… … … … :: Duty Log: Catwoman :: … … …
I did it. I demoted Victor’s freeze ray to a back row knick-knack and put something of mine in the long display case in the trophy room. I figured as long as I’m participating in this ridiculous exercise, I may as well make my mark down here. His cave. Grunt. I dare him to move it. I dare him. I’m out there fighting crime, for Bast’s sake; I’m leaving my mark. I earned it too. If that freeze ray is a trophy, the Iceberg souvenir glass is a goddamn badge of honor.
It started at a cute hole-in-the-wall in SoHo that was once called Gallery Blu. They had some of the worst security in the city for a high-end retailer, and I wasn’t surprised to learn they were a front for the Russian mob. The losses from all the uninsured artworks going missing helped their fictional bookkeeping look legit, and looking back, I’m sure there were items they imported just for me. In any case, I was a frequent visitor and Gallery Blu saw its share of Bat/Cat action.
They went under a few years ago. At first, a coffee shop moved into the space. Then a photo development lab, a used record store, a hair salon, and finally, it opened its doors once again under a nondescript sign reading only “SVC.” I was curious and checked the back door where deliveries were accepted. There, it was a smaller sign reading “Samovar Vodka Club.” Call me crazy, but I couldn’t help thinking maybe the Russians were back. So I went snooping.
There are two distinct groups within the Russian mob, and unlike similar organizations, the two sides seem to get along pretty well. The Georgians are into the nasty stuff: guns, drugs, human trafficking, and murder for hire. The Odessa crowd are all business: loan sharking, money laundering, and a controlling interest in most of the big cons. What I found at SVC seemed like the Odessa side of the business. Boxes of prepaid phone cards, maps of the city marked up in various ways, and a lot of real estate titles and paperwork. I took some pictures, sent them to Oracle, and was ready to move on when I spotted an Iceberg napkin.
Now, the Iceberg is like any other bar in that it has its name and logo printed on the cocktail napkins, and Oswald is a proud little bird. He appears prominently in the logo, his Penguin silhouette framing the words “Iceberg Lounge” on both sides. On this napkin, there were six arrows practically carved into the napkin with a deep, menacing stroke, all pointed at the left profile’s head. The other profile had a no smoking circle over the head and a nasty line sliced through the neck. Along the top, the word “NO” was repeated six times, the last ones thicker and deeper, like the letters had been traced over many times.
When this place was Gallery Blu, it excelled at exhibiting artworks where a simple image told a complicated story. This napkin would not have looked out of place in that exhibit. It didn’t take any great detective skill to see the story being told, it only took a pair of working eyes, a working imagination, and a nodding acquaintance with the people involved. Someone had been sitting in the Iceberg for hours, stewing with dissatisfaction that slowly deepened into malice—and that malice centered on Oswald. My gut said they had gone to see him for something; that was the arrows on the left—“This is the guy to talk to”—and when he said no, that’s when they moved to the vicious mutilating on the right.
That part was only guesswork of course. The only way to find out more was to… to somehow find out more. I started in the obvious places: Odessa thugs aren’t exactly night people, but the Georgian crowd is up until dawn. I went up to Brighton Beach where they’re clustered, and picked off one at a time as they left this club or entered that one. Getting one isolated and vulnerable in an alley, that was easy. Getting one to talk, that is all but impossible.
It’s not that I’m weak and dainty when it comes to intimidation. In some ways, I’m better at it than Batman. Pointy claws dangled too near an eyeball, coupled with a villain’s reputation as opposed to a hero’s, it works. But not with those guys. The old world Russians, they don’t spook. They simply don’t. You have to figure after KGB, former KGB going freelance, gulags, and Georgian death squads, a guy in a mask isn’t all that scary. Gotham’s Finest are an actual joke, and as for costumed villains, well, let’s just say that, given what goes on in some of those Eastern European prisons, “died laughing” seems like a pretty good deal.
I was getting nowhere with Boris, Aleksei, and Gania, so I decided to try the other side of the equation. By then, Oracle had figured out the phone cards and was halfway through the real estate scam. She said she’d have the whole story by the time I reached the Iceberg.
