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A Fish Tale

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Despite the autumn chill in the air and the occasional burst of cold rain keeping Gotham damp on October thirty-first, the twelfth precinct squad room is sweltering.

Detective Nick Yemana slumps at his desk, his tie loose and his sleeves rolled up. He focuses on the racing section of the newspaper. Nearby, Detective Burke tugs at his tie before tipping a nearly empty ice bucket resting on the coffee station.

“I can’t take much more of this heat,” Burke grumbles. “They’ve got to do something about the temperature in this building.”

Yemana glances up from his paper. “Be careful what you wish for. You know how it is around here. Fix one thing, break something else.”

“You don’t understand. I’d take anything over this heat.”

Piercing, raptor-like laughter echoes from the hallway. The door opens and Arthur Fleck in full Joker gear strolls into the squad room, followed closely by Detective Sergeant Chano Amenguale.

Detective Burke closes his eyes, a pained look on his face. “I mean anything but him.”

The mutual dislike between Burke and Fleck is no secret.

Amenguale points to the chair near his desk. “Sit right there, Arthur. You know the drill. I just have to fill out some paperwork.”

Arthur gazes at Amenguale, his blue-green eyes wide in their frame of blue diamonds. The innocent look is an eerie contrast to the feral red curve of his exaggerated clown smile. “Uh huh. I understand, and I’m cooperating, even though this time I really had nothing to do with it. I wasn’t even there.”

“You’re not being charged right now, but you know why I have to hold you until the victim can make a positive identification.”

“I don’t know how she’ll do that, Detective, because I didn’t mug anyone. Why would I do that?”

“Arthur, the woman said a man dressed as a clown grabbed her, broke her arm, stole her purse, and pushed her to the ground. Then he ran off.”

“It’s Halloween night. Do you know how many clowns are in this city tonight? Nicole and I are having a fundraiser at Clown Kingdom for the Clinica Sanando. That means our place is packed with clowns.”

“Yes, but you were the only clown at the same time and on the same block where she was attacked. When I got to her, she was still on the ground. Just as Fish was driving off to the hospital with her,  you came out of Helm’s Pharmacy, right around the corner.”

“There’s a name for that.” Arthur’s brow furrows. He rubs a thumb over his ruby-red lips. “Circumstantial evidence, I think.”

Chano sighs. He’s known Arthur for two years. Although trouble migrates toward him, he’s usually not the one to cause it. That doesn’t mean he’s always easy to handle, however, especially when he’s inhabiting his Joker character. It’s strange, how without the red suit and makeup, Arthur is generally a quiet, shy guy. In costume, though, he seems to become the characters he plays. He does another clown, too, a simpler, childlike one called Carnival. Why couldn’t he have decided to spend Halloween as Carnival instead?

Still, Joker is different. Chano has known Arthur long enough to realize that at times, even without the costume, he's much like Joker. It can be a little unsettling.

“Arthur, come on, man. You agreed not to give me any trouble.”

“I’m not giving you trouble. You know I wouldn’t do that.” Arthur bounces his legs and taps long, thin fingers on the chair arm. “I don’t know what else to tell you, though, Detective.”

Captain Barney Miller steps out of his office, looking uncharacteristically disheveled, his sleeves rolled up and his tie loose. “I called again about the heat in this place. They haven’t been able to lower it all night, but they tell me they’re trying to get it fixed.”

“By when? Next Halloween?” Yemana says, deadpan.

Barney’s gaze rivets to Chano’s desk. “Arthur, again? What’s going on?”

“A woman was mugged by a clown. Fish took her to the hospital because of a possible broken arm, but she’ll be here right after,” Chano replies.

“When you’re done, I want to talk to you in my office for a minute.”

“Okay, Barn.” Chano finishes with Arthur and then he guides him toward the cage. “You have to stay in there until she gets here, man.”

Arthur steps into the cage, his lips curved into a faint grin within his painted one. “It’s okay, Detective. This is better than the last cage I was in. At least here I can move my arms.” His piercing laugh rings through the squad room.

“Like tonight isn’t bad enough already,” Burke mutters, running a hand through his damp hair. “Keep it down over there, Fleck, will ya?”

“Not if you keep it up over there,” Arthur quips, smiling sweetly and batting his long lashes.

