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

Riddle Me-Tropolis
by Chris Dee

Up, Up and Away


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Alfred normally brought breakfast to the Wayne Manor bedroom, along with the day’s freshly pressed newspapers and pre-sorted mail slipped into a side basket on the breakfast tray specially built for the purpose.  It was only on days when some pressing matter—such as a meeting at Wayne Enterprises—had been scheduled before noon, that Alfred altered the practice, reserving the “carrot” of a full breakfast to coax Master Bruce out of bed.  He would bring only juice and mineral water on the breakfast tray, and inform the Master and Mistress (somewhat coldly) that breakfast was laid out in the dining room.  Groaning would follow, which Alfred declined to hear thanks to that selective deafness which is the hallmark of the professional butler. 

In truth, of course, he was not that indifferent to Bruce’s plight.  He did look at the newspapers as he ran the hot iron over them.  He’d seen the trio of stories about the Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, and Hugo Strange’s capture.  Even if the latter two were achieved through the young masters’ efforts, Batman still had a very full night.  Alfred wasn’t pleased to be getting him up so early, so in his eminently Alfredian way, he made it up to Bruce with an especially lavish breakfast.  The couple always helped themselves at breakfast, but Alfred peeked in the dining room all the same.  He saw that Bruce was enjoying a large helping of eggs florentine as he read over the morning papers, while Miss Selina took a small portion of eggs benedict and talked about a drive up to the Catitat the couple was planning after Bruce’s meeting.  Satisfied, Alfred withdrew to inventory the cave’s medical supplies before preparing a picnic basket for their journey.

Bruce set the newspaper aside and glanced through a backlog of invitations, social announcements, thank you notes, and similar correspondence—until a Metropolis postmark caught his eye.  There was no return address, but the handwriting was vaguely familiar, although not instantly recognizable.  It wasn’t Clark’s or Lois’s, he thought as he slid out the card.  A distant corner of his brain was subconsciously searching his mental rolodex, trying to place the handwriting from among his Metropolis acquaintances.  He might have identified it sooner from the distinctive green of the card that slid from the envelope, if the postmark hadn’t predisposed him to consider out-of-towners first.  As it was, he’d barely registered the color and was taken completely off-guard when he opened the card and a square of green construction paper fell into his lap.  Picking it up, Bruce saw that it was cut into a block letter “E.”

“Well, looks like my Catitat plans are cancelled,” Selina said wryly.

Bruce looked up sharply and saw Selina was holding a green “E” identical to his own. 

He glared at it, then at the one he held, then at the card it fell out of.  He scrutinized this: green glossy cover, flat white interior, no words either preprinted or handwritten, nothing at all visible to the eye.  Possibly a fingerprint or two might remain, if he hadn’t smudged them by now.  He checked the envelope—and now recognized the handwriting instantly as that of Edward Nigma.  He looked up at Selina again.  She was holding up her E as well as the card.

“Eddie says ‘Hi,’” she announced brightly.

“Let me see that,” Bruce snarled, rising from the table and crossing to her in three ferocious strides.

“No.  Ask nice,” she countered.

“Selina, give me the clue,” he ordered in Batman’s fiercest gravel.

“Ask nice,” she repeated distinctly. 

Bruce closed his eyes.  The more things change… It wasn’t the first time they’d done this.  In the past, any time Catwoman had information he needed, she turned it into one of these games where the more he insisted, the more playful she became, answering the angriest of demands with the naughtiest of grins, and making him jump through hoops humoring her and her impossible assumptions about their feelings for each other.  But it had always been Batman that had to deal with her that way, on some clandestine rooftop, with the clock ticking on a pressing investigation.  This was Bruce Wayne in his own dining room.  The most pressing time factor, as far as he knew, was that his eggs were getting cold.  And the feelings he could now admit freely without the camouflage of a crimefighter who needed to “humor” a teasing informant. 

“Kitten, please let me see what Riddler sent you,” he said dryly.

“Meow,” she replied, handing it over.

The E was identical to his… The card was identical… The envelope… similar.  It had the same Metropolis postmark, the same innocuous Liberty head on the stamp, the same handwriting scribbling the same address.  Only the first line differed, the name of the addressee: Miss Selina Kyle.  Bruce felt an angry pulsing behind his eyes as he stared at those words.

“I warned him,” he graveled ominously.  “I said no more clues sent to the manor addressed to you, ever.”

“What are you going to do, break his legs again?”

Bruce looked down at her in a haze of stunned amazement.  It wasn’t the woman he lived with who had spoken, not the woman he loved and was trying to protect.  It was the Batman foe of old, the willful Cat who laughed off Batman’s most terrifying postures and then poked fun at him for it.

“Face it, Bruce, Psychobat shot his wad where Eddie is concerned.  He’s already paid the piper, now he gets to hear the tune.”

It could have been Nigma himself taunting him.  Bruce glared hatefully, but as always, Catwoman didn’t seem to notice. 

“And if this is the tune he wants to hear,” she said, taking back her half of the clue, “Well, sending me construction paper really isn’t the end of the world, now is it?”

