"I read your file," the biographer said to the man with the skin-disease. The man — if you could call him that — made the table in between them seem small. He ran his overgrown nails along the table, scraping out peels of wood as though it were clay. The biographer averted his eyes slightly from all the boils, the strange acne, whatever it was, in a way he hoped was imperceptible.
"And maybe I can help you."
"The biographer stifled the vomit building in his throat, forced himself to swallow it. The man's skin was flaking off in a minor, delayed avalanche, each previous swell pushing the earlier flakes closer to the biographer. The man spoke.
"I can be…erratic, but it's within my control. I'm not crazy. I don't belong in Arkham."
"It won't be easy. Maybe, Stonegate, maximum security. The warden is an old friend. Still, the other inmates may not like it…"
The biographer coughed away his implication, but the man was unruffled.
"How much will it cost me?"
In the deposition to the plea deal he'd read, the biographer had noticed a passage about Killer Croc's days at the Gotham Circus, before the attempted murder that landed him his first stint in jail many years ago, when he was a wrestling champion. Croc seemed to blame a local reporter, according to his testimony, someone he'd trusted who'd turned on him. There was a lengthy and memorable digression about the nature of reptiles, detailing how he'd been outsmarted, his volubility betraying a desperation to not seem unintelligent. He spoke about crocodiles, their tremendously powerful biting force, their tons of pressure, but once they're closed, you can hold the jaws shut with minimal effort.
"It is not a fee that I require," the biographer told the reptile.
Killer Croc —his stage name— towered over someone calling himself Thor, a drunken caped schlub swinging a hammer, dragging himself through the lowest and most guttural circles of amateur wrestling. He held no great hammer, just one from someone's toolbox. Circus policy dictated that Croc's opponents were allowed weapons to make it a fair fight.
But it was never really fair, Croc told the reporter who came for an interview. He could've snapped their necks whenever he wanted — it was an exercise in restraint. Give 'em a good show. Give 'em what they want. The packed sleazy crowd, night after night. Controlling his anger, letting it out in productive ways, wrestling as therapy. The reporter had seemed greatly interested in this. They went off the record. They had a lot in common, the reporter told him. Both orphans. The reporter actually had just visited his parents' grave, he said.
"I'd like to do a human interest piece," he'd told Croc, the way the man didn't emphasize human putting him at ease.
The fake Thor took a wild swing with his hammer in the center of the sweaty gymnasium, the two of them locked in a cage the size of a jail cell. "Like the animal he is," the promoter, Benny, shouted into his loudspeaker.
The green tint had been less prominent then, a green so dilute you might not call it green. Croc actually used makeup to make his face more garish, to slicken up his skin. "A creature of the sewer," Benny yelled to the crowd. "You're a performer," he told him privately. Croc even fought shirtless, allowing them all to see the scars on his back. "From being born in the Jungle," Benny bellowed.
He didn't mind taking shit from the man who'd made him Killer Croc, reframing his abnormality as a super strength, the man who, even if he didn't like being near him, had taken him in. He knew it was just to sell tickets. At least he was away from that horrible aunt who'd taken him in.
"Born in a cage, our creature returns to the cage!"
Nevermind that he'd grown up in a house like everyone else. A house that belonged to his dead mother's sister, and which like other houses, had knives in the kitchen drawer. He even told this to the reporter, who, after a few hours of walking around the western tent, was already the closest thing he'd ever had to a friend. What did friendless Croc know? To him friend was just a word, an abstraction, and this man fit all the criteria. He forgot he was talking to a reporter, forgot even why he was saying these things, just pleased he could.
When Thor's hammer smashed into Croc's neck, he roared.
He looked at Benny, downing a flask, holding up the number two. Two more blows until Croc could let himself go. Until he could turn it around. But even then, he'd have to hold himself back, unable to beat Thor up too badly or else there wouldn't be any more challengers; perhaps the circus wouldn't want him anymore.
"C'mon, you freak," Thor slurred, as he struck his opponent across the ear. It was like hitting a boulder, the blowback vibrating up his arm.
"Usually, they were afraid— cruelty generally existed for him outside the ring — inside, fear — fear of him breaking their ribcage — suppressed cruelty.
But this false Thor was laying it on. Croc felt calm though, having just talked about it all with the reporter, having waded through his trauma, finally having a sympathetic listener, inoculated. The reporter had said he'd come and Croc turned to scour the crowd.
And then the hammer caught him across the teeth. So there were no roles tonight, after all. "No face shots," Benny warned everyone beforehand.
"Come here, you disgusting lizard boy," Thor said, smiling, and in a second it was too much, hit him like a toxin, that phrase, that phrase he'd never told to anybody before last night, before he'd met his new friend.
"Come and get it you disgusting lizard boy."
But Croc had broken his wrist with one grasp, the hammer dropped to the floor. He began pummeling this fake Thor, moving up his rib cage as if it were a ladder.
"I learned later that the department was facing some heat for not being able to arrest anybody for a string of bank robberies back then. Somebody was tearing off vault doors like they were taffy," the creature said, as if reminiscing about a happy childhood.
"Didn't three security guards lose their lives?" The biographer asked, wandering also about the reporter's story, about what truth was sometimes encased in lies.
"I wouldn't know about that," Croc said. "And besides, they had no evidence. So Gordon let his pet bat out for a little sting, I guess. Bat had a little word with Thor to set me off. Batman, with all his rules, wasn't above playing dirty. I guess those rules, that mask of decency, came later. Those ribs cost me a year each. They had me cold on attempted murder, Gordon's consolation prize. He earned a reputation for justice and I for being an unthinking savage. But emotion is not stupidity."
"It occurred to the biographer that the crocodile must've obsessed over subsequent media descriptions of himself, though the one reporter who actually knew him he never got to read.
"What did he look like, this reporter, Batman unmasked?"
"He was heavily disguised and I hear he has plastic surgery every few years anyway. I spent years hunting him after I escaped, but all I could ever find was Batman and only by committing crimes, luring him to the sewers."
"The biographer might've been moved, might've felt something for this man who seemed to obsess over the creature to which he was most commonly compared, if his own predicament had not been far worse. He moved to leave, the entire interview possibly a waste.
"You wanted revenge?"
"I don't know what I wanted. He cried crocodile tears for me, but so what? No one had ever cried for me before. And no one has since."
GOTHAM HERALD City Notes: Waylon Jones AKA Killer Croc transferred to Stonegate Prison
"I spoke to him myself," ADA Sherwood Tawney was quoted as saying. "Whatever he may look like, he's no less sane than you or I." But Gotham insiders said the transaction came about only because Stonegate's warden owed high-powered lawyer Vincent Vertas. Tawney had no comment about reports that a special cell is being built for "Killer Croc" to segregate him from the prison population.