The Hour of Second Napping
Whiskers stretched out on the settee near one of the smaller windows in the master bedroom, his chin hanging listlessly over the edge in a way that made him seem dejected but was merely a habit of Russian Blues. He didn’t understand why the settee was so unloved by the two-foots. The human scent was all but non-existent, as if it had not been sat on for Tiger Moons. Even in a manor filled with perches, niches and nap places, a prime spot like this could not go unnoticed. The cushions were neither too hard nor too soft, and if you put all your weight down in the middle, you could slide between them and keep your paws warm on the coldest winter days. At the hour of Little Nap, the sun came in at the perfect angle to super-heat from your ears to your nose while the rest of you rested comfortably unshone-upon. When the wind whistled hard enough, you could sometimes catch a whiff of the bracing outdoor air with its tantalizing outdoor smells. Best of all, the height was just perfect to lay as he was doing now and look out the window for pigeons.
True pigeons were a rarity here, but there were other birds that looked just as tasty and there was the flying mouse cub. There were many flying mice nearby, Whiskers knew. They lived in the cave place behind the Tick Tock that smelled like Bat-Bruce’s heels when he was Two-Foot in Boots. They were big and they were many. Too big and too many for a Gentleman Mouser like Whiskers to tangle with. But the flying mouse cub that appeared in the window from time to time was small. He was small and alone and would make a tasty snack, or else a wonderful toy. Whiskers couldn’t be sure until they could meet without that pane of glass between them. He needed to paw the flying mouse cub and see how it reacted. If it behaved like a toy or a playmate, then endless fun could be had. If it did not, then he would smell to see if it seemed like food. Whiskers enjoyed mice, no cat more, but flying mice were another matter. He never got close enough to get past that damp-clammy-rock smell of the cave place and nothing about their wings looked right.
It had been some time since the small, winged mouse cub appeared on the window, but Whiskers had a good feeling that today was the day it would return.
His ear flicked. Something was happening!
Whiskers jumped down, gave the leg of the settee a quick rub to remind Nutmeg who it belonged to, and trotted out of the room to find a window with a better view of the noise. Nutmeg was already there, looking out at a car come to a stop in the front circle… Bat-Bruce and Selina-cat were getting out of it... Selina-cat was carrying a little bag.
ºº TOY! ºº Nutmeg said with a tail-thump.
Whiskers looked closer. Selina-cat did have the smile and the walk that said she had a toy, and Bat-Bruce was glaring at the bag like a toy that wasn’t for him. Whiskers thumped his tail in time with Nutmeg’s, wondering what it might be, and they went to the foyer together to welcome Selina-cat home.
“You’re jealous,” she was saying. “Bruce if you get jealous of me and Ra’s we’re going to be getting into some very weird territory. Even by your standarreowrl—Hello, Gorgeous. Where have you been all my life?”
She was holding a newspaper—the hand which previously had the bag-toy was now holding a newspaper—Woof! The bag-toy was nowhere to be seen.
The best course of action was to prod Selina-cat, bringer of the toy, last known holder of the toy, and most frequent giver of toys. Unfortunately, Nutmeg was quicker to reach Selina’s legs and serpentined through them as she walked off reading her paper. That left Whiskers to search the foyer on his own, which was difficult with nothing to climb up on in order to see down onto the table top. Nothing except Bat-Bruce, who was leaving. Whiskers decided to follow. Bat-Bruce was not as overtly feline as Selina-cat, but he did have catlike qualities. He had catlike qualities that, once you knew where to look for them, seemed all the more feline for the subtlety with which they played out. Right now, for instance, he was going to nap. Whiskers followed him to his nap place (Two-foots were very strange in that they had only one. Whiskers assumed it was because they were so tall) and while Bat-Bruce stretched out on the bed, Whiskers returned to the settee to nap also in an act of Toy-Denial Solidarity.
“Something with a tank. I’m going to Europe for a bit…” Whiskers’s ears flicked but he didn’t bother to wake at the sound. “You know what they say: ‘Diamonds are for Stealing.’” Voices, not interesting enough to interrupt a good nap for. “You should check this downstairs. There will be more evidence come to light since this went to press…” Until Nutmeg stepped on his head!
