Batman and Catwoman in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 52: Vault

Vault
by Chris Dee

Kibitz


Share

Oswald might not have a Swiss bank account, but I did.  Useful little souvenir of my summer on the Italian Riviera.  Contrary to popular belief, Swiss bankers do not just jump into bed with any shady character that wants to hide assets behind their legendary privacy laws.  They expect to know their customers, all about their customers, especially the foreigners.  I had an introduction from a good customer, Fabrizio, on whose yacht that first felonious summer was spent. 

The thing I love, absolutely love, about Swiss banks: nobody gets them right, absolutely nobody.  I never realized it before, not until I strolled into Paradeplatz, but suddenly there it was, as clear as Grossmunster Church towering over the smaller buildings around it: Go to a movie with a Swiss bank in it, it’s wrong.  Read a novel, wrong.  It’s absolutely astonishing.  Not only do they all get it wrong, but each and every one finds a new way to be wrong. 

Just like with Catwoman. 

There are those who have the general idea but mess up a few insignificant details.  There are those who get the general idea but mess up on some fairly important details.  And then there are those who are so far off, they’re in Finland. 

One of those recurring points of confusion is the numbered account.  It’s anonymous to the world.  It is not anonymous within the bank.  You sign your checks with a number and there is no piece of paper that will ever link your name with that money unless you yourself are fool enough to write it down.  The senior officers of the bank, however, know who you are, and that’s fine because neither torture nor telepaths can wring it out of them.  (I thought the latter was just sales talk until Jason Blood confirmed it a few years ago.) 

My banker was Bernard Ducret, senior partner in Ducret, Augustiner & Zaehringen, banque privée.  He knew my name was Selina Kyle and as he wasn’t a total moron (who wants to entrust their money to a moron?), he had to have a fair idea where my funds came from.  I was fine with it because, in Switzerland, that privée means “private,” even by the standards of a woman living over the Batcave.  (Jason Blood also told me once why a firm in the heart of German-speaking Zurich would declare itself to be a private bank in French.  He was obviously making up a story to mess with the woman who just found out he was immortal.  I called him a liar to his face, fire-breathing demon inside or not, and he never pulled my leg again… But it did start me wondering why that sign is in French, and I never did come up with a plausible explanation.)

Anyway, it had been a while since I’d gone to DAZ in person, and the last several times I had, I only dropped off a few trinkets in my safe deposit box.  The last time I’d talked with Bernard about my account was after Pheromones made his appearance as AzBat.  If the real Batman was gone…  If Batman was gone, I didn’t know how much longer I’d bother with Gotham, or if I’d even continue as Catwoman.  So I came to Zurich and talked through my options with Herr Ducret.  For nearly three days we talked, including a “let’s get you out of this office” excursion at the end of day two.  We took a ten minute train ride out of the city, and a two minute hike to this restaurant atop Uetliberg Mountain where he introduced me to a traditional cheese dish called raclette—but really it was a “let’s get the crazy American out of the office for a while” outing and we both knew it.  It was after that meal he asked me to call him Bernard, which is a big deal in ultraformal Zurich.  I wasn’t that keen on the idea, but since I’d talked his ear off for two days straight, I couldn’t really refuse.  We’ve been “Bernard” and “Selina” ever since. 

So the word kibitz was taken from the Yiddish kibitsen, which was itself derived from the German kiebitzen “to look on at cards,” because the person looking over your shoulder while you tried to play your no trump invariably offered all kinds of advice you didn’t need and didn’t want.  This kiebitzen came from kiebitz, a busybody, which was also the name of a shorebird with a bad reputation as a meddler.

Patient Cobblepot was certainly the most edifying inmate Leland Bartholomew had ever treated.  They weren’t getting any closer to the root of his varied neuroses, but he’d uncovered the origins of the terms jaywalking, catbird seat, clay pigeons, and now kibitzing.

“Most interesting,” Bartholomew smiled with that air of patient understanding so important to the therapeutic dialogue.  “Perhaps we could return to your decision to open a nightclub.”

Oswald looked up at his doctor with the beady disapproval familiar to Iceberg regulars, particularly henchman who betrayed signs of ill breeding their first time at the bar.

“My dear doctor, does it not seem to you the height of insensitivity to inquire about a man’s business knowing said establishment has just burned down?  Surely if there was a topic about which to restrain your incessant curiosity, this would be it.”

“Would you prefer to talk about the recent stresses resulting from the fire?”

 Oswald sighed at this new outbreak of unseemly peasant curiosity.

