Back on a plane to Zurich. I couldn’t believe it. It was Wayne One this time, with Bruce’s blessing and on a mission that couldn’t be described as anything other than crimefighting. Even that awful word didn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth at the moment. That was hard to believe too, but it’s not like the goggle people would ever know what I was doing and… well… I love Bruce. Bruce is a crimefighter. And what he does, he does for a reason. I knew that, but I don’t think I ever felt it as powerfully as I had in the drawing room watching how he was with Bernard.
Speaking of which, I had to remember I had a guest onboard. Bruce said I should be very attentive during the flight so Bernard could see how comfortable we could make ourselves on our own. I can’t imagine anyone, least of all Bernard, caring if Bruce Wayne had a cabin steward or not. But Bruce wanted to make sure, and since it’s his plane and his identity, I complied… Okay, really, I complied because I didn’t want him getting edgy and resurrecting the fop when I’m out of the country. So I was attentive. I had already brought Bernard a cappuccino, and now I opened a bottle of champagne. I added a splash of the walnut liquor, since I’d brought it along, and rejoined Bernard in the main cabin.
When I left him, he had been paging through the movies in the entertainment system. While I was gone, he apparently selected The Bourne Identity and had it up on one corner of the 2 x 2 viewscreens. I showed him how to make it fill the full 4-screen grid, handed him his champagne, and proposed a toast to our new adventure. He answered distractedly, keeping an eye on the movie.
“Look at that,” he said acidly. “Their ‘Swiss’ bank isn’t even in Switzerland. That’s Prague and, adding insult to injury, it’s the infamous Pecek Palace where the Gestapo set up their headquarters during World War II. Hollywood. No wonder your Bruce Wayne takes us to be outlaws and gangsters.”
I sipped. There was no point in denying it. Bruce had been very subtle in his criticism, but Bernard is no Demonspawn or Azrael. He understands nuance. Hell, I wouldn’t trust my money to anyone that had to have every little thing spelled out in big block letters.
No, Bernard understood Bruce’s meaning just fine, he just misjudged the cause. Bruce didn’t think DAZ hid money for criminals because of any Hollywood movie; he thought it because they hid mine.
Bernard sniffed as Jason Bourne placed his hand on a slick palm reader to verify his identity before they would bring his safe deposit box. He asked if American banks used such high-tech gizmos, and I explained, truthfully enough, that it’s mostly the diamond exchanges and supervillains who go in for fancy biometrics. U.S. banks prefer old-fashioned steel tumblers, timelocks, and keys, just like the Swiss. I didn’t tell him the exception, that I’d been inside the World Bank’s headquarters in Gotham and that they had biometrics that made Hollywood’s lightshow in The Bourne Identity look like a game of pong.
It felt weird holding back that way. Bernard knew what I did for a living, that’s why he’d followed me back to the States. It never bothered me that he knew I was a thief. It never bothered me that he’d probably guessed I was Catwoman. It was strange that I had more to hide now than I ever did as a practicing thief.
Planning a date with a new girl is tricky. Planning a date with a girl you already know but not as a girlfriend, that’s really tricky. But Tim had come up with a plan:
Phase 1 (preparatory): jettison Dick and Barbara. Yes, Dick was once a Robin who pursued and ultimately won Barbara, once a Batgirl. But that hardly made them experts. At Tim and Cassie’s age, they were doing little more than sticking their tongues out at each other behind Batman’s back, and if you look at how long that nonsense went on, they were nearly as hopeless as Bruce and Selina. Worse, they were worse. Batman and Catwoman were enemies. They had a reason to be cautious and confused. But Dick and Barbara were allies and partners… Anyway, he could do better on his own. On his own, he found out about Phase 2.
Captain Leffinger was giving us a much smoother flight than the commercial airlines, and Bernard, still on Zurich time, had settled in for a nap. It gave me a chance to plan, and I opened my laptop for a little in-flight research… Wound up feeling just a little too much like Bruce as the laptop completed a nested encryption uplink to a WayneTech satellite just to grab my email…
There were three letters waiting. One from Bruce—or, considering the brevity of the message, possibly from Batman—“Proud of you. Good luck.” The next was from Oracle. Subject line: “Knights Templar, warning large attachment.” She wasn’t kidding. Bruce asked her to do some digging just to get me started and she’d sent me this, a ten meg document with a four page table of contents. We all love Barbara, but this is why Catwoman works alone. Ask a research librarian to do your research and this is what you wind up with. Ask a cranky demonologist like I did and you get email #3: “Yes.” That’s it. One word long, a simple answer to a simple question.
