A pensive silence lingered on the Wayne Manor patio after Ra’s al Ghul’s humbled exit. Bruce, Selina, and Alfred were all recalling the astonishing scene that just played out, while Harvey, indignant but energized by the confrontation, eyed the food.
Alfred quickly noticed and, holding the comfort of the guest as the prime consideration, he made an effort to coerce Bruce and Selina back into the “cookout” spirit with a theatrical return to the grill. He began “plating” the steaks, arranging each artfully amidst a garnish and sides, creating the effect of a gourmet restaurant rather than a casual, afternoon cookout—and he thought he succeeded in baiting Bruce with this maneuver when he felt that light tap on his elbow. Bruce was indeed pulling him aside, but his purpose had nothing to do with the barbecue.
“Got to admit, Alfred, I’m torn,” he began. “’Of two minds,’ as our friend Two-Face used to say. Dent’s tirade against Ra’s, it was very… Face. But when it came down to threats, it wasn’t about ripping out his entrails and dividing them into two even piles. It was sending him to jail; it was pure Harvey Dent. Anxious as I am to go after Ra’s, I don’t know if I can leave right now—might be more important to stay here, keep an eye on this.”
“Eh-yes, there is that consideration, of course, Master Bruce, as well as…”
“I know, I know. As D.A., Harvey had direct contact with Batman, and as Two-Face he saw even more. I really need to be careful where he’s concerned. To up and disappear on a trumped up excuse right now would be dangerous.”
“Well, yes, and of course it would be rude, sir.”
Ubu jostled, yet again, with the doorman at the Gotham Imperial Hotel. The man had opened the door as he would for any guest when Ra’s al Ghul approached the front entrance to the grand hotel. But Ubu recognized the high forehead and double chin cleft indicative of the Bughinsae Clan of the lowlands. He would not let Ra’s pass through the door while this man held it, for that would expose his master’s back to the cunning mercenary. Ubu himself would hold the door while Ra’s passed through, and then he himself would pass. Then and only then could the wily Bughinsae return to his post.
The commotion had not died down when Ra’s came back to the doors, displeased with his reception at the front desk, and the Bughinsae doorman again tried to hold the door for him. Ra’s stood at the entrance inside the plush lobby while Ubu resumed his fracas with the doorman. Ra’s fumed, he paced, and then, finally, just as Ubu had reestablished the procedure by which the door would be opened for the Demon’s Head, Ra’s resigned himself to the new disgrace and returned to the front desk, leaving Ubu holding the door for nobody and the doorman smirking.
Ubu cared nothing for the Bughinsae’s derision and followed Ra’s back to the front desk.
Bruce might have been “of two minds” after witnessing Harvey Dent’s face-off with Ra’s al Ghul, but Harvey himself felt less conflicted than he had in years. He had one thought only: he was hungry. He poked at the charred crust of his steak and declared it “a little singed, but nothing to declare a hunger strike over.” To prove the point, he cut a bite, popped it into his mouth, and chewed happily.
“Come on,” he told Bruce and Selina, “not going to let Mr. Dead and Loving It wreck a beautiful afternoon. Selina! Where’s the famous cat-curiosity? Open up Lurch’s gift. Let’s see what the calcified old coot thinks is a tempting inducement for the Queen of Cats?”
“Oh,” Selina hedged, looking warily at the package, “I really don’t think... I mean, since I’m not going to take the job, better to just send it back unopened, don’t you think?”
“Open it!” Harvey cajoled, “I insist. Dying to see what’s in there, and it’s the least you can do when I booted him off for you.”
Selina glanced sideways at Bruce. His casual Saturday-at-home posture hadn’t changed, but Batman’s ferocious intensity burned in his eyes. He met her gaze and his head shifted ever so slightly in a sideways “no” motion. Selina’s lip curled into the playful grin.
“I am curious,” she purred, dipping into Catwoman’s sultriest tones. “If he invited Two-Face to a one o’clock sitdown, I can only imagine he’s given me a dog collar.”
