Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 74: Gifts

Gifts
by Chris Dee

ChapterGifts Chapter 1: FaustGifts Chapter 2: ChangeGifts Chapter 3: Veuve ClicquotGifts Chapter 4: TattingerGifts by Chris Dee, Chapter 5: Demon's Head

Gifts Chapter 3: Veuve ClicquotVeuve Clicquot


Selina stood in the MoMA before the De Groupil that only she recognized as a series of joyous cat-scratches. 

“You’re the only one who’s going to be any fun tonight,” she confided to the streaks of amber, and then she turned to leave.  There was a glass insert in the middle of the floor, and she’d already spotted Ford Dormont downstairs waiting to intercept her.  She could only hope the presumptuous society writer didn’t think she was modifying her plans for him.  She bypassed the stairs as she always meant to and took the elevator up.  It was less than a half-hour to closing time and the rooftop café was already shut down for the day.  She stowed her overcoat in a crevice behind one of the rooftop sculptures that was so convenient she had, catlike, assumed it was put there just for her and claimed it as her property.  She went to the edge of the roof, spread out her arms and leapt, and then pulled a mini-chute and glided to a lower roof.

Après was the hot rooftop lounge of eight months ago, themed like a chalet on a Swiss mountainside: Adirondack chairs around a central fire and an astonishing menu of hot rum drinks.  It no longer had the monopoly it enjoyed when the evenings were cold, but it was still trendy.  Or rather, in a few hours it would be trendy.  Right now the crowd was thin apart from the trio she was meeting.

“Evening all!” she said, and then looked at their drinks with mock disapproval.  “Hope you’re not spoiling your palates.  Did I not mention tonight’s misadventure is being sponsored by Veuve Clicquot, one of the champagnes courting me to be the official bubbly of the Wayne wedding?”

The news was met with excited squeals from Doris and Harley and relief from Pam who set down her drink a little too quickly and with a sour glance at Harley.  It was easy to imagine the coaxing to try a specialty drink; less easy to imagine Pam politely hiding her disgust when she found it revoltingly sweet.

After a quick toast to their host, Selina signaled for the check and announced their next stop was—  when she broke off, seeing Ford Dormont toddle in.  He looked around and gave Selina’s party an oily nod before settling on the far side of the fire.

“Hell,” she murmured.  She briefly explained who he was: a novelist obsessed with crime among the super-rich, who had returned to Gotham with Bruce Wayne’s wedding in his sights.  Doris who had once worked in a bookstore knew the name and had read his books, but she had never seen the man.  She said he was shorter and older than she expected.  Harley hadn’t read his novels but she’d seen excepts in Mayfair magazine along with the gossipier essays.  She said he was creepier than she expected and Red should green him.  He could be their butler for the night and that would teach him a lesson. 

Pam finished her champagne in a gulp.  Doris was nodding and looking at her expectantly.  It seemed like the ideal solution, she could see that.  She looked at her empty glass, which of course offered no solutions.  She looked uncomfortably at Selina, who offered a sympathetic nod and, unexpectedly, reached out and gave her arm an encouraging pat.  She considered refilling her empty glass, but pride intervened.  There was no other way forward, there was no way back, and there was no plant metaphor offering an alternative.  She imagined downing a second glass of champagne in an instantaneous gulp, opened her mouth and let the words come in a rush: She said she’d used Dormont’s badly written but terribly useful novels to find weaknesses and avenues of approach for many of the rich men she targeted over the years…  (There.  That wasn’t so bad.)  And then, after the warm-up, she revealed the horrible price she’d had to pay to reverse the transformation she underwent after the polo match.  She hadn’t only lost her green complexion, she’d lost her connection to plants and her herbaceous-sympathetic metabolism—her pheromones and her immunity to toxins—so she couldn’t green anybody. 

Harley’s reaction was immediate and quite touching: “Oh, Red,” a sad smile, arms open for a hug.  It broke the last filaments holding Pamela Isley together and she burst into quiet tears on Harley’s shoulder. 

Selina looked warily at the staff: the tilt of the waiter’s tray, the bartender’s angle and the way he held a bottle of Caroni, at least one of them was concealing a phone.  There was no way the image wasn’t going to make it into the Gotham Post in one form or another, and experience said any attempt to buy them off would only make it worse. 

Doris may have reached the same conclusion about the Post, but she apparently had a different form of damage control on her mind.  She was heading over to Ford Dormont.  Without reading lips, it was clear she’d introduced herself and sat next to him, maybe just to pull his attention from Harley and Ivy.  It was all warm smiles for a minute, almost like she was flirting, until she reached into his jacket and pulled out a small notebook.  She tossed it into the fire with the definitely-not-flirting look of a woman who’d won the heart of the Riddler and reinvented herself as Game Theory to be with a man who’d led the theme criminals of Gotham in a war against the mobs.

Whatever riddling threat she delivered, it concluded with a pinching twist of his chin followed by a theatrical fluttering of fingers as if ridding herself of icky civilian residue that might have rubbed off.

By the time the magnificent sideshow concluded, Selina had paid the check and Harley and Ivy were strolling to the door with their arms around each others’ waists. 

 

Kyle Rayner laughed.

“The times they are a-changing,” he said, shaking his head and considering a corner of the sketch he was working on.  “I saw that bit in the Post.  Usual nonsense, I figured: Harley Quinn consoling a tearful Poison Ivy.  Now you’re telling me it’s real?  The normal skin wasn’t even photoshopped?”

“I know; it’s weird,” Selina said, frozen in her pose but given leave to move her mouth while Kyle worked on the details of her dress.  “It’s the one thing you and I always agreed on: the Gotham Post are a pack of lying bastards.”

