Queen of Diamonds
The Joker hadn't told me when to come back to the hideout, so I take the time to get a few things done before leaving. I have myself a hearty meal, since I doubt there will be much eating going on at the factory, and take a very long, warm shower to soothe my newly aching muscles. I disinfect the wounds and change the bandages on my forearms, then take a short nap afterwards, not sure how much time I'll get to sleep if I go back over to the factory. When I get up, I replace the goon's shirt with a simple red and black striped sweater of my own and shove my feet into some black boots. I give Selina a call to tell her that I'm going out again and then call for a taxi.
The taxi drops me off at a gas station roughly twenty minutes away from the Joker's hideout. I set out on the walk through mainly abandoned neighborhoods, chiding myself for not bringing a weapon. As much as I half expect someone to leap out at me from behind the trees or creep up behind me and stab me, no one does. The twenty minute walk to the factory is surprisingly uneventful. Then again, the last time I checked it was only around four thirty, five. Although, committing crimes in broad daylight doesn't seem to bother the Joker, but maybe it bothers the other criminals.
I step inside the factory, not bothering to knock on the door, and two very happy sets of paws come running towards me. "Hello," I greet Bud and Lou, rubbing the tops of their heads fondly. "I'll bring you some dog food tomorrow," I promise, then walk over to one of the nearby henchman. "Have you seen J around?"
"You mean the freak that you're sleeping with?" he quips. "Yeah, he's upstairs."
I'm tempted to tell him that we're aren't sleeping together, not yet anyways, but I refrain. Let him believe what he wants to believe. Instead, I turn away from the henchman in silence and climb the stairs. I hadn't expected the Joker's goons to be nice, but I hadn't expected them to be so petty either. What did it matter if I was sleeping with their boss anyway? It's certainly none of their business, why would they even care in the first place?
"J?" I call, peering into the partially cracked bedroom door. When I get no response, I step inside slowly, scouring the room for him. Huh, he must be in his office. As I turn to leave the room, something sharp cuts me across the side. I exhale sharply at the sting and whip my head around to find the Joker staring at me, a knife in his hands.
"What the hell?" I demand, touching the cut on my side. It isn't deep by any means, but it's bleeding onto my newly sliced shirt. This is the second shirt that's been ruined today.
"You, my dear, have got to learn how to fight," he tells me, lunging towards me with the knife. I duck down, narrowly missing the blade that would have easily lodged itself into my neck. The Joker jabs at my stomach and I flip backwards, glaring at him.
"Would you please stop trying to- ahhh!" I yelp as the Joker throws himself at me. I stretch backwards, bending my back towards the ground, but the knife manages to catch me just above the eyebrow. I wipe the blood off of my forehead and somersault to the side, attempting to get away from him. The Joker, in return, grabs me roughly by the hair and yanks me backwards, pressing the knife to my throat.
"See, now you're dead," he quips. "Try to get out of my grip." I bring my leg back hard, attempting to hit him in the groin, but the Joker just laughs. "No, no, no. Those, uh, those cheap shots don't always work." I bring my elbow back and hit him in the stomach hard, but he doesn't budge. I claw at his hands, pinching and scratching, but they remain firmly in place.
The Joker sighs loudly and releases his hold on me. "We'll, uh, work on that later. Try to get the knife away from me."
Twenty minutes later, the Joker's still expertly wielding the knife. "I'm done," I cave, sitting down on the floor. Part of me wants to cry at how horrible this entire "training" session has gone. Another part of me wants to scream and attack him. I resort to neither, pulling my knees up to my chest and resting my head on them in silence. Several shallow cuts maim my body in various places, each one still stinging and bleeding. My stomach hurts from one of the harsh blows the Joker delivered to it and overall I feel completely and utterly beat down.
"I, uh, hate to be the one to break it to you, Harley, but you're not always going to have a gun to save you," he tells me, his tone somewhat condescending. I take a deep breath and glare at him. "Next time I'm going to let some of the boys at ya."
"You're such a bastard," I reply flatly, thinking of ways to train on my own time so that I wouldn't get cut or beaten as much. The only thing I can come up with is asking Selina for help, which she can't do because of the bullet wound in her leg.
"Mm, but I'm your bastard," he retorts. I let out a laugh, despite my anger, and the Joker comes over to me and pulls me up out of the floor by my upper arm. He tilts his head to the side, clearly thinking. "What time is it?"
"Somewhere around five thirty or six," I reply.
"We're just in time for dinner," he tells me with a grin. "Come on," he instructs, grabbing me by the arm and pulling me out of the bedroom. "Our guests are waiting."
