Batman and Catwoman in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 56: Armchair Detective

Armchair Detective
by Chris Dee

Well?!


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Jim Gordon had never taken to retirement.  The first weeks were unreal.  Released from the staggering responsibilities of a police commissioner, it was as though one who had spent his whole life in an iron lung suddenly found himself breathing free.  It was an unfamiliar sensation and a vast improvement in theory, but too foreign for him to feel really comfortable with it.  As weeks gave way to months, the unreality gave way to a hulled anti-climax.  It wasn’t relaxing to be so unburdened.  He simply didn’t have enough to do. 

Any break in routine was a welcome one, but the unexpected invitation to Wayne Manor was more than a break in the tedium.  Of all those elements of his former life, it was the partnership with Batman that he missed most keenly.  What other peace officers had formed such an alliance with the heroes in their jurisdiction?  Of those who had followed Gotham’s lead and forged those relationships, which could boast a crimefighter of Batman’s stature and skill?

It was a rare privilege to work with such a man; that was Gordon’s thought as he rang the bell.  So, like so many others that Alfred had led through the foyer and across the great hall since Bruce’s injury, his mind was occupied with the past.  Unlike those others, he was focused only on the positive aspects, until he reached the study door and saw Bruce’s unnatural posture in the chair.

“Thanks for coming, Jim.”

The words were simple enough, except that they were spoken in Batman’s all-business gravel.  The form of address was Batman’s, too.  It had been some time since Gordon let Bruce Wayne know he was quite aware of Batman’s secret.  With his daughter marrying Dick Grayson, it seemed petty to go on pretending, to stand there at the altar and give his daughter away without ever telling Bruce, Dick, or even Barbara that he knew the truth about his future son-in-law.  Masked vigilantes might be capable of that kind of compartmentalized hypocrisy; James Gordon was not.

Nevertheless, while they could speak openly now, Bruce’s manner was still Bruce’s and Batman’s was Batman’s.  This was the first time Gordon had heard the Batman voice coming out of Bruce Wayne.  That, coupled with the grim undertones reverberating under the “Jim,” there was no question that this was Batman and Batman alone in the room with him.

“What happened?” Gordon asked, pointing vaguely at the chair where Bruce sat.

There was a moment’s hesitation, during which the atmosphere intensified.  It was a surge that Gordon recognized.  All those nights he had summoned Batman to the signal, there was always that split second after he spoke a name: “Joker’s escaped” or “Scarecrow again.”  It wasn’t always a name.  Sometimes, the mere sight of a question mark on an envelope, or, most disconcerting of all, the mention of an item coming into the city that would be a probable Catwoman target…  That fraction of a second when Batman’s mind registered the information and connected with a word or name in all of its significance… then, after that silent surge, an ominous declaration:

“Sit down, Jim.” 

Gordon did sit, but Bruce must have picked up on the discomfort his portentous delivery had created, because he quickly added, “It’s not serious.  Not permanent, that is.  I am taking it very seriously so that it doesn’t become permanent.”  He paused and sighed, then spat out the details that so offended his pride.  “I had a bad fall.  It exacerbated the old injury.  Rest and anti-inflammatories will take it out in five weeks.”

Gordon took this in quietly.

“Have you thought to inform Commissioner Muskelli?” he asked finally.

“It’s not prudent,” Bruce said evenly.  “Bruce Wayne is known to be injured.  Batman can’t be suddenly out of commission at the same time.  Nightwing or Robin will cover when the signal is lit, just as they would if I was out of town on a League mission.  The Batmobile is visible every night.  If we’re lucky, Batman’s absence won’t be noticed.”

“And if it is?  You don’t think the police should be made aware of the possibility?  Let them prepare for the upsurge in criminal activity, and particularly Rogue criminal activity, if it is noticed?”

Bruce shook his head.

“Jim, due respect, they just can’t do it right.  What the GCPD is good at, they’re the best in the world, but they simply cannot do covert.  Anyone that knows what they’re looking for can see it the minute you guys start gearing up for something.  In giving them the opportunity to prepare if it were noticed, I would be guaranteeing that it will be.”

Gordon checked the kneejerk impulse to disagree.  He couldn’t think of a single instance that didn’t confirm Bruce’s assertion.