“Yes,” he spat.

“It was a rhetorical question.”

“With Riddler, there are never rhetorical questions.”

“True.  But I’m not Riddler,” she teased, rising from her seat and pressing against him.  “Would have thought we established that a long time ago.”

He grunted. 

“So, Dark Knight, we’ve got two letter Es in the morning mail.  Cancel your meeting, and let’s go have some fun.”

“This isn’t fun.”

“You said your meeting at WE is on ‘new legal and fiscal frameworks for grant-making entities mandated by changes in foreign tax codes impacting corporate philanthropy in relation to the one-percent law.’  Here, on the other hand, we have two letter Es.  Let’s party.”

He refused to smile.  He refused to twitch.  He refused to even grunt.  He did tell Alfred to call Lucius and make his apologies, and to put Captain Leffinger on standby as he might be taking Wayne One to Metropolis on short notice. 

When Leland Bartholomew went back to working at Arkham, it nearly ended his relationship with Raven.  Since they reconciled, there was still a strain, not because she objected to the danger like before, but because of their relative schedules.  She didn’t get back from the nightclub until three, sometimes later.  If he tried to wait up, he was too tired to be much “fun.”  He felt like a dotty old man half the time, at the very time he most wanted to be dashing and virile.  If he gave up and went to sleep and then tried to rouse her in the morning before he left for work, his attempt was usually met with the kind of pillow flogging Patient Quinn indulged in when Bartholomew confined “her precious Puddin’” to solitary.

The solution they finally arrived at also made Bartholomew feel like a dotty old man, but only temporarily.  The moment he got home from work, he would remove his coat, kick off his shoes, empty his pockets of car keys and other uncomfortable objects, flop onto his sofa, and take a long nap.  Each and every time, he felt like a pathetic old fossil as he did so… but then when he woke up, he had to splash off his face and get ready for his 26 year old girlfriend to arrive.  That exorcised any thought of false teeth, hearing aids, and retirement home shuffleboard!

They still cooked together, although they saved the more ambitious dishes for her nights off.  Tonight was going to be a simple frittata so they would have time to watch a movie.  He was slowly winning her over on the superiority of originals over these wretched remakes that overcompensated in a Freudian fashion for their many shortcomings with such telling displays of gratuitous sex and violence.  So far, they had examined The Manchurian Candidate, Ocean’s Eleven, The Omen, and Alfie.  Tonight, he had a special treat, the one he had been saving, the original Dial M for Murder.  That Grace Kelly was such a delight…

Like any cat, Selina did not let a position taken yesterday interfere with whatever she wanted to do today.  Yesterday, she would have clawed the eyes out of anyone suggesting she was a crimefighter.  Tomorrow, she would do the same.  Today, she had followed Bruce down to the cave and was completely immersed in The Case of the Green Es.  After all, this wasn’t some lowlife tabloid or presumptuous hero making assumptions about her.  It was Eddie, and he was inviting her to a party.

Bruce was running the last 48 hours worth of autodownloads through a new filter weighted for Metropolis and Riddler-specific keywords, when Alfred buzzed on the intercom.

..::A telephone call for you, sir.  Mr. Kent.  Shall I transfer it down there, or will you take it upstairs?::..

Bruce grimaced, Selina smirked, and Alfred transferred the call, just as the data-matrix identified an item of interest in the previous Saturday’s Daily Planet.

“Clark,” Bruce began, preempting any lengthier social pleasantries.  “What happened at the ballgame Saturday, and why is there no account of it in yesterday’s DP?”

There was a pause.  Then…

..::I assume this line is secure?::..

“Of course it is.  I’m in the cave.  You’re on speaker, by the way. Selina is here.”

“Hey, Spitcurl,” she called out.

..::Em, yes.  Hello, Selina.::..

“The game,” Bruce resumed.  “It was ‘Daily Planet Day,’ correct?  There is a personal ad addressed to you specifically in that morning’s paper, saying he ‘doesn’t like to be cliché, but since it’s Daily Planet Day.’  Obviously, something was meant to happen at the game.  What was it?”

..:: Eh, yeah, that’s kind of why I’m calling, Bruce.  I wanted to give you a heads up that your Riddler is in town and—::..

“I know that, Clark, that’s why I was about to call you.  You might have let me know sooner.”

..::I just found out myself.  See, there was no indication that this warning on the scoreboard came from him.  It just seemed like one of the usual suspects calling me out.::..

Selina and Bruce both raised an eyebrow, each wondering what kind of Riddler clue could be confused with General Zod asking Superman to step outside for a superpowered slugfest.

“Um, so… how did you find out it was Eddie?” Selina asked at last.

There was another strained pause, and then:

..::Lois told me.::..

Bruce shook his head, and Selina stifled her laugh (but Clark’s hearing picked it up anyway).

..::It seems they had quite a chat.  He apparently kidnapped her—and no, Bruce, before you say it, there isn’t anything about that in the Daily Planet either.  Neither of us think it’s a good idea to make the story public at this point.::..

“Oh my god, he kissed him,” Selina muttered.

