By its nature, crimefighting is active, often proactive. It is a vocation for the vigorous, hands-on, and dynamic. Passive, sit-at-home personalities need not apply. So Bruce Wayne was frustrated to be back in the cave while Selina went into town alone.
There was still no answer at Harvey Dent’s apartment, and no messages had been returned. Someone had to go over and look. It was only natural, Selina said, that it be her. She used to live in that very building. She had favorite restaurants and boutiques in the area. It would be so natural for her to casually drop by while she was in the neighborhood.
Bruce hated the idea. They were both Harvey’s friends and they were a couple. There was no reason they couldn’t be out on the town together, visiting the museum or doing a bit of shopping, and drop in on Harvey to see if he wanted to join them for lunch at Nino’s… He got no further describing his (far superior) plan when he trailed off, his inner strategist noting an expression on Selina’s face that meant she was ready to interrupt. It was the corner of his mind that authored protocols capable of bringing down the entire Justice League, and it did not sit idly by waiting for cat burglars to point out the flaw in its tactics. He took her expression as a red flag, and immediately began searching the plan for weakne… Of course.
“It’s fine. You go alone,” he said, touching the raised lump on his forehead.
Clearly it wouldn’t do for Bruce Wayne to show up with a bruise where Two-Face had struck Batman. If it was Harvey…
So Selina went alone, and Bruce reconciled himself to a research session in the cave.
Dr. Kevin Yarling went through life with a Mont Blanc pen in his pocket. It went back to an ad he’d seen decades before. He didn’t even remember the details of it, but the message had branded itself into his soul: second string quarterback in high school, salutatorian, took Heidi to the prom instead of June, got the BMW 530 instead of the M5, Ostera caviar instead of Beluga at the wedding, Honolulu instead of Maui for the honeymoon. Just this once… #1. Mont Blanc.
Even though the ad had affected him deeply, his memory had muddied the examples, replacing them with the second bests of his own life. He was second in his graduating class, both in high school and at Dartmouth (his second choice school when he didn’t get into Yale), where he was number 2 man on the crew team. Second place for the Lasker Prize at Johns Hopkins (his second choice when he didn’t get into Harvard Medical School). His condo was on the upper west side, and his beachhouse in Bridgehampton. Neither was even his anymore, because his divorce lawyer had been Edmund Parr, the second best in the city, while his wife had retained Felicity Amstead.
Catwoman had never bothered much with alibis. She wore a distinctive eye-catching costume and a mask. The world might know that Catwoman had taken the Rosenthal Rubies, although they could never quite prove it. There was simply no reason to establish that Selina Kyle was on a plane to Toronto at the time.
Yet today, she wanted an alibi. She stopped at Barneys, TSE, and Searle, making a small purchase at each and proving conclusively that she had been shopping, for look, here were her bags. She then strolled past La Maison du Chocolat so that one particular delicacy in the window might catch her eye. On spotting a particularly delectable-looking ganache, she reminded herself that, while some indulgences are best savored alone, others should be shared with a friend. So she headed for her old building to invite one such friend whom she knew to be especially fond of French chocolates—not Harvey, but Jason Blood—to join her for a treat.
Like any cat, Selina preened herself. This really was a wonderful alibi she had come up with. Subtle, as any cat’s should be, for she didn’t mean to go babbling the whole story to Harvey should she run into him. It was just there, in her movements through her old neighborhood (in case anyone was watching Harvey’s apartment the day after the Two-Face episode), and in her mindset as she smiled sweetly to Nick, her old doorman.
She was there to see Jason, of course, but she did ask casually how her other friend was doing: Mr. Dent, the one house-sitting for Binky Sherborn. Nick didn’t volunteer anything useful about Harvey, but he did mention that Jason had gone out early this morning. That was a bit of luck, it made Selina’s change of allegiance less impulsive. She wasn’t inviting Harvey instead of Jason on a whim. Jason wasn’t home.