“But that’s the GCPD,” Bruce said, a new tone softening the hard bat-gravel.  “This is just us.  I know you’ve always resented my not telling you the first time, with Bane.  I’m sorry, Jim.  It was never a matter of trust or any lack of confidence in our friendship.  It was a difficult time, and my judgment wasn’t what it should have been—in more ways than one.  That’s no excuse, but I offer it up anyway, man to man, with my deepest apologies.”

Once again, Gordon took it in quietly.  He seemed to digest the words one by one.  While he was not a stupid man, the process took longer than it should.  The sheer power of the words—coming, as they did, from Batman—slowing the process considerably.  Finally, he signaled his acceptance of the apology with an awkward but manly cough, which Bruce answered with a light grunt.

“Very well,” Bruce said, returning to the all-business delivery of the rooftop.  “With those preliminaries out of the way, let me explain why I asked you here today.”

Cassie had no difficulty finding the source of the paper packaging Selina took from Fiona’s room.  Tourists who had never set foot in Chinatown before could all find Eastern Spring Elixirs.  It was almost impossible to pass through that part of the city and not see a dozen ads for the “authentic Chinese apothecary—the oldest and largest in Gotham.”  The store had often been likened to a magic shop in the Harry Potter movies (but only by visitors who hadn’t been there when the tour busses rolled in, which rather ruined the effect).  Cassie waited patiently through the show they put on for the tourists, the Q&A about acupuncture and herbal medicine, and the labored posing for photographs.  Finally, when the crowd had cleared and she had the personable young clerk to herself, she showed him the paper.

The clerk, who was a native Gothamite and a recent graduate of PS12, was used to tourists speaking to him loudly and slowly in an improvised pidgin English, often augmented with a homemade sign language, as if he wouldn’t understand anything beyond “Good morning” without a pantomime.  The soft-spoken Chinese girl charmed him with her shy manner and monosyllabic questions.  He thought he recognized a fellow-sufferer, asked where she was from, and if she knew about the cultural center off Canal Street.  He happily looked at her little paper, told her it was wrapping for a bottle of chang bai ciwuja, and that the calligraphy was definitely Mr.  Wo over at Ho Shou Wu.  He drew her a map, even though it was only a few streets away.  And then he told her his name was Jai, and he asked her out. 

She refused, and Jai asked for her phone number.  She refused again, and he asked if he’d at least get to see her at the cultural center.  They had some great programs on the weekends, he said, even some interesting classes.  Uncomfortable refusing again when he seemed so sweet about the increasingly lesser requests, she managed a quick nod and then left.

“Catwoman.  Investigating a murder,” Gordon repeated, raw shock blotting out the vehemence of his disapproval.  Once the shock wore off and he regained his equilibrium, he was pleased that he could answer Bruce’s earlier critique of the GCPD with an equally unanswerable criticism of its own: “Remember before when you said your judgment was shot after Bane?  Well it hasn’t improved, my friend.  If I had to call it between appointing that Azrael to step in for Batman and sending Catwoman to catch a killer, I’d have to say it’s a tie for sheer—”

“Then you’d be wrong,” Bruce interrupted.  “There is no comparison.  I knew firsthand what I was sending Azrael into, although I admit I misjudged his ability to cope with it.  But I had no inkling there was a would-be murderer at Watermill Lodge.  I never would have sent Selina if I had.  But, as it turns out, it was fortunate that I did send her.  She wound up being the key to the whole thing, and not even through orchestrated investigation but simply being who she is.  And that’s why I asked you here, Jim.  The houseparty is about to break up, the guests will be leaving Watermill Lodge, and if you don’t act quickly, then very soon, the following things will happen: a boy named William Foley will suffer some sort of fatal accident, and Selina might well be arrested for burglary and manslaughter.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Admittedly, arrest is a worst case scenario.  But at the very least, I would expect police coming to the house to question her, repeatedly, and the kind of ongoing scrutiny that neither of us can afford.  Now, Dick has been a policeman, and technically, he could act just as I’m asking you to, but he’s also my son, and Selina is my… You understand why it can’t be him.”

“Nightwing, then.  Or even Robin.”

“Oliver Lyon tried to involve Batman in this matter, and I’d rather not let him know that he succeeded.  I will have ‘Wing make the arrest if I have to, but I would prefer that it comes from you.”

Gordon laughed heartily.

“Don’t lie to me, Bruce, we go back too far.  You would prefer to take the perp down yourself.  Except ‘prefer’ doesn’t begin to cover it.  If you could get out of that chair, you’d mow down a dozen cops to get there first and take them down yourself, every time.”

