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 5: Zogger, Zoophilly and ZeitgeistZogger, Zoophilly and Zeitgeist


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STARS!  Breath gone.  Pain.  A white flash of pain in the center of his chest and a duller throbbing one shooting down his hip.  Batman shook it off as he had a hundred similar blows over the years, his awareness catching up with his body’s instinctive block, block, and counterstrike.

There were those who considered him too cautious, too driven, too cynical, and too obsessed with planning and contingencies.  But not once did he entertain that silly admonition to ‘Be careful what you wish for.’  As if lying back and dreaming of bliss was a serious matter that should not be indulged in without prudent weighing of all the consequences that might occur if the wished for thing came true.

He punched, using that pain in his hip to propel more power coming off the leg, driving more momentum into the hit, but—damnit!—not getting all he could from the follow through. 

Selina, the woman he had always wanted, was no longer a criminal.  She fought crime at his side, shared his bed, his home, agreed to be his wife… and had turned the full force of her considerable intellect and creativity on the destruction of Ra’s al Ghul.  The Rogues were nearly all in Arkham, freeing him up to do the type of crimefighting he initially imagined.  With the Falcone family already gutted, he had made spectacular inroads in less time than he would have believed possible in the early days.  So had the police.  No city would ever be crime-free, but Gotham was becoming safer than it had been in a lifetime.  It wasn’t a dream come true, it was a wish inside a hope wrapped around a dream come true.

He kicked, not to bring his powerful thigh muscles into play and force his opponent backward, but to spite that hip pain which he refused to acknowledge if it wasn’t going to do him any good. 

Bruce had to assume the disquiet he felt was a natural reaction.  When so much was going so well—there was even a chance of Jim Gordon returning as police commissioner—it was natural to look for a blemish simply to prove to yourself it was real. 

 

Zoophilly was like most Gotham businesses: located in a building that had once been something else.  With one plain black door and one garage-door-sized opening in a blocky, one-story brick box, there was no telling what it had been originally.  And when it was closed up with only a simple black awning reading Zoophilly over the ‘garage door’ entrance, there wasn’t any hint what it might be now.  At six o’clock every morning that would change.  The garage door opened to reveal a half-dozen bistro tables inside.  Two shrubs trimmed like Tuscan cypress trees in terra cotta pots were set up on each side of the wide garage door, a menu board was set out with the day’s selections written in chalk, and a very low, weathered table was set in the middle of the sidewalk with a single purple orchid in an antique silver pitcher.  In under a minute, the ugly brick box squeezed in between its three and four-story neighbors was transformed into an inviting little café with more charm and character than the most glaringly ornate facade could provide.

So long after the morning rush subsided and before the lunch rush began, there was surprisingly little pedestrian traffic as Doris made her way down the street.  Like any sensible Gothamite, she had taken the subway to Canal Street and, unburdened by a car or the need to find parking, made her way on foot.  She passed a food cart, a half-dozen paintings for sale on the sidewalk propped against a non-descript brick wall, and finally the artist himself.  He was sitting on a stoop without so much as a brush or a tube of paint to justify the easel set up before him.  It was clearly a prop, just so you knew who to talk to if you wanted to buy.  Doris didn’t slow her step, not until the corner where there was a boutique selling bath products.  She didn’t stop, but she glanced in as she passed.  She was flush as she had never been before now that Andre had brought the payment for her first scores as Cognitive Dissonance.  An indulgence or two didn’t seem out of line.  She might drop in later, but for now, she rounded the corner and continued down the block, past the graffiti’d space for rent, past the construction wall and scaffolding, past the Spanish restaurant that looked like it used to be a dentist’s office… until she came at last to the spot Selina had named for their meeting.

It was a small space, easy to take in at a glance.  Counter with a display case full of baked goods in the back, and a sign over the counter that made her laugh.  Selina was already there, seated at the only occupied table, and Doris went to greet her with a smile.

“I see why you picked this place,” she said, indicating the sign that spelled out the name Zoophilly in beautifully-carved wooden script letters, and underneath in equally well-carved block letters it read: Worth 25 points in Scrabble. No definition found.  “Can’t possibly be true though.  Definition should be love of animals or some kind of pollination where birds and bats transfer the pollen, right?”

“That would be my guess,” Selina said, thinking how this woman was truly Eddie’s soul mate.  “In ancient times before there was a wifi hot spot every thirty feet, this was an internet café, one of the very first.  Probably seemed clever at the time, something to look up.  When it folded, new owners kept the name, presumably because that’s an expensive sign.  One less thing.”

They went to the counter and ordered.  Selina said the scones and croissants were terrific, the muffins not so great, and all the nut breads were worth the caloric hit of that thick cream cheese icing.  They took their coffees and scones with them and strolled down the street, window-shopping to the casual observer. 

“Cognitive Dissonance was inspired for a one-off,” Selina said, getting down to business.  “But it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.  Long term, you’re going to need a better name and theme.”

