THE PURRFECT STORM

 

            Sometimes, no matter how hard a person tries, they just can’t stay out of the headlines.  The day Bruce Wayne’s impending marriage to Selina Kyle hit the press, it was, as they say in the business, a slow news day.  Which meant the wedding announcement of Gotham City’s most eligible bachelor ended up on the front page.

            “PLAYBOY WAYNE TO WED,” proclaimed Wednesday’s Gotham Gazette.  The Gotham Herald, in slightly more subdued fashion, said, “BILLIONAIRE WAYNE ENGAGED.”

            Bruce covered his eyes and shook his head as Alfred showed him the morning papers.  “How did something that was supposed to be in the society column end up on page one?”

            “I believe it’s known as a slow news day, sir.”

            “Selina will be mortified.”

            “The Herald story is tasteful, at least.  ‘Billionaire Bruce Wayne announced his engagement Wednesday to Miss Selina Kyle, East Coast Vice President of Minerva Beauty Products.  It will be the first marriage for both.  The wedding is planned for April.’”

            “I waited until after New Year’s to make the announcement because I hoped people wouldn’t notice much.”

            Alfred chuckled.  “Then you should have put it out a couple of days before Christmas.”

            “Can you order two dozen roses for Selina?  I’m going to need some backup for my apology.”

            “What apology is that, darling?”  Selina walked into the study, her wavy black hair flowing over her shoulders like a cape.

            Alfred showed her the papers.

            “Oh.  Must be a slow news day,” she said nonchalantly.  “Someone was bound to make a big deal of it eventually.  Might as well get it over with now.”

            Bruce kissed her.  “You’re not upset?”

“Nah.”

“Shall I forget about the flowers?”

            She kissed him back.  “Not on your life.”

 

            The lights had already been on for three hours at a small concrete building on the far outskirts of Gotham.  As he munched on a piece of dry toast, the man known as Penguin turned on the TV.

            “...and in the five day forecast, it looks like a major winter storm is taking aim at the Gotham area for this weekend,” the weatherman droned.  “We can expect thunderstorms with moderate to heavy rain, forty mile per hour wind gusts, and possible blizzard conditions as the rain changes over to snow Saturday night.  Snow and ice accumulations should be eight to ten inches before it all clears out by Monday.”

            “That’s too bad, Pengy,” a statuesque blonde commented.

            “What’s too bad?”

            “The weather.  Looks like you’ll have to cancel.”

            “What are you talking about?  Do you know how long I’ve been working on this plan?  Six months!  Six months of studying, plotting, and getting your girls trained.  Six months to make sure nothing goes wrong.  That storm is wonderful news, Diana!  It’ll be great cover for us.  The police are less likely to be out in the middle of a blizzard.  My only question is, can the girls work as well in harsh weather?”

            “My Snowbirds are from Sweden, dear.  We can handle any cops, blizzard or not.  Don’t worry your little bald head, Pengy.”

            “I’m not worried.  I know what the girls can do.  With six fourth degree black belts around here, even I feel intimidated sometimes.”

            She laughed and rubbed his back.  “I wonder how Batman would feel if he saw them.”

            He inhaled slowly.  “Yes.  Batman.  The only one who really intimidates me!  I may have spent six months on our little operation, but for three years I’ve been searching for a way to get my revenge on Batman.”

            “Do Bats come out in blizzards?”

            A light went on in Penguin’s mind.  “They do if they’re invited.  You’re beautiful and brilliant, Diana!  Yes!  I can use this operation as a lure, and your Snowbirds will be the trap!”  He jumped around with excitement.  “We get rich, Batman gets his payback, and the blizzard ensures out escape.  My dear, this is going to be the perfect storm!”

            “You must really hate Batman.”

            “He always thwarts my plans!  Now, granted, I certainly appreciate a good chess match with the guy.  But what he did last time was unfair.  It was cruel--unsportsmanlike!”

            “What happened?”

            “I was getting away in a speedboat when he shot one of his Batarang things.  It wrapped around me and jerked me into the river.  I’m not a great swimmer, so I was afraid of drowning.  I yelled for help, but the guy just stood there watching me flounder.”

            “How awful.”

            “But I outsmarted him!  I managed to tread water, and I remembered these words: ‘He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.’  So I pretended to drown and floated to another pier where I hid.”

            “Good for you.”  She gave him a kiss.  “So Batman thinks you’re dead?”

            “They never found my body, and he hasn’t heard from me since.”  He made an evil grin.  “Won’t he be surprised!

 

            The next morning, Bruce and Selina snuggled together in their warm bed.  “How do you like your new job so far?” he asked.

            “It’s great.  The hours are not too bad--yet.  Hope that doesn’t change.”

            He yawned.  “Wayne Enterprises needs to diversify a little.  How would you feel if I bought Minerva?”

            “The whole company?”

            “Yeah.  Then you’d be working for me,” he said with a smirk.

            “Uh, I’m not sure that would be a good thing.”

            “You’re going to be working for me as Batman’s partner, so you might as well get used to it.”

            “No, no, no.”  She put her finger on his lips.  “I’ll be working with you as Batman’s helper.  I’m not a housecat, remember?  I still intend on doing some freelancing after we’re married.”

            “Whatever you are, I love you, anyway.”

            “I know, darling.  And I think you’ll love the new Catsuit I’ve made.”

            “Something wrong with the old one?”

            “It’s showing its age, I can’t put my hair up in the mask anymore, and, frankly, I still get spooked by the image of Sherry Miller lying dead in an identical suit.  It’s like Scrooge seeing his name on that gravestone.”

            “Yeah, I understand.  It still rattles me sometimes.  What’s different in your new suit?”

            “Zippered front--easier to put on and take off.  Low neckline--cooler and more flexible.  Utility belt.  Sharper claws.  A new mask that lets me keep my hair down.  Basically, more utilitarian for me.”

            “And sexier for me, it sounds like.”

            “Bruce Wayne, you have a one-track mind.”

            “Only when I’m around you.”

            “Mmm.”  She kissed his chest.  “What’s on our social calendar for the weekend?”

            “Nothing, actually.  After all the holiday gatherings, it’s nice to have some free time.  I want to do a little work on the car.”

            “Men and their cars.”  She shook her head.  “I’d like to go do something, even if it’s not a big high society event.”

            “There’s a new exhibit opening at the Museum on Friday.”

            “What is it?”

            “The Treasures of Kuala Mubar.  Lots of jewelry.”

            Eyeing the enormous diamond on her engagement ring, she said, “I think I’ve got all the jewelry I need for a while.”

