Selina suppressed her groan as she became aware of her pounding head. If she was stupid enough to get drunk, she would suffer the hangover in dignity. But why had she gotten drunk? She hadn't had any alcohol since finding out she was pregnant. She also wouldn't order alcohol with a business lunch. Her empty stomach rumbled. Wait, no, she never had lunch.
She opened her eyes and floodlights stabbed them through a blurry haze. She squeezed them shut again and concentrated on her other senses. She smelled dust burning in the lights. They were powerful enough to hum and closer than the generator chugging behind a wall. Papers crinkled as they were flexed and she heard a chair scrape on the floor. So she wasn't alone in here.
Her body rested against a hard wooden chair. Her arms ran along the edge of the back down past the seat. She tugged experimentally and felt two bracelets around her wrists, double handcuffs? Her wrists only moved a few centimeters from the chair. Her legs were splayed against the chair's front legs. Leggings still in place but cuffs were around her ankles and her stomach felt cold and slimy.
The baby kicked. She dropped her chin and blinked away the blurry. Her purple shirt was pulled up over the baby bump and ultrasound gel was smeared over her skin.
Her slumbering bone-deep anger ignited with the heat of a thousand desert suns. She knew how to use this heat. She closed her eyes and saw the bastard stepping in front of her and the social worker helping her get the kids and Jen out of that hell hole. Her foot remembered kicking him across the room. She knew how to focus this heat. Bane pointed a short-barreled shotgun at Batman's head. Her body rocked again with the blast from the Batpod's guns. Oh yes, she knew how to hide this heat. Her baby kicked again.
She lifted her chin and stared unblinking at the shuffling chair noises. "Don't be shy," she called out coyly.
A pen clicked closed and the papers ruffled before going into a pocket before the chair scraped. A male voice answered. "It is good sense not to climb over the fence at the zoo. The same good sense applies here."
"You think I'm wild animal dangerous? Perceptive, kidnapper who has threatened my baby."
"You weren't supposed to be there!" He paced in the shadows behind the light stands. "I got a fetal Doppler and measured the heartbeat." She looked down when he shuffled through papers on a table. The beige and pink device about the size of a tablet computer with a wand connected by a spiral cord sat on the concrete floor and had a blank screen. "It came back with 145 and didn't set off the built-in alarm, so nothing has happened to the presumptive Wayne heir." He set the rustling papers down again. "I would perform another test to set your mind at ease, but we both know I'm safer over here. Besides, you did adopt the other rug rat so you have a spare."
The growl that filled her throat surprised her as much as it did her kidnapper. He hit his chair as he stepped back. "Go make your ransom demand already if all you can do is insult my children."
"Yes, well, okay, that was rude. But I'm not interested in money. I want the answer to Gotham's greatest riddle, Catwoman."
If he thought that would throw her off this game, he didn't know who he was playing against. "I'm not--"
"Don't insult my intelligence, Ms. Kyle," he interrupted. "Sorry, are you keeping your maiden name? Or do you prefer Mrs. Wayne? All the inane questions they lobed at you during that Gotham Tonight interview and they skipped that one. They also skipped what the hell Wayne is getting out of this deal, but we'll get to that later." He moved his chair and sat down again. "Right now, we're establishing why there is no point in lying to me, Catwoman. What doesn't change its strips? Roger Cly doesn't fit Catwoman's victim profile, but every story says the same thing: she beat the hide off that sick S.O.B. and dropped his victim off at the East Eighteenth Street Clinic. So damn consistent. But Cly wasn't rich or between you and a prize, and while Batman may have awakened an altruistic spirit in you enough to save and keep the kid, nearly killing the man didn't fit. Until I found the connected that everyone had overlooked. How many times did Cly rape you in Willowwood when he worked here?"
Selina blinked; focusing beyond four floodlights dried her eyes. "So you found out I was a ward of the state housed at Willowwood. It's not secret."
