Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 66 Wayne Rises

Wayne Rises
by Chris Dee

Wayne Rises Chapter 6 DiscreetDiscreet


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I’ve never been one of those women who makes her fingernails into a prop, buffing and scrutinizing the sheen to express pointed disinterest in the conversation.  There’s too much carryover from Catwoman’s claws, usually.  Which is why I did it now with Bruce.  With Eddie, with Jason Blood, even with Barbara or Cassie it would have that distant echo of a threat.  In the passenger seat of the Lamborghini while Bruce turned onto 73rd Street, it hit just the right note.

“You're clear on the plan?” he graveled, slowing to a stop as a Hummer limo changed lanes in front of us. 

“I am clear on the plan,” I said. “I am also clear on the pre-plan where you have to compulsively check if I am clear on the plan as if I'm some concussed sidekick who's never done this before.”

“It's just that we can't break character once the valet opens the door.”

"I am aware of that aspect of the pre-plan where you have to remind me that we can't break character, as if I am not only a sidekick who's never done this before, I am also a moron."

He grunted and we came to a stop at the intersection.  I examined my nail polish, finger-buffed my left index with the middle finger of my right, and let the memories of claws sinking into bat-armor rise if they wished.  If they didn’t, the casual ‘look at me not listening to you’ that the gesture would mean from any other woman would work just as well.

Despite the cozy picture of us going to dinner together—Bruce and Selina against the world—we were no longer partners; we were competitors.  He was going after Falstaff (with a headful of immovable, implacable, intractable, bat-stubborn certainty that it was really Ra’s al Ghul he was fighting behind the scenes).  I was going after the cat burglar. 

And I was going to win. 

I simply had to.  Losing was not an option.  Not on this. 

The limo completed its lane change, and the car inched towards the intersection where we came to a stop again at the traffic light.  Five minutes, Miss Kyle, I heard in my mind’s ear.  I smiled to myself every night when the stage manager at the Hijinx rapped on my dressing room door with that little bulletin.  That luxury of a countdown, not something we enjoy on Gotham rooftops: Places, please. 5 minutes to the bat-shadow appearing from the skylight before you’ve even picked off the last number of the combination...

Five minutes to curtain. 

I walked out on that stage every night to prove I wasn’t in jail.  The Post had written a perfectly ludicrous series of articles that I’d been captured—not even by Batman but by ordinary police in the most insultingly obvious of snares—tricked into a plea bargain I didn't understand, and was languishing in jail.  It was six insults too many from a newspaper that had done nothing but belittle and misrepresent me for years, and I’d had enough.  I wanted to call them out as publicly as possible.  And it worked.  Every night I walked out on that stage, it proved to another hundred people that the woman in prison who the tabloids kept saying was me couldn’t possibly be the real Catwoman.

Now here I was, about to do it again.  Except this time, it wouldn't be “5 minutes to curtain;” it would be “Falstaff party of three, your table is ready.”  I wouldn't be entering stage right at the Hijinx; I would following some maître d’ across  the dining room at Discreet.  And this time I wasn't a solo act.  This time, Bruce would be right there with me.

If he wasn't such a jackass, we might enjoy it.

“Remember, any allusions to Sub Diego, Atlantis or Wayne Tech, leave it to me,” he said once the light changed and we started to move again.

It sucked.  When I’d done this before, I had never seen Batman’s face, I didn't know his name, we hadn't even made love.  Now we were together.  If he hadn’t made such a mess out of that proposal, we might even be engaged.  Sharing this ironic echo of Cat-Tales together would be a kick.  Instead…

“And if he mentions the press conference…” this as we reached 76th street.

“We didn’t see the press conference, we were having a late lunch together in the penthouse,” I recited, “Lucius told us the highlights after, when we got back to the office.  And if Falstaff is left with the impression that this ‘late lunch’ is code for steaming up the sheets, so much the better.”

Oh that it were true. 

Bruce wanted Falstaff to think the day’s events: his big move against the Foundation and the theatrical playout of the press conference, didn’t rate his personal attention.  And the reason he wanted Falstaff to think that—the reason ‘having sex with Selina’ was his chosen alternate activity—was because he was so damn convinced it was Ra’s al Ghul behind the whole thing.

“It’s Ra’s.” 

There I was, back in that elevator with Bruce.  “Cave or penthouse, whatever you want,” he’d said, and then we sparked and spatted and it came out that the reason he’d been so weird in the bedroom this morning—the reason he’d told me to “Go” with that ponderous finality—was because he decided Ra’s was behind this whole thing. 

