I'm the J-Man. I've been following Arkhamverse for years, ever since it was Arkham City UK, but only today I've decided to join and gain the ability to make posts, in anticipation of my most hyped release of the year, (what else?) Batman: Arkham Knight!
And to make use of the occassion, I've also decided to post something I've been working on for a little while. In-between moments at work, of sleep, or of Arkham Knight online websearches, I decided to write a fanfiction story of my own, starring my all-time favorite fictional foe, the Joker, by changing around Alan Moore's original origin in The Killing Joke and adapting it in my own, weird ways.
I hope all who read like it! And if you don't, tell me a few reasons why in the comments below. I'll make this a sort of interactive thing, and if there are any mistakes, or hints to the Batmanverse I totally missed out on exploiting, you tell me and I'll make the changes to the story to better and improve it.
Be warned, before you read though, I wanted to emphasize the brutality and gritty reality of the Gotham world, so there's some very disturbing violent content later on in the story and some fairly moderated/bleeped curses, but if you've gone to a public school at some point in the past you'll likely know what they are. If you have any intolerance or dislike towards something of this manner, you should probably turn away now.
And wth that all being said, introduction and all, let's dive into "A Brief History of Crime," or, as my original name for it was, "The Blow, the Bat, and the Fall."
“Father, there must be some other way of doing this.”
“Another way as in breaking the bones of some remote henchmen hiding in the outskirts of town?” sighed the voice of Batman, two fingers to the ear of his cowl, communicating with his son, Damian, in the Batcave, “We’re rarely so lucky.”
“The clown’s a psychopath,” growled Damian, ignoring the remark, his growing frustration more and more obvious, “And you’re what? Gonna sit down and talk to him? I’m starting to think, before long, you’ll be his alongside him in that cell.”
“His insanity plays a key factor in his persona,” said Batman, “He considers me an equal. The two kings above the rest of the pieces, controlling the queens and knights in a never-ending game of chess. I’m sure, in his head, if there ever were a place for me in Arkham Asylum, it’s with him.”
“You do realize that’s terrifying, right?”
The shadowy figure of the Dark Knight landed nearly without a sound on the edge of the brown bricked rooftop, the Batman’s crouched figure staring off beyond the dark black gates of Arkham Asylum. Behind it stood a large array of massive, grey buildings, screaming sounding from each that even reached his ears from as many miles away. And in there, Batman thought, he was.
“Is that silence ‘self-righteousness’ for ‘I have no fear?’” said Damian’s voice again, after a short pause that awoke Batman from his stare.
“In your terms, that would make me weak,” replied Batman, his mind only half on the conversation, “Fear gives you strength. Fear gives you power when you can fight whatever you’re afraid of. And believe me, going face-to-face with him, I’m rarely more afraid in my life.”
Minutes later, the massive, shiny brown door to the centermost building on the Arkham landscape, squeaked open and hit the wall with a thud. The tall, dark figure of the Batman slowly stepped inwards, putting both hands on the door to close it again. His head turned around and the white eyes of his cowl lowered as he stared upon the dozens of glass cells marking the seemingly endless hallway beyond the small section before it, a dimly lit area containing ten or so desks, only a few of which were occupied this late at night. The one that interested however, was the one inhabited by a grey-haired man, covered with a long brown coat and holding a cold cup of coffee.
“Good morning,” said the man, looking up only after he had said what he’d said.
“Good morning, Jim,” replied Batman, walking over to the police commissioner’s desk and staring down at the man, looking menacing in a way he didn’t mean to but purely emitted from his signature shape, “Are you alright?”
“Long nights,” said Jim, taking a quiet sip from his coffee, “Had to—had to make sure. That madman was out again. Had to keep my eyes open. Couldn’t let anything happen again to—to Barbara, and to—”
“We have him now,” said Batman, staring through the worn eyes of the commissioner, “He’s locked up again. Now, if you would just take me to him.”
“Of course,” stumbled Jim, getting up and bumping his chair back, “Right. You three.” He motioned to three guards standing in the shadows near the edges of the room, “Come with me.”
He pulled a small key out of his pocket and began to wander down the hallway with heavy steps. The guards and Batman followed him, walking past a multitude of inmates, most of them asleep, but with the ones Batman least wanted to see with their eyes still open.
“Bats!” said a shrill voice from the moving party’s left. Each turned to see massive blue eyes blinking from underneath a large tuft of blonde hair and above a straight jacket, “I haven’t seen you in ages! Where you going? Please don’t say Mistah J’s room. Whatever it was, whatever Mistah J did, it was just a joke!”
One of the guards yelled “Quiet, Harley!” but Batman remained silent.
“It was just a joke, Bats!” she repeated, “Come to my room instead? I’ve got some jokes you’d probably find funny. Mistah J does…”
Her screams down the hallway were no use, by the time her last words had finished echoing, the group were already making their way up the metal stairs, the clanking of the guards’ heavy boots drowning out Harley entirely. Batman stared aimlessly at each stair in front of him, mind deep in thought, concentrating on him, what schemes he could possibly be concocting. What he was laughing about in his head. Whether out loud or not, he was always laughing. The smile etched on his face is a permanent reminder of that.
They were entering deeper and deeper into the facility. The ground was dustier. The lights were dimmer. Signs held up every few feet saying “Intensive Treatment,” as if they needed a reminder, were more and more faded. The black turning to gray. The white turning to yellow. The signs only stopped when they reached the final end of the hallway. Unlike everywhere else in the building there was only one glass room, and not a parallel in front of it. Perhaps that’s why they gave him this room, Batman thought, the shadowy maze-like hallways ahead could make anyone but him crazier.
Gordon stuck the key in the hole, turned it, pushed the button that lifted up, and a loud alarm sound blared through a pair of speakers. The glass panels slid upward and downward and all could see easily inside. The room was padded, but otherwise completely empty. Most of the blander psychopaths in the place’s were empty, but those with a theme usually had it plastering their walls, ceiling, and floor, whether it’s crossword puzzles with the Riddler or crude drawings of rats with the Ratcatcher. His was empty though. The only things in it were a shiny clean toilet seat, a bleached white table in the center, and a similarly bleached man in a straight jacket behind it.
One of the guards knocked heavily on the wall and yelled: “Joker! Joker, wake up!”
The Joker sat silent for a minute, but quickly rose upon hearing Batman’s cape swish across the holes the glass panels had protruded from. He turned sharply and stared straight at the Dark Knight, who grimaced at the mere sight of him. Yellow eyes with little black dots for pupils, wrinkled white skin, candy green colored hair, and a smile that took up half of his face, some of it real and showing teeth, the rest sliced as if with a knife and with stained blood giving it the appearance of lipstick that the rest of the grin was surrounded with.
The Joker rocked his head around his neck in a manner that would normally attempt to remove the hair from his face, but instead did the opposite. His teeth opened from one another and the chuckling, ragged voice blasted out from between them: “Oh, look at that, my 4:00 at night’s here.” He rushed over to mere inches away from the Dark Knight, and, hunched, stared up at the straight standing Batman, who’d neither moved nor flinched at his sudden rush, something everyone else looking into the room had pulled their guns out for. “You fuddy-duddys,” said the Joker in a mock-harsh tone, “You actually think I would dare to hurt the great and powerful Caped Crusader? He who has captured me time and time again only for you fools to let me break out? Shameful.” He hocked his throat as if he were about to spit, but a bloody tooth flew out at the guards’ feet instead. His grin widened even more to reveal a missing tooth near the edges of his gums: “I’ve been saving that one for you. Hahahahahahahahaha!”
Sensing anger rising from the people behind him, Batman raised a hand to them after using both to shove the Joker backwards, nearly crushing a chair: “Sit down, Joker.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” the Joker grinned, pulling out the legs of the chair with his foot, and plopping down into the chair with his feet on the table, “After all, I’m the guest here.”
The panels closed behind him to the sound of a somewhat lighter alarm, and Batman walked around the table to sit face-to-face with the Joker: “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What do you mean ‘you’re the guest?’”
“The World’s Greatest Detective, everybody,” chuckled the Joker, attempting to clap his hands before realizing his incarceration, “I mean, isn’t it obvious? The great and brooding Dark Knight has just entered a padded cell with the only other occupant being a circus freak in a suicidal’s blanket! You took posession of the room the second you got in here! Now, other people around would be afraid, but don’t worry,” his voice dropped to a whisper, “I like it. It makes you seem manly. And for a dude who spends his nights rolling around sewers in a Halloween costume admiration must be like sex or paintballing for you.”
Batman grimaced once more, before leaning in and saying: “Where’re the hostages?”
“The ho-de-duh wha?” stuttered the Joker, “Is that what you’re here for?”
“What did you think I was here for?”
“An apology, maybe,” said the Joker, “After all, you threw me in here pretty tightly day back yonder. I figured you’d prepared a speech to say sorry. You big brooding hunk of depression you. ‘Dear, Joker. Sorry I was such a jerk yesterday. I just had a lot on my mind. Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, and the Bat-Zebra went paintballing without me last Saturday, and I was just—‘“
“The hostages, now.” growled Batman.
“Woah,” said the Joker, “Fine, no apology. You want to know where the hostages are? They’re right in here.”
Joker’s arms shuffled but no other movement was made.
“Oh, sorry, right,” Joker stuck his leg up near his mouth, where his teeth latched onto his shoe and ripped it off. Pointing towards his forehead with his big toe, he said: “They’re right here.”
“What’re you—? But…”
“Ooh yes,” giggled the Joker, “I’ve finally got you this time, haven’t I, Batsy? Ha ha! I’ve finally got you right in my gross, unclipped claws. They’re in my head. As in, their fate rests upon my brain and my brain only.”
“Jo…but that isn’t the only thing resting in your brain…is it?” asked Batman, losing the anger and instead retracting deep back into thought.
“Crossing your I’s and dotting your T’s, Bats, you’re on your way.”
Batman’s look at the Joker gave off a sense of disbelief.
“Oh, I’m not lying. Believe me. Pretending to pull off one of my greater successes of the year? Nah. This is much more fun.”
Batman’s eyes diverted to the Joker’s forehead, where he had noticed wrinkled skin before. Observing it more closely, he noticed tiny red slashes across his forehead. The night before was rough. His face was covered in those. Except these were much, much neater.
“Robin,” Batman said, putting his fingers to his ears again, “Robin?!”
“Here, Father,” replied Damian, “What’s going on? Have you started your little Tonight Show with the Batman yet?”
“Nightwing? You mean Di—“
Seconds later, the Joker was still smiling smugly at Batman, who’s conversation with Damian had been replaced with one with Nightwing: “Bruce? Are you there? With the Joker? Did he tell you anyth—?“
“Nightwing,” Batman said, “I’m here with the Joker. He’s had a technical chip implanted in his head. He’s been using some form of connective technology. The hostages aren’t trapped somewhere, they have something in their heads. Bombs. And the Joker’s the trigger.”
“Do we have anything to go on? Beyond that?”
Batman’s eyes flashed back at the Joker, turning blue as his cowl connected to the Batcomputer. Seeing into the clown’s head, the bright aqua skull was only interrupted by a tiny, orange square, no bigger than a stick of gum, giving a slow electronic signal.
“It’s small,” Batman observed, “Thin. Attached to the cerebrum. The Batcomputer isn’t identifying a brand. This is homemade.”
“Well, not exactly,” said the Joker, looking upwards with a pronounced chin, “Oh, may I contribute? Yeah, thing is, it’s a bit of a modified gift. Two guesses as to who from.”
“Nightwing, look up the Mad Hatter’s old tech,” said Batman, exiting his connection to the Batcomputer, “Look over the signal waves. See if you can trace them to any active databases.”
“I may clap,” said the Joker’s voice once more, “But, that’s not the only way to solve this little predicament.”
Batman removed his fingers from his head and folded his hands: “Go on.”
“See, Bats, I was wondering if you could do me a little favor,” said the Joker, “Not much, really. Just have a bit of a story to tell. Get it off my pretty white shoulders. If you listen to it, I’ll tell you where the hostages are, plain and simple.”
Batman sat, unmoving for a few seconds.
“Oh, come on, Bats! You know you that’s what you’re going to pick. I mean, think about it. What if there’s that one little possibilty that what I told you was a lie? Or that that dear old all growed up Robin finds himself unable to track them down? You’re here. You’re right here. And you can trust me, Bats. Listen up!”
Batman sighed, and stared Joker straight in the eyes once more: “A story? Please don’t tell me it’s another recount of one of your crimes.”
“Oh, no, Bats,” chuckled the Joker, “I want to preserve your innocence. For now, anyways. No, this is more of a test. Tell me if you like it.”
As the Joker began, Batman pulled a circular disk from his gauntlet, flipped it, and began to move his thumb across it, pressing at different locations like a text. He put it away just as Joker finished his first sentence.
“—sure you remember,” grinned the Joker, “Gotham, Bats? Twenty years ago? Please tell me you do. You were there. Unless there’s something in those Bat-snacks you’re not telling us! Ohh, hehehehe. Just joking, Bats. Okay, then. Picture the chaos and wasteland of your precious city and imagine a tall, young man. Somewhere around his late twenties. Red hair. Wrinkles on a long face with a very exposed chin. Picture this man walking into a slightly run-down, very purple building full of people laughing, chuckling, giggling, whatever you want…”
Sweating everywhere he could think of, Jack White slid through the purple doors of the Laughing Man, a name it proudly displayed in bright red neon above it’s entrance. Looking around everywhere under the blasting yellow lights he could see various seated people in very expensive suits sipping from drinks that looked like they cost twice as much as the outfits. Reaching upon instinct for his handkerchief is his similary purple jacket pocket, he realized he had forgotten it at home and instead used his wallet. He padded his forehead with the leather, which nearly slid out of his hands. Catching it quickly, he realized he had been standing in the doorway for nearly a minute. He hastily shuffled the wallet away and moved towards one of the booths farther away from the music that had no occupants. He hopped onto the booth and put his elbows on the table, hands together so that he could twiddle his thumbs as he looked once again at the chattering conversers he had moved away from. Their mouths moving more rapid than a machine gun, they looked vaguely black and white, with the dark suits and the yellow light being so intense only their silhouettes could be pictured. Jack’s eyes squinted so he could better make them out. Sal Maroni, previously important crime boss in Gotham, had his head against the shoulder of a much shorter woman in a red dress a few sizes too big. Across from him was Mitt McClagan, once the mayor of Central City, a brutal attack on him and his children by anarchist Mick Rory drove him out of his mind, so far so he left his injured kids in the hospital and moved almost penniless to Gotham. Behind them, politician Reegan Winter sat next to a terrified looking Chinese man, her scaring him further as she whispered indistinguishable words into his ear faster than anyone else in the place.
“May I help you, sir?”
Jack jumped at the sound of her voice. Turning quickly, he noticed the her in question was a woman maybe a few years younger than he, freckled, and with similar red hair. She was dressed as a waitress one might find in a typical American diner, and held a notepad to complete the costume.
“Help me?” he croaked, “Oh, yes, hi.”
“Hello, sir,” she said, a mild hint of annoyance in her voice she attempted hard to compress with sweetness, “Would you like anything off the menu? Are you going to be performing?”
“Yes!” Jack said, in an excited manner had he thought he wouldn’t have felt was necessary. He straightened himself: “Yes, hi. How did you know?”
“I see all manner of people in here,” she replied, the sweetness taking over now, “All of them who’re here to perform sweating or nervous in some sort of fashion. You’re not alone, Mr.—?”
“Parkridge,” he lied, extending a hand, “Conan Parkridge.”
“Nice to meet you, Mister Parkridge,” she said, returning and complimenting the gesture, “Good luck with the performance. Would you like anything off the menu?”
“Nothing to eat, thanks,” he said, detaching from the handshake and quickly grabbing the dirty, plastic one-sheet menu in front of him, “Do you have..oh, no. Tell me, what’s the Joker?”
“Peachtree schnapps, coconut rum, splash of orange juice,” she replied, readying her pencil, “I think you’d like it.”
“Sounds great, thanks,” he said, handing her the menu before realizing it was supposed to stay, “Ms.—?”
About to walk away, she pointed to a miniature white nametag on her breast, which read Georgia Trinket.
“Mrs. Trinket, thanks,” he grinned, before returning to his state of discontent. Looking at the dirty menu and his fingerprints there, his eyes dove into the lines as he began to speak to himself: “You’re going to do fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. You’re funny. You’re great. She’s pretty. She’s great. You and she—oop.” His hand came over his mouth in a manner so quick his fingernail sliced into his lip. Grabbing a paper towel from a small basket containing condiments on the side of the table, he dabbed his bloody cut: “D*mn. D*mn it.” He looked down towards his watch, which showed that he was one hour earlier than he should’ve been. “Oh, really?” he sighed, “Really, d*mn it.”
He turned to the window, blinds mostly open, and saw out towards the foggy sky. Thinking what kind of wretches twist around in here, he thought, repulsed, who knows what the h*ll’s going on out there. His eyes focused particularly on a trash can in the alley beside the building and he had a disturbing thought about how likely it was to be knocked over by the morning.
“You’re lucky, Mr. Parkridge,” said Georgia, almost making Jack jump again, “The bartender had one all prepared. Whatcha doing?”
Deciding not to possibly disturb her with the exact nature of his thoughts, Jack said: “Looking out into the sky. Seeing what I can see.”
“I doubt you’ll see much, sir,” she said, laying down Jack’s drink in front of him.
“Who knows in this town?” said Jack solemnly, not managing to catch himself this time, “Just as likely to see someone committing suicide as you are a bird.”
“Unless they’re caught by that Bat thing people’ve been seeing.”
“You mean the Bat Man?” replied Jack, “Maybe.”
“Do you actually believe in it?”
“In what?” said Jack, absent-mindedly.
“The Bat Man? It’s a major talking point for me and my friends. Personally, I don’t know what to think. My brother thinks the police are taking brutal measures on crooks and blaming it on a vigilante.”
“The police?!” sneered Jack, “Yeah, sure. Brightest cop we’ve had in years is that Gordon guy, and likelihood is he won’t last another two months. Nah, the police aren’t doing it. Someone else is. I guess I’m just as ready to believe it’s a guy in a Bat suit as I am anything else.”