Now obviously I wasn’t going to barge in like a vigilante and start knocking over furniture or beating up henchmen to get information. I was going to do what I always do: go inside, give Raven a warm smile, big tip for Sly, order myself a martini, and get what I was after—my way.
I thought I would give Batman’s alibi a little polish while I was at it. The Batmobile was making its rounds, like always, but it’s been a week since anyone has seen him. They haven’t noticed; it’s not like we’re a hive mind. As a rule, nobody goes racing to the Iceberg after a bat encounter. Quite the reverse: if the encounter doesn’t go well, you keep it to yourself. And from the Rogue POV, it usually doesn’t go well.
But anyway, I figured I’d take a few preventative measures since I had the chance. I broke off two claw tips on my right hand—that’s the martini-holding hand and the one that drops the twenty into the tip jar, sure to be noticed by Sly. I already had a broken batarang with me. I inserted one half into the heel of my boot (I knew Talon would be on the door tonight, and he’s a leg man), and the other half wedged neatly into my whip holster, where Crow (an ass man if ever there was one) was sure to see it. Tada! And meow. Without my saying a word, everyone would connect the dots and—Tada and Meow—there’s officially been a bat sighting tonight without anyone actually reporting one.
Back to business (grunt). I went to the bar, and all I could find out from Sly was that Roxy was playing chicken with the Redbird, zigged when she should have zagged, and put her rocket into the 10th Avenue bridge. All I could find out from the henchman was that there had been a mysterious shift in the suck up wind, and for some reason, Harley Quinn was the new ass to kiss. None of them knew why, but being the kind of pliable numbskulls that normally go into henching, they were still ready to bend down and pucker simply because of a vague impression based on a half-heard story told by someone that didn’t know any more than they did. Honest to God, these guys deserve to get pummeled.
Anyway, the bar was a waste of time, so I took my drink into the dining room and wandered. Jervis is still up the river, (courtesy of Huntress. Ouch.) so there’s no gossip on tap ‘til next week… Eddie was chatting up a groupie, so I let him be for the time being… And that left Victor Frieze, who’s a nice enough guy if a bit of a downer… and Jonathan Crane, who is not a nice guy but who is better informed than most rogues. I went to his table, Blake snarled as I passed, and I hissed and kicked his chair.
Broke the ice with Jonathan, saying what nice weather we’d been having and what a big crowd there was tonight, and he scooted over citing the batarang sticking out of my holster. Normally it would be rude to mention a severed batarang protruding from the hip of a fellow rogue unless they brought it up first, but Jonathan’s costume is mostly straw and he was just trying to avoid getting sliced. Anyway, the ice broken and the straw spill averted, we got down to business:
Oswald was the source of the Harley Quinn suck up initiative. Apparently it all dates back to the rebuild. There’s always been a fair amount of gambling in the Iceberg back rooms: blackjack, roulette, couple slots, and the best sports betting concession in the city. When Ozzy rebuilt after the fire, he ordered the same slot machines that he had in the old ‘Berg. Same company, same machines—but a new design. Each and every one of the new slots is decorated with a grinning white-faced clown. Leaving Oswald “wedged between two frights,” as Jonathan put it. Fright 1, the obvious: No one knows how Joker might react. Grinning clown slot machines, the mind reels! But for Oswald, Fright 2 is just as bad: if he gets rid of the machines, he would be messing with the delicate balance of a gambling den. Gamblers are temperamental and very, very superstitious. If Cluemaster pulled a slot before hitting it big on the ‘05 Rose Bowl, then they all have to play that machine before placing a bet. Take away their good luck charm, the whole operation could implode. So, until he could find slots of the same size and general appearance that weren’t covered in wicked-looking clowns, Oswald had hired Harley to keep Joker out of the back room. Some henchman overheard a snatch of conversation or glimpsed one of the payoffs, and runaway imagination took care of the rest.
Which was all very entertaining, but it didn’t tell me a thing about the Russians or what Oswald might have done to cross them.
It occurred to me that, while Scarecrow didn’t have any actual information to help me, he might just have something else. After all, the reason I couldn’t get anywhere with the Russians was because it’s hard to intimidate someone who’s survived horrors you can’t even imagine. With Jonathan’s bag of tricks, that little advantage becomes moot; in fact, it can become a huge liability.
