Harleen has been on leave from work for the last three days. She needed the break. But now she is back to Arkham Asylum and there’s only one thing on her mind. She shows the new guards her ID card and enters Sector-I. Harleen tried fighting the temptation but she has to confront Jack. She’ll do this one last time and then refer him to Dr. Hugo Strange for all she cares.
But she finds Jack’s cell is empty and immediately rushes back to the guards. “Where is Joker?” she asks.
“Not here,” one replies.
Harleen shoots him a look and snaps, “Well, where then?”
“We don’t know! He was never re-admitted here.”
Without another word, Harleen marches out. She is going to the warden’s chamber. He must know where they put Jack. “Did Batman lie to me?” she wonders as she walks through multiple hallways, passing by cells on both sides, some of them padded and some of them regular. This would be an unsettling walk for a normal person because of the spontaneous screams and the almost harmonic thuds on the metal doors. The last three years at Arkham have conditioned Harleen to be used to the noises, or so she tells herself. In reality, she is struggling to keep a wince off her face. She wouldn’t want anyone, specially the nurses, to see her like this, so she pretends to adjust her glasses, hiding as much of her face as she can. For a moment, she reaches the conclusion that the struggle against your own body is really the worst kind of struggle. But then, she remembers Jack and his endless war against his own mind.
As Harleen is about to leave the residential section, she sees one patient quarreling and tussling with two nurses, refusing to go back inside her room. The patient has hair as red as poppies in late spring and green-tinted skin.
“What’s going on?” Harleen intervenes. “Step aside,” she tells the nurses, making it sound like an order. They throw their hands up, obliging. The patient picks up a broken glass from the floor. Harleen only just notices it. The bottom of the glass is intact, so it’s still holding water, albeit very little.
“You’re Ivy, right?” Harleen says. She looks past the woman. Her cell is almost empty, only a bed and no tables or shelves. Harleen sighs. She has been requesting the warden to improve the living conditions of these people for years now but he always has an excuse. “Do you mind if I go in?”
Ivy shakes her head, holding the half-broken glass in both hands with much care. As Harleen enters the room, tip-toeing over small glass pieces, a brown flower-pot sitting in the corner catches her eye. It’s full of greenish-white spathes and tall, bright leaves. The dots begin to connect in her head.
“They allowed me to have this one plant for good behavior,” says Ivy. “Peace lilies.”
“I know,” says Harleen. “I was the one who authorized it.” She turns to Ivy and smiles. She lets it linger, guessing how it could be the first smile the patient has seen in ages.
Ivy stands still, speechless.
“I’ll assume that the water was for the plant,” Harleen says.
“That’s right. The nurses only let me water it once a month. It was enough in winter but we’re nearing spring now,” she complains. “I tried to sneak this in from the cafeteria,” she holds up the shattered glass, “but they caught me.”
Harleen sucks in her lips and shrugs. “Patients aren’t allowed to have anything made of glass in their rooms.”
“I know but I had no choice! Also, why is that such a big deal? I—Ouch!” Ivy tries to explain but in her desperation cuts her thumb with a sharp edge.
“Sally? Martha?” Harleen calls to the nurses who’ve been waiting outside and, as they rush in, looks to Ivy. “Maybe that’s why!”
Ivy sighs in concession and says nothing.
Harleen stands watch as the bleeding thumb is bandaged. “I’ll have to go now,” she says to Ivy and then instructs the nurses, “You’re going to let her water the Lilies once a week. If you have safety concerns, have one of the guards accompany you.”
The nurses have a look on their face that one might read as “But…” However, they don’t protest. “Getting a job in Gotham City is somehow more difficult than getting justice,” Jack once joked, she remembers. The memory saddens her. She brushes off a tear behind her glasses and goes back on her way.