So Selina went inside, reflecting in the elevator how it would be rude to tell another friend he was your second choice on such an excursion, but with Harvey, it was the kind of joke he liked best. She jostled her shopping bags in order to knock on his door, but even that mild papery rustling made enough noise to make the knock superfluous. Binky had two dogs, two horribly yappy little corgis called Balmoral and Sandringham, that Harvey had been walking twice a day as part of the house-sitting obligation. At the first hint of a presence outside the door, they’d begun yipping and crying like… ulgh, like the horrible little rat dogs they were.
Taking a lock pick from her purse, Selina began revising her plan. If the worst happened, if there was no sign of Harvey, she had meant to break in silently and invisibly, as only Catwoman can, leaving no trace of her presence (except, in the old days, for the missing space where the Vermeer used to be). But the yapping dogs changed everything. There was a desperation in their cries that even a cat person could recognize.
Tossing Batman’s encounter with Two-Face out of the equation and dealing only with what she knew to connect absolutely to Harvey, Alfred had begun calling at 9 o’clock that morning. That meant the dogs had missed their morning walk and—and that thought was left unresolved as the lock gave. Selina winced from the double blow as the door opened: the acrid smell of dog urine assaulted her nostrils while the dogs themselves serpentined through her legs as if she was their new best friend.
“Krypto all over again,” she muttered, going inside to find their leashes. “At least you two can’t fly.”
It was understandable that Kevin Yarling had a particular resentment for the number two, and nowhere was that resentment so pronounced than in his professional life. Anywhere else in the world, ANYWHERE else IN THE WORLD, the neurology department at Gotham General Hospital would be recognized as not only the best in the city, but the best by such a margin that patients would beg to be treated, their families would go to any lengths to have their loved ones cared for by these, the best of the best in their field.
Yarling was a sailing enthusiast, and his favorite anecdote was from the first race that is now called the America’s Cup. Back in 1851, a schooner called simply “The America” won a race around the Isle of Wight over a fleet of English rivals. When a piqued Queen Victoria, watching from the royal yacht, turned to one of her attendants and asked who was in second place, the man took one look at the distance between the winning schooner and the rest of the competitors and answered simply “Your majesty, there is no second.”
That would be the stature of Gotham General Hospital’s neurology department if they were located in any other city in the world. Yet because they were in the same city as Gotham Presbyterian, they ranked second on every list.
In its day, Liberty One was one of the more impressive office buildings in the city. Built in the 1950s as the Gotham headquarters of Liberty One Insurance, it was small at only ten stories, but it had character. The firm used a Liberty head silver dollar for their logo, a giant version of which was mounted on the wall behind the reception desk in the atrium lobby. It might have been cause for concern if the company was still in business by the time Two-Face arrived on the scene. But by then, the Liberty One building was an empty shell.
There was no board of directors to debate whether a nine-foot coin in the lobby might make them a target, or if the “One” in their name would offer any protection. There had never been a cost/benefit analysis of changing their logo, or a discussion to determine their liability if employees were injured in a logo-motivated attack. There was only a Dominican building manager who took it upon himself to buy some curtain rods and fabric to cover up the coin, and an Internet mogul who had bought the building as a tax shelter and declined to reimburse him.
It was an unremarkable building. That was Bruce’s conclusion as he closed the file on the building’s history. The current and period photos of the Liberty One façade, the blueprints, and the floor plan all vanished from the workstation monitor and the oversized viewscreen, and the bat emblem loomed once more over the cave as Bruce turned to Alfred.
“But it is located between a research lab on Sloekam, where Scarecrow has been known to lift chemicals, and an electronics warehouse on 16th, where Mad Hatter sometimes acquires supplies.”
“Meaning it was a near certainty that Batman would be passing, sir, seeing as both Scarecrow and Mad Hatter are free. A well-laid trap indeed.”
“Possibly, but not necessarily,” Bruce said. “It seems certain that he chose the location for the coin. He didn’t necessarily know it would be on Batman’s patrol route.”
“I would have,” a saucy feline growl announced from the bottom of the stairs.
Selina crossed the cave, the trademark clip-clip of her high heels announcing her approach as she neared Bruce’s workstation. She set her purse on the console beside him, and looked innocently from Bruce to Alfred and back to Bruce.
