with thanks to Bill, Bob, and Dodie
“Not to state the obvious,” Selina said, “but I don’t really do dogs.”
Bruce’s mouth tightened—not a smile; never a smile. The German Shephard at his feet let a strand of slobber patter onto hundred-thousand-dollar loafers.
“It’s one night,” Bruce said. “I’ll be back from Santa Prisca in the morning. I see no reason why you can’t—”
“I can think of a hundred reasons,” she said. “One: It smells.”
“He doesn’t smell.”
Selina’s lips curled. “And you don’t think it’ll raise any eyebrows?” she said. “Me, traipsing around with Batman’s dog?”
“Batman doesn’t have a dog,” he said. “Bruce Wayne has a dog.”
“How the hell is that better?” she asked.
Bruce kneeled, scratching the dog behind one ear. “Ace is a good dog,” he said. “You could just stay in with him tonight.”
“You do realize who you’re talking to, right?”
“Bat,” she said, and bent to face him.
Gray eyes locked onto green. “Yes, Cat,” he said.
“Because I love you, I will be a dog person for twenty-four hours. That’s what a saint I am.”
“Hn,” he said.
A sudden wetness at Selina’s fingertips: the animal, slurping. She shuddered but didn’t withdraw. “Reason Two,” she said. “The licking.”
“Yeah, but you don’t need a mop after.”
“Thank you, Selina.”
“Mmm.” She stood. “And I promise if anything happens, I will not replace your dead dog with a lookalike and pretend nothing happened.”
Bruce held out a black leash. “I’d know,” he said.
“Right,” said Selina. She took the leash.
“World’s greatest detective and all.”
Midnight found her at the end of a swanky cobblestone street. Wrought-iron fences. Manicured hedges. And a utility van hauling a rusted trailer, parked on the corner.
The hound whined.
“You’re not gonna give me hard time, are you?” she said.
The dog gave a disdainful woof.
“You’re just like your master,” she said. “Come on.” She gave the leash a soft tug; there was resistance. She turned.
The dog was squatting, legs trembling.
“Reason Number Sixteen,” Selina said. Her finger twirled around a plastic baggie in her jacket pocket.
A minute later she tapped on the van door in a particular rhythm. It opened. Inside, the others huddled around cheap beers and cheaper cigars.
“It’s been a while,” Selina said, hoisting herself in.
Lombardi, the big one with small eyes, slumped over his burger. “Wasn’t sure we’d ever see you again.”
Margaret relit a dwindling stogie; the flame caught her chandelier earrings and made orange light dance in her panoramic hairdo. “We heard you shacked up with the Night-Rat.”
“Gave up your life of sin,” said Ahmed, a pinky swirling in his nose. “Went all Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”
“That’s the other guy,” Selina said, sitting on a bucket seat. The dog followed and curled up at her feet. “It’s not like I took a candlelit vow in a cave swearing to avenge whatever or something. I haven’t sworn off fun.”
Lombardi sipped from his beer bottle. “Whose dog?” he said.
Selina licked her teeth. “Whose business?”
“Cute,” said Margaret. She leaned over. “I’ll just bet he’s a good boy, isn’t he?” She patted Ace on the neck.
The dog growled.
Margaret fell back. “Bad dog!”
“Did you say ‘Bat-dog?’” Lombardi said.
Ahmed snorted. “Batman doesn’t have a dog.”
Selina snapped her fingers. “Hey. The job?”
“Right,” Margaret said. She stabbed the cigar between her lips. “See that big truck at the end of the street, like they ones they cart pigs around in?” Everyone nodded. “That thing’s gonna take off in ten minutes. Headed to some farm upstate. Only we’re gonna intercept the trailer, and its cargo, and swap it out for the empty one we’re hauling.”
“Wait,” Selina said. “We’re swapping the trailers at sixty-miles-an-hour?”
“That’s right.” Margaret winked and strapped on a domino mask. “You wanted a challenge.”
“My God.” Selina grinned. “Yes. So what’s in the truck?”
“Who knows?” Ahmed said. “You suited up under there?”
“Always.” Selina slipped her jacket off, kicked out of her stocky boots. A black polyester bodysuit made her all but invisible from the neck down. She donned her mask, prodded with a palm the reassuring sharpness of her cat ears.
“You know,” said Lombardi, “whenever I think of you, Selina, I picture this you. Like—this’s your face, in my mind’s eye.”
“That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me,” she said, retracting metal claws in and out of her fingertips.
Ears perked, the dog let out a Gremlinesque coo. It leaped over the back row of tattered seats, barking. A weak, nebbish yelp came from behind.
“Who’s back there?” Selina said.
All proud, the dog peeped over the headrest. A banged-up old dummy—with a trilby on and a pink scab painted down its cheek—dangled from its dripping fangs.
“Oh, hell,” Selina said. “Reason Forty-One.”