ºº HEY! ºº he said, swatting.
ºº Packing, packing. Selina-cat is packing. Suitcase is out, come quick, you’re missing it! ºº
And with that, she ran off towards the bed where Bat-Bruce’s nap was over. Selina-cat’s suitcase was open on the bed, and Nutmeg jumped in and out while Selina-cat went back and forth from the closet. This looked like fun.
The Hour of Scampering
Nutmeg took her usual shortcut through the room with the books to the passage she had found following Standing Softpaws, the wisest and most silent of two-foots. He knew all the secret ways around the manor. From this one, if you were tall enough to reach the lever, you could enter the room with all the gilt chairs with spindly legs stacked against the wall. You could enter the room with sheeted things where the air was dusty and dry. Or, if you continued all the way to the end, you came to the Land of the Can Opener where Standing Softpaws was king, right near the cozy room he called his pantry.
Standing Softpaws had always been grateful for her company. Whenever she visited while he was having his tea, he rewarded her with a morsel of cake. Sometimes there was butter too, and sometimes clotted cream. When she visited him at night, he offered a spoonful of warm milk. On her birthday, it was a bite of caviar. At Christmastime, foie gras.
Nutmeg approached the door, intending to announce herself with a meow, but stopped when she heard a tray being set down with an angry thump. She peered in, and saw the elevator to the cave place was closing. Standing Softpaws stood over a tray, looking down on it—not with anger, she saw now, but with some other agitation two-foots are prone to.
“Ah, Good Evening, Miss Nutmeg,” he said—and with the addition of his voice, Nutmeg was able to identify the mystery emotion as frustration. Frustration was perfectly safe to be around, although Bat-Bruce and Selina-cat had both been known to throw things, on rare occasions, and Nutmeg was inclined to flee the area just to be sure. Standing Softpaws, on the other hand, was perfectly safe.
Aeiou, she said, answering his greeting.
“Three weeks, Miss Nutmeg. The mistress has not been gone three weeks and here we are. She hadn’t been gone three days before Master Bruce waved away the menu with that dismissive ‘make whatever you want, you know I don’t care’ declaration. What joy that brings to the ears of a chef, I need not tell you. A diner who takes such little notice of his food, he doesn’t care if he’s given filet mignon on shredded shoe-leather.”
Standing Softpaws took a breath, then sat. Nutmeg approached and rubbed the leg of his chair.
“The master did realize later the way it sounded,” he went on in a gentler tone. “He came around to make amends, assure me he appreciated my cooking and so on. But even so, how did that conversation end? ‘I just meant that you should go back to doing whatever you did before she came here.’ I knew then where this was heading, Miss Nutmeg. I knew it was coming and here we are. First it’s dinner on a tray in the Batcave. We reached that by the end of the first week. Then it’s half the dinner left uneaten, and now after only three weeks, it’s completely untouched. Look at this lovely cutlet. Here, have a look at this. Tender, juicy, eye of the round.”
Nutmeg understood how unsettling it is to have your routine disturbed, and she consoled Standing Softpaws by eating the bite of meat he offered. She then put her considerable talents to work reassuring him, in the most unambiguous terms, of his culinary genius. More tidbits followed. In addition to the steak, there were carrots with butter, very tasty. Then there was something Standing Softpaws called ‘a savory.’ It was a biscuit that didn’t interest her at all, with dollop of fish spread on top… a dollop that combined fish and dairy! She was licking her chops after that, trying to find the proper purr to convey the monumentality of the find—combining fish and dairy, no wonder Standing Softpaws was king—when something on the table made a noise. Softpaws hurried into the elevator and disappeared from sight.
Nutmeg waited a few minutes in case he returned, for really, that such a two-foot could be allowed to think he was unappreciated for even an hour was unforgivable. Nutmeg intended to tell off Bat-Bruce and Selina-cat when she next saw them, for in between the steak and the carrots she followed enough of the story to know who was responsible.