..::I heard that,::.. Clark said irritably.  ..::No one kissed anyone.  No one dropped anyone either.  Catwoman’s record is intact there, thank Rao.::..

Selina stuck her tongue out at the console, and Bruce growled.

“Someone better tell me what happened at the ballgame,” he insisted. 

Clark explained briefly about the exhibition on the scoreboard and his assumptions about “ALIEN SOL” as a warning.

“It’s an anagram for Lois Lane,” Bruce said instantly.

..::I know that now,::.. Clark replied.

As they talked, Bruce had pulled the Arkham records on Nigma’s release and expanded the data-matrix to examine all the autodownloads back to that date.  He didn’t mention the findings to Clark, he simply transferred them to a memory stick and slipped it into his pocket.  He also explained about the Es that he and Selina had received, and said they would be arriving in Metropolis that afternoon.

..::Both of you?::.. Clark asked.

Bruce glanced at Selina before replying.

“The clues were sent to each of us individually,” he explained.

..::I know, that’s what I mean.  So isn’t it playing into his hands to bring Selina along?  Seems to me, if he sends something like that addre—::..

“Clark, I’m looking at three Riddler communiqués right now, all from this past week, none of which you apparently noticed or recognized for what they were, despite the fact that two address you directly as Superman, and one is a full page ad in the newspaper you work for simply reading ‘Riddle Me-Tropolis.’  I think you better leave interpreting the clues to me.”

“Oh man!” Tim whined when he saw the hemorrhage of red ink on his essay.  “A 67?  A 67???  Barbara, you’re killing me!  I go to Brentwood Academy.  Do you have any idea of the standards there?  I never got lower than an 85 on ANYTHING, this is such a crock!”

“Plenty of suggestions there to bring up your score,” Barbara said coolly.

“I should’ve just let Hatter turn us into Tweedledum and Tweedledee,” he muttered, returning to the computer.

His punishment for the fake ID was two hundred rounds of Zogger on Cassie’s profile which, left at that, was effectively a death sentence.  He could deduct up to one hundred rounds by writing a research paper on the role of the internet in the upsurge of fake IDs among tech-savvy teens, his paper to be graded by Barbara the All-Seeing Oracle (Oh, THAT’S FAIR!) and one round of Zogger to be deducted for every gradepoint she awarded.  A perfect 100 would leave him with only one hundred rounds of Zogger to perform (still a death sentence if left at that).  He could then proceed to Phase Two to eliminate the rest, Phase Two which proved conclusively that Bruce would make a crueler, nastier, and deadlier villain than ANY Tim had faced as Robin (or ever would).

The only upside to the whole situation was that the essay-grading (and apparently the essay-rewriting, unless he wanted to accept thirty-three rounds of Zogger) brought him to Barbara and Dick’s co-op, which meant a little commiseration with Dick, if he ever got back.  He’d gone out jogging as soon as Tim arrived, leaving Tim with only Bytes the cat for a little sympathy when Barbara took out her red pen and proceeded to write an essay of her own in the margins of his paper.  So far from being sympathetic, the cat just played with his shoelace.

Tim really had to wonder if becoming Mad Hatter’s Tweedledum would have been so bad.

Selina was engaged in her usual routine onboard Wayne One, enjoying the fabulous luxuries Bruce had his plane stocked with in order to appear like a decadent fop.  She brought him a plate of scallop rolls topped with crab and caviar along with a glass of champagne, closed the lid of his laptop with a determined growl, set a similar plate down for herself, sipped, nibbled, and purred.

Bruce opened his laptop again, but took a scallop roll.

“I don’t drink when I fly,” he said absently, returning his attention to the computer screen.

“Why not?”

“I just don’t.”

“Bruce, there is nothing to see there that you didn’t already find in the cave: Riddle Me-Tropolis, ‘Not Daily, but you have to track them somehow.  The source of your own power holds the key.’”

“That was probably S.T.A.R. Labs,” Bruce interrupted.  “Sun or star as the source of Superman’s power, and it is a fairly attractive target.”

“Agreed.  So ‘Riddle me,’ ‘source of your power,’ and then this Daily Planet Day setting up the Lois clue on the scoreboard.”

“Your point?” he asked irritably.

“That you’ve already found all there is to find right now, so turn off the computer and have a glass of champagne with me.”

He thought about it, then shut the laptop and ate another scallop.  Selina leaned forward, taking his hand and rubbing the soft flesh of the palm seductively before placing his champagne glass inside it.  Then she curled his fingers deliberately around the glass, and finally, touched the top of the glass gently with her own.

“To a new adventure,” she purred, staring into his eyes.

“You’re enthusiastic,” Bruce whispered, the soft intimacy of his tone dipping into Batman’s gravel.

“I am…”  She purred again, running her finger around the rim of the glass.  “It’s been a long time since we ‘worked’ together.”

“Ah… It has, hasn’t it.”

