As much as I want to watch the Joker enact whatever he's got up his sleeve, my logic forces me to slowly creep into the hallway behind me while the rest of the crowd remains in shock. I open the doors to the hallway just enough so that I can slip through them and then make my way into the stairwell, shutting the door quietly behind me. As I hurriedly begin my descent down the stairs, I pull my cell phone out of my purse and instead of calling the police (since I'm sure they'll be here soon enough), I call Selina.
"Hey, Harls," she greets on the fourth ring. I can hear the faint sound of a TV in the background, as well as a microwave going nearby. Huh, she must not be up to any mischief tonight. That is, unless she isn't in her own apartment using her own microwave. "Is the party really bad enough for you to call me within the first hour?"
"The Joker's here," I tell her, stopping in front of the door leading into the ninth floor. I yank at the handle hard, but it's locked. Even though it's fruitless, I rattle and pull at the handle a few more desperate times. Swearing under my breath, I abandon my efforts and begin going down the next flight of stairs.
"What do you mean the Joker's there?" she demands, her voice going up a pitch higher.
"He just burst into the party and shot a round of bullets at the ceiling." I stop on the eighth floor landing and pull hard at the door handle. This one doesn't budge, which probably means that none of the other doors will either. Of course, because hiding out would be too easy, I think to myself bitterly. Despite the odds that are weighing against the next door being unlocked, I begin hurriedly descending to the seventh floor.
"Are you okay?"
"No, I was just calling to tell you that I've been shot," I reply sarcastically, tugging at the seventh floor entrance door to no avail. I rest my hand on the door and take in a deep, slightly panicked breath.
"That's not funny," she tells me pointedly. "Where are you?"
"I'm in the stairwell, trying to hide out on one of the other floors, but all of the damn doors are locked."
"Aren't you in a hotel?" she questions.
"Shouldn't the stairwell be open to all of the guests?"
"They're renovating," I reply. I'd seen it on a sign at the front desk. The sign had said something about improving the hotel guests’ quality of living with advanced heating insulation or something like that. "Only the ballrooms are open for business."
"Hmm, let me think." She pauses for a short moment. "Is there an air vent that you can fit through?"
I glance around me, spotting one about forty feet above my head. There isn't a ladder around and I doubt, even with my gymnastic skills, that I can scale the walls up to the vent. "No, there isn't."
"Is there an emergency exit door at the base of the stairwell?" I glance downwards, only to see six more sets of stairs. If only we weren't in a ten story building, I think to myself wistfully, beginning to run down the next flight of stairs. "Harley?"
"I'm still here," I reply breathlessly, tugging on the sixth floor door. Again, this one doesn't budge. "Just give me a minute," I tell her, entering the flight of stairs leading down to the fifth floor. I stop on the fifth floor landing and try the door, which also proves to be locked. I let out a frustrated huff and lean against the locked door, taking a moment just to breathe, shutting my eyes as I do so.
"There she is!" I open my eyes to find two men in clown masks rushing towards me. "Don't move or I'll shoot!" The taller of the two henchmen raises his machine gun towards me warningly.
"What was that?" Selina questions worriedly.
"That was my chance of escaping going down the drain," I mutter solemnly. "I'm going to have to call you back." She attempts to protest, but I quickly end the call and stuff my phone back into the small purse that I brought with me. "How can I help you gentlemen?" I question pleasantly, trying the nice approach.
"Are you Harley? The boss said you'd be blonde and real pretty. He said you'd be smart too, trying to get away and stuff." It's flattering that the Joker thinks that I'm smart and pretty, very flattering, but why is he sending his goons after me?
"If you lower your weapon, then I'll tell you anything you want to know, okay?" I suggest. "This doesn't have to end badly for anyone, including yourselves. We can all-"
"That's definitely her," the shorter one announces. "She's all calm and talking like a shrink."
"You sure? Boss will kill us if we're wrong."
"Yes, I'm sure," the shorter one snaps. "Come on, lady, let's go. Up the stairs."
"Now why would I do that?" I quip. "You haven't told me anything except that your ‘boss’ sent you to come get me, but for what reason?" I keep my tone strong and calm, challenging them. I'm not afraid of these two mindless goons. What I am afraid of is what might happen after they've delivered me to wherever the Joker wants me to be. Who knows what the Joker has in store for tonight, or what role I might play in it for that matter.
"Look, lady, I've got a gun," he tells me, waving the metal weapon around threateningly. "You're going to do whatever I say or-"
"Or you'll shoot me?" I finish for him, crossing my arms. "See, I don't think you can do that. I don't think your boss would be too happy if you brought him my corpse."