“Allow me to tell you about the stormy petrel,” he answered politely, “Any of various sea birds having dark feathers and lighter underparts.  Old time sailors thought its appearance meant a storm was coming, hence the term indicates one who brings trouble—kwak!”

The Iceberg Lounge had always been a place where Rogues mingled with “Normals.”  Sly genuinely liked many of his customers, but he was never one of them.  Rogues were a self-absorbed breed, with a detachment from their fellow beings that made it possible to shoot at them or take them hostage if the need arose.  Sly was just the opposite.  He had a natural empathy, which made him an excellent bartender but could make life very difficult in other ways.

Consider the other Iceberg employees.  Sly was planning to go back to Florida and resume an active role running his own bar on Key West.  Instead, he had a committee of cocktail waitresses sitting in his apartment, making plans for their future.  Most men wouldn’t consider that a hardship, except, well, their ideas sucked.  They were doomed to fail.  And Sly wasn’t the kind of guy who could just turn his back knowing Dove, Peahen, Finch, Feather and Sparrow were going to waste all that time and effort on a bad idea.  They wanted to make an “IceBirds” Calendar, featuring the girls of the Iceberg Lounge, along with some t-shirts and other novelty items.  It would certainly make some money, Sly agreed, but not enough to pay all their bills starting right now.  They had no grasp of timetables, startup costs, breakeven points or sales, so the whole thing was falling on him.  And all he really knew how to do was run a bar.

The thought of his bar in Key West did spark another idea, one that might actually hold the solution.  When Sly went to Florida to open his own place, the four most dangerous criminals in Gotham had piled into a stolen car to follow him down there and bring him home.  If they’d go to that kind of trouble just to keep a bartender, what would they do to keep the whole Iceberg staff together?

Of the four who came to Florida, Mr.  Dent was certainly the best ask.  There was no more Two-Face, which was definitely a plus.  No danger of a coin toss and gunfire if he didn’t like the question.  But more importantly, when Two-Face was around, Sly distinctly remembered him recruiting for a “Galen McDoogle fanclub.”  Harley Quinn had apparently shot one of his henchmen, leaving him with an odd number of members.  He wanted Sly to join to restore the status quo.  It wasn’t much to go on, but he definitely knew about having shirts and things printed on the cheap. 

It was a place to start.

Sly told the others to wait and took off for the last known Two-Face hideout.

I checked into my usual hotel, in Old Town right off the Bahnhofstrasse.  Even though I wasn’t spending the night, I did have a plan, and for that I needed a room. 

I changed from my comfortable travelwear into a nice Chanel suit, a suit I’d bought in Paris with Bruce’s money.  That led to a loss of ten minutes while I fought down another round of the guilts.  Bruce was awfully good to me, and I didn’t want to hurt him…  but I did have to do this.  Generous and loving as Bruce might be, Batman set something in motion and now it had to run its course.  I reminded myself that the Paris shopping spree was just a way to get rid of me during Hell Month.  That didn’t really change anything; he’d sent me away out of love.  But I clung to that thought of Hell Month.  Hell Month was Batman.  Hell Month was Psychobat.  And Psychobat was finally going to answer for… whatever. 

So I changed into my chic suit (which saves bother getting past the bank’s huissiers who size you up in the lobby and only let you upstairs if you look interesting).  I stopped on the Bahnhofstrasse for a big hat and dark glasses (which saves bother from Barbara who likes to hack into the Credit Suisse security cameras now and then, just to see whose coming and going) and some matching gloves (because they went with my hat and sometimes a girl has to indulge that way).

I made my way to Paradeplatz, into the DAZ building, and finally past the Ashton-Larraby/Giovanni d’Annunzio lovechild of a hussier to the third floor.  There, an equally snobbish but more reasonable hussièrre took over.  I wrote down my account number.  She scrutinized it like the numbers were mystic runes and then sent the slip of paper back to Herr Ducret’s office.  Within seconds her phone rang, and she said she would be happy to sent me on to Herr Ducret even though I had no appointment—if I would just take a seat for a few minutes.  I did.  I knew I would be sitting the precise length of time it took for Bernard’s flunky to run down to Sprüngli for a box of pralines.   Bernard had somehow picked up the same (delightful) habit as Igor, my fence in Brussels: whenever I arrive, they just happen to be opening a big box of the most decadent local chocolates, we each eat one, and then they give me the box to take home.  I know Igor banks here, but I’ve never been able to figure out which of them told the other the chocolate trick.

When Two-Face saw the giant, stone comedy/tragedy masks on the façade of the Flick Theatre, it was love at first sight.  He decided to make it a lair before he’d ever stepped inside.  When he saw the same masks repeated a second time in an elaborate mosaic on the lobby floor, he bought the building.  It was almost unheard of to buy a lair, but two faces, one smiling and one weeping, in two places, how could he resist?

