Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 21.b.

“I forgot to tell you,” the Joker began, parking the ugly piece of junk he called a van along the curb in front of the Gotham Central Bank.

The car jostled uncomfortably for a moment before the engine wheezed and then abruptly shut off. I had been thankful that I hadn’t eaten anything before we left because it would’ve most certainly been splattered all over the dash board by now with the way the Joker drove.

Damn psychopath.

I turned to him as he yanked the keys from the ignition.

“I’ve hired some little, uh…helpers to come along on this gig. And they don’t exactly know I’m bringing you.”

He shot me a sympathetic look and I glared. “So you had all of this planned out?”

He nodded, smiling proudly.

I scoffed. “And what if I had said no?”

He shrugged. “You didn’t.”

I sighed and he looked at me. “They won’t do anything. I promise,” he offered, rolling his eyes.

I scoffed in disdain and he giggled. He reached into the backseat and pulled a huge duffel bag into his lap, nearly whacking me with it in the process. He rummaged through it for a moment or two before retrieving an ugly plastic clown mask and a gun. He strapped it on, snapping the elastic on the back of his head.

“And if they do, just spank them with your sex toy,” he added, his voice slightly muffled from behind the mask and he tugged at the whip around my waist. He hopped out of the car before I could retaliate and I followed, fuming.

I glanced over my shoulder as the two of us made our way up the stone steps to the bank and caught sight of a couple other men in clown masks, guns in hand, with the same destination. Their cheerfully painted plastic faces looked my way and the black eyeholes burned into my skin, questioning, merciless. I turned away, feeling a chill run up my spine.

This is really happening. I am robbing a bank.

But there was no time for that. I heard a low whine and realized we had reached one of the glossy front doors. A wave of generated heat rolled over me as I stepped through the entry way and into the bank.

I jumped, immediately startled as gun shots rocked the calm, quiet atmosphere. Then came the screams and I was roughly shoved aside by the other nameless robbers as they moved ahead of the Joker and I, guns blazing. I felt a strong arm around my waist and I managed to catch my balance.

“Come on,” the Joker hissed and shoved something into my hands before hurrying off after the other clowns.

I stared after him, slightly dazed, before looking down at what he had given me. It was a gun. I gripped it tightly, suddenly sure of myself, and moved farther into the lobby of the massive building.

One of the clowns was shouting orders but his yelling sounded so far off, so distant. I glanced down at all of the unfortunate people who had decided to make withdrawals this morning who were cowering beneath the teller’s desks. Fools.

I looked on as the Joker dug around in his duffle bag before approaching a whimpering woman. He set a small object in her hands and ripped something from it before moving onto the next person and doing the same thing. It took me a moment to realize what the odd things were but once I did, I walked on with a shudder. Grenades.

I strutted down a long marble hallway that I could only guess would lead me to the money. But I found more than that at the end of the foyer. The code or whatever for the vault had already been broken and its large mechanical door was swung wide. And lying in front of the doorway was a dead clown.

I didn’t recognize him as one of the ones that had arrived with us. So where the hell had he come from? I stepped over him, only briefly glancing at the bullet wound in his chest, and slipped into the monstrous vault.

I found that I was not alone. There was a second clown, except this one was alive, vigorously shoveling a huge mountain of money into an empty duffle.

He glanced at me for a moment or two, unsure of what to do, and then went back to work.

“Didn’t think the boss would hire a broad,” he grunted, shoving a few more wads of cash into the bag. “You here to help, or what?”

I felt a momentary flare of anger and contemplated just shooting the imbecile but decided against it. I approached a pile of cash and the clown came up beside me, ready with another empty bag. He was about to dig in when I got an odd tingle in my nose.

I snatched up a stack of hundred dollar bills and sniffed it. It smelled like ordinary money at first but…something was off. I threw it back onto the pile.

“Wait,” I called to the clown, his greedy fingers moving for the cash, “Skip this pile. It’s…bad.”

He looked at me and I could almost see the confused expression on his face behind the leering blue smile of his mask. He shook his head but did as I said.

“Whatever you say, lady,” he muttered and started up on another heap of money.

I winced, hearing more menacing barking from the lobby and I peered over my shoulder, my eyes falling on the dead body outside the vault. I felt an eerie sensation settle over me and I turned back to look at the other clown who was zipping up his second duffle bag, bulging with cash.

I watched him apprehensively as I slowly and quietly backed out of the huge room. I was out in the hallway when he noticed I had crept away.

“Hey, where you goin?” I heard him call but I was already half way back to the lobby.

Another clown was standing at the far end of the brightly lit vestibule near the glassy offices, still hollering orders at everyone to get down and stay there. The Joker was still handing out his party favors. I stuffed the gun in the front of my dress, seeing as there was no need for it now. Or so I thought.

