Closing my eyes, I just breathe. In and Out. In and Out.
“It wasn’t real…” I mumble to myself.
Sitting on the floor, my knees are pulled into my chest. The room is dark, the only light coming from the neon green ‘1:20’ blinking on the alarm clock. My hands are throbbing, my left eye swollen shut. I can feel the blood drying up in my beard. I can taste the copper in my mouth.
“It wasn’t real…” I say again.
My heart is racing. I gently rock back and forth, focusing on each breath. I’ve been here before.
How could I run out of my meds? How could I let this happen again?
I know what I need to do. Picking up my phone, I make the call I’ve made countless times before.
“Hey Red…..I fucked up…..”
Three Hours Earlier…
I. February 13th, 2020
Gotham City/Montreal, Quebec
Cold Dark Alleyway
Snow gracefully falls from the night sky, dancing in the wind. The streets are covered with a crystal white blanket, bringing an elegance to Gotham City it usually lacks. The silence amongst the streets is a welcome, peaceful change of pace.
That’s when it happens. Those crimson lips break into his signature grin. The yellow stained teeth peer out from behind them. His unnerving cackle rips through the cold winter air, announcing his presence.
Everything unravels in that instant.
The Clown Prince of Crime menacingly blocks the alleyway exit. To his left, a henchman. To his right, another. Robin and I stare down the villainous trio.
“What’s the plan, Batman?” Robin asks with a hint of reservation.
“You brought the tights wearing fruitcake as your backup?” Joker sneers, prompting laughter from his lackeys.
“Joker is mine.” I proclaim with confidence.
The time for talking is over. Lunging forward, we’re met with the same aggressiveness by Joker’s henchmen. The two men create a barrier between us and the Jester of Genocide, loyally protecting their leader. His laughter engages the night as Robin and I embark on our heroic crusade.
The men are stronger than expected, but nonetheless no match for our unique set of skills. Each attack of theirs is blocked and countered with violent strikes causing significant damage. The two men soon face the harsh reality that they are easily outmatched in hand to hand combat.
Desperation sinks in. Anything and everything becomes a weapon. An old mop leaning against the rusty, soiled dumpster is the choice of one. A broken piece of two by four riddled with nails is the choice of the other.
Those damned fools.
As soon as their weapons enter the foray, they become shattered pieces of what was once hope. Robin disarms his combatant, breaking the mop handle across the back of his legs, then a second time dead center the back of his head. My foe quickly loses possession of his instrument, quickly finding wood splinters in his back, the remaining piece lodged in his shoulder with the assistance of its nails.
The Joker’s grin remains unflappable, even as his whimpering followers lay on the cold, wet gravel. Slowly marching forward, Robin begins to follow closely behind, waiting for my command. I hold my hand up, signalling to him that this is my battle, and mine alone. It’s at this moment that my heightened senses feel the threat, and Joker’s widened eyes reveal it.
Turning with the agility of a cat, both hands grasp firmly onto the attacking arm. The once more vertical henchman has made his last ditch effort for victory, a six inch blade tight in his grip. Keeping my left hand on his wrist, the right takes control of the knife. In an uncharacteristic move, I flip it’s position in my hand, and plunge it into his thigh. His blood curdling scream bounces off the brick walls in the alleyway, escaping into the streets.
“Bruce! What have you done?” Robin shrieks, shocked by my gruesome act.
“What was needed.” I reply. Staring into his eyes, I see the anxiousness that envelops him. Shifting my focus, Joker is frozen. His grin is uneasy now. His laugh doesn’t carry the same weight as before. “Now you…”
“Hold on Batsy! Let’s talk this over.”
“It’s time once and for all, I end your reign of terror over Gotham City.”
“I…I…surren…” is all he can get out before my fist cracks his jaw.
One shot is all I need. It’s mere seconds between the contact of my fist to his face and the back of his head with the ground. Mounting my prey, shots rain down rapidly, undefended. Robin tries to pull me off, to no avail.
“This is for Jim. And Barbara. And Jason…” I spit out in between haymakers.
“Bruce, enough!” Robin yells.
I can feel the disfiguration of his face underneath my knuckles. His smile is non existent at this point. His lips are no longer his sole crimson attribute. His eyes are closed, and they aren’t opening anytime soon. Robin abandons trying to pull me off, opting to tackle me to the ground.
“Enough!” Robin yells. Looking at his face, it shapeshifts. His features begin to contort, before quickly settling back to the Tim Drake I know.
“Clay…Clayface?” I ask.