            “Oh, but you haven’t seen anything like this.  There’s more than fifty items, including the Raven Diamond.  It’s the largest stone ever found in Asia, about the size of a football.  Two hundred years ago, a craftsman hand carved the diamond into a beautiful raven sculpture.  It’s priceless.”

            “Uhhhhhhhh!”  She flopped back on her pillow.

            “What’s wrong?”

            “I’m having visions of Batman being called in for extra security.  So much for a quiet weekend.”

            He kissed her.  “They already have three layers of security.  The room is protected by a laser matrix alarm system and watched by three cameras.  Two armed guards stand outside.  The museum has a staff of three nighttime guards, all trained in self-defense.  Not even Catwoman could get in.”

            Smiling seductively, she whispered, “Don’t tempt me.”

 

            Thursday afternoon, Police Commissioner Gordon sat in his office puzzling over a strange note left at the Gotham Museum.  It was a small card with “You’re Invited Saturday” on one side and “Birds of a feather flock together” on the other.

            A guard found it, and the museum director, wanting to be safe and not sorry, notified the police.

            Gordon had it analyzed for fingerprints.  The prints were not from anyone in the national crimel database.  Could it have dropped out of someone’s pocket or purse by accident?  Did it even have any connection to the museum?  Maybe it was an invitation for a birdwatching party.  Who knows?

            Gordon didn’t like coincidences.  In fact, when it came to law enforcement he didn’t believe in them.  He convinced himself it was no coincidence that this note arrived a day before the Kuala Mubar treasures were to go on display.

            “Birds of a feather,” he said slowly.  Blackbirds.  Eagles.  Hummingbirds.  Vultures.  Mockingbirds.  “Penguins!”

            He picked up the phone.  “Captain Martin, bring me the file on the Penguin.”

 

            Another rehearsal.  Penguin and Diana put the Snowbirds through one more practice session.  He wished he could fight half as well as these limber ladies, with their deadly martial arts skills.  Plus, they looked so sweet, all blonde and smiley.  No one would ever suspect they could be heartless killers.

            “I’ve been studying the museum’s security operations for months,” he told them.  “Bad weather is their Achilles’ heel.  In case of storm warnings, their procedure is to rely on electronic surveillance and limit human security to one guard in the basement watching everything.  They don’t want guards upstairs where they could be cut by flying glass or debris.  However, come hell or high water, the Kuala Mubar exhibit on the second floor will have two live guards outside.

            “Hera and Aurora will be responsible for taking them out.  Venus, you kill the guard in the basement and shut off the electricity.  Fortuna will disable the police alarm connection.  Athena, you assist Diana in swiping the jewels.  Let me be clear on one thing.  Nobody--I mean, NOBODY--touches the Raven Diamond but me.  You understand?”

            “Yes, Penguin,” they said in unison.

            “Oh, I like the sound of that.  You birds have great harmony.”

            “What about Batman?” Diana asked.

            “I’m so glad you brought him up, dear.  Well, not really, but you know what I mean.  Batman should make an appearance at some point during our little soiree.  Just kill him.  Simple.  And whichever lucky girl does kill him will get a bonus from my share of the treasure.”

            Diana turned to face the girls.  “Remember how Batman fights.  Strong, quick-strike moves, coupled with lots of gadgets.  Fight him as though you were fighting yourselves.  Plus, you’ll have belts with some gadgets of your own.  Okay, another personal combat drill.  Let’s go!”

 

            Gordon intently read everything in the Penguin’s file.  “It’s been so long, I almost forgot about him.  History of bird-related capers.  Got Max Shreck to bankroll his run for mayor.  Presumed drowned three years ago?  Captain, refresh my memory on that one.”

            Martin answered, “I worked the case myself.  After he robbed the armored car company vault, he was taking the money down the Gotham River to an offshore yacht.  Batman knocked him out of the boat and reported seeing him drown.”

            “Oh, yeah.  We never recovered the body, did we?”

            “No, sir.  We dragged the river for two miles on either side of the point where he disappeared.  Nothing came up, and no corpse ever floated ashore.”

            “Then you have to wonder, did he really die, or did he swim somewhere else while we were looking in the wrong spot?”

            “Batman was certain he saw him go under and never come back up.  To be fair, given the Penguin’s physique, he didn’t look like a competent swimmer.”

            “Never underestimate these master criminals, Captain.  They’re as sneaky and clever as they come.”

            “Well then, like the guys say in Homicide Division, ‘No body, no case.’”

            Gordon closed the file and rubbed his eyes.  “I think we should go with the assumption that Penguin is alive.  I also think it’s more than likely he had something to do with this note left at the museum.”

            “What does it mean?”

            “He’s letting us know two things.  One, he’s back.  Two, he’s got his eyes on the Raven Diamond and the Treasures of Kuala Mubar.”

            Martin looked mystified.  “He sure picked a tough nut for his comeback.  The security on that exhibit is some of the tightest Gotham’s ever seen.”

            “With good reason.  Those treasures are worth more than some countries.  And their loss would be catastrophic.  At best, it would create an international incident.  At worst...well, I don’t want to think about it.”

            “Is there any way Penguin could even get into the room?”

            “He must think so, or he wouldn’t try.  And that’s what worries me,” Gordon admitted.  “He’s very careful and methodical.  I’m sure he’s studied the museum and its security thoroughly, looking for some flaw.”

            “When do you think he’ll strike?”

            “The note mentions Saturday.”

            “Yeah, but haven’t you heard, sir?  There’s a big storm heading our way.”

            “Bad weather, even a blizzard, is no barrier to a criminal mastermind.”

“If he’s so clever, why would he tell us when he’s going to strike?  It seems too obvious.  Maybe it’s a red herring.”

“We can’t gamble on that.  He’s probably taunting us.  Maybe he believes we can’t stop him, regardless.  Captain, I think it’s time to call the one man who knows Penguin better than we do.”

 

            Like frisky teenagers, Bruce and Selina were making out on the sofa in the library.  They were so engrossed in each other, it took nearly a minute to hear Alfred knocking on the door.

            “Maybe he’ll go away,” she muttered, stroking his hair.

            “He never interrupts me unless it’s vital.”

            “That depends on your definition of vital.”

            The butler continued knocking.  “Pardon me, sir.  Are you in there?”

            “Yes, Alfred.”

            “The Batsignal is on, sir.”

            Feeling his passions cool, Bruce mouthed, “Thank you.”

            “Ugh,” she sighed.  “Duty calls.”

            “Hey, why don’t you suit up and drive with me?  Dick’s got the flu, so I can use your help.  And, you’ve never ridden in the car.”

            “Aw, I don’t know.  Commissioner Gordon--I’d feel funny there in his office, and--”

            He silenced her with a kiss.  “Catwoman was pardoned.  What better way to prove she’s truly reformed than to show up as Batman’s assistant?  Besides, I’ll get to see your new suit, and it’s another hour with me.”

