Selina stood naked before the bathroom mirror. It had been a while since “Mirror Bitch” played a regular part in her morning routine. As Batman became a bigger part of her waking life, his significance in her dreams diminished. He was still there, but his presence was no longer a battlefield for warring parts of her psyche. Once, he was a secret pleasure, and if she allowed herself to remember that secret when she woke, something terrible would happen. But Mirror Bitch remembered, and the little glow on her cheek when Selina first glimpsed her reflection seemed to taunt her with something—something that could be hers if she wasn’t such a ‘fraidy cat.
Now Batman was Bruce, and to dream of him had no power. When the flesh and blood man rested his hand on the curve of her ass as they slept, a clandestine embrace on a dreamscape rooftop was nothing to hide from. Selina barely noticed when she started remembering her dreams, nor was she aware that Mirror Bitch had gradually faded from her world as there ceased to be anything in the mirror in those first seconds of the day to start her mind wandering down certain paths while she washed her face, showered and dressed.
Today’s early morning stumble into the bathroom therefore brought a sense of déjà vu: a dying ember of something in her eye, which, the second she glimpsed it, brought a flash of something else. Judgment? Annoyance? Judgmental annoyance… merged with defensiveness and dread… creating a vague sense that it was a bad morning and she didn’t feel well. Catlike, Selina responded to the idea by yawning. She considered going back to bed but decided exercise would do her more good. She yawned again, but this time stuck a ready toothbrush into her mouth before it closed. –brush, brush– –brush, brush– And then as she saw her face in the mirror again, recognition hit: Mirror Bitch.
Okay, yes, maybe a certain –brush, brush– covert layer had formed under her relationship with Batman.
Denial was back. Or… not really “denial,” but… he always had a tendency to focus on the work when the personal stuff got too complicated.
She knew the database was a peace offering. Asking her to put her criminal expertise to work for him was Batman’s way of smoothing it over. And it’s not like she didn’t enjoy it –brush, brush– making a comprehensive, annotated database of all the loot worth taking among Foundation insiders. Not just ‘thinking like a cat burglar’ again, but doing it so openly: writing out the analysis of each piece, why it was worth taking and special things to keep in mind planning out each heist –brush, brush– knowing he would read it. –brush, brush– Batman would. Knowing it was opening up that most special and felonious part of her—to him, for him. –brush, brush– And using all the BatTech systems to do it. It was… it was…
It was sexual and intimate in a completely new way.
–brush, brush– –spit–
And it changed the subject. It filled the space that might have otherwise been left by “I cannot allow Ra’s al Ghul to have that kind of influence over my life.” Selina poured a little mouthwash into her glass, swished and spat. “I had an epiphany when I went to Atlantis.” –swish, swish– What did she expect, really?
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way, Catwoman.” “Why Batman, how hard do you want it to get?” “This isn’t a game.”
What did she expect? –swish, swish– What could she expect? He was a jackass, he’d always been a jackass. He was quite romantic and incredibly loving in his way, but His Way had always been –swish, swish– the way of a man who devoted his life to a mission, who gave it his mind and body, his fortune and his industry, even his identity.
So his idea of a proposal didn’t exactly dwell on her. So there was more Crime Alley than ‘I can’t imagine my life without you.’ So it was “that flight to Mongolia” and not ‘I want to grow old with you and give you children.’ That was Bruce. “I simply cannot allow Ra’s al Ghul to have that kind of influence over my life” was quintessentially Bruce. –spit–
‘I had an epiphany. My views have changed. (So now we’re getting married, done deal.)’ That was Bruce at his most Brucian. He invented Batman because the way society was set up to fight crime didn’t suit him. –gargle– What did she expect in a proposal: ‘Make me the happiest man in the world’? –spit–
Selina splashed off her face, but decided to postpone the rest until after her exercise. Then she stopped at the bed on her way to her suite. Bruce was still asleep, turned away from the window whose curtains Alfred would soon open to rouse him. His arm bent over his face with a bit of the black bedsheet pulled up to shield him further, he actually looked like a bat preemptively shielding himself from the intrusive light to come, and as usual, Selina’s pique with Batman wavered when faced with the man under the mask being particularly adorable. She blew a kiss, then left the room.
By the time she crossed the hall into her suite, however, pique had returned. It was that thought of Alfred opening the curtains.
“We should tell Alfred first.”
She lay back on her Bowflex and grabbed onto the handles like she had a grudge against them.
“We should tell Alfred first.”
She slid into position to maximize tension on the rods and began a sequence of punishing line crunches.