He understood what she meant.  In the literal sense, they had just worked together on the Vaniel investigation, and before that, he frequently asked for Catwoman’s expertise if a security system was involved.  But this felt very different.  He didn’t initiate her involvement and neither did she.  They had both been pulled into the case by a third party, by the Riddler sending them clues individually.  It didn’t feel like any of the times they’d worked together since becoming a couple.  It felt like the early team ups, when they were thrown together by circumstance… Except, of course, that in those days, if the case brought them to a new city, they would be arriving separately… Or if they did travel together, it would be in costume in the Batwing or the Batmobile… In either case, he would not be flying her on Wayne One…  He would not have Selina maneuvering into his lap, unbuttoning his shirt, and rubbing her fingers across the scars of an early cat scratch on his chest while she nibbled on his neck.

“Kitten,” he murmured, trying to calculate how soon they would be landing.

mmmeooowwwwrrrlll” was the only reply.

90?  90?  Was she kidding?  That paper was perfect!  PERFECT!  Tim had worked in every damn one of Barbara’s “suggestions” to raise his score, including the really STUPID one: Since the most common fake ID is a New Jersey driver’s license, find out how much it’s going to cost them to switch to a new license template that won’t be so easy to counterfeit, then come up with three better things they could do with that money if it wasn’t for this necessity.

Three “better” things to do with $12 million, like that wasn’t a matter of opinion! 

It was a stupid suggestion, but Tim had gone along with it.  He found out it would cost $12 million dollars for New Jersey to redesign and rollout a new driver’s license, he proposed three other things they could have done with that amount instead, and here was Barbara withholding two points because he didn’t say to spend the money on libraries!  As if humoring Mr. Offred’s pet ideas about Groupthink to improve a Brentwood grade wasn’t bad enough, now he had to humor a fanatical ex-librarian while her cat romanced his shoe. 

At that point, Tim had stormed into the Grayson kitchen “to get a glass of water,” but really because Dick was back from jogging and had gone into the kitchen for a cold drink.  Tim was hoping for a sympathetic ear, one that wasn’t covered in fur and more interested in rubbing against his shoe than listening to his troubles.  But did he get it?  No!  Dick pretty much blew off his complaints.  He didn’t care that much about the fake ID, but he was disappointed that Tim hadn’t (a) “covered his tracks better” and  (b) didn’t “stand up to Bruce a little instead of just accepting the Zogger punishment without any fuss.”

Tim couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  Hello!  It was a Mad Hatter operation and he’d covered his tracks pretty damn well freeing the drones and taking down the bad guy without exposing any identities!  And as for standing up to Bruce, he— he—  sigh.  Next time, he’d just let Hatter turn him into Tweedledum and Randy-quad into Tweedledee.

Views were everything in Metropolis.  Long before Superman arrived, the city that invented the skyscraper took great pride in the magnificent vistas that could be enjoyed only by getting above all the bustling excitement in order to look out over it.  After Superman arrived, that breathtaking grandeur was enhanced by a latent excitement: there was always a chance you might glimpse a streak of blue-red zipping across the sky as you gazed.

The Metropolis Four Seasons offered its wealthiest guests two such views from its ultra-exclusive 46th floor: there was the Presidential Suite overlooking Lake Metropolis, and the Royal Suite looking out on the city itself.  The Presidential was considered the superior of the two, larger by over 1,000 square feet, but Bruce Wayne opted for the Royal.  He preferred a cityscape to a water view, but more importantly, the Royal had not been “specially designed to accommodate the personal taste of President Alexander Luthor and honored by his esteemed patronage on no fewer than six presidential visits to the City of Tomorrow.”  Given the alternative of spending a week or more surrounded by Luthoriana, Bruce was happy to settle for the smaller quarters.  Even though the suite’s master bedroom, living room, and dining room would all fit into his closet at the manor, it was preferable to using a bed where Lex Luthor himself had slept. 

The Four Seasons offered several amenities to guests of Bruce’s stature, amenities he was used to.  For one thing, they sent a hotel valet to unpack the luggage.  Without Alfred accompanying him, he had allowed it for appearance’ sake.  His Batman costume was safely hidden in a jewel case that Selina carried with her and would not be entrusted to any hotel personnel.  She had personally stowed it in the suite’s safe in the bedroom, and then joined Bruce in the living room with a bright, not-too-naughty smile (considering she just had her paws on a new safe).

“Alfred’s spiritual twin may have had a hand in decorating that bedroom,” she joked.  “It’s definitely got that ‘too much pink’ thing going.”  Her voice was clear and strident, obviously speaking for the valet’s benefit, for once she was close enough, she shifted to a confidential whisper. “It’s better than the courtesy safe that you’d find in a regular hotel room, but it’s not really up to our standards.  Okay for an oil heiress to stow away her million dollar earrings, but for what you’re keeping in there…”

“It’s fine,” Bruce said absently as he eyed another amenity with suspicion.  He said no more until the valet had left.  He walked the fellow to the door, tipped him and shut the door behind him, and then returned to Selina in the living room.

“Anyone breaking in for the million dollar earrings,” he said, picking up the conversation where they’d left off, “would probably be doing it at night, and there won’t be anything but earrings to find there after sunset… This, on the other hand, is mildly suspicious.”

