Waiting. All crimefighters have to do it sometimes. Whether it’s high tech surveillance of a DEMON compound, results of an autopsy, chemical analysis, or an Oracle superhack, there are sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, twenty-four hours in a day. Even for Batman. Even for Superman.
Of course, it could seem longer. Catwoman was breaking into the Science and Industry Museum, poking and prodding the building security, and searching the offices for information on upcoming plans, while the World’s Finest heroes stood across the street in Kesel Park keeping an eye on the building from a distance. They had been standing there for twelve and a half minutes that took three hours to elapse. Occasionally, Catwoman uttered some detail: the dome was one hundred twenty-five feet high with a sixty foot diameter, the main hall was three hundred by five hundred with two annexes, one twenty by two hundred… Superman had no idea if this information was meant for his ears or if she was taking verbal notes into a recorder—or maybe just talking to herself. At the six-minute mark, real time (or hour two, Superman time), the monologue stopped abruptly. Superman winced, holding his ears and clenching his teeth as a high pitched squeal bored into his skull for fourteen seconds that went on for two years. Batman guessed the tone was a “meta-frequency pulse she’s using to disconnect the office alarms,” but that was only because he couldn’t hear it. Anyone who actually heard that excruciating sound spike would never call it a “pulse.” He would call it what it was: the Meta-frequency Era, like the Paleozoic except with ultrasound brainspikes instead of trilobites.
Finally, six and a half minutes later, real time (hour three, Superman time), Batman’s communicator vibrated. ..::Since Spitcurl is pretending he can’t hear me,::.. she said.
They rendezvoused on the dome, Batman asked for the SitRep, and Catwoman began the oddest situation report Superman had ever heard. It began with “good news and bad news.” The good: the museum’s security wasn’t too shabby. Clark beamed at this, mentally scoring one point for Metropolis while Catwoman elaborated: The vault where the notebooks were now stored seemed perfectly adequate to keep them safe from “Catman through Shadow Thief (pfft)” until the formal unveiling. She had broken into the administration offices as well and looked over the plans for the final exhibit where the books would be permanently housed. It “needed some tweaking, of course” because the museum had brought in “our old pals Foster and Forsythe”—the mere mention of which made Batman’s eyes roll. It felt like Clark’s first day in the Daily Planet bullpen: a whirr of jargon and allusions that sounded like English but made no sense to the uninitiated. Catwoman said this Foster and Forsythe had “indulged their laser fetish again,” and bemoaned “that movie”—presumably Entrapment since she went on to reference “another security system inspired by Catherine Zeta-Jones’s ass.”
Superman was beginning to wonder if he shouldn’t bring Martian Manhunter onto the case for a telepathic translation, when Batman took pity and provided one: “Catman through Shadow Thief” represented a range of thieving abilities, Catman on the relatively low end of the scale; Shadow Thief on the upper—in his opinion as the experienced crimefighter who made up the scale in the first place. He was quick to add that before Selina could interrupt. It was an opinion she clearly didn’t share, hence the parenthetical pfft. Foster and Forsythe were security consultants. The junior partner had been police commissioner when Catwoman first became active in Gotham, and the senior partner had actually designed the security for the gallery where Bat and Cat had their first encounter. In later years, they’d used an excessive amount of visible motion sensors and electric eyes, probably based on the movie Entrapment, which Selina had considered a wonderful screwball comedy until she started seeing those red lasers pop up all over town.
“Are you done?” Catwoman asked when Batman had finished.
He said nothing but his lip twitched, and she meowed. Again, Superman felt he was the stranger in a strange land. Metropolis was his city (to borrow the phrase) but these Gothamites somehow transformed little patches of it into “Gotham West” wherever they came together.
After another few grunting/purring allusions to arguments they’d obviously had a hundred times before, Catwoman continued her briefing: The good news: the vault where the Einstein notebooks were now stored and their “final resting place” in the exhibit hall were fine. The bad news—part one: Did Superman know they had four different kinds of kryptonite in that place?
He did. He explained briefly that he’d met with the curators when the exhibit first opened. He didn’t like having actual samples of the deadly substance on display in a public museum, but “in the best interest of humanity” was a hard argument for him to counter. The very fact that it was kryptonite, “the real thing from Superman’s home planet,” got kids excited about science. They left the display talking about crystal structure, chemical formulas, and the thermochemical nature of a material that could be calculated once you determined certain physical properties. Who was he to keep impressionable young minds from learning about the wonders of their universe, especially at a time in their lives when it might become a career and vocation?
Catwoman looked at Batman, who shrugged.
“The bad news—part two,” she continued gamely. “The intermediary step between the perfectly good storage vault and the perfectly good exhibit, the stunt all cultural institutions have to pull on occasions like this. Any guesses?”
“Throwing a big party to unveil their new acquisition to the world,” Batman graveled.
“Give that man a kiss,” she grinned, leaning over to impart one while Superman turned his attention to the lovely view of Lake Metropolis.
