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

Vault
by Chris Dee

Stormy Petrel


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Bruce hadn’t made a study of his psyche; he’d simply noticed that when he was reasonably well rested and went to bed at the usual hour, the Crime Alley nightmare woke him between 5 and 5:30 a.m.  If it was one of those periods when he was exhausted, it could come as late as seven or even later.  The dream itself seldom varied, and it was the variation rather than the lateness of the hour that made his heart pound as he strained to register the time on the clock. 

6:42

He took several deep breaths to slow his heartbeat, and glanced at the still-empty place beside him.  He didn’t really expect to see Selina there.  When she wasn’t there when he got home, he assumed she had been prowling late and decided to spend the night in town.  He was used to her being there, but he doubted her absence had anything to do with the nightmare. 

Crime Alley never had a narrator before.  It was Crime Alley, but not the usual Crime Alley, not the Crime Alley of that night.  It was the present.  He was Batman.  He was patrolling.  There was a gang lying in wait.  He’d spotted their lookout.  He was going in…  and that’s when the narrator spoke, like a cheesy noir voiceover.  Except it wasn’t his voice spouting overwrought clichés about alleys and the scum who dwell there.  It was Batgirl’s audio log from the night before:

..:: Batman say crooks fall down on pride.  Say caught up in cleverness of plan.  Overlook things.  Funny thing is father say same about him.  Say cops and Bat catch up in own cleverness.  Overlook things.  Is strange when both say same thing.::..

It always unsettled him when someone likened Batman to a criminal.  His annoyance varied if it was a politician, a pundit in the press, or just Selina tweaking his nose about “Eddie,” but the baseline annoyance was always there.  Hearing Batgirl’s log last night was worse.  She was so innocent in her observation.  She wasn’t an ambitious poser angling to score points with a gullible public or a stunted fool seeking gratification by spouting opinions, no matter how ignorant or ill-informed.  She wasn’t even a cat pawing the ball of yarn because it was fun.  She was just… Cassie… saying what she thought.  And what she thought in this case, what she’d observed, was that Batman said the same thing as David Cain, a professional assassin.  It unnerved him so much, he’d incorporated it into his dream.  Understandable really. 

6:42

It was too early to get up, but he was too awake to go back to sleep.  Of all the mornings for Selina to be gone.  He got up, postponed the shower, and figured he’d work out for an hour before breakfast.

There are times a man senses the dilemma before him—and by “dilemma,” of course, Tim meant “girl”—has such potential for soul-scarring disaster, he wants advice from friends and family, from psychologists, spiritual advisors and astrologers, from advice columns and fortune cookies, a shaman if he is lucky enough to know one, the Batcomputer if he has access, and if all else fails, a Magic Eight Ball.

In Tim’s case, seeing as the dilemma in question could kill before she could talk, he wanted all the advice he could get.  The thought that gnawed at his gut, however, was the last time he asked around for advice this way was for Dick’s bachelor party.  Superman hung up on him.  Flash, Green Lantern, and Plastic Man charged over a thousand dollars’ worth of booze to Bruce’s credit card.  Poison Ivy attacked the party, and Stephanie cut him off for a month when she found out Ivy got in disguised as a stripper.  Asking for advice at this point seemed just as dangerous as going it alone. 

Cassie felt bad about putting him in the hospital, that much he understood.  She wasn’t exactly Miss Communication and she found oddball ways to express herself.  That much he understood.  She had taken to bringing him a giant chocolate chip cookie each night during patrol.  That… was a stretch.  He could only guess that, given the history with the Phoenix Ninja bets and chocolate sundae payoffs, she figured mid-patrol food delivery is the accepted way to settle accounts.  He wasn’t sure, and that’s what bothered him.  If the cookies had nothing to do with the hospital, if it some kind of hint that she was maybe kinda interested, he wouldn’t want to miss the cue—with any girl who was interested, but especially with Cassie who was already plenty dangerous even without a romantic axe to grind. 

