Joker: Arkham – Chapter 13 – Burning Babylon

I’m a stoned lone flunky that didn’t kiss your
Ask me questions, I didn’t pass your test
I’m the poster boy for delinquent debauchery
I’m incognito, got my Al Capone sunglasses on
The Babylon night crawler with a prima donna on my wing

Gonna make some noise before I die
Shoot the bullets I loaded
Can’t catch me if you try, anyway

I’m gonna live my life with no remorse or sorrow
The devil made me do it and I’d do it again
Don’t care if I slip into a, into a grave tomorrow
‘Cause when I go out I’m goin’ out with a bang

Freeze, this is a stick up in your
Ask and thy shall receive a sentence
Life in confinement ain’t the life for me
I ditched the police man
still got my Smith and Wesson cuff links
Me to the money
My head bone’s connected to her lip bone … yeah yeah

Gonna make some noise before I die
Shoot the bullets I loaded
Can’t catch me if you try, anyway

I’m gonna live my life with no remorse or sorrow
The devil made me do it and I’d do it again
Don’t care if I slip into a, into a grave tomorrow
‘Cause when I go out I’m goin’ out with a bang

Dig it, I’m not your wallflower
Ain’t no puppet, ain’t no saint
Call me old fashioned but I’ll do ya on the first date

Gonna make some noise before I die
Shoot the bullets I loaded
Can’t catch me if you try, anyway

I’m gonna live my life with no remorse or sorrow
The devil made me do it and I’d do it again
Don’t care if I slip into a, into a grave tomorrow
‘Cause when I go out I’m goin’ out with a bang

The devil made me do it and I’d do it again
Well I’m gonna go out with a bang
The devil made me do it and I’d do it again
Well I’m gonna go … out with a bang

The devil made me do it and I’d do it again
Well I’m gonna go … out with a bang

~ Out with a Bang (Faster Pussycat)

*****************************************************************

Joker leaned a shoulder on the stone wall and watched as the dirty little bat borrowed his shower. The dripping water caressed every muscle, beading in each scar.

“My, you look tasty that way. If only we had a spreader bar, a leash – you’d be perrrfect.”

He was being ignored and that simply wouldn’t do, so he stepped in and began to help. Finding healing sore spots and being too rough scratching over them, he laughed when a bit of the old flair sparked up and strong fingers caught and nearly crushed his wrist. He stared into the dark haunted eyes and smirked.

“Don’t suppose you’d like to go fetch some toys like that for our little Dungeon of Love, hmm?”

“I will find out what’s going on in this place,” the Bat threatened, yet a note of doubt had already leaked into the low buzz of his words.

“That could be a challenge whilst you’re a fugitive from justice. I suspect you know that.” He leaned in and kissed the white-knuckled fingers that were hurting his wrist until they let go. “Crazy is what goes on here, precious. This is nothing new. If one doctor flies the coop without warning, things are bound to go a mite caddywhompus before the real doctor returns to right the ship. You say he will be back. I told you Dr. Arkham could set things right. The simplest thing to do is wait it out.”

“With corpses on the floor?”

“Whose corpses? Not anyone of note, I bet. A few dead insane reprobates won’t be missed – that sort of thing is expected. Happens with unalarming regularity here.”

“If I thought that way, Dr. Tanner would have killed you by now.”

“Tsk, tsk, you’ll see. Dr. Arkham can handle this place without much effort.”

“Why don’t you hate him? Mock him like everyone else? You don’t like to be ‘handled’.”

Joker sighed. “Getting laid has dulled that detective instinct, I see – such an unfortunate side effect. You asked ‘bout a mess upstairs – I’m not privy to that, now am I? You want it quelled; I say Dr. Arkham can quell it. From down here, what does any of that have to do with me? He’s less boorish than others who try to poke me with mental sticks. It hardly makes me fond of the scrawny ghoul.” With a melodramatic gasp and clap of his hands, he added, “Unless you’re jealous? Positively delicious!”

The bat watched him in silence – trying to read him, no doubt. Soon enough, suspicion clashed with his deep-seated need to pretend his enemy was securely locked up. Once the frustrated frown won out, Joker had to struggle not to giggle.

“I have to go.”

“Do you, now?” Joker moved in front of him and pressed himself against the wet stones. Smiling over his shoulder at him, he winked at the deepening frown. “Waste not, want less, Lamb Chop. If you insist on breakin’ this off when Dr. Arkham returns … best to get one last fuck in, hmm? Who knows when you’ll get another?”

Turning his head back, he set his forehead on the stones. The strong hands gripped his body but then the bat stopped. Perhaps the ugly abyss was opening again in front of his eyes.

“Tick, tock,” he spoke softly. “Say goodbye to your libido later – the sun is rising.”

That brought the lips to his neck. “How can you tell time in this place?”

“I don’t tell, precious, I feel. You grow more restless the closer it gets, true – but spend as much time here as I have and you’ll end up being able to sense all manner of things in these grubby stones.” He stroked them absently. “We love and hate each other, the old girl and I – it’s a decidedly Oedipal relationship.”

Teeth bit the join of his neck and shoulder as the hands moved his hips. When the teeth let go, the heavy cock bit in next. Joker opened his mouth and let the streaming water in on a gasp as he was fucked from behind. It was harsh and painful … and perfect.

“You know, I will insist to anyone else that I’m incapable of regret – but now and then…” The bat didn’t take the bait, so he waited for just the right moment and stabbed in with words more cruel than a blade. “Now and then, I regret that I didn’t rape dear Rachel as Harvey watched – then did him, too.”

Shoved into the wall by body and cock at once, he laughed as his head was nearly crushed by a big trembling hand. He could feel every irregularity of the rock as it was marked in his cheek, in his soul.

“Silence,” the bat hissed, the mouth close.

“They could have died with their skin still crawling from what I did inside them.”

The sound the brute made was broken, rabid. Air rushed over Joker’s body as he was thrown down. He hit the stones on hands and knees seconds before he was shoved forward. The delicious pain stole his breath as his head struck the wet wall. Even as darkness filled in the edges of agony, he started to laugh until thick fingers closed around his neck and squeezed.

~ ~ ~

Water, water, everywhere…

His brain spun as he regained consciousness. A gurgling sound at the ear that wasn’t underwater captured his curiosity and he slowly began to lift his head.

The slightly sunken part of the floor that normally kept the shower water within a small square had been overcome. His head and hair had blocked the drain under him and the water had escaped to another drain nearby. It was unlikely he could have drowned since he hadn’t been face down, but the risk was tantalizing to think about.

Two facts pressed in as he glanced around and got a better sense of his body’s condition. His ass and thighs were a mess of cum – and his bat was gone.

Struggling up on bruised knees and finally onto wobbly legs, he shuddered so hard he nearly fell again. His skin was cold and the water was still spraying down over him. Groping for the button to shut it off, he spit between his feet into the puddle and wiped water out of his eyes, shoving the wet hair back.

Giggling as he watched the cold water trickle down both drains, he finally propped a hip against the stones and sighed. “Oh, you do know how to show a fella a good time, Bats.” He reached behind and stuck fingers into his sore ass, snorting with amusement when they came up sticky with red-tinged pearly cum. “Beaten unconscious, half-drowned, and you kept fucking – that’s my precious lamb, I’m so proud.”

When he thought he could move without falling, he went to the bed and grabbed a thin rough blanket. Wrapping up in it, he paced the cell. His feet kept splish-splishing through the water at the center point until it drained away.

Need to move swiftly, I think. He’s too suspicious already, can’t risk him bringin’ Gordon’s mutts in here to wreck my fun.

Moving over to the metal slot, he kicked it to get the nurse’s attention. Hearing her approach, he began giving her orders as he lifted the blanket over his head to rub the hair dry.

“Food and files, pet – quick, now, before daddy gets cross. You’d better have them by now.”

~ ~ ~

Slapping a last file down on one of three new stacks he’d made on Dr. Arkham’s desk, Joker rose to pace in front of them.

Only one folder was lying open in front of the stacks: Aaban Bashar. He’d set it there the moment he recognized the young man in the photo and then read through it after making his other selections. Closing it at last, he placed it down, almost gently, on the tallest stack. The folder it covered bore the name Charles Duncan.

“My special boys,” he whispered, stroking the two files with fingertips.

The staff folder topped the shortest stack. In it, via coded notes in the margins, he had learned which medical, mental, and security workers were in Arkham’s pocket and which had always refused to play. Some of the notes also marked the names that had attempted to make trouble – no doubt by trying to report the man. It was a thinner folder than it had been, yet it still contained both white and black sheep.

Nurse Helen appeared and came in to take the empty food tray. “You’ve sorted through all that quickly.”

“Most of them, I already knew about – or guessed,” he responded. Clucking his tongue behind gritted teeth, he frowned down at the folders. His fingers tapped the shortest stack, the one he’d sorted through twice while making few changes. “I won’t have enough time to kill all of ‘em personally – how irritating.”

“Spare the loyal ones? Any that haven’t already run for it.”

Joker shook his head at her with a snort as he rose from the chair. “Take my advice – never be obvious, sweet pea, it’s boring … to say nothing of bein’ incriminating.”

