Batman and Catwoman in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 54: War of the Poses

War of the Poses
by Chris Dee

Cat and that Mousey Thing


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Selina had a theory about Rogues.  There were the homicidal psychos like Joker; it was pointless even trying to figure them out.  But the others, it seemed to her that their one real character flaw was a lack of outside interests.  It was like they had nothing besides their theme, whatever axe they had to grind, and an obsessive hatred of Batman that wound up losing perspective.  They went careening off the rails or, almost as bad, they got boring.  They became repetitive, sank into self-parody and, worst of all, they became predictable and careless.  After that, it was only a lucky batarang throw between them and Arkham. 

Mindful of the danger, Selina had always made an effort to keep the elements in her life in balance, including Catwoman.  She took pleasure in many things, from a night at the opera to a trip abroad, from a good book to a day outdoors at the Catitat.  Even if the preserve evolved from the same affinity that shaped Catwoman, Selina always saw it as a separate part of her existence.  Catwoman’s activities might pay for it, but it was Selina’s preserve, not a part of “Catwoman Enterprises,” so to speak.

Maintaining that separation was important to her, which is why she refused to use any photos from the Catitat for the video wallpaper at Vault.  Instead, she’d sought out a prominent wildlife photographer who exhibited in a famous Madison Avenue gallery.  Both the photographer, Felix Thomas, and the gallery, Wild Thing, had declined the usual promotional tags they would have demanded elsewhere.  The whole point of such advertising was to attract a club’s patrons to seek out the gallery and become customers themselves, but the patrons of Vault, well, “customers” like that, they could do without.  Catman’s claws alone had cost them $48,000 in new display cases the last time he took an interest in their wares.

So, instead of the usual promotional tags, Selina had promised a different type of compensation.  It was time for a new cat lair, after all.

The distinctive purple car turned onto Madison and opted for the valet parking at the Parkview Hotel.  It was expensive, like everything on the upper eastside, but it was convenient to the shops and most socialites that didn’t live in walking distance used it.  Selina strode confidently up the street towards Wild Thing, when her eye glimpsed something familiar reflected in a store window.  She turned abruptly, but whatever it was had vanished.

She resumed walking… but couldn’t shake the feeling that the half-glimpsed something was important…  She couldn’t shake the idea that maybe she was being followed...  She slowed her pace, and looked in a shop window… high concept stereos and phones that didn’t interest her, but reflected beyond them… behind her… she could just make out…  nothing.  She resumed walking. 

Twice more she stopped: once at a store selling leather goods, thinking the dark surfaces would offer a better reflection, and once at an antiquities gallery, thinking that late period bronze in their Egyptian collection would make just the right addition to the lair—and also that going inside to buy it would force anyone following her to show themselves if they wanted to keep an eye on the door.  Either she would see them through the window as she was making her purchase, or she would leave through the rear entrance where she’d entered so often in the past.  The salesman might be shocked, but her adversary would be thwarted.  So there.

She went inside, and sure enough, just as she was handing over her credit card, she saw him across the street: arms crossed, lips pursed, and a decidedly peevish stance as he leaned against a newspaper vending machine.  She took her package, hurried out, and crossed the street to meet him.

“Eddie!  What the hell are you doing trailing me like some low rent P.I. chasing a Jimmy Stewart-Kim Novak fantasy?”

Edward Nigma pursed his lips all the more.  He looked down at Selina’s package then up at her again.

“When you don't know what I am, then I'm something,” he announced, “but when you know what I am, then I'm nothing.  WHAT am I?”

       … … … … ::  Duty Log: Batman    ::  … … …
       … … … … ::  Submitted from FoS by remote relay    ::  … … …
       … … … … ::  Encryption matrix Delta36   ::  … … …

Investigated robbery of Milaquez Rare Books on West 61st.  Firm keeps regular business hours but owner also opens early or stays late for special customers by appointment.  Milaquez had stayed open for one such customer, anticipating a big sale because of customer’s behavior during previous visit.  Customer pulled a .45, ordered Milaquez to open his safe and pistol-whipped him as soon as he turned his back to comply.  Drilled the safe and took the nine most valuable pieces, which were ascertained during that previous visit.  M.O. is a point-for-point match with Vince McNetty, Irish mob. 

