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Chapter Fifteen

"It's not really in our mandate," the Director of Wilderness Warriors said between puffs on his pipe.

He was in his mid-forties and, despite the pipe, the neatly trimmed hair, and establishment-approved tweed jacket, he looked more like he'd be more comfortable out in the park, wearing love beads and bell-bottoms, and singing "Give Peace a Chance" through a haze of marijuana smoke. This made his apparent reluctance to do something about the stack of photographs, with narrative paragraphs on the back of each one, all the more disappointing to Bonnie. She didn't trust herself to say anything or to pick up the photographs he'd returned to her for fear that she'd throw them in his face and wind up without a job. Jobs---even an internship like this that paid next to nothing and required a major subsidy from her parents---were very important to her generation. She expected her boss, as a member of an earlier generation, to be a freer spirit.

"It's very well done," the director assured her, picking up the stack again. "Very compelling. Something should certainly be done about this man. But I don't see where we're the ones---"

"If we're not the ones, Tim, then who is? Where do I send these pictures? I have to find someone who'll take matters into his---or her---own hands. Does somebody have to break into this apartment and do what's got to be done?"

The director gave Bonnie a sidelong glance and began tapping the paper rhythmically against his palm. "That could only result in negative publicity," he mumbled. "We could lose money. Can't do that." He tapped the papers a few more times before coming to a conclusion he was not about to share with Bonnie---at least not yet. "Can I keep these?" he asked; she nodded. "I've got a friend. An old friend; we haven't talked in years, but he might be able to do something with this. Hang tight, Bonnie. Let me see what I can do here."

He left the reception area, still bouncing the photos in his hands and muttering to himself. Bonnie uncrossed her folded fingers. They tingled painfully as blood flowed back to her white, numb fingertips.

So Tim had "an old friend" who might be able to help; she had a new friend who could break into any apartment. In an instant she had a warm, fairy-tale vision of a Gotham City where almost everybody knew somebody (or was somebody) who wasn't what they seemed to be, and everybody who knew a secret, kept that secret the way she'd keep Selina Kyle's Catwoman secret.

Selina had to be Catwoman. They were the same size and build. Their eyes were the same color. Their voice was the same and they shared many gestures and expressions. It was easier to believe that Selina and Catwoman were one and the same person than it was to believe there were two completely different people who had so much in common. Bonnie would keep Selina's secret because secrets were mysterious and exciting and Selina was the most exciting, mysterious person Bonnie could imagine.

There were other reasons for keeping Selina's secret---not the least of which was that neither Selina nor Catwoman had put in an appearance since the adventure in Eddie Lobb's apartment. All weekend while she developed the film and made the prints, she had been distracted by day with the hope that a dark-haired woman in decrepit, thrift-shop clothes would knock on her door. By night, Bonnie listened for the sound of steel claws on the window glass.

Bonnie's disappointment was a palpable weight in her stomach. She knew the world wasn't a fairy tale. She regularly surrendered her illusions when the harsh light of reality revealed them to be fantasies. But she didn't like doing it. She was prepared to accept that Selina would never show up again, just as she was already preparing herself to accept that Tim would hand her back the photos and his regrets that his old friend couldn't do anything about Eddie Lobb. But they would be bitter pills to swallow, and she'd put it off as long as she could.

All day she waited for the director to appear with a big grin on his face, or for Selina to scowl into the security camera. The director left early, without saying a word. Everyone else left at five, and shortly after six Bonnie got ready to leave herself. Feeling as lonely and miserable as she'd felt since she'd waved good-bye to her parents, she gathered up her "Warriors"-emblazoned coffee thermos and ecologically correct reusable lunch sack and stowed them in a matching paper, refolded to expose the completed-in-ink crossword puzzle. The extra set of photographs---the set she'd hoped to give to Selina---had never gotten out of the bag.

The weight in Bonnie's stomach began a nauseous decomposition. She sat down heavily in her chair, chiding herself for this sudden plunge into misery.

It's not like we had anything in common, she told herself. Selina dresses like she lives in an attic, and Catwoman's really just a criminal. She had me breaking and entering. Me! I could've been caught. My life would have been ruined. It's better I never see either of her again. We had an adventure together, that's all.

The prep talk didn't work; the heartache and disappointment were too fresh. But they'd work eventually, and, confident of that, Bonnie hung the canvas bag over her shoulder. Locking the Wilderness Warriors' door each night was Bonnie's responsibility, and she did it with great care, double-checking everything before she permitted herself to turn around and look at the sidewalk.