He wandered over to the couch where she had put out clean and folded white and gray scrubs. One of Dr. Arkham’s white coats was lying over the pile. Glancing back at the desk, he smirked.

“Pushed all together like that, the folders become steps. One, two, three… Soon enough, we’ll all be on the move but first, you need to make me a list of that short pile, with cell locations for patients and departments or stations of all the staff. Quickly, now – hop, hop.”

“What are you going to do with the list?” she whispered.

Meeting her stare, he added, “Gimme your best guess on what you would do – if you were me.”

Helen was silent too long for his taste but when his eyebrow began to arch at her, she blurted out, “You’ll have to kill some of the staffers loyal to Dr. Arkham – otherwise, he might end up under suspicion in some dreadful way.”

Dropping the blanket, his eyes dared her to look away from his bruised nudity. She wisely didn’t, watching as he pulled on the clothes and coat.

Can she see all the ways I was used? His hate drying on my skin to flake away… I hope so but I doubt it. “Sheep pretending to be crows,” he told her instructively. “No matter how long they look, they never … see.”

Darting her gaze to the floor when he sat to put on the doctor’s socks and shoes, she muttered, “I don’t understand. I’m sorry.”

“Tut, tut, too late for sorries. Eyes up – the floor isn’t talking to you.”

He didn’t bother to hide his damp hair. Rising, he put keys and scalpel in the coat pockets and then stood frozen, staring at her as his chin lowered. His tongue darted out to lick the scar in his bottom lip.

“We … will have to kill some of the loyal ones, not just me. We are partners – aren’t we?”

“O-of course.”

“Excellent. Get started while I go pay my respects to Dr. Tanner. It’s time for his physical therapy. I assume his sutures are healed enough for a little walk?”

“Probably, but I hope you still intend to kill him.”

“I hope so, too. Off you go. Type, type, type.”

~ ~ ~

Using zip ties on wrists and ankles, Joker finished securing Dr. Tanner to the wheelchair he’d found tucked in the nurse’s bedroom. The thighs were splayed wide by straps holding the knees open at the base of the armrests. The longest strap went around his hips to secure the flaccid penis to the lower belly, leaving his neuter scar displayed for all to see.

He had intended to torment him for kicks but the loss of his nuts appeared to have taken all the fight out of the man. The fresh wince of the nurse was worth it, as she brought him the list.

“A wheelchair?”

“For his trip upstairs.”

“That won’t go up your stairs or on the dumbwaiter.”

“O ye of little faith. How’s it look?” he asked, hand out for the paper. Taking the pages, he scanned over them. “Arranged by folder order as I had them?”

“Yes. They brought Charlie back here,” she added in disgust. “He should be on that list.”

“Waste not, want less – he is none of your concern.” Folding the pages, he tucked them in his coat pocket with the scalpel. “All righty, then!” Clapping his hands once, he smiled at her. “We’ll leave the good doctor here in your room for now. Come along.”

“You’re taking me with you?”

“Why yes – you have to earn your right to that place at my side. Slinging hash and typin’ names is not impressive enough by half.”

She followed him into his cell through the passage reluctantly, hissing at the necessity of rolling under the bed on the dirty damp floor to reach the tunnel.

Joker pulled his coat out of the way and sat in the grime to make sure the entrance was shut and secured – undetectable from within the cell. When he rose and led the way, ducking to avoid pipes by sound, the nurse followed with an awkward waddle as she remained bent low.

At the end of the tunnel, he stepped aside. “Ladies first,” Joker offered with a shallow bow and gallant gesture.

The stairs climbed up into the damp gloom overhead. Facing them, she began to tremble.

“Here we have proof that some dark is darker than others. It’s slippery, too – mind the rail.”

Not daring to hesitate, she set a foot on the first step and groped for the rail. As she began the long climb, she shuddered at the chuckle behind her.

~ ~ ~

“Fresh meat,” Alice sneered as she met Joker’s gaze over Helen’s head.

Helen’s small hands fisted as she bristled. “Give her to me – I’ll impress you in spades.”

“Tsk, tsk, ladies; we’re all on the same team – for now.” Sizing up Alice as the larger threat by eagerness to murder alone, he faced off with her. “Do your job or I’ll disfigure your face in some entertaining way or other until the two of you look like a set.”

“I’m more useful than she is, so you wouldn’t want to do that.”

“Yes, well, you’d be surprised what a broken jaw can do to lessen one’s gag reflex.”

Smirking with arms crossed over her uniform, she retorted, “Never had one of those.”

With a giggle, Joker beckoned her closer at the desk of the nurse’s station. Taking out the list, he unfolded and pressed it flat for her to see. “Pay attention, now.”

Alice came up very close, licked the outside of his ear and whispered, “Ditch her, let me have her. You won’t regret it.”

“I never regret anything.”

Picking up a pen, he made a few marks on the pages with a couple of instructions and then reshuffled them before handing them to her. Plucking the keyring out of his pocket, he sorted through them to find one of the skeleton keys to patient cells in the minimum security wing that Dr. Arkham always kept on him. He pressed it into her waiting palm.

“Exercise a bit of your new authority and lead some of your toys to run those errands for me. Oversee them, understand – it has to be done right. Leave me one big one and a quick one. Off you go.”

Nodding, she glared at Helen and then began yelling orders with the pages clutched in one hand and the key in the other. When she led all but two of her new entourage to the staff elevator and disappeared, Joker clucked his tongue and licked his bottom lip as he dropped the keyring back into the coat pocket.

“You stay here,” he told the smaller man in white scrubs. “Keep caring for your patients until Alice or myself says otherwise.” To the large man, he added, “You’re with us. Come along, Helen.” He headed for the elevator.

“Where are we going?”

“The armory.”

“It’ll be heavily guarded with the lockdown in play.”

“All the better – gather all the key pieces before the real game begins.”

The trek to the armory wasn’t new to him but he let Helen believe it was as she was instructed to lead the way.

He kept touching the stones in the walls as they went. Even in the upper levels, no effort had been made to mask them. The penitentiary building they had just risen from the bowels of had always been the worst of the horrors of Arkham. It was a terrible mesh of fearsome technology hunched on the shoulders of dirty damp rocks – horrifying and beautiful.

Barely noticing it, Joker had been humming as he walked and touched. Sometimes, the stones thrummed back their own song in dreadful undertones.

As the secured doors came into sight at the end of a dank corridor, they found William in front of them, attempting to bargain with the guards.

“The whole place is turning upside down,” the goon barked at them, “we have to secure it for Dr. Arkham. I can help.”

The smile that spread, far too wide, across the Joker’s face made all the other faces around him grow pale.

When Dr. Tanner’s goon turned and balked, falling silent in shock, Joker put fingers over eyes for a moment and then moved them with a theatrical flourish. “Peekaboo!”

William backed up until a guard shoved him forward away from them all. The thick fingers that had covered Joker’s eyes for Dr. Tanner’s needle game were trembling as they formed fists.

“I concur, gents – securing this old pile of rocks for Dr. Arkham is exactly the thing I intend to do.” He swept a glance over their faces and name badges as the smile ticked wider. “Do you wish to join in the party? The lord of the manor is a-comin’ home soon and he’ll have treats for all who keep his house the way he likes it.”

The delicious tension in the air made him lick his lips. When it broke in fledgling violence, he let his laughter ring out to bounce off the stones as William tried to snatch one of their rifles and all the guards turned on him at once.

With a nightstick or two and one well-placed cattle prod later, it was sadly over all too easily. The winner was never in doubt.

They ringed the large and shivering man they had put on his knees as their squad leader stepped to the front. “Orders?” he asked, the word snapping the goon’s head up to stare at him in horror.

“Arm yourselves and your like-minded cohorts to the teeth, boys – I’m having the games brought to the Atrium. Oh and … I need a few strapping lads to follow Nurse Helen, here – the doors of the Citadel need an upgrade. I want the locks knocked off, point in fact. It shouldn’t be much of a challenge – I know you have the best toys in there.” Gesturing negligently at the armory doors, he turned his back on them all. “Two of you, take dear William to Solitary and await me there in the treatment room. If Nurse Alice gets there before me, she’s under my orders. Once I finish downstairs, we’ll get started. Come along, Helen.”

As he headed off, Helen trotted a few steps to catch up. “Batman will hear about this and come back; what will I do when he finds me? He will – it won’t matter where I go.”

“That … is about to not matter. Anymore…” He turned to face her, walking backward and holding out a hand. “You’re comin’ with me, aren’t you? What would I do without you?”

Hesitant, hope struggling with fear on her scarred face, she stepped up and took his hand. “You won’t regret this.”

Tugging her with him, he giggled as he turned around again, as if swirling her into a dance. “This is gonna be such fun!”

~ ~ ~

Standing before the grimy and rusting metal doors of the Citadel, from the Batman’s vantage point at the start of all their trysts, was a sobering moment for the Joker. The others paused behind him as he approached and touched the metal, stroking it.

Ah Bats, thus ends a sweet bit of nasty fun – and begins the next. Don’t disappoint me, now. My best lessons sssstick!

