Edward Nigma looked down at the
paper before him:
He wadded up the paper in disgust and tossed it onto a pile of similar paper balls. He didn’t want to hit the Safari Club anyway.
Back to basics…a bank. Good old-fashioned, “put the cash in the sack” kind of crime….
Dollars-and-Cents, Safe De-po-sit Boxes, Boull-ion vaults
Oh, damnit to hell. The clues were still echoing that tune. Why couldn’t he get that tune out of his head? He wadded up the next sheet of paper even though he hadn’t written anything on it.
Lots of valuable manuscripts at the Public Library’s rare book room; that would be an interesting puzzle:
ACK! It was that same blasted tune!
Enough of this.
He would get away from it: get some air, get some lunch. Come back later with a clear head. He strolled to the farmer’s market, absently singing:
Bruce wondered momentarily if, illogical though it seemed, this might be a Joker attack of some kind.
His initial relief that Selina was willing to help him was short-lived when it became clear she had no idea she was doing so: She hadn’t heard anything about a Riddler crime wave. Eddie had paid her a visit about something else. As far as she knew, something totally unrelated.
When Bruce told her what was going on, the mystery of the Riddler’s targets, the theme he couldn’t figure out, she got a funny look on her face, produced an awkward snort, and then the laughter started. It built, sustained, built again, then finally she made a gasping effort to pull herself together. She held her stomach, took a deep breath, looked up at him—and it began again. After a minute of giggly twitching, she held up a hand, took another deep breath, and this time quite obviously avoided looking in his direction.
Glancing down at the bedsheet toga he still wore, he realized Joker was probably not responsible for that last spasm of her laughing fit. He’d clearly have to postpone any discussion of serious topics until the clothing was delivered.
With bat-like single-mindedness, Bruce resumed the conversation the moment the door closed behind the delivery boy.
“Now about this crime wave.”
“Not much of a crime wave,” Selina answered, emptying the boxes onto the bed. “Antique music boxes and pink eyeshadow?”
“He hit the box office at the concert hall twice,” Bruce pointed out.
“I’d guess so, it’s the only thing he can come up with where there’s any money. Ooh, that’s a nice color.”
“No, no, no, we’re not starting that again. Crime wave—”
“Really,” Selina stroked the sweater playfully, “it brings out your eyes.”
“Ooh, and they sent a belt, nice leather that,” She gave it a firm whiplike snap.
The phone rang.
“Thank god,” Bruce whispered, collecting the belt and using the distraction of the phone call to dress quickly.
“Yes, Tim, he’s here,” Selina was saying, then mouthed, “It’s Tim.” That figured. He didn’t have Bruce Wayne’s cel phone, having come over as Batman. And Batman’s radio, along with the rest of his utility belt, hadn’t survived the 69-story fall from Selina’s balcony to the pavement.
“He says don’t worry about the Riddler thing,” Selina went on relaying the phone message, then paused, listened some more and repeated, “He’s back in Arkham.” She paused again. “They found him-WHAT!?”
No crime wave meant Bruce was free to
play, and he materialized behind Selina with trademark stealth, an arm snaked
easily around her waist to stroke her stomach while he nuzzled the back of
her neck, close enough to the earpiece to hear the phone squawk
::found him huddled in a fetal position under a stall at the farmer’s
Now it was Selina who was in no mood to play.
“What did you do to him?” she demanded of the telephone receiver.
::Heyheyhey,:: Tim objected, ::I didn’t do squat. I found him rocking himself and humming.::
“You’re right,” Bruce observed, trying to divert her attention with the belt, “it is good leather.”
“Tim, what was he humming?”
::I don’t know! A song?!?::
“Was it 76 Trombones by some chance?”
There was a long silence on the phone, then a confused:
::I actually have no idea what that is.::
“♫ Badadadada lada badada dada ♫” she sang.
