Now this was my idea of a date night. The condos at 10 West End Avenue had dramatic river views, and there’s no better way to enjoy those than from your own private balcony. I should know, I had a wonderful balcony like that at my old place overlooking the park, so I know just how easy they are to land on. It’s like they’re made for the purpose. Meow.
The 25th floor was conveniently located only two stories below the roof, making for a purrfectly simple descent to 25-C. The penthouse was more desirable real estate, naturally, but whatever the owner’s net worth, it held no interest. It was 25-C that brought me out tonight, the home of Carlos Mariopoulos, famed restaurateur who recently paid $198,000 for a bottle of Madeira presented to General Franco on the day he was made commander of the Spanish Army. That particular vintage was transferred to the Spanish mainland and bottled there, given the name of the ship that brought it: León, the lion. In place of a label, the word and a striking picture of a lion was applied to the bottle in gold leaf.
A Cat Prize. A really Catworthy Cat Prize to mark Catwoman’s return to crime.
The balcony door was no obstacle, they never are. I could have picked the lock, natch, but in celebration of the night, I went for a signature move, something uniquely me. Positioned my fingers just so at a given point at the edge of the glass, making a five point outline around an invisible circle. Little twist… little twist… and one more little twist… and the claws cut me an almost perfectly round hole in the glass. I reached in to unlatch the door—and there is no describing the thrill. There I was, stealing again. It didn’t matter that the door was easy or that reaching the keypad would be easier still. What mattered was the penetration. It was Mariopoulos’s home, and I was not invited. He was in Vegas for another week, opening up a new restaurant, and while he was gone, I was using all my skills to break into his home and relieve him of that bottle of Madeira. Meow-meow-meow-meow-meow!
But before I could get to the bottle, I had to deal with the electric eyes. There was a very simple route to the keypad control panel, no whipline or vaulting gymnastics required. All I had to do was walk over the furniture. It reminded me of the stunt during Cat-Tales when I’d move through the audience at the Hijinx Playhouse by walking on the arm rests. Chair to sofa to dining table to the front entrance where the keypad was located, right inside the front door like a light switch.
I would have attached the DCC—nifty little device I came up with that doesn’t really crack a password as much as it resends the last transmission from the input pad to the receptors, so it works equally well for fingerprints and retinal scans as for numeric pins—except in this case, it looked like it wouldn’t be necessary. There was a square of masking tape on the side of the keypad with the PIN actually written on it in magic marker. Now, that kind of thing can be a trick (people who buy alarms of this type like to think they’re clever), but most often it’s a convenience for maids, nannies or baby sitters. I decided to roll the dice and used the number given… 8-8-3-1… and the red light switched to green. The electric eyes disarmed and all was right with the world. I made my way to the display case where the bottle sat in a place of honor.
And then came the voice…
“STOP RIGHT THERE, CATWOMAN!”
There is no way, not in a thousand years, I can explain the… the vibrations that voice evokes in me. In my core. In my chest. Between my legs. Between my ears. He’s so indescribably, deliciously, other-worldishly BATMAN. It was all I could do to keep from tossing my head back and laughing at the giddy thrill of it. I had such butterflies. My heart pounded, and I think, in a way, my ears were ringing—but not really. Not that actual sound, but more the… oh hell, I can’t describe it, but I was high on it. I was high on the first real hit of pure, mainline Batman that I’d had in quite some time.
I turned as if concealing my surprise in an effusive smile. Once upon a time I would have wondered how he managed to get in without my hearing him. Now of course, it’s a given: How does he get in? He’s Batman. What is there to wonder about? So I had to fake my surprise, and then fake covering it.
“That’s far enough,” he said with that dangerous edge in his voice. Time was those three little words in that oh-so-dangerous gravel kept me “purring” for a month, if you know what I mean.
“As a matter of fact, it is,” I said in the sultriest purr I could manage (because I like to think my purrs were the same for him as his gravels were for me back in the day: a warm sense memory for later. Meow). I reached out to touch the bottle as I spoke. “See, just far enough,” I noted, letting my fingers curl gently around the neck.
“It’s not yours,” he said. (Don’t you love crimefighters when they state the obvious? They’re SO CUTE!)
“Wasn’t,” I said, just as the weight of the bottle shifted from the shelf to my hand. “It is now.”
