“I know they’re in the room now,” whispered Mrs. Ashton-Larraby with a
pointed nod of the head towards Bruce and Selina’s table, “so I’m not
naming names. I’m just saying that I’m not completely convinced the
change is permanent. I don’t know
if … the person in question has really, well, reformed.”
“I don’t think I’d use that word in any case, Gladys.
‘Reformed’ makes it sound like there’s something wrong with the way
they were before, and that’s bound to raise hackles, whether they’ve turned
over a new leaf or not.”
“There is something wrong with it, Matilda, it’s immoral.”
“Just because someone doesn’t live their life by your rules doesn’t
make it immoral.”
“Oh, come now. Every week a new girl.
Half the time, he didn’t even know
their names. I’ve seen him peek
at the placecards during dinner, and one time when it didn’t give her name, he
called his own date ‘Miss Guest.’”
“Well, I’m all in favor of ‘the R-word.’
It was dreadful trying to keep track of all the people one couldn’t sit
him next to: the jealous boyfriends, the angry exes, the sisters, friends, and
psychiatrists of the exes.”
“Will be dull, though. Clive
and his friends always, I shouldn’t say this, but they used to bet on the
height and hair color of whatever woman Bruce brought to a party.”
“And of the one he left with.”
There was a round of uncharitable laughter as the trio forgot they were not
to be naming names.
Selina munched a potato chip viciously as the IM window labeled IVY continued
to scroll text almost too quickly to read.
It went on like this for
some time. Much as Selina was
tempted to put Ivy on her ignore list, she knew that could be a costly mistake. Catwoman was proud of the way she could ‘humor and
handle’ her fellow rogues. If she
stopped listening for the sake of a few minutes’ peace and quiet, she might miss
important danger signals. Like this
One marked advantage of
dealing with crazies, Selina thought to herself, they do tend to babble every
thought in their heads. And
forewarned is forearmed.
That night, Bruce came
over to Selina’s apartment with sesame noodles from Little Saigon.
It was code for staying in to talk.
As Selina transferred the noodles into bowls, set out chopsticks and
glasses, and poured the wine, there was a slight, not entirely disagreeable,
tension in the air. The couple had
always enjoyed expecting the unexpected from the other, and since surviving
their first serious quarrel, they were finding a perverse thrill in alluding to
their stormy past:
“There’s a problem,”
they said in unison.
“An image problem,”
Selina spoke first after the verbal collision.
“You know about
that has me concerned, yes.”
“Well, we’ve got to do
something; can’t just let it fester.”
“Oh, I agree.”
“I didn’t think you
would even appreciate that it’s a problem.”
“I didn’t think you
They each smiled happily
that the other was being so understanding.
Then both spoke, again the same words, again spurted in unison:
“So what do we
do—Well, there’s the obvious—But you’d never approve of that.”
Then Selina asked
sarcastically: “You wouldn’t mind if I take Bunny
Wigglesworth’s tiara?” just as Bruce asked, “You don’t care if I start dating
the Laker Girls?”
There was a long silence before Bruce thoughtfully set down his chopsticks, started to speak, then thought the better of it. Selina placed her tongue on her upper lip and raised an index finger in the air, then she too decided to postpone the tricky business of constructing a sentence at that particular moment.
another false start, Bruce tried once more…
exactly are we
“I’m talking about my
standing with the other rogues since Catwoman’s gone legit, what the hell are
you talking about?”
“The fact that Bruce
Wayne hasn’t dated only one woman like this since never. Wait a minute,
you’re telling me it’s a PROBLEM not being known as a thief and a
it’s a problem not being seen as a Don Juan who thinks his money entitles him
to treat women like fashion accessories!”
And again in unison: “You so don’t get it— I don’t get it— But all YOU need to do is—”
In desperation, Bruce reached forward with Batman’s speed and placed a
finger over her mouth.
