Love jewels. A diamond Napoleon gave to Josephine, a necklace Lord Byron had made for Contessa Guiccioli or Horatio Nelson gave Emma Hamilton. They’re not always spectacular gems in their own right. Most are, especially if they’re given by a king, but some are smaller stones, a little cloudy or not particularly well cut by modern standards. But the story, the romance and the history behind them, to a certain kind of collector those gems are priceless.
I always enjoyed snatching a love jewel. There’s the bragging rights, naturally. Plus the challenge; famous jewels always have the most creative security protecting them. And then there were the collectors: those obsessed, competitive, relentless, and often quite ruthless collectors—but such romantics, so passionate about their obsessions. When they located a jewel, they wanted it so badly. And when the item in question was collecting dust in some corporate vault, only seeing the light of day once in a decade when it was sent out to be cleaned, it made for a very satisfying heist. Rob from the indifferent and give to the romantic.
Well, sell to the romantic. I can’t say I did it for love. Byron, Nelson, and Napoleon may have, but Kitty did it for cash. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the collector’s fascination. There is something very special about those pieces beyond their obvious cost. Czar Alexander has some exquisite piece of Fabergé made for his wife, the Czarina Maria Feodorovna, and a century later Stephen Spielberg buys it for his wife because she’s playing a Russian princess (descended from Alexander and Maria, as it happens). Edward VIII has a pair of Cartier panthers made for the woman he gave up a kingdom to marry, and a half-century later, an American crimefighter who bought them to bait a cat burglar winds up sliding one across the dinner table, because that cat burglar isn’t an adversary anymore. It’s not the jewels in and of themselves, it’s not their intrinsic value or even their beauty. It’s what they mean, what they represent: the grand gesture.
I fought crime for him. It’s not my kink, I didn’t enjoy it much, and I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I did suit up in the Batcave, checked the At-Large list before setting out, and went into the city to stop baddies like me from doing what comes naturally. And I did it—started doing it, at least—because he asked me. He wanted my help, he wanted to include me in his world, and… and like an idiot, I just FORGOT. I forgot the burning, soulful ache that started it all. Crimefighting isn’t something Bruce does because he’s bored playing polo. It’s who he is. No one will ever suffer what he suffered if he can prevent it. How can you not love that? And he wants me to be a part of it. Bruce wants me to share his mission with him, and I let Edward Richmond Nigma pull my focus. For that alone, I should break him in two.
There was this one spectacular bracelet Edward VII gave his last mistress, Alice Keppel. Hostesses of the period preferred inviting Alice instead of the queen whenever the king came to dinner, since she was the only one who could defuse the situation when he had one of his explosive tempers.
His back is fine now. Has been for nearly a week, and he could have easily climbed the stairs and gone back to living in the manor. But Batman wasn’t quite ready to resume patrol. He needed an extra few days to “limber up” for the Batline, and it just seemed right to go on living in the cave while he did it. So we spar a little in the gymnasium and follow the sidekicks’ progress on the OraCom. There’s nothing to stop me from going out myself, but… well, little gestures are worthwhile too. He doesn’t want me catching up with Eddie until Batman is back on the job, and it costs me nothing to go along with it. There were an awful lot of nights when some little compromise that cost nothing would have made us both a lot happier, so what the hell.
Bruce is obsessing on the fear toxin (speaking of men with explosive tempers). It’s not that I’m overjoyed at that little detail, but there’s another angle that bothers me a lot more. It’s that string of Rogue hideouts that Eddie kicked off with, before the ATM clues: Mad Hatter’s place, Ivy’s greenhouse, Two-Face’s last base at the Flick Theatre, Scarecrow’s fife at Hudson U. That’s what Bruce sees anyway, a typical Cape missing the point completely. He sees “Rogues.” But Eddie isn’t saying “Rogues”; he doesn’t think of them as Rogues. He thinks of them as Jervis, Pammy, Harvey and Jonathan. What he’s saying is “Who’s next?”
Scratch that, if we’re going to do this, let’s put on our straitjackets and do it in all its Arkhamesque lunacy. What he is saying is “Riddle me thus, you faithless puss: Who is next? That’s why I’m perplexed. Is there anyone you won’t turn on for him? Is there any friend you won’t cut just to help the bat win?”
