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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
Batman: The Fruitless Revenge 
Wednesday, December 10th, 2008 | 06:34 pm [batman, fiction, writing]
The Fruitless Revenge
Written by Steve Shives

Moving her brother from his bed to the tub took ten minutes and left Haruko with a sore back, but she was determined to give him a proper bath. When she was through she left him in the tub and toweled him off right there once the water had drained.

She laid his kimono out on the bed before hauling him back from the bathroom. She reached her arms around his chest from behind him and lifted him out of the tub. She dragged him out of the bathroom, up the hall, back into his bedroom, where she wrestled him onto his bed and dressed him.

Haruko straightened him out, pulled him another few inches toward the head of the bed and laid him back on the freshly laundered pillow. She folded his hands atop his chest, reached out and gently stroked his hair. She swallowed, closed her eyes and listened to his breath move in and out through his nose.

From the back of her bedroom closet she pulled the furisode her father had gotten her for her seijin shiki. She had laughed, giddy with surprise when she first saw it, and told him, “It will be years before I can wear it.”

“Better to buy it now when I can afford it,” he had replied with a shrug. “Who knows what will happen from now to then.”

She stripped off the clothes she’d been wearing and dressed in her furisode in front of her mirror. Her long dark brown hair she pulled back and wound tight into a bun on the back of her head. She knelt down, reached into the closet and found her great-grandfather’s katana. Down through three generations it had passed. It was to have been Mitsuo’s after their father died. Haruko slid it through the obi of her kimono.

She knelt at the side of her brother’s bed. She turned his head toward her, leaned in and kissed him on the lips. “I’m sorry, Mitsuo,” she whispered into his ear.

Haruko stood.

She drew the sword and with a swift, sharp stroke decapitated him. Mitsuo’s blood stained the front of her furisode. She returned the katana to its sheath and laid it next to Mitsuo on the bed.

She walked to the living room and took her white nurse’s coat from its hook by the door. She pulled it on over her stained kimono and buttoned every button down its front. She left her apartment, walked downstairs, out onto the street, up the sidewalk to the subway.

She rode the same train she rode every night, all the way to the end of the line at the Mercey Island Bridge.

. . .
He was nearly home when the cell phone in his pocket went off. The voice on the other end belonged to Mackenzie Bock. “Commissioner, we have an Arkham situation.”

Jim Gordon got off the train at the next stop. There was a patrolman waiting for him.

When he arrived at Arkham, Gordon found Bock standing behind the Q.R.T. van alongside Lieutenant Cornwell, Sarge Davies, and Detective Marcus Driver from Major Crimes. “What are you doing here?”

Sarge shrugged. “In the neighborhood.”

Gordon turned to Bock. “Which one?”

“Everyone in maximum security.”

“Jesus Christ.” Gordon took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand.

“They’re contained, we’re covering all exits, but security registers a breach in every cell. They’re just in there walking around the ward loose.”




“One. A nurse on the overnight shift.”

Driver pulled out his notepad and read from the top page. “Haruko Matsushita.”

“All other staff was able to evacuate before he locked it down,” Bock said.

“Where is he?” Gordon asked.

“The infirmary in maximum security. It’s apparently been sealed off from the rest of the wing. He’s in there alone with the hostage.”

Gordon looked around. “Where’s Crisis Negotiation?”

“En route,” said Bock. “Just got off the radio before you pulled up.”

“What demands has he made?”

Bock shook his head. “None. We only know it’s even him from his cell door being the first security breach, and a few frames from a security camera as he and the hostage made their way up the hall. He waited until they were locked in before he opened the rest of the cells. Cameras in the infirmary have been cut-off, and we haven’t heard a peep out of him since this all started.”

Gordon looked past the perimeter, up at the sharp angles and iron-barred windows of Arkham Asylum. “Then what the hell does he want?”


None of the four cops standing with him had spoken. Gordon looked behind him. There was nobody.

“The longer he’s in there alone, the worse the odds for the hostage.”

Gordon looked up. Batman crouched on the roof of the Q.R.T. van.

“For Christ’s sake, the bridge is closed—how the hell did you get over here?” asked Driver, looking up, his right hand on his sidearm.

“He doesn’t need a reason to kill the girl, or set the rest of them loose.” Batman said to Gordon.

“If he hears us coming, he might cut her throat without even thinking,” said Lieutenant Cornwell.

“That’s assuming we could even get in.”

Sarge nodded. “And if we dick around out here all night, he’ll kill her anyway and open the front door to every other lunatic in the place.”

