Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 67: Inside an Enigma

Inside an Enigma
by Chris Dee

Inside an Enigma Chapter 2: Cognitive DissonanceCognitive Dissonance


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There was no enigma about Barbara Gordon.  She’d thrown Bruce a few curves over the years, and he reacted with shock precisely because they were so rare.  The control freak at the heart of Batman had reconciled itself to the mystery of Catwoman, the insanity of Joker, and the cycle of patterns established then broken that was the hallmark of so many others.  Barbara was none of those.  From her earliest days as Batgirl, he could count the surprises on one hand.  From the see-saw of flirting and infatuation with Robin to reinventing herself as Oracle and even marrying Dick, the song might be played on different instruments and in different keys, but the tune remained unchanged.  She was her father’s daughter.  Open and forthright when she chose to be, which was most of the time, but even when she was cagey—as with her hacking—there was a directness, a clarity of thought and directness of purpose reflecting a linear and disciplined mind.  It was a necessity for those with eidetic memories, Bruce knew.  The larger the library, the more organized the filing system needs to be if you want to make use of it.  But it did lend itself to a certain predictability, or at least a certain transparency when established routines were abandoned. 

Like this morning when she showed up at the manor with “Bat-business,” Bruce knew she had an agenda.  Usually when she brought him something in person, it was to see the look on his face.  But today he didn’t detect the love of mischief, mentally tagged to an adolescent Batgirl but resurrected in the grown woman on those wait-til-he-hears-this visits. 

“Something weird’s going on at Arkham,” she began, showing him printouts from her routine scan of their network.  “Much as we all like to joke about the revolving door at that place, it’s not an original observation or a particularly clever turn of phrase.  We keep on saying it because it’s true.  Since my father’s day: they go in and practically before the paperwork is filed, they’re on the way out again.”

“The FTRP,” Bruce said with distaste.  “I have as many objections as anyone to Arkham’s Fast Track Rehabilitation Program, but I do understand the need for it.”

“Yeah, bureaucrats don’t want their ass in a sling,” Barbara said with that characteristic directness.  “In order to get into the program at all, inmates have to maintain the level of self-control prisons classify as good behavior.  Ivy can’t green anyone, Clayface can’t morph, Croc can’t go around throwing orderlies into the wall.  ‘Jonathan Crane is reformed and safe to rejoin society’ is ultimately a matter of opinion.  Regardless of how many degrees that Bartholomew has hanging on his wall, it’s still just one man’s opinion.  If they act on it, then he and the administrator who hired him and the institution itself are in it up to their eyeballs when he goes and fear-gasses Hudson Stadium on game day.  But if they can point to this quantifiable thing: 90 days of good behavior just to qualify for the FTRP and then so many days sustaining it while jumping through their hoops, well then, nobody’s to blame.  All the boxes were checked.”

“It’s a little more than that,” Bruce said mildly. 

“Oh I know, they also have to ‘participate in therapeutic dialogue’ and ‘give the appearance of being actively engaged in their rehabilitation,’” Barbara said, sounding so much like Dick as she put on a nasal bureaucrat’s voice and made sarcastic air quotes around certain phrases that Bruce found himself assuming the old mentor stance he used with Robin.

“I meant the good behavior part.  You reeled off that list like it was nothing: Ivy can’t green anyone, Clayface can’t morph… Without that, they’d need a division of the National Guard up there on permanent assignment, double the staff and at least twice the containment cells.”

“Since the special isolation units for Ivy, Clayface and Croc would be in permanent use whenever they’re in residence,” Barbara nodded to show she understood.

“It also helps with staff morale,” Bruce said.  “If you have a problem with a particular inmate, you know how long it takes for them to be fast tracked and how long the program usually takes to complete.  There’s an end date in sight.”

As he spoke, Barbara started nodding more vigorously and with a smug smile, like a bobble-head that already knew the punchline to a joke he was telling.

“I know.  That’s how I got onto this.  Churn is way up.  Sick days too, and vacation requests.  But mostly it’s the good old-fashioned ‘people are quitting.’  Because there isn’t an end date in sight.  The revolving door appears to be stuck.”

“How so?”

“Near as I can tell, nobody is in the FTRP.”

“What do you mean ‘as far as you can tell?’” Bruce asked sharply.

“All this is from the administrative partition in Arkham’s network: staff rotas, purchasing, job searches.  To learn more, I’d have to go into the medical records and reports.  That’s an ethically gray area and I wanted your go-ahead.”

