Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 36


As daybreak fought for the sky and the night waned with pitiable struggle, I fought for breath. I found no comfort in the stupid daze of sleep; everything was razor sharp and jagged as my wheezing, which filled every dusty corner of flat nine.

A falling dream. I hated the damn things; nothing like panic to start your morning. The arid taste of relief settled in the back of my mouth and I ground the crud from one eye with the meat of my palm, peering through the bleak early morning shadows of my living room, the nightmare already a vague stain on my memory.

I’d never thought I’d wind up back here, in my little flat with all it’s fucked up furniture. But places like this, laced with so much memory, had a tendency to slip back into your life. Like people. Hearing the whine of a mattress from down the hall, I was sure to steady my breathing.


On my insistence, she’d taken my bed. And I’d taken my bloody pillow and my dirty sheets to the couch in the parlor, which was a little less comfortable and a little more dilapidated. I was careful not to wake her. Neither of us had been asleep long, having trudged from the sleaze of her old neighborhood around midnight. I knew now why I had strayed toward the Lennon Complex with Maude in tow: instinct. I had lost my mind in this building; it was my sanctuary.

And yet a part of me longed for the warehouse and I wondered idly of my partner, as I settled back down into the cushion of the flaccid couch. I mused that he had caused as much havoc for the GPD as Maude and I had last night. Smiling into my sullied pillows, I watched the shadows fade across the room as the subtle blue light of morning huddled at my windows.

It wasn’t long before the quiet squeaks emanating from the bedroom turned into full-blown metallic screeching. Maude was up. I noted this almost vaguely, unable to shake my lingering stupor. But when she finally appeared in the doorway to the parlor, I decided sleep could wait.

“Morning,” she murmured drowsily, raking her small white fingers through her untidy fringe. I returned with a groggy smile, swinging my legs onto the floor with ease, sending my thin blanket to the floor.

“Good morning,” I slurred, smacking my lips and getting unsteadily to my feet, “Sleep well?”

She shrugged one shoulder. “It was decent. I’m freezing and hungry more than anything.”

“Sounds hardly decent,” I chuckled, moving for the kitchen. “What would you like?”

“Pancakes,” I caught the firm tone of decision in her voice as I peered into the fridge. Maggots. And a few dead mice in the cabinets. And a roach in the old box of corn-flakes. Blinking, I turned back to Maude.

“I-HOP it is.”


“One tall glass of milk.”

Our scrawny, unshaven waiter raised an unkempt eyebrow. I smiled, showing all my teeth.

“Please...” I eyed his nametag, “Stevey.”

He nodded and went to scribbling on his little pad, lifting his eyes only to throw a glace at Maude.

“OJ, please,” she chirped and the man-child scribbled once more, before excusing himself with another nod.

“And make it fast, Stevey,” I hollered after him and smiled as I watched him flinch. Turning back to Maude, I found her fiddling with the sugar packets, arranging them by color.

“I’m thinking blueberry pancakes,” I sighed, flipping open the menu and scanning the laminated tri-fold. “Hmm?”

Maude nodded pensively, her mind obviously on other things. I watched as she ripped open a pack of Splenda, tossing the yellow paper, and kicking back the chemicals inside. I could feel my own teeth rot.

I closed the menu calmly, eyes on the table. “I shouldn’t have done it.”

“Mmm?” she stuck out her chin, sucking her tongue.

“Shouldn’t have taken you to watch me kill Lavelle. Stupid of me…all that blood,” I was rambling and I watched my distorted reflection in the napkin dispenser.

“Shutup,” she barked wiping her mouth and looking indignant, “I’m fine.”

I raised my hands in defense. “If you say so, babe. You just seem a little…quiet.”

“Well, don’t you forget that I wanted to go skewer the pig. You didn’t drag me along or anything. And I’m fine,” she hissed, ripping the empty yellow package in hand to shreds and sprinkling the bits of paper on the table.

I raised an eyebrow, impressed by her severity and a smile spread across my face once more just as Stevey arrived with our drinks.

“Here you are ladies,” he murmured, furtively glancing my way. I broke my gaze on Maude and spat our orders, pleased as he struggled to take it down. He scurried away and I turned back to my companion.

She stared idly at the scraps of yellow paper on the table. “I was just wondering,” she began, heaving a sigh, “What my mother would think. She did love him, you know.”