When Sly saw the theatre, it was love at second sight—an irony Two-Face would have enjoyed if he was still around.  Sly didn’t care about the outside of the building, but when he saw the lobby, the bar, the fixtures, it was…

“Woooow.”

Harvey politely showed him around, Sly repeating the awed “wows” every step of the way.  At the conclusion of the tour, he asked what Sly wanted—but what Sly wanted had changed.

“I want to open up a bar here in Gotham!  Just in the interim, just to give the girls a place to work until Mr.  Cobblepot gets the Iceberg back on its feet.  I hadn’t realized it until I saw this place, but Mr.  Dent, this is wonderful.  This place just has to be a bar.  It’s a nightclub waiting to happen!”

HELL NO!  Harvey said emphatically.

“Just look at that arch over the box office and all the heavy grill work behind, looks almost like a vault.  Boy, that’d be a good name for the place too, considering the clientele: ‘The Vault’ or maybe just ‘Vault.’”

He stretched out his hands as if reading a sign mounted above the bar.

DID YOU NOT HEAR ME? I SAID NO! Harvey yelled.

“We’d have to do it on the QT to get it open fast.  No time for a liquor license and all those inspectors.  But that could work in our favor, with the Iceberg clientele and all.  Make it a secret underground thing, like the old speakeasies, a password to get in.  What do you think, Mr.  Dent?”

NO!  DIDN’T YOU HEAR US THE SECOND TIME, NO NO NO NO NO! Harvey wailed.

“…”

Then he paused, wondering why Sly was still smiling at him. 

“…”

It took him a moment to realize…

“I didn’t say any of that out loud, did I?”

Harvey fished in his pocket and pulled out the famous two-headed dollar.  Then he spoke again.

“Sly, my good friend, Sly, let me put it this way.” He turned the coin over so the scarred side lay face up in his palm, and pointed to it like an old acquaintance.  “Never, never in my entire life have I heard a suggestion so replete in its wrongness that didn’t come from inside my own head.  You said ‘Let’s turn this fine old theatre into a nightclub,’ and from sheer force of habit, I thought my answer rather than saying it out loud, because only Two-Face, only my own personal Darth Duality could have come up with an idea so despicably vile.  No, Sly, you will not be turning my home into an interim Iceberg Lounge and, more importantly, you will not be turning me into an interim Oswald.”

Spending so much time with the villains of the Iceberg might not have turned Sly into a sociopath, but the Rogues’ bartender had seen enough to know the precise mixture of tenacity, creativity, and ruthlessness which yielded the ultimate “rogue cocktail.”  He had a way to save the Iceberg staff: VAULT.  It was the perfect solution for everybody, and he was not going to let the hokey courtroom theatrics of an ex-prosecutor get in his way.  He took action… and that action is what led Harvey Dent to knock frantically on Jason Blood’s door at an hour when civilized men would hesitate to even telephone.

“Mr.  Blood?” he began hesitantly.  “I hate to bother you, I know it’s late…”

He was ushered in without further explanations.  Jason felt an obligation where Harvey Dent was concerned.  He had felt a kinship for the man, cursed with his own personal demon and trying his utmost to keep the evil at bay.  Feeling this kinship, Jason had done what he could.  He used magic to heal Dent’s face, but he succumbed to a low trick of Etrigan’s at the crucial moment crafting the spell.  Dent was healed, but with metaphysical strings attached.  Because of Jason’s error, Harvey could never use his coin again.  If he used chance or “Fate” to make a decision, the spell would be broken and his scarring would return.  Given his mental state, it was likely his evil persona Two-Face would return as well.  So Jason felt… obligated.  He told Harvey to contact him, day or night, if he ever felt himself in jeopardy.

Seeing that his guest was upset, Jason offered Harvey a drink, but the suggestion was met with a shudder. 

“No alcohol, please.  No scotch, no peanuts, no pretzels.  Nothing you’d find in a bar.  Um, you’re English, right?  How about tea.”

Jason predated the English preoccupation with tea by more than a thousand years, but he did enjoy the beverage.  He brewed a pot, then sat back, fingertips touching in a meditative triangle, as Harvey explained about Sly and the nightclub.  When it was over, he gave a thoughtful sigh. 

“So, you found this suggestion objectionable, and instinctively you replied internally, as if Two-Face suggested it?”

“Yes.”

“But he didn’t.  It was this Sly.”

“Yes.”

“Two-Face has not, in fact, returned.”

“No.”

Jason nodded.  As one who had daily exchanges with Etrigan, he could see how it happened. 