“What? No. Get up. We need to get out of here.” He demands.
As he pulls on my arm, I hop to my feet. Looking back at my handy work, I’m comforted knowing I’ve made Commissioner Gordon’s job easier. Joker lays motionless, blood pooling beneath him. One of the henchman is knocked out, splintered wood around him. And the other guy, well, he isn’t going anywhere with that knife in his leg.
The streets of Gotham City are a much safer place tonight.
In mere moments, we’re in the Batmobile. Robin has taken the driver’s seat, and is quick to fire up its powerful engine. Police sirens are in the distance, but their whining is getting increasingly louder. Robin floors the accelerator, our tires spinning wildly before finally catching, launching us down the street. Our carnage is quickly left behind.
Left. Right. Left.
Slamming on the breaks, Robin throws the vehicle into park. Turning off the engine, I implore him to activate the Batmobile’s camouflage feature to avoid detection. He stares at me blankly.
The blues and reds flash from behind. As the vehicle gets closer, those lights grow brighter, the siren louder. The ‘whoosh’ pounds against the side of the vehicle as the cruiser whips by. I take notice of the decal pressed along its side panel. It reads ‘Police De Montrèal’.
Looking around the vehicle, I spot numerous ‘Ford’ markings. I stare down at the tops of my hands. Where did the armored gloves protecting my fists go? The skin over my knuckles is torn. The blood has begun to dry and crust, but droplets still fall from the tips of a few digits. The right middle knuckle on my left is swollen, quite possibly broken.
“Where did that come from?” Robin asks.
Looking over in his direction, Robin isn’t the man seated behind the wheel. It’s Sock.
I can feel that my beard is littered with colour. My moustache is heavy, having absorbed the steady flow from my nose. The hair on my chin holds the blood on the surface, not absorbing it, yet not allowing it to fall. I want to wipe the excess with my cape, but it doesn’t exist, so I settle for the sleeve of my jacket.
“Bruce?” I hear faintly, muffled.
My heart is pounding. A bundle of nerves. A dash of excitement. An abundance of unknowns. Where did that come from? Where am I? Where did Robin go? I just wish he’d be quiet…
“TED!” Sock shouts.
“What?” I reply, not moving, not looking.
“That was…excessive.” Sock quips, a smile overtaking his face. “Ever thought about switching careers?”
II. February 14th, 2020
Brooks’ Drugs and Sundries
It didn’t take me long to find a pharmacist I’d be comfortable with here in Chicago. After all, my personal history coupled with current ailments all but assure my frequent customer status. I needed to find a knowledgeable pill pusher who would partner well with my home base Doctor in Toronto. More importantly, I needed one who didn’t have a stick up his ass and balk at personal favour requests.
Enter Dr. Daniel Brooks of Brooks’ Drugs and Sundries.
Danny, as I’ve grown to call him after three short weeks of acquaintanceship, has filled that role admirably. He’s personable, dependable and trustworthy: all excellent traits to possess as the man who fills my prescriptions, and supplies my recreationals. His facial features are sharp and defined, which is a stark contrast from his bowling ball physique.
Some would say he is awfully reminiscent of The Penguin…
Reds hand slams the empty pill bottle onto the countertop, derailing my train of thought and startling Danny.
“Here for a refill. Called ahead thirty minutes ago. For Palmer.” Red says in his best dad voice.
“And I called after…”
“Better ignore that call. We’re only here for the prescription.” Red cuts me off.
“Of course.” Danny replies to Red while winking at me. “How’s it been Ted? Staying out of trouble?”
“Actually no.” Red cuts in again, squinting to read the nameplate on Danny’s white lab coat. “Ted has been waging war on the street with fictional villains, Dr. Brooks.”
“Oh. Which ones?”
“Does that fucking matter?” Red snaps.
Wow, is this guy in a fucking mood or what.
Danny isn’t an idiot. He knows that clearly something is going on and uses Red’s sharp tongue as his cue to retreat behind the shelves of medicine behind him. Red isn’t looking in my direction, and I feel I need to break the awkward silence.
“Well that was rude…”
Reds head whips in my direction.
“Did you really have to yell at Danny? He’s probably traumatized…”
“Traumatized? You want to know who’s traumatized, Ted? The guy laid up in that Montreal hospital with a knife wound in his leg.”
Touché Mr. Redding.
“There’s no ‘in fairness’ Ted. You called me in a panic mere hours ago not knowing what you did. You know who was able to fill me in on what you did? Sock. Want to know what you did? Huh.”
Regardless of how I reply, something tells me I’m about to find out.