Batman stood. “Keep everyone back and let me handle it,” he told Gordon. “And call a plumber.” He took two steps and dropped off the side of the van. Driver looked, but couldn’t see him.

“What the hell does that mean, ‘call a plumber?’” Driver asked.

“Do it. Find someone nearby and make sure they let him over the bridge,” Gordon said. He looked up to where Batman had been. “We’ll give him until Crisis Negotiation gets here.”

Bock stuck a cigarette between his lips and flicked his lighter.

Gordon snatched the cigarette and tossed it away. “I should bust you back in the bag for wanting to smoke that thing in front of me.”

“Sorry,” Bock said, dropping his lighter back into his shirt pocket, “forgot that you quit.”

“So had I,” Gordon said. He dug his hands into his front pockets and leaned against the rear of the van.

. . . 

There was a thin fog hanging in front of everything as he opened his eyes. A few seconds passed, he blinked and it began to fade, but still he felt detached, as though he was looking at the room through binoculars.

He was strapped at the wrists and ankles to an examination table. It had been tilted forward so that he was nearly upright. He looked down at himself and saw that he was nude.

Metal clattered faintly against metal, like cutlery being laid out on a serving tray. “That you back there, Jerry?” he asked. “I gotta tell you, I hadn’t planned on going to bed quite that early, but then—BAM—out like a light!”

“I swapped your Thorazine for something more potent,” someone said from behind him. A female voice, muffled as if she was talking into a tin can.

“So wait—you mean I haven’t had my medication this evening?”

She came around in front of him where he could see, pushing the ECT cart ahead of her. She wore a bright blue kimono with a big spatter of blood staining most of the front. Her face was covered by a carved wooden mask, the image of a wickedly smiling demon with two long horns protruding from the forehead.

The Joker laughed.

“Lovely reveal. Very understated.” The masked woman ignored him. She used a small pair of pliers to twist metal clamps onto the stripped ends of the ECT wires. “I’d applaud you, but . . .” The Joker flapped his fingers against his immobilized palms.

The masked woman fixed the clamps to his scrotum.

Ahh,” the Joker sighed blissfully, “a woman after my own heart. If I had a hat on, I’d take it off to you, lady. Though I’m not sure how I’d work that right this minute.”

She turned a dial on the ECT machine and flipped a switch. A tiny bolt of lightning sliced through his testicles.

“Not ‘woman’ or ‘lady,” said the voice behind the mask after she turned off the current. “Hannya.”

The Joker tried to shrug. “Whatever melts your butter. Speaking of which, do you smell that?”

Hannya turned the dial further to the right and flipped the switch again.

. . .

When the chef had finished tying the four of them to their chairs, the Joker walked around the hibachi and tugged on each of the ropes himself. He gave a grateful nod to the chef, thanked him, and shot him in the head.

Haruko thought she would throw up, but she didn’t. She turned to her left and saw Mitsuo reaching toward her with his elbow. He wasn’t close enough to touch her. She strained against the ropes holding her hands and managed to push her arm out just enough to graze him. Too frightened to speak, they stared at each other and forced themselves to smile.

“Sorry about that,” the Joker said, slipping the pistol into the inside pocket of his purple coat. “I know it was terribly loud. I don’t favor guns as a rule, partly because of the noise. I’ve got this ringing in my ears from it. It’s there nearly all the time. Drives me crazy.” He shook his head regretfully. “But,” he said, clasping his hands in front of him, drawing in a deep breath and breathing a relaxed sigh, “Time is a factor, and I’d hate for us to be interrupted.”

The Joker walked behind Haruko and Mitsuo, patting them each on the head as he passed. He stopped at their parents, leaned in between them with his hands on his knees. “What’s your name?” he asked, sounding like a curious child.

Haruko’s father refused to look at him. He stared straight ahead, struggling mightily to hold a stern expression on his face. “Tatsumi Matsushita,” he said.

The Joker’s brow wrinkled thoughtfully. “Well, I’m going to call you . . . Stanley. Purely for my own convenience.” He reached his arm around Haruko’s mother. “What about you, Mom? What’s your handle?”

“Manami,” she said.

The Joker walked around to the chef’s side of the hibachi. He pushed out his lower lip at Manami. “Oh, what the hell,” he said, throwing up his arms, “you can be Stella.” He studied her for a few seconds, scratching his chin. “Yes. You look like a Stella.”

