Batman and Catwoman in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 65 The Gotham Rogues

The Gotham Rogues
by Chris Dee

The Gotham Rogues Chapter 4 A Knight at the OperaA Knight at the Opera


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The Wayne Family were patrons of the Gotham Opera since it performed at the downtown Academy of Music.  Without the assent of Edith Wayne, the present opera house built in the then-unfashionable uptown area “above the Forties” would never have been patronized by people of quality.  As a board member, owner of the best box and a descendent of Olivia Wayne who founded the original Opera Guild, Bruce could not cross the lobby on opening night without making a dozen stops to chat with this person or that. 

Tonight, however, he and Selina seemed bizarrely out of sync.  They must have been having one hell of a conversation just prior to getting out of the limo, because they kept talking during their entire walk down the red carpet and into the foyer.  Selina even had her hand up to her throat, completely blocking the crowd—or the fashion press—from getting a look at her necklace.  It was such an unbelievable blunder.  You’d think neither of them had ever walked a red carpet before.  Then, once they were inside, Bruce went on being so engrossed in whatever Selina was saying, he didn’t hear Ted Layne, Meredith Grimes, the Endicotts, the Tates, or Mrs. Forbes calling to him until he was all the way across the lobby by the vintage posters and window cards.  He was polite enough once he realized, and he and Selina held court for quite a long time in front of a large Art Deco poster advertising Rosa Raisa in Turandot.  Like the vintage image on the stairs picturing Enrico Caruso as Pagliacci, it advertised an opera which hadn’t been performed in Gotham for many years.  In the case of Pagliacci, the reason was obvious: murder + clown.  People who knew next to nothing about opera still knew that.  The story of Turandot wasn’t quite as universally famous, but anyone with a nodding acquaintance of opera was aware that Turandot was a princess in Imperial China who was promised to the suitor who could correctly answer three riddles.  Any candidate who failed to answer a riddle correctly would be executed.  In Gotham, that seemed like tempting fate.  Nessun Dorma was a great aria, but it really wasn’t worth the risk.

Bane was beginning to feel he should never have left Gotham.  A man of his size couldn’t walk down the street without being noticed, not in Lubbock, Texas and not in Gotham City, but Gothamites were so accustomed to the unusual, they simply didn’t acknowledge it.  Whether it was Stephen Spielberg getting into a cab on 74th Street or Robin chasing a man in Hassidic dress and on rollerblades—right into the path of Batgirl waiting at the end of the sidewalk to trip him with a fire hose—it was considered rubishly unsophisticated to think it worth looking at.  A real Gothamite wouldn’t break stride as they glanced, if they glanced at all.  Bane found it quite refreshing as he walked through the Brownstone Corridor right up to Carmine Falcone’s front door, knocked and was admitted, without anyone giving him a second look.

The chorus sang, foreshadowing the violence that would erupt in Act II and bathe the kingdom in blood.  High above in the Wayne box, Selina leaned over and whispered “Remind me again why I like opera?” and Bruce grunted. 

Then he glanced at her throat, calculated the sightlines from the orchestra, the mezzanine, and the other boxes.  Nigma might not be in any of those places.  He might not be in the audience at all if whatever he was planning centered on the stage.  But if he was in the audience, Selina had to make sure he could see the hanzi on her necklace from any of those locations.  If he was backstage or on the catwalk above, that would be problematic—in another criminal.  Bruce wasn’t worried since tonight’s nemesis was The Riddler. 

