Batman and Catwoman in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 51: Riddle Me-Tropolis

Riddle Me-Tropolis
by Chris Dee

Traffic Patterns


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Since ancient times, man has looked to the heavens with awe and wonder.  A sense of curiosity inspired a quest to comprehend the Moon, Sun, and planets.  Throughout history many attempts were made to create models to illustrate the relationship between celestial bodies, but it was Metropolis, “The City of Tomorrow,” the city always looking upward, who brought the wonder of the planetarium to the Western Hemisphere.

In 1923, Dr. Walther Bauersfeld designed an optical projection device that effectively created the illusion of a night sky.  Using light produced by an intricate machine at the center of a hemispherical room, he could project images of celestial objects onto the inner surface of a dome.  With this innovation the modern planetarium was born.  By 1928, renowned Metropolis astronomer Adler P. Josh learned of the mechanism then being demonstrated in Europe and was intrigued enough to personally investigate this instrument.  He went to Germany and was so impressed that he began soliciting Metropolis industrialists to finance construction of the first modern planetarium…

So read the engraved tablet underneath an enormous brass sundial outside the Josh Planetarium.

The personal ad in the Daily Planet merely read: Superman, Not Daily, but you have to track them somehow.  The source of your own power holds the key.  7 AM precisely.  Every second counts. 

Clark did read the newspaper each morning, but he didn’t download it into a multi-strata data matrix calibrated to detect keywords and word patterns indicative of theme criminals intending to convey clues, legitimate or otherwise, to authorities, potential targets, or crimefighters.  He also didn’t read the personals.  So even though a clue appeared that morning addressed specifically to Superman, he was unaware that anything had occurred until Perry sent Lois to cover a bomb scare at the planetarium.  He made his excuses (“Meeting a source, Perry, gotta fly”) and Superman was landing at the planetarium before Lois even reached the expressway. 

Up until the Cat-Tales stage show, only Batman had seen that gleam of daring, mischievous felinity glistening from impossibly green eyes and framed by a delicate cat mask.  Then, overnight, there it was on a giant marquee above the Hijinx Playhouse.  It was on posters, programs and t-shirts.  It was her logo, that extreme close-up cropped just so, clawed fingers at her cheek.  It was pure Catwoman: daring, dangerous, unabashed and unashamed…

Those were the eyes Bruce saw now, eyes from the past, daring, dangerous—and silently triumphant, gleaming up at him in miniature from a coffee mug while the voice purred from behind him.

“Catwoman robbed a bank.”

He turned, slowly, to face Selina, her eyes just as green and daring without the mask, but more amused than wicked.

“Explain,” he graveled, summoning up a bit of the past himself as he stood.

She laughed stridently, and Bruce realized it was just as he’d feared.  He’d asked the question: Why was she so happy today?  And now he was a cat-toy. 

“Catwoman robbed a bank,” she repeated distinctly.  “Okay, it was in New Zealand and technically it was just a girl in a Catwoman mask,” she admitted.  “But still, a win is a win.”

“You consider that a win?” Bruce asked incredulously.

“Absolutely!  Don’t you see what this means?  The Post’s bullshit didn’t take.  Apart from a few gullible morons that probably think that show Heroes is a documentary, the world’s view of Catwoman is still just what it should be.”

“A thief,” Bruce growled.

“Damn right a thief!  That girl could’ve hid her face with any kind of mask from Donald Duck to Chinese opera and she went with Catwoman.  And what a Catwoman.  Paper said she walked in bold as brass, told the teller she had a gun—which was hidden by fabric, she may well have been bluffing—then strolled right out into the busy lunchtime crowd and disappeared.  ‘The police don’t know who she is or where she went.’  Now that’s the kind of Cat-imposter I can stomach.”

Bruce shook his head, captivated and yet appalled by that eternal mystery: feline logic.  He felt his lip twitch in spite of everything, and wheeled back around to face workstation one. 

“If you saw it in the morning paper, it will be in the autodownloads,” he said, switching the feed from his monitor to be mirrored on the giant viewscreen.  He bypassed the abbreviated reports in the U.S. papers, which just glossed over it as a piece of oddball news, and found a lengthier account in the Taranaki Daily News, where the first bank robbery since 1985 was the big headline of the day.