“Arthur, please, give me a break,” Chano says. He locks the cage and heads to Barney’s office where he closes the door behind him.

Barney looks up from his desk. It’s so hot in the building that the scrawny potted plants in Barney’s window have wilted even more. 

“What’s going on with Fleck? It’s been a while since he’s been involved in a crime, and he’s usually the victim.”

“I'm not entirely sure he’s the guy we’re looking for, Barney, but Mrs. Davis said she was attacked by a guy in a clown costume, and Arthur was right down the street. You know personally, I like Arthur, but with his history, I had to take him in.”

Barney rubs his jaw. “Yeah, I know. Do you think he’s having some kind of mental breakdown again? Do we need to call Arkham?”

“I don’t think so. He’s definitely more Joker than Arthur tonight, but he’s having a fundraiser at Clown Kingdom. You know, to raise money for the free clinic--Clinica Sanando.”

“Has he called anyone?”

“Yeah. His wife is on the way.”

“All right. Hopefully when the victim gets here, we’ll be able to release him.”

“I hope so.” 

“Chano, leave the door open on your way out. Maybe we’ll get at least some airflow.”

“Stale as it may be.”

Back in the squad room, Detective Ron Harris sits at his desk, his hair and clothes immaculate despite the heat. His pink shirt has barely a crease and his designer tie is knotted stylishly.

Chano shakes his head. “Man, why is it every time the rest of us are staggering around with limp hair and sweat stains, you look like you’re ready to pose for a men’s magazine?”

“Easy. Like I’ve said before. It’s mind over matter.”

“The mind is a powerful thing,” Arthur calls from the cage. “You can do all kinds of things in your mind.”

“Great. Philosophy from the Mayor of Loon City,” Burke mutters under his breath.

“That’s Arthur Fleck, right?” Harris glances towards the cage. “Joker. He performed at a friend’s bachelor party last year. The man is completely tasteless.”

Arthur’s grin broadens. “I know. Isn’t it beautiful?”

Harris raises his eyes to heaven and Burke looks ready to hit something.

“Who wants to be tasteful all the time?” Arthur sighs. “Sometimes you just want to do something bad. Speaking of that, can I smoke?” He tugs a cigarette from the pocket of his red jacket and lets it rest gracefully between his fingers.

“Go ahead.” Chano waves his hand and returns to his desk.

“Anyone have a light? You guys left me the cigarettes, but nothing else.”

Harris rises and strides to the cage. He flicks his lighter and Arthur holds up his cigarette. He closes his eyes, takes a long drag, and releases it slowly. His boney frame relaxes against the bars. “That is so good. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve had a cigarette? I promised my wife and my doctors that I’d quit.” He takes another drag, tilts his head back and blows smoke toward the ceiling. “It’s not going to happen.”

“It’s bad for your health, man.”

Harris casts an annoyed look at Chano, pulls out a cigarette of his own and lights it. “None of us are going to live forever.”

“That’s true.” Arthur’s eyes widen again. “And ‘live’ is the key word, isn’t it? Is it me, or is it hot in here?” Holding his cigarette between his lips, Arthur removes his jacket and places it on the bench. Without it, he looks even thinner. The yellow vest beneath clings to his narrow frame. He unfastens the top three buttons of his green shirt and rolls up his sleeves.

“Heater’s broken.” Harris saunters back to his desk. “The building is an inferno.”

“No such luck,” Yemana says. “If that was true, they’d at least have to rebuild.”

The squad room door bursts open and Wojo struggles with a tall, thickly-built guy with a shaved head and a scowling face.

“I said calm down!” Wojo demands.

“You got no reason to arrest me!”

“No, I got several.” Wojo practically drags the bigger man toward his desk. “Now sit down!”

Barney strides out of his office. “What’s going on?”

“Mr. Owens here was gettin’ drunk on the stairs outside his house. He lives next to the youth center, ya know, the one near Helm’s Pharmacy, and they were havin’ a Halloween party for the kids, ya know, so they’re not wanderin’ around the streets. He started harassin’ the kids who were comin’ in, and when the lady who runs the center asked him to stop, he threw empty beer bottles at her. She said she was gonna to call the police, so he got in his car and backed it into hers. Then when he tried to take off, he hit a stop sign.”

“Mr. Owens.” Barney curls his lip at the man.