::Selina, I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention. He was humming, okay, that’s all I know. Oh, and he said something about Mad Hatter.::
“Mad Hatter? Jervis Hatter? Oh, this time that little troll is going to die,” Selina declared ominously, then made a rapid movement to snatch Bruce’s new belt form the air. He countered, grabbing her in one arm and the phone in the other.
“Tim? Bruce. Get to the troll, I mean Mad Hatter, and find out what he knows.”
::Can I get Dick to go? Dick’s just hanging around,:: Tim was saying while Selina squirmed free and opened her storage closet.
Bruce hung up and joined her as the closet deposited an avalanche of assorted junk onto her feet.
“What are you doing?” he asked, not without affection.
“I’ve got a fresh set of claws in here somewhere,” Selina muttered, then added with a smile, “The ones from last night aren’t in the best of shape now.”
“And you need fresh claws because you want to tear up Mad Hatter for deliberately planting the song 76 Trombones in Riddler’s head?”
“That is my plan.”
“And WHY exactly do you think he would do something like that?”
Selina paused, then huffed. She had no idea why Hatter would do such a thing.
“Okay,” she admitted, “I’m going off half-cocked. Feeling guilty, I guess. I laughed at him, at Eddie, told him it was nothing, that it would pass. Then when you told me about his ‘Music Man’ crimes, I laughed again.”
“Well, it is rather funny in retrospect.”
“I don’t remember you laughing at it.”
“Brassy Girl cosmetics?”
She fought the smile, but it broke through.
“He must’ve been desperate, the poor
To agree might imply sympathy, however vaguely, with Riddler’s criminal activities. But to disagree was impossible. “Desperate” and “poor ass” summed up the case too perfectly. Rather than commit himself to any definite comment, Bruce looked around the mound of closet clutter and allowed the most appropriate aspect of his personality, that of the detective, to emerge.
“Hey, what’s this?” he asked picking up a videotape. “Rogue Xmas 01.”
“Oh, that. Harley sent it, tape from the Christmas party.”
“Looks like there’s something underneath this label. I guess she taped over something… Whose Line Is it Anyway…” Bruce stopped. He had an extensive mental database about every detail he learned about his enemies, no matter how trivial.
Selina looked up at him with a strange glint in her eye: “Puddin’s favorite show.”
Joker loved Whose Line Is It Anyway, “The show that asks the question, can four improvisational comics find happiness eating spaghetti at a computer dating service on Mars…”
The screen went black and a gloved hand moved away from the knob.
“She didn’t tape over all of them,” Batman observed as if it was a matter of grave importance.
“No, just the one where Colin does the dinosaur walk,” Joker answered as if it was perfectly natural for Batman to appear in his cell unannounced.
Batman was silent. Joker hated silence so he spoke.
“I guess I should punish her, but she’s not around. So her boyfriend will do just as well. HAHAHAHHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAA!”
Batman hovered ominously then hissed, “What did you do—or have done—and to whom?”
Joker looked up suddenly.
“HEEEY, you’re not French!” he declared.
Batman left Joker’s cell just as Catwoman was leaving Riddler’s.
“Hatter didn’t do it,” they said in unison.
“Joker’s definitely behind this,” Batman announced, “It started when he saw that tape of the Christmas party, and Jervis Tetch was released before Joker was even incarcerated. There’s no way they could be in communication.”
“I know,” Catwoman added. “Jervis tried to undo it. I think Riddler must have paid him to undo it because he says he wants a refund.”
“A refund?” Batman exclaimed. He would never get used to these bizarre glimpses into the rogue subculture, the seamless blending of six different kinds of insanity and business-as-usual daily life.
“It was pitiful,” she continued, “he kept repeating Hatter and refund and then he couldn’t come up with a rhyme for refund. Treepond, Freeplums.”
Batman shook his head.
They were all insane. Each
and every one of them needed a whole team of psychia…
That was it!
That was it!