Bruce’s pupils contracted ever so slightly.  There was no mystery in Barbara Gordon, and when she fibbed, there was a geometry to it.  She wasn’t a bad liar; no one with a secret identity could afford that.  But if you looked at her lies a certain way, shapes began to form.  And, like a man looking at the stars, you had to have some idea what you were looking for if you wanted to pick out the constellations.  Anyone looking at the night sky could see Polaris and Castor, but whether you connected them into the Big Dipper, the Seven Sages, the Grober Bear or the Fisher Cat depended on what shapes you were looking for, where you grew up and what stories you were raised on.  It depended on outside information, which is what he needed now to project the right shape onto this Barbara mystery. 

He stalled, offering her tea, something he knew she was likely to accept both because she liked it and because she was there for some other reason.  Whatever that reason was, she would welcome the additional social cover of tea.  She did accept, and while Alfred went to make it, Bruce looked around the room casually, his body language suggesting that they may as well talk about other things.  They would only be interrupted again when Alfred returned, after all... 

Since the cues were all non-verbal, he hadn’t suggested a topic.  That was left to Barbara and it was she who brought up family dinners.  It had been a while since Selina (well technically Bruce and Selina, but everybody knew Selina initiated it) asked Dick and Barbara over for a family meal.

Gotcha, the inner-detective’s mind snapped around the clue like a bear trap, and Bruce covered with a foppish grin.

“Selina’s plane is in the air right now,” he said lightly.  “Maybe you could pick her up at the airport for me.  Drop a few hints.  And I’ll take this Arkham puzzle off your hands, so you don’t have to worry about going into the medical records.”

It was Barbara’s turn to put on a foppish grin.

“Busted,” she said.  “Was I that obvious?”

“Yes,” Bruce lied, then amended the judgment.  “Barbara, the Justice League files are filled with tidbits from your pharmacy hacks. King Snake takes sumatriptan for migraines, Professor Ivo is on a cocktail of blood thinners, Blockbuster can be traced by the anti-rejection drugs he needs after every transplant.  So when did this ‘gray area’ spring up?”

“When Selina’s plane took off,” Barbara said, amused but embarrassed at how easily he saw through her ploy.

“You do sweep the aeronautics databases and get a notification whenever Wayne One files a flightplan, so…”

“Elementary,” she said grimly.  “I see why Selina pokes you so much about the great detective thing.  It’s really annoying.”

“If you wanted to pick her up for a private chat, why not just tell me?”

“I guess I’m embarrassed,” Barbara said.  “What I want to ask her is kind of screwy.  What I want her to do is kind of screwy.  The whole idea is—Or maybe I just think it is.  I can’t tell anymore.  I’m too close to it and I need another opinion before I get you involved.  But look, as long as you know this much, you can tell me one thing.  Just how amenable is Selina to… Bat-business?  I know she’s changed, but hardcore Team Batman law enforcement still seems very—”

She cut off when the tea came and didn’t know how to resume.  She noticed Bruce wasn’t drinking his tea but fingering the rim of the cup in an unusual way.  On the one hand, it seemed thoughtful; on the other, it seemed almost like the movement of a cat pawing at something that intrigued it.  It was clear he would be the one to speak next, and when he did, the subject would be Selina.

“You said she’s changed.  I can understand why you might think that, but she hasn’t really.  Remember when we needed help after the quake?  You suggested Huntress, and—”

“—And you said that she’d been fired from the League for cause.  That she could call herself a heroine and superficially be working for the good guys, but she consistently did the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.  Then you contrasted that with Catwoman, a criminal who made no bones about being a criminal, yet always seemed to do the right thing.  You got in touch with her, and…”

“It wasn’t an isolated case,” Bruce said earnestly.  “I never once asked for her help as Batman that she didn’t give it.  She hisses and snarls and scratches—and does the right thing.  She gets the job done, she does it with a professionalism and ingenuity most heroes can’t match, and then she hisses and snarls again, and reminds you she’s a bad girl.  Ideally, if there’s something for her to take on the way out, she’ll grab it just to push the point home.”

I couldn’t leave Zurich without picking up a little something to wave under Batman’s nose.  A Chagall lion, very meow, which I set on the seat across from me to admire on the flight home. 

My last trip he told me specifically—ordered me in that deliciously arrogant gravel—not to bring home a souvenir from a certain vault.  Naturally a souvenir was obtained, and the resulting homecoming was… very meow.  I’ve considered a brass plaque in that particular cat lair to mark the occasion, if only I could figure out the wording.