“It’s Ra’s.” 

I couldn’t get the words out of my head as I followed him out of the elevator into the Batcave, couldn’t get them out of my head while he tuned in the press conference and that big silver GCN logo appeared on the screen.

At first, I could barely see.  There was this pressure of pure rage pounding behind my eyes as I’d followed him through the cave.  He was making this about Ra’s too.  First he let the overhyped goatherd into my marriage proposal, and now the cat burglar and Falstaff and the attacks on the Foundation were all about Ra’s too.  I wanted to scream.  I wanted to dig my claws into bat-armor and pull.  I wanted to slap him so hard right across the face, and I wanted to smash the nearest Wayne Tech screen with the nearest anything capable of doing the job—which was a fire extinguisher, I decided. 

Of course the fury had spiked in the few seconds it took to cross the cave.  Bruce was already at the workstation and tuning in the press conference—on the smallest screen on the console, where he could look down on it, rather than the big monitor where we would have to look up.  (“Ra’s al Ghul’s stand-in cannot be allowed to have that kind of presence over my cave.”)

Then Falstaff started to talk, and Bruce’s words from the elevator started to echo in my head.  “It’s Ra’s.  Selina, it is Ra’s…”

Falstaff was at his podium, with that big red hexagon logo in front like a presidential seal, and a dozen microphones lining the top which could not possibly be necessary in this day and age.  And his mouth was moving, but all I heard was Bruce saying “It’s Ra’s.  Selina, it is Ra’s…”

He began by bringing Gotham up to speed on the story thus far, reasonably assuming that anyone who wasn’t at the epicenter would have had better things to do than feverishly tracking the drama across multiple news sites like some internet soap opera-scavenger hunt.  That much was a fair assumption, but the way he framed ‘the story thus far,’ that was… a symphony.  A bad, atonal symphony, but a symphony none the less.  All the little motifs that had wafted in and out of Falstaff’s appearances were coming together into a full orchestral rondo:

First, Gregorian Falstaff loved Wayne Tech.  His admiration for the company, its projects and its potential knew no limits.  He wanted to express that publicly after the Water Ball, having seen such wonders displayed there.  He simply had to jot down a few thoughts of deserved praise, and the good people at the Gotham Times, finding his sentiments worthy, saw fit to print them in the morning edition.

He was appalled—shocked, dismayed and appalled—that these ‘few modest thoughts’ jotted down with the very best of intentions had brought so much grief to his good friend Bruce Wayne since their publication.  Opportunists at the Gotham Observer—opportunists who did not merit the name journalists and brought shame on that noble profession—had used his praise for the company to launch a spurious attack on the man!  It was alleged that Gotham’s elite had shunned Falstaff on Bruce Wayne’s behalf, because of some imagined slight, when nothing could be further from the truth!  He and Bruce were the best of friends, which is what made the day’s events so troubling.

These soulless opportunists at the Gotham Observer, not content with bastardizing and misrepresenting Falstaff’s own words to smear his friend, went on to link Wayne’s girlfriend and his Foundation to the cat burglar, who has, it is true, been preying on Foundation donors while they were attending various fundraisers.  It was alleged that Wayne gave Selina Kyle access to sensitive information about Foundation donors, then used his influence to cover up the police investigation which, understandably, identified her as a prime suspect.  He then used his influence to ‘vanish’ all traces of her arrest this very afternoon, when GPD officers seized Foundation files and marched Selina Kyle out of the building in handcuffs.  Since the story broke, Foundation donors were withdrawing their support en masse, so Falstaff had called this press conference.  He felt he simply had no choice, as the one voice who could yet be heard above the madness, to set the record straight before any more damage was done to the Wayne Foundation and its important work.

First and foremost, Selina Kyle had not been arrested…

“That’s a relief,” Bruce said dryly.

And I grunted.  It seemed the only proper response.

…The video which had been “splashed all over the internet” purporting to be GPD officers leaving the Wayne Tower with those files had already been debunked as a fake…

“My head is starting to hurt,” I murmured.  “He faked a video so he could denounce it as a fake?  Like those crazies who set fires in order to call it in and be the hero?”

“But not for the praise and attention.  To manufacture a reason to hold a press conference.  We still haven’t seen what he’s really after,” Bruce said.

