[Unnecessarily Long] Author's Note:
Little details for this story were taken from everywhere: Harley's boyfriend is from Harley Quinn #8, the second scene is pretty much directly out of Mad Love, deviating from Harley's original costume was an idea that goes along with Joker by Azzarello, etc., etc. Also, the scarf thing goes along with the original inspiration for the Joker, The Man Who Laughs, which I honestly saw yesterday for the first time only to find that that's how Gwynplaine covers his mutilation as well. Crazy.
Anyway, this story takes place before Batman and before the Joker has really become the Joker. He's still pretty crazy here, don't worry, but he's more . . . easily entertained I guess you could say. Also, he is Glasgow smiled because I like a realistic approach and I think comics use chemicals as an excuse for hero/villain transformation way too often (I also might have a fascination with Glasgow smiles since a special I saw on the Black Dahlia years ago).
Time to shut up. You read now.
The Strange Stranger
"I'm not going to be late. I'm not going to be late. I'm not going to be late," she repeated to herself as she bolted down the city streets, kicking up candy wrappers and cigarette butts in her wake with her white knee-high boots. Power of suggestion, she thought to herself, knowing the mantra meant nothing in terms of helping her in her goal but deciding that it was better to hope than to instantly start freaking out about getting fired.
Her Psychology and Criminal Justice midterm had run into overtime so the second she was done, she ran out of the building, not bothering to risk waiting for the subway or the bus, and took off for her nearly full-time job at Rick's 24 Hour Diner, a job she hated more than anything but was unable to quit.
Today, the fates seemed to be particularly against her because, aside from the midterm, once she turned the corner down the busiest street in Gotham, still three blocks from the diner, she was met with a bustling crowd of stationary people all shouting to each other in a desperate attempt to figure out what was going on. The voices of the police which rose above all were asking people in vain to please back up.
She pushed her way through the crowd, stepping on countless toes with the heels of her boots that she seriously regretted wearing and falling over multiple times only to find the crowd was so densely packed that when she lost her footing she would find himself uncomfortably crawling all over the person next to her in an attempt to regain her footing.
When she got to the center of the crowd she was surprised to find herself pressed against a thin barrier of police tape, standing barely two feet from a body lying face down on the pavement, stepped in blood. She looked up into the burning sun to see a skyscraper with one lone broken window that the person had unmistakably plummeted from.
But that wasn't what killed him.
The back of the victim's head had been completely blown away, destroyed brain fragments framed by thick black hair. The man was wearing an expensive-looking grey business suit that was covered in his own internal matter.
That's what I'm studying, she thought to herself indifferently as she looked at the man's head. How often do psychologists actually get to see the muscle they're really working with, she wondered, chuckling to herself to the horror of the elderly woman standing next to her. She quickly hid her face from the woman and ferociously pushed her way to the end of the crowd, remembering that she was still late for work and Rick was not going to take it well.
You'd think the people would have had enough of gore and violence by now, she thought, the diner's gaudy light-up sign finally in sight. The mobs in Gotham lately have been offing people like chickens at Colonial Sander's farm and yet people still gawk when another crook winds up dead in public.
It's funny really how the mob bosses use their brains to clandestinely destroy the brains of others without getting caught. Lots of crazies in this city for me to learn about when I finally get out of school, she thought, as she pushed open the door to the diner, setting off a tinkering bell to alert the wait staff of customers (and Rick of late wait staff), and walked quietly into the backroom.
She paused in taking off her coat and gritted her teeth. She was caught.
"It's Harley," she muttered indignantly under her breath to herself as she continued getting ready for work.
The door to the office slammed open and Harley greeted Rick with a fleeting look of lack of interest as she went about unbuttoning her white shirt to reveal the Rick's t-shirt that was the extent of her required uniform underneath.
"You're late, Leeny!" Rick shouted as he walked into the room. Rick was a lecherous bore of a man, about 250 pounds and 6'2" with hair that covered every part of his body except the top of his head. He had been running the diner for twenty years after it had been given to him by his father who had named it after him, which meant he was probably about fifty years old, the same age as their usual clientele. Harley didn't know if he was married or not but she really couldn't fathom anyone stooping low enough to tie that particular knot.
"I had a midterm and there was a crowd in the street I normally take. Someone was murdered," Harley said monotonously as she tied her dark green apron around her waist and readjusted her blonde ponytail. She had learned after working there so long that Rick liked intimidating people so the best way to handle him was with apathy. Retaliation worked too but it often resulted in him threatening to fire her so she usually didn't try it.
Rick curled his lip as if he was contemplating whether he thought her excuse was legitimate as he watched her pin her nametag to her shirt with extreme fascination.
"You know, Leeny, if you're going to wear knee-length skirts all the time you can at least take off those glasses," he said, tardiness temporarily forgotten. "I mean, jeez, you're probably a pretty girl under all that. You've certainly got a good body that you should show off. Make me some more money."
Harley cringed and self-consciously adjusted her glasses. She knew they weren't the most attractive frames she could have gotten but they were the only ones she could afford on her budget. Besides, most people thought they made her look smart, something Rick clearly didn't care for.