Knowing Batman’s identity wasn’t always the advantage his enemies believed.  In Nigma’s case, he had sent a riddle, he had to anticipate Batman solving it, and he had to have contingencies in place for either of the two ways Batman might respond: He might have come in costume or he might have come as Bruce Wayne.  If the former, Nigma would have to be prepared for a nearly-instantaneous response time and an assault from a darkened area of the theatre—most likely above the stage.  If the latter, Nigma would have no means of determining where the attack would come from, but he would imagine a slight delay while Bruce left the box and changed into costume.  He would probably overestimate the time Bruce needed to change, but none of that mattered.  All Bruce cared about was that Nigma would have come into the theatre with two plans in mind.  To know how to proceed, he would have to see if Bruce was there

It was likely he’d seen their arrival—the dress, the hidden necklace, Turandot—it would be enough to ensure he was taking a closer look now.  If he hadn’t seen them come in because some part of his preparations prevented it, if he was stuck backstage or in some hidden compartment, he would still have to check the box before he actually set things in motion.  He would have to know if Bruce was seated there or lurking backstage in costume.  He couldn’t possibly pull the trigger on his plan without knowing that, and when he looked, he would see Selina wearing purple and black.  Catwoman purple streaked with Batman black.  To a mind like Nigma’s, it would be as clear as a signal flag.  He might be horrified, insulted, outraged, or even hurt, but he would see it and he would have to look closer. 

Selina wouldn’t have to play to his sightlines then, he would do whatever he had to in order to see and then— There!  There it was.

There were no men like Carmine Falcone in Peña Dura.  Men of his type do not wind up in prison.  When they fall, they die, sometimes by their own hand but usually by someone else’s.  So Bane glanced around the study to deduce what he could about the man who owned it. 

The furniture was expensive, but the springs sagged beneath every chair and there was a large crack in the wood of the sofa where the arm merged into the base.  Large men sat in this room—not large compared to Bane, but too large and heavy for the furnishings.  It was chosen to suit Falcone’s vanity then, not to accommodate his guests.  And when its unsuitability became apparent, he didn’t change it.  He was stubborn then.  He wished to create a particular effect, set the stage around him to present himself in a particular way, and whatever gratification he got from that practice, it was more important than providing the men around him with a comfortable place to sit.

Bane had remained standing while his host sat, which he saw Carmine interpreting as the deference of an underling rather than an accurate assessment of the chair’s ability to hold his bulk.  It was dangerous to let errors like that go unanswered.

“Do not make the mistake of thinking I’ve come to you as a ‘hired gun,’” Bane said, punctuating the final words with a sneer that said he looked down on such creatures from the same height as Falcone must.  “I am not a mercenary to be ordered around for gold.”

“I never said you were,” Carmine said with an easy smile that Bane found revolting.  “Let me offer you a drink?”

There was a side table with two cut crystal decanters on a thick mahogany tray, each a third filled with different shades of amber liquid.  Costly.  But no idea what you were drinking.  You’d drink what he gave you, Bane guessed.  He also noticed several deep scratches in the wood of the tray, similar scratches on most of the tables, and the upholstery on the chairs and sofa was worn.  Not threadbare, but like everything in the room, it had seen better days.  Everything was expensive originally, but nothing was well maintained.  The rich days were past, then.  Gotham Crime was not as lucrative as it had been.  Batman’s influence, no doubt.  And the rise of competitors.  It was a sad irony that the smaller the pie, the harder it was to maintain a monopoly.  What remained of gambling and the sale of drugs, guns and human flesh was now divided among many hands, as it had not been when Falcone first came to power.  He now had other priorities besides indulging his vanity.  Good.

“Why have you come then?” Carmine asked. 

He had the decency to remain standing after pouring the drinks, so Bane answered with an equal show of respect in taking the proffered glass and wetting his lips with the stuff.

“Because we have common enemies, Señor Falcone.”

“Oh?” 

That glib smile again.  It was truly nauseating.

“And when men like us share an enemy, there can be only two results,” Bane continued.  “We may be of use to each other.  Or we may get in each other’s way.  I will not tolerate the latter.”

Selina felt Bruce’s reaction more than hearing it.  A deeper intake of breath and a barely perceptible stiffening of muscles of the arm and leg beside her.

“What is it?” she whispered, looking at him and then following his eyes to the stage.

“The villagers that just came in from the left,” he said softly.  Selina looked, and saw it a split second before Bruce continued, “Look at their torches.”