“It’s just like I’ve always said.” Joker stares grimly at Mr. Owens, his eyes glittering dangerously. “No one can be civil anymore.”

Mr. Owens glares at Joker. “Shut up over there, fruitcake! No one’s talking to you. I’m sick of those damn kids always making noise right next door.”

Wojo points in his face. “The lady at the youth center said you were the one makin’ all the noise.”

“Who you gonna believe? Me or a crazy woman who spends her days with a bunch of delinquents? And what did you do with the rest of my beer?”

“Sit down!” Wojo orders.

Grumbling, Mr. Owens settles into the chair near Wojo’s desk. When Wojo finishes booking him, he leads him to the cage where Fleck is dancing to the rhythm of a song in his head. His eyes closed, he softly sings That's Life. “Some people get their kicks, stompin’ on a dream, but I never let it get me down--”

“Somebody better shut this fruitcake up,” growls Mr. Owens and hits the bars with his bound hands.

Joker’s eyes snap open. He jumps ever-so-slightly and backs toward the bench. Owens snarls at him. Joker sighs, bats his lashes and says with a twang,  “He’s an animal, and ya’ll took mah peppah spray.”

“Both of ya just settle down,” Wojo says.

The phone rings and Harris snaps it up. “Twelfth Precinct. Harris. All right. Be right there.” He hangs up and stands. “Convenience store robbery.”

“Please, take me with you,” Burke begs.

“Come on.”

“Detective Harris, can I have just one more light before you go?” Arthur stretches a long, thin arm through the cage. His sinewy, hair-dusted forearm flexes gracefully below his rolled-up sleeve.  

Harris lights his cigarette before he and Burke leave the squad room.

Joker’s sly gaze lingers on Owens. “Were you dressed up for Halloween?”

“What?” Owens practically growls.

“You just have some. . .on your chin.” Arthur gestures toward the white residue on Owens’s jaw. “Sometimes I miss a spot, too.”

Mr. Owens scrubs a sleeve over his jaw and steps close to Arthur, towering over him, an angry look in his beady eyes. “You better stay away from me and keep your mouth shut. I’m in a bad mood.”

Arthur takes a long drag on his cigarette. He fakes a shiver and blows smoke in Owens’s face.

“You little--”

“Mr. Owens!” Chano strides toward the cage. “Both of you, knock it off.”

Joker nods, smiling faintly, his eyes wide and innocent. “Whatever you say, Detective.”

At that moment, the lights flicker.

“Oh no.” Yemana looks around the room.

“First the heater, now the lights. What’s goin’ on?” Wojo mutters, chomping on a wad of gum.

“It’s ghosts,” Yemana says.

“Ghosts, what are you talking about? What kind of nonsense is that?” Chano looks disgusted.

“Oh, Detective Amengaule?”

“What is it, Arthur?”

Leaning against the bars, Fleck smiles. “It’s time for my medication. Do you think I can take it? Otherwise I might really need to stay in here.”

“Sure. It’s with the rest of your things. I’ll get if for you.” 

“Medication?” Owens’s scathing gaze sweeps Joker from head to toe. “You look like you need it all right.”

Grinning, Joker curls his fist around one of the cage bars and leans toward Owens as far as his arm will allow. “You have no idea.”

Chano goes to get Arthur’s medication just as Detective Fish steps in. He removes his rain-soaked black hat and coat. 

“Halloween. I dread this holiday. There’s already enough weirdoes in this city. Tonight, they practically climb out of the sewer.” Fish shuffles toward his desk, pausing to glance at Arthur on the way. “And speaking of weirdoes.”

Arthur grins. “Hi, Detective.”

“Arthur.” Fish nods and turns to Yemana. “Has someone called Arkham yet?”

“No,” Yemana says. “Where’s the woman? Chano said she’s supposed to identify Fleck. . .or not.”

“Told you.” Arthur draws on the cigarette. “I had nothing to do with it.”

Fish sits at his desk and unfastens the top button of his shirt. “She’s being treated now. Her sister is going to pick her up and then bring her here after. Any word about the heat in this building yet?”

“Last we heard, they’re still working on it.”

“Not that I’m complaining about heat. It’s cold out there. Bad for arthritis.” Fish slowly flexes his fingers. “Problem is, when it’s this hot, you can’t breathe. And my eyes burn. Other than that, I’m feeling pretty good.”

