The sign at the driveway read Esplanade Apartments, more or less. A couple of the wooden letters had broken off over the years. The driveway led into a courtyard, surrounded on three sides by three-story apartment buildings. Wrought iron steps on either end led up to walkways that ran the length of each building. From what she could gauge with her practiced eye, Catwoman determined that each apartment occupied one half of its floor in each building. The apartment number that Chief Patterson had given her was on the top floor of one of the buildings.
The courtyard itself was a large parking lot with an area in the center of it where a swimming pool and bathhouse were located. The bathhouse had apparently burned down some time ago, and the charred remains had been bulldozed into the pool. By all appearances, it had been a couple of years since the fire.
Catwoman lifted a coil of thin, black rope from her shoulder and clipped a small grappling hook to one end. She whirled the grapple a few times and let it fly, arcing high over one of the neighboring buildings. It caught on the first try, and she quickly scaled the side of the building. Once on the roof, she coiled the rope back up before leaping across a ten-foot gap to the building where her quarry waited.
On the side facing the courtyard, the apartment had a door, a wide window that she took to be the living room, and a smaller window. Both windows showed lights on within. On the side facing away from the courtyard there were two small windows and one very small window, the type usually associated with a bathroom. All of these windows were dark. Securing the rope to what she hoped was a secure exhaust duct, Catwoman lowered herself to one of the windows on the side away from the courtyard. The window was open, and she eased her way in.
She found herself in a small bedroom with the door closed. She could hear voices in the living room, several male voices. Looking around, she spied a girl lying on the bed — shoulder-length black hair and dark, thin, almost scrawny arms and legs showed, protruding from a torn nightgown. A protective instinct made Catwoman move over to the bed and place a hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“Que?” said the girl, starting. Catwoman knelt and placed a finger over the girl’s lips.
“Shhh. ¿Habla Inglés?”
“Sí. Yes.” The girl spoke in a hushed tone that nevertheless conveyed a sense of awe at seeing the masked woman.
“What are you doing here?”
“My family, we tried to come over from Cuba by boat. There was a terrible storm. When I woke up, I was on the beach, and these men — they found me and brought me here. They have — they–” The girl started to tremble. Catwoman gathered her into her arms and held her for a moment.
“Shh, you don’t have to tell me. I’m here to get you out of here.” Holding the girl at arm’s length, she looked her in the eye. “I’m going to leave, but I will be back in a few minutes. Do you understand?” The girl nodded her head. “How many men are out there?”
“When Mark sent me back here, there were eight.”
“Good. Now, just stay here. If anybody comes in, pretend you are sleeping. OK?” Again, the girl nodded. Catwoman rose and went back to the window. She made her way back to the roof and stood there in the darkness.
Now to make my entrance count, she thought. Looking down, she saw the ruins of the bathhouse in the swimming pool and smiled.
It took nearly twenty minutes to climb down and find a suitable timber in the pile of rubble. It was a six-foot-long piece of four-by-four lumber. She hoisted it up to the roof, then set to work cutting and retrying the rope. She tied a length of it to either end of the timber, then embedded her grappling hook in the soft, rotting shingles of the roof. With the ropes looped through the grapple, she estimated the distance from the hook over the edge of the roof to the apartment’s only entrance. When she felt confident that the ropes were adjusted properly, she hefted the timber onto her shoulder, then threw it into the air as best she could.
On the ends of the rope, the piece of lumber swung in a wide arc. As soon as it left her hands, Catwoman was perched at the edge of the roof just above the doorway. The timber swung down and toward the building, its leading end aimed precisely at the door. With crushing force, it struck the luan-paneled door and burst through in a shower of splinters. Catwoman grabbed the edge of the roof and swung down after it.
In the living room of the apartment, two men went down as the improvised battering ram shattered the door. As others turned in surprise, they saw a dark purple blur come through the doorway, strike the floor, then spring away from the doorway. The more quick-witted among them recognized the figure as a woman — a tall, beautiful woman.
“Who the hell is that bi — yeeouch!” screamed one of the men as the leather-wrapped tendrils of a whip wrapped themselves around his throat. A sharp sideways crack of the whip sent him crashing across the cheap card table on which rested several guns and a briefcase.
“Damn it, Mark, I told you it was a mistake to gather everyone together after Teddy and the others got caught.” The speaker was a short, fat man with greasy black hair. He was pulling a revolver from his belt when a booted foot slammed into his solar plexus.
