Mad Love

The Dinner Party

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen," the Joker greets loudly as he enters the restaurant. One woman leaps out of her seat and rushes towards the back of the restaurant. Before the other two goons can kill her, I aim my gun in her general direction. I fire off several bullets, only one managing to hit her in the arm. She'll be fine as long as she keeps pressure on it and doesn't try to get away again.

The Joker looks over at me with a raised eyebrow and I shrug as if to say "I never promised to kill the escapees." The Joker turns away from me and back to the room, the smile returning to his face. The two goons behind me spread out around the room and I resort to following the Joker around like a lost puppy. I'm not exactly prepared for what to do in this type of situation, but keeping a few feet of distance away from the Joker seems like a good place to start.

"How's the food here?" the Joker asks with a short chuckle. "I don't know about you, but I'm famished." The Joker glances around and then lets out an annoyed huff. "Talk about bad service. I don't see a single waiter around. Ya gotta do everything yourself. Stay put, I'd hate for this situation to get, uh, blown out of proportion."

The Joker strides towards the kitchen, then turns to me as an afterthought. "Did you want something, my dear? It's on me," he promises with a chuckle.

"No, I'm fine, thanks," I assure him in a thick Brooklyn accent.

"Suit yourself," he shrugs. "Oh and keep an eye on our, uh, friends, would ya? I'd hate for them to leave before we even get the party started." With that, the Joker waltzes through the swinging doors at the entrance of the kitchen, leaving me alone with all of the hostages. A feeling of weariness settles over my stomach at the prospect of controlling these people myself. I certainly don't have the same aspect of fear that the Joker brings to the table. Although, there's clearly a detonator in my hand, maybe that will reign them in long enough for the Joker to return.

I glance at the two henchmen pacing around the room, guns raised at the ready. They will surely kill anyone who causes a problem, but what if they accidentally kill someone that the Joker wants alive? Now, I hadn't been informed of anyone important besides the Arkham's, but who knows what the Joker might have up his sleeve. It's incredibly... worrisome to control a room full of people without knowing the boss's actual plan. Or maybe that's the point. Maybe the possibility of the plan going in a completely opposite direction amuses him.

"You can let us go!" someone towards the back of the restaurant bravely calls. "We'll just slip out the back door. No harm done." I sigh in annoyance, but soon that single voice of hope grows into a multitude of voices. They all begin to beg and plead, the low uproar of voices continuing to add to the pulsing migraine behind my right eye.

"That is enough!" I snap at the room and it instantly begins to hush. "If you want to escape then go ahead and try. It won't be my fault when you get your brains blown out. As for me releasing you... you're wasting your time. So either try to escape or shut up, 'cause I'm getting really tired of hearing you people talk."

The room quiets and although I meant what I said, I'm surprised that they actually listened.

"Uh, excuse me, ma'am," a familiar voice pipes up. I turn my head to see Dr. Thomas Elliot standing up, looking towards me. Surprisingly, he seems to have come to dinner alone. "I don't meant to interrupt this quiet game of yours, but this woman needs a doctor." He points to the woman that I shot in the arm earlier. "I am, in fact, a doctor and I'd be willing to help her. However, I don't want to be shot the moment I leave my chair."

"If she keeps pressure on the wound, she'll be fine," I reply evenly, continuing to coat my voice in a thick Brooklyn accent. "She doesn't need to see a doctor until after we're done here."

"I don't know," he replies. "She's losing a lot of blood. Perhaps I could make her a tourniquet. At least let me examine the wound, I might be able to help more than you'd think."

Behind my mask, I raise an eyebrow. From all of the times I had talked to Dr. Elliot, he had never seemed like the kind of person to leap into action unless there was something in it for him. Maybe he genuinely wants to help, but I have a feeling that he has something clever up his sleeve. I'm interested to know what it is, but I'm not going to risk ruining J's entire operation to indulge that curiosity. I jump as there's a loud gunshot in the kitchen, then quickly regain my composure and turn back to Dr. Elliot.

