Of course Sly had known when he took the job that he would be dealing with an - interesting clientele.
And he'd realized how interesting his life had become when Harvey "Two-Face" Dent followed him all the way to Key West to bring him back to Gotham. And not at gunpoint either.
But he hadn't really understood what "interesting" meant until he found himself being toasted by a room filled with some of the city's most notorious criminals for having the Joker ejected from the Iceberg Lounge with his tail between his legs.
"To Sly everybody!" Edward Nigma said.
Sly sighed and moved down the bar once he'd served Roxy Rocket her Long Island iced tea. The significance of what he'd done hadn't completely sunken in yet. The Joker - serial killer, completely insane, prone to pay his tab with orange $500 bills from a Monopoly set - and Sly had intervened when he had attempted to play stickball with Tom Blake's skull. You just didn't get in the Joker's way when he was in a killing mood, not if you didn't have a yellow utility belt and a cape on. But the Joker had been the one to back down.
All right, so he'd had help from Greg Brady, Killer Croc, and one of Pamela Isley's moving plants. Still, it was the principle of the thing. The Iceberg Lounge was (temporarily) his responsibility - until his boss got his drinking back under control, anyway. That meant it was his responsibility to make sure that a homicide wasn't committed on the dining room floor in front of television cameras.
He wondered what the Joker might do the next time he came in. You could never tell by looking at him whether he was nursing a grudge or not. Sly suddenly thought of that old fortune cookie saying. "May you live in interesting times."
Sly felt a tug on his elbow. He looked up from his work and found one of Miss Isley's plants - was it the one which the Joker had chased around a table or the other one? There was no way of knowing. Its tendrils were gently pulling at his arm. He looked across the room. Sure enough, Miss Isley was raising her glass from her seat at her table.
Tell a girl she has a nice smile, and she wants your company the rest of the night.
Of course, Sly had learned a long time ago that Pamela Isley and the Joker simply did NOT get along, so he supposed his role in tonight's "festivities" had only burnished his image in her eyes.
"The price of fame," Nigma said to Jervis as Sly made his way to Poison Ivy's table. "Tonight it's HIS turn to perform the 'ballad of humoring Pamela'."
"Wait, so the bartender sings too?" Jai asked him.
"So here's the truth, Pammy, direct from me to you: a healthy red-blooded guy will grab at anything once, particularly if it's rubbing up and down on him like a three-dollar whore."
" . . . it's not even grooving on your lemon scented beauty . . ."
A woman who so craved the approval of her betters that she'd once made out with the Penguin at Harley's Christmas party.
" . . . reminds them of all those daydreams they had about the naked gal in the magazines when they were fourteen . . . "
Later pretended she was the Mad Hatter's FIANCEE.
" . . . beating off to Daddy's Playboys . . ."
This woman had just dared to call her a three-dollar whore?
" . . . you gotta have something more than bare skin and a set of knockers going . . ."
Ivy didn't even notice that by now Roxy had trapped one of her wisterias in the crook of her elbow. She was still trying to process the sounds she was hearing. Surely there was a mistake. She hadn't just been insulted -
" . . . after I twist your head off and stick it on my tailpipe!"
By a two-bit, guttermouth thrill addict who would spread her legs for Hugo Strange if he bought her a drink!
"Roxy," Sly said as he stood up, with the tone of someone who was already tired of having to break up these little inter-roguefights, "I know you weren't here a few minutes ago, but you know house rules. You can't just - "
"And you!" Roxy burst out, turning on him. "Tonight is YOUR night, and you're letting that garden slut fawn over you like - "
Men could be useful on occasion. Like when they made Roxy Rocket take her eyes off an enraged Poison Ivy. She wasn't able to properly defend herself as Ivy screeched and threw herself out of her booth, tackling Roxy across the waist and propelling her into another table. The table legs snapped under their combined weight, and they both fell to the floor.
"And there goes another table," Sly sighed.
Ivy was up first. Roxy tried to follow her, but she'd lost her grip on the wisteria and now the plant had tangled itself up in her legs, causing her to fall back down.