Selina looked.  Bruce was scrutinizing a china platter displayed prominently on the coffee table with the words “Welcome to Metropolis” spelled out around the rim in sprinkled cocoa.  It was filled with thin, coiled ribbons of chocolate, each bearing a thin strip of purple icing down the center.  Bruce picked one of these up and examined it carefully, holding it up to the light.

“Bruce?  Earth to Bruce…  It’s chocolate.”

“They used to send fruit,” he noted sourly.

“Okay.”

“This is chocolate,” he pronounced with disgust.

“I salute you, World’s Greatest—”

“Selina, you like chocolate.”

“Along with ninety-eight percent of the human race, yes.”

“And it has a purple stripe.  Selina, this isn’t a welcome gift from the management, it’s from him.”

“Well, if it is, that’s sweet.  But how could he know we were in town, let alone where we’d—”

“Because I told him,” Bruce interrupted.  “I reserved the room in my own name, hotel reservations go into a computer, and with Nigma, that’s as good as faxing him an itinerary.  Selina, that’s why we came in on Wayne One.  I’m not trying to sneak in under the radar.  I want him to know that I received his clues and am responding accordingly.”

We received his clues, Bruce.”

“Yes… That’s presumably why this is here.  To reiterate your inclusion.”

She laughed.

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, Bruce.  And sometimes a chocolate ribbon streaked with purple is just a friend that knows I like chocolate saying hi.”

Before he could reply, there was a knock at the door and a cheerful Hispanic voice announced “Anita!  Housekeeping!”  Bruce raised an eyebrow, and Selina laughed again. 

“Oh, come on, this is fun.  You don’t even have to suit up or go out.  You just sit back and it all comes to you.”

“Anita!  Housekeeping!” sounded again outside the door.  Selina went to open it, Bruce told her to check the peephole first, and “Anita Housekeeping!” was admitted.  She set a large arrangement of pussywillows on the table and explained, through a heavy accent, that the hotel had received special instructions to have flowers in the room when the Waynes checked in.  She apologized that they were late.

At that point, Anita seemed to have exhausted her English.  For when Bruce tipped her, she expressed her gratitude by smiling widely and gesturing around the room indicating “Clean items” and “Me cleans it,” as if to explain that flower delivery was not her usual function in the hotel and why the generous couple might have use for her services again.

Anita departed, and Selina shut the door behind her.

“That accent was preposterous,” Bruce said acidly as he inspected the delivery.

“Pussywillows,” Selina beamed.  “I’m feeling the love.”

Bruce examined the card.  Neither the envelope nor the card itself were green; it was the standard hotel stock embossed with the Four Seasons logo.  The handwriting was not Nigma’s but that of an innocent florist or concierge.  The message itself, however, left little doubt as to the sender.  It consisted of a single word: IF.

Leland was worried.  His going back to work at Arkham had nearly ended his relationship with Raven and was still a source of strain.  Now, here she was, pausing Dial M for Murder to talk about it.  It was obvious she’d been distracted all night.  She didn’t say two words while they’d cooked the dinner and he didn’t think she even tasted her frittata, she looked so unfocused as she ate.  He’d asked, like anyone would, what was wrong, and she brushed it off. 

He said fine.  She wasn’t a patient, after all.  If she didn’t want to talk about it, he had no business pushing her.  So they sat back and started the movie, and now just as Grace Kelly was about to answer the phone and be attacked by the strangler, Raven wanted him to visit her at the Iceberg tomorrow in order to “stealth-treat” Oswald Cobblepot! 

“If ?” Selina gaped.

“That’s what it says,” Bruce replied, handing her the card with those two letters and nothing more, written in a flowing script.

“If,” she repeated.  “One night at the Berg, Eddie was waxing on words that don’t need question marks.  They convey the question all by themselves.  He went ten minutes on ‘why’ and just segued into ‘if’ when Two-Face gassed him.”

Bruce didn’t answer.  He was staring out the window.  He’d seen Clark leave the Daily Planet building ten minutes earlier and head towards the river.  Now the Man of Steel was returning from that direction, when he suddenly veered off towards the executive airport where Wayne One had landed and was temporarily housed. 

“I think Clark just discovered we’re here,” Bruce said abruptly.  Before he could explain, he felt the vibrating burr of the JLA communicator concealed in his cell phone. 

Selina was amused to watch the density shift as he answered it. 

“Yes, Clark,” he graveled.  “About an hour ago, we’re just settling in… Four Seasons, top floor, facing the city…” 

Before he could say more, Selina was opening the largest corner window. 

“Honey, get off the phone. We have company,” she called.

The usual social pleasantries followed: Clark asked about their flight in.  Selina said it was quiet and uneventful.  She offered him a chocolate and asked after Lois.  Clark forwarded Lois’s hellos to both of them, her hopes that they could all meet for dinner before Bruce and Selina left town, and her reminder to Bruce that he hadn’t given her an exclusive since the WayneTech buyout of all those LexCorp subsidiaries.  He then helped himself to another chocolate and said they were awfully good.  Bruce said he’d be happy to give Lois five minutes on the record before he returned to Gotham, they’d have to wait and see about dinner, it depended on a lot of factors that he couldn’t foresee at this time.  The chocolates, he added dryly, were sent by Nigma. 

