… the cursed soil of Mallilie was returned to the grave of Lady Daniata, replaced in the reliquary with a handful of dirt from Robinson Park, and the episode concluded. Tim Drake proved himself an able assistant, as caped children go, though his persistence in referring to me as “the Doctor” was a trial. I can only suppose that Batman’s manner being what it is, the young ones are used to carrying on with whatever joke pleases them in the face of the sternest disapproval. Certainly no scowl of mine could discourage him.
Jason Blood closed his journal with a faint smile. He murmured the incantation to restore the pages to the language of Phy Ree Kwong, “translatable only by he who is worthy and in need,” and replaced it on the shelf. It was some years since that odd misadventure. Tim Drake was now a student at Hudson University in whose museum the reliquary still resided, though that was not enough of a coincidence to warrant concern. It was an excellent school and Drake had good reason to remain in Gotham.
The dream meant nothing, surely. He dreamed he was preparing herbs for conjuring, reached for some potent damiana to heighten the effects of the jasmine, but rather than being in the little clay pot from Miriam’s magic shop, it was in the gold reliquary from the Mallilie affair. That was all there was to it. It was ordinary damiana, not the cursed soil of Mallilie nor the Robinson Park dirt that took its place. He was in his own cella vires in the flat, not conjuring in the museum as he had that night. Nor was he using any of the other items he and Drake had gathered and improvised from the museum exhibits.
There was nothing to worry about. He read over the account in his journal, just to refresh his memory, because he remembered Tim Drake was now a student at Hudson. He didn’t trust coincidence. Things were often connected—
—in ways we don’t see,” Bruce said, dropping an ordinary-looking pebble on one side of the work table in the Batcave chem lab. “Someone had to notice the stars looked a certain way before the animals left and the nights started getting cold,” he said, sprinkling a trail of powder from it to the base of a beaker at the far end of the table. “Someone had to notice the grasses grew taller and greener after a big rain.”
He pointed to Cassie, who touched her finger to the beaker as she’d been instructed. The contents instantly began to bubble, and Bruce continued.
“First you observe, then you try to explain what the connection could possibly be.”
The clear liquid in the beaker boiled over and soaked through the trail of powder like a wet wick burning towards an explosive until it reached the pebble, which did nothing. Nothing visible to the eye, but Cassie’s cell phone and comm link started vibrating simultaneously. Bruce’s phone rang, as did a second comm he’d left sitting on a nearby console.
Cassie looked up at Bruce, knowing this was her cue.
“Four go off at once when I touch beaker,” she said slowly. “Lazy say is coincidence. Smart say no, must be connection,” Cassie said, looking at her hand, the liquid, the pebble and her comm in turn.
“Usually,” Bruce said. “Coincidences may happen, but as a scientist you should always consider other possibilities first. No matter how improbable it may seem that you could set off every receiver in a ten foot radius with a flick of your finger.”
Etrigan was quiet. Jason was fairly sure it wasn’t a conniving silence. After so many centuries with their spirits bound together, he had a fair sense of the demon’s moods. Etrigan had something on his mind, but that something had nothing to do with Jason Blood. The something was more interesting than Jason, his dream and whatever he decided to do about it. So, for the moment, Jason had the luxury of an Etrigan-free morning.
He decided to spend it at the Hudson campus, visit the museum and check on the reliquary with his own eyes. Perhaps his dream meant nothing; perhaps it did. In either case, a morning wandering a museum could be very pleasant.
As he made his way across the campus, Jason opened up his magickal awareness. He was looking to confirm or discredit coincidence, after all. If he bumped into Tim Drake and learned the young man was going to attend a lecture in the museum, or simply meet a friend in the vicinity, that would be a powerful indication that some magickal force was drawing them both back to the reliquary. Signs that unequivocal were rare. By the time something like that happened, it was usually too late. It was far better to drop the walls and let his magickal sensitivities open up, find some subtler—Jason, you need to get that second sight tweaked—
Well that was curious.
When was it she said it? “You need to get that second sight tweaked…”
The Highland Games. The day he learned about her and Bruce. Hm. She and Bruce were not together when Jason teamed up with Tim Drake to dispel the Mallilie curse. It wouldn’t seem to be connected. That was a good sign. The lack of a sign was a very good sign indeed.
The memory did stir Etrigan momentarily, but almost immediately his attention wavered. Jason felt the psychic pull towards Fraternity Row. Echoes of lust and chaos. Etrigan was drinking it in like aged bourbon, a pleasant distraction from whatever was on his mind. Jason shuddered as a wave of demonic fulfillment flooded his brain, and he slammed the door of magickal awareness.
Do you mind? he snapped at Etrigan like a roommate blasting his stereo. I’m trying to work.
Rude prude, came the typically rhyming but atypically brief retort.
Jason continued to the museum and did not risk reaching out again until he was in the exhibit hall standing before the reliquary. It was just as defunct as he remembered. Echoes expunged. Devoid of spirit energy. The whole room felt lifeless—so much so that he picked up the auras of a few visitors in next gallery the way you notice the dimmest sounds in the distance if the room you’re in is completely silent. There was a dull brown aspect on the other side of the wall, a vibrant pink beyond that, and two fluttery greens who were certainly bored and eager to move on.
Satisfied that nothing was afoot with the reliquary, he began wandering for his own pleasure. Hudson had a very fine collection, well worth viewing but unappreciated in a place like Gotham with not one but three world-class museums in the city beyond the campus. Preferring art and artifacts that pre-dated him, he returned to the ground floor where more ancient cultures were displayed.