“Not only are they amazingly consistent,” Kyle said, seamlessly picking up her thought, “they will find the most insulting, inane, degrading crap to superimpose on whatever really happened.  Now they’re getting a few right?”

“A little,” Selina said.  “Maybe twenty-five, twenty-six percent.”

“Pull that off in baseball, it gets you into the hall of fame.”

“On Second Avenue, it gets you flattened by a bus,” Selina countered, and Kyle laughed. 

He said nothing for a minute, focused on the curve of her waist where the corset met the skirt.  Then he said “That is some beautiful lace, by the way… So tell me more about this hotel.”

“You really want to hear about this?”

“I do,” he said, speaking in spurts as he sketched.  “Because right now, I’m working on the dress.  But there will come a time… I am going to work on your face… and your eyes… which Bruce first saw behind a mask.  And he focused on… because that… is what we do… with a beautiful woman with eyes behind a mask…   And this is your bridal portrait, and I want a certain look on your face… a certain look in those big green eyes of yours… and to get that, I am going to ask you to talk… about him…  And if that’s going to work, I need you comfortable talking to me…  Not that Kyray character we invented, but the actual me… So for right now, I just want you to talk… about anything that isn’t Bruce… May as well start with your bachelorette at this cat burglar hotel.”

“Alright, well, the Mark is a luxury hotel located smack in the middle of seven major museums and galleries, so it was always a good place for out-of-towners come to Gotham with art on their mind.  The Mark has its own line of toiletries exclusive to the hotel, and in 2003 a smudge of their hair gel was found inside the duct of a museum the morning after Haustenberg’s Girl in Pink Ribbons went missing, leading to a very short list of suspects and a chap called Falco getting hauled into a GPD interrogation room…”

 

“…Yadda, yadda, yadda, the Mark became hotel of choice for the discerning art thief visiting Gotham.”

“I don’t get it,” Harley squawked.

“I don’t either,” Pam whispered.  “But go along.  She invited us.  Be a polite guest.”

“Cat burglars as a class having an odd sense of humor and a wicked sense of irony,” Selina concluded, giving up on the story that nobody but art thieves seemed to appreciate.  “Make yourselves at home.”

She had booked the largest Garden Suite and had it equipped with a bigger TV for a screening of heist films, an activity that seemed rather tame but was certainly sweetened by the magnums of Veuve Clicquot, chef Jean-Georges’s gourmet pizzas, popcorn, and homemade marshmallows with flavors like champagne-and-strawberries, Bailey’s Irish cream, and Kentucky Bourbon.

It was pleasant enough for about half an hour.  Brad Pitt’s features were compared to Francois de Poulignac… Matt Damon’s were compared to Francois de Poulignac… Matt Damon’s were compared to Edward Nigma’s… Pam looked curiously at Harley, who was clearly as well-informed about Francois as Selina, Doris looked curiously at Pam, who seemed as well-informed about Eddie… And Selina looked curiously at the screen.

“This movie is stupid,” she declared.

They all nodded, of course it was, who didn’t know that?  Selina reached innocently for Ocean’s Twelve, to a chorus of panicked NOs and the universal derision that apparently she knew less about heist films than anybody on the planet.

“Fine, screw the movies,” she announced.  “Let’s finish off the popcorn and go downstairs to the safe.  We’ll see who shows who how it’s done.”

“Um, Catty?” Pam said. 

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Harley said.

“It is the cat burglar hotel,” Doris reminded her.

“Because we’re surrounded by world-class museums and galleries.  Nobody ever bothers with their safe,” Selina pointed out.

“Selina, honey, it’s your bachelorette,” Pammy said like she was trying to talk a drunk off a ledge.

“Exactly!  Last fling, have some fun.  C’mon, what’s wrong with you people?  Who’s been taking Batman pills?”

Pam checked out the label of Selina’s bottle, which was certainly identical to everyone else’s. 

“Selina.  You cannot have your bachelorette at the cat burglar hotel and then burgle the place.” 

“Pamela.  Your least favorite tabloid and mine implied I would blow up the floor of a dress shop and steal the one-of-a-kind garment I’ll be photographed getting married in—which by the way, would somehow be fit to be worn after being dragged through a sewer.  Let’s not pretend we live in a world where actions have consequences.”

“Oh for pity’s sake, that same column said I’m God!” Pam exploded.  “You don’t see me trying to jump off a building because Superman eats vegetables!”

Doris, who did not read the Post, looked confused and Harley said “Don’t ask.”  Pamela started to sniff.

“I… I was God,” she whimpered.  “And I could… I knew everything and I could control everybody… (And my hair looked really good.)  But in real life I can’t even, I can’t even… I can’t get Ivan to talk to me!

And just like that she was crying again.  She turned to Harley, who was right there with the hug and back-patting but this time brought her champagne, which she continued to sip with her free hand.

“Well I’m a Wayne now, right down to the knack for throwing parties,” Selina murmured.  Then she looked around the room, at Pamela weeping and Doris inspecting a marshmallow, and she snapped.  “No.  No, I refuse to become that punchline.  Come on, bad girls!  We’re going out and we’re having fun no matter who has to die.  None of you like the vault here, we’ll just find something else.”

“Hey, what about the Sherry-Netherland,” Doris said brightly.  “If you want a hotel, it’s not far.  They have a wonderful old-fashioned vault for the residents, modern safes in the rooms and a whole shop full of priceless antiques on the corner.”

The party spirit revived when Selina vetoed the idea because the Sherry-Netherland was one of those special locations with a history.  She’d hit the Sherry-Netherland with someone called Tommy who none of them had ever heard a whisper of before, and who sounded quite yummy.  After twenty minutes of interrogation and speculation, each woman took her own magnum of Veuve and a bag of marshmallows and set out. 

 

Special Agents Stanton and Hughes sat in the notoriously drab and aromatic confines of an FBI surveillance van debating the foursome under the awning of the Mark Hotel.  They had identified Selina Kyle when she came in that afternoon to check-in, though it sparked only a brief exchange about Bruce Wayne being a lucky man, a bachelor party in Dubai, and whether it would be preferable to get a Ferrari or an Aston Martin if you had money like that.  They noted only the time when Selina left, but when she returned with a party, they IDed Harleen Quinzel on sight and ran facial rec on the other two.  The redhead did turn out to be Pamela Isley even though she was no longer green (winning Agent Hughes twenty dollars), though the other blonde turned out not to be Taylor Swift or Kylie Minogue (losing him ten). 

The foursome had disappeared into the hotel and that was the last the agents thought of them, until now.  The presumed bachelorette party had nothing to do with their surveillance… But now the four of them had come out of the hotel again and they were standing there under the front awning, facing the van.  Could have been nothing, they could have been waiting for a taxi—except they really seemed to be looking right at the van.  And then moments after not-Taylor Swift started fiddling with her phone, their supposed-to-be-phantom wi-fi started pinging login attempts—and then went silent.  Before Hughes could even check if they’d been hacked, Harley went back inside and an argument ensued.  Stanton thought he should check it out while Hughes maintained the women were not their concern, even if three of them were known theme criminals. 

Stanton said he could go along with that if not-Taylor-Swift didn’t hack their wi-fi, but that really seemed like the precursor to something that might—and now there were four of them again, look!  Harley Quinn had come back and now they were on the move again.  They were all on the move and—they were coming over.   All four of them were coming right towards the van.

There was a knock.

“Open up, we bring goodies!” a merry voice called.

Hughes and Stanton looked at each other.

 

“You decided to mess with an FBI van,” Kyle said, and it was the first time Selina heard him actually sound like a judgmental cape.

“It was a party.  We were looking for something to do, and there they were,” she answered.

“Federal law enforcement.”

“Have we met?  I like playing with law enforcement, they’re my favorite cat toy.  Feds are mice with bad hair cuts…”

“No wonder they hate coming to Gotham,” Kyle said under his breath.

“Hey, it’s not like we sent Harley as a diversion: make them chase the psycho down the street, buildings catch fire, people start shooting at each other, all so we can break into the van and read what’s on the screen.  That would be a reason to hate Gotham.  We were nice!  We knocked, we brought food—an untouched Jean-Georges black truffle pizza and two slices of prosciutto and rosemary.  No champagne since they were on duty, but there was cherry yuzu and ginger ale.”

Kyle flashed back to the weeks posing as the jetsetting installation artist Kyray.

“To make virgin bellinis,” he said flatly, and then added, “You people are seriously strange.”

“Rogues or UES party girls?”

“Yes,” Kyle said emphatically.

“Well anyway, it turned out they were surveilling Myasnik Kiyeva, ‘The Butcher of Kiev.’  He was staying at the hotel, he had to be in town to kill somebody, and… well, the truth is they were afraid they’d missed critical intel because of my little party.  First they spent time trying to ID Pammy and Doris, and then there had been this reporter from the Daily News snooping around.  They didn’t know he was a reporter at first, he was just a suspicious character trying to get in the service door, then going through the lobby, not subtle with the camera work.  Exactly the kind of thing that sets off bells and whistles when you’re tracking the Butcher of Kiev.”

“And by the time they figured out he was a tabloid hack following the bachelor girls, something slipped by on the Butcher,” Kyle guessed.  He’d been there many times, following what he thought was a valid lead and finding he’d wasted valuable time.  The ring could do nothing about false starts and dead ends.

“So we decided to help,” Selina said.  “With Clayface after us, Ivy and I could both use the Karma, and it would probably produce a better story than that weepy picture at Après.”

“The knife fight in the hotel kitchen?” Kyle said helpfully.

“Apparently room service is a very popular way to approach a hotel room when you don’t know if the target is home.  Doris and I would have been happy to use the window like normal people—”

Kyle knitted his brow but said nothing.

“—but Harley, Ivy, Fat Mickey and Gaspipe O’Roarke all went the room service route.  So yeah, the hotel kitchen was the crossroads of the world, and there were knives.”

“It was a better picture than weepy Poison Ivy,” he noted, and Selina shrugged.

“Well anyway, the Butcher wasn’t in his room and all we accomplished was taking out his competition from Bludhaven.  We still had no idea who his target was, so we searched his room and got a lead on this bare knuckles fight club…”

 

“Gaia, mother of all,” Pamela said, wide-eyed.

“What is she doing to him?” Doris said, appalled.

Harley tilted, not just her head but her whole body bent to the side to survey the scene from a full 90-degrees.  She gestured, grabbing her right forearm in her left and jamming her thumb into the side.  “I think she broke his wrist and is just pulling him around by it,” she said.

“It looks painful,” Pam noted.

“Well that would be your fault,” Doris said, and then broke into an unflattering impersonation: “Catty, I think you should let one of us do the honors.  You do have a history crushing on your opponents, and I don’t mean the respectable way crushing a windpipe.  We don’t want you getting flirty tonight of all nights.”

Harley snorted.  “One look at that guy, NOT gonna be a problem.”

“It was a joke, sort of,” Pam said feebly.

“Not a funny one, and you gave her something to prove,” Doris concluded.

“She just likes showing off,” Pam grumbled.  “I mean look at that.  You’d think she’d been working out with Batman a couple of times a week.”

On cue, Selina flung Braden ‘Mercy Stroke’ Carver out of the sankyo she’d used to lead him around the ring, and then she flipped forward as he stumbled back and finished him with a high kick to the chin.

“And that gets us into the V-Room!” she announced, rejoining the party.

The Victors’ Room at a Gotham bare-knuckles fight club looks less like the backroom at a grungy gym and more like the VIP of an upscale nightclub themed like a grungy gym.  There was an improbable number of Zegna blazers and Cole Haan shoes, and an unlikely amount of chit-chat about the joint syndicate team’s recommendation of LIBOR-plus-twenty BP price guidance (with the hope of getting to eighteen, natch). 

But in among the Wall Street bruisers, there was Mejia from a Bogata drug cartel, Feng who could arrange an introduction to King Snake, and Moroz who only a few hours ago met with the Butcher of Kiev and delivered the name of the man he’d been hired to kill. 

The bachelorette party kicked into gear.  As bride-to-be, Selina could assign the roles or claim one for herself. 

“No reason to make this more complicated than it has to be,” she announced.  “Pammy, time to get back on that horse.  Get over there and charm it out of him.”

“I- I can’t.  I can’t do it,” she stammered.  “You know I can’t.”

“Without your pheromones?  Get past it.  It’s not like you have to seduce him, just be pleasant—”

“I can’t be pleasant,” she interrupted.

“Flirt a little,” Doris said.

“C’mon, Red, you can do it,” Harley encouraged.

“Have a drink together,” Selina concluded.  “And before the glass is empty he’ll show you where the button is.  You push it and he’ll spit out the name.”

 

“The line-up was Pammy would charm, Doris would bribe, Harley would threaten,” Selina said.  “If all three failed, I’d intercept him as he tried to leave.  You know that thing where you just stand there, no words, no introduction.  Just block their path and look at them like a bug you’ve been sent to swat.”

“And out comes the name,” Kyle said, chuckling.  “I’ve seen Batman do it a few times.”

“Oh, I do it better,” Selina said and Kyle gulped.  She continued.  “But yes, we got the name: Pete Ignazio—who none of us had ever heard of.  Not that that would have stopped us for long but… Well the fact is, I caught a lucky break.” 

She looked at him critically, the way she once considered a piece of jewelry that might or might not be worth the effort planning a heist.

“Kyle, we’re confiding in each other, right?”

He turned his sketch pad around.

“I’ve seen the dress,” he said brightly. 

“Right.  Okay.  Look, I haven’t told Bruce about this because it’s ‘respect the timeline’ stuff and I don’t think I’m supposed to.  But you set up the time bubble when he proposed, right?  I mean, there was a dress from 1930 encased in ‘temporal stabilizers’ made from lantern energy, so I’m assuming…”

“Yes, that was me,” Kyle nodded.

“Then you’re probably the best person for me to talk to about this…”

 

Selina couldn’t understand what was happening when her phone buzzed and Bruce’s smiling, handsome face appeared on the ID screen.  The Bruce of today was six months in the future patrolling as Batman.  The Future Bat here in the present would be avoiding her.  He didn’t want her teasing, he didn’t want her playing around trying to get information from him about what was going to happen, and he absolutely should not be making contact.  If he was—if there was an emergency or some pressing reason—he would be patching a call through the Batmobile.  It would be the OraCom initiating the call, not Bruce’s cell.  But only Bruce’s cell should produce that glib playboy photo on the caller ID.

She answered cautiously… And he said “Oh good, you’re up” and referenced the time difference and breakfast and then Tokyo.

..::Kitten, I know it’s early and I hate to bother you with something like this before breakfast, but remember when we built Tommy Pearl’s resume.  There was a Rubens taken from the board room of Odawara Electric in Otemachi, remember?::..

She did and she said so (without mentioning that wherever and whenever he was, he was more than twelve hours off thinking it was early morning for her). 

..:: Good.  Suppose I really had come into town to do a job like that, who might it honk off?::..

“Honk off?  As in...”

..:: Might the local yakuza be pissed and come after me?::.. he said.

“That’s oddly specific,” she stalled as she made it out of the club and into an alley.  She opted for a quick climb to the roof before she continued.  “Look, I know you hate answers like this, but it depends.  A solo job for your own profit, like the Rubens, you’d be out of range before they knew anything happened.  And these are rough edge gangsters; they don’t have the resources or the inclination to hunt you across the globe to get a piece.”

..:: Under what circumstances would they act?  You said ‘it depends.’  Give me a scenario.::..

“Um, okay,” she stammered, thinking out loud.  “There’s no way somebody on your level is sticking around for shopping and sightseeing, so they’d have to find out about you before you pulled the job.”

..:: Maybe even before I hit town?  Be waiting at the hotel when I check in? ::..

“Maybe.  Doesn’t happen the way I work: when it’s a solo gig for your own profit, we keep our own counsel, bring in our equipment, we don’t waste time or risk exposure with local suppliers, you know all this.”

..::You’re saying the thief was hired by a third party.::..

“You asked for a scenario, that’s the most likely.  Comes down to who’s doing the hiring.  If it’s someone in the yakuza’s backyard on a more or less permanent basis, someone they consider in their sphere of influence, they might be pissed.  A neighbor bringing in serious out of town talent for a job and they weren’t advised.”

..:: The equipment,::.. Bruce said.  ..:: Suppose the ‘neighbor’ didn’t tell our thief the target in advance.  Suppose he only found out when he got here...”

“It’s a possibility,” Selina agreed.  “If he comes to town with a basic kit, then finds out what he’s up against and needs specialty equipment, it could put him on their radar.  Bruce, what’s this about?”

..:: I don’t know yet.  Thanks.::..

“Wait, before you go.  Tit for tat.  Pete Ignazio, name ring a bell?”

..:: Absolutely.  Falcone capo busted at the end of the Rogue War.  Unique in that he held onto his money; the Feds couldn’t find it at the time.  As of the Pearl case, we know why.  It was in the Caymans in his wife’s name.  He’s been out for a month, managed to appeal his conviction…::…

 

“And being the first released from the sweeps that decimated the Falcone crime family, he’s been trying to rebuild.  He was in one of Falcone’s old brownstones in Brooklyn.  B had clocked four armed guards, security system is a Lykkva, Israeli-made.  Not hackable but it’s easy enough to get past using old-fashioned hands and feet.”

Kyle paused the feathery strokes he was making to capture the edge of Selina’s hair, and he looked over the top of his sketch pad.

“I’m going to get in trouble for saying this, but you sitting there in your wedding dress reeling that off is incredibly hot.”

“Thank you,” Selina said, taking it in stride.  “You will not get in trouble because I will not tell—as long as you can advise me about the phone call out of time.”

“Sounds like something’s gone kerflooey,” Kyle said. 

“Gee, Green Lantern of Sector 2814, thank you for distilling the delicate mechanisms of space/time across the cosmos into an explanation a simple being like myself can understand.  That was very helpful.”

“Selina, I have no idea.  There’s stuff in the Justice League communicators to allow for magic teleportation, alien energy fields, gravity distortion, heat distortion, speed force distortion.  I don’t know how any of it works but I know I can go surfing on a black hole and the thing adapts.  Bruce has one of those comm units in his phone.  If he’s going through a time portal twice a day to change places with himself for every patrol, something went kerflooey.”

“So your expert opinion as a Lantern is as much of a wild guess as mine,” Selina said.

“Correct.  My completely non-expert half-assed shot in the dark is don’t worry about it.”

Selina bit her lip.

 

Neither Selina nor Doris had the gear with them to get around a Lykkva Urban Security Suite.  Riddler’s hideout was more convenient than any of the cat lairs, so they went there for Doris to collect her gear.  They found several large puddles outside which Harley found fascinating and it was nothing but stories of “Puddin’s dry ice experiments” until Doris disarmed the perimeter defenses. 

Seeing Pamela’s nerves fraying with each mention of Mistah J, Selina suggested they split up.  It didn’t take four people to pack a burglar’s kit.  She and Harley would hit the nearest Hacienda for explosives, a butcher shop for blood, and they could all meet on the Brooklyn side of the bridge.

As soon as they were alone, Doris and Pam went inside.  Pam took in the crossword puzzle carpeting, the Rubik’s cube side tables, and the jigsaw art on the wall.  She shrugged, it was what you’d expect… until you looked a little closer.  Her eyes were suddenly drawn to the coffee table.  Between each pair of side tables, two Riddler-green loveseats faced each other, and in between was a coffee table with a chess board, a decanter with two glasses, and two framed photographs: One was Doris from many years ago, with a different hair style and a suntan at a seaside resort.  In the other she was Game Theory, smiling arm in arm with Riddler at the Iceberg.  Indentations on the carpet showed how both loveseats were now closer to the table than they had been.  The chess set that had originally been placed there for show was now played.

It was homey. 

Theme objects that were nothing but a stage set to flaunt “I AM RIDDLER” in Batman’s face when he burst in here to fight were now… they were now…

Pamela turned away from the disgustingly domestic scene and caught up with Doris.  She’d gone to a green door that looked like a closet or a bathroom until you opened it and saw a life size copy of René Magritte’s Son of Man with a question mark rather than an apple blocking the anonymous businessman’s face.  Doris reached forward and straightened the knot of his tie, touched the top button of his jacket and then the dot of the question mark.  The panel slid away, revealing the contents of the closet.

“Puddin’s experiments with dry ice, can you believe it?” Pam said sourly.  “Only Harley would ‘There-there, Red’ me, feed me a bourbon marshmallow and tell me everything is going to be fine, and then turn right around and start a story about Puddin’.”

Doris glanced at Pamela, then went on taking black cases from the closet and setting them out across the floor.

“She’s not doing it to hurt you, you know.  It’s obvious she adores you.  She just doesn’t see either thing having anything to do with the other.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Pam grumbled.

“Okay,” Doris said as if accepting a dare.  “You’re someone to be reckoned with.  Or you would be if y—”

“If I still had my powers, I know,” Pam lamented.

“I was going to say if you’d pull your head out of your ass,” Doris said, handing her a backpack to hold.  “You took one in the teeth, I get it.  Get up off the dirt.  It’s what winners do.”

“I know what… winners?  I was Poison Ivy, the global—”

“Was?”

“—threat, world-class criminal, irresistible seductress, crusading protector of the plant kingdom—”

“Was?”

“Now I’m a mad scientist at best!  No powers, no bond linking me to the plant world, no mind control over half the population.  You call that ‘taking one in the teeth?!’”

“Yeah, that’s what I call it,” Doris said, looking over cases she’d opened, each presenting an assortment of silver tools wedged into custom-cut foam.  As they talked, she’d repeatedly pick up a tool and examine it like produce at a fruit stand, and if she judged it worthy, it went into the backpack. 

“When Ed and I got together, I was still at the bookstore.  Started devouring prison memoirs.  One of those Watergate guys talked about the strip search and immediately after, the paperwork.  There’s a line for education—a single line—and as he’s reeling off prep school, bachelors, officer’s candidate training, law school, FBI Academy at Quantico… he sees fear in the guards’ faces.  Because he’s bringing in a weapon they can’t take away. 

“Pamela, you have two Ph.Ds, don’t you?  And unlike ‘Doctor’ Quinzel, you didn’t bed any professors to get them.  So you lost some powers.  You’re still Poison Ivy, aren’t you?”

“Am I?  How?  How am I supposed to change anything if I can’t even—”

“Mind control half the planet?” Doris cut her off.  “Do it the way everybody else does that wants something to change.  With two Ph.Ds, you can’t be afraid of work.  You obviously care about plants enough to fight for them.  I really don’t see the problem.”

“That is very clear.”

 

Nothing about Pete Ignazio fit the picture of a Falcone crime boss.  At 42, he was young for the heights he had reached.  His light brown hair had the bare minimum of styling gel to create a natural but conservative look.  He favored light blue button down shirts with jeans or khakis, light tan sports coats when he bothered, and he rarely wore a tie.  His house was light and airy, a plethora of creams and throw pillows, comfortable boxy armchairs and modern geometric tables uncluttered by antiques and knick-knacks.  There were more plants than you’d expect.  No religious pictures or table-top shrines to obscure Italian saints.  And neat angular blinds in place of heavy draperies and curtains. 

The office might have the carved heavy-burl desk you’d expect of a mob boss, but instead of the leather blotter pad, there was a pair of computer monitors.  The one was filled with a spreadsheet, the other displayed a humble notepad with a simple list:

Construction
Unions
Gambling
Garbage
Extortion
Loan-sharking
Robbery
Nightclubs
Auto dealerships
political fixing

Not a lot of options.  Pete considered the list on the sad little txt document and the massive—and massively complicated—spreadsheet he’d spent the evening staring at.  He got up from his desk and poured a bourbon, then returned to the spreadsheet.

Seven tabs.  He spent most of his time on two, and most of that time on one.  Tonight he’d done little more than delete a few rows and rearrange the order of others although it did nothing to change the realities: no guns, no drugs, no whores, no tax schemes involving gas or cigarettes.  In short, no serious money.  With the personnel he had available, the contacts, the resources—and the stranglehold the Russians had on money laundering and women—this was all he had to build with.

Men had done more with less, but it was a long time ago.  His father masterminded a string of bank robberies, selecting the banks and supplying street and floor plans—and sharing the proceeds.  Not a single job scored more than thirty grand.  A share of thirty grand and that was a scale of criminality worthy of a fifty-year sentence—federal time—the summer Pete turned eighteen.   

The boss took Pete under his wing then; Ignazio Senior was his underboss and it was the least he could do for the kid.  He introduced Pete around, and everybody told him the same thing: “If you don’t help your father out, he’ll die in prison.” 

What was he to do?  He flushed college (kept the accounting and management textbooks), went to see his father in Blackgate, and told him what he planned to do.  Two weeks later, Pete got a visit from the boss, introducing him to the Life. 

 

At the Ignazio brownstone, Selina and Harley again broke away to eliminate the guards while Doris and Pam waited until the sightlines were clear.  Then they would advance and disarm the security system, allowing Selina or Harley to advance to the next guard.  Pam had been quiet, but the sight of that cozy living room was still with her. 

“Doris, what you were saying earlier, about my situation,” she said at last, “It’s not just the plants.  I mean, I started out believing I didn’t need people, that my babies were enough.  Then Harvey came along and that was… complicated.  You’ve heard how we started out when he was D.A. and I sort of… poisoned him.  And then Harley came along and…”  She sighed.  “That was complicated too.  Her idiotic fixation on that toxic clown.” 

She sighed again. 

“It’s people.  People are so complicated, but they’re—those two at least—they’re sort of… better than plants.  In their way.  When it works.  But better or not they weren’t available, and then suddenly during the war they both were.  And now—Now I’ve lost all three.  Harley is back with Joker.  Harvey is off the grid and that’s my fault more than anybody’s.  And my babies treat me like… like anyone else.  If I still had any one of the three, it would mitigate the loss of the other two (maybe) but—BUT IF THIS IS JUST TAKING ONE IN THE TEETH TO YOU PEOPLE, I’D HATE TO SEE WHAT RANKS AS THE GAME-ENDER YOU WON’T RECOVER FROM!”

She gasped and panted, as if expecting another round of tears with no Harley around to comfort her.  But no tears came.  Instead an inner voice she had never heard before… When your head’s no longer attached to your shoulders, the game’s over.  Anything short of that… It sounded a little like ‘Poison Ivy’ but calmer somehow, less angry, more tolerant and faintly amused.

“Look, you’re new here,” Pam said, collecting herself.  “You don’t see the problem.  I’m alone, I’m anonymous, I’m ordinary.  I can’t possibly do the things that need doing.  I can’t be Poison Ivy—”

You’re saying this to an ordinary woman who invented herself as Game Theory.

“And I’m sure you’re going to say you had no special powers and it didn’t stop you from becoming Game Theory, and that Harley doesn’t have powers and Selina doesn’t have powers, but it’s not the same.  Poison Ivy isn’t ‘me’ or the best part of me or the passionate part.  It’s— she’s—it’s what she can do.  What I could do then and I can’t now.  So I’m not Poison Ivy, you see?”

“I don’t,” Doris said.  “But you do and I respect that.”

“You do?” Pam exclaimed, expecting a fight.

“Like you said I’m new here; you’re the expert.  And Pamela, you’re the only one whose opinion matters about Poison Ivy.”

 

Pete never expected to be the Don.  He never wanted to be, it was a crap job.  He was happy being Carmine’s top earner and letting that move him up to where he got to keep most of it.  Mortgage fraud had been good to him.  Lax due diligence during the housing bubble, and then the Internet, the wonderful Internet, enabling gamblers to bleed money into his pocket through offshore websites.  There was plenty of money to pay Carmine his cut, a salary for doing the crap job wearing the target on his back.  The Feds, Batman, other families, who needed that headache?  To say nothing of the responsibility running the Family, constant disputes to settle, constant sit downs, who needed it?

He did.  Yesterday when Carmine was available, it was worth paying him a percentage to do a job Pete didn’t want.  Now that Carmine was gone—half the organization gone and the brand lying fallow, it wasn’t so much a job as an opportunity.  It was like getting in on the ground floor of a major crime family, an opportunity no one had since his great grandfather’s day, and not something to igno— The door burst open.

“Good evening.” 

—and Catwoman, Harley Quinn, an... extremely hot blonde in an unknown costume and… and an extremely hot redhead too cool to play dress up stormed into the room before he could react.  Catwoman’s whip cracked just shy of his desk and all thoughts of opportunity were abruptly silenced.

“Don’t go for the gun in the desk,” she warned, “because if I have to use this, it’s going to take out at least one of those very expensive monitors and that would be a pity.”

“Yeah, okay, no gun,” he said, holding his hands up warily.  “Can I ask—”

“You have a lot of plants,” Pam said, eying the potted tree behind him.  “Is that a Norfolk Island Pine?  Unusual to see one thriving as a house plant.  You must be misting it through the summer so your a/c doesn’t overdry the air…”

“Holy shit, you’re Poison Ivy!” Pete blurted.

“Close enough to the window, no draft, soil slightly moist…”

“I thought you were green—Don’t get me wrong, you look great like this.”

“She does, doesn’t she?” Harley said.  “I been trying to tell her all night but she won’t listen ta me.  See, Red, I told ya.”

“Could we get to the point and get this over with,” said Pam, sounding for the first time like the irate-is-my-resting-pulse Poison Ivy of old.

“We are on the clock,” Catwoman noted, and nodded at Game Theory.

“Question, Pete.  How did four dangerous broads like us get this far into your townhouse where we can reach out and whip, green, smilex, or kidnap you without any of your well-armed guards in sight?”

“Yeah it really wasn’t hard,” Harley complained.  “Ya notice how you didn’t hear any thunks when they were going down?  It was that quick.  Didn’t make a peep!” 

“They’re new,” Pete winced.  “I mean, they’re not my regular guys.  There’s a job in Bludhaven tonight that needed some extra muscle so—”

“They were pulled off for a hit, Pete.”  Catwoman had walked to the bourbon and brought the bottle to Pete’s desk.  She paused over his glass and when he nodded, added an ample inch of liquid.

“Who?” he asked after a belt.

“The Butcher of Kiev,” Selina said dryly. “But eh…”

“But my men being in Bludhaven means it’s an inside job,” Pete said flatly.  “Somebody in the family ordered the hit, somebody who knew the bait to dangle to pull them away from the house tonight.  Left me a crew that, Christ, the Pastry Chef of Kiev could beat down.”

“Hey!” Harley squawked.  “Catty, he’s insulting us.”

“We can take it,” Selina said while Pete finished his drink.

“So what happens now?” he asked.

The women looked at each other, until Pam finally said it out loud.

“We kill you ourselves.”

 

The neighbors heard gunshots and saw muzzle flashes, but in a neighborhood so recently run by Falcone, nobody called the cops.  Then the car blew up and that stretched anyone’s notion of what they could plausibly fail to notice. 

By the time the police arrived to find Pete Ignazio missing (and a worrying amount of blood in his study) the foursome landed triumphantly at the Iceberg bar, party girls in full tilt.  Harley ordered a “Bloody Pete,” which she informed Sly was a Bloody Mary made with Pete’s Wicked Ale instead of vodka.  She urged everyone to join her but couldn’t get any takers.  Selina had hopped on the bar, crossed her legs and proceeded to flirt with Sly while Doris played with his hair and Pam stood with her hip cocked in an awkward muscle-memory approximation of the seductive pose she’d use to greet a freshly-greened slave.

Oswald was cooed over.  (He always appeared promptly when alpha rogues arrived in his bar and Sly was abandoned for his boss.)  Harley ba-beeped his nose, Pam asked if he’d lost weight while Doris admired his vest—and Selina whispered an apology that she hadn’t thanked him at the house when he offered to give her away.  It really was a sweet gesture…   He turned pink.  Glances were exchanged, and while no money changed hands in front of him, the astute may have guessed that there was a wager, either who could get him to blush or how long it would take the four of them to get the reaction.

There was a few minutes small talk about the crowd: no Riddler tonight and no Joker.  The dining room was thick with unfamiliar Demons (no cooing), a party from one of the Triads was giving the Ghost Dragons a wide berth.  And there were several henchmen whose athletic, combat and decorative potential was discussed (though Oswald sat quietly and studied the scratches on the tabletop after the conversation took that particular turn).  Social niceties observed, Selina got down to business.

“We want an alibi package, all four of us.   The premium golden egg one with the timestamp security footage, all of us here in the bar, corroborated by witnesses.  We want Sly.”

“I see.  And you’re aware how much the Sly package goes for?” Oswald asked.  “You understand you’ll be buying four packages.  We do not split the bill four ways.”

“Oh we understand,” Selina purred.  “And we actually want something more, Oswald.  We want you.”

“I… do not testify,” Oswald said haughtily. 

“You mean you never have,” Pam said coolly.

“Because nobody’s ever pointed out that your fee would be five times Sly’s,” Doris added.

“If we were talking about ordinary police I might consider it,” he said firmly.  “But the four of you—Selina most particularly—it’s Batman who’ll come asking.  He is every bit as skeptical as the police, but unlike them he’s apt to hoist me up on a bat-line and I am not as young as I used to be.  Did—did you say you’d be prepared to pay five times Sly’s fee.”

Doris nodded and smiled.

Harley nodded and smiled.

Selina nodded and smiled.

“All four of you?”

“All four of us.”

He gulped.

“M-might one ask w-what you d-did?”

“Now Oswald, why should that matter?” Selina asked, using a Grey Goose martini to clean a clawtip that Oswald couldn’t help but notice left a tarry red substance on the napkin.  “If we were here, what possible difference could it make what was going on at Pete Ignazio’s townhouse 106 to 90 minutes ago.”

“Uhuh,” Oswald said warily.  “You will pay in cash of course.”

“In about fifteen minutes if all goes well,” Selina said, checking her watch, after which Pam added “You might want to wait in your office.” 

“Quite,” he said, happy for the dismissal.

A few minutes later, a woman walked into the lounge with a metal briefcase.  Raven sat her at the table Selina had specified.  Harley and Ivy posed and Doris pretended to take their picture, shooting past them and zooming to capture a nice headshot of the new arrival ordering a dirty martini.  She compared the photo to a small collection culled from a social network and then murmured “Well I’ll be damned.”  She flashed the screen at Selina.  “Meet Mrs. Peter Ignazio.” 

Selina smiled. 

“That should make the end game easier,” she said.  “So who wants to be the hitter?”

Harley’s hand shot up like an eager sixth grader’s, but as Selina started shaking her head, Harley said “I volunteer Red.  Red should do it,” and pointed her raised hand downward to indicate the top of her friend’s head.

“Not a bad idea.  You do stone cold really well,” said Selina.

“Better than crushing on crimefighters,” Pam said under her breath, then looked over at Mrs. Ignazio.  “But yeah, I’ll do it.  The man bred a Norfolk Island Pine, that deserves some respect.”

She approached the table with the coldly appraising eye of a professional killer, sat in the chair across from Mrs. Ignazio and introduced herself as the person come to collect the money.

“Don’t tell me you’re the butcher,” the woman said sourly.

“A competitor.  I’ve taken over a number of his contracts,” Pam said.

“How does he feel about that?” the woman scoffed.

“He’s not feeling anything anymore.  But what do you care, your job’s done.”  She slid a phone across the table, displaying a photo of the blood-spattered chair in Ignazio’s study, a burning Mercedes in front of the townhouse, and finally she picked up the phone and replaced it with a plain gold wedding band.  “I’ll take my money now,” she said.

Pam returned to the table with the suitcase, where Selina picked it up and delivered it to Oswald, extracting three bundles of cash before she left.  One she handed to Sly on her way out, one she left on the table for Dove and one she handed to Raven. 

Tips and alibis covered, she joined the other ladies in the Maserati Quattroporte they’d borrowed in Brooklyn.  Half an hour later, they stopped beside the FBI van and, once again, knocked. 

“Open up, we bring goodies!” Selina called just as she had the first time.

This time the van opened promptly, an uncomfortable-looking Pete Ignazio sat with Special Agents Stanton and Hughes and all three filed out to see what was making that noise from the Maserati’s trunk. 

“Gentlemen, allow me to introduce Myasnik Kiyeva, the Butcher of Kiev,” Selina said proudly, engaging the trunk release to reveal the bruised and duct taped hitman.  “We intercepted him, um, blowing up your Mercedes.  Sorry, Pete.  Also your townhouse isn’t exactly habitable at the moment, but Myasnik does have a room here that he’s not going to be using.”  She produced his keycard with a flourish.  “You can just stay there as long as you need.  He won’t mind, will you, Nick?” 

“Thank you,” Agent Stanton mouthed.

Selina’s eyes met Doris’s, the most imperceptible of nods were exchanged, and Selina escorted Pete inside.

“C’mon, these halls are confusing.  I’ll help you find the room,” she said as Doris stayed with the others, yet remained a little apart.  While they gave their statements, Doris crept closer to the van while toying absently with the phone she’d used earlier to hack their wi-fi.  She ducked inside just in time to capture the audio as Selina and Ignazio opened the door to the Butcher’s room.  She heard Selina tell him it was his wife who ordered the hit, show him the photo from the Iceberg, and offer sympathy.  Then Selina left, and after a noise that might have been a sob and another that was definitely a curse, she heard “Yeah, yeah, I need all new codes for Cayman Bank and Trust account number 9147931762.  The verification code is Clemens 354 ERA 3.12 4672 Strike All-Star 11…”

 

“Oh you’re kidding me,” Kyle laughed.  “He had to change all the passwords ‘cause the bank accounts are in his wife’s name.  And you heard the whole thing.”

“We got the whole thing,” Selina beamed.  “The agents knew right away they weren’t going to get Harley Quinn and Pamela Isley to come to the office in the morning and make formal statements, the future Mrs. Wayne wasn’t coming back and realistically there wasn’t much they could do about it.  They had to get what they could there and then, and hope it would be enough make the case.  They were completely focused on that, and Doris was reasonable, personable, acted like a civilian.  They didn’t worry about her.  She could do as she pleased.”

“And this is Riddler’s girlfriend?”

“Yep.”

“Lucky guy.  She sounds like something special.”

“He’s aware.  On both counts.”

“Well, on that note,” Kyle said, closing his sketch pad.  “I say we call it a day.  Next time we paint.”

“Meow.”

 

Faust quietly processed logs from the Batcomputer, room service at the Mark Hotel, a year’s worth of field reports and memos generated by the FBI in Gotham, the traffic cameras in the vicinity of the Iceberg Lounge, Pete Ignazio’s brownstone, known Haciendas and suspected Riddler lairs… It analyzed ninety-four paragraphs from Bradford Dormont novels relating to women of Doris Ingerson’s physical type, factored in editorial and submission deadlines for Mayfair Magazine, and overlaid six hundred thirteen mentions of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy from Batman’s logs…  Factored in the likelihood of a crude rally if OPEC didn’t adjust its output to cover falling Venezuelan oil production, and made its way hurriedly to catch up to the figure crossing the Great Hall. 

“Green Lantern of Sector 2814, if I might have a moment of your time.”

 

To be continued…


Chapter 2: Change

ChapterGifts Chapter 1: FaustGifts Chapter 2: ChangeGifts Chapter 3: Veuve ClicquotGifts Chapter 4: TattingerGifts by Chris Dee, Chapter 5: Demon's Head

Chapter 4: Tattinger

 

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