            She flashed a seductive smile.  “I’ll do anything with you, darling.”

 

            “This is a surprise, to say the least.” Gordon watched the duo leaped through his office window.  “Batman and Catwoman as a team?  Never thought I’d see the day.”

            Although nervous, she smiled politely.  “I’ve had a lot of long talks with Batman, Commissioner, and I want to use my expurrtise to fight crime.  Especially crimes against women.  See, I was a victim myself.  A man once tried to kill me.”

            Gordon was impressed with her candor and apparent sincerity.  “Well, I may need both of you before long.  Look at this.”  He handed Batman the invitation.  “It was left at the museum today.”

            “‘Birds of a feather flock together.’  Not very original.  Any ideas?”

            “A blast from the past, Batman.  I’d wager my retirement pay the Penguin is back.”

            “He’s supposed to be dead,” Catwoman gasped.

            “They never found his body,” Batman cautioned.  “I believed I saw him drown, but appearances can deceive.”

            She hissed.  “If he is alive, I’ve got a score or two to settle with that old bird.”

            “No time for revenge, Catwoman.  He’s plotting something big, and we have to find a way to stop him.  Batman, what does that note say to you?”

            “If it’s Penguin, it says he’s planning to heist the Raven Diamond on Saturday.”

            “That’s what I thought, too.”

            “How stupid.  Why would he tell the police what he’s going to do?” Catwoman asked.

            “My guess is the note was really meant for me,” Batman said.

            She crossed her arms.  “He wants you to know?”

            “If I don’t know, I can’t show up.”

            “So it’s a trap?”

            “Most likely,” he said.

            “Are you going to take the bait?”

            “Of course.”

            “I’m actually glad you said that.”  Gordon looked out the window.  “The weather service is forecasting a severe winter storm this weekend.  I’m going to have to keep a lot more officers on duty to handle public safety issues like power outages, downed lines, stranded drivers, and road closings.  I won’t have any extra personnel to watch the museum, and frankly, a break-in is going to be very low on our response priority list.  Can you two cover it for me?”

            Catwoman looked at Batman and nodded.  “We’ll be there.”

           

            On the ride back home, Batman said, “I was a little concerned about your comment on settling a score with Penguin.”

            “That user played on my hostility and suckered me into his plan to eliminate you.  And then he had the nerve to try to kill me!”

            “I’ve already forgiven you for that, Selina.”

            “But I haven’t forgiven him, and I’m not going to.”  She sighed.  “I suppose I haven’t forgiven myself, either.”

            “You’re allowed to.  Guilt can be a great hindrance for a crimefighter.”

            “I still want Penguin to get what he deserves.”

            “Happily, there’s a way to do that and see justice served.  We stop his theft and send him to prison.”

            “I just hope I get a chance to give him a piece of my mind.  Hsshhh!”

 

            Friday morning’s news report made Penguin smile broadly.

            “The winter storm we’ve been warning you about is expected to intensify Saturday as it moves into the Gotham area.  Commercial and industrial firms are being asked to curtail usage of natural gas and electricity to make more available for residential customers this weekend.  Travel after three on Saturday is being discouraged by law enforcement agencies.  Street crews will be on standby to help deice freeways and major arteries.  Mayor Golini is urging Gotham residents to stay home and await the storm’s passage.

            “In other news, Gotham Museum today hosts the opening of a new exhibit.  The Treasures of Kuala Mubar arrive for a one-month stay.  The exhibit includes rare jewelry from India and a sculpture of a raven carved from a single diamond.  The curator--”

            He shut the TV off.  “Marvelous, absolutely marvelous.  Diana, how’s the van coming?”

            “The machine guns are mounted in the back, and they’re almost through putting on the snow tires.  We’ll load up the equipment tonight.”

            “Did you get the armor-piercing bullets?”

            “One crate.”

            “Those are the only things which might actually penetrate that silly Batmobile.”

            “Pengy, relax.  Whether we get him on the road or at the museum, Batman will be history.”

 

            Bruce and Selina joined the crowd of early visitors at the museum that afternoon.  Everyone who attended came away for the exhibit more than impressed.

            Arranged in nine display cases around the room, the multicolored jewels and coins glimmered.  Sitting in the middle case, the Raven Diamond looked as if it was emitting its own light.

            “Can you imagine how long it took to carve a diamond that size?” Bruce marveled.  “Amazing.”

            “Beyond amazing,” Selina gasped.  “Almost...unearthly.”

            He took note of the security.  Only one entrance to the room.  Good.  Armed guard out front and one inside.  Also good.  No access panels in the ceiling.  Check.

            “Hello, Bruce, Miss Kyle.”  Mayor Golini extended his hand.

            “Mr. Mayor.”

            “Bruce, I’d like you to meet Ambassador Prakesh from Kuala Mubar.”

            “Ambassador, it’s an honor.  My fiancé, Selina Kyle.”

            “Nice to meet both of you.  So, I take it you are enjoying the exhibit?”

            “It’s breathtaking,” she said.

            Prakesh gestured around the room.  “This is the first of what I hope will be many cultural exchanges as a result of our recent treaty with your country.”

            “If this is any indication, I cannot wait to see what else Kuala Mubar has to offer.”

            “You are very kind, Mr. Wayne.”

            “Is this your first trip to Gotham City?”

            “Yes.  I was just appointed ambassador about three months ago, so I have not had time to see much of your wonderful country.  But so far, I am finding the people of Gotham to be very warm and welcoming.  In fact,” he reached over and tapped a young woman on the shoulder, “this beautiful lady has been especially helpful in preparing for the exhibit.”

            The blonde turned around.  “Yes, Mr. Ambassador?”

            “I was just telling Mr. Wayne and Miss Kyle here how delightful it’s been working with you.”

            Smiling, she said with a notable Scandinavian accent, “I’m Aurora Johansson.”

            Aurora is the docent the museum hired for our exhibit.”

            “A pleasure to meet you two.  I hope to see you again before the exhibit ends.”

            “You probably will, Miss Johansson,” Bruce replied.

 

            The skies opened up late Friday night.  By morning it was raining steadily, with temperatures dropping and winds increasing.

            Bruce and Selina were up early reviewing everything in the Batcave.

            “The museum alarm ties directly to the police dispatcher,” he explained.  “I’ve tapped into it on the far right computer.  If the alarm triggers, we’ll hear a loud beep.  There are so many ways to trip that alarm, it’ll be almost impossible for Penguin to break in without setting it off.”

            “What if they cut the wire?”

