Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 13

I moved down the hallway at an alarming pace, the clack of my heels ringing off the walls.
I recalled the first day here, and how I had been the meek one, following behind Sylvia like a lowly caboose. Now it was only me. I no longer followed.

The doors of the meeting room got closer with every step I took. I could hear the voices on the other side. Calm, cordial. I had no idea who waited for me, seated at that long, mahogany table. But I had a hunch. And I hoped I was right.

I stood at the entrance now, and without hesitation, I swung wide the doors to the meeting room and stepped through.

My eyes met a familiar scene. An array of exquisitely dressed men, who I recognized as the crime lords I had seen days earlier, sat along the sides of the meeting table all talking amongst themselves in quiet voices. Shrek sat at the head of the table, hands folded quaintly on its polished surface, head bowed in contemplative silence. The low murmuring continued but faded more and more as I walked farther into the room.

Their faces turned in my direction, one by one. The room became quiet, and realizing that the talking had died down, Shrek looked up. His eyes found my face, and he went a very sickly shade of pale green.

I smiled, savoring the genuine astonishment in his eyes. I opened my mouth to speak but I was suddenly cut short. There was loud bang as the door on the far side of the room, the one that led to the emergency exit stairs, burst open.

I looked to my right, ready to send the intruder a ferocious glare. But instead, I found myself genuinely stunned as I gazed upon the strangest sight I had ever seen.

He was tall. Maybe six feet or so, with hunched shoulders and long limbs that were clad in purple. Purple pants, purple overcoat. Under that was another jacket, a lavender color that clashed brilliantly with his green vest and the wild patterns of his dress shirt and tie. But it was not so much his attire that awed me. It was his face.

Sloppily painted. White, with black all around the eyes and red smeared across his mouth, across the scars running along both his cheeks, resembling a smile. His hair was green with an occasional streak of light brown here and there. It hung limply about his face like a dead plant.

A clown. A disheveled clown had disrupted my confrontation with Shrek. I was a flurry of emotion. Confused. Amused. And above all, terribly frustrated.

He stood in the doorway, panting, running his gloved hands through his greasy hair as if to tidy himself up. When his breathing finally calmed, his tongue swiped across his bottom lip, out of habit I supposed, and began toward the table lined with mobsters.

“Am I late?”

I felt my heart skip a couple beats, slapping against my rib cage like a dead fish at the sound of his voice. It sounded painfully familiar…

“About time you showed up Joker,” called one of the thugs, his voice dripping with some unfamiliar accent.


Of course. The man from the tapes. The man Shrek had been scheming with. It all made sense now.

Shrek was in cahoots with the mob. He was in cahoots with this Joker guy. And I could only guess they were united by a medley of all desires that made men despicable: money, power, ambition, murder.

“Hey, I don’t think you understand how difficult it is to run up thirteen flights of stairs,” the Joker objected, as he took the only empty chair near the end of the table, “I’m not a Kenyan, you know.”

He chuckled at his own joke. I fought back a laugh, and somehow managed to keep a straight face as the rest of the mobsters rolled their eyes and let out a few annoyed groans. Shrek did not acknowledge his arrival. He continued to stare at me, and I began to feel uncomfortable.

I watched the Joker as he smiled around the table at all of them as they quieted down, straightening his tie. He cleared his throat and smacked his lips. His dark eyes found my face and he blinked. “Who’s that?”

I was taken aback as he unexpectedly pointed at me, drawing the attention away from himself.

The men seated around the table looked my way, and I straightened up, my heart leaping up into my throat.

“I could ask you the same question,” I spat, scowling at him. He seemed surprised that I had snapped at him, but smiled nonetheless, amused.

I took in a deep and breath and was about to introduce myself, when Shrek beat me to it.

“This is Selina Kyle, gentleman. I don’t know if you remember her. She’s my…secretary,” he explained, standing dutifully and wiping the thin layer of sweat off his upper lip, as he nodded to each of his companions.

He looked back at me, his mouth twitching. “It’s nice to see you Selina. Did you have a good time…away on your vacation up in the mountains at the ski resort?”

I let a small smile play out on my lips as I raised my eyebrows at him. Really? Was this the best he could come up with?

“Yes, I did. Thanks for asking. I had tremendous luck on the slopes,” I began, placing my hands on my hips, as I played along, “I didn’t even fall.” Shrek and I locked eyes momentarily before he turned away, growing pale.

It was quiet for a few minutes, the only sound in the room the clack of my heels as I approached the end of the long table. I looked along its sides, glancing at each of the mobsters. Their faces each held a similar expression: some of discomfort, some of confusion, some of lust. Typical.

My eyes lingered on the man who sat closest to me, his purple gloved hands placed on the table, fingers spread out like the legs of a spider. He only stared back, his face void of any apparent emotion. But there was something in his eyes…

“Well, it’s good to have you back, Ms. Kyle,” announced Shrek, sitting back down, the leather of his chair squelching under his weight.