It wasn't like she was clueless about her power over the opposite sex; she just preferred to get by on her brains and not on her sexuality. Of course, that didn't always work. Sure, maybe she had sweet-talked a teacher into raising her grade before but she wasn't about to shamelessly throw herself at her customers just to give Rick an excuse to steal her tips and slap her bum more.
"At least you wore boots this time instead of sneakers," Rick continued, following her into the kitchen. "But those boots would look better with a shorter skirt. Maybe some tight shorts."
Harley stopped in front of the door leading to the front counter and glanced at the knife rack on her right that was at arm's length. She had learned in Psychology 101 that imagining killing people was completely normal as long as you never actually act on the ideas. Every day though, she could see herself grabbing one of those knives and slicing Rick's ugly face up and every day the thought got more tempting.
She could feel his eyes on her behind, his thoughts clearly not on her black and red skirt but on what was underneath it. Her fingers tingled at the thought of reaching for the knife, adrenaline started pumping through her veins, but instead of giving in she closed her eyes, pushed open the door, and walked into the restaurant.
She looked over her shoulder to see that Rick had followed her. He was probably just bored. Sighing, she grabbed an order pad and pen from behind the counter and stuck them in the front of her apron. Doing a quick scan of the room she saw that the diner was nearly empty.
What do you expect for three in the afternoon on a Tuesday, she thought to herself, putting her hands on her hips. That must be why I'm the only one working today.
In one corner there was an older couple who Harley had seen before. They were regulars who often came in for late lunches and stayed talking long after they had finished eating. They were one of those couples that would bicker loudly over something as grand as the state of the world and then gossip about something personal, like people they had known for years, oblivious to the people around them trying to enjoy their meals. They frequently had a conversation about moving to Florida that always got heated. They probably had nowhere else to go.
In the corner closer to Harley, she saw a man sitting by himself, probably in his mid-twenties and she smiled to herself. She couldn't help getting excited at finally seeing someone in the diner under the age of 45. The only time she ever saw anyone around her age was when she worked midnight to four in the morning on Fridays or Saturdays when the place was crawling with her drunken peers and that was never fun.
". . . and you should use this week's paycheck to touch up your roots," Rick finished, pointing at her hairline. She had long since been ignoring him and he only now saw that her gaze was aimed at the customers and not him.
"They're just having water," Rick said, signaling to the couple seated by the door, finally realizing that he should make Harley get to work. "And the weirdo in the corner hasn't ordered yet."
Harley furrowed her brows and looked at the man, her head tilted as she examined him. He didn't look that strange to her. He had a mop of curly, brown hair and looked to be of a normal stature but a little on the tall, slender side. He was wearing a dark purple suit jacket, a white and blue striped button-down, and grey slacks; an innocuous outfit that didn't imply any specific job. The only thing peculiar about him was that he was wearing a dark green scarf around his mouth that she imagined would have to come off to eat anyway.
"He came up to the counter to ask me for a kid's menu and didn't take off that scarf," Rick scoffed. "He's been looking at both menus for the past five minutes so you should take his order now, sweet cheeks."
Harley whipped her head around to glare at Rick for the nickname only to find that he had vanished into the kitchen. Taking a deep breath, she plastered her wide, fake customer smile onto her face and approached the man in the corner with her order pad and pen at the ready.
"Hiya! Welcome to Rick's! May I take ya order?" she said enthusiastically. Her voice always got higher when she tried to sound cheerful and her slight accent got thicker.
The man looked up at her with interested, sleep-deprived eyes and held up a gloved finger to indicate that he needed a second. Harley watched as he rolled up the bottom of his scarf so that his mouth was visible, leaving the rest of the fabric curving around his upper lip and spreading out over his cheeks.
He has something to hide under there, Harley realized. Maybe it's a birthmark? Or a scar?
Nonetheless, Harley found that it was surprisingly easy to ignore the presence of the scarf now that she could see his mouth and what she also realized as a result was that she found him very attractive.
The man smiled at her.
It's a line, Harley thought to herself, blushing against her best efforts. I know the sweet-talking type. They come in here all the time.
Knowing this didn't keep her fake smile from fading quickly into a genuine one. She had to admit, his voice which was simultaneously rough and high-pitched wasn't quite accommodating to his compliment. Had Harley been someone else, she imagined she would find it creepy, especially when paired with his mysterious facial shield.
But she wasn't and she could be reluctantly charmed so easily sometimes.
"Ya order?" she asked quickly, trying to regain her composure.
He flicked his tongue out over the corners of his lips and looked down at the kid's menu he was holding.
"I will have the 'Funcakes: pancakes with a smile,'" He said with a kind of sarcastic happiness that made Harley have to bite the insides of her cheeks to keep from laughing.
"Would you like those Funcakes in an adult portion?" she asked through slight giggles. Usually when people tried to order off the kids menu they did so because they didn't want a lot of food. She had a hunch in this case that he wanted the food for its aesthetic value.
"Yes, I would," he replied, handing her the two menus which she stuck under her arm. "But I want it with the works: bacon hair, lots of M&M's for eyes, and instead of an orange slice, can you make me a big smile out of strawberries?" he said avidly, speaking with his hands as well as his voice.