I had an epiphany. My views have changed. We should tell Alfred first, then the kids and then Clark. –crunch– In her mind’s ear, she amended the thought to his imagined inner monologue a few days before: I had an epiphany, my views have changed. I should tell Selina first, then Alfred and the kids and the League. –crunch–
The rest of the crunches were spent, for no particular reason, translating the phrase ‘Psychobat jackassery’ into every language she spoke. This was followed by a round of resistance kicks conjugating the verb ‘to whip,’ and finally cross stretches devoted to a rapid-fire multi-linguistic rhapsody on I-She-He-You-They whipping my-her-their Psychobat adversary for his-your-their epic jackassery.
Alfred believed in tradition. That was his thought as he saw his reflection in an antique, mahogany shaving mirror that rested on a low tallboy in his modest but well-furnished room. He gave the bottom edge of his hair a critical look as he set down his comb, deciding he was overdue for a trim. He was no Luddite. He welcomed technology and particularly the labor-saving devices that allowed him to manage Master Bruce’s affairs without a full, permanent staff. But he did not believe in gadgetry for its own sake, and he vehemently disapproved of any innovation that displaced long-standing systems that worked. It was an issue at the forefront of his thoughts these days, standing in front of this mirror and combing his hair as he considered the first tasks of the day before him.
Butlers had been running a hot iron over their employer’s morning newspaper for more than a hundred years. And men of Bruce Wayne’s stature in the world—the men who built and ran empires—had begun each day by taking those pristine, uncreased newspapers from the little basket on the side of their breakfast trays made for that very purpose, or alternately by picking them up from beside their plate if breakfast was served in the dining room, and using those minutes over juice and coffee to acquaint themselves with happenings in the world. It worked. And Alfred did not trust the idea of news alerts pinging throughout the day on laptops and phones as a substitute for that time-honored ritual.
He did recognize that the news on those printed pages was no longer the most current available, and he had noted that when Master Bruce and Miss Selina breakfasted in the dining room, their conversation often referenced the website of this newspaper or that one which they had obviously consulted on their own before coming downstairs. He saw the need to bring the morning newspaper up to date, but he had not yet perfected a way to do so while preserving its essential function in the daily routine. He had been experimenting with one of the new Wayne Tech tablets, equipped with its revolutionary smart chip, which he had set up to pull news from The Gotham Times, Wall Street Journal and The Daily Planet, along with headlines from a variety of other sources that might be pertinent to Batman. He had been refining these searches for nearly six weeks, perusing the results himself and making what adjustments he thought best to keep the end product most like the existing newspaper, but more timely. Most often these adjustments reduced the “pertinent to Batman” content, for Alfred felt sure that presenting Master Bruce with too much crime-related material at such an early hour would have an adverse affect on his office time at Wayne Enterprises. For the past several days, however, there were no adjustments. He made a token one yesterday, but he was quite aware he was only doing so to delay the inevitable. If today’s digital edition was as suitable as its recent predecessors, Alfred would be forced to conclude that the tablet was ready to make its debut on the breakfast tray.
Unless he cheated and put it off one more day. Again. That would be the decision before him as he decanted orange juice and heated croissants. The idea was a good one, it was only that once Master Bruce saw the innovation, Alfred knew there was no going back. His enthusiasm for technology would overrule any other consideration, and if a flaw were found that Alfred had not anticipated, getting Master Bruce to acknowledge it and return to the old ways would be all but impossible.
Selina had finished her workout and was crossing the hall to return to the bedroom when Alfred was coming up the stairs with the breakfast tray. Rather than a typical “Good morning” or “You’re up early today, miss” there was only a silent tilt of the head and a hint of surprise and uncertainty in his eye—two emotions that were all but unheard of in Alfred Pennyworth.
“Good morning, Alfred,” she offered.
“A word, miss,” he answered, signaling a change in course with a head-tilt and heading, tray and all, back into her suite rather than continuing into the master bedroom.
“Something wrong, Alfred?” Selina asked as he set down the tray on her coffee table, took a leather book from the side basket that usually held a newspaper, and handed it to her. Taking it, she saw that it wasn’t a book but a sleek computer tablet in a leather cover.
“The day’s news, miss,” Alfred said grimly. “There is a letter to the editor in the Times and an Op Ed in the Gotham Observer which, I fear, may be somewhat distressing.”
“Okay,” Selina nodded taking a breath and hitting the button to light the screen. “Thanks for the… warning,” she managed as she began to read, then her words trailed off as her eyes darted and flickered around the screen. When she finished, she paused for a few seconds more, then looked up at Alfred. “Okay,” she repeated. “I’ll tell him. And um, will try to keep breakages to a minimum.”
She took a moment to collect herself before crossing the hall and then padded back into the bedroom with all the silent caution she would have used if Catwoman was there on business. She crept into the bed with equal care, and only once she was fully in position did she risk a move that might wake him. She let a single fingertip trace lightly along Bruce’s jaw, moving up ever so gently to where the edge of the mask would cut across his cheek.
“Don’t even think it,” he murmured, reaching up to grab her wrist.