McNetty’s crew all fence through Rusty Sarins, a former regular at the Iceberg Lounge, now likely to be a regular at Vault.

Questioned Sly, Sarins, and several of McNetty’s other associates, ultimately obtaining an address.

       … … … … :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::  :: :: … … …

“When you don't know what I am, then I'm something, but when you know what I am, then I'm nothing.  WHAT am I?”

Selina’s eyes narrowed.  Before he spoke, the only thing Riddlerish about Edward Nigma’s appearance was the discreet question mark tie clip.  Apart from that, he was dressed to blend in.

“That’s all you’ve got to say for yourself?  Eddie, you’re following me.  I want to know why.”

“A WAR ENS for a SENNA WAR, Lina.  An answer for an answer.  You WAR NINES ME and I’ll WAR YENS SOUR.”

“You’ll answer mine when I answer yours.”

“Quite.”

Selina sighed and shook her head.

“Knew I should have had a second cup of coffee this morning.  Okay, hit me.  How did it go again?”

“When you don’t know what I am, then I’m something,” Eddie repeated patiently.  “But when you—“

“Stop!”  She mouthed that much carefully, processing it, holding each word up to inspect different shades of meaning.  “Okay, go on,” she said finally.

“But when you know what I am, then I’m nothing.”

He paused again, expecting her to want to inspect it the same way, but instead, she just smiled, waiting for the final question.

“What am I?” he prompted, with a playful smile of his own.

“The answer to a riddle.”

“That’s my girl,” he nodded, delighted.

“That’s a good one,” Selina beamed.  “Quite the nifty little paradox too.  I’m honored that you used it on me.”

“You’re the very first.  Now that it’s had a test drive, I will look for the right opportunity to unleash it on—oh, unless you tell him.  You won’t, will you, Lina?”

“Of course not!  Eddie, what do you take me for?”

“Someone who’s been letting Cluemaster sit at her table every night at Vault just to keep me away.  Don’t think I’m not onto you, Lina.  You’re one of the smartest, classiest, savviest women I know, and Arthur Brown watches Deal or No Deal.  The only possible reason a woman like you would spend five minutes with trash like that is to discourage me from coming over and saying ‘hi.’  That’s why I’m following you, Lina.  I want to know what gives.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.  ‘Oh.’  Come on now, we’ve known each other too long for those games.”

“I thought you liked games.”

“There are games and there are games.  So… an answer for an answer.  Why are you avoiding me?”

“I thought it would be for the best.  I’m sorry, Eddie, but with the history, I figured it could be awkward.”

“The history.  You mean the time I said you’d hung up your whiskers.”

She nodded.

“Partially.  Eddie, you know more of the truth than anyone else.  You must know this Gatta Corleone thing is—”

“A pose, yeah, sure.  APE SO, been obvious from day one.  But for the life of me, I can’t figure out how it happened.”

“Join the club.”

“You guys didn’t do it on purpose?”

“Queen of the underworld?  Are you nuts?”

“Well, I admit, it did seem really broadminded, for him, but I thought maybe you were celebrating an anniversary or something and that was your gift.  Or maybe he forgot an anniversary and that was a way out.  I mean, Doris once got me to—”

“Oh, look!” Selina interrupted, pointing to a window display. “It’s a leather waste basket and a matching, eh, placecard thingy.”

“Fine, you don’t want to hear about Doris.”

Selina laughed.

“I tell you what, I’m fixing up a new lair and I get a kinky thrill going into all these places I used to burgle, using the front door in broad daylight, talking to the salesman and paying to take the stuff home.”

“Deviant, that’s what it is, Lina.  Perverse and deviant.  I’m shocked.”

“I’m asking you to come along, so shut up already.  Help me shop for some new cat trappings and then I’ll take you down to the new digs.  You’ll help me set things up and I’ll make you lunch.”

“Riddle me this: when you know what I am and I’m hungry—”

“That’s a yes.  Sheesh, you are a pain sometimes, Edward.”