And then suddenly there was the explosive sound of gunfire and shattering glass. As if in slow motion, the clown that had been shouting fell to the floor and was silent. I glanced at his body momentarily before my attention was captured by the shooter himself: a snippy looking man in an expensive suit, a large rifle in his thick hands.

I saw the Joker duck under a nearby desk but not before the man, who I presumed was the bank manager, took a shot at him. Splinters and large pieces of wood flew through the air and gave enough of a distraction for the Joker to run to another hiding spot.

But the bank manager found what he thought was easier prey. Namely me.

“You!” he called, rushing toward me. There was a click as he reloaded his gun.
I looked around and pointed to myself as if to ask if he meant me, my eyes wide with fake innocence.

“Yeah, you!” he repeated, “Do you have any idea who you’re stealing from?!”

I placed one hand on my hip and slyly untied the whip from my waist. I batted my eyelashes. “To be honest, sir-no.”

He sneered at me as he stopped just a few feet away, his gun aimed directly at my chest. “Bullshit. You and your friends are dead.”

Again time slowed as I saw him squeeze the trigger. I watched a single bullet erupt from the barrel of the rifle, making little ripples in the air as it moved toward me at what seemed to be a snail’s pace. I side stepped ever so slightly and felt it whistle past my torso, missing me by mere inches.

And then time sped up once more and I took my chance. The whip was unwound from me in an instant and I flicked my wrist sharply, the razor edges making direct contact with the manager’s face.

He howled in pain, his gun falling from his hands as he stumbled back. I was about to take another crack at the bastard when from behind me there came a shower of bullets. The bank manager did a quick little jig, his muscles spazzing uncontrollably as they were pierced with lead, before collapsing onto the lustrous marble floor.

I turned and caught sight of the Joker, some two yards behind me, lowering his gun.
“I could’ve finished him myself,” I called, slightly annoyed.

He just stared at me and I stared back into those black, empty holes set into a disgruntled plastic face, complete with blue five o’clock shadow. He shrugged, dismissing the imminent fight, and we both turned just in time to see the clown I had met in the vault shuffling into the lobby, dragging two stuffed duffle bags behind him.

“This isn’t even half of it,” he laughed, slugging the bags farther into the lobby before heading back for the other bags. The Joker went after him, leaving me alone with a roomful of sniveling victims. I tried hard to ignore their pleas for mercy and help, but by the time the Joker and the nameless robber returned, a light sweat had broken out along my pale forehead.

I wiped it away with the back of my hand and went to stand beside the Joker, who was straightening up from carrying in another bagful of cash.

“If this Joker guy was so smart, he would’ve had us bring a bigger car,” the anonymous clown grumbled, looking down at the loot he had collected.

I looked to the Joker, confused. My eyes burned with question. Doesn’t he know that you’re
the Joker?

But before he could even return my glance, there was the click of a gun, and we both looked to the nameless.

“I’m betting the Joker told you to kill me as soon as we loaded the cash?” he said, triumphantly as if he had figured out some great mystery.

The Joker sighed, and checked an imaginary watch on his wrist. “No, no, no, I kill the bus driver.”

He began to gently push me to the right, side stepping in that direction as well. The clown’s gun followed us.

“Bus driver?” he grunted, “What bus driver?”

As if on cue, there was an ear splitting roar and the unmistakable shriek of rusty brakes as the tail end of a big yellow school bus came rocketing through the side of the bank, slamming the stupid clown into one of the teller’s windows.

I was stunned into silence while the hostages screamed in shock and panic. The Joker stumbled back a few feet, a surprised motion I assumed was faked, as the back door to the bus swung open. Out hopped another clown, short and stout, with a gleefully grinning mask.

“That guy’s not getting up is he?” he called, gesturing to the other clown crumpled in front of the teller’s desk.

The Joker said nothing, and instead went to work, throwing a couple of the bags into the back of the bus. The driver shrugged and did the same, before pausing and glancing around.

“What happened to the rest of the guys?” he asked aloud and the Joker only walked away, pointing his own gun carelessly behind him and shooting, once, twice, three times. The driver fell like all the rest.

The Joker motioned me over before dragging another bag over to the bus and I helped him load the cash, surprising myself with my own strength.

If this was what lounging around your house, drinking milk, and sleeping with maniacs did for you I should’ve done this a long time ago.

“You think you’re smart huh?”

The Joker and I turned in interest, after throwing in the last of the bags. The bank manager leered at us, from his spot on the floor. I couldn’t believe that he was still alive.

Maybe he’s special like me, I mused and let out a wild cackle.

We approached him calmly, and I saw the Joker rummage for something in his suit jacket. I wondered idly if that was where he had stashed my letter.