Usually he preferred them. Today he felt a certain… disquieting shift as he entered the Pre-Columbian gallery. There were two masks, a bat god and a cat, displayed together without any apparent subtext on the part of the curator. The bat was unusually fierce and foreboding for the period while the cat was quite conspicuously playful and feminine. To anyone who had actually seen Batman’s scowl and Catwoman’s sass in counterpoint, the association was inescapable.
Rage like nectar. Wrath like cream.
Jason ignored him, as was his habit on the subject. He was fond of Selina and he respected Bruce more with each meeting, but the one aspect of them as a couple that gave him pause was Etrigan’s undisguised zeal for the match. It was such an instinctive response: whatever Etrigan favored must, by its nature, be an evil. In this case he knew it wasn’t true. He knew the real motive for Etrigan’s unseemly interest. Etrigan had always identified with Bruce. He felt the intensity of Batman’s rage as the fire of a brother demon, a demon ‘trapped’ like him in human flesh. Selina’s capacity for hate fascinated and aroused him, and the thought of them together, focusing their odium on the same thing had become his favorite fantasy. There was one variation in particular, with their joint hatred of magick focused on Jason himself, which he could only assume by the way Etrigan dwelt on it was the demonic equivalent of porn.
Realizing that Jason was ignoring him, Etrigan tossed an image into his mind: Catwoman had broken into this museum, not for anything in this room but for a jade jaguar mask in the next. He prompted Jason to go look for it, to drop the walls and peer into the past, but Jason declined.
Indeed he decided to leave the museum entirely, and the matter might have ended there if it wasn’t for the bulletin board. There was a public bulletin board outside the museum’s front entrance, hung with all kinds of flyers and notices, some cheap photocopies and some large glossy posters. It was one of those that caught Jason’s eye. Two company names and logos among the dozens connected to some event. The one was Wayne Enterprises, the other, something called NMK. Jason found himself staring, mesmerized, stopped in his tracks by the powerful sense that he had just seen this. He felt it in his blood, in his soul… and Etrigan was chuckling which meant it was probably important.
He calmed his thoughts, focused, and saw… they were masks. The masks he had just left in the Pre-Columbian Gallery, the bat god and the cat goddess. The one company was Wayne, so NMK must be...
Jason began to laugh.
Pamela Isley’s first instinct was to quit. Maybe she had used her pheromones as a crutch, and maybe her ability to seduce without them had suffered just a little—or atrophied completely if she wanted to be honest with herself, which she didn’t. If that was the beginning and the end of the story, she could really put it aside and move forward with her plan for the cashews. Nature had graced their shells with the same toxin as her namesake ivy, the same chemical irritant as poison oak and poison sumac, and the poor darlings were subjected to all manner of humiliation, boiling and steaming, as a result. To eradicate any trace of their precious urushiol, to strip from them that which Nature had bestowed for their protection. Any cashew processing plant would be rich with the stuff. In one blow she could avenge the nuts and obtain a wealth of their shells. From those, she could distill a powerful essence of poison ivy irritant to turn on any target she pleased. She smiled at that thought, considering the options for its use. The many, many deserving recipients. Was it really right to postpone that for a vanity project like making a friend?
If only it was as simple as seduction she would give up the whole thing. She just kept coming back to that idea of being liked for herself, without pheromones. She had to prove to herself she could do it, just once, and then she could forget the whole stupid business.
Bruce Wayne was the perfect choice. He was so besotted with Selina that his response the last time she greened him was positively tepid, so there was no chance of her overshooting and accidentally making him fall in love with her. And he knew she was on their side—his and Selina’s, as a couple—so there was no chance of his misconstruing her advances. Given the history, he was the perfect choice. The only setback was that, being Bruce Wayne, he wasn’t particularly accessible. Every tramp on the Upper East Side schemed to run into him accidentally on purpose, and any avenue they missed had a dozen would-be Bud Foxes and wannabe Gordon Gekkos camped out like groupies at a stage door. Ivy had no intention of joining their ranks. She had to find some way of making contact that wouldn’t raise flags.
It was a three pansy problem. By the time she manured the third flowerbed, which happened to be a lovely line of Pansies Viola, she realized she was straining her brain for nothing. She needed to leave Bruce in complete control of his faculties; that didn’t mean she couldn’t use her pheromones on anyone else. She could use the very same method she had the first time she greened him at the Empire Club. There would be different weeds working in the Wayne Enterprises IT department, naturally, but the new growths would be just as responsive as the old. She would find one to hack into Bruce’s schedule for his goddess, he would inform her where Bruce was going for lunch and she could run into him by chance.
It would take time. He was a stupid man, but even the dumbest of the dumb would be suspicious if she appeared as she had at the Empire Club. She couldn’t go right up to his table and say hello as she had that day. Even without the disguise—especially without a disguise—if Poison Ivy came up to his table while he was having lunch in a public place, even the dumbest of the dumb would expect another kiss and then enslavement. She would have to move slowly, it was that simple. It was annoying when she was in a hurry to get down to business: get him to like her so she could scratch it off the list and get back to the cashews. But she had no choice. Nature’s Way was Nature’s Way. Gardening required patience, and Bruce Wayne was going to be a delicate and difficult blossom to cultivate. A tuberous begonia, probably. Big and showy but damnably particular. If conditions weren’t just right… No wonder her first instinct was to quit.
