SHAKEN AND STIRRED

 

            Henry Simon finally allowed himself to relax.  With the sixth and last emerald securely inside his valise, his global trek had finished.  All that remained was for him to get to the Gotham airport, board a midnight flight for Switzerland, and present the gems to his eager employer.

            His reverie didn’t last long, however.  The engine warning light on the dashboard of his rental car flashed red, indicating the motor was overheating.  As he adjusted his glasses and watched the light, he missed the off ramp to the airport.  He then turned right, thinking he could loop around and get back on the expressway.  A block and a half later, he anxiously realized he was lost in what looked like another world.

            Gotham’s East End was no place for an outsider.  Amid its decaying buildings, the homeless, the hookers, and the pushers marked out their turf for the night.  Steam rose sporadically from grates in the street as Simon looked for a way out.  Fruitlessly turning corners, he encountered only dead ends and narrow alleys.

            The slower he drove, the hotter his engine got.  The radiator blew just after he passed a tattoo parlor, and the car ingloriously died.

            He cursed and pounded the steering wheel before getting out to raise the hood.  Fanning away a cloud of mist, he looked down and saw a ripped hose.  Slamming the hood down, he turned and kicked the right front tire.

            “Where the hell am I gonna find a mechanic around here at this hour?”

            No answer came from the empty avenue.

            He began walking, trying to find somebody—anybody—who would lend a helping hand.  The few denizens he encountered either sneered or ignored him.  Disheartened, he reached for his cell phone to call his employer.  But before he could finish dialing, he noticed a short, nicely dressed man approaching the car.

            Heading home from a profitable evening of gambling, Penguin saw the abandoned vehicle and decided to take a closer look.  The shiny black leather valise in the passenger’s seat drew his attention.  “Well, what have we here?”  He smashed the window with the handle of his umbrella and grabbed the bag.

            In a panic, Simon ran toward him.  “Hey!  Stop!  That’s mine!”

            “It’s mine now.”

            “My employer will be very upset if I don’t get that case to him.”

“Yeah?  Well, you know what they say.  ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers.’”

Simon lunged to grab the valise.

Penguin pointed his umbrella and fired a knockout dart.

            Stunned, Simon pulled the tiny spike from his shirt, stumbled around, and fell to the pavement.

Penguin unzipped the case and became saucer-eyed.  “Ooh!  These ought to bring a small fortune.”  He looked at the unconscious courier.  “Nice doing business with you.”  Bending down, he crammed a fifty dollar bill in Simon’s pocket.  “Finder’s fee.  It’s the least I can do.”

            He opened the umbrella, and it turned into a tiny helicopter which quickly carried him away.

 

            When he awoke half an hour later, Simon realized the emeralds were gone, along with the strange man who took them.  Wandering through the area--amazingly, without getting mugged--he eventually found a taxi and returned to his hotel room to get some sleep.

In the morning, he downed two shots of bourbon to kill the anxiety and embarrassment before phoning his employer.

            “Hello,” came the man’s voice.

            “Mr. B., it’s me, Simon.  I’ve got some bad news.”

            “What sort of bad news?”

            “The items were stolen last night.”

            “Stolen?”

            “It’s a long story.  My car broke down in Gotham City, and when I went to look for help, this weird little guy in a tux broke into the car and took them.  He knocked me out with an umbrella dart gun.  I know it sounds weird, but it’s the truth.  I’m really sorry, sir.”

            The man on the other end remained silent for a moment.  “That’s most unfortunate.  Are you alright?”

            “Yes, sir.  A bit sore, but that’s about it.  What do you want me to do?”

            “Just wait there at your hotel.  I’m sending two associates to meet you.  They’ll help recover the emeralds and get you back home.”

            “Thank you, sir.  I’m really, really sorry about all this.”

            “I understand, Mr. Simon.  Sometimes these things happen.  You just sit tight, and my men will take care of everything.  Goodbye.”

            Simon let out a huge sigh.  “That went better than I thought it would.”

 

            Ernst Stavro Blofeld slowly put down the receiver and stroked the head of his white Persian cat.  Turning to the two men standing in front of his desk, he said, “Simon lost the emeralds.  Mr. Bakeem, Mr. Mobutu, I want you to fly out to Gotham City immediately.  Take one of my personal jets.”

            “The usual?” Bakeem asked.

            “Yes.  Debrief and terminate.”

            “The emeralds?” asked Mobutu.

            “Get them back at all costs.”

            Both men nodded and bowed.

            “Simon said they were taken by a small man in a tuxedo who carries a dart gun in his umbrella.”

            Bakeem laughed.  “You believe him, sir?”

            Blofeld leaned back in his chair.  “Simon’s not the sort who makes things up.  But any man can invent wild stories to cover up incompetence.”

            Chuckling, Mobutu wondered, “What do we do if we actually find this guy?”

            “Kill him, too.”

