Batman and Catwoman in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 23: Loose Ends

Loose Ends by Chris Dee

Batman removed his cowl and gauntlets, changing them for the protective gloves and goggles needed to fuel the Batwing.

That was why he didn’t have a conference table in the Batcave in the first place.   It was a simple equation:  Conference table = Meetings = Waste of his time.  Like the Watchtower:  Team this, team that, we’re a unit, we need one another.  One of these days Diana would insist they all join hands and sing Kumbaya. 

As a corporate executive, Bruce Wayne was more than familiar with what Nightwing was now experiencing, the dread horror of “the meeting after the meeting.” Bruce could have warned him.  But, of course, Dick didn’t want to be warned.  He cared nothing for the experience Bruce brought to the table, he’d made that more than clear.  


Dick loaded the luggage into Barbara’s wheelchair van and huffed.  It had begun immediately after the briefing concluded.  

Barbara was coming.  She said she only needed ten minutes to pack.

“Oh but,” Nightwing had sputtered before he even realized he was speaking, “I hadn’t realized you’d want to come.  Oracle can operate from anywhere, after all.  When you helped in the past, it was always from your base at the apartment.”

And BANG, it was just like after the honeymoon, she’d laid down the law:  Of course she was coming.  He’d be gone for a week minimum on this.  She wasn’t going to be left behind all alone.  Of course she was coming.  OF COURSE she was coming.  She’d operate off her laptop from his safehouse or the hanger where he stored his car and plane.  Of course she was coming.  The Oracle had spoken - It would be so.

Well, he had figured she’d stay in Gotham but… “Okay, honey, if you feel that strongly, I guess we’ll take your van then.”  He’d turned to Batman and Catwoman, who had each removed their masks but were still in costume, paging through the binders.  “Bruce, Selina, leaving in an hour okay?  Civvies.  We’ll take Barbara’s van.”

That’s when the second hammer fell:

“Hell no, we’re taking the Batwing,” Bruce spat instantly.

Dick couldn’t believe it.  The Batwing?  It’d be like taking a Lear Jet to the 7-11 to buy milk. 

“The Batwing!” he exclaimed, “’Haven is thirty minutes across the river! We load up the van, we’ll be there by dinnertime!”

“Batman’s arrival in Bludhaven should be conspicuous for your plan to work.  We’re taking the Batwing.  Catwoman will ride with me.  If you and Barbara want the van, we’ll rendezvous at the hanger when you get there.”

Yeah, Bruce, Dick thought acidly, when we get there the whole twenty minutes later.  Make it sound like a week and a half.

And before anybody could question just how “conspicuous” Batman’s arrival would be in a freakin’ stealth plane, he was off to its hanger, leaving Nightwing alone with Catwoman.

There was a long silence. 

“When we get to Bludhaven,” Dick said finally, “I thought I’d take you all to dinner at this little place I know.  Mario’s.  Great steaks.   Selina, this is where you should stamp your foot and say ‘No, we’re eating Chinese and that’s final.’”

He made a joke.  That’s his way.  Bruce broods.  Or turns into Psychobat.  Or else, today’s special blend:  he launches into the control freak.  But Dick jokes.

I left him there.  There was really nothing to say as we stood there staring at each other after Bruce’s departure.  It was a quintessential Bat-moment.  

I know from experience what all that bluster means: “You’re a thief.” Hard and cold and controlling. “We can never be because you’re a thief.”  The battier he gets, the more is going on that isn’t Bat at all.  “Hell no, we’re taking the Batwing.”  That’s Bruce.  That’s Bruce hurting.   Bruce having a spasm.  Any emotion gets twisted into the usual one and dealt with the usual way:  Batman.  They say if your only tool is a hammer, you view every problem as a nail.  Batman may not be Bruce’s only tool.  But it’s his favorite.  By a mile.  

I followed Batman into the hanger.  He was fighting with the fuel hose like a stubborn snake.

“The Batwing will have us there in minutes,” he said, by way of acknowledging my presence without looking at me.

“Barbara and I were talking,” I fibbed. “We think Nightwing may have missed one of the challenges of this mission.”

“Just one?” he muttered.  

Bat-prick.  Same attitude he had at the briefing. I ignored it.

“Yes, three challenges,” I said.  “He listed one: finding Blockbuster,  two: physically apprehending him, and three: neutralizing the corruption.  He missed four: without letting the testosterone levels reach toxic proportions.”

The glare was one I hadn’t seen aimed at me in a very long time.  It gave me a chill.  But it also gave me direction.  That look frightens everyone off.  No one ever stands up to it.  Nobody except me…

“I thought you and Dick were okay,” I said softly.  “You were over it; you worked together that night.  New baseline. New partnership.”

