Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 37

“Why the mayor?”

The Joker looked up from his scribbling, the lamp on his desk throwing shadows across his face. “Why not?”

I shrugged, shifting in the seat opposite his desk. “He doesn’t pose much of a threat. Besides kissing Dent’s ass and backing near everything he says.”

“Warmer,” he murmured and I could hear the smile in his voice.

“Then who you’re really after…is Dent,” I peered over at him, the gravity of those words striking me with worry. After a moment, I tried again. “You don’t want to kill him do you?”

The Joker idly doodled on the blistered palm of his hand, smiling to himself. “Hmm…I’ve been, uh…toying with the notion.”

“What could you gain from knocking him off?” I inquired, trying to ignore that, for reasons I couldn’t place, the possibility of him dying made me nervous. “He’s the only person standing in the way of the mob. And last time I checked, we weren’t doing favors for those idiots. At least, not really…”

The Joker stood, sighing and cracking his back. He shook his head and smiled meanly at me. “You’re cute when you try to make sense of my mess.”

“I wouldn’t have to try if you just came out and told me your plans,” I replied hotly, feeling my face grow warm with angry blood.

“If I wanted to tell you all that’s going on in here,” he pointed to his head as he ambled closer and I stood to meet him. He took me in his arms. “I would. But, I don’t. So I won’t. Besides…it’s no fun to know everything.”

He giggled and I felt the urge to smack him. But the urge to just let him touch me was greater. I knew he was just trying to distract me from picking his brain for answers, but I didn’t care. I would let him.

“Did you miss me?” he murmured, tugging me from the office.

“Nope. Not one bit,” I lied and was surprised by the force of his kiss. We stumbled into the bedroom, his hands pulling through my hair.

“Did you miss me?” he growled again and my hands settled on his face, nestling in the crevasses of his scares; I was home.

“Don’t ask stupid questions,” I replied breathlessly and in a fit of mad laughter, we toppled onto the bed.



I rummaged through my small duffle bag, setting the contents beside me with great care, but to no avail: I had forgotten the pot of red paint.

“Shit,” I repeated wearily, tossing the empty bag across the room in pitiful fury. It hit the opposite wall with a quiet plink and fell to the floor. I hung my head in defeat.

I knew I’d forget it. The rush with which I had packed my bags to leave Cottontails had made me neglectful. And as my disquiet to GET OUT, OUT, OUT, had given me a bit of one track mind.

An idea coming to mind, I perked up.

Would the clown lend me red paint?

I started to get to my feet but quickly settled back down, remembering the glances he had exchanged with Bijou. As soon as we’d returned to the warehouse, with the dusk nipping at our heels, the both of them had retreated to his office.

I could take a hint: it wasn’t the best time to intrude.

But I made a mental note to do so sometime in the near future. My paints, my brushes, my little brown bottle of turpentine were everything; the only thing I had left of my mother, Rosalyn. The warm chemical smell reminded me of her embrace, when she was paint-smeared and happy; when she wasn’t sick and she still had the strength to hold me.

I blamed Gotham entirely for the cancer. If we’d simply stayed in the mountains, where the very earth seemed to breathe and the air wasn’t toxic, if we’d kept our little house in the Catskills, she’d never have gotten sick. Never would’ve met Peter Lavelle.

He’d been our landlord; KING of that shithole he called an apartment complex and EMPEROR of the filth and the rats. He knew what he wanted when he started to schmooze my mother and it wasn’t to be with her. He’d had it out for me since the beginning; always dropping a sleazy comment or eyeing me the wrong way.

“He’s trouble, mommy,” I’d tell her, over and over, in that comical stern voice that only a ten year old can muster. “Big trouble.”

And she’d just smile and shake her head, dip her brush into the little pots of paint and begin another masterpiece. As if the beauty of her work could take away from our circumstance, could hide the fact that she was beginning to look as grey as the big ugly city.

Lavelle wouldn’t pay for her medicine; we’d moved in by then, swapping our dingy one bedroom for his “luxurous” two bedroom, one bath. I told mother I’d pay to put her in a hospital, whatever way I could, and only then did her new boyfriend agree. I stayed close to her during her last days; Lavelle’s apartment was no longer safe. He came to visit once or twice, and brought some shitty flowers and words slurred with gin. Mother took it all with a smile. She was so thin then, so grey. She was smoke slipping through my fingers.

When she was gone, Lavelle arranged to have her buried in some ugly plot of dirt. The ceremony was brief, after which I was whisked briskly back to the apartment. I managed to gather my mother’s paints and her brushes before Lavelle could throw them out but it was not in trashing my mother’s memory that he took the most pleasure.

He’d recalled the promise I made to my mother: that I’d pay off the hospital bills anyway I could. Said that working in his little brothel, the business that had consumed much of the money that he wasn’t spending on my mother’s recovery, could do just that, told me it would be a strike against her memory if I refused. Lies.

But if I did refuse, he’d rape me, throw me out on the streets for the rats and the filth. Lavelle offered me shelter, food, at least a chance of survival. I kept my life, made the decision to stay, but I wanted to die. I wanted to die so badly…

I’d never been afraid of sex and the routine got old fast. Some of the other girls working there had stories similar to my own, each of them orphans and looking for a way out. They weren’t my friends; something as pure as friendship can’t exist in such a wretched environment.

To keep us from getting pregnant, a constant threat and the virtual end to our petty income, Lavelle stuffed us with pills. They suppressed hormone production. No eggs, no problem. And the younger you looked the more creeps found there way to your door and the more money Lavelle made. A perfect, disgusting circle.

