When Joan Pittman got the job at Yellow Iris, she thought the owner was joking when he asked if she wanted to use her own name. It wasn’t until she forgot her nametag and borrowed the one left by her predecessor—called Ginseng—that she realized why. She made almost 30% more than she had on her best day as Joan. So she remained Ginseng for a few weeks, just as a test, and since the improvement in tips and commissions continued, she kept it. After month she started to experiment. She tried Merlot and then Chablis but found no improvement. Anise, Anisette and Chevril were all better than Joan but not as good as Ginseng. Silver, Pearl and Ruby were failures and soured her on the idea of jewelry. Finally she returned to the spice rack, so it was “Saffron” who shot a Be-With-You-In-A-Minute Smile at the unlikely pair of customers who had come through the door with such determination and now looked around so uncertainly.
“It could be worse,” Eddie said gamely.
“How do you figure?” asked Mahmoud.
“Tea rooms, lingerie stores. There are more… frilly places she could have sent us.” He said this touching a display counter carefully, with just the tip of his finger, as if testing that it wouldn’t emit billows of candy floss genii smoke and transport them into some nightmare of pink and pastel feminine frippery and other alliterations meant to make a man’s eyes bleed.
No such transformation occurred, and Eddie repeated his assertion that it really could be worse. If Selina’s aim was to make him uncomfortable in an embarrassingly feminine place, she could have done a lot worse than Yellow Iris. With its highly polished black floors and counters, black and white shelves stocked with rows of clear, uniform bottles, it was really quite chic. More like a space age apothecary or an upscale mad scientist’s lab than a perfumery. Even the salesgirl who greeted them seemed on the normal side.
“We’ll see,” Mahmoud said, peering suspiciously at a shelf marked MUSK with a row of small bottles reading White, Bronzed and Egyptian and a printed card detailing in pale, hard-to-read calligraphy the many overlooked benefits of the scent.
“Welcome to Yellow Iris,” said the salesgirl. “Is this your first time?”
Now that Eddie was close enough to read her nametag and saw that her name was Saffron, he might have revised his opinion, but she had opened with a question. Today he would take any good omen he could get.
Mahmoud said yes, it was their first time, and Saffron went into her spiel: Yellow Iris strove to provide “the highest quality couture scents…” which were “hand crafted in the traditional methods of artisan perfumers,” “properly aged and poured in small batches” and “available in an alcohol base or fractionated coconut oil.”
Eddie was so busy analyzing the sales talk for hidden messages, he missed the nuts and bolts explanation of how the place worked. When Saffron went to help another customer, he asked Mahmoud to fill in the blanks.
“It sounded good at the beginning, but then it kind of fizzled,” he said, rather than admit he thought highest might be a clue and was making up anagrams for quality couture scents to go with it, except he couldn’t find one that had the word quest that didn’t also involve a unicycle. “I know there was something about hand-pouring, and plantains came into it somehow.”
“She says they have recommended blends, suggested combinations that go well together, but we’re free to ignore the advice and choose whatever we want.”
“Hmph,” said Eddie. “And the plantains?”
“If we want tuberose, white pepper and plantains, that’s what they’ll mix.”
Eddie looked thoughtfully at the ceiling, considering tuber: YouTube, tube as shorthand for the London subway, white, plantains, White Plains, taking the subway to White Plains… then he gave up.
“That’s not helpful,” he declared. “I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere just looking around. We need more data. More clues. We’ll have to go through the process.”
When Saffron returned, they said they wanted to buy a fragrance. She asked if it was for a man or a woman—and they looked at each other in panic.
“Excuse us,” Eddie said through a forced smile, and he pulled Mahmoud away for a huddle. When they returned, they said they would each mix a fragrance. Mahmoud would make one for his wife, and Eddie would make one for himself. That way they could examine all the ingredients available for women’s, men’s and unisex fragrances.
Saffron’s lips morphed into the very gracious smile of a salesgirl who didn’t want you to think she was only smiling because you’d just turned into a giant bag of money. She led them to a special sampling counter with side-by-side stations. Before each, she set out a pad and a thin gold pencil to take notes, as well as a small, soy sauce-size dish of coffee beans. Eddie immediately began examining his pencil, and once again missed the explanation, although he could figure it out easily enough. The coffee beans were to sniff and ‘clear the nose’ between scents the way sorbet cleansed the palate between courses.
He wished he had something like that for his brain. The robots, the bat file, the tarot cards, the thought of Doris modeling Garbo’s silk robe, the thought of Doris languishing in some horrid interrogation room...
“Grassy, Fruity or Earthy?”
“Excuse me?” Eddie said, shaking his head as if evading a fly.
Saffron smiled patiently.
“I was saying that even though men avoid the floral notes, there are literally hundreds of base scents available, so to narrow it down, I like to ask a few questions.”
“Hundreds?” Eddie said, thinking he had never been so turned off by the idea of answering questions.
“More like thousands on my side,” Mahmoud said, looking at the menu of florals.
“Excuse us,” Eddie said with a forced smile, and again he pulled Mahmoud away for a huddle.
“I don’t think ‘going through the process’ is the answer here,” he said in an urgent whisper. “Hundreds if not thousands of scents. We’ll never be able to brute force it.”
“There must be some way to narrow it down,” Mahmoud hissed back, just as urgently. “What else have you got in that tablet besides the picture of the train station and the clock.”
As if it occurred to them at the same moment that Saffron was watching, they both turned to her in perfect sync, as if they were mirror images. They smiled at her with identical smiles, nodded identical nods, and received a joint, patronizing nod-smile in return.
“That’s just the way they smile at us at Arkham before calling for the jacket,” Eddie said through clenched teeth.
“Just the way the wife smiles before her mother comes for a visit,” Mahmoud commiserated.
By then, Eddie had produced the tablet and displayed the pictures he’d decrypted: the silent film star wearing pearls, the platform at the train station, the clock and the—
“Tarot cards,” Mahmoud said, intrigued.
“You know anything about them?” Eddie said hopefully.
He shook his head. “Not a thing. But this card says it’s the Emperor. And one of the scents on my list… there were like six kinds of Jasmine and one in particular was called Emperor’s Jasmine.”
“Emperor Jasmine,” Eddie said confidently, returning to the counter. “We want to start with Emperor Jasmine.” He didn’t exactly wink, but he did pronounce the final words like a code phrase. Like he expected Saffron to utter a counter sign about the rooster crowing at midnight, produce a lacquer box with a special key and tell him to meet a man with a bowtie at Café Moulin.