Rather than ask if Catwoman didn’t think this psychotic tango was weird even for Arkham inmates, Batman spun around and raced to the front desk where he’d checked in.
“Here, look. Yesterday’s visitor list: Dr. Herbert Merkwürdig, that’s German, for ‘Strange.’”
Catwoman gave a half-smile of understanding.
“Hugo’s broken out of his slump.”
But Batman was already charging back down the hall, and entered Riddler’s cell. He emerged five minutes later and spat, “C’mon, I’ll explain in the car.”
I admit it’s an awful lot easier working with Batman than against him. I admit that. I would never have gone into Arkham by way of the front desk, so I would have never seen the visitor sign-in, or put together Dr. Herbert Merkwürdig = Dr. Hugo Strange.
Having worked out that it was Strange, I wouldn’t have been able to ask Eddie exactly three questions and instantly determine that Hugo had injected had him with a viral microchip receiver, that the song was actually being broadcast into his brain, and that that was why he continued to hear the melody even after Mad Hatter removed his memory of the song and its lyrics.
Now, given that much information, I would have worked out that there must be a transmitter somewhere, but again I freely admit that I would not have been able to deduce its location as quickly as Batman did.
It was indeed easier working with a formidable mind like that rather than against it.
However, there is a price and just at the moment, balanced on a commercial satellite dish gutting the damn transmitter, I was wondering if the price was entirely worth it.
Because when I’m running my own show, and I work out that Hugo damn near drove my friend mad, I get to tear him open with my own claws and show him some of his vital organs.
This way, I got the “fun” of shutting down the transmitter, while Batman gets to shut down Hugo.
“Selina, be reasonable,” he had said, “it’s the transmitter that’s causing Riddler’s torment, and the sooner we get to it, the sooner it’s over for him.”
“I realize that,” I answered, trying to match the let’s-be-rational tone. “Two targets, and two of us. What I want to know is why I’m stuck with the one that won’t bleed.”
He muttered something I couldn’t quite catch about the reason being carved up and down his back and what I can do with those claws when I’m in a good mood.
I growled. “Well, the good mood is long gone, Lover. So the question is, if I’m in the mood to rip somebody’s throat out, do you really want to be picking a fight or do you want to point me towards Hugo.”
The car screeched to a halt, and I thought for a minute it was lecture time, but then I saw we were at the base of the satellite dish.
He glared, which is evidently his way of ending an argument with Robin or Nightwing. It’s hard to argue with a glare, but I learned a long time ago that a well-timed hiss makes an adequate counterpoint.
“Look,” he grumbled, clearly put out that he had to fall back to using words, “Hugo may or may not be expecting visitors. Walking into the bad guy’s booby-trapped lair is what I do. Dismantling the technical doohickey is what you do.”
The technical doohickey. Can you believe it? He thought that was disarming, as if he wasn’t the world’s greatest badass technophile.
He must’ve seen me soften, because he added, “You can always toss it 69 stories onto the pavement when you’re done with it,” and then sped away, convinced he had won.
What he didn’t realize was, the “technical doohickey” remark wasn’t what softened me. It reminded me of his rebooting the Batcave systems. He does it the hard way. I knew I could probably finish this off faster than he was thinking and still get to Hugo in time to draw a little blood.
“Okay, dear,” I whispered to the
cloud of dust the Batmobile left in it’s wake. “You bash the bad guy. I’ll shut down the doohickey—and then shove it down his
throat through his nostril. ”
“I didn’t think that last bit was necessary,” Batman noted quietly as the Batmobile pulled into the cave.
“Which bit?” Catwoman asked innocently.
“With the whip round his…”
“Stopped him talking didn’t it.”
“Yes,” Batman admitted, and that was no small feat. Hugo Strange was not a formidable foe physically, but if there was a downside to the confrontations, it was that he tended to flaunt his knowledge of Batman’s identity. He was unable to do this once Catwoman arrived intent on shoving the transmitter up his left nostril.