I laughed, shaking my head at Shrek, my arms dropping to my sides. “Don’t be silly, Maxie. I’m only here to get my things.”

He frowned, and the crime lords craned there necks to look down the table at Shrek and at each other, just as baffled as he was. The Joker remained very still, never taking his eyes off my face.

He must’ve been a very attentive student in class. If he had ever even gone to school.

“What do you mean, Ms. Kyle?”

I was snapped out of my thoughts as Shrek called out to me from across the table.

I swallowed slowly as I began to walk around the table. “When I was, uh, away-on vacation- I had a lot of time to…think things over. And I mean really contemplate the direction of my life,” I cried, waving my hands around madly as I passed behind Shrek’s large arm chair.

I kicked one of the wooden legs and the chair jerked to the right a few inches, screeching on the marble floor. I smirked as I saw Shrek jump out of the corner of my eye.

“The cold, fresh air must’ve really cleared my head, because I realized,” I announced, completing a full circle as I stopped in my original spot, at the end of the table, “That I would rather be knocked off a building than work another day for a conniving, two-faced, manipulative, egotistical, sordid rat like you!”

I glared at Shrek, as my words resounded all around the room, my eyes filled with every ounce of hate and abhorrence I harbored for him.

The men around the table only stared now, shocked into silence.

Shrek looked as if he might be sick.

And the Joker had his hand over his mouth, making a show of trying to hide the smile emerging on his lips, the one cut into his face stretching until I feared the scars would rip open.

I sighed, appeased at last, smiling cheerily at everyone in the room. “Now...I have a cab waiting for me down on the street. I promised the driver I wouldn’t be long. Good day.” I nodded curtly, before heading back toward the doors at the front of the room. I shoved my hands in my pockets and smiled as my fingers felt something soft and warm. The rat.

I paused, once I had reached the exit, whirling around swiftly, so the ends of my ponytail slapped my cheek. Shrek had slumped in his seat, his face sweaty and pale. The mobsters looked like they didn’t know what to do next, glancing at one another in question.

“Oh and Shrek?” I called, smirking as I was granted the full attention of the room once more, “My cat brought me a little present last night. It reminded me of you.”

I extracted the rat from my pocket and without warning, hurled it at the head of the table. It landed with a thud directly in front of Shrek and I turned back to the doors, only after catching the look of pure terror on his face. I listened and savored the ensuing reactions. The gasps. The curses. The cries of disgust, of outrage.
And then suddenly there was laughter.

Loud, raucous, grating, shrieking laughter.

The blood froze in my veins as the sound sent chills over my skin. Him.

I peered over my shoulder, cautiously, to see the Joker leaning back in his chair, shaking with mirth, his red lips pulled back in a yellow grin. He banged his fists on the table, but the hammering was barely heard over his fanatical cackling.

It couldn’t be. There was just no way that he could be….

The air in the room seemed to grow warmer and my mind swam. I blinked rapidly as the world around me flashed in front of my eyes like grainy, unsteady slides in a projector. I grabbed a hold of the door handles and pulled with all my strength. I hurried from the room, tripping through the doorway, as if the laughter was chasing me out into the hallway. Even as the doors swung closed behind me, I could still hear him, howling like a mad man.

But of course, it would appear that that was just what he was.

He was the mad man who had taken me from my home. He had to be.

That voice, that laughter was unmistakable. In a way, for the sake of my sanity, I wanted badly for him to be the stranger from the night before with that odd manner of walking, of speaking. But at the same time, I wanted nothing more for my captor to be just some other creep. At least one that wore less makeup.

I started down the corridor, my feet pounding along the marble floor angrily, muttering furiously under my breath.

“Mangy, sneaky, lying…..son of a…how could he possibly…..filthy dog…just like a man, all of them greasy mutts…oh, how could I let this happen?”

I had nearly reached the end of the foyer when I realized that I had just passed someone heading in the opposite direction. Toward the meeting room.

This just wouldn’t do. The role of the wronged, yet innocently deranged woman that simply knew too much was reserved for me and me only.

“I’m sorry but Mr. Shrek is in a meeting,” I called, my voice ringing down the hall. The other person turned to face me, distracted, if only momentarily.
“Pardon me?”

I know saw that he was man. Handsome. Tall. About my age. I mused that he would have been catnip for the girl I used to be. Now he was just…another man.

“Mr. Shrek is in a meeting,” I repeated, placing my hands on my hips and drawing myself up to my full height. “And he does not like to be disturbed.” I watched as the man at the other end of the hall gave me an up and down. I rolled my eyes. Just another man.

He cleared his throat and nodded. “Right.”

There was a moment of awkward silence as we stared at each other, me waiting for him to march back the way he came, and him waiting for….God knows what.

“It’d probably be best if you came back another time, later on. If you want I can escort you back to the lobby?” I offered, jerking my thumb over my shoulder.