Bernard snored, and my focus shifted from the challenges of the mission ahead to the wonder of how I got this far. Just like my last trip, it all came down to Bruce.
Bernard is the scion of a 23rd generation banking family. He may have followed me back to the States with a proposition for my ears alone, but when he found himself in Bruce Wayne’s manor, he couldn’t resist the chance to meet the man himself. So, when Alfred asked what he wanted, Bernard rather craftily implied that he wanted to see us both. I can’t say I object. I like a little craftiness in a banker. It’s what happened when the two men actually met that made me reevaluate both of them—and had me sitting on a plane to Zurich again.
Bernard seemed to regard Bruce as a figure of legend stepping out from the pages of a history book, or maybe stepping down from a stained glass window, and standing before him in the flesh. He gushed at length about the Wayne Foundation, its efforts at home and abroad, and about the quality-of-life improvements brought about by Wayne Enterprises, whose activities were no less laudable because they were engaged in for profit. He said what an endorsement it was in this cynical age to see a great fortune used so responsibly and so well, and what a stupendous privilege it would be to lend capital to such an institution, knowing the noble yet profitable use to which it would be put…
I’d never seen anything like it… and I’ve seen a cop Batman saved two years earlier stop and remind him of the incident, point for point, in front of two SWAT, a hostage negotiator, and a deputy commissioner that hated his living guts. The cop said he knew some of “the boys” didn’t like Batman and some flat out hated him, but he was one flatfoot who knew what Batman was and what he could do. Then he shook Batman’s hand and thanked him… for his life, and for his sons still having a father…
But anyway, I was stunned by Bernard’s little speech, but Bruce took it in stride and responded point for point. He didn’t allude to his parents, but he said crime had touched him at an early age and he thought it important to combat the poverty and ignorance that creates it. He said that was the guiding principle in his stewardship of the Foundation: local efforts to keep good people from desperate circumstances, and global ones to prevent those conditions that allow the truly evil to gain a foothold. Wayne Enterprises, he added mildly, dealt exclusively with Gotham banks.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bruce—the real, complete Bruce, every facet of him—as clearly as I did right then.
Well no. Actually I had seen him, but it was always during sex when, well, there’s a lot going on and my focus isn’t exactly, um, focused… Meow. But there in the drawing room, neither of them were talking to me so I could really sit back and listen. It was astonishing… Bruce was astonishing.
There was the aristocrat, that inherited sense of responsibility. Bruce didn’t create the Foundation. It came to him with the name and the money, a charge from the ancestors that built all this to carry on and do some good with it. But the particular way he directs it, that’s the real man, that’s pure Bruce. There’s a compassion that nobody understands—even the ones who know about Batman, which is bizarre to me. I’ll never understand how anyone can look at him and not see it, but, anyway, there it is. If Bruce had his way, no one would ever suffer what he suffered. That’s what drives him. He knows he can never stop all the crime in the world, but he still does as much as he can, not just with his fists as Batman, but through those “local efforts to keep good people from desperate circumstances.” The Bat influence there is obvious. The “global efforts to fight conditions where the truly evil could take advantage,” that one is no mystery either, that would be Ra’s. And then, just when you thought Batman had said all he could possibly have to say one the subject, there was this flash in his eye, just for a split second, right before he talked about the Gotham banks.
It was flashed at me, Batman letting me know he’d seen me pocket a diamond bracelet.
He knew Bernard’s bank did business with Catwoman, and he was saying quite pointedly that Wayne Enterprises would not do business with a firm that laundered—or simply hid—the proceeds of crime.
Saul Vics had never been to college, and in high school he paid more attention to football than history or algebra. But he had something better; he had street smarts. He had a job that paid well. As a guard at Arkham, he was paid well because the job was very high risk. And he had turned that high risk-high pay scenario into an even higher paying one by eliminating the risk altogether. That’s what you call street smarts. By accepting bribes from the inmates, he became the one guard they didn’t particularly want to kill. In Arkham, that’s about as smart as it gets.
At least, that’s what Saul always thought…
Patient Cobblepot was finally ready to make his first payment for services rendered, a whopping $3500, more than three times what any other inmate had ever plunked over in a single payout. At this rate, Saul would have his barbecue by the end of the summer not the end of the year. He said something to that effect, and Cobblepot seemed interested. So Saul explained.
“Not talking a piddley tin burner for charcoal briquettes, you understand. This is a complete high end outdoor cooking system.”
Oswald stroked his nose thoughtfully and kwaked.
So Saul explained about the grilling surfaces made from porcelainized cast iron, hood-mounted halogen lights, and even an infrared burner that generates over 30,000 BTUs to provide the ultimate in outdoor cooking power.
