"George, why don't you just pull over and ask for directions?"
"I know where I'm going, Gladys. We just gotta hope this pile of junk gets us there in one piece. Thing feels like it's gonna fall apart any second now."
"You could have borrowed the company car, surely?"
"Nah, that bucket of bolts broke down ages ago. Anyway, boss says he'll pay for the gas."
"Well, that's something, at least."
"It's nothing if it can't get us there without breaking down."
"Are we there yet, Daddy?"
"Soon, Harley, quit asking that, would ya?"
Harleen Quinzel sighed, leaning back in the backseat and staring out the window again, bored. She cuddled her teddy bear tightly against her chest and popped a bubble of gum.
"Harley, please stop that!" shouted George Quinzel, her father, as he whirled around. "Just sit still and be quiet, like a good girl!"
"But I'm bored, Daddy!" whined Harley.
"Talk to Mr. Bear, huh, Harley?" asked Gladys Quinzel, Harley's mother, giving her a patient smile. "Tell him how excited you are about getting to see Gotham City."
"I already told him," replied Harley, studying her teddy bear carefully. "He's excited to be there too. But he wants to know how much longer it's gonna take."
"Well, we're in Gotham now," said Harley's mother, nodding out the window. "But the hotel we're staying in is around the other side of town, near the place your Daddy's got his business meeting."
"West side," said Harley's father, nodding. "Business district. Not this dump."
"Don't look that much different from Brooklyn," said Harley, staring out the window.
"Doesn't look that much different from Brooklyn," corrected her father. "You need to talk like a big girl now, huh, Harley? You're almost four, so you need to speak like a grown up. You don't wanna grow up with bad speech patterns so everyone will think you're stupid, do ya?"
"No, Daddy," agreed Harley, playing with the arms of her teddy bear.
"Why don't you pull over at that gas station, George, so we can fill up the tank?" asked Harley's mother, pointing. "And maybe they'll have a mechanic there who can have a look at the car…"
"I sell cars, Gladys!" snapped Harley's father. "I'll tell you what's wrong with the car – it's old, and it's got a lotta miles on it! There ain't no quick fix a mechanic can give it! They ain't miracle workers!"
"Let's just fill up the tank, then," said Harley's mother. "Please, George."
He sighed but obeyed, pulling into the gas station. "Harley, you and Mr. Bear wanna stretch your legs?" asked Mrs. Quinzel, turning to smile at her daughter.
"We sure do!" exclaimed Harley, opening the door and jumping out.
"Now Harley, don't go wandering off," snapped her father, grabbing her arm. "This is a dangerous neighborhood."
"Sure thing, Daddy," said Harley, nodding.
The proprietor of the gas station, a tall, thin, middle-aged, rat-faced man with pasty skin and dull eyes, approached them. "Fill 'er up, sir?" he asked.
"Yeah, thanks," said Mr. Quinzel, nodding. "You the owner?"
"Yes, sir," replied the man, reaching for the gas pump.
"You got anyone here who could take a look under the hood?" asked Mr. Quinzel. "Car's just been making some funny noises."
"Funny how?" asked the owner, putting down the pump and lifting the hood. His dull eyes had become interested, and while the two men examined the car, Harley skipped over to look at the ice creams in the gas station shop window. She suddenly heard a noise behind the building, and peered around the corner.
There was a small alley by the side of the building, full of broken cars and discarded parts. A young, teenage boy was seated on the hood of one of the broken cars, puffing on a cigarette. He was thin and pale, but with bright, strange, green eyes, eyes that were burning with a weird fire, thinking distant thoughts.
He looked up and saw Harley, and scowled. Then he put a finger to his lips as he held up the cigarette. "Let me know if you see my old man coming," he muttered. "He'd belt me if he saw me with a cigarette. I ain't supposed to be smoking."
"You aren't supposed to be smoking," corrected Harley, casually, as she swung Mr. Bear from one arm. "You're bigger than me – you should speak better than me."
The boy's scowl deepened. "Is that a fact, kid?" he muttered, inhaling from the cigarette.
"Yeah, it is," retorted Harley, firmly. "And you're a kid too. Just a bigger one than me."
"I'm sixteen," he snapped. "What are you, two?"
"I'm almost four!" snapped Harley.
The boy snorted. "Big girl," he muttered, sarcastically.
"Yeah, I am," retorted Harley, putting her hands on her hips. "I got a bigger brain than you, anyway. I know smoking is bad for you. You must be pretty stupid if you're sixteen and you ain't learned that yet."
He snorted again. "Why doncha come back when you've grown up, kid?" he muttered, inhaling from his cigarette again. "Maybe when you've lost the teddy bear."
"I ain't ever gonna lose him!" shrieked Harley, holding it tightly against her. "He's my best friend!"
