It had been five months since his last visit here. It still had the same run down look with paint peeling and lights missing. The only real difference now was the weather. It had been a balmy September weekend when Bruce Wayne took a tour of the Arkham facility. He wore a simple T-shirt and jeans then. Now in February, he was layered with his business suit and overcoat. Besides the climate change, Bruce didn't really expect any changes made to the facility. Despite his failure to convince the Wayne Industry partners that Arkham needed money, Bruce had donated an undisclosed amount to Arkham Asylum anyway. He suspected much of the money went to the administrators' golf funds. He had spent more for less in the past.
The improvements to the facility were not his primary purpose in September to begin with. Only a couple of people knew the true purpose of his last visit to Arkham. One of them was already a patient there for almost a year and a half. Bruce had at one time kept tabs on that patient's progress. Bruce had followed the reports he was getting from an undisclosed source within Arkham. Just from the reports alone, he could see that there was no progress to speak of. That's when Bruce decided to act.
His idea to show his shadow side to the Joker was not totally out of gloating, contrary to how a certain family servant had thought. It was also meant to show the Joker who he was dealing with. Bruce Wayne was a man in Gotham who was at the center of high society. Who would ever think to link him with the disguise of Batman? He also gave the Joker the notion that Batman could be anyone. Bruce never really came out to tell the Joker that he was Batman. He let the psychological fiend's imagination, or perhaps his own fears, to do the job for him. Just as the Joker had done to so many of his own victims.
Bruce wasn't afraid that someone would believe the Joker. The maniac was a mental patient. Anything he said would be analyzed but also taken with a grain of salt. Bruce considered the Joker as an updated version of the Man Who Cried Wolf. His own made up stories of his past played against the ones he told that were true. Bruce followed the reports since his meeting with the Joker to analyze anything he said in connection to Batman's identity.
He followed them, that is, until they suddenly stopped.
It wasn't long after that when he was summoned to an inquiry about his visit in September. It was a formal letter asking him to schedule a meeting at Arkham with one of the doctors to discuss the nature of his visit to the Joker. Inquiries were common enough, especially after a visit to one of their seriously mental patients. It was a series of questions about what the patient said, how they said it, and how the patient reacted to the visitor. Bruce expected one to come from his visit to the Joker, but he thought it would be sooner. Perhaps it was because it was off the record. Nevertheless, Bruce squeezed in a meeting out of his hectic day and night schedules.
Bruce arrived in his limo and exited the warmth of the vehicle to the coldness of the winter Gotham air. Arkham was so close to the river that the swirls of wind were somehow colder here. Or maybe it was from all the cold-blooded killers they kept inside of the facility. He entered through the front entrance, which was worlds away from the rest of the building. At this end, the walls were clean and white with bright lighting. This was where the high-end associates and doctors kept their offices.
The head administrator, the same as his last visit, came up to him. "Mr Wayne. Dr. Rich Moss, in case you didn't remember."
"I never forget a face."
"Of course. Thank you for scheduling so quickly. I know how busy you must be."
"You have no idea. Will this take long?"
"I expect not. Our main doctor who handles the Joker has some questions for you about your visit with him a few months ago. This way."
Bruce nodded absently as he followed Dr. Moss through the white-walled corridors of Arkham's offices. Dr. Moss chose one of the rooms and opened the door. Bruce followed him inside to see a female doctor sitting at a table. She stopped reading to address the two men who entered the room.
She looked to be in her thirties and was so lanky that her lab coat looked like it could fall to the floor at any moment. She wore her yellow-blonde hair in a single bun in the back, emphasizing her oversized glasses that she wore. Dr. Moss spoke first to announce her.
"Bruce Wayne, I'd like you to meet Dr. Harleen Quinzel."
She held out a hand for Bruce which he shook. She spoke in a much higher pitched voice than he expected. "Bruce Wayne. The Gotham Legend."
Bruce corrected, "The Legend of Gotham was my father. I'm merely his follower." He nodded and greeted her. "Dr. Quinzel."
"Oh, please call me Harley. I'm not as formal as some of these doctors in here."
"That could be refreshing," remarked Bruce. He was then treated to the sound of her piercing laugh.
Dr. Moss quickly interjected, "Dr. Quinzel is our intern from Gotham University. She has been working with the Joker ever since she arrived here."
Bruce uttered, "I'd say you have your work cut out for you."
Another high-pitched laugh before she replied, "Yeah, the Joker has been quite a project. I find him a fascinating subject, though."
Bruce nodded, "He is indeed. Though I only met him once for a few minutes. I'm not sure how I can help you."
Dr. Quinzel gave the wry answer, "I'll be able to determine that. I just have some questions about your visit with the Joker a few months ago."
Dr. Moss added, "I'm sure you'll understand, Mr. Wayne, that this is standard procedure with any visitor of our special patients."
"You mean the really insane ones," quipped Bruce.
Harley said in a scolding voice, "Now, now, Mr. Wayne, you should know that 'insane' is a legal term, not a clinical one."
Bruce looked into her dark eyes. "My apologies for not being up on clinical terminology."