“Well, let’s not bury the lede: you stabbed a guy. Yeah, he attacked you with the knife, but nonetheless, you stabbed a guy. Secondly, you broke another’s orbital bone. Poor bastard is probably in surgery as we speak. And the absolute best part of all this?” Red pauses for what I’m guessing is a dramatic effect. “The three men identified you prior to the fight. They know who you are Ted!”
Well when he puts it that way.
“Red, you have to believe me when I say this wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“What did you expect was going to happen following Sock into that alleyway?”
He’s not wrong.
“Fair enough. You’re right. But I didn’t expect that to happen.”
“How long were you out of your pills?” Red asks bluntly.
“Two…maybe three days…” I reply, sheepishly.
Red’s anger shifts to disappointment. I’d liken it to that of a father with his son, but it’s not a situation I’ve had experience with. The silence between us speaks volumes, but thankfully is broken by Danny placing the white paper bag onto the counter.
“Here you are my friend.” He says the sliding bag forward. “And how will we be paying today?”
Reaching for my back pocket, Red beats me on the draw. Placing his credit card on the countertop, he opens the bag, rifling through the instructional papers, pushing the pill bottle to the side and pulling the ziplock bag of pre rolls out of the bottom. Danny looks at him anxiously.
“I think we can do without the weed this time around.” Red says condescendingly before continuing. “And the hockey cards are where in this joint?”
“Uptight prick…” He mumbles.
“Pardon?” To the tone of Red’s eyebrow arching.
“I said sorry sir, none in stock.” Danny replies adding a forceful cheer to his voice.
I can’t help but feel like a bag of shit. This isn’t Red’s issue, but he makes it his issue. I shouldn’t be putting him in these situations, but I do. Fuck, he’s less than twenty four hours away from locking horns with number one ranked Solex, and instead of preparing for that he’s cleaning up my mess.
“Here’s your receipt. Take care of yourself Ted.” Danny says, handing the receipt to Red before adding “Nice meeting you…” insincerely.
Exiting the pharmacy, the walk to the vehicle is in silence, save the typical city noises. Entering the rental, I dibs shotty, Red sliding behind the wheel. That’s when it starts again…
Looking around, I can’t find where it’s coming from. Red has opened the bag and is skimming the instructions, oblivious to the laugh. Looking over my shoulder, our gym bags rest on the back seat. Reds is open, and on top of the mountain of contents are his ring shorts.
Looking back at Red, when did he put that lipstick on? Why are his teeth so yellow? He makes eye contact and the windows to his soul are black. Closing my eyes, I put my hands over my ears to block his taunting jeers.
“It’s not real. It’s not real…” I mumble and repeat.
“Bruce.” Robin says.
“You’re not real. Stop it.”
“Bruce.” He says more forcefully.
“Not again. Please no…”
“TED!” He shouts, hand on my shoulder.
Opening my eyes, the eyes staring back are green and concerned. The teeth well maintained, no longer a plaque covered yellow. The lipstick is washed away, as the mouth moves in slow motion, mouthing ’Ted’ repeatedly.
“It’s okay man. It’s not real. It’s me.” Red says assuringly. His hand outstretched, a pill rests in his palm. “Take it.”
“Thanks…” Is all I can mutter before popping the tablet.
“Close your eyes and listen. Sock’s burning some favors, taking care of the mess in Montreal. You’re going to your hotel, and going to sleep. Don’t leave it. I’ll pick you up and take you to the arena. Beat Kostoff, you know you can and will. After your match, leave. Grady will take you to the hotel.” Red fires off his list of instructions before finally making it to the final and most important one. “And for God’s sake, take your pills. Take them on time, everyday. When you’re getting low, call it in.” He swallows his strict tone, and almost pleads with me, “This can’t happen again.”
“Okay.” Is the singular word that exits my mouth, but I hope it’s tone conveys a thousand.
I’m sorry, Red.
III. February 25th, 2020
The Joker statue modelled after Brian Bolland’s interpretation from ’The Killing Joke’ rests atop the bookshelf, kitty cornered in the living room. Every detail is crafted with precision and care, creating a remarkable piece of art. Tall and lanky he is, peering through his camera with that sadistic smile of his. Is he…is he about to break into laughter? That smile indicates as much…
Lucky for me, he’s a fucking twelve inch collectible, so no.
See what happens when you take your crazy pills Teddy Boy?
