“Don Quixote, as in tilting at windmills,” Selina said dryly.
It was her fourth try since the Batmobile. The attempt to talk during patrol was first interrupted by a sedan hitting its turn signal a little too quickly when it spotted the Batman’s car turning into the street. The pursuit that followed ended the usual way: with a briefcase of cash and the location of the gun buy or drug buy it was headed for.
“So, Don Quixote?” Selina had said when the last of the dealers lay in a heap, but Batman didn’t respond. Two gloved fingers stretched out ever so slightly, the only sign that he’d heard as his eyes riveted on a van in the distance. Whatever raised his suspicions wasn’t clear, but he shot a line and took off after it. Catwoman followed and caught up with him at “The West Side Griffin.” Fifth Avenue again. Perched above the Sherry-Netherland, one of the most luxurious apartment hotels in the city—and not a place where you’d expect to see a van from BoCoCa dispensing passengers at this time of night. Yet a couple got out, bulges on each that might or might not be guns, and each carried a satchel that looked too light to have any contents—yet.
A La Vieille Russie, an antiques and jewelry paradise on the corner that specialized in Russian decorative art would have been Selina’s choice (and Game Theory’s, now that she thought about it, and was definitely a reason not to educate Doris about Fifth Avenue alarms) but the couple passed their door and were heading towards the hotel with their empty not-luggage. That meant it was just a matter of timing. Batman was adept at waiting just long enough for a perp to flash a gun or to utter enough syllables to make their intent clear, and his aggressive focus seemed to ionize the air. It crackled with the coiled intensity. Poised, seething, waiting… waiting just long enough for a perp to flash a gun or to utter enough syllables to make his intent clear…
And what was clear in this case was the two they were watching were only part of the crew. The pair made no move for five minutes, they had to be waiting for something, and the Bat-Presence shifted. Aggression gave way to something just as intense but grounded and infinitely calm, as patient as the Earth and unnerving as an unnaturally still sea. When a third man entered the lobby, it seemed like that must be it. But again, nothing happened... and Selina was beginning to consider checking the alarms and maybe even the safe at A La Vieille Russie just to pass the time… But no, there was a limit to how long three strangers could hang out in the lobby without raising flags. If she took off, she’d miss the fun. She considered the lobby. With its arching frescoes and marble mosaic floors, not to mention the clone of Harry’s Bar, the Sherry evoked Venice (and its palazzos crowded with catworthy treasures) like few spots in Gotham. With over 150 residences, yet enough traditional hotel rooms that could be had for a night, it was a perfect playground. It might not be Date Night, but there would be other nights and—
—And another pair of well-dressed and subtly-armed goons was coming through the door at last. Beside her, Catwoman felt a tingle between her legs as the heady Bat-presence vanished. He was getting into position.
Once the thugs finally made their move—and the security guard declared himself an out-of-work actor who was just trying to pay rent—it took Batman almost twenty-eight seconds to dispatch three of the four with guns, while Catwoman picked off the last. Too long but it couldn’t be helped, not with two staff huddled on the floor and the youngest perp—angry and far too edgy with his finger on the trigger—yelling at them not to look up, and the night clerk made to stand facing the wall where he was all too likely to catch a bullet from guns two or four if they were fired.
When the last armed man was down, Catwoman made her way behind the front desk to the tiny, old-fashioned cashier’s closet where the fifth was drilling safe deposit boxes. She let her shadow creep over him, Bat-style, until the change in lighting broke his focus on the task.
“Just how long do you need to get those open?” she asked in a more playful tone than the usual pointy-eared shadow. Then she stepped into the tiny room, crowding him and pushing his back against the boxes, and sniffed as though analyzing the particles his drilling had thrown into the air. She clicked her tongue. “So we’ve opened… (more judgmental tongue clicking) …two. Silly boy, you should have started with that one.”
She pointed with the instinct of a master thief, when Batman struck, knocking the perp out with a single lightning strike, and Catwoman pouted.
“I had a mouse,” she complained. “I was playing with my mouse. It’s a cat thing, it’s very well known.”
“It’s not date night, remember?” he graveled.
“So, no…?” she said, holding up a diamond teardrop from Box 27 to dangle like an earring. “Woof.”
This time Don Quixote didn’t get a mention. This time they didn’t make it to the car. Batman had summoned it, but as soon as they walked out of the hotel, the Bat-Signal was shining over the skyline and Selina shook her head.
“To dream the impossible dream,” she semi-sung. “To try and explain a protocol during patrol. To wait—”
“It’s only a block to the penthouse,” Batman cut her off. “We’ll sleep there tonight, talk when I get back or in the morning depending on how long this takes.”
“You’re no fun,” she announced flatly, and he grunted.