Leaning in, he kissed the rust, feeling the grit press into the twisted ruin of his bottom lip. When he straightened and returned to Helen’s side, he waved the guards and their equipment forward.

“It’s time to bust the ol’ gal outta that chastity belt, fellas.”

It took four men to carry the black metal brute of a battering ram. The thick legs of its tripod were unfolded from underneath it after they got it into position in front of the lock. As the feet were set and the machine primed, the tripod dug into the cracking flagstones it sat on with the force of jackhammers. The operator stood behind it, flipping switches. With an awful gorgeous whine of power, a steel rod the size of a small tree trunk was launched at its target.

The old metal, forged long before such brutal tools were invented, crunched under the assault. In one hit, the keyhole was obliterated yet it took a good few more to destroy the lock. The blows had damaged the hinges a little, but with a final good whack, they shrieked and allowed the doors to sag from their grip. Leaving the battering ram where it was, the guards used brute strength to shove the dented doors open.

Rising from deeper inside the Citadel, Dr. Tanner’s screams washed over them. It unnerved the guards, but they kept to their task without balking once.

Joker laughed and cackled with delight as he swept through and led them to the door of his cell. They wrestled with their toy and then lugged it over. When that door was broken, Joker didn’t enter the small dark room.

“Excellent work, boys! Helen, fetch me another syringe of that delightful succinylcholine from the office before you bring our patient along,” he ordered. To the tall and hefty patient-turned-orderly, he smiled and added, “Go with her, help with the wheelchair.” He clapped his hands together with delight. “We have a lot of work to do.”

He turned to face the squad leader who was stumbling over how to address him to get his attention.

“Just ‘Joker’ is fine, you strapping brute. What is it?”

“When is Dr. Arkham coming back?”

“Soon, I’m told. Lots to do to get ready.”

“Yes … sir. What’s next?”

“What indeed… Hmm… The old girl needs some scrubbin’ up, don’t you think? Had so many dirty things stuffing her full over and over. That’s what’s next.” The man stared back at him, perplexed and hesitant. Joker sighed. Rump roast with a buzz cut. Ookaay… “Huh, well – leave me him.”

He pointed at a scarred and older veteran of Arkham mayhem holding an M1A SOCOM 16 CQB rifle. That one in particular kept watching him with an odd manic light in his dark eyes.

“Take charge of the Atrium from the upper levels, all the rest of you. No one gets in or out through the front doors without my say so. Nurse Alice is going to be adding to our catch there, so leave her and hers be to do their thing. Hop, hop, time’s a wastin’.”

The guard he was keeping went to wait at the breached outer doors as the others left on their mission. After studying him a moment, Joker knew he’d chosen well. Nothing was going to faze this one and he was clearly eager to play behind that dour and ruggedly impassive face.

Helen rejoined him and handed over the capped syringe, which he pocketed.

Wheelchair in meaty hands, the newly promoted orderly pushed Dr. Tanner up to them. The doctor was wall-eyed and likely half mad already but his gaze hardened at the sight of the Joker.

“No fond greetings, Doctor? Alas – since we’ve been so intimate. Off we go, lady and gents.”

For the tedious trip back up, part of it in a rattletrap elevator that routinely terrified most people who got in it, Joker walked beside the grim guard.

“Impressive little nook we busted into down there, hmm?”

The man grunted. “Didn’t know that existed. Heard stories.”

“Tell me, is that intriguing compact boomstick you have there fun to shoot?”

“Easiest damn thing. Shorter than the M1A standard, special 20-round magazine, .308 chambering, 7.62x51mm NATO caliber, front and rear sights –”

“My my, I’m all a-tingle,” he interrupted. “Stick close, now.”

“Yes, sir.”

Joker stopped abruptly and studied him as they all halted in a scramble with him. The man didn’t seem one iota conflicted about anything. “Are you a fan?”

He didn’t hesitate. “One of the mob bosses you killed – Gambol – he murdered my daughter. What he did before she died – he deserved what he got.”

“I see. You’re Gerlando Sciascia, then. What’s your true name? Gotta have a good handle.”

“The boys and the scum alike – they all call me Sandman.”

“Excellent, yes – and you don’t give a rip what I do. Dr. Tanner here, he’s just one bit of my handiwork.”

“No, sir, I don’t. He’s just another monster.”

“So am I.”

“Takes one to kill one – ain’t that right? I’m loyal to Dr. Arkham, not some two-bit sadist with a piece of paper on his wall.”

“Well … I can tell you and I are gonna to get along … famously!”

~ ~ ~

As they approached the checkpoint at the entrance to the Solitary wing, Sciascia hailed the trio of guards posted there. “You lot let my men pass with a patient earlier?”

Looking around, the men saw the Joker walking free and surprise froze into hard business on their rough faces. The moment one of them drew a gun, Sciascia shot him in the throat. The remaining pair, now splattered with blood, went to attention as they tried to hide their shock.

“We let them pass, sir.”

Joker nearly skipped the last few yards behind his new toy. The survivors were from the loyal pile and they clearly didn’t want to cross the Sandman.

“Stay here,” Sciascia ordered. “Open up and listen for the buzzer.”

Tongue-tied as their faces paled behind the red drops and smears, they nodded and obeyed. The moment the doors were opened, they could hear the Joker’s old stereo screaming.

Joker passed through first, giving orders as he went. “We’re cleaning house for Dr. Arkham, boys – that’s all you need to know. When Alice gets back, hands off – all of you. Helen, you know every inch of this hole – I want my new toy sprung from his cage.” Pulling the ring of keys from his coat pocket again, he held them up to her. “Which one will open it?”

“You mean Bashar? He’s in there for a reason!”

Joker tapped the keys with an eyebrow arched at her over his frown. “Aaban Bashar is a violent paranoid schizophrenic – just my type. Which. Key. Now.”

With fingers that were beginning to tremble, she pulled up the key that would open the cell.

Gripping it with glee, he told her, “Wheel Dr. Tanner into my old treatment room, they should have William in there. Don’t start without us. Sandman, you’re with me.” Turning on his heel, he followed the screams. As ordered, Sciascia stayed close behind him.

The second the key was fit into the lock, the young man in the straitjacket fell silent. Joker locked stares with him through the window. When he opened the door, the patient struggled out of the corner he was sitting in and flopped onto his stomach, hiding his face.

“Is it the white coat or the big ugly rifle, hmm? He won’t hurt you if you obey.” Joker thumbed through the file in his head as he approached. When he stepped away from the armed brute, he muttered, “Stand down or whatever, hmm?”

His pet guard slung the weapon by its strap from his shoulder and stood in the open doorway – an effective human blockade of intimidation, with or without the weapon.

The human stereo was far more haggard and thinner than the photo in his file but at the tender age of twenty, he would bounce back to health nicely under the proper care. His hair was dark, long, and grubby. The sculpted face with perfect Iranian bone structure and dark caramel skin was hidden by a wild man’s scruffy facial hair. The dark brown eyes of the photo had been filled with fear.

At age sixteen, Aaban Bashar had escaped his family’s overworked care and murdered two of the three men he believed were trying to kill him. The survivor, a large sanitation worker, had pushed for the maximum punishment, but Bashar’s mental state had sent him to Arkham. He’d killed two orderlies the first year and ended up in solitary.

Going down on one knee, Joker gripped a lot of the tangled hair and tugged. “Look. At. Me.”

Bashar twisted in the grip to obey as that same fear from his photo leaked back into those eyes.

“You’ve waited so long, patient and good. Your prayers have soothed me. I have come for you, my loyal one – as you always knew I would. Now you will serve me. Come … rise.” Standing, he tossed a wink at Sciascia as the boy struggled. “Give him a hand, will you?”

Moving to grip the works of the jacket at the back, he lifted him without trouble and set the boy on his legs. He trembled there, weaving on unsteady feet. Sciascia let go almost reluctantly, but it wasn’t out of concern or pity. One glance at the man’s stern face told the Joker he was only interested because the order had been to stand him up.

Mmm, somewhere between these two, I’m gonna have a very good day. “Your name is Aaban Bashar, in case you forgot. They call me the Joker – as good a name as any.”

He walked behind him and began undoing the straitjacket. Working quickly and with no trouble, he got it loose. Moving in front of the boy, he tugged it away and then used the sleeves to tie it around the slender waist. Joker was the taller man by a tidy bit – perfect for looking down on a minion.

“For you, I may as well be god. Obey and you will please me. That is all.” He began touching him, smoothing his palms over the orange scrubs and groping delightful things between the legs with eager fingers. “Everything you have, all that you are, belongs to me … because I’m gonna give you a grand purpose. So get your feet under you and let’s get started, hmm?”

Not waiting for any discernable response, he released the young man’s junk, turned on the ball of his foot, and headed out of the cell. The appreciative grunt of the guard amused him as he heard the boy following.

“Here we go, now – time to play.”

As he entered the treatment room, he turned in a quick pirouette to distract those gathered within. They watched, surprised, convinced that the madman merely wanted to dance. While they gawked, he calmly took in everything around him fast. All the pieces of the games that were forming in his head were in place. Alice and her patients-turned-orderlies had brought Charlie back down as instructed. William was being held still between two of the biggest minions he’d gifted to the blonde nympho. The two guards that had brought William there were waiting at attention on the edges of the group.