This trip there was no vault out of legend to plunder, but there was a particular Swiss bank that was happy to accept the property of wealthy Jews throughout the 20s and 30s, then refused to let them or their heirs claim anything after the war because they couldn’t produce the proper paperwork.  I had time on my hands while Bernard sorted out the NMK details, so I did some digging.  There’s an international database meant to flag items like that when they come up for sale, and I found this wonderful Chagall watercolor, a study of a lion for his 1931 Solomon sur son Trone.  It had been the property of one Joshua Reitlinger of Vienna.  He survived the war, immigrated to the U.S., to Gotham in fact, and his widow now lived in Southern California with their children.  Which meant they could have their painting back after I’d had my fun with Batman’s nose.

Until then, that regal but hungry-looking kitty was a reminder that I had several episodes of Big Cat Diary to catch up on.  I’m not sure when Bruce had the show added to the Wayne One entertainment center, but since I noticed it on the menu, I always watch an episode or two whenever I fly alone.  So I began my usual routine: went to the kitchenette, opened a bottle of Dom, spooned out a portion of those delicious scallop rolls topped with crab and caviar… and mouthed a word of thanks to whatever benevolent spirit prompted Batman to make Bruce Wayne’s plane a performance venue for the fop.  It was stocked as it had always been, so he could stage a scene for the clean-up crews with empty champagne bottles and tins of caviar.  Throw a pair of silk panties spritzed with Shalimar under the coffee table and another spritzed with L'Heure Bleue in the flower arrangement, and the Legend of Playboy Wayne writes itself. 

With the happy epilogue that I could now sit down with the most delicious lunch to watch my favorite leopard hunt hers. 

Happy meow.

Much as I loved Bruce calling me an unbelievably acquisitive thief, I didn’t really see what I had planned for Ra’s as stealing.  It was more like what was happening on the screen: the predator and the injured fawn.  Falstaff had left parts of Demon weak: undermanned and underfunded.  The slow and the stupid separated from the herd, what self-respecting cat wouldn’t snap up as much as she could?

Being proactive, Bruce called it.  To me, going after Ra’s as a villain meant being proactive, not waiting for him to make a move, picking the battlefield and bringing the fight to him… I guess he’s right.  I didn’t think of it quite that clinically.  I thought of it as… just letting the cat lead.  Like my spotted friend on the screen, following instinct.  The problem with capes and cops, apart from their annoying qualities, the real core level problem is that…  Oh, hello.

My thought was interrupted by an incoming message: a change in itinerary once we touched down in Gotham.  I’d still be landing at GIA, going through customs there, but then, rather than grabbing a helicopter to the Bristol air strip where Bruce wanted to pick me up (he hates the traffic at Gotham International even more than Eddie and will do almost anything to avoid it), Barbara was going to meet me at GIA.

Now what could that mean?

As one of the busiest airports in the world, Gotham International was also the most efficient and streamlined for wheelchair access.  It was designed to accommodate the widest possible array of assistance vehicles from all parts of the world, some of which were assumed to be larger, chunkier, and less sophisticated than the standard American wheelchair.  Barbara Gordon was equipped with the very highest level of accommodation Wayne Tech and Bat-Tech could provide.  Her van, for example, switched from pedals to hand controls at the touch of a button.  The front seat moved at the same button-touch to accommodate either her or Dick as driver, and the driver- and passenger-side doors were both equipped with motorized lifts and ramps.  The combination of such cutting edge resources and a venue optimized for her needs made for an incredibly hassle-free travel experience.  As much as it’s possible to enjoy any trip to the airport, Barbara enjoyed the trip to GIA.  She had allowed far more time than she needed and found herself with time to kill in the little lounge outside the customs gate… At which point, she ceased to enjoy her trip to GIA.

A Gotham Post had been left lying on a chair, and Barbara took one look at the cover and sighed—for Selina, who had certainly put up with enough crap from that paper and deserved a better homecoming, and for herself, because Selina had put up with enough crap from that paper and that picture would not leave her in a receptive mood.  She turned the newspaper over, revealing an innocuous ad for a department store on the back, and decided she would just have to hustle Selina out of the airport as fast as she could and hope they didn’t pass a newsstand.