“I know,” Doris winced.  “I never thought about it fitting neatly into a sentence like ‘Last night, Riddler and Blank had Batman and police running in circles as they yadda-yadda’d the yadda-yadda.’  And yes, I know before you say it, never yadda-yadda the crime in front of him.  He gets hysterical and it’ll be a day and a half of ‘Add Daddy’ anagrams.”

With a renewed sense that Doris was truly Eddie’s soul mate (and perhaps a soul mate whose intake of caffeine and sugar should be monitored), Selina asked if Doris had a new name in mind, and when she said she was open to suggestions, Selina offered Game Theory.

“Economic game theory?  Like in A Beautiful Mind?  Hot blonde enters a bar with a bunch of her less hot friends.  If all the guys hit on her, at most one gets laid and the rest are shit outta luck.  But if they all ignore the blonde and pursue the other women individually, everybody gets paired up for the night?”

“Essentially, yes.  It’s the mathematic study of strategic thinking, how people make decisions in anticipation of other people’s actions.  You only showed up at a Batman crime scene when you knew he’d have other, more dangerous criminals to pursue.  That’s textbook game theory.”

“I like it,” Doris said.  “Anagrams?”

“‘Ah Geometry’ and ‘A Theme Orgy,’” Selina offered. 

Deciding Eddie would be content with that, given the name’s suitability in all other respects, Doris agreed.  Faux window-shopping became real window-shopping as the conversation turned to costumes and they looked for inspiration in the window displays of Michael Kors, Mango, and Louis Vuitton…

 

STARS!  Breath gone.  Another flare of pain at the center of his chest—again shaken off—again the block-block-counterstrike that was a learned second nature, and this time his full weight, driven by momentum and twisted with an extra torque of his fist into a punishing downward thrust…

Selina was cutting that last tie with her old life, the sentimental attachment to Nigma.  He should be overjoyed.  That friendship had been a thorn in his side since their relationship began.  He never gave the personal lives of his enemies a second thought until Selina came along, and he hated this heightened awareness that, beneath the costumes, most of them had the same dimensions, senses and passions as anybody else.

…the follow through. 

The hand-to-hand trainer which Bruce called Strategic Self-Mutating Defense Regimen VI and everyone else called Zogger penalized itself 6.4 seconds to recover, and with only 4 seconds left on the session, it pinged and shut down.  Batman rubbed his knuckles, stretched his neck and shoulder, and grunted.

At the height of their “Be My Own Man” tensions, Dick posited the theory that if you charted Zogger use over the course of Batman’s career, the spikes would correspond point-for-point with Catwoman encounters.  He never went so far as to test it, but if he had, he would have been proved wrong.  The spikes were caused by many things, most of them atrocities: crimes witnessed by children, muggings gone wrong when guns were involved.  The percentage tripped off by Cat encounters was relatively small, as was the percentage of Cat encounters that ended in Zogger bouts.  There were those that fired his emotions to the point where a physical release was needed, those that wound him to the point where complete exhaustion was necessary and driving himself to near muscle-failure was the surest way to achieve it, and there were those nights he simply couldn’t get out of his mind.  Without the primal instincts that kicked in to block out everything beyond the fight, he simply couldn’t get his mind to LET IT GO.  The first two were no longer an issue.  Selina was available in person for both the physical release and the exhaustion to resolve any tensions she stirred, through sex if he wanted it, through aggressive sparring, and occasionally both.  It was the last he faced now, fueling his fourth session with Zogger since the night she returned from Europe.

He paused, his finger on the reset button…  He could easily resume.  His heart rate, breathing and body temp weren’t elevated to workout levels yet… But the old stalactite beckoned him.  It had been a very long time since he meditated there.

He shrugged his cape to the side as he assumed the lotus position, took a few preliminary breaths, then removed his cowl and let the cool air of the cavern drive his meditation.  He focused on the sensation as that cool air met his heated brow, the hair moistened with sweat… molecules of cool, dry air weaving through his hair, coming into contact with his scalp, heat meeting cool, transference, evaporation… his thoughts evaporating with those droplets of sweat on his brow, in his hair, and finally… Clarity.  Selina had looked wicked.  More cruelly calculating and villainous than he had seen her in years.  At first he saw it subconsciously.  It may or may not have added something to their reunion sex.  Then he saw it consciously but attributed it to her maneuverings against Ra’s al Ghul.  But no, that assumption was wrong.  She was really plotting against Nigma.  She was plotting to avenge herself for that Bane business during the war.  She was going to use Doris to do it.  She was… in the cave. 

Bruce inhaled deeply, the stalactite above him coming into focus as the part of his mind that heard the distant clip of her heels pulled the rest of him from the meditative state.  He found her in the Data Well, as she had been several times since her return.  In her day clothes perhaps, but as much in Catwoman-mode as he had ever seen her. 

“Hey Kitten, need anything?”