“That’d be great,” he announced, shooting me a dazzling white smile. It seemed I had discovered what he was waiting for.

We met in the middle of the vestibule and I locked arms with him. He was taken aback, but allowed me to lead him toward the black glass doors.

It was quiet between us for a while before he introduced himself.

“I’m Bruce Wayne,” he explained, offering me his hand.

I took it, shaking it primly. “Mmhmm.”

He stared at me for a moment, as if he couldn’t conceive that that was all I had to say. “You don’t know who I am?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Am I supposed to?”

He chuckled, shrugging his muscular shoulders. “I would think so. Most people in this city do.”

When I was sure he wasn’t looking, I gagged quietly. With him, his charm was like bad cologne that shrouded a this insipid man with the veil of charisma and appeal.

“And you are?” he inquired, flashing me those pearly whites once more.

The name ‘Bijou’ nearly slipped off my tongue. But I caught myself. “Selina…Selina Kyle. The new girl in town.”

I forced a smile and a laugh as he nodded understandingly. “Selina…pretty name.”

“How ridiculous! That doesn’t suit you at all…”

I swallowed back the bile growing in my throat as we reached the end of the hall. He held the door open for me and I stepped into the lobby, feeling the relief of air conditioning.

It was the second time I had stepped from that corridor with a face full of hot blood.

We linked arms again, heading for the elevators. As we passed Sylvia’s desk, I winked cheekily. She only gaped back, still in shock.

I could no longer ignore the way this Wayne fellow was staring at me. I shot him a much softer version of an annoyed look and he blushed, smiling sheepishly.

“Sorry,” he began, “It’s just...you don’t look like the type of woman to take orders from Shrek.”

I cocked my head at him, feeling slightly insulted. “You’re so quick to assume I’m his secretary.”

His brow creased in confusion. “Aren’t you?”

I sighed, as we came to stop in front of the elevators. I reached out and pressed firmly on the white button with the arrow pointing up. “It’s a dreadfully long story.”

“Well, I could free up some time,” he offered, beaming like an A student, “Show you the city. You are new to Gotham after all. In fact, I know this great restaurant-"

“That sounds lovely, Mr. Wayne,” I cut him off, fighting the urge to retch again, “But things are a little…complicated for me at the moment.”

Yeah. I’ve got a crazy man on my mind that kidnapped me last night, complained about my cat, and renamed me, who wears makeup and dresses like a pimp. Things were just a little screwy at present.

There was a ding as the lift arrived and the clunk of metal as the doors opened. Bruce Wayne didn’t look the least bit discouraged. Great.

“C’mon, just let me buy you dinner. One night. And then I’ll never bother you again,” he paused, his smile widening, “Unless you ask me to of course.”

I rolled my eyes and shook my head, though I was seriously contemplating his offer, ashamed as I was to admit it.

Getting out of my mess of an apartment would be nice. Especially now that the danger of this Joker fellow returning to steal me away again hung over my head like an ominous black cloud. And besides, Wayne said he’d never bother me again after our ‘date’. I wondered if that was a promise…

I pursed my lips, refusing to look as if he had wooed me. Like I would let my guard down enough for any man to do that. “Alright, Mr. Wayne-"

It was his turn to cut me off. “Bruce. Call me Bruce,” he interjected brightly.

“Alright Bruce,” I began again, a tad frustrated, “Dinner then. You name the day.”

His smile threatened to split his face down the middle. You’d think he had won the lottery. But judging by his apparel he didn’t need the money. “How about tomorrow night?”

I was slightly stunned by his apparent fervor, but played it off. “Eager, aren’t we, Bruce?”

He only smirked, holding out his arm as the glossy elevator doors attempted to close. “I’ll pick you up at seven then. Can I call you for directions?”

“My phones down actually,” I objected, stifling a laugh, “I live on Luna Street. The Lennon Complex, number nine.”

I held up nine fingers and smiled sweetly, covering up the momentary slip of my mask with charm.

He chuckled and nodded, after repeating the address back to me. “Right. See you then, Selina.”

I tried my hardest not to let my fake smile fade. I hated the way he said my name. My old name.

And with one final striking grin, he let the doors close and he was gone.

I slouched for a moment, letting a sigh escape me, accompanied by a large groan.

Dealing with idiots was so tiring.

But I had work to do.

With a start, I remembered the cabbie downstairs. I hurried to my old desk, knowing my purse was there. I had failed to leave with it that night I worked late for Shrek.

I could feel Sylvia’s eyes on the back of my head as I retrieved my bag from the bottom drawer. I wagged my eyebrows at her before heading back to the elevators.

I didn’t have to wait long and as I stepped into the golden lift, I prayed I wouldn’t have to see Wayne again, down in the lobby. I didn’t know how I would be able stand him for a whole night. Or half of one anyways.

I couldn’t help but beg whoever was in charge up there in the sky that the taxi driver hadn’t driven away. I knew the chances were slim.

But there had to be at least one honest man in this town.