Time passed, and Selina duly appeared.  She had the relaxed, easy manner of those who traveled on their own time in luxurious solitude and unburdened by luggage that was being sent along behind the scenes.  She had one bag only with her, which she set down to greet Barbara and bestow an air kiss—after which, she saw the ad on the back of the Post.

“Oh, shiny!” she said, reaching to pick it up.  “Don’t you just love Diane von Furstenberg?  We should go shopping one of these days, Barbara, that jersey would look great on you.”

“No!” Barbara said, practically knocking the tabloid from her hand.  “Awful color.”

“It’s black and white.”

“With peach splotches.”

“That’s a belt.”

“We’re going to hit traffic.  Let’s get out of here.”

“Um, okay,” Selina said, noting the emergence of a tone that made the most powerful members of the Justice League shut up and do what they were told.

“Anything happen while I was gone?” she asked cautiously.

“No,” Barbara said—without the Justice League dispatch tone, but called over her shoulder as she turned and started for the main concourse. 

“I just wondered because of the last minute change of plan,” Selina said, grabbing her bag and hurrying to catch up.  “If Bruce couldn’t make it or—”

“No, nothing like that!” Barbara said without slowing. 

“Or if he needed the helicopter for something—” Selina continued.

“No, no, nothing like that.”

At last they reached the elevator to the parking garage… the garage itself… and eventually, the cloverleaf.  Selina waited until Barbara negotiated the Gordian knot of onramps and merging lanes, then she picked up as if she’d never been interrupted.

“Or if he was lying unconscious somewhere, getting fondled by a Playboy bunny in a Catwoman mask.”

“Oh hell, you saw it!” Barbara cried.  “How?  When?”

“We passed, like, three newsstands on the walk out, Barbara.  One in particular I can’t help glancing at whenever I pass it, even with you hurrying me that way.  It’s where Bruce and I saw that famous cover with the rooftop kiss, the one they use in all the advertising.  It was when I got back from Paris that time.  He picked me up at the gate, we rounded the corner and Boom!  There we were.  Frenching on the cover of the Gotham Post.”

“Today I pick you up and you see that,” Barbara said sympathetically.  “Welcome home.”

Surprisingly, Selina just laughed.

“Well, their photoshopping has improved,” she said.  “And apparently they’ve overcome their aversion to tits, hallelujah.  Is any of it real?”

“There is a new costumed player running around,” Barbara said.  “But not a bunny.”

“I figured.  That part is way too ‘Postal.’”

“All that’s real are the hair and mask.  Not the tits, obviously.  No ears, cat or bunny.  And her outfit is more like something you’d wear to a nightclub.”

Selina considered this, then asked if the newcomer had a name.  At first, Barbara offered only a catty smile in reply. 

“Oh come on, it can’t be that bad,” Selina teased.

“Cognitive Dissonance.”

“Excuse me?”

Cognitive Dissonance.  You can see why the Post boys’ heads exploded.”

“I can,” Selina laughed.  “I really can.  Cognitive Dissonance as in the mental discomfort we feel when all our beliefs, values and behaviors don’t agree and the mental gymnastics we go through to resolve it, that’s a tricky concept.  It’s not easy to wrap your head around, and any woman who would choose that for her theme probably does the Times crossword in ink.”

“Smart Woman – Fire Bad,” Barbara quipped.

“Post Boys scared.  Make her a bunny,” Selina smirked.

“Alleviating the dissonance,” Barbara cheered.

“Yes,” Selina nodded with a quick laugh which then softened into the slow smile that curled her lips at wine tastings.  Her next words were spoken slowly, as one savoring a particularly spicy pinot.  “Oh my yes.  In the very act of misrepresenting her, they’re acting out her name.”

Illustrating her name,” Barbara said.  “As they’re calling her something else, they are literally putting ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ on their cover.  If that’s what she was after, it’s like performance art.”

“If that’s what she was after, I don’t think ‘art’ covers it.  It’s goddamn genius.  But who would do that?  I mean, playing on the Gotham Post’s screwed up attitudes about women to make them call themselves out on their screwed up attitudes about women without realizing they’d done it.  Who would do that?  Who would even think it?”

“You’re the one who said she’s wearing a Catwoman mask.”

“Hey, I was in Belgium and then in Switzerland, I’ve got a pretty good alibi.”

“I know, I’m just teasing,” Barbara said, slowing with the traffic. “It really does look like your mask though.  So not only did she pull off this incredibly intellectual joke at the expense of the Gotham Post, she kind of put Catwoman’s face on it.  Think you’ve got an admirer?”

