With great stealth, the lithe, cat-shaped silhouette lowered itself from its position several feet above the target. She calculated the angle of descent that would enable her to snatch the coveted object and hit the ground at the optimal angle for a quick getaway. The figure leapt, seized her prey and ran, hearing as she went how the theft disturbed a dozen surrounding objects, noises that drew instant attention to her crime.
“NUTMEG!” Selina yelled, as the blur of fur sped between her legs and through the doorway to the bedroom. “She likes envelopes,” she explained in an embarrassed voice to some visiting twofoot.
ººSuccess!ºº the smug feline announced, reaching her war room under the bed. She deposited her prize, an envelope of unusually thick paper with shiny foil lining, amidst other trophies that included a plastic milk ring, three paper balls, a pantyhose egg, a strip of blue fabric, and a cotton sock.
deal,ºº her companion, Whiskers remarked, unimpressed.
ººBut it’s crinkly,ºº Nutmeg insisted, pawing the new acquisition to illustrate the point, ººand shiny.ºº
ººWoof,ºº answered Whiskers, in the ultimate expression of feline disdain.
ººFine. Be that way. More toys for me,ºº replied Nutmeg, not caring. ººWhy don’t you sit on your balcony and watch birds then?ºº
ººTwofoot with boots,ºº Whiskers grumbled. ººBat-Bruce. Brushed the planter in front of my flowerpot, leaves aren’t right now.ºº
ººWhat’s your thing with that planter?ºº Nutmeg asked.
Whiskers rubbed his head into the mass of butter-soft purple leather kept under the bed, scenting it, then answered, ººWhen the leaves are just so, they hide me. I am the stalking jungle cat of death.ºº
ººWoof,ºº Nutmeg answered. It was really the only thing to say.
Whiskers slunk out from the war room and saw the visiting twofoot sitting against the fat pillow, ruining the indentation it took days to create.
Whiskers walked up to the intruder
and tried to explain as nicely as possible:
“What’s your name, Little Guy?” Dick asked, interpreting the cat’s hostile stare as friendly curiosity.
“That’s Whiskers,” Selina explained.
“The Whiskers that has it in for Bruce?”
“Note to self: if you don’t want everybody to know something, don’t tell Barbara.”
“Eh, yes,” Dick affirmed with a smile, “Somebody should have warned you about that before now. Babs is sort of Radio Free Bat.” Then the smile vanished and, covering an awkward silence, Dick took Whiskers onto his lap. The cat promptly wedged itself between Dick’s thigh and the disputed pillow.
ººHEY HEY HEY HEY HEY! New twofoot pillow-squasher, PUT ME DOWN! Just ‘cause you have thumbs doesn’t mean… Oh. Lap. That’s okay then. I can get to my pillow now. Watch the ears though. You can stroke between the shoulder blades if you want. No, here. Put the hand here. Alright, you’ll do.ºº
“He likes you,” Selina observed, “He doesn’t usually take to new people.”
Dick said nothing so Selina continued, just to cover the silence.
“I have a theory that cats already know everyone they want to know.”
Again, Dick said nothing, but continued stroking the cat.
“Richard, not to be inhospitable, but you did come over to talk about something, right?”
“I mean, you didn’t ask when I would be home alone—very pointedly stressing the alone part—just to come and meet Whiskers?”
“Yeah right, I need to ask something… delicate. I want to ask you—or Catwoman, rather—to do something for me. Something slightly… illegal.”
Twofoot Selina-Cat, she who wielded the power of the can opener, arched her eyebrows, which sometimes meant good things to come, open closets and excitement, and sometimes not.
The words were seldom of interest:
The words were of no interest at all. The tone is what mattered. And the tone said this would be a time of open closets and excitements.
“Well, if that doesn’t beat all,” Selina said, closing the door behind Dick then returning to the living room. “I know what you’re thinking,” she said as Whiskers looked up from his place on the pillow, “Hypocrisy, thy name is crimefighter.”
Whiskers was, in fact, thinking about a trip to the end table to drink from the flower vase.
“But his heart is in the right place.” Selina went on, as Whiskers decided moving to the end table could mean losing the pillow again.
