The Batmobile was the most advanced driving instrument ever conceived: a 1200 hp jet turbine engine with a carbon-fiber body that took aerodynamics to the molecular level, it delivered a maximum speed of 265 mph without strain, 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds. It was, in every sense, THE BATMAN’S CAR. Hydraulic steering, titanium-reinforced grapnel launchers for cornering, speed and external radar-control sensors. HIS! Afterburner, drag chutes for emergency stopping, ceramic fractal armor panels over the whole thing. It was, quite simply, the ultimate driving machine. And controlling such an awesome vehicle was no small feat. It took concentration, split-second reflexes… Compared to the Batmobile, the exquisite Jaguar Bruce drove now was child’s play.
And yet, he was having difficulty.
There was… a distraction.
purple, look at that. Their knockoff Catwoman,
she’s in purple. Not MY purple, but there’s a tint.”
Selina had, understandably, latched onto the Gotham Post cover with a ferocity that was positively feline. It was still a tabloid, she maintained, and they were still lying bastards. But this was the first story to spotlight Catwoman since her one-woman show denounced their degrading slander campaign for what it was. She scoured the picture and accompanying article for any hints that her public image was on the mend.
“I mean, there’s still no tits to speak of, and I still don’t know what the deal is with those goggles, but this looks better than that Jane Doe disaster, don’t you think?”
Bruce said nothing, but allowed his eyes to glance at the image again before changing lanes. To his mind, the most startling aspect of the picture had nothing to do with Catwoman’s appearance but the fact that she was wrapped around Batman, and he around her, locked in a passionate embrace. He nearly said as much, but waited. When they stopped at a red light, Bruce looked at the picture more carefully.
“Looks better,” Batman’s voice gravelled finally.
She purred. And for a while they drove in silence.
He knows what that voice does to me. Deep, intense, just a touch of danger. Meow.
He had a point; the purple was secondary to… Meow… The Bat and Cat, in the dark, making sparks. Still. I miss my hair. In the picture, I mean, on the copycat. It’s not something a guy in a cubicle at the Post would think of while he sat there playing with Photoshop, but when Bruce and I finally started—for real—getting past the teasing, it turns out he really likes my hair. In costume and out, he’ll run his fingers through it, or pull it to draw my head back, stretching the neck under his mouth…
“You’re purring louder than the car,” Bruce observed dryly.
I said nothing for a while. Finally, to fill the pause, I mentioned the purple tint again. It’s a victory, and I relished it.
“That’s a reflection,” he said, “Trick of the moonlight.” It was exactly the same killjoy tone he’d use in a museum, like he has to ruin my fun. Jackass.
“It’s PHOTOSHOP,” I rebutted. “There is no moon; there is no reflection. If it’s purple, that’s ‘cause somebody made it purple.”
He said nothing, but there was a low satisfied grunt before he admitted, “Maybe… a hint… lavender… very pale.”
From her position in the ventilation duct of the Grenlore Suites, Batgirl was certain her surveillance target couldn’t see her. But she couldn’t keep the target in her line of sight either.
Despite being inexperienced with many aspects of daily life, Cassie Cain was far from naďve. What she didn’t know, what David Cain neglected to teach her, was omitted in order to intensify her focus on what mattered. And what mattered to David Cain was the kind of knowledge that would make her the perfect assassin.
And so it was that, although she didn’t know what kind of ice cream she liked, she knew this was the set of a pornographic movie, rife with cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine. And she knew the meth source Black Canary was tracking from raves clubs could be traced through one of the film crew below: the porn star called NeferTitties. NeferTitties not only kept this set and others supplied with illicit substances, she made the round of the underground raves clubs. Her outrageous costume, a Bat cowl and cape over Wonder Woman’s bustier and shorts, was meant to be noticed and remembered. For “Batwonderlove” was known on the rave scene as THE source for pot, speed, K, E, GHB, poppers, coke, 2C-B, even magic mushrooms and whippets of nitrous oxide. If it shut down brain cells, you could get it from Batwonderlove.