He meant for her to go to the penthouse and crash. Instead she went to the satellite cave beneath the tower and checked on the Demon cell in Rio (which, in the way of cat toys, she still considered hers whether Batman was back on the case or not.) When they realized it wasn’t any Demon outpost she’d uncovered but the Gang of Six, Bruce opted to leave them where they were. If he took them down, it would mean someone else stepping in just to keep the lights on. When that someone was ready to make their move, Bruce would be blindsided with another Falstaff. But leave the Six where they were, monitor the situation closely and when they were ready, he would be ready.
You couldn’t fault his logic, but so far, it didn’t look like the monitoring had uncovered much. She had been targeting the areas the Gang of Six dismantled or gutted to finance Falstaff. Like a wildcat picking off stragglers, she had preyed on the weak, and for a while, it worked beautifully. A pair of former outposts converted to make pricey chocolate were typical: not only was it prohibitively expensive for Demon to reclaim them, it grew Selina’s own war chest for the next assault. But now it seemed like the organization had stopped falling behind; in fact, it seemed like they were catching up. How was that possible?
She bit her lip thoughtfully. What would she do for a quick injection of cash? That castle of his in Mongolia, she decided. In her brief time as a prisoner there, she glimpsed enough riches to fund a revolution or two. Maybe it was the Sherry reminding her of Venice or A La Vieille Russie of those Paris apartments when she was starting out, belonging to exiled Russian aristocrats and stuffed with—ack!
The roar of the Batmobile was hardly unexpected and certainly no cause for alarm, but Selina found herself hurriedly closing windows.
“Meow,” she said casually as the Dark Knight approached.
“I figured you’d have gone to bed,” he graveled, pulling off the gloves.
“Rothchild treasures at the British Museum,” she said, pointing to the browser she had opened in reserve. “The Waddeston Bequest, going into the new gallery. I’ve been meaning to take a look, see which pieces they decided to exhibit. Isn’t it pretty?”
“Mhm,” Bruce said skeptically, then he read over her shoulder in the tone that called out a regular adversary on an obvious lie. “’The Palmer Cup. Enameled and gilded Syrian glass goblet with scene depicting a prince and attendants, mounted on French silver gilt foot. Early 13th century.’ Ra’s has a set of thirty-six at the castle in Mongolia.”
“Oh, really?” Selina said, dripping innocence to cover the coincidence.
“Things are busy with all the Rogues out of Arkham right now, but when things quiet down we can take a long weekend if you’d like to go.”
“Sure, I love London this time of year,” she beamed. “We should bring Alfred this time. And see a show.”
“We can do that if you want,” Bruce said, pulling off the cowl. “But I meant Mongolia. I somehow had the idea you wanted to burgle the castle.”
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” Selina said, relinquishing the single workstation of the smaller cave and thinking, not for the first time, that there’s a point where that detective instinct of his became creepy. “Don Quixote,” she said to change the subject. “As in tilting at windmills.”
But he held up a finger that meant later. He was staring pointedly at the screen, concentrating, and then began typing. The log, she sighed, and the long-deferred explanation of the Quixote-Superman connection would be deferred one more time. Selina went up to the penthouse, took a long shower, and was rewarded with the discreet ping of the elevator just as she was getting into bed.
“Say it now,” Bruce graveled, backlit as he stood in the bedroom doorway, the silhouette adding a touch of Bat-theatricality to his otherwise mundane appearance.
“Don Quixote, as in tilting at windmills,” she pronounced dryly.
“As in an old man obsessed with romantic tales of chivalry,” Bruce amended. “Stayed up all night reading and not sleeping for weeks at a stretch until his mind finally snapped.”
“Yeah, I know the story, Bruce. The book by Cervantes, the thirty or so major artworks based on it—including the Picasso still in the Montez Collection, screw you Dark Knight—the ballet, the two opera and the musical. Thought he was knight fighting for justice, riding around having noble adventures. Jousted with windmills thinking they were giants.”
“Until the Knight of the Mirrors. ’El Caballero de los Espejos lo fuerza a mirarse en el espejo de la realidad a verse a sí mismo como el mundo lo ve,’” Bruce quoted. “‘The Knight forces him to look in the mirror of reality to see himself as the world sees him.’ It’s not the reflection of the noble hero he imagines himself to be but a crazy old man.
“Selina, you said it yourself, Clark has always assumed that ordinary people recognize Luthor’s insane bias. He assumed they realize Luthor is painting a picture that is nothing like the real Superman. But that first movie was so successful they’re making another. Don’t you see, Clark is afraid he’s Don Quixote and that movie is showing him how he really looks to the world—maybe even showing him what he really is.”
“That makes a horrible kind of sense,” Selina said quietly. “And doesn’t sound like something that can be fixed naming a tiger cub Mir-Te El. I really hope you’ve got something better.”
