There was one subject, and one subject alone, on which every villain and crimefighter in Gotham agreed: a laughing fit after a Joker encounter is cause for concern. No matter how casual and frivolous the meeting may have seemed at the time, if you found yourself chortling later, you got yourself to a hospital for a blood test. And if your neuroendocrine levels were up, immunoglobulin was activated, or respiration was irregular, then you swallowed your pride and swallowed whatever substance Batman had given that hospital as the latest antidote for the latest Joker toxin.
Even Selina, if she had found herself laughing for no reason after, say, a night at the Iceberg when Joker had been present, would have taken the necessary precautions. But she was not laughing for no reason. She was laughing—and she tried to explain this to Bruce as he dragged her out of bed intent on getting her down to the Batcave for treatment—she tried to explain—ahem, tried to explain that she was laughing for a damn good reason: Joker—
That was as far as she got before it started up again. Laughter. But not SmileX laughter; funny laughter. Laughter at a perfectly ludicrous realization after an especially tense week. By the time she could breathe, Bruce had her wrapped in his kimono and halfway down the manor stairs. She calmed herself and tried again: Joker and—
She giggled anew, and by the time she caught her breath again, they were in the study and Bruce was setting her down in order to open the grandfather clock.
“Really, it’s okay,” she managed, realizing that the way to maintain her composure was to assure him without trying to explain what was so funny. Trying to explain the thought that set her off would only get her going again.
“Come on,” he growled as the passageway opened. “It seems like you’re able to walk now.”
He was obviously still determined to subject her to a battery of tests. Selina knew it was pointless to object, so she followed, but she did try once more to explain once they’d reached the med lab. She got as far as “Seriously, I’m fine,” when she was stopped by the look in his eye. He seemed… shaken. And she could imagine why.
After capturing Joker at the Wayne Tower, they’d split up: he to take the madman to Arkham, she to do whatever it was she did on those “prowls” of hers, which he still wasn’t quite clear on. She’d beaten him home, as always. After depositing Joker at Arkham, he’d returned to the city and patrolled for another three hours or so. The logs took twenty minutes, changing another ten, so it was nearly five o’clock by the time Bruce reached the bedroom door. So he wasn’t at all surprised that she’d beaten him home. He was surprised that she was still awake.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he’d asked, untying the belt of his kimono.
“No, it was a choice,” she answered, pulling at the belt like a kitten. “It seems like we haven’t had much contact beyond ‘Morning Handsome-Grunt’ since this whole party thing was announced. So I figured I’d stay up and, I don’t know, purr in your ear or something when you got home.”
He sank into the bed, muttering wearily about having to revive a flawed protocol because of more serious flaws in the circumstances… Then he closed his eyes, and rubbed temples.
Selina was about to observe that he’d been pushing himself too hard, but it seemed like he was already falling asleep. So she postponed the chitchat, turned off the light, and settled into her favorite spot under his arm. She placed her hand on his chest, just over the scar of an ancient cat-scratch, and realized what it was about the night’s events that had her so unsettled. It was a throwback to what their relationship had been for so many years: days or weeks of fruitless anticipation, hoping and near misses—then a sudden, unexpected tussle of unbelievable intensity. A few short minutes, sometimes, to last… who knew? A week, a month, maybe more…
And now? Now Joker ranted about “giving the bride away.” Gladys Ashton-Larraby dropped hints to the society gossip columns. Superman found some way, once a month or so, to remind them both that…
And that’s when she started laughing.
Joker, Superman, and Gladys Ashton-Larraby.
Bruce woke, concerned, and called her name sharply, but she couldn’t squelch the laughter long enough to answer coherently.
Joker, Superman and Gladys Ashton-Larraby. Joker, Superman, and Gladys Ashton-Larraby all had opinions about her marital status? Joker, Superman, and Gladys Ashton-Larraby all had opinions about her uterus! Joker, Superman, and Gladys Ashton-Larraby! That was just funny.
Insane and dangerous. Jervis Tetch felt he’d never been in quite so much peril since this woman at a tabloid newspaper declared him insane and dangerous.
Before, Jonathan Crane—who everyone knew was truly a psychotic menace of epic proportions—was taking too much of an interest in Jervis’s private affairs. Then he assumed that mousy little Jervis was being victimized by Edward Nigma, intellectual bully. But now, now Nigma was missing and this lunatic reporter was telling everyone that he, Jervis Tetch, lovable Jervis Tetch, was a dangerous lunatic. Now there was no TELLING what Scarecrow might be thinking.