A lazy afternoon at last. There was a time Selina might spend a day like this at the museum. Today, she didn’t even feel like that. There was art enough in the manor, and she could kick her shoes off. The last weeks had seen lunches with Harvey and Jason Blood, lunches followed by shopping with Doris and Madison, lunch and a movie with Barbara, a movie/no lunch with Matt Hagen, a campus visit to check on Tim, a call from Will Sanchez about a number of Superman flyovers at the Catitat and a new litter of tiger cubs which might or might not be related, and a drop-off in NMK business at the Foundation that was more than absorbed by the overseas operation. Small wonder she didn’t feel like going out, even to commune with the impressionists. She took her tablet, the morning paper and a mystery novel to the little-used sitting room off the library, picked a spot under a George Stubbs landscape, and settled in for a blissful afternoon of doing nothing.
She began with a quick look at what she considered “Cat News.” Scarlett Johansson sporting a nice piece of Bulgari at the Venice Film Festival. That would have made a very nice prize back in the day, and she had new mouths to feed at the Catitat, after all. The Metropolitan Museum had two new posts on their Facebook Page: a Featured Artwork of the Day (Early 20th century nude, French, very odd but the kind of odd that one collector of Bev’s would really go for) and a photo promoting a party that would create the perfect cover to go in and grab the painting without a lot of prep work. She scrolled, trying to remember how the practicing cat burglar she used to be had ever managed before Facebook.
A few feet away, Bruce peeked in the door before making his presence known. He knew Selina was tired. The way she was using NMK to capitalize on the failed Falstaff effort, picking off or locking down fractured pieces of Demon like a wild cat targeting the slow and injured separated from the herd, it was quite brilliant. Creative, ambitious, and so far very effective—but the time zones were taking a toll. The operations Falstaff cannibalized to fund his entry into Gotham were remote ones nestled in isolated corners of Asia, Europe and South America. Bruce knew she was making calls at all hours. Once he heard her speaking German, once Japanese, and then she came to him about the relay. Setting up her own relay through the satellite uplink in the Batmobile so Selina Kyle could make what calls she needed without cancelling Catwoman’s prowl. Absent SmileX exposure, he’d never found it so difficult to keep from grinning in costume.
A little gift was certainly called for and Bruce wished he’d thought of it on his own. Instead, he had only chance to thank. Still, it was a pick-me-up she deserved—
“Hello, handsome,” she said without looking up from her tablet.
“Hello,” he graveled—but got no farther when she screamed.
“You scared the hell out of me,” she panted, hand over her heart.
“I can see that,” he said, restraining a chuckle that wouldn’t be appreciated. “Ironic after all the years I couldn’t get that reaction as Batman.” She glared and he apologized. “You said hello; I figured you saw me.”
“This is the you I was talking to,” she said, turning the tablet around as he came into the room to get a closer look. A picture of him as the jetsetting playboy, posted on some social network.
“One of those Living Luxe outfits,” he said with a touch of foppish mockery, “that lives to post pictures of people like us in glamorous places doing glamorous things.”
“It kills them that they don’t have any photos of us in Positano last month, so they dig into the archives and make something up. Any idea where this was?”
He did and his lip twitched as he remembered.
“Monaco Yacht Show, party at the Hotel de Paris. Going back quite a few years, but you can see why they chose it.”
He pointed to the woman he was with. She had long black hair, pinned up so as not to rob her backless evening dress of its most alluring feature. Her exposed, very shapely back was to the camera. The photo didn’t even show her legs, the perfect calf just visible through the slit.
“I guess that could be me,” Selina admitted.
Damn right it could, Bruce thought. That’s why he’d introduced himself. Even once he got close enough to see that her eyes were gray, he spent the first minutes of their acquaintance mentally drawing on the mask and considering the possibility. It was only once he established absolutely that her limited English wasn’t feigned and she had no grasp of idioms, that Batman stepped aside and let the playboy take over for the evening.
Now here she was, that ever elusive cat burglar was at home in the manor, barefoot, casually reading… he thought about bending down to kiss her impulsively, but then he remembered why he’d come.
“Close your eyes,” he said, pulling a small box from his pocket and silently extracting a single square from its gold foil.
“Ooh, surprise time,” she said, complying “New batarang? New catarang? Ne—I smell chocolate.”
“Open and bite,” he said, holding the morsel to her lips.
She did, and Bruce watched expectantly. Watching Selina eat chocolate was one of the most erotic things you could do fully clothed. The way she savored, the tilt of the head, the quiver of pleasure that just parted her lips and then seemed to radiate out, relaxing the muscles down her throat, that dreamy look as her eyelids eased open…
Except today they popped open, her left hand sprung from her lap to press her fingers to her lips as if trying to hold in—a giggle? No, a laugh. Not quite the expression of joyous delight he imagined, but—
“Oh my GOD, where did you get this?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“I thought you’d like it,” he said, proud of the find and setting the box formally on her knee. “There are those who consider it the best chocolate in world.”
“White-nibbed Peruvian Nacional cacao, so rare it was thought to be extinct until a couple trees were found in some remote mountain valley 100 miles from where all the GPSes give up. I didn’t ask what it was, Bruce, I asked where you got it.”
He stared. For a moment she sounded— for just a fraction of a second she sounded like him, like Batman refusing to let a criminal evade the question—but the moment didn’t hold. The merriment that sparked that first suppressed giggle still shone in her eyes, and there was an aura of anticipation that said the best was still to come.