A mob was forming in this deceptively tranquil-looking corner of the kingdom.  The villagers sang of a coming storm darkening the skies, and as they sang, they lit candles, filled lanterns and soaked rags with oil.  They wrapped torches and lit their lamps.  As the singing and stage business became more complex, the stage was becoming a kaleidoscope of open flames.  Ordinary fire is a big no-no inside a theatre, and the stage effect was created with special chemically-produced pseudo-fire.  All of the candles and torches burned with flames of an identically yellow-peach hue, except for those of the villagers Bruce pointed out.  Their flames were almost red. 

By the time Selina registered the sight, the seat next to her was empty.  Her lips curled at the Bat-vanish while her eyes darkened as she played out the next steps.  A different chemical in three of the torches.  Either those were Riddler’s men whose flames were different because they were issued their own Riddler-made props, or else they were ordinary members of the cast carrying the very props made by the scene shop—and Riddler had altered those particular torches in order to get some compound onto the stage.  It wouldn’t be an explosive or nerve gas, Eddie wasn’t that kind.  But it might be something mor…

Selina breathed in sharply as she saw a tell-tale shadow that no one else noticed.  Something was happening backstage, something cape-like had moved between a hanging light and the backdrop, and then between a different light and the edge of the proscenium.  One of the chorus members must have seen or heard something.  He didn’t break character, but Selina saw the reaction and studied his eyes and movements for any clue to “its” location.  Whatever it was, it was starting. 

Selina took a long breath and held it, shortening her focus to a patch of nothing just in front of her.  Tuning out the sounds of the opera was easy, but it was harder to clear her mind of those shadows glimpsed on the stage.  It was the instinctive mental process of one who was in those fights so often herself, deconstructing the movement and thinking through paths of attack and escape.  She let out the breath and waited before taking another… pretended not to hear the door open behind her… or the step that was soft but not quite as silent as Eddie assumed…  She waited with the patient stillness of a cat stalking prey, even though this time she was the prey.

Eddie was no fool.  He’d escorted her to the opera.  He’d sat beside her in this very box that night Bruce had to cancel.  He knew how much patrons in the other boxes could see, having been the object of a few pointed fingers himself.  He would know better than to risk chloroform.  But what were the alternatives?  Would he really press a knife to her back to make her come quietly?  Particularly when they both knew he’d never use it…  Catwoman decided she would go with a fast-acting narcotic on a pin-tip injector—when she felt the pinprick in the back of her neck, then everything went white…

Spotting Riddler’s men backstage was easy.  The ones in the costumes of the Act II officers of the king’s guard were too well muscled in the upper arms to be members of the chorus.  The fake stagehands had the same upper-body type as the real ones, but they lacked the beer guts spilling over the tops of their trousers.  Unfortunately, with the cat’s cradle of rope lines and cables crisscrossed above the stage, a batarang was too risky.  Batman was forced to reposition for every strike and take out each man individually.  Then he took a minute he wouldn’t normally in order to search them for some clue to the Riddler’s plan.  So far, he found a small device like a miniature mp3 player, whose function was not immediately apparent.  And so far, he was unable to tell if they were part of a planned attack or a mere diversion to pull him to the stage and away from the boxes—and if they were a diversion, if that was Nigma’s original plan or an improvisation to get him away from Selina.

Five men down, three to go. 

Getting to the next one required getting up into the flyspace above the catwalk—a spot Batman realized too late was a well-concealed trap.  As he reached the optimal position to descend on his prey, he felt himself hoisted into an upside down position where he momentarily resembled his namesake.  From his new position, he could just glimpse the electric eye he’d passed through to spring the trap, before a counterweight dropped, a pulley unspooled, and his body was smashed into something hard on his left, something harder on his right, and something downright  jagged above.  The last sliced into the body armor on his leg, but it also sliced the nest of cables around his boot.  A slight swing, a simple pull, and a batarang throw later and he was free, then it was an simple tumble to the—second trap, sliding down a slicked chute into… *koff* …a steamy oily blackness that smelled awful.

