Nightwing hummed a tune as he turned the Tumbler onto Fifth Avenue. The wedding was done and God would be happy with the wedding and tonight's patrol would be quiet or alternatively, he would finally apprehend Scarecrow. The Cartier's building rolled into view and Nightwing decided God's higher priority was proving him wrong.
Gotham City's branch of Cartier's always tied a giant red ribbon around the store for Christmas and a few years ago, they had upgraded to a lighted version. It never came out last year, but nobody in Midtown had decorated during the Occupation. Tonight the panels were on the building, dazzling the neighborhood, and green. He parked the Tumbler next to the sidewalk and climbed out. The green ribbon stretched up the corner of the building and met the second green ribbon between the third and fourth floors with a bow. Instead of a lighted panther stalking up beside the ribbon, a giant gift tag propped against the building like it was dangling from the bow. A LED sign was embedded into the tag and scrolled through its message in green text.
Behold the mighty panther!
These jewelers co-opted the fearless beast
for an icon of all desires thanks to artiste.
Elegance and independence trapped in gems and gold.
Bah, who can be bothered with things so cold?
Not for me such classy bling,
I'd rather have the real thing.
Nightwing blinked and read the poem a second time. The first part sounded like the writer had left Cartier's inventory alone. The next part, his forehead scrunched against his mask. Real panthers were out in the jungle or the jungle exhibit at Trillium Park Zoo.
A police car stopped in the middle of the street. "What the hell?" The officer in the passenger seat leaned out his open window.
"I think it's just vandalism, but check the building and get a hold of the Cartier's manager. I'll check the threat to the zoo." Nightwing jumped back into the Tumbler and turned toward the Narrows Bridge.
Trillium Park Zoo was one of the oldest zoos in the United States. One of his foster families had taken him to it almost every weekend when they had him and he remembered it well. FEMA had sent a truck of animal supplies and Bane's Army had let it through so most of the animals there survived the Occupation. And it was the closest location of a live panther, a black jaguar along with the spotted ones in the indoor rainforest exhibit.
He concentrated on the still-under-construction streets and hoped this nut hadn't let the jaguars out of their habitat. Fox and Bruce vouched that the armor held up against dog bites, but another zoo trip fact resurfaced. Jaguars bit their prey in the skull to drive their fangs into the brains.
The snow-covered lawns and bare trees didn't expose a person lurking in the park as far as the Tumbler's and the zoo's lights reached, and more importantly, also didn't show a freezing giant cat. He used the grapnel gun to get on top of the fence and dropped down inside. No footprints in the fresh snow over the grass, but people had walked over the sidewalk. He followed it up to the glass-roofed pergolas between the buildings surrounding the sea lion pool.
The door to the indoor rainforest was unlocked. The inner door opened when then outer shut and the warm humid air plastered to the armor. He ignored how his face tingled and headed through the pathway to the glass-walled room. A large green card was taped to the glass facing the walkway. "So you might be smart enough to play along" and a smiley face decorated the front in gold foil. Behind the glass, a spotted jaguar joined the black panther on a tree limb and stared at Nightwing.
He glanced at the fact card. "Okay, has one of you been kidnapped?" He moved around the exhibit. Yellow fur gleamed in the shadows of the cave in the back. "Three cats, check. Wish you guys could tell me who left this." He pointed at the card still on the glass and then looked up for security cameras. All the ones he spotted were turned to the wall. "This guy doesn't miss a trick." He took pictures to show how he found everything and both jaguars leaped into the darkness of their habitat when the flash went off. Only then did he open the card.
Changed my mind, he's not petite
Out of house I'd be with how he'd eat.
Now I'm hungry, but I won't have what she's having.
Pastrami on rye with mustard, oh what a craving.
The stereotype of police officers had them gluttons for donuts. He had been on the force long enough to realized cops liked to eat everything. And they had all agreed the best place for pastrami was Katz's Deli that was a few blocks away in East Park Side. He slid the card into an evidence bag. Then he dusted the moved security cameras for prints. None showed up. No point in dusting the glass since the perp probably wore gloves. He ran to the Tumbler and stowed the evidence.
Figures the first time he'd see this famous landmark empty, he would be chasing a perp through it. The neon lights that named the red brick building Katz's Delicatessen and advertised the different food items in the front window were shut off and no salami hung on display. He had to pick the locks on the gate covering the glass doors as well as the glass doors. He shone his flashlight over the tables and the green greeting card stood up on the table with a metal plaque. "Where Harry met Sally… hope you have what she had!" He shook his head, took pictures, and opened the card.