Downside, Jonathan isn’t into sharing. And even if he was, I’ve set him on fire too many times to turn around and ask a favor. That left me with only one way to proceed. It would require finesse, felinity, and also, walking a very dangerous line.
By now, Eddie had finished with his groupie and was free to chat. I let Jonathan see that I had noticed but was making no move to leave. He knows Riddler and I are tight, and he leapt to the obvious conclusion that if I was choosing his company over Eddie’s, I must want something. I admitted it—the trick with Jonathan is you must never insult his intelligence. He’s crazy but he’s not stupid, and if he figures out you’re trying to play him, it’s nightmare city.
So I admitted it, straight away. Yes, I wanted something. I said I was a little nervous about asking him because of the aforementioned setting on fire, but that I was absolutely certain this was something he would like to help with. That’s important, because the bait I was getting ready to dangle, he would find irresistible, and anyone who knows him would know that.
He raised an eyebrow—which, under that straw mask, is one of the creepiest brow-raises in the city. There’s no way a smooth, sexy, graphite cowl can compete with all that tattered canvas and straw, it’s just ICK! But anyway, I knew the clock was ticking. He was suspicious, and that’s as dangerous as he gets. I had to spit out what I wanted before he decided to gas first and ask questions later.
So I quickly told him about this fraternity on the Hudson U campus, and he started to relax right away. His hate-on for Hudson University is the stuff of legend, and now that he knew WHY I thought my little project would interest him, he was ready to listen. This fraternity has a reputation for being “sick pups,” and the rumor is that when they initiate little sisters each year, they bring in a cute little kitten. Sit the girls on the floor around this dark blanket, and let the girls play with the kitty for a few minutes. Then they pull back the blanket to reveal a boa constrictor which promptly eats the poor little thing!
Needless to say, I paid these sociopaths a visit years ago and put an end to the practice in a way they won’t soon forget. But I didn’t go into that with Jonathan. I just told the story as if I was only finding out about it now, and he readily agreed that fear toxin served up by a whip-wielding cat was just what the Hudson scum deserved. He gave me a gas pellet, instructions on how to use it, and in an absolutely unprecedented moment of normalcy, he offered to buy my drink. (A fairly meaningless gesture, since he doesn’t pay his tab and I drink off a $30,000 credit from Oswald’s botched fencing of the Rosenthal rubies, but still, a gesture is a gesture.)
I stopped at Eddie’s table. Once again, Blake snarled as I passed, and once again I hissed and kicked his chair. Eddie asked what Crane and I had been huddling about, and I hissed yet again, this time to let Eddie know whatever I was doing with Jonathan was none of his business. Then I asked what he knew about the Russians, which, okay, I should have known better. Twenty minutes of mind-numbing trivia about matryoshka dolls, Tartars, Napoleon, caviar, the 1812 Overture, the October Revolution, vodka, snow, Rasputin, Siberia, the Moscow Arts Theatre, the Bol’shoi ballet, expatriate ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Fisher-Spassky match, Tolstoy, Chekov, Gorky, Lenin, and borscht… I heard more about Greta Garbo’s performance in Ninotchka (and how superior the 1939 classic is to the 1957 musical adaptation Silk Stockings) than one human being should have to listen to in a single lifetime. I was beginning to think I’d ruptured Jonathan’s gas bulb and the whole thing was a toxin-induced nightmare, when he actually came up with something useful: Bat’s Keg, Eddie’s little anagramming pet name for KGBeast.
Now, Beast really isn’t a guy you want to deal with if you can avoid it. He’s a Cassieque killing machine without the cute. But I’ve always felt that, as programmed killing machines go, they scraped the bottom of the barrel with Azrael. Once you’ve choked down that one, you can take the others. So I say hi to Beast when I see him. “Nice night,” “nice weather,” that kind of thing. I think as much as he tolerates anyone, he tolerates me. So I told Eddie to finish my martini and had Wren send a few vodka shots over to Beast.