My life had never been in danger, though my dignity and innocence had long since fallen to decay. Some customers were rough sure, but none of them had posed a serious threat. Except for the man on Christmas Eve.

He’d been so drunk; I didn’t actually think he meant to harm me. All he wanted to do was fuck and run. But he hadn’t paid and I knew there’d be hell if I didn’t ante up to Lavelle with the right cash. I’d broken the cardinal rule: I’d resisted. And drunk had gotten violent.

Cut my face, held me down, thrown a few wild punches. I’d just about given in. When she showed up.

Never had I seen someone so beautiful and so…monstrous. I was surprised by her strength and the way she toyed with the man who’d nearly had his way with me. A strange, horrible gratification filled me when I heard his skull crack against the wall. But I ran, fearing I’d be next.

Wouldn’t you?

It was some days before she came for me. I had taken the punishment from Lavelle for losing a customer, had settled back into the sordid mundane of my every day. I tried not to dwell on that night in order to quell my hopes of her coming back. And though I gave the impression of disbelief and unease when she finally did return, I could’ve done backflips.

Free at last, free at last.

The thought made me smile even now.

I was living with strangers. Crazies. A mad woman and her mad man. I’d read about them in the papers, seen the newscasters stir with fear at the mention of their names, had been warned against them. But I trusted them. It was a hard reason to place. But I didn’t try to. I would let myself get use to the folly of their routine, if one could call it that.

An inkling of something like love was stirring in my gut for Bijou. She’d painted the walls red. For me. And she’d let me help. She’d taken me under her wing. Something, I knew, had happened between us that night in the snow. Some maternal instinct had struck up inside of her animal heart. And a need to keep me safe had wormed its way into her mind.

The clown intrigued me most. His mannerisms, his awkward way of walking and talking, his unbridled lunacy. He was the first man I’d met in this filthy city that didn’t look at me like I was meat. I could tell he wouldn’t hurt me. A sociopath that meant me no harm; a charming notion. But when he wasn’t staring into the abyss, no doubt thinking of mad things, he was looking at her. Always looking at her…I wanted to throw him onto a canvass, onto a wall. Show the world an honest man.

The savagery of his war paint, the shriek of his purple coat and clashing socks. The red of her lips and the scream of her white flesh. The luster of their mad laughter. It was the most sound, the most color, the most life I’d seen in this city.

And I wanted to blend right in. To paint my face and scream and laugh and blow away whoever I wanted.

But first I needed paint. Red paint.


Night had settled over the city. I peered past my reflection and through the glass at the constellation of lights burning against the black of the sky. Overcast. The moon, if there was one, remained out of sight; my beacon instead shown against the backdrop of grey clouds.

I wouldn’t come. Not now. There’d be no Gordon to meet me, coffee mug in hand… I tried not to dwell on him.

Turning, I glanced over my shoulder at the shadows of the bedroom. The bed in the corner, a slim form beneath the covers, rising and falling with each breath.


She’d been wise to come tonight; the Joker and the Catwoman had named her next. She’d known before I did. A tip-off from Harvey I presumed. And now, I could rest assured she was safe, in my bed, in my house.

How it should be, I mused bitterly but stifled such thoughts as I turned from the window, settling onto the couch some ways away from the bed.

I had already apprehended Dent, under some bridge on the less teeming part of town, away from the pandemonium. I didn’t think he would take the life of the goon he’d seized, but Harvey’s mask of composure and conviction was slipping. He was starting to take unnecessary risk. Putting himself, his reputation especially, in danger of corruption. He’d been outraged at my decision. As they all would be.

But I couldn’t overcome this. Not with Gordon dead. And Dent threatening to fall from grace.

He would hold the conference as I requested. And then I’d reveal myself to Gotham.

For what you really are: a FREAK.

I shook my head. No. I’d be doing it for the good of the city. I stole a glance over my shoulder. And for the ones I loved.

I’d submit to the demands they’d made. It would hurt, I knew: giving up my identity, the only outlet for my nightmares, my fears. The only way I felt control. But sacrifice was needed.

If it cleaned the blood off the walls, lessened the body count…I could survive. I couldn’t help but think of Maroni’s words; I had had a little chat with him as well over a few broken bones and the distorted, thumping base of club music. He hadn’t been hard to find.

“Where are they?” I’d growled, hoisting him up from the muck of the sewers where he had crumpled from the landing up above.

Maroni had barely managed a response. “I don’t know-they found us.”

I shook him hard. “They must have friends.”

An almost comical look of disbelief crossed his sweaty face. “Friends? Have you met these two?”

I adjusted my grip on his filth-soaked coat. “Someone knows where they are.”

“No one’s gunna tell you nothing,” he sneered, “They’re wise to your act. You got rules-the Joker and that cat broad-they ain’t got no rules. The mad dog’s got his rabid mistress and she has him and they do what they want. Ain’t no one gunna cross them for you. You want them you got one way…but you already know what that is,” he curled his lip, spitting his words at me. “Just take off that mask. Let them come find ya.”

I growled with frustration and his skull hit the concrete with a dull thud. But he wasn’t finished. He looked almost disappointed. “Or are you going to let a few more people die while you make up your mind?”

No. I wouldn’t.

Not with so much at stake. Not now.
I had no assurance that they’d stop. Rachel doubted it herself. But I would reveal myself and they’d come. Like animals drawn to the scent of blood, they would come. They had to.

It was time to fold. Game over.

Or so I thought.