Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 24

The opening fanfare for the Gotham City News special blared from the television, filling the room with the sound of loud, brassy trumpets. I watched the words of urgency fly across the screen with glossy eyes, seeing without really seeing, from my spot on the floor, nestled against the Joker’s legs. He was sprawled lazily on the couch, his head tilted to one side, his dark eyes playing with the light from the screen before him. Sam sat in the EZ chair to my left and there were several other goons seated here and there, but the room was far from crowded.

We had conjugated around the television to catch the news report that the station had been broadcasting all day, covering the robbery that the Joker and I had pulled off yesterday morning.

It was a strange sensation, seeing myself on the news. It could not even compare to seeing my gritty photo in the paper. I watched the long legged, fierce woman strutting across the screen in black and white, whip in hand, and could hardly believe that she was me.

It wasn’t until now that I realized why Gambol had called me a “cat bitch”. I looked the part. My thick hair, wild and teased with neglect, stuck out the top of my head in two places giving the illusion of ears. The whip that hung around my waist could easily be taken for a tail. My poise, my mannerisms, my very walk was feline.

And so, the GCN deemed me Catwoman.

The special cut to commercial only after Engel was finished blabbing on and on about the potential threat the Joker and I posed to society and how the MCU was sure to be all over the case. Yeah, right.

The Joker yawned loudly and checked the imaginary watch on his left wrist. “Gotta run.”

I frowned, leaning away from him as he stood and stretched. “Oh, boy. This should be good. Where to?”

He shrugged, and cracked his back loudly. “Somewhere, nowhere. I don’t know.”

I leapt up only to have the Joker give me a stern look before brusquely pushing me down onto the couch.

“Hey wha-" I started angrily, but he cut me off.

“I go. You stay,” he murmured, staring down at me smugly.

I stood up again, looking him in the eye, my face close to his. “I’m not some mongrel mutt you can train to do tricks. I gave that up a long time ago.”

The Joker sighed, rolling his eyes. “Right, right. I got it, mommy. Can I go out to play with the big boys now?”

I scoffed at him. “You’re such a-"

“You, you, and Sam let’s go,” he commanded, ignoring me as he pointed to a couple of goons. He slipped back into his coat which he laid on the back of the couch and shot me a mean smile, before slipping from the room, his henchmen following behind him.

I huffed irritably, put off that he did not want me along on this new exploit. I knew it had something to do with the way I had acted at the meeting; lashing out at Maroni and all. But if he thought he could make me behave, he was sadly mistaken. I was feline. I did what I wanted never mind the consequences.

The other goons were silent, watching me through the eyeholes of their masks, expecting to do something. I shook my head at their idiocy as I left the room, ambling down the dim hallway until I reached the Joker’s quarters.

I switched on the light and gazing around at all the clutter, I felt the vague urge to clean. Mostly because I knew it would wind the Joker up. But I touched nothing, moving further into his office. I wandered over to the corkboard, peering through the rosy gloom at the random bits of paper tacked to the spongy surface.

There wasn’t much to see since I could barely decipher the Joker’s childish writing, but I had a good laugh from time to time when I came across a vandalized photo of the mayor or Dent or Batman, red smiles and black eyes scribbled on their faces.

I strayed to the Joker’s desk and was suddenly struck with the feeling that I shouldn’t be here. But I ignored that little voice in the back of my mind as I gazed down at the mess of papers, taking a seat in the swivel chair. I spotted a small knife sitting under an old newspaper and picked it up, cleaning my nails with the blade and skimming over the muddle, losing interest.

I opened a few drawers, which were filled with papers yellowed with age and pens and clumps of tangled wires, looking for nothing particular, on the verge of migrating elsewhere. Until I came upon a locked drawer. I felt a familiar burst of curiosity in the pit of my stomach and I bent forward in my seat, the knife poised and ready to break that pesky lock.

Remember the last time you rummaged through someone else’s things…remember what happened…curiosity killed the cat.

I drew back, dread rolling over me in waves.

The voice was right. For once, the voice was right. And for an instant I was worried. But then, remembering where I was and how far I had come, I quickly pushed the concern aside, leaning forward once more.

I had nothing to worry about. I was invincible.

I shoved the blade into the lock and turned it this way and that, biting my lip and listening. I smiled, hearing a satisfying click, and I clenched the rusty handle before pulling the drawer open.

There was nothing inside, save for a small cardboard box. I frowned and pulled it out, setting it on the crowded desktop.

I shivered slightly, feeling that tremor of disquiet roll through me again. I tried my best to ignore it as I reached over and opened the box, half expecting something to pop out at me.

But as I peered inside, I found something much more horrifying.

There were a few miscellaneous papers, haphazardly bundled together, and sitting atop the messy pile were the pieces of what appeared to be a driver’s license. The plastic had been cut into jagged edged fourths.

I frowned, placing them on the desk and arranging them like puzzle pieces. And when it was complete, with a wave of nausea, I felt my heart drop into the pit of my stomach as I stared down with wide eyes at the plastic card in front of me.

It was him. It had to have been the Joker. The eyes, the nose, the subtle ghost of a smile. They were unmistakable. But this man’s face was clean, unscarred and his hair, a pleasant shade of brown, did not hang in his face like the mange of some animal but instead it was combed back neatly. And this man’s eyes held not the faintest hint of madness.

