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

War of the Poses
by Chris Dee

May Look at a King


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A chartered 727 circled wide around Gotham City, out to Bludhaven, up to a corner of rural Connecticut and back again.  Lex Luthor looked out the window with satisfaction.  The charter’s so-called amenities were far inferior to those on his personal aircraft, but a sky without the Alien flying through it was the most important appurtenance, one for which he would forego any trivial extras, such as his preferred brand of bottled water.  So he sipped an Evian as he looked out that window, and then returned his attention to his guest. 

It was too early to be pleased with his prospective ally, but he was willing to allow that, thus far, he was not displeased.  She had refused any refreshment, displaying a sensible mistrust, but she had not been obvious about it like so many costumed types.  He studied her for several minutes more.  Luthor was always intrigued by the way a subject reacted to silence.  The crazy ones were compelled to fill it, forcing their personality on you in all its inanity, along with the cognitive waste they considered their thoughts and opinions.  Often, there was manic laughter to be endured as well.  None of it inspired much confidence in the proposed alliance.  But this creature… like an actual cat, she seemed perfectly at ease, content to sit and wait.  Or was she doing quite as much studying as he was?  She certainly didn’t shrink from meeting his eye.  Luthor was always reluctant to humor these costumed lunatics and their ludicrous “themes,” but he could not help but recall the adage “a cat may look at a king.”

“You’re an interesting creature,” he said at last.  “For one of those who wears—well, why be circumspect—who wears a mask and the costume of a professional wrestler, one hears that you are remarkably sane.”

Catwoman’s lips curled slightly.  Not a threatening smile, but hardly a warm one.

“And for one who wears a tie and the costume of an undertaker, one hears you’re remarkably rude, Lex.”

“Touché.  My point was merely that I believe one can make a deal with you, Catwoman, and expect you to hold up your end.  Not decide at the critical hour to go on a murderous rampage in a jam factory instead.”

“Not unless the jam starts it,” she said brightly.  “Seriously, Lex, may I remind you that we have done business before and I was not the one who failed to hold up my end of the bargain?”

It was Luthor’s turn to smile.  He did enjoy when a negotiation went according to plan.  Catwoman might wear a preposterous outfit, but her thinking was rational and therefore predictable.  If one could overlook the cat ears, it was quite like negotiating any other business deal.

“You refer to my declining to pay you for the Lex-Wing job,” he said magnanimously.  “I recall the incident, of course.  I also recall that you got paid all the same.  You had the resourcefulness to get your money.  In my view, that means you are entitled to it.”

“Survival of the fittest.”

Enrichment of the fittest, Catwoman.  Mere survival is for wage slaves and spotted owls.”

Catwoman burst out laughing.

“It must’ve been hell for you being president, Lex.  ‘Wage slaves and spotted owls?’  This is what built up all those years having to pretend you care?”

“How astute.”

He said it with a self-deprecating nod, as if disarmed by her candor.  But behind the charming smile, Lex Luthor’s wheels turned.  She had been studying him the whole time he was studying her.  She didn’t look passively either, she saw.  And she wasn’t timid using what she saw.  She was quite right, of course.  Achieving power in a democracy demanded a polite pretense that inferiors were not, in fact, inferior.  It drained him.  It exhausted his patience with the pretense itself and with the sniveling mediocrities for whom he’d had to conceal his contempt.  And Catwoman gleaned this from a few minutes of unguarded chitchat.  He himself would not have wasted such an insight on amusing conversation; he would have filed it away for later use. 

But squandering the insight was a minor flaw, one that did not detract (much) from a mind capable of making the observation in the first place.  Yes, Lex Luthor thought, sipping his Evian as the chartered 727 veered lazily out to Bludhaven again, if Catwoman continued as she had begun, it was likely he would be very pleased indeed.