"What are you talking about?" I question as he leads me down the stairs. Once on the main floor, he wraps his arm possessively around me, his fingers digging into my hip bone.
"Dr. Arkham paid us a lovely visit at the bank this morning," he quips, smacking his lips together. "It's only, uh, fair that we pay him one." I try to figure out what he means by that as he leads me over to the van, but it can't mean anything for sure. The Joker hops in the driver's seat and I stand there uncertainly for a minute, debating whether or not I'm allowed in the passenger seat.
I ultimately decide on entering the passenger seat, following the Joker's advice of taking things that I want. He nods subtly at the gesture, just enough to show that he had noticed my lack of asking. I rest my head against the headrest and look out the window at the factory. He starts the car and puts it into drive, but surprisingly no henchmen exit the house.
"You're not bringing backup?" I ask in surprise as he pulls away from the house.
"I can, uh, handle myself, Harley," he replies, his voice more taut.
"I didn't mean it like that," I quickly defend. "I'm just... surprised, that's all." After a long moment of uncomfortable silence, I ask, "So, what are we having for dinner?"
"That depends on the hosts," he replies, amusement creeping back into his tone just as quickly as it had disappeared. "I hope Dr. Arkham's not working late tonight. I'd hate for us to have to start dinner without him. That would just be... rude."
I laugh, although I have the feeling that he's being somewhat serious. The Joker grins and for the most part, the rest of the car ride is relatively quiet. It only takes us twenty minutes or so to pull up to Dr. Arkham's large, extravagant home. The car ride here was surprisingly smooth and normal. I know that the Joker didn't want to attract the police's attention just yet, but I found myself resisting the urge to laugh at the irony of his use of proper signaling when turning.
The Joker gets out of the van and starts casually towards the front door. I follow in suit, hiding my face with my hands in case there's any street cameras around. He steps up to the porch and I raise an eyebrow as he rings the bell. I had expected him to just burst in or something, but I suppose the shock value of this alternative is more ideal to him. It seems a lot simpler as well.
"I don't think they're home," I announce after a long moment of silence.
"Looks like we'll just have to let ourselves in," he replies, using his elbow to bash in one of the glass windows of the door frame. I shoot a sweeping glance around the street as the Joker slips his hand through the now empty window pane of the door. He undoes the lock easily, then pushes the door open and holds it out for me. "Uh, ladies first."
"Thanks," I murmur, stepping inside. I pull my sleeve over my hand and flip up the light switch next to the door, flooding the dark foyer with light. "What do we do now?"
"We find out where they're at, 'cause ya can't have dinner without the hosts," he sings, prowling further into the house. I stride past him and towards the kitchen. I've only been to Dr. Arkham's house once to give him some files that he needed right away, but his wife had taken me into the kitchen for a glass of water while I waited for him to come downstairs. It was a long time ago, but if memory serves me correctly, the kitchen should be about two rooms to the left of the foyer.
My memory does serve me right and I quickly end up in the kitchen. I turn the light on and scour the room with my eyes, looking for any kind of a note or a calendar. I spot a piece of loose leaf paper on the island and pick it up with my sleeve covered hands. The handwriting is noticeably different from Dr. Arkham's, it's neater and consists of much less scrawling than the writing that I'm used to.
"Dear Jeremiah," I read aloud. "If you're reading this, it means that I'm unfortunately still at the hospital. There was an emergency at work and I was called in late. I'm coming home as soon as I can to change, but if I miss you, then I'll see you at eight. I'm really looking forward to tonight and even though I know you've had a tough day, I think that getting out and forgetting about the mess at the bank will be good for you. Lots of love, -A."
"Hmm," the Joker muses from behind me and I jump a bit. He lets out a loud chuckle and I turn around to face him.
"I didn't hear you come in," I announce, explaining my not-so-brave scare.
"I can see that."
"Right," I finish slowly, ending that conversation. "There's no telling when she wrote this note, but it was probably only an hour or so ago if she didn't think she'd be home in time for Dr. Arkham to come home. She could be back any minute."
"How exciting," he replies and I can't tell if he's being serious or sarcastic. "You find out what restaurant they're going to. I've got a few minor, uh, touches to add to the house." I watch him stride out of the room in curiosity, but refrain from asking what exactly he's doing. I'm sure I'll find out soon enough. Instead, I focus my attention back to finding a calendar or some kind of daily planner.
Lucky for me, there's a calendar hanging on the pantry door. I quickly stride over to it, flinching as the sound of breaking glass hits my ears. I ignore the vandalism going on further down the house and quickly scan over the calendar for today's date. I spot the date and hover my finger above it, as if it would somehow disappear if I didn't point it out. Beneath the date, in tiny handwriting identical to the kind on the note, is a title, a time, and a place.