“Put it back.”
“Make me,” I laughed. And I ran to the balcony, snatching the bat-rope he’d left dangling there. Rather than use it—which I’ve done before and I hate repeating that way if I can help it—I sliced it with a claw as I vaulted over the side. I lashed a railing a few floors down and then turned to see if the trick worked, delaying his pursuit. It had, so I waved—and had to dodge a batarang for my trouble. Jackass.
“HEY, don’t go nicking my prize!” I called back—because it is GLASS after all. In my experience, Bats is a little off-hand about that sort of thing. He once chipped the ear off a clay Bast I was taking.
Anyway, I knew I wouldn’t get far before I had company. He wouldn’t be Batman if he gave up after a little outmaneuvering with the batline. I knew he was back there, and I knew he was watching, so I showed off a little. I sprang and twisted, I leapt and soared. From rooftop to fire escape to alley to roof, it was a wonderful chase. And it only got better when he closed the distance.
Our fights have never been soft, but the fact is there are many ways to counter a given hold, and if one of them lets me press my body against his for a split second longer, I’ll do it. I push into a hold, accepting it, and giving him—just for that brief instant—nothing to fight against, and then I’ll use the momentum to break free. It’s the way I’ve always fought him, and tonight was no different: letting my knee bend around his leg and drawing my calf across it…
“Stop,” he breathed.
“Make me,” I repeated.
Hands are good too, when it comes to incidental contact. He likes my hands snaking around his belt, he always has…
“No more, this ends tonight.” That with a grab at my hand holding the bottle.
…Around the belt or anywhere near the emblem. But that was for later. Not now, not during the fight. After another chase, after he caught up with me a second time…
“Let go,” I cried—which wasn’t the best line for a feline seductress, but his grab half-missed and he got the center of my forearm instead of my hand or wrist. Concern for the bottle blotted out other considerations for a moment. I felt my fingers opening, and I only realized as he took the bottle that he somehow made it happen. Pressure points on my forearm, most likely.
I hissed, but that’s never once deterred him. He pulled me in tighter, pulled my arm taut and away from our bodies, and his free hand was slipping around my waist and came to rest on the small of my back.
“No prize for you tonight. And no escape either.”
Once again, I pushed into the pin rather than fighting it.
“You don’t mean that,” I breathed, pressing my chest into his and stretching up so our lips nearly touched.
“No… No escape.”
“Those mean two different things,” I whispered—the words themselves are meaningless at this point. Every word spoken is a tickle of my breath on his lips, and vice versa. “’No’ means you didn’t mean it and I escape… ‘No escape’ means—”
I didn’t get any farther. His control faltered and he nipped at my lower lip. It was the opening I needed, his focus and balance tipped, and all I had to do was ram my free hand into his chin to break free.
Except I didn’t.
Somehow I just didn’t.
I tipped my head back and let his lip-nips continue as soft nibbling down my neck.
Psychobat came to my rescue. He broke the kiss, pushed me away, and before he could bark out that “Enough,” my inner-Cat rallied. I took a claw swipe at his chin with a “No!” at the same second as his “Enough!”
Our eyes locked in a moment of shared fury, then I gave a wicked grin and leapt from the roof.
“I see, you want to ‘throw it in the closet,’” Bruce had said.
“It works for me,” Selina answered. Then her eyes flickered to his workstation while Bruce silently questioned the accuracy of the claim. “So what are you doing down here?” she asked finally.
He welcomed the change of subject and transferred a number of images to the large viewscreen: crime scene photos, newspaper headlines, and security footage relating to Joker’s takes on Scarecrow, Penguin, Two-Face, Riddler, and Poison Ivy.
“Looking for a way to end it,” he said, his voice deepening and his body seeming to grow denser as he spoke. Though he wore a simple black polo shirt and slacks, it was unmistakably Batman who now stood in the center of the cave. “So far we’ve done nothing but react, with the result that he’s been five steps ahead of us at every turn. The only way to stop him is to get there first, to know where he’s going to strike before he gets there and have a trap prepared.”
“That would be ideal,” Selina agreed. “But you’ve said a thousand times it’s not that simple, that Joker is just too crazy to anticipate.”
