The restaurant had been only too pleased to let them in. They knew who they were of course- every one in Gotham seemed to love Fancy Living, starring Francine "Fancy" Carlton.
Ms. Carlton, heiress to the Carlton fashion empire, was the newest rich girl to get her own reality show. Blonde, blue-eyed and with far more money than brains or class, she fit in well on network television. Cameras followed her around all day every day, recording the excesses and inanity that made up her life, and at the end of the week the producers edited the footage to produce an hours entertainment. Fancy was very happy with this arrangement- she got money (not that she needed it), she got to show off her immense wardrobe, and Mike the Cameraman was such fun! But best of all, the cameras never turned off- and she loved being the center of attention.
Currently, however, this was not the case.
"God, will you LOOK at them?" Fancy said, gesturing at the crowd of people surrounding table six. Table six was where two of Hollywood's biggest stars were currently seated and was the center of a buzz of curiosity and adulation. "It's so tacky the way some people swarm all over the rich and famous."
Mike rolled his eyes even as he kept filming. After months of close exposure to the girl,he knew that Fancy would sell her soul to be the subject of such blind worship. Although Fancy Living was doing well in the ratings, it wasn't a smash hit- and Fancy was still not as famous as she wished. But he knew better than to say anything. For what the network was paying him he could put up with a little petty jealousy. God knew he'd put up with a lot worse. From temper tantrums in stores to catfights at the beach, Fancy had lived down to every one of the forty year old cameraman's expectations.
Suddenly, a strange silence spread across the trendy restaurant. It began at the door, and slowly filled the entire room. Diners tapped one another on the shoulder, telling their fellows to look at who had just come into the room. Ever sensitive to shifts in the public's focus, Fancy crane her neck to see what was happening that was so interesting. What she saw caused her mouth to drop open in shock.
Standing at the entrance to the restaurant was the Joker- the most famous person in all of Gotham City. There wasn't a single person in the huge metropolis that didn't recognize his wide grin, pale skin or green hair. Tonight, the Clown Prince of Crime was dressed to the nines in a purple overcoat, broad brimmed purple hat and his usual purple zoot suit. He stood in the doorway, seemingly oblivious to the effect his presence had on the people around him, speaking calmly with the Maitre D'.
"Not one single table free?" The Joker said, his voice tinged with amusement as he scanned the half-empty restaurant. "Certainly doesn't look like it mon vieux. HAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
'I am very sorry but all these tables have been reserved. There is nothing I can do" the flustered head waiter said, nervously playing with his pen. He was a short, stout man who was losing his hair, and he looked terrified but resolute. In truth, the tables were vacant, but he'd be damned if he let the Joker in to slaughter his clientele. He was probably dead anyway, so why give the brute the satisfaction?
"I see. In that case…" The Mad Mountebank reached one hand into his coat. The entire room flinched, expecting the Joker to withdraw a hand grenade or a pistol. Instead, he took out a small green handkerchief and dabbed at his brow. Putting it back in his pocket, the Joker loudly declared "Then I shall do what I have always done in these situations!"
Somewhere in the back of the room a woman starting crying, but Fancy didn't notice. Her attention was riveted on the Joker- his height, his grin, but especially how he was immediately the focus of the entire room. Slowly, she pushed her chair away from the table.
"What are you doing?" Mike hissed, even as he kept the camera rolling "Don't do anything stupid!"
"Stupid? Mikey, I'm about to make both our careers" Fancy said, as she slowly moved to the front of the restaurant. "Excuse me? Like, pardon me?"
Both the Joker and the Maitre D turned to look at her. "Um, I'd like to invite you to my table. I would be totally honored if you ate with me"
The Joker actually seemed nonplussed for a moment, but then his grin returned. "Well, of course you would dear girl. Lead the way!"
As the pair sat down at their table, Fancy felt everyone's eyes on her. It felt wonderful- she felt like the most important person in the world.
The Joker picked up a menu and began to page through it. A terrified waiter eventually came to the table for their orders. While Foxy ordered a Waldorf Salad, the Joker leered maliciously at the poor young server.
"Tell me" he said, a wicked gleam in his eye "What's funny tonight?"
"Well our specials are…" the waiter paused as his brain registered what he'd heard "I'm sorry? What's FUNNY?"
"Yes. What's funny on the menu tonight? Think carefully about your answer, sonny jim. HAHAHAHAHHAAAA! " The Joker's wide grin told the waiter what could happen if he didn't answer correctly.
"Uh… well the Boston Cream Pie is always funny" Seeing the Joker's expression darken, the waiter hastily added "But not really suited for a main course. How about the rump roast?"
The Grinning Gleeman of Gotham tapped a long, tapered finger against his chin "Rump roast, rump roast… Well, I don't normally work blue but I suppose it will be acceptable. Very well, chumley, rump roast and a wine spritzer."
Grateful to be left alive the waiter left, so quickly he tripped over his own feet and went sprawling.
Mike meanwhile had calmed down slightly. His camera didn't record- it sent the footage to the network production center to be stored and edited. At this very moment, someone was watching this…insanity, and alerting the police. Just the same, though, he kept one eye on the clown's hands at all times. Meanwhile, Fancy tried to be charming.
"So, like, how did you get out of Arkham?" She asked, sipping from her mineral water "Did you grab a guard and force 'em to let you go? Or did you, like, make a break for it while shooting it out with the guards? Or-OH!- did you sneak out through the laundry chute, highjack a truck, and drive to Gotham through the back roads?"
The Joker swallowed a piece of meat and dabbed at his lip with a napkin. "Don't be absurd. They had to let me go. Under the state's new guidelines for release, I'm now a sane man. And isn't that the greatest joke you've ever heard? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!"