Harley couldn't help it, she was grinning from ear to ear.
"Yeah, a' course. Anything to drink?"
"Water would be great," he said simply, folding his hands. "As would your company."
Harley stopped writing and looked up.
"Huh?" she asked a bit too loudly; sure she was making an uninviting face of bewilderment. She had never been asked to join a customer before. Well, not seriously at least. She got invitations to sit down from intoxicated customers who wanted to get their grubby hands on any woman around but never just someone who was alone. He didn't seem lonely though. In fact, he seemed perfectly content by himself.
"When you're finished getting my food, I want you to sit and chat with me," he said more like a command than a request. "Although I can see you're very busy with those two," he said pointing to the elderly couple across the room."
"Not too busy," Harley said, with a smirk, turning on her charisma. "I'll be right back with ya food."
She walked into the backroom where Rick was sitting in a chair, reading a sports magazine and scratching his fat stomach that was unable to be contained by his wifebeater tank top. Usually she just put the orders into the kitchen through the window behind the bar counter but she wanted to decorate his pancakes herself and she needed supplies.
"The man wants pancakes and bacon," Harley said to Rick, before moving over to where the dessert toppings were kept.
Rick dropped his magazine on the floor and walked over to the grill.
"Something normal, eh?" he said, pulling out the ingredients for pancakes. "What are you doing?" he asked noticing her putting on gloves and grabbing a fistful of M&Ms.
"Nothing," Harley said quickly, dropping the M&Ms into the pocket of her apron and taking the gloves off behind her back. "I was just gonna play Solitaire in the office 'til you're done with those pancakes."
"Don't get too committed to the game," Rick said, dripping batter onto the grill. "It won't take long."
Harley nodded and edged slowly towards the office door. Once Rick's back was turned, she grabbed the container of strawberry topping and a can of whipped cream out of the fridge and snuck back out to the front counter. She carefully put the strawberries, whipped cream, and gloves under the counter so Rick wouldn't see them when he puts the plate in the window and saw out of the corner of her eye that the man in the corner had been watching the door behind the counter for her return. She took a seat on the barstool that was kept behind the bar but didn't start a game. She wasn't in the mood for Solitaire today.
Suddenly it occurred to her that she had forgotten his drink and she rushed into the kitchen, one hand on her apron pocket to keep the candy inside from bouncing around and making too much noise.
"What's the hurry?" Rick asked. "They're not quite done yet."
Harley didn't want to admit her mistake. "I'm thirsty," she said, pulling down one of the water glasses from a rack overhead and filling it with water.
She walked out into the restaurant and up to the man's table.
"Your food should be ready in a minute," she said, smiling brightly as she set the water glass down on the table. He looked up at her and smirked.
Harley rolled her eyes and walked behind the counter to collect the plate from the window. She looked down at the sad, undecorated yet delicious-looking pancakes and put on the latex gloves again, ready to make culinary magic happen.
First, she broke up the three stripes of bacon that were laying unexcitingly next to the pancakes into bite sized bits and arranged them around the top of the pancake to give it hair that looked somewhat like a short curly do. She pulled a handful of M&Ms out of her pocket and looked at the different colors, deciding that she was going to make the eyes out of candy of the same color; she just needed to choose what color. Figuring she should be realistic, she narrowed down her color choices to blue, green, or the black-brown. She counted out how many she had of each of the three colors and found that she had more of the black ones so she used them to make big circles for eyes, using a single red one for a nose. With half of the face completed, she pulled out the vat of strawberries and shoved her gloved hand into the gooey material, extracting one strawberry at a time. The smile she created spanned almost the entire bottom of the pancake.
He must really like strawberries, she thought as she threw out the gloves that were now covered in red, viscous juice and pulled out the whipped cream. Although it never exclusively stated it in the menu, the pancakes were supposed to look something like a clown face so she felt it was appropriate to give them a neckpiece made of whipped cream with little balls on the end made of multi-colored M&Ms.
Harley looked down at her handy work and smiled in satisfaction. How could you frown when even your food is happy?
With a noticeable spring in her step, Harley walked over to the man's table and set down the plate in front of him.
"'Ere ya go! One order of adult-sized Funcakes," she said, beaming with pride, hoping his request that she sit with him was still standing.
He smirked at her and motioned to the chair across from him. She sat down a bit too eagerly.
"Thank you very much, er," he squinted and tilted forward, making a show of looking across the table at her nametag. "Leeny. They look . . . delicious."
Harley had to confess, she was impressed. His gaze was eighty percent function and only twenty percent using the nametag as an excuse to look at her breasts. That was a very admirable ratio and she admittedly would have been offended if he, in particular, hadn't tried to check her out at least a little bit.
"Actually my name is Harley," she corrected. "Harley Quinzel." The fact that she just gave a stranger her full name somehow didn't register in her mind as a dim-witted thing to do. She was too distracted.
The man took a sip of his water and licked his lips, nudging his scarf with his tongue as if he had forgotten it was there and was now scanning it with his mouth.