Bruce’s eyes flicked around the room the way he gave a final check of the surroundings before swinging into a planned assault on an enemy base.
“It may raise a few eyebrows doing this before the wedding,” he began as if the casual socialite-at-the-country-club voice he’d assumed didn’t make a bizarre contrast to the post patrol musk of sweat-soaked leather, dried blood and a hint of bourbon from the bottle Wharf Rat Mike had broken across the body armor. “But it will raise flags to do it any other way; eyebrows are preferable. Selina, I want you taking over my seat on the museum board—now calm down.”
She hadn’t said a word but her eyes had narrowed, first by the emergence of the country club voice, now by the preemptive call for calm. Bruce continued without a pause:
“Somebody has to throw their weight around, get the museum to create some sizable commissions, and for no other reason than ‘because I want it done.’ There’s no reason for Bruce Wayne to want this, but Superman gave you tigers. He escorted you to the polo match. There was even a movie based on Catwoman that got more wrong than it got right; it would be the most natural thing in the world for the subject to have come up. This will be a lot more plausible coming from you: A lunch with Richard Flay before the meeting, ‘I need you to back me up on this’ calls to Barry Hobbs and Sophia Beaufort lining up the votes, and so on. No one will wonder why you’re doing it.”
“Except for me,” Selina pointed out. “I still don’t know what we’re talking about. Clark was afraid he’s Don Quixote, then there was a shady sedan on its way to buy drugs, a hotel robbery, you pummeled my mouse, now I’m serving on a museum board for a year?”
“Bruce, you know I can carry it off, but honestly, there are people who would find it aggressive, or awkward or downright weird. Do you know how many times I’ve robbed that place?”
“Yes, and you would have served more than a year,” he said—still in the brunch-at-the-country club voice, which was disturbing.
“Someone would have had to catch me for that to happen,” she pointed out, to which he replied:
“Didn’t hold me though, did you?” she replied instantly and with a playful grin. “It’s going to be six hours prep time at least to be sure of the votes and say an hour and a half for the meeting itself. That’s actually longer it than it took to case the bank in Metropolis. When you didn’t have me long enough to make it back to the car.”
“Feline logic,” in answer to that, to which she replied: “Jackass.”
By the time he was under the sheets, the Bat-brevity of patrol and log-making summaries was finally giving way to a more detailed explanation:
“The museum should create five or six commissions, possibly as many as eight though I don’t think more than that would be prudent. It’s the kind of thing it’s useful to let them focus on, let them spend their energies debating the details we don’t care about so they don’t touch the ones we do.”
“I’m familiar with the strategy; I used it on you for about three years.”
“No you didn’t,” Bruce said dismissively, to which she replied “Amberville penthouse through the Polar Star.”
“The museum should create five or six commissions, possibly as many as eight,” Bruce repeated firmly. “Either on powered heroes generally, or on some broader theme where our chosen artist will focus on superheroes, Superman specifically, as the facet he wants to explore. Once things are in motion there, you’ll start working with the Foundation again. It will be easy to position yourself as the go-between with the museum; Lucius and Cynthia know nothing about art. They defer to me, and that’s after I said some things as the drunken playboy that you don’t want to know about.”
“Picasso’s mutant three-breasted mistress?” Selina said with a knowing smile. “I heard.”
“Maisie Fitzwilliam,” Selina explained. “She was a little quicker than the others realizing I was here to stay, and I guess you had fopped a few times with her daughter Annie. She figured if I was out of the picture, Annie still had a shot.”
“But she didn’t want to do it in such a way that made an enemy if it didn’t work, so she tried to scare you off with tales of the drunken playboy. Maisie is not the worst strategist on the North Shore.”
“Back to the Foundation,” Selina suggested. “I’ll be the go-between with the museum, which will be fine with Lucius and Cynthia because I know more about art. But what am I actually doing?”
“You’ll be working with the Cultural Arts division, specifically Erika, Lewis and Eloise who will be giving out a new round of grants. Their recent work has all been dovetailing with the Neighborhoods initiative: murals, grass roots projects initiated by the residents to elevate local artists, that kind of thing. It’s a departure for them and these grants, prestigious grants for elite artists, will be a return to the kind of projects they came to the Foundation for. That should all work in your favor. I’m not saying they're snobs, but they will want to prove themselves to you. You should have no trouble making sure one of the artists recognized with a grant is Kyle Rayner.”
“Who will also be receiving one of those museum commissions, because I’m just that good,” Selina said, confirming the plan. “A trial run string pulling as Mrs. Wayne, you’re enjoying that part, aren’t you? Don’t think I don’t recognize the smirk.”
Bruce admitted there was a certain Catwoman-trouncing-Prometheus appeal to the idea, but he doubted the meeting minutes would measure up to the spectacle on the Watchtower security feeds. Once again, she called him a jackass.