"I think she'll be fine. If you'd just have a seat-"

"Oh, let him play the hero if he wants to," the Joker calls, stepping into the main dining room. "We all know how badly it ends for them." Dr. Elliot hurries over to the bleeding woman on the floor and the Joker throws something hard at me. I successfully, but barely catch it.

I examine the clear bottle for a long moment, trying to decide what the powdery white substance is inside. It's only about a quarter of the way full and I doubt that it's powdered sugar since it's in a seasonings jar. Hmm, what type of seasoning is white? I flip it over to examine the bottom of the jar to see if there's a label, but the only thing on the bottom of the container is a black X drawn in sharpie.

"Is this arsenic?" I question.

"Mm-hmm. One of the, uh, high class chefs was getting a little generous with that particular seasoning." I glance down at the bottle, then set it down on a nearby table. No wonder there was a gunshot in the kitchen. "I had to fire the poor fellow, he just wasn't good for business. Mm, but he'll easily be replaced. Right, Pumpkin?"

Who's Pumpkin? I glance up to see that the question is directed towards me. Huh, of all the names he could've called me instead of Harley, he chose Pumpkin. I'm not quite sure if I like the nickname or not just yet. Aside from the nickname, I'm fairly certain that the entire statement itself is a jab at my "replaceable" doctoral life at Arkham. I'd be more offended if he hadn't convinced me that it was true.

"That's right, Puddin'," I reply, using the first nickname that comes to mind. It sounds oddly suiting in my Brooklyn accent.

"Uh, excuse me," Dr. Elliot pipes up. I both cringe at and admire the way he fearlessly speaks up. He's not stupid enough to announce anything revolutionary or rebellious, but he speaks up nonetheless. "I think that I can stop the bleeding, or minimize it at least, if I were to get a hot rag from the kitchen. I'd like to test the temperature of the water myself of course, because it can't be too lukewarm and it can't be too scalding either."

The Joker shoes him with a careless hand gesture towards the kitchen and Dr. Elliot calmly enters through the swinging doors. Huh, the Joker must be feeling generous tonight. Well, I doubt that Dr. Elliot can take down three armed men single handedly either. Maybe the Joker simply doesn't see the harm in letting him go back there.

The Joker grabs a glass half-filled with wine from a nearby table and takes a deep swig, downing the rest of the glass. "Now, let's get down to business," he sings, slamming the glass down on the table so hard that I'm surprised it doesn't shatter. I faintly notice that the rim of the glass is lightly smeared with red greasepaint. "Where is Mrs. Arkham?"

I see Dr. Arkham's wife slink lower into her chair next to the window, as if trying to become invisible. "Don't be shy," the Joker announces with a cackle of laughter. I watch as her hands begin to visibly shake, despite the fact that she's clutching the sides of her black and silver dress in fear. She shuts her eyes, as if not seeing the clown at the front of the room would make it all go away. Her face pales and despite the relative calmness in her demeanor, I can tell that she's freaking out on the inside.

"I wonder," the Joker muses, tapping a finger to his chin comically. He pulls the man nearest to him roughly out of his seat and quickly produces a knife from his coat pocket. "If Mrs. Arkham doesn't come out to play, by the time I count to three... well, let's just say that he won't be around to see the, uh, fireworks."

"Stop," Mrs. Arkham calls, standing up calmly. "No one needs to die here."

"I think that your husband would, uh, disagree."

"Whatever my husband has done doesn't need to affect these people," she reasons, her voice mostly steady. "That's between you and him. These people don't need to be a part of it. Innocent people don't have to die."

"Innocent?" the Joker repeats with hyena-like laughter. "No, no, I think you're mistaking wealth and, uh, importance with innocence. 'Cause no one in here is innocent." The Joker takes a step towards her, wagging the knife in his hands in her general direction. She takes a large step back. "You look nervous? Is it the scars? Ya wanna know how I got 'em?"

Mrs. Arkham doesn't reply, but he continues on anyway. "I had a wife once. She was nurse... like you. And one day her boss just lost it. He carved her up nice and good with a scalpel. She was too ashamed to look at herself and I just wanted to see her smile again. So, I take a razor blade and do this to myself and she can't stand the sight of me. She thought that I was the freak. But look at the bright side, now I'm always smiling."

