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Prologue and Preamble

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From the Files and Journals of Samuel Bradley, Private Investigator

This is a love story, or at least what would pass for one in Gotham City. Anywhere else on earth, a love story means boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. In Gotham, the love story is a little more complicated. You have to figure in loss, betrayal, greed, pain, misunderstanding and maybe a mask or two.

To understand how love can lose itself along the way, you have to understand Gotham. This city has a way of eating the good out of people, perverting things, cannibalizing what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature’. Folks in Metropolis or Star City think of Gotham as a kind of purgatory where the wicked go to be punished, and I guess that’s true enough. Gotham is a sort of a magnet for the dregs of society. We’ve got more crime and corruption, more apathy than any other city in America. We’ve also got heroes.

I’d never met any of them during my youth in Gotham, although that was back in a simpler time when costumed heroes weren’t looming around every street corner. Oh, sure, I’d heard of the old Green Lantern, read the front-page articles about him busting up crime syndicates back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I was just a kid back then, but I was a Gotham kid; we tend to grow up fast and hard.

I left Gotham at nineteen, traveled around, learned my trade. I’m a private eye, one of the few holdouts against the big firms of investigators out to turn a buck on human misery. I’m also an alcoholic, and have notched up a failed marriage and a lot of other mistakes in my time. I have a son I haven’t set eyes on in ten years. I’m just telling you this so you know when I start talking about heroism and sacrifice, you’ll know it means something, coming from a tainted angel like me. I wonder about the people who write about Superman or Wonder Woman; they make it sound as if heroes are saints, as if mortal man can’t relate to them. As if we all aren’t worthy. Well, I’m here to set the record straight, to tell you that these people are just as fallible as you or I. They make mistakes and they bleed. At least in Gotham City.

I was lured back to the city of my birth by a case. It was high-profile, the kind I‘d been working towards my entire career. The Mayor of Gotham, a runty, evil-faced little opportunist by the name of Kroll, wanted me to investigate the death of one of the more colorful villains running around in this little urban hellhole. Her name was Catwoman, and I knew as much about her as the next middle-aged white American. I thought she was a myth. I had never put much stock in stories of guys like the Joker or Two-Face. I’d always figured it for a bunch of Gotham bunk. I’d forgotten the power of this city, you see. Forgotten what it did to men’s souls. And hell, in a world where a man can fly, what was so damn crazy about a woman who dressed up like a cat and stole jewelry?

So I took the job, God help me. I gave my word that I’d track down this Catwoman, and give her up to the Mayor. Kroll wanted her head on a platter; there was bad blood between those two, and it was more than just political. She’d tried to kill him, I heard, along with other high-up officials. Word on the street was she’d gone after Commissioner Gordon and a New York political candidate named Selina Kyle. That’s the trouble with the criminal underworld; they know the rumors, the rhythm, but the notes are all wrong. I know now that Gordon had never been a target, the stuff with Kroll a simple misunderstanding. And as for Selina Kyle, well….it’s a long story.

After taking the job from Kroll, I did some research on Catwoman. Found out that she was a looker, but anyone with eyes could see that. Costumed heroes (or criminals, depending on how you see things) aren’t exactly known for their modesty. My mark favored skin-tight purple leather, thigh-high stiletto boots and carried a whip. A poster girl for the bondage set, which I found out later wasn’t far from the truth. And she was a hell of a crook. She’d stolen from them all: the mafia, the Gotham social elite, dirty cops and crooked politicians. Another reason Mayor Kroll wanted her death confirmed.

Catwoman had supposedly bought it in an explosion just after the No Man’s Land thing ended here in Gotham. There was no body, because in cases like this there never are. I talked to some shady characters, began to piece together her life, connecting column A with column B. Like the best hunches, my theories proved to be both accurate and dangerous. Officially, Catwoman didn’t really exist. I only turned up a myriad web of aliases, dead witnesses and missing family members. Even though she’d been arrested and done some time, Catwoman was a ghost, your classic Jane Doe. A myth, which is a popular line here in Gotham regarding people in masks.

Anyway, things really started to go screwy when I had the body of Selina Kyle exhumed. Drove all night through fog and rain to stand shivering in a New York cemetery. We dug up the body like some mad scientists in a monster movie, me and the city coroner. I spent a lot of time looking at the headstone. The epitaph was simple: "Selina Kyle b. 1968 d. 2001". That was it. No ‘beloved wife and mother’. No poetic couplet. Nothing except the vague sense of an unhappy life brought to a violent end. I got the feeling that no one mourned the passing of Selina Kyle, apart from whoever had paid for that tombstone. The New York cops liked Catwoman for Ms. Kyle’s murder, but it didn’t ring true. Catwoman may have been a thief and a liar, but she was no killer. I couldn’t see her taking money from the mob or rival politicians to murder Selina Kyle in order to secure a mayoral election. Truth was, even in those early stages of the investigation, I’d lost perspective. Empathy isn’t an essential part of this job; hell, more often than not, it’s a liability. So is love. I should have called an end to things when I started feeling sorry for the women, both of them.