There was a blurry picture from the bank’s security camera, which Bruce began analyzing automatically, the detective’s instinct picking at details that might have been overlooked: the way the woman’s weight was distributed argued against her having a real gun behind that cloth as she’d claimed, she was holding something but it was lighter, perhaps a prop gun… the drape of her coat concealed her street clothes so she could disappear in traffic as soon as she discarded it…  Behind him, Selina was reading over his shoulder—and purring.

“Bank robberies are not as prevalent as they used to be,” she quoted from the police statement, “’because our security and processes are very good.’  My God, they sound just like that Commissioner Forsythe when I got started, remember?  And Harvey.  God, how they used to stick their foot in it: ‘A new era in security, impossible for anyone to get in.’  Idiots.  Why do these guys always assume their setup is foolproof just because their pinhead police mentality can’t think of a way to beat it?”

“I don’t see any purple in that picture,” Bruce noted, hoping to defer further discussion of law enforcement and its limitations.

“Doesn’t matter,” Selina said smoothly.  “Purple isn’t the issue here; the important thing is she’s robbing a bank.”

Bruce crossed his arms, and stewed.

The A.M. rush “hour” in Metropolis actually begins before 7 and continues until well past 9, often 9:30, or even later.  It consists of a seemingly random series of traffic snarls popping up at unpredictable intervals and locations along various critical arteries.  Lois was stuck on the Curt Swan, as were a number of school buses and the MPD bomb squad, all headed for the planetarium and all taking the Curt Swan in order to avoid the inevitable delays from accidents on the Joe Shuster.  They didn’t figure in the construction.  The Curt Swan always had construction.  The Joe Shuster always had accidents.  The Dennis Neville was just plain bad.  So there they sat, making what progress they could.

The MPD van had its lights and sirens engaged initially, and that brought movement at first.  Lois had followed in its wake as cars pulled to the side, opening a narrow sub-lane.  But the construction had blocked off long stretches of burm, and often the cars simply had nowhere to go to get out of the van’s way.  Then, the siren abruptly stopped, and Lois guessed what had happened.  She switched on her police band and confirmed it: the planetarium was no longer considered an emergency situation.  Superman had arrived on the scene. 

While Lois cursed the story moving on without her, Evelyn Garr, the planetarium’s director, was briefing Superman on the bomb scare. 

“It all started with Matt and Lou, the facilities guys.  They get in earlier than the rest of us, naturally, and it seems they found a small package wedged into the sundial,” she prattled.

Superman examined the package.  It was the size of a small shoebox, wrapped in green paper and printed with large block letters written in bold, black Sharpee.  PAN THEN ZOOM, it read.

“Yes, Superman,” Evelyn Garr said suddenly.

Superman turned, assuming he was being addressed, but saw Evelyn was talking into her cell phone. 

“Board members,” she explained apologetically.  “Have to keep them apprised of the situation.”

Superman pretended not to hear the discussion that followed.  Apparently, his arrival had “implications” for the planetarium, and the board members were split as to whether those implications were good or bad.  On the one hand, Superman’s involvement boosted the institution’s standing as a Metropolis landmark, but on the other, the liability issues of meta-powered individuals on site.  Their insurance rates were bound to go up as it was, and now…

Superman returned his attention to the package, shifting his focus to see through the wrapping and the box itself. 

“No sign of any triggers when it’s opened,” he noted and looked further.  “And the contents… It’s a camera.  An ordinary video camera…” He looked deeper still.  “No tape inside.  But a working battery… Nothing else.  Nothing explosive.” 

He repeated this in a loud, clear voice, which at least pulled Evelyn’s attention away from her conference call.  She asked for confirmation, twice, which she then repeated into her phone, both times, and finally she took herself out of the loop and handed Superman the telephone, letting him tell the board members directly. 

“No bomb,” he assured them confidently.  He would have liked to say more.  He would have liked to chastise them for fretting about their meta insurance before finding out if a bomb had been left on their doorstep.  But he would be just as negligent as they were if he indulged in a lecture like that when the job was far from done.

“Pan then zoom,” he murmured, looking again at the package. 