"They've got reservations at eight at Chez Infantino's for their anniversary," I call aloud, not sure where the Joker's gone off to. I glance at the clock on the stove and then add, "We've got about two hours until eight."
"That gives us just enough time to surprise them... and won't they be happy to see us," he muses with a cackle of laughter. He drops a picture frame onto the counter with several bits of jagged glass poking out from the frame. That must've been what he'd been breaking earlier. I come over to look at the picture, which has been altered just as much as the frame. Mrs. Arkham's portrait has been improved with bright red x's drawn over the eyes and a very large red smile.
He pulls a joker card out of his pocket and drops it on the island, then pulls four cards out of one of his many pockets. "Hearts stand for emotions," he tells me, laying a Queen of Hearts card down on the island. "Spades are for intellect. Diamonds show wealth. And clubs, well that shows power... over people. Which card are you, Harley?"
I study my options probably more seriously than I should have. Hearts would work, but I feel like the Queen of Hearts is the weakest out of the four. As for the spades, I believe that I'm intellectual, but I'm not so sure that I want my entire image to revolve around that. The club certainly doesn't fit me, considering I had lost pretty badly to the Joker in a fist and knife fight just mere hours ago. And as for the diamonds, I find myself unusually drawn to them more than the others. I don't want to seem materialistic or driven by greed, but I think that there's more to the card than that. Oh well, if other people can't see the meaning behind the card then it's their loss.
"I want to be the Queen of Diamonds," I inform him, nodding towards the third card on the table.
"You, uh, want to be wealth?"
"There's more to the card than that," I explain to him. "Diamonds are one of the toughest materials on earth. It's nearly impossible to scathe them and they can cut through steel. They might not be the rarest gem in the world, but they're one of the most desired. The card itself stands for toughness, breakability, and desire, much more than just wealth."
"Mm, good choice." He pockets the three other cards and lays the red Queen of Diamonds beside the joker card and I smile at the image of the two together. I'm surprised that he let me join his signature card with one of my own, but I'm certainly flattered. The Joker pulls a cell phone, more than likely a burn phone, out of his pocket and dials a number. He puts the phone up to his ear and begins talking to what is probably a henchman. "Grab the, uh, bombardiers and meet us at, uh, what's the place called?"
"Chez Infantino's," I reply.
"Meet us at Chez Infantino's and bring the C4." There's a moment of pause, then the Joker replies to whatever the henchman asks with, "Just bring all of it." He pockets the phone and turns to me. "We've got a dinner to get to."
"Are you asking me out on date?" I joke with a grin.
The Joker smiles. "Mm, you could say that."
The Joker and I sit in the van, staking out the restaurant, as his goons do who knows what with the C4. They've been "applying" the C4 for around an hour and a half now and I'm surprised that they haven't been caught creeping around the building yet. It's even more surprising that a few of the men are setting it up inside the restaurant itself. I know that the henchmen are good with their guns and fists, but I'll admit that I had doubted their ability to sneak. Although, the Joker had called these men bombardiers and for all I know, the men setting up C4 could be professionals. The Joker had cops on his pay roll, why not bomb makers?
The clock in the van reads 7:45 when all of the goons return. "There's four bombs, Boss," one of the henchmen tells the Joker. I'm surprised to see that he ditched his typical black clothing for a chef's uniform. I faintly wonder how he pulled that off. "There are two bombs on the outer walls, one on the left side and one on the right. Those two will cause the biggest explosion. The two smaller bombs are on the inside. We planted one on either side of the dining area. The detonators are color coded. The red one-"
"Ah-ta-ta," the Joker cuts the goon off. "Not knowing is what makes it fun. Right, Harley?"
"Uh, sure," I reply warily, not so sure that unknowing is the safest thing. For all he knows, he could be blowing up the half of the room that he's standing in. Although, I know that the uncertainty of life or death appeals to him in, as he said, a fun manner. "Not knowing also makes it fair," I add, scanning the parking lot for either Mr. or Mrs. Arkham.
"Get back in your car and wait for my call," the Joker instructs the goons around the van. "And someone go get Harley a mask and gloves," he adds in a snap. The goons scurry off just as I spot Mrs. Arkham exiting her blue beamer in an expensive looking black and silver dress. She enters the restaurant, unfortunately without Dr. Arkham.
"Here," the Joker announces, shoving one of the smaller detonators in my hand. "Press that if things, uh, turn for the worse... or if you see Batman. Whichever happens first."
"Are you sure?" I question, staring down at the black box in my hands. "What if I accidentally blow one of us up?"