Clark’s eyes grew wide as he looked from Bruce down to the plate of chocolates he was munching, then up at Selina—who treated him to a naughty grin of the “don’t take candy from villainesses” variety. 

“He sent flowers too,” Bruce declared in Batman’s pitiless gravel.

Superman looked utterly confused.

“Funny, my guys tend to sent kryptonite missiles,” was all the response he could manage.

“That is direct,” Selina said cheerily.  “But then hijacking the scoreboard in the middle of a ballgame isn’t exactly dripping with subtlety, so I don’t think we can hang the communications breakdown on that alone.”

“You call this a communications breakdown?” Clark asked, picking up one of the chocolate ribbons and handing it to Bruce.  “There’s a message in that one.”

Bruce snapped the candy ribbon in two to reveal a hollow center and slid out a small slip of paper curled into a tight cylinder.  Gently unrolling it with his fingertips, he revealed a single word: TINY.

“Tiny,” Bruce read.

“Tiny,” Clark repeated.

“Should I see where I packed the aspirin?” Selina asked.

“Yes,” both men answered in unison.

Leland was firm.  Psychiatry delved into the most private recesses of an individual’s psyche. It was not possible to “stealth-treat” a patient, it was unethical to “stealth-diagnose,” and it was outrageous to treat a professional psychiatrist like a lawyer, tax adviser, or auto mechanic you happened to know socially and could eke some free advice out of between scenes on movie night!  Even if none of that were true, the very idea of making a housecall for a little compulsive cleaning disorder when he’d just had Jonathan Crane, Hugo Strange, and Jervis Tetch dropped into his already overcrowded schedule… That’s when Raven sobbed and Leland rather lost his train of thought—perfectly valid though that train of thought had been!

She hadn’t wanted to bother him, she said.  She’d taken the same view that he had when the staff first came to her: a mini-vac in his office, so what?  It’s not like he was coming out to the bar asking customers to lift their feet so he could sweep underneath.  It wasn’t affecting the nightclub, so it really had nothing to do with them as Iceberg employees.  But then, well, there had been this salesman pushing some new bottled water and she had to go into Oswald’s office herself in order to tell him and… and…

“And?” Leland prompted, curiosity getting the better of his anger.

“Wipes!” Raven exclaimed.  “He has six different kinds of wipes in there.  There’s one kind for glass and formica, and one for dry dusting, one for wood surfaces, one for metal and doorknobs—”

“I think I get the picture,” Leland said awkwardly.  He knew the precise aisle in the grocery store where they were displayed and had scrutinized them himself, trying to make some sense of it all.

“And of course a hand desanitizer,” Raven went on.  “That one he used right after he let me in, and then he wiped the doorknob with it.  He saw something on the Today show about this really contagious stomach flu you can get just using an elevator button after someone’s pushed it.”

“Raven, I’ll admit the behavior is somewhat neurotic, but really, stomach flu is very unpleasant.  I saw that same segment on Today, and I’ve been washing my hands more frequently ever since.  It really doesn’t compare to dressing up as a scarecrow and saturating a college campus with booby trapped iPods.”

“WIPES, Leland!  He has six kinds of wipes in his office!  Somebody has to talk to him.  If you won’t do it, then you’ve got to release Harley Quinn, she’s the only other psychiatrist we’ve got since Hugo got pinched.”

Leland sighed.  He didn’t like the idea… but the fact was that Harley was already scheduled to be released in two weeks.  The thought of her attempting to diagnose or treat a patient—particularly in those “rogue” circles.  The way they all adhered to trends, Leland could easily envision more of them appealing to Harley after she’d treated Oswald, and then what?  Was he to have her sabotaging any progress he made with his Arkham patients as soon as they were released?  No, it was far better to put ethics aside and at least talk to Cobblepot long enough to identify the problem.  Then he could honestly tell Raven there was nothing to worry about, she could forward that much to the rest of this overanxious staff, and that would be that.

Bruce massaged his brow while Selina went for the aspirin.  Clark continued to stare at the chocolates and the clue that was concealed inside one of them.  TINY.  Then he turned his attention to the flowers.

“Pussywillows…  I don’t get it,” he said, unembarrassed to admit it. 

“It’s… complicated, Clark.  They’re… friends.”

“You and her were ‘complicated,’ Bruce, this is something else entirely.  This is—cigars too.  Lois figured out about the coffee, but she had no idea Perry had to give up cigars as well,” he laughed.

Bruce closed his eyes wearily.  He knew without looking up that Selina must have returned, and he knew too that she would have seen through Clark’s clumsy attempt to change the subject.  The only question now was if she’d be annoyed or amused by it.

“Aspirin?” she offered sweetly.  “These did not come from him, we brought them from Gotham.”

