"Good morning," I greet after stepping into the interview room on Thursday at promptly ten am. I take my seat in front of the Joker quietly and turn the camera on. Thankfully, Dr. Brody is absent from our second session, which takes off one of the many stressful factors resting on my shoulders. "This is Dr. Harleen Quinzel overseeing Patient 4479. The date is Thursday, November 21st and the time is ten o'clock am. How are you doing today?" I ask the Joker directly. To my dismay, the question sounds more ridiculous out loud than it did in my head.
The Joker doesn't respond, assessing me shamelessly with those intense brown eyes of his. He remains reclined in his seat, leaning against the back of the chair. His legs are stretched out as far out as the shackles at the foot of the chair will allow them to go and both of his arms are draped on top of the metal table, his fingers leisurely and slowly drumming against the metal surface.
"I knew you'd come back," he drawls, wagging his index finger at me.
"It's Thursday," I reply casually, offering no further explanation. "Speaking of days, let's talk about how your week has been. Are you liking your daily schedule here at Arkham?"
"Ah, you mean the, uh, routines they try to make me follow?" he questions, smacking his lips together. "Routines involve scheduling and order, ya see, and both of those things revolve around rules. And as you know, rules... well they're not sensible, they just don't work. It's them," he stares pointedly into the camera, "who think that their little rules will work." He pulls his arms away from the table and stares up at the ceiling in thought. "Hmm, let's see, Monday's are, uh, what do you call it? It's some useless title for finger painting."
"Patient Self Expression?" I suggest, my mind stuck on what he said about rules not working. I want to ask him how they're not working, but I don't want to interrupt him when he's actually answering my original question either.
"Ah, that's it. Yeah, I like that okay. Although, the staff doesn't really like when I try to really, uh, express myself."
"What do you mean by that?" I question.
"Well, I needed some red paint to really express myself, but one of the other patients used it all. Naturally, I suggested another more organic alternative-"
"Let's talk about Tuesdays," I suggest, quickly cutting him off, trying to keep the gore out of this session.
"Tuesdays are boring. Wednesdays I get to exercise and Thursdays... they're my favorite." He flashes me a brief smile. "And Fridays," he pauses, shaking his head, "I don't like Fridays."
"The little, uh, chaperone from the DA's office pesters me. I don't like him, not one bit." The Joker sits up in his chair, resting his elbows on the table. His eyes study me for a moment, raking back and forth over my face. "Harley, Harley, Harley. You really ought to have more fun. Conformity and dullness... it just doesn't suit you. Set aside the paperwork and go rob a bank or something."
"It's Dr. Quinzel," I correct for the thousandth time. "Robbing a bank is hardly fun. If anything, it'd be miserable, what with all the worrying about the police and the silent alarms and whatnot."
"Oh I disagree. Not knowing if the cops are going to catch ya or not is the best part. All that energy, all that adrenaline, it's a real kick. You ought to try it sometime, you'll see."
"I'll add that to my bucket list," I tell him, trying my best to keep the sarcasm from creeping into my tone. He raises an eyebrow. "Have you always liked clowns?" I ask, trying to change the subject.
The Joker licks his lips and smacks them again, lacing his fingers together on top of the table. "Who said I liked 'em?" The response throws me off guard, but before I can form a valid argument, he speaks again. "Never assume anything about anyone. You never know who they truly are beneath the mask."
"I thought you said you didn't wear a mask," I point out.
"I don't. No, no, I paint my true self on the outside. Everyone else, on the other hand, well they're all hiding."
"Not everyone wears a mask."
"Sure they do. Morality's a bad joke, Harley. You'll see. Take off the mask, destroy the persona, and everything falls to pieces. You take away someone's mask and everything just comes pouring out. Lies, murder, adultery, corruption, greed, you name it. You take away someone's mask and the world leaves 'em to be eaten and picked apart by the vultures. It's a funny world we live in."
"How is that funny?" I question, trying to get some insight into his mind.
"You take away someone's mask, show everyone just how bad they are and BAM!" The Joker bangs his fist against the table loudly, startling me enough to jump in my seat. "Suddenly they're bad, they're a freak, a criminal. The funny part is, take away the person's mask who took theirs away and you're faced with the same situation. Morality, Harley, is a joke worse than one of mine."