He made a move to lean against the hibachi grill, but pulled up abruptly. He tugged the glove off his right hand and touched the surface timidly with his fingertips. “Okay,” he said, pressing down with his bare palm. He put the glove back on and leaned forward on the grill. “So we’ve got Stanley and Stella . . .” He slowly turned from their parents to Haruko and her brother. “. . . and the kids.”

Mitsuo was grinding his teeth. Haruko wasn’t sure if he was showing his resolve or struggling to keep his composure. The Joker slid further across the grill and rested his head in his hands only a foot or so from Mitsuo’s face. “You’re the number one son. The man of the house if anything happens to”—the Joker wagged his thumb at their father—“am I right?”

Mitsuo made a reluctant, subtle nod of his head.

“Well,” the Joker sighed, his hands pressing against his bleached cheeks, “son, you’ve got a decision to make. Your Mom or your Dad.”

Mitsuo’s eyes opened wide. “What?” he asked, confused.

“Need you to pick your favorite.”

“I can’t. I can’t.” Mitsuo shook his head. A tear slid down the side of his nose. “I won’t. I’ll choose them both.”

The Joker sighed, annoyed, and stood up. “That is not an option, little buckaroo,” he chuckled. “You have two choices: the one who popped you out, or the one who donated the sperm.” A look of inspiration flashed across his face, and the Joker drew the pistol from his coat and walked around behind Haruko and Mitsuo’s parents. “Correction. There is a third option. You can refuse to pick one over the other, and I’ll kill them both.” He waved the muzzle of the gun back and forth from mother to father.

Haruko felt tears run out of both eyes. Mitsuo squeezed his eyes tight shut. His lower lip began to shake.

“Kill me and let my wife and children go,” Haruko’s father said.

The Joker ignored him. The Joker tugged the glove back from his left wrist and checked his watch. He rolled his eyes. “For Christ’s sake . . .” He looked at Mitsuo and twirled the gun impatiently. “Come on, kid. You gotta pick one.”

An agonized sob exploded out of Mitsuo’s throat. “Mom,” he said, his head on his chest. “I choose Mom.”

“You choose Mom? Great.” The Joker stuck the gun back in his coat, grabbed the back of their mother’s chair, and began to drag her toward the kitchen.

“Where are you taking her?” cried Mitsuo, craning his neck to see past Haruko.

The Joker paused. “Did you really have to ask that question?”

“You told me to choose my favorite!”

The Joker glanced at the ceiling, thought for a second, looked at Mitsuo and nodded. “Yep. You got it.” He tilted their mother’s chair back on its rear legs and dragged her through the swinging door into the kitchen.

Haruko heard her mother scream. Then there was a gagging sound, and the screaming stopped. Haruko turned her head and sobbed into her shoulder.

The kitchen door flew open and the Joker returned with a bloody chef’s knife in one hand and a bowl of chow mein noodles in the other. “Don’t know what I was thinking . . .” he muttered. “Just a little something to tide you over.” He sat the noodles between Haruko and Mitsuo and marched back toward the kitchen. “Share those with Stanley!” he called as he shoved his way back through the door.

. . .

The plumber arrived before Crisis Negotiation and was curious to know from Gordon exactly what the hell he expected him to do.

“It’s a little difficult to explain,” Gordon told him. “For now, the best thing would probably be to just sit in your van and listen to the radio.”

“Sit in my van and listen to the radio,” the plumber said, blinking sleep out of his eyes. “That’s why I got up in the middle of the night and dragged my ass out here?”

“You’ll be paid for your time,” Gordon said.

“You’re goddamn right I’ll be paid for my time.” The plumber slid into his van and slammed the door. He reached for the radio, and heard the faint click of the latch on his rear door. He flipped on the overhead light and climbed out of his seat and into the back.

He threw open the rear door a minute later and stepped outside. He walked up behind Gordon and tapped him on the shoulder. “My pipe chain’s gone.”

Gordon considered this for a few seconds. “One of your tools is missing,” he said, to make sure he understood.
The plumber nodded, irritated. “Somebody got in my van and took it. Just now while I was talking to you.”

Gordon shrugged. “It’s nothing to worry about. I’m sure someone’s just borrowing it.”

“Is this why I’m here after goddamn midnight? So your cops can help themselves to my tools?”

Gordon shook his head. “I didn’t see who took your tools,” he said. “But I doubt it was someone on my payroll.”

The plumber’s pipe chain was rolled up and dangling from a loop at the back of Batman’s belt. He moved on his hands and knees through the crawlspace beneath Arkham’s first floor. Above him he heard footsteps—the freed inmates of the maximum security wing.