Batgirl silently opened the vent grate. This crew, she realized, were filming after hours because they had no legitimate access to the building. They were keeping a low profile and had far less lighting than she’d seen legitimate movie companies use when filming on Gotham streets. With the low lighting, Batgirl knew she could risk leaving the vent for the dark shadows of the catwalk. From there, she could keep her target in a direct line of sight.
She preferred to think of the woman she watched merely as “the target.” Of all the things David Cain taught her, most Batman had shown her to be false, but that one mental discipline she did retain as useful. It was best to think of the target as precisely that. To spend a night or more trailing this individual and have to think of her as “NeferTitties” or “Batwonderlove” would be a needless penance.
Batgirl knew the target would need to visit her supplier soon. Drug trafficking, like all criminal activity, dropped off during Hell Month. Her stocks would be low, and with the colleges back in session after winter break, the raves would be in full force again…
The target had to meet her connection soon. It was just a matter of waiting and watching.
Greg “Giggles” Brady was finding the transition from henchman to bartender less onerous than the adjustment from Joker’s underling to Penguin’s. Penguin wasn’t nearly as volatile, but he was terribly anxious about his cash register, quacking in the background whenever it was opened, just to make sure you knew he was watching. And he was curiously obsessive about the amount of liquor poured into well drinks during happy hour. But the greatest adjustment of all was the Penguin’s policy about ‘breakages.’ Breakages were never an issue at the HA-HAcienda. With Joker and Harley, the more breakages, the better.
Still, Greg would have to admit as he stepped outside for a smoke, he liked his chances of survival much better at the Iceberg. And if Cobblepot was a strange little fussbudget, that was still better than… uh oh.
“Who th’fu’re you, Dirtwad?”
Blades got his nickname from an unpleasant hobby involving razors and rats. He himself spread the story: sixty kilos of C, Angel Marin was buying, to test the sample Blades offered his razor. Marin took it, cut a line, then looked oddly at the blade—it was sticky and a rodent hair clung to the tip. That’s when Angel Marin puked all over a kilo of premium Columbian cocaine.
Blades was meeting the porn twat, NeferTitties. A stupid bitch, but she made up for it being the best meth dealer south of Chinatown. The money and small plastic bags were just changing hands when he heard a loud squeak down the alley. Kitchen door of the nightclub. A man walked out, lit a cig, looked their way—SHIT, money and the bags in plain sight. And Blades had never seen the man before. He reached for his namesake:
“Who th’fu’re you, Dirtwad?”
To answer such a question “Greg Brady” seemed foolhardy. To answer “Giggles” was worse. So Greg answered the menacing punk as he was taught to approach Batman when henching for Joker:
Smile. Politely. Then…
Batgirl was about to intervene before the new target, the supplier, sliced up a witness in the alley. But in the time it took to fire a line from the fire escape, the witness took control of the situation. Batgirl watched, fascinated. She saw impressive technique! Imaginative use of a car antenna as an improvised weapon! Not to mention—Ouch—the dumpster lid. That knee wouldn’t support weight for a month. It was a pleasure to watch. Nice final kick when the scum was down, just to make sure he stayed down. What a guy.
The witness left the target heaving in a fetal ball of pain and walked nonchalantly back… into the Iceberg Lounge?
The telephone rang the minute Bruce left my apartment. It was Barbara. Drop everything, she said, and get over there ASAP. I looked out the window and saw…
::What gives,:: squawked the phone, ::Selina, cat got your tongue?::
It was one of those moments of clarity. One of the moments where you realize that, however much you love Bruce, you’ve let things snowball out of control, and unless you want to wind up with that insignia and the word BATFAMILY tattooed on your butt, steps will have to be taken.
“Barbara, Black Canary was just on the rooftop across from my apartment. Why is that?”
I knew the answer. But I wanted to hear her say it.
::Had to wait for Bruce to leave before I called you, of course. Now seriously, get over here. Don’t unpack. Don’t do shit. Just get over here right now!::
Forget the fact that I’d just stepped off a plane. Forget that I was still on Paris time and thinking in French. Toss all that aside and you’re STILL left with this:
“Cats do not come when called.”
::Yeah, yeah, tell it to the belfry. Look, Selina, this is Hell Month and this is an—::
“Hey, none of you even bothered to clue me in on Hell Month last year, so don’t think just because—”
Through the receiver, I heard typing and the distant sound of the ‘Oracle voice,’ crisp and efficient. When she returned, she sounded pleased with herself.
