Catwoman’s Rule #… oh, why bother. I don’t like him being right, that’s the heart of the thing.
“I’m not good at introspection,” I said. “Bad things happen when I try it.”
He doesn’t get to declare victory on that. Absolutely not. I won’t have it.
I have to clean out that closet now, and that’s all there is to it.
You know where cats come from? No. I’ll tell you why: Because nobody knows. Their origins are a mystery. Most people assume they first appeared in Egypt, but they show up in Sanskrit writings in India from around the same time. Some say they’re descended from the big cats: tigers, lions or leopards. But others say they’re closer to the fox.
Nobody knows their past, and that’s how it is. Look into a cat’s eyes some time. They’re not telling.
But I still have to face up to the past and clean out that closet. It isn’t to prove Bruce wrong; he’s right: I don’t like looking back… and that’s exactly why it has to be done.
The first shock, the first nasty shock of what I’m sure will be many, is finding the pendant, an amethyst teardrop the size of my thumbnail with a little round of silver filigree at the top… my mother’s. It was a gift from my father the night of her final performance. She’d risen from the corps de ballet to a soloist, but would never, I am told, have become a prima ballerina. I never understood why. I thought her movement when she danced was the most astonishing feat of grace and loveliness imaginable. She could make her body bend and flow like water then pivot and soar… or freeze rigid, her whole body balanced impossibly on a square inch of satin.
Our house was large—not quite as large as Wayne Manor, we weren’t that rich—but large enough that my mother had her music room. I wasn’t supposed to go in there. My shoes smudged the highly polished floor, and my curious fingers smudged the mirrors as well. But I used to sneak in anyway to watch her, and gradually I learned to avoid being seen in the mirrors or squeaking on that perilous floor… I learned stealth.
When I was five, I was allowed to begin lessons. I was so excited. At the barre, demi-plié… grand plié, the bending warm-ups, and then at last moving to the center of the room, adage, first position, looking into that mirror, a little miniature of my mother as she stood behind me.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS? SOMEBODY PLEASE FUCKING TELL ME! …Christ.
At least Bruce has somebody to blame. Icy patch of bridge, dark night, cold river. Nobody’s fault. Not even the consolation of a drunk driver.
I guess I might have blamed God if the thought had occurred to me. Anger is one of the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Except not everyone does it in that order, that’s a myth. I went straight to depression. The rest would come later.
Denial wasn’t an option, not really. There was no way to hide from the reality: I was alone. Both my parents, my home, that feeling of being safe and loved, it was all gone.
The money. Home. A coffee table: gray and white marble top, cherry or mahogany beneath, with these little lunettes of handpainted Limoges in little brass frames… A white damask sofa, another one was pink… And there was a second table, much deeper gray marble with a gold leaf base. More gilding on the picture frames… There was a colorful one. Would that have been a Chagall? And a Cezanne etching. A Rembrandt engraving. Carved dining room set with brass lion’s heads drawer pulls.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS?
We were rich. When they died that all went away.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS??
We were rich. And when they died that all went away. I guess maybe… in a way…
WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS???
Lots of people are rich. Look at Bruce. Lots of people lose their parents. Again, look at Bruce. That doesn’t mean…
I guess maybe I associated the wealth and the luxuries with the safety and the love and the home feeling I’d lost.
What POSSIBLE value is there in knowing that???
Carmine “The Roman” Falcone. Now there’s a name out of the past. Scrawled into the back of a second year Latin textbook, with a little sketch of the Roman Centurion they had mounted on the heavy iron gate.
Why did I keep this?
The textbook was mine, from Miss Corinne’s. The sketches, doodles really, are also mine. How I hated Latin. Why did I keep this?
And why didn’t that pretentious snot Falcone use a Falcon instead of a Centurion? Maybe too fascist.