She was quite extraordinary, Bruce observed, removing the cowl and opening the costume vault. She was leaning back against a tall stalagmite, stretching out her back and arms dramatically. He smiled as she flexed, pulling her weight onto the rock and balancing. When Dick was young he was forever climbing and cavorting on the natural outcroppings around the cave, foregoing all the manmade routes and conveniences. Bruce would never forget the time soon after he’d learned the secret, the boy complained about an extended workout on the parallel bars while climbing that very stalagmite, intent on claiming it for Spain.
Bruce started at the memory of what happened next, when Dick overbalanced and fell, not onto the soft tumbling mats beneath the parallel bars, but onto the solid and rocky ground. Neither Alfred, who disinfected and bandaged the bloody knee, nor Dick, who was back on top of the stalagmite half a minute later, thought anything of it. But for Bruce, it was the most traumatic non-criminal moment he’d ever experienced.
“That’s beautiful, Kitten,” he murmured, joining her at the stalagmite, “but get changed quick if you want a ride back into town.”
“You’re going back in?” she asked.
“Yeah, I have a stop to make as Bruce Wayne. One I’ve put off too long.”
Jim Gordon was relieved when his visitor declined the offered tea. He had offered it because it seemed something he ought to do. He wasn’t a tea-drinker, but somehow it was the retirement drink. Entertaining your unexpected late-night guest, you sat them down in your garden and you offer them a cup of tea. But on reflection, he wasn’t sure he had any teabags.
“You mind?” Gordon asked, gesturing with his pipe.
His guest shook his head politely and answered, “Of course not. Glad to see you using it.”
Ah yes. His retirement gift. The “slick uptown pipe” was feeling a little better these days now that he’d gnawed the mouthpiece a little. In a few years it might break in okay.
“You’re here about the …pah… wedding, I take it?” Gordon growled.
“Yes,” his visitor answered with a brevity and a seriousness uncharacteristic of the glib, airhead playboy.
“Where Barbara, Dick, and Barbara a second time failed, namely changing my mind about this foolhardy nonsense, you’ve come to turn me around and show me the error of my reasoning.”
“Let’s cut through the crap and get to the heart of this, shall we, Jim?” Bruce spoke again with uncharacteristic -but familiar- directness.
“Yes, let’s.” said Gordon, equally willing to be direct. “You’re Batman.”
“Yes. That’s not the issue.”
“Dick is Nightwing.”
“Yes,” Bruce repeated calmly. “Still not the issue.”
“You all want my little girl to marry into a world where Joker, Two-Face, Killer Croc, anybody—Joker—might show up at any time and—”
“I thought you were going to say Barbara was Batgirl—which also isn’t the issue, by the way.”
“And is now Oracle. Is this really news to you, Jim?”
“I think you should leave now.”
“I think you should admit none of this is remotely relevant. One of us is going to be disappointed.”
“My little girl…”
“Your ‘little girl’ is a grown woman! She loves Dick. That’s her choice. Maybe you should respect that.”
“Not if her choice puts her in the path of that homicidal lunatic.”
“Joker isn’t the issue.”
“WHO THE HELL ARE YOU TO SIT THERE AND TELL ME WHAT THE ISSUE IS?”
“I’m a father that’s seen his child shot by the Joker when I was the one he was trying to hurt.”
Gordon tried to speak but couldn’t, and Bruce went on:
“I know guilt when I see it, Jim. You couldn’t protect her. She was shot because of her connection to you. It wasn’t Batman. It wasn’t Batgirl. She was in your house. She answered your door. She’s your daughter. Joker wanted to drive you mad. It happened to her because of you, and you can’t ever look at her without feeling that pang that you couldn’t protect her. I do understand, Jim. I understand better than Dick or Barbara ever will. This isn’t about me, or Dick, or Joker. It’s about your guilt.”
“My friend, I…”
“What I’m trying to say is: Don’t do it. After Dick was shot, I tried to control him. I channeled all the guilt into one thought: Never again. The madman will never touch my boy again. You know what happened then.”