“So what began with a couple of hours prep time and a board meeting at the museum is now a month at least with the grants crew at the Foundation. Why am I giving up all this Doris training and Catitat time to pull strings for Earth’s youngest Green Lantern?”
“Because artists aren’t generally receptive to ‘the money’ telling them what to do,” Bruce said evenly. “And Kyle will execute this exactly the way I tell him to… or, actually, the way you tell him. It will be better if you’re go-between there as well. You ‘speak artist,’ and you can bond over the lies the Gotham Post continues to tell about you both.”
It was Selina’s turn to stare. In a sentence the protocol had morphed to give her a new assignment.
“Bruce,” she said cautiously. “We’re not even married yet. Exactly how many of your future protocols are going to consist entirely of me being your diplomacy beard?”
“Because, really, very few people think of me as the sweet one.”
“Selina, it’s for Clark,” he said simply.
“Turn out the light.”
The first Date Nights ended at the penthouse for simplicity sorting out the cars the next morning, though there was a touch of nostalgia that neither expected. For Selina, occasionally going home to a high rise terrace reminded her of her old apartment, when a night’s acquisition never quite made good on its promise to fill a never-admitted void, when a fresh encounter with Batman made a different promise of something to dream on. Pricking those old memories, bitter and sweet, when he was right there within arm’s reach was a very particular and very potent form of catnip.
For Bruce, the nostalgia was also tied to Selina’s old place rather than the penthouse itself. When he had lived in the penthouse alone, he’d returned from patrol in the Batmobile as he had tonight. Wrapping up patrol in the middle of the city, firing the Batline at a high rise terrace and going inside to a home, feeling that hyper-awareness ebb before he’d even taken off the mask, that wasn’t something that ever happened here. It was unique to those post-patrol visits to Selina. Tonight especially, it stirred memories of that time, dreams from that time… and nightmares.
“You still have the ring, just in case?”
Clark’s voice echoing in his dreaming mind. An emergency teleport to Metropolis, knowing the worst had happened. A layover at the Watchtower, choking on contempt he didn’t have time for. The nightmare scenario the protocols were written to anticipate and every one of them knew it. There was no time to consider their hypocrisy, Skyclad and MKULTRA had taken control of Superman and it was on him to stop it…
Eventually the dream faded and the present rushed in on the faint smell of brewing coffee… that meant the penthouse not the manor where sounds and smells from the kitchen were unknown in the upstairs rooms… Bruce stretched and reached for a robe, the detective mind starting the day before any other part of him with a little warm-up exercise:
Since he moved back to the manor, the penthouse was little used and the pantry was all but empty. The morning after those first date nights, Selina got up first, took a quick walk to Bouchon or Kayser and returned with a bag of croissants just as if she was in Paris. It was their routine for about six weeks, until Alfred absorbed the pattern and began having groceries delivered to the penthouse after 4:30 Friday afternoon. Since then, Saturday morning at the penthouse resembled sleeping over at Selina’s old place, except today it wouldn’t, since last night’s patrol was never supposed to be Date Night. Bruce walked to the kitchen and, as expected, found Selina arranging croissants on a plate.
“Another throwback,” he said in a throaty gravel that owed more to morning mouth than raging contempt for criminals.
“Good morning,” she said pointedly. “Coffee? Or do I detect a headache?” she asked, reading the signs as he rubbed his brow above his right eye, then his neck, then looked down at the coffee cup like a henchman’s mug shot.
“A bit,” he said. “Mostly a nightmare, didn’t get much sleep after that… Spending the night here sometimes reminds me of your old place.”
“Not sure I like the implication there,” she teased.
“You remember the night I had so much trouble handling the menu at d’Annunzio’s?”
“I remember you lied to me like I was some bimbo, telling me you hurt your hand playing racquetball. I had to find out on CNN you’d been fighting Superman. You’d never done that before, treating me like other people.”
“Not before or since,” Bruce said sincerely. “There were a lot of reasons I didn’t want to talk about it. It was more than just ‘a bad day’ like I told you, it was… You didn’t know about the kryptonite ring. You didn’t know Clark. The protocols we reference so easily now, it was a fresh wound back then. I had to use the League transporter to get to Metropolis in a hurry, the hypocrisy of it during the layover was just…” Again he rubbed his forehead. “There was no way to really talk about it, the parts that mattered.”
“So it’s been sitting in your head un-talked about for all this time and gave you a whopping nightmare,” Selina guessed, reaching out to take his hand. “Why not talk to Alfred? Or Dick?”
“Not appropriate,” he said dismissively. “Dick and Barbara just got engaged. We were finally getting along, and I didn’t want to sabotage it before the wedding. You have no idea how… volatile the protocols issue was for him, his position with the Titans, his friendship with Wally and Kyle. And as for Alfred, I’ll talk to him about almost anything, but with something like this… He worries too much as it is. The thought of me fighting Superman he doesn’t need in his head.”