Alice herself was barely in her uniform and dear Helen was drinking in the sight of her with an interesting mix of lust and hate. Charlie was trying not to look at her, cheeks flushed in embarrassment. When he looked away and saw Joker, his grubby face and dull eyes lit up with puppy-eager joy.

“Mr. J…” he whispered.

“Nurse Alice, is everything as I wanted it?”

She shifted from one foot to the other in a way that clearly telegraphed she was trying to extract pleasure from the movement as things were rubbed together under the grimy white skirt.

“I got it done. All the real guards we trussed up like patients in here were moved to the Atrium. We made the switches you wanted, locked up the cream of the loyals list with non-violent prisoners. With so many of the staff in the Atrium, they’ll get hungry – but they won’t be in trouble if things get righted soon enough.” Lifting her chin with haughty pride shining in blue eyes, she gave him a dead stare. “The worst ones you wanted are in place and ready. I even brought your pet dog Charlie back. So have I earned my reward?”

“Oh my, yes.” Moving to where the goon William was being held, he got her to follow with a curled crook of a long pale finger. “Hello dear William.” The man’s terrified gaze shot from Dr. Tanner’s gelding stitches to Joker’s eyes. “Hard not to stare at that, isn’t it? I’m quite proud – pure art. You’re almost the last one, you know that?”

“He’s already cracked,” Alice observed with disgust.

“Yes, well, we can still make use of him. Tell your minions to bring in a tray of toys – all of Dr. Tanner’s favorites – and we’ll begin. Don’t worry about sterilizing them, it won’t matter soon enough.”

As they obeyed her orders, Joker glanced around at them all. Impulse struck and formed the moment he saw Nurse Helen’s hatred again. Grinning, he moved here and there and whispered orders to a few of them: the Sandman, the pair of his fellow guards, his stereo Bashar, and Helen herself. Finally Charlie got his own instructions and encouragement. Taking his big hand, he led him to the treatment table and got him busy getting the straps ready.

Alice returned with two of her patient orderlies wheeling in a small metal table topped by a tray laden with shiny things. Joker inspected it and nodded. He patted his pockets and reached in to withdraw the syringe of succinylcholine and his scalpel. There were many cutting blades displayed, but there was something nice about using the one he’d already created such art with.

Picking up a different larger blade with a serrated edge, he handed it to Alice. “Cut his scrubs off. Birthday suit time! If you nick skin, it hardly matters but the best fun needs a somewhat clean canvas.”

When she got started, Joker came up behind her. As the victim’s chest was exposed, bleeding from a shallow cut under a rib, he shoved two fingers under the tight miniskirt and up inside her wet cunt. She immediately pushed back to get more.

“Focus, Alice. Obey first. Don’t blow it at the finish line, hmmm?” Yanking his hand back, he moved over to the treatment table and began to suck on his fingers. Talking around them as he watched her work, he mumbled, “Come lie down when you’re done, ass at the edge, feet in the stirrups. We’ll put on a show.”

The moment she had the goon naked, she handed Joker the blade and climbed up fast onto the table. William sagged in the grip of the big men holding him up. His mind was gone but it didn’t matter – a minor inconvenience.

Joker inserted his fingers inside her again and made her come quickly, a few times. Giving the red-cheeked Charlie a solemn nod, he grinned as the straps were tossed over her body and secured tightly.

Alice barely seemed to care. “Cut him, stab him,” she ordered between panting breaths. “Fuck me and let me watch while he dies.”

Chuckling, Joker moved down to help Charlie secure her feet and arranged the stirrups to splay her wide. The movement rolled the skirt up her hips until a strap stopped it.

Charlie stared at her feet where the white heels were smeared with the muck of Arkham’s stones. Across the room and with a perfect view between her legs, Dr. Tanner was fixated as well – as saliva began to dribble from his bottom lip.

“Move our subject where she can see him better.” Once the large minions obeyed, forcing William to stay on his feet, Joker went to Bashar and handed him the big serrated knife. “I give you this man. He helped the others against me. Make him dead – somewhat slowly.”

It was a treat to watch him work. When Charlie crept up close, afraid of the screaming, Joker pulled him into his side and petted his hair with slick fingers.

“Nooo!” Alice shrieked. “Fuck me, you fucking asshole! You’re wasting it!”

Glancing around, he noted the avid stare of one of the guards. “Go ahead – whip it out and fuck her.”

Bashar was a little wild with his slashes but he wielded the blade with a feverish rapture that was doing far more to stiffen the Joker’s cock than Alice’s display on the table. Before long, the bleeding thing was reduced from man to meat. The body fell when it became too slippery to grip and the young killer followed it down. The minions who had lost their grip on the arms backed away but their faces didn’t betray horror – they merely seemed to want to get out of reach of the flashing and dripping red weapon.

Alice was panting and whining, staring at the corpse on the floor as the guard shoved himself in and out of her. As soon as he came, he stumbled back and quickly fastened things away. Joker laughed as he watched the man resume his sentry pose by the open doorway.

“More, you … you promised. I earned you!” Alice’s face was wet with tears.

Picking up his scalpel, he cut away a large hunk of her uniform top to expose her large breasts. “Don’t worry, my dear, my darlin’ – you’ll get me, in the way I want you.” Turning his head, he called, “Helen – come here, please.”

Nurse Helen approached hesitantly with a mix of eager hate and disgusted fear on her face.

Joker set his hands – one still holding the scalpel – on her shoulders and leaned down to stare into her eyes. “You want her dead,” he told her in a conspiratorial whisper, “but you don’t feel strong enough to tear her up … yet. Shall I make that happen for you? Make it terrible?”

“Yes…” She swallowed hard. “I want to do what you want but I… Please…”

“Aww, shhhh, shh-shhh… None of that. I do have a use for you – patching up my new little soldiers after we go for popsicles later, hmm?”

Letting out a sob of relief, she nodded. “Yes, I want to. Please, yes…”

“All right, okay… Here we go. You have to help a bit, though – fetch me the blowtorch. It’s in the room with the other instruments. He used to threaten to use it on me, too. Promises, promises.”

“The one he used on me,” she muttered, her pale turning slightly green.

“Perfectly apt, really – if we make her ugly, make her terrifying … nobody will want to screw her. You’ll stay and watch; I need you to be made of sterner stuff, sweet pea. Watch it all or do it. Understand? Don’t make me wish I picked her over you – let’s not ruin my ‘no regrets’ streak, hmmm? If you won’t do terrible wonderful things when I ask, how will I know I can trust you to take you with me out of here?”

“I will, I’ll watch…”

“Good girl. Fetch it quick, now. Make sure the butane canister is full and ready for play.”

When she returned, clearly sickened by even holding the tool, he decided that was funny and left her to it a little longer.

Picking up the syringe of succinylcholine, he quickly injected Alice with it, just a little, in both nipples. She clearly didn’t realize what it was, too busy writhing and yelling at him to fuck her.

He began to hum to himself as he moved between her bound legs. Fingers spreading things out of the way or moving them into position, he kept giving her tiny injections. In the labia and even inside the vaginal walls – anywhere he could reach with the long wicked needle, he inserted it and gave the plunger a gentle push. Finally, just to be thorough, he popped the rest of the delightful stuff into her lower abdominal muscles and the skin around the dripping opening. He didn’t set it back on the tray until the barrel was empty.

“There we go, how do those nipples feel now?” The dawning understanding in wet blue eyes sparked a rabid rage. “Oh I will have to remember some of those curses. Inventive invective.” Twisting his torso to scan the audience, he giggled. “I need a volunteer for my next trick – you! Does your cock work? Excellent. Step on up.”

He was the most homely of the patients he’d given her for orderlies and rather tall and thin. As he suspected, the thing the man pulled out of his pants was huge. There was barely any animal intelligence behind the empty eyes, but this was no time to be picky.

“Look at him go – baser instincts intact.” Slide-stepping with a mincing glee, he returned to stand by her head. “Feel it all going numb, dear Alice – your last dicking and you won’t be able to enjoy it at all.” He gave one nipple a vicious pinch but she couldn’t sense any pain … or pleasure.

Alice’s eyes were wide and wild, her scarlet mouth screaming curses as she stared down at the patient thrusting at her.

Joker bent to speak at her ear, loud enough for the room to hear. “You need the pain more than the pleasure, Alice – your body is overloaded and it can barely process actual enjoyment from the fucking. That’s why you always need more. It’s all in your head, not in your cunt. The frontal lobe regulates libido.” He tapped on her forehead. “Too much damage here and … BOOM!”

The abrupt shout made them all jump. Crooking a finger at Helen, he drew her in close to her enemy. The fingers that held the tool she hated and feared were trembling.