He turned to the horizon, simulating the “zoom” effect for a camera of this size.  He turned a full 360 degrees and saw nothing out of the ordinary—except when Lois arrived with six school buses and a police van.  Lois had that sour ‘scooped again’ expression when she saw what was going on, the kids on the busses packed against the windows, all pointing his way, and the senior bomb squad officer (Griffin, good man, good to see him back on duty after the Metallo incident) waved. 

Superman checked the horizon again, quickly, on several spectra, and then did a quick scan of the planetarium itself, for safety’s sake, before giving Evelyn the all clear to open their doors.  She looked grimly at the busses, and Superman realized that the staff needed time to prepare for the first morning tours. 

He kept the students entertained, getting them to line up outside their busses, asking questions about astronomy, and then lifting the bus of whichever team answered the most questions correctly.  Meanwhile, the planetarium staff went about their usual routine prior to opening their doors, and Lois interviewed Officer Griffin about the traffic situation impacting emergency response time… 

Well, at least she had a story.  But Superman was worried.  Before returning to work, he would take the green package to the Fortress for further study.

Bruce assumed that the “Catwoman bank robbery” would have blown over by lunchtime, but when he went up to the dining room, he found the table laid for one.  Alfred said Selina had gone out.  He didn’t say where, but when she returned, Bruce guessed that she’d driven into the city and stopped at a dozen newsstands.  She had a copy of every Gotham newspaper, both legitimate and tabloid.  She had taken them into the morning room, stacked them in a neat pile on his mother’s desk, and was reading with industrious zeal.

“New Zealand?” he guessed.

“Yes, I’m looking for everybody’s…” she trailed off as she read, then folded the paper open to the page and laid it on a second stack. 

“Coverage,” Bruce said, rather than leave her sentence unfinished.  He looked down and saw the same image of the Catwoman robber from the bank’s security camera.  “I could’ve easily pulled these for you on the Batcomputer,” he noted.

“No,” Selina murmured, her eyes scanning the next paper thoughtfully.  “What I’m looking for you couldn’t find on a digital search.”  She turned the page and skimmed further before continuing.  “It’s not just the story, it’s where they run it and most importantly…”  she turned the page, turned another, and then folded the paper and set it on the stack.  Bruce saw it was the Gotham Post.  “Most importantly, who didn’t run it at all.  Fifteen papers, Bruce.  The Gotham Times, Gazette, Globe, Tattler, Daily News, Village Voice—even the Financial Times has a blurb.  You know who doesn’t?  Just one.  Take a wild, flying guess.”

“The Post,” Bruce said stoically.

“Bing-bing-bing-bing-bing, got it in one,” she beamed.  “How embarrassing for them.  So invested in this crimefighting do-gooder they invented, only to find that nobody’s buying it.”  She purred.  Then she laughed.  “Of course, the Daily News is having the most fun with it.”

“More than you, that’s hard to believe,” Bruce noted sourly.

“They’ve been hating the Post for more than fifty years,” Selina announced with injured dignity.  “I just got started.”

Bruce fought to restrain a lip-twitch—and lost.

Sikela Park?  Eddie couldn’t believe it, how could he be back in Sikela Park?  He got on the 290, eastbound, through the tunnel, on the cloverleaf, off the cloverleaf, three lights, and then home.  It should have been home.  So how did he keep winding up in Sikela Park?

Eddie normally delighted in asking questions, even of total strangers.  But the thought of pulling over and asking “How do I get back to Six Corners?” That was not the kind of query he enjoyed.

He’d found the planetarium okay; he’d been there before after all.  But he’d been there as a visitor, a paying customer in the middle of the day, amidst a thousand others.  Leaving a riddling clue at the crack of dawn was another matter entirely.  It required stealth and cunning.  You couldn’t risk getting stuck in traffic once you’d dropped off a riddle.  You couldn’t be sitting there in a gridlock, only a half mile from the drop point, when Superman went flying overhead to retrieve your clue, a Gotham license plate reading GAME N ID announcing your identity for all to see. 

So, like any villain worth his salt, GAME N ID had taken all the appropriate precautions.  He’d researched Metropolis traffic reports for the past five years, charted variations for season, day of the week, and weather conditions.  He’d plotted the morning commutes and persistent areas of congestion, and devised a perfectly ingenious departure route where, after leaving his clue, he would eschew all expressways, interstates, and major roads and return home by way of scenic neighborhoods and uncongested side streets.