 

            Penguin couldn’t stop smiling about his find.  Oh, the money those emeralds would bring in the underground market....

            Evangeline, the curvaceous redheaded who shared his hideout, noticed how he almost danced around their low-rent digs.  “What’s got you so happy, Pengy?”

            “These.”  He held out the shimmering green stones.

            “Nice.  Let me take a closer look.”  She picked up a jeweler’s loupe and studied one of the gems.

            “Lucky for me you’re a gemologist, as well as a beauty.  So, how much do you think I can get?”

            “Whatsamatter, gone through all that loot you stole from the banks?”

            “Hardly.  But you know me, too much is not enough.”

            “Hmm.”  She examined a second one.  “I’d say, conservatively, a million, million and a half for all six.”

            “A million dollars?  Yess!”

            “However....  This is odd.”  She looked at the others.  “Every one of these stones has a pair of numbers microscopically engraved on the bottom facet.”

            “What for?” he wondered.

            “How should I know?  Maybe they’re part of a huge set.  The numbers aren’t sequential.  And if you mounted one in a ring, you wouldn’t see the engraving at all.”

            “Think Hubert could fence them for us?”

            “Psshh!  I wouldn’t trust Hubert with Mardi Gras beads.  I know a guy in Metropolis who does discreet auctions.  I can contact him if you’d like.”

            “Sure.”  He gave her a kiss.  “You and I are going to be wealthy, my dear.  A new Cobblepot family fortune, for a new generation.”

 

            Around nine that evening, Simon heard a soft knock on his room door.  “Who’s there?”

            “Mr. B. sent us.”

Cautiously opening it, he said, “Come in.”

Wearing identical black suits, the two men entered, and Simon locked the door behind them.

The Middle Eastern man extended his hand.  “I’m Mr. Bakeem.  This is Mr. Mobutu.”

The African greeted Simon.  “Mr. B sends his regards.”

“Please, have a seat.”  Simon gestured at the room’s only chairs.

Bakeem took out a notepad and pen.  “Tell us everything that happened from the time you collected the final emerald.  Leave nothing out.”

For twenty minutes, Simon nervously rambled on about the car, the grimy East End neighborhood, and the robbery.

Mobutu said, “Describe the man who assaulted you.”

Simon rubbed his eyes.  “About five feet tall, long nose, wearing a tux and a top hat.  Really, he looked almost like a penguin.  Even walked with a bit of a waddle.  And he carried this umbrella that doubled as a dart gun.  Here’s the dart he shot me with.”

Bakeem took the object and looked it over.  “Impressive.”  He passed it to Mobutu.

“Indeed.  Much smaller than the ones we use.  Make a note for Mr. B.”

Scratching his head, Simon asked, “Is there anything else you need to know?”

“No, I believe that’s it,” Bakeem said as they stood up to leave.

“Mr. B. said something about sending me home.”

Mobutu reached behind his back, and pulled out a small chrome pistol with a black silencer.  Chambering a round, he said, “I’ve got your ticket right here.”

“No!  Please--”

The African fired twice, sending Simon sprawling backward on the bed.

“Failure is not an option.  Right, Mr. Mobutu?”

“Right, Mr. Bakeem.  What say we go find this penguin man?”

“If he exists.”

They quietly exited the room.  Mobutu shut the door and hung a Do Not Disturb sign on the knob.  “I hear Gotham City is pretty weird this time of year.”

Gotham City’s weird any time of the year.”

 

Bakeem and Mobutu were hardly Blofeld’s flunkies.  Highly trained killers and resourceful intelligence collectors, they disguised themselves as street people and infiltrated Gotham’s underground society in the following days.  They kept their ears open and found information to be plentiful--so much so they needed to ask few questions, which prevented unwanted attention.

The most important thing they discovered was that the “penguin man” actually existed and was a rather notorious supercriminal.  They also learned word was spreading among the criminal elite that he planned to auction off some rare emeralds through a mob-friendly jeweler in Metropolis.  Knowing they had to move before the gems changed hands, they sniffed out the location of his hideaway and prepared to eliminate him.

Renting a room in a flophouse across from Penguin’s lair, they set their plan in motion after sunset.  Bakeem took a pair of binoculars and peered out the window.  “Excellent view, Mr. Mobutu.”

“Good.  Do you see him?”

“No, but I will.  It’s merely a matter of time until he goes out.”

About an hour later, Bakeem detected shadows moving behind the shades in Penguin’s abode.  “He may be preparing to leave.”

Mobutu picked up his sniper rifle and adjusted the scope.  “Aim for the door?”

“Just beyond.”

Thirty seconds passed, and the front door opened.  As Penguin stepped out, he heard a pop, and a bullet ricocheted off the sidewalk inches from his feet.

“Too low,” Mobutu said calmly.

“Yes,” Bakeem replied.  “Try again.”