"Oh, you are SO going to get it now," Roxy hissed as she pushed herself up by her arms.
"I should think you'd appreciate this, Roxy," Ivy said before she smashed her across the back with a wooden chair. "Doesn't this just take you back to Stuntperson 101?"
And that made two chairs ruined that evening, Sly thought. "Miss Isley - "
Ivy shot Sly a look that said the Goddess was in the house, and now was not the time to tempt her.
The better part of valor forbade trying to explain to either woman that he was merely being friendly to Ivy . . . the better part of hotel-restaurant management forbade running from the fracas like a prudent man. And the better part of Iceberg survival strategy forbade drawing any more attention to himself than could be helped.
Even after the Joker confrontation, Sly hadn't really comprehended just how this job could be a little TOO interesting until that moment.
"That's going to come out of your tab," he added lamely, stepping back.
"Sounds like someone's going to be leaving the red light on for a while," Roxy mocked her as she tried once again to get up.
Ivy was not the martial-arts mistress that some people were, but she had more than enough coordination to put her foot in Roxy's face as she rose. "Try saying three-dollar whore again with my foot on your throat, eh," Ivy snarled.
"Three – lgh - Dollar – Oulgh - WhoeeeeeeeeEEE!"
"She bit me!"
Harley would have liked to think that the commotion coming from the dining room was being caused by Mistah J, devastated by the news of an impending Brucie-Selina breakup, but it was too soon, and the laughter she heard wasn't HIS laughter. In fact, it sounded more like – "Red?" she asked out loud.
"She complains about the tables here enough," Blake grumbled from the door between the bar and the dining room, "but she doesn't shrink from using them as lethal weapons."
"Yes, but unlike some of us, Blake," Eddie said from the other end of the bar, "she has sense enough not to destroy the one that cost fourteen hundred dollars."
"Red's in a fight?" Harley asked. "With who?"
"Roxy Rocket," Blake reported. "I think she's stopped trying to get up."
"Has that stopped Ivy?"
"Maybe I should do something," Harley said hesitantly, although lately Ivy had been strangely distant. Started right around the time she went on a crime spree with Harvey, too.
"I don't think that would be a good idea, Harley," Eddie told her. "I don't remember the last time somebody died at the Iceberg, and there's a pool on whether or not Ivy will break the streak. If you interfere, there'll be a lot of ruined wagers on your head."
"Oh," Harley said. "Maybe I'll just watch then. Sly, could you – where's Sly?"
"Probably hiding on the floor," Blake muttered.
"Shhh," Eddie cautioned.
"On the floor trying to get underneath the floor."
"You've been trying to sleep your way into the A-list, Roxy," Ivy said gaily as she watched Roxy crawling toward the barroom door. She twirled a chair leg in one hand. "And that's not the way. You don't earn respect by giving the Bats 'a good chase'. ANYONE can run from the Bat. You've got to be willing to kill."
Sly didn't think anyone would be toasting him when this was over. He couldn't see how he could stop this fight before Poison Ivy – funny how he'd stopped thinking of her as "Miss Isley" – put him into a green haze.
"You've got to put a few selfish, worthless, plant-murdering civilians in harm's way if it gets you closer to the prize, Roxy," Ivy said, jabbing her in the back with the sharp end of the chair leg. "Or execute someone because his company has been dumping toxic waste in hardwood forests. That's why people don't respect you, Roxy. You lack purpose. You're just in it for a good time," she sneered.
"Now, people like myself," she went on, "we're respected AND feared because we understand that other people live only by our own good graces. If I decide someone annoys me, they don't exist any more. And you have been quite exasperating tonight."
As much as Sly had feared getting in the middle of this, Ivy was sounding more and more like someone in a killing mood. He had just one weapon at his disposal, the very same one he had threatened Joker with. He felt as troubled using it now as he had then. It struck him as presumptuous. Wielding this power was the boss' prerogative, and he wasn't really the boss.