Behind my mask I can feel myself scowling. He had lied to me... or he's lying to her... or he's lying to the both of us. He had never mentioned a wife to me, he had said that his father gave him those scars. He has told so many variations of the story, I don't know why I thought that the one he told me had to be true. I guess I had just thought that maybe I was different. Maybe he had trusted me enough to tell me what really happened.

I guess you'll never know, I think to myself dismally. Maybe he doesn't even know what really happened.

Four staggered, very loud gunshots startle me out of my thoughts. The Joker releases his newfound grip on Mrs. Arkham's neck and turns towards the kitchen, where the shots came from. "Go check that out," he snaps at one of the henchmen pacing around. The goon quickly goes over to the kitchen, gun raised, and disappears inside the swinging doors.

"Mm, now where were we?" the Joker resumes. "I don't know, let's, uh, move on. Let's play a game," he suggests, although no one really has a choice. "Raise your hand if you're a doctor." The room remains still and the Joker sighs impatiently. "Games only work if people participate," he growls, the threat evident in his voice.

Slowly, ever so slowly, a few people begin to raise their hands. I count three doctors in total, but I have a hunch that there's a few more who won't raise their hands. "See, now was that so hard?" the Joker chides. "Mm, to start the game off, why don't you, uh, fine citizens tell us what you do."

"We're all doctors," one of the standing men says.

The Joker smacks his lips together, unamused. "Yes, yes, we know that. What kind are you?" he snaps.

"I'm a heart surgeon, a cardiothoracic one to be exact," he replies. "I do the occasional heart transplant, install pacemakers, do various procedures to improve blood flow, and other things of that nature."

"I'm a pediatric physician," the only girl out of the three speaks up. "I run the children's clinic at Gotham Memorial."

"I'm an oncologist," the last of three answers. "I find cancer, do biopsies, and oversee treatments. Sometimes, if it's an emergency, I consult with the ER too."

"Thank you for your, uh, cooperation," he tells them with a high pitched laugh. "Now this is where the game gets interesting," he growls, seeming gleefully pleased. The Joker walks back over to Mrs. Arkham and gestures to the three doctors. "You get to decide which one of them gets to go back to their pretty little home tonight."

"What?" she questions sharply.

"Their lives are in your hands," the Joker replies with a sinister grin. "You're going to pick 'em off one by one until there's only one left. 'Cause we all know that there can only be one winner."

"I'm not killing anyone," she vows seriously. "You'll have to kill me before I lay down an innocent life."

"You aren't killing them," he clarifies. "No, no, my friend over there," he points to me, "is going to be the one killing them. You've got the, uh, easy job. You just have to pick who lives and who dies," he tells her, as if it really were that simple. "Don't worry, this will all tie back into your husband later. You'll see. Now make your choice, I'm sure my friend over there is, uh, getting antsy."

You bastard, I spit towards him mentally. Part of me knows that he's trying to do this somewhat for my own benefit, but another part of me knows that he's probably doing this because I didn't kill the woman who tried to get away. You should've just killed the escapee, Harls. It would've saved you a lot of trouble.

"I'm not doing this," Mrs. Arkham announces flatly, crossing her arms. "You can kill me, that's fine, but I'm not deciding who deserves to live."

"Pumpkin?" the Joker calls, turning away from Mrs. Arkham.

"Yes, Puddin'?" I question, trying to keep the wariness out of my voice. I know that he won't kill Mrs. Arkham, not yet anyways, which means that his soon to be announced request will probably involve killing the innocent, or mainly innocent I should say. Either way, my heart rate starts to increase.

"Kill all three of 'em."

Dammit J, I mentally growl, raising the gun towards the nearest doctor, which happens to be the heart surgeon. As bad as it sounds, I personally would've chosen this one to live. Mrs. Arkham doesn't get the point of the game just yet, but I do and the heart surgeon is the least replaceable out of all three of them.