“Then again,” he continued instructing Alice, “nymphomania – hypersexuality to its friends – may or may not be a mental disorder at all, my dear. Victorian society put skirts on end tables because table legs were viewed as obcene – can you imagine? Anyone who wants more nnnnooky than ‘normal’ is called a freak. Should it be stigmatized with the label disorder, then? Hmmm. Tsk, tsk. Too bad Dr. Tanner was more into stuffing you than figuring all that out. I removed his cajones to cure him but your biology doesn’t make it so easy…”

“No! I’m better for you than that bitch!” She spat in Helen’s direction but couldn’t turn her head enough to see her. The spit struck and slid down Helen’s cheekbone, making her flinch. “I want to mess people up, I want to kill!” She began to fight the straps harder, glaring down in rage at the owner of the dick she couldn’t feel.

“Yet you don’t – you goad others into it. How very Machiavellian of you. I admire that, I do. Sometimes deceiving, exploiting, and manipulatin’ others to achieve our goals is a laudable way to get things done, if – big if – our own hands are tied and other means to the end must suffice. You are more of a sadist than Helen, of course. She merely wanted to see you suffer – for revenge. Something has always escaped you, alas. Poor Alice – shall I fix you? Help you? Tell you how to get what you truly need, how to make yourself whole?”

Alice abruptly stopped thrashing as if his words had shocked her brain. “Please…”

“Very well, listen up. Underneath your garden-variety sadism beats the insatiable need of a true masochist. Here’s the thing, ducky: the sadism in you lies and tells you that you need the pain of others to feel. But real pain – yours – is better. You don’t need a cunt for that, at all. You know I’m right. Yes?”

“Yes…” she responded, tears streaming down her face.

“Yes,” he answered simply. He twisted to snatch the blowtorch from Helen, firing it up and bringing it down on that pretty face. “Daddy’s gonna fix you now.”

He only melted one eye, breathing deep to taste the scorching of flesh and burning hair. The music of her agony was pure bliss. He almost turned her into a fit mate for Two-Face before a new impulse struck and discarded the last.

Lifting up the torch, he turned it off and shouted, “Stop!”

They all froze, even the fornicating meat puppet. He stood there blinking with his dick buried to the balls.

With a chuckle, Joker set the blowtorch on the tray over the other instruments. “Back in line with you, my donkey-endowed friend,” he ordered, waving a negligent hand at him. “Charlie, fetch me a mirror – there should be one where these toys came from. Let Nurse Alice see my good work.”

Alice was moaning, randomly letting out a shriek of pain. As a trotting Charlie returned and stuck a wide hand mirror in front of her melted face, she screamed again.

Joker leaned down and licked a wayward tear from the corner of her one good eye. “Thank you, Charlie, now do what I told you to before.”

Putting the mirror on the tray, Charlie moved to Helen’s side. Taking her by the elbow, he led her across the room next to Dr. Tanner’s wheelchair. She didn’t protest, staring in shock at the ruin the Joker had created.

“Alice, sweet Alice,” Joker called in a lilting sing-song tone. Pale long fingers soothingly patted the black scorched mass that had been her blonde hair and ear. Only a few patches of the long soft hair remained. “I’ll let you up, shall I?”

Working quickly, he freed her from the stirrups and straps. With a screech of rage and pain, she tried to lunge up from the table and fell hard onto the tiles below. Unable to stand or even move much, she used her arms to drag herself closer to the nearest males. Blood seeped from cracking black flesh as her mouth worked, the lips gone. The sounds she made trying to speak were a wet grinding mess.

As the males backed away, she used every bit of strength she had left to claw and kick her way to Helen.

Sobbing in horror, Helen might have collapsed, but Charlie held her up and pulled her back as the creature on the floor clawed closer.

Joker watched them all, reading and assessing them. Only Helen displayed more than disgust. Clucking his tongue against his teeth, he turned to see the scarlet-splattered young man in blood-dipped orange watching him from where he sat in the red remains of William. With only a gesture of one hand, he was obeyed.

Bashar rose only enough to crouch-walk to Alice and smacked the handle of the serrated blade into her hand before retreating as he’d been told.

Joker stepped up with empty hands to stand beside Helen and Charlie. “Now that’s better, hmm?” he intoned sweetly to Alice. “Now I’ve given you the key to your own lock. Have you ever read Alice in Wonderland? No? There’s a quote that never was from it, yet it annoyingly keeps getting attributed to it. It’s actually a bit of lyric from George Harrison’s song Any Road. It goes: ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.’ Do you understand? Part and parcel to true wisdom, that. I should have it embroidered on a pillow. Now how will you use your key, dear Alice?”

One eye in a mangled face searched around her and saw revulsion at every turn. She moaned, trying to sob. Finally, staring down at her shaking shadow on the dirty tiles, she gripped the knife and stabbed it into her belly. Again and again, the blade plunged in, savaging her genitals and thighs. The noise was a terrible, beautiful music.

When she slowed and the blade dropped from nerveless fingers, Joker picked it up. Moving around her, he knelt and stabbed it into her back just a few inches from the spine. Leaving it stuck there, he rose.

“Look up, sweet Alice, and say good night.”

Fighting to obey, she locked wet stares with the sobbing Helen, who sagged in Charlie’s arms. Lifting a foot in a doctor’s shoe, Joker placed it over the knife handle and stomped it down. With a crunch of bones, he left it there as the body collapsed and went still.

Joker’s laughter rang out, startling several of his audience members. He began to clap to applaud Alice, one eyebrow arching at the others until they joined in. He grinned when he noticed that only the occupied Charlie and Helen, the dazed Bashar, and the ever-grim Sciascia were not clapping.

Such a delightful mix of wolves and sheep we have. How many are able to wear each other’s clothing? Simply delightful. I want the lot. “Take them all up to the others guarding the Atrium,” he ordered Sciascia. “Keep them there and wait for me. Since Helen is a mite upset, let Donkey Dick push the wheelchair. I’ll be following along after a bit. Take the other guards outside with you, too – everyone. I’ll bring Bashar with me.”

“Yes, sir.” He turned on his boot heel as he brought up the ugly weapon he bore at the ready. “March, you lot.” To his men, he added, “Herd them, let’s go.”

Answering the entreating look from his pet, Joker called out, “Guard her, Charlie. We’re takin’ her with us.”

“You’re taking me, Mr. J? I can be with you and leave here?”

“I am and you can. Guard Helen, protect her – make me proud.”

“Yes I will, Mr. J. I will,” he mumbled. When Helen wouldn’t or couldn’t move, he picked her up in his arms like a heavy porcelain doll and pressed her against him, chest to chest, to cart her off behind the others.

When they all trooped out and the halls and rooms of Solitary were quiet, Joker broke the silence by slapping the top of the treatment table.

“Up here, my pretty bloody thing.”

Bashar rose and came to him, eyes on the tiles. Untying the messy straitjacket from around his waist, he tossed it down over the table. As if he were posing a doll, he set the lithe strong arms and chest down next, the hips against the edge. Eagerly tugging the orange pants down, he used William’s blood to slick up and open his own reward.

Still and quiet, Bashar barely even grunted when Joker pushed his cock inside him. Thrusting smoothly, he bent down to whisper over the obedient body, “Aaban was the name of the eighth Persian month. It means ‘angel of iron’.”

His thrusts grew rough but the body under him didn’t move or protest. Reaching out, he wrapped both hands around the neck and began to throttle it. He let him gasp air when it suited him and continued to choke until he came and collapsed, chuckling, over the still form.

Finally rising and pulling free, he shoved his messy dick away and slapped the backside. “Up! There you go.” Reaching around him, he yanked the pants up and tied the straitjacket around his hips again.

Retrieving his scalpel, he pocketed it. For a moment, he admired Alice where she was sprawled on her parboiled face. As an afterthought, he stomped a shoe down on her spine and yanked the knife from her back. Turning to face his new plaything, he offered the weapon to him. Staring at it as if he’d fallen in love, Bashar took it slowly, fingers fisting around the handle.

“Time to meet the others. Stay close and keep your stabby hands to yourself unless I tell you otherwise.” Gripping his chin in long fingers, he held it in a tight pinch. “You kill only when I say.” Watching the dark eyes watch him, he smiled and released him a moment later. “Follow me, sweeting. The work isn’t finished yet.”

He stopped briefly at the nurse’s station and pulled the tunnel door open. Kicking at the pen that had held it ready for him, he listened as it clattered down the long dark throat of Arkham. With a push to seal the door shut, he patted it before moving the coat rack in front of it again.

There was a spring in his step as he walked away. The doors stood open after they passed through them and Joker smiled as they left Solitary – now a silent dirty white tomb stained red.

“What a lovely surprise for Batty’s pet guard,” he spoke to the stones of Arkham as he went. “Perhaps the stubborn flyin’ rat’ll return before anyone can right the place and see the devastation for himself. Either way, he’ll hear all about it. Am I leavin’ a big enough mess, though, I wonder? Hmm…”

Something jangled in a coat pocket and he stuck his hand in it to grasp the ring full of keys. By the time they reached the creaky elevator, he was grinning. They rose up and up until he hit the button for the first floor full of violent patients. Overhead were the cells where loyal staffers had been squirreled away safely.

Joker pulled the keys out and twirled them on the ring around a finger as he stepped out of the elevator. “Come along, my angel. Let’s up the stakes.”

