In the end, I’d decided not to resist.
Now I sat in a blank white room, handcuffed to the table. The police had tried to administer some rough treatment, but even without a weapon, I was a better fighter than they were, and I’d rapidly taught them some respect. Of course, once I was handcuffed, it was a different story completely. Now I sported a black eye, several bruised ribs. If I’d cared, I’d have been insulted at their lack of subtlety. They were no better than any of the gangs that ran the streets. Shaking my head, I wondered just how it had all come to this. I looked down at my suit – Joker’s suit – and grinned wryly when I thought of just how many times he’d been in this kind of position himself. Of course, he’d always had a trick up his sleeve. I did too, but I was going to need to time it perfectly.
The lights in the room went completely dark.
I frowned, and then a grin touched my face.
Something caught me by the hair and smashed my face into the table. I came up squinting, battling the pain, and shaking my head to clear it. I couldn’t see a damned thing, but I feel a presence behind me, and that was enough. A presence that radiated danger and power. Someone accustomed to using fear on the weaker-minded.
A voice, ice-cold and soft, spoke in the darkness.
“Who are you?”
I laughed. “Come on, now. The whole “fear in the dark” thing is a bit overdone. I’ll talk, but only if I can see your face. No need to hide in the shadows like a little girl.”
A pause, and then the lights flickered back on. The first thing that I noticed was that a chair had been slammed up under the door to keep the cops out. They’d need a battering ram to get through that. Then a tall, toned figure stepped into my field of view. No cape, no cowl. It wasn’t Gotham’s Knight. Just his sidekick. All grown up, of course.
“Sure. Say, just out of curiosity, which one are you? Not Bats, obviously…”
“Nightwing. But I’m asking the questions. Who are you?”
Cold menace was radiating from him. Also overdone.
“JJ,” I told him. “My name’s JJ.”
“That’s not a name.”
I shrugged. “Is, for me.”
A sudden strike came out of nowhere and crashed into my nose, throwing my head back and sending pain charging through my face. I grimaced, and then laughed. Jeez, he couldn’t interrogate for peanuts, this guy.
“You know, if you’re going to interrogate someone, force is good. But you’re probably better off appealing to their better nature once you’ve established who’s in charge. Let’s be honest – I’m handcuffed to a table. I think we both know who’s in charge. So maybe you oughta stop smashing my face. I kinda need it.”
Nightwing caught hold of my throat.
“I’m not playing games with you. What. Is. Your. Name?”
“Don’t have one,” I spat. “No records. You’re not going to find anything on me.”
The pressure on my throat eased a little. “The Joker Toxin. Where did you get it?”
“I didn’t. Joker already had it in place. I just happened to be there when he released it.”
“Right,” Nightwing said sarcastically. “And you just happened to be wearing his suit.”
“Left it behind for me. I thought it might make people run faster.”
All the truth. Not that he was going to believe me.
“And you just went and turned yourself in?”
“Just to see if one of Batman’s people would show up,” I told him, grinning. “And you didn’t disappoint. So, my turn… what are you doing in town? I thought you were all run out of here after Bats kicked the bucket after that fight with the Boy in Blue.”
He didn’t answer me – he was thinking.
I suddenly threw my weight forwards. It was completely unexpected, and his elbow crashed on the table, right on his funny bone. Nightwing reacted with lightning speed, a left punch soaring towards my head. I rolled my head to the left, so it only scraped my face, and then leaned forwards, activating the hidden switch on the flower that adorned Joker’s suit. A useful toy – of course, he’d sprayed it in people’s faces. The thing was full to the brim of acid. The chemical squirted onto my handcuffs and sleeves. Nightwing hurled in two more hits, aiming for my jaw and throat, looking for a knockout blow, but I kept my head down and they slid off my skull. Then I felt the metal around my wrists give, and I ripped myself free of the handcuffs. Nightwing’s last punch rocked my head back, blurring my vision – I staggered backwards, almost tripping over my chair. He vaulted over the table, and snapped in a side kick that slid off my ribs. I repressed the pain and pulled my hands up to protect my head. The door to the room banged loudly.
The cops had finally checked the cameras.
I snagged Nightwing’s wrist in one of the final punches, and smashed my skull into his face. I’d never had to fight one of Batman’s family, but no-one on the street had ever gotten the better of one of them in a fight. Not even the pint-sized Robin back in the day. I didn’t like my chances of taking down Nightwing, but I was sure as hell going to try. I had a higher pain threshold than he did – I knew that much – but time was against us. Soon enough the cops would be bursting in here with guns. They’d probably gun us both down to save themselves problems later.
