Tim Drake and Cecily Grenville sat in Gino’s Pizzeria, across the table from Cassie and Randy-quad, all discussing the second installment of The Lord of the Rings:The Two Towers. Tim made an effort, but the truth was, he hadn’t enjoyed the movie at all. Not having read the book, he didn’t know there would be treeherds avenging the destruction of an ancient forest. The sight of giant, sentient trees running around wreaking havoc, so thrilling to the rest of the audience, left Tim wrestling with unwelcome memories of Poison Ivy and her warrior plantlife.
“And when that one big treeguy caught fire
and ran to the burst dam to douse the flames!” Randy enthused.
“…Yeah,” Tim said finally. “That was… funny.” Though in his heart, he had been disappointed not to see the psychotree burn.
petite, dark-haired hostess called Raven ushered the ninth job applicant through
the Iceberg’s main dining room. She
gave him a judgmental look up and down, then pointed to the office door.
“Mr. Cobblepot will see you now,” she pronounced, her dour monotone reminiscent of
the sinister housekeeper in a Gothic novel.
The applicants were not to blame, but she blamed them anyway.
She was a hostess, not a secretary.
When Mr. Cobblepot asked her to come in to work in the middle of
the day, that was one thing. The
club was closed and no patrons meant no tips.
But a job was a job and he was the boss.
So she came in, as requested.
Still, if the slimy birdman made one false move, said one word that could be
construed as a proposition, she was ready with the pepper spray.
Turned out she didn’t need it. He wasn’t hitting on her; he had scheduled interviews all afternoon and wanted her ushering the losers back to his office like he was some kind of big shot.
Chin waited until her colleagues left for lunch, then let Pamela Isley into the
infirmary. It was strictly against
policy to let one Arkham inmate visit another this way, but poor Harley Quinn
was having such a rough time of it.
Why it took them twenty minutes arranging her pillows in the morning, getting
her into a position where she could lie comfortably.
All those bruises. Dear
girl. If a visit from her friend
would cheer her up, Chin could see no reason to deny them.
besides, an underpaid junior staffer at Arkham Asylum never knew when she might
overhear something… profitable.
“Harley, my dear, this time you’ve really gone and done it,” Pam chided, “Giving Joker Punch and Judy dolls, it was bound to give him ideas. What were you thinking?”
that, Red,” Harley moped, “my Puddin’ is excitable, that’s all.”
swore under her breath, then changed the subject.
She was here to cheer Harley up, not chew her out.
There would be plenty of time to make her see reason about Joker—later. For now…
I thought you’d find these amusing. Clippings
from that website, hotwing.com.”
clapped her hands, anticipating a treat.
When Oswald, the party poop, whitewashed the women’s washroom at the Iceberg,
the graffiti went online. The best
of it, dedicated to the oh-so-delectable Nightwing, was housed at
hotwing.com—and it only got better over time. Pam
had spent the morning surfing, and began reading the most entertaining
“Sculpted. The man is
Buns of steel, arms like those thick braided loaves of bread, thighs of a
Chin, hearing this, raised an eyebrow, but kept her eyes on the file she was
pretending to read. Pamela
continued to read, unaware of her audience:
the right amount of chest hair…”
Ivy speaking that way about Nightwing? Nurse
Chin smiled. Her generosity in letting Isley visit her friend had been
well rewarded. Indeed, one never
knew an underpaid Arkham staffer might hear something profitable.
She closed the file on her desk and consulted a small card in her wallet:
Gotham Tattler 212-555-6719 ext. 12.
“Mr. Fox?” Moira knocked timidly on the Chief Operating Officer’s door.
gestured for her to come in as he made a final note and hung up the phone.
not sure if you’re aware,” Moira informed him as she sat, “that Mr. Wayne
was in the office this morning.”
nodded. He was aware; he simply
avoided Bruce as much as possible in the month of January.
dictated a letter and a memo. As
you requested, I’m showing it to you before sending the letter out.”
removed his glasses and massaged his eyes.
Every year it happened: Bruce
in January. On one of his temperamental rampages, no doubt. At
least this year, Lucius had the foresight to pull Moira from her regular duties
and have her act as his secretary.
