The moon was full in the black sky outside but it did little to make any dent in the darkness permeating Gotham. Gotham was a dark place to try to illuminate even for the sun, so many dark corners, shadowy places light had not touched in years. That was Gotham, made up of shadows, tall old buildings from eras long past but stubbornly standing, and gargoyles poised to come to life and attack those unlucky enough to happen by at the wrong time. It was and had always been a city of monsters hiding under the bed; the city where bad things really did come out at night, or sometimes during the day.
Gotham was a terrible place, really, yet it was home to so many that could not manage to get away, caught by it in a sort of Stockholm love of the place. It hurt and destroyed, changed even the best of people for the worst, yet if it gave back, the rewards were great before they crumbled away. It was a city for those who liked to gamble with their lives, where payouts happened enough to keep people coming back to gamble even more of their life away on the chance they would be the lucky winner.
Sometimes people, no, monsters, also got what they really, really deserved. But only if someone gave it to them. Vigilantism was actually rather common in the city, like the Balloon man, but some were more artful about it than others.
Oswald's bird-like features scrunched up in concentration, tumultuous ocean green eyes scanning every surface, looking for evidence. As a specialist with the Gotham City Police Department, analysis was his job. Spending almost all his time in a laboratory was also why he was frequently compared to a vampire as he did not see the sun unless he was out at a crime scene. Each motion was methodical, efficient, not a move unaccounted for.
Oswald Cobblepot knew his way around a crime scene and he knew what needed to be done, or avoided, in order to leave a scene clean. He moved with the surety that came with his job, with knowing blood spatter, trajectory, trace evidence. The black latex gloves on his pale hands served a multitude of purposes, most particularly, hopefully preventing any potential stray prints from contaminating the scene. He was careful at every single scene.
Looking over the blood pooled on the floor of the kitchen tile, red branching out like vines with the grove of the tile, he sometimes wished he had left their employ on his first day. Gotham had been a choice, not his only option. He used to want to be in the GCPD so he could make a difference in the city he grew up in.
He could have worked in other places, yet he chose Gotham. He should have gone to Star City, or even Metropolis, for that matter. Any place would have been wiser than the crawling, crime-ridden, infestation of corruption bundled into a single city where mobsters popped up like cockroaches.
With his typical focus, he clipped the fingernails of the corpse in case there was trace evidence and bagged those, utterly ruining the perfect manicure that likely cost the woman handsomely. He also bagged the knife and slid it into his satchel. He processed and bagged everything, even potential evidence that could likely never hold anything, even trace evidence or transfer, but he collected it all the same. Oswald was thorough, it was why the GCPD had been so desperate to hire him, offering him the sort of pay that should have made him suspicious.
Had he been so careful about his choices as he was a crime scene, he would have found another job. He would have known about the curse before his first day, and he would have believed in its validity. He would have seen the statistics.
He had lost everything now, everything that ever mattered to him. It had all been stolen out from under him, horribly, violently, and now he was just trying to... do something good with the ashes. He was trying to make something good come from the ruins, otherwise, what had he suffered it all for? If he could not turn it back around, how could he get up every morning? So he adapted, used the hand Gotham dealt him, and made it into something he could work with.
His mother was in no way to blame for what happened, for what transpired, for the destruction that left his life in shambles.
His mother had been wonderful, kind, gentle, good. He had not always been the way he was now. He knew exactly when everything changed but that did not in any way make the results easier to control. He had not always been the way he was now; true, he killed a few birds in his time when children just kept comparing him to them, and yes, he thought about killing more than just birds; he had a lot of thoughts about killing his schoolyard tormentors. However, he stopped once his mother explained to him that it was wrong, that every life had value, including the birds she had found. He still believed her, but he also now believed there were exceptions, as there always were, to every rule.
Oswald had begun to think the stories were right about it being a cursed position. How else could he explain everything that happened to his nice, normal life if not a curse? He didn't use to believe it, not when it was his first day and Harvey Bullock took him aside and told him about the curse like it was some Irish folk tale. He was told about the lab being cursed, about it driving people insane once it hooked its claws into them.
One medical examiner, Dr. Guerra, had been caught selling body parts on the black market after years of being perfectly trustworthy.
About the lab technician that had been strange, with a love of riddles and enormous crush on one innocent young Ms. Kringle, but perfectly harmless. Until, also inexplicably, he too snapped, killing first his rival for love, then the woman he loved, and subsequently, setting off explosives, killing an officer, and framing homicide detective Gordon for it when his paranoia outweighed his genius.
Harvey stopped his story the minute he saw his partner, the man Oswald learned a few minutes later on introduction, to be James Gordon. A war veteran, and for a time, less than lovingly termed, even by his colleagues, as the last honest man in Gotham. A man who narrowly avoided being assassinated not long after he got to town because he apparently faked the death of a snitch known as Barbara Kean. Oswald learned more about it after the encounter and he thought the tale sounded as wild as the curse.