“Tell me something,” he blurted, fiercely agitated. “I’m supposed to be the World’s Greatest Detective,’ right? Explain to me what was up with that table?”

“The table?” I sputtered, “I think they brought it in from the lab.” 

But he wasn’t listening; he talked right over me…

“Why did he go about doing it this way? And those binders? Why does he hate me?”

Hate you?  Bruce, he worships the water you walk on.”

“So why didn’t he ask me to brief and conduct the meeting, hmm?  I’m the senior crimefighter, I have the experience, I have all the data on Desmond.  I thought he’d value that.”

A year ago, I brushed off JLAers that warned me Batman was a high-handed, domineering autocratic control freak.  They were smarting from the protocols, I told myself.  I knew him better than anybody. I knew him at his worst and his worst wasn’t that bad.  His worst wasn’t this bad.  Something was happening to him.  Bruce, what’s going on in there?  The question kept echoing in my head.

“Blockbuster is Nightwing’s enemy,” I stated the obvious as matter-of-factly as I could.  “Bludhaven is his city.  Of course he’d brief, of course he’s heading the team-”

“He’s heading the team,” Bruce interrupted me. He looked stunned.  Like this was just dawning on him.  I didn’t know if I should speak or leave it be.  If this was reason dawning at last, then it was a fragile, delicate thing.  A breath could collapse it.

“If it was Gotham,” I said finally, “If it was Joker, would ANYBODY but you be in charge?”

He looked at me like the answer was obvious, which, of course, it was.

“Would you not run the entire JLA out of town on a rail if Krypton so much as suggested a mission here you didn’t lead?”

“Drop it, Selina.  I’m running a pre-flight check.  We’ll be ready to go in ten minutes.”

“Four bags, four of us, a laptop and a wheelchair.  It’s twenty minutes across the river.  Are you honestly telling me there’s any reason to take this thing other than it’s going by air when Dick said ground, going in costume when Dick said civilian clothes, and taking your vehicle instead of his?”

There was a long, long pause.

“Fine,” he spat, “You want to go too.  Go.   Leave.  Take the van.  Just go.  Just go and leave.”

Ah.  I might not be the world’s greatest detective, but I didn’t need to be to put that together.

“Like he did?”

“Enough.  Selina, that is enough.”

The soft hiss of a pressurized air gauge was magnified as it echoed off the walls of the cavern.  Finally, Batman spoke:

“You’re saying, since it’s Bludhaven and Blockbuster, I should let another yard or so out on the leash?”

“I’m saying that he hasn’t been on the other end of that leash for a long time.  Not since he was Robin.”

That brought on another look I haven’t seen in a while.  The look that says ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE information coming in.  Penthouse, 3 AM, emeralds.  My little joke “I don’t look on it as stealing; I look on it as practical socialism.”  Then comes that look.   I decided a different approach was necessary.

“Did you know Dick and Barbara had a big fight after their honeymoon?” I asked.

“A fight?” the compulsive fixer replied, “Should I have a talk with them?”

I ignored this and continued.

“It was because Barbara said they’d be living in Gotham.  She didn’t ask, she told him.  Assumed it was understood from the get-go.”   I paused, hoping he’d make the jump on his own.  He didn’t.   “He left her too, you see.   When you clipped his wings as Robin, to continue being what he needed to be, he became Nightwing.  And he went to Bludhaven.  And she felt abandoned.”

“I know Dick loves her very much,” he said after a pause. 

“Yes.  But he still left.  And that hurt her.  So now she’s laying down the law, taking control of the situation, so he can’t do it again.”

There was the slightest hint of a mouth-twitch as he said, “She lays down the law?”

“Dick is wondering why I seem to be the only one willing to take his lead on this.  I can’t help wondering the same thing.  I can’t help wondering if it isn’t because…”

C’mon, Bruce, I mentally cheered him on, last chance.  FINISH THE THOUGHT.  You see it there, I know you do.  Greatest detective, my ass.  SAY IT.   

“Because you’re the only one he didn’t walk out on,” he growled, choking the life out of the gas hose. “Because you’re the only one he didn’t abandon for that stinking cesspool of crime marinating in guns, drugs and graft!”

It was at this point the gas hose he was strangling began to choke and gurgle.  The tank was full.  He disengaged it from the Batwing, replaced it in its harness, removed his gloves and goggles, and then took a deep breath.

“Who would drive the van?” he asked abruptly.

I laughed.  I couldn’t help it.

“I do love you,” I told him.  “You need therapy.  But I love you.”