…My arrest was a complete fabrication, Falstaff went on to assure the world.  He said ‘a number of conspiracy websites’ were claiming photos and videos of my arrest had been vanished from the internet within minutes of being posted.  This, he assured all non-tinfoil-hat-wearers, was rubbish.  The alleged photos had not been ’vanished’ because they had never existed.  Selina Kyle had never been arrested, as press and public would see tonight, since she and Bruce Wayne were joining him for dinner at Discreet.

But what upset Falstaff most of all was “the one aspect of the story which was all too regrettably true,” that donors were deserting the Wayne Foundation in droves.  He was mortified and appalled at how quick the cognoscenti had been to believe these preposterous stories, how naïve and foolish they were to take such degrading libels at face value.  The day had indeed seen a mass defection of donors, and why?  The mere suggestion that the police were investigating?  A false report that Bruce had allowed his girlfriend access to files with their personal information?  The remote possibility that these files had been seized and the police might come and question them?  Falstaff simply could not allow these shallow and superficial fools to wreak such havoc on the important work the Wayne Foundation was doing with Sub Diego.  He was therefore creating the Falstaff Fund to partner with Wayne.  Any donors who were no longer comfortable entrusting their money to Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle could now funnel their charity through the Falstaff Fund knowing it would reach the same destination, protected by the independent oversight his organization could provide…

My head was swimming. 

“It’s an old gambit,” Bruce murmured, switching off the feed but leaving his fingers resting lightly on the controls. “Publicly announce something like this as if it’s already been agreed to, having created a climate where it’s almost impossible for us to contradict him.” 

“Like hell we can’t.  You can pick up the phone right now and put out a statement: ‘Mr. Falstaff is mistaken.  Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are dining at d’Annunzio’s tonight with Mr. and Mrs. Grayson.  Mr. Falstaff is not expected.  There has been no withdrawal of Foundation donors and the Falstaff Fund is not partnering with anybody—”

“And that denial prolongs the story.  People start chiming in on both sides, even those that think they’re helping us give it oxygen.”

“So you want to play along with this.  Dance to his tune, give him a false sense of confidence while we figure out how to take him down?”

“Something like that,” he graveled.  “Objection?”

I shook my head.  I knew it was a good plan, I knew it was probably the best way to proceed, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth.  It was just so… Ra’s 101.  Playing along.  Let the spawn capture him, get himself taken inside as a prisoner…  That and the way his hand hadn’t moved from the console, I had a sudden, sick premonition of what was coming an instant before it happened. 

“DefCon 4,” he graveled, his hand moving abruptly over the controls with Bat-like speed and focus.  “This cave and the other satellites are shut down, effective immediately.  I’m purging the database you’ve been working on from all cave systems. Your laptop goes into the shredder. Lucius’s too.  It’s not enough to just mothball that DataLock project, all traces of it have to be destroyed—Shut up.”  (That in response to nothing.  I hadn’t say a word; I don’t think I’d even taken a breath.)  “Selina, I know it’s a name you don’t want to hear from me, but this is Ra’s al Ghul at work, and your temper is no longer a priority.  You’ve said it a hundred times: He doesn’t have new ideas, he recycles the old ones.  And this is the protocols all over again.  I, I can’t believe I did this.  I can’t believe I didn’t see it, I’ve opened the door for him to do it again just like before.”

“Bruce, calm the fuck down,” I managed.  “There’s nothing even slightly—”

“I have had you analyzing the Foundation donors’ property—Forget the nonsense he’s alluding to about having access to Madison’s files, I’ve had you examining the donors one at a time, spelling out what they’ve got that’s worth taking and why, and mapping out how you’d go about it!  It’s right there—I—I asked you to do it.  I actually enjoyed reading it—Analyses of the potential loot and the security protecting it, and how you’d go about defeating it.  In light of what’s going on with the cat burglar, it’s the most incriminating document imaginable, and it’s in the cave systems, the same ones he penetrated to get the protocols.  He used those to strike at Clark and the others in exactly the way I laid out.  If he got his hands on what you’ve been doing for me, he could—”

“He could what?  Bruce, forget for a minute that he’s not inside your head or mine and has no idea that database even exists.  Forget that he has no way of getting into the cave or into your files like he did before.  Forget all of that and just consider this: You’re Batman.  And neither you nor the GPD, Scotland Yard or Interpol could ever nail me for the stuff I actually did.  I’m really not sweating whatever Ra’s al Ghul might spin out of thin air—if he’s even involved, and I’m not seeing any evidence for that other than—”

“Other than?”

