My first may constrict, bow, anchor, or roll.
Edward Nigma chewed the end of his pen, reconsidering the third line. The only rhyme he could think of was “crime.” Not really a closer you want on a riddle sent to Batman’s house. Even if the riddle was meant for Selina, Wayne would probably get his hands on it. That’s the way Eddie’s luck ran since he learned the secret. If there was an even chance something could go his way or not, it didn’t.
Constrictor, bowline, anchor hitch, rolling hitch…
knots. All were nautical knots, so… NOT.
Once upon a time, they called Two-Face “Fate’s bitch.” Then, somehow, Harvey’s face healed, he gave up being Two-Face, and it seemed like Fate picked up Eddie to replace him. But now Two-Face was back, and it seemed to Edward Nigma that things really should go back to normal.
Second that would make our friend whole… Two… TO
Your pal’s favorite pastime: Game. How simple it all used to be. A challenging game of wits to stimulate his mental faculties against the only foe with enough going on above the neck to make it interesting. A game of wits with Batman, and then a victory celebration with a good friend like Selina. How nice it all was! Even if the victory celebration consisted of putting ice packs on a blackening eye more often than icing a bottle of champagne. Even if there were more “you’ll get him next time” reassurances than he cared to remember, it seemed to Eddie like a golden age of endless victories and celebrations with the one woman of his acquaintance who could keep up.
KNOT TWO sounds-like-game… BLAME!
Two-Face was back, and it seemed to Eddie that everything really should go back to normal as far as who was Fate’s Bitch and who was the one Rogue capable of taking on Batman between the ears and walking away triumphant. But no, somehow his well-meaning efforts to get Harvey reestablished in Rogue society had backfired into this crazy rumor that Bruce and Selina were getting married, and somehow it had all caught fire while Eddie was present at the Iceberg with Harvey drawing attention to him and slapping his back like a pal.
Somehow he was going to get the blame, he just knew it. That’s the way his luck had been running ever since he discovered that awful secret – Hell, even before that – ever since Selina took up with the man behind the mask, a man who, if there were any justice in the world, would not be a man at all. If there were any justice at all in the universe, Bruce Wayne would confine himself to being (PURR-BABE FORFEITS A PLOT HINT) life support for the Bat-Brain.
Which really was getting quite far off his original question: How do I approach Selina? How do I get to her before the rumor does? How do I establish that I am not to blame as the instigator and avoid getting blamed as the messenger? How can I possibly… YRRRRRRRLLLIIIIINGGG
And before he could even construct a riddle on the subject to calm himself down and organize his thoughts, his phone rang. YRRRRRRRLLLIIIIINGGG… Rang. YRRRRRRRLLLIIIIINGGG…
Eddie stared at it listlessly for another two YRRRRRRRLLLIIIIINGGGs until the click, then he mouthed the words on his answering machine to match his own disembodied voice “Riddle me this: What do you get when you cross a hive-dwelling insect with a yellow marshmallow Easter treat?”
As the owner of a Lamborghini Reventón, Selina Kyle received her own VIP invitation to the Gotham Auto Show. Even though the car was a gift from Bruce and the custom color was courtesy of the ultra-light paint Batman developed for the Batmobile, it was Selina Kyle who appeared on a magazine cover representing the twenty individuals lucky enough to own one of the limited edition super-cars. So it was Selina Kyle who was invited to the Auto Show and sought for photo ops at all the VIP pavilions.
Bruce had his own invitations, naturally. Not only was he a celebrated car enthusiast from his playboy days, he was also the head of Wayne Tech, which was a major exhibitor at the show. But Selina was pleased to be invited in her own right for once rather than being Bruce’s “and guest.” She invited Barbara to go with her. Officially she said it was one of those occasions where a girlfriend would be better company. Bruce wasn’t Bruce at these things. He wasn’t Batman, the Wayne CEO, the playboy, or the fop. Dick wasn’t Nightwing. Tim wasn’t Robin. They were all transformed into the male animal in the presence of horsepower, and while Selina appreciated a fine automobile as much as anyone, she felt someone without the Y-chromosome would be better company.
