The caped figure continued to stare silently at the horizon. He didn’t turn, he didn’t speak, he didn’t even grunt. Most people would assume he hadn’t heard. Robin and Nightwing would know that he had, and would assume the lack of response meant he was ignoring them. His teammates in the Justice League would know he had heard too, and they would either take it as a personal insult, because the arrogant Bat was such an elitist shithead that he didn’t think anyone could possibly have anything to say that he didn’t already know, or they would just shrug. Only Catwoman understood the particular gradients of a Bat-silence. That particular one meant he had heard (a given), knew the subject she was about to introduce (always likely), and also that he had been wondering when she was going to get around to it. The lack of a “back off” signal meant that now was as good a time as any and she was free to continue.
“You do realize that this insane scheme of yours forfeits your right to any future proclamations about the Rogue intellect and the screwy perceptions of the criminal mind or the crazy plots they cook up in order—”
“First, this isn’t a scheme.”
“You don’t imagine calling it a protocol will make it any less screwy, do you?”
“It’s not a protocol. It’s not a scheme. It is merely seeking out the individual best qualified to reach Harvey and persuading her to help us.”
“And if that person was Lucius Fox or Claudia Muffington or Eddie or even that two-crazy Dr. Yarling, I’d be right there with you, Handsome. But Ivy? There is no way you can involve that woman without the words ‘screwy scheme’ entering into the conversation.”
Batman looked out at the horizon towards Robinson Park, and then back down at the Flick Theatre, the former Two-Face hideout that now housed the Vault nightclub. The doors opened, and several groups exited at once: Catman with a groupie. Hugo Strange alone. Kiteman and Mad Hatter with two groupies dressed alike in Riddler-themed costumes and matching wigs, like a pair of question mark twins. A DEMON minion followed that group (obviously one of the intelligence-seeking minions, not those who ventured into the Iceberg for un-DEMON-sanctioned recreation). Several Ghost Dragons brought up the rear with a very drunk Scarecrow henchman.
“Last call,” Batman graveled. “The big exodus is starting now. In half an hour, Sly will start ejecting the stragglers. I want to stay until the staff leaves, but you can head home if you want. Get some sleep for tomorrow.”
“No, I’ll stay,” came the instantaneous reply.
“Selina, he’s not going to hit the club tonight. He needs time to assemble his forces. Men and weapons if it’s to be a full out assault, or else—”
“If he’s not hitting it tonight, then why are we here? Hm?”
“That’s what I thought. ‘In case.’ That’s why you’re here. That’s why I’m here. That’s why you’re staying until the last employee has left, and that’s why I’m—”
“Being an utterly impossible woman,” Batman grumbled under his breath.
“Love you too, meow,” she replied crisply.
Below, a dark stretch limousine pulled silently up to the curb just as King Snake left with an entourage of more Ghost Dragons. All but one followed their leader into the car. The one who had lagged behind (just a little too casually to Batman’s eye) now looked around suspiciously, first up and down the street, and then up at the rooftops. Batman took a step back from the edge of the roof to avoid any cape movement giving him away, while the Dragon drifted carelessly (again, it was a bit too carelessly) towards a side door. He opened it… and the waitress Peahen emerged, ending the mini-drama and confirming the detective’s maxim that the simplest explanations are often the most likely. The two of them walked off together, the bar regular placing his hand on the cocktail waitress’s backside as they disappeared together down the street… and Batman grunted.
The simplest explanation is always the most likely.
Yet he had devised the most improbable theories to convince himself the new Two-Face was anyone other than Harvey Dent.
“How’s the arm,” he asked Catwoman abruptly.
“A little stiff. I’m just lucky it’s not my whip arm.”
“You’re lucky about more than that. You should go home. Rest it. Take a painkiller. Get some sleep. The morning is going to be… challenging.”
“Yeah, it is. I think I’ll save the thought of a pain pill for after we’ve seen Poison Ivy.”
Garden apartments are the most coveted dwellings in Gotham City, and the terrace of the Wayne Penthouse, which stretched across a full two faces of the building, was graced with a magnificent assortment of potted trees, shrubs, and flowers, creating a private park of unrivaled beauty. From a distance, Selina appeared to be a picture of contentment as she made the rounds from one terracotta planter to the next. Someone watching from the nearby Moxton Tower, for example, would see only the antique copper watering can in her hand, and her scrutinizing each plant she came to, judging if it appeared healthy or needed a drink. If that someone had binoculars, they would even see her lips moving as if she was talking to the plants as she made her rounds.
Of course, if, in addition to binoculars, the someone also had a radio receiver in his cowl and was, in fact, the party being addressed through the microphone Selina wore, a very different picture would emerge:
..::Not like there’s any shortage of crazy in this business, but inviting Queen Chlorophyll over for breakfast, for Bast’s sake.::..