“All you’d need to
do,” he insisted while he had the floor, “is put it about that you’re using
me to get close to all the socialites and their million dollar jewel
Selina glared pointedly
at the index finger that still rested on her lip and snapped at it as Bruce
finally removed it.
“And all you’d
need to do is put it about that you’re using me for cheap thrills,”
Bruce’s eye twinkled as
he considered this: “Thrill seeking... like slumming at the Iceberg?
Or for that matter, putting the moves on
He looked up, expecting a
laugh at this rare attempt at humor, but received only a stony deadpan.
Batman was never interested,” Selina said airily.
Bruce put a hand on her waist and nuzzled her neck.
must be an idiot.”
The next night, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle entered the Iceberg Lounge with the
intention of defending their joint reputations of having “reformed.”
She would fence a few suitably suspicious items; he would leer at every
woman in the room—every woman except Poison Ivy, as a slap for “posterboy for
testosterone poisoning.” Then he
would spend the next day at the yacht club boasting how fast cars and the Playboy
twins are nothing compared to the world Selina opened up to him, slumming
with all those colorful underworld characters….
“BW from L, Paris,
1997.” Selina was reading the
inscription on an antique snuffbox Bruce passed her as a likely item to have
belonged to Bunny Wigglesworth. “So
who’s L?” she asked, arching an eyebrow.
Selina rolled her eyes
as a waitress came over to take their order.
Selina ordered a martini and asked to see Oswald; Bruce ordered a scotch
and leered at the waitress.
aka Penguin, proprietor of the Iceberg Lounge, waddled up to
their table a few minutes later. Selina
stood, telling Bruce to “soak up some atmosphere” while she and “Pengy” went
into his office to speak privately. But Cobblepot sat down, eager to talk with
the new arrival. Selina sat back down, eyeing the birdman suspiciously as
he played the dashing host to Bruce.
“Nigma said I was to
take first class care of you if you came in,” he oozed with what one
imagined he thought was charm.
he oozed with what one imagined he thought was charm.
After a few minutes of
bewildering smalltalk, Selina rather pointedly left the table and waited for
Penguin at the bar. She was more
confused than ever when she saw Scarecrow approach the table as soon as she’d
left. Certainly, he was avoiding her ever since that time she set
him on fire. But why would he want to talk to Bruce?
Penguin finally joined
her at the bar and Selina showed him the goods.
He named a price—which she flatly refused. She made a few insulting
his not having the right kind of buyers for quality stuff like the Wigglesworth
knickknacks... and it was done. Pengy
would certainly assume she was taking this and future hauls to another fence.
His wounded pride would lash out, making it common knowledge that she was
robbing Bruce’s society friends blind. Catwoman's reputation as a
practicing thief would be restored, Meow.
Catwoman's reputation as a practicing thief would be restored, Meow.
She turned back to the table happily, her mission accomplished—only to see that Killer Croc had taken Scarecrow’s place at Bruce’s side.
“Oswald,” she began in
a strained voice, “Do you have any idea why Bruce is so popular with…”
She trailed off as Roxy Rocket joined Croc.
“…with everybody who’s here tonight?”
he could answer,
there were sounds of a skirmish at the front door. In strode a figure known
variously among the rogues as
Oh good, Selina
thought, dinner theatre.
She returned to the
table, shooing Croc and Roxy
awayas Azrael strode self-importantly up to Penguin, grabbed the birdman by the throat, and lifted him several inches into the air.
“You’ll give me
answers, scum, and you’ll do it now,” Azrael growled.
Still getting his
dialogue from Mickey Spillane,
Selina thought. Aloud she called
“You do realize that he can’t talk when you’re putting the full weight of
his body on his larynx?”
The helmet turned towards
Selina at the angle of a dog hearing an unfamiliar noise, but he let Penguin
drop. While the newcomer continued his interrogation of Penguin,
Selina turned to Bruce and mused:
“In 1995, Hugh Grant
appeared on the Tonight Show shortly after getting caught in flagrante delicto
with a prostitute. Jay Leno was in
a position to lean in and ask a question that everybody in America was dying
to have answered.” She paused as Azrael threw Penguin into the dessert
cart, then moved on to harass a trio of Latvian smugglers.