       … … … … ::  Duty Log: Batman    ::  … … …
       … … … … ::  Submitted from FoS by remote relay    ::  … … …
       … … … … ::  Encryption matrix Delta39   ::  … … …

[Personal note.  Sealed.]

During interrogations of Sarins et al. observed several features of Vault interior have been altered since initial visit (see Matches Malone intel ops §3 cat). 

Had a particularly disquieting experience shoving away informant when McNetty’s address was obtained, only to glimpse a litter of lion cubs cavorting in a stream.  Spatial relationships were such that plasma screen displaying image was hung where fake ice wall appeared in the Iceberg.  Disquiet deepened when observed screen was of WayneTech manufacture.

[End seal] 

       … … … … :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::  :: :: … … …

“A little more to the right.”

“That’s what you said before,” Eddie complained, inching the photograph to the right.

“And you went higher, which is fine but isn’t to the right.  Just a little more, please—THERE! Purrrrrfect.”

“Easy for you to purr, you’re not hanging the thing.”

“I said I appreciate your help, and I made you lunch.”

“Yes, after you made me help carry all this cat kitsch.  You couldn’t just have it delivered?”

“It’s a lair!  Eddie, you telling me if there was a question mark store in town, you’d let them keep your address on file, so all Batman would have to do is check their delivery records and—”

Lina, I think Batman knows how to find you.”

“This is exactly the kind of conversation I was trying to avoid.”

“And if he didn’t, that purple purrmobile parked out front is a pretty good indicator.”

“Eddie, you’re missing the…”

“What your new drinking buddy Brown would call a ‘clue,’ that rhymes with who, as in, ‘Oh look, a purple Lamborghini, I wonder who lives there.’”

“…point.”

“Not even getting into the fact that he gave it to you in the first place.  Probably got it outfitted with nine kinds of tracking gizmos.”

“Eddie.”

“You know, once for each life.”

“…”

“That’s the ‘gone too far’ glare, isn’t it?”

“It is.”

“I hung your giant lion photo for you.”

“…”

“It was heavy.”

“…”

“Sorry.”

“Meow.”

       … … … … ::  Duty Log: Batman    ::  … … …
       … … … … ::  Submitted from FoS by remote relay    ::  … … …
       … … … … ::  Encryption matrix Delta21   ::  … … …

Was prevented from following up on McNetty by JL Alpha alert.  Flash was on monitor and relayed multiple reports coming in of Superman “running amok” in downtown Metropolis.  He was said to be tearing up bridges, breaking off the tops of radio towers, and hurling them into cars like javelins. 

I was aware, although Flash evidently was not, that Mxyzptlk was “due” and Superman had sequestered himself in the Sahara so the inevitable confrontation could occur—or at least begin—far from population centers.  Such precautions are of limited effectiveness with an enemy who can not merely “transport” but reshape time and space at will.  Nevertheless, Superman feels it is worthwhile to make the effort, however futile, to limit civilian exposure.  While laudable, his ploy is quite obvious to Mxyzptlk.  The malevolent imp simply waits, knowing it prolongs Superman’s absence from those he is sworn to protect.  It becomes a contest of who is going to blink first.  This particular contest had been going on for six days. 

Given Superman’s sudden reappearance and destructive behavior, I assumed the worst: Mxyzpltz blinked and the confrontation had occurred, Superman lost and was being controlled.  I forwarded McNetty’s address to GCPD on route to the cave, picked up the ring and transported to the Tower and from there to Metropolis. 

       … … … … :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::  :: :: … … …

“Y’know,” Eddie mused, stretching out on the lair’s sofa, “Joker, Ivy and company might not take kindly to your new title, Lina.  ‘Queen of’ anything pertaining to them is bound to raise some ha-ha-hackles.”

“Probably.  But Oswald left a vacuum.  Better one of us fills it than some non-rogue mob boss, right?  Or worse, all of the mobs fighting it out for the privilege.”

“True.  Still, seems a pity.  I mean, you’re doing fine but… I’d be better at it.”

“Oh really?”