Okay, you know what, I’m not an Arkham case and I suck at the rhyming shit. Point is, what Eddie is really saying is “Who’s next?” And because, despite all his charm, he’s a fucking nutjob, he can’t come right out and say that. He has to dress it up in a string of fridge magnet clues pointing to Rogue lairs. And then, apparently, he had to top it off with a crimefighter trap sprung with fear toxin. Furious as I am, I almost feel like… like… I don’t know. It’s almost touching. The grand gesture.
I don’t expect Bruce to see it that way, of course. I might not myself if I had actually snorted the stuff. We did talk about it that night when he told me what Eddie had been up to, what I might have seen. The greatest fear question, it’s a big one, and most of us night people consider it from time to time. At least the sane ones do. It’s not something you want to let take you by surprise, particularly not in front of somebody who wants you dead. So if you’re smart, every now and then you put on some Beethoven, pour a glass of wine, and do a little soul searching. I hadn’t. And Bast knows, I should have. It’s been a good few years since my last exposure. My life has changed completely since then, and it’s fair to say the big fear has too. Considering the old fear involved exactly where I’m living now, who I’m living with, and what compromises I’m willing to make to keep it that way… yeah, the greatest fear has definitely changed. I haven’t told him, of course, but he is the world’s greatest detective, and he knows me pretty well. He must at least suspect what that old fear toxin nightmare was. Anyway, we talked about it that night: what the new triggered fear might have been and… and what the hell Eddie could have expected to accomplish by it.
Ironically, what he did accomplish was ending my fight with Bruce in the most amicable way possible and renewing my subscription to Crimefighters’ Quarterly. When you find out your best friend spent the last week conspiring to lead you around like a demented puppy chasing a stick, only to introduce you to your greatest fear at the end of it, I don’t care who you are, you need a hug! I needed a hug, I said so, Psychobat handed off to Bruce and that was the end of the fight.
We should probably thank him. It would hurt a lot more than the pummeling he’s going to get, but I would be the last to deny Bruce the satisfaction of that pummel. He’s been inactive all these weeks, he’s frustrated beyond belief, and the first Bat-beating is going to be epic. It’s going to be savagery incarnate wearing a scalloped cape and a graphite mask. And it is going to Hurt. Like. Hell. It’s downright patriotic of Eddie to step up and volunteer for the job. Meow.
So my own satisfaction will have to wait a bit, but until my moment comes, I’ll get to enjoy his and that should be quite the spectacle. Again I say “Meow.”
We’ve already begun. Bruce and Selina returned from St. Kitt’s the day before yesterday. Just in case anything went wrong with my cover, we wanted to make sure it was only Catwoman who was exposed. Nothing will go wrong, but if it does, then Selina Kyle is obviously up to something, using her relationship with Bruce Wayne to gain access to Gotham banks for some felonious reason. But if Selina isn’t supposed to be in Gotham at all, if she’s supposedly traipsing around the Caribbean with Bruce when she’s found to be posing as this Georgina Barnes, that would lead to all sorts of questions about Bruce’s real whereabouts. So Monday we came back, and Georgina reported for work at CashPulse, the first banking network on our list. The dear thing doesn’t dress very well: a fiercely blue suit that contrasts just a little too jarringly with her fiercely red hair, so that that’s all anybody sees. The brassy redhead in the blue suit doesn’t have any facial features, a particular sort of voice or a certain color eyes. It’s a perfect disguise really, giving them something particular to notice instead of trying to be nondescript.
CashPulse was a bust, but it did give me a good introduction to the system. Apparently that’s what Bruce had in mind. He started me off at the company least likely to produce results, allowing me to get acclimated in the financial world. Then yesterday, once I was presumably “acclimated,” he started sending me to the most likely firms. Today at BankLink International, I hit paydirt. Second try and we found it. He’s that good, my Dark Knight. Is it any wonder we all love taking him on?
Riddler gained nothing from the first ATM shuffle. Batman searched every chain from every compromised account, and not one penny ever found its way back to Eddie. It cost the banks time and money to clean up the mess, but that money went into overtime and extra advertising to polish up their reputations after the meltdown. So… Riddle me this, riddle me that, how to make money while annoying a bat? If he didn’t turn a profit that night, it must have been a demonstration. He’s proved he can infiltrate the banking networks and shuffle the money around at will. If they don’t want him to do it again, pay up!