“No, I think we’re stuck in traffic and reading a lot into this that isn’t really there.”

“You sure?”

“Barbara, I’m the best thief in the world and I spent the better part of my professional life in love with the world’s best crimefighter.  I’ve got a pretty good handle on cognitive dissonance.”

“I never thought of that,” Barbara said, switching lanes to get onto the expressway.

“So, Post-baiting aside, what does this newbie do?  The usual murder and mayhem, or something more in keeping with the sophistication of ‘Cognitive Dissonance.’”

“Oh, seems to be in it for the money,”  Barbara said dismissively.  “Went after some Faberge and old movie memorabilia, I think.  Look, I really didn’t want to talk about her, although I am kind of glad she raised the specter of the Gotham Post.  Are you in a big hurry to get home or would you be up for a little trip through town?”

Noticing that Barbara had already changed lanes and her finger hovered over the turn signal, Selina said she didn’t mind the detour.  Barbara turned onto the expressway and, thanks to an enhanced GPS meta-linked to four traffic-mapping stations and run through her custom projection matrices, they were soon in Midtown Gotham.  Barbara turned into an alley Selina recognized with a puzzled pang, and came to a stop outside the stage door of the Hijinx Playhouse.

“You know it’s official Commissioner Muskelli is leaving,” she said before Selina could react.  “Like definitely.  They’re probably hammering out the wording of the official press release as we speak.”

Selina nodded.  She said she did know and was surprised the official announcement hadn’t been made yet.  Bruce was expecting it weeks ago. 

“Right,” she said.  “I’m pretty sure the delay is so they can announce his replacement at the same time.  They’re stalling because that decision hasn’t been made, and that’s why I brought you back here.  Selina, my father hates retirement.  He pretends, but I can tell.  He says all the right things about being relaxed and all the free time he has, and then when I’m shutting down my Oracle station and heading to bed, I see he’s still up and playing some click-game on Facebook.  He’s miserable.  His ulcer cleared up and his blood pressure is down and he’s as miserable as he’s ever been in his life.”

“I’m… sorry to hear that,” Selina said, taken aback.  “But Barbara, what’s that got to do with me?”

“You stood on that stage in there every night for months and said he was the worst peace officer in the Western Hemisphere.”

“Well, I didn’t exactly say it, Barbara.”

“And that he ran the most incompetent and corrupt police force in the country.”

“Luthor said it, the Times quoted him and I read from the Times to make the point that—”

“Yes, yes, I don’t care about that,” Barbara said impatiently.  “But don’t you see, that was the last word after he’d left the force.  ‘I’d retire too if the President said that about me.’  Selina, don’t you see, that was the epitaph on his term as commissioner.  And with that history and where you are now, I mean you’re practically Mrs. Wayne—”

“WHAT?!”

“—you’re the one person who could go to the Mayor and really be listened to.”

“Hang on a second, stop, rewind.” 

Oh come on, Selina! Going back to the rooftop days, you don’t mind if we call you thief, criminal, villain and bitch.  Those are all considered bad things.  Can we please stop tiptoeing around the fact that you’re Mrs. Batman, with or without the ring, ‘cause there’s really nothing wrong with that!”

Selina’s eyes assumed a sharp, gimlet quality which Barbara assumed was shock, or possibly the aforementioned criminal villainess bitch awakened from her long slumber and sharpening her claws while she decided on an appropriate punishment.  In fact, she was replaying Barbara’s words, not this last outburst but the whole of their conversation since meeting at the airport, her general manner and tone, and her history of romantic fancies about secret engagements.  Deciding that Barbara’s words meant nothing and there was no reason to believe she had guessed, Selina’s eyes softened and she assumed a tone of patient condescension.

“I meant the part about going to the Mayor,” she said gingerly. 

“Well not literally.  It’d be more like bringing him to you.  All the entertaining you were doing for the Foundation before you left, it would be just like that.  Except for me, as a favor, and for my dad, because he didn’t deserve the bill for all those stupid stories in the Post, saying you shot him and all the rest.”

“Barbara, I’m not disagreeing with you, but I’m also not going to agree to a plan that I don’t understand.  Would you please explain—slowly and making allowances for jetlag—exactly what it is you want me to do?”