"Wait! Stop!" Mrs. Arkham frantically calls. "Don't kill all of them... that's not... that's not right!"

"Then you'd better, uh, pick one," the Joker replies. "We don't have all night."

Mrs. Arkham studies the three people for a few long moments, putting her hand over her mouth at the horror of having to kill two of them. She doesn't even technically have to kill them, that's unfortunately my job. I can't imagine why she's so much more upset than I am. Even though their deaths will technically be on my hands, she'll probably blame herself and play the helpless victim card for a far longer time than I will. Well, I wouldn't exactly play the victim card, I did chose this life after all. I'll probably just brood over their deaths in dark silence, assuming that I feel anything at all.

"Let the girl live," Mrs. Arkham announces quietly, her voice hoarse and her words weighing heavily.

"Alright, Pumpkin-"

"You're only letting her live because she's a girl," I accuse incredulously, surprisingly angry.

"That's not true-"

"No?" I demand. "So if she was a man, you wouldn't have a change of heart?"

"No, I wouldn't."

I let out a short, uncharacteristically snide laugh. "You're telling me that you picked the least useful and the least important person out of the entire group for a reason besides gender?"

"They're all important! They all save lives!" she cries. "Have you any idea how hard it is to decide who lives or dies? Maybe it's easy for you because you're some petty crook who does it for quick cash, but it's not easy for someone like me. Someone who doesn't kill or harm or torment people for fun. You people don't understand because you're insane, crazy, freaks, and most of all rotten to the core. It's because of you that people are so corrupt in this city," she sneers angrily.

"Corrupt?" I repeat, another bubble of anger welling up inside of me. I open my mouth to speak, but the Joker raises a gloved hand to silence me. He chuckles loudly to himself and then turns to Mrs. Arkham.

"You've managed to upset my reasonably, uh, calm friend over there. Do ya know why that is?"

"It's because she's a freak. It's because I don't enjoy torturing people like-"

"Like your husband?" I interject. "I hate to break this to you Amy, but your husband has done worse things than I have." I'm not saying that to be spiteful either, I consider it to be true. I've killed three people, yes, but I did it quickly. I did it because I didn't really have any other choice. Dr. Jeremiah Arkham willing and continuously tortures Pam. And in my book, torture is worse than murder.

"Calm down, Pumpkin," the Joker tells me, his voice full of amusement. "Mrs. Arkham's just a little, uh, biased. We have to make her see the point."

"I don't see much point in killing two innocent people," she retorts.

The Joker sighs, as if she's the most insolent person he's ever met. "My dear, can you please show our guest here the, uh, choice that everyone who's unbiased is mentally thinking?"

"Sure thing, Puddin'," I reply, a knot forming in my stomach. I aim the gun at the woman, my heart beginning to beat fast. It takes all my will power to keep my hands from shaking as I mentally scream, I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't do this.

I take deep breath, trying to soothe my erratic heartbeat. You can do this, I tell myself. Two of them are going to die regardless of if you shoot them or not. The only thing is, if you don't shoot them... the Joker might shoot you. I don't want to disappoint the Joker. I really don't want to. I have to do this. I have to kill them.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Three bullets hurl out of the barrel of my gun and towards her. The first bullet misses completely, but the last two hit their targets. The second bullet catches her in the middle of her abdomen and the third bullet hits her right above the right side of her chest. The shots themselves aren't fatal and missed most of her major organs, but she’ll bleed out quickly. Unless EMTs arrive in the next couple of minutes, she's done for.

I turn towards the oncologist and aim the gun. He's important and less replaceable than the woman, but he isn't as important as the heart surgeon. Although, I doubt the Joker cares for any of these people or their jobs. The point of the game is to teach Mrs. Arkham a lesson, not to be merciful or agree with the whims of society, but because the Joker and I both know that everyone in this room would've picked the heart surgeon. They're all just too proud or ashamed to admit it.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

All three bullets hit their marks this time and the oncologist falls to the ground. Again, none of the shots that I fired had been kill shots, considering my little experience with guns, but he'll bleed out soon enough. If anything, the oncologist might actually die before the pediatric physician. Oh well, what did it matter anyway? The deed is done and over, they're both taken care of.