Thing was, if it wasn’t a hint, if it was just “Sorry for shin splint.  Have cookie,” he wouldn’t want to go making a move. 

It was a minefield.  The situation was an absolute minefield.  She was cute, sure, but was cute really worth it?  She understood the life and knew the whole history with Steph, that did save all kinds of grief.  He liked spending time with her.  She was fitting in with the Titans, but… still… minefield.  Hospital.  Shin splints.  Compound fractures.  A snort of fear gas and she damn near put a batarang through his eye. 

Dick’s analysis was spot on about one thing: “Cassie is a real sweetie—until she breaks bones.”  (Tim already knew that.)  “Plus side, she’s bringing you cookies.  Plus side, I’ve seen those black and white cookies in that all night bakery on 87th, and if that’s where she’s getting them, they’re insanely good.”  (Tim knew that too.)  “On the negative end, it’s an obvious guilt thing, and you should talk to her.  A gentleman wouldn’t just let this go on night after night, chocolate chunk after chocolate chunk.”

“I know.  On all counts, I know.  Kinda stating the obvious there, Bro.  But how do I talk to her when she’s a friggin one-woman minefield?”

That’s when Barbara chimed in.  Tim didn’t know that for sure, but the advice that came next: take her on a date and tell her in a quiet atmosphere that all is forgiven and she doesn’t need to keep on giving you cookies on patrol.  It was an honest mistake, and you learn from it and move on… sure sounded like Barbara.  It was girly.  The addendum: then order a hot fudge sundae topped with crumbled cookies for dessert.  Sundaes are always good for easing guilt… that was Dick again.

As Batman observed, pride is the downfall of criminals.  Even the sanest, shrewdest, and most feline may become so enamored of their brilliant plan, they overlook surprisingly obvious dangers.  In Selina’s case, she was so caught up in the renewal of Bat/Cat stratagems, she forgot a vital difference between that former Catwoman’s duels with Batman ‘the Caped Crusader’ and her present intrigue with Batman who is really Bruce Wayne.  She’d accounted for the fact that Batman was Bruce who slept one pillow over.  She accounted for the fact that Batman was Bruce who knew the one spot behind her knee where she was ticklish.  What she failed to account for was that Batman was Bruce whose butler was Alfred Pennyworth.

Bruce had reacted to her absence in exactly the way she expected: he assumed she’d spent the night in town.  Alfred, on the other hand, had brought the breakfast tray down to the Batcave when he found the Wayne bedroom empty.  He followed the rhythmic squeaking to the gymnasium and stood there, lips pursed, until Bruce dismounted the high bar and landed beside him. 

“Your breakfast, sir,” he announced.  “I dare say you will find the orange juice most refreshing after your exertions.  Might one ask Miss Selina’s whereabouts, that I might deliver her refreshment as well?”

“I think she spent the night at the lair,” Bruce said casually.

In response to this careless statement, a density shift occurred, not unlike that which marks the transition from Bruce to Batman.

“Indeed, sir,” Alfred pronounced, stiff with disapproval.

“You can just leave her letters in the morning room and, ah, check off whatever you think she’d want for the menus.  You know I don’t care.”

“Music to any cook’s ears, sir.  Might one inquire if the lady is expected to return in time for lunch, for dinner, or if this is one of those occasions when the company of those possessing fewer than four feet will not be sought for some considerable time?”

“We didn’t have a fight, if that’s what you mean.”

This statement was met with the same skeptical air that marked most early morning discussions of Catwoman in times past.  Bruce would insist he had no particular interest in “the catburglar” and that her escape, yet again, meant nothing.  Alfred would answer with that look of pronounced but unspoken disbelief, then he’d pour the coffee and mention some item in the newspaper.

“There is an article on ‘designer technology’ in the Financial Times, sir, which may be of interest to you.”

“Alfred, I swear to you, Selina and I did not have a fight.  I’d have noticed.”

“Cream and sugar, sir?”

“Crime- I mean- cream, yes, just a splash.”