“When I was in the director’s office,” Catwoman continued, “looking for the exhibit plans, I found the other plans. For the ‘Attention Criminals Who Want Our Stuff, We’re Having A Party’ Party.”
“Please tell me it’s not a costume party,” Batman sighed.
“No,” she grinned, “Guess we lucked out there. No Ashton-Larrabys on the board. But anyway, there is going to be a party, and that’s when he’s going to go for them, no doubt of it. Eddie’s not bad with a Gotham Yacht Club caliber alarm system, but he’s not up to this place without six months of prep time and some serious pilates.”
“And when is this party?” Batman growled, pronouncing the last word with a disgust usually reserved for the words “early release” or “handgun.”
“That’s bad news—part three,” she answered. “Two weeks.”
Batman’s fist clenched, Hell Month style, as he envisioned more nights away from his city.
“Come on, Handsome,” Catwoman soothed, “You know what these shindigs are like. There’s no way they could put it together in less time.”
“Good news part two, Lois and I get to dress up,” she teased playfully.
“Bad news part four, I hate that tux,” Superman put in.
Batman shifted his glare. Two weeks would feel like months if Clark started echoing Catwoman’s patter that way.
By the time Selina filled out the order for the next day’s breakfast, Bruce was finalizing his plans. He could manage a patrol in Gotham three nights each week while still maintaining a presence in Metropolis. Leaving the city completely was out of the question. If Nigma thought his preferred adversary had left town, it might provoke a reaction. He might change his timetable, and that was the last thing Batman wanted. Catwoman as good as told him that Riddler did not have the skill set to break into the museum without her help, and desperation was inherently dangerous in a rogue, any rogue. The thought of Riddler improvising something where Catwoman was involved was a nightmare of variables and permutations too numerous to prepare for. Given the tradeoff between missed patrols in Gotham and unleashing a dangerously unpredictable Riddler in Metropolis, there was no “question mark.” Until those notebooks were secured in the permanent exhibit, he and Selina had to keep up a presence in Superman’s city.
Between the Batwing, the JLA transporter at STAR Labs, and some skillful manipulation of the Monitor rota at the Watchtower, he could still manage three early patrols in Gotham, and on one of those occasions, even work in a late patrol without any great loss of sleep or travel time. Bruce Wayne could still make an appearance in Metropolis the next day. As long as Selina remained in the city while he was gone, there would be nothing to trigger Nigma’s suspicions—unless, of course, Batman made news in Gotham. It was a minor risk. The underworld still hadn’t recovered from the massive roundup of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th tier rogues leading up to the Gotham Post fundraiser, and the At Large list…
Bruce’s concentration was shattered suddenly when Selina strolled into the room naked, saying something about taking a bath if he wasn’t coming to bed. Bruce had no earthly idea what he said in reply, but he must have said something because she left and he heard the water turn on in the distance. He sat there stunned for a moment, trying to recover.
What had just happened to him?
Well, Selina came into the room naked, obviously. But striking as she was, he’d seen her naked before and it never had that effect. His mind strained to find its way back to its last clear thought… The At Large list, that was it. The At Large list was still gratifyingly short… Of course. He was still in Bat-mode, that’s why he reacted the way he did. He was in Bat-mode just the same as if he was in the Batcave, thinking through the night’s patrol as he wrote up the log. He might be wearing a hotel robe instead of the costume, and the suite’s living room might resemble one of the manor drawing rooms more than the Batcave, but he was still completely in Bat-mode. He had seen Selina naked before, certainly, but not in the Batcave while Batman was trying to work. No wonder his brain shut down from the shock.
Psychobat swatted away the last vestige of her image and returned to the issue at hand: Despite the short At Large list, Batman could conceivably catch a name villain during one of those stolen patrols in Gotham…
By the time Selina was stepping out of the bathtub, he had developed a protocol. [Bat Out of Gotham, Protocol Alpha]: In case of a high-profile takedown of a prominent rogue, they could scramble the Iceberg grapevine to cover up his involvement. Conflicting reports of Nightwing, Robin, and Batgirl all apprehending the same criminal would lead any savvy listener to conclude that the villain was really captured by one of the junior vigilantes or maybe even ordinary police. Captured by someone they considered beneath them, the rogue lied and said it was Batman to save face. [Protocol end.]
That covered the first half of the problem: looking in on Gotham. Keeping things under control in Metropolis was another matter, one that required a Bruce Wayne protocol rather than Batman’s. First thing in the morning, he would set up a sizable endowment for the Science and Industry Museum, producing the inevitable offer of a seat on their board. It would only take a phone call to deflect the honor onto Selina and insert her into the event committee planning the party.