            “That’s one way to trip it.  Any interruption in the circuit, and it goes off.  Any break in the laser matrix, and it goes off.  The guard in the basement has a ‘panic button.’  He touches it, and--”

            “--the alarm goes off.  Gotcha.”

            “Sorry, dear.  Just trying to let you know everything I know.”

            “Really?”  She kissed him.  “That could take years.”

            “We need to be ready to suit up, so we can go on a moment’s notice.”

            “How long does it take to get from here to the museum?”

            “Five to ten minutes.  I put heavier tires on the car, so the road conditions shouldn’t be a factor.”

            “When do you think Penguin will strike?”

            “Sometime after the museum closes.  A daylight attack would be too risky.  He wants to snatch the jewels, not hurt people.  They’re closing at three due to the storm, so after that, we sit and wait.  And drink a lot of coffee.”

 

            It rained continually the rest of the day.  By eight p.m., vicious thunderstorms were lashing Gotham, and the temperature hovered just above 32°.  Lightning touched off small fires here and there, keeping the police and firefighters on their toes.

            Penguin’s van crept to a stop at the rear of the museum.

Dressed in white skin-tight jumpsuits and fur-lined parkas, Venus and Fortuna climbed out of the van and trotted down a small stairway to an unmarked basement door.  Trying their best to look distraught, they knocked urgently and yelled, “Help!”

After a minute and a half passed, the guard inside opened the door a crack.  Seeing their drenched, gorgeous blonde faces, he smiled.  “Yes?”

“Our car broke down, and it’s freezing.  Can you please help us?” Venus asked.

“Come in, girls.  It’s a terrible night to be out.”

They scurried in, and he quickly closed the door behind them.

“Thank you,” Fortuna said as they shed their parkas.  “You’re very kind.”

The guard thought he’d hit the jackpot.  All alone for the night with two stranded babes.  “Would you girls--”

Venus whirled around and kicked him so hard under the chin with her steel-toed boot, his neck snapped.  He was dead before he hit the ground.

Both girls pulled tool kits from their belts and hurried to the security panel on the wall.  Isolating the proper wires, they got their cutters.  A huge clap of thunder shook the building.  Then everything went dark.

 

The lights in the Batcave flickered momentarily and came back on.

“What was that?” Catwoman asked.

“Lightning strike.  Check the power grid monitor.”

“Everything’s red.”

“Citywide blackout.  It must’ve struck the relay station.  We have to get to the museum fast.”

 

Venus and Fortuna stood immobile as the dim emergency backup lights came on.

Diana, Penguin, and the other girls entered the basement office.

“Looks like power’s out across the city,” Diana said.  “What a lucky break.  Let’s make the most of it and go on upstairs.”

“This is even better than I hoped,” Penguin chuckled.

 

On the second floor, the treasure guards were watching the weather through the windows.  “Man, it’s coming a flood,” the first one said.

“Glad we’re inside,” the second one agreed.

Aurora and Hera walked lazily up the stairs and turned on the charm.

“Miss Johansson, what are you still doing here?” the first guard asked.

“I was finishing up some paperwork when the lights went out, Pete.  The storm, it’s kinda scary.”

Hera stood next to the other guard.  “And I’m cold.”

“Nothing to be afraid of, ma’am.  It’ll pass soon enough.”

Aurora patted Pete on the back.  “I’m so glad you guys are here to keep us safe.”

Hera smiled.

In one fluid movement, Aurora pulled a dagger from her jumpsuit, yanked Pete’s head back, and slit his throat, all while Hera did the same to the other unlucky guard.

Wiping her dagger clean on Pete’s shirt sleeve, she resheathed it and whistled.

Penguin and the rest of the Snowbirds came up and stood outside the exhibit room.

Athena and Diana kicked the doors open.

There, before their eyes, lay the Treasures of Kuala Mubar.  Even in the low emergency light, they sparkled.

“Okay, girls, get to work,” Diana called.  “Venus, you go guard the basement entrance.  Fortuna, cover the first floor.  Aurora and Hera, you take this floor.”

“Hmm.  No Batman yet,” Penguin commented.  “I half expected him to be waiting for us.”

 

When the Batmobile pulled up, Batman spotted the white van hiding behind the building.  “Looks like we’re just in time.”

The rain changed to snow with biting wind gusts, so instead of torrential floods, a blizzard and possible whiteout conditions were in the offing.

Leaving the car, Batman pulled a homing transmitter from his utility belt and hid it under the van’s fender.  He and Catwoman noted the basement door was slightly ajar.  They entered cautiously and saw the body of the slain guard.

 Venus jumped them from behind the door and knocked them to the ground.

Batman got to his feet first and gave her a vicious kick to the chest.  Catwoman lashed a hole in her jumpsuit with a strike from the bullwhip.

Cursing, Venus pulled a throwing star from her belt and flung it at Batman.  Grazing his left cheek, it drew blood and made him recoil in pain.

Venus leaped at Catwoman and landed a solid kick to her ribs.

As Catwoman fell, Batman stepped in front of her and punched Venus in the belly.  Grabbing the girl’s willowy hair, he slammed her face into the door and pushed her to the floor.

Catwoman rebounded and kicked her chin as she tried to rise.  Grabbing Venus’ head in her hands, she violently twisted her neck, and it made an audible pop.

Batman frowned as Catwoman picked up her whip.  “Where did you learn a move like that?”

She gave a sheepish grin.  “Ancient Chinese secret.”

“Are you alright?”

She grimaced and massaged her left side.  “Might’ve cracked a rib, but I can still move.”  Looking at his face, she said, “Ooh, darling, you’re bleeding.”

Batman wiped away the blood with his glove and stared at the dead blonde.  “She looks like one of the Snowbirds.”

“Snowbirds?”

“A group of highly trained assassins and thieves, one of several formed in Europe by Talia al Ghul.”

“Who?”

“She’s a nightmare I’d rather forget.  I have no idea how Penguin managed to hook up with the Snowbirds, but if it is them, we are in over our heads.”

“What do we do?”

“The best we can.  With Dick bedridden and the police busy elsewhere, there’s no help coming.  You search the first floor.  I’ll go up to the exhibit room.  It’s time to put Penguin on ice.”

 

The quietness of the museum was haunting.  Catwoman encountered Fortuna just west of the dormant elevators.  The Snowbird charged her and pulled her down in a solid tackle which demolished several jars of Navaho pottery.  She then punched Catwoman’s nose and chopped her abdomen.

Extending her right claws, Catwoman slashed Fortuna’s cheek and rolled upright.

Fortuna felt the rivulets of blood with her hand.  Enraged, she fired a poison dart, which Catwoman ducked as she sprinted away.  Racing after her foe, she pulled out a dagger and leaped.

