Minutes later, they were back in the old Cadillac, Harley trying to contain her giggles as Bud and Lou let out grunts as their heads were enjoying the cool breeze as they stuck them far out the car window.
The Joker glanced to his right and nudged Bobby to turn down an empty alleyway. "It's over here, Bob," he muttered. The car silently wheeled into the darkness and The Joker turned to Harley, saying, "Get the boys on their leashes, Harl. Showtime."
"Come on, babies," she calmly commanded as she pulled on her cowl. "Ready for your first job? Huh? Come on, boys."
The hyenas followed Harley out of the car as she walked to The Joker's side. He gently grabbed her elbow and whispered, "Stay behind the double doors until I give the word; is that clear?"
Harley knew that his stern tone was business as usual, but quickly tugged the leashes and her pets stopped their impatient whimpers. "Crystal…" she told him.
They exchanged a quick, soft peck on the lips and went inside the old building. The Joker led them into what used to be a kitchen in a now abandoned restaurant. Harley looked down at the hyenas and saw that they were curious about their surroundings, but they remained silent. She held their leashes tightly as she watched The Joker disappear behind the double doors that led into the dining area.
"Didya miss me?" he sarcastically asked the frightened man that was tied tightly to a chair that was seated in the middle of the room.
The man lazily looked up at his captor and exhaled heavily against the duct tape that was over his mouth. His left eye was badly bruised and Sly came up behind him and pulled his greasy, black hair, making him keep his eye on The Joker's every move.
The Joker smirked. "I see that you and Sly have become quite acquainted while I was gone," he pointed out as he pressed a gloved finger into the corner of his prisoner's swollen eye. The man groaned in pain as The Joker chuckled. "You think that hurts? We've only begun, Vinny."
Vinny's eyes grew wider as he watched The Joker take out his knife and twirl it between his fingers. "So, Vin…" he began. "Where's my half of the money?"
He quickly ripped the tape from his prisoner's mouth and Vinny gasped for air. "I dunno…I dunno what you're talkin' about."
The Joker sighed in frustration as he casually grabbed one of his fingers and cleanly cut his knife through skin and bone. Sly quickly placed the tape back over Vinny's mouth as he screamed in horrific pain. The Joker tossed the finger onto the floor beside his shoes. "You know…I really hate when people try to play dumb with me," he told the still screaming thug that was now struggling in his restraints.
When the screaming died down, Sly removed the tape and Vinny began to pant as blood poured from what was once his index finger. "Okay! Jesus Christ, clown! I'll tell you everything!"
"That was easy," Harley mumbled to herself as she looked down at her pets. They looked at her with an impatient glare but they kept their silence as they listened, their tufted tails wagging with excitement.
"Richie! Richie Carmine! He's the one that took your half, man. I didn't have any idea that you were gettin' a share of the money! I'm just part of the operation to get it outta the vaults, man!"
The Joker just stood with an amused look on his face as his prisoner began to sputter wildly and when Vinny finally fell silent, he began to laugh quietly. Vinny turned his good eye to him and a chill ran down his spine as the chuckling echoed in the empty restaurant. "What's so damn funny? I'm tellin' the truth, man!"
The Joker suddenly grabbed Vinny's face and snarled, "I know where the fuckin' money is, you idiot. I just wanted to see you squeal."
Vinny grunted in pain as his heart pounded in his chest. "What?"
The Joker nodded to Sly, who proceeded to cut the rope free from Vinny's hands. He forced him to his feet as he held his still bleeding hand and he looked at The Joker with a relieved expression.
His captor smiled as he said, "Hide."
Vinny gave him a confused expression to which The Joker merely rolled his eyes. "I told you to hide. I have some new recruits, Vin. They need to be trained properly. Now...there are plenty of hiding spaces upstairs, ya know, where your buddy's old bar used to be? Try that out." Vinny still didn't move from his spot until The Joker commanded in a deep growl, "Now!!"