“Our jasmines are really better for a top note, it’s not ideal for a base,” Saffron cautioned.
Eddie’s eyes narrowed.
“Say that again,” he ordered.
“Jasmine is better for a middle or top note.”
“Note,” he repeated the last word with her.
“Yes, as I explained, it all has to do with the layers that are revealed as a scent evaporates. The top notes—”
“Note,” Eddie said, again repeating the word with her.
“A-are the first thing you smell and they evaporate rather quickly,” Saffron continued. “As they dissipate, the middle notes—”
“Note,” Eddie said again, this time his head snapping to the side like a dog who heard a sharp sound in that direction. “That bitch,” he breathed.
Saffron pursed her lips. She didn’t want to resume her talk only to be cut off again, but she was unwilling to abandon sales mode. Eddie no longer seemed to be listening to her, so she turned to Mahmoud as she continued.
“The base and middle notes together are the main theme of a perfume. Base notes bring depth and solidity, particularly the animal and musk notes.”
“C’mon, we need to go,” Eddie said briskly. That brought a less gracious look from Saffron as she saw not one but both her sales going out the door. Eddie ignored her, thinking only of that perfumed note he’d found inside the dummy laptop—
You didn’t think it was going to be that easy.
He’d dismissed it as a taunt. He dismissed it. He—he—he tossed it into the wastepaper basket! He had to get back to the hotel before some damned robot maid cleaned his room!
“We have to go,” he repeated emphatically, and when Mahmoud looked confused, Eddie reminded him about that episode of the Amazing Race they watched together last week when he laughed out loud and said “Oh, you're going to regret leaving that thing behind at the clue box.” Mahmoud smiled in a bemused, playing along fashion, and Eddie went on. “Then I said ‘At least they only left it at the hotel. Not as bad as leaving the thing in Mongolia.’”
“Ah, right,” Mahmoud said, nodding at last.
Despite a miserable two-person fugue assuring her they would be back, Saffron did not expect to see the two strange customers again. She waited an hour on principle, then started cleaning their stations with a grumble. She had struck everything except the coffee beans when the door opened and the two men returned, arguing about the traffic.
“I told you we should have taken Featherbed Avenue.” “Do I tell you your business?” “It’s not like some secret specialized knowledge. You see a one way street with construction, you go the other way.”
Saffron interrupted to apologize. She had thrown away the strips with the scents they had sampled earlier. She was afraid the news would escalate their quarrel, but they made identical Don’t-worry-about-it gestures. They produced a piece of lavender stationery as they returned to the counter and said they wanted to work together to ‘match the scent.’
“He has to what?” Bruce said, equally impressed and appalled by this latest puzzle.
“Reverse engineer the scent,” Selina said, spritzing her wrist and holding it out for him to sniff. “Names of the components will give you the clue.”
“So French Lavender plus Mandarin Oranges plus Oriental Honeysuckle would mean you’re going to kidnap the French ambassador staying at the Mandarin-Oriental,” Bruce said, making up names to fit the hypothetical.
“Right. In that case, I would certainly expect Bat company, because if you’ve got Orange, there are maybe a half dozen possibilities on the scent menu, and once you see ‘Mandarin’ on that list, how hard is it to guess Oriental?”
“I take it what you’ve given him is more challenging,” Bruce said, sniffing her wrist thoughtfully, as if at a wine tasting.
“Just a tad.”
“Okay,” Eddie said, taking multiple deep snorts of the coffee beans as if he was hyperventilating into a paper bag. “We’ve got the violets. It’s either Sugared Violet, Violet Petals, or that essence called 300 Flowers, and I say it has to be that, because it’s a street address. 300 somewhere. We agreed?”
Mahmoud nodded dully, like a man who had a few too many and was deciding if he was sober enough to drive home. Saffron nodded like she was past caring.
“We’re agreed that Vanilla Bean is useless. The vanilla has to be Bourbon Vanilla, Reunion Vanilla or Prince’s Vanilla Orchid. And I say that means either the 300 block of someplace where there’s a bar called Bourbon OR 300 someplace that’s a hotel with a reunion going on, OR ELSE it’s 300 Prince Street, and whatever this bitch of a third note is, it’s going to tell us for sure. Who’s with me?!”
“Edward, my friend,” Mahmoud said calmly, “I will take you to 300 Prince Street, East or West. I will drive around at random looking for a place called Bourbon, I will even take you all the way to New Orleans and see what’s at 300 Bourbon Street there. But I will not sniff that piece of paper one more time.”
Eddie looked at Saffron, who said her name was really Joan and she was quitting as soon as the two of them were out the door. Then her eyes narrowed, she looked at the paper in Eddie’s hand and pointed at Mahmoud without taking her eyes from it.
“Say that again,” she said. “About Prince Street.”
“There’s two, East and West,” Mahmoud said. “They don’t meet, causes a lot of confusion.”
“So the third scent is an East or West,” Eddie said, his eyes gleaming.
They all dove for the list of available oils and began reading out names at random.
“Could it be Oakmoss? There’s a Western Oakmoss.” “How about Bergamot?” “Amber” “Neroli” “AMBER! That’s it.” “There’s a Western Amber—There’s a Western Amber—300 Prince Street West!”
Eddie grabbed Joan by her shoulders and kissed her on the lips. Then he turned—to see Mahmoud’s index finger pointing at his nose.
“Don’t even think it, my friend.”
Barbara could tell her father hadn’t come over for a casual visit. His voice on the intercom, the small talk as he came in the door, the way he sat, even the way he accepted Dick’s offer of a beer said there was something on his mind. It wasn’t like him to beat around the bush. She gave him five minutes to come to the point, and when he didn’t, she asked.
“Things have changed since I’ve been off the job,” he said severely. “Going back, I’m going to have to manage things differently. Figured you two were the best place to start.”
Dick and Barbara glanced at each other. It was true Jim Gordon knew more about the Batman side of Gotham law enforcement since he retired than he had when he was commissioner, but he had always been the best ally costumed vigilantes had among the police, any police in any city. He was the ideal by which such partnerships were measured. There wasn’t any reason to think he’d be any less a friend to the Bat-Family as he had always been… was there?
“What do you mean, Dad?” Barbara said.
“Yeah, what do you mean, Dad?” Dick echoed.
Barbara shot him a look like he was laying it on thick, but Dick didn’t notice. He was too busy smiling too wide, like he was waiting for her father to approve a loan.