“Hello everyone!” rung a deep voice through the room, accompanied by an unnecessary single clap, as all the heads had already turned, “Just would like to announce our latest roster of performances is to begin in ten minutes! Those of you who care very little about that sort of thing, please go on. The rest, please approach! We’re stacked tonight.”
“J*s*s!” yelled Jack loudly, standing up quickly and nearly knocking over his Joker, “Sorry, excuse me, Georgia—Ms. Trinket! Ms. Trinket! I’m a comedian. No, that wasn’t funny. That wasn’t meant to be funny! I mean I’m an actual comedian in the show! Which I thought I was 60 minutes early for, but I’m not, so please move out of the way!”
Georgia leapt aside as Jack stumbled forward, angrily shook his watch, and ran towards the door.
Five minutes following, Jack was sweating heavily once more as he looked over the schedule for the performance. His was exactly center. He couldn’t get it over with quickly, or think of ending it as a big bang. He was exactly in the center. He rustled into his jacket pocket again, and hastily pulled out a small notebook. He opened it quickly and flipped through it. There, on the 12th page was his nineteenth joke. He hadn’t written the jokes in order. Whenever he’d come up with one, he just pulled out the notebook and wrote it down wherever he’d opened it to. He was pretty sure his first joke was on the thirty-seventh page. The last page.
“Conan Parkridge,” he trembled, staring at the name written down at 11:45 PM, in-between The Mighty Zatara at 11:30 and Chad Gunnan at 12:00. He was only on for fifteen minutes. He was a simple comedian. Others were up there, doing magic tricks, playing instruments, and all he had to go on was his small little notebook full of corny jokes. He looked around him. He was the only one sitting in the metal grey chair, dozens more of which were placed around him. Everyone else was talking in the edges of the room. Or off, further backstage, practicing what they had to do. He glanced once again at the name and repeated reading it. Why had he chosen to lie about his name? Haven’t he always told himself in order to be successful it actually had to be you earning the success? But he didn’t want to. Conan Parkridge was a man who could disappear the second he left The Laughing Man. Jack White will exist until the end of days, whether in memory or buried somewhere in the soil. Even then though, if Conan Parkridge faded away, his memory of this wouldn’t. He’d never been on stage. He’d never been in front of so many people before. Not for anything. But he’d been reading his jokes over and over again in the mirror, pretending to laugh or clap in the background. That’s what audiences did, right? He had a bad bad feeling that this wasn’t what audiences did, and all his preparations were nothing to the real thing…
The most claps there had been in the place sounded from behind the curtain, though it was still quite quiet compared to the size of the audience. A tired man in a black hat and red cape heaved a tall box with a design similar to the inside of the casino, the box of which caught the curtains and released them back onto his daughter, dressed in a purple jacket and stockings, who’s pampered look easily contrasted to her familiar tired appearance.
The sound died down, and everyone was waiting for Jack. He checked his fixed watch. It said 11:46. He was a minute down. He straightened his purple coat, adjusted his black bow tie, quickly slicked down his hair, put his book away, realized he was taking forever to do anything, and then walked through the curtains and onto the stage.
His neck was fighting to have his face face the audience, but his eyes, no matter what position, kept staring at the wooden boards of the stage. Each was a dark brown, obviously with a fresh coat of paint around them to relay the appearance of not being hastily put together. In the corner of his eyes, the colors of red and yellow flashed by. His head processed this in one way: Georgia. Jack turned excitedly, but soon realized it was a different woman in the uniform. He also managed to realize that he was facing the audience now.
“Heya, ladies and gentlemen,” Jack chuckled, tipping his hat and sticking out his right foot, “I’m Conan Parkridge. I have a few jokes for you. I would ask if you’d like to hear them, but you’re not exactly exiting the premises, so, heh-heh…” Silence. He cleared his throat: “Better get on with it, then.” All right. His head flashed to page thirty-seven. A quick scrawl. Done standing on the roof of a tall building. Looking down at the city below…
“So,” he began once more, “A guy’s staring down at the city from the top of a tall building, right? He’s aching and…sweating, ‘cause he doesn’t like heights. Behind him comes a workmate, ‘cause, you know, he works at the building. ’Sorry, P, I’ve had enough,’ he says, fidgeting. You see, he’s being all suicidal. ‘No jokes, man. This is it. Tell my wife I love her.’ His workmate nods and just as the guy steps up on the edge of the building, the workmate…the workmate, he says: ‘This is it, Jude? Wow, man. I guess you really weren’t kidding when you said the place was gonna run you into the ground!’”
Jack looked around excitedly at the audience. A few mild chuckles. He could see Sal Maroni, drinking from a tall glass and tapping the side with his finger. Mitt McClagan was ordering something from a waitress. Reegan Winter was staring right at him. No excitement or disappointment. Not even that. Her face was the exact same as when he had started.
His mind raced to think of another, but it was stopped mid-run when Georgia exited the doorway, a plate of disorganized-looking fried something-or-others on her hand. He tried hard to think of another joke. Something else to wave the waters. His best ones he remembered most of, but not the exact wording. He decided to pull the one he could remember most, joke seven on page five.
He cleared his throat again: “Okay, this next one. This next one I’m sure—I’m sure. M’kay, three criminals walk into a fast food restaurant, guns high, yelling ‘This is a robbery!’ Everyone ducks under their table or behind the counter, except the cashier, who looks around at everyone like they’re insane. The main criminal walks straight up to the cashier, and stares him straight in the face: ‘Was wrong whit you? Don’t you wanna duck and cover? You ain’t making this any fun.’ The cashier, still perplexed, asks: ‘What would you like off our menu, sir?’ Now the criminal’s confused: ‘What you talkin’ about? This—this is a stick-up. Give us the money in the register or we’ll blow a hole in you.’ Somewhat angrily, the cashier asks once more: ‘Sir, please. Tell me what you would like. You’re not making it very clear.’ People under the tables are moaning and both of the other criminals are checking their watches. The main criminal growls and actually yells: ‘D*mn it man! We want the money in the register!’ Pressing buttons on the cash register, but clearly not making it open, the cashier says: ‘Great, thank you, sir. Is that for here or to go?’”
His expectant face rises again, but the response is next to nothing this time. Jack’s heart is at the breaking point. His eyes take a quick glance towards where Georgia was and sees that she’s watching him too. Determined to pull out something to stop this rejection, he decides to go for joke nineteen.
“A man gets into a taxi,” he said slowly, “He closes the door, and tells the driver where to go. He processes it, but doesn’t really seem to acknowledge it. Realizing the wait’s going to be long, the man pulls out a book and begins to read. Forty-five minutes pass…” Jack glanced to Georgia, she was pouring the coffee of a bald man near the back. His heart lifted a little, “And the man notices the taxi’s in unfamiliar territory. Wondering if he’s still going where he asked, the man reaches up and taps the driver on the shoulder. Out of nowhere, the driver screams a bloodcurdling scream and hits the sidewalk with the taxi. Twirling the wheel sharply, the driver barely manages to avoid hitting a bus and pulls up quickly in front of a shop. ‘Holy sh*t,’ gasps the driver, turning backwards and staring into his passenger’s terrified eyes, ‘Holy sh*t, mister, I’m so sorry….’ ‘No,’ the man replies, finally beginning to breath again, ’No, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize a little tap would scare you so much.’ ‘No, no,’ says the driver, shaking his hand, ‘No, it’s not your fault. I apologize. It’s just, today is my first day as a cab driver. I’ve driven a funeral van for the last twenty-five years.’”
He looked upwards, his pupils shrinking. The same response as last time. And worst of all, Georgia’s looking at him, the bald man already drinking down his coffee. Jack pants, and looks at the clock across the room above the door to the outside. It says 11:51. “NO!” he yells, shaking everyone else, audience or waitress. He’s the one shaking most of all. His eyes flashed: “Please….no.” Everyone is still stunned. “L-laugh, please. Please laugh.” His hands come together and begin to fiddle, “Please laugh at me. Do something! Show me I can be funny.” His sight turns to Georgia, who’s mouth is gaping: “Please laugh at me. P-please. Why aren’t you laughing at me? You said good luck. I thought you meant it…Don’t you remember me? I asked you for the Joker. Heh, heh…that’s funny. I asked you for the Joker. You brought it to me. It didn’t help. D*mn! Why didn’t it help?!” He yelled once more: “None of you are helping! None of you are laughing! Drug dealers, rapists, murderers! If what you love is destruction, then why aren’t you helping me? I’m destroyed enough already…” Jack stumbles backwards, tangling himself in the curtains. Looking at his hands, utterly covered by the blue material, he coughed: “I’m funny. I’m funny. I’m going—I’m going to tell them. Tell them not—Don’t you remember me!” Talking to no one in particular, he yelled across the room: “Don’t remember me! Forget this happened. It—it wasn’t funny…” He shook the curtains away and stumbled towards the massive door, heaving it open into the smoggy night air, and letting it close without a look back, his notebook having dropped on the floor.