The Arkhamite nuns were holding choir practice in the basement of St. Swithuns when Joker entered.  He hadn’t bothered with a disguise, and neither had his ‘friends.’  The two hulking brutes he addressed as Ha-Ha-Harold and Guffaw-Gary were in mildly Jokerfied versions of standard mobster attire, but the woman... 

She wore Harley’s usual jester headdress, mask, and make-up down to the neck.  Except a white veil hung down from the back of the headdress.  There were giant pearls where the bells and tassels should be, and rather than a high-necked leotard, she wore a scoop-necked satin gown under her tassels.  The gown followed Harley’s general pattern, but instead of black and red quartered into trios of diamonds in reverse colors, it was largely black and white.  Her fingerless gloves revealed black nail polish on one hand, red on the other, and an improbably-sized engagement ring/joy buzzer on her third finger.  A small white satin purse hung loosely off her arm, hanging open with a few noise-makers visible inside, and in her hand she held a bouquet of plastic acid-squirting flowers with a few small “Acme” balloons thrown in for color.

“Everyone, I’d like you to meet Pagliaccia!” Joker said with a flourish. 

He might have said Medusa, because everyone in the room was staring, still, silent, and from all appearances, had been turned to stone.

Harvey was the first to regain some higher brain functions.  He leaned forward slightly, the name ringing a distant bell in a far off corner of his brain.  Pagliaccia—Pagliach—Pelliach—

“You’re not Susannah Pelacci?” he said incredulously.

“Not anymore!” she chirped.  Joker cleared his throat, and her bright smile faded.  “Susannah died at the altar, broken heart.  Very sad,” she announced, then went on in a more conversational tone.  “I thought about being The Bride, but that’s kinda been done.  I mean how can ya compete with Uma Thurman ‘all your severed arms belong ta me now,’ hee-hee.  And Bridezilla is such a cliché.  Mob Princess was an idea, but Cookie Dough said it’d be a shame to waste a name like mine.”

Jonathan Crane’s mind thawed out next.

“C- C- Cookie Dough?” he stammered.

“That’s me,” Joker said, seemingly embarrassed.

“He said I had a name that put a smile on his face,” Susannah said proudly.

“YAAAAAARRRRRHHHH!!!!” Harley screamed, lunging forward and planting her hands around Susannah’s neck.  “YAAAAARRRRHHHHHH!!!!” she repeated, digging in with her thumbs and rocking them both back and forth with surprising strength. 

Harvey and Jonathan leapt forward and pulled her off.  Susannah choked, and Joker giggled.

“Let me explain,” he said happily.  “There were these two chaps, looked a little like Ha-Ha-Harold and Guffaw-Gary here, used to work for Pagliaccia’s father.  Called ‘em, uh, what was it?  Chicken and Biscuits, that was it.  Not bad, but not hilarious.  And Daddums sent them to kill me.  Normally I’d just return the favor and kill him right back, but they also ginsued my dentist.  That calls for a little more payback.  So rather than dig another grave, I popped over to Keystone and picked up his little girl, showed her a bit of the old Joker charm—”

“You Harley-ized her?” Victor said, stupefied.

“In a day?” Matt said incredulously.

“YAAAAAARRRRRHHHH!!!!” Harley screamed, lunging again, but this time Matt Hagen was ready.  Rather than make Jonathan and Harvey hold her back, he interposed a clay wall between Harley and Susannah, then wrapped the ‘wall’ around her like a cape and spoke soothingly to her as he led her into a corner.

Two-Face glared intently at Ha-Ha-Harold, took out his coin and flipped.  Then he did the same with Guffaw Gary.  His eyebrow lifted slowly as he saw the face of the coin, and he pulled Joker aside for a word in private.

“How do you know it was Pelacci that ordered the hit?” he murmured, returning the coin to his pocket, taking out his gun, and squinting down the barrel as he pointed it in the general direction of Harold and Gary. 

“Keep my ear to the ground, Twofers, I keep my ear to the ground.  Turns out, this Chicken and Biscuits just found out about my dentist from that Carbon Fourteen guy.”

“Carmine Falcone?” Two-Face asked impatiently.