On the one hand, it could have been mere kindness. Anyone who had passed out at the Iceberg knew that waking up in that backroom with a stuffed emperor penguin wedged into an umbrella stand wasn’t the pleasantest experience. Loosening his tie, taking off his hat, and patting his forehead with a damp towel could have been mere kindness—except that Jonathan Crane was a psychotic menace and not exactly known for his kindness.
And since then, he’d been hanging about with this air of helpful concern that made Jervis’s skin crawl.
Needing SOMETHING to keep Crane occupied, Jervis was doing his best to keep him distracted with the mystery of the moment: The Strange Disappearance of Edward Nigma. Neither of them were well-suited to the task, being more inclined to fray and frazzle the detective mind rather than operate one. But they had the Zagat Guide, and they knew Eddie. They knew his happy knack for leaving clues, even when he didn’t mean to. So they read the Zagat guide, poring over the ratings and descriptions of each shop Eddie had circled “in his final moments” (as Jervis had taken to referring to it, with increasingly melodramatic inflection).
“The Fountain Pen Hospital,” Jervis read aloud from the guide. “Proponents proclaim it’s ‘pen central’ at this ‘high-quality’ ‘old Gotham’ financial district shop.”
“What’s with the air-quotes?” Crane interrupted.
“Pardon?” Jervis asked, looking up.
“You keep twitching your fingers on certain words, making those air quotes.”
“I am simply being precise, Jonathan,” he explained with a prissy dignity, pointing to the book. “They take surveys from people who shop at these places and string the best quotes together to make a descriptive paragraph.”
“No wonder Nigma subscribes to it. What a frightful waste of time.”
“May I continue?” Jervis asked, his eyebrows arching to produce an almost mask-like effect of curious anticipation.
Crane nodded. And Jervis scanned the page, moving his lips as he read, until he found his place again.
“Old Gotham financial district shop,” he repeated. “’With a mind-boggling selection that ranges from everyday to rarefied vintage models to calligraphy pens with 14-karat gold nibs…’ Oh, this is nice, ‘As well as excellent repair service—if it writes or used to, they can fix it.’ I must say, that is handy. How I hate throwing away pens. Do you know—”
Crane cleared his throat and glared, and Jervis decided not to pursue that conversation after all.
“Yes, well,” he sad sadly. “That seems to be it. ‘…The incredibly knowledgeable staff also leaves an indelible impression.”
“Indelible impression? Is that a pun?” Crane groaned.
“Presumably. Not mine. Theirs,” Jervis said, pointing again to the page.
“Hm,” Scarecrow murmured disapprovingly. “Mind-boggling is obviously significant,” he said. “Seeing as you were involved.”
Jervis bit his lip. That angle had not occurred to him. He was too preoccupied with a new danger that he only just saw as he was reading, a danger that seemed to rise from the words like a sleeping dragon: the very nature of the shop was the PENS. And the greatest riddle of all time, posed by the original Mad Hatter was: How is a raven like a writing desk? Why, he and Eddie had argued about it many times. And now, virtually Eddie’s last act before disappearing into the looking glass was to send him to a place called the Fountain Pen Hospital.
Ordinarily, Jervis would have been delighted at this titillating notion. It was certainly a deliciously clever Mad Hatter scheme that Riddler was designing for him—but if Jonathan were to see this particular angle about the raven and the writing desk, the consequences for Jervis could be gruesome. How is a raven like a writing desk? Or possibly how is Raven like a writing desk? Raven was Oswald’s comely hostess, a pretty young woman whose scream when a spider appeared on her podium had piqued Jonathan’s interest.
Jervis hoped Jonathan didn’t know his Alice in Wonderland that well, for if he did make the connection and thought Raven was involved in his scheme… It was true that ‘mind-boggling’ must certainly be a Mad Hatter reference, and Jervis did not want Jonathan to start thinking Eddie’s plan—which he was meant to think was Jervis’s plan—might involve his boggling lovely Raven’s mind!
“Well, I think that’s it for the fountain pens,” he said abruptly. “Let’s keep all that under our hats as we move on to the next one, shall we?” Then he clapped his hands enthusiastically and turning the guide to Habu Textiles…
The man with thinning hair and a loud green shirt emblazoned with bright yellow question marks took his usual seat at Tavern on the Green. Other than wedding receptions and Sunday brunches, true Gothamites did not go to Tavern on the Green. During the week, the famous restaurant in the heart of Robinson Park was patronized almost exclusively by tourists who came in by the busload. As such, Eddie found he was far more invisible here, dressed in this way, than he was living that miserable hermit’s existence in which he’d spent his first days of self-imposed exile.