“One year later,” smiled the Joker, seeing mild disturbance in the Batman’s face, “Almost exactly. That little outburst didn’t exactly help ol’ Jack’s self-esteem, but he hasn’t been too, well, hehe, down on his luck…”
The flames crackle and spark, adding orange light to the otherwise dull blackened fireplace. Most exciting thing I’ve seen all day, Jack thinks, sighing out loud as he rests his head on the bleached white couch. He closes his eyes and thinks of warehouses, and curtains, and pistols, and everything he hated, everything he wishes he wasn’t…
“Jack?” she asked.
“Yes, honey?” Jack said, sore, as he looks towards his wife.
“Are you regretting your life decisions, again?”
He stared. Her long, blonde hair. Her sharp blue eyes. Her straight and to-the-point personality. Everything he loved.
“Come over here and remind me why I don’t,” his arms extended lazily.
“Don’t avoid the question, Jack,” his wife replied, crossing her arms over her stomach.
“But, I don’t—“
“Fine, not all of your life decisions. But admit it. You don’t want to work at that d*mned rusty warehouse.”
“No, no I don’t.”
She moved closer and grasped his shoulder: “Then you know the solution.”
He retracted from her touch and stared back into the fire, hunched over: “I can’t just quit. How else can I sustain us? How can we sustain him?” He motioned towards her stomach.
“Jack, just go back to the—“
“No!” yelled Jack, putting his hands to his head, “No! I’ve tried. Over and over again, but I can’t. It’s like a big joke. I go up there, I use what I have. But what I have isn’t enough! Do you-do you know what that’s like? Jeez, I have to go—I have to go and stand up there, and nobody laughs. And you think I-I can do it. But I can’t. It doesn’t work.”
“I know, I know, Jack,” she said, putting her arm around her husband, “You don’t have to go back there. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. I just don’t want to see you so broken every time I come back home.”
“Life’s hard,” spat Jack, “You have to-have to do things you wouldn’t in order to get through it.”
“You’re bitter, Jack,” she replied, seriously, “You’re trying to steer as clear from being in front of people as you can. Trying to torture yourself for your so called failure with endless work that you hate. Endless, Jack. Hauling whatever it is you haul, guns and guns, in massive boxes day after day. Don’t you realize that’s what you’re doing to yourself?”
“Oh, h*ll,” groaned Jack, gripping his face and his hair, “Help me, please.”
“Jack,” she sighed, her head on his shoulder now, “I can’t hold your hand. Stop being so afraid of people. Where would we be now if you hadn’t asked me my name?”
“I was there to fix your cable,” mumbled Jack, “As a favor to your brother.”
“And look where that got us,” she grinned, “Will you do that for me, Jack?”
Jack reached deep into his pocket and took out a clear plastic card holding a white paper inside that said: Jack White, Sionis Industries, Storage Loader: “Yes.”
“Thank you, Jack,” she smiled, kissed him on the cheek, and left the couch. Jack stared back at the card, its plastic, colorless edges illuminated by the fire, which’s flames had begun to die down. Sighing as he heard the door close behind him, he put his lips to the card and threw it into the fire. Looking up at the wooden clock that sat above the sliding panes, he saw the shorter hand quickly flash to 1, put his hands to his knees, rose, and followed his wife’s footsteps.
A blast of orange light hit Jack’s face almost at the exact time as the piercing screech hit his ears. He mumbled confusion and opened his sticky eyes: the digital clock’s red numbers shone 7:00. It was his final day at the warehouse. He rolled out of bed and untangled himself from the multiple, ragged blankets. Ruffling his hair as he stared out the window at the hustling citizens and cars below, his practically tuned out mind jumped when he realized the alarm was still ringing. Quickly turning it off, Jack looked hurriedly as his wife stirred, but breathed again once she turned around and fell asleep once more. He gently closed the curtains and hopped into the bathroom soon after. His bathroom. A cool white. So small. A toilet, a shower, a faucet, a tiny purple hairdryer. Turning on the faucet, Jack rubbed his hands under the water, and brushed them through his hair as he looked into the mirror. He looked pale. Paler than usual. He thought about his job again and turned whiter still.
The usual. Brushing teeth. Toast with light butter. Packing the suitcase. But this time, his apparel wasn’t the warehouse works. He put on a white shirt and attempted to pad out it's wrinkles. Black tie. As he stood in the window, he stared at his reflection. His wide, mad eyes. They’d always been mad. His tangled, mad hair. It’d always been mad. And underneath, something somewhat professional. Something that could make an impression. Or so he’d hoped. His suitcase, packed somewhat lighter this time, he heaved off of the kitchen table. Attempting yet again to straighten his hair, he bustled out the door, and stood on the small concrete step that was the gateway between home life and work life. The world looked so much closer than it did upstairs. He could hear the people, chattering on about work and home and the latest ‘program’ on TV. His skin was lit under the sun’s magnificent glow, the warmth actually being felt without being barred by the window. He turned to his right. All the way down the street, miles away, the road seemingly forever reaching, ended off at the docks. Right near them, a warehouse. For weaponry and assorted mania nevertheless. Jack rustled into his pocket for his keys, dug them out, and his purple car beeped. And suddenly, the realization came to him: the purple car was supplied to him by the warehouse industry. Without his job, he wouldn’t have a car. Every single scratch he had paid no attention to previously stood out like red on blue. Moving around to the leftwards door, and entering, Jack looked around inside. Somehow, though the outside was trashed, the inside was spotless. Scary enough to him, he realized that the shotgun seat had never been sat in. With him in the car anyway. A pile of dust on the shiny black leather. Absent-mindedly, he reached his hand out and brushed it off. More professionalism? Or finally paying attention to something he had but never truly realized it? He stared rightwards for a few seconds, before turning back and putting the car in drive.
“D*mn it, Jack, you’re the second to quit this week,” sighed the boss. Massive, bald. His hands over his face in a familiar fashion as he rolled forward in his own, deeply blue chair.
“I’m sorry, sir,” replied Jack, not-too-slight an uncaring tone to his voice, “This is me leaving.”
“We’ll give you a raise,” the boss said, looking up hopefully, “What’s say 25%?”
This was massive. Jack had turned towards the door, put he remained unmoving. 25%? Since when the h*ll do miracles happen in Gotham?
“At least give me a reason,” the boss continued, “What’s up? Moving?”
“Yes, you could say that,” Jack growled, eyes staring over his shoulder at the pleading black of the boss’s, “Moving on. Goodbye, sir.”
And without a second thought, he stomped through the doorway and slammed it shut. Jack breathed heavily behind it but quickly moved on upon realizing the boss could probably hear. He shimmied his way down the long, gray corridors. He’d done it. Now he just had to get out of here. He didn’t want to see anyone. No questioning faces asking why he looked so pale. Or why he was hurrying. Nothing at all. He was going down steps now, he could hear voices on the second floor, but he passed them, and he swung open the heavy door at the end of the stairwell. Long lines holding boxes and boxes and boxes. Each of them supposed to be filled up with today’s shipment. Anything so these greedy hogs could make money. Money. Oh my god. How was he supposed to support himself? He’d quit his job. The only job he could get for months. Even SoderCola fast food turned him down. What was he going to do? He could go back up. No…no, he was here know. The dark, dank warehouse. The total opposite of the unusually bright day waiting outside.
“Going somewhere, Mr—?” said a female voice.
Jack’s eyes peered towards his right. A tall woman in a long, closed trenchcoat and a brown baseball cap stood before him. Only her face could he see anything at all, and it was scary, what the face had become in merely a year.
“Oh my god,” stuttered Jack, backing up, “Oh my god. What the h*ll happened?”
Georgia Trinket removed the trenchcoat and the cap, wearing a battered black tank top, filthy jeans, and revealing a wild, manic look on her face with what looked like a massive scar draped across one eye: “What? Never seen a lady before, Mr. Parkridge? Mr. Conan Jack White Parkridge?”
“What the h*ll happened to you you, Trinket?” gasped Jack, still backing away slowly, “Your face—“
“The club closed down,” she said, a manic grin still on her face, “No more people to pour coffee for. To bring Jokers to. There was nothing for me to do. It’s a dangerous place, Gotham City. For us people without, y’know, cash. You, you consider yourself unlucky, don’t you? With your car, and your house, and your wife, and your fireplace, and your bed? Look me right in the eye and say you’re unlucky slowly. Very, very slowly.”
She stepped forward and looked Jack right in the face, which was so pale now it was a marble white: “Please, back away—“
“Why, because it’s like a mirror?” she spat, “Looking at me. You just gave up your job, didn’t you? No, this isn’t any Mission: Impossible bullsh*t…no, I saw that look on your face. The one you entered the building with. That was the same face I’d put on every day in December since the club began to deteriorate. Save myself the shame of being dumped on the street alongside all the other little ponytailed waitresses. But no. I needed the money, and now so—“ she began to whisper, “…do…you.”
Jack physically had to push her away now, “Maybe, maybe, yes. But I’ll find somewhere. Gotham’s a big city. If there were half the opportunity to get work around as crimes then I’d be golden…”
“See, haha,” Georgia said, her shaking laugh causing her strands of now dirty brown her to fall over her face, “You’re funny. You are funny. I like you, Jack. I know you. That’s why I have to ask. Can you help us?”
