The man ran through the alleyways of Gotham, panting and sweating. His eyes were wild with fear. His clothes were ripped to shreds. He didn't know what went wrong. A few hours ago, he had been fulfilling his dream of being a playboy. Girls encircling his arms and filling his bed, champagne by the bottle, the best tables...now he was back to being an accountant and the Doctor was coming to get payment for the bill.
"I know I have a few more tablets!" the man swore, scrambling through his pockets for a bottle, a capsule, a baggie of the drug that made his confident, that opened doors for him. He tripped over a garbage can and fell head over heels and into a wall. The man groaned in agony as he tried to stand.
A soft voice whispered on the wind, "Mr. Kowalski...I've come for payment...."
Kowalski turned, whimpering. He couldn't see anyone. But he knew the voice; the voice of the man who gave him the pills, promising that they and positive thinking would give him his deepest desires. What he didn't mention was the price, or that after a while he would wake up in a flea infested tenement apartment next to a hooker named Angel when he went to bed with a model named Ivana. He didn't expect an angry pimp to attack him, or that his boss would be after him from embezzling from the Family, or that he was sent a bill...for his life.
"Please, I just want more time...."
A reedy laugh was heard. "I told you that the effects would not be permanent. Don't worry, you'll feel better, soon enough. You'll feel good."
Kowalski saw the shine of a scalpel, and the great white teeth in the rictis grin.
He stopped screaming after half of his blood coated the brick wall behind his corpse.
Dawn approached Wayne Manor, as it does all homes in Gotham. In the last month or so, two residents had moved in with Bruce Wayne and his son. The older of the two Kane brothers, Joseph, checked in on his little brother. All was well in Sam's room, the young boy sleeping with the Old English Sheepdog resting on top of him. Joseph, a young man of 19 or so, smiled. The move to Gotham went better than he hoped. There were some bumps and bruises along the way; many of them courtesy of Damian Wayne. Both brothers initially had a hard time with that demon of a 10 year old, but through Damian being forced to "train" Sam and Joseph and Damian teaming up to save Wayne Manor from a group of ninjas (long story), the Kanes and Damian were getting along.
Joseph went back into his room and got dressed for the day; as it was a Saturday he didn't wear his customary business suit. He pulled out khakis, a casual long sleeved button up, a buttoned vest and a tie. It may have been the weekend, but it was no excuse to not be professional. He quickly combed his short blond hair, put on his shoes and went downstairs. Seeing that Alfred, the Wayne butler/cook/medic/mechanic et al wasn't in the kitchen cooking, Joseph knew where he would be. Joseph entered the silver cupboard and entered a combination into a panel. A secret passage opened, revealing stone steps and cold air. Joseph went down them to enter the Batcave, where he served as Batman's info gatherer. Most people assumed that he was living in Wayne Manor to keep his employer and patron, Bruce Wayne, up to date on WayneTech business. Very few knew the real reason. A few months prior, Joseph had been a vigilante in New York City. Calling himself "Ronin", he had fought crime in his hometown. Having been shot by the Penguin when he was a kid and rescued by Batman and the first Robin; Joseph swore to protect people from being taken advantage of by the cruel and powerful. He also knew the secret identities of Batman and the first Robin, the latter being his oldest friend, Dick Grayson, the former...Bruce Wayne. When Hush, an enemy of Batman's, tried to start a crime empire in New York and pin the blame on Joseph, Ronin and Batman crossed paths. At the end, Batman offered Joseph his jobs, but said he could not be a vigilante in Gotham. Instead, his working behind the scenes would earn him the training he desired so he could be a hero in Gotham.
Joseph approached Alfred who was watching their mutual employer, Bruce Wayne aka the Batman, work out.
"He's already working out?" asked Joseph.
"Are you implying that he sleeps?" responded Alfred, a tad sarcastically.
"Him, sleep? Only when you drug him." chortled Joseph. "So, what is the routine this morning?"
Alfred handed him the workout chart:
-10 minute warm up jumping rope
-400 concentration curls
-400 triceps presses
-200 bench presses
-Equivalent of five 5 minute miles on a treadmill
Joseph looked up; Bruce was in the middle of the bench presses with a large amount of weight. Joseph turned back to Alfred. "Pretty heavy stuff first thing in the morning."
"This is the lightest of his daily workouts, Master Joseph."
"Workouts, as in plural?"
Joseph let that sink in. "If it was anyone else, I'd think he had body image issues."
"Indeed, sir, but the Batman must be in peak physical condition."
"And speaking of 'condition', Alfred, mine is famished."
"I assume you want some breakfast?"
"Yes, if it wouldn't be any trouble."
"Not at all; I think I could manage something."
"Thanks Alfred," said Joseph. He sat down and began hacking into the police database for any crimes that happened in the night. He didn't know how long he was working because soon enough, Bruce was tapping Joseph's shoulder for attention.
"GAH! I HATE it when you do that!" said Joseph, spinning his chair around.
"Do what?" asked Bruce stonefaced.
"The whole sneak...never mind," said Joseph, rubbing his temples. He was still getting used to his employer's "eccentricities". "So how was your workout?"
"Good. And when are you doing yours?"
"Probably this afternoon, though it would probably be not to your standards." Joseph said with a smirk. He was still not entirely happy about being forced into his present role.
Bruce frowned, "If you want to earn training, Joseph, I recommend you not taking pot shots like that. It's childish. Besides, at least you're sticking to something of a workout regimen."
"Hey, I like being in shape; though I had to dial it back a bit from my workouts back when I was in New York."
"Why not increase it?"