It should have worked.  It did work as far as avoiding the morning gridlock.  He just… never quite made it home.  There was a street festival in someplace called Greektown, and the road was blocked off.  It should have been easy enough to drive around it, but somehow he always came out facing west instead of north.

There was certainly a riddle in it, but this too was not the kind of riddle he enjoyed.  “Why can’t I get out of Greektown facing north?”

He thought about going back to the planetarium and risking the route home that he’d used the last time.  He knew that worked—but, by now, Superman would have the camera right in the palm of his super-hand.  He would have it held up to his super-eye and pointed at the 7 o’clock position on the sundial.  He would be reading a number on the lens that he might or might not realize was the proper distance to pan before zooming in…  on a decoy!  PAN THEN ZOOM, Superman.  PAN THEN ZOOM.  For the ad said the source of your power holds the key, not the clue.  The sundial held only a clue.  The source of your power is what?  The sun, yes, of course, but the sun is also a star, as in S.T.A.R. Labs!  And what kind of key does S.T.A.R. Labs possess?  The key to open the Phantom Zone!

What genius!  What vintage Riddler.  Never had Batman spurred him to such puzzling feats as this!  Never!  He should have made this move years ago.  Years ago!

Sigh.

But the fact remained, Superman had the camera in his hands even now, and it would be folly to return to the planetarium. 

So he returned to the Greektown festival and had a gyro.  By then, the morning traffic had cleared, and it was safe to use the expressways again without getting trapped… except, somehow, he kept winding up in Sikela Park!

Clark tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder, freeing his hand to massage his brow without disturbing his glasses.

“Y-yes, Selina, I agree it’s technically news if it was run in fourteen out of fifteen Gotham newspapers.  I’m not really sure why the Planet didn’t run the story.  If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because it’s in New Zealand.  That doesn’t really affect the people of Metropolis and they can’t affect it, so… Well yes, that applies to Gotham too, but I imagine they ran it for the Catwoman angle.  Catwoman does live there… Yes, of course, I mean you live there.  I know you’re ‘out of the closet’ that wa—And, you don’t refer to yourself in the third person.  Right, I do know that.  I was just… Mhm…  Mhm…  On the Internet, too…  Yahoo news…  And Google…  And the bloggers.  Okay, well yes, I agree, that does go beyond the scope of Catwoman’s hometown newpap—your hometown newspaper, that is.  I just…  Yes… Well the thing is, Selina, if it’s already in today’s papers, that sort of makes it ‘yesterday’s news,’ if you know what I mean.  But I’ll keep an eye on the newswires, and if there are any future developments, you can be sure we’ll… Well, I don’t know.  When they catch her, I suppose… Or if she strikes again, sure… ” 

He picked up a pen and made a note.

“It’s far more likely that she would be captured, in my opinion, most criminals are even if…  Yes, I do remember that incident with LexCorp.  Very clearly.  I’ve been trying to forget it for years… Well, that was a special case.  Most criminals that come into Metropolis and challenge Superman on his own turf get caught and stay caught… He’s never ‘dropped’ anyone else, Selina.  It was just that one time when… Yes, I know the Daily Planet never reported what really happened, but the fact is… Yes, I know, Catwoman startled him—I mean you startled him, and he let go and dropped her right into… Mhm, yes… Well, as a representative of the Daily Planet, I can only say that we report what we see with our own eyes and what the principals tell us about what occurred.  And if Catwoman did get Superman to drop her by unexpectedly kissing him, out of the blue, without any kind of ramp up or advance warning and in full view of Batman, and then told him that he kissed like a farmboy, then he never passed that information along to a reporter from the Daily Planet, so we never reported it.  But I can promise you, Selina, that I will personally keep an eye on the situation in New Zealand, and make sure their ‘Catwoman’ gets all the attention she deserves.  Please tell Alfred how much Lois enjoyed the cookies,” he concluded politely.