Barbara’s idea wasn’t ‘HA-HA-HA Harley, get the shotgun’ crazy.  She wanted me to revive family dinners, add her father to the guest list, pretend we’d been doing it all this time without interruption, and invite the Mayor.  He would see that former Commissioner Gordon and the woman who once called him the worst peace officer in the Western Hemisphere were all part of one big happy family now.  Gordon would then take the Mayor aside and intimate that he’d be open to the idea of taking his old job back.  Then Bruce would take him aside and voice his support, which as the deepest pocket in his reelection campaign and the voice of the civic-minded Wayne Foundation, carried a lot of weight.

So it wasn’t Harley, get the shotgun crazy, but it did have some rather large Gee, Mistah J, I don’t think a paper airplane can support the weight of a banana gaps in its thinking.  For one thing, Barbara hadn’t spoken to her father or to Bruce.  I was reasonably sure Gordon would be Bruce’s first, second and third choice for police commissioner, but like every other rogue in Gotham, I had learned the hard way that with Batman you can never be completely sure of anything.  I would certainly ask before assuming his help—and naturally the moment I said that out loud the job was mine.  Which was fine, but it would have to wait because we hadn’t been in the same room together for weeks.  I had plans for that reunion that wanted candles, champagne, Nina Simone on the CD player, vanilla cream, chocolates and a batarang.  Chit-chat about Gotham law enforcement was decidedly not on the menu.

The second hole in Barbara’s plan was more serious.  She hadn’t confirmed that Gordon wanted the wretched job back.  She only had a hunch that he wasn’t enjoying his retirement.  I was prepared to believe that; Barbara is very perceptive about that kind of thing.  But if it were true, there’s fly fishing, photography, biking, ham radio.  Any number of alternatives to going to back to a job that stacked headaches on top of ulcers wrapped around high blood pressure. 

Then again… I found myself looking at a cat claw. 

Since I was in town anyway, I had Barbara drop me at the SoHo cat lair to unpack a few things.  I had just taken an emergency set of claws from their secret compartment when I had that thought about Gordon’s blood pressure, and it occurred to me that Catwoman was also a job most people wouldn’t take on a bet.  The dangers I found thrilling would send most of them screaming for cover.  The knowledge that Two-Face had their phone number would keep them up at night.  (The fact that he’d call before every Harvard/Yale game expecting them to bet against his beloved Crimson wasn’t even worth discussing.)  And Catwoman retired from thieving not long after Gordon retired as commissioner.  I can’t say I enjoyed it much more than he did, and I didn’t turn to fly fishing or photography.  If anyone suggested such a thing, I’d break out the bullwhip.  What did I wind up doing?  Crimefighting.  “Mrs. Batman” as Barbara put it.  Anything less would be unworthy of Catwoman.  Anything less would be painfully dull.

Maybe Gordon felt the same?  It wasn’t the masked life, but he did write the SOP for official personnel partnering with capes.  James Gordon’s GPD and the Dark Knight, it was the gold standard of Cape/Police partnerships.

So it was just possible that Barbara wasn’t crazy, that Gordon would welcome the chance to come out of retirement and be that commissioner again.  Still, somebody had to ask him.  My first thought was that Bruce should do it, but then I thought how much it would mean to him if it happened.  Commissioner Gordon back on the One-PP roof, standing there at the signal ready to brief him, it would be the best present anyone had given Batman in a long, long time.  If I talked to Gordon and he went for it, then I could bring the whole plan to Bruce as a done deal.  And if he said no, Bruce would never have to know the idea was on the table.  Well, no, Batman always finds out, but it would avoid raising his hopes with a very iffy proposition.

I was leaning towards asking Gordon myself when Harvey’s pal Fate gave me an extra nudge:  When I got to the manor, Bruce was out.  Not one of his coy disappearing acts so Bat and Cat could reunite before Bruce and Selina.  One of the ‘kryptonite-infused kelp washing up on Playa Mansa’ disappearing acts that leaves you wondering how the demigods of the Justice League would get through the year without him.  Sometimes it pisses me off, but today it just made me proud.  Superman, Aquaman and Flash had a problem they couldn’t handle between them, and Bruce was their first call.

I decided to take the hint and talk to Gordon myself.  Catching up with Alfred, Whiskers and Nutmeg passed the time until dinner.  I suited up, headed into town, knocked on Jim’s door—and only realized when he opened it that I should have come in civvies.  We’d seen each other countless times since Bruce and I got together, but this was the first time he’d seen me in costume since things changed.  The first five minutes were as awkward as they could possibly be.  “Hey, what’s that on your boot”  It was salt from his own stoop—or the residue of it from months before when it snowed, which was corrosive and he didn’t want me dragging it onto his carpet.  That led to a trip outside the door to the front mat, where I gave my boots an extra scraping while he pointed to all the spots where the concrete was discolored from ancient saltings. 