“You wanting him to be.  Gets you off the hook for the MoMA.  ‘See, Kitten, he really is the boogie man hiding under every bed.’”

“Fine, don’t believe it’s Ra’s al Ghul and don’t ‘sweat it’ if it is.  Just wipe the database anyway and turn over your laptop because I’m asking.  There was a time if Batman came to you with a request like that, you’d agree.”

I had to think about that for a minute. 

Mad as I was… he wasn’t entirely wrong.  He wouldn’t have called it a ‘request’ back then.  And I would have given him a hard time.  I would have hissed and scratched, but I would have done it his way in the end, because he’s Batman and when it comes to things like DEMON, he does tend to know what’s what.  If we’re talking Phoenix 9000s or safe deposit boxes, I expect him to defer to me.  If it’s Ra’s al Ghul…

Yeah, if it’s Ra’s al Ghul.  That was still the question.  In my bones, I was starting to wonder.  Falstaff was so over the top, first in his contempt and later in his praise.  So lacking in subtlety.  So focused on Bruce… and so constipated.  This whole plot he was hatching was needlessly elaborate, pointlessly convoluted and completely constipated.  His fulsome praise of Wayne Tech reeked of Talia and her romantic fixation on Bruce.  The Gotham Observer could be seen as a weird funhouse reflection of the Post, the lying newspaper smearing Bruce’s good name… False stories of my being arrested, too—and being invited to contradict them with a splashy public appearance that proved I wasn’t in jail.  There was a certain whiff of it: Ra’s al Ghul’s penchant for recycling the past.

But I didn’t see any of that figuring into Bruce’s kneejerk.  He just wanted it to be the hairdo, so it was.  He wanted it for reasons that had nothing to do with Falstaff, DEMON, or the cat burglar—and okay, maybe I didn’t want it to be Ra’s for the same reason.  But none of that changed the fact that Batman was an unmitigated jackass. 

“Well?” he graveled when I guess he decided he’d been waiting long enough.

“Care to make it interesting?” I asked with as much of the old rooftop sass as I could muster.

I knew it worked when the lower half of his face stiffened, that old reflex when he’s determined not to give anything away.  Betrayed every time by the eyes, in the mask and out.  There’s this look of stunned disbelief.  Half the time it comes out in a vocalized “What?!”  Half the time, just a silent scowl.

Today was a scowl, so I went on:

“A wager.  If Ra’s turns out to be behind this, name your prize.  Say: the MoMA thing never happened and I won’t allude to it ever again.  If he’s not, then I…  get to take five items of my choosing from the database, and Batman doesn’t get to interfere.”

For a moment, he looked puzzled.  Then his eyes darkened, his face seemed to harden, and I could almost see the outline of the mask appear on his face.

“No,” he said.

“Three then,” I countered. “From three different donors,” I added, just to be clear that I was talking three separate break ins and not a smorgasbord at the Rathmoors’.

No.

“No?”

There was this silent spike in answer to that.  This surge of alley-born, crime-hating Battitude.  It really pissed me off.  I knew exactly what I was doing, I knew it was the playful rooftop sass bringing him out, baiting him.  I knew I was blowing on a spark, and I was still PISSED that it was growing into a flame.

“Why not, Bruce?  If you’re that sure Ra’s al Ghul is behind this, why should it matter what we bet?” I hissed.

“…” was his brilliant reply.

“So you’re not sure.  It’s just an idea you have.  You’re not that sure I’ll lose if we bet, not sure enough to risk signing off on a crime in your precious city.  But sure enough that you’ll step all over my feelings bringing it up again.  ‘It’s Ra’s, DefCon 4, I know it’s not what you want to hear after the MoMA’  Rubbing my nose in how little I really matter to you.”

“So little that I asked you to marry me.”

“No.  Bruce.  You didn’t.  You casually informed me, like it was an afterthought, that there’s this new picture in your head under the heading ‘marriage’ and it’s not a tombstone.  And you expect me to feel good about that like I’m the lucky winner, I’m so honored.  Well fuck you.”

“I’m sorry I hurt you,” he said. 

And I thought apologies were supposed to make you feel better.

“Sure.  On that one you use the same formula of words as any other man.  It’s only the time that it mattered that you decided to bring Ra’s into it, get Lazarus goo all over the place and—”

“Could we,” he cut me off, then paused as if searching for words.  “Postpone this… until after... Falstaff and the cat burglar cases are resolved?”

