A Look Back Year Two: Something OldMarch 22, 2011
Probably my favorite Book 2 Cat-Tale. If you recall, due to some Alfred’s machinations in a previous tale, Bruce was stuck hosting sessions for a food and wine festival at the manor. Still learning about Selina’s civilian side, he had some surprises at the first cocktail party. Selina knew a great deal about wine, and one of the presenters turned out to be an old flame: the French aristocrat Count Francois de Poulignac. Selina was so caught up in the reunion, she didn’t even introduce Bruce, and in the only real hint of actual jealousy we saw in him, Bruce grumbled to himself that it might be because she didn’t remember his name. “What with it being so short and easy to pronounce and in only one language.”
On with the fun:
After Alfred’s literary hero, Jeeves, the most famous butler in fiction is probably Stevens in Remains of the Day. Alfred remembered fondly that book’s account of an unflappable butler serving in India, who interrupts his master’s tea to report a rabid tiger has entered the house and rests beneath the dining room table. The butler calmly asks permission to use a particular weapon, after which the guests hear three gunshots. The butler returns to refresh the teapot and reports “Dinner will be served at the usual time, milord, and I am pleased to say there will be no discernable traces of the recent occurrence by that time.”
Perhaps it was the gift for dignified understatement that put Alfred more in mind of Stevens than Jeeves at this particular moment. Or perhaps it was that Stevens’ duties brought him into contact with Nazis and Nazi collaborators, while the worst Jeeves had to contend with were chaps called Tuppy Glossop and Gussie Finknottle.
“There is a matter in the library requiring your attention, sir,” Alfred announced soberly. Bruce turned from his place where Signora Rinaldi was measuring counter space for a demonstration on olive pressing, and Alfred continued. “Your immediate attention, sir.”
Assuming this was yet another of the endless preparations for the festival, Bruce entered the library with a distracted air, totally unprepared for the sight that would greet him. The transition to Batman was instantaneous as his brain registered it – the Joker! – sitting in an easy chair – feet up on an endtable – balancing a leather-bound volume of Emily Dickenson poems on his chin.
“Brucie! You’re not the one I wanted! I knew that old fellow didn’t understand me. Should I kill him for you before I go? Listen, I’m looking for Selina, got a bit of a problem I want her to help with. Have you heard that I’m dead?”
“Um, well,” Bruce stammered.
“Dead! The papers all say that I’m dead! Where would they get an idea like that? Don’t I look the image of a happy healthy Joker?”
Before Bruce could answer, Joker picked up the book and sung a verse to the tune of Yellow Rose of Texas…
♫ Because I could not stop for Death,
♫ He kindly stopped for me.
♫ The carriage held but just ourselves
♫ And Immor-TA-LI-TY! ♫
Strangely, after a wildly atonal wail on the last word, the madman became completely lucid.
“So anyway, Bruce, you mind if I call you Bruce?”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” was the cold reply.
“So anyway, Bruce, your li’l gal Selina’s the reigning queen of bitch-slapping these damn newspapers. I’m sure she’ll know what to do about this.”
“Selina’s not here.”
“Oh. That’s what the old guy said too. Y’think, maybe, not kill him after all? Well then, how ‘bout this, I’ll leave you my calling card…”
The phrase meant a gas bomb, a mortar shell, or at best a squirt of acid …except this time it only produced … a calling card.
“Now, this number is the Hacienda Central in the East Village. Always try there first. If there’s no answer, try this one—that’s out by the expressway, I don’t use it much, too noisy, but there’s a machine! Leave a message and then if I don’t call back in 2 days, call this number and say ‘Blind bats bite blowfish’ and they’ll tell you where I am. Got all that? Ta!”
And he was off. Bruce looked down at the card: locations of two Haciendas, phone numbers, e-mail, pager, and a password for getting more information from an answering service. This was the motherlode! Absently, Bruce flipped the card over and read: Harley’s Hyena Chow: take 10 lbs ground meat and 10 lbs cornmeal…
“Say, Brucie, one other thing…”
Oh hell, Bruce thought, I knew that was too easy. He’s back. And now he makes the card explode.
“…something’s been nagging at me since that Christmas party, maybe you can help me out with it. I wasn’t there in the adorable flesh, you know, and it’s the funniest thing, nobody will tell me what happened. Hatter and Scarecrow are a pair of old hens after most parties, but this time, nothing.” He made a light “look, the coin is-a-gone” gesture, then took on a dangerous tone. “You see my point, Brucie. It’s suspicious.”
