Run For Your Life

A pebble in the water makes a ripple effect
Every action in this world will bear a consequence
If you wait around forever you will surely drown
I see what's going down.

I see the way you go and say you're right again,
Say you're right again,
Heed my lecture.

Do you feel like a man
When you push her around?
Do you feel better now, as she falls to the ground?
Well I'll tell you my friend, one day this world's going to end
As your lies crumble down, a new life she has found.

Face down in the dirt
She said, "This doesn't hurt"
She said, "I finally had enough!"

--The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

Chapter Three

All she had to do was wait for them to go into the kitchen. She could sneak in unnoticed and then that would be it. No going back. No second chances. It was now or never. Now or forever be condemned to a life that wasn't worth living anyway.

Her eyes glued themselves to the TV and she turned up the volume as loudly as possible without risk of being detected. Still, she could barely hear the conversation. Not that it particularly mattered to her what the meeting was about…she just needed to hear enough so she could seize the moment as quickly as it came. She knew she couldn't hesitate.

Without warning, the group of people convening in the living room stood and made their way toward the kitchen. Her heart began to pound wildly in her chest. This was it. She knew she would never get this chance again.

She slipped out of the bedroom as stealthily as she could and winced slightly as the creaked softly as she shut it behind her. She crept through the hallway and her eyes widened at the pile of weapons that laid out before her on a nearby table. Guns…a few grenades…and many, many blunt knives. Before she could think twice, she slid one of the knives into her palm as she cornered near the kitchen.

The hushed voices were becoming clearer as her heart thumped wildly in her chest. She was right outside…almost there…she leaned into the wall that separated her from the meeting's participants and listened intently. She immediately recognized many of the voices. Business associates that had frequented the penthouse numerous times…several of Salvatore's goons…all familiar. But the one that stood out to her, the unknown, was a voice that seemed to grate on one's ears yet held allure at the same time. It was otherworldly, as if the voice's owner was an incubus straight from the mouth of hell with the voice that the snake must have used to tempt Eve. Yet, there was something beneath the sinister cackle, something that bordered on the sarcastic, that gave way to both a sense of uneasiness and an urge to laugh.

She listened more closely now as the voices seemed to grow louder.

"Listen here," said Salvatore. "This has got to stop. How are we supposed to pay you? Do you really think stealing our money is going to influence us?"

The Joker didn't miss a beat. "Uh…yeah."

"I have plenty of money in banks all over the world. Go ahead then, take everything you want. I've got everything I could possibly need. It's time you held up your end of the bargain. We hired you over a month ago to kill Batman and still nothing."

"Or what? Ya gonna kill me?" He was laughing now. "Ooo…I'm shakin' in my boots, boys. You all really know how to strike fear in the hearts of mankind, you know that? Now…I understand that seeing your hard-earned cash being stolen from your very own banks is…difficult…for you. But you see the thing is…I'm not one to embark on anyone else's timeframe…you know what I'm saying?"

Another voice spoke up, this time one of the countless, albeit nameless members of the mob. "What do you want? We've already given you half of what we have. You burned that to a crisp. What kind of a person does that? You are insane. Just insane."

"No. I'm not. I'm not." was the now very serious response. "It's not about money. It's about…sending a message. I could give a rat's ass about money. Now you know it."

"What do you want?"

"Chaos. Destruction. Total anarchy. You're all just a small part of the bigger picture here. You've all got your heads buried in the sand…running for cover because of the big, bad bat. Just wait. Just you wai-t. You'll see. You'll all see."

"What is your plan then? To kill Batman?" This time, it was Salvatore addressing the madman.

Harley shuddered as the Joker let out a long, sinister roar of maniacal laughter.

She couldn't wait much longer. She realized there was probably not going to be an ideal time to disrupt the meeting and she figured it would be better for everyone involved if she broke in before things got too tense. Gripping the edge of the wall, she took a deep breath and launched herself into the hands of fate.

"What's my plan? You want to know my plan? Here it is boys, get ready for it…" The Joker trailed off as Harley came into sight.

For what seemed like an eternity, no one said a word. Salvatore, who was seated directly across from the Joker, turned a sick shade of white, which morphed into furious crimson an instant later.

"Harley!" He snarled. "Get out of here. Now."

She could feel her lips quivering with both fear and anticipation. No going back. No going back. All eyes were on her, particularly the black-encased ones that now observed her with biting intensity and curiosity.

To say one could cut the tension with a knife was an understatement. And an ironic one at that, given the audience that held her captive.

It took every ounce of what was left of her courage to utter one word: "No."

Salvatore immediately leapt out of his chair and lunged for her throat but stopped cold when she revealed the knife she had palmed earlier.

"You don't get to touch me ever again." She whispered; her voice was like ice, remnant of years of abuse and betrayal and finally, determined to finish what she had started.

Before either of them could make another move, the Joker's sardonic voice filled the room.

"Well, well, well...Maroni, you never told me were hiding such a little hell-cat…she's got some fight in her…I like that."