But, as before, he couldn't let an Iceberg customer murder someone on national television. Even if it was cable.
"Miss Isley," he said, "if you don't stop right now, you're going to be banned from the Lounge permanently."
She whirled on him. "Banned? Me?"
"I told Mr. Joker the same thing when he was about to do the same thing you're doing."
The look on her face said all that needed to be said about how she liked being compared to the Joker. "You're not the Penguin, Sly."
"He finds out you killed someone in his dining room, in front of cameras, he'll do the same."
Ivy looked around, and Sly realized she'd forgotten they were even there. She frowned, then shrugged and tossed the makeshift club aside. Then she stalked over to the nearest henchman. "Wallet," she said, pointing at him.
Instantly greened, the hapless man handed it over.
Purposely, she drew two singles from the man's wallet and tossed it back. Then she walked back toward Roxy. "For your time," she said witheringly, throwing the bills on the floor next to her.
Then she calmly went back to her booth.
Sly went past her without even looking at her. She stopped and watched him go, disgusted. Even Sly, like every other man, seemed to be good for a distraction, little more.
Still, as Ivy smoothed out her locks, this little exercise had its uses. Other customers regarded her with a bit more respect and fear than, accustomed to her presence, they had in the past.
On the other hand, the bartender appeared to have vanished, and five minutes later the waitress still had not brought her a fresh Cosmopolitan.
Overall, though, having witnessed the humiliated exits of both Joker and Roxy made this a good night.
"UNHAND ME YOU HA-HA HARLOT!"
That is, it was a good night.
"WOOHOO!" Harley cheered, "Look at you guys! Cut him up, DEMON guys, cut him up good. That'll teach him to go laughing at his own stupid joke cause nobody else will. You know why you gotta laugh at it yourself, Puddin, cause it's not funny. It sucks. It's stupid and it sucks. And the only ones stupid enough to pretend it doesn't suck are the henchman that only laugh cause you pay'em to. Like YOU, Giggles, you laughed at that stupid thing. Well the day of reckoning is coming, Buddy!"
Harley drew back and landed a spectacular punch on Greg Brady's jaw. His head bobbed back slightly, but under the influence of Ivy's pheromones he barely even blinked.
One group of people that proved similarly unfazed by Harley's punch were F'Nos and his "DEMON guys". They'd slowed to a halt within moments of entering the dining room and surrounding the Joker as they, too, were hit by the heavy, fruity aroma of Ivy's pheromones that hung in the air. Still, predisposed as they were to see the Joker as a threat to "Gr'oriBr'di", their swords already drawn and pointed at him, the DEMON minions were so hypnotized by their first exposure to the enormous amounts of "Lemon Pledge" Poison Ivy was emitting that ANY suggestion, even from someone other than Ivy, was liable to push them over the edge.
"Cut him up good," they murmured as Joker found himself encircled by swords pointing right at him.
"Heh heh," Joker said, swallowing. "Eh, Harley? Little help here?"
"And THAT goes for the rest of you too!" Harley went on, railing at the room, temporarily forgetting that ever since Poison Ivy had resorted to blanketing the whole area with her lemon-scented pheromones in response to the Penguin pointing a loaded gun at her, nearly every man in the room had become mesmerized by her beauty. "Don't think I haven't noticed. I see. I see who of you laughs at that joke, and come the revolution you're gonna be the first ones against the wall, ya hear me!"
Her looking everywhere EXCEPT the Joker was about to become a fatal mistake.
..: OraCom Channel 4: Batmobile :..
: Oh my dear lord. :
"Oracle? What kind of report is that?"
: Um, sorry Boss. What's your ETA getting back to the Iceberg:
"Six minutes. Has he been spotted?"
: Yeah. And if you don't speed it up, he might be sliced and diced too. :
The only other person paying attention to the Joker's situation, and who unlike Oracle was in a position to do something about it, was Ivy. But she just smiled and sipped at her drink. That's what you get for making me share a cab with you, you pasty-faced freak.