I don't even bother correcting the name this time. "Morality is what holds society together, don't you think? Without it, the world would be in utter disarray. If people could do whatever they wanted without conscience or consequence, the world would be in absolute chaos," I point out.
"Chaos isn't a bad thing," he informs me, shaking his head.
"It's not a good thing either," I retort. "Let's talk about something else. Is there something in particular you wanted to talk about during this session?"
The Joker raises an eyebrow at me openly letting him control the conversation. "Let's talk about you, doc."
"There's not much to talk about," I deflect.
"Mm, and why's that?"
"I'm not very interesting. You, on the other hand, are very interesting, so let's get back to talking about you."
He lets out a hearty chuckle. "You remember what I told you about doctors and, uh, personal questions?"
"Yes, I do," I reply slowly, his words echoing in my mind.
"Then tell me, Harley, what's the most fun you've ever had in your entire life?" he asks, and it feels almost like a challenge.
"Dr. Quinzel," I correct for the countless time. I think for a moment, debating whether or not I should answer. "When I was in college, my best friend and I went down to the beach one day during spring break," I finally tell him. "We rented jet skis and spent the whole day racing them and trying to do tricks. We looked like idiots, I'm sure, but it was fun nonetheless."
"Did you like the speed?" he questions, leaning towards me.
"It was scary, but it was most of the fun," I reply honestly.
"You should try robbing a bank," he tells me. "All the rush without the, uh, sunburn."
"Jet skiing and robbing a bank are two very different things."
"You can find similarities between almost anything," he tells me. "Take Batman and myself. Batman is this bright and shining hero, this dark knight, and I'm, uh, me. You could say that we both take matters into our own hands. Batman takes it upon himself to, uh, save the little citizens of Gotham, whereas I try to send them a message. Batman's smart enough to fool me occasionally and I'm smart enough to fool Batman."
"Can I ask you something," I interject, an idea coming to mind. I'm hesitant in asking it, but his answer could be beneficial to his progress. Not to mention I'm genuinely curious about the answer myself.
"Isn't that what I'm here for?" he drawls.
"Do you like Batman or do you hate him?"
"The world isn't separated into black and white, Harley. No, no, no. There are splotches of color thrown across the board. I don't have to hate him and I don't have to like him. Batman completes me and I complete him. He's the yin to my yang, he'd be lost without me."
"Really?" I inquire.
"Well, nothing's ever certain when comes to other people," he mutters. "You see, he won't kill me because of some misplaced sense of righteousness and I won't kill him because he's just too much fun. Without me, he'd have nothing to do but stop petty crime. And without him, I'd be bored."
"What about Batman makes him fun?"
"Well, his plans and his, uh, rules for one. I can take his little plans and turn them on themselves, ruining everything, upsetting everything. Our little fights add to the chaos and the fear of the city, you know. And his rules," the Joker lets out a sharp bark of laugh, "his rules are the cherry on top. I keep trying to break those rules of his. I keep trying to make him see the truth behind this city, but he just won't. He's truly incorruptible. I want to see how far I can go, how far I can take it, before Gotham's little hero breaks."
"I thought you didn't want to kill him."
"Oh, I don't. No, no. I want to push him mentally, you see. I wanna see how long it takes before he ends up like me, even if that means our little game has to go on forever."
I take a moment to process this information, before finally deciding that I probably shouldn't push my luck further this week.
"Thank you for your time, Mr. J. I think that's enough for this session," I tell him, standing up. "I'll see you next week." I turn the camera off and make my way towards the door.
"It's a date," he calls with a hyena-like laugh following it.
As I dig deeper into the Joker's files and notes, the more I grow worried about his habits. He eats, from what I’ve gathered, about one meal a day. He eats a few items at each meal, but never the meal completely. From the few notes that the various on staff cafeteria doctors wrote, he picks and pushes around his food. Some items he eats, other items he doesn't even touch. No wonder he's so skinny.
Another thing that I found out, which also worries me, is that he sleeps maybe two hours a day, if even. Some nights he goes without sleep completely, but it doesn't appear to slow him down any. Even with the use of sedatives and benzo's, he’s still wide awake like a kid who ate a ton of candy before bed. I'm reluctant to believe that it's insomnia, but I haven't a clue as to what else might do something like this to him. He couldn't willingly keep himself awake that long, could he?