Brucie growled silently, but Joker continued undeterred.
“If they’re not saying anything, it means there’s something to
not say. And the others, Roxy, Penguin, Two-Face, it’s almost like they’re avoiding me.”
“Mm. Imagine that.”
With any other obnoxious visitor, Bruce would have slid into fop mode and made some excuse about the event being planned: lots of details to see to, must run (Ta!) …but Batman would not relinquish even that much of the helm. This was the Joker. DefCon-2!
“Avoiding me! Why would they want to do that? I’m such a warm and charming guy. And I’m such a fuzzybunny at parties. So why won’t anybody talk to me? I know why, oh yes I do. It’s to do with Harley. She’s boffing one of them, isn’t she? You were there, Wayne, you can tell me…”
If it weren’t for the absolute certainty that it would be signing Edward Nigma’s death warrant, Bruce might have told him, if only to reinforce the new form of address. If Joker had to call him something, he’d do almost anything to remove ‘Brucie’ from the list of possibilities.
“’Excusez-moi,” François appeared in the doorway, evidently still hunting for that room in the manor with the perfect temperature differential for his wine seminars. “I couldn’t help but overhear, and I must say you are looking at this all wrong. I am the Comte de Poulignac.” He offered his hand to the Joker, who regarded it with an air of puzzlement. He looked to Bruce, who shrugged. Joker carefully shook François’s hand, and the count continued…
“So your mistress has taken another lover, what of it? They are like that,
les femmes. So much passion and impulse, and so little thought. It is very endearing, no?”
Joker again turned to Bruce, hoping for confirmation that this idea was as loony as he thought.
“That make sense to you?” Joker whispered.
Bruce was forced to admit, it didn’t.
“To object to your woman’s new lover, it is so unsophisticated,” the Frenchman continued, “so—what is the English word?
The black and white, big collars, and the hats with the buckle—pilgrim? No,
puritan. It is so puritan to make an issue of these things.”
Joker gave François de Poulignac the same wary-but-friendly, mustn’t-spook-the-lunatic look the orderlies always gave him at Arkham. He pulled Bruce aside.
“Brucie, reality check: I’m wearing a purple suit?”
Reluctantly, Bruce raised an eyebrow and gave a regretful half-nod.
Another grudging nod.
“Kill people by the dozen.”
“And the cheese-eating surrender monkey just called me a puritan.”
Joker turned his head, seeming to process this information.
“Well that’s a first,” he remarked finally.
Bruce was at a loss for words, but the Joker was unperturbed. He looked back at François then back at Bruce. “Cover me, I’m going in…” he confided, then turned his attention away from Bruce.
“So, Count,” Joker began in a firm I’m-not-the-crazy-one-here tone. “Let me get this straight. Let’s say you have a girl.”
“The doctors tell me it’s best in these hypothetical scenarios if you have a very definite image in mind. So, some particular girl—say a blonde, petite, squirrelly laugh, lot of energy, and a luscious little tush. With me so far?”
“And you hear she’s screwing around.”
“Oui, but in France we would never say this ‘screwing,’ but I know what you say, she takes a lover.”
“Right. And you’re not upset by this?”
“Mais pourquoi? But why? Any woman with spirit enough to be interesting is bound to want a hobby.”
Joker spun round to Bruce with a distinct “You heard that too?” then turned back to François as though to continue. Then his head snapped up and he turned back to Bruce. He suddenly realized there was a subtext to this discussion he’d completely overlooked: Bruce Wayne was dating Selina Kyle, the Catwoman—and the whole world knew about her thing with Batman. Oh shit, no wonder the guy looked like that. Joker’s suspicions about Harley were just a theory, but Catwoman and Batman were common knowledge.
Why, he and Wayne were brothers really, they were commiserating like brothers in arms whose women were stepping out with damnable faceless man-beasts, and this French pastry came in spewing nonsense that was painful to them both.
“This guy should die,” Joker said to no one in particular.
“A dilemma,” thought Bruce.
“No, wait, that’s too good for him,” Joker reconsidered.
“Dilemma solved—maybe,” thought Bruce.
Joker began pacing, trying to work out a fitting punishment. From a crimefighting perspective, it was fascinating to watch as the clown paced, hummed a few bars of
Deutchland, Deutchland, paced some more, and snorted “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”
The psychopath was sufficiently absorbed in his ravings that Bruce was able to step nearer François and whisper, “You might want to leave now.”
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