“Yes,” Bruce admitted.  “And since I can’t, I am asking you.”

“So it’s a compliment?”

“It’s a necessity.  Jim, right now the killer believes this looks like a natural death.  That’s the only reason William Foley is still alive, because another death in the house would raise suspicions, and no killer will risk that if they think they’ve got away with it.  But he’s a loose end, and we both know murderers do not leave loose ends for long.  We also know that having killed once, it will be easier to do again.  Anyone they might see as a threat is in danger.”

Gordon nodded.  Lives were at stake, and for him as much as for Bruce, that was the first and last priority.

Mr.  Wo said he sold a lot of chang bai ciwuja, and he was sorry but there was no way to tell who bought the particular bottle that was wrapped in that particular paper bag.  Batgirl asked about white customers, and he said he had several.  Finally, she asked about white customers who bought chang bai ciwuja.  Mr.  Wo said he did have one regular customer, who was a tall, blonde-haired white man, that had only just added chang bai ciwuja to his order.

Batgirl pushed forward her paper triumphantly and told Mr.  Wo to write down everything else the tall, blonde-haired white man bought.

Fast-growing vines were snaking through the city from the west as a seductive purple fog rolled in from the east.  Bane, the chemically engineered monstrosity, rose from the pavement at the Westside entrance to Robinson Park, only to be covered over in green before he could even complete his war cry.  On the other side of the park, another monstrosity rose: Az-Bat, the abomination an insane Jean Paul Valley had made of Batman’s mantle.  Before he could draw his sword, he was enveloped in the purple fog and vanished into nothingness. 

Both advancing forces continued their movement towards the city center, but before they could meet, a giant coin rolled down Broadway, creating some kind of impassable barrier.  A Ben and Jerry’s billboard in Times Square found it amusing and began to laugh, spewing out the letters “HA HA” until they formed a whirlpool in the center of the square.  Streetlights, taxis, newsstands, and even Robin were pulled into the center, the cackling growing louder with each new object that vanished into the core.  The purple fog began to purr in reply, but the vines took advantage of the distraction and began advancing in a new direction.  It edged south towards a batarang that had fallen, unnoticed, into the street on Park Row, right on the sidewalk in front of Leslie’s clinic. 

With the omniscience that comes in dreams, Batman knew that when the vines reached the batarang, the boiler would blow and the city would be ripped to pieces by the explosion.  Except… the vines weren’t moving, and the whirlpool was no longer laughing.  There was just that purring from the warm furry cold… wet… 

The dream receded, but as Bruce’s eyes fluttered open, the purring grew more distinct.  Nutmeg’s cold wet nose pushed into his palm, while the sleeping cat stretched herself out in his lap.  Bruce rubbed her ear absently, envying the cat’s ability to nap at will.  Batman’s sleep schedule being abruptly displaced by a “normal” one, coupled with the painkillers and Selina’s sudden absence from their bed, had produced a nauseating weariness.  So he’d opted for an hour of shuteye before—

The cat’s head snapped up suddenly, full awake, and it took no great detective (as Selina would have said) to deduce the cause.  The manor walls were thick, and the approach of a car or the opening of the front door could not be heard from Bruce’s study—not by him.  But with the cat tipping him off, Bruce could time it out in his mind:

Park in the front circle, figure on moving the car out to the carriage house later if she doesn’t go out to prowl tonight; she’ll decide later, meow.  Get her suitcase out of the trunk, open the front door herself, clip-clip into the foyer, set down the suitcase, drop her purse on the front table, and clip-clip into the great hall.  Clip-clip, clip-clip crossing the hall until Alfred gets there.  “Ah, welcome back, miss.  I trust you had a pleasant weekend?”  Some kind of sassy rejoinder from Selina, probably reiterating that Catwoman is a thief and not a crimefighter.  Then: “Where is he?” “In the study, miss.” “Giving you much trouble?” “Not at all, miss.” Clip-clip-clip-clip…

Nutmeg jumped down from his lap and trotted to the door a moment before the clip-clips became audible in the hall.  They slowed as soon as she saw the cat.  A moment of murmured and predictable fussing followed.  And then a few more clips, and she appeared in the doorway.

“Meo-oh,” she gasped.  “Bruce… What are you doing on your feet?  You’re supposed to be resting.”