Mobutu had already pulled the trigger by the time his colleague finished speaking.

The shot nicked the collar of Penguin’s overcoat and shattered a pane of glass in the door.  Fearfully darting back inside, he locked the door, switched off the lights, and retreated to the bedroom.

Pengy, what’s happening?” Evangeline anxiously asked.

Indignant, he threw off his overcoat.  “Some jerk just tried to assassinate me!”

 

Mobutu put the rifle away.  “Close, but no cigar.  It was a longshot, Mr. Bakeem.”

“Yet worth a try.  Nothing ventured…”

“Nothing gained.”  Mobutu closed the window and drew the shade.  “Backup plan?”

“Tomorrow night.  He’s too rattled right now.  I’m betting he’ll stay in for the day.”

 

Evangeline nuzzled Penguin and rubbed his shoulders to get him unwound.  “Who would want to shoot you?”

“I can think of one or two…dozen.”

“I keep telling you, stay away from those mob guys.  They’re way too territorial.”

“Oh, I am, Evie.  You should be proud of me.  I haven’t double-crossed anyone in months.”

“What about--”

“Joker doesn’t count, my dear.”

“Well, apparently somebody does.”  She kissed him.  “Just be careful.  Whoever it was may try again.”

 

And they did.  Bakeem and Mobutu kept the building under constant surveillance.  Shortly after eight the next night, Evangeline left with a couple of friends for a girls’ night out.

“He appears to be alone now,” Bakeem said, putting down the binoculars.

The African checked himself in the mirror.  “Gives new meaning to ‘dressed to kill,’ doesn’t it?”

Bakeem shoved a clip into his automatic pistol.  “Professional is as professional does, Mr. Mobutu.  Ready?”

“Ready.”

“Let’s go.”

 

Penguin had the valise of emeralds on his desk and toyed with them as he spoke by phone to the jeweler in Metropolis.  “So, when do you want ‘em?”

“Thursday, the day before the auction, will be fine.”

“How many bidders so far?”

“Eight representatives have expressed their intention to attend.”

“The more, the merrier.”

He heard a knock.

“Somebody’s here.  I’ll call you back later.”  He zipped up the bag and shoved it under the desk.  “Just a minute,” he shouted.

When he opened the door, Bakeem and Mobutu pushed their way in.

“Hey, wait a minute.  You got a warrant?”

“We aren’t the police, Mr. Penguin,” Bakeem said.

“Then who are you, and what are you doing barging into my home?”

Mobutu drew his pistol and chambered a round.  “You have something that doesn’t belong to you.”

Bakeem flashed his gun.  “We represent a very powerful man who heads a very powerful organization, and we’re here to recover his property.”

Penguin moved slowly back in the direction of his umbrella gun.  “The emeralds?”

Mobutu smiled.  “The emeralds.”

“Guys, listen, how about we make a deal?  The gems are being auctioned Friday night.  I’ll give you a third of the profits.”

Bakeem took aim.  “We don’t make deals.”

Nervously, Penguin retreated even further inside.  “Forty percent.”

“Give us the emeralds,” Mobutu insisted.

“Fifty percent, and that’s my final offer.”

“You’re quite correct,” Bakeem said as he fired.

Penguin dropped to the floor and saw a Tiffany lamp behind him shatter.

“The emeralds, Mr. Penguin.  Where are they?”  Mobutu raised his pistol.

“They’re already in Metropolis,” Penguin yelled as he crawled behind the couch.

Bakeem shot again, and the television exploded with a shower of sparks.

Penguin grabbed the nearest umbrella, which happened to be his large bulletproof one.  Though it wasn’t the machine gun he had hoped for, he hid behind it and tried to scurry to the door.

Both agents fired, but the umbrella shielded him.  Then they began raking the room with bullets, hoping to pin him down and prevent his escape.

When he reached the door, he picked up his smokescreen umbrella, activated it, and threw it in their direction.  Though the cloud quickly dissipated, it gave him enough time to escape and trot away as fast as his little legs could move.

Bakeem and Mobutu were soon racing after him.

Rounding a corner, he glanced back.  So far, so good.

Up ahead, a shadow darkened the way, and he slammed right into the black form of Batman.  Ow!” he cried, massaging his nose.

“What’s your hurry, Penguin?”

“Nothing that concerns you.”

Bakeem and Mobutu turned the corner.  “There he is!”

Penguin darted behind Batman and tried to hide.  “Help!  Stop those guys!  They’re trying to kill me.”

“You say that like it would be a bad thing.”  The Dark Knight crossed his arms and stoically watched the assassins approach.

“C’mon, Batman!  I know we’ve had our differences, but please, you can’t let them shoot me down like a dog.”

“If you insist.”

While Batman moved forward to engage, Penguin found a garbage can and cowered.

“What the hell is that?” Mobutu asked.

