The Riddler woke up and immediately wished that he hadn't. His head pulsed with pain that was almost as intense as the sharp ache in his swollen ankle. The rest of him wasn't much better off, due to Batman's tender loving care as well as a few injuries generously donated by that orderly. His lip, when he probed it gently with his tongue, was swollen and hot. Probably infected. The orderlies never were too good at washing their hands...
He'd feel better if he splashed some cold water on his face. Really, he'd feel even better if he took a long, hot shower, coupled with a few treats from the liquor cabinet and a nap in his nice soft bed. But he had to work with what he had, and while Arkham was short on hot showers, liquor, and soft beds, it had a nearly limitless supply of cold water.
He began to slide his hands upward to lever himself upright and jerked to a halt like a dog on a leash as stiff leather restraints pulled hard on his wrists. He gingerly shifted his ankles. They, too, were pinioned to the bed, even his sprained one, which sent a vicious stab of agony up his leg as the strap tugged on it.
"Awake already, huh?"
Whoever had tied him down had done it backwards. He slowly craned his head around until he could peer halfway over his thin pillow and see who was outside the thick plexiglass window of his cell.
It was the orderly - whatever his name was - the one that had punched him. At least, he was pretty sure it was. Multiple concussions tended to fog the memory a bit. The man's mustache did look familiar, though.
"Have we learned our lesson about sneaking out?" the man said, smirking.
The only lesson that Eddie had learned was that the hiding place behind the statue was no hiding place at all. It figured that even the long-dead Arkhams were content to turn him in to Batman. Eddie turned his head and did his best to ignore the sneering radiating in at him from the hallway.
"Ignoring me, now? Can't have that." The orderly let himself in to the cell, holding a small folding chair in one hand. He fussily set it up just out of Eddie's line of sight and seated himself. The chair let out a shuddering squeak as if a mouse was dying. "You see, after your unauthorized walk last night, the doctors decided that you need to be watched a little more closely. We're going to be spending a lot of time together, you and I."
Eddie, eyes shut, sighed internally as the man went on in a vaguely threatening fashion. If there was one thing that he didn't need right now, it was an orderly on a power trip. He seemed to attract them, which was one of the serious drawbacks of being a supervillain who found that even the size small jumpsuits were a bit baggy.
"...unless you want another trip to the hospital wing," the orderly concluded smugly. "Any questions?"
Eddie remained absolutely still, like a man playing dead in front of a grizzly bear. It was really the only defense he had. Getting angry made them happy, getting violent made them happier, because it meant that they could do absolutely anything and not get censured for it, and any sarcastic or rude remarks he might make would only earn him a double dose of meds or an elbow to the ribs. By the rules of the asylum, he couldn't get in trouble if he lay still and said nothing. So nothing is what he would do until this oaf got bored and went away. How long could he possibly keep interest in someone who never did anything, anyway?
Many people view the legal system as a way of implementing and enforcing strict, black-and-white rules about crime and punishment. This is an opinion that would make many lawyers laugh until their lungs fell out.
In truth, the laws of the land are an ever-changing morass of restrictions and loopholes, followed with varying degrees of strictness by the wide spectrum of judges and lawyers charged with studying them. Even legal experts physically cannot keep up with the immense amounts of knowledge required to truly understand and implement every facet of the law. Precedents, pretrials, motions and Miranda warnings have blended together into one nearly incomprehensible bundle of dictates and various bits of Latin gibberish.
The issue was further complicated in Gotham, where the introduction of vigilantes had almost completely obliterated any hope of due process. In theory, a suspected criminal had the right to be informed of his crime, read his rights, and presented with warrants to search their personal effects, rules which certain black-cowled vigilantes cheerfully ignored in favor of a much more efficient boot to the head. The lawyers and judges in Gotham, and indeed in many other cities across the nation, had done their best to cram the criminals' rights in wherever they could fit them.
Of course, some of the lawyers, reasoning that the big money came from the ones with the most to lose - ie, the criminals - had opted to use all of their weaselly, loophole-finding, truth-twisting ways to ensure that Gotham's ne'er-do-wells could slide out of jail with as little fuss as possible. But they weren't about to work for the poor criminals - the thugs, the gang members, the low-level henches. Very few people want to be weasels for free.