He inched his way to one of the far corners of the crawlspace, to a spot underneath the security office. A drainpipe emerged from the ground and was joined to the toilet in the office bathroom by an iron fitting. He listened, and heard no one walking over this area of the floor.

Batman took the pipe chain from his belt and wrapped it around the drainpipe less than an inch above the dirt. He fed the open end into the ratchet mechanism and began pulling back on the handle, drawing the chain tighter around the pipe. A minute or so of working the ratchet and the chain severed the pipe cleanly all the way around. The water that had been in the toilet bowl gushed out over the ground. Batman removed the chain and returned it to the back of his belt.

He used another small ratchet tool to remove the fitting and the anchor screws. He reached both hands up through the hole in the floor and with his fingers gently began to shove the toilet to the side. When he’d moved it as far as he was able, he went to his belt again. His battery-powered cutting tool would be too noisy. He reached instead for his handsaw, laid down on his back and went to work ripping out the hole.

. . .

“I’m thinking I should ask for that from now on instead of those Depo-Provera injections,” the Joker said as Hannya removed the electrodes and shoved the ECT machine away.

She tilted him back and locked the table into a horizontal position, and dragged over a cart with two syringes laid out on top. She pulled the cap off one, stuck the needle into a vein in the Joker’s right arm, and pushed in the plunger. “In a few minutes, you will have more important decisions to make,” she said.

“Are you hideously scarred under there, or did you come straight here from your Forty-Seven Ronin dress-rehearsal?” the Joker asked, turning his head to gaze up at Hannya, as though he was genuinely curious.

“You’ll have to live with not knowing.”

The Joker sneered and looked away. “You’re probably not even Japanese. Maybe I missed the part about drugging and torturing your enemies in the code of bushido, but I don’t—”

His words stuck in his throat, and suddenly he was struggling for his breath. He pulled against the restraints on his wrists. Behind her mask, Hannya smiled.

She examined the empty syringe. “Hmm. You know, I even specifically remember reading something in your medical history about an allergy to fluorescein. . .” Hannya shrugged and placed the empty syringe back on the cart. “I can’t believe I did that.”

She unlocked the restraint on the Joker’s right wrist and sat down on a stool a few feet away, pulling the cart along. “You’re probably still woozy from the sedative, I’d estimate you only have a few minutes of consciousness left, so listen carefully. Here are your choices.”

Hannya pulled a dagger from inside her robe and placed it on the cart next to the unused syringe. “Option One, you can take the tantō, slash your throat or your wrists, and end your suffering quickly and relatively painlessly. Or, Option Two, you can give yourself this injection of epinephrine, which will relieve your anaphylaxis and keep you from asphyxiating.

“But, if you want Option Two . . .” She picked up the syringe, and pushed the cart back within reach of the Joker. “. . . you have to ask for it.”

The Joker smiled. In his eyes Hannya thought she saw a tinge of admiration.

He took the dagger in his free hand and pointed it toward his throat. He pushed the tip through skin and cartilage into his trachea and, grunting, biting his lower lip, twisted it, tearing that narrow incision into a ragged hole.

He drew the dagger out of his windpipe and reached it back to the top of the cart. He used the blade to chop the needle from the end of the empty syringe, dropped the dagger, grabbed the syringe and shoved out the plunger with his thumb. He pushed the plastic tube through the hole in his throat and began breathing through it in deep, wheezing gasps.

The Joker covered the exposed end of the syringe with his index finger and, grinning at her, whispered, “Option Three.”

Hannya rose from the stool. She wrenched the Joker’s right arm back to the side of the table. “You must value your life to go to such gruesome lengths.” She locked his wrist back into the restraint. “Well, rest assured,” she said, taking the dagger and tucking it back inside her kimono, “you’ll still have it when this is over. Whether you want it or not.”

. . .

The Joker kicked open the kitchen door and backed into the dining room carrying a large serving platter. He turned on his heel and strode to the hibachi with the platter balanced high on the fingers of his right hand. He wore a blood-spattered apron, and a tall white chef’s hat on top of his head. He took his place across the grill from Haruko and Mitsuo, with their father to his left.

He lowered the platter onto a collapsible table. On it was the bloody chef’s knife, and two plates—one holding a pile of various hastily chopped vegetables and half of a peeled onion, the other piled high with shreds of raw meat.

In the mound of bloody flesh Haruko saw torn bits of skin and strands of her mother’s black hair. She rolled her head back and wailed, her tears streaming in rivulets down both sides of her face.

