Many Gothamites didn’t even know they existed, these rarified pockets of the world where the subtle and unconscious application of wealth and influence had fended off the ravages of time and change. One of these pockets was right in their midst, only a few minutes from the heart of the city: the Gotham suburb of Bristol. The ancient sycamores that once shaded Iroquois hunters tracking deer and pheasant had never been pulled down to build tract houses on quarter-acre plots. The roads were paved, but they didn’t lead to stripmalls or “superstores.” They led, under a canopy of those same leafy sycamores, to quaint, family-owned businesses like Perdita’s Florals and Harriman’s Gourmet Pantry.
Mr. Harriman still wore a clean white apron, kept the customer accounts in a handwritten ledger, and tallied them himself at the end of each month. He didn’t bother sending the bill to Wayne Manor. He merely folded it in a brown envelope, wrote WAYNE on the flap, and handed it to Alfred Pennyworth when he came in the next Monday or Thursday to do his twice-weekly shopping. Alfred slipped the envelope into his pocket, for he would never insult Mr. Harriman by checking it in front of him. He would open it tonight while having his nightcap with Miss Selina’s little friend Nutmeg, and reconcile it with the records kept on his laptop.
Outside Harriman’s, Alfred paused before loading his bags into the car. It was a window display of lilies and irises in front of Perdita’s Florals which made him stop and think. The rogue themed fundraiser called Gotham After Dark had been a disaster in every sense but one: in preparing for it, Batman had captured almost every villain in Gotham. Now that it was over, the city was quiet as never before. There was still a baseline of muggers and mobsters to be sure, but the day-to-day (or more importantly, the night-to-night) business of crimefighting was, temporarily, an infinitely more manageable undertaking.
“Meals” had returned to Wayne Manor as a viable concept. Dinner in the dining room was suddenly considered the norm, and if Master Bruce expected to take only a sandwich in the cave before patrol, this was acknowledged as a deviation from the established routine of the house and he informed Alfred in advance like a considerate employer. Alfred was not so naïve that he believed this was a permanent change. Crimefighting was not a predictable activity, and he knew before long the villains would begin escaping, or be released, and resume wreaking havoc on Gotham. It would no longer be possible for Master Bruce to know a night’s schedule hours in advance. But for now, Alfred had something resembling a regulation household to maintain. With so many breakfasts and dinners, and even the occasional lunch, served in the dining room, it seemed appropriate to restore the fifth flower arrangement to the regular order from Perdita’s. So he proceeded into the florist and waited while Edith Mason finished with her present customer. Edith was a genteel lady with immaculate white hair, dressed all in pink. For as long as Alfred had known her, she always dressed in pink.
When she was free, she came up to him with a luminous smile and asked how she could help him today. Her smile was understandable. Whenever Alfred came into the shop in person, it meant extra business. The regular order for Wayne Manor had been in place since the 1880s and required no contact or confirmation: five arrangements, twice a week. One large for the foyer, three medium for the morning room, dining room, and south drawing room; one small for the master bedroom. The manor gardens could have supplied these bouquets well enough, but the Waynes had always preferred to support the town’s businesses any way they could. It was a principle Alfred heartily approved of, so he’d kept the standing order intact after the tragedy in Crime Alley pushed the daily running of the manor into his domain.
He’d only reduced the order, removing the arrangement for the dining room, on specific instructions from Master Bruce. The boy was sixteen. It was the lowest point in their relationship, when he was full of plans for his grand tour of the world to “train for his mission.” Harsh words had been exchanged and tension ran high in the manor for almost a month. One night at table, Master Bruce set down his knife and fork and demanded the flowers be removed from the dining room. He said he couldn’t eat around flowers, the smell reminded him of the funeral. Alfred complied; it was his job. It was Bruce’s house, after all. While the rift of that one, bitter fight was soon healed, Alfred had never felt it appropriate to reinstate the fifth arrangement. The incident was just intertwined enough with “the mission” in his mind. Because of his nocturnal activities, Bruce didn’t eat in the dining room for months at a time. It seemed somehow deluded to make a deliberate effort to reintroduce flowers to the room.