"No kidding. Cadmus didn't bother to alter those records. Now they did assign you and your sister a foster family after the orphanage closed down, much nicer that the women's prison you ended up in a year later. Your sister!" He slapped his leg. "Cly's a specialized pervert and he hurt your sister, same blonde hair and blue eyes like the next to youngest Wayne. Don't bother denying it. Cly was arrested for pedophilia three months before Willowwood closed, the keystone event that get the investigators interested."
She was getting annoyed with Bruce's tracking devices. How long was it supposed to take? As empty as her stomach was, lunch was hours ago. Somebody should have noticed she hadn't come back by now. She'd keep stalling for time since she didn't have any lockpicks on her. Next time she left the Manor, she'd bring multiple copies. "So I must be Catwoman because I was at Willowwood when Cly used his job to molest children. That conclusion is weak, but you're right on why I insisted on keeping Stephanie when Catwoman brought her to the clinic."
"My conclusions are flawless," he snapped back, "and nobody has seen Catwoman since you turned up pregnant."
Selina rolled her eyes. "Maybe she just left town."
"And maybe that baby isn't Wayne's."
"We spent the Occupation in his panic room and things happened."
"Please, puddykat, the pair of you sell it well, but you spent the Occupation as Bane's prisoner with the Batman. Now it is interesting why you want the world to think your baby is Wayne's child and why Wayne is going along with it, but it pales beside what only you can answer." The chair scraped against the floor. "Who was Batman?"
Selina blinked. "Batman's dead."
"And that makes it the ultimate riddle."
Her eyebrows rose without her prompting. "That's why you kidnapped me?"
The chair shot back against a metal wall as he jumped off of it. "Eight years! Who is the Batman? See if you can figure it out since Gotham City P.D. isn't trying at all. Eight years! The only damn challenge in this city for eight years and he blows himself up before he can match wits with me. Who was the Batman? I think I'm entitled to know."
The baby kicked. Selina swallowed as she searched for a response. Impressed respect for her husband's abilities to obscure wouldn't go over well. She settled on pity and tilted her head. "Do you mind passing my kidnapping to someone sane? Who will call my husband and demand money. Otherwise, I'll be here all night."
He stopped pacing. "I'm a patient man. I've been working this riddle for eight years."
Her contained fury leaked out in irritation. "Okay, if you're so smart, how do you know if I'm telling you the truth? You don't believe me when I tell you I'm not Catwoman and I don't know who Batman was. How are you going to believe any name I give you?"
"You were supposed to tell me in exchange for Wayne! But you showed up at the restaurant and I couldn't let all my hard work go to waste."
She shook her head. "He had a meeting with City Hall today and couldn't reschedule."
"And our newly elected officials decided to prove they can't be influenced by not letting Bruce Wayne have a honeymoon." He moved the chair in the shadows until it bumped into the table. "Well, since you won't cooperate, I have to go plan a reunion for you two. Or maybe little orphan Annie in peril will loosen your lips."
His footsteps crossed the room behind the light stands, and then a heavy door squeaked its hinges and settled against the door jamb with a muffled slam. She listened for a few minutes until she was sure she was alone. "Oh goddamnit, why couldn't he just want money?"
The baby kicked. "Okay, okay." Selina craned her chin over her shoulder and looked down her left arm. Both bracelets of the handcuff were around her wrist and the chain of the cuffs wrapped around the leg of the chair under the seat. She leaned forward and saw the same method immobilizing her legs.
She looked up. The pool of light revealed a smooth, metal ceiling and a rusted cooling unit mounted at the top of the left wall. Stuck in a walk-in freezer, what were her escape options that wouldn't hurt her or the baby? Her center of gravity was off and degloving her hands grossed her out. Think, Selina, think!
Nightwing parked the Tumbler next to the gate in the tall fence around the abandoned building. He looked up at the dark four-story building that could fit three St. Swithin's inside of it. The swirl of corrupt and abusive staff, mentally disturbed children allowed to terrorize others, neglect and apathy had been closed before his father died, but there were enough kids around who experienced it by the time he joined the system Willowwood had become the bogeyman of orphanages. He remembered the haunted eyes of an older boy who stopped his complaining about St. Swithin's. "It's not Willowwood."
