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The Criminal

By cgibson6

Mystery

Chapter 1

Growing up in the city you learn a few things. Basic stuff.  How to watch your back. How to watch your wallet, and how to snatch someone else’s. All that jazz. But growing up in Gotham. Things are different. There’s some real nutters here.  

They say there’s an evil spirit sleeping under the city. That’s why people act crazy. I don’t believe that. The only spirits in this city are the ones cooked up by politicians and the powers that be to cover their own shit. Because twenty years ago they were making real monsters. The kind that’ll light you up just to watch you burn, the dangerous kind.  

Back then, there was this place called Arkham. At the time, no one really knew much about it other than that it was a huge stone villa on the north side of town where they sent all the loonies. There were rumors and whispers about what went on there. Ghost stories really, like the evil spirit under the city, but no one believed um. At least, until the federal government finally investigated. Turned out, the whispers were true. The head doc was a headcase, experimenting on the patients. Some real fucked up shit. Taking regular citizens and petty criminals and turning um into maniacs. Social Conditioning he called it. Come to find out, all the city officials, powers, and heroes were in on it. The police force, the mob, even Bruce Wayne. All of um, funneling money into the rat lab. Why? Because the city needed crime, the crazy kind. Without the nutters, Gotham was nothing, just another metropolitan with poor intercity living conditions.  

Bruce and The Mob paid enough people to keep the whole thing quiet, but they shut the place down not long after. Now, it’s all boarded up, and all the roads that lead to the island are blocked off. Nowadays, the kids call it The School.  

I know all of this, the stuff Bruce and The Mob paid billions to keep hush hush, because I was the rat. I blew the whistle.  

Twenty years ago, I was just a kid without money, and for a kid without money, growing up on the streets of Gotham, there’s only two options. Leave or join the mob. I joined the mob, The Maroni Family. I played child of the family for a few years until one of the boys shot me in the leg during a job and then left me behind when the pigs showed up. There really is no honor among thieves. 

 After I got out, I tried to straighten up. I started looking for a job, but no one hires criminals, much less one with a bum leg. I was on my last leg. I’d given myself a week to find a job, or I was going back to Maroni. And then there it was, staring at me like a perky set of hooker tits in the ads section of The Gotham Times, “Wanted Security Guard needed Arkham Elizabeth Asylum.” I had heard the rumors, so I was sure there weren’t too many qualified applicants for the job, and I had walked down Crime Alley at midnight a time or two. So in my mind, I had nothing to worry about.  

I pulled up to the black iron gates of the facility on a Monday morning with my ID in-hand ready to present to the first person I saw. I must have been approved by someone because a loud buzzer sounded overhead and the gates swung open.  

I rolled down my window and flashed the ID to the guard standing just off the road inside the gate. He didn’t even look at me.  

I smiled and said good morning. He didn’t reply. He just stood there, arms held at his side, staring out over the grounds.  

At first, I was offended, and I thought I might get out of the car to address the situation. Then, I looked at him closely. He was one of those close cut guy. His face was a powdery white; his cheeks blushed an artificial red, and his hair tucked neatly beneath his puffy cotton hat. But his uniform was from World War II or some shit, and he didn’t blink. So, as an ex-con, I decided it probably wouldn't be in my best interest to assault one of my potential coworkers on my first day, so I let the disrespect slide and moved on.  

It didn't take me long to realize that the Arkham grounds were not like the rest of Gotham. Too many trees. The trees themselves copied the city well enough though. They were not like the trees on the hills surrounding the city where the richies lived. They were sick, dying if not already dead. All of the grounds were. The soil was dry, the trees were barren, and the grass was brittle and brown, the ghosts of a green lawn. At the time, I just figured they must be looking for a new gardener.  

The building, on the other hand, was a sight to behold, an archaic stone villa drowning in thick rotted ivy at the center of all that death. I parked in an empty lot at the building's front and made my way up the double wrapped staircase towards the entrance. The Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane was hung in gothic iron print above two worn oak doors at the front of the building. All I could think about was how insane the constructors must have been to make the windows so large. They made the outside walls transparent, and everything inside looked valuable, but then I remembered we were on a fenced in island, so the valuables were probably safe.  

 I checked over my shoulders, and for the first time, I wondered where the other security guards were. After waiting for a while, I knocked on the door. I noticed the knockers were shaped like bats.  

