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Chapter Eight

Catwoman awoke to a rooster crowing before dawn. The sound startled and disoriented her. She lashed out at unfamiliar shadow-shapes, then, as she shed last night and dismissed it as an unsuitable place for sleeping, without giving the inevitable roosters a second thought. For her, roosters had become an urban sound. Cockfighting was another of the East End's ongoing illicit entertainments. Men kept the gaudy, mean-tempered creatures in cages on the fire escapes, turning those vertical sidewalks into noisy obstacle courses. She'd forgotten that a more natural place for a rooster was a henhouse.

Perhaps she had been cooped up in the city too long.

Shaking her head one final time, Catwoman peeled off her costume. Selina's clothes, left overnight in the backpack, were cold and damp. She was shivering by the time she crept out of the toolshed. Many of the convent windows were lit; nuns were notorious early risers, but they had prayer on their mind and weren't likely to look out the curtains as a lone woman marched through the drizzle and climbed over the gate at the end of the driveway.

Selina was wet to the skin and as mean-tempered as any rooster by the time she got to the Riverwyck station. She boarded the first train to Gotham City with a herd of bleary-eyed commuters who ignored her as a stream ignores a boulder sitting in its bed. The train was wonderfully warm. The air thickened with humidity and echoed with snores. Selina kicked off her shoes, drew her op-art knees up under the capacious neon-green sweater, and studied the life cycle of condensation droplets on the steamy windows.

Rose was safe, not sane or sound, but safe. Eddie Lobb wouldn't hurt her again. It seemed to Selina that Rose D'Onofreo should wander out of her thoughts the same way the movement of the train made the droplets migrate to the bottom of the window. But Rose stuck in the middle of Selina's thoughts. She wasn't satisfied knowing that Eddie Lobb couldn't reach her.

"He did it with cats," she murmured to the rhythm of the steel wheels. "He did that to her with cats. That's wrong. Wrong. I'm gonna get him. Eddie Lobb. I'm gonna find him..."

The metallic shriek of the brakes in the terminal tunnel roused Selina from an increasingly vengeful and graphic reverie. She joined the throng flowing to the street, only to discover that the drizzle had become a downpour and half of Gotham City was trying to flag a taxi. Shrugging the backpack over her shoulders, she hiked the thirty-odd blocks to home.

A half-dozen cats raised their heads, took a look at the sopping, sullen creature in their midst, and surrendered the bed without a fight.

Selina figured to spend the next few days indoors, sleeping or exercising. Catwoman went out no more than once or twice a week---anything more risked needless exposure to both sides of the law. It was a monotonous life, but Selina liked it that way, considering what it had been before.

Most of the pimps and streetwalkers Selina had known when she came to Gotham City had vanished; none of the ones who remained had changed for the better. Life on the streets was nasty, brutal, and short. Besides, working with people wasn't the same as being friends with them.

The cats were her friends. Whenever Selina was lonely or bored, she followed their example and curled up for a nap. She was surprised, then, when she didn't fall asleep before she was warm. She thought about Eddie Lobb. She didn't know his face, so she made one up from memory, and slashed it with Catwoman's claws. She made up another face, another punishment. After a while she forgot about sleeping.

There weren't many books around, but one of them was a telephone directory. A half-inch of Lobbs were listed. One was an Edward. Selina checked the address against the directory maps. Her fingers marched to a place north of the East End, near a park. She knew the area. Catwoman prowled there occasionally, when the police were keeping a temporary lid on the drug trade. But she couldn't mentally match buildings with their street addresses.

With more energy than she usually felt the day after Catwoman had prowled---especially a dreary day---Selina headed off to investigate the address she'd memorized. She didn't own an umbrella, just a waterproof military-type sweater and a violently red and orange scarf. There were a hundred ways to remain anonymous in Gotham City, and Selina Kyle knew them all. People might remember the scarf, but they wouldn't remember her.

The building where Rose had lived with Eddie Lobb dominated its corner. A relic of bygone days, when this area was uptown and high class, it had survived decades of neglect to be resurrected as "the Keystone Condominiums---a Mattheson investment in Gotham City's future." The doors were thick glass slabs. The lobby beyond abounded with elegance, mirrors and plush sofas with pale upholstery.

No kids, no pets, no unwashed peasants, Selina thought when she was under the awning and headed for the glass doors.

A uniformed doorman scurried to intercept her. She hadn't noticed him sitting on his stool. That was unusual.

"Hey, missy. Who you go see?"

He was a half-head shorter than Selina and easily twenty years older. An amateur would have dismissed him as one more pidgin-speaking alien working a job no American wanted. Except he'd planted himself in the perfect spot to block the doors, and Selina was no amateur. Careful to avoid eye contact, she balanced on the balls of her feet, then shifted her weight ever so slightly toward the doors. The doorman didn't make eye contact, either, but shifted his balance to match hers. He could still stop her, or try to.