“Hey, come on,” the Joker yelled above Haruko’s anguished sobs as he turned a dial on his side of the grill, “you haven’t even tasted it yet.”

The Joker took the knife and pushed the pile of meat off the plate. It landed on the grill with a loud sizzle. He leaned over the rising mist of smoke and breathed in deeply. “Don’t you love that smell?” He shook his head as he dropped the vegetables onto the other side of the grill. “I don’t know how vegetarians do it,” he said, setting the onion half aside and scooping and chopping the other vegetables.

“Please, sir,” whispered Haruko’s father. His bottom lip quivered when he spoke, though he attempted to disguise it. “Let my son and daughter go. Whatever you’re going to do, do it to me.”

The Joker’s chopping gradually slowed, and stopped as Tatsumi Matsushita spoke. The Joker contemplated the scattered chunks of broccoli and carrot crackling in front of him. He tapped the cooking surface with the tip of his knife. “Stanley, you just . . .” The Joker turned to him with a look of sadness, pity. “. . . you’re not really keeping up with me, are you?”

He shook his head, disappointed, and returned his attention to the other half of the grill. He spread the meat evenly across the grill, dragged it toward the center and began mixing it with the vegetables.

“Please,” Haruko’s father pleaded, “for the sake of my children.”

“Stanley, you ought to just relax and enjoy yourself,” the Joker said, his tone low and cold. He drew a carving fork from behind the grill, pulled a chunk of meat away from the pile, and sliced off a smaller fragment. “Open wide!” he yelled, and flipped the morsel off the tip of the knife directly at the face of Tatsumi Matsushita.

Haruko’s father turned his head away, spat emphatically at the ground, and looked for a moment like he was about to vomit.

“You’re supposed to catch it,” said the Joker. “I shouldn’t have to be telling you this.” He drummed his knife and fork tunelessly against the edge of the grill.

The Joker stabbed the onion half with the fork. He sliced off the top and carefully disassembled the onion into separate rings, which he then stacked back on top of each other to form an irregular cone that leaned heavily to one side. He produced a bottle of oil from behind the grill and squirted it into the cone until oil ran over the top and out from beneath the bottom ring.

“I always love this part,” he told Mitsuo with an eager smile.

The Joker struck a match and touched it to the oil-soaked onion, which immediately burst into flames. The oil that had spilled down the side and out the bottom burned off in a second, while what was left inside the cone produced a thick gray plume.

Chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga—hey, hey—it’s the Orient Express.” He looked to Mitsuo and Haruko for approval. They turned their heads. “Come on, lighten up . . .” He hung his head as he took the knife to the stack of charred onion rings and chopped them into smaller pieces.

“What is it?” he asked, eyes locked on the grill, folding the chopped onions into the meat and vegetables. “What do I have to do to put a smile on those faces?” He looked up abruptly, pointing the knife at Haruko. “It’s the juggling. Isn’t it? You miss the juggling.”

The Joker stood up straight, took a deep breath, and tossed his utensils into the air. Shifting quickly from one side to the other, lunging forward one moment, leaning back the next, a look of determination on his face, he juggled the chef’s knife and the carving fork. “Not bad for no practice,” he said. He glanced at Haruko and Mitsuo, who both still refused to look at him. “Big finish!” he shouted, and flung the carving fork up into the ceiling, where it stuck.

“Ta-da!” He threw his arms out triumphantly to the side and took a bow. As he straightened up he swiped the knife across Tatsumi Matsushita’s neck.

“Dad!” Mitsuo shouted. A spray of red erupted from the slash in his father’s carotid artery. “Dad?” His father slumped forward. The blood running from his opened neck diminished to a steady trickle.

Haruko didn’t look. She kept her eyes squeezed shut, and tried to choke back her sobs.

. . .

Jonathan Crane walked into the bathroom behind the security office just as Batman was lifting himself out of the hole in the floor where the toilet had been. Crane stopped short. “Oh, shit.” He turned to run.

Batman pulled his grapnel and shot it after Crane. The grappling hook clamped onto the back of Crane’s calf, drawing blood through the bottoms of his hospital pants. Batman gave the line a sharp yank, tripping Crane flat to the floor.

He climbed the rest of the way out of the hole he had made, retrieved his grapnel, and hauled Crane to his feet by the back of the neck. Pushing Crane ahead of him, Batman entered the security office, where he saw Jervis Tetch standing over the closed-circuit TV monitors. Tetch turned, mouth open in shock, and Batman knocked him against the wall with a stiff punch to the head. Tetch crumbled to the floor. Batman took him by the collar of his shirt and dragged him out into the corridor.

