"I think you just like tying me up."
I turned from my contemplation of the scene outside of the grimy window to look at the man temporarily sharing the space of this run-down shack with me. He couldn't have just said what I thought I had heard. That said, it was probably best to check.
"What did you just say?" I challenged.
My arch-nemesis, the supervillain widely known as the Joker, didn't say anything. Staring obstinately ahead, he drummed an indifferent tattoo on the floor with the heels of his admittedly stylish boots, not my style though. Smug little twerp. I glared at his angularly jutting profile.
The man's eyes narrowed to match my own and swivelled slyly in my direction. "I said I think you just like tying me up." His mouth stretched into its usual mocking smirk.
What a disgusting thought. I turned my attention to the window again, but it didn't really help. Evening was starting to darken the sky outside, making the villain's reflection appear on the glass. Focusing my vision I stared straight through the ghostly degenerate.
"You're sick. Of course I don't like tying you up, it's just my job."
There was a thoughtful silence in which I watched the reflection of the Clown Prince of Crime morosely droop its head. The irritating, fast-paced click click of his heels slowed to nothing. His body, wiry and skinny as any self-respecting villain's should be, seemed to sag against the ropes binding it to the chair.
"I always get tied up."
Leaving my hopeful scan for the impending arrival of police cars on the horizon, I turned once again to my nemesis, crossing my arms over my muscular chest in a suitably heroic pose as if that could disguise my surprise at his comment. "But of course you do, you're the villain." It hadn't worked, the surprise showed in my voice.
The Joker flexed his arms and fixed a sulky, petulant expression onto his face.
I continued. "If you got away free with all of your dastardly schemes, I wouldn't be much of a superhero, would I? It's like the law of villainy that you should get tied up a lot, if it upsets you then you should have thought about that before you signed up to become a villain."
He regarded me a moment, one corner of his smile twitching in the hint of a maniacal grin. "I break laws."
"Not this one. You can't break it any more than I can."
He seemed to think about this a moment, the drumming of his heels starting up briefly with new energy before dying away again. "You never get tied up."
"Yes I do. I get tied up by my enemies a lot. You tied me up just last month, remember? You were going to feed me to your giant squid."
His face broke into its full terrifying grin, the one that haunted the nightmares of the children of Gotham. Had I been an ordinary man it might have scared me too.
"Oh yeah," he laughed diabolically, "That was a good one." His face fell, became resentful again. "But you still don't get tied up as much as me."
"Of course I don't, I'm the hero. What would people think?"
His eyes, usually defined by madness but now almost calm, rested on me. "How often do you get tied up?"
"Weekly? Monthly? On average, about once a month I would say."
"At least twice a month for me." He sighed. "It just doesn't seem right, considering I'm supposed to be a criminal mastermind."
"I suppose it does seem a little unfair," I conceded. "But you can't expect to get away with your plans."
This seemed to touch a nerve. He sat up straighter and indignantly demanded "Why not?"
I was flabbergasted. Did he understand nothing? This man was supposed to be a genius. "Because you're a villain! If villains were allowed to run around getting away with everything it would send out a very bad message, morale would be terrible. As a superhero, I can't help but stop your plans and capture you." I spread my arms in frustration, trying to force the logic of my argument upon him.
The self-righteous demeanour disappeared. The Joker slumped, staring gloomily ahead at nothing. "Then what's the point? If it's a dead cert that I'm always going to fail, then why should I keep trying? There's no reason."
It's always a worry that the logic of the world we inhabit will catch up with us someday and wave its rules in our faces. All superheroes and supervillains know deep down what the outcome of every fight will be, but it's a dangerous thing to acknowledge those facts. We just have to ignore it and keep going. The thought of my arch-nemesis giving up secretly filled me with dread. What meaning would my existence have without him?
"What's the point of my ever apprehending you if I always know I'm going to win?"
"Touché. At least you don't get tied up every time."
I shrugged. There was nothing to say.
"Still," the villain seemed to brighten up and the grin of twisted humour was back on his chalk-white face, "We have fun, don't we?"