“I’m pretty sure Alfred has a working television in his room, Bruce. He saw the same footage I did. Superman throwing a helicopter at your head.”
“Yes, that was a stunning visual that made great television,” Bruce said with a wry smile. “It’s the memorable image for the rest of the world. But from my point of view, you’ve been in those fights, you know the… the ‘standout moments’ are different.”
Selina gave his hand a squeeze.
“Then tell me now. I know about the ring now. And I know Clark; I know you’re like brothers. And I can take it. I’m not Alfred. I can live with this in my head. Let’s hear it. What’s it like getting into a fistfight with Superman?”
“You have to shut out every instinct,” Bruce said in a distant, almost robotic voice. “Will yourself to put all you can behind a blow aimed just at the top of the jaw, knowing the ring will make it effective, not keep it from hurting like hell. It forces Superman to roll with it, mind-controlled or not, kryptonite cancels out Kryptonian and lets physical law take its course. Action begets reaction and that impossible bulk moves with the force of a blow rather than pushing it back into my hand. It still hurts. A lot. The first blow hurts and this was the fifth.”
“The dream, you mean?”
Bruce nodded. “Yes. You can’t imagine what it takes, hitting Superman four times and blocking out everything to make your body do it again. It was after that fifth punch he took off again—I knew it was a part of Clark’s mind trying to help, trying to keep him from blocking or hitting back with what could easily be lethal force—but it forced another high altitude pursuit with the Batline around his knee. My arm was on fire, I can’t even describe what was going on in my hand, and I knew if I passed out from the pain, there was only the slimmest chance… He might not even notice when my weight dropped off, and if he did, there was maybe a fifty-fifty chance it would snap him out of it in time to reach me.”
“Good call not telling Alfred,” Selina said dryly.
“There was a part of him trying to help,” Bruce repeated. “He was trying to shake me off, but he did it where there were safe rooftops to drop to, rather than, say, climbing above the atmosphere or diving into the river.”
“Of course, that’s Clark,” Selina beamed, then her smile faded. “It was right after that fight he told me about Clark Kent.”
“That was tied up with the ring too,” Bruce said. “When Luthor became President, Lois took it harder than anyone. Clark thought it would give her some peace of mind to know at least one thing was under control. He didn’t mean anything more than telling her it was in my hands, but to me, that didn’t mean a thing without telling her who Batman was.”
“Because Clark entrusted it to you, the real man underneath, not a persona,” Selina said, and he nodded. It might not have made sense to everyone, but to Selina who had seen him draw the distinction in every significant advance of their relationship, it was typically Bruce.
“To Clark, it only made sense to close the circle,” he concluded. “Telling you his identity. Keeping the ring is a responsibility. It’s doing what I did that day. If he’s not in control, if he becomes a threat to the people around him, it’s a means to… handle it. And he clearly felt, just as I did, that it was wrong to ask that without your knowing the man he was.”
“I think it was more than that,” Selina said with a strange emphasis. “And I think I’m starting to realize why Clark’s always been so invested in us as a couple. You’re kind of a hero to him—Don’t make that face, hear me out. Think about the recurring theme since this movie nonsense began: He’s an alien, he’s not from here, and he’s got that subliminal background track in his head every minute of every day reminding him he’s different so he doesn’t crush somebody’s hand when he meets them or rip the door off Lois’s car. Without obsessing over it, he looks for little checks where he can. Particularly when insecurity looms, he looks to nature and Earth’s native inhabitants for some little sign he’s getting it right. And he meets you. Same basic line of work, a ‘cape’ who fights crime and holds a line against the deeper threats, leads a double life, has a secret identity…”
“But born here,” Bruce cut her off. “So if I get married, it’s a bit of vindication that he ‘got it right’ marrying Lois?”
“Yes,” Selina nodded, but Bruce shook his head.
“I’m inclined to think it’s simply what he said initially: we see the worst of the world on a regular basis, and it’s important to have something—to have someone—to go home to at the end of the day. Otherwise you wind up thinking the strife and pain and suffering IS the world.”
Bruce held up his hand to stay the interruption.
“No ‘yes buts,’ please. The battles we fight, the anger and the hatred, the madness and violence we take on, the pain we endure, it’s to ‘save the world.’ But once you get to a place where that pain and suffering is the world, there’s less and less reason to. It’s that touchstone when the fight is over, going home to a place of warmth and acceptance and… and love, that’s what we save the world for.”
Their eyes met briefly, Selina kissed his cheek to keep from bogging down in sentiment, and then scratched it playfully.