But now, since the advent of Miss Selina in Master Bruce’s life, these small patches of normalcy had sprung up in unexpected places. It was as if, having taken this one step with her and found it satisfying, he would experiment here and there. As long as he was certain it would do nothing to impair his mission, he might even one day consider… Alfred reminded himself that it was folly to expect too much. The present situation in Gotham was simply too good to last. The best he could do was to make what he could of the ideal conditions for however long they lasted, and for the moment that meant restoring a fifth arrangement of cut flowers to the regular twice-weekly order.
The bats were back. It wasn’t the first time Bruce had noted the specific features of a particular bat among the hundreds in the cave. In the early days, he often singled one out and studied its movements, first as a template to model some aspect of his costume, but then after a while, he did it out of simple intellectual curiosity. But the notice of a particular bat never lasted more than an hour or two, and if he saw the same bat again a week later, he never would have recognized it. But these two: a larger black one, muscular, with a defect on the right side of its mouth that seemed to make the lower half sag in a permanent snarl; and a smaller brown one, lean and wiry with bulging, beady eyes; they’d kept his attention for a week. They were always together, which made them easy to identify, and they had started hanging lower and lower in the vicinity of his workstation. Bruce hypothesized that it was the hum or the heat of the computer systems that must attract them—although the scientist in him wondered why it was these particular two among hundreds, and at this particular time when the systems had been in place for years. But then he dismissed the thought and returned to work. It was simply one of those quirks of nature, a variation from the norm that might prove useful to the species or might bring these two into contact with some new hazard and remove the dangerous new variable from the equation.
This thought caused him to look away from his computer screen and reconsider the bats…
The Universe, as Jason Blood had referred to it so portentously in the recent crisis, did have a way of policing itself. This simple process of evolution reflecting in miniature what went on on the cosmic scale. Nature was coldly indifferent to the fates of these two individual bats; it was the greater good of the species that would be served or not by this quirky variation. If the experiment failed and the bats were injured or killed as a result—or if one had to venture into an alternate reality and face unimaginable danger while the other watched helplessly, if the one had to steep herself in some goggled persona that represented everything she despised just to fulfill the Universe’s aim and remove whatever experiment hadn’t worked out…
Bruce stared again at his computer screen. He realized now that his efforts to help Selina recover from the horrors of that dimension hop had been for his own benefit as much as hers. Yes, she had been in terrible danger, and yes, she had suffered more than a little by having to become “that goggle horror,” as she described it. But he had suffered too. He had to watch, helplessly. She was in danger and she was suffering and he couldn’t do a thing to help her… And he’d been trying to make up for it ever since. He’d given her a jeweled necklace, taken her back to Xanadu, and even arranged the sale of the Gotham Post to give her some small bit of vindication against that paper’s slanders. Yet none of it quite managed to fill the void, and for the first time he understood why: she had been in danger and he couldn’t do a thing, she had suffered and all he could do was watch. He needed to do something, he himself. Giving her a necklace he’d inherited from some Great Aunt Elena or spending money on a resort or a business deal, it wasn’t… it wasn’t really him. It wasn’t the part of him that had stood helpless in the study and watched as she was slammed into the wall by the backlash of an energy beam. That was the part of him which needed to act. That was the part of him that needed to help her in some way, give her some small measure of happiness.
He closed the duty log he’d been staring at without reading it, and with a momentary pang, he opened a protected file, his private notes on the Sue Dibny murder.
Catwoman chafed at the thought of “crimefighting.” The slightest hint that she might participate in such a loathsome activity was enough to set her off on some feline rampage. But she’d done an amazing job for him on the Dibny case, analyzing the JLA security system when he’d asked her to work out how the killer could have defeated it. She’d found the chink that eluded the best minds in the Justice League precisely because she thought like a thief and not a policeman. Later, during the Crisis, when they needed a thief’s mentality in order to “steal” Zatanna’s powers, she’d said, “I don’t know what I’m doing with cosmic sparks and Berliani monks, but I know where I am with this. I’m good at it. And I like that I can help.”
She might hate the idea of “crimefighting,” per se, but she did like using her criminal expertise to help Batman. And that was something that the private, wounded, innermost part of him could give her.