Catwoman leaped back from the collapsing fat man, feeling for anything on which to perch with her feet. The key is being ready to land on anything, she thought. Let your feet do the thinking, and you can stand on most anything. She felt something soft under one foot and relaxed that knee. The other foot descended another foot before finding purchase. She righted herself without looking down to see on what she stood. Her mental counter told her that there should be four persons left standing, and she only saw three: one hunkering down behind a couch, one diving for the guns that had been knocked from the card table, and one ducking down behind a counter in the apartment’s kitchenette. Her whip snaked out again, catching the one crawling toward the guns across the back of the neck. His body arched up like he had received an electric shock. She jumped, coming down with one boot squarely on his back and the other on his head. She turned as she jumped, looking for her missing target.
That’s when she realized that she had been standing on him.
“Why, you crazy witch!” said the one she’d been standing on. He reached for her with both hands. Catwoman grabbed his right hand with her own right hand and pulled hard. He came forward, narrowly missing a collision with the feline femme fatale as she sidestepped. That’s when the couch flipped over and caught her in the back of the knees.
“Nice work, Joey!” said the felon in the kitchen, rising up behind the counter with a duplicate of the weapon that had been used in the attack the day before. He aimed it down at Selina, who lay pinned face down on the floor by the couch that had been overturned by Joey. “Let’s see how she looks with a hole burned through her back!”
The Catwoman quickly assessed the situation. She lay sprawled face down on the floor of the apartment. Her legs were pinned by the couch, and as she looked up, she saw the man known to her only as Mark pointing an oversized, gleaming metal rifle at her. She flexed her legs, trying to gauge the weight of the sofa.
“Funny, I didn’t think anybody would get all that upset about a bunch of spics,” said Mark. “Hell, most people’d give you a medal if you cleared ’em outta the city.”
“So, what are you going to do, just blow me away the way your boys did that poor kid at the college?”
“Hell, yeah. The college — the whole damn city — is being overrun with the Cubans, the Puerto Ricans, the Mexicans, not to mention all them damned ni–”
Crack! The end of the whip struck Mark right across the face. He was startled, but he did not loosen his grip on the gun.
Catwoman planted her hands and quickly rose to a kneeling position. Rather than try to kick the couch off her legs, she pushed back against it with her hips. Cheap stuff, thought Catwoman, and the couch slid down over her calves and dropped away. She kicked against it, launching herself up onto her hands even as she heard the crackling of the strange energy rifle. She felt an intense burning sensation down the length of her left arm as she flipped herself at one of the three men left standing. One booted foot struck him full in the face, the other smashing into his shoulder and dropping him to the floor.
“That’s what this is all about? That’s what Dwayne died for? Because you and your redneck buddies think it’s open season on anybody who isn’t like you?” She was screaming as the whip snaked out again the wrap around the neck of the man called Joey, the one who had tipped the sofa over onto her. She yanked back hard, dragging him over that same couch before she flicked the whip again to release it. She jumped at Mark as he brought the rifle around to draw a bead on her. Leaping nimbly to one side, her cape swirling, she avoided the second bolt that he fired. The cape didn’t, however, and it burst into flame. Catwoman landed on top of a kitchen counter and reached up to release the cape. As Mark turned to fire again, she swung the cape around over her head and brought it down on top of him.
“No!” he cried, dropping the gun to reach up and try to pull the burning cloth off. Catwoman dropped to the floor and grabbed a corner of the cape with her right hand. As she did, she drew back her left leg and unleashed a kick into the man’s crotch.
“You sick son of a bitch! Keeping that girl locked up back there and killing off others because they’re different!” She unleashed a backhand that snapped his head to one side. “OK to shoot them or screw them, isn’t that it? Not good for anything else, right?” She reared back, and her foot shot out, a side kick that struck him in the chest. She both heard and felt the bones breaking under her foot as he was thrown back against the refrigerator. “Here’s a news flash for you: you might think they’re nothing more than animals, but you’re the one that should be shot like a rabid dog!”
Catwoman paused. She could hear the sound of sirens coming close. Either Patterson got his warrants, or someone heard the commotion and called the police, she thought. Either way, she had something else to take care of before she left.
Once last time, Catwoman’s right foot shot out. This time, it kicked upward. It struck Mark under the chin, snapping his head back. She heard the sharp impact of his skull against the refrigerator door, then he dropped to the floor. She turned and ran for the closed bedroom door. Tearing it open, she saw the girl huddled on the bed.