He went into the bedroom and crawled into bed beside her, feeling like a heel. He loved Selina, and he knew the hell she’d be in for. To make executing this particular scheme easier, he imagined Batman looking past those impossibly green eyes and grabbing her wrist with a crimefighter’s resolve—and then seeing the slivers of body armor and his own flesh under her claws. He reminded himself of the bullwhip, the cat-o-nine tails, and the countless gems, artworks, and antiquities she’d gotten away with over the years. If he’d caught her on any of those occasions, he could have taken her to Blackgate. Instead, he was sending her to an event committee. It was Justice.
Besides, it was only for two weeks. It could have taken her two weeks to escape from Blackgate.
Clark was beginning to feel Catwoman’s “Bad News Part One,” the four kinds of kryptonite in the science museum, paled in comparison to the Good News Part Two, Lois had a reason to get dressed up.
No ordinary cocktail dress would do for the Einstein party, not when Bruce Moneybags Wayne was going to be in attendance. Oh no, of course not. Bruce and Selina had already seen the green Calvin Klein and the blue Casselberry; the beige sequins were too dressy and the black lace too matronly. Her arms would get cold if she wore the old Halston, and she didn’t have shoes for it anymore anyway…
Clark had no idea what she was talking about, but he nodded anyway. That was the safe thing to do; that had always been the safe thing to do. Except tonight it turned out to be a huge mistake, because he wound up agreeing that she was getting a bit too old to pull off “Paris pink.”
Lois did what any woman would do under the circumstances: She picked up the phone, called Selina for a shopping date at Bloomingdale’s, and then turned to her husband with the sweetest of smiles and declared “Really Clark, it’s not like you need a new car next year, now is it?”
Clark did what any man would do under the circumstances (if he could fly): he went to New Zealand to track down a Catwoman bank robber.
The Trigger Twins, that was a name no one had heard in a while. Bruce’s Batman had little experience with Tom and Ted Trigger. They had surfaced during Jean Paul’s stint in the mantel, and Bruce had always assumed the contempt with which first-tier rogues spoke of them was just another example of their disdain for all things “AzBat.” But now that he’d actually seen the twins robbing a defunct Planet Hollywood to score a pair of Clint Eastwood pistols before they were sold at auction, he found himself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with Joker, Two-Face, Riddler and Penguin. The Trigger Twins were pathetic losers that hardly justified the wear and tear on his gauntlets, let alone the jetfuel back to Metropolis.
Selina’s reaction to the capture didn’t help. She lay in bed, filing her nails, projecting that aura of injured dignity like the time Batman prevented her absconding with the Katz collection and she somehow made it seem like she was the injured party.
“So, no more Gotham patrols until Friday?” she asked casually.
“No, not until Friday,” he graveled, feeling he was stepping into a trap.
“Good, because I was just thinking, maybe next time I could go to Gotham and pummel, while you stay here and work out the desserts for the gala.”
He pointed out that, wretched and incompetent as the Trigger Twins might be at their chosen profession, they were technically thieves, as in criminals, as in crime, and that catching them therefore constituted crime-fighting.
She pointed out that she’d spent two hours that afternoon listening to the Metropolis Ladies Who Lunch debating Banana Nut Glace—that’s (Listen up, Dark Knight, cause this might be important later on) walnut ice cream, banana sorbet and walnut dacquoise with candied walnuts—versus the Lavender Plum torte—which would be lavender ice cream with plum sorbet, almond dacquoise, and caramelized vanilla bean. Bruce tried to interject, but she cut him off with the news that the committee ladies THEN discovered there were chocolate apricot and spiced pear options to be considered, and that meant another hour and a half of discussion until they ran out of time. They would be picking up there tomorrow before the cassis mango meringue versus mint chocolate macaroon throwdown. So at this point, Batman my love, kicking Ted Trigger in the nuts wasn’t the worst idea she could think of, even if it was crimefighting.
The night before the party, Bruce and Selina were having a quiet, casual dinner in the suite. Bruce was telling her about an early teamup with Superman—or as he put it, “the one time Clark really came to the rescue.” He was cornered, not in an alley or a battlefield, but at the opening of a reconstructive surgery unit. It was the Wayne Foundation’s largest medical endowment up to that time, but the Foundation wasn’t the only contributor. Lex Luthor had written the biggest check, and he’d cornered Bruce at the opening, wanting an alliance. Together they could wrest control of the medical center from the current small-minded administrators and steer it in a more lucrative direction. Bruce made a typically foppish excuse about being in Monte Carlo by the time Luthor was ready to move, and Lex said that would be no problem at all if Bruce would sign a proxy. It was an amateur mistake, but Bruce was new to the fop act and he’d underestimated Luthor. Of course the bimbo of the moment was no help at all…
“Wait, let me guess,” Selina interrupted with a grin. “Whatshername-Gretta?”
Bruce took a dignified sip of water. It was true he made no effort to learn the names of women that were not worth remembering, and he refused to feel ashamed of that fact.
“No, it wasn’t ‘whatshername-Gretta,’” he answered, although he did use that designation for most of the bimbos. “I do remember this one. Her name was Savanah Summer.”