Leland Bartholomew finished the paperwork on the late Roland Jaer, stifling the last pangs of a guilty conscience as he saw the dead man’s next of kin listed on Jaer’s admittance form.  He returned his attention to the files of a patient who was not beyond help: Harlene Quinzel, for example, once an Arkham doctor just like he was, or even a patient like…

The D.A.  It was the Gotham District Attorney’s office listed as Roland Jaer’s “next of kin.”  That was because Patient Jaer had killed his own family, every one of them, his wife, father-in-law, and both children.  Then the scandalous “not guilty by reason of mental defect” had removed him to Arkham “until judged sane enough to rejoin society” instead of to Blackgate Prison to serve out the four life sentences he deserved.  The D.A. was humiliated by the verdict, the police and public were outraged… but no one was quite as outraged as Bartholomew himself.

He really had to put these awful thoughts behind him and focus on his other patients…

Jaer really was insane, that’s what tormented Bartholomew more than it did any crusading prosecutor or victims’ advocy group.  He knew.  He had treated the murdering psychopath for four years and he knew.  Jaer thought he had beaten the system, of course, that was obvious from their first session.  In the sense that he knew right from wrong, he was correct.  He was not legally insane; he knew what he did was wrong, before, during, and after the act.  But he also had a myriad of mental disorders from paranoia to delusional egomania, and he most definitely belonged in the asylum.  The thought that tormented Leland Bartholomew was that Jaer was making progress.  In another six or seven years, he could certainly reweave the man’s perceptions back into accord with reality.  And then what?  He’d have to be released.  Ten years for four murders?  What kind of justice was that?

Bartholomew was a doctor.  He couldn’t NOT try to heal a patient.  And if he did succeed in healing him, he couldn’t simply PRETEND he hadn’t just to keep the man locked away.  The thought had tormented him, with growing intensity, since Jaer’s eighth session when Bartholomew realized the question of release might one day rear its ugly…

Harleen Quinzel.  Since the breakthrough about the cliff diving, there was real reason to hope there.  Patient Isley’s situation was also much improved by the recent developments…

The man’s next of kin was the District Attorney, for God’s sake.  There was really no point in dwelling on it.  The fact was, Jaer was the author of his own fate.  “Not guilty by reason of mental defect.”  That was his choice. 

No one else had acted deliberately.  The man’s name was Jaer.  It was the bureaucracy by which the asylum was run since Josiah Arkham’s day.  Roland Jaer thought he’d beat the system, but the fact was, for a man named Jaer the criminal wing of Arkham Asylum wasn’t the safest place to be for any substantial length of time.  The proximity of Patient J, just one cell over, was bound to catch up with him sooner or later. 

No one knew exactly what Jaer had said or failed to say, but the bloody slaughter that followed—this is where Bartholomew had difficulty facing the situation without taking refuge in the denials or rationalizations he encountered in so many of his patients—the bloody slaughter that followed was a blessing.  It removed the nagging dilemma of Roland Jaer from Bartholomew’s life, and it demanded Joker’s immediate and extended isolation from all other inmates, even in the high-security annex of the criminal wing.  That boded well for Patient Quinzel, for Patient Isley, for Patient Jones, even for Patients Watney and Cumanez.  It was a blessing for everyone except the late Roland Jaer.

Try as Bartholomew might, he couldn’t keep his mind from the awful truth.  As often as he tried to put it aside and concentrate on his work, it crept back into his thoughts like some awful spider.  His patient was dead, and he was absolutely delighted.  What on earth was he going to do?

“I trust you detest the Justice League as much as I do.”

At last.  It took an hour to get there.  An hour Lex Luthor once would have described as “social pleasantries.”  But now, in his zero-tolerance-for-polite-pretense state of mind, he would call it what it was: a tiresome but vital sizing up of an unknown, possibly unstable personality before proceeding into dangerous waters.  Catwoman, on the other hand, looked on it as the most annoying form of inter-villain contact: cat and mouse minus the mouse.  There was nothing she found more trying than two predators circling in this way, as if the other didn’t know that trick—and that one—and that one too.  Superman would have just called it “Luthor being Luthor.”

“I trust you detest the Justice League as much as I do.”

Selina was quite prepared to lie to get into Luthor’s confidence.  She was a little piqued that she didn’t really have to.