An old friend of mine at the New York Chronicle gave me some background on Selina Kyle. Like I said, Ms. Kyle was in the running for Mayor of New York just before her untimely trip off a thirty story building. Her people had released a standard background statement during the election, but my friend Spenser, a good reporter in the same way I’m a good detective, didn’t trust the spoon-fed biography. He put together a file on her that was worthless, in the end. Selina Kyle had died before the Chronicle could publish an expose, but my friend said that hadn’t mattered much. The truth of Selina Kyle’s life wasn’t sordid or particularly violent. "Just sad," Spenser said, shaking his head and handing over the file. Knowing what I know now, that just about sums her life up. Sad, like all Gotham stories. Even the ones with happy endings.

In the file my friend at the Chronicle gave me, I read about a woman who knew hard times. She’d grown up in one of the worst neighborhoods in the toughest city on earth. The East End isn’t featured in the city guidebooks which lure tourists and their dollars to Gotham. The East End is the kind of place where the bodies of murdered tourists turn up.

Her mother offed herself when Selina was ten; little Selina was the one who found the body. Selina and her kid sister Maggie were left to the tender mercies of state care because her father was a no-account drunk who died in an alleyway when Selina was fifteen. Life in a state-run home was tough for Selina. She was shy, quiet, but she nearly beat a kid to death when he threatened Maggie. They shipped her off to the Youth Authority. Things went from bad to worse after that. Selina rabbited, ending up on the streets, stealing to survive. I have the sealed arrest records from that time, and they read like a textbook case of a troubled youth. Pick pocketing, small-time burglary, finally prostitution. There’s no drug angle in the case, which is about the only thing missing from the after-school special vibe I get from her story.

Reading her file for the first time, I saw why my friend Spenser at the Chronicle couldn’t print it. See, there’s an illness in America that has nothing to do with fears of biological terrorism or electoral fraud. It has to do with the kind of things that happened when Selina Kyle was a kid. I’ve gotten to know the woman behind all that history; she’s a woman with confidence and class. She has nerves of steel and a heart to match. Selina survived her life with intelligence and the kind of honor that exists among thieves. She survived with all that intact because she was stronger than whatever life dealt out to her. Most of the people in prisons around America today don’t have that strength.

I wonder sometimes if it’s really possible to save anybody. Superman must wonder the same thing; I guess even his dark counterpart here in Gotham must have his moments of doubt. If the best you can offer these people is prison grays or a welfare check, what’s the point of trying? If they don’t have what Selina has, if they don’t have that ability to laugh at life, that defiance, then why do we even bother pretending rehabilitation is possible? In her case, it was, because she was strong enough to do it on her own. The state orphanages, the masked hero… all the stuff that’s supposed to help only made it worse, made her choices more difficult.

But I said this was a love story, and I guess that’s supposed to imply hope. Back to the history lesson. Selina, as I said, ended up on the streets, prostituting herself at thirteen. It’s a common story, at least in Gotham. There are a thousand ways in this world to turn a buck, but your options are limited if you’re a poor, uneducated young girl living on the street. Selina’s life to that point hadn’t provided her with a strong sense of self-respect, and I guess she fell into prostitution because it was the only way she could survive. I never asked her about those lost years on the streets, mostly because I think it was the one time in her life she really lost control. Selina’s incapable of guilt when it’s a choice of life or death. I’ve seen it since then, when she’s made the tough decision out of a sense of self-preservation. That’s why she got into the sex racket in the first place, and what convinced her to pull herself out of it. That, a cop named Flannery, a thief named Stark, a boxer named Ted Grant and some pointy-eared guy in a cape.

Those men figure into this story later on, and I’ve read enough of these kind of things to know I can’t show you everything; some stuff you have to wait to see, or figure out for yourself. What I can say (and this is something Selina told me herself) is that she owes those men nothing and everything, in that order. It was Selina who quit the life and got into high-class burglary, make no mistake. She’d been doing hardcore stuff during her last year in the sex trade: bondage, fetish work, and I guess all that exposure to sex and violence was the start of Catwoman. The connection was obvious, even in that bare-bones Chronicle file. I saw it right away, and I’ve never pretended to possess more than an ordinary understanding of human motivation. Catwoman, for Selina, was a way to protect herself, to strike back at the people who’d hurt her most, and a way to protect her friends. Power, at least in those days, mattered a lot to her. Power always matters most to the victims.