Nevertheless, she wasn’t going to wait around all night for Standing Softpaws to return. She too had a schedule to keep. Before she left, she did jump into his chair and rubbed the scent of her gratitude into the seat. Then she scented the back slats, and finally, the side of the table and the tray with Bat-Bruce’s dinner. While she was there, she took another carrot, then left.
She returned to the suite the two-foots called the Chinese Room where the familiar furnishings from Selina’s old apartment were and which both cats considered home. Whiskers was already curled up and she joined him on the pillow and dozed. She awoke to the sound of Bat-Bruce in the bedroom across the hall, and she went to tell him what she thought of him…
Except when she found him on the bed, his paw was wrapped in a bandage and smelled a bit like the steak from his dinner tray. She pawed it a few times and crinkled her nose at the smoky charred smell. Rather than hiss or move his injured paw away, Bat-Bruce turned in the bed to face her. His eyes were cloudy from pain killers, and he patted her head uncertainly with his other paw.
“I misshertoo,” he slurred. “She’ll bebacksoon… I hope.”
Again, Nutmeg pawed the bandage, and Bruce rolled onto his back and addressed the rest of his remarks to the ceiling.
“I know, but you should see theotherguys,” he said. “Cráneos Sssangrientos ssshoudnt playwith fire. Wontbe makingtrouble forlongtime.”
Nutmeg postponed telling off a two-foot who was clearly in no shape to hear it. Instead, she pressed her nose into his arm just above the bandage, where he should be able to feel it if he was still awake, and assured him that, even if he screwed up with Standing Softpaws, he was one of the good guys who deserved a purr. Tonight she would curl against his injured arm and sleep next to him, vibrating that message of reassurance and affection. Tomorrow, she’d return to chew him out.
She did return, but this time his voice stopped her.
“That’s why you’re already in Zurich. With your friend Bernard Ducret consolidating your hidden holdings and the new finder’s fees into, I would guess, Nicht Meine Schleife Holdinggesellschaft, an international counterpart to NMK.”
Nutmeg recognized the tone. He was talking to Selina-cat!
“You told me. You said you were going after Ra’s your way. As a villain. Now, what would that mean to you? Not putting mold into the air filters of his cell in Atlantis. No, to you, it meant being proactive. Not waiting for him to make a move. Picking the battlefield yourself and bringing the fight to him.”
She trotted into the bedroom and saw Bat-Bruce sitting on the bed alone, facing away from her.
“You’ve suspended all the sales of NMK properties in Gotham and converted them to the business incubator and a new program you set up for other non-profits to use rent free. That’s ingenious and I might have taken it at face value…”
Nutmeg trotted into the bathroom, into the closet, into the sitting room…
“…when you made this change, you said the Foundation could ‘have the properties back when you were done with them.’ Now, I’m assuming ‘having them back’ means resuming the original distribution plan. But ‘when you were done with them,’ what did that mean? So I checked. You’ve used them as collateral for some whopping big loans. Doesn’t matter what you’re actually charging in rent, the value of all that prime Gotham real estate is based on what you could charge. So you’ve effectively quadrupled the buying power of NMK…”
No Selina-cat here.
“Either you’re building a Catitat on the moon or…”
“You magnificently wicked woman, you unbelievably acquisitive thief. You’re doing to Ra’s what I showed you with Falcone. You’re buying up, pushing out or cannibalizing all the bits of Demon left splintered and vulnerable by Falstaff.”
He was talking into the phone.
“Impossible woman. Fine, now that I’ve solved your puzzle, come home.”
Hm? Yes, right. Home. Selina-cat come home.
Bat-Bruce hung up, turned, and saw the cat.
“She’s wrong. It’s not stealing,” he graveled. “But she is coming home.”
Two-foots are inscrutable. They are a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a monkey brain. Nutmeg knew better than to take Bat-Bruce’s words at face value. It sounded like he said Selina-cat was coming home, but two-foot words did not always mean what they seemed, so she went to talk it over with Whiskers.
ººHe also said ‘This isn’t stealing.’ºº she told Whiskers.