“That’s right. Anticipating him isn’t an option. We have to be more proactive than that: actually choosing a target ourselves and manipulating him into picking it.”
“Manipulate him? Lead Joker by the nose?” Selina laughed derisively. “You want fries with that?”
“Oh, it’s not difficult,” Bruce said grimly. “His insanity makes him all-but-impossible to predict, but very easy to manipulate. His obsession with Batman, for instance, and—”
“If it’s so easy, why are we only getting to it now? He’s been carrying on for weeks, and you’re telling me we could’ve just clicked our heels together and sent him back to Kansas all along?”
“I said it would be easy, I didn’t say it would be safe. Until your ordeal with Scarecrow, I didn’t think anything could develop that justified the risk—not even the prospect of ‘Rogue War,’ as you put it. But now… Now, I can’t justify not taking the risk. The location of that hacienda was the best lead we’ve had, and thanks to Crane, it’s wasted. Joker escaped, and you—”
“Yeah, I know the reasoning, Bruce. I’m sold. There’s nothing like a fear gas hangover to put your uptight cape priorities into perspective.”
“Don’t be so sure. Selina, the key to playing on Joker’s obsessions is to make him jealous, essentially. Present him with another Rogue commanding my attention. So, based on your observations from the outside, before we got together, what criminals besides Joker have my undivided attention when they’re active?”
“You mean the ones where you’ll ignore Jervis or Oswald or even Jonathan completely until the greater threat is safely behind bars? Well, Zsasz certainly. Ra’s. KGBeast. Calendar Man—”
“Exactly. The killers. Joker’s take on Victor Zsasz isn’t something we risk, no matter what.”
“Agreed, and glad we didn’t have this conversation before the fear toxin.”
Bruce grunted, then he went on. “If I construct a media narrative to say that Kite-Man is now the number one threat in Gotham and I am devoting all my resources to his capture and his capture alone, nobody—not even Joker—would believe it.”
“Agreed, but he would applaud your finally attempting to tell a joke.”
Bruce scowled, which intensified the impression of Batman-without-the-mask. When he spoke, it was in the deepest and most ominous gravel:
“Eliminating the themes Joker has already borrowed, there is only one non-lethal criminal we could credibly put forth as holding Batman’s full attention when she’s active. That criminal... is Catwoman.”
There was a long pause.
Bats squeaked overhead.
The computers hummed.
One of the bats began scratching his chin.
Another curled its wings in for a nap.
“You’re not suggesting… that we deliberately… DELIBERATELY… focus Joker’s attention… JOKER, as in ‘the sickest fuck in the history of Gotham’ Joker’s attention… on cats?!”
“No, I’m suggesting you get your tail out there and commit a series of cat-crimes, just like old times.”
“With the intention of fixating Joker on cats! Bruce, he’s not going to break into the art museum with elegance and finesse to steal a Golden Sekhmet, he’s going to SmileX kittens and nail them to the Bat-Signal!”
“Not if we give him a better target.”
As nostalgic as it was burgling the Mariopoulos condo, the morning after was nothing like the old Catwoman crimes. The shower was running when I woke up, so I took juice and a muffin from the breakfast tray and went across the hall to my suite. Had a quick workout, and then met Bruce in the cave.
Reporting to the Batcave for an early morning SitRep is not the ideal way to cool down after a heist and I said so. Bruce grunted, and I checked the news reports at my workstation. The newspapers obviously had no chance to get anything in the print editions, but my cat caper was already on the Times and Daily News websites. GCN and Channel 6 both had a mention on their morning news reports, and WCDE covered it on their a.m. talk show. So far, so good.
“Now I just have to do it again,” I thought.
The one downside to all this—apart from deliberately getting Joker to take an interest in cats—was that there was no time to savor the moment. Last night I had my first real cat crime in ages, and I couldn’t take ten minutes to process any of it because I had to do it again tonight—and tomorrow, and the night after that. I had to become a one-woman crime wave before smiling Jack picked his next theme, and as if that wasn’t enough:
“Have you picked tonight’s target yet?”
I had Batman hanging over my shoulder, wanting to check my homework.
“No, I do not. Don’t you have an empire to run?”