Willowwood started as a modest mansion in Upper West Hill where the shipping magnate who built it could reach his warehouses in the China Docks easily. Then the rich moved the fashionable addresses to East Park Side and a children's aid society bought the property. That's when the decorative but tall iron fence went around and closed off the half-circle drive to the front door. The straight driveway that went behind the building had been sealed off with a chain-link fence gate. He climbed out of the Tumbler and approached that gate. The monsters were gone now and if a new one had moved in here, it was his job to stop him. Besides, he owed Selina a rescue.
Chain was wrapped around the center supports, but no padlock closed the ends. He pushed them open and the hinges didn't even squeak. He drove the Tumbler inside the fence and focused the heat sensor on the brick building.
The deserted building had a heat signature rising out of the basement and a smaller one on the second floor. He parked next to the building and walked up the paving stones to the main door. It stood open to the cold night air.
The foyer's stone floor rose up in steps into a hall. A large window across it showed the grand columned staircase on the other side of the wall. He headed to the archway on the right, found the stairs, moved up. A man stood on the second floor landing dressed in a green suit and bowler. A stick-on LED light illuminated the landing and the upper portion of the stairs and he leaned against the column under it writing in a crossword puzzle book. His purple-gloved hands clicked the pen, rolled up the thin booklet, and stowed both in his jacket pocket before he looked down at the vigilante. "Nightwing, n'est-ce pas? I may have underestimated you, kid."
"Who are you and what have you done with Selina Wayne?" Nightwing moved up a step.
"Starting off with questions, you know the way to my heart." He grinned and tapped the gold question mark tie pin on his purple necktie. "Call me the Riddler." He wore a purple domino mask under the hat.
"Okay, Riddler, where is Selina Wayne?"
"You'll have to catch me to find out." He pivoted and pushed through the double doors behind him.
Nightwing ran up the last steps and across the short hallway. The double doors led into the mansion's original library. The built-in bookcases still lined the wall he could see. But the interior had posts set up with opaque fabric stretched between them forming walls. They didn't reach the ceiling, but they stretched two feet over his head. Carpet underneath muffled footsteps. The stick-on LED lights dotted the room to provide pools of illumination that didn't spill out the windows.
He dashed ahead and turned to the right as soon as an opening appeared in the fabric wall. It dead-ended on him. He glared at the black fabric and pulled out a Batarang. As soon as the sharp, metal edge poked into the fabric, an electrical jolt pulsed up his arm to his elbow. He dropped the weapon and shook the numbness out. So he had to run the maze.
He didn't want to think about how much time was passing as he backtracked from wrong turns, came to an outer window and realized it was boarded up, finally found a second pair of doors out of the library and into a classroom for the orphanage, through a wall into a restroom with filthy fixtures left behind, and uncovered door to another classroom and all filled with winding cloth walls. So of course his brain provided the ticking second hand sound just for fun. He heard footsteps moving up a wooden staircase before he reached the end of the maze at the door of the classroom in a small hallway with stairs up to the third floor. He charged up them.
The fabric maze started in the third floor hallway. Nightwing groaned under his breath and listened. No footsteps echoed. He flattened himself against the wall and scooted to the right between the physical wall and the fabric one. Avoid the whole damn thing, he felt better as he turned through a door. Even if he went around the whole perimeter of the building, it would be faster than all the stupid dead-ends.
The floor dropped out from under his feet.
A chute plunged him through the walls and floors of the building. He rammed his hands and feet against the sides to slow his descent. They slipped off the greased metal. The chute ended and he clawed the air before landing into a rotting pile of sheets. The sides of the laundry cart holding them ripped apart and tumbled him and the contents to the floor.
He tore his way out of the fabric. His flashlight revealed industrial-sized washing machines and dryers rusting to pieces and a new generator chugging away on the south wall. The power cord passed through a freshly drilled hole in the baseboard. He hurried out of the laundry, ignored the fabric wall in front of him, and turned to the next room. It was a walk-in freezer. He threw open the thick door.