“Oh come on, Bruce, it’s one thing to not remember; it’s another entirely to make up a name just to…”
She trailed off, for the atmosphere at the table had suddenly changed. Bruce had undergone the eerie density shift that marked a swift transition into Bat-mode, and Selina felt that electric tingle that once warned Catwoman whenever Batman was near.
“What is it?” she asked, quietly excited.
Bruce set down his sandwich and walked to the window.
“There,” he pointed.
She looked, blinked, chuckled as the sight registered, and then apologized, knowing his prejudice against laughter in the face of grunt-signs of criminal activity-grunt. Down the street, on the face of the tallest skyscraper facing the hotel, a crossword puzzle appeared in the pattern of lit and darkened windows.
“Quick, where’s today’s paper,” he ordered.
Selina rummaged and soon found the Daily Planet that came with their room service breakfast each morning. She opened it and turned to the crossword before handing it over.
“It’s not the same puzzle,” she said, disappointed.
“Find yesterday’s. I know I’ve seen that pattern recently.”
Selina shook her head.
“No way, Stud. They’re too damn efficient emptying the waste baskets in this place.”
Before she had finished speaking, Bruce was powering up his laptop.
“Here,” he spat, “You can get started, while I change. See if you can hack into the Planet’s system and go through the back issues. If you can’t get in in five minutes, call Barbara.”
“Now you’re just trying to make me mad,” Selina growled as he left.
Three minutes later, Batman returned from the bedroom and Selina reported curtly that she’d checked nearly two weeks of Daily Planet puzzles and none matched the pattern across the street.
“Ok, I don’t want you wasting any more time on it. I’ll send Oracle a photo and let her sift through all the metropolitan newspapers for as far back as it takes to find…”
“To find?” Selina prompted.
“It,” he murmured softly. He had taken a small digital camera from his utility belt but rather than pointing it out the window he was simply staring at it.
“Bruce?” Selina whispered.
He swiveled the laptop around to see the screen and began tapping keys urgently.
“Or maybe I already have taken a picture of it—There.” He turned the screen back around so Selina could see, revealing a photo he’d taken in Riddler’s pseudo-lair in the Daily Planet building. A piece of faux-art in the form of a large crossword puzzle, complete with clues, hung against a Riddler green wall.
“There it is,” he announced. “The crossword from the lair matches the one across the street.”
“I assume you’ve solved this one already?” Selina asked dryly.
“Yes,” he punched a key and brought up the completed puzzle. “The night I found it. But there was nothing in the clues or the answers that related to Einstein, Metropolis, or the museum.”
“Yes, woof,” he agreed.
“Well, if the answer isn’t here,” Selina said, getting up and walking back to the window, “then it must be out there, in the Lite-Brite version of the puzzle, right?”
“His last ‘Lite-Brite’ was a decoy,” Batman noted.
“Well yes, I guess it was. But I didn’t mean to imply a connection to the bomb scare at the train station. I just didn’t know how else to refer to that thing.”
Batman rubbed his chin.
“The last Lite-Brite was also meant to occupy Clark,” he said.
“Agreed, but this one is definitely pointed at us.”
“Let’s make sure,” he said, switching off the lights. “Lenses engage. Infrared.”
He looked out the window again, and grunted.
“Just as I thought. Some of those lights are tinted on a spectrum we can’t see. Go to the computer, read off the letters in the boxes I call out.”
She did, and within minutes they had spelled out TRY GALA PERIL SIN.
“Maybe it’s just the heads up that he’s going to hit the party,” Selina suggested.
“Maybe,” he replied, scribbling out a few variations. He didn’t like that word ‘PERIL’ in there, but it was better than the TRY GALA variations that ended with R.I.P. He rearranged the letters several times to eliminate the subtextual threats, and then cursed himself for it. You could make anagrams of this length point to almost anything. He was indulging his own preference that the clue not include a threat when it was directed at Selina as much as himself. That was no way to solve a Riddler clue and he knew it. The only way to solve it was to get inside Nigma’s head. He looked up suddenly at Selina, and then back at the letters.
L-I-N-A, he wrote.
“Your name is in here,” he graveled.
She looked over his shoulder.
“Doesn’t leave you enough ‘A’s to spell ‘GALA’ that way,” she said.
“No,” he murmured as he scribbled again. “But…”
Selina let out a low whistle.
“What does that leave?” she asked breathlessly.
S-E he added before L-I-N-A. And then after PARTY he arranged the remaining letters to spell out G-I-R-L.
Clark wasn’t discouraged that his first attempts at flirting had gone pretty much unnoticed. He was disappointed, naturally, but he was far from defeated. As a young man, it had taken weeks to master his heat vision, and he’d set the barn on fire more than once trying. It took more than a month to perfect flying through storm systems, and he’d landed face down in the Pacific more often than he liked to remember. And like any journalist worthy of the name, he was still honing his writing skills, every day on every story, even after all these years on the job. Pa always said if something is worth doing, it’s worth the elbow grease learning to do it right. Handing Bruce and Lois a little friendly payback for the decade of Wayne/Lane flirting paraded in front of him was definitely worth the elbow grease. And the Einstein party would be the perfect place to get it right. Selina would be dressed up, looking her best, and Bruce and Lois would be on hand to see him notice.