A blond headed nurse answered, wearing a white outfit of the trade from the 1940’s. Her lips were cherry red, and her face caked in the same powered makeup as the guard at the gate. She said they were expecting me and motioned me inside. With the harsh light at her back, I looked at her for a while trying to figure out what the hell was up with these people, but after a moment, I figured it must just be the lighting, so I stepped inside.  

She shook my hand and said her name was Harley. She told me to have a seat in the waiting room while she checked to see if the doctor was ready for me.  

I loitered around the entrance hall for a while, admiring the paintings hung along the black walls: four men spewing ink from their mouths over a map of the world in various corners, all spelling the word freedom; a crying woman holding a baby with a globe shaped head pressed to her bosom; a blindfolded man with his mouth open and a hand reaching towards him with a pair of scissors; Gotham with a bat symbol hanging in the night sky. After looking at them for a while, I decided I should move on.  

I entered the waiting room with my hands in my pockets. It was the nicest room I had been in, by invitation at least, so I wanted to make sure they knew I wasn't stealing anything. A crystal chandelier hung from the high rise ceiling showering the room in orange light. The flooring was rich mahogany. The walls were black and empty, and the room smelled like mothballs. I looked for a chair to sit in, but the room's only furnishing was a long polished cherry oak table. A fruit bowl plated in gold sat at the center. I looked it over, and for the first time, the criminal in me saw opportunity. If I worked as a security guard every day for the rest of my life, that bowl would probably have been worth more than all my earnings. I thought about snatching it and making a run for it, but then I asked myself what I would do with a bowl worth that much. Fence it to some dirtbag, who would shortchange me, knowing I had nowhere else to go with it. Either way, Batman would catch up to me eventually, and after the ass kicking, I'd just end up back behind bars. So I left it alone, but I did look inside. It wasn't empty. Inside was a single apple, black, molded, and rotted down to the core. 

For a second, I got angry. I walked away from the table and looked out of the massive windows at the far end of the room at the grounds. That’s what wrong with the rich sometimes, man. They own so much stuff. They'll put shit into anything. Nothing matters. And Batman's the worst of um. A symbol for justice? Makes me sick. He don't know shit about justice. As if we all didn’t know Batman was really Bruce Wayne. Who else could afford to run around in military grade bulletproof pajamas but a Wayne?  Everyone on the streets knew. Knew his history, knew his story. Sad shit. But he wasn't nothing special. Everyone in Gotham has a sad story. That's just life. Shit happens, but you keep on to get along. But this guy...This guy had billions. He could’ve make some real change. Showed the rich cared about the poor and the city. He could’ve run for Mayor, Congressman, Chief of Police and used that money to really clean up the streets, set an example for the kids, ya know? Got um off the streets, put some scratch in their pockets, taught um a few things, so they didn’t end up like... me. He could’ve really changed the culture of the city. But poor Brucey couldn't get over the fact that his parents were dumbasses. They walked down the most crime infested alley in the city at midnight and expected everything to be just fine because they're Wayne's. They own the city. So, he wasted those billions on suits and gadgets to beat up on petty criminals, who probably wouldn’t be criminals if the living conditions in the city weren't so shit.  

I figure the richies just can’t deal with life off the hilltop--real life. They lose their minds. 

At the time, before I knew what they were doing to the prisoners, I hoped they had a room for Batman, specially made, wherever they kept the patients. I probably still do.  

At some point, as I was staring out over the grounds and mulling all this over, I realized Mad Mama Blues was playing in the background. I only knew the song by name for one reason. It was playing in the office the one time I met Boss Maroni. He was into that old school blues and jazz. Think it made him feel like a classy gangster instead of just a wealthy street thug.  

 I peeked my head out into the adjoining halls. It was playing in the halls as well, and I realized it had been playing in the entrance hall when I entered.  

Harley came back then and told me the doctor would see me now. She led me down the hall straight ahead of us. 

Windows lined the walls of the hall. Behind each was a small room, containing a computer stationed on a midsized desk, an imaging machine, and a bed with straps. They were all empty.  

Occasionally, we would pass another nurse. They all looked like Harley, pale skinned with their faces floured in powdered makeup; their lips painted cherry red; and their heels clicking rhythmically against the mahogany floor. I didn’t even bother to greet them. It wouldn't have mattered if I had. They stared straight ahead as if they had not seen me, so I focused on the empty rooms along the walls.  