But another person picked up the story of the curse where Harvey left off. Telling him first more details about Nygma and his late girlfriend being, apparently, good friends of Dr. Thompkins and Dt. Gordon. That only made the story sadder, in Oswald's opinion, if he believed a word of it, of course.
Then he heard about the former medical examiner's replacement; a lovely, sweet, kind young woman. Leslie Thompkins. A beauty with the patience of a saint, the sort anyone would easily get along with, and the lady upstanding James Gordon became engaged to; apparently, they nearly had a child, had it not been for the stress of his sudden false incarceration which caused it all to end in sorrow. Not long after Gordon was proven innocent, apparently, he got on the wrong side of a real psychopath worse than Nygma, which was normal for good cops in Gotham. The problem was, Tetch got away only to return in order to inject the sweet, grieving woman with some sort of virus to get at the detective. Out of her mind from the virus, certifiably insane, she buried her former finance alive in a coffin.
Apparently, everyone was waiting to see what turns of psychosis Lucius Fox, and now Oswald Cobblepot would display. He was told people were already speculating.
Oswald had not believed a word of it. It was not as if he were unfamiliar with cruel jokes or hazing, as he so often had been the target for every group imaginable when he was young, and he knew they just wanted to frighten him and get him to leave. It was to be expected on his first day.
Oswald sighed, slinging his work satchel over his shoulder as he made his way toward the exit, minding his steps. He took a final look around to be certain he had not missed any evidence, nothing obscure that might lead to the killer of the woman in the kitchen.
It was not a typical kill, this one. At least for the killer equally cursed and revered by nearly every detective in Gotham. Most people said he was a hired killer, someone very likely in the service of the mob. He was efficient, clean, in and out swiftly. Most bodies were killed at unknown locations and either never were found or were found as only because there was a reason, a story to go along with their placement. The victims never seemed to stand a chance against him and no one ever quite knew how he got hold of them all. Most of the victims had money and could afford alarm systems, which should have meant they were safe. Yet the killer gained access.
It was never a gun, instead, it was always a knife. The kills looked messy and chaotic, but to a crime scene analyst, they were artful. It was almost always a nice, long, drawn-out death, but if it was swift, the killing blow was always a clean stab directly to the main artery. Death was achieved as the victim exsanguinated. Other tools were always used but the final blow always was delivered by the same knife. No one outside the task force knew that; it was a detail the killer did not even have to let them know, but there was a story he wanted the select few to hear even if they could not understand.
No one would be able to connect the killings at all, even the ones where they found a body, if not for the killer's calling card marked out in the victims own blood.
This particular body had not been moved, was killed where she would be found. Many of Gotham's finest would assume that meant it was a copy killer, but those who really knew the case would know better. They would not know why she had been killed in her own home, but they would know there had been a reason behind it. They would go crazy trying to figure it out, find the hidden message.
Once again, James Gordon would be furious with the lack of evidence. It always put him into a dark, brooding mood. This would be no different. He would often be irrationally upset and at times, when Jim would step into the morgue, dissecting the bodies with his eyes when he thought no one was around, Oswald occasionally wondered just how much he really knew. Did he know more about the deceased than he let on? More about the killer?
With a click and a beep from the alarm, Oswald closed the door behind him and made his way down the hallway and through the house. He exited without a second glance at the lush, extravagant surroundings provided to the very rich, and the now equally dead woman. As they said, 'you can't take it with you' and Kathryn Monroe surely lamented the futility of her kingdom being all for nothing now, or she would if she weren't dead.
He wondered what Jim would say about all of it. Or Harvey, for that matter, with his inevitable, tasteless puns at the expense of the dead.
Oswald had not known this woman, only having personally met her once at a public function where she had been a little too intent on him for comfort, but he knew her by reputation, by her actions. The woman was a spider. Her webs left nothing but dead or dying carcasses encased in the strings.
It was for that reason he had taken care to leave the owl mask she kept in her room out on display. He hung the mask right on the chandelier in the kitchen for all to see. It might not make it into evidence, not if any of her associates saw it before police photos were taken, but the fact of it being displayed was clear enough. Those connected to her would know! They would see the message for what it was and they would understand.
He wondered what Jim would think of seeing it perched over the body. He knew something few people knew about those masks, but so did Jim. Sometimes, after learning about some of the things Jim had been through, he wondered if Jim was just as cursed as the lab.
