Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 42

There was blood all over the bed.

My wound had clotted in time but my somewhat vigorous activity had reopened the flood gates. The Joker knelt before me where I sat on the bed, shivering in my underwear. His fingers were quick and pressing; save for my occasional cry of pain and his odd soothing noises, the room was quiet.

The school bus we’d commandeered had dropped us off at the warehouse before hurtling off back into the city and I had been surprised to find that Sam and Maude had already arrived. But the Joker had dragged me straight to our room, having by now noted that I had once more started to bleed.

I found these fragile, still moments quite odd; I’d never seen the Joker so focused. Smiling, I brushed the hair from his sooty eyes.

“I’m impressed, Jack” I murmured, supporting myself on the mattress with both my hands, “You good at blighting and repairing.”

“Years of practice, kitten” he returned, dabbing my wound with rubbing alcohol; I winced at the sting and he chuckled. After another minute or so, he patted my side roughly and smiled, getting to his feet in that swift, animal way. “All done…would you like a sucker for being such a good little patient?”

“How about instead…” I groaned, straightening up, being careful not to abrade my lesion, “We don’t do that again, hmm?”

The Joker shrugged, plopping down beside me. “It was an accident. You got in the way.”

“Don’t turn this around. It’s not my fault you’re a shitty shot,” I cackled and he growled, taking me by the shoulders and forcing my back to the mattress. I yelped at this sudden vigor and the bed jostled as he moved over me, burying his face in my neck. I felt his hands at my hips, his fingers digging into my side and I hissed.

“Jack, be careful,” I warned, feeling his teeth drag across my skin, “I’m fragile, remember?”

“Bullshit,” he rasped and I could feel his scars spread with a smile, “Besides…I’ll be careful. Won’t handle you so rough...like I did last time.” He pecked at my jaw line and I was fit to yield when he stopped suddenly, raising his face from mine.

“Something you need?” he sighed and I turned my face to follow his gaze.

And there was Maude, standing in the doorway, trying desperately to divert her eyes and looking flustered. “Oh, sorry – uh, I was just….just wondering if I could borrow Bijou for a – a moment.”

The Joker’s face split into a mean smile and I grinned at Maude, propping myself up on my elbows. “Sure, I have a spare minute.” I turned back to the Joker, cocking an eyebrow. “Give me a minute won’t you?”

He groaned, rolling away from me, the bedsprings shrieking under his weight. “Fine,” he spat as I stood and shrugged into a dress that sat waiting on the edge of the bed. “I’m a patient man.”

I guffawed at this but said nothing more, feeling his eyes on my back as I moved to Maude, taking her hand and leading her from the doorway.

“What is it you need, doll?” I giggled, as we swung from the office into the hallway.

She smiled, the red that had settled in her pale face lessening with each passing moment. “You’ll see,” and with one final tug at my hand, we found ourselves in her quarters.

I gasped at the sight before me.

All along the east wall, an expanse of grey stone set with narrow windows, was a mural, fantastic and exploding with manic colors. A frieze of the city, the gray of industry a stark contrast to the gutsy red of the fresco sky.

I spotted myself in all of the loud, hollering colors: a jaunting black figure, a nest of frazzled hair, and scarlet lips leering against a pale face. And beside me, there could be not doubt. Mouth wide and full of yellow teeth, red lips crackling with a smile, purple shoulders hunched: the Joker, more beautiful and more lunatic than I could have ever imagined.

“Maude,” I whispered, dazedly leaving her side and moving to the mural. My eyes whizzed frantically in their sockets, trying to see everything at once; all the colors, all of the screaming shades and silhouettes, the green of the trees, the red of the sky. It was like acid, like electric rain slung upon the walls. And it was everywhere, scrawled across every inch of plaster.

I glanced back at her, a stupid drunken smile on my face. “Maude, it’s wonderful. The colors….” I swung my gaze back to the painting. “They’re…miraculous. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Thanks,” she chirped, beaming as she joined me at her side. She peered up at me. “You have a bit of red on your neck.” We exchanged a knowing glance but before I could wipe it away, she swiped a finger across the stain and moved to the mural. I watched, amused as she used the secondhand paint to redden the sky.

“There,” she sighed and stepped back to admire her work, cocking her head slightly.

“Where’d you learn to paint like this, Maude?” I murmured, running my hand along the side of my neck to get the rest of the paint.