She tried to aim for Catwoman’s neck, but the nimble feline spun around, caught her in mid-jump, and threw her into an antique bathtub.

Catwoman looked around for the main staircase.  Since she was unfamiliar with the museum’s layout, she took a wrong turn and found herself in a room of dinosaur skeletons.  She saw no other exit and turned to leave.

Fortuna stood in the doorway, a menacing pair of nunchucks in her hands.

Still hurting from her injuries, Catwoman struck an aggressive attack stance.  “Okay, Blondie, I’m getting tired of you.”

Fortuna ran at her, flailing away with the nunchaku.

Catwoman deflected the painful blows from the wooden sticks with her forearms as long as she could stand it.  Finally getting a half-second break, she kicked Fortuna in the crotch.  Her assailant dropped the nunchaku, so she dashed out of the room and headed for the stairs at the front of the museum.

Although she ran as fast as she could, she heard the click-click-click of boots behind her and knew Fortuna was in hot pursuit.

The Snowbird pulled a length of piano wire from her belt.  As she caught up to Catwoman, she slipped the wire around her neck like a lasso and pulled it tight.

Catwoman tried to get her fingers between the wire and her throat, but she was too slow.  She could feel the wire begin to tear into her skin, and she grew faint from lack of air.

 

Batman appeared at the entrance to the exhibit room.  Penguin and the remaining Snowbirds were working fast to remove the Kuala Mubar treasures and put them in a carrying case for transport.

“Penguin!”

“Long time no see, Batfreak.”

“The jewelry store is closed.”

“Can’t you see I’m busy now?  We’ll talk later.”

As Penguin spoke, Aurora and Hera charged at Batman.  He pushed Hera, who lost her balance and stumbled.

Aurora slipped behind him with a thin steel rod.  Lifting it to his throat, she pulled up to crush his trachea.

Hera came at him with her dagger, but a strong kick sent her sprawling.

Unable to breathe, he grabbed the ends of Aurora’s rod, backflipped over her, and pulled it against her throat.

Knife still in hand, Hera stabbed him in the back, but only succeeded in holing his cape because of his armored suit.

Noting the greater danger behind him, he let go of Aurora and grabbed Hera’s knife arm.  She struggled to get free, but he gripped both of her wrists and flung her down the stairs.

She bounced three times on the marble steps and hit the landing head first, where she remained motionless.

Gasping for breath, Aurora flung a glass sphere at Batman’s feet.  It shattered, and a cloud of gray gas knocked him out.

Satisfied, she ran back to the exhibit room to help pack the last of the jewels.

 

In what might have been her final conscious moment, Catwoman summoned all her ebbing strength and elbowed Fortuna’s ample bosom.

The shock made Fortuna involuntarily release her grip on the piano wire, and Catwoman collapsed to her knees.  Snarling, the Snowbird kicked her above the right eye.  Catwoman fell and did not move.

Fortuna watched her strange, black-clad opponent for several seconds.  “You fought like one of us,” she muttered, walking away.

As soon as Fortuna’s back was to her, Catwoman sprang up and shoved the Snowbird headlong into a large display of Depression-era china and glassware, which shattered in a deafening crash.  She found the stairs and ran to the second floor.

Upon arriving, she saw Batman lying unconscious.

From the exhibit room, Diana yelled, “Athena!  Get her!”

A clatter sounded behind Catwoman.  She glanced back and saw Fortuna rushing up the stairs.  Frustrated at the seemingly endless parade of shapely blonde assassins, she blurted, “What is this, attack of the killer bimbos?”

Backflipping several times, she retreated from the two Snowbirds.  When she landed, she uncoiled her whip and stood ready for attack.

Fortuna was not about to give up her relentless pursuit.  She palmed a taser from her belt and fired it at the Cat, who darted out of the way the moment she saw the wicked gun.

Taking aim with her whip, Catwoman knocked the taser out of Fortuna’s hand and left a stinging laceration.

Now on his feet again, Batman ran after Athena, who was setting her sights on his partner.

Fortuna charged Catwoman, momentarily distracted by the sight of Batman’s return, and caught her off guard.  Clamping her hands around the Cat’s throat, she pushed her to the edge of the balcony and slammed her head into the metal railing repeatedly.

 

Batman flung a batarang, which slammed into Athena’s lower back and knocked her down.

She stood up and threw a sphere of knockout gas, but he caught it, pitched it harmlessly down to the first floor, and sprinted after her.  He grabbed her in a bear hug and threw her into the wall.

Rebounding, the Snowbird kicked him hard in the chest.  Still slightly woozy, he sailed backward and knocked over a short pillar and the Iron Age water jug on top of it.

She took a strange-looking gun from her belt and fired two small silver discs with buzzsaw blades.

Snatching the iron container, Batman deflected the discs an instant before they would have struck his eyes.  He rolled to the side as she took aim again and hurled the big jug at her.

 

Fortuna was so intent on ending Catwoman’s life, she didn’t notice the Cat had managed to get a good grip on her own neck, until she felt her head throb and breathing became difficult.

With pain wracking her body, Catwoman squeezed Fortuna’s throat as tightly as her aching hands could.

 

Athena knocked the jug away with a kick, but that gave Batman time to stand up.  They slowly circled each other, exchanging occasional kicks and chops, all the while moving away from the exhibit room.

“You won’t win,” he intoned.

You won’t win, Batman.  There’s four of us and one of you.”  Unzipping a pocket on her leg, she produced a black rod which expanded into a steel whip.

He uneasily noticed that the tip contained numerous tiny spikes.  “Nice toy.”

She cracked the whip at a four foot replica of the Sphinx.  Its face shattered into jagged fragments.  Recoiling the whip, she stared at Batman.  “How about a closer look?”

 

Catwoman tensed her legs and thrust her knees into Fortuna’s abdomen.

The Snowbird choked her even harder.

She rammed her knees in again.  And again.

Even Fortuna had limits.  Catwoman’s third thrust really hurt, and she reflexively released her grip.

Coughing, gasping, and near exhaustion, the women eyed each other with a sense of amazement.  They were as surprised at each other’s strength and endurance as they were at their own.  Fortuna had never encountered such a tough opponent, not even in her European training.

Catwoman cracked her whip.  “C’mon, bitch.  Is that all you’ve got?”

Tossing her hair back, Fortuna barreled toward the Cat and gave her a head butt she wouldn’t soon forget.

Catwoman immediately regretted the taunt.  Sandwiched between the stone wall and Fortuna’s skull, she doubled over, yelped in pain, and nearly vomited from the nausea that engulfed her.

Fortuna stood, arms folded, and smiled.  “Want some more?”