Amused, apparently.  That figured.  Maybe Batman would no longer consider the possibility that she might empty out the Egyptian wing if properly motivated, but she could still make Superman nervous, at least for a few minutes.  Bruce swallowed the aspirin in a gulp; he should have expected this, all of it.  Before coming to Metropolis, before he kissed her that first time.  He should have known at the first naughty grin.  The infinite complications of a crimefighter falling for a criminal, the infinite web of connections linking her to that other world, the infinite variations in… in…

“In,” Bruce mused, looking up suddenly.  “IN… There’s going to be a third gift-clue and it will say ‘IN.’ IF-TINY-IN, Infinity.  Clark, what kind of targets are in town, any locations or special events that in some way relate to infinity?”

Superman stared.

“It could be literal,” Bruce went on, trying to help, “like some connection to a famous mathematician, or it could be connected through a play on words of some kind.”

Superman continued to stare, while Selina sat down next to Bruce and looked at him adoringly.

“Tell, tell,” she said, assuming the prompt was self-explanatory: the great detective was to explain the brilliance of his deductions.

Bruce reached into his wallet and extracted the two construction paper Es.  He laid them side-by-side on the table, and then picked up a chocolate.

“It’s a ribbon,” he said.  “It’s a chocolate ribbon.  And the infinity symbol…”  He paused and turned the one E around to face the other, then pushed them together until the ends overlapped, making a squarish sideways figure 8.  “The infinity symbol is called a lemniscate, from the Latin lemniscus meaning ‘ribbon.’”  He stopped again and chuckled as another clue leapt out at him with sudden clarity.  “Remember the phrases that woman from housekeeping kept using: ‘Clean items’ and ‘Me Cleans it’ (I told you that accent was preposterous), they have exactly the same letters.  I noticed at the time and wondered if it might be an anagram, but I couldn’t see what of. That’s it: ‘Clean items,’ ‘Lemniscate,’ the infinity symbol.  And now In-If-Tiny.  Whatever he’s going to do, the clue is infinity.”

“You’re wonderful,” Selina murmured, radiating loving admiration as she kissed his cheek.

Clark blushed, and drew a sharp mental line through his suspicions of a Catwoman-Riddler alliance.

100.  A perfect 100.  It wasn’t easy, but there it was.  One hundred rounds of Zogger expunged from his sentence. 

Tim had made an interactive map/graph tied to a hidden spreadsheet that illustrated which states had which security features on their driver’s licenses, so a researcher could tell at a keystroke who used holograms, barcodes, digital photographs, and slick combinations of these and other markers.  Then you could plot that data against various alcohol-related crime statistics and even incorporate a calendar feature to see the spikes over Spring Break and other school holidays.  It was a document tailor made to tickle Barbara at her All-Seeing Oracle’s weakspot.  It was a crime-obsessed computer geek’s sex toy. 

Tim had also, reluctantly, added library internet consoles to the list of uses New Jersey might have for that $12 million if they didn’t have to improve their crappy driver’s license.  It stung a little, adding that line.  But that ethical compromise didn’t hurt half as much as the next step would: A perfect 100 on the research paper meant he had only one hundred Zogger rounds remaining to knock off his sentence.  He was ready for Phase Two, and Phase Two was going to hurt.  Literally.

“It’s like summer in Helsinki out there,” Catwoman said dryly. 

She was suited up, hands on hips, and staring out the bedroom window while Batman got changed.  He checked the latch on his utility belt and double-checked the stress point on the grapnel launcher.  Catwoman looked at the clock on the nightstand, then at the window again.

“I’m not joking, it’s after 10:30.  Is this really as dark as it’s going to get?”

“Yes,” he graveled, and crawled out the window.

Catwoman growled and followed.  She had been to Metropolis before, of course, but mostly for daytime heists while the LexCorp offices were open.  She certainly didn’t remember this wattage fetish after sundown.  The streetlights, theatre lights, brightly lit billboards, all so overdone that you felt the sun needn’t have bothered going down at all.

“Woof,” was all she could think to reply.

The next few hours were spent acclimating to the Metropolis rooftops.  Batman had more experience in the city and far more in the immediate vicinity of the hotel, so he took the lead introducing her to the idiosyncrasies of particular buildings, the general layout of the downtown loop, and the key neighborhoods beyond.  That much she could handle. He worked with Superman frequently; he stayed at the Four Seasons whenever he was in Metropolis, he knew the area better than she, he was taking the lead.

The train situation she was less sure about, at first.  Those neighborhoods beyond the city center looked like a lot of distance to cover without the Batmobile, and she said so.  Batman replied that they could “hitch a ride on the train, if necessary,” and pointed to an elevated track like it was the simplest thing in the world.  “Your whip won’t be of much use,” he went on, “but the grapnel attaches easily.  So if we need to use that method in a hurry, you’ll stick with me.”  She couldn’t believe it.  She thought he must be joking at first.  Batman never joked about crimefighting, but it seemed like the only possible explanation.  Hitching a ride on the train… Like Pheromones?!  Like AzBat?!  Was he insane?!  But then, before she could even find words to express her incredulous SHOCK, he’d grabbed her waist, fired a line, and before she could breathe they were speeding along, body to body, with his arms holding her tight, the rush of the wind in her hair and the thrilling speed of the train—And Catwoman admitted that there were worse ways to get across town as long as it was the real Batman at the helm and not some pheromonially-challenged pretender.