“Wake up, handsome,” she said softly, but it was the beguiling softness of a villainess coaxing him awake, not the tender whisper of a lover. “You’ve got bigger problems than a curious kitty pawing at your mask.”
“What’s up?” he said, sliding into a seated position, his hand reaching up reflexively to ‘check’ the mask that wasn’t there. “Did the cat burglar strike again?”
“Yeah. Matter of fact, he hit the Brodland townhouse, but—”
“That was the Bvlgari emeralds, right? Thermal imaging camera on the north wall?”
“Van Cleef and Arpels broach and Harry Winston garnet drop, SVB-54 camera with infrared, but that’s really not—”
“I’m loving the database, Selina. It’s great reading. The analysis of each target, what makes it appealing, how you’d—”
“Thanks. Look, you’re not awake yet, but please try to foc—”
“I’m awake enough to get started,” Bruce said with a stretch. “You can brief me on whatever’s happened over coffee an—”
“No! Bruce, you’re not driving, so shut up and stop trying to take the wheel. You don’t get coffee yet because it’s a silver pot full of scalding liquid and the cups are breakable.”
His eyes narrowed, and Selina felt the slightest of density shifts. She knew there would be no more Morning-Bruce trying to smooth over the proposal with chatty compliments. When he spoke again, it would be a minimalist Bat-gravel.
“Falstaff made his move,” she answered. “The cat burglar might be the headline, but the real story is playing out on the inside pages. He’s got this letter to the editor printed in the Times, practically a love letter to Wayne Tech: the smart chip, aerogel, robotics and communication systems…”
“The kind of thing he was saying last night about our work with Sub Diego.”
“Right. It’s in the print edition, so it was obviously written days ago and slated for publication today. The day’s headline just happens to be the cat burglar, now three for three hitting people while they were at a Wayne event, and that purely coincidental happenstance seems to have inspired a columnist at the Gotham Observer to write an Op Ed, fresh off the cyber press in the online edition…”
“Meaning Falstaff got lucky or he played a hunch. If another Wayne guest was hit during the Water Ball, then his letter would have more traction outside the relatively small readership of the letters column.”
“Played a hunch or he’s actually in league with the cat. My two-bit opinion is nobody put that Op Ed together in ten minutes after reading today’s Times. It was ready for Falstaff’s letter and the cat burglar news to hit at the same time.”
“What’s the gist?”
“Falstaff is a visionary. As an outsider, he’s able to see the significance and potential of Wayne Tech which Gotham in general is blind to, and the reason for our collective lack of understanding is that we’re all following your lead.”
“Wait a minute, this is one of the Observer’s regular contributors or someone new?”
“Bruce, look where we are. Is this a cave briefing or a meeting at the Watchtower? I haven’t dug into this; I haven’t even had my shower yet.”
“Fine. Falstaff writes a fulsome letter to the Times praising Wayne Tech, and ‘John Smith’ who we’ll assume is a newcomer and Falstaff’s unacknowledged mouthpiece at the Gotham Observer responds saying he’s a visionary. Go on.”
“None of us see the potential in Wayne Tech the way Falstaff does because we’re following your lead. You personally, as the glib and good-natured simpleton who doesn’t really understand anything about the company but parrots whatever the PR department tells you. Being a bunch of soulless salesmen, they can’t be expected to have the vision and insight of a Gregorian Falstaff.”
“I get the idea. Let’s skip the rest of the intro and get to the part that would lead to my throwing coffee.”
“Rather than recognizing Falstaff’s worth and thanking our lucky stars that such a man has come to enlighten us, we shunned him. He’s a pariah among Gotham’s elite. The same elite that welcomes an admitted thief shuns Falstaff…”
She trailed off, feeling Bruce’s eyes bore into her.
“Go on,” he graveled.
Rather than say it out loud, Selina took the tablet from behind her back and handed it over. Bruce took it and, after a final attempt to meet her eyes, he looked down and started to read.
“…for the crime of not being the last scion of a founding family,” he murmured as he skimmed. “Lucky enough to escape the current climate of suspicion towards the privileged class thanks to the romantic patina of a family tragedy… Gotham’s poor little rich boy, gilding his excesses and his philanthropy alike in… WHAT THE HELL?!”
Selina braced for the sound of a tablet hurled with the force of a batarang into a Regency mirror, but no such outburst came. Instead, Bruce was staring into the distance, those waves of willful intensity that were pure Batman pulsing and pounding around him.
After a minute, his head lifted slightly as he took in a sharp breath through his nostrils. His eyes flickered sharply across the room in the way Selina had seen when he was putting himself into the mind of his opponent. Then he let his fingers open limply and the tablet toppled head first into the folds of the bedsheets, like the Titanic prior to sinking.
“Go,” he said finally.
Selina stared for a moment before managing a bewildered “W-what?”
