with a cold numbness that Bruce called the others back into the study:
Mrs. Ashton-Larraby, Omar and Moira, Alfred, Eddie and Doris, Martin
Stanwick, Claudia Lennox, and Selina.
her in the visitor’s chair—a low, velvet-covered affair, edged with
brass-nails, with five orange pips, antimacassar-protected seat, calculated to
ease the innocent and terrify the guilty.
damnedest thing about this case,” Bruce began, “is the trappings of the
detective story all around us.”
down to the amateur sleuth calling everyone into the library for the grand dénouement,”
Edward Nigma remarked.
me,” Bruce answered with a soft menace.
listed the many conventions of the whodunit genre that had occurred so far,
right up to the second murder attempt that failed.
This caused a certain excited gasping from those who hadn’t appreciated
Doris had indeed been poisoned.
of the most classic twists in the better mysteries is that the two people who
cannot POSSIBLY be working together, who HATE, LOATHE, AND DESPISE
each other and make no secret of it - are, in fact, partners in crime. Was there a pair, I asked myself, in our little guest list tonight known to
hate each other with sufficient venom to make any alliance between them an absolute
No one else seemed willing to speak, so Selina did, in a voice thick with Catwoman’s taunting amusement:
“You mean other than me and Talia?”
turned towards the visitor’s chair and, despite Nigma’s presence, he
answered Catwoman’s voice with Batman’s: “No, Kitten, I mean including you and
resumed in his natural tones before anyone could react.
“It was the funniest thing, you arrived late, you heard Talia had been
here, and you never asked how I got her to leave.
Or even what was said between us. Then
I remembered what Talia was wearing.”
fur,” Moira remembered, “I thought that was in very poor taste.”
FUR!” Selina screamed, as if she hadn’t heard this particular detail before
but that’s not what I meant,” Bruce answered Moira, ignoring Selina’s
outburst. “I meant her dress, the
neckline; it was very low.”
Martin, the high-society observer, who understood the significance of that:
“Randolph did follow the titties around a party.”
Mrs. Ashton-Larraby buried her indignant snort in a mournful sob.
Bruce went on, responding now to Martin and ignoring Mrs. Ashton-Larraby’s
outburst. “It would have been a
simple matter for Talia to lure Randolph to a quiet spot, like this room, drug
him, and leave him for her accomplice to finish the job. She also changed the recording in this device,” Bruce pointed
to the wire recorder. “The
recording placed here by the museum said ‘Elementary, Watson, you know my
methods; apply them.’ This
wire plays thirty minutes of silence, followed by a man’s scream.”
room was silent as Bruce pulled the lever and the wire spun across the
player-head. Then, after several
seconds, came the scream. More
silence followed until Bruce spoke again.
“So Talia left. The murder scene was all set to be discovered long after she’s gone. I call it ‘the murder scene’ even though no murder had taken place yet.”
murder?” Moira and Martin asked in unison.
Bruce answered, “Randolph Larraby was unconscious but still alive when we
broke through the partition. That much was very clever.
Nobody needs an alibi for the time after a body is found.
Then in the blackout, the killer finished the job.”
looked directly at Selina, Holmes’s maxim sounding over and over again in his
mind. When you eliminate the
impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable….when you eliminate
the impossible… but this was impossible, wasn’t it?
Catwoman didn’t kill. At
her criminal worst, she didn’t kill. When
you eliminate the impossible…
he was considering the wrong things impossible.
A different Holmes quote came to mind:
impossible as I state it, and therefore I must
looked up in a daze. On the wall opposite, above a cushioned fainting couch, were
the letters V.R. for Victoria Regina, a patriotic display of bullet holes
punctured out by Holmes in The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual.
Mounted beneath the letters was the very hair trigger revolver with which
he had done it.
focused on the gun, his sense of time and place receding.
In the room, something preposterous was happening.
Selina was confessing to killing Larraby for Ra’s because it turned out
she was one of those long lost half-siblings nobody ever knew about ‘til years
later. Some dalliance between
Ra’s and a Gotham U Co-ed in the early 70’s.