“I tell you what, Kitten,” he said, assuming a playful cadence she might or might not recognize from her own rooftop banter. “I’ll tell you where I got these chocolates once you tell me how you know what they are.”
She started to speak—stopped to contain the giggle—and tried again.
“This is, without question, the finest moment of our association,” she announced. “The Juanpurr Ruby, the Windsor Vermeer, taking out Prometheus in front of the Justice League, nothing compared to this.”
“Explain,” he graveled—and then thought the better of it. Even though she was the one who took the conversation ‘to the rooftops,’ so to speak, she was clearly fighting down a case of the giggles and the emergence of Bat-voice was all it took to tip the balance.
Laughter had its way for several seconds, then at last she looked up at him with that little lip-bite that also had rooftop associations. She thought she had several angles of attack and was trying to decide which would be the most ‘fun.’
“Sorry,” she managed finally. “The thing is—and I really hope you’ll see the funny here—the fact is, Bruce, these are sort of… crime chocolates.” She paused, either for dramatic effect or to squelch a final giggle. Then she continued. “See, the thing with these dismantled Demon ops I’m working with is they’re mostly in unfortunate parts of the world where not a lot changes from one century to the next. If they’re not going to be an outpost al Ghul, they’ve got to do/make/grow something. I figured if it’s something people in the modern world actually want instead of straw baskets and clay pots, that makes it a lot more profitable, and a lot more expensive and difficult for Ra’s to try and get back in down the line. Hence: high rent chocolate.”
It made sense as far as it went, but it did not explain the giggle fit.
“High rent chocolate, not crime chocolate,” Bruce said evenly. “I assume that designation denotes something besides ‘beans grown by farmers that previously had some connection to Ra’s al Ghul.’”
The naughty grin answered him, and he took the box back from her lap, extracted a square, and considered its source. He discovered the delectable morsels at Richard Flay’s. Richard Flay the art expert, historian and collector who, it had become increasingly clear since Bruce took up with Selina, augmented his public collection with an unknown quantity of stolen art.
Bruce looked at Selina with an appraising crimefighter’s eye.
“You really are an amazing woman,” were the words he said aloud, though dangerous was the adjective in his thought. How very dangerous Catwoman would have been if her criminal motives and inclinations were more destructive. “The growing and manufacturing is covered on the Demon side of the equation, yes, but this whole idea hinges on getting top dollar for the finished product. That’s not going to happen through your Demon acquisitions; you don’t want any little sweet shop in the Mumbai. You want Fifth Avenue, Rodeo Drive, Bond Street, the Bahnhofstrasse, Rue Montaigne and Ginza… Nothing NMK has from Falcone has that kind of reach. Wayne Enterprises has the distribution resources you’d need, but you didn’t come to me. Because you already had a network of people who have established relationships with that class of customer: your fences.”
“I salute you, World’s Greatest Detective,” Selina said sincerely.
“What’s a thirty dollar chocolate bar if you’ve got ten million to drop on a Monet,” Bruce said as if acknowledging the compliment.
“You make it sound a lot more calculating than it was. Igor always opened a new box of pralines whenever I went to see him. I figured he must treat his buyers at least as well. Started with him, Bev, Anna, and that Cancrelat character in Paris. Pretty soon their counterparts are calling from Hong Kong, Macau, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I didn’t plan it, but somehow it became a code. Anywhere you’re pushing high end art, jewels or antiquities, you want that little bowl of chocolates on the table to let them know you deal in the really good stuff. Picassos and Chagalls, not some questionable Salvador Dali. And then of course you give them the box on their way out the door. Inside of a month, the whole year’s supply is sold.”
“Incredible,” Bruce said in wonder. “An entire line of chocolate being munched exclusively by rich people buying stolen art.”
“Well, and you,” Selina added, reaching to take another square from the box.
Pamela would have to admit there were worse pastimes than stalking Bruce Wayne. The restaurants he frequented were mostly near the Wayne Tower, midtown. It was a business crowd but so near the fashion centers that, dressed as she was in vivid shamrock, teal and olive to play down her skintone, she was usually mistaken for a model. The first day she had greened a concierge at the Gotham Imperial to make sure she could get a last minute reservation wherever and whenever she wanted for the duration of the project. But when that first hostess never even asked her name—just glanced at her hat, her gloves and the vibrant hues of her dress and gave her a prime window table—Pam never bothered with reservations again.
It was Marolo’s that first day, and she did nothing with respect to Bruce. She didn’t glance up from her lunch when he entered, and never looked his way throughout the meal. She had seen where he was seated, from the reflection in her water glass, which made it easy to avoid looking his way or noticing him when she left. The next two days she let pass. The third she waited until he was a half hour into his meal before she entered. She sat at the counter, ordered from the bar menu and never looked up from her Kindle.
That was it for the week. The next Monday he was back at Marolo’s and so was she. This time she noticed and smiled. Nothing more, just a smile—which was returned; that was encouraging even if it was a little frosty. There were two men with him, Lucius Fox and some other corporate drone. Pam knew there was a woman with him on one of those previous occasions. Though it was hard to take in much detail from the reflection, she could tell that much. It would be better to do nothing more than wave as she left today and wait until he was with a woman—a woman who wasn’t Selina, obviously—before she approached his table.
“She saw me today,” Bruce reported while Selina dabbed the injection point with disinfectant.