::There, that’s done. ‘Wing’ll be busy for the next three hours. Selina, I know what you’re going to say, but hear me out: It’s Hell Month. Then that Post story comes out. (Nice picture by the way. Is that a purple tint?) And then the Tattler tries to top it with Poison Ivy and Nightwing. Zatanna’s publicists changed her name to a glyph, so now I gotta draw the symbol for Boron with an umlaut over it just to type up the JLA meeting minutes! —and now Batgirl is in love with a criminal! Something’s gotta give. It’s estrogen solidarity time, so get your furry tail over here! ::
“ … ”
What else could I say?
“Okay,” I began in my calmest humoring-Joker voice, “let me get this straight. Cassie was helping Dinah track a drug dealer to her supplier. She calls in that she found the guy, he’s unconscious behind the Iceberg.”
“Right,” Dinah said absently, leafing through Barbara’s copy of the Gotham Post. “He goes by Blades. Real serious scumbag.”
“So far, so good. You compliment her on a job well done and…”
“And she says no, not her collar. She’s really anxious to give credit where credit is due. It was this other guy. He was wonderful. Powerful, fierce, vicious. Like a panther.”
I raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything.
“Nobody’s ever heard her go on like that,” Dinah explained.
“Nobody’s ever heard her use that many words together,” Barbara added. “And look at this!” She turned one of her monitors so we could all see. It was a mugshot of a twentyish young man, not bad looking in the decorative henchman sense. “This is the feed from the satellite cave. This picture’s been up for an hour, she’s reading his file.”
“And this is a crisis because…?” I asked. They both stared like it was obvious. “Oh, like I’m really going to object to the idea of a bat-hero stepping out with a villain?”
“Hey, nice picture, by the way,” Dinah commented, pointing to the Post. “I see you’re still very ‘complex,’ though.”
This was her little joke since the night of Barbara’s bridal shower. We logged into a chatroom where some of those faux-sensitive schmucks thought they’d actually score points with women—get this—by pretending they don’t like breasts. Flat-chested equals “More Complex” was their theory (I am not making this up), that’s what was supposed to make them look deep when other guys were superficial: cup size is inversely proportional to character. And when they pointed to Black Canary and Catwoman as examples of heroines that were simply too busty to have any depth, Dinah and I popped a fresh bottle of bubbly and settled in to have some fun.
I winked at her.
“We should do that again sometime,” she suggested, obviously thinking back to the same chatroom. “A girl’s night in!”
“Could we stay focused on the issue, please,” Barbara interrupted, sounding like a schoolmarm. “It’s Hell Month, and Cassie is mooning over a Joker operative, handle of ‘Giggles.’ Bruce is going to go thermal.”
“So don’t tell him,” I suggested. It seemed an obvious solution. It still DOES seem the obvious solution.
“He’ll know,” Barbara objected.
“He’s Batman,” Dinah t acked on.
It’s a cult. What can you do with people like that. It’s a cult.
“You only encourage him when you say things like that,” I told them. “You two do realize that, don’t you?”
They stared. More silence.
“Okay look,” I said finally, “Hell Month is pretty far along. It’s what, A-minus-four already, say he takes another three days to simmer down…”
“Best to allow a full week,” Barbara interrupted.
“Fine, a week then. Cassie is a seventeen year old girl. She’s gone and done what teenage girls do, found someone who will be a guaranteed headache for all the adults concerned. If she’s THAT normal, then she can do what all those other teenage girls do, which is keep this thing quiet and nailed down—for a week to ten days anyway. That’s really not too much to ask. And in the meantime, I’ll … make some calls, check around the Iceberg, see what I can find out about this guy from the other side. I’m sure I can come up with more info than ‘Giggles.’”
Bruce parked the Jag in the garage and entered the manor through the back door. He cut through the kitchen heading straight for the elevator in the butler’s pantry.
“I’ll be downstairs,” he growled when he saw Alfred was there and had to be acknowledged.
sir, I trust Ms. Kyle’s flight was pleasant and…” he stopped when the
elevator door shut in his face. He sighed. Hell Month.
To be continued…