An hour later, the doorbell rang and Selina ushered a different visitor onto Whiskers’s favorite chair.
“Calloo-Callay, I’m screwed I say.”
“Jervis, this will go a lot faster if you give it up and talk prose,” Selina announced firmly.
She was prepared to let bygones be bygones. The hatting episode with Mad Hatter at the mythology museum was a good four months ago, and that was the usual statute of limitations for incidents with Hatter, Scarecrow, and Penguin-caliber rogues. But forgiving him was one thing, putting up with gobbledygook was another.
”C’mon, Jervis, plain and direct, what’s the deal?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jervis moped, “I’m in the soup. Aunt Maud’s coming to town.”
And this is the plain and direct version, Selina thought. Aloud, she said, “And ‘Aunt Maud’ would be your little code phrase for…?”
“For my Aunt Maud,” Jervis answered testily. “She’s coming to Gotham for, like, a month. She wants to stay with me. She thinks I’m an editor at Harpers and Row. Selina, what am I going to do?”
Whiskers looked out from under the settee and eyed the newcomer with distaste. This one didn’t just rumple the cushions, he talked with his hands. Twofoots were so undignified.
ººThat’s not the one from before,ºº Nutmeg remarked, joining Whiskers under the settee.
ººNo. That one smelled like damp, cavern, and cut grass. This one smells like porch screen and cheap aftershave.ºº
ººExcitable too. Moves around a lot.ºº
ººSqueaky voice too.ºº
“I don’t think I can help you, Jervis.”
“Eddie thought you might cut me a break, since I was so nice and helped him out with the y’know ♫-yadada-da-dada yada ladada-♫”
“For money. You helped him for money, Jervis. And when it didn’t work, you cut him loose to–”
“Hey, I did what he asked. It’s not my fault it didn’t work out.”
“Okay, okay, look, it’s not that I’m not WILLING to help you, I just don’t see that there’s anything I can do.”
“You could let me live here,” he blurted out.
“Let me live here. Let me borrow your flat and say it’s mine. And my Aunt Maud can stay here too, and she’ll think I live like a normal person. She can’t see me at the hideout, I’ve got white rabbits and giant playing cards and queen of hearts and—”
“Jervis, this is really getting into ‘more than kitty cat need to know’ territory, okay.”
“Can’t my aunt and I stay here for a month. Pleeese?”
“Jervis, I live here.”
“But you’ve got Bruce Wayne in your pocket, right; he’s got a big place.”
“Oh, we can’t mention him either? I know we can’t say Batman, but I figured Wayne was all ordinary so that’d be okay—HEY, Wayne is ordinary! You two could come over while my Auntie is here, let her see I have legitimate friends.”
“Jervis,” Selina sputtered, then took a deep breath, trying to achieve the kind of okay-dealing-with-crazies-now calm she’d seen Batman assume on these occasions. “Jervis, I am not going to lend you my apartment, nor will Bruce and I be visiting you socially while your Aunt Maud is here or pretending you are an editor at Harper and Row.”
ººShe’s laying down the law now.ºº
ººThat’s the no-climbing-the-drapes tone.ºº
ººI was thinking no-rubber-mice-in-the-bathtub.ºº
“Alright,” Jervis sighed dejectedly, “If you won’t let me live here, and you won’t visit, then at least come to the Iceberg sometime. Penguin’s gonna let me act like I run the place.”
“Fiction editor by day, nightclub owner by night?”
“No, I’ll have left the editing job two years ago, and now I’m doing this.”
“Mm,” Selina nodded, playing along, “Better pay?”
ººAt last he’s gone.ºº
ººI’ll be on my planter.ºº
ººI’ll be playing with my envelope ball.ºº
ººANOTHER ONE?ºº Nutmeg glared at Selina in disgust. How many twofoots were going to be allowed to come trudging through their territory today?