“Special occasion,” he said, kissing her cheek.  “Welcome home.”

They settled together on the sofa, and Bruce took her in.  He was used to her beauty, used to her smile, and used to her banter.  This was something else.  This was Batman on alert.  Since the moment she said she was leaving Watermill Lodge, since the moment he hung up the phone, something inside him began bracing for it—although he couldn’t say what “it” was. 

He knew he was proud of her.  She’d shown a surprising aptitude for investigation, despite her “I’m a thief, take it or leave it” attitude. 

He also knew she would be chafing from all the orders he’d given.  For as long as he’d known her, Catwoman’s independence demanded payment after any accommodation. 

And he knew he missed her.  The bed had been cold and empty without her, and the manor lost that sense of “possibility” that existed whenever she was in the house.  But none of that quite explained Batman’s heightened sense of… the helicopter. 

Of course, it was the helicopter. 

Everyone in the Bat Family had been wrestling with memories of his Bane injury.  Selina wasn’t a part of Bruce Wayne’s life back then, but Batman had been very much a part of Catwoman’s.  They had never talked about that time since they’d become a couple, not even the day they went through his hologram safe in the Batcave, not even when they came to the documents on the Order of St.  Dumas.  But he knew it affected her deeply.  No detective, no one with the slightest understanding of human nature, could fail to see it.  One had only to look at her hatred of Azrael.  If there was one thing Bruce understood, it was that passionate hate that comes from loss.  Batman’s sudden disappearance, and the unexplained appearance of another man in his costume… He should have realized what it would do to her, what it would mean to her.  At the helicopter, he saw it.

Catwoman had been there when he confronted Azrael to reclaim his mantle.  In the midst of the battle, a helicopter’s fuel tank was damaged.  Nightwing was down, Azrael was escaping, Robin was occupied with a mobster’s bodyguards… and the pilot was not moving.  He couldn’t pursue Azrael without checking the man and getting him clear before the copter blew.  And then, his peripheral vision saw that flash of purple—Catwoman purple.  And a voice called out his name, telling him to go.  She’d take care of the pilot.  He’d turned, fired a line, and swung away after Azrael. 

The chase, the battle that followed, there was no time to breathe let alone consider… it was days later when his memory showed him what he had glimpsed in that split second as he turned to fire the grapnel: Catwoman’s eyes, her face, her posture, everything about her was off.  Riveted on him to the point of losing balance. 

They had never discussed it, any of it.  Not as Bat and Cat.  Not as Bruce and Selina.  But now… the night in the med lab, even through the haze of painkillers, he could see the condition she was in.  And the next day, before he sent her to Watermill Lodge, she was almost clingy.  Catwoman the unconquerable had offered him a massage from a topless slave girl

Now he knew.  He knew why Batman was on alert.  He knew what his instincts had been bracing for since the moment she said she was coming home.  The helicopter.  Bane.  Azrael.  Here it was.  They had never talked about it.

The glad-to-be-home smile had given way to an air of expectancy. 

Like she was waiting for something.  The whole vibe in the room was “Well?”

“Well,” Bruce said, taking a deep breath and ready to delve into it.  “Welcome home, Kitten.” 

“Screw that.  Who did it?”

..:: Buys too much herbs.  Too much for one person.::..

“You got that right,” Tim murmured, scrutinizing the list on the giant viewscreen.

He had been sent to the Batcave to receive Cassie’s report from Chinatown, so he would have the full array of Batman’s resources at his disposal, Bruce said.  (Also, he could stop in the kitchen on the way downstairs, rather than having to stop at home before patrol and facing another one of his stepmom’s tofu casseroles.)

“This guy isn’t like Alfred.  He gets temp work and catering jobs for a lot of families.  He’s probably selling to many of his employers.  He might be selling other drugs too, illegal stuff, not from Ho Sho Wu.”

..:: Have picture.  Will ask around neighborhood.  See if he buy from triads.::..

“You have his picture?” Tim asked.  “Where did you get a picture of this guy?”

..:: Selina phone.::..

“Oh.”

..:: She take picture in phone.  Send on OraCom.::..

“She’s better at this than she lets on,” Tim laughed.  “Better not let her hear me say it though.”

..:: Did hear.::..

“Not you, Cass.  I meant Selina.”

..:: Oracle hear.  Oracle tell Selina.::..

“Barbara, you’re on the channel?” Tim yelped.