“You said yourself she’s a morning person,” Batman answered. “Plants and sunlight, remember?”
..::I also said that I could go to her lair like before. I thought the one subject where we were in complete agreement was that Poison Ivy should be kept as far from Wayne-Anything as humanly possible. You don’t want her anywhere near the caves, and I don’t want her anywhere near the gardens, not at the manor and not up here. You remember the last time she came to the penthouse?::..
“Yes, and I want her to remember. I want to tap into those feelings of abandonment that led her to come after Bruce Wayne in the first place. I want her subliminally reminded at every turn. She was desperate, she was lonely, and she was fixating on you as a symbol of what she wanted and didn’t have. All of that works in our favor.”
..::You know, normally I just love it when you’re a heartless, manipulative bastard, but I fail to see how her envying me gets us anywhere.::..
“Because you can’t do this, only she can. You have to ask her for help. If her positive feelings for Harvey aren’t enough, maybe her negative ones for you will help it along.”
..::Why do I have a feeling the next thirty minutes are going to top the knife twisting in my arm for the shittiest part of this adventure.::..
“I think we both know what the ‘shittiest’ part of this is.”
..:: … ::..
“Did you get any sleep last night?”
“Stand by. There’s a green cab pulling into Wayne Plaza.”
..::Sounds like showtime.::..
“… Negative. It’s a man getting out. False alarm.”
..::Figures. Goddesses seldom arrive early.::..
“Just as well. Gives us a chance to review the plan one last time. The key to persuading a personality like Isley’s—”
..::Hey, Sensei, may I remind you that my people were singing The Ballad of Humoring Pamela back when your crowd thought it was as simple as ‘plant woman enslaves men with pheromones?’::..
“The key to persuading a personality like Isley’s is making her see it’s in her best interests, not his or ours. Appeal to her self-love, her desire for personal gratification, the need to be the center of the drama.”
..::In other words, tell her the truth. She is the only one who has an intimate connection with both Harvey and Two-Face, before the acid and after. She is the woman for the job. It’s not a subtle point of ‘rogue psychology’; it’s the simple fact. That really isn’t the stumbling point, in my opinion.::..
“And what, in your opinion—”
..::She might think the new guy is an improvement.::..
..::She’s had all Harvey. She’s had half-and-half. She might think all Two-Face and no Harv is the cat’s me—::..
“Stand by. Another cab… A woman getting out this time, wide brim hat… red hair, long raincoat…”
..::Then it’s five minutes to curtain. Funny, I remember this moment being more fun.::..
Batman listened intently as the private elevator made its ascent. He listened to the discreet ping as the doors opened, and the strained “good mornings” the women exchanged on their way out to the terrace. Predictably, Ivy didn’t comment on Selina’s bandaged arm. It would have been the obvious social gesture with anyone else. It would have provided a natural, easy opening for the delicate subject that had to be introduced. But Pamela Isley was not anyone else. It was doubtful she even noticed a detail so wholly unconnected with herself.
She did scan all the greenery the moment she stepped onto the terrace, just as Selina predicted. If there had been any cut flowers or wilted leaves, she certainly would have commented. As it was, she merely looked them over and then turned her attention to the breakfast.
“I see we’re consuming all manner of slaughtered wheat, fruit, and coffee beans this morning,” she said, sitting and crossing her legs regally.
“Unless you'd prefer murdered tea leaves,” Selina said sweetly, handing her a plate to help herself. Following her eyes to the basket of breakfast breads, she added wickedly “The dearly departed in bagel form are from Pola’s, and the scones and danish are from Brez Bakery.”
Batman was amused to see that even Poison Ivy was Gothamite enough to take a Pola’s bagel onto her plate. Once the coffee was poured, and the obvious small talk about the weather and the view had exhausted itself, Selina cleared her throat.
“I know you’ve been looking for Harvey,” she said bluntly.
“What if I have,” came the too careless reply. “If I decide to look up an old friend after our last meeting, I can’t see where it’s any of your business, Catty.”
“Pamela, I asked you over today. I invited you into my home, and I clearly went to two different bakeries to put this spread together for you. So does this sound like an unpleasant, talk-to-the-claw confrontation, or does it sound like a friendly, well-meaning chat?”
“Your home? How you do rub it in, Catty. Reminding me that you have the biggest tree in the forest providing you with all this green and shade for the asking, when the best I could procure from him was a lousy Whitman Sampler.”
“I certainly wasn’t going to go there, Pammy, but since you brought it up, fine. Let’s talk about the difference between a man who’s been greened and the one who chooses to be with you of his own free will. You’ve been looking for Harvey. Could we please dispense with all the passive-aggressive bullshit where you pretend it’s all the same to you if they want to be with you or just have a noseful of pollen and can’t even—oh hell, is that a cape?!”