“Upsetting, I’ve no doubt.  But not cause for concern, surely.”

Harvey shook his head, his hand shaking with emotion as he tried to replace the delicate cup on the saucer without shattering it. 

“It’s not that.  That was only the opening arguments.  Sly had yet to ‘present his case.’  He sent the waitresses over.  They call themselves Ice Birds.  Have you ever seen that old footage of the Playboy Clubs in the 1960s, all the Bunnies clustering around Hef?  Was kind of like that.  Luxury problem, I know, but until you’ve been there, you can’t imagine what it’s like.  A special on E! is one thing.  It’s like a piece of history there on the TV, black and white footage, like the Battle of Midway.  Real women in living color, sticking their hands in your jacket, it’s different.  Before I knew what was happening, I had a coin in my hand.”

Jason’s eyes flickered up in startled horror, and Harvey nodded vigorously. 

“Wasn’t my fault, Blood, honest.  It was that Peahen.  She didn’t know anything about the condition of my cure, poor kid, none of them do.  She just knew ‘Harvey uses coins.’  And I guess she figured if we flipped for it, they’d have a fifty-fifty shot.”

“A narrow escape.”

“Tell me about it.  I was so flustered, I jammed my hands in my pocket and said okay.”

Jason’s grimace had more to do with Etrigan’s raucous laughter than Harvey’s decision, but Harvey had no way of knowing that. 

“I’ve found it’s best in these situations to just make a decision, and if it’s the wrong one, it’s the wrong one.  Better that than risk a coinflip…”

Outwardly, Jason nodded and offered Harvey more tea.  Inwardly, he asked Etrigan what was so funny.

It was strange, I’d come to Switzerland to rattle Bruce’s cage—and maybe my own.  I’d made it all the way into Bernard’s office and eaten this orgasmic little pellet of hazelnut cream coated in the most unbelievably rich milk chocolate… when I realized I didn’t really know what to say.  I was here, ostensibly, to talk about my finances, but I hadn’t given a moment’s thought to the cover story.  I crossed my legs, which is always a useful stalling tactic in situations of this kind.  Then, in the absence of any last minute inspiration,  it occurred to me that I might just tell Bernard the truth: I had re…  I had re… I’d come to Zurich to talk about my investments because I had re… …tired. 

I hated the sound of it, but Bernard just nodded like he’d already guessed.  There hadn’t been a sizable deposit since the one from Atlantis, and before that there had been another “rather conspicuous hiatus.”  In addition, of course, he’d seen my name linked with Bruce Wayne’s here and there.  He assumed that was related to the “increasing intervals between deposits.”  He’d been expecting my visit for some time “to discuss an investment profile better suited to my new circumstances.”  We talked over some possibilities, seeing as my expenses had changed almost as much as the income since I’d moved into the manor (and would go still lower now that Bruce was paying for the Catitat).  And then when we’d finished, Bernard took me back to the vault. 

We turned our keys and he withdrew my box, leaving me alone with it in the little consultation booth.  I had brought one of the gold bars from Project Walapang.  When I left Gotham, I wanted to feel I still had some ill-gotten gain to hide here, even if it wasn’t technically ill-gotten.  Catwoman had taken it.  It was Bruce Wayne’s gold to begin with.  I had defeated all his security and cold cracked his safe, and now his gold bar was my gold bar… It made sense at the time.  Now, after the talk with Bernard, after I’d actually said the r-word, it seemed a moot point.  But I took the gold out of my purse anyway and placed it carefully in the back of the box.  There was certainly no point in trudging it back home.  I looked through the rest of the contents: some cash, that Egyptian necklace, a ruby necklace, an emerald necklace, some canary earrings, some other canary earrings, a sapphire… Oh. 

It was a sapphire brooch, a large sapphire brooch, Van Cleef and Arpels, invisible mount.  I’d taken it because it was so similar to the earrings I’d left that night at Cartier.  Our first Cartier encounter.  Our first kiss.  Our first Christmas…  I’d taken an awful ruby collar that was an absolute horror, destined to be broken down into a half dozen bracelets by my European contacts.  But while I was in the vault, I just happened to see these wonderful earrings, sapphire petals around a diamond center, not too big, not too small, perfect for my coloring.  But then when Batman showed up, after that kiss, I… I just left it all.  A year later I saw the brooch in the VCA window, sapphire petals bordered with diamonds around a diamond center.  I had to have it.  I dropped everything else I was working on until I had this brooch in my hands.  At the time, something so valuable and so linked to that kiss seemed incredibly… something.  Precious.  Significant.  Powerful… Something.