There probably weren't more than a handful of doormen in Gotham City who were worth the powder to blow them up, but Eddie Lobb was living in a condo that employed one of them. Rose was safe from everything but her lover while this little gargoyle was guarding the front door. Selina had the advantages of height, reach, and age---not to mention her constant training. She figured that no matter how good he was, she could take him out in under a minute. Of course, a scuffle that lasted thirty seconds drew a crowd; you could make book at one that lasted a full minute. This guy wouldn't be taken in by the scarf. He'd see her face, remember it, and---with her usual luck---he'd agree to go down to the precinct to look at the mug books.

Most of Gotham's finest might not know who Catwoman was, but they had plenty of pictures of Selina Kyle. You couldn't walk the night in stiletto-heeled boots and a cut-out leather dress and not have the cops taking snapshots---right profile, left profile, full front.

"You read, missy?" He stabbed a blunt finger at the brass plate proclaiming: No soliciting. All visitors must be announced. "You got no business here."

"No," Selina agreed. She stepped back, out of critical distance, and the confrontation ended. She spun on her heel, giving him an eyeful of the garish scarf to blur his memory---just in case he was still on duty when she came back.

She would go back. Her mind was churning before the rain struck her face again. Her stomach was churning, too, reminding her that it had been too long since her last meal. Stuffing her hands in her pants pockets, she fingered the crumpled bills and loose change. More than enough for a meal at the greasy spoon across the street---the one with the window booths and a clear view of Keystone Condominiums from sidewalk to roof.

The cashier scowled when Selina slid into the booth. She scowled right back, and resolved to get herself some new clothes, even if it meant going where she had to look in a mirror before she bought them. The cashier scaled a plastic-sheathed menu onto the table.

"Four-dollar minimum. You still wanna order?"

"A steak---the biggest one you've got---and make it rare, bloody." Selina dug all the money out of her pockets and dribbled it onto the table. The cashier counted eighty dollars and change. "Stop staring and move your butt if you want a tip."

"Yeah, lady. Sure, lady."

Selina turned away and looked out the window. She could hear the cashier muttering as he approached the trench window separating the so-called dining room from the so-called kitchen: "Screw you, bitch..."

Sometimes it didn't pay to have extraordinary senses. If she'd been in costume the cashier would have four gashes across his throat. Or, more likely, he wouldn't have opened his mouth in the first place. She pondered the rules of appearances until the food began to arrive and eating was the only thing she cared about. When the last stream of juice had been sopped up by the last morsel of bread, Selina was ready to forgive, forget, and settle into a serious examination of the Keystone.

Its facade was a wedding-cake nightmare. Selina knew next to nothing about architecture, but she knew next to nothing about architecture, but she knew the building had to be at least a hundred years old. No one today could afford that much god-awful gingerbread masonry, even if they could find the artisans who knew how to make it. The whole place was layers of ledges, and there was a comfortably wide one beneath each rank of windows, probably put there for the convenience of future generations of window washers and cat burglars. There were wrought-iron flower baskets around the windows and widgets that looked like coat hooks sprouting randomly through the walls. Selina didn't know these were the remnants of Victorian scaffolds---and she wouldn't have cared; what she saw was a veritable highway of handholds. With all that helpful metal, there wasn't a window in the Keystone Condominiums that Catwoman couldn't reach.

On the other hand, there could be sixty apartments---more if the developers had chosen profit over style and subdivided. She was going to have to get into the building, learn its guts and sneak a peek at its mailboxes and intercom panel, before Catwoman went to work.

The sour-faced cashier reappeared, cleared the table, and shoved an illegible bill in front of her.

"You can pay me now."

Selina ignored him.

"C'mon, lady. I ain't got all day."

Selina made a show of looking for other customers in the otherwise empty room. "I do," she replied in a dangerously sultry voice. "Gimme a piece of your chocolate pie."

"Didn't you hear me before? There's a four-dollar minimum. I already checked you out. Pie only costs three."

"Then gimme two pieces." She smiled. Her even, ivory teeth glistened.

The East End clung to Selina Kyle like a saint's halo and was most easily detected by someone like the cashier who bore it himself. Life was a game in Gotham City. Everyone was always jockeying for a little position.

"And two coffees, with cream. Make it separate checks. One after the other."

At the rate she was going through her drug-house cash, Selina figured she'd have to take something from Eddie's apartment. She'd burn that bridge when she got to it. For the moment she had the upper hand with the cashier. His eyes smoldered and she knew he'd clout her if he dared, but he didn't dare. Instead he slunk over to the refrigerator case where tired wedges of chocolate pie were mummified in shrink wrap.

In Gotham's game you didn't lose points for making enemies, so long as you never saw them again. Selina turned her attention back to the Keystone and ignored the pies when they arrived.

The gargoyle couldn't perch on that stool twenty-four hours a day. Selina thought about coming back in the evening. She discarded the thought. Maybe the management had been lucky: maybe they didn't know a good doorman from a dead doornail. Then again, maybe they did, and if they did, and they'd left him on the day shift, she didn't want to tangle with the night-shift gorilla.