It was dimly lit by the emergency lights, but he could see the open door of every cell from one end of the ward to the other. Most of the inmates were gathered at the far end. Two of them seemed to be trying to reach a ventilation register high up on the wall. Batman clicked the night vision lenses into place behind his cowl. After the moment that it took to adjust to the available light, he made out the green-tinted image of Peyton Riley stretching toward the vent, standing on the shoulders of Waylon Jones.

“Help!” Crane shouted.

The inmates gathered beneath the vent turned as one. They rushed at Batman—all but Jones, who gripped Riley around the ankles and pushed her further up along the wall.

Batman yanked Tetch to his feet and shoved him into the first open cell he came to, slamming and locking the door. The first of the charging inmates to reach him was Victor Zsasz, who came in swinging a wild right hand. Batman dodged the punch and delivered a sharp toe-kick to the stomach that knocked the breath out of Zsasz and dropped him gasping to the floor.

Several inmates tripped over Zsasz. Batman shoved Crane ahead of him into the path the others. Garfield Lynns pushed Crane aside, and the next moment felt Batman’s fist crashing into the side of his face, knocking him unconscious.

Batman pitched himself against the mob, throwing punches, kicks, sharp elbows and stiff knees; pushing, dragging, or throwing each of them into the open cells as he was able, until every one had been locked away—every one but Waylon Jones and Peyton Riley.

Hearing an end to the brawl behind him, the man better known as Killer Croc turned to see Batman striding toward him down the corridor. He released Riley’s ankles and stepped out from the wall, leaving her dangling from the ventilation register by her fingers.

“Croc!” she shouted. He ignored her.

Batman fired his grapnel. It dug into the scales above Croc’s collarbone. He seemed not to feel it. Batman jerked the line, pulling Croc slightly off-balance, and charged.

Croc let out a growl and swatted the claws on his big right paw across Batman’s chest as Batman tried to feint to the side. The blow knocked Batman to the ground and left him with deep scratches in the front of his tunic. He rolled to his feet, and had no chance to steady himself before Croc landed a left hand to the jaw that sent Batman staggering back into an open cell.

Batman stumbled to the floor against the rear wall. Croc charged in after him, lunging at Batman’s head with a colossal green foot.

Batman dodged to the left. He grabbed Croc’s ankle with both hands and heaved him backwards into the corridor. Batman jumped to his feet and dashed for the door. Croc missed a grabbing dive and smashed his shoulder against the doorframe.

Batman swung the steel door against Croc’s arm. Croc let up an agonized yowl. Batman took a step back and threw his shoulder against the door. Something buckled beneath that crocodile hide and Croc shrieked louder than before. Batman flung back the door and jerked Croc away by the arm hanging from that damaged shoulder. He drove his fist up under Croc’s ribs, grabbed him by the waist of his hospital pants and propelled him headfirst into the open cell across the corridor.

With Croc caged, Batman returned to the open doorway of the opposite cell. Inside, Harvey Dent sat calmly on his bunk. A silent moment passed between them. He showed Batman the unblemished face of his two-headed coin. Batman stepped back into the corridor and pushed the cell door closed.

“Can you please get me down?” asked Peyton Riley, still clinging to the register high on the wall by her fingertips.

Batman stood under her. “Let go.”

“Can’t you just . . . zip up here on your bat-rope and get me?”

Batman started away.

“Okay, okay!” she shouted. “I’ll let go, I’ll let go. . . . Please catch me . . .”

She pulled her fingers out of the vent and slid down the wall.

Batman caught her. He carried her down the corridor and brusquely deposited her on the floor of the last open cell.

Then he returned to the far end of the ward and stared up at that ventilation register.

. . .

The commotion on the other side of the door, whatever it had been, was over. Hannya stood leaning over the Joker at the head of the table. She had ratcheted a strap down tight across his forehead, making it nearly impossible for him to turn his head from side to side.

“You’re not going to die,” she told him. “You’re going to live.”

. . .

The Joker served plates of vegetables and smoking chunks of flesh on beds of rice to Haruko and Mitsuo. “Now, I’ve never tried this recipe before, so let me know what you think.” The Joker stood back and clasped his hands in front of him. “But I warn you—I’m a little sensitive to criticism.”

Haruko glanced at her brother from the corner of her eye. Mitsuo was staring stoically at the plate in front of him, inhaling and exhaling in slow, deliberate breaths. Haruko closed her eyes and tried to emulate him.