That was the puzzle. First he said it to the phone, then he said it to Nutmeg herself, and neither cat could understand it. Stealing is what Selina-cat did.
Nutmeg told how she had hopped up on the bed to explain it to Bat-Bruce: In the time before, when they lived in the highrise place, Selina would put on her fur/no-fur, which she kept under the bed just like she does now, and she would go out into the world. She would take things and bring them home.
Whiskers interrupted here to confirm that Bat-Bruce did definitely say she was coming home. So he must know that she had finished taking whatever she had gone to take and was bringing it back to show us. Nutmeg resented the interruption and swatted Whiskers in the nose. Whiskers responded by nipping Nutmeg’s ear. Another day, the topic under discussion might have been tabled for a full tussle, but the question of Selina-cat’s homecoming was far too important. Nutmeg continued:
Naturally she explained to Bat-Bruce that when Selina came home she would show us whatever she had taken. She would bring lots of interesting outdoor smells—and again, Whiskers interrupted. Bat-Bruce must know all this, because HE was one of the interesting outdoor smells Selina-cat often brought home.
ººWhen he is Two-Foot in Boots,ºº Nutmeg reminded him, and Whiskers flattened his ears at the memory of that old betrayal.
The man they now knew as Bat-Bruce came into their lives as Two-Foot in Boots. He came down from the skies like a big, black pigeon. He wore a cape. He would land on the terrace—the terrace with scent markers clearly stating that it was Whiskers’s territory—and his cape would brush against the potted plants that Whiskers had arranged exactly as he liked them in order to be the Stalking Jungle Cat of Death.
Nutmeg had been excited to meet the two-foot who went with the smell they knew. She liked ººhis deep growl voiceºº She liked the way Selina-cat’s voice changed whenever he came around, and she liked the way Selina-cat behaved after he had left.
Even now, Whiskers resented it. That terrace was his. Even if Nutmeg had no interest in the matter herself, a little loyalty was called for. His territory had been violated, not once but many times. Even if she had no interest in the matter, even if she liked Two-Foot in Boots herself, a little woofing loyalty wasn’t too much to ask.
Though he was now quite fond of Bat-Bruce, he decided to avenge that ancient betrayal. He arched his back, thumped his tail, lowered his head and hissed. Nutmeg flattened her ears and hissed back, and they circled each other with menace. Finally he lunged. Fur flew. Whiskers knocked Nutmeg over and nipped above her shoulder before getting kicked off. Nutmeg delivered a great sweeping swat at his hind leg and ran, changed course as soon as he started to chase, and took a dozen fleeting mini-swats at his face. He retaliated with a swipe at her tail, then ran. She caught him behind Selina’s exercise machine and tackled him. He rolled her over, then dug in with his back feet, winning the day. Her white chin and underbelly exposed, he went in for the kill—licking the fur of her throat. She licked the whiskers above his eye in return, and a lengthy grooming session commenced.
The next morning, both cats were up before dawn, looking for confirmation that Selina was coming home. They quickly realized there was nothing to see before dawn, so they chased each other manically across the Great Hall, up and down the stairs, up the stairs again, and then settled in the Portrait Gallery to nap until Standing Softpaws got up.
When they spotted him, everything in his manner seemed to confirm that change was coming. When he fixed Bat-Bruce’s breakfast, he paused an extra second here, an extra second there, looking in the refrigerator, looking in a cabinet… They followed the breakfast tray and heard him talking to Bat-Bruce. Both voices sounded different. Change was coming. Throughout the day, both cats grew more confident. Everything in Bat-Bruce’s manner seemed to confirm it. Selina-cat was coming home.
Then the doorbell rang, and Standing Softpaws went to open it. It wasn’t Selina-cat! It was Round-Paw Tabby-Top. Both cats liked her—usually—but not if it turned out she was the change Bat-Bruce and Softpaws were expecting. Not if her visit was taking up the space that should be filled by Selina-cat coming home.
They followed her suspiciously.
“That’s how I got onto this,” she was saying. “Churn is way up. Sick days too, and vacation requests. But mostly it’s the good old-fashioned ‘people are quitting.’”
“How so?” Bat-Bruce asked.