Clark hung up and read over his notes on the call, underlining the last words emphatically.  Then he checked his watch.  Lois had enjoyed the cookies and was now upstairs in the Planet’s Fitness Center ‘paying for her sins’ as she put it.  Clark himself hadn’t touched the cookies, considering the inches he’d already gained thanks to Alfred’s culinary genius.  He had promised to meet Lois so they could walk the treadmills together… He checked his watch again. 

He had another twenty minutes for his lunch break.  The treadmill really wouldn’t do him any good, it was just the spirit of the thing, working out together.  To get any actual benefit, he’d have to exert himself.  And he just had time for a quick flight to New Zealand. 

“Perry, going out, got a lead to check,” he announced too softly to be heard outside his cubicle. 

He put on his jacket and left, leaving his notepad behind.

Winslow Schott and Oswald Loomis, known to the world as Toyman and Prankster.  They weren’t Eddie’s idea of drinking buddies.  They didn’t exactly conform to his idea of supervillains either, although each had achieved feats of gadgetry that he could admire.  But true rogues or not, they were both experienced in the finer points of Metropolis navigation, and that was certainly worth an hour of his time.  He didn’t want his assault on S.T.A.R. Labs to land him in another devil’s triangle like the planetarium/Greektown/Sikela Park debacle.

So he’d called Schott and Loomis and proposed getting together for a beer.  In Gotham, of course he would have brought them to the Iceberg.  Here in Metropolis, he hadn’t found any neighborhood haunts yet, so he left the meeting place up to them. 

“It’s your town,” he said.  “Where is good?”

There was a noise on the line, a kind of breathy gasp followed by excited chattering back and forth between them that reminded Eddie of Richard Flay.

..::Smoking Cat,::.. Loomis announced finally.

“Come again?” Eddie squeaked.

..:: The Smoking Cat.  Great place, live music, no extra charge.  Nice and close for you.  In Sikela Park.::..

“Oh hell,” Eddie growled after he’d hung up.  He wasn’t sure what nettled him more, the prospect of going back to Sikela Park or the way Selina had popped into his mind at the words Smoking Cat?  Nevertheless, this was business.  There were important riddles to solve: What are the particular CAT RIFF—argh—traffic, what are the particular traffic pitfalls of Metropolis? And how do you bypass them without being able to fly?

So he was off to the Smoking Cat.  ‘Live music’ sounded like it was a nightclub, and Eddie expected somewhere dark and discreet.  If there was an openly rogue-friendly haunt like the Iceberg in Metropolis, Eddie figured he would have heard of it.  So this was a discreet nightclub, and he’d dressed prudently, foregoing the green and the bowler, and even his question mark tie clip, and holding his cane in such a way as to hide the question mark handle…

Everyone knew there were two parts to the Iceberg Lounge.  Like its namesake, there was the fraction visible above the surface, Oswald Cobblepot’s nightclub which everyone knew, and there was a murky unknown beneath the surface, the Penguin’s criminal operations, the exact size and shape of which were anybody’s guess.  The two sides seldom mixed.  Oswald allowed his criminal employees to enter the club as customers but he didn’t encourage it.  When they did come in for a drink, staff of the legitimate operation would wait on them but would have no way of knowing they all worked for the same man.  Usually.  But today, Talon and Crow were making a delivery to Oswald’s office.  The bar wasn’t open for business yet, but since Sly was right there, they saw no harm in asking for a beer.  Sly agreed, mostly because he was curious about the four long boxes he’d seen them carry into Oswald’s office.  He didn’t charge them for the drinks, he just asked about their delivery. 

“Ever hear of the Ionic Breeze?” Talon asked.

“Is that like a global warming thing?” Sly asked in return.  Poison Ivy often lectured the bar about some environmental thing or other, and he’d learned to tune it out.

Talon shook his head and took a slip out of his pocket.

“Reduces bacteria, mold spores and viruses in the air, using… elec-tro-static fields and germ-killing UV-C light,” he read laboriously.

“Air purifier,” Crow explained.  “They got ’em at Sharper Image.”

Had them,” Talon corrected.

“Oh hush,” Crow said.  It was only Sly, but he didn’t like advertising the fact that they’d just hijacked a truckload of air purifiers at Oswald’s request. 

“Oh yeah, I’ve hearda those,” Sly said vaguely.  “Four of them?”

“And eight more upstairs where he lives,” Crow mentioned.