They had left the main concourse to explore “The Fiat Gallery,” an exhibit of artworks painted on the hoods of Fiat 500s.
“I like this one,” Barbara said with an air of defiance. “Looks a little like Tiffany lamp corn flakes, but I like it.”
Selina tilted her head and nodded at the apt description, and they moved together to the next piece. They scrutinized it, both assuming thoughtful ‘looking at art’ expressions, and then each snuck a peak at the other.
“That’s a really obnoxious shade of green,” Barbara said tentatively.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Selina agreed with a guilty grin.
“So it’s not just me,” Barbara declared triumphantly.
“Nope, and it’s not just because it’s green as in ‘Poison Ivy-power to the plant life-none of your men can resist me,’ either.”
“It’s just bad?”
“It’s just bad.”
They high-fived each other discreetly and moved to the next piece in the line.
Officially, Selina asked Barbara in order to have a female friend to go with. Unofficially, she thought it was strange how Barbara bought into Cassie’s engagement theory so eagerly. The idea that Bruce had proposed when they were in Paris together and for some reason they were keeping their engagement a secret, it was understandable enough coming from a teenage girl. But romantic intrigue and secret engagements coming from Barbara? Grounded, sensible “I am the all-seeing Oracle” Barbara?
It made Selina realize that since Black Canary left Gotham, Barbara was without a female confidant her own age. Huntress was a colleague, but it didn’t seem like they had a close friendship outside of work. And Selina herself was without a friend like that too. She’d never been one of those women who only got along with men. She’d had girlfriends at school and in Europe, but after she returned to Gotham… well, it was hard being too chummy with women who couldn’t know you spent your nights breaking into condos just like theirs and relieving the occupants of their artwork and jewelry. That left Anna and Bev, two fences who lived in San Francisco and Buenos Aires respectively and weren’t exactly available for long lunches, window shopping, or movie nights, and women like Roxy Rocket, Harley and Ivy with whom, at best, she had nothing in common.
“Now that’s a much better shade,” Barbara said brightly.
“More of an Oracle aqua-turquoise,” Selina noted.
“Yes, it is. And on the bottom, it almost looks like calculator keys that have been crushed and ground to bits on the floor.”
Selina squinted. She thought it was a stretch, but since Barbara was so pleased with the idea, why argue?
“Are these for sale? I’d like to have it for the work room.”
“Um, I think so…” Selina said, looking around the gallery for anyone official-looking. “You wouldn’t be able to take it home until after the exhibit’s over, but I’m sure the artist would love to make a sale.”
“And if it’s not for sale, you’ll get it for me anyway, right?” Barbara winked.
“Right, sure,” Selina answered—unsure if Barbara was joking. As a hacker, she had always been less stiff-necked than the rest of the Bat-family.
They reached the end of the first aisle and, rather than backtracking, squeezed single file past a giant sculpture of a 1933 Plymouth hood ornament in order to go up a different aisle of Fiat hoods as they returned to the entrance. Two pieces from the door, Harvey Dent stepped into their path from behind a stunning red and black piece. The Two-Face scars which had been temporarily erased by Jason Blood’s magic once again covered the left side of his face, but appearances aside, he seemed very much his old pre-Two-Face self.
“Selina! We thought—I thought that was you. Nice to see you again.” He stood there expectantly, with a big silly grin plastered across his face. Then he shifted his smile and nodded at Barbara, wanting to include her but unable to remember if she went by Mrs. Grayson or stayed with Ms. Gordon. He settled for a non-committal “I don’t think we’ve seen you since the Gotham Post party” (despite the double-faux pas of using ‘We’ a second time and referencing a party that ended in hatting, fear toxin, and assorted Rogue-driven mayhem). But at least it got a “Call me Barbara” from Mrs. Gordon-Grayson-Whatever. With that problem solved, Harvey gave Selina his full attention, using his return from the Meadowlark Institute as an opening to “get caught up” with his dear old friend.