Panting for breath, Catwoman just looked at her and struggled to stand.

Taking advantage of the Cat’s weakened state, Fortuna grabbed her forearms and flung her across the railing.

 

Batman knew he had to time everything perfectly, or Athena’s steel “toy” would shred his Batsuit.  A second before he heard the whip crack, he reached out his right hand and grabbed it just inches behind the lethal tip.  Wrapping it around his arm, he pulled hard, and Athena came with it.

Before she could get away, he had her by the wrist.  She pulled, but that only worked in his favor.

Keeping a vise grip, he swung her around and around like a bolo until they both grew dizzy.  He waited for the right moment, then let her go.

She smashed through a large window and dropped unceremoniously onto the snow-covered sidewalk.

 

As Catwoman fell, she cast her whip, hoping against hope to snag it on the metal railing atop the balcony wall.  Luck was with her, and she jerked to a stop fifteen feet above an Indian bed of nails.  Pain shot through her shoulders, but she hung on to the whip and began climbing.

Fortuna pulled out a serrated knife and moved to cut through the whip.

The instant she saw the Snowbird, Catwoman forced herself to climb faster.  Clambering back over the rail in seconds, she kicked Fortuna away.

Out of weapons at last, the Snowbird ran to get help from the girls in the exhibit room.

Before she got halfway there, Batman stepped out of the shadows and blocked her path.

She saw it was now two against one.  Hand-to-hand always was her strong suit.  She attacked Batman with a series of jujitsu moves, but he deflected every jab and blow.

Catwoman came up behind her and made a leaping kick.  The heels of her boots dug into the Snowbird’s back.

The momentum of the kick sent Fortuna into Batman, who hit her with a chop to the neck and a blow to the belly.

Fortuna backed up and tried a side kick at Catwoman, but missed.

Catwoman punched her in the jaw.

She backed up again until she was against the balcony wall.  Clicking her feet together, she activated a spring-loaded knife blade in the sole of her left boot.  She kicked fast and drew blood from Catwoman’s shin.

Turning to Batman, she kicked him below the belt.

He hardly felt the blow but managed to grab her foot with both hands.  He lifted it higher and higher into the air.

She was limber enough for him to get her leg almost over her head.  As he got closer, she kicked him with her right.  He pulled back and let go.

With both feet off the ground, she tumbled over the railing and emitted a horrible scream as she landed on the bed of nails below.

            Catwoman embraced Batman.  “I must have more than nine lives, darling.”

            He saw how she was bruised, bleeding and battered and held her tightly.  “Can you go on?”

            “I’ve got no choice.  You need me.”  She kissed him.  “Do you know how badly I want to make love to you?”

            He felt the same as he eyed the way her new suit showcased her substantial cleavage.  But their work was not over yet.  “It’ll have to wait.  Look.”

 

            Penguin, Diana, and Aurora rushed out of the exhibit room.  Seeing Batman not far from the stairs, he turned around and led them deeper into the museum.

            “Where are we going?” Diana asked.

            Penguin answered, “There’s a stairway at the back that leads to the solarium on the roof.  We can go down from there.”

            Batman and Catwoman raced after them.

 

            When Penguin opened the roof access door, he and the Snowbirds were greeted by a full blizzard.  The bitterly cold wind stung their faces, and the fog of snow limited visibility.

            Penguin handed the case of jewels to Diana.  “Get these to the van.  We can hold off Batman until you’re ready to go.”

 

            Batman stepped out onto the roof and calmly walked toward Penguin.  “It’s over now.  Give me the treasures.”

            Penguin smiled and lifted his hands.  “What treasures?”

            Batman spotted Diana heading for the far end of the roof.  He decided to ignore Penguin and go after her.

            “Not so fast.”  Penguin pointed his umbrella at Batman.  “We need to talk.”

            Batman walked on as if he weren’t there.

            Penguin fired a warning shot from the umbrella, which held a concealed gun.  The bullet whizzed past Batman’s left ear.  “I said, we need to talk!”

            “So talk.”

            “No, you talk.  I’ll ask the questions.”

 

            Diana reached the back ledge.  Pulling a hook from her utility belt, she clasped it to a ventilation grate and threw a length of rope down to the ground.  She secured the jewel case to her line, leaped off the building, and rappelled down the back, reaching the ground in five seconds.  She disconnected everything and carried the jewels to the van.

 

            Catwoman followed Batman out on the roof.  She spotted Aurora, who was running interference for Diana on the east side.

            Aurora checked to see that Diana had gotten away, then came at her.

            The Cat sighed.  “Here we go again.”

 

            “Question one,” Penguin called.  “Three years ago, you left me to drown in the Gotham River.  Why?”

            “I didn’t leave you to drown.  I tied the batarang line to the dock and tried to reel you in.”

            “You pulled me into the river and left me there.”

            “The line broke, Penguin.  You were a lot heavier than I counted on.  Still are, it looks like.”

            “Then why didn’t you do something after it broke?”

            “I didn’t have anything else to help you with.  Besides, the police were on their way.  I figured you could float until they fished you out.”

            “I fished myself out, thank you very much.  And for three years I’ve worked, waiting for the right moment to get my revenge.  The future is now, Batman!”  He raised his umbrella and fired again.

 

            Aurora grabbed Catwoman’s head and slammed it into her knee.  She followed with a sturdy boot kick to the chest, which sent the Cat crashing into the solarium wall.

            The freezing cold was a blessing to Catwoman.  It numbed her to the pain from all her injuries and energized her for the fight.  Unfazed, she got up.  “Okay, now I’m really pissed off!”

 

            Batman deflected Penguin’s shot with his cape.  “Three years, wasted on plotting revenge.  You could have taken up a new hobby in that time.”

            “Oh, I have.  I collect gemstones.  And bird-shaped diamonds.”

            “And attractive cohorts to do your dirty work.  I’m very curious, how did you and the Snowbirds team up?”

            Penguin just laughed.  “Birds of a feather flock together!”

 

            Catwoman backflipped to Aurora, and both women prepared for battle.

            Aurora kicked, and Catwoman caught her with a retaliatory blow to the leg.  The Cat tried a jumping kick and connected with Aurora’s chin.

            As Aurora fell down, she removed a small handgun from her belt and fired.

            Catwoman dropped and rolled, and the shot shattered a glass panel on the solarium.  She opened her claws and quickly scaled a high, slanted section of the copper roof.  Reaching the peak, she slid down the other side and landed on her feet, albeit clumsily, right behind Batman.

 

            “Well, well, well,” Penguin said with delight.  “Look who dragged in the Cat.  It’s been quite a while, Puss-N-Boots, but your timing is splendid.”