At first, he’d checked into a moderately priced bed-and-breakfast patronized by low-key European visitors. He never left the building, never even ventured into the communal dining room for the continental breakfast included with his room. He had all of his food delivered through the hotel’s strange convoluted practice: they provided local takeout menus that could be ordered through, and delivered by, the hotel room service. It reminded him of sucking up to Hugo Strange at Arkham when Strange had access to takeout pizza and barbecue through a mercenary guard named Saul Vics. That realization ruined Eddie’s appetite, and sitting in the room with no diversions but the Gideon’s Bible and the television was driving him stark raving mad. He was laying low to stay OUT of Arkham until the party, but if he spent one more hour watching daytime television, his great brain might be fit for nothing other than Arkham.
So he’d ventured out—and was stopped dead in his tracks in the lobby by a family of four, all wearing “I heart Gotham City” t-shirts, each and every one emblazoned with a large bat-emblem. He realized there were better ways to hide than subsisting on delivered pizza, Szechuan, and sushi, watching Jerry Springer, and never seeing the light of day. He could hide in plain sight—as a tourist—whom Gothamites looked at constantly and never really saw.
So he’d moved from the pleasant low-key bed-and-breakfast to the crassest tourist hotel in Times Square. He bought the loud, green Riddler shirt he was wearing at the gift shop in their lobby, and each day he attached himself to one of the bus tours. He’d been to the top of the Empire building and Rockefeller Center a dozen times now. He’d taken the CNN tour at Time-Warner and seen the show at Radio City six times each. He’d taken two river cruises around Gotham. He’d been to the Robinson Park Zoo, Strawberry Fields and the Gotham Museum; he’d seen Les Miserables, Mamma Mia and The Lion King. When his fellow bus-people asked where he was from, he extolled the pleasures of Steubenville, Ohio. When they asked what he did for a living, he said he was a regional rep for a new candy called BALI ADDER MINT. They wandered off when he began explaining how he went around from grocery store to grocery store, negotiating prominent shelf placement for the BALI ADDER MINT.
It had all gone splendidly. Each day he was deposited at Tavern on the Green for lunch, and he was amusing himself working through the permutations of their three-course menu. He left, as always, saying how he hoped the concierge could get him a ticket for Phantom of the Opera tonight—when he was yanked off the sidewalk by a— green— cloying— leafy— AAAHHHH!
It took the sting of Bruce taking a blood sample to pierce through the layers of amusement and bursting tension, so Selina could finally, rationally, explain what sparked her laughing fit:
“Joker, Superman, and Gladys Ashton-Larraby,” she recited as Bruce checked her pupils and then her lips. “Joker, Superman, and Gladys Ashton-Larraby. Tell me that’s not funny.”
“Maybe from where you sit,” he growled, swabbing her forearm with disinfectant one last time before applying a Band-Aid.
“If you laugh at it here, just this once, while it’s just us, I’ll never tell,” she said with a naughty grin.
He paused, considering it. Selina focused all her thoughts on the side of his lip, and just when she was convinced it was ready to twitch, he said, “I will never, in a thousand years, be able to predict what you’ll find funny. I would have thought if anything would set off the hissing and scratching—”
“Any one of them on their own, yeah, sure, I’d be sharpening my claws now. But all three, Bruce, c’mon. There’s a critical mass of ludicrous inanity. ‘Superman. Joker. And Gladys Ashton-Larraby.’ I can’t take that seriously enough to get pissed, can you?”
His eyes softened a bit, but his expression didn’t change.
“Still no twitch?” Selina prodded with a seductive trill.
“Do you have any idea the nightmare scenarios that ran through my head coming down the stairs just now? If you’d been exposed to SmileX back at the tower and I didn’t notice. I made an extra run through the park after finishing patrol. I took twenty minutes on the logs, and all the while you could’ve been… And what was it, an accidental exposure meant for me, or intentional—what possible Joker rationale could there be for striking at you that way? Was it a time-release drug, or did it need a catalyst to activate—”
There were more speculations to come, but Selina silenced them with a slow, insistent kiss.
“I’m fine,” she reassured him. “It was just a very, very tense week.” She paused to take a very deep breath and then let it out. “And once the bubble popped, it popped.”
She touched the side of his lip.