Selina left the streets behind and worked her way up society’s ladder, reinventing herself along the way. Gradually, she fell out of touch with the friends of her former life. Working girls, dealers, borough cops with sympathy for her plight all died or went on to bigger and better things. The last threads of Selina’s old life on the streets vanished with Holly Gardner, a tough young thing who’d worked the streets since she was even younger than Selina, and Maggie Kyle, who lost herself in Catholicism. Selina Kyle was reborn as a society girl, flirting with Old World privilege and New World money. Enter Prince Charming.

Like I said before, I was born in Gotham, and so I remember a time when the Wayne name was synonymous with money, privilege and respect. Someone (I think it was a social historian looking for a grant) said that the Waynes were the Kennedies of Gotham, only richer. Metropolis had Lex Luthor; Gotham had Bruce Wayne. And yes, I’m aware of the irony. I wasn’t always. People say that when President Kennedy was shot, it killed the spirit of the country. And when the Waynes died, I guess it killed the spirit of Gotham.

The Wayne family owned this city, literally and figuratively. Their money came from real estate. Expanding exponentially from a land grant awarded when America still called herself an English colony, the Wayne holdings encompass most of the Eastern seaboard. Their castle-like family home in Bristol is one of the oldest residences in the country, and most of the buildings in Gotham still bear the Wayne name. The last generation, after the family bloodlines had declined, yielded only one heir to this vast financial empire: Bruce Wayne, corporate CEO, philanthropist, vigilante.

I remember the Gotham of my childhood, back in more innocent times. Back then, before the Wayne murders, Crime Alley was Park Row, and the Bowery was known as Bower Street. In the post-Depression, post-war prosperity of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Gotham was still considered a cultural and financial beacon. Sure, the architecture was hideous, and crime rates were high even in those naive times, but Gotham had potential. Metropolis was the City of Tomorrow, Gotham was the City of Today. Everyone wanted a piece. Rot set in during the late ‘60s, when student protests and anti-war sentiment was tearing the country apart. The mob had taken hold of Gotham; Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone was building a criminal empire. There was racial unrest in the city’s ghettoes and the Gotham City PD was losing a battle against internal corruption. Just then, Martha and Thomas Wayne walked down the wrong alleyway one cold night in January.

I’ve talked to cops who worked the beat in those days; they always point to the murder of Gotham’s most prominent citizens as the moment when being a cop lost its meaning. It exposed the city for what it was. When rich white people began to fear walking the streets at night, something changed in Gotham. We experienced the disillusionment and violence of the 1980s and 1990s early, and it began that terrible night with two shots fired from an unregistered .45 automatic. As any old Gothamite will tell you, it’s been downhill ever since.

This is all old history. You’ve probably heard most of it. You must know what began that night. Everyone knows Superman got his start amidst in the rumble of a vaporized planet; Batman’s story begins with an orphaned child. I can’t help but point out the similarities between Selina’s early life and his, although when Bruce Wayne’s parents died in Crime Alley, he became a billionaire. Selina became a ward of the state. Their lives were always very different, and by all rights, they should have never crossed paths. But Fate is cruel, her sense of humor twisted. And hell, it is Gotham City.

Back in the late ‘80s, Bruce Wayne was considered a good catch by social mavens and their money-hungry daughters. He was handsome, one of those lantern-jawed matinee-idol types, and he had more money than almost anyone in the country. Selina told me they met at a mobster’s wedding one hot August night, and she went out with him because she was planning a heist on Wayne Manor. She never went through with the job, and I can’t think of another time when she kissed off a score because of a guy.

I asked Selina once if she was ever in love, and she told me that she "didn’t know the meaning of the word." Sassy rejoinders aside, I think she knows what love is, because she knows Bruce Wayne. I found a picture of them together in one of those society magazines, taken back when they were still an item. The two of them are sitting in a private booth at some exclusive restaurant, smiling for the camera. Selina’s gorgeous, of course. She made even those garish ‘80s fashions of big hair and shoulder pads look sexy. Wayne is smiling dimly, putting on that billionaire-playboy act for the cameras. But his eyes…I’ve seen that look myself in the mirror a couple of mornings, and I could tell he was in love, and he wasn’t happy about it. Selina’s harder to read - she’d probably had more practice lying to herself than Wayne, at least at that point in 1987, but I could tell she adored the guy. I can’t tell you why, of course; Selina could probably explain it, why a tough, intelligent woman like her would go for the empty playboy Wayne pretended to be in those days, but the last thing those two would ever do is explain how they feel about one another.