She shrugged one shoulder, wandering over and plopping down on her mattress. “My mother was a painter. After all those years of watching her paint, I just….picked up the craft.” She gestured to the numerous little glass pots lined up against the wall, shining in the afternoon sun. “The paints and the brushes were all hers. I had to hide them like hell from Lavelle.”

I chuckled and after glancing once more at the mural, joined her on the mattress. I realized now why she always smelled like turpentine, why her hands were always so smeared with color; she was an artist.

“Well, I am truly impressed,” I sighed, nuzzling against her and she beamed up at me as though my approval meant the world to her.

“Thank you,” she said, after a few moments of quiet, her voice quavering a little, “For everything. For taking me away from my old life, for saving me…even if I didn’t want it. For letting me have what I wanted,” her lips trembled and she bit at them to keep them still, “For once. I never thought I’d end up here – never in a million years.” Her eyes found mine and she smiled brightly. “I used to fear you but you’ve changed everything...”

I raised an eyebrow, feeling a smirk grow over my face. “So I’ve been told.”

“I - I love you.”

She said it so suddenly I hardly had time to react. I felt my face settle into an expression of surprise which quickly melted into a smile. “I love you too, Maude.”

She fell into my arms then and I gladly held her to me, nestling my face in her hair. I nearly laughed; the scent of turpentine was overwhelming.

We sat there for a few moments, a tangle of ivory limbs before I decided to tell her. Another moment and I would’ve let it purposefully slip my mind; another moment and I would’ve left Maude unprepared for what was to come, for the hazards of my scheming. I’d thought it through, long and hard and I would carry out my plans without defect. I knew I could never be ready for what the Joker had in store but at least I could try to guarantee Maude’s safety. If I could help it, only one would die tonight. And if I could help it, it would be marvelous.

“Now that I’ve said it,” she murmured suddenly, her voice echoing in the hollows of my chest, “Everything’s going to change…Isn’t it?”

She pulled away, staring up at me as she retreated from our embrace; she had beat me to punch and she knew it.

“Yes,” I sighed, smiling sadly, “Things will change; starting tonight. I haven’t any idea what the Joker will do but…I suppose we can use our imaginations.” She tried to smile but failed and my own grin quickly began to dissipate.

“I don’t know what will happen,” I placed a firm hand on her knee and I felt my brow furrow with sobriety, “But you must promise you will keep yourself alive – go out of your way to do so. Be safe and if…if we shouldn’t meet again after tonight…” her eyes widened and the smile returned to my face, bitter this time, “Simply keep your primary promise.”

“What in the hell are you planning to do?” she cried, quite alarmed at my rambling.

I shook my head, letting my hand fall away from her. “Just what is necessary. You shouldn’t worry.”

“You just suggested that you might be killed or – or caught and carted away to the loony bin,” she muttered around the fingernails in her mouth, “Don’t tell me not to worry.”

I smiled at her panic and she returned with a dark look; she was trying to be angry with me, I knew. But she couldn’t.

“You’ll be just fine if you do what I say,” I murmured, petting her gently once more before getting up from the mattress.

“Yeah,” she snorted bitterly, “Stay alive and don’t worry. Easier said than done.”

I ambled over to the mural once more, hands on my hips, staring up at the red of the sky. Like blood…

“What day is it?” It was an absent minded question.

In the corner of my eye, Maude shifted to read the digital watch on her wrist. She made a funny sound, something like a laugh. “It’s the thirty-first.”

I chuckled. “Of course.”

Without another word, I sauntered from the room, turning my back to Maude, the mural, and the bleary afternoon sun seeping in from the windows. And as I rounded the corner to head back to the office, I could’ve sworn I heard her curse. Or cry. Or laugh.

By now, I couldn’t tell the difference.


“New Years Eve?”

I wiped away a droplet of milk that had leaked from the corner of my mouth and softened the cheerios in my mouth to mush. “I gotta hand it to you. That’s really sending a message.”

The Joker chuckled greasily from his place in front of the bathroom mirror. “You’re playful banter won’t faze me; not tonight. No, nope – I’m calm, calm as a Hindu cow.”

“I’m sure,” I sneered, shifting on the bed and gazing idly at the milky, yellow light spilling across the bedroom floor. I slurped my milk and what soggy cheerios remained stuck to the curves of the bowl. “If I’d known you were planning your big BANG for such a special night,” I sniggered, clearing my throat, “I would’ve slipped into something a little more…elegant.”

