It was my instant messenger. Riddler set this system up for the “villain community” to keep in touch. I thought it was silly then, and I think it’s silly now. But Harvey convinced me to go along. Every few months, one of those nutjobs comes up with an idea to do something social. Usually it’s Harley. Usually it’s bowling.
I never go. I’m not a joiner. Harvey bugs me about it. He’s probably my best friend among the Rogues Gallery, a big brother-type, but he can be a real pest sometimes. Several months ago he called me:
..:: You going to this Karaoke Happy Hour or not? ::..
“Oh yes, I long to hear Eddie Nigma and Ivy singing You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore.”
..:: You’re getting a reputation, Selina. They’re calling you a real prude. ::..
“Harvey, have you ever SEEN my costume?”
..:: Come, just for an hour. It’ll be fun. ::..
“I don’t want to. It’s stupid. You just want me to come because you know it will be stupid and you’re going to have a terrible time. So you want me there to have a terrible time with you.”
..:: It’ll be fun. If we didn’t think so, why would we be going? ::..
“‘Cause the coin came up heads.”
Shit, why did I say that?, I thought. The line was eerily silent.
“Harvey, I’m sorry, that was thoughtless and mean. You put me on the defensive—never a good idea—and I lashed out. I’m really sorry.”
..:: Y’know, Selina, you could make a bit of an effort to at least appear to be one of us. If there were half the stories about me and Batman as there are about you, I’d be very worried. ::..
I smiled—I hoped it would come through in my voice as I said, “Harvey, if there were any of the stories about you and Batman like there are about me, we’d ALL be worried.”
He laughed. I was forgiven. But I was definitely on the hook for Karaoke Happy Hour. I went. I’ll admit, it wasn’t that bad. Hugo Strange was truly creepy. I figure he has a frequent-renter card at Sleezo-Video. In trying to avoid him, I wound up talking most of the night to Ed Nigma, who’s actually a fairly interesting guy in his lucid moments. He doesn’t have many of them, but something about Harley Quinn crooning Don’t Cry for Me Argentina brought on a moment of clarity. So it wasn’t absolutely hell on earth, but it’s nothing I’d want to make a habit of. That’s why Harvey suggested going along with this IM idea.
..:: If you agree to a few of the little things,::.. he said, ..:: it’s easier to say no when they come up with something really obnoxious. ::..
“More obnoxious than karaoke?”
..:: There was talk of you hosting Thanksgiving dinner. ::..
So I had this instant messenger on my desktop now. I knew it was only a matter of time before Batman found out and showed up on the channel. I dismissed the idea that that’s why I installed it. Anyway, it was on my desktop and it was cackling: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Joker, obviously. I opened the dialogue window:
Catty? Babe? Who the hell did he think he’s talking to?
A second line of text appeared:
He was talking about Bronwyn Carlton, new reporter at the Gotham Post. Now the Post is a tabloid scandal sheet. The stories they print about Batman and the Rogues are completely and utterly false and everyone in the super-community knows it. 90% of everybody else knows it too. But when one of their libelous flights of fancy is appealing, everybody can make quite a distasteful show of pretending to believe it. That was the case when they printed a story that Batman and I were having a torrid affair (on the roof of police headquarters no less!), when they reported Nightwing was our love child (How old do these people think I am?) Oh, and my personal all-time favorite: that the time I helped the JLA with Prometheus, I just happened to be at the WatchTower because I wanted to try a zero-gravity three-way with Batman and Black Canary!
Pitied by the Joker.
This was serious.
The last time Jack spoke to me, he threatened to paste one of those deathsmiles on every cat in the city. He had just found out I had not really killed Batman as I’d told him when I dropped him at Arkham last year. What can I say; the clown has no sense of humor. Hee-hee.
And now he pitied me.
