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 by Chris Dee, Chapter 5: Demon's HeadDemon's Head


MAYFAIR

CARTE DES ETOILES

Bon Vivant Bridegroom: Billionaire Bruce Wayne
Plans the Ultimate High Rise Bachelor Night

Very soon after Mayfair launched, Bradford Dormont began his career at the magazine with Carte des Etoiles, a chronicle of café society and its scandals by the one writer with access to all the dramatis personae in the tangled circles of Hollywood and High Society.  From criminal trials in Boston to tummy tucks in Bangkok, negligence-or-was-it-murder in Monaco to insider trading in Gotham, all sides seem to take Dormont as their confidant. 
The children talk, the servants talk, the mistresses talk, and the countesses talk.
But will Bruce Wayne and his bride talk? 
Mayfair begins its coverage of the wedding of the century…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
by BRADFORD DORMONT

 

“The thing to remember about Bruce,” said one of Bruce Wayne’s oldest friends at a Park Avenue dinner party, “is that he’s trompe l’oeil, his life is crafted to deceive the eye.  He created a character that he plays, and the press laps it up.”

It’s an idea that goes in and out of fashion among Foundation donors and Wayne Enterprises investors, for it’s hard to reconcile the debauchery on Page 6 with the high-minded philanthropy and solid corporate citizenship reported in more respectable news.  Yet for the true cognoscenti, the link is as common as FILTH, as in the old Wall Street acronym “Failed in London? Try Hong Kong.” 

Bruce seems eager to deflect attention from his time abroad, wearing his washout from Princeton as a bad boy badge of honor as if we wouldn’t notice he was enrolled in the London School of Economics the next term.  Studying at LSE may put him the company of Kennedys and Nobel laureates, but it put him more literally in the company of those sons of privilege who are a fixture in London and Hong Kong, beginning careers in the capital markets, famous for their hunting of “Sloane Rangers,” living at clubs like Annabel’s and Home House, blacking out on the tube and showing up to work the next day in their tuxedos.  One need only compare the London chapters of Jon Prevel’s Tales of the Abyss and LexCorp with Bruce’s playboy antics when he returned to Gotham, and one might come away thinking he used the anecdotes of those first year Salomon Brothers analysts as a script. 

Bruce is expected to say goodbye to single life in the most spectacular fashion possible, and sources close to his preferred concierge say he does not plan to disappoint.  The multi-night extravaganza will begin at one of Gotham's most exclusive clubs, of course, but only as a gathering point.  Once assembled, the party will move via a caravan of party busses to Wayne's private jet and then to the famous Burj Al Arab on the southern sandy coastline of Dubai, where it's rumored that Wayne has booked the US$24,000-per-night Royal Suite as well as the Al Falak ballroom and Al Mahara restaurant for a three-tiered final party—potentially four if the jet continues to circle overhead, as is rumored.

The guest list has been the subject of speculation for months, with rumoured guests ranging from rock stars to athletes, European royalty to the Who’s Who of Hollywood and Wall Street.  Knowing Bruce, only the crème-de-la-crème need apply.  And knowing Bruce, we can expect a last look at the bad boy who’s become such a rarity since he began escorting Selina Kyle to D’Annunzio, the Upper East Side restaurant that caters to Gotham’s people-you-love-to-read-about…

 

Blue diamonds get their color from boron, an element more abundant in the Earth’s crust than its mantle.  Fine.  But saying the famously cursed Hope Diamond was “spawned in the most hellish depths of the Earth” seemed a needlessly sensational flourish, and Jaxon Valdorcia (known in various circles as Jax, Coop, Mason, Logan, ‘that Aussie bloke,’ and Le Maître Rusé) dropped the in-flight magazine into the trash wondering why he’d even taken the thing off the plane.

Jaxon lived in an exclusive suburb outside Melbourne whenever he wasn’t living out of a $4,000 Prada go-bag in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok or Jakarta for a job like the one that now brought him to Japan.  Against his better judgment, he’d read an article on the plane, about blue diamonds.   He’d read it because the Hope was a blue diamond, that much seemed like fate. The one thing he knew about the upcoming job was that he’d be acquiring an item from a shrine near the Imperial Palace.  The Hope had famously begun as the eye of an idol in a temple in India.  So… Fate.  He turned to the page with the article expecting something interesting from a nature journal, something on the complex geologic sequence by which boron ended up at a depth where diamonds form, not another rehash of French royals, wealthy owners and thieves that came to bad ends after coming in contact with the gem. 

Jaxon wasn’t superstitious of course.  No one on his level could afford to be.  Temples, grave goods, religious icons, it was all part of the business.  And everyone understood that Hollywood myth notwithstanding, a good story was the only security the ancient world had.  There were men with swords, no doubt, but they’d be as prone to sleep, boredom, bribery and bludgeoning as their modern counterparts.  In a world without retinal scans, cameras or heat sensors, the best thing to do was scare a would-be thief into staying home. 

Home.  Swimming laps in his pool, puttering with his outdoor deck—the one part of the property free of heritage conservation rules, where he could modernize and tinker to his heart’s content.  He hated leaving, but what was he to do?  DEMON offered more than any outsider could refuse.  They used their own talent whenever they could, so if they called it was because they needed you and they didn’t waste time haggling.  When he first got the call—when he heard Ōtemachi—he assumed the target was a corporate headquarters.  He packed assuming he was going after a prize like that Rubens from the Odawara board room a few years back.  A temple never occurred to him, though they often contained the richest treasures.  Whatever was in this one, its security must be on par with its treasures, requiring an expertise only a half dozen people in the world had to offer.  And that translated into an awful lot of zeroes—worth dodging a curse or two, certainly.

Especially since, when you thought about it, curses couldn’t be avoided.  Everything of value was once something else: a Portuguese ring might link gold melted from an Aztec temple with a gemstone from ancient China.  A thief actively trying to avoid curses probably crossed as many gods as one who didn’t.  So there was no point worrying what was in this temple of Masakadonoatama and what dire fates were pronounced a thousand years ago to whoever was bold enough to take it.

 

I want to live like common people,
I want to do whatever common people do,
I want to sleep with common people,
I want to sleep with common people
Like you.

You haven’t experienced the exquisite irony of the one-percent until you drive across the access bridge to Burj Al Arab with Pulp’s Common People blasting on the radio.  The Bruce Wayne of foppish legend would have loved the joke, while the real one was at least pleased to give the experience to three men who, though a pain at meetings, had saved humanity more than once and deserved a good party.

Rent a flat above a shop
Cut your hair and get a job
Smoke some fags and play some pool
Pretend you never went to school

The Bruce Wayne who traveled the world in reality was very different from one who traveled in the public imagination.  There was never a week at the Hotel Byblos in St. Tropez in the duplex overlooking the pool.  No getting bottle service at Nikki Beach while fashion models circled modeling clothes from the nearby shops.  No enticing them one by one to abandon their posts and join him at his table, then making a triumphant entrance to Le Cave du Roy after only ten hours in the country, accompanied by the next Vogue cover and on a first-name basis with the entire Dior runway.  There was no sailing and snorkeling in Antigua, rotating between the beach bar, pool bar and spa, no drunken trips to the casino charging chips to the hotel, and no bimbo raiding the gift shop while he checked out, adding thousands to the bill in real time.  There were no four hand body massages in Hong Kong, no seafood buffets with views of Victoria Harbor or pub crawls in Lan Kwai Fong.  There was only a punishing kwoon where Sifu Lin would decide if the rich gwáilóu was fit to study with the master in Foshan, and the senior students who had no intention of allowing him to be found so.

There was only one point where Bruce’s years of travel overlapped with his legend: in London, where the London School of Economics provided cover while he picked up more important skills from Scotland Yard and MI-6.  Jon Prevel was finishing his first year as an analyst and living the cliché as a Wall Street hedonist abroad, blowing through five and six-finger bonuses in a matter of days.  His debaucheries became Bruce’s, though Bruce changed enough of the details that when Prevel wrote his own account Tales of the Abyss and LexCorp, the similarities went unnoticed.

That Bruce Wayne of legend required a sendoff.  He needed to die as he had lived, so to speak.  And if that Bruce Wayne was unlikely to meet Wally West, Kyle Rayner and Eel O’Brian in the normal course of his private beach in St. Barth’s existence—forming such bonds of friendship that they were the first names on the VIP guest list given to the hotel—the real Bruce was ready to overlook it. 

I want to live like common people,
I want to do whatever common people do,
I want to sleep with common people

Tim texted them first: Get to Dubai your way.  None of them knew what it meant, but before their speculation got out of hand, they each got a call from the ‘coordinating host’ at the hotel asking if they would be arriving in Dubai independently or flying in on Wayne One.  Despite a rumor that the real party would be on Wayne One, they put their faith in a Robin’s greater knowledge and said they would be flying in on their own.

They then made a mental note not to ever underestimate Tim Drake, for the host asked which of the exotic cars in the hotel’s pool they would like waiting at the airport, for Mr. Wayne had covered the rentals for a select few of his very special guests.

You'll never fail like common people,
You'll never watch your life slide out of view
And dance and drink and screw
Because there's nothing else to do.

And so it was, the afternoon of the party while Wayne One was still hours from landing, Eel, Wally and Kyle drove across the access bridge in a yellow Ferrari, red McLaren and green Aston Martin with Pulp’s Common People blasting on their radios.

All three meant to share the joke when they reached the hotel, then forgot in the wonderland jolt of the arrival as doormen of identical height and builds sprinted to open each of their doors simultaneously.  There was a quintet of staff lined up to greet them as they entered the lobby, offering hot towels, a plate of dates and a cup of Arabic coffee.  All three meant to remark on that too—on the similarity to the welcoming ceremony on Kilfnagon-9 after they’d prevented the Dark Matter Incursion—but again they forgot as the kaleidoscope splendor of the atrium lobby introduced a new level of wonders. 

“We are not in Kansas any more,” Wally and Eel said together.

“I’m not sure we’re on Earth any more,” Kyle said under his breath. 

They made it past the hypnotic technicolor splendor of the fountain, the shops featuring (among other things) a vest made of gold… Past the art works… Past a restaurant, and beneath the Swarovski crystal ceiling to the elevators… They made it, finally, to their room—to their suite, that is, for the hotel had nothing as mundane as a room... 

Two floors.  Downstairs: two sitting rooms, a bar, and a bigger TV than any of them had at home.  Upstairs: two bedrooms with panoramic views. 

“Well,” said Kyle.

“Well yes,” said Wally, clearing his throat.

“Uh, right,” said Eel.

Then they said nothing for several minutes.  They looked at each other, they looked out the window, they looked at the bar, and then, as one, they burst out laughing.

“So this is, uh, because Batman is marrying Catwoman,” said Wally.

“There’s a gold hair dryer in the bathroom,” said Eel.

“Always thought it was a good idea.  Just the way their costumes go together, the ears, and y’know, the names.  Bat-man, Cat-woman,” said Kyle.

“Gold iPad too, that seems to be how we contact the concierge or order room service,” said Eel.

“I-ehhh… had my bachelor night at a Wing House,” said Wally.

“My buddy Martin went to a comedy club,” said Kyle.

“The point is they’re happy.  She makes him happy, everybody’s life is better,” said Wally.

“Hot tub in through there.  With a mural.  Of sailboats,” Eel reported.

Again they grew quiet, and again, after a minute of silence, they began to laugh.  Nobody remembered their quips from the atrium, or the lobby, or bridge.  And nobody thought of the song until hours later in the elevator riding up to the royal suite as a faint, musical thumping became audible in the distance.  It grew more distinct as they neared the party floor, the vague melody becoming more discernable until the doors opened and they were hit with the full volume of a live performance coming from the famous helipad, transformed into a stage and dance floor. 

“Wow,” was the universal response as they took in the colorful opulence awash in reds and golds, and the effusive crowd awash in sequined cleavage

“Okay men, remember your training,” Wally said in his approximation of a Bat-gravel as a cloud of sweet floral perfume hit.  “We keep our heads.  We don’t get distracted.  Survey.  Methodically.  Do not…” 

A second cloud of perfume telegraphed a bouncy, giggly parade of softness and warm jiggling.  All around them.  Pressing here, squeezing through there, bustling, squirming and moving on. 

Wally swallowed.

“…Do not wander,” he resumed, a slight tremor in his voice, “and do not separate from the group until the entire field is documented.  We move counter-clockwise, left hands to the left wall at all times.  Are we clear?”

Eel’s gaze had followed the women, but his feet did not.  Ascent was murmured, and the exploration began with all the disciplined focus of a League mission.