“You look fine,” he barked and I watched him smear his face with white. “Besides…” he hung his head back to leer at me, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile.”

I faked a laugh, setting my bowl on the floor for Ms. Kitty to lap up the rest of the milk. “Clever.”

After returning from Maude’s room, I’d found the Joker busy with other things, no long interested in fooling around. He was zipping around the office, tinkering with this and that. I hadn’t bothered to recapture his attention. I chose to feed instead.

There was a knock at the door and turning, I found Sam fiddling with the doorknob. He and I exchanged a knowing glance and I nodded, the bed sheets rustling beneath me as I got to my feet.

“Be right back, darling,” I crooned, catching the Joker’s eye in the mirror. He grunted in reply and I slipped from the room, Sam falling into stride beside me.

“Have the boys done as I asked?” I inquired, as soon as we were reached the hall, “Have they located Max Shrek?”

“You bet,” he returned and we stopped, far enough away from the Joker’s niche so as to not be overheard, “He’s been sitting up in his sweet little apartment since noon; hasn’t left the house and he isn’t going to. He’ll be there when you decide to strike.”

I smirked. “Excellent.” I dusted his jacket lightly with the tips of my fingers, before my hands found their place on my hips. I felt my whip there; I felt reassured. “You remembered what we discussed? About what was to become of Maude?”

He nodded, stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets. “I managed to smuggle a few books of cash from the Joker’s half – before he burned it. It’ll be enough to get her settled and then some.”

“And you’ve got your share, I presume?” I cocked an eyebrow and he smiled cheekily, showing me his teeth. A gold crown in the far corner of his mouth twinkled at me and my smirk melted into a grin.

We shared a chuckle and when I had straightened up, I placed a hand on his arm, fixing my face with a sincere smile. “Thank you, Sam. Really…you didn’t have to do any of this. But, I know you’ll look after her if anything should happen.”

He shrugged one shoulder and returned my smile. “It’s about time I did something right.”

We turned suddenly at the sound of heavy footsteps just in time to see the Joker appear in the doorway to his office. He placed a hand on either side of the doorjamb and leaned forward, cocking his head at us.

“Ah, conspirators,” he hissed, tipping forward dangerously and glaring at us, “Plotting to stab me at the Senate? Hmm?”

I shook my head, rolling my eyes as my hand fell away from Sam. “Don’t be so paranoid, Jack.” My gaze turned once more to Sam and I mouthed one last ‘thank you’; he nodded in return, before turning to wander off to the television room.

The Joker cracked his neck loudly to call my attention and I turned, sauntering back to him, my hands settling on my hips once more. I made to move past him, but his arm was at my neck blocking my way. He eyed me darkly and there was a savagery in his gaze that sent chills across the plane of my flesh.

“I’m onto you,” he growled, scowling at me, trying to see through me, trying to catch a hint of my scheme.

I smiled meanly. “Whatever could you mean?”

He narrowed his eyes. “Don’t play dumb – you’re up to something.” He waggled his eyebrows at me. “I suspect foul play.”

“It doesn’t concern you, psycho-boy,” I sniffed, batting my eyelashes at him, “And I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so don’t bother trying to force it out of me.”

The Joker smiled wantonly and licked his lips. “I like a challenge.” His hands fell away from the doorframe, moving for my waist but he paused suddenly, catching a glimpse of the watch on his wrist. It hadn’t been there earlier; he was on a schedule now.

“Ah, but no time!” he cried, his hands clutching my waist and pushing me quickly through the office and into the bedroom. He spun me roughly and I fell to the mattress with a yelp. He clapped his hands festively and plucked his coat from the back of a nearby chair.

“Get ready, get ready!” he crowed, shrugging into his coat and cackling wildly before skipping from the room, giddy like a child. “We leave in ten, darling,” I heard him screech, his laughter echoing across the walls of the foyer.

I didn’t move; I simply stayed, sprawled upon the filth of the bed, my legs hanging over the edge, prickled from the chill. My blood rang in my ears as I listened to the world turn; to the Joker thunder from room to room, to Maude’s quiet footsteps as she followed after him.

I could hear the wind, could hear the highway, the blast of horn and hollering. The city and all of its credulous little fools, bustling home, crowding the streets, boarding the ferries…

I got to my feet in one fluid motion, slipping into a pair of heels and reaching for a small glass bottle sitting on the dresser.

I began to paint my nails and I watched my wild reflection in the gleam of the paint.

I readied for the night.