He closed the Dibny file with a fierce punch at the keyboard and scanned the autodownloads from the FBI, Museum Security Network, Lost Art Database, and InterPol…
The trip home started out fine. The flight from Kauai to Oahu was quick and pleasant, if not luxurious, in Mr. Beku’s simple but efficient little plane. Now that she faced the crowds and bureaucracy of Honolulu International Airport, Poison Ivy suspected the trip back to Gotham was about to take an abrupt downward turn.
When she had first arrived in Hawaii, the first thing Ivy did was approach a housing agent. He understood that she wanted to obtain the kind of ultraprivate (and ultraluxurious) accommodations he rented to vacationing celebrities. He was a little confused when she specified that the owner should be in residence, but a few whiffs of moist jungle mist put an end to his questions. He placed her in a suitable house owned by a Mr. Takashi Beku on a gated 3-acre estate on a bluff above the bay, with plenty of lush vegetation and a private beach below. Mr. Beku, after more jungle mist, had been more than hospitable. At the conclusion of her stay, after begging her not to leave him, he provided his private aircraft to return her to Oahu. Unfortunately, while his little plane was perfectly adequate for islandhopping, it wasn’t nearly large enough to get her home.
So she used Beku’s wealth to obtain a first class ticket back to Gotham on a commercial airline, but that’s where his usefulness ended. Of course, she would have preferred another private plane to get her home, but tracking down a billionaire with a 747 would take time. And besides, it was too much like work. The whole point of a vacation was to forget about work… Not to mention forgetting the annoyances that drove you to leave in the first place. A billionaire would only remind her of Bruce Wayne, Bruce Wayne who was so utterly infatuated with Selina that greening him produced no better tribute than a Whitman Sampler when he had presented Selina with diamond cat pins. Ivy discovered long ago that there were limits to what any individual would do when under her influence, but a Whitman Sampler?!
Okay, perhaps she was inclined to place just a little too much importance on that one, minor incident. There was no question that she’d let it get the best of her during that unfortunate meeting with the reporter from the Gotham Post. She’d paid too much attention to her rivalry with Selina and not enough to the precise words she was using with a member of the press. Of course, if some careless word of hers was responsible for a story in the tabloids about Catwoman being pregnant, well, it would blow over soon enough. In the meantime, Hawaii had a tropical rainforest, acres of unspoiled exotic vegetation, and more rich men per capita than any place on earth (barring a few inhospitable cities where plant life was confined to a pocket-handkerchief of a park in the center of a concrete grid).
Hawaii was paradise, just like it said on the brochures. Utter paradise.
Which led to the question—as she stepped into the inorganic confines of the Honolulu airport and noted only women standing behind the first class check in—of why she was leaving at all?
The fact was there’s only so much “paradise” a person could take alone. She missed Harley. She’d gone to one of the volcanic museums on the Big Island and saw they had a marbled red and black rock they called Harley Quinn Kryptonite. She’d gone out to see the active lavaflow from Kilauea as it crept towards the sea and discovered it wasn’t glowing red like in the movies, it was a muddy grey, and as it slurped along like a burbling slug, it reminded her of Clayface. That miserable plantkiller Clayface. Taking Harley away from her just when she was finally ready to put her Joker folly behind her and get on with her life.
At last, one of the girls behind the counter took a break and was replaced by a man. After he too sampled the intoxicating mists of the moist jungle green, Ivy claimed her boarding pass (Pomona Demeter, Honolulu to Gotham connecting LAX, Seat 3A) and ordered the agreeable young man not to issue the boarding pass for seat 3B.
As a board certified psychiatrist, Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, MD, DCP, and PhD, Leland Bartholomew knew overworked exhaustion when he saw it. And he saw it in the mirror. It had stared back at him when he shaved that morning. It was reflected in the glass cover of his desktop scanner, in the reflective white sheen of his Frasier Crane “I’m Listening” mug, and even in his tiny warped reflection on the side of his pen.
He noted the last as he took a reluctant note: “Patient Crane has a point.”
Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. the Scarecrow, Patient #68-C240, had tried since his first session to take control of the dialogue. He sought to modify Bartholomew’s own behavior through fear, or at least to instill doubt of the fundamental tenets of psychotherapy. As such, Bartholomew was reluctant (he would not say ‘fearful’) to agree with Patient Crane on any given point, however trivial, lest he find himself on some slippery slope where he could fall into any delusion Crane might propose. Nevertheless, Bartholomew knew that any hope for rehabilitating these troubled minds hinged on remembering their humanity. If Jonathan Crane was the Scarecrow, he was also a human being who had not seen the doctor in many months. When this human being walked through the door just now, did a half-take on seeing him and then blurted “Good God, Doc, you look like death,” what was Bartholomew supposed to think but that it was an innocent and spontaneous outburst?
Bartholomew squinted again at his reflection in the pen and was forced to concede that, delusional psychopath or not, Patient Crane had a point. “Like death” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but he looked a good ten years older than he had a few weeks before. Had every criminal in Gotham been admitted in the last month? It certainly seemed that way: 8 o’clock, morning rounds, there they were, cell after cell occupied. 9-9:50 Roxy Rocket. 10-10:50 Victor Frieze. 11-11:50 Patient J… and then, rather than taking a long lunch to recover from that ordeal, he had a yogurt bar at his desk and proceeded straight into 12-12:50 Arnold Wesker, 1-1:50 Tom Blake, 2-2:50 Hugo Strange, and now… for another 24 minutes, Jonathan Crane.
How long had it been since Bartholomew had lunch away from his desk? There simply wasn’t time for more than eight 50-minute sessions in a workday, allowing for morning rounds and proper note taking. Bartholomew had even come in Saturday and conducted an additional six sessions. Of course he looked like death. Who wouldn’t?
“And that’s another thing,” Crane said heatedly. “I don’t belong here at all. This is the criminal wing, and I didn’t do anything wrong. All I did was—somehow—not even intentionally (for once)—scare Jervis Tetch. I ask you, Doctor, what penal code did I violate? I scared Jervis Tetch! That American Express commercial with M. Night Shyamalan scares Jervis Tetch!”
Bartholomew sighed and placed a reluctant hash mark next to the phrase “Patient Crane has a point.” He was all too aware of Patient Tetch’s feelings about that TV commercial, having listened to him recall it and his resulting nightmares on a number of occasions. Bartholomew was also all too aware that he would hear the flip side of this “hatting” incident in 32 minutes when Crane’s session ended and Patient Tetch toddled in for his 4 o’clock.
Those yogurt bars in no way constituted a proper lunch.
Other than a few days location shooting for CHAIN GANG CHARLIE, Matt Hagen had never been inside a prison. As Clayface, he occasionally found himself brought to a special containment cell at Arkham—the assumption evidently being that having your career ended through no fault of your own when your body is transformed into a semi-stable mass of shapeshifting glop must mean you’re crazy!
So when he and Harley Quinn were captured during a botched bank robbery, Matt Hagen fully expected to be shipped off to Arkham. Of course, he didn’t have to allow himself to be captured at all, there were a hundred ways to escape given his abilities. But doing so right in front of Nightwing, three bank guards, a SWAT team, and a half-dozen security cameras would have ended his charade as “the Monarch of Menace,” and Harley would have been captured anyway. So it seemed like the best course of action at the time: he would let them cuff him, take him in, he’d split off a bit of himself at the Arkham admittance desk while they were filling out the forms, and before long they’d escort the “Monarch” to his cell. His extra mass could take the form of Saul Vics (or any other orderly he spotted in the halls if Vics was no longer working at Arkham), and pick up a keycard at the desk. Vics would enter Monarch’s cell, Clayface would pull his two halves together, and Vics would run out alone to sound the alarm that the cell was empty, the Monarch had escaped. Nothing could be simpler—except that wearing a cape and crown, calling yourself the Monarch of Menace, and robbing a bank with Harley Quinn was apparently not enough to make you crazy. (Having once been a moviestar and now being Clayface, THAT qualified as crazy. Clayface, they would have shipped off to Arkham. Harley, they shipped off to Arkham. But the Monarch of Menace they sent to Blackgate. There was simply no justice in the world.)