“I don’t need it, but I welcome it,” she said over her shoulder.

 

The second time Doris and Selina met at Zoophilly, they took their coffees and croissants no farther than a corner table so Selina could take advantage of the wifi to show Doris what she’d found.

“I know you want something special for your debut as Game Theory, something… cat-worthy.  Looking at the stuff you went for as Cognitive Dissonance, I assume it has to be Russian (and I don’t need to know why).  I found it; I found the perfect prize.  But we will have to up your game, if you’ll pardon the pun.  This place isn’t Cartier or the MoMA, but it will be a lot more challenging than the paper sacks you’ve been breaking into.”

“That’s why I’ve got you,” Doris said, her eyes gleaming with delight.  “Teach me.”

Selina leaned forward.  “I know you understand the basic principle: no risk, no return; the greater the risk, the greater the return; etc.  And I know you’re the crossword queen.  Doris, I want to be absolutely clear that you understand what that four-letter word beginning with R means.”

“Selina, I’ve gone as far as I can with the things I could figure out myself.  Now we’re into the territory where somebody’s got to show you how to do it.  Teach me.”

“Doris, four-letter word, beginning with R.  It means you could fail.  The consequences of that are not good.  Do you understand?”

“Show me what you’ve got,” Doris said emphatically.

Selina sat back, arms crossed, with the same ‘I can wait’ expression she directed at Whiskers and Nutmeg when they sniffed her suitcase while ignoring her the day she got back from Europe. 

“Risk,” Doris said finally.  “Noun: a situation involving exposure to danger, peril, jeopardy or loss.  Verb: to expose someone or something to danger, peril, etc.  Specialized use/Finance: probability that the actual return on an investment will be lower than the expected return.  Specialized use/Insurance: a situation where the probability of a variable, such as the burning down of a building, is known but when a mode of occurrence or the actual value of the occurrence is not known.  Specialized use/Toy Store: A strategic board game produced by Parker Brothers depicting a political map of the world divided into territories the object of which is to occupy every region on the board and in so doing, eliminate the other players.  Shall I go on?”

“You are a freak of nature,” Selina said admiringly.

“Little known fact, the game of Risk was invented by French film director Albert Lamorisse in 1957 when it was called La Conquête du Monde.  Now tell me about this Russian cat-worthy thing!”

“Okay, get us a couple of coffees and croissants,” Selina said, getting out her laptop.  “Lesson begins when you get back.”

When Doris returned, video of a silent movie was playing on the screen.  A bejeweled dancer, then the words “Pearls beyond Price.”  Selina narrated:

“From 1906 to 1908, the Russian ballerina Katalya Nolzhenko toured the world playing Salomé.  The tour concluded in the United States where the fledgling film industry captured her performance, as you see here.  Those pearls she’s wearing are real, a gift from the Czar when she danced at the Winter Palace at Christmas.  The fact that she wore them whenever she performed was the chief means of promoting the tour.  In every new city, the newspapers would run a story on the pearls and there would be quotes from the chief of police on all the special measures being taken for their security.  Nobody ever went for the pearls, but there was a robbery of three private homes in Buenos Aires the night of her performance—”

“Because all cops were off guarding the pearls,” Doris laughed.  “Talk about Game Theory.” 

“In the 1920s, they were sold at auction in Paris for three hundred thousand francs,” Selina concluded.

“You have my attention,” said Doris.

“I thought I might.  The pearls wound up in the collection of a Lord Chalfont and are on loan to the Zeitgeist Gallery right here in Gotham.  It’s a sort of ‘History of Design in other arts’ kind of place: the ring worn by Anne Boleyn’s seventh lady-in-waiting on the far edge of some court painting, a ceramic dish with the same pattern depicted in a Dutch still life, a candelabrum from the set of Hitchcock’s Rebecca.  If it sounds boring, it is.  Not the first stop on the tourist trail.”

The next day, two students that looked nothing like Selina Kyle and Doris Ingerson entered the Zeitgeist Gallery at the same time but not together.  Selina sported her red Georgina Barnes wig, a Sorbonne sweatshirt, denim headband, backpack and jeans.  Doris had her hair tucked into a ballcap and, with her height and flat-chested frame accentuated by an unflattering flannel shirt worn over an oversized Hudson U t-shirt, she could have easily been mistaken for a man.  Both wore glasses and both, being students, whipped out their phones to check in at the new location as soon as they walked in the door.  The action synced the tiny units in their glasses to each other and to the receptor in Doris’s “phone.”

They split up, moving independently through the gallery and around the display case with the pearls.  Occasionally Selina coughed.  Occasionally Doris scratched her ear or rubbed the side of her neck as she looked up at a security camera, touching the back of her glasses and causing the lens in front to snap a picture.  But mostly she was content seeing the space with her own eyes, knowing the precise dimensions and contents of the room were being mapped with greater precision and accuracy than any photographs could provide.