"Harley Quinzel," he said slowly with varying emphasis, as if he was testing out the name, trying to feel every syllable. "I like it. It's . . . unique." He added in a little hand gesture when he said unique.
"Thank you. What's ya name?" She asked, putting her chin in her hand like she was seriously enthralled at the prospect of knowing.
He rubbed his gloved hand across his mouth and rolled his eyes upwards like he was trying to decide.
"You can call me J."
She frowned a bit, hoping she was going to get a more substantial answer but she figured it would be rude to press him.
"A'right, Mistah J," she responded cheerily, hoping he might open up and give her his real name if she acts really sweet.
J unrolled his silverware that was painstakingly wrapped up in a tightly covering napkin. Harley hated making those little napkin cases for the silverware. She never quite got the hang of it and always felt inferior when she had to ask someone to help her with them.
Taking a fork and knife in hand, he cut roughly into the pancakes, scooping up a forkful of whipped cream, bacon, and candy along with his flapjacks and shoving the concoction into his mouth. Harley considered asking him if that actually tasted good but she refrained and just sat with a pleasant expression on her face. He seemed to like it well enough.
"So, are you a student at Gotham State?" he asked, taking a drink of water to wash down the confounding combination of foods.
"Yeah. I'm a psych major," she said with a touch of pride.
He chuckled gruffly to himself and she started to wonder if she said the wrong thing somehow.
"Undergrad?" he asked, smacking his lips as he wolfed down more pancake.
"Yeah. I'm graduatin' this year though. I'm tryin' to get into Gotham State's med school but I have to write this annoying paper to be considered," she said, suddenly feeling herself tense up in remembrance.
Harley shivered. "We have to design and conduct an experiment and essentially do a write-up on it." She looked away for a second uncomfortably and then looked back at him. He seemed curious and her reluctance to talk further about it only heightened his intrigue. "Can we change the subject?" she asked eagerly. "What . . ."
"Do you like working . . . here?" he interrupted before she could ask something about him. She had so many questions for him but once the topic of her job was brought up, she forgot them.
"Gawd, no!" she said fervently, rolling her eyes. "I'm only workin' here because I can't afford tuition. I'm paying my own way and all I have on my side is a partial gymnastics scholarship that I won't have when I go to med school." She crossed her arms and thought for a second.
"I don't really mind the actual work; it's my boss I hate, Rick," she said with a heavy sigh. "Sometimes I think to myself, if only I had a rusty cheese grater and a stapler I would just . . ." Harley stopped, it suddenly dawning on her that she was revealing her darkest internal thoughts to a stranger, something she never dared do to anyone.
I scared him away, she thought nervously. I know I did. Now he's going to politely suggest that I check on the other customers so he can get away from me. Dammit, why do I always do stuff to people who are tryin' to be nice to me?
Contrary to her thoughts, he abruptly burst into a fit of thunderous, cartoonish laughter, causing Harley's eyes to widen as she fell against the back of her chair in shock like she had just been hit by something.
He dramatically wiped a nonexistent tear from his eye and smiled at her.
"A girl after my own heart," he said, clutching his chest for emphasis.
Harley's face reddened, even though she could see how every word out of his mouth could be construed as insincere and joking. She reasoned though that after this many instants of him talking like that, it was proof that his inflections were just part of his natural manner of speaking and she should take him to be mostly honest.
"So if you're going to become a psychiatrist, where do you plan on working?" J asked, wiping up some whipped cream that managed to dribble onto his chin. Harley thought it was cute that he ate like a sloppy little kid.
"I want to work at Arkham Asylum. Then maybe write a book about criminal minds," she said, hoping he'd be impressed.
He didn't really give a reaction outside of continuing to eat.
"So you want to be around the real crazies, huh?" he said indifferently.
"Yeah," she countered, trying to hide her frustration in his lack of reaction.
He smirked and swirled the whipped cream massacre that was once his food around on the plate until none of the elements were distinguishable, his eyes never leaving hers.
"You know, I've got a theory about psychologists and psychiatrists and whatnot. You wanna hear it?" he asked, clearly going to tell her whatever her answer is.
"I think people who go into psychology usually do so because they are passively aware of something wrong with their own heads and want to understand it better."
Harley's mouth dropped open.
"Ah-ha!" he said, pointing his butter knife at her and laughing. "You know I'm right."
"I never said you were . . ."
"Ah-ta-ta, actions speak louder than words, Harley girl," he said, waving a discouraging finger at her. Harley pouted in defeat. The description did explain a lot of people she knew.
I wonder how he figured this out anyway, she thought. Does he know a lot of people in the field of psychology? Is he in psychology himself?
"So," he started, changing the subject, "prove it."
"Prove what? That I have a mental disorder myself?" Harley snapped bitterly.
"No, no, no, diagnose somebody else. I wanna see how you think," he said, looking at her so intensely, Harley's muscles tightened up.
Harley looked around as if there would be someone nearby who she had spent enough time with to actually give a psychological profile on. To her left, she could see Rick's shadow in the window between the counter and the kitchen and she had it.
