Back in Arkham. Fudge. All because that ratfink bank guard pulled a silent alarm. Fudge.
At least when she was caught with Puddin’, or even with Red, Harley wasn’t stuck all by her lonesome. They rode with her in the van or the Batmobile, or sometimes the ambulance, and even if they did spend most of the ride yelling at her for wrecking their perfect plan, she wasn’t by her lonesome.
Then, once they reached the admissions desk, Puddin’ or Red usually went over it all again with the admitting nurse, explaining how Harley had messed up their perfect scheme. It was like reliving the adventure all over again—at least until the admitting nurse sedated them. Of course, they couldn’t sedate Red with regular chemical compounds. They were supposed to use the special concoction Batman had developed, and if an orderly was new, sometimes they didn’t know and that was always fun to watch. It was even funnier the first time a new Arkham employee saw Puddin.
Going through all the admissions processing by her lonesome was so boring. Harley asked the admitting nurse to let her dot all the ‘i’s with smiley faces, and that killed a few minutes. Then she made up some food allergies. She said that eating anything made with whole wheat or barley made her break out in hives, and maple syrup gave her nosebleeds. That made the nurse fill out a supplemental 11-B form with a 46-R green sheet. Harley went back to being bored.
Back in Arkham and all by her lonesome. Fudge.
Matt Hagen wasn’t a big fan of irony. He was an action star. The scripts he’d received when he was working were simple, straightforward, not too clever. Any time he took a project where the plot was more complicated than a beer commercial or the humor more sophisticated than a Bond knockoff quipping that he’s “rising to the occasion,” a full third of his fanbase was confused. So he’d learned, flop by flop, to stop reading whenever a script produced any twist he didn’t see coming by page 10. Meeting the audience’s expectations, that was the name of the game, not veering one degree from those expectations, no matter how illogical, unimaginative or hackneyed they might be. That was the key to making a successful action movie, and that was the key to walking out of a maximum-security prison in full view of a trained security staff on high alert.
The irony is that he never could have done it without reading 200 scripts a year that pandered to those numbskull expectations. The irony was that he’d completed his “prison break” while still technically on prison grounds, and only escaped detection now by technically becoming part of the prison itself. The irony is that he would have laughed, except it’s physically impossible for wet asphalt to laugh. The irony is that he hated irony, yet here he was, disguised as a fresh patch of asphalt in the Blackgate parking lot while he rested from the rigors of his escape. The warden’s car, the guard’s shoes, the vehicles for the dragnet, all passed right by without ever guessing the escaped criminal who caused all the excitement was sitting right in front of them.
Eventually he would reshape himself, perhaps as the primer on a visitor’s car or blend into the upholstery in the backseat, completing his “prison break” once they’d given up looking for him and scoring a ride back to the city at the same time. Eventually he would, but for now he needed to rest. Reshaping half his face at a time was exhausting but he’d pulled it off, presenting one profile to the camera and another to the guard come to escort him from the holding cell. Down the hall: one face to the camera, one to the guard. Then finally once they reached “Processing,” a quick morph walking through the doorway into a fullface Latino inmate who looked nothing at all like Matt Hagen’s Monarch of Menace. The guard flipped out, he’d brought the wrong guy—he couldn’t have, but he obviously did. It was asinine trying to deny it when the wrong man was standing right there. Plus, when they got around to looking at the surveillance tapes it would certainly look like he’d brought this Latino from the holding cell. While one of the guards on the desk called camera station 12 to verify the incident, the first guard went back to the holding cell—with an escort of his own—to bring the correct inmate, John Doe 4923 a.k.a. “the Monarch of Menace.” Matt didn’t hang around for the dramas. Another quick doorway-morph into a third guard let him slip away easily in the confusion, but he felt he really couldn’t go further without a rest. So he let himself ooze out into a comfortable tarry glop as soon as he reached the parking lot, then darkened to resemble asphalt. He stretched what had once been his toes into a row of orange cones, and waited for all the excited nonsense to quiet down.