I can't fix the sleep and I doubt any kind of prescription sleeping pill will work on him, so I set out to fix the eating habits instead. On Wednesday morning, right around eleven thirty, I find myself outside of the patient cafeteria. I call a guard over from inside the cafeteria and put my doctoral authority over the guards to use, which is something that I rarely do.
"How can I help you, doctor?" the guard asks dully. The name tag on his chest reads Parker.
"One of my patients isn't eating well," I explain, trying the honest approach first. "I'd like to know why."
"So go ask them."
"I haven't been authorized by my boss to go in there," I reply truthfully.
"Looks like you're outta luck, doc."
"I'd like you to go in there and ask my patient for me," I request. "Please."
The guard crosses his arms. "Yeah, what's in it for me?" I sigh, realizing that my attempt at honesty has gotten me nowhere. I'm not surprised, though. I doubt that any of the guards in this entire building have ever even heard of the term "favor." There always has to be something in it for them. No wonder the patients manage to pay them off so easily.
"How about I don't write you up for being away from your post?" I suggest sweetly. Where did that tone come from? I mentally question, surprised at myself.
"You called me over here, doc."
"Who can prove that?" I challenge. "Maybe I saw you harassing some of the patients in there. Maybe you came over here to threaten me not to tell. Maybe you and your guard buddies in there are all in on it."
"No one's going to believe that. What's with the threats anyway? Aren't you shrinks supposed to be all kind and nice?"
"If you don't think anyone will believe it, then you wont mind me telling," I retort. "Besides, I asked you nicely the first time. Why does there always have to be something in it for you guards? Haven't you ever heard of doing someone a favor?"
"Fine," he grumbles, giving in. I'm silently relieved, mainly because I'm not so sure that I could have actually followed through on my threat. "What do you want me to do?"
"Go in there and tell the Joker that Dr. Quinzel wants to know why he's not eating," I instruct him. After a moment, I add, "Please."
"Yeah, yeah. I'll try. I'm not going to guarantee anything," he mutters. "Stay here." Parker disappears into the cafeteria and out of sight. I tap my foot impatiently and glance around every few seconds, feeling like I'm breaking some kind of rule. Technically, I'm not breaking any rules, but I have the strangest feeling that Dr. Arkham's going to come around the corner and demand to know what I'm doing.
Parker comes out a moment later and glares at me. "I'm not talking to that freak again."
"He isn't a freak, he's a patient," I correct. It's a pet peeve of mine when people call the patients names. "Did he say anything?"
"He said plenty," he tells me vaguely. I have a feeling that the Joker had put his intuitive skills to use. I doubt that the Joker really ripped into Parker in the short amount of time that he was in there, but maybe he hinted at something enough to piss the guard off.
"Did he say anything about the food?" I question, letting the guard know that I'm not interested in what other things the Joker had brought up.
"Yeah he said it was "sweet" of you to worry, but that if you really want to know then you need to pay him a visit."
"Thanks," I mutter absentmindedly. "Which doctor is overseeing lunch today?"
"There isn't an overseeing doctor today, just the guards. Dr. Cassidy was supposed to do it, but she and her replacement were called into a meeting. I told her the guards could handle it," he replies with a shrug. "A sedative works better and faster than trying to talk the patients down anyway."
I cross my arms and chew on my bottom lip, debating the idea that I shouldn't even be considering. I'm not authorized to speak with the Joker outside of our therapy sessions. I've already broken that rule once on the first day that he was here, should I really risk it again? No, I shouldn't. It's a stupid idea. Dr. Arkham would be livid if he found out, especially if I went in there over something as small as eating habits.
The Joker knows this, he knows that I could get in trouble for talking to him outside of a standard environment, so why tempt me? He doesn't want me to lose my job or get thrown off of his case, or at least I think he doesn't, so then why? Maybe he’s testing me, seeing how far I'll go as a doctor to help my patient. Or maybe he just wants to see if I’m too good to break the rules.
That last possibility seems to be the most likely. "I'm going in the cafeteria," I tell the guard. "I'll be in there two minutes tops. I would appreciate it if you would please refrain from telling my boss."
"I'd appreciate it if you would refrain from writing me up over something I didn't do," he replies.