The dog hopped back over and dropped the puppet at her feet. She sighed and followed the pitiful moaning to the back. A frail, balding man curled up rocking on the dingy floormat.
“Sorry, Arnold,” Selina said. She dropped the toy onto his lap. “I believe this is yours.”
The old man squealed relief, got up, and slid his hand up the doll’s back. Wooden teeth began clacking.
“All right, goily,” Scarface said. A little child-sized tommy gun appeared at the subtle jerk of the puppeteer’s wrist. “Gimme one good reason I oughtta not shoot you and yer’ pooch like da dogs youse both are.”
“Because we can’t finish the job without her,” Margaret said. “Now sit down and shut up, Arnold.”
Arnold lowered his head. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Wait,” Selina said. “This isn’t your racket, Ventriloquist?”
The puppet bounced and gesticulated.“Naw. We was recruited. Same as you, doll. Say, we didn’t tink Batman’s dame was pullin’ jobs no moah.”
“Batman will do what he does.” She traced the dummy’s scar with a claw. “And I’ll do what I do. Doll.”
They pulled up beside the brownstone, out of view of the truck. A peek through the gate revealed a yard dotted with a dozen doghouses.
“Dog people,” Selina said.
On the other side of the yard, the livestock truck roared to life.
“To the farm?” said Lombardi.
“Hee-haw,” said Selina.
“Will you drive straight, damn it?!” Selina yelled.
Ahmed gunned it down the passing lane. In the other, the farm truck’s lanky, golf-capped driver and his turtlenecked passenger were too busy bickering to notice the van keeping pace with them at over eighty.
Wind battering her, Selina clung with one set of claws to the back of their bogus trailer. She let go and leapt. Barely, she got a grip on the hauler and scaled around the side—wedged herself between the truck and trailer. She took out a wrench and began loosening the hitch.
“Whatever’s inside,” she said, “better be worth it.”
She wrapped the wrench around the final lug nut, pulled hard and—nothing. It wouldn’t budge.
“Great,” she said.
Ahmed tapped the van horn. She looked up; he and Lombardi were hailing her. Ace leaned out the window, howling.
“Shut up,” Selina muttered. “Reason Seventy-Four! The barking.”
She looked around and saw it.
The farm. They’d be there in minutes.
“Okay then,” she whispered. She tossed the wrench into a ditch. Slipped two fingers into a pouch on her belt and retrieved something that resembled a keychain flashlight. She pressed it. A thin red light appeared, causing the tow hitch to steam and sizzle on contact.
She stuck the pen laser between her teeth, holding the trigger down with her tongue. Arms outstretched, she grabbed hold of a handle on the trailer just as it and the hitch came apart in a burst of sparks. She was yanked forcibly from the truck, bucked about as the trailer spun and skidded.
Ahmed pulled a U-turn and screeched the van in place behind the trailer, pushing it down the road. The other truck, oblivious, sped on.
Margaret tossed a chain out the window. Selina caught it and wrapped it around what was left of the smoking tow hitch.
“Let the ringer go!” Selena shouted.
Lombardi nodded. An instant later, the empty trailer they’d meant to swap out with their quarry came loose, careening into cornfields. She motioned Ahmed to go around, and he did; Ace nearly nipped at her elbow on the way. With the van some ten feet ahead, she jumped. One set of claws caught the rear van door, holding her steady as she tied off the chain and secured their target.
She cracked the back door open. “That’s a ta-da, ladies and gentlemen,” she said.
Ace licked her cheek. She shooed him away.
“What da’ hell was dat?” the Ventriloquist—or rather, Scarface—asked. “You was supposed to replace da wagon, you crazy—”
“I’m sorry,” Selina said, rolling in. “Did you want a crack at it, Pinocchio?”
The dummy looked away.
“Uh, friends?” Ahmed said. “Someone’s on our tail.”
Sure enough, a grill and headlights appeared behind them. It was a black-and-white convertible coupé going over a hundred, its driver obscured in a mess of fluttering yellow fuzz.
“Who’s dat?” Scarface said. “Big Boid?”
The coupé passed them, swerved, and came to an on-a-dime longways stop. Limbs and torsos went flying as Ahmed slammed on the brakes.
Selina sat up, grunting. Ace laid a soft-as-suede head in her lap.
“Off, boy,” she said, scratching his chin. She staggered up and kicked open the door. “Auntie Selina needs to have some words with a Sunday driver.”
She hopped out and came around, met by a shrill, deranged shriek.
“Just what,” it said, “are you doing with my property?”
Panting, hunched a bit, Selina kicked at gravel and snarled.
In the moonlight, she faced the woman standing by the coupé. The stranger looked like a stack of toothpicks wrapped in fur. She was tall, striking, with cheekbones more like hatchet heads. Her spiky hair, split down the middle: black one side, white the other.
From the woman’s silk-gloved hand dangled a comically long cigarette holder. Blue fumes rose from it; Selina followed the smoke’s trail to the woman’s eyes. They gleamed, yellow and red, in the night.