“I don’t relish the idea of actually running things, that really seems like more trouble than it’s worth.  But I do like the idea of having to come up with 92 riddles a week.”

Selina laughed.

“You had me going for a minute.”

“I know, I saw it in your eyes.  Think of it though: a roll of them hanging off the Bat-Signal, like paper towels.”

She laughed harder, and Eddie joined in.  When they calmed down, he looked up pointedly.

“So what do you do?”

Selina blinked.

“What do I do… about what?”

“Batman.  I’m just curious how it works, that's all.  Is it like ‘you might want to stay away from 96th street tonight, darling, pass the potatoes?’”

Selina blinked.

“Or do you just pretend you don't know each other around the house?”

“I take it back.  THIS is the conversation I was trying to avoid.”

“You should be careful; that's all I'm saying, Lina.  He strikes me as a bad loser.”

Selina’s retort was cut off by a knock at the door, and Eddie flipped out.

“I was just joking,” he mouthed frantically.  “He really has a freakin’ homing beacon in your car, like those chips they put in lost dogs?”

“Of course not, you mental patient,” Selina said, smacking the back of his head as she passed behind him to answer the door.  “It’s Sly.  He called me earlier and I gave him the address.”

Eddie crossed his arms and waited, looking around the lair for a good place to put a chessboard. 

       … … … … ::  Duty Log: Batman    ::  … … …
       … … … … ::  Submitted from FoS by remote relay    ::  … … …
       … … … … ::  Encryption matrix Delta24   ::  … … …

While the reports of Superman’s appearance and behavior were confirmed by all I encountered on arrival in Metropolis, achieving proximity to the figure revealed it was not, in fact, the real Superman.  The lookalike possessed Superman’s strength and flight capabilities, but not his x-ray or heat vision.  It also did not share his vulnerability to Kryptonite.  I immediately contacted the real Superman, who joined me at once in Metropolis. 

Mxyzptlk promptly arrived, and his presence complicated the situation immensely.  I soon had 12 replicant Supermen on my hands.  Fortunately all of Mxyzptlk’s creations did share Superman’s vulnerability to Kryptonite, and only one shared the original imposter’s appetite for destruction.  The chaos ultimately worked in our favor.  Superman—the real Superman—persuaded several of his duplicates to help us, and Mxyzptlk conjured duplicates of me in response.  An onslaught of superspeed appearances of Batmen and Supermen eventually forced the requisite syllables from his lips and sent him back to his own dimension for another ninety days. 

A fortunate side-effect seems to have wiped out all traces of the episode from the streets of Metropolis, and indeed from its psyche, for there is no mention in the news of any Superman duplicates at all.  Clark says this “temporal reset” is the norm when Mxyzptlk returns to his own dimension, occurring about ¾ of the time.  In this case, it allowed Clark to be present when the original imposter made its appearance.  He defeated it before it could do any harm, and indeed before it was noticed by the general population.  A considerable advantage for us.  We can now investigate knowing far more than the perpetrators realize.

The Superman duplicate is an android, similar in construction to Amazo, although the underlying design includes elements seen individually in Red Tornado, Cyborg, Schleswig-Holstein Robotics, and Hachinohe A.I.  I have never encountered them in a single construct before, and the list of those capable of producing such a design is mercifully short. 

We are currently engaged in a global manhunt for T. O. Morrow, Dr. Ivo, and Sivanna, as well as investigating various firms in Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Germany, and Japan who could have been contracted to build elements of this being unawares.

       … … … … :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::  :: :: … … …

Sly had never been in a criminal hideout before.  He’d visited the DEMON base in Chinatown, but it looked like an ordinary curio shop.  It didn’t prepare him for Catwoman telling him to drop by her new lair.  He was nervous, even after she opened the door and he saw she was wearing street clothes.  He was really creeped out as she led him inside.  Going through the entrance hall, he thought of all those Almost Got’im stories told around the bar.  This was the very hallway meant to drop open when Batman crossed it, sending him down a chute into some horrific deathtrap.  Selina was chattering on how she was still fixing the place up, and he wondered if that meant the electric eyes and trapdoors weren’t installed yet.