Unfortunately, in a full five minutes of chit-chat, a lunch invitation, and three variations on the “catching up” phrase, Selina didn’t volunteer a thing about her engagement to Bruce Wayne. He wondered, as they strolled out of the gallery, if it might be Barbara Gordon’s presence. She was married to Bruce’s son. Maybe there was some inter-family tension? Or maybe Selina was avoiding the subject until she’d picked her maid of honor? Something like that, probably. Women and weddings, there was no guessing what went through their heads. But Selina had said yes to the lunch, and that meant he would have her alone for a whole afternoon. He’d get the truth out of her then for sure.
“Please try out this GeoSeek,” an impossibly perky girl announced as they reached the main exhibit hall. “A complimentary application exclusive to the Gotham Auto Show to showcase the GPS-enhanced smartchip from WayneTech.”
She fanned out the credit card-sized gimmicks like a ferociously motivated blackjack dealer as she spoke. Selina and Barbara held up the cards they had already received, while Harvey succumbed to instinct and reached out his hand to take the freebie. The girl latched onto his wrist (without any of the aversion he usually encountered since his scars returned), and launched into her spiel about all the cars currently on display with WayneTech smart chips for GPS and related functions. She showed him the way the GeoSeek would indicate whenever he approached a booth featuring one of the WayneTech-enhanced vehicles, and the many other perks it offered to visitors at the Auto Show. Why, if he would just take a moment to visit the WayneTech exhibit in the Central Concourse, his WayneTech GeoSeek would be registered and would log his preferences, suggesting booths and events he might enjoy based on those already viewed, synchronizing with apps on his cell phone, and even suggesting shops and restaurants nearby that matched his preference profile!
Selina would have been able to suppress her giggles, she was sure, if Barbara hadn’t begun holding out her own GeoSeek and pointing out the many wonderful suggestions the card was already making. Harvey shot her a look, which made both women giggle louder. Feeling they were being a bit rude to a girl who, freakishly perky or not, was just doing her job, he decided to ignore them and give her his full attention. Within seconds she was leading him off towards the Central Concourse, while Selina and Barbara exchanged knowing looks.
“Look at that. Most feared district attorney in Gotham’s history, had all the mobsters shaking in their boots,” Barbara began, watching the man in question being led by the wrist like an obedient puppy.
“Then one of the most dangerous criminals in the city,” Selina added.
“Putty in the hands of… how would you describe that girl?”
“A walking ad for Tween Gleam lip gloss?” Selina offered, and Barbara chuckled.
“It’s bizarre,” Barbara said, shaking her head.
“Bad ass doesn’t mean they can’t have a romantic streak that responds to big eyes, long lashes, and a coy tilt of the head,” Selina noted. “You should know that better than anybody.”
“Better than anybody except you,” Barbara said impishly.
“Shut up,” Selina said playfully between her teeth.
“I’m just sayin’.”
“I mean it, shut up.”
“Bum-bum-ba-dum,” Barbara hummed.
“Ignoring you now.”
One of the prerogatives of being a nightclub owner in Gotham was that your days were yours to spend as you pleased. While that might be just as true for the owner of the Ice Cube Lounge in Mud Puddle, Tennessee, Oswald suspected there wasn’t as much for such a bird to do with his time. Whereas he, Oswald Cobblepot, had the most exciting city in the world to explore—kwak! A city which set aside a large portion of its most desirable neighborhoods to create a sprawling park, and within that park built a zoo, and within that zoo… a penguin house. Just a few steps away from the famous polar bears that every visitor had to see, the penguins got comparatively little traffic. Often Oswald had those noble birds’ company to himself… and this was one of those mornings when he truly felt the need for their companionship.