“The only thing I have to say on this, you do not want to hear. Go off somewhere. Tell Alfred to forget breakfast and dinner. I’ll grab something at the penthouse and leave on patrol from there.”
“I’m out of here in about five minutes, so if you want to ride into town together, dress fast.”
“Oh,” Selina breathed. “Oh.”
“No,” she said, rising slowly from the bed and moving towards the door. “I’ll get myself into town. Psychobat driving is never much fun. The thought of him stuck in morning rush hour without being able to floor it is absolutely horrifying.”
The 16th Floor was one of the most secure in the Wayne Tower. To the outside world, it was the HQ for Wayne Tech R&D. To an outside thief, it rivaled Information Technologies on 38, Aerospace on 41, the executive suites on 75 and 76; senior management and the board room on 77. To an inside thief like Selina who knew all of the building’s secrets, the 16th Floor could even boast a few features shared only by the private elevator to Bruce’s penthouse.
Since the Foundation launched its extranet to connect the Foundation office in Sub Diego with the one in the Wayne Tower, the 16th Floor had sacrificed a supply closet and a handicapped washroom to become the Sub Diego Meta-Comm Facility. Within this dark, long and narrow space, a row of what Norm had called “land doubles” stood along the wall like toy soldiers. In their dormant state, the units looked like iPads mounted on streamlined Segways—until someone in the Sub Diego office logged in. Then the tablet which constituted the head would flash a Wayne Tech logo and flicker through a series of start up and sync screens that revealed a far more sophisticated mechanism. While the tablet-head booted, a black disc at the bottom of the “Segway” would erupt into a star pattern of thin red beams, like a cluster of lasers fanning out in all directions. Once the surroundings were mapped and the start up routines completed, the face of the Sub Diego operator would appear on the screen and the unit would begin to move. It had become a familiar sight in the WT offices: one or two land doubles rolling down the hall, calling the elevator with a Bluetooth signal and saying “Good morning” if someone was already in the car.
Most Sub Diegans kept California time, but Juan and Alan preferred to get up early and check in with Norm at the start of the East Coast work day. Today they had an added incentive: a meeting with Tim Drake to prep for. Juan absolutely LOVED the high tech meeting room they could interface with in the Foundation office. It looked like a room out of Star Trek, with a level of tech toys he would never have gotten to see, let alone operate, if it hadn’t been for the bizarre twist of fate that made him a water-breather. In front of each seat at the long conference table there was a small, tilted screen half-recessed into the table-top. They looked like clear glass, until the presenter started showing slides or video, then they mirrored whatever he showed on the huge projection screen at the front of the table and the two HD screens on each side wall. Best of all was the back wall, clear glass, cool as can be!
Juan relished the idea of using it—of being the STAR OF THE SHOW using it—whenever Wayne showed off the Sub Diego operation to press and universities. Today’s meeting with Tim Drake was sort of a dry run. He was happy to help the kid, sure, but he really wanted experience showing off the system to surfacers. His land double went straight to Norm’s cubicle and, after a few good mornings and hopes Norm wasn’t too hung over from partying all night after the ball (Quoth the Normster: “As if.”), Norm unlocked the conference room and four lights sprang to life on the top of Juan’s tablet. One solid blue… synced… One solid green… synced… The second blue flickered with the intermittent sending and receiving of data... The last solid blue… synced…
“Looks like you’re set,” Norm said happily. “Where’s Alan. He sleeping in?”
..:: No, he’s here,::.. Juan’s image replied from the tablet screen. ..::He wanted to stop off in Gwen Chatham’s office. Says Selina Kyle starts the day there whenever she’s in the office and he wants to thank her for the party last night. You know what he’s like with all that Miss Manners stuff.::..
Norm thought it was a nice idea, but he wasn’t sure Selina would be in today. He started to brief Juan on the developments in the morning news, when Juan skipped ahead. Making use of his uplink with the company intranet that could access the Wayne systems faster than people right in the corporate HQ, he pulled Falstaff’s letter and the Op Ed from the PR department's clipping service and was skimming as Norm talked until:
..:: Oh NOT COOL!::.. he exploded.
“Uh, what?” Norm asked.
..:: Here, look at this,::.. said Juan, sending his data to the conference room screens. ..:: This is the original Op Ed when it was clipped. See that light, that means there’s been a change on the website, so I went to look, and here.::..
“You could just tell me,” Norm pointed out as Juan split the image on the viewscreen to put the live internet site next to the memo from PR department.
..:: You’re no fun. Here, okay, this is what’s changed. Some asshat posted a comment on the Op Ed saying it’s obvious Selina Kyle is the cat burglar and Wayne is paying off the cops to ignore it. Somebody else says how she’s kind of got an alibi, being at the party and all, and asshat calls them a retard. Then he goes on to say how Wayne is ‘flouting’ her—I think flaunting is what they mean—by y’know, having her continue as his date and kind of the hostess at all these events. ‘Flouting’ her in front of the donors is just another sign of how far above everyone he believes himself to be. If any of them brought her to Ball Number Three after Burglary One and Two, they would have been ruined. Or at least decently embarrassed. But when he does it, it’s a sign of his untouchable stature. Like a Roman emperor.::.
