“This is why I work alone,” Selina thought sourly.
It didn’t occur to her that she was working with both Batman and Superman at the moment. She was thinking only of her supposed alliance with Lex Luthor, not the real one with the world’s finest heroes. And her pose of a partnership with Luthor was beginning to grate.
This time, the note summoning her to a meeting had come through Raven. “Some horribly butch woman” had intercepted her on her way to the washroom and “been really rude about it.” The note had once again led Catwoman to a rendezvous with a Hummer limo, and that again brought her to the heliport. This time, it was a different airstrip and a different chartered plane. This time, Luthor was not onboard, only a stewardess who was entirely too bright-eyed and cheerful to be a Luthor employee. She undoubtedly came with the charter. She offered drinks, snacks, movies to pass the time, but precious little information. The flight would be a little over six hours, she said, which is the point Catwoman began her silent mantra about working alone. People were fine as people, but as working partners, they were an endless series of inconveniences and annoyance. Six hours on a plane to Bast-knows-where, only Luthor!
The plane flew west, give or take, and finally landed at a good-sized airstrip in what had to be Oregon or Washington State. There was a glow of a city in the distance, but Selina couldn’t see anything identifiable. A glow on the horizon could be Portland, could be Tacoma or Seattle. Considering they were dealing with Luthor, it could even be a military base in the middle of fucking nowhere.
Naturally, there was another damn Hummer waiting, the usual size Hummer this time. The driver, in striking contrast to the too-chipper stewardess, seemed to have no emotions or personality whatsoever. Indeed, he didn’t seem to have the basic motor mechanisms to produce any variations in his voice or facial features. Selina would not have been surprised to learn he was a robot, if he didn’t have some kind of bite marks on his hand, clumsily covered with a Band-Aid.
The Hummer took her through the kind of dense forest associated with fairy tales, and into a dark opening in a side of a mountain that turned out to be an abandoned mine. She was taken down a rickety cage-door elevator, through a shaft that became abruptly more modern after thirty feet. At the bottom, the door opened onto a high tech installation that might have been a bit small for the Bond villain effect, but was otherwise pure Luthor.
Rather than look around and express wondering admiration, Catwoman regarded her host coldly.
“Lex, seriously, consider the telephone.”
First, Joker mentioned “mummy.” He did it twice in less than a week, which would have smelled fishy to anyone that wasn’t a psychiatrist with a sentimental weakness for Freud. But Bartholomew’s hopes had soared, just as Harley knew they would. Then, she herself baited that little hook about cliff diving, leading him to think he’d found a chink in her devotion to her beloved Mistah J. That blossomed into a full reemergence of Dr. Quinzel once her Puddin’ was put into isolation after that Roland Jaer nonsense. And now, now she had him having her make “little suggestions” for all his Rogue patients.
Little suggestions that, in her wild enthusiasm for the task, she was structuring as complete therapy roadmaps, some for patients that weren’t even in residence at the moment. Why, when she was finished, Dr. Bart would have a brilliantly insightful plan to lead Calendar Man, Catman, Clayface, Cluemaster, Firefly, Killer Croc, Killer Moth, Mad Hatter, Mr. Freeze, Ratcatcher, Riddler, Roxy Rocket, Scarecrow, Hugo Strange, Ventriloquist and Maxie Zeus back to sanity.
The length of the list was no accident. For Harley wasn’t just constructing a therapy plan for individual Rogues, but a…
TEMPLATE ROADMAP to ROGUE WELLNESS
Harley giggled with delight as she wrote the heading in bold block letters. Then she went on to explain her intention: since only she had the inside knowledge of the Rogue mind borne of living among them, and since this was not a viable method of training future therapists, she would not only devise these therapy roadmaps but do so in a precise fashion that documented her process and could therefore be mimicked later by those not so fortunate as to have the benefit of her experience.
She read the sentence back. Something seemed wrong about it—other than its length and having a big ol’ stick up its butt. That was necessary to seem all academicy Dr. Quinzelishlike. But something else didn’t quite…
Oh, of course. Given her readers’ bias, that should be “not so un-fortunate…”
She made the correction, giggled with glee, and continued.
…so unfortunate as to have the benefit of her experience. As such, she would want to write the first section—and indeed, the first paragraph—for each Rogue before going on to the second. Then do the second for each before the third. Only in that way would an actual methodology emerge.
