She looked around -- nothing. Her balcony was just as it should have been -- empty, except for herself. She lowered the baseball bat to her side, and stepped to the rail. Gotham City was beautiful at night, even on a cold, rainy night like tonight. The storm that was blowing through had cleaned the air. She breathed in the fresh air, and felt relaxed and content. Nights like this could be enjoyable, if one didn't have to be outside.
She smiled as she thought about Bruce Wayne, who was even now flying back from an out-of-town trip. His cell phone had malfunctioned, so he couldn't answer her calls, but he had contacted Alfred and asked him to call her and tell her he was on his way, and would be there soon. Still, she thought, why didn't he just call her directly from whatever phone he used to call Alfred?
It was cold, and she needed a coat if she was going to be outside on the balcony.
Puzzled at Bruce Wayne's conduct, she turned, and froze.
The masked figure was six foot eight at least, and had somehow silently appeared behind her on her balcony.
"I didn't mean to startle you." The voice was a low, raspy whisper. It was the kind of voice that got someone's attention.
Dr. Sandra Villanova raised the baseball bat, ready to swing. "You make one move that I don't like, and I'll knock you so hard, your grandchildren will have a headache!"
Slowly, the giant, dark figure raised his hands.
"I'm a friend. I'm here to make sure you are okay." The figure looked at her. "You received a riddle from Catwoman, didn't you? May I see it?"
"How do you know about the riddle, unless you are the one who left it here? You creep." Her words were dripping with defiance. "My boyfriend, Bruce Wayne, is on the way over right now, with his corporate security people -- and they're armed!"
"I know you are close to Bruce Wayne," the figure replied. "It's in the tabloids. Bruce Wayne has gotten riddles from Catwoman, too. It was tabloid reports of the two of you together that got Catwoman interested in you. She was here to drop off the riddle the other night, but I intercepted her outside."
Dr. Villanova paused.
"That was the night of all the gunfire out here -- you remember that, don't you?"
"Yes, I do. Was that you?"
"As far as I can tell, Catwoman is seeking help investigating corruption in Gotham City's law enforcement community -- corruption that enabled the attack on the Gotham Towers. She sees you as someone with both the intelligence and the integrity to solve the crime. She stopped sending riddles to Bruce Wayne because she doesn't think he's smart enough to piece it all together."
"Bruce Wayne is very smart. And tough!" Dr. Villanova was careful to make sure the figure felt a threat by the imminent arrival of Bruce Wayne, the Prince of Gotham.
"But many people consider him a shallow playboy -- which is why Catwoman contacted you."
"So was that you the other night?"
"I realized that if Catwoman saw your potential to solve the crime, so would the corrupt elements in Gotham's law enforcement, so I came here to make sure you were okay."
"So was that you with the gunfire the other night?"
"That was two agents of the Gotham Bureau of Investigation -- dirty agents, on the payroll of organized crime." The figure paused. "We all kind of surprised each other, and they opened fire."
"How did you escape?"
Dr. Villanova had been studying the figure. He was tall, dressed in black, with a black cape that came down to his ankles.
"Who are you?"
"I'm a friend. You can call me Batman." He paused. "May I see the card that Catwoman left you? It will be in a pink envelope, with a picture of a cat on the front of the card. The verse is inside the card, in feminine handwriting. The verse is significant, as is the picture of the cat on the front. What the cat is doing is a clue to the meaning of the verse."
"How do you know all this?"
"I am investigating the case."
"Are you some kind of detective?"
"Please, it is important."
Dr. Villanova would not budge. Time was on her side. Sasha would be there any moment.
"Dr. Villanova, I snuck up behind you. If I had any intention of hurting you, I could have easily done so. May I see the card?"
Dr. Villanova lowered the baseball bat a little.
"Bruce Wayne and his people will be here any minute, and if I don't answer that door, they won't knock twice -- they will kick the door down and come in, guns drawn."
Damn, Sandra thought to herself! She should have made the figure believe that Bruce Wayne had a key to her apartment!
The figure smiled. "I would prefer that your boyfriend just use the key that I'm sure he has. Please, show me the card from Catwoman. I will stand right here, with my hands where you can see them. I won't move while you get it."
Dr. Villanova lowered the baseball bat some more, then slowly stepped toward the door. Keeping her eyes on the figure, she stepped inside, picked up the card with her left hand, and brought it toward the door, then stopped, and raised the baseball bat up with her right hand again. "See with your eyes, not with your hands."
"Fair enough. May I photograph it? I have a camera."
She looked at the figure. "Okay, but move slowly."
The figure reached down to his belt, and pulled out a small device. He then raised it up, and seemed to point it at the card. "Please turn the card. I need to photograph both the picture on the front, and the verse. Is there anything else on the card?"
"No, that's all. How can you take pictures with no light?"
"The camera uses low-light-level and infrared technologies. It actually takes multiple images on each exposure." He paused. "There. Thank you."
"You'll be leaving now?" She said rather ominously.
"I would like to give you something, first." The figure slowly put the camera away, then pulled out another small device. He held it out to Dr. Villanova.
"What's that?" she asked, putting the card from Catwoman down on a chair near the door.
"It's a signaling device. If you press the yellow button, a powerful internal microphone will record any conversations or sounds in the immediate vicinity for fifteen minutes. You can use it, for example, if someone suspicious shows up."
"Someone like you?" she asked, a faint smile on her face.
The figure smiled back. "Or Catwoman, or GBI agents."
"What's the red button for?"
"If you press the red button, it sends a signal that I can detect and home in on. The battery will keep the beacon working for twelve hours, and the signal cannot be turned off except by destroying the device -- or by me."
Dr. Villanova took the device and looked at it. It had the two buttons on either wing of a bat-like figure.
"What's this called?"
The figure smiled. "It's a Batsignal."
"Frankly, you give me the creeps. If I need help, I'll call Bruce Wayne."
"But what if he can't make it right away, like tonight? My point is, Doctor, that if one of us can't come, the other will be on his way."
"Remember, yellow to record, red if you feel you're in danger."
"What if I'm not in danger, but just want to talk to you?"
The figure produced another small device, similar to the first, but with a green button instead of a yellow button.
"This Batsignal is similar. Both buttons allow me to home in on you, but the red button is for emergencies, while the green button is for a routine meeting."
She took it from him. "What if I use it to set a trap for you?"
"You'll never know what direction I am coming from. I'll sneak up on you, just like I did tonight," he smiled. "That's your ace in the hole, Doctor. If you are in danger, even if the people threatening you know I'm coming, they won't see me until it's too late."
There was a knock at the door.
"That will be your guests. Thank you for your help, and if you need me, just use the signal."
She glanced at the door, then turned back -- but the mysterious figure was gone, just as suddenly and silently as he had arrived.
Dr. Sandra Villanova quickly looked around, carefully carrying the two devices she had been given, as she hurried to the door.