Happy Columbus Day
Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest "What the protagonist wants" challenge in more than 500 words; the prompt was "The Joker wants his own Joker Appreciation Day". First posted there on 29 April 2009.
"What good did Columbus ever do? He was a buffoon who got lost and insisted that the Caribbean was India, despite the difference in language, culture and lack of an established spice trade." The Joker slumped down onto the threadbare couch, throwing up a cloud of dust. He coughed angrily as he brushed the white streaks from his jacket. "For that he's remembered with a federal holiday as well as having a ridiculous number of places named after him by unimaginative public servants."
Harley clucked sympathetically as she rooted around in the cupboards of the apartment, searching for any tins of food that were less than two decades past their expiration date. "It sure is ridiculous Mistah J. Who knew they still shut up all the city banks for Columbus Day? If they'd publicised it a bit better we coulda taken somethin' to cut through locks with, and then we might have got past the front doors." She shrugged cheerfully. "Still – you live and learn, huh?"
The Joker scowled as Harley shook a slightly rusty can of pears cautiously. After the less-than-complete-success of the bank job that was supposed to raise some quick funds, the pair were now stuck laying low in one of Gotham's rattier (and more rat infested) safehouses.
From the looks of the place Harley suspected it'd last been decorated around the time her parents were starting grade school, and the contents of the kitchen cupboards looked like they'd been borrowed from an exhibition of retro 1950s packaging. Despite this she'd still accepted it cheerfully enough as a fixer-uper – given the neighbourhood they'd driven through she'd just been pleasantly surprised to find the apartment wasn't full of drugged-up gangbangers. The Joker had declared himself annoyed by this, having hoped to expel some of his frustration through casual violence.
"Columbus Day – ridiculous. Presidents Day – pointless." The Joker continued angrily counting off the holidays on one hand. "Why does Martin Luther King need his own day? Why dedicate an whole 24 hours to independence or giving thanks?" He made a dismissive snort that raised another cloud of dust from his jacket. "What have veterans ever done for us?"
Harley turned and opened her mouth to offer a few suggestions, then shut it again as she realised he wasn't actually addressing her. Her Puddin' had that familiar (and oh-so-gorgeous) gleam in his eye that said he had latched onto the tail of a brilliant idea. Mid-scheming he always said he only wanted contributions from the smartest person in the room, and through some initial trial and error she'd learnt he wasn't usually talking about her so she settled for watching his genius at work.
"What this country needs are some holidays that really mean something!" The Joker leapt to his feet, getting into his stride now. "Holidays that reflect what this great country is all about – such as seizing the resources of others and destroying those we don't agree with, using crushing force whenever possible."
The Joker spun on his heel, gesturing to an imaginary crowd like a candidate giving their triumphant inaugural speech. "We need to recognise true brilliance! We need to honour a true giant among the other puny, sheep-like mortals who have their designated days. So long Columbus! Ta-ta Santa Claus! Their days will be forgotten, and there will only be one date to circle on your calendar."
The Joker turned back to note that Harley, having abandoned her search of the cupboards, was gazing at him with one of his favourite expressions – a mix of adoration and awe. He decided to be generous and offer her the pretence of a chance to contribute, adopting his own expression of slight befuddlement. "So – any idea of who we should honour with such a day, pumpkin?"
"Ooh – ooh!" Harley bobbed up and down waving her arm frantically; the girl in class who has finally been called on for a question she knows she can ace. "I know! I know this one – we need a day recognising you Puddin'!"
The Joker switched his face into a charming smile in an instant. "Excellent idea, Harl! You get a gold star." Harley gave a small happy squeak (even though she suspected the star might be metaphorical) and darted across to hang off his arm as he stood deep in thought, pondering the specifics of steps one to ten in establishing your own national day.
"A day all for you Puddin'." Harley giggled happily, then suddenly gasped and tugged on his sleeve. "Mistah J Day – It even rhymes!"
The Joker rolled his eyes slightly, resolving not to delegate any of the slogan writing or publicity material to someone who once composed a ten page long Valentines poem entirely in Hallmark-style drivel that rhymed with 'Mistah J'.
"But how're you gonna do it Puddin'?" Harley asked, drawing his attention back to both the fact that she was still pawing at his arm, and that he was actually unsure of how to actually get the whole day-in-his-honour thing up and running. "Hows about you take over the TV stations again and make a big announcement?"
"Pft, taking over the networks is so old hat." The Joker dismissed her suggestion with a wave. "And just declaring that so-and-so date will be a day in my honour – what will that achieve? Where's the style? Any schlub can just announce to his dim-witted friends that February 17th is Good Ole' John Smith Day. Even advertisers know that trick, which is how we ended up with National Egg Salad Week and Administrative Professionals Day."