Again, Harley giggled at her cleverness.
She counted up the Rogues on her list, worked out how long it would take to finish two paragraphs or three on each. Introductions never said much, but they would take some time to compose… Even so, she added Crazy Quilt, Doctor Death, Kite Man, and Cornelius Stirk to the list, just for a safety margin. It would be days into the composition before she had to reveal anything useful about anyone.
Luthor had had enough of Catwoman’s badinage.
“I’m just saying, you have overlooked the potential of the telephone as a means of communication. Ten numbers, that’s all it takes, Lex. You dial ‘em, and even though we are three thousand miles apart, we can still have a conversation without going to all this trouble every time.”
“Most amusing,” he said acidly. “Now if you will come this way, please. I will show you what the plans you took in Gotham have wrought.”
He scrutinized her reaction when she saw the transporters for the first time. If she had known what the plans were for, she wasn’t giving anything away. She inspected the transporter tubes with interest, and spoke unguardedly about the time she infiltrated the Watchtower with a press junket, disguised as Cat Grant.
“They brought us up in shuttles. We saw the teleport tubes as part of the tour, but they didn’t let us get this close. It certainly looks right.”
For the first time, she seemed duly impressed with Luthor and his achievements.
“And it works?” she asked brightly.
“That is what you are here to determine,” he said coldly.
She looked up suspiciously, only to see Luthor step in close as if forming an imposing physical barrier between her and the rest of the room.
“If you please,” he said menacingly, opening the nearest tube.
Catwoman could hold her own against Batman, one of the best martial artists in the world. There was no doubt that she could lay Luthor flat on his ass if it came to a fight, but instead, she offered a light smile of acquiescence, the way one does when cornered by some definite threat that cannot be ignored.
“As you wish,” she said, stepping into the chamber with her hands raised as if he held a gun on her.
He nodded, satisfied with his victory, and stepped behind the control panel.
“There’s a bit of a smell in here,” she said casually.
“Disinfectant,” Luthor grimaced. “The last test subject was less hygienic than one could wish. Do you have a desired target destination?”
Catwoman restrained her smile at the mental picture which presented itself.
“Did he bite?”
“Yes,” Luthor spat. “Do you have a desired target destination?”
“Lex… it was a monkey, wasn’t it?”
“Do you have a desired target?”
“You had a monkey that pee’d in the transport tube.”
Luthor sighed and began to repeat “Do you have a…”
“I ask because I’ve seen The Fly, Lex. I want to make absolutely sure that you got all of it out of the tube before we go any further. Not keen on the idea of my molecules being disassembled here and reassembled elsewhere with a few extras from your simian pal.”
“Catwoman, do you have a desired target or shall I pick one at random and risk your materializing in a fallout shelter in Beijing?”
She laughed wickedly.
“Of course I do. I want the Batcave.”
“Catwoman, really,” Luthor winced. “Popping into the Alien's fortress is one thing, but you don't invade the Batcave unless you're bringing World War III with you.”
“I can handle it. C’mon, Lex… for Kitty?”
“Very well,” he sighed. “It’s your funeral. Will ten minutes be sufficient?”
He selected the destination, and the chamber lit up as always. Then it flashed brighter than usual, and Catwoman disappeared from Chamber A, just like the penny, the spider, and the monkey before her. Unlike those earlier test subjects, she did not immediately rematerialize in Chamber B…
THURSDAY! That meant breakfast at Arkham would consist of bran flakes, orange juice, raisin bread and butter (which was rather high carb and low protein for starting off the day, and Harley wondered if she shouldn’t shoot off a memo to that effect before continuing). Thursday also meant it was time to use her run-of-the-asylum status to get some credentials.
They would be Lisa White’s credentials. Harley always thought Lisa would look better as a blonde anyway. She just had to wait until the senior staff meeting was going on; Lisa never wore her jacket to senior staff. It was draped over the back of her office chair, right where Harley knew it would be. She unclipped the ID card, took it out of its plastic sleeve, and made a quick photocopy. She returned the original to Lisa’s office and, while she was there, looked up a certain item on the Internet.
