Chapter 1: Green Flu
It was not the Rogues nor Arkham staff that coined the term “Green Flu,” but rather, the employees of Gotham Temporary Services. The city’s largest temp service was well aware that the periodic demand for dozens of medical, security, clerical, custodial, and food service personnel at Arkham Asylum were associated with the tempers of a particular inmate, Poison Ivy. The regular Arkham staffers were loathe to be around Ivy when she became “moody,” and the surge in call-ins was dubbed Green Flu by the temporary workers brought in to replace them.
Laura Mertz was one such temp, and it fell to her to fill out the paperwork on the three new inmates: Harleen Quinzel, Geoffrey “Ditto” Watney, and Julio “Duo” Cumanez. She had been warned to stay alert, that other inmates liked to isolate new arrivals during processing and speak to them in areas where the psych staff could not observe, but that no such unsupervised interaction was permitted. But Laura was wholly occupied by the baffling admittance forms. Each new inmate had existing files from prior admissions and the cross-referencing in Quinn’s case alone was a bureaucrat’s nightmare.
So it was a simple matter for Patient #59-W170 (Wesker, Arnold; a.k.a. The Ventriloquist) to call Duo and Ditto to the tiny copy room behind the receiving office and brief them on life in the asylum in this new post-Joker/Harley-split era.
“Listen up, youz mugs!” It was the wooden dummy on Wesker’s knee that spoke and, like all henchmen meeting Scarface for the first time, Duo and Ditto looked at the Ventriloquist instead of the doll. “Look at meez when I talks to youz!” Scarface yelled, “Ignore this gozo. He is hired help, just likes youz twoz.”
“I-I-I’m awfully s-s-sorry, Mr. S-S-Scarface,” Wesker stuttered, “I sh-sh-should have explained that t-t-to them b-b-before.”
“SHUT UP, YOUZ! Now, weez gonna explain how things works here now, ‘cause there’s geen some changes. Gad trougles if you don’t knows what’s what. Get it?”
Duo and Ditto looked at each other and shrugged. They had adapted to Two-Face talking about himself in the plural, but once you worked out that when he said “We” and “Us” he meant himself, it was all pretty easy to follow. But this weird little guy? Between the stuttering and the gangster lingo and the fact that the doll couldn’t seem to say the letter B, a guy would be lucky to figure out one word in ten.
“Good,” Scarface took their shrug as agreement, “Tell ‘em Dummy.”
“W-W-Well, the first thing to know is that Mr. Joker is no longer confined to his special cell. Doctor Bartholomew felt that it was b-b-best, in light of recent events, that he be given the same p-p-privileges as all the others to visit the common room and—”
“Gullshit! What a load a crap! Dat’s not what happened. Joker yaks. Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak. He was drivin’ Dr. Gart nuts with the ‘yak-yak-yak, ha-ha-ha, yak-yak-yak.’ So Gart lets Joker go in the common room with all of us so he can talks our ears off instead.”
Ventriloquist nodded sadly to Duo and Ditto.
“Datz why dis whole place reeks of Lemon Pledge!” Scarface went on.
“P-P-Poison Ivy really d-d-doesn’t like Mr. Joker very much, does she, Mr. Scarface.”
When Patient #66-N341 (Nigma, Edward; a.k.a. The Riddler) saw Duo and Ditto enter the common room, he thought they had been overmedicated. Approaching the newcomers for a closer look, he soon realized their dazed manner and glassy expressions were not caused by lithium or peridol, but from listening to Wesker and Scarface for too long.
“You gotta pace yourself with those two,” he told them. “Ten minutes at a time, tops. Otherwise…” he pointed to his temple and made a twirling gesture “…you’ll s-s-start guilding death t-t-traps for Gatman.”
It might have been funny under normal circumstances, but in the henchmen’s present state, the wordplay was cruel. Duo cringed and whimpered while Ditto stiffened, eyes wide, and fell backwards.
“HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA! What’s with them?” Joker asked, the King of the Gotham City Rogues eager to meet the new subjects in his throne room.
Nigma ignored the question and looked longingly at the clock. His session with Bartholomew began at 11; surely the guard would arrive soon to escort him. “LURED FAD,” he thought, reflexively creating anagrams for “dreadful,” for a dreadful state of affairs it surely was. When one is so desperate for an hour’s escape from the common room that he actually looks forward to a therapy session with Dr. Bartholomew, LURED FAD didn’t begin to cover it.
Why had none of them realized the service Harley Quinn provided just by listening to Joker’s endless nattering? Joker: a name that produced no anagrams. It was Riddler’s private way of keeping his brilliant mind occupied to contend with the stresses of Arkham life, and the damnable chucklehead clown (“A BACKACHE WELCH LDL MOD NUN”) didn’t have the decency to have one usable anagram in his name. It gave Eddie a headache—which he didn’t dare mention since the last patient to complain of a headache, KGBeast, had been sedated for the last four days. And all for an innocent off-the-cuff remark that he didn’t relish walking through that cloud of Lemon Pledge hanging in the corridor.
The damn fool guards! They thought he was raving. Temps. Every time there was a Green Flu outbreak, they had to suffer temps. Issued noseplugs and no idea why, the idiots had no idea the whole place stunk of furniture polish. Poison Ivy’s pheromones always took on that scent when she was angry, and the prolonged exposure to Joker must have short-circuited her entire system. The corridor hadn’t smelled like that since Two-Face broke the news that he killed her pet flytrap.
Dr. Leland Bartholomew initialed the memo and placed it in his outbox with the wistful hope that Brian, the assistant Gotham Temporary Services had sent to fill in for Miss Vicens, might possibly place it in the correct file. Knowing that was a pipedream, he picked up the memo again and reread it. Quinn was back. Patient #76-Q18: Quinzel, Harleen. Age: 27. Hair: Blonde. Eyes: Blue. Height: 5’ 3.” Weight: 114 lbs. PhD in Psychology and Neurological Disorders, Gotham State University. Known relatives: None. Diagnosis: Delusional Psychotic.
What a waste. She was one of them. Hardly the best and the brightest, but one of them. It was true that when she joined the Arkham staff straight out of college, it seemed like a stepping stone for her. She was in a hurry to treat the most dangerous criminal inmates, and her reason was not hard to guess: they were the most famous. After a year, she would depart, write a book, and be launched on a spectacular career as a celebrity psychologist.
Why not? Age: 27. Hair: Blonde. Eyes: Blue. 5’ 3,” 114 lbs. Why not opt for the glitz? Why not become a media personality? Why stay in this hellish fortress of madness with the crazies that just got crazier year after year—that kept coming back time after time. As fast as Arkham could release them, that cursed Batman sent them back, and always just a little loonier than they were before. Harleen would have to be as crazy then as she was now to prefer this to book tours and talk shows.
Bartholomew sighed. And now Harleen was back on his schedule. 4:00.
“Brian,” he hit the intercom, “Move Patient J’s appointment up to two o’clock, please. I don’t want another incident with he and Ms. Quinn meeting each other in the waiting room.”
::Um, this button? No, that button. Are you there?:: Brian fumbled hopelessly with the intercom controls until Bartholomew gave up and walked to the door.
“It’s the yellow button labeled TALK,” he instructed, “but that doesn’t matter, because now I am standing right here. Please move Patient J’s appointment to two o’clock.”
“Um, how do I do that?”
The glamorous life of a celebrity psychologist flashed before Bartholomew’s eyes as if it had been his own. Then he spoke:
“Press S. For Schedule.”
“So then the octopus turns to him and says ‘I’m trying to work out how I can get the pajamas off this thing so I can give it a good fucking!’ HAHAHAHAHAAAAA!”
“Kill me,” Scarface asked Patient #62-F114 (Frieze, Victor; a.k.a. Mr. Freeze), “Nice glast of freeze ray right getween the eyes, then GLAM smash me inta freeze-dried toothpicks.”