Jason could certainly understand Harvey’s reluctance to live in a nightclub, rogue-centric or not.  He himself had lived too near a boisterous Paris guinguette in the late 18th century, and it was hardly a Moulin Rouge fantasy of consumptive courtesans and glamorous intrigue.

Of course, understanding the problem was a fairly useless exercise unless he was prepared to do something about it.  Jason had a premonition only that morning: an architect in San Pedro, California was visiting a farmer’s market where, at that very moment, a housewife was mistaking him for a worker in one of the stalls and was about to ask the price of the peaches.  He would be so traumatized by this assault on his perceived social status, he would invite two friends and his elder brother out for a night on the town in Los Angeles, ostensibly to celebrate his brother’s upcoming birthday but really to reassert his affluence and social position.  There would be considerable drinking, and tomorrow morning the brother would foolishly brush aside his hangover and go to work ferrying travelers to nearby Catalina island.  In his diminished condition, he would brake too late when the speedboat towing the water-skier turned too sharply near the boat lane… with the result that his neighbor, Binky Sherborn, would soon receive a phone call summoning her to California because her niece was injured in a water-skiing accident and would need help getting around... 

Given Harvey Dent’s preoccupation with Fate, Jason did not think it wise to explain the series of dominoes already falling that would soon provide him with a housesitting job for several months.  He said only that an opportunity existed (or would soon exist) that would provide Harvey with alternate living quarters if he could mind a thermostat and walk the dogs.  Harvey agreed, but only on the condition that there were no plants to water.

Jason had no idea if Binky Sherborn had plants in her apartment, but he promised to take care of them himself if she did…  Once again, he was forced to ask Etrigan what was so funny.

Bruce cancelled his one appointment at WE: a late afternoon sales meeting that Lucius had to know he would skip out of anyway. 

He remained in the cave, activated an automated sweep of the ground security grid, and periodically checked the D, E, and F cameras himself looking for Selina’s car.  When he saw her Jaguar make the turn from Country Club Drive some twenty seconds before the automated alert would sound, he switched off the monitoring system and moved quickly to intercept her in the garage.

It was the oddest protocol he’d ever executed, but then the circumstances were odd too. 

Shortly after Selina moved in, she’d come to bed one night with the news that Alfred was “mad at her.”  Outwardly, Bruce remained calm, but inwardly he hadn’t felt such turmoil since that moment on Cartier’s roof when he thought she was stealing again.  Everyone had been so accepting when he’d brought Selina into his life, especially Alfred.  The thought of trouble between them…  He needn’t have worried.  The “trouble” turned out to be quite endearing: Selina had asked where the washing machine was. 

Alfred believed in starting as you meant to continue, and he meant to treat Selina as mistress of the manor, not some fiercely independent feline who happened to sleep under Master Bruce’s roof in a murky “my suite is foreign soil like an embassy” arrangement that he himself never agreed to.  He would be doing her laundry, he said, ladies’ delicates or no.  He would be sending out her dry cleaning, accepting delivery of same, and returning laundered items to her closet.  Also, if Selina had any thought of coming into his kitchen and rinsing out the bowls in which her little feline companions ate their supper, she may as well give up that fantasy right now… 

Selina had been stunned.  Telling Bruce the story that night, she had been stunned all over again.  Bruce had laughed at the time.  It was only the next night, in the middle of patrol, that he realized it was Catwoman who was stunned— and stunned into actual compliance.  Catwoman who didn’t flinch at Batman, at Joker, at Ra’s al Ghul, Lex Luthor or the Justice League.   Catwoman who would never budge an inch on anything touching on her independence.  Yet there she was, tucking in her tail and accepting Alfred’s dictates. 

She did find the laundry room eventually—Catwoman was not to be thwarted and apparently she’d followed the pipes—but she never raised the issue with Alfred again, and he went on running the household, which now included her, exactly as he wished.