Several of the cells were already empty – their inhabitants moved into place by Alice and her minions on his orders – but there were plenty more he could open, setting loose some entertaining fodder for others to deal with later.

At a last cell along one of the worst blocks, he stopped and faced an individual he’d put here himself – in a manner of speaking. Peering inside, he smiled cheerfully at the massive spiny mutant-creature that glared with yellow eyes glowing with malice in the dark. It wasn’t his normal cell and he didn’t look happy about it, sitting in all that dry stone dust.

“Hellooo, Croc. How would you like to make the Batman rue the day he caught you?”

The heavy muzzle full of obscene crocodile fangs opened in a hiss of rage.

“I’ll just unlock this door and of course you’ll be able to smell how to find the sewers from here. No fair tryin’ to bite, now…”

“Should eat ya,” the monster answered in a low guttural grumble. As he began to move, to rise, the thump of the thick tail made more dust fall over him.

“Waylon, my favorite reptile, we both know I’m barely a canapé. Besides, I have to let the others out. You don’t want Clayface cross with you, do you? Come, come, sewers or bust, whattaya say?”

“Open it, Clown.”

Keeping his new toy behind him, he unlocked the cell and tossed it open. “There, that’s better. I’m turning Arkham on her head, so feel free to eat anyone wanderin’ loose along your way.”

For a moment, Waylon Jones a.k.a. Killer Croc stood facing him in dirty and half-shredded orange pants. He towered over him, meaty scaled fists tightening at his sides. Joker grinned up at him, loving every minute of breathing the thick tension in the air.

“Fuck you,” Croc ground out.

As Jones turned away, Joker giggled as he hopped over the tail that might have knocked him down. “Never say never, you delicious hunk of gumbo.” He watched the monster disappear into the dark and then clapped his hands with glee. “Who’s next?”

On every floor, he stopped and opened cells before finally moving on to meet the others. In his wake, every monstrosity and super criminal he’d helped the Batman catch had been cut loose to make their own way out.

“Can’t have him hanging up his cape anytime soon, can we?” he asked the silent Bashar.

~ ~ ~

When the elevator doors opened onto the observation deck that ringed the Atrium, Joker stepped out grinning. Below, trapped in the wide open circular space, a decent crowd of people were making a lot of noise.

Sciascia stepped up to report to him. Beyond him, the squad leader from the armory was holding a handful of men prisoner who were dressed just like him.

“Well this looks entertaining,” Joker told him in greeting.

“Sir, we have some boys here who didn’t want to go along with your orders.”

“Have them escorted into the Atrium, will you? I want only team-players up here.”

With a curt nod, he turned and went to deliver the order.

Joker found Charlie still holding Nurse Helen. She looked recovered enough to be annoyed about him petting her hair in an attempt to soothe her. It wasn’t surprising she hadn’t been able to get loose. Charlie took orders rather literally.

“You did well, Charlie, I’m impressed. Nurse Helen is out of danger, safe and sound. You can let go now, I think.”

Helen scrambled to get away from him when he released her. She tried to smooth her hair down as she gathered as much composure as she could. “It kept petting me like a cat,” she complained.

“He kept you alive. So – feelin’ relieved? You’ve come out on top over poor Alice.”

Remembering he preferred her to meet his gaze, she quit staring down at her hands. “May I ask how I managed that? She had the murder streak. I’m grateful … I just wondered why?”

“Your files, for one – you have the wound care experience. Alice was more of the check blood pressure type – in quite a few senses of that phrase. Also, though I do enjoy teasing you, the fact that you aren’t tryin’ to crrrank my shaft at every turn is a plus. Honestly, when it comes down to it, there’s so much more to life than bumpin’ uglies. Killin’ people, for instance – it’s a favorite. I told Alice bein’ oversexed was enough to be called a freak but they label us less rapacious types the same way. As if ‘normal’ was somethin’ to aspire to?”

“What … do you want me to do now?”

Joker crooked a finger at a guard and spoke as he approached. “Escort Nurse Helen on her errands and bring her back to me.” Smiling down at her, he added, “Fetch my personals – Brenda and my newest mask, and all the goodies in Dr. Arkham’s meds cabinet. Our makeup stash – and anythin’ else you want to keep. Bring it all here. I promise not to begin the fun without you but hurry back.”

“What about the … the people – in the Citadel treatment room, uh … storage?”

Licking his lips, he smirked at her. “I suspect they don’t look like people by now, strickly speakin’. Let Dr. Arkham worry about ‘em – we’re on the clock, here.” He waited until they started off and then called after her, “Don’t get any ideas about other options, hmmm? Safest place for you is at my side, y’know.”

“I know,” she answered, and turned away.

As he looked over the edge down into the Atrium, he saw the recalcitrant guards being added to the collection. He heard Sciascia approach and turned in time to note that he gave a lot of space to the blade-wielding Bashar.

“Johnson’s back with your clothes, sir.”

A second guard, presumably Johnson, held a cardboard box under his arm, trying not to soak it with sweat.

“Delightful. Open it up and hold it.”

Enjoying the man’s discomfort, Joker wasted no time stripping down out of the costume of an Arkham doctor and donning a deliciously eclectic suit. Every piece of the tailored clothes still fit like a glove – including the gloves. Finally, slipping the scalpel and keys from white to purple pockets, he giggled and stepped back.

“Toss the castoffs wherever and let me know when Helen gets back. Use that box for what she’s bringin’ me.”

Joker watched the crowd locked in the Atrium, aware he resembled a cat mesmerized by fish in a bowl.

He lost track of time but soon enough he was told Helen was coming. Turning to give her the full effect, he enjoyed her fear at seeing him in his old custom suit and coat. She did an admirable job of swallowing it all down by the time she reached him.

Johnson gave her the battered cardboard box and once she carefully placed Brenda in it, with the mask of George’s face tucked inside the bowl of the scalp, she replaced the lid and held it, clearly unsure of what to do.

“Dig out the makeup bag and give the rest to Charlie; tell him to guard it for me and to follow me out when I leave.”

Helen nodded. “Do you want me to do your makeup? The way you like it?”

“I can manage that; you can hold the compact mirror.”

They had found no greasepaint, of course, so he’d have to make do. The lipstick was Greta’s scarlet and that improved matters considerably. When he was finished, he pushed it all into her hands and turned away from her. Behind him, she was fussing with the box she had set at their feet.

“Charlie, come here,” she demanded. “Take this.” She imparted his instructions to the orderly with an angry snap or two that made Joker grin.

Hearing her draw in a deep breath in his direction, he spoke without turning, tired of her questions.

“Bide your time, sweet pea – this part of the game isn’t for you. When we’re done here, I’m taking you with me along with Charlie and my new little rollickin’ band o’ misfits. So sit tight and watch – when the time comes to move, you’ll be told.”

Silent at last, she moved away as he returned to the railing overlooking his catch. Some of the staff was trying to help the patients; others from both groups were sitting or pacing, shouting, crying, or staring into space. The guards who had been popped into patient uniforms were easy to spot as they spoke to uniformed guards and staffers or attempted to find a way out.

Near the main doors, surrounded by a knot of bristling guards, two bald older men stood arguing. The stout one in a gray suit and maroon tie, thick black horn-rimmed glasses and a scowl stretching his jowls, was none other than the Warden Quincy Sharp. A horseshoe of white hair ringed his flushed head as he lost his composure, perhaps permanently, while squaring off with one of the doctors. The doctor, in a slightly soiled white coat and black rubber gloves, sported a dark beard and sideburns with round lens glasses. Dr. Hugo Strange – one of the most ruthless and diabolical shrinks to ever wield a hypodermic needle – was glaring back at the warden with an air of cultured distaste.

Two of Dr. Arkham’s loyalists, they are well able to survive this ordeal, alas. Well, for appearances sake, they’ll do nicely right where they are.

High overhead, the narrow Atrium skylights showed him a prophetically dark and stormy sunset. The meager red and gold light touched the stones like bloody rust. He had wanted the thrill of it all to grip him but the rust was a taste on his tongue, a taste of disappointment.

Dr. Tanner was a fleeting enjoyment, the rest almost a bore. Alice gave better sport than any of them … and my bat ain’t comin’, is he? Biting his ruined lower lip, his eyes narrowed at a sunset that couldn’t withstand the encroaching groaning dark. Cheated. In the end, it was all hollow – except for him. And he isn’t coming. What the fuck does a guy have to do to impress you, Batty? Fine then – you want more? You’ll get it … in spades. Speaking to whichever minion obeyed first, he ordered, loud and clear, “Bring me Dr. Tanner.”

All it took was one of the rabble looking up to spot him for the screaming and begging to erupt. Some of the trapped guards rattled and bashed on the unseen locked gates below and the sharp metallic sounds of desperation set off another pinball through the Joker’s thoughts.

Donkey Dick got there first, stopping the wheelchair near the Joker before waiting passively for the next order. It mollified him a bit.

Patting the tall man on the shoulder, he smiled at him. “Quick, efficient, knows his place – I sure can pick ‘em. Sandman?”

Sciascia approached with the tempting weapon resting on his shoulder. “Sir?”