Oswald couldn’t help but think it sounded like the themed deathtraps that Wormwood fellow was peddling a few years back. As with Wormwood, the price was simply outrageous, and as with Wormwood, Oswald’s delicate sensibilities were so offended he ejected the wastrel from his presence. He kwaked for a full five minutes, trying to clear the thought of a $12,000 barbecue from his system.
Ivy pounded angrily on the wall, and Oswald kwaked all the louder in reply. He felt if he could only tell her the obscenity before him, she would understand. If he could just explain —kwak— 12,000 of his hard-stolen dollars to be spent ON A GRILL!
Saul Vics was going to—kwak wakka wakka KWAK wakka wakka—He was going to—KWAKWAKWAKWAKWAK—pay retail.
Phase 2: Cheap movie. Tim found out the student groups on the Hudson U campus showed movies for fundraisers. They were worn prints of older films and shown in lecture halls where the seats weren’t that comfortable. But $2 for a movie, $1 for popcorn, you couldn’t beat that.
Best of all, Cassie had not been assimilated into the cult of Hugh Grant. Stephanie and Cecily were both into chick flicks, and Tim had come to hate Hugh Grant more than Joker’s hyenas. But he had done some careful research outside the window of a movie rental place, and he liked what he heard:
Cassie thought Jane Austen was that diet program they advertised on TV with the fat actresses announcing how much weight they’d lost. That was promising!
She thought Hugh Grant would “break easy” and had no particular interest in any movie he starred in. That was very promising!
She would be just as happy to see Speed, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Gladiator, and she didn’t even want to see Gladiator because Russell Crowe would take his shirt off. She wanted to see if he could handle a sword any better than Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. That was just… sigh… that just might be the girl of his dreams.
After the polite rebuff, Bruce left Bernard and I alone in the drawing room to talk, and Bernard came straight to the point. He knew I was a very talented high end thief. Since I just told him I had retired, he couldn’t help but think I was the ideal person to confide his problem.
“A vault has been breached,” he said.
A 23rd generation banker from Zurich is every bit as formal and conservative as you’d expect. There wasn’t a hint of melodrama in the pause that followed those words; he just took a breath. But in that fraction of a second it took him to inhale, I could have sworn I heard the dramatic staccato of violins and cellos as a Hollywood soundtrack kicked in.
“It isn’t your vault,” Bernard said swiftly. “The bank’s main depository where your box is located, along with the bank’s own currency, gold, bearer bonds and other holdings kept on the premises, appears quite as secure as ever. At least for now.”
“Appears secure as ever,” I quoted. “‘At least for now.’ There’s something we like to hear.”
“Naturally, if it were as simple as an ordinary break-in, we would go to the police. The delicacy of the situation lies in the fact that, well, to be blunt, the vault which was compromised does not officially exist. Bringing anyone in for purposes of investigating would mean confirming the existence of a vault which, at this point, is only a legend. Hence why I’ve come to you, Selina, to implore you to return with me to Zurich and look into this.”
He had my attention, naturally. A vault out of legend? Of course I wanted in. But there was one thing we had to settle before I’d sign on. Bernard once told me, and Jason Blood had confirmed, that Swiss bankers can keep their secrets even from telepaths. With the recent history of secrets kept secret by magic mindwipes, I wanted a very convincing reason why Bernard was so willing to tell me—a known thief—about this secret vault he wouldn’t even reveal to the police.
“You are a thief,” he said simply. “Who could you tell?”
Convincing as far as it went, but it didn’t go that far. I pushed for a better answer, and he obliged. And while I absolutely believed the reason he gave, I almost wish he had been pocketing a mindwipe instead.
“You have an understanding of what is at stake beyond the mere valuables that any vault contains. The nature of the breach is such that an inside job is an absolute certainty. Hence, no aspect of the firm can now be considered secure.”
That meant my name, apart from everything else. It was one thing to stand on a stage and publicly say I was Catwoman. It was another to be linked to the actual Egyptian necklace that, regardless of what everybody knew, had officially been taken by a few unidentified pixels on a security tape. The Gotham Globe might have said IT’S A CAT-ASTROPHY and everybody from Batman to Hugo Strange might have known Catwoman had taken the necklace thought to imbue the Pharaoh’s consort with the qualities of the cat, but there was nothing in wearing a purple catsuit or knowing how to wield a whip that could ever link the woman on the stage of the Hijinx Playhouse with the figure who took that necklace. Owning box 9211 in the DAZ vault on the other hand… What was worse, I was no longer in a position to pull up stakes if disaster struck and relocate to a sunny island without extradition treaties…
So Bernard was right, I did understand. It wasn’t a threat; he wasn’t trying to blackmail me. He was just answering my question: he could trust me with his secrets because I had secrets of my own. He was asking for my help, and if I said yes, I’d be paid. “Compensated on the scale to which you are presumably accustomed” was how he put it.