Harley turned to Dr. Moss and said, "I think I can take it from here, Dr. Moss. Could we have some privacy?"
"Of course," answered Moss. "Mr. Wayne, if you could come see me before you leave I'll escort you out."
"That'll be fine."
After Moss shut the door, Dr. Quinzel motioned to the second metal chair on the other side of the table. "Go ahead and sit down, Mr Wayne."
He pulled off his overcoat and hung it over the back of the chair before he sat down to say, "Bruce, please. I'm not as formal as some of the other billionaire playboys in Gotham."
Her screech of a laugh returned, making Bruce wish he had brought earplugs. She went on, "I see what you did there, Mr. Wayne–excuse me, Bruce. You took my earlier statement of ego and turned it into self-depreciating humor against yourself."
"You figured that out on your own?"
"Yep," she said almost too proudly.
"And you're studying the Joker?"
Harley sighed. "I know I don't look the part of a therapist, Bruce. I assure you I am well informed in the area of psychoanalysis. I have interviewed several mentally unstable criminals in Arkham over the years."
"The Joker doesn't seem to be a typical criminal."
"Don't I know it."
"Tell me something, you are still interning here at Arkham? You seem pretty old to be a Senior."
"I'm working on my Masters. I plan using the Joker for my final thesis."
"Interesting. Well, if you need any help with any expenses along the way, feel free to contact me."
Harley smiled sweetly and stated sourly, "I think I can manage. Can we proceed?"
"By all means. Let's begin our very private discussion about my visit with the Joker."
Harley suddenly had the look of a bruised ego. Guilt? "What do you mean by private?"
Bruce nudged his head toward the four upper corners of the walls that were empty. "No cameras in here. No wires for audio. All indications that you want my answers to be kept off the record."
Harley smiled humorlessly. "Were you always this much into specifics?"
Bruce shrugged. "Something else I inherited from my father."
"I'll keep that in mind." She sat down in the chair opposite him and started flipping back pages in her folder. "Now, according to Dr. Moss, you came to visit here for a tour of the facilities. Dr. Moss said you had a proposal to improve the conditions here at Arkham. We can see how well that deal went."
Bruce dismissed her unprofessional manner and stated, "The board did turn me down on the deal. But to not make a liar out of me to Dr. Moss, I donated an amount to Arkham anyway."
"How generous of you. Now, during this tour you suddenly decide to meet the Joker."
Bruce shrugged again and said, "After Dr. Moss pointed out where his cell was, I thought it was the perfect time to see what the hype was about."
"Hype? What hype?"
Bruce raised an eyebrow and replied, "Now, Dr. Quinzel.."
"Harley," she cried impatiently.
"Harley, excuse me. I'm not known for my knowledge of current events unless it has connections to my deals. But even I know that the two most popular subjects in Gotham today are the Joker and the Batman. Even the investors I deal with everyday can't go a day without a joke about either of them."
"Jokes? About the Joker? What kind of jokes are they?" Her tone was devoid of professionalism.
Bruce shrugged innocently. "Just off hand remarks. Nothing important. Anyway, I thought that would be my chance to meet at least one of the celebrity freaks in Gotham."
"Interesting. You don't think you'll meet the Batman?"
"Well, maybe when they catch him and he's brought here I can schedule another tour."
She smiled eerily and wrote something down in the report. She flipped another page and said, "Ok, you wanted to meet the Joker. How did you first approach him?"
"I greeted him as I do everyone I meet for the first time. With a handshake."
Harley looked surprised. "And he took your hand?"
"No. He just stared at it and made a sarcastic remark."
She smiled. "Now, that sounds like Joker. So, what did you two talk about?"
Bruce looked away as if he were remembering and replied, "I mentioned something about his makeup. He said he had to use wet chalk to get the same effect. That's how we discussed masks. How people each have their own."
"Interesting. What did you say yours was?"
"Actually, he said mine was in the shape of a checkbook."
She grinned. "So he knew who you were."
Bruce grinned back. "Of course. You can't go fifty miles out of Gotham without knowing the name Wayne."
Harley gave a nod, then asked, "What else did you talk about?"
Bruce let a breath out and replied, "I think I commented on his artwork."
She gave an eerily knowing grin. "Pretty accurate drawings of the Batman, wouldn't you say Bruce?"
Realizing the trap, but not knowing yet why it was set, Bruce questioned, "Now, how would I know about that?"
"I did some research on the Wayne mansion and the one you're rebuilding as we speak. It's in the Palisades. That area has a lot of hills and is said to have many caves."
Bruce allowed her to speak because he wanted to see where she thought she was going with this. He repeated, "Caves."
"Yes, caves. Where bats sometimes live."
"Isn't it true that you had a fear of bats at one time?"
Bruce was taken aback by the sudden question. It wasn't because it was so far off their main subject. It was too personal for a simple intern to be interested in. Then again, he had to remind himself. This intern was working with the Joker. What would he have told her about their meeting in September? He replied, "I believe I did. When I was twelve."
"This was just after the deaths of your parents?"