Then nothing.  He looked up and down the street and sniffed.  He asked if I thought it was going to rain.  I said I didn’t.  He said he did.

Then nothing.  We went back inside.  He had a pair of faux candles, battery powered.  A door prize from “some damn raffle” at “some damn fool thing” he’d gone to.  They burned for eight or ten hours, then shut off automatically so you didn’t have to worry about leaving them overnight.

Then nothing. 

More nothing.

It was definitely going to rain.

And more nothing.

The strained conversation had finally ground its way down to absolutely nothing.  Big empty silence just sat there in the middle of his living room, like a puppy that wandered into a formal party and pee’d on the carpet, when suddenly we each had a brainstorm.  Independently and at the same instant, I took off my mask to ease the tension, he offered me a glass of whiskey to ease the tension, we looked at each other… and burst out laughing.  It was just too silly, feeling the same strain, reacting at exactly the same moment. 

I accepted the whiskey, mostly because I wanted him to have one, and I accepted that rocky start as a gift.  It gave me a very direct route to a very delicate subject:

“I don’t think I’ve had a more uncomfortable five minutes with you since that time you came to my apartment wanting to hire Catwoman,” I said.

Another time, I never would have alluded to it.  He hired me to break into the police evidence locker.  He hired me to steal photos Joker had taken of Barbara after the shooting.  He’d used his position as commissioner to have them misfiled and lost.  After he retired, he was afraid his political enemies would expose the effort and make a stink.

“Not my finest hour,” he said, taking a drink. 

“Maybe commissioning a theft isn’t the best codicil to your term as commissioner,” I said, pretending to drink but opting out of alcohol (particularly bourbon which isn’t my thing) before a prowl. 

He looked up sharply.  He’s not Batman but he’s not a stupid man, he might have had a whiff of where things were going.

“Maybe it’s not,” he said cautiously. 

“For that matter, maybe curling up your toes and quitting in the midst of a smear job by a muckraking newspaper wasn’t a very dignified end to an otherwise distinguished career.”

“Maybe,” he said—with this twinkle in his eye that left me convinced he must have dressed up as Santa when Barbara was little.

“Want to go again?” I asked gamely.

He sniffed, a long deep inhale that pulled his head back a touch, and at the end of that sniff, he looked ten years younger. 

“By ‘go again’ you mean…?”

“You know very well what I mean,” I said with a twinkle of my own. 

I filled him in on Barbara’s plan, assured him twice that it really was her idea and not Bruce’s, and he admitted he’d been bored out of his mind since retiring.  He showed me what he was really doing all night.  “Facebook” was apparently camouflage for Barbara.  He had a police scanner that he monitored whenever he couldn’t sleep, and a map of the city where he traced certain patterns of activity that interested him.  I noticed those patterns were predominantly related to Bat-Family and theme criminals.  It was easy to guess that “when he couldn’t sleep” was synonymous with reliving his old life, his old schedule, staying at the office late into the night when Batman was active.

Partly to satisfy a cat’s curiosity and partly to let him show off his hobby, I asked him about the new costume: Cognitive Dissonance.  He showed me what he had logged: location of the Faberge, the movie memorabilia, encounter with Batgirl, encounter with Batman, and even the intersection with the traffic camera that would have snapped the picture the Post had photoshopped.  It was fascinating.  I never had Gordon pegged for this kind of data-hound, but now that I saw his set-up, it was so similar to Oracle’s.  It was simpler, stodgier, low-tech and borne of boredom, made with no real goal in mind but to pass the time, but the similarity of mind was as clear as could be. 

Then he surpassed her, pointing to an unmarked pin on his map. 

“I have a hunch this is her too.  Earlier tonight dispatch reported a silent alarm tripped at End Papers, the rare book dealer on 43rd.  No word on the details.”

Now, I am not, never have been, never will be and don’t aspire to be the crimefighting encyclopedia that Batman is, but I had just come across End Papers in my Zurich research into valuables displaced during World War II.  I knew exactly what they had on their shelves right now that a smart thief would go for, and here I was, standing next to the man who in a few short weeks might be commissioner again.  I was working with Batman now, on and off, which could mean working with the commissioner from time to time, and I had a chance to impress him.  I took it.

