Solitary confinement is a strange and lonely place for most people, but then, Jervis Tetch was not 'most people'.
For Jervis, it was the usual. It was somewhere to think. It was somewhere he could daydream without being interrupted by constant nonsensical questions and somewhere he could let his mind wander far beyond the perimeters of steel fences and barbed wire. Even the very first time, after getting over the initial shock of complete isolation (and the reason he’d earned it), he had found he really didn’t mind it; his head was usually too full of things to concentrate with other people around, and besides, he was quite used to being alone. Talking to the other inmates in the common room was generally pleasant enough, if a little risky sometimes, and his games of chess with Crane were agreeable (it had been hard to find a worthy opponent of the game before meeting the professor), but it was when he was alone that he could truly relax, and read.
Today, however, the well-thumbed copy of Carroll’s famous works lay quite untouched on the bed in his cell. He had forsaken pacing to and fro when it became evident that it was not assisting his thoughts, but as of yet being perched on the edge of the mattress with his head in his hands didn’t seem to be much of an improvement.
“A PhD in micro-circuitry and human cognition and you can’t even figure your way out of a box… think man, think!”
Striking his pillow with a fist he glared at the tiled floor, as if it might aid him to reach some moment of inspiration which would transport him out of here. He was so consumed in this line of thought that he barely even registered the alarms going off down the hall- in Arkham it was a slow week if they didn’t go off at least once a day, so he had become quite accustomed to the noise, occasionally harmonised by the Joker’s laughter, who had recently taken to setting them off even if he had no intention of escaping.
It was with some surprise then that he registered the sensation of someone’s hand landing on his shoulder and pulling him upright, barely giving him enough time to grab his hat before being yanked out into the corridor.
“Miss… Miss Quinzel?!”
He blinked at the characteristic yellow pigtails bobbing along ahead of him with dumbfounded surprise, as she dragged him along by the wrist with a radiant grin as they ran past empty cells.
“Heya Jervy! Come on~! It’s a party out here!”
“I can see that-” He raised an eyebrow at the absence of the prisoners, attempting to pull alongside the enthusiastic girl to save his hand from being completely removed. “I take it this is an invitation to join it?”
Harley flapped her spare hand and rolled her eyes at her bewildered companion, skidding around a corner at such speed that Jervis almost ran full tilt into the wall. “Aw, don’t be so silly, Jervy; don’cha know what this is?”
Jervis looked at her with a blank expression that expressed that he plainly did not know what this was.
“Why, it’s your un-birthday present!”
Screeching to a halt outside an armoured door, Harley stuck a finger in her ear whilst pressing a remote control with another, a stifled BOOM shaking the foundations of the corridor before the door revealed itself through the smoke, hanging at a crazy angle off its hinges. She beamed proudly as she bowed; “Ta-dah!”
Regarding the exploded door and the concept that Harley knew what an un-birthday was with mute surprise, the mild mannered scientist’s face suddenly broke into such a grin that he would have looked quite insane if he hadn’t been already.
“And all must have prizes… Why, how very thoughtful of you- I must return the favour someday.” He placed the hat on his head with a decidedly wicked slant to his smile. “As for the present moment…”
A short while later the two were charging down the East wing, sirens blaring around them as the entire building churned with chaos, escaped prisoners running in every direction- the vast majority screaming and clutching and catching at things that weren’t there.
“I see that Jonathan has had quite a hand in this?” Jervis observed dryly, as they avoided a man babbling something about jellyfish with panic-stricken eyes.
“Mm-hmm~!” Doctor Quinzel nodded cheerfully, hefting the large satchel further up her shoulder as they waited for a flock of security guards to run across the junction of hallways ahead of them after a band of escapees. “He managed to get hold of a little of his toxin after pretending to be ill- they were tryin’ ta figure out what’s in it in the lab, see, to make an antidote…”
“A little goes a long way,” Tetch remarked, stepping over a man in a dead faint.
“Oh, well, he got more after the first bit took out the medical staff,” Harley explained, as if it were obvious, waving joyfully at Two-Face as they passed him sitting in his cell, the scarred coin continuing to flip up and down in his hand as he waved back disinterestedly. “Poor Harv; he lost the coin-toss,” she stage-whispered to Jervis behind her hand at his inquiring look.