..:: Technically… I’m not really paying attention, Tim...  Kind of preoccupied looking up what these herbs do...  Phonetic mandarin translated into English is a little beyond Cassie's vocal abilities, so she sent me the list typed into her wrist unit...  I think your ill-considered words about Catwoman will remain a secret… long as Nightwing’s patrol is covered on my birthday next month.::..

“Oh yeah.  Lady can do nasty things with a whip.  Bludhaven is covered.”

..:: I want to go up to Vermont for the weekend.  ::..

“Sure.  Right.  I mean, it’s your birthday and you want more than one night.  That’s understandable.”

..:: A long weekend.  ::..

“Is there an end in sight, Barbara, or should I just figure on attending Bludhaven Junior College?”

“You’re smiling,” Selina observed.

“’Screw that.  Who did it?’” Bruce quoted, “It’s not what I was expecting, that’s all.”

She came round behind him, rubbed his neck, and purred in his ear. 

“I kissed you first, didn’t I?” she said, her tongue just barely making contact with the inner ridge of his ear.  “I thought that showed admirable restraint.  I was replaying our conversation the whole drive back,” she said, torturing him with that wisp of hot, moist breath on the hypersensitive flesh of his ear.  “I can't figure out what I said that could possibly…”

He reached up swiftly and grabbed her arm in a Nexi hold.

“If you keep tickling my ear like that, I won’t be able to concentrate,” he managed hoarsely.  “Please, just… this is why there’s no sex in mysteries.  Just… sit over there,” he pointed.  “Less Irene Adler.  More Watson.”

She went to the chair, laughing that, after all these years, she had finally short-circuited the great bat-brain—and at the worst possible time for Kitty’s trademark curiosity.

“Are you finished?” he graveled.

She put on her best rooftop temptress manner before saying “Hell no.  Brace yourself.  Here it comes…” and crossed her legs.  Then came the naughty grin…

“Now, I’m finished.”

…and a comfortable silence.

“You really missed me?”

“More than you know.”

“Good.  Now who did it?”

..:: Well that’s interesting.::..

“The impending death of my academic future?”

..:: You've got araliaceae root and chang bai ciuwa, both relatives of ginseng, essentially a high octane metabolism booster, and ma huang is an appetite suppressant, the source compound for ephedrine.  ::..

“This lady was a fashion model, Babs.  I think we can assume weight loss is her religion.”

..:: Yeah, but wu wei zi is a cough suppressant and asthma treatment that can also be used for insomnia.  Suan zao ren, an mian pian… I think we’re looking at someone on the standard pill popper's rollercoaster.  All the fat burners give her energy, but then she’s over stimulated and needs the sleep aids and anti-anxiety meds for the resulting insomnia, headaches, and stress.::..

“There’s no guarantee all these herbs were going to one person, Babs.  It’s almost certain they weren’t.”

..:: Well in that case, all bets are off, but I’ll send you the annotated list.::..

“Wait, before you do, mark off the ones that are related to heart problems.”

..:: Oh, that’s easy, the ma huang.  Tim, it’s ephedrine; it’s a vascoconstrictor.  ::..

“A wha?”

..:: I thought you were kicking butt on the medical quiz earlier.  ::..

“That was poisons, not diet pills.”

..:: You can be such a guy sometimes.  Just like Dick was, I don’t know what it is about that costume.  Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of the blood vessels resulting from contracting of the muscular wall of the vessels.  When blood vessels constrict, the flow of blood is restricted or slowed.  Usually results in an increase of the blood pressure, causes pupil dilation, and in men...  well, we can skip that.  Medications that cause vasoconstriction include antihistamines, decongestants, methylphenidate (commonly used for ADHD), cough and cold combinations, pseudoephedrine, and caffeine.  ::..

“It’s not a book report, Barbara.”

..:: AND taken consistently over time, it could be pushing her towards a heart attack.::..

“Ah.  Well, I know times have changed, but slow, long term poison is still a woman’s weapon,” Tim noted.  “That stepdaughter, Fiona—I mean, you don’t have to be a model to take a lot of diet pills, right?  The note Selina found was to an F.  There are three of those at the party: Fiona, Rick whose full name is Fredrick, and Richard Flay.  Flay wouldn’t be getting a delivery at somebody else’s house, right?  So it’s one of the kids, and I say it’s her.  She could’ve got the stuff and been slipping it to loathed stepmum all this time, a hopeful sort of crime.  It might never have any effect at all, and if it does, she can convince herself she didn’t have anything to do with it.  But then this thing with Rick getting married opens up all the old wounds and pushes her over the edge.  She knows her stepmom’s got a weak heart by now.  Gives her a shot to finish it off.”

