Since curtailing the more felonious aspects of her nightly prowls, Catwoman had devised a number of exercises to keep her skills sharp. Most of these took place in the heart of the wholesale Diamond District, a single block of 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues with names like Kestenbaum & Weisner, Friedman & Son, and D’Auria Brothers. Unassuming facades—behind which lurked the most sophisticated security systems in the world. At least one of the diamond exchanges, brokers, or cutters always had a new system and it was always the cutting edge of high tech: biometric and retinal scans, voice keys, motion, heat and light detectors, redundant digital and electromagnetic locks… Catwoman still broke into the Gotham Museum, the MoMA, and Cartier’s from time to time for sentimental reasons, but she felt the Diamond District was all she really needed to keep her professional edge.
So she was struck to realize she hadn’t broken into the Wayne Tower in almost a year. When she first added these “exercise” break-ins to her prowls, the Wayne building was a regular stop, almost as regular as Cartier. She delighted in exploring the different layers of security: the lobby and visitor areas, the regular offices, the secure floors that dealt in sensitive information from the R&D campus, the executive suites and the boardroom, Bruce’s office, and of course the Wayne penthouse: a billionaire’s private residence to the rest of the world, but because the elevator accessed the satellite Batcave beneath the building as well as the penthouse floor, the security precautions went far beyond that which would protect the typical collection of Picassos, bearer bonds, and diamond cufflinks.
“If I knew then what I know now,” Catwoman had purred that first night from an adjacent rooftop… If she’d known Batman himself had set up that security, she would have found it irresistible. She would have spent every night she was free prodding and poking it, discovering its secrets… And for months after learning his identity, she did just that.
But then, somehow, as time passed—and especially after she moved into the manor and Alfred started hinting for her to redecorate the penthouse—Selina had gradually phased the Wayne building out of Catwoman’s exercise routine. She swiftly decided tonight was the night to remedy that.
The Mad Hatter was the star of this particular show. Catman said he’d told the story twelve times in the bar before moving on to the dining room (Sly insisted it was seventeen times).
He’d gone to see Eddie at the lair on a, a professional matter—that detail was always preceded by a shifty glance in Scarecrow’s direction… And Eddie had a simply frabjous idea so Jervis had gone off to begin carrying it out… and there he generally glanced at Scarecrow again, just to be safe… “Just to get supplies and such,” he sometimes added to make it all seem less suspicious.
“He simply HAD to know I was coming right back,” Jervis whined prissily. “Had to. I had to run around town a good bit and make a good few stops, for that is the way of things when you have a list. The whole point of making a list is to cross things off it. And I did! I found every item on the list and I crossed it off with my new fountain pen…”
The first few tellings, he would stop there and take out his new pen for everyone to see. But he seemed to lose their attention at that point (he couldn’t think why, it was a beautiful pen), so in later tellings, he omitted it.
“Anyway, as the Mockingbird said to the Jabberwock, he simply had to know I was coming back. And when I did…” He paused here, to transition into the tone of voice normally reserved for the campfire when the couple on the deserted lovers’ lane find a bloody hook hanging from the car door…
“He was gone,” Tom Blake said dryly.
“Yes, he was gone,” Jervis said, deflated.
He was equally saddened to see his audience fall away at this anticlimax and to see Sly quietly sliding a beer over to Catman. That’s when Jervis decided to move into the dining room.
“Like that scene from Notting Hill,” Blake whispered. “Big buildup about seeing a man in a train station that might have been Ringo Starr, might have been Topol from Fiddler on the Roof, but probably wasn’t either of them. ‘It’s not a classic anecdote.’”
Sly chuckled. He seldom made fun of customers; it cut into his tips. (Plus, there was always that one-in-a-hundred chance that if you make fun of the customer, he might kill you.) But Sly had heard Mad Hatter repeat that less-than-classic anecdote seventeen times, and that made him quicker to laugh at Jervis’s expense. Plus, Sly was a film buff. And the Iceberg regulars all knew an apt movie quote often brought a stronger drink or an extra bowl of peanuts.
Shortly after Jervis disappeared into the dining room, the Monarch of Menace walked out of the dining room and returned to the bar.
“We are not amused by the little hatter’s incessant prattle,” he proclaimed royally. “Earlier, we left the bar to hold court in yon dining room since he was prattling in here. Now that he has gone in there, we return to you and would wash the taste of his foolish banter from our mouths with a suitably regal libation.”