Back when he started, Oswald wasn't prepared for what the job would eventually cost him. The first chance he'd been afforded, he'd casually dropped an inquiry to the other new hire in the department; though Lucius Fox had been there far longer than Oswald; about the stories, thinking the man would laugh at the joke. He had not struck Oswald as the type to be petty or participate in such foolishness, he seemed perfectly nice. Lucius was quiet, even-tempered, and friendly.
Which was why he began to wonder about the validity of the stories when the expression offered was not a laugh but a sad, distant look. It was proof that something in the story had been true.
"Don't bring up Lee Tompkins around here, not if Jim is in earshot. That's still... very much an open wound." Lucius told him solemnly.
Oswald followed that advice religiously, particularly after he met the man in more than a simple "nice to have you join the team" sort of way. James Gordon, a man that had built a castle around himself, dug a mote and filled it with acid.
Jim was not openly cruel, or overtly rude any more than his gruff partner was, but he was closed off and impenetrable, fearful of letting others close. After being betrayed too many times by those closest, he was understandably intent to keep others from hitting him again, and Harvey seemed to be the only person he let in.
Even with that, the new employee had seen the sad, despondent look Gordon had in his eyes each time he ventured into the labs, even in the beginning. He looked around as if expecting to see someone else. Whenever he arrived alone and did not immediately see Oswald or Lucius, his searching eyes grew glassy and utterly lost; he looked alone and vulnerable. Gordon was a sad, wounded man, Oswald had always seen that, even before he knew him.
The streets were quite as they ever got. Gotham was a city that never slept, not even late into the night. People scurried to get gone before dark, but dark was when the monsters came out.
His shoes were an insistent tap, tap against the pavement. He allowed himself to walk through the puddles from the rain the previous day the same way he had carefully avoided them before. He knew what to avoid when entering a crime scene, and leaving muddy tracks was one of those very important things. He was always very careful about his feet and, obviously, he took care not to leave home without gloves.
Oswald drove back to the GCPD even though it was long past when he should have been on the clock. He went directly to the lab and set about preparing his usual array of cleaning solutions before he unpacked his satchel, took out everything he'd bagged at the scene and dropped it all into the strong cleansing solutions. No one ever looked inside his large work bag, not once. Even if they had, they would not have questioned the contents much considering his occupation. No one ever suspected him of anything, they underestimated him, everyone did, which made him life considerably easier.
The rest of the items, he brought down and tossed into the ancient old furnace that still heated a good portion of the building. The furnace, he speculated, had been kept even after the renovation for purposes exactly like his own; to dispose of things anyone in the department wanted to hide. The GCPD was still more than a little corrupt no matter how hard Jim tried to change that.
But that was why Oswald stayed.
"Good morning, Jim!" Oswald stepped up to the man's overladen desk with a bright smile as he held out a box of fresh donuts, lifting the lid to entice him.
Jim's eyes lifted slowly from the stack of papers he had been reading with a brow cocked, "Morning, Oswald." He waved the box away with a, "no thanks," the way he always did every time.
Oswald always offered, offered whatever confection he brought in to him first, in fact, but he never accepted. He always accepted things from Harvey, not that Oswald was bitter about that, of course. He often wondered if it was just an example of the man's trust issues at work, though, really, after all this time, all they had gone through, he could accept one of the donuts. He owed Jim a debt, one he could never pay but wanted to try, he was not exactly likely to poison him.
Oswald's smile became just a little more strained as he shut the lid on the flimsy box, "What are you working on? Anything I can help with?"
Jim sighed, long and tired, "Just another case. It's already passed your table, I'm just... you know. It just feels... off."
Oswald huffed a laugh, letting himself sound jollier than he really felt in order to seem less tense, probably coming off as awkward, "Can't ever let it go huh? Typical James Gordon."
That teased a crooked smile from the other man, "So they tell me."
"Well, it's an admirable trait. You're a good man. More people have gotten justice because of your efforts." He reached out and patted Jim on the arm, "Just don't wear yourself out, my friend."
Jim nodded solemnly, but they both knew he would ignore the advice.
"I could take a look at it again, if you like?"
Jim's eyes opened up, somehow less distant than normal, but the hesitation was clear, "Would you? I mean, it's not too much trouble?"
Oswald was quick to assure him, probably smiling too brightly, "No trouble at all! I'd be glad to help! Just send me the files after you've finished and I'll dig up what I can."
Jim smiled, and it was happy and honest, making it all the way to his eyes the way it often didn't, "I'll owe you one!"
Oswald rolled his eyes and shooed away the notion, "Friends don't owe friends, silly!" Of course, that was not strictly true, he owed Jim the moon.
For his part, Jim gave him the look he usually did when Oswald was too free with his words, the one that said he was not at all sure what to do with Oswald. Jim was never free with his emotion, he held them in a vice and drowned them. Jim simply closed the folder, still eying him, and handed it over with a quiet word of gratitude.