Before Bruce could suggest that Alfred take the package inside to be opened with a mail knife, Selina had taken it into her lap and ripped off the paper, revealing a flat ebony box carved with a five-clawed talon in a central oval, the placement if not the image echoing the bat-emblem. Selina arched an eyebrow but made no comment, remembering that whatever this “gift” was, it was only Harvey’s misreading of the situation that suggested it was meant for her. Ra’s presumably brought it for Batman. She undid the latch and impulsively lifted the lid.
“Swords,” she declared, amused but bewildered. Then she looked up at Bruce, “Look, Honey! He gave me swords,” she repeated.
The Dragon Blades. The Detective’s feline concubine in possession of the Dragon Blades. Of all the affronts he had suffered on this accursed day in this accursed city, that was the worst. He had been addressed as “Ghul.” He had been called an overrated hairdo, an overhyped goatherd, and a horse’s ass. His personal attendant had been referred to as his “man-bitch.” And now he found himself, not in his accustomed quarters in the Gotham Imperial Hotel, but in the Honeymoon Suite, sitting on a bed strewn with rose petals, confetti, and small white pellets which turned out to be candied mints. But of all these mortifications, the thought of a woman—of that woman most especially—handling his brother’s sword, handling his own, it was grotesque.
Absently, he picked one of the small, white buttermints off the bedspread and snapped it between his teeth.
On his previous visits to Gotham, he had always made prior arrangements with the Imperial Hotel to reserve the Royal Suite for himself and the top three floors for his entourage. He hadn’t even brought an entourage this time, assuming he would be invited to sleep at the manor, of which his daughter was so soon to be mistress. He had not wanted to inflict his usual train of eighty followers on Wayne Manor, feeling the Detective might look on this copious honor as more of an invasion. So he had exercised restraint, assuming Gr’oriBr’di would supply a suitable honor guard as soon as he was informed of the glad tidings.
But now—(What was the Feline doing in Bruce Wayne’s home?)—Now he found he had to obtain lodging and the impudent slave at the front desk informed him that the Royal Suite was “currently occupied.” The effrontery. Occupied! By one Count Adam Gottlob Charles von Moltke-Huitfeld, no less. “A descendent of Napoleon Bonaparte,” the miserable slave informed him.
Descendent of Napoleon Bonaparte, indeed. He was no such thing, Ra’s al Ghul was certain of that. He could be related to Napoleon’s brother Jerome, Ra’s supposed. Jerome Bonaparte had married some American (Ra’s did not bother noting her name as she was a woman, but he recalled that she was the granddaughter of Daniel Webster). Not that any of that mattered. What mattered was that the slave refused to evict this powerless nobody to make way for Ra’s al Ghul—Light of the east, Terror of the west, Anointed of Anubis and Osiris, Chosen of Ra; Apex of the age of Oneness through One Rule by the most worthy Demon’s Head—and an inbred cousin of Napoleon had his room!
Still, as much as it chafed his Imperial Pride, Ra’s quickly realized he could not waste time scouring the city for accommodations befitting his rank. He had fallen victim to faulty intelligence, or else he had fallen victim to a dire plot, and he could not find out too soon what was really going on.
“What an idiot,” Harvey exclaimed, munching the last piece of cornbread. “Swords?! He gave you two swords—TWO swords, mind you. Two-Face, he asks for a one o’clock meeting; you, he gives a pair of swords. I shouldn’t have sent him to the Iceberg, I should have taken him there myself by way of 57th Street. Show him what kind of trinkets you buy a lady before you ask for something. Bruce knows what I’m getting at, don’t you, Buddy?”
It was Bruce’s turn to raise an eyebrow. He remembered “Apollo” Dent’s routine too well from their playboy days: a silk scarf at the beginning of the affair, a wrist watch at the end.