It was just so sad.

“Of course.  Because our personal lives aren’t as important as whatever crime is brewing… never has been.”

“That is so unfair,” he said.

He looked really hurt, but I couldn’t bring myself to be sorry.  It was accurate.  All the rooftops, all the vaults, all the years he pushed me away when all we both wanted was—

“Not now, please,” he said.  “Could we just…”

He trailed off.  And there was just the background hum of a cave that has no resident bats.  I almost wished we were at the manor.  There would have been squeaking.  Walapang and his little friend hanging out above the main workstation.

“Yeah, we ‘can just,’” I said quietly.  Then I took the elevator up to the penthouse alone and picked out a dress for dinner.

Five minutes, Miss Kyle.

77th Street.  The car slowed, Bruce pulled up to the curb, and the valet, who didn’t actually open the door, stood by at attention as it raised on its own and offered a gloved hand to help me out…  Places, please.  Bruce handed over his keys and we went inside… One minute to curtain.

Even by Gotham standards, Discreet was a thoroughly odd restaurant.  Named for the 1972 surrealist film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie—about a group of upper middle-class French trying to have dinner together despite a continual and increasingly bizarre series of interruptions.  They never succeed, and the way they bristle and voice their outrage, but never stop trying, might make for interesting social commentary for those who like that sort of thing, but it’s some damn odd theming for a restaurant.  Discreet featured a pleasant if limited menu of typical French country dishes, enlarged stills from the movie were the focal point of the décor, and no one expected it to last six months.

“The reservation is under Falstaff,” Bruce told the maître d’, and I’ll admit, as pissed as I was, I felt a thrilled shiver up my spine.  Whether Ra’s was pulling his strings or not, Gregorian Falstaff had awakened the dragon—worse, in fact.  He’d stirred something worse than a dragon, even worse than Batman.  He’d stirred up the man who created Batman.  And if Ra’s was behind Falstaff, if he was one of those who knew the truth but thought Batman was all there was to Bruce Wayne, then he was in for one hell of a spectacular lesson.

The hostess said Falstaff was already seated, as expected.  Bruce took a half-step to the side, allowing me to follow first behind the maître d’ as he led us to the table.  I enjoyed that entrance, the theatricality and defiance of that walk through the dining room: Here I am, world!  You see?  Not under arrest. Never have been, never will be.  Every eye (and, more importantly, every cell phone) in the room was pointed at me.  It was easy to tell which were genuine but curious diners and which were plants from GCN, the Gotham Times, the Observer and the Post. 

“How well you did that, my dear,” Falstaff said, standing to greet us.  To greet me, I should say.  He practically ignored Bruce.  Took my hand and pulled me in for an air kiss—both cheeks—in the course of which he got my other hand.  Held onto them both and looked me up and down like an indulgent uncle who hadn’t seen me in years and was pleased at how I’d turned out.  “Sit down, sit down,” he said, including Bruce at last in the gesture and pointing him to a chair. 

“Now, how many reporters would you say are here to document our little dinner?  I count ten whose cameras are far too good compared to the other patrons, and their suits are far too bad.”  He ended with a grin which said that much of the joke he had prepared, but what was to come next was improvised.  “That one over there now.  I know you identified him as a reporter, because you gave him a little wave as you passed.  Where would you say he is from?”

“Gotham Post,” I said quietly.

“The Gotham Post?!  The lying bastards Gotham Post,” he exclaimed—not at all quietly, which brought a spike of disapproval from Bruce.  I noticed him tapping the word ‘Discreet’ on the face of his menu—which made me smile—but which Falstaff took as encouragement.  He went on.  “My dear Selina, if you knew the chap was from that ashcan of a tabloid, why did you turn his way and give him such a flattering angle to photograph.”

“It confuses them,” I admitted.  “At least half of that crowd are convinced that I’m some reflexively hostile, perpetually PMSing harpy, prone to snarling outbursts and violent rages.”  I paused to offer the Post table a coy smile and another fingertip wave.  “The nicer I turn out to be, the worse they look.  Besides, Karma already visited that poor guy on the left.  Inserted himself into a dust up between me and Jonathan Crane a few years back.  Nothing like seeing rolls of your precious film turn into a giant snake to teach a photographer his place in the food chain.”