"If you say so. Pardon me, Doctor, but these questions seem to be more about myself than the Joker."
"Does that scare you?"
Bruce shot back, "I'm a hard man to scare."
"I can see that."
"Can you also see that you avoided my concern?"
Harley sighed sweetly as if she knew something that Bruce didn't and said, "I've only had a few meetings with people who met the Joker. Most of them were young Psych 101 students who bet on who could last the longest with the Joker. All of them who I interviewed said they were scared to be in the same room with the man. One young girl ran out screaming. She later tried to commit suicide that night. Those who did stay said that the Joker seemed to look into their soul and find their truth. It takes a strong mind to talk to the Joker and still remain stable. I happen to be one. And now I discover there is another."
Bruce nodded. "So this isn't just an inquiry about the Joker. It's to see if I cracked after meeting him."
Harley replied, "The Joker isn't a typical patient, as you well know. He has an affect on some people."
"Even his visitors."
"Oh, honey, you aren't just any visitor. You're the guest with the highest profile that the Joker has ever seen. You wouldn't believe some of the things he said about you."
"I can think of a few. He knew things about me and tried to pass them off as something that happened to him."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm sure he's told you about how he got his scars."
Harley's eyes turned to sorrow. "Oh, yes. How tragic."
Bruce smiled knowingly and uttered, "Which version did you get?"
Harley frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"The incident that he told me about sounded so familiar. It had all the elements of a tragedy that I, myself, went through."
"What makes you say he used it as his own?"
"Details. In his case, the lack of them. When I asked where his tragedy happened, he said at the corner of Figaro and Fifth." Harley gave him a blank expression. "I'm rather disappointed, Harley. You did research into the Wayne mansion in the Palisades, but you somehow missed the information where Thomas and Martha Wayne died. Everybody who's anybody in Gotham knows that corner. There's even a plaque to them there."
Harley suddenly gave a brightening look. "Oh, that Figaro and Fifth. I thought you were talking about L.A."
He could see right through to her false behavior. "That street would be Figueroa in L.A. You know, there are several tell signs that indicate when a person is caught in a lie. Through my business practices, I've been able to detect a few of them. Any psychotherapist worth their weight would know them as well."
"Oh...well, thank you, Bruce," she beamed.
Now, Bruce was confused. He just made a veiled insult to her but she took it as praise. Who was this woman? She gave Bruce the impression of a high school cheerleader who got up one morning and suddenly decided to be a criminal psychologist. He went on. "My point, Harley, is that there are some people who know those tells like the back of their hand. They know them so well that they know how to avoid them when they lie themselves. The Joker does this. He knew the details on my parents. He tried to use information about someone as leverage to get into a person's thoughts. Or their souls, as you said earlier. He uses other people's tragedies for his own enjoyment."
Harley straightened in her chair and her demeanor lost all of it's zip. She cleared her throat before she stated, "I really don't think you can analyze the Joker properly, Dr. Wayne. I mean, which of us is the psychotherapist here? You don't know about the Joker. You don't know how his father would beat him for his enjoyment. He would dress his son up like a clown and send him to school. He would follow him there and if he took off the costume he would go over and beat him in front of his classmates. The Joker's humility was his father's amusement. There was no other reason he gave. It was all just for laughs. The same way the Joker operates today. He uses violence as a means to entertain himself. He doesn't care who he hurts as long as he's having fun." She sighed before she said, "He's the most unique...man I ever met."
Bruce noted with a sense of urgency, "You admire him."
Harley smiled wryly. "You do have to admit, Bruce, there is something admirable about the Joker."
Bruce leaned in with his arms on the table with his own wry smile and said, "I'm sure you meant to say seductive."
Harley snapped back in a huff, "Just what are you implying, Bruce?"
Instead of directly answering her, Bruce said, "I don't mean to tell you how to do your job, Dr. Quinzel. But let me give you a warning. I've met this man face to face, as I know you have too. I'm a pretty good judge of character, if I say so myself. Believe me when I tell you that this man sets mental traps for his victims. You can see how dangerous he can be. Especially to a young, attractive intern who already has an interest in him. You did say something very true before. The Joker has no reason. He does things because he can. He's like a dog chasing cars. His fun with violence will never end."
For a few moments, there was silence. Then came something that Bruce never expected. Her sudden laughter. Her high-pitched squeal burned his ears but he didn't react. He just watched her in pity and sorrow.
She finally started speaking after her laugh. "Boy, you are smart. Just like the Joker said you were." She got up out of her chair and began walking around the table towards him. "And I must say, that was an interesting metaphor for him. A dog chasing cars." She made a point to look straight into his eyes. "That's exactly how the Joker described himself when he first got here. Great minds think alike, I guess. He said you two thought alike. He said you were the only man who wasn't afraid of him. The man with no fear, he said."
Bruce sat back in his chair with an interest of where she was going. "Now how could the Joker possibly know that about me?"
She walked around to reach behind him in his chair and answered, "Ohhh, the Joker wasn't talking about Bruce Wayne." She bent down and whispered into his ear, "He was talking about your other self. Batman."