“I don’t think anybody detests them as much as you do, Lex.  But you’re on safe ground with the assumption that, if a demon from hell was privy to my thoughts about them, he’d be tickled pink—or, at least, somewhere in the warm earth tones.”

“Y-yes,” Luthor said, placing a mental asterisk next to his ‘sane for a costume’ assessment.  “Well then, you’ll agree that Superman and Batman are the League’s core.  To destroy them would make the fall of the whole a foregone conclusion.”

“I haven’t made a study of it,” Selina said flatly.

“You should.  If you hate them, a dispassionate study of how to destroy them is essential.  Removing The Bat and The Alien would obliterate the League’s leadership mechanism and demoralize all those who survive.”

Catwoman laughed—not manically, which was the usual response when he laid out a plan to decimate the Justice League—but more… more… genuinely and rather condescendingly amused.

“Oh come on, Mr. President.  I’m not saying the ‘world’s finest’ aren’t central to the League, but you don’t think it’s rather telling that you zero in on the two heroes that took down your administration?”

“My dear good woman, you don’t believe that ludicrous story the newspapers put forth, do you?”

“That you flew out of the Oval Office in a space suit that looked like a Tylenol capsule decked out for Mardi Gras?  That you were buzzing DuPont Circle, hopped up on Venom and challenging Batman to a fistfight?  No.  No, I don’t believe that one, Lex, but I have tangled with Batman and Superman enough to know there’s a grain of truth in that particular tall tale.”

“A… Tylenol… Mardi… Excuse me?”

“Look, I’ve seen enough of you to know you’re no quitter, Lex.  You’re not a ‘live to fight another day’ kind of guy.  You’re ‘if I’m going down, by God I’m taking you bastards with me.  See you in hell.’ It would take the force of God’s own thunder to get you to give up a fight.  And that—if you’ll forgive the Gotham knows Gotham presumption—is Batman.”

Lex Luthor took a deep breath.  The negotiation was no longer proceeding according to his outline, and this, this woman was not adhering to his behavior models for either costumed lunatics or rational businessmen.  She was… she had just… she was quite infuriating…ly… not wrong. 

IF I have any personal motives,” he conceded coolly, “they are incidental to the overall goal: a world without a Justice League.  You may, of course, believe that or not as you wish, as long as you are agreeable to the proposed partnership.”

“Partnership!?” 

It was lucky Selina had refused a drink or she would have certainly done a spittake.

“Of course.  A Gotham-Metropolis alliance, if you will.  Our adversaries find it effective.  How much more would we, unhampered with their doughy-headed ideas.”

It was Catwoman’s turn to take a deep breath.  To Luthor’s eye, she looked surprised but impressed.  Back on the outline and behavior model he hoped for: no manic laughter, and the air of one who accidentally drew an inside straight.

“I’ll have to think about it,” she said thoughtfully.

“The formula by which women are compelled to answer a proposal of any kind.  Unfortunately, Catwoman, I must insist on a definite answer, in principle, before we proceed to specifics.  Given the trouble I went through to arrange this meeting, it is the least I can demand.”

“Yes, the Hummer, the helicopter and this plane are all very impressive, Lex, I bow to your feat of conspicuous consumption.  Nevertheless—”

“I was not referring to mere money, Catwoman, but to the removal of that pesky Bat problem.  Surely you are aware he left your borders immediately after making such a distasteful exhibition of himself in your nightclub.  A ‘yellow rose,’ if you will, to begin our association on the right footing.”

“I don’t require any help handling Batman.”

“I know.  I have observed how efficiently your agents are able to focus his attention to this part of town or, more importantly, away from that one.  And, of course, your assault on the LexCorp Tower to obtain the X27 plans did require you to take on both Batman and Superman single-handed.  This is precisely the skillset I require.”

“Go on.”

“That is an agreement?”

“No, Lex.  I read a document before I sign it.  You want me in on your little scheme, it takes more than flattery.  I need to know exactly what I’m buying in to.”

