton wool, hot air puffing down the cavity, unable to speak for himself, and that scrunching of flesh below the eye as the mouth is held open that is identical in all men while they wait for it to be over.
Well, technically Joker wasn’t like any other patient, but the difference had nothing to do with his insanity. A human adult comes equipped with thirty-two permanent teeth and Batman had knocked out a few of Joker’s on multiple occasions. Teeth do not grow back, but Joker would not accept the notion of an incomplete smile. Enter the Cibiole process to regenerate them. It was experimental and intended for bone rather than enamel, but it produced a viable tooth that lasted 18 to 24 months without a booster shot, so Joker was quite pleased.
“Ybrzenezegueywenseeocruckneh?” Joker asked.
“Yes, you tell me every time,” Dr. Parks answered.
“And the duck says ‘Yeah, can you get this guy off my ass.’ But please don’t laugh this time or the cotton will all—eeu…uuuh…eeeuuuuhh…”
The Joker had seen bodies seize in just that way before, the eyes widened in shock and slowly draining of life, the little trickle of blood out the side of the mouth. He was always the one responsible, so it never took him by surprise. Seeing Dr. Parks seize up midsentence and then fall away to reveal two bridge and tunnel guidos standing over him, one with the bloody knife still dripping, the other pointing a Glock 9mm at his head…
“Ybrzenezegueywenseeocruckneh?” Joker asked.
Since Harvey Dent’s scars had returned, there was little question where he would want to have lunch. The food was very good at Jinatra’s, but what made the little hole in the wall near The Flick Theatre so special was the way the proprietor and her son never seemed to notice his scars. In the beginning, he didn’t think they realized he was Two-Face. Scarring like his wasn’t that uncommon in the Vietnamese village they came from, thanks to the landmines. But once Jinatra started greeting him as “Mr. Two-Dents,” there didn’t seem any room for doubt. They knew who he was and they didn’t care. Harvey’s visits became more regular, and he quickly introduced friends like Selina to the place whenever they went out together for a meal.
And the lunch was off to a great start. As one of the primary instigators of the rumor about her getting married, Selina figured Harvey would be easy prey. Embarrassment to the left of him, guilt to the right, and a big glossy picture of her in the vending machine straight ahead. As she walked down the alley behind The Flick, she saw Harvey on the sidewalk waiting for her, staring at the Post vending machine with wide-eyes and an open mouth. They had gone with the money shot on the cover (no surprise there) with her hand under Batman’s tunic.
“Selina, how wonderful to see you,” Harvey sputtered, looking a full three inches over her head—presumably to avoid glancing at any part of her that he’d been staring at in that picture.
Good, Selina thought. He was already defensive.
“So you’ve seen it,” she said acidly as they turned to walk into the restaurant together. “Don’t even think about opening it, I hear that’s absolutely nothing compared to what’s going on in pages 17 through 20. Here I thought everything was going to settle down after that fiasco at the SoHo. Bruce had been such a good sport about the whole thing—although I have yet to hear what Hagen thought he was doing there impersonating Bruce that way…”
Selina was fully focused on her mission: maximizing Harvey’s discomfort to achieve full Rogue-saturation on subjects related to her love life. Harvey was fully focused on the discomfort. So neither noticed the motorcycle on the corner: a man and a woman seated on it, mirrored visors down concealing both their faces. It started to move at virtually the same instant Harvey and Selina began moving towards the restaurant, passing the window just as they sat down at a booth.
“But we had a good laugh about it in the end. I mean they used the right color for my bra, can you believe it, so it’s not like they’ve run out of purple ink… I think I’m going to get the mi quang again. I just love that toasted rice paper it comes on… It’s actually pretty funny, I really do have a bra just like that. La Perla…”
The cycle proceeded twice around the block, slowly and quietly…
“…lucky that Bruce is so understanding, but of course he’s used to the media frenzy with the way he used to carry on. You probably know more about how much of it was true than I do, you two were cohorts back then, weren’t you…”
On the third pass, the cycle gunned its engines, the woman in back freed her arms from around the driver’s waist and produced a bottle and lighter from the satchel she wore. The driver swerved onto the sidewalk so that no midday traffic could slow his pace, and as he rolled past Jinatra’s at full speed, the woman lit the molatov cocktail and hurled it through the window at Harvey and Selina’s table.
To be continued…