I Know You
Manny took off his clown mask once he jumped into the van. He was breathless from running. He shut the van's door while Roge drove away from the scene in sheer panic. They were both running from their fear. Running from the same fear that all of Gotham's criminals now possessed. It sounded corny when the source of their fear was said aloud. A man dressed as a bat. Though, he wasn't just dressed. He was a bat.
Manny took the passenger seat while holding on intermittently from the speed that Roge was taking the van. Manny plopped into the seat and tried to breathe normal for his weight.
Roge finally asked, "Think we got away?"
Manny glanced at the rearview mirror on his door and saw the empty wet streets of Gotham. No sign of him. "Yeah, I think we escaped. Did you see what he did to Goodman? Sounded like he broke his neck from just one punch."
"Yeah, and I know I got a shot off at him. The damned thing bounced off his chest like it was rubber."
"That's got to be Kevlar under there."
"Yeah, but even with Kevlar the cops go down from the impact. That son of a bitch didn't even fall backwards." Roge paused as he took a few curves at a break neck speed. "I'm almost afraid to ask, but did we get anything out of this?"
Manny smiled and reached into his coat to produce a small felt bag. He shook it to show Roge. "Payday!"
Roge glanced quick at the bag and winced. "That'll be enough to get us nothin'. Boss will be pretty pissed."
The two men gulped nervously, not at the speed, but in the anticipation of telling their new boss about their failure.
Manny asked, "Which one of us is gonna tell him?"
Roge sniffed. "For all we know, this new clown already knows. I don't know how he thinks he can take over Falcone's operation."
"Isn't Salvatore Maroni the next in line?"
"Yep. We're small time now, lard ass."
Manny shook off Roge's usual insults at him and said, "Small time in Gotham can go a long way."
"Not if this new bat man has anything to say about it."
Manny shook his head. "Nah, I don't see it. Yeah, I know he cleaned our clocks, but how is one man gonna go up against an entire operation?"
"All it takes is for one freak to scare us."
"A freak? You mean like the Joker?"
"Is that what we're calling him?"
"He does leave a calling card. Literally. That make-up he wears...stuff of nightmares."
Roge said, "If ya ask me, this bat man and the Joker are two peas in the freak pod."
Manny quickly took a hold of the side of the door to hold on from Roge's frantic driving. Manny suggested, "I think you can slow down now, Roge."
"Don't tell me what to do. I'm still in charge, fatty. Besides, what if he's chasing us?"
"Ain't nothin' back there."
"He could be flying over us."
"You idiot. You're goin' eighty. He can't be that fast."
Roge did slow up his speed as they started coming away from downtown and into the old industrial area. "We're almost there, anyway." Roge made a deep sigh. "God, I hope he's in a good mood."
"How can ya tell? He's only in a good mood when he's doing something evil. Remember what happened to Franco last week? All because he mouthed off at him."
Roge shuddered and replied, "Yeah, they say he ain't gonna be able to eat except through a straw now."
He slowed down even more to turn off at a hidden drive that led down to the old docks. There was an abandoned shipping dock that the crew used as headquarters. It was dark and dank with a sense of alienation from the main areas of Gotham. Roge eased the van up to a two-story facility that once had been a foreman's office. They exited the van and started up the old stairwell that creaked from old metal. The facility had been built on the edge of the water with the north side facing inland and the south overlooking a rocky shore.
Roge reached the iron door first with Manny lagging behind. Manny's weight forced him to breathe heavy after he climbed the stairs. While Manny took time to catch his breath, Roge wondered why the boss let him go on this job. Yes, he could open safes, but he slowed them down. Manny didn't even participate in the fight against the bat man. He just watched. What else could he do?
Roge pounded on the huge door. A small window inset inside the door slid open and a rough voice questioned.
Roge fumbled to remember. It was always pieces of music. Last week it was something from Mozart. This week it was Beethoven. Roge's brain clicked. Symphony #9.
Roge blurted out, "Ode to Joy. Now, let us in."
The door lock clanged and the heavy door whined open. Roge and Manny entered and were greeted by Blaine, a three-hundred pound man of muscle.
Blaine boomed sarcastically, "You two back already?"
Manny panted, "We ran into an old friend."
Blaine added, "And I just bet you talked about bats. He take out the rest of the men?"
Roge eyed Blaine. "You heard?"
"It's all over the news, man."
Roge asked, "So...the boss..."
Roge cursed and asked, "Where is he?"
"In his office. The usual place where he broods."
Manny quipped, "That ain't good."