At the end of the hallway, he felt better.  The main room of the lair looked like an ordinary living room—albeit the living room of someone who really, REALLY liked cats—but what really put him at ease was Edward Nigma.  Nigma was sitting on the couch, and there were two empty plates on the table and a glass of iced tea.  It seemed so normal.  Sly relaxed and said hi.

“You said you had a message?” Selina asked when the social pleasantries were over.

“Yeah.  Two actually.  First, we had our first Bat attack last night.”

“Fortunately no flaming drinks were being served,” Eddie quipped.

“Ignore him,” Selina said, smacking the back of his head again.

“Batman was looking for someone called McNetty,” Sly reported.  “And he roughed up a bunch of those Irish mob guys trying to find him.”

“No skin off kitty’s nose,” Selina sniffed.  “What else?”

“I’ve a note to give you.”

“A note,” Eddie grumbled.  “You get notes.  The rest of us get batarangs lodged in our inlaid mahogany-pine backgammon tables and you get notes.”

“Oh, it’s not from Batman,” Sly explained quickly.  “Well I don’t think it is.  I couldn’t really see much of the guy who gave it to me.”

“Mask?” Eddie guessed.

“Hummer.”

“Hummer?”

“A limo.”

“Guy in a Hummer limo has a note for the gal in a purple Lamborghini.  I need a better car.”

“Gentlemen, take this outside,” Selina murmured, her eyes riveted to her note.

“You look serious, Lina.  Who’s it from? What’s it say?”

“Nothing.  Get out.  Both of you.  Go drool over my car.  Walk around it, scratch yourselves, and talk about its horsepower, torque and redline.  Whoever can guess the 0-to-60 gets a ride later.”

An ordinary looking pager in the sleeve of Barbara Gordon’s wheelchair vibrated, indicating a message waiting for retrieval on the OraCom.  She couldn’t leave at once, not when the library sponsored story hour was just getting underway at the community center.  It was the one event she never missed, and all her old colleagues from the library would notice.  So she ate a cookie, drank a glass of too-sweet fruit punch, and waited.  She introduced Victoria Blant, today’s reader who they were so pleased to welcome, and she waited some more.  Finally, when Tom and Huck were setting off for the graveyard, she decided the suspense to come would be enough of a distraction for her to slip away unnoticed.  She hurried home, and retrieved the waiting message. 

The video instructed her to initiate a standard absence protocol: Nightwing, Robin and Huntress would modify their patrols to overlap Batman’s route as much as possible.  Nightwing would be in charge of answering the signal should it alight.  She would periodically check on the Batmobile as its automated system crept along the patrol route, giving the appearance of a present and vigilant Batman.

At the same time Oracle was viewing her message, the intercom in Alfred’s pantry buzzed discreetly, indicating a communication was waiting for retrieval at Workstation 2.  He went down to the cave and watched the brief video.  Batman said to tell Selina he was tied up in Metropolis and would send word when he knew anything more.

Selina didn’t call before dropping by the Graysons’ any more than they did before coming to the manor.  She just showed up, one of them buzzed her in, and (on this occasion) Dick hobbled to the door.

“What happened?” Selina asked when she saw him hopping miserably back to the sofa.

“You should know. You were there,” he said casually.  “Flagpole broke.”

“You said you only hurt your pride.”

“When a hot woman is driving a hot car, it’s all about pride,” he said.  “Seriously, I didn’t think it was anything bad at the time, but after a few more swings and landings, I started to feel it.  This morning I wake up, and it’s swollen like some kind of melon.”

“Ouch,” Selina winced.

“Yeah, ‘ouch.’  Not much sympathy from the marital unit since I did it trying to impress Catwoman.”

“You told her?”

“She tracks me, Selina.  She knew it happened a block from Vault and connected the dots.  She even showed me the replay on her GPS.  The little blip that’s me goes kerplunk, and she laughs and says ‘Serves you right, Sillybird.’”

“You two have a very odd relationship,” Selina observed. 

“Look who’s talking,” Dick laughed.

“Exactly.  It’s not something I get to say very often: you two have a very odd relationship.”