The lawyer sitting next to Jackie was entirely unweaselly and had the wardrobe to show it. The neatly pressed cuffs on his pants were beginning to fray both top and bottom. His tie, which was striped with dull red and boring blue, had faint speckles of long-ago spills splatted neatly across its middle third.
The courtroom - a small, sweaty space crammed with people accused of a bewildering variety of offenses - was not what Jackie had expected at all. She had anticipated that it would be just her, her lawyer, and the judge, not this swarming horde of other people clutching traffic tickets and paperwork. One by one the crowd before her was called to the stand and dealt with in a matter of minutes.
"Is it always this fast?" she whispered to her lawyer.
He smiled back. "Arraignments only take about five minutes, tops. We'll be up shortly."
Jackie did her best to smile back. Then, ducking her head to avoid the blatant stare of one of the reporters sprawled in the benches, she fiddled with the chain that tied her handcuffed arms to her shackled feet.
"Hands down," a guard at her elbow ordered, making as if to thump her broken arm. Jackie quickly dropped the chain and laid her hands quietly in her lap. True, after her month in Arkham, her broken arm had nearly healed, but it still ached for ages if it was jostled too roughly.
Had it been a month? Maybe it had been longer. The days had run together into one long blur of gray - gray walls, gray jumpsuits, and gray meatloaf on her equally gray tray.
Not that the meatloaf was too terrible, mind you. The food was a little better since Arkham was policed by a better class of inspector than the prison system. There was a distinct and welcome lack of such prison delicacies as loaves of bread made with baby formula or salt-free limp brown french fries. In fact, Arkham was actually better than jail in a number of ways. No roommate meant no worries when you were locked in at night. The staff were friendlier, at least to Jackie. Working in a building with the Joker left them more than happy to deal with someone who wasn't going to try to horribly murder them in a hilarious new way. True, within Arkham there was a larger risk of being thrown to the ground and forcibly introduced to your new best friend, Mr. Thorazine, but even that had its benefits. It was certainly easier to sleep through the caterwauling susurrus of noise that ceaselessly wailed through Arkham's corridors when you were submerged under a little pink cloud of heavy sedation.
On the other hand, they were keeping her on the opposite side of the building from the rogues' wing. She hadn't seen Eddie in...however long it had been. It was almost as if they were purposely keeping them apart, which, she supposed, was extremely likely. Yes, that one orderly with the odd mustache had offered to take her to see Eddie, but even Jackie with her limited criminal experience could smell a trap when it was that obvious. That orderly could have been planning to take her anywhere. She had vowed that she was going to lay low, be a good little inmate, and obey the rules right up to the moment that Eddie appeared at her door and set them free.
If he was going to. Oh, he loved her, she was certain - fairly certain - but it had been so long since she'd seen him. Surely he could have escaped by now. What was he waiting for? And so she'd woken up every morning, disappointed at finding herself still inside Arkham, and obediently trudged through her daily routine.
Today, instead of therapy, she'd been dragged onto a heavily armored bus that had taken her directly to the courthouse. She'd barely had time to be introduced to her lawyer before they were hustled into this courtroom and led to a bench presided over by an armed guard.
Jackie and her lawyer pushed past the waiting crowd and took their seats at one of the small tables placed in front of the judge's bench.
The judge consulted a piece of paper. "Miss Baker, you're charged with two counts of aggravated robbery, forty-five counts of assault, two separate counts of attempted murder, one count of vandalism, three counts of conspiracy, false imprisonment, eleven counts of arson, two counts of theft, two counts of reckless driving, three counts of assault against a hero, and your case is punishable by a maximum of eighteen consecutive life sentences. How do you want to plead?"
"That can't be right!" Jackie protested. "I never assaulted forty-five people! Arson? Conspiracy? There has to be some mistake!"
The judge ruffled through her papers, finally extracting a paper-clipped police report and flicking it open to the correct page. "On September 17, you and Edward Nygma burned down an apartment building, causing damage to eleven separate apartments. On October 10, you and Mr. Nygma smashed the window of a taxicab after refusing to pay your fare. On October 19, you participated in an armed robbery of the Gotham Opera House, culminating in the unlawful capture and assault of a sidekick. On November 1, you attacked Yvonne Mcintyre in the Gotham Public Library. On January 5, you instigated a cross-city car chase. On February 7, you participated in an armed robbery of a science fiction convention, which caused injury to a number of people as well as resulting in the theft of a significant amount of money and a unicorn necklace. You also once again attempted to murder the sidekick known as Robin." The judge regarded her with cold interest.