"Well, my nametag says 'Leeny' because it's another derivation of Harleen, which is my first name, and Rick gives all his waitresses nicknames whether they want them or not. I think it's his way of exertin' authoritative power over us and makin' us seem like his possessions. This is probably rooted in some lack of control he had in his youth, most likely in the case of women as he only hires women to be waitresses. Maybe his mother was really domineerin' or he had a lot of bad relationships."
"Well, look at you go future criminal psychologist," he said in a way that sounded halfway between sarcasm and authentic admiration. She decided it was probably the latter.
Harley continued talking over him, partially out of revenge for him interrupting her all the time and partially because she was still on a line of thought.
"I mean, I don't wanna be property to anyone," she said adamantly, so adamantly, she had to stop and think about it after. "If I were to be submissive to someone it'd have to be someone I really respect and admire," she added, mitigating her previous statement.
J simpered at her and slowly licked his lips again.
"Do you have a boyfriend?" he asked, somewhat deviously.
"Yeah," she answered without really thinking. She always answered yes automatically to that question even though it was no longer true, usually to deter unwanted suitors, which was why the answer actually surprised her. Mr. J wasn't an unwanted suitor but she would feel weird trying to take back her answer so she figured she'd let the truth come out on its own.
"Do you respect and admire him?" he asked, raising an inquiring eyebrow.
Harley shrugged. "Doesn't matter. I'm the dominant one in the relationship."
For someone so smart he was so easy to push around; so gullible. It was all so very . . . displeasing.
"Ooo, so you don't respect him?" he said delighted.
Harley sighed sadly, knowing she probably had guilt written all over her face. "I guess I didn't," she said trying not to sound too disheartened. She didn't want Mr. J to think she was still harboring feelings for him. She had cared about him a lot but the past is in the past.
"Didn't?" he asked, his grin getting wider.
"He died. . . and it was my fault," she said the last part in a whisper as if she was afraid that somehow Rick or the couple in the corner would hear her and try to do something about it.
Mr. J's face preserved its grin and questioning brows only he now threw in a zealously wavering hand, urging her to explain.
"He was a psych major too, a few years older than me, workin' on his thesis on Chaos Theory. . ."
"One of my favorite theories!" Mr. J interjected, taking a final bite of his food that was mostly whipped cream.
"His too. He was a bright guy. Funny too. That's why I liked him so much. I got a thing for sense 'a humor. Anyway, what happened was I decided to conduct an experiment on him for my med school paper to test how far someone's love will go," Harley heaved a sorrowful sigh. "Long story short, he killed for me and then killed himself."
"Chaos Theory got him huh?" Mr. J said, smiling.
Harley offered a weak smile in return and stared down at her hands.
I guess it did.
"Maybe we psychology people are crazy."
She glanced up quickly at the man across from her to see that he was no longer in good spirits and she felt like it was her fault.
"Listen Harls," he started, addressing her like they were old friends, trying to get them talking again. "I like to think of myself as something of a . . ." he paused in contemplation. "An amateur psychologist. And from my observations, I learned an interesting fact about relationships that few men know and few women will admit."
"What?" she asked looking up at him, wondering if he had to prelude every observation he made.
He gave her a look so potent that he appeared to be leering at her and simultaneously trying to convey to her that this was the most imperative thing she would ever hear.
"Strong women want even stronger men to push them around." He ran his tongue along his teeth, drawing Harley's attention to a chip in one of his bottom teeth and the fact that his mouth looked strangely inviting. "However, strong women are constantly attracting weak men who they may be with for a while but it just won't be . . . satisfying." He raised an eyebrow as if to say that she was a perfect example of such a scenario. "Similarly, strong men always seem to end up with the weakest of women who won't challenge them at all because they can gain control so easily and that's what they want but not what they need. It's one big joke on relationships. No one deserving gets what they want!" He laughed loudly to emphasize his point.
Harley sniggered and pulled her ponytail out. She was getting a headache from all the pressure on her skull.
"You're telling me," she said, pulling off her glasses and rubbing them clean on her skirt. "You're a really smart guy, Mistah J," she said, offering him an admiring look as she put her glasses back on.
Without warning he reached across the table and snatched her glasses right off her face, looking severely into her light blue eyes.
"Personally, I prefer a challenge."
Harley's breath hitched.
She jumped nearly a foot in her chair, her breath already short. She looked at the slightly fuzzy version of Mr. J across from her and could make out that he was holding her glasses out for her to take back.
"I'll just be a minute," Harley said, shakily putting her glasses back on and being able to see him clearly again.
"Yes, yes," he said waving her away, blatantly aggravated that they were interrupted.
Before Harley could make it to the kitchen door, Rick shoved it open, almost hitting her in the face, and came out into the restaurant. When he saw her, he grabbed her by her loose hair and pulled her vehemently behind the bar counter.
"What do you think you're doing?" he whispered so none of the customers would be able to hear him.
"Talkin' to a customer," Harley answered, running her fingers through her hair to fix where Rick had messed it. "It's my job!" she said mockingly.
Rick pinched her cheek harshly and pulled her up to him until there was barley an inch between their faces. Harley thought about the satisfaction it would give her to spit in his face. Maybe bite his nose off.