The road sign read: 
Bludhaven 20 miles

Without taking his eyes off the road, Dick glanced at Barbara.  She was pulling traffic reports on a PDA.  In the backseat, Bruce and Selina were becoming more engrossed in their argument and less aware that they had an audience. 

“I’m saying that I would never put my costume in the same suitcase with Bruce Wayne’s clothes.  It would be like keeping Batarangs in a briefcase; anyone could stumble over them.”

Dick downshifted and changed lanes.  He couldn’t figure out what Bruce was getting at.  He was happy enough when Bruce and Selina showed up, bags in hand, having decided the van was the better alternative after all.  

And Bruce was making an effort, Dick couldn’t help but notice:  He hadn’t claimed the driver’s seat, dictated the route, or even grumbled when Dick gassed up with 87 octane instead of 92.  In Bruce’s case, Dick noted, “making an effort” manifested itself in things not said.

Junction: US-61  8 mi

“Kitten, I’m only saying that these men are dangerous criminals, so it would be a good idea to get their attention at the beginning by making it clear you’re there to bring an offer that’s profitable for them.”

The puzzle was, as much as Bruce was improved with Dick, he’d been laying into Selina since they had pulled out of the parking garage:  He was surprised she could pack so quickly considering the state of her closet.  He questioned keeping the catsuit with her other clothes.  He was giving notes on her part in the Bludhaven operation.  That would be:  talking to crooks.  And he was giving her notes! 

Bruce, I don’t think she needs a flowchart, Dick thought silently, flicking his turn signal, I really don’t. 

“Sweetie,” Barbara interrupted, “This time of day, traffic is pretty heavy in downtown ’Haven.  Better to take the bypass, even though it means overshooting your exit.  It’ll be faster to minimize the drive through town.”

“Babs, I have driven this route a few times before, y’know,” Dick objected.

“Not at this time of day, Dearest,” was the all-seeing Oracle’s reply.

Dick flicked off the turn signal.  He knew when to drop it—which was more than he could say of Bruce.

“Were you not listening back there?  Blockbuster is over eight hundred pounds.  If you should find yourself in a situation, you need protection.  A nine hundred pound bodyguard with sharp teeth is not an unreasonable precaution.”

Dick could only surmise that Selina was holding her tongue as long as she had because they were in a closed car with two other people.  There was a limit, however, to how long Selina’s politeness would contain Catwoman’s temper—and that limit was reached, Dick sensed, at the suggestion she bring her pet tiger, Shimbala, down from its preserve for use as a bodyguard.

“First,” she began in a voice that became more feline with each sentence, “I packed in under five minutes, so obviously the state of my closet was not an impediment, Mr. It’s Results That Matter.  Second, I’ve been carrying the catsuit around with me for quite some time without any hints from Gentleman’s Quarterly, so how Batman does or does not choose to carry his costume around is of absolutely no interest to me.  And P.S., if we were to make a list of all the things you would ‘never do’ that I would, we will not only bypass Bludhaven, we’ll be a hundred miles across the Canadian border before we even get into Spandex.  Third, the day I need tips, hints, notes, or direction of any kind on how to get a man’s attention, criminal or otherwise…”

She sputtered, clearly unable to come up with a sufficiently ludicrous scenario.  Dick offered, “They’ll be pork in the treetops!”  

In the rearview mirror, he saw Bruce and Selina staring.

“You know, like ‘when pigs fly,’” he explained sheepishly.

“Don’t help me,” Selina snapped.  “And if, by some fantastic stretch of the imagination, I actually thought I needed advice on how to talk to or handle men, you, my precious, would be the ABSOLUTE LAST living person I would be talking to.  In fact, ‘living’ is irrelevant.  I’d get a ouija board first and ask the dead.”

Dick eyed the road signs: 
Bludhaven Next 4 Exits
Bypass 261 – 1 miles.

“Fourth,” Catwoman concluded her rant, “A tiger is a living thing.  It is not a weapon.  It is not a bodyguard.  A tiger is a force of nature, and those that try to tame forces of nature invariably find themselves at the bottom of the ocean with an iceberg up their ass.”

That’s when the checkbook came out.  In disbelief, Dick heard Bruce’s voice saying something about the Catitat being a nice enough preserve as it was, but it could always be larger.

“Barbara,” Selina cooed, “what would it do to the resale value of your van if I got bloodstains on the upholstery?”

“HEY,” Dick improvised, “Here’s our exit.”

Barbara started to correct him.  She had said to take the bypass and circumvent the midtown traffic, but Dick shushed her with the husband-eye. They needed a diversion and they needed it now, not 4 exits from now.

In the rearview mirror, Dick saw Bruce watching.  Barbara snapped off the PDA and changed the subject.  Dinner at Mario’s. 

Bruce looked envious.  

To be continued…


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