..:: Couple problems with your theory, Tim.  For one thing, poison is still a woman’s weapon—with one exception.  A man that wants to make a murder look like a natural death.  Like a husband that would be the prime suspect if she were shot or stabbed.  Plus…::..

“Yeah, the second one I already know.  All indications are that Mrs.  Lyon was obsessive about her weight and she took the herbs knowingly and willingly.  I guess I just wanted to make the case, hear how it would sound out loud.”

..:: Tim play detective,::..  Cassie teased. 

..:: Yes! ::..  Barbara laughed.  ..:: Hercule Poirot laying out the solution for all the suspects in the parlor.::..

“For two batgirls on the OraCom, you mean… Although… You know what, I think it helped.  ‘Cause I just saw what we’ve been missing.  She takes the herbs herself, right?  So those who are close to her know that she’s been weakening her heart for years.  They’d know the extended rush of adrenaline from a shot of insulin would trigger a heart attack before the insulin could do anything more suspicious to her brain.  But the real beauty of those herbs is it’s a way to knock her out for the night.  I mean, getting into her room is easy.  Two in the morning, the whole household is in bed.  But you’re not going to risk plunging a needle into somebody unless you’re damn sure they’re not going to wake up screaming, and that’s just if you’re sticking them anywhere.  If you need to actually hide the injection point on their body, they’ve got to be OUT.”

Sherlock Bruce and Selina Watson were seated in front of the fire in the detective’s study.  Alfred completed the cliché, bringing a tray of tea. 

“If you make me ask a third time,” Selina warned, making a clawing motion.

“Okay, okay,” Bruce grinned.  “’Who did it?’  As you know, it was something you said on the phone that really snapped the case into focus for me.  Without realizing it, you drew my attention to one of the most intriguing features of this mystery, and you did it in a very specific context.

“I was not jealous of Clark, Selina.  But the way you teased me about it, that clarified a great deal.  Remember what you said about ‘another fop playboy doing what fop playboys do?’  Daniel Eagen’s interest in you was the key to the whole thing.

“You’re beautiful, Selina.  You’re sexy, you’re intelligent, you’re passionate, and no man alive would need an ulterior motive to find you attractive.  But you are also with me, and the last time I ran the numbers, my net worth came in just under $9 billion, not counting Batman’s assets.  I could swat Daniel Eagen like a fly, and there are plenty of beautiful women out there whom he could hit on without risking that.” 

His lip twitched. 

“To a playboy, one handsome woman is as good as another.  But he hit on you, and that started me thinking.  No one has a straight answer on exactly what this man does for a living, and a woman dating—or married to—a billionaire has a lot to lose.  Getting a rich man’s woman into bed with a hidden camera rolling and then blackmailing her with the evidence of her infidelity, that would pay the bills very nicely.”

“Son of a bitch,” Selina murmured appreciatively.

“So while this vague idea of blackmail is slowly forming in my head, you babbled on about casing a target.  You said you don’t want to spend six months establishing a cover just to get close to the Pattington tiara, only to find out they replaced all the diamonds with cubic zirconia after junk bonds tanked in the eighties.  That was it, correct?”

“Word for word, Dark Knight,” she winked.

“And that was it, the explanation for the one thing that’s been driving me crazy: why the diamond in that necklace was a fake.  Catwoman is no slouch at identifying jewelry, and at dinner you were too far away to make any kind of accurate assessment of the stone.  That means whoever made a fake good enough to fool the family couldn’t have been working off some sketch made across the room when Noel went to the opera.  They had to be in the presence of the original, up close, for an extended period of time.   And who could arrange that more easily than the owner?  There’s no doubt in my mind that Noel swapped the diamond herself, because her lover and blackmailer Daniel Eagen forced her to.”

“Okay, I’ll buy that,” Selina nodded.  “And if Daniel was our corpse, Noel is now our number one suspect.  ‘Ingenious, Holmes, victim killing a blackmailer is the classic scenario.  Only way to make them stop, right?’  But the blackmailer killing the golden goose, that's bad for the bottom line.”