Russians have firm views about drinking alone (alcoholism) versus drinking socially (indispensible aspect of the life experience, vital for sustaining the human spirit through the long, hard winter). So Beast was fine with my sitting down at his booth and doing a shot with him. He even had a name—the name—for me to talk to about the Samovar Club. Only catch was, he wasn’t giving it away. He wanted something in return, and as someone who has Oswald’s ear, he figured I was just the gal to provide it.
It seems that KGBeast has a metal plate in his head. I didn’t ask for details beyond that. Unlike career crimefighters, I am a firm believer in the principle of Too Much Information. What kind of plate it is, what it’s made of, who put it there, what it’s for, these are not things Kitty needs to know. The salient point was, he has this metal plate, and every time he comes to the Iceberg since the rebuild, Oswald’s anti-bugging equipment plays hell with it. It was fine at the old Iceberg, and it was fine at Vault. But in the new building, he says he’ll be sitting there minding his own business, and all of a sudden his ears start ringing, or he gets a funny metallic taste in his mouth and starts picking up WCDE. He said the DJ on their late night jazz show has a sexy voice, but he still wanted it to stop.
So I went to Oswald… Brought him an igloo, bought one for myself, and I even paid the extra $3.50 for the souvenir glass. Ozzy may have appreciated the compliment, but he wasn’t willing to risk turning off the counter surveillance equipment for however long it might take to find the problem. He said he’d given Beast an Iceberg discount card, 10% off, Sunday-Thursday, to compensate for the inconvenience. He offered me the same thing when he botched the Rosenthal rubies. Idiot.
Anyway, I knew for a fact that the Bat Family has enough to keep them busy right now without pressing their ears against the Iceberg walls. It was actually the perfect time for Oswald to turn off the machinery, if only he knew. So I hinted that I had a little escapade in progress that would be occupying Batman’s attention for the next few days. (Note to self, pick up more of that herbal massage oil he likes and stop at La Perla for something lacy).
Ozzy immediately started maneuvering to fence whatever catworthy prize I came away with after this “escapade,” and I told him it wasn’t the sort of loot he could sell. That made him grouchy, and he said even with Batman’s attention diverted elsewhere, it was still too much trouble to recalibrate the anti-bugging equipment. He would only consider it if he could –kwak– kill two birds with one stone. If he was going to mess with the electricity and open up the walls, he wanted to replace the chandelier. He hated the new one –kwak– it looked like a chandelier. He wanted ice stalactites like he used to have. Unfortunately, Victor Frieze was unwilling to use the freeze ray on his behalf.
So it was back to the bar to get yet another igloo in yet another tacky souvenir glass. Brought that one to Victor. (I have no more respect for crimefighters than I did yesterday, but I was starting to develop a deep appreciation for what cocktail waitresses must go though). Anyway, Victor’s issue wasn’t the initial building of the ice chandelier. Seemed like all you needed for that was this dayglow liquid they sell at party supply stores, a garden hose, some food coloring, and a freeze ray. Pump-blast-pump-blast-pump-blast, and viola! You’ve got this enormous white ice stalactite flanked by two smaller blue ones, giving off just enough glow to justify their place in the center of the ceiling.
The problem, from Victor’s point of view, came later. The Iceberg averages eight or ten fracases a week, and at least one good size brawl. The chandelier is always losing a chunk to a Demon saber, a ninja star, or Harley firing a warning shot. Those constant repairs were a pain, and Oswald wasn’t exactly appreciative. He always gave Victor a discount card, 10% off Sunday-Thursday. Victor says he has 130 of them.
So I asked him what it would take to get him on board, and he said he wanted “A Living Lair.” As everyone knows, Victor has a hard time holding on to henchmen. He’s not a particularly vicious boss. He doesn’t go shooting the help for no reason or anything like that. But the nature of his condition is… well, it is what it is. He goes through life in a sub-zero cold suit. It’s not like it would ever occur to him to trick out a lair with creature comforts. That, plus the occasional thirty-degree dip in temperature if any piece of equipment malfunctions—a thirty-degree dip that Victor himself isn’t aware of until somebody tells him… It’s not a great gig.
So apparently, Victor read this article on Bill Gates’s house: how everyone in the household wears a tag that identifies them, and a central computer tracks them through the building and presets everything from the temperature and lighting to the pictures on the walls to match their personal preferences. He wanted a system like that for his lair, and, of course, Riddler was the only possible person to set it up.