She was certainly qualified, having served the LexCorp CEO before Wayne
Enterprises stole her away, but what made her particularly well-suited to Bruce
in January was not her stint at LexCorp, but her pilot program training
assistants to deal with difficult people.
past year, Bruce was doing better, all things considered: more focused, less of
a flake. And the support staff at
the upper echelons of Wayne Enterprises had responded favorably.
They had a far better caliber of employees assisting them at this level
than ever before. And all it would take was one of Bruce’s typical January
episodes and it would all be shot to hell.
That was not going to happen again.
replaced the glasses on the bridge of his nose and read:
F.B. Publicists, Suite C, Robinson Building
Lucius winced. Typical Bruce.
the memo?” Lucius asked wearily.
Moira handed it over.
To: Lucius Fox
twitterHead?” Lucius looked up.
said nothing. After a pause, she
nodded. After four drafts, that was
the politest term Mr. Wayne had come up with.
Lucius continued to read.
… assisting Talia twitterHead at LexCorp.
Lucius, it seems some damn fool has taken her off this worthy assignment, the
job for which I hired her in the first place, and has her assisting me. Of
course I have no complaint with her, but this is an egregious waste of her many
Picking up Selina at the airport this afternoon, so I shan’t see you until
tomorrow. Let’s schedule a LONG lunch and you can bring me up to date
looked up again. Moira had stood
and was smiling down on him.
final act as Bruce’s secretary, he had me put that lunch on his schedule for
tomorrow and make sure Gale did the same for yours.
D’Annunzio’s. Try the
shrimp, it’s to die for.”
“ … ”
was all Lucius could reply.
like your friend,” Randy confided when Cecily and Cassie went to the
powder room. “She listens. Not
like those debs.”
said nothing. He could tell Randy
was quite taken with Cassie, but Tim had more experience with Cassie and her
silences. He could tell she was not
having a good time. Though she talked more than she used to, each day acquiring
more of a vocabulary and a sense for how and when to use it, she still expressed
more in her looks and shrugs than in words.
And her manner suggested to Tim that she was bored to tears, both with
Randy-quad and the dating experience.
she even realized she was on a date.
When she’d shown up for this, her first date as far anyone knew, in jeans
and a Buffy the Vampire Slayer t-shirt, Tim realized his oversight.
He had invited her casually, “Come to the movies with me and Cecily and a
friend from school.” Any girl their age would have known what it meant. Any girl not saddled with a David Cain upbringing.
But Cassie, who knew what she understood?
Nuance, particularly social nuance, was still beyond her.
Randy asked hopefully, “think she likes me?”
“…Eh…” Tim sputtered between pauses, “Shh, later, they’re coming back.”
name?” Oswald asked the latest applicant, without looking up from his desk.
“Giggles, sir,” the young man replied.
me, for the last year, sir, it’s just been Giggles.”
you’re the chap that’s been working for Joker then.
I told you on the phone I don’t need a henchman, I need a
“Begging your pardon, sir, you need me.
Anyone can pull a tap or pour from a bottle. Not
everyone can handle your clientele, Mr. Cobblepot.
I can. Mr. Joker’s
henchman for a year, and here I stand, breathing, sane, and only smile on
my face is what God put there.”
eyes narrowed. He said nothing for a long moment.
Then put the pen into his mouth like a cigarette holder.
“Giggles” took this as encouragement and continued.
maybe not God,” he said with a between-men smirk. “Truth is, was that little
Raven that showed me in here. She’s a cute little bird.”
Oswald’s mouth dropped open and the pen fell to his lap.
“Particularly when walking away,” Giggles concluded.
you made such observations about Ms. Quinn when working for Joker you
would not be standing here now,” Oswald observed coldly.
Mr. Joker specifically instructed me to learn as many blonde jokes as I could
find and accompany him—”
kwak-kwak, that was you, eh? Well
that’s a little different. Giggles,
hm. What was it before?”
name, my good man. You weren’t
born ‘Giggles,’ were you?”
come, out with it. What’s your name, Boy?”
will be happy to accept any designation you wish, Mr. Cobblepot.”