“Ho boy,” was all Sly could think to say.

The Smoking Cat was not what Eddie expected.  It wasn’t a nightclub; it was a barbecue joint.  And despite the lack of a question mark tie clip, he was overdressed.  It also wasn’t especially discreet.  A dozen outdoor tables with umbrellas arranged on an open courtyard facing the sidewalk, it looked like a place to see and be seen.  Eddie went inside, and saw that Schott and Loomis already had a table—as well as an enormous platter of food.  Heaps of pulled meat topped with a massive slab of ribs.  What was with these people?  Did they need a layer of fat to make it through the winter?

Eddie greeted them both (putting aside the fact that he’d invited them out for a beer, not dinner) and then came the pleasantries without which he would not find out about Metropolis traffic problems.  During this ritual, Winslow Schott inquired after Gotham, Arkham, and Joker—and suggested Eddie try the ‘pulled meat nachos.’  Oswald Loomis inquired about Batman, Blackgate, and Poison Ivy—and suggested Eddie order the chili and “try it loaded” as the menu advised.  Eddie said that Gotham was cold, Arkham was crowded, and Joker said hello.  Batman never changed, Blackgate had an escape a few months back, and Poison Ivy was not a natural redhead.  Then he ordered a salad—and ignored the waiter’s helpful suggestion that he could “add pulled meat to that salad for only $3 more.”  Then, at last, he could ask about the traffic.

At least, he thought he’d asked about the traffic.  It was a simple enough question and he hadn’t indulged in any double meanings or anagrams, but the answers he was getting made no sense. 

“The biggest menace is the Yarbrough Strangler,” Loomis said, but Schott thought it was far worse to be caught in “Roussos’s Cave.”  Then followed an involved argument about the relative deadliness of two chaps called Stan Kaye and Mort Weisinger (who certainly didn’t sound like supervillains?) but ending in the vehement agreement that “Dennis Neville is death.”

“Perhaps we should begin again,” Eddie said gamely, “I’m not looking for any henchmen or prospective team-ups.  I just want to know if it’s safe to take the 220 out to S.T.A.R. Labs after six?”

Loomis and Schott looked at each other, paused, and broke into peals of merry laughter.

Eddie fumed.

“Something funny?” he growled—momentarily frightening himself, he sounded so much like Batman in the delivery.

“Edward, you Gothamite Silly!  That’s what we’ve been telling you!”  Loomis exclaimed before breaking off into another aria of tittering laughter.

“First of all, it’s not ‘the 220;’ it’s the Curt Swan Expressway.  No one ever uses those interstate numbers.  Why do you think they give the roads those names?”

Eddie sighed, piqued that someone was now asking him a question, but thankful that these giggly ingrates were finally making some sense.  The chorus of explanations now came at him in a stream.

“The Yarbrough Strangler is on the Curt Swan near the exit to Yarbrough where two lanes merge down to one for a mile and a half and then open up into three.”  “Rousso’s Cave is part of the tunnel where Rousso Street goes over the Joe Shuster.”  “Mort Weisinger is an absolute bitch when it’s raining.” “Stan Kaye gets all the stadium traffic, never go near it on game day…”

Since the first weeks training the first Robin, Batman said self-deception is a luxury that no crimefighter can afford.  Since his first week of Freshman Psych, Dick said that Bruce was kidding himself if he thought he lived up to that high standard where Catwoman was concerned.  From day one, she got to him in ways he didn’t like to admit, and from day five or six, he’d poured that denial into Zogger.

One of the nine steam-powered fists that drove Zogger’s Level 3 attack jutted itself into Bruce’s jaw.

It had been some time since he’d acknowledged the truth of Dick’s words.  It had been—he blocked the next punch and disarmed the thrusting joint—it had been some time since he admitted his feelings for Selina.  It had been some time since Catwoman drove him to an aggravated bout with the Strategic Self-Mutating Defense Regimen that Dick had dubbed “Zogger”—he blocked another punch, and kicked the #5 arm into #6, preempting the next two attacks…

But it had been even longer since he really worried what Catwoman might do next. 

He leapt and tossed a batarang at the control console, snapping the attack lever into the idle position as he landed off the assault grid and grabbed a waiting towel.  He tore off his cowl and mopped the perspiration from his face. 