Vinny finally shuffled upstairs, Sly following close behind him as The Joker picked up the lifeless finger that was at his feet. "You can come out now," he said quietly as he looked at the bloody digit.
Harley led the hyenas into the dining area to meet The Joker. "I thought I'd be in there forever, Pud," Harley whispered, grinning. "I didn't think he'd give up so easily."
The Joker smirked. "Don't worry, Harl. I wasn't gonna give our boys a rough start. They need to practice on someone that won't fight back." He showed her the bloody index finger in his hand. "The squealer's always give up the quickest." He lowered his hand and whistled, and Bud and Lou quickly perked up their ears and stuck their noses in The Joker's glove.
He snickered. "Good boys...get the scent...get his taste on your tongue...atta boys..."
Bud started to sniff the air as The Joker unhooked their leashes from their collars. Lou snorted as he paced around the empty chair and began to lap up the small pool of blood that was sinking into the wood floor. Bud made his way to the bottom step and lifted his head with a loud grunt.
Harley stood still by The Joker as they watched their pets search for their prey. Lou, hearing Bud's alert, trotted over next to his brother and began to sniff the air.
Suddenly, Lou let out a loud bark and began to race up the stairs, Bud following behind him. "Come on," The Joker said with a satisfied smile. "I don't wanna miss this."
Once they reached the top of the stairs, Lou immediately planted his nose into the wood paneling of the floor and began his search. Bud followed behind him to an old, busted piano that was in the corner of the room.
"He's behind the piano," Harley whispered excitedly.
"Shh! Let them figure it out," The Joker urged. "I wanna see if they'll wait for me."
"Wait for you?"
The hyenas inched closer to the piano when Lou all of a sudden stopped dead in his tracks, lowered his head, and let out a deep, threatening growl as he bared his teeth at the rotten instrument in front of him. Bud did likewise and stepped to one side of the piano and peered behind it.
There was Vinny, hugging himself against the wall within the small space and now shaking with fear as he saw Bud's mouth salivate when he discovered his prey. Vinny tried to back away from the hyena, but turned to find its brother waiting on the other side, a deadly glare in his eyes and the hair on its neck beginning to rise.
Vinny's heart had begun pounding the moment he heard Lou's bark from downstairs, and now it threatened to burst out of his chest as he felt the hyenas hot, hungry pants sink into his skin.
"Boys..." Vinny heard The Joker's voice. The hyenas stopped their loud panting and stood stock still, never averting their gaze from the frightened gangster. The silence was cold and deadly as Vinny stared into Bud's eyes.
His mind raced over the events that had occurred within the past few minutes. Losing his finger, being untied and told to run upstairs for the new recruits. He had no idea what he was getting into. Why didn't he attack The Joker's man that followed behind him? Why did he comply with The Joker's sick request?
It was then that Vinny realized that he wouldn't be ripped apart by the infamous clown after all, but by his trained pets who now had him cornered as he sat in a shaking, vulnerable position.
Like a cornered rabbit...
"Sic him!" The Joker commanded and the last thing Vinny saw wasn't his life flashing before his eyes, but a gaping maw filled with sharp teeth as Bud jumped upon him.
Harley couldn't suppress her proud smile as she listened to her babies complete their first job. The sound of fabric ripping mixed with the crunch of bone and pitiful screams was music to her ears.
"My boys are so grown up now!" she suddenly exclaimed at the top of her lungs.
The Joker glanced at her, a brow raised curiously. "You're cute," he said, smiling as he continued to watch fray unfold from behind the piano.
Vinny's blood was beginning to flow like a stream from underneath it, and Lou suddenly appeared with a bloody shoe in his mouth. He laid himself comfortably beside the piano and began to chew on his new toy, but Bud wanted a piece, too. He grabbed the toe of the shoe as Lou held onto the heel, and they tugged with each other until The Joker nudged Harley, who let out a loud whistle.
The hyenas stopped their playing and ran over to them, and they were greeted by pets of praise and kisses on their bloody muzzles by Harley. "Good boys! Mama's so proud!"
