Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 6

Got a secret
Can you keep it?
Swear this one you'll save
Better lock it, in your pocket
Taking this one to the grave
Cause two can keep a secret
If one of them is dead...

I was eight when I discovered what truly terrified me most: death.

But I had known all my life that attention was a fear of mine, irrational as it was.

An entire room of people staring at you would make any normal person sweat.

But for me, a roomful of people staring at me was equivalent to a roomful of people with guns drawn, there barrels aimed at my chest.

With the company I now knew Shrek kept, I wouldn’t be surprised if the men before me did just that.

As my confident stride faltered and then died, not ten steps from the door, that old familiar feeling crept over me like vines on a castle wall.

All those eyes. All those leering eyes. It was almost too much to bear.

I could practically feel my skin turn chalk white, too embarrassed to even blush. My mouth was suddenly bone dry and my tongue, a fat, useless animal in its cage. I gripped the edges of the serving tray until my knuckles turned white and the coffee cups rattled.

I wasn’t really looking at anything in particular. My eyes were settled on something, someone maybe but my mind was wiped clean. I imagined someone had knocked the plug out of the socket.

“Who the hell is this?”

“I thought you said no disturbances, Shrek.”

“Is she stuck?”

The voices didn’t reach me, blocked by the wall I had subconsciously built. Except one.


Most times, anger makes people stupid. But for Mr. Shrek, I supposed it only made him do the impossible: remember my name.

The clouds were suddenly cleared from my mind, the confusion blinked from my eyes, and everything came rushing back at a frightening pace.

I looked about the room, nearly dropping the tray in hand, until my eyes landed on Mr. Shrek, who stood at the head of the table.

He was oddly calm, though his guests seemed a bit riled.

It wasn’t until I took a closer look did I realize just how furious he was.

His face was set in a deep scowl, his jaw clenched. He held his stiff arms down by his sides and his fingers curled themselves into fists.

“What are you doing here, Selina?” he inquired, his voice patronizing and brimming with false curiosity.

I thought it was rather obvious what I was doing in the meeting room and I was so surprised he had used my real name twice in a row, I almost forgot to answer. But as I opened my mouth to do just that, all that came out was air. Air and dust.

There were a few chuckles around the table just as all my bodily functions returned to normal. Right on queue, I blushed a violent shade of fuchsia and my tongue came to life once more, flopping about in my mouth like a fish.

“Sorry.SyvliatoldmeIshouldbringyoucoffeesaiditwasfine,” I explained, the mess of words spilling out like vomit from my lips.

Before I could try again, slower this time, Shrek raised a hand silencing me instantly.

“If I’m not mistaken, Sylvia isn’t your boss, Ms. Kyle. Am I right?”

More laughter from the mobsters. I nodded fervently, the tray shaking in my hands. My arms ached and I longed to set it down on the long, mahogany table.

“Shrek?” called a mobster, who I recognized as Salvatore Maroni by his deep tan and graying hair, “Some of us have somewhere to be. Any time you wanna get back to business?”

Shrek tore his eyes from me momentarily and nodded to Maroni. I hadn’t even relaxed enough to breathe before I had his attention once more.

“Leave the tray on the table on in the hall and be on your way, Ms. Kyle.”

He hadn’t even finished his sentence before I was dashing for the exit.

“Sorry, friends. My new secretary isn’t exactly house trained yet,” said Shrek, stirring up more laughter from his guests. I winced at his words but said nothing. As usual.

Leaning my full weight on the door, I stumbled back into the hallway and hurried to the small table against the wall.

I placed the tray on its glossy surface, the cups and saucers clattering loudly. Settling into the emptiness of the hallway, I took a deep gulp of air.

I stood there for a moment, letting everything wash over me in one big wave. I attempted to lay the facts out as they were, plain and simple, like cards on a table.

Sylvia had tricked me, lied through her teeth.

The rumors about Shrek were true and there was a three inch thick door of glass separating me from a group of criminals who were, in a sense, the royalty of Gotham.

And most of all, I was a foolish, gullible little idiot.

I should have known not to trust Sylvia. That smile of hers was just too...pleasant.

“Well”, I mumbled to myself as I moved back toward the lobby, even though I was just about ready to melt into the ground, “Mother also told me to learn from my mistakes.”

So now in addition to Stay away from guns, I could add Don’t be so easy to trust others.

The door to the lobby swung silently on his hinges but much to my chagrin, Sylvia’s cold blue eyes found there way to me.

“Did Mr. Shrek like his coffee?” she asked, smiling cheekily, as I made my way to my desk, my knees shaking violently.

I kept my eyes on the floor when I plopped down in my swivel chair, as Sylvia burst into a quiet fit of giggles.

I tried my best to ignore her and the lump forming in my throat, until both had subsided and we both went about our work as usual.

Shrek’s meeting ended just twenty minutes after its interruption and I kept my eyes glued to the computer before me as his guests made their way through the lobby.

Sylvia smiled coyly at them all, batting her Maybelline lashes and wishing them a lovely rest of the day.