After about fifteen minutes, their amblings brought them close enough to speak. 

“Nice shirt, Hudson,” Selina said, meaning ‘I’m done; ready when you are.’

“You too, Sorbonne,” came the reply, meaning ‘Ready. Let’s do it.’

Again they separated.  Again Selina coughed.  This time she took a lozenge from her pocket and unwrapped it as she wandered into the next gallery.  Appearing to put it in her mouth, she palmed it as she settled before a trio of Noh, Korean, and Chinese opera masks—and within shouting distance of the security guard she had judged the least stupid.  She sat on one of the benches before the exhibit and read how all of the masks had appeared in James Bond movies.  She surreptitiously crushed the lozenge against the slats of the wooden bench and rubbed the residual powder into the crevice.  She got up again, resumed her disinterested ambling through the room—there was a case of tarot cards, also from a Bond movie, that looked interesting—until two minutes later when she looked back towards the masks and saw an incense-thin lines of smoke rising slowly from the bench.

“Oh, oh my goodness,” she said in an odd but adorable accent.  “Somebody?!” She looked around in alarm, and as the incense-thin line widened to that which came from the end of Oswald’s cigarette, she found she was looking directly at the security guard.  “Excuse me, somebody,” she said, running up to him.  “This is something bad here!”

She pointed to the bench, which was now smoking enough for other visitors to notice.  The guard called for everyone’s attention and had just begun the spiel to evacuate the gallery when the fire alarm sounded.  While the full security staff mobilized to assist the evacuation and keep an eye on the exhibits during the crisis, Doris was able to slip into the empty security office and flash the drive of the unattended console onto a memory stick.

“Now we'll have complete specs off their computer,” Selina said, taking the stick and Doris’s ‘phone’ when they rendezvoused.  “Along with a our own 3-dimensional model of the layout.  Come to the SoHo lair tomorrow and we’ll see what we’re up against.”

 

“Hey Kitten, need anything?”

“I don’t need it, but I welcome it,” she said over her shoulder.

This had become their standard call-and-response since the first day when he found her trying to calculate the shortest amount of time it had ever taken ‘a rogue who wasn’t Joker’ to plan and execute an escape from Arkham.  He told her, it was thirty-eight days, and her eyes gleamed like it hadn’t occurred to her to use him as a resource.  She asked how much Eddie could beat the record by if he was really motivated.  Bruce thought about it (noting that, however pissed she was, she still called him Eddie) and decided he could do it in thirty-one.  For safety sake, he knocked off two days and told her twenty-nine.  She immediately put a countdown calendar on the top-center screen and marked off twenty-nine days.  Then she asked for all the details of that night he met Riddler at the Repo & Houg lair…

“What’s today’s project?” he asked, looking at the data screens she had displayed and restraining the lip-twitch on the one tagged ‘Pheromones Is Finally Good For Something.’

“Subway schedules,” she said, pointing to that first.  “Street musicians, DIY perfume, the Royal Russian Ballet circa 1908.”  The last included several newspaper clippings and stills from period newsreels of a triple strand of pearls.  Perhaps sensing (wrongly) that Bruce would have an aversion to the subject because of the pearls, she indicated a worktable a short distance outside the well.  “I’ve also got toys,” she said, pointing.

Curious, he went to look and found a WayneTech tablet displaying a five-by-five grid of what appeared to be animated gifs, and something very like a Rubik’s Cube with a microscreen on each square instead of the colored decal.  Each of those displayed an animated gif as well.

“Which of those would be the bigger headache?” she called without leaving the well.

“To do what?” he asked, examining the video screens on the cube to determine if they were WayneTech.

She left the well and sauntered up to him with that old, rooftop cock of her hip.

“C’mon, Dark Knight, don’t be dense.  You answer the signal, no commissioner and this is sitting there waiting for you.  What’s it mean?”

“This is the clue to a crime?” he asked, holding out the cube like a baseball.

“Yeah,” she said with an aroused into-it wiggle of her shoulders and hip, “like a jigsaw puzzle that fights back.”

“Wonderful,” he said, as if he was making an appointment for a root canal and the receptionist suggested a time that fit his schedule.

“Little shit thinks he likes puzzles; he won’t when I’m through with him,” she said, returning to the well.

By which point it was clear that Nigma and not Batman would be faced with solving these technological terrors, but that did nothing to dispel the nagging sense of… something…  a troubling, undefined something  that sent him to Zogger in the first place.