There was something about that Selina business that bothered him. There was the Wayne angle, of course. Rich and aristocratic—kwak—so far, so good. But then there was the strapping good looks: the height, the square jaw, torso not at all shaped like an egg, and a nose of the most modest and unassuming proportions. It didn’t seem right. It just didn’t seem right for this rich, aristocratic non-criminal to waltz off with a gorgeous Rogue like Catwoman.
Bruce Wayne—kwak! It was almost enough to make him sympathize with Hugo’s crazed rantings. They all knew Hugo had a little *koff* problem about Batman. But if you threw out the whole Batman obsession, Oswald could easily see how hating Bruce Wayne could become an obsession of its own. The man had EVERYTHING—kwak! Absolutely everything. It just didn’t seem fair. And now a bird like Selina. Definitely not fair.
Still, Oswald Cobblepot was not some Arkham loon and he would never let such petty considerations cloud his thinking. Whatever it was that bothered him about all this, it was certainly grounded in more important matters than Catwoman throwing herself away on a layabout fop who… who couldn’t lace his own shoes without his butler, let alone plan and execute a multi-million dollar art heist or… or a black market… weapons deal with… …that made the Penguin a criminal… legend…
Oswald’s chain of thoughts ground to a halt as he became aware of a chinstrap penguin that had been staring at him with a rather disturbing intensity. He studied it for a minute, which did nothing to satisfy its fascination. It stared on, more focused than ever. It was really quite disturbing. Finally Oswald squawked at it, which it ignored but which a King penguin and two of the new Gentoos decided to answer. The whole pen became rather loud with a chorus of answers, and Oswald decided a stroll out to the polar bear was in order.
As he went, he decided it was the question of Selina’s criminal status that bothered him. Like him, Catwoman had reformed in name only. She had segued from those daring Batman-scale operations to invisible, elegant pilfering from Wayne’s ultra-rich friends. Oswald knew this, knew with a certainty few others could share, for she had given him a rare opportunity to fence those objects. And he—fool that he was—had bid too low. Kwak! Kwakwakwakwakwak. Still, disappointing as it was to lose out to one of those accursed European contacts of hers, it confirmed that Catwoman had “gone legit” in precisely the same way he had. It seemed to form a bond between them. They were the only two Rogues who were actually sane, it only made sense that they came up with similar schemes to maximize their own profits and safety while the flamboyant lunatics drew the brunt of Bat attention.
But now Selina Kyle was actually going to marry Bruce Wayne, and if she went legit for real, it might draw unwanted attention to his own sham reform. Yes, that certainly must be what was bothering him about the whole business…
There was a flaw in Oswald’s logic, which he might have noticed if he hadn’t noticed something else: the arctic corner of the zoo was strangely empty. There was usually a throng of tourists, school tours, and even casual day-visitors huddled around the polar bears, but since leaving the penguin house, Oswald hadn’t seen a soul. As he neared the polar bears’ pen, he saw why: Victor Frieze was there, leaning against the rail and watching the bears intently. That explained it. With that cold suit, Victor was one of the most conspicuous Rogues. Oswald might not be Bruce Wayne for good looks, but he could stroll through the park and enter the zoo without exciting comment. Victor Frieze showing up had a way of emptying the place out.
It was nice having Harley in the greenhouse again, even if Pamela Isley did suspect it was only because Joker was still in Arkham and Harley was bored. Joker. As if by mutual agreement, they had not mentioned the last time the three of them had been in the same room: when Ivy went to the Iceberg to murder the wretched clown. He found her rage funny. He said being that funny without even trying was hot. He kissed her—Joker, that cackling psychopath—had pressed his monstrous lips against hers—ulllgh! She didn’t want to think about it. And obviously Harley didn’t either. So, fine. It never happened. Everything was back to normal and Harley could invite herself over whenever she got bored.