Sly didn’t react to the grandiose speech in any way except to pour the gold-flecked liquor the Monarch of Menace preferred.
“Miss Quinn didn’t join you?” Sly noted.
“She has remained behind to hear the story again,” he admitted.
“Only Harley,” Blake said, lifting his glass.
“And he was GONE!” Jervis exclaimed audibly in a voice normally reserved for the campfire when the bloody hook is found hanging from the car door.
“That’s gonna get old real fast,” the Monarch growled without a trace of the royal pretension he’d displayed only moments before.
“Freeze’s freeze ray is never around when you need it,” Catman added.
“I keep thinking of William Shatner singing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” a new voice chimed in. Everyone turned… and was surprised to see it was Jonathan Crane who had spoken.
“William Shatner the ham actor?” the Monarch said, repulsed. “Star Trek, TJ Hooker, Tek War, Boston Legal, Priceline-dot-com?”
Another time, those listening might have wondered why the Monarch of Menace was so well versed in any actor’s resume, but they were still too stunned by Scarecrow’s words to really notice. It was Catman who first found his voice.
“William Shatner,” he repeated dully, then became incredulous. “You’ve listened to him… sing?”
“My business is fear,” Scarecrow explained simply. “To know fear, you must know all of its faces. You cannot truly say you have looked into the face of fear until you have heard William Shatner sing.”
“I can believe that,” the Monarch nodded.
“If only we had a soundclip,” Crane said, looking wistfully at the dining room. “’AND SHE’S GONE!’ echoed over and over in William Shatner’s indescribable—”
“Harley has an iPod,” the Monarch interrupted.
“This day and age, it shouldn’t be too hard to download a soundclip,” Blake added hopefully.
“Mr. Cobblepot has broadband is his office,” Sly said through his teeth, taking care not to move his lips as he spoke. “I have all the passwords,” he added glancing to the office door.
“Lucy in the sky with diamonds…” Crane sang softly.
“Lucy in the sky with diamonds…” Blake echoed.
“I’ll get Harley’s iPod,” the Monarch of Menace said swiftly.
Harvey Dent strode into the Iceberg exuding a confidence he didn’t quite feel. He had no qualms about returning to the nightclub he’d frequented so often as Two-Face. He had done it once before. On that occasion, he’d had a few doubts going in, but once he was there and chatting with Oswald, he’d discovered he actually missed the place.
And he didn’t have qualms about helping Batman… not exactly. Batman was right, this fundraiser posed a danger. To Selina, to Bruce, to his friends. He knew better than most how nasty particular Rogues could be if their ire was up. More than one might be provoked by “Gotham After Dark: a fundraiser to benefit the Wayne Foundation.” Why not put up a neon sign reading TARGET in twenty foot glowing letters? And then in smaller type, just below, offer free laughing gas and brochures on plants’ suffrage to the first hundred attendees!
So yes, it was the right thing to do, helping out. Most definitely the right thing to do.
Yet, Harvey felt uneasy. He was… he was acting as a double agent. That was the phrase that kept him up half the night tossing and turning in his bed, wondering if he could really go through with his plan. A double agent. He could almost feel Two-Face creeping into his psyche as he thought the word. A double agent, Harv? Why, that sounds like something we would suggest.
Still. What choice did he have? When Batman told him about the party being planned, he had included one detail that probably meant nothing to a masked vigilante with nothing better to do at night than swing around Gotham in a cape. But to Harvey Dent, who had spent his political career on the A-list, it was a familiar name—an infamous name: Gladys Ashton-Larraby.
Gladys Ashton-Larraby was planning the Wayne fundraiser. It made the rest of Batman’s arguments moot and Harvey tuned them out. Instead he pictured the scene in his mind’s eye: Gladys sitting at her writing desk, chewing on the end of a pencil, weighing two ideas for her big fundraiser… either a Gotham Post/Gotham Rogue-themed costume party… or polo. The one was a sure recipe for disaster in 22 different ways. The other wasn’t. Let’s guess which one she’ll choose…
“—the rest is obvious,” Batman had said, pulling Harvey back from his daydream.
So he’d agreed to help, like any friend would, and then—then Fate remembered her old disciple, Harvey Dent. She crawled right into the Caped Crusader’s mask, into his voice and into his crimefighter’s mentality. For Batman declared there were two rogues at large with which Harvey would be most effective.