“You’re such a romantic, and I will always find it hilarious that nobody else sees it. Look, I concede all that. I’m sure Clark meant it when he spelled out those reasons, and I’m sure he’s right—particularly in your case. Hell, I was president of Batman Should Get a Life long before he started playing matchmaker. I was very specific, if you remember…” She paused and waved, and then twiddled her fingertips over the center of his chest where the emblem would be. “…about with whom, where, how, how often, in what positions, and what toys in the utility belt might bring some added fun to the party in ways you never thought of.”
Her playful manner faded and the teasing eyes became thoughtful.
“Why do I do that?” she muttered. “This isn’t about naughty rooftop sex. What you’re talking about: the love and acceptance, coming home to each other at the end of the day, even when we’ve been out there together fighting side by side, it is what’s most important in dealing with all that you do and not becoming a monster… But Bruce, you had that when he started pushing for the wedding. And I think the reason he wanted you to put a ring on it is exactly what I said before. Of course 99% is he’s you’re friend and he wants you to be happy. The other 1% is that you’re doing what he did.
“It’s why the whole ‘World’s Finest partnership’ with Batman is so gratifying for him: it’s 99% because he likes you and the two of you work well together, of course. But the other 1%? That’s humanity’s seal of approval. Because you’re the best of us, Bruce. (I mean it, don’t make that face again. It’s not helping.) You’re the poster child for what people can do. One person without a superpower or a meta gene, just drive, desire and dedication. Not to mention a boatload of stubborn.
“So of course you’re his hero. Of course when he gets his hands on that kryptonite ring, he gives it to you. He could have destroyed it, but he’s Clark and he’s got that background track in his head. He knows a possibility exists and he could never live with himself if it happened and he hadn’t taken every precaution he could. And of course that precaution is you—Will you please stop making that face.”
“It’s not modesty or false modesty, Selina. There’s an aspect of the planned movie that I haven’t mentioned. Batman versus Superman.”
“Are you kidding me?” Selina mouthed, and Bruce pointed to the center of his chest in disgust.
“Voice of humanity,” he announced. “Telling him he’s doing it wrong. That he doesn’t belong here. That his coming here is the worst thing that’s ever happened to mankind.”
Kitty had to scratch. At least once in every team-up with Batman, Selina felt compelled to assert her independence. She would help, she didn’t want the world to end, she liked living in it. But she had to remind him at regular intervals that she wasn’t following orders like a trained spaniel. A part of her wanted to think that had changed. Batman wasn’t a controlling cape anymore, he was her partner. Soon to be her husband. And she’d asked him to do this. But he did hand off the lion’s share of the busywork on this plan of his, and he’d done it with the same casual air of that first team-up when he assigned her to “Get the disk from the data well” without even mentioning the military-grade infrareds, ultrasound and motion sensors run off a heuristic algorithm made by Brainiac.
In retrospect, it could be seen as a compliment, but at the time Kitty really wanted to scratch. Maybe that’s why she decided to ignore Bruce’s outline and plan it out like a heist. She’d installed herself on the sofa in the morning room and began arranging note cards like so many timetables, schematics and security codes. Each card named a board member, listed contact points, strategies and potential stumbling blocks. In the top position above all the cards, there was a picture of Fiona Dalgleish clipped from Gotham Magazine’s 10 Most Powerful Women in Art. Selina was no fan of the curator (nor, she imagined, was Fiona Dalgleish a fan of Catwoman’s) but the quote that appeared under her picture won her that placement usually assigned to the ruby tiara or golden Bast Selina deemed Cat-worthy: “There’s art, there’s the art world, and there’s the world. It’s important to know the difference.”
She asked Alfred to bring her a snack, munching being an important part of her heist-planning process at this early stage, and a glass of chardonnay in compliment to that sweet little wine bar in Metropolis. Then she began swapping note cards...
Richard Flay was the key to board members who cared about art. It pricked pride that he was also the first name Bruce had mentioned, but that couldn’t be helped. If she started with one of the others, he might hear about it and with that Rogue-size ego of his, he might just take offense. So she had to start with him, but at least she wouldn’t be asking him to lunch.
The cab dropped Richard Flay at the same spot in front of the Sherry-Netherland where the suspicious van had dropped the first wave of armed thugs. After the requisite air kisses, he and Selina walked to the window of A La Vieille Russie where he explained what they both knew: that the name meant ‘In Old Russia’ and the store was founded in Kiev in 1851. They noted a few Russian antiques worth admiring and then went inside.
Selina made one of her little jokes at the front door, pretending she didn’t know how to use it. Since Flay had a shadow collection with several pieces of stolen art, allusions to Catwoman’s acquisitive past had always formed a bond between them and he tittered appreciatively. Then the salesman greeted them, and the chit-chat became more decorous. He mentioned TEFAF, the European Fine Arts Fair where the shop had exhibited for over twenty years, the clientele you simply didn’t see anywhere else, the museum curators and collectors from across the world… Finally, after all the right things had been said, by Richard, by Selina and by the salesman himself, they were granted a first look at the pieces A La Vieille Russie would be exhibiting.