So here Matt Hagen sat, still the Monarch of Menace and confined to a holding cell while they waited for the FBI to send a retinal scanner because all attempts to fingerprint him had failed. It was a nightmare. Hagen could manipulate his form to fool the naked eye, but it was like tensing a muscle, he couldn’t sustain it forever. The more detail he needed to present, the harder it was to maintain. If he could somehow produce fingerprints—which he doubted—he could never hold himself together for more than a minute after such an exertion. The idea of presenting a scannable retinal pattern was even more impossible; he wouldn’t know how to begin… No, it was hopeless. He had to escape and fast. It was that simple.
If only he could only manage it without changing shape in front of the cameras.
He remembered playing Captain Lance Starfire (“A space-bounder with a heart of gold played to roguish perfection by newcomer Matt Hagen” —Daily News). For the big metamorphosis scene, they made up half his face with green makeup so it would vanish like the greenscreen and they could paint in any effect they wanted. He had to keep that part of his face turned away from the camera until the moment of the transformation…
Bruce knew Selina resented being summoned to the Batcave “like a spaniel.” And, since the matter wasn’t pressing, he squelched the impulse to use the intercom or send a message through Alfred. He waited until lunchtime and went up to the manor himself. He thought Alfred was just a little too pleased that he had come up for lunch unprodded (a development that Bruce found annoying), but Selina didn’t seem to notice anything unusual about his behavior. She greeted him with the easy smile that was the norm since their talk after the fundraiser, and they chatted only of non-Bat subjects as they ate. Bruce said he was avoiding the Wayne offices. He denied it was because “Lucius had to be punished” for the disastrous Ashton-Larraby fundraiser. On the contrary, Bruce insisted, he had trained enough Robins to know that what Lucius really needed now was a free hand. He didn’t need to feel supervised, second-guessed and micromanaged because he had made a mistake. He needed to pick himself up, dust himself off, and regain his confidence as quickly as possible.
With that noble declaration, Bruce wiped a crumb from the corner of his mouth, tossed his napkin onto the table, and asked Selina to accompany him back to the cave. She agreed, the easy smile morphing into one of feline curiosity. When they reached the Batcave, she curled comfortably into the chair at workstation two, picked two wing-shaped slivers of metal off the desk, and began to play. Bruce suppressed a lip twitch as she turned the pieces this way and that, trying to work out what they were and how they fit together. Then his whole demeanor changed as he underwent what the staunchest heroes in the Justice League have described as “the most frightening transformation in existence.” His jaw clenched, his eyes darkened, his entire body seemed to become denser, and those with sufficient imagination could almost envision the mask appearing over his stern features.
He sat and powered up his screen, while Selina continued to play with the batwings as if nothing at all had occurred—which to her mind, it hadn’t.
“With all the rogues incarcerated at Blackgate or Arkham,” Bruce began in the gruff Bat-gravel, “I have time to look into another type of case. This is really why I began this work. I never intended to—I never envisioned the kind of costumed criminal element that evolved in Gotham.”
“Hey, hey, hey. Watch it, Stud,” Selina chided playfully. “Remember one of them is sitting in striking distance, and I’ve got one of your, eh…” She held up the two wing pieces pinched together between her fingers to resemble a lopsided batarang. “…What is this thing anyway?”
“They’re components for a new palm unit,” he growled. “They don’t fit into each other,”
She put them down, disappointed, and gave him her full attention.
“So this is what you really wanted to do before the likes of me showed up and spoiled your evenings with lots of purple, banter, and fun?”
He scowled and said nothing, refusing to be baited.
“So what is it?” she asked gamely.
“Diamonds,” he pronounced with a grunt.
“Ooh,” she sat up eagerly. “That doesn’t sound so dreary after all. Tell-tell.”
He paused, needing a moment to process her enthusiasm. She was excited, which is, of course, what he wanted. But in all the years of study, in all the years of crimefighting, in all the briefings and all the interrogations, the phrase “tell-tell” had never been uttered.
“As you know, Gotham is one of four primary centers of the global diamond market, the others being London—”
“Antwerp, and South Africa,” Selina interrupted with a naughty grin. “Yeah, Bruce, I have a nodding acquaintance with the international gem market.”
He nodded, curtly.