Harley sighed, happily. It was just PERFECT! She printed out the coveted information from the website, folded the pages carefully, and slid them into a special envelope for inmate mail. She carefully copied Lisa White’s ID code from the identification card, indicating that the contents of the envelope had been examined and was approved for delivery to Patient J. She slid it into the outbox, under a check requisition and a couple file folders that presumably needed to be refiled. Lisa wouldn’t notice a thing when she got back, and by the end of the day, Puddin’ would be fully prepped.
Harley didn’t want to risk any more time in Lisa White’s office, and the identification number from her ID could be used on any Arkham computer. So Harley went back to her cell… by way of the staff lounge to find out who was out sick today.
Nurse Chin was, but that was no help. Chin worked in the infirmary.
Melanie Fontana was sick too. Harley didn’t recognize the name. Turned out, she was a new girl in the regular wing. She had no contact with the high-risk patients in the high security wing. She’d have no clearance to get the kind of information Harley wanted. But she had an office. An office meant walls and a computer, and that’s really all that Harley needed. With that, Lisa White’s ID code would open the files she wanted.
Now all Harley had to do was find out where the heck this Melanie whatsherface had her office.
The transporter tube flashed, and Catwoman found herself standing in the Batcave. Batman was at the controls, and Robin was waiting on the platform with a purple cell phone and her old, skirted costume from the display case.
“Quick, get changed into this,” Robin said urgently. Then he made a show of closing his eyes and turning his back, and Selina couldn’t hold back her smile. Robins were just so cute. The first twenty times he’d seen her in costume, Tim’s eyes had riveted on her breasts and didn’t budge throughout the whole dreary discussion of museum skylights and jewels that didn’t belong to her. Now, you’d think he was embarrassed to be in the same cave as the notorious Catwoman.
Selina turned her attention from the back of Robin’s cape to the one he’d handed her.
“Scorch marks?” she said, noting the streaks of charred black on the fabric.
“Yeah, you really trashed the place. Oracle and I already loaded that phone with the pictures.”
“That they had far too much fun creating,” Batman added disapprovingly.
Selina turned her attention to him, still standing behind the control panel exhibiting all the detached professionalism of a crimefighter on duty. She flashed him, and he hurriedly tilted his head down towards the panel to pretend he hadn’t seen. She celebrated the victory with a wide Cheshire grin, which she held for a full ten seconds before tactfully changing the subject.
“You’re not telling me that Lex actually has the ability to beam in here,” she asked, wrapping the green cape around her shoulders—and noting it was ripped as well as scorched.
“No,” Batman said flatly. “The transponder in your arm caused Luthor’s system to emit a supersonic squelch when he activated the tube you were in. That, in turn, activated this console, and I was able to pull you off his pad.”
“Sweet,” she said, slipping on the low ankle boots she preferred with the skirted costume. She went on to silently adjust her cowl, her gloves, and finally she told Tim he could turn around.
Batman took it as a cue.
“Close your eyes and hold your breath,” he ordered, taking an atomizer and a fire extinguisher from behind the control panel and subjecting her to a spritzing with liquid smoke, followed by short bursts of dry baking soda and C02 fog.
“You guys are sick,” she coughed.
In reply, Batman lifted part of her cape, blasted it solid with two shots from a freeze ray, and shattered the lower third with a well-placed blow.
“I’m supposed to explain all this when I go back?” she asked.
“Your choice,” Batman said offhandedly, “Luthor won’t believe anything you tell him. He’ll assume it’s something you’re making up to conceal the real details of what happened here.”
“Ready to go back?”
“Almost,” she breathed. Then she stretched up, kissed his cheek, and said, “For luck,” giving the cheek a nasty scratch as she spoke.
He bore it stoically, until she twiddled the tips of her claws at him.
“Fresh blood, little detail you left out of the master plan. Lucky you have me to catch those things. Ciaomeow, Dark Knight.”
And with that, she stepped back into the transporter, and in seconds, had vanished in a blue-gray flash.
NOW things were happening. In the privacy of Melanie Fontana’s office, Harley used Lisa White’s ID to get access to the Arkham network. She found out that Puddin’s next session with Dr. Bartholomew was tomorrow at four. She also looked through the staff calendar and found that tomorrow was Simone O’Roarke’s wedding anniversary. So she logged out of the network and hopped back onto the Internet to have a dozen red roses… no, three dozen red roses… delivered to Simone’s office first thing in the morning.