"I have a receipt for the unicorn necklace," Jackie offered numbly.
"If you can provide it to the court, that leaves us with the other seventy-one charges, then," the judge replied. "How do you plead?"
Jackie looked desperately at her lawyer. "But it was Eddie who did most of that stuff!" she hissed quietly.
"That doesn't matter. You were with him, so you get charged for everything he does, just as he gets charged for everything you did. Don't worry about it," he added as Jackie felt her stomach drop all the way down to her shoes. The lawyer cleared his throat. "Your Honor, I'd like to file a motion to dismiss all charges."
The judge regarded the lawyer over the tops of her glasses. "On what grounds?" she asked tiredly.
"You might be wondering why you never received a copy of her official information. No one ever wrote it." He darted a sidelong glance at a row of observers, two of which were suddenly extremely interested in what he was saying. "In fact, none of the proper paperwork was filed. Not only that, but she was never given access to myself or any other lawyer, not to mention that she never saw a judge within the mandatory twenty-four hours after her arrest. Her continued imprisonment is illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional." He brandished a small sheaf of paper.
The judge, clearly unimpressed by his rhetoric, took off her glasses and tiredly rubbed her eyelids as a bailiff retrieved the papers. She took them from his hand and scanned them briefly, nodding as the proper permissions and procedures were laid out before her eyes.
"This appears to be in order," she sighed in the hollow voice of someone that has seen too many criminals walking away from her authority. "I have no choice but to drop all charges."
"Miss Baker, please be seated." The judge glared at her over the tops of her glasses. Jackie dropped back into her seat, blushing furiously as the observers and other defendants murmured surprise at one another.
Of course, not everyone remembered to murmur. The pair of observers at the far side of the room had progressed all the way to barking criticisms at one another in tones that suggested that someone would soon be going to the hospital.
"I cannot believe that you forgot to file her papers!" The stocky man in the labcoat shoved his glasses farther up his nose and scowled at his benchmate.
The second man, who on closer inspection bore a Gotham DOJ badge on his shoulder, bristled angrily. "We had nothing to do with it! She was in your custody most of the time -"
"And what about the twenty-four hours, huh? Where was her meeting with the judge?"
"You have no room to scold us about legalities! How many human rights violations have you had in the past five years? Twenty? Thirty? Or have you lost count?"
"How dare you!"
"GENTLEMEN!" the judge bellowed, glaring a laser-bright stare of fury at the two combatants. "I will remind you that you are in a courtroom." The two men seated themselves, pointedly not looking at one another as they did so.
"There is one more matter before the court today. Ordinarily, this would have been settled at your bond hearing, but because you did not have one... " The judge paused to glare at the DOJ representative, who steadfastly focused on the floor in front of him while the Arkham representative theatrically rolled his eyes with disgust. "It appears we have some unfinished business before us. Due to the statement given to this court by Dr. Thomson, I must remand you into the custody of a mental health facility."
"What?" Jackie gasped.
"Miss Baker," the judge said forbiddingly. Blushing again, Jackie bit her lip. "As you may not be aware, the precedents cited in Gotham vs. Wesker, Gotham vs. Crane and, indeed, Gotham vs. Nygma tell us that anyone accused of working for a, ahem, supercriminal must undergo a psychological exam before their bond hearing. While you didn't have a bond hearing, you did have a psychiatric evaluation, and based on its results, it would be irresponsible of this court to allow you back onto the streets without receiving the proper psychiatric care."
"Can they do that?" Jackie whispered to her lawyer.
"Yes," he murmured back. "Don't worry."
Don't worry? Well, it would be easy for him not to worry. He wasn't the one facing an indeterminately long stay behind padded walls.