            “Forget it, Pengy.  I switched sides.”

            “You’re working with Batbrain now?  What a shame.  You showed so much promise as a criminal.”

            “You used me!  You manipulated my feelings about Batman to get me involved in your plot to take out Gotham.  And then you tried to bump me off.  I will never forgive you for that.”

            “You were the one who came to me!  Look in the mirror if you want to be mad at someone.”

            “Ooh!”  She hastily made a snowball and threw it at him.

            He brushed the snow off his coat.  “Is that the best you can do?  Might as well try a ball of yarn next time, Kitty.”

            Diana honked the van horn.

            “That’s my signal to go,” said Penguin.  “Adios, amigos!”

            Batman scooted to block his way.  “There’s been a change in your travel plans.  You’re making an unscheduled stop at the jail.”  He smacked him in the nose.

           

            Aurora jumped off the roof peak and landed on Catwoman.  Rolling around in the snow, they kicked and punched each other, with neither gaining an advantage.

            If you’ve got ‘em, use ‘em, Catwoman thought.  She extended all her claws and slashed twice across Aurora’s beautiful face.

            Crying out and writhing in pain, Aurora buried her head in a pile of snow and tried to stem the bleeding.

 

            Penguin dropped his umbrella as he fell from Batman’s sharp punch.  He got up and tried to head butt Batman but only succeeded in giving himself a headache.  “I keep forgetting about that damn armor,” he mumbled.

            Batman pushed him down again.

            Penguin somersaulted back, picked up his umbrella, and opened it.  “Enough of this!”  He pressed a button on the handle, and it became a personal helicopter, lifting him into the frigid wind.  “Got a date with a diamond!  Until next time, Batman.”

           

            Aurora stood up, took aim with her handgun, and fired.  This time she didn’t miss.

            Everything seemed to move in slow motion for Catwoman.  The bullet struck her right shoulder.  She held it and watched the blood ooze through her fingers as pain spread from the wound.  A wave of fatigue overwhelmed her, and her legs felt like rubber.  She had no strength to resist and barely noticed when Aurora shoved her off the roof.

            She had the sensation of falling and recalled the night Max Shreck pushed her out his office window.  Is this a dream?  Her descent was comforting, so quiet and peaceful.  Until her bone-jarring impact with the snowy ground.

 

            Batman saw none of this, as his attention was focused on Penguin.  He prepared to pursue his nemesis, but Aurora had other ideas.  “Going somewhere?”

            He experienced a moment of déjà vu as she produced a steel whip identical to Athena’s.  “Nice toy.”

            With a fast strike, she ripped one edge of his cape to ribbons.  “Isn’t it, though?”

            “Better put that thing down.  Someone could get hurt.”

            “Someone like you?”  She aimed for his face.

            He ducked just in time to avoid being blinded, but the jagged steel points ripped a gash in his cowl and scalp.

            “You’re better than your friend back there.”

            She gave him a flirtatious smile.  “I’m better at a lot of things.”

            As he moved closer, he recognized her, despite the red scars crisscrossing her face.  “You’re Aurora.  I figured Penguin had someone on the inside.”

            “They told us Batman is smart.  So you are.”  She cracked the whip again, slicing his thigh.

            “I’m also fast.”  He charged at her, snatched the whip away, and threw it off the roof.

            “Indeed.”  Calmly opening a pocket, she moved around him and extracted her gleaming dagger.  “I guess I’ll have to make my point another way.”

            He lifted his gloves in anticipation of her attack.

            She jumped forward and stabbed his chest.  To her consternation, the sharp blade could not penetrate his body armor.  Spinning around, she tried again and went for his throat.

            He blocked her thrust with his left arm, but she still managed to cut the side of his neck and draw blood.

            She stepped back and stared at him.  He looked familiar, too.  “I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?”

            “Maybe in your nightmares.”

            “No, I have seen you.”  She wagged the knife.  “Yesterday, at the exhibit opening, right?”

            He made no reply.

            “You were one of the guests.  Ah, but which one?  What was the name?”

            He tried to grab the knife.

            “Ooh, you almost had me.  Need to keep my mind on my work.”  She jabbed at his face.

            He stepped back slowly, and his boot heels hit something.  As he took another step, his senses told him he was moving up an incline.

            She followed, slashing and stabbing at him several times.  She nicked his forearms, but his gauntlets offered enough protection so that she never scored a serious cut.

            As he reached the top of the incline, he saw in his peripheral vision that he now stood on the roof’s ledge.  She moved with him but never took her eyes off his face.

            He could tell she was unaware of her proximity to the edge, and he fought the instinct to look down so as not to give away his advantage.  “What’s a nice girl like you doing in the Snowbirds?”

            “Money.  Travel.  And killing men like you.”  Her knife ripped a hole in his cape as it fluttered like a flag in the north wind.  Brushing the hair from her eyes, she lunged at him again but missed.

            He shifted his feet to steady himself against the breeze.  “There’s better ways to make a living.”

            “Not as much fun.”  She took one more step and slipped on an icy patch.  Looking down in a panic, she struggled to regain her balance.  A gust caught her and knocked her off the ledge.

            Batman reached out to grab her arm as she screamed, but she was too far away.  He could only stare as she plunged to the ground below.

            The snow softened her fall, but it did not matter.  She landed on her dagger, and a red stain spread across the snow.

 

            Seeing their last cohort fall to her death, Penguin and Diana waited no longer.  She put the van in gear and sped off, fishtailing on the slick street.

 

            As Batman watched them leave, he saw Catwoman lying still in the snow about thirty yards from Aurora’s body.  Feeling scared for the first time that night, he leaped off the building.  His batwings billowed in the wind and carried him to her side.

 

            “Is he behind us?” Penguin asked.

            “Honey, there’s nobody behind us,” Diana answered.

            “Then slow down!  Now that I have the jewels, I want to be around to enjoy them.”

 

            This time it wasn’t a group of felines who revived Catwoman.  The tender touch of Batman’s glove on her cheek awakened her.  As she opened her eyes and saw his masked face, she smiled.  “Am I...alive?”

            “Without a doubt.”  He helped her sit up and examined the wound in her shoulder.  “The bleeding has stopped.  Can you walk?”

            “I think so.”  She staggered to her feet unsteadily.  “That was actually a nice nap.”

            He took a small capsule from his utility belt and put it in her mouth.  “This will help the pain.  How do you feel?”   He guided her slowly toward the Batmobile.

            “Like I’ve been beaten up by a gorilla.  Oww!  Make that two gorillas.”  She gazed at him and noticed all the rips, cuts, and dried blood.  “You don’t look so hot, either.”