They went through a set of double doors into a large red sitting room with two seating areas, one like their suite’s faced a window with a spectacular view of the harbor.  Nearly every seated man had a girl on his lap, except for the chap who had two.  Bottles of vodka, tequila, wine and champagne, empty glasses and even a few beer bottles covered every horizontal surface, and a silver Asprey wine filter held marijuana seeds and stems…

The next room was smaller: only one seating area which faced a high def television even larger than the one in their suite.  They realized they were in the suite’s ‘private cinema’ though at the moment it was being used for karaoke.  Two girls in cocktail dresses were singing You’re So Vain while four others sat around a table, drinking and playing a dice version of liar’s poker.  Eel wanted to stay but the exploration mandate prevailed. 

They returned to the foyer, bypassed the stairs and went through the opposite set of doors into a dining room where two feasts were laid out.  A spread of rock shrimp salad, hamachi sashimi with ponzo, and black cod with miso flown in from Nobu was arranged on the circular dining table, while the sideboard presented a buffet of lamb, beef and quail—as well as a drunken attempt at art arranging greasy kabob sticks on a canvas of hummus depicting, one supposed, the Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello.

A kind of office or library lay beyond that with another good-size TV.  This one displayed a live feed from the dance floor on the helipad with a digital clock counting down to either a light show in the harbor or fireworks, no one was quite sure which.  There was also a guestbook of the suite’s celebrity occupants, more ashtrays strewn with joints, cigar butts (and inexplicably a wad of blood-stained Kleenex), and an overturned plate with traces of white powder on it (which at least explained the Kleenex).

Upstairs, before the bedrooms, they came to another large sitting room, this one arranged with the largest stuffed animals the ceiling would accommodate and a dancer performing on the giant plush bunny as if it were a stripper pole.  Another reveler sat with two girls on his lap who appeared to be twins.  In front of them, a table with several elaborate and exotic fruit plates—and next to the fruit, a pile of cocaine.  Johnny Walker and iced green tea seemed to be the preferred drink in that quarter… 

Bruce wasn’t there.  He never was.


It was a ten-seat hole in the wall in Asakusa, Tokyo.  Three men sat at the lone table apart from the bar, a haze of smoke from the owner’s stubby cigarette permeating the tiny room, along with emotional waves of synth strings from a dilapidated radio behind the bar.  The radio was almost as old as the song, an ancient enka hit Dick Grayson described as “something my alcoholic great aunt would kill herself to.”

Clark Kent slid his glasses up his nose in the steamy confines of the bar and smiled at the proprietor, ordering another Yebisu in shy, fumbling Japanese that was, seemingly unbeknownst to him, saturated in his Kansas accent.

Bruce had been quiet since they walked into the narrow, cluttered alley lined with microbars, though he’d been animated enough when the night began.  He brought them first to another basement establishment almost as small, in Roppongi.  A twelve-seat sushi bar where Bruce spoke of the sushi chef reverently as Yasuda-san. 

“Look at his hands, look at his knuckles,” he’d whispered, his enthusiasm apparent despite the volume and discretion of a mission directive.  “That’s years of Kyokushin karate right there.  You can tell by his posture: low center, deep stance, the sweeping motion when he turns, look at that.

“Now watch his timing.  Adapting to each customer’s pace of eating, coordinating, the order he serves them.  His focus—middle to left, middle to right, watching them all, adjusting constantly.  The speed, whether it’s managing the temperature of the rice or dispatching your opponent as quickly as possible, every second is measured.  Controlling the space, managing his distance from the diners—watch how he turns, that deep fighter’s stance—moving in and out, never out of position…” 

Bruce the martial arts nerd.  The laser-lock on weirdly specific details and sharing them with an intensity only his son and best friend could love… Yasuda saw them then, and there was a lot of bowing and nodding through the introductions.  They drank sake from Yasuda’s home town, chatted about the dojo in Asakusa, the boxing club in Toshima, the fish market, and baseball.  Bruce was more relaxed than Clark had ever seen him outside the manor. 

But since they reached Shinjuku, the old Bruce had emerged, the pre-Selina Bruce.  The silent intensity the younger leaguers called brooding but Clark knew was more complicated.  They’d come through a network of dark, rundown alleyways that Bruce navigated with such familiarity they might have been in Gotham…  But the silence made Clark uncomfortable.  It didn’t seem like a good omen as Bruce led them through the maze of ramshackle buildings and narrow alleys packed tight with narrower doors, lighted signs, printed signs and chalk sidewalk boards. 

Clark made a few observations about the architecture, trying to make conversation.  “Like walking into another time,” he’d said, and without slowing the pace, Bruce drew attention to several features of the surroundings that felt like an old Japanese shantytown, dropping easy phrases about the “direct contrast between the pre and post ‘economic miracle’ architecture.”   Then the broody silence returned. 

And then, suddenly, a density shift.  The palpable density shift that meant Batman without the mask as they approached a blue door on a painted red building, a blue shuddered window next to it where he turned abruptly into a new alley.  It was darker than the others, still crammed with doors and signs but fewer lit signs and almost no neon.  Another turn and another alley—narrow, neon-lit, semi-populated—through a quartet of locals holding beer cans… Past the window of a microbar crowded with five laughing neighborhood regulars…  Past some chained bicycles, another bar with a kid playing guitar, another with a pair of salary men singing karaoke… to this low, red painted door that looked like any other to Clark, but which transformed Bruce yet again.  He wasn’t ‘Batman’ anymore, though the forceful intensity was still present.  It was just… unfocused.  For the first time since Clark had known him, the purposeful, pressurized, super-concentrated, super-disciplined potency that defined ‘Batman’ was... inert.  

Two beers later, the transformation was still unexplained, but it had done nothing to dampen the party atmosphere (such as it was for two married men and their friend who posed as a wild playboy for his job but never enjoyed it and was glad to be rid of the tiresome chore).  They’d talked about first crushes, first kisses and first times...  Bruce guessing that Alfred knew he’d lied about that ski weekend, Dick horrified to learn Bruce and Alfred both knew he used the West Side safe house as a bachelor pad the whole time he was at Hudson, and Clark confessing to the ethically sketchy use of x-ray vision and speed-running to contrive a series of accidental meetings with his freshman crush.  (Followed by Bruce and Dick’s judgment that it might have been ethically sketchy if he’d managed to secure anything more than a cup of coffee and a warning that Professor Donnor’s Astronomy 100 had the nastiest mid-term on campus and if he didn’t find the science library and read the practice tests, he’d wind up in a parade of students leaving the mid-term and walking directly to drop-add.)

Brunettes were discussed, which Bruce and Clark both favored, and redheads… They teased Dick that at least a few of his beloved redheads were brunettes to begin with.  A learned debate commenced comparing golden age beauties like Vivien Leigh, Liz Taylor, Bianca Jagger and Audrey Hepburn to more contemporary stars like Blake Lively and Kate Hudson.  That resolved into contemplative silence… and an increased awareness of the synth strings and quavering croon of that ancient enka hit buzzing from the radio behind the bar.

“I wonder what’s happening in Dubai?” Dick asked philosophically. “And what that tragic wailing is about.”

“And if diplomatic relations with the U.S. will make it through the night?” Clark added.

“You should talk,” Dick chuckled, then cleared his throat from the smoke.  “The most anyone who wasn’t there knows about your bachelor night is the Seattle-Phantom Zone Accord of 3016 YZ ‘that means Year of the Zone,’ and ‘Jagermeister mixes with Stoli; Green Chartreuse with Lantern energy and not the other way around.’”

Kryptonian muscle control suppressed the grin but not the blush.

“Well…” was the typically Smallville response.

“Think we should have left a reminder for Kyle?” Dick asked, raising his finger for another Kirin. 

Finally Bruce spoke:

“Rayner isn’t Hal,” he said with a flick of his eyes to one side and a grim smile.  “He’s not about to give the Jager ‘a little shot’ to make it glow under a black light.  And as for the radio, the woman in the song sacrificed her familial ties to marry the man she loves against her father’s wishes.  She then learned that he plans to leave her and marry a younger woman, so she throws herself from a bridge into the river beneath the moonlight.”

“Ah,” said Dick, though his eyes met Clark’s with an indignant “See?!  Music my alcoholic great aunt would kill herself to, did I lie?”

“Poison Ivy invaded your bachelor party,” Clark reminded him lightly.  “Ironically, it’s only the great playboy here whose send-off isn’t going to land us all in trouble.”

“It’s a little early to say that,” Dick warned, as the radio’s passionate wail reached a new plateau of anguish, and then subsided.  “No, we’re going to be fine,” he amended.

“We’re not here for the enka,” Bruce said with a nod to Morinaga, to which the barman returned a broad smile, an enthusiastic nod and the hiss and smoke of the fryer behind him.  “We’re here because Morinaga-san makes the finest okonomiyaki in Japan,” Bruce concluded. 

Morinaga Shunsuke bowed, with a proud grin. “No, no, Osaka is better,” he said in English, “Osaka is origin city of good okonomiyaki.”

“Of course,” Bruce replied, with a knowing glint in his eye, “Mr. Morinaga moved here from Osaka when he was twenty-three and brought his family recipe with him.  What you’re about to taste, gentlemen, is hands down the finest okonomiyaki In Japan.”

“Wayne-san, you speak too kindly,” said Morinaga, but Bruce only bowed his head to him slightly and lifted his glass.

“How’d you find this place?” said Clark.

“Wayne-san has been coming here for many years,” said Morinaga, his back turned, his gravelly voice competing with the next enka classic on the radio and with the hiss of cooking okonomiyaki, steam rising in puffs from the plate, “Since he was very young man.”

Bruce almost smiled.  There was a thoughtful distance in his gaze before he turned it back to his company.  Clark, his best friend.  Dick, his son in all the ways that mattered.  He hadn’t said the words, assuming they’d guessed, but it was time to remedy that.

“I studied at a dojo not far from here,” he said mildly.  “It… was still fresh, then.  The anger and grief.  Especially the anger, my first days on the mat brought it all back to the surface.  And the years since the alley, the emptiness of the manor, the absence of them, being alone in a strange city brought that back too.  It was everywhere, inescapable.  It made everything feel...bigger.”

“You were very quiet man, first time you came,” said Morinaga, wiping sweat from his brow on his bare forearm. “Not like most Americans.  Especially tourist.”

Bruce chuckled.  “I was lost.  Like a lot of young men, I was convinced that all I needed was a wise old sensei to teach me the arts and I’d find the path of my life.”

“And did you?” Clark prompted. 

“Not the way I imagined,” Bruce drummed his fingers on his glass and leaned back, staring at the ceiling.  “It was my first time in Tokyo.  The city felt too big, despite all the close alleys.  Empty, despite all the crowds.  I’d left to get away from that feeling of hugeness, the silence at the manor, and ended up somehow just… finding the world to be a bigger manor.  I didn’t find any wise master on a mountaintop.  Instead I stumbled into this place, completely by chance.”

“And he ate so much okonomiyaki,” said Morinaga. “I thought ‘this is not good for young man’s health’.  This is the okonomiyaki eating of despair.”

Dick held in a laugh, putting the pieces together.  “And this is your sensei?”

“In many ways, Morinaga-san is my first sensei, yes,” Bruce said, “Others taught me the things I’d come seeking.  But this man taught me the first important lessons I learned after leaving Gotham.  A significant part of my journey and part of my life started right here, with a sympathetic stranger and a plate of okonomiyaki.”

“See,” Morinaga laughed, pointing his spatula over the bar at his well-dressed guest, “I tell you, he is too kind.  Now, sumimasen—” he deftly slid the flat, round pancakes of egg, flour, bacon and cabbage onto plates and slid them in front of the three men. “The food is ready. Douzo.

Itadakimasu,” said Bruce.

A half hour of steaming egg batter and seaweed and thin-sliced pork belly deliciousness later, the three travelers sat in a kind of religious silence, staring into their golden beers and, at most, nodding slowly.  Bruce was indeed correct; Mr. Morinaga was an absolute master of his craft.

Suddenly, Clark’s eyes flicked up and to the west wall.  Into the silence came a sound; an intrusion of clipping narrow shoes on the cobble.  And a face manifesting at the doorway..

“Hey, Bruce, this place is hard to find,” said Edward Nigma, poking his head into the bar, “And finding the three of you here like zen monks in a temple is a puzzle indeed.” 

The Bat-scowl froze Bruce’s features. “Nigma. You can’t be here,” he said, though the impossible arrival had already come through the door and was barreling down on them with unnerving perkiness.  

“Your best man needs no introduction,” he said to Clark.  “Mr. Kent, Edward Nigma.  Rewarding number of question marks on your book cover,” offering his hand, then turned to Dick.  “And Mr. Grayson, had the pleasure of looking in on your wedding.  Beat the Wayne Manor curse, well done.  Edward Nigma.”

“Consider your next words very carefully, Ed,” Dick said, “What the hell are you doing here?”