"If you want to seduce Scarf Guy, do it on your own time!" he snapped. "Now give him his check and make sure he pays for your services." Rick punctuated the sentence by smacking her behind hard causing Harley to let out a hurt whimper against her will that filled her with self-loathing and anger. Rule number one is always don't show them anything but contempt or boredom.
He stormed into the backroom as Harley begrudgingly approached the register, muttering curses, as she printed up Mr. J's bill. When she looked up, she saw that he was watching her and probably had been throughout the whole embarrassing display.
She walked defeated back to his table and put the check down without saying anything. He motioned for her to take a seat again and added, "If you think you can handle it." Harley was torn between bursting out laughing and punching him in the face. She ended up sitting down in silence.
"Now Harley," he began, ignoring the bill, "there's something I don't get here. When I started talking to you, you seemed like a really strong person . . . and then I see that," he said, motioning to the counter.
"I need this job," she said shrugging.
"Not that badly you don't," he said, his voice getting deeper and intimidating.
Harley sighed angrily. "Fine, well, maybe when I was tryin' to find a job I implied that Rick might get somethin' outta hiring me that I had no intention of givin' him. Maybe that's why I can't just call him out on sexual harassment, huh?"
Mr. J mouthed out an extended "ahhh" of revelation.
"So, Mr. J, we've been talkin' about me an awful lot," Harley said, desperate for a change in focus. "What do you do?"
He smiled and wet his lips before motioning for her to come in closer.
"Whatever I want," he whispered before erupting into a fit of giggles.
"Really!" Harley exclaimed. "How do you make money?"
He pressed his index finger against his mouth. "It's a secret. But I can tell you, I love my job. It would be much more fun though if I was my own boss. I'm planning on it. Everyone in Gotham will know me one day when the time is right."
He nodded his head vigorously, wild strands of hair flying everywhere.
"But you won't tell me the field?"
He shook his head from side to side, and then stopped to readjust his scarf.
Harley rolled her eyes. "Fine, then should we talk about your family?" she asked.
He grimaced noticeably like he had just been mildly electrocuted.
"I don't like talking about my family. I didn't really . . . get on well with them," he told her resentfully.
"Me neither," Harley said sourly.
They looked at each other in a moment of understanding and he started laughing which provoked her to join in. Harley clutched her side in pain she was laughing so hard and Mr. J hit the table in rhythm with their joy.
"Oh Gawd," Harley gasped as they started to calm down. "That felt good."
"Sometimes you just have to laugh," he said, his eyes falling into her lap. "So what does a waitress usually keep in her apron? I've always wanted to know."
Harley started laughing again and removed her apron, placing it on the table.
"Nothin' interestin'," she said, removing the items as she said them and putting them down between them. "Order pad, a pen, my cell phone, and a deck of cards. I leave everything else in the back."
Mr. J picked up the deck of cards and started shuffling them like an expert.
"What do you play?" he asked, fanning the cards out in a line on the table and flipping them over in a domino effect.
"Mostly solitaire," Harley said, eyes following his gloved hands. "Sometimes I play poker, blackjack, bull shit, stuff like that when there are other waitresses working."
Mr. J smirked as he collected the cards into a stack again and set it down on the table. "How about we play a game of poker?" he asked, licking his lips. "And if I win, you have to give me a kiss."
Harley rolled her eyes. "Oh criminey. I let that one little thing slip and suddenly I'm easy pickins," she lamented, disappointed by his perception of her but at the same time not wanting to dismiss the proposal altogether.
"Hey!" he shouted, slamming his hand down on the table, startling her. "Don't get all self-righteous on me! You're not some innocent little thing and I've been thinking about this long before your little 'confession,'" he put the word in air-quotes as if it was somehow obvious to him before she mentioned it.
His voice became softer as he leaned back peacefully in his chair. "Poker just happens to provide the perfect opportunity. So, are you in?"
Harley let out a brusque 'ha' and leaned forward. "What do I get if I win?" she asked cunningly.
"That's the spirit," he said, mimicking her crafty tone. "Hm, . . . how about . . . I pay your tuition? How much for med school? $20,000, enough?" he asked offhandedly.
"Ha! Good one!" Harley said impassively, not believing the show he was putting on just for a kiss.
He leaned forward. "I never told you what I do for a living. I could have that much money to give away to a pretty girl," he pointed out, giving her a look that dared her to dispute him.
"Even if you do there's nothin' sayin' you won't back out when you lose," she said in a very self-assured manner.
"Well, there's nothing saying you'll actually kiss me when you lose," he retorted with a smirk. "I'm a man of my word."
"Fine," Harley said, trying to keep her excitement from being to obvious. "Where would I have to kiss you?"
"Ladies' choice," he said, extending a hand to her in a gesture indicative of a gallant gentleman, as he started dealing out the cards. "Best two out of three."
Harley nodded in agreement and picked up her cards to see that she already had two pair. She threw away the other card. "I need one."
He tossed another card to her. "Dealer takes three," he declared.
They both picked up their new cards, casting suspicious glances at each other. Harley's new card didn't help her but she figured she still had a chance since he had to take three cards.