When my parents died, I was sent to my godmother. She was headmistress of Miss Corinne’s, possibly the dreariest girls’ school in the Northeast. Don’t get me wrong, it was no cruel orphanage out of a Brontë novel. On the contrary, it was one of the best boarding schools in the country. It was just… dreary. I remember the whole place as gray: gray skies, gray walls, gray uniforms, gray light through the windows made even the white pages of the textbooks seem gray. My godmother was also gray, both her hair and her outlook. I’m sure she tried, in her way, to give me a real home there, but her life at the school seemed so limited to me. She had never married or had children or a family of her own. She oversaw the care and education of other people’s children, who stayed for a time and then moved on while she remained. And for this she was paid a small sum every month. It seemed a very small and gray and limited world in which to live out your entire life.
Dreary. Limited. Gray. I never fit in there. How could I? Thrown in with a lot of strangers who couldn’t begin to understand why I was so ‘quiet and moody’ when it had been all of six months since my whole life had been torn away from me.
So I snuck off every chance I had and explored the grounds near the school. It was a part of Long Island that is quite wild, like Heathcliffe country. Most Gothamites don’t realize how much wilderness there is so close to the city. I don’t remember taking textbooks with me on those excursions, I certainly wasn’t going off to study. But I obviously brought this one at some point, for here it is, complete with grass stains on the endpages and a doodle of the Roman Centurion on Carmine Falcone’s front gate.
There were feral cats, of course, in that wilderness that surrounded the school. One in particular I remember: all black with a little scar on its back hip from some ancient mishap. I never had the gumption to name him; that seemed presumptuous. But in my head, I thought of him as Tug—for Rum Tum Tugger in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—my father used to read it to me. “For he will do as he do do, and there’s no doing anything about it.”
I knew this was a wild animal, but I wasn’t a bit frightened. On the contrary, I relaxed when Tug came around; instinctively, I relaxed. There was a natural, immediate connection; this little creature understood. Unlike the students at the school, Tug didn’t seem to mind if I was quiet and kept to myself. He’d go off by himself, or sometimes he’d sit with me quietly and lick a paw. But if on any day I did want to be sociable, he had plenty to teach me. He taught me you can never keep a cat out if he wants in, or keep him in if he wants out.
And he taught me to climb.
From the trees, I found I could see over the high walls and spy on the neighbors. The Falcone compound was a sight to see. Carmine Falcone called himself “The Roman,” but I see now that it was never meant to be taken literally. He would not have been “The Neapolitan” or “The Sicilian” if he came from those cities instead. He called himself Roman because he ruled an Empire, he commanded soldiers, he commanded loyalty. I didn’t care about any of that. I saw the guards with the machine guns, and I knew what it all meant, but I didn’t care. What I saw beyond those high walls was that Carmine Falcone seemed to have everything I’d lost: a large rich house, a big loving family, and all the luxuries.
Of course it didn’t escape my notice where all that wealth came from. It came from crime.
And I certainly had no love for my fellow students at Miss Corinne’s—the spoiled, stuffy, narrow-minded, over privileged students at Miss Corinne’s. They too seemed to have everything I’d lost.
So one night I took something back. I don’t even remember what it was. Probably a gold charm off a bracelet, there were a lot of those, presents from the boyfriends they juggled and passed around like a joint at a pot party. My first theft and I don’t even remember what it was, isn’t that something? But I remember the feeling all right. My first high. They could keep their marijuana; I’d found my drug of choice. In fact, if they didn’t keep their marijuana, I would have been out of business before I’d even begun. All those thefts, never reported. Turns out, dumb little twits stash their valuables where they hide their stash.
“This is a great deal of money to be missing, Ann Marie; where did you keep it?” Heh, if Ann Marie can’t answer that question, she better keep her mouth shut.
Now this I know why I kept: A solid gold cigarette case with a cocktail napkin from Beau Geste folded inside. Where would I be now, I wonder, if I hadn’t tried to take Sean Dehaney’s cigarette case at Beau Geste?
It’s frightening really, to look at your life and realize if it wasn’t for that one occurrence…
When I had enough money, I ran away from Miss Corinne’s—NOT to live off my body on the harsh city streets, that’s for damn sure. (Why oh WHY didn’t I do something about that sordid unauthorized bio when it came out?)