“Us?” Jack chuckled, terrified, “Um…don’t, uh, don’t know how to break this to you…”
“NO! I’m not crazy!” yelled Georgia, “Sound familiar? Ha ha! No, no, the ‘us’ in question, they’re right behind me.”
Two men, not quite as beaten as Georgia, but still looking a little under the weather emerged from behind a pile of boxes.
“No, no,” Georgia said, raising her finger, “Now they’re right behind me.”
“Hello, sirs,” Jack said, waving a little, “What do you guys want?”
“Remember how you have no way to supply your family anymore?” Georgia smiled madly, “We think you can help us out, and we can help you.”
“Have you ever heard of the Stacked Deck casino?”
“Yeah,” Jack said, “Yeah, that’s the one in the middle of Gotham, right? Do-do you want me to work there?”
“No, no,” Georgia replied, “Pay attention, Conan. The Stacked Deck’s one of the most successful little businesses in the city. Only take the best. The best thieves. My brother here lost almost everything he owned there. Those cheap sons of b**ches. Every single cent in the place is heavily guarded, every possible entrance to it, be it security door or ziplog bag. And we’re going to break in there.”
“You’re—what?” Jack asked, “You’re going to break into Gotham’s personal Fort Knox. Emphasis on the Fort Knox? H*ll, emphasis on the Gotham? And you look like, what? Satan’s cab drivers?”
“Let me finish,” growled Georgia, who’s smile briefly disappeared, “We haven’t told you your part yet.”
She motioned to the man to her right, the least depressing-looking of them, who spoke in a deep voice: “For years beside the Stacked Deck, there’s been a tall, empty building that the city knew nothing of how to handle. For years it’d have been easy to break into the Deck from there. Until recently, that is. They’ve opened it as Ace Chemicals, stocked with various, as in the name, chemicals, and nobody wants to go anywhere near that stuff. So, they’re taking any workers they can get. And that’s where you come in.“
“You want me to get hired at a life-threatening chemical plant so you guys can steal a few poker chips?”
“You get all the pay that the plant offers,” said Georgia, “Plus a share of what we steal.”
Jack began to laugh: “You offer me this—the second I quit my job? What kind of plan is that? I bet, bet that I can find somewhere else to work before you start….whatever this is…”
“Is that what you tell yourself?” Georgia asked, “We need you, Jack.”
He was running through everything they’d said. They were so desperate…how could he trust people like that? But they were about to rob one of the richest corporations in Gotham. And he would get a share…lucky enough, he’d get 25%….25%….Hadn’t he always thought those a**holes who move the city around like a chessboard deserved to be taken down a peg? But what would she think….
“Fine,” Jack said, breathing heavily, “Fine, fine, I’ll help you. Alright, but first…give me a chance.” He took a few steps forward and stared them right in the face: “Give me…give me two weeks. If I haven’t found anywhere to work in that time, I’ll go along with you. When is your big endgame?”
“Well,” Georgia said, “We were hoping sometime next month…but two weeks…better make it March. You may have to stay an hour later, caretaker shift ends at 11:00. Sure thing, Conan. Sure.”
“Really?” Jack asked, surprised it had worked, “Really…wow…okay. Okay. How, how will I talk to you?”
“I could give you my phone number,” chuckled Georgia, “But better not. How’s about we meet in a different little warehouse? There’s one a few blocks away from the plant. Similarly empty.”
Great. As if he hadn’t had enough of warehouses. But he shook her hand nevertheless. They all nodded appreciation. Disappeared into the darkness. Jack stood there, having tuned them out. That long year ago, he thought Georgia was beautiful. All that time ago, her red hair, her freckles. But one mere year, she looked like a ghost now. A shell. Doing this, would he become one, too? But he had to. He had to protect his wife. His son. From Gotham. Stepping out of the warehouse, he saw the dirt of Gotham lit up in front of him. He’d always meant to move. But he never had. Now it seemed as if he never would.
Weeks passed. He’d tried everywhere. Nothing worked. Day by day, he’d gotten up beside his wife. Flattened his hair. Brushed his teeth. Complained about the old hairdryer. Toast with light butter. He journeyed out day by day. Restaurants. Clubs. Lounges. H*ll, convenience stores. Nothing. He was disgusted by it. Every single place seemed as if it had to be run by massive people. Strong, massive people that took no sh*t. What could he possibly do? A sickly, failed comedian with an extended chin and a half-suit. And it was this reason that he stood beside Warehouse 23b, two blocks away from Ace Chemicals, at 10:00PM. At least that’s what his watch told him it was. Alone and very suspicious in the tiny little alley beside it, he stared up at the Ace Chemicals building, the three letters ‘A’ ‘C’ and ‘E’ lit up in a pale green above ‘Chemicals’ spelled in orange. Beside it, he could see neon lighting flashing upward, but black, unimportant buildings blocked the structure of the casino.
“Sad, isn’t it?” said Georgia, coming up from behind him.
“What’s sad?” he asked, staring at the flashing green.
“So tall a building plays nothing in the grand scheme of things,” she said, “The actual centerpiece, according to the map anyway, of the city, is merely the next step. The endgame is the far smaller place next door. Come inside.”
She waved her arm to follow, and Jack did. Georgia grabbed a chain and heaved it upwards, and the inside of the warehouse was revealed. If Jack had hated that old warehouse, this one was Hitler compared to it. Incredibly dusty. Dead rats littered the floor. Half of it was practically shadow. A rusty, metal table was placed in the center, where Georgia’s two brothers sat, one staring behind the other’s shoulder at a magazine.
“Brats!” her yelling echoed, making both of them stand up, “We’ve got our…supporting role.”
“Funnyman!” said the brother who’d explained the operation before as Jack walked in, “So far unlucky, eh?”
“Yeah,” Jack replied.
“Brats, explain the plan to Conan, here,” Georgia said, unmoved from her position before, “I’ve gotta go meet a man about a dome.”
The warehouse shut behind them, as Jack turned slowly to the brothers: “Man about a…dome?”
“All part of the plan, Funnyman,” replied the first brother, slapping Jack on the back, “Speaking of. Devon! Start with the explaining. Put the magazine away.”
Devon, the second brother, quickly stuffed the magazine into his jacket pocket and coughed, “Fu—Funnyman. So, George and Casey gave the summary, right?”
“Summary? Yeah,” Jack repeated.
“Good, good, now let me fill out the blanks,” said Devon, pulling out a tiny, extremely familiar notebook that made Jack’s eyes widen. As he flipped it open, he began to read: “Uh. Right. So the deal is…tomorrow, you enter Ace Chemicals and ask for a job as the caretaker. You know, checks the toxins and locks the doors. You pull out your not-so-great but good enough application, and you, then, become the caretaker. So no suspicion pops up, you work there for about two-to-three weeks. Then, on Friday, after everyone else leaves, you let us in. We go down to the control center in the basement, blow a hole in it, and we’re free to enter the fellow basement underneath the casino. We’ve got a very certain little bomb, it won’t make too much noise. We sneak in, grab as much as we can, go back out the way we came, you claim you’d locked it when you left. Simple. Now—“ he continued before Jack began to speak, “To guarantee a bit of safety on your part, we’re going to be under the guise of an old gang in Gotham lore. Tell me, have you ever heard of the Red Hood?”
“No? The Red Hood was a gang of crooks that managed to pull off spectacular crimes. Each of them
somehow having the perfect weapons to do the job. They had an ego too, to let the world know the Red Hood had struck, every time they left a red mask. Everyone in the gang wore one of those, except for the leader, who wore a tall, spectacular red dome. They disappeared years ago, taken down by the Batman.”
“Batman?!” Jack interrupted, “Wait, he could be there?! What-?!”
“No,” Devon said, “No, there won’t be any Batman. If all goes according to plan, the cops won’t even know we’d been there until the morning.”
“But what if they do?” Jack asked, exasperated, “What if we are caught? What’s our contingency plan?”
“We high-tail it out of there,” gruffed Casey, “We’ll have guns. We shoot at them, they’re too chicken to cover us.”
“You can’t high-tail it from the Batman,” said Jack.
“Eh, the Bat doesn’t kill. Gun to his face, we’ll be just fine.”
“No, we won’t be ‘eehh, just fine,’” Jack mocked, “What are you, insane? He does things. You can see, in the papers, people are hung up on wires by their feet, dripping bloody teeth from their mouths! Man, that’s not a man, that’s a monster!”
“That’s why,” Casey said, teeth grinding, “We’re going to be…as…quiet as possible. You just have to make sure no one’s there to see us. That’s your part. And we’re done.”
“Except for the fact that you forgot to mention,” Devon interjected.
“What ‘fact?’” Jack asked.
“Remember when I described the Red Hood to you?” Devon replied, “Yeah, remember the boss? The thing is, the boss, with the dome, he sort of stands around while the others raid whatever it is they’re raiding. It also best protects his face from any potential discovery.”
“And I’m going to be the one standing around,” Jack groaned, “Aren’t I? Of course I am…oh…”
“We already have our masks,” said Casey, grabbing a small pile of red felt from a table off to the sides of the warehouse and holding it up, five and a half eyeholes totally visible, “Georgia’s just off getting your costume. The aesthetics are already planned. We have pistols. Brown jackets. The bomb in question. After that, we just need to carry everything out.”