“Don’t worry though, Red’s joining us and Craney- an’ my puddin’ of course,” she managed to add an extra twirl and hand-clasp into her run as they passed by a security camera over-ridden by vines and thorns.
So, the released convicts and their exposure to the toxin was a distraction; that figured. Tetch processed the facts as he opened the door for Harley before they exited into the grounds, the security lights around them whirling uselessly about like lasers at a disco- but that didn’t explain...
“So, why help me?” He gestured behind him as they skimmed down the sloping lawn, the sound of approaching vehicles hastening their steps. “I had no part in this- not that I’m ungrateful for the assistance, of course, very far from it…”
This earned a puzzled look, but as a convenient ditch had presented itself to them further inquiry was stemmed, as they ducked down into it out of the path of a helicopter’s searchlight. Jervis tisked up at it disdainfully. “Blasted Jubjub bird… they’ve got the city forces arriving already, we shall have to hurry-”
“Inmates of Arkham!” A scratching blast of a noise echoed around the grounds from the high-posted speakers, as the sound of cars approaching and screeching to various halts was punctuated by headlights from all directions. “This is the police; we have the asylum completely surrounded. Resistance is useless. Cease your attempts of escape and return to your cells immediately!”
Harley made a furious squeaking noise as she threw her bag down, the corner of her red and black outfit peaking out of the zipper as she conducted a small dance of fury.
“Ooooh! You buncha cheats! How come they got here so quick already?!”
“This is a rather unfortunate development…” Jervis admitted, looking around at the wall of cars- so far they had not been spotted, but by a series of Jurassic noises and the sight of several policemen being sent flying by long, lashing vines he judged that Miss Isley had been discovered, if by no means captured.
Jervis grimaced slightly- he had never had the smoothest relationship with the Joker; as far as he was concerned the man was a ruthless cad with as many manners as a Bandersnatch. Just why Miss Quinzel found him so admirable he could never quite fathom; but seeing her in such distress, and knowing of the Joker’s part in this attempt, he could hardly condone leaving the man to be caught before he’d even escaped. Scoping the area he noted that the ditch they were in led quite close to the asylum’s copious garage facility.
“Alright, Miss Quinzell; you go and fetch your laughing companion, I’ll obtain what transport I can and meet you at the main gate.” It was a crazy move, but that could work in their favour- the police likely wouldn’t expect them to use the main entrance as their exit, especially not by car. Evidently Harley thought it was worth a shot, as she brightened up instantly, delving a hand into her satchel before pressing something that looked like a hand-buzzer into his palm.
“That’s the key to Mr J’s car: they’ll still have it impounded, they only brought him in last week.” Scampering away with a wave as she flipped and ducked around the ever increasing spot lights, Jervis tipped the brim of his hat to her before setting off along the trench determinedly; he wasn’t going to miss this chance. If he did, who knew when the next opportunity would present itself; security would sky rocket after this incident, and besides, even one more day might be one too many for her.
Eventually reaching the side of the ditch that fronted the garage, he pressed himself down against the earth whilst two patrol men ran past to where a sound of maniacal laughter was issuing from inside. He threw his own satchel onto the tarmac before climbing up himself. He hadn’t been able to salvage much from the supplies room- they’d destroyed the vast majority of his cards. As it was all he had was his old outfit, the control-band and a mere three of the white, rectangular devices marked with ten-and-six. He frowned down at one of the remaining cards as he approached the doors, sliding the band back under the felt of his hat. Wantonly demolishing such advanced work; savages. Honestly, these people simply didn’t understand the beauty of technology.
“Halt! Who goes- you?!” A guard turned sharply to face the blond man wearing the ludicrously oversized hat, but it was unfortunate for him that he had rounded the corner so closely, as the range allowed the convict to easily deposit the card behind his ear, the guard’s eyes turning glassy and void in an instant.
“Yes, I do ‘go’; well done old chap.” Removing the keys from the unlucky man’s belt he let himself into the large steel storage house with a dismissive wave. “Now do excuse me, I’m due to give my friends a lift…”
A few moments later there were policemen and guards diving left and right like confetti to avoid the progress of the garish purple automobile storming along the access road. Swerving crazily between the gathered panda cars, the Joker’s car screeched to a halt just short of the main gate, Jervis looking out over the grass, his over-sized teeth clenched in urgency; “Come on, Miss Quinzel, we’ll be late…” He observed the first cars recovering and taking off towards him apprehensively- they’d be on him in moments, and he really never had taken to driving these American cars; left hand drive had always flummoxed him.