“More diamonds are bought and sold in that one block of 47th Street than anywhere else in the world. Ninety percent of the diamonds imported into the U.S. go through there; a single day’s trade averages $400 million. And most of it—in this day and age—is still done on a handshake. If there was nothing else in this city, that’s a fulltime job for a crimefighter, right there.”
“Pfft,” came the unexpected response. “I hate to ruin your plan, Handsome, but I think I see where this is going. And I will tell you gleefully that they don’t need you, and more to the point, they don’t need me. They’ve got a private police force of their own hired by the neighborhood association, something like fifteen individual security firms on top of that, armed guards, x-rays, retinal scans, everything. They’re fine.”
“There are twenty-five diamond exchanges, Selina, how many can you get into?”
“All twenty-five,” she answered instantly. “But I’m me.”
“And within those twenty-five exchanges, there are twenty-six hundred independent businesses. How many of their safes have you opened?”
“I have no idea,” she laughed. “Who counts?”
“More than half?”
“Probably,” she said with a grin. “But again, I’m me. And I have no interest in spending my nights poring over blueprints looking for ways to plug up holes that only I could get through.”
Bruce felt his lip twitch in spite of himself as he recalled his earlier thought: the slightest hint that she might participate in such a loathsome activity as crimefighting was enough to set her off…
“I wasn’t going to suggest anything like that,” he said honestly. “I was just mapping out the landscape, laying out the basic facts of the Gotham City diamond district.”
“Really?” she asked skeptically.
“Really,” he assured her.
She laughed—a very particular laugh, a rooftop laugh that he hadn’t heard for quite some time—a laugh that nearly always preceded her getting away with something.
“Okay then,” she said at last, “basic facts of the diamond district have been duly laid out in scrupulously correct if slightly anal bat-fashion. What’s next?”
The bat-density seemed to intensify and, when he spoke, his voice dipped again into the deep bat-gravel.
“Talk me through selling a stolen diamond,” he ordered.
“Well,” she smiled, happy (for once) to comply with a bat-order. “As you probably know, every gemstone is unique. Hit it with a laser, it will produce its own, one of a kind sparkle pattern, just like a fingerprint. Any stone important enough for me to take an interest in, that visual signature would have been recorded and logged in an international database.”
“So if you steal my Aunt Elena’s necklace here in Gotham, remove the stones and sell them loose in Hong Kong or reset them into a bracelet to sell in Tokyo, they will still come up as stolen. My goods are returned to me and you go to jail.”
“That’s the theory. So why am I sitting here instead of in jail?”
“Unscrupulous dealers who won’t check the gemprints to verify that any item they sell is legitimate,” he suggested.
Selina made a face.
“Well, I’m sure that goes on, but not on my level. Anything I’d steal is going to be valuable enough that whoever buys it down the line will probably insure it. When they do, that means a new gemprint and oh, look, those stones were taken in Gotham six months ago… Catwoman suspected.”
She grinned, and he considered the problem.
“Recutting into smaller stones would greatly diminish the value,” he noted sourly.
“It would,” Selina agreed. “But that’s not the real problem with it. It all gets more complicated in 1998. There’s fighting in West Africa for control of the diamond mines. Serious atrocities. On his worst day, Joker couldn’t come close to this kind of ugly. Both sides start selling diamonds on the black market to fund their wars, and most civilized countries, wanting nothing to do with these ‘blood diamonds,’ pass laws prohibiting their import or sale. So now all legit diamonds, cut or rough, have to have an ID that certifies they didn’t come out of this process.”
Bruce inhaled slowly, beginning to see the solution. Selina could almost envision Sherlock Holmes savoring a long draw on his pipe.
“How secure is the database?” he asked finally. And Catwoman’s naughty grin widened into the Cheshire variety.
“How secure is anything?” she asked in reply. And he grunted.
“If you have a stone to sell that you’re not supposed to have,” he began, solidifying the thought by speaking it aloud, “you can’t change its gemprint any more than you could a fingerprint, but you can change the information in the database that’s attached to the print. You substitute the visual signature of some lesser diamond, which you can then bury, destroy, or grind to dust for industrial use, for the one on the record of Aunt Elena’s necklace. So the gem tagged on that record as ‘stolen’ will never be found. And you make a new print for your stolen diamond and assign it to a record with an innocuous and legitimate-seeming history.”