“Near as I can tell, nobody is in the FTRP.”
“What do you mean ‘as far as you can tell?’”
Good, that was good. His tone was sharp. Suspicious. They liked Tabby-Top, usually. She had a cat of her own whose scent they knew and which told them he was happy and well-cared for. She also had a pet two-foot they called Pillow-squasher and everyone else called Dick. But today, her appearance was messing with their ability to confirm Selina-cat’s return, and that made her a problem.
“Selina’s plane is in the air right now,” said Bat-Bruce, and the cats looked at each other. They recognized the name. They recognized the tone. Confirmation achieved! Meow for Tabby-Top! What a wonderful two-foot she was, to take time out from her busy day with her own cat to come and coax Bat-Bruce into confirming Selina’s return.
“Busted,” she said. “Was I that obvious?”
Well, she was no cat. She seemed embarrassed about something in a way no cat would ever be, but all two-foots except Selina were prone to that kind of thing. Now that Selina’s return was confirmed, there was no reason to stay with Bruce and Tabby-top. Nutmeg went to see where Standing Softpaws had gone. The word ‘tea’ had been spoken, and that meant cream, butter and cake. She didn’t get far, unfortunately, for Softpaws was returning with a tray of goodies. That meant no tidbits until later, but she walked with him back to the drawing room and entered just in time to hear Selina-cat’s name repeated.
“Just how amenable is Selina to Bat-business? I know she’s changed, but hardcore Team Batman law enforcement still seems very—”
Tabby-top stopped her mewing when the food arrived, like any sensible being would, and for the next minutes while she and Bat-Bruce were occupied, Nutmeg went to find Whiskers. He hadn’t been in this room in a long time and was walking the perimeter quietly, rubbing his scent into every table leg he could find.
When Selina-cat returned, she had to be punished. They greeted her with hooked tails rather than full upright, declined to present attentive ears, and when she offered a finger-tip for them to sniff, neither cat stretched forward to touch their nose to it.
“Oh, I see. I’m in the doghouse,” she said sadly. “Left you alone with only Bruce and Alfred to take care of you. Manor full of fun and only each other to share it with.”
Both cats stared coldly and intended to wait a full ten minutes before following her from the room. They were forced to abandon that plan when they heard her heels crossing the great hall in that pattern that meant she would be going up the stairs—she was going to the nap place, where her suitcase would be for unpacking.
ººTOY!ºº cried Whiskers, and ran.
ººFUN!ºº cried Nutmeg and followed.
The Hour of Dusty Climbing
It was only a few hours after arriving at Wayne Manor that Whiskers decided to forgive the loss of his beloved terrace planter, for the house had endless places to explore. The Stalking Jungle Cat of Death still stalked when he wished, but now he could also climb, burrow, clamber, scramble and lurk. One of his favorite adventures was seeking out some spot in a distant room where the air had a close, undisturbed smell. If there was a window, he would visit until he found that time of day when the sun came through that window the hottest—he loved the smell of the dry, grainy air of long-empty rooms heated by the sun—and it would be his new nap-place until the air got used to him and it felt like the air everywhere else. If there was no window, or once the window-napping was finished, he would climb. These rooms often had an armoire or some other tall piece of furniture, and on top of those pieces, the most rewarding accumulations of dust. He would roll in the thick carpet of dust, swish his tail through it, get it in his whiskers—it was great! Later, Selina-cat would give him a thorough brushing, which was also great.
Today he even found a spider snack, which was very tasty and he would have liked another. He searched thoroughly but, unable to find one, he gave up and went to find Selina-cat. He knew she was in the suite when he heard Bat-Bruce’s voice coming from inside.
“I can’t believe it,” he was saying.
“See that’s why I can’t resist teasing you about the great detective thing,” Selina-cat replied. “You sniff out what I’m doing with NMK half way around the world and you don’t notice this right under your nose.”
“I knew Barbara wanted to talk to you about something, but I never would have guessed this. And you already talked to Jim? I would’ve done it, you know.”
“I know, but this was better. If you broached the subject and he didn’t want to go back, you’d be a lot harder to say no to.”