Nightwing changed tactics, using his elbows, delivering crashing blows that felt like steel bars bouncing off my head and arms. I slammed my foot down on his instep, punched him in the throat, and then rammed in another headbutt. He stepped back, as I smashed in one of my own elbows into his ear. He pulled me into a clinch, looking for a strangehold, but a kidney punch made him flinch and I planted my feet properly on the ground, swinging him into a corner and slamming a knee into his crotch. He barely flinched at the impact.
Jesus. This was not going to be easy.
I needed an advantage. There was no way I was going to beat this guy in a fair fight. I was giving him a run for his money – not many people could stand this kind of punishment – but he had the edge in size and skill. I closed my hand and grinned, remembering something that I’d found in a pocket of the suit. Why I hadn’t bothered to use it until now, I had no idea. Should’ve remembered earlier. A hell of a lot earlier. Funny thing about Joker’s pockets were how they managed to deflect a pat-down search so easily. Nightwing swung up and pistoned into a kick that caught me in the head and hurled me backwards, over the table, and to the floor. I pulled myself up, shook my head to clear it, and then saw Nightwing vault over the table himself, going for a dropkick that would put me out like a light. I caught hold of his ankle with my hand, and then electricity crackled. His muscles contracted, and he toppled to the floor. I let him go, and watched his body strain to get back into working order.
Then I glanced at the toy that Joker had left me.
His old joy-buzzer-ring. Originally designed for fatal shocks.
Although, thankfully, the voltage involved could be toned down.
I hadn’t killed Nightwing – just put him out of commission temporarily.
Pulling the chair from around the desk, I sat down in front of him, hearing the pounding on the steel door growing progressively louder. They were going to be through in a couple of minutes if they persisted. I had to talk fast.
“Either you’re slipping, or I’m a hell of a better fighter than the Joker.” I glanced over my shoulder at the door. “All right, now I can finally talk. I don’t expect you to believe me here, but since you’re done trying to bust my face, this should be slightly easier. I’m the Joker’s kid. He left me some kind of insane plan to carry out, but I don’t plan on following through with it. I’m not going to be him – I’m going to be me. I’m going to rip down everything he tried to create, and after that… I’m gone. We don’t have to be enemies. You can tell Huntress, Robin… whoever the hell cares. This is going to be a lot easier if I don’t have to worry about you people as well as the police.”
Nightwing grunted, but he still couldn’t move.
“Glad to see you can hear me.”
The metal door suddenly caved in. The hinges held, but they wouldn’t be like that for much longer. I leapt to my feet, and ducked out of sight, directly beside the doorway entrance. Then two cops in heavy riot gear burst through the entrance, riot shields and batons at the ready. I darted in, ripping one of the pins off the nonlethal grenades on his belt. Gas started to spew out of the canister – tear gas, by the smell of it. In seconds, the police force sent in to neutralise us was on the ground, rolling around. My immunity to Joker Toxin apparently extended to non-lethal crap as well. I grabbed a baton from the fingers of a riot cop, and then pulled a Glock 17 out of another’s holster.
I glanced back at Nightwing.
“Don’t get in my way,” I warned him.
Then I tipped him a salute with the baton, before dashing out into the corridor. The entire station was in panic, probably – I needed to beat it, and fast. If I managed to make it out onto the streets, then it’d be much easier to vanish. I saw a door burst open, and I charged towards it, firing my newfound pistol, putting four rounds into the doorframe and forcing them to dive for cover. I blitzed through the doorframe, and rounded a corner, and then ran headlong into another riot cop. He put his shoulder down and rammed with his oversized plastic shield. I cursed, lost my footing, and rolled as I hit the floor, aiming to the left and shooting. The cop couldn’t help flinching, raising his shield ever so slightly. I hooked his ankle with right foot, and then shoved his knee with my left, dropping him onto his back instantly. From there, all I had to do was get to my feet again. The cop reached for his baton on the carpet, but I swung my own bludgeon into his crotch. He toppled back to the carpet, howling, and I stepped over him, following the large helpful signs that flashed ‘EXIT’.
It wasn’t easy.