“Grrrrr,” she said darkly.
“A smile and a wave.”
“Grrrrr,” she repeated, and a bat squawked overhead.
“That’s why I didn’t tell you until the needle was out of my arm,” he said with a foppish grin.
“It’s not funny. You need two weeks for the anti-tox to build up in your system; you told me that. You’ve only got seven days.”
“Seven days more than when it started,” he said, kissing her forehead reassuringly. Then his eyes darkened, his jaw stiffened, and he turned towards the costume vault. He walked off but kept talking, knowing she would follow. “And I don’t know that whatever she’s up to has anything to do with Bruce Wayne. She could just be in the neighborhood.”
“Pigs might fly.”
“She could. Selina, not a day goes by that I don’t know two or three of the other tables at Marolo’s or Avril or Bastion. You know that.”
“I know, it’s a small circle. But you don’t really believe this is a coincidence, do you?”
“I think she has a reason for being in that neighborhood all of a sudden,” Bruce said, unbuttoning his shirt. “And that reason will turn out to be typically Ivy and typically criminal. Figuring out what it is is a priority. But lunch at those restaurants could be an innocent byproduct.”
“Or she could be contriving to run into someone else. It’s not like I’m the only man in the tax bracket who frequents those particular restaurants.”
While he dressed, Selina had taken his utility belt off the shelf and extracted a batarang. Now she was using it, apparently, to sharpen a claw.
“We had lunch together almost every day when I was working at the Foundation,” she said. “This started up almost as soon as we stopped.”
“It started up almost as soon as she got out of Arkham,” Bruce graveled, reaching for the cowl. “Post hoc ergo procter hoc, one of the great logical fallacies. Just because something follows an event doesn’t mean it was caused by that event.”
“Okay, I’m going to leave you to your patrol now, because when you’re talking about Poison Ivy and logic in the same sentence, you clearly have too much jackass built up in your system. Time to have a good pummel and clear out your brain.”
“Will I see you tonight?” he asked reaching to retrieve his batarang as she turned to go. It wasn’t date night, but he was playing a hunch.
Her reaction was subtle, anyone who didn’t know her tells from the Juanpurr Ruby never would have caught it, but it was all the confirmation he needed.
“About three before the markets open in London?” he said. “No. No, about two, before the opening bell in Frankfurt.”
“Very good,” she said softly, seductively. “Let’s see just how good, Dark Knight. For that Etruscan vase you’re always trying to get me to return: What am I buying?”
“Trick question. You’re not buying, you’re selling,” he said coolly, but when she exclaimed Son of a— with a swipe at his cowl ear, he admitted with a laugh and a defensive block “I have no idea what.”
The next afternoon, Pamela Isley walked confidently across the dining room at Avril while a waiter was taking Bruce’s order, making it all but impossible for him to see her coming or to get away if he did.
“Bruce—oh please don’t get up,” she said graciously as Lucius Fox started to bob at her arrival. “I just wanted to come over and say ‘hi.’ That picture of you and Selina in the Times was so charming, do give her my best.”
“Uh, yes, of course. Thank you,” Bruce said politely. “I think you know Lucius Fox, and this is Cynthia Merrithew from the Foundation. Pamela Isley, an old friend of Selina’s.”
That was a bit of luck. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (Paperless E-Edition) advised the giving of “honest and sincere appreciation” and the one thing about Bruce Wayne (man, industrialist and idiot) that Pamela felt she could honestly praise was that foundation. It was a bit heavy on the people causes and a bit light helping the trees, but it did more for the environment than most. She complimented a few of the grants she most approved of, and then before she overstayed her welcome, she said she would let them get back to their lunch. With that, she proceeded to the powder room and texted a go-ahead to her slave in the Wayne IT department. By the time she returned to the dining room, Bruce was seated alone.
“Good lord, was it something I said?” she joked casually as she passed on the way back to her table.
“Both called back to the office,” Bruce said. “Some technical snafu with the mainframe affecting both their secured files.”
Ivy produced the helpless-confused smile other people always seemed to give her when she talked about plants.
“I’m sorry, all a mystery to me,” she laughed. “Two PhDs and I still need Nigma to set up my email.”
It was the approach she used with Harvey Dent that first day, though she couldn’t for the life of her remember what the subject was. But giving a man an opening to patronize and explain always did the trick.
“I own a tech company and I can’t change the default beep on my inbox,” Bruce confided.
That was awkward. He didn’t take the bait. A chance to patronize and explain and one of those walking life supports for a penis didn’t take her up on it? Now she had no choice but go back to her table and—
“Look, since we’re both alone, maybe you’d care to join me.”
A chance to patronize and explain and one of those walking life supports for an ego attached to a penis didn’t take her up on it—but he was still asking her to sit down?
“Um, sure,” she said, and once the waiter was informed and the plates rearranged, she pushed ahead to that last bit of awkward business. But before she could, Bruce beat her to it.
“I’m glad you finally broke the ice,” he said—with the most appallingly charming smile. He really was nearly as handsome as Harvey had been, and to be charming too, it was quite off-putting.
“I figured I better,” she heard herself saying, abandoning her prepared script in a forced improvisation. “Since I’m in the neighborhood now, looks like this will be happening pretty frequently. The history being what it is, I wouldn’t want you spend your lunch thinking I might run up at any moment and kiss you.”