But, eh, meeting Selina in the receiving line, Clark decided to wait a bit. She did look her best, there was no question about that, but she also looked like an angry lioness that might pounce at any minute, ripping the throat from whatever unfortunate antelope happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a ferocious Catwoman aura that only Bruce found appealing—which worked out well as he seemed to be the object for her ire. She was stuck in the receiving line because he’d put her on the event committee. He was already inside “acquainting himself with the layout of the party,” she said—a process which looked remarkably like getting himself a drink from the bar. Clark bid Selina a hurried farewell as Lois went ahead to join Bruce.
It occurred to him that it was Riddler’s fault as much as Bruce’s that she was stuck on that committee, and if they were such good friends as Bruce implied, the villain would have no chance getting past her in disguise. If Edward Nigma did come into the party in the normal way, through the front entrance and receiving line, there might be no robbery to foil, for the lioness might attack him on sight and devour him where he stood.
“Why Bruce, you get handsomer and handsomer every time I see you,” Lois was saying as Clark caught up with them.
Here we go again, Clark thought sourly as Bruce answered her with a preposterous playboy grin.
“Hello, Lois. My, you look lovely. Is that a new dress? Red certainly is your color.”
Clark wondered if this was an instinctive return to the fop in a social setting where it was really Batman “in a Bruce Wayne suit” and not Bruce himself attending the party, or if, possibly, Bruce was getting the flirting-with-Lois bit out of the way so he could concentrate on Nigma for the rest of the night. In either case, Lois was eating it up, turning slowly and showing off her dress.
“Of course, brand new. Bought it specially for you, Bossman.”
“Oh, I read that piece on Uzbekistan,” Bruce went on, moving on to Lois’s career now that they’d apparently finished with her evening gown. “Is there room on the mantle for another Pulitzer?”
“Aren’t you a dear!” she exclaimed, delighted. “Some things I’ll always make room for. On my dance card, for instance. You’ll save me one, I hope?”
“Why Lois, what would Clark Whatever say? Er, I mean, whatever would Clark say?”
A duet of nauseating laughter followed, and Clark cleared his throat.
“Not planning to dance,” he said with a playing along grin, “Seeing as the dance floor is in the Hall of Giant Robots that Superman destroyed over the years, protecting the city and its people, and even Lois herself, from every menace that’s come along.”
Lois politely disengaged from Bruce and slid her arm back around her husband’s, who had saved her from all sixteen giant robots on various occasions.
Lois Lane’s mother taught her that a woman’s evening bag should be just large enough to contain a lipstick, a handkerchief, and a folded twenty dollar bill. Lois’s was a bit bigger, just large enough to contain her cell phone, a credit card and her press pass. It might be a party, but it was an unusual party with an unusual mix of people, and she was chasing six different stories just in case there wasn’t a SUPERMAN NABS RIDDLER headline by the end of the evening.
Knowing he wasn’t her husband on these occasions but a rival reporter, Clark left her to it and crossed the hall to join Bruce… at a display of alien species that had attacked Metropolis over the years, all lovingly re-created in lifelike resins by the WETA workshop.
“Giant mind control starfish?” Bruce observed with a hint of foppish condescension. “I can’t see your Superman saying anything about Gotham villains.” Then he lifted his glass to his mouth and added in a barely audible whisper “Other than if mind control starfish came to Gotham and set up shop inside Knight’s Stadium on game day, I’d have noticed.”
It takes kryptonian muscle control to make a nine syllable phrase like “Catwoman Protocol Epsilon” sound like a cough, but Clark managed it—just barely—before the receiving line dissolved and he saw the reason for the original Catwoman Protocol Epsilon bearing down on them. The lioness still looked too angry to flirt with, but Clark still anticipated her arrival with a certain ignoble glee. “If mind control starfish came to Gotham,” indeed.
But Selina’s determined march stopped three steps short of Bruce, and she turned her fiery glare on Clark with that distinct “Curse you, Superman” expression they all get when he’s foiled some scheme they’ve been planning for months.
“What did you do?” she demanded. “I heard you went to the buffet, turned green, clutched your stomach and dropped your fork. Now nobody’s eating the shrimp!”
“I was talking to Dr. Hamilton,” Clark explained, “and he walked me too close to… to that case. What could I do? I couldn’t just end the conversation and walk away saying space rocks make me ill.”
“Four hours of discussion about that shrimp, Clark. Kitty is not happy. Also not a lot of dancing going on in the Hall of Giant Robots, so maybe you should find your wife and get that started.”
Clark turned to Bruce—only to discover he was no longer there.