No plants would ever be delivered to a patient in the high security wing, especially when Red was in residence, but the staff was another story. If some dolt of a husband didn’t know the rules and sent his wife flowers on their anniversary, they would make it through.
Now, twenty or thirty dollars slipped into Saul Vics’s hand would make sure Puddin’ was taken to his session past Simone O’Roarke’s open door and SQUEEEEEE! Harley hugged herself. This was going to be great!
Luthor’s excitement at seeing Catwoman actually disappear from Chamber A without instantly reappearing in Chamber B was nothing compared to his giddy delight ten minutes later when Chamber A erupted into a wash of light again at his command and… yes… yes… there was a definite purple shape materializing within the light! He had—paraphrasing the Apollo challenge—sent a Catwoman to the Batman’s cave and returned her safely to Earth.
“WHEW! What a rush!” Selina exclaimed, doing her best Roxy Rocket impersonation. “Goddamn, that was fun, Lex.” Then she giggled, high on adrenaline.
Luthor’s exhilaration was tainted somewhat by surprise, and he stared openmouthed the top of her thigh. It’s not that it wasn’t a very shapely thigh; it was merely that the bare leg hadn’t been visible when she disappeared.
“That’s not the costume you were wearing before,” he said dully.
“No,” she purred. “I found this in the bastard’s trophy room, can you believe that? A costume of mine in with his trophies! So I played a little prank or three.”
She handed over her cell phone triumphantly, and meowed.
Luthor opened it cautiously… and saw a picture of a giant playing card bisecting a Lucite case that displayed a (similarly bisected and somewhat crushed) green velvet hat… an enormous projection screen pierced by a Riddler cane… a computer console consumed in flames… and what appeared to be a natural history museum simulacrum of a tyrannosaurus eating Robin. (Although the last, on closer inspection, was only the cape of a Robin costume draped over the dinosaur’s teeth, the rest of the costume being visible in another picture of a shattered display case.)
“Most amusing,” he said, handing back the phone. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have a number of similar, albeit more discreet, trials to conduct before the system can be used for a fullscale assault.”
He set the controls, stepped into Chamber A, experienced the blinding wash of blue-gray light firsthand, and then… found himself standing one tube to the left in Chamber B.
“NO!” he wailed, racing out, resetting the controls, and stepping into Chamber B. Like the penny, the spider, and the monkey before him, he dematerialized from B, and instantly rematerialized in C.
He raced out of the teleport tube again and grabbed Catwoman roughly by the arm. She was still giggling as she scrolled through the pictures on her phone, he noted. In the face of these inexplicable irregularities with the transporter—crux of their master plan—she was giggling at the photos on her phone. He shuddered at his assumption that she different from other costumed lunatics, and flung her into the nearest tube, which again happened to be B.
Before she could object, he hit the controls, blinding her with that wash of light. Just as before, she vanished from the tube she was in without reappearing in the next tube over.
The tube flashed again and, on the very spot where Catwoman had stood was… was… a cat cowl, a bullwhip and a purple cell phone lying on a shapeless heap of purple and green fabric.
Leland Bartholomew felt buoyant, positively buoyant, ever since Harleen stopped by his office first thing in the morning just to say hello. She had been working on a surprise for him all week, she said, a surprise that would open his eyes “and the world’s” on the delicate problem of Rogue reform. She was two-thirds of the way through the introductions for her “roadmaps” and she enthused about these in detail, going so far as to show him drafts for several patients—which she needed back, she hastened to tell him. This was just a preview.
Bartholomew was somewhat skeptical that Harleen’s efforts would really mean a revolutionary step forward in the treatment of criminal personality disorders, but his hopes for Harley’s own recovery had never shone brighter. Her ferocious ambition and wide-eyed naiveté was so much like the Harleen Quinzel that first joined the Arkham staff. Never had she seemed so much like her former self.
The day flew by after such a hopeful beginning. Patients Cobblepot and Lynns in the morning, Isley and Baker in the afternoon. Before he knew it, it was time to review his notes for the final appointment of the day.
The subject was a depressing one, testing Bartholomew’s good spirits as nothing else had. For the notes discussed Patient J’s appalling talent for creating bloody mayhem, of which Roland Jaer’s murder was only the latest tragic example.