Chocolate covered onions? There was little Alfred Pennyworth would put past the French, but even he found it hard to believe his rival and nemesis, the neighbor’s chef Anatole, could be planning to serve chocolate-covered onions. Yet if his suppositions about Anatole’s menu were correct, based on the ingredients the odious little frog had bought at Harriman’s, then chocolate and onions were the only items left. That couldn’t be right, ergo, Alfred must be wrong about the menu. It must be the chocolate that was meant to glaze the peaches and the balsamic reduction would be used elsewhere…
He drew a thin line through his speculation for the meat, salad, dessert, and savory courses and began again, when he heard the elevator that connected his pantry to the Batcave wheezing to life.
“Miss Selina,” he murmured, nudging his reading glasses down his nose so he could regard his visitor over the top of the lens once the door opened. It must be Miss Selina, Master Bruce never used the elevator. But then as a rule, neither did she. Yet of the two of them, Selina was more likely to deviate from habit, and sure enough, as the door opened there she was.
“May I help you, miss?” Alfred asked automatically, although she waved him off as soon as she saw him.
“Just passing through to get a snack,” she remarked heading into the kitchen. Alfred followed and saw her take a carton of chocolate Haagen Daaz from the freezer and put it in the microwave.
“Plotting makes me hungry,” she explained—if that was really the word.
“Indeed, miss,” Alfred said dryly. “Might one inquire as to the nature of your pl—er, is it really your intention to ‘defrost’ the ice cream, miss?”
“Just softening it up,” she said casually, then returned to the question he hadn’t managed to ask. “Plotting is for a museum heist,” she said with a bright smile. “We’re doing art theft—or at least we were. Ivy’s back, so who knows how much longer the lull will last.”
Alfred’s vaguely dissatisfied expression directed at the microwave morphed into one of unambiguous distaste at the mention of Poison Ivy.
“I know,” Selina sighed, mildly amused at the similarity to a disapproving bat-scowl. She opened the microwave, spooned out a healthy portion of ice cream into a waiting bowl, and then took two spoons from the drawer. “That’s why I have to get as much fun into him as I can, while I have the chance” she quipped, waving the second spoon.
Alfred said nothing. He merely watched her disappear into the butler’s pantry and then wiped a non-existent smudge from the counter.
Getting into Arkham was no challenge at all for Matt Hagen. Maybe he couldn’t turn into an eerie-but-photogenic column of smoke and go under the door like Count Dracula, but he could do the next best thing: walk in the front entrance like Count Bartholomew. The nurse at the front desk did a doubletake when she saw him, and Dr. Bartholomew duly recited his prepared excuse about having forgotten important paperwork in his office and coming back to retrieve it. Except the nurse wasn’t surprised because he was there so late at night, she was surprised he looked so good. She said he looked “happy and chipper,” 10 years younger than when he left.
Matt/Bartholomew coughed awkwardly and said he’d enjoyed a very good dinner, then he quickly took a keycard from the desk and headed for his office. At the end of the corridor, he turned right instead of left, deepening Dr. Bart’s crow’s feet as he went, sinking the eyes a bit and darkening the circles underneath. He would see how the guard reacted at the final check-in for the high security wing. If he was suitably convinced that Matt was Dr. Bartholomew, it would be Plan A for Harley’s breakout: “Bring Patient Quinn to my office.” From there, Dr. Bartholomew would take her to the roof and stretch his body into a slide for Harley to reach the ground. But if the guard reacted to his appearance in any way, however trivial the comment, then it would be Plan B: destruction. He would take the Monarch’s form, blow a hole or two through the wall, and he and Harley would hop into the waiting escape van. It was probably the better plan, strategically. A daring jailbreak rescue at Arkham on the heels of his mystifying escape from Blackgate would catapult the Monarch of Menace to superstar status among Gotham rogues.
But Matt didn’t especially want to be a superstar as the Monarch of Menace. The role was a convenience, it matched Harley’s theme and let him sneak back into rogue circles after Poison Ivy had him blackballed. But now, Ivy knew his secret anyway, and trying to keep up the charade got him sent off to Blackgate. The whole idea of a secret identity was losing its appeal. He hadn’t absolutely decided to give it up, but he certainly saw no need to build up the Monarch’s reputation into a Bat-busting SuperRogue.