"What! I do NOT answer to your beck and call any - " Harley said as she turned on him, infuriated.
She looked just in time to see F'Nos' saber tear the Joker's throat out.
"More?" she finished in a whisper.
The Joker couldn't even shriek as blood bubbled into his mouth. Swords went up and fell down in an almost rhythmic pattern. The umbrella he'd borrowed from Penguin's stash was almost contemptuously hurled from the ring, and it skidded and bounced into Harley's ankles.
"Puddin! Puddin, no, no, no, what are you DOOOING?" Harley screamed, clutching her tassels and pulling them taut in her distress.
Ivy had been observing the bloodshed with a triumphant sense of satisfaction, but when she witnessed Harley going to pieces, she sighed. He had to be dead by now anyway. "Stop this, now!" she demanded, seeing that Harley was too distraught to think of ordering them off herself.
Mechanically the DEMON soldiers ceased attacking, and Harley ran forward, squeezing through their ranks. "Mistah J!"
There was quiet for a moment.
Ivy mentally weighed the pleasure she might gain in seeing the Joker's mutilated corpse against the visual of Harley hugging his body, wallowing in his blood, and decided it really wasn't worth it. Still, someone needed to get Harley out of there. Or at least stop her screaming.
She looked around the room and saw she had a wealth of men to choose from - a wealth of numbers, anyway. There were plenty of DEMON assassins, of course, but Ivy doubted Harley would cooperate with one of THEM. "Greg Brady," she finally said. "Since you and Harley have something of a work history together, perhaps you could bring her to the back room so she can calm down?"
"Right," he said. "F'Nos! You and the guys, just take a few steps back."
Ivy turned away before she got any glimpses of Harley behaving like the tragic heroine from a movie and found herself looking at Penguin. He was still clutching his umbrella machine gun, pointed at her now, but the look in his eye told her that by now he'd forgotten it was in his hand.
Ironic that earlier that night she'd forgone greening Sly because of what Oswald might do, and now she'd gone and greened the Penguin himself.
Thinking that reminded her of Sly's announced intention to have her temporarily banned for fighting. "Ozzie," she breathed, putting a hand on his shoulder. "If Sly said I'd done something just the smallest bit bad and I needed to be punished, you wouldn't hold it against me, would you?"
"Kwak-kwak, that Benedict Arnold, that traitorous nest-stealer!" Penguin thundered. "He thinks he can expel you, a bird of paradise, a paradigm of loveliness, from here like he thinks he can do to me? Why, if anyone shall be banned, it is he!"
"That's my Pengy," Ivy said. The things she said to ensure access to a good Cosmopolitan.
Of course, Sly was the one who usually made said Cosmopolitan. Oh, well.
Ivy's eyes lit on a nearby table, and she smiled. While she had this opportunity . . . "And Oswald?" she asked. "Maybe we could talk about these paper napkins."
While Raven and a few waitresses milled around, unsure of what to do while almost every man in the house was in a daze but quite sure they didn't want to go anywhere NEAR what used to be the Joker, Ted and Jai slowly rose from behind the bar.
"I don't think we're going to be able to use tonight's footage," Ted said.
"Unless we sell it to the evening news," Jai added.
Batman reviewed the crime scene grimly. While his earlier prediction of death at the Iceberg that night had proven true, it was the man he believed would be responsible for those deaths who was now lying dead himself. His wounds were consistent with being hacked to death by multiple sharp objects, and there were twenty DEMON agents present in the bar armed with bloodstained swords. Oracle had confirmed from the video feeds that the DEMON minions had done the cutting. For the moment they were standing mutely along the wall – probably Brady's doing - but when questioned Batman was sure they would admit their guilt. It should have been a simple, albeit gruesome, case.
But it wasn't.
Apparently the Joker had entered the Iceberg Lounge for a second time, this time armed with a machine-gun disguised as an umbrella, and with the Penguin in tow. They had been attempting to take Penguin's own customers hostage when the DEMON soldiers arrived and the bloodshed began.