“Two?” Harvey had asked feeling an icy chill tickle the back of his neck.
“I can suggest a third, if that’s a problem,” his old nemesis replied. “But I’d rather not split your focus that much. You are a beginner, after all.”
Harvey considered this, he saw the logic in it, and he nodded. Once.
“No, I can handle it,” he said gamely. “Harvey Dent takes on Gotham rogues two at a time: that’s how I like my irony.”
He held the guileless campaign smile until he heard who they were, these two villains Batman thought he was so particularly suited to capture:
“The Riddler,” Batman began—only to be cut off by Harvey’s sharp intake of breath.
“Eddie?” he hissed incredulously.
The atmosphere in the room changed, rapidly and dramatically. On hearing his enemy’s nickname spoken so familiarly, Batman seemed to… intensify, somehow. It felt strangely and chillingly like Hell Month.
“Yes. Nigma,” Batman answered at last, biting off the name tersely.
“And the second person you’d like me to target?” Harvey asked coolly.
“Hugo Strange,” Batman pronounced.
Harvey smiled again. While he considered Edward Nigma a friend, he detested Hugo Strange. Even Two-Face detested Strange; it was one of the few subjects on which they agreed. So Harvey had nodded, deciding right then he would begin with Hugo and see just how much he liked this whole crimefighting gig. Then he would decide what, if anything, he would do about Eddie.
So he’d devised a plan to get Hugo safely locked up long before the night of the party. It was a good plan, combining Two-Face’s criminal cunning with Harvey Dent’s political savvy. A masterful plan. He’d conceived it over dinner and spent the evening polishing it. It was only after he’d gone to bed and closed his eyes that the reality of the situation hit him. The plan, while one of his best as far as human insight and shrewd manipulation of interpersonal relationships, did mean becoming, in a sense, a double agent.
“Evening, Mr. Dent,” Sly called happily from the far end of the bar. And Harvey blinked. He’d become so lost in thought, he had greeted Raven without even realizing it and strode into the bar on autopilot.
He now acknowledged the bartender’s greeting with a smiling campaign wave, and Sly waved back with his right hand while reaching for Two-Face’s special double malt with his left.
It was the last thing Harvey wanted to drink, but Sly was too far away for Harvey to stop him discreetly. He would have to announce a new order loudly and half the bar would hear. He didn’t want to be that conspicuous. It was only a glass of scotch, after all.
Catwoman purred with satisfaction as she saw the tiny indicator light spring to life, glowing a faint purple: it meant the motion and light sensors were deactivated, and the security hub was tricked into rerecording all of the previous night’s footage from every camera in the Wayne Tower. She could now move freely through every part of the building.
It would be a fitting payback, she thought as she advanced into the next level of defenses. A silent, secret, peculiarly feline payback. It seemed like she’d barely seen Bruce since Gladys Ashton-Larraby announced her plan for that idiotic fundraiser. She understood why, of course. Joker was free.
Joker was free. Bruce was Batman. Gladys Ashton-Larraby was giving a rogue party. Joker had to be the priority. Obviously. The madman had to be in Arkham before the night of the party, period (grunt). Otherwise, it would be SmileX martinis all around and a probable reprising of the octopus joke (at which point, you might not mind a SmileX martini).
She normally hated when Batman was out battling Joker. She hated it still, but in a different way. When Joker was gunning for Batman, she worried. She didn’t like to admit that, even to herself, but she worried. When Batman was gunning for Joker on the other hand, she found herself more irate than fretful.
Each night, Batman returned home more frustrated and exhausted than the night before. Each morning, Bruce awoke more prickly and irritable.
“It’s not like Joker is the only criminal in this city,” he growled when he bothered to say anything at all, “and every night I spend on this is another night not spent reducing the number of others still at large on…”
And that’s when he trailed off, each time, and looked at her with a faint hint of that old rooftop disapproval in his eye.
“On the night of the party,” she finished the thought. “The big looming deadline. Abandon hope all ye who RSVP favorably to Gotham After Dark. I get it, Bruce, but I don’t get why you keep glaring at me like I just pocketed your grandmother’s rubies every time the subject comes up. This whole idiotic mess was not my idea.”