That offer was fairly superfluous in the Wayne Manor drawing room, but just to make the point all the clearer, Alfred stepped in at that moment to see if Mr. Ducret would be staying for lunch. When the answer was yes, he asked if Bernard had any allergies to lobster, quail eggs, or asparagus. Once Alfred had gone, I gave the payment question the “pfft” it deserved. I wanted to try my luck with the secret vault that was only legend. I would have done it for nothing.
But since I could get something in return, it may as well be something I wanted.
“Bernard,” I said with a naughty grin, “I’ll be happy to come back to Zurich and look into this for you. All I want for my fee is to satisfy a cat’s curiosity. I’ve always wanted to know why that ‘banque privée’ on your sign is in French.”
Phase 3: Patrol. Kick some ass together, get into a rhythm, create a bond… Yep. That was the way to go after a movie. It would give them a chance to talk if she wanted, but wouldn’t put her on the spot since she didn’t usually have much to say.
It was kicking criminal butt, something Cassie was really good at, and that would put her at ease the way normal stuff like hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range never could. And since she already saw Robin as some sort of Shogun of crimefighting, a nice joint-patrol might just give him a chance to show off a little as a detective. That would come down to luck, of course, what kind of case they ran into. It could happen, and a chance to show off a little is always a bonus in a mid-date situation.
Saul Vics had street smarts, that’s what he always thought. Street smarts said he’d have to do something about the Cobblepot situation himself. He was all kinds of upset since Saul told him about the grill, and if one of the doctors or nurses saw him like that, they’d want to know why. Poison Ivy was getting worked up too, and if asked, she’d probably point them to Cobblepot’s kwaking. Same result. So Saul had to solve the situation and solve it fast. He wasn’t sure how, but he knew it started with taking Patient Cobblepot his dinner a little early—or delivering a second lunch a little late, depending on how you looked at it.
Opening the door, Saul expected another round of kwaking hysterics, but instead Oswald was calm and welcoming. Cautiously, Saul set down the tray and kept his hand on his stun stick, just in case.
“My dear Mr. Vics, we really must talk,” Oswald began in his best new-client voice. “We must discuss the facts of life. We live in a world of soaring hawks, falcons and eagles… and of pigeons. I took you for a hawk, a shrewd and voracious predator. I don’t blush to say I had high hopes for you one day unfurling your great wings and flying with me away from this place of petty payoffs into the greater world of larcenous largess!”
“Eh, okay,” Saul said carefully.
“In my organization, you would be known as… Razor Beak.”
“Thus my disappointment, Mr. Vics, my acute disappointment at this plumage of a pigeon appearing on one I thought a hawk.”
“Eh… don’t follow.”
“You don’t surprise me,” Oswald muttered under his breath. Then he began again with a fatherly air of patient instruction. “Men of the world such as you and I do not pay retail, Mr. Vics. Men such as you… you are now ‘connected,’ Mr. Vics, were you not aware? For now you are a paid associate of Oswald Cobblepot. If you wish this Viking… what was it exactly?”
“Viking 56-incher with infrared zone, a side burner, storage shelf, smoker, rotisserie, built-in tiling, remote griddle, cocktail station, refrigerator cart and tiki lamp.”
“Y-yes, that, if you wish this item, you come to me and my associates will obtain it for you. Please give me back my $3500.”
“And cease at once in that sputtering call of the snub-nosed pigeon. You are a razor beak!”
Saul put his hands on his hips, and calculated how swiftly he could break Oswald Cobblepot in two.
“Return my money and arrange for me to have the telephone this evening, at no additional charge, and you will have your grill installed by the end of the week.”
Saul’s head bobbed back in surprise, but he swallowed and swiftly handed over the money before Oswald changed his mind.
“Excellent,” Oswald cooed, pocketing the wad of cash.
Vics picked up the tray and prepared to leave. Just as he reached the door, Oswald added,
“Mr. Vics, when Crow and Talon arrive with your merchandise, it is customary to tip them. $300 a piece should suffice.”
As well as I always got along with Harvey, there were some tense moments with Two-Face back in the day. One of the most vivid involved an amusing little encounter at Gemini Gallery that became infinitely less amusing when he mistook my suggestion to flip for it. I was proposing a coin toss to decide who got the gold Venus we’d both come for. He took it to mean whether or not to shoot me. The look of embarrassment, anxiety, and dread on Harvey’s side of the face isn’t something I will ever forget—and that’s the look I saw now on Bernard.