The biggest factor seemed to be that when Patient J didn’t have his preferred “SmileX” to work with, he tended to go for the head: noses, ears, throats, and so on. Blood above the neck being on route to the brain, it did tend to be very thin and thus didn’t clot very well. It also tended to be oxygen rich, and hence very, very red. Q.E.D. when there was a Joker attack in Arkham’s halls, not only was there a large quantity of blood left at the scene, it was very bright. Definitely made for a ghoulish moment of discovery, even on those occasions when Patient J didn’t help matters along by painting smiles and HA-HAs on the wall in some poor corpse’s O-negative.
Bartholomew looked up sharply, thinking—no, knowing—that he’d heard a voice. It was too distant to make out words, but there was no mistaking the cadence. Even if it wasn’t cackling, Bartholomew knew that voice better than he knew his own: Patient J.
He checked the clock, thinking perhaps he’d lost track of the time as he reviewed his notes. It was a little early for Patient J to be arriving for his session, but not intolerably so. Bartholomew rose from his chair. Perez and Martinez were assigned to escort Patient J to his office today. They were good men, but if Joker was talking to them, Bartholomew felt he should go out to the hall himself and personally take charge of the situation.
He opened his door—and clutched at the doorframe as the first wave of shock hit.
In light of his pre-session reading, it is understandable that he processed the trail of bright red leading down the hallway and reacted with horror before realizing anything more.
Perez and Martinez—and indeed Joker—were nowhere to be seen, but there was a bright line of red leading down the hallway to… Rose petals. Bartholomew’s brain caught up with his vision at last, and he realized that the vivid streak of red was not blood after all, but rose petals.
Bartholomew ran down the hallway, making remarkable time for a man his age, as Joker’s voice wavered on and on, a terrible familiarity beginning to take shape in the rhythm of the half-heard syllables:“Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”
Bartholomew rounded the corner…“Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.”
…to see the trail of roses leading right up to Harley Quinn’s foot.
“Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,”
How could this happen?
“And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;”
She should be back in her cell.
“And every fair from fair sometime declines,”
Harley squealed in delight.
“By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;”
Joker went on reciting…
“But thy eternal summer shall not fade
“Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,”
“When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:”
last, unshredded flower…
…on the final line.
“So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”
“OH PUDDIN’,” came the inevitable cry. Harley performed a maneuver Bartholomew had witnessed twice before: throwing her arms around Joker’s neck while pulling herself up to wrap her legs around his waist. As in the past, it caused him to stumble backwards against the wall, where she held the pin and engaged the mad clown in what Bartholomew believed the young people call “a lip lock.”
Unlike those previous occasions, Joker let her down instead of backhanding her away. They joined hands, turned to Bartholomew and, moving as one… they bowed. Then they turned away again, and Joker began “escorting” Harley back to her cell by her hair.
She stopped suddenly and turned back to the doctor, a soft “oh yeaah,” barely audible as she looked him up and down, and then looked back at Joker.
“Puddin, did we ever come up with a closing zinger?”
“Fool you once, shame on us,” Joker declaimed, with every bit of the theatrical panache he’d accorded the Shakespeare. “Fool you twice, shame on rice! HAHAHAHAHAAAAA!”
“WHAT?” Harley screeched.
“HAHAHAHAHA! Sheer genius, isn’t it, Harls? Shame on rice.”
“That was a placeholder! A filler! Until we came up with something better!”
“No, no, see, there was the mummy fakeout, that was once, and now—wait a minute. Shame on rice doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
“You were supposed to come up with something better,” Harley hissed.
“I mean no sense at all,” Joker said, ignoring her. “Shame on rice, even Dubya couldn’t pull that off.”
They walked away down the hall, bickering about whose job it had been to come up with a better “zinger.” Bartholomew turned back to his office, too despondent to even sound the alarm. Patient J was freely roaming the halls. Harleen was lost again, just like it happened before.
He should feel grateful, he supposed. She could've broken Joker out, like last time, but what did it really—
“DOC!” Bartholomew froze at his office door as he heard the footsteps running up behind him.
Patient J. Here it was. The deathblow.
“I've got it! Doc, I got it, HAHAHAHA. Are you ready? It’s a killer. Fool me twice HAAAAAAAAA shame on OHAHAHAHAHA it's too funny… Fool me twice, shame on RICE! HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAA!”