Bat-Bruce said the last words with her as Whiskers reached the doorway and saw they were sitting together on his sofa. He went up to them to show that he saw. Even though he didn’t want to be on the sofa right now, it was important they understood that if he did, they would have to—ooh, shiny new thing.
“Speaking of Barbara, I said I would follow up on this Arkham question for her. If you’re going back tonight, see if you can find out what’s going on with the FTRP...”
The sofa was forgotten as he investigated the new thing—the many new things—on the coffee table. There was a flat square with lots of black and white squares arranged on it, and fascinating knobby pieces lined up on each end. They were clearly meant to be knocked over, and he would start doing just that once he gave them all a good sniff. Or… woof. He would have to come back later, because a hand got in his way and picked up one of the pieces.
“I mentioned that most people would make him the king, and he said most people are idiots. The king is the weakest piece on the board and the most predictable. The bishop’s diagonal moves are more erratic, harder to anticipate.”
“That is a better representation of Joker,” Selina said as Whiskers rubbed the edge of the board until the sharp corner pressed into the crease of his mouth.
“He also said the most irrational moves were the knights, but he didn’t want to do that. It would be ‘needlessly rude’ to make Joker a knight when I was meant to see this thing. And that was really all that was said about the chessboard. After that… how he didn’t get to use ‘kench’ in a riddle before Joker was captured. Sanguinolency, The Exquisite Paradox of the Clock, paradox from the Greek meaning ‘against belief.’ Zeno of Elea coined the phrase and his name anagrammed as ‘One foe zeal.’”
“Okay, slow down. Against belief… Zeno… one foe zeal.”
She was writing, then held out her pencil for Whiskers to social greet the eraser. He did, touching his nose to the tip, and she told him he needed a brushing.
“This is all in the log, if you want to go downstairs and read it.” Bat-Bruce said.
“No, I like hearing you tell it,” she replied, putting pen and pad aside and stretching into his lap for Bat-Bruce to pet her. Realizing he wasn’t going to get brushed until Selina-cat was done being petted, he decided to go find Nutmeg and see if she wanted to join him on a spider hunt.
The Hour of Salty Licking
Bat-Bruce was a great mouser. Whiskers hadn’t solved the mystery of the cave place—not yet—but he had learned that much. In the time before, there was a scent Bat-Bruce had only when he was Two-Foot in Boots: Damp-Clammy-Rock. When the cats came to live at the manor, they were surprised to learn he sometimes had that scent when he was Bat-Bruce too. It was too interesting for mews, and Whiskers set out to investigate. Before long he found the cave smell came from a big dark behind the Tick Tock. A big dark with lots of mousy squeak-squeak noise inside. The one time Whiskers made it inside, there were hundreds of flying mice. Whiskers had never gone back, but he knew Bat-Bruce went in there all the time. Most recently, whenever he came out, he had the scent of great exertion, sometimes a towel around his neck that was damp with sweat, and often his brow puddled with it.
He clearly went in there to battle the flying mice, and a valiant warrior he was. Whiskers got in the habit of listening for the sound of Bat-Bruce’s shoes in the Great Hall, and any time he heard them, he would go to see if Bruce was heading for the room with the Tick Tock. If he was, Whiskers would follow, wait, and when Bat-Bruce emerged, Whiskers would greet him, warrior-to-warrior. He would follow him around, and if he sat, Whiskers would hop up to lick the salt from his hand. It was the least he could do for a fellow mouser, but Bat-Bruce seldom accepted the gesture. He was very polite in his refusal, scratching Whiskers’s ears or rubbing under his chin, so it was clear Bat-Bruce was simply one of those eccentrics who preferred to groom himself.
“She is up to something,” Bruce said in that low, growly voice. “Plotting like the cat she is. I don’t suppose you know what she’s up to?”
Plotting. She. She meant Selina-cat. Selina-cat plotting meant munchies. Sweet and creamy munchies or salty savory munchies. Whiskers rocked his nose back and forth under Bat-Bruce’s hand to thank him for the tip and ran off to tell Nutmeg.