The lights flicker again.

Fish lifts his gaze toward the ceiling. “Now the lights. Why not? The only thing that works in this building is us, anyway.”

“If you ask me, something else is at work,” Yemana says. “Spirits from beyond.”

Chano, a glass of water and a Helm’s Pharmacy bag in hand, approaches the cage. “I told you to quit with the bogyman stuff. Which ones do you need to take, Arthur?”

“Two from the bigger bottle. One from the smaller.”

“How come he gets drugs, but I can’t get a beer?” Owens grumbles.

The lights go out for several seconds, and a groan echoes through the room.

“What was that?” Wojo asks.

“Spirits from beyond,” Yemana says.

“It’s just the building settling.” Chano sounds more convinced than he looks.

Yemana stares at him. “After decades?”

“Everybody relax. It was just my stomach.” Fish places a hand to his gut. “Indigestion.”

Wojo grins, chewing his gum. “I knew there had to be a rational explanation. Not spirits from beyond.” He stares hard at Yemana who shrugs.

“I don’t know,” Fish says. “I’ve been here long enough to see some strange things. I remember something that happened in 1956. I was in uniform back then. Young. Sharp. Anyway, it was October. Halloween night, too, I think. A tall, skinny guy walks into the precinct. Pale. Dripping wet, but it wasn’t raining out. He looks ready to keel over, so I offer him a chair, and he sits.”

“That doesn’t sound all that strange, Fish,” Chano says.

“I ask how I can help him,” Fish continues, looking far-off. The lights flicker again. “He tells me that somebody had pushed him into the Gotham River. I ask for details, but he just stares at me with this glassy look in his eyes. Even then I didn’t scare easy, but something about this guy made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.”

Wojo stares at Fish with wide eyes. “What happened? What did he say, Fish?”

“He didn’t say anything. I figured the guy was either crazy or he really did just get pushed into the river, so I went to call the hospital. I left for maybe a minute, and when I got back, the guy was gone. No one even remembered me talking to anyone. About a minute after that, the phone rings. I pick it up. Someone had jumped off the bridge into the river, so me and another uniform went right down to answer the call. When we got there, someone had already pulled the guy out. I looked at the body and it was the guy who been sitting at my desk.”

Peels of raptor-like laughter rip through the room. Nearly everyone jumps, and in the cage, Owens shoves Joker hard into the bars.

“What are you trying to do, you freak? Scare us half to death?” Owens shouts.

“What a punch line.” Joker chuckles. 

“That’s not funny! I’m telling you guys, you’d better shut him up or take one of us out of this cage!” 

“Knock it off, Mr. Owens, and Arthur at least try to control yourself,” Chano snaps. 

“Sorry.” Arthur chokes back laughter, his eyes glistening. “It’s just such a great story.”

The phone rings, and Chano reaches for it.

“Can I go to the bathroom?” Arthur asks.

“Yeah. Come on.” Wojo strides to the cage, lets Arthur out, and escorts him to the bathroom.

“Finally alone.” Owens leans against the bars. “If I wasn’t surrounded by cops, I’d punch his teeth down his throat.”

Chano, who has hung up the phone, approaches the cage. “Mr. Owens, let me tell you a little story of my own about the man who’s in there with you. About two years ago, a guy even bigger than you broke into Arthur Fleck’s home and threatened his family. The guy had a criminal record a mile long. He had a gun and a knife. Arthur had no gun. He had no knife. He put the guy in a coma for almost a week.”

Owens snarls, but his cocky expression falters a bit. “That’s bull.”

“I was there, and I saw the damage.” Chano shakes his head. “What mess. Blood everywhere.”

“You expect me to believe that scrawny clown-faced freak took out a guy bigger than me?”

“Like I said. I answered the call. Just wanted to give you an idea of who you’re in there with. Remember, it’s only for a couple of hours.” Chano strolls back to his desk just as Wojo returns Arthur to the cage.

Owens’s gaze sweeps Arthur who raises his eyebrows and grins. 

“I still don’t believe it,” Owens mutters, but walks to the bench and sits quietly.

The squad room door opens, and a blue-eyed woman dressed as a black-and-white Harlequin steps in.

“Arthur, oh my goodness. What happened?” The woman approaches the cage. 