"I do. I have a lot of fun planning my schemes, carrying them out, fighting you, planning revenge…" He smiled.
"It's a lot of responsibility." And it was, we both had a reputation to keep up, a role to fulfil every day.
"Oh lighten up, Bat-sap." My nemesis glanced up at the dusty naked lightbulb that hung from the ceiling of the temporary hide-out for his latest plan of villainy – an abandoned shack out in the middle of nowhere. A moth had somehow managed to get in and was wheeling crazily, endlessly around the electric light.
"My name is Batman," I reminded the villain through gritted teeth.
He shrugged and leant back against the wooden chair, his eyes tracking the little flying insect. "We're like that moth, stuck in a loop that will eventually destroy us. Do you think we'll ever get free?"
He laughed humourlessly. "But you agree with me, don't you? You think I'm right."
"About what?" I could feel his eyes on me but refused to look back at him. I set my jaw and arranged a steely, impenetrable expression on my face.
"Don't be coy with me, Batman." His voice dripped and oozed, trying to get a rise out of me, trying to forge a brief connection. "You know what I'm talking about."
He fidgeted about, his gaze burning almost desperately into the side of my head. It was uncomfortable.
"No you don't know what I'm talking about? Or no we'll never be free?"
Miraculously, he did. A deep, profound silence descended upon that dilapidated hut, gloomily lit by a single bulb. The sky outside was broodingly dark. It was so quiet that the soft whirring of the doomed moth seemed to throb in my ears. Still no sign of the police cars, they were certainly taking their time.
The Joker squirmed restlessly against his bonds. He stretched his thin legs and leant his head back with a sigh. At his movement, a little plastic flower badge that squirted his insanely invented nerve gas fell from his trouser pocket to the floor, sending up little mushroom clouds of dust. Not seeming to notice the loss, my arch-nemesis closed his eyes. I shifted uncomfortably.
"You've tied the ropes too tight, they're hurting me."
His voice, shockingly sudden in the silence, made me jump. I was glad his eyes were closed so he hadn't seen. Letting the statement hang in the air unanswered, I studied his arms tied behind his back, the rope winding around his chest to hold him fast to the wooden chair he sat upon. Simple, age-old and effective. The neatly pressed sleeves of his trademark purple jacket looked pinched and rumpled where they met the rope, I could only imagine how it was biting into his skin, but the bonds were nowhere near tight enough to hurt.
"Could you loosen them a bit? Please?"
"No." I smiled to myself.
He seemed to guess my thoughts. Why shouldn't he have been able to? We'd been doing this long enough after all. "Go on, I promise I won't try to escape."
"Spoilsport," he grunted. A little secret smile on his lips matched my own.
Quietly, I crossed the room and picked up his potentially deadly flower pin from the floor, dusting it off carefully as so not to set it off. The villain didn't open his eyes, merely cocked his head a little as if to listen better to what I was doing. Once I was content that his little gadget was free of dust, I slipped it back into his pocket. He made no comment, didn't thank me, just widened his permanent smile the ghost of a fraction.
"I can hear the police cars approaching," he said.
His eyes opened and fixed on me. "Well, this has been lovely. Thank you for stopping by."
I shrugged. Red and blue lights from the cars shone through the window and threw abstract but colourful patterns onto the opposite wall. They looked like the psychiatrist's staple ink blots. I wondered how many of them Joker had seen by now.
"Will I be seeing you again soon?" He probed, still staring at me.
"Same time, same place next week." I allowed myself a grim smile.
He nodded, but seemed unsure. His gaze strayed to the lights on the wall, watching as they gradually extended to swallow up the entire shack as the police cars closed in. The lights reflected back at me in his pupils.
"Do you promise?"
The sound of an engine stopping, the sudden absence of persistent noise filled with a car door being opened.
"You have my word as a superhero on it."
Heavy footsteps approaching the hovel we were holed up in. The Joker's eyes fixed on me a final time.
Then they took him away.