“Keep arm straight.  Makes strong followthrough.”

“This bites,” Tim growled. 

“Ten more, straight arm. No bite.”

“It’s a figure of speech, Cassie.  It means this is a dumb exercise.”

“Ten more.  Keep arm straight.”

Bruce was a cruel, cruel man.  Tim didn’t want to even think what the Justice League protocols must be like if this is what he came up with just for the fake ID.  First, Oracle grades his research paper on the internet; and now, Cassie “taught to kill before she could walk” was giving him fighting lessons.  This was so not cool.  Why couldn’t Bruce see that this was just not cool!

Tim had been taught to fight by Batman himself.  Then he picked up a little more from Lady Shiva.  Then Batman stepped in again when Robin got back from that adventure and corrected the Shiva stuff that he didn’t like. 

“Arm straight but now leg wobbly.  Ten more.”

The difference was that neither Bruce nor Lady Shiva were mad at him for not getting them a fake ID and taking them along to a nightclub.  It just wasn’t cool!  If it was Dick giving the lesson, then okay, Dick had been a dick about the cover-your-tracks/stand-up-to-Bruce stuff, but he was still a guy.  He could respect the code.  But Cassie…

“Weight too far forward.  Easy kick you back.”

He should have just let Hatter turn him into Tweedledee.

In the past, Batman/Catwoman team ups were not always been the smoothest of partnerships, but tonight’s pre-adventure survey of Metropolis-by-rooftop was remarkably conflict-free… At least it had been until, ironically, they returned to the hotel. 

Selina had wanted a shower, and when she returned to the bedroom, she found Bruce already changed into a thick terry robe and sifting through a packet of offerings from the concierge.  Selina enjoyed pampering and indulgence as much as any cat, but she wasn’t on vacation; she’d come to Metropolis to work.  On a case.  With Batman.  Now, as he began pointing her to caviar facials and rose petal pedicures at the hotel spa, all the shopping right outside their door, and of course, the world famous art institute, she had the distinct impression that he was engaged in that most objectionable of “hero” behaviors: sending the little woman out of danger.  She snarled accordingly.

“What is this, some travel protocol you cooked up for the bimbos?  Send them off on some Julia Roberts fantasy so you can do whatever you came to town for undisturbed.”

Bruce looked every bit as stunned and appalled as Catwoman had when he explained about the train-grapnel.

“Okay, first, I never traveled with the bimbos,” he said sharply.  “On a scale one to ten, one being an arbitrage meeting I can’t duck out of and ten being that dungeon Ra’s has at the castle in Budapest, the idea of being trapped on Wayne One or in this tiny suite with of one of those Bambis, Candis, or Jennis is a thirty.  Those women were hard to take for a few hours at a party with a hundred other people.  The very thought of going one-on-one for a week or more…  But if, god forbid, I did have to bring one of them to someplace like Metropolis for some reason and I said ‘go shopping,’ you can bet they wouldn’t have to be told twice.  Makes my head spin to think how fast they’d go.”

“I’m… sorry,” Selina interrupted.  “I said the wrong thing, I’m sorry.  Blame it on all the pink.”  She gestured helplessly around the room.  “But if you’re not shunting me off to the side like a bimbo girlfriend, then what are you doing?  Because we have plenty of spas and shopping in Gotham.”

He took her chin in his one hand, and stroked her hair with the other.

“I wish I could say that I just like spoiling you, but this is work.  We’re still expecting the third clue.  ‘If’ and ‘Tiny’ both came to you, in roundabout ways, the chocolate and the pussywillows.  ‘In’ probably will to, and that means you need to be where he can get at you.  You have to be in Metropolis, Selina.  Do all the things he would expect, knowing your likes and dislikes as he does.  The art museum is a natural.  The spa is an indulgence, and he does know we’re staying here.  The shopping is logical too, and it will give him plenty of opportunities to catch you alone.”

“Then you’re not sending me out of danger,” Selina cried, flinging her arms around his neck and kissing him warmly.

“No, I’m not sending you out of danger,” he laughed, stroking her face.  “And aren’t you the one who’s always telling me he wouldn’t hurt you?”

“He won’t, but it’s the principle of the thing.”

“Be sure to go through the concierge for everything,” he instructed.  “Have her book the spa treatments for you, arrange a VIP tour at the museum, private viewings at the boutiques, lunch reservations, anything else you can think of.  I’m not certain he has a spy in the building, but if he does, that will certainly help him track you.”

“Pfft.  Bruce, come on, this is Eddie.  He would never want you to make it easy for him.”

“Easy?” came an unexpected Bat-gravel.  “I’ve made it as difficult for him as humanly possible.”

He smiled.  Despite the unmasked face and hotel bathrobe, it was Batman who smiled, not an amused lip-twitch or a warm playboy grin, but a long, slow smile of deep and quiet menace. 

“I’ve made it impossible for the Riddler to win, Selina… I brought you.”

To be continued…


 

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