And it was all because Bronwyn Carlton and her chicks-behind-bars editor decided to name some (homely) Jane Doe in the county jail as “CATWOMAN CAPTURED!” They followed with a perfectly ludicrous series of articles about her arrest, abuse at the hands of the authorities, brainwashing by Harley Quinn (Harley Quinn? HARLEY QUINN?!?!? HARLEY FUCKING QUINN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). And finally, a supposed interview with this fictitious Catwoman, including her confession to a number of robberies that would have been absolutely beneath my dignity to bother with, for a payoff that wouldn’t cover my tips.
I had decided to quietly ride out this ridiculous episode just like all the others. How bad could it be, right? Well, it wasn’t that bad—until I ran into Batman on the roof of a brokerage house.
Usually old Tall, Dark and Spooky will open with something grandly pompous. This time he just stood there, staring. And the side of his mouth twitched in an odd way.
“I thought you were in jail,” he said and his mouth did that weird twitch again. And I thought: Oh Jesus, it’s a SMILE. He’s SMILING. He thinks this IS FUNNY!
I was so stunned I just let him take the bag… bearer bonds… Didn’t hiss. Didn’t scratch. I know what you’re thinking and you’re right: I dropped the ball and I’m damn lucky he didn’t slap the cuffs on me right then…
It suddenly occurred to me: Batman reads the Post.
He’d never made any mention of those earlier stories and I guess I figured he hadn’t seen them… Ho boy, I’ll worry about that one tomorrow.
Problem was, after a stunt like CATWOMAN CAPTURED what do you do for a topper? Ol’ Ms. Carlton and her editor discovered my name sells papers, so now, so said tonight’s edition, I’d gone and shot Commissioner Gordon. Yeah, like if I had a loaded gun he’d really be the one lying in a pool of blood right now.
Jack was right, this Carlton woman did have to be stopped. I just needed to figure out how…
Like all well-trained butler/valets, Alfred Pennyworth ran a hot iron over the newspaper he placed each morning on his employer’s breakfast tray. Laying down the tray on a bedside table, he then opened the curtains, ran a hot bath, and laid out appropriate clothing for the day ahead in a small dressing room adjacent to the bath. He then returned to the bedroom. If Bruce Wayne had arisen, he would wish his employer a good morning. If he had not, Alfred would pour the coffee and make relentlessly polite smalltalk until Bruce accepted the inevitable and got out of bed. This morning, on returning to the bedroom Alfred discovered that Bruce was indeed awake, had unfolded the aforementioned paper, poured his coffee, and spat a mouthful of it all over the Entertainment section. Still coughing, he was simultaneously trying to mop up the puddle with a napkin and read the soggy words beneath.
The incident was caused by a box labeled Stage Views right beneath the fold:
Alfred was able to read this much over Bruce’s shoulder. With the superhuman restraint heaven grants to English butlers, he resisted the urge to tear the paper from Bruce’s fingers and turn to page E-5. Bruce looked up at him, seemingly waiting for a comment.
“Quite an unexpected development, sir.”
“Quite,” Bruce muttered sourly.
“Would you know, er, if this lady is who she claims?”
“How on Earth would I know that, Alfred? We fight, we wear masks; we don’t exchange business cards.”
“I’m sorry I snapped at you, Old Friend, it’s just… my mind’s juggling a thousand possibilities right now.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Brandi. Cancel our date tonight. And get me a ticket for this thing.”
“Sir, if you’re going to be attending the theatre, why not bring the young lady along?”
Why indeed, thought Bruce.
“No, break the date,” he answered, then offered an explanation although none was asked for. “I don’t know what to expect from this thing, and I don’t want anybody close by gauging my reaction.” He wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth or not, and it made him uncomfortable. “No, wait—call Dick, see if he’d like to go. Get two tickets if he does.”
Alfred was perhaps the only person on the planet who could truly challenge the man behind the Bat at these moments, and part of that particular privilege was knowing when not to question. Much as Bruce’s logic seemed bizarre and arbitrary, he made the required calls without comment.
To be continued…