The Joker narrowed his eyes. He pushed his tongue against the inside of his cheek. “Kids, you have to at least try it, or you’ll never know whether or not you like it.”

Haruko and Mitsuo ignored him and continued their breathing.

He pulled the pistol from the inside jacket of his coat and fired four rounds rapidly into the corpse of their father. “Eyes front,” he said, lowering the gun to his side.

Haruko and Mitsuo locked their eyes on him. Mitsuo struggled to keep up his regular breathing. Haruko held her breath.

“I hate to keep harping on this, but I haven’t exactly got all night,” the Joker said. “I didn’t slave over a hot grill for you two to just sit there staring at your supper. So come on.” He waved the muzzle of the gun at the plates. “Get in there.”

Neither Haruko nor Mitsuo moved.

“You need a little encouragement? Fine.” He dragged over a chair from the table behind him and sat down directly across from Mitsuo. “You first. Eat your dinner or I’ll put a bullet up your sister’s nose.”

The Joker reached over to Haruko and pressed the muzzle of his pistol against her right nostril.

“Please,” Mitsuo whispered. “Don’t. I can’t eat it.”

“Well, whose fault is that, kid?” the Joker asked. He brought up his other hand and slapped Mitsuo across the face. “Didn’t I give you a choice? You could’ve had the old man! I don’t want to hear it!”

The Joker clicked the pistol’s hammer back. “Is that your final answer?”

Mitsuo looked next to him at his trembling sister. His teeth clacked against each other as a shiver ran down his body. He breathed in and held it, closed his eyes, and leaned forward. He pushed his face into the pile of meat and vegetables and began to eat.

“That’s my big boy—look at him go!” The Joker threw his head back and cackled, spreading his arms and kicking his feet against the bottom of the grill. “He likes it!”

He composed himself and, still smiling, turned to Haruko. “Here I was scared I overcooked it . . .”

Mitsuo sat up and vomited. He sobbed, gasping frantically for air, tears running down his cheeks and mixing with the blood, oil, and fat smeared around his mouth and down his chin.

The Joker winced. “Look at that mess.” He tugged the blood-soaked handkerchief from his father’s breast pocket and used it to wipe off Mitsuo’s face. “There, now that . . . is not making much of a difference.” He balled up the handkerchief and tossed it on Mitsuo’s plate.

The Joker slid his chair over across from Haruko. He tapped his gun against the edge of her plate. “You’re up, Gogo.”

Haruko tried to blink the blurry tears from her vision. She shook her head.

The Joker rolled his eyes. “You trying little brats . . .” He sat back and smoothed his hair away from his forehead. “It’s no wonder your father was begging me to kill him. Always needing to be led by the hand. Fine.” He pressed his gun against Mitsuo’s ear. “Eat. Or big brother gets it in one ear and out the other.”

She looked over at Mitsuo. He was staring at her from the corner of his wide-open eye, breathing through his mouth now in shallow, quavering gasps.

“I’m sorry, Mitsuo,” she said.

Mitsuo closed his eyes. Haruko thought she saw him nod, as though he understood, as though he forgave her, but she wasn’t sure.

The Joker drew back from her, eyebrows raised. “Well. It’s not often somebody impresses me, but I gotta hand you this one, kiddo.” He turned to Mitsuo. “I hope you never had to change her diapers.”

Something crashed through a dining room window and the Joker’s gun-hand flinched. He gave a pained yelp that his pistol drowned out an instant later. Mitsuo recoiled violently and his chair tipped over onto the floor. He lay there unmoving, bleeding from his head.

The Joker dropped his gun. Haruko glimpsed a shuriken piercing his wrist—and then Batman was on him. Black hands took the Joker by the lapels and wrenched him away from the grill. “I almost made it, I was this close,” he said, looking back at Haruko. A black fist flew into his stomach, and another smashed against the side of his head, sending the tall white hat flying and knocking him to the floor.

Batman surveyed the dining room—the chef on the floor, Mr. Matsushita in his chair, Mitsuo with blood gushing from the head, only just alive.

He cut the ropes binding Haruko to her chair. He took a cloth napkin from another table and pressed it against the wound in Mitsuo’s head. “Here,” he said, pulling Haruko down next to her brother and guiding her hands over the napkin. He cut Mitsuo’s ropes and lifted his head onto her lap. “Keep the wound elevated. Push hard. An ambulance will be here soon.”

“He killed them all,” she sobbed.

Batman turned around and glared down at the Joker. “Why?”

The Joker stared up vacantly. “Why what? What—I need a reason now?”