“Darling!” the woman rasped. “The contents of that trailer are my property, and—” She stopped, choking. Gasping.
“My dear,” she said, her tone and posture softening. “What’s that you’re wearing?”
The snap of stilettos hit pavement as the woman came near. “Aren’t you just a vision in that catsuit? Exquisite.” She circled Selina, buzzard-like. She stopped, her pointed nose nearly touching Selena’s, leaking smoke.
“I simply must have it,” she said. A wormy arm coiled into the depths of her puffy coat and returned with a checkbook and pen.
“How much do you want for it?” she said. “A thousand? Two thousand?” After a cold moment of silence, the woman licked the tip of her pen. “Five thousand, then. That seems fair, yes? Yes?”
“It’s not for sale,” Selina said. “And anyway, I’m robbing you.”
Long, insectoid lashes fluttered over the woman’s drooping eyelids. “I see,” she said. “It’s the hard bargain, then.” Slender fingers stuffed the checkbook back into her fluffy overcoat. She replaced it with a blue pistol. The barrel fixed on Selena’s forehead.
“Take it off,” she said. “Don’t be modest. There’s a Chanel blanket in my car you can cover up with.” After a cold moment of silence, the woman licked her handgun. “You know, I don’t usually carry one of these. But… when in Gotham…”
Selena roared, kicking up. The pistol flew in a perfect arc and clattered onto the road.
“You little— minx!” the woman shrieked. She lunged, eyes wide, baring lipstick-streaked teeth. She pinned Selena to the ground.
A bony hand closed on Selena’s throat. This woman was remarkably strong—almost supernaturally. “I don’t know who you are,” she spat, “or why you’re so determined to stand in the way of—” she grunted. “Fashion! You wretched thing!”
Vision blurring, Selena reached a hand out, palm up, and extracted her claws. With one knobby spider-leg, the fur-wrapped woman stabbed Selena’s arm down with a knife-sharp heel.
“Pretty little kitty,” she said. “You’ll look even prettier mounted above my fireplace.”
“Hey!” Ahmed and Lombardi hopped out of the van, running for Selena and the hag. They were nearly there until a bit of road exploded at their feet.
“Oi!” Ka-chak. The two men from the truck were trotting down the lane, each carrying a shotgun. The little one fired at Ahmed. Selena’s comrades darted into the tall corn stalks, cursing.
Selena gagged for air. Two bright lights flicked on and shrank. She realized Margaret was backing the van away. Her eyes flickered up and over to see her ride home peeling off without her.
“Lousy—magpie,” she choked.
Gray swirls entered her vision. No more air could reach her lungs. The last thing she heard was a loud crash not far away: The trailer had broken loose from the van and settled on the road.
“Goodbye, darling,” the woman said.
Things went dark.
Then—suddenly, inexplicably—the world turned back on. Her chest expanded, choppily, greedily. The ringing in her ears diminished, overlaid with the sound of screaming. Barking. Ripping.
“You—you brute! Beast!” The woman roared.
Selena rolled onto her side. Ace had the tail of the witch’s expensive coat in his teeth. The woman swatted at him with her handbag, but he held on, growling. At last the coat flew off and her frail, bruise-colored body toppled over in a sequin cocktail dress.
Her henchmen were further up the road. Gatling fire clattered at their ankles. Arnold and Scarface chased after them, tommy gun spinning. “And don’t come back, youse bums!”
She grinned. It all gave her the strength to get back up. Ignoring the woman’s calls for help, to “get this wretched monster off me,” Selena limped over to the loose trailer. She pulled hard on the padlock keeping its doors sealed. It took a few tries in her condition, but she was strong and off it snapped. The doors flung open, and—
Dozens—maybe a hundred—baying, bounding dogs poured out of it. All of them white with black spots. All of them jumping, scratching, lapping, yipping.
“My puppies!” the woman said, black streaks running down her cheeks. “You!” She pointed at Selena, face contorting and jagged. “You—you—you devil! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!”
“Ace,” Selena said. “Bring her here.”
The German Shepherd firmly wrapped his teeth around the woman’s ankle and began to pull with surprising strength.
“That’s a good boy,” Selina said.
“Ow!” The woman smacked and flailed. No use. Ace held on, pulling her like a lump of driftwood. “Let go! Stop this! Stop!”
The sea of Dalmatians parted so Ace could drop the old woman at Selena’s feet.
“I will kill you,” she wheezed. “And your little dog, too.”
“He’s not mine,” Selena said.
She knelt. Balled up a fist. Raised it, framed it against the moon—just so, like a signal.
“That’s Batman’s dog, asshole.”
Bruce returned in the morning. Despite the dozens of Dalmatian puppies occupying the parlor room, he only had eyes for Selena.
She was asleep, one arm curled around Ace.
“Good dog,” he said, and climbed onto the daybed.