“What? I would have. Jervis and Jonathan are both out, and I know where they ‘shop’ as well as you do. Ivy is free too, that’s greenhouse to Sloekam to 16th to Robinson Park for the first patrol. Maybe do a quick pop through the diamond district if you’re looking for me, otherwise it’s down to Chinatown to check on Ra’s minions at the White Dragon, and through Little Italy to creep out the Falconis. How’d I do?”
Bruce scowled, and began mentally reprogramming the patrol auto-routing routines while Selina related her visit to Harvey’s.
“So I walked the slobbering little monsters, an activity which ranks right up there with dimension-hopping into goggles, by the way, when their favorite spot to lift their legs—their favorite spot with that huge park to choose from—is right in front of Ivy’s old lair. The thought of her seeing me trailing after those horrid canine things with a goddamn pooper-scooper… Anyway, that horror behind me, I snooped through Binky’s until I found the cleaning service she uses when the little darlings ‘misbehave,’ as she puts it. I called them and gave Nick a heads-up that they were coming over, and he’s going to take over walking them for the duration.”
“You said it had been about a day since they were walked?” Bruce interrupted.
“I’m no expert on dogs, but that’s my best guess, yeah. I probed a little more, but Nick didn’t seem to know anything about exactly when Harvey left. I didn’t want to push too hard.”
“No. That would have been a mistake. Batman can question him tonight much more aggressively without arousing suspicions.”
“Aggressively? You’re going to pummel my doorman?” She gestured to Alfred. “You don’t see me arm wrestling your butler, do you?”
Bruce closed his eyes and shook his head. He hated the way she could reduce him to chuckling in the Batcave, right in the middle of a case, but the mental picture that presented itself… Some days, Selina could be so… ‘Catwoman.’
“Not ‘question aggressively’ as in pummel,” he said, shouting down Psychobat’s objection that Batman did not ever have to explain himself. “’Question aggressively’ as in asking direct questions without any preliminaries.”
“Ah. Good news for you, then, Alfred,” she called playfully.
“Very good indeed, miss,” he smiled, only now acknowledging the conversation.
“Anyway, while I was there,” Selina continued, “I left a note for Jason to call. It’s a long shot, but maybe he and Harvey see each other around the building. He might know something.”
Bruce nodded, but behind his eyes, the Bat-fury flared at the mention of Jason Blood. Blood was the most responsible magic user Batman had encountered, but even he didn’t hesitate to draw on powers that violated the most fundamental laws of nature. And the breaking of Natural Law never came without a price.
Dr. Yarling grumbled as he made his morning rounds, for another one of those damn lists ranking medical programs in major U.S. cities had just come out. At least when it was the New England Journal of Medicine publishing a list, the public at large wasn’t aware. But half the time, Gotham Presbyterian or Gotham Memorial (always rated #1 in oncology) dropped a press release to the Gotham Times, and if it was a slow news day—which yesterday apparently was, damnit—then the whole city read about it. Patients receiving the best care known to modern medicine would start eyeing him like some third world witchdoctor with a bone through his nose.
“Just look at this John Doe,” Yarling thought, glancing over the comatose man’s chart. Good Samaritan performed CPR at the scene of the accident, kept him breathing but wound up pushing a broken rib into the right lung. The ER focused on the punctured lung and then the obvious external bleeding. In the course of that examination, they reached the neck brace that the paramedics attached on the scene to protect the C-spine, and found the more serious bleeding, external and internal, above the neck. Patient Doe had suffered an epidural hematoma, and that’s when Dr. Yarling was brought in. The impact from the car had broken the middle meningeal artery just under the skull, and Patient Doe was bleeding onto his brain. In hours, the weight would have caused serious, permanent injury, and after that, it would have killed him. But Gotham General Hospital was second to nobody in any meaningful use of the word. They found the hematoma within minutes, and Yarling operated: a small hole drilled into the skull just above the temporal bone, the blood evacuated by light suction relieving the pressure on the brain, and the artery repaired.