It was a trivial episode, but Bruce still wanted to avoid any similar conflicts, so he planned to give Selina a heads up before she reached the house.  Of course, he could have gone to her lair or even called her cell, but when the issue was her staying out all night, neither course seemed prudent.  Selina was hypersensitive about anything that smacked of concern for her safety: she was not the hero’s helpless girlfriend, she did not need rescuing, and woe to anyone who forgot it.  If he called, she wouldn’t hear a thing he said about Alfred.  She’d hear “you were out of my sight for ten minutes and I thought Catwoman got herself shot, stabbed or kidnapped.”  Hence the protocol: he would casually amble down to the garage and happen to see her when she got back from town but before she stepped into the house.

Cassie couldn’t believe how foolish she’d been.  How much she had to learn.  Tim had shown her how she should have brought ice cream instead of cookies to make up for the hospital.  But that was nothing compared to how wrong she was about him

She needed help on the Crispi case.  Father and son were both mid-level operatives in the Falcone mob, and she was confident when she thought their business was guns and drugs.  She knew how those operations worked, how to tell who was buying, who was supplying, where the money was, and who reported to whom.  When the father’s business turned out to be gambling on basketball, and the son’s was a “pump and dump” that meant stocks rather than prostitutes, she had to get outside help. 

Azrael was gone, and Oracle wasn’t a field operative.  She could have asked Batman or Nightwing for help, but since she was going to find Robin anyway to bring him a Peanut Buster Parfait, she decided to ask him first… and was astonished at his knowledge and ability.  He was a rokudan in the detective arts, a sixth degree black belt at least in all those investigating techniques that baffled her.  She nearly bowed and thanked him as Master Sensei when he was so good as to explain the complexities of the stock swindle to her unworthy self.

She suddenly realized that all this time she had been seeing Robin, the crimefighter, through Spoiler’s eyes.  Stephanie did not shine in many areas where others on the Bat-team excelled.  Her fighting stance was very poor, her breathing undisciplined, and her stamina erratic because she would eat many carbohydrates one day and the next day none at all.  She never seemed to realize how important those deficiencies were, and eventually Cassie stopped trying to help her. 

Cassie saw now that this must have been the case with detective work too.   Stephanie always spoke of Tim’s crimefighting habits as stuck up and patronizing.  Cassie now realized this was just like her fighting stance.  She dismissed as unimportant what she could not do well. 

Cassie would have to make it up to Tim.  She would show him how to play Phoenix Ninja so there would be no more bump tells with his twitchy thumb that led to Shadowbird’s inevitable defeat.

Selina knew the plan was in jeopardy the minute she pulled into the garage.  Bruce was there, searching for something in the glove compartment of the Porsche, a completely convincing performance by one of the world’s great actors—completely convincing, that is, to anyone that didn’t know Batman… 

Bruce knew the plan was in jeopardy the minute she got out of the car.  She had that air about her, radiating guileless innocence—a look that meant she’d already been in the safe and had the stolen diamonds somewhere on her person…

“Hey, Stud.  You weren’t worried, were you?” it began.

Guileless innocence.  What was she up to?

“Not until now,” he graveled.  “What are you up to?”

What was he getting at?  He hadn’t even seen the chocolates, the liquor, or smelled her hair.  She’d only just got out of the car.  What did he know? What could he know? 

She laughed, too lightly.

“What?  If I’m out of your sight for ten minutes, I must’ve been emptying out the Egyptian wing?”

“No, but that laugh in answer to ‘what are you up to’ means you were definitely doing something.”

“Meow.”

“Woof.”

“Woof?  Woof?  My, you have changed.  Whatever happened to ‘you’re gone too far this time,’ ‘this isn’t a game,’ and ‘theft is a crime in this city?’”

“That’s Cartier’s vault at three in the morning six years ago, not the hood of your Jaguar right now.  Selina, enough!”

There he is!”

Grunt.

Then…

“Selina… Suppose you tell me what the hell is going on.”

“No.”

