Far above Gotham Times Square, Akiki Marceau waited for her sister on a small ledge beneath a great billboard. The passionate embrace of Batman and Catwoman that previously advertised the Gotham Post had been replaced by the passionate embrace of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez advertising the movie Gigli. As before, the ad men thought it necessary to “improve” on nature. In J-Lo’s case, they reduced her famously ample posterior and enhanced her breasts. In Catwoman’s case, they had done the opposite. Akiki wondered briefly if there was some bizarre zero-sum principle governing these choices, or if the slick Gotham City ad men were no different from Russ, the artist who made up their Double Dare posters at the circus. Russ was a good sort, but he drank.
Two stories above, Margot jumped from a similar pedestal supporting an animated cola ad. A slight flutter of her feet and she began the gradual pendulum swing that is the basic syntax of the flying trapeze. She arched her back forward, swung her feet under and threw them forward, a little snap of the legs propelling her to land smoothly beside her sister.
“Ghost Dragons,” she yawned, “No endurance.”
“Well they can’t all be Blockbusters,” Akiki sniffed. The criminals they targeted often attempted some kind of retribution, but few offered such thrilling pursuits as Bludhaven’s kingpin Blockbuster.
“No,” Margot sighed.
Both women were silent and each knew the other’s private thought. Blockbuster’s thugs had indeed come closer to killing them than anyone else, but that episode would have been far less thrilling if that scrumptious Nightwing hadn’t been trapped with them.
“That hair,” said Akiki.
“That bod,” said Margot.
“Those moves,” they said together.
The sisters sighed.
From the darkness above a burned out streetlight, Huntress watched the comings and goings from the Iceberg Lounge. She was looking for a fight.
Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, Batman said. He was as wrong about that as he was about everything. Superstition implies fear of some force greater than you. The scum-lapping vermin didn’t have that kind of smarts. Theirs was the fear of the rat for the jackal, an animal instinct. They didn’t UNDERSTAND anything.
Like her costume. These a-holes obsessing about her bare midriff. Fucking morons. Yes, she’d been shot in the stomach. The bare midriff was meant to expose the scar. You want to stop me, you better have something more than hot lead working for you…
Huntress continued watching the parasites entering the Penguin’s nightclub. It was a party atmosphere: women dressed up, men puffed—strutting—like they do when they think their woman is hotter than their friends.’ She remembered family gatherings like this from her own childhood. “Family” gatherings, rather. Before her family was slaughtered by a rival mob boss. Her father’s oldest Capo was called Giovaccio. His son Matt was about Helena’s age, and they were allowed to play together. Occasionally Matt showed up with bruises. Giovaccio thought it made his boy tough. He would come home, set out a belt strap, a stick, & an iron pipe and say “Choose.” Choose what he was to be beaten with. When Matt told her the story, she guessed he’d choose the belt. It seemed the least painful. Matt shook his head. “I always choose the pipe… Why? Because FUCK HIM, that’s why!”
That is why she bared her midriff. But did they get that, this criminal sleaze? No, they didn’t get anything until you pressed their face into the brick so hard it waffled.
What she needed was a really good fight.
Batman paced. Although he wore Bruce Wayne’s sweater, Bruce Wayne’s trousers, and walked back and forth in Bruce Wayne’s study, it was unquestionably The Batman who paced. His life might be a little fuller now, the past year may have blurred the lines between Bruce and Bat in some respects, but at this moment, there was no question: it was The Batman that paced.
Consequences. All choices have consequences. Any choice. Cause and effect. Something will happen. It must. It is natural law. Drop a pebble into still water, the effect radiates out, circle by circle, molecules at rest become molecules in motion. Affecting others. Cause and effect. Consequences. And responsibility for those consequences must fall on the chooser. He who dropped the pebble.
Selina. Catwoman. Catwoman in his life—in his home—in his bed.
It might be the best choice he ever made, but it was undeniably a choice that had consequences—consequences for which he and he alone bore responsibility—consequences he had never stopped to anticipate. Not really. He knew there would be complications, of course. He knew that. He told himself he had given the matter due thought. He HAD given it thought, he just… damnit, he hadn’t foreseen this.