“Come on, let’s get out of here,” said Catwoman, holding out her hand. The girl just stared and pointed. Catwoman looked down and realized that her left arm was bleeding. Can’t think about it now, she thought, and she grabbed a bed sheet and wound it around the arm to staunch the bleeding. With her other hand, she reached for the girl. Looking out the window, she saw empty space below. “I’ll go first, then I’ll catch you. OK?” She helped the girl up into the window, the squeezed past her to leap. She turned so that she could take the fall on her shoulder and roll with it. She straightened up and turned to look back up at the window. The girl, with a frightened look on her face, pushed away from her perch. An instant later, she was colliding with Catwoman, and they both fell to the ground.
“Let’s go!” Taking the girl’s hand, Catwoman led her away from the Esplanade Apartments and toward a new life.
Three days after he led the raid that captured eight men and a weapon that his lab people were still trying to figure out, Police Chief Scott Patterson stood at the back of a small group gathered around an open grave. The funeral service was short, though there was no shortage of mourners. Dwayne Cooper would have been surprised, thought Patterson. A lot of folks in that part of the city fondly remembered the young man.
Patterson was not surprised to see the tall, attractive woman standing near the grave, though the sling on her left arm did catch him off-guard. He wasn’t even terribly surprised to see the young woman standing next to her, each of them seeming protective of the other. When the service ended, they both made their way to one of the cars. He let them go and went to offer his condolences to Dwayne’s parents.
The sun was setting when Patterson pulled up in front of Selina Kyle’s flower and gift shop. At the sound of the bell over the door, he saw a head turn toward him. It wasn’t Selina Kyle, however. The face was darker, crowned with straight black hair that was pulled back in a long braid. It was a pretty face, a young face. He figured her for about fourteen or fifteen. Except for the eyes, for they bore a look of sadness that made her appear, just for a moment, much older.
“Is Miss Kyle in? he asked.
“May I tell her who is here?” asked the girl politely.
“Scott Patterson,” he replied, deciding against revealing his official status.
She disappeared through the door, and he heard the sound of her going quickly up the metal staircase that he knew lay beyond the door. Moments later, he heard slower footsteps coming down. Selina came through the door with a smile on her beautiful face.
“Chief Patterson! Welcome. I’m sorry I missed you at the service, but Anna isn’t used to such things.” She waved him to one of the seats, taking one herself.
Patterson looked upward. “Anna?”
Selina’s eyes narrowed just a bit. “My niece. She arrived from Gotham yesterday. My sister had to go out of the country for a few months, so Anna is going to stay with me.”
“I see.” And indeed he did. “I just wanted to let you know that we did capture the other members of the group responsible for Dwayne’s death. Amazingly, we captured them all alive.”
“Amazingly? How so?”
“Apparently, they had another of those weapons. Must have been a malfunction or something. Really tore the place apart.” Patterson glanced at Selina’s bandaged arm. “The lab rats downtown are still trying to figure out what that thing is, but they did tell me that it doesn’t carry any sort of radiation or such that would eventually hurt someone who had been shot with it.”
She rubbed absently at the gauze that encircled her arm from wrist to shoulder. “That’s nice to know.”
“Still, it really did a number on the leader of that group. If you ask me, it should have killed him,” he said with a knowing look.
“Hopefully, a little jail time will make him wish he were dead.”
“One other thing,” said Patterson, standing up. “According to some of the guys we picked up there, there was a young girl in one of the bedrooms. They didn’t know where Mark Palmer, the group’s leader, picked her up. We couldn’t find any sign of her, though.”
Selina also stood, waiting for the other shoe to fall. “I hope she wasn’t a part of the, ah, operation there.”
Patterson shook his head. “Hardly. A victim, not a part of it. From what they’ve told us, the poor girl is likely to need some help, some counseling.” He put out a hand to Selina. She took it, palming the card that was there. She glanced down as she withdrew her hand, seeing the name of a local church that she had already heard of and its priest.
Selina reached for Patterson’s shoulders and pulled him close. She kissed him on the cheek and gave him a light hug. “You’re a good man, Patterson. Stay that way.”
Pulling back, Patterson smiled. “I try, Miss Kyle.” He looked around as he started toward the door. “You know, this shop needs something.” Looking back over his shoulder, he said, “Our Siamese just had a litter — would you be interested in a cat or two?”