And although the Rogues and other customers appeared to be their normal selves, Batman's nose detected a hint in the air of what they called "Lemon Pledge", and which he recognized as the pheromone Poison Ivy emitted when she was enslaving someone, or simply angry. Ivy herself was sitting in her corner booth, watching everyone with an indecipherable expression in her eyes. She should have been celebrating the death of a man she'd despised for years.
But she wasn't.
Neither was he.
Some might think he would be happy to see the Joker lying on the Iceberg floor in pieces, but they would be wrong. The twisted lunatic had taken more lives and destroyed more property than anyone in the history of the city, and showed no signs of ever changing, but "an eye for an eye" was the path of vengeance, not the path of justice. The Batman did not kill, nor did he allow others to kill for him. Tomorrow or next week he might at least be able to feel relief for the people who otherwise might have died at Joker's hands, but right now he only felt sick.
While he was waiting for Oracle to report back with more detailed information on what the Fab! video feeds had captured, he had several options for gathering information. Greg Brady had witnessed everything, and since they were working together on DEMON, he would be most willing to talk. But if he'd been under the influence of Ivy's pheromones - and he must have been if he hadn't stopped his own minions from hacking the Joker to death - then his memory would be a little "hazy". Harley Quinn had been closest to the incident and wouldn't have been affected by Ivy's pheromones, but she was probably hysterical after witnessing "Puddin's" murder. He wasn't even sure where she was at the moment. For that matter, Brady was also missing. As was Penguin, who had been Joker's accomplice in the first place. But he could worry about him later.
That left Poison Ivy, who was notoriously difficult to deal with, but also appeared to be his only alternative until he heard back from Oracle. He went over to her table and discovered one of his questions was answered for him. Sitting in the rear of her corner booth, partially obscured by the greenery that tended to adorn her table, was Oswald Cobblepot. He should have been more upset, considering his Lounge was about to become crawling with police, but his placid demeanor and glazed eye told Batman that he was still under Ivy's influence.
"Ivy," he growled. "How much of this is your handiwork?"
"You can't think I had something to do with that," she said, waving her hand in the vague direction of Joker's body. "If I was going to kill him, I would have done it a very long time ago."
"And him?" he asked, gesturing at Penguin.
"Well, he DID come in brandishing a gun at me," she told him. "And Joker was saying something about wanting revenge on one of my babies. I couldn't just let him threaten me OR my plants. So I greened him. Isn't that right, Oswald?"
"My dear," he said humbly, "I regret ever giving you the impression that I wished you harm. I cannot imagine what I was thinking."
"That's all right, I won't hold it against you," she consoled him.
"So what did happen here?" Batman demanded.
She scowled at him. "It's really very simple," she finally said. "Surely the 'world's greatest detective' can figure it out."
"Those men are from DEMON," Batman growled. "They're trained killers."
"I find most men are born as killers, not made that way," Ivy sneered.
"And since the Joker is immune to your pheromones, you put them under your control instead and ordered them to kill him before he killed you OR your precious babies."
Ivy chuckled. "Oh, I had my way with them, but I never told them to do anything. Men are so unreliable these days, I find it better if I do things myself. No, they came in with swords drawn at Joker. They'd obviously already made up their mind to kill him. My influence didn't change that."
"It could have. You could have ordered them to stop."
"Why would I do something silly like that?"
Batman realized he was clenching and unclenching his fist again, and he stopped himself. "Where's Harley?"
"Harley and I aren't exactly on speaking terms since she had a go as Harvey's sidekick," Ivy said angrily. Then she sighed. "But she's in the back room with Greg Brady. She became quite emotional, you understand."
"And you couldn't even offer her a shoulder to cry on?"
Ivy's expression darkened. "I did that enough times when Joker was alive. I decided I was through doing that when they split up, and his being dead isn't going to change that."
Batman glared at Ivy without answering Oracle at first. Of course Ivy was withholding something. And he was going to find out what, but not right away. "This isn't finished," he told her before he strode away.
Ivy shrugged and picked up her drink. "He looks finished to me," she muttered.
"Oracle, come in," Batman murmured as he headed for the back room. "Do you have anything?"
"I've analyzed the video feeds five times over," she said. "And Poison Ivy never moved her lips. So if they WERE greened - "
"Well, the order to kill never came from her. In fact, it looks like she's the one who made them stop. I DID make out from Harley Quinn's lips that she told them to 'cut him up', but there's never been any suggestion that other people besides Ivy can control her slaves."
"These men were new to Gotham," Batman pointed out. "They probably couldn't tell between Quinn's voice and Ivy's if they wanted to. It's possible that in that state, they might have interpreted ANY woman's voice as Ivy's."
"You're not saying - that Harley Quinn had the Joker murdered? I saw the video. When the Joker was attacked, she had a meltdown."
Normally he wouldn't have considered it, but after she'd left all of Joker's things for him at the Bat-signal . . . "No," he said after a moment. "She couldn't have known either that her words might have an effect on them. She was probably just acting out, impulsive as always." He paused. "If she's even responsible." But if Harley even suspected she might be responsible, then her hysterics took on a whole new dimension.
"Well, Greg Brady - "
"Is with Harley in the back, I know," he interrupted. "I'm on my way there now. Joker's killers report to Brady, so they may have told him why they did it."
He found them in the back room where customers slept off their booze when they'd had too much. Harley was bawling in a corner, arms wrapped around her knees and drawing them tight against her chest. Rhythmically she banged her forehead on the wall. Greg Brady was watching helplessly, but when he saw Batman, he put a finger on his lips and forcibly led the hero back out into the hallway. "Can't you see she's had enough?" he asked.
"What happened tonight? Why are you here instead of Sly?"
"Sly took Roxy Rocket to the hospital a couple minutes before the Joker came back," Greg explained. "She provoked a fight with Ivy and came up real short, so Sly asked me to watch the place. As for the Joker, I don't know. I don't remember much. I think Ivy gassed the place."
"What about your men? You're responsible for them, aren't you?"
"Hey, dude, don't remind me," Greg said, looking pained. "You think I want to see those twenty guys get shipped to Blackgate for life? They're not too sure either, about what happened I mean. F'Nos says he brought them here because of some plot the Joker was cooking – I guess he got a whiff of what the Joker and Cobblepot were planning. They were ready to kill the Joker if they had to, but they don't really remember WHY they did it. Something just told them."
"Her, maybe?" Batman asked, looking at the door behind Greg.
"Kinda odd reaction then, wouldn't you say?" Greg replied.
"I assume you told them to stand down."
"The police will be here any minute. I want you to order them to confess to everything they did tonight, and to turn themselves in peacefully. I'm not going to have Ra's' men killing anyone else tonight."
Greg chewed on that for a moment. "Guess there isn't a choice."
"No," Batman graveled. "I'll have to take Harley in the meantime. She'll need to be sedated."
"Her? What for?"
Batman just looked at him.
"Right, right," Greg said, holding his palms up. "Not my business. Whatever. Man, I hope Sly doesn't lose his job over this."
"Right now I'd say this establishment has bigger problems," Batman replied, thinking of the hypnotized Penguin out front and the blood on the floors.
Five minutes later the DEMON minions were turning over their swords to police officers, and Batman was carrying a sleeping Harley Quinn out to the Batmobile. Neither Ivy nor Penguin were anywhere to be seen. Obviously they'd cleared out with all the other criminals. Penguin would have to answer for his attempted hostage taking earlier, but that could wait.
Ivy watched him go through a crack in Penguin's office door while the old bird slept on a couch. Arkham – would probably be best for Harley, if in the short run. Ivy simply didn't care to try being sympathetic to her. Given a couple days, she'd get over it, and with the object of her obsession gone, she'd find other things to focus on.
And then Ivy's life would be perfect.
She turned back toward Oswald's desk. It appeared whoever had been in here last had been going over the books – the books for his black market activities, that is. Curious, she started to read.
To be continued . . .