I turn back to the Joker, just now realizing that room has broken out into an uproar of screams and panic. "Shut up!" I growl loudly in my Brooklyn accent. I just killed two people and I'm not entirely sure that I'm okay with that just yet, I really don't need the panic of the entire room reminding me of what I’ve just done. "Everyone just shut the hell up!"

The room quiets and the Joker chuckles loudly. "This is the angriest I've ever seen her," he tells the crowd, as if it's a secret. "Ya know-"

"There was no point to that!" Mrs. Arkham shouts, interrupting him. "There was absolutely no point at all to killing them. They were good people. They did a lot for this city, more than you and your psychotic girlfriend over there ever have. The only point you're making about my husband is that he's a better man than you are."

"Better," the Joker repeats, as if tasting the word on his tongue. "That's not exactly the, uh, moral of the game." He abruptly swings his gun towards the last doctor and shoots, the bullets hitting him right in the chest. The third doctor falls to the ground, joining his fellow colleagues. "Ya see, even he is replaceable, almost everyone is. Aside from people like me, people who don't fit the, uh, norm. No one wants to replace me, no one believes that they can, uh, fulfill my job to this city. The, uh, monsters and the freaks, they'll be around forever."

"You're insane," she tells him. "They were right to lock you up in that place. No one's going to remember you. No one's going to want to remember the nightmare you were. You and your little friends will be long gone before the good people of this city are."

"Pumpkin, why don't you see what's going on in the kitchen," the Joker suggests. "I think Mrs. Arkham needs to play another game. One that might get a little, uh, heated."

"Sure," I reply as he pulls the second small detonator out of his pocket. I quickly leave the room, happy to be free of the heavy air. I try to shove the thoughts of murder out of my mind, but it's incredibly hard to get killing out of my head as soon as I enter the kitchen.

Two henchmen lay on the floor in bloody pools, apparently shot to death. Another henchman lies on the floor with his neck slashed, probably by the bloody steak knife that's on the counter. The fourth henchman that the Joker had sent in earlier also lies dead on the floor, his head apparently bashed in by some unknown object. Besides the four dead bodies, the room is seemingly empty of people.

I step further into the room and press two gloved fingers to the goon with the bashed head's neck. I'm fairly certain from the wounds that he's dead, but you never know. I stand there for a long moment, but I don't feel any beats beneath my fingers. The Joker is going to be pissed that Dr. Elliot managed to get away. I sincerely hope that he doesn't make me go out looking for him.

"Don't move, clown," a familiar voice growls near my ear and something hard presses against my back. Looks like I might not have to go out looking for Dr. Elliot after all.

"Don't shoot," I reply, dropping the Brooklyn accent. I turn around slowly, then whisper, "Tommy, it's me."

"Harley?" he questions in a low whisper. He lowers the gun and his voice resumes a normal volume. "I knew you'd be destined for greater things," he tells me knowingly. "I'd love to stay and chit chat with you, but I'd really rather go now. Is that alright with you or...?"

"Um," I begin warily. We are allies after all and he had saved Selina's life, I can't exactly stop him from leaving. The Joker would be furious if he found out, which I doubt he will, but if he did I could simply explain that I had made a deal with Dr. Elliot, which is true. We had agreed to be allies and allies don't exactly push each other into life threatening situations. I don't want to lie to J, but I don't want to get Dr. Elliot killed either. Doctors aren't exactly lasting long around here.

"You can go ahead and leave. I'll say that you were long gone before I came in here, but do not mention it to anyone," I allow, hoping that this decision won't come back to bite me in the ass. "You could get me killed. Understand?"

"I understand perfectly," he replies, heading towards the door. "I wouldn't have enjoyed hurting you anyway." He exits the kitchen and I take a long moment to gather my thoughts, then head towards the door back into the main room. As soon as I reach the door, the lights in the entire restaurant go out and my heart skips a beat. This could only mean one thing.

The Batman has arrived.

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