“I salute you, World’s Greatest Detective,” Selina purred softly.
“Thank you for your help,” he said, swiveling the chair to face the monitor. He began typing rapidly into a waiting file, and Selina began to think he had forgotten her entirely.
“Done with me, or should I stay?” she asked finally.
“Oh, I’ll have more questions,” he graveled, his fingers never slowing and his eyes never wavering from the screen. “Give me a minute to modify a few queries and data filters.”
She waited. She picked up the batwing whatever-it-was again, buffed its silver surface, and used it as a mirror to primp her hair. Then she looked curiously around the cave.
“Those bats are watching us,” she said at last.
“Oh, those two,” Bruce said lightly. “They perch lower than the others. I think they’re attracted to the hum of the computer.”
She giggled, delighted.
“You have your own Whiskers and Nutmeg.”
“Selina, do not name the bats,” he warned darkly.
“I wasn’t going to name the bats,” she declared with exaggerated dignity.
“Good,” he grunted. He could bring Catwoman into his life, he could accept her friendships with Riddler and Two-Face, he could overlook her favorite bar being the Iceberg Lounge, and he could even, in time, come to terms with a stolen cat figurine among the curios in his bedroom. But he simply could not tolerate her coming into his cave and assigning cutesy names to the native chiroptera.
“The black one is awfully cute,” she noted.
“Selina,” he growled.
“I’m not naming him,” she insisted. “I just said he was cute. Look at those ears and that broad muscular chest—”
“Gemprints,” Bruce cut her off forcefully. “Whenever I’ve purchased diamonds or had them insured, I receive hardcopies of the gemprints, laser inscriptions, serial numbers, everything. Once you or your fence alters the records in the database, I still have proof that the stones you’re selling in Tokyo are mine.”
“Yes, but your hardcopies are sitting in an acidfree envelope in the bottom of a safe in the bedroom. It’s not connected to anything, nothing searchable will ever see it.”
“No,” Bruce admitted reluctantly. “But it’s a start. It’s a link. The key to most detective work is finding some overlooked link between the person and the deed.”
“I always thought Walapang would be a good name for an animal,” she said brightly. “I hate giving them people names, don’t you?”
“You’re not naming the bat ‘Walapang.’”
“Do you even know what it means?”
“Yes, it’s from Lombardic law: ‘to disguise one’s self in order to commit theft.’”
“You are a freak of nature,” she smirked. “A sexy freak, but a freak.”
He sighed and resumed typing.
“It will take me another seven minutes to modify the auto-downloads, search routines, and data spiders in light of what you’ve told me. In that time, you have a workstation of your own, as noted by the purple wallpaper you’ve installed there. Why don’t you amuse yourself on that and leave the bats alone.”
“You cannot in your wildest fantasies think that is going to work.”
“We’re doing stolen art next,” he graveled with the subtlest flicker at the corner of his lip. “Your workstation is logged into the Museum Security Network.”
“Meow,” she said, swinging her chair around.
Pamela Isley’s unique body chemistry was such that poisons could not affect her. Alcohol could not affect her either unless she made a conscious effort to lower her natural resistance, letting the distilled and fermented essence of fruits or grains do their work. She seldom indulged in this way, but the second leg of Flight 418, LAX to Gotham was such that she really had no choice. Airplanes were pressurized, they circulated the air in the cabin, and it would take months of constant air travel to work out exactly how much pheromone to release to control a single individual without affecting every other man on the plane. If that occurred, the women were likely to make a fuss when all their husbands and boyfriends came rushing up to the first class compartment to do her bidding. So greening anyone was out of the question.
She’d kept the seat next to her free out of Honolulu, but some silly fool at the Los Angeles airport sold this Howard Graff fellow a ticket, and now she had a travel companion for the rest of the flight home. He said she had green skin. Back in Gotham, Ivy had always maintained that it was alabaster, although the effects of the Hawaiian sun were such that even she couldn’t seriously use the word now. Looking in the mirror that morning, she was forced to conclude this suntan effect was the reason various individuals sometimes got the idea that her skin had a jade or olive tinge… but for this miserable TV weatherman to come right out and say “green skin,” that was just preposterous. LEAVES were green, and Ivy wore leaves all the time. You could see the difference plain as day: the leaves were a deep, rich, Mother Earth green, and her skin against them was a pale, delicate alabaster.