Batman took him by the hair and dragged him out through the shattered window.

Haruko saw flashing lights and heard sirens approaching outside. She looked down at her lap, at the peaceful expression on her brother’s face as his blood oozed through the napkins and ran down onto her legs, and tried to think of what she would say when they arrived and asked her what had happened.

. . .

“You’re not a man. You’re a feral dog.”

Hannya held a scratch awl in her left hand, and a ball-peen hammer in her right hand.

The Joker stared up at her, his breath whistling in and out through the syringe in his throat.

“They shoot feral dogs,” Hannya said. “But death is too good for you. Death is the end of suffering.”

She held his left eye open and slipped the point of the awl under his eyelid, pushing it back until it pressed against the top of his eye socket.

“You’ll live to suffer. But you’ll never ruin another life.”

Hannya drew back the hammer.

The air conditioning vent in the ceiling above the door clattered to the floor. A black shape dropped into the room, crouching as it landed, then rising to its feet.

“Hi, Batman!” the Joker tried to say, but only managed a high-pitched wheeze through the syringe tube.

“Don’t come any closer!” Hannya told him, brandishing the hammer. “I can kill him if I want to.”

Batman stood perfectly still. “The police are outside,” he said. “They don’t even know you’ve done this. They think you’re his hostage.”

“Ha!” Hannya twisted the awl in the Joker’s eye socket. “No, not this time . . .”

“You can only help yourself by surrendering,” Batman said. “Step away. You don’t want blood on your hands, not even his.”

“What did I ever do to you?” Joker wheezed, looking up at Hannya.

“Do to me?” She flung away the hammer and pulled the mask from her face. “I am Haruko Matsushita! You shot my brother in the head! Murdered my father! Butchered my mother like an animal!”

The Joker looked toward Batman, clueless.

Batman started toward them. Haruko drew the dagger from her robe and held it under the Joker’s chin. “No! Don’t come near me! I’ll cut his throat the same as he did my father’s.”

Batman froze. “You’re wasting your time,” he told her. “He’s incapable of the remorse you want him to feel. Your brother and your parents will never mean anything to him.”

“He’s right,” the Joker attempted to say.

Tears spilled down both sides of Haruko’s face. “Then I must settle for you,” she said to Batman. She gripped her tantō with both hands, pointed it at herself and plunged it up into her abdomen. Batman reached her in time to catch her as she fell.

He laid Haruko gently on the floor. Her entire body shuddered violently. She groaned when Batman reached toward his belt. “Don’t,” she whispered, so faint he could only just hear. Her eyes turned to glass and rolled lifelessly to the side. Her fingers slipped from the handle of her tantō.

The Joker, the awl still wedged behind his eyelid, strained to turn his head toward Batman. “How have you been?” he gasped, most of the air whistling through the hole in his throat.

Batman clicked on his radio. “Gordon, tell your men to breach. Everything in here is under control.”

He left the Joker as he found him.

. . .

It was after 2 A.M. when Jim Gordon finally walked into his apartment. He shrugged off his jacket, leaned on the arm of his sofa to take off his shoes, and left the living room for the kitchen.

He opened the back door and stepped out onto his fire escape.

“Clean-up go all right?” Batman asked.

Gordon inhaled and sighed. “Everything went fine,” he said, sliding his hands into his pockets and shrugging his shoulders. “Q.R.T. stuck around to help the Arkham guards get everyone back into their proper cells.” Gordon leaned against the fire escape railing, turning to face Batman. “We found that girl’s brother dead in her apartment, decapitated with a samurai sword. He’d been a vegetable for the last seven years. She’d been taking care of him.”

Batman folded his arms beneath his cloak. “The Joker?”

Gordon snorted, disgusted. “Recovering from anaphylactic shock, with a bandage on his neck.” He took off his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger. “You almost have to marvel at the damage he must have done to that girl, for her to throw her life away like this.”

“She wanted to make him sorry.”

“He’s never been sorry his whole life.” Gordon slipped his glasses back on. “Poor girl. All the lives that son of a bitch has destroyed . . . it’s no wonder he didn’t remember her.”

Batman threw open his cloak.

“Somebody should have.”

He jumped the railing and dropped instantly out of sight, lost in the dark.

Before he went to bed, Gordon poured himself a glass of brandy and drank it standing in the kitchen. It was that or a cigarette, and the brandy wouldn’t keep him up.
Friday, December 31st, 2010 | 12:16 am (UTC)
It’s too cool and beautiful to develop and motivate, build up character.
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