"The chase is on" was the outburst,
Forgot mustard gives me quite the thirst.
So where do brainy kitties go for more games with their beer?
Everybody knows I like chess at Cheers.
If the perp surrendered peacefully at the end of this trail, Nightwing would still punch him in the head, just for this scavenger hunt. He sealed this card in another evidence bag, and looked at the table.
This perp didn't leave any prints at the zoo, so it was probable that he continued wearing gloves here. And the perp was calling this a chase. Nightwing believed he should scour for evidence but did he have the time against a ticking clock? He relocked the doors as he left.
Unfortunately for the clue left, Blake had never been a drinker. He remembered what alcohol had done to his cousin--the only family had left after his father died--so it seemed better to limit his intake. Ross had taken him to a neighborhood bar in Randall the last time he had a beer.
He stowed the latest card with the rest of his evidence before addressing the link to the Batcomputer. "Search the alcohol license database for a business with cat in its name."
"Searching," flashed on the screen.
Green and gold reminded him of something and it was connected to bad poetry too. He glanced back at where he had put the two cards. The green envelope left on the Tumbler the night of the Evermonds raid! They had gotten so busy with adopting Stephanie, looking for Scarecrow, Bruce and Selina's birthdays, and the wedding; he had forgotten to talk to Bruce about it. And he had thought somebody on the police force figured out Catwoman's identity and wanted to pull her tail.
This perp wasn't Gotham P.D. Nobody on the force would do something as publicly as lighting up Cartier's right after Gordon sent the National Guard packing.
The computer beeped at him. Only one bar had a name with cat in it: Fat Cat on Truman Street on the other side of the island in China Basin.
He arrived as the bartenders were dismissing the last customers. The older man threw up his hands. "What now? Bad enough I gotta close earlier because of some stupid public safety curfew shit, but now you're here to make sure I do it?"
Nightwing stopped at the top of the steps into the basement club. "I'm following a trail of vandalism. The clue led me here."
"We ain't had no vandalism here." The bartender stepped up a riser as he crossed his arms.
"I just need to do a quick search. He's been leaving clues behind on green cards."
"Green cards?" A second bartender bounced behind the one blocking the stairs to get a clear look at Nightwing. The larger bartender twisted to look at her without shifting his blockade. "There was a green envelope with the chess table screw-up tonight," she continued.
"Chess table screw up?" Nightwing asked. Chess had been mentioned in the last line. The larger bartender threw up his hands and stepped aside as the woman moved closer.
"Our games are reserved first come first serve." The ring through her upper lip flashed in the light from the bar signs. "When I came on, somebody had already reserved the chess table but wasn't using it, wasn't even sitting there. A couple of our regulars were heated about it, so I checked. The pieces were set up on the board, but the game hadn't started and a green envelope was propped up against them. I took the envelope and let the guys have the game."
"Did you keep it?" Nightwing moved down a step.
"Yeah, I was hoping he'd come back and I could explain how you stay with what you reserved." She thrust back through the door with a rolling gait that swayed her hips. Nightwing hurried after her and the larger bartender let him pass.
She reached under the bar at the cash register and pulled out a card-sized envelope. "Here it is. Didn't open it."
The envelope wasn't sealed, but Nightwing put it in a separate evidence bag. "I'll have to take your fingerprints."
"You can finger whatever you like." She leaned over the bar and put her cleavage on display.
Nightwing felt his ears burns and read the clue printed on green cardstock out loud.
"It is time to find congenial company.He shook his head. "What is this guy trying to prove?"
Wise men, notable women, words and cats accompany
Ideas contained in the most portable format.
So ponder does every writer own a literary cat?"
"That he's smarter than you?" she said. The other bartender barked a laugh as he picked up the chairs.
Nightwing took out his palm scanner from the utility belt. "Put your hand on this." He set it down on the bar.
She complied. "Literary cats, oh I bet he's talking about Matilda."
"Matilda?" Nightwing saved the palm print and brought up the keyboard. "Type in your name and a contact number."
"Matilda is the Algonquin's cat; we just covered that in American Lit class. The Round Table was all these famous writers of the Twenties and Thirties that had lunch there daily." She finished typing. "Good luck."