The power cord from the generator ran to four flood lights on stands focused on the woman seated in the center of the freezer. "Mrs. Wayne!"
Selina squinted. "Nightwing? You better make sure he can't lock us both in here." Her purple maternity shirt had been shifted to uncover her swollen belly, but otherwise she looked unharmed.
He picked up a chair tucked under a table set inside the freezer and jammed it into the door hinges. Now the door couldn't shut on them. "Are you okay?" He stepped over the power cords.
"I'll be better once you get me out of these cuffs." Nightwing paused before moving closer to the chair. She caught the hesitation. "You have no idea how to pick a lock, do you?"
"I never needed to pick handcuffs before." He circled around the chair and studied how she was secured. The handcuffs were on each wrist and ankle so the chain wrapped around the chair leg.
"Of course not."
"New plan, don't bother." He wrapped one arm around her upper chest and tipped her into it, resting her weight on it and the two front chair legs. His foot thrust down on the right back chair leg. It broke with a satisfying crack and he tugged the chain down past the splinters. Once her hand was free, Selina latched onto his shoulder. The second leg broke just as easily, and he was able to pull the chair away from her legs when she stood up. "Good to go? Your stuff is by the door."
"Grab that." She pointed to the beige and pink device on the floor as she marched over the power cords. She pulled out a set of her goggles disguised as sunglasses out of her purse while stuffing the papers left on the table into it. The device went in too and she pulled on her coat. "Get me out to the street and you're free to pound his ass." She headed out the door while he adjusted the light settings on his mask. "What the hell? What kind of funhouse is this?"
"Willowwood. He built more mazes upstairs." Nightwing stepped out of the freezer. The light from the freezer door helped but most of the basement beyond the fabric walls ahead of them was lost to the blackness.
"Willowwood." Selina's low voice didn't infuse the name with any warm and fuzzy associations. "Freezer, laundry, boiler room, kitchens, the stairs up to the dining room are this way." She turned right around the freezer and they faced what looked like a closet door.
"I'll go first. Riddler's probably waiting right behind an exit this easy." Nightwing moved around Selina.
"Riddler? He calls himself the Riddler?" She moved closer behind him and peered over his shoulder. "Wait!"
The warning came too late. His hand had already twisted the door knob and set off the incendiary blast. The door shielded them from the heat, but flames covered the stairwell.
Selina pulled him back from the fire. "Was it not challenging enough before?"
"His last booby trap was a trapdoor! Where's another exit?"
Selina gestured at the dark basement behind them. "The delivery entrance is straight that way at the rear of the building." She reached for the panel of fabric in the way.
His hand was quicker this time and he grabbed her arm before she touched it. "It's electrified."
She didn't say anything and he couldn't see her eyes behind the goggle lenses. Her leg shot out, sending the closest pole crashing to the ground. She pivoted and dragged him to the broken pole. "Disconnected one and they all go out. Like Christmas tree lights. Don't tell Bruce I did that." She rubbed her stomach.
"Did what?" He yanked the wires out of the bottom of the pole and they sparked. The Batarang sliced through the black panel without a shock. Now they ran across the basement, avoiding the remnants of the kitchen equipment and dodging burning debris falling from above. The fire roared overhead and ran faster than they could. "He must have spread an accelerant; I never smelled it!" Nightwing yelled over noise.
"This isn't how I wanted to watch this place burn!" Selina yelled back. "The basement door," she pointed up.
The truck-sized wooden door was set above their heads in a smooth brick wall. The staircase up to it had been sawed away from the wall and hauled off. Flames already licked through it. He pulled a mini-mine off his belt and threw it. The boards and a few bricks shattered into the night. Nightwing fired the grapple gun up and out.
Selina tucked her hair under the collar of her coat. "I am so teaching you how to B&E!" She wrapped her arms around his armored neck.
He gripped her as the winch on the belt pulled them up and through the lingering flames.