“Wouldn’t kill you to let it out now and then either. You’ve been a lot tenser than I have the last 7 days.”
He nodded reluctantly.
“I used to make better choices where Joker is concerned. In the early days, it was like it’s been this past week: I’d unearth every pebble trying to find him, and wind up running on empty by the time the confrontation actually occurred. So, over time, I learned it was in my best interests to let him make the next move. It’s hard. You can only hope that the move won’t involve killing an entire family because they have a needlepoint welcome mat… Anyway, I know better than to do what I’ve been doing. But with this party looming—like you said, it’s a deadline. I had no choice.”
“And you got him,” Selina pronounced, satisfied. “So…” She pointed, insistently, at the corner of his lip.
“It took longer than it should have. Time that could have been spent—”
“Going after every other crook in the city? Bruce, please. Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, Huntress, and Pheromones are all on the case, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “So is Harvey. He’s got Hugo Strange out of the picture. And Nightwing captured Killer Croc.”
“Dick may not fully comprehend the priorities of this mission,” she observed.
“Obviously he wouldn’t pass up a chance to apprehend Croc,” Bruce graveled.
“I’m sure. I just don’t think he was much of a threat as far as the glitzy society fundraiser is concerned,” Selina demurred. Then her eyes flickered with a determined feline glint, and she focused all her attention on that stubborn corner of the bat-lip as she said “Besides, I never have any trouble with Waylon since I showed him a picture of his head photoshopped onto a green crocodile Kelly bag.”
She followed this with the naughtiest grin seen since the Winthrop Rubies, and was rewarded, after an additional four seconds of stone-faced silence, with the coveted lip-twitch.
The Mad Hatter was not the only rogue who had noticed the Riddler’s disappearance. He and Scarecrow were not the only rogues who wondered what could have happened to him. Poison Ivy had also noticed when Nigma vanished so mysteriously—indeed, she noticed almost as soon as Jervis discovered it, and long before he’d gone shooting his mouth all over the Iceberg about it. She didn’t care enough to go looking for him, but she did miss having someone to talk to. Why, she hadn’t even told him about her scrapbook.
So Ivy had instructed her plants to keep watch for him and report back. When he was spotted coming into the park, an alert zinnia reported back to her and she dispatched two of her most efficient minions, a flytrap and a creepervine, to bring him to her.
She waited, patiently, for him to wake, for it seemed the creeper—used to Batman, who wore a protective cowl—had let Nigma’s head bounce on the stairs as they descended into her lair.
She waited patiently for as long as she could, then she had the creeper fetch some water and throw it in his face. That brought him around much faster and she was sorry she didn’t think of it sooner.
She explained, briefly, that the creeper was inexperienced with uncowled, unhelmeted heads, and that she’d meant no harm. Nigma merely glared at her as he rubbed the throbbing soreness that ran from the back of his neck up to his left ear. It was a look she knew well, like he wanted to tell her off but knew he wouldn’t get far before the pheromones kicked in. He said he “accepted her apology,” although he said it the way you told Dr. Bartholomew that you were completely rehabilitated and sure you could become a productive member of society.
Ivy had not ‘apologized,’ and would have said so—but she felt they were getting off to a very bad start, and she would never get any answers if they didn’t get past the preliminaries. So she let it go—for now.
For his part, Eddie was… uneasy. It wasn’t that he’d been kidnapped and manhandled by foliage. That had happened before and it would happen again. It went with life in Gotham. What concerned him was Ivy herself. The more she talked, the more believable her story seemed. She really hadn’t meant for the plants to rough him up. She wanted to talk.
She’d only been calling him first thing in the morning for weeks before he’d disappeared. It made sense. She wanted to talk—and talk and talk and talk—about herself, about her press. It was pure Ivy. It was totally believable.
She noticed when he disappeared—also believable, since she was calling him every day.
She wondered what had happened to him—also believable. It wasn’t any great concern for his welfare, she missed her audience. She was a needy, lonely wreck, and she wanted to talk and there was nobody but the flowerbeds to listen to her.
Yes, it all made sense. So when her plants found him (Why oh why didn’t he anticipate that danger, Tavern on the Green was in the heart of Robinson Park—but how was he to know Ivy was looking for him?), she had them bring him to her.
And now, now she had him. She wanted to know WHY he’d gone. What did he know that they didn’t?
And wasn’t that a loaded question.