“The guy that hired you two…he’s just gonna do the same to you,” the manager groaned, and I shook my head slowly, as we neared him.

“Sure he will,” he went on, “The criminals in this town…they used to believe in things. HONOR. RESPECT. What do you believe in!? Huh? What do you beli-"

The Joker crouched and silenced him, shoving a long grenade into his mouth. I noticed with slight horror and amusement the purple twine knotted around the pin was coming from inside his jacket.

“I believe whatever doesn’t kill you,” he began, pushing the bomb farther in, widening the man’s jaw unpleasantly, “Simply makes you…stranger.”

He removed his mask with one fluid motion and smiled down at the manager, who looked up at him in terror.

Stupid man. He had underestimated the both of us.

Whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger…

It scared me how right he was.

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” I purred and the Joker cackled, wrapping a possessive arm around my shoulder and guiding me back to the bus.

He climbed in first, awkwardly, and after I had gracefully leapt up into the vehicle, he slammed the door behind us, catching the purple string in the rusty doorframe. He ripped it from his jacket before running down the middle aisle like a little boy, jumping from seat to seat.

I lingered, watching the bank scene through the small dirty window of the back door. The bus shook violently as the engine roared to life and we slowly drove away. I had just enough time to see the pin rip from the grenade. I braced myself for an explosion, as did the hostages. The bank manager just closed his eyes, awaiting death.

But it did not come. Instead, red smoke billowed from the end of the grenade and I saw the bank manager go pale before passing out from sheer relief.

I ambled up the aisle, gripping the seats tightly, my nails tearing into the pleather. I sat in the uppermost row, directly beside the Joker who had settled into the driver’s seat and was steering the bus into the morning traffic. I noticed then that we had fallen in line with about four other yellow school buses.

I realized at that time, with some shock, how ingenious the Joker really was.

I cleared my throat but he did not look my way. He smiled cheerfully, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel to some tuneless song.

I licked my lips. “I believe you have something that belongs to me.”

He shot me a sideways glance, mock confusion on his face.

“The letter,” I hissed, impatiently, “The damn letter! That was the deal: I rob a bank with you and you give me the letter!”

He shook his head. “I said we would take a look at it and it was you that failed to specify when to give you said letter. I could hand it over today, tomorrow, in two wee-"

I lunged at him, my hands diving into his jacket, searching.

I felt the bus swerve as the Joker tried to fight me off and not crash into a building. I momentarily worried I would lose my footing and fall but I was more preoccupied with getting the letter.

“Hands! Hands! Watch yourself, woman!” he screamed, laughing madly as he struggled to keep me away. I had almost given up when I felt a small stinging sensation on my right hand. A paper cut.

My fingers closed over the smooth surface of an envelope and ripped it out of his jacket, tumbling back onto the seat as the bus hit a pothole.

“Goddamnit, Bijou,” the Joker muttered, straightening his jacket and running a free hand through his already disheveled hair, “You could have at least waited for a red light to feel me up.”

I glared, clutching the letter to my chest in case he made a move to steal it back. “Fuck you.”

The Joker smiled. “You already did.”

I rolled my eyes and sat up straight, looking down at the gold script on the front of the envelope.

To a Ms. Selina Kyle. From Bruce Wayne.

I shook my head and ripped it open, quickly scanning the glossy calligraphy on the fancy,
stiff paper.

“So what does Brucie have to say?” the Joker asked, peering over at me, “Are you two running off to some faraway island to make beautiful babies?”

I looked at him, hearing the jealous, bitter tone of his voice.

“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s an invitation to some fundraiser party for Harvey Dent that's in a few days. Wayne is hosting it. He probably just wants to kiss some ass.”

The Joker laughed and hit the dash board enthusiastically. “Well, well! Sounds like it’ll be a hopping party. We’ll be going of course.”

I stared in disbelief. “You must be joking.”

“Do I look like I’m joking?” he murmured, looking at me with a dead serious expression on his painted face.

We both exploded in maniacal laughter, our screams scratching the dirty roof of the bus and scraping against the glass of the smudgy windows, sullied with the fingerprints of children.

After we had both calmed down, I sniffed and wiped the tears from my eyes. “Fine. You win.”

The Joker giggled gleefully. Did he ever stop laughing?

“What now?” I inquired, folding the invitation back into the envelope.

“We go to the warehouse,” he replied, not looking at me, but keeping his eyes thankfully on the road, “You remember it don’t you? Oh wait, you were blindfolded!”

He shrieked with laughter, banging the steering wheel like a small child. I rolled my eyes, annoyed, but couldn’t fight the smile creeping onto my face.

I was in deep, up to my waist in whatever this was. In this madness, in his chaos.

And in his fleeting, but fervent affection and this enticing thrill of what was wrong, I put my trust.