“It’s these blasted cell phones for one thing,” Gordon said bitterly. “When I retired we still used faxes. Maybe a quarter of the detectives bothered with email. I had Isabel print mine out so I had a piece of paper I could file. Now everybody has emails going straight into their phone, only sometimes they’re called texts. And I’m still not clear on the difference between that and Twitter, and until someone explains to me how that congressman wound up ‘tweeting’ his private parts, I’m not touching a phone that has a camera in it.”
“That’s, like, all of them,” Dick said unhelpfully.
“It’s okay, Dad,” Barbara said in that harsh tone of one trying desperately not to laugh in her father’s face. “We can teach you all of that.”
“It’s all paperless reports now,” Gordon pronounced grimly.
“But you still have printers, right?” Barbara asked brightly.
“I cannot be the old fossil they dug up from the tar pits who has to have everything printed out, not after the Mayor made a big deal about all the city offices ‘going green.’”
“I can walk you through it,” Dick assured him. “When Bludhaven went paperless, all the old guys—veterans, I mean, seasoned experienced veterans picked it up easier than they expected.”
Shadows were stretching by the time Mahmoud’s cab reached 300 Prince Street West. When Eddie saw the building, he considered sending his new pal home. The street and the building had an air about them. It felt like a hideout: a Cat Lair or even one of his own. He didn’t think Selina would have an electrified perimeter or a deathtrap set up to drop intruders into a locked cell with one of her tigers who had missed breakfast, but… there was that gas trap he laid for her at Objects of Desire. She hadn’t sprung it but she knew about it, knew it was meant for her.
“I better go in alone,” he told the cabbie. “You’re double parked. Drive around, see if you find a space. If you can’t, take off and I’ll call in the morning.”
As a Gotham cabbie, Mahmoud looked on double parking the way Rogues did punching Batman: it was the natural way. To suggest he observe that particular law and drive around looking for a space was frankly insulting. He left grumbling, but Eddie thought it was better to let him be insulted than to explain that his nemesis was in a position to receive man-eating tigers as a gift from the Justice League.
Eddie inspected the front door, the back door and the windows. Finding no sign of Kittlemeier gadgetry, he picked the back door lock and went inside. He moved cautiously at first, until he was certain there were no trip wires. He examined each light switch before satisfying himself it was safe to turn on. Once he had light… hm… the real puzzle emerged.
It looked like a hideout on the inside too, a hideout without theming. A Cat Lair with the cat stuff removed, or a Riddler Lair before the question marks were installed. A very nice workstation at the center. Despite its being Wayne Tech, his fingers itched to take it for a spin. He powered it up and was… fascinated. There was a newsreel from which the still was taken of that dancer with the pearls, oodles of research on something called Olactra-Prystaline… more information about leather pants at French Fashion Week than a sentient being needed to know… and a traditional floor plan and 3-dimensional wireframe of a gallery he presumed was this Zeitgeist.
Eddie looked around, a surge of adrenaline that was either thrill or panic making him want to move—indeed run—around the room, waving his arms, jumping and skipping. This was it! This was it? Yes, of course this was it. The prep work for the crime, the evidence to seal Doris’s fate if the police found it before he did. Her fingerprints must be all over the keyboard—probably throughout the lair, but that wouldn’t matter if he destroyed and dismantled the workstation. Without that, it was just an improvised Gotham living space like a thousand others.
He set to work taking apart the main unit, removing the hard drive and motherboard, and smashing them to pieces. He did a quick search for anything like a crowbar or a baseball bat to make the process easier. Not finding one, he resorted to jumping up and down on them with both feet. He was in the middle of that when Mahmoud walked in, not quite as silent as a Bat but quiet enough that Eddie didn’t hear him until the chuckle.
“They got ways to put those things back together, don’t they, man?” he said lightly.
“I’d drop them in a bathtub full of acid, but I don’t have any acid and I don’t think this place has a bathtub,” Eddie said—then kicked himself for not wording it as a question. Query: how do you destroy a computer in a bathtub full of acid when you have neither the acid nor the bathtub?
“Place like this might have an incinerator in the basement,” Mahmoud said, looking around at what had clearly been an industrial space before it became a de-themed hideout.
Eddie looked at him with an appreciative grin.
“Remind me again why I don’t think you’re a crazed fanatic building bombs to blow up the city,” he said, looking around for what could conceivably be a basement door and adding “This way” when he spotted it.
“Because my beautiful daughter is going to make her debut at the Gotham Philharmonic and she can’t do that if some madman blows it up.”
“Good point,” Eddie said, flipping the light switch behind the basement door without any of the caution he showed when he first entered the lair. “Uh oh,” he added once he saw what was waiting at the bottom of the stairs.
It was an obstacle course laid out like the Zeitgeist, and at the far end, on a pedestal that was clearly meant to designate the target, an imposing black and chrome lockbox under a clear Lucite case.
“What if he doesn’t think to check the basement?” Bruce asked, the spark of curiosity asserting itself through the soothing calm of a back rub.
They had left the cave and returned to the manor, to Selina’s suite, to be exact. Despite a lingering but undefined sense of unease, he was enjoying her revenge on Nigma, the untempered villainy of it. Today he had the bad girl that Batman first began dreaming of, had her right there within arm’s reach. He was allowed to reach now, to touch, to take—but not in the cave. That didn’t seem right. In her suite. From the day she moved into the manor, she wanted one spot that was her territory “like an embassy is foreign soil.” At first it irked him, her obsession with her independence. Then he fell under Poison Ivy’s spell and that bit of ‘foreign soil’ gave him the means to escape. He was able to circumvent Ivy’s orders precisely because they had agreed those rooms were not a part of his house.
It felt just right. Taking her upstairs, thinking of it as a cat lair. It was the bad girl he was thinking of, after all.
“Then Doris is screwed, isn’t she,” she said. “That’s what he thinks, and that’s why he will think to check the basement.”
Such a bad girl. Even if she was reciprocating the back rub, she was such a bad girl.
As Eddie approached the pedestal, he saw there were a few other items under the cover with the lockbox. A tiny silver cat statue and a green slip of paper, which turned out to be a twenty of Monopoly money with a riddle scrawled on the back.
A better game it is at that,
“I heard something about this,” Mahmoud said. “Monopoly retired one of the old playing pieces. They had people vote on a new one and the cat won. This must be it. It’s cute.”
To Eddie, the voice faded into muffled cotton as his mind flooded with ideas. “A better game” than Monopoly was Go. That’s how he began that first riddle to taunt Selina when she turned White Hat. A riddle left with a Monopoly piece similar to this one. A better game it may be, minus three meant to move back three squares from Go on a Monopoly board. This rhyme meant something very different, but the pointed allusion to that earlier clue was inescapable. What did the little bitch think she was doing?