That, of course, was the downside of dealing with rational business people rather than obsessed wackos.  They did tend to ask reasonable questions and make reasonable demands that it was hard to refuse without appearing unreasonable

“Very well, I can tell you this much, Catwoman, and then I really must demand an absolute and unambiguous accordance before any specifics are revealed.  As you have observed, I am not one to simply ‘give up’ and I am not inclined to reveal even this much of my plan without a quid-pro-quo.  I tender this much of the scheme on credit, not as a gift.”

“Alright,” Catwoman agreed.  There is a principle among cats: it is permissible to let the other party think they’ve won so long as you get to nap in the chair you wanted.  Luthor’s pride demanded quid-pro-quo, credit and not a gift, and all that jazz.  It cost her nothing to nod rather than argue, and it got her the chair she wanted.

“There are three items in Gotham that I need to obtain,” Luthor announced smugly.  “Three sets of plans in the hands of three separate businesses.  There should be no evidence at all that any thefts have taken place, but because man is an imperfect creature and the best laid plans can go wrong, all the items must be acquired at once.  That way, if one of the thefts is discovered, the other locations have no opportunity to tighten their security.”

“Child’s play.  I’ve done four in a single night, including an underwater delivery.”

“Yes.  Sub Diego, I rather suspected that was you.  Ruined a golden opportunity for my administration to assert some control down there…  In any case, this job would be similar only in that it involves three swift, invisible strikes in a single night.  I would draw Batman out of Gotham as I did tonight, and keep both him and Superman fully occupied in Metropolis.  You would have no opposition worthy of the name.”

“Cops and sidekicks don’t impress me either.  Go on.”

“Once you have turned over what you’ve taken, it may take me several weeks to formulate the next step.  Then, when I am ready to strike, you will reciprocate, keeping Batman and Superman occupied in Gotham while I take action elsewhere.”

“Simple enough.”

“Occupied, Catwoman, that is all.  You are not, I think, one of these psychopathic miscreants that would decide in the heat of the moment to terminate them prematurely.  ‘Since they’re in the Pit of Despair anyway.’”

“Nope.  Not my thing.  I don’t even own a Pit of Despair.”

“Good.  It is my wish that they live to see defeat.  The fall of their League, the fall of their comrades, the destruction of all they have fought for.”

“Well, as long as it’s not personal,” Catwoman muttered.

Harley thought it was the meanest nastiest horriblocity those horrible nasty meanies ever came up with.  Taking her Mistah J away just for killing some dumb nobody that never even cracked a smile.  And right when their little game was getting good!  First Mistah J’s mummy gag and then her daring to disobey him, the slick little detail about the cliff diving, it was going to be a laugh riot when they finally revealed the joke.

“Fool you once, shame on us, Barty old man.  But fool you twice, shame on… rice.” 

Okay, well, neither one of them had come up with the final zinger yet, but there was plenty of time for that.  Harley had enough training in therapeutic dialogue to know not to rush it.  Bartholomew would only believe he was getting to a breakthrough if he saw hints, very subtle hints, only beginning to form a pattern over several laborious sessions.  He had to put it together for himself, and then HAHAHAHAAAAA!  Oh how she longed to hear Mistah J’s triumphant HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA when they showed old Barty that he’d been had a second time.

Mistah J thought of it as a simple prank.  That was how Harley pitched it to him; that was the kind of thing that appealed to him.  But for her, it was more than that.  For her, the idea that there was something WRONG with her lovin her Mistah J, that being devoted to her Puddin’ was a problem that somehow needed to be fixed, that notion had to be punished.  She knew just how to do it too.  She was Dr. Harleen Quinzel, she knew how to get them where they lived.  Heartless headshrinking freaks. 

Only thing was, now they’d taken her Puddin’ away.  She didn’t really need him now for the plan.  There was nothing for him to do after the mummy, not until the final HAHAs, but she still missed him.

Oh, they were going to pay for this, every last one of them.  She would make them pay.

This time it was Catwoman approaching the Graysons’ co-op, not Selina Kyle.  She approached from the 20th floor and knocked on the window instead of entering at street level and buzzing the intercom, but the result was the same: Dick hobbling painfully to admit her, and then hopping ignominiously back to his chair.