And yet, when Patient Doe was identified and his family showed up, what were the chances they’d ask about transferring him to Gotham Presbyterian, since they just read in the Gotham Times how good GPH was for head trauma?
There were plenty of times in the old days when Catwoman looked into some incident that caught her interest. It wasn’t crimefighting because, at the same time she was investigating this curious little episode, she was also planning her next assault on the Museum of Modern Art to pick up that darling Chagall and she’d just confirmed Igor’s payment from fencing that tacky ruby tiara in Brussels.
It also wasn’t crimefighting, in the objectionable sense, because she decided what to look into and how. Except for two or three very specific occasions, under unique and highly critical circumstances, she did not take direction from Batman.
Selina had no problem looking into the Harvey situation; he was a friend. She would be investigating on her own if Bruce had never entered the picture. She might even have wound up walking those damn dogs. If her investigation brought her to Harvey’s apartment, which was likely, and she found the whimpering little beasts, what else could she do?
But she would not—repeat, she would not—have zeroed in on that stupid detail about the dogs’ favorite spot to… to “be dogs” being situated near Ivy’s old lair in Robinson Park. That was a particularly Brucian factoid to focus on. That was definitely the World’s Greatest Detective doing his thing, spotting a likely clue with the surest of instincts. It would never have occurred to Selina, since she was 1) not a detective and 2) too caught up in her own misery and degradation walking the damn dogs. She consoled herself with that nodding salute to Two-Face in her inner monologue as she made her second trip into Robinson Park.
Not only would it not have occurred to her that the proximity of Ivy’s lair might be important, if it had, she never would have decided to drop in on Ivy for a chat. It reminded her of an old team up with Batman, when she couldn’t help but feel that he wouldn’t be so insistent about getting the Lorimer Codex by sunrise if he was the one that had to squeeze through that quarter mile vent and negotiate the giant gears over the electrified grid. Unfortunately, given the Harvey/Pammy/Two-Face/Ivy history, Selina couldn’t deny that it was an angle worth looking into. She also couldn’t deny that, with the pheromone history, she should be the one visiting Ivy. It wasn’t a job for Batman any more than scrunching through a vent that he was too big to get into.
So, she was back in the park. Although, between Ivy’s three favorite nooks in Robinson Park, her alternate digs in Riverside Park, and the greenhouse in the flower market, the chances of her being at home were—
“Catty! What a wonderful surprise.”
Jason Blood was the product of another time, an era when, if a lord summoned you to his manor in aide of a quest, you reflected on what you knew of the man while you stood at his gates awaiting admittance.
While Selina’s note was informal and did not include the word “quest,” Jason sensed that the matter was a serious one. Etrigan was maddeningly uninformative, of course. He went on and on about his admiration of Bat and Cat, each capable of such magnificent fury, and each able to concentrate their hatred with such focus on the proper object… It was all very Etrigan, and it was all very lacking in specifics.
It didn’t matter, Jason thought as he knocked again. He would know what this quest was about soon enough, or at least he would know as much as Bruce did. While he waited for his knock to be answered, Jason reflected, as a knight of old, on what he knew of the lord of the manor.
Jason did not share Bruce’s passionate dislike of Magick—although he occasionally wondered why. Given the double wounds inflicted by the first two wizards he encountered, he was certainly entitled to. The deceits of Morgan Le Fey compounded by the lies of omission committed by Merlin… Yes, given the sum damage of the encounters: his soul bound for eternity to a demon of hell, it really was miraculous that he didn’t share Bruce’s fervent contempt for the magickal arts.
Alfred opened the door promptly, and escorted Jason down to the cave. Unfortunately, once there, he had little information to impart:
Yes, he had arranged Harvey Dent’s house-sitting job with Mrs. Sherborn and had been Harvey’s neighbor ever since. He had looked in on Harvey frequently during the first weeks, as the man flatly refused to water Mrs. Sherborn’s plants. Something about a past episode with a sunlamp and a flytrap. Jason didn’t like to pry. As it turned out, most of Mrs. Sherborn’s plants were made of silk. There was only one actual live one, on the terrace, which now resided on Jason’s terrace. No, he had no idea what it was, he wasn’t a botanist. In any case, he still saw Harvey around from time to time, but surely Bruce must appreciate that the conversation in an elevator is very casual. No, he hadn’t seen him for several days, but that really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
Bruce listened attentively, and then, when it became clear that Jason wasn’t going to say anything more, he grunted.