Bruce knew where the notebooks were being kept before the formal unveiling. He could see where Selina was standing, and knowing these were the two points of interest for Nigma, he spent the first hour of the party forming the third point of a triangle between them. Whenever she moved, he moved… The strategy was working beautifully until he ran into Perry White, literally. Perry had been standing in front of a wall near the coat check, scrutinizing a small placard, and Bruce was keeping his eye on Selina as he maneuvered to keep both her and the notebooks in sight. After the collision and mutual apologies, Perry declared that he was “celebrating twenty-eight days without a cigar and praying for death.” Then he drew Bruce’s attention to the plaque he’d been reading: In order to provide a healthy and comfortable environment for all our visitors and in accordance with Local Ordinance Governing Public Spaces #160-24, The Metropolis Museum of Science and Industry is a smoke-free facility.
“Now that’s some piss poor copy,” Perry said acidly. “’No Smoking’ covers it, or that little circle with the slash would do. One column inch either way, no more. That’s when civilization went to hell in a handbasket, Wayne, when they started making the no smoking signs chatty. We’re not having a colloquy, goddamnit, just tell the poor bastards they can’t light up in here and be done with it.”
Bruce offered a sympathetic, not-too-foppish smile as he looked around for Selina. He’d seen her moving behind a lucite cross section of a glacier somewhere around the time civilization was going to hell in a handbasket, but since the glacier was mostly transparent, he hadn’t worried about it. By the time Perry was declaring decaf a communist plot that had outlived the Stalinist fiends who invented it, Bruce saw her disappear behind a dinosaur skeleton. He craned his neck while Perry ranted about the layers of disinformation and cherry-picked data about second-hand smoke, and midway through Perry’s indictment of herbal tea, he lost sight of her completely.
Bruce patted Perry’s shoulder, said they’d have to do lunch some time soon, and made his getaway. As he circulated through the party looking for Selina, he noticed something else instead. There was an old exhibit at the entrance to the North Annex, adjacent to but not quite a part of the main hall where the partygoers were clustered. The exhibit, called Moments of Invention, featured waxworks style tableau depicting the Eureka moments of inventors from John Gutenberg to Robert Fulton. In one of these, Samuel Morse was working on his telegraph in a cramped one room studio-bedroom-workshop that accurately depicted the impoverished means in which the inventor then lived—depicted it accurately except for a beautiful, mahogany rolltop desk, which was certainly in period but ludicrously out of place in the humble setting.
Bruce walked up to the display, getting as close as he could to the desk, and then turned his back as if looking out at the pleasant revelry of the party. He reached behind his back, and lifted the slatted cover about an inch.
“Evening, Edward,” he said mildly.
“Shit,” the desk cursed.
“I assume the lights go out at some point, you come out, collect the notebooks and hide them for later retrieval?”
“Rather not say,” came the reply, accented with a pained dignity seldom expressed by furniture.
“You’re aware that Selina sat through six days of meetings planning this thing?”
“… The buffet looks very nice,” the desk admitted after a pause.
Here, the verbal joust was suspended as Paula Winn spotted Bruce standing alone and apart from the crowd, and felt she really must say hello. After all, he’d made that huge donation to the museum, and all because she’d made an effort to overcome her fear and tell him about the notebooks. Bruce slammed down the cover of the rolltop at her approach, and it expressed its dismay with a muffled “ow.”
As always, ten seconds into any conversation with Bruce Wayne, Paula Winn lost the ability to form a coherent thought. She stumbled from sentence to sentence, circling around the one item in which she knew Bruce had an interest, the Einstein notebooks. She wondered if he’d seen the display. There had been much discussion about what kind of quote should appear on the placard. They wanted something whimsical that no one would ever associate with Einstein. One of those Princeton chaps suggested “A question that sometimes drives me crazy: am I or are the others crazy?”
“Really, I never heard that one,” Bruce said dryly, covering a squelched cry from inside the desk as Eddie bit his tongue.
Riddler jerked in pain and squirmed as his mouth filled with blood, bumping his remote toggle control to black out the party. Bruce’s foppish laugh, meant to camouflage the cry inside the desk, came to an abrupt halt as the lights flickered and the museum was plunged into darkness. Across the room, Clark made a quick exit—and next to the Morse display, Bruce clumsily pounded his fist against the desk while he “steadied himself” from an apparent loss of balance brought about by darkness. Inside the rolltop, Eddie squirmed to reset his toggle control while dabbing at his bleeding tongue with a question mark handkerchief, although in his panic, he first dabbed his tongue with the button and pushed feverishly on the handkerchief.
A few moments later, the lights returned—only to reveal Superman hovering over the rotunda in full view of three-hundred party guests. Bruce sighed, seeing the Man of Steel lower into the crowd, knowing he would be trapped in public relations mode for the rest of the evening. But at least now he had an obvious excuse to steer clear of the kryptonite display.
