Batman and Catwoman in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 57: Not My Kink

Not My Kink

Week 7


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       … … … … :: Personal Log: Batman :: … … …
       … … … … :: Encryption matrix Delta36 :: … … …

My tolerance for nostalgia is now exhausted.  The back injury, the physical therapy, Riddler’s Greatest Hits… shattered hopes regarding Catwoman. 

It was an idiotic fantasy, this idea that once my back is healed and I am able to resume patrol, that she might accompany me, for a few nights, at least.  I even dared to dream she might like it enough that a few nights could stretch to a few weeks, and then, perhaps… Idiot.  Won’t I ever learn?  Investing in a fantasy that can never be, just because the night is cold and the cave is empty. 

That entry of hers from the night I was asleep: “Maybe it's just knowing there’s no one to go upstairs for.  It’s just me.  Down here.  With the bats.”  Did she even realize what she was writing?  No one to go upstairs for.  Just me down here with the bats.  How those words have haunted me.  Yet the dreams I had of her back then have become a reality.  It’s no longer an empty manor and a cold bed waiting when I climb those stairs each night after the logs.  Next week when I resume patrol, she will be there, just as she was before this damn injury.  She will.  Selina.  Warm and tender and alive...  If that impossible wishdream could come true, was it really that absurd to hope for more?  Continue crimefighting at my side once I’m back on the job, a true partnership.  Is that more improbable than Catwoman waiting in Bruce Wayne’s bed at the end of the night when Batman’s work is done?

Instead, she’s given it up entirely, while I have another week of physical therapy before I can risk the Batline.  Riddler is running the team ragged scattering cat-clues all over town, while all I can do is sit here coordinating positions on a map and picking up Catwoman’s bad habits. 

All those insanely chatty, pointlessly detailed, and completely undisciplined logs of hers.  Reading her narratives all these weeks, my own entries, even the unsealed ones, have become alarmingly introspective.  I am sure that will be quickly terminated once I return to the field.  Having a night’s worth of incident to chronicle will put an end to this preponderance of personal content.  For now, however… there really is little else to do until the next Riddler strike.

It’s clear that Nigma is unaware Selina has quit.  At first I wasn’t sure, the first clue was ambiguous.  The board game windows reappeared, this time at Macy’s.  Robin and Batgirl inspected them one by one and found a clue rolled up inside “Miss Scarlet’s” cigarette holder:

I'd say it's more purple than scarlet,
 But a bad girl's a bad girl all the same.
She's nothing to do with the lead pipe or the rope,
 But what's between the kitchen and the study is another game.

Obviously purple and bad girl referred to Selina, but as a taunt, that could have been directed at me as much as her.  As a riddle announcing a crime, it was absurdly simple.  Robin had it solved before he called it in.  The kitchen and study are corner squares on opposite ends of the Clue board connected by a secret passage, and there’s a new restaurant by that name in SoHo. 

So Robin and Batgirl went to SoHo and established a perimeter while Oracle ran the usual checks on the owner(s).  It wouldn’t be the first time a riddle appeared to name one location when Nigma really intended to hit the owner’s home across town.  Secret Passage, however, was not owned by a private individual.  It was part of a corporate consortium headquartered in Phoenix.  By this time, the Batcomputer had run an analysis matrix of the restaurant’s menu, printed reviews, and any mention of it in internet blogs.  Finding no coded messages or additional clues, we forwarded the lack of alternative targets to Robin and Batgirl.

They went in cautiously, expecting to find a crime in progress or about to begin.  Batgirl scrutinized the patrons’ movements, balance, and body language for any sign of concealed weapons or malicious intent, while Robin pinpointed the location of the cash receipts.  There, taped to the face of the cash register, he found a slip of paper with the following:

Do Cheshire cats drink evaporated milk?

It was hardly a riddle.  It was, quite pointedly, a reference to the Mad Hatter.  So Robin left Batgirl at the restaurant “just in case” and went to Tetch’s last hideout at Hudson Hairpieces.  There he found “A countryman between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.”  Obviously a Two-Face reference, so Robin proceeded to the old Flick Theatre which produced “CAT ADVICE: Take some time to eat the flowers,” i.e. Poison Ivy.  Wisely deducing that Robinson Park was too big to hide any sort of clue Nigma expected us to find, Robin proceeded to the greenhouse Ivy sometimes uses in the FloMa district.  There he was greeted with “Purranoia: the fear that your cats are plotting against you” and he noted that these alleged clues resembled fridge magnets more than riddles (an observation that should have occurred to him earlier).  Nevertheless, he proceeded to the Hudson U campus, since “Purranoia” must allude to the Scarecrow. 