"What do you have?" he asked, trying to peak over the edge of her hand.
She drew the cards close to her breast for a second, away from his prying eyes before dropping the whole hand on the table.
"Two pair: queens over jacks. And you?"
"Straight: Ace through five," he said, throwing down his cards. "One point for me," he added, scooping up all the cards and shuffling the deck again. "Cut."
Harley reached over and cut the deck, her eyes not leaving his, giving him her best intimidation stare that he responded to with a smirk. He dealt out the cards again.
"Two," Harley said, throwing down her useless cards.
"Dealer takes three."
Harley had no poker face as she smiled and threw down her cards.
"Flush: diamonds!" she shouted in triumph.
Mr. J shrugged and showed his hand.
Harley furrowed her brows. "You have nothing."
"Technically I have a ten high," he corrected, collecting the cards again and handing her the deck.
"It all comes down to this," he said dramatically, as he watched Harley shuffle. She wasn't as fluid as he was but she had a few card tricks down. In silence she set the deck down, he cut it and she started dealing.
Harley put her hand over her mouth to hide her expression when she saw that she had a full house.
"I'll take two," he said, throwing two cards into the center of the table. She dealt them and grinned.
"Dealer takes none," she said complacently.
"Oh, well then by all means show your hand," he said.
"Full house: Aces and sixes."
He nodded, looking at the cards. "You're quite lucky," he noted, his face unreadable.
He put his cards down and his lips curled up.
Harley's jaw dropped as she looked at his hand, three actual Jacks and two Jokers, the understood wild card. There was no way she could have beat him.
"I believe you owe me a smooch," he said smugly, leaning back in his chair. "Ready when you are!"
Rising from her chair agonizingly slow, Harley started to think about how she was going to handle this. Under normal circumstances she would have kissed his cheek but that was not an option as the offending scarf kept the area off limits.
I could pull the scarf off and do it, she thought deceitfully, starting to really get curious about what he was hiding. Of course, if he's got some gross skin disease hiding under there, justifying my actions will be hard. It has to be pretty bad to put such effort into hiding it.
When she had finally made her trek over to his side of the table, she leisurely bent over so that their smiling faces were parallel with each other. Staring intently at each other, Harley leaned forward towards his mouth and he shut his eyes in anticipation. Once she was barely a centimeter from his lips, feeling his breath mixing with hers, she paused and tried not to laugh at his hopeful expression. Quickly, she moved her face up to his forehead and gave him a big kiss.
"You little tease," he grumbled in irritation.
Harley grinned and sat back down on her side of the table. He picked up the check that had been lying on the table for a while now and read over how much he owed.
"I guess I should pay this now," he said in joking defeat, pulling out his wallet and thumbing through the numerous bills he had inside. "Change for a twenty?" he asked, holding up the dollar bill.
"Sure," Harley said, taking the bill and walking up to the register behind the counter. When she opened it, she saw that they were out of nickels and five dollar bills. Rick never put enough money in the register in the morning. He's always paranoid that they're going to be robbed by some mobster but they didn't even get mobsters in the restaurant at night.
She walked into the kitchen mumbling to Rick that she was getting money from the cash bag and into the office. On the desk there was a round bag made of some heavy denim-like material for holding the register's money. She opened it up, pulling out a stack of fives and a few rolls of nickels.
When she got back out to the counter she could see Mr. J was writing something down but she couldn't see what he was using. She opened the register again and cracked open the rolls of nickels. She slid his twenty into the box and pulled out his $13.65 in change, wondering how much of it was going to be a tip for her.
When she raised her head to Mr. J's table she saw that he was gone. She quickly looked towards the door, even though she had not heard the bell ring. No sign of him.
Maybe he's in the bathroom, she thought, turning her head towards the bathroom and seeing the older man from the corner leaving the one unisex bathroom the restaurant had.
Sad and confused, Harley looked down at the change in her hand.
Did he really just leave me a $13.65 tip?
She walked over to his table and picked up his plate and water glass.
I never got his real name, she thought miserably as she pulled out his chair to look for stray food that would mean she'd have to sweep up.
When she saw what was on his chair, she dropped the dishes onto the floor in astonishment.
There on his chair was a stack of hundred dollar bills, held together by her hair tie that she had left on the table. She picked up the stack to see that on top there was a note to her scribbled on a Rick's business card.
I'm a man of simple tastes. I don't need this like you do. Take it, go to med school, and get that job at Arkham. Maybe one day we will see each other again and you can thank me. – J
Six years later
"Care to tell me how this got in my office?"
Dr. Harleen Quinzel approached the clear Hannibal Lector-like cage separating her from the infamous Joker who was lying down on his cot, smiling smugly at her. It was strange seeing him out of his usual purple and green suit, now thrust into Arkham Asylum's uniform of grey. His hair was a wild, greasy green-tinted mess and his eerie clown-like make-up which he had been wearing since he was put there a few days ago was really smudged and wearing off in some places.
Dr. Quinzel pressed the note she had received against his door so he could see it, realizing that she was probably the only doctor in the whole damn asylum who was not afraid to get so close to his cage. That and a few days of begging had gotten her control over his case and she was still technically completing her residency!
