J for Joker
The fifth of November
The gunpowder treason and plot.
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot."
But what of the man?
I know his name was Guy Fawkes, and I know that, in 1605, he attempted to blow up the houses of Parliament.
But who was he really?
What was he like?
We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught. He can be killed and forgotten. But four hundred years later an idea can still change the world.
I've witnessed firsthand the power of ideas. I've seen people kill in the name of them; and die defending them.
But you cannot kiss an idea, cannot touch it or hold it. Ideas do not bleed. They do not feel pain. They do not love.
And it is not an idea that I miss, it is a man. A man that made me remember the fifth of November.
A man that I will never forget.
Harleen moved slowly around her apartment looking for her black heels.
What a mess, she thought as she found one under a pile of clothes and another under the bed.
Pulling her hair back in a tight bun she stared at her reflection in the mirror and behind her to her tiny studio. In resignation, she continued putting on her makeup.
Another day getting ready for her shift in the crazy house. Another day looking for cures to personalities that society decided were unwanted. Another day being a sounding board to some of the most twisted minds in the world.
And it was a full time job.
Ever since Batman had finished cleaning up the mobs and low level crazies that followed them she had had little sleep. He had done his job well. After dent's death, the local government had fallen in line with batman's thoughts on criminals. The police had come down hard on everyone. Scooping up anyone who so much as batted an eye in the wrong way.
It seemed like a lifetime ago, a separate life.
It started with the hard criminals, as it always does, and everyone rejoiced. The streets seemed to be safer. Children played outside once again. Batman was no longer needed and the skies were empty of his symbol for a time. A new mayor and district attorney were on the scene to maintain Batman's hard earned achievements.
However, as with happens with most men who suddenly achieve large amounts of power, they soon had nowhere to turn their focus and began working on mid-level bad guys, then low level, then the mentally challenged. Cameras and CCTV were set up and monitored every doorway. Sensors on every red light and sweeping voice monitors drove the streets listening for drug deals and nefarious acts. It made Harleen feel both safe and very afraid.
The first protest against the new commissioner and mayor ended in many arrests. The second saw the government labeling them as terrorists.
The protests grew and grew.
It was no longer safe to walk outside, whether from protests or fear of arrest and being labeled one of them. The public was divided with most leaning to replace the commissioner and mayor in the next election.
However, after the protesters bombed the police station, killing 30 innocent police officers, the public turned on the them and the mayor and commissioner won reelection in a landslide.
After that, there were fewer and fewer objections to the way things had become.
Curfews were a normal thing now. Surveillance a natural part of life.
Harleen looked at the clock on the wall and realized she was going to be late for her train. She finished zipping up her blue dress and grabbed her lab coat and ID on the way out the door.
As she passed through the double glass doors of her high rise apartment, Harleen looked up at the CCTV camera above her door.
She was safer now, she thought to herself, It was the for the best.
Today her patient was Mr. Edward Nigma, or as most people knew him by his alter ego The Riddler.
She both dreaded and secretly enjoyed her sessions with him. He was a challenge verbally and always kept her on her toes, but on days when she was tired, like today, it really could be strenuous to keep up with him.
Harleen would never say it out loud, but she truly doubted that Nigma would ever "get better".
He was The Riddler and The Riddler was him.
Separating them was an impossibility in Harley's mind. However, she played the role of dutiful doctor and went through the motions. This was her tenth session with him. Her notes were filled with the riddles he told her, her own observations, and medicinal recommendations. Harley looked down at the history from the last four months of their time together, and sighed.
"I have a name that is not mine, and no one cares about me in their prime," Harley zoned back into what the Riddler was saying realizing he was once again posing her a riddle,"People cry at my sight and lie by me all day and night. What am I?"
"I don't know Mr. Nigma, What are you?" It was lazy of her, but she was just too tired today for this.