Oracle conducted a brief search of the university website and found that office hours were listed for one name that did not appear on any faculty directories: one Patricia Urrano, Interdisciplinary Adjunct.  Or, as it appeared on her office door: P. Urrano I.A.

A search of that office produced “Cats' favorite game: ‘Ha! Made you look!’”

It seemed impossible that Nigma would send Selina to a Joker hideout if he thought she was crimefighting in my place.  However hurt and angry he may be, he is simply not that cavalier with human life, particularly hers.  And however irrational he may be, he is not so deluded that he couldn’t see the potential for disaster.  At first we were stymied.  If “Ha! Made you look” did not allude to Joker’s “Ha-Hacienda,” what other Rogue tie-in could there be?  It was Dick who came up with the answer.  He had been in Bludhaven most of the night and only heard the story from Barbara when he got home.  Hearing it all in a in the span of a few minutes rather than seeing it play out over hours gave him the crucial perspective to see the punchline for what it was.

Ha! Made you look.

And he did, the rascally psychopath.  But I knew Riddler too well to believe this was a simple prank.  A riddle points to a Riddler crime, that’s how he operates.  He could no more leave this string of riddles unresolved by a criminal act than he could commit a crime without announcing it first with a riddle.  There was more to come, I knew.

I didn’t tell Selina.  I still haven’t. 

It’s been a week since we fought.  When I read how she was ranting in the logs, I admit at first I saw it her way: the fight we had 984 times, as she put it.  Crimefighter vs. criminal, right vs. wrong, Bat vs. Cat. 

It was the same fight, at first.  If you can’t hold to your beliefs when it’s difficult, then they’re not beliefs.  They’re hobbies.  A crimefighter cannot go making distinctions between the criminals he abhors—the ones it is a positive pleasure to take down—and those he may find appealing if they had met under other circumstances. 

It was exactly the same fight, until it ended.  When it would usually end.  How many times had we clashed under that banner?  And every time, it ended the same way: Catwoman disappeared into the night and I finished patrol.  I returned to the cave, I sat in this chair, I typed up the log with as much detachment as I could muster, and I went to bed.  I didn’t sleep, and usually, I bit Alfred’s head off in the morning over nothing.  The realization started pounding in my core: this wasn’t the same fight at all.  She was standing three feet from the chair where I had made those log entries in the old days. 

The reality of it pounded like it would break my chest open: She wasn’t going to disappear into the night.  Crimefighter vs. criminal?  Right vs. wrong?  She was going to peel off her mask and take a shower before going to bed.  This wasn’t Bat vs. Cat.  It was what my father taught me.  “Bruce, we have a rule in this house.  We don’t go to bed angry.”
       … … … … :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: … … …

And with that exquisite feline timing, she picked that moment to flit through the cave.  I’m not about to stop working when she does that, but I have taken the precaution of setting an encryption matrix on all activity at my workstation that prevents it being mirrored on the overhead viewscreen.  If she asks, I’ll tell her what I’m working on, but until she does, it’s best to leave things as they are.

The second night of Riddler clues was at least free of Rogue allusions.  Just more fridge magnets: 

Cat: Murphy's way of saying Nice Furniture!”  

Science asks “How?” Philosophy asks “Why?” Cats don't care.

Nice kittens give you time to clot between attacks.

On and on.  Each little witticism was written out in heavy yellow marker on a thick green index card.  A careful whiff of these cards indicated the presence of tartaric acid, which acts as a kind of invisible ink much like lemon juice.  Once a catalyst was applied, parts of the yellow would darken—usually within the large sweeping “C” of the word cat—to reveal a new location.  That next location never housed a crime, only another clue:

“NO!” to a cat means “Not while I am looking.”

As anyone who owns a cat knows: no one can own a cat.

A cat’s worst enemy is a closed door.

I still hadn’t solved the real riddle, what Riddler crime this was all leading up to, but I was beginning to see another facet of his plan.  If Selina were still on the case, she would have been ready to strangle him after clue 7 or 8.  By the end of the second night, Robin had collected 84.
       … … … … :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: … … …

It wasn’t the same fight with Selina.  It never would be, now.  The Bat and Cat don’t exist in a vacuum.  Even if I wanted to, I can never look at her and see only “Catwoman” and it’s the same for her. 