The Joker lets out a sharp bark of laughter. "We won't exactly be around to, uh, care if that happens. Will we?"
"No, I guess not," I mumble, continuing to stare at the detonator in my palm. "What exactly is the plan?" I question as a goon throws a clown mask through my open window and a pair of see through, cleaning gloves. I snap the gloves on my hands, but refrain from putting on the mask just yet.
"We're going to play a game with these, uh, fine diners. What happens in there... now that's up to them."
A few more minutes trickle by, but Mrs. Arkham remains seated alone at a table near one of the large glass windows, giving us full view of her. She orders herself a glass of wine at one point, but shoos the waiter away when he comes to take her order. She checks her phone three times in five minutes and continues to peer out the window, looking for her husband.
Poor girl, I'd probably be anxious and impatient if my husband was late for our anniversary too.
I glance out the back windshield, searching the street behind us in case the henchmen had missed anything. I don't spot Jeremiah Arkham, but I do spot a small, considerably out of place store. It's pretty run down compared to all of the sparkling, rich buildings around it. The sign above it reads Infantino's Costumes. Huh, I didn't think that Gotham had any year round costume stores.
The Joker lets out a long sigh and turns the car off. "It seems that we'll have to start dinner without the, uh, good doctor. What a shame." The Joker hops out of the van and immediately begins barking orders at the henchmen. I pull the clown mask on my face and hop out as well. One of the goons hands me a handgun, which looks meager compared to the guns that they're carrying, but I can't exactly hold a machine gun and a detonator either.
The Joker bangs against the side of the van beside us hard and the henchmen all fall out. I count eight in all and I have a feeling that the reason for double the amount of backup is mainly for the big bad bat. It is nighttime after all, he'll emerge from his nesting cave sooner or later tonight. Hopefully later, considering J probably wouldn't be very happy if we were thwarted right away.
Or maybe he won't even show up at all, I think to myself. Maybe there's some other crisis that's more important than a restaurant full of hostages. There's no telling how tonight will turn out. There's only two things that I'm hoping for at this point. One: that the Joker doesn't get captured and incarcerated at Arkham again. And two: that my identity won't be revealed. I'm still interested to see what the Joker has in store my big reveal and I don't want to throw the potential of that promise away just yet.
Well, actually, make that four things that I'm hoping for. I don't particularly feel like dying, nor do I want to watch the Joker die either. I can't decide whether or not my hopes for tonight are very high or very low. Oh well, I suppose we'll see soon enough.
"The, uh, main goal here is to keep everyone inside for the show. It would be awfully... rude of them to leave in the middle of it and I'd hate to have someone bleed all over the food. That just wouldn't be sanitary," he tells us pointedly, shoving each of the three detonators into separate purple coat pockets. "So, we have to keep them locked up nice and tight.
"You three," he continues, snapping at the three nearest henchmen, "guard the kitchen exit. You three guard the side door and the rest of you, uh, lucky gentlemen will join Harley and I in the main room. And make sure that no one jumps out of any of the windows... unless you feel like going on a wild goose chase. In that case, be my guest."
"What do we do if anyone tries to escape?" one of the henchmen pipes up.
"Kill 'em. Play with 'em. Make an example outta 'em. I don't care," he retorts. "Just don't let them leave."
"Sure thing, Boss." The goon hands the Joker a machine gun and a clip of ammo, then six of the eight men scurry off to opposite sides of the building, splitting up into two groups of three. I watch their figures retreat into the shadows and make sure that my mask is firmly in place.
"Those same orders apply to you too," the Joker says, turning towards me. "Don't let any of them out of your sight and don't let them, uh, escape by any means. That, my dear, means pointing that gun at their rich little heads and pulling the trigger. Ya think you can handle that, 'cause if not we had better end this little, uh, alliance right now."
"I think we've gone past the line of alliance," I reply. "As for your question, I'll do what I have to in there. I'm not going to run around blowing people's heads off for fun, but I'm not going to risk the chance of someone escaping either." Deep down, I think that what I'm saying might be true, but I won't know until we get in there.
The Joker, although I'm positive that he can see my internal doubt in myself, simply nods in response. He turns and swiftly leads the four of us towards the entrance of the restaurant, where the screaming has already begun. Through the glass doors, I spot several people being roughly thrown into the main dining area by masked men. Somewhere towards the far back of the restaurant is the sound of gunshots. I can tell that tonight will certainly be interesting. Then again, almost everything the Joker participates in is interesting.
The Joker rests his purple gloved hand on the door handle, then turns to me and the goons with a large grin. "It's show time."