“I know,” he grunted. But there was still that undercurrent of… something.
So Selina was annoyed, and Catwoman… Catwoman was getting downright pissed. Not at him, she couldn’t quite bring herself to be pissed at him. A faint residue of gratitude still clung to the tips of her whiskers for his welcome home gift. So she would make do with breaking into the Wayne Building. She had just opened a maintenance panel to access the elevator shaft when she felt her arms nearly pulled from their sockets by a powerful backward yank.
She squirmed reflexively in a vicelike torso pin, nearly dislocating her shoulder as she did so. After a split second that felt like a week, the vice eased open and she recognized the looming form behind her a moment before the familiar gravel sounded in her ear.
“What do you think you’re doing here?”
“A double,” Harvey noted grimly as Sly set the glass before him. “How nice of you to remember,” he added half-heartedly.
“AND SHE’S GONE!” echoed from the dining room.
Harvey raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t ask,” Sly advised.
Harvey shrugged, and as a few more bars of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds warbled from the dining room, he picked up his glass and approached the patron he sought.
“Mind if I join you, Hugo?” he asked politely, pointing to the free chair.
The bar was not crowded, and Harvey would have been hard-pressed to explain why he wanted to share Hugo’s table when there were plenty of empty booths. Fortunately, Hugo didn’t ask. He was hard-pressed for company as it was.
“AND SHE’S GONE!” echoed again from the other room, followed by a loud cheer, and then laughter.
“Puerile nonsense,” Hugo sneered. It probably was, but Harvey felt the comment seemed like the bitter grumbling of someone excluded from the party.
Harvey made no comment and settled into the empty seat. To achieve his purpose, he knew he had to be seen talking to Hugo, seen and noticed. That meant staying at the table for at least ten minutes. But he saw no need to spend that time listening to an angry, bitter troll spew invective. So Harvey asked if Hugo had seen the Knights’ game.
He hadn’t. He said he hated sports.
So Harvey asked about movies, and again received only a dismissive grumble about Hollywood swill.
Harvey asked about music, women, fashion, blogging, travel, reality tv, pets, astrology, cars, golf, politics, cooking, poker, the difficulty finding a good barber, and finally, the weather. He failed to find any subject on which Hugo Strange had any interest other than bitching about it. But it filled the requisite ten minutes. At the end of this time, Harvey stood abruptly, grabbed Hugo’s collar, pulled him to his feet… and punched him viciously in the mouth.
“Whullbhwm,” Hugo burbled through a bloody lip.
“That’s not half what you deserve,” Harvey snarled, punching Hugo a second time.
The second blow barely landed before the bar erupted into a frenzy of chaotic violence. Just as Harvey knew it would. It was the Iceberg, after all, fights erupted easily. But they never lasted long for the same reason: it was the Iceberg.
A loud shot rang out, commanding immediate attention. There was a familiar sweeeeeng as the bullet ricocheted off the chandelier and everyone froze in place. A furious Oswald Cobblepot lowered his umbrella. He pointed its smoking barrel at his customers, making a slow pass from left to right, then from right to left. Everyone understood the unspoken question, but after another silent, dramatic pass left to right, then right to left, Oswald asked it aloud.
“Well,” he sniffed, “whose debenture to this establishment is about to expand to include costs incurred in this present confliction? Or, to translate into your proletarian vernacular, ‘who started it?’”
The question was typically met with silent shuffling of feet followed by muted grumbling and a few furtive attempts to point to Killer Croc when Croc wasn’t looking. So Oswald was surprised when Harvey Dent cleared his throat forcefully.
“Oh, I’ll pay the bill,” Harvey said reasonably. Then he glared hatefully at Hugo. “Was well worth it. Cheap at twice the price. I’d do it again. Do you know what that slimy son of a bitch was up to? He has a roofie in his pocket. Bragging about it! And he asked when Roxy usually comes in.”
Hugo got two syllables into a sputtered denial before Sly charged forward, fists flailing. No one held him back. They didn’t especially like Hugo, and they all knew there would be retribution for touching Oswald’s best bartender. Two Ghost Dragons eventually stepped forward and pulled him off the bloody, whimpering Hugo Strange… but that didn’t improve Hugo’s situation. Instead of looking into Sly’s rapidly approaching fist, he found himself staring into the barrel of Oswald’s umbrella.