 

Doris didn’t know if there was an established etiquette for going to a Rogue’s lair to plan a crime, but she figured brownies are always welcome.  So she stopped at Zoophilly, bought a half dozen and a packet of chai.  Selina was thrilled, said plotting always made her hungry, and she left Doris alone in the main room of the lair while she went to prepare the tea.  As one who had only seen a Riddler hideout, Doris was fascinated.  Like Eddie’s place, there was a lot of themed bric-a-brac, to the point of being tacky if you looked on it as an individual’s home.  If you looked on it as their place of business, then the determined messaging began to make sense.  Selina liked cats in the same way Eddie liked puzzles, but all the Bast statues and animal prints weren’t meant to be an expression of her personal taste, they were meant to convey Catwoman Enterprises, the lobby of a high profile, high concept operation.  So the amount of theming didn’t surprise her.  What did was a different similarity to Riddler’s lair: it was the high tech.  Eddie was a gadget-head, a technophile and a coding fiend.  Selina didn’t seem the type.  She used her laptop as much as any other busy person, and the specialized gear she’d supplied to scope out the gallery was certainly very advanced. But somehow Doris never connected the kind of gizmo a cat burglar might tote around to crack a safe or to reprogram a keycard with the kind of NSA tech bunker she saw here.

She told Selina as much when she returned with the tea.

“NSA tech bunker?” her hostess laughed, breaking a corner off a brownie.  “Doris, before we go any farther, is there anything you want to tell me?”

“Oh you know what I mean,” she said impatiently.  “In the movies, on TV, our heroes are investigating something, they don’t know what it is, but it’s starting to look bigger and scarier than we thought.  All of a sudden they get jumped and they’ve got black bags on their heads.  When the bags come off, they’re in some secret bunker.  The maid from Act I is there, it turns out she works for the CIA, and everybody’s sitting in front of a 9-screen tech wall that looks just like this.  So, yeah, this is like a secret agency underground bunker… if the secret government agency really liked cats.”

Selina blinked.

“Okay,” she said as if accepting a dare.  She punched a few buttons, and in a flash the smaller screens began to fill with images: a city map, another city map, an underground map, a close-up of the pearls in their display case, the gallery floorplan marked off with the location of the cameras, and so on.  The center screen showed a structure Doris had noticed in a back hallway near the restrooms.  About three feet square, two feet high, very old brick with an ancient grate on the top, it was obviously a remnant of whatever the building was originally, and she sensed at the time that it would be important. 

“Here’s the good news on your prospective heist,” Selina said. “The Zeitgeist building, like most in that neighborhood, is more than a hundred years old.  That brick thing with the grate, in that one hallway by the stairs, connects to the original furnace in the original basement.  And that means you can get in through the old catacombs, which you can get to from a utility tunnel in this underground parking garage.  Now, underground is darker, smellier and more cramped than the high-flying cat burglar on a zipline stuff you see in the movies, but it is an awful lot easier to master.  It is much, much safer.  And there’s another perk we’ll get to later.”

“Why do I suspect that’s the end of the good news,” Doris said flatly.

“Because  you’re very perceptive.  You can get in through the brick chimney-furnace-thing via the catacombs, you can get out through the chimney-furnace-thing via the catacombs.  What you can’t do is—”

“Take the pearls out with me,” Doris said, anticipating the problem.  When Selina raised an eyebrow, she explained, “Basic puzzle structure.  The way you were leading up to it, I figured that’s where you were going.”

“Right,” Selina said.  “And that’s just how you need to approach this.  Every lock is a puzzle, every security measure is a puzzle. In this case, the next puzzle before us is that the pearls, and every other item in the gallery, have been treated with an invisible chemical that reacts with the infrareds on the doors.  It will set off an alarm if the pearls are taken through any of the thirty-six internal doorways.”

“So I can get in through brick chimney-furnace-thing.  Go through the one, two, three… four doorways to get to the pearls, but then I’ve got no way to take them with me as I go back?”

“Correct,” Selina nodded.  “The stuff is called Olactra-Prystaline, came into vogue about four years ago.  Very popular with facilities like this that are repurposed buildings, stately homes and other historical structures.  Anything with a lot of nooks and crannies that are difficult to secure.  Anything that’s a landmark, where they’re very limited in what they’re allowed to touch.”

“Like my brick-chimney-thing,” Doris said, smiling.

“Like your brick-chimney-thing,” Selina said, pleased with her apt pupil. 

“Okay, assuming I solve ‘Olactra-Prystaline,’ what’s the rest of the bad news?”

“The camera coverage is not the work of a moron.  Have a look at this layout.  To get from brick-chimney-thing here to the pearls here, you have to move through cameras 19, 21, 24 and 39.  That perk I mentioned coming in from underground: pneumatic tubes.  The old network of pneumatic tubes that used to be for communication are now filled with coaxial cable—meaning basically, you have access to the gallery’s network at the same spot underground where you access the physical facility.  I give you a tablet with the software, show you how to hook it up, you freeze those four cameras before you go up.”

“What’s the catch,” Doris said grimly.

“The cameras are on three separate circuits that reboot on staggered twenty-minute cycles.  Your window is only six minutes from the time you freeze the cameras.”

“To go up the brick-chimney-thing, remove the grate, get across three galleries and four doorways to the pearls, get them out of the case, go back across the three galleries—somehow without going through the doorways—and back down brick-chimney-thing far enough to replace the grate before one or possibly two of the cameras reset.  Sure.  No problem.  Then we tackle feeding India and world peace, right?”