A bubbly voice sang over in a notably more panicked tone than usual, as a brightly-coloured figurine of a girl could be made out running towards the violet car, but no purple-suited man accompanied her.
“Harley! Where is he?”
“I couldn’t reach him to get him out; he was too busy having fu- oomph!”
The jester-like silhouette tripped and tumbled into the ditch ahead of her, before being swiftly pulled out of it backwards by what had caught her ankle.
A part of Jervis’s chest froze solid for a moment at the sight of the sharp-eared cowl and jagged edged cloak, as the blacker-than-black creature hauled the squirming Harley to her feet. She succeeded in giving the Batman a handsome kick to the shins which bought her a moment to yell; “Don’t’cha worry about us! You just get outta here, J-”A small injection of sedative rendered the rest of her message blank, as the ominous shadow turned to look up at the car’s driver, Jervis shading his features with his arm.
Cursing beneath his breath he laid his foot on the gas so hard that the wheels span screeching in place before the Joker-mobile shot off as such velocity that it took down the entire gate with it before careering down the winding path away from the asylum.
Seeing the flotilla of cop cars gaining on him in the reverse mirror his hand hesitated over what he estimated to be a smoke screen device, but instead found himself laughing in triumph as the forerunners snagged on the bent and buckled wrought-iron gates, the very letters of the asylum’s name tearing into the rubber of their tires as the pursuers bottled up their own companions behind them, skidding and grinding down to their axels in a highly effective blockade. Even the batmobile couldn’t plough through that lot, certainly not without hurting anyone.
Watching the vibrant car roar off into the distance, the vigilante known as Batman narrowed his masked eyes at the receding vehicle whilst hefting the unconscious girl over his shoulder, repeating her parting message. “You just get outta here, J-”
Conducting a bad tempered about-face he handed the re-captured inmate to the police who had approached him, as one officer rubbed the back of his neck ruefully.
“Damn, that makes two of ‘em now, at least… was that-?”
“Don’t worry,” the growling voice caused the cop to freeze in his boots, as the sweeping cape brushed past him to disappear from the scene, “the Joker won’t be out of his cage for long.”
A black-gloved hand balled into a tight fist. “I’ll see to that.”
Tonight had been a good night. Billy’s meeting had been big and important and productive, and the meal had gone down as well as Alice’s report that she had had a perfectly nice and uneventful day tending to the house plants and getting the bills in order in time for Christmas. Initially Billy had been sceptical about allowing her to keep flowers in the house, but what was a couple of roses and a tiger lily to knowing that she was at home, and happy to be there?
Now sat watching the usual evening programs (or, at least, Billy was watching them; Alice pretended to, her mind elsewhere), the night drew on into winter darkness outside the cosy, electrically lit room where Mr and Mrs Antrim sat. Alice Antrim- she’d never thought about how it would sound before the wedding really, and that had come so terribly suddenly. She’d always been Alice Pleasance, why would she think of herself as anything else? Yet here she was, Mrs Antrim; A. Antrim, how strange, to have both initials as the same letter. Something about it always struck her as silly; it made her sound so like some character in a book, although she would never mention this to Billy of course.
These thoughts were interrupted by the program changing to the nine o’clock news, showing an image that was still so fresh in her memory that Alice reflexively tensed up at the shot of the sprawling asylum, as if the lady sat at the broadcasting desk were about to announce- “And now a trip to Wonderland; news that Alice Antrim visited the man that she drove mad today startles the city…” Although to her relief she realised this was nonsense, so she relaxed to listen to what the lady actually had to say.
As it turned out, what the lady actually had to say was not a great improvement to her imaginings.
“A mass breakout attempt?” Billy snorted contemptuously, flicking a hand at the screen derisively; “You see the sort of madhouse that place is? Rehabilitation, my left foot; they ought to shoot the lot of ‘em…”
Alice said nothing. They had had that discussion before, and she didn’t care to repeat it no matter how much she disagreed with him. She never won, at any rate.
“Doesn’t look like many of them got out anyway, which one is Pamela Isley again?”
“Poison Ivy, dear.” Mrs Antrim informed him. Mr Antrim scowled at the name.