All of sudden, a loud scream, "NO!" broke the rhythm of the music.  

I jerked back, but when I asked what it was, Harley said it was just a patient who didn't like to take his medicine, but I'd get used to it. Apparently, the place had been knocked down and renovated a couple of times. All the airshafts through the buildings were linked, so you could hear loud noises anywhere in the building. Sometimes, if the voices were loud enough, they would echo off the walls because the building was so big and "acoustically fit." That's why the doctor had prescribed music for the entire building.  

At the end of the hall was a door. Albus Arkham was written on the nameplate hung at its center.  

Harley knocked, and I was told to enter.  

I opened the door and entered.  The room was even nicer than the waiting room, and Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata was playing softly in the background. The floors were carpeted in velvet; an oak bookcase filled with books covered the far wall, and hanging on the white walls were portraits that wrapped in a chain around the remaining three. All of them were pictures of men in white lab coats that looked eerily similar to the man sitting behind the polished oak desk in front of me. He was a slender bespectacled man, wearing a white lab coat, who also appeared to be an animated photograph from the 40's. His black hair was slickly combed over with an abundance of grease.  

He said, good morning. I nodded.  

He smiled. His teeth were white as the walls of hall. 

He told me to take a seat and motioned to an empty arm chair in front of his desk, so I sat.  

The conversation that unfolded was the strangest I have ever had. He explained that he had hired me because of my specific background. He informed me that he was in fact the keeper of Gotham's biggest secret. His methods of treatment were a bit unorthodox, but he assured me that he had the full confidence of Wayne Industries, the Police Department, and others. He asked me if I had heard the music in the halls. I told him I had. He then explained that the music was in fact strategic, an instrumental part of his conditioning program.  

According to Arkham, beneath the main floor, there was another level, below ground. This was where all the patients were kept. This was where the conditioning took place. He said he was interested in minds, how the mind functioned, what caused a man to go crazy, how far one could push before an individual broke, and if there was a way to bring them back. They took patients of all kinds, anyone the asylum’s benefactors would give them, petty criminals, the homeless, kids sometimes. He used music mainly to condition the patients into routines.  Songs like Mad Mama Blues, Butcher Pete, A-Z Blues, Shave Em' Dry, and 22-20, each one chosen and assigned to a specific task or action, some good some not so good, so that when the patient heard the song they knew what to do. After a while, they didn't need the songs anymore. He told me the nurses and guards were his first patients, brilliant successes. Criminals turned into completely obedient public servants. The program had only grown from there, but the higher-ups had different tastes in product.  

Crime was profitable, and if it could be manufactured all the city's officials could make a killing, but Gotham needed a new breed of criminals, one that would bring national attention, and Arkham had the answer. "You'd be surprised what you can turn a man into given the right stimulus," He said. In this lower level, using this conditioning program, Arkham was making monsters, Gotham's next supervillians, which Batman would eventually knock down and send back here for rebuffing before being sent back out again. 

 I called him insane, and asked him why he was telling me all of this. He said that Boss Maroni had not forgotten me or my service to him, and as long overdue payment for my faithful service, Maroni was giving me a chance to get a slice of the pie, the big pie. It was my chance to be a player and not a pawn.  

I told him I would think it over. He told me he knew I would make the right choice.  

I did. I went to the media outside of Gotham. I told every media outlet what I had been told, and what was really going on in Gotham. No one believed me at first, said I was just a petty criminal, looking for fifteen minutes and a quick buck, but I didn't let that stop me. And after the first time Maroni tried to have me killed, people started to listen. The botched hit seemed to validate what I was saying, and the story got huge. After a while the FBI stepped in to investigate. They found evidence of everything I had  

No one was arrested. No one sent to prison. The whole thing just kind of disappeared. There's still loonies, crazies, and criminals in Gotham, but they're far less common than they were. Batman and his enemies disappeared after the facility was shut down and boarded up. 

I ask myself everyday why I didn’t just take the money. I could've been living big in a penthouse on the hilltop. Instead, I live in a one bedroom apartment in Metropolis across the water from Gotham. Maroni forgot about me after the whole Harvey Dent incident, but I can't believe everyone has forgotten my face, so I don't think I'll ever be able to go back to Gotham. I guess I just figured someone had to do what's right by the city, somebody had to do right by the kids.  

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