Falstaff laughed.  Bruce pretended to.  Then we got down to business: I thanked Gregor for arranging the oh-so-public demonstration that I wasn’t in jail, but I assured him that it wasn’t necessary.  I was perfectly capable of debunking stories like that on my own, as history had shown.  He maintained that while that might be true for an independent Catwoman, it would be much more difficult to publicly exonerate Selina Kyle.  What could I possibly do on my own that would contradict the charge that something really had happened which Bruce used his money and influence to cover up?  This dinner, occurring within hours of the alleged arrest and initiated by someone like himself, so wholly unconnected with me or Bruce, it was the unassailable proof that could come from no better source!

I felt PsychoBat seething. 

It wasn’t the old tingle that warned me when Batman was lurking.  It wasn’t the density shift when Bruce is still wearing his day-face but starts mentally operating as a crimefighter.  ‘Batman’ had walked in with me, there would be no need for a change or shift.  The throbbing wraith of anger now occupying his chair was not ‘Batman.’  It was the guy who made Batman possible, and who held his leash… and who just decided Gregorian Falstaff was no longer worth that consideration.  His head tilted back very slightly, and his lip… moved into something I won’t call a smile.  It just… reshaped, flashing the upper teeth in such a way that, well, if one of the tigers at the Catitat did it, I’d run.

“I think you’re very much mistaken, Mr. Falstaff, if you think Selina’s association with me limits her power as Catwoman,” he said evenly.  “Her independence is legendary.  As is her ingenuity in handling her own problems in her own way.”

It wasn’t the words so much as the glint off those teeth, a matching glint in his eye, and a steel in his voice that out-menaced the deadliest Bat-gravel. 

Falstaff backpedaled.  He had never meant to imply my involvement with Bruce was a liability—perish the thought!  He was just so happy that he was positioned to make a gesture of friendship at such an opportune time. 

Tiger-Bruce was apparently pacified, for the moment, and it went back to feeling like ordinary Friday Night Batman sitting there next to me.  We ordered, stuck to neutral topics until the soup came, and then got down to a serious discussion of “The Falstaff Fund” and the role it was to play in further Wayne Foundation dealings with Sub Diego.

By the time we reached the cheese course, I was really ill.  Falstaff’s avowed love for all things Wayne Tech was sounding more and more like Talia, and Bruce’s performance being cornered and beaten was simply nauseating.  He alluded bitterly to the way Falstaff had announced his fund’s partnership with the Wayne Foundation as if it had all been agreed to, but he frankly admitted that his position was too weak to make a public stink contradicting it.  Falstaff accepted the surrender like a compliment, as if he’d sunk a particularly long putt on the 18th green and Bruce noted it on the walk back to the clubhouse.

That was the general tone, not surrender after a war but the settling of gentlemanly debts after a particularly well-played game.  Bruce was too stupid to consider that Falstaff had created the circumstances and merely acquiesced to the way his rival had taken advantage of it.  The Falstaff Fund would now work hand-in-hand with the Wayne Foundation, occupy an adjacent suite of offices in the Wayne Tower, and provide a buffer between Sub Diego and certain operations outside of WayneTech.  They would provide oversight for the allocation of donated funds and certain other Foundation resources earmarked for the undersea office.  It was all as appetizing as tepid bisque with curdled chantilly, went down like under-seasoned mussels, and settled like undercooked duck.

It ended, finally, and we were eventually back in the Lamborghini heading back to the Wayne Tower.

We didn’t speak for about a block.  Didn’t look at each other. 

“You get what you needed?” I asked finally.

“Two camera-microphones he could conceivably find and remove.  Two he couldn’t find with Clark’s assistance if he knew where to look.”

“Good,” I said.

That was it until we reached the tower.  It was awkward at the elevator and we split up: he to change in the cave and leave from there, I to change in the penthouse and leave from the terrace.  I prefer leaving for a prowl from a high-rise.  Reminds me of my old apartment, my old prowls.  So much so that, before heading off, I scurried down to 53rd Street to catch the Batmobile pulling out of its recess behind the parking garage.  It was a very odd feeling, watching from that point of view.  Looking down on him at street level from that sixth floor perch, the Cat of long ago logging the valuable intel: there he goes, heading north.  That means the Fifth Avenue jewelers are off-limits, unless I want Bat-fun.  Diamond District and the Uptown museums are iffy.  A break-in might bring a Bat-encounter, might not.  And Downtown will be easy pickins. 