Salvatore ignored him, all his energy and fury directed at her. "Harley. You have three seconds to leave this room."

She shook her head furiously, now too scared and overcome with the gravity of the situation to force out any words. Without warning, he backhanded her, causing her to fall nearly head-first into the edge of the table.

The Joker stood up at this sudden action and slowly walked over to the opposite side of the table as he spoke. "Now, now…it seems you don't like to play nice, Maroni. I'm not even going to comment about robbing the cradle...that's just too easy."

He was standing directly over Harley now, watching her carefully as she held her stinging cheek with angry tears in her eyes. "Stand. Up."

She stood shakily, her body still reeling from Salvatore's blow moments before and immediately shrunk back as the Joker leered closer to her. He seemed to stalk towards her, like a lion to its prey, edging closer and closer with each calculated step. Even still, she hardly noticed. Television had no prepared her for seeing him up close and personal. The red, black, and white war paint was smeared with chaos, sweat, and tears. His attire, right down to his purple dress shoes, was freakishly reminiscent of an old-fashioned clown. His curly hair, which fell to the base of his neck in matted disarray, was greased with green paint, completing the unsettling image of psychotic, void of morals and society, serial-killing, knife-wielding clown.

As he edged towards her, with snake-like motions, his face contorted as he surveyed her reaction to him. "Oh…I'm sorry…do I frighten you?"

He smacked his lips together and gestured theatrically to his face with a gloved hand. "Is it the scars?"

Up until that moment, Harley hadn't noticed the scars. Now that he had drawn attention to them, she saw them with horrifying clarity. Ripped from one side to the other, was an eternal, gruesome smile which was only highlighted now by the red paint. The scars looked as if they had been freshly cut, as if the red was not war paint, but blood seeping and smearing across his face.

Without warning, he forced the knife out of her hand. In one swift motion, he gripped the side of her face and positioned the knife dangerously close to the corner of her mouth.

"Do you want to know how I got these scars? Well, you see, I had these friends from school…look at me, Harley…I had these friends from school, we did everything together, spent all our free time together and what we really liked to do…was play with knives. We would steal all the knives we could, from our parents, from the kitchen at school, from stores, anything we could get our hands on. We had this fort in the woods outside of town where we always meet up and one night, we decided to form our own gang. But everyone knows you need to be initiated before you can be part of a gang. So we sat around the fire in a circle and made a pact that we would cut open the left side of our face. We counted down…five…four…three…two…one…I closed my eyes and…" he made a slashing motion with the knife, nearly breaking her skin. "When I opened my eyes, my friends were staring at me…and screaming…you see, I was the only one that had actually had the balls to do it. I couldn't stand the screaming…they sounded like scared little girls…so I took my knife and I. Shut. Them. Up."

He paused there, and leaned away from her face so he could look her more closely in the eye. She was trembling slightly in his grasp but her eyes had never left his the entire time during his story. His eyes widened faintly when her quivering mouth found its voice.

"And…the right side?" she whispered meekly.

His Chelsea grin widened eerily. "It looked uneven…so I evened it out."

Harley swallowed nervously, pushing her fear further down into her throat and lifted up the bottom of her shirt, exposing a hideous, deep red line that ran from just below one side of her ribs to the top of her hip. "Do you want to know how I got this scar?"

His black eyes flicked to her stomach and his brow furrowed in surprise.

She sensed his hesitation and took that as the opportunity she had been looking for.

"About four months ago, my wonderful boyfriend over there came home late one night. Apparently, Batman had had another victory in the war against his 'organization', so Salvatore had good reason to come home completely drunk and madder than hell. So he comes home…I'm already sleeping…he doesn't care and he wakes me up. He starts shaking me and screaming at me to get up. He was nice enough to wait until I got out of bed before he starts to hit me. It was worse this time though than it had ever been before…he starts punching me and tearing at my clothes before I could even realize what he was doing…I couldn't think about anything but the pain and the…baby…it hurt so much…I passed out before it was over. By the time I woke up, I was in an ambulance. They had to perform an emergency C-section but it was too late…"

The entire room was shocked into silence as heads shifted from Harley, to Salvatore, and back to Harley again. No one could muster up a response, not even the Joker, whose face had remained emotionless during Harley's story.

Harley finally saw the moment she had been waiting for. It was now or never.

"You see," she began, her eyes locking with the Joker's. "My options are pretty limited here. If I stay, I'm a dead woman now. He'll never let me live to see another day after this. But you…you're really the one that's in control here. You're really the one who gets to say who lives or who dies. So there are only really three choices for you. You can kill Salvatore. Kill him because he deserves it. Because your own dealings in Gotham will run smoother if he's out of the way. Or…kill me. Put me out of my misery. Take the pleasure of it away from Salvatore and humiliate him by murdering his girlfriend, right here, in front of all his associates to show everyone who really has the power. Or…when you leave here tonight, whether or not you decide to let Salvatore live or die…you can take me with you…"

The Chelsea grin stood dormant for only a moment, then spread wider and wider until his red scars seemed to touch the sinister glaze in his black-rimmed eyes.