So, even as he reached the entrance to the high security wing, Matt Hagen had not finally decided which means he would use to leave again. He would let the guard at the sign-in desk decide for him…
Except there was no guard at the desk.
He looked around curiously and then, remembering his character, he looked around sternly. Why was the station unmanned at this time of night? What kind of irresponsible behavior was this from the night staff? Didn’t they realize what dangerous criminals were housed in this wing? Joker, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy—The last name was not actually “in residence” at the moment, but Matt/Bartholomew did see the unmistakable sway of green-clad hips disappearing down the hall, shapely green hips topped with red hair. That certainly explained why the guard was not at his station. Matt/Bartholomew stormed down the hallway, cursing under his breath, and caught up with his quarry at the door to Harley’s cell.
“Ivy, you’re more predictable than a Will Smith sequel,” he exclaimed, not bothering to disguise his voice. She didn’t seem to notice, she just gave that belle of the ball smile. While Hagen was long past smelling, he was sure the air was thick with jungle scents and pheromones.
“Do run along, Doctor, I’m quite busy,” she oozed seductively.
He chuckled. Predictable. And what Jameson, his agent, would have called “a one-trick pony.” Clayface had devised two separate ways in and out of the asylum and could have come up with a dozen more elaborate ones that all fell under the heading: Why go to all that trouble when I have two perfectly good plans already. But this, this leaf-diva headcase that called herself a goddess, her problem-solving seemed to begin and end with: Find something with a penis and assume he’ll do my bidding. Matt had known many starlets like that. They never seemed to clue in that beauties were a dime a dozen on the backlot, and that no lovely face counteracted an acid personality. They were gorgeous, so what, they were also hell to spend time with. And if, god-forbid, they were famous instead of just an aspiring hopeful, they could be ridiculously slow to realize they were not as loved, worshipped or admired as it said in their press kits.
Poison Ivy at least caught on quickly. He’d chuckled for maybe eight seconds when the beguiling smile dropped into a disgusted snarl.
“Hagen,” she sneered.
In reply, he morphed into his sexiest headshot and delivered his most seductive, movie star grin. He knew Ivy wouldn’t get the joke, her kind never did. But Matt was amused, and in the middle of a jailbreak rescue that was fast becoming a sitcom farce, that was enough.
“Ivy,” he answered. “I assume you’re here for Harley, same as me?”
“How dare you, you crawling dungheap. It’s because she was with you she was captured.”
“That’s why I’m here to break her out,” he pointed out simply.
“Well it’s not necessary,” Ivy spat. “You can leave that to her real friends.”
He sighed. It was pointless to even try to argue with an egomaniac. He had tried, in the old days. He tried explaining how his character, Troy Rudolph, identified with his uncle but wasn’t really anything like him. He tried to be, but he always failed because he never really knew who his uncle was. His tragedy was becoming a pale, inferior clone of Uncle Phillip instead of being the best Troy Rudolph he could be. Matt tried explaining it, over and over, and each time Cameron just repeated that one pathetic line from the opening monologue. “I’m a lot like my uncle.” One stupid line. Yes, Troy thought that. He was wrong. That was the whole point… After weeks of fighting over it, Matt finally gave up. Cameron would never understand the essence of the story he was telling. Matt just let him babble on in his ignorance, and when the cameras rolled, Matt played the scene his way. Cameron would yell for a while, then “Take two” and Matt played it his way again. Eventually Cameron got tired howling at the moon, looked at his schedule, looked at his budget, and moved on.
Of course, Ivy was not likely to tire quickly, and eventually the Arkham day shift would come in. A compromise might be in order.