The judge cleared her throat. "After reviewing your records, I feel that it's appropriate to offer you two options. Because you have been a model patient at Arkham Asylum, and particularly because you haven't sought out contact with Edward Nygma, I feel that Arkham may be the wrong environment for you. Therefore, I am authorizing your transfer to the Gotham State Hospital where you can be assessed and treated, hopefully by people a little more responsible than those that have cared for you recently." She snapped a sharp glare in the direction of the benches as the two men choked back protests. "Or, if you prefer, you can be returned to Arkham Asylum, where you will take part in their new Henchgirl Recovery program. If you enter this program, the court will not refile the charges against you."
Jackie chewed on her lower lip as she thought furiously. Go to a new place, where the strange inmates might be a little more complacent, or back to Arkham, which was terrifying but where the psychopaths knew her name. To Gotham State, which might have better accommodations, or to Arkham, where they were keeping Eddie? The henchgirl program at Arkham sounded like something that they'd be putting Harley in without delay, which might be a good or a bad thing depending on her current attitude toward the Joker. On the other hand, with Arkham's army of corrupt doctors, maybe she could do something to make them let her out early.
"Miss Baker? Do you have a preference?"
"I'd like to go back to Arkham, please," Jackie said, wincing at the hiss of shock that rose from the benches behind her.
Relief softened the hard edges of the judge's expression. "In that case, you are formally remanded into the custody of the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane until you are judged to have regained your mental health." She smacked her gavel on the bench.
Jackie's lawyer bustled her to her feet and hurried her out of the room, followed closely by a pair of guards. "This is wonderful!" he chirped.
"Wonderful? Arkham is wonderful?" she said skeptically, wincing as the chains tugged on her casted arm.
"Of course! Legally, and I assure you that they'll be paying very close attention to legalities after having to drop all your charges, legally you have to be evaluated in two weeks. You're clearly not as disturbed as they seem to think. Once the doctors figure that out, they'll have to let you go. You could be back home in as little as six months!"
"How disturbed do they think I am?" Jackie asked.
"On a scale of one to ten? Fifteen," he said, guiding her toward a door flanked with armed guards. "Whatever you told that doctor in jail must have been pretty wild." He patted her good arm and backed out of the path of the guards as they closed in on Jackie. "If you need me, just tell your doctors that you want to see your lawyer. They have to let you meet with me. Good luck!"
He receded into the distance as the guards hustled Jackie down a set of dank-smelling concrete stairs and outside into her waiting armored bus. Once she'd been locked into place, the bus swung away from the courthouse and started the long trek back to Arkham.
Innocent. She was innocent! Well, acquitted, or the charges had been dropped or whatever, which was practically the same thing. She'd shoved Robin into a deathtrap, she'd robbed a man at gunpoint, she'd broken several hundred traffic laws during her stint as a getaway driver and none of it counted because they hadn't processed her correctly! America was truly the land of the free, thanks to easily exploitable technicalities. All of her mistakes had been invalidated by one sweeping stroke of bureaucracy. It was beautiful.
She rested her forehead on the cold metal grate blocking off the window and did her best not to giggle with delight. In just a few short months, she'd be free! She could walk the streets in daylight without worrying that a policeman would recognize her. She could go to parties and not worry that one of the guests was going to try and messily murder the rest of them. She'd get a nice little apartment, like the one that had burned down when Eddie -
Her train of thought screeched to an abrupt and horrified halt. Eddie. How could she have forgotten him? He certainly hadn't had all of his charges dropped, if they'd even bothered to bring any against someone who was already under the penalty of several dozen life sentences.
"You okay?" Jackie looked up, through the mesh that separated the passenger compartment from the driver's seat and saw a guard peering at her with concern in his eyes.
"You look sick. You okay?"
"I'm...I'm fine," she said, trying to keep the worry out of her eyes.
He nodded and settled back into his seat. "Let's get you back home."
(to be continued)
Author's Note: Where do I begin? I've done my best to make Gotham's legal system fit with America's in general, though even my lawyer pal admits that rules change so dramatically from place to place that it's useless to try and match specifics. I mostly drew from Maryland's laws, with a side order of anywhere else that had convenient regulations as well as things like the oh-so-appropriately named Baker Act of Florida. They really do make bread from baby formula in a few prisons because it's nutritious (sorta) and cheap. The fact that it tastes like a chunk of rancid cement is probably considered to be a bonus.