“Yeah, at that high end spaghetti joint in Harlem.  Big news, ‘cause Carbuncle isn’t the friendliest guy as a rule.  Sitting down for a plate of meatballs with out-of-towners set tongues a-wagging.”

“Uh-huh,” Two-Face said with a nod.

“Way I see it, Pelacci sent these goons to Goth Town without any idea how to find me, so they’re asking around, and there goes old Loose Lips Falcone…”

“Joker,” Two-Face said.

“Telling ‘em about the best doggone dentist to ever reset a Bat-knocked-out tooth….”

“Joker.”

“And they think ‘HEY, where would a guy famous for his smile who regularly gets teeth knocked out by Batman go to get…’”

“JOKER!” Two-Face said, pointing the gun between the clown’s eyes without benefit of a coinflip.

“Question?” Joker asked with a grin.

“Why did you bring them here?”

“Bring who?”

“Pollati and Biscotti, Chicken and Biscuits, why’d you bring ‘em here?  If they tried to off you and you’re still here, we’d expect them to be at the bottom of the East River by now.”

“And pollute the river with all that polyester before sushi night?  Think of the whitefish, man!”

“But why bring them here?” Two-Face repeated just as Joker said “I went with a barrel of quicklime at the Bludhaven dump, in tribute to their goodfellanous wiseguyenish roots.”

“Uh-huh,” Two-Face repeated in the same thoughtful tone, as if placing a second piece into a particularly tricky jigsaw puzzle.  “So the two who tried to kill you, they’re dead now.  You’re sure?” 

Joker made a wheezing sound as he clutched his throat, rolled back his eyes, and then threw his arms out stiffly with a final “Ehck.”

Two-Face took this as a yes. 

“Then it wasn’t Chicken and Biscuits that hit you,” he said definitely. 

“How do you mean?” Joker asked flicking imaginary dust off his lapel.

“Because those two are Chicken and Biscuits,” Harvey said, pointing to Joker’s new henchmen.

“AAHH!” Joker yelled, leaping forward as if he’d been goosed.  Then he straightened, adjusted his tie, looked at the two men he’d picked up at Pelacci’s own house in Keystone, and then looked skeptically at Two-Face. 

“The one you’re calling Ha-Ha-Harold,” Harvey said in his best opening statements tone, “that’s Tony Pollati, ‘Chicken.’  ‘Guffaw-Gary,’ his name is John Biscotti.  ‘Biscuits.’  Chicken and Biscuits, right there.  Are those the guys who tried to kill you?”

“Eh, no,” Joker said, trying to think if there was any way he could be mistaken and deciding he couldn’t.

“Why did you think the two hitters were Pollati and Biscotti?” Harvey asked, turning another piece of the jigsaw on its side to see if it would fit.

“Like I said, ear to the ground.”

Harvey resumed his old courtroom stance, and he paced back and forth in front of an imaginary jury box as he laid out the case:

Carmine Falcone sees two Pelacci men at Rao’s.  Carmine Falcone gives them critical information enabling them to find you.  He does this publicly and conspicuously, knowing word will get around.  Two hitters of the same general type show up at that location to kill you.  I’m assuming they wouldn’t have taken any pains to avoid being seen.  You wouldn’t be around to talk later, but somebody in the neighborhood will notice goons like that… Let’s assume we find out.  If you could hear about it, we could.  Then there’s the explosions that nearly torched us; mob fingerprints all over that.  Mobsters call and threaten Oswald, and Joey the Bull has a plausible grudge after the wedding… We all strike back at him.  But who else has a grudge?  Who else would stand to gain from the elimination of Rogues, but also gain from surviving Rogues striking back at Joe Pelacci, hm?  It is that same Carmine Falcone.  We come back to it again and again…” A conscious pause as Harvey had to stop himself from adding ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury.’  “…Carmine Falcone.  Carmine Falcone has the identical motive, means and opPETAL, NO!” Harvey yelled.