“I’m not saying Daniel is the murderer,” Bruce graveled.  “I’m saying he's a gigolo, a creep, and a blackmailer.  It’s an important piece of the puzzle.  It’s the piece.   I was jealous, Kitten.  Not of Clark, of the other fop playboy.  I would have gladly punched him, and he hadn’t done anything more than give you ‘the vibe.’  Can you imagine if it was more than that?  Can you imagine what Oliver Lyon would feel if he discovered that diamond was a fake and worked out why?  Not only did his wife cheat on him, she stole from him?  You don't steal from men like Oliver Nathanial Lyon.”

“Well, I do, but—”

“No, Kitten, you don’t.  You never did.  You haven’t stopped to wonder why you never targeted this man?  He had a consultant advise him how to avoid tripping Poison Ivy's wire.  Given that his name is Lyon, I'm sure he's sought advice on staying off your radar...  Until now.”

“Wait, wait, wait, I did target him.  I looked into those famous Miros that he’s got.”

“And you didn’t bother pursuing it when you found out they were only prints signed on the plate.  He’s managed to stay out of your sights all this time.  Now, he invites you to his country house and very cleverly maneuvers you into paying attention to his wife's necklace in front of the other guests, i.e.  witnesses.

“You know, it’s bothered me all along.  I know Oliver and Noel slightly.  Well enough to be invited to the garden party or the clambake or the barbecue.  But the whole weekend?  It was a small circle asked to stay at the house, family and intimate friends.  Why us?  As soon as I formulated the theory about Noel and Daniel and the diamond, it all made sense: it wasn’t me Oliver wanted in the house that night, it was you.  It was Catwoman.”

Selina set down her cup thoughtfully.

“I should suit up,” she said tersely.  “I have a feeling I will need to claw something very soon.”

“Possibly,” Bruce agreed.  “Because that’s also why he contacted Batman a few weeks ago.  I'm sorry, Kitten, I had good reasons for not telling you.  I had a dozen theories about why he might want Batman involved, but I never came close to the truth of it.”

He chuckled before saying the next words:

“We were to be his alibi, Selina, you and me.  Batman and Catwoman.  He never wanted me involved with the houseparty.  He expected the brushoff.  All he wanted was for Batman to know the necklace existed.  Then, when Noel died on a night Catwoman happened to be a guest in the house, he assumed it would draw my attention.  If it didn't, he could always discover the substituted jewel himself in a few weeks, executing the will or for some other mundane reason.  As soon as it’s discovered, what he’s told Batman makes it all ‘elementary’: Catwoman swapped the diamond.  He can get a fat insurance claim to compensate for the ‘stolen’ jewel.  He may not need the money, but to a man like Oliver, pride would demand restitution.  And, most importantly, there's now a plausible reason for his wife's heart attack: she awoke in the night and found an intruder in her room...”

“Great, just great,” Selina growled.  “I just got home.  I just kicked my shoes off, and now I’ve got to drive all the way back up there to claw out that guy’s kidneys.”

Bruce couldn’t suppress a smile, although it was a sad smile.

“Don’t bother,” he said.  “Gordon will have him under arrest by now.”

Selina stared.  She stared at the fire, at the sugar cubes on the tea tray, at the fringe of the Aubusson carpet that the Justice League of another dimension had set on fire during her climactic dimension hop, and finally, she stared at Bruce.

“That is just INCREDIBLY UN-SATISFYING,” she declared.

“It's the fact that a woman is dead that is unsatisfying,” Bruce said.  “Nothing we do to Oliver at this point is going to make it feel right.”

“No wonder you scowl so much.  This bites.”

“Agreed.  But at least you have the option of going out tonight and taking out your frustration on as many bad guys as you can find.”

James Gordon pulled into the parking lot of the Briermere Market that had so eluded Dick and Cassie.  It wasn’t that he was that much better at navigating the backroads of Watermill, it was simply that Superman hovering over the intersection was hard to miss.  The Man of Steel descended and handed over the revised pathology report, as well as a statement the GCPD had taken only minutes before from a William Foley. 

Named by the Red Fire Triad as a buyer of semi-legal herbs and blatantly illegal cocaine, ecstasy, meth, and prescription painkillers, Foley was quick to identify which of his employers he then sold to, including Fiona, Noel, and Oliver Lyon.  Of particular interest was the diazepam and chloral hydrate purchased by Oliver Lyon.  It seems that Foley removed a bottle of herbs from his wife’s room shortly after her death, and her diet pills were laced with those same sedatives…

“Is that supposed to be a joke?” Selina exclaimed.