“For what it’s worth, Eddie couldn’t pull off a job like this.”

“Could you?”

“Yes.”

“Are you going to tell me how?”

“I’m going to give you a week to work out a solution to the Olactra-Prystaline on the pearls setting off the infrareds,” she said.  “And while you’re doing that, I will show you how to do the rest.”

 

Bruce went back to the well and watched Selina multi-task across six screens of data on multiple subjects, multi-task with a focus and intensity that surpassed any sidekick who ever used the cave systems… an intensity and focus that reminded him of himself.  At a glance, you would think it was one of his multi-tiered Justice League operations being planned—except for the snacks.  The first time he watched her planning a theft—in the morning room, at his mother’s desk—he’d been morbidly fascinated by that little plate of cold cuts.  The way she’d stare into space with a curious head tilt, twiddle her finger from time to time as if solving an equation on an invisible chalkboard, and after a minute or two, pick up a piece of turkey and nibble.  Now she was in the Batcave, hard-linked to every data bank on the planet, displaying  dozens of windows across multiple data screens.  But lest anyone think this was no longer the mind that planned the theft of the Juanpur Ruby, there was a little bag of those wasabi crackers she liked attached to the base of screen 3 by a cat burglar’s Filmore clampAs if snacking wasn’t enough (Batcave munching wasn’t completely unprecedented; Batgirl and Spoiler had both been known to leave a powdery Cheetos residue throughout the satellite cave that was unworthy of a Batman operative.)  But Selina was different—as always, Selina was different.  Her little bag of crackers was resting in a cat burglar’s collapsible coolant pack used as a cup holder attached with a Filmore clamp.

“I take it we’re planning a crime,” he half-graveled, taking a cracker.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said with a soft smile that was almost a promise.

“I think I liked it better when you’d tell me the museum operating hours are just suggestions.”

“No you didn’t,” she said.

“No, I didn’t,” he admitted.  “Selina, what are you doing?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

 

Doris’s next visit to the Cat Lair (lemon bars and french hazelnut roast), she went straight for the “NSA tech bunker” computer, which Selina said she could use in order to keep her personal search history, IP and the desktop in her apartment free of all things Olactra-Prystaline.  It was that or the public library, Selina was quite insistent. When she was back with Eddie, Doris could do as she pleased, but while she was Catwoman’s student, she would take all sensible precautions.  As a thief who did not find it necessary to leave the authorities ‘love notes’ stating her intentions before the fact, Selina did not believe in creating ties, however circumstantial, between your unmasked life and your crime.  If Batman did not catch her in front of an open safe with the stolen article in her hand, she could remain perfectly calm and confident through any amount of police questioning—as she had when a cat burglar went after all those Wayne Foundation guests earlier this year—knowing that there were never going to be any charges pressed because there simply wasn’t any evidence to be found.  It was a reasonable argument, but Doris would have accepted a ludicrous one because she really wanted to play with the NSA tech bunker! 

She only got a lemon bar and a few sips of coffee into the research, however, when Selina whistled and told her to leave it for now.  She led Doris down to the basement—which looked more like a sprawling underground warehouse, empty except for… an obstacle course.  There was a ladder at one end actually labeled ‘chimney-brick-thing,’ the outline of the pertinent galleries were measured out in purple ribbon, milk crates and cardboard boxes represented the various display cases, and in the farthest “gallery,” a triple strand of opera length pearls sat enticingly under a covered clear-glass cake plate. 

“This is where you’ll practice,” Selina explained.  “Climbing up and navigating the three galleries, getting to the pearls and getting back to brick-chimney-thing in time, it’s all very doable, as long as you score it.”

“Score it?”

“You find a piece of music you like, cut it to the right length and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.  With that same piece of music, always.  You bring it with you on an iPod, start it on cue, and you will always know where you’re supposed to be.  Now, some cats use movie soundtracks for this type of thing.  I personally prefer classical, one or two instruments, not a full orchestra.  Whenever I can, I go with Yo-Yo Ma.”

“Oh I love Yo-Yo Ma.  Damn! I wish I could use him too,” Doris enthused.

“It’s not an Inception totem, Doris.  You can use the same music I would.  I’ve got a six-minute piece from the Bach Cello Suites on this iPod.  But this is the last gift.  Next time, you edit your own music file.”  She winked, and Doris began practicing.