The Joker walked over to Sly and patted him on the back. Sly had to keep his dinner from coming up from the sudden force of The Joker's gloved hand, but his wave of nausea vanished when he heard his boss's voice. "Take care of it..."
"Yeah, Boss," Sly replied after taking a gulp of the suddenly salty air around him. "Right on it..."
Two years later
The hyenas had grown stronger and had also survived the many run-ins they had with Commissioner Gordon as well as The Batman. Lou had half his left ear sliced off by one of Batman's 'toys' and Bud had managed to burn off his tail after getting sideswiped by a piece of burning debris from a building to which The Joker had equipped with explosives.
Harley also noticed that Lou had been coughing for the past few nights. The hacking would begin in the middle of the night and sometimes last for an hour before Lou finally decided to go downstairs to drink what was left in his water dish. One night, before a job in The Narrows, Harley revealed her concerns to The Joker.
He only sneered. "Allergies..." he told her. "That's probably it."
"If it were allergies, then he would do it every time the season changed," Harley said as she straightened her cowl. "This is new."
"Don't worry about it," The Joker muttered as he pulled on his coat. "He's fine."
Just as he turned to call them to his side, Lou began to hack uncontrollably, his back legs splayed out behind him as he tried to support himself with his forepaws. Bud tilted his head as he watched his brother cough into the carpet. "Oh, Lou..." Harley cooed. "Maybe you should stay at home..."
"No!" The Joker suddenly snapped. "We need them both, Harley. We've been planning this meeting with this guy Lombardo for weeks."
"But, Puddin'," Harley whined. "Listen to him. He won't be able to keep it together. And what if we have to high-tail it? He won't be able to keep up."
"He can stay in the car...in case we need back up..." The Joker assured her. He pat Bud's head and continued, "Bud is strong enough to help us on his own."
"I don't like it, Pud," Harley persisted. "He needs to be kept warm. What if he's really sick?"
"He's coming with us, Harley."
"No, he isn't!" she suddenly retorted. She bit her tongue when she saw The Joker's startled glare.
His expression became stern and he stomped over to her and grabbed her by the arm and hoisted her up into his firm grip. "Have you forgotten who's runnin' the show here, honey?" he snarled at her. "The dog stays if I say so...but I didn't, did I? Did I?!"
Harley flinched and bit her lip. "But...he's sick, Mistah J..."
"That's not what I asked you!" The Joker snapped back. "The dog's going and if he can't keep up, then it isn't my problem!"
Bud began to flatten his ears and a low growl emitted from his throat, but The Joker continued to grip Harley tightly by the arms. As Lou kept coughing, Bud crept behind The Joker and watched him carefully.
Harley whimpered. "Daddy...how can you say that?"
"One sick dog isn't gonna ruin this meeting, little girl," he replied. "You know how much money is at stake here?"
"I thought you didn't care about the money..." she said softly. "What do you care about? Not your own pets, apparently, or even how much it would hurt me if something were to happen to them! You're such a selfish prick!"
Bud heard The Joker's sound slap and saw Harley stumble onto the floor beside Lou, and he lunged toward The Joker and sank his teeth into the tails of his purple coat. The Joker struggled against Bud trying to pull him onto his knees, and he finally regained his footing and sent a swift kick into Bud's ribs. He whimpered and bounced away from him, but not before taking a piece of his coat with him.
The Joker stared at Bud as he quickly set the piece of cloth onto the floor and sat with his ears flattened against his head in an apologetic manner. The Joker started to stomp toward him, but was stopped by Harley's pleas. "Baby, don't!"
He stopped and turned to her, a single tear running down her cheek and staining her painted face. "You always told me to never reprimand them when they're trying to protect me. That's all Bud was trying to do...don't hurt him."
The Joker sighed and walked over to her. He looked down at her and her baby blues shined into his dark eyes. He sniffed and muttered, "Touch up your face and get in the car. Take Bud with you." He turned to Lou and pet him gently on the head. "Stay, boy. Go lie down."