"He doesn't care what we do with you, as long as we get you there alive. We could shoot you in the leg and he wouldn't even care."
"If you shot me in the leg, I wouldn't be able to walk," I inform him slowly, allowing what I'm saying to sink in. "Do you really want to carry me up five flights of stairs?"
"We could just shoot you in the arm," the second clown adds.
"Ah, I don't think that's a good idea. I could easily bleed out from my arm," I half lie. I could bleed out, depending on the time it took me to get to a hospital or if they managed to hit an artery. Although, I sincerely doubt that either of them even know that there actually are arteries in the arm, let alone know where they are.
"You're bluffing," he argues.
"Fine, shoot me in the arm," I challenge, silently hoping that he won't actually do it. "See if the person who went to medical school is right." The two clowns turn towards each other, silently trying to decide whether or not I'm bluffing.
The sound of heavy footsteps reaches my ears and it momentarily distracts the two clowns from their silent debate. A few moments later, a third clown appears. He stops about two stories down, aims his gun, and sends a ricochet of bullets over our heads. I duck down instinctively, whereas the first two clowns begin to argue with the third.
"What the fuck was that for, man?" the shorter one whines. "You almost shot me."
"Why the fuck are you sitting around talking to the girl," the third clown shoots back. "Shouldn't she be up on the roof by now?" The roof, what was happening on the roof? Several horribly tragic scenarios run through my mind, each one resulting in either my death, severe injury, or a horrible effect on my mental health. Nothing pleasant can come from being taken to the roof.
"We were getting to it," the taller one snaps. "We just found her. Come on, let's go," he tells me, yanking me up hard by my upper arm. I follow the clowns reluctantly up the stairwell, keeping my eyes peeled for any means of escape. I would've tried to run, had there not been three of them. I might be able to outrun one, maybe even two, but the three of them together would more than likely end up with them tackling or restraining me somehow.
The guns hadn't really worried me before the third clown showed up. Something tells me that he’s not playing around and that he won't easily be fooled by medical lies and bluffs. I don't doubt that this one will shoot me in the leg either. He'd probably make me walk on it anyway, or at least that was the impression I'd gotten from him so far.
We follow the stairs all the way up to the roof, where one of the clowns produces a key to unlock the door. The third clown shoves the door open and a sharp gust of wind cuts though me. I shiver, stepping out onto the snow covered roof. I cross my arms tightly as the cold December air bites at my exposed arms and cheeks.
They lead me over to the middle of the roof, where a single chair rests. "Sit," the third clown snaps. I brush the thin layer of snow that's settled over the seat off and sit down calmly, thinking out my options. So far, I'm coming up blank.
"What now?" I ask. The third clown swings the end of his gun back and then hits me hard across the face in response. The butt of the gun catches me across cheek, making my eyes tear up in pain. I can feel my cheek redden and turn feverish against the icy weather. I touch it briefly, wincing in pain as my fingers come in contact with the puffy, tender skin.
I know that it doesn't help the situation and I know that it's not smart, but I can't help myself. "What the hell is wrong with you?" I snap at him.
"What did you just say to me?" he demands, raising the gun. "What did you just say to me?"
"Whoa, hey buddy, put the gun down," the shorter goon requests. "Boss said we couldn't kill her."
"He didn't say we couldn't mess her up a bit, though." He aims the gun at my thigh and I shut my eyes tightly. Dammit, Harley, why did you have to go and open your mouth? There are several loud BANG's and I brace myself for the pain, but it never comes.
I open my eyes slowly, relaxing my tense position. I glance down at my legs to see that they're unscathed beneath my dress. In front of my legs, however, is a gruesome sight. The third clown lies dead in front of me with bullet holes all over his chest. The blood from the wounds pools around him, tainting the white snow red. Even though the man had just tried to shoot me, the sight of his dead body sickens me.
"That, Harley," a familiar voice quips, "was a bad man. You don't want to know the kind of things he's done for money." The Joker steps into view and I'm oddly welcomed by the sight of him. I'm terrified out of my mind of course, but deep down something irrational in me is glad to see him, glad to see that he's okay. It's odd and I know that I shouldn't, but I feel safer with him here than I do with the goons alone.
"Mr. J," I greet. "How are you doing?"
He lets out a low chuckle. "How am I doing, Harley? In case you haven't noticed," he gestures to the snow covered roof around us, "we aren't exactly in a, uh, therapy session."
"I can see that."
"Ah, then you're trying to talk me down," he realizes. "Uh, good luck with that. Hold on, I've got something for you." He pats his chest pocket, then scrounges around in his bottom coat pockets. "I know they're in here somewhere," he mutters. His purple gloved hands move onto his inside coat pockets, where he retrieves three little black boxes.