Thankfully, I’d moved so fast that most of the staff hadn’t been alerted yet. When they saw a pale, thin guy in a well-cut purple tuxedo, a baton and a semiautomatic in his hands, they knew better than to mess with me. I made the lobby eventually, hurling myself down a flight of stairs, only to have two burly cops with shotguns waiting for me downstairs. I came down shooting, forcing their aim off. I was only aiming in their general direction – I knew that a pistol required hours and hours of practice to use properly – but I clipped one of them in the leg, and he went down screaming, losing his shotgun. The second guy barely had time to ram the slide back before I reached him. He improvised, spinning the gun around and swinging it like a baseball bat. I ducked under his swing, smashed his shin with my club, and then caught him under the chin as he doubled over, sprawling him out on the carpet beside his fellow officer.
Then I ran. Ran fast, ran hard.
I ditched the purple jacket, emptied the gun of its magazine, and tossed it into a drain. The club followed it – if I was going to get away with this, I needed completely anonymity. As soon as I reached what I thought of as home, I could breathe and think of a plan.
It took me half an hour to get away from the GCPD building.
When I was sure that I’d lost any followers, I jumped a chain-link fence in a backlot, a lot of old apartment buildings that were usually lived in by small-time crooks, a pimp or two, and yours truly. It was a run-down, filthy place that smelled permanently of cigarettes and spirits, but I had a bed there. The other tenants… they’d learned to leave me alone. I went through the door. The grimy kitchen was usually occupied by the tenant’s poker game, but instead, I found three burly Blackgaters smoking there, waiting for me.
Dammit. They’d found out where I lived.
“Can I help you guys?” I asked sarcastically, leaning against the doorframe.
They looked up at me, and I recognised the guy who’d run out on me in the club.
“Jesus! I thought you were dead for sure!”
“Glad I could disappoint. What the hell are you doing here?”
“Making sure the Boss’s next message was here for you if you came back.” My Blackgater stood up – he’d had his arm stitched up, at least. “I don’t think we got properly introduced. I’m Beck, and these boys are Dinner and Mouse.”
The names made me smile, just a little. “What happened to the others?”
“The guys who live here?” Dinner said. “They headed upstairs when they saw us.”
“I don’t blame them.” I took in a deep breath. “All right, what’s Joker’s next play?”
“It’s in your room. Along with a present.” The caution in Beck’s eyes told me that he’d had plenty of experience with Joker’s ‘presents’. “Careful. I’ve seen what he puts in those.”
“I thought the Blackgaters were staying out of Gotham,” I pointed out.
“We are. Mostly,” Mouse said. “Just needed to drop off the latest stuff.”
“Well, get out. I need some space.”
They got to their feet, and, to my amazement, started walking towards the door. I watched them leave, and then headed upstairs. I didn’t like this, not even slightly, and as I pushed my door open, I saw a bright green and purple package waiting for me, beside a brand-new iPod Nano that was about ten years too old to be seen anywhere except among old-school music fans. I stripped off the purple trousers, substituted them for my busted-up jeans, and then sat down on the bed. I glared at the peeling grey wallpaper, and stretched, trying to ease out the kinks in my muscles. I’d had a hell of a day. The physical punishment wasn’t exactly minimal – my face was still damaged from my beating at the hands of the police. Nightwing hadn’t helped matters. It was a freakin’ miracle that I hadn’t been shot on my crazy escapade out of the GCPD. I looked down at the iPod.
“What’s next…?” I muttered to myself.
I decided to check the gift box first. I’d seen Joker’s idea of a present – explosives, spikes and spring-loaded punching gloves with enough force to snap your neck – but I doubted that he wanted to get me killed with such an obvious trap. Then again, it was Joker…
I pulled the lid off the box, and instead of a flash of Joker Toxin or an explosion, a purple suit was folded neatly into it, next to a silver revolver – looked like a .357 Rossi Magnum model, with a 6” barrel, polished to a shine. I took out the gun, and weighed it in my hand – perfectly balanced, cold and lethal. Six bullets already fresh in the cylinder, complete with a MagnaTrigger safety. A powerful magnet was set into the grip, and as I pulled out a magnetized ring that sat under it, I slipped it over my finger. Under that, I found a playing card – but not your usual variety. It was lethally sharp, paper-thin metal. I picked it up, turned it in my fingers, and then flicked it at the wall.
It went through the plaster like paper and hit a wooden support with a dull thunk.
Not a bad calling card. And completely underhanded – you weren’t exactly expecting a playing card to be a lethal weapon. I pulled the card out of the wall, and then pulled on Joker’s brand-new suit. Time to go to work.