Touching the suit jacket under his coat, he mused, “This suit still bears the marks and little tears from that last fight with the Batman. I don’t mind givin’ him another shot at it but not this rabble. Stay close.”

The grim fellow nodded once. “No problem.”

Helen crept a couple steps closer. “Someone down there may have a phone.”

Sciascia narrowed cold eyes at her. “We know our business, nurse. Only man who had one was the warden – he doesn’t have it now. Few are allowed to walk around with them, even doctors. You should know that.”

“The warden is down there…?” she muttered before backing away.

Joker watched them both with a smirk and then winked at the man when the nurse dropped her gaze. Sciascia grunted in distaste at her and Joker chuckled. “Warden Sharp was an extra catch. Helen, last chance – do you want to kill the dear doctor yourself?” She froze in place with head lowered, eyes timidly looking up at him with a wince. He clucked his tongue. “No? Hmm… Half-measures, then. Help me push him off.”

“What?” she asked, her body jerking up straighter.

Ignoring her, he ordered Charlie and Donkey Dick into action. “Get him up on the railing, wheelchair and all – hop, hop!”

Charlie dropped the box to obey and the two of them wrestled the wheelchair up, setting the steel crossbars on the railing like an insane teeter-totter. The broken doctor barely reacted, though his face was pale and terror haunted his eyes.

Stepping up to grip the top rail beside the teetering wheelchair on Charlie’s side, Joker cleared his throat before addressing the crowd. All movement stopped below and slowly the cries of fear quieted at the sound of his voice.

“Good evening, Arkham – soon to be good night. I want to thank Dr. Tanner for makin’ all of this possible.” His tongue flicked out to lick his lips before they stretched into a grin. “I thought you might like to thank him yourself. For the go-getters among you, any one of you that manages to save the good doctor’s life will be allowed to survive the night.”

He moved behind Charlie to place gloved hands under the seat of the wheelchair.

“Ready?” he called out.

Turning his head and leaning back to stare at Helen, he grinned wider when she slunk to his side between the two minions and placed her hands beside his.

“Set…” Peering under the wheelchair, he watched a few large orderlies and guards rush forward, arms up.

“Stop this mad game, Joker!” Warden Sharp demanded.

“Go!”

Shoving hard, aware Helen barely pushed, he sent the wheelchair and its screaming restrained occupant over the railing to smash into both people and flagstones. Looking down, he chuckled at the red tangle.

“I hope none of you play baseball. Tsk, tsk.”

Grabbing Helen into a tight hug, he held her and petted her hair, murmuring insincere comforts. A moment later, he pushed her away with a nod to Charlie. The orderly, dull eyes aglow with worshipful reverence, gripped her arm and tugged her back from the railing.

Purple gloved long fingers tap-tapped and then gripped the top rail one by one as if each had a mind of its own. Joker leaned out a bit to admire the mess again. A couple arms were broken among the would-be catchers – as well as one leg, a foot, and lots of lesser injuries. Dr. Tanner was out an upper half of torso on the left side and one skull.

“Hmm… You all missed,” he called out, “and now the wretch is just so much intelligent custard in a broken bowl. You know that saying, ‘It’s like shootin’ fish in a barrel’?”

Twisting his torso, he snatched the beautifully ugly weapon from Sciascia and held it up high.

“Most people think that sounds easy … a boring game. I disagree. You see, the problem isn’t that the game is boring…” He brought the barrel down and aimed it at his trapped audience. “It’s that they fill the barrel with the wrong kind of fish.”

They probably weren’t sure any more than he was which sound rang out first, his laughter or the cutting rain of bullets. As they ran, screamed, fell and begged, a fierce grin split his face. He began a rhyming chant as they scattered, singing it into the echoing room with maniacal glee. Each number matched a burst of gunfire.

“One, two, three-four-five: guess which ones may stay alive! Six, seven, eight-nine-ten: hit ‘em once, then start again!”

The stock of the M1A SOCOM 16 CQB barely shifted his shoulder as he pulled the trigger. It was light and short enough for a real party. Now and then, he squeezed harder for semi-automatic and really mowed a few down. As they moved and shifted, some hitting walls and scratching at the stones, he fired with more precision, picking the kill list out of the rest one by one until they were all down for good.

Panting and painfully erect, he laughed and hugged the rifle as he turned to Sciascia. “I’m keeping this toy. Loove it! Send a runner – I want my foot soldiers let in there to spice things up.”

Grim and unaffected as ever, he answered, “Yes, sir,” and began barking orders to his guards.

The man who was technically the Sandman’s superior also jumped to obey and Joker giggled. He returned to the railing to watch as some of the worst of Arkham’s violent patients were set loose from their holding cell in processing and funneled into the Atrium. All of the combatants were reduced to hand-to-hand fighting but some were clearly better at it than others.

“That’s what you had Alice doing, what you wrote on the list,” Helen whispered, creeping up beside him with a pale face and wide eyes.

Joker smiled. “I am an agent of chaos – and this … this is a masterpiece. Most of the ‘don’t kill’ list is still breathin’, so you oughta be happy.”

“Yes, but I … thought you’d be … more pleased.”

Frowning, he ignored her and watched the Darwinism Tango on the blood-smeared stone floor. The patients had frenzied but most of them could be held off by strong members of the staff. When the second wave of mad carnage was over, many were dead and more were injured. Warden Sharp and Dr. Hugo Strange were alive – no surprise – but they certainly had their hands full.

The steel stairs rattled as some of the guards marched back up. Sciascia went to speak with them and then nodded, turning to face the Joker. “Sir,” he called out, “we’re ready to escort you.”

“About that… Do you plan to come with me or stay here?” Joker asked.

“My men and I plan to stay.”

“Well since you’ll be recognized by some of the sane survivors down there, I suggest you swap outfits with my new crew – let everyone think you were part of the batch we swapped earlier. My boys need to not look like escaped patients, so we will escort you lot. The rabble will see the treacherous guards leave with me; it’s perfect really, if I do say so myself.”

With a snort and wry smile, Sciascia nodded. He gave the order and his men started to strip.

“Once we’re out, stay in the Atrium and look pissed off. By the time I’m gone, nobody’ll notice up from down let alone that you aided and abetted. The others who would know are already dead or too loyal to the same master to concern themselves.”

“Yes, sir. You all heard the man – double time it!”

“All right, kiddies, this is the final game,” Joker announced to his hand-picked misfit gang. We’re trading clothes. Don’t worry if the match isn’t good, it hardly matters. You’re playing guards and we’ll take these fine fellows along with us for now.”

Helen stared open-mouthed at them all as the Joker giggled.

Few of my new minions are much to look at in ill-fitting guard uniforms, let alone out of them. The trim guards tossin’ on the uniforms of patients or orderlies are more fun to gawp at – though I doubt that’s Helen’s problem at the moment.

Leaving Helen in order to assist with Bashar, he got him to swap with Sciascia. The Sandman didn’t keep the straitjacket but Joker dropped it over the box Charlie was holding again.

The former Solitary orderly looked bemused in his new ill-fitting clothes. It was impressive how fast he’d obeyed that last order, considering his nude phobia.

Clearly, some people get with the program a mite faster than others. “Now, here we go.” He patted Charlie’s shoulder as a reward. “Follow me and stick together – if you want to hold hands, I won’t judge.” Holding the rifle at the ready, he led his motley band off.

Helen took up the space directly behind him as they began to move to the stairs. She didn’t even seem to notice Bashar in the guard uniform flanking her, the bloody knife in his bloody fist. Charlie carried the box of goodies and clutched it against his chest just as he had the nurse; the white and bloody straitjacket on it partially obscured his face. The patients the Joker had picked for Alice shifted to surround them all as pet guards in swapped orange or white cotton formed an inner circle.

With the crashing clatter of the stairs still ringing in their ears, Helen gasped as her shoes touched down on the stones. Ahead, the gate to the Atrium that the dangerous patients had gone through was getting closer. A few dead or injured bodies were still hanging from the grating and gates.

“We’re going in there?” she protested, her voice growing shrill.

“We are. Dear Helen, don’t you ever pay attention? I’m gonna walk out the front doors. Come, come, no point in bein’ squeamish now.”

He fished for the keys one-handed and passed them to Sciascia to unlock the gates. Once they were locked again behind them, he dropped the ring back into Joker’s coat pocket.

Spotting the tangled crush of wheelchair and gelded corpse, Joker detoured to walk around the wet mass. His voice rang out loud and pompous, hamming it up with a poised free hand outstretched like a Shakespearean tragedy.

“‘If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril. Know yourself; know your enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.’”

His stunned entourage was frozen, a small pocket of silence in a sea of screams and sobs. Helen had tears running down her face, inexplicably, but Joker was abruptly too tired to care why.

Looking down, he smiled to see that one of his shoes had stepped in the good doctor’s brains. “Well – now we’re even, I suppose.”

Sciascia remained close by Joker and his nurse. He and the other real guards kept tensing at the occasional slobbering running attack, yet the Joker easily leveled the rifle and stopped the problem before they could do anything about it.

“Mr. J,” Charlie called softly, his eyes wide with fear. “Can we get out?”