At that moment, Fancy's phone chimed- or rather, barked- signalling that the rich girl had a message. It read: 'Go to bathroom and call me. NOW. Morry'. After announcing that she needed to powder her nose, Fancy headed to the ladies room and dialled up Morry.
Morry Levine was the show's producer, the man who had taken a spoiled rich girl and given her her own show. He was one of the most experienced producers of Reality TV in the world- and a master at getting people to abandon their dignity for money and fame. Right now, he was not happy.
"Fancy, what the hell do you think you're doing?" he yelled "Rubbing elbows with the Joker?!"
"Answer me this, Morry" Fancy said, a hard smile on her face "How do you think this will affect our ratings? Up close and personal with the Joker!"
"Fancy, they'll be watching to see how you get KILLED" Morry said. His concern was genuine- Fancy Living was proving to be quite popular and the RealTV network (a specialty channel, which broadcast only reality programming) was very happy with him for setting it up. There was talk of a promotion- maybe even a place on the Board of Directors. All of which would vanish if his star got herself killed.
"Pfft!" Fancy retorted, checking her nails "He's not so tough! What's he, like, a hundred and sixty pounds? Plus, he pulls those dumb signature crimes that tell the cops who did it, and he always wind up behind bars. He's not THAT dangerous, really, so why not get some use outta him? Besides, I signed one of those legal wafers- so if something does happen, you're safe."
"But Fancy" Morry protested, desperate to find some reason to stop this 'by the time we geet this to air next week, it'll be old news! The Joker will probably be caught and what's the point of airing it then?"
Fancy smiled. She'd been afraid of bringing it up, but since Morry had said it "Then don't wait. Put us on NOW"
"Put us on now- a Special Presentation of Fancy Living or whatever. It'll be, like, WAY more popular than some dumb rerun of Survivor: East Bumfuck. Gotta think of the bottom line, Morry"
Morry sighed and rubbed his head "All right. We'll go through with it but not live. I want a chance to edit any and all footage- we'll do a two-hour a day special until the freak gets caught. You be careful"
Fancy put her phone away and headed back to the table. She saw the Joker deep in conversation with Mike the Cameraman- or rather to the camera itself.
"…and that, boys and girls, is why you should never feed children to hyenas. Makes the poor animals all gassy." The clown said, then noticed his hostess had returned "Ah, dearest Francine! I trust you've powdered your nose sufficiently?"
The time passed fairly quickly, as the Joker regaled his hostess (and the camera) with tales of his crimes and of life in Gotham's underworld. Eventually, dinner was over.
"Ah, I thank you Francine. That was delicious- and this place is so regal! Much better than that sad little halfway house they put me in" The Joker's face took on an absurdly exaggerated hangdog expression "Ah well, back to my one-and-a-half apartment with cold and colder running water. Have a nice life, kiddo, I don't suppose we'll meet again…"
Fancy might not have been the sharpest tool in the shed, but she knew a hint when she heard one. "Why not stay with me? I've got like SO MUCH space it's totally not funny!"
"That's, like, totally a good idea" The Joker said, draping an arm around Fancy's shoulder, and together they exited the restaurant with Mike right behind them. They made their way across town to Fancy's high-rise apartment complex, with the Joker singing along with the car radio the whole way. As they pulled up to the hige building, Mike signaled the limousine driver to stop. When the large black car came to a halt, the cameraman hopped out.
"What are you DOING?" Fancy hissed.
"Going home" Mike replied, his voice brisk and firm "You can endanger yourself all you want miss, but my contract with RealTv only requires me to be here from 8 am til 9 pm period. Anything more than that is at my discretion- and 'til now I didn't mind staying longer, 'cause the pay's good for overtime. But I'm not spending one minute more than I have to with this guy."
"Oh, Mickey how could you?" The Joker cried, putting one hand to his cheek in mock hurt "After all our time together, I'm just this guy to you!"
Ignoring her guest Fancy huffed "Fine. But be here on time tomorrow morning. Come on, Joker, let's go."
As they rode the elevator up, Fancy sulked. How DARE that insignificant pauper deny her her glory?! Now she had to put up with the clown without the compensation of a vast audience. Beside her, and seemingly oblivious to her foul mood, the Joker rocked back and forth on his heels, whistling some old vaudeville song. Eventually, the elevator arrived at the thirty fifth floor penthouse suite. The doors slid open on the massive foyer of Fancy's lavish apartment. She stomped in and hurled a blanket on the cream-white sofa.
"You sleep there. Good night" She said, then turned to leave. But before she could go, she felt a thin hand close tightly on her wrist. For a moment her heart froze in fear, and she whirled around, expecting to see the Joker's famous acid squirting flower aimed at her face. Instead, the clown's smile had softened and he looked deeply into her eyes.
"Francine, I want- I want to thank you for this. Not many people would give this old clown a chance, much less a warm place for the night. You are a wonderful young lady, and I want you to know that I will make it up to you, somehow."
Fancy Carlton was normally the definition of the spoiled brat and normally saw other people only as a means of fulfilling her desires. But something in the Joker's voice triggered unexpected feelings in her- pity, warmth, and compassion.
"Well" she said at last "I guess I just couldn't stand to see you suffer. Anyway, the TV is in the corner- I've got all the channels, so if you can't sleep you won't be bored. Don't worry about the noise, all the rooms are soundproofed. I usually go out for breakfast around 8. Sweet dreams."
"Thank you Francine, sleep well" the Joker said to her back, as she went into her bedroom.
Once inside, she immediately turned on CNN, just in time to hear the anchorman say:
"…does not, at present, have the right to broadcast footage of the Joker and Ms. Carlton. However, by this time tomorrow, RealTV will allow CNN to rebroadcast their footage. More on this story as it develops."
Fancy smiled. Everything was going her way.