Ivy scrutinized the horizon where Selina was pointing, a full 120 degrees from the rooftop where Batman was really lurking. She saw nothing and said so. The women sat down again, and after a minute of silent munching, the conversation resumed.
“Very well. I will concede that I have been looking for Harvey, just to get back in touch, mind you. It has been a few months, and I thought it would be nice to see how he’s getting along. Although I still can’t see why that concerns you, Catty.”
“Because you didn’t find him and I did,” Selina said gently. “Pam, I saw him yesterday. He gave me this.” She pointed to the bandage high on her left arm, and left the implication unspoken.
“No. No, that’s ridiculous,” Ivy said dismissively.
“It was a lot of things, ‘ridiculous’ is not one of them. Pam, what I saw was Two-Face, all Two-Face. The scars are back, and the manner was… He wasn’t ‘of two minds,’ as he used to say.”
“What do you mean?” Ivy asked, knowing perfectly well what was meant.
“I mean, all ‘Darth Duplicity.’ No Harvey. No Harvey at all, do you understand? Harvey Dent has left the building.”
“Ivy? Earth to Poison—”
“I hear you just fine, Catty. Don’t go on so. I believe there is a cape blowing in the wind over there, now that I give it a closer look. You should go over and, and scrutinize it or something. Make sure that awful Bat isn’t about to swing in and interrupt our lovely little breakfast.”
The voice trilled erratically as she spoke, the kind of charged build that, in any other woman, hints at a flood of tears ready to pour forth and only being held back by the hysterical application of pride, will, and bluff. In Ivy’s case… it might well mean the same thing, and Selina wasn’t about to take chances. Obediently, she went to the edge of the terrace and stared into space. She knew she was looking in nearly the opposite direction from Batman’s real position on the Moxton roof, but she also knew he was listening and watching. She would have given anything to be able to see what he was seeing behind her, and to know what he was thinking.
Over the next thirty minutes, Selina would reflect that there is a very good reason “cat and mouse” is the classic contest. Not, say, “cat and plant.” There were certainly timeless paradigms to be studied in the cat when she had a proper foil, but with plants… Oh hell, the truth was dealing with Poison Ivy was too exhausting to work up a decent cat metaphor. She fought down the urge to hiss, and tried, yet again, to introduce the pertinent facts.
“Pammy, I know you and Two-Face didn’t have the easiest relationship, but it does seem like every time you broke up, however ugly it was, you always got back together. There must have been something you kept going back for, right?”
“Well, Two-Face was a perfectly vile specimen of the male animal. That predisposition to, you know, think with the penis. All bluster and bravado to glorify their inadequacies.” She sighed pityingly before explaining. “Rather than grace them with the ability to create life, they were given only a sad little flap of extra flesh. Rather than admit Nature, in her infinite wisdom, gave them the short end of the stick—”
“So to speak,” Selina interrupted with a naughty grin… but Ivy ignored her.
“—they build their entire civilization around swords, skyscrapers, and utility belts. It’s really quite telling.”
Selina scratched her nose, positioning her hand carefully to block the Moxton Tower’s view of her lower face.
“Yes, okay, men as a species, right ho. But about Harvey.”
Ivy sighed again, this time without the pity.
“Harvey had his moments when he was… not entirely unappealing. He was very confident, probably just because he was so good-looking, you know, before… He was terribly handsome. Catty. And you know how it is when they look like movie stars. A few easy successes early on, they develop such egos. But, still, that self-assurance is rather… I wouldn’t want to use the word ‘sexy’ but… well, anyway, why dwell on it.”
“Why indeed. You like him, Pamela. You like him so much that it trumps the fact that he’s a man. Someone you care about is in serious trouble, and you’re probably the only person in the world that knows the real Harvey, before the acid and after, to be able to reach him right now. That’s why it’s worth talking about.”
“Oh come now, Catty. Harvey and I may have… visited each other’s lairs on occasion… overnight… but we were certainly never friends. You’re the one he doted on like some revolting little sister and—”
Selina pointed to her arm.
“I’m the one he stabbed, Pammy. Obviously, when he greets me with a knife in the arm, it’s a pretty good sign that I’m not the one he needs to see. You’re his best hope. Maybe his only hope. Honestly, if you don’t care enough to roll up your sleeves and do whatever it takes to get through to him, I don’t think we have much chance of getting him back.”
“Oh come on, Pammy, we’re not going to do this again, are we?”
“Selina,” she began, biting her lip thoughtfully as she fought the impulse to make a terrible confession. “You wouldn’t have any way of knowing this, but after we had split and after his face was healed, Harvey came to see me one night at my lair. He told me that he only took up with me after the acid because… because ‘Darth’ got off on it. Making the woman who once tried to kill Harvey the District Attorney cry out his name in the throes of a screaming—”
“Too much information, Pam!”