Then something happened, and I’m still piecing it together. I think Selina’s nighttime activities began to bring her closer and closer to the edge. She’d already stopped helping out her friends in the East End by that point; Holly and Maggie were long gone, and she’d lost interest in the small-potato profits offered by robbing bookies and pimps. Selina became a jewel thief, stealing from The Roman himself, hitting the best homes in Gotham, although she never, ever touched Wayne Manor. Trouble started when the Roman put out a bounty on her head. There was some serial killer going around at that time, offing people on major holidays. They dubbed him the Holiday Killer -- that’s about the level of originality Gotham reporters aspire to. Holiday murdered more than a dozen people that year in 1987, and by the end of it, the Falcone crime family, as well as the Roman himself, were dead. Freaks, costumed criminals like the Joker, the Riddler, Scarecrow and Two-Face, had begun to take over the city. Catwoman had graduated from masked burglar to one of Batman’s rogues, and I’m pretty sure Bruce Wayne wasn’t too happy about it. They broke up, and Catwoman became just another costumed villain Batman had to take down.

I’m not sure if he knew who Selina Kyle was, even after they became lovers. He’s supposed to be the greatest detective in the world, so I guess he must have known, must have made it his business to know. When I think of Batman going after Catwoman, maybe roughing her up, judging the choices she had made, and then going to bed with Selina Kyle, it makes me sick to my stomach. I wish he was more like Superman, more forgiving, more understanding, although when I’ve brought it up to Selina, she tells me Superman wouldn’t have made it in Gotham. Superhero philosophy aside, I think Selina needed compassion in those days; a large part of her was still that little girl finding her mother dead in a bathtub full of blood. I don’t think he ever knew that, or if he did, maybe he didn’t care. He never really tried to save her, and hell, that’s the basis of his job description.

No, I don’t like him. Our first encounter wasn’t exactly pleasant, and things haven’t improved since then. Personally, I think he’s a coward, and he doesn’t deserve her. Sure, I’m speaking as a jilted lover here, but even you must wonder why a man like that, a man who bases his life on absolutes of justice, on questions of right and wrong, would want a woman like Selina. She defies all those rules.

I see you don’t have much of an answer, either. But I digress; you’ll have to indulge an old man. Back to the story.

I finished reading the Chronicle file on Selina, and headed to one place I knew I would find some answers. Wayne Towers soars above Gotham. You must have seen in when you came in. It‘s a totem of power and wealth and economic stability. Most Wayne buildings had survived the ‘quake which devastated the rest of Gotham, and in many ways, the WayneCorp global headquarters was the bedrock of the city. I made my way up to the offices of Gotham’s number one citizen, a man I had never met and knew very little about. Sure, I’d heard about his parents’ murders and the resulting decline in the city. I knew he had more money than God. I didn’t know he was Batman, not then, and I certainly wasn’t expecting the laid-back playboy image he projected to crumble when I asked about Selina. Their relationship was a matter of public record, and so he shouldn’t have been surprised at my questions, but he clammed up pretty quickly and threw me out of his office. He clearly cared about her, more than I realized at the time. There was a lot I didn’t let myself see when I was investigating Selina’s life.

The boyfriend angle didn’t play out, much to my disappointment. As far as I knew, Bruce Wayne was Selina’s only serious boyfriend before her murder. Quite a dry patch, but I came to gradually understand that Selina didn’t handle relationships well. Not surprising, given her history with sex as currency and a meal ticket. I canvassed some witnesses, still trying to marry Selina Kyle and Catwoman together with hard facts. A gas station attendant remembered a pretty woman who looked like Selina Kyle using the restroom at his station, just after Catwoman supposedly died in that explosion and well after Selina‘s ‘murder’. The woman who looked like a dead person had cut off all her hair, and the attendant never saw her leave.

Later that night, as I dragged myself back to my office, a shadow grabbed at me from the night. A shadow in the form of a Bat. He pulled me up to the roof and, speaking honestly, I have never been so scared in my life. I played it cool as he questioned me about Selina Kyle, warning me to drop the case, but the second he was gone, I was left shaking like a leaf. Looking into his eyes, I think I saw hell, and it looked a lot like Crime Alley.

Batman is Gotham in all its wonder and terror. He is the city’s protector and its greatest tragedy. Even before I learned his history, I saw the man beneath that mask, and it terrified me. Even today, his personality reminds me of some of the dark corners of this city, ones you avoid if you know what’s good for you.