The timid voice, so like a child’s, shook him out of his tangled thoughts – but it was Helen’s stiff wet face he saw first.

Laughter burst from him, alarming them all, as he reached into his coat pocket and yanked out the big ring of keys. Tossing the sharp and jangling metal to Helen, he strode past them all as his minions and guards alike scrambled to protect him.

“Do the honors, sweet pea – unlock the big bad doors.”

He drove the fish from the barrel’s main entrance with a few bullets tearing up the scarred floor. Catching the outraged stares of Sharp and Strange as they retreated, he tossed them a wink and a grin.

Helen half-stumbled and half-ran to the doors. Her fingers were trembling so much she barely managed to select the right key. Joker strode up and loomed over her as she shoved it into the old lock.

“Charlie,” Joker called in a stage whisper, “lead them all to the left, around to the first dark corner, and wait for me there. Don’t fail me.”

“Okay, Mr. J – I won’t.”

The key turned and clicked sharply in the lock. The thick doors might not have moved much on their own, but then Charlie set a heavy shoulder to one and shoved. A rush of cooler air washed over Joker and Helen as the others ran out.

In the confusion and chaos, he accepted the offered handshake from Sciascia before he disappeared into the crowd. Flanked by Bashar, Joker hung the rifle by its strap from his shoulder and turned to face his nurse.

“Look, Helen – turn and look at what you’ve helped me do.”

She was frozen with terror, shaking and crying. He gripped her shoulders and made her turn, made her see. Her head jerked from side to side as she stared from one horror to the next.

A few of the patients bold or insane enough to approach were slinking closer, crawling over the dead and dying. Their eyes were all locked on the Joker.

“Isn’t it beautiful?”

“It’s … horrid…”

Joker frowned. “Don’t waste hard-won chances, sweet pea. You coulda been Alice.” He leaned in to whisper in her ear. “I’ll teach you to love it, you’ll see.”

“No.”

With a growl, he backed one step away from her, fingers itching to grab a blade. “Think hard about that, now.”

Shaking her head, sobbing, she repeated, “No. I can’t. Kill me, stab me, I don’t care. I can’t do this – I won’t … become … this.”

Backing up to stand in the open doorway, he watched as the crawling insane things moved in around her.

Helen turned to face him as the night breeze blew on her damaged face. “Please, for my reward, for helping you – make it quick.”

The ring of heavy keys chimed in her trembling fingers. She almost dropped them as hands gripped her ankles, her knees.

Joker snarled and then spat on the stones between them. “You’re gonna kill for me, one way or another, Helen. You want it quick? Do it yourself – before they do.”

The hands began to pull and yank at her body. With a moan, she gripped the keys in one fist and tried to slash her throat. In the same instant, she was hauled down and the bunch of keys stabbed into her eye. Screaming as flesh began to tear, her fingers opened and the keys fell.

Red and silver metal sang as it hit the stones. The red dripped there, falling into cracks, as if Arkham accepted the sacrifice.

Surrounded by screams and cries – a cacophony choir of the damned – red hands tore the corpse as they ripped the cloth from it. Soon after, flesh and parts were ripped away and trampled in a frenzied orgy of violence.

Joker watched, impassive, until the first sirens began to wail in the distance behind him. Turning his back at last, he shut the doors and disappeared into the dark.

~ ~ ~

The first police car shot past on the main street just after a lone pale prison bus turned down an alley. It reached another street, threading through Gotham slowly as if unconcerned by the chaos in its wake.

~ ~ ~

Two shadows stood on a dark street under a pale moon. Beneath a shattered old streetlight, a large car the color of blood and rust crouched by a crumbling and dirty cement curb.

Thunder rumbled and threatened in the distance out over Arkham, down a long winding empty road. From here, at the razor’s edge where Gotham became Arkham, the asylum resembled nothing more than a pile of old stones, silent and brooding.

“A serious house on serious earth,” Joker intoned.

Dr. Jeremiah Arkham stopped pacing and leaned against a front fender of the 1946 Alfa Romeo. “It was considerate of you to lock up or at least not shoot the people I wanted to keep – even if you left my asylum quite a mess.”

Joker was still standing with his back against the streetlight pole, hands in the pockets of his long purple coat. The greasepaint on his face was flawless and the night wind ruffled bright green wavy hair around his shoulders.

Inside one wide coat pocket, his fingers were turning his favorite knife over and over in circles. Many other knives hidden on his person might have been jealous, but it was hard to say.

Blades are as silent as stones until they begin to sing… Flicking his tongue out to lick at his twisted and cloven bottom lip, the Joker let his grin stretch wide. “I asked Nurse Alice Delaney to handle some of that. She did a bang-up job, really.”

“Alice Delaney was a patient when I left.”

“Dr. Tanner promoted her – so to speak.”

“We didn’t find much of her – intact – and of Nurse Helen, even less.”

“A shame, I suppose. Then again, their treatment wasn’t going that well, hmm?”

“Alas, that is true.” Pursing thin lips, the psychiatrist let out a huff of breath before his narrow face resumed its habitual dour lines and grim expression. “It appears that some of my guards, led by Sciascia, rallied to the aide of Warden Sharp and Dr. Hugo Strange to get the place under orders again. They are all being lauded as heroes – in my unfortunate absence.” The slender man almost smiled for a heartbeat before the frown settled back in. “You broke the doors of the Citadel – they were older than both of us.”

“I kept your uncle’s secrets – far more valuable than rusty old doors. If you’d been home, I wouldn’t have lost so much … time.”

“Time to set up games you obviously enjoyed. Dr. Tanner, on the other hand…”

Joker’s mouth fell into a matching hard thin line as his gaze shifted to pin the older man.

Arkham amended, “He has made quite a useful scapegoat for all of this … chicanery.”

Appeased, Joker scanned the night sky. “Now to see how well my lamb learned all that I tried to teach him through our mutual trials and tribulations.”

“That meddlesome bat creature? I shouldn’t wonder.” Dr. Arkham snorted. The old chilly curiosity began to leak into his flat impenetrable eyes as they pinned a stare on Joker’s face. “What sort of lamb is he?”

“Sacrificial.”

“I thought you didn’t want to kill this one.”

Joker allowed a fond smile to bloom. “I don’t and I never will – but there are worse fates than death … several, in fact.”

“I see. I could almost pity the man.”

“Don’t. He’s above pity.”

“You have a real admiration for this man-bat – fascinating… He’s … special to you?”

Joker shook his head, dispelling the sharp mental pins the doctor still tried to prick him with, on occasion. The night sky over Gotham distracted him – it was too empty, even as storm clouds filled it over Arkham. “No. It’s more … and less, than that. He’s… He completes me.”

“Hmm. Well, Gotham is alight with your many names again, Clown Prince. I suspect you’ll waste no time enjoying it. Until you are once again my guest … good evening to you.”

Still and silent, he watched as the psychiatrist climbed into his car. It rumbled to life, headlights cutting the dark as it pulled away and onto that winding dark road, back to the pile of stones that bore his name.

A cold wind whipped his coat against his pants, but the Lord of Misrule didn’t shudder as thoughts of chaos warmed him. He could feel the old rhythms strengthening and coursing through his veins – the pinball of impulse within beginning to shoot and spin, gathering speed for new games and fun.

It was the answer he had withheld from the bat, the core of him that ignored both choice and plans. It allowed a wild and glorious freedom to tear through him, manifested through blade, gasoline, and gunpowder – to help Gotham heal from wounds of broken justice and shattered, tilted laws that chained it down.

Overhead, a shadow cut like a blade through the gray clouds limned in pale moonlight – a shadow in the shape of a dark-winged symbol of fear. It quickened his heartbeat in a surge of delicious purpose.

Garish mouth spreading in a rictus grin, the Joker whispered, “Hello, precious – shall we dance?”

 

FINI.

(Joker will return in Anarchy Kings, a crossover story with Sabretooth from Marvel. It will be a part of my series, Equilibrium: of Cruelty and Pain.)

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Author’s Note: Gerlando Sciascia is a name I borrowed from a Montreal capo gangster. In my head I’m using Omar Borkan Al Gala as the model for Joker’s stereo, Aaban Bashar. If you like sexy Middle Eastern models but don’t know who that one is, Google him; he’s rather breathtaking. DC’s Waylon Jones, the Killer Croc, is a guilty favorite of mine. I had a ball giving him a cameo here. Warden Quincy Sharp and Dr. Hugo Strange are regular fixtures of Arkham. The quote Joker recites as he circles Dr. Tanner’s corpse is from Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War. “A serious house on serious earth” is the subtitle of Grant Morrison’s graphic novel Arkham Asylum, but Morrison borrowed it from the poem Church Going by Philip Larkin.

Thank you all for reading and commenting. I hope you’ve enjoyed this twisted little tale. I have no plans for any sequels, except that I do want to write a story of this Joker having an adventure with the mutant assassin Sabretooth, when he visits Gotham all the way from the Marvel side of the pond. I needed something for Sabretooth to do after the events of Iron Man 2, and I just plain want to have fun with these two crazy violent boys in the same story. Go ahead and feel sorry for Batman, LOL. – AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic, anongrimm-blog.tumblr.com)

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