“They’re very nice swords,” Selina pointed out. “Look at that, little dragons carved into the hilt, beautiful work there, that leather tied around the sheath, look at the patina on that… Light, too. Beautifully balanced.” She pulled one out, which caused Bruce to step back in alarm—entirely for Fop considerations he told himself, although his Bat-half was none too thrilled at the sight of Catwoman wielding Ra’s al Ghul’s sword that way.
“Oh, don’t tell me you can fence too,” Harvey wailed, helping himself to a watermelon ice.
“Not fencing.” Selina said, executing a slow graceful move then sheathing the sword. “Just a few kata. My sensei was very big on the fundamentals.”
Bruce placed a mental checkmark next to that kernel of information about Catwoman’s training. His inner Bat grunted at the confirmation of a long-suspected theory. The rest of him continued to look alarmed at the sight of his girlfriend wielding Ra’s al Ghul’s sword.
Ra’s al Ghul marshaled the facts, as they were known.
The German composer Richard Wagner took all the glorious dragon lore with which Ra’s had primed him and produced Fafner, a Westerner’s idea of a dragon: he did nothing more than guard a hoard of treasure he had no use for, until the hero lured him from his home, hid like a coward under a rock, and stabbed him in the belly. Ra’s had been thinking of the story in the course of his pre-dip meditations. That was how Westerners viewed the dragon, a stupid beast to be lured away from its home by a hero’s cunning, lured away from his power base, into ambush and death.
He had been lured away—he, Ra’s al Ghul, the living dragon, had been lured from his home into Gotham City, into the very heart of his enemy’s power, lured by the most tempting bait of all… It was surely the most fiendishly brilliant plan the Detective had ever devised. Never in their long battle had the man so distinguished himself as one most fit to sire the next DEMON—and indeed most suited to lead the organization if Ra’s himself were to expire before his grandson was of age to…
That possibility had not occurred to him before: the very qualities that made the Detective so suitable to sit at his right hand made it quite unlikely he would be content to do so. The Detective was, after all—GOOD LORD, WHY HAD HE NOT CONSIDERED THIS BEFORE—the Detective was his enemy! If Ra’s were to welcome him into the bosom of his family, how long would it be before he welcomed that Dragon Blade to his bosom as well!
Perhaps it was fortunate that the relationship with Talia was not quite so far along as Gr’oriBr’di had led Ra’s to believe, it gave Ra’s time to…
It was Gr’oriBr’di who led Ra’s to believe The Detective had finally accepted his destiny with Talia. It was Gr’oriBr’di who was the source of that false intelligence. What if he had not been deceived by an elaborate ruse of the Detective’s but was himself the originator of the plot?
What if it was Gr’oriBr’di who lured Ra’s from his home into the heart of his enemy’s power!
The Detective had seemed downright astonished at Ra’s arrival. He was performing, of course, for the benefit of the infidel Harvey Dent, but as Ra’s thought back, he did seem to glean marks of true surprise in the Detective’s bearing. What if he knew nothing of it? What if… What if… What if…
“Ubu,” Ra’s called thoughtfully, “We are in need of new intelligence, reliable new intelligence. Make inquiries, and learn the location of this ‘Iceberg’ of which the infidel Harvey Dent spoke.”
Oswald emerged from his office with a crazed gleam in his eye. He had not yet determined why the women of the Iceberg were fawning over him with such featherbrained devotion, but he would! Oh yes, he would. And in the meantime, he would demonstrate to all the world that Oswald The Penguin Cobblepot was a figure to be feared, not cooed after.
He said as much to Sly when he checked the bartender’s receipts just now, and what Jonathan Crane found so amusing about that Oswald meant to find out as well. The looks back and forth between Crane and Sly, if Scarecrow had any thoughts of stealing his bartender, then he too would soon learn what it was to cross Oswald Cobblepot.
He had already secured a quantity of venom and the penguins would be arriving soon. Then they would see who was “an adorable Ozzy-Wozzy,” then they would learn what a theme criminal really was.
