June races up the fire escape and leaps. One last roof access door and she'll be clear and away. She yanks. It's – stuck? No, locked, dammit, which can mean only one thing. She whirls, eyes on the jagged line of the city skyline, searching the shadows. It only takes a moment to find him.
He steps out of the gloom after she's glared at him for a ten-count. "Catwoman," he says. He's almost smiling, which for him is like anyone else shouting for joy.
"My favorite bat," she purrs, taking a few steps forward. No sense in getting pinned against a locked door.
He moves like a dancer, despite his size. Every step is precise. It probably has to be to manage that cape without tripping ass over teakettle. She can feel his gaze drag up and down her body in its skin-tight black suit, lingering over the bag of priceless Punjabi diamonds at her waist and giving no apparent heed to the whip coiled on her other hip. Clever boy. Maybe he thinks he'll talk her out of tonight's work.
"I know you have the jewels," he says.
"Darling, I have cabinets of jewels. I am a woman of certain tastes, as you know." She puts the purr back in her voice when he doesn't lunge forward in the split second she'd allowed him. "Are we dancing tonight?"
He tilts his head, pursing his lips. "I was just thinking that you look familiar. The shape of your mouth, your chin."
Damn her cowl. Damn his, too. She steps to the right, slowly. She's eighty percent sure she knows who he is, but she isn't fool enough to say it to his face, not with the careful work he's surely done to make the Batman nothing more than a myth, a bogey-man for misbehaving children.
He shifts, matching her steps, and it is like a dance now. There are two fire escapes within close-enough reach, and with a good running leap, she could just get to one of the network of flexible cables he and his Robin have crisscrossed the city's uppermost stories with and – with luck – slide away to safety. She is usually lucky, and always patient.
Two more steps they circle and the Batman makes a grab for her wrist. It's terribly sweet that he'll never strike a woman first. She cants her head to the side. "Is this how you want to play?"
In a stentorian voice he says, "Hand over the diamonds and I'll consider letting you go."
She laughs helplessly, bright in the damp night air. "Oh, my friend, you are just too much." Still smiling, she feints one kick and lands another, then flips across the rooftop. He's fast, but not fast enough to get under the range of her whip, which hits him in the thigh with a searing crack. She doesn't want to mess up his pretty face – what one may see of it – and the Batman uniform probably has enough chest armor to stop a Soviet missile blast. Besides, she thinks, cracking the whip four more times in fast succession, she doesn't want to damage him; she only wants to persuade him to let her vanish into the night.
A steely smile touches his lips and she sees a flash of pale below his fancy groin armor: naked skin, streaking blood, a glint of teeth. How terribly unsurprising that he enjoys this sort of thing. The man must be a patchwork of scars.
He flips, and damn it to hell, she has to move, and fast! She runs to the parapet and finds the nearest fire escape. The drop is going to be a doozy.
He stops, realizing her intention. "Please, you don't have to do it this way," he says, and he's far too close. She arches an eyebrow, which he can't see through her cowl, but he can probably infer it from the set of her jaw. His own mouth twists in – disappointment? distress? She darts a hand forward and strokes his cheek once, fast, smiling sadly. Then she drops.
Thrillingly, she doesn't break an ankle, God bless good boots. From there, it's a short leap across an alley, a swing through an upper-story window of a condemned building, a precarious hurtle down a junkie-strewn stairwell, a jog through basement tunnels, and a fast lock-pick into one of her secret hideouts, where she changes into a skirt and blouse, fixes her hair, secures her loot beneath her coat, and calms herself. It's no good if she gives herself away by looking guilty.
When she's ready, she climbs multiple flights of rickety ancient stairs rocked by the noise of the subway until she emerges from an anonymous steel door leading onto another alley. Her alcove is several shadowy feet from the rear service entrance of a certain five-star hotel. Three brown-skinned girls are standing around the door in a lamplit yellow circle, lighting cigarettes. One is saying, "Boss just fired Dot for getting knocked up."
The other two shake their heads knowingly and suck on their teeth. They're all wearing uniforms in the hotel colors – one maid and two June guesses are laundresses, as they aren't decked out in kitchen-white and hotels like this don't hire black girls anywhere else. "Ask me, she should have gone and found herself a scrape doctor," one of the laundry girls says, gusting smoke. "Cheaper than raising no kid."
"For sure," the maid answers.
"Not worth bleeding out your life in no alley," the other laundress argues.
"Give it up for adoption and get some other job," the maid says.
"Give up most of a year of your life, though," the first girl counters.
"Just saying it ain't worth dying for," the other laundress repeats.
Her coworker sucks on her cigarette. "Hard to argue with that, I guess." The next moment, a man shoves open the service door and whistles sharply. The three girls toss their butts into a puddle and run up the steps, and presumably back to work. June emerges from her hiding place and takes the side alley to the avenue. There's a cab stand in front of the hotel. She draws a nasty look from the red-uniformed white doorman, as if she's going to interfere with the handful of wealthy guests giving him work to do at this late hour.
When she gets her taxi and asks the driver to take her to Harlem, he warns her he won't go beyond a certain street. She nods, and she can't actually blame him. There are parts of the city where no taxi driver is safe, but these days she doesn't need to cross his line of demarcation, thank goodness. Once upon a time, she was one of the girls on the service door stoop. Once upon a time she'd even been the unfortunate Dot, but these days, in this warm, heady spring of 1961, June is a long way from the foolish nineteen-year-old she had been. She's a long way, too, from the old leaky tenement where her mother raised her. And – with luck – going much, much farther.
The streetlights zip by, and June presses her bag of stolen treasure against her body through her coat. Tonight had been close. She's going to have to ruminate on the problem of the Bat, because the thought of him standing in her way is simply unacceptable. Perhaps she'll discuss it with Byron during their next conjugal visit.
That brings to mind the pleasant rasp of Batman's stubble against her gloved fingertips, the way his lips parted in surprise. Such a lovely face, and terribly distracting, but she always has preferred her men handsome.
Out the window, real estate values drop from one city block to the next. News of the theft will be all over the morning editions, driving up the price of the sale she still has to make. She watches the sidewalks and rooftops, looking for caped crusaders. Some nights she sees Robin mingling colorfully with the girls in the red-light district; however, it's quite late and a school-night, and she catches no sign. June strokes the million-dollar lump under her coat, satisfied. Yes, Catwoman will have to lie low for a time, but the infamy, oh, is delicious.