“I told you Gotham was weird.”  Bakeem fired twice at the black and yellow bat emblem on the stranger’s chest.  He did a double take as the bullets ricocheted.

“Allow me.”  Mobutu emptied a full clip into Batman, who calmly deflected every shot with his gauntlets and cape.

Before the stunned assassins could formulate a new plan, Batman leaped on them.  He decked Bakeem with a right hook and sent Mobutu down with a kick to the belly and a chop to the neck.

“Withdraw…regroup,” Bakeem gasped, rolling to his feet.

Mobutu groaned.  “Affirmative.”

Batman decided not to pursue them as they fled.  Looking around for Penguin, he spotted him beside the trash bin.  “You can come out now.”

Penguin stood up and straightened his coat.  “Whew!  Thank you.  I think they tried to kill me last night, too.  Well...I guess I owe you one.  Ta-ta.”

With a tap on the shoulder, Batman said, “Not so fast.  Who were those men?”

“No idea.”

“So they just showed up and decided this would be a good time to shoot you?”

“Sort of.”  Penguin avoided eye contact.  “Uh, not exactly.”

Batman grabbed the lapels of his coat.  “Level with me, Oswald.  Or I’ll take you to the police and let them worry about keeping your mischievous tail alive.  You’re still wanted for all those banks you robbed during Joker’s crime spree, you know.”

“No, thanks.  Jail doesn’t agree with me.”

“It would be a much safer place at this point.  If those men have tried twice to take you out, you know they’ll try again.”

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you, Batbrain?”

“While the thought of seeing you trapped in your own web is amusing, the fact remains that everyone in Gotham--even your kind--deserves protection under the law.”

“Your concern for my well-being is touching,” Penguin said acidly.

“It’s more than you’ve ever shown.  Now, why are those men after you?”

“I found some emeralds.”

“Found?”

“Okay, I took ‘em.  From what I thought was an abandoned car.  They belonged to a dumb lost tourist, and in his situation, he really didn’t seem to need ‘em.”

“But he wasn’t just a tourist, right?”

“Apparently, he worked for some big shot, ‘cause those bozos in silk suits came knocking and wanted the gems back.”  Penguin smacked his forehead.  “Aww, damn!”

“What?”

“The emeralds were still at my place when I got out.  What do you wanna bet they headed right back there after you chased them off?”

“You hid them, right?”

“No, they were under the desk.”

“If we hurry, we might catch them there.  Where exactly is your little lair?”

“Do I have to tell you?”  He sighed.  “I’m gonna need a new place either way, I guess.  Couple of blocks over, where the old Stieglitz optical shop used to be.”

“Lead the way,” Batman said, giving him a nudge.

 

Although Penguin was never the neatest person, Batman could tell his home had been ransacked.  “Seems they wanted to send you a message as well as get the jewels.”

Penguin switched on a light, tramped through the debris, and went straight to his desk.  “Crap!  It’s gone.  I left the bag under there.”  He righted an overturned chair, sat down, and began pouting.  “Those stinkin’ emeralds were my ticket to prosperity!”

“Says he who stole three million dollars on Hell Night.”

“Two, after I paid my men.”

The faint sound of shoes on the sidewalk drew Batman’s attention.  He put a finger to his lips and pointed outside.

Penguin moved back as an athletic man in a black turtleneck and trousers appeared at the door.

The stranger cautiously pushed it open and stepped inside.  Spotting the odd-looking pair, he raised his pistol.  “Bit late for Halloween, isn’t it, gents?” he asked in a measured British accent.

The Dark Knight reached for his utility belt, and the man fired twice.

Like the assassins, he watched incredulous as Batman’s armor deflected the shots.

Ready to throw a batarang, Batman said, “Drop the gun.”

Smiling slightly, the suave stranger let go of his pistol.  “It would appear that you have me at a disadvantage.”

“Who are you?” Batman asked.

“Bond.  James Bond, of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

Penguin scowled.  “He’s a spy?”

“And you are…?”

“Batman.”

“AKA, the Caped Crusader...righter of wrongs…crimefighter and winged vigilante who insists on giving independent businessmen like me a hard time.  I’m Penguin, by the way.”

Bond said, “Ah, the man I’m looking for.”

Penguin moved behind Batman again.  “Not you, too.”

Bond eyed the wrecked room.  “So they beat me here.”

“Who?” Penguin wondered.

“Blofeld’s men.  I have a feeling they found what they wanted.”

“And that would be what?”

“The emeralds, Mr. Penguin.  No need to play dumb.”

“How do you know about those?”

“I’ve been tracking Blofeld’s courier for a month.”  Bond looked at Batman and gestured at the pistol on the floor.  “May I?”

Batman nodded.

“Pretty puny pop gun for a spy,” Penguin cracked.

“Walther PPK, double action semiautomatic,” Batman said.  “Deadly things come in small packages.”