These pleasant musings had been interrupted by Sparrow’s timid knock. Sly needed him, she said. A new customer wanted to run a tab. So he emerged from his office, eyes glistening with dreams of the terror his name would instill once more in hero and rogue alike—when his eye fell on this “new customer.” Oswald marched right up to the man, who was entirely too tall, and when Oswald got close enough for the effect he wished, he had to tilt his head upward. He did it belligerently, but the move brought more of that damnable cooing from half the women in the bar.
“KWAK-kwakka-quakka-kwa,” he yelled at them, which silenced the coos but brought more tender smiles. “Your name?” Oswald asked, though he knew full well, it pleased him to question a new applicant.
“Ra’s al Ghul,” the man announced pointedly.
“That how you pronounce it?” Oswald grumbled. “Okay, Sly, he looks good for it. Open a new account under Brady.”
Ra’s eyes bulged. “Gr’oriBr’di?” he asked, incredulous.
“Gregory Brady,” Oswald corrected. “Which reminds me, when you see him, tell him his men aren’t nearly so prompt paying their tabs as those Ghost Dragons. He really might want to have that talk with them about the honor of settling their debts.”
“Gr’oriBr’di’s men frequent this establishment?” Ra’s asked, stunned.
“Hey, Sly, gimme a Demon’s Head and a bowl of peanuts,” someone called down the bar. Ra’s head snapped in that direction. To his horror, he saw a bowl of peanuts passed to an unseemly looking individual along with a tall glass full of a syrupy red liquid topped with an inch of pink froth and a strawberry.
Ra’s pointed in amazement as he turned back to Oswald, but he couldn’t think how to even phrase the question, so he merely repeated: “Gr’oriBr’di’s men frequent this establishment?”
“‘Course they do, where else would they go? Best bar in Gotham,” a new voice sang out. Ra’s was horrified to note it was a woman’s voice. Women permitted in the tavern to socialize with the men. There was no end to Western depravity. “The usual, Sly,” the creature ordered.
“Sure thing, Gorgeous,” the bartender winked.
“Your serving man takes orders from women?” Ra’s asked Oswald.
The only answer was a vicious snapping kwak, and Oswald waddled back to his office—evoking another round of delighted cooing from the waitresses.
“Don’t mind him,” a strange little fellow said, taking his drink from the bar and pushing between Ra’s and Ubu to make his way to his table. “Ozzy will never accept that Sly and Roxy Rocket are meant to be together and he just doesn’t figure into the equation.”
Ra’s and Ubu looked at each other sharply.
“My Lord,” Ubu said, his voice hoarse with shock. “‘Roxy Rocket,’ ‘Iceberg,’ You don’t think…”
Ra’s glared hatefully back at his minion. No one knew the mechanisms by which Gr’oriBr’di broke the wills of men, they knew only that minions who returned from Gotham kept to themselves, whispering of “the rocket” and “ice burrows.” It seemed incredible but— but—
“We need reliable intelligence, Ubu,” Ra’s repeated his words from the hotel as he stared, spellbound, at the strange little man retreating into the crowd. Ra’s followed after him like a man in a trance, and Ubu followed, as always, after his master.
Although Selina was Harvey’s closest friend in the Wayne household, he edged closer to Bruce as the couple walked him to the door. Selina took the hint, and let Bruce escort Harvey the rest of the way to his car.
“It’s good to see you two together,” Harvey said once they were alone. “You seem to fit each other really well. I think it’s great that you two found each other and have stayed together for so long. Selina’s a good catch, and it looks like it’s going swimmingly for you both. I’m really glad of that.”
Bruce smiled and waited, sensing there was more to come and thinking it might be a threat along the lines of: Hurt her and I’ll break both your arms in two places. Harvey did have more to say, but it came from a completely different direction than Bruce expected:
“Look, Buddy, I know making a relationship like this work is no easy feat, and I want you to know that I’m with you on this one. If you ever have any problems with, ahem, anyone in a cape, you just let me know. ‘We’ know how to handle that jackass.”
Bruce tried to look grateful.
Mindful of his dignity, Ra’s al Ghul had appropriated a table in the rear corner of the Iceberg dining room and had Ubu bring the strange little man to him rather than demeaning himself by going to a Gotham “rogue” for information.