Green skin. Howard Graff. Five hour flight. So she decided to let alcohol affect her.
There were hundreds of cameras throughout Blackgate Prison. Some were constantly monitored, most merely recorded to an unseeing VHS tape which was archived for four months, just in case, then taped over.
The holding cell was considered a high-risk zone, and as such its three cameras were constantly monitored. It was not a favored shift to pull: low on action and high on paperwork. When something did happen, the lawyers always got involved, and that meant a day lost to drive into the city and sit in an office somewhere, explaining four times to four different panels what you saw and what you did and why you didn’t do something else instead. If the scum had a PD, that was the end of it, but if they had a real lawyer, the incident always came up at their trial and you’d be called as a witness and go through the whole thing again. This time, everything you did or didn’t do was yet another proof of the corrupt system out to destroy this poor innocent victim.
So camera station twelve wasn’t a good shift to pull. But if you tore a hamstring like Ralph Dixon and were assigned work restrictions for six weeks, you didn’t really have much choice. It was fair to say Ralph was just putting in time. He stared at the screen for two hours at a stretch with fifteen minute breaks in between. He calculated how many hours and minutes remained until he could go home, and he was happiest when nobody moved. No movement meant no trouble, no reports, and no workdays lost to lawyers and bullshit.
Tonight’s shift was goin’ pretty good until three hours and forty-three minutes before clockout when John Doe #4923 started to pace. The guy walked in a square, staying about two feet in from the wall. Didn’t seem like he was up to anything, not trying to hide from the cameras (not that you could the way they were positioned, but not all the inmates were bright enough to realize that). No, he just walked east, turn, north, turn, west, turn, south. East, turn, north, turn—and for just—Nah, it was nothing.
Ralph leaned in and watched the feed from the camera John Doe would pass next…
He was doing this too long. He must have imagined it. WAIT, NO—THERE IT WAS AGAIN! It looked like the one side of the man’s face was melting—just for a split second as it disappeared from camera B and before it turned up on C.
Ralph thought over what he’d seen… or thought he’d seen. It would be a bitch writing something like that up. It wasn’t any of the twenty-six types of incidents he was required to report. He was seeing things. He’d just get laughed at. And some lawyer would latch onto it and he’d have to go describe it like any other incident, but then they’d probably make him take an eye test and maybe even see a psychiatrist. If word got out that he was seeing things, maybe all the other inmates’ lawyers would jump on it too.
It wasn’t something he was required to report. It wasn’t an altercation, a weapon, or a threat. It was just a second where he thought… No. It was nothing at all.
The bats were forgotten and Selina’s guffaws, snorts, and pfffts as she read the bulletins from the Museum Security Network grew gratifyingly frequent.
“Bruce!” she called out suddenly, “I hereby demand that you take back every snide comment you ever made about feline logic. Because when I said I was ‘out for a stroll’ on the roof of the Egyptian gallery, you knew I was just being cute and we both knew I was really there for the golden Sekhmet. But these guys—these guys are serious!”
Bruce made an inaudible grumble, and Selina noticed his scowl had dropped from the sexy disapproving one into one of annoyed pique.
“What’s wrong?” Selina asked, concerned.
He tore a sheet off the printer and handed it to her.
“Pomona Demeter,” he announced with disgust. “Pomona: a nymph whose merest touch would green an orchard. Demeter: earth goddess of planting and harvest. Why doesn’t she just send a telegram letting me know when she’s getting in?”
Selina smiled. “It’s not that bad, is it?”
“Harley was just sent to Arkham, where Joker is in residence. It will be the first they’ve seen of each other since she took up with the Monarch of Menace. Harvey is dating Claudia Reisweiller-Muffington. And now Pomona Demeter’s plane is landing at GIA in four hours. How long do think it is takes before this all blows up—into something green?”
He flipped the main display over to his grid map of the city and re-added Robinson Park to his patrol route, grunting to himself.
“So much for the lighter workload.”
To be continued…