My lip curled as I ran my finger round the rim of my glass. “Lots of women love despicable men; vice of the century.”

“Pot calling the kettle black,” she smiled, eyes flashing. I gave her a poisonous look but she didn’t wane. I shook my hair and adjusted the collar of my coat, shaking off her comment.

“Speaking of idiot men,” I muttered, casting a glance around the restaurant, eyeing the quaint old couple in the corner and the gang of hung-over degenerates clogging a booth by the window, “If I were a psychopath where would I spend my Thursday morning?”

“I-HOP?” she offered, twisting a lock of ebony hair around her index finger and I laughed. Stevey came by once more, timid and doubtful as ever, setting our food on the table before hurrying off.

“No, no,” I murmured, taking a mouth full of dough and blueberry, “I think our little boy is drawn too much to the city to be so mundane.”

Maude began to tuck into her own breakfast. “Into the city then?”

I nodded, kicking back the glop of food in the back of my throat with a swig of milk. “Good thing we’re dressed for the occasion.”

“The occasion?”

I smiled, letting a droplet of milk roll down my chin. “The funeral.”


I rather liked the sound of bagpipes. So discordant, so wrong. The horrid, bleating ricocheted across the city streets and the faces of the stone buildings we passed as we marked.

Left, left, left, right. Right, left, two hops, two hops…cha, cha now ya’ll.


No, focus.

I’d learned from years of experience that if you didn’t want to be caught, you stood right in the middle of everything and acted as mundane as possible. Even if you were about to steal or destroy or murder. The more paranoid you seemed, the more likely someone was to turn and catch you in the act.

Blending, I think some people call it.

I just call it charades.

My hands felt too clean in these white gloves. The shoes too big; the sleeves of the jacket coming up too high around my wrists. And each individual medal of honor or duty or whatever the fuck pinned to the lapel seemed to jingle, jangle as I walked. I might as well have tied bells to my ankles and filled my pockets will loose change.

The gun was much too formal, too fancy. For show, of course.

Left, left, right, left, left, left.

“Fuck,” I hissed with laughter, narrowly missing an encounter with the concrete. Damn shoes. Too shiny.

I strained my eyes to peer at the crowd lining the streets. I was starting to get that feeling. Of being watched. It didn’t happen often, but when it did…

And there she was. There they were, walking briskly behind the crowd, nearing the stage were all the good, self-righteous people stood preparing to preach. The girl was nearly jogging to keep up with Bijou, whose long elegant legs seemed to propel her forward with inhuman speed.

She was anxious, irked, her red lips fixed in that irritated little frown I liked so much. It had been what…a night or so, since I’d seen her? It felt like a lifetime. After my excursion at Orchard Street, I’d sent Drake back to the warehouse, choosing to spend the last few hours of darkness wandering the city. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyway. Not without her.

I should’ve known she’d come with the girl. Never doubted that she’d figure me out. She always did.

I was just able to see her pause to grab Maude’s hand before they plunged into the crowd to get closer to the curb. I nearly forgot to stop as one of black suited clones in the line ahead of me screeched something that sounded like stop; you could never tell with these guys.

An about face. I could see her now, her fairness like a blot of light against the grey. Concern, I observed. For me. I could’ve sung. But instead, I clicked my heels, fingered the trigger of my new toy, sucked my teeth, stifled a laugh.

I waited.


“All I see is ass. Can we move?”

I let out a short laugh, raising a hand to silence Maude. “There’s nothing to see. Not yet.”

Peering through the gaps in the crowd, I caught sight of him.

All dressed up and ready to play…

He looked so out of place; it was amazing he hadn’t been discovered. Of course, the generally stupidity of the average Gotham citizen suggested otherwise. There was no denying though how handsome he looked…

I shook the thought from my mind, concentrating instead on getting into his head. Rather than his uniform.

Hehe. Good one.

And suddenly, I caught his eye.
What are you up to?

Each of us blinked and I could see his lips twitching, threatening to rip into a smile as if he could hear the question ringing in my head. Feeling my own do the same, I looked away and quite swiftly, he did the same. His “superior” was barking orders.

“How ‘bout now?” Maude tugged at my sleeve, shifting her weight impatiently.