They made up after that episode. They made up. He overlooked her turning traitor, stabbing her friends and colleagues in the back all because she found someone who made her happy and was willing to change her life to become a part of his—oh.
“Looks to me like the combination is 202020,” Mahmoud said behind that wall of cotton. “Number on the slip, repeated three times.”
“Yes, that’s the combination,” Eddie said dully. “But it won’t work here. That’s a barometric lock. It will only open at the same altitude where it was locked. We have to ‘GO’ to the right location to make it work. ‘That’s the game.’”
“Oh,” said Mahmoud. “So how do we know where to take it?”
“Riddle tells us,” he said miserably. “There’s one building in the city with a name on it that has a Y right smack in the center.”
“Wayne!” Mahmoud announced happily.
“Wayne,” Eddie sighed miserably.
“Kitten, I’m afraid you’ve overplayed your hand. You and Clark can get to the top of the Wayne Building without using the elevator to the penthouse. Anyone else—”
“Unless they have precision skydiving training or access to magic, I know, and in both of those cases, you have countermeasures. Bruce, he doesn’t need to go anywhere near the penthouse or the roof. The hot spot is on the Wayne Enterprises sign, the crux of the Y in Wayne. It’s not even halfway up.”
“Ah. So if he can eyeball it accurately enough, he could open the lockbox from the safety of a room at the Hyatt. Not have to rappel down from the HIZ-MRK box above the sign.”
“As long as he’s on the proper floor, yes, he’d get the box open. But I’m betting he’ll do it on the sign. You would if you were tackling the riddle, right? There might be something you can only see standing on that spot at that specific angle. Remember when he went to Metropolis and Spitcurl tried to cut corners, using his eyes instead of the binoculars provided with the riddle. He missed the real clue completely.”
Bruce did remember, and grunted.
The sign reading WE in enormous gold letters with the words Wayne Enterprises beneath was, as Selina said, less than halfway up the building’s face. The wind was still considerable, and Eddie was in no hurry to leave the niche where he stood. Now that he got the lockbox open, he decided to examine the contents where he was, with the bulk of the sign blocking most of the punishing wind. It was a thumb drive. Plugging it into the tablet, a video began to play:
It was a close-up of the workstation he’d dismantled at the Prince Street lair. A manicured index finger that could have been Selina’s touched a button on the keyboard and the central monitor began to play a video. It showed the oblique angle of a security camera in the Zeitgeist Gallery hanging high over the room with the pearls. It didn’t match any of the camera locations Eddie remembered from the blueprints. Could the plans have missed one? Or was this from an extra camera having nothing to do with the gallery’s own security?
Suddenly there was movement in the arched doorway at the far end. A figure that… oh my she looked good… a figure that could only be Doris in a perfectly wonderful mask and costume moved quickly and gracefully through the gallery, then removed the Lucite case over the pearls. She took a light pen and appeared to ‘scan’ the pearls for several seconds, then took them and ran out.
Black and white evidence. The camera caught the whole thing. ‘Lina must have tricked her into thinking—Wait, what was that? The video began to rewind. He saw the whole robbery replay in reverse, and keep going. Without a timestamp, he wasn’t sure how far it was going back, but after some time on an unchanging image of the pre-burgled gallery, there was another blur of movement in the light beyond that doorway. Then another blur of movement that looked like Catwoman coming in backwards through the same doorway Doris had, doing something to the case with the pearls—How many different ways did that Traitorous Bat-bitch from Hell have to set up his Puzzle Muffin!—and then, then she, and then she, she—SHE WAVED AT THE CAMERA!
The image froze on her horrible little wave, and then resumed playing forward at a normal speed. But she was already holding pearls—she was already holding a strand of pearls while she opened the case. She switched them. They were copies and she switched them. She—She just—she waved and then she—What was going on?
Doris didn’t take the real pearls?
Doris didn’t take the real pearls.
Catwoman took the real pearls.
Catwoman took the real pearls.
Catwoman took the real pearls and was letting him know she took the real—heart thumping.
Heart thumping very hard.
Head throbbing very hard.
Stomach churning very hard.
Eddie made a nervous, pushing down gesture with both his hands, as if ordering his individual body parts to calm the hell down. He had to think. He had to think. He had to think.
He stretched, looked up (half-expecting to see the Bat Signal because that’s just the way his luck was running) but instead, he saw something on the underside of the utility box he’d rappelled down from. Heart thumps and head throbs forgotten, he scrambled up the rope to get a closer look. There was something wedged into it, something light, something paper, something… a brochure. An advertising brochure for Zeitgeist Gallery. “Advances the understanding and appreciation of design as the critical component of other artistic endeavors…” yadda yadda whocares “Not art for art’s sake but a convergence of creativity and functionality” yadda yadda whocares “Such as the James Bond 007 Tarot Deck otherwise known as The Tarot of the Witches featured in the James Bond film Live and Let Die!”
His eyes bulged. It was his tarot deck—the tablet tarot, the tarot from the tablet, from the jigsaw on the tablet, the, the—THE CLUE THAT HADN’T SERVED ANY PURPOSE YET!
The Zeitgeist opened at nine o’clock and Eddie was the first in line. Unlike many Rogues, he had no trouble blending in when he wanted to. He wasn’t scarred, green, scaled, confined to a cold suit or a gorgeous woman with a killer bod. He was older than the college students and younger than the seniors who made up the majority of the gallery’s visitors, but two days after a robbery that made the news, a larger and more diverse crowd was expected.
He tried to make his way through the rooms at a natural pace, not racing from a room as soon as he saw it contained no tarot cards. Finally he spotted them, one gallery down from the one where the pearls had been taken. He went into that gallery to confirm it, saw the doorway from the video through which Doris and Selina had both come and gone, and then he returned to the cards.
He read the description on the case: the cards were painted with oils on canvas, accounting for the rich and vibrant colors and the depth and solidity of the images… Characters with a dark, almost camp wit and a slightly sinister edge, wildly out of proportion and ethereally colored, making them particularly well suited to the Bond environs of the 70s… Meh. There was nothing in the labored description that stood out as a clue. No phrase that screamed HERE BE ANAGRAMS. All he could think to focus on was the Devil with his bat wings and the High Priestess with her cat. Neither seemed so significant now that he knew Selina didn’t have the cards specially made. They appeared in a film in 1973. She had nothing to do with the Emperor wearing purple or the High Priestess having a cat. She had nothing to do with the Roman Numerals on the top of each card that he hadn’t even thought to analyze or clock…
Standing where he was, facing the case with the tarot cards, he could see a clock—a fine old mantle clock from the set of some movie or other—the same fine old mantle clock set to 5:17 which was NOT the crucial time to be on that train platform to see a message come together because the message at that location had nothing to do with time or trains! The clock, like the tarot cards, had not provided any viable clue until now.