"TaTaTa, Doc, that's not how this goes. Where did you go just now?" Harleen looked up at the man before her. Handcuffed to the chair and wearing dark blue Arkham issued sweats, he did not look like the mastermind everyone knew him to be. To her he was just Mr. Nigma, a slightly eccentric man in his late thirties, green eyes, tall, and rather witty. He looked grey and sunken in his seat. This light in here was never flattering to any personality.
"Sorry Mr. Nigma, I was simply thinking back on our progress that we have made over the past few months." It was not a complete lie.
"And what conclusion did you reach?" He smiled a kind smile at her.
"I think we are on the right track, Mr. Nigma," She could not tell him that she thought he was a hopeless case, a basket crumbling in, a lost cause.
He laughed at her response. A deep laugh from his gut. It seemed to shake the room and move down Harleen's legs.
Leaning forward he stopped suddenly and stared in her eyes, a serious look behind them and an almost shocked one in hers.
"Two guards stand in front of two doors, one always lies and one always tells the truth. You ask them which way you should go. Who do you believe?" He stared at her intently, truly wanting her to answer his query. They were his way of communicating with her as she knew, and he hated when she didn't at least guess. It went against their unspoken rules.
"I guess I would believe the one who told the truth," Harleen replied.
"Oh my dear doctor, you are so naive.," He shook his head in disappointment and gave a small laugh, "I am truly worried how you survive out there in the real world."
"Who would you believe?" Harleen inquired. Truth seemed the logical way to go for her.
He suddenly slammed his knees up under the desk, causing Harleen to jump.
"You think you know how this world works. It is easy to put everything into a little box and tuck it away in your neat little closet. Bad guys are bad, good guys are good, and grey is a color you cannot see. This is the problem with all you people, you always see the answer but can never solve the riddle." He was becoming visibly upset and Harleen knew their session was coming to an end. Nigma could never keep his civility up for too long before his darker side came out to play.
"And how do you solve the riddle, Mr. Nigma?" Harleen looked at him over her glasses. The question was posed with as level a tone as Harleen could muster..
"Think outside that neat little box of yours. That closely guarded, twenty-four hour, CCTV box. Maybe then it will come to you. Tell me, can you feel them watching you? Does it make you safe to feel their eyes on you as you walk home at night in the dark? Is giving up your freedom worth it? We are condemned as crazy when it is all of you who are truly insane. Who would willingly do that?" Nigma was standing now, pulling against his handcuffs. He pointed up to the camera in the corner of the room with his head.
"Two guards stand in front of two doors, one always tells the truth and one always lies." the doors to the room opened and two orderlies came in. Each grabbed Nigma by an arm and began to pull him from the room. Before he could go, Harley stopped them.
"Who would you believe Mr. Nigma," as lost and crazy as he was, Nigma's riddles still usually had a point. Harleen couldn't let him go without finding out his.
Nigma looked up from between the two orderlies and gave a small laugh, seemingly back in control of himself.
"Why my dear doctor, neither. I wouldn't believe either one." With that Nigma turned of his own accord and left the room closely followed by his entourage.
Harleen sat down at the desk and thought about Nigma's word, the Riddler's words. If you couldn't trust truth or lies, what else was there?
Harleen looked up at the camera in the corner of her office. A small shiver went down her back and not for the first time did she wish that she could be truly alone. but the soulless eye of the camera pointed ever at her, unblinking and steady.
Harleen sighed again and reached for her things.
It was late and time to head home.
It had turned cold outside as Harleen made her way from the train station to her home. The wind blew leaves down the street and the chill crept in even through her coat. Harleen wished yet again that she could afford a car.
Hurrying through the back streets, Harleen looked down at her watch. She had an hour before her curfew. Her card allowed her to stay out till midnight due to her shift at the hospital. Plenty of time to stop at the store and grab some soup for dinner.
As she turned the corner, Harleen found herself bumping into a chest. Bouncing off, she hit the ground hard and her purse went sprawling. Pain shot up her leg as her foot twisted from the heels she wore.
A grunt of pain left her mouth as she looked up to see a man standing in front of her.
"Oh, sorry miss, took a spill there." He gave a fake jovial laugh and reached down to help her up.