She turned to go, tripping instinct on both sides as Bruce reached out to stop her and she spun and froze just short of scratching him.  Reality broke through the muscle memory, and she realized she had no claws and also that scratching an unmasked lover with bare nails is both inappropriate and undignified.  She settled for a spirited hiss, by the end of which he’d maneuvered her into a once familiar pin, her wrists imprisoned in his hands, twisted behind her back, and pulled high to almost touch the bottom of her hair—now smelling of honey and raspberry rather than tearose, a now-pointless clue in a futile chain of… damn him.

Rather than repeat his query, Bruce merely raised a questioning eyebrow.  When that produced no answer beyond an angry glare, he conceded to a graveling “Well?”

She smiled, that enigmatic cat-smile…  Then…

“Suppose you tell me.”

“What you’re up to?”

“Yes, Great Detective, you know so much, you tell me.”

Something was wrong—something besides the obvious that he was pinning her in a borderline-painful interrogation hold when he meant to just warn her about Alfred.  What the hell was he doing? … you tell me…  More to the point, what was she doing? …that enigmatic smile… …Great Detective, you know so much, you tell me… 

After a long, silent beat, he let go of her wrists. 

…that enigmatic smile…

Something was wrong—with her—but what? 

you tell me

He’d seen that look in her eye before.

you tell me

Right after he’d asked her to move in, and again once she was settled into the suite, cleaning out that Hell Mouth of a closet.  During the Vaniel case too, the night he asked her help getting into …

Of course. 

You tell me.

“Come on,” he said quietly.

There are qualities that separate civilized men from hairless apes who have been taught to obey traffic signs and not make messes in the house.  Oswald Cobblepot was a civilized man.  He understood the virtues of tact and delicacy.  Having run out of bird-words to occupy Dr.  Bartholomew, he had moved on to ornithological superstitions: Crows were said to foretell the future.  A single crow on the roof of a house was bad luck.  Finding a dead crow, on the other hand, was good luck.  Owls, being nocturnal creatures, had negative associations, signaling death or illness…

And that’s where Oswald trailed off, emitting only a single, nasal kwak as he realized the need for those twin hallmarks of civility had just arisen. 

Nearly all the remaining superstitions were about ravens.

Tact-kwakwakwak.  Tact and delicacy.  Kwakwak... 

“Another common bird used to foretell the future is the magpie,” Oswald mentioned in a fit of inspiration. 

He knew a Magpie just as he knew a Raven, but that lady was a failed rogue turned profitable sneak thief.  She was not dating the good doctor.  There would be no indelicacy informing him “If a magpie perches on your roof, your building will never fall down.  Five magpies mean company is coming…”

Neither spoke as Bruce led Selina through the cave and into the costume vault.  He regarded a drilled hole in the stone wall, a hole that once contained a metal spike supporting a wooden shelf he shattered in a moment of Hell Month frustration.  He shifted his attention to the Bat-cowl and the false head that held it in place.

“That night,” he said slowly, “after seeing Vaniel in the hospital, you… identified… ‘explained’… my situation pretty well, better than I was able to hear or accept at the time.”

“Bruce, I—” Selina began, uncomfortably.

“It wasn’t the first time,” he interrupted.  “That one ‘Hell Month’ when you got back from Paris, I couldn’t meditate, I’d destroyed the shelf in here… You got to the bottom of that too.”  He turned to her and studied her seriously.  “I guess it’s my turn.  ‘Great detective, suppose you tell me,’ that’s what you were getting at, wasn’t it?”

“No… I…”

“Maybe not consciously, but…?”

“Well… maybe.”

“Kitten isn’t big on introspection,” he noted with a sad smile.

“Woof.”

“Alright, let’s start at the beginning.  Gathering what those not averse to crimefighting call ‘evidence.’  Selina… Where were you last night?”

“Oh come on,” she exclaimed.  “Just like that?  I had clues and everything.”

“I’m sure you did.  And they were to point to…?”

“pfft.”

“Selina.”

“Zurich, okay!  I went to Zurich.”