“Habu Textiles,” Jervis read. “For an amazing selection of wonderful Japanese yarns and fabrics you will find nowhere else (made from such substances as pineapple, bamboo, stainless-steel-and-silk combo), artists and fashionistas come to this Chelsea textile specialist which also houses a weaving studio and gallery; the ‘minimalist’ space displays one-of-a-kind hand-dyed pieces for garments or home furnishings that are also fabu as artworks in their own right.”
“Fabu?” Jonathan Crane asked archly.
Jervis merely shrugged and pointed again to the Zagat guide as if to say it wasn’t his fault.
“Not even a good anagram,” Crane observed.
Again Jervis shrugged.
Jonathan rubbed his chin thoughtfully… ‘Minimalist’ made him think of all the shrinking Alice did… Eat Me. Drink Me. Mushrooms… He glanced warily at the table where Jervis had fixed them a snack a few hours before…
Then he looked suspiciously at Jervis.
…there were little cakes too.
Eddie was no fool. Poison Ivy had questions. If he didn’t give her a good answer freely, there would be wisps of leafy jungle scents tickling his nostrils and he would be compelled to give her a better one. He’d also be attending the Gotham After Dark party not as the One True Riddler, but as “Edward the silly man-thing who fetches Poison Ivy champagne.” So he explained (with reasonable accuracy) about the party: Gotham After Dark, to benefit the Wayne Foundation. Selina’s name was mentioned. More than one socialite “picking out a hat.” It was just the sort of thing that might stir up the vigilantes, so he decided to lay low for a while—and that’s when Jervis the fusspot showed up at his door.
“Well, Pammy, I don’t have to tell you,” he concluded with a worldly air. “You don’t tell Jervis Tetch secrets.”
“No,” she agreed, although she seemed disappointed. “I imagine if anyone would be taking an interest in Wayne and Selina, it would be him.” She sniffed dismissively, thinking of her last, disastrous effort greening Bruce Wayne and the humiliation of being given a Whitman Sampler by the man who gave Selina diamond cat-pins of his own free will. “‘Picking out a hat,’ indeed,” she added contemptuously.
Eddie smiled agreeably. He had downplayed the appeal of the party as a target in itself. He’d stressed only that it was the kind of thing crimefighters (dim-witted, non-vegetable, male crimefighters) would think was the sort of event villains would be lining up to attack. He’d been so focused driving home that point, he didn’t realize the trail of breadcrumbs he’d left to another topic.
“What secrets,” Ivy asked suddenly.
“Secrets? What secrets?” Eddie asked sharply, his eyes darting around like a bird.
“You said you disappeared, essentially, because Jervis was hanging around, presumably interested in this picking out a hat angle (such a silly man), and ‘you don’t confide your secrets in Jervis Tetch.’ Which I agree with, entirely. So Edward, what I’m asking is, what is the secret? What is it you know that none of us do, and what does it have to do with this Wayne shindig that—Oh.” Her eyes widened and she stopped midsentence. “Oh my,” she repeated with a coy smile.
Eddie had gone deathly pale. Ivy had guessed. Wayne was dead. Selina was dead. Selina—poor Selina—what would they do to her? And all because of him! They’d burn down Wayne Manor, they’d cut Bruce to ribbons and feed him to Joker’s hyenas, but what would they do to her?
“Picking out a hat indeed,” Ivy drawled. “Is that what they’re calling it these days.”
“Come again?” Eddie squeaked.
“Oh Edward, you can be such a man.”
“Going to these ridiculous lengths and all to protect your little kitty friend’s, heh, reputation—as if she can’t do that perfectly well herself.”
“Uhhhh,” Eddie stammered, hoping for some clue what Ivy was getting at.
“The stamen pollinates the pistil, Edward, a seed is produced and a new offspring sprouts forth. It is nature’s way. Only a man would attempt to create drama from something so simple.”
Eddie swallowed as the awful truth sank in. Ivy had not guessed the truth. She had guessed something else entirely. And whatever Selina—or god forbid, Bruce—might have done to him if he had been responsible for Batman’s secret getting out was absolutely nothing compared to what might happen now if Bruce—or god forbid, Selina—learned he was responsible for this.
Jervis was in a panic, an absolute panic. He never expected any danger in Fat Beat, a store which sold vinyl records. They sold music CDs and vinyl records. It had nothing to do with Tweedledum and Tweedledee! The store sold RECORDS.
But Jonathan! Jonathan thought he remembered a scene from Lewis Carroll with the Tweedles, where Alice “dressed them up in armor so they could beat each other with bats.” And on that absurd crumb of misinformed logic, Jonathan thought that was the Eddie clue and he was searching through Jervis’s bookcase, looking for the passage he thought he remembered.