In his mind’s eye, he pictured Catwoman sitting behind the desk, her feet up on the blotterpad. “One tiny, specific, and ultimately trivial detail, and you didn’t see it coming. Big whoop.”
He grunted at the imaginary cat. And she vanished. She was far more obliging than the real one, who grinned and purred and acted like his dismissive grunts were conversation.
“It isn’t trivial,” he told the imaginary and now departed Catwoman. It wasn’t trivial. He was Batman. Keeping that secret identity secret was the overriding consideration in conducting his private life. He’d sacrificed his dignity to it. For its sake, he behaved like an idiot. For its sake, he dated women he couldn’t stand. For its sake, he treated those he respected with contempt. Like Lucius Fox. Making Lucius make excuses for him. Making it impossible for the man Bruce Wayne respected enough to entrust with his company to respect him in return.
All for the sake of a secret.
Selina Kyle was Catwoman. That everyone knew. Now. Or at least they knew it was damn likely that she was.
Bruce Wayne dating Selina Kyle raised no red flags. He was a playboy. She was beautiful. He was rich. She was Catwoman. Whatever people thought about them as a couple, it never cast suspicion on the secret.
Still. Why didn’t he see it coming? She is Catwoman. She was a thief—the best thief going. Her expertise was bound to be recognized, sooner or later. He’d done it himself. Within weeks of revealing his identity, he’d hired her for Wayne Enterprises security. So why didn’t he see this coming?
He continued to pace.
Down the hall from Bruce’s pacing, Renee Montoya sat in the south drawing room watching the spectacle of afternoon tea at Wayne Manor.
“I must admit,” she told her hostess, “this is new to me. Meal meetings I’m used to, since my election to the City Council. Breakfast meetings, lunch meetings—not to be confused with power breakfasts and power lunches. I’ve done them all. But high tea, that’s a new one.”
High tea with an arch criminal at that,
she thought privately. ¿Madre
de Dios,a qué hemos llegado?
Selina smiled politely and offered milk and sugar. She only agreed to this meeting as a favor to Dick. She didn’t especially like cops, particularly Gordon’s pets from the old days, and Councilwoman Montoya was still Detective Montoya as far as she was concerned. That was why she had brought this case to Grayson Associates—to Dick, supporting a former policeman, professional courtesy and all that. Selina was happy enough to see Grayson Associates finally getting some of the city contracts that Brian Everwood originally promised, but she was less than thrilled with Dick bringing her into it.
The case itself was fairly ridiculous: two assistant deputy wardens and two correction officers at Blackgate were charged with second-degree grand larceny for replacing a costly painting in the lobby with a second-rate copy.
“Tell you what,” Selina purred, inspecting a plate of Alfred’s cookies, “why don’t we cut through the political double-talk and tell it like it is. Then we can give these cookies the undivided attention they deserve.”
Montoya was surprised. “Well that’s direct at least,” she said with a grudging smile, “haven’t heard much direct since my days as a beat cop.”
“I’d imagine not. Meow. Okay then, here is my take on this Blackgate business. It was obviously an inside job; your own people knew that straight off. Not many people knew the stolen painting was valuable. A Salvador Dali worth a quarter of a million in a PRISON! C’mon, you couldn’t make that shit up. Who outside of the Blackgate administration knew the artist donated it back in 1965? Plus, real art thieves that know what they’re doing would just take it outright. If they did replace it with a copy, it’d be a good forgery that wouldn’t be spotted for months or years, not a shoddy fake stapled into a cheap frame.”
Montoya sipped the tea and regarded Selina shrewdly. Selina refreshed her own cup and continued.
“So it was embarrassing. The city got a black eye. And now you have to look like you’re doing something about it. Enter Grayson & Associates hooking you up with a consultant. Well Councilwoman, as your art expert and security consultant, here is my professional opinion: don’t hang $250,000 paintings in the lobby of a prison. And do try the chocolate dipped ones, Alfred’s specialty, they’re to die for.”
Selina pointed to the cookies. She wanted to keep the tone light and pleasant, but internally the cat growled at the hypocrisy of law-abiding society. Oh, walking off with an artwork you didn’t pay for, that was stealing. But taking good money for advice like “don’t hang $250,000 paintings in the lobby of a prison”—that is perfectly legal.