Nigma thrust up a finger, off the baffled faces of the three, “Gentlemen, I am not here for hostility, and I regret having to intrude on what’s obviously a private party.  I need a few minutes with the groom, that’s all.  Then I’ll crawl off to my one-step-above-a-capsule hotel, sleep off my jetlag and perhaps go spy some Harajuku fashion or pick up some new tech in Akihabara tomorrow.  I’ll be completely out of your perfectly coiffed hero hair, pinkie swear.”

“How did you find us?” Clark managed, blinking.

“Don’t ask him, it will only prolong the conversation,” Bruce said while Nigma chirped “Riddle me this, when is a bachelor party in Dubai not a bachelor party in Dubai?”

After a round of eye contact out of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Bruce quietly stood and bowed to Morinaga-san before turning his gaze on Nigma. “You have five minutes,” he said.

“Five minutes and two requests beforehand—”

No.”

“Simple ones, Bruce, simple ones.  One…” he winced, “Look you really needed to hear this from me, but I want your absolute promise, pre-emptively, that you will not, and I cannot reiterate this strongly enough, break my legs again.  Or any other limb or appendage.  No ruptured organs either, please, I need those.  Like I said I’m not here to fight, and I came here with the very best of intentions…”

Bruce grabbed Nigma by the collar and started to drag him from the bar. “What did you do?”

“Second… second, second!  Before we go!” Nigma wriggled as close to Morinaga as he still could, “Biru hittotsu, kudasai… I’m going to need it.”

Warily, Mr. Morinaga passed him a bottle of Asahi from the fridge.

“Put it on my tab, Morinaga-san.  And I apologize for this,” Bruce said stonily, and then the two were gone, Bruce crowding Eddie down the narrow alleyway outside the bar like a pair of drunken gaijin stumbling back to a hotel after a night out on the big town.

Well?” Bruce asked when they reached a secluded spot.

Do you want to hear how I found you?” Eddie asked impishly.

“Edward, understand that I am taking this time to share a quiet drink with my son and my best friend in a place that is significant to me.  All I want from you is to state your business and go away so I can get back to it.”

“You’re already mad,” Eddie sighed, “Listen, I have your wedding present.  I wanted to give it to you when Selina’s not around, you know how women are.”

“I thought the hashtags were your gift,” Bruce said.

“My gift is taking care of the other rogues so you don’t have to worry about it.  The hashtags covered all but your biggest problem, Brucie.  You can’t pretend you don’t know who I mean, and you can’t have forgotten what he did at the Pelacci-Marcuso wedding and that bit about giving the bride away.”

“I’m equipped to handle him.”

“Since when?  Nobody handles him, nobody’s equipped to handle him.  So I took care of it.”

“Edward…” Bruce’s fists creaked.

“We had an agreement on the leg-breaking, right?  Witnesses, multinational—”

...what did you do to J—?”

Before he could speak the name, a bloodied man came skidding around the corner and clipped the pair of them, leaving a smear of red on Nigma’s arm as he recovered, stumble-running a few more steps until he gained full speed, and finally collapsing outside Morinaga’s door.   He would have fallen flat on his face if it was anyone other than Batman and Riddler that he’d passed, but both men were accustomed to pursuit and neither paused at the sight of blood.  They reached him as he was going down and caught him under the arm on each side.

“His shirt’s bleeding,” Nigma said in English as they helped him inside. 

“His shirt’s not bleeding; he’s bleeding,” Bruce corrected. 

“I told you we shouldn’t have left them alone,” Dick said to Clark, as Clark said “What’s th—” and Morinaga cried “Yuuto!” 

“This is Yuuto, my brother Riku’s boy,” he told Bruce in Japanese.

“It’s his nephew,” Bruce told the others, while Eddie had taken a small kit from his jacket and was using a thin probe to pull blood-soaked cloth from the wound.

“That doesn’t look so bad,” he said like an expert, and then in Japanese asked Morinaga for vodka and napkins.  He turned back to his patient and said “Well actually it looks terrible, but it’s not as bad as it looks.  Nice bit of wordplay in English, doesn’t translate, and you wouldn’t care anyway because nobody wants a pun when they’ve got O-negative on the outside.”

“What are you talking about?” Dick asked, disgusted.

“We should take him to a hospital,” Clark said.

“Nobody goes running to their uncle’s bar if they’re clear to go to a hospital,” Eddie answered.  “You can’t see this guy is scared?” 

Yuuto had just enough English to follow what was being said from the tone and he agreed vehemently—vehemently enough to start the blood flowing, and it took Bruce agreeing with Eddie in Japanese to calm him down.  By now, Morinaga had brought the vodka and as Eddie expertly cleaned the wound, Yuuto told his story, principally to his uncle, though Bruce occasionally cut in with a question and translated in snippets:

“He works in a hotel in Ōtemachi, the business district.  It’s like Tokyo’s Wall Street; a lot of offices, corporate HQs, thick with skyscrapers.  Not a lot of hotels compared to other parts of town.  The few there are, they’re very high end.  He says men came in today.  Into the staff area.  The kitchen and break room.  Closed them off…  Nobody else could come in, nobody could leave… He says they were Yakuza… This would happen sometimes when he worked in Shinjuku.  You’d go into work one day, boss would be at the door and say ‘Go home, you can’t come in.’  It would happen in Shinjuku, doesn’t happen in Chiyoda.  It doesn’t happen in Ōtemachi…”

There was an ominous clap of thunder outside, punctuating the word like a radio play.

“He says they didn’t care about us, the kitchen staff.  Just told them to stand by the wall... They brought in the doorman.  A girl from the front desk.  Then an older man from the front desk, one at a time they brought them in…  Itsuki, who he knows; he works at the concierge desk.   And Sora who works in the lobby bar…  One at a time, they take them through the kitchen into the break room.  They take them past the knives.  Sometimes they pick one up and take it in with them… Few minutes later, they come out again.  White.  Scared.  No blood but white and scared and shaking… Finally they go.  These Yakuza, they left and he ran out to see his friend, this Itsuki…  But the Yakuza hadn’t gone.  They were still in the lobby. They saw Yuuto and Itsuki talking… Grabbed Yuuto, beat him up.  ‘You don’t see anything, you don’t know anything, we were never here.’”

“I think we can all fill in from there,” Eddie told him.  “Those conversations never have much variety.”

The heroes gave Eddie a nasty look but Yuuto nodded gratefully and managed a smile.  Bruce drew Morinaga into the corner where they talked quietly.  After a minute he waved Clark over and Dick followed.  A minute later Eddie joined them.

“If the question you guys are debating is whether you should suspend the wild bucks’ night and look into this, the answer is yes.  ‘Cause the Yakuza boys took his wallet,” he reported.  “That means if anything goes wrong with whoever/whatever they were asking about, it’s going to come back to him and his buddy and they both end up in the tuna nets with the dolphins.”

“Since when do you care?” Dick snapped.

Eddie pointed to the smear of Yuuto’s blood on his jacket. 

“That’s his.  There is an obligation, which I am discharging like any lucid person who’s been bled on.  I am pointing out what you should already know unless you’re all drunker than you appear: Yakuza were asking questions about somebody booked into that hotel because something is going down connected to that person, and if that thing does not play out exactly the way they want, the dumbest oyabun going will figure Yuuto’s buddy told him something and he went and talked to… to people like you, which he kind of has.  Since what they’ll all assume he’s told you could very likely get him killed, it’s probably a good idea if you actually find out what it is.”

“This might be the Yebisu talking, but he has a point,” Dick admitted.

 

Near the Imperial Palace Gardens, another patch of lush, beautiful greenery flanks the entrance to a 40-story glass tower.  It would appear small in any other part of the world, but in the ultra-expensive business district where every square foot of real estate must pay its way, leaving even that tiny area undeveloped is a wild extravagance. 

The building is principally an office tower, the hotel occupying only the top six floors.  Its tiny receiving lobby on the ground floor appears like a tranquil oasis, apart from the city.  Earthy hues with the creamy-golden glow of indirect lighting, bonsai tree against a shoji screen, a world apart from the noise and bustle of the street.  The main lobby on the 33rd floor is reached by special elevators that complete the feel of escape from noise, grime, and worry into an alternate reality of calm, balance, and peace.  Under a 90-foot ceiling of washi rice paper (designed to suggest a shoji lantern but to some suggesting The Matrix,) a water pond, rock gardens and ikebana flower arrangements are placed to convey a sense of timelessness and harmony. 

In the midst of this, an older woman sat alone on the most comfortable of the sofas near the window.  From a distance she appeared about sixty, though if you got closer her eyes made it hard to tell.  She was dressed in a very expensive business suit, perfectly fitted, yet there was a maternal plumpness that kept her from looking chic.  The whole idea of fashion seemed too artificial somehow.  Though the deep sofa was made for lounging, she sat upright, her legs crossed at the ankles like the grand duchess of another age receiving visitors.  She was poised but not stiff, dignified but not proud.  And when she looked out at the city, she exuded warmth and contentment. 

She’d ordered tea, which was just arriving and drew her attention from the two men she’d been studying.  Two men at odds with the zen-like atmosphere of the lobby. 

Something about them radiated… agitation.  It buzzed around them so that even now that they’d settled in the lobby bar, even at this great distance, it disturbed her.  Like a hive.  It sat over there, tense and restless.  An errant bee flying out now and then and chittering, then returning to its den but apt to return at any time.  It was not… as it should be.  The air was not as it should be while those men continued to exist in her field of vision…

In the bar, Fifth Fang and Second had no idea they did not blend invisibly into their surroundings.  Both skilled assassins, trained to be shadows, they were disciplined and detached, their unwavering focus clamping down on any visible sign of stress. 

And stress there was.  Jaxon Valdorcia was late.  It was thirty-eight minutes past the meeting time.  They should be in his room right now, inspecting the Masakado head.

“How long do we wait?” asked Second.

“As long as it takes.  Anything could have delayed him.  He’s a professional.  Most likely, he is being cautious.”  A long rumble of thunder went unnoticed by most in the tranquil lobby, but Fifth was one of the few who glanced at the window.  “Besides, I wouldn’t be in any hurry to go out into that.”

The force of the downpour was not as present as it would have been in daylight, but even against the night sky he could see near-opaque sheets of rain blurring the distant lights.  He could imagine the harsh whistle of winds and the clacking of windows being buffeted in their frames, and the chill of that punishing wind cutting through whoever was so unfortunate as to be out there.

 

“Yeah, it’s a Wayne party; should have seen this coming,” Eddie said as the four men crowded under a few feet of cover while the wind blew every bicycle in sight against its chain, tore advertising flyers off their posts and turned any errant bit of litter into flying shrapnel.  “Do it in Japan, you’re gonna get a tsunami.” 

“Get ready to move,” Bruce barked.  “Cloudbursts like this don’t last long.  If we keep up the pace, we can get there ahead of the rain.”

Their goal was a McDonalds near the train station that closed at nine and became a known pick-up spot for prostitutes.  The men came to a stop across the street, happily ahead of the rain, for they had no idea where the girls might go to wait out the storm. 

With a wrist-flick of a street magician, Bruce’s hand contained a 5 000 yen note held in front of Eddie’s nose. 

“Get what we need,” he ordered.  When Nigma hesitated, Bruce went on “They’re both married, I’m getting married, and you’re here.  Get what we need.”

“Fine,” Eddie said, taking the bill in disgust and adding ‘wusses’ under his breath as he stepped away. 

He approached the women, talked for a minute, there was pointing down the street, and he returned with a satisfied grin.  “Pimp is an older woman, should be in that bar with the pink sign, sometimes watching through the window.  The protection is in that steep stairwell next to the shop with the green awning.”

There was a loud clap of thunder and, knowing their time was short, they quickly debated starting with ‘the protection’ or the pimp.  In the course of the cross talk, Bruce’s eyes met Clark’s more than once…

 

Wally and Kyle had returned to their suite.  The party was fun for a while, until the third time one of their League signals was mistaken for a coke signal and they were passed “the bag.”  Eel was occupied, so they’d let him be.  He’d met a model of the type that existed exclusively on Instagram and in magazines—or so they thought.  Apparently these wild and exotic creatures not only existed in nature, they wandered free range through Bruce Wayne parties.

Their brains collectively shorted out. 

There was no way to reconcile this—any of this—with the grim, inflexible and all-knowing hard ass they knew in the Justice League.  They didn’t know Bruce Wayne—though the muscle memory of Kyle’s time as the jetsetting artist Kyray threatened a Dutch accent when he found himself talking about his work with—oh God—with the topless girl from the blue jeans ad.

He, Kyle Rayner, was talking to the Guess Jeans girl.  Eel had slunk off to a corner to suck face with the girl from the Gucci perfume ads— none of them could say how they came to be at this party, it wasn’t possible they were Bruce Wayne’s special guests at the party of the decade at the Burj al—And Wally was probably left fidgeting with his wedding ring, so a pal really should go find him and— and—

Kyle had looked around, and saw Wally was not fidgeting but looking with contempt at the liquor bottles displayed on one particular bar at the far end of the party.  Wally being the least snobbish person he knew, Kyle went to investigate.

This smaller bar was apparently where the very select, outrageously expensive liquors were being offered, and Wally’s disgust was for a tequila which owed its ridiculous price tag to the bottle more than its contents.  He said he pitied the rich, so desperate to drop a bundle on a drink but not knowing how to do it.  Then his eyes twinkled, he ‘flashed out’ for a split-second that wasn’t exactly visible to the eye, but Kyle was used to it so he knew what was happening.  When he ‘returned,’ he gestured with a speed-blur finger-tip, and Kyle followed back to the elevator.

A half hour later, they were back in their suite having the night of their lives watching IP Man on their oversized TV screen… when Eel came in.  They pointed to the selection of films they had racked up: Commando, Predator, John Wick…

Tried and true boys’ night fare, but not quite enough to justify passing up the opportunity to press the Fashion Week flesh and being so darned happy about it.

…“Remember how Monaghan spent half of last year trying to get us to call him Baba Yaga?”...

Yes, Eel remembered, but it still didn’t compete with these women who spend, like, 80% of their waking hours in nightclubs.  Did Kyle and Wally not know what happens when you get those women on the dance floor?  They have moves!

… “and the concierge is trying to find Old Boy in the original Korean.” 

That… was impressive, Eel admitted, but still.  The Gucci perfume girl had her hands under his shirt.   She pinched a nipple—she actually put her fingers under his shirt and pinched—

Kyle held his hand high over his head as like a rock star signaling the crowd, and a lantern energy liquor cabinet materialized between their chairs.  Wally took over the explanation in words:

“A pre-prohibition bottle of Old No. 7 whiskey—that’s bourbon if you need to be told such things—plucked from the time stream in 1896 when it was made, eh, probably 30 years prior, give or take, by one Jasper Newton Daniel, more commonly known as Jack.”

“You… used Speed Force, to zip through time and pick up a bottle of Jack Daniels made by Jack Daniels, aged 30 years,” Eel said in awe.

That one is Don Lunas Grand Reserve 10-year aged tequila,” Wally continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted.  “Not old by whiskey standards, but trust me, it is something special.  Now that one—”

He looked at Kyle quizzically, which one is that?

“I couldn’t let him off thinking he’s the only one that can make a liquor run in the time stream,” Kyle explained and pointed to the first bottle.  “World War I, bottle of Rhum Clement from the old creole sugarcane plantation in Le Francois, Martinique, it’s not a bad attempt, but it is something Bruce could pick up at auction, which defeats the whole idea.  This one…”  a golden-green halo began to glow around the remaining bottle, and Kyle’s voice took on the deep quiver in which proud fathers speak of their children “…is a Barbados Private Estate dark rum from The Year of Our Lord 1780.  Behold.  And then be-holding a glass and pour some.”

 

The level of Yakuza thug assigned as protective muscle on an insignificant street far from the red light district isn’t exactly the A-team.  The guy wrote off four dripping wet gaijin the moment he saw them.  When one approached the girls and then returned to the huddle, it wasn’t cause for concern.  He watched them, but not with concern.  The only question was if they could pay, and the girls knew what to do if there was any doubt. 

The thunder was the biggest worry.  It was getting louder, and suddenly there was a loud crack and an explosion of white.  The streetlight in front of his stairwell erupted into a hail of sparks and he ran out with a yelp through a shower of red glowing dots, hitting his hair, his jacket, his hand—and burning flesh in the second it took to flick off.  Before he knew what was happening, something—an arm—was around his shoulders, half guiding-half pulling him along.  In a burble of English, the Japanese words for ‘lightning’ and ‘fire’ popped out, and then suddenly, the burbling stopped and he was surrounded by the rain-soaked gaijin—who seemed concerned more than drunk or hostile.  And it turned out they spoke passable Japanese. 

Neither his hair nor his jacket had caught fire, but their concern was understandable.  Being that close to a lightning strike was a dramatic thing, and it was actually pretty nice of them to rush in and help him get clear that way.  There was also more thunder, long rumbles unlike the loud clap that came with the lightning strike but threatening a deluge to come… and maybe it was the thunder, but the rescue party suddenly didn’t seem that nice.  Three surrounded him, the fourth stood in front fingering a tempting roll of cash.  He croaked a question in a voice out of a nightmare, and an answer came tumbling out of his mouth as a reflex—another question and “the Nigerians in Kabukicho”—another and “Love/Pain in Roppongi”— another— crackle of thunder.  Another crackle of thunder and he was alone again, holding a 5000 yen note.

MAYFAIR

CARTE DES ETOILES

Haute couture, or ‘high sewing,’ dates back to the court of Louis XVI (and more importantly, of Marie Antoinette) though it wasn’t formalized in France until, ironically, the English born Charles Worth opened a Paris atelier in 1858 and soon founded the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne to regulate and codify the craft where the most gifted designers from Coco Chanel to Cristobal Balenciaga would display their art.

Couture became synonymous with garments made entirely by hand and of the very best materials, and created by the most accomplished craftspeople who complete a twelve year apprenticeship before being considered full-fledged seamstresses and tailors. Garments are fitted to a client’s shape and then sent to workshops for the incredibly intricate embroidery, beading or feathering which takes three to four months or more.  No more than ten examples of any particular design are made, and it has been estimated that there are no more than 4,000 haute couture clients in the world.

One of these is Selina Kyle, long time companion and soon to be wife of Gotham’s Bruce Wayne.  It was therefore shocking, though perhaps not surprising, that the tabloid eager to strip her of every semblance of her true background has alleged everything from the black lace pilfered by the Harry Potter franchise from the 2008 runway of Alexander McQueen to Ms. Kyle herself doing the pilfering from a Gotham dress shop.  As if any woman known to Couture Week in Paris was unaware such garments are built to the body of the wearer requiring numerous alterations and fittings.  Miss Kyle’s patience with these slurs is the truest testament to her breeding, but the rest of us need not be silent.

For the edification of those inventing these stories, accustomed no doubt to the outlet malls of Bludhaven and imagining the (alleged) theft of Rembrandts and rubies would equate to the stealing of a dress, let us provide more informed speculation:

The future Mrs. Wayne would have begun with a visit to her designer, most probably before the engagement was made public.  Fashion houses keep their clients’ secrets as scrupulously as a doctor, and there is not a moment to be wasted as the work will take months to complete…

 

“’…and while couture houses never speak of the price,’” Lois read aloud, “’any more than they bandy the names of their customers, these are the wedding gowns of royals and billionaires.  To reach a likely amount, take the price tag offered by the tabloid scribblers, double it, and then add a zero.’  My God, the prose is painful!”

“Reowrl,” Doris said, making a cat scratch motion.  “It may not be the AP Style Guide, Lois, but he’s sure got the claws out on Selina’s behalf.  I say more power to him.”

Lois set down the magazine and picked up her daiquiri.  The women were seated around their villa’s infinity pool, surrounded by towering palm trees, hibiscus and wild orchids.

“Easy for you to say, you didn’t have to read it out loud,” Lois laughed, her judgment tempered by the cool, soothing drink. 

“Not to mention dancing with him,” Selina added, remembering the rumba at the engagement party.  “And dodging him through the museum, that’s only fun with hunky crimefighters.”

“I would’ve thought you’d be happy.  Somebody’s finally punching back against the Post,” Doris said with a wicked smile.

“I punch back fine,” Selina said.  “Remember Cat-Tales?”

“Yeah but now you’re not alone; isn’t that a good thing?”

Selina didn’t answer, she just glanced at Lois who said “Well I’m grateful anyone is laying into the so-called reporters making up this nonsense, but I still don’t see how anyone can get through his books.”

“You get used to it.  Like ceviche,” Doris said, then she turned to Selina.  “Speaking of, where’s Anna?  I haven’t seen her since lunch.”

“She’ll be back, she’s trying to find out who that guy was, when we got on the ferry.”

“The smoking hot one checking you out?” Lois teased.

“Neither of us think it’s because he’s into leggy brunettes.  He didn’t look twice at you, Lois.  Just me and Anna, the fence and the thief.” 

 

The commercial areas of Roppongi were dark and still, but the night was just getting started in the bar-nightclub-strip club-hostess club-cabaret areas.  Every third usher, barker, and salesman identified Clark Kent as the quintessential tourist, and he was shown Polaroids of the beautiful girls dancing at a club right down the street.

The storm had been and gone in this part of town, a smell of charred wood and a dead neon sign indicating where the lightning had hit.  The foursome found their way to Love/Pain without much trouble.   There were a few Western faces in the crowd, but not many.  The club obviously didn’t seek out Western tourists like some places, but it seemed to welcome those who found it because they were brought by a local. 

Near the door, Bruce, Clark, Dick and Eddie stood together looking up at a stripper dancing on a low table while some other newcomers squeezed past. 

“Apparently you can thigh-fuck her,” one of them announced...  “Like dry humping?” “Yeah” “Right up there on the table?” “I suppose.” “More like knee-fuck her.” …and they were gone.

While Bruce, Dick and Clark argued who was going to pony up and cause a disruption, Eddie noticed a small square on one of the posters by the door.  His phone was out and he scanned it as the argument raged on: 

“From what happened on the street, it’s clear Clark gives off a vibe.  He should do it.”  “I may have a look.  That’s different from a vibe, and it’s why I shouldn’t do it.  They won’t be expecting anything from me.  It will seem more natural from one of you—”  “Exactly.  Never give them what they expect.”  “The element of surprise isn’t a plus here.”

“I got this,” Eddie said, brushing past them and walking quietly up to the girl.  He didn’t unzip, merely beckoned with a fingertip for her to bend down and then whispered something.

She nodded, glanced at Bruce and the others, and stepped off the table. 

“C’mon, we’re in,” he announced happily, as she waved for them to follow and led the way to a backroom.

“What did you—” Bruce started to ask, when Eddie cut him off.

“Password,” he said, flashing his phone which displayed the club’s website.  “QR-code on the banner over there led me to it.   The whole site is Lorem ipsum text, y’know, the placeholder stuff.  ‘Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit.’  Except for right there.  Kin Gorudo.  I figured that’s the password.”

Bruce grunted, and they were led into the back room where a manager, presumably a low level boss, sat with two young toughs behind him and a third who came forward to search the newcomers—but shrank back by a four-headed wave of death glares that caused his stomach to drop, his muscles to seize, and the blood to drain from his face.  The boss merely smirked at his failure.

“My English is not probably up to task of what you will speak asking about,” he said pleasantly.

“That’s not a problem at all.  We’ll speak in Japanese,” Bruce said swiftly in that language, and with perfect pronunciation and inflection. 

A blur of questions and answers followed, during which Eddie leaned over to Clark and whispered:

“It’s from Cicero, you know.”

Clark looked down on him warily, but he continued without encouragement:

“The Lorem ipsum thing.  ‘Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit.’

“Mhm,” Clark managed, deciding it was one of those bizarre moments that happened with Gothamites where politeness was the best course.

“It’s from Cicero.  It means ‘There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain.’  Just imagine, 2000 years ago there were people so messed up, something like that needed to be said out loud.  2000 years later—” he nodded like the stupidity of the masses was an in-joke with his new friend “—still just as messed up.”

“Why are you talking?” said Dick.

“Oh I’m sorry, am I interrupting your enjoyment of the Kurisawa movie without subtitles,” Eddie said, gesturing to the other conversation. 

Before Dick could respond, there was an abrupt jolt—under the floor and rattling objects on the desk. 

“What was—” Dick started to say as a more persistent vibration began and continued for several seconds.  The boss had stood and his men were filing out the door as calmly as if it were a fire drill when, almost four seconds into the tremors, it stopped.

“Was that what I think it was?” said Dick, alarmed.

“What do you call a gin mixer in Silicon Valley?” said Eddie reflexively, amazed at the natives’ complete lack of concern.

“Let’s go, we’ve got what we need,” said Bruce, leading them out. 

As they left the club, Clark rejoined them, stepping in from the side. 

“Techtonic,” Eddie said dully, answering his earlier riddle but staring at Clark, confused.  “Weren’t you just…”

Clark cut him off with a homespun smile.  “An earthquake is what we call breaking news, Mr. Nigma,” he said, holding up his phone.

Bruce changed the subject with what he learned: the man the Yakuza were looking for was Jax, aka Jaxon Valdorcia, the Australian cat burglar. 

After a remark from Eddie that “your night keeps getting better and better” which led to Dick swatting him on the back of the head, there was a brief debate on Bruce making a two-minute call to Selina that could save them hours chasing their tails around Tokyo versus the monumentally stupid idea of calling the bride in the middle of your bachelor night.  The ground shook again, as if the Earth itself was casting a vote in favor of the call.  The prospect of chasing their tails around a tectonically unstable Tokyo was even less appealing than doing it in a thunder storm.

That led to a new discussion of the time zones: Selina would be in the middle of her real bachelorette party, a spa weekend of ultimate indulgence on a private island in Jumby Bay—as was Doris and Lois—and none of the three ladies’ partners could agree if the island was an hour ahead of Gotham or behind, which would be two hours ahead of Metropolis (or not) and how that related to their time in Japan, and how waking her, catching her at breakfast or interrupting a sunrise massage ranked on the list of things that would get you off to a bad start...

Bruce found a quiet place to make the call—while the thugs who’d followed them from the strip club watched.  It was the perfect time to strike.  Jo, the youngest and greenest of the three, who also happened to be the biggest, took the lone man who spoke Japanese and was silly enough to separate from his friends.  Riku, Ogura, and Sando would take the other three. 

Since Bruce was isolated, Jo’s fate was sealed in under a second.  The block and takedown were nearly simultaneous and Bruce had checked that his phone hadn’t been damaged and was performing his post-battle neck-stretch before Jo’s colleagues even reached their targets.

That scene was slightly more complicated, since Eddie gallantly tried to escort civilian Kent away from the violence—leaving the junior bat to handle the three hulking brutes, which was of course his job more than Edward Nigma’s—while Clark tried to help Dick by keeping Nigma’s back to the fight.  The chaos and crossed purposes drew that fight out for nine seconds.

A minute later, Bruce returned.  He glanced at the heap of unconscious Yakuza muscle and then looked at Dick. 

“Three,” said Dick.

“One,” said Bruce.

“Nine,” said Dick.

“One,” said Bruce. 

Dick’s eyes flicked to Nigma and Clark as if to say “Well I had an audience,” and Bruce grunted.  Then he laid out his leads:

This thief hunt was almost certainly taking place before the heist.  The thief was probably hired by a third party unconnected to the Yakuza.  Ōtemachi is filled with corporate headquarters.  Jax started in the Australian S.I.S., the kind of talent you’d bring in for a very high security target.  The Yakuza somehow got wind of it (possibly because he had to acquire special equipment once he got here) and figured whatever he was brought in for, it was too valuable a prize to let anyone make off with without paying a cut. 

“Boy, she’s something, isn’t she?” Eddie said, bursting with pride.

Bruce shot him a look that was… not quite the judgmental disgust of the crimefighter.  His lip twitched.  Then he said:

“Now that we know who we’re looking for and why, we can investigate the hotel.”

 

The beautiful people had gone.  The shamisen player had packed up for the night.  The lobby itself was timeless, still projecting that zen-like atmosphere that existed apart from the world with its lunchtime rushes and checkout times, early risers and night owls.  But time still existed with its ebb and flow.  The crowd was now sparse, it defied easy categories, and it presented a difficult problem for four westerners in search of answers.

“Okay, we’re here.  Where do we start?” Dick asked, unmoved by the tranquil beauty that awed most visitors.

Clark suggested the staff.  Bruce analyzed the traffic patterns, the sightlines, the exits, and the spot in the lounge that offered an ideal location to sit quietly and observe.  If anyone had installed themselves there for an hour, nursing a scotch…

“What about her?” Eddie suggested.  Nodding slightly and with a polite smile to a plump, older woman in an elegant business suit, seated alone.  “She’s been watching us since we came in.”

He was ignored.  Bruce agreed with Clark, but rather than questioning “the staff” generally, he wanted to begin with the bartender in that lounge and any wait staff still on duty there.  Unfortunately, the servers were gone and the bartender was only a half-hour into his shift.  But he did mention “Mrs. Ami” as he fumbled with a package and extracted small green balls dusted with sugar, which he arranged on a plate with similar white ones. 

Mrs. Ami, he said, is a regular.  On the evenings she’s in the lobby, she would be there for hours.  If anyone could tell them about the comings and goings, it would be her. 

“Told ya,” Eddie said under his breath, while Dick grinned about “the Japanese Miss Marple.”

The bartender set the plate of sweets onto a tray with a pot of tea and said it was for her, if one of the gentlemen wanted to take it to her… Eddie had already picked up the tray without waiting for a consensus and the others started to follow, almost as if to keep an eye on him in case he was a bewitched child on his way into the witch’s gingerbread house—when Clark grabbed Bruce’s elbow.

“Problem with a train in Kashiwa,” he whispered.  “Probably caused by the quake.  I may be a while.”

Bruce nodded and Clark was gone.  When he caught up with Dick, Eddie was serving the woman expertly, addressing her as Ami-san and asking if the green daifuku were flavored with green tea.

“They are.  They serve western sweets here, as a rule, but I am a very good customer and they indulge me,” Ami was saying as she then looked up at the new arrivals before including one in her remarks.  “You speak Japanese very well for an American,” she said to Eddie, though she was looking at Bruce.  “As does Wayne-san,” she added with a nod.  “I remember your, what was it called, ‘town hall’ for stockholders late last year, and you spoke at the Economics Summit some years before that.”  She switched to English as she said “Welcome back to Tokyo.  I’m sure you find it more agreeable than Dubai.”

Her smile was warm with good-humor and maternal indulgence, and Bruce cleared his throat, seemingly embarrassed.  He said he hoped she would be discreet with the information, and she told him not to worry.  “In this lobby I’m afraid there is the possibility of a CEO of a multi-national being recognized, but those who do know Bruce Wayne by sight wouldn’t dream of snapping a picture or tweeting about it.”

She asked them to sit, offered tea and explained about the sweets which Americans know as mochi.  The white rice cakes stuffed with red bean paste were the originals while the green, “as your clever friend guessed,” are flavored.  A relatively modern innovation.  The rice cake is flavored with green tea and the filling has white cream in addition to the red bean paste… 

Gracious hostessing dispensed with, her manner returned to that of a charming business woman:

“Now I gather you have questions,” she said amiably.  “But before I answer yours, I have a question of my own about the dreadful weather out there.  What did you make of it?”

She took in every detail about the rain and lightning, and projected worse to come if there was flooding or if the lightning took out electricity for any substantial part of the city.  The earthquake, even if they didn’t feel much here in Tokyo, could have been more severe elsewhere.  Halting factory lines in key industrial areas, bursting water mains…

“Look, I realize a lot of ‘business’ amounts to thinking through contingencies,” Dick broke in uncomfortably, looking from Ami to Bruce and back again.  “But I don’t see what the benefit is to listing—”

“To say nothing,” Ami said with calm insistence, “of what the markets will do when they open if this situation is not resolved.”

“How can a thunderstorm be resolved?” asked Eddie.

“Or an earthquake,” asked Dick.  “And as for the markets—”

“Japan is what you westerners consider ‘superstitious,’” Ami explained in that same calmly insistent tone.  “Take this neighborhood, for instance, very much like your Fifth Avenue or Wall Street or… what is that English one called… Kensington.  And yet, did you pass a courtyard as you came here.  You must have, it’s right down the street.  With the stone frogs, four steps up to a shrine, a tall stone marker with flowers left before it.  Does it not seem strange to you that such an extraordinary piece of real estate would remain undeveloped?  Well there’s a reason.  It’s because that is ‘The Hill of Masakado's Head.’”

“Come again?” asked Dick.

“Taira no Masakado?” asked Bruce. 

Eddie ate one of the green mochi.

“Taira no Masakado, the samurai?” Bruce repeated.

“Arguably the first samurai,” Ami said, nodding to Bruce.  “Though hardly the life of honor and service the term now implies.  A warrior landowner who quarreled with influential relatives, killed several in battle, led a rebellion, declared himself emperor…” she sighed.  “And just generally never walked past a fire without pouring gasoline on it.  The theory, I suppose, is that a raging inferno might create opportunities.  Chaos creates, though at a dreadful cost.  Masakado was one of those who didn’t mind the cost, since he wouldn’t be the one paying.  The powers that be caught up with him eventually, he died in battle and was beheaded… That was not the end of his story.”

“That’s not usually how it works,” said Dick.

“You’d be surprised,” said Eddie, and Bruce shot him a nasty look, though Ami seemed to regard the interruptions with maternal indulgence.  She continued:

“The government had put a bounty on his head, and that wasn’t a figure of speech in those days.  The head was sent to Kyoto as a trophy while the body was buried.  The head didn’t care for the arrangement and went flying back to the small fishing village where Masakado was from, which became Edo and is now Tokyo.”

“You can’t be serious,” said Eddie.

“A flying samurai head?” said Dick.

“A demon head,” Eddie whispered through his teeth.  “A literal demon’s head.”

“Ghost head,” Dick countered.  “If we’re being literal.”

“I remember Luthor was trying to get his hands on a prime lot in Ōtemachi at one time,” Bruce said thoughtfully.  “That would have been this shrine?”

“There have been several attempts to develop the land,” Ami nodded.  “In each case, disturbing the head was followed by tsunami, flooding, mudslides, typhoons, plague, cyclone, volcanic eruption or war.  In 1923 when they got as far as taking down the shrine to build a Ministry of Finance, it was the Great Kanto Earthquake.  Leveled the building and killed the minister.  They restored the shrine.”

“Ready to call him a demon?” Eddie whispered to Dick.

“Are you saying something’s happened to the shrine, and that caused the storms tonight and the tremors?” Dick asked, ignoring Nigma.  Ami smiled with tolerant affection.

“I am saying that Japan is superstitious.  Today alone in this hotel, a man had a heart attack, another in the restaurant choked on his steak, there was a kitchen fire and out front on the street, a woman was hit by a car.  Now, you all are from Gotham, which the world considers a great metropolis.  Is it?  Or is it like Tokyo, a thousand cozy villages laid by side by side and stacked on top of one another, making up hundreds of distinct neighborhoods?   Ōtemachi is a village like any back street on Aoshima, and come morning, it will all be known: the heart attack and the fire and the woman hit by the car.  Together with the quake, and the lightning… Japan is superstitious.  There will be panic in this small, close-knit village—that just happens to be where the business of the nation is conducted.

“I tell you, gentlemen, if this night continues as it is going, if the situation is not resolved by morning, I fear the markets will crash.  The stock market, the currency markets, the economy could collapse.  Compounded with the damage of a quake, or worse to come, the economy will collapse.  In a day, three or four at the most.

“Masakado is what we call ‘onryo,’ not a demon exactly,” she directed the last words at Nigma with another tolerant smile, “but a vengeful murder ghost targeting all his rage on the Imperial Family of Japan, and therefore on Japan.  Bringing economic ruin would be an effective way to begin a new assault.  What is happening must be uncovered and dealt with by sunrise.  It simply must.  Do you understand?”

“We don’t, but we don’t have to,” Bruce said.  “Thank you for the extensive information.  May I ask my questions now?”

“We do understand each other,” she said with an inscrutable smile.  “I didn’t expect that.  My office is in this building.  Taiyōsama Limited, two floors down.  You can find me there when you’ve done all you need to do.”

 

Bruce pointed out the spot in the lounge that was of interest, and Ami described the men she’d seen who had lingered there for quite some time.  All three thought they sounded like Demon, though for different reasons. 

As they got up to leave, Clark quietly rejoined the group as if he’d been standing behind Nigma’s seat all along.  They split up then, Bruce, Clark and Dick questioning a doorman, bellman and maid respectively while Eddie left a riddle.  It was Dick who found out the man the Yakuza were asking about was in room 319, a one-bedroom suite, and Clark who learned he was checked in under the name Mason Vash.  Bruce and Clark went to search the room while Dick returned to the lobby to keep an eye out for Eddie. 

“Don’t say it,” Bruce graveled, sensing Clark’s smile as he pulled a card from his wallet, coding it with a mysterious swipe across his watch strap as if he and not Jaxon were the notorious cat burglar.

“No, uh-hm, not a word,” Clark murmured as Bruce opened the door.

Bruce then waited as Clark scanned the go-bag, the drawers… bathroom… and finally declared “He doesn’t stay long.  Doesn’t unpack.  Toiletries in the bathroom are the hotel’s…”

“This isn’t,” Bruce said, pulling a black case resembling an airline’s amenities kit from the go-bag and unzipping it.

“Not much to search,” Clark said, making his way to the living room side of the suite.

“Quite large for Tokyo,” Bruce said. 

“I meant not much that’s his.  Tourist flyers for Sensoji Temple, Meiji, Nezu…  He does seem very interested in shrines and temples.”

“Might be why he’s here,” Bruce said, bringing the black case from the bedroom.  “Selina said a likely scenario for winding up on the Yakuza’s radar is having to get specialty gear after he’d hit town.  Staying in Ōtemachi, he probably assumed he was going to be hitting a corporate HQ.  The gear he brought,” he waved the case, “would be ideal—infrared paint, black light, silicone polymer, fast-expanding polystyrene, a wave cancellation box—but he didn’t take it with him.”

“He comes assuming that’s the job,” Clark nodded.  “And after he gets here, he finds out he’s hitting a temple.  Some of them do have museum quality security, I suppose, museum quality artefacts.”

“Many do, but not Masakado’s head.”

“Did you say—”

“I’ll explain later,” Bruce said quickly.  “Right now, we need to take advantage of Nigma’s absence.  Fly down the street to the courtyard with stone frogs and a concrete marker.  Give it a good scan.   See if there’s still a human skull buried underneath or if anything’s been disturbed.”

“A skull.  You know, Bruce, it isn’t necessary to try and ‘top’ my bachelor party.  The thing with the Phantom Zone was just—”

“Get out of here,” Bruce chuckled, and Clark was gone. 

Bruce continued to search, pocketing a receipt from the wastebasket when he heard a noise outside the door—

 

Eddie knew he had no one to blame but himself.  That was his thought as he charged through the hotel towards room 319, pleased that he’d unearthed the room number but piqued that he found himself swept up in a Wayne party spiraling towards chaos as they inevitably do. 

He was giving Batman a wedding gift, what did he expect?  He had compromised the principles of any right-thinking rogue, and clearly Nemesis had it in for him as a result.  Demon minions—Bruce was Batman and Batman had to know the two men described by Ami-san were Demon minions—and that was a nasty coincidence at the very least.  He might even realize they sounded like two “Fangs” from The Gang of Six, and that was a very nasty coincidence too, if you believed in them, which Eddie didn’t. 

Nemesis on the other hand, Nemesis sticking it to him because he’d compromised the principles of any right-thinking rogue and gone to such lengths to get Bruce and Selina a nice gift, that was all too easy to believe.  That’s why he wasn’t sitting happily in his capsule-bed by now, watching Japanese Netflix and resting up for a full-bore electronics binge in the morning.  That’s why he was running instead through the kind of hotel ONLY a Bruce Wayne escapade would uncover, and chasing a story about a flying samura—

He froze.  He’d reached room 319, but before he could begin appraising the lock, the door opened at the slightest touch—unlatched. 

And before he could register—bfwitmp—what that sound was, he saw Bruce hurling a Demon fang to the ground, holding him down with his foot on the man’s neck while he twisted another attacker into a vicious human knot, wrenching a knife from his hand before—oh OUCH, those look even worse than they feel—before finishing him with one of those punches that make you question if the bone in your jaw really is harder than the ones in Batman’s fist.

Eddie cleared his throat.  “Yeah, okay.  Come the revolution when they introduce CEO cock fighting, my money’s on you,” he said flatly. 

Bruce looked at him with Hell Month hatred, which Eddie optimistically chalked up to the adrenaline of the fight.  Still, it wouldn’t hurt to offer an olive branch, so he pointed to the Demons and named them. 

“Second Fang, and Fifth, two of the big shots running things since Ra’s is up the river.  Or down the ocean, I guess we should say...  Or whatever.”

And you know that how?” Bruce asked.

“It’s part of the wedding thing we’ll talk about later.”

The wedding thing involving Joker?  Joker and Demon are involved in this gift of yours?”

Eddie glanced down at the freshly bat-pummeled men on the floor and, remembering his broken legs, reiterated that they should talk later.

“We’ve got this whole flying head thing to work on, remember?  One demon head a time, I always say.”  He pointed.  “You didn’t hit that one so hard.  He’ll be conscious in a minute and we can get some answers.  Or I should say, get confirmation because I’m pretty sure I’ve figured it out.”

Bruce raised a skeptical eyebrow, which was all the encouragement Eddie needed.

“These Demon guys are idiots, we can agree on that, right?  Nobody that knows which end is up needs to be told Ra’s al Ghul is a joke, but these dweebles drink the Kool-aid, smack their lips and ask for more.  To them ‘The Demon’s Head’ is a big deal, so they assume this Masakado’s Head is also a big deal.  It’s just how their pinheads operate.  So they hire this hot shit cat burglar in the mistaken belief that there’s all kinds of elaborate security to get past.  Not, y’know, a box under a hidden panel in the middle of urban Tokyo.”

Bruce’s lip twitched. 

“My theory is along those same lines,” he admitted.  “The French police call Valdorcia Le Maître Rusé, ‘The Wily Master.’  He brought IR paint, an ocular counterfeiter and silicone polymer.  The Yakuza got wind of his coming to town—”

“—they make assumptions about what he’s here for.  Decide they want a piece, wet their beak—”

“Yes, of course.  I was focusing on how they got wind of it, possibly because once he got here and saw the nature of the job, he needed a different kind of equipment.  There’s a receipt in the waste bin for a hole-saw bit.  Attach that to a silenced drill to bore his way in without attracting attention—but muzzling a drill isn’t exactly a modification you pick up at a corner hardware store.”

Eddie stared as Bruce continued thinking out loud in an intense, contemptuous murmur:

“Assuming the skull’s in a box.  (They wouldn’t just drop a head they’re afraid of into the dirt; it must be in a box.)  Wood would’ve decomposed long ago, and it is the golden age of Japanese sword-making we’re talking about.  They certainly had the technology… Best to go in prepared for the steel crates museums use to ship priceless paintings.  Can’t use a torch; it’ll damage the paintings.  Has to get his hands on a small, hydraulic cutter.” 

“What the hell kind of dates did you and Selina go on?” Eddie asked, making a face.

“I haven’t confirmed it yet,” Bruce said, ignoring him, “but judging by the weather, Valdorcia got the head but neve—”

“Never made it to the hand-off,” Eddie chimed in, happy to be back on solid ground outside the inner workings of a cat burglar’s mind.  “That’s why these two numbskulls were downstairs so long waiting for him.  When they figured he wasn’t coming, they found his room somehow and came up themselves to search,” he concluded, and Bruce grunted.

“Since these two didn’t grab him,” Eddie continued, “gotta assume it’s the Yakuza that grabbed him and they’ve got the head.  So we’re stuck?  Dead end?” 

“Not just yet,” Bruce said slowly.  “Keep an eye on these two.”

He’d taken out his phone as he walked into the bedroom, and Nigma made a slight ‘whip-crack’ motion and smiled.

 

It was nothing but yawns for a half-minute after Selina answered the phone, followed by a sleepy ..::Oh, right, your Tokyo thing.::..

Bruce wondered about that.  It was over an hour since the first call and she was wide awake then, but he had more important things to focus on now:

..:: If the Yakuza got their hands on a priceless jewel like you’d find in a temple?  Well… They wouldn’t bother cashing out in my opinion.  Just use it as currency on the black market, for a gun buy probably. Much simpler than having to launder funds.::..

“That’s what I was thinking,” Bruce said quickly.  “Now suppose they got a surprise.  Expecting a valuable jewel, they found themselves with an artifact instead.  Something they couldn’t identify.  Probably valuable, given how they came by it, but they’re not sure.  With no fence standing by, who would they go to?”

..:: Bruce, the last four times I was in Tokyo was with you.  It’s—::.. she yawned again.  ..:: —been a while.  Let me think…  I guess it really depends on who we’re talking about.::..

“Yakuza.”

..:: I know that, but I mean what level.  The little guys (What are they called? Kyodai?) they’re just going to bump it up if they know what’s good for them.  A regional boss, second lieutenant, maybe the same.  Shateigashira or higher… maybe there’s a guy in Ginza.::..

“Forget the Yakuza.  It’s you.  Middle of the night in Tokyo, authorities closing in—”

..::This is me?::..

“Batman’s closing in.”

..:: Kon'nichiwa, Dāku Kishi. Saitou.  Issho ni itai.  Kisushitai. Hoteru ikou.::..

“Something that you actually consider a threat is closing in and you need to act quickly.  In the middle of the night, in Tokyo.  Where can you find out what this thing is, get what you can for it and be rid of it?  Where do you go?”

..:: Okay, um… Yoyogi-Uehara in Shibuya.  There’s, like, a trendy slow-drip coffee place above a tiny fashion boutique behind a workshop for tatami mats next to an old family run noodle shop.::..

“Are you kidding me?”

..:: Bruce I haven’t had coffee yet.  And—I don’t believe I’m saying this but—whatever it is you got Tommy Pearl into over there, may I remind you that it’s illegal and you don’t approve of that kind of thing?::..

“I don’t approve of Yakuza snatching cat burglars hired by Demon either.”

..:: … ::..

..:: … ::..

..:: … ::..

..:: Bruce, you’re supposed to, like, go to a titty bar.  Drink a lot of vodka.  Maybe have a stripper or something—::…

“Selina.”

..:: I know, I know, we’ll never be like normal people and we can’t make sense of our relationship using their standards… but there aren’t supposed to be demons and yakuza and hot thieves auctioning stolen intel on Venezuela’s oil reserves.::..

Excuse me?

..:: Yeah, well, we sort of took a break from spa treatments and went to the casino last night.  There was a private party upstairs that turned out to be more of a Zanzibar marketplace to sell this… y’know what, never mind.  The Yakuza thing, there is a place in Ginza.::..

A hot thief you said.”

..:: Get off the grand boulevards and promenades.  From Mitsukoshi, head up towards Armani, Dior, that place we stopped for candied chestnuts, and duck down this opening beside some vending machines, I’m sure Clark can find it.  There’s a big blue and white curtain covering a locked door with a buzzer.::..

How hot is this thief?

..:: Ganbatte, darling.  I really need coffee before my massage.  Ciaomeow!::..

 

Clark and Dick reached room 319 just in time to see the door open.  They stared as two Demon minions were marched out as prisoners, the one’s arms twisted behind his back, wrists held high with the nerve torqued in a brutal sankyo by Bruce.  The other equally compliant from a simple thumb lock courtesy of Edward Nigma.

“Oh God,” said Dick.

“What are you doing?” asked Clark.

“Not here,” ordered Bruce.  The Demons were awkwardly turned and marched back inside—Eddie’s prisoner followed by Eddie, Bruce’s prisoner followed by Bruce—leaving Clark and Dick to look at each other for a moment, shrug, and then follow.

The full war council was delayed by a second earthquake several seconds longer and a Richter point higher than the first—which cemented a truce among everyone present except Clark, who had run for the bathroom, presumably to vomit, and who looked frantically uncomfortable with the situation when he returned.  With exquisite condescension Eddie signaled Dick to keep an eye on Fifth Fang (who, truce or not, he considered his responsibility) and he led Clark aside and argued with surprising insight for the leads a talented Daily Planet reporter would have as a result: Tokyo underworld, Tokyo real estate, Japanese superstition and the financial markets, Demon… Because let’s face it, that wife of his has a tendency to lap him.  As a reporter and a writer, Clark Kent, the author of Strange Bedfellows and the guy who arguably took down the Luthor administration singlehanded, generally came out looking less brilliant than he might at another paper out of her shadow.  And she was now, at this very moment, with Selina and Selina’s friends on Jumby Island doing who knows what—

Bruce’s ears perked up at that, and Eddie moved them farther away and whispered intently that Clark really should snap up whatever opportunities Tokyo-with-Bruce-Wayne handed him. 

Clark allowed himself to be persuaded, and when the pair finally returned to the group, information was pooled and equipment inventoried: the Demons each had grappling hooks and an assortment of hidden blades, shuriken and a syringe, while Eddie had lock picks and an app with real-time listings and a GPS locator for whatever stores were open in a given square mile of Tokyo, indexed by the type of merchandise offered.  And everyone had bone-conduction mic-earpieces they pretended were run-of-the-mill accessories for their smart phones.  Bruce considered it all, as well as the sophisticated burglary tools Jaxon had left behind, and then he looked over his companions: Clark, Dick… Nigma… and the Demons. 

“Okay,” he said finally.  “Here’s what we’re going to do.”   

 

Six men in cheap, plastic Tengu masks synchronized identical diving watches in a dark corner of a Ginza parking garage.  The group then split up, two going back towards the convenience store that sold the masks, two south towards a Pokka Sapporo vending machine, and two taking the stairs straight up. 

The last pair took a position on the roof of a camera store. 

“So even Americans know that guards watch windows and doors,” said Second Fang.  “And if the roof is nothing but plywood and asphalt tiles, it’s a quick, easy way in for anyone with a saw blade and drill to make a hole.  Insert a small mirror to look around.  Add a few ounces of C4 on the brackets holding the door and this would be a two minute job.”

“Luckily, you don’t have any of that,” Clark said, keeping his disapproval low-key. “Saves us having to talk you out of using it.  It would be too much of a risk damaging the Masakado head.” Though he mentally added ‘Not to mention the people inside.’   

The first pair were crouched behind a parked car on a side street, mixing a strange concoction. 

“Olive oil and cheap motor oil,” Eddie said happily.  “The poor man’s Ethan Hunt diversion.  Low smoke point, smelly automotive odor.  What do you call a spanking good way to get everyone’s attention without sending them running for their lives?”

Fifth Fang studied him. 

“Yes, but what are you doing here?” he asked suspiciously.  “Shouldn’t you be at home securing Gotham?  Your great enemy is…” he trailed off then said “Is this not the time?”

“That’s my business,” Eddie said in a casual sing-song, never lifting his eyes from his work.  “You know how to hotwire a car, don’t you?  I mean, you’re not so high up in the super-demon-ninja ultra-elite-assassin hierarchy that you’ve forgotten the basics, right?”

“I can hotwire the automobile,” Fifth said, coating each syllable with contempt.

“Great,” Eddie said, producing a toothbrush.  “Then as soon as I get the exhaust pipe coated with this, we’ll be ready to go.”

The final pair found the blue and white curtain Selina described. 

“Tengu masks, really?” Bruce complained, and Dick shrugged.

“They are masks.  I figured we’d have to improvise something with bandanas and sunglasses, wind up looking like a gang of biker-pirates.” 

Behind the red, knob-nosed Tengu face, Bruce glowered…

The Roof Team fired the Demons’ grappling hooks to a lower roof and rappelled down one-handed, one like a Special Forces operative trained to keep a hand free to hold a machine gun; the other like a man who could fly and was only using the rope to fit in.

The Car Team finished coating the exhaust pipe. 

The Curtain Team swabbed the syringe with alcohol. 

The Roof Team bored through the ceiling and inserted a small mirror.

The Car Team started the engine and walked quickly but unobtrusively away from the car and towards a particular alley.

The Roof Team reported three guards on the top floor, two windows, and no sign of a safe or vault.

Bruce acknowledged the report and rang the buzzer.  In seconds, the intercom crackled.

“Car! Your car is on fire,” he said anxiously in Japanese.  “You need to get down here! It’s on fire!  Pouring out smoke!”

There were anxious voices on the intercom.  From their vantage point in the alley, the Car Team reported a man looking out the window.  In seconds he came running out the door, where Bruce seized him and shoved, Dick twisted him into a choke hold and let him feel the bite of the syringe at his neck.  His imagination would do the rest, and Dick released him with a lighter shove against the wall.  Again Bruce spoke in Japanese:

“You’ve just been injected with three ccs of benzanine methylchlorate.  You’ll be dead in five hours without the antidote, which I have right here.”  He gestured with a breath mint.  “The first tablet can be yours in ten minutes if you cooperate.  Not enough on its own, but it will slow the poison down, buy you another twelve hours.  Plenty of time to make it to ten o’clock tomorrow when—as long as we don’t run into trouble after we leave here—I’ll come back and give you the second pill.  You understand?”

The fence nodded vigorously, and Bruce and Dick marched him back inside. 

On the roof, Clark scanned for the alarm box, wires and radio waves.  Identifying the alarm proper and the point where it interfaced with the phone line, he stumbled, drawing Second Fang’s attention as he clumsily righted himself.  Second congratulated himself for finding it so quickly and went to work with Jaxon’s polystyrene, the fast-expanding fire foam filling the box and silencing it.  While he was busy, Clark picked up a chunk of asphalt tile and palmed it—and he listened.  Two floors down, he heard the fence returning to his home with Bruce and Dick in tow.  He called off the guards in what was certainly a coded message, and Clark kept his eyes peeled for any sign of a silent alarm attempting to call out.  When the moment came, he tossed the asphalt, drawing Second Fang’s attention away from the wire box and watched—sensing the invisible surge, he shot a quick beam into the wires, frying the attempt to call out and then directing a puff of cold before the smell of sizzling wires could be noticed. 

Downstairs Bruce was getting answers, none of them good: 

War was coming to the Yakuza.  A large faction of over 2,000 had splintered from the main syndicate and formed a rival outfit in the Kansai region west of Tokyo.  They complained about profits being squeezed, high membership fees, and the boss favoring his own faction.  The old cash cows like loan-sharking, drugs and protection weren’t paying like they used to, and the Yakuza were moving into financial crimes: corporate takeovers, financial fraud, insider trading… It made the prospect of this burglary in Ōtemachi very appealing. 

Yes, they were expecting a corporate prize not a samurai head, but the boss who heard about it—a powerful wakagashira called Nakamura—wasn’t disappointed.

“Because this war is coming, and the battleground is going to be Tokyo.  This head is a powerful symbol to possess.  Many Yakuza trace their roots back to the 17th Century samurai warriors…”

The fact that a bloody mob war raging across the city was exactly the kind of destruction the head was known to bring didn’t seem to bother him.  And then it got worse—

“This Australian can’t be allowed to go home,” the fence was saying.   “It wasn’t my decision, you understand.  Came from high up.  ‘Send a message.’  Usually a body goes into the foundation of a building; never found.  This Jaxon, they want to be found.  They are going to arrange for him to ‘fall’ free climbing in his gear.”

What Second Fang saw was no longer important, and Clark scanned the horizon in all directions—suddenly and inexplicably transformed into a hyper-alert lookout—while in reality looking much farther and processing more detail than a squad of lookouts with thermal- telescopic- and alternate-spectrum scopes. 

“What’s that?” Bruce’s voice asked sharply—and Clark didn’t have to look through the roof and ceiling to know it was a cue: Bruce would be looking up, drawing everyone’s attention to the ceiling and giving him the opening he needed.

“They’ve heard us, we have to go!” Clark cried, dragging Second by the back of his shirt and ‘running’ to the edge of the roof just fast enough that the Demon’s feet lost touch with the surface.  At the roof’s edge he shoved/dropped Second Fang to the fire escape and shot straight up into the air too fast for human eyes to process.  From a high vantage point, he continued to scan—two—three—five seconds before he spotted them.  Back in Ōtemachi—

Four men on a roof, three hustling a fourth to the edge.  He was begging.  Superman could hear him as he flew towards the scene—two held him while the third hit him hard—he went semi-limp and the begging stopped for several beats—then he was screaming—and then—

Then he was clawing wildly at Superman’s arm—trying to gain purchase before he processed what was— happening.  He— He wasn’t falling anymore.

He wasn’t falling anymore. 

He was—

Superman. 

Up. 

Superman caught him.  He wasn’t falling anymore, Superman caught him and they were going back up!

“I know none of us approve of thieves, but I don’t think you gentlemen are legitimate law enforcement,” Superman said when they landed back on the roof.

 

No one used the word ‘coward’ when Clark caught up with the group.  Eddie had seen enough movies where the bad guy gets squirrely and shoots up a ceiling, and the Demon Fangs knew how often assassins really did come in that way.  Shooting up a ceiling was the thing to do if you suspected something, and so Clark’s fear of being shot, given where he was and what he heard, was perfectly valid as far as they were concerned. 

The prospect of continuing this misadventure burdened with excitable civilians, however, that was a lot to ask.  They didn’t want to perish in an earthquake, but if local gangsters wanted to go at each other with grenades and machine guns after they’d left, or for that matter, if they wanted to commission motorcycle gangs to attack third parties with baseball bats, well, that was none of Demon’s business.  Unless it happened to create an instability that the Demon’s Head could take advantage of, which was probably why Ra’s al Ghul wanted to acquire the head in the first place.  So the Demons were ready to go—

In the interests of prolonging the truce for a few more hours, Eddie proposed that the two Fangs go back to partnering each other.  That way they would have a partner with all the same training and the same fashion sense, and the same obvious devotion to a moldy old head that hadn’t been used for thinking for several hundred years… at which point he’d maneuvered Fifth Fang to step back into the same puddle Second was standing in.  His fist was suddenly swinging at Fifth as if to stab him in the throat, when the taser he held in place of the knife took down both men in 1.4 seconds of jaw-droppingly brutal efficiency.

“Forgot I had this,” Eddie said with a happy smile, waving the taser like a toy wand.  And then, noticing the stares during the heroes he added “Oh like you guys didn’t hold anything back from Inventory Share Time.”  When he still got no reaction, he continued “I say put ‘em in the back of that van and we get going on this Nakamura thing, and pray it’s the endgame.  Every hour this goes on is cutting into my electronics shopping in the morning.”

More stares.

“Morning,” he said enthusiastically.  “Reward for living through the night, nature’s way of saying ‘Sunrise Achievement Unlocked.’  I don’t know about you, I am flying out tomorrow, assuming we put the tsunami cork back in the bottle, and before that happens I’m going shopping for—”

“Nigma, what are you talking about?” sputtered Dick.  “Why are you strutting like it’s all downhill from here.”

“You got the guy’s name, kid.  Nakamura.  In Tokyo that’s all you need.  Yakuza are more open than Rogues about who they are and where they live.  They carry business cards.  They’re in the telephone directory.  Offices with a little brass nameplate on the door reading ‘Sumiyoshi-kai.’  Sure, there’s a big sumo-size guy on the door, but it’s not like that’s going to be a problem with this crowd, right?”

 

The ‘endgame’ at Nakamura’s wasn’t quite as effortless as Nigma predicted, but it was close.  He was only a few streets away in another Ginza back street, and as predicted, the name of the boss’s Yakuza clan was displayed boldly on the door.  A synchronized effort coming in through the roof, the trash disposal and the sewers rendered the sumo-sized doorman moot.  A second trip to the convenience store had supplied a broom, a block of styrofoam, electrical tape and hairspray, which thwarted almost a million dollars worth of thermal cameras, motion detectors, and a light sensor so sensitive it could detect the glow of an uncovered watch.

“That motion sensor won’t see anything move for weeks,” Eddie giggled, offering Bruce a high five which he scowled at and then hesitated.  “C’mon,” Eddie gestured at the at the block of styrofoam on a broomstick, then at the tape on his watch.  “We just beat almost a million dollars worth of security with an $18 trip to the 7-Eleven.  The girls would be proud.”

Bruce completed the high-five with a reluctant smile, then said “Let’s not tell them.  There’s a WayneTech R&D lab in Oregon with a security set up very much like this.  It would kill Selina if she knew.”

“Then we shall not speak of it,” Eddie said.  “Lips sealed or Ad Ellipses, you might say.”  A more elaborate five-and-fist bump followed that might have been the secret handshake of men bedding world-class cat burglars.  Dick and Clark merely looked at each other, confusion and shock competing with shock and confusion, as Eddie and Bruce considered the fingerprint pad on the door to Nakamura’s private office.

“Got the Silly Putty?” Eddie asked casually.

“The silicone polymer,” Bruce graveled, pulling a wad of the stuff he’d taken from Jaxon’s kit at the hotel.

“People never wipe off the scanner after they’ve used it,” Eddie explained as Bruce applied the putty to the lens like a pro.  “So there’s usually a beautiful print sitting there right on the glass.”

On cue, there was a click and the door unlatched.  Again, the men married to non-cat burglars looked at each other, then Clark signaled for Dick to keep Nigma distracted while he surreptitiously approached the safe. 

There was no time for Bruce or Nigma to cold-crack it—if they even could without special equipment, where all Clark had to do was look through the door and watch the cylinders as he turned the dial.  Quickly determining that the combination was 19-14-33-81, he scribbled it on a slip of paper and left it in the desk drawer which would be the first place the others would look…

An hour later, they waited in Ami’s office in the same sleek high-rise as the hotel where they’d met her. 

Bruce and Dick, Nigma and Clark, Second Fang, Fifth, and Jaxon Valdorcia had all filed into the Taiyōsama offices approximately an hour before dawn with the head of Taira no Masakado in an ancient iron and lacquer box.  A savvy business woman, Ami quite understood Bruce Wayne’s desire to keep up the illusion that he was in Dubai, and she readily agreed to deal with the police on their behalf.  A prominent figure in Ōtemachi, she could turn over the head, with or without the thief and the ninja cult that hired him, and tell whatever story she liked.  The police would make do because they knew it was all they were going to get. 

She had sent all but Jaxon to an inner office while she received the officers.  Bruce, Clark and Dick had settled on the right side of the room, Eddie and the Fangs on the left.  But then Fifth Fang took out a shuriken, apparently using it to clean under his fingernail while studying Eddie.  His eyes drifting from pocket to pocket until they settled on the crinkle of fabric that revealed where he hid the taser.  Eddie edged silently to the heroes’ side of the room and smiled at Clark amiably.

“So… Metropolis…” he said, doing his best imitation of henchmen standing around talking sports.  “How about those Meteors.”

The door opened, Mrs. Ami said the coast was clear, and everyone returned to the outer office to see that both Jaxon and the head were gone.

Ami dismissed Bruce’s thanks with vague amusement, repeating that she was sympathetic to his situation but it wasn’t her only reason for dealing with the police herself. 

“A gang of Americans could only raise the profile of the situation, not really what we want to calm the markets and forestall economic chaos.”

Her eyes then fell on Fifth Fang who didn’t hide his sneer when she mentioned Americans. 

“I will see the two of you next,” she said, the slightest edge in her tone as she pointed the way to the inner office where they’d all waited before. 