On the sixth day (pumpkin-walnut bread and Zoophilly’s signature Italian roast), she had a solution to the infrareds on the doorways problem:

“I couldn’t find squat on Olactra-Prystaline, chemically, and that only made sense if it was the trade name of something else.  You said it showed up around four years ago, so I did some digging into the patents from five years ago.  Star Labs holds the patent, and they put out a slew of academic papers in that period that… well, the details are over my head, but the gist seems to be soaking different Thanagarian metals in salt water to see what properties it might take on.  Star researchers authored more than two-hundred papers on different metals and alloys in different levels of saline, and there are eight patents that seem to be the result.  Including Olactra-Prystaline.  I’m fairly confident that this stuff is just salt water that’s had a lump of Thanagar copper sitting in it for a month under a sun lamp.  And if I mist it with more salt water and then expose it to black light, it will temporarily change the refractive index.”

“How long is temporarily?” Selina asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Any special requirements on this black light?”

“I don’t know.”

“Good, you’re human,” Selina smiled. “It’s a fifteen-nanosecond pulse of black light that you need, applied for nine or ten seconds—will easily fit in your six-minute window the way you’ve been doing—and the effects last for nearly an hour.”

Doris beamed.  Then she tilted her head.

“I assume a flashlight that emits a fifteen-nanosecond pulse of black light is something you already own and would be prepared to lend me as part of the Catwoman scholarship program?”

“Call it a gift,” Selina said, “None of the places I hit use Prystaline anymore, and you’re going to have a big list of things to get from Kittlemeier when the time comes.”

“Selina, I really can’t thank you enough.”

“Then don’t.  Doris, don’t thank me at all, not now, not ever.  I like you, but the truth is, I’m not doing this for you.  I’m doing it for Eddie.”

 

Batman predicted it would take Edward Nigma twenty-nine days to engineer an escape from Arkham.  On the twenty-eighth day after Catwoman told him Doris was back, Selina appeared in the Batcave humming La Donna E Mobile.  She went to the Data Well, pulled up the calendar and touched her finger to the square representing the day.  A large, black X super-imposed over the square, and she acknowledged it with a few lines sung outright:

È sempre misero, chi a lei s'affida,
chi le confida, mal cauto il core!

Talking about me?” Bruce graveled, the ominous Bat-voice and his posture blocking her exit from the well indicating the challenge of crimefighter, but his eyes betraying an amused affection that was quickly confirmed by a lip-twitch.

“Have you packed?” Selina replied as she leaned in for a Good Morning kiss.

“No,” he said, “since we’re not actually leaving, I’m not packed.”

“Weird.  I always figured you’d be more committed to those ‘Bruce Wayne is out of the country’ covers.”

He grunted, and she smiled.

“When Bruce Wayne is playing baccarat in Monte Carlo so Batman can pursue Scarecrow without distractions, I’m committed.  When Bruce and Selina are off to the Italian Riviera—”

“The Amalfi Coast.  It’s Positano, not Portofino.  Bruce, did you even read my note?”

“—so Nigma can’t use the knowledge of my identity as a backchannel to get a message through, I find it hard to believe it matters.”

“Look, I know I’m not Riddler and it’s not exactly a clue, but it is the closest thing to a pre-crime communiqué as you’ve had in some time.  As a courtesy, you could read it and grunt.”

“Or I could pack for Porto Venere,” Bruce said foppishly.

“Jackass,” Selina said.

“I’m sorry, Kitten,” he laughed, hugging her from behind.  “I just don’t think it’s going to be an issue.  I think you seriously underestimate how intimidating Batman is to other criminals.”

“But I don’t,” she said.  “Unfathomable as it is to me personally, I do grasp that they all look on you as something out of an Edgar Allen Poe story.  I just don’t think that will matter.  I think you’re the one underestimating how desperate he’s going to be.  Trust me.  He’ll come knocking on the devil’s door.”

“Well if he does, the devil’s butler has read your note and will inform him that the devil and devil’s bride-to-be—”

“Girlfriend.”

“—girlfriend, are vacationing in Positano.”

“Meow.”

A few hours later, Wayne One took off for Italy. 

A few hours after that, it transmitted an email to Bruce’s secretary Caroline, to Lucius Fox, to Fox’s secretary Monique, and to Gwen Chatham at the Foundation.  It was more sober and lucid than similar messages they had all received over the years, but the upshot was the same: all Bruce’s appointments cancelled; no reason given.  Mr. Wayne unavailable until further notice. 

A few hours after that, the Zeitgeist Gallery was burgled.  The empty case was discovered when the staff opened the doors at 8 a.m., just as Nigma was dabbing his lips after another Arkham breakfast that had been unchanged since 1971. 

At 8:20, when Detectives Schmidt and Ramirez arrived at Zeitgeist, Saul Vics was sneaking around the lockers and break rooms at Arkham to make sure Kreng, Oliver and Briggs would cover while he “made some phone calls.”  Knowing the code for running a profitable errand for one of the patients, they each quoted him a price, and after a little haggling, Vics returned to his post. 