Oswald did not approve of anyone antagonizing Sly, that went without saying. But were he inclined to overlook that transgression-kwak, there was still the matter of kwa-kwa-kwa-Roxy. As delicate a bird as ever chose to plume her feathers in his unworthy-kwak-establishment.
He told Raven to summon the police—an unprecedented development—and announced that he would not extend the usual house protection over those who incur various disturbing the peace charges on Iceberg grounds. Everyone watched in stunned fascination as Officers Denusky and Peroni arrived and Oswald waddled hurriedly to the door to meet them.
“Here, Officers, right here, a hooligan he is, a depraved, degenerate hooligan!” was how it began, escalating into “Take him away, away I say, KWAK!” as Hugo Strange was handcuffed and climaxing in a vehement “And I shall sue you for damages!” shouted at the closed door a full minute after Hugo had been carted away.
“What do you think you’re doing here?” Batman had graveled, releasing her from the brutal torso hold.
“The usual,” she purred, turning to look into his eyes—which were hidden behind night lenses (woof).
“No games, Catwoman. Not here, not tonight. Get out of here, now. It’s not safe.”
“I take it we’re not alone,” she guessed, noting the form of address.
“We might not be,” he said curtly.
There were no other words, no further explanations, but Catwoman didn’t need them. The intensity of his demeanor spoke the word he didn’t: Joker.
After the excitement in the bar had died down, the Iceberg resumed business as usual. Poison Ivy came in and ordered a cosmopolitan on a cloth napkin… Harley and the Monarch of Menace disappeared into Oswald’s office with a small sack of gems and emerged a few minutes later with a large stack of hundreds and a larger smile… Ventriloquist turned the pages of a ROOMS TO GO catalog so Scarface could pick out furniture for a new hideout… And in the dining room, Mad Hatter was showing the Zagat guide to a circle of groupies, pointing out each business the Riddler had circled in his last moments before disappearing. He enthralled them with details of his visit to the Fountain Pen Hospital, the Green Onion, Habu Textiles and Fat Beat.
“So I collected all my parcels,” he said, revving up for the big climax, “the large bag and the small, the green one with the handle, and the red one tied with string. I got back to his place, and…”
“And she’s GONE!” sounded from under the table, while Scarecrow and Catman burst into fits of laughter.
“Screw you guys,” Jervis pouted, stomping out of the dining room. He stomped all the way to the bar, where Sly was polishing a glass as casually as ever. His hand was a little sore from repeatedly pounding into Hugo Strange’s face, but other than that, he seemed his usual self.
“Feruminous banderly… frumillo… snatcherly…” he broke off, sighed, and looked up at Sly. “Bastards,” he said simply.
Sly looked innocent and mixed him a Derby Fizz without being asked. Ivy looked at him sideways, as if deciding whether to acknowledge his existence or not.
“Jealousy is natural,” she pronounced finally, evidently deciding in Jervis’s favor. “Mosses trapped under dark and dismal rock cannot help but envy the mighty oaks which bask in the sunlight. So it is with we who enjoy a prominent—and respectful—place in the public eye.”
Jervis squinted at her.
“I’ve as healthy a respect for nonsense as the next man, Pamela. But just now it’s not the stuff to make me feel better.”
She shrugged as if she’d done more than enough already and wasn’t about to explain herself. Oswald’s door opened and he looked at Sly, looked at Jervis, nodded curtly, and went back inside.
“Mr. Cobblepot would like a word with you,” Sly said discreetly.
Catwoman marched furiously through the Wayne Tower’s main “security closet,” unceremoniously ripping her delicate overrides out of the various systems and cursing obscenely about idiotic crimefighters and their even more idiotic sidekicks!
Evidently, once upon a time Joker had given his good pal “Brucie” a calling card with a contact number and password. Robin—no, not Robin—TIM! Tim’s brilliant plan for smoking out Joker was apparently to dig out this card, call the number, dutifully recite the magic phrase “blind bats bite blowfish” and give the operator the all important message to relay to Joker without delay: “Selina has two tickets to see Carlos Mencia at Menschrucker’s Comedy House, and Bruce can’t go because of work. Would you like to take somebody and go?”
