The evening rush was in full swing when Selina, still dressed in her generic jumpsuit, marched into the lobby of another building from which she expected to get a good look at Eddie Lobb's windows. It was a modern building, with a facade resembling a mirror more than a wedding cake. There were no fire escapes. She announced to the doorman---a more typical specimen of the breed---that she was going to wash some windows. The doorman didn't ask why she was alone, why she wanted to wash windows when it was getting dark, or why she'd wash them when it had just stopped raining. Instead, shrugging, he adjusted the elevator control panel so she wouldn't have to take the stairs to the roof.
On average, even in Gotham City, people were very trusting, very innocent, and very, very stupid.
Selina wrestled the window-washing rig into position and lowered herself over the waist-high wall at the roof's edge. She stopped when she had a clear view of Eddie's apartment. The wrought-iron flower baskets were crusted with pigeon droppings---a sign that he wasn't running electricity through them. If the sun had been shining, she might have had trouble seeing the wires taped to the window glass, but in the waning light, the wire stood out like Interstates on a roadmap.
She unzipped the jumpsuit and dug out a surgical steel chain from around her neck. A small pouch was suspended from it. Removing the walnut-sized lens from the pouch, Selina made a cylinder around it with her fingers and aimed it across the street. In a city well-endowed with gadget-laden characters, Catwoman got by with a set of lockpicks and a bit of polished crystal that could double as a microscope or telescope, depending on her need.
"Breakers," she swore softly. "Damn." Any vertical movement of the window would trip the alarms. Still, the situation could be worse. Selina squinted and focused on the tiny disk in the upper corner of the windowpane to see if it was. She relaxed. The wired had been laid on the glass, not embedded within it. Catwoman could stand on a wedding-cake ledge and remove the central portion of the pane without triggering the alarm---but it wouldn't be her idea of fun.
Eddie Lobb's apartment wrapped unevenly around a corner. She could see most of the windows from her current perch, and although there was no real reason to think that the ones she couldn't see were any less secure than the ones she could, Selina felt obligated---for her alter ego's sake---to check them out. The mirror-sided building didn't offer enough handholds for vertical movement, but with care she could travel horizontally. She climbed out of the rig and traversed the twenty-odd feet she needed for a better view. She hooked a borrowed web-belt into a ventilation louver, turned around, and came close to falling.
The third window from the corner, a window she absolutely believed would get her inside Eddie's apartment, was wide open. Well, not wide open, but wide enough that the security system couldn't possibly be working. An utter amateur could waltz right in. Selina plotted Catwoman's route: up the backside of the building to the roof, over the wall, then down to the open window. She curbed her excitement. No good thinking about midnight when the way back to the rig was across a wall of treacherous glass.
She kept a tight rein on her emotions even after she was on the sidewalk, heading home.
It had been a long time---too long a time---since she wanted something as much as she wanted Eddie Lobb. She was invigorated by desire, and not completely certain she liked the feeling.
Selina spent an hour examining the Catwoman costume, from the flexible, shock-absorbing soles of the built-in boots to the razor-claw tips and the tiny slits that allowed her to free her fingertips if she needed to. It was in perfect condition. She dressed and loaded the lockpicks into the concealed thigh pocket---not that she expected to need them---and headed for the Keystone.
The rain had ended; the skies were clear. The East End was quieter than usual, but beyond the slum, people were out for a stroll. Catwoman used roofs and alleys as much as possible, but eventually she had to emerge and dash across a street.
"Lookit, Mommy---a big cat!"
There were strict rules governing this universe. One stated that a human adult didn't notice anything until it happened for the second time. This rule enabled another adult to cross a street in an all-concealing catsuit without being noticed. Unfortunately, the fine print of all the universal rules noted that they were not valid for children. Catwoman couldn't have heard the little boy better if he'd yelled directly into her ear. She turned and nailed the toddler with a killer scowl, then made a run for the nearest alley.
The child emitted a shriek that aroused everyone on the block. Catwoman dove into a row of battered dumpsters and froze. Her ears were still ringing when the child got his second wind and took the shriek to ultrasonic levels. Despite this, Catwoman heard his parents confer.
"Herb? Herb, did you see that?"
"I don't know---a big, black... thing running---right here, into this alley."
Selina Kyle made herself small. She picked up her feet and braced them on the bottom rail of the dumpster. She closed her eyes and hid the exposed portion of her face. She thought invisible thoughts.
"Timmy's seeing things again. You know how he gets."