“Why, Ra’s, we hardly knew ye,” Bruce thought with a twitch as he began
to sense the true reality of what was happening…
It wasn’t, certainly, Selina and Talia rediscovering that sisterly bond in
killing off Randolph together for dear old dad, then Talia tying up loose ends
by eliminating Selina and accidentally poisoning Doris instead.
forced all the sounds of this idiocy out of his awareness and focused only on
the wall and the bullet holes. Besides Holmes’s weapon
hung Watson’s service revolver…
know my methods… eliminate the impossible
and Selina working together, that was impossible.
focused on the guns, only the guns…
has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely
He’d been going about this all wrong. There were only two real clues.
The clue that didn’t seem to be one: a blade of dried grass in the tobacco tin.
Bruce fixed his gaze on the barrel of Watson’s service revolver… and
the smell of popcorn while he looked at the gun display.
felt a hot nausea rising as he thought it through… The smell of POPCORN while
looking at GUNS. There were no hot
hors d’oeuvres at the party; people commented on it … they were only serving
those dry tea biscuits. The popcorn
smell came from… Crime Alley… at the movies with his parents… Zorro…
popcorn… the smell… the shot… the scream… oh god.
head jerked back. He breathed,
swallowed, and forced his mind to move on.
blade of grass… dried grass…. dried grass is… …
(Clark Kent would know, Cityboy) … … … STRAW!
a smell associated with a traumatic event, and somewhere he’d come into
contact with straw.
sat alone in the Holmes study, on the velvet-lined chair before the fireplace. He used the electrically powered simulacra of the flames as a focus for his
meditation, inhaling deeply… Twenty minutes since he took the antidote.
While the palpitations might recur for a few days, the hallucinations
should cease… He exhaled… It
should be possible now to rouse himself and interact with the world without
sighed and looked about. There was
no Randolph Larraby lying dead on the floor.
breathed in… He’d been through this often enough.
For most people exposed to fear toxin, it isn’t over ‘til it’s
over. The antidote must be
completely absorbed into the system before they come back to reality, and even
then the side effects can continue for a week or more.
He exhaled… But Batman had
long ago learned how to steel his mind against the delusions.
Once he realized what was happening, he’d focused his psyche, sifting
out the chimeras from the truth.
found Dick. Dick who wouldn’t
have left the party because there was no murder to report, Dick who MUST
still be there. Knowing Dick must
still be present, Bruce found he was able to see him.
He explained with a forced calm that he’d somehow been exposed to fear
toxin, and sent Dick to bring him the antidote. QUICKLY.
“Knock, knock,” called a soft voice. Selina stood at the partition by the doorway—which certainly had not been broken down. “That’s twenty minutes. Are you fit for human company now?”
She sashayed into the room with a more provocative sway than he would
have thought possible in a Victorian ball gown.
Selina’s felinity triumphed over nineteenth century couture.
can stay as long as we like,” she smiled.
“Miss Lennox is showing Alfred the plans for their next project, a
recreation of the Globe Theatre. She’s
in no hurry to lock up.”
offered a weak smile. “Everyone
else has left then?”
and Barbara? Martin Stanwick? The Ashton-Larrabys.”
strike you as—unusual—about Randolph Larraby tonight?” Bruce tested.
seemed to think, then said,
“Well, he still couldn’t tell you the color of my eyes to save his life.”
gave a half-twitch at her choice of words.
Leave it to Selina, to Catwoman, to land on the perfect phrase even
without knowing any of the particulars. He
told her, as briefly as possible, what he’d experienced, watching her eyes
grow wide with each new development. When
he’d finished at last, he waited to hear what she’d say.
Her responses, as always, surprised him:
let that be a lesson to you, Handsome, Jonathan Crane gets royally pissed if you
blow off his party invitations.”
keep that in mind,” he said dryly.
They sat in silence for a while. Then she looked at him in disbelief.
“Ocelot fur and a Snoopy tattoo?”
defended his subconscious invention. “Ocelot fur is exactly the sort of thing she’d do.”
Which was true, but Selina was still outraged.
“But she didn’t do it. She was
never here. You did it.
That is a SICK, SICK corner of your brain that thought that up, and I
would not expect a warm greeting from Nirvana next time we go see her.”
Bruce sensed this visit would be occurring very soon, and that he did not have a choice in the matter.
“And how would Nirvana know?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
I’ll tell her,” came the inevitable, unfathomable, feline logic.
Well, at least Bruce could defend the other detail.
“As for the tattoo,”
“Daddy’s approval—or the lack—is very important
to Talia. And Snoopy and Woodstock
are pretty silly. Anything so
trivial and commercial and CUTE would rankle him no end.”