Poison Ivy had come in, seen the back of “Pagliaccia” and, thinking it was Harley in a bridal gown and veil, flung herself at Joker.  She was on his back and trying to twist his head off before Harvey quite realized what was happening.  Susannah and Harley both leapt forward to stop her—for exactly two steps.  Then they saw each other and both redirected their attack: Harley trying to strangle Susannah while Oswald tried to pull her off, Susannah trying to poke Harley in the eye while Scarecrow tried to pull her off, while Two-Face recovered himself enough to grab Ivy by the arms and try to pull her off.  Oswald got a kick in the shin for his trouble, Scarecrow an elbow in the stomach, and Harvey a face full of pheromones—after which, he was perfectly happy to shoot at Joker.  In the end, Victor Frieze had to ice over the floor so that nobody could stand, while Clayface erected bullet and acid-proof walls around each of the combatants.

The nauseating smile shifted, pushing out the upper teeth a bit.  It was the snarl of an animal, and Bane recognized it as such.  Another man might have scoffed at a creature of Carmine Falcone’s size attempting to snarl at someone like Bane, but Bane understood it was a reflex in men of Falcone’s type.  He had been threatened.  Bane had said “We may get in each other’s way.  I will not tolerate...” and the response was automatic and involuntary. 

“Just as I expect you would not,” Bane said, letting the threat dissolve into an expression of shared worldly understanding.  “So we must work together, mustn’t we?” he concluded, with an ingratiating grin that he hoped Carmine found as revolting as Bane found his. 

“I appreciate the offer, Bane, I really do, but I don’t see how you can help with the plan I’ve got going.”

“No one can help with it.  Your plan is shit,” Bane said jovially. 

Carmine walked back behind his desk, but he didn’t sit, nor did he react with the expected hostility.

“You only say that because you don’t know what it is.  What I have in mind is very subtle.  You’ll forgive my saying, everything about you is as flamboyant as the people I’m going after.”

“Your men are as subtle as a Colombian necktie, señor.  The least discerning of these Rogues can spot the uniform of Mafia footmen, even if they don’t interpret it correctly.  It took me less than a day to identify you after hearing about the men you sent after Thomas Blake.”

“That’s because you‘re new to town, Bane.  You’ve been out of the loop, so you didn’t jump to the same conclusion the rest of them will.  I don’t mind their realizing it’s a certain type behind what’s happening, I’m counting on it.  Because it won’t lead them back to me.  I’ve laid a very clear trail to a former associate who has just as much to avenge.  An upside to Harvey Dent surviving that explosion, he has extensive knowledge from his days as D.A.  He’ll know Joe Pelacci’s men.  He’ll know two in particular that are still in Gotham.  Once a few more details come to light about what happened to Joker…”

He trailed off because Bane was laughing. 

Laughing.

Laughing.

“I was wrong, Señor Falcone.  I said your plan was shit.  But even shit has its place in the cycle of life.  It enriches the soil, makes the grass to grow, the new cycle to begin.  What you call a plan won’t even do that.”  He leaned over Carmine’s desk, causing the wood to creak and groan under the weight.  “I am going to make this simple for you.  You have men and you have resources.  Your men are stupid, but that’s alright because they do what they’re told or they would not still be alive.  Your resources are not what they were because you manage your affairs like a pinche borracho.  None of this concerns me.  What concerns me is that you have men and resources.  I could say ‘They are now mine’ but I am not saying this.  Your army of thugs, your guns and your money, what markers you hold over persons in power, your bases and your places of refuge, all these are still yours to command—as long as you use them exactly as I tell you in the matter of these Rogues.”

Selina awoke on a Turkish ottoman from the 2005 production of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio.  She smelled mothballs… glue… and cigarettes.  The air was dry, dusty… and vibrating with the trills of a distant soprano wailing to the gods to avenge her dishonor.  The opera was still going on, and it wasn’t far away.  Selina waited out a wave of dizziness, then lifted her head and saw she was in the back of a long, narrow room filled with racks of costumes.  Eddie sat a short distance away, at the costume manager’s desk by the look of things, holding her necklace under a bright sewing light and examining it through a magnifying glass.

“This is quite a piece,” he observed. 