Jonathan Crane couldn’t hear the conversation, but he noted the giant Ubu hovering over Jervis’s table, clearly trying to intimidate the smaller, weaker man… Just like a bully, just like all of that sort: all muscle and no brains, they thought they could get away with anything… Look at that, Jervis going along with the big brute because what else could he do? Crane inhaled sharply, an almost sexual excitement seizing him… Bullies dealt in Fear. And Fear turned back on them was the most satisfying revenge of all!
“I am Ra’s al Ghul,” Ra’s said simply when Jervis Tetch reached his table.
“Be what you would seem to be,” Jervis twittered in reply. “Or, if you’d like it put more simply—never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.”
“I have spoken your language for many centuries,” he said slowly, “and I believe I am most fluent in vocabulary, syntax, and idiom. Nevertheless, your words befuddle me. Speak more plainly, or I shall have Ubu thrash you.”
“I think I could, if I only knew how to begin,” Jervis answered. “For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things have happened lately. What’s an Ubu?”
“Ubu is my bodyguard and manservant. You may ignore him, for he is a serf of no importance, unless you displease me, in which case he shall act merely as an instrument of my will and thrash you.”
Jervis squinted. “What size hat does he wear?”
Talia arrived home—to her new “home,” anyway—at least it was only one roommate this time. She didn’t care for the idea of sharing lodging, but the city was so expensive. It seemed to be the way all the peasants lived here. The waitress Mia, from that diner, was good enough to take her in at first when she learned of Talia’s plight:
Yes, she could pay for her meal, technically; she had a credit card with literally no spending limit whatsoever. She could buy her meal, buy the diner, buy the entire city block with it. But if she used that card, Talia explained tearfully, her father would know at once. He would know that she needed him. He would know where to find her. She couldn’t face that, she couldn’t!!!!
She had a six thousand dollar watch, she told Mia. Here, she could have it. Just let her eat without paying. Mia had nodded and sat down next to her. “What’s his name?” she asked shrewdly.
“M- my father?” Talia had sobbed.
“No, fathers are all alike. Come in a diner at one in the morning, sobbing, no cash, order a big hunka pie, there’s always a ‘he’ behind it all, and it’s not Daddy.”
Talia burst into tears, and six soggy napkins later it was settled: Mia would take the watch and Talia could come home with her and “crash” at her place as long as she wanted. Mia already had two roommates; rent was $2,000 a month, that meant the watch covered her share for a year. Mia would even speak to the manager about giving Talia a job…
That part didn’t work out; Talia hadn’t lasted a week. But she had a nametag reading “Tee” which she kept for reasons she didn’t really understand. It’s not like those four endless days in awful, cheap shoes, bringing troglodytes coffee and hamburgers, was a rewarding experience that she wished to remember. But she kept that nametag. It was in her pocket even now, like a good luck charm. “Tee”… Greg’s name for her. The woman she should have been, wanted to be, glimpsed for a few brief seconds before it all went to pieces.
She felt hungry and went to the kitchen. Unlike Mia, her new roommate didn’t have a refrigerator full of leftovers from a diner. There was fried chicken, cold Thai pad noodles, an apple, and half a box of Krispy Kremes. She decided on the latter.
It was not going well. Ra’s had given up trying to question Jervis Tetch and sent Ubu to obtain a better source of information. He did not trouble himself to learn the particulars of the entire Gothamite rabble, but he certainly remembered the reports about the plant-woman Poison Ivy, who wanted to exterminate mankind so vegetation could rule. It was a noble goal, not incompatible with much of DEMON’s philosophy and mission. If she were not a woman, Ra’s would have considered calling her to his service. Being a woman, she was certainly not suitable for such an honor, but she was at least memorable where so much of this criminal scum was not. So when he saw the booth cordoned off by a curtain of plant life, Ra’s felt sure that must be she. Poison Ivy would not do as an ally, but she would do for an informant. He sent Ubu to summon her… that was half an hour ago.