Deeming it a good time to do so, he spun away with his donuts and files, bypassing Harvey's empty desk as the other man still had not arrived. He hoped to goodness there would not be any stories of "The Duchess" following his eventual arrival as there too often were.
Oswald handed out more of the sugary confections, exchanging minor niceties. His dear mother taught him a few tricks about charming people, and one of the key ways was with baked goods along with questions about their well-being. She taught him to laugh with the cruel jokes, always be polite, and always give an enemy gifts. The bullies liked people that gave them things without being prompted. A few months after Oswald had come home with a bloody nose, his main tormentor was his best friend and ten pounds heavier from the home baking sent with him every day. To date, Gabe still liked him and loved Gertrude Kapleput.
Oswald was a believer in the power of baked goods. It decidedly won Alvarez over, turning him into Oswald's biggest fan. He frequently told him how much better he was than Nygma.
"Well," Harvey Bullock shouted as he entered the bullpen from the huge arch entry, "looks like 'Penguin' has struck again!" The impromptu announcement gaining a groan from every officer present. Several slumped over their desks in an open signal of their general feelings. Others in the multiple lines of desks threw papers down in general disgust and offered Harvey dark glares.
The dome structure likely crafted in times where high ceilings in cathedrals were particularly popular made everything so much louder; also, it was hard to heat when all the heat just rose up into the high rafters where it was no good to anyone; the building was aesthetic rather than functional. There was even a balcony and then another raised section clearly intended for whatever fearless leader was in charge at the time to speak down to their subjects, and the structure's built-in acoustics lent their aid to the likely angry or self righteous voice of the leader.
Things went silent for less than a minute, the inhabitants collectively holding their breaths before the typical buzz of motion, rustle of papers, and hum of life resumed to the usual drone of constant sound at the precinct. The name Penguin could silence them all for seconds at a time, like an incantation that only lasted briefly.
"Who did he get now?" Alvarez crowed, amused, almost more eager than anything.
Oswald clutched his files to his chest, wide, haunting eyes already fixed on the man seated at his desk surrounded in manila folders. The wary blue eyes of the detective were fixed on Bullock, dirty blond hair slightly out of its usual perfect, smoothed back form after he had roughly run a hand through it in frustration at the unwanted announcement. Though, oddly enough, Harvey usually was the first to know, thus the first to call out the crime when Penguin struck.
Still, it was Jim Gordon's reaction he was waiting to see. After all, Jim was of particular interest to the Penguin, and this case particularly.
"Prissy dame, pearl-clutching harpy named Kathryn Monroe," Harvey informed the entirety of the room in his usual, over loud voice, acting as if he'd announced the winner of a horse race instead of a murder.
With how easily Harvey blurted it all out, clearly, Jim had kept this current matter a secret. His partner very obviously knew nothing about Jim's connection to that woman and thus had no reservations at all about shouting it to the literal rafters.
Jim's face darkened, a look passing over him like the name had been a physical attack to his senses, then he lost some of his color as he stared blankly at his partner. He sat there as if the chair itself could protect him from the news. Oswald knew why too. Knew exactly why Jim might be loud about his upset over the newest case, but privately, he would not be shedding any tears. It probably shook him, possibly frightened him, but it would not sadden him.
Eventually, he stood, slowly, as if there was inexplicable weight added to his shoulders, but Jim never was one to stay down even when he should. He ambled over to Harvey, dragging his feet like he would much rather be headed for the coffee machine.
"What is this I hear?" A timid voice spoke up from directly behind Oswald, making the younger man jump as Mr. Penn's bespectacled, watery blue eyes filled most of Oswald's vision. "The Penguin's struck again?"
Oswald nodded jerkily, "Yes, yes, it would seem so!"
Of course, quiet, mousey, Mr. Penn had replaced poor Kristen Kringle in the records room, so Oswald saw the man with great frequency. He had been there a considerable amount of time, and he seemed suited to it as he had a nervous personality and the quiet of the records room fit him better than the usual hustle of the rest of the building.
"Will you be going to the crime scene then?" Penn asked nervously, fidgeting with something in his hand.
Oswald smiled kindly, "Of course, it's what I do."
He left the man there with the almost empty box of donuts, shoving the files into his hands with a request to put them on his desk for later and followed after Jim and Harvey, dashing out on their heels as Captain Barnes rounded the corner, throwing the doors of his office open. They quickened their pace as they heard the man shouting orders even as they exited the front door. Oswald did not even ask as he jumped into the back of Harvey's car while Jim took the passenger's seat.
"Nice of you to come along, Oswald." Harvey offer over his shoulder once he climbed in, the sarcasm ripe.
Oswald smiled anyway, tuning his voice to something sweet and unassuming, "Just wanted to get a jump on it. There is a killer to catch, after all."