Harley suddenly dropped her grasp of his sleeve and looked thoughtful. "Mistah J, do I count as an administrative professional?"
"You can't take shorthand and the last time you scheduled an appointment for me was when you were my therapist," he pointed out. "So no, you don't."
Harley huffed slightly in annoyance. "Well what am I, chopped liver?"
The Joker narrowed his eyes in confusion. "After all that fuss you make over Valentines and anniversaries, you want to add another day to the list where you just obsess about what I didn't get you as a gift? You might want to remember that aside from the kind of 'perks' you generally can't include on your tax form, I don't actually pay you."
"That's not the point!" Harley protested, stamping a foot in frustration and completely missing his insinuations. The Joker shrugged noncommittally, and she puffed up as much as her five foot seven inches could next to his taller frame as she poked a pointed finger into his chest. "Fine. But after you get a day I wanna set up one for henchwenches, molls and other overlooked, overworked and underpaid villainous assistants who don't do enough typing to come under that other stupid day."
Fed up with this argument the Joker quirked an eyebrow and gave his angry harlequin a pleasant smile, much as a hungry shark would give to a smaller fish. "Sure Harl, fair's fair. That can be your side project when we're done with this."
Harley smiled with satisfaction and resumed her contented dangling from his arm, while the Joker resolved to always 'forget' to get her a card, gift or whatever other acknowledgement she figured such a day would merit. Or possibly he'd get her a fancy looking but empty jewellery box. There was plenty of time to plan it thoroughly in order to achieve the maximum about of angry wailing and hilarious empty threats of vengeance.
Having had enough of her nonsense for the time being, the Joker untangled his sleeve from Harley's grasp and walked briskly across to the old rickety dining table that would just about serve as a desk. From a jacket pocket he produced a stolen pen along with the chain where it had once connected to a counter (he couldn't quite recall where), then took up some yellowing newspapers and began jotting down notes in the margins.
"Now, frivolities aside and on to more important matters, such as when to have My Day. Not in summer. I don't want everyone out of town having barbeques and tailgate parties where they won't appreciate all the fun events and festivities in my honour." He briefly sucked on the end of the pen as he pondered. "No, something a bit darker and chillier would be better. Maybe late November or December."
Harley gave a small cough of interruption from across the room. "Uh, I think that whole season's kinda already taken Puddin'. Y'know – with Thaksgiving, and Hannukah and Christmas. Or Winterval or Winterfest or whatever non-denominational name they're callin' it now. Then there's New Years. And no one feels much like celebrating stuff for a while after all that."
"Hmm, you may be right there," the Joker acknowledged. "That makes a change."
"Hey! You were givin' me gold stars earlier!" Harley protested.
"Pity stars, Harl. Pity stars." He watched her face fall. "But don't worry – that last contribution got you a real one that time." She brightened again, and the Joker awarded himself another point in the ongoing competition between his intellect and Harley's gullibility.
"The calendar is quite full of other holidays though, isn't it," he mused mostly to himself. "I think we need to bring a bit of spontaneity into this."
The Joker dug around in an inside pocket of his jacket and withdrew a deck of cards which he threw in the general direction of where Harley was still standing, forcing her to scramble to catch it.
"Shuffle them and pick two at random would you? And I think some of the diamonds might still be the razor edged ones, so be careful because if you bleed everywhere you'll be the one cleaning the carpet."
Harley gingerly shuffled the deck as though it might suddenly decide to bite her, which effectively it may have done, then held up two cards. "Uh, the seven of clubs and six of diamonds? Is that good?"
"Seven and six; so that's the sixth of July or seventh of June. Both of which sound like summer to me." He stood up and walked across to snatch the cards from her hands. "Congratulations - you can't even get randomness right."
"But I…" Harley spluttered. "Random means–"
The Joker shushed her protests impatiently. "Hush. I'm abandoning forced spontaneity and making an arbitrary decision that next Friday is going to be My Day."
Harley quickly abandoned her pouting at having been interrupted. "Ooh – three day weekend! Great idea Mistah J! Everyone loves a long weekend, and it's especially great for romantic weekend getaways." She gazed at him from under half-closed eyes with a sly smile. "Y'know – we should definitely have one of those some time that isn't scheduled around bank jobs and hiding out from the police…"
The Joker carried on with his plotting, oblivious to her hints. "I'm not settling for just making a public announcement either – I want this enshrined in law." He posed dramatically, envisaging a giant banner displayed high above him. "'Official Joker Appreciation Day' – or something equally catchy. I'll get an appropriate advertising agency working on the specifics of the branding. Maybe this year I'll settle just for formal recognition in Gotham – but I hate to deprive all our nation's citizens of the chance to properly recognise my brilliance, so next year we go national!"