An oily sheen spread across the surface of the tepid coffee. The chocolate pie oozed across the crockery plates. The Keystone doorman never missed an opportunity to greet or challenge everyone who approached his domain. He seemed to know everyone and paused to chat with them. Conversation didn't dull his vigilance. There'd be no sneaking behind him while his head was tucked inside an overpriced baby carriage.

Selina had just begun to despair when a young man in a messenger-service jumpsuit skated around the corner, trailing a cloud of bright-colored, helium-filled balloons. The sidewalk traffic stopped as he wrangled the balloons under the Keystone awning and rolled to a stop in front of the doorman. Their animated conversation was punctuated and obscured by the bobbing balloons. The messenger removed his skates reluctantly, but he and the balloons finally got into the lobby.

She held her breath; the gargoyle went back to his stool without stopping by the intercom. He didn't always live by the rules. He was human.

Selina knew a place in the East End that did a backroom business in secondhand uniforms, cash on the counter, no questions asked. Leaving the greasy spoon, without leaving a tip, she headed downtown. She was definitely going to have to lift something from Eddie's apartment, so she stopped by her apartment and dropped off the garish scarf while picking up Catwoman's lockpicks. A few hours later, carrying an excessively large floral arrangement and wearing a shapeless polyester gabardine jumpsuit that pinched in the crotch, she reapproached the Keystone awning. She kept the flowers where they'd obscure her face, and waited for the gargoyle to scuttle forward.

"Flowers for Miz D'Onofreo."

"Eh? No one here wi' that name."

Selina's heart sank, but she didn't panic. "Not again. They do this to me every bleeding day." She fumbled with the bouquet and read the address from the card. The doorman shook his head and held his ground. Selina played her final card: "Lobb. Eddie Lobb. You got an Edward Lobb here? His name's on the receipt, maybe he's got someone staying with him."

Recognition in the gargoyle's eyes, but he said nothing.

"Give me a break, okay? I'm on the street, man, if I lose this job. Just let me take 'em upstairs." Selina did a credible imitation of despair. "Come on. It's not like I'm going to bust in and steal something, for chrissake."

It was her will against his in the lingering mist and afternoon traffic. An intense young man with designer hair, wire-rim glasses, and the gray flannel three-piece uniform of the brokerage trade climbed out of a cab and demanded to know if his graphite tennis racket had arrived. Another taxi rolled up and began disgorging luggage. A matron with too much makeup and a poodle came through the lobby without slowing down. She expected the doorman to get the door open in time.

Selina hadn't chosen rush-hour by accident. The doorman pulled in his will.

"I give you ten minutes. Then I call the cops."

Selina's smile was pure and honest. "Ten minutes. Right. Apartment five-cee. Ten minutes. Got it." She graciously opened the door for the poodle matron.

"Seven-gee!" the doorman corrected. "Seven-gee. Mister Lobb in seven-gee." But he left her holding the door while he looked for the tennis racket.

Selina would have preferred to take the stairs. She could always get a better grasp of the guts of a building from the stairwells than from an elevator, but the doorman was tracking her with his ears. He'd notice if the fire door was opened.

Eddie Lobb turned out to live one floor down from the penthouse, at the far end of a well-lit, carpeted corridor. Selina paused. She pretended to have trouble knowing which corridor to take---in case another tenant was spying through his peephole---but she was actually aligning the interior she could now see with the exterior she remembered. After putting a mental check beside a corner cluster of windows, she headed for the door and rang the bell.

She always rang the bell. There was no better way to know if no one was home. She wouldn't mind getting a close look at Eddie Lobb anyway, especially when she said the flowers were for Rose. She rang the bell a second time and studied the array of hardware on the door.

Locks were big business in Gotham City, and, as Catwoman, Selina Kyle had seen them all, from ancient skeleton keys to techno-toy motion detectors and lasers. She'd pegged the Keystone as a two-locks-per-door sort of place, heavy on deadbolts and double cylinders. People who put their faith in cold-forged steel rather than dazzling electronics. A glace up and down the corridor confirmed her overall opinion. Eddie Lobb, with a pair of digital keyless locks and evidence of fiber-optic sensors, was seriously out of step with his neighbors.

Maybe he had more to protect.

Maybe he had more to hide.

Either way, Selina wasn't going to pop those locks in seven minutes. She'd need an hour just to diagnose them, and maybe a day to collect the materials to counteract them---if they could be countered. If they needed to be countered. Doors were supposed to be the easiest way into an apartment---that's why people put locks on them---but they were hardly the only way.

"Who are you?" Selina asked the door. "Fancy locks, frightened woman. What makes you tick, Eddie Lobb?"

She left the flowers propped against the door---let him guess who was sending flowers to his missing girlfriend. With her eyes closed she rechecked her spatial memory. Then, hearing the cables twang and suspecting that the gargoyle was shortchanging her ten minutes, she hurried away from the door.

Chapter Seven | Catwoman - Tiger Hunt | Chapter Nine