To anyone else, that message meant there were two tickets up for grabs, call if you want ’em. That’s undoubtedly what Tim thought. But Batman knew better. Batman understood Joker’s mindset. To the Joker, that message wasn’t a free pair of concert tickets, it was a cue to blow up Wayne Enterprises, removing the impediment so his good pal Brucie could take Selina to the concert. Carlos Mencia at Menschrucker’s, it doesn’t get much more romantic than that, HAHAHAHAAAAAAAA!
Even before the clue, a helium balloon marked with the Wayne logo and filled with some kind of SmileX variant, arrived at police headquarters, Batman was expecting trouble. He hadn’t told Selina, since it was likely his work, and hence the Wayne Building and not the manor that would be targeted. When his hidden alarms tripped, indicating the security system had been compromised, he was almost relieved. The trap had worked, maybe not as Tim intended it, but it worked: Joker was exposed. He was somewhere in the Wayne Building and—there—at last, a hazy purple movement tampering with the elevator…
Catwoman refused to apologize. She was doing what she did. And she had never EVER apologized for what she was. She was a thief. She was a cat burglar, check out the ears. She was a damn good cat burglar. And tonight, she chose to utilize her skills breaking into this building. How was she to know all her deliciously brilliant overrides of the various layers of security were effectively opening the door for Joker to get in undetected?
Now—she hissed as her claws sliced the wire connecting the last override to its relay—now they would have real security tapes of anything that happened in the building from this point on. But there was no way to tell if Joker had already gotten in.
Catwoman refused to apologize. Refused to. Cats did not. Anybody who didn’t understand what a cat really was—or what Catwoman really was—could go suck a SmileX balloon for all she cared, and if—
She felt a tap.
A firm but polite tap.
On her right shoulder, which still hurt like hell from the way Batman had yanked it a few minutes before.
She turned slowly to the side, a sick premonition growing as her glance reached her shoulder… And there it was, a white-gloved hand extending from a purple sleeve.
“Joker,” she said flatly.
Jervis Tetch had been a regular at the Iceberg Lounge since it opened. While he occasionally did a little business through Penguin’s underground operations, he had never been formally summoned into Oswald’s office this way. He went in mouthing “curiouser and curiouser.” He was curious walking back to the office, he was curious when Oswald offered him the deep comfortable client chair beside the desk, he was curious when the door opened and Raven herself brought him a fresh Derby Fizz—all the while the words “curiouser and curiouser” echoed in his brain—but when the moment came to speak, all Jervis could think to say was “Well, isn’t this nice, Oswald. We haven’t had a chat for ever so long.”
“Yes, kwak,” was the less-than-matey reply.
“What, er, that is to say, what can I do for you?”
Oswald Cobblepot merely chewed the tip of his cigarette holder while he studied Jervis intently.
“Have you seen it?” he asked finally.
“Seen what?” Jervis asked back.
“That’s a ‘no,’” Oswald observed.
“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less,” Jervis replied, feeling much more relaxed now that he had a Humpty Dumpty quote to meet the situation.
“The Post,” Oswald said scornfully. “You don’t know? You’re the evil genius in our midst all this while that we’ve all written off as a joke.”
Jervis swallowed. He did not like the sound of this.
“M-m-m-me?” he stammered.
Oswald tossed a folded newspaper into his lap.
“Last page. It’s not a flattering picture, I’ll grant you. You seem to have a number of human skulls and, well, not much clothing. But the new writer seems to be a fan of yours. Well, not a ‘fan’ exactly, but she’s warning all of Gotham how they’ve underestimated you. Says no one realizes how dangerous and insane you are.”
“I object!” Jervis said, jumping to his feet, right arm outstretched as if he were either hailing Oswald a cab, or saluting him as Oberführer.
“Do sit down, Jervis. I’m not saying you’re insane and dangerous. I’m trying to help you.”
“Why,” Jervis asked with a beady glare.
Oswald sighed and pointed to the bar.
“Because if a newspaper read by the people in that room says you’re a dangerous menace who poses a threat to us all, you’d better in fact be a dangerous menace who poses a threat to us all.”
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Jervis squeaked miserably.
Oswald shook his head sadly.
“You recall that chandelier Jonathan was clinging to a while ago, while the venom penguins circled underneath like sharks?”
“We know it can support 114 pounds for an indefinite period,” Oswald informed him. “Perhaps you should practice your climbing skills.”
“That is to say, Jonathan ‘lucked out,’ in a manner of speaking, in that he was essentially tossed up there by a fear-crazed Ghost Dragon. You can’t count on that sort of thing. You would do well to prepare in advance.”