“Still swollen?” she asked.

“I think it’s fine,” Dick said petulantly.  “But Barbara made me see Dr. Leslie this afternoon before I tried going out as Nightwing.  She said the damage from the flagpole landing was nothing.  It was working through the night afterwards that really messed me up.  So if I go back too soon, chances are six hours in the field could cost me six more weeks in the easy chair.  I’m not gonna risk that, even with Bruce out of the picture.  If anything big happens, then okay, Nightwing will be there.  But with Crane’s release pushed back again and no riddles on deck, it looks like you’re the biggest threat right now.”

“Thanks.  I think.”

“You here to see Babs?” Dick asked, taking their cat Bytes into his lap and scratching behind her ears.

“Yeah.  Situation has changed, I need to contact Bruce—by any means necessary.”

“That sounds dramatic,” Dick grinned.  “Guess you’re the biggest threat after all.  She’s in the den.  Likes to see as little of me and Bytes as possible when Oracle is on the ‘Com so she moved her workstation for the duration.  You can go on back though.  It’s late enough that it’s probably just Batgirl out there now.”

“Thanks,” Selina said absently, rummaging in the compartment where she kept her lock picks.  “Here we go,” she said at last, pulling out a thimble-size beanbag and tossing it to Dick.  “Something for Bytes.  Don’t let her have it all at once.”

“So I told Puddin’ that it wasn’t the height of the cliff or the sudden aquatic stop at the bottom.  It was the fish.  I have it on good authority that there were fishies in that water, and they probably wouldn’t like being bombed from way up high by little old me.  You don’t want to screw around with mad fish, Doc.  Doc?  Doc, ya in there?”

Harley had embellished her cliff diving adventures much more than she originally planned.  It seemed the only way to hold her audience’s attention.  But finally, even the lure of Freudian meta-symbolism with respect to water joined with the ICK-SLIMY-ICK factor of mad fish was insufficient.  Bartholomew kept gazing out the window, resorting to the monotonous flow of “uhuhs” “mhms” and “oh reallys” that Harley employed herself when she was sitting in that chair and a dull old patient that wasn’t Mistah J was going on and on about his dumb old childhood.

“Doc, I know you’re not listening,” she said angrily.

“Mhm.  And how does that make you feel?” Bartholomew asked mechanically.

“Like it’s time for a HAHAHAHAAA-SMACK of a JokerFish right across your smug kisser.”

“Uhuh.”

“DOC!”

“WHAT!?” Bartholomew jumped.

Harley had jumped up from the couch, and was now twirling her arms in wide circles until finally pointing back to her own face.

“Eyes on the harlequin,” she said.

“I’m sorry, Harleen, I’m afraid my mind drifted.  Our time is nearly up anyway, only ten minutes to go.  What say we call it a day, and I’ll give you an extra fifteen minutes next time.”

Harley considered this.  She took a deep, thoughtful breath… and then jutted out her tongue to produce the longest sustained raspberry in the history of Arkham Asylum.

“Hey, just who I need to see,” Barbara cried when Catwoman came in.  “Could you take Cassie to the museum next week?  Pretend it’s an educational thing, Egyptian gods and Roman temple, you know the sort of stuff.  And while you’re there, casually show her the hiding places and secret ways in.”

“Sure, I can.  But why are we being cagey about it?”

“She thinks her assassin’s training taught her all there is to know about stealth and infiltration.  She’s obviously wrong: Catman’s been leading her on quite a dance all night.”

“Blake?!”

“Yes!  And I don’t like any Batgirl being made a fool of that way.”

Selina chuckled.

“Oh come on, you had fun that night.  It was a rainy, miserable, gray, foggy, icky wet night and you would have been bored out of your mind if it wasn’t for my little game of—”

“Cat and flying mouse?  I’d forgotten about that.  No, it was not fun.  The panther at the zoo was definitely not fun.”

“I was watching. I wouldn’t have let him hurt you.”

“It still wasn’t fun.”

“You still have the stuffed one from the gift shop, Barbara, I’ve seen it on your bookshelf.  Why did you keep it if you didn’t have fun?”