Harleen opens the door to the warden’s office and barges in. “Come on in!” Billy Sharp—the warden—says anyway, probably out of habit. Harleen closes the door behind her. “Well?” Billy asks, smiling and scratching his already balding head with the butt of a nib pen. There’s a big wooden cabinet on his left, storing certificates, trophies and a decade-old photograph of a several men in jerseys. The latter is probably among his most valued possessions, memorializing the time he played a Test Cricket match for England. There is a wide bookshelf next to this cabinet and right beside that is a glass case storing a cricket bat.
“Do you have any idea where they sent Joker?” Harleen asks, crossing her arms.
Billy puts down the nib pen, rests his elbows on his desk and touches his clasped hands to his mouth. Harleen stares into his brown eyes; they’re suddenly dead serious. “You might want to sit down, doctor,” he says.
And she does so immediately, almost against her will. Her head suddenly jolts. She has to grab onto the desk to stay sat. She hopes that her instincts are wrong. “Tell me.”
“I know he was a valued patient of yours,” Billy speaks in a calm tone, professional and therapist-like. This annoys Harleen.
“Just tell me!” she demands.
“He is in Blackgate Penitentiary.”
Her hands tremble on her lap. All she can do is stare at them and shake her head, struggling to process the information. “Why?” she asks, gradually getting more agitated.
“He can’t be kept in Arkham anymore as he has been declared cured.”
“That’s insane!” Harleen lifts her fist from her lap and slams it on the table. Billy sends down a visible gulp. “Declared by whom?”
The warden holds a sad frown, raising his chin and holding his breath. “I’m sorry,” he whispers.
Harleen growls in realization and jumps back to her feet.
“I’m sorry,” he says again, this time more clearly. “There are bigger pieces at play, doctor. My hands were tied.”
“I don’t care, Billy! He was under my care. He was my patient. You had no right to make that decision without consulting me.”
“Actually…” Billy stands up too. “I had every right,” he switches to a more stern tone now. “I’m the goddamn warden!”
Harleen stares into his widened pupils. There is no conviction in them. It seems to her that he is merely putting up an act, an attempt to fake resilience. “You’re pathetic,” she spits.
“And you’re out of line!” he shouts, perhaps like a parent who knows they’ve lost the respect of their child. His eyes fill with tears.
Harleen turns away, trying to hide tears of her own, and walks a few steps until she reaches the decorated glass casing. She takes a moment to collect herself.
“You said there are bigger things at play,” Harleen begins. “Why did you mean? Now that Joker is sane, at least officially, what’s going to happen to him?”
“I can’t tell you yet,” says Billy, sorely. “Wait a few days, you’ll find out.”
She stares at the willow inside the case, her vision hazy and distorted, and considers something horrible. What if she threatened Billy for information? Her hands jerk at the thought, as if repulsed. But she begins to reason against herself. She has been betrayed just too many times now. Jack with his false promises, Batman and his sermon about putting people in Arkham, Billy going behind her back and taking Jack away. She is tired of being used. She is tired of the lies and people who weave them. The world is an ugly mess and Harleen Quinzel has had enough of it. But if she takes this road, she’ll lose everything, her livelihood if nothing else. She’ll make enemies out of some of the most powerful men in the city. She’s not worried about Billy and Jack, but Batman… If she hurts Billy, Batman will use his influence to print her letter to Jack in the front page of Gotham Daily for all she knows. No, wait, he wouldn’t do that, would he? Even if he really wanted to do! The insurance was mutual. Either way, he’ll come for her. “Then let him,” a resolute voice echoes within her mind. She can feel the resolution spread outward, into her core, and eventually her hands. Without wasting one more thought, Harleen pulls the glass casing into the ground. It shatters into a million pieces, shards flying everywhere, big and small.
“What are you doing? Are you crazy?” Billy freaks out and backs away behind his chair, gluing his back to the wall.
Harleen picks up the bat, walks over to the cabinet and, in one swing, absolutely clobbers its sliding glass doors. Some of the shards speed onto Billy’s face and cut him in several places. Harleen too gets cut in the arms but the adrenaline holds out the pain.
“Stop! Please!” Billy gets down to his knees, wailing and shaking. “I’ll tell you everything!”
“Are you sure?” Harleen rests the bat on her shoulder.