"You really should pay more attention to what's going on around you."

"Omygod." Utterly startled, Bonnie staggered away from the door and the voice. Her eyes said "Selina" but the rest of her was caught up in terror. "Omygod." The bag slipped from her shoulder. The straps tangled around her feet and she wound up sprawled on her rump against the garbage cans.

Selina held out her hand. "You're a smart lady, but you sure don't belong here in Gotham City." She easily pulled Bonnie to her feet, then hung the bag back on her shoulder. "You've got a nice home, nice family in Indiana. Why on earth did you ever come to Gotham City?"

"Why does anyone come to Gotham City?" Bonnie replied rhetorically as she brushed herself off. "This is where the excitement is. With all that niceness, Indiana's terminally boring."

Selina had nothing to say. She had Bonnie didn't actually come from different worlds. In all the little towns like the one Bonnie was from, there was a downwind neighborhood where the children of the town's losers grew up to become the next generation of losers. Selina came from such a neighborhood. Bonnie, on the other hand, lived on the hill with the respected folks. The only time respected folks saw the losers was before Christmas when a church delivered a twenty-pound ham with all the trimmings to the Kyle family's ramshackle front porch.

Selina still hated ham. She wanted to hate Bonnie, but the fire wouldn't catch.

"Did you get the pictures developed?" she asked with just a trace of hostility.

"I developed all the film and printed the pictures myself over the weekend. There were too many to be effective---that always happen---but you don't know which ones will work until you've actually got the prints in your hands. I thought about it a lot, and waited a lot hoping you'd come by, but finally, last night I picked out fifteen---"

"So you've given the pictures to your boss. Are the Wilderness Warriors going to do something, or are we S-O-L."


"Shit outta luck."

Bonnie gulped air and nodded. "We're not S-O-L yet. Tim said he had an old friend who might be able to do something. An old friend."

The extra emphasis triggered nothing in Selina's mind, and it was her turn to be confused. "I don't like getting other people involved. Can't you think of something else we could be doing?"

"We could be having dinner. I'm starving." She started walking down the side street toward the busier avenues. Selina followed. "And I suppose we could think of something else. Fallback plans. Contingency plans. Television! All the stations here have muckrakers. They'd love to get their teeth in a story like this. If Tim can't do anything, we could take the photos to one of the TV stations. It'd be great on TV. Of course, we'd have to break in again---with the camcorder. You've got to have tape---"

Selina took note of the steady stream of pedestrians on the avenue sidewalks. She wanted to hear what Bonnie had to say, but half the world would be able to eavesdrop on their conspiracy in another thirty yards.

"Yeah, let's have dinner," she interrupted. "Inside, at your place. We can talk there. Not while we're walking---okay?"

Bonnie agreed, and they got a bucket of flavor-of-the-month chicken wings from an establishment that didn't bear closer examination. While Bonnie clattered about in the darkroom looking for plates and napkins---"It's bad enough we've bought a bucket that can't be recycled," Bonnie said. "We don't have to compound the problem with paper plates and napkins"---Selina looked for the photographs in the canvas bag. She had to remove the newspaper first, and noticed the inked-in crossword puzzle---further proof, if any was needed, that she and Bonnie had nothing in common. She was about to toss it aside when an address caught her eye: 208 Broad Street. Unfolding the paper, she began to read.

It seemed that the gunshot-riddled body found in the doorway of that address was causing an international fuss. The man had been identified as Stepan Kindegilen. And those portions of the old Soviet Union now known as Russia and Moldova were demanding custody of the corpse. The two republics were hurling diplomatic insults at each other, the texts of which Bonnie's paper printed in full.

"Can you figure this out?" Selina demanded when Bonnie emerged from the darkroom with an armful of plates and cloth. "My eyes say English, but my brain says garbage."

Bonnie hunkered down beside Selina. She muttered something about bad translations, then sat back on her heels. "It's just a guess, but I don't think either the Russians or the Moldovans care about this Stepan. He wasn't supposed to be here. It says he didn't have a visa, but it doesn't say he's a criminal. Both sides are interested in his corpse. Like there was something special about it..." Her eyes grew wide. "Radioactive! He's some poor soul from Chernobyl... Wait---Chernobyl's in the Ukraine. Where's Moldova? Where's my atlas---?" She crawled toward her stacks of books.

Selina grabbed her ankle. "Forget that. Suppose it was a box, about this big..." She made a frame with her fingers. "Maybe covered with old velvet. What could it be?" She remembered the object that had been thrown into the vehicle before it sped away.