“Humility.  Remind myself not to get cocky again.”

“Pfft, that’s Bruce talking.  Speaking of, that’s why I’m here.  You’ve got to have some emergency channel to reach him, don’t you?”

Barbara turned away from her workstation, teasing mode abandoned, and studied Catwoman carefully.

“Sounds serious.”

“Yeah,” Selina nodded.

“Wait here.”

Barbara left, and Selina studied the fascinating images layered on the Oracle viewscreens.  The floorplan of the Gotham Museum’s Egyptian wing she recognized at once.  The blip of Batgirl’s tracking signal on a city map superimposed over it, that took longer to figure out.  Just what the orange gridlines were meant to represent she never did find out.  Barbara returned with a small snail-shaped device of gold and white metal, embossed with the JLA emblem.

“Great.”

Selina puckered, looking at the device exactly the way Batman examined a box covered in question marks. 

Barbara showed her how to open it and unlock a relay channel to Batman.  Selina then fastened the device to her ear—or she tried to.  As if the communicator knew her distaste and wanted to punish it, it kept pulling strands of her hair as she tried to loop it over the back of her ear.  It refused to rest securely while still pointing the directional mic at her mouth.  In the end, she had to take off her mask completely and hold the device in place. 

“Batman, are you there?  Pick up,” she said, as if she’d reached the answering machine of a friend screening their calls.

..::Batman, 10-6,::.. came the familiar gravel.

“Ten six?” Selina mouthed.

“He’s busy, stand by,” Barbara translated.

Seconds passed, and Selina thought through what she would say.  She regarded using a JLA Communicator the same way Bruce might view borrowing Eddie’s cell phone: the situation demanded it and there was nothing else to be done, but that was no reason to give it more information than necessary.

..:: 10-65, Oracle, what’s the SitRep?::..

Selina rolled her eyes.

“The ‘sitrep,’ Jackass, is that you can’t tell my voice from Oracle’s.”

..::Catwoman?::..

“No 10-code for that one, is there, Stud?  Look, you need to come home.  Right now.” 

..:: … ::…

“Home.  Now,” she repeated.  Then, straining to find some phrase that might at least hint at her predicament, she added, “I found the Storm Opals.”

Four seconds of excruciating silence passed, and then

..:: I’ll be right there.::..

There wasn’t anything in the code of ethics to prohibit a doctor walking his patient back to her cell instead of relying on the orderlies to provide a formal escort.  Stopping in the staff lounge for a cup of coffee together, that was more irregular.  If Harleen Quinzel had never been on the Arkham staff, it certainly never would have happened.  But Bartholomew had found himself talking to Harleen more and more like a colleague as they walked along.  When they reached the door to the lounge, it just seemed the natural thing to do.

She was right, of course.  It was selfish, lazy, and downright unprofessional to short a patient 1/5 of a scheduled session because he “wasn’t in the mood,” so to speak.  It was his job, whether he felt like it or not.  Harleen herself didn’t feel like it some days, but did she have the choice of saying “Hey Doc, I don’t feel like talkin’ about my childhood pet Ruffles today, let’s say play some scrabble instead?” 

She was absolutely right.  The fact that she expressed it first in the form of a “raspberry” was a sad commentary on the social environment in which she found herself.  If one lives for years in Paris, one comes to express herself naturally and spontaneously in French.  If one lives for years among madmen, one adopts their “native tongue” of delusional nonsense in just the same way.  What Harleen needed was more time with her peers.

Why, on that short walk through the corridors together, just look at how far she’d come: from the uncouth raspberry to a kindly inquiry why he was so preoccupied during their session.  His first answers were guarded, of course.  And just look how she responded.  Did she become churlish or argumentative?  No indeed.  She probed just like any therapist would probe when a subject was withholding.  She keyed in on a word or turn of phrase, a look, a pause, or a fidget.  It really warmed the heart to see her pick up these tools of their trade with such a sure hand.