“Why don’t we let Harley decide,” he suggested. It was a risk. Harley could be a bit of a flake, and letting her make decisions in the middle of a crime is what brought Nightwing and a SWAT team into what should have been a simple bank robbery. But anything was better than going ten rounds with Cameron-in-Leaves. So they opened the cell door—using the keycard Ivy had taken from Saul Vics and not the one Matt grabbed at the front desk. Ivy had insisted on that, and Matt just sighed, not caring. Manufacturing pointless, petty victories; Cameron all over again—
That was as far as his thoughts progressed before the lock released and the door opened. Then Ivy could enjoy one final, petty, manufactured victory in that she realized a full 3 seconds before Hagen did that Harley Quinn’s cell was empty.
Catwoman did not patrol like some crimefighting do-gooder. She made that more than clear on a number of occasions. She would take a mild interest in Bruce’s work as Bruce’s work, but that’s as far it went. She liked watching him work. He was in costume, apart from the cowl, and stood before a large, holographic map of the city, tapping instructions into a hand-held unit to plan out his route for the night.
It was interesting that he’d assigned Robin and Batgirl to follow Ivy from the airport. It was a surveillance exercise, he said, good experience for them but a low priority in terms of the Mission. Ivy would likely go to Robinson Park, Riverside Park, or else to her greenhouse. They were to note which, log it, and when the inevitable Poison Ivy incident occurred, Batman would know the location of her current hideout. It turned out to be the greenhouse, so he was adding that neighborhood to his patrol route.
There had been an escape from Blackgate. Not an alpha-threat rogue, but Batman would examine the facility all the same. What one man could do, another could do. The Monarch of Menace was not the priority so much as finding the hole in the prison’s security and closing it before a more dangerous inmate exploited it. So Blackgate was added to the night’s itinerary as well. Selina watched, feigning a mild interest as Bruce tapped his palm control with a stylus and this second location lit up on the hologram.
Then he looked at her, his lip twitched, and he tapped the stylus once more. An uptown building which occupied a full city block in the heart of “Museum Mile” was suddenly outlined in vivid purple.
Selina licked her lips.
“I’m back in the top ten?” she asked with a naughty grin.
“After early patrol and these stops in the Flower district and Blackgate, you’ll resume my ‘lesson’ in the finer points of art theft,” he graveled.
“I like the sound of that,” she purred.
“I figured you would,” he grunted.
“VICS!” Poison Ivy bellowed. Her voice echoed off the walls of the guards’ break room, and Matt Hagen tried vainly to shush her. Failing that, he expanded himself to temporarily create a wall of thick, foamy baffling to keep the sound from traveling further. Luckily, Saul Vics was still in Ivy’s thrall and no one else seemed to have heard the disturbance. Now that they’d found Vics, Clayface glurped, melted and drooped back into his natural state. Saul Vics didn’t seem to notice. He only stared adoringly at Ivy.
“Where is Harley?” she asked imperiously. “Why isn’t she in her cell?”
“She’s in the supply closet with Joker,” Vics answered, happy he could provide the information his goddess wanted.
Ivy looked at Clayface and Clayface looked at Ivy.
“How in Spielberg’s name did that happen?” Clayface roared.
Saul Vics had no interest in pleasing the oversized mound of goo, so he gave no answer.
“How in Gaia’s name did that happen?” Ivy translated.
Saul Vics paused. He was still proud that he was able to answer his goddess’s questions, but he was troubled that the answer might displease her. Still, he had no choice but to give her all the information he could, so he told the story, such as it was: Patient J had been despondent ever since Batman brought him in. He was allowed into the common room for an hour each day in the hopes that social interaction might bring him out of his depression. Patient Quinn had been kept in isolation for the requisite 48-hour observation period after her admittance, then she was taken to the common room too. Patient J looked up and said, “Hi Harls.”
Clayface looked at Ivy and Ivy looked at Clayface.
“Well?” they asked in unison.
Saul Vics shrugged.
“That’s it?” Ivy screeched. “Hi Harls?”
Vics shrugged again and held up both his index fingers, evidently representing Joker and Harley, and illustrated the ending of the story with a sideways movement of the Harley finger to swing swiftly into contact with the Joker finger, punctuated by a noise that sounded something like “PTOING.”
“Hi Harls, Ptoing?” Ivy gasped, appalled.