I figured I had a good thing going with this ripping-off-students routine, but there were many more agreeable places where rich people dumped their kids. I went to Switzerland, got myself enrolled in the most exclusive (read: expensive) boarding school going, near the Italian border. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds.
At that time everybody, from travel agents to finishing schools, were going to computers and none of the employees quite knew how they worked. They didn’t trust the machines at all. If you had convincing paperwork, such as can easily be typed up if you’re smart enough to sneak into an empty office after dark and acquire the right letterhead, they became downright apologetic: Of course your reservation isn’t in the computer, the damn thing has been acting up all week. It screws up if you look at it funny. That’s okay, dear, we’ll straighten it out later. Things like this never happened before when we used index cards…
I thought the Swiss school would be like Miss Corinne’s. Boy was I wrong. These were jetset kids, thrill seekers. They taught me a thing or two. They taught me a thing or ten.
My roommates were Anna and Natasha. A
couple times a month, we’d sneak out. We
went into Milan mostly. My mother’s family came from Italy and I spoke the
language a little. The Italians
aren’t nearly as snooty as the Swiss or the French about your accent,
especially if you’re una bella regazza. We’d go clubbing or
sometimes shopping. When you’re seventeen in a fashion Mecca, it’s
‘shopping’ whether you pay for the stuff or not. I always preferred
stealing outright, but Natasha liked to get men to buy her things. Most
often she’d pretend to be a runway model, or sometimes a Russian princess in
exile. It was interesting enough to watch, rather like Pammy doing her
thing, minus the ragweed. Anna reserved her
larcenous efforts for the nightclubs. She didn’t steal from the shops;
she’d pay always. Daddy’s credit card, that was her revenge for being sent
off to boarding school. Anna was a striking beauty: long brown hair, very
straight, high cheekbones, exotic eyes. She looked
like her mother, which is apparently
apparentlywhy Daddy didn’t want her around where he’d have to look at her.
We were at it for almost a year when we met Sean. We were making the usual round of nightclubs: Cocktail, Rock Hollywood, Beau Geste. The man who introduced himself as Sean Dehaney was younger and better looking than most of the old guys who sometimes hit on me in these places. He was maybe 42 or 43, sandy hair only receding a touch on the sides, rugged features—the kind who really needs to have a suntan year round… still way too old to be messing with teenage girls. And when you’re 18, a 40-year-old man may as well be a dinosaur anyway. But here’s the thing: poor old men know better than to even try. So Sean Dehaney, who’d seen forty winters if he’d seen ten, had to have something more going for him than crow’s feet. He had to have a reason to think he had a shot. He was allowed to buy me a drink or two.
After two gin & tonics sipped in pleasant (if boring) conversation, I took the opportunity to take his cigarette case. I had just closed my hand around it when he grabbed my wrist and I felt this white hot pain shoot through my hand. I couldn’t move, couldn’t scream, and for a second I must have actually blacked out, because the next thing I knew he had me propped against a stone wall in an alley behind the club. Anna and Tasha were there too, looking cornered.
He told us we were amateurs, bungling it, but he could teach us. Theft needn’t be a petty criminal act, it could be an art—but only if engaged in by artists. Whoever he had been before he took the name Sean Dehaney, he was MI-6, retired on a joke of a pension and not voluntarily. He only spoke about that once.
Sean was right, he did have a lot to teach us. From martial arts to safecracking to rock climbing. We set up shop in Paris. There were six by the time we were ready to begin: Natasha and Anna were paired with Anton and Bobby, respectively. Sean found them grifting in a casino in Cannes, I think. Each was handsome enough in their way: Anton was always smoother, more refined, which somehow took the edge off the red hair, moustache and goatee that might otherwise suggest a pirate. Bobby was rougher around the edges, dirty blonde, blue eyes, quite the charmer. Tasha’s brother, François, joined us too and I was partnered with him. Aristocratic features, tall, dark hair, deep blue eyes—just my type. We were a hell of a team for a while. We could get in and out of anywhere. No prize was unattainable. No hotel or casino, no palazzo, château or castle was beyond our reach. We rotated: one pair was diversion, one acquisition, one clean up. We left no trace.