Now it was just a piece of jewelry, a beautiful piece but no different from a thousand others.  If I was still the woman I was then, I would let Igor sell it and pick up a few more acres for the Catitat.  There was no need to be clinging to this one brooch like a magic talisman…  But then, when I had been that woman, selling this piece was unthinkable. 

I sat there for a long time trying to understand why.  Naturally, it kept coming back to that kiss.  I tried to make it something else, tried to think of another reason, any reason, any rationalization, but “self-deception isn’t a luxury I can afford” (grunt) is rubbing off on me.  Of course it was him.  Of course it was that kiss.  Now that I can kiss him whenever I want, now that the promises of that kiss are a part of our daily lives, the association between that and a meaningless piece of cold, faceted mineral seemed unreal, absurd, and insane.

I returned the box to the vault and that was that.  I had no time for this kind of crazy sentimentality.  Bruce would be back from patrol now, finishing up the logs, and within the hour he’d be getting into bed and seeing I wasn’t there.  It wouldn’t be cause for concern.  I was probably prowling late and decided to stay in town, spend the night at the penthouse or the cat lair.  There would be no cause for suspicion… yet.

A secret nightclub couldn’t exactly advertise, but a secret nightclub catering to the Gotham underworld didn’t have to.  In another city, word-of-mouth might take time, but not in Gotham, not among the Rogues.  All Sly had to do was take the C train up to Arkham and tell Jervis Tetch. 

“Calloo Callay!  Confused, I say.”

“Think of it as an illegal tea party only a select few are invited to attend,” Sly explained.

Jervis considered this.

“So we can eat the queen’s tarts without the knave of hearts getting his sticky fingers all over them?”

“If the knave is Batman or the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, sure.”

“Splendiforous!  How can I help?”

Sly went over the name and location again, and explained about the password. 

“The club is called Vault.  In order to get in, you’ll have to give the password.  So-and-so gave me the combination, where so-and-so is whoever told you about Vault.  Get it?”

“So and so is so and wherever is whoever to get into the vault!”

“No, no,” Sly winced.

“So, so?”

“No—I—Look, just tell them to use the name of the person who sent them.  Not a name-name, but the rogue name.  Scarecrow, Joker, Catwoman…”

“Caterpillar gave me the combination, got it.”

“No, not caterpillar, Cat-woman.  Catwoman good, caterpillar bad.”

“Cheshire cat then, to chase away the Dormouse?”

Again Sly winced.  He didn’t like the idea of compromising on the password, especially at this early stage.  It seemed like a little thing, but too much Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat and Dormouse might sound like it was really Mad Hatter behind the club.  Oswald would be upset, and with Hatter being incarcerated after taking over a nightclub, it could even bring Bat-trouble.  He had no choice, for the good of Vault, he held firm.

“Sorry, Mr.  Tetch.  If they want to get in, you’ve got to give them the right password.  Let’s go over this again…”

Just because I never strapped Batman to a Jacob’s Ladder and lowered him into a vat of electric eels, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t lead him to a decoy location or a lair or even a trap as long as it wasn’t the lethal voltage variety.  I was good at it.  I AM good at it.  Catwoman has always known the way to seed clues for the World’s Greatest Detective to follow.  Not too big, not too small, not too many, not too obvious and—always a big priority for kitty in the old days—not something the sidekicks would pick up on.  Batman was my goal and no one else.  I wanted his personal involvement and his alone, and that required a certain touch, a feline intuition drawn from our special connection: what he would notice, what he would notice without even noticing he noticed.

The delicious part of this Zurich adventure was getting back to those Bat/Cat basics.  Bruce wasn’t going to just swipe my purse and look for fresh stamps in my passport for no reason.  I’d have to lead him, just like I used to, touching that connection in just the right way…  So I went shopping in the Niederdorf district.  There’s a quaint “Schnapsboutique” where you can pick from a selection of liquors, pick a glass bottle and a stopper, and they put the one in the other to create a wonderfully unique gift that could come from nowhere else in the world.  I selected a delicious walnut liquor, locally made—very locally made, right near Lake Zurich.  I figured that and the pralines would do the trick once his suspicions were aroused. 

The last touch involved going back to the room and washing my hair with the hotel shampoo.  It was nice, a honey-fruity scent, nothing like the tearose I use at home.  I figured that would be enough.  Back then, behind masks, we each locked on to the few details we had: the eyes, voice, lips…  He noticed my hair. 

We’re both still attuned to those behind-the-mask details. 

It would be enough.

I checked out, and headed for the airport. 

To be continued…


 

Share

Copyright | Privacy Policy | Cat-Tales by