My eyes darted away from the photo to the black text printed on the card, searching for a name.

Jack Napier.

I felt my breath hitch in my throat but I did not linger on the ruined license, moving it out of the way with my fingertips. I took the cardboard box in my hands and hastily dumped the rest of its contents onto the desk, sending various papers floating to the ground.

I stood and scanned the pile of papers avidly, like an owl searching the brush of a forest by night for prey, yellow eyes hungry and keen. A photograph caught my eye. A Polaroid. I snatched it up and held it under what little light the ceiling lamp gave off.

It was a woman, young and pretty. Her face held the naivety of adolescence and yet her blue eyes looked as if they had seen too much, had spent too many nights open and wet with tears. The smile on her lips was knowing, yet tired, as if she were amused and slightly annoyed by the antics of the photographer.
Her hair was the color of wheat and it hung limply over her jutting collar bones. She stood at a familiar looking kitchen counter, hands folded over a stomach bulging with child, a cigarette held gracefully in her long fingers.

Jeannie, 8 months read the caption below the photo, written in fading black Sharpie.

I threw the photograph back down onto the pile of countless other papers on the Joker’s desk, looking down at the mess I had dumped from the box that held new meaning.

This was his past. This was his life before all of the chaos and destruction and madness. One looks around at the world and can not imagine it before it was. And so it was with the Joker. There couldn’t be a past to this man. Only monstrous present and ominous future.

But there had been a wife. And a child.

God help me, where are they now?

I looked up with a start, the sound of thundering footsteps counting time with the heavy beat of my heart. And then, there was a loud bang as the door on the far side of the room burst open, light flooding into the darkness bringing with it the man whose past, whose secrets I had, only moments before, held in my hands.

“Honey, I’m home!” he called grandiosely, flinging out his arms as if expecting a hug and moving into the room, “Guess what I caught, Bijou? A real treat for the both of us. Didn’t even have to wander too far….the little fucker was lurking just a few blocks away….Bijou? What are you doing?”

He stopped mid-stride, staring at me with eyes still bright from the thrill of adventure and the biting chill outside. I stared back, my lips a thin line of pink on my pale face. His eyes flitted away from mine, down to what lay on his desk. The overturned, empty box, the scattered papers, the Polaroid’s gloss shining in the dim light.

And I saw the darkness, the fury, bleed into his eyes, like ink in water. I swallowed and licked my lips, feeling my heart push against the back of my throat.

“W-What are you doing?” he repeated, his voice cracking harshly. He twitched, his lip pulling up over his teeth like some rabid dog.

“What is this?” I cried, pointing down to the desk. I swallowed back the mounting fear in the back of my throat, and turned my face to stone.

“T-that’s none of your damn business,” he growled and rushed towards me, leather fists clenching and unclenching.

Before I could blink, his hands were closed around my neck and he was dragging me across the desk, knocking most everything to the floor. I felt a shattering sensation as my knees collided with the floor.

“How dare you through MY things! MINE! MINE! MINE! You hear?” he screamed, shaking me violently, his hot breath dancing on my face, His hold tightened on my neck and I let out a shrill yelp, feeling his fingers dig into my skin.

I could feel my chest tightening, my lungs withering in their cage of bones. Red and black flowers bloomed in front of my eyes and I clawed at his hands, writhing in his grasp like a worm. Like a victim.

“Do you know what curiosity did to the cat, Bijou? Do you?” I heard him bark, and was hit with the biting nerve of a painful memory. One that I badly wanted to forget but simply couldn’t.

Tell me Ms. Kyle, what did curiosity do to the cat?

I felt the rage, the monstrous black hate rise in my throat like sour vomit and my front teeth bit down on my bottom lip, blue from lack of oxygen.

“Yes,” I spat, glaring up at the Joker, “Yes, I do.”

I let go of his hands, which still gripped my neck, and turned my hands in, my jagged nails aimed for his face. I hooked my claws into his painted cheeks and dragged them outward, feeling the familiar, sickening yet satisfying, tear of flesh.

His hands fell away from my neck and he clutched his face, yelping and laughing in pain. I felt my lungs swell and managed to catch my balance before gripping his shoulders and ramming my knee into his stomach. He doubled over before collapsing to the floor, holding his stomach, giggling madly. The ripe scratches on his face shone in the light, red streaking his face like whiskers.

“You don’t think I know? You don’t think I fucking know?! I screamed down at him, tempted to kick him in the chest just to shut him up. “Touch me again, and you’ll know too, you son of a bitch!”

I took off, not looking back, even after I shook my foot out of his death grip, not bothering to slam the door behind me. Livid tears burned at my eyes as I sped down the hallway, my fists still clenched tight, wet with the Joker’s blood. There was rock in the back of my throat and sparks flying in my mind.

The heat of my flesh was met with the brisk, cool wind of early evening as I hurried out into the alley. I paid no mind to the reeking stench around me or the thundering black clouds up above, pregnant with rain. I slammed the door behind me, walking on, pretending as if the bloodcurdling scream of agony coming from inside the warehouse had never reached my ears.