"It's ok." She accepted his hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet. However, he kept hold of her arm even after she had regained her balance. He pulled her in closer to his body. And Harleen became uncomfortable fast.
"Bit late to be out now right? Past curfew," His hand squeezed her arm, and Harleen had a hard time not wincing.
"I work late at the hospital, I was just heading home." She tried to pull her arm out of his hold, but he just chuckled and squeezed tighter.
"Oh yeah? What do you think about that boys? Think she's telling the truth." He spoke over her shoulder and Harleen turned to look where he spoke. Two men had emerged from the shadows of the alley. One was rather fat, but also very tall. The other rather looked like a rat to Harleen. His head poking forward with each step he took.
"Bullshit, that's what I think. I think she was out trying to make some extra money, know what I mean boys." The rat said and the other two laughed. Harleen at this point found her heart racing and her mind fogging. She knew she was becoming too scared and her fight or flight response was kicking in.
...and it was never in Harleen to run.
She stepped her foot down on the laughing man holding her arm and raised her other arm to connect her palm to the underside of his nose. Harleen heard a crunch and the laughing man, no longer laughing, let go of her arm. Harleen turned and ran, not waiting to see what damage her hit had caused. But she heard a curse behind her.
"Fuck man, she hit you good." The others were laughing at the man's misfortune.
"Don't just stand there fucking laughing you fucking idiots, go get her." Then there were sounds of heavy footfalls behind her. With her small gate and heels, the sounds were growing too close for Harleen's comfort. Running wildly, she moved without really thinking about her direction, which was her big mistake. On her next turn, she stopped short at the sight of a very tall wall blocking her path. A door sat in the wall to her right, but a good pull revealed it to be locked. When she turned to run back the way she had come, she saw the alley was blocked by the bodies of the three men. She had lost her element of surprise, and her escape path was blocked.
In short, she was screwed.
"Looks like you ran out of room little rabbit, no hole to go hide in?" The rat, still in a good mood remarked. The laughing man now had a look of death in his eyes, his nose bleeding as he moved down the alley and the other two followed.
"We were just going to have some fun with you bitch, but now I think I'll finish the job once we're done. What do you say boys?" The other two laughed in agreement.
Harleen looked up to a CCTV camera above a door to her right, and hope sprang in her heart.
"Touch me and the cops will have your heads," she proclaimed while pointing to the camera.
This didn't stop the men, in fact they laughed even harder at her announcement.
"Oh. Honey ain't no one going to come to your rescue, no one will care about you. Especially after we erase the tapes." The fat one finally spoke as he pulled out his badge. The other two followed suit.
"Oh look at that," The rat laughed," The police are here to save you after all."
Harleen froze in place, then she did the only thing she could do.
She ran to the door under the camera and began to kick and punch it.
"Help me, someone, please!" She punched it till her fists bled and all the while the men just laughed.
"Aww, sweetheart ain't no one coming for you."
She was pulled away by an arm around her middle and shoved roughly on the ground. One held her hands, another her feet. The last tore at her clothing not bothering with buttons.
She screamed and screamed.
Could no one hear her? Would no one come?
The man on top, the laughing man who once again had a smile, brought his mouth down hard on hers, shoving his tongue in her mouth. Not completely giving up, she bit down on the appendage and received a slap for her trouble. He returned his attentions to her neck and his terrible breath filled her lungs. He pulled back once again and laughed in her face.
Suddenly his laugh stopped, a quick shiny something had moved across his throat and now his laugh poured out of his throat in the form of blood. It flowed unrestrained down onto Harleen and covered her dress and face.
A chilling laugh filled the air, slow and over exaggerated. The other two men let go of her to stand up and stare at the man facing them.
He was laughing manically, his head thrown back in pure glee. His body was covered by a blood red shirt which was topped with a gun harness. Two guns glinted in the holsters and a knife was held in his hand, still shiny with blood. His face held tattoos that Harleen couldn't make out. His hair was a strange green color and he seemed to be deathly pale, which only emphasized that his teeth were silver instead of the normal white. Behind him stood four men, each as odd as the man laughing. One was dressed as a panda, another wore an eyeball mask, still another was dressed like batman minus the cloak. Only one man stood in a normal suit off to the side, seemingly unimpressed and disinterested in everything transpiring.