A question had been asked, and Bonnie strove to answer it. She didn't consider any related questions, such as why Selina mentioned a box or why Selina was so interested in a handful of foreigners. Bonnie simply tried to answer the question that had been asked. She didn't have a photographic memory, but she did have a pretty good one, especially for things that others called trivia.

"Lacquer," she said after a moment.

Selina arched one eyebrow.

"Shiny lacquer boxes with bright-colored pictures," Bonnie elaborated. "I ask myself a question and I see an answer. Now I see a shiny box with a picture of a fairy tale on it. Somewhere I must've learned about lacquer boxes coming from Russia being valuable." She shrugged helplessly, as if the process was as mysterious to her as it was to Selina.

For her part, Selina looked down at the flawless crossword puzzle. She was on the verge of a concussion when Bonnie snatched the newspaper away.

"Oo---wait. Not lacquer." She thrashed through the paper, making a mess, which, at least, was something Selina could identify with. "Icons. Icons---here. Look." She tapped her finger on a grainy photograph.

Bruce Wayne, the caption read, of the Wayne Foundation, had loaned the art museum a rare and priceless seventeenth-century icon. Mr. Wayne said he'd found the luminous portrait of St. Olga in one of his grandfather's travel trunks during a routine cleaning of his mansion's attics.

"Liar," Selina muttered on impulse, then noticed the searching stare on Bonnie's face. "He's just fronting for the police," she said quickly, not wanting to remain under the other woman's scrutiny. "You haven't lived in Gotham long enough, but the Wayne Foundation's always suckin' up to the city."

"Wow. I was going to go and see it. Maybe I shouldn't. Maybe it's too dangerous. But there aren't many examples of good seventeenth-century Russian iconography in the West. I really should go; it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

"Once in a lifetime," Selina said dryly. "You'd risk your life to see this picture. You must really like these things."

"No, I've never seen one, but this might be my only chance, ever. Who knows, someday I might need to have seen one, and I'll remember that I had the chance but didn't take it. There'll be guards there. It's probably no more dangerous than taking the subway."

"Do you take the subway?"

"Well, no---but I will, at least once while I'm living here. Don't you want to try to do everything and see everything that you can?"

Selina chose not to answer. "I'll go with you to see this icon," she said instead. "What about tomorrow?"

"I've got to work. Maybe after work. How late is the museum open? What does the paper say?"

"Ditch the Warriors for a day."

Bonnie's lips formed a silent O of surprise. "I can't do that. It's my job. They count on me. I open the door. I answer the phone, open the---"

"Just once." Selina grinned. She had Bonnie cold this time. "Ditch the Warriors, for the experience of it."

"You're right. Of course you're right. It won't be too dangerous. There'll be guards there to keep the icon safe. They'll keep the people safe, too; why else put it on display in the museum? Right? Bruce Wayne---or somebody else---wants people to come look at it, right?"

Right, indeed, Selina said to herself.

There were guards posted at the doors of the hastily rearranged gallery, and several mingling through the steady stream of visitors. All but one of the guards were longtime employees of the museum; the odd man, at Bruce Wayne's insistence, was an employee of the Wayne Foundation. He was, in fact, Bruce Wayne himself with a frosting of gray in his hair, cheek pads and nose pads, and bits of latex here and there to give him the unmistakable air of an unhappily retired city cop.

Ceiling-mounted cameras were taping everything, but Batman wanted to mingle with the crowd. He trusted his own ability to separate the sheep from the goats, if the sheep or the sheepherders should happen to wander through. He'd certainly recognize Tiger, whom he expected would put in an appearance. He hoped he might be able to pick Catwoman's mundane face out of the crowd as well, but he could have done all that from a comfortable chair in the security control room.

No, the reason Bruce Wayne circled endlessly around the glistened icon was that he expected one of the interested parties to approach him with a conspiracy. And the reason he expected this to happen was that he'd submerged himself completely in the criminal mind. Walking his lazy circles, he radiated boredom, corruption, greed, and other twisted virtues of the demimonde. No one asked him about the object on display or the way to the nearest rest room. Honest folk distrusted the aura he projected. In the few hours since the gallery opened, he'd been plied four times with hypothetical questions about the security setup. The third time it had been a couple. The woman hadn't said anything, but she was the right size for the black cat suit. He'd remember if he saw her again.