"Deal." I push through the cafeteria doors and scan the room. I spot the Joker sitting unsurprisingly alone on the far left side of the room. I push aside all of my doubtful thoughts and walk over to his table, silently hoping that the other patients won't mention my being here to anyone.
"Why aren't you eating?" I ask, taking a seat in front of the Joker. The plate in front of him remains untouched, aside from a half-eaten apple and a once sealed small plastic cup of peaches.
"Worried about me, doc?" he questions, raising an eyebrow. "I'm flattered and all, but don't you have more, uh, important things to do? Ya know, patients to cure, minds to save?"
"When I learn that my patients are starving themselves, it becomes a priority of mine to find out why," I answer smoothly.
"Well, the food isn't exactly five star here, doc." He picks up his plastic spoon and scoops up some of the mush that vaguely resembles stuffing. He lets the food drip and fall chunkily off of the spoon for emphasis. "See, this stuff could kill somebody."
"You aren't fooling me," I reply calmly. He's a well-known criminal, he can't just walk into a nice restaurant or go through the drive through or waltz into a grocery store. He's probably used to eating bad quality food, considering he has to make do with what he has at any given time. "I know that there's some other reason."
"Is my explanation not good enough for you, Harley?" he quips, letting his spoon clank against his Styrofoam plate. He pushes it aside and rests his arms on the table, leaning towards me.
"I would like you to address me by Dr. Quinzel," I inform him, exasperated in repeating it. "Your answer is fine, the food here is rather unappetizing," I agree. "But I'm not convinced. There has to be some other reason."
"I like that about you, Harley," he tells me. "The other doctors would be thrilled for an answer, they wouldn't press it. No, no, they'd be too wrapped in all that, uh, progress. But you," he wags his index finger at me, "you're not satisfied with simple answers. No, you want to know the truth. You want to get to the bottom of things."
His tongue darts at the corners of his mouth and then he adds, "I'm not exactly the, uh, most liked patient here, in case you haven't noticed, doc." I can feel my eyebrows knit together in confusion. What did that have to do with eating? He sighs, catching onto my confusion. "It wouldn't be the first time someone replaced the salt with a dash of arsenic, if you, uh, catch my drift."
"You think someone's been poisoning your food?" I question.
"No, no, no. It's probably all in my head," he replies mockingly with a short laugh.
"If you think someone's poisoning your food, then I need to know. We can have them investigated," I tell him reassuringly.
"Oh, Harley," he clucks. "Harley, Harley, Harley. You think only one person's got a, uh, grudge against me?" He lets out a loud bark of laughter, drawing the attention of the guards. I quickly wave them off as his laughter dies down.
"I can't help you if you don't tell me a name," I tell him pointedly.
"Help? You think I want help?" He bursts into another fit of giggles.
"No, I don't think you want it. I think you need it."
"I think you're the one who needs help, Harley," he tells me.
"You're too serious, too formal. You don't smile enough," he tells me, an air of truthfulness to his tone. He believes what he's saying. "I know you, doc. You think that just because I haven't given you the same, uh, special treatment as the other doctors means that I don't know your fears, but I do. You're worried that you're going to keep doing this forever. That one day you're going to wake up and realize that you're all alone and that all of those little opportunities to live and have fun are long gone. The only thing you'll have to show for yourself is all of this time put into one little job."
"I shouldn't even be in here right now," I tell him, ignoring everything he just said. "I'll see you tomorrow at ten."
This time, he makes no parting remark as I turn on my heel to leave. He doesn't have to. He knows that what he said weighs heavy on my mind, heavy enough to distract me and toy with my mind for a little while.
"You wanted to see me?" I ask Dr. Arkham, shutting his office door behind me. I take a seat in front of his desk, knowing with a sinking feeling that I'm in trouble. I've been caught red handed with my hand in the cookie jar.
"I understand that you paid a visit to the cafeteria today," he begins.
"That's right," I answer, making no move to deny it. "I was passing by and one of the guards told me that there wasn't a doctor on staff, so I went in to take a look," I lie. "To make sure everything was all right."
"Really? I heard you were talking to some of the patients," he tells me, suspicion evident in his tone. "Only one patient actually. The Joker to be exact. The only thing is, I don't remember giving you clearance to talk to him outside of your therapy sessions."