I smiled to myself.  I was going Downtown as it happened.  Even though tonight’s business was more *cough*fighting than criminal, there was a burglary aspect.  Kitty’s felonious talents were coming into play.  So having ascertained Batman’s whereabouts before setting off seemed… just right.  I knew he would be in another part of town and safely out of the way.  It didn’t matter, since this wasn’t a break-in he would interfere with, but the knowing that was still… pleasantly nostalgic. 

It was the Brodland townhouse I was headed for, the site of the last cat burglar strike.  I was going to investigate the way Batman couldn’t, the way it would never occur to him or the police or any insurance investigator.  I realized the night I looked over that first cat burglar crime scene with him.  I kept looking at the window, itching to go outside.  While he was analyzing the nap of the carpet and tracking heat signatures through the room.  It’s not that the traffic pattern didn’t interest me: the location of the safe, the details of how the thief got in and got around the infrareds… It’s just that it was all… putting the cart before the horse somehow.  At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, and Batman was too busy doing the World’s Greatest Detecting to distract him with a chat.  But his whole approach just seemed so… bass ackwards, as Eddie would say. 

You can walk around with bump keys; you don’t walk around with a folding rubik tent coated with omni-spectra refractive foil.  Those things fold up to the size of a pizza box.  They’re portable, but they’re not loose change portable.  They’re awkward.  And there is just no way anyone would bother carrying one around unless they knew there was infrared detection to get past with tamper-proof vibration sensors on the laser mounts.  They had to know from casing the place, and I couldn’t figure out how.  Standing in the living room that Batman found so rich with clues, I couldn’t work out a damn thing.

So, now that the cat burglar was my case, I was going to investigate my way.  I didn’t do more than look through window when I reached the Brodland place, then I glanced up and down the street and identified the best vantage points to case the joint.  Began my investigation on a nice perch with an unobstructed view of the block, following in the cat burglar’s footsteps and planning the break in as they must have:

Watching from here while the family was at home, a thief could definitely tell there was a safe in the study, although that didn’t preclude there being another in the bedroom where the Mrs. kept her jewelry…  From one window, at a steep angle, you could see into the foyer and confirm the security controls were right inside the front door—as was the mail tray.  Remembering that my task was not to simply burgle the place but to do it in such a way that drew attention to their being Wayne donors, I scrutinized that mail tray.  The invitation to the next Wayne ball would either be there—in which case that little picture which would turn out to be The Spice Merchant’s Wife would make a perfect item to take to draw attention to it—or else, if the Brodlands were the old-fashioned sort, the invitation might be displayed on the mantelpiece…  Which I couldn’t see from any window, so I’d have to wing it when I got inside.  But there had to be something worth taking on or near the mantelpiece.  Anyone retro enough to be displaying their invitations to upcoming social functions there would have an impressive painting hanging dead center over the fireplace, and some cat-worthy knickknacks as well. 

So much for the interior.  Now for getting to it… the building was no high-rise, and the west wall faced a busy street.  To go in that way, a smart crook would choose a stormy night and minimize the chance of being spotted by witnesses in the street.  But our cat burglar didn’t have the luxury of choosing the night.  The robbery had to take place during the Water Ball.  That meant going in from the south…  slip along the base of the building, avoid the traffic camera and watch the sightlines from the security guard in that lobby across the street...  swing a grappling hook up to the open air stairwell on the second floor and haul himself up… and that meant traveling light.  A minimal tool kit: glass cutter, lock picks, bump key, black box to program a keycard.  Nothing that doesn’t fit in a backpack, nothing heavy or awkward… 

As I put myself in the cat burglar’s shoes, thinking through their crime as if it was to be my own, that sick feeling returned.  Bruce’s certainty about Ra’s—“He knows how to push my buttons”—were we playing into his hands? 

I decided further casing of the Brodland place could wait and made my way across town to Falstaff’s.  A much easier target: there was an underground parking garage that would get me inside, only one camera to avoid on my way to the security hub where I could disable them all.  Simple door alarm on that security closet, one more door alarm to get into the stairwell, and from there I could climb to the 15th floor where there just happened to be an empty apartment two short floors beneath Falstaff’s.  I would go out the window, scoot up the side of the building, and have only a simple Phoenix 3000 on Falstaff’s window to deal with.  Then I could snoop around all I pleased.