“Yes!” He stands up with the help of his chair’s armrest and looks to Harleen for permission to sit down.
She allows it with a nod. “Go on then. Tell me.”
“It was Commissioner Gordon’s plan. It’s all him,” Billy begins. “He blames Batman and Joker for his daughter’s death and he found a way to hurt them both.” His face is bleeding but he seems to have forgotten all about it. Harleen feels bad but she knows she can’t stop now.
“I thought Batman and the commissioner were friends.”
“Me too,” says Billy. “But something has changed. He hates him now. Anyway, Joker will face trial for his actions, now that the insanity defense doesn’t apply anymore.”
“All thanks to you,” Harleen bites.
“I told you my hands are tied!”
Harleen laughs out. “I see no ropes, warden.”
It takes Billy a moment to process the joke. “I’m being serious. Gordon seems have the higher-ups in his pocket. Had I not played along, I’d have lost my job.”
“Too bad you’re about to lose it anyway.” Harleen drops the bat on the table and sits down on the other chair, her legs crossed.
“What do you mean?” Billy wants to know.
“I mean that dead men can’t hold titles. Imagine that though! An asylum run by a dead warden. Actually, I know one that is run by an incompetent one. Practically the same thing!” Harleen breaks out laughing at her own joke.
Billy stares, horrified. “I swear to god, you sound like Joker right now.”
“Is that your choice of last words?” says Harleen, softly, as she places her left hand on the bat’s haft.
Billy gulps. “You’re bluffing.”
“Am I? I will kill you. I mean, think about it. If I leave you alive, you will report this event to the police. It is a crime that I have committed, isn’t it? Yes, I believe so. Now, since you’re a part of the special plan, one of those who know, Gordon will take this case seriously. He has so much influence, doesn’t he? Especially now that he has the mayor’s office in his pocket, as you implied. One vengeful girl on the run doesn’t have a chance against that. So it stands to reason that I will be caught. And once I get caught, Gordon will ask me what happened here on this day. You know what I’ll tell him, don’t you? I’ll tell him you snitched.
“Yeah, no, future’s not looking too bright for you now. You really are losing your job either way.”
Billy’s wide eyes are fixed on Harleen. She knows from the look in his face that fear of death has taken him over. He tries to say something but the words just won’t come out. She has broken this man.
“Unless…” Harleen begins and then stops, teasing him.
“What? Unless what?!” Billy finally speaks, as if brought back to life by a glimmer of hope.
“It’s obvious. Unless you can keep your mouth shut and cover for me.”
“I’ll do as you say. I promise!”
Harleen scoffs at the last part. “I’ll make you a promise as well. If you breaks yours, I’ll come back and bust your head open, if it’s the last thing I do.”
Harley gets up, making Billy think she’s going to leave. Instead, she walks to the bookshelf, picks a book and sits back down. “What? I can’t leave now! I’ll wait till sundown when the hallways will be dark. I bet I look like a mess. The nurses are going to think things.”
Harleen didn’t even notice how an hour passed by, immersed in a copy of Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde. One couldn’t say the same for Billy. It must’ve felt like an eternity for him, watching his aggressor peacefully reading a book right in front of him and feeling blood-clots form all over his face.
“Alright then,” says Harleen and closes the book. She stands up to leave but stops, noticing her bloodied sleeves. “By the way, give me your apron.”
Billy doesn’t ask questions. He takes off his apron and hands it over.
“And I’m leaving the bat here. It could raise questions on the way out. Plus, you might need it to explain what on earth happened in here.”
“What do I tell them?” Billy speaks.
“I don’t know,” Harleen hums. “Do you have a cricket ball somewhere in here too?”
“Well, tell them you got bored and felt like reliving the glory days, inside your office,” says Harleen as she puts on Billy’s apron over her own. “But you mishit the ball and it bounced right into the glass. Or something like that. I literally don’t care.”
She leaves and takes the book with her, a calculated power move. But as she steps into the dark corridor, a terrible nausea engulfs her.