The Gagauzi made their appearance at midday, a close-knit quartet that never shuffled forward to get a good look at the icon. They gestured at the cameras, the velvet ropes, and the icon itself, arguing loudly in their incomprehensible language. Complaints were made. Bruce joined two of the museum guards in escorting the foreigners out of the building. He hovered nearby, asking if there wasn't something he could do to help, broadcasting his assumed criminality. They were nervous and suspicious. Their cultural signals were at odds with Gotham City. No one was going to get close to them, including Batman.

Wayne fingered the two-way radio slung on his belt. The device was considerably more complex than ones his erstwhile fellow guards carried. He could have placed a call directly to Commissioner Gordon. At the very least, the Gagauzi were in the country without visas. Rounding them up would leave the arms deal dead in the water. And it would leave a lot of ends dangling. Batman grit his teeth and returned to the gallery.

Two women came in. His mental alarms went wild. The pair were young and animated, mismatched in clothing and manner, but this was Gotham City, and there were no rules. Either one could have been the body inside the black catsuit. He couldn't get close to them without drawing attention to himself. One of them, at least, was aware of him. Considering the Catwoman's independence, Batman took this as a positive sign that was reinforced when they settled down on benches in a less-crowded adjoining gallery, out of camera range. Batman kept an eye on them for a couple hours; then they were gone and he could only wonder if he'd missed an opportunity.

The man he most expected and wanted to see didn't show up until a half hour before closing time. Tiger elbowed his way to the velvet ropes. He stretched and leaned as far forward as balance allowed. Another guard got to him first and told him to contain his curiosity. Bruce Wayne intercepted him moments later. Tiger glared ferociously at the sight of a uniform, any uniform, crowding him.

"Some guys got all the luck," Bruce Wayne said by way of an introduction. His voice was as subtly and completely altered as his appearance. There was no likelihood that Tiger would connect him with Batman.

"Not me," Tiger replied, hesitating but not retreating.

"And to think that he found this in the attic." Bruce paused long enough for confident disbelief to register on Tiger's face. "Makes you wonder, though," he continued, "what else this Bruce Wayne fellow's got in his attic. If you know what I mean."

Tiger's face was transformed. The suspicion was replaced by slit-eyed thoughtfulness. He studied the guard, and he thought about the idea the guard had put into his head. "Yeah," he said slowly. "It does." Not that he believed for one moment that the icon had come out of Bruce Wayne's attic, but the museum had taken the bait easily enough. A wealth of possibilities unfolded in Tiger's mind, and were covered over again. He had other things to do right now.

Like getting that icon out of the museum and using it to get back in the Connection's good graces. Burglary wasn't his strong suit. The icon appeared to be sitting on top of a cheap fiberboard pillar inside a flimsy acrylic box. He couldn't see any security except for these middle-aged rent-a-cops. He knew he had to be wrong. He'd been wrong about the icon from the get-go. He'd never guessed the dark, morbid picture the Russian showed him wasn't the picture the Connection was buying. He thought the new, revealed picture was just as ugly and overpriced, but he could see the gold and the jewels and he knew he couldn't afford to make another mistake.

"You guys for real," he said to the guard still standing beside him, "or are you just for show 'cause the real security's somewhere else?"

"We're real," Bruce Wayne replied honestly enough. "They don't turn the gadgets on until the gallery closes, or you'd have tripped every alarm leaning over the ropes like that."

"They got a foolproof system, huh?"

"No system's foolproof---" Bruce said significantly, then he smiled. "Say, what's your name, anyway? I like you."

Tiger returned the smile. He liked the guard, too. He had a gut-level sense of compatibility and a confidence that they could do business together. Tiger didn't usually feel empathy toward strangers. He felt a heartbeat of doubt, which he shunted aside. The tigers were testing him. It was time to follow his hunches. "Just call me The Tiger. You wouldn't be thinking that maybe you could tell me some more about how it ain't foolproof? I could make it very much worth your while." The guard hesitated; that was good, Tiger thought, the guy shouldn't be too eager. "I'm looking at a lot of business comin' my way soon. I could use someone like you who knows about security and shit."

Bruce Wayne made himself look and feel nervous. He glanced around like a man with something to hide. "Not here," he whispered. "I gotta think about it, Tiger. Maybe later."

"Opportunity like this doesn't wait 'til later. You want in now, I let you in now. I don't want guys who gotta think."

"Then I'm in. I'm your man," Batman said with no further hesitation.

Chapter Fourteen | Catwoman - Tiger Hunt | Chapter Sixteen