Afterwards, they walked to D’Annunzio’s for a limoncello.
“So what do you think?” Selina asked when they were safely out on the street.
“About the enamel bowl? I don’t think it’s imperial, but it’s certainly very pretty,” he said. “Early 20th Century, Moscow. Ivan Khlebnikov or possibly Nikolai Alekseev. Selina, what is this about? You know I cherish my position as art advisor to all my friends, but I know you don’t particularly need my expertise. So why am I here?”
She gave a self-deprecating laugh at being called out and then explained the project, the commissions, and their purpose in broad ideological terms.
“Richard,” she concluded, “there's a niche out there with a seemingly pathological fascination reimagining heroes through the eyes of a myopic sociopath. The real Superman is just like the real Catwoman, he'd have plenty of commercial draw if represented properly. It’s a choice to depict him the way they do, to make him less than he should be: so flawed and miserable that nothing about his superior condition is seen as desirable. A sepia-toned alternate universe where everybody is selfish and corrupt, or at best confused, and anyone who appears to act from noble motives is sick or afraid or kidding themselves.”
He sipped his drink and looked into the distance thoughtfully. To a casual observer he looked like a wine taster considering a complex vintage, when in fact he was examining the ideas in a similar way.
“It’s a cancer of the human spirit,” Selina went on. “First, it subtly changes the meaning of hero, then it subtly changes the meaning of hope. Poisoning the very things we use to make sense of the world, to meet the challenges that come along. If even the heroes are damaged and broken, futilely beating their fists against an uncaring universe, well there’s no reason to feel bad for being a loser, is there? It gives you free reign to swallow your sadness behind a superior smirk and give up. There was never any point in trying to achieve anything because you were always doomed to fail. Nothing gets better. Never has, never will… And nobody calls them out on it because they’ve managed to be so unspeakably pretentious, half the people out there think that picture they’re painting actually is art.”
Richard’s eyes popped open at that, the whites showing around the eyeball, the pupils shrunk to pinheads.
“That is most unfortunate,” he proclaimed.
Selina pushed her advantage.
“It’s true. You put on enough airs, there are always people who will fall for it, who will be convinced you’ve got the intellectual high ground.”
Richard’s eyes darkened as when presented with a particularly mediocre forgery.
“Oh, I’m sure there are a few who simply like the message,” Selina went on, stepping into a camera’s blind spot in the vestibule of the CBMetro... “Nobody gets to have a hero who doesn’t kill or has any kind of standards in that area. But most of them know that’s not Superman, they just don’t know how to articulate it with these poseurs.” … waiting to zing the PF-1s with Kittlemeier’s wave cancellation box.
“The Perenyi forgeries,” he sniffed. “Anyone with modicum of understanding could look at those ‘old masters’ and see there was something wrong, they just didn’t know what it was. And if one did have a sense the palette was off on the Madonna or something in her features was a bit too modern, it would be hard to look around Asquith House and imagine you’re right and all those recognized experts are wrong.”
“Richard, you know pop culture is never going to suit up to grapple with ideas like this,” Selina said, easing through the conversation like so many pressure tiles in the CBMetro vault. “So it falls to real artists, to real art, n'est pas?”
There was another wine-taster’s pause.
“Samantha Ambrose,” he answered. “Gerald Grimes, Clarice Rodman-Platt and Charles Tremont. I can deliver them, and of course you have my vote as long as you allow me to guide you at the Friss auction.”
“Richard, we talked about this. I know you get little ideas about people. I know Trip Corcoran had no interest in bronze mirrors before you got your hooks into him, ditto Tabitha Hamilton and Roman glass. Wayne Manor has enough Georgian silver.”
“A lady in your position should collect,” he said firmly.
In her mind’s ear, she heard Bruce’s voice. “It’s for Clark.”
The “Art World” voting block was the easiest to sway. Trip Corcoran was in the midst of an acquisition and was bursting to talk about it in detail—all the detail—every wriggling cell of a detail that was fascinating if you were in the middle of it and tortuous pedantry if you weren’t. Good manners prevented his inflicting an unabridged account on his friends, but Selina knew the signs from the Iceberg. Eddie, Harvey, Oswald, Jervis, even Victor Frieze on occasion.
“…gallery has spaces all over the world, and obviously in touch with Savvas even if they’re not actively representing him. What harm could it do to ask? So the next time I saw Harper, before we even got into the other thing, I asked about buying a photo from his Pitch series…”
Bursting to talk.
“You know, in the sense of a soccer field. For the summer house…”
She had probably done it herself.