Bruce half-laughed, half-sighed. As if the name summed up the whole sordid story.
“He had to make his own decisions, live his own life. I wouldn’t let him. It cost us a lot of years, a lot of bitter fights—for nothing. Because of my guilt. Don’t do it.”
Of all the bizarre situations Selina Kyle found herself in since becoming Catwoman, this was easily in the top three—and might rise to number one before the day was finished.
She stood, half-naked, in the too-pink fitting salon at the House of Shri while Mr. Jose’s assistant, Anslo, adjusted, readjusted, and pinned lengths of yellow fabric against her body. When he was happy with a particular effect, Anslo would call to Mr. Jose, performing a similar operation on Barbara a few feet away. Mr. Jose would look, then tell her to walk, turn, or bend. Mr. Jose would look some more, then grope her here and there, then command more walking and turning. Finally, he would nod his approval and Anslo would baste the addition into place.
“Explain to me again,” Selina called to Barbara, “why it’s me standing here and not Stephanie and Cassie.”
“Dick has three attendants,” Barbara answered as though humoring a child, “Tim, Wally, and his college roommate, Steve. Dinah’s maid of honor–”
“Meaning two bridesmaids, Steph and Cassie. So why am I standing here?”
“Dick’s Aunt Kate is kind of an obligation. And either one of Steph or Cassie without the other would seem odd.”
“Barbara, putting it as delicately as possible in mixed company: Meow! You don’t think THIS qualifies as odd.”
The bride smirked. She wasn’t about to admit to Selina that Cassie and Stephanie had each gotten wind of the yellow ruffles chosen for the bridesmaids’ dresses and, as allies in the crimefighting sisterhood, delivered threats a former enemy like Selina could not dream of.
“Oh well,” Selina sighed, then added casually, “I suppose Cassie would have killed Mr. Jose by now.”
Mr. Jose discreetly removed his hand from Selina’s hip.
“Anyway,” Selina abruptly changed the subject, “what’s Dickey got to say about the wedding being back on at the manor.”
“Utterly paranoid,” Barbara answered. “I told him, if this whole thing with my Dad says anything, it says there are no safe people or safe places and you gotta accept that and get on with life. You pays your money and takes your shot. So if the wedding’s on, it’s on at the manor. To have it anywhere else now because of this curse idea would validate everything my Dad was saying that we fought against.”
While professional propriety demanded Mr. Jose pretend not to hear the ladies’ conversation, he could not contain his admiration.
“You are very extraordinary lady,” he said to Barbara, “Most brides, they are all superstition. Something old, something new, something borrowed… must sew bread crumbs or flax seeds, some talisman into the hem of the dress, the groom mustn’t glimpse the dress or even the fabrics before wedding… but you are all calm and rational, very wise and special lady.”
“Oh, but Dick mustn’t see the dress,” Barbara gasped.
Mr. Jose shrugged. The customer was always right. And brides were uniformly crazy.
“Well you’ve got old and new covered,” Selina remarked, eyeing the yellow ruffles with distaste. “The ring and the dress, right?”
“Good luck mojo,” Barbara sang out.
“That will make Dick happy. They’re so cute when they’re paranoid. Oh, heard the latest one? B has decided my cats are out to get him”
Barbara stifled a laugh, causing Mr. Jose to stab her with a pin.
“Your CATS?” she exclaimed.
“Yep, so what did he do last visit? Smears catnip—I am not making this up—smears catnip on his boots.”
A slight tremor shook Barbara as she again stifled a laugh.
“It’s not funny. He got my cats stoned.”
Barbara lost the fight to conceal her mirth as the explanation continued:
“It’s not funny, Barbara.
Whiskers rolling on his back, pawing at the air.
Nutmeg trying to climb the kitchen counter.
It’s not funny. You people
have a very sick sense of humor, you know that?”