“W-what, w-why, wh…?” he sputtered.
“Why ‘banque privée’ is in French?” I repeated. “You don’t have branches in Genève or Lausanne; you’re just in Zurich. Why’s it in French?”
“How did you happen to ask that question?”
“I have a friend who had a theory that was preposterous. And ever since telling him it was preposterous, I’ve wondered myself what the real reason could be.”
“Selina,” he began carefully, “do you remember a talk we had several years ago when you were at a crisis point?”
“A crisis not unconnected to the masked vigilante you have in this city, correct? The Man-Bat.”
“Yes. Batman. But he wasn’t at that time, was he?”
“What are you getting at, Bernard?”
“I appreciate that, in the course of that conversation, there were a great many things you simply couldn’t say outright…”
Like I was Catwoman, I thought. Like I was in love with Batman. And the Batman I knew had disappeared.
“…The situation with our sign is similar. I simply can’t say. But if you undertake this mission, I dare say you’ll glean the reason before long… just as I gleaned certain things that were never said in our talk all those years ago. Who knows, perhaps you’ll decide your friend’s theory isn’t so far-fetched after all.”
And then, after the movie, after joint ass-kicking possibly-impressing-with-detective-acumen patrol, Tim would finally be ready for Phase 4: a post-patrol burger at Big Nick’s or a slice at Gino’s depending what side of town they were on. Take their nosh to a handy rooftop and have a nice (if somewhat one-sided) talk, after which he would escort her home…
That’s where it got tricky.
Cassie lived in one of the identikit apartments Bruce kept around town as safe houses. Tim had seen the fire escape enough times that he didn’t relish doing the goodnight two-step there. It was awkward with any girl, shifting your weight back and forth, trying to figure out which way it would go. But when the girl can read the uncertainty in your body language? No way. He had to know the move before they reached the fire escape and be completely committed to a course of action before she ever said “Thank Tim for nice evening. Good burger.”
And that course of action would be…?
He had it, he had a first-class inspiration there: a hug. A goodnight hug. Because whatever else happened in the course of a date or patrol, Cassie Cain was still a friend, and a friend always rated a hug. Cassie especially, she hadn’t had enough of those. So okay, as long as she didn’t snarl at him during the hamburger phase, he’d give her a goodnight hug on the fire escape, and that would be that.
..:: ‘OUR journey was not slacken’d by our talk, nor yet our talk by journeying.’ This is Jason Blood. I journey as well, and though only a few blocks from home, it is too far, alas, to come to the phone right now. My journey will not be slackened by your talk. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you… ::..
“Jason, it’s Selina. Listen… You weren’t making it up, were you. All that stuff you told me about the Knights Templar and the Swiss banks, that was all true? Call me—No wait, my cell will be out of range. Drop me an email.”
I added the last because Jason had been known to send messages via these talking balls of light. Bruce had come into the room while I was on the phone, and I figured he’d be grumpy enough without magic orbs floating up to him in the middle of patrol asking where to find me.
I explained briefly what Bernard wanted, going back to Zurich and looking into the vault situation.
“I can’t help but notice this is starting to sound a lot like crimefighting,” he said with a perfectly obnoxious little lip-twitch.
“I got sucked into plenty of adventures like this back when I was working,” I told him.
“I know that. What I don’t know is why it’s the dreaded C-word if I suggest it but an ‘adventure’ if you stumble into it on your own.”
I had to think about that. I had tripped up a few bad guys and worked with a few good guys in the normal course of being Catwoman. I even helped Batman when he asked, and the Justice League when they were collectively too frozen, shot, melted, morphed, electrified and beaten up to ask. The difference was…
“What I used to do, I got into in the course of Catwoman being Catwoman. I know Bernard because of kitty’s less-than-entirely-legal activities.”
“You know me because of ‘kitty’s less-than-entirely-legal activities,’” he graveled.
There was another lip-twitch. He wasn’t being confrontational or obnoxious, he was just being… completely confrontational and obnoxious. It’s one of his better bat-tricks, like throwing a shadow at midnight.
“That’s different,” I laughed.
He didn’t say anything at first. I felt that delicious density shift, and he took a step closer, took my chin between his thumb and index finger, and tilted it wordlessly into a long, mind-bending kiss.
“Very different,” he noted.
I purred until my head cleared.
“Ask me like that next time,” I told him, “and I might just say yes.”
To be continued…