I’m guessing Charles Schulz would be none too pleased about it either,” Selina
allowed himself a chuckle. She was
such a perfect fit in his life. So
able to cope with it all: She
wasn’t offended that his psyche cast her as the killer in his dreamplay. If anything, she was pleased that the thought of her working
with Talia to kill somebody ranked so high on his nightmare meter.
She was fascinated when he pointed out how the details of his hallucination were
all suggested by the surroundings and conversations of the evening, right down
to the bit about long-lost siblings.
There was only one thing that puzzled him:
“The whole time I was immersed in the dream world, why didn’t anybody notice
“You were off by yourself a lot,” Selina hedged, “kept
wandering into this room. But we
all knew you were really into Holmes, so that part didn’t seem odd at
besides that, my behavior, it must have been a little unusual.”
she trailed off.
he said firmly.
suppose an objective observer might say you were a little moody.”
the thing is, you’ve been creepy-cheerful since this whole thing started, so I
guess we all chalked it up to making up for lost angst.”
know, getting the old brain chemistry back in balance.”
he concluded, “I guess as Scarecrow episodes go, this was—comparatively—a bit of a lark. I mean, I did
get to be Sherlock Holmes.”
grin turned into a wide smile, and Selina felt the goosebumps of that first
we go again,” she murmured.
once said ‘There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything
goes against you.’”
was looking on the bright side… boyish enthusiasm… Batman in
musical-comedy mode… BOO!…
doing that,” Selina begged, “Just stop it.
Right now, I mean it.”
laughed. She was the one of all his
enemies he had never been able to spook. Now
at last he’d discovered how.
it off,” she warned, “or you don’t get your present.”
stopped, mock serious, and raised an eyebrow.
a move that merged Selina Kyle and Irene Adler more eloquently than Bruce would
have thought possible, she raised her skirt, revealing a bewitching length of
silken leg, and slid, from beneath a Victorian lacy garter, a folded paper tied with
ribbon. She dropped the skirt back
into place and glanced up as if admonishing him for peeking.
Her tongue fluttered, moistening her lips as she undid the ribbon,
unfolded the paper, then read:
“‘What is it that we love in Sherlock Holmes?’ an editorial by Edgar W. Smith
in the second issue of the Baker Street Journal…”
is that?” Bruce asked, squinting in wonder.
you listening, it’s the second issue of the Baker Street Journal,”
Selina smiled, and Bruce could almost see feathers creeping from the corner of her
feline mouth. “I have an
associate who deals in rare books and similar hard-to-find items.”
would be CatSpeak for ‘a fence,’” Bruce observed.
glanced up over the paper.
you want to hear this, then behave.”
“‘What is it that we love in Sherlock Holmes?’” she repeated, “‘We
love the times in which he lived, of course… There was no threat to
righteousness and justice and the cause of peace on earth except from such as
Moriarty and the lesser villains in his train.’”
villains, eh,” Bruce twitched.
“Don’t interrupt,” Selina warned, “I’m not going to tell you again. ‘We love the place,’” she went on, “‘It was a stout and pleasant land, full of the flavor of the age; and it is small wonder that we who claim it in our thoughts should look to Baker Street as its epitome.’”
There was a soft grunt of approval at this appreciation for the detective hero’s city.
“‘But there is more than time and space and the yearning for things gone by
to account for what we feel toward Sherlock Holmes,’” Selina continued,
“‘Not only there and then, but here and now, he stands before us as a
symbol—a symbol, if you please, of all that we are not, but ever would be. We
see him as the fine expression of our urge to trample evil and to set aright the
wrongs with which the world is plagued.’”
skip this part,” Bruce suggested with a vague blush.
“‘He is Galahad and Socrates,’” Selina continued relentlessly, “‘bringing
high adventure to our dull existences and calm, judicial logic to our biased
minds. He is the success of all our failures; the bold escape from our
imprisonment. Or, if this be too complex, let it be said, more simply, that he is the
personification of something in us that we have lost, or never had….’”
the time and place,’” Bruce cut her off, reciting the conclusion from
memory, “‘and all the great events are near and dear to us not because
our memories call them forth in pure nostalgia, but because they are a part of
us today. That is the Sherlock
Holmes we love—the Holmes implicit and eternal in ourselves.’”