“Hi Harls, Ptoing?” Clayface repeated, aghast.
“Might have been ‘hey,’” Saul Vics offered. “Hi or Hey. ‘Hey Harley.’ Yeah, I think that was it. ‘Hey Harley.’”
“AAAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!” Ivy screamed, wheeling on Clayface and pounding fiercely into his chest. Circles rippled outward from the point of impact as his mass absorbed the force of the hit. He felt no pain, and his balance was undisturbed, so for several seconds he didn’t react. Ivy hit him again. And again. And again. After several repetitions, she stepped back and kicked him squarely in the crotch. This time the ripple effect stretched upward as his mass redistributed itself.
“Let me guess, this is my fault too,” he said dryly.
The line was perfectly timed and magnificently delivered, as from an actor with considerable comedic talents he never got to use. But it brought nothing but another primal scream from Ivy, ravings that Harley was back with Joker because ‘Fertilizer Fred’ let her get captured, mad scratching at his person and chunkfuls of mud being flung into the wall, and finally a cry to “HELP ME OUT HERE, Vics! KILL THE SLIMY BASTARD!”
This obviously got her nowhere in terms of bringing about his death, but Clayface saw no need to stick around for more abuse. He’s the one who was just dumped for God’s sake—if you could even call it being dumped, more like being discarded, like having your brilliant and poignant cameo appearance in the summer blockbuster of the decade cut for time and dropped onto the editing room floor—and for Joker no less. And on top of that he’s supposed to foot the bill for psycho-bitch’s personal disappointments? No. No way. He let his mass soften and grow soggy, so the final slap he delivered would be good and slimy. Then he pulled back and let her have it, a hard muddy smudge of reality right across her precious self-important puss.
…::She’s a criminal, I’m a crimefighter. She’s a thief, I am… so completely against it.::..
One of his earliest log entries on Catwoman. “She’s a thief, I am so completely against it.” Batman had never allowed himself to admire her work… Well, no, that wasn’t entirely true. He appreciated her fighting abilities, and respected her intelligence. Personally, he liked her. He was loathe to admit it then, even to Alfred, but in the privacy of his own mind, especially late at night, those sleepless nights in the weeks following an encounter… But when it came to those abilities directly connected to theft, that he would never permit himself.
But now, now that no museum property would be leaving the premises because of her activities, he could see it differently. She was so entirely in her element.
“Look at this, I love this,” she whispered, her lips curled into the naughtiest grin as she pointed to a freestanding display case in the middle of the Egyptian wing. “That’s a glass break detector. They put them on all these displays—but that’s not glass. Museums don’t use glass; they use polycarbon which breaks on an entirely different frequency, so when we crack this open…” she paused just long enough to perform one of her more efficient claw-jobs on the case “…acoustic glass break detector doesn’t detect a thing.”
She was so entirely in her element. Loving her, it was impossible not to be affected by this most basic part of her bubbling to the surface with such passion and energy.
“Now we need to look at some pictures in frames, and we won’t find that here, so let’s go to the Impressionists gallery. Mind the motion detectors,” she winked.
He hesitated, taking a last look at the case she’d opened to illustrate her point and the 12th Dynasty gold and garnet pectoral now exposed for the taking. It was preposterous to think there might be another intruder lurking in the museum who could take advantage of the exposure, and unlikely that a patrolling guard would notice. Still, he placed a bat-shaped emblem marker on the case. That way if anyone did discover it, they would know Batman was on the scene. That should squelch any felonious impulses from either thief or dishonest guards, and it might keep the museum insurance from being hiked when the disturbance was found in the morning.
Satisfied, he followed Catwoman.
Clayface had no interest in returning to the Hacienda. It was Harley’s place. He stayed with her when they were together, but now that she discarded him (after they’d been separated for, what, 10 minutes?), it seemed pointless to go back there. His needs were simple as far as “shelter.” He literally needed to keep out of the rain, but that was about it. As long as there was a roof over his head, it could be hot or cold. He didn’t need a kitchen since he didn’t eat; he didn’t need a bed since he didn’t “sleep” in the conventional sense. He liked having a television, sight and sound being the two senses he had left. Every hotel room in the city had a TV, so he found one that was unoccupied and watched several hours of reruns: Knots Landing, Magnum P.I., something with Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln and then some movie with a talking snake.