So I went back to Eddie’s table. No drinks this time. Just:
That got his attention.
I progressed to a naughty grin and added “Chain knot.”
“Sit down, Ninotchka,” he said with a happy laugh. “You got any more?”
“I got ‘Long Kiss Ticks’ for Silk Stockings,” I told him. “But it sounds kind of disgusting.”
He agreed and said selecting the best root word to anagram was always the hardest part. I sat down, and seeing as it was Eddie, I didn’t bother being cutesy. I came right out and told him what I wanted. And he… did the same thing.
He wanted a straight answer. Why the sudden interest in Russians? Why I was holding secret meetings with Scarecrow? Why I was brokering deals for Victor Frieze?
“SURPRISE!” I told him. “It’s your birthday present. A treasure trove of riddles to ponder, and tonight is only the beginning.”
“My birthday isn’t for two months yet,” he said.
“That’s why it’s a surprise,” I purred.
He thought it over. I could tell he wasn’t convinced, but… but I’m a villainess and not a heroine, and Eddie is only a man. I crossed my legs, I did the head tilt and the warm smile, and then I met his eyes and let it all fade.
“Please Eddie, I need this. I've been running around this nutfarm all night, downing martinis, delivering vodka shots and igloos, and all I've got for my trouble is three—count ’em, three—of those stupid souvenir glasses and a fear gas chaser.”
“You don’t fight fair,” he muttered, breaking eye contact and fixating on my legs—and I knew I had him. He’s a man. He’s the best rogue in the business, but he is a man, and there’s only so much those tripods can take. I let the top calf rub the bottom ever so gently at the knee, and he swallowed.
The end. The dominos started falling, just like that: Eddie agreed to fix up Victor’s lair, Victor agreed to make and maintain Oswald’s chandelier, Oswald agreed to fix the anti-bugging equipment for KGBeast, and Beast gave me the name of an Iranian, one Ben Soleimani, who lives above a caviar import front called Dilmanian and knew absolutely everything there was to know about the Russian mobs in Gotham.
Iranians who have made it to the States rank right up there with Russians for being all but bulletproof when it comes to interrogations. They’ve seen worse and survived worse than I could dream up in my worst nightmare. So I went in expecting a battle of wills. I went in hoping it would be enough to threaten the fear gas and that I wouldn’t have to actually use it. Turned out, I didn’t need to do that much. Soleimani assumed Catwoman had come to steal his caviar. He was quite happy to trade information to “buy back” the inventory he couldn’t afford to lose. And at $1000 a tin for the good stuff, it took quite a lot to dissuade me. So…
The phone cards are legit—but not for long. Odessa sets up these front companies, gets a line of credit, and buys enormous quantities of some prepaid item, like these phone cards. Naturally, they never pay off the loan, and the phone company will turn off the cards as soon as the front goes into default. But by that time, the cards are already sold. Not huge money, but respectable. After all, not every heist can be a Monet.
The real estate swindle is much bigger. A con man poses as a credit counselor and gets distressed homeowners to sign over the titles “temporarily” as a good faith gesture to their creditors. Other half of the operation “sells” the property, getting buyers to agree to below-foreclosure prices with an extra $50-100,000 paid under the table in cash to reduce the taxes and commissions. By the time the paperwork on the actual sale trainwrecks, their guy is long gone with the cash.
As Soleimani said, it’s all very smart and very low risk—which is why they were not keen on doing business with “Rasputin's penis.”
Yeah. Mhm. Rasputin’s penis.
I really thought I was the one person on either side of the gameboard that knew how to deal with Batman in any situation. It’s always come so naturally to me, long before “My name is Bruce.” But I have no idea how to tell him this.
Batman, Darling, love of my life, I seem to have identified the hidden menace behind this case I’m investigating, and, well, it’s Ra’s al Ghul—but wait, that’s not the funny part. Now now, Bruce, let me finish. Yes, I said the funny part, because—Yes, Bruce, I know you think nothing about Ra’s is funny, but that’s only because you haven’t heard this—Turns out, our friends in the Russian mob, in a feat of Slavic-Kievan psycholinguistic confusion that defies comprehension, have come around to calling him “Rasputin’s penis.”