“Sweetheart, it’s just a misunderstanding.” Arthur wraps his fists around the bars and stares at her. “Did you come here alone?”

“No. Anton gave me a ride from the fundraiser. He’s finding a parking space. I left Gary in charge. What’s going on? Should I call our lawyer?” She turns to Amenguale.

“Nicole, he hasn’t been charged with anything yet,” Chano says, walking toward her.

“Circumstantial evidence,” Arthur says. “How’s the fundraiser going? I’m missing everything.”

Nicole gazes at him worriedly. “Arthur, why are you here?” 

“I’m a suspect in a mugging.”

“A mugging?” Nicole knits her brows, her eyes flashing. “That’s crazy.”

Arthur’s grin widens even more. “I know, isn’t it?”

“He has a girlfriend? That’s crazy.” Owens looks dumbfounded.

“No, I have a wife.” 

“Oh boy. And I thought I seen everything.” 

Arthur glares at Owens, but Nicole touches his fingertips. He turns back to her with an innocent smile that’s at odds with the brazen look in his glittering eyes.

“If he’s not being charged, then why is he in there?” Nicole asks.

“We’re waiting for the victim to make an identification," Chano replies.

“How can she identify him if he didn’t do it?”

“That’s what I said.” Arthur rolls his eyes. “Nobody makes sense anymore.”

“Hey, do you feel that?” Yemana holds out his hands. “The heat isn’t as high. I think they fixed it.”

“It’s about time,” says Barney from the doorway of his office.  

“Well, arthritic hands, we enjoyed it while it lasted.” Fish flexes his fingers.

“At least we can breathe again,” Yemana says.

The lights flicker before the room goes black.

“But we can no longer see,” Fish says.

“Hang on. I got a flashlight.” Wojo searches through a drawer in his desk.  A moment later, he shines a narrow beam of light around the room.

“Here’s a couple more.” Barney steps out of his office with three more flashlights. He gives one to Fish and another to Chano.

“Hey, give us some light over here,” Owens says.

“Afraid of the dark?” Arthur purrs. 

“Just keep to your side of the cage, fruitca--uh--Fleck.” Apparently, Chano’s story didn’t change Owens’s disposition, but it at least made him think about how far to push a guy he doesn’t know.

“Hello.” A towering shadow fills the doorway. “Nicole?”

“Anton? We’re over here.”

“They’re that way.” Chano shines his flashlight on the tall, brown-haired newcomer and uses the beam to direct him toward the cage. 

“Thank you. What’s going on, brother?” Anton Little Creek stands next to Nicole, staring at Arthur whose face is pressed against the bars, gazing out, his green eyes catlike in the flashlight’s beam.

“They’re holding him as a suspect in a mugging,” Nicole says.

“Great. Now we’ve lost the lights, too?” Harris snaps. He and Burke stride into the squad room.

“What happened at the convenience store?” Barney asks.

“A thirteen-year-old kid stole some candy,” Burke replies. “He returned it, and the store owner decided not to press charges. Hey, it’s not as hot in here.”

“Yeah. They lowered the heat but lost the lights,” Wojo says.

“This is a remarkable building.” Anton walks slowly around the room, his gaze roaming over every dark corner and crevice. “Very old. Lots of spiritual energy.”

“Who’s the hippie?” Harris asks.

“He’s a shaman,” Arthur says.

Harris rolls his eyes, removes his coat, and hangs it on a hook near the door.

“What’s a shaman?” Wojo asks.

“I practice spiritual healing and connect with the spirit world.”

Wojo stares. “You mean like ghosts?”

“Yes.”

“Hey, Fish, you should tell him about that ghost you talked to back in ’56. Did that really happen, or were you just pullin' our legs?”

“I don’t pull legs anymore. That takes too much energy I can’t afford to lose.”

“A spirit spoke to you?” Anton steps toward Fish. “That’s an honor.”

“That’s something I’d rather forget.” Fish turns his back on Anton.

Wojo turns to the shaman. “Hey, you said you feel a lot of spiritual energy. Do we have ghosts here right now?”

Anton pauses. Breathing deeply, he closes his eyes for a moment and then opens them, scanning the room again. “I think some linger here.”

“That’s depressing,” Fish says. “I only have two years left until retirement. To think that even after that, I might still be here. Forever.”