"Ah, here we are." He turns them over to reveal that each one has a different colored button on the top. I've seen enough movies and heard enough from the news to know that he's got three detonators resting in his hands. There's no telling what each one of them blows up.
"It's always been a, uh, tradition in my family to open a gift on Christmas Eve," he tells me with a short chuckle. Part of me doubts that he's being serious, but another part of me wants to give him the benefit of the doubt. "Pick one," he requests, holding them out to me.
"Me?" he questions with a mock gasp. "Never." He bursts into an array of laughter, clutching his side with one arm. He gasps, coming up for air, and then lets out a smaller laugh. "No, really. Pick one."
"I'm not going to pick a detonator." I am most certainly not going to responsible for the death of anyone inside wherever the Joker had rigged explosives.
"I'm kind of on a tight schedule here, Harley."
"I'm not going to pick one," I repeat firmly.
The Joker sighs. "Fine." He stashes two of the detonators in his pocket, leaving out the red one. He slams his hand down on the button and there's a moments delay before, BOOM. I cringe, ducking down and covering my head as the building beneath us shakes and the sound of falling glass and crumbling walls fill my ears. The Joker laughs manically and claps his hands in amusement, gleefully delighted at the sight of the burning building in front of us.
"What did you just blow up?" I demand worriedly, rising up from my huddled position. I watch as the building in front of us crumbles to the ground, smashing a few parked cars on the way down. I detect a faint hue of orange inside of the crumbling building as the flames inside of it begin to expand.
"Uh, I think it was a bank," he replies leisurely. The door to the roof opens loudly and three men in clown masks walk towards us. "Glad you could make it, boys. Watch her, and make sure she doesn't try to escape." His voice drops to a low whisper, the tone just loud enough so that I can hear their conversation. "I'd watch out if I were you, that one's a fighter," he tells the goons with an amused grin.
The Joker lets out a short cackle and walks back over to the door. "Wait, where are you going?" I call. Please don't leave me alone with these goons, I think to myself. I don't particularly want to be alone with the Joker either, but who knows what these men might do. They all must be a little crazy, or at least have some sort of mental problem, to be working for the Joker. Just look at the dead henchman's anger problems.
"I've got a party to get back to," he tells me with a laugh, then turns back to his henchmen. "Oh, I almost forgot. If you see the Batman or if I don't make it back up here in, uh, fifteen minutes... throw her off the roof.""What?" I question shrilly, terror seeping into my tone. I watch as the Joker, without another word, disappears through the door into the stairwell. He isn't serious. He can't be serious. They aren't really going to throw me off of the roof, right? Right?
Time passes fast, despite the lack of motion up on the frigid rooftop. The henchmen walk around the roof and patrol the area, but they don't speak much, aside from announcing time intervals. The wind refuses to let up any, soon making me shiver and my teeth chatter. With each passing minute, the possibility of me being splattered against the side walk ten stories down grows more and more eminent. My thoughts continue to grow even more frantic as I desperately try to think of a solution.
"Ten minutes," the fourth guard announces. What do I do? What do I do? I think frantically, knowing that I might only have ten minutes left to live. I can't exactly fight off five grown men, let alone five grown men with guns, and I can't count on the Joker to make it back in time, considering Batman might keep him preoccupied for a while. So, what can I do? I eye the door to the stairwell desperately. Could I make a run for it and lock them out? I don't even know if that door can lock from the inside. It seems risky, but it's my only shot.
At that moment, the door to the stairwell opens just enough for someone in a very familiar black body suit to slip through. I'm half convinced that I'm hallucinating from the cold as Selina, dressed in her black Catwoman suit complete with the ears, goggles, and a black bag slung over her shoulder, crouches down and runs behind the outer wall of the small room encasing the stairwell. I quickly glance at each of the goons, realizing that I can only see four of them, which means that the fourth one is... uh-oh.
There's a small sound, similar to a gasp, and then all goes quiet. "Did you hear that?" the third clown asks sharply.
"Hear what?" I ask innocently, keeping my eyes averted from the stairwell.
"It came from behind the stairwell," he informs them. "Hey Mark! You alright back there?" There's a long moment of silence. "Mark, that isn't funny man, come on. Mark!"
"Mark's taking a catnap," Selina tells them in a sultry voice, slinking out from behind the small room. The henchmen stand there for a stunned moment, eyeing my friend in surprise.
"You're," the first clown begins.
"Catwoman?" she finishes for him. "Harley here is an old friend of mine, would you gentlemen be so kind as to let her go?" she inquires sweetly. "I prrrromise we'll be gone in flash," she vows, rolling the r.