Paula Winn remained at Bruce’s side, picking up her rambling monologue where she left off. “So anyway, we wanted to go with a disarmingly non-intimidating Einstein quote for the entrance to the exhibit, but I guess they decided to go another way because the sign there now says ‘When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.’ Wouldn’t have been my choice, ‘Relativity’ seems pretty typically Einstein to me, but I was outvoted.”
Sensing another squelched cry from the desk was imminent, Bruce did his best to get rid of Paula Winn, finally suggesting she might want to find Lois and “make sure she knew” about Superman’s arrival. It wasn’t the most inspired excuse he’d ever come up with, but it worked and soon Paula Winn was gone. The rolltop desk unburdened itself as expected.
“That woman is an imbecile! OF COURSE you use the relativity quote, you silly cow. It’s Einstein. Einstein! E equals MC squared, QUAD EQUALS RECS ME, LACQUERED MASQUES, SQUAD SQUEAL CRÈME, Einstein! Oh for a woman who can keep up, Bruce. There aren’t enough in this world. How’s a man supposed to get through the day with ‘Relativity seems pretty typically Einstein’ dimwits every time you turn around, and nobody you can go to when it’s over and say ‘GOD, THESE MORONS DON’T GET IT?’ Oh for a woman who can keep up—By the way, why isn’t Selina wearing my brooch? Didn’t you give it to her? Didn’t you check out the ‘E’ office from the puzzle? Twelve down. That was a vintage Chanel infinity brooch. You know how she likes Chanel. I really hoped she’d wear it tonight, seeing as it fit right in with the theme and th—eck.”
Bruce’s patience snapped, and he’d yanked Nigma out of the desk, slammed him back against it, and was ready to punch him back to Gotham—when Eddie looked past the cocked fist aimed at his nose and into the distance in a direct line behind it. His eyes widened as he took in the scene behind Bruce’s shoulder, and his mouth dropped open in shock.
“What is he DOING?!” Eddie demanded.
Bruce was about to point out that “Hey, look behind you!” predated cave painting and Nigma must be mad if he thought Bruce would fall… for… and that’s when his eyes glimpsed what Nigma was seeing, reflected in Samuel Morse’s shaving mirror.
Superman. Talking to Selina… Superman doing the hand on wall/lean in maneuver over Selina (a move which also predated cave painting) while she looked up at him, blushing and giggling like a school girl.
Bruce let go of Nigma’s collar, spun around, and watched in staggered horror as Selina encouraged Superman to flex his arm and then proceeded to feel his bicep!
“They’ve got four kinds of kryptonite in the other room,” Eddie said hurriedly. “You wait here, I’ll get some.”
Bruce turned back and punched him swiftly in the stomach—a light blow, but sufficient to double him over—and then hustled him across the hall to a “PRIVATE STAFF ONLY” door he’d seen hidden behind the giant starfish. As they moved through the crowd, only Perry White and Emil Hamilton seemed to notice them.
“Bad shrimp,” Bruce offered by way of explanation.
“Break glass in case of flirty Superman,” Nigma called—but alas, they had resumed their conversation.
In the privacy of the gift shop storage room, Bruce threw Nigma down onto a crate of freeze dried “Astronaut Ice Cream” and pulled up his own crate of rubber asteroid antenna toppers. The two men sat across from each other, glaring in malevolent silence for several moments.
“WHAT?” Nigma finally asked, packing a year of thwarted malice into a single defiant syllable.
“For someone that leaves a trail of clues, intentionally and unintentionally, leading up to everything he does, you really have no clue at all, do you, Edward?”
The voice was eerily conversational, only grazing the low register of the bat-gravel on a few select words.
“Don’t go patting yourself on the back for figuring out the notebooks. I’ve been pitching you softballs since you got to this pitiful town.”
“I’m not talking about the notebooks. I’m talking about you and your fixation on Selina, for more than a year now, since the day you figured it out.”
“Wh-,” Nigma uttered, sitting back, the first word of an unasked question leaking from his mouth without sound.
“Do you blame her, is that it? You figure she’s the reason you finally solved your ultimate riddle, ruining your ‘fun’ and wrecking any semblance of a goal you had for your twisted career?”
“That’s insane,” Eddie said archly.
“You’re insane, Nigma. It’s hardly a stretch to think your motivations might be too. Just look at the ‘trail of clues’ you’ve left, if you have the courage to solve the real ‘riddle.’ What’s the first thing you did when you figured it out, hmm? Sent a cat clue to the manor, addressed to her. Then you manipulated her, playing on her insecurities to get to me.”
“We’ve been over that,” Eddie said defiantly.
“Yes. We’ve ‘been over it.’ And now we have this litany of cat tie-ins ever since you got to Metropolis. Shall I name them?”
“Oh, come off it, Bruce, you know what she’s like. You can’t very well have a meaningful exchange with her without referencing cats.”
“Not the point.”
“Then WHAT IS the point, hmm? Answer me that? What is the point of all this?”