In the study, the pacing continued.
Law-enforcement officials like Montoya coming to the house… Blueprints of Blackgate on the desk… Interpol reports on stolen artwork in the browser history… Bruce didn’t like it.
It wasn’t that it posed a danger to his secret. Selina was living here. Selina was Catwoman. Catwoman was asked to look into this.
But a lifetime keeping crimefighting concerns in the cave and out of the manor was difficult to just set aside.
“So once Brian Everwood resigned after that Ra’s al Ghul business, the Mayor and Commissioner approached me to run—mmph. You’re right, these cookies are el cielo, heaven.” Renee mumbled behind thick crumbs of double-dipped double chocolate chip.
With the Blackgate matter dispensed with and the cookies before them, a new and friendlier mood had descended on the drawing room. Renee was opening up. “They said I’d be an ideal candidate: Native Gothamite, 1st generation, put myself through City College—although that was just long enough to get into the Police Academy. Worked myself up from beat cop to Detective. I knew what they really meant: Woman, Latino, PC. Good window dressing.”
“And telegenic,” Selina observed.
“Telegenic. Renee, you’re very pretty. You don’t strike me as one of those women who pretend they don’t know it—or who pretend something like that isn’t useful when standing in front of fifty reporters with cameras.”
After a moment’s strained silence, Renee reluctantly smiled her agreement.
“And,” Selina continued, pressing the advantage, “You’re not at all ‘complex.’” She winked, “And that helps too.”
Bursts of merry girlish laughter drifted down the hall from the drawing room, and Bruce left the study to get away from it. He headed up to the bedroom, stopping on the stairs to see Whiskers poised on the corner of the landing like a gargoyle looking down onto the Great Hall. He grunted at the cat, who reacted just as Selina would, taking it as an invitation to follow rather than a warning to stay away. Reaching the bedroom, he closed the heavy door behind him and pretended not to notice when a half-inch of blue-gray paw forced its way underneath, swatting at the air.
Why was he really annoyed anyway? Blueprints? Browser history? Was it just Montoya’s visit keeping him from the cave? He was eager to start work on the video camouflage gear he picked up in Tokyo. Not being able to do so because Selina had a guest…
A meow from behind the door drew his attention back to the blue-gray paw still thrashing wildly through the gap between the door and the floor.
It was good having her finally moved in. It was… more comfortable, returning from patrol and knowing she was there. Often she took the Jag into town to ‘prowl’ at night, but she always beat him home. The Batmobile would make that final turn from public road onto the Wayne property, cross electric eye omega disabling the hologram, and glide into its place with the graceful ease of a thoroughbred that’s run its race. And through it all, he knew she was there. In the cave or in the bed. Waiting for Batman or for Bruce. It was impossible to tell which in advance. Her moods were an ever-shifting mystery.
Like that curio.
For so many years their relationship existed as nuance, an intricate knot of unspoken symbols and subtext. They would always communicate on that level more fully than on any other. It was effortless, almost subconscious. For a woman that prowls the Gotham Night calling herself Catwoman, Selina had kept an astonishing lack of “cat stuff” in her home. Only in one corner of her bedroom she’d hung a little Japanese painting, minimalist, just a few wispy brushstrokes of eyes and whiskers. And on the perpendicular wall, a carved curio cabinet filled with figurines, sculptures and miniatures. When she moved into the manor, she set up her living room, desk, and exercise equipment in the little suite of rooms across the hall from his bedroom. This, they had agreed, was to be her territory. Like an embassy is foreign soil. The curio sat on her living room floor for four days, next to the painting and a cardboard box, with the figurines snugly packed in moleskin, gauze and newspaper. She didn’t hang the curio, she didn’t hang the painting, and she didn’t unpack the figurines. For four days he watched them with Batman’s eye for detail, noting their exact position on the carpet. For four days he watched for any repositioning that might mean they had been touched. That night he returned from patrol, and there they were, hanging on the wall of the bedroom. His bedroom. Now their bedroom.
She had really moved in.