He remembered it WRONG. Jervis knew the nursery rhyme by heart, of course, and he knew what Jonathan would eventually find (if he was so unlucky that Scarecrow did actually find the scene he was looking for). It would read:
Tweedledum and Tweedledee
A monstrous crow frightening the heroes. Jervis felt that once Jonathan found that poem and saw those phrases, life as he had known it, was over.
As far as Poison Ivy was concerned, there were exactly two kinds of newspapers in the world: the ones that slaughtered trees day after day in order to have a paper surface on which to vomit their self-important headlines… and the ones that said nice things about her.
Since she had discovered her new, flattering and respectful coverage in the Gotham Post, she hadn’t wanted to support the murder of any more trees by purchasing the Times. But it seemed like this party Eddie was so worked up about—and the secret it contained—was worth investigating. So she went down to the newspaper’s office—which was in Times Square, the most frightfully inorganic part of the City, which left her in a terrible mood. She located this Hermoine person, who turned out to be a man. That made everything much simpler. A few whiffs of her special lure and he was more than happy to leave the office and walk with her back to the park. She could concentrate so much better there, with all her beloved plants clustered around to support her.
He confirmed all Eddie had said about the party and a good deal of what wasn’t said but which Ivy had surmised. This “Hermoine” had it straight from Bruce’s closest friend in society, a Mrs. Ashton-Larraby, the very first person in which the happy couple had confided their special news…
Ivy sent Martin-Hermoine-whatever-he-called-himself (silly men and their cries for attention) on his way, and tried to decide exactly how she felt about this development.
Catty was knocked up.
Well now. There were those who considered Catwoman a rival to Poison Ivy’s preeminence in Gotham Rogue circles. Not that Ivy herself ever considered such a thing, but to the extent that Catwoman ever was a rival—which she absolutely did not concede—that rival was now removed. So far, so good. Any plant can bloom more beautifully when it can grow freely in any direction and not have lesser plants throwing shadows into their sunlight or distracting the bees with inferior displays of less colorful blossoms.
That said, the whole situation was not quite as gratifying as Ivy would have supposed.
There was that Whitman Sampler for one thing. When that snotty son of his got married, Ivy had crashed the bachelor party and enslaved every man in the place, including Bruce Wayne. He was her plaything, as nature intended. And somehow in the intervening years Selina had sunk her roots so deeply into his psyche that when Ivy greened him a second time, he could come up with no better expression of his devotion than a five dollar box of chocolate creams! The man was worth billions! He gave Catty diamond cat pins from Cartier—and the best he could offer his goddess was a cardboard box with the tiniest goddamn chocolates anybody ever saw!
The idea that Selina might have something better than she did, a man who was hers freely, whose feelings of affection were genuine and not chemically induced, could only lead to memories of Harvey, and some wise instinct steered her away from that chain of thoughts. For there was also the matter of her press.
Ivy was suddenly enjoying exceptionally good press. If Selina was pregnant—if CATWOMAN was pregnant, what would become of Ivy’s headlines? Why she’d be buried on page 20 with little naked Jervis playing with his human skulls. This was not to be borne. Gaia’s Chosen was a cover girl. She was made for headlines and a picture above the fold, not a little box below the horoscopes.
The memory of that bachelor party returned.
Not Wayne if the best she could get from him now was a Whitman Sampler, but the son. What was it he had said that night? “I’m the heir. I’ll get it all.” In a way, Dick Grayson was as prized a catch as Bruce Wayne himself. To have him while Selina had Wayne was a perfect way to assert her own power. How perfect. Selina Kyle pregnant with Bruce Wayne’s child, page two. Wayne Scion Dick Grayson seen about town with a mysterious redhead, not his wife, WHO IS THE WOMAN IN GREEN?… that was the way to a Post cover.
There were days Dr. Bartholomew despaired. Admissions had soared in the past two weeks, and he began to fear his swelling schedule would soon prohibit him from giving the critical-risk patients the individual care they required. Look at this, Patient J on suicide watch and Hugo Strange confined to a straitjacket. Bartholomew clicked his tongue and blamed the dire times in which he lived.