She hadn’t meant to be quite as explicit as that, but Bruce didn’t appear offended or embarrassed at the blunt allusion to the Empire Club. Either from politeness or stupidity, he appeared not to notice it. He just asked what brought her to the neighborhood—and that got her back on script! She gave her excuse “Plants of course. It’s all for the plants. Why do I do anything?” as if those most precious of all Nature’s wonders, her babies and the causes that protected them, were the least interesting subject in the world and she would not dream of taking up his valuable time with such trivia.
“But that’s just me and my silly obsessions,” she said graciously. “I’d much rather hear what you’re up to.”
Now she could get down to work.
Jim Gordon never worried much about politics. The mayor and the district attorney had to be reelected, and he figured that was plenty. Somebody had to be more focused on doing the job rather than keeping their job. His first stint as commissioner, he had no ambitions to move on from there. He figured it simply didn’t matter. Commissioner Gordon was the last job he’d ever have. He would hold it until he retired, and he had.
Now he was back, but the nature of that hiatus—that forced retirement—had changed him. It was the politics he had so carelessly ignored that compounded crisis with manufactured crisis until he was forced to resign. Or maybe not forced; maybe he was wrong about that too. Maybe he should have dug in and fought longer and harder. He’d had years to think on it and hadn’t come to any conclusion, not about the resignation. But about the politics, that was one mistake he would not repeat.
He still intended to make the job his first priority, but he would not ignore appearance and perception again. There were those who had been glad to see him go, factions who would not rejoice at the return of one they thought long gone. He wouldn’t ignore them this time. Nip it in the bud before it becomes a problem.
Luckily the factions were as transparent as they were malicious. Case in point: Portraying him as an old man out of his depth with modern technology. Perhaps he was an old man. Old enough to have a grown daughter, at least. A daughter with talents that bordered on superpowers with anything that plugged into a socket, who happened to marry a man who was not only a cop, he was the heir to a multi-national tech company.
This was going to be fun.
Six Ways to Make People Like You (Paperless E-Edition)
Check. Despite Joker associations, she’d been smiling ‘til her cheeks hurt.
Become genuinely interested in other people.
Check. “I’d much rather hear what you’re up to” Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. “, Bruce.”
Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
“I understand you had an actual Bat-encounter in the midst of all those Foundation fundraisers, and that you actually threw him out of your penthouse in front of a dozen guests.”
Talk in terms of the other person's interest.
“Selina must have been impressed out of her mind!”
Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
“I know I would have been.”
Leonard Watts regarded the elevator panel with disgust before pushing the button for the top floor labeled Commissioner, Precinct Coordination, Vigilante Liaison/Roof Access. As if things weren’t fucked up enough the last few years, some genius had to dig up James Gordon. What a city.
As the elevator began to move, the gripe branched out to ponder which of the many fails from Gordon’s day the old fool would try to bring back. He would pick the most damaging now, in private, and list them later in front of the men... That was the thought that shriveled from the shock, sights, sounds and smells as the elevator doors opened. Watts was assailed by the odor of wet paint and plaster. The sound of drilling and hammering. A matrix of workmen, ladders and clipboards crisscrossing his path as he tried to find his way to the commissioner’s door, where he’d expected to see Gordon’s old scratched up nameplate proclaiming his oh-so-inappropriate return on the outgoing commissioner’s impressive polished door.
Instead he found no door – no wall, in fact, and a sheet of frosted glass being installed in its place, with the GPD shield and the word COMMISSIONER spelled out in the negative space. A repugnantly efficient woman with a clipboard poked him, pointed to Jim Gordon standing down the hall, and resumed instructing workmen where to install the track lighting.
“Watts!” Gordon called, putting on his coat. “They should have caught you down in the lobby. Let’s get out of here, where we can talk properly. Going to be another day until they’re ready for me, it seems.”
“Yuuuh-uhm,” Watts managed, while Gordon walked him back to the elevators.
“Beg pardon?” Jim said.
“What’s um,” Watts said, pointing a limp, twitchy finger in the general direction of the chaos.
“Well, Lawrence Muskelli was a good man. His appointment to the Justice Department says it all, surely. But the changes he made to the office—my office—I don’t much care for. The décor was made to impress, not be functional.”
“Desirable in a public figure,” Watts muttered.
“For press conferences, yes. That’s why I’m having his things moved down to the third floor with the Film & Television Liaison, public relations and licensing. I’ll give press conferences and interviews down there, they can sacrifice a meeting room for it, and we’ll do all our ‘impressing the public’ in one spot.”
“I… see.” Watts said cautiously. The elevator doors opened on the second floor. The scene was much calmer, but not completely so.
“Internet Crime needs more room,” he said as a young uniform brought him a slip of paper, which he read discreetly. “This is right now?” he asked.
“Within the last hour,” the uniform answered.
“I see, well, it’s their museum. If they want to put the items on display, they must know what they’re getting into. They know by now what the themes are. Is it a press release?”
“No sir. One of the curators tweeted it.”
“Well if they’re not making it into a big deal, neither will we,” said Gordon. “Tell Major Crimes but keep it off the blotter. And I’ll tell the Batman, naturally.”
The officer walked off, and Gordon returned his attention to Watts, walking him subtly towards the stairwell.
“I was saying, Internet Crime needs more room. They’re still in the same office we set up for it when it was called the world wide web. I might put them on the top floor with me, I certainly don’t need the entire floor, or maybe move them down to the communication center. Keep the ‘nerds’ close together so they can talk.”