"Christ, kid, doncha have any real friends to play with?" asked the boy, exhaling the cigarette.
"I don't need real friends," retorted Harley. "Mr. Bear is better than anybody real, because he can be whatever I want him to be."
"Mr. Bear?" snorted the boy, derisively. "Really? That's the best you can come up with? Ain't you got no imagination?"
"Yeah, I got a great imagination!" snapped Harley. "That's why I prefer Mr. Bear to real people! Real people are boring, because they don't change. Pretend people can be anything you imagine them to be."
The boy smiled. "What's your name, kid?" he asked, puffing on the cigarette.
"Harleen Frances Quinzel," replied Harley.
"Quite the mouthful there," he retorted.
"Yeah, call me Harley," she said. "Everyone does. What's your name?"
He exhaled a cloud of smoke. "Jack," he retorted.
"That's it? Just Jack?" asked Harley.
"Just Jack," he repeated, nodding. "Ain't gonna keep my old man's name, but I ain't decided on a new name for myself yet."
"Why ain't you gonna keep the name you were born with?" asked Harley.
"Because my old man's a scumbag," retorted Jack.
"That ain't a very nice thing to say about your Daddy," said Harley. "I love my Mommy and Daddy very much."
"Well, ain't you lucky, kiddo?" snapped Jack. "Lucky you got parents you can respect. That don't change the fact that my old man's a scumbag."
"Why do you think that?" asked Harley.
"Christ, kid, what are you, a goddamn shrink?" he snapped.
Harley clapped her hand over her ears. "Don't swear!" she cried. "That's bad!"
"Yeah, I'm a bad man, kid," he snapped.
"You ain't a man," retorted Harley. "You're a kid, just like me."
Jack was about to respond angrily, when a furious voice shouted, "Jack!"
The owner of the gas station suddenly rounded the corner, and the fury on his face only increased when he saw the cigarette in the boy's hand. "Jack, how many goddamn times have I gotta beat you before you stop stealing my goddamn smokes?!" he shouted.
"Don't shout at him!" piped up Harley. The owner looked down at her. "I…saw them in the window and wanted to know how they worked. He was showing me," she invented.
The owner took a deep breath, getting his temper under control. "Oh…well…don't worry about it, then, sweetie," he said, patting Harley on the head. "Jack, get off your lazy ass and wash the car windows while I find some spark plugs for the customers," he snapped, glaring at the boy.
Jack put out the cigarette reluctantly and slid to the ground, trudging over to the car. "Hurry up about it!" shouted the owner, striking Jack across the back of the head. "And smile for the customers, for God's sake!"
Jack didn't smile – his scowl deepened but he said nothing, grabbing a spray bottle and a rag. "Why is your Daddy so mean to you?" asked Harley, following him back to the car.
"Just shut up, kid!" snapped Jack.
Harley's eyes filled with tears at being spoken to in that tone, and she suddenly began crying.
"Hey, hey, kid, I'm sorry," muttered Jack, the fury in his eyes melting suddenly as he sank to his knees to look her in the face. "I ain't…I ain't angry at you. You don't need to cry."
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a dirty handkerchief, which he used to wipe the tears from her face. "In fact, I owe you one," he muttered. "Taking the wrap for that cigarette thing – you got guts, kid, I'll say that for you. Now, c'mon, stop crying. You're a big girl – you said so yourself. Big girls don't cry."
"They do if people are mean to them," muttered Harley, wiping her eyes.
"I am sorry about that, kid, really," he murmured. "Now stop crying, huh? Please?"
Harley nodded. "Apologize to Mr. Bear for shouting too," she said, holding the teddy bear out to him.
"I'm…sorry…Mr. Bear," said Jack, slowly.
Harley held the bear up to her ear and nodded. "He says it's ok. We're still friends."
"Well…that's a relief," said Jack, smiling as Harley took his hand and led him over to the car.
"Mommy, Daddy, this is my friend Jack," said Harley.
"You the owner's kid?" asked Mr. Quinzel, glancing up from the map.
"Yeah," muttered Jack.
"Better start cleaning the windows then," retorted Mr. Quinzel, looking back down.
Jack's jaw tightened, but he obeyed. "Harley, leave the boy to his work," said Mrs. Quinzel. "C'mere. You got dirt all over your face."
Jack's eyes burned in fury as he saw Mrs. Quinzel carefully clean Harley's face off from where his oil-covered handkerchief had just stained it. He unleashed his anger on the windows, scrubbing far harder than was strictly necessary. The owner returned with the spark plugs and began tinkering under the hood.
"There you go, Mr. Quinzel," he said, slamming the hood down at last. "That should get you as far as Gotham West anyway, and hopefully all the way back to Brooklyn."
"Yeah, I think I'll have to invest in a new car when we get home," agreed Mr. Quinzel. "Thanks for your help though, Mr. Napier. How much do I owe you?"