The Demons filed in as instructed, and an awkward silence descended among those left behind.  Eddie looked around the beautifully appointed corner office.

“This is nice,” he observed.  The washi screens, the pinewood floor and tatami rug, the kind of less-is-more the Japanese do like no one else.  The footprint was larger than Jaxon’s room in the hotel, but it had a similar layout and view—though as a corner it had two walls of windows, so the panoramic view of Tokyo was extended into the east where the sky was quickly easing from pre-dawn purple into a light lavender-orange-gold.

Clark giggled suddenly and clutched the edge of a table subtly as if to steady himself. 

“Whoa,” he said, the hoarse rasp in his voice associated with marijuana. 

Bruce turned, expecting to make eye-contact for the silent communication often engaged in between partners.  Instead he saw only a deep flush and a goofy smile on his friend’s face.  Before he could comment, his attention—and everyone’s—was drawn to the door to that inner office.  A new voice could now be heard from behind it—familiar in that it was female and must be Mrs. Ami, but intensely commanding unlike anything they’d heard before now, and completely at odds with her gracious, charm.  It was also…

What is she saying?” Bruce murmured.

…speaking some sort of ancient dialect barely recognizable as the Japanese he knew.  Bruce took a step towards the door, presumably to hear better, when—

“There he goes,” Clark laughed.  “C’mon, Bruce, give it a rest.  I know you like to stick your nose in everyone’s business, but your quiet, no-drama bachelor party turned into a hunt for the Samurai Headless Horseman.  Accept that the plan has gone a-wry.”

“Are you drunk?” Dick asked.

“I think I might be, just a little,” Clark said, a slight roll as his head turned to Dick.

“It’s been a long night for someone like him,” Eddie said kindly.

“Will you all be quiet?” Bruce hissed, trying to make sense of the bits and pieces he was getting through the door—when the whole room flashed with a blinding flare of solar energy and the Demons behind the door began screaming their heads off.  The commanding voice continued over them for another few sentences, and then…

Silence.

The door opened.

Fifth Fang and Second filed out numbly.  They didn’t look at anyone, or speak, as they passed through the outer office and made their way out the door.

“Um,” Dick managed.

Clark did his best drunk-trying-to-look-sober while Eddie eyed Bruce expectantly.

“Well?” he prompted.

“What little I got can be summed up as ‘Go tell your little fake god that he’s been beneath the attention of the real ones until now.  If he so much as contemplates sushi for lunch in the next five hundred years, we’ll know.  Sayonara now.’”

“In Rao’s name,” Clark said.

“You’re closer than you think,” Bruce replied, turning to the door to the inner office, which remained open.  He took a tentative step towards it, and the others followed. 

Mrs. Ami looked precisely as she had before except that her previously pink and red suit was now a solid, dazzling white.

“Gentlemen,” Bruce said solemnly, “I introduce you to Amaterasu-ōmikami, the Shinto goddess of the sun.”

“I have many names, Wayne-san.  I am Hae-nim in Korea, Xihe in most of China.  Here in Japan, yes, Amaterasu, and the Imperial Family are my children.  You might say Japan is as well.  What mother wouldn’t keep watch when a child is in peril.  You gentlemen have been very helpful.”  Then to Bruce she added in that ancient Japanese dialect, “But then you take these false demons as your special burden, do you not?”

“If I understand you,” Bruce said, clearly struggling with the strange dialect, “I didn’t track them here.  It was only chance that we got involved in this.”

“Modern minds and western minds,” Amaterasu laughed.  “You know just enough—you’ve learned to see just enough—that you think what you can’t see isn’t there.”  She glanced up at Clark, and continued in English.  “There are always connections.  That’s why it troubled me, all this… finance growing up around Masakado when the Bay receded.”

“You don’t approve of big business?” Clark asked, a reporter asking the obvious follow-up.

“It’s fine for buying a fish,” she said, smiling.  “You walk away with your dinner, the fisherman walks away his money.  A fine alternative to violence for distributing this world’s resources, I approve entirely.”

“But?” Bruce prompted.

“But.  The transactional mentality, debits and credits...  You believe that you borrow, you pay back and it’s done.  You wrong someone, you apologize and it’s done; do harm, you make it right and the matter is finished.” 

She shook her head sadly.

“But there are always connections you don’t see,” she looked down at Clark’s hand, and looked as though she was about to say something about it, then changed her mind.  Instead she said “Drink water from a well and it becomes a part of you, always.  These bodies of yours are composed of little else, the particles of you before you drank intermingle with the particles of the water itself.  They become one and the same.  Honor the spirit of the well you draw from, that honor becomes part of you.  Offend the spirit of the well, the offense will always be with you. 

“The grievances of the onryo cannot be paid off like a bond at six percent interest.  They are always with us.  The debt is.”

She considered each man, and seeing only confusion in their eyes, she moved on.

“But tonight the four of you shouldered the burden.  Allow me to offer a token of thanks.”

She presented Clark, Eddie and Dick with a piece of metal she called “menuki,” the decorative ornaments woven under the handle-wrapping of a katana.  She intimated that they were from the sword of a samurai who had done her a particular service, and each was etched with a sun and sun-dragon.  She held a fourth, but rather than handing it to Bruce, she gestured with a playful twinkle that almost resembled Catwoman teasing him back in the day.

“Walk with me,” she said, stepping towards the door. 

He followed and when they were out of earshot for all but Clark she said “So, Wayne-san.  Your ‘last night of freedom’ (that is the phrase, is it not?) before beginning a new phase of your life, and you managed to spend it apprehending a cat burglar.  Jaxon Valdorcia.  Skilled in the art of thievery, but not what I would call a person of quality.  Not like your charming feline.”

“You know Selina?” he asked, nearly skipping a step.

“Many years ago she was employed by a Jason Blood to recover some items I had given the Imperial Family that were taken for… reasons best not delved into after tonight’s upheaval.  But I liked her.  We understood each other right away.  And she made me laugh.

“I teased her.  Her heart was so clearly spoken for, and she was so utterly unaware.  I said I would introduce her to Tsukuyomi, my brother.  Because of her name; he is god of the moon.  It was quite sweet, how she demurred.  Trying so hard to hide her complete lack of interest.  So you are her samurai of the shadows.”

“Um,” was the best Bruce could manage, and Amaterasu laughed.  Then she became quite solemn as she looked him up and down:

“Fear, Justice… the avatar of a Bat.  Honor the spirit of the well you draw from, Wayne-san.” She handed over the menuki, not like a Shinto goddess bestowing a token of thanks, but like a Japanese business woman presenting her business card.  “I wish you joy, progeny worthy of your name, honor that lives on in their memories and inspires generations to come.”

 

Bruce had pointed Clark and Dick to a café-bakery in Akasaka that boasted “a taste of Gotham in Tokyo.”  He told them to try the American breakfast and said he’d catch up with them in an hour for the trip home.  He allowed ten minutes for Clark to become fully occupied with his pancakes, then made his way to the modest hotel where he knew Nigma would be staying.  Ordinarily, there would be no question of Clark eavesdropping on something that was clearly none of his business, but Bruce had seen Best Man mode reengage as soon as they were free of Nigma, and it was best to be sure.   

His timing was perfect, reaching the hotel just as Nigma was checking out and intercepting him as soon as he stepped onto the street.

Well?” was the minimalist greeting.

“Good morning,” Eddie said, as if setting an example for someone unfamiliar with non-rogue/bat interaction.

“Good morning,” Bruce echoed, then resumed the deep bat-gravel.  “What did you do to Joker?

Eddie sighed, and then pointed to a convenience store where he was going for breakfast and began walking that way.

“Your instinct will be to hear this a certain way, without context, and react.  But if you just wait and hear the whole thing, you’ll see it’s really the best outcome possible.  I semi-killed him.  Now don—”

“You what?”

“—flip out, it was temporary.  I took Victor’s—”

“Edward”

“—ice gun, which is not a precision weapon.  The recoil is something—”

“Nigma!”

“—fierce and it puts a weird spin on the spray, but the ice balls are big enough that it doesn’t matter so—”

“Stop talking.”

“—much.  Still took like six shots to really get him in there.”

“Edward.”

“I know, I know, you’re impatient, I’ll skip to the good part.”

“The good part?!”

“Point is, he was stone cold.  Dead for all intents and purposes.  And that’s where Demon comes in.  See it turns out something’s happened to Ra’s al Ghul, and as we saw last night, the bozos running things while he’s gone aren’t exactly bright.  You see that story in the Gotham Post, ‘The War of Jokes and Riddles’?  That was me.”  He smiled proudly.  “I planted the story.  Little riff on the drama with Falcone, was all it took to convince them I’m a homicidal maniac with such a hate-on for Joker that I’d off him—

“Temporarily!” Eddie squeaked, off the completely indiscernible emotion in Bruce’s eyes.  The thought of the death of his hated foe—of another actually doing what Bruce himself had surely wrestled with doing but stepped back from time and time again.  Would it engender relief?  Guilt?  Wrath?  Or a stormy mixture of all?  Nigma had riddled himself silently how many of those paths would lead to broken bones, and now, faced with those unfathomable but definitely impassioned eyes, he riddled again.  Still, he pressed on.  So far, his legs were unbroken and the only way was forward:

“It’s not like I ever considered leaving him dead.  Even though it might be the best wedding present I could possibly give you kids, I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with a murder-eyed Harley hovering over me with a sledgehammer ready to reenact that scene from Misery with a pair of starving hyenas thrown in for fun.”

Bruce closed his eyes, tipped his head forward, and rubbed his temples.  It looked like progress, and Eddie continued:

“I had intermediaries pretending to be ‘Team Joker.’  They made contact with Demon, worked their way up to the ‘Fangs’ and convinced them the best way they could stick it to you was to plop Joker in the Lazarus Pit and bring him back.”

“And suppose they refused?”

“Brucie, I told you, they’re dumb.  That Demon crowd are really, really dumb.  You think I can’t maneuver them to do whatever I want as easily as you do?”

“Go on.”

“This War of Jokes and Riddles made it perfectly plausible that I had murdered Joker, and anyone with a rudimentary grasp of the situation could see the best way to stick it to Batman was to make sure it didn’t take.  Joker is in the Making-Batman-Miserable business, it’s a natural.  Demon droogies bought it and put him in the pit.”

“And?”

“And?  What do you think?  The stuff makes Ra’s crazier with every dip.  What was there a 99.974% chance it would do to Joker, maxed out on crazy since Day One?”

Bruce closed his eyes, envisioning it.

It made him sane.”

“It made him sane!” Eddie crowed triumphantly.  “It’ll wear off, unfortunately, but for now he’s curled up in a ball, just paralyzed with horror at all the terrible things he’s done.  It’s great!  Now, I know you’re not going to say anything that sounds remotely like approval, but trust me when I say it’s a sight to see and you would’ve enjoyed it.”

Bruce glared.

“Right, so, point is, he will not be showing up at the wedding making a nuisance of himself.  You and I are even for that… delay coming after me when Doris came back, and everything can go back to the way it was.”

The angry glare hadn’t faded and for a moment another ominous Bat-declaration seemed to hover on his lips, but something stopped him.  Instead, it was the voice and manner of Bruce Wayne at the Empire Club feigning sympathy for a colleague whose stock dropped a quarter point.

“Edward, she’s invited you to the wedding.  Doris ‘made the cut’ and is with her right now on Jumby Island.  Back to the way it was isn’t in the cards for any of us.”

“I can dream,” Eddie said with a stubborn smile.  Then he glanced sideways at Bruce’s eyes which only moments ago glared with the sinister Bat-intensity that was expected given the Joker news.  Eddie had planned for it, was prepared to weather the storm—but he never expected the storm to pass as quickly as this.

Back to the way it was isn’t in the cards for any of us…  

Yeah, okay, but he’d killed Joker—temporarily but still.  He had hoped after the initial outburst Bruce would calm down and take the gift in the spirit it was intended, but he didn’t realistically expect him to calm down as quickly as this!

“Speaking of Jumby Island, Edward, apparently between spa treatments and ceviche they’re doing something with, ahem, ‘a hot thief.’  If you find out what, I would appreciate a detailed report.”

“Y-yeah,” said Eddie, thinking this was the weirdest riddle he’d ever come across.  “Will do.”

 

Gracious Lady,
This mission has been the gratifying event of my life.  I am beholden to you that your dealings with Ra’s al Ghul (may He walk always in the shadow of the Dragon) have been of such estimable quality that your marriage has prompted this gift.

It is my hope this union brings joy to yourself and to Him whose name must not be spoken.

Pikhai,
Oleologist and Axe-thrower, Galata 4th


© 2018 

 

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The Batrimony IS real in Cat-Tales, and you are invited to the wedding of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in Cat-Tales 75: Ever Fixed

 


Chapter 4: Tattinger

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