She’d enjoyed her moment of notoriety once removed, okay.  It didn’t reflect his values, but he could certainly follow the logic: She missed her old life from time to time, she made no secret of that.  The inevitable nostalgia was exacerbated by the Post misrepresenting her to the world as something completely antithetical to the true Catwoman and inferior in every way.  Now there was a Catwoman in the press that she could feel good about.  It wasn’t her; it wasn’t pretending to be her; it was some small-time nobody on the far side of the world, probably striking out in sheer desperation.  But in choosing that visage to commit her crime, she had given the creator of the original persona a much-needed moment of validation.  It didn’t reflect Bruce’s values, but by god, he could understand it.  Anyone could.

It wasn’t Selina’s satisfaction that worried him but the Post’s discomfiture.  Their silence was telling.  Every other paper had cracked a smile, even the stodgy, conservative ones.  The Post ignored it entirely, presumably for the same reason Selina rejoiced: the public image of Catwoman still resembled the real thing more than their sorry reinvention. 

The worry there was two-fold.  The Post might react spitefully, as they had with that pregnancy nonsense, subjecting their faux-Catwoman to even greater indignities.  Selina would be upset, and nothing good could come of that.  It was a possibility, but a remote one.  It was not enough to send him to Zogger.

No, the real worry was Selina herself. 

“They didn’t report it at all,” she’d said.  “Makes you wonder just how far they can take it?”

The gleam in her eye.  He knew that gleam.  It meant the cat was sharpening her claws—and looking forward to the taste of fresh mouse. 

“What do you mean?” he’d asked.

“I mean you can’t bury your head too far in the sand for too long or you’ll suffocate.  How far would they go?  Dinky little bank job on the far side of the globe, that they can ignore, fine.  But what if it was a real cat crime and closer to home?  What if, just for the sake of conversation, Catwoman emptied out the Egyptian wing at the museum tomorrow night?  Are they going to ignore that too?  What if they really were stuck with a story too big and inescapable to not report, one that absolutely contradicted their crimefighting gogglewhore?”

The seconds that followed are what sent Bruce into three levels of Zogger.  He’d stood there.  As he thought back on it now, it felt like those moments after “Why Batman, how hard do you want it to get?”  He simply stood there, trying to process something so far from what was expected that he simply could not get his brain and his mouth working together to fashion any kind of rational response.

She couldn’t really be talking about stealing again.  It wasn’t possible.  Was it?  Even if she was thinking about it (which she couldn’t be), she wouldn’t just sit there casually talking about it.  Not with him.  He was Batman.  She did know that.  They were long past the point where her criminal past was even an issue, but even if they weren’t (and they were), even if it was somehow possible that she was considering throwing both their lives away (which it wasn’t), you don’t just walk up to Batman and announce that you’re going to commit a crime.  The only criminals who did that were uniformly crazy, and Selina was not now, nor had she ever been, insane.

He, on the other hand, might just be losing his mind.

No, it was not possible that Selina was talking seriously about stealing again.  He knew that.

No, it was not possible that she was even thinking about it.  He knew that too.

And yes, they absolutely were long past the point where any thought of her criminal past was an issue.  He knew all of this…

So why did his mind and body lock up like “the easy way or the hard way” “Why Batman, how hard do you want it to get?” 

Like most high tech facilities, S.T.A.R. Labs was laid out in concentric rings with increasingly restricted access, protected by increasingly stringent security.  Riddler had no difficulty penetrating the first two.  One guard to evade, one motion detector, and a few locked doors.  Then he waited, between the employee cafeteria and a bank of offices, and checked the relays on the decoy target.

If Superman had understood the markings inside the camera lens, he would have panned four degrees, four minutes, and four seconds to the right from the 7 o’clock line on the sundial, and then zoomed to see the giant Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier.  Once he understood this to be the target, he would only have to wait until sundown to perceive the subtle spectral shift on certain lightbulbs.  A red and yellow glow that only he could see, produced by a special coating on alternating bulbs, pointing him to a specific gondola.  Perhaps he would even recognize the allusion to the yellow and red stars of Earth and Krypton.  After all, the clue did say that the source of Superman’s power held the key, and a good clue should have layers of meaning.  After the sundial, who was to say Riddler was finished alluding to stars?  The real question was if Superman would fly to the red gondola or the yellow one.  Either way, he would find himself trapped with a wash of red radiation, the kind used to produce man-made kryptonite.  It might not be as deadly, but it would certainly be unpleasant. 

That was assuming he fell for it.  Eddie had checked the remote sensors every twenty minutes since sunset, and each time he found neither trap had been sprung.  His hopes began to soar.  Was it possible?  Did Superman realize the camera was a decoy?  Did he connect the planetarium and the “source of his power” phrase with S.T.A.R. and see that PAN THEN ZOOM was an anagram for Phantom Zone?  Why, it was too good to be true!  Superman would be here waiting after all, waiting to foil his plan!  Eddie hadn’t dared to hope.  In Gotham, certainly, that would have been his Plan A.  But for his first job in a new city, one with dubious rumors about the resident cape’s intellect, it was folly to predicate Plan A on the good guys figuring out where he was and showing up while he was still there.

So he’d made that Plan B.  But now, now if Superman was coming, that meant he could scrap the dreary, boring Plan A and go on to A FREER ED A-WHISTLING ALL THE TORN MOON—not dealing with morons here after all—Plan B!  It would be infinitely easier to get into the high security core of the facility that way.  He had a foolproof means to trick Superman into opening an access point for him, but he never dreamed he would actually get a chance to use it. 

So he waited…

…and pondered how easily one can get into a rut.  Why had he assumed Batman was the only hero fit to match wits with his own? 

He waited…

…and considered again that he should have left Gotham long ago.  What really kept him there? 

He waited… 

…and reluctantly checked the Ferris Wheel relays again… 

He waited…

Was it possible that Superman wasn’t coming and that he didn’t even figure out the decoy? 

No, no that couldn’t be.  He couldn’t possibly be that thick.  “Pan then zoom,” it’s a camera, COME ON! 

Eddie angrily put away his k-metal laser and moved back to Plan A, vowing to leave a simpler puzzle next time.  He picked a lock to the administrative office and searched for a keycard… 

Instead, he found a researcher working late.  He promptly gassed the fellow without bothering to construct a riddle for “gas bulb.”  He was too angry.  Even Robin would have got to the Ferris wheel.  And Batman would have figured out S.T.A.R. Labs just on the Daily Planet ad alone.  And Sly would have known PAN THEN ZOOM was an anagram. 

Eddie searched the office, but instead of a keycard he found… Selina?  What was Selina’s name doing there?  He picked up the Post-it, which posed a more challenging conundrum than any he’d devised so far (Sly and Raven would have realized PAN THEN ZOOM was an anagram).  Eddie looked through the papers where the Post-it was attached and found photographs and health profiles for Bengal tigers, all marked with a contact notation for Selina Kyle at Wayne Manor, Gotham City…

Eddie took a long, deliberate breath.  He felt he was about ten seconds away from what Dr. Bartholomew would call “an episode.”  Not unlike the one where he recalled how his older brother ‘forgot to tell him’ he had lost the Colonel Mustard card, and Little Eddie had sworn up and down that he’d found the killer but turned out to be wrong.

“You never forget your first wrong answer,” he told the unconscious researcher.  “Those were hard days, with hard lessons.  Like ‘You can’t out-think a dodge ball’ and ‘The wedgie knows no GPA.’  Bet you remember that one, eh, Poindexter?”

“Poindexter” obviously had no reply, so Eddie continued to ransack the office, desperate to wrench something of value from the break in.  He searched.  He searched.  But the only data in the room of value to an arch-criminal was the name and contact information for a woman that billionaire Bruce Wayne was shacking up with AND HE ALREADY KNEW THAT!  NOT THAT HE COULD GO AROUND KIDNAPPING SELINA!  SHE’D KICK HIS ASS FOR ONE THING!  THEN BRUCE WOULD BREAK HIS LEGS AND SHE’D KICK HIS ASS AGAIN!  THEY’D FEED HIS BROKEN BODY TO THE TIGERS AND GO OUT FOR A PIZZA!  A REAL PIZZA, GOTHAM STYLE, THIN CRUST, NO KNIFE AND FORK…

To be continued…


 

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