“A Roman emperor?” Norm sputtered.
..::I’m guessing on that part,::.. Juan said. ..::Their actual word was Calibulla.::..
“Calibu—I’m calling Calibullshit on that one, man.”
..:: It’s an anonymous comment on an Op Ed, it’s a net troll, what do you expect?::..
“History Channel just did a special on Caligula; they’ve been advertising it all week. It keeps dancing in the corner of the screen while you’re trying to watch something else. A real troll with nothing better to do but sitting around watching American Pickers would know how to spell it. ‘Calibulla’ is somebody that knows exactly what they’re doing, trying to look like a barely literate internet asshat.”
Selina had never worried much about cops. From Interpol to Scotland Yard, they never came close to coming close to coming close to being dangerous. Initially, she chafed when tabloids floated the idea that anyone less than Batman was capable of catching Catwoman, but as the years passed, she came to see the insults brought a few perks. The police had no idea how far they were from being effective, and these know-nothing nobodies in the press simply fed their ignorance on that point. The police would never improve their approach if they weren’t aware of its shortcomings, and that left her free to play with the more amusing adversary.
Then he ceased to be an adversary, she ceased to be a thief, and the whole issue became moot until Detectives Reed and Rowanski came to the manor to question her. And they’d come, not about any crime of Catwoman’s, but about an explosion that nearly blew her up. Bruce took the opportunity to demonstrate what the Wayne money could do to shield her, and sidestepping those protections, Selina found she could finesse the detectives as neatly as she always imagined. Apart from Reed’s (or maybe it was Rowanski’s) final assessment that if Bruce wasn’t a total moron he should marry that woman, the interview was a triumph.
So police simply weren’t something she worried about, even now that she arrived at the Foundation to see Detective Rowanski camped outside Gwen Chatham’s door. Men whose suits, shoes and demeanor marked them as his colleagues hovered around the offices of Madison Hargrove and Cynthia Merithew, but Selina ignored them—as well as a jolt in the pit of her stomach that she’d never felt in the wake of any crime she actually committed—and sashayed boldly through the reception area.
“Detective,” she said, greeting Rowanski with all the poise and assurance of a jewel thief whose billionaire boyfriend had just been falsely accused of bribing him. “I could have sworn that, when we met last, you said you weren’t in Major Case and didn’t investigate ‘art thefts or burglaries involving safes and vaults.’”
“That’s right, ma’am. I’m still assigned to the Arson Squad, but given the delicate nature of today’s business, it was suggested that I come along and supervise.”
“Because we got along so well last time?” Selina said with a cynically raised eyebrow undercutting the flirtatious lilt in her tone. “You may not find me as charming as a suspect as I was as a victim.”
“Due respect, Miss Kyle, you’re not a suspect, and I’m not here to question you. Quite the opposite. You have an alibi, you were in a ballroom with a couple hundred of the most important people in the city during each one of the robberies. For me to ignore that and investigate you anyway would be a pretty obvious response to that nonsense on the Internet this morning. The Chief is adamant we don’t give that impression, so…”
“So you’re here to not talk to me,” Selina affirmed in the tone she used to humor Whiskers.
“That’s right. While we investigate whatever the connection is between the Wayne Foundation and the robberies, because there certainly is one.”
“Absolutely cannot permit this!” was heard from inside Madison’s office.
Another raised voice answered, male and not quite as distinct, but including the words ‘last resort’ ‘one phone call’ and ‘subpoena.’
Selina and Rowanski’s eyes met and, after a silent beat, they paced each other to Madison’s door. A momentary ‘after you’ delay when they got there ended in Selina being the one who actually turned the doorknob to find Madison standing in front of her desk with her arms outstretched as if forming a human shield between her files and an encroaching army. Knowing the detailed dossiers Madison kept on the biggest names and deepest pockets in the city, Selina could understand why.
“There is no such thing as Charity-Donor privilege,” said the plain-clothes detective who, though angry, did not resemble an army. What he did resemble was the cynical, dog-faced, wise-cracking senior partner from a ‘ripped from the headlines’ police procedural—the one who would say anything to anybody, political consequences be damned. Which, Selina guessed, is why Rowanski had been assigned to hold his leash.
“Everybody count to ten,” he ordered—not a moment too soon, as Madison performed that intake of breath which signals a heated and lengthy retort is about to begin.