“It’s almost ten o’clock, are you going to have time to do all the research? Get blueprints and floor plans, find what kind of alarm system they have—”
“Yes, Bruce, I will have that time because I’m not stopping to come over there and shove a batarang up your nose.”
No grunt, which meant he wasn’t going to be put off for more than five minutes. I paged through the Times’s Lifestyle section, which usually turned up a lead or two back in the day. But it’s amazing how different it is scrolling through text on a computer screen compared to casually reading a newspaper while I sipped my morning coffee.
“By the way, I stopped at One-PP last night and informed Commissioner Muskelli what we were doing.”
“Ah,” I said, trying to hide my disappointment. “I guess that’s for the best. If I’m going to rack up enough cat crimes to get the media attention we’re after, some industrious policeman is bound to come knocking on our door asking questions.”
He must have sensed that I was only saying it out loud to convince myself, because he took over the narrative with a lot more authority.
“Precisely. And I can’t have that. So Batman informed the commissioner that this is a staged crime spree for the purpose of baiting Joker. He’s given Major Crimes the directive that, since there is no actual evidence of a connection between Selina Kyle of Cat-Tales and Catwoman the notorious cat burglar, and since Selina Kyle is living with Bruce Wayne whose wealth and position make him a dangerous enemy to have—”
That did it. Something snapped. I slammed the desk which jostled the keyboard and shut off the view screen.
“Oh, I hate this. Hiding behind your money now, like I’m not a grown-up villainess who can threaten and blackmail on my own behalf.”
“Hardly. You’re still perfectly capable of taking care of yourself, I know that, Selina. But this situation exists, it isn’t something I contrived. We are together. I am the most powerful man in the city, and any commissioner or D.A. with political ambitions is going to think long and hard before allowing us to be disturbed. That is a reality neither you nor I lifted a finger to create, but we may as well take advantage of it. Catwoman is Batman’s problem and the police will stay out of it. Muskelli doesn’t mind his men thinking what they will about his motives. He’s the only one who will know you’re not as bad as you seem, and you’re the only one who knows that he’s not.”
Irony, line one. I hate when he does that.
“I still get first crack at Jonathan,” I grumbled.
“Yes, Crane is yours. You’re entitled.”
The next week saw a one-woman crime wave: A Stradivarius violin (on loan to Katrina Catterall at the Gotham Philharmonic), a perfume flacon fashioned by Rene Lalique (depicting a trio of silhouetted cats), a heraldic crest (with the central shield flanked by a magnificent pair of lions), a Ming vase (covered in tigers and dragons), and a gold watch with a diamond encrusted face commissioned by a silent film star (famous for her depiction of an actual cat-woman in the silent classic Jaguar Goddess of the Maya). Batman failed to prevent Catwoman’s escaping with the last, and she refused to give it back. She said when the Joker business was over, he would just have to find her lair and attempt to recover it.
Much as he abhorred the idea of a rendezvous arising from a Joker operation, he had no time to argue. Preparations were under way for the opening of The Wayne Animal Sanctuary, and Foundation insiders were amazed at the personal interest Bruce was taking in the event. He commissioned special artwork for the banners, pulled strings with the city to have them displayed on all the street lights down Fifth, Sixth, Park Avenue, Madison and Broadway. He even arranged a cross-promotion with the caterer.
As always, everything was crafted so assumptions about the public Bruce Wayne would mask Batman’s hidden agenda. The savvy would see the big Hirschfeld-style drawing of the cat on all the banners and advertising, and they would titter how Wayne was so besotted with Selina. The envious would see the prominence of the caterer’s name on every sign and banner, and they would assume the dumb trust fund fop trying to play negotiator couldn’t swing a simple deal with a caterer without giving away the store. No one would suspect a web of neurolinguistic programming, eye accessing cues and subliminals. Yet there were a dozen repetitions of the word “Ha-ha” hidden in the cat’s fur, the 5 in 5 mile Catering was drawn to resemble an S. The emphasis in all promotional materials was on Bruce Wayne himself rather than the Foundation, and as much as it galled him, he even permitted one of the press releases to go out with a typographical error. Result, the DJ on one talk show and the Channel 10 anchor both read his name as “Brucie.”
The result: Bruce and Selina were confident on the morning of the ribbon cutting that they were heading into a hellish nightmare of a Joker-trap. HAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!
To be continued…