“So that was it?” Tim asked indignantly. “By the time Batman showed up, there was nothing for him to do?”
“Just hose them down,” Dick answered, taking a muffin from the dining room table.
“Well that bites.”
“Tell me about it,” Selina said, entering the dining room and going straight to the sideboard. She poured coffee, added milk, sat, sipped, and looked as put out as any cat who had its designated naptime interrupted. The demeanor remained for several sips, and then, at last, she gave a little shake and was her usual self.
“So, what are you guys doing here at this ungodly hour?” she asked. “Official breakfast meeting, or just poking around for news?”
“Poking,” Tim said. “BG and I missed all the fun last night. Trouble with one of the Triads.”
“Not me,” Dick said through a mouthful of muffin. “Bruce asked me to come by early. Something about taking his early patrol tonight.”
“Probably both patrols,” Selina guessed. “He’s going to Seattle as soon as Wayne One is ready. It’ll take the whole day. Maybe more.”
“The place he mentioned last night? The Meadow…” Dick asked.
“Meadowlark Institute, yeah.”
Dick turned to Tim and explained:
“In the history of jurisprudence, pretty much the one thing that Harvey Dent, Two-Face, Batman, and Catwoman can all agree on is that Arkham is not the place for Harvey to be right now.”
“Well, sure. Psych 101,” Tim said. “It’s where Two-Face was always sent when he was caught, right? So sending him back there would just reinforce the idea that Face is back. Familiar people, place, situations…”
“The other rogues wouldn’t exactly help, either,” Selina added. “They missed Two-Face. They’d be happy he’s back and treat him like the prodigal rogue returned. An out of state facility is definitely better. And Bruce has a lot of pull with this particular one.”
“A generous grant from the Wayne Foundation,” Tim grinned, pulling out the oft-quoted phrase.
“More like ten generous grants,” she said. “Apparently, he’s been keeping an eye on them for years. They do good work.”
“How’s that going to work legally?” Dick asked. “I mean, Harvey tried to kill that guy.”
“And he’s surrendering voluntarily,” Selina explained, checking her watch. “Probably walking into the Gainsly precinct as we speak. Harvey’s side is really very conventional that way. That simple, in-the-box, policeman’s mentality.”
“Hey,” Dick exclaimed with mock offense.
“Zing,” Tim laughed.
As always, Selina ignored the crimefighter’s outraged sensibilities and went on as if she’d never been interrupted.
“Once we pried Face and Ivy apart last night, Batman broached the subject and Harvey flipped the coin. First time, it came up scarred, and he agreed to ‘two out of three.’ Two flips later, we had an agreement. He’d turn himself in as long as he goes somewhere other than Arkham. Bruce says the D.A. won’t oppose it, and Judge Bradshaw will go along with the recommended sentence. Everyone at the courthouse wants this one to go away.”
“Which just leaves his scars,” Tim noted. “What’s the deal there? I’m guessing no more hocus pocus.”
Dick and Selina exchanged looks.
“You do it,” she urged. “You can do the voice. I can’t get that low.”
“Yeah, but you do the glare and the scowl much better.”
“Pfft,” she exclaimed. Then she cleared her throat and massaged her brow with her fingertips, getting into character. When she pulled her hands away, her eyes and jaw were set in a portentously grim Bat-scowl.
“If this regrettable episode has taught us anything,” she declared with I’m-Batman finality, “it is the fallacy of magic and the magical quick fix. Natural law is natural law. It can’t be broken without dire consequences.”
Dick and Tim both laughed, and Selina waited before continuing in her own voice and manner:
“Jason may have meant well, but—”
“But a man nearly died as a result,” a deep voice interrupted. “Vernon Fields was almost killed, and Harvey has to face the reality that he’s the one who nearly killed him. That’s going to be a painful, uphill struggle. All because of a superficial, cosmetic band-aid called ‘magic’ slapped onto a deep-rooted psychological problem.
“When Harvey is ready inside, I will certainly pay for the plastic surgery to restore his outside. The proper way, the natural way. It takes longer, and it may not be perfect, but that time and those imperfections are exactly what the mind needs. That, along with the proper counseling provided by regular, non-magic healers who understand from experience what the mind goes through during a process of this kind.”
“When Harvey is ready,” Dick quoted. “Don’t you mean if?”
“No, he means ‘when,’” Selina chimed in. “Bruce believes in Harvey Dent.”
“You sound like you don’t,” Dick observed shrewdly.
“I just got my stitches removed where he stuck a double-bladed knife in my arm,” Selina said with an air of offended feline dignity. “I didn’t get to scratch any payback out of Two-Face. I didn’t get to scratch up Ivy. I had to be unspeakably nice to Oswald. And I—mm-mm-MMPH.”
Bruce had clamped a hand over her mouth, mid-complaint, and now he spoke for her, apologetically.