Ra’s had seen the curtain of foliage part, he had seen Ubu withdraw inside as into the flap of a tent, and he waited… waited… waited… but no Ubu emerged. Nor did Poison Ivy. And twice the serving wench had come around telling Ra’s he must “order another round” or vacate his table.
“It’s the oldest story in the world,” Mad Hatter prattled on, oblivious to his listener’s plight. “1) Mutant bird/plant/whatever killed/destroyed by would-be victim. 2) Oswald/Pammy/whoever blames would-be victim. 3) Denial ensues. 4) More SmileX threatened. 5) Bigger mutant bird/plants threatened. A pool of tears, a pool of tears, Alice drowning in a pool of tears. More tea?”
“I am not drinking tea,” Ra’s hissed through clenched teeth.
“More for me then!” Jervis twittered happily. “He’s never coming back, don’t you know. Your large friend with the pointy stick. Once they disappear in the greenery, they’re gone for the week. Pammy doesn’t like you demon-guys very much. Ooh look, they’ve brought us gooseberry jam with our bread and butter.”
Ra’s pressed his fingers to his brow, squeezing the flesh just above his nose, while Jervis proceeded to slather invisible jam on an imaginary slice of bread.
“Cally-oo, cally-yay, I was about to say, Pammy, Poison Ivy, that is, she does have a grudge against you demon fellows always hanging around the ‘Berg. Once they’ve had a few, the sabers come out, don’t you know, and then it’s all ‘who can slash a leaf off the climbing clematis from here, double or nothing if you hit it without nipping the peony blossom.’” He sighed dramatically. “Men, don’t you know, they don’t need to give her a reason to loathe them, but they do anyway.”
“You are a madman,” Ra’s declared finally. “Take yourself from my presence and, I pray you, present yourself at the nearest institution for the care of the mentally disturbed. They will feed you and look after you until such time as the world is united under DEMON rule, when you will be humanely exterminated for the good of the species.”
“You’re a Capricorn, aren’t you?” Jervis asked.
Selina watched from the bedroom window while Harvey Dent’s car disappeared out the front gate. She was already changed into costume but figured Bruce would still beat her to the cave. Starting on the ground floor, he was probably at the clock already. If she didn’t hustle, he’d be gone and she’d miss her chance to get in on Demon Hunt ’05.
So she ran to the grandfather clock, ran to the cave, and was headed straight for the Batmobile when she saw there was no need to rush: he hadn’t suited up completely. Omitting the mask, cape, and gloves meant he wasn’t leaving any time soon. He had the tapes from the security cameras playing on all the computer screens but one. The largest monitor displayed Oracle’s hologram, along with several radar screens and satellite photos.
“Sorry, Boss,” the Oracle head intoned in Barbara’s voice. “Now that we’ve tagged the plane, we’ll spot it next time.”
“There won’t be a next time,” Batman growled. “He won’t use that plane again. He won’t use that flight path; he probably won’t use the same departure point. You’ll have to expand the methodology. Get the satellite photos for the base in Nepal, go two to twelve hours prior to departure. Then check the records for the castle in Romania last year, and wherever he left from that other time. There has to be some SOP for his minions before he leaves to—” he broke off and turned to Selina. “Third time, can you believe it? He’s in Gotham again.”
“I know, I was upstairs, remember?” she said with a smile. “He gave me swords.”
“I know I’m tempting fate asking,” she added, “But why haven’t you gone supernova about his getting past my security on the grounds?”
“My doing,” he noted. “With Dent coming over, I had turned off the advanced defenses. I figured if we walked down to the tennis court, I didn’t want to explain why we have crystalline radiation sensors, K-metal lasers, and a gravity displacement detector.”
Selina glanced up at the monitor where Oracle, chafing at Batman’s earlier criticism and having overheard the conversation, was providing the explanation through a series of images. Selina decided to ignore the diagrams of kryptonite isotopes and solar radiation flickering behind his head, and returned the conversation to a more pertinent topic:
“Speaking of the swords, any idea what that was about?”