“No, Edward. You answer that one.”
Eddie swallowed, his eyes darting around until they happen to fall on a roll of posters reproducing the museum’s kryptonite display. He clicked his tongue, changing the subject.
“Four different kinds of kryptonite in this place. Really seems a bit much, doesn’t it? How many kinds are there altogether? I keep thinking there should be some kind of Franklin Mint collector’s set. Every two months we send you a new color to try. You have thirty days to decide. If you keep it, three easy payments of $49.95…”
Bruce glared piteously.
“Why did you bring us to Metropolis, Riddler?”
“Because the best way to get back at Superman for ignoring me was to give him a headache. You’re the headache!”
“No. That doesn’t explain her.”
“Nothing explains her, Bruce, she’s a cat. They’re like that, they get into everything, they find a way no matter what you do. Leaving Gotham to get away from Gotham, fine. Leaving Gotham to get away from you, doable. Leaving Gotham to get away from Catwoman? HOPELESS! Absolutely hopeless! I’ve got felinity crossing my path every which way I turn!”
Bruce said nothing but a subtle downshift in his glare led Eddie to guess, “I bet you know what that one feels like.”
The readjusted glare that answered him was sufficiently frightening that Eddie inadvertently bumped his toggle again, plunging the party into darkness once more. There was a distant chorus of surprised exclamations while Bruce’s fist shot out, latched onto Nigma’s jacket, and yanked the control switch out through the sleeve. He clicked the button once, restoring light to the party, and then tightened his fist until the flimsy control was crushed to powder.
“Look, I am not in love with Selina,” Eddie blurted, rather than sink into another round of silent stares.
“Of course you’re not. You’re not even obsessed with Selina. You’re obsessed with Selina and me.”
“Is it? Cat clue to the house. Using her to get to me at the MoMA. You summon us both here with those ridiculous ‘E’s. Are you really so petty that you can’t stomach her being happy with me?”
Eddie was on his feet, and he “paced” to the extent the tiny storage room would allow. It really amounted to stretching his legs and shifting his weight a few times, but the effort did help him think. Okay, yes, Selina was his friend and he didn’t want to risk getting her killed if he exposed Bruce’s secrets. In that sense, she had messed up his great triumph solving the Riddle of Riddles. He’d finally answered the ultimate question, “Who is Batman under that mask?” but he couldn’t enjoy it because of her. But if that were the real root of his problem, he could work around it. It was just another riddle, after all, a more tantalizing riddle than the one he’d just solved: If Selina is with Bruce Wayne and Bruce Wayne is Batman, how do I strike at the one without harming the other? Selina’s involvement with Wayne saved him from the anti-climax he might otherwise be facing. He would be grateful if that’s all there was to it. So what did that leave? It’s not like he was the third member of some great romantic triangle and couldn’t bear to see her with another man. But something about it all bothered him. Something had him tied in knots… And—atypically for him—instead of trying to unravel the puzzle, he’d been running from it.
“No, as a matter of fact, it’s not that she’s happy with you,” Eddie smirked, victorious but saddened by the answer that presented itself. “It’s that you’re happy with her.”
“I thought as much,” Bruce said flatly. “’Oh for a woman who can keep up,’” he quoted, “or perhaps ‘Why can’t I have that?’”
Eddie took in a sharp, angry breath, then nodded.
Bruce resumed the eerie conversational tone in which he’d begun.
“Word of advice, Edward, which of course you’re free to accept and forget where it came from, or ignore entirely. For someone so dedicated to answering the ‘ultimate’ questions, there should be a lot less ‘Who is Batman’ and related trivia, and a lot more ‘How do I get back to the only time in my adult life that I was happy?’ Which was with Doris, you jackass.”
The name hit Edward Nigma harder than any punch Batman had ever thrown. He barely processed the words that came next.
“…So figure out how to get her back or find it with someone else. Either way, leave me out of it…”
A self-preservation instinct kicked in when the menacing Bat-gravel delivered the final words.
“And leave her out of it.”
“Or…?” Eddie asked, wheeling around, daring the arrogant blowhard to complete the threat…
But he was alone.
“I hate when he does that,” Eddie confided to the plastic kryptonite.
“We’re leaving,” Bruce ordered, grabbing Selina savagely by the wrist and pulling her away from Superman in a forced march to the door, during which she barely managed to say goodnight to Lois, Emil Hamilton and Evelyn Garr as they passed.
She was professional enough to wait until they were safely outside the museum before she hissed, pulled her hand free, and snarled for an explanation.
“It’s over,” Bruce said crisply. “I confronted Nigma and it’s over; all that remains now is letting him save face. A Superman capture will accomplish that; a Bat-capture won’t. And nothing can happen in front of you. You have to be far from Metropolis when it goes down. If we hurry, Wayne One can be in the air by the time Clark figures out the rolltop desk in the telegraph display is lead-lined.”
…to the epilogue…