And Selina knew the rules. She was a Rogue and she knew the rules. He went up to the clock and peered at the original—which matched the jigsaw photo he had studied in every particular but one.
He tried to control his smile. He should not be pleased or amused, he should be perplexed. He should be puzzled—ironically, since the puzzle was now solved. His first unpuzzled moment since the whole affair began, and he had to pretend.
He glanced around the room and spotted the guard who seemed the least stupid. He made eye contact until the guy came over, and put on his best amiable-but-puzzled pout.
“Excuse me, sorry to bother,” he said as the guard approached. “But are those meant to be in there?”
He pointed to the clock, and in the lower half of the glass-front filigreed cabinet under the clock face lay the magnificent triple-string of pearls the Czar had given Katalya Nolzhenko when she danced at the Winter Palace at Christmas in 1903.
Selina’s laugh echoed, strident but musical, on the highly polished floor. She was looking at an expression so familiar…
“You’re telling me Doris was never in any jeopardy,” he said.
…Once familiar, anyway, on Batman, but one of the few she had never seen until now on Bruce’s unmasked face.
“What I’m telling you, handsome, is what I told you then: There are some serious limitations to that whole law and order kink of yours. This is one of them: It is practically impossible to convict someone of stealing something that hasn’t been stolen.”
It would be unfair to say Eddie was hysterical. His first thought was to call Zeitgeist pretending to be Doris’s lawyer and confirm that they’d notified the police that the pearls had been found. Then go to the precinct pretending to be her lawyer, secure her release, take her back to the Yotel, and screw like bunnies until November. Then he remembered he was an escaped fugitive, so marching into a police station maybe wasn’t the best plan. Next he thought of Harvey, who knew how to impersonate a lawyer without drawing on half-remembered TV shows. Only problem there was that half his face was scarred. And also that he might ask how Ivy was doing up at Arkham. Next he thought of Hagen. Matt Hagen could walk in wearing any face that got the job done. He wasn’t the best at ad-libbing, so Eddie would still have to get Harvey on board. They could wire up Hagen just as they had during the war, Harvey would feed him his lines, Matt would deliver them, and once again Doris would be free to return with him to the Yotel and screw like bunnies until December. (Matt’s presence would even keep Harvey from asking about Ivy, since everyone knew they didn’t get along.) The only problem now was finding him.
“Harvey should still be living over the Wild Deuce or else gone back to his old digs at the Flick Theatre,” he told Mahmoud. “But Hagen could be anywhere. I’ll have to ask Oswald, but the ‘Berg won’t be open for hours and he doesn’t get up before noon. By the time we get everybody together, who knows what will have become of Doris. They’ll have released her into the wild and I’ll never see her again.”
Mahmoud calmly took a business card from the four Eddie held like a poker hand.
“This is the number of the precinct?” he asked calmly.
“And your lady’s name is Doris what?”
As he dialed, Mahmoud said casually, “However much coffee you are drinking, Edward, you should cut it in half—Hello? This is the car service for the law firm of Edward Mahmoud; he is a lawyer currently at your precinct. I was sent to pick him up. I know this isn’t your job, but I’m caught in very bad traffic, running very late. Can you tell him please that I will be half an hour yet if he wants to wait. If he has an urgent meeting like last time, it’s better if he takes a cab... Edward Mahmoud is his name… No? He’s there for a client, eh, pretty woman, Ingerson might be her name. Very pretty, tall and blonde. Dorry Ingerson, I think it is... Oh she has? Well that would explain why Mr. Mahmoud isn’t there. There must be some mix up at his office; it happens more and more often these days. Listen, since I am already on my way, tell the lady to wait and I’ll give her a ride back. Otherwise I am sitting in traffic all this time for nothing… Yes, thank you very much… You too.”
He hung up, looked at Eddie with a patronizing smile and said “She’s been released, she’s still there finishing the paperwork. If she’s half as smart as you say, she’ll know to wait. If we make good time, we could be pulling up to the curb in front of the precinct as she’s stepping out the door.”
Eddie pointed to Mahmoud’s nose with a bouncing motion as if wanting to say something but couldn’t find the words. “I would love to sick you on Batman” was the thought in his head, but sensing this probably wouldn’t be taken in the spirit it was intended, he settled for “I… am going to get your daughter a Stradivarius.”
Selina didn’t bother changing into costume before going down to the Batcave, but she did stop in her suite to find the simple domino mask she’d worn to the opera ball.
“You know the rule when Catwoman has intel Batman needs for a case,” she announced with a sexy drawl. She held up a thumb drive triumphantly, and as Bruce reached for it, she moved her hand back with an “Eh-eh-eh.”
“You mean when you’re perfectly willing to help, but pretend you’re not and make me convince you?” he asked.
Her lips parted.
“I mean when you know I’m going to make demands before I give you what you’re after, and as much as you scowl and grumble, you secretly welcome it—mmm. Mmmmm.”
Her teasing was cut off by a kiss which might have lingered if it was still a rarity. As it was, it continued only until he could snatch the drive from her fingers. Then he smacked her bottom playfully and said “Because it’s only when you force the issue that I can acknowledge how I really feel?”
“Jackass,” she grinned.
“I take it this means Nigma still has the tablet with him?” Bruce said, segueing to Batman’s gravel but not the gruff manner of the crimefighter.
“Yep, you can track him with that on Channel 14.”
“Thanks,” he said casually, sliding it into his pocket. “Hey, could you bring that 5/16 back to the workshop. I think we’ve just got time to tweak the new cat ears for your cowl before we get washed up for dinner.”
“Dinner?” Selina repeated.
“Alfred mentioned it’s that pork recipe you brought from Rome.”
“It is, but… I guess I figured dinner was postponed and you’d be off to apprehend the escaped Arkham lunatic.”
“I thought I’d give them the night,” Bruce said simply. “Now that he’s run your gauntlet and saved the girl, you don’t think a reunion is called for?”
“Okay, who are you and what have you done with Bruce?”