"Because there isn't much of a need now, isn't there? Besides, I'm more concerned about these multiple workouts of yours, as a doctor. I mean, the overall wear and tear...."
"I manage," said Bruce, with a tone of finality in his voice.
"Fine; I'm surprised that you don't take the frame when you walk with a door!" Joseph joked.
Bruce nodded. "Find anything?"
Joseph sighed, "Not a chuckle in your soul, is there? Anyways, something....Paul Kowalski, accountant at the firm of Bueller and Bloom. That firm tends to do bookkeeping for the various mob families, "creative accounting" and all that. Last night, he was found dead."
Bruce raised an eyebrow, "Dead?"
"Yes. And that isn't even the beginning of the strange iceberg."
"Apparently the last few nights, Mr. Kowalski was alias Jay Gatsby."
"Like the novel."
"Exactly. Not that the models, head waiters, club owners and casino security blink an eye. Models in his lap, driving a car that would cost more than his yearly salary, and throwing hundred dollar bills everywhere. Last night, the poor schlub ditched his models and got into a car with a Bowery prostitute. A pimp chased him off for stiffing his girl."
"Where did he get the money?"
"That's where it gets stranger; seems he did some "creative accounting" of his own and stole from the Falcones; there were mob goons out in force looking for him."
Bruce nodded, the cast of his face changed into a more serious and dark visage. "Where was he found?"
"An alley in the Otisburg neighborhood. Bringing up crime scene photos now."
The images were grisly. Kowalksi's torso had been ripped open, with several organs torn out. Blood coated the pavement and the wall.
"What a mess," said Damian Wayne, sliding down the bat pole.
"Most people would find that disturbing, Damian," said Joseph.
"I'm not most people, Kane," said Damian a tad haughtily.
"If you were a normal 10 year old, Damian, you'd be puking your guts out."
Bruce stared at the monitor.
"Joseph, let me see the face."
"Why?" asked Joseph.
"All this savagery on the body, he wouldn't ignore the face."
"Like Jack the Ripper?"
Joseph ran through the files to find the right photo. He nearly jumped out of his chair in shock. Damian stepped back a bit. Bruce blinked, but his jaw became set and his hands balled into fists. Kowalski's mouth had been turned into a Glasgow smile.
Bruce said one word, "Joker."
"This isn't his normal MO, normally it's a drug induced grin."
"Look at the face, Joseph; the man was dosed with something. The cuts only "enhanced" the grin." Bruce turned and headed towards the armory.
"Father," said Damian, "Wait up."
"I'm doing this alone," said Bruce, as he stepped into the armory. Moments later, he reappeared as Batman. Batman walked into the Batmobile and got in.
"A little early for an Arkham social call," said Joseph.
"Not in this case," said Batman. He closed the canopy and left.
Joseph and Damian turned to the images. "Ick, I think I'm going to lose my appetite," said Joseph as he powered down the machine.
"I hope not, sir, I made quite a large meal for you, Master Damian, Master Sam and Master Br--where is Master Bruce?" said Alfred, pushing a large cart of food.
"Went to see someone in Arkham," said Damian.
"I hope he took a protein shake at least...." said Alfred.
Sam came downstairs, rubbing his eyes. The nine year old boy was still in his pajamas. "Morning..." His eyes opened wide at the sight of the food. "Cool, breakfast." He stared at a pie. "Alfred, what's that?"
"Steak and Kidney pie."
Joseph and Damian went pale.
"Umm...I'll stick with eggs and corned beef hash." said Sam
"Me too!" said Damian and Joseph.
"Batman, this is most irregular coming in like this!" yelled Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, head of Arkham Asylum. He was dressed in his pajamas and was more than a bit cranky being roused from his bed earlier than was customary.
"I need to see if the clown is still here!" growled Batman.
"Of course he is! I'll show you!"
Arkham and Batman descended into the bowels of the Asylum. They went through numerous security checkpoints before they arrived at a glass encased cell. A man with bone white skin and green hair, wearing his Asylum greys, was reading the newspaper.
"Morning, Batsy!" said the crazed voiced behind the newspaper.
"So...you are in here," said Batman astonished.
Joker lowered the paper, his wide grin stretched. "Of course it is; you think I would use an escape tunnel?!" He then sounded angry, "Zsasz ruined that for the rest of us!"
"One of your followers then? Harley?"
"Not at all; they know better than to steal my brand. It's copyrighted you know...unfortunately..." he glared at Dr. Arkham, "The good doctor is the one who holds the copyright!"
"The money goes to the families of your victims.... The account giving them the money is in your name."
"Which one?" asked Joker. He turned to Batman, "For once, I'd rather prefer you catch this person."
"Why?" glared Batman.
"BECAUSE HE'S STEALING MY ACT!"
"Come on, Ted, come along!" said the blonde girl.
Her nerdy companion shivered, "Why here?"
"The guy here...his drugs give you such vivid visions, it's like you achieve your wildest dreams! Sometimes he gives it out for free, but I'd rather give him some money, just to be safe." Now she shivered, "I've heard stories about those who abuse the samples."
The girl ignored him and dragged him to a shop in this seedy part of Gotham. They went through the beaded curtains and faced the man at the counter.
"My friend, he wants to try the goods, I'll pay for both of us," said the girl.
The man had long bushy red hair, and dark glasses. A leather cord tied up the hair. He wore a raggedy pharmacist's coat over a t-shirt and jeans. He wore heavy boots on his feet. But his most distinguishing feature was his wide, bright smile.
"Ted," said the girl, "This is Doctor Feelgood."
"And I," said Feelgood, his face still smiling, "can offer you your dreams....."