We talked.  There was no cold, empty night for her to swing into with a Bast statuette that didn’t belong to her, and there was no empty cave for me to return to.  So we talked.  Once again, I brought up the armor.  She was so pissed; it was really adorable.  She thinks I’m “obsessing” on it.  In one sense, I suppose she’s right.  I have been haunted by the prospect of her being out there without it, exposed to all the hazards of crimefighting without any protective barrier between her and it. 

And suddenly there it was: the metaphor.  There’s more to “armor” than wearing a bulletproof chestplate.  The Nigma situation illustrates absolutely why she needs better armor, and it illustrates absolutely why she can’t “do” armor.  Armor is protection.  It is a barrier between the vulnerable inner person and the harsh assaults that crimefighting brings.  Without that separation, how can Catwoman hope to fight someone Selina considers a friend?  Her costume, as she designed it, is a natural extension of who she is: colorful, playful, sexy, and utterly exposed.  It is all out there.  She leads with her feelings, following her instincts as naturally as I shift my weight on the Batline.  Catwoman does what she feels.  An instinctive, not a strategist.  Armor, and the rigidity and discipline it implies, is not in her nature. 

It is necessary for crimefighting. 

Crimefighting is not in her nature.

So she’s back to prowling.  She’s not avoiding me; she still eats and sleeps in the cave.  She’s just gone back to her old routine and no longer patrols.  And she seems to have an odd sort of selective blindness to certain areas of the cave.  It’s as though she’s unaware that crimefighting is the business of the place.  Or to be more accurate, it's as though she's mad at Batman and giving him the cold shoulder while remaining on perfectly warm and loving terms with Bruce.

The contradiction isn’t lost on me.  She’s rubbing it in.  She’s saying she was right all those years ago and our life together now proves it.  I said it could never work: I am a crimefighter and you’re a thief.  She said I was a rigid, judgmental jackass.  Now we’re together, and I’m happier than I would have thought possible back then.  In declining to fight with Bruce, she’s driving her point home with Batman.  The only thing I can’t figure out is if it’s intentional.  If she’s got that much Machiavelli in her, or if it’s just unconsciously feline logic.
       … … … … :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: … … …

A cat's way of keeping the peace: Claw Enforcement.

By Night Four, his goal was obvious.

Cat \kat\ (n): small, four-legged, fur-bearing extortionist.

He wanted her angry.

Catastrophe: an award for the cat with the nicest tush.

So mad, she couldn’t see straight.

Cat (n): A walking ego with fur.

So mad she couldn’t think straight.

Catalyst (n): an alphabetical list of cats.

So mad she would make mistakes.

The moving cat sheds, and having shed, moves on.

Running all over town, location to location, never getting the satisfaction of a confrontation, always being met with another one of those puerile ditties.

Catholic (n): a cat with a drinking problem.

By the time she finally saw him, she would see nothing else, only the chance to wring his scrawny neck.  She’d go charging into whatever trap he had set for her, the trap meant to keep the hated crimefighter safely out of the way while his real scheme played out. 

Cats have 9 lives.  Do radioactive cats have 18 half-lives?

If it was me he was baiting, it would be a deathtrap.  But Nigma would not want Selina dead.  He would merely want her detained, and he would want it to be unpleasant. 

Curiosity kills more mice than cats.

It was a painful task, but I put myself in Nigma’s position and thought through the various ways to hurt Selina:

1. Kill her—he doesn’t want that.

2. Validate the Gotham Post’s lies about her—after which, she would kill him.  He doesn’t want that either.

3. Hurt Wayne—which he would love to do, but years of trying have shown it’s not as easy as it sounds.

4. Hurt cats—not worth considering.  That’s sociopaths and nascent serial killers, completely inconsistent with Nigma’s pathology and self-image.  He will certainly consider bluffing: threatening to blow up an animal shelter without ever intending to do so, but he’ll quickly reject it as a lame and shallow stunt unworthy of a Rogue.

5—a variation on 1.  Place her in a faux deathtrap where she is never really in danger. 

He would like that idea, since the illusion of deadly peril would require the kind of magician’s stagecraft that appeals to his puzzler’s mentality.  He would make a list of potential devices and get as far as sketching a guillotine or an iron maiden before he realizes the snag: it’s a magic trick.  Everything on his list is.  A few variations here and there, sure, but nothing that a moderately alert individual wouldn’t recognize from a half-dozen stage magician’s “DEATH-DEFYING” finales. 