It was exciting. We were young. It was Paris. The oldest of us was 24. There was sex in the air. Quite a lot… I guess it did all blur a little: the heady thrill of the heists, the physicality of the sparring, and the sex.
I never realized that ‘til this moment. Even after the catsuit magnified it so powerfully, I never realized… It’s funny isn’t it? How the things we do—and don’t even think about at the time—help mold us into who we become.
What IS the point of all this???
There’s a curious growling behind me and I turn to see Nutmeg at the far end of a cleared path, pulling mightily on a little piece of white fabric. She has only a mouthful worked loose, the rest is firmly trapped under a large box of …?… junk, a box of junk. I lift it out to be pitched whole, and the rest of the fabric pulls free. Nutmeg is delighted, and when I see what it is, so am I. It’s a t-shirt: Université Paris IV La Sorbonne.
I started attending the Sorbonne the week of our fifth heist. I happened to see a placard one day at a little bookstall along the Seine; the program of the year’s studies was for sale. I picked one up. All the professors were listed, with the subjects of lectures, places and times. It looked interesting: there were cours libres, open lectures available for anyone to attend. One that looked appealing was happening the next afternoon so, on an impulse, I went to look. I found only a note on the door that monsieur le professeur was still at his country house and his talk would be rescheduled at a later time. I was tickled. The guy blew off his class because he was enjoying himself in the country and decided to stay on a few days longer? Up until then my only contact with education had been the terribly limited teachers at boarding schools. This monsieur le professeur was clearly another breed. He had a life!
The next lecture I tried, the speaker did show. M. Galimarde from “The House of Cartier” which took me a minute to process that that meant THE JEWELERS! Even for Paris, referring to a business, however prestigious, as if it were a reigning family was a mite pretentious. The talk, on the other hand, was hypnotic for one in my particular line of work:
“At the dawn of the modern age,” M. Galimarde said, “those with great wealth started to feel guilty about showing it off. This was obviously very troubling to the sellers of great jewels and they scrambled to find ways of making outrageous luxuries seem somehow ‘practical.’ Thus, a long piece of semi-precious lapis lazuli, instead of being transformed into a mere sculpture as art for arts sake, might become the handle for a gold letter opener! Something useful, you see, functional. Sometimes they’d add a clock too, right in the handle, making it doubly practical.”
It was interesting in an odd way. I went to another lecture… A different monsieur le professeur had extended his summer holidays. His talk on Pre-Revolution silver would be rescheduled. At the lecture after that, I learned how to distinguish the first, and therefore rarest and most valuable, engravings off a plate by the presence of a velvety black burr where the ink clotted on the metal shavings.
About that time, Sean pulled me aside one night when we were following a couple from the Ritz. “An art student is a good cover in Paris,” he said, grabbing my wrist just exactly the way he had that first night at Beau Geste. When I looked down, I was holding the cigarette case. Inside were several folded thousand-franc notes. I gathered this was for tuition or textbooks… whatever else he imagined were the expenses of my “cover.”
Sean got his return on that investment before we parted company. I became the unofficial art expert of the group the night we hit a very grand townhouse in Rue de Berri just off the Champs d’Elysées. It was something about the building, mid- or late-19th Century, very very upper even then. I remembered that first lecture on Cartier: making the most outrageous luxuries seem practical by disguising them as some kind of useful items… When electricity came into vogue, the great houses did away with bellpulls to call their servants. Instead, they installed electrified buzzers, like our doorbells. These were the novelties of the day and…
I made François wait while I made a complete search of the apartments. Natasha and Anton were our diversion, and they had to go on improvising a lovers’ spat in the café across the street. They had to go on much longer than intended, and Bobby and Anna were waiting on the roof to come in and erase any sign of our presence after we’d left. Everybody was waiting but I didn’t care; I knew I was right. I found twelve in various bedrooms, drawing rooms and dining rooms: little pillbox size enclosures for the buttons that called the servants. I got a rush like that very first theft back at Miss Corinne’s. They were all vermeil, a gilded silver the French perfected in the 18th century and went on making through the 19th. The ones I found downstairs were set with rubies and onyx; the ones upstairs had emeralds and opals. My heart was beating so fast I could barely see climbing down the escape ropes.