And it was.  Six large diamonds, each embossed with a Chinese character pressed perfectly into its face, courtesy of Superman. 

“This one is wèn, and that’s hào,” Eddie said, pointing to the symbols on the first two stones.  “Those two together are a question mark.  Then you do it again –  wèn hào,” he said, pointing to the two center stones.  “And once more on the end.  You’ve got three Chinese question marks here, ‘Lina.  That you’ve worn to the opera.”

“I thought you’d like it,” Selina said, sitting up despite a final wave of dizziness.  Thanks to the hangover, her voice had an early morning throatiness which, for a moment, wrecked Eddie’s train of thought.

“Erhm, yes, like I was saying, three Chinese question marks.  That you wore to the opera.  The Gotham Opera that never does Turandot.  Why do you think that is, ‘Lina?”

“Same reason they never do Pagliacci, Eddie.”

“I’m hurt, ‘Lina.  ‘Answer the riddle or die.’  Does that really sound like me?”

“They don’t know you the way I do,” Selina soothed.

“Better watch yourself, ‘Lina.  You keep at it the way you’re going with Brucie boy, you could wind up on that opera board and a dozen others just like it.  You’ll be one of them deciding ‘Oh we mustn’t do Zauberflöte, there’s that guy covered in feathers.  That awful Penguin will attack us with his umbrellas.”

“If that day comes, Eddie, I promise you, the opera will do Turandot and the MoMA will do a full Sanborn show.”

She smiled, like she was sweetening an invitation to dinner with the promise to serve his favorite dishes.  The very edge of his lip curled up, just for a second, then the proto-smile faded.

“Why did you wear this tonight?” he asked in a tone he seldom used for sentences ending in a question mark.

“To give it to you,” came the simple, straightforward reply. 

Selina ignored the expected appearance of white above and below his irises and the simultaneous contracting of pupils.  They’d played poker often enough, she knew how Edward Nigma reacted when you called a raise he wasn’t expecting.  “You had something planned for tonight,” she continued.  “I assume it was something profitable, box office receipts or whatever.  You gave it up to come talk to me.  This makes up for it.”

“How do you know it wasn’t my intention to knock out one of the high society types and make off with her jewelry?”

“Then what are you complaining for; you’ve got it.”

The lip curled again, and this time the tickle broke through into a reluctant smile.

“Touche,” he admitted.  “So, what did you want to talk about, ‘Lina?”

“You heard about the explosion yesterday on Madington?”

He nodded.  “Yeah, I saw something on the news.”

“It was Harvey’s restaurant, that Vietnamese place he likes so much.  We were having lunch there.  One or both of us was the target, and not an hour later, the same hitter took a shot at Ivy.  We’re pretty sure Joey Pelacci’s behind it, payback for the wedding fiasco.  Eddie, nobody’s going to take this lying down.  Help us contain it.”

“Why?  Riddle me that, ‘Lina, why would I want to help you?”

“In no particular order: you don’t want to see me blown up, don’t want to see Harvey blown up, Pammy blown up, Oswald blown up, don’t want to be blown up yourselfAnd—see above, Eddie—Turandot v. Pagliacci—you’re not a homicidal maniac.  You don’t want to see the city torn up, a massacre of Pelaccis and who knows how many innocent bystanders.”

“It’s helping him.”

“It’d be helping all of us.”

“Including him.  No, you’re right, ‘Lina.  I don’t want to see this tear up the town, but that doesn’t mean I’ll help you.  I’ll help them.  I’ll help them win.  And then we won’t have to worry about it anymore.  Pelaccis, Falcones, Triads, Georgians, Yakuza, and anybody else that doesn’t want to knuckle down and accept that this is our town, not theirs.  Gotham belongs to The Gotham Rogues.  They want an ordinary unmasked, un-shape-shifting, un-plant-women, un-joker-toxined crimescape, they can get on a plane and fly to Detroit.  This is Gotham.  Suit up to play, or get the fuck out.  That goes for you too, ‘Lina.  Thanks for the trinket.”

To be continued…


 

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