"You didn't," I admit, my heart sinking with each word coming out of his mouth. "It's just that he wasn't he eating and I wanted to know why. I was worried about his wellbeing."
"He told you about his eating habits for five minutes?"
"Well, no. The conversation got carried away," I explain, nervously picking at the bottom of my skirt. "You know how he gets to going off about things."
"Did he tell you why he wouldn't eat?"
"At first he gave me some flimsy excuse, but he eventually told me that it wouldn't surprise him if someone was slipping something into his food. He said that it wouldn't be the first time someone replaced the salt with arsenic," I explain. "I tried to get him to give me names, but he didn't seem to know any in particular."
"Did you two talk about anything else?"
"He tried to play on some of my life fears, but I evaded the conversation and left," I admit. "And no, I don't think that it was an attempt to break me either. I think he just wanted to show me how easily he could break me if he wanted to." Dr. Arkham stares at me for a long moment, then rests his chin on his fist.
"You know I could take you off this case for this," he informs me sternly. I nod, silently cursing myself. "I'm not going to, though. I want to try something different with this information. It's unorthodox and against protocol, but something tells me that the Joker won't mind."
"What is it?"
"You'll see tomorrow. I don't want you to have prepared anything for it, he'll see that a mile away. Oh, I almost forgot." He digs around in his desk for a moment, pulls out a red card, and hands it to me. A white Christmas tree fills up half of the card and the other half is filled with information about Arkham's annual Christmas party. "They handed them out yesterday morning when you were in your session with Julian Day. I forgot to give you your invitation before you left yesterday."
"Thanks." I glance at the card, briefly reviewing the information. Most of the information is identical to last years, aside from the actual place of the event. "Do I have to bring a date?"
"You can if you want to, but you don't have to," he replies. "Oh, but don't forgot your staff ID, they won't let you in otherwise."
Thursday morning, still completely clueless as to what Dr. Arkham's unorthodox plan is, I walk into my office to find a painting propped up against my desk. A painting that I definitely did not put there. A painting that oddly resembles me, or at least I'm pretty sure it does.
I inspect the painting carefully, checking beneath it to make sure that there's not a bomb or anything harmful like that on it. From what I can tell, the painting seems to be clean of anything life threatening, unless there are microscopic wires hidden in the thin fibers of the canvas. I know that I should probably call someone down here right away to check it out and give their "expert" opinion on whether or not it's safe, but curiosity gets the best of me. I make my way to the front of the painting and take a step back to examine it.
Although most of the face is shadowed in and blurred with brush strokes, I can make out a few distinct features. There appears to be a black domino mask ringed around the blue eyes of the person in the portrait. The black lines of the mask are more defined, faintly sticking out from the dark shadowing around them. The eyes of the portrait are relatively untouched, drawing most of the painting's attention with their sharp, vibrant color.
The lips are a dark red and expand outward into a messy Joker like smile. The blonde hair is drawn into pigtails that messily frame each side of the portrait. The clothes of the portrait are mainly blurred and cut off from the rest, but they're distinctively red and black. At the corner of the frame is a single, one letter signature. –J.
Thirty minutes later, Dr. Arkham stands by my side examining the painting intensely. "So, what does this mean exactly? That he's obsessed with you?"
"No, I don't think it's that," I reply, although the possibility had crossed my mind. "I think it's supposed to be his interpretation of my true self. This is probably what he thinks I'd be like with my mask off."
"But you're wearing a mask in the picture," he points out. "Isn't that contradictory."
"No, I think it means something. Maybe, since I'm not technically wearing a mask in real life, he sees my inner self as wearing one. Maybe he put the mask on my inner self to mock society," I suggest.
"I don't see how it's your true self. You look relatively the same, aside from the mask and the smile."
"I think each difference between me and the picture represents something. He always talks about how I don't have enough fun, so this is what I make of it," I begin. "The mask is to mock society or maybe even show me as a criminal, since he told me that I ought to rob a bank. The pigtails, I think, represent all the childlike fun or just fun in general that I missed or am missing out on. And the smile is to show all of the enjoyment that I would be having if I took my mask off," I finish.
"You got all of that out of pigtails, a mask, and a smile?"
"Clearly the Joker wants me to see something, otherwise he wouldn't have bothered to break into my office," I answer with a shrug. "I'm just trying to see what he's trying to show me."