The note, which read, "Come down and see me sometime. – J", had been tied around a vase containing a single red rose that she had found sitting on her desk amongst her files.
He licked his scars and answered matter-of-factly, "I put it there."
She tried to hide her surprise at the unexpected statement.
"Well, I'm sure Dr. Arkham and the guards will be interested to know you've been out of your cell," she said threateningly, as she stuck the note in the front pocket of her white lab coat.
The Joker laughed and crawled to the end of his cot so there was even less distance between them.
"Dr. Quinzel, if you were going to tattle on me, you already would have," he said, daring her to prove him otherwise.
She tried to maintain her aggressive expression but she jumped back when he suddenly hopped off his bed and pressed his face up to the cell.
"You know, I like what I've heard about you," he said, grinning.
Harley was taken aback. "Oh, um, anything in particular?" she asked, suddenly feeling very small under his intense stare.
"Mostly your name: Harleen Quinzel," he said, stressing the first half of her last name. "It sounds like Harlequin, the clown character from Italian theater," he licked his lips and smirked. "You could see how I would be . . . attracted to it."
Eight Months Later
"They nevah give ya enough!" Harley groaned angrily as she sucked down the last of her Seabreeze and slammed the glass down on the bar's counter. She reached into one of the many internal pockets of her red trench coat draped over the barstool next to her and pulled out a pistol.
"Hey! What's a girl gotta do to get some service around here?" she yelled, looking towards the door to the backroom in hopes that someone would come out. Her eyes fell downward in annoyance and saw the body of the bartender on the floor behind the bar riddled with bullet holes and swimming in a pool of blood.
"Oh right. I forgot," Harley said to herself, giggling as she put her pistol back into her trench where she was storing an arsenal of other guns, knives, and small explosives. "I must be a little sloshed," she said out loud, looking around the empty bar. Other than the body of the bartender behind the counter, there were the bodies of two men who had heckled her and tried to grope her, lying by her feet. Her once clean white boots were now speckled in blood.
Shrugging, Harley unsteadily flipped over the counter and started collecting the ingredients to make herself another drink now that there was no one to do it for her. Unfortunately, the memory of how to make a Seabreeze was getting kind of fuzzy, especially when she looked at the wide array of alcohols and mixers lined up in front of her.
Vodka, she remembered. There's vodka in it.
Snatching the bottle of vodka from the racks in front of her, Harley realized that behind the drinks there was a mirror. Pausing, Harley looked at herself, seeing that her reflection was both someone she did not know and the person she had secretly always been.
Her blonde hair was in low pigtails, tied off by red and black ties. When she had first started out with her new life, she wore the pigtails high on her head in a representation of a jester's hat but aesthetics, function, and references to 'handlebars' made her lower them. Her face was painted white in bulky costume makeup with her eyes thickly covered in a mask of black and her lips painted black as well. She was wearing a square-necked tank top she had sewn herself to evoke the essence of harlequin. Its upper left corner and lower right were blocks of red with black diamonds in the corners. The corresponding corners were black and the top had a white ruffle around the collar. Her black pants were tucked into knee high white boots like the ones she had in college except these had flat bottoms so she could run and jump in them easily. Her hands were covered in white leather gloves with a ruffle around the wrist to prevent leaving fingerprints anywhere.
Her black lips curled up into a wide grin.
"Oh!" Harley squealed, suddenly remembering what she was thinking about before she got distracted by her lack of alcohol. She had been remembering the man she met in the diner when she was in college; the one who left her all that money.
Then she remembered something she had wanted to do for months but still hadn't gotten the courage.
After putting the vodka back on the shelf, she threw herself onto the bar and grabbed her trench coat, digging through the pockets for her cell phone.
She opened up her address book and looked at the only two numbers she had inside, hidden by the codenames "Puddin" and "Red." She often had to ditch her cell phone in case someone tracked her down so she wanted to make sure no one could also find the only two people that she cared about.
"Red" was her best friend, Pamela, who she was going to call earlier and ask if she would hang out with her since she had been left all by her lonesome for the night, but she decided not to since Pammy was always nagging her about how her relationship with her "Puddin" and how it "wasn't healthy."
Harley leaned back on the bar, knocking her glass onto the floor as she selected "Puddin" and pushed the 'Send' button.
The phone rang three times before her love picked up. Before he could speak, she heard an explosion in the background and laughed, proud of what her puddin' was accomplishing.
"What, Harley?" he asked, his voice gruff with clear frustration. Harley smiled in spite of the fact that he wasn't happy she interrupted him at work. Had it not been for the fact that he very clearly (at knifepoint) told her that this was a job he wanted to do alone, she would be right there with him.
"I'm just callin' to say . . . I love you, puddin'" she said sweetly, cursing to herself for not just asking him outright.
He let out a loud sigh. "Harls, can this wait? I'm with a client right now."
There was a bought of screaming in the background followed by a round of gunfire.
"Could you keep it down? I'm on the phone," he yelled out.
Harley nervously started again, not wanting to waste the Joker's time.
"Well, what I've been meanin' to ask you is . . . have you ever eaten at Rick's?"