Ivy herself was never bored, her leafy babies offered endless feasts of sights and smells, beautiful blossoms and eruptions of scent. But as much as they thrilled the senses, they weren’t much use when someone like that Dean Sasha came along. Imagine, that weaselly little beast of an interior decorator thinking a greenhouse was a place he could walk into expecting to BUY flowers. Like she was a slave trader! Like she was some florist who would send her beautiful leafy babies to their DEATHS at the hand of some filthy mouth-breathing MAN who thought nothing of slicing the very stems that connected them to the soil, sentencing them to a slow, lingering death in order to dress up some horrid woman’s living room! It was sacrilege. Death would be too good for such a beast. He must be made to live in the service of plants, made to appreciate them and spend his days watering and pruning to make up for his crimes.
Unfortunately, while the flowers were happy to listen to her plan their would-be murderer’s comeuppance, they couldn’t do much to help. Harley was the opposite: she didn’t listen as well but she could help. She did listen a little, but not as well as the flowers. She did it while running on the treadmill, and Ivy never felt she had her friend’s full attention. But she did have some of it, and beggars couldn’t be choosers. There was no doubt that Harley would be useful when it came to following Dean Sasha around the city, learning his schedule and ultimately conning their way into his home. When not in costume, Harley could blend in much better and—
“Red! The palm tree is picking on me again!”
Ivy put a pin in her Dean Sasha plan and looked up to see what was wrong. The potted palm was sort of drooping over Harley and had shed one small leaf that fell onto the treadmill.
“She might be a little jealous,” Ivy said finally. “Fron-Fron is like a lot of new arrivals, used to all the extra attention right after I transplant her into her new pot.” She said the last words with a playful sing-song and waved at the palm and its new ceramic planter, thrown and painted at her favorite pottery shop: Aurora’s Pots. “Now you’re here and she sees us talking. You’re getting all the attention. Just try to look at her now and then when you speak. Smile at her. She’ll figure it out.”
Harley said “Okay, Red,” but as soon as Ivy looked away, she glared at the palm and finally stuck out her tongue.
“So once we’ve found where this Dean Sasha excrescence lives, we’ll pay him a visit, and I’ll see to his developing a proper appreciation for Nature’s beautiful flora. Now, should we take him out and make him pay for the plants he’s going to care for, or get him started with some of these? It’s getting a little crowded over by the peonies. And if we freed up some room, you could bring the hyenas over next time.”
“Oh, I dunno, Red. I’d be afraid Damien would chew up one of your babies.”
“I see,” Ivy said.
“And you know what a slobber puss Slobberpuss can be.”
“Fine. Mr. Sasha will be buying his own flowers,” Ivy said darkly. Lots and lots of flowers. She would bankrupt him on the most expensive jasmine and orchids and lemon bushes she could find.
Oswald shut his office door and locked it. Then, finding the space too confining, he opened it again, left the Iceberg Lounge entirely and went to his living quarters above. He needed space. He needed to think, and he needed to pace. He had far too much furniture, but at least he could waddle for a good stretch, pacing from room to room while he collected his thoughts.
Victor Frieze was certainly one of the most depressing men on the planet, they all knew that. Oswald couldn’t even say what the point of those first two stories were. Something about rain and baseball, Lex Luthor, and some chap in Philadelphia living in a fool’s paradise, in for some painful realizations about the hard, cold nature of the world… Oswald wasn’t really listening, until Victor touched on the very news Oswald had been pondering: Selina Kyle’s engagement to Bruce Wayne. “Doomed of course. As it always is. ‘Marital bliss,’ it’s always doomed to end in tragedy.”