That’s not the kind of threat the banks would take to the cops, obviously—rather like diamond merchants relieved of a love jewel. Diamonds are a very small world and million dollar deals are still made on a handshake. Reputation is everything. So if you’re hit, you don’t let that be known. Insurance premiums go up, and nobody needs that, but worse, your reputation now has a big asterisk hanging over it. *Security isn’t what it should be. *Vulnerable and careless. *Lacking in judgment or resources to look after their own interests. *Putting their most valuable assets at risk. No one needs that either, so they take the hit quietly and move on. That’s what we count on, the cats and the collectors.
Although… You know, if it were me, I wouldn’t go to the police either (obviously); police aren’t discreet. But if it were me, I think I’d have to at least consider the possibility that a man in a mask might be. I mean, Batman doesn’t have a face. He obvious understands the concept of a secret worth keeping. But anyway, banking networks, like diamond merchants, are not going to go running to the cops, and either because they didn’t think to or because they didn’t know how, they didn’t come running to Batman either. So we had to go to them. So, this afternoon at 1 o’clock, right before slipping off to lunch, Georgina Barnes messed up the really complicated logout routine on her new computer at BankLink. She had to consult the index card everybody has to check 10 times their first day, and somehow, one oops following another, she wound up triggering the backdoor that some low level WayneTech coder left in the first generation software ten years ago—accidentally giving herself godlike access to all accounts, emails, documents, and encryption logs.
And the most recent file sealed with the CEO’s password? No riddle there. No crimefighter’s instincts required. A simple cat burglar could have guessed: Eddie is asking for control of an account with a $25 million stake, and $5 million to be added every month they wish to continue without another cyberattack. It’s smart. He knows they’ll be lulled into a false sense of security by that monthly payment. They’ll think they have plenty of time to track him. But that money will be gone as soon as he gets control of the account, and he’ll never return for subsequent payments. Not a bad little scheme, really. The money moves electronically, it’s not like saying ‘leave a paper bag under the bench by the sailing pond in Robinson Park,’ so Eddie probably thinks he’s still hidden. He doesn’t really understand what Bruce is capable of. For all his posturing about Batman as the only brain fit to do battle with his own, Eddie really has no idea.
He’s outmatched. That arrogant little touch using the WayneTech satellite, it gave us a traceback range. A 40-mile traceback, but still, it was a start. The extortion email to BankLink was sent by the same method, through a STAR Labs satellite this time. Traceback #2 overlaps traceback #1 across an oval stretching from 71st Street up to 96th. 25 city blocks may not sound like “Gotcha, Nigma,” not until you run it through a few directories and find… Backgammon. A quaint little place in the basement of the Madison Building on 78th, not the sort that even has a sign on the door. An old world carpenter making inlaid chessboards and backgammon tables for rock stars—if you believe their website. If you believe a place like that HAS a website.
So there we are. It’s 24 hours before Batman goes back into action. 0-minus-24 and we already know where Eddie is hiding. He’s sitting there now, completely unaware he’s outmatched and outmaneuvered without the Batmobile ever leaving the cave.
Bruce seems to have stopped typing over there. Probably ready for bed. Big day tomorrow, after all. Batman’s backgammon
… … … … :: Duty Log: Batman :: … … …
The new log I created for her is divorced from the main system and completely stripped of my personal settings and subroutines. As such, it apparently reverted to the auto-completion defaults that were built into the core software. I recall finding it annoying, having the system trying to anticipate me, completing words after the first few letters based on recent usage. I turned it off immediately. Selina evidently didn’t think to, and as she began to type “Batman’s back in action” the system tried to anticipate based on her previous paragraphs. From “back” it gave her “backgammon.” Batman’s back to Backgammon. Batman’s back? Game On.
We thought he wasn’t expecting us to find him. It
seems we were wrong.
Batman’s first night back in action. I thought he would want the cave to himself getting ready. I knew we’d be working together in town, but I figured suiting up again after all those weeks would be… well, a Psychobat thing. Invocations of the sacred mission, genuflecting to the spirit of justice, maybe a few passages read aloud from Crime and Punishment. In general, an atmosphere that would not be enhanced by the presence of a thief who could always make him forget which side of the utility belt held the Batcuffs. So I said I’d go upstairs to change and meet him in town, but he… he got this weird look in his eye and said “Don’t.”
Just that. “Don’t.” Second cousin to “No” under other circumstances. One of those declarations you just don’t use with a cat. I asked why (who wouldn’t), and he gave another really weird look and said “Exactly.” (This is the man making snide comments about feline logic. Go figure.)