“Madison Hargrove, our development director,” Selina said by way of introduction. “This is Detective Rowanski, reasonable human being. And… I don’t know who you are,” she added, with a pleasant smile for the plain-clothes detective (who would have found it infinitely less pleasant if he knew it was the same smile she gave Killer Croc when he was on a tirade at the Iceberg.)
“Schmidt,” he said grudgingly. “I am trying to impress on your ‘development director’ that these fundraisers you’ve been having are the only link between the victims of these robberies and we need to see the guest list.”
“And I am trying to convey to Detective Schmidt that the ‘guest list’ is the donor list, and while I’m happy to give you the public list that goes in the annual report, those who give to the Foundation on the condition of anonymity will remain anonymous.”
“Then we’ll get a court order and seize your files,” Schmidt barked.
“I bet you miss arson,” Selina whispered to Rowanski.
“When you pry them from my cold dead fingers,” Madison hissed.
“Time!” Selina called. “Reality check. Detective Schmidt, if you think any judge in this town will sign that search warrant, you obviously don’t have a clue what kind of people are on that list. Madison,” she paused and delivered the rest with a girlish wink. “I think if the gentlemen ask nicely, there’s a way we can help them without betraying any confidences.”
“Ask nicely?!” Schmidt rasped—which Selina expected. Outrage from a blowhard cop was absolutely expected. It was Madison’s reaction that interested Selina. If Madison was the woman she hoped, one capable of researching Gotham’s upper crust with the same acquisitive instincts as Selina herself, she should be tickled at the idea.
“Naturally, the Foundation wants to do all it can to assist the police in this unfortunate matter,” she said in a warm, honeyed voice which curled her lip into the slightest hint of a coy smile. “If you actually have a proposal that wouldn’t compromise our position with the anonymous donors…”
She trailed off and looked expectantly at Selina. Selina smiled and looked expectantly at Detective Schmidt. Rowanski scratched his nose and then left his hand over his mouth to cover a grin.
“Uh, yeah, that’d be great, if you’ve got an idea,” Schmidt said haltingly.
Selina and Madison exchanged patronizing looks, agreeing that it was probably as close to ‘asking nicely’ as the poor ass could do without practice.
“Okay, it’s not the people who wrote a check that you care about,” Selina said gamely. “Anonymously or not, that’s just not the issue. It’s the people who actually came to the parties, right? And there are, like, four hundred cameras at the door photographing the red carpet. It’s been over twelve hours since last night’s gala, I guarantee there are ten thousand pictures on the internet by now.”
“That’s true,” Madison admitted.
“Yeah! Picture of Mrs. Neiderbaum wearing Halston on the Internet, it can’t be against the rules to tell us she was there, right?” Schmidt said petulantly.
“You’re welcome,” Selina mouthed to no one in particular.
Despite the relatively peaceful resolution of the standoff in Madison’s office, a new link was posted in the comments thread of the Op Ed, purporting to be video of GPD officers leaving the Wayne Tower with boxes of files seized from the Wayne Foundation.
Lucius watched the footage with a stoic frown, then he called Bruce to his office and they watched it together, then he watched it a third time while Bruce was on the phone with Gwen, confirming that the incident had not, in fact, occurred.
“Two men in blue windbreakers carrying a mail bin heaped with binders and a box of file folders,” Lucius said wryly. “Do people really think that’s what our files would look like? Records for the last eight years fit on a single thumb drive.”
“Yes, but a man in an ordinary-looking business suit leaving the building with a piece of plastic no larger than a stick of gum, that’s not a visual for the evening news,” Bruce noted.
“Well, if Falstaff’s plan was to set off a panic sell of Wayne stock as the prelude to a takeover, it backfired. Trading is heavy, but it’s likely we’re going to be up a point by the closing bell.”
“No, the stock price isn’t his target,” Bruce said with a headshake. “He’s been talking up Wayne Tech, the unrecognized potential, blah-blah-blah. Best advertising we could hope for. So when a scandal breaks and does scare an investor into selling, there are three buyers waiting to grab his shares. Price goes up, not down. If he wanted to buy as much as he could for a takeover, he’d want to sink the price, not raise it.”
“Maybe he didn’t realize,” Lucius said. “Truth is, there are corners of the market that miss the old you, Bruce.”
“The old me?”
“Pre-Selina, the Billionaire Bad Boy who’d make a spectacle of himself on a regular basis. These are smart people, Bruce. They know what this company is worth, long term. You do something crazy in the press that makes the stock drop for a few hours, they say ‘That item’s on sale.’”
“I don’t think the return of ‘the billionaire bad boy’ is what Falstaff is after,” Bruce said.
“Maybe not, but his attacks do seem to focus on you personally. Like you said, he has nothing but praise for Wayne Tech, Wayne Industries, parent company Wayne Enterprises. All the vitriol is pointed at you.”
And Selina, Bruce thought. If you figure in the cat burglar.