“Well as it happens, Leslie Grier—you might have heard of her, sort of the West Coast Gail Frakes…”
Though not with death traps of course.
“Requested the very piece I was asking about for her ‘Sublime Sunset’ show at SAFMA later this spring and Savvas is providing one directly from his archive. ‘Only on loan and NFS’ – my heart stopped – but she would ask.”
It’s not like it was worse than the plot to lure Robin into a tar pit and leave his utility belt with the grizzly bears in Robinson Park Zoo.
“‘I’m sure he could be persuaded to release it because it’s you.’”
So she’d asked Trip to lunch.
“Now, Harper and I go back to Rollins, she wouldn’t puff me if she didn’t think there wasn’t a sale. Anyway, she said there had also been one available to them last year, in Gotham, available through the secondary market and she could make inquiries, but with the edition out of print it could be difficult to source…”
She pretended not to be bored.
“It would be so much better to get it directly from Savvas, obviously. Puts one on a different tier. I hadn’t thought about it until then, I just wanted the piece because I liked it. But once I saw it slipping away, I realized... that cache. To be brought up to other guests at an opening and introduced as ‘The Collector’ or ‘The Patron,’ well, you don’t exactly get that with a Han Dynasty mirror. But to get a piece straight from a living artist…”
She took note of the names he thought worth dropping.
“Then came the plot twist—uncrating the piece going to San Francisco, Savvas said the frame was damaged and he wanted to replace it. But there wasn’t time so he was sending Series I, not II, which was 100,000 Euros more. I figured Blair would put her foot down.”
The collectors, shows, galleries and critics he thought were significant.
“It would mean no Tuscany this year and maybe making some other cuts—and worse, to avoid the local sales tax, the thing has to be invoiced before it ships. So ‘no pressure but I need an answer today.’”
She didn’t have to prime him with details of her project. She was spending her afternoon listening to his Tales of the Football Pitch, she had an ally. He would say all the right things at the meeting to bring the others of the Art World mentality on board.
“Harper insisted they wouldn’t have access to an edition again once the window closed with San Francisco and it would be better to pay the California sales tax rather than let it go home and import it a second time…”
It was for Clark.
You couldn’t swing a whip on this particular stretch of Upper East Side without hitting art, but Selina wasn’t there for any of the seven museums or five galleries within scratching distance. She wasn’t even heading into The Mark for its standing among art thieves as Gotham’s hotel of choice. Neither art nor the art world had any role in this last pre-meeting contact, unless you counted the Pop Art-inspired Prada Sophia Beaufort was wearing from last year’s Milan runway.
Sophia was one of those wives whose marriage was a social contract: running and redecorating two houses, town and country, that might become three when the last of the children finished college; raising the children until then; maintaining an active and visible presence on the charity circuit, on boards and at the club; managing their social life and of course keeping the looks that marked her as a trophy. The Frédéric Fekkai Salon at The Mark twice a week for “maintenance” was part of her job, which meant Selina could drop in to get her brows done and achieve an accidental meeting that ignored all of Bruce’s suggestions.
“Selina, thank God!” it began—which wasn’t exactly the sorority smile greeting she was expecting.
“Crisis?” Selina guessed.
“Disaster. Chailai, my manicurist, is out today. Thai, you know. I have to take my chances with one of the Russians or skip the mani-pedi entirely. And it’s not like I can expect a straight answer from the staff. Please tell me you’ve used them and if they’re any good.”
“No idea,” Selina said regretfully. “But you know the difference between a good manicure and a bad one? Three days. I say roll the dice.”
“Do I dare?” she asked.
“Fortune favors the bold,” Selina encouraged her. “Tell you what, I’ll get one too. That way we’re in this together and if it goes wrong, it will make a better story.”
Rapport was never bought so cheaply. Selina picked a dusty pink polish (Dior) and Sophia a deep red (Chanel) and while nails were shaped and highlights applied, Selina listened to Sophia’s trials. Somehow, despite a personal assistant, calligrapher, dog walker, two housekeepers, driver and cook, she was stressed and exhausted. Absurd perhaps, but her troubles were real to her and it cost nothing to listen. The truth was, it was hard not to like Sophia. She was raising four children, running two houses, and had a rather touching fear that to allow a hair out of place in the midst of it was some kind of personal failing. And she was loyal to Bruce when Falstaff was talking trash about the Wayne Foundation; that carried a lot of weight with Selina.
On an impulse she said so, and Sophia was quite alarmingly moved by the compliment. Her vote at the upcoming board meeting was promised before Selina explained what she wanted support for. As a bonus, she learned she could accidentally meet Samantha Ambrose that afternoon at the Off Fifth Day Spa, Brooke York at Drôme, and Liv Bantree at the Missoni trunk show.
It was for Clark.
To be continued...