“And we’ll be good,” said Georgia, shocking Jack as he planted the red dome around his head, “Got it, Conan?”
Jack jerked inside the hood. It may utterly protect his face, but it had serious design flaws. All of the outside he could see was dimmed, like looking through a window, all painted a blood scarlet. Alone to express his feelings under the hood as the siblings began to chatter amongst themselves, his head echoed with fear. He was barely able to stand an inch of psychological pain. To be shot, by a cop, or to be beaten senseless, by the Batman…what would he be then? He’d be the funniest he’d ever been. What’s a joke without detriment to another? But he had people to protect, his unborn son…
The man who owned the chemical plant was nice enough. He seemed to appreciate the challenge of actually finding work in the city. The first day Jack went, he was shown around the many floors and railways and vats that smelt like acid and burnt firewood, tall, smoke arising from them slowly. As the days went by, he in fact began to know more of Ace Chemicals than he’d ever dreamed. Few worked there, so every time he swept the floors the chance he would run into someone was very unlikely. In fact, he and the skyscraper-esque building spent so much time together it began to feel more like home than his own. He spent so much time gazing down into the boiling green, watching the bubbles pop, every time it was time to leave he didn’t want to. Any day closer to leaving the building meant more time staring down into the vat. Wondering what he’d gotten himself into, many times Jack considered going back to the warehouse and asking to quit the mission. Considering even just walking out on them. But they had guns. They were determined. Letting them loose like that could mean that they would come after him…and maybe, hey, if everything went alright, he could stay at Ace? He could even help rebuild it…
Time had passed and the two weeks were over. He found himself staring over the vat, still pondering, but also acknowledging that it was too late now. He had to do it. Then a strange thought flashed across his mind. If he would be given a pistol…he could easily do away with them before they tried anything…corpses are found all around Gotham at night aren’t they? But he shook that thought away and began his descent down the long flight of stairs. Step by step he went over the plan. It was like practicing for a play, each step had to be memorized…perfect…He glanced at his watch, he was sure the time was correct: 10:57. And with that, he came upon the large brown door. Georgia had told him to wait for them to knock…what if he never let them in?
“Conan,” whispered Georgia’s voice from behind the door, “Cooooonan. Open the door, sweetie.”
Before he knew it, Georgia, Casey, and Devon were standing in front of him, covered with pistols and backpacks, a red dome under the former’s arm.
“See, I told you,” Georgia grinned towards her brothers, “He’s our number one guy. Aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” smiled Jack, heart shattering, “Yeah. Number one guy.”
“Okay, numbero uno,” said Casey, shoving the red dome, a purple cape, and a pistol into Jack’s hands, “Cock your gun. Drape your cape. The party’s about to begin.”
“Yeah, the party,” grimaced Jack, doing as Casey said, putting the red dome in turn under his arm, “Sure.”
They all prepared, each of them looking nervously around the main entrance to the buildings as they slipped on their hoods and prepped their explosives.
“Okay,” said Georgia, the last one to put her hood on, “Lead the way, Conan. Where now?”
On tip-toes, as if someone were sleeping nearby, Jack hopped forward, hands waving to the three hooded siblings behind. Through doorways he went, down stairwells and passageways, past the janitorial closet he’d gotten so used to. It seemed like hours when they’d finally reached the door that led them to the basement which led them to their score next door. It didn’t seem fair, to Jack, that Ace Chemicals had to suffer for the wrongdoings of elsewhere. It was totally innocent to everything. Was he losing his mind?
Georgia, Casey, and Devon spread the wires around. The bombs. Small, little metal devices that somehow added to the operation. Watching as they squirmed, placed random nonsense in random locations, everything random. None of it funny. But do you know what would be funny, he thought to himself? He put on the red dome and saw everything draped in red again. Is this what Hell looked like? Blood red. His head turned. He could imagine great horns rising from either of the three hoods. He rose his gun and pointed it at none of them in particular. Do you know what would be funny? Shooting the devil.
“Get back, everyone!” said Devon, “Get back!”
And with that, a surprisingly quiet bang erupted from the wall as bits and pieces falling downward caused the loudest noise. But even that was silenced from the sound of Jack’s gun. The explosion had shocked him from his daze, and he had pulled the trigger. It hadn’t hit any of the hoods, but it bounced around the walls and echoed heavily. The worst noise had yet to come.
“What was that?” said a loud voice from above them.
“Downstairs, in the vault!” said another.
As if in slow motion, all three hoods turned back towards Jack, each eyes wide open in surprise. They stared at the red dome intently, unable to see the face underneath it, which had expressed great shock at the situation.
“Dumba**!” shouted Casey, “Do you realize what you’ve done?!”
“It doesn’t matter!” yelled Georgia, “We’re in! Casey, you hold them off! Devon! Help grab as much as you can!”
Jack stood there, terrified at how they’d ignored his massive mistake, watching them pile pounds of cash and various expensive looking accessories into their black backpacks. Excess gunfire shocked him more. Casey was shooting at a mass of guards, who had attempted to rush down the stairs but had backed away from the bullets.
“Hood!” screamed Georgia, “What’s the time?!”
Jack looked down at his watch, which said 11:11.
“E-eleven eleven,” he said.
“It’s been two minutes!” yelled Georgia.
“The cop response time! Run!”
Georgia, Devon, and Casey all had begun to run as fast as they could with the heavy cash in their backpacks, the latter of which had to grab Jack just as a huge ball of flame emitted from the hole they had just created.
“They’re throwing grenades!” said a male voice.
They rushed up the stairs, heavy footsteps following them, trying to reach the ground floor before a voice from it yelled: “GCPD!”
“No, no,” said Jack, blank, pointing back to the stairs to his fellow burglars, “Up the stairs. Up the stairs. There-there’s another way out the back.”
More footsteps piled on one another, as did the voices: “Hands up! Stop!”
But they didn’t stop. The four of them, blocked from full vision thanks to their headwear, trampled up the stairs, attempting to follow Jack’s pointing hand. A gunshot flew from behind them and nearly missed Devon.
“In here!” shouted Jack, reaching a massive door marked with a light green 7.
They swung open the door and bolted inside, Casey heaving a large pole nearby onto the door to halter the police from getting in, each of them taking off behind Jack, who turned leftwards and led them out onto the steep walkway he’d spent so much time on.
“Where now?” said Casey, behind Jack.
“Down this way, to the r—“
Jack was interrupted by a sharp blow to his face, which broke through the red dome and hit him smack on the forehead. He tumbled backwards as he saw Georgia and Devon running where he’d pointed, and Casey standing over him, fondling his pistol, the butt of which was covered with blood: his blood.
“Sorry, Funnyman,” chuckled Casey, returning the gun to his pocket, “This didn’t have to be the plan. Your shooting, not ours. ‘Cause of that, we need someone to sacrifice themselves. Contingency. Take one for the team, y’know?” he bent down and grinned at Jack’s bloody face, “And, well, you’re our number one guy.”
“That’s not funny,” groaned Jack, barely able to see through that familiar blood red now streaming into his eyes, “That’s not funny at all.”
“No, not for you really,” said Casey, “Tsk-tsk. Especially if the Batman shows up. Seemed like a quiet night to me, bet he doesn’t have much to do.”
That one hit him. Casey had run off to join the others. Jack stared back at them, not believing what he’d let happen, as he heard the door loosening from the police’s end. Mustering all the strength he had, Jack crawled forward, scraping his purple cape along the ground as blood covered it, managing to reach the stairs but panting intensely. His head was numb. His mind was numb. Everything was going insane. Everything. Why’d he have to aim that gun? Why’d he have to do any of this? For his wife. For his son. He reached on to the rail and pulled himself upwards onto the stairs, everything getting fuzzier by the second. Stair after metal stair, turn after turn painfully scraped him as he dragged along, managing to get onto the railway above as he heard the pole give below and police began streaming through.
“I hear them!” said one of the officers, “This way! They’re going this way!”
They’d heard the siblings and began after them, ignoring Jack’s blood on the ground and too crowded to see him panting down from just a little ways above. Maybe he could get out of this. Could he be that lucky? Could he survive this and find an excuse for his wife? He could leave a little money on the streets. Say he was mugged. And drop this wretched dome and cape into the acids below. Shaking his head with anxiety and determination, he heaved himself up onto the rail, sweating in a way so similar to that night at The Laughing Man….if only he’d known where he’d be now. That’d seem like child’s play. What’s humor to a life or death situation? Everything.
He’d walked over to the middle of the walkway, held himself onto the rail as he managed to throw his cape down to where it boil to death and never be seen or heard of again. But this lack of energy did nothing to stop him screaming at the top of his lungs. Insane. Maddening. Bloodcurdling. The door at the end of the hallway led to the roof, he knew. He’d stared down at the chaotic city many times from up there. The highest he’d ever been. And he was thinking of it, looking at it just as a massive black shape erupted from behind it. The shape’s eyes were white, maddening, like a monster’s, staring into his soul as if it’d like nothing more to tear it out of him. It was walking forward, shadows trailing it like they were following the leader. And the leader had claws. It had long ears, long long ears. Like a bat.