Bond holstered the weapon.  “I’m impressed, Batman.  You know your firearms.”

“He knows a lot,” Penguin said.  “Too much, from my perspective.”

“I think Mr. Bond and I are on the same side,” Batman commented before turning to Penguin.  “And you’re mixed up in something way out of your league.  Let’s talk.  Start from the beginning.”

Clearing a spot on the couch, Bond sat down.  “I’ve followed one of Blofeld’s couriers around the world.  I was supposed to nab him when he got on a flight to Switzerland, but he never made it.”

“He ran into me,” Penguin said.

“And you lifted the emeralds from him,” Bond continued.  “His body was found in his hotel room this morning.  Shot twice at close range.”

“I didn’t do it.”

“No, Blofeld sent two of his best assassins to recover the gems and mop up loose ends.”

“Meaning Penguin and the courier,” Batman said.

“Exactly.  Blofeld has worked long and hard and spent millions of dollars to collect those emeralds.  I can only imagine how utterly angry at you he must be.”

“Who is this Blofeld guy?” asked Penguin.

“Ernst Stavro Blofeld heads an international criminal organization called SPECTRE.  Their goal, quite simply, is world domination.”

“Sounds like another outfit I’ve dealt with,” Batman muttered.

“What is so freakin’ special about those six emeralds, anyway?”

Bond stared right at Penguin.  “You don’t know?  No, I guess you wouldn’t.”

“All I know is they were different sizes and each one had numbers engraved on the bottom.”

“When the stones are put in order from smallest to largest, they form the number of a Swiss bank account whose vault box contains hundreds of millions in negotiable gold certificates--the Nazis’ stolen wealth.”

“Holy cow!” Penguin gasped.

A chill went through Batman.

“I was sent to recover the stones and prevent Blofeld’s men from getting them.”

“Some spy you are,” sneered Penguin.

“If it hadn’t been for your greedy meddling, they’d be in my possession by now.  As it is, Blofeld’s men have them, and they’re probably preparing to fly back to Switzerland as we speak.  Do you have any idea what a mess you’ve caused?  If SPECTRE gets its hands on all that money, it could seriously alter the global political structure.”

Penguin sneezed and reached for a handkerchief.  Stopping suddenly, he pulled his hand out of his pocket.  “Well, would you look at that!”

An emerald was clasped in his fingers.

“I forgot, I stuck it in there this afternoon.”

Bond snatched it from him.  “I’ll take that, if you please.”

“So Blofeld’s goons don’t have ‘em all,” Penguin said with satisfaction.

Batman gave him an irritated look.  “And you know what that means?  They’ll come looking for you again the minute they discover one of the gems is missing.”

Examining the stone, Bond said, “It’s the biggest one.  Better make sure your life insurance is paid up.”

Panicked, Penguin asked, “So you guys are just gonna let them come here and kill me?”

 “You can always hide somewhere else,” Batman said.  “It’s a big city.”

 “Sorry, Penguin,” Bond said nonchalantly, “but there’s no time to worry about your problems.  We have to find a way to retrieve the other emeralds from Blofeld’s men.”

Batman adjusted his gloves.  “First we need to find where they are.”

“Already done.  They’re registered at the Ambassador Hotel.”

“The Ambassador has the tightest security in Gotham.”

“I’m not surprised, since  Blofeld plans for every contingency.  Recovering those jewels will be quite a challenge.”

“Come with me,” Batman said as he headed to the door.  “I know someone who’s perfect for the job.”

 

Satisfaction turned to disappointment, then anger for Bakeem and Mobutu when they realized they had only five of the emeralds.  “Penguin is dead meat,” Mobutu hissed while reloading his gun.

“In due time.”  Bakeem took out his cell phone.  “First, we update Mr. B.”

“Yes?” Blofeld answered.

“This is Bakeem.  We’ve recovered five of the six.”

“Good.  And the last one?”

“We know who has it, and we will deal with him shortly.”

“Excellent news.  Any complications?”

“Contact Fourteen reports that Bond is here.”

“You know what to do.  He’s intelligent and clever.  As a precaution, put the emeralds in the hotel vault.”

“Is that wise, sir?” Bakeem asked.

“Wiser than having them in your room for Bond to break in and snatch.  This is why you’re staying at the Ambassador.  Their security measures are second to none.”

“I understand.”

“Notify me the instant you have the sixth stone.”

 

Bond accompanied Batman back to the Batcave, where Catwoman was working out with her whip, trying to sharpen her skills to their pre-injury level.  The work was much harder than she envisioned, but it did not shake her determination.  Seeing the Batmobile drive up, she took a break.

Batman opened the canopy, and the two men got out.  “Mr. Bond, I’d like you to meet Catwoman.  Catwoman, James Bond, British Secret Service.”

Bond took one look at the feisty feline and was smitten.  Like a lovestruck schoolboy, he ogled her shapely figure, so nicely packed into tight black vinyl.  “What’s new, pussycat?”