Sensing the show that was being put on for his benefit, Watts answered tersely that Gordon probably didn’t realize computers were much smaller now. Not like the days of the Apollo missions and Dr. Strangelove when they took up entire rooms. Gordon laughed like it was the best joke he’d ever heard.
“Not the computers, Watts, the people. Internet Crime is terribly understaffed. Didn’t you know?”
Another uniform approached with another slip. This time Gordon grimaced.
“The exchange actually wants him to ring the opening bell?” he grumbled. “Well that’s just great. That will be the Diplomatic Protection Group. I don’t expect to sit in on the meeting, I don’t want to appear to be looking over their shoulder, but I want to be kept informed. Tell their sup to call me personally after every meeting they have with his security detail and remind them that the only thing I hate worse than a turf war is losing one.”
The uniform nodded and left. Gordon turned back to Watts and steered him into the stairwell.
“The former President is coming to Gotham for an undisclosed amount of time.”
They began walking down the stairs. Watts did nothing to hide his delight at Gordon’s discomfort.
“That would be President Luthor,” he said with satisfaction.
“That would be Luthor,” Gordon confirmed. “Funny how things change, isn’t it, Watts? Shortly before I resigned, then-President Luthor called me the worst peace officer in the Western Hemisphere. Now I’m back, and he’s the one who’s resigned in disgrace. Goes to show you, live long enough you’ll see everything.”
They had reached the ground floor landing, and Gordon paused. Another flight of stairs continued down to the basement. Two doors were before them, one to the lobby, and a fire door leading to the street. Gordon pressed a button that opened the latter, and with an elegant economy of movement tilted his head towards the open door.
“Give your bosses Aldridge and Kelly my best, and tell your buddy Simon second chances don’t come free. They’re earned.”
Yawning, Selina pulled her robe tighter against the chill of the cave. It was a short robe, she had to use every advantage she could get, but there was a downside to all that exposed leg. She opened the clock passage and went down the stairs for the third time, silently vowing this would be the last. She checked the med lab; no Bruce. She walked through the main cavern where Wayne Tech documents flickered on every screen that didn’t display something from the Foundation, Wayne Enterprises, Wayne Industries, or Batman’s logs on Poison Ivy encounters; but no Bruce. She went through to the chem lab… and there, at last, he sat.
“My dopamine and serotonin levels are normal,” he announced dryly. “No elevated oxytocin. No chloroplasts. Heart rate, body temp and BP all within normal parameters after patrol. I have no desire to see that woman, hear her voice or look at a flower.”
“That’s nice. Any desire to see a pillow?”
He looked at her, bewildered, and she shifted her leg, hoping to give that heart rate and BP a bump.
“I would have thought, given the history, reassurance would be welcome,” he said.
“The blood work you did at 7 o’clock was reassuring. The second round after patrol established that the first one wasn’t a fluke—”
“When she greened me at the Empire Club there was a delay—”
“And it confirmed that she hasn’t come up with a time release or anything else that the first tests missed. At this point, Bruce, ‘given the history,’ the empty space in the bed is a lot more disquieting. So if this is just for me—”
“It’s not,” he admitted. “You know it’s not. She was trying to get me to open up about something, and I have no idea what. I’ve been over all the prototypes and projects connected to anything she brought up, nothing is jumping out. Whichever one she wanted information about, she hid it well in the scatter shock. And then there’s the question of why she didn’t use her pheromones. Whatever intel she was after, why she didn’t she green me when she saw she wasn’t getting it? It’s usually her first recourse.”
Selina frowned, playing with her robe ties thoughtfully.
“The last time she went for you as Bruce, she did it to get at me. To force a confrontation. She was asking for pain, as you put it. Maybe it’s as simple as that, she’s not asking for pain this time. She knows what’s mine and that helping herself to the wildebeest kitty bagged will bring consequences she doesn’t need.”
Bruce’s lip twitched.
“Because you’re such a bad girl,” he said, finally noticing the extreme shortness of her robe. “Still a rogue in heart and mind, as you never tire of reminding me. What would you be after?”
He let his eye linger on the top of her thigh and ran a finger absently across the edge of the worktable.
“If it was you going after Bruce Wayne. As the Catwoman you used to be, but right now with the schedule I have this week, today. What would you be going after?”
“It doesn’t work that way. Other than both being female, Pammy and I are as different as can be. We wouldn’t go for the same things.”
“Humor me. Then I’ll come up to bed.”
She hesitated. He got up and stepped in closer.
“You’ve put your criminal expertise to work for me before,” he pressed. “I am asking you to size up Bruce Wayne.”
She considered, bit her lip, then shook her head.
“Nope, it’s too late. Catwoman has left the building.”
“Bruce. It’s nearly five in the morning. Quite apart from the fact that everything around you is cat-worthy, there are things like votes on boards, pull with banks, with museums, invitations to exclusive events, access to powerful people, and that’s not even getting into the Wayne Tech prototypes. And yet the only thing you’ve got that I’m interested in right now is a goose down pillow. Ask me in the morning. Bring an offering of coffee sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg.”
Bruce scowled, glanced down at her legs, then his lip twitched.
“No,” he said, reaching out to grab the end of her robe tie and using it to pull her towards him as he once did with the whip. “You don’t get to saunter down here in that little wisp of silk just to roll over and go to sleep once you get me upstairs.”
As he spoke, he looped the belt casually around her wrists then yanked them taut like handcuffs.