"It'll be the best holiday ever Puddin'!" Harley said, getting drawn into his enthusiasm. "Whoopee cushions on every chair! A pie in every face!"
"But of course – and 24 hour television coverage of thrilling live events for the public to participate in." He gave her a wicked grin. "I was thinking perhaps adding a little something to the half time show of a large sporting event, and arranging a big bang for the Bat Brigade who will predictably turn up to defuse the initial chaos."
Harley leaned over to tugged on his sleeve again. "Ooh – ooh – Mistah J – what can I do to help? Do ya need me for anything? I've been practicing with setting up the explosives like you said, and I hardly ever put all the fuses in backwards anymore."
"You will be keeping well away from all explosives that are larger than fireworks. But I'll need to speak to the mayor about making this formal for all city employees – see if you can find a phone directory around here that was published in the last twenty years. And I'm going to need some posters, balloons, lots of bunting, miniature American flags, a large quantity of C4 explosive, a muffin basket, ingredients for several gallons of Smilex…" he paused as he noticed the lack of scribbling. "Are you writing all this down?"
"Umm…" Harley quickly grabbed the pen from the desk, removed her black left glove and scrawled down the list of items on the back of her hand. "… muffins and Smilex. Anything else y'need Puddin'?"
The Joker tsked and shook his head. "That's should be enough for the meeting you're going to arrange for me with the mayor at three tomorrow! Now – onto what we will be spending this afternoon arranging…"
Shortly after five the next day, Gordon gazed through the one-way glass to his left and noted how the Joker was toying in a seemingly casual way with the restraints keeping him secured to the chair, but had made no progress in getting his wrists free. He made a mental note that one day he'd ask the Batman what he made those odd-looking handcuffs from.
Despite having been brought into custody after a reportedly violent altercation with the Batman at city hall, the Joker was sat in the interrogation room looking as though he was waiting for a dinner date to arrive. His pompadoured shock of green hair and fanciful purple suit were hardly ruffled, and he smiled serenely at the officers detailed to watch him.
Although his sense of professionalism balked slightly, Gordon found himself wishing the Batman had found cause to inflict more than a few bumps and bruises on the cackling clown during the process of bringing him in.
Gordon then turned to look through the glass to his right, noting that Harleen Quinzel was looking decidedly more frayed than the object of her devotion in the room across the hall. One of the points on the jester's cap of her outfit was torn to match several other rents across her costume, while her facepaint was smeared. Despite this she seemed in a chatty mood, and had been trying to engage in conversation with the two officers watching her.
Gordon felt rather than heard the reappearance of the person responsible for bringing the pair in. He didn't bother to turn around, addressing the dark figure while he continued to watch through the glass. "Quinzel said something about the downtown city bank, but she's mostly been talking about how administrative professionals day is discriminatory against assistants who don't know shorthand." He sighed at the frustration of trying to get a straight statement from such a variable source. "So we can't really tell if the bank was part of this latest scheme or just something that's popped into her head for some other reason."
There was no reply, so Gordon turned back to the window on the left. "Handing out free muffins at city hall is certainly a new approach for one of the Joker's foul schemes. I've got the lab testing them now – just thank goodness no one was stupid enough to eat any before you got there. I heard there was quite a ruckus when the Joker found out the Mayor was still out of town for an extended Columbus weekend trip. Thankfully your quick arrival prevented any unnecessary casualties."
Jim let the silence stretch out for as long as he was comfortable with before deciding to just go for a direct question. That or carry on talking to himself. "What sort of chemical do you think the muffins might have been laced with?"
"Knowing the Joker, it could be anything." The Batman broke the silence, causing Jim to finally leave the mirrored glass and face him. "Possibly Smilex, or another bespoke chemical toxin of his own invention."
"He's currently insisting it was harmless," Gordon offered doubtfully. "Something about trying to 'win hearts and minds' at city hall for some publicity campaign. He hasn't said what."
The Batman was now looking past him at the pale figure shackled in the room. "The only campaigning the Joker's got ahead of him is through his legal team from a cell at Arkham."
"Well there's always plenty of that," Jim acknowledged. "Although so far he's turned down legal defence for the standard mental capacity hearing – he claims he wants to launch a civil suit instead, against the federal government."
This drew the Batman's attention away from the glass, his expression still impassive. "Another one? Is he still maintaining that the removal of the table tennis equipment at Arkham constitutes a violation of his civil rights?"
"No." Gordon replied, his confusion at the entire situation evident on his face. "It was something about insisting that the government abolish all current federal holidays…"
Author's Note: This was supposed to be a plot-driven challenge (for this prompt "the Joker wants his own Joker appreciation day", the Joker has to try to achieve this within the fic) and I completely fail at plot. Hopefully a smidgen of what might be considered witty banter helps to make up for that fact!