She recognized the look and gave him a playful pout before tossing back her mane of dark hair.  “Clever.  Nice to meet you, Mr. Bond.”

Turning on the charm, he said, “It’s even nicer from where I stand.”

“Take it easy, Bond.  She’s mine,” Batman cautioned.

Giving the Dark Knight a phony smile, she took his arm in hers.  “What Batman meant to say, Mr. Bond, is that we’re committed to each other.”  She kissed his lips.  “Very committed.”

“I see,” the agent replied.  “My apologies to both of you.”

Batman patted her backside.  “A lot of men have the same reaction.  She’s used to it.”

“And adept at deflecting it, too,” Bond said, turning off the charm.

“Not to be rude,” Batman said, “but we have work to do.  Catwoman, would you help us steal some emeralds?”

Mmm,” she purred.  “My naughty past returns to haunt me again.  Mind telling me why?”

Bond explained the situation and the time pressures involved.

Blofeld’s men will certainly pay Penguin another visit, and he’ll tell them we have the last emerald.  In a way, that works to our advantage,” Batman said.  “While they’re hunting for us, we can go take the gems back.”

“Where are the jewels?” she asked.

“Either in their room or the hotel vault,” Bond replied.  “If Blofeld knows I’m in town, which he surely must suspect, he won’t take any chances.  He’ll tell his goons to put them in the vault.  Batman informs me the Ambassador is tops when it comes to security.”

She frowned.  “You aren’t making this easy, guys.”

“I can get you detailed schematics of the hotel,” Batman assured her.  “Probably even how to deactivate the security system.”

“Let it never be said that I don’t love a challenge.  So how will I know I’ve got the right emeralds?”

Bond produced the stone he took from Penguin.  “They’ll look like this.”

Meeeow,” she sighed sensually.  “Green ice…lovely.”  Winking at Batman, she added, “My birthday’s coming up, darling.”

“Business first.  Mr. Bond, tell us your plan.”

 

Bakeem and Mobutu were in no mood for games or subtleties when they returned to Penguin’s lair.  Bursting in with guns drawn, they found him still cleaning up from their earlier visit.

“Oh, hell, not you two again!”

Bakeem pushed him down on the sofa, and shoved a cold pistol barrel under his chin.  “We can do this the easy way or the not-so-easy way.”

Penguin swallowed hard.  “I vote for easy,” he said hoarsely.  “Easy is good.”

“I agree.”  Bakeem withdrew the pistol and made him sit up.

“One question,” Mobutu said, coming closer.  “Where’s the other emerald?”

Rubbing his throat, Penguin firmly replied, “I don’t have it.”

Bakeem put a round in the chamber.  “Not the answer we’re looking for.”

“But it’s the truth,” Penguin growled.

“How about if we just kill you and see for ourselves?” Mobutu asked with an evil grin.

“You’ll find out I’m not lying.”

Bakeem touched Penguin’s nose with the silencer on his gun.  “If you don’t have it, then who does?”

“Some guy named Bond.  He took it from me.  He and Batman left with it about an hour ago.”

“Batman?” Mobutu frowned.

“The big guy in black who chased you away earlier.”

Bakeem said, “Yes, I’ve heard talk of this Batman on the street.  He’s some vigilante crime fighter, correct?”

Penguin nodded.

“And if he protected you…” Mobutu began.

“Then you must be important to him,” Bakeem finished.

“Uh, yeah, yeah,” Penguin said eagerly.  “Very important.  We’re like best friends, worked together for years.”

Mobutu shoved a gun in his ribs.  “Let’s take him back to the hotel.  Maybe we can persuade Batman and Bond to make a trade.”

Nervous but willing to keep up the charade to stay alive, Penguin looked at both men.  “That’s a great idea.”

Bakeem yanked him to his feet and pushed him towards the door.  “Get moving.”

 

Once back at their hotel, the two men expertly bound Penguin’s wrists and ankles with duct tape and tied him to a chair.

“Batman’s gonna be very angry that you’re treating a valuable hostage like this,” Penguin shouted, playing it to the hilt.

Bakeem slapped him. “Be quiet!  If you’re such good friends with this Batman, how do we contact him?”

“You don’t.  He just sort of appears.”

“What?” Mobutu asked.

Penguin rolled his eyes.  “Look…it’s not like he’s sitting around waiting for a phone call from somebody in trouble.  He roams the city looking for trouble.  Somehow, he just knows where there’s a problem.”

Frustrated, Bakeem kicked the chair.  “How do the police contact him, then?”

“The Bat-signal.  It’s a big searchlight on top of the police building.  But forget about it.  You’ll never get past their security.”

“Let me worry about that,” the Middle Easterner said as he checked the ammo in his pistol.  “Mr. Mobutu, please keep our guest entertained.  I’m going Bat hunting.”

