A Look Back: Don’t Name the Bats!June 6, 2011
When I had the idea to look back at Cat-Tales year by year, there was never
any doubt which tale I would highlight for 2006
Bruce knew Selina resented being summoned to the Batcave “like a spaniel.” And, since the matter wasn’t pressing, he squelched the impulse to use the intercom or send a message through Alfred. He waited until lunchtime and went up to the manor himself. He thought Alfred was just a little too pleased that he had come up for lunch unprodded (a development that Bruce found annoying), but Selina didn’t seem to notice anything unusual about his behavior. She greeted him with the easy smile that was the norm since their talk after the fundraiser, and they chatted only of non-Bat subjects as they ate. Bruce said he was avoiding the Wayne offices. He denied it was because “Lucius had to be punished” for the disastrous Ashton-Larraby fundraiser. On the contrary, Bruce insisted, he had trained enough Robins to know that what Lucius really needed now was a free hand. He didn’t need to feel supervised, second-guessed and micromanaged because he had made a mistake. He needed to pick himself up, dust himself off, and regain his confidence as quickly as possible.
With that noble declaration, Bruce wiped a crumb from the corner of his mouth, tossed his napkin onto the table, and asked Selina to accompany him back to the cave. She agreed, the easy smile morphing into one of feline curiosity. When they reached the Batcave, she curled comfortably into the chair at workstation two, picked two wing-shaped slivers of metal off the desk, and began to play. Bruce suppressed a lip twitch as she turned the pieces this way and that, trying to work out what they were and how they fit together. Then his whole demeanor changed as he underwent what the staunchest heroes in the Justice League have described as “the most frightening transformation in existence.” His jaw clenched, his eyes darkened, his entire body seemed to become denser, and those with sufficient imagination could almost envision the mask appearing over his stern features.
He sat and powered up his screen, while Selina continued to play with the batwings as if nothing at all had occurred—which to her mind, it hadn’t.
“With all the rogues incarcerated at Blackgate or Arkham,” Bruce began in the gruff Bat-gravel, “I have time to look into another type of case. This is really why I began this work. I never intended to—I never envisioned the kind of costumed criminal element that evolved in Gotham.”
“Hey, hey, hey. Watch it, Stud,” Selina chided playfully. “Remember one of them is sitting in striking distance, and I’ve got one of your, eh…” She held up the two wing pieces pinched together between her fingers to resemble a lopsided batarang. “…What is this thing anyway?”
“They’re components for a new palm unit,” he growled. “They don’t fit into each other,”
She put them down, disappointed, and gave him her full attention.
“So this is what you really wanted to do before the likes of me showed up and spoiled your evenings with lots of purple, banter, and fun?”
He scowled and said nothing, refusing to be baited.
“So what is it?” she asked gamely.
“Diamonds,” he pronounced with a grunt.
“Ooh,” she sat up eagerly. “That doesn’t sound so dreary after all.Tell-tell.”
He paused, needing a moment to process her enthusiasm. She was excited, which is, of course, what he wanted. But in all the years of study, in all the years of crimefighting, in all the briefings and all the interrogations, the phrase “tell-tell” had never been uttered.
“As you know, Gotham is one of four primary centers of the global diamond market, the others being London—”
“Antwerp, and South Africa,” Selina interrupted with a naughty grin. “Yeah, Bruce, I have a nodding acquaintance with the international gem market.”
He nodded, curtly.
“More diamonds are bought and sold in that one block of 47th Street than anywhere else in the world. Ninety percent of the diamonds imported into the U.S. go through there; a single day’s trade averages $400 million. And most of it—in this day and age—is still done on a handshake. If there was nothing else in this city, that’s a fulltime job for a crimefighter, right there.”
“Pfft,” came the unexpected response. “I hate to ruin your plan, Handsome, but I think I see where this is going. And I will tell you gleefully that they don’t need you, and more to the point, they don’t need me. They’ve got a private police force of their own hired by the neighborhood association, something like fifteen individual security firms on top of that, armed guards, x-rays, retinal scans, everything. They’re fine.”
“There are twenty-five diamond exchanges, Selina, how many can you get into?”
“All twenty-five,” she answered instantly. “But I’m me.”
“And within those twenty-five exchanges, there are twenty-six hundred independent businesses. How many of their safes have you opened?”
“I have no idea,” she laughed. “Who counts?”
“More than half?”
“Probably,” she said with a grin. “But again, I’m me. And I have no interest in spending my nights poring over blueprints looking for ways to plug up holes that only I could get through.”
Bruce felt his lip twitch in spite of himself as he recalled his earlier thought:the slightest hint that she might participate in such a loathsome activity as crimefighting was enough to set her off…
“I wasn’t going to suggest anything like that,” he said honestly. “I was just mapping out the landscape, laying out the basic facts of the Gotham City diamond district.”
“Really?” she asked skeptically.
“Really,” he assured her.
She laughed—a very particular laugh, a rooftop laugh that he hadn’t heard for quite some time—a laugh that nearly always preceded her getting away with something.
“Okay then,” she said at last, “basic facts of the diamond district have been duly laid out in scrupulously correct if slightly anal bat-fashion. What’s next?”
The bat-density seemed to intensify and, when he spoke, his voice dipped again into the deep bat-gravel.
“Talk me through selling a stolen diamond,” he ordered.