“No!” he gasped, “Holy h*ll, no—!”
He tried to back away from it, but he had no energy. He couldn’t even be sure if what he was seeing was real. But it was real enough to him. It had extended its arms, like all it wanted was to strangle him, rip his vocal cords, stop him from laughing ever again. He knew the Bat Man didn’t kill. Or so he thought. He didn’t want to take any chances. He pulled out his pistol and began to fire every round it had in it. All of it, to no avail. It kept approaching, arms still wide, a mere few feet away when it happened.
He was both against the rail and trying to back away, and together they were a conflict of interest, as his back slipped over the rail and pulled the rest of him backwards. Pulled him downwards. He could feel his shoe slipping off as he tried to hook it on, but nothing worked. The Bat stared menacingly down at him as he fell, zooming down through the air, the incredible breeze blowing into his shirt and up the dome with immense power. He was terrified. How would it feel hitting the ground? Dying? Until he’d reached his destination, he’d never given thought to the vast amount of vats many feet above the floor, the ones that had entered his mind after staring at them for weeks like a drill into wood. He landed in one with a splash, every single inch of him burning, and all was no more.
Georgia flipped through her fifth stack of money, every single flash something to distract her. From the empty warehouse. From Ace Chemicals, which was under re-construction after the incident. From the owner of The Stacked Deck, giving out a $100,000 reward to anyone who brings him the culprits. He finds ways upon ways to spend the massive amount of money he had, but she couldn’t find any use for it. No one to split it with. Nobody to help her decide what to do. In the dusty, smelly warehouse the size of ten houses, there was only her. Only quiet. Nothing to do but flip through her massive stacks of 20’s. 50’s. 100’s. She’d seen enough Ben Franklin to last her a lifetime. She had enough of him for that, too. She put her hands on her heads, swung her chair and tried to take her mind off the money. Her eyes flashed towards the window, towards the thunderstorm raging outside. She tried to concentrate on the lightning, on the pitter-patter of the water droplets hitting the metal, but she couldn’t keep away from Ace Chemicals. The powerful green hurt as she stared at it, but it was nothing compared to the red, orange, and yellow that erupted from the plant as it burst into flames. The fire was so loud and so raging not even the rain could stop it. She slid back in her chair in surprise, knocking down most of the cash from the table, and it flew in front of her as she willingly watched the building, ashes flying everywhere as suddenly each floor began to crash down on itself.
“Never could resist a bit of fireworks,” echoed a moody voice around the warehouse.
Georgia gasped and pulled out a gun, aiming it nowhere as the voice continued.
“Be careful with those things,” it said, its points of origin still indiscernible, “Anything could happen. Who
knows? Have it rocket around and either one of us could be dead on the floor. Sound familiar?”
“J-j-jack?” stuttered Georgia, still rolling around, gun cocked, “J-jack? How?”
“J-j-j-j-jaaaacckkk?” the voice mocked, “J-j-jaaacckk? Is that yooouuu?”
“Jack?” Georgia gulped, starting to get frightened, “How? That’s you? How are you here?”
“Oh believe me, hehe,” chuckled the voice, “It’s me. It’s me! Who’d have guessed? Yes, it’s me. I’m back! Tsk, you didn’t prepare anything. Is that any way to treat a guest?”
Georgia gave a little yelp of fright as a pair of yellow eyes stared through the shadows. Knowing now where to aim her gun, she yelled: “Answer me! How are you here?”
“Thank your pal, Casey,” Jack said, raising what appeared to be a gloved hand into the light and twirling something in it, “Smacked me right on the forehead, he did. Not enough to knock me unconscious. Fella always did love to gloat. Oh, I guess I wouldn’t know that. You would, though, wouldn’t you? The glue that holds the sticky pieces of the Trinket family together. Or held, sorry. Gave me just enough time to crawl upstairs and evade arrest. Of course, I was all the worse for it. You wouldn’t guess who I met up there on that railway. Reminded me of the warehouse, actually. Dark. Mysterious. Smelt d*mn awful. Then again, one would expect that from a guy who runs around in a 150-pound knight costume with bat ears.”
“The Bat Man?” shuddered Georgia, “So I guess he’s real, then?”
“Oh, he’s real, alright,” laughed the voice, “Real as you or m—real as you. Scared the pants off me. He backed me against the rail, all close like, and I took the plunge into one of those very acid vats we ran over.”
“Acid?” said Georgia, “Acid? How—how did you survive?”
“I don’t know,” replied Jack, simply, “Everything went black after I jumped on Satan’s diving board. It was unbelievably painful. And unbelievably fun. You wouldn’t believe how enjoyable full-body torture really is. I soaked in that hot tub for what seemed like hours before I woke up and lept out. I didn’t know what was going on. Every inch of me was hurting, but the pain and terror I’d felt from the blow, the bat, and the fall was entirely gone. There were tons of people out in front of the place, so I mindlessly directed myself out towards the back. I remind you, I wasn’t thinking properly, so I had no clue that I could just wander over to your warehouse and slay you. All alone. No idea. My first thought was of my wife, of course. I was always the protective kind. I wandered my way through the aimless streets. Past goons and creeps, all obviously weirded out by the fact that I was wearing your Halloween costume. It took me a little while, but I managed to find the right street. And you know what I saw?”
Georgia was silent.
“Go on,” he said.
“GO ON!” he yelled.
“No, no, I don’t know what you saw!” Georgia said, “I don’t know!”
“Police cars,” Jack’s head twisted, “Yes, I saw police cars. One or two, not nearly as many as around Ace Chemicals, all parked right in front of my quaint little living-space. I had no idea what was going on. No one was paying any attention to the door, so I slipped through it, not even really trying to be sneaky, totally confused as to why these cops had driven past the donut shop. Why they were parked in front of my innocent little house. The first floor, when I entered it, was empty. I shouted my wife’s name, but there was no answer. This didn’t look good. So I went upstairs. There weren’t any signs of trouble. I didn’t notice anything missing. There was only two rooms, connected, upstairs, and I didn’t see it when I first came in. See what, you ask? My pregnant wife’s body, on the ground, dead. Just laying there. No blood, no signs of brutal injury. Of course, I kneeled over in sadness, and crawled over to where she was lying. I looked around her, there was nothing. And that’s when I realized what had happened. I took off the hooded dome at last, and smelt smoke. Do you know what killed her? For months, we had been short on money, giving you some clues as to why I took the job, and yet there was nothing I wanted her to replace more than that, dirty, busted old purple hairdryer. It had finally broken. It electrocuted her. Killed both my love, and the baby inside her. He’d never even gotten to see outside of her. Then again, since I’d met her, neither had I. I was devastated. Do you realize what this meant? If I hadn’t waited for you guys, helped you break into the Deck and steal all the moola you could get your hands on, she might never have died. I would have been there beside her. I could have done…something…”
Georgia was shocked, to hear, that he was crying. But then even more so when he began to laugh.
“But I’d gotten up to look at the hairdryer, the saddest I’d ever been in my life,” he giggled, “And I stared straight into the mirror. My face…it was white. It was shockingly white. My hair was a sickly, dark green. And my lips were ruby red. My ruby red lips that encompassed the smile that the acid had made permanent on my face. Do you get it? I was so sad. And my face was so happy. It was like…parallels, or some sh*t. So I began to laugh. Dark humor had always been my thing. But this wasn’t just any laugh. I laughed so hard, and for so long, my lungs hurt. Right over the dead body of my wife. I laughed so hard, I passed out. I was unconscious for an entire day. And right when I woke up, I knew what I had to do. I had to come visit you. I had to reward you.”
And he stepped out of the shadows. He was wearing the same purple suit as he had when he entered the chemical plant, but the cape and the hood were missing. Instead, the exact expression he had described was etched upon his face. His sick, twisted smile served as the beacon to a loud laugh.
“Reward me?” Georgia said, “Look, Jack, I’m sorry. I’m sorry about your wife, but please just leave…”
“Did you, my carrier pigeon, leave all those months ago in the diner? When we first met?” said Jack, “No, no you didn’t. So, in your last moments, I’m not going to leave you. Like you didn’t leave me.”
“Yes, they were my last moments,” said Jack, perhaps ignoring the meaning of her question, “My last moments as Jack White before no one laughed. Before my slow descent into becoming the perfect comedian. A clown. A laughing man of my very own. And look how it turned out. Perfectly. Thank you so much,” he bowed to her, “Now, for your last moments, I’m here to make them as powerfully great as possible.”
She shot at Jack, and he only managed to dodge the bullet: “Jack…no…get away from me!”
“That’s not very nice,” said Jack, putting his finger to his bottom lip, “Understand please, darling. You see, when we were first together, you brought me a Joker. And now, I’m bringing you one.”
His laughter echoed as he threw what he was holding in his hand to the floor before her: a white card featuring the picture of a manic jester, the words in top left and bottom right corners saying Joker.
“A little gift from The Stacked Deck,” said Jack, walking up right in front of her and putting his head to her gun, “From the Joker.”
As if he knew what she was about to do, the Joker quickly knocked the gun out of her hand, it clunking a heavy sound as it hit the floor, right next to the Joker card in symmetry.