I watched in my peripherals as a couple of them waved goodbye to me and I felt my face burn once more, as the others merely waltzed on by, noses in the air.

Shrek was at the tail end of their parade and after he saw that they had all made it onto the elevator, he stood in his lobby, as if admiring its luxury.

I refused to look at him, but I knew from the squeak of his expensive shoes and the undeniable thickness of the air, that he was approaching my desk.

“Ms. Kyle?”

I had no choice.

Tearing my eyes from the bright screen, I looked up at my boss, my eyes threatening to well up with salty tears.

“My office is a terrible mess. I’ll need it spotless for tonight. A...friend of mine is dropping by. You’ll need to stay late. Again. That won’t be a problem will it?”

I shook my head solemnly. “No, sir.”

The corners of his mouth turned up slightly, the closest thing to a smile he would allow. “Good. Until then, Ms. Kyle.”

And with that he turned and calmly walked back from whence he came.

There was silence.

My eyes met Sylvia’s.

A mean smile spread across her pretty face.

“Guess that’ll teach you to be on time,” she chimed, before returning to her work.

Yeah. I guess so.

I went back to staring at the computer screen, the cute kitten desktop smiling back, and as the tiny digital clock on the task manager hit 8:00, I hung my head in shame.

A while later, at a half past eleven to be exact, I was blissful.

Which meant I was completely alone.

Sylvia had long since gone home and though Mr. Shrek would be back later, he was out at the moment.

He said he had a few errands to run. I wasn’t sure if I believed him, but then again I didn’t care. The less time he spent in close proximity with me the better.

It was strangely cold in his office. Colder than the rest of the thirteenth floor.

I ignored the chilly atmosphere though as I came to the last file on Shrek’s desk, that had once been a cluttered mess of order forms, bills, and catalogues. I could only guess his department stores were really booming. I made a mental note to visit one at some point in the future.

“Last one,” I cheered wearily. A tired smile spread over my face as I stood awkwardly from my seat in Shrek’s plush swivel chair.

Unfortunately, I had been sitting for too long. I wobbled dangerously on my sleepy legs and had to place both hands on the desk to stop from falling.

I hissed in pain as my left wrist collided with something hard and awkward that sat beside the lamp on the edge of the desk. Drawing back my hand and straightening up, I squinted against the dim light and craned my neck for a better look.

It was a tape recorder.

I picked it up and looking it over found there was a tape inside. Along the side was a piece of masking tap with Meeting 5 w/ Clown written in black Sharpie.

Meeting 5 with clown?

What did that mean?

My finger hovered over the play button.

Wait. What am I doing? This is Shrek’s personal recorder. I have no right. I shouldn’t even be touching the thing.

But then again…

If Shrek was affiliated with the mob, who’s to say what I held in my hand wasn’t something just as bad? It was my duty as a respectable citizen in Gotham to stand up against crime and finding out all of Shrek’s dirty little secrets would most definitely be a start.

I pushed my hair from my face and swallowing slowly, I pressed down firmly on the play button. There was a click as the tape began to play and I held my breath.

At first there was static and soft anticipation.

Then Shrek’s voice.

“Evening, Joker. Didn’t think you’d come.”

Joker? I shrugged it off as a nickname.

But that was until the voice of this “Joker” character broke through the speakers.

“Stop flirting, Maxie. Isn’t there a reason I’m here?”

A sudden chill ran over my skin and I shivered, pulling my sweater closer to me.

That voice…

It was like nothing I had heard before. It was geeky in a way, nasally. But there was no denying its gruffness, its dark undertones. I was only listening to a tape, but this man’s voice filled the entire room. It was undeniably unsettling but I found myself yearning to hear more of it.

“So, Joker. I trust you’ve come up with a strategy. Care to share with the rest of the class?”

Silence. Static before more of that voice.

“Can’t say I do, Maxie. I’m not really in the uh…sharing mood.”

Shrek was angry now, that calm rage building in his voice.
“This isn’t a game, Joker. This is the plan that you agreed to.”

To my surprise, the Joker didn’t seem at all fazed with Shrek’s impatience.

“Plans, plans, strategies, strategies! I swear that’s all you self-important ‘civilized’ people care about. Haven’t you gotten it by now? It’s all a bad joke.”

There was a something in his words that struck me. Shrek merely responded with more quiet anger.

“You would say that. Got about every cop on your ass by now, don’t you?”

Joker let out a shrill laugh, a sound almost as chilling as his voice.

“Oh, stop it Maxie. You’re making me blush!”

I smiled at his words, despite myself.

I could only imagine Shrek’s expression: one of disgust.

“That wasn’t a complement, clown! If this doesn’t go down as planned, who knows what kind of hell I’ll face.”

Joker scoffed and there was the sound of shoes scuffing the floor. Possibly the floor of this very room.

“Oh yes, God forbid the owner of the number TWO department store chain in Gotham be put on trial.”

More maniacal laughter. I giggled quietly at his words. Number two? I only wish I could’ve seen Shrek’s face.

“How dare you? Those caddy bitches at Macy’s don’t hold candle to…”

Shrek paused momentarily, getting a hold of himself.