Having reached the work table, he turned the cat cowl around to face her as he asked “Selina, what is Russia?”
“You answer mine first, because so help me, if I have to dimension hop into goggle-world again I—”
“Relax. I’m the same crimefighter I’ve always been, the one who had only ‘Cape Theories’ about the new criminal in town until you came along with that rogue insider’s perspective and feline logic.”
“Okay, that sounds like a compliment, but—”
“Selina, the items Cognitive Dissonance was going after meant nothing to me. I saw the Russia angle, of course: Faberge, Ninotchka and so on. But until you saw she was Doris, it didn’t seem to have any significance. Once you pointed out who it was, the meaning is inescapable.”
“Selina. What is Russia?”
“A country, a proper noun; Bruce, what—”
“According to Winston Churchill in 1939, what is Russia?”
“A riddle wrapped—oh,” she stumbled on her own laugh, then continued. “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
Bruce nodded—or rather, Batman did. There was something about him suddenly, not the old rooftop brusqueness, but something from their old rooftop encounters. With a start, she realized it was disapproval.
“It’s a bedroom joke,” he said severely. “I don’t know the details and I don’t want to. But you tell me Riddler’s ex is back; she regrets losing him, found his recent performance in the war impressive. She wants him back and is committing crimes in costume to do it. And she’s stealing Russian things. Russia that’s a riddle inside an enigma. It’s very clear this was a… very personal and intimate message between them. And it’s bothered me that you were interfering.”
For a moment, Selina said nothing, taking it in. Then:
“Wow. Bruce, since when do you care about Edward Nigma’s personal life?”
“I don’t. Selina, I really don’t. But I’ve found myself… a part of me, at least, rooting for him in all of this. Rooting for them against you. I didn’t like it. And I finally realized why.”
“Oh, I can’t wait to hear this,” she breathed.
“Do you remember the message I had you bring to Bane to neutralize his knowledge of my identity and make him accept his fate getting shipped out of Gotham?”
“Every word: Gotham belongs to the Dark Knight and the Gotham Rogues. A demon pushed his way in and tried to break, eclipse, negate or replace those who belong here, all to gratify his own ego, and true Gothamites rose to expel him. That’s the story and you knew he would respect it.”
“That’s the story,” he repeated. He had mouthed those words with her as she recited and now he said them again. “Bane isn’t the only one predisposed to accept ‘the story.’ He was hardwired to accept one framed as a narrative out of Luca Libre, but we all do it. There are stories we know, they saturate our world, and we know how they’re supposed to play out. The boy becomes a man. The detective solves the crime. The lovers overcome the obstacle. Nigma stepped up during the war. He went a long way to making a bad situation less volatile.”
“He earned his happy ending and along comes Doris. You didn’t like seeing me as the evil queen turning into a giant snake to come between him and his lady love in the final act, is that it? Nice.”
“No Selina, I didn’t. But that’s not why I’m letting them have the night together before I haul him back to Arkham. I’m doing it because, after all the riddles, he’s finally given me an answer—the answer to a problem I’ve been wrestling with. How to make you my wife. Selina, this is it. This is the ‘Scottish Fold’ Protocol: Play into a story that’s hardwired into all of us. The lovers meet, fall in love, and they’re tested. Something happens that splits them up. Sometimes it’s a wicked person who inserts themself into the situation; sometimes it’s a different challenge. One of the lovers rises up, beats the odds and slays the dragon. They reunite.
“If we have a fight or… or I don’t know, go through some ordeal that separates us, and then I make a fool of myself with a grand gesture to win you back. Selina, don’t you see, they’ll be on our side and they won’t even know why. The few that aren’t will still accept the situation. They’ll accept it as a fait accompli, because of that narrative that is everywhere. It’s embedded in us at the cellular level. It’s the way story is meant to go.”
“I must admit I like the sound of it,” Selina said, just above a whisper.
“You can say it a little louder. It’s a protocol. It won’t break.”
“It doesn’t sound like it’s a ‘protocol’ yet, it’s just a germ of an idea you have, but… it’s a really good one.”
“By the time Nigma is back in Arkham, it will be a protocol.”
After every escape, Arkham tightened their security—in some ways, at least. In all the ways they could think of, in all the ways related, even tangentially, to the latest breach. The efforts reduced security in other ways. Staff were occupied with new procedures, their attention was drawn to certain areas at the expense of others. After a few weeks of heightened vigilance fatigue would set in, and before long it would be as if nothing at all had changed.
The enhanced precautions after Patient Nigma’s escape were still in effect six nights after his return, but it didn’t affect any of Catwoman’s routes inside. She made her way to his cell, just as she had before, opened the door as she had before, and allowed the backlight to project her silhouette across the room. The only change from her first visit was that the cat ears of her silhouette were animated and expressive. Also that Patient Nigma was awake.
“Why did the actor think he was a shoe-in to play Quasimodo?” he asked, sitting up on his futon with his back to the wall, arms crossed.
“He had a hunch,” Selina said flatly. “I guess that means I’m expected.”
“You’re expected,” he said, reaching behind him and producing a bowl of salted almonds. “Welcome to the nuthouse.”
She entered, sat tentatively on the edge of futon, and pointed at the bowl.
“I take it that means your trained guard has gotten over the escape attempt and it’s back to business as usual? Nice he doesn’t hold a grudge.”
“He likes the ponies, basketball, college football. Blackjack and craps in Atlantic City. What choice does he have?”
“I see,” she smiled and took a nut.
“At least I can be comfortable. Going to be a while until I can fast track after the escape.” He looked at her accusingly, and in the way of cats, she ignored his disapproval. He tried again. “An escape I never would have made if you hadn’t—”
“Thrown away the white hat? Here I thought that’s what you wanted.”
She clicked her tongue in a tsk-tsk fashion. Eddie got up, walked over to his desk, and brought the chess set.
“Maybe because I don’t remember your black hat being quite as black as that,” he said, holding out his closed fists for Selina to pick one. She pointed to his left which he opened, revealing a white pawn.
“Rats,” he said, and she laughed, turning the board so the white pieces were lined up in front of her. “Even Irony’s against me.”
She moved her king’s pawn, and he mirrored it. Nothing was said as they progressed quickly through the first moves of a classic Giuco Piano opening, which was the norm when Selina played white. Once Eddie brought out his second knight, he paused, turning it to examine its profile before putting it down on its square. Then he spoke.