The man's voice was clear. The family was at the head of the alley. Selina strained her ears, listening for footfalls. Eventually she heard them fade into the distance. Straightening her spine, Catwoman stared at the sky. It was as dark as it was going to get without a power failure. A haze was moving in; the stars were already gone. But the block was alert. If anyone saw her, it would be for the second time. She stayed where she was, not taking unnecessary chances. Her feet got prickly, then numb. An hour passed, maybe two, or three.
The street sounds changed as the innocent fools retreated to their double-locked homes. Catwoman flexed and stretched, extracting herself from the row of dumpsters, shaking life along her numb nerves. She left the alley and continued on her way without attracting attention. The ascent was easy, and she moved along the ledge without incident. There were curtains on all the windows in Eddie's apartment. Catwoman paused beside each and, hearing nothing, kept going until she reached the open one. It was so criminally inviting that she checked it twice for booby traps. Clinging to the wall, and ready to scoot for the roof, she nudged the window a few inches with her foot. Nothing broke the silence within the apartment, but she waited just the same. There might be a silent alarm downstairs, or a mile away at some security service. She gave them plenty of time to respond before raising the window the rest of the way and lowering herself soundlessly into the room.
She was behind a set of heavy drapes. Again she waited; again there was no need for caution. Parting the drapes, she stepped into the room. She was in a bedroom; there were three doors. One was open and led to a bathroom. The other two were shut. Faint light seeped beneath one but not the other. Deciding that the dark one was probably a closet, Catwoman approached the other. Turning the knob slowly, and lifting up to keep weight off the hinges, she eased it open. She'd guessed right.
Looking down an unlit hallway, she noted another three closed doors before the passage hooked around a corner and---she guessed again---opened into the living room, where the lights had been left on. She listened. She identified and discarded all the street sounds, the murmur of voices---alive and broadcast---coming through the walls. She heard the twang of the elevator cables several walls away, and she heard the plink of a leaky water faucet. This was the loudest and only sound arising within Eddie Lobb's apartment, and it was enough to convince her that she had the place to herself.
Although Selina Kyle survived from month to month by directing Catwoman at the drug gangs in the city's underbelly, her alter ego was in her natural element prowling through undefended homes, sizing up unguarded property. In the beginning, she'd taken what caught her eye, only to discover that personal taste was just about worthless on the black market. Through her errors and hard luck, she'd learned that the "good stuff" was generally dull and boring. Monochromes commanded higher prices than rainbows; pieces of charred and twisted metal were worth more than brightly painted figurines. In short, if Selina thought it was ugly, Catwoman knew it was worth taking. The sheer contrariness of art had helped to convince her to stick with taking cash from drug gangs.
Catwoman had figured Eddie Lobb for techno-toys but very little else that would appeal to her personally or professionally. Rounding the corner into the living room, she saw that she was wrong. She and Eddie Lobb were kindred spirits.
Cramped between the ceiling and the sofa, stretching almost the length of the room, a stalking tiger surveyed his domain. The velvet on which he'd been painted, blacker than any Gotham night sky, disappeared behind the shimmering golds and ivories of his well-muscled flanks. His eyes were bronze; his tongue was bloodred. Standing rigid before him, Catwoman heard the faint echo of his roar.
Forget the high-tech locks, the electric tapes on the windows---here was the true guardian of Eddie Lobb's domain. A clich'e materialized in Selina's thoughts: How could a man who loved tigers be all bad? Perhaps she had leaped to the wrong conclusions. Perhaps Rose was someone who failed to appreciate the majesty inherent in all cats. Perhaps this Eddie Lobb was a man she could get to know, respect, admire... and more. She certainly wouldn't steal from him, although her eye swept a number of highly fenceable objects amid an abundance of lesser fare.
Retreating to the hallway, she wondered what Eddie did for a living. More specifically, she wondered if he was a burglar like herself. She could imagine no other way for him to acquire his inventory.
She explored the hallway doors. Two were closets crammed with unlabeled boxes, heavy coats, and other seasonal flotsam. Almost no one in Gotham was rich enough to have an attic or basement. The third floor was locked. The mechanism would have yielded to her picks, but as she'd already decided not to take anything, there was no need to use them. The fourth door took her back where she'd started.
Leaving the door open for the light, Catwoman studied the room. It was Rose's room. She recognized the scent, but Eddie's presence was equally strong. There was another velvet painting crowding the bed---a bare-breasted woman astride a tiger. Catwoman found this painting less appealing than the one in the living room. The chairs were dark and heavy, with plush upholstery and claw feet. The bed was an antique with sturdy posts rising from the corners. The overall style might best be described as early bordello---the sort of thing men thought was feminine.