Roge slapped Manny on the shoulder and said, "Let's get this over with, tubby."
Manny followed Roge through the dark area with nerves that wouldn't quit. Some of the other crew that hadn't been chosen for this job watched them pass with shaken heads. They didn't pity Roge and Manny's job of talking to the new boss. The Joker was so unpredictable. With Falcone, you knew where you stood as long as you did your job. That was hard to do with this new bat man around stirring things up. He even had a hand in sending Falcone himself to the loony bin. Without Falcone in charge, the criminal world of Gotham was in limbo until Salvatore Maroni stepped in. This Joker didn't seem to be the leader type. He seemed to only cherish chaos.
As soon as Roge and Manny approached the large office at the opposite end of the building, they started to hear music coming from the other side of the door. It was an old forties song. Was it Swing? Manny asked Roge before they entered, "Is that Frank?"
Roge shrugged. "Sure sounds like Ole Blue Eyes to me. C'mon." Roge pushed the door open, which was already cracked open. They both eased into the room, not knowing what to expect.
Standing on the opposite side in front of the full sized picture window overlooking the wide view of the dock and the water was the man they dubbed the Joker. His was facing the window with his hands clasped together behind his back. A cd player on the floor was bursting with the sounds of Frank Sinatra crooning, I've Got You Under My Skin. The Joker turned slowly at them, revealing the washed out make up the man always wore.
Neither Manny nor Roge could ever get used to seeing that scene. The red of the Joker's scarred lips smeared a permanent smile over the pasty dried white of his face. The blackness around his eyes made them seem like they were two beams floating in darkness. With the combination of his green-tinted straggly hair and his neat, well tailored purple coat, he created an image that was as intimidating to criminals as it was any of his victims. In some cases, they were one and the same.
Finally, the Joker spoke in his Midwestern accented and eerie voice. "Nice little tune, isn't it? Fits me to a T, don't you think? I do love getting under people's skin. And sometimes, that's more literal than you think." He laughed in his blood curling cackle that made Manny and Roge jump every time they heard it. They didn't know what was more frightening. His laugh or his appearance. Roge figured it was a toss up.
The Joker stopped the cd by kicking it off with his foot and he addressed the men. He spread his arms out and he questioned them. "So...what happened?"
Roge almost stuttered out, "The...the bat man..."
The Joker sighed. "Yes, yes, I know that part." He gave Roge a squinting look of interest and asked, "What was he wearing?"
The Joker repeated as if he were talking to a second grader. "What...was...he...wearing? I bet he just wore the same old black suit. Am I right? Cuz, ya know, that man needs some color."
Manny interjected, "Like you, boss."
The Joker glanced at Manny uninterested and flashed a quick fake smile and went back to Roge. "Did you get the stones?"
Roge nodded at Manny, who once again pulled out the one felt bag. He tossed it at the Joker with satisfaction and it was caught.
The Joker palmed it in his hand and turned it upside down to let three small shiny diamonds spill out onto the floor. Their new boss simply stared at the stones on the floor. He looked up at them without lifting his head using only his darkened eyes. "Oh, joy," he dead-panned. "We can all retire now. All this loot." He overemphasized the last T in the word. "You didn't happen to hit the south vault like I showed you?"
Roge supplied, "We couldn't. He was too fast."
"What about when he was busy taking out your buddies? No time? Hmm? I put you in charge, Roger. You went away with eight men and come back with two. See, I can add and subtract."
"I'm telling you, there wasn't time. I had to get out of there."
"You...had to get out. What about the others? They can waste away at County while you get away free? Is that it?"
"No. I was too...too..."
He shouted, "WHAT?!", and ran up close to Roge's face and grabbed him by his collar. Roge was given a close-up view of the Joker's pale white make up. The Joker yelled, "Say it! C'mon, c'mon. C'mon...say it! You were what?"
"I...I was s.s.s.."
"S. It starts with S. Uh, silly? No, that's not it. Ssssss...stupid? Well, that can apply, too, can't it? No, that's not the S word you were thinking of, was it? WAS IT?"
"No...I was scared, all right?"
The Joker let go of Roge's collar and straightened his coat. He went back to his calmer nature and stated softly, "There. That's all you had to say." The Joker took a deep sigh. "What is the criminal world in Gotham coming to when they are all frightened of a man dressed in a bat suit?"
Roge supplied, "It's not just a costume, boss. I took a shot at his chest with a nine mil. He didn't even go down."
"Maybe something stronger."
"Hmm...micro weave Kevlar. Interesting. And, yet, you didn't see him come in?"