"Now that is a smile even a mother would love," The man in the center said while continuing to laugh.
Finally breaking from their shock, the other men reached to pull out guns, but the pale man ran forward and punched one gun out of the rat's hands while the other he threw his knife at. It landed in his gut with a loud splat.
"Woo Hoo!" he exclaimed letting out a gust of air, "This is just what I needed to warm up for tonight," he hopped from one foot to the other in glee. He reached behind him and pulled out a set of brass knuckles. He punched the rat in the face and turned to the fat man again. Hitting him where his knife rested, he laughed at the cry of pain that came from the man.
While the men fought, Harleen had crawled from under the corpse of the laughing man and moved her back to the wall. She looked from the pale man to his group of strange companions. They stood apart, and didn't even try to come to the aid of the pale man. She turned her focus back to the fight as she heard the fat man cry once again, then heard it trail off in a gurgle.
The pale man kicked the fat one down on the ground. He pulled his knife from his throat and casually turned to the rat who like her was cowering against the other wall.
"Man, your ugly my friend, let's fix that shall we." The pale man reached down and picked up a piece of wood from the ground. Moving toward the rat, he swung the wood down onto the knees of the man. A crunch and a cry of agony were his reward.
"I love killing the last one, they are the most fun. I get to take my time!" His joy was evident as he brought the wood down again and again. Suddenly he stopped and for the first time looked over at Harleen.
"Want to take a shot, Doll face?" he held the wood out to her and waited.
Harleen shook her head quickly, and the pale man raised his shoulders in a shrug.
"More fun for me," He looked down at the man at his feet. He was still alive, and making gurgling sounds, "I suppose I have to teach you a lesson so you can be a better cop my friend."
He reached down, grabbed the man by the hair, and looked into his face. Fear filled the rat's eyes, pure terror.
"Nah," the pale man said sounding almost bored now, "I'm just going to keep beating you."
Then he let the man go, stood up, and swung. He swung until wet sounds could be heard, and no more groans came from the pile of meat on the ground.
The pale man stood up with a sigh of happiness, resting the wood like a bat on his shoulder.
"Ah, what a warm up," he turned to face Harleen. He brushed his hair back into place and took a steadying breath. "Well Doc, you are a doctor right? I can tell by your coat, sensible heels, and too tight bun... That was fun wasn't it?"
He bounced closer to her and crouched down by her feet. Leaning in way too close to her face for comfort. She could smell him, and unlike the laughing man, he smelled like mint and expensive cologne. His smile didn't waver as he stared into her eyes. Her's she was sure were still filled with confusion and terror. His were wide open, filled with glee, and bright blue.
His look from a clinical standpoint could be labeled almost manic.
"I wouldn't say it was the best first date." For some reason she was pulled to say the joke. Maybe it was his smile. She had none, and the line was delivered dead pan. She still wasn't sure if she was out of the woods yet. Sure this man had saved her, but who would save her from him.
To her relief, he laughed, "Ha, Ha, Ha, hear that boys? What a joke."
He reached down and pulled her to her feet, but unlike the laughing man he let go and moved backwards.
"You got spirit girl, I loved when you bit his tongue. Panda man there almost shit himself laughing."
Harleen glanced over at the quiet panda suit, and doubted the truth in what he said.
"Who are you?" Harleen couldn't help but ask. She was so confused and this night seemed to be getting weirder.
"Who? Who? No, lovely, wrong question. you should say 'what are you'?" He stood there, seemingly waiting for her to ask the question.
After a fashion, she said, "O.K, What are you?"
The pale man stood back, almost like on a stage. He spoke beyond her as if to an audience.
"Ladies and gentlemen! You've read about it in the papers! Now witness, before your very eyes, that most rare and tragic of nature's mistakes! I give you: the average man." He pointed down at the dead, beaten man at his feet.