Belatedly Catwoman realized the light was wrong; she looked up and saw a mirror over the bed. She began to have reservations about Eddie Lobb. Her curiosity grew; her reluctance to probe his secrets waned. She looked in the closet; nothing extraordinary, nothing masculine, either. There was a tall dressing cabinet with carved wooden doors and a woefully inadequate lock. After lifting the firm tips and sliding her fingers through the slits, she went to work with her picks. The doors swung open. Her costume obscured her reflection in the vanity mirror, except for the scowl on the unmasked portion of her face and the flash of steel as she replaced the pick in its pocket. Like any self-respecting cat, she had no love for her own image and quickly looked elsewhere.
She looked down at a fancy tray covered with perfume bottles and, behind the bottles, closer to the mirror, at two small globes that hovered in the shadow and glowed with their own light. Driven by curiosity, Catwoman reached toward them. Her fingers stopped short and began to tremble.
The globes were eyes---artificial eyes glued into the preserved head of a half-grown Siberian tiger.
Selina knew it was a Siberian tiger thanks to the Wilderness Warriors, whose quarterly newsletter was the only piece of mail she looked forward to and read over and over until she'd committed it to memory. She learned things about the great cats she'd never imagined as a little girl, but mostly she learned that her favorite predators were doomed. Their habitats were vanishing. They could not distinguish between prey that belonged to no one and prey that belonged to a local farmer or herdsman. But, worst of all, they were ravaged by poachers---greedy treasure-hunters to whom the words endangered species meant higher profit.
She knew that Eddie Lobb could not have acquired the head---which she slowly realized was the lid of a box---in an honest way. Traffic in endangered animals---alive, stuffed, or in pieces---was illegal. It wasn't the illegality that got to Catwoman, though. It was the immorality. Eddie Lobb loved tigers, but he didn't love them freely. Unsatisfied with pictures or statues, he craved the tiger itself. He didn't seem to mind that the tiger had to die first, and that made him as sin-heavy as the poacher who laid the trap and pulled the trigger.
Selina understood the temptation. She had to touch the head a second time. She shuddered when the stiff, coarse fur brushed her exposed fingertips. The head was bigger than her nameless gray kitten, but otherwise the faces were the same. No wonder Rose had freaked out in the mission kitchen.
Suddenly light-headed and weak-kneed, Catwoman sank to her knees, still holding the relic at arm's length.
How could a man who loved tigers be all bad?
This was how.
THIS was how.
The urge to leave grew strong but was dwarfed by the roar of curiosity. Shoving the box back into the cabinet, slamming the doors without regard for who might hear the sound, Catwoman raced down the hall, to the locked door. Her picks were useless in her trembling hands. She resorted to force, slamming her shoulder against the door until it sprang open. The room was dark, too dark for her sensitive eyes. She groped for a toggle switch, found it, and flipped it up.
A gasp escaped her lips. Her stomach collapsed and did a back roll. There was another clich'e in her thoughts:
Curiosity killed the cat.
The room was obscene, an abomination. There were no other words to describe it. Stitched-together tiger hides covered the walls. A complete pelt, with head, feet, and tail attached, sprawled across the floor. Mounted heads were everywhere, some stuffed and lifelike, others rendered down to glistening bone. A table stood on tiger legs. The chair behind it had tiger ribs for its back and cheetah skulls for finials. There was more---at least a hundred objects made from tiger hide, teeth, or bone---but Catwoman had already seen too out of the room, shutting the door behind her. Tears oozed from her eyes. The black mask captured them and held them against her cheeks where they burned like acid.
Catwoman never cried. The alien sensation unnerved her and threatened her spirit. She slid down to her knees and wrapped her arms protectively around her head. She prayed for rage and hatred to sustain her. The fire rose slowly, restoring her strength, drying her tears. She slipped the caps over her fingertips and bared her teeth at the closed door.
She couldn't reenter the room. The fire wasn't burning hot enough, not yet, so she attacked the door and the frame around it, leaving deep scratches in the wood.
"You'll die, Eddie Lobb." Catwoman's hoarse whisper filled the empty apartment. "You'll die for this. You'll meet the spirit of every tiger, every cat, who died to satisfy your greed and lust. You'll beg for mercy. But if won't come, and death will be only the beginning of your punishment."