While they haggled the price, Mrs. Quinzel buckled Harley back into the backseat. Harley watched Jack's face as he leaned against the window studying the conversation, grim and unsmiling, eyes full of rage and pain and hatred. She tapped on the window and he looked over at her. She stuck her tongue out at him, making a face, and was pleased to see him grin. A grin that fell suddenly when Mr. Quinzel knocked past him. "Oh, sorry, kid," he said. "Uh…here's a tip for you," he said, handing him a dollar bill.
"Thank you…sir," muttered Jack, glaring at the bill furiously.
"Your old man sure does know a lot about cars," commented Mr. Quinzel as he opened the door to the driver's seat.
"Yes, sir," muttered Jack. "He does…know a lot about cars."
"If you're ever looking for a job in Brooklyn, you get in touch," said Mr. Quinzel. "We could use knowledgeable guys like you."
"We sure will, Mr. Quinzel," said Mr. Napier, approaching Jack and laying a hand on his shoulder. "You have a safe journey now. And I hope your business meeting goes well."
"Thank you. It was nice to have met you, Mr. Napier, and your boy."
"Bye bye, Jack!" called Harley, rolling down the window and sticking her head out.
"Bye, kid," he said, smiling at her. "Bye, Mr. Bear," he said, nodding at the teddy. "And remember, I owe you one," he murmured.
"Don't worry, I won't forget," she said, beaming.
Jack waved after her as they drove off. The moment they were gone, Mr. Napier's smile dropped. "Who the hell do they think they are?" he muttered, reaching for a cigarette. "Working class trash, same as us, and yet they think they're so much better. So high and mighty. Did you see the way they looked at us?"
"I don't think they meant it like that …" began Jack.
"Anybody ask what you think?" snapped Mr. Napier, rounding on him.
"No," muttered Jack.
"No what?" demanded Mr. Napier.
"No, sir," muttered Jack.
"That's better," snapped Mr. Napier, puffing on his cigarette. "And their spoiled little brat cost me a smoke. Should've charged them for that."
"She was a sweet kid," said Jack, softly.
"You contradicting me again, boy?" demanded Mr. Napier. "You giving me lip?"
"No, sir…" began Jack.
"I think you are," he interrupted. "I think you better change your tone, Jack, before I have to beat some respect into you. I'm your father. You respect me."
"Yes, sir," muttered Jack.
Mr. Napier inhaled from his cigarette. "You're too much like your mother, Jack, that's your problem," he muttered. "Disobedient, stubborn, antagonistic. No wonder she abandoned you. She probably ran away because she couldn't stand to see herself in you."
"It's not my fault she ran away," whispered Jack.
"What did you say?" murmured Mr. Napier.
"It's not my fault she ran away," repeated Jack, louder. "It's yours. She ran away because she was sick of you getting drunk and violent. I know I am."
Without warning, Mr. Napier struck him a powerful blow across the face. "Don't you…DARE…defend the filthy slut!" he shouted. "Don't you dare blame me for her leaving you! She ran away because she didn't love you, and she didn't wanna have a kid hanging around her, hampering her chances of hooking up with another guy! She didn't want you, she never wanted you, and neither did I!"
He punched Jack again. "But I'm stuck with you now," he hissed. "That little tramp has left me to deal with her own goddamn mess! You should thank me for not sending you out on the streets with your whore of a mother! But you're spoiled and selfish and ungrateful, just like she was!"
"And you're a horrible, disgusting, violent bully!" shouted Jack, wiping his bleeding nose and lip.
"Don't you raise your voice to me, boy!" yelled Mr. Napier, hitting him again. The blow knocked Jack back into the alley, slamming him against the junk pile of ruined cars and parts. Jack tried to catch his breath, winded. His shaking hand reached for a thin, blunt, metal pipe as his father approached him.
"You respect me, boy!" hissed Mr. Napier, raising his fist again. "I'm your goddamn father!"
"And I'll see you in hell!" shouted Jack, slamming the pipe upward and making it collide with his father's face with a satisfying crack. Jack laughed as the blood flew everywhere, and he slammed the pipe harder into his father's face. He kept laughing as he continued to beat his father, who was screaming under the merciless blows. At last, Mr. Napier stopped screaming, but still Jack didn't stop, beating the body until it was an unrecognizable mass of blood and bone. Then he dropped the pipe, panting from the exertion, covered in blood, and beaming.
He heard the distant sounds of police sirens and raced into the shop, punching the cash register so the drawer popped open. Jack grabbed all the cash inside, shoving it into a bag, and then helped himself to several packets of cigarettes, and bits of food and drink, mostly alcohol. He slung the bag over his shoulder and then raced away from the gas station, disappearing into the shadows of Gotham City.
Twenty Years Later...