Georgia stared down in terror at the card, not daring to look straight into the Joker’s red and yellow eyes: “What…happened to you, Jack?”
“I assume you mean this in some spiritual fashion?” smiled the Joker, his massive teeth gleaming onto Georgia’s face, “‘Cause, unless you weren’t listening, you should have a pretty pretty picture. What happened to me? Now, isn’t that a question. Well, I have, in essence, become beyond human.”
“Beyond human,” said the Joker, practically bathing in her fear, “I know that sounds ridiculous. But being ridiculous is in my new job description. Being ridiculous, then making that ridicule into reality. Tell me, what kind of natural born human would do this?”
The Joker put his fingers on Georgia’s eyelids, and gently closed them, her fearful to resist. She could feel his muscles move, as if he were reaching far away. Then, his fingers moved away, and something heavy, wet, and awful-smelling dropped onto her lap. She screamed, leaped up, and her eyes jerked open. The wet mass on the floor was indistinguishable. It was a clump of assorted flesh, covered in blood and various liquids.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” said the Joker, clasping his hands together and putting them to his cheek.
“What…what the h*ll is that?!” gasped Georgia, backing away.
“That?” said Joker, offended, “Why, that’s my bouncing baby boy. What? Can’t see the resemblance?”
“Oh my god,” said Georgia, “Oh my god….that’s…you couldn’t…”
“Oh,” smiled Joker, “I could. I mean, I did do it for Jack White. He couldn’t leave without seeing his baby boy for the first time. Lennie.”
Georgia peered up at the Joker, who’s grin had disappeared. His voice wasn’t the creamy insanity he’d been talking in ever since he’d walked into the warehouse, it was incredibly close to Jack’s.
“Jack?” she said.
“Lennie. The…name I’d come up with for…for the kid,” chuckled Jack, sadly, “I’d…i’d come up with that name a few days after we’d made out the plan. That’s what I wanted to call him. I was just afraid…afraid my wife wouldn’t like it. I should have asked. Now I’ll never know. And now, I have to go. But in order to do that…there can be no evidence. No man before the clown. And you’re a piece of that puzzle. You’re a piece of Jack White. So, I’m afraid i’ll have to separate you.”
He pulled out a kitchen knife from his pocket, and began to move slowly towards Georgia, his smile slowly returning with every step.
“Jack?” Georgia said, desperately, “Jack?! Are you there?!”
“Don’t look so sad,” said the Joker, “Try not to be. Life will be nothing but torn memories and psychological injuries if you don’t put a smile on your face….”
Georgia threw back the table to try and stop him, but she couldn’t run, she was near to paralyzed: “Please…get back…”
Joker leaped over the table with surprising grace: “I know how to cheer you up. How about a joke? You want a joke? Sound good?”
And within an instant, his hand was over her mouth and his other arm was cradling her, his knife in-between his fingers. “NO!” she screamed, muffled, as Joker shushed her.
“Say yes, Georgia,” he said, sternly, “Say yes. Go on…”
He puckered his lips as if about to kiss her, but instead his second hand flew from her side, making her fall to the floor, to stab the kitchen knife into either side of her mouth. Her muffled screams did nothing to make him move, and he only did after estranged curves had sliced the sides of her lips. Her face now resembled his. The pale white skin, and the blood red smile.
Too terrified to move, Georgia groaned and lay still, not trying to resist as he grabbed her, the flesh mass, two chairs, and placed them both in front of the window where Ace Chemicals continued to burn, not as powerful, but still a scary image. He sat in the chair next to her, adjusting the unborn baby across both of their legs, and began to whisper: “Thank you for agreeing, darling. Now, look at us, a nice happy family, ready to listen to Daddy as he tells his joke. Okay,” he coughed into his hand and wiped it on his pants, “This one’s really funny. See, there were two guys in a lunatic asylum. And one night, they decide they don’t like living in an asylum any more. They decide they’re going to escape! So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap,” he giggled, trying to contain his laughter, “they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away into the, heh, into the moonlight. Stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend daren’t make the leap. He’s afraid of falling, y’see. So, then the first guy has an idea. He says ‘Hey! Hey, I have my flashlight with me! I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!’ But the second guy just shakes his head. He…he says ‘Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy?’ Hehe… ‘You’d turn it off when I was halfway across!’”
The Joker’s manic laugh echoed beyond the warehouse. It sounded across the night, serving as a background to the failing destruction of Ace Chemicals. Georgia, who’s head had fallen to the Joker’s shoulder as her mouth was bleeding dry, began to do something she didn’t even want to. She started to laugh along with him.
“And they all lived crappily ever after,” said the Joker, “The end."
Batman stared at the Joker, who was practically still, with his grin wide across his face: “Joker, I listened to your….account.”
“‘Now give me the hostages!’” yelled Joker, “No, guard, no, that was me…uh, uh…doing a Batman. Now go, go eat a donut or something.” He turned back to Batman, “Fine, fine, fine, Bats. The hostages are being held at 1984 Moore Street, by three ugly mugs in clown masks. Oh, uh, one of them’s wearing a bowler hat.”
“Joker,” said Batman. He glared at the Joker: “You’re so full of sh*t. That chip in your head’s meaningless, isn’t it?”
“Come on, Bats,” said Joker, “Don’t be mad. You don’t think I’d go to such extreme measures to get me just a few hostages, eh? Nah, Bats, this whole little operation was a test, to see if that backstory worked for you. A wise man once told me, if you’re going to have an origin, it’d be better to make it multiple choice. And besides, it’s funny! Hahahahahahahaha!”
Batman turned to the guard outside and signaled for him to open the glass. Exiting and finally private save for the commissioner and the guard, he put his hand to his ear: “Nightwing, you get all that?”
“Unfortunately. Damian, tell Steph to meet you at Moore Street. I’m still going to check out the Mad Hatter. Jeez, I didn’t even realize he was out. That madhouse’s getting too crowded…”
“Nightwing, before you—“
“Sure thing, Bruce. Yeah, the Batcomputer’s got nothing on a Jack White, Georgia Trinket, not even a Laughing Man. What were you saying about him being full of sh*t?”
“Figure he wouldn’t give out actual names,” said Batman, turning back to look at the Joker, “He took extra care to give as few out as possible. But Ace Chemicals did burn down in the exact way he described it. Every detail.”
“But you weren’t there a few days before, were you?”
Batman stood silent.
Batman was still looking at the Joker. He could hear Nightwing leaving miles and miles away, the squeaking of the chair as he left it, but his attempted concentration was on the Joker, who winked and said quietly: “It’s always nice to see you. ’Til next time, Bats!”
“Which do you prefer, Chinese or Thai?” said the Joker’s voice from within his room, half an hour later.
“Quiet, clown,” grumbled the guard.
“Oh, come now. Pleeeease?”
“Chinese or Thai? Chicken satee or orange chicken?”
The guard mumbled an unintelligible response.
“Orange chicken,” said the guard, “Orange chicken, with rice. That’s what me and my wife always get on weekends.”
“Ohh, you have a wife. Good for you.”
“So, you had one too?”
“I heard you,” said the guard, “Talking to Batman. You said you had a wife. A pregnant wife.”
The Joker laughed: “So, you liked it? Good. Death is funny to you, too, then?”
“What, no, I didn’t—Hey!” said the guard, turning back to see no sign of the clown in his cell. He raised his walky-talky, whispered “The clown’s causing trouble,” and opened the door. The alarm sounded, he raised his gun, cocked it, and entered. Muttering “Please let me live please let me live” under his breath, he looked around and saw nothing…save for a white straightjacket laid underneath the table. He didn’t even have a chance to panic when a heavy, hot mass leaped onto his back, hands over his eyes.
“Ha ha!” giggled the Joker, as he clawed into the guard’s eye, staying onto the yelping body for a few seconds before he jerked the guard’s neck with a crack. The body lined with the word Arkham stumbled to the ground and hit the floor with a loud thump. The Joker continued to laugh, jumping as he saw his way out: “Let you live? I did always consider life the killing joke. Ha!”
He reached down into the guard’s pocket, pulled out the walky-talky, and said in a deep voice: “Never mind, he was just sort of blending in. D*mn, do I need contacts.” He tossed the walky-talky back onto the dead body of the guard, and leaped out into the long, dark hallway that lead through Arkham.
“Meaningless?” the Joker grinned, “I don’t think so, exactly.” He closed his eyes, and, out of nowhere, the speakers throughout the building began to play a soft melody. Dancing with himself as he approached down the wide room ahead of him, hand out forward and his other to his chest, Stevie Wonder’s Superwoman began to play.
People began looking out of their cells, pounding and screaming as they watched their fellow psychopath dance his way to freedom. “Chinese it is. Okay, then….Mary wants to be a superwoman,” sung the Joker along to the lyrics, “But is it really in her head? But I just want to live each day to love her for what she is. Mary wants to be another movie star, but is it really in her mind? And all the things she wants to be she needs to leave behind. But, very well. I believe I know you very well. Wish that you knew me too very well. And I think I can deal with everything going through your head…”
And that's the end! Thanks for reading. On a final note, if you've never heard Stevie Wonder's Superwoman, here's the song on YouTube so you can hear it for yourself: [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-ohttPIqco[/youtube]