“How much harm did it do, anyway? Telling him about Bane. I figured I’d buy myself 48 hours, ‘Lina. Two days, tops, he’d be off his game until the two of you smoothed it over. It’s not like anything’s going to do permanent damage between you. But what you did to me with Doris—”
“Eddie, I’m surprised at you. I wasn’t going to put her in any real danger. I like Doris. And I especially like the idea of another woman around who isn’t Ivy psycho, Harley insane, Roxy crazy, or henchwench dumb. She had a few bad hours in a police station, that’s all. She’s in for a lot worse being Lady Riddler, you know that. A few bad hours I prepped her for so she wouldn’t do anything stupid like confess. In exchange, I taught her burglary tricks less than two dozen people know, worldwide. Believe me, she came out ahead on the deal. You came out ahead. You’re going to be able to get into places with Game Theory you never could have managed on your own.”
“She did tell me ‘Game Theory’ was your idea,” he said, taking her pawn. “And I take it there’s a new costume underway at Kittlemeier’s. A Max Rio jumpsuit or something I didn’t quite follow.”
“BCBG Maxazria runway collection,” Selina said, rattling off the words like she was reading a resume. “Wide-leg, colorblock jumpsuit with peek-a-boo mesh bodice and three-quarter sleeves, it’s just darling. Knock off will be in your colors, of course, and more durable fabric than the silk crepe.”
“Uhuh,” Eddie said dully as Selina took his bishop though it would cost her a second pawn.
“Better get used to it, she’s no cheap henchwench.”
“No, she’s not,” Eddie said proudly. “And when the time comes, well, if she’s caught with me in a costume like that, we won’t have to worry about being separated with her being sent off to Blackgate. Spectacular woman like that, traipsing around town in a mutilated Maxy Zarin jumper for the love of me, she must be crazy, right?”
“A BCBG—that’s for ‘Bon chic, bon genre’—Max Azria jumpsuit, Eddie, get it right. And yes… she is crazy about you. Congratulations.”
Eddie beamed, then looked at the chessboard, then frowned.
“I guess that’s what a friend should say, huh? I never did. Protect your rook.”
“No, you called him an idiot,” she said, moving a knight.
“I thought he was. And a woman like you shouldn’t throw herself away on a moron that refers to Houdini’s Tome of Secrets as ‘that Hoodily book.’ Check.”
Selina moved the knight again to block the check, and Eddie took her rook.
“Would have been better to protect it with the pawn,” he said. “And I don’t know if it’s occurred to you, but there’s another side to all this that affects you and him.”
“Would have been better to take the knight instead of the rook,” she said, moving her queen. “Checkmate.”
He stared at the board.
Then laughed, flicking his king over with a dramatic thwap.
“I was preoccupied,” he said amiably. “Anyway, as I was saying, there’s another side to this Game Theory business that affects you. Ordinary henchmen or wench in the room, I can’t allude to… certain subjects. Makes some Bat-encounters more ‘old school’ than others, if you see what I’m saying.”
“Yes, Eddie, I think I’ve cracked your code.”
“And like you said, she’s not a henchwench. Not somebody I’d send to buy all the bing cherries from every fruit stand in the East Village and not tell her why. She’s going to be in on all the plans, so, well, that means I can’t utilize certain information the way I once did. Beyond making conversation when he shows up at the hideout, I can’t use it at all. Any advantage I had is gone.”
“It’s not like it’s done you a world of good, Eddie. How much of an ‘advantage’ has it really been?”
“Tell me about it,” he grumbled. “But uh, you should let him know. In case he wondered.”
“I’ll let him know,” she said, restoring the board. “Is it my imagination or are you softening a little bit on that front.”
“At the moment I like him a lot more than you, ‘Lina.”
As bitter as his tone was, he’d turned the chessboard so the white pieces were now before him and he moved his knight’s pawn to begin the second game without asking. That they would play best of three was understood without being stated, just as reconciliation was understood.
“You’ll get over it,” Selina said, mirroring his pawn. “You’ll figure out how to repackage the slideshow jigsaw, he won’t solve it in time, you’ll get away with some gold bullion and Kitty will be forgiven.”
“Oh, it’s going to take a lot more than that,” Eddie said in a charged tone that was equal parts foreboding, intensity and sincerity.
She looked up from the board, and he broke into a bright smile and chirped “But I’m betting you’re set up to do it in much less time than you think.”
There were plenty of bars in Gotham where the police weren’t exactly welcome, but there was none as brazenly criminal as the Iceberg. Mobsters and low-level associates had frequented the place before Carmine went to war with the Rogues, and it was only a matter of time before they returned now that the war was over. Batman knew the test runs were beginning, and he spent the hours between his early and late patrol on a nearby roof to monitor the situation.
It was happily boring work. He wanted to be nearby in case violence erupted, but he wasn’t expecting it. With so many Rogues incarcerated it was in Oswald’s interest to take what business he could get. It was in the decimated wiseguys’ interests to be welcome in the nightclub that served as the hub of the underworld. Like rival predators at a watering hole, they would behave for the common good. It made for a boring night, but Batman couldn’t bring himself to wish it otherwise. Not until he saw how the monotony was broken, at any rate.
“Meow,” she said, landing on the far edge of the roof. “Figured I’d find you here, being all watchful and gargoyley.”
He grunted, not turning his attention from the Iceberg sign as she approached. He still noted the provocative walk as she crossed the roof, noted the felinity of her pose on the gargoyle beside his, but only in his peripheral vision. To one who didn’t know the rooftop dynamic, it would seem like he was ignoring her.
“What do you want?” he asked gruffly.
“Do I have to want something to keep you company?” she purred.
“Not always. But the way you’re behaving now, you’ve certainly got your hands on someone else’s property—I’d estimate nothing less than the Juanpur ruby—and you want me to let you keep it.”
“Well, you’re half right,” she admitted with an appreciative laugh-moan, her head tilted back as if a demonstration of his detective skill stimulated her physically. “I do have something with an outrageous price tag. What was my tell?”
“It’s not like you ever bothered with second-rate merchandise, but the way you positioned yourself on that gargoyle, you’re facing the Sterling Building and you’ve glanced that way twice. That was a king’s ransom in bearer bonds. Your biggest score that wasn’t art or jewels. So…”
“That is so hot,” she said, rearranging her pose on the gargoyle. “Better?” she asked, and he grunted. The moment held for a comfortable time as they watched the Iceberg sign in silence. Then she went on in that assured sexy-but-smug drawl. “Pity you’re wrong about the rest of it.”
“How so,” he asked, still not turning his attention from the ‘Berg.
“I have something alright, but keeping it isn’t the thing. I want you to help me give it back.”