"Sorry, kitten," the fourth clown announces, stepping towards her. "I'm afraid that's not possible."
"Why's that?" she purrs.
"The boss wants her here, so our job's to keep her from leaving," he retorts. "So, if I were you, I'd leave before things get too messy. I'd hate to get blood all over that nice outfit of yours."
"You think so?" she muses.
"Mm, it's in your best interest."
"Thanks for the advice," she roundhouse kicks him, catching him squarely across the jaw, "kitten." He lunges for her throat, but she quickly ducks and manages to kick him in the groin. He hunches over and she slides behind him, digging the boot of her heel straight into the small of his back. He pitches forward and on the way to the ground, he smacks his head against the wall of the roof and falls limply to the floor. She shoves his machine gun away from him and slides across the snow covered roof, narrowly dodging several bullets from the other henchmen.
I slide my heels off and leap out of my chair, tripping the clown closest to me. He falls to the ground and I kick him hard in the ribs. While he's down, I sprint towards the unconscious clown's gun. As my fingers lock around the cold metal, something heavy crashes against me. I lose my grip on the gun as I collide with the low wall of the roof.
The clown who tackled me grabs me by the hair and yanks me up into a standing position. He punches me in the face, his fist connecting painfully with the front of my nose. There's a snapping sound as I hear it break and as of right now, I'm getting pretty tired of having my nose broken by criminals. I bring my leg up high and snap out, turning as I do so. The motion catches him across the side of the face, sending him reeling towards the ground. He hits the roof hard, his head taking most of the impact. I watch him for a long moment, but he doesn't get up.
I pick up the machine gun from his unconscious body and frantically look around for Selina. My heart drops when I don't see her or the two remaining henchmen. Please don't be dead, please don't be dead.
My spirits lighten as I spot her somersaulting away from the stairwell, a stream of bullets following close behind. "Fight me like a real man," she challenges the clown in pursuit of her. "Put down the gun and use your fists. Unless you're scared," she taunts.
He drops the gun and the two begin to wrangle, Selina lithe and graceful, the clown messy and brutal. I draw my eyes away from the two of them and scour the roof for the final gunman. Unless he's behind the building, the only other place he could be is in the stairwell. This is a bad idea, I think to myself as I creep over to the side of the small room.
I shouldn't look. I really shouldn't look. As soon as I do, I'm probably going to get my head blown off. I don't want that. I don't want to die. Why did I have to go to this party? Why tonight?
I turn my head to look around the corner, mentally swearing like a sailor. I quickly glance behind the building, but there's no one there, aside from the first clown's unconscious body. I breathe in a sigh of relief, realizing that the bastard fled the scene.
I step away from the side of the small building and make my way over to the center of the roof. I watch as Selina successfully takes down the clown, one foot placed on his chest triumphantly. Behind her, against the opposite side of the building that I was on, something moves. I squint my eyes, trying to see what's moving and what I see makes my heart drop.
Without thinking, my finger latches onto the trigger and bullets fly. The gun in my hands kicks back hard, hitting me in the stomach, and the sound of firing bullets makes my ears ring. I watch with shaking hands as the clown behind Selina gets hit with bullets multiple times, blood splattering everywhere. He falls to the ground at the same moment that I drop the machine gun.
I killed him. I shot him down. I took his life.
Selina turns around to look at the sight behind her and covers her mouth in shock. "You... you saved me," she announces warily. "He almost killed me and I wouldn't have even," she covers her mouth again, unable to finish the sentence.
I stand there for a moment, completely still. I should feel horror and remorse and disgust. It was self-defense, I couldn't have just let Selina die, but I killed a man. I killed him, shot him dead. There should be at least been a spark of something, an emotion of some kind, but I'm not horrified or disgusted with myself. I don't regret what I just did. I don't have an overwhelming urge to cry in relief or scream in frustration at the events that had just occurred.
Instead, I feel nothing. Nothing at all. I'm relieved that Selina is still alive, but beyond that I just feel numb.
She turns back towards me and gasps. "Harley, look out!" Two arms lace around my waist and hoist me into the air before I can even turn my head to look. I kick and lash out at my attacker, but he doesn't budge.
"Time's up," the voice of the fourth, previously unconscious, henchman tells me. He throws me forward, off of the roof of the building. An earsplitting scream erupts out of me as I desperately grab at anything to latch onto, but there's nothing. The only thing that my hands manage to grab at is empty air. There is nothing to stop the fall, nothing to break it. It's just me, the ground, and one hundred feet of empty air.
I look down to see the building whizzing past me and the ground hurtling towards me. A heavy feeling settles in the pit of my stomach as I realize that this is it, this is the end. I'm going to die.