“They looked ceremonial,” he said casually, not turning his attention from his calculations, “Most of DEMON is steeped in rites and rituals.”
“Yeah,” Selina put in, “the kind of ritual I get from Whiskers every autumn: I have the honor to present you with this mostly-dead chipmunk. No thanks.”
He paused and looked up. His eyes flickered over the catsuit, then he turned back to the computer screen. Selina had often seen the ‘density shift’ when Bruce, in costume or not, segued into Bat-mode. What she saw now was the opposite: despite the costume, Batman suddenly… shifted… all that intensity dropped away like the wind from a sail. “I take it Catwoman is going out to prowl?” he asked in Bruce’s voice.
“I assumed I was in on this,” she said uncomfortably. “Is that a problem? I mean, I thought we’d be out there looking for him tonight. To tell the truth, I figured you’d be halfway out the door by the time I got down here. Why aren’t you, anyway?”
He paused. When he resumed, although the density never shifted back, he spoke in Batman’s voice again.
“Where would I look? The only way to find him is to find out what he’s doing here, and it is a problem if you’re ‘in’ on that. I have to contact Brady and—”
“And the spawn is going to be mentioned. I get it,” she sighed. “I’ll be in the way… Guess it will be a boring old prowl after all.” She paused and offered a naughty pout. “Poor kitty,” she said, pausing again before the pout morphed into a naughty grin. “Guess I’ll have to find a way to amuse myself,” she purred, eyes dancing, before adding, “…in the new lair you haven’t been able to find.”
As so often happened with Jervis Tetch, once his crazy had run its course, he became perfectly lucid. Having concluded his mad tea party with Ra’s al Ghul, he began looking around the room like an experienced gossipmonger. He pointed out the arrival of a large crate. “Emperor penguins,” he confided, as the delivery was maneuvered through the dining room and into Oswald’s office. “That won’t end well.”
“Because the owner of this establishment calls himself Penguin?” Ra’s guessed, trying to adapt to the logic of the place.
Jervis shook his head. “The owner of this establishment is unaware of the surprise hit movie of the summer called March of the Penguins. Lots of cute, fuzzy, baby birds waddling on the ice and who knows what all. Every henchwench in town has seen it. They come back all girly about the adorable little beaks, and what good fathers the males are. It’s revolting!”
“And Cobblepot is unaware?” Ra’s asked.
“Hasn’t a clue. And all the fuss spooked him, and that’s when Scarecrow went to work. He can smell fear can our boy Jonathan, and there’s nothing he enjoys more than feeding it once it gets going.”
“I don’t understand; why would he do this?”
“Oh, it’s just a little payback for nine hundred dollars in alibi surcharges. You’re new here, you’ll find out about those. Rogues go over their bar tabs like other people do the phone bill: three and a half hours to Peru?”
“Grapevine has it it’s working, Ozzy is ready to snap. One of those grand gestures that make life a living hell around here. That’s why I’m betting it’s live penguins in that crate.”
“Right. Like the time he tried to take us all hostage because Sly and that Greg Brady took over his operation.”
Ra’s felt a curious palpitation in his chest, as if his heart had skipped a beat.
“G- G- Brady?” he managed weakly.
“Thing with venom penguins, though, that’s a pretty ungainly bird to start with. With muscles, I imagine they’ll fall over.”
“Greg Brady tried to take over Cobblepot’s empire?” Ra’s gasped.
“Well, maybe some of them can jump. Get you with a vicious flying peck.”
“Greg Brady tried to take over the Iceberg,” Ra’s stated again.
“Little ones can jump small crevasses to get where they’re going.”
“Gr’oriBr’di usurped his previous boss’s empire before coming to DEMON.”
“But mostly, I think they’re just going to fall down.”
