The first time they’d flown to Metropolis on a case, Selina was giddy at the thought of a Bat-Cat team-up in another city now that the masks were off. Captain Leffinger announced their cruising altitude of 26,000 feet, Bruce was reviewing Riddler communiques on his laptop and she set about rubbing the soft flesh of his palm until he accepted a glass of champagne. Then she ran her finger around the lip of his glass, and as she toasted their new adventure, her moist lips parted just so whenever she said “Batman.”
Today, Captain Leffinger announced their cruising altitude of 28,000 feet, Bruce’s laptop was open again so he could study videos from the America’s Cup trials in Gotham and again Selina interrupted, but this time it wasn’t on purpose. She wasn’t trying to seduce him; she wasn’t even aware she was doing it. She was just sitting there, quietly freaking out.
“Relax,” he said, noting the third sigh since take-off and agitated breathing otherwise. “I had them stock a Dom Pérignon, the 2002 rosé.”
She blinked as if he was speaking a language she didn’t know, and to poke her he released the fop: “Its exuberance from the bottle is nowhere else to be found according to Antonio. You remember him, don’t you? Antonio from Wine Advocate? ‘Probably the most overly vinous rosé ever made by Chef de Caves Richard Geoffroy. Layers of cool, insistent minerality balance the fruit beautifully on the crystalline, vivid finish.’”
She looked blankly, and his vacuous smile faded into Batman’s piercing focus. Selina refusing to paw at the fop was on par with Whiskers ignoring a catnip mouse.
“Do you have any idea how big this is?” she said finally. “The scale of what we’re about to do?”
“Jitters?” he said, with a very different smile. “Kitten, you broke into the Watchtower when almost the whole Justice League was there.”
“This is different. This is four very serious break-ins, in multiple cities, in less time than anyone’s even attempted it, and that’s not even the entire plan.”
“You had to blend in with ninety observant journalists to get to the Storm Opals, get past Kryptonian senses and a Martian telepath.”
“And get past you to get away with them,” she added. “Which I failed to do. Even before Prometheus you were onto me, weren’t you?”
In answer he glanced at her legs crossed primly at the ankles, and she shifted in her seat to re-cross them at the knee. His ability to see through a disguise by recognizing her legs wasn’t the point; he must know that.
“Open the champagne,” he said without a hint of the fop.
She did. She brought him a glass, and as she handed it over she admitted “I have attempted ambitious jobs, yes. It was always my plan, start to finish. And I’ve played my part in your mind-boggling protocols-that-can-take-out-the-entire-Justice-League schemes, but those were different. It was never a heist, not literally. A metaphorical one requiring certain skills, yes, but nothing like this, not on this scale. Not exactly what I used to do in the way I used to do it.”
“And this is,” Bruce said, standing and tilting his glass to gently touch hers. “This is a heist,” he said, looking into her eyes. “That we have planned together, Catwoman, and that we are going to execute together.”
It meant ‘I love you’ and that’s what she heard.
“I love you too,” she whispered. “But are we crazy?”
“Probably. Most criminals are,” he graveled, and then leaned in, pushed her hair aside and breathed a hot whisper into her ear, “And our crazy fits.”
The glasses were lifted, the champagne was sipped, and Wayne One continued on its course into Metropolis.
There was an odd patch of grass between the lakefront and the Curt Swan Expressway just off the exit leading to the planetarium. It didn’t have the grandstands of the America’s Cup Village on Shuster Pier. It wouldn’t host the posh spectating events of the Siegel Yacht Club, or even the more modest “Boaters Bash” Ross Harbor was offering on a platform near the racecourse. What it had was the optimal vantage point to shoot the course through a telephoto lens against the backdrop of the iconic Metropolis skyline. That’s why Llanzo chose it. He didn’t have the fanciest gear in the world but he did alright with an ordinary Nikon, a good zoom lens, a selfie stick and a tripod. That and what his muma called “good island sense for where to put the camera.” The boats against the skyline would make for some highly salable pictures.
He hadn’t realized the location also put him in an ideal spot to observe the dockyard where the boats were stored. But now, taking the final test shots before the practice day, he spotted a crane in the distance where no crane had been previously. He adjusted the zoom and scanned the area beneath it: an exceptionally clean industrial area peopled with men in windbreakers and ball caps sporting the logos of Team France and Team New Zealand. Just outside that fenced in compound, a row of slightly less immaculate warehouses stood apart from the rest. A man stood alone, no logos, standing casually like he was waiting for something. He was tall and well built, with broad shoulders, glasses, a weekend beard and dark wind-swept hair/no ball cap, and a duffel. There was nothing special about him and Llanzo might have looked away except right then, as he fussed with his zoom and played with the sightlines in the new area, a girl came out of the warehouse behind him. Presumably that’s who he was waiting for. There was nothing special about her either: youngish dirty blonde, olive jacket and blue jeans… He took a bundle of cash from the duffel and she gave him a set of keys. There was nothing furtive about it, but there was something that prompted a test shot—of the man and the girl, and then an interesting architectural detail on the upper floor of the warehouse…
As soon as Wayne One landed, Selina went alone to check them into the Four Seasons with an ostentatious suite of Prada, Saint Laurent and Globe-Trotter luggage that Bruce used for his “Wayne is in Biarritz for the season” alibis. She then slipped a plain leather weekender over her shoulder and made her way to the address he texted, a dreary but spacious warehouse in a dreary but ideally situated industrial area between the riverfront and Lake Metropolis.
“He knows we’re here,” she reported. “As you predicted. Instead of your usual suite, they’d put us in the Presidential. ‘Snafu.’”
“The Alexander Luthor Presidential Suite, how passive-aggressive,” he noted.
“Don’t worry, he’s still his old aggressive-aggressive too. The room was bugged.”
“It wouldn’t be Metropolis if Luthor didn’t at least attempt to bug my suite at the Four Seasons. SurveiLEX SV?”
“Five SV-10s, One LX-19, One LX-75. I flushed all but the last in case we want to feed him something.”
Bruce’s lip twitched.
“That’s a compliment to you, Kitten. On my own, I never rated more than a pair of SV-10s.”
“Well, you are only a business rival as far as he knows,” Selina said, testing the springiness of the bed in their make-shift loft. “Catwoman had the VIP tour of the Sinister Citadel—”
“At a time when surveillance from that range without the aid of a magic user was something to brag about,” he added.
“So of course he’d up his game now that we’re together—”
“And that’s why you’ll have Team Lex for an alibi. Or Luthor himself if I can manage it...”
Since the Australia II’s winged keel in 1983, there’s been a cloak of secrecy surrounding America’s Cup boats on par with that of a smaller nation’s intelligence bureau. The teams each had their spies to watch each others’ practice. The software each used to analyze data, modify their designs, and even monitor the crew’s heartrates were closely guarded secrets. If he’d known, Llanzo might have expected the chain of events that promised to buy him better gear (and who knew what else) by the time the regatta was over.
It began with a video, a silly little video of the America’s Cup Village under construction. He posted it as a curiosity from his unique vantage point off the expressway, and in a week his YouTube subscriptions tripled. Then WLEX bought the video of the Team New Zealand boat arriving and things really started happening. The Daily Planet bought a still photo they ran on the cover of the Sunday Magazine, and in only a few hours he got an email about submitting a series of race photos from the same location for a calendar.
And then, then he got the call that changed everything. A yachting syndicate (whatever the heck that was, it sure sounded impressive), a yachting syndicate in Fiji (it sounded impressive and it also sounded like money) was planning to mount a challenge in four years. They were willing to pay handsomely (handsomely) for footage of the boats going into the water from his exclusive angle. So here he was much earlier than expected, unpacking gear that now included a cooler full of water and sandwiches. It was going to be a very long day, but looking on the bright side, he hadn’t been sure how early to get up to stay ahead of the traffic. Now that he had to be set up and shooting at this ungodly hour, he didn’t have to worry about it.
He pointed his camera to the dockyard, setting the zoom and examining the crane and the area around it, and then he panned casually to the warehouse… The duffel guy was there! The one who paid off the blonde. He was on an upper floor balcony, no shirt—and whoa, very different girl—different woman rather, a very very hot woman. Instinctively Llanzo framed the shot but decided still photos were better for this and switched cameras. They were just having breakfast, judging by the Starbucks cups, and waiting for the boats, judging by the way they were facing the crane. They were going to watch the boats going into the water same as he was, that figured. Then the duffel guy actually pointed to the crane and Llanzo quickly changed cameras again and got to work.
Putting those catamarans into the water was quite a process: getting the wing upright, putting the crane on the wing to line it up, lifting the hull, the rudders going in while it was suspended over the water—he only peeked back at the couple once during the process, and afterwards they had gone inside.
Bruce and Selina were stopped at the door of the Siegel Yacht Club. Her name was on the list; his wasn’t.
“Ah, Lex, so charmingly petty,” Bruce said, and then pointed out he was Bruce Wayne of The America’s Cup Timeclock presented by Wayne Enterprises: Look what WE can do. He said it like a one-percenter who expected that to end the conversation, just as Lex carried on whenever he came to Gotham, but he met with the same response. The Siegel knew what side its Good Foods bread, a division of LexCorp, was buttered on.
Selina rolled her eyes with a laugh and, seeing who was close enough to be summoned, called out to John Blaine. Bruce was duly vouched for and signed in as Prosperity Partners’ very special guest (“Yes, in the absence of even a Tier 1 security check, Peter. It’s only the practice day, after all. Not like Mr. Luthor himself is going to be here.”) and joined the party.
“They’ll still be keeping an eye on you,” Selina noted.
“Probably,” he replied and then turned to include Blaine and added “The impertinence.”
Blaine nodded sympathetically and led them to Moët & Chandon’s special champagne bar set up on the far end of the lobby. He was playing host, figuring a guy like Wayne was best soothed with a glass of good bubbly. He was just handing Bruce a glass and babbling how Moët were fellow sponsors… “Very keen for all the guests to know if we get bored on the club deck, we’re welcome to view the racing from the M&C yacht just a few meters from the race course, launch leaving every 15 minutes.” …when he saw it. A flash in the eye—a vindictive glint like Lex’s when he had an idea—which resolved in a rather unpleasant leer as Bruce’s eye flicked down Selina’s body.
“If some insolent little security goon is watching us, we’ll have to give him something to see, won’t we,” Bruce said, toying with the end of her hair for a moment and letting the back of his fingers brush against her breast.
Blaine chuckled, the idea of humiliating some wage slave with an exhibitionist romp appealed to him. Later watching the first 25-minute dash of the day from the outdoor deck, he saw Bruce and Selina sneaking off just as Oracle Team USA was taking the lead, and he chuckled again. Imagine the embarrassed oaf turning red at whatever grunting and moaning reached his ears from the pair heaving against the wall in the Meltzer room. Say what you will about Wayne Tech—and the LexCorp team had a great deal to say on that subject—it was a hell of a way to answer Luthor’s insult at the door. Blaine lifted his glass to the Wayne name on the timeclock and took a sip of champagne in Bruce’s honor.
Not far away in the clubhouse, the unfortunate security man did look very much the way Blaine pictured him, though the rhythmic duet of intimate gasping didn’t actually come from interlocked bodies. Instead it was a pair of tiny speakers hidden in the models of Sir Thomas Lipton’s Shamrock V and Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes. The couple who had disappeared between those models of the most famous J-Class and 12-metre racing yachts were zig-zagging through traffic on a pair of messenger motorbikes in matching black jumpsuits, faces concealed behind opaque black helmets, while a sync’d timer counted down their approach to East End Holdings.
31 minutes: 30 seconds, it declared as they crossed Byrne Avenue.
22 minutes: 15 seconds as the female messenger disembarked, package and clipboard in hand, requiring the signature of the only non-secretary low enough in the East End hierarchy to not be at the Yacht Club…
19 minutes as the lowly analyst slumped and three airline bottles of Smirnoff were dropped into her trash can…
18 minutes: 45 seconds as the window opened for Bruce/Tommy, having made his delivery to the more trusting offices of Isidor & Pugh Associates next door from whose 16th floor window he now descended…
18 minutes: 15 seconds as Selina slipped a USB into the sleeping analyst’s terminal to tap the network…
“Timer is set, three minutes and counting before the encryption program resets,” she reported into her mic. “Nine, give or take, until Sleeping Beauty here wakes up.”
..:: Roger, going in::.. he said as she scurried up the line where, two floors above her, he had defeated the rudimentary protections on Constance Rafkin’s window and was disappearing inside her office.
The cameras were off for three minutes. The pressure-sensitive floor was on an independent system, so with Constance out for the day, there was nothing for it but for him to reach the desk from a tension line, which required her counterweight. Climbing up was the easy way to achieve the tension, once she was there, all she could do was bounce, hold onto the window frame for dear life and pull against his superior weight.
“You’re heavy,” she said through clenched teeth.
..:: And LexCorp computers are slow,::.. he hissed over the comm. ..:: A WayneTech would be powered up by now.::..
“My love, Wayne is the best by every measure, and from the depth of my soul I pity people who don’t… fucking… know that. But that is so unbelievably… not the point, we have—you’re heavy—we have—”
..:: One minute, nineteen seconds, I’m aware, I was just—::.. he paused, slamming the USB from Bratsie’s executive safe into the terminal as soon as the welcome screen appeared. …::—making conversation,::.. he concluded. ..:: Logging in.::..
“We have 58 seconds.”
..:: Found the subscriber list.::..
..:: Transmitting now.::..
“You’re still heavy.”
..:: … ::..
“How long can that damn file take? Fund’s got a thirty million dollar minimum, how many subscribers can there be?”
..:: Almost there.::..
“Almost?! ... 24 seconds.”
..:: Got it.::..
“Sweet merciful Bast,” she said, as he pulled the flash drive, shut down the computer, and jostled the tension line horribly as he made his speed swing to the window. It was a dramatic move to say the least as he cleared the window, giving the tension line a fierce tug to pop the anchor free and holding onto the original descender with his left hand while struggling with the window on his right.
“I’ll do that, get yourself secured,” Selina said, and he gratefully snapped carabiners into place again while she announced “Twelve seconds,” closing the window. “Eleven… ten… nine…” as they both shimmied down out of view of the cameras that were about to come back online.
“Cameras are back online in Rafkin’s office,” Selina announced as they got their bearings in the sleeping associate’s office. “Six minutes on her.”
She retrieved her USB from the terminal, did a final look-round for any residual presence, and took a step to the window—only to find Tommy blocking her way.
“There is one thing before we go,” he said, hovering over her. “Your plan to ‘show the ant-fuckers just once what it would look like’ if Catwoman was a Robin Hood, that plan didn't happen to include putting Bruce Wayne's economic savvy to work for you, did it? Along with Batman's knowledge of Luthor?”
“You did say this is where we settle accounts,” he said, reaching experimentally for her throat as if he wasn’t entirely sure how to go about it. “It's a possibility that needs to be addressed.”
“You can’t be serious,” she said, echoing a phrase of their old encounters.
“Kitten,” he graveled, adjusting the hand, “All this wasn't just to weaponize my expertise to prove some point about what Catwoman is and shame the people who insist on making you a Dickensian hard luck case out of an orphanage, was it?”
“It’s what I told you at the beginning,” she said evenly. “A gift. From the essence of the real me to the essence of the real you.”
“I know,” he said, and kissed her cheek.
“Then why in the name of all cats and cat burglars—”
“I wanted to try the settling accounts on the getaway. You said you have to live it to learn it.”
“I don’t believe this.”
“Five minutes on her; fourteen on the tape at the yacht club. Get the window behind you,” he said, climbing out.
“I’m marrying fifteen kinds of crazy,” she whispered, shaking her head.
The sounds of hushed but spirited love-making had gone quiet in the Meltzer room and the demoralized security man perked up, waiting for his charges to emerge. A minute passed. Then another. And for ten seconds more he measured the sounds he’d heard against his own experience, probable recovery time, and the desirability to not dawdle after screwing in a public place. He peeked around the corner and—saw nothing. The models of the America, the Australia II, the Shamrock V and the Stars & Stripes were flanked by the Endeavor and the Tall Ship Rose, each in a glass case on a carved wooden base. It didn’t sound like on-the-floor fucking he’d heard, but unless Wayne and the girl were on the ground hidden by one of the bases, they were no longer in the room.
Scott’s head spun. Where? How? He ran all the way into the room and circled each of the ship’s models just to confirm the obvious, nobody was hiding there. So where? How? He ran outside—
And scanned the guests watching on the deck. No Bruce Wayne, no hot brunette. He ran back inside and checked the champagne bar—
No Bruce Wayne, no hot brunette. He ran back outside, and again scanned the crowd while composing four—five—nine ways to begin his non-report on the man he was supposed to keep an eye on…
He decided the second was the least likely to get him fired… and if he was fired, if he could make ends meet going back to the Home Depot or would have to get a roommate—and if it came to that, if it might be better to move in with Julie...
Then he heard laughter that sounded an awful lot like Wayne and his wife (not like he hadn’t heard enough of them enjoying each other’s company) and when he turned to see, it was—IT WAS THEM! IT WAS—IT WAS THEM! HE HADN’T LOST THEM! THEY WERE— THEY WERE—How was that possible?—They were getting off the Moët & Chandon launch.
But how? HOW? Wayne was telling his buddies they’d gone to watch the first race from the M&C yacht? Then who had he heard screwing in the… Y’know what, it didn’t matter. Here they were. They’d been on the M&C yacht. He was watching them again, it’s as if he’d been watching them the entire time, he was not going to be fired, and he did not have to move in with Julie.
Lois Lane Note-Taker Pro 7
This wedding is going to kill me. Five minutes on the record with Bruce wasn’t crazy enough before. Now he’s half of them. She’s part of him. It was supposed to be three minutes on Wayne Tech, one on the economy, one on the wedding plans. A wedding is just fashion and celebrity fluff, a few tidbits to barter with Grant. Maybe one piece of real news in the rest and a half-dozen business tidbits to barter with Hardwick. How did it turn into this??? I’m maxed out on keywords.
I’ve interviewed enough Bruce Waynes of the world to know the drill: they’re scheduled so tightly, they figure making time for you at all is more than enough effort on their part. It’s not that they’re blind to the inconvenience when, for example, your five minutes has to start at their hotel and you wait around the lobby until they’re ready to leave for the gala. You ride with them in the limo to wherever it is they’re going and are left to arrange your own ride home. Sure it’s an imposition, but they figure it’s worth it for the priceless minutes of exclusive access you’re getting. It’s obnoxious but it’s true.
Bruce isn’t as bad as most, he does consider me a friend. But he’s also Batman and I know that, and he knows I know, and that means he knows I know he’s juggling twice as much as it appears to the outside world. I know he must have a very good reason for arranging things the way he does and I’ll go along.
And I did. I went along. I presented myself at the Four Seasons prepared to wait. I wasn’t completely surprised when the call came down inviting me up to the suite to wait there, but I was completely surprised to see Selina there still in the manicure and hair dressing stage. How Wayne, right? Manicurist and hair dresser from the hotel salon right up there in the room. It did put a certain crimp in the conversation—not that it mattered, Bruce was too busy on the phone to do more than wave hello. Then there was this improvised sign language that I can only guess was inviting me to order myself a snack from room service while I waited.
I passed and decided to hover around Selina for extra tidbits about the wedding plans. Instead, I got a regulation briefing on tonight’s dress, shoes, jewelry and handbag—along with details of another formal ensemble she brought for “Monday night.” She said it casually, like I’d know what it meant, and all I could think to do was pocket it like she was the S.O. of any other interviewee who let something slip.
But Selina doesn’t slip. She’d just told me there was someplace to be Monday night, she’d done it in a very Brucian way, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in front of witnesses that established exactly how Lois Lane caught the scent of whatever this thing turned out to be. (She’d also given me a very good idea what to wear, which was nice of her and not at all Brucian.)
The shindig they were attending tonight was at the North Harbor Tower, kicking off the America’s Cup Regatta, and that was only for the weekend. Nothing extended to Monday. No clue there.
I had my interview with Bruce in the limo and watched them make their entrance. Bruce being Bruce, he offered me the car to take me home, and that meant I could pump the driver. More importantly, I could probe all the other drivers before we left. There was an awful lot of LexCorp upper management attending. I counted twelve sedans from their car service and four private limos. It took some doing, but I finally found out Monday night’s bookings are for a do at the Observatory. And a call to the Observatory as a put upon LexCorp assistant coughed up the final piece of the puzzle: the event was booked by LEXponencial, a consortium of hedge funds. [Note: Consortium of HFs is striking me funny. Like a murder of crows, maybe something catchy for the headline.]
So I’ve got until Monday to get my hands on an invitation. LexCorp still uses T&M for 90% of that stuff, it shouldn’t be too hard to get my hands on a proof copy. [Note: Pick up the Hervé Léger from drycleaners, see about Clark’s tux.] I need to research this LEXponencial and the hedge funds that belong to it. Still haven’t organized the notes from 5-min with Bruce and it’s already getting garbled in all the new stuff. And for what it’s worth, Selina’s shoes-dress-jewelry-handbag for two nights on top of Bruce’s Wayne Enterprises/Wayne Tech/Global Economy maxed out my keywords and cross referencing. My head’s exploding trying to map out the 58 potential stories coming out of those 5 minutes. I need a staff! It was 5 minutes on the record and they’re not even married yet. I’m going to need a bloody staff.
Lois Lane, the world-famous Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was a witness to Selina’s entrance to the gala and even documented her dress, an elegant but not especially eye-catching black Versace. A few guests whose views were not shaped by Luthor thought the engaged couple looked sweet together as they danced, and a few more smiled at the gesture when, at the buffet, Bruce took a violet from the centerpiece and set it on her plate on a piece of chicken. No one but birds noticed the pair leaping off the tower and parachuting to a safe landing on a side street. No one but mice saw the unauthorized entry into the Justice League teleporter on the Daily Planet building. No one but the mice and possibly Clark would have heard the ultrasonic squelch of the keypad being hacked, but if Clark heard, he had no idea it was disabling the log of the transporter’s use.
At the gala, Lex Luthor arrived. Matt and Ellen Montrasante were the first to greet him, and Lex noted that Ellen had gotten over the slight coolness of their last meetings. She hadn’t wanted Matt to return to LexCorp, but as expected a signing bonus that added a nursery to their house had pacified her, to say nothing of a salary that paid for a nanny. Naturally he asked about the little brat (though at this stage, what is there to say other than it eats, it cries and it poops?) and complimented the ring Matt had given her when the brat was born (though what was there to say other than it was a sapphire and it was small.)
John Blaine was next, mercifully unburdened with a wife, so they talked golf, the practice day racing, and the ironic justice of the drubbing Wartleman-Bromby was about to take with that doomed Silicon Valley venture they should have bailed on last year… whether it would lose 50 or 100 million by the time it was over, and when the inevitable ‘night of the long knives’ would occur. Blaine went off chuckling maliciously, while Luthor considered the pack of executive talent about to be released into the wild. They had fucked up certainly, and fuck ups have something to prove. He would talk to Matt on Monday about setting something up to make them compete, set the dogs fighting each other and you never know what qualities might emerge.
Willem de Kooning’s Black-and-White Unnumbered never left Gotham. One of Bruce’s grandparents’ neighbors had met the artist at a dinner party. He became a fan, went out and bought two pieces from a private dealer the following week and kept the acquaintance going. A few years later, he showed up at de Kooning’s studio with $10,000 and a considerable amount of very good liquor. Got him blind drunk and bought a ridiculous amount of iconic works from the forties worth ten times that amount.
Black-and-White Unnumbered hung in the Bristol house for only a year and was then moved to the family’s Park Avenue apartment. It was lent to the Guggenheim for an exhibit in the late 70s, to the Layne in the early 90s, and was finally sold along with the apartment when the widow could no longer afford the city… Purchased by an energy conglomerate for their corporate collection, it hung in their headquarters on Third Avenue for a year before finding its current home in Vault 41, Compartment 2 of Federated First Metro along with a Klimt and a Mednyánszky as collateral for oil leases.
Lex spotted Dean Rhoads at the bar, also unburdened. Dean had a wife, but she detested Luthor and stayed in Beverly Hills whenever he came to Metropolis. In Metropolis he had a mistress, but of course he wouldn’t bring her to an event like this where other wives were present. Lex smiled as he approached. The bar was the best place to get it over with. Dean would want to talk about his flight in and that would be easier with a good scotch in hand. Dean could afford his own plane, but instead he chartered other people’s. An eccentricity but a perfectly excusable one if only he didn’t have to talk about it every time. He was always renting a different plane and whatever little feature or quirk of service struck his fancy was his favorite topic of conversation. The delight he took in such things instead of being a properly jaded old money lawyer, it was decidedly odd.
Unless you believe the al Ghul version of the Mughal Empire in India—which absolutely no one does—the 68 carat pear shaped fancy diamond called The Nicolay was first owned by Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, who lost it in battle in 1477. It’s named for a later owner, the French Ambassador to Turkey in the late 16th century, who loaned it to the French king, Henry III to wear in the cap he used to conceal his baldness. Insert Lex joke here.o:p>
Henry IV also ‘borrowed’ the stone and then sold it in 1664 to James I of England. In 1688 his son James II, last of the Stuart kings, fled with it to Paris. It disappeared during the French Revolution until it turned up, mysteriously, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where the son and heir of a steel fortune gave it to his fiancé.
Now security for a cattle ranch in Argentina, it lives in a corporate vault similar to that storing the de Kooning, never seeing the light of day except for the rare occasion when it’s sent to MBH in Gotham’s Diamond District for cleaning.
Lex always preferred Constance Rafkin to her husband. She had a ferocious intelligence, so much so that he’d never once found it trying to talk to her. That was a rare quality. She also said what she thought, frankly, honestly and to his face, as if he wasn’t Alexander Luthor. That was a rarer quality. The combination made her… unsuitable for the LexCorp ladder where her frankness would be mimicked by others lacking the intelligence that made her insights valuable. He didn’t want any John, Dean and Barry feeling they could just vomit their opinions onto his desk any time they wanted, but someone who had ideas worth acting on—who saw things that would make or lose money—he didn’t want her keeping those thoughts to herself from some insidious sense of tact.
Yet this gifted woman had married an absolute dullard. He worked in marketing at some company that made snow globes or something. He read the Daily Planet. And it seemed his highest aspiration was to be liked.. It was he who mentioned Bruce Wayne was at the gala….
Cezanne’s Treed Lane in Auvers, a sweet watercolor bought by a 19th Century Argentine socialite traveling in Paris and left to a Buenos Aires museum at her death. Seized in the late 20th century by a military junta and traded to Taiwan in exchange for arms for the Falklands war. It wound up in the hands of a Taiwanese business man now using it to buy a timber company, and it resides in the Custody Department of Gotham National’s Private Banking Group on Twenty-fifth and Fifth Avenue.
Bratsie Drammen had a new wife Lex hadn’t met. Bratsie who was famous for saying you probably shouldn’t worry what your first wife’s mother looks like. Lex was expecting the usual trophy (And wasn’t completely wrong in that she was blonde, all legs, etc. Attractive but far from stunning in Lex’s view.). He was not expecting a broker of high end real estate, specializing in luxury properties in Venice no less. That discovery produced the odd smile only his closest associates knew: nothing at all moved from the nose down, but there was an almost subliminal lift of the upper eyelids that seemed to transform his entire face, usually followed by a flick of the eye towards whoever brought the approved thing to his attention. Bratsie knew it well, and understood in this context it was a dismissal. He went off to talk to the Montrasantes and would catch up with Lex later.
Máscara dorada del Señor de La Mena, a gold mask of the Lord of La Mena was found along with a bronze chest plate in an ancient Moche tomb in Northern Peru. One of the most advanced cultures in South America a thousand years before the Inca, they developed entirely different methods of melting and shaping the gold. They had no written language, so all that’s known of their culture was deduced from their art. The society seems to have been built around religion, warfare, ruling elites, and sacrifice. The mask presents the face of a sea god with jade eyes and ivory teeth; the breast plate is decorated with monkeys and peanuts carved in relief.
Looted in the late 80s and sold through a local witchcraft market, it was bought by a collector in Lima and sold to a second collector who had it authenticated at the University of Munich. After a number of convoluted side-dramas involving a German banker, a London lawyer, and that first collector being murdered, it became the property of Las Empresas Santo Domingo, a telecoms firm in Santiago, Spain, currently using it to secure a modest $12 million bond issue.
The party was so far along by the time Thomas Pearl arrived, there was only one man on the door—the same one who had admitted Bruce and Selina only hours before. He wouldn’t have been Bruce’s choice if there was any alternative, but his disguise had made it past Lois Lane, after all. Lois was as observant as any Luthor security.
That was his thought as he strode up and presented the invitation, when the codicil thought hit: Lois did have the keen observational eye of a crack reporter with one notable exception. She had a keen eye unless you counted the years she didn’t recognize Clark.
It was too late for doubts. The guard was looking at the invitation without taking it, just as he had earlier with Bruce.
“Name?” he asked.
“Tom Pearl. Thomas, that is. You’ll have it as Thomas Pearl.”
He checked his list, while the gremlins in Bruce’s mind weighed Lois’s inability to see through Superman’s disguise against the rest of the world’s. Sure she saw more of Clark and Superman, but it didn’t really mean she was especially dense seeing through disguises. It didn’t mean she was a poor measure to judge—
“There you are: Pearl,” the guard said without having looked at Tommy’s face in any detail. “Enjoy your evening.”
“Greenwich!” a new voice called before Bruce could respond.
“Uhrm, thank you,” he said hastily to the guard as he strode toward the new speaker with a confidence he couldn’t feel.
“Bratsie,” he said brightly, hoping to nail down the first-name relationship while they remained in earshot of the guard.
“Matt, Ellen! Come over here, meet Tom Althorp of, what was it, Althorp Investments?”
Tommy hadn’t given his company a name when they’d met in the Caymans, so he murmured ‘Althorp Private Equity’ while trying to subtly nudge the circle farther into the party and away from the guard.
“Matt Montrasante of LexCorp,” Bratsie was saying. “His wife Ellen. Met Althorp when I was last in the Caymans, getting into rare whiskies in a big way…”
“And in a little way,” Tommy said, pointing towards the bar which did finally get the group moving away from the door and the guard, though Tommy’s situation hardly improved. As soon as he got a drink in his hand, Bratsie was spiriting him off to meet the business elite of Metropolis, including John Blaine and Dean Rhoads.
Finally, when it seemed the worst really must be over, Bratsie said “Now you really must come meet my wife, and by ‘meet’ I mean help rescue her from Lex.”
Before Tommy could react he found himself propelled by his elbow, good manners, and Bratsie’s determined party spirit, directly into the path of Lex Luthor and his repugnant meeting-rich-people smile.
“Tom Althorp,” Bratsie was saying, and almost before Tommy could get through the How-do-you-dos, Bratsie had liberated his wife and was steering her towards the dance floor.
“Althorp, you say.”
Leaving Tommy with Lex.
“Any connection to Althorp House in Northampton?”
Bruce considered his position: Tommy had never actually passed a background check. His alias was inserted onto the list by a criminal who had broken into the LexCorp HQ under all of their noses. He’d arrived late, using another guest’s invitation to get through the door, and was immediately greeted by a different name. And now, within minutes, he was in a private conversation with Luthor. In stabbing distance, as it were. He should be under intense scrutiny right now if anyone in security knew what they were doing.
As for his disguise, well…
“Not that I’m aware of,” Tom said glibly. “If there’s any connection it must be too far back to matter. Family’s been in Connecticut forever.”
…On the one hand, Lex wasn’t any better than Lois when it came to seeing through Clark’s disguise. And if he hated Bruce Wayne, it certainly didn’t compare to his hatred for Superman. Hate never led him to look close enough to perceive what other people missed…
“That’s the funny thing about European nobility,” Lex was saying. “The farther removed from the source of the original honor, the more it counts.”
…But neither Clark nor Superman had to deal with the dynamic Bruce faced now, Luthor in that mode when he’s with his own kind. This was exactly the Luthor Bruce encountered the first time they’d met: oily and inclusive. Another rich man with a foundation helping the hospital? Let’s join forces and use our muscle to make this place a profit center…
“I wouldn’t know; never looked into it,” Tommy said, a part of his mind tracing paths of escape while the other considered that on his first really serious heist, Thomas Pearl managed to get his face known to half of Lex Luthor’s inner circle, including Lex himself, by the name Althorp. It was either a miraculous criminal achievement or an unprecedented criminal fubar, and he wasn’t sure which.
“Nobody in the family ever looked into it, the genealogy stuff,” he said. “Maybe they knew there was nothing to find. The Althorp who immigrated might have been a nobody running from a murder charge for all I know, grabbing onto the first name that occurred to him.”
Bruce looked blankly into the eyes of Lex Luthor and wondered why the dumbest, most unattractive scenario he could think of to shut down the Althorp discussion had introduced a criminal angle Lex might actually connect with.
“Well there is that,” Lex laughed. “That’s the downside of inherited nobility, they do tend to piss away the fortunes. If this equity fund is as promising as Bratsie seems to think, they’d be happy to claim you.”
This was Hell.
This was his punishment for learning how to become the very thing Batman abhorred.
“A self-made fortune is the best kind to have, Tom, don’t let the social climbers tell you otherwise.”
Maybe if there was a way to work Superman into the conversation. Tommy could say how much he admired the Man of Steel, Luthor would decide Tommy was another mouth-breathing imbecile and that would be that.
“So tell me about this fund for limited-edition scotch whiskies.”
This was Hell.
Cora Colette was the last guest to arrive at the party. Like Tommy, she noticed the guard on the door was the same one who admitted Bruce and Selina. Unlike Tommy, she didn’t worry about it. Men of that type noticed two things: hair and tits. Selina’s black Versace downplayed her bosom and emphasized her height; Colette’s eye-catching red was all about the cleavage. Selina's long, black hair was down; Colette’s short blonde wig was cropped. Recognition was a non-issue.
Finding Tommy was. She looked at the bar near the door, the one by the dance floor, and the two flanking the buffet. She wandered around the buffet, behind the band stand, and the dessert bar and in little alcove with… cordials.
She stared. There was spirited manly laughter—but just not any man’s laugh. A laugh heard almost exclusively in the Sinister Citadel among members (and guests) of the Secret Society of Supervillains. Tommy Pearl—her pupil Tommy Pearl—had apparently, approximately 4 days into his criminal life, become BFFs with Luthor.
“He’s even a better villain than the rest of us,” she whispered in a daze.
“It’s called ‘Overheard in the LexCorp elevator’ and it’s this little-known gem of the Internet,” Tommy said as Luthor shook his head in admiration. “‘Teach a man to fish, he’ll still vote for the guy who gives him a fish. Pay taxes that fund a dozen fire departments and—”
“‘He’ll still cheer the cape that puts out the fire for him,’” they said together and then Luthor added “Ericson, that has to be Ericson.”
“Lex, it’s been a pleasure and a half meeting you, but the future ex-Mrs. Althorp is waiting out there somewhere.”
Lex laughed and waved him off like an old buddy used to his friend’s horn dogging, and Tommy called back “Overheard on the LexCorp Elevator.”
“I’ll look for it,” Lex promised.
Tommy mingled until he met Colette. They danced once, apparently discovered an exciting synchronicity in the way their bodies moved together for they disappeared into the bushes and were not seen again. Bruce and Selina danced a few times, mingled a bit more, and then left.
The Saturday racing began with wind delays which may have quickened the rumors. Once again, Bruce and Selina went out to the Moët & Chandon yacht for the first race, and the sense among the guests was that there was ‘a piece of paper in the room’ among the finance guys on shore. The guests on shore thought those on the yacht were the ones in the know. Bruce played the silences, creating the impression that the news was about LexCorp and his presence was keeping people from discussing it openly. Selina played the silences, creating the impression that the news involved a theft, perhaps of a cat item, art or jewels of the sort… the American boat had to capsize to avoid a collision with Team New Zealand… and the rumors suddenly expanded and clarified.
They now circulated with great specificity, though in extremely hushed tones and with great care that no Gothamites were in earshot. There had been a theft of the collateral on certain loans connected to LexCorp, possibly key loans in certain portfolios. It wouldn’t be a default but the bonds would have to be restructured, roll over into new bonds, which constituted a credit event that would… that would trigger the credit default swaps. Come Monday all the paperwork would be filed, starting the process and then, whew, it would be an early payday for the portfolios involved. And any derivatives based on them, and derivatives based on them. An exponentially giant payday the farther out you went.
“I don’t understand,” Clark said. He was reluctant to interrupt when it wasn’t a Superman-accosting-the-villain situation, but really.
“Trust me, nobody spreading the rumors did either,” Selina said. “You know what his protocols are like, right? The complexities? This is the finance version. All you have to know is the dominos were falling, starting with the thefts and ending with a payout on one of Lexy’s funds. Japan won the first race and there were two capsizes: USA and Team New Zealand.”
At the dockside, a black 2008 Hummer H2 parked in front of the warehouse where Llanzo had seen duffel guy and his hot girlfriend watching the boats. On the one hand, there was nothing suspicious about it. A black Hummer—an older one, but still—a black Hummer catches the eye. It’s not the kind of thing you’d use if you were doing something shady. Was it? Not if you wanted to stay under the radar…
Llanzo took a few pictures.
On the other hand, there were tens of thousands of fans lining the pier, another thousand at least in the grandstands...
On the other hand, they were just having breakfast. He saw the cups. And some kind of rolls. Could’ve been croissants.
And watching the crane maneuver the boats onto the water. (He took another picture.)
Well that wasn’t so very suspicious, watching the boats. He’d been up at dawn to shoot video of it, after all. It was a fascinating process.
On the other hand, ten thousand at least on the Navy Pier, another thousand in the stands, who knows how many along the waterfront. And the duffel bag. The guy rented the warehouse with a bundle of cash from a duffle bag.
The back of the Hummer opened. There was a crate, and something awkward and bulky that looked like another crate under a cloth... Another crate and another weird thing… Between the door of the Hummer and the bulk of the stuff he was carrying, Llanzo didn’t have a good view of whoever it was unloading the stuff, but he was pretty sure it was the duffel guy. It seemed like the same color jacket anyway.
Llanzo took a few last pictures… and then breathed a sigh of relief. He could now see very clearly a corner of a painting in a thick gold frame under one of the cloths. The covered stuff were paintings. They weren’t explosives, duffel guy wasn’t a terrorist and Llanzo could relax, give the race his full attention and stop wondering if he was trespassing, if there were any laws against using the patch of grass off the exit this way, or if he could get into any trouble calling the police if it turned out to be a false alarm.
Whew! And Oracle Team USA capsized, he would have killed himself if he’d missed that!
Sunday saw ideal weather for racing, a cloudless sky and a steady Northerly breeze. Apart from the fresh water in Lake Metropolis, it was exactly what the America’s Cup is meant to be (in the age of the hydrofoiling catamarans, but that’s another conversation).
No practice day, no wind delays, just six 44-foot cats with 5-man crews in three tight, intense dashes that are roughly 25-minutes of sustained strategy adapting to luck. And I mean STRATEGY down to the millimeter and nanosecond of fluid dynamics, resistance and torque… and I mean LUCK, what the wind is doing, not three minutes ago but now, and not six meters that way but right here. 25-minutes of sustained tension and thrills, it’s up there with sex.
“The first leg was very even, with four boats leaping ahead at the start and drag racing on their foils to the first turn—the marker was right on the boundary, Team USA sailed fully out of bounds, UK and New Zealand clipped it and all three took a penalty leaving Japan firmly in the lead.”
“Do I really have to know this?” he asked when Selina took a breath.
“Lois only got five minutes, Spitcurl, you’re getting as long as it takes to take in all the detail.”
“I know that, I remember the de Kooning that never left Gotham and somehow Bruce’s grandparents were involved, and Henry III borrowed the Duke of Burgundy’s diamond to cover his baldness. ‘Insert Lex joke here.’”
“I’m giving you atmosphere! Do you have no romance in your soul? You’re a writer.”
“’Insert Lex joke here?’” he quoted again.
“That was fun. If you can’t see the fun in this, I don’t know where you’ll ever find it,” she said.
“Selina, my experience with art and jewel thieves—and cat burglars in general—is somewhat limited. Does a typical cat really know that kind of thing, I mean, that kind of detail about any given piece—”
“Well I don’t know, Clark, why don’t you find a typical nobody from nowhere and ask them? I am the whole package—meow—from the generational history of the mansion in Bristol to the Sorbonne to the way yacht racing worked when they still used 12-metres. If that’s too much for a super-journalist to handle...”
Near the dockside, a Metropolis Police helicopter closed in on the warehouse where a suspicious Hummer had been sighted. A police van and two squad cars squealed into position outside the gate, the van doors burst open and armed officers ran out in a swift, military double time to surround the building. Outside the gate and across the street, a sedan came to a more dignified halt. Driver and passenger waited in tense silence as the bullhorn order to evacuate went unanswered, a bolt was cut, a door forced and the officers stormed inside the warehouse.
Special Agent Finley was pissed. Metropolis PD had a photo of a couple inches of painting too dark to make out anything. That’s all that could be seen from the little bit sticking out from the tarp: a corner, a fucking corner of what could be an entirely black canvas for all they knew, in a thick, gaudy, 4-inch frame. And from that, this Maria Ciaccio decides it has to be from this Swiss-Italian smuggling ring she’s investigating, because reasons! Some photo of some antiquity found in the wreckage of a car belonging to a smuggler turns out to be an antiquity that a Sicilian art dealer sold to the Metropolis Art Institute. It wasn’t his idea of a firm evidentiary link between the smugglers and Metropolis, but Interpol had apparently been looking for a way in for years. That corner of a painting in a dark photograph was it, and if the FBI was to get the help they needed negotiating the tangle of jurisdictions between the Carabinieri and Polizia di Stato when they tracked a terrorist to Italy, he had to make Miss Interpol happy.
“All clear, it’s empty,” their radio squawked just as the lead officer on the bullhorn waved them in.
The two emerged from the car, the FBI liaison and Interpol agent who clearly didn’t like each other but were united in contempt for the Metropolis PD. They marched together into the warehouse, Agent Ciaccio outlining her plan of attack once her suspicions were confirmed: the items they were about to find had been shipped to Metropolis “for restoration,” she was sure, and shipped back with forged provenance documents to be sold throughout the world. Once the items were recovered, a cursory look at the shipping containers would show where they were headed and point to the next string of raids…
Finley could tell from the MPD officers they passed that she was destined to be disappointed. He let her prattle until they were inside and tried not to look smug as her speech slowed and then stopping entirely. The warehouse was all but empty. None of the thousands of vases, bronze statues, and frescos were anywhere in sight. There were no antiquities at all. A few crates of art, yes, and those would have to be identified, but the one in the thick four inch frame was certainly not Antonio Pisano’s Our Lady of the Quail, so whatever it all turned out to be, it wasn’t Maria’s Ciaccio’s smugglers. It was the Metropolis PD’s case, none of Interpol’s business, and that meant there was no need for Special Agent Finley to be there. At all.
Bruce and Lois sat in their black tie best in the living room of the Four Seasons Presidential Suite until the door from the office burst open and Selina and Clark entered at full steam.
“Did you just pull rank on me, Gotham?”
“All I said was I can only speak for the world class thieves who didn’t crawl out from under a rock of who-gives-a-damn—Oh Lois, that is beautiful. That’s Hervé Léger?”
“Badgley Mischka, it’s new,” Lois said proudly.
“It’s gorgeous. And god, it suits you.”
“And this is Balmain?”
“Mhm, not new. I’ve worn it to the opera but that was an Eddie thing that doesn’t count.”
Bruce and Clark looked at each other, and Selina abruptly changed tone.
“C’mon, you’re up,” she told Lois. “The full story, no time limit, ask as many follow-ups as you please.”
Lois glanced triumphantly at Bruce, who was looking at Clark like he’d let him down.
“What did you win?” Clark asked his wife, but she directed her answer to Selina.
“This time I’m kidnapping you. Better shopping in Milan or Paris do you think?”
“I was promised the full story,” Clark insisted, and Lois looked at him pityingly like he’d had his chance and clearly blew it.
Selina looked at him like ‘fair is fair, she had promised’ and she rattled off quickly:
“Lex was there Sunday, so Mercy was there making the yacht club security miserable. I gave Matt my answer about the vulture fund, Bruce baited Lex about the rumors, and he appropriated tonight’s party like we knew he would. It’s no longer about the consortium in general but the East End fund and its impending payout in particular. Save me a dance, Spitcurl.”
Even for one born into a financial dynasty like the Hobbs Trust, it was a thrill. Getting into his tux in Gotham and boarding Luthor’s plane to Metropolis, the limo waiting to bring him to the Observatory. Barry Hobbs was on such a high, he didn’t even mind the sight of Bruce getting out of his limo up ahead in a party that included Clark Kent.
There was an awkward bit at the door, maneuvering through the staff and security hovered around a pleb.
“I just want to talk to one of the guests,” it bleated. “I’m not going to eat anyone’s shrimp cocktail.”
“This is a private event and if you don’t have an invitation,” the head staffer said as Barry waltzed around him. The pleb cut him off with a puerile “They are a bunch of crooks. You do realize that, don’t you?” which faded into “The debt’s triple-A rated, solid gold” and “The poor bastard’s peeing his pants just because they laid off half the state” as Barry made his way into the party.
“Asking fifty cents on the dollar, I offered twenty-five and he threw in the headquarters in Star City,” a too-eager young man boasted at Constance as Barry approached.
“That kid’s a prick,” Constance declared once he was (probably) out of earshot. Followed by “You should hire him.”
Barry considered the hyperactive idiot’s back and shrugged.
“If I get through the evening without walking in on him in the men’s room putting the day’s profits up his nose, I’ll consider it,” Barry declared, knowing there wasn’t the slightest chance of that happening.
“Did you hear we bagged the cat,” Matt said proudly as Constance steered Barry into his path.
“Urhm, no,” Barry said, looking awkwardly around the room to see where Wayne and Selina had landed. They weren’t together. Bruce was working the room alone, in a pattern that seemed a mirror image of Matt’s, but Selina, where was she?
She was with Lex, who was walking her towards the little circle—towards Matt and Constance and Barry himself—like one of them, Lex or Selina, was giving the other a present. It wasn’t clear who was doing the giving, but it was clear they—Matt, Constance and Barry—were the gift.
“Selina wanted to have a word,” Lex said graciously while she shook Matt’s hand and gushed “I just wanted to thank you for letting me into your fund.
“I know you’re oversubscribed,” she added, offering her hand to John Blaine who had somehow joined the circle without Barry seeing. Then she turned to him with a… warmer smile than Barry had received from her before, although perhaps that wasn’t quite the word. It didn’t seem any more sincere than the usual social façade, but it was... more focused in a way that wasn’t entirely, eh… “I am so glad you made introductions.”
Barry took the cue and quickly introduced Constance…
“Good to meet you.”
…Released from the focused smile and seeing it turned on someone else, Barry was finally able to identify it. It was a predator’s smile. The focus of a lioness locking onto prey.
“Constance is our numbers gal, she knows the inherent value on the different…”
Jesus! He thought that Catwoman stuff was a gimmick but—but the things he’d said to her before the board meeting—Jesus—and then voting against her proposal for the Man’s Reach exhibit, and that Gotham v Metropolis campaign he launched against it—he was lucky to still have a head!
The dinner was unnerving. Selina returned to Bruce’s side, of course, Bruce who was Luthor’s rival, and the two of them sat next to Clark Kent, who took down the Luthor administration, and his wife, the head cheerleader for Superman. How plebs like that got on the guest list he couldn’t guess, but there they were. And that feline quality he thought was a gimmick somehow enabled Selina Kyle to move back and forth from Lex’s circle to Bruce’s as if it was a matter of walking across the room with her feet. How? How?! A part of him wanted to sound out John or Matt, but then he thought of that smile and he couldn’t move.
The things he’d said before that board meeting thinking he was only risking banishment from Wayne guest lists—he was lucky to still have a head.
And now… she was dancing… with Kent.
The orchestra ended on a particular note as Constance Rafkin approached the podium.
“Alright, if you’ve all finished your baked alaska, let’s get on with the dessert,” she said. “It is time for our speakers: beginning with our leader and inspiration in all profitable pursuits, Lex Luthor. A man who’s never heard the words ‘no’ and ‘deal’ in the same sentence, unless he was the one speaking.”
There was polite laughter from all but Bruce, Selina, Lois and Clark. Several people lifted or toyed with their champagne glasses as if prepping for a toast, and Lex himself reached into his pocket to retrieve a vibrating phone. While he read…
“A man who has shown us again and again that adversity and opportunity are one and the same…”
…Matt’s phone buzzed obnoxiously and Blaine’s sounded a sharp musical tone. Both took them out and read…
“Who has drilled into us that the business cycle’s ups and downs depend on which way you hold the chart.”
Selina elbowed Clark and pointed, though of course he had already picked up the surging heart rates from Matt and Blaine. Lex’s face was frozen in a mask that revealed nothing. Matt’s brow dipped, then glanced across his wife at Blaine, still reading his phone and then looking up to return Matt’s stare. The two rose in sync, as if they shared a telepathic link, and walked casually to the door. Constance faltered slightly as she watched them:
“And a man whose team has led a reputation— uh-a rebirth in the reputation and profitability of the private investment sector.”
Bruce’s lip twitched as he tilted his knife to adjust the reflection. Predictably, both men’s eyes were back on their phones before they reached the door.
“A man whose team will be back in a minute, I hope,” Constance adlibbed.
Clark tuned out the room and directed his attention to the door where they exited, listening intently:
“Bloomberg and Dow Jones.”
“The collateral's recovered? Paintings, diamond, all of it.”
They were talking over each other, and Clark turned his head to see them pacing madly back and forth, phones in hand.
“Literally hours after the thefts were discovered, it's all on its way back to the vaults. What does that mean?”
“The bonds don’t have to be restructured. No reissue, no rollover into new—There's no credit event to trigger the default swaps.”
“Prosperity Partners under investigation sources report—”
“I mean, it already has, the payouts have been initiated, the CDOs are rolling over. Initiated but not completed, what will happen? The whole tsunami rolling in on itself.”
“It’s tomorrow in Japan.”
“Billions tied up in legal limbo. Inquiries and litigation…”
“We have two billion in redemption orders because of this.”
Duet became trio as Bratsie joined them.
“What is this? Market Manipulation? Money Laundering? Class-A banks threatening to...”
Trio became quartet as Barry caught up…
“Self-dealing, fraud—Where the hell is this coming from?”
“Damnit, more redemptions. All right, freeze the fund.”
“We can’t freeze; subscribers will be baying for Lex’s blood.”
“There’s no choice; we are not that liquid.”
“Nobody is that damn liquid.”
…And quartet became quintet when Dean got there.
“No, no, no, not the Cayman accounts. Son of a bitch. How the hell did they find out about this?”
“East End accounts flagged for—mother fucker— the start and stop on all the subscribers looks like money laundering?”
In the ballroom, everyone’s phone was now buzzing and beeping with news alerts, stock alerts and frantic calls from brokers while Constance went valiantly on with her remarks, repeating the mantra that “Adversity is opportunity. And I for one look forward to hearing that principle expounded upon by the master himself. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Lex Luthor.”
Never one to back down from a fight, Lex strode to the podium ignoring the phones as Superman might ignore artillery shells bursting around him. He ignored the empty seats—every table was now missing one or two, and the three tables nearest to the podium were almost completely abandoned.
“Greed. Fear. Hope,” he declared. “They are universal human emotions that have destroyed investors again and again. But for us, in this room, they do not exist. Not where it matters. Not in our business pursuits…”
“Lois, care to powder?” Selina said as Luthor’s rhetoric built like a revivalist preacher:
“Because when others panic, we are steady. When others hesitate, we know only calm. When others are paralyzed by fear, we have the will to do what must be done. When the weak run from reality, refusing to see or acknowledge the truths that doom a venture, we are strong. No denial for us, no matter the sums or the years invested, we face the reality head on and make the call that must be made…”
He ignored the continued warble of phones. Most of all, he ignored the sight of Clark Kent, the journalistic disease who somehow got in here and would undoubtedly be writing up this debacle unless his insufferable wife beat him to it.
“When others succumb to the twin cancers of fear and hope, we know these temporary market distractions are, at worst, meaningless, at best, our friends…”
The two women maneuvered towards the door, though Lois was nearly run over by a man screeching into his phone “How much do we have with East End?” and another “No wait, can we post the redemption in Singapore—” who then grabbed her by both shoulders he asked “What time is it in Singapore?!”
“Eh-aahleven thirty, I think,” she said meekly, and he went off, barking orders into his phone.
“This is what it would be like if you were a crusading Robin Hood?” she asked Selina, and Selina nodded guiltily like she knew it wasn’t pretty but, regrettably, it couldn’t be helped.
“It’s a good thing you’re not,” Lois observed as a woman passed them, clutching her necklace and cancelling an order for his and her Gulfstreams.
This time Selina made a sickly half-shrug, tilting her head like a kitten and making a face.
“I hope she doesn’t have to sell those emeralds,” she said, looking miserably in the direction the woman had passed. “They’re nice.”
“A series of payments made and then reversed to all the fund’s subscribers flagged the fund’s accounts for money laundering, so now the Cayman banks that his Cayman banks rely on to exchange currency are threatening to drop them unless they drop Lex and a bunch of his investors,” Bruce concluded, while Clark took a final note.
Both men sat in the back of the limo, ties abandoned but still in their tuxes.
“Check,” Clark said. “I think that’s all I’ll need. Unless you’d like to go on the record with a quote.”
“I gave Lois the quote,” Bruce said, and Clark shrugged.
“Alright, you can do something else—a couple things. First, suit up and keep an eye on things in Lex’s neighborhood while I call this in. Just once I’d like to beat Lois to a story, but—”
“Done,” Bruce graveled. “And next?”
“The details Selina was giving me on the stolen collateral. I think I’ve got it. She was hinting at a pattern: the de Kooning, widow had to sell it. So someone’s died and the survivor’s lost her money. The diamond’s in the hands of James II, deposed in Scotland, takes it to Paris in time for the French revolution. The collector of the gold mask is murdered… Is it me, or is there a lot of death and misfortune following this stuff around?”
“The superstitious like to see patterns where none exist,” Bruce said firmly. “You don’t really expect me to speculate Luthor tripped some curse assembling a portfolio with a number of bad luck items among the collateral…no matter how good a story it would make. Next?”
Clark looked at his friend for a long, cold beat. He had only one question left…
“Your new cover. Who is the guy in glasses and how does he fit into all of this?”
Bruce’s lip twitched.
The roof of the Fleischer Foundation on Lakeshore seemed like a spot Matt Montrasante could be summoned to. He would be out of his comfort zone on a rooftop at midnight, but the neighborhood was safe and it was a roof a layman of his age and build could get to without strain.
Catwoman would normally watch his arrival from a higher roof and drop dramatically into position when he was in place and looking around, nervously uncertain. But the poor ass had a rough night, so she was just waiting—new claws that still bore the menacing sheen that didn’t outlive the first night’s scuffs, but standing and waiting all the same.
“Hello, Matthew,” she said in that tone she’d dipped into at the Pegu Club only after Barry had left. “Time to talk frankly, I think.”
Matt was never one to back away from a confrontation but he’d never confronted actual claws before. He eyed the lethal-looking tips for a moment, and then responded gamely.
“Alright, Catwoman, I wouldn’t expect meeting in a place like this to be anything other than ‘frank.’”
“Lex isn’t just some Fortune 500 balance sheet and you know it,” she said. “You know what he is. Secret Society, Injustice Gang, Injustice League, and those are just the ones that have names. Half his fortune and financial muscle is useless if not lost, tied up in legal limbo for—what’s the worst case estimate, 19 years?—while he’s got a mob with pitchforks at his door. This isn’t his problem, this is your problem. I might be able to help.”
“Why?” Matt asked sharply. “Why bring this to me?”
“Because that Gotham bashing in the campaign pissed me off. And that was you. You owe the city, and tonight the note comes due.” She handed him a tablet and pointed. “Barry’s high frequency trading division made a killing on the chaos tonight. Barry’s algorithm made a killing on the chaos. Not just LexCorp’s predicament but the companies of East End subscribers who lost their liquidity, and possibly their tax havens. Do you have any idea how much that algorithm can make in 1.4 minutes?” She swiped to a new screen and again pointed “In Hong Kong, Malaysia, Tokyo…” She swiped. “Out-vulturing Lex Luthor’s vulture fund. Positive Carry from Luthor’s problem. Lex will fucking destroy him.”
Matt looked up numbly and tried to hand back the tablet, but Catwoman shook her head sadly, refusing to take it.
“And then there’s that rumor, that the big payout we were all there to celebrate tonight was the result of lynch pins in the East End fund, secured loans whose security was stolen, and that the thieves sent images of all four pieces to LexCorp, ransoming them. Did you hear that part? The story goes that there was a video feed of the stolen artworks, in a storage unit rented by Mrs. John Blaine.”
“There is no Mrs. Blaine,” Matt said irritably.
“You really want to focus on that right now?” Catwoman asked, and then with an expression of exquisite sadness as if it really did pain her to break the news, she pointed at him with a gleaming claw tip, tilted the finger down to the tablet he still held, and swiped. There, of course, was a timestamped still image from the video.
“Point is, Lex will fucking destroy him too,” she said bluntly. “This video was encrypted through the servers at Prosperity Partners… and, by the way, sent to you at your office.”
Catwoman waited. All the back and forth, the second trip to Metropolis, pernod and gin at the Pegu club, Vitam regit fortuna, non sapientia… for this. And it was like he couldn’t come up with anything to say. (Though his thoughts were presumably running along the lines of ‘Oh crap. Oh shit. How do I get out of this…’) She improvised.
“Video feed sent from his office to yours before it was all recovered…”
Still nothing. (How do I get out of this…)
“Some kind of blackmail or payoff…”
(How do I get out of this…)
Just standing there like a hatted drone. Pernod and gin, the second trip to Metropolis, that horror of a ruffled suit dressing up as Mrs. Blaine, for nothing. Time to move on.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “How do such ugly rumors get started. Well I heard it from him.” She swiped, and there was a photo of Selina dancing with Clark Kent. “Bruce’s best man,” she explained. “You know what reporters are like when it comes to their sources, I guess we’ll never know where he got it from.”
Matt still hadn’t spoken, though he had that look, eyes shifted off to the side, like his mind was racing at mach one, rolodexing through schemes and strategies. He wouldn’t find one. A trap Bruce had crafted over a the course of six days before bringing her in for an additional three, their cornered prey was not going to find an escape route in thirty seconds of panic.
“I guess the point is, as a right-thinking villain who wants to see the Justice League burn, I really should let Lex know what Hobbs and Blaine have cost him. And since you coordinate everything, he might just decide to destroy you too. Unless of course he never finds out that you put his financial nuts in the hands of Gothamites with a grudge.”
“What do you want?” he said flatly.
Catwoman pulled a folder from her loot sack and handed it to him.
“Baen Assets,” he read from the cover.
“Mhm, “ Catwoman nodded happily, “Though it would properly be called ‘Ba en Aset,’or ‘the soul of Isis,’ otherwise known as Bast. As in ‘ Beloved Bast, mistress of happiness and bounty, with your graceful stealth anticipate the moves of all who perpetuate cruelties and stay their hands against the children of light.’ I think that’s how it goes. It’s in very small hieroglyphs on a statue I have at home. Seemed a good name for a fund that’s subscribed to by Gotham’s soup kitchens, homeless shelters, VA hospital, Meals on Wheels and, just to complete the trope, an orphanage. They got a nice piece of the 1.4 minute Hobbs party but you know how greedy those people can be. They want more.
“Give ‘til it hurts, Matt. And I mean that. I’ll be watching and I want to see a very impressive pain threshold. You, Blaine, Hobbs. ‘Wow me.’
“And remember, I tangle with Batman, steal Picassos for fun, and I’m marrying Bruce Wayne. I’m not easy to impress.”