Manny replied, "He came in from above us, boss"
"We'll see about that in a moment. Right now..." He came back up into Roge's face. "I want to know what to do about your, uh...failure, shall we call it." The Joker licked his lips and waited for an answer from Roge.
Roge started sweating in obvious nervousness. "Boss, I didn't have time to get to the second vault. He took out Goodman and Carl within seconds. The others too. I was backed up on the other side. I couldn't get to it. He was too fast. If I tried for it-"
"Oh, but you could have...if you set your mind to it. And I'm guessing, your's wasn't. If you weren't so pumped up with fear, like now, you could have made it. And I would be sifting through twenty little bags of shiny rocks."
"There are other banks, boss," Roge tried to explain.
There was a sudden click and the Joker brought up one of his many blades to Roge's face.
"Once again, you miss the point. Let me show you. See, that particular bank was once controlled by Falcone. He's rather preoccupied now over at Arkham. To take advantage of their little leadership questions, taking the stones out of that bank would have told Maroni that there's another Sheriff in town."
Roge risked to add, "You...you mean...besides the bat man?"
The Joker lowered the blade. "You don't have to worry about him. The public will eventually make him an outlaw." He laughed. "So, see, the ironic thing is, the citizens of Gotham will be mad at him for going out and taking the criminals down on his own. So, in a way...we are being protected by the very same people we will be stealing from."
Manny decided to ask, "Is that part of your plan, boss?"
The Joker grunted. "I don't have plans. I have ideas. You mark my words, though. The Batman will soon be more hated than any of the criminals in Gotham. See, he will do anything to get things done. My kinda guy. In the end, though, he's just another freak." He licked his lips.
Roge tried to smirk and say jokingly, "Kinda like you, boss."
The Joker stared at him icily. He muttered, "Almost."
The Joker suddenly grabbed Roge by the collar again but this time he pulled him. Roge wasn't a huge man, but the Joker drug him across the floor, with Roge fighting back and shouting pleas of protest, as if he were a sack of potatoes. The might of the insane knows no boundaries, Manny thought. When the Joker neared the picture window overlooking the dock and the rocky shore, he threw Roge through it breaking the glass into shards. Roge's momentum through the window carried him over to its other side. His body disappeared but his scream went on and on until there was no scream. There was only the sound of a distant wet and sickening thud.
Manny waddled over towards the window where the Joker was already leaning over the edge admiring his work. As soon as Manny stood beside him, the Joker lifted his arm to point at him and said, "Now, before you judge that he was shaky on his dismount, I actually thought his landing was graceful. Especially since he used his head." He cackled and then added, "Still, I give it an 8.5." He looked over at Manny. "Now, you would have been on the side watching because of your, uh, size. Am I right?"
"Yeah, boss. But I got us into the first safe. We had more bags but I could only get the one."
The Joker reached out with both hands to rub them on both sides of Manny's cheeks. "Oh, I know, I know, you did all you could. And more. You had a good view of the Batman, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I guess I did. I just couldn't help...you know. I was never good in a fight."
"Actually, I was counting on it." He felt along Manny's coat and eased his hand down to one of the buttons. He pulled the button off and commanded, "Get Marcus in here and have him bring in the laptop."
The Joker merely looked at him in a warning.
"Ok, ok, I'll get him. What's with my button?"
"We are going to watch some film" He lifted the button up into the limited light from an outside street lamp and Manny could see through the light that there was a small microchip set behind it.
Manny exclaimed, "You planted a camera in my button!"
"You know, you're not as dumb as you look."
"And all that talk that you never plan."
The Joker brought up his forefinger to his lips. "Shhh...don't tell anyone."
"That's film of the Batman, right? You knew I was only going to watch from the side."
"The men had their jobs. You had yours and you did it." He glanced back at the broken window and sneered, "Unlike some." He looked back at Manny. "Oh, I'm sorry about your friend."
Manny shrugged casually. "He was no friend of mine. He was kinda mean to me."
"That's the spirit! Now, go get Marcus. The doctor is in session and he is going to analyze the Batman."
"You really think you can beat him, boss?"
"Oh, no, no, no, no, no...I don't want to defeat him. I want to challenge him. You see, the day will come when the two of us will meet." He licked his lips again. "You see, I believe I know this man. Oh, yes, I know him well. When the time comes, we will face each other. And he will see in me something that he has never seen in any of the criminals he's taken out in Gotham."
"What will he see, Boss?"
The Joker took a pause to smirk and answer, "Himself."