“Brady, sir. Greg Brady.”
sounds familiar,” Penguin said finally.
heard all the jokes, sir.”
I’d imagine so.”
Nightwing crept into the dark, still bedroom with as much stealth and caution as
he would entering a criminal lair.
The fact that it was his own bedroom—and the room’s sole occupant his own
wife—made no difference. It was
Barbara’s attention he so desperately wanted to avoid attracting just now.
couldn’t hope for much of a reprieve.
Barbara was Oracle; Oracle found out everything.
She probably knew already.
least if he didn’t wake her, the fireworks could wait ‘til morning.
tiptoed into the closet, stowed away his costume behind the false door, returned
to the bedroom, and slipped silently between the sheets.
He stared at the ceiling. Maybe he was overreacting. It
wasn’t a story any woman would be happy hearing about her husband, but
Barbara wasn’t stupid. She’d know
to take that kind of thing with a grain of salt.
rumor mill was what it was. Every few weeks, it linked some male and female—the more
improbable the better—just to see what would stick: Hawkwoman and Mad Hatter,
Lady Vic and Catman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
It was only the galactically clueless, the emotional twelve-year-olds, or
the clinically insane that latched on to any of that nonsense.
It took a special kind of stupid to believe such garbage.
Barbara was none of those things.
She wasn’t insane, depraved or emotionally stunted, and she certainly wasn’t
clueless. She would laugh at it.
Any sane woman would laugh at it. What
was he worried about? So the
tabloids picked up some story about Nightwing and Poison Ivy.
That didn’t mean he was neck deep in fertilizer.
Dick smiled at the ceiling, gathered the blanket to his throat, and
turned over. Then the light clicked
my sweet,” his wife addressed him, “it’s one thing to be the subject of idle
gossip, happens to the best of us, and with a luscious bod like yours,
speculation is inevitable. But you really don’t help the situation skipping your
shower after patrol, sneaking into bed this way, and laying there brooding for
half an hour.”
sipped the concoction Greg “Giggles” Brady set before him.
adequate igloo,” he proclaimed, setting down the signature drink and regarding
the prospective bartender shrewdly.
He was, at least, one of them. A
patron could sit and tell his troubles to a former Joker henchman as he could
not to Joey, the applicant from the Waldorf, or Susannah from TGI Friday’s.
was Nigma who brought on this crisis,” Oswald said, cupping his drink and
sitting at the bar like a customer.
“Edward Nigma, the riddling excrescence.
It’s not like he’s the first criminal to take a vacation in January, mind you,
it’s always a bad month for business.
Bats goes batty and everyone lies low. Nigma,
being a genial sort, sends a gift basket:
oranges, marmalade, some key lime wine that was quite palatable.
It was good of him. We
received no such gesture from Ms. Quinn when she went to France last year.”
cheap,” Raven pronounced from the doorway, “just like Joker.”
now, my dear,” Oswald waved her in, “Don’t be bitter just because they tip you
in monopoly money. Come meet
our new bartender, Greg Brady.”
“Groovy,” was Raven’s only response.
to resume the narrative,” Oswald continued, feeling his new bartender was
indeed very easy to talk to, “the trouble with Nigma is that he thinks he’s
so terribly clever. And he always has to be proving it.
So with the basket of this and that—that key lime wine was surprisingly
good—there was a letter. A
long, detailed letter which I suppose he intended to be entertaining,
effervescing about the many pleasures of this lush tropical paradise:
Sunset Celebration in Mallory Square, colorful characters, live and let
live attitude, taverns everywhere, a party town, warm tropic climate, and so
paused, reflecting that perhaps he shouldn’t go into such detail with the new
bartender. Seeing where this was
going, Greg covered the awkward hiatus by refilling Oswald’s glass.
that very excellent key lime wine, I must remember that,” he said quietly.
Finally Raven continued the story, picking up where Oswald had left off.
someone that knew Eddie came into the bar, the letter was read again. And I
guess after the sixth or seventh repetition…”
quit,” Oswald said flatly.
first, we thought something happened to him,” Raven moaned, “he just didn’t
show up for work one night.”