Such progress should certainly be rewarded.  Bartholomew began telling her some of the history with Roland Jael and the reason he was so distracted today.  He wished Patient J was not involved in the story and, naturally, Bartholomew would not mention him.  Nevertheless, Harleen must be aware of Jaer’s fate and the role Joker had played in it. 

Perhaps that is what worked the miracle?  Having an unavoidable reminder of Joker’s homicidal mania placed before her when she was, however tentatively and unconsciously, resuming her old role as a psychiatrist and healer, may have finally reached that part of her mind Joker had so savagely damaged all those years ago.

It took only three minutes for Superman to fly Batman from a 23-acre private island in Tonga back to the Fortress of Solitude.  It took six minutes to get Krypto calmed down enough so they could safely use the transporter. 

Batman had always kept the cave transporters separate from the general circuit, so direct transport was only possible between the Batcave and the Watchtower.  He had to go to the Watchtower first and then allow his body to rest for ten minutes before a second transport to the cave.  He spent the time pacing.

“You realize you wouldn’t have this problem if you’d set your system up like everyone else’s,” Arthur said wryly.

Batman glared hatefully, and Arthur chuckled.

“Yeah, that’ll help,” he noted.

When Harleen Quinzel joined the Arkham staff, Dr. Bartholomew shared his colleagues’ lukewarm opinion of her.  She had acquired the necessary degrees, the “union card” as it were, albeit from second-rate schools.  She had the basic letters of recommendation, albeit from the same faculty at those second-rate schools that didn’t mind giving her advanced degrees.  Everything about her seemed adequate, nothing more.  But then, jobs dealing with the most dangerous of Gotham lunatics were not exactly in high demand.  Arkham administrators, like the schools that accepted Harleen to start with, would take what they could get.

Harleen’s ambition was obvious for anyone with eyes to see: she wanted experience with the “colorful” inmates because they were famous, a shortcut to books that would sell and a life of celebrity.  In those few years she was gathering material, Arkham would have an efficient worker, even if her motives weren’t exactly altruistic.  But no one, no one ever expected more from her.  Efficient, adequate, a nice girl, this is how Harleen’s coworkers described her.  She was never considered a brilliant psychiatrist with a shrewd insight into the human psyche, she was just Harleen, that new blonde in Jake McCreedy’s old office.

That’s why Bartholomew was so astonished as he began talking to her.  Harleen was a really gifted listener.  She was disarming, perceptive, and non-judgmental.  She didn’t fall back on the clichés of Socratic dialogue, the “what do you think that means” “how do you feel about that” and “does that remind you of anything we’ve talked about before?”  Instead, her reactions were… well, surprising.  She didn’t maintain the detachment a psychiatrist should, but she could get you to laugh at yourself, and that really was a marvelous route to self-discovery.  If one could put aside the self-important posturing and admit one’s own laughable follies, really, all things were possible.

But while one clung to those poses that really fooled no one but oneself, one was apt to…

Leland Bartholomew laughed at himself, long and loud.  “When one keeps on calling oneself ‘oneself,’ one tends to sound like a putz, and why is anybody going to take advice from any old putz that decides to open his mouth and start yapping?” he quoted from Harleen’s earlier barb.  “I, on the other hand, am ‘getting it on’ with Raven, a ‘bird’ who ‘none of those Iceberg loons could even get her phone number’—although surely the colorful Rogue nomenclature should not cancel out proper grammar and it would be more correct to say she was a bird whose phone number none of the Iceberg loons was able to obtain.

After eight minutes of forced conversation, Aquaman conceded that living on the ocean floor did afford a certain built-in protection from surface intruders and he really didn’t have the security concerns that other Leaguers might with respect to the transporters.  The water pressure alone, at several tons per inch outside the city domes, would deter any would-be intruder that gained access to a Justice League transporter.

After eight minutes of forced conversation, Bruce concluded that his body had enough time to recover from the first transport and he readjusted the coordinates for the manor cave.  Selina was waiting, right there at the transport pad, with a pitcher of martinis and two glasses.

“One night only, reprising my role as the owl cave slave girl,” she said without a hint of a smile.  “Trust me, you’ll want a drink when you’ve heard this.  I know I do.”

To be continued…


 

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