At 8:45, he was pricing hotels in Atlantic City.  He was going to have a wad of cash by the end of the week, and it seemed a shame to blow it at the OTB when there were casinos full of free drinks and strippers to be had.  At Zeitgeist, Detective Schmidt was feeling patronized, marginalized, and finally ignored.  His partner was in the security office viewing the tapes from the night before.  His partner who bullshitted as if he understood all that gobbledygook about special chemicals treating the exhibits.  What it amounted to was this: the gallery brainiac spouting that stuff said it was impossible to get the pearls out of the room without setting off an alarm.  But the pearls were gone, no alarm had gone off, and none of them could explain how.  So who was really the idiot, that’s what Schmidt wanted to know.  He took a final turn look around the gallery, telling himself it was old-fashioned police work even if there was nothing to see.  The photographer took pictures, the videographer took video.  A technician in a white plastic hooded poncho was doing something underneath the cameras, and Schmidt simply walked the perimeter of the crime scene as it was marked off by police tape.  He walked clockwise, turned around and walked counter clockwise, feeling like a tiger in a too-small cage.  Then he decided to take a leak.  A few steps from the men’s room door he saw it—a little slip of paper on the floor.  Cafe Zoophilly, it read. 

At 9:18 the two detectives stood at the counter at Zoophilly, Schmidt leaning over the clerk aggressively while his partner looked like he was humoring an aging uncle with antiquated ideas. 

“Look, there’s a time and date on the slip,” Schmidt said in a bullying tone.  “So all you’ve got to do is tell us who paid for two coffees, a crescent roll and a blueberry scone here last Thursday.” 

“It’s a cash sale,” the clerk said miserably. 

“Hey, what about that,” Ramirez said, pointing to a camera above the counter. 

Schmidt swore under his breath, and the clerk called her manager about pulling the tapes for Thursday.

At Arkham, Saul Vics was lying unconscious at the bottom of a laundry chute, his phone smashed, uniform stripped, keyring and keycards taken, and a note in his wallet in Eddie’s handwriting saying the title of that song he asked about was “Hey, Look Behind You.”

At 11:30, Ramirez froze a still from the Zoophilly video that revealed the best angle on the customer making a purchase at the time stamped on the receipt.  Ignoring Schmidt’s observation that “she’s hot,” he touched his cursor to the top of each eye, the top of each cheekbone, the tip of her nose and chin.  He fired up the face recognition software, and as it loaded, he selected ten secondary points for comparison.  At Arkham, Amanda Pikes received an angry call from her building manager that six 40-lb bags of dog food had been delivered and were currently stacked outside her door.  He had no choice but to report this to the landlord, she knew the rules when she moved in.  She was frantically trying to explain that she had no dog when a guard appeared in the lock chamber from the high-security wing.  She was trying to explain that she hadn’t ordered any dog food—it wasn’t time for a shift change, but she opened the door—trying to explain that she hadn’t ordered dog food because she had no dog—the guard’s face did not match the picture on his badge and he signed the book Alpo Einstein, but she noticed neither as she went on to explain that she had no dog, never had a dog, didn’t like dogs…

At 11:53, the GPD’s Face Recognition Program matched the driver’s license of Doris Ingerson with the customer from Zoophilly.  At Arkham, Eddie shed Vics’s uniform shirt to reveal a broadcloth button-down whose quality, he hoped, would pass for a doctor’s (to the undiscriminating eye of an auto mechanic, at any rate).  The tow truck from Marty’s Garage, summoned by Dr. Deidrickson’s car insurance, was pulling through the gate and he went out to meet them.  He put on the smile of a board-certified psychiatrist who doesn’t know a thing about cars but is going to fake it in the hopes of not being cheated.  He explained, as if repeating verbatim what some car-savvy acquaintance just told him, that it must be the alternator.  It was the third time in as many months that a battery had up and died on him, so it really must be a problem with the alternator.  He smiled again as if to assure the driver that he knew exactly what all those words meant, and whatever an alternator was and however much it cost, he wasn’t going to pay any more than that, so don’t get any ideas.  The driver told him to get in the truck.  There was a bus stop not far from the garage, or he could call a cab from there...

At 12:39, with the cab ordered, Eddie stood in Marty’s tiny office while a grainy news report on a muted black-and-white TV taunted him with the cryptic headline: HEIST AT ZEITGEIST.  The crawl underneath was almost impossible to read, but he definitely saw the word priceless and that was all he needed to confirm his instinct.  He asked Marty if he could make another call and started dialing without waiting for an answer.  He closed his eyes and prayed she hadn’t changed her number.  It rang, rang, then picked up…

..::You have reached Doris Ingerson,::.. a woman’s voice began, a voice that was not Doris but which Eddie recognized just as well.  ..::I can’t come to the phone right now as the police have just picked me up for questioning.  If you’d like to leave a message, that’s really not going to do me much good.  If you want to make yourself useful, then listen carefully: Evidence is the key to my freedom.  I can’t escape like some Arkham loon.  Reason is going to be important.  She’s going to give you the runaround.  And if you still need to hear Robbie or the liar, then I am really in trouble.  Start at the hotel.::..

To be continued…


 

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