“Miss Isley,” Nurse Chin began in that firm-but-compassionate tone they were all told to cultivate, “it’s been two days in that straitjacket. It can’t be very comfortable. If you give some sign you’re willing to work with us, Dr. Bartholomew will order it removed. And then, after another day in isolation, your social privileges will be reinstated. You can return to the common room.”
Patient #73-I126 (Isley, Pamela; a.k.a. Poison Ivy) heaved and made a sickly retching noise.
“Okay, be that way if you want to, Miss Isley, but Ms. Quinn is back in residence. I thought, you two being such pals, you’d like to see her.”
“Harley is back?” Ivy asked with uncharacteristic timidity.
“Yes, she arrived last night. And she’ll be back in the common room after the requisite 48-hour observation period. That’ll be just in time for your isolation to be up if you start behaving now and get that jacket removed today. Deal?”
The woman who considered herself a goddess, Mother Nature incarnate and Gaia’s chosen vessel of life-giving green, sulked like a sophomore in detention. Then she nodded reluctantly.
“Good girl. I’ll let the doctor know at once.”
Riddler had no pretensions of being “Batman’s Greatest Foe” like the Joker or Ra’s al Ghul. It was not a distinction that interested him. If it had been, he could well have made an argument for it: Batman was, first and foremost, a detective and a thinker. Riddler was the most formidable mind among Batman’s enemies and the one for whom the battle was purely intellectual.
Edward Nigma was not conscious of that thought as he sat in the rec room, playing solitaire with a deck of homemade playing cards. These had been pasted together with pictures torn from magazines, all the regular cards having been confiscated when they were found to exacerbate Joker. No, Nigma’s thoughts were not on Batman at all, but on a new puzzle. A puzzle that drew on his own deductive abilities to be solved: the puzzle of Hugo Strange.
There had undoubtedly been a shift since Hugo Strange’s arrival at the asylum, a shift in power—or if not “power,” per se, a shift in the suck-up wind.
It began with the rumors: more new arrivals were headed for the high security wing. It wasn’t that uncommon, there were always comings and goings at Arkham. But these newcomers followed so close upon the last, it did cause murmurings. Something must have the Bat worked up. It happened outside of Hell Month, certainly. Criminals seldom knew why, and speculation ranged from Ra’s al Ghul to training a new Robin. The reasons didn’t really matter, the result was the same: Batman was worked up and there would be hard times ahead for however long it lasted. Still, speculating gave the villains some sense of control.
An illusion of control, Nigma reflected, for the reality was that two new inmates had joined them only days after Harley, Duo and Ditto arrived. Neither had made it to the common room yet. In the former case, the reason was well known: Tom Blake, (Patient #62-B047, a.k.a. the Catman), had balked when he hit the main corridor into the high security wing—that smell, those pheromones, mightn’t such a concentration in the air damage the magicks in his costume? And for that simple comment, they doubled his meds and scheduled him for back-to-back sessions of aversion and dissociative therapy.
Why the second new inmate never came to the common room was more of a mystery, and one Riddler planned to solve. He had at least deduced the inmate’s identity. It wasn’t a difficult riddle to solve:
Question: What Arkhamite had recently made a habit of “welcoming” new arrivals with lengthy briefings on the goings on at the asylum? Answer: Ventriloquist.
Question: What annoying offshoot of Ventriloquist had gone utterly silent since the mystery inmate’s arrival? Answer: Scarface.
Question: Who, despite being a joke figure among civilized rogues, had a passable track record as a hypnotist, at least to the extent that he could probably get inside Wester’s head to shut off Scarface if sufficiently provoked? Answer: Hugo Strange.
The new inmate, Nigma felt certain, was Hugo Strange. But for some reason, Hugo was not being subjected to the common room and Joker’s limited repertoire of “Variations on the Octopus Joke” interspersed with “101 things to do with a dead flytrap.”
Why? That was the real puzzle. Why?
To be continued...