I nodded and we watched, impressed at his game. Step, step, the clack of the gun. The blast of a shot. And again. But this time as his feet met the pavement, as his finger curled around the trigger, he met my gaze with a look that wasn’t so full of folly. Fixed on his face was a look of malice, mad grit. I knew that expression too well.

It meant run and take cover. Or come warm your hands by the madness.

Out of habit, I chose the latter.

I watched the scene unfold like some fantastic, frenzied pop-up book. Quite suddenly, the Joker turned, taking aim at the Mayor who had made the mistake of lingering too long beside the podium. Gordon, in an act of chivalry, took the bullet and the shock of the crowd had reached its climax: there was mass chaos.

The officers scattered like ants beneath a microscope and screams soon replaced the grating sound of the bagpipes, ringing off the concrete like silver bells. I quickly lost sight of the Joker but he was no longer my first priority; finding one another would be cake.

I grabbed Maude by the hand, whose face was equal parts amusement and panic, and quickly directed her from the bedlam into a nearby alley. We caught our breaths in the dark, damp space.

“Are you alright?” I inquired, looking her over as she adjusted her coat and shook the fringe from her eyes.

She nodded. “Fine. Got my toes crushed by a few assholes but nothing drastic. You?”

I replied with a dismissive shake of the head, moving to the mouth of the alley to peer into the street. The scene was still disarray. I gazed over at the platform to my left. A small crowd had gathered around who I could only assume was Gordon. I spotted Dent and Rachel Dawes among them. Catching the wail of a far off ambulance, I craned my neck to look farther down the street, watching the civilians hurry away from the scene of the catastrophe.

“It’s amazing that no one’s recognized you yet,” observed Maude, sloshing back and forward through a small slushy pile of snow taking pleasure in the tracks she made. “Or him! I mean, he was just out there in the open, no makeup. I could see his scars from the curb!”

I couldn’t help but smirk at the wonder in her voice. “People are stupid, Maudie. They see what they want to see. And ignore the things they don’t.”

“Ah,” she nodded, holding up a pale finger and sending snow flying with a kick. “Like ghosts.” I glanced away from the street to smile at her as she began to drawl. “Normal people ignore the strange and unusual,” she began, burring like Lydia Deetz, “And I myself…am strange and-″

She fell short suddenly, a look of fright coming over her face, and she twitched as though someone had unexpectedly jabbed her in the back. Her eyes swiveled in her skull, attempting to peer behind her at whoever had surprised her. I turned my back to the street ready to extinguish the threat if necessary but frowned, the feeling of alarm leaving me instantly, as a white, gloved hand appeared at her shoulder.

“Reach for the sky,” growled a familiar voice, before splitting into maniacal laughter. Maude relaxed somewhat as the Joker came out of his awkward crouch and removed the barrel of the gun from the middle of her back. I shook my head, rolling my eyes at his inexhaustible folly.

“That’s no way to treat a new member of the team,” I murmured, examining my nails, “Putting a gun to her spine and nearly scaring her half to death.”

“I apologize,” the Joker adjusted his cap like a regular gentleman, “I suppose I’m just a little, uh…riled up from the commotion.” He eyed his gun quizzically and shrugging, tossed it into a nearby Dumpster, the clatter loud enough to shake a few birds from the telephone wire above our heads.

I smirked. “No kidding.” I cast a final glance over my shoulder at the street. Near empty now. Turning, I began down the alleyway not waiting for either of my companions to follow. “Quite a show.”

The Joker tripped over his shoes to keep his stride with mine. “Thank you, dearest. I like a punch that delivers.”

I nodded before bursting into a fit of laughter, one that we shared. Maude fell into a quick gait beside me, flushed from the cold and the excitement. She beamed at the Joker. “I didn’t know you were going to kill the mayor.”

The Joker made a face. “Is that what I was doing? I thought I was paying my respects to Commissioner Ear Loeb with a last rat-at-tat.” He smirked, cracking his neck loudly. “In that case, my aim is terrible.”

A look of confusion crossed Maude’s rosy face and I shook my head and smiled, placing an arm around her shoulder pulling her into me. My partner did the same, slinging a lazy arm around my waist with rough affection.

“Look at us, eh?” the Joker yelled suddenly, scaring away a few rats hiding in the grime. “Three nuts in a pod.”

And our mad laughter broke the gloom of the city. If only for a moment.