He couldn’t know that it wasn’t the spirit of the age, but the party theme of one Gladys Ashton-Larraby that had brought it all about. Hugo Strange did not follow the society pages that closely. He would have heard about the Wayne fundraiser before long, certainly, but he hadn’t heard at the time of his capture. He didn’t learn of it until getting to Arkham. He didn’t hear about it until Joker told him. A rogue-fundraiser to benefit the Wayne Foundation, what a joke, HAHAHAHAHAAAA!
Hugo suffered a kind of nervous spasm on hearing these words. He spat, he sputtered, he wheezed, and in his shock, he certainly forgot who he was talking to. Because he began ranting about Bruce Wayne being Batman to the man who was not only Batman’s greatest foe, he was a homicidal maniac and he considered “Brucie” to be his dearest friend in the world. At any other time, casting such aspersions on Bruce Wayne’s character in Joker’s hearing would have been a death sentence.
But tonight, Joker listened patiently and kindly, as he would to a child reciting a poem, a child who was none-too-bright: Yes OF COURSE Bruce would be going to the party as Batman, that’s the joke.
Joker tried several times to explain. Bruce as Batman, yes exactly, HAHAHAHA, that’s the joke, Hugly. The best joke ever!
Hugo sputtered all the harder and tried again to make his point clear: Bruce Wayne was Batman. Didn’t Joker understand? BRUCE WAYNE WAS BATMAN! BRUCE WAYNE WAS BATMAN! BRUCE WAYNE WAS BATMAN! Couldn’t he see? Couldn’t they all see? Bruce Wayne was Brucwan, Brucman, Bratwan… Wasn’t it obvious, why would nobody believe him?
Joker tried twice to calm Hugo down, for really he was foaming at the mouth like some kind of rabid dog. He understood, he said, really he did. Brucie would be going to the party as Batman.
And he was going to miss it.
The best joke ever.
The best night in Gotham history.
And he, Brucie’s best friend and Batman’s worst enemy, was going to miss it.
By the time the orderlies had carried Hugo away (something about swallowing his tongue), Joker felt he had to lie down.
He was going to miss the party. Ha.
It was really too much to bear.
MEN! People were nothing but an animal infestation screwing up the wondrous green balance of the planet. Under the general heading of “People,” men were the worst. And of the animal infestation: People, subheading: Men, the most objectionable specimen, the very worst of the very worst, was surely the Post Urbis Scriptor, the Gotham Post reporter.
Ivy knew the Catwoman story could break at any time, and with their idiotic ‘news cycles,’ she had no time to waste if she was to make sure her Wayne triumph trumped Catty’s. When day after day passed and she couldn’t seem to find that miserable Grayson character, she looked for a substitute. Anyone of approximately the right build and coloring would do so far as the photographs, grainy-blurred tabloid pictures could be anyone, after all. She would only have to find whatever little man did the captioning and tell him it was Dick Grayson. It wasn’t as ideal as having Grayson himself, but it was only the Post for God’s sake. It’s not like they actually cared who it was or wasn’t, as long as they thought it would sell papers. Let’s not forget these were the same fertilizer peddlers that had her dead and buried a few short weeks ago!
It turned out Victor Fries had a henchman who would make a reasonable stand-in for Dick Grayson, and it took only a few dollars slipped to the doorman at the Hudson to make a photographer appear an hour later to “catch them unawares” as they left together. After they repeated the exercise at the Carlyle, The Hyatt, and the Washington Square Hotel, Ivy felt the seeds were well-sown. She was ready for the harvest. She contacted a Gotham Post reporter and found him quite as responsive as Martin/Hermoine had been to her suggestion of a walk in the park.
But then, somehow, it all went wrong. Ivy couldn’t tell if it was a reaction to the pheromones or if he was just that stupid, but this idiot of a man managed to mess up EVERYTHING. Dick Grayson he could manage to remember. She had to spell the name twice, but he took it down. But then he latched on to her first description of herself as “a mysterious redhead.” He simply could not grasp that this was to be the headline, the hook, the honeyed fragrance, if you will, drawing all the bees in to pollinate the flower, GETTING THE IDIOT LEMMINGS TO BUY HIS MISERABLE NEWSPAPER! But once that was accomplished, he was supposed to reveal her identity inside. She couldn’t make him understand it was to be Dick Grayson enthralled by Poison Ivy—not Dick Grayson hopping into beddies with some no-name redhead!
She was so frustrated, she figured she’d better find a different Post employee to get her message through. But she was terribly concerned about these deadlines and news cycles. She did not want Selina’s story to break before hers. So, while she had this moron in her thrall, she asked when they were planning to break the story about Catwoman being pregnant.