Anton chuckles. “No. Spirits eventually move on, when the time is right.”

“I think you’re a little crazy,” Fish tells Anton. “No offense.”

“None taken.”

“He’s not crazy,” Arthur says.

“Well that comes from a trustworthy source,” Harris mutters under his breath.

Nicole glares at Harris. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Relax, sister.” Anton touches her shoulder. “Some people are uncomfortable with the thought of sharing this world with those who’ve passed. On this night especially, many people are fearful, but it should be a celebration. On this night, the veil between our world and the spirit world fades. The ancient Celts called this night--”

“Samhain,” Harris interrupts. “Halloween is derived from the pagan festival of Samhain.”

A smile tugs at Anton’s lips. “That’s right.”

“Will everyone just knock it off with the ghosts and goblins?” Owens says.

“Scared of the dark. Scared of ghosts. You’re not as tough as you look, are you?” Arthur grins.

Owens grits his teeth and clenches his fists.

“Arthur. Shh.” Nicole holds a finger to his painted lips. “You’re locked in there with that big--”

“Gorilla.”

“I’ll give you gorilla, you little--”

“Remember, Mr. Owens. Blood everywhere.” Chano wrinkles his nose and shakes his head.

Curling his lip and growling softly, Owens edges away from Arthur.

“Why is it so dark in here? Detective Fish? Are you here? It’s me, Mrs. Davis.” 

“Right here, Mrs. Davis,” Fish calls.

“Mrs. Davis? It’s me again, Detective Amenguale. How is your arm?” Chano shines the flashlight on a woman of about sixty. She’s short with curly gray hair partially covered by a knitted hat. A wool coat drapes her shoulders. Beneath it, her left arm rests gingerly in a sling.

“Sprained. I thought for sure it was broken after that animal twisted it, but the doctor said it’s only sprained.”

“I hope you’re feeling better soon. Thank you for coming. The suspect is right this way.” Chano guides her to the cage. He shines the light inside, focusing on Arthur.

“Him? This skinny little thing? Oh, no, detective. The man who mugged me was big and heavy. More like that one.” She points to Mr. Owens.

“Hey, now lady--”

“In fact. . .” She steps back with a gasp, and covers her mouth with her hand. “That’s him! I’ll never forget those beady little eyes.”

“You’re full of it lady!” Owens shouts. “I’ve been drinking beer at my place all night.”

“I knew that was greasepaint on your face.” Arthur narrows his eyes at Owens.

“Oh shut up!”

“That’s definitely him. I recognize his voice, too. He grabbed my arm, took my purse, and knocked me down. I had a hundred dollars in that purse.”

“Lady, there was just twenty bucks. . .Damn it!” Realizing his mistake, Owens slams his fist against the bars.

“It’s all right, brother. The truth is always best,” Anton says.

“Oh shut up!” Owens snarls. “I’m surrounded by loonies.”

“Can you please let Arthur out now?” Nicole asks.

“Of course.” Chano unlocks the cage. “Arthur, you’re free to go. Thank you for playing it cool, man.”

Arthur picks up his red jacket from the bench and slings it over his shoulder. “Anything for you, Detective Amenguale. You know that.” He saunters out of the cage and slips his arm around Nicole. “Come on, sweetheart. We’re late for our own party.”

"Hold on, Arthur. I'll get your stuff." Chano disappears momentarily and then returns with Arthur's belongings in the Helm's Pharmacy bag. "Happy Halloween, man."

"Happy Halloween, detective." Arthur grins and takes the bag from Chano. 

The clown, the harlequin, and the shaman stride toward the door just as the lights snap on. 

“Finally,” Harris says.

“Hey, where did Mrs. Davis go?” Fish asks.

“It’s. . .it’s like she disappeared.” Wojo glances around the room.

The phone rings. “Twelfth Precinct. Detective Fish. What? Uh. . .all right. We’ll, uh, send someone.” Fish slowly hangs up the phone, his eyes wide and staring.

“What is it, Fish?” Wojo asks.

“Someone just found a body in the alley next to Helms Pharmacy. It’s a woman about sixty years old. She’d been mugged.”

The detectives look at each other.

Joker’s piercing laughter rings through the room, fading as Anton and Nicole tug him into the dark Gotham night.

 

The End