"Physically unremarkable, it instead possesses a deformed set of values. Notice the hideously bloated sense of humanity's importance," he danced around the man pulling and poking at each enunciation, "Also note the club-footed social conscience and the withered optimism. It's certainly not for the squeamish, is it? Most repulsive of all, are its frail and useless notions of order and sanity. If too much weight is placed upon them... they snap. How does it live, I hear you ask? How does this poor pathetic specimen survive in today's harsh and irrational environment," he jumped up and looked down with a sad face.
"I'm afraid the sad answer is, 'Not very well'. Faced with the inescapable fact that human existence is mad, random, and pointless, one in eight of them crack up and go stark slavering mad," he seemed to pause for dramatic effect. Then looked up again and sauntered toward Harleen.
"but, who can blame them? In a world as psychotic as this... any other response would be crazy!"
He put his hands on either side of her head and spoke directly into her ear. His words were warm and calm. They had a deadly aspect to them that both scared and thrilled her like nothing had before.
"Me on the other hand, I wish to fill the churches with dirty thoughts. Introduce honesty to the White House. Write letters in dead languages to people I've never met," he pulled away and continued his speech, arms outstretched, walking in circles, he spoke to what seemed to Harleen to be the whole world.
"Paint filthy words on the foreheads of children! Burn your credit cards and wear high heels! Asylum doors stand open! Fill the suburbs with murder and rape! Divine madness! Let there be ecstasy, ecstasy in the streets! Laugh and the world laughs with you!"
He rushed in close once again and gently grabbed her face. His thumb stroking her lip softly, "That's what I am, one big laugh, one big joke! and I'm going to make this city fall over in pain" He finished his speech and the air seemed heavy with silence after such an animated speech.
Harleen couldn't help herself, the shock was too great. In yet another deadpan way she innocently asked, "Are you schizophrenic?"
He laughed, full on threw his head back and laughed. Then to her surprise he leaned forward and took Harleen's lips in a strong kiss. Over too quick to leave any impression but shock, he pulled back with a smack and said, "I am quite sure they will say so. For now though, you can call me Mr. J."
He let her go suddenly and moved back, "And you doc? What can I call you? Doll face? Sweet Cheeks?" He laughed at his own jokes.
"My name is Harleen Quinzel." Mr. J froze at her name.
"Harleen... Harleen...," he thought for a moment then held his hand up as if a brilliant thought had come to him, "I know, I'll call you Harely! Harley Quinn! What a name." He seemed so happy at his wit that Harleen was loathe to correct him, but she hated that nickname.
"Please don't call me that, my mother used to, AHH!" she stopped suddenly as a shoot rang out and a bullet hit the wall near her head. The joker stood with his gun pointed at her.
"What was that, HARLEY?" He emphasized her new name and his smile was gone from his face.
"No..no..nothing," Harley stuttered and sat down on her heels. Would this night never end, she thought to herself.
Mr. J turned to move past his men, then stopped as if considering something. With a flourish he turned once again and slid down next to Harleen and looked in her eyes.
"Hey Harley, I want to show you something." he smiled in excitement. "Come with me if you want to live."
She knew he was smiling at the quote, but there was a hint of madness, and under it all she knew he was really saying, if you don't come, you really won't live past this night.
He held out his hand to her, and reluctantly she took it. He pulled her to her feet, swept past his men in a hurry and pushed her into the front seat of a remarkably purple Lamborghini.
Circling around and jumping in himself, he stared at her with pure ecstasy filling his eyes.
"This will be a night to remember, Harley."
As they sped of into the night, Harleen found herself for some unknown reason thinking back on Nigma's first riddle of the night.
"I have a name that is not mine, and no one cares about me in their prime, people cry at my sight and lie by me all day and night. What am I?" Harley hadn't even known she had said it out loud until Mr. J shifted the car and turned his head in her direction.
"A tombstone, doll face, what else." He laughed and they sped off into the night.