“No.  It’s frustration.  Only two days in this damn chair, and it’s… this not being able to do anything is driving me insane.”

Selina’s eyes snapped shut as if hit by a magician’s curse or a post-hypnotic trigger.

“Selina?” Bruce called.

“Shh, I’m counting to ten,” she hissed.

“Selina,”

“EIGHT, don’t claw his eyes out, nine, don’t claw his eyes out, and… ten.” 

She took a deep breath and opened her eyes with a serene smile. 

“Falconi Jewelers,” she said with a ferocious intensity.  “I grabbed a police van transporting three prisoners from the courthouse back to Arkham for the sole purpose of keeping you busy while I got Queen Anunaki’s golden dollhouse.  It was only supposed to be Harvey and Oswald in that van, but instead, I got Harvey, Oswald, and Joker.  Did I leave you to deal with the homicidal clown while I traipsed off to St Moritz?  NO, I caught him by myself and I left him tied up for you at the Bat-Signal.  Did I get so much as a thank you?  NO, I got a batarang thrown at my head, but that’s just you being you.  I then HELPED YOU nail Oswald at Falconi Jewelers, and when I offered a partnership at the end of it, you said ‘That’s not good enough.’  One and a half Rogues in ninety minutes—my first ninety minutes even attempting *koff*-fighting—and I got a Rogue an hour.”

Bruce was sitting absolutely still, his fingers interlaced thoughtfully, his whole manner that of a Buddhist monk meditating in a hurricane…

“Good ones!  Joker!  Penguin!  Not like I’m talking Kite-Man and the Trigger Twins.”

…or a hapless antelope that had wandered into a lion’s den and was hoping, if he remained very still, the lions wouldn’t notice.

“Always been tempted to ask just how many Joker and Penguin caliber fiends you nailed in your first two hours on the job.”

It was like she’d found some new-fangled way of breathing.  The words just kept coming without her ever stopping for breath.

“But what would be the point?  You’d probably just toss another batarang at my head.”

It was clear she’d been holding it in for a long time, her “How hard do you want it to get” moment, perhaps.  The night you’d said nothing, and it haunted you ever after.  Only six months later, replaying the scene for the thousandth time in your head, do you finally find the words.

“I mean for God’s sake, give it two weeks before you decide I can never possibly make up for a few purloined Picassos.  Two nights, even!  I’d already got Joker and half a Penguin, my average had nowhere to go but down.”

It was also clear that… that she’d stopped. 

And she was staring at him, apparently expecting a response.

“I really thought if we were going to be talking about the past, it was going to be Azrael,” he said bluntly.

“Well we’re not.  It’s this,” she said.  The passion had spent itself, and her tone was reason itself.  “I made a mistake, I realized it, and as soon as I did, I tried to correct it.  That effort resulted in the capture of two A-level Rogues in less than a full night.  You said that’s not good enough.  Bruce, you’ve been in that chair for a little over two days, and you’ve already solved a murder.  Is it possible that your standards are just a little too high?”

Alfred withdrew quietly from the room rather than risk betraying the dignity of his position with a cackle of triumphant glee.  If there was one single element Miss Selina had brought into the manor that none of them had ever anticipated, it was this ability to present Master Bruce with an alternate perspective of Batman’s activities, and to do so in a manner he couldn’t ignore.  Although his curiosity was keen to see what would happen next, he thought it prudent to step even further from the study door, lest that suppressed cackle of glee explode into a fully articulated war whoop.

Behind him, in the study, there was an odd rumbling coming from the center of Bruce’s chest, which meant either he was about to implode—or it was a laugh.  Alternate universe experiences with alternate reality Batmen argued for the laugh, and Selina risked a naughty grin.

“Okay,” he said at last.

“Okay what?”

“You didn’t help catch Penguin, you caught Penguin.  Your whip, his foot, the display gimmick, his head.  I wasn’t anywhere near it.  You stopped him on your own while I was still tangling with his goons.  Saved me the chase—and that was after you disarmed the thug pointing a gun at my head.  That’s two A-level Rogues in your first ninety minutes.  It is good enough, and I accept your offer.  Full partners.  You can start tonight.”

...to be concluded…


 

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