Bruce’s mouth dropped open.  It had never happened in a thousand interrogations of a thousand criminals.  Never had he been so unprepared for an answer.  For a long moment he said nothing, and then, doing his best to conceal his astonishment, he went on to the next logical question:

“Why?”

Selina tapped her foot impatiently.

“That’s what you’re supposed to tell me, Handsome.”

“Not for Cobblepot, I presume,” Bruce graveled, ignoring the taunt. 

“N-not necessarily,” came the halting answer.

“No.  You started to say ‘no,’ then changed it to imply a maybe.  So it wasn’t for Cobblepot, but you want me to think it might be.”

Bruce’s eyes went square.

“You’re still upset I asked you to help with that?  Selina, why?  You’ve helped before.  I know I wasn’t exactly diplomatic when I asked, but it’s not like it’s that unprecedented.”

“The blood dripping from your fangs was unprecedented, Bruce.  That was new.”

“What blood? What fangs?  I’m doing what I’ve always done, fighting the criminals who prey on this city, of whom Oswald Cobblepot has always been among the most prominent, most active, most vicious and the most—”

“SUCCESSFUL!  He’s always been among the most successful, right?  ‘Getting away with it over and over and over’ and that’s why finally ‘ending him once and for all’ or was it ‘utterly destroying him’ would be such a fucking boon to mankind!”

Bruce was about to answer with the resounding ‘Yes’ of Batman’s final word on the matter, when Batgirl’s poignantly simple log entry echoed in his memory: Bat catch up in own cleverness.  Overlook things.

Bat catch up in own cleverness.  Overlook things.

A gut punch of absolute truth, made all the more brutal for the innocent warble of childhood in which it was delivered. 

“Selina, you’re nothing like Penguin,” he said sincerely.  “You’re nothing like any of them—and not just because you look better in purple,” he offered in a half-hearted attempt to lighten the mood, as she certainly would if the situation was reversed.

It didn’t help.  She just stood there, looking bewildered, vulnerable, and alone.

“You were always a top tier thief, but I never had that kind of frustration about not taking you down because you were never, ever a top tier threat.  You never actively planned to hurt anyone, and I never saw you put anyone in danger other than yourself.  You preyed on people’s property, yes, but you never preyed on people.  That meant nobody was in danger if you were still free tomorrow night, and that’s why I never thought of you as one of ‘them.’”

“I need to sit down,” Selina sighed, looking a little pale and a little ill.

“Come on, there’s nowhere to sit in here,” Bruce said gently, walking her out to the main chamber and sitting her at workstation 1.  He took a bottle of water from the mini-fridge, told her it would help the jet lag, and by the time she drank it, he’d pulled up a log entry on the giant screen.

“There, you don’t have to take my word for it,” he said.  “Check the date.  That’s eight years before we got… close.”

       ...  ...  ...  ...  ::  Duty Log: Batman, Supplemental  ::  ...  ...  ...
cannot pursue every criminal Gordon mentioned any more than I could pursue every name on the At Large list.  A determination has to be made, and I must accept the fact that if I devote my full attention to subject A, then B C or D will likely get away with something.  I cannot let that reality paralyze me in making the choice.  I can only make the choice wisely given what I know of these individuals.  Penguin is dangerous to innocent people.  Riddler is dangerous to innocent people.  Joker is capital “D” Dangerous, period.  Catwoman? Not so much.

“Not so much?” Selina quoted, managing a weak smile at the conspicuously non-Psychobat phrase used in the sacred logs, and used in conjunction with her.

“Of course I never felt that kind of animosity or viciousness towards you, Selina, because I never considered you a danger to the people I’ve sworn to protect.”

“Noted,” she said meekly.

“Feeling better?”

She took a deep breath.

“I will be,” she said, “once it all sinks in.”

“Good.  One other thing: Alfred is none too pleased about your disappearing act last night.”

Okay, now Tim was genuinely scared. 

“Oracle not in field.  Azrael gone.  Leaves you.”