This one might turn out okay, though…
Nutmeg moistened her noise as she detected, under a surface odor of pipe tobacco, an undeniable whiff of honey-garlic chicken. She hopped up to the end table next to the visitor and confirmed, YES, the new twofoot visitor was a slob! The heavenly aroma was coming from two distinct globs on his shirt. All hail twofoots that drip honey-garlic chicken on their clothing! Nutmeg nestled up to the newcomer and tentatively licked the stained fabric.
“Miss Kyle… eh, Selina,” Gordon began hesitantly after the social pleasantries subsided. “I know we’ve had our differences, but the thing is, the differences are why I’m here. I – I mean, Catwoman – I need to hire Catwoman for something, and – I’ve never done anything like this before. How do I start?”
“Start what exactly?” Selina asked uncomfortably.
“I’ve never commissioned a criminal undertaking before. How do I begin it exactly?”
Selina sat back heavily in her chair.
“Is there a full moon or something, ‘cause I’m getting the damnedest offers today. You want to pay me to commit a crime?”
“Well, Commissioner, I’m not in that business anymore, but if I was—”
“It’s ex-commissioner, and that’s really how this all comes about.”
“…but IF I WAS, this would be what’s called entrapment.”
“Miss Kyle, Selina, please, I assure you this proposition is not a law enforcement exercise.”
“What is it then?” Selina demanded impatiently.
“A wedding present.”
She stared, stunned, and Gordon continued.
“I need you to acquire something for me, something I have no legal right to. And I want to acquire this thing, to get it away from the people who have it now, as a gesture and a security measure to protect Barbara.”
“Go on,” Selina encouraged softly, just a hint of her Catwoman voice creeping in.
“You know what happened to her, with the Joker, why she’s in the wheelchair?”
“You know there were pictures.”
“Not police photographs, sick ones, taken by that fiend. You know what they… show.”
“Not the details, but I can imagine the general content, yes.”
“Well, they were used at the trial, evidence. They’re public record, technically. But, I was commissioner then. I had power, I had the ability to… I saw to it that the pictures got lost, misfiled actually. A couple digits transposed in the evidence locker. Mistake if anyone noticed. No one did. I did it to protect Barbara, you understand. I didn’t want some newspaper or magazine to…”
“I understand, Jim.
It’s okay. I’m not a
‘Rules girl.’ ”
Gordon half-laughed ironically, then went on.
“Damn near forgot who I was talking to. Okay, I bent the rules, and I hid the photos. I got away with it. No harm done. The case is closed, will never be appealed, and no one is the wiser, right?”
“Except what?” Gordon asked in alarm.
“If there wasn’t an ‘except’ you wouldn’t be here,” Selina pointed out.
“Ah, I see. Okay then, yeah, EXCEPT now I’m retired. And it’s all political. Anybody snoops, they can make a big thing out of it ‘cause of my impropriety, former commissioner’s abuse of power and all that rot—but it’s not me that’ll hurt for it. It’ll be Barbara ‘cause all the uproar will dwell more than a little on what it was I covered up.”
“Yeah, I can see that. Sensational stuff. And of course with the wedding, Bruce Wayne’s son, big news story, somebody might actually go looking.”
“You think so?” Gordon stared in horror, as if this had never occurred to him.
Selina nodded. She didn’t mention that Dick himself had brought up this gruesome possibility at their earlier meeting.
“Okay,” Selina agreed, an air of dismissal in her tone. “I’ll look into it.”
“What’ll it, I mean, the cost? In addition to my pension, I have an IRA and the house is paid off.”
Selina waved him off, embarrassed for the first time in this extraordinary conversation.
“Forget it. On the house—if I decide to do it, which I was going to say I hadn’t decided yet, but I just did.”
Gordon blinked. Was that a yes?
Nutmeg entered the war room still savoring the lingering flavor of honey-garlic sauce. She batted a milk ring lazily, then settled against the folds of purple leather. She was just drifting off as the leather bed was swept out from under her like a magic trick.
ººREOWRL!ºº she objected.
The bed skirt rose and twofoot Selina-cat’s face appeared.
“Don’t you get claw marks in this, I need to use it tonight.”
ººrowrl,ºº Nutmeg sulked.
“Don’t push me.
I’ll vacuum under there if I have to.”
To be continued…