Staring at the comic book villain, it’s not a chemical imbalanced paranoia that has me doing so; It’s the creepily similar features he shares with a certain individual. The ear to ear smile, the long pointed nose, the lean, stretched out frame. Subtract the milk white skin and colourful attire, I might as well be staring at a miniature Max Kael.
I wonder who Cecilworth would be? Riddler, maybe? I don’t understand either when they speak, so there’s that…
“Why you being a fuckin’ weirdo?” Larry’s voice booms unexpectedly, my heart now in my throat.
As my ass is reintroduced to the couch cushion, having quite literally jumped out of my seat, I snap my head around. Larry is behind the couch, having crept quietly into his position impressively for a man of his imposing stature. The only light in the room is cast from the street signs, bleeding through the windows blinds creating shadows of all shapes, sizes and eeriness.
“Well? It’s two in the morning and you’re sitting in the dark, staring at a toy.” He heckles. “In fact, you’ve been staring at that thing quite a bit the past week or so. What’s up?”
Oh you know, being careless with my medication, donning the cape and cowl, the usual. Fuck, at least this time it was Batman. I had to get a fucking rabies shot when it was My Little Ponies…
“EARTH TO TED.”
“Sorry, nothing. Late night, that’s all.”
“Where were you? What’d you get up to? You didn’t get into any trouble, did you?”
What’s with the fifth degree? At times it’s hard to tell if Larry is stuck in cop mode or is nailing the role of big brother.
“Calm down Sheriff, all’s well in the West. I was at Red’s doing film study.”
Larry looks at me in disgust before barking, “Why would you and Red watch your old porn flicks together?”
“Not that type of film study. Red put the kaibosh on ever watching any of those films with me anyways. I bet he’s watched them on his own though, took some game notes, stole a couple moves…”
“Ted…” Larry interrupts, the tone in which he says my name actually saying get on with it.
“Right. We watched a bunch of film on Kael and Farthington. Big match Saturday. Huge opportunity for us.”
“Must be if you’re actually doing film study, or any type of prep work for that matter.” Larry says with an impressed sarcasm.
“We could very well walk into our semi final match against one another as Tag Team Champions. Not only that, but in doing so we would of beaten another LBI final four competitor AND THE WORLD FUCKING CHAMPION.”
“That would be huge,” he says, allowing my dream to fester before administering a dose of reality. “But you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you’re looking that far ahead already.”
“I don’t think you understand. I, Teddy Palmer, did film study. For like five hours.” I say partially serious, but mostly joking.
“Ok, share your notes. What did you learn? What threw gas on the fire that is your confidence?”
That’s a loaded question, to be honest. There was a lot to unpack when observing this dynamic duo.
“Kael…I’m pretty sure is a legit cyborg. We’re talking about one sick prick here. He’s made it his hallmark to find new, creative ways to unleash unimaginable punishment.” I say, letting a brief grin escape before continuing. “But if there’s one man on this roster who can match that creativity, you’re looking at him. This ladder match is the perfect showcase to pull out a few sadistic surprises of my own.”
“And The Champion?”
“Farthington could possibly be even more depraved than Mr. Roboto. Who breaks a man’s drinking arm? Seriously? Poor Benny will be playing pocket pool with his non-dominant for eight to ten now.” I preach to the unamused Lieutenant before turning serious. “There’s a reason he’s standing at the top of the mountain. There aren’t many holes in his game. Well rounded physically, very strong mentally.”
“Okay let’s just cut to the chase here. Do you like your chances of climbing both the literal and metaphorical ladder this weekend?”
“Depends, what Ted do you want answering that question?”
“The Ted everyone sees roughly thirty minutes a week on TV or little brother Ted who is sitting in the safety of big bro’s apartment?”
“Is there even a difference?”
“On the surface, not really, but…” I’m cut off from what was going to be a lengthy explanation.
“Cut the bullshit, Ted. Level with me.”
I let the silence hang in the air before bluntly stating “They’re good. Like, real fucking good.”
“I’m sure they are. You don’t become Champions otherwise.”
“However…if I were a betting man…”
“You’ve incurred thousands in gambling debt…”
“My money is on us.”
Larry nods his head slightly, chewing on the inside of his bottom lip. He reaches down towards the couch cushion beside me and grabs the toy replica Tag Team Championship resting atop it. Grace had gifted both Red and I our own $29 version of the duos prize as some type of inspiration in the same vein as a vision board. He taps on the center plastic plate before tossing it onto my lap and patting my right shoulder.
“Then show them how fucking good you are.” He says, rustling my hair as if we were children again, walking off towards his room.
Oh I plan on it. Batman is gonna kick some serious ass…