Joker clapped Bartholomew on the shoulder, loving life. Then he returned docilely to his cell, all the while repeating, “Shame on rice, heh, heh, heh. Gotta remember to tell Brucie that one.”
Tense minutes passed while Lex Luthor considered and rejected a thousand hypotheses, each more preposterous than the last. For the first time in his life, he was completely uncertain how to proceed. Then, the purple cell phone rang.
Luthor’s mouth dropped open.
It rang again.
He looked at it in horror.
It rang again.
At this point, any new data was worth having.
It rang again.
He answered it.
..::OF ALL THE BLUNDERING, ASININE, THICKSKULLED MORONS THAT CAN’T TELL A VIABLE IDEA FROM A FEVERDREAM…::..
“Catwoman?” Luthor said hopefully.
..::DAMN NEAR WOUND UP IN BLACKGATE BECAUSE YOU EAT PEPPERONI BEFORE BEDTIME AND MISTAKE THE RESULT FOR A MASTERPLAN…::..
“Cat—” he repeated.
..::…ABSOLUTE DUMBEST EVER, LEX, AND THAT INCLUDES JOKER TRYING TO COPYRIGHT FISH…::..
“Cat—” he repeated, or started to, but got no further when the walls started to rumble.
..::…LEAST HAS THE EXCUSE OF BEING A COMPLETE PSYCHOPATH…::..
Then the ceiling started to tremble.
..::…NOT THAT IT’S DUMB BUT THAT YOU DON’T KNOW IT’S DUMB! I MEAN WAKE UP AND SMELL THE FAILURE, BALDY! IF YOU DON’T GET IT BY THIS TIME…::..
The ceiling gave way, and Luthor’s next words fell silent on his lips when Superman swooped in with the typical “Nice try, Luthor. But your scheme is over before it’s begun.”
..::…ATCAVE ISN’T MY IDEA OF A GOOD SHOWING IF…::…
The phone screeched on, but Luthor was no longer listening. He had other problems as Superman bashed the transporter console with one hand, holding the remains of the ceiling up with the other and sweeping the teleport tubes with his heat vision.
..::And NAKED!::.. the phone voice added.
“Huh?” Luthor said, instinct whipping his head and his attention back to the phone.
Luthor’s head snapped backward as his jaw exploded in pain.
Alfred’s head snapped backward as the champagne cork exploded with a much louder pop than expected. Bruce and Selina both glanced his way, knowing a good vintage wouldn’t make such a noise under normal conditions. But Clark and Lois seemed delighted, so Bruce met Alfred’s eyes and nodded. The butler filled the glasses as if no duty he’d ever performed was so important, and then withdrew, leaving the foursome to their celebration.
There was a toast to Luthor’s comeuppance. Bruce and Selina raised their glasses, Clark and Lois clinked theirs, and after the requisite “mmms,” Lois assumed her professional fact-checking manner.
“So let me get this straight: you didn’t know where Luthor actually was until the final phone call?”
“No,” Bruce confirmed. “Luthor would be too smart in going over the plans not to recognize a signal beacon hidden in the construction. And if he suspected any kind of Trojan horse, it would have been bad for Selina.”
“Meow,” she said sweetly, taking up the narration. “And all I knew after that interminable flight was that we’d landed somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.”
“But after her second transport to the Batcave, we left him with a cell phone,” Bruce resumed. “A special cell phone that would traceback even through a shielded bunker. Selina’s ‘frantic’ final call originated from the cave, so I had an instant trace on. Clark was standing by as soon as we had the location.”
“Happy endings all around then,” Lois said brightly.
“Not quite,” Selina smiled. “Happy, yes; ending, no.”
“Here it comes,” Bruce graveled knowingly.
“The deal was: Lex would keep the boys busy in Metropolis to clear the way for me stealing the plans, and then I was to return the favor when he was ready to attack the Watchtower or whatever.”
“But there’s no need for that now,” Lois noted.
“Oh, but there is,” Selina chanted, glaring with playful malice at Bruce.
Lois and Clark traded confused glances.
“The transponder is a leash,” Bruce explained. “Hence, there must be punishment.”
“Ah,” Lois said.
“Ah,” Clark said.
“So, what are you going to do?” Lois asked, wild with curiosity.