 

In the next forty-one minutes, Bakeem kidnapped a Gotham patrol officer, infiltrated police headquarters in a uniform stolen from the officer’s car, made his way to the roof unhindered, and switched on the Bat-signal.

“Not bad,” he mused, checking his watch.  “I calculated forty-five.”

Batman appeared out of the shadows fifteen minutes later.  “Commissioner?”

Bakeem turned the signal off.  “Afraid not, Batman.”

Once the light was gone, the Dark Knight could see his face.  “You’re not a real officer.  You’re one of the men who tried to kill Penguin.”

“Correct.  You’re an intelligent man, so I’ll be direct.  I represent the interests of one Ernst Stavro Blofeld.”

“The head of SPECTRE.”

“I see Bond has filled you in.  Your friend Penguin stole six emeralds that belong to Mr. B.”

Batman scowled.  “He’s not my friend.”

“We’ve recovered five of the emeralds.  You and Mr. Bond have the sixth.”

“And what if we do?”

Bakeem let Batman see his pistol, but made no threatening moves.  “You have something we want.  We have something you want.  Let’s trade.  Penguin for the emerald.  Oh, and Mr. B can offer you a very generous reimbursement for your trouble.”

Batman grabbed his collar and got in his face.  “I don’t know what garbage Penguin’s been feeding you, but he’s a criminal pest.  Gotham City would be better off without him.  As far as I’m concerned, you can keep him.  Now get out of here and take off that uniform before I turn you over to the real police!”

Backing up as Batman loosened his grip, Bakeem calmly straightened his shirt.

Batman drew out a Batarang and pointed toward the fire escape.

Taking the hint, Bakeem sprinted away.  When he was out of sight, he stopped and phoned Mobutu.  “Penguin tricked us.  He’s a dead duck when I return.”

 

Gliding down to the Batmobile, the Dark Knight fired up its turbine and activated the comlink to the Batcave.  “Alfred, tell Catwoman and Bond to meet me at the Ambassador Hotel.  We’ve got to rescue an endangered Penguin.”

 

From outside, the Ambassador looked like an old-style high-rise one might’ve seen in a classic Cary Grant film.  Inside, however, it was as modern as they come.  Few of Gotham’s other hotels could match it for elegance and splendor, not to mention the sophisticated security network designed by a former CIA expert.

Scores of cameras watched over each floor and hallway.  Intruder detection sensors provided added security in sensitive areas--especially the vault.

None of which mattered much to Batman, Bond, and Catwoman.  They knew from experience that a system is only as good as its weakest link, and that usually meant the human element.  One of the night front clerks called in sick, leaving a young college girl to handle everything.

While Batman and Catwoman made their way to the hotel’s roof, Bond remained on the first floor coordinating the operation.

Thanks to the detailed schematics Batman had, Catwoman encountered little trouble in the ventilation system.  She quickly rappelled down the exhaust shaft and began crawling through the labyrinth of ductwork on the first floor.

“How are you doing, girl?” Bond asked over their wireless comlink.

“Fine.  It’s Catwoman, by the way.”

“Duly noted.”

“I see the T duct ahead.”

“Take the left fork.  The vault is about fifty meters down.”

“We’re running out of time,” Batman commented.

She groaned.  “Somebody tell me again why we’re in such a big hurry to save Penguin’s lousy butt.”

Blofeld’s men will kill him if we don’t,” answered Batman.

“And that would be bad because…?”

“Cut the chatter, you two,” Bond said.  “Batman, Blofeld’s guy just entered the elevator.  Get ready to make your move.”

The Dark Knight fired a grappling hook into the building’s stone ledge and leapt over the side.  Next stop: the nineteenth floor.

 

“Okay, I think I’m at the vault.”  Catwoman paused and peered through the grating.

“What do you see?” asked Bond.

“Rows and rows of safety deposit boxes.  If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was in a bank.”

“Hold there until I get the clerk’s attention.  I’m going up to distract her now.”

“What’s she look like?”

“Blonde, very pretty.”

“No problem for a guy with a PhD in sex appeal,” she said dryly.

“I’ll take that as a compliment.  You know, we do work well together.”

She quietly cleared her throat.  “I must be having trouble with my receiver.  It sounded like you were hitting on me again, James.”

He smiled as he buttoned his suit coat.  “Sorry.  Can’t blame a man for trying.”

“Sure I can.  Which box will the emeralds be in?”

Blofeld’s men are registered in room 1908.”

“I can see row nineteen from here.”

“Good.  Remember, when the vault door’s closed, the silent alarm in the floor is activated.  If you drop something even as small as a screw….”

“…I’ll spend the rest of the night in a nice, uncomfortable jail cell with Penguin.  Blech!”  She carefully unrolled her toolkit and started to work on the air vent grating.