“Like when Kittlemeier disappeared,” Oswald said confidentially, remembering Greg was a Joker henchman and would know about Kittlemeier and the mugging incident. “Then the letter arrived. His resignation. Postmarked Key West. He’s opened his own bar.”
Not knowing what consolation to offer in the
face of such dire news, Greg Brady remained silent.
four o’clock in the morning, an awkward “ … ” was the best comeback Dick could
devise for his wife’s comments. At
nine o’clock, having made the pilgrimage to that fountain of inspiration, the
Mr. Coffee, he felt he could do better.
As expected, Barbara did not rant like a
jealous harpy because of the deluded fantasies of The Gotham Tattler.
These things happened, she said.
Her objection was that he’d tried to hide from it, which he certainly wouldn’t
have done unless the story struck a nerve.
Last night, he didn’t have an answer.
Now, revived by Mr. Coffee’s elixir of reason for beleaguered husbands—with milk and two sugars—he knew what to say:
I didn’t want to get into it in the middle of the night, that’s all. I’m
cool with it; I really am. It’s no different than that ludicrous
Nightwing-Catwoman story a few years ago.”
you laughed that off,” Barbara objected, sipping her own elixir, splash of
milk, no sugar, “Cucucachoo, Mrs. Robinson, and all that.
Whereas with this, you brooded like a bat.”
easier to laugh when you’ve got Selina standing on a stage, mocking the idea in
front of a cheering audience,” Dick insisted.
“Somehow, I don’t think Ivy is so accommodating.
If she has a sense of humor at all, I don’t know anybody who’s seen any
indication of it.
enough,” Barbara conceded. She’d reached the same conclusion in the time she’d spent
eavesdropping on the rogue’s IM network.
swear, I don’t know where they get these stories,” Dick sighed, relieved that
the storm had passed.
DON’T? You obviously haven’t
seen the cover of the Gotham Post this week, have you?”
stared, not understanding.
“They’ve got their highest circulation in YEARS, my dear,” Barbara crowed. “This bit about you and Ivy in The Tattler is obviously a ploy by their chief competitor to get a piece of the action.”
don’t get it, what kind of picture could the Post be running that could
possibly lead to a Nightwing and Ivy pairing—”
Barbara pointed to her monitor where she had pulled up the picture from the
Gotham Post website.
…my…” Dick gulped after a strained
“Bonjour, mon chevalier
noir adoré,” Selina gushed stepping past the customs
gate and throwing her arms around Bruce, “Tu m'as tellement manqué,
tu n'as pas idée.”
your language,” Bruce chided lightly. He
meant her addressing him in public as chevalier noir, ‘Dark Knight,’ and
realized too late, only when she laughed musically, that his words seemed like a
joke about her speaking French.
missed you too,” he whispered, kissing her cheek, “I missed your laugh.”
In the time it took to walk past the Duty Free,
the ATMs, the tourist information booth and the food court, they caught up on
those aspects of their lives it was safe to discuss in public. They turned the corner, heading for the elevators to the
parking garage. Bruce explained that he didn’t have Alfred or the limo
“I came straight from the office. I
just hope there’s room for your bags in the Jag, otherwise we’ll have to get
a taxi to follow—”
He stopped speaking and turned slowly to the
From long habit, Bruce constantly scanned his surroundings, unconsciously
processing whatever his peripheral vision detected.
In this case, it was a newsstand, a common enough sight in a busy
airport, but something…
Daily Planet. London
Observer and then… There they
were… in living color on the front page of the Gotham Post…
Batman and Catwoman… in one
of the most spectacularly passionate clinches ever portrayed on newsprint…
Her arm wrapped around his neck, she was pressed tight against his body
from chest to knee… his left hand cupping the back of her head, while the right
grasped her waist… the cape whipping around their legs… a glorious full moon
above, golden cityscape behind… It was… Wow.
felt warm breath on the back of his neck and turned to see Selina behind him,
looking where he had looked.
“…Well…” she said finally after a lengthy pause, “There’s something you
don’t see everyday.”
To be continued…