“Oh the usual, kidnap you,” Selina said lightly. “Wayne One is all fueled up. What would you say to some shoe shopping in Rome?”
“I LOVE this plan,” Lois cheered.
Clark’s eyes looked as wide as hers, but for a different reason. He turned appealingly to Bruce as the women left arm in arm, laughing at how, really, when you looked at it dispassionately, Lex was right.
“I mean seriously,” Selina was saying. “Force for force never works against the Justice League. Makes them all depressingly united.”
“Oh I agree,” Lois nodded vigorously. “And we've seen that they have an almost limitless capacity for sabotaging themselves when they're not busy. The damage he could have done as a ‘fly on the wall’ alone… Hey, can we eat at Café Dolce Vita?”
“In Piazza Narvona? Yeah, if he’d gone to almost anyone else to get those plans, it would have been a very good and very dangerous plan. His only misstep was the rational but mistaken assumption that I was on his side. I was thinking someplace less rushed for lunch, like maybe Alfredo di Roma.”
“You could almost pity him: perfect plan if he hadn’t gone and asked Batman’s girlfriend. Alfredo like the fettuccini?”
“The original place that came up with the fettuccini. That’s where the name comes from.”
“Sold. Armani, Gucci, then lunch. Then Prada, Valentino and Versace.”
Back in the study, Bruce nonchalantly sipped his champagne as Clark’s super-hearing tracked the women approaching the door to the garage.
“Bruce?” Clark looked pleadingly at his friend, images of a credit card bill the size of a third world country’s Gross National Product flickering in his mind’s eye.
“It’s okay, I’ve got it covered,” Bruce assured him evenly. “There’s a certain justice in paying for their little excursion with some of the windfall from the LexCorp subsidiaries that Wayne Enterprises absorbed.”
“Well, in that case, I hope Lois takes full advantage.”
Clark took another sip of his champagne, relaxing a little in his chair. He and Bruce sat in silence for a moment longer, until he heard the telltale growl of the Lamborghini accelerating as it turned out of the manor drive and onto the open street.
Setting his champagne flute down on the end table beside his chair, Clark leaned forward, lacing his fingers together on the edge of his knees.
“And the real Holce Concepts-Allman Freely-WraitheMatCo project is safe. Even Selina doesn’t know what the original plans were for?”
Bruce shook his head.
“No. The secret is safe. For now.”
Harvey Dent enjoyed running his own errands. He could have had his dry cleaning delivered, of course. In Gotham, he could have everything from a leather loveseat to a dime bag of Kona Gold delivered. But he liked being out in the world, performing all those little tasks that were such a trial in his Two-Face days. It still happened occasionally: some clerk would recognize him and have a little seizure trying to avoid eye contact without being obvious. Now that those encounters were rarities, Harvey could be kind about it. When it was day-in/day-out, everywhere he went his face went with him, it really used to get on his nerves. Of course, it didn’t help that Two-Face always noticed and suggested something unpleasant in retaliation, forcing Harvey to take the opposite position and defend the obnoxious nobody.
But those days were over, and now he could run all over the Upper East Side, picking up his dry cleaning, picking up some photos he had developed, picking up some kung pao chicken, and even picking up a cute little blonde from Hudson U, and never encounter a single averted gaze.
Harvey juggled his packages as he neared his building, but seeing that Nick, the doorman, was occupied with one of the older women in the building, Harvey figured he’d manage on his own. He almost enjoyed his bungling into the elevator. It was real life. What a fool he’d been, staying in that old theatre all that time, a place he’d only bought for a Two-Face hideout. He should have come back to this, to real life, as soon as Face was gone. An ordinary (if rather upscale) apartment in an ordinary (if fiercely upscale) neighborhood, living like an ordinary (if slightly the worse for wear) person.
The elevator stopped and the doors opened, but something didn’t seem right as Harvey jostled his packages anew. Then he saw it: a spray of tulips, not daffodils, on the little table in front of the gilded mirror in the hall opposite the elevator. Every floor had that table in that position, every floor had the mirror above it, but on every floor, the flowers varied. He’d pressed the wrong button, and he was on the wrong floor.
It was a silly mistake, the kind that everyone makes, and Harvey readjusted his packages and pushed the correct button without ever noticing—or caring—that the wrong button he unconsciously pushed by mistake was 2.