I’d done it. I had. Me. My knowledge, my instincts, my skills.
Look at this one: a canvas totebag with a map of the Paris Metro printed on the side. My first cat-carrier—as witnessed by the lovely shredded bits at the handle and seam. Colette’s claw marks. Colette was here.
I didn’t leave the team immediately. I did get my own flat. Natasha and Anton wanted to move in together anyway. François’s family had a townhouse and he assumed I would come live there. Just assumed I would jump at the chance! I never understood that. He never understood why I wanted my own place. And he never understood why I wanted to work alone.
“François, we’ve had this conversation already. Paris is a city of museums. They’re everywhere. It seems like you people have a passion, if not an actual fetish, for collecting stuff on absolutely every subject then organizing a museum around it, whatever it is.”
“Oui, Chérie, I do understand. I agree with the whole of my heart. And that is why I want ‘in’ as you Americans say. There are museums, there are jewelers too, there is enough bounty here for everybody. So why not have an adventure or two on our own, no?”
“On MY own, François. It’s not on my own if you come along.”
“You said—what was the word?—have some ‘extracurricular fun.’ How does my coming along interfere with that?”
“And for that matter, why do you say ‘if you come along’ like I am some stray cat following you home for a bowl of milk! It is not like I’m not every bit as good at this as you are, Selina, I have skills—”
“Yes, you have skills. That’s the point. François, I want to see how good I am on my own. Me! Alone. Tu comprends? With you, I’d just be one-half a team instead of one-sixth of one. I want to see what I can do myself—moi-même.”
We both turned to see a genteel little ball of mewing fur that had hopped into the windowsill of my new flat. The sun was behind her and I couldn’t make out a bit of detail until I got closer. It was a Siamese, with whiter fur than I’d ever seen. I thought before then that Siamese were all tan with brown markings, but this one, creamy white with “dark” patches of light gray. Her eyes were the most astonishing blue. She was… absolutely beautiful. I don’t know why, but I teared up just looking at her.
“You two belong together,” François remarked bitterly, “Me, me, moi, meow.”
He left and I barely noticed. I spent an hour getting acquainted with my new little soul mate.
I named her Colette, in François’s honor. He got over his disappointment soon enough, and his apology was a little cloth-bound book entitled La Chatte. It was written by Colette. François told me she was “France’s most feline writer.” He thought I would like it. He was quite right.
I continued in Paris for a while: The Louvre, The Musée d’Orsay, de l’Orangerie, de Picasso, de Rodin, des Arts Décoratifs, du Petit Palais, d’Art Moderne… it went on and on. It was a city of museums—and jewelers. Cartier, Chaumet, Piaget, Van Cleef & Arpels. I guess it’s no wonder I settled on jewels and art.
How I loved that flat. My own little lair. The freedom of it, the absolute independence. Colette taught me that. As well as we got along, she never moved in entirely. She would crawl in the window most evenings and share my dinner. She would sleep over most nights, especially if it was cold or wet, and once I even let her accompany me on a prowl but…
Oh God. I feel such a shiver, standing half way back in the closet, that I have to grab onto the wall… which pushes a few things onto my feet. I think for a minute I might actually faint. Certainly the kerplop of whatever is hitting my foot seems very far away.
It’s exactly what I did with Bruce. I slept over. But I never took a step towards moving in. Not until he pushed the issue.
I actually feel ill. I’m going to faint or throw up if I keep doing this. What GOOD is this???
To be continued…