“Ahem, yes… well… you get the picture. It was just Two-Face’s sadistic idea of fun. There was no affection—”
“Certainly not on Harvey’s side—”
“Harvey was ‘Darth.’ Darth was a part of Harvey. He never thought of it that way, because he couldn’t. He had to hide it from himself, the dark impulses he had. He had to rationalize it, dressing it up in a “Darth Duality” costume. But every single time Two-Face came back to you, it was because a piece of Harvey wanted to. It was Harvey coming back, no matter how he explained it, to himself or to you. It was the real Harvey, the whole one you knew before the acid. That guy.”
“The ‘Dentmeister,’” she said with a wistful smile.
At that moment, the shadow of a Bat-grapnel passed over the table between them. Both women looked equally piqued as it clamped onto the mount for a security camera over the terrace, trailing a thin filament of Batline behind it.
“That’s just what we need,” Selina muttered, as Batman swung onto the terrace.
He had landed some distance away, where it was doubtful he could hear. But all Rogues of Poison Ivy’s stature knew he could read lips. Hers curled into a wicked smile as she murmured:
“And he’s out in daylight. I don’t suppose we can hope he’ll spontaneously combust in the sunlight, like Dracula in those old movies. Leave you with a nice little pile of Bat-ash, it would make wonderful fertilizer for that plum tree.”
Both women smiled and giggled, giving the impression of a knowing, girlish conspiracy.
“Catwoman, a word in your ear,” Batman announced, just loud enough to be heard.
Selina got up with a smile that rivaled Ivy’s for wicked mischief.
“Nice to see he’s shined the belt for the occasion,” she whispered, and Ivy’s discreet giggle gave way to a strident guffaw.
Selina approached him with more hipsway than she normally indulged in without the costume.
When she was close enough to be addressed, Batman spoke just loud enough that perhaps one word in three could be heard by someone seated as far away as Ivy was—assuming she was listening intently.
“I went to great lengths to keep Two-Face’s appearance at the hospital out of the news,” he said sternly. “There were no witnesses other than the doctor and the paramedic he knocked out when he stole the ambulance. They’ve both agreed to keep it quiet. I want you to do the same.”
“I wasn’t planning on holding a press conference,” Selina said acidly.
Batman very clearly glanced over at Ivy, and then looked back at her.
“Yes, I am telling Pamela, that is none of your concern.”
“None of my—Ivy?! Ivy, the psychotically self-absorbed?! You’re damn right it’s my concern, Catwoman. Of all the worst possible people to open up to—a woman who doesn’t have an iota of concern for anyone other than herself, least of all Har—”
“OH, YES I DO!” Ivy shouted, jumping to her feet.
She marched fiercely across the terrace and poked Batman squarely in the chest as she continued:
“And what a typical man! WHAT a TYPICAL… MAN! As if you know anything at all about my feelings or any woman’s. I am VERY FOND of Harvey Dent. VERY fond. And he is quite fond of me, I’ll have you know, you, you caped… weed! Two-Face is a part of Harvey Dent. And he came back to me, time after time, every time we broke up, back he came. That means it was his choice. Harvey’s. The real Harvey. He wanted to come back to me and he did. So there.”
Batman did nothing more than take a breath prior to responding, when she began again.
“And another thing! I know him better than any of you. I’m probably the only person in the world that knows the real Harvey Dent, before the acid and after. I’m the one who can reach him right now. I’m his best hope. And when someone I care about is in serious trouble, I am going to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!”
Once again, before Batman could do more than open his mouth to reply, Ivy poked him in the chest and resumed.
“The very last thing that poor, troubled man needs right now is you and your snarling interference. I will deal with this. So there.”
This time, Batman waited.
This time, Ivy didn’t speak.
This time, the moment held.
Eyes locked. Eyes narrowed. Eyes glared.
An inventive observer might imagine they heard the whippoorwill from a Clint Eastwood Western.
Realizing that someone would have to speak eventually, Selina cleared her throat.
“Pamela, um, I’m not happy to be taking Batman’s side here, but think about it. You can’t green him. We need Harvey back, not just his dick.”
“I am perfectly capable of reaching him without resorting to pheromones,” Ivy said crisply.
Selina looked at Batman.
“I am!” Ivy insisted.
Batman looked at Selina.
“I AM!” Ivy repeated.
“Well… not like we’ve got anything to lose by trying,” Selina admitted.
“A sad commentary on our circumstances,” Batman declared.
“I’ll show you both,” Ivy decreed. “I am going to find Harvey Dent. I am going to reach him as only I can, and so help me, I am going to return him to Gotham City in better condition than he has ever been!”
To be continued…