Selina leaned over to Bruce and whispered “What the hell
were you thinking?”
He looked at her blankly,
so she continued, “You want
everybody to think you’re a dimwitted idiot? Pity you can’t tell ’em you picked that
to replace you.”
Before Bruce could say
anything, Croc and Roxy returned, standing near the table, watching the
vigilante question the Latvians without realizing they didn’t speak enough
English to understand him.
“That man, I swear,”
Roxy began, “Intellect of a lint trap.”
“I don’t care how many times he changes his costume,” Selina agreed in
Catwoman’s voice, “I can never look at him without thinking ‘Pheromones.’”
“WHAT?” Bruce mouthed
in shocked confusion.
Croc chuckled at
this. “Fear of moans. What a maroon.”
Roxy filled Bruce in on
the details of that inauspicious first meeting between Cat and Bat-wannabe.
“Catty was the first to discover you can’t use big words with this
guy,” she said, succinctly.
Bruce had been under the
impression that, before cracking up, Jean Paul had made an adequate stand-in as
Batman. But listening to the universal derision of the rogues, a very different
picture was emerging.
“And this guy thought
he could be Batman?” Roxy was saying, “Batman’s a detective.”
scientist,” Croc added.
Selina finished with a wink.
Bruce moved to the bar to get a fresh scotch. There, Penguin was picking himself off the floor muttering, “Ah, Azrael, valiantly striking fear into the likes of Killer Moth for over a fifth of a decade.”
Bruce swallowed his
scotch in a gulp. Not only did the
Rogues have no respect for Azrael, it was apparently common knowledge that he
was the substitute Batman during that unfortunate period when…
He turned back to the table at the sound of Selina’s audible aside to
Roxy: “It’s Ra’s face I
would’ve liked to see, when he found out his great adversary was replaced by a
Playing up the angle that he was an outsider who knew nothing of these matters, Bruce put on his best clueless demeanor and asked, “You mean this guy pretended to be Batman?”
Selina turned with the slow burn that meant he was overdoing the idiot shtick.
“Just look at the
costume,” Roxy answered.
“Just like what he wore
as AzBat,” Selina added.
“‘Cept red,” Croc
completed the thought.
“Like I said,” Roxy
concluded, “all the imagination of wallpaper paste.”
The ride home was silent
as Bruce Wayne and Batman debated an appropriate strategy: The Azrael
question could be dispensed with as far as Selina was concerned under the
umbrella of forgetting past mistakes, but it meant bargaining away the only
real affectionately-teasing boyfriend hold he had on her.
The corner of his mouth twitched at the memory and Selina noticed.
“What are you smirking
“Are you ever going to
let me live that down?”
The Labor Day barbecue for employees of Wayne Enterprises and the Wayne Foundation was the least-stressful event hosted at the manor. It was held outdoors, so the usual week’s worth of pre-party precautions were unnecessary. There was no double-securing the Batcave access points and triple-reminding the junior partners that there would be caterers and decorators around the house.
Alfred supervised as the grills, tents, and games were set up.
Tim lurked near the DJ, visibly drooling over the impressive outdoor
speaker system. Dick and Barbara arrived early, chatted for all of five minutes,
then headed off towards the rose garden and weren’t seen again for the rest of
Bruce paced the party grounds, and then the manor.
He would normally have made a quick monitoring run on the Batcomputer,
but that was out of the question with outsiders on the grounds and Bruce Wayne
hosting a party in two hours.
you pick me up at the train station? ::..
Don’t ask. :: ..
No details were
forthcoming throughout the afternoon, or indeed after the party when she hung
around chatting with Dick and Tim until the last of the cleanup detail had left.
Then she asked casually:
“One of you guys are
going on patrol tonight, aren’t you?”
“Not me,” Dick
chirped. “Did my weekly night in
Gotham on Saturday.”