“What am I doing? I’m arguing with a lunatic.”

Joker spoke up suddenly, sounding insulted.

“Hey! I prefer evil genius!”

Another burst of raucous giggles bled through the speakers.

Shrek sighed wearily, obviously fed up with this Joker character.

“Whatever. Just get out. And don’t come back until you’ve finished the job. You hear me?”

There was the sound of a chair being pushed back. A long, over dramatic yawn.

“Yeah, yeah I heard ya’, Maxie. Don’t come back until Dent is dead.”

I froze at these last words, just as the tape came to an end.


My fingers rushed to find the rewind button. There was another click as the tape wound back. Play.

“Don’t come back until Dent is dead.”

Rewind. Play.

“Don’t come back until Dent is dead.”

I stared at the recorder for a minute, as the Joker’s voice rang in my head.


They couldn’t mean…

Black ink flashed through my mind, the headlines of today’s paper.


Suddenly everything made sense.

The rumors about Shrek were true and there was no telling what he had been up to, with those sketchy friends of his. The cops and the new district attorney were bound to be sniffing around.

From my nightly readings, I had learned a lot about Harvey Dent. He dreamt of a safer Gotham. Cleaner streets, fewer corrupt officials, the whole enchilada. But most of all, he wanted the mob and all of its business eradicated.

Shrek just so happened to be caught in the middle of it. And he wouldn’t have that.

What better way to solve your looming legal problems than hiring a “lunatic” called Joker to kill the new district attorney?

I let out a shaky breath, scarcely believing all that I had discovered. I eyed the recorder and the tape inside thoughtfully.

If this was meeting number five, where was one through four?

I checked my watch.

It was nearly midnight.

I had no clue when Shrek would be back. I could only hope it wouldn’t be-

“Having fun?”

At the sound of that voice, I gasped violently, sucking in the stale atmosphere. I nearly leapt from my skin and eyes wide with fear, I turned.

Shrek stood in the doorway, coat still on, a light layer of snow melting on his shoulders. His glossy business shoes clicked along the hardwood floor as he neared his desk.

“Whatcha got there, Ms. Kyle?”

I wrenched my eyes from Shrek to the tape recorder in my hand. Then back again.

I had never been a quick thinker.

“Uh….tape recorder?” I offered, as Shrek inched closer, a predator closing in on its prey.

He smirked, obviously amused. “My tape recorder. Did you have a listen, Ms. Kyle?”

I stood slowly, my joints stiff with anxiety and fear. I set the said recorder on the desk, but that didn’t wipe the look of guilt from my face.

“I-I didn’t know. I-″
Shrek edged closer still. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

I found myself walking backwards. Peering over my shoulder I found no escape. Only a window.

“So I guess the gig is up, huh? Know my dirty little secret, Ms. Kyle?” Shrek chuckled, a small grin tugging at his thin lips.

My stomach dropped. This was not good.

His face suddenly darkened, a sneer settling on his face. “Who would you tell?”

I jumped slightly as I felt the cool pane of the window through my thin sweater. No where to run.

I swallowed slowly. “Well…um…nobody?”

Shrek’s smirk returned. “Tell me, Ms. Kyle. What did curiosity do to the cat?”

“I’m no cat,” I assured him, pressing my sweaty palms against the glass behind me, “I’m just a secretary.”

His was a foot away now and I could smell his last cigarette. “A very, very good one. Maybe too good.”

I had reached the point of desperation. I begged for mercy. “It's our secret. Honest. How can you be so mean to someone so meaningless?”

Shrek laughed at my pathetic blubbering. “It was my secret in the first place, Ms. Kyle, and I have to protect my interests. And interest numero uno, is me.”

I licked my lips feverishly and blinked away the tears threatening to burst from my eyes. I wouldn’t take this. Not from him.

“Okay, go ahead. Intimidate me, bully me if it makes you feel big. I mean, it's not like you can just kill me.”

Shrek’s smug grin vanished and he leaned forward, looking me right in the eye.

“Actually, it’s a lot like that.”

I stared, feeling frightened tears pool in my eyes once more. I shrunk away from him like an abused animal, pressing myself up against the window. He couldn’t be serious…

There was moment of tense silence.

And then he smiled, bemused at his own joke.

I did likewise, letting out a nervous giggle.

I wiped away a stray tear, as Shrek laughed quietly. I was safe-or at least I thought I was. “For a second there, you really frightened me.”

Shrek shrugged casually and turned slightly as if to leave.

And then everything happened very fast.

He lunged at me and I felt hands on my chest.

There was breaking glass and my mouth ripped wide in a scream no one would hear.

And I was falling.

Falling through cold, frigid air. Time seemed to slow as millions of frozen tears spun wildly in the darkness.
I felt ashamed of my plainness. I was not fit to fall with them.

It is odd how one thinks of such insignificant things at times of great importance. Or danger.

My life did not flash before my dazed eyes.

My twenty six years amongst humanity could not be called a life.

There would not be much to see anyway.

Then there was ice and snow and grimy cement.

And silence.