Only four men had ever snapped out of a pheromone fog spontaneously: Batman, Two-Face, Dick Grayson—and now this sniveling non-entity from the Gotham Post. Ivy saw it, the sudden jolt behind his eyes as some part of his mind grabbed onto an unexpected thought like the third rail of the subway and a sizzling charge of live voltage fried all the delicate ecstasies of pheromone-induced bliss.
“Did you say Catwoman is pregnant?” the insect asked with a crazed gleam in his eye.
Ivy denied saying any such thing.
“Pregnant. Catwoman,” he repeated, as if she’d confirmed it. It might have been her imagination, but that crazed gleam in his eye was starting to look like a dollar sign.
“No, what I meant—” she began.
“Is there a lemonade stand around here? I smell lemon,” he announced.
Ivy paused and reminded herself she was dealing with an idiot—an idiot with the attention span of a hummingbird, apparently. She smiled pleasantly, escorted him to the nearest pretzel stand, and bought him a can of Fresca. She waited patiently while he drank it. Then, when she figured enough time had passed, she greened him again, very subtly, suggested he forget the whole thing, and sent him home.
Then she wondered if it might not be a good time to visit the Tropical Botanical Garden on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Selina was having a lovely dream. A yacht was moored on a Mediterranean island, surrounded by shimmering blue-green seas. On that yacht was a safe with a spectacular treasure. Between her and it, a magnificently challenging security net. She dove from a speedboat and swam to an internal dock, cut through steel bars—timing her efforts purrfectly so as not to be seen by the surveillance camera or patrolling guards. From the dock, she drilled through a steel door leading into a corridor, found the surveillance monitors, and rewired them to show a fake video loop. Finally, she boarded the yacht and made her way to the onboard art gallery, keeping to the perimeter so as to avoid the pressure-sensitive floor. She disabled the floor sensor with an access key, bypassed a tank of piranha, and finally reached the Picasso—a fake—a decoy. She removed this to reveal a safe, cracked it swiftly, and opened it to reveal a glittering mound of perfect pink sapphires. A gloved hand slid across her abs, while that deep, ominous voice growled in her ear that those jewels didn’t belong to her.
She turned, letting her lips hover nearly in contact with his until he grunted against them. They fought, in agonizing slow motion, bodies grinding against each other… until something felt wrong. His cape, she had scrunched a wad of his cape in her hand, but rather than the heavy fabric it was thin, smooth silk. She opened her eyes and found she was scrunching a handful of bedsheet.
She purred—which brought a satisfied grunty snore from Bruce who lay beside her. She kissed her finger and touched it to his cheek, then whispered “We made it, handsome.”
They had. It was the day of the party and they had made it. Joker was in Arkham. Hugo Strange, Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze, Catman, Ventriloquist, Magpie, Maxie Zeus, Roxy Rocket, Deadshot, Killer Moth, Firefly, Film Freak, Dr. Death, Clock King, The Spook, The Werewolf, the Trigger Twins, Eraser, DoubleX, Greenface, Calendar Man, Double Dare, Crazy Quilt, Zodiac Master, Dr. Phosphorus, Kite Man, Black Spider, Captain Stingaree, Cluemaster, on and on. It was astonishing, the number of rogues the Batclan had rounded up in the past weeks. Bruce, of course, would only see the ones still at large: Riddler, Ivy, Hatter and Scarecrow.
But even Bruce had relaxed a little once Joker was out of the picture. Tonight, they would make a token appearance at the party, not in costume, Bruce had declared, which fit in perfectly with her plan. She would wear her Dior, repaired from the Catman fiasco at the MoMA, and the pink sapphire he’d given her that night to set it off. It would be her private joke. In that gown, wearing that jewel, she would be attending as Catwoman in a very private way, one only he would understand.
She blew him a final kiss and got out of bed. She felt wonderful. It felt like the morning before a heist. She had that same excited tingle. Déjà vu all over again. And Meow’em if they can’t take a joke.
She slipped into her exercise togs and headed across the hall. When she returned to the bedroom a half-hour later, ready for her shower, Alfred had brought the breakfast tray. She stopped to take a glass of orange juice, and her eyes narrowed as she saw the newspapers folded into the little side basket that hung off the edge of the tray, the letters ATWO wrapped around the fold. She set down the glass, shut her eyes and mouthed a preemptive curse as she unfolded the paper.
“Real quick. Like ripping off a Band-Aid,” she muttered.
She opened her eyes and saw:
To be continued…