“I’m taking the night
off,” Tim answered. “School starts tomorrow.
But Bruce’ll be going out. Why?”
muttered under her breath, then added, “I need a ride into town.”
“I’ll give you one,”
Bruce materialized from nowhere at the sound of his name.
began, the too casual making-this-up-as-I-go-along lilt in her voice fooling no
one. “I can just sleep over tonight and catch the commuter train in the
let us have
this room,” Bruce spat out in Batman’s gravelly baritone.
Bruce glared, demanding an explanation.
Selina glanced at the ceiling, then down at her nails, then back at Bruce—and then, at last, she complied:
can’t ride in
with you in the Batmobile because I don’t have my costume with me.”
“You always have your
costume. Where’s that big handbag you use?”
Selina blinked, summoning
patience for the trial to be endured.
“It’s locked in the
trunk of my car,”
Ah, revisiting the
original question from before: “Why
didn’t you drive out here anyway, instead of taking the train.”
mumbled behind clenched teeth.
“I LOCKED MY KEYS IN MY
CAR, OKAY? HAPPY?! I LOCKED
MYSELF OUT OF MY CAR. AND I CAN’T
GET BACK IN, BECAUSE I’D NEED A COAT HANGER TO DO WHATEVER IT IS YOU DO WITH THE
COAT HANGER AND THE CAR WINDOW AND… THIS ISN’T FUNNY… I DON’T BREAK INTO CARS. AND ANYWAY, I DIDN’T HAVE A COAT HANGER, BECAUSE THAT WOULD MEAN GETTING INTO
MY CLOSET, WHICH IS IN MY APARTMENT, THE KEYS FOR WHICH ARE ON THE SAME KEY RING
THAT’S LOCKED IN MY—THIS ISN’T FUNNY—AND I HAD TO GET HERE BY FOUR
FOR THE BARBECUE—BRUCE, THIS ISN’T FUNNY!”
But it was funny.
Bruce made a feeble effort to hide his smile by scratching his nose,
until Dick and Tim’s cackling behind the closed door made the gesture pointless.
“Now, wait a minute,
okay, you don’t do cars, I’ll give you that much,” Bruce began, mentally
adding Thank god for small favors. Only reason I still have the Batmobile.
“But you can break into condos, so why can’t you get into your
Selina looked daggers at him, then hissed.
“Lockpicks are in my costume which is…”
The voices outside the
door said the last words with her .
“…locked in the trunk
of the car.”
The deal was struck the
next afternoon at D’Annunzio’s. Selina
would forego all future jibes about the great Dark Knight Detective putting his
mantle and reputation in the hands of a rookie that didn’t have the brains,
the character, the sophistication, or even the vocabulary to go a full round
with Catwoman. Bruce would relinquish all future references to the best thief
in the Western Hemisphere locking herself out of her car, her apartment and,
effectively, her life.
As they raised their
glasses to seal the bargain with a toast, the words “look at them,”
“backsliding,” and “such a pity” drifted over from surrounding tables.
Mrs. Ashton-Larraby clicked her tongue unpleasantly.
“I said so from the start, backsliding into his shallow
“Slumming at that
horrible downtown club with all that riffraff,” added Matilda.
“Using that nice girl
for cheap thrills.”
Bruce and Selina’s eyes
met in a silent, invisible highfive.
“By the way,” Selina asked curiously, “Why were you so popular at the ’Berg last
I swear, I’ve endured Harley’s karaoke with those people and they
never buzz around me that way.”
that,” Bruce answered bitterly. “Apparently I’m the only one that hasn’t heard all those
‘Almost Got’im’ stories you all evidently tell ad nauseum in your
spare time—which incidentally are TOTAL EXAGGERATIONS. I couldn’t believe
the shameless whoppers—what? It isn’t funny—Selina!”
Selina scratched her nose vigorously as she sputtered, “the treacherous, thieving, blackmailing, murdering lunatics also LIE? How shocking.”