"Selina Kyle," he whispered, after threatening my life. "She’s not what you think."

"Oh, you mean she’s not Catwoman?" I replied, with far more bravado than I felt.

He turned, and I flinched despite myself. "I don’t want her hurt," he told me. "Remember that, Bradley, or we’ll meet again."

We would meet again, always when he was at his worst. This avenging angel and I were in love with the same woman, and I don’t think he ever quite forgave me my ability to love her more. The thing I didn’t understand then, and am only just beginning to understand now, is that he was still a child. So was she. They grew up, sure, but they never became adults. Peter Pan Syndrome by way of Gotham City. Creesus, what a world.

I’d been in Gotham less than a month and had already run into the Mayor, Batman and Bruce Wayne. I half-expected to cross paths with the Joker as I climbed up to my office, but instead a different kind of surprise was waiting for me. I opened the door and a soft, sultry voice greeted me. She was pretty in her pictures, a knockout in person. Long legs, a perfect body and the face of a 40s screen siren. Models, actresses, and beauty pageant contestants have nothing on her. Selina is beautiful in a very dangerous way. Watching her speak, that cupid’s-bow mouth moving to form the words, I was reminded of Sophia Loren and Joan Crawford. That glittery-sharp intelligence emanating from her wide green eyes is lost in the modern world of fashion magazines and warmed-over romantic comedies. I’ve known a lot of women, and Selina Kyle is the only Woman I’ve ever met. These days, I find myself asking more and more if he ever saw her like that. He gave her up once, after all. I tell myself that maybe he learned to see it.

"I’m Selina Kyle, Mr. Bradley, and I understand you’ve been looking for me," she introduced herself, watching me pour a cup of coffee and light a cigarette, relaxed in her posture as she rested her small weight against my desk. I looked at her too, contrasting the woman before me with the story of that lost child in the file, and I wondered how much my friend Spenser at the Chronicle had missed.

"You’re probably wondering why I’m here, right?"

"Crossed my mind," I replied, playing it cool with her like I had with him. She asked me to drop the case, like I knew she would. She explained that if I kept sniffing around after her, flashing her photo and asking questions, all the things she wanted to blow over never would. All she wanted to do was to find herself.

Now as a PI, I’ve been approached by a mark before. They’ll throw themselves upon my mercy, begging me to drop my case against them, give them time to make amends or get out of town. I’m no monster; I understand human weakness well enough, and I’m not here to ruin anyone’s life. But I made her say it, to my own damnation.

"Let me ask you, something, Selina," I began, already regretting my decision, knowing I was getting in too deep. "You say you’re trying to figure things out, and after all I know about you, you deserve the chance, probably." She dropped her eyes at that, not quite willing to look me squarely in the eye, knowing what I did about her miserable childhood, the prostitution stuff, the lies she had set her life by. "A while back, you killed off Selina Kyle, and a few months ago, you killed Catwoman too," I continued. "So the question is, who’s left for you to find?"

She raised her head, and I looked into those green eyes, drowning in them. She looked so sad and so aching…like that little girl who found her mother in that lonely bathroom all those years ago. A lost child, a haunted woman. Who could turn away from that?

"I don’t know," she told me softly. "Hopefully I’ll be able to find someone who can look in the mirror without any pain." She stepped closer to me. I could smell her perfume, some light floral stuff that worked its way past the old stench of cigars and booze that hung around the office. "But, as I said, some of it’s up to you, Slam, and what you intend to tell the Mayor…"

I’d known since reading the Chronicle file that I’d never give her up, not to the Mayor, not to Batman, not to any of the men who’d failed her or failed to understand her. It was stupid of me, maybe a little naive, but I’ve always had a soft spot for women in trouble. One of my numerous failings.

In the end, I told her I’d resign the case and she watched as I burned her file. Looking back, despite the pain, I can honestly say it was one of my better moments. See, the thing about Gotham nobody understands is that this city promises redemption; you’d have to be born here to get it. We live at the bottom of human existence here, the place where it can’t get any worse. And because we’ve seen the shadows of the valley, the mountaintop is so much brighter, so much closer. Selina Kyle came back to Gotham for redemption. And I guess that’s why Batman stays. Maybe the others wouldn’t understand, those heroes of Metropolis and Star City. Their quest for redemption didn’t begin and end in Gotham.

Anyway, there’s more to the story, but I’m not sure I’m the guy to tell it. I’m better at beginnings. Look at how Selina and I ended up; I started out by saving her life, and as for the end….well, you’ll just have to be patient, watch as the whole thing unfolds. We’re all just witnesses here in Gotham.