Anyway, I stayed. The mood wasn’t any more somber or portentous than any other night. No solemn vows or anything, just a particularly nasty glare at the At-Large list. We suited up, he checked a few things in the utility belt—looked like he wanted to check my whip, which I am choosing to ignore—and then he got that look again. With the mask on, I suddenly realized where I’d seen it before. Roof of the MoMA. None of our encounters had been the same since Cat-Tales, but that night… that night it was a new dynamic entirely. It was like he’d abandoned the gruff Bat-manner too quickly. He was almost… conversational. Watching them load the packed up masterpieces into trucks, he asked if I liked Monet. And then after a few of the old sparks, that voice I’d never heard before:
“This work… what I do… It’s my life. I couldn’t—wouldn’t…”
It was the first time I’d ever heard that voice, maybe the first time that part of him had ever spoken from inside the cowl. Would certainly explain all the stops and starts. But that look in his eye, that’s what I saw now.
“Want a lift? Or taking your own car?”
There was no searching for the words this time. Batman is nothing if not direct. But the look was the same; everything changed between us after that look. He was toying with an idea the same way I’d look in Tiffany’s window deciding if I was going to let them keep a diamond tiara or turn it into an extra leopard for the Catitat. That night, after that look, he sent the note asking me to meet him at the opera house. What the hell was he thinking about now?
“Technically, it’s the car you gave me,” I pointed out, stalling for time. I gave the words the lightest, freest lilt I could manage, even adding a little smirk at the end, but as usual he didn’t bite.
“Technically, it’s the car you gave me, too,” he graveled.
(And hiss-growl-hiss-hiss-spit-growl, you just CANNOT win a game of chess with that man!)
“You don’t think it’s a bad idea for Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend to be riding around in the Batmobile?”
“Just for tonight,” he said.
I nodded. I’m still not completely sure what I agreed to, but I nodded, and twelve minutes later, we were speeding across the 10th Avenue Bridge and he grunted as we passed that billboard.
“Catworthy,” he spat. “Opals and tourmalines? Catworthy? You never would have wasted your time on a place like that no matter what their advertising agency dreamed up for a catch phrase. Not when Cartier is only 4 blocks away, still using the same panther motif the Duchess of Windsor made famous.”
I chuckled, which brought quite the death glower.
“A so-called friend should know that,” he hissed.
“Come on, you wouldn’t have wanted him sullying Cartier, would you? I know I wouldn’t. Besides, I doubt Eddie could even get in, and if he could, your counter operation would have been screwed because Robin never would have made it inside.”
“He would do what was necessary.”
“Not in a hundred years would that boy make it to the show floor to find whatever trap Eddie had laid for me. Cassie maybe… if I coached her and we practiced for a few nights at the Olivieri mansion.”
He grunted, and that was it for conversation until the car turned onto 78th Street. I guess I was holding my breath or something, because he told me to breathe. I did, and that was it for conversation once again.
He stage managed it beautifully, the car slowing as it approached the Madison Building, nearly coming to a stop right in front of it, right across from the stairs leading down to Backgammon, and then… Whoosh! Speeding away down the street with a roar of Bat-bravado.
Four blocks away and 20 stories up, Eddie was hunched over his computer screen, watching the feed from his hidden camera, this sour pout in his face that said “thwarted.” (An anagram for which happens to be THWART ED. What it lacks in originality, it makes up in pertinence.)
What Eddie didn’t know, of course, was there was no one in that car. We were both right outside the window, watching him watch the Batmobile pass on his decoy.
“It’s showtime,” I whispered.
But Batman just stood there.
“No. You go in. You need to talk it through.” Then he massaged his knuckles slowly, the way a connoisseur swirls a fine cabernet before tasting it, ending with an ominous “I’ll be here when you’re finished.”
I couldn’t believe it. He’s been dying to get back into action, and now he was postponing the confrontation? But it wasn’t the time or place to question it, so I edged a few windows over, sliced up the pitiful CPD gizmo Eddie had rigged up on the bedroom window, slid it open, and went inside. I looked around for the Riddler equivalent of my Zen Cat. There was a photograph of Doris in a silver frame. Just the right size and certainly the right spirit, but it had a glass cover. That could get ugly. Head wounds bleed a lot. The blood is very thin, slow to clot. So I poked around some more. He had a Rubik’s cube calendar. It was a little small and too angular. I didn’t want to feel like I was clonking him with a rock. I wanted something flat, book sized, and personal… I found it hanging over the bed. A framed fragment of a movie prop, a jigsaw puzzle Susan Alexander is working on in Citizen Kane. Purrrrrrfect.