 

“Hi.  Can I help you, Mr., uh--”

“Bond.  James Bond.”  He flashed his best grin.  “Yes, you can…Bridgette,” he said, reading her nametag.  “What’s there to do in Gotham City after hours?”

“Plenty, sir.  What’d you have in mind?”

He leaned closer.  “Maybe a couple of drinks, a little dancing….”

What a hunk, she thought.  “There’s the Octagon Club.  It’s about two blocks east.  Pretty classy, not rowdy at all.  They play slow jazz, a little Big Band, that sort of thing.  Very cozy.”

“Sounds like my kind of place.”

“You, uh, entertaining friends, Mr. Bond?”  She batted her eyelashes.

“No, just looking for a nice, quiet evening on the town and someone to share it with.”

She decided to take the bait.  “My shift ends at midnight.  If you haven’t found anyone by then, I’d be happy to join you.”

 

Catwoman tried to tune out the gooey conversation in her earpiece and focus on the job at hand.  Having removed the grating, she pulled it back into the duct and gingerly climbed down onto the nearest row of safety deposit boxes.  Crouching, she leapt across the aisle to the middle row, then onto the row against the opposite wall.  Box 1908 was just below her right foot.

Taking a pair of thin syringes from her belt, she carefully stuck the needles in the two key slots and injected a fast-setting liquid, then disconnected the plastic tubes.  Thirty seconds later, she turned the acrylic keys and opened the door.  “Sure beats picking locks,” she muttered.  “Batman, darling, you are a genius.”

She gently removed the leather bag inside, closed the door, relocked it, and withdrew the keys. 

Slipping the satchel across her chest, she agilely retraced her jumps back to the starting point along the other wall and scampered up into the air duct.  Working fast, she put the grating back in place and secured it with the screws.  Rolling up her toolkit, she crawled away into the ventilation system.  Not bad, considering I’ve had a baby and been shot twice, she reflected.

Only then did she open the valise and examine its contents with her flashlight.  Mission accomplished,” she said into her microphone.  “And they’re every bit as pretty as their sister.”

 

Time to go.  “Midnight it is, then,” Bond said to Bridgette as he turned to leave.  “See you.”

“I hope so,” she whispered.

 

Bakeem stormed into Room 1908 and slammed the door.  He took one look at Penguin, then removed the safety from his pistol.  “Gag him.  I don’t want anyone to hear him scream.”

“Gladly.”  Mobutu tore a piece of duct tape and slapped it on Penguin’s mouth.

“You have been a thorn in our side long enough,” Bakeem said while he took aim.

The window behind him shattered as Batman came flying into the room.

Bakeem whirled around and fired.

Batman bounced off the bed and slapped the gun from his hand.  Before Bakeem could land a blow, the Dark Knight punched him in the chin.  The impact slammed him hard into the wardrobe, breaking the door and knocking him out.

A whirring sound caught Batman’s attention, and he turned to see Mobutu lunging at him with a buzzsaw-tipped cane.  He jumped aside, and the spinning blade bit into the wardrobe, sending splinters in every direction.

Watching the action, Penguin’s only thought was, “I gotta get me one of those!”

Mobutu charged again, this time narrowly missing Batman’s neck.

Bond burst through the door, pistol at the ready.  As Mobutu prepared to hurl the deadly cane at Batman, the agent fired three times.  The African let go of the weapon and crumpled to the floor.

Still spinning, the saw blade caromed off the rug and tore away one of the legs on Penguin’s chair before sputtering to a halt beside the bed.

“Your timing is impeccable, Mr. Bond,” said Batman.

“So it seems.”

Batman tore the tape off Penguin’s mouth.

“Am I glad to see you,” the little man gasped.

“You’ll change your mind about that when the cops get here.”

 

Responding to Batman’s call, the Gotham police arrived not long after to arrest Penguin and Bakeem.  They took statements from Bond and the Dark Knight, then let them leave.

 

At eight minutes before midnight, Batman, Bond, and Catwoman reunited on the hotel roof.  “Here you go,” she said, tossing the valise to the agent.

He smiled and looked in the bag.  “Don’t want to get too attached, eh?”

She hugged Batman’s arm.  “These days, this man is my only attachment.”

“What will your government do with all the money in that account?” Batman asked.

“A new UN fund for international refugees was set up last year.  The Nazi’s loot will go into it.”

“That should be quite a nice addition,” the Dark Knight said.

“Well, I’d best be on my way.  I’m flying home in the morning.”

Catwoman gave Bond a pout.  “And what about Bridgette, that poor girl at the front desk?  You’re going to break her heart if you don’t show up.”

He checked his watch.  “I think there’s just enough time for me to give her a date she’ll never forget.”

“So you’ll break her heart in the morning instead, huh?”

Bond kissed her on the cheek.  “You’ve been a delight to work with, love.  You wouldn’t happen to have a sister?”

She chuckled.  “If I did, you’re the type I’d warn her about.”