What happened, according to Soleimani, is this: Batman once again shut down a vital piece of DEMON’s western operations (old news), namely the smuggling in of agents through Gotham City ports. Ra’s approached Odessa to fill the void. In the old days, they smuggled in all sorts of things. Ah yes, they certainly did/nostalgic reminiscence all around about the golden age of Gotham crime—but alas, in the old days, none of the contraband needed to breathe. DEMON agents do not fall into that category.
So the answer was no, but Ra’s isn’t someone you say no to, so Odessa sent him to the Georgians. The ugliest part of their operation is human trafficking. They smuggle in women by the dozen to be whores, and a DEMON minion wouldn’t eat any more or take up any more space in a cargo hold.
The Georgians wouldn’t go for it. They may be scum, but they’re worldly scum and they know that zealots are trouble. Zealots that follow a guy who doesn’t die when you kill him, that’s not even worth considering. Nyet, nyet, nyet, nyet, nyet.
But, once again, Rasputin’s penis isn’t someone you say nyet to. So the Georgians went to the one man in Gotham who still makes a tidy sum from smuggling: Oswald. Ozzy has always had a healthy respect for the fundamentals. They’re not flashy, they’re not sexy, they’re not new, but they are important. Smuggling is good business, and Ozzy is a good businessman. But as a good businessman, he saw the Ra’s deal the same way Odessa did: Nyet, nyet, nyet, nyet, nyet. (Well, Oswald wouldn’t have said “nyet,” but he would have kwaked. Hee hee.)
I’m getting punchy. I’m tired, I’m sore, and I’m not sure where to go from here. I found out how Ozzy honked off the Russians and I found out what Ra’s is up to—Go Kitty—but I have no idea what to do about it.
I’m sure Bruce will have ninety thoughts on the subject, but I’d like to come up with at least one on my own before I go up and tell him.
Time for a cocoa break.
… … …
… :: Duty Log: Batman :: … … …
Last week, I was surprised she filled out the log at all. Fully expected, regardless of numerous attempts to impress upon her the importance of the log for archival purposes and personal discipline, that this would be one of those areas where “Kitty” would stare, all smiles, and start to scratch the sofa. I set up the remote anyway, to flag my palm unit in case she did open the log to make a token entry and enable me to read along as she types. That she is keeping the log at all is a welcome surprise. That she is embracing the full “mental download” benefits as a means to sort through the night’s events while they are fresh in the mind, that exceeds expectations. This entry, however… stupefies.
Note: cross check Robin’s log and see if his account of the Roxy incident tallies with the story Catwoman heard from Sly.
Note: check Oracle log and see if she completed investigation into the real estate swindle. If so, see if her findings on that and the phone cards tally with what CW learned from Soleimani.
Note: learn status of fear gas capsule obtained from Crane, confiscate for study if possible.
Note: Have Oracle check into the Living House setup/configs from Gates. Potential for locating/disabling Frieze’s lairs in the future.
Note: Check on Iceberg's current anti-bugging setup. Need to update Batcomputer with latest info on the 'Berg + frequency/modulation; intel may be helpful in dealing with KGBeast in the future.
Note: Nigma. It isn’t over. She left him with a question mark, and that’s what he does. Project probable scenarios. Construct protocols for same.
note ::Encryption matrix Alpha36:: Appalled she spent so much of a
“patrol” at the Iceberg drinking and socializing with the most wanted list.
Not to mention, she seems to have facilitated more for my enemies in one
night of “crimefighting” than in her entire stint as “Queen of the
Underworld.” And yet, I cannot deny her effectiveness. It can take six
months to whittle away the layers of misdirection around a Ra’s
infiltration. She cracked it in a night. Leaving me with two strategies to
map out: heading off Ra’s (which shouldn’t be difficult at this early stage
of the operation) and how to react when Selina comes to bed and tells me all
this, “Rasputin’s penis” and all.
… … …
… :: Duty Log: Catwoman :: … … …
… … … … :: Catwoman logout :: :: :: :: :: :: … … …
… … … … :: Batman logout :: :: :: :: :: :: … … …
To be continued…