Lou watched Harley leave the bedroom with Bud and slowly climbed onto the bed and curled into a ball, exhaling small coughs as he closed his eyes.
An hour later, they stood in an empty lot facing Lombardo and two of his men, one of them holding a briefcase. Lombardo took a long drag off his cigar and looked down at Bud, who was cautiously wagging his tail as he stood between The Joker and Harley. "Some animal you got there, clown," Lombardo said. "Where's the other one?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?" The Joker answered with a smirk. "He could be anywhere. I'd watch your asses, boys."
One of Lombardo's men shifted his eyes to the right side of the lot to try to make out the silhouette of another hyena in the darkness, but soon turned his attention back to his boss when Lombardo stated, "We got your money here, Joker. Now...where's my merchandise?"
Bud growled uncomfortably as Bobby stepped forward with The Joker's gesture and stopped in front of Lombardo. The Joker cleared his throat and said, "Your man's gonna have to meet mine in the middle, Lombardo. We can't just keep suspicious looking briefcases lying around, now, can we?"
Lombardo motioned for his other man to go over to Bobby and with a swift movement, they made the exchange. The Joker took the briefcase from Bobby and opened it with a smirk. "Nice...for once, you've lived up to your...generous...reputation."
Lombaro bit his cigar as he opened his briefcase. Instead of the automatic handguns he had requested from his guest, his cigar dropped from his mouth as he read the note that was glaring at him from the empty case. "Stick 'em up?" Lombardo read out loud. "What the hell is this, clown?!"
The Joker and Harley grinned as they heard the sound of police sirens blaring their way down the streets. "See ya!" Harley cried out as The Joker grabbed her hand as they began to run toward the car.
"Waste those rats!!" Lombardo commanded, but before his men could draw, Bud latched onto one of them and attached himself to his neck. The other thug tried to pry the crazed hyena off his partner, but Bud's teeth soon found their way into his wrist. His new victim cried out in pain as the sirens got closer.
The car skidded to a halt near the fracas and Harley opened the back door. "Bud! Come on, baby! Let's go!"
Bud let go of his victim and ran toward the car. Lombardo's gun exploded in the night air, but Harley managed to reach forward and grab Bud as he leapt toward the backseat.
She pulled him inside and laid him across her lap as they sped off down another street. The Joker watched a stray police car zoom past them toward where they had left Lombardo, and he couldn't help but cackle with glee, making Harley follow suit as she pet Bud's Mohawk.
Harley soon came out of her delightful trance and noticed that Bud hadn't moved since she had pulled him onto her lap. She lightly caressed his ears and whispered, "Bud? Buddy Boy?" Harley bit her lip nervously when he didn't respond, and she reached down and scratched his belly.
Instead of his customary kicking reflex whenever she would scratch him, Bud lay motionless in her lap. "Bud?" Harley choked out.
The Joker heard Harley's tone and turned to look toward her and saw that Bud's eyes were wide open and his tongue was hanging sloppily out of his mouth. His eyes widened as he reached over the seat and grabbed his muzzle and gently shook him as Harley watched him with hopeful eyes. The Joker stopped his playful shaking when he saw the exit wound that Lombardo's bullet had left between Bud's eyes.
Harley saw it, too, and her mouth dropped open in shock, and after a sharp intake of breath, she cradled her hyena's head in her arms and cried into the coarse fur of his neck. "Nooo!" she sobbed. "That son-of-a-bitch! He...killed him!! Oh, my Bud!"
The Joker couldn't think of what to do so he just turned his attention back to the road and stared straight ahead. Bobby glanced in the rearview mirror and sighed as he caught a glimpse of Harley crying as if she had lost a child.
I guess, in a way, Bobby thought to himself, she has.
Harley's sobbing continued as they pulled into the lot of the abandoned theatre they called home. The Joker spied Lou peering out their bedroom and then suddenly duck out of sight. He sighed; he knew that Lou was running to the door to greet them.