Oswald tried to veer off the subject, only to be treated to speculation of how the happy couple would meet their inevitable and predestined doom. Would it be one of ‘the bitter ones’ like Crane or Tetch who had to wreck anyone else’s happiness just to prove that nobody should be content? Or perhaps a friend doing Selina a preemptive favor. Since today’s happiness would only make tomorrow’s sadness all the more painful, wouldn’t it be a kindness to nip the whole thing in the bud before they even said “I do?” Or maybe, the greatest tragedy of all, they would escape these obvious snares only to be cut down by some random calamity, like his poor Nora. Or else their love would wither and die… and if it didn’t, they would. Death and decay waited to claim them all…
The most depressing men on the planet. Oswald himself was a bit of a romantic. He certainly hadn’t given up hope. A smart, sexy super-criminal who called herself Heron might be too much to hope for—kwak—but one never knew. A bird-lover, at least, who could appreciate the beauty of an ice sculpture didn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility. So ‘the death and decay that waited to claim them all’ truly offended Oswald’s romantic sensibilities. What a thing to say on a beautiful morning in front of a polar bear happily frolicking around his fake glacier in the middle of an icy pond. Really!
Oswald made his excuses and took a cab home, only to find Jonathan Crane in civilian attire waiting at his front door. Crane said he’d lost a ‘skull sponge’ (whatever that might be) and feared he might have dropped it when he was in a few nights ago, since he hadn’t seen it since then. Oswald let him in—whatever a skull sponge might be, Oswald was quite sure he didn’t want it rolling around on the floor of his bar. And perhaps because his utterly depressing meeting with Victor Frieze was weighing on him, he brought up the Selina matter with Crane.
“Bad that,” was what Jonathan Crane had to say on the subject. “Rogues getting married and turning into housewives, what's TERRIFYING about that? We’re never going to be respected this way, never going to be FEARED.”
If Catty was domesticated, who would fear Rogues? That was the Scarecrow’s take. Victor Frieze thought some of the crazies might want to wreck the marriage because nobody should be happy while another type might think they were doing Selina a favor…
He and Catty were the only theme Rogues who were truly sane. The rest of them… there was no telling what they might do, how volatile the Collective Crazy might become under the influence of this unprecedented stimulus: one of their own getting married—to a prince of the city, no less.
Yes… the prince of the city. If one of these lunatics decided to stop the wedding, it would be all too easy for them to decide killing Bruce Wayne was the best way to go about it. That’s how they thought—kwak—never considering that if you kill a prince of the city, even in a city without Batman, they won't rest until your head is on a pike. A well known and influential person like Bruce Wayne, the city simply would not rest until all of their heads were hoisted up on pikes.
Figuratively, so far as Batman and GCPD was concerned, but maybe literally when it came to Selina. She forgave most offenses after six months or so, but any sane person would realize killing the man she intended to marry was not ‘most offenses.’ Unfortunately, there were no sane people in this scenario except for Oswald himself.
He saw, suddenly, what it meant. There were no sane people involved except for him—so it all fell to him. It fell to him, Oswald Cobblepot, to save the Rogue world from itself. It would not be easy, but it had to be done. He would have to take charge of any efforts to stop the wedding and direct them in such a way to avert the Rogue Apocalypse.
..::Riddle me this: What do you get when you cross a hive-dwelling insect with a yellow marshmallow Easter treat?::..
Eddie waited… heard the BEEP… then Harvey Dent’s gruff Two-Face voice announce ..:: Nigma, pick up::.. before clearing his throat and continuing in a move civilized tone. ..:: Listen, much as we appreciate you turning over your old lair and hooking us up with the Z to get it refurbished, we think it would be better, for the time being, if the world goes on thinking we’ve reformed. That Meadowlark Institute is under the impression they released a scarred but solid citizen, so why waste it? We think we’ll have a better chance cozying up to Bruce and Selina if they’re convinced we’re still a good guy. We’re taking her to lunch tomorrow, see if we can get to the bottom of this engagement business. Will let you know if we find anything.::..
Eddie closed his eyes and shook his head. If only things had turned out better in Metropolis, he would be on the 12 o’clock plane.
To be continued…