“Bunch of power-crazed loonies running about in their costumes, tearing up the city like they can just turn people’s lives upside-down without so much as a by-or-leave.”
Mrs Antrim nodded mutely along with whatever her husband was talking about, trying to focus on what the report was saying about the place she had been sat in mere hours ago. A mass escape movement… it seemed the police had gotten to the scene quickly enough for things to be brought back under control, but they were still checking on how many had gotten out, the only two definite escapees being Ivy and the Joker; pictures of the latter’s car now being shown along with instructions for the public to report any sightings of it to the police immediately. When she’d been walking towards the visitors room Alice had heard someone laughing hysterically down one of the halls; she had instantly supposed at the time that it was the Joker, the noise had given her such a case of shivers. To think that he was out there, in the city, right this minute… and yet, she found herself more occupied by the possibility that another of the inmates might have been involved…
“Ah well, the big B’ll get those nutcases; don’t you worry about a thing, honey.” Billy concluded his unheard tirade, switching off the television and giving Alice a peck on the cheek which she avoided flinching at just in time. “Come on, it’s been a long day; let’s go to bed.”
He smiled, one of those warm, faithful smiles that he used to give her that had reminded her of some blockish, cuddly labrador wagging its tail. It hadn’t always been this way, it had been that way. Alice smiled back, hoping that it looked like the ones that she used to give him. “Okay.”
So Mr and Mrs Antrim went to bed.
But while these two retired for the night, there were a great many people in Gotham that night who would not, could not sleep for a good many hours yet. The police searching the immediate vicinity of the asylum stocked up on their instant coffees as they put the thought of rest to the back of their minds, as names and cells were checked and re-checked, the searchlights still prying open the shadows of the now-quiet grounds. Commissioner Gordon gave the sheet the Head Warden had just handed to him yet another disbelieving stare, the sound of raucous laughter still echoing out of the room they were stood in front of.
“Well I’ll be… damn, looks like we’re going to have to completely re-think this business. See to it that the update reaches the media-centre immediately; I want a news flash as soon as possible, ‘you hear?” He handed the data to a grim-faced sergeant who saluted smartly before bolting off towards the communications van, the grey-haired commander shaking his head in frustration.
“Who’d’ve thought… seems we underestimated him. Any news on Poison Ivy yet?”
The Warden shook his own head in the negative.
“Lost all track of her since the professor stepped in; we might have caught Crane, but she slipped right through our fingers. Could be miles away by now, knowing her.”
The commissioner grimaced in agreement, but turned back to his squadron with no less determination. “Perhaps, but she’s on foot, at least- we’ll have more chance of catching her now than we will later, even if it isn’t daylight. I want teams searching in every direction it’s possible to move without transport, now! Let’s move, people!”
The search parties saluted before dividing off for their duties, a sense of futility about the entire exercise already settling over the groups.
“-And what about Tetch?” Officer Montoya approached Gordon from over his shoulder, the hand resting easily on her holster matching her lethally unimpressed expression. “Do you think we’ll find him before sunrise?”
“I can only hope so, Montoya,” her superior sighed in a manner that expressed that, despite his hopes, he didn’t think it likely; “He certainly pulled a fast one on us this time though, that’s for sure.”
The familiar skyline of the city had an additional silhouette that night, as graceful and imposing as the architecture of Gotham itself, as the Batman scoured every alleyway and rooftop for some glimpse of the car with a grin as wide as its bumper or its owner, still blissfully unaware that the driver he was seeking was not the man he supposed.
If he had supposed correctly, he might have been more occupied in searching for a distinctively bedraggled mass of yellow hair cresting a curiously hatted man with a large overbite, as the car had long since been parked and covered with a tarpaulin at the docks, the man himself having departed that area some thirty minutes ago.
Approaching the door of the harmless looking shop, windows frosted with the grime of dereliction, Jervis Tetch tutted disapprovingly, fixing the lop-sided sign before he entered the front door. It was a small place; easy enough to let on a small fee from an alternative bank account (and under a false name, naturally). Not exactly a secret lair for large-scale covert operations, but a safe-hold, a place to wait out the night.
What had become of the others involved at the asylum and the misunderstandings that had resulted would have to be learned in the morning papers, as the most-wanted man in Gotham collapsed on the bed upstairs to fall asleep without so much as drawing up the covers.
Even the criminally insane had their limits, after all.