Lou jumped up and placed his paws on The Joker's thighs and licked his wrists. He couldn't smile at his pet as he scratched him behind his ear. "Hey, Louie," he muttered. Lou ran past him into the lot to meet Harley, but stopped when he saw her get out of the car and saw Bud's back leg hanging from the backseat.
Lou quickly ran to the car and Harley tried to stop him, but he squeezed past her and sniffed Bud's lifeless foot. He cautiously back away and looked at Harley, as if looking for an answer. All he got was Harley falling to her knees and wrapping her arms around his long neck. Lou grunted and pawed at her as her tears fell into his fur.
Sly and Townshend followed The Joker back to the car and Sly peered into the backseat. "Shit," he whispered to himself. He turned and looked at Harley, who was still holding onto Lou. The Joker snapped him out of his trance by demanding, in an empty tone, "Sly...take care of it..."
Sly nodded slowly and gently pulled Bud's body from the backseat and carried him to the back of the lot, Townshend following close behind, stopping near the shed to grab a shovel. Harley watched them disappear into the tall, dead grass behind the fence surrounding the lot and allowed The Joker to help her to her feet.
"Come on, Harley Baby," he told her as he led her inside and up the stairs to their bedroom. "There's nothing we can do." Harley nodded and continued to cry as Lou slowly followed them.
He sat on the bed beside The Joker as he watched Harley undress and change into her pajamas. She went into the bathroom to wash off her makeup and The Joker absentmindedly pet Lou's scruffy mane that grew down his long neck. "I'm sorry, pal," he muttered to him, not looking at him.
As soon as they settled into bed, Lou curled up between them at their feet and closed his eyes. An hour later, his hacking returned and The Joker slowly lifted his head and watched Lou struggle to breathe as he jumped onto the floor. He sighed and snuggled closer to Harley and stroked her tear-stained face as she silently slumbered.
Weeks later, The Joker decided that it was time to break even sadder news to Harley after a night of her sitting up with Lou in the bathroom trying to comfort him as he coughed into a now blood-soaked towel.
Townshend and Ringo watched their boss as he paced to and from the bedroom door, flicking his knife in and out of its sheath as he was deep in thought. "Looks like the Boss is gonna have to get rid of another recruit," Ringo muttered.
Townshend shot him an angry glare. "Not cool, man," he whispered back with a sneer. "That's their pet. They already lost the other one and now he's gonna have to put this one outta it's misery. I feel sorry for her..."
Ringo raised an eyebrow. "Her? Harley? You got a hard-on for the Boss's girl, man?"
"No, asshole, but I did have pets of my own once. It sucks when they have to be...ya know..."
The Joker finally opened the door to the bedroom to find Harley sitting at her vanity staring into the mirror as Lou lay on the floor, breathing heavily as he looked up at him. The Joker made his way to the bed and sat on the edge of it, and he rubbed his gloved hands between his knees as he looked at Harley's tired reflection.
"Harley?" he said in a gentle voice. "Let me...let me take Lou..."
Harley slowly turned to face him with a slightly startled expression. "Take him? Where?"
The Joker licked the corners of his mouth and sighed. "Outside...out in the back of the lot...I promise to make it painless..."
She realized what he was requesting and she dropped to her knees to wrap her arms around her weary pet. "No! I won't let you!" she cried into his fur, making Lou groan uncomfortably, but he let her hold his head in her embrace.
"Harley, you know that...he's suffering..." The Joker explained gently to her. "It needs to be done. If we don't, then one night he'll suffocate in his sleep."
"He'll get better, Puddin'," she cried, although she knew that it was hopeless, but she couldn't lose another pet that she had raised and loved from a pup. "He's okay..."
The Joker stomped into the bathroom and came back to her with the bloody towel. "Does this look like he's okay, Harley?" He threw the towel beside her and she turned away from it and wiped her eyes. He sighed and knelt beside her. "He's dying, baby," he whispered to her. "You know that, right? You can see that?"