That’s what she’d said, and it didn’t exactly sound like a compliment.  He’d helped her because that’s the job, that’s what you do.  And, ok, she brought him a Peanut Buster Parfait, which nobody else ever did when they wanted help with a case.  So he helped her out and now, classic overcorrection from Miss Cain, he was a rock star.  He was a prodigy.  He was the Mozart of crimefighting!

Cassie being Cassie, that’s not what she actually said.  Oh no, he would have understood that.  She said he was the ‘Akamatsu Mitsusuke of crimefighting.’ 

He’d given a socks-for-Christmas smile and committed the words to memory, googled it later, and found out… ?  Famous assassin.  Yep.  That’s Cassie alright.  No idea who Lindsay Lohan is, but impress her and she might just liken you to a 15th century shogun killer. 

And she meant it as a compliment!  That’s why Tim was scared.  Instinct said let it ride.  If she wanted to think he’s the akimaroo of crimefighting, what’s the harm?  Plus, he couldn’t really think of a way out of it.  Letting a girl like Cassie put you on a pedestal seemed like a high-risk endeavor, but for the life of him, he couldn’t figure a way to climb down: “Hey Cass, the parfait was great.  Boy, we really nailed those Crispi thugs, huh?  By the way, you know I’m a bit of a yutz when it comes to missing persons timelines, right?  And I get pretty confused coordinating alibis if anyone claims to have taken public transportation…”

Selina held out a cone-shaped morsel of chocolate promising as tempting a sinful pleasure as she ever dangled before Bruce’s lips.  He leaned forward just enough to bite, and forced down a chuckle as the velvety interior compelled him to bite on, taking the entire morsel into his mouth rather than the tentative nibble he’d begun.

“Very good,” he admitted, feeling his cheeks warm in response to the rush of almond-chocolate intensity ebbing and flowing over his palate.

“Oh, it gets better,” Selina laughed, pouring a thimbleful of fragrant, amber liquid into a cut crystal shot glass.  “Sip.”

Rather than drink it, Bruce inhaled. 

“Seems awfully strong,” he noted.

“Well, the woman in the shop did suggest cutting it with champagne or pouring it over ice cream,” she said lightly, then her voice slowed and deepened into Catwoman’s most seductive purr.  “But for now… taste.”

Again, Bruce leaned forward obediently, and moistened his lips.

“Very nice,” he conceded.

“Meow.”

“Meow.”

“See what you ruined, Handsome?  Nobody else is ever going to leave you clues like this.”

“No, I’ll admit only you could come up with this one,” he chuckled.  “So the chocolate was to go in your suite?”

“Or the morning room, I hadn’t decided.  The walnut liqueur would be at the lair.  The more incriminating the item, the harder it should be to find, n'est-ce pas?”

Bruce inspected the bottle.

“Well… the chocolate is actually more incriminating.  The lack of a UPC code or nutrition information on the box indicates it wasn’t sold in the U.S., whereas the bottle is so non-descript…”

“But the liqueur is made right on Lake Zurich, it’s a local product.”

“No, they make walnut liqueurs in Northern Italy too.”

“Pfft.”

Bruce grunted and continued to watch her unpack.  He was fascinated by the way her mind worked.  He knew many fiercely intelligent people.  He knew many cultured people.  But a keen, cultivated intellect was one thing.  A keen, cultivated intellect driven by feline logic was another animal entirely.

“I’m still not clear what were you shooting for,” he noted, the dry detachment of his voice providing bat-cover as he reached over and took another chocolate.  “A confrontation in your lair or some kind of—”

He was interrupted by a respectful cough in the doorway.

“Begging your pardon, sir.  miss,” Alfred announced formally.  “If one or both of you are at liberty to come downstairs, I have shown a visitor into the drawing room.  A Mister Bernard Ducret, from Zurich.”

To be continued…

Author’s Note: See more of Tim and Cassie in the latest Cat-Tales spinoff Tales from the Tower #1: Learning Curve by J.M.  Howard.


 

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