As if in response, there was the quick rap on the side of the open door that announces someone who knows they’re free to enter without knocking, followed by Selina’s voice actually saying the words:
“Knock, knock! Lucius, I wanted to pop up and make sure—Oh, you’re here too.”
Bruce tried to take it as the casual remark of someone who’d come into Lucius Fox’s office with the intention of seeing Lucius Fox and simply didn’t expect anyone else to be there. He tried to ignore that it was delivered with the same twisty frown that Catwoman reserved for sidekicks who showed up when she expected to have Batman to herself.
“It just occurred to me, in light of the day’s shit storm,” she went on, “that it wouldn’t be good news if anyone found out what I’ve been teaching you. Between the Data-Lock and our other project, you’re two of the ten most formidable thieves in the country at this point.”
“Not to worry, my work is all proprietary,” Lucius answered. “Covered by trade secrets protections. Technically, I shouldn’t even tell Bruce what we’ve been working on.”
“Okay. Well, maybe mothball it anyway for the duration,” Selina suggested. “You’re probably too busy to bother with it right now anyway, with all that’s going on out there. Must be DefCon 4 up here.”
Lucius agreed to the mothballing, but explained that the stock was healthy as ever and, while he and Bruce were staying on top of the situation, ‘Defcon’ didn’t enter into the matter.
“Well that’s good. Still, for the time being, I have one less ‘student,’” she said with a wink.
“One less student?” Bruce asked.
“We’ll talk later,” she said pointedly.
His eyes narrowed with rooftop menace, and hers answered with rooftop defiance. ‘It has nothing to do with Batman, don’t be a jackass’ they said so clearly that Bruce unconsciously let out a grunt.
“Actually, I was just heading back to my office,” he said lightly, though a surge of Bat-intensity belied the casual tone. “If you don’t have to rush back downstairs, maybe you could come with,” he concluded with the same fierce glare that used to accompany Batman’s Put it back.
Of course, when it had been Batman ordering her to put it back, Catwoman had never once complied, which made Selina’s easy agreement now slightly puzzling. When they reached his office, she broke into a Cheshire grin as he shut the door.
“Knew that would get you,” she said proudly.
“Well, the thing in Lucius’s office is no big deal. I just… spent the day teaching your staff how to handle cops, which is a whole new level of weird. You have some smart ladies running that Foundation, Bruce. Madison, Gwen, Cynthia, all first-rate. Just unschooled in how to use it to handle tightass lawmen. And now, thanks to me, the savvy and sassy women who work for you know how to use it… to handle the cops investigating the cat burglar jewel thief. New level of weird.”
“But not what you actually wanted to talk about.”
“No. No it wasn’t. I just saw the crime scene photos from the Coleman penthouse.” Bruce raised an eyebrow, and rather than get derailed with a long explanation, she quickly said “Long story: that Detective Rowanski had pictures of the stolen jewelry, and he was going through them with Gwen to see if she remembered them from earlier galas. These other pictures in the file were from the crime scenes, and when I got to the ones from the Coleman Penthouse, there was this… empty spot on the wall where a painting was missing.”
“Yes, the burglar hasn’t confined himself to jewelry. You knew that from the Beaufort townhouse.”
“Where he took a Faberge box and a silver letter opener from the desk, yes, the desk right in front of the safe. And at the Colemans’ there were some bearer bonds in the safe along with the jewelry, and last night at the Brodlands’ it was some knick-knack from a table that was right inside the window they came through—that’s an impulse purchase. It’s something he grabbed on his way out: ‘Oh this is cute.’ Stick it in the bag. The bearer bonds were in the safe right next to the jewels. The Faberge box was right there at the desk.
“But the painting is different. ‘The Spice Merchant’s Wife,’ it was in the foyer, right inside the front door over the little entrance table with the mail tray. Now, our cat came in through the window, and the safe with the jewelry was in the study next to the bedroom. What’s he doing in the foyer? He wouldn’t have any reason to go into that part of the house to see this thing and pick it up on impulse. And it’s small, not like he would have spotted it from two rooms away when he was going through the living room.”
“You’re saying, what, that he went into the foyer specifically to get this painting?”
“Sort of, but that doesn’t make sense either. It’s not famous or outrageously valuable.”
Bruce’s eyes bored into hers.
“Then why,” he said finally, although it seemed more like a prompt than a question.
“I was wrong. When I was poking holes in the movie, I said there was no reason for a jewel thief to be doing their thing while the owners were out at a Wayne gala because they’d be wearing the best pieces. And I was wrong. There is a reason: to make it clear that Bruce Wayne’s guests are your target. And the reason for taking The Spice Merchant’s Wife is for that photograph of the crime scene: that empty space on the wall right over the mail tray with the invitation to the next Wayne gala sitting right underneath where you can’t miss it. Where the police can’t miss it, where they’ll be dusting it for fingerprints. Where the insurance investigators won’t miss it. Where Batman won’t miss it.”