She glared at it, head tilted at a mischievous angle, and her throat began to emit a sound that could be called either a purr or a growl.
“Actually, I just mentioned a pillow,” she said, trying to ease her wrist free but finding she couldn’t. “I didn’t specify sleeping on it or, say, screaming into it.”
“And so it turns out criminals are a superstitious lot after all. This problem in Chinatown all of a sudden with the Triads...”
Once again, Gordon had timed his seemingly aimless walk so his party neared a fire door as the story was winding down.
“Tearing each other apart to get their hands on a ring that probably doesn’t even exist, all because of a rumor,” he laughed, coming to a stop before a button placed discreetly at wheelchair height, though his posture made it look like he was merely pausing at a handy untrafficked spot. He looked at his visitors expectantly, which made them look around expectantly.
“I brought you this way to show you something,” he said with an encouraging smile. Again the party looked around, wondering what there was to see. Gordon’s manner remained congenial, but he nodded in a coaxing way as if anyone should be able to see it.
“The door,” he said simply. “Paul, Kevin, we came through the academy together. Peter, I didn’t know you then, but you’re an old timer. We all remember the city before Batman, the early Joker attacks, the quake. If you think for one minute that buys you some kind of special pass, that I’m going to overlook what you’ve done since, you are very much mistaken. Come at me like you did before, I will end you. Pete, ask your buddies here after they leave, they’ll tell you. I have absolutely no scruples about this kind of thing. G’day gentlemen.”
At 10:30 the next morning, Bruce carried a specially made cappuccino sprinkled with Alfred’s recommended spice blend to Selina’s suite. He thought about changing into costume for the occasion. He knew it was that notion of Batman asking that she responded to, but he decided the full costume would be overplaying his hand. He opted for a black sweater that only subtly alluded to their night life, which he would augment with the Bat-voice and manner as needed.
As it happened, no additional persuasion was necessary. Selina was smiling when he walked in the door and laughed when she saw what he brought.
“You remembered, that’s so sweet. I was just too tired last night, but I’ve got it now. Came to me in my sleep, and I woke up with the perfect target. The polo match. If I’m sniffing around Bruce Wayne right now, I’d definitely go for that polo match you’re going to play in for the International Orphans Fund. It’s a blue ribbon crowd, should be a six-figure take, and you’re going to be all athletic. Hot and sweaty.”
“Really?” he said, forgetting to gravel or fop.
“Well yeah. You wanted my take and I think Bruce Wayne the sexiest man alive, so things like that count for a lot. I told you it wouldn’t be any help with Ivy.”
“It’s enough. I’ll invite her. Gives her another chance to talk to me, gives me another chance to figure out what the hell she’s after.”
35 kilometers outside of Buenos Aires, a flight attendant in what had once been the uniform of a LexAir stewardess emptied a box of chocolate squares into a china bowl and walked them down the center aisle of what had once been called an L450 LexStream. She set them gingerly on the table next to the sole passenger’s untouched glass of mineral water. It—like the napkin underneath, the bowl and her own breast pocket—all bore an insignia that had once been the LexCorp logo.
She paused for a half-beat, waiting for further instructions, until the passenger flicked his fingers dismissively over the bowl. She took it as a dismissal and started to walk away when he called her back.
“What’s the delay? Mercy said they finished loading the cargo fifteen minutes ago. Why aren’t we taking off?”
“It’s the weight, Mr. President. I take it the cargo being loaded is more than what was expected. The captain is filing a new flight plan to land and refuel in Miami.”
“You should have been told I’m to be addressed as Mr. Luthor,” was his only reply.
“Yes, of course. I’m sorry, Mr. Luthor.”
Thousands of miles away, Jason Blood smiled as a psychic image formed. Without bogging down in specific thoughts, he sat like a spider in its web sensing forces, intellectual and emotional, reverberating from a radial thread called Luthor. Of course the former President wouldn’t want to be reminded of the his fall. More to the point, he didn’t want anyone else reminded, and even more to the point, it was the second time on this trip Mercy Graves had let him down. Luthor would have her put off the plane to get herself home at her own expense, and Jason flicked away the premonition as if shooing a fly. There was a chain of events stemming from Luthor’s dissatisfaction, but it led off the web, away from the question that concerned him.
Other aspects traveled laterally to another spoke and a parallel thread. Beverly Stendal, the Argentine art dealer he was seeing in Buenos Aires had also addressed him as Mr. President. She had… oh my, how interesting… She had a positive dislike for Americans, with two exceptions that radiated back to Gotham, and she’d taken an instant dislike to Mercy. Disregarded her instructions and used Luthor’s former title out of spite.
Once the flight attendant was gone, Luthor’s lip twitched. There was a certain satisfaction in having bought enough in this one transaction to outfit his plane, yacht, penthouse and corporate offices. It wouldn’t reflect his personal taste the way the previous collection had done, but it had only taken a day and it had to be said, the price was right. He had neither the time nor the money to squander as he had the first time. If LC-II was to regain the stature LexCorp had, he couldn’t waste his personal energy or resources on acquisitions that were so utterly cosmetic.
He took a chocolate, stripped the foil one-handed in a quick, fluid move with his thumb and index finger, and he stared at it, savoring the word like the best chocolate in the world: Acquisitions.
Etrigan began to chuckle, but the sound synced so perfectly with the rhythmic puffs emanating from Luthor that Jason didn’t even notice.
To be continued…