Harley looked into his eyes as he stroked her cheek and slowly nodded. "Yes..." came her cracked voice. She held Lou's face a minute longer and then gave him a gentle kiss on his muzzle. "Okay! Go!" she demanded. "Just please...I don't want him to..."
"He won't feel a thing; I promise, baby," The Joker softly assured her. "Come on, Lou."
Lou slowly raised himself and followed The Joker out of the bedroom as Harley slammed the bathroom door and began to cry softly.
Sly followed The Joker out to the lot but stopped just at the edge of the theatre. He watched Lou limp after The Joker as he led him out into the same field where they had buried Bud.
The Joker suddenly stopped and took out his gun. "Sit, Lou," he mumbled before turning to face him. As he looked down at the weak hyena, their eyes met and he saw how tired Lou had become. He wasn't at an old age for a hyena, yet the weeks of coughing, being short of breath and also from becoming listless since Bud's death, Lou looked haggard and had lost the energy that once burned in his eyes when he was well.
The Joker dropped to his knees and stroked Lou's Mohawk and Lou grunted with gratitude as his owner whispered, "I'm sorry, boy..." He then stood up and pressed the tip of his gun to the spot between Lou's eyes.
And for the first time in his life, The Joker closed his eyes as he squeezed the trigger.
He heard Lou's limp body drop to the ground and he sniffed loudly as he stared straight ahead of him. He didn't drop his gaze and he slowly walked back toward the theatre where Sly was patiently waiting.
The Joker stopped beside him and took a deep breath, saying, "Sly...uh..." He was at a loss for words as he tried to hide his grief at what he just did.
Sly looked at the ground and said, "I'll take care of it, Boss..."
"Yeah," The Joker nodded. "Yeah..." He walked back into the theatre and back into the bedroom.
Harley's sobs had begun when she heard his gun ring out into the night and her sobs were what greeted him when he stepped into the bathroom to comfort her. She crawled into his lap as he sat against the counter, and he held her tightly as he rocked her back and forth. "Shh...shh...it's okay, baby," he whispered. "He isn't hurting anymore."
When her crying finally died down, he carried her to the bed and laid her under the sheets. Harley curled into her pillow as The Joker undressed and went into the bathroom to wash off his paint. As he looked into the mirror, he could feel two hot tears stream down his cheek and mingle with the hot water on his clean face. He sniffed again and quickly dried off and returned to the bedroom.
He held her close and stroked her long blonde hair as she sniffed into her pillow. He gently kissed her shoulder and pulled her closer to him, but stopped when she suddenly asked, "Can I ask you...a hypothetical question?"
The Joker snickered softly and then said, "Sure."
"If we...ever had a baby..."
"Harl. Don't start that," he groaned.
"You said I could ask you, Puddin'. And...it's only hypothetical."
He sighed. "Okay..."
"If we ever...had a baby...would you want a boy...or a girl?"
The Joker shook his head, but smirked as he replied, "Okay, Harley. I'll bite. If we ever had a kid...and this is a big 'if'...with a capital I and a capital F...I think we'd have a boy."
Harley turned to him and wiped her eyes. "Really? Why a boy?"
He shrugged. "I dunno. I just always felt that...I was destined to have a boy...if I ever had a kid, that is."
"But what if it's a girl?"
"Nope. It's gonna be a boy."
Harley raised her eyebrows and grinned. "Gonna?"
The Joker licked his lips and sighed. "Hypothetically 'gonna,' okay?"
She giggled and snuggled into his chest as he breathed in the scent of her hair. As she drifted into sleep, his thoughts drifted to the night the hyenas became part of their family and of the weeks that had recently transpired.
He kissed her forehead and whispered, "I wish I could give you what you want, Harley, but...I don't think I could give you a baby. Call me selfish, but...I like it...when it's just 'us.'"
As he slowly fell asleep, The Joker kicked the place at the end of the bed and felt nothing there until he felt Harley's leg lock itself into his.