            “I’ve had it worse.  Penguin escaped.”

            “Then let’s go after him!”

            “Selina, you need a doctor.”

            “I didn’t get my butt kicked by those kung fu Barbies just to let him make off with the jewels.”

            “Are you sure you can wait for help?”

            “Darling, if he gets away, then I just got the crap beat out of me for nothing.  You, too.”

            “Okay.”

            “Can you catch up to him?”

            He started the Batmobile’s turbine.  “Not a problem.  Hop in.”

 

            The new tires he’d put on the Batmobile gave fantastic traction on the icy roads.  The car sped through Gotham like a rocket, its turbine exhaust melting the snow as it passed.

            He easily picked up the signal from the homing transmitter he placed on Penguin’s van.  “It looks like they’re heading out of town.  If we stay on Grand Avenue, we can catch up before they reach the interstate.”

            She massaged her aching shoulder.  “How much damage did we do to the museum?”

            “A lot, probably two million dollars’ worth.”

            “Even though it’s Penguin’s fault, should we do something to help?”

            “When he hears about it, Bruce Wayne will feel moved to make a big donation.”

            “How big?”

            “Oh, say, two million dollars.”

 

            “Haven’t you ever driven on snow and ice before?” Penguin groused.

            “Yes, why?”

            “Because you’re still going too fast!”

            Diana glanced in the rear view mirror.  “Speaking of fast, there’s some nut coming behind me with no headlights.  He’s going to run up the tailpipe!”

            Penguin rolled down the window only to get a face full of blizzard.  Looking back, he yelled, “That’s Batman!”

            “How did he find us?”

            “Who cares?  If your girls had taken him out, he wouldn’t be back there.”

            “My girls did their best.  You didn’t tell me that--that Catwoman was going to be there.  She was one nasty bitch.”

            “Tell me about it,” he sighed.

 

            The Batmobile stayed steadily behind the van.  Diana tried to evade with some amateurish turns and lane changes which accomplished nothing except jostling Penguin around and irritating him further.

            The roads were all but deserted, ensuring at least that no bystanders would be hurt.  The nonstop snow cut visibility to near zero, a factor very significant for the van, less so for the Batmobile.

            On a stretch of highway just inside the city limits, Batman clicked a button and launched two small missiles which streaked ahead of the van and exploded in the road.

            Diana veered sharply to the right to dodge the blasts and almost went off into a ditch.

            “Be careful!”

            “He’s shooting at us!”

            “Shoot back.”

“With what?  We lost all the girls, so there’s nobody to man the guns.”

“Just get us to the warehouse.”  Penguin clutched the case of jewels tightly as the van sped on.

 

Two slots opened in the front of the Batmobile.  Batman flicked a switch and fired two tiny razor discs at the van.  One hit the exhaust pipe.  The other found its mark, and the left rear tire blew out.

 

“What was that?” Penguin asked with alarm.

“Blowout!  Aiiieee!”

Diana lost control of the van, and it slammed into an embankment.  Penguin’s door flew open, flinging him and his precious jewelry case into a snowbank.

The van plowed through the embankment and rolled over several times before erupting in flames at the bottom of a hill.  The ammunition on board detonated, leaving a smoking, black crater.

 

Batman pulled over and jumped out of the car.  He ran to Penguin and extracted him from of the snow.  “As I told you earlier, it’s over.”

“Yeah.”  A sad expression on his face, Penguin watched the wreck of the van burn.  “There’s no way she could’ve survived is there?”

Batman shook his head.

“Good girls are so hard to come by.”

“At least the jewels didn’t get incinerated.”

“The jewels!”  Penguin frantically searched for the case.

“You mean these?”  Catwoman said as she opened the titanium box.

“Let me see!  Let me see!”

Batman slipped a pair of handcuffs on him.  “Take it easy, Penguin.”

“They look fine,” she said.  “Especially this one.”  She held up the Raven Diamond.

At that moment, the power came back on in Gotham, and the roadway lights made the diamond sparkle.

“Ooh, baby!” Penguin moaned.

“Three guards dead, millions in damage to the museum, and a trip to jail.  Was it worth it?” Batman asked.

Penguin looked down.  “Yeah.”

“All that death and destruction, just to hold it in your grubby hands for a few minutes?”

“Like the fellow once said, ‘It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.’”

 

The winter storm abated by Sunday afternoon, but gray skies provided a suitably gloomy backdrop for the police as they gathered evidence and bodies from the museum.

Bruce and Selina spent the day in bed recovering from their exhausting ordeal.

As he had done many times before, Alfred enlisted the help of Dr. Leslie Tompkins, a friend of Bruce’s parents and one of the few who knew his secret, to treat his boss’ various injuries.  She was surprised to learn she now had two patients, both with dual identities.

“Batman marrying Catwoman,” the doctor shook her head with a chuckle.  “Will wonders never cease?  Bruce, when it comes to your life, I’ve found the best strategy is ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”

“Thanks for coming, Leslie.  I know you’re busy with the East End clinic, and all.”

“You’re part of my job, Bruce.  Obviously, she can’t go to the hospital looking like this.  The media would string you up for domestic abuse in a heartbeat.”

“Sad, but true.”

“Now, Miss Kyle, if you’ll--”

“Please, call me Selina.”

“Selina, if you’ll lie back and relax your arm, I’ll stitch up your shoulder.  You’re quite lucky the bullet fell out already.”

She said, “I think somebody signed me up for nine more lives.”

Bruce grinned.  “Or you had more than that to begin with.”

“Either way, I have got to take it easy for a while.”

“Me, too,” he said, touching the cut in his scalp.

“Well, this solves one more mystery.  I knew Alfred wasn’t a doctor, so I always wondered how you got patched up so professionally.”

Tompkins smiled.  “I’ve been saving Bruce’s life for as long as he’s been Batman.”

  He turned to Selina.  “I’ve got more Batsuits, but your catsuit is pretty well trashed.”

“Yeah, and I’m mad since I just made it.  But I have backups too, darling.  Nine lives, nine outfits.”

 

Monday afternoon, the lovebirds sat in the drawing room warming their aching bodies by the fireplace when Alfred came in with a stack of envelopes.

“Mail, sir.  Cards and letters of congratulations on your upcoming nuptials continue to arrive.”

“Thank you.”  He scanned the return addresses.  “Wow, some are from old girlfriends I haven’t seen in years.  Here’s one from Vicky Vale.”

“Let me see.”  She took the letters, sorted out the ones from women, and tossed them into the fireplace.

“Selina!  What’d you do that for?”

With a juicy kiss, she said, “No need for old flames when you have a four-alarm blaze right here.”

“You make an excellent point.”

“I usually do.  Meow!”