He decided he’d mourned the breakup long enough. When a movie snake starts taking, that’s enough. It was time to move on. He liked Harley, she was nice to look at and fun to be with. But there was no shortage of pretty women in the world, and lots of them were fun to be with. He decided what he really needed now was company. He checked the clock, and figured he could just make last call at the Iceberg.
Batman stood just behind Catwoman, both their heads pressed close against the wall so he could see the device she was pointing out between the picture frame and the wall. He knew these devices only as unit numbers on blueprints, or safeguards specified in a pdf document entitled “Museum Security: The Art of Alarms.” She saw them as a minor nuisance set in her path by naïve system designers who just didn’t get it.
“Wireless,” she pointed out. “They love wireless transmitters because they’ll fit behind the painting that way without actually touching the back of the picture. Curators hate letting anything without a PhD touch the picture. Of course, the drawback to wireless is—”
“It’s easy to jam,” Batman grunted. “Or send a counterfeit signal.”
“Meow,” she said, pressing a button on a small device Batman recognized as Kittlemeier’s workmanship. She was pleased at the interruption. It meant he was interested enough to be thinking ahead.
“Now our guy that set this up isn’t completely stupid,” she said generously. “It’s a hundred million dollar painting, he’s got a redundant system in place. So even with the motion curtain disabled, there’s a shock sensor in place on the frame. Theoretically, if I take this off the wall right now, it senses the momentary closure of the contact points here, here, or here,” she pointed. “Alarms should sound all over the place, right? And yet…”
She eased the painting slowly off its hanger until a full inch of space was visible between it and the wall. Batman scowled at the sensors as if they let him down.
“There’s a spring-loaded stretcher in the frame,” Selina explained with a glint in her eye he normally saw only during sex. “It lets the canvas expand or contract with changes in the temperature and humidity,” she purred. “There’s just enough leeway built into the sensors to allow for it, you have to know exactly how to finesse it.”
Using a blocking technique he’d mastered to resist a Martian mind probe, Batman restrained the lip-twitch that threatened to erupt into a full-blown smile. This part of Catwoman’s… expertise was so inextricably tied to theft. And yet she was so good at it, she took such delight in being so good at it, and she was so completely Catwoman doing it. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling as he watched her, but he was forced to admit that he didn’t love her despite being a thief who plagued him all those years; he loved her because she was Catwoman. And this, this ability to penetrate the most carefully guarded perimeter, to slip past the most rigorous defenses and sidestep the most sensitive triggers, to let no nuisance of a lock (or a law, or a crimefighter) come between her and her prize, this was all a part of Catwoman.
How dare he? HOW DARE HE!
He murdered flowers. He all but pushed Harley back into Joker’s arms. And now he had—he had—He had to die. That’s all there was to it, Matt Hagen had to die. He had to die, die and DIE AGAIN! Then they could bury him so she could dance on his grave. Eventually seeds would sprout, fertilized by his worthless body. Every so often, she could admire the blooms growing there and think: at last, he was good for something.
So. Hagen had to die. The question was how? Ivy wasn’t sure if he was technically alive. He didn’t eat, drink or breathe as far as she knew. Did he have a heart? If there’s no heartbeat or pulse, no blood pumping, where do you even begin? He didn’t have lungs, how do you kill something like that?
She didn’t know. There was entirely too much she didn’t know. As a botanist, she was an expert on life. As Poison Ivy, she was an expert on poisons. But she had no idea how to go about killing something that clinically wasn’t alive. Nevertheless, Clayface had to die. She wanted him ended, permanently ended, and if possible she wanted it to hurt.
How? How? How?
How did one go about killing Clayface?
She didn’t know. Damnit, she just didn’t know…
But it certainly occurred to her that someone did, and that someone was a man.
To be continued…