“Alright,” he said quietly. “That’s what you have to tell me as Harvey Dent’s neighbor. Is there anything else you can tell me… in another context?’
Patient Doe was in a coma. On the Glasgow scale, he only exhibited motor responses and eye movement in response to pain, and his verbal responses consisted only of incomprehensible sound. That was an 8 on the GCS, which meant coma, albeit borderline. What troubled Dr. Yarling was the absence of a definite cause. They were monitoring to check that the bleeding had not resumed. There was no reaccumulation of blood under the skull. No infections. The EEG and blood work were fine. But Patient Doe wasn’t waking up.
It was probably the trauma of the accident coupled with the anesthetic from the surgery, but Yarling ordered another round of blood tests anyway. He hated uncertainty, which was a handicap in his profession. And he never, ever liked leaving a life-and-death matter like this up to chance.
Jason looked impassively around the Batcave, then back at Bruce.
“By ‘another context,’ you mean is there anything I can tell you as the magician who brought about Harvey’s healing, anything that could shed some light on the emergence of this new Two-Face and tell you if it’s the same man.”
“Obviously,” Bruce answered in Batman’s edgiest gravel.
“I can only tell you what you already know. Through my error, there was a condition placed on Harvey’s healing: If he ever flipped his coin again to make a decision, if he abdicated his free will and left any decision, no matter how trivial, up to chance, then the healing would be undone. He would have reneged on his bargain with the universe, and his face would be as it was before.”
“Meaning, he’d be Two-Face again.”
“I don’t know,” he said at last. “Probably. Given the division in his mind, his belief that those scars made him Two-Face. That is why making the scars go away enabled him to see Two-Face as gone, banished from his life, so he could live as Harvey Dent once more.”
“But… we get better. Bruce, you and I both know that Two-Face was never a separate individual. He was a part of Harvey’s character, a manifestation of the darkest impulses, but a part of him all the same. There’s always the chance that, living as he has been, Harvey may come to see that. There’s always the chance that, if and when the scars do return, that he’ll be able to deal with it without reverting to a multiple personality.”
“The Two-Face I encountered was very definitely Two-Face. If it was Harvey, he did not ‘get better.’”
“Well, I could always scry for him. A magician is often able to detect his own magicks, and if his face is still healed—”
“No. No more magic. One way or the other, the last thing we need is more of that damn hocus pocus obfuscating reality—what’s so damn funny, Jason?”
Jason controlled his soft chuckle.
“Forgive me, Bruce. I was not laughing at your beliefs. It was that phrase. ‘The last thing we need’ seemed so… reminiscent of the Harvey that was.”
“Crocus flowers are among the earliest to bloom each spring,” Ivy enthused over a number of fresh blossoms. “Those with the sense to pay attention to plants say that the crocus represents perseverance and cheer amidst adversity, since they can even bloom in the snow.”
“Nice, Pammy. But back to people.”
“According to Ovid, the crocus was named for a youth who was transformed into this flower.”
“Yeah, that seems to have happened a lot in Greek mythology. I meant real people.”
Ivy formed the kind of smile with which icebergs might greet each other as they passed in the ocean.
“Crocus was a young man who transformed into a flower because of his unfulfilled love for a nymph called, irony of ironies, Smilax. At the same time, the nymph was transformed into the vine-plant smilax aspera-sarsparilla, a tough little shrub. Glossy, heart-shaped leaves. Greenish-white and greenish-yellow flowers. Blooms August through November. Stubborn. Doesn’t know what’s good for it. Doesn’t know who its friends are. No gratitude when it’s watered, no appreciation if you give it extra sunlight or enriched mulch. I haven’t seen many real people, Catty. I had more than my fill of human company up at Arkham. I just want to be alone for a while.”