“Of course, she’d be going for the incunabula,” I said thoughtfully.  I waited for the raised eyebrow, and when it came, I elaborated.  “The Esterhazy family, Austrian nobility.  Had a huge collection of rare books, 15th to the 18th century.  The Red Army took it in 1945 and the Russian parliament recently voted to return it.  The collection includes eleven incunabula, those are books printed in the first fifty years after the invention of the printing press, incredibly rare, and the family are selling two of them to build a new library to house the rest of the collection.  End Papers is handling the sale.”

He gave me that look we all give Bruce when he reels off a speech like that, so I figured I’d done it just right.

“Maybe you should check it out,” he said – and there was that twinkle again.  Yep, he definitely played Santa once or twice.

I wouldn’t have considered it normally, but I couldn’t resist the idea of having it in my back pocket when I told Bruce:  “Of course I’m happy at the prospect of Gordon coming back, Kitten, but now with our regular date night team-ups, do you think you two will get along?”  “Pfft, of course we will, we’ve already had a case together.”  It’d be worth it just to see the look on his face.

When I got to End Papers, the uniforms were long gone.  I went in my way and found the evidence they missed having come through the front door.  In the vent where I tucked in my own hair as a precaution, I found a single strand of platinum blonde caught under the screw.  Now, Cognitive Dissonance may not be the only woman with that color who dabbles in crime, but it was enough to confirm Gordon’s hunch for me.  I had a hunch of my own, a thief’s instinct for loot, and incunabula weren’t the kind of prize any gutter trash burglar would go for.  It was the choice of a woman who did the Times crossword in ink. 

On a hunch, I snapped on my OraCom and called Barbara.  She had an update on the League; Bruce would be back before morning.  Then I asked about Cognitive Dissonance’s other targets:

“You said she’d gone after Faberge and some kind of movie memorabilia.  What kind in particular?”

..:: Oh, that.  It was a Garbo collector.  There was a silk robe she wore in Grand Hotel and a pair of gloves from Ninotchka. ::..

I thanked her but blew off her questions after that.  Faberge and books taken by the Red Army might have been a coincidence, but now costume pieces Garbo had worn playing a Russian ballerina and a Soviet official.  Mother Russia appeared to be a recurring motif.

I knew all the fences in Little Odessa, and one in particular owed me big time.  Korsakoff set me up during the Rogue war, delivering information for Bane as if he himself was giving me the tip.  I do not let those things go unpunished.  It may take me a while to get to you, but if you play Catwoman for a fool, you will make it up to me or you’ll pay in pain.  I explained this very nicely to Korsakoff, and like a smart man, he chose making it up to me.  Coughed up all he knew on a blonde hottie who’d gone to Andropovich with a Faberge egg to unload. 

That intel brought me to the type of rooftop not associated with caped vigilantes or masked bad girls.  The type with rows of sofas and elegant little tables.  Some are all about brunches, some cater to the after-work happy hour crowd, and some go late into the night.  All have primo cocktails and killer views.  The one atop Roff West has a live DJ from midnight ‘til two.  Gave me time to stop by the lair, exchange the cowl for a smaller, more discreet mask, and grab a silk trenchcoat to cover the top of the catsuit.  I hit the Roff roof, scoped out a table central enough to be seen but remote enough for a private conversation, and made my way to the DJ’s pit.  Korsakoff said I should request “Without You,” go back to my table and wait, but I hadn’t taken ten steps towards the DJ when I saw that I didn’t have to.  A platinum blonde was already there, leaning over the rail talking to the DJ.  She had the same hairstyle as the bunny on the cover of the Gotham Post, a mask similar to Catwoman’s in color and style, and as Barbara said, that’s all the Post had kept of her actual costume and appearance.  Her costume was “like something you’d wear to a nightclub,” specifically Herve Leger.  A designer her flat chest and pencil-thin frame showed off to perfection. 

I knew that because we’d talked about it.  Our body types and coloring are as different as can be, and naturally I covet the styles she can wear that I could never pull off, and vice versa.

I went up to her, mind reeling at the implications.  Cognitive Dissonance, the new costume in town, Cognitive Dissonance, the newest theme criminal in Gotham.

“Selina!” she said just loud enough to be heard over the music.  “Been a long time.”

“Yes it has,” I nodded.  “How have you been, Doris?”

To be continued…


 

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