“Well,” she smiled, happy (for once) to comply with a bat-order. “As you probably know, every gemstone is unique. Hit it with a laser, it will produce its own, one of a kind sparkle pattern, just like a fingerprint. Any stone important enough for me to take an interest in, that visual signature would have been recorded and logged in an international database.”
“So if you steal my Aunt Elena’s necklace here in Gotham, remove the stones and sell them loose in Hong Kong or reset them into a bracelet to sell in Tokyo, they will still come up as stolen. My goods are returned to me and you go to jail.”
“That’s the theory. So why am I sitting here instead of in jail?”
“Unscrupulous dealers who won’t check the gemprints to verify that any item they sell is legitimate,” he suggested.
Selina made a face.
“Well, I’m sure that goes on, but not on my level. Anything I’d steal is going to be valuable enough that whoever buys it down the line will probably insure it. When they do, that means a new gemprint and oh, look, those stones were taken in Gotham six months ago… Catwoman suspected.”
She grinned, and he considered the problem.
“Recutting into smaller stones would greatly diminish the value,” he noted sourly.
“It would,” Selina agreed. “But that’s not the real problem with it. It all gets more complicated in 1998. There’s fighting in West Africa for control of the diamond mines. Serious atrocities. On his worst day, Joker couldn’t come close to this kind of ugly. Both sides start selling diamonds on the black market to fund their wars, and most civilized countries, wanting nothing to do with these ‘blood diamonds,’ pass laws prohibiting their import or sale. So now all legit diamonds, cut or rough, have to have an ID that certifies they didn’t come out of this process.”
Bruce inhaled slowly, beginning to see the solution. Selina could almost envision Sherlock Holmes savoring a long draw on his pipe.
“How secure is the database?” he asked finally. And Catwoman’s naughty grin widened into the Cheshire variety.
“How secure is anything?” she asked in reply. And he grunted.
“If you have a stone to sell that you’re not supposed to have,” he began, solidifying the thought by speaking it aloud, “you can’t change its gemprint any more than you could a fingerprint, but you can change the information in the database that’s attached to the print. You substitute the visual signature of some lesser diamond, which you can then bury, destroy, or grind to dust for industrial use, for the one on the record of Aunt Elena’s necklace. So the gem tagged on that record as ‘stolen’ will never be found. And you make a new print for your stolen diamond and assign it to a record with an innocuous and legitimate-seeming history.”
“I salute you, World’s Greatest Detective,” Selina purred softly.
“Thank you for your help,” he said, swiveling the chair to face the monitor. He began typing rapidly into a waiting file, and Selina began to think he had forgotten her entirely.
“Done with me, or should I stay?” she asked finally.
“Oh, I’ll have more questions,” he graveled, his fingers never slowing and his eyes never wavering from the screen. “Give me a minute to modify a few queries and data filters.”
She waited. She picked up the batwing whatever-it-was again, buffed its silver surface, and used it as a mirror to primp her hair. Then she looked curiously around the cave.
“Those bats are watching us,” she said at last.
“Oh, those two,” Bruce said lightly. “They perch lower than the others. I think they’re attracted to the hum of the computer.”
She giggled, delighted.
“You have your own Whiskers and Nutmeg.”
“Selina, do not name the bats,” he warned darkly.
“I wasn’t going to name the bats,” she declared with exaggerated dignity.
“Good,” he grunted. He could bring Catwoman into his life, he could accept her friendships with Riddler and Two-Face, he could overlook her favorite bar being the Iceberg Lounge, and he could even, in time, come to terms with a stolen cat figurine among the curios in his bedroom. But he simply could not tolerate her coming into his cave and assigning cutesy names to the native chiroptera.
“The black one is awfully cute,” she noted.
“Selina,” he growled.
“I’m not naming him,” she insisted. “I just said he was cute. Look at those ears and that broad muscular chest—”
“Gemprints,” Bruce cut her off forcefully. “Whenever I’ve purchased diamonds or had them insured, I receive hardcopies of the gemprints, laser inscriptions, serial numbers, everything. Once you or your fence alters the records in the database, I still have proof that the stones you’re selling in Tokyo are mine.”
“Yes, but your hardcopies are sitting in an acidfree envelope in the bottom of a safe in the bedroom. It’s not connected to anything, nothing searchable will ever see it.”
“No,” Bruce admitted reluctantly. “But it’s a start. It’s a link. The key to most detective work is finding some overlooked link between the person and the deed.”
“I always thought Walapang would be a good name for an animal,” she said brightly. “I hate giving them people names, don’t you?”
“You’re not naming the bat ‘Walapang.’”
“Do you even know what it means?”
“Yes, it’s from Lombardic law: ‘to disguise one’s self in order to commit theft.’”
“You are a freak of nature,” she smirked. “A sexy freak, but a freak.”
He sighed and resumed typing.
“It will take me another seven minutes to modify the auto-downloads, search routines, and data spiders in light of what you’ve told me. In that time, you have a workstation of your own, as noted by the purple wallpaper you’ve installed there. Why don’t you amuse yourself on that and leave the bats alone.”
“You cannot in your wildest fantasies think that is going to work.”
“We’re doing stolen art next,” he graveled with the subtlest flicker at the corner of his lip. “Your workstation is logged into the Museum Security Network.”
“Meow,” she said, swinging her chair around.
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