Batman waited for Greg Brady at the rendezvous point, while Psychobat railed against the presumption of villains who had learned his identity. Ra’s al Ghul trotting right up to his front door with a pair of ceremonial swords like a covered dish for the barbecue. Ra’s al Ghul walking right up—it was worse than Nigma sending that cat to the house. And then the final insult, Catwoman gets to come right down to the cave, shoot a naughty grin at him, and announce she’s got a new lair.
Sure, it was ridiculous grouping her with the others. She was no Riddler or Hugo Strange or Ra’s al Ghul… but she wasn’t exactly the girl next door, either. She was a criminal once. It’s how they came together in the first place, and it was that history at the heart of their new… games. Riddler at least sent his clues and taunts to the Bat-Signal. Catwoman could now march right down to the cave, tap him on the shoulder and say—
“Hey, Bats. What’s shakin’?” Greg Brady announced.
“You’re late,” Psychobat growled, then Batman softened the harshness of the greeting by asking “Any difficulty getting away, with Ra’s al Ghul being in Gotham?”
“The old man’s in town?” he asked.
“You didn’t know?”
“First I’ve heard of it,” Greg shrugged.
“Yes,” Greg said firmly. “I’m sure that I didn’t know he was coming into Gotham. Would’ve mentioned a bulletin like that.”
Batman glared at him.
Greg shrugged again. Then, after a tense pause, he asked “You wouldn’t happen to know where Talia’s at, would you, Dude? I mean, not that I care or anything, just that she’s kind of a mess with the life skills, and I’d kinda like to know she landed on her feet.”
Batman shook his head no.
“No idea,” he said.
“Thing is, Bats, for the life of me I can’t figure out how she’s gonna live. I mean, you gotta admit it’s not much of a resume: Father’s chattel, washed out of assassin training camp, appointed head of the assassins’ league anyway thanks to nepotism, obsesses on loser crimefighter (no offense, Dude), stalks loser crimefighter, wrecks un-wreckable supercorp. What is she going to do to eat and pay rent now, teach aerobics at the Y?”
“I don’t know where she is,” Batman said firmly. He noted that, whatever Brady might say, he seemed to care very much what happened to Talia. He noted too that Ra’s presence in Gotham was still unexplained—and that Ra’s had not told this particular minion, who headed the Gotham City operations, that he was coming.
“Your stint as a mole inside DEMON is over,” Batman said brusquely. “You have to disappear, and I mean now, tonight—”
“No way, Dude,” Greg interrupted before Batman could add “—if you want to stay alive.”
Greg Brady glared defiantly at Batman.
Batman glared insistently back at Greg Brady.
Greg’s knuckles tightened subconsciously as he considered making a fist.
Batman noticed the subtle clenching of muscles above the elbow and echoed it.
Their eyes locked in malevolent agreement for a silent beat, and then…
A silly electronic trill broke the silence.
Batman’s withering glare faltered, but only for a split second. Greg’s collapsed into an embarrassed frown as the trill sounded again.
“’Scuse me,” he murmured, unclipping a phone from his belt and turning away.
Batman retreated to the Batmobile and opened the OraCom. He instructed Oracle to initiate “the GB Protocol” to equip Brady with a new identity far from Gotham.
Then he hesitated, watching the man as he talked on the phone. The protocol was established when Brady first agreed to remain in DEMON as an undercover agent of the Bat. He’d been a Joker henchman and a bouncer at the Iceberg, and Batman had, perhaps, been a bit stingy with the seed money. But now… now Greg Brady might very well be the man who got Talia al Ghul out of his life for good. He told Oracle to add an additional $50,000 to the bank account.
“Bats!” Greg blurted, running after him, waving his arms as if he was afraid Batman was driving away. Batman waited while Brady caught up to him.
“I found the old man,” he panted. “That was Oswald… down at the ‘Berg… wants me to send someone… to pick up Ubu! It’s closing time, and he’s passed out in booth six, and… well, from the sound of it… three ‘Demon’s Heads’ (that’s, like, twelve ounces of rum), Ivy pheromones, fear toxin, and wearing a Donald Duck hat.”
To be continued…