“Selina, my dear,” Joker oozed, smiling widely. “I see you had the same delightful idea as moi! We must free Brucie from this millstone of ‘work’ hanging around his neck.”
Catwoman put on her best humoring Joker smile.
“And how do you figure we’re going to do that, Jack?”
“HAHAHAHAHAAAAA! Glad you asked,” he enthused, putting his arm around her. This caused Catwoman’s neck to snap around, to see his hand resting on her other shoulder. She fought down the revulsion as he steered her in this way, guiding her to a service elevator off the parking garage. He pressed the button, and Selina’s stomach lurched as the door opened to reveal the ten-foot chamber had been stacked high with pressurized canisters.
“SmileX?” she asked, weak-kneed.
“Ha-ha-hell no,” he answered sternly. “I’d hate to start a fire with SmileX, it would just burn up! Leaving no happy smiles behind. What are you thinking, Puddy-tat?”
“I see,” Selina answered quietly. “So, this stuff would be?”
“Frown-Ex,” Joker said, as if it were obvious. “Little something I whipped up a few years ago on a rainy Sunday. Bit of a dud. Now I can finally put it to good use. And all thanks to Brucie. That man, does he ever stop giving?”
Catwoman bit her lip. While superficially Batman was right that “nothing about Joker is funny,” there was something about the mad clown’s wild enthusiasm for Bruce Wayne that was nothing short of hilarious. Joker was rummaging in his pocket, and pulled out a long purple pistol. He pointed it at Catwoman.
“Do the honors?” he offered.
Having a fairly good idea what was going to happen in the next ten seconds, Selina figured the gun was better in her hands than Joker’s, so she took it. She examined the barrel; it looked like one of those trick cigarette lighters. And sure enough Joker was holding up a length of wick.
“So the idea is, I light this, it burns to there, ignites the gas, big boom?”
“HAHAHAHA! Right-ho, and Brucie is free to-ULGRLP”
The last sound was not a word but an involuntary expelling of breath (and teeth) as Batman’s boot swung into Joker’s stomach and pushed it upward towards his windpipe. Catwoman merely stood back as the swing completed, bouncing Joker against the wall, and after a (rather showy) “dismount” from the Batline, the pummeling began in earnest.
Catwoman knew she should leave. Joker had assumed she was there to blow up the building, just as he was. He had assumed she was still, at heart, one of them, on their side. If that were the case, the logical thing to do when Batman showed up was to scat. But something made her stay, something about the way Joker was ranting. Between jabs, hooks, uppercuts and hammer punches, the Joker—deadliest psychopath in the history of Gotham—was ranting about having to pick out a hat for her wedding. There was more to the crazed ranting: he couldn’t be taken to Arkham right now, HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA! It simply wasn’t a good time, there was this party HAHAHAAAAA! Brucie, you see. It was going to be HAHHAHAHAHAAAAA the Best! Joke! Ever!
But in amidst all the Haha-Brucie-Best-Joke-Evering, Joker said he had to pick out a hat—and that he expected to give the bride away—and it better be sooner and not later, if you know what I mean, because—HAHAHA—the lemmings in this town may not be Rhodes Scholars, but they can count to ten.
The dream began ominously. Jervis hung in midair, suspended from the waist in an icy stalactite, but with a furry Russian hat pulled over Mr. Freeze’s dome and holding Catman and Scarecrow’s skulls balanced precariously in his free hand. Oswald stood beneath, tallying up the charges for all the damage to his bar, and William Shatner stood beside him, singing into a fountain pen. Suddenly, the Riddler ran in and said he had it all worked out: henchmen spaced around the battlefield with parabolic transmitters, bombarding Freeze with a medley of boy band hits.
In response, Shatner hit a high note, shattering the stalactite, and Jervis fell. He passed right through the floor into a dark, endless, rabbit hole. From far above, he heard Riddler crying, “Take that Fries, I’ve got unlimited calling after seven and a Napster membership, and I’m not afraid to use it!”
Jervis awoke in a cold sweat. His dread was hardly eased by the fact that Jonathan Crane was standing over him, holding his hat.
“There, there,” Crane soothed like an Arkham orderly. “You had quite a scare, I fear. Tell us all about it.”
To be continued…