“Woof.”

“Woof.”

“So what can I do for you?” Dick grinned.

“I came to see Barbara, actually.  I was hoping she could patch me through to Bruce.”

“Ah, well she’s out.  She rushed in about an hour ago to pick up a message and then raced right back out again.  Something about getting back to the community center before Injun Joe digs up the gold or… something like that.  But I know B is off radio right now.  He sent a message one way, she couldn’t tell him about my ankle and that I won’t be able to cover for him like he asked.”

“Fuck.”

“I’m thinking that’s not for my ankle.”

“No.  I’m very sorry to hear about your ankle but I’ve got mice of my own to… um… chase into their little… y’know.”

“Boy, it must be serious if you’re dropping the ball in the middle of a cat analogy.”

“Hm?”

“Hi,” Dick waved, and spoke in a too-eager voice reminiscent of his Robin days.  “I’m Nightwing, I’ll be your crimefighter this evening.  Can I start you off with a beverage?”

“Huh?”

“You seem really, really distracted, Selina.  I thought maybe a joke was called for.”

“Oh.”

“But I can see now that you’re way past that.  I should probably leave you to chase the mouse into his little mousy place.  It’s called a hole, by the way.”

“I’m sorry, Dick,” she laughed.  “You’re right, I am a little distracted.  But don’t worry.  It’s nothing I can’t handle myself.”

Bruce slid the blue crystal from its cradle in the Fortress of Solitude’s com station and replaced the milky white one that originally resided there. 

“Thanks for the use of the equipment,” he said brusquely. 

He meant it to preempt Clark.  He had seen the grin forming, reflected on the edge of the com screen as he made that last video.  It was the same grin Clark always had when Bruce did anything ‘homey’ with respect to Selina.

“Calling the little woman to let her know you’ll be late for dinner?” Clark teased.

“Submitting a log entry on the Mxyzptlk affair while the details were fresh in my mind,” Bruce answered in Batman’s firmest the-subject-is-closed tone.  “And making arrangements for Nightwing and Robin to cover my absence.”

“And telling Alfred to tell Selina not to worry.  Takes one to know one, Bruce, I do it all the time with Lois.”

He grunted.

“Let’s have a look at that list of private islands where Morrow could be holed up.”

Not being a student of criminal psychology, Catwoman could only wonder if there was any significance to the rendezvous point.  She looked down from the roof of the 41st Street Post Office at the front of the Exeter Club where the note specified.  She decided it was probably just a convenient landmark.  Then she saw the limo pull up, a Hummer, just like Sly said, and it occurred to her that there might be another reason.  The front of the Exeter was one of those places a Hummer limo wouldn’t excite comment.

She watched and waited, although she couldn’t have said what she was watching or waiting for.  The car just sat there, silent and still. Once it became clear that nothing was going to happen until she made an appearance, she swung down to the street.  Immediately, the driver’s door opened and a uniformed chauffer got out.  He was a short man, almost womanish in build, a far cry from the bruiser/bodyguard drivers that were becoming such a cliché.

The man didn’t speak, he merely opened the door for her.  No one was inside, only two telephones, a fax machine, and a bottle of champagne.  The standard rent-a-ride fare.  She got in.  She was in this for answers, and playing along was the only way to get them.

The car took her to the downtown heliport.  The waiting helicopter took her to an airstrip outside Bludhaven.  The waiting 727 began to taxi the moment she fastened her seatbelt.  When the plane reached a cruising altitude, the cabin door opened and she saw her host face to face.

“I trust you won’t mind the precautions,” he said.  It wasn’t a question or a token apology, it was the declaration of a man used to being accommodated.  “True privacy is the most valuable commodity, Catwoman, and so few people will do what is necessary to secure it.”

“Circling Gotham at 40,000 feet just to have a conversation seems a little much for a mere ‘precaution,’ Lex.  It’s what most people would call freakishly paranoid.”

Lex Luthor smiled.

“Most people are sheep,” he said.  “You cannot expect sheep to value concepts such as privacy or dignity any more than a fish can comprehend mathematics.”

To be continued…


 

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