"Thanks, both of you." He took the evidence to the Tumbler and drove to the famous Midtown hotel. This made the fourth landmark he had to visit. "Search the Tourism Board for any publicity stunts involving Cartier's, Trillium Park Zoo, Katz's Delicatessen, and the Algonquin Hotel."
He arrived in Red Hook before the Batcomputer finished searching. The concierge looked startled as Nightwing strode into the wood-paneled Edwardian atmosphere. "Has anyone messed with your cat today?"
"Matilda? She's right there." He pointed to the dark chair next to the door. The white-furred housecat didn't move from her curled-up position. "Is there something else I can help you with, sir?"
"Has anybody left a green card or green envelope here?"
"No, we'd talk about that. And nobody messes with Matilda."
"I'm following this series of clues. The last one was:
It is time to find congenial company.So do you know another literary cat?"
Wise men, notable women, words and cats accompany
Ideas contained in the most portable format.
So ponder does every writer own a literary cat?
"The old Gotham Book Mart used to have cats. Management had an idea of setting up a playdate with Matilda once, but the owner of the bookstore wasn't keen on the idea. It was in the Diamond District before it went bankrupt."
"I remember that. Thanks." Nightwing hurried back to the Tumbler and continued north to the Midtown Diamond District on West Twentieth Street between Chambers Avenue and Thain Street. The merchants were still recovering their stolen merchandise. Was the wild good chase orchestrated to give the perp time to rob one of the exchanges? He slowed down where the sign still hung for the Gotham Book Mart where it had been the only business on the block not devoted to gemstones over the decades it was in business. A green poster board was taped to the building underneath the swinging sign.
Cats fear water and have their own marks
Head here to make up for your lack of birthmarks.
The computer search got negative results on the Tourism Board. At least he wasn't interrupting someone's attempt at viral marketing the city. But that first message left on the Tumbler didn't point to any locations, it only focused on Catwoman. "New search any tattoo parlors with cat in their names."
Three locations popped up on the computer screen. Not afraid of water; Stray Cat Tattoos was on South Channel Island.
Luckily, the tattoo parlor was closed for the night, so he didn't have to explain this mission again. The wall to the left was decorated with framed pictures of finished tattoos except in the center where the framed images had been removed and a giant green question mark had been sprayed-painted on the painted brick. The framed images were stacked neatly on the counter next to the cash register.
"He finally vandalized something besides Cartier's." Nightwing's lips curled back in disgust as he realized the dot under the question mark was square. He took pictures before unfolding the green paper for the clue.
Home despite not being Pride Rock
But with that name you expect a flock.
"Pride Rock? But the Lion King left the Theater District." He returned to the Tumbler after relocking the door. "List everything in Gotham named Lions."
The computer screen started listing business on Lyons Avenue. Fourth on the list was Lyons Condominiums. Condo was close to condor, which was a bird that could flock if it wanted to. "Best lead I have right now."
The condo building was on the corner of Lyons Avenue and Gate Boulevard in the classier side of West Side Midtown. Most of the building was dark, which made sense this time of night, except one window on the fifteenth floor shone green.
The grapnel gun brought him up level with the window. A portable spotlight with a green bulb had been aimed out the window and he couldn't see anything in the dark space past it. The window swung inside easily and he landed on a carpeted floor. Enough of the green light reflected back into the room for him to see a body lying on the floor just past the kitchen alcove. He flicked on his flashlight before moving forward.
The chest in the purple evening gown didn't move and the amount of blood soaked into the beige carpet meant CPR was no use. He swept the flashlight to make sure his path around the bistro style dining table didn't disturb any forensic evidence before he got closer.
His hand squeezed the flashlight. The woman on the floor was Harriet Allnut. They had danced together at the reception hours ago. She had teased him for looking far too young to know anything about security. And now she was dead.
He retreated back to the window and pulled out his Nightwing cellphone, but didn't want to deal with dispatch over this. He punched the speed dial for Gordon.
The Commission answered without a hello. "Cartier's is spitting mad about their outside décor and I've got zookeepers freaking out over their lack of security footage. Tell me what the hell is going on."
"He dropped clues all over the city for me to follow to a murder at the finish line."
"Who's dead and where?"
"Victim is Harriet Allnut. I found the body in one of the fifteenth floor condos in Lyons Condos." Nightwing breathed past the burning in his lungs. "And her murderer has a thing for riddles."