A cherry red 1965 Mustang convertible sailed over the treacherous, uneven pavement on the singular winding road up to Gotham City's own Arkham Asylum.
The driver cursed as she failed to avoid a pothole just before the narrow road opened up into a private lot, which the young woman noted was maintained only marginally better than the drive. She cautiously allowed her car to creep forward, both to avoid another unfortunate pothole and also in an attempt to find a parking spot where she wouldn't be in anyone's way. The latter task proved rather simple when she noticed a sign in the space immediately to her right that read "Dr. Harleen Quinzel, M.D."
"Doctor Harleen Quinzel," she said, beaming while mocking herself by adding extra emphasis to her credentials. She really was a doctor now. A real-life, practicing psychiatrist.
She pulled in, making sure she had spaced her vehicle an equal distance from the cars on either side. Harleen didn't know if being a bad driver was a blonde stereotype, but since just about everything else unsavory was, she decided it was in her best interest to rise above the status quo. Harleen was done being that girl. Done being that bimbo. She was manifesting a new reputation, one she could be proud of. Her mother had always said first impressions were everything, and Harleen Quinzel was more than ready to make hers.
"Arkham, eat your heart out." She said to the rear-view mirror, her wide, blue eyes staring intently back at her. She narrowed them, trying to make herself appear somehow "harder". She had a tendency to appear innocent, childish, even, but that would have to be left at the door. Harleen Quinzel was not weak, and she refused to be made a meal of.
After double checking her reflection, she reached for the comb in her glove box, pushing the last loose strand of blonde hair back into place before.
"Don't fuck this up, Harley," she pointed an accusatory index finger at herself in the mirror. "Do. Not. Fuck. This. Up."
"Harleen, good to put a face to the name. I'm Dr. Joan Leland." The middle-aged brunette extended a hand. Harley set her briefcase on the ground and shook back, careful not to appear too eager or bashful. She wanted her colleagues to see her as the confident, qualified young woman she believed herself to be.
"Just call me 'Harley'. Everyone does."
Joan smiled somewhat pleasantly at her, and then continued "I trust you found your parking space?"
Harley nodded. "I did, yes." She wished there was more to say, something to elaborate on to impress or interest her new boss, but it wasn't like she could compliment the facilities. Although this wasn't the first state-run psychiatric hospital she'd stepped foot in, it was absolutely the most decrepit.
"How about you set your things down in the office and I'll give you the tour?"
Silently, Harley followed Dr. Leeland to a room at the end of the entrance hall, past the various security check points which included an armed guard, a metal detector, and a room labeled "Meta-human processing". The room Leland had led her to appeared to be a doctor's lounge of some sort, with a sink in the corner and a microwave on the counter. Two men in matching white lab coats sat on the couches, each claiming one for himself.
"This is Dr. Graham and Dr. Cain," Leland gestured to the man on the left first, and then the right. "Gentleman, meet our newest resident psychiatrist, Dr. Harleen Quinzel."
"But you can call me 'Harley'," she grinned, forgetting for a moment that she was attempting to establish herself as a serious professional.
"We usually keep it to last names only here at Arkham, Dr. Quinzel. It sets a good example for the patients," Joan's correction was gentle.
"Oh," Harley hoped her face didn't appear as red as it felt. "Of course."
She gave a slightly awkward nod to her new co-workers and somewhat clumsily set her briefcase down against the wall. Before Harley could consider herself settled, Dr. Leland had turned and exited without saying another word. Taking the hint, Harley jogged after her, adjusting her pace once she'd caught up.
The two women rounded a corner, passing by another security check, and were all at once standing at the end of a wide hallway. The walls were lined with glass-doored cells, and Harley could hear spirited conversations between the prisoners- err, "patients"- wafting towards her.
While Harley was taking in her surroundings, Dr. Leeland had abruptly stopped walking, Harley noticing the change in direction in barely enough time to stop herself from running face first into the other woman. That would have made quite the impression.
"Please don't take this the wrong way, Harley…" Leland said the nickname like comradery was a foreign concept. "But why are you here?"
Harley was caught off guard by the direct nature of the question. "Ex-excuse me?"
The woman's face softened slightly. "With grades like yours you could have gone anywhere. Why are you here? Why would you subject yourself to this?"
Harley was relieved. It seemed Dr. Leland had meant her question as a compliment. The answer was easy. "To be honest Joan, I'm simply fascinated by the criminal psyche, extreme personalities especially. Working here is actually a bit of a dream come true."
"That will wear off quickly, don't worry," Joan snorted, starting down the hallway. "I hope you're not planning on writing a tell-all book about this. These people can see a cash grab coming a mile away. They are animals and they will use any leverage or perceived weakness to get the upper hand."
Harley kept in stride with her boss, who, it turned out, was an impressively fast walker. "Well, you can't deny there's an element of glamour to these super criminals…"
They were passing the first set of cells now. A man peered out of one on the left hand side, obsessively licking the glass.
"But no, on principal I am not at Arkham simply for the elevated profile," Harley finished.
"Then there's a chance you might survive here," Leland said, pausing again with her back to a seemingly empty cell.
Harley looked over the woman's shoulder at the warmly lit three-walled room. A shelf containing a variety of potted plants was set against the glass. Harley could see one of them blooming, an eye-catching crimson blossom.
"Step away from the glass, Joker," Dr. Leland implored a patient in the opposite direction of Harley's attention, then sighed, lowering her voice back to a conversational volume. "You'll come to know the occupants pretty quickly. Which ones are beyond hope of reform and which ones just happened to lose their way. It's a fairly simple delineation, in most cases."
Harley, distracted by this point, watched as a woman's hand reached out from behind the brick portion of the cell to water the potted plants. Harley squinted, unable to tell if the green tint to the woman's skin was just a trick of the light or some sort of bizarre condition. "And what about the other cases?" Harley asked, brushing by Dr. Leland towards the woman's hand as it retracted with the watering can back out of sight. "The ones who aren't so cut and dry?"
Dr. Leland turned to see where Harley was headed. "Master manipulators. They will set a trap and have you wrapped around their finger before you know it. You have to continually remind yourself that you are in charge of the situation. You are not powerless." Leland watched for a moment. "And that one?" She pointed to the cell which Harley was now standing directly in front of. "She's the worst of them."
"Who?" Harley turned away from Dr. Leland to peer into the cell and was startled by the breathtaking red headed woman who'd suddenly appeared on the other side of the glass. It was not a trick of the light; the woman's skin did, in fact, have a green tint to it. How odd. But what Harley found considerably more engrossing were her eyes. They shone an almost alarming shade of harlequin green, like they had been colored by an electrically charged magic marker.
"Poison Ivy," the redhead purred in response to Harley's question, her lips nearly brushing the glass as she spoke. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance."