Sometimes it's easier just to keep going. There's always that little glimmer of hope that okay, so maybe you're slogging through a hurricane with no boots and no coat, but at least you're not dressed up like a giant kite. Things could conceivably be worse, in other words, and they just might get that way if you wander away from what you've been doing.
Jackie was definitely considering the option to wander. It had been two days since Batman had invaded her home - the Riddler's hideout, she corrected herself firmly, and Eddie was nowhere to be found. Well, not that she'd been looking...not really...he was a grown man, after all, and he could take care of himself. There was no need to go around asking people if they'd seen him, as if he was a lost puppy.
But she had. She'd gathered up her courage and had crept down to the Iceberg to ask after him. Harley Quinn, the first one she'd asked, had given her an all-too-knowing look and a patronizing pat on the shoulder. "He'll come home when he wants ya, Query."
Okay, so maybe asking Harley was a bad idea, particularly since Harley was under the impression that she was Eddie's minion. And she couldn't exactly explain the real situation, not when she was still uncertain if she needed the protection of an alliance with Eddie to make sure she wouldn't end up on the wrong end of a popgun. (At any rate, she was fairly uncertain about what her position actually was, so explanations would have to wait until she figured it out herself.)
After her opening statement, Harley delivered a very long and somewhat too personal speech about the role of henchgirls and the vagaries of rogues. In her assertions that 'We're All Henchgirls Together', she innocently mentioned things like "If they push you out a window, they're just a little annoyed" and "That tattoo covering makeup works on bruises, too". Jackie's resolve not to ever, ever become a henchgirl had hardened into something resembling pure titanium. Not that she thought that Eddie would ever throw her out a window, but there was something about Harley's cheerful acceptance of her fate that disturbed her. "An' I know it gets lonely...hey!" she brightened. "We could hang out together while we wait for the bosses to come back!"
Oh, hell. "Oh, good," Jackie said faintly. "Where?"
"Well, Mistah J's in Arkham," Harley sighed, "so I can wait for him anywhere. But if Eddie comes back and finds you're not there..." She shook her head. "Yer not supposed ta leave until they say ya can, Q!" Harley said, hopping down from her barstool. "So we'll go ta your place."
Jackie had unwillingly acquiesced, thinking that she could surely handle a few hours of Harley's company. Harley had now been in the hideout for twenty-eight hours, and Jackie was seriously considering running away to her parents' house. Walking away, if necessary. To Vermont. Harley was sweet, and nice, and cheerful - but she was all of these things in a magnified, caffeine-high way that made you daydream about tranquilizers after a mere half-hour in her presence. The daydreams quickly transformed to thoughts about duct tape in handy mouth-sized squares when Harley shifted the conversation to the Joker (which she did approximately every ninety seconds).
"An' Puddin's just gorgeous," Harley said. Jackie's heart started to beat a little faster with apprehension. She was fairly certain she didn't want to hear the next sentence. "He's so pretty...all over..." Harley sighed dreamily.
Oh, yes, she really didn't want to hear this. How could she politely stick her fingers in her ears and shout la la la la la? "Uh, Harley..." she said hesitantly.
"He's got the nicest shoulders...and such a pretty back..." She giggled naughtily. "An' he's got the cutest little tu-"
"Harley!" Jackie said hastily. "You think he's cute. I get it already."
"What's the matter? Don't you think he's cute?" Harley asked, cocking her head to one side.
Jackie paused, considering her answer carefully. If she went with her gut answer - oh god no - it was likely to earn her Harley's wrath. (She still winced whenever she remembered the Joker-Vs-Matt Damon debacle that had taken place in the convenience store on the way home when she'd suggested adding a People magazine to the stack of glossy paper towering in Harley's arms. Harley had drawn more than a few stares when she'd screeched about that rag that had the nerve to say that anyone was sexier than the Joker.) But if she said he was cute, would Harley take it as a territorial threat? "He's certainly...unusual," Jackie finally said.
"Yeah, there's no one like Mistah J," Harley said wistfully.
Thank the heavens for that, Jackie thought fervently. She looked around for something - anything - to talk about other than the Joker. She found what she was looking for on the couch next to her: the remote control to the television. Under pretense of shifting position, she leaned hard on the power button and the television flickered on.
"...the "world" of Azeroth, where heroes like Leeroy Jenkins do battle," Alex Trebek read in his pleasant voice.
"Booo-ring," Harley shot back.
Jackie tossed her the remote. "Is there anything better on?"
Harley flipped channels with practiced skill. "Nope-dullsville-yawn-EEEEEEE!" she squealed, dropping the remote in her excitement. "The Acromegliacs!"
"I used to watch this all the time when I was a kid!" Jackie lied excitedly.
And so they watched, hour after mind-numbing hour. The Acromegliacs DVDs were being released, so the cartoon channel was playing a marathon of all of the best episodes. After three hours of cartoon gibberish, Jackie was starting to think that maybe discussing the Joker's finer attributes wasn't all that bad.
And then the door slammed open to reveal a furious man with a paper-pale face. I didn't mean it, Jackie protested mentally as he stormed inside.
The best way to hide is always in plain sight. In fact, if you can get people to actively ignore you, it can be the most effective strategy for staying under the radar. If they don't want to see you, they won't.
Eddie had been stranded across town in a satellite lair for the past two days. Well, stranded was probably too strong a word. In theory, he could have left at any time. All it would have taken to get back to Jackie was a stroll across the city dressed in his costume in broad daylight with cops everywhere. Simple, right?
Well, Eddie didn't feel like being chased by anyone. He'd had enough of that recently. And so he decided to hide in plain sight all the way home. Fortunately, this was the lair that had previously housed his most indecisive Quiz to date, the one that redid her costume every time they went out on a heist. He was certain he could cobble something together out of the mess.
And now he was walking along the street, crammed into an old pair of black stretch pants and his own black shirt, face coated liberally with greasepaint. An old, battered top hat rested in one hand. He hoped no one could see the green question marks that he'd colored over with a black marker.
A woman on a cigarette break was staring at him. He pranced up to her and mimed taking a long drag on an imaginary cigar, twiddling it in his fingers and leering at her like Groucho Marx. She frowned at him and flicked her cigarette to the pavement before retreating inside, slamming the door in his face.
Eddie continued to mime his way across town. He was not exactly happy about the situation - it was rather demeaning, after all - but it was better than Arkham. Most things were. He sidled into a shopping plaza and carefully walked against the wind around the corner. A police station squatted in the middle of the row of buildings.
Heart pounding wildly, Eddie mimed his way past it. He could have avoided it, true, but this was the shortest way home and the greasepaint was really starting to itch. An off-duty cop was sitting on the steps, eating a sandwich. Eddie edged around him. The cop ignored him.
Something green flashed in the corner of his eye. Eddie turned to see what it was. The top hat's brim began to resemble an accordion as his fingers unthinkingly crushed it.
On a billboard, in letters three feet high, the words "The last pig needs the wolf" beamed at the police station surrounded with green question marks. His symbol. His colors! His theme!
"Yeah, we've been getting a lot of those recently," the cop remarked from his spot on the stairs, noticing Eddie's stunned gape at the sign. "I think the Riddler's finally gone off the deep end." The cop snorted into his sandwich. "Not that he had all that much on the ball to begin with."
Eddie mentally marked those comments down in his Revenge Pending file and continued to glare at the sign. That was it. He'd send out a real riddle, show this impostor how it was done, and he'd damn well show the world that the Riddler was not in the habit of sending out gibberish like this!
To hell with camouflage. Eddie stormed home, ignoring everyone in his path. If they didn't get out of his way, he smacked into them and shoved them aside. There was no room for anything else in his mind but the white-hot rage at the impostor besmirching his name.
He stomped into the lair. The television giggled maniacally at him. He picked up the nearest thing to hand - a solid bronze question mark the size of a shoe - and hurled it through the screen. It fizzled and died.
"Rough day?" Harley Quinn asked calmly from her spot on his sofa.
"Yes," the Riddler growled, stamping into his bedroom and slamming the door.
"What happened?" Jackie asked in a whisper.
Harley shrugged. "He's your boss. You tell me."
The remains of the television slowly started to glow with orange light. Harley absently dug in her bag, extracted a little red cylinder, and extinguished the fire.
"You carry a fire extinguisher?" Jackie asked.
"It comes in handy." Harley waved toward the fizzing remains of the television. "Puddin' does that instead of changin' channels some days. We go through a lot of TVs."
Eddie, now dressed in his own clothes once again, slammed out of his bedroom and slammed into the bathroom. The door bounced open. He slammed it again. It rattled off of its hinges and fell with a crash to the floor. He glared at it as if it was the source of all his troubles and kicked it. Ignoring the women in the other room, he set to trying to scrape the greasepaint off.
He merely succeeded in swirling it around his face. He swore in one long uninterrupted river of sound as he fought with the wretched stuff.
A hand holding a canister labeled 'Makeup Remover' appeared tentatively around the doorway. He snatched it up and began smearing it all over his face.
Jackie tiptoed back to the living room. "He'd probably thank you if he wasn't so, um...angry. Is there anything you don't have in that bag?"
Harley grinned as she stood up. "Fish," she said. "I hate fish. Keep the makeup stuff, I've got plenty," she said, making her way toward the door.
Jackie panicked. "You're not going to leave me alone with him, are you?" she said.
"They get mad, Q. Just stay outta his way till he calms down," Harley advised. "Oh, an' if you've got bandages, you might wanna keep 'em handy. Bye!" And with that disturbing advice, Harley skipped back out onto the road.
Bandages. Yeah. Jackie glanced nervously at the bathroom. The Riddler was almost done de-miming himself. Vermont was sounding really good right now...
After his face was free of that disgusting makeup, Eddie took a moment to grip the sink firmly and calm down. There was an impostor. There had been others, there would be more. Every shmuck in the world thought he could be the Riddler, given half a chance.
He was home. He could get his notebook, think of some really superb riddles, and go out and paint the town green. And if the impostor happened to show up, well, he knew how to deal with them.
His stomach reminded him that he hadn't really eaten anything since the night Batman had shown up. Batman...now there was a person he shouldn't think about if he was trying to calm down. He kicked the remains of the door aside with one foot and headed for the kitchen.
A half-melted dish of ice cream - and by dish, he realized that he meant mixing bowl - lay on the countertop along with a spray bottle of whipped cream and an economy-sized jug of chocolate syrup. Splatters of brown and white covered all the available space on the countertop and the bottom third of the wall. Harley Quinn was here, he snorted.
He pulled open a cupboard. Harley had been here, too - either that, or Jackie had let a horde of ravenous wolves with a jones for snack cakes into the kitchen. He sighed, snatched up a granola bar, and unwrapped it. It wouldn't be much, but it would be enough to get rid of that uneasy spinning feeling in his midsection.
Licking sticky fingers, he headed back into the living room. Jackie was tentatively poking at a bit of crinkly shattered glass that used to be part of the television screen. He cleared his throat.
Jackie whipped around to face him. "Oh! H-hi," she stammered.
"Harley's gone?" he asked.
"Yeah, she left while you were...um...in the bathroom," Jackie said uneasily. "What happened?"
"Oh, the copycat left another riddle - if you can call it that - on a billboard in front of the police station," Eddie grumbled. "But I'll show him. That riddle for the Impossibottle heist is going to blow that nonsense out of the water." He glanced around for his notebook full of ideas. There were lots of things in the room - Harley had apparently cleaned the nearest convenience store out of magazines, DVDs and ice cream - but there was no little notebook. He checked the couch pocket. It was empty. "Have you seen my notebook?" he asked.
Jackie bit her lip. "Um..." she said.
Eddie frowned. "Um" was not a good response. "Um" indicated that something unwanted had happened, and since Harley Quinn had been here, he had a sneaking suspicion of what that might be. "What happened to it?" He folded his arms, expecting one of a variety of excuses. Had it ended up in a bowl of melted ice cream? Had it been eaten by a hyena?