Cats do not make mistakes. If kitty walks into the room with a sopping wet tail, that is not because she accidentally floated it in her water dish. It is because at some moment in the recent past, her mind was occupied with the crunchy chows in her breakfast bowl. When she finished her meal and was free to turn her attention elsewhere, she noticed the proximity of her tail to the water and acted accordingly. That in no way constitutes a mistake; it is a simple matter of timing.
If Selina had first dismissed Renee Montoya as “one of Gordon’s pets,” but was now discovering a woman of complexity and substance, that in no way constituted a mistake. She had had no chance to evaluate Renee before, and now she had.
“Lawrence—Commissioner Muskelli, rather—it was him that really persuaded me to run. You probably didn’t notice, but he is the fourth police commissioner since Jim Gordon stepped down.”
Selina smiled to herself. She was well aware of the turnover in those chaotic months after Gordon’s retirement. It was the period when she and Batman became closer. He started visiting her apartment after patrol, and little by little he relaxed enough in her presence to talk about his day. Each time he had answered the signal and met a different Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner, she heard about it first—along with an hour’s reminiscence about Gordon and speculation of what the new change might mean. Batman had been relieved when Muskelli appeared as Commissioner #4. So had Montoya, apparently:
“He had estabilidad, staying power. They were saying that horse was too big for anybody to ride. But Lawrence showed them. He had something to prove. His family was sucio, dirty, back in the 20s. They ran the docks. Lawrence wants to make good on that. Restore the family name. So two months turned to three, and then four—and we all realized he was the one that would last. We had a new boss. Bien y bueno.”
Selina noted Renee’s continued use of Muskelli’s first name. She wondered if perhaps his urging her to run for office had less to do with her political qualifications and more to do with her leaving the force in order to serve on the council. As commissioner, he could hardly see a police detective socially. Now that Renee was a civilian…
“Most of us knew once he got settled in there would be changes. Two months was enough to see how everything worked, and we braced ourselves…”
So had Bruce, Selina remembered well. What would be the new guy’s take on vigilantes? Nothing was going to stop Batman in his mission, but a supportive GCPD made life far easier for him than a hostile one.
“…But instead of dictating policy straight off, Commissioner Muskelli asked questions. At every level. Gold shields down to patrolmen. He really seemed to listen to our opinions too. He asked about my experiences with The Batman—I had some trouble a few years back, taken hostage—and then later with Mad Hatter. And unlike those bastardos in Internal Affairs, hijos sin valor de lingotes, Lawrence really listened.”
Cats never make mistakes. And Selina would have to admit that, for a cop, Montoya was not completely uninteresting. “Mad Hatter,” she murmured quietly, “I had a bit of a go-round with him myself once upon a time. How did you handle it, afterwards, I mean?”
“Madre Virgen del Dios, it was awful… being rescued.”
Selina nodded. “It’s different for us—for women, I mean. The men, the best of them, I don’t think they can ever really understand. That world out there, the ‘nightlife’ of Gotham, it’s dangerous stuff. To be weak, to be dependent, to need rescued, it’s…” she trailed off, unable to find a word bad enough to express the thought.
“Unthinkable,” Renee prompted, surprising Selina with the English word.
Selina nodded. “Yes. Unthinkable. And dangerous. And the only thing it leads to is death, but only after a good deal of humiliation and contempt from people who aren’t fit to—” she broke off again and shuddered. “—so we’re not. We’re not weak, and we’re not dependent, and we’re not victims. Ever.”
“Sí. But the price is, sometimes, somehow, it means you give up being soft…”
“And warm,” Selina added, “And feminine.”
“…and you wake up one day and you realize you don’t know how that happened.”
Again Selina nodded. “But then you find a man who’s there at the end of the day for that little check on your femininity.” She paused, then asked with a knowing smile. “Lawrence?”
“Sí. About a month now.”
“Good for you,” she winked.
“I don’t know,” Renee hedged, “I do like that ‘check on my femininity’ but…”
“Renee. Soft and feminine does not mean weak and helpless. Anybody tells you different, a well placed knee to the groin tends to set them straight.”
Gotham Central Park stretched from 59th street all the way up to 110th. The southernmost forty blocks were still called Robinson Park by native Gothamites and those trying to seem like natives. This in honor of the wealthy 19th Century merchant Leopold Robinson. Robinson so admired the public grounds of London and Paris, he campaigned tirelessly for Gotham to build a similar facility: “Providing an attractive setting for carriage rides and providing working-class Gothamites with a healthy alternative to the saloon.”
The carriages remained, if only for the tourists, but the park had long ceased to be a healthy site for after-hours recreation. It was safer, to be sure, than it had been five years earlier. But it was still a viable location to find lowlifes after dark, and lowlifes were what Huntress was looking for.
She was still spoiling for a fight. What she’d seen at the Iceberg had only made it worse.
She didn’t give a damn if Oswald Cobblepot lived or died, that was for damn sure. It was the woman he was with—a woman who was likely to be the end of him. Lark Starling she was calling herself now. When she married Helena’s Uncle Vito, she was Angelica Manetti. She was not a birdwatcher back then, needless to say. She was a good cook, made manicotti and lasagna from scratch. Uncle Vito did love his pasta. When he died from heart failure, the family shrugged. For them, anything short of a car bomb or a hail of gunfire constituted a natural death. It was only years later, when she’d gone to Sicily after her family’s murder, that Helena learned about these “Black Widows.” Women that married then murdered wealthy men, it was said, frequently targeted men of the Causa Nostra. They were suitably rich and seldom mourned. When they died, law enforcement barely noticed if they weren’t gunned down by other Mafiosi.
Was Lark Starling a Black Widow? It seemed likely. If she was, Helena did not care if Penguin lived or died. What had her fascinated and repulsed was not Oswald but Lark… Aunt Angelica… Angelica-Lark had no problem remaking herself. New name, new look, new interests. She was loved for it. On a pedestal. Cherished.
Helena was reviled for it. Whenever she tried to change, she was greeted with derision and disrespect. Because she didn’t do it for THEM. She pursued her own agenda, she pleased herself.
Lark Starling, birdwatcher. What a perfect little package of delight for a slimebucket like Cobblepot.
To become exactly what he wants—what good would that be? If she towed the line and agreed to do everything Batman’s way, then what? It wouldn’t be The Huntress he respected. It would be some goddamn paint by numbers Mrs. Potatohead in a mask and sensible shoes.
Fuck ‘em all.
Fuck ‘em all and let God sort them out.
She was who she was, she did what she did, and she was going to the park to hospitalize some muggers.
Jervis Tetch blinked.
“It’s Tweedle Dee and Tweedle DeeDee, hee, hee” he said, before one of the buxom yellow clad strangers sprung into motion. Some kind of vaulting somersault propelled her feet into his chest with the force of a small car. Jervis felt himself thrown backwards until he crashed into his own coffeetable.
“So rested he by the Tumtum Tree,” Jervis mumbled, head throbbing, eyes glassy.
Akiki and Margot looked at each other.
“They can’t all be Blockbuster.”
Bruce took a closer look at the curio of cats hanging in his bedroom. He had seen this collection before, of course, when he slept over at Selina’s apartment. The variety was remarkable: from jade, silver, crystal, and porcelain to Pre-Columbian clay and carved bone. There were statuettes, amulets, tiles, and boxes. Every country and material seemed to be represented, and every attitude and posture of cat. Like that blue one: a cat lying down, its tail curled back on its middle, front paws crossed one over the other. An attitude of composure and ease. The creature would have to feel very safe to let its guard down that way. The sculpture was a deep and translucent blue, carved from a sapphire cabochon, most likely. Bruce knew this because he had bought a statue like this once, for whatshername… Greta? He remembered the cat better than the girl; he seldom bought gifts like that himself. Alfred or the personal shopper usually—Candi! that was her name. Candi was the most beautiful of the bimbos.
Bruce opened the curio and carefully picked up the small blue carving with a winsome smile. Funny how we can deceive ourselves. All those years ago, he gave his girlfriend a cat.
He turned it, feeling the cool smooth surface against his fingertips. It did look just like the one he’d bought for… He turned it over… To Candice, from BW.
To be continued…