Chapter Four - Waiting for the Night
It was never quiet in the Gotham Police Department. No matter what the hour, there were always sounds of conversation, music: television sets always tuned to the news, radios crackling static, the distant sounds of people arguing. At all times there was noise and life. Which was one of the myriad reasons Gordon could think of why it was currently preferable to his empty, lifeless apartment.
There was always work to be doing. And while filling out requisition forms wasn't his idea of a good time, he'd rather that than staring at his bedroom ceiling with the empty half of the bed stretching out to fill the dead silence in the room. No, better to keep busy. Action had always been his strong suit. He'd discovered long ago that given time to sit and think, he was his own worst enemy.
He hadn't taken over Commissioner Loeb's office when he took the job. The story he'd given the Mayor was that the offices in City Hall had been proven unsafe, but the truth was that he hated City Hall, and had no intention of spending any more time there than absolutely necessary. Given a plausible excuse, the Mayor had been kind enough not to point out that Gotham PD didn't have a great track record either.
When you got right down to it, the truth was that nowhere in Gotham was safe. Granted things weren't as bad as they had been in the old days, but Gotham was still Gotham.
There was a knock at the door of his office and he looked up wearily, anticipating Laura about to announce another official visitor. Instead a young officer shuffled awkwardly in and gave a nervous salute.
"Yes?" Gordon said. He cast around for a name; "Sullivan, isn't it?"
"Yes sir," Sullivan cleared his throat; "Ah, you asked to be told about anything unusual happening at Arkham?"
Gordon pinched the bridge of his nose and asked with phenomenal restraint; "What is it this time?"
"One of their psychiatrists has gone missing. Her flatmate says she never made it home last night."
"Right." Gordon looked at his watch, and was slightly startled to note that somewhere along the line he'd lost twelve hours. Oh well. At least they had plenty of daylight to work with. "Get a squad over to her apartment and have the flatmate brought in for questioning. Laura?"
She appeared in the doorway; "Yes sir?"
"Call Arkham, let them know I'm on my way."
"Yes sir," Laura agreed.
By the time she got through to Arkham he was already pulling out of the car park. While the situation wasn't quite as urgent as the last time he'd driven to Arkham in a hurry, he still didn't show the greatest respect for traffic safety laws. Honking howns and shrieked obscenities followed him down the streets. He made a mental note to stop driving like that: it would be embarrassing in the extreme to get pulled over by his subordinates.
The streets were busy: cars and pedestrians flashing past, little glimpses of ordinary lives. It was amazing how quickly people had bounced back in the last couple of months. Gotham bred a particular kind of hard-headed resilience in her citizens, and it would take more than a maniac blowing up buildings and public figures to shake them out of their stubborn little routines.
The staff at Arkham seemed more than a little surprised to see him. Belatedly it occurred to him that it probably wasn't normal for the Commissioner to deal with this sort of thing personally.
He was greeted at the reception by a young man with a mop of blonde hair and a slight limp. "Commissioner," he said, shaking his hand; "It's good of you to come on such short notice. I'm Dr. Lynch: I've been running things around here unofficially since Director Handley was murdered."
And probably for a while before that, Gordon thought, taking in a calmly competent manner and sharp, intelligent eyes. He nodded in acknowledgement. "It's no trouble at all. Is there somewhere we can talk?"
Lynch led the way through the grim, labyrinthine corridors and stairwells of Arkham to a cramped little office overflowing with files. He shifted a pile of boxes to reveal a rickety chair and gestured for Gordon to sit.
"Sorry about this," Lynch said, squeezing past the desk to get to his own chair; "Usually any visitors would be taken to the Director's office, but under the circumstances..."
"It's fine," Gordon said. He sat gingerly on the chair, half expecting it to collapse under his weight; "You should see the state of my office."
Lynch gave a fleeting smile and carefully slipped a file out of a large stack to his left. How he knew which of the hundred identical files was the correct one was a mystery to Gordon. But nevertheless, he took the file when Lynch handed it to him and opened it. A photograph of a pretty young woman smiled back at him from the front page. The name on the folder was Harleen Quinzel.
"Harley's shift was supposed to start at eight this morning," Lynch said. "She's usually here on time, so when she didn't show up we thought something might be wrong. After all, in a town like Gotham you can't be too careful. There was no reply on her cell, so we called her apartment and her flatmate told us she hadn't come home last night."
Gordon nodded; "We've taken her in for questioning. What time did Dr. Quinzel leave last night?"
"About half past six reception said." He frowned; "Which is a bit odd, actually."
"She was supposed to finish at seven. In all the time I've worked here, I've never known her to leave early before. If anything she'd usually work late."
"I see," Gordon drummed his fingers on the desk; "Do you know if she was involved in anything that...might be related to her disappearance?"
Lynch snorted; "Was she bent, you mean? I wouldn't think so. I got the impression she didn't have much of a life outside of here. Never known anyone like her for doing overtime. She enjoyed her work."
"What exactly was her work?"
"Maximum security." He shrugged; "She had a way with the really crazy ones."
"Had there been any incidents lately?" Gordon grimaced; "Apart from the obvious, that is."
"No. It's been very quiet."
"Right then. Thank you for your time." He stood, casting a swift glance at the door. He sincerely hoped he could remember the way back to the reception. There had been an awful lot of twisting little corridors.
"I'll see you out," Lynch said with a knowing little smile.
Perhaps it was because they were coming out of the maze rather than going deeper into it, but the walls didn't seem as close, the shadows a little less dark and ominous. As they turned out into a wider hallway there was even a window. God Arkham must have been a depressing place to work.
"Not much further," Lynch said. Round the next corner was a flight of stairs, and he hesitated for the briefest of moments before carrying on down the steps, leaning on the bannister.
"Are you alright?" Gordon asked.
"I'm fine," Lynch replied. In the face of a pointedly sceptical expression he elaborated in a tone which suggested that he gave the same explanation fairly often; "Broke my leg during that mess with Crane's fear toxin. It never really healed properly."
"Don't be. I came out of it with my life and my sanity. That's more than most can say."
They parted at the reception with rain rattling off of the windows. Footsteps on the cold tiled floors echoed from the walls, lights buzzing faintly in their safety cages of wire mesh. In the distance someone was screaming.
"Here," Lynch said, handing him a little square of paper; "My card. Give me a call if there's any news about Harley."
"I will," Gordon said. He pocketed the card. "Goodbye."
It wasn't until he closed his car door and the tension flowed out of him that he realised just how uncomfortable Arkham made him. If it took a certain sort of mind to take living near the asylum, that must have gone doubly so for those who worked there.
He drove just under the speed limit all the way back to the station.
[...to be continued...]