“O-kay,” Selina sighed. “Guess I don’t have to ask how Harley is doing. But since you’ve been out, surely you’ve had some human contact. Haven’t you run into anybody? Anybody at all?”
“You’re the first to visit,” Ivy said crisply. “And I suppose you’re just here to invite me to that dreary little club you started to fill the Iceberg void?”
For Harvey’s sake, Selina squelched the angry retort that suggested itself and fell back on her morning alibi.
“Actually, I was doing a little shopping in the old neighborhood, and I saw the most delicious-looking ganache at Maison du Chocolat. You know how I hate indulging in that kind of thing alone, so I thought I’d drop in and see if you wanted to join me on a binge.”
“You… want to go for chocolate? With me?”
“Yes,” Selina lied with the brazen zeal only a true cat can bring to the task. “We had so much fun shoe shopping that time. Remember how we said we simply had to do more ordinary girl stuff together?”
“I prefer RichArt for chocolate,” Ivy said imperiously. “They’re so artistic, the way they decorate them.”
“Well, okay, I don’t know RichArt, but I assume that means they do leaves or flowers or something.”
“N-no, but Maison du Chocolate tends to have women behind the counter, and I don’t like to carry money.”
Selina massaged her forehead, thinking how, whatever it was men experienced in Ivy’s presence, it couldn’t possibly equal the sister rogue experience for incessantly cloying, pain-in-the-ass needy, and exhaustingly passive aggressive.
“It’s my treat. We can go anywhere you want,” she said gamely.
Approximately 3,000 calories later, Selina felt she had softened the ground enough to ask the point-blank question:
“You know, Pammy, Harvey has been living in my old building. Right there on the park, taking regular walks twice a day. You wouldn’t happen to have run into him, would you?”
Ivy froze, mid-bite into a coffee-caramel macaron, and hurriedly swallowed it without chewing.
“Harvey?! No, no, I had no idea. But twice a day, did you say? That’s certainly a good sign. I mean, Catty, think of it. Twice a day, he comes walking in my park—”
“Whoa. No. Stop,” Selina interrupted. She had often mentioned how peculiar Pamela Isley was as a pseudofriend. Right in the middle of being completely detestable, she could step in something that made you almost feel sorry for her. Then, often as not, just when you were ready to give up and admit she was a person with feelings like everyone else and that you did, in fact, feel bad for her, she would do something so obnoxious, you wanted to slap her silly.
“Catty, what is it?” she said, with that creepy vulnerability that always tricked you into pitying her.
“I just don’t want you to get the wrong idea, Pammy. He was going to the park twice a day, but it wasn’t exactly his choice to go twice a day. It’s a house-sitting job, and he has to walk these dogs.”
She looked heartbroken.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get your hopes up,” Selina said miserably.
“Hopes? Why, I have no hopes for Harvey Dent. I don’t care if he lives or dies. I think I’ll try a piece of that Andalouise cake filled with the truffle mousse. And, now that I think of it, I tried to kill him twice. So there you are. I’m not even indifferent. I flat out wanted him dead.”
“She could have been lying,” Bruce said darkly.
“She wasn’t,” Selina insisted. “She hasn’t seen him.”
“And you’re basing this on?”
“The way she was putting away chocolate. That’s not the behavior of woman who just picked up a new boy toy, either with pheromones or the regular way.”
Bruce grunted, and turned back to the viewscreen.
The day gone, and they’d learned nothing. Harvey’s apartment, Harvey’s doorman, Jason, Ivy… nothing.
At least it would be dark soon. Batman could take up the case. He brought up the hologram map of the city, and typed feverishly. Several streets and buildings began to glow a bright blue. Another series glowed white. A third, a muted yellow.
“These are three alternate patrol routes for tonight, drawn from the at-large list and Gotham’s calendar of events.”
He handed Selina a light pen like a surgical nurse handing off a clamp.
“Look it over and let me know which paths an experienced rogue would be most likely to anticipate.”
To be continued…