Batman’s head snapped to the side to face her, his guard up instinctively. He scanned her up and down as if looking for signs that she was a shape-shifter. It took only a split second for his mind to adjust—the Selina before him wasn’t the Catwoman he thought he was talking to, but she wasn’t a shape-shifting imposter either.
“You’re serious,” he said, the shift to his day voice the only sign that he’d abandoned the roleplay-foreplay.
Selina noted it, noted his obvious (to her) assumption of why she’d come, and resolved to make it up to him at the first opportunity. She wasted no time on it now, however.
“I’m serious. The nice thing about those bearer bonds is right in the name. They belong to whoever’s attached to the hand that’s holding them, same as cash. Something like a Vermeer, each one is known, each one is famous. If you don’t have a collector lined up who wants that particular piece, you have to settle for pennies on the dollar when you fence it.”
“Mmm, ‘Crime doesn’t pay,’ seems I’ve heard that somewhere before.”
“Gee, you’re going to be a jackass about this, I never would have guessed. Crime pays very well when you’re smart and you know what you’re doing. I am and I did. But even I got bit now and then. In this case, I got stuck with a Stradavarius. You probably know the one.”
“The unknown 18th Century viola that was being authenticated at Metropolis University, believed to be the ‘Castello Sforza’ made by Antonio Stradivari in 1703 for the Duke of Milan?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Selina said miserably. “I had a buyer all lined up, but by the time I got my hands on the Strad, Arrow and Canary had busted him for some nasty sweatshops his company used in Bangladesh or somewhere.”
“Not one to settle for ‘pennies on the dollar,’ you kept it.”
“Right. And now I’d like to un-keep it, and I want to know how that works. All the extant Strads are owned by corporations or foundations that lend them to the musicians who play them. That’s the kind of thing I need to set up for the Sforza, but I… can’t figure out how. I mean, it’s not like laundering money. You can’t ‘wash’ a Golden Age Strad.”
Batman looked at the skyline beyond the Iceberg as he thought, the solution to the present coming together quickly, though it had to fight for his full attention against the memories of that week long past when the viola went missing in Metropolis. After a minute, he grunted.
“If an unknown 18th century viola surfaced,” he said, “like those artworks recovered in Europe, it could be ‘acquired quietly’ by a wealthy individual who wanted to remain anonymous, authenticated at some institution like Hudson where that individual—or his foundation—had a long-standing relationship.”
“And if Hudson determined this newly discovered viola was the Castello Sforza, that doesn’t mean it’s the one that was stolen in Metropolis, because that ID was never completed.”
“Correct. And whatever it’s found to be, the Foundation could act on the anonymous patron’s behalf to facilitate a loan to whatever musician they named.”
“Would it raise flags, the whole thing going down before anyone in the art or music world knew anything about it?”
Behind the mask, Bruce’s eyes flickered, an all but imperceptible nod of admiration. The way his sensei blinked to almost subliminally acknowledge a bow. There was a reason she’d never been captured, a reason her name wasn’t suspected until she allowed it to be, and it had nothing to do with how she looked in purple leather.
“There is a plausible explanation that those in the know will easily arrive at,” he said. “On their own without anyone drawing them a picture. The only way the anonymous patron could act so quickly when the instrument surfaced is if they had feelers out all this time. The only reason for that is if he—or she—felt guilty about the original theft. U Metropolis was chosen for the authentication because they were courting a Luthor purchase. They hoped he would buy the Strad once it was authenticated and lend it out in the way you described, a conspicuous act of corporate philanthropy.
“And the reason they turned their hopes to Luthor was because Bruce Wayne couldn’t let an opportunity pass to make a spectacle of himself. He got drunk at Andre Kessler’s birthday party—that was the conductor of the Gotham Symphony Orchestra at the time—spilled champagne on his wife, tried to get the first violin to take him into the music room for a ‘private recital’ knowing she was Kessler’s mistress, and on the way out, he made sure at least two members of the board heard him boasting about the medical grants the Wayne Foundation was writing—important grants for things that actually mattered, not all the pishy artsy stuff.”
“Wow, what a guy,” Selina said softly.
“I toned it down after the early years,” he said casually.
“After the ship had sailed on the Strad,” Selina noted. “So you’re the one they’ll imagine the Foundation is fronting for because you’re the one who feels guilty. Weird, when you first dropped the g-word, I thought you meant me.”
“Aren’t you? What else could be behind this?”
“Great detective my ass, where did I just come from?”
“You’re doing it for Nigma?”
“Yep. In his view, it’s his price to kiss and make up.”
“And in your view.”
“It’s his reward. It’s a long story, but the girl we’re arranging this for, the one who’s going to be playing this viola, he’s never even met her. He’s doing it because he’s got a debt and he wants to pay it. That’s rather cool. It’s also more than a little ‘white hat,’ as is my giving it back without making a dime. And the irony of that sticks it to him in about seven different ways he’s not even aware of. And that makes me purr long and loud.”
Batman said nothing. It was feline logic, what else was there to say?
She was a mystery, wrapped in a woman, inside a cat.
Ivy wasn’t sure what the Red River Rivalry meant or even what sport was involved, but she knew the Longhorns winning in overtime the week before a horse called The Greater Fool beat one called Zack’s Comeback had returned Saul Vics to the amiable gofer role Nature intended. He was once again knocking on her door each day to deliver a gadget dressed up as a phone, and she was once again able to refresh herself maintaining a virtual garden of flower pictures. Today’s find was a spectacular Bull’s Eye Shrub Rose, an exotic Grenadilla, and a Dartura that wasn’t any less beautiful for being purple. She did have to make room, and she knew just what inferior specimens to snip. The anemic rosebush and bonsai tree she added in the early days assembling the collection before she saw what wonders were available. The day’s selection made, she chose a simple spray of plum blossoms to meditate.
People were not a horror. Some of them were quite pleasant. Harley and Harvey were, at least. Even Nigma made a contribution to the world beyond the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Some people were ok, and this business of them not liking her had to be addressed. A goddess not being liked without pheromones, it simply wasn’t acceptable. If people weren’t going to be gotten rid of, she’d have to fix it another way. She could learn to be likable. How hard could it be? She just needed the right person to start with. Mistakes were inevitable, and she wouldn’t want to risk making them on Harley or Harvey.
She thought. She thought. Swapped the plum blossoms for an English daisy and thought some more. Finally it came to her. Given the history, he was the perfect choice. She would learn to be likable, and she would use Bruce Wayne to do it.