I took it off the wall, crept out to the main room, and positioned myself without Eddie hearing a thing. One thing I’ve perfected living with Bruce is coming up behind someone when they’re looking at a computer screen without creating any telltale reflections. Also, being silent on a stone cave floor is a lot more difficult than on Eddie’s wall-to-wall carpet. Meow.
I gave him a good solid smack across the back of his head with his precious puzzle.
“OW!” was the predictable and predictably non-clever response.
Which I enjoyed.
He tried to get up but I grabbed the back of his head and pushed it into the desk a few times. Then he stopped trying to get up, and I pulled up a chair and took a seat beside him.
“You are an addled nitwit, Edward Nigma, a fitting anagram for which is addled nitwit. And you’re a shitty friend, an anagram for which is shitty friend.”
“Look who’s talking, Traitor.”
“Oh give it up, Eddie. I have been spectacularly patient with your marathon shitheadedness since this whole thing began, because unlike the crimefighters you’re determined to paint me as, I understand that when a cat brings you a disgusting not-entirely-dead chipmunk, it’s because he thinks it’s a fine gift. He’s working with what nature gave him: claws, teeth, and small furry animals that don’t have the sense to stay out of his way.
“So I wasn’t pissed at the cat clue you sent to the manor. I shrugged off the mind games at the MoMA, I didn’t hold a grudge after Metropolis, and I certainly wasn’t going to go on a jihad because of your Aries stunt at the diamond exchange. I know a dead chipmunk when I see one. Don’t sit there calling me a traitor when you tried to come at me with fear gas.”
“You work on his side of the street, you’ve got to expect that, my weak lion.” Then he started counting off on his fingers, “You’ve got to expect fear gas, hatting, SmileX, Ivy turning that Hell Month fighting machine against you…”
“Eddie, you talk like I don’t get that anyway. Jervis has hatted me. He’s hatted you, he hatted Jonathan, and then he had you both attack me while he fear-gassed Harvey. We all got past it. If we held onto those things forever, nobody would be speaking to anybody—which would certainly limit the potential for future throwdowns, but it wouldn’t be any fun. I mean really, it’s a big city out there and it sucks to be alone, so…”
I shrugged. It’s the price you pay, being a Rogue. He knew that as well as I did.
“You can dress it up any way you want to, ‘Lina, you still went white hat.”
“Yeah, I did. So what?”
“Paging Mr. Riddler, there’s an unanswered question on the table. That’s is your thing, isn’t it? There isn’t actually a white hat/black hat divide for cats, but from your limited non-feline perspective, that’s the only way you can see it. So I am conceding the point. ‘Lina White Hat, A Tail When Hit, or whatever it was. So what?”
I hummed the Jeopardy theme to annoy him, and by a cute coincidence, his screensaver kicked on and played the same music. He tried so hard not to react, he was sucking in his cheeks and probably biting his tongue trying to hold the pissed-off, dangerous Rogue mask. But that dinky little tune kept playing and it all got the better of him. He lost the battle and out came the snicker.
“You planned that,” he insisted.
I actually had no idea what his screensaver was, but there was no point in going that far off topic. I just smiled like “the ways of the cat are inscrutable.” Then I figured it was time to remind him he was still a dot with one of those giant unanswered question marks looming over his head.
“Riddle me this, Eddie,” I said softly. “If I have ‘gone white hat,’ so what?”
“So,” he said, lips pursed. “I don’t like it. I like you, I do this, dot-dot-dot, more little chats like the one at the Adamas Exchange!”
“Oh, with you there,” I nodded vigorously. “Liking the crimefighter personally (which I’m not one, but again, we’re making allowances for your limited non-cat intellect), liking the crimefighter totally, totally sucks. Awkward, pissy, strained exchanges on rooftops, angst-ridden aftermath, mess of a situation for everyone involved. Been there, done that, it does suck. What’s your point?”
“Your point is that it’s not pleasant being caught between a rock and hard place and you’d rather not do it?”
“… Kind of.”
“You know what else sucks? February. When those slushy puddles of not quite melted snow are everywhere, but you’re not wearing boots anymore, so you always wind up with that really cold wet ooze getting into your shoe. And then you have to walk around all day with that cold squishy feeling.”
“I hate that.”