Bruce lifted his steepled fingers to his lips and thought it over.
Bruce Wayne’s guests... Bruce Wayne who’s living with Selina Kyle, the cat burglar; that was one angle. He dismissed the idea that it could be an attack on her. The world had seen Selina brazenly reveal herself as Catwoman with no repercussions from Batman or the police. So if the cat burglar preying on Wayne donors was an attack, it was aimed at him personally or at the pair of them as a couple. Either he was to be seen as so irresponsible and lacking in judgment that he exposed himself and his peers to this horrid criminal person, or else he was the one who was meant to see things differently. If Selina was going to be this kind of a liability, she would have to go.
None of it quite gelled with Falstaff as the puppet master pulling the cat burglar’s strings, but Bruce’s suspicions were already moving in another direction.
He looked uncomfortably at Selina, the word “Go” hovering on his lips again.
“Let’s get out of here,” he graveled finally. “Go… downstairs.”
She didn’t object; she assumed he wanted to access the Bat Computer. But when they reached the private elevator, he hesitated, his finger poised over the button.
“Unless you’d rather talk in the penthouse. If you want something to eat or...”
“No, I’m good,” she said. “Cave or penthouse, whatever you want.”
Again he hesitated. Then he pressed his finger decisively and the elevator began to move.
“Bruce, what’s going on?” she asked as they descended.
“You’re just the worst possible person to be here right now,” he murmured.
“Gee thanks, love you too,” she spat.
“I don’t mean it like that it’s… it’s helpful to have someone to talk to, to talk through the case with. And this is a cat burglar; you have special knowledge and amazing insights. If I’m completely honest with you about what I think is going on, you might have the answer to end it. But you are literally the last person in the world I want to say this to.”
“Oh, I am going to love this,” Selina muttered. “I haven’t had this many mixed messages from you since your brilliant plan to protect me from Joker by hiding me in solitary at Blackgate.”
“If you remember, I knew that you wouldn’t go for it, and I only said it to bait you into ‘stealing’ a chemically tainted beacon so I could track you and trap him!”
“I remember that’s how you decided to frame it after you had to admit that my plan was better than yours. That I had an idea—nay, a strategy—to save my skin and catch Joker, and that strategy was better than yours. The only way to take the sting out was to claim it was actually a part of your plan all alo—”
“I am not getting sucked into this. I am not allowing you to run some, some goddamn protocol meant to remind me what an unmitigated jackass you used to be in order to make whatever new bit of Psychobat Nincompoopery you want to spring on me look less idiotic by comparison.”
“IT’S RA’S!” Bruce yelled. “THAT’S WHO’S BEHIND THIS, ARE YOU HAPPY?”
The doors to the Batcave opened, but neither moved, and after a moment, the doors closed again.
“You’ve said it yourself a dozen times,” Bruce said, biting off each word. “The Demon’s Head doesn’t have a lot of new ideas. The one he has come up with on his own in the last quarter century was the one protocol he didn’t take from me. I had ways to neutralize the rest of the Justice League, but he had to get me out of the way too. And the way he chose to keep me occupied was defiling my parents’ grave and sending me a picture of their coffins suspended over an unknown Lazarus Pit. Say what you want about Ra’s al Ghul, Selina, and there is very little you have to say on the subject that I don’t agree with, but hairdo or not, he knows how to push my buttons.”
“Let’s not endow him with special powers, Bruce. He knows your identity. At that point, you’re one big button. The only thing that requires any intellectual acumen is not bumping it accidentally.”
“Falstaff has been doing nothing but push my buttons since that first day at the Empire Club,” Bruce said hatefully. “He’s done it too well; he has been eerily on target. And now… Now look at where all this is heading. He’s not attacking Wayne Enterprises, he’s smearing The Foundation. That’s not just my parents, Selina, that’s… The Foundation that has an office in Sub Diego, Sub Diego that is hardwired to the offices here. And Sub Diego which now has an embassy in Atlantis.
“It’s Ra’s. Selina, it is Ra’s, the words have been pounding in my brain since I read those phrases in that preposterous Op Ed this morning. But I couldn’t SAY THAT TO YOU because of that stupid—because you won’t just LET IT GO about those five stupid minutes at the MoMA—”
“Damnit, I don’t have a whip!” Selina yelled, flogging his breast pocket ineffectually with her purse. “You insufferably jac… that’s vibrating.” She stopped mid-flog, and pointed at his jacket pocket.
Bruce reached inside his jacket, took out his vibrating phone, and answered with a scowl.
“Yes, Lucius?” he said. “Right now? No, I’m ten feet from a television. I’ll watch from here.” He hung up and pressed the elevator button to open the doors.
“Falstaff is giving a press conference,” he graveled.
To be continued…