I took it slow through the parking garage, simply because it’s not my usual type of entry.  The caution gave me time to consider the possibilities: if there was more to Falstaff that met the eye, but it wasn’t Ra’s, who might it be?  Hugo Strange knew Bruce’s identity, but he barely had the resources to rent an office in midtown Gotham.  To buy the Knickerbocker building, add ten floors and start outbidding the Fortune 500 would take one serious sugar daddy, and Hugo just wasn’t that cute.  The only ones I could think of who had the financial muscle to be bankrolling Falstaff were Lex Luthor and Matt Hagen… 

I considered Luthor as I entered the stairwell and climbed to the second floor.  He didn’t know Bruce’s identity, but he hated him enough unmasked without bringing Batman into the picture.  But Lex would never want to hide behind a puppet.  He went toe-to-toe with Superman using the name on his birth certificate, unmasked and unashamed.  He was a shit, but he wasn’t a cowardly shit.  If he wanted to come into Gotham and take on Bruce Wayne, he wouldn’t do it hiding behind Falstaff…

Third floor.  It took exactly three steps to consider and dismiss Matt Hagen.  He had plenty of money from his Hollywood days, not even counting what he’d amassed from his activities as Clayface.  But he didn’t know Bruce’s identity, and he was the least ‘Bwahaha’ Evil of any Rogue I knew.  He hated the woman who had turned him into Clayface, and there was no love lost between him and Poison Ivy.  That was it.  He didn’t seem to have an issue with anyone that didn’t screw with him first, and he had no earthly reason to make trouble for me or Bruce…

At the 14th floor, I considered Talia.  The demonspawn knew Bruce’s identity, despised me, and was intensely stupid.  She tried to make trouble for me with staged Catwoman robberies on two separate occasions, her schemes lacked subtlety and were crucially dependent on Bruce being a moron… But while Talia al Ghul is as stupid as they come, she’s not dumb.  In Joker’s old henchman Brady, she found a man who actually likes her.  I couldn’t see her pissing that away, the only real affection she’s ever known, I just couldn’t see it.  Plus, Talia might assume Bruce is an idiot, but I don’t.  She and Brady were in the Batman version of Witness Protection, and I had to think if she was back in league with Demon, calling the shots sufficiently to be tapping the million dollar bank accounts, he’d know

And with that, I exited the stairwell into the fifteenth floor hallway and made quick work of the lock on that empty apartment.  I entered—only to feel myself struck, swung and SLAMMED into the wall with the kind of force that blurs your vision.  In the split second it took to realize Attack Blur had his hand around my throat, he de-blurred into Batman.

“You have a comm link,” he said, releasing the pressure on my throat without letting go.

“I didn’t come here to see you, jackass,” I said, batting his forearm with a light inside tap and then pointing to the window.  “I came for that.”

“You’re supposed to be handling the cat burglar,” he said, turning away from me and back towards this set up of miniature monitors and speakers he had arranged on the floor, along with a hand-sketched floorplan of, presumably, Falstaff’s apartment. 

“These the feeds from your mics and cameras?” I asked, pointing.

“Yes.  Why are you here and not working on the cat burglar?”

“Thought of something you once told me,” I said. “When dealing with someone like Ra’s al Ghul, you never take what the enemy gives you.”

He adjusted the brightness on a monitor that didn’t need adjusting, which I took to mean that he was mulling it over.

“Two halves of a case,” he said, slowly and softly, like he was chewing it.  “A cat burglar ‘for you’ and a corporate egotist whose first act in Gotham was to pick a fight with Bruce Wayne.”  Then he grunted, which is the swallow when he’s done chewing.

“…”

He’d reached a decision, but there was absolutely no hint what it might be.

“…”

“Hello?” I said. 

“Your analysis may be correct,” he pronounced, still looking at his half-circle of gadgetry and not at me.  “But in this case, you should still take what you’re given.  You are a thief.  ‘Taking’ is the M.O.”

“That makes no sense,” I started to say, but he held up a finger.  It was clear he was listening to something in his earpiece, so I waited.  After a minute his lip twitched, the finger came down, and he looked at me.  A very… non-Batman look. 

“You should stick with the cat burglar side of the case, but not in the way you were going about it.  We’ll lay a trap next week at the Air Ball.”

(That part was Batman enough. Typical control freak.)

We will?” I said.

You will.  But I have some suggestions on how to go about it.”

(Typical protocol-writing control freak.)

“Wonderful.  Leaving me nothing to do tonight but practice infrareds and vibration detectors,” I grumbled.

“Actually you could run down to the food cart on 41st and get us a couple burgers.  That dinner was awful.”

To be continued…


 

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