“She’s had a bad week. She’ll believe in Harvey Dent tomorrow, as soon as we get her fur unruffled.
Batman grimaced as he noted the sign on the last swing of his late patrol. First, it was a simple “Coming Soon.” Then, it was “Reopening Soon.” Then, a “Grand Reopening,” and now, a “REOPENING GALA EVENT!” By the time the doors finally did open for business, Oswald would probably have a brass band, a red carpet, searchlights, and penguin balloons on the scale of the Macy’s parade hovering over the building.
That revolting mental picture haunted him as he slid into the Batmobile and started for home.
He should be relieved, really. The return of the Iceberg meant the end of Vault and the end of Selina’s stint as “Gatta Corleone.” When all was said and done, it had been a preposterous episode: Batman, the scourge of criminals everywhere, sharing his home and his bed with the woman half the Gotham underworld viewed as their queen. It was absolutely ridiculous. And even if she felt somewhat vindicated after all that Gotham Post nonsense, he at least should be glad it was over.
The Iceberg Lounge, O. Cobblepot, Proprietor. It was the one status quo he should be happy to see return. Penguin was trouble; there was no doubt about that. But even that nefarious bird was preferable to these lingering… he couldn’t even call them “doubts,” not about Selina.
And he certainly couldn’t call them suspicions. Selina had justified his trust in a thousand ways since he’d revealed his identity. What they had now, what they’d been through together, it went beyond trust and beyond intimacy, they were practically…
So why did he keep seeing it? The little looks, the body language, the trill in her voice. She was up to something. For weeks now.
His dreams had returned to normal. He was sleeping through the night. There was no hint of insomniatic symptoms, delusions, or paranoia. So why did it still seem like she was up to something? The little looks, the body language, the trill in her voice when she said his name, the way she’d been hovering by his workstation that day after he’d changed his password, the way she—
His thought cut off abruptly as he pulled into the cave and saw a dark shape up ahead where no shape should be. He hit the brakes, causing a harsh squeal to echo off the cavern walls, disrupting the bats and provoking a chorus of fearsome squeaking in return.
Batman ignored them as he got out of the car. He was long used to the bats in all of their moods. He was not used to surprises, not in his Batcave. He walked up to the shape—now recognizable as much more than a shape—taking up a full space in the Batmobile hangar. The space reserved for the car currently in use.
Batman stared at it for a full ten seconds, trying to process the sight…
Then he glanced back at the Batmobile behind him for comparison…
And, once again, at the sight in front of him…
It was… He glanced back and glanced forward again… It was… it was…
It was a Batmobile, all right, but… beyond that, it was…
It used the Belz variation on the Williams headlights and hood, and the Barbato wave over the wheel mounts to minimize wind resistance. It used the Avery grill and rear design around the thrusters… The Mitchell… The Effler… The Oshira… All the patents he had tagged over the last year to incorporate into the next Batmobile… How was this possible? Did it come through a time warp?
Another possibility dropped like an anvil into his gut: What if… what if at some point in his paranoid insomniac loopiness, he had actually ordered a new car and didn’t remember doing it?
It didn’t seem possible that he could have been that far gone. It was only diminished REM cycles manifesting in a few fanciful suspicions about Alfred and Selina…
Alfred and Selina.
Selina and Alfred.
As if in answer, three moments with Selina flashed through his mind with crystal clarity: A Catwoman on a rooftop long ago: “I don’t want to help, but I might be helpful…” Selina in bed only a few months ago reminding him of that night: “When I gave you a heads up on that warehouse full of mob cash…” Followed by “Would you have an aneurysm if the Foundation got an anonymous donation for, say, $800,000?”
“SELINA!” he bellowed.
..:: VOXRec initialized, ::.. the car said in a mechanized monotone. ..:: Specify name for this voiceprint, or delete and start again.::..
Bruce closed his eyes and shook his head, forcing down a whirlwind of conflicting emotion.
“Initialize voiceprint Batman. Make primary,” he said wearily. “Download VOX command menu from main computer. Purge all preinstalled menus and defaults.”
..:: Confirm deletion of unplayed message ‘Meow’::..
..:: Download complete. Confirm deletion of unplayed message ‘Meow’::..
“Negative. Play message.”
..:: Hey, Handsome,::.. the car emitted in a familiar, sexy drawl. ..:: I’m sure being the world’s greatest detective and all, you’ve figured out that it was Alfred who gave me the heads up on that little town in Emilia-Romagna halfway between Bologna and Modena where they make nothing but casks for balsamic vinegar and really hot cars.
..:: Consider this a parting gift from the only Gotham crime boss who liked to see you show up in the blue because it brings out your eyes. Also the only one you’re going to thank with a foot rub. Meow, Gatta Corleone.::..