"It, um...it..." Jackie mumbled. "Bamatooit."
"Batman. He, uh, took it with him," Jackie stammered, edging behind the arm of the couch.
"What?" Eddie bellowed. Jackie instinctively hit the floor and slammed her eyes shut.
Eddie didn't notice. All that work - all those brilliant riddles - useless! How dare the Batman steal his notebook! It was practically a second brain! He'd had all sorts of potential targets in there, half-riddled, and now he couldn't use any of them!
Anger management was generally not a skill possessed by the rogues. This would go some way toward explaining why, instead of merely swearing or threatening revenge, Eddie did both while simultaneously trying to put his fist through the end table. The fact that it was the Riddler and not Bane beating up on the furniture would explain why the table stayed intact while his hand made a sad little snapping noise.
The ratio of curse words increased. He held his hand up, flexing his fingers and making sure nothing was damaged. The sound must have just been a knuckle cracking. Temporarily cheered by the fact that he hadn't broken his own hand, the Riddler looked around for Jackie.
All that was visible was a little quivering semicircle of hair peeping over the far arm of the couch. Oh. Maybe he had gone a little too far when he'd threatened to hand Batman his own kidneys. And hanging around Harley had probably given her exactly the wrong idea about what would happen when he got angry.
He silently joined her behind the couch and knelt down next to her, awkwardly reaching out a hand to pat her on the back. She yelped and scooted toward the wreck of the television. When she was a safe distance away, she opened one slitted eye to see Eddie looking quizzically back at her. One hand was still extended as if he was feeding imaginary pigeons. "You okay?"
"Are you?" she asked timidly. "You looked like you were going to...well, Harley said..."
Eddie rolled his eyes. "Harley tends to compare everyone to the Joker."
"Yeah. I noticed."
"Well, I'm not the Joker. I'm not going to hurt you," he spelled out as she raised an unconvinced eyebrow. "I don't do that kind of thing."
The eyebrow remained firmly raised. "So you're not planning on beating anyone to death with their own leg tonight then?"
"Not unless you're the one that's been planting these riddles all over town."
"Of course I haven't!" she said, somewhat offended.
"I know, I know," Eddie sighed, leaning against the couch. "Someone is, though, and I've got to get rid of them. I've got to do something now. Soon. This can't go on." He saw a newspaper atop the pile of magazines - Harley must have purchased it for the comics section - and dug frantically to the untouched Society pages.
"There," he said, satisfied, pointing at a certain article. "That one."
"You're sure you want to do this?" Jackie said hesitantly.
"Positive. It'll be fun," he said. A thought brightened his features. "You should come along!"
"No! I mean, I don't want to do anything, you know, illegal," Jackie sputtered.
"You don't have to. No one will know you're there." He grinned at her. "C'mon, live a little. It'll be something to write home about."
Jackie, still thinking of the shattered television and the broken door, said "Well...okay."
It would be a decision that she would remember for the rest of her life.
Four nights later, Batman and Robin landed on the roof of the police station to find Commissioner Gordon glaring at a bright green envelope. Batman slit it open and scanned the little card inside. "This one's from him," he graveled, passing it to Gordon.
The Commissioner squinted at Eddie's careful copperplate handwriting. "A series of notes that are written and bowed, Here you will find me: aghast on the road. The ending of lives in a Lydian mode, Crimson fatalities summoning toads."
Gordon shook his head and handed the note back to Batman. "He's all yours."
(to be continued)
Author's Note: I'm quite proud of my riddle, even if it is a little obvious. (Or is it?) The Acromegliacs are from Harley and Ivy #3. Leeroy Jenkins is from the World of Warcraft (and yes, that was an actual answer on an episode of Jeopardy).
You can blame the whole Eddie-plays-dress-up idea on 'Death in Slow Motion'/'The Riddler's False Notion'. Very few things are cuter than the Riddler in a fabulous fake mustache.