Nigma is in a position to know that Selina’s hatred for Zatanna is more than a wild story from the Rogue rumor mill.  Mad as he is, he wouldn’t want to pull that particular tiger’s tail.  It’s one thing to deliberately punish her for hurting him.  It is quite another to give offense as an unintended waste product of an unrelated scheme.  His pride would balk at that.  He couldn’t let Selina think THIS was the best he could come up with.  He couldn’t let her think he was unable to whip up a plot without subtext.  He would feel it reflected badly on him.  He would spend a day trying to make it work, recognize all of his attempts as flimsy rationalizations, and finally give up.

6—a variation on 2.  Strike at her standing as a Rogue… 

I had progressed exactly that far when an image came into my mind.  Seeing it through a villain’s eyes, I could almost feel my lips curling into a malevolent smile as this ideal target revealed itself in all its vindictive perfection.

Catworthy.

If I was a villain bent on attacking Selina where she lived, what better way than to take a few ironic swipes at her stature as a jewel thief, as THE jewel thief, the one by which jewels worth taking are defined.  It was perfect.  If I wanted to punish her for turning “white hat,” what better way than to make her defend Objects of Desire, the very jeweler who proclaimed their wares CATWORTHY in 10-foot purple letters. 

I sent Batgirl to observe the building, so we’d have some idea what to expect when the vital clue came in.  Even after the exercise getting inside Nigma’s head, I was… surprised when I learned what it was.

EDIT: Unacceptable.  As long as I am participating in this indulgent practice, using the logs as a kind of father confessor, I must at least be honest about it.  I was not surprised, I was enraged.  For a full minute I could think of nothing but a gloved hand closing around Edward Nigma’s face and slamming the back of his head into the wall with a force to crack plaster—not to mention his skull.  A thousand times—ten thousand times—I have been gripped with fury in the face of some criminal outrage, but I have never actually, literally tasted bile.  Until now, I thought that a fanciful figure of speech.  Of course, in the face of those ten thousand other criminal outrages, I had the ability to act.  This sitting around “healing” does not foster patience.  If I knew where he was—and if I had been out there these past weeks, I certainly WOULD know where that sniveling monster was—I would scrap the last week of prudence, suit up, get out there, and introduce that precious cranium of his to the concept of a concussion.  Multiple.  Multiple severe contusions to the head and neck by way of a well-trained fist that knows exactly how much force can be administered to deliver maximum punishment without…

This is what comes of listening to her.  She thinks our life together proves she was right all those years ago.  Well, I was right too, obviously.  Eddie’s humanity, her good friend Eddie who would never hurt her.  I let her soften me, and it will never happen again.

The shift came on the third clue last night.  After “Cats do not keep mice away, they preserve them for the chase” and “Anything not nailed down is a cat toy,” the format changed to an actual question.

“Catwoman, are thy claws sharp?”

Still not a riddle, but when the catalyst was applied and the invisible ink darkened, no new location was revealed.  Instead, only certain letters darkened into boldfaced type.

Catwoman, are thy claws sharp?”

The key letters to phonetically represent “Catworthy.” 

In Riddler’s mind, Selina would be charging to Objects of Desire, intent on foiling his crime and pummeling him beyond recognition.  Instead, Robin went in.  He went in as a crimefighter does, through the service entrance, not as a jewel thief would through the skylight.  He proceeded cautiously, as I taught him, not blinded by rage.  He spotted each tripwire, each electric eye and trigger, disconnected the gas nozzles, and secured the fear toxin for safe disposal.

Fear toxin.  It’s almost inconceivable.  Maybe I was wrong not telling Selina what was happening—but I couldn’t stop to think about that now.  The toxin trap was meant to keep the crimefighter occupied while the real crime played out elsewhere, and I had yet to determine what that crime was.  Over 100 “clues” Robin had collected, but I had absolutely no idea what they pointed to. 

Selina came home from her prowl, saw I was busy coordinating reports from the team, and duly ignored the situation.  She disappeared into the costume vault, came out a while later wearing my kimono, and left a mug of cocoa at my elbow.  I think she kissed my cheek and said something about going to bed, but I couldn’t stop to focus on that.  Somewhere a crime was being committed in my city and I couldn’t see it.  Oracle was monitoring every conceivable channel and there was nothing.  Not a blip.  Robin had to go home.  It was nearly dawn and he has school today.  Batgirl gave up an hour later.  Oracle and I stayed at it.

At 9 o’clock, she found it.  Bank errors, hundreds of them.  Once the banks opened and human beings entered the equation, transactions began to surface from the previous night, transactions that no one seems to have initiated.  Hundreds of transfers between bank accounts with no apparent significance and no common denominator.  Many were at Gotham banks, but others were from accounts in Metropolis, in Keystone, in Tallahassee.  One would receive $3120 from another and then transfer $5100 to a third.  Eventually it must all lead back to Riddler, but we have yet to determine how.  Oracle is still crunching data, as is the Batcomputer, and while Selina is still sleeping, there’s nothing for me to do but sit here and… type. 

When the cat clues began, there didn’t seem any reason to tell her.  Nigma wasn’t sending riddles that required her inside knowledge, and his shenanigans didn’t appear to be threatening anything that would endanger innocent citizens.  If any of that changed, I obviously would have acted.  I would have told her that I respected her desire to keep a distance from all things crimefighting, but Riddler was now putting innocents in harm’s way and I needed the answers to stop him. 

If it was strangers he threatened, there would have been no question, no question at all.

Leaving me to wonder…  I mean, fear toxin.  He was going to gas her with fear toxin.

The situation was obviously more volatile than I knew—which is no excuse. I should have known.  A week since their confrontation.  A week Nigma’s been alone in his head, allowing his anger to fester.  Strangers I never would have left in danger.  So Selina was having a mood, not for a nanosecond would I have let that stop me.  I would have gone to her, I would have said “He's putting innocents in danger, I need the answer in order to stop him.”   For strangers.

But for her, I said nothing.  While she slept in my cave, slept under my arm, thinking herself safe and protected, I said nothing.  While that madman plotted against her.  My beautiful Se-
       … … … … :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: … … …

We found the common denominator. 

Such a rat’s nest of simultaneous transactions could only have been initiated by a computer virus.  This one infected the Cirrus interbank network via an ATM in Bangladesh—superficially.  In reality, the virus originated at a Gotham I.P. transmitted into a Bengal Central Bank ATM in Dhaka.  It was transmitted—with typically Nigmaesque arrogance—through the WayneTech satellite.  That irksome detail aside, the discovery of the virus was not a surprise.  What we had yet to determine was why THESE PARTICULAR ACCOUNTS were affected (and what any of it had to do with Selina).

As soon as she got her hands on the virus itself, Oracle quickly ID’d the pattern: the bank accounts spontaneously transferring funds to each other had all been accessed by ATMs in Gotham.  They were the last accounts accessed from ATMs at or near each location where a cat-clue was found. 

I had been scrutinizing these locations on 2- and 3-dimensional maps since the first clues were left, looking for any kind of pattern.  I found nothing of note.  Even now that the nature of the crime is known, I have been unable to find the crucial link between 133 cat-related fridge magnet quips and this massive transfer of funds.  The map, marked with green indicators at each ATM location, looks exactly like it did marking off cat-clues: a great shapeless blob.

Selina is up and having breakfast.  She hasn’t asked what I’m working on, she only asked if I’d been to bed.  When I didn’t answer, she brought me coffee and a roll, and set the latter on the table inside the lower corner of the hologram map as if she didn’t see it.  Impossible woman.

I have to tell her about this, of course.  The fear gas alone… it’s clear now I should have told her all along.  But there’s no time to go into it now.  She’s certain to be upset, and until this situation is resolved, I cannot have my focus diverted from—
       … … … … :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: … … …

Riddle solved. 

Damn him.

$3120.

The amount was repeated in a number of transfers.  Oracle says she noticed it, but it didn’t seem to mean anything on its own so she didn’t mention it. 

3-1-20. C-A-T.

The virus pulled account numbers from the ATMs at the cat-clue locations, so each account can be associated with a given point on the map.  Marking all the accounts affected produces a meaningless blob.  Marking only those that sent or received $3120 produces a very definite shape: diagonal 1, diagonal 2, and an inverted v with a small circle on top.  I recognized it, of course, but just in case I didn’t…

“WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?”

It turned out Selina could see the hologram after all.  She certainly saw the wispy, minimalist representation of a cat’s eyes, nose, and mouth now superimposed over the city grid as a series of ATM locations.  Hardly surprising, since she wakes up to it every day.  The watercolor called “Zen Cat” has hung in our bedroom since she moved in.  Before that, it hung in hers. 

“WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?” she repeated.

I took a deep breath.

“A lot has been happening that you don’t know.”
       … … … … :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: … … …

To be continued…


 

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