“Yeah, so do I. Ah, ‘Lina, we seem to have wandered off the subject a little…”
“Did we? I thought we were comparing notes about the many and varied dead chipmunks that come with living in an imperfect world. All those little annoyances that—”
“We were talking about you, that you would go so far for that… that…”
“YES, BATMAN! THANK YOU! That you would go so far for that Bat-man that you not only stop stealing yourself, you come after the rest of us.”
I smiled. I never went after Eddie, he pulled on my tail. But I didn’t say that. Instead I just smiled, which does tend to unnerve them, Rogue and crimefighter alike.
“What, what is it?” he said, looking around frantically like he thought he was sitting on a bomb.
“I ever tell you about Colin Lerrick? Reclusive Brit, chess grandmaster, buried himself in puzzles, IQ of 220. Been thinking about him all week, I can’t imagine why,” I grinned.
“No, you have never told me about ‘I Click Loner,’” he said acidly. “Pray continue with your transparent parable.”
“He’s not a fiction, Eddie. I did not make up a name that had a nice snappy anagram for you. You can Google him if you don’t believe me. I’ll wait.”
He did and confirmed that Colin Lerrick was real, studied philosophy at Oxford, inherited a pharmaceutical company at age 23, sold it for a hundred million pounds at 24, and retired from the world.
“If this rich guy likes puzzles so much, how come I’ve never heard of him?”
“Because he doesn’t collect them, Eddie, he just likes them. It’s not the kind of thing that goes in Who’s Who. He’d have no interest in your Citizen Kane jigsaw, so he’d never bid on it.”
“So how did you find out?”
“Oh COME ON, Eddie! Live up to your name, figure it out! It’s no fun if I tell you, is it?”
He made a face and sighed.
“Well obviously, since you were so stupidly unguarded saying he doesn’t collect puzzles, that means he must collect something else. Something Catwoman would be inclined to steal—back when she had some scruples.”
“Only two insults, I think you’re coming around. And of course you’re right. Lerrick collects love diamonds.”
“Love diamonds,” he said flatly.
“Right. A necklace Lord Byron had made for the Contessa Teresa Guiccioli, for example. She was the last woman Byron loved, his mistress when he was living in Ravenna, beginning work on Don Juan. It’s a big gem, Eddie. On its own, it’d be worth a quarter of a million. But you add in Byron, Teresa and Don Juan, the history and the romance… Lerrick collects love diamonds. He’s obsessed with them, actually. All those collectors are.
“Complete romantic under the eccentric hermit shell. Had me deliver the stone to his estate, inside this vault-cum-bunker-cum-private museum he has under his house. Showed me his whole collection, jewels and paintings all connected to the great love stories of history. Beautiful stuff of course, but it was the vault itself that was the real treat.”
“Well of course,” Eddie said smugly. “If there’s one thing a puzzling man knows, it’s how to devise a decent lock.”
“The walls were two feet thick,” I told him, leaning in and speaking low, like it was something sexual. “Reinforced concrete, sealed off with a tri-bi titanium door… Twin-bolt Swiss gear lock on a prearranged time release, fingerprint recognition plus a 4-digit pin that changes every 30 minutes—the sequence radioed out from the manufacturer in Zürich…”
“O-o-oh, I like this guy,” Eddie shuddered.
“At least a code that’s radioed in can be intercepted,” I pointed out. “Unlike the vocal signature for a voice recognition backup linked to the main alarm. Could tell the difference between human vocal chords and a recorded voice… I was giddy. Would have let him have the Byron necklace for nothing if he’d let me have a go at its resting place in his fortress. I almost proposed it, but he obviously thought it was his collection that had brought such a flush to my cheeks, and I didn’t want to take that away from him.”
“Aren’t you a sweetie. So you settled for cash.”
“The thing is, Eddie, Lerrick lives and breathes puzzles as much as you do, but his passion is love jewels. Can you guess why?”
“I have no idea.”
“Of course you do.”
“Because love is irrational, ‘Lina. That is why it fascinates him. It’s the puzzle that can’t be solved.”
There it was. He’d said it. Game. Set. Match.
“Puzzle that can’t be solved,” he repeated, his eyes darting around the room.
“Nope,” I agreed. “Can’t be solved. Catlike, it follows no rules but its own, and only it knows what they are. Also it can change the rules any time it wants, in any way it wants, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”
“The puzzle… that cannot… be solved,” he said again—and I noticed now he didn’t seem to be breathing very well. “Love is a puzzle… that can’t be solved.”
“Eddie, you’re not going to have a panic attack or anything, are you?”
He lifted his finger like he was going to say something VERY important, and then put it down.
Then the whole right hand swung around to his hip, like he was ramping up to sing “I’m a little teapot” with the force of King Lear raging into the storm. But when he did speak again, it was matter of factly:
“It’s a puzzle that can’t be solved,” he declared, his left hand flitting up to complete the teapot effect.
“And since Bruce and I cannot be solved, you’re ready to leave it alone?” I asked brightly.
His face fell, and then his head pulled back a little, and he seemed to be staring at something invisible a short distance in front of his face.
“I can see I have been looking at it the wrong way,” he said finally—directing his statement to the invisible something, as near as I can figure. Then he looked up at me.
“An addled nitwit?” he asked.
“And a shitty friend,” I answered.
“But still a friend?”
“If you want to be.”
“I assume he’s waiting out there to rip out my spleen.”
“At the very least.”
“I’m pretty sure you can live without one. Like the appendix and tonsils.”
“You’ve made a list of organs he can rip out of people without killing them!”
“Oh come on, Eddie, he’s Batman! I’m sure he knows without anybody having to tell him.”
The silence continued for a moment. I figured somebody had better break it before nosy outside the window noted the lack of conversation and took it as a cue.
“I came in through the bedroom,” I mentioned casually. “I see you still have Doris’s picture in there.”
“Well, I am an addled nitwit,” he said with a sad resolve.
“Puzzle that can’t be solved, Eddie. Have you thought to… maybe give her a call?”
“No, I don’t think that’s such a hot idea, ‘Lina. Doris isn’t the type who would enjoy receiving a collect call from the Arkham infirmary.”
“When you get out then.”
“And say what? Before I met you, I never went a day without solving the Times crossword in less than 10 minutes, and now I haven’t gone a day without solving the Times crossword and missing you?”
“It’s not bad. As dead chipmunks go.”
“No,” he said with a sour face. “It’s not really on point. Like those cat clues, they had nothing to do with banking. I tried, ‘Lina, I wracked my brains trying to come up with some kind of obscure banking trivia that tied in to paws or whiskers or even milk!”
“What about Bengal Central Bank, where you inserted the virus.”
“You noticed that, eh?” he beamed.
“Of course. It was a very thoughtful touch.”
“Ah ‘Lina, it’s not the same. The clues should have had something.”
“Maybe your heart wasn’t in it,” I suggested.
“Oh, my heart was in it. Just not my brain, I guess. Oh well, I’ll do better next time.”
“Of course you will,” I smiled.
The moment felt good, natural, easy. Then his smile faded.
“Time for me to take my medicine,” he said darkly.
“Yep,” I rose, planning to go back the way I came.
I’d gotten as far as the bedroom door when he called out “‘Lina, before you go, uh…”
I turned back. He looked embarrassed. When he spoke, I understood why:
“How’d you find me?”
Poor Eddie. He has this little quirk, leaving clues unconsciously when he doesn’t mean to. We’ve talked about it. Every time he thinks he has it beaten, his subconscious goes and leaves Batman an extra hint or three. I started to tell him he’d done it again, but he refused to believe it:
“Oh come on, no! It can’t be—NO! NO! NO! That hasn’t happened for more than… six years! Six years, three months and eleven days, I’m clean. No more Freudian clues, none. I’ve licked it, I tell you. I…”
I shook my head sadly. And his eyes darted around the room again, trying to figure it out.
“What’d I do?” he asked finally.
“Vince Turner. Eddie, you rented this place under the name Vince Turner.”
“Vin. Wine. Eddie, ‘vin’ is French for ‘wine.’”
“Wine turner,” he said dully.
“And the process of turning champagne bottles as they ferment so the sediment collects in the neck is called…?”
“No, ‘riddling,’ but I take your poi—”
“Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, fuck-”
“O… kay,” I whispered, backing slowly towards my window.
“Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me!”
I’m pretty sure he doesn’t carry on like that when Batman answers the big riddle, so I figured I’d just go and let them both do their thing.
“Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, fu-KRRHKK